“I Find You to Be the Only Fool!”

Excerpt from The Eye of Argon, a famously bad fantasy novella written by Jim Theis in 1970:

Utilizing the silence and stealth aquired in the untamed climbs of his childhood, Grignr slink through twisting corridors, and winding stairways, lighting his way with the confisticated torch of his dispatched guardian. Knowing where his steps were leading to, Grignr meandered aimlessly in search of an exit from the chateau’s dim confines. The wild blood coarsing through his veins yearned for the undefiled freedom of the livid wilderness lands.

At science fiction conventions, fans try to read it aloud with a straight face. The “grandmaster challenge” is to read it with a squeaky voice after inhaling helium.

I Think …

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_Ren%C3%A9_Descartes.jpg

Squashed Philosophers is like Reader’s Digest with a Ph.D. Glyn Hughes takes the high-calorie tomes of 41 world-class thinkers, from Plato to Popper, and squeezes them into tasty little capsules, without losing the flavor of the originals.

René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, for instance, fits into 6,488 words — or even, in the “very squashed” version, into six simple assertions — but they’re all stated in the author’s own words, and nothing essential seems to have been lost.

That’s a tribute to Hughes’ editing skill, but it’s also a pretty scary commentary on the original works. Kant is notoriously unreadable in the original, but Hughes estimates that his 5,700-word condensation of the Critiques of Pure & Practical Reason can be read and understood in 23 minutes. If that’s true — if that’s even close to true — then I don’t see how Kant’s original can be called a great book.

“On The Bear-Fac’d Lady”

In Search of the World’s Worst Writers is, well, self-explanatory. Excerpts:

  • “Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!” (Amanda McKittrick Ros)
  • “Her mouth was set with pearls adorned with elastic rubies and tuned with minstrel lays, while her nose gracefully concealed its umbrage, and her eyes imparted a radiant glow to the azure of the sky.” (Shepherd M. Dugger)
  • “We’rt thou suspended from balloon,/You’d cast a shade even at noon,/Folks would think it was the moon/About to fall and crush them soon.” (James McIntyre)

“There are those who think that John Wesley only founded Methodism as a way of saying ‘sorry’ for his father’s poetry.”

Loup-Garou

http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtmlMythologyWeb has the full text of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Werewolves, one of the creepier reference works of the 1860s.

In America we think of lycanthropes as turning into wolves, but legends actually vary throughout the world. People tend to turn into the most important carnivore in the area: dogs in Greece, tigers in India, bears in Northern Europe, foxes in Japan, leopards in Africa, and jaguars in South America. In Polynesia there are even were-sharks.

Correspondingly, there’s a psychiatric syndrome called clinical lycanthropy, in which people think they’ve turned into animals. Here, too, though, wolves are in the minority. Clinicians have reported patients who thought they’d become cats, horses, birds, tigers, frogs, even bees.

Baring-Gould’s vision was quite a bit darker, but he was a weird guy himself. A Victorian hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist, and scholar, he used to teach with his pet bat on his shoulder. His book wanders from lycanthropy down into grave desecration and cannibalism — kind of an odd area for the guy who wrote “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” To each his own.

Self-Defense With a Cane

Here’s a little light reading before you go strolling downtown: “Self-Defence With a Walking-Stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself With a Walking-Stick or Umbrella When Attacked Under Unequal Conditions.” It originally ran in Pearson’s Magazine in January 1901.

Apparently those things were pretty deadly: If you use your wrists and swing from the hip, “it is possible to sever a man’s jugular vein through the collar of his overcoat.”

Churchill Anecdote #7

In 1931, George Bernard Shaw wired Winston Churchill: “Am reserving two tickets for you on opening night of my new play. Come bring a friend — if you have one.”

Churchill wired back: “Impossible for me to attend first performance. Would like to attend second night — if there is one.”