Monthly Archives: November 2006

Dulce et decorum est?

I like to quote something on Remembrance Day, but not the triteness of MacRae, which seems almost jaunty.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row

And sadly Owen and Sassoon are overdone on this day, although I have used them in the past on other blogs. Today I was looking for a poem that summed up my thoughts at the moment; that the dead are dead, that they didn’t die for us, a near or remote posterity; they died for themselves, for their families, or for nothing, dying like most people in a similar situation, thinking it couldn’t happen to them.

And I remember those who survived; people like my grandfather who really got off very lightly, and yet who only ever talked about his experiences briefly and then towards the end of his life. Others were not so lucky, and never escaped from the nightmare, whether through physical or mental mutilation.

Here’s a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorely (1895-1915)

When you see the millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

Not a poem about remembrance per se, but I think it touches on what I have said above; don’t praise the heroic sacrifice of the dead – what do they care? But it also acknowledges that the survivors will remember, even in dreams.

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Pure histrionics: Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer, 1941

I have never read one of Heyers’s crime novels before, although my mother has several, they were never of interest to me when I was younger – I preferred the regency romances. I came across this one in the library I work in, and decided to see what it was like.

The title is from Julius Caesar

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:

From this we may deduce that the victim met their death through stabbing, and also that the murderer was a purported friend of the victim. Perhaps.

This is in many ways a typical whodunit of its period. It’s a country house whodunit – with the various members of a family assembled (mostly unwillingly) for Christmas. It takes rather longer than usual for the victim to meet his maker, and even longer yet for the police inspector to arrive, so that he is far less the hero than we might expect him to be. It was an enjoyable read – I did guess whodunit fairly early on, but that wasn’t because I had worked out who they were but more because I felt there would be no justice if it turned out this character didn’t do it. From the plotting, I could see the similarities with some of Heyer’s regency whodunit/romances such as The Quiet Gentleman, and I felt the character who most passes as a heroine was similar to the heroine in that novel, Miss Morville, if I remember correctly.

I liked this enough to be motivated to explore Heyer’s other detective novels, and I now have Penhallow in my to read pile.

Stories and tales

Apologies for the hiatus, but I have been away. Normal service should now be resumed.

I spent part of yesterday afternoon listening to my eight-year-old niece doing her homework. She is doing myths and legends at school just now, and her homework was to write a story telling the tale of how the snail got its shell. It was fascinating – she told us what she was going to write beforehand, a little bit at a time, and the story that evolved before our eyes, was full of elements from all sorts of things.

It was a quest story. Our hero, who begins life as a slug, is cruelly orphaned in a savage attack on his family by thrushes. And yes, it was a hero, and not a heroine. He then runs into a friendly goddess who conveniently has had her crown stolen by magpies. Our hero agrees to retrieve it for her in exchange for her granting him a wish. There then follows an episode, which I commented bore more relation to Dungeons and Dragons than any traditional legends I knew. It involves trapdoors secret passages, grabbing the stolen crown, and escaping detection in the nick of time – thrilling stuff! Our hero has gained two sidekicks by this time, although only he gets a wish from the goddess, which seemed a bit unfair to me. For some unexplained reason he asks for a house on his back, like a tortoise, and so becomes a snail.

I think my niece may make a writer – she has a powerful imagination. She does read quite a lot of fantasy and there are clearly derivative elements to this story, but the way she has strung them together into a workable whole is interesting. The story had bits that could have come from Aesop or Ovid, as well as Tolkien or CS Lewis – she loves Narnia, and yet the choice of a slug as hero was good even if she did have to remind herself that it doesn’t have any legs.

I look forward to reading her more mature work.