Pick of the Litter

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Pick of the Litter

Many years ago I set a small goal for myself, to pick up one piece of litter every day. While I was still teaching there were few days when I didn’t pass by garbage walking from my car to the school. I would often gather up two or three items – this would make up for the weekends when, perhaps, I wasn’t in a litter zone. Now that I am retired I usually carry out my one-a-day ritual when in the city. I figure if one in ten people picked up a piece of garbage every tenth day then we would be close to having litter-free communities.

Last weekend I was in the city and had a number of stops to make. As I was nearing a parking spot outside a mall I noticed a man walking across the lot. At one point he stopped, bent down and pick up a cardboard coffee tray that had been discarded. I rolled my window down and thanked him for doing so. We both agreed that this world would be a better place if people were more considerate. This reminded me of an incident that took place ten years earlier.

I had been awarded an educational leave (sabbatical). I would be participating in a French Immersion course in the north of the province. In anticipation of this I enrolled in a conversational French class at the local college. I was hoping to recapture some of the language skills I had learned when in high school. Classes were once a week.

Each night on my way to class I would stop at a coffee shop not far from the college. On this particular evening I saw something that was rather upsetting. As my car was approaching a parking spot I noticed am arm extend from a vehicle and a cardboard coffee tray and paper bag were dropped on the ground. I couldn’t believe it. By the time I pulled up beside the car the window had been closed. I decided to be part of the solution.

Now I must admit that when I looked over at the vehicle I expected to see some teenagers (sorry teenagers – I admit that I was stereotyping). To my surprise I saw an elderly couple in the car. I rolled my window down and pointed to the ground.

You dropped something. Something fell out of your car.”

The woman looked at me. She turned to the man seated in the driver’s seat. He leaned ahead and looked at me.

Something fell out of your car”, I repeated.

The window was lowered. I again pointed to the ground, “Something fell out of your car.”

They looked at each other. By this time I had stepped out of my vehicle.

The woman said, “It’s garbage. I meant to toss it.”

I stood still. I gave them the best basset hound face I could muster. “You mean, you meant to litter?”

……… YES”, she replied in a rather stern voice.

The man looked like he wanted to punch me; but hey, I didn’t do anything wrong. I was playing the good guy.

How about this. I’ll pick it up for you and place it in the garbage can over there.”

She hesitated. In the same voice she said, “OK.”

As I picked up the tray and bag they drove off. I watched them leave then disposed of the garbage.

By doing so I had met my litter picking quota for the next two days. I felt pretty good.

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Cristopher Tolkien Makes an Appearance

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I’m always a bit leery but also drawn in when a famous writer’s offspring attempts to ride a progenitor’s coattails to fame, fortune and probably an enlarged bank account.


Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson expand Frank Herbert’s Dune Universe.

Brian Herbert’s attempts to expand his father’s Dune universe are a typical case in point.  They are interesting science fiction books in a familiar universe but… but they break no new ground.  This is probably the biggest attack on his father’s legacy that was committed here because the original Dune books were beloved precisely because they were new and fresh. Core fans will read them, of course, bit I doubt they’ll be considered part of the canon anytime soon (at least not by me).

But Herbert’s books (with an assist from Anderson, clearly) aren’t bad.  If it wasn’t for the legacy, we’d all have liked them without further comment.  Much worse was the disastrous attempt at authoring an epic Fantasy by Nicolai Tolstoy (grandson of Leo), which resulted in the only time I have ever voluntarily abandoned a book in the middle of it in the last 30 years.

So it was with mixed feelings that I picked up the Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth series some years ago.  That first book was a difficult read, but I was fascinated by the textual history that Tolkien Jr had managed to piece together from his fathers papers.  It is a stunning piece of academic research taken on by probably the only person with both the access and motivation to succeed in it.

I’ve since read the six books that followed which brings us all the way through the history of the writing of the tales that eventually became the Silmarillion to the text of the Lord of the Rings.  The book which prompted this post, and which I’ll be concentrating on here, is the seventh, The Treason of Isengard.


The Treason of Isengard, Book 7 of the History of Middle Earth and Book 2 of the History of the Lord of the Rings

Like its predecessors, this volume presents older drafts of the material with commentary on when changes were likely made, and when names evolved into the current versions that everyone knows and loves.

As a writer, I find JRR Tolkien’s process mesmerizing and terrifying.  Mesmerizing because watching text evolve so methodically is an education in and of itself and Terrifying because the man spent his entire adult life continuously tweaking his text.  Were it not for editorial pressure and deadlines, he probably would have kept toying with the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings until the day he died, much like he did with Silmarillion.

The reason to read this series isn’t because it will bring you a new appreciation of LotR – we all know it and love it (or despise it) for our own reasons, and this won’t change it, but it will bring you a type of writing process that will feel very alien to nearly every one of us.

If I wrote my books like that, I’d simply go insane, but it’s undeniably effective.  The layers of myth upon myth back through the ages that shine through in the Lord of the Rings are there because Tolkien actually wrote them, and rewrote them and wrote them yet again as he composed the Silmarillion and the associated poems.

In this particular case, I don’t begrudge the son a single cent, and actually prefer that his series exists instead of having original writing from Christopher.


Not the Greatest French Film of All Time, Interesting Nonetheless

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Les Enfants du Paradis Movie Poster

As we continue our slow journey through the 1001 Films one must supposedly watch before one dies (maybe if we never finish the list we’ll live forever?) we encounter a bunch of films which are reputed to be or voted as the greatest something or other.   The major conclusion one can immediately take from these is that an amazing number of important-sounding institutions exist which seem dedicated to choosing the greatest films of whatever country, and none of them can agree on which one it is.

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) was voted the greatest film ever in one poll of French film industry people.  Yes, I know that it was obvious that the French would select a French film for the honor, but it’s pretty amazing that they happened to select this one.  It isn’t.

It’s also been called the French equivalent of Gone with the Wind.  It also isn’t.

What it is is an interesting flick with a fascinating production history.

The plot is noteworthy .  Everyone is in love with the girl, but no one gets her.  Additional interest is given to it by having her suitors span the social range from a mime and a criminal to a count.  Loads of fun and hijinks and melodrama ensue, and the film does entertain.  The ending is also worth waiting for, as it is neither a conventional happy ending or a typical tragic one.  The only person who dies richly deserves it.

The most noteworthy thing about it, however, is that it was produced in Vichy France under the strict and watchful eye of the German censors with a cast and crew that mixed resistance elements with collaborators in what must have been the ultimate example of workplace politics.

Imagine attempting to shoot a large-scale film in a country ravaged by war, with Nazis telling you what to cut out of it and a director, Marcel Carné, who tries to sneak a lot of the stuff that is supposedly forbidden back in, in a different guise.  The sets were a shambles, which was a drawback for a film with a lot of outdoors street scenes, and one can only imagine what kind of scarcity conditions they had to operate under as the allies advanced.


Robert Le Vigan – French actor convicted of collaborating with the Nazis in Vichy France.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the film are the story of Robert Le Vigan who was removed from the production, accused of being a collaborator and disappeared.  He was later tried and sent to prison, but in the meantime they needed a replacement for him, and chose one of the Renoir brothers (yes, the son of the painter).

Collaborators, of course, weren’t tried under the Vichy régime, so you are correct in guessing that the movie wasn’t finished until the allies liberated France.  It is speculated that Carné himself created production delays that ensured the film would only be released in a free France.  Whether that is true or a product of Carné’s propaganda is open to debate, but it does cement the legend.

So, perhaps it’s not the film itself but the context and symbolism which engendered the French industry’s fascination with it.  It’s both understandable and forgivable, and the film isn’t bad either.