That Blod-woman was pretty poor,” said Roger, “however you look at it.”
“No,” said Huw. “She was made for her lord. Nobody is asking her if she wants him. It is bitter twisting to be shut up with a person you are not liking very much. I think she was longing for the time when she was flowers on the mountain, and it is making her cruel, as the rose is growing thorns.” ― Alan Garner’s The Owl Service
I’ve been reading The Owl Service these past few days as Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, pointed out to me on a recent afternoon as I took a walk outside on a particularly brisk day that many of the owls that winter over here have made their seasonal transition into the protected spaces we built generations back to harbour them when the Winter gets too cold for them to be outside.
I’ve always found our owls to be as fascinating as our corvids are though the owls are far more aloof than those birds are. And I’m certainly not the only one that does as I found a long note in The Sleeping Hedgehog from 1845 in which Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here for many, many years during the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, wrote for the Estate inhabitants about the need to be respectful of the hollow trees and other places they took residence for the Winter.Our first review is apt given my reading of that novel: Welsh Mythology and Folklore in Popular Culture, which Robert notes, ‘edited by Audrey L. Becker and Kristin Noone, is, as one might expect, a scholarly anthology focusing on the influence and outright appropriation of Welsh mythology and legends in popular culture through the twentieth century.’ Read his review to see why he found it to have a glaring fault.
Marta McDowell’s Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life was a work much liked by Gus: ‘Like many serious gardeners, I collect books about gardens and those who created them. This one is a recent acquisition of mine that ranks among the best I’ve encountered! Subtitled ‘The plants and places that inspired the classic children’s tales’, it is just what it says it is: a look at the gardens (and botanical things) that inspired her children’s writings.’
I reviewed the audiobook edition of The Owl Service when it came out several years back: ‘Listening to The Owl Service as told by Wayne Forester, who handles both the narration and voicing of each character amazingly well, one is impressed by his ability to handle both Welsh accents and the Welsh language, given the difficultly of that tongue, which make Gaelic look easy as peas to pronounce by comparison.’
I’ve also been reading Thomas Godfrey’s English Country House Murders, a collection of short stories that’s just what it says it is. Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers are just two of the many, many stellar writers here.
Our next book review in this themed section was actually written for Folk Tales, one of the printed publications we did, oh, maybe a quarter of a century ago: Two Mabinogions, one translated by Jeffrey Gantz, the other by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones are examined by Jo; who notes that though the texts that got stitched together much later into The Mabinogion, dated supposedly to the twelfth century, ‘The true history of the tales is unknown, having been lost along with the tellers.’
Robert takes a look at another book that, in spite of the forbidding title, derives from Welsh sources: ‘The Arthur of the English: The Arthurian Legend and Medieval English Life and Literature is the second volume in a series of scholarly anthologies centered on the Arthurian literature of the Middle Ages. . . . As the series editor, W. R. J. Barron, points out in the Preface, the new series takes full advantage of the more expansive scholarship in the field and is thus able to focus on the cultural and historical as well as linguistic aspects of Arthurian literature in Europe.’
And a short jaunt across the Irish Sea, and we have Robert’s look at the great Irish epic in a translation by Ciaran Carson: ‘In his new translation, The Táin, Ciaran Carson notes specifically that he used the Old Irish texts edited and published by Cecile O’Rahilly . . . augmented by the 1969 translation by Thomas Kinsella, with the same title (in order, Carlson surmises, to make it sound less like a B-Western and to bring it into line with other epics). This was simply because there is no “final” version of the story, only assemblages of earlier or later provenance.’
The White Goddess by Robert Graves bears the subtitle of ‘The White Goddess — A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth’. As our Robert notes, ‘obert Graves was a well known poet, novelist, translator, mythographer, and, in some quarters at least, crackpot. I found his renderings of the Greek myths, informed by an awareness of their historical and anthropological context, to be illuminating, and his novels to be both entertaining and substantial.’ Read his review to see how this work stacks up.
A Japanese series finds favor with Robert: ‘Utawarerumono is the title of an anime series from Japanese TV that has made its way to North America on DVD, and it’s — well, it’s somewhere in the realm of historical romance cum science fiction future history. If you know what I mean. Hint: the title Utawarerumono translates as “He Whose Song Is Sung” — we are clearly dealing with a legend in the making.’Dark chocolate bread pudding… Cocoa in huge mugs with homemade marshmallows… Chocolate chip cookies… We here at the Kinrowan Estate love chocolate in all its guises, so it’s not surprising that we review chocolate bars here with this review being by Robert of three Ritter bars: ‘The bars in this case are all square and all weigh in at 100g (3.5 oz.), and all seem somehow weightier than an equivalent size of American chocolate — I suspect because of the shape and size: they’re all about 3 inches on a side and are actually very nice to hold in the hand (if you can restrain yourself from ripping off the wrapper and stuffing your face).’
Let’s start off our music section with not a review, but a remembrance. Barb has a look at a hundredth anniversary celebration of the birth of Charles Ives: ‘The most memorable concert of my life was one I had the pleasure to be involved with. Fortunately, my involvement was minimal so I had the opportunity to experience most of it from the audience’s point of view.’
In the same vein, we have some comments on the New Riders of the Purple Sage from Deborah in “Down for the Ride: 45 years of the New Riders of the Purple Sage“: ‘“Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest alt-country rock band in the universe…” It’s Halloween, 2015, and I’m perched on the back of the soft bench running along the wall of the Sweetwater Music Hall, in Mill Valley, California. Mark Topazio, affectionately known as Captain Toast and the band’s tour manager, is introducing the New Riders.’
Wintersongs was a great listen for April: ‘This beautiful follow-up to 1998’s eponymous Triakel celebrates not just Yuletide, but Advent, St. Stephen’s Day, New Years and Epiphany with a glorious blend of tunes and words old and new, both joyous and somber.’
Northumbrian piper and fiddler Kathryn Tickell contributed to Wintersmith, the Terry Pratchett novel Steeleye Span adapted into a recording. So let’s talk about her latest recording which is with the classically trained Side group which Michael also reviewed: ‘On their debut album Kathryn Tickell & The Side create an exciting mix of folk and classical music, with some hints of more modern sounds. Most of the music is written by KT herself, and her training as a composer shows. She does not merely write tunes, she composes pieces, well-structured and exciting.’
Gary has a review of Ben E. King’s The Complete ATCO/Atlantic Singles, Vol. 1—1960-1966. King, who died in 2015, had a lengthy career as an R&B crooner that was dominated by his first two big hits, “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me.” But Gary says, “with 49 songs, most of which were mid-level hit singles in the early to mid-60s, this set is really a treasure trove of music that for the most part you just don’t hear any more.”
From the Isle of Man comes a trio called Barrule. Gary says their album Manannan’s Cloak, their second, is “a wonderfully lively collection of tunes and songs.” The trio takes its name from the island’s central peak, which is said to be the home of Manannán mac Lir, a Celtic sea god who watched over the islands by drawing his cloak around the mountain to hide the isle from intruders. You’ll find Gary’s review here.
Nolan Porterfield’s Jimmie Rodgers, The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler has a title that might surprise many of us who had no idea what a blue yodeler is, but Gary notes his influence is wider than that, as ‘few people realize that Jimmie Rodgers was every bit as crucial in the history of pop and the American music business as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan.’
I forgot to note earlier in this commentary that the Sleeping Hedgehog for this month included a letter from the Archives by Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, about preparations for the holidays here in her time.
It’s my habit to finish off with a choice bit of music from a band that I’m rather fond of, this time being the Scottish Peatbog Faeries whose Mellowosity is one of the best debut recordings ever done. My live cut for you this time is “Toss the Feathers-Oyster Woman’s Rant” from a recent performance by them at the Towersey Festival.