Category Archives: books
One of my favorite Tarzan books, and one which bears great similarity to the Mowgli stories in The Jungle Book.
This is a bit of an experiment with something new. Though this is posted at YouTube, it is a full, public-domain audiobook–in this case, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first novel, A Princess of Mars (also the basis of the recent John Carter movie). I will be posting its sequel, The Gods of Mars soon, as well as several other public-domain audiobooks. I may make this a regular, or at least recurring, feature of the Chequer-Board, so let me know if this is something of worth and interest. Enjoy!
I’ve added several books to the Library, including an article on the development of the Elvish languages by J. R. R. Tolkien, the Voynich Manuscript (subject of this documentary), The Mystical Qabalah. by Dione Fortune, The Last Ringbearer, which retells Lord of the Rings from the perspective of Mordor (!), the Kebra Nagast, a semi-mythological history of the kings of Ethiopia, the King James Bible, and more. Have a look!
The Dhammapada is probably the most popular piece of scripture among Buddhists, and the most widely translated. The name literally means “The Way of the Dharma”. Dharma, a Sanskrit word that is very complex to translate, in the Buddhist context most frequently means “the body of teachings given by the Buddha”. More broadly, it can refer to the entire Buddhist relgion (more precisely designated as Buddhadharma). As Christian contexts will sometimes refer to “the Faith” in the sense of “the Christian religion”, “the Dharma” can likewise be construed as a synonym for “Buddhism”. Thus “Dhammapada”–the Way of the Dharma–essentially means “the way of Buddhism” or “the way of the Buddhist religion”.
A slight pet peeve, by the way. Americans tend to assume, incorrectly, that “a” is pronounced as the “a” in “father”–ahhh–in all foreign languages. The letter अ in both Sanskrit and Pali is transliterated as “a”, and is pronounced not as “ahhh” but like the “u” in “but” or the last “a” in “America”. The letter आ, transliterated as “ā”, is properly pronounced “ahh”. I’m not always consistent about using all the proper diacritics, but all the a’s in “Dhammapada” are short. Thus, the proper pronunciation of it is something like “dum-muh-pud-uh”, accent on the first syllable. Likewise “dharma” and “karma” ought to be “duhr-muh” and “kuhr-muh”. I always pronounce “dharma” correctly (though very few Americans do), but “karma” is so much assimilated that I pronounce it “kahhr-muh”, since the correct pronunciation would sound odd and confuse people. Sigh.
“Canon” is an interesting word. It comes via Greek from a Semitic original meaning something like “measuring rod”–thus, by extension, a “canon” is a “standard”. It has come to mean a standard in the sense of the standard or officially approved writings of a particular religion. Over the last few decades it has been extended from that to mean the accepted or approved works in a literary, cinematic, TV, comic, or other series of ongoing fictional stories–in short the “real” Star Trek or Harry Potter or such, as opposed to fanfics, pastiches, ripoffs, and other such works of heresy. This makes an interesting connection between fandom and religion–but I digress.
What I’m interested in here is not holy writ per se nor fanboy stuff, but personal canons. What do I mean?
I think that most thoughtful people, of whatever faith (or lack thereof), have “personal canons”–books (or other media, but for now I’m restricting it to books) that have greatly influenced them and which have continued to influence them. Such books of a personal canon may be the scriptures of one’s religion, obviously, but are not limited to these, and don’t even necessarily include the “official” canon, at least not all parts of it to the same degree. They may also be works of philosophy, history, literature, and so on. They may be things we keep returning to, or things that we have been profoundly influenced by once, after which we never re-read them. The possibilities are manifold.
A list of my own personal canon–not an exhaustive one, but representative–would look like this:
The Bible, of course; though I’d say that the most significant and influential books to me are Ecclesiastes, Job, parts of Psalms, and the Song of Songs from the Old Testament, and the Gospels (most particularly the Gospel of John), Acts, and Romans from the New Testament. I give greater weight to the New Testament in general, not only as a Christian, obviously, but because as I’ve been re-reading the Bible, I find the nastier bits of the OT harder to put up with. I’ll be putting up a more detailed discussion of that issue later.
The Dao De Jing (or Tao Teh Ching, in Wade-Giles). I have been profoundly influenced by this classic, and sometimes describe myself as a Daoist Catholic. I first read it as a freshman in college, and have done so many times since.
The Dhammapada. These verses from the Pali Canon, said to be the words of the Buddha himself, are ever worthy of re-reading and pondering.
The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost. ’Nuff said.
An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, by D. T. Suzuki. My attitudes towards Suzuki have changed over the years–that’s a long story–but still not a bad source for a beginner to use in learning about Zen.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach, and The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Both more profound when you’re a teenager, but still sentimental favorites of mine.
Miracles and The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis, both instrumental in the process of figuring out which faith to join.
Beyond Good and Evil, by Nietzsche. I certainly disagree with him on many things, but he’s one of the best aphorists of all time, and it’s always useful and bracing to have the opposite perspective to think upon at times.
I could add more, and I could put in tons of commentary, but that’s a good start. Let me open it up to all my readers in general here: would you share your personal canons
Just to be clear, if you’ve clicked on the video before reading, I’m not invoking, nor am I exemplifying, Godwin’s Law. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
I began writing about Philip Pullman’s series of novels His Dark Materials with a discussion of what I believe to be the wrong reasons for dismissing, criticizing, or derogating it. Many, especially in Christian circles, have dismissed it as a piece of atheist propaganda meant to destroy children’s belief in God. Pullman, in essays about C. S. Lewis, has made the counter claim that Lewis, in his Narnia books, was propagandizing to bring children into the Christian fold. My contention was that whether or not either one of them was right was beside the point in terms of the literary merit of either series of books. What I want to do briefly here is to explore that blurry boundary between writing with a passionate aim and propagandizing, and how these relate to art.
To some extent art is about technique and skill. The very word “technique” comes from the Greek technēs, very inadequately translated as “art”. It is better translated as “skill” or “craft” or “art” in the sense of the “art” of doing something. The word for builder or carpenter, tektōn (the word, by the way, which describes the professions of Joseph, wife of Mary, and Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament, and which doesn’t necessarily imply what we call carpentry), is related to technēs. Without skill or craftsmanship, without having mastery of one’s craft and doing a good job at it, one cannot create art, be it painting a picture, carving a statue, building a good house, building a stone wall, writing a novel, singing a song, or making a movie. Read the rest of this entry
A few years ago I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, one of the most talked-about–and controversial–series of books for children and young adults. As a prolegomena to actually writing about the series directly, I want to start with some of the philosophical issues that surrounded and still surround it. The reason I do so is that much of the discourse on this series of books hinged on issues that were not really literary at all.
It is well known that Pullman is an avowed atheist and that His Dark Materials was, in part, at least, conceived as a “response” to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. The latter information is especially interesting, since J. K. Rowling is known as a great fan of Lewis’s work, and partly conceived the Harry Potter series (especially its length of seven volumes) as a homage to Lewis. It is fascinating that the two most prominent authors of children’s books in the late 20th and early 21st centuries both wrote their major works in light of their reactions to and feelings about C. S. Lewis and Narnia. Read the rest of this entry
I noticed on my stats page that someone had read my review of Gladiator, which I posted a long time ago. I’ve got some other movie, book, and other reviews that I’ve got planned (some written years ago, some that I’m planning to write), so I thought I’d make a central index for them as I get them written and posted. Within genres, reviews are alphabetized by the title of the work reviewed. Enjoy!
A Double Shadow (this goes to the index for it, since I wrote several essays on it, none of them a traditional review–but, oh well)