Last night I said to Garry “Aha! He is hoisted upon his own petard!”
By which meant he had just become the victim of what he (in this case a movie character) had planned for someone else. Then, I paused, thinking.
“What,” I asked Garry, “Is a petard?”
“I have no idea,” said my husband. Which is when I realized I’ve been using this expression my whole life and don’t know what it means.
Petard sounds French, but what is it? I grabbed my laptop and typed “hoist on his … ” into Google. Before I got to petard … up it came. Don’t you just love when that happens?
Voila! Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the rest of the story.
A petardwas a bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. Castles. Walled cities. That sort of thing. The word was originally (duh) French and dates to the sixteenth century.
Typically, a petard was metal (bronze or iron), shaped like a cone or box. Filled with two or three kilos (5 or 6 pounds) of gunpowder and using a slow match for a fuse, the petard was a primitive, powerful and unstable explosive device.
After being filled with gunpowder, it would be attached to a wooden base and fastened to a wall, on or under a gate. The fuse was lit. If all went as planned, the explosion would blow a hole big enough to let assault troops through.
Thus the phrase “hoist on his/her own petard” came to mean “harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else.” It suggests you could be lifted — hoisted — by your own bomb.
Perhaps you did not know we have a National Poetry month. It has been celebrated each year since 1996. It is a way to honor the genre that gets little notice outside of high school and college Literature classes. Events are organized. “Poetry slams” are encountered. Bookstores feature poetry. Literate Presidents provide proclamations. For many, it is an important spotlight for this literary art form.
In high school we learned all about the literary devices that are important to many poems. It is not just end rhyme that is important, as many poems do not include this. It is also alliteration, that is the repetition of initial consonant sounds as in the title above.
There is also rhythm which helps the lines to flow or give it that musical quality. Of course, rhyme, particularly “end rhyme” also plays into this. I always thought that the Carol King Tapestry album demonstrated the use of sound devices quite well. In my mind it is one of the most brilliant and literate albums of all time.
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
This brings me to a salient point for the non believers of the importance of poetry. Many will say they do not read poetry and in fact do not know any poems. Of course, this is not true. Most of us can recite poems without any problem at all. That is because we all have song lyrics embedded in our memory banks.
We sing along with songs on the radio and before long we know the lyrics. We play our favorite albums often and the words can be quickly recalled. We know these lyrics, that is the poems, better than any we encountered in school. While some could not think of a poem from class that they still know, they can recall song lyrics at a moment’s notice.
In college, at proms and dances, even at weddings Beginnings by Chicago was a popular song in the 1970s. I recall the song today just as I did back then. The poem has stayed with me and I am always happy to sing along. The words did not rely heavily on sound devices. It let the music and the meaning carry it.
When I’m with you It doesn’t matter where we are Or what we’re doing I’m with you, that’s all that matters
On the 1st of April, 1996 President Clinton told us: “National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today’s American poetry.” He went on to tell us “creativity and wealth of language enrich our culture.”
If you listen to a lot of music on the radio, you may think that much of what you hear resembles bad fifth grade poetry with an obnoxious meter designed to drive you crazy. This is not unique to today’s song lyrics. After all our generation had “bubble gum music:”
Yummy, yummy, yummy I got love in my tummy and I feel like a-lovin’ you Love, you’re such a sweet thing, good enough to eat thing And it’s just a-what I’m gonna do
We will spare you the link to this Ohio Express “classic.” I will force you to search the internet for it yourself. Don’t worry, every bad song is immortalized on You Tube.
Aside from your favorite Carol King or Chicago song lyrics, there are many poets sending a message without music. These hard-working scribes need an extra push to catch the attention of the reading public. National poetry month is meant to help that along.
Did you know that the United States has an official poet? The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, better known as the United States Poet Laureate, is Tracy K. Smith. The person serving in this capacity “seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.”
The post was started in 1937 as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, but was changed by Congress in 1985 to its present title. The post has been held by such literary heavyweights as Robert Penn Warren, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, James Dickey, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others. You may have read some of them in school.
I recall Frost from my school days. I always saw the importance of his work, The Road Not Taken, and probably appreciate it more now than I did then. You can support poetry this month by doing more than bad karaoke at the local inn. Read a poem, buy a book of poetry, listen to poems on Audible or some poetry site. You may find works that are more important than the lyrics to your favorite song.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“Les Miserables” is coming to Boston. I know this because the advertisement for it is on TV every few minutes. I read the book originally in French, back when I could actually read French and sort of mumble in French if forced.
The original poster
I never spoke the language well, but I could read surprisingly well. However, I have to admit that “Les Miserables” was very long and frankly, I just didn’t understand why whats-his-face, the detective didn’t just say “screw it” and go back to Paris. Buy a high-quality bottle of red and get bombed.
By the time I was nearing the end of the book I was sick of everybody and even though I don’t drink, I was ready to get bombed too.
Unlike most cop thrillers, no one got shot. No car chases. Okay, no cars, but how about horse and carriage chases? Or even people running fast? Something, please. A little action maybe?
So the other day with the advertisement reminding me that I should see the show — I didn’t see the play on Broadway or the movie. The book really did me in. I realized what we needed was an alternative to “Les Miz” titled “Less Miserable.”
It would be a book about thieves who are not all that miserable. They live comfortably in the suburbs of Paris. The real drama (which isn’t in the book, but is occasionally referred to) happens in court. Lawyers duking it out. Meanwhile, everyone adjourns to whatever they call a pub in France. I don’t think they taught us that word.
Much less miserable, don’t you think?
If I could write plays I’d enjoy writing “Less Miserable.” It would be a lot shorter than the original book and the police guy would give up after one long weekend. Why? Because his boss would object to so many overtime hours and tell him to pack it in.
Why do publishers ONLY publish potential best-sellers? Many books we read from in those old days were not wildly popular. Publishers understood a good book deserved publication, even if it wouldn’t be a bestseller. Our literature would be a very poor place if we only published the most popular genres.
It’s true I don’t read every kind of book anymore, but I did when I was younger. I did when I was a kid and right through most of my adulthood. Only during the past few years has my taste become more specific.
I read all of Dostoyevsky in one year. Aside from never remembering anyone’s’ name, I mostly enjoyed them. I couldn’t read them now — too gloomy — but when I was 15? It was great stuff! I’m also pretty sure none of those books ever made anyone’s bestseller list. Can you imagine Proust topping the best-seller list? Or Gorky?
All writers wrote more and less popular material. Not everyone likes every book or every genre, but that ought not to be the only reason a book gets published. It’s depressing for writers and very off-putting for those who have written GOOD books and know that there isn’t a publisher on earth who wants it because it isn’t in one of their “niche” areas.
When I worked at Doubleday, we published anything that was reasonably well-written. We had more than a dozen book clubs that catered to specialized audiences as well as two generic clubs. I ran (they made me do it) two libraries: American Garden Guild (I learned a lot about plants!) and Doubleday Romance Library. To this day I know more ways to say “fell in love” than you can shake a stick at.
None of this stuff had to be bestseller material. It had an audience. The major point of book clubs what we knew there was an audience for just about everything, so we published for everyone. From military book clubs to science fiction and crime, if you wanted to read it, Doubleday published it and probably had a book club dedicated to it, too.
Many books were published because a real, live human editor felt it was worth the paper and ink.
Today, if you aren’t writing something the company’s editorial software thinks is “hot,” no human editor will so much as look at it, much less publish it.
Which is why writers end up with a boxful of computer-generated rejections. The computer scanned it, didn’t find the right buzz words, and threw it away. I finally had ONE editor willing to look at my book … and — this is true — he died a few days before he got to it.
I gave up. Not that I wrote anything really great, but it was worth at least a read or two.
It really is going to be a sad batch of literature we leave to the next generation. Good thing there are still books from earlier years to read. So many great writers will never publish or will self-publish and no one will notice them.
Okay, this is my rant of the day. It worries me that so few writers get properly published. Excellent writers are rare beasts and deserve notice. Deserve publication. And all good writers deserve to have at least one hardcover book that comes with the delicious smell of ink fresh from the press.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap — When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below; When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer, With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name: “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen, “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen; “To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! “Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too: And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound: He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot; A bundle of toys was flung on his back, And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry, His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry; His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow; The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath. He had a broad face, and a little round belly That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly: He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself; A wink of his eye and a twist of his head Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle: But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight — Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
A quick note:
Back when newspapers were getting read by normal people, every year The Boston Herald printed this poem on its front page. The Herald was disbanded this year, a very sad day for Boston now reduced to just one newspaper, so I have undertaken to print the poem myself.
The pictures are originals of the book’s covers through the years. Sometimes called “The Night Before Christmas” and other times called “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and periodically both, the covers show this variation.
Most people know it by both titles anyway. I used to know it by heart.
The first mention of either the Lady of the Lake or Ninian (Niniane, Vivian, etc.) is to be found in the late work Prose Merlin. Her character remains much the same through to Sir Thomas Malory, who simply makes the story more complex. In all the stories that name her Ninian is a fully developed character. She is the original owner of Arthur’s second sword and later becomes Merlin’s pupil.
However, as with many aspects of the Arthurian literary world, there are serious gaps in reasoning with her story, and these gaps suggest a very different origin for her. For instance, Merlin somehow knows she will betray him, but teaches her anyway. The romances explain that he does so because he loves her, but that sounds like more of a rationalization of something not understood than a historical fact that is.
The end of her story is that Niniane does trap Merlin in a cave the moment her studies are over. He is left there, alive (again, no serious explanation). It certainly is not out of malice for Arthur. Niniane takes over as his counselor for the remainder of his reign and does her best to help him. She is also one of the four women who take him to Avalon. That is the extent of Ninian’s literary career. Clearly, her original character and the transformation have been hidden by chance and misunderstandings.
Uinniau was a prominent ecclesiastic of sixth-century Britain who may have been Columba’s teacher. He was known as Niniane in Welsh saints’ lives or Nynia by Bede. However, much of Scotland has place-names derived from his proper name of Uinniau. This Uinniau was known for three things mainly. First, he was one of the most knowledgeable persons of his age. Second, he was a great teacher who made his monastery of Whithorn was a primary center of learning in Britain. Finally, it is known that he would occasionally go on a retreat to a nearby cave, known as St. Ninian’s Cave, which was several miles away from his monastery.
Niniane would eventually became the form by which Uinniau was exclusively known. In fact, the process must have been an early one. Bede, writing in 725, knew him only by that name. It was an unfortunate circumstance that Niniane was a Celtic name, and the romance writers who would treat Arthur on the continent spoke Germanic and Latin languages. The unfamiliarity with Celtic would lead to confusion over his gender, and he became a she there.
Arthur was an attractive figure in the literature of the Middle Ages, gravitating all manner of figures, motifs, and stories to him. In previous blogs, I have mentioned the attraction of the Myrddin (Merlin) legend and the figure of Urien. The same sort of fate awaited Uinniau. Long before Arthur had become a figure of romance, Uinniau’s dominant name-form had become to Niniane. For the Celtic speaker that was still a male name, but for continentals, it was female.
That change from male to female, from independent ecclesiastic to intelligent layperson was where Uinniau became a different literary figure. Once Uinniau was a part of the Arthurian universe, his reputation for intelligence would have drawn him to the already established Merlin; in an irony of history, a lunatic (Myrddin) became the teacher of one of the best-read people of the age (Uinniau). Once that transformation was accomplished, the latent aspects of Uinniau’s memory easily made their way into Arthurian the tales, and Merlin was trapped in the cave Uinnau had used as a refuge.
I won’t pretend to know how Ninian became the Lady of the Lake. However, she would not have begun her Arthurian career that way. She would have started off as Merlin’s pupil and successor with the qualities of her historical precursor intact. She was associated with a lake only by Robert de Boron, an author that I have discovered in my research was not one to stick with his traditional sources. It is possible he knew of some Celtic tale which he used to enhance Uinniau’s mythology. It is equally possible he used something more contemporary. That part of the history of the Lady of the Lake we may never know.
I really missed Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden. I missed Harry, the only wizard listed in Chicago’s telephone book. I miss his huge furry dog Mouse. And his gigantic cat. I miss his magical Chicago and the strange island in the middle of Lake Michigan.
The only new writing he has put out in recent years is a collection of short stories, which I bought and read. And then, I began the entire series from the beginning, books one through 15 because I live in hope that someday, he will decide to write one last book about Harry Dresden. Just one more.
I am a Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher fan, so there’s no way for me to discuss any of these books with even a semblance of neutrality. If you also love the series, the enchanted world of Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher … I’m with you.
In the next to last Dresden book, “Ghost Story,” Harry was neither entirely alive nor quite dead. It was a difficult excursion for Harry’s fans. I liked it well enough, though it was different from any previous Harry Dresden adventure. I was sure it was an important bridge to the next phase of Harry’s world and I was right.
“Cold Days” is more satisfying. Although Harry gets pulverized (as usual), I’m consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has, after all, already survived death. Earlier books ended with more resolution than the last few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing storyline. “Cold Days” brings Harry back — alive, this time. He is different. Changed, less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. This is just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and they aren’t going away.
Jim Butcher is brilliant.
He extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces horrendous odds, then adroitly uses these apparently hopeless situations to move the story in a new direction that will become the next book. Nothing is superfluous. It’s all part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of the full picture to be revealed in a subsequent installment.
I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on this plane is likely to consist of grey bureaucrats, smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there fighting for justice, even when it seems he’s taken a wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad, though he is stubborn, too wedded to his own opinions. He has always been a poor listener and this failure has cost him dearly.
He listens better these days.
Harry is changing and growing. He’s painfully (in the most literal sense) aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s not cocksure anymore. He has become more of a planner. He is less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. All to the good.
I’m sensing a climactic conclusion to the series coming. I wish the series would go on forever, but Jim Butcher has said it will be 20 books and a trilogy. I’m not sure if the trilogy is part of the 20 books or in addition to it. I keep meaning to ask. Maybe I’ll just wait and see.
I hope — by now — the next installment of the Dresden Files is nearing publication. I’ll be waiting and ready to read when it comes around! Meanwhile, if you haven’t gotten to this one, don’t miss it. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.
I’m now finishing the last full book – Skin Game. I think there needs to be at least one more. Please Jim, one more. Just one. After that, I’ll stop begging.
He has his own website where you can find all his books. It’s called Jim Butcher. All his books are available at Amazon and everywhere they sell books, including Audiobooks.
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