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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


Hey, it's procrastination, er, displacement activity time to make a web page or two for my poor, neglected website. Firstly, I wanted to put a link out to this delightful marble machine. Link via pharyngula, one of whose commenters described the device as a variation on an orchestrion —Yes!!! One year a bunch of collectors displayed the more traditional band/horn versions of these in the local park, and I collected pix like crazy (for the kittycats. Even if I never actually write/draw/comic those stories, they will have provided a wonderful excuse to delight in many ‘various and sundry’ things.

Another pet peeve: if only physics were taught to us artsy types like this we would be all over it. (In fact, the musician above shows not only knows his way around a woodshop—and computer—but also obviously has a good working knowledge of classical physics and very much the understanding of the experimental method, which he combines so effectively in making his device.

I, on the other hand, have a very old post, which I finally got around to finishing the photography.


Recent linkies:

Mission Impossible with Lindsay & the Piano Guys. I really quite like the way modern youtube artists are updating western art (i.e. “classical”) music with these cute online pastiches. I've known about the piano guys (one of whom usually plays cello, as far as I can tell) for awhile, but Lindsay was new to me. This is the charming western/steampunk vid that introduced me to her:)

Hamilton—the broadway musical I mean (which I also became familiar via youtube)—will, I suspect, get a lot of people interested in our founding fathers above and beyond those dull middle and high school textbooks. It's certainly the first piece of art that's made a convincing case for real-person-fic, something that's squicked me hereto. I still feel writing fics about living (or the recently dead whose loved ones are still alive to be offended) is tacky (to say the least), but overly venerated political figures two centuries dead who read now more as myth than relatable people—especially when we have so many demagogues attempting to co-opt their legacies—are in my opinion ripe for this sort of drama.

And it's just sort of interesting to find one's mind changing. Though I loved the beads featured today from the get-go:)


So the following is a paraphrase of a conversation I had:

What do you mean, you don't adore Uprooted? Why, it's right up your alley—faerytale, angsty male lead, feisty feminist magical protagonist, love story?

To which I replied—I didn't hate it; I enjoyed it; it just didn't make much of an impression—went meh and promptly forgot it. But, f2tE protested, if in fact it's an homage to Robin McKinley (my favourite fantasy author) then why not love it, instead of re-reading Chalice yet again? Good question, so I re-read it to try and figure out the answer.

Firstly: it is indubitably modelled on McKinley's work:

  1. the introduction, in which the monster isn't so monstrous: in this case, the mysterious ‘dragon’ doesn't actually eat maidens, which is a common device in McKinley's stories: cf. the Beast doesn't actually kill the people in his garden who cheat him; they die from their own guilt.
  2. The magical terms have a very Damarian feel (cf names of things Damarian vs names of spells—lirintalem; tualidetal; vanastalem; darendetal(1)
  3. The mess and klutziness of the heroine, as well as her personality in general, is set out much like Beauty or Aerin or any other of half a dozen McKinlesque heroines
  4. The initial description of the forest and its corruption
  5. And, oh yeah, the only named magical tome in the Dragon's vast library is called Luthe's Summoning.(2) Um, so no arguments there, I hope.

Well, I think a big part of the problem is that it's supposed to read much like a Damarian novel (except set in a lush Eastern European land, featuring instead of harsh deserts murderous forests,) right up to including rulers and wizards of shall-we-say dubious morality (cf Deerskin and Pegasus respectively). It's a noble endeavour, and given that McKinley has not only forbidden fanfic but also neglected to finish Pegasus, I totally get the impulse to write up some yummy McKinlesque fantasy, since the actual author ain't providing us with much these days.(3) Novik, moreover, cut her teeth in fanfic circles, and her best known series, the Temeraire books, are set roughly in the same era as The Blue Sword, whose protagonist, like Laurence, is something of a[n alt] British outcast.

McKinley's strengths, as I see them are as follows:

  • inverting the often sexist tropes of traditional faery tales while absolutely adhering to the form
  • gorgeous prose and settings, particularly exposition of magic
  • writing absolutely fabulous—and egalitarian!—love stories
  • while typically maintaining a relatively upbeat story, or at least ending (yes, even Deerskin ends on quite a positive note)

Having attempted to write this sort of story myself, because I just love it so much, I do have some idea of how difficult it is, and Novik is to be congratulated for the bits that worked, to wit:

  • the sympathetic explanation of the ‘dirty, ragged’ part of being a witch (the protagonist, Nieshka)
  • the love of sisters/friends (one of Beauty, and also Rose Daughter’s real strengths) between Nieshka and Kasia
  • the organic quality of the protagonist's magic, versus the clockwork, analytical methods of the male lead (Dragon)
  • the sympathetic portrayal of ‘commoners’ versus the powerful (both Nieshka and the Beekeeper in Chalice are poor woodcutter's daughters, frex)
  • the motivations of the antagonists, specifically the younger prince Marek and the magician Falcon
  • the fabulous dresses, obviously a callback to Beauty's outfits.

All of these elements read like hallmark McKinley stories. Less successful was the romance between the Dragon and the Witch. Romantic love tends to get short shrift in the Temeraire stories—it happens, but generally is much less important than aromantic peer-to-peer relationships—and my feeling was, either develop the growing feelings between Nieshka and Dragon properly, or leave them out entirely.

The other difficulty I had was with the Wood. As a concept, it was fine; but for a faery tale, we needed more setup, more history (earlier) in the book to understand the tragedy of the Wood people, and their misunderstandings with humans (again, something that McKinley has done in several stories, as with the Faery in “The Door in the Hedge”, or the mer-people in the Water/Elemental Spirits collection.) Moreover, the fact that Dragon is not rooted in the soil but Nieshka's people are needs to be stressed more, and earlier in the story.

Also, as the story progressed, what I think of as the intricate filigree—in the descriptions, the magic, just the overall atmosphere of the story—that so characterizes McKinley's (and, for the record, Tanith Lee or Catharine Valente) style started to fall away, to the point where I felt I'd shifted to my other favourite fantasy author, specifically Bujold's WGW.(4)

Novik came closer to replicating the best of McKinley's faery tales than anyone else; and the book works very well on its on terms; but it wasn't the romance I was hoping for, and while I was a little disappointed, I hardly felt I could blame anyone but myself for that; and so I shrugged my shoulders and moved on.

Which doesn't mean anyone else should, of course.

And speaking of others, here are some fabulous hearts made by my fellow guild members.

(1)Can't find my copies of either Sword or Crown, so no specific examples; and it's quite possible that Novik & McKinley are drawing on the same eastern European(?) languages for their vocabularies; and yes, Novik specifies spells, whereas McKinley various nouns, but my point is the feel of the language of foreign words is very much the same.

(2)If a Mary Sue (the original meaning) is an author insert (though traditionally a badly written one) then Luthe—like Lord Peter Wimsy—is the author's beloved, her beau ideal.(5) Luthe appears in a number of McKinley's stories as the ageless, secluded wizard whose mountain home has ‘clearer, more truthful’ air; his spell is not just a namecheck but refers to this aspect of his home and being, and is critical to the success of Uprooted’s protags.

(3)If my spouse had died after a long illness I wouldn't much feel like writing either.

(4)Also, the way the protags appeared to throw off the horror of 6k men slaughtered before their eyes didn't quite sit right.

(5)Why yes, I would happen to have one of these myself, who is, like Luthe, blonde, blue-eyed, emotionally perspicacious—though his jewels don't include a red dragonheart:) But these sorts of similarities are the reason, I presume, that McKinley resonates with me.


Sorry about the lack of posting last week—I think I had homework, or taxes or something tedious of that nature. (I still have both of those things to do, but Valentine's Day won't wait, and I'm so proud of myself for posting this stuff before the date, instead of my usual modus operandi of after.)

So here's a (slightly updated) collection of linkies from 2013, to go with our 2013 heart challenge!

And oh yes, heart bead exchange from my fellow glassact members;)


It's taken years, but I am finally on top of things enough to post about hearts before valentine's day! So very very proud of myself. (It doesn't take much, you'll notice.) So for today we're going all the way back to 2008, for an index post collecting some oldies but goodies—while all the beads have been featured before, they're kinda buried. But-but-but— the wizard DID put ‘and’ functionality into the index function, which means I can make index pages that, frex, specify ‘2008&hearts’ (instead of 2008hearts, which as you could imagine could lead to many many search terms and a lot of clunkiness.) Oh, frabjous...



This young violin player imitates the sound of the ubiquitous car alarm —oh my goodness this madr me laugh—1) cuz that exact sound tortured me all the time back when I lived in Detroit and 2) cuz it's now a memory, instead of a daily aggravation. (I was at f2tE's place the other day, and someone cranked up their base heavy car audio. I sighed. F2tE said ze didn't mind, it reminded hir of hir childhood.)

Sometimes, it's all about different spokes for different folks, as today's page, final in a series of 5 mini-beadcurtain strands, illustrates.