Showing posts with label TS Hottle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TS Hottle. Show all posts

17 May 2024

English, Brother Tucker*! Do You Speak It?


 When most people say Old English, they're actually referring to Elizabethan English. The type found in Shakespeare and the King James Bible. The markers are the formal vs. informal second person and the attendant verb forms. "Thou," informal for "you," is rarely used these days, though the objective form, "thee" still puts in an appearance here and there. 

Miramax

 

But that's not Old English. That is merely an early form of modern English. You know. What you're reading this very moment. "Thee" and "thou" had a long, slow decline to the point where they still exist, but they often are used for effect. Some even think "thee" and "thou" are more formal. And yet the Spanish version of "thou" is tu, and my high school Spanish teacher informed us calling a total stranger tu was a great way to get slapped. Those speaking Romance languages take the separation of the familiar and the formal very seriously.

On the other hand, the late Queen Elizabeth and King Charles seem to have been annoyed by the royal "We," but questions of gender identity and the lack most languages have of a gender-neutral pronoun beyond "it" (which is awful for referring to people) has given rise to a singular "they." Some find this controversial. I find this the perfect excuse to dance on my tenth grade English teacher's grave.

But what is Old English, then? And, for that matter, Middle English?

By PHGCOM - Own work by uploader, photographed at the British Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5969131

 

Old English actually refers to Anglo-Saxon, the tongue that evolved from the Germanic of the Angles and Saxons who moved in after the Romans pulled out of Britain and the Norse of the Jutes, who had a great idea. They'd leave Scandinavia and build this colony called Kent, where one day, teenage blues nerds would reinvent rock and roll. Anglo-Saxon was a Germanic language, sounding quite a bit like Dutch with a syntax resembling Yoda speak. It even used a not-entirely Roman alphabet.

My youngest stepson used to complain loudly about the silent "k" in "knight" or "knife." I used to blame the Vikings, who added more Norse to the language. Silent "k" does not make linguistic sense in the context of English rules, so it must be their fault. Right? Nope. Silent K came over from Germany with those Angles and Saxons. The Celts, who'd been in Britain since before the Romans, shrugged and started using it when they dealt with the weird Germans (and those guys over in Kent. Who are still quite Kentish.)

The best example of Anglo-Saxon is the epic poem Beowulf. It has to be translated for modern audiences because the English of Alfred the Great is not even the language of Edward III, one of the first Norman kings to actually speak English to his subjects. As I said, the alphabet is different. The syntax is different. It's really another language. But it's not. It's just the prototype for what you're reading right this moment.

The translation of Beowulf I listened to on Audible was done by a translator from Ulster. Ulsterites are in a unique position when it comes to English, steeped in two flavors of Celtic languages along with English. This particular translator also spoke Irish. So sometimes, he used a Celtic interpretation of certain passages to translate into modern English. 

Geoff Chaucer, renaissance man
before the Renaissance

Then we come to Middle English, the language of Chaucer. And the language of Sir Thomas Malory. Chaucer we know because he was the BFF and brother-in-law of John of Gaunt, the ancestor of the current royal family. Chaucer was a regular renaissance man before there was an actual renaissance in England. (The plague had yet to wipe out a third of Europe.) Malory has been traced to one person, but might have been several.

Anglo-Saxon was the predominant language in Britain for 700 years, from the withdrawal of the Romans to the Norman Conquest. Strange folk those Normans. They were Vikings. But not the Vikings of Sweden, Denmark, or Norway, nor the funny-talking English of the Danelaw, in central Britain. No, these Vikings had settled in France, started speaking French, and had radical ideas like banning serfdom and writing things down. From William the Conqueror (a much better regnal nickname than William the Bastard, which he was called as Duke of Normandy) to the final days of the Plantagenets, the court spoke French. The Church spoke French. Business was conducted in French. Anglo-Saxon faded because French was more compatible with Latin, then lingua franca. (Ironically, the term refers to French, a Latin-based language.) So English had to adapt.

If you go slowly, you can probably read the original text of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer's sprawling series of tales from a cross-section of English society. (And I really want to pour a glass of wine over Prioress's head, but I was born around the time the Beatles because a studio-only band.) I said almost read it. The words, when read aloud, are somewhat familiar, but the spellings are almost phonetic. It still requires a translation, but it's almost word-for-word. 

Flash forward a century to Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and not only is the original text readable, it looks like Shakespeare trying for forge a few entries into The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer lived near the end of the twelfth century. Malory retold the Arthurian legend (actually, the Norman appropriation of a Saxon forgery of a Welsh legend about a guy who likely was a Roman) around 1485, according to William Caxton's note at the end. That's only seven years before Columbus took a wrong turn at Hispanola and declared Haiti to be Indonesia. (The Carib tribe found this a bit confusing as they'd never heard of the East Indies. The East Indians found this hilarious.)

Middle English arose during the Norman Conquest and became the language of peasants and merchants who didn't give a fig about their French overlords. Since, by the time of Edward III, England had few French possessions, his sons and grandsons decided an English monarch should speak, yanno, English. Chaucer codified a lot of written English, so you can blame him for the confusing "-ough" construction, a tough construct that can be understood with thorough thought. "Should," "would," "could?" Yep. That's Middle English, too. Thanks, Geoff!

But Malory's collection and retelling of Arthurian tales was published around the time some Welsh guy with a dubious claim to the throne named Henry Tudor ruled England. (And Wales. The Welsh found this hilarious.) Your eyes might cross, but you can actually read Le Morte d'Arthur in the original text. The spellings are Middle English, but aloud, it sounds more like Shakespeare. And why wouldn't it? King Hank would begat Henry VIII who would begat Elizabeth, who would hand off the throne to her cousin James. Modern English is emerging. Not there yet, but it's coming. Publishers still update the language because English from a century prior to The Tempest still challenges the modern reader.

Unlike Anglo-Saxon, Middle English's day was only 500 years long. 


Then came Shakespeare. Credit a few other writers, including Marlowe, Francis Bacon, and so on, for joining Wil in codifying English. A few apocryphal accounts suggest English varied from town to town. But Wil's plays, along with Marlowe's and a few others', were performed widely. So, as folios and quartos became available via the printing press, English started to sound roughly the same with standard spellings taking root.

Of course, even then, it was not fate accompli. The informal "thee" and "thou" disappeared (though still spoken in parts of Yorkshire and Appalachia.) Americans changed the words "happyness" and "busyness" to "happiness" and "business." Writing from Washington, William Pitt the Younger, and Thomas Paine suggest spelling was more a guideline than a set of rules. In the late nineteenth century, a movement tried to simplify spelling, which changed "plough" to "plow" and "all ready" to "already." The movement, in my humble opinion, died out too soon, but Mark Twain now gets an edit when he isn't writing in dialog since he, like many of his day, disdained formal spelling rules. (But he had a hypocritical attitude toward adjectives.) 

The point is, of course, English is an ever-evolving language. From a Germanic tongue with some Latin suggestions and the odd bit of Welsh or Cornish to a mashup of Anglo-Saxon reshaped by French, absorbing more Latin, and making up its own rules today's language, English, as many like to say, is not so much one language, but seven welded together and roving in a pack to mug other languages in a back alley. Originally, English was written in runes. The runes are gone, but now memes are creeping in. You only have to show a picture of a woman screaming at a cat to understand the gist before even reading the text.

What's next. 



^Apologies to Quentin Tarantino, but I can't use the original line in this forum.

05 April 2024

Eclipse



 Monday, Cincinnati will witness something it hasn't seen in decades: A total eclipse of the sun. The path of totality, where the moon completely obscures the sun, and you get that nice corona, will pass through Butler County north of the city. Just from my back deck, we will have 99.5% coverage. So we may avoid the crowds and watch from there.

We've witnessed one major eclipse here in recent years. In 2017, Cincinnati was treated to a partial eclipse, the path of totality passing a couple hundred miles to the west. That in itself was spectacular. I thought it was great until a local pastor opted to brag, "I saw the eclipse, and the rest of you didn't." What are you, dude? Fifteen? (I don't go there anymore,)

Eclipses are amazing because the sky does something it normally doesn't do. We get at least one or two lunar eclipses every year, when the Earth blots out or reddens the full moon. I watched several as a kid and thought they were spectacular. But the moon casting a shadow on the Earth and blocking the sun? Well, that actually happens frequently, just not in the same place every time. There are several pictures from space showing a dark spot on the Earth where the moon has cast a shadow. But from the ground, it's quite rare. Why?

The Earth rotates. Both the Earth and the moon move around the sun. So sunlight is never hitting at the same angle from moment to moment. For you flat Earthers out there, this is one of those things you learn when you stay awake in science class and don't believe in conspiracy theories. 

There are two-to-five eclipses a year. You don't hear about most of them because it's really a local event. There's only so much moon to cast so much shadow. Plus, as often as not, eclipses occur over the ocean, often out of view of anyone not on a ship, airplane, or Gilligan's Island (where, we assume, the Professor will make eclipse glasses out of coconut shells and some polarized plastic that fell off a passing 737 Max.)

Eclipses have fascinated humans since prehistoric times. The ancient Chinese believed a dragon had eaten the sun and had to be coaxed to vomit it back out. Columbus used an eclipse to convince natives of his divine nature. Not bad for a guy whose navigation skills were so bad he thought it was in Indonesia. 

In literature and movies, they occasionally show up as a plot point, such as the movie Ladyhawk. In it, a curse forces Rugter Hauer to assume the form of a wolf at night and Michelle Pfeiffer a hawk by day. Only during an eclipse can the curse be broken. Spoiler alert: There's an eclipse. And a mildly befuddled Matthew Broderick.

Stephen King and director Taylor Hackford used an eclipse great effect. In the novel Dolores Claiborne, the coming eclipse is used to build tension before the titular character kills her husband. In the movie, it makes an almost terrifying backdrop to the actual murder, Kathy Bates staring down the dry well with the moon and the sun's corona over her shoulder. 

So what will happen on Monday? On Monday, my wife and I will watch (through proper eclipse glasses myself) and, hopefully, snap a photo.

15 March 2024

From Gun Monkeys to Fast Charlie


Gun Monkeys - original cover

When I started out, back when cell phones were actual phones and texting required learning a new set of runes to type into your keypad, I made the acquaintance of one Victor Gischler. Back then, he and pal Anthony Neil Smith ran the now-missed Plots With Guns webzine. I have a special fondness for PWG as they gave me my first publishing credit in their second issue, a short story called "A Walk in the Rain."

At the time, Gisch was putting the finishing touches on his first novel, a nasty slice of noir called Gun Monkeys, which had already been taken by a rather well-regarded small press. Gun Monkeys debuted in 2003 to much acclaim, and off Mr. Gischler went. The Big Five (There were five back then. Good times!) snapped him up and published Suicide Squeeze and Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. The latter should have been optioned for SyFy back before it got glommed by Peacock. Marvel tapped him to write for Wolverine, Deadpool, and the X-Men.

Then, in the midst of the pandemic, producers approached him about adapting Gun Monkeys. Hollywood being Hollywood, they moved the action from Florida to Gischler's native Gulf Coast region near New Orleans and southern Mississippi. Pierce Brosnan took on the role of "Fast Charlie" Swift with Morena Baccarin as Marcie and James Cann (in his last film role) as a doddering Stan. There were other changes, but the heart of the story remained. It's been twenty years, after all. In the original, Stan was still trying to cling to power. In the movie, Charlie is trying to protect a father figure whose mind is literally fading to nothing scene by scene. And, of course, they gave the movie the title Fast Charlie

I watched Fast Charlie when it came out late last year. Other than Brosnan's cringe-inducing accent (An Irishman trying to sound Cajun is a dicey prospect.), it was very well done. Many of the changes had to do with the changes in society over two decades and the fact a movie director has only ninety minutes to two-and-a-half hours to tell a story. Plus script writers gotta script. Hand me, SA Cosby, or Nathan Singer The Maltese Falcon, and you'll get three different movies, none of which look like Bogie's version.All in all, I'd say director Phillip Noyce and screenwriter Richard Wenk did a good job invoking the original. Helps that Gun Monkeys was a short book.

Fast Charlie, the retitled version of Gun Monkeys from Hardcase Crime

Still, I asked for (and got) the original, retitled Fast Charlie, from Hardcase Crime. Honestly, Hardcase Crime is probably a better home for the book than it's original publisher. But it didn't exist in 2003, and Uglytown's short existence gave the book some heft in its original run. However, when I originally read it, I had vastly different pictures of Charlie and Stan. Baccarin as Marcie, though, solidified my original image of the character. On reread, I couldn't help seeing Brosnan as Charlie and Caan as Stan.

It's pretty rare when an adaptation invokes the original so well. Look at how many times Dune has been done. David Lynch's mind-bending version wasn't even the first attempt. A French movie in the seventies would have probably required a visit from the Merry Pranksters, with their psychedelic Kool-Aid, to watch. The Syfy version lacked heart but at least could be followed. But Dune is a long, complicated book. Still, even the simplest novels can morph into something other than what the author intended. See The Long Goodbye.

23 February 2024

Bad Whiskey



A lot of stories take their cues from music. I listen to music when I write, and I often say I can't write listening to Carrie Underwood or Roger Waters because they're telling stories in their songs. Actually, I can't listen to Roger Waters on anything after 1980 because... Okay, that's another rant I'll save for elsewhere. But Carrie Underwood writes entire novels in her music. "Blown Away" and "Two Cadillacs" come to mind.

And then there's southern rock. Ever listen to some of Skynyrd's songs and see a story unfold in your mind? "Two Steps" is a good one and might have spawned a different story had I heard it around the time we started planning the Murder, Neat anthology. Instead, a friend of mine sent me this video of her husband's band. For a group who played mostly bars (though they did open for the likes of Black Country Communion a few times), they did a rather professional video. When it opened, I thought, "Cool. Johnny Lynn's playing slide!" But they had a few stories to go with the verses, many of them fitting that southern rock vibe half of Johnny's bands embrace. (Johnny is the aforementioned friend's husband.)

I had a video, awaiting the CD, and I had an email from either Leigh or Robert and a follow up from Michael Bracken: Write a story set in a bar. Put a murder in it. I had a soundtrack, an inspiration, and marching orders. This is why I love anthologies as a writer. When the prompt hits just right, the stories spin off on their own.

The song is called "Bad Whiskey." How's that for a southern rock title? And if the video shows the ill-effects of bad whiskey in general, the story flows backward and reveals just how bad one man's whiskey was. 

And in case you were wondering, here is the aforementioned song that inspired the story, "Bad Whiskey" by the Russell Jinkens XL Band.



02 February 2024

The Second Murderer by Denise Mina



 For the first time since Poodle Springs, Philip Marlowe shows up in a Philip Marlowe novel and manages to stay well past Chapter 4. If it sounds like I'm giving damning faint praise to author Denise Mina, I'm not. Mina has written the latest authorized Philip Marlowe novel, and for once, we have an author who understands how to place Marlowe in context and not belabor the similes.

Like Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, Philip Marlowe is one of those characters who won't die with his author. You have to go to science fiction to get anything else American like it. Star Wars is a Marvel-like franchise now instead of the story of a farm boy becoming Siegfried. Star Trek just avoids that fate by becoming a setting more than a story about set characters. Marlowe is...

Well, he's Marlowe. And he has dozens upon dozens of imitators: Lew Archer (more a means for Ross MacDonald to tell a story), Nameless, Spenser, Elvis Cole, Kinsey Milhonne, VI Warshawski. Even a certain Sleuthsayers contributor originally from Cleveland invented his own not-Marlowe. Which reminds me, there was another not-Marlowe from Cleveland by a much older writer from Cleveland. Seems like everyone wants in on the action.

But Bond and Holmes are larger than life, to the point where Holmes is recognizable the moment he appears, and Bond is now two Bonds: literary and cinematic. Marlowe is a working stiff, a guy in a corner office. If you reinvent him, you almost have to create a new character. Many have tried. The result has been not-Spenser, a book full of wisecracks and similes, or some guy named Philip Marlowe who happens to be or was a private detective. The closest anyone came to the original was Lawrence Osborne's Only to Sleep, featuring an elderly Marlowe in Mexico, though the story had an almost Miami Vice vibe to it. Denise Mina writes a story about the character Raymond Chandler created.

The similes and an odd metaphor or ten are there, but they need to be. That's how Marlowe talks. And he's in period. The Second Murderer begins with Marlowe wrapping up a case but wondering if he got it wrong: The death of a Western character actor on the eve of World War II. He has no time to think about it as an elderly man, in shades of The Big Sleep, summons Marlowe to Stately Montgomery Manor to hire him. He doesn't want the job, but Montgomery wants his daughter found. Because Montgomery is a Very Important Man(TM) from a Very Important Family(TM). And unlike The Big Sleep's General Sternwood, Marlowe doesn't like this guy. He's a shriveled monster who beats his family Yet Marlowe takes the gig. He finds the daughter, Chrissie, soon enough. But he also runs into Anne Riordan, a character so strong she could probably carry her own series. And Mina has made her a PI in her own right. Something's not right.

Marlowe and Riordan soon realize they're working at cross purposes here, and even the police are being played. Despite being at odds in their missions, the pair are soon walking a fine line between what they're tasked with and protecting Chrissie, who has a few secrets of their own.

Mina writes this in period. There's no overlay of modern sensibilities, although she does avoid some language Chandler might not have blinked at. But she's writing in 1938 and focused on the rhythms and the consequences of Hollywood trying very hard to pretend Hitler is someone else's problem. The dialog is in-period. However, the book comes from a Scottish writer, so the spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all UK. That takes about a chapter to get used to. As an editor, I've seen the challenge and once had to leave Australian rules in place. But there were occasional lapses. One particular instance has Marlowe describing the rain on his car's "bonnet" (hood to us yanks.) Fortunately, the Britishisms are few and far between, and Marlowe even makes fun of one characters' faux British accent.

Much is made of Denise Mina being the first female author to tackle Marlowe. But I find it interesting a a Gen X woman from Scotland did a far superior job resurrecting Marlowe than Robert Parker or some of the other writers who attempted to carry on the legacy. First off, she focuses on telling a good story. She organically adds in Anne Riordan as a callback to Farewell, My Lovely without being gratuitous about it. And the Marlowe in her book is the Marlowe Chandler wrote. Considering she's been doing this for over twenty-five years, she was a good choice to add a chapter to Marlowe's story. I'd read another by her.