In Depth


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

In 1977, the more observant viewers and critics commented upon the look and feel of a new film.  Instead of a world in which everything appeared newly-produced and sparkling, this was one in which it was clear that people had lived for a long time and many different peoples, at that.


Even their vehicles had a scratched and dusty look.


We had been told, of course, in the very opening sequence that this was an old place—


but actually seeing its used look was that much more convincing


as was seeing—and hearing—its peoples,


who sometimes even required subtitles, as if the audience were watching a foreign film.


In time, as the success of this film produced not only more films, but mountains of other material, from novels to graphic novels to spin-off series to toys and t-shirts and kitchen ware,


a whole literature appeared about this world—or, we should say, worlds. Its geography and even its extremely-varied animal life.



And, along with all of the other material, information about its languages began to appear.


What prompted this posting, however, was something odd about one of those languages, that spoken by a character in what would, in time, become the sixth in the series.


This was pointed out to us by David J. Peterson


in his 2015 book, The Art of Language Invention.


As a child, what had puzzled Peterson was that the character (who is subtitled), says only “Yate, yate, yoto, ei, yato, cha”—in total, only six different words, but they are translated as everything from “I have come for the bounty on this Wookiee” to “50,000, no less”.  (This is quoted and discussed on pages 3 to 5 of Peterson’s book—which is, by the way, one we would recommend, if you’re as interested in languages as we are.)

How could so few words mean so many different things?  As an adult, looking back, Peterson had his doubts and we would agree—especially when reading about the world in which Peterson lives, the world of “conlang”, which is short for “constructed languages”.  Peterson is the creator of Dothraki, the language of the nomadic Dothraki people,


one of the numerous races which inhabit the landscape of George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones, first novels, then a huge, elaborate, and engrossing television series.



The difference between “yate”, etc and Dothraki is that those few words are there to suggest that someone is speaking in a language different from the language spoken by the majority of the characters—which is the method employed throughout not only this film, but its two immediate successors.


What Peterson set out to do was to create the shape of an entire language (something he has done more than once).  Here’s a LINK to the Wiki site, which, as usual, leads to other sites, which lead to other sites, which lead… if you’d like to learn more.

As worn-looking buildings and vehicles, different peoples and flora and fauna, and at least the suggestion of other languages create a bigger, deeper picture of the setting of an adventure, so, too, does the suggestion of great age.  Over time, the huge pile of material for the film series we first mentioned showed, in detail, that what we were seeing was, in fact, only the latest phase in a whole galaxy of civilizations over many centuries—after all, “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic”.


Another way to suggest that great age is a much less dramatic one—perhaps even a nearly-invisible one–practiced by one of our favorite authors and the subject of innumerable postings, and here is one of his efforts.


What we’re seeing here is JRRT working out the history of sounds throughout a series of Elf languages, Qenya, Telerin, Noldorin, Ilkorin, and Danian, part of his immense and immensely-detailed work on the tongues of Middle-earth.   All languages change through time, of course—here’s a rough version of the succession of periods of English—

Old English (the opening lines of Beowulf, 700-1000AD,


Middle English (the opening of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, c.1400AD),


Early Modern English (the beginning of the first scene of Shakepeare’s Hamlet, 1603),


early 19th-century English (the first lines of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, 1813),


and early 20th-century English (the opening of James Joyce’s Ulysses, 1922).


And Joyce even attempted to suggest the procession of those periods in Chapter 14 of Ulysses, “The Oxen of the Sun”, where the story is told through paragraphs which sound like earlier versions of the language gradually moving towards modern English.  (The novelist Nabokov, who played with language constantly, actually found this chapter boring, perhaps because it seemed to him like a one-off, not really in aid of the plot and its characters in general, but rather just a piece of private fun by and for the author?)

JRRT, however, goes one better.  Like other creators of big adventures, he used lots of means to deepen his story, from an extensive and detailed map


to describing the remains of earlier times still standing in the landscape of Middle-earth of the present,


to adding detailed historical appendices and chronologies (and his valiant son, Christopher, has added many volumes more),


but using intricate sound changes and their logical development takes the idea of depth into new regions, especially because it would probably go unnoticed by most readers—there’s an awful lot of detail in those appendices—but whose meticulous creation is not in the least surprising for someone who once wrote, “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.” (Letters, 219)

Thanks, as ever, for reading.





Ah yes—the nearly-inevitable post scriptum—if the normal world/s of the films we first mentioned are “scruffy-looking” (to quote a character about another character), we notice that the world of the villains—the soldiers of the Empire and their surroundings—are hard and clean and shiny—which makes us feel a little better when we wonder when we may last have shined our shoes.



Dayless Dawn


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

In this, the last year of the centennial of the Great War, we are often reminded not only of that conflict, but also that Second Lieutenant J R R Tolkien took part in it.


By the time he had reached the Front, in July, 1916, the latest round of blood-letting, the infamous Somme, was already in progress.



“Blood-letting” is an understatement:  on the first day of the battle, 1 July, 1916, there had been nearly 60,000 British casualties and attacks would continue till November.  The problems faced were mainly those of 1914.  The well-equipped, well-trained professional soldier of the British Expeditionary Force


met the Maxim Gun


and took heavy casualties.  These casualties were multiplied by the number and range of German artillery.


To defend themselves against these modern weapons, soldiers went to ground as soon as they could.


Digging in moved from a simple scrape of the earth into 500 miles (from Switzerland to the North Sea) of often very elaborate earthworks.


Equip these with machine guns


and spread acres of barbed wire in front


and you can think that you’re safe from attack.


So, the problem then was:  how to break through?  And this is where the German chemical industry


and its brilliant chemist, Fritz Haber,


(who will share the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1918) came in.

Haber, famous for creating artificial fertilizer—his positive side—was also a captain in the Kaiser’s army (hence the uniform in our illustration), intensely convinced that Germany was justified in waging war on Europe, and began to develop a reply to elaborate fortifications:  poison gases—Haber’s dark side.

Nearly twenty years before, in 1900, many of the world’s nations, including Germany, had signed an agreement at the Hague that, among other things, they wouldn’t employ such a weapon, but, clearly, the temptation was too great, and not only for Germany.  After the first major attack, 22 April, 1915, in which the Germans had killed or driven a large number of French troops from their trenches, the British and French began their own development programs.

Over time, the gases varied as experiments showed scientists and military men what worked and what didn’t.  There were simple tear gases, which incapacitated soldiers by blinding them with their own tears and disturbed their breathing, to much deadlier blister agents—but here’s a chart to lay out the effects.


Delivery systems varied.  Gas might be released from canisters, allowing the prevailing wind to carry it to the enemy.


The difficulty here was the variability of winds—should the direction change, the releasers of gas might—and sometimes did—find themselves the victims.

Gas packed into artillery shells was more dependable.


Shells were marked to identify which gas was inside, as in this illustration.

In time, the British developed a method of projecting gas bombs in large numbers with what were called “Livens projectors”.



This simple mechanism could be used in banks to blanket the enemy line with poisonous air.


Initially, there had been no defense against this weapon, but, in time, both sides developed gas masks.


And, of course, something had to be done for the hundreds of thousands of horses both depended upon.


Here’s how the later, more efficient ones worked.


They might have prevented suffocation, but they were uncomfortable and, worse, the lenses soon fogged over, making it difficult to see the enemy in their masks advancing through the clouds of gas.



In the television series about young Indiana Jones of some years ago, there was a very graphic depiction of this—and here’s a LINK so that you can see for yourself.  (We very much recommend this series, by the way.  On the whole, it has many episodes which not only fill in Indie’s past, but are good adventure stories in themselves.)

We can imagine, then, what might have been going on in JRRT’s mind when he wrote:

“It was dark and dim all day.  From the sunless dawn until evening the heavy shadow had deepened, and all hearts in the City were oppressed.  Far above a great cloud streamed slowly westward from the Black Land, devouring light, borne upon a wind of war; but below the air was still and breathless, as if all the Vale of Anduin waited for the onset of a ruinous storm.”  (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 4, “The Siege of Gondor”)


Were those orcs approaching, or the Kaiser’s infantry?


Thanks, as ever, for reading.




The horrific effects of chemical warfare have, to us, never been more powerfully depicted than in John Singer Sargent’s (1856-1925)  Gassed (1919), based upon Sargent’s visit to the Western Front in July, 1918.



But, you know us—if we can add a little something more, we always will and, in this case, we want to end not with just this image, horrible and moving as it is, but with something from another of Sargent’s works.  Along with being a society painter, he was one of the greatest American watercolorists and has left us a collection of beautiful, atmospheric works from Europe, the US, and the Caribbean.  We want to end, then, with these very different clouds–




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As always, dear readers, welcome.

In an addition to an entry in Letters, the main portion of which has rather a murky history (see 217-218), but which the editor dates as “presumably written circa 1966”, Tolkien says that several features of The Lord of the Rings “still move me very powerfully”.  These features include being “most stirred by the sound of the horses of the Rohirrim at cockcrow”.

As this is one of our favorite parts of the book,



we would absolutely agree, but, as is so often the case, both with JRRT and with ourselves, we wondered why.

The easiest answer is that it’s a highly-dramatic moment:  the main gate of Minas Tirith is giving way under the blows of Grond, the orcs are about to pour in, and it looks like Aragorn and his companions won’t appear in time to save the situation.


We have been following the Rohirrim, of course, from their muster to their march


to their meeting with Ghan-buri-Ghan,


so the build is two-fold:  the attack, which is completely focused on breaking in, and the approach of the Rohirrim.  Thus, when it looks darkest, the charge is like sunlight breaking through heavy cloud.


This is a beginning, we thought, to why, but could there have been another reason for JRRT?

When Tolkien, growing up, thought of cavalry charges, he probably saw, in his mind’s eye, the glorious mounted attacks of Britain’s past, like the Scots Greys at Waterloo



or the 16th Lancers at Aliwal


or the Light Brigade at Balaclava.


In all of these, soldiers in bright-colored coats waved swords and lancers and dashed fearlessly against the enemy.  Even his toy soldiers would have had that same devil-may-care look


as did the real cavalry of his childhood,


but, when 1914 and the Great War came, soldiers put away those bright colors and put on khaki.


But did that wild courage have to be put away, as well?  In 1914, there were a few moments when even mud-colored mounted men had a moment of glory.


This wasn’t to last—at least on the Western Front and a major reason was this—


(Here’s a LINK to a clip from the film Warhorse, which shows the effect in rather a symbolic way, thank goodness!  We love horses and mourn their terrible losses through all of world history—they never asked to be part of human violence and, so often, their fate was to die because of it.  We also think that it’s just as well that the commander of this imaginary attack didn’t survive it—it’s absolutely inept, both in conception and its carrying-out and he would deserve to have been court-martialed.)

So, instead, those men dismounted and became infantry, fighting from hole in the ground to hole in the ground.


This was the world which JRRT


knew:  heavy guns, gas, and the rattle of machine guns, no place for wide double ranks of sabre-wavers.


There was at least one bright moment, but not on the Western Front.  Instead, it was in far-off Palestine, where, on 31 October, 1917, Australians and their horses swept over a line of Turkish trenches  at Beersheba in a charge very reminiscent of the 19th -century world.


Ironically, these were not cavalry at all, but Australian Light Horse—mounted infantry—who, lacking swords or sabres or lances, attacked using their long bayonets, instead.


(You can see this charge reenacted wonderfully in the 1987 Australian movie, The Lighthorsemen, one of our very favorite films of the Great War.


Here’s a LINK to the charge scene, before you see the whole film—but we recommend that you see that charge in context.)

On the whole, however, modern war had become one big, bloody ditch,


and victory came in mud-color and mass industrial slaughter.  Perhaps it was a relief to imagine another world, where brave men in armor, mounted on flying horses, still had a place?


As always, thanks for reading!



Games with Shadows


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

From our childhood, we’ve been interested in puppets.  We began with marionettes.


(These, by the way, are from Palermo, in Sicily, and come from the famous Teatro dell’Opera dei Pupi, whose chief puparo, or puppeteer, is a hero of ours, Mimmo Cuticchio,


who is also  a street-corner storyteller, a cuntastori, who, with only a cape and wooden sword, can make anything happen.)


All kinds of puppets interest us, however, from the most elaborate, like marionettes,


to the most basic–


and what can be more basic than Cookie Monster?

In our last, we briefly mentioned the work of Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981),


who, in a long career, created hundreds of figures in silhouette, employing them to tell both traditional stories as well as original ones.


Her method was to draw and cut out figures, then film them with stop-motion photography—if you know the adventures of Wallace and Gromit, you’ll have seen the clay figure version of this method.


Her figures, as we wrote, reminded us of traditional shadow puppets, once popular in many parts of the world, from Karagoez, in Turkey (KAH-rah-goes on the right, with his friend, Hacivat—HA-tsih-vat)


to his Greek cousin, Karaghiozis,


to Indian shadow puppets


to their direct descendants, the wayang kulit, or “leather puppets” of Indonesia.


Not only the look of these puppets, but how they’re managed against a screen reminded us of Lotte Reiniger’s work.



We say “direct descendants” because, considering the two main stories Indonesian puppeteers tell, as well as elements of the puppets themselves, it’s clear that this part of shadow puppet tradition has come to the island from farther west, those two stories, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, being traditional Indian epics, like the West’s Iliad and Odyssey.

(If you don’t know Indian epic, we would recommend this English version of the Ramayana.  It’s meant for children, but it’s nicely told and keeps to the basic story—we also like the fact that the author’s first name, Bulbul, (“Nightingale”) is that of one of our main characters in our new novel, Grey Goose and Gander.)


Lotte Reiniger’s puppets are cut from what appears to be black cardboard and therefore lack color.


Traditional puppets are made of buffalo leather, scraped thin, and painted in such a way that they almost look like figures from medieval stained glass windows.




They are large and are supported on a rod, with thinner rods allowing the arms to move.



The stage is a large, white screen


and the shadows are created by a lamp behind it.  Traditionally, an oil lamp is used, but you can now see performance pictures with an electric light which, to us, is too bright and rather spoils the old-fashioned, smoky effect.


Because of the bright colors of the puppets, some people actually prefer to sit behind the screen,


where they can also better hear the accompanying orchestra, a gamelan, or group of metallophones.



Here’s a LINK to music used in performances.  We recommend it, believing it to be very beautiful, as well as being very different, both in sound and structure, from western classical music (and, if you read us regularly, you know that we’re passionate about that, as well).  In fact, it has even influenced western classical music, particularly that of Claude Debussy (1862-1918).


Debussy first heard a gamelan in 1889 at the Paris Exposition,


was impressed with what he heard, and began to play with effects which echo gamelan compositions.  “Pagodes” from his 1903 collection, Estampes (“Prints”) is a good example.  Here’s a LINK so that you can compare it with the gamelan.

The performances themselves are an interesting mixture, typical of what was originally an oral tradition.  Although plot lines are taken directly from epic, they act as a mere skeleton for the play.  The puppeteer, like someone rebuilding a body on a skeleton, adds his own material—dialogue, subplots, extra characters, jokes, and, sometimes, political commentary—to (literally) flesh out the basic frame.  It’s interesting, too, that the characters can be on two levels.  On the upper level, they are all princesses and princes, kings and queens, nobles and generals.


On the lower level, they can be demons,


who act not only as servants, but as interpreters, a very necessary function as the upper level characters tend to speak in Old Court Javanese, an archaic language which the audience wouldn’t understand.  The lower level speaks the local language and so can guide the audience through the (often complex) plot, as well as make local references and jokes.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see wayang kulit outside of Indonesia or in any language besides those of Indonesia, but one of us has been fortunate to see several performances in English by the US puppeteer, Larry Reed, of Shadowlight Productions.  These shows are about two hours long (very short in comparison with Indonesian performances, which can go on all night) and feel like 10 minutes, the magic being in the shadows, the plot, and the quick wit of the puppeteer.  Here’s a LINK to Shadowlight to tell you more.

We want to end on a different note, however.  A long time ago, we saw a very good amateur production of The Hobbit as a play.  At the time, we were struck by how much could be done very simply on stage and, in particular, how Smaug could be brought to life with a small group of actors bunched together, swaying in a strobe light (that’s one of those flashing lights which alternates light and shadow effects) and all speaking at once.  Ever since, we’ve thought about shadow plays and The Hobbit—just look at this dragon from a production by the Great Arizona Puppet Theatre—what do you think, dear readers?


And thanks, as ever, for reading!




If you’re bitten by the puppet bug, and would like to know more, visit The World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts at this LINK.

Theme and Variations.5


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

In this post, we come to the end of our series on other ways of presenting fairy tales, in which we have taken two by the author who is usually cited as beginning the modern Western tradition, Charles Perrault (1628-1703).


In 1697, Perrault had published this,


entitled Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe (“Stories or Tales of/from Past Time”), with a kind of subtitle, Contes de Ma Mere L’Oye (“Tales of My Mother Goose”).

The volume contained only 8 stories, with two being “La Belle au Bois Dormant” (“The Beautiful Girl in the Sleeping Wood”)


and “Cendrillon” (“Cinderella”), which we chose to be the basis of our posts.


So far in these posts, we’ve looked at “Sleeping Beauty” in everything from ballet to Disney and “Cinderella” in early operas and silent films.  In this final post of the series, we want to begin by saying, as we did in our first post, that “Cinderella” exists in two basic forms, that of Perrault, from 1697, and that of the Brothers Grimm,


from 1812.


In this version of the story, the fairy godmother is removed and replaced by birds seemingly sent by Cinderella’s dead mother.


We mention this because this is the version followed by our next creator, Charlotte (Lotte) Reiniger (1899-1981)


in her 1922 film, Aschenputtel (“Cinderella”)


This is a silent film in which delicately-cut paper figures through stop-motion photography are manipulated to tell the story.


Here’s a LINK so that you can enjoy the short (about 13 minutes) film.  And, if you enjoy that, there are more of Reiniger’s works on YouTube for you to see.

To us, her work very much resembles wayang kulit, the traditional shadow plays of Bali,



as well as the Ombres Chinoises, (“Chinese Shadows”—Chinese shadow puppets) brought to France in the 18th century.


It also closely resembles two works illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939),


his Cinderella (1919)


and The Sleeping Beauty (1920).


In each of these, Rackham employs silhouettes to tell the story (in versions by CS Evans), giving both the look of stories told by moonlight.


We could easily show you all of the illustrations, marveling at them right here, but, instead, we give you a LINK to an on-line version of The Sleeping Beauty (with apologies for not being able to locate an on-line Cinderella).

In one of our previous posts in the series, we discussed Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Sleeping Beauty, now we add to this Cinderella (Zolushka) by the Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953),


premiered in 1945.  Here’s a LINK to a suite of music from it, along with two sheets of costume designs from the original production, suggesting what a sumptuous spectacle it must have been.



Prokofiev and his collaborators followed Perrault and the fairy godmother was back.  Here’s the pumpkin coach from a more modern—but still Russian—production.


And this coach brings us to our next and next-to-last item.


We grew up with this image of the story in our heads, as well as its music.


This is the 1950 Disney version, which stuck fairly closely to the Perrault, but, along with the fairy godmother, kept the helpful birds (changing their color)


and added a gang of equally helpful mice.


To which we add our final piece.  In 1957, the well-known composer/lyricist team of Rodgers and Hammerstein created a first, a made-for-television musical production of Perrault’s version, starring someone who was already becoming a star by appearing as Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady, Julie Andrews.



In five postings, we’ve traveled from 1697 to 1957 and visited a number of places in between, all of which was based upon two traditional stories recreated in new tellings by Charles Perrault.  Is it any wonder, then, that in 1910, this bust was erected to his memory in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris?


Thanks, as always, for reading.



Theme and Variations.4


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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

This is the next-to-last in a little series on several of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault (1628-1703) from his 1697 collection, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe (“Stories or Tales of Past Time”), better known by a kind of subtitle, Contes de Ma Mere L’Oye (“Tales of My Mother Goose”).


So far, we’ve devoted two posts to “Sleeping Beauty” (actually called by Perrault “La Belle au Bois Dormant”—“The Beautiful Girl in the Sleeping Wood”), covering everything from 19th-century theatrical performances to book illustrations to Disney.


In the third post, we began to look at “Cinderella”, more specifically in opera, from Isouard’s 1810 Cendrillon to Viardot’s 1904 Cendrillon.

Now, in this post, we want to look at “Cinderella” in film, beginning with the 1899 work of Georges Melies (1861-1938)


whom you may know from the 2011 film Hugo


based upon Brian Selznick’s 2007 wonderfully inventive novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.


Even if you aren’t familiar with Melies, you may recognize his work in this image


from his 1902 science fiction film, Le Voyage dans La Lune (“The Trip to the Moon”), thought by scholars to be the first science fiction film (or at least first surviving such film.  Silent film historians estimate that only about 10% of all silent films made are still available to us.  Here’s a LINK to the film so that you can enjoy it for yourself).

Cendrillon was Melies’ most elaborate film to date and was a commercial success, even though only just under 6 minutes long—which says something for the expectations of the movie-going public of 1899.


As it is so short, it has only a couple of scenes—the kitchen in Cinderella’s house, the palace ballroom, Cinderella’s room, and what appears to be the outside of the palace—and very much depends upon the viewer already knowing the basic story (it begins, for example, with a very fancily-dressed woman leaving the kitchen and the sudden appearance of the Fairy Godmother, with no introduction at all).  Its greatest strength, for us, is in its transformation scenes (a Melies’ specialty), particularly the change of rats/mice into coachmen and footmen. (And here’s a LINK to the film, see if you agree with the 1899 audience.)


Our second film is from 1911 and is nearly 15 minutes long, meaning that it actually has time to tell the story, if not in a leisurely fashion, at least in a more complete one than the Melies.  This is a US version of the story, starring an early popular favorite, Florence La Badie (or Labadie).


Forgotten except by silent film enthusiasts, La Badie was a hardworking dare-devil, appearing in nearly 200 films between 1909 and her death in 1917, and doing most of her own stunts.  She was also someone who personified a new look for young women in the years leading up to the Great War—as this portrait (and there are more like it) shows.



If you follow this LINK, you can see not only the actress, but a “Cinderella” which has almost everything we would expect from the Perrault original.

Florence La Badie had gotten into films through the suggestion of an acting friend, Mary Pickford,



who starred in our next Cinderella, in 1914.


Two things strike us about this:

  1. it’s over 50 minutes long—a great advance from the 1911 15 minutes
  2. the advertising seems to suggest that the audience of 1914 was expected to visit the theatre to see Mary Pickford in Cinderella, rather than Cinderella in which Mary Pickford plays the title role. For us, this foreshadows the obsession with film celebrities which is still with us today.


This version, with its almost luxurious length, has plenty of time not only to tell the Perrault story, but to makes two additions to the plot:  Cinderella actually meets the prince before the ball, near her home and they fall in love—but are then separated; the stepsisters visit a fortune-teller, who informs them cryptically that one of their family will be successful at the ball.  (Here’s a LINK so that you can enjoy this more elaborate version.)

In the midst of these US versions, Georges Melies issued a second one himself.  At about 24 minutes long, it is much grander than his 1899 production, spending nearly a quarter of its length on the transformation of Cinderella from kitchen maid to grand lady alone.  The contrast between the 1899 pumpkin coach and the 1913 one illustrates this nicely.



It did not enjoy the success of the 1899 original, perhaps because, the weight of production values was simply too heavy for the little story inside, which was smothered by all of the plumed hats and sweeping bows.  We admit that we find this version a little slow, but the creation of the pumpkin coach is still as impressive to us as it must have been in 1913.  Here’s a LINK so that you can judge for yourself. It’s dated 1912, by the way, when the film was made, but it premiered in 1913, so we are sticking to the later date.

It has been suggested that Melies, in the look of this later take on the story, was influenced by the work of Gustave Dore (Do-RAY) (1832-1883).


In 1867, Dore—a well-known illustrator–among other things–published Les Contes de Perrault, dessins par Gustave Dore. image15contes

Here’s one of the three illustrations done for the story.


To us, however, Melies thinks of the story taking place in the time of Louis XIII (reigned 1610-1643), when Dumas’ “Musketeers” novels are set (with a little 18th-century addition here and there).


Dore would appear to be setting it earlier, in the time of Louis’ father, Henri IV (reigned 1589-1610).


One of our very favorite illustrators, Arthur Rackham (1867-1939),


tackled both “Cinderella” in 1919 and “Sleeping Beauty” in 1920, with retellings by Charles S. Evans.  Always original and surprising in his approach, Rackham here has produced what we believe to be two of his most inspired works—we’ll talk about them, as well as more versions of “Cinderella”, in our next.

But we’ll finish this post with one more image—as a teaser…


And thank you, as ever, for reading.



Theme and Variations.3


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As always, dear readers, welcome!

In this posting, we’re continuing the little series we began on the fairy tales of Charles Perrault and what other creators have done with those stories over the centuries.

In 1697, Perrault (1628-1703) published Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe (“Stories or Tales of Past Time”).


This little collection (which also came to be known by a secondary title as Contes de Ma Mere L’Oye–“Tales of My Mother Goose”)–contained, among other stories, “Sleeping Beauty”—which we’ve discussed in the first two posts of this series—and “Cinderella”.  (The original 1697 version is available from the BnF—the Bibliotheque nationale de France—here’s a LINK.)


If you’d like to read the closest one might get to Perrault’s late-17th-century French, you might try the translation by James Robinson Planche, the dramatist/costume-designer/etcetc, whom we mentioned in the first post in this series.  He had conscientiously searched for a first edition of Perrault’s collection, but had to make do with a second, as he tells us, but he strove to recreate in his English the feel of the French original.  Here’s a LINK to Planche’s 1858 Four and Twenty Fairy Tales.  Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Artists.



This is an illustration for that story by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)


from Edmund Dulac’s Picture-Book for the French Red Cross (1916)—with a LINK to it here.  (It’s an especially interesting book, not only for the beautiful illustrations, but also for the wide range of stories, including a version of the famous Persian/Arabic story of “Majnun and Layla”.)

“Cinderella” has been a favorite subject for opera composers, at least back to 1810, when Nicolo Isouard’s (1773-1818)


version, Cendrillon, was a  hit in Paris—and then internationally.  Here’s a LINK to a recording of its overture so you can see what pleased Europe in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars.

Isouard’s opera’s popularity was quickly overtaken by Giacomo Rossini’s (1792-1868)


version in 1817, La Cenerentola.  Here’s an early Italian playbill for it.


And here’s a LINK to the overture. (If you like it, there is at least one complete performance available on YouTube—you can easily find it when you follow this link.)

What’s interesting about these versions is that the Fairy Godmother of the original story has been replaced by a human—in Isouard’s version, with some magical powers, in Rossini’s, with native wit.  There’s no explanation for this—it’s simply the case and, for us, it somehow diminishes the story.  It’s like the Troy movie of 2004, from which the gods had been removed.


Perhaps we’ve always wanted a fairy godmother?


(An image by William Henry Margetson, 1861-1940.)

Our third opera comes from the very end of the 19th century:  Jules Massenet’s (1842-1912)




Unlike Isouard and Rossini, the fairy godmother, plus assorted fairies, are present and active in this very elaborate telling.  Here’s a LINK to some of the ballet music to give you an idea of the sound of the opera.

Our last opera is the very opposite of Massenet’s, being a chamber opera with only a piano for an orchestra.  It is by a woman composer who began her career as a famous mezzo-soprano, Pauline Viardot (1821-1910).


Not only was she a brilliant singer, with an enormous range, but she was also a pianist so good that she regularly played duets with her friend, Frederic Chopin,


as well as speaking half-a-dozen languages fluently.  When her voice began to fail her, she moved to teaching and composition, as well as keeping a salon in which many of the most famous and influential creators of the second half of the 19th century spent their evenings.

Her version of the Cinderella story, Cendrillon, was first performed in 1904.


As we suggested, it’s the very opposite of the very sumptuous Massenet opera:  7 singers, no chorus, piano for accompaniment, but it’s musically very rich—and includes the fairy godmother—and the pumpkin, etc., although these are all off-stage.  It is not often performed—there’s one recording—


which we heartily recommend, as it’s beautifully sung.  And here’s a LINK to a production on YouTube, if you’d like to see it.

We’re going to close this posting, take a deep breath, and start writing the last in this little series:  Cinderella on film, beginning, in a surprisingly-early (if brief) version by Georges Melies—from 1899.

But thanks, as always, for reading and definitely




If you read us, you know us—we can never resist a PS—and this is just a visual.  In our survey of Cinderella images, we found this.  Need we say more?


Theme and Variations.2


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Welcome, as ever, dear readers.
In our last, we began talking about the fairy tales of Charles Perrault (1628-1703), originally published under the rather vague title, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe, (“Stories or Tales of the Past”) in 1697.
Among his stories was one entitled “La Belle au Bois Dormant”—literally “The Beautiful Girl in the Sleeping Woods”, which we English-speakers call “Sleeping Beauty”. We had said that we thought it would be interesting to look at various treatments of that story over time and, so far, we’ve discussed James Robinson Planche’s (plawn-SHAY) two works, an 1840 “extravaganza” (a kind of very early musical comedy) and his 1868 story-in-verse version (here’s the first edition).
Planche could read the French original, but those whose knowledge of French was confined to menus could find English translations dating all the way back to the first, that of Robert Samber, in 1729.
(This image, by the way, explains not only why English-speakers call this story “Sleeping Beauty”, but also why we call the stories as a group “Mother Goose Tales/Stories”. Please see our previous posting for where Mother Goose came from in Perrault.)
In the early 19th-century, a competitor to Perrault appeared. In 1812, two German scholars, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1785-1863, 1786-1859,)
began publication of a work which they would enlarge numerous times through the first half of the 19th century, Kinder und Hausmaerchen (something like “Children’s and Domestic Wondertales”), the first volume of which first appeared in 1812.
“Sleeping Beauty” appears as #50, under the title Dornroeschen, “Little Briar-Rose”. This is like the Perrault story, but not the same, providing an alternate version of the tale. For those without German, an English translation was published in 1823.
Although their names aren’t on the title page, this is a collaboration between Edgar Taylor (1793-1839), translator,
and George Cruikshank (1792-1878), illustrator.
Of the two, Cruikshank is the better-known. Originally, he was famous as what we now call an “editorial cartoonist”, creating images critical of politicians and political events of his time. Here is his 1823 caricature of Louis XVIII of France (reigned 1814-1824 with a little gap in 1815 when Napoleon came back briefly from exile on Elba).
His public relations people wanted Louis to look like this:
to remind them that he was the direct descendant of Louis XIV, the famous “Sun King”, a grand and heroic figure in recent French history.
In reality, Louis was old and fat and looked more like this—
It wasn’t about Louis per se, weak and temporary monarch though he was, so much as the long-standing English/French rivalry/hostility, which went back for centuries and which had intensified during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, stretching almost without a break from 1792 to 1815. Napoleon, as representative of what the English of the time saw as revolution-which-led-to-chaos-and-worse, was a regular target from the later 1790s on and Cruikshank certainly aimed his pen and brush at him—as in this mocking depiction of the fate of Bonaparte after his first abdication in April, 1814.
Political commentary aside, Cruikshank, as we see in his illustrations for the Brothers Grimm (and isn’t it odd that we never say, in English “the Grimm Brothers”—which sounds either like a menacing secret society or perhaps an old, established firm of teakwood importers), was involved in all sorts of illustrating, including a second volume of the Grimms, in 1826. This is the 1868 reprint which the editor says duplicates in one volume the text and illustrations of the original two. (We include a LINK so that you can download your own copy.)
As well, he illustrated the original serialized version of Charles Dickens’ (1812-1870) Oliver Twist (1837-1839). This is a famous scene near the end of the novel, where the main villain, Fagin, is in the condemned cell, awaiting dawn and his execution. Dickens was famous for his performance of this.
On a more cheerful note, here’s Cruikshank’s sketch of Dickens himself from 1836.
The Grimms’ version of the “Sleeping Beauty” story is combined with that of Perrault in our next example. It’s the 1920 The Sleeping Beauty,
text by Charles S. Evans (1883-1944), of whom we have found no picture, and Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) of whom this may be our favorite picture.
The year before, Evans and Rackham had collaborated on a version of Perrault’s “Cinderella”—and we’ll talk about that in our next. The Sleeping Beauty is anything but sleepy—its illustrations practically dance off the page. (Here’s a LINK for your own copy.)


And dance itself is the basis of our last example.
In 1888, Pyotr/Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)


was offered a commission for a ballet. Originally, the subject was to be a famous early German Romantic novella, Undine (un-DEE-neh), written by the Baron Friedrich de la Motte Fouque (foo-KAY) (1777-1843),
and published in 1811. It’s the story of a knight and a water spirit and shares the basic plot of HC Andersen’s later “The Little Mermaid”. Here’s an illustration from Rackham’s 1909 version.
As things developed, however, this story was replaced by the Perrault/Grimms’ “The Sleeping Beauty”, which first appeared at the Mariinski Theatre
in St Petersburg in January, 1890. We are lucky to have a number of photos of the original production and cast.


And here’s a LINK to a suite (selection) of music from the ballet—but the full ballet is available on YouTube and we hope that you like this suite so much that you’ll try the whole thing.
In our next, we’ll move on to a second Perrault story, “Cinderella”.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that we can rarely resist adding something more. In fact, in this ps, we add two somethings more.
First, before Undine was proposed for a ballet, it was the subject of an opera by the strange and wonderful German Romantic author and composer ETA Hoffmann (1776-1822).
Here’s a LINK to the overture. In a future post, we’ll have more to say about Hoffmann…
Second, as people who grew up on Disney, we can’t close without mentioning Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty, with its attempt at a new style of visual presentation—as well as its use of Tchaikovsky’s music as the basis of its score. If you haven’t seen it, we certainly recommend it, especially for its combination of elements of the older look of such films as Cinderella (1950) with a newer, simplified one.

Theme and Variations.1


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

For a current writing project, we’ve gone back into our fairy tale collection (we recommend, by the way, the wonderful Sur La Lune site to help you to build yours—here’s a LINK) to reread the fairy tales of Charles Perrault (1628-1703)–


although he wasn’t the person who first called them that—that was his contemporary, Madame d’Aulnoy (1650/1-1705),


who called her stories contes des fees—“stories of fairies”.


In 1695, Perrault had circulated an illustrated manuscript of such tales, calling it Contes de ma Mere l’Oye—“Tales of My Mother Goose”.


In  February, 1696, he published one of them, “La Belle au Bois Dormant”—“The Beautiful Girl in the Sleeping Wood” in an early magazine, the Mercure Galant (maybe in English something like “The Courier of Style”).


(If you’d like to read the story in French as it was first published, here’s a LINK to the BnF, the Bibliotheque nationale Francaise, where it is available on-line, which we think is just magical.)

Then, the following year, the collection was published under the title Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe (“Stories or Tales from the Past”).


The term “contes de ma mere l’Oye” appears to have been known in literary circles from at least the 1650s and indicated rustic/countryside stories—in a sense, folktales—and Perrault had used traditional material, some of which had first appeared in print in Italian in the 16th century and could be found in the folktale collections of people like Gianfrancesco Straparola (1485?—1558) and Giambattista Basile (1566-1632).

Perrault’s stories, which include what we call “Sleeping Beauty” (you can see that that’s a mistranslation) and “Cinderella”, first appeared in English in London in 1729, translated by Robert Samber, its title being identical with the 1697 French.


In this post and (at least) two following, we thought that we would choose two of these fairy tales and see in what different forms they’ve been presented since first appearing in 1697.

Because it was the first to be published, we’ll begin with “Sleeping Beauty.  (This is a Pre-Raphaelite version by Edward Burne-Jones, 1833-1898.  It is one of a set of four and has a very interesting history—here’s a LINK so that you may found out more, if you wish.)


Our first work, entitled surprisingly enough, The Sleeping Beauty, is what its author, James Robinson Planche (plahn-SHAY), 1796-1880,


would call an “extravaganza”, meaning, in this case, something like a modern musical comedy.  First produced in 1840, it combined dialogue in rhyming iambic (more or less) couplets with songs set to already existing tunes.   Based upon Perrault, it used spectacle, everyday references which a London audience would have immediately picked up on, and gentle political/cultural satire to entertain.  Unfortunately we don’t have any images of this production, but here’s a LINK to volume 2 of Planche’s “extravaganzas” so that you can form your own impression.  If you know the works of the Victorian dramatist/composer team of WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, you will see that Planche is their direct ancestor.

For many years, beginning in the early 1800s and continuing into the 1860s, Planche was Mr Theatre, in London, writing or co-writing at least 175 shows of various sorts.  These works, like Planche himself, have faded away, but he did leave one mark.  In 1823, Planche had had a conversation with a famous actor, Charles Kemble (1775-1854),


in which he suggested that, whereas money was always being spent in the theatre on spectacles, almost nothing was done for the plays of Shakespeare.   In fact, Shakespeare’s plays had always been costumed in the clothing of the period of the actors, rather than the dress of the time of the events.  Here’s a print of the well-known 18th-century actor, David Garrick (1717-1779) in four of the roles for which he was famous:  Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, and Hamlet—by dress and props alone, perhaps we could guess that the actor with the two daggers was someone playing Macbeth (or perhaps an assassin from the 1760 version of Game of Thrones), but otherwise?


Kemble, in turn, told Planche that he would willingly put on an historically-accurate production of several Shakespeare plays, beginning with King John, if Planche would do the necessary research and design.  Planche agreed and here’s a playbill of the result.


Reading the fine print, it’s even possible to see that Planche cited at least some of his sources—everything from funerary statuary to manuscript illustrations.  Whereas we don’t, unfortunately, have any illustrations to show for The Sleeping Beauty, we can show you what a difference Planche made to attempting to make Shakespeare appear in period dress.  Here’s Kemble playing Faulconbridge, a major character in King John, in 1819.


The historical John lived from 1166 to 1216—why would he be dressed as a sort of cosplay Roman legionnaire?  And here is an engraving made from Planche’s 1823 design, with Kemble again in the role of Faulconbridge.


The Kemble/Planche look caught on—and is with us, in some form, to this day.   (The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, owns a set of the 1823 colored engravings—here’s a LINK so that you can see other costumes for the production.)

Even as his life in the dramatic world was fading, Planche continued to be a literary figure—as well as a literary recycler.  In 1868, he collaborated with a prominent British illustrator, Richard “Dicky” Doyle (1824-1883),


on a verse version of “Sleeping Beauty”:  An Old Fairy Tale The Sleeping Beauty.


Doyle was, in fact, a very versatile artist, having, for instance, worked for the satirical magazine Punch,  but his lasting fame lies in his fairy/fairy tale illustrations.


Doyle’s work was prized, but his work ethic was, apparently not:  commissions came and went, sometimes filled, sometimes not, and it seems that he never quite completed the illustrations to the Planche, (perhaps why Planche’s introduction is dated 1865 and the publication date is 1868?), but here’s a sample to show what he could do, when focused.  (And here’s a LINK to the book, so that you can see all of the illustrations for yourself, as well as read Planche’s text.)


So as not to overwhelm you, dear readers, we’re going to pause here, but we’ll continue in our next by looking at other forms—opera, ballet, and animated feature—which Perrault’s story has inspired, taking our story from 1890 to 1959.

In the meantime, thanks, as ever, for reading.



Do What I Say, Not What I Speak


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Welcome, dear readers, as always.

Ever since we heard the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” in childhood, we’ve been interested in doors and passwords.

Near the story’s beginning, Ali Baba, a poor woodcutter, happens to observe a group of bandits returning to their cave from a raid.  As he watches, the head of the bandits uses a secret phrase, “Open, sesame!” which opens the cave’s secret door.

[We include a LINK here to the whole story, if you don’t know it.]

Since then, we believe that we’ve had three major examples of the pattern:  door as barrier passed with difficulty.

The first was on a very different level altogether from “Ali Baba”.

After the US passed a law against alcohol just after the Great War, the tumultuous era called Prohibition began.

(The date is 1919 on the newspaper, but the law came into force in 1920.)

For all that the legislatures of various states approved it (“ratified” is the formal word), there were many who did not approve of it.

Because it was national law, however, police everywhere were required to enforce it.

To get around the law, secret bars began to appear.  These received the nickname “speakeasy” because it was a place to relax and drink in (what was hoped would be) safety and privacy.

Such places were made anonymous as possible:  a blank door—with a peephole.

To get in, a potential drinker had to be known—or know the secret password.

This went on until 1933, when the new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, worked to have the law repealed.

In 1932, the comedy team of the Marx Brothers

included a speakeasy scene in their latest film, Horse Feathers.

This is an almost indescribable scene in which one of the Marx Brothers (Chico—said “CHIK-o”) is on the inside and another (Groucho) is on the outside and then the fun begins—here’s a LINK so you can watch it for yourself.

The upshot (sorry for the spoiler!)—as you’ll see—is that both end up on the outside.  (We told you that this was on a different level!)

Our next example had no secret password, but, instead, it had a door guard and a very silly one, too!

In 1939, MGM released The Wizard of Oz,

based upon L. Frank Baum’s 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

We doubt that we have to explain the plot to anyone who would read our blog, so we’ll just remind you of the moment when Dorothy and her friends—Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, Lion—and Toto, too—have reached the Emerald City and have come to the door of the Wizard.

The guard (who bears a suspicious resemblance to certain other characters in the film) at first refuses them entry, saying the now-famous line that the Wizard won’t see:  “Not nobody!  Not nohow!” but eventually crumbles when Dorothy explains her quest and he begins to sympathize with her, finally allowing her and her friends to enter—although what they learn there is not the best news.

Finally, there is this door.

And, with this door, we are back to “Ali Baba”, it seems (if not to Horse Feathers).  When Gandalf and the Fellowship arrive, however, there appears to be no door there at all, just a pair of immense holly trees (probably English holly, ilex aquifolium), overshadowing a blank wall.

As the narrator describes them:

“But close under the cliff there stood, still strong and living, two tall trees, larger than any trees of hilly that Frodo had ever seen or imagined.  Their great roots spread from the wall to the water.  Under the looming cliffs they had looked like mere bushes, when seen far off from the top of the Stair; but now they towered overhead, stiff, dark, and silent, throwing deep night-shadows about their feet, standing like sentinel pillars at the end of the road.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 4, “A Journey in the Dark”)

It is only when Gandalf puts his hands on the rock face and murmurs what appears to be some sort of summoning spell that the doors appear:

“The Moon now shone upon the grey face of the rock; but they could see nothing else for a while.  Then slowly on the surface, where the wizard’s hands had passed, faint lines appeared, like slender veins of silver running in the stone.  At first, they were no more than pale gossamer-threads, so fine that they only twinkled fitfully where the Moon caught them, but steadily they grew broader and clearer, until their design could be guessed.”

As the pattern becomes more visible, so, too, becomes an inscription which reads, in part:

“The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria.  Speak, friend, and enter.”

And trying to make sense of what it means now turns into a very awkward scene in which Gandalf struggles to find the password he believes is requested in that inscription, while the rest of the company gradually becomes more and more impatient (and it doesn’t help that wolves begin to howl in the distance and that there is something about a pool standing opposite the gate which makes them increasingly uneasy).

Finally, Gandalf realizes that what has stopped him depends upon his understanding of a single word in Elvish, a word which clearly has two meanings—and a little more punctuation might have helped!

As it’s inscribed, the vital part of the wording is:

Pedo Mellon a Minno.

As Gandalf originally translated this, it was “Speak, friend, and enter.”  After a good deal of frustration, Gandalf realizes that he has not only mistranslated—slightly—but mispunctuated—or, rather, overpunctuated– as well.  “Speak” and “say” in English are closely related, but there is a difference—for instance, one can “speak English”, but, idiomatically, one would never “say English”.  Thus, no one would ever give the command to someone else, “Say English”, but, rather would say to someone “Speak English”.  The same must be true in Elvish, where, in fact, it appears that “speak/say” is potentially one verb, whose singular imperative (command) is pedo. At first, Gandalf thought that he was being directed to “speak”—but what he was being told to speak he thought was somehow lost or forgotten.  This caused him to overpunctuate:  “Speak, friend, and enter”, where what he was actually being told was “Say [the word] ‘friend’ and enter”.  He finally does so, and the gates open.

In the case of Ali Baba, inside the thieves’ cave are riches, with some of which he quietly makes off.  Groucho and Chico eventually get into the speakeasy and Dorothy and her friends see the Wizard, all of them leaving the problematic entryway behind.  In the case of the doors to Moria, however, what is left behind refuses to stay that way:

“Frodo felt something seize him by the ankle, and he fell with a cry…Out from the water a long, sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet…Twenty other arms came rippling out.  The dark water boiled, and there was a hideous stench.”

And this reminded us of something and made us wonder if JRRT had once read the same book we had (there’s nothing in the Letters, unfortunately).  In 1873, the first English translation of a novel by the French science fiction author, Jules Verne (1828-1905),

appeared, slightly mistitled Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Like the title, the rest of the book was filled with mistranslations (it should be Seas) and big cuts.  We hope, in fact, that, if Tolkien read the book (and we would be surprised if he hadn’t, it being the typical Victorian “boys’ adventure tale” of the period), we hope that he read the 1892 version, which cleaned up the errors.

If you haven’t read it, it’s the story of a French scientist who is invited by the US government to investigate a sea monster who is attacking world shipping in the later 1860s.  As the professor discovers, this isn’t a monster at all, but an early submarine, the Nautilus, invented and piloted by a man who calls himself “Captain Nemo” (nemo being Latin for “no one”) and who has a grudge against the imperialist nations of the world, against which he uses his submarine.  The professor, his assistant, and a third man, a harpooner, Ned Land, are taken aboard the Nautilus and, at one point, are involved in a combat against a pack of giant squid—each with 8 arms and two longer tentacles, one of which almost drags Nemo to his death until he’s saved by Ned.  Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?

Our favorite version of the story is that done by Disney in 1954.

There is only one squid here, but, as the poster shows, that seems plenty!  It’s a well-told version (simplified, but not too much so) and has a really splendid Nautilus in a high-Victorian design (steampunk long before steampunk?).

As we began this post with an opening, it seems appropriate to end with a closing:

“Gandalf turned and paused.  If he was considering what word would close the gate again from within, there was no need.  Many coiling arms seized the doors on either side, and with horrible strength, swung them round.  With a shattering echo they slammed, and all light was lost.  A noise of rending and crashing came dully through the ponderous stone.”

Thanks, as ever, for reading.




Can you, our readers, think of other doors and passwords?  We’ve intentionally left one out here, although, when the thrush knocks…