Saturday, July 19, 2014

Coming to the End of Calvin and Hobbes: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXXI

I finished There's Treasure Everywhere last night and began It's a Magical World.  About half way through the first book I began to feel apprehensive.  As my reading progressed, it became harder and harder to turn the page.  The reason is simply that it's coming to an end.  I already know what the last comic will be and can picture it clearly in my mind.  After that, there's nothing more.  The dynamic duo sled off into the morning sunlight and are gone.

The art and imagination evident in the last three Calvin and Hobbes treasuries is astounding.  Here is where Watterson finally has enough creative control to go all-out with his vision of comic book excellence.  In truth, he probably had a few years of creative productivity still to go.  His decision to end Calvin and Hobbes at its peak is bittersweet.  On the one hand, what we have is pristine -the work of art as it was meant to be.  On the other hand, there is the Iliadic sense of a work cut off in its prime.  Calvin and Hobbes has no homely Odysseian denouement to give us a sense of closure -to make us feel that there are no more tales left to tell.  Perhaps that's fitting, since Watterson has always been more of an Achilles, raging at the Agamemnons of the Syndicate and sulking in his tent until he gets his way.  It's only natural that like Achilles he should leave the stage in his prime.  Perhaps it's also only natural for some to long for a more Odysseian turn for their favorite comic book heroes.  Witness the small cottage industry on the net of creating grown-up Calvin and Hobbes fan fic.  Then there are the successors, conscious or unconscious, such as Sandra and Woo.  Whatever these artists may produce, Watterson's part in his creation ended and two decades have added their dignified moss to his monument.

So what then?  The poet Goethe has Faust sell his soul to the devil on the condition that the devil provide him with some moment that can forever satisfy -the same pleasure over and over again -without diminishing- for all eternity.  In a way, then, asking for Calvin and Hobbes to go on and on is asking for something we can't have.  Eventually, the land would be explored -every nook and cranny.  We'd come to the shores of the last sea and find that the world was bent -that the strait way had been lost.  We can argue that Watterson should have pushed on to the bitter end -until all the territory that he opened had been settled- but an end still would have come.  When we realize that, we also begin to see the wisdom in Watterson's constant attacks on consumerism.  Watterson knows that humans aren't meant for continuous consumption and that the world lacks the material for it.  To consume is also -eventually- to destroy.  In order to preserve anything, whether it be the environment, a food source, or even the pleasure of a good book, at some point our consumption of it has to stop.  We must set aside that last bit of land as open space, we must get up from the table and say "that was a good meal".  In choosing to end his series at its height, Bill Watterson prevented us from consuming it.  Calvin and Hobbes maintains its power precisely because there can always be a further adventure.  It's still a magical world.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tree and Leaf: Creative Platypus

Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle, Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes, and too many summer afternoons playing The Legend of Zelda.  Picture by the author of this post.

Reflections on Bread: Creative Platypus

I've noticed a few things as my experimentation with bread continues:

1. After you've made the same thing a few times you want to branch out.  I'm sure this is how new forms of bread came to be, but the itch to experiment strikes me as also the luxury of someone who isn't dependent on the bread they make to feed their oikos (household).  Would bread-making be fun if I had to make the same loaf most days of the year and save an frills for holidays?

2. Any sort of stream-lined bread baking requires routine and routines require stability.  A trip to San Antonio threw my entire process out of wack and it was absurdly difficult to start up again considering how little is actually involved.  This is why when most humans farmed very few of humans traveled.  Farming only works when a strict routine is kept by all the members of the household.  That routine creates its own momentum that's extremely difficult to recapture once it's lost.

3. Following point two, the types of bread I can make are limitless thanks to the grocery store.  I can even order spices on the internet in order to create breads traditional in the Middle east.  Making rye bread is fun for me; it's not a necessity because the area I live in is inhospitable to wheat.

Those are my thoughts thus far.  For the original post and its sequel click here and here

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Platypi Feet: Strange Platypus(es)

Some things stay with you.

I'm planning on seeing two old friends this summer.  One of them I haven't seen in fifteen years (though we have spoken via email and post).  It's a sort of homecoming -or maybe just touching base.  The problem is there's a lot of dirt under my shoes.  I've been walking the world a bit since '99: L.A., Houston, Oxford, Ireland, Italy, Cameroon, Mexico.  I guess that may make it sound like more than it is, but I've been places and seen things.  They've been walking the world too, but always with that return to home plate in New England.  They're New Englanders.  But what am I?  Will I look like a Californian in my Hawaiian shirt?  How many Calafornianism have crept into my vocabulary?  Have I developed a noticeable twang?  Are the smatterings of Spanish, Pigeon, and English slang mere affectations?  My accent will come back.  It always does.  Maybe I'll hyper-correct and sound more like a Yankee than I ever did when I lived there.  I'll want to see all the places, soaking them up like a tourist instead of moving through them like a fish in a pond.  I can suppress that urge -don't want to be obnoxious...

In the end, what makes you what you are?  Are you a Californian if you think Cholula and Sriracha are staples?  Do sarcasm and harsh nasals make you a Yankee.  How many years does it take for everyone but a native to consider you a Texan?  Do those places that you visited or stayed have a claim?  How many semesters are required to make an Oxonian?  At least all the Irish I met considered me a long lost cousin (and that was much appreciated!).

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Someone stabbed the Fisher King
The Round Table broke
And I was left to wander in the Wasteland

Qui Transtulit Sustinet

Monday, July 07, 2014

Conan: The Hour of the Dragon (Addendum): The Platypus Reads Part CCLXX

A thought occurred to me while going over my previous reviews of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories: "how does The Hour of the Dragon show Conan's continuing moral evolution?".  Howard's first story, The Phoenix on the Sword, depicts Conan as an enlightened monarch who has delivered the people of Aquilonia from oppression.  As Howard transitions in the stories that follow to discuss Conan's younger years, his hero becomes increasingly selfish, violent, and lustful.  This "Conan the Reaver" was meant to sell, but it also created a plausible moral trajectory for the character.  By the time we get to The Valley of Lost Women, we see that Conan does have moral compunctions that grow out of his primitive "warrior's code."  As Howard pushed on to writing longer Conan stories, this moral germ began to grow.  In The People of the Black Circle we see Conan feeling a genuine sense of responsibility for the tribesmen he governs.  He has learned moderation and is beginning his transformation into a leader capable of governing an Empire.  The Hour of the Dragon brings Conan back full circle to The Phoenix on the Sword.  We see Conan absorbed with the just ruling of his people.  Even more significant for the character's moral development, we see him twice offered an opportunity to return to his former life either as the builder of a new empire with the aid of the Poitainians or as a return to Amra of the black corsairs.  In both cases, Conan's sense of duty and the proper bounds of rule cause him to reject the temptations of the past and stay true to his quest to rescue his people from foreign domination.  The book ends with a final acceptance of duty over personal autonomy when Conan vows to marry Zenobia.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Conan: The Hour of the Dragon: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXIX

It's been a while since I began reading The Bloody Crown of Conan, volume two of a three-part annotated anthology covering Howard's most memorable creation.  This volume contains three of the longer stories including The People of the Black Circle, which I've review here.  The second story in the collection is Howard's Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon.  This piece was originally written in an attempt to bring Conan to British audiences and serve as a sort of debut for the character across the pond.  We don't know how well it would have been received, but I do remember one Cornish professor in Oxford remarking dryly that "Conan the Barbarian is an ethnic slur".  With that as a preface, let's take a look at the novel.

The Hour of the Dragon presents us with Conan as the aging ruler of Aquilonia fighting against a conspiracy to dethrone him and replace him with a survivor of the old dynasty.  When the conspiracy succeeds with the help of a long-dead wizard, Xultotun, brought to life with ancient magic, Conan finds himself on the run and must fight to regain his throne.  The plot thickens as Xultotun subverts his fellow conspirators and begins using his necromantic powers to revive the 3,000 years-vanished empire of Acheron.  Conan gains mystic help of his own in the form of a witch and the high priest of Asura who reveal to him that he must seek "the heart of Ahriman," an ancient jewel with power to defeat Xultotun.  After many and varied adventures, Conan recovers the gem and unites with his allies to restore his kingdom and send Xultotun back to the land of the dead.  

The Hour of the Dragon is a short novel, falling well below 200 pages.  No Cimmerian Lord of the Rings here.  In further distinction to Tolkien's masterwork, The Hour of the Dragon was written under the gun as opposed to the 12 years of careful gestation and revision that produced The Lord of the Rings.  Unlike the good professor, Howard was relying on his writing to pay the bills, and that leaves an indelible mark on his stories.  In this case, The Hour of the Dragon reads like an excellent first draft because that's what it is.  Howard didn't have time for further revisions: he needed to sell it or move on.  The chief places where this shows are in the endless string of fortuitous circumstances that guide Conan's quest and the multiplication of unnecessary episodes.  You can see Howard pillaging from other stories and furiously laying down the tracks before train of his thunderous adventure.  This gives large stretches of the novel the feel of "we go here, see this weird thing, and then move on".  A part of this may be that Howard felt that he needed to show off as much of his Hyborian age as possible to his new audience, but he lacked time to smooth these "tourist" episodes into the rest of the narrative.  Against this fundamental failing, however, Howard is able to marshal his considerable skill in creating gripping narratives and compelling action.  By this point in his career, Howard knows his characters, his world, and his themes and those aspects of the novel shine.  In fact, this story, along with perhaps The Phoenix on the Sword and The Scarlet Citadel presents the ripest source for a future movie adaptation that I can think of.  The defects that remain are those endemic in Howard's writing: sexism and racism.  Those defects and the ones mentioned above combine with Howard's strengths make The Hour of the Dragon precisely what it was designed to be: a showcase of Conan and his world. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

More Culinary Creativity: Creative Platypus


My baking spree continues with this pretty little whole wheat loaf that looks like a spice cake.  Below is a picture of a simple boule.
Moving on from bread to other things, here is home-made Mediterranean feast.

So lots of fun here in the kitchen this past month.  If I'm able to turn out anything else that's inspiring, I'll be sure to post pictures of it here.



Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Reading Update: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXVIII

This is the first summer in three years where I'm not live-blogging a read through one or more of the Shannara books.  Nonetheless, I am disposed to be communicative, but without a ready-made excuse for a post what shall I say?  Let's start with where the Summer Reading has gone thus far.

I've handily dispatched Paul Cartledge's two popular-level books on Sparta's role in the Persian Wars, Thermopylae and After Thermopylae.  Cartledge comes out swinging for his side here and no mistake.  When push comes to shove, he thinks that the Spartans decisively won the Persian Wars and that the Athenians stole the glory.  That's controversial, to say the least.  The Athenian victory at Salamis cut the Persians' supply lines and also kept them from using the fleet to raid the Spartan coast or lend superior maneuver to the Persian army.  I also have to wonder, given what Herodotus account, if the Spartans could have won at Plataea without the support of the battle-hardened Athenian army.  That said, I'm currently taking a break from Ancient Greece and tending to a long-neglected interest with Fairbank and Goldman's China: A New History.

The Calvin and Hobbes reading continues with The Days are Just Packed.  Here, Watterson has fully come in to his own daring layout, dynamic drawing, and stories that revel in exploring a rich and delicate world that was several years in the making.  This is Calvin and Hobbes as it lives in the minds of those who grew up with it.

As in any summer reading program, there are always the curve balls.  This summer's current curve ball is The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier.  I'm not through with it yet, so I can't render any final verdict.  Did anyone else read this one?  If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Polish all this off with occasional dips into an Oxford anthology of English ghost stories and you've got the last few weeks.  At any rate, July is coming and I may mix things up a bit.  There are no rules to summer reading, and that's the fun of it.