There’s a hoary old tale that’s been circulating in American politics for generations. It starts with an elderly farmer, because in myth and parable those are our wise men. The English have wizards; the Germans have magic dwarves; Americans have farmers.
Seems this old feller was out mending fence one day and had a mishap, so he went in to see the town doctor. As he was getting his hand stitched up, the doc asked how he’d happened to slip so badly with the fence wire.
Every age has its own myths and legends, its tales of heroes and hidden horrors, of villains and their victims, all suited to the age they were told in. And on my shelves, safely bound between hard covers (one or two locked shut) is a broad collection containing thousands of these tales.
This is not hard to do. Folklorists do nothing but collect and then publish, and then the copies sit and molder, mainly unread. Few ever attain a large print run, and of those that do, most are corrupted by public demand. Both the Grimms and Andersen bowed to pressure and revised what they’d published for later editions, softening the sharper edges and draining away some of the blood. Even then, though, it’s quite possible for an ambitious soul to track down the originals, which in turn were, in large part, collected from older tales told and retold over the ages.
The common error here lies not in the collecting or the publishing, but rather the mistaken illusion that these tales once bound will stay that way. For tales are living creatures; they grow in the telling, as they pass from teller to hearer, and every soul they pass through is changed by the experience — some forever, some only for a night and a day.
If you’re a native Mainer living in Maine right now, you probably never wondered how your home town got its name. You’re content to live in Passadumkeag or Molunkus knowing they’re from the original native tongues, something your Penobscot neighbor might be able to translate (or maybe not, times being what they are). If you’re the sort who asked questions when you were young, you’ve probably moved away by now; I know, because that was me. Asking too many questions makes folks uncomfortable, I’ve found, so nowadays I do it in a big city where everyone already ignores me anyway.
Trouble is, if you don’t ask, you never learn. And so many fine old tales that ought to have been told over and over have started to die out over the years. This is one I heard when I was very young; not long ago I ran across a variant of it in one of the Histories of Paarfi of Roundwood (as translated by Steven Brust) and bethought myself to track down the original, just to make sure (more…)
A friend and I were discussing some of the finer points of sportsmanship. We disagreed on one point; his view, expressed quite fervently, is that winning is worthless unless you’re a good sport. My point was that, on some occasions, winning is more important, and sometimes it’s all about how you play, but that it entirely depends on circumstances. Upon hearing this, he proceeded to berate me, opining that I’d never teach a beloved child such drivel.
Miami doesn’t really exist. It’s just (more…)
“Mr. Lion, Mr. Lion!” says the monkey. “If you’re the king of the jungle, why is it you’re down there and I’m up here?”
-Joel, at South Station
Editor’s Note: Read while listening to Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.
Too much caffeine; too little sleep. South Station in Boston, just coming back from the New Hampshire primaries. Nice guy, name of Joel. Don’t know his story, but he likes a good joke. We got to talking.
Joel was worried about me; saw me dozing off (more…)
No meme is safe.
“So in the middle of the Civil War,” it says, “someone was like, You know what this country needs? A delicious steak sauce.”
And therein hangs a tale.
See, back in the day, the armies didn’t generally carry enough food (more…)
It’s lovely winding down through the Cumberland Gap in the wee hours, and when the train’s slightly behind schedule you might be fortunate enough to have the sun coming up as you do. Some of the best sunrises in the world can be found here, overlooking the narrow stream from halfway up the side of one of the adjoining ridges. The sun sparkles off the icy waterfalls coming down the sheer rockface; it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, a view reserved exclusively for us.
Another of the fellows in the Lounge likes the sunrise in Jamaica, and who am I to argue? After all, he’s been there and I haven’t. We’ve been up half the night talking food trucks and pizza and native (more…)
It’s a curious thing about this nation’s passenger rail network.
I mean to say, apart from that we have one in the first place. This appears to surprise a lot of people. “Chicago? When do you fly out?” they ask, confident in the familiar ritualized response of airline and time and ticket class. When I say I’m taking the Capitol Limited, they’re at a complete loss. I must clarify: Amtrak. A passenger train.
Yes, Virginia, we still have passenger trains. (more…)