Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Opinions Unsolicited: Farmer Giles of Ham, Between the Beautifuls, and The Night Watch

Farmer Giles of Ham is a tale by J.R.R. Tolkien. It has nothing to do with Middle Earth. It does have to do with a farmer who has some hobbit-like qualities [mostly in that he just wants to be

left to mind his own business, otherwise he is rather curmudgeonly and somewhat of an unpleasant fellow] who sets out to rid his village of a dragon.

One thing I especially enjoyed about this story were the names involved. Nevermind that I can't read or hear or think the name Giles and NOT think of Anthony Stewart Head; the other names are simply brilliant. We are offered the likes of Chrysophylax Dives, Caudimordax Tailbiter, and Fabricius Cunctater, which name [in no particular order] a sword, a blacksmith and a dragon.

The story itself is simple, but in a typically Tolkien way – he uses ten words where three might have done. And of course there is the commentary on language; even in a tale that's directed at children, there are many references to words in other languages [well, Latin, at any rate] and their translations into the 'vulgar'. Otherwise known as 'Plain English'. I get the impression that Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler may have been a fan.

It's a fun whimsical tale, I need to add it to my collection. But not this copy, because it was leant to me by a co-worker some months ago [approaching five of them], and he has been hounding me to get it back.

This weekend, I bought Hawksley Workman's newest album, Between the Beautifuls.

What can I say, other than love? The cover of the album is essentially black and white, with the colour of the daffodils pulled out by some
technique I don't know the word for. All throughout the booklet, there are nature shots in a similar style, all stunning in their simplicity.

But the music is not pictures in a booklet.

If you are familiar with Hawksley's catalogue, Between the Beautifuls lies at the crossing of For Him and the Girls and Lover/Fighter. Amongst my favourites are All Alone (ballads of bunches of things), Piano Blink, and Pomegranate Daffodil. But I adore the whole album.

Hawksley here is the Hawksley I love the most: whimsical, poignant, exceptional.

I just finished reading The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. I started reading it near on a year ago, got distracted, and then finally picked it back up yesterday. And finished it.

It's an engaging tale of Light vs Dark, set in Moscow. The Watches are set up in order to regulate and keep tabs on the opposing side. The Night Watch guards against infractions by the Dark, and the Day Watch does the same for the Light.

The book is divided into three different stories that all focus around the same characters, with Anton at the centre of it all. They are all told from his perspective. At it's root, all the stories [which are all subsequently divided into chapters] are really just one large, overarching story.

It's a very engaging tale about Anton, who starts the story out as a fourth grade magician, as he goes from assignment to assigment that make no sense to him – he's not a field operative, why is he being sent out in the field then? I don't feel like writing a book report here, so I'm just going to say that this novel presents an interesting take on the good vs evil dichotomy, and how sometimes good people do bad things to achieve even greater goods, and how sometimes bad people will use good deeds to bring about devastating results.

There were two things I especially enjoyed about this book.

1- Anton has a tendency to put his walkman on random throughout the novel, and the music seems to always fit his mood. I enjoyed this little detail tremendously, as well as the fact that Anton makes a point of naming the artist most of the time this happens. I like musics that are not in english. So this gives me many artists to look up that are Russian.

2- I enjoy reading translated books. I can get the feeling reading it, that while the grammar is correct, it wasn't meant to be read in english. There are little cultural cues and quirks of speech that are simply not natural in English that are obviously observed in Russian, and I like observing that. Since I can't speak Russian, reading things translated from Russian is the next best thing.

So, here's another book that I can finally return! If you had any idea how huge my To Be Read list was, you'd shake your head in shame. And possibly call a fire marshall to investigate my house.

I have other entries planned, one about cooking, another soymilk experiment [hopefully the last], and I intend to write a tarot entry at some point. I better get cracking if I want to post all that before the next Opinions Unsolicited goes up [which, by the by, I am totally failing at making a regular Sunday installment so far].

Farmer Giles picture from here.

I got the Between the Beautifuls photo from Hawksley's site.

The Night Watch picture was usurped from here.


JQ said...

I shall have to read the Night Watch and the Day Watch soon. I went to the library yesterday and got me some Wuthering Heights. :P

Sarah K said...

Apparently, my friend that I borrowed The Night Watch from [about a year ago!] hasn't finished reading The Day Watch yet... :(

I have other books to keep me company in the meanwhile.