Tag Archives: mythology

Read Harder: Vol. 3

This year, I plan on chronicling my adventures with Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

It’s always tough to talk about the third book in a series without giving away anything important, but I’m going to do my best. I flailed a bit about Pierce Brown‘s Red Rising about two years ago and it ended up being one of my favorite books that year. The overly simplified recap?  The series is set on Mars. Our hero, Darrow, is pulled up from his slave existence and sent to infiltrate high-society to spark a revolution.

In Morning Star, the revolution has spread far beyond Darrow’s spy games to a complete uprising, with most of the low-colors in the caste system warily banding together to overthrow the ruling Golds. Brown has expanded his toying with Greek and Roman mythology to include Norse legends and mythology – including a valiant warrior named Ragnar, his shield-maiden sister Sefi, and a veritable army of Valkyries. The book is stuffed with rousing war speeches, space battles, and political maneuvers.  If Red Rising has shades of Ender’s Game and Golden Son is a bureaucratic chess game, Morning Star throws the two into a blender, and comes out with Battlestar Galactica (Starbuck and Darrow would definitely be friends).

If you are into this, then Morning Star is for you.

As for the reading challenge, this will cover you for:

  • Read a book over 500 pages – it clocks in at 518
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or non fiction) – a stretch, sure, but it works

— Jess

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“That’ll Be The Day”: Unpacking The Searchers

Like many men of his generation, my dad is a huge John Wayne fan. He has seen every single one of the Duke’s films more times than either of us can remember, and if he happens to stumble upon one while channel-surfing, he’ll sit through it again, even if he’d originally planned to watch something else. When I went back to school for my library degree, Dad took great pleasure in calling me up and asking me obscure bits of John Wayne trivia, which I would dutifully research, then report back in a follow-up phone call. This led to a prolonged period of conversations in which we debated how many times a John Wayne character died in a film, because of the circumstances surrounding The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ,  The Sea Chase, and Central Airport*


Source: Syndetic image from library catalog

Glenn Frankel’s new book, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, unpacks the history and mythology behind a film Dad and I watched together many, many times. Depending on your point of view, the film is either a horribly racist reminder of an ugly period in American history, or a redemptive narrative in which a bitter, shortsighted man allows the power of love to change him (albeit quietly, and without a lot of fanfare). You can probably tell which interpretation I prefer just from reading the previous sentence, but Frankel explains it better, drawing from a resource list whose length, breadth, and depth are impressive by anyone’s standards, but especially by those of reference librarians (we’re kind of picky about that stuff).

Frankel begins with the historical record of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was abducted by Comanche in 1836, at the age of nine. Because searchersParker left no written record of her life experiences, much of what happened to her during her captivity and subsequent “rescue” by Texas Rangers in 1860 is shrouded in legend, hearsay, and secondhand reports; Frankel deftly sifts through to demonstrate how historical events assume layers of mythic meaning over time. Cynthia Ann’s story becomes that of her son, Quanah, who assumed his mother’s name and adapted her legend to suit his own purposes, the most important of which was survival in the face of cultural annihalation. Frankel then tackles the Western novel genre, and, more specifically, the work of Alan Le May, who drew upon the Parkers’ story to write his own novel, The Searchers. Last, but certainly not least, the reader learns how legendary director John Ford became aware of Le May’s book and used it as the basis for his own interpretation of the American West, a myth colored by Ford’s own personal difficulties and internal struggles.

Notice how Cynthia Ann Parker is never the owner or author of her own narrative. This would be depressing if it were not counterbalanced by Frankel’s detailed critical analysis of the film, in which the female/feminine characters are the true hero(ine)s of The Searchers, in a quiet, coded way. It is an interpretation that is sure to make film buffs rejoice, but will the average John Wayne fan buy it? Can there ever be a sense of “truth” when we talk about the history of the American west, and the fiction and films it has spawned? Can The Searchers and its bloody, complicated narrative history be redeemed to spark necessary conversations about racism in America? I honestly don’t know the answers, but I love the way in which Frankel raises the questions. And if you’re a fan of film, storytelling, women’s history, social justice, or the nature of truth, I’m betting you will, too.

I may ask Dad what he thinks about all this at some point, but not over the phone. I’d rather we sat, side by side, in front of the television, stealing snatches of conversation during the commercial breaks, hoping he’ll give me the answers to life, the universe, and everything. If I press too hard for a critical opinion he’s likely to tell me, “It’s only a movie, kid” (a phrase I first heard when I asked one too many uncomfortable questions about West Side Story). But if I stay silent, he may be willing to share stories from his own unwritten narrative about what The Searchers means to him as a product of a specific place and time, in a voice that will, someday, be as lost to me as Cynthia Ann Parker’s is to time and posterity.

Except that we never really stop hearing the voices of the men and women–both famous and obscure–who inspire our own stories and mythologies, do we? Ethan Edwards–and John Wayne–get the last word:

“That’ll be the day.”

–Leigh Anne

*Wayne’s character is already dead at the beginning of Liberty Valance, and the death is reported, not shown, during the course of the film, leaving room for a long, entertaining argument over drinks. Depending on how much of a romantic ambiguist you are, you could argue that it’s unclear whether or not Wayne goes down with the ship in The Sea Chase. In Central Airport, Wayne’s character is last seen in the ocean after a night-time plane crash and presumed dead. However, I’m of the opinion that unless you see a character die, s/he isn’t dead…and even then, you could be mistaken. John Wayne also played a bit part as a corpse in the 1931 film The Deceiver, but while this is highly amusing, it does not, technically, count as an on-screen death.

Wayne’s characters visibly snuffed it in Reap the Wild Wind (shipwreck-diving accident), The Fighting Seabees(killed by a sniper), Wake of the Red Witch (another underwater mishap), The Alamo (felled by a Mexican soldier), The Cowboys (killed by Bruce Dern’s character), The Sands of Iwo Jima (another sniper), and The Shootist (good old-fashioned gunfight).


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Lovers and Fighters

“If you can’t take the punches, it don’t mean a thing.” —Warren Zevon

I don’t remember much about the day Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini visited my school. My dad wasn’t a huge boxing fan, so I didn’t really understand why the fighter was famous–just that he was, and that he cared enough about his hometown to do things like talk to kids at pep assemblies. I sat in a wooden folding chair in the gym, surrounded by cheering classmates who were obviously much more sports-savvy than I was; I don’t remember anything Mancini said, either–any wisdom he might have had for me was drowned out by pre-teen adulation. The only detail I recall clearly was that one of the eighth grade girls presented Mancini with a bouquet of flowers, and that the boxer gallantly gave her a peck on the cheek. The girl’s face lit up like a Christmas tree, and the audience collectively roared its approval.

“Boom Boom’s” visit made an impression on me, though. How could it not?  Mancini’s presence was meant to be an example of what we, too, could accomplish, if we worked hard. We could be contenders.  We could be somebody. Maybe not in the ring, but somehow. All you had to do was pay your dues and have faith, and somehow everything would turn out okay. Maybe I missed out on the details of that particular sermon, but the underlying message–reinforcing, as it did, everything else I’d been brought up to believe–rang out like a bell, an insistent sound rippling down to the bone.

Nobody talked to us about what happened later. We were, perhaps, too young to learn we could do our best to rise, and still fall.

When Mark Kriegel’s biography of Mancini, The Good Son, came up on my radar, I knew I was going to read it. Mancini’s story was our story too, those of us who grew up in the shadow of Black Monday, and even though you can’t go home again, home never really leaves you. I wanted to see how the story turned out, and I was not disappointed.

Equal parts love song and hero’s journey, The Good Son is a guided tour of Ray Mancini’s desire to win a world boxing championship, something his father, the original “Boom” Mancini, was denied after a WWII injury cut his own career short. Like a modern-day Hercules, the young Mancini stubbornly plows through the obstacles in his path and achieves his dream. Fame and further opportunities follow, but nothing gold can stay, and “Boom Boom” ultimately meets the psychological test of his life in his fight with Duk Koo Kim, and its tragic aftermath.

This was, for me, the most interesting part of the book: how do you go on living when your world is blown apart? Kriegel shows, with great compassion, Mancini’s struggles to find meaning in life, and a life after boxing. The journey to redemption, one that, in the hands of clumsier writers suffers from hyperbole and cliche, becomes, in Kriegel’s hands, a tale that could (and can, and does) happen to anyone. Best of all, readers who like happy endings will get one…though it may not come wrapped in the trappings they have come to expect from “happy.”

I don’t want to spoil it too much for you, but I can assure you, there’s something in The Good Son for a variety of readers, even if the namedropping of specific neighborhoods and local politicos doesn’t make you mist up a little, the  way I did. For the sports fans, there’s a ripping good yarn about the bloodier days of boxing, before Howard Cosell lost his temper about it. For those who lived during the boom and bust of the steel industry, there are slices of living history, bittersweet pieces of pie you can wash down with your coffee (or maybe a shot and a beer). And for those who still believe–or want to believe–in heroes, here there are lovers and fighters, families and rivals, the human condition writ large, Shakespeare for groundlings, poetry in motion.

If the name of the game really is “be hit and hit back,” The Good Son wins, by unanimous decision. Try it and see.

–Leigh Anne

who, after all those years, finally got the message


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An Irish Literary Sampler

If you were so inclined, you could probably spend the rest of your life reading nothing but Irish literature.  Quite frankly, I’m half-tempted:  as I read and researched for this post,  I found enough literary leads to keep even the most voracious reader happy.  To do full justice to the subject, I’d have to write a book.

Luckily, many people have beaten me to the punch.  Here’s a short list of books our own library offers, meant to be that briefest of introductions to the literature of Ireland.

Irish Literature 1750-1900: An Anthology, ed. Julia M. Wright.   A comprehensive overview of 150 years in Irish writing, this work contains treatises both historical and philosophical as well as extracts from folklore, opera and, of course, poetry.

Finding Ireland, Richard Tillinghast. Reading this book is like taking a long walk with a friend whose photographic memory expresses itself in one cheerful, rambly monologue. This delightful literary tour of Ireland is part travelogue, part love poem, and all wonderful.

For something slightly more comprehensive, you can have a Field Day, literally. In fact, you can have several, as all five volumes of the Field Day Anthology are available for checkout. Volumes four and five are specifically dedicated to Irish women’s writing and traditions.

Ciáran Carson’s translation of the Táin bó Cúalinge (the cattle raid at Cooley) is a fine introduction to Celtic epic tales. In this particular saga the mighty warrior Cú Chulainn battles an entire army over a brown bull, all for the sake of Queen Medb’s desire to have nicer livestock than King Ailill’s. It’s much more complicated than that, of course, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to see for yourself.

I could go on, of course. Purists might, for example,  deem it sacrilege that I never once mentioned Yeats, Boland, Wilde (mere) or Wilde (fils), but rest assured:  the library’s got you covered.  In fact, why not stop by today and ask us about your favorite Irish novelist, poet, or playwright?

–Leigh Anne

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lunar lore

Lunar libration with phase Oct 2007

Lunar libration

Last Wednesday marked the twelfth full moon of 2009, but it isn’t the last full moon of the year. Another will occur on December 31st. While the definition of a blue moon has varied over time, the current meaning describes the phenomenon of two full moons occurring in one month.  If you’re fond of using the expression “once in a blue moon,” you might want to be careful–literally, you’re saying “once every 2.71542689 years.”

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the full moon on the 2nd will be the traditional “Cold Moon,” while the one on the 31st will be called the “Blue Moon,” although you can participate in the Almanac’s contest to name it.  During the New Year’s Eve full moon, there will also be  a partial lunar eclipse, when the Earth will just barely cast its shadow on the lunar surface, although the event will be invisible to almost all of the US.

Our connection with the moon is varied and fascinating.  For example, we all know the superstition that the full moon causes people to act crazily.  The etymology of “lunatic” actually derives from the Latin word for moon, lunaRich folklore from all over the world surrounds our nearest astral neighbor

Our scientific relationship with the moon is no less exciting.  From conspiracies about whether men really walked on the moon to close observations of the moon’s effect on tides, the scientifically-minded also keep an eye on the sky.  In fact, December’s lunar lineup seems a fitting finale for a year in which two missions, by India and NASA, discovered water on the moon.

Happy sky gazing!  Don’t forget to let out a little howl, too.


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Myth, Understood

Every day I talk to people who are looking for facts and answers.  Libraries have lots of resources and services for factual questions, and I love showing people how to use them!

It’s only fair to point out, though, that libraries also house questions:  the big ones, about life, the universe, and everything.  And while librarians can’t tell you who to vote for, what deity to worship, or how to handle your in-laws, we can give you lots of information about such topics so you can make the best decisions for yourself.

If that sounds somewhat less than reassuring, take comfort in the fact that human beings have been trying to make sense of shenanigans on our crazy little blue planet for thousands of years. Religion, science and philosophy are three useful theoretical frameworks for this kind of exploration, but I’ve always been kind of partial to mythology as a way of searching for meaning. By examining the legends and archetypes of bygone days, you can learn a lot about storytelling, problem-solving, and meaning-making, three human functions that aren’t going away anytime soon.  

Here are just a few of the many books on mythology that you can borrow from the Carnegie Library:

A lot of people, myself included, first get hooked on mythology via the classic texts by Hamilton, Bulfinch, Campbell, or Frazer, and you can’t go wrong starting with any one of them.  If you can’t get to the library right away, you might want to look at The Encyclopedia Mythica, a great internet resource that’s organized by geographic region; it also contains a section on Arthurian legends and an image gallery, among other research goodies.  Once you find something interesting there, you can do a catalog search to see what, if any, materials the library has on your myth/legend/hero(ine)/archetype of choice.

By now it should be obvious that when you say “myth,” the Carnegie Library says “Yes!” Mythology can be pretty heady stuff, though, so if you start to get overwhelmed, you might want to kick back and ponder The Meaning of Life instead.

Happy questing,

–Leigh Anne

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