Friday, February 25, 2005

Curdie and Calling

Fascinating, the connections you can make in reading, especially when you're not looking for them.

Ponytails and I were reading George MacDonald's The Princess and Curdie, which is the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin. Curdie, the hero of the first book, has grown into a rather blase teenager. He seems to have lost his imagination and some of the good character qualities that he had in the first book, and to be living just for his day-to-day work in the mines. For no particular reason, he shoots a pigeon outside the castle where his friend Princess Irene used to live, and as he does this, something inside him seems to shock him out of his stupor. When he realizes that the bird isn't quite dead, something tells him to go up to the tower of the castle and ask for help...or something...from Irene's mysterious "great-great-grandmother" who he's actually never seen but who lives in the tower and seems to be connected with the birds. When he makes it all the way up all the stairs to the tower and finally gets to her door, she calls him in...by name...he finally sees her and they talk. She forgives him, promises to heal the bird, and gives him some advice and warnings.

Later last night I got into the third chapter of The Call, by Os Guinness: "Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life." He quotes some letters written in prison by Vaclav Havel, and says this:

"It is only by responding and growing responsible, Havel argues, that one 'stands on one's own two feet.' He then asserts what all his thinking has led him to: 'I would say that responsibility for oneself is a inife we use to carve our own inimitable features in the panorama of Being; it is the pen with which we write into the history of Being that story of the fresh creation of the world that each new human existence always is.'"

Guinness again quotes Havel's letter: "someone eternal, who through himself makes me eternal as well...someone to whom I relate entirely and for whom, ultimately, I would do everything. At the same time, the "someone" addresses me directly and personally."

And then he goes on to talk about the need for us to understand that we are "called to be" (more on that another time). But the connections were so obvious, I wondered for a minute if all these writers had been sitting at the same table while they wrote! Yes, that's it, I thought, what Curdie had lost and what he seemed to find again by visiting the grandmother: responsibility. And there is a hidden meaning in that word: it also means "response-a-bility." Fascinating.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Wind in the Willows, Narration by Ponytails

Wind in the Willows is a very funny book. The toad named Toad, he got in prison for driving someone else's car. How he got to be driving someone's car, I'll tell you. He wanted to get out of his bedroom, because he was locked in there, because he was very very very very very bad, because he was borrowing a motor car from a company. What he did is, when the rat named Rat, he came into the room for his turn to watch Toad (because of his badness); he was pretending that he was going to die. He was going "bring me a doctor, please, bring me a doctor" and he said "bring me a lawyer, bring me a lawyer." And Rat said yes. When Rat went out to find the lawyer and doctor, Toad came out of bed and he tied all his sheets together to make a big rope. He climbed down from his window.

Now, this is how he came into the person's car. He walked along the sidewalk and he came to a little cafe. He ordered all the fancy stuff and expensive stuff, because his home was called Toad Hall. He was very very rich. And this car came up and it was an expensive motor car. And they came in and Toad went out. And if you know what happens now, he went and took the car for a little spin. And he went very very fast and he got caught by the police and they put him into jail. The End.

Friday, February 18, 2005

John Ciardi's 'How Does a Poem Mean?'

At a library sale last weekend, Mama Squirrel was busily filling a box with books (squirrel instincts put to a higher use) when she happened to see a familiar orange-covered poetry anthology that brought back recollections of some high school English class many many years ago. Flipping through it, she was surprised to see a bonus in the back of the book: John Ciardi's essay 'How Does a Poem Mean?', which was recommended in one of her other favourite books, How to Read Slowly by James Sire. Needless to say, the book was immediately deposited in the box along with Canadian Wild Flowers, The Outrageous Outdoor Games Book, and several books of an automotive nature for Mr. Fixit.

Mama Squirrel hasn't had time yet to read the essay completely, but she was amused to note that Ciardi refers both to give-me-the-facts Mr. Gradgrind (Dickens is another of Mama Squirrel's favourite writers) and to Keats, who has been the subject of some posts lately on her homesquirreling friends' blogs. So with them in mind, she offers the following from the essay:

"....students are too often headed by their teachers in the direction of reciting, almost like Bitzer [in Dickens' Hard Times]: 'Keats. "When I have fears that I may case to be." Sonnet. Irregular. Consisting of three quatrains and a couplet, the third quatrain consisting of very close rhymes,thus: "hour, more, power, shore." Written on the theme of the vanity of earthly wishes, but given a strong romantic coloration of individualistic aspiration for the good pleasures of the world.'
Poor Keats!
For WHAT DOES THE POEM MEAN? is too often a self-destroying approach to poetry. A more useful way of asking the question is HOW DOES A POEM MEAN? Why does it build itself into a form out of images, ideas, rhythms? How do these elements become the meaning? How are they inseparable from the meaning? As Yeats wrote: O body swayed to music, o quickening glance,/ How shall I tell the dancer from the dance?"

Welcome to Dewey's Treehouse

Meet the squirrel family:

Mr. Fixit, who lined the nest with old issues of Popular Mechanics, and has scavenged such treasures as a vacuum tube tester, a Durst enlarger, and a complete set of Lemon Aid books. Since it takes so many acorns to feed three young squirrels, he has turned his considerable mechnical and technical talents to managing computer systems. When he's not doing that he likes to listen to classic rock on his classic stereo.

Mama Squirrel, who spends much of her time training the squirrel girls and figuring out ways to stretch acorn leftovers. (We are a family of homesquirrelers.)

The Apprentice, also known as TQ.

Ponytails, who would prefer to be called the Math Master.

Crayons, the youngest.

And Uncle Dewey who (we admit it) doesn't totally qualify as a real squirrel, since he's made of polyester and imagination, but he has lived in the treehouse for many years and likes to make himself at home.

We try to aim our small squirrels in the right direction and teach them to stay away from cats, and to appreciate small things (like a good hamburger from Mr. Fixit's charcoal barbecue). And sometimes to appreciate big things (like solid '80's cars).
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