And then they danced, and danced, and danced…

dance1In the Year of Our Lord 1374, a deadly disease swept dozens of villages along the Rhine River — a dance plague. Hundreds of people on the streets jumped and curled their knees with no beat or music, except, probably, that in the dancers’ head. They danced, sometimes for many days in a row, until their broken feet refused to hold them. Many died of exhaustion, stroke or heart attack.

Another instance of the dancing plague (or dance epidemic or dancing mania) occurred in StrasbourgAlsace, in the Holy Roman Empire in July 1518. Around 400 people took to dancing for days without rest and, over the period of about one month, some of those affected collapsed or died.danceInterestingly, the Strasbourg authorities first decided to let folks dance all they want, hoping for a spontaneous cure.  Two dance halls were opened in the city and a wooden stage was erected. Musicians were also invited to liven up the strange event.

Very soon it became clear that the measures undertaken did not lead to an improvement in the situation. In response, the authorities banned any and all entertainment in the city, save none, including gambling and prostitution.

Many theories were presented over time to explain the cause of the dancing plaque, most prevalent of which was severe food poisoning. The article in Wikipedia gives scientific names to every suspect poison.

John Waller, professor of the history of medicine at Michigan State University,  does not agree with the poison version, however, since in both cases the symptom of the ailment was dancing rather than convulsions. In his book A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 Waller proposes his own theory: the dancing plague were of psychogenic (due to mental trauma) nature, and the main cause of this mass mental trauma were fear and depression.dance2

The two outbreaks were preceded by famine, floods, loss of crop. The horror of the supernatural drew people into a state of trance. In such an atmosphere, it was enough for one madman of woman to start, and immediately infect hundreds of people around.

Drawing on fresh evidence, John Waller’s account of the bizarre events of 1518 explains why Strasbourg’s dancing plague took place. In doing so it leads us into a largely vanished world, evoking the sights, sounds, aromas, diseases and hardships, the fervent supernaturalism, and the desperate hedonism of the late medieval world.

At the same time, the extraordinary story this book tells offers rich insights into how people behave when driven beyond the limits of endurance. Above all, this is an exploration into the strangest capabilities of the human mind and the extremes to which fear and irrationality can lead us.

Filing stressed much? Fearful of floods, tsunami, hurricane, atomic war? Shall we dance?

Ikigai. The Craft of Happiness

Related image

Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being“. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.

Ikigai is composed of 2 Japanese words:

  • Iki referring to the concept of life;
  • Kai, roughly, means realization of one’s expectations and hopes.

The Japanese island of Okinawa is said to be home to the largest population of centenarians in the world. Any wonder ikigai has its origins in Okinawa?

While researching the topic of ikigai, the authors of a new book on the movement,   Héctor García and Francesc Miralles lived among the people of Okinawa.

Héctor García is a citizen of Japan, where he has lived for over a decade, and of Spain, where he was born. A former software engineer, he worked at CERN in Switzerland before moving to Japan, where he developed voice recognition software and the technology needed for Silicon Valley startups to enter the Japanese market. He is the creator of the popular blog and the author of A Geek in Japan, a #1 bestseller in Japan.

Francesc Miralles is an award-winning author who has written a number of bestselling self-help and inspirational books. Born in Barcelona, he studied journalism, English literature, and German, and has worked as an editor, a translator, a ghost-writer, and a musician. His novel Love in Lowercase has been translated into twenty languages.

The book claiming to teach you the ways of achieving happiness and a longer life

In their book, Ikigai The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Garcia and Miralles discern the ten golden rules of Okinawans’ ikigai.  It seems so easy to find one’s own ikigai!  (Note: The images below are not from the book.)
The Ten Rules of Ikigai:


 1. Stay active and don’t retire


2. Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life

Image result for не есть много картинки

3. Only eat until you are 80 per cent full


 4. Surround yourself with good friends


5. Get in shape through daily, gentle exercise

ikigai. 6

6. Smile and acknowledge people around you

ikigai. 7

7. Reconnect with nature

ikigai. 8

8. Give thanks to anything that brightens our day and makes us feel alive.

ikigai. 9

9. Live in the moment

ikigai. 10

10. Follow your ikigai

Meet The Poet: Mark Gurarie, My Son

alexej ravski4.jpgEach year the month of April is set aside as National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate poets and their craft.

This year, I have ever more reasons to celebrate poetry and poets. One poet in particular — my son Mark Gurarie. His first book of poetry, Everybody’s Automat, was published by  The Operating System.everybodysautomat_cover_fullbleedfinal-1024x900.jpgPRAISE FOR EVERYBODY’S AUTOMAT:

 Mark Gurarie’s Everybody’s Automat could be the offspring of John Ashbery and Ziggy Stardust. And yet these are poems only Gurarie can write. These poems inhabit a superhuman linguistic and psychosocial consciousness. Martians are muses, as are John Cage & planet earth, who all play supporting roles in this delightful and haunting debut collection.” – Ali Power

The pitched quality of inventiveness in Mark Gurarie’s poems, is a worthy homage to the aleatoric musician John Cage and other musicians who inspire both the silences and contemplative notes of whimsy. The poems, like the music, however, are hitched to emotional states of being that are never distended or anemic, but curiously imaginative and responsibly resourceful to the core.” —Major Jackson

Everybody’s Automat arrives like a hundred aliens wielding a thousand devices to process the glittering wreckage of the Anthropocene. The book’s as much of a party as it is a postmortem revealing how we spoke to each other, where we failed each other, and that we never stopped making music, even as everything went irreversibly wrong. Whether Mark Gurarie is one of us, one of them, or a little of both, I can imagine no fitter or better poet to “confront the alien that speaks of ourselves.”

—Mark Bibbins

His publisher, The Operating System, takes a great pride in its authors and promotes them the best it can. Here is an excerpt from an impressively extended conversation with  Mark conducted by The Operating System  [RE:CON]VERSATIONS :: OF SOUND MIND :: PROCESS AND PRACTICE WITH EVERYBODY’S AUTOMAT’S MARK GURARIE

What’s a “poet”, anyway?  What is the role of the poet today?

Mark: This is a tough question because in the US, poetry is relegated to the margins of cultural and social production; whereas in many other countries and cultures, poetry is more central. Here, outside of exciting popular developments like the emergence of slam and spoken word—and I actually think you might be able to include the vibrancy of hip-hop here—poetry is famously ignored by non-poets.

That said, American poets have a special position as being the voice of the exterior, the underbelly, even if their exile from whatever the “mainstream” might largely be self-imposed.  In this sense, then, poets are able to use their craft to move in a freer way than many of their artistic peers who are more closely attuned to the market, and furthermore, the relationship between poet and broader American society is always evolving.

As much as can be said about the disengagement of say, modernist poets in the early 20th century, from political or social discourse, you have strains that speak for under-represented voices, that lift the mirror to society at large, like those of the Harlem Rennaissance, for instance. In a similar way, the poet today has the opportunity to employ the craft to explore and challenge the status quo, and in that, to bear witness. To me, it’s incredibly exciting that Claudia Rankine’s Citizen was actually on the NYT’s best-sellers list (two different times, I believe), or that  Patricia Lockwood’s “Rape Joke” went viral.

In its own way, and occasionally, the culture at large looks to the poets and lets them in; the onus is on the poets to use their craft and their perspective to make work that is meaningful, challenging and makes a genuine attempt to capture an underlying truth.


The poet doesn’t look like this anymore…

The Curious History Of Stripes

stripes9In 1310, in French town of Rouen, one hapless shoemaker was sentenced to death for having been caught wearing a striped garment. This unusual case shows how the striped clothes were treated in the Middle Ages.

Michel Pastoureau, one of the best specialists in medieval symbolism, wrote a lively study of stripes, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric, a unique and engaging perspective on the evolution of fashion, taste, and visual codes in Western culture.stripes.jpg

The Devil’s Cloth begins with a medieval scandal. When the first Carmelites arrived in France from the Holy Land, the religious order required its members to wear striped habits, prompting turmoil and denunciations in the West that lasted fifty years until the order was forced to accept a quiet, solid color.

The medieval eye found any surface in which a background could not be distinguished from a foreground disturbing. Thus, striped clothing was relegated to those on the margins or outside the social order—jugglers and prostitutes, for example—and in medieval paintings the devil himself is often depicted wearing stripes. The West has long continued to dress its slaves and servants, its crewmen and convicts in stripes. (Columbia University Press.)

Carmelites were, at worst, stoned and, at best, met with whistles and all sorts of intimidation. The conflict came to the attention of Pope Alexander IV, who forbade wearing of striped robes by the Supreme Decree. The stubborn Carmelites did not abide by the papal prohibition. The Vatican persisted and the final bull of Pope Boniface VIII forbade wearing strips by all Catholic monastic orders in the world, without exception .

Scene of court life with musicians playing viola

GERMANY – CIRCA 2002: Scene of court life with musicians playing viola, dulcimer, fife, drum and bagpipes, miniature from Manesse Code, manuscript, 1304, Germany. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

In the preface to his book, Pastoureau writes that preserved since XII-XIII century, abundant documentation shows that striped clothing was considered shameful, degrading and downright diabolical. Striped attire was worn by executioners and prostitutes. In medieval Europe striped suits were worn by all sorts of outcasts — circus performers, jesters, lepers, cripples, heretics and illegitimate children.
stripes2To this day, there is no consensus about the origin of stripes’ bad reputation. Pastoureau suggests that it came from the free interpretation of biblical quote  Do not put on two tunics (Mark 6:9.) Another hypothesis, secular one, is more “practical”: striped clothing conceal the silhouette, and this alone could be regarded as an attempt of camouflage. However, neither the first nor the second hypothesis can explain the reasons for the medieval Europeans’ hateful attitude toward striped garments.stripes3Diabolical nature of strips extends to the striped animals as well. Not only black, but striped cats, tigers, snakes and hyenas were considered to have diabolical traits. Although in the Middle Ages only very few Europeans knew of the existence of  zebras, Catholic naturalists ranked zebras as “devils of animals.” Unsuspecting zebras were relinquished to this category until the age of Reformation when the new generation of zoologists dispelled this belief.
stripes4The strips shed its diabolical designation at the end of the XVIII century. Revolution occurred not only in France and the New World, but also in the minds of ordinary people. Stripes were no longer seen as taboo. A fashion for striped fabric, from clothing to furniture upholstery and walls, took off with vengeance.
stripes5However, in 19th century, coming a long way from the Middle Ages, the fear of stripes in society was embodied in the striped prison uniforms.  Around this time, the black-and-white stripes familiar from old movies came into vogue, marking the men in a way that would remain embedded in public memory. stripesSlowly, as time went on, prisons began to eliminate the stripes for more neutral colors and the familiar worker-like jumpsuits. New York switched to grey in 1904 because, according to an article in Slate, the stripes were “a badge of disgrace.” Many states kept the stripes longer; North Carolina kept them until 1958.

War And Peace In 12 Words

w88.PNGThe BBC newest adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy’s epic is causing a lot of controversy and discussion in Runet. Should the screen adaptation strive to achieve maximum adherence to the literary source?

Well, there are adaptations and… adaptations. Of them all, perhaps, the most surprising is the one created, back in 2013, by Canadian Cozy Classics that turned an epic novel into a little board-book for the tiniest readers with cozy felt (like in felt fabric) illustrations.
wCanadian publisher managed to reduce the large-scale work to… 12 words, suitable for tiny toots.w44As children get older, parents can expand on the stories in ever more elaborate ways. If you need a little help, just use the brief synopsis on the back of each book or the longer synopses (the Cozyversion), encourages the publisher.

But there’s no right or wrong way to read Cozy Classics. Use the words and images as prompts to invent stories of your own and encourage your children to do the same.

THE COZY VERSION (according to the Cozy Classics):

After the Russian Army is crushed by the French at the Battle of Austerlitz, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky returns home, wounded and disillusioned. His friend Pierre Bezukhov, who has inherited his father’s fortune and become a Count, encourages Andrei to see the good in life, but Andrei remains unhappy.w99Then one day, Andrei sees young Natasha Rostova running through a field, dressed in yellow, and is struck by her zest for life.w3 A few years later at a New Year’s Eve ball, Pierre encourages Andrei to dance with Natasha.w1 Enamored, Andrei proposes, but his skeptical father makes him put off the wedding for a year. During their year apart, Natasha proves inconstant, and the wedding is called off.w4 Pierre comforts Natasha in her time of need.  In 1812, when Napoleon invades Russia, Andrei joins the fight. He serves at the Battle of Borodino, where the Russian army somehow withstands the mighty French.w7…but Andrei is seriously wounded. w8Natasha takes care of him, and he forgives her. Pierre is taken prisoner by the French until the Russian winter finally destroys Napoleon’s army.w9 When Pierre and Natasha see each other again, they realize they are in love!

Cute, no? Cozy  Classics have more cozy classics:

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Cozy Classics plan to publish Anna Karenina, too. Perhaps, tiny toots could learn yet another word or two — choo-choo train.


10 Popular Erotic Books Of 19th Century

novel-eroticThe pre-Victorians and Victorians may have attempted to show the world that they were upright, strict and full of virtue. Much of this thinking, however, has been subverted by their erotic writing of the time.

I found this list in one of my favorite Russian blogs and couldn’t resist to make a post of it. Truly,  Fifty Shades of Grey might look like a kiddie lit in comparison with the following 10 popular erotic books of 19th century.

10. Erotic Magazine “THE PEARL” (1879-1880)novel-9

The Pearl, A Magazine of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading was an eotic monthly magazine issued for 18 months in London by William Lazenby from July 1879 to December 1880, with two Christmas supplements; it was closed down by the authorities for publishing obscene literature. Lazenby followed it with The Oyster (1883) and The Boudoir.[2]

The general format of the magazine was to publish three serial erotic tales simultaneously, devoted to sex in high society, incest and flagellation, respectively, interspersed with obscene parodies, poems and limericks.  The publisher William Lazenby also wrote some of the articles.  A number of the poems are thought to have been written by Algernon Charles Swinburne. The format of the magazine can be seen as a parody of contemporary magazines aimed at the family market.

9. Novel «The Romance of Lust, or Early Experiences» (1873-1876) novel-2The Romance of Lust, or Early Experiences is a Victorian erotic novel written anonymously in four volumes during the years 1873–1876 and published by William Lazenby. The fool text of The Romance of Lust, by Anonymous can be found on Project Gutenberg EBook.

8. Novel «The Sins of the Cities of the Plain» (1881) novel-10The Sins of the Cities of the Plain; or, The Recollections of a Mary-Ann, with Short Essays on Sodomy and Tribadism, a memoir by the pseudonymous “Jack Saul”, is one of the first exclusively homosexual pieces of English-language pornographic literature ever published. The book might have been largely written by James Campbell Reddie and the painter Simeon Solomon,  who had been convicted of public indecency in 1873 and disgraced.  It was first published in 1881 by the same above mentioned William Lazenby, who printed 250 copies. A second edition was published by Leonard Smithers in 1902.

7. «The Nunnery Tales» (1866)novel-8

The Nunnery Tales; or Cruising Under False Colours was first published in Holland in the 1890’s though may have been written sometime before. As ever the story is merely a loosely plotted vehicle for some even looser morals and sexual romping. Again as is quite familiar to readers of Victorian erotica the Church is involved in a most intimate and lascivious way.

6. «Venus in Furs» is a novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.book2.PNG

The novel draws themes, like female dominance and sadomasochism, and character inspiration heavily from Sacher-Masoch’s own life. The term masochism is named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author of Venus in Furs, exploring a sadomasochistic relationship.

5. Novel «The Autobiography of a Flea» (1887)novel-1

The Autobiography of a Flea is an anonymous erotic novel first published in 1887 in London by Edward Avery. The author, in fact, was a London lawyer of the time named Stanislas de Rhodes.

The story is narrated by a flea who tells the tale of a beautiful young girl named Bella whose burgeoning sexuality is taken advantage of by her young lover Charlie, the local priest Father Ambrose, two of his colleagues in holy orders and her own uncle.

4. Novel «The Lustful Turk» (1828)book1

The Lustful Turk, or Lascivious Scenes from a Harem is a pre-Victorian British erotic epistolary novel first published anonymously in 1828 by John Benjamin Brookes and reprinted by William Dugdale. However, it was not widely known or circulated until the 1893 edition. In the 20th century, the novel won a huge popularity yet again and was reprinted several times.  The plot is summarized with relish in a Wikipedia article and Wikisource has a full text.

3. Novel «The Mysteries of Verbena House» (1881)novel-4

[…]Typical Victorian erotica. The ‘English Vice’ as the French call it, in all its glory. Usual scenes of birching common to all such books.

[…]Feeble, primitive Victorian smut. Lots of talk, little action, and that poorly depicted. Don’t bother with this. Try The Pearl for a better sample of the era’s erotica.

[…]Of course — the goings-on in Verbena House would be morally reprehensible, and even illegal, if they occurred in reality. But this is just a story — intended to titillate those of us who “get off” on having fantasies involving moderate corporal punishment. So read and enjoy — without guilt! No one can blame us for just being what we are – unrepentant spanko perverts! Kinky and proud! (From various reviews.)

2. Collection of Poetry «The Whippingham Papers» (1887)novel-7

During his lifetime, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) produced numerous works reflecting his interest in masochism and flagellation. The Whippingham Papers, published anonymously in 1888, contains a collection of vignettes of corporal punishment being meted out to both boys and girls, almost always in a school setting. The disciplinary acts in The Whippingham Papers often take place in groups where one child is punished before onlookers who delight in the spectacle of a classmate being disciplined.  Apparently, the memory of the whips applied to their young hides lingered in former male students for a long time, since they read this largely comic verses with great interest.

1. Novel «Gynecocracy» (1893)novel-3

«Gynecocracy: A Narrative of the Adventures and Psychological Experiences of Julian Robinson» is a Victorian pornographic novel in the form of an autobiography by the pseudonymous “Viscount Ladywood”, in three volumes, published in 1893. Its psychological insights were praised by an outspoken advocate for sexual minorities, prominent German sexologist and physician Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 – 1935.)

The Book Of Wonders

human-rabbit-1Alfred Brehm wasn’t the first to use the title  Life of Animals — Brehms Tierleben (English title: Brehm’s Life of Animals.)

Approximately in 1371, a book with the same name (Haiyat al-Haiyawan حَياة الْحَيوان الكُبرى or Lives of the Animals) was written by the Egyptian author Muhammad Ibn Musa Kamal Ad-din Al-Damiri (1341-1405). It is a compilation of works by many authors on the 931 animals mentioned in the Qur’an, including folklore, proverbs, lawfulness of hunting and eating, medical uses and meaning of names, the interpretation of dreams about each animal, and often a quirky miniature painting of one or many of the creatures in question. Some are recognizable, such as the foxes, cats, dogs, rabbits and goats, while others are wildly imagined and intricately depicted.

‘Island of Tin, plagued by dragons,’ from 17th or 18th century manuscript copy of “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))

‘Island of Tin, plagued by dragons,’ from 17th or 18th century manuscript copy of “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))

The library of the University of St Andrews has a manuscript (ms32(o)) known as Book of the Wonders of the Age, lavishly illustrated, packed with mysterious monsters and people doing strange things… The XVII – XVII (?) century manuscript is actually incomplete parts of 2 works, bound together, the first being an abbreviated section of Haiyat al-Haiyawan by Al-Damiri, translated to Farsi (Persian) from Arabic.

The illustration on top of this post is a rabbit with a human head from  “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))

circle-of-elephants-1The circle of elephants depicts the attack on Mecca by Abraha, king of Yemen, around 570, who brought his war elephants intending to destroy the Kaaba.hoopoe-1

The hoopoe, or huh-hud in Persian, introduced King Solomon to the Queen of Sheba and represents virtue. The snake wrapped around the world was evicted from paradise and can never be trusted.people-with-animal-heads-maybe-jinns-1

Jinns from 17th or 18th century manuscript copy of “The Book of Wonders of the Age” (St Andrews ms32(o))al-buraq-1Some animals are clearly imaginary or exist only in Muslim tradition, such as al-burāq, the famous mount with human face, horse’s mane, peacock tail and camel’s feet on which Muhammad ascended to heaven; the simurgh, a mythical bird with the head of a dog and lion’s claws; and the jinns with wings or with elephant, cat and rabbit heads.


Island of Cyprus


Island of giant bird


Island of long beards

There is so much more wondrous things in the St Andrews manuscript…

To be continued.


How To Manage Your Slaves


No one will pick up How to Manage Your Slaves because they feel a need for the advice its true author Jerry Toner presents here as the avuncular views of one Marcus Sidonius Falx, a fictitious Roman of noble birth holding forth, most likely during Edward Gibbon’s “golden age” of the Antonine emperors, on the right and wrong ways to acquire, own, use and live with slaves. (How to Manage Your Slaves, by Marcus Sidonius Falx, with Jerry Toner. A light-hearted approach to a harrowing subject is illuminating and packs a punch.)slaves

At last a clear manual for managing slaves the Roman way. How to Manage your Slaves offers practical answers to every question you’re likely to have and guidance on every problem you’re likely to encounter. (Google Books on How To Manage Your Slaves.)

Don’t obsess over building a team:slaves

Nifty stuff, no doubt about it. Light-hearted, all right. Slavery, however, is a peculiarly unsavory subject, and not quite as lacking of relevance as one might wish it to be.The book is definitely not destined for your local bookstores’ How To shelves — after all, this isn’t Slave-owner’s Manual For Idiots or some such.

On the other hand, many passages of Marcus Sidonius Falx might remind some of a rather more contemporary matter. Don’t dismiss this suggestion out of hand just yet.

In your professional life, have you happened to attend a seminar or a workshop for middle managers or human resource personnel?  If the answer is yes, then to you it won’t be all that hard to imagine Marcus Sidonius Falx as a “how-to-manage- employees” guru.

Substitute “employee” for “slave”, “hire” for “buy” and voila tout! Or, as master Falx might’ve put it, nihil none — nothing to it quicumque.

The following is a retelling (in my own words) of some of the Falx’s postulates with aforementioned substitutions:

Pay attention to personalty, rather than skill set:

It is necessary to pay attention to the character of a slave an employee you intend to buy to hire. Does your slave employee seem indecisive and weak-willed or, alternatively, reckless and defiant? The least suitable are those who are neither too timid nor too bold: both might give you grief. Those who are too tame are unlikely to be show vigor and perseverance in performing their tasks. On the other hand, those who do not have any brakes in demonstrating their prowess might be difficult to control.

Avoid purchasing slaves hiring employees who are constantly in a state of sadness, longing and depression. Being a slave an employee isn’t the most enviable fate, and those who are prone to depression, will only aggravate their grief.


Make your slaves employees like you:slave1Many new slave owners managers fall into the trap of thinking that they can manage their slaves employees with a whip alone. Those whose families had slaves had been managers for generations, know that such treatment might cause a slave an employee to become completely lost for a further use. If you resort to unreasonable violence, you might end up with your slaves employee being totally unmanageable. Cruelty is a double-edged sword, and it hits hardest not a slave an employee but the owner the manager. Hard work should be rewarded. Good slaves employees feel demoralized if they see that all the hard work they do goes unrewarded and they are treated no different from their lazy comrades. It is also important that each slave employee is given a clearly defined long-term goal.slave

An importance of a well-organized workplace:

Each slave employee must have clear responsibilities. This creates a streamlined reporting system and encourages a good work, because every slave employee knows that if some of the work will not be performed, the responsible one will be identified and called to answer.

Caption: Slavery in a new packaging

Caption: Slavery in a new packaging

Well, then?



hwæt: now, indeed; what; what!, listen!, hark!, lo!

Hwæt wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum
þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon,
hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Lo! the glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in
days of old we have heard tell, how those princes did deeds
of valor…

J R R Tolkien would’ve been astonished to survey our literary landscape. It changed beyond recognition in the four decades since his passing. He is certainly gained in popularity posthumously and is more famous around the world now than his beloved Old English “fairy stories” were at the time when he taught at Oxford.

Even writings he never intended for publishing became published books. Beowulf  is one of such books.

"Tolkien-as-guide is delightful, an irresistibly chatty schoolmaster in the Chaucerian mold . . . His learning and Beowulf's patterns of gloom and fragile light feel intimately related . . . his noble translation joins the ranks of the narrowly saved." - Slate

“Tolkien-as-guide is delightful, an irresistibly chatty schoolmaster in the Chaucerian mold . . . His learning and Beowulf’s patterns of gloom and fragile light feel intimately related . . . his noble translation joins the ranks of the narrowly saved.” – Slate

While Tolkien’s true fans happy to welcome Beowulf — and anything that he ever wrote with or without intention of publishing — some Tolkien scholars aren’t all that happy.

Disservise to Tolkien

Why Tolkien hated his translation of Beowulf? asks Kevin Kiernan (Conversation UK.)

After all, it was Tolkien who denigrated his translation, calling it an “abuse” and “hardly to my liking”. He left it behind and forgot about it. How does its unauthorised publication serve Tolkien’s reputation? It was with his own remarks in mind that I said in a recent interview for the New York Times that “publishing the translation is a disservice to him, to his memory and his achievement as an artist”. His own assessment suggests he would have destroyed it, if he imagined anyone might publish it with selections from his undergraduate lecture notes.

In his story “Leaf by Niggle”, J R R Tolkien wrote about an artist who is painting a picture of a leave caught in the wind. He deems it forever incomplete but cannot abandon his work.

LiaveThere was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations…

…Niggle was a painter. Not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do…

…There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots.

Some suggest that the artist and the painting in this story are keen metaphors for Tolkien and his translation of Beowulf.

Others painstakingly take the Tolkien’s prose apart and compare the merit of his translation to the poetic verses of  Seamus  Heaney’s Beowulf.

The great Irish bard, the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, Seamus Heaney died less than a year ago. Everyone who’s playing the “who has done it better” game wonder what Seamus would have said about Tolkien’s Beowulf and Tolkien’s son Christopher who made it all possible.


But never mind that. When was the last time a controversy was bad for publicity and marketing?

Besides, shouldn’t it has been for the Lord of the Ring franchise, how many people would have read Beowulf for sheer enjoyment of Old English lore?

How many people can recite a verse or two of Heaney’s Beowulf ? I certainly can’t. But my excuse is better than yours.


Survive Or Else…



“We don’t understand the power of nature and the world because we don’t live with it. Our Laurence Gonzalesenvironment is designed to sustain us. We are the domestic pets of a human zoo called civilization.”

“Survival is the celebration of choosing life over death. We know we’re going to die. We all die. But survival is saying: perhaps not today. In that sense, survivors don’t defeat death, they come to terms with it.” 

I developed the idea that to survive, you must be annealed in the fires of peril…

                    ― Laurence GonzalesDeep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

Nature just IS. It’s neither against us nor it is with us. Our inner world, however, may be very decisively against us at a time when we need to gather everything we have — in, out and beside — to survive in dire circumstances.

That’s pretty much what I’ve got from paging through this book. Generally, I’m not a fan of “how-to” books, even it’s a book about survival.


The idea of a book is this: Since Nature IS, WAS and WILL BE, we are not in control of it. Not fully, at any rate. What we CAN TRY to control is our inner world, thus preparing us to meet adversity and confront our circumstances. Increase our chances of survival is what we can train ourselves to do. And hope, of course, we’ll never need those skills.

Interspersed among numerous true stories is the survivor’s mantra:

  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS (be grateful – you are alive)

Be humble. Observe and adapt your knowledge, Nature is not a textbook.

  • BELIEVE THAT YOU WILL SUCCEED (develop a deep conviction that you’ll live)
  • SURRENDER (let go of your fear of dying; “put away the pain”)

Enjoy nature with each small step.

  • SEE THE BEAUTY (remember: it’s a vision quest)
  • PLAY (sing, play mind games, recite poetry, count anything, do mathematical problems in your head)

Have a loose plan and be ready to change or lose the plan.

  • DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY (be determined; have the will and the skill)

Stay calm and don’t rush.

  • STAY CALM (use humor, use fear to focus)
  • THINK/ANALYZE/PLAN (get organized; set up small, manageable tasks)
  • TAKE CORRECT, DECISSIVE ACTION (be bold and cautious while carrying out tasks)

Survivors have meta-knowledge: They know their abilities and do not over- or underestimate them. They believe that anything is possible and act accordingly.


Do it for others

  • CELEBRATE YOUR SUCCESS (take joy in completing tasks)

Gonzales talks about the mental stages of being lost. Physically lost. In real peril. Interesting that young children, ages of 1-6, statistically have the highest survival rates. The author notes that this startling fact is fully consistent with survival psychology/neurology.

People who cared to review Deep Survival admit to applying this wisdom while traveling, embarking on adventures, outdoor activities or vacations involving more than lounging by the pool. Some say it’s the best how-to book they’ve ever

I‘d rather talk of some shotrcomings that I’ve noticed, and I wasn’t the only one.  I like pictures in how-to books. Pictures in this post, with exception of the image of the book and the visage of Mr. Gonzales, didn’t come from the book. Just like me, others complain:

I wish this book contained the pictures of the locale of disasters and potential disasters. The lesson that we consistently underestimate nature would be very effective to show an inviting picture of a Hawaiian beach and a caption stating that swimming on this beach will kill you.  (Godfrey T. Degamo) 

The author’s references to oneness with the world, the separateness of the nature world that IS, and the importance of having a highly private world in the soul of the survivor almost in the same breath gets somewhat confusing, if not altogether confusing.

One of Gonzales’ mountaineer-survivors cuts his friend’s rope to save his own life. How about empathy for those injured? Would you be enthusiastic to climb the mountains with a survivor like this guy?

The same reviewer has this to say:

I sometimes wish Gonzales would tone his prose down. Survivors may be the ‘real heroes’, but we need all personalities for our species to survive; from the survivors to the martyrs to the techno-geeks which make the med kits and the radios that rescue survivors. Ultimately, nature doesn’t give a damn if you are a survivalist or not.
Interestingly, the two climbers in the rope cutting incident survived, and continue to climb. It’s not mentioned whether the climbers have climbed together since.

Luck. Gonzales doesn’t talk about it much. In addition to the strengthened inner world (and reading Gonzales’ book) — we do need luck. If Mother Nature is capricious and unpredictable, if you aren’t sure about your partner, then luck or absence of it could mean a difference between life and death.

Speaking of survival, update: 10 minutes after I posted this, virtually in my neighborhood, this happened yesterday and isn’t over yet. I hope the boy survives.Long Peak
Update: The teenager from Canada survived. It was 100% luck that he did.