Review: Joseph Bristow (editor): Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend

oscar wilde bioWe tend to forget that not all legends come down to us through the ages, and that at one time, they were real people who took on some mythical trappings — Ulysses, Siegfried, Elvis. (Yes, Elvis was real — I remember him.)

We also tend to forget how much these legends shape our time. Take, for example, Oscar Wilde:

His disgrace after his conviction for committing acts of “gross indecency” with another man was such that a notice published on his death declined to mention his name, difficult to credit in a world where the sexual peccadilloes of even the more conservative of public figures (or perhaps I mean “especially the more conservative”) are shrugged off or even rewarded with a standing ovation in the chambers of the U.S. Senate.

However, this is now, that was then, and the world has changed more than we realize. Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture traces the elements of Wilde’s rehabilitation and transformation from complete outcast to iconic figure — indeed, a veritable archetype — for not only the GLBT community, but the arts in general.

Editor Joseph Bristow’s anthology embraces biography, history, sociology — just about every discipline that can be called upon to help us understand Wilde’s influence. Read our review of Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend to see how deep that influence has been.

And then think about Ulysses. Or Siegfried. Or Elvis.

Story: Gingerbread

imageI hope you’re enjoying the still hot from the oven gingerbread with a scoop of Madagascar vanilla ice cream on it. Bet you another piece that you don’t know the history of this culinary treat, do you? Thought so. So do take another piece and I’ll tell you all about it.

Our gingerbread is the Swedish version, which is actually Germanic in origin, as it came to that nation with German immigrants in the same way Christmas traditions such as greeting cards, Christmas trees, even wreaths came to Great Britain from German royalty that married into the English royal family. And it was thus that gingerbread as we bake it came to be a Swedish delicacy that we bake here. During the thirteenth century, gingerbread was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. By the fifteenth century in Germany, a gingerbread guild controlled who could bake it.

Gingerbread in German is Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake). Properly spiced gingerbread has a slightly peppery taste, not strong but definitely there.

Several sources note that, to quote one unknown writer, ‘In Germany gingerbread is made in two forms: a soft form called Lebkuchen and a harder form, particularly associated with carnivals and street markets such as the Christmas markets that occur in many German towns. The hard gingerbread is made in decorative shapes, which are then further decorated with sweets and icing. The tradition of cutting gingerbread into shapes takes many other forms, and exists in many countries, a well-known example being the gingerbread man.’

Swedes don’t bake the ginger bread as a cake all that often but do make hard gingerbread cookies for the Christmas season in great quantities. They are thin, very brittle biscuits or cookies as the Yanks called them.

Though our gingerbread is spiced like the Swedish version, ours is moist cake that tastes delicious warm with, as I noted above, vanilla ice cream. Oh, and we don’t put raisins, candied orange peel or other such things in our gingerbread.

So would you like yet a third piece?

Review: And Did Those Feet: Forgetting the Shadows of History

and did those feet
I may have mentioned this before, in passing at least, but have you noticed how many “catch-all” terms we employ? I mean words such as “psychology” and “photography,” which can denote one or several distinct things. (“Photography,” at least, has a common denominator: it’s about recording light on a more-or-less stable medium.)

One of those terms that I’ve run across in my forays into the various types of music is “New Age.” Now, that can mean a lot of different kinds of music, from jazz-derived explorations to mood-inducing electronica to appropriations of various traditions, both Western and non-Western. (Anyone want to talk about “Celtic” music (or what passes for it in the New Age canon)? I don’t. At least, not right now.)

Now, one of the interesting things about New Age music is the caliber of some of the practitioners. Take, for example, the members of And Did Those Feet, whose album, Forgetting the Shadows of History, we’re looking at today:

The group And Did Those Feet was founded in 1992 by composer/ performer Richard Ellin to showcase his own compositions. He was joined by vocalists Ina Williams, who has won many awards in singing contests in Wales and abroad, and Celia Jones, born in Canada but active on the music scene in Britain for over twenty years. Forgetting the Shadows of History is their third release.

We’ve got a lot of combined experience in this group, and it’s solid experience, if awards are any indicator. So how did the music turn out? Well, for that you’re going to have to read the review.

Listening Notes: Some Music for a Sunday Morning

biggreenieI’m out in the Courtyard on this warm Scottish morning watching a pick-up football match on the Greensward between Iain’s all female Library apprentices and an all male group from the staff that works for Gus, the Estate Head Gardener. (Gus has a number of female staff but they declined to play as they had something else planned.) The first team is up four-nought after two periods, a true ass kicking I’d say.

So let’s put together some music for you on this morning.

Let’s start off with a set by Danu, one the great Irish trad bands, doing ‘Morrison’s Jig’ and ‘The Rambler’, followed by them giving us ‘The Garden Soldier’.

Now let’s move over to De Dannan, another great Irish group doing ‘Jenny Rocking The Cradle’, a favourite of mine.

Hmmm… What next? How about ‘Reynardine’ as offered up by Fairport Convention? They also give us for this morning ‘Reynard The Fox’.

Let’s finished off with ‘Red Barn Stomp’, which has always been one of my favourite Oysterband concert tunes.

Ahh — the score’s six nought. The lads are definitely buying several rounds in the Pub tonight for the winners!

Review: Marc Andreyko, Shawn McManus: Fairest: Of Men and Mice

Fairest 4
There keep being collections of, and spin offs from, Bill Willingham’s Fables series, which I suppose is not surprising: it’s been a very popular series, with a lot of room to bring the world of fairy tales into the modern day. So, today we’ve got a look at one of those spin-offs, Fairest: Of Men and Mice, written by Marc Andreyko, with art by Shawn McManus. It’s a sort of fairy tale cum action/adventure thriller.

Someone is out to nail Fabletown’s notables. It starts with an attempt on Snow White by a horde of rat-men – a painfully unsuccessful attempt — followed by a suicide bombing at the Glass Slipper, Cinderella’s shoe emporium. Cinderella’s not there.

It gets sort of complicated, what with the rat-men, the Fairy Godmother, a couple of Indian fables, and a stray mouse footman from way back when. Read the review to see how it all ties together.

Live Action: Feast of Fiddles: Still Live

feast - stillliveThe classic line here is actually from me, when asked to review Blazin’ Fiddles: Live: “A whole orchestra? Of fiddles!?”

Well, I got used to the idea: we’ve done a lot of reviews of fiddle groups, from strictly traditional to not so much, including not only Blazin’ Fiddles, but String Sisters, Portland Megaband, and, not least, Feast of Fiddles. If you’re interested in the caliber of musicians who come together to do these concerts and recordings, Cat Eldridge gives us the roster on this recording:

Phil Beer (violin)… Joe Broughton (violin)… Hugh Crabtree (melodeon and vocals)… Ian Cutler (bridge aquila and 8ve violins)… Dave Harding (electric bass)… Peter Knight (violin and bridge 8ve)… Tom Leary (violin)… Chris Leslie (violin)… Dave Mattacks (drums)… Brian McNeill (violin, bridge 8ve and bouzouki)… John Underwood (electric guitar)… Martin Vincent (electric guitar)…

If that doesn’t set your heart beating and your toe tapping, you should read Cat’s review to see what it’s like.

Review: Patti Perret: The Faces of Fantasy

imageHave you noticed that just about any human endeavor sooner or later accumulates its own — well, for lack of a better phrase, “reference library”? Even speculative fiction, for so long the red-headed stepchild of literature, has built up a body of critical literature, analysis, exegesis — it’s even become the subject of college-level literature courses.

Of course, there are those things that are more fan-oriented, such as Patti Perret’s The Faces of Fantasy, a companion to her earlier volume, The Faces of Science Fiction. And it seems the later book as benefited from advances in printing and a more liberal travel budget:

If The Faces of Science Fiction suffered from mediocre printing, and I’ll say it did, The Faces of Fantasy is quite the opposite, with everything done in a manner befitting the subject. Now I’ll admit that over a decade of advances in publishing technologies separate the former, which was published in 1984, from the latter, which was published in 1996, and the latter is is as good as anything being published today in terms of design and the quality of the book itself.

That’s all well and good, you say, but what about the substance? Well, Cat Eldridge talks about that at length in his review, so you should click through and read it.

Theater of the Mind: Roger Zelazny: The Chronicles of Amber: Nine Princes in Amber

imageIn spite of the difficulties we’ve recounted elsewhere in finding audiobook editions of the works of Roger Zelazny, we’re happy to report that that is not the case with his most popular series, The Chronicles of Amber:

Unlike the last two Zelazny audiobooks that I reviewed, Isle of the Dead and My Name is Legion, which don’t exist in an easily obtainable and definitely legal audio version, this is a work that can be purchased at any online seller of audiobooks, including but not limited to Audible and iTunes.

Now, of course you all know the basic set-up of the series. You do, don’t you? Hmm.

Well, if you want to get filled in on that and what the listening experience of this one is like, read Iain’s review of the first installment of the series, Nine Princes in Amber.

Review: J. Oliver Dancoine, with Charles Vess and John Potten: Charles Vess: From The 1970’s to 1996

And today we have some hard-core ephemera, no doubt about it. As Iain points out in his review of J. Oliver Dancoine’s Charles Vess: From The 1970’s to 1996:

Self-published chapbooks are indeed a form of emphemera as the ones published in small numbers before the age of digital epubs largely cease to be available, as they generally are not archived, not cataloged by libraries, nor do the individuals attempt to keep them in- print. Such is the case with this one.

If you want to see how much information can be packed into less than a hundred pages, read Iain’s review.

Story: May Pole

biggreenieIt’s a holiday, or about to be. More precisely, May Day at the Estate, which is tomorrow of course. So what’s planned for this very special day?

We lead off the day with music and a May Pole just after dawn in the courtyard. Roots and Branches, which consists of a violinist (Catherine, Iain’s wife), a smallpiper (Finch, the associate Pub manager) and a hardanger fiddler (Anna, who’s a visiting muso who plays in some Swedish trad band) will provide the music.

Iain will give a (hopefully) brief speech on the importance of May Day, both spiritually and politically. We’ll then have a dance around the May Pole, with both lads and the lasses, human and elvin alike, dressed in their best finery. Well their finest Red Faire style finery. It’s quite a sight (and sound as well) though between you and me I think that it does get just a bit silly.

We’ll all head into the Estate Building for a breakfast. Mrs. Ware and her staff prepare blueberry waffles, smoked bacon and Jamaican Blue Mountain (don’t ask how much that costs). Oh, and real maple syrup, of course, for the waffles.

After breakfast, I lead all interested in the Annual Blessing of the Gardens, which is held in the high meadow that overlooks much of our gardening area. It calls for enough rain, but not too much, warm days but no killing heat (even we can get that) and protection from all the things that can go wrong. It’s actually a very moving experience.

That’s pretty much it ’til I do the calling for a contradance that starts well after the Eventide meal with Random Acts of Dancing, which is violinist Bela, concertina player Reynard and crwth player Blodwyn rounding out the group. If it’s warm enough, and it usually is, it takes place in the stone tiled paved courtyard.

All in all a most excellent way to celebrate May Day!