Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Long Overdue Birthday Ramble

So yes, the rumors are true, I have indeed turned 18. What does it feel like? is the awkward question I have been asked surprisingly few times. And, thus far, it feels basically like 17 felt. Sorry.

And yet, there's a weight that comes with turning 18. Of course, there's all the "baggage"-- the voting eligibility, the 'adult' status, the possibility of being drafted if there was one, the ability to buy cigarettes (not something I would ever do, but it's really fun to mention just to scare people :P). And of course, there's a sense of a section of life passing away. The only comparison I can make is to finishing the first book in a trilogy (or a quartet, or series, whatever you like): There's a big chunk of life to look back on, a volume filled with begginings and foreshadowings but no conclusions. And looking ahead, there are several more volumes, and while you have some educated guesses as to what they might hold, you ultimately don't know that much for sure. Even people unlike me, who have not only college majors but careers-- whole story arcs, one might say--planned out, really know very little of what life will or even might hold. And, surprisingly, that's ok.

I remember, when I was much younger, thinking that 18-year-olds were so mature. I mean, there were adults, and of course they're mature, but people who were 18 were almost like me, in that the older crowd referred to them as kids, but they were big and tall and could drive and stuff. They were like gods (small 'g'). Even in, say, early high school, I still thought similarly. I suspect now that that's because I knew very few 18-years-olds at that point. As to the maturity thing, well, people refer to ME as one of the most mature people they know (*waits for the laughter to die down*), which is a very scary thought, mainly because I, um, know me. Ah well.

In our 'Answers' folder I recalled coming across an envelope adressed 'To Ethan, to Be Opened on Your Eighteenth Birthday.' My parents had forgotten about it until I got it out. What was inside dissapointed my expectations (was an inheritence to be gained by defeating my long lost twin brother in armed combat, then slaying his hideous two-headed creature from the pits of Hell so much to ask?), but it was interesting nevertheless. It was a letter I had written to my 18-year-old self on my ninth birthday. Even after seeing it, I have only a very vague memory of doing so, but I'm sure it was at the behest ofmy mom.

My heroes at the time were Brett Favre and Reggie White, whic was unsurprising. I lied reading about old "Amiricin" wars. And so on. And so forth. In my vague, dredged-up memories, I think I was annoyed and resistant to writing that letter, and the other day I had to keep from making remarks about corniness and so forth. But upon further reflection, it seems kind of neat, and I may relucantly feel a tad grateful to my mom for making me do that. Is that maturity? Or maybe I'm just going soft.

Oh yeah. According to that letter, my favorite subject in school was math.

Go figure.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fine, Here's Mine...

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
His Highness Ethan the Cannibalistic of Burton-le-Coggles
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Monday, January 15, 2007

I'm dreaming of a white... January!


It comes down, or it came down, but the present tense sounded more poetic. But the snow is a white blanket over the neighborhood. It's not as deep as I would have liked, but it's deep enough to be fun.

My brother and I went and froliced, if you define frolic as "Wrestling and throwing about in a manner that hurts considerably less on snow than on mere cold hard ground." Snowballs have been exchanged, and I would like to think that I have been coming out ahead in the conflicts, though my brother would beg to differ. However, he also thinks that The Phantom Menace is a good movie, so we'll let that rest where it is.

We went out and did the Obligatory Shoveling of the Driveway and Front Walk, and I even liked that, because it was out in the snow and also something of a work-out (especially when you factor in the Obligatory Abandoning of Shoveling to Run About and Put Snow Down People's Necks). One of the neighbors had a little pine tree in their yard, and the white Christmas lights were still up, and it looked really... neat. (Note studious avoidance of the phrase 'pretty.') At another time I might have thought they were overdue for taking the Christmas lights down, but tonight I just thought that THIS was the setting where those lights belonged, not on 40-degree nights with grass still green and a season that jumps up and down and says in a squeaky voice, "Look at me! I really AM Winter! Be frozen! Be cold... Please be cold?" And then it pouts, as if that will help its cause.

But I ramble on. Anyway, snow-- I like it. :-D

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Deeper Meaning of Raymond

For a long time my family have been fans of the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. But it only recently occurred to me what the characters on the show represent: they are each one of the Seven Deadly Sins. (I am using the envy, sloth, gluttony, wrath, pride, greed, lust model.) I am not saying this show is a study of the seven deadlies; there is really no 'lust' character, for example. But I think each MC is based on one sin. (As a side note, the Barones on the show ARE Catholic, so the seven deadly sins fits here rather nicely.)

Long-time viewers of the show wrinkle their nose at this, but it makes sense if you think about it. Observe:

Raymond: Raymond is Sloth. Obviously. His character might be summed up as someone who wants to get home from work, sit on the couch, and watch TV. (Leaving his wife, of course, to care for the children, cook the meals, do the laundry, etc.) Entire shows are predicated on the idea that Ray not only does not help with ANYTHING at home, but hinders his wife's work as well. And even in shows where this is not the main focus, it's at least a running joke.

Debora: Debora is Wrath. She is the other side of the running joke about Raymond's Sloth-- it is that Sloth which incites her to wrath. She is not exaggerated to the point of being the type of character who flies into a rage at the drop of a hat, but she does have a quick temper. In one episode, a group of old women who don't know them THAT well conclude, "If I were Debora, I would be nicer to Raymond."

Robert: Robert, Raymond's older brother, who lives with his parents for about half the seasons on the show, then lives by himself, then lives with his wife, and in the final episode moves with his wife back in with his parents, represents Envy. One of the other characters, in mockingly summing him up, says that while others are talking about lawns, Robert's comment would be, "I don't even have a lawn, Raymond has a lawn." Raymond also has a house, a high-paying jobs, kids, and (at least in Robert's eyes) a perfect wife, which Robert wishes he had. A large part of his character is self-pity, but he often has the idea that "If I had what Raymond has, then I'd be happy," which qualifies him for Envy.

Frank: Robert and Raymond's father is the hardest to pin down, but I will call his character Gluttony. He is fond of eating, and he is fond of doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants to. Fifty years ago he might have been called a boor. He could qualify for Greed, as these two are somewhat similar sins, and he could even qualify for a sort of near-harmless, old man sort of lust, but Gluttony seems chief among them.

Marie: The matriarch of the family, Marie represents Pride. Her obnoxious behaviour and narcissism are the base of the conflict for probably a majority of the episodes. She is very arrogant and vain, also, but the closest thing I could find on our list was pride.

Now, when watching the show, you don't think of these people in such harsh theological terms. These are not evil people; they are what we would probably call decent. Yet they are sinners, as is evinced in every single episode of the show. I seem to be building up to some sort of conclusion here, but I lost it; I suppose I just wanted to point out that these characters, at least, have a strong set of moral values, even if it is sometimes an unclear set, and that (morally, at least) puts them far above much of what's on TV these days.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tristan and Isolde: Another Great Story Botched by Hollywood Literalists

(This is the Blog Edition of something I will turn in for school. The school version will look different from this. Less... digressive, for one thing.)

Tristan + Isolde is a movie released in 2005, based on the legend that bears the same or similar names. The story is a great one, long one of the most powerful in western literature. The movie is another matter.

The movie, from a purely aesthetic point of view, is so-so. The set design is beautiful, though gloomy; Sophia Myles is wonderful as Isolde; and the fights scenes are well done. However, the other actors range from mediocre to bad. The script is terrible, and historical accuracy seems to have been fed to the dogs. My brother and I came up with a drinking game based on it: you take a shot every time there's a historical inaccuracy. The problem is, you'd be blind drunk in the first half hour.

In fact, the movie was so bad, that it caused me to want look for the story that inspired it (the logic works if you don't think about it too hard).

The first thing I discovered was that there are many versions of the story, from nearly every nationality in Europe, with as many variations on it. J. Bedier, a lifelong scholar of this legend, determined that there must have been a common source for it, an original tale, now lost.

The basic themes and events of every version of the story, however, are very similar. Tristan's mother dies in childbirth, and gives him a name which literally means 'child of sorrow.' He is sent from his home to be raised in the court of his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, where he grows into a great knight. He defeats an Irish knight, come to challenge the king, but is fearfully wounded in doing so. He is sent on a raft over the sea, and washes up on the shore of Ireland, where Isolde, sister of the knight he killed, heals him, without knowing who he is. In some versions they develop great affection for each other at this point; some versions are silent on this matter.

Tristan returns to Cornwall, but is shortly sent back to Ireland to bring Isolde home, to be Mark's queen and forge peace between the lands. (In some versions, this is the result of negotiations; in some, Tristan slays a dragon to win her, or wins a tournament.) Isolde's mother, apparently a great sorceress, sends a love potion with the girl's maid, a potion that will bind whoever drinks it in undying love. It is intended to be slipped into Mark and Isolde's drinks. Tristan and Isolde are mistakenly given it to drink. Guess what happens.

There is much variation in the next part of the story. To give the gist, Tristan and Isolde carry out their affair, trying to keep it a secret, but of course this is impossible. They are found out. Sometimes the king banishes them, or sentences the to be killed and they escape. At any rate, because he loves both Tristan and Isolde, there is a plethora of second chances, of returning of trust, which is always violated by the pair's adultery. Tristan is finally banished, and dies. Usually he dies because a bitter woman who loved him but whom he did not love tells him that Isolde does not love him, and he dies with her at the gate of the castle he rests in.

The legend probably began life as an oral tale, and was commonly told by bards in the Middle Ages. Many of the earliest extant versions were copied down by monks in Ireland, England, or France. The story found a niche in the expansive King Arthur mythos. After Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, it lay dormant until the 19th Century, when there was a revival in Arthurian mythology. Its best-known incarnation was in Wagner's19th-Century opera, Tristan und Isoud.

What has made this legend so fascinating to so many people over so many centuries?

The most obvious reason is the basic fascination this type of story holds; the theme of forbidden love, of star-crossed lovers, seems to strike a deep chord with people. One thinks of the obvious example of Romeo and Juliet. But this particular story goes beyond simply a pair of lovers who cannot be together. For the third player, King Mark, is usually portrayed sympathetically: he is Tristan's beloved uncle, a good man, and a wise king. This is the most heart-wrenching part of the tale; for neither Tristan nor Isolde wishes to betray the king, yet neither seems either willing or able to cease loving one another, thus betraying the king anyway.

To its credit, the movie portrays this aspect very well. However, it leaves out another point of interest entirely.

"The mystery which is the cause of all this suffering, the love potion," says Prof. Alan Fedrick, in his introduction to Beroul's The Romance of Tristan, "Is undeniably an essential part of the legend's fascination.... The theme of the love potion is probably the best known distinguishing feature of the Tristan legend, and it is in their attitude to this theme that later authors differ most widely."

This is not to say that one must blame the potion for the adultery that follows; the potion might function, as in Shakespeare's plays, as a symbol for the unreasoning nature of love. A Midsummer Night's Dream is not about the love potion, despite the fact that it seems to make the lovers in that play act in ways they would not normally; for all four lovers in that play, from an objective viewpoint, are equally suited to one another: all are good looking, young, prospersous. But the vagaries of Love seem to elevate one particular person above the rest.

Similarly with Tristan, Isolde and Mark: Both men are equally suitable husbands; and for Isolde, loving Mark would cause no problems such as bringing kingdoms to their knees. But Isolde, love potion or no love potion, loves Tristan.

So how does the movie deal with the love potion? Quite simply, it doesn't. It throws it out entirely. In an interview, writer Dean Georgaris said he took out the love potion "Because I thought it would be nice if they fell in love simply because they fell in love." Well that's nice, but you've just thrown out a thousand years of literary tradition. He elaborates, "So our version of the story is a stripped-down, more realistic version."

This is the key to the movie's failure. There has been a trend recently of stripping down old legends, trying to make them more "realistic". This was the watch word of the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced King Arthur (2004). The idea was to set King Arthur in just barely post-Roman Britain, where his legend probably began, and eliminate all the extraneous characters. However, this would have meant eliminating Guinevere (whose character was a Medieval French invention), Lancelot (also a later French addendum), and Merlin. And without these three, there's really no legend to tell.

So they were kept, and given rationalizations for being there. But really all the record there is of this old Roman Arthur is of some battles he fought. So the movie had to fill up an hour and a half of screen time based on events that might have happened, based on what we know of the cultural conditions of the time. Basically, it was creating its own myth.

This is what happens when you strip myths of their mythology: you are left with a jumble of characters, a realistic setting, and some basic themes that you have far less tools to use to work into a story. You end up reinventing the wheel, trying to create a new myth that is not the old myth and yet is the old myth.

This is partly where the movie fails: without the love potion, and without the trappings of chivalry, Tristan and Isolde simply appear as two adulterers, for there is now no way to show that intagible thing, love. The potion worked as a symbol for it; that is gone. The accounts of Tristan's rescuing Isolde from death have been eliminated. Gone too, is the scene where the pair meet a hermit, who challenges them morally; and with this goes any hint of the ambiguous morality the pair is engaged in. They go from a pair holding their love against their duty, and trying and failing to reconcile the two, to a pair engaging in their affair because the laws and customs that keep them apart are wrong anyway. They become moral judges, rather than sinners.

A further aspect of the movie is its gloominess. The sets are dark, and when they are not, the story is dark, the dialogue depressive, the directing apparently set up to accentuate misery. The poem of Beroul, and most of the rest of the legends incarnations, have at least some hint of irony. There is the irony of God seeming to engineer things to protect the lovers; the irony of Isolde's ambiguous oaths. Sometiems the whole story, the idea of two adulterers as heroes, is treated as ironic. And, in the best retellings, real humor can be elicited from these situations, while not betraying the tragic mode.

The legend of Tristan and Isolde has a long history of reinterpretation and derivation.However, its central themes, those of love, sacrifice, passion, irony, and moral ambiguity, have always remained the same. And it is in betraying these themes, more than the shoddy production, that the movie ultimately fails.


I recommend a translation of Beroul's The Romance of Tristan if you're interested in the story. It's one of the best.


Anyone who even read THIS far deserves congratulations. Below is just some extras; take them or leave them. ;-)

(The original opening line, which I liked so much I wanted to save.)

Recently (okay, it was a while ago, but recently sounds better) I watched the movie Tristan + Isolde. I will skip the typical sarcastic typographical posturing and simply say, it was a horrible movie.

Here is a list of variations JUST IN BLOODY SPELLING I found:

Tristan, Tristam, Tristram, Trystan

Isolde, Isold, Iseult, Isolt, Yseut, Isoud, Ysoud, George Foreman.

An extended opinion on the best part of the movie:

Sophia Myles plays Isolde with as much intensity and passion as the character calls for. She seems able to deliver the hokiest lines and make them, at least, ALMOST palatable. Too bad her co-star, Jamie Franco, had all the intensity of a slug.

And for anyone who read all THAT I have a gold-plated award of some kind.


Monday, January 01, 2007


Well hello. It seems we have made it through another year. I seem to have little to say. It's been a good year, all things considered. I got to stop being a Junior halfway through; I became of full legal age to see an R-rated movie. Saw PotC at the midnight showing, with the crowd that sang along and cheered for Jack Sparrow, and so forth. And went to THE FEAST, which was maybe the best thing all year. Also went to the HT retreat in November. I definetly feel closer to my HT and MH friends than at the beginning of the year.

As for last night, well, it was just the family at home. But it was a great way to begin the year. Why? I'll tell you: We beat the bloody Bears! 26-7! I mean, come on, the Bears are supposed to go to the Super Bowl. It won't get us into the playoffs or anything, but it feels great to be able to say that even when they had their best team in twenty years and we had... well, not our best team, certainly, we still beat them on their own bloody field. hehe.

(My apologies to any Bears fans reading this. Sort of. Not really. :P)

Well, If I was smart, I'd have something deep to say in this spot. But all I can think of right now is what our pastor said last night, "Give thanks for 2007, another year of Grace." May it be a blessed one for all of you.