This illustration is from Sir Walter Scott's 1817 novel Rob Roy. It's set in Scotland in the time period leading up to the Jacobite Uprising of 1715. In this scene, the novel's protagonist, Frank Obaldistone, confronts his cousin, the turncoat Rashleigh, and engages in a duel with him. Their fight is broken up by Rob Roy MacGregor.
This is a scene from the 1956 musical comedy The Court Jester, which stars Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, and Basil Rathbone. The film has a medieval setting, and involves a Robin Hood-like band attempting to overthrow the evil king who has usurped the throne and replace him with the rightful king, an infant identified by a purple pimpernel-shaped birthmark on his posterior. Danny Kaye is a carnival worker/ minstrel who the band presses into service, masquerading as the new court jester. What they don't realize is that the actual jester whom they took out to replace with Kaye was also an assassin hired by Lord Ravenhurst (Rathbone). The plot is a bit convoluted to try to explain, and unfortunately the movie was a big flop when released. Time has been kind to The Court Jester though, and it is now much more widely appreciated. This particular scene is the most well-known from the film:
In this section of the novel, we get the happy conclusion of Reggie's and Alice's romance as they marry and head off on their honeymoon. George is left with the unpalatable task of informing Lord Marshmoreton of the marriage, though Lord M. turns out to be fine with it. Much of this scene is devoted to providing more of Lord M.'s personal history, explaining how he ended up in a position for which he seems temperamentally unsuited. It turns out that he never expected to become the Earl of Belpher, and was planning to spend his life farming. Forced by duty into a life he didn't want, his former farming ambitions are now channeled into his rose garden. Desiring only a quiet life, he finds himself cowed by familial obligations into doing things he doesn't want to do, like forbidding Maud from marrying who she wants. By stepping out with Billie, Lord M. is acting in his own interests for probably the first time in years. And it is Billie who provides him with the information that George is, foremost, a good person and is also a rich man. As the scene closes out, we know that there's going to be quite an upheaval at Belpher shortly, between the news of Reggie's marriage and Lord M.'s arrival with Billie. The scene between Keggs and Albert is instructive as the boy is humbled by Keggs' successful manipulator. Albert must acknowledge his inferiority as as a schemer; he is merely a disciple at the feet of the master, as it were. We also see Keggs' skill at manipulating Lord Percy to get the outcome he wants. Really, Keggs is like a slightly evil Jeeves. The upshot of all this is that George is invited to the Belpher dinner party where, with the presence of all of our major characters, we can but assume that there will be some sort of confrontation.
“When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.'” - Rudyard Kipling (The Cat That Walked By Himself)
Reggie and Alice are married and George intends to leave them to their wedded bliss, but they insist on him joining them for a wedding lunch. At the restaurant Reggie frets about how to break the news to his stepmother, and George suggests that he write Lady Caroline a letter. Reggie considers this a stroke of genius; the letter will be delivered while they're on an extended honeymoon trip across Europe and Caroline's rage will have simmered down by the time they return. This settled, Reggie glances around the restaurant and is shocked to see his uncle, Lord Marshmoreton, walk in accompanied by a woman. George recognizes her: it's Billie Dore. Reggie and Alice ask him to go over and break the news of their marriage to Lord Marshmoreton while they slip out the door. George agrees and strolls over to their table where Billie greets him happily. She explains that she got a card from Lord Marshmoreton the previous evening at the theater and was shocked to find out that he's the supposed gardener from Belpher. Lord Marshmoreton is looking quite youthful and happy, so George takes the moment to tell him that Reggie has married his secretary, Alice Faraday. Lord M is shocked but then relieved, to George's surprise. He explains that this will give him a respite from writing his dratted family history. Lord M. is moved to unburden himself; he tells them that when he was a young man, he was planning to go to Canada and be a farmer. He had already purchased a fruit farm there when his uncle- who was Lord Marshmoreton- died unexpectedly in an accident and the new Lord Marshmoreton, his uncle's baby son, died shortly thereafter of the croup. To his dismay, Lord M. found himself saddled with the title and estate, and saw his dreams of farming in Canada go up in smoke. He says that he tried to fight against it, but knows that he's now as big a snob as the rest of his family. George and Billie are a little uncomfortable being on the receiving of these confessions, and George takes his leave.
Breaking Lord M's brooding silence, Billie remarks that George is a nice person. Lord M. tells her that George wants to marry his daughter, and that he refused permission. He says he knows that Billie will think that this is because he's a snob who doesn't think George is good enough for Maud. He say that the truth is that he likes George, but is too spineless to stand against Caroline and Percy over the issue. They are determined that Maud must marry for either position or fortune. Billie says that in that case, George is his man, because he's loaded. Lord M. is shocked: how can he be; he writes tunes for a living. Billie explains that George is a composer and gets a percentage of the gross receipts on the shows of his which are playing. He also gets royalties from all the copies of all his songs which sell. In short, he's swimming in cash. Lord M. is staggered and Billie says that she knew George before he had a penny, and that becoming wealthy hasn't changed him in the least- he's still the same nice guy. While Lord M. is mulling this over, Billie says that she needs to get back to the theater for rehearsal. Lord M. asks her to skip it but she points out that she needs her job. He hesitantly suggests that he'd like to offer her a different position and Billie stiffens, expecting an improper advance. To her surprise, Lord M, remembering that George had told him Billie used to be a stenographer, offers her Alice's job as his secretary. Billie says that she'd love to- she fell in love with the castle while she was there- so he tells her to go back to the theater, resign and pack, and then meet him at Waterloo Station to make the trip down to Belpher.
Meanwhile at the castle, Keggs informs young Albert that he was onto his machinations to try to get Maud and Reggie together while sabotaging George's chances. He gloats that he arranged a meeting between Maud and George and intends to arrange for George to be invited to dinner at Belpher. Albert, in awe of Keggs' powers of subterfuge, realizes that he has been bested by a superior manipulator and resigns himself to defeat. In order to put the next part of his plan into action, Keggs goes to see Lord Percy. He pretends that he has just found out that George was masquerading as a servant on the night of the party and is immediately bringing the information to Percy. He also tells Percy that he knows why George was sneaking in: to see Maud. Keggs then offers his advice to Percy as a faithful family servant. He suggests that, if Maud was given the opportunity to view George in contrast with her aristocratic family and friends, she would soon realize that he is completely ineligible and reject him. Since this is exactly how Percy thinks, he decides that this suggestion is inspired and says he will speak to his father about having George invited to their dinner party the following evening. The next morning, a smug Keggs gives Albert a dinner invitation to take to George's cottage. Albert is staggered by this further proof that Keggs is an evil genius, and Keggs deigns to give him a valuable piece of advice: don't grow up to be a fathead like Percy.
We've all been there: a child wants to have a story read to him or her and they pick the longest, wordiest, most boring kids' book in the pile for you to read aloud. Because you love the little munchkins you do it, but inwardly you're screaming, "Noooooo!" You try to skip a page here and there, but they fix admonishing eyes on you and inform you that you've missed something. And when you finish it, they pick up the second longest book. The best way to dodge this literary bullet is to ensure that the kiddies are supplied with quality books which are interesting for them and aren't a punishment for adults to read, either. For example:
You're generally safe in sticking with the classics which have stood the test of time, although I admit that there a couple of those which I don't like in the least. One of these is this snoozer:
This is a more controversial one, because everyone seems to love it except me, but I have never been able to develop a liking for Robert Munsch's I Love You Forever. I'm quite used to being considered heartless for my dislike of the book, but there it is. I think it loses me at the point where the woman climbs in through the bedroom window on a ladder and rocks her sleeping adult son. This seems weird and slightly creepy to me.
A great favourite of mine as a child was the Little Golden Book, Charlie. It is the tale of a young alley cat in the city who is trying to find his way to the country to live. My childhood copy was lost when my parents' basement flooded a number of years ago, but I eventually found a gently used copy at a second hand book shop. This is another one which I like reading to children. As I think I mentioned in another post, I enjoy sharing books I loved as a child with my nephews and nieces, seeing the stories afresh through their eyes. It's also nice to have a valid excuse to reread books that I still love after all these years. My sister told me that she was reading some Winnie the Pooh to her boys a few weeks ago, and was tearing up when reading about Christopher Robin going off to school. I've done that myself, and I think that great children's fiction should have something to say to adults as well as kids. Occasionally the munchkins introduce me to a great new children's book which I haven't read before, which happened recently. One of my four year old nephews has become a fan of the Mercy Watson book series, and I've read a few with him. They're authored by Kate DiCamillo, who is well-known for several of her other books which include The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie. I had never read anything by her before, but her Mercy Watson books are delightful. Mercy is a pig who has a variety of adventures in the book series. There are also some other books which aren't directly about Mercy but are set on the street where she lives. These books are well written and fun to read for kids and adults.
“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” -C.S. Lewis
This week we watched the 1996 adaptation of Emma, the 1815 novel by Jane Austen. While I'm not the biggest fan of Gwyneth Paltrow's acting, I do think that she does a good job portraying Emma Woodhouse. It's certainly the best role I've ever seen her in. I'm quite fond of this movie actually, enjoying the wit and humour, and the great characters in it. There are wonderful performances by Juliet Stevenson, Sophie Thompson, and Alan Cumming in supporting roles. Ewan McGregor is fine as the duplicitous Frank Churchill- although almost unrecognizable under a really hairy wig- and I very much enjoy Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley. We just watched Persuasion a short time ago, and the differences between the two heroines- Emma and Anne- are marked. Certainly Anne is the better, more admirable person, but Emma has her own exasperating charm. I've seen two other adaptations of Emma: a BBC miniseries which also aired in 1996, starring Kate Beckinsale as Emma, and another miniseries on 2009 starring Romola Garai in the title role. I haven't seen the 1996 one in years, but I remember liking it, especially the portrayal of Mr. Knightley by Mark Strong, who was a bit crankier than Jeremy Northam's portrayal, making for a fun contrast. Rather to my surprise, I really enjoyed the 2009 version when I watched it a couple of years ago. As always, miniseries afford the opportunity to explore the story and characters in more depth than a feature length film which is always appreciated. But, having just struggled through the first few episodes of Elementary, the so-called Sherlock Holmes adaptation on television, and given up on it because I found it unlikable, I wasn't enthusiastic about seeing Jonny Lee Miller in the role of one of my favourite Austen heroes. My fears were unjustified; he is really good in the part, and the miniseries as a whole is delightful. All of these adaptations are worth your time... but read the book first.
Well, the "underwater spy" birthday party was a rousing success, with several spy games being played, a turtle cake, an octopus hanging on the dining room light, and of course, the spy fish pinata. One of my niece's older brothers helped out by donning a spy outfit and making balloon fish and eels while walking about on his stilts:
After the party was over and all non-family guests had gone home, we decided to go hiking so as to enjoy the beautiful fall day and let the kids run off some of the excess sugar.
There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting; It’s luring me on as of old; Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting So much as just finding the gold. It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder, It’s the forests where silence has lease; It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.