Tag Archives: Zane Grey

FROM LONGFELLOW TO LONGMIRE


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While tidying my bookshelves, I found  my copy of the poet, H W Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Donkey’s years ago, when I was probably between the ages of 5 and 9 , my Mother introduced me to Hiawatha. My Mum enjoyed poetry, and had a copy of the book. She read aloud to me, and I loved the rhythmic sing-song cadence of the poem, especially the lines:

On the shores of Gitche Gumee,

      Of the shining Big-Sea water.

Stood Nokomis, the old woman,

Pointing with her finger westward,

O’er the water pointing westward,

To the purple clouds of sunset.

For years I mistakenly thought the poem was written in rhyming couplets, but after re-reading, I discover it is not. In fact, the metre of Hiawatha is borrowed from a Finnish collection of poems that Longfellow had studied. The lines are unrhymed … notwithstanding this, the lines have a simple flowing rhythm.  This explanation is from the introduction by D C Browning, to my 1960 J M Dent & Sons (London) edition, in The Children’s Illustrated Classics series.

I picked up my copy 6 years ago, while on a tour to Matjiesfontein, of all places! Matjiesfontein is a tiny, quaint , restored Victorian village in the middle of the South African Karoo. The little village came to prominence  during the Anglo Boer War, but these days it is a prime tourist destination for history buffs, and travellers seeking a jolly good lunch en route up the N1 to Johannesburg. In the souvenir shop there were two bookcases, which I dived into, and to my joy, there was Hiawatha.

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The paper jacket is remarkably intact, given that the book was published in 1960. Insects have nibbled a few holes in the jacket, but all in all, for a 50+ year old book, it’s not bad. The pages are foxed, and there’s a musty smell, despite my airing the book in the sun on a  windy Cape summer’s day.

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It’s a ‘proper book’ in that it has a hardcover, which has a repeat woodblock print pattern of an Indian brave in feathered war bonnet on the inside.  And best of all: there are two-colour line drawings on every page of the text, drawn by Joan  Kiddell-Monroe.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Kiddell-Monroe. As you can see from the photos in this post, the drawings are simple and elegant.

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I think it must have been my early introduction to Hiawatha that led to my interest in the American West. Which was odd, considering I was a child with a British Colonial heritage and lifestyle, growing up in Central Africa. Or possibly it was the influence of the exciting black and white spaghetti Westerns that I was very occasionally taken to see; but only if I’d been good.

In my teen years I devoured every single Western that Zane Grey wrote – and he wrote over 90 of them*. I loved every page. Men were men, and women were glad of it. The horses were magnificent and the villains were real baddies. Nothing complicated. You knew where you were. Right would triumph after tests and trials, and the lone ranger would ride off into the sunset. *His book sales numbered 40 million ! (thanks, Wikipedia).

My Western phase petered out after my Zane Grey teens, but was revived with gusto with the advent of Sheriff Walt Longmire onto our TV screens about 4 years ago. This time we were looking at the modern West – murder and robberies, Indians on The Rez (reservation) gambling casinos, domestic dramas,  and Lou Diamond Philips as the impassive Standing Bear, sidekick and  friend of said Sheriff.  I’m hooked all over again.

Quite what H W Longfellow (an American poet and academic in the Victorian era) would make of the modern shenanigans in the West, I shudder to think. No more exploits of hunting, fishing, physical prowess, warring,  battling with the winds,  wooing the fair Minnehahha . Modern Westerns are much grittier, and far less mythical.  It looks as if childhood discoveries  through poetry have influenced me at different stages of my life. I’m glad Mum introduced me to Hiawatha!

 

 

 

 

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READING TO ORDER


The urgent hangman

The urgent hangman (Photo credit: Christian von Schack)

I’ve recently come across a couple of articles talking about the author’s Reading Targets for 2013: to read more books, to read less books, to read a specific number of books – oh, the categories are endless. It’s clear that some New Year’s Resolutions are being put into action. Unlike most NY’s resolutions, which usually die around January 3rd

Must say I’m intrigued – piqued – puzzled –  by the concept. I’ve never set myself a reading target, and probably never will. I’ve been an avid reader all my life. To me reading is as natural as breathing, or blinking. It’s something I automatically do. If anything, I suppose my target should be to read less and pay more attention to outstanding chores and repairs. But, as I’ve said before on this blog, I’d rather read than just about any other activity – see July 2012.

As a child I was starved of playmates and entertainment – so I read, and I read anything that was printed on paper and within my voracious grasp.  I read magazines, newspapers, books, and the back of cereal boxes. I read the label on HP sauce bottles, I read children’s books, adult’s books, I read cookery books (my Mother owned an antique copy of the famous Mrs Beeton’s guide to  Household Management; while it wasn’t a first edition it was old and tattered when I found in during the late 1940s). I read anything I could lay my hands on.

Over the years I passed through a host of reading phases: Peter Cheyney and Agatha Christie (thanks, Dad!), Science Fiction novels and stories, during Ray Bradbury ‘s heyday. I read ALL Georgette Heyer’s historical Regency romances, and all Zane Grey’s Westerns. Yes, I kid you not, all of them.  My taste was – and still is – splendidly catholic. Nowadays I read across a wide spectrum. I love my two Book Clubs, which expose me to a wide range of books, some of which I wouldn’t otherwise have tried, and nearly always receive a delightful surprise on my adventures through uncharted territory.

About two years ago I joined Goodreads and found a vast universe of fellow book-aholics. Oh joy! Fresh info and inspiration. It’s an on-line web-site, and not to be missed, if you’re as besotted with books as I am.

I have read in bed, in the bath, at the stove while cooking supper, on the kitchen back step – wickedly ignoring my screaming baby in her pram – War & Peace took a lot of effort for a young, sleep-deprived mother, let me tell you. I’ve read on trains, aeroplanes, ocean liners but not in cars – the motion  jiggles the print too much and gives me headaches. I’ve read whilst standing in queues, in dentist’s waiting rooms, inside cinemas, at work during my lunch-break, in bus queues, in hotels, hospitals, retreat centres, in chalets in game reserves. And I’m sure I’ve left out some locations, some occasions. But I’ve never read to order, apart from the hefty classical novels demanded by the school syllabus.

I did some rough calculations and calculated that if I had read 2 books per week, on average, that gave me approximately 100 books per year. Taking the age of ten as my baseline (and I learnt to read when I was five years old) and doing some multiplication, it seems probable that I’ve read at least 6000 books to date. Not to brag or anything, just saying.

Over the last ten years I’ve kept a Reading Diary, in which I write reviews, or short comments about my reading, and these have been invaluable in shaping this blog. But: Reading Targets? Whatever can they mean?

(POSTSCRIPT: I tidied my cupboards today & have to confess I found 48 books in my To-Be-Read Pile. I suppose I should declare an official target to work my way through the pile by the end of 2013. Only problem is, I keep acquiring more books. Hmmm …..)

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