Thursday, December 21, 2006

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

UPDATE: The Hogwarts Professor (aka, John Granger) has inaugurated his blog with a huge post on "deathly hallows." As always, it's much deeper than you think it could be.

ORIGINAL: This is the title of the last Harry Potter novel due out (one hopes) next year. Of course, we all know that "hallow" is associated with being holy or being venerated (usually because of holiness), hence the phrase in the Lord's prayer "hallowed by Thy name." But the OED gives many definitions of "hallow." I think the relevant definition of "hallows" is the following: "In pl. applied to the shrines or relics of saints; the gods of the heathen or their shrines." In this case, though there has been speculation about graveyards (e.g., Harry's parents, or a graveyard at Hogwarts) as the hallows, I think it must be a reference to Voldemort's you-know-whats. Hence, the deathly hallows.

Or, Rowling is throwing us all off the scent and is thinking of another meaning of "hallow" in the OED: "The parts of the hare given to hounds as a reward or encouragement after a successful chase." Run away! Run away! It's the deathly rabbit parts! (No longer undetached, for you Quine readers.)

And, I don't think the reader ("Sirius") quoted in the news story linked to at the beginning of this post realizes what his worry reveals about his understanding of the Harry Potter series. He said, "This title has me a bit worried. For one thing, it has me concerned that Harry's gonna die . . . which I really DON'T want to see happen." Yes, death is a serious thing, even for a fictional character. But the worry that Harry will die indicates that the reader hasn't taken to heart a basic message of the books: there are things worse than physical death and if faced with a choice between death and doing right, one should do right with the assurance that love remains stronger than death.

I don't want to see Harry die either. But if it comes down to it, I'd rather see Harry die than not do the right thing. Perhaps the concerned reader, in his heart of hearts, thinks that, too, but is afraid. That's understandable, though we hear from reliable sources that perfect love casts out fear.

One last thing, if Harry does die, will that make the ending of the series better than the end of the Lord of the Rings with Frodo's "I do not choose to do this," etc.?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Madison, WI, Figures It Out

Because my wife needs science to back her up.

"A study by a University of Virginia neuroscientist has found that happily married women under stress show signs of immediate relief when they hold their husband's hand, with this clearly seen on their brain scans. ... The effect on men of hand-holding was not studied but researchers intended to do so in the future."

Read the article.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Platonic Solids

Have hours of fun!

This is part of a Web page for a really interesting conference. There's added incentive (is "added incentive" redundant?) to attend: a $50 prize will be awarded to the person who comes up with the "best original joke involving a triangle, square, or Platonic solid." (Think I'm joking? Check out their space.) So, a triangle, a square, and a Platonic solid walk into a bar . . . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Music

Well, Christmas is coming, and here's some devotional music to help you get into the spirit. (Requires Quicktime. A Real Audio version is here.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Mirth

Patrick O'Brian. The Ionian Mission.

'Wittles is up, sir, if you please.'
It was a cheerful meal. Jack was a good host, and when he had time to concern himself with them he was fond of the little brutes from the midshipmen's berth; furthermore he was in remarkably high spirits and he amused himself and the young gentlement extremely by dwelling at length on the fact that the country they had just quitted was practically the same as Dalmatia - a mere continuation of Dalmatia - so famous for its spotted dogs. He himself had seen quantities of spotted dogs - had even hunted behind a couple of braces - spotted dogs in a pack of hounds, oh Lord! - while the town of Kutali was positively infested with spotted youths and maidens, and now the Doctor swore he had seen spotted eagles ... Jack laughed until the tears came into his eyes. In a Dalmatian inn, he said, by way of pudding you could call for spotted dick, give pieces of it to a spotted dog, and throw the remains to the spotted eagles.
While the others were enlarging on the posibilities, Graham said to Stephen in a low voice, 'what is this spotted eagle? Is it a joke?'
aquila maculosa or discolor of some authors, Linnaeus'* aquila clanga. The captain is pleased to be arch.** He is frequently arch of a morning.'
'I beg your pardon, sir,' cried the midshipman of the watch, fairly racing in. 'Mr. Mowett's duty and two sail on the larboard beam, topsails up from the masthead.'

In addition to the fun of vocabulary exercises, the exuberance over naturalistic science in its hey day, and the romance of the 'high seas' there are things that draw me to O'Brian that I cannot properly put into words. One of them is mirth.

It is not simply that there is mirth: it is the context, the participants, and its literary role.

The books are about naval warfare in the 19th century, mostly between England and France. It is bloody and to us primitive. But it is carried out by men who (some at least) repair to their very small cabins and ply away at Scarlatti, craft poetry and dream of glory, foreign lands and home. They are stories where the journey is the heart of it, that revels in dwelling on what these men do when stuck in a calm more than in the crack of the battle. In the above quoted book, the story ends before the obvious, main "plot climax" is even reached, but the real story has already been told.

What I am calling O'Brian's 'Mirth' is one of the key elements that makes all of this work together. It is blatantly masculine, often corny, comes in the most unexpected moments and results in a most unexpected level of enjoyment. The 'spotted dogs' is not really funny in an isolated presentation ... but because I've been engrossed in the whole book (or in this case the last ten as well), found myself laughing out loud.

As an author O'Brian manages to make characters engaging enough for the reader to take part in their mirth (which simply makes him a good writer), but he also manages to make real mirth a part of life (which potentially makes him a good human being). An even greater task would be to live a life that facilitates mirth in others by allowing it to well up from oneself (which would truly make one a person worth loving). If O'Brian is showing the way, then batten down the hatches, hoist the topgallants and clear for action ... but first, a little Corelli and a little port.

*c. 1758
**arch2 –adjective: 1. playfully roguish or mischievous: an arch smile. 2. cunning; crafty; sly. –noun 3. Obsolete. a person who is preeminent; a chief.