Caroling, caroling now we go Christmas bells are ringing Caroling, caroling through the snow Christmas bells are ringing Joyous voices sweet and clear Sing the sad of heart to cheer Ding, dong, ding, dong Christmas bells are ringing
I'm trying to get some decorating done, now that our choir concert is over and I have a bit more time. We had our closing dinner Tuesday night at a local golf club and it was really fun. Tonight I'm going to see It's A Wonderful Life- in play form- with two of my sisters. I don't know exactly what to expect but I'm looking forward to it. I'll report back on it later.
In this part of the novel, we finally have the long-awaited reunion between Maud and the illusive Geoffrey. Maud is still, up to their meeting in the tea room, telling herself that she loves him though it's obvious to us that she is merely clinging to the infatuation she felt for a man she met the previous year. It's telling that when she feels nervous and upset, Maud thinks of George Bevan and is comforted. There's good reason for this, of course: George has always done whatever he could to help her, even when it goes against his own interests. George is obviously the better man; when he falls for Maud, he is willing to move heaven and earth to find her, put his business affairs on hold, and brave outraged aristocrats, meddlesome butlers, and precocious boot boys in order to win her affection. Geoffrey couldn't even trouble himself to make the trip to Belpher from London to see Maud. In both of their failed attempts to meet, he expected Maud to make the effort- and run the risks- to come to him. He never put himself out in the least. When Maud and Geoffrey finally do meet again, she is repulsed by his appearance and conversation and appalled by her own apparent fickleness. But of course, she was never in love with him and is now viewing him for the first time without the blinders of her infatuation. Actually in love with George, Maud was always going to find Geoffrey unsatisfactory: his preoccupation with fatty foods merely made it easy for her... as did the revelation that he'd been consorting with an actress at the theater. This in itself would have killed Maud's feelings for him- if any had still lingered- as it would be totally impossible to take any man seriously who is capable of referring to himself as "Pootles".
Speaking of the unfortunate "Babe" and "Pootles" entanglement, this is yet another example of how Wodehouse frequently will introduce a seemingly innocuous or unimportant detail early in the story only to have it emerge as a vital plot point later on in the narrative. When Billie is complaining about a smarmy stage door Johnnie taking one of the young actresses at the theater for a ride, it seems merely to demonstrate further her dissatisfaction with show business and desire to get out of it. Instead, it's the key to Maud's escaping from her unwanted attachment to Geoffrey. What horrifies Maud almost as much as the sight of Geoffrey inhaling pats of butter is the sudden realization that her Aunt Caroline was right. Throughout the narrative, Lady Caroline has been seen as the baddie- keeping her niece cooped up at the castle and doing her best to keep Maud and Geoffrey apart. She has insisted from the beginning that it was just a youthful infatuation on Maud's part, and as it turns out, that's exactly what it was. Snobbish and domineering as Caroline indubitably is, in this case, she was also correct.
It's also somewhat ironic that the method which Keggs suggested to Percy for giving Maud a disgust of George- having her spend time with him so that she could observe his faults- was actually successful, only with Geoffrey instead. While they were kept apart, Maud had an idealized picture of Geoffrey in her mind and this, coupled with her indignation and sense of injury at her family's unfeeling treatment, compelled her to dig in her heels and remain stubbornly committed to being reunited with him. Confronted with the cold reality of Geoffrey and his manifold faults, however, Maud is swiftly cured of any lingering fondness for him. Had the two been allowed to see each other, their so-called romance would have been over and forgotten months before.
Then Mattathias answered and spake with a loud voice, "Though all the nations that are under the king's dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments: Yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances. We will not hearken to the king's words, to go from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left." -1 Maccabees 2:19-22
Two days after the dinner party at Belpher we find Maud at a dingy tea shop in London called "Ye Cozy Nooke" presided over by two lugubrious, aged gentlewomen. Geoffrey has written asking her to meet him there, though she wonders uneasily why he wanted to meet her in such a hole in the wall instead of at the Savoy. She finds herself growing nervous and jittery about seeing Geoffrey again after so much time. Closing her eyes, she finds herself thinking about George Bevan and is comforted by the memory of his decency and friendship. She feels calmer until she recollects that George is leaving for America, a thought which makes her upset all over again. While Maud is sitting with her eyes closed, she suddenly hears Geoffrey's voice. Opening her eyes, Maud regards the man whom she has been waiting to see again for over a year, and he is... thrice the man he was. During the twelve months when she has been pining away for Geoffrey, he has grown positively corpulent. Maud, who has a prejudice against stout men due perhaps to her distaste for her portly brother Percy, is horrified: first by Geoffrey's rotund figure, and then by the thought that she is so shallow as to now be repulsed by the appearance of this man whom she had vowed to love forever. Her erstwhile object of affection sits down heavily and orders food- a lot of it. While waiting for it to arrive, he talks constantly about food: the meals he ate on his late uncle's yacht, and all the dishes he ate in various foreign ports. After his meal arrives, Geoffrey orders extra butter and slathers it thickly over his toast. Maud starts to visualize him as a tub of butter with arms and legs and shudders.
Geoffrey finally pauses in his litany of meals around the world to gaze reproachfully at Maud. In injured tones he inquires why she didn't wait for him. Maud, startled out of her dismay, is confused by this until she realizes that he must have seen the announcement of her engagement to George which her father had put in the papers. She starts to explain that it is all a misunderstanding, but then pauses, hesitating to tell him what actually happened. Geoffrey asks her pointblank if she's engaged to George and Maud freezes; she is too honest to tell an outright lie, but the thought flits through her mind that it would be such an easy way out of her present predicament. As she teeters on the edge of the abyss, deliverance arrives in the unlikely form of a seedy private investigator. The fellow addresses Geoffrey by another name and tells him that he has a summons to a breach of promise suit to give him. Maud, grateful for the interruption, explains that he is mistaken: that's not Geoffrey's name. The PI says there's no mistake; he has pictures and eyewitnesses, and that it just makes the case stronger that Geoffrey deceived the young lady in question under an assumed name. Geoffrey denies any involvement with another woman, but the PI produces a photograph of Geoffrey- the newer, voluminous version of Geoffrey- with a note written across it in his handwriting, addressed to "Babe" from her "Pootles". The "Babe" in question is, of course, the young actress whom Billie had told George about, darkly predicting that she was being led astray by a shady character. His summons delivered, the PI cheerfully takes his leave, leaving behind him a sudden awkward silence. Maud gets up and says that she thinks she'll be going, and Geoffrey starts making excuses: it meant nothing... a man has weaknesses... surely she isn't going to throw him over just because he lost his head. Maud looks him up and down and says sweetly that he didn't just lose his head: he lost his figure as well. She nips out the door and Geoffrey attempts to follow her but is stymied by one of the elderly gentlewomen demanding payment for his meal. By the time he reaches the street, Maud is gone.
Last night we watched the 2001 Christmas movie A Wind At My Back Christmas. Wind At My Back was a Canadian TV series which ran in the late '90's and was produced by Kevin Sullivan, who had previously made the Anne of Green Gables adaptations in the 1980's and the Road To Avonlea TV show as well. Set in Ontario during the Great Depression, the show was always darker than the series based on L.M. Montgomery's works. Wind At My Back was loosely adapted from a couple works by Canadian author Max Braithwaite: Never Sleep Three In A Bed and The Night We Stole The Mounties' Car. I had high hopes for Wind At My Back when it started, and at first the show was quite a good family drama, though not up to the standard of Road To Avonlea. As time and seasons went on, however, it got progressively worse until it was abruptly cancelled after the fifth season. Nevertheless, one of my sisters is quite fond of Wind At My Back and wanted to revisit the Christmas special, so we gave it a watch last night. The 2001 TV movie was meant to tie up ends that had been left hanging after the show's cancellation as well as be a Christmas story .
In the movie it's 1938 and Hub- the oldest boy in the Bailey family- has gone off to university, intending to enter the priesthood following his education. This plan hits a bit of a bump when he meets a sweet girl named Anna in the music program at the school. His conflicted feelings are further complicated when he finds out that Anna is Jewish and her family managed to get her smuggled out of Austria following the Anschluss using a false identity. Canadian immigration officials have somehow found out about this deception and are looking for her, so Hub takes her home with him for the Christmas holidays. This causes a host of difficulties as well as tension with Hub's mother, who has her heart set on him becoming a priest.
The movie isn't bad, but it's not great, either. It's interesting to view if you watched the series, but I can't see it appealing to anyone else, frankly. Also, a lot of the show's regulars aren't in the film- most noticeably the family matriarch Grandma Bailey- with their absences being explained in a series of telegrams. The most annoying change is one which actually occurred before the fourth season of the show; the actress who played Honey Bailey (the mom) left the show and was replaced by another- much worse- actress. She's also in the film, and her presence (and much-changed personality) continues to be an annoyance. To sum up, A Wind At My Back Christmas isn't awful but it's appeal will be limited to those who know and like the TV show, and even they may not enjoy it that much.
My choir's concert was last night, and it went really well. This was a bit of a surprise, because a few of the pieces were really difficult and we had been struggling with them. The dress rehearsal on Friday night wasn't terrible, but our last regular practice on Tuesday was a bit of a disaster. I think our director was preparing for the worst, because after we warmed up last night, he told us to have fun and not worry if something went wrong. I took this to mean that he expected that something would go wrong, but in the end, nothing did. A Christmas miracle!
The concert was fun, and our singing was interspersed with a few poetry recitals and instrumental solos. This is one of our basses, who donned a fur hat and recited Robert Munsch's poem Winter. When he's not singing bass, he's a Gaelic professor, so he was a lot of help in our practices when we were learning to pronounce the lyrics in our Gaelic piece Taladh Chriosda. Robert Munsch-Canadian writer of children's books- wrote his poem in response to a letter he received from a child in Florida, asking if it was cold in Canada. Munsch sent him this response:
Winter Oh the great Canadian Winter Is not so very cold. I once knew a kid who didn’t freeze Until he was ten years old. And just last year in Ottawa, When they cleared away the ice, They found two people still alive And they said Winter was nice. On Baffin Island the Inuit Go swimming with polar bears. Of course they always come back dead. That’s why they go in pairs. So don’t stay inside when it’s snowing, Don’t stay inside when there’s ice. Go out and get frozen like a brick, And then you’ll think Winter is nice.
One of the pieces which we sang was The Cherry Tree Carol, which I had never heard before this fall. It's an old one, whose lyrics can be traced back to medieval England. It was sung in the Mystery Plays, Biblical dramas which were performed in the English midlands around 1500. The story on which the lyrics are based is found in the much earlier Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which was written in the 9th century. This story is quite a bit different, however, as it occurs after Jesus' birth, on the holy family's voyage to Egypt, and involves figs, not cherries. The song, on the other hand, relates events before the birth of Jesus and is quite hard on poor Joseph, who is refusing to get Mary the cherries she's asking for, telling her to ask the man who beguiled her to get the fruit for her. These changes- the cherries and making Joseph churlish and angry- seem to have been made for the mystery plays, no doubt for dramatic effect. Of course, our concert was supposed to be all Canadian Christmas songs this year and obviously The Cherry Tree lyrics predate Canada. The tune to which we sang it, however, is uniquely Canadian. I've mentioned Helen Creighton, the Nova Scotian folklorist, before; she traveled around the province for years, collecting folk stories and songs from remote communities, often recording them. In 1948, she was in Cherry Brook and met a man named William Riley who sang the song for her, to a tune which is unique to the area. It was a choral arrangement of this melody which we sang last night. Here's a link to Helen Creighton's original recording of William Riley singing The Cherry Tree Carol.
This is a scene from the 1942 movie The Man who Came To Dinner which is an adaptation of the 1939 Kaufman and Hart play by the same name. In it, a prominent family have their lives turned upside down when famous writer and radio personality Sheridan Whiteside comes to dinner, slips on their steps and ends up being laid up at their house while he recovers. As he fills their home with actors, eccentrics, and animals and makes outrageous demands, their lives become laughably chaotic. Then, on Christmas Eve, various crises which Whitside has precipitated come to a head while he's attempting to record his annual Christmas show.
"For many years, I've wanted to do one, and I've always mentioned it to the chieftains, and they would say things like, 'Oh well. Christmas albums don't sell,' and things like that. But that's not the point. Christmas albums are important. The music is important. The season is important." -Aretha Franklin
After re-watching The Secret of NIMH after so many years, I have to reluctantly conclude that it's one of those films which was better in my memory than it actually is. That's not to say that it's a bad movie, because it's not; it's a perfectly serviceable animated feature for kids. The animation is quite good, as the movie was made by Don Bluth and other animators who had broken away from the Disney company. Disney was in fact struggling at that time (the 1980's), producing some of its more mediocre- and downright bad-animated films. No, I have NOT forgiven them for their butchery of The Black Cauldron, from one of my favourite series of books as a child, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. It was the absolute worst adaptation... um. Where was I... oh yeah. Though Don Bluth's efforts to set up an animation company which could challenge Disney eventually failed, we should probably be grateful to him for threatening them enough that they were forced to better themselves, resulting in the Disney renaissance of the 1990's.
So the problems I now have with The Secret of NIMH have to do with the story structure rather than the animation. I haven't read the Newbery Medal winning book it's based on, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, my sister has, and so after the movie was over we discussed the differences between the two. From the sound of things- shocker, I know- the book is better. To start with, none of the mysticism and magic which are in the movie are in the book. It's curious to me that the writers arbitrarily decided to add it in, because it's completely unnecessary and, in fact, detracts from the story. Here we have a group of rats who have become super intelligent due to experiments performed on them in the NIMH lab; what they are capable of should be the focus of the story. Instead, their story is sidelined as the day is saved by the magic amulet, which is frankly a lot less satisfying than the rats figuring out what to do themselves.
There's simply too much going on in the plot: medically altered rodents or magical powers... one or the other could work, but both together are overkill, and weaken the story. This is aptly demonstrated in the characters of Nicodemus and the Great Owl. Nicodemus is supposed to be the sage elder rat who leads the others with wisdom and intelligence. But the movie also gives him mystical powers- characterized by the glowing eyes- for no particular reason. Oddly, the film also makes the Great Owl supposedly both wise and mystical (note the glowing eyes again) meaning that the two characters fulfill the exact same function, undermining the importance of both. It seems strange to me that they would choose to add such an unnecessary plot device.
The other problems I have with the film mostly stem from this. According to my sister, the book goes into what occurred to the rats and mice at the lab, and how they escaped due to the heroism of Jonathan Frisby (not Brisby; it was changed for the movie because the Frisbee company kicked up a fuss). Unfortunately, there's so much going on in the movie that all of this is reduced to a very short flashback. It seems to me that this would have been a much more interesting movie: the experiments, the rats' growing intelligence and awareness, plotting and executing their escape, their learning to harness electricity... all of this seems like it would have been a more compelling story than the one we got. We never even get to see the NIMH exterminators: we are just told about them in an overheard telephone call.
The tone of the movie is also somewhat uneven. On one hand, we have a rather dark tale about sinister medical experiments, murder, and the suggested extermination of all of the modified rats. On the other hand, we have Jeremy the crow- voiced by Dom DeLuise- periodically staggering into the scene, getting tangled in things, taking prat falls, and burbling about nonsense. It's occasionally a bit jarring.
In conclusion, I didn't hate The Secret of NIMH, but it was disappointing that it didn't hold up to my memory of it. It also puzzled me; I understand changing a book to make it more suitable for cinematic use- books and movies are very different mediums. But making changes which actually confuse the plot and weaken the narrative seems counterproductive, to say the least. While nowhere near the travesty that The Black Cauldron is- yes, I AM bearing a grudge- The Secret of NIMH could have been better.
One hundred years have passed since Halifax was devastated by the explosion of December 6th, 1917. It will no doubt be on the minds of many around the country today, but for those of us who live in the area, it's something of which we are frequently reminded. There are, of course, many artifacts in local museums but one only has to walk through any of the older graveyards in the city, or pass by various memorials around Halifax and Dartmouth to have the tragedy called to mind, even after so many years.
It's gravestones like the one above that really get to me: whole families wiped out in a moment of time. Even after a century, it's a blow to the heart.