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The Second Day of Christmas

Dec. 26th, 2013 | 5:16

I have a particular liking for some of the very old Christmas carols, the ones that can trace their pedigree back to the Middle Ages and are still commonly sung in Latin. ‘Personent hodie’ is a hardy perennial in this line. First sung as a monophonic chant about 1360 in Bavaria, it was published in 1582 in the Finnish songbook Piae Cantiones, and the Germans and Finns have been arguing about it ever since. In recent years, however, it has been a staple of choirs the world over: YouTube alone has versions recorded everywhere from Trois-Rivières to Singapore. It is often performed in Gustav Holst’s arrangement for organ, or Lara Hoggard’s arrangement for brass, but the melody lends itself to a seemingly inexhaustible range of interpretations.

Read and hear the rest at bondwine.com

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The First Day of Christmas

Dec. 25th, 2013 | 2:53

Joseph Ebbecke, one of my 3.6 Loyal Readers, asked me a few days ago:
Gonna do a 12 days of Christmas this year? I really enjoyed all the you tubes you posted a year or two ago.

I greatly enjoyed doing that in 2011 (though in fact I did only eleven days, missing Christmas Day itself). People nowadays are altogether too liable to mistake the commercial hurly-burly of the weeks before Christmas with Christmas itself, and to suppose that the holiday is over as soon as the hugely excessive dinner gets cold on December 25. But by long and still living tradition, Christmas Day is in fact the first of the Twelve Days of Christmas; and for that reason among others, my own celebration of the holyday is just getting into full swing when other people are putting it behind them and getting on with the grim business of slogging through the winter.

This year I should like to start …

Read and hear the rest at bondwine.com

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Review: To the end of the world (and back again)

Oct. 27th, 2013 | 18:56

This past Friday I received two books from Amazon, and passed the whole night and most of Saturday morning in an orgy of reading. First, as an hors d’oeuvre, I read C. S. Lewis’s collection The Weight of Glory, which is much less known than it ought to be; it contains some of Lewis’s best work. The main course was The Last Dark, the tenth and absolutely last of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books.

Read the rest at bondwine.com . . .

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Science fiction or fantasy? A rigorous definition

Oct. 2nd, 2013 | 13:18

If there’s a zeppelin, it’s alternate history. If there’s a rocketship, it’s science fiction. If there are swords and/or horses, it’s fantasy. A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix. If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.

—Debra Doyle


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Happy (Half a) Hobbit Day

Sep. 22nd, 2013 | 14:15

In honour of Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, I wish to offer the following long-belated response to Bilbo’s famous compliment (or insult) at the Long-Expected Party:

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.


That’s all right, Mr. Baggins. If you knew me half as well as you liked, you would soon discover that I deserve to be liked less than half as well as you like more than half of the Hobbits that you like half as well as they deserve. And I say this, which is half of what I should like to say, on behalf of the other half.

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Told by an idiot

Sep. 21st, 2013 | 11:10

As every real literary person knows, brevity is not only the soul of wit, it is the absolute sine qua non of the literary art. The most essential part of writing is cutting.

Some fools and philistines think the most essential part of writing is writing: on the silly grounds that until you have written something, you have nothing to cut. This is an error.

My latest manuscript consists of 500 sheets of blank paper, and I am cutting it already.

I am making it into paper dolls.

They are going to be the most critically acclaimed paper dolls in all of literature.

    (signed)
    H. Smiggy McStudge

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Selections from the Octopus

Sep. 21st, 2013 | 5:29

Strange are the tongues of mortals: you say so much that you do not mean, and yet mean so much more than you say.

—Talanel, seeress of the yrani, in The Grey Death


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Quotha: Sayers on Hell

Sep. 13th, 2013 | 4:22

If we refuse assent to reality: if we rebel against the nature of things and choose to think that what we at the moment want is the centre of the universe to which everything else ought to accommodate itself, the first effect on us will be that the whole universe will seem to be filled with an inexplicable hostility. We shall begin to feel that everything has a down on us, and that, being so badly treated, we have a just grievance against things in general. That is the knowledge of good and evil and the fall into illusion. If we cherish and fondle that grievance, and would rather wallow in it and vent our irritation in spite and malice than humbly admit we are in the wrong and try to amend our behaviour so as to get back to reality, that is, while it lasts, the deliberate choice, and a foretaste of the experience of Hell.

—Dorothy L. Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante


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How to prevent writing

Aug. 26th, 2013 | 2:41

It comes to my attention, as a difficult summer draws to an end, that altogether too many people (some of my 3.6 Loyal Readers among them — I will not hide the truth even to protect them) are still writing books, and even releasing them to the public, despite the very best efforts of the publishing industry to put a stop to this pernicious practice. It would appear that some of you out there have not yet mastered the art of not writing, and still leak wordage from time to time. Herewith, a few helpful tips gleaned from my own recent experience. If you are still writing and want to help stem the tide, here are some methods you might try:

Read the rest at bondwine.com . . .

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The myth of autarky

May. 17th, 2013 | 3:56

Personally I believe that most people are influenced far more than they would care to admit by novels, serial stories, films and so forth, and that from this point of view the worst books are often the most important, because they are usually the ones that are read earliest in life.

—George Orwell, ‘Boys’ Weeklies’



Fantasyland, as the late Diana Wynne Jones demonstrated in her seminal Tough Guide thereto, is an irksome place. It irks me, at any rate, because it is not a world but something more like a film-set; it does not have the working parts to do what it pretends to do. Tolkien was confessedly ignorant of economics, but he at least tried to make sure (for instance) that the Shire was in a naturally fertile clime that could support a large population of hungry hobbits, and that the ‘townlands’ surrounding Minas Tirith were adequate to feed the people of the city. He even threw in a sentence or two about slave plantations in the South of Mordor, around the Sea of Núrnen, to show how Sauron supplied his horde of evil minions. Many fantasy writers don’t even take that much trouble.

Whenever I read about a Glorious City of Gold™ on top of a high mountain, or a Decadent Palace of the Evil Sultan™ in the midst of a trackless desert, I always find myself asking: ‘But what do these people live on?’ A writer could, by mere fiat, say that they get their food by magic; yet the magic is never there. Not only do we not see it onstage, we also do not see any of the probable consequences and (as fools and mortals say) ‘side-effects’ that such magic would have on all other areas of life. One day I shall probably write a snarky and contumacious tract on the economics of Faërie, but for now I want to leave most of that subject on one side and tackle one particular issue. That is the attitude of almost religious awe that fantasy writers have for societies based on subsistence agriculture — an attitude that, in my wide experience, only occurs among people who know nothing about agriculture and precious little about subsistence.

This attitude is not only prevalent in fantasy; some people hold it in real life as well. Among these we must number the ‘locavores’, the well-meaning fools who think it somehow unethical to eat any food grown more than, say, 100 miles away. This is nonense, and easily proved to be nonsense; but a hundred proofs are not worth as much as one plausible story. That is why it is so dangerous that so many of our storytellers don’t know the facts of the case and do not seem interested in learning them. People, consciously or not, are forming their views of life from stories that are not based on life at all.

I hope you will bear with me, then, while I tell a little story, and if it is not a hundred-proof story, I hope it may be strong enough drink for the occasion. And if it is drink that we want, I had better put wine in the story, since wine is the drink of the storyteller, except in those far Northern climes where the skalds sing in mead-halls. I have simplified the details, but everything I say about the simple diet of Eucharia applies to our own more complex society as well.

Read the rest at bondwine.com . . .

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