Herodotus, 5th century BC:
“In the days of Atys the son of Manes (note: a long time before Herodotus was born, therefore even in the 5th century BC more in the realm of mythology than in verifiable fact), there was great scarcity through the whole land of Lydia. For some time the Lydians bore the affliction patiently, but finding that it did not pass away, they set to work to devise remedies for the evil. Various expedients were discovered by various persons; dice, and knuckle-bones, and ball, and all such games were invented, except tables, the invention of which they do not claim as theirs. The plan adopted against the famine was to engage in games one day so entirely as to not feel any craving for food, and the next day to eat and abstain from games. In this way they passed eighteen years.” The Histories, Book One.
She said she was going to have “a little go” on Angry Birds. In this way she passed eighteen years.
Photomontage by Alistair Gentry, 2011.
I’m writing a book set in the Nineteenth century, so I’m delving into lots of obscure stuff while researching it. Not that I don’t read obscure (and frankly sometimes stupid and ridiculous) books under normal circumstances, but sometimes a man in my current position just has to avoid actually writing anything because he’s wasting a lot of time finding out what those excessively huge candelabra in the middle of an upper class dinner table were called… it’s an epergne, by the way. You’re welcome.
And so at last to the point, via the houses: in Folkloristics: An Introduction (a textbook published by Indiana University Press, written by Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones) the authors quote in turn Stith Thompson’s The Types of the Folk-Tale (2nd revision, Helsinki 1961) and provide a seemingly complete but not really complete taxonomy of traditional story categories. Now you know that when I say obscure I mean it.
I’m interested in taxonomies, whether they’re sensible and help our understanding of things, or completely nuts and actually make matters more confusing. I think the following list lies somewhere between the two in some kind of quasi-academic, Borgesian territory; that’s why I liked it. It starts sensibly and logically (“Fish”), veers off into the insanely specific (“Stupid Ogre”), then just gives up and shrugs with “2400-2499 Unclassified Tales.”
I note also that “Numskull Stories” is probably more of a thriving sub-genre than it’s ever been thanks to the proliferation of the media, paparazzi, scumbag phone-tapping so-called journalists, and the internet in general. What are Hello! magazine, tabloid gotchas and sites like Gawker or FAIL Tumblrs if not an endless torrent of Numskull Stories? In the case of Hello! and its ilk, however, the new and distinctively 21st century development is that we’re presumably meant to approve of the numskulls and aspire towards being numskulls ourselves… as many people quite evidently do. Continue Reading
Americans dominate the Anglophone internet, and Americans hate spoilers. “WHERE’S THE SPOILER WARNING, ASSHOLE?” is a relatively mild and restrained example of the incandescent rage Americans unleash when they deem themselves “spoiled” by innocuous scraps of advance narrative information about TV shows, films and other popular entertainment. The aforesaid information can usually be gleaned from a cursory or even an accidental viewing of a trailer, a general article, a synopsis or a publicity picture, like for example “in Avatar that Australian actor who isn’t Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman nobs a blue space cat lady, flies dragons and fights a battle against baddies.” Continue Reading