Monthly Archives: August 2021

Pages & leaves

No, not that kind of a leaf

A page is one side of a piece of paper in a book.
A leaf is a piece of paper in a book. It has 2 sides; that’s 2 pages. There’s an old, old saying: to “turn over a new leaf.” It means you’re putting your bad old past behind you and starting fresh with a better attitude. It’s like your life is a book.

I turned over a new leaf a few years ago. To be honest, I turned over a new leaf a bunch of times. This last leaf I hope I got right.

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Format

So those early vernacular writers shaped their languages. In a similar way, the early printers and paper manufacturers shaped what we think of as a book. How big is a book? How many pages? How do you organize the information printed inside?

When this book gets printed it will be about 9” x 12”. It will have 32 pages plus the cover. Thirty-two is the usual number of pages for a kids’ book. Why? Because of the size of the press sheet—the piece of paper that gets run through a modern 4-color printing press. You can fit 8 pages onto each side of a press sheet. Two sides equal 16 pages. Sixteen is too few pages to tell a story, so kids’ books are 2 of these press sheets—32 pages total. There will be a title page and a page for copyright/dedication and other information. The rest will be lousy gags and badly-drawn cartoons and history. This is called the format of a book.

https://writersrumpus.com/2013/09/24/why-thirty-two-pages/

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The first one gets to choose


It was the combination of the Humanist movement/turning away from Latin for literature and the invention of moveable type & the mechanized screw-pressure printing press that made these books available to regular shmoes. Faster production = more books = books are less expensive. Gutenberg’s Bible was less expensive but it didn’t make him rich because so few people could read and also understand Latin—but people sure would learn to read when books were printed in their own language.

Those first vernacular writers set the tone for their languages’ usage. Chaucer, Mallory, Dante and Luther had huge influence in shaping modern English, Italian and German simply because they were the first to write in those languages. They made choices about spelling and grammar and syntax (how words are used in a sentence) that became standard. Written language is more or less permanent and it gets scrutinized way more than spoken language. In spoken language we let small mistakes pass without bothering too much about it. Make a grammatical mistake on a printed page? That’s a problem. Even on social media—which sets a low bar for spelling & grammar—you notice when a writer doesn’t understand how his language works.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/syntax

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Mucho mejor

Much better. I made Rosinantes just a little bit bigger—115%. It made all the difference.

Don Quixote

What Picasso might have created if he’d learned how to draw. I have to admit I may have made Rosinantes too small. I’ll fix that when I paint him.

We did it! We slogged through every first piece of vernacular Western literature (written in the author’s own language rather than Latin)—at least all the ones I can think of. German, English, Italian, French, Spanish. Chivalry and knights in shining armor sure was a popular subject. It’s as if: even as writers were moving everyone into a more modern age they needed to fondly look back and say so-long to the Middle Ages.

Spanish author Miguel Cervantes (mee-GEL sair-VAHN-tez) was having none of that. It was the late 1500s, the Middle Ages were over and their foolishnesses needed to be lampooned. In his book, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), the doddering old gentleman Don Quixote (DON kee-HO-tay) is obsessed day and night with reading those poems of chivalry and knights and their mighty deeds—to the point where his brain dries out. It’s cooked. Don Quixote loses his marbles; he becomes demented. Don Quixote gets the idea he should put on an old suit of armor he finds in a barn and become a knight-errant to restore honor to Spain. He talks a local peasant, Sancho Panza, into being his squire by promising him a parcel of real estate. The Don chooses as his steed a moth-eaten, played-out scrawny old horse named Rosinantes. As a nod to courtly love, he fixates on a local girl he calls Dulcinea—but she has no idea that she’s being honored this way.

Don Quixote and Sancho go adventuring across the countryside, questing for wrongs to be righted and monsters to vanquish. In the book’s most famous scene, Don Quixote (whose eyesight isn’t so good) mistakes a windmill for an ogre and charges at it with his lance. He gets caught up in the windmill’s vanes and has to be untangled. In nearly every other adventure, Don Quixote and Sancho get beat up by whomever they encounter.

Don Quixote is considered to be the first modern novel (a book-length work of fiction). Cervantes intended to move us out of the past into modernity, and he sure did. One bit of pure writing genius: Don Quixote speaks Old Spanish while the other characters speak modern Spanish. For us English speakers, imagine a modern novel’s character speaking like Chaucer or Shakespeare. Cervantes’ readers understood Don Quixote’s dialogue but he sounds antique and out-of-step.*

* In fact, Aldous Huxley used this gag in Brave New World to give us information about a character—https://www.litcharts.com/lit/brave-new-world/chapter-7

Wikipedia has a comprehensive entry for Don Quixote, including a summary of the story:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Quixote
Look! You can get a poster of the title page of the 1605 edition of Don Quixote: https://www.amazon.com/Quixote-Ntitle-Cervantes-Published-Valencia/dp/B07C4K5LDY/ref=asc_df_B07C4K5LDY/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=527702999903&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=9503647619533183764&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9005111&hvtargid=pla-1401775165677&psc=1
https://www.biography.com/writer/miguel-de-cervantes
And here’s Peter O’Toole in the musical Man of La Mancha. In this scene, Cervantes is in prison, entertaining his fellow prisoners. In real life he’d been imprisoned twice, the first stretch for 5 years as a guest of the Turks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iH9nDlBr3b4
You can visit Don Quixote’s windmills—https://www.awayn.com/listing/all_listings/consuegra-spain-consuegra-the-windmills-of-don-quixote-hiking-trip/

Hey, whadayaknow—Sophia Loren’s in this movie, too! She’s Dulcinea, who maybe wasn’t so unaware of being treated like a lady. I know, it’s hokey, but I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42y15BYusmA&t=209s

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

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A tiny little sermonette from your old Uncle John


I suppose a cynic might say these stories of knighthood and chivalry were propaganda—they glorified the feudal system by trumpeting the goodness of the upper class. True enough. But the stories also inspired better behavior from their readers, which wasn’t a bad thing. Stories help us define ourselves. We all need heroes who set an example. A code of honor is a necessary element of civilization. It’s a social contract. If you can’t count on other people to behave within a common set of rules—to behave morally—a civilization won’t last very long.

A representative republic is impossible if its citizens don’t share a moral code. I mean ALL its citizens. Without the social contract there’s chaos and thievery and violence, which invites an overbearing, armed-to-the-teeth government to step in and regulate everybody. In other words, we’d go back to feudalism. That’s not good, right? It means we’d go back to being serfs. Chivalry and honor are not trifles.

propaganda noun: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
https://www.worldhistory.org/Medieval_Chivalry/
https://www.facinghistory.org/nobigotry/readings/alexis-de-tocqueville-democracy-and-religion

One of my favorite movies is My Favorite Year. There’s a scene where swashbuckling-hero-movie-actor Alan Swann tells young Benjy Stone that he (Swann) is really only flesh-and-blood, life-sized. Benjy replies he has no use for a life-sized Alan Swann. He needs his Alan Swanns as big as he can get them. He needs heroes. Who doesn’t?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioyAJUCTCkQ

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Super special Friday bonus post

La Loren in costume for El Cid. ¡De nada!

El Cid

Chuck Heston as the Cid

The first piece of literature written in Spanish was Cantar de mio Cid (Song of my Lord), whose author may have been Per Abbat who wrote it in either 1207 or 1307 or maybe it was Abu I-Walid al Waqqashi in 1095 or maybe it was one of those pieces of folk literature that gets passed from generation to generation. El Cid, the Cid, al Sayyid means ‘the lord’ or ‘the master.’ Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was El Cid—an actual person—and he fought against Moorish control of Spain. His army reconquered Valencia so that Christianity could be reestablished there. Like Chanson de Roland, Cantar de mio Cid is a poem about knights who perform mighty deeds and strive to live virtuous lives by sticking to a code of honor.

https://www.actualidadliteratura.com/en/el-cantar-del-mio-cid/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Cid
You can take a biking vacation along the route of El Cid’s exploits: https://en.caminodelcid.org/cid-history-legend/cid-history/
When Charlton Heston wasn’t being Moses or Henry VIII, he was El Cid—with Sophia Loren, the most fabulous woman who ever trod the Earth—https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054847/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/996/996-h/996-h.htm
https://www.britannica.com/art/Spanish-literature
https://historyofspain.es/en/video/the-history-of-spanish-literature/

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Yes, I’m a King Arthur geek

Okay, okay. I’m getting a little sidetracked, but I just want to show you a bit more King Arthur illustration before we get back to late mediæval literature.



Brandywine is an American creek that runs through Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. The Brandywine School was a group of illustrators who left New York City and opened studios in the wilds of eastern PA where they posed costumed models against the countryside for their paintings. Their work has a vibrancy that you can’t match if you’re crammed inside a tiny studio in the Big City. Thanks to the railroad, the Brandywine artists could ship their illustrations to their clients in NYC and still make deadlines. Howard Pyle founded the Brandywine school. He was one of those thoroughly admirable and talented types who can illustrate and also write. Pyle produced a King Arthur book that’s packed with superb black & white drawings and some boffo color paintings, too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_King_Arthur_and_His_Knights
Get yours here: https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/the-story-of-king-arthur-and-his-knights_howard-pyle/326253/item/9289845/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwu7OIBhCsARIsALxCUaNgzrRTspXOWPTAg64ytNGCJLrrujFSVb-mE9oHNZOdm-tfhAzWHMEaAraNEALw_wcB#idiq=9289845&edition=3431357 (the blurb sez Arthur drew Excalibur from the anvil. He didn’t. He got Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. So there.)
https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Brandywine_School



Another of my favs is N.C. Wyeth who also did Arthurian illustrations—
https://www.illustratedgallery.com/artwork/original/3923/by-nc-wyeth/
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Brandywine+Creek/@39.8839034,-75.6071849,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c6fd524d5626bf:0xd0dba77af6c98645!8m2!3d39.7320579!4d-75.5313104

Pyle’s and Wyeth’s work surely must have been at least part of the inspiration for the Sunday comic strip, Prince Valiant. How I used to drool over Hal Foster’s inkwork when I was a mere slip of a thing. https://www.fantagraphics.com/collections/prince-valiant
https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1421255

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Aubrey Beardsley

Pen, brush and ink on paper, you guys.

As I never tire of reminding you, I’m an illustrator. So I have to tell you about this specially-illustrated edition of Le Morte d’Arthur that came out centuries after Malory and Caxton. It was illustrated by nineteen-year-old Aubrey Beardsley in 1893. Some of the drawings are—let’s face it—bizarre. But Beardsley had a breath-taking mastery of black & white. He would have made a swell cartoonist. Not only that, his style looks like it was designed for woodblock printing—so it feels right for his mediæval subject.

As the Enchanted Booklet tells it:

“William Morris’s Kelmscott Press produced exquisite limited editions, with elaborate woodcut ornamentation and vellum bindings.
J. M. Dent, a London publisher, wished to print a book as beautiful as Kelmscott’s publications but more affordable, targeting the middle class. He achieved this by using a new printing procedure with half-tone reproductions. But mostly he achieved his goal because he had the luck to meet a nineteen year old artist : Aubrey Beardsley.
The publisher recognized the unique powerful talent of Beardsley who was perfect in many ways including his eagerness to produce a huge amount of quality work for a small profit since he was working at the time as a clerk at an insurance agency.
That is how a wonderful book with 360 full and double-page drawings, borders, chapter headings, and ornaments of detailed illustrations, a total of over 1,000 decorations, arrived (in bookshops at) an affordable price.” https://enchantedbooklet.com/le-morte-darthur/

You can get your own copy: https://www.amazon.com/Morte-DArthur-Thomas-Malory/dp/051747977X
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey_Beardsley

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