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[Saturday, November 15, 2003]


Sam will kill him if he tries anything

Some might consider it a fruitless topic, but the essay Warm Beds are Good: Sex and Libido in Tolkien's Writing is rambling and fascinating. Slash writers may wish to skip directly to the chapter addressing the vital question "Sam and Frodo: Gay? Or Victorian?"

posted 7:21 PM |

[Friday, November 14, 2003]


I will not smell in your solemn assemblies

Separation of church and state exists de facto in Canada, the result of long struggles by people like Robert Baldwin, Egerton Ryerson, and Pierre Trudeau, and no thanks at all to aspiring theocrats like Bishop John Strachan, the Ayatollah of Muddy York. It doesn't, however, exist de jure: the Constitution (a document younger than me, I might add) speaks about "the supremacy of God"; Remembrance Day ceremonies at the U of T (though not, I discovered this year, at York) contain Anglican prayers, as did my M.Sc. convocation ceremony. We have state-funded Catholic schools. Up until I was about 12, the singing of the National Anthem was followed by the "Our Father", in public school. (Note: okay, maybe it was preceded. It's been awhile.)

All this is to say that I'm accustomed to public life which is essentially secular, but adorned with religious grace notes. However, the idea of "separation of church and state", whether as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution, or actually practiced by Americans, is not something that I entirely comprehend.

My comprehension is only decreased by this session of the Nevada State Legislature that I stumbled across, where the session opens with Pastor Dixie Jennings-Teats (Dear Reader, I do not make up these names) reciting a prayer by W.H. Auden, of all people. It's been kicking around for a good 40 years or so, and has undergone the folk process, but it's still recognizable. (Note: this is in fact how I found the page.) In the transcript, the prayer is preceded by the note "All present except Assemblyman Oceguera, who was excused". Was excused! Please, Mr. Speaker, my parents believe differently, can I leave the room?

It just struck me as, well, odd.

posted 2:52 PM |

[Tuesday, November 11, 2003]


Not selected by the committee

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,--
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
-Wilfrid Owen, "Anthem for Doomed Youth"

The hucksters haggle in the mart
The cars and carts go by;
Senates and schools go droning on;
For dead things cannot die.

A storm stooped on the place of tombs
With bolts to blast and rive;
But these be names of many men
The lightning found alive.

If usurers rule and rights decay
And visions view once more
Great Carthage like a golden shell
Gape hollow on the shore,

Still to the last of crumbling time
Upon this stone be read
How many men of England died
To prove they were not dead.
-G.K. Chesterton, "For a War Memorial (Suggested Inscription Probably Not Selected By the Committee)"

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You'd see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour.

'Poor young chap,' I'd say-'
I used to know his father well;
Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap.'
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die - - in bed.
-Siegfried Sassoon, "Base Details"

posted 6:56 AM |

[Monday, November 10, 2003]


Bantustans of Beleriand?

In general, I'm deeply critical of the Tolkien-as-reactionary/imperalist/crypto-fascist line of argument, even when pursued by people I respect like Michael Moorcock and China Miéville. He is critical of technology, specifically of industrialization, and that critique can be abused terribly. I notice in Return of the King he gets around some of the problems by giving Gondor's Houses of Healing pretty advanced medical knowledge, even without Aragorn handy to do the athelas thing.

Okay, now that I get to that, I have to wonder about the practicality of the healing royal hands. At the time of the War of the Ring, Minas Tirith, and by extension all of Gondor, are said to be sparsely populated, but once the Fourth Age gets underway the population starts to climb, and so the proportion of the day that poor Aragorn spends just boiling athelas in water and rubbing it on sick and injured people is going to creep up too. I believe in single-payer health care, but single-provider is a bit much to ask even of a Ranger of the North.

That's a digression, though. What I wanted to recount was my eyebrows shooting up at this passage from The Silmarillion:

But after a time the Elf-kings, seeing that it was not good for Elves and Men to dwell mingled together without order, and that Men needed lords of their own kind, set regions apart where Men could live their own lives, and appointed chieftains to hold these lands freely.
There are reasons why this shouldn't creep me out as much as it does. For one, okay, Elves and Men are actually different species; and for mortals to live side-by-side with an immortal species doubtless breeds considerable resentment. For another, it's more or less known that the Elves are eventually all going to leave Middle Earth to humans. But, on the flip side, the Elves in Beleriand in the Silmarillion are classic colonialists: they have a place they belong -- the Blessed Realm -- and they aren't there, for pretty shady reasons. They give the Men a lot of self-justificatory wind about defending them from Morgoth, but they probably would have happily let Morgoth rule Middle Earth competely if he hadn't stolen the Silmarils.

This is all rather tongue-in-cheek, of course. Tolkien is certainly conservative in that he considers that power relationships are rendered just or unjust not by their nature, but by the attitudes and actions of those taking part in them. For my part, I think this has a good deal of truth in it, although it is one of those truths used to make a lot of Big Lies more credible.

posted 5:58 PM |