Sunday, August 07, 2005

A few books ...

Of course I finished the fourth Harry Potter book last weekend. I enjoyed it a great deal, especially since I'm the kind of guy whose favorite part of the Lord of the Rings was the Appendices: I remember at the age of 12 wishing to god that the Silmarillion, mentioned in the Thunderous Appendix 1, was a real book. When I found out a few years later that it was really going to be published, I pre-ordered it from the bookstore months before it actually came out in the US (back in those days, of course, there was no to get it from early). And I still prefer the Silmarillion, which I have read and re-read far more times than LotR. And, of course, I have Christopher Tolkien's The Histories of Middle Earth. In Hardback. That doesn't mean that I worship Tolkien and brook no criticism of him: far from it. But this isn't my Tolkien posting.

My point is that I enjoy learning the backstory (at least in those rare cases where learning the backstory doesn't take away all the enchantment - most of the time, the enchantment only works at a distance), and you get heaping doses of backstory in the Half-Blood Prince. Many have complained that the book is rather .. lacking .. in other areas. That's true, really. You just don't see that much of the characters you got to know in the last couple of books. I could have done with the book being longer.

But whatever. I actually decided to start over and re-read the entire series from the beginning. I hadn't re-read any of them before (I've seen the movies as they've come out, but that's not the same). I'm zipping through them at warp speed. Already a good way's through the fourth (and longest) one. It's actually turning out to be a lot of fun. Quite a few scenes I had completely forgotten about - and quite a few details that they really did change in the movies. One of the most fun things is seeing where Rowlings first introduces a word or an idea - such as dittany, or the Vanishing Cabinet. By the time she really gets into it, you had forgotten completely about it. (Well, I'm sure if you are a Total Potter Nerd, you remembered - anybody remember the William Shatner Saturday Night Live episode with the "Have you ever even kissed a girl?" question?)

In the meantime, I'm taking a bit of a break from Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (next chapter, Celtic), and I've acquired a couple of delightful little reads:

Cover image for Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture, Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture,
Walter Burkert
$22.95 (No discount)
Cover image for The First Poets : Lives of the Ancient Greek PoetsThe First Poets : Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets
Michael Schmidt
$19.80 (%34)

I first saw the Schmidt book yesterday at Porter Square Books, a local independent bookstore, and just grabbed it. It looks delightful, though I've only just glanced over it. It is a collection of "lives" of the major Greek poets, excluding the Dramatic poets. Amusingly, he not only starts with the obvious, Homer - whom most scholars these days consider to be mythological - but even earlier: with Orpheus, who of course is mythological. His justification:

Modern historical scepticism must not bridle us ... There is a wealth of stories, and they are worth telling, whether their truths are literal .. or indicative.
Clearly, this is not going to be some dry, biographical reference.

I do believe in patronizing independent bookstores like Porter Square, and I confess that I first saw the Burkert book there. Nonetheless, money is money and I fear I ordered it from Barnes and Noble online with my member discount (the rest of the shipment, qualifying for free shipping, of course, is supposed to arrive tomorrow). There have been books going more than two thousand years about the debts of Greek civilization to the more ancient cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East: Herodotus and Josephus, to name two. And there have been a number of books comparing, or connecting, Hebrew and Greek thought. But it appears that there is quite a wealth of books on the topic these days. This Burkert book is just the tip of the iceberg.

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At Tue Aug 09, 08:39:00 AM EDT, Blogger Wm Annis said...

There have been books going more than two thousand years about the debts of Greek civilization to the more ancient cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East: Herodotus and Josephus, to name two.

You must find The East Face of Helicon, by Martin West. He investigates the literary relationship between Greece and the Levant in depth. This is a hefty volume. You'll probably want a library to find it for you.

At Tue Aug 09, 12:00:00 PM EDT, Blogger IVSTINIANVS said...

Yes, The East Coast of Helicon is already on my wishlist, but good LORD it's expensive (and not discounted by them, either!).

Hm. Borrow from a library or buy; borrow from a library or buy ...


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