What’s New for the 19th of March: Spring festivals, wise fools, outlaw heroes, an English country house mystery, chocolate!, and more

“I really didn’t mean to steal it.” Mr. Williams shook his head. He scratched at his chin nervously. “Why not? That’s what they’re there for. Tunes belong to everybody. So do stories.” ― Tallis and Mr Williams in Robert Holdstock’s Lavondyss

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Ahhh, there you are! Let me set aside the book I’ve been reading, The Haunted Wood: Britain’s Forests in Fantasy Literature. It’s a fascinating book though more than a bit dry as most academic works tend to be. As James Goldman noted in his preface to his play, The Lion in Winter, ‘Historians and storytellers don’t have much in common, but they do share this: the past, once it gets hold of you, does actually come alive. For scholars, this is troublesome. For writers, it’s the good stuff.’

So if you want something that’ll make for an entertaining read, it likely won’t be The Haunted Wood; rather it’ll be something like Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, or perhaps the more horrific in Ramsey Campbell’s The Darkest Part of the Woods, both where The Wood is intrinsically part of the story.

Now get yourself off to the Green Man Pub, have a pint of our just tapped Spring IPA and keep a watch on Oberon’s Wood out the windows there to see if anything decidedly fey is going on there whIle I put this edition together…

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Spring is upon us and Grey has a book that reminds us how longstanding celebration of this and other such dates are: ‘Clare Leslie and Frank Gerace have provided a wonderful resource in The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today. This slender book (fifty-eight pages) can be read by anyone from upper elementary school on, but younger children would also enjoy it if it were read to them. It is clearly designed primarily for the school and library markets, but “folky” families and those interested in Celtic traditions will also want it for their own libraries.’

Gary has something to say about a different kind of history, as portrayed in Susan Cheever’s Drinking in America: ‘Not only has alcohol been intimately involved in the history of the United States of America, it has been closely associated with some of the key moments in that history, from the very beginning. That’s the argument that Susan Cheever makes in her book Drinking in America: Our Secret History.’

Speaking of academic works, Kathleen looks at Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones & Susan Cooper: ‘Charles Butler is the author of several fantasies for children (The Fetch of Mardy Watt, The Darkling, Death of A Ghost). He also teaches English literature at the University of the West of England. In Four British Fantasists, he surveys juvenile fantasy through the lens of his professional scholarship, in a detailed analysis of the work of four acclaimed modern writers. He has chosen Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and Penelope Lively as his subjects, identifying them — with good reason — as shining examples of the modern Golden Age of children’s fantasy: inheritors of the traditions of both E. Nesbitt and J.R.R. Tolkien.’

Robert takes us on a brief tour of a delightful collection of folk tales: ‘The subtitle calls The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin a collection of “stories, jests, and donkey tales of the beloved Persian folk hero.” Nasruddin, though, is more than simply Persian — he’s an avatar of the Wise Fool found in folklore everywhere.’

Steven has a look at a novel in a long running mystery series: ‘Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger was inspired by a real 1998 case that resulted in the murder of a police officer. The author refers to the case repeatedly but doesn’t offer any clues to its solution. Instead, he uses it as the springboard for a story that plays on Navajo history and mythology, with the “Badger” of the title turning out to be both a legendary Ute warrior and his son, the former having been thought of as a witch by mystified Navajos and the latter perhaps taking advantage of his father’s tricks following a murderous raid on a casino.’

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By now we’re all familiar with the story of Robin Hood, in one form or another. Robert takes a look at a graphic novel treatment, Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, scripted by Tony Lee: ‘Anyone telling a story as well-known as this one is facing some built-in constraints, not the least of which is that we know there’s a happy ending, and it’s to Lee’s credit that he makes the telling as absorbing as he does.’

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Speaking of mysteries, an English country house murder mystery gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’

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What’s Zotter’s Labooko Peru Criollo Cuvée? It’s quite a mouthful, in more than one way. Gary tried this Austrian-made chocolate bar, and he says in his review that it’s ‘some of the best dark chocolate I’ve had in ages.’

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Jo says that ‘those interested in the Welsh tradition should check out Llio Rhydderch, who studied and toured with the fabled Nansi Richards. For the uninitiated, an explanation is in order. The Welsh have a drastically different style of playing, largely due to the nature of the music itself. Their music is ornamented through theme and variation, a more classical style, rather than through the sort of ornamentation heard in Scottish and Irish music.’ Read her review of Rhydderch’s Telyn for all the details.

Gary reports on a new CD by Jake Xerxes Fussel: ‘When I first listened to this new album What in the Natural World I thought he sounded like someone who has delved into the “old weird” American songbook once championed by the likes of Harry Smith, and I was right. He’s got an ear for a lyric and another for a melody, and he’s a pretty talented blues-style finger-picker of his electric guitar, too.’

The fourth album by Danish rockers The DeSoto Caucus, aptly titled 4, gets a close look from Gary. ‘They play a kind of laid-back desert rock that owes a lot to the sound of Giant Sand, but on this album they’ve added a major country-soul vibe, in addition to occasional elements of psychedelica,’ he says.

‘Cross-fertilization’ is a key concept in the history of any art form, and sometimes leads to amazing results, as Robert points out in his review of Siwan, a collaboration by a diverse group of musicians: ‘People sometimes remark on my taste in music (as in “What on earth are you listening to now?”), and I’ll be the first to admit it’s rather broad. I figure it’s all just music, and half the fun of it is finding the places where it all overlaps — you can always worry about classifications later. ‘

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Our What Not this time is a look at the birth of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra: ‘Some groups form in school or college, some grow out of teenage friendships and others from “musicians wanted” ads; nearly all of them are formed with the initial idea of sounding like somebody else. None of the above applies to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Nor, for that matter, do most other generalisations about how modern music is and should be made, or why.’  You can read the entire Independent article here.

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So let’s finish this edition with some music from Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to wit ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ from the Glastonbury Festival, the 26th of June, 1994. Oddly enough it’s become a very popular composition among Irish sorts of trad musicians and has been recorded by New Celeste, Patrick Street and Four Men and A Dog to name but some of the groups which gave done so.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
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