LOTR--The Books This Time--The Eagles

This is my latest Tolkien post. On my new Tolkien Posts blog, it appears further down the list; those posts are grouped by topic, not chronologically.

The eagles show up in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings as eucatastrophic figures. The term is Tolkien's, so couldn't he have used the eagles to fly Frodo into Mordor (not just out)?


Breathable airspace is breathable airspace even in Middle-Earth, and Tolkien kept his fantasy world as close to realism as possible. Magic supplements--never replaces--the plausible action of Middle-Earth.

In other words, eagles could never fly higher than Winged Nazgul. Or faster.

Eagles are also not indestructible as the Battle of the Five Armies (both book and movie versions) indicate. They can be killed by ground weaponry (i.e. arrows) and certainly other winged creatures. Plus Sauron's giant great eye has power of its own: call it an anti-missile defense system. In sum, Mordor is fairly immune to flying stuff. The eagles would be spotted immediately.

Gandalf and Elrond's entire plan rests on secrecy. Sauron must never suspect, even for an instant, that the Fellowship's goal is to destroy the ring. The moment he did, Sauron would naturally block access to the volcano, both from the ground and from the air. He would not "systematically empty Mordor," a process that allows Frodo and Sam some degree of freedom as they creep across Mordor's landscape.

Of course, this begs another question: Is it believable that Sauron would never suspect that his enemies intend to destroy the ring?

Yes, it is.

When reading about WWII, one becomes aware of how much the Nazis believed in their own untouchability. Note, I wrote, "Nazis," not the German army or, for that matter, the German submarine commanders. The German army and navy were composed of a mix of good and bad and indifferent leaders like in any nation's military. (And many of them despised Hitler.)

It was Hitler--and Hitler's paranoia--that insisted on maintaining constant wireless communication with the German military, a state of affairs that led to the British eventually breaking Enigma. It was Nazi wishful thinking that led to the bizarre and successful career of double-agent Garbo.

The Crossing by Peter Fiore, a more realistic portrayal
than Leutze's famous painting.
To back up to a group of far less fanatical--and far less degenerate--commanders, British complaisance allowed George Washington to escape New York and led to the completely unanticipated rebel attack (and victory) on Trenton on Christmas Day. A severely diminished army, the American rebels nevertheless routed the surprised Hessians, incurring for the Americans only 2 deaths (both from frostbite).

It is easy in hindsight to see the obvious (and I'm sure if Sauron had lived, heads would have literally rolled), but Sauron's weakness is his inability to believe that anyone would actually destroy the ring. Although he captures and tortures Gollum, he misses what Gandalf and Elrond have not: Gollum may be obsessed with the ring, but he lived for generations under the mountains without feeling compelled to do much more with it than catch orcs to eat. Gollum, however corrupted, has the same stamina and indifference to power that make Bilbo and Frodo good bearers.

Sauron isn't totally imperceptive: should Aragorn, Galadriel, Boromir, even Gandalf--any of his "real" rivals--don the ring, they would sooner or later be drawn into the dark. They might momentarily eclipsed Sauron (hence his worries about Aragorn); in the long run, however, they would be drawn to his ways: dominion over the lives of others. A military rival is something Sauron dreads yet something he can handle.

Consequently, Sauron reads in Gollum the very thing he sees in others and himself: desire for the ring. He fails to notice the intrinsic toughness that will eventually undo him. Gollum, however ruined by the ring, is hobbit-like enough to eventually care only about wearing it, not wielding it over others. And that indifference to power is something Sauron cannot comprehend.

"The Lord of the Rings--The Book This Time" posts address the following topics:

R is for Thoughts on Amazon and MemoRy (Amongst Other Things)

Illustration for Pamela
It is rather depressing to reflect on the authors I might have read, only I'm not sure because it was so long ago: Marilynne Robinson, for example (saw the movie Housekeeping; think I might have read the book).

Here are the ones I do remember:

Ayn Rand: Generally speaking, I detest negative reviews on Amazon--the ones that whine about the shipping or that read, "i hate this book it was stupid i didn't understand it."

I have found it far more helpful when doing my own purchasing to read 3 or 4 star reviews. 5 stars can be a little over the top ("this is the best book ever and if you don't agree with me, your [sic] stupid!") although some can be quite thoughtful, the equivalent of good literary analysis. 3 or 4 stars (it was good but here's what I didn't like) prove surprisingly helpful. I've bought numerous things after reading 3 star reviews, precisely because the reviewer's reasonable objections were either objections that I understood from a writing p.o.v. or ones that I could shrug off.

Now I must confess: I have written a completely negative review on Amazon, namely for Rand's Anthem, which I consider one of the dumbest books in the world.

I'd still defend her right to write it though.

Ray, Jeanne, the author of books like Step Ball Change and Eat Cake, comes highly recommended by several readers in my family (including me). Her books are lite but not gagging lite. Rather, they are quick, cute, funny, and insightful reads (think better-written sitcoms like Frasier). There is artistry in light comedy (more artistry, in fact, than can be found in a million serious tomes).

Raybourn, Deanna: I am a fan of her Julia Grey mystery series.

Rich, Virginia wrote detective novels, including The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders and The Baked Bean Supper Murders. I remember those books positively. (I don't remember the murderers!)

Richardson, Samuel naturally! Although it's a strange book, I enjoy Pamela and have written my own tribute/literary analysis of what is widely considered the first English novel.

Richter, Conrad wrote the The Light in the Forest, one of the better assigned novels from high school.

In the world of unread books, I recommend Conall Ryan's House of Cards. I read it years ago and own it. It is an unusual book about a man teaching poker to a group of students as a form of self-discipline. The book delves into the life of each character, including the teacher. The book deals (yes, deliberate pun) with what people are willing to "bet" (sacrifice, give up, depend on). (Despite owning the book, I haven't read it in awhile, so my review here is based on memory.)

House of Cards, which is not well known, proves that there is a reader out there for every book, a gratifying thought.

Roosevelt, Elliot is the author I read for the first A-Z list.

Ross, Kate: Ending on a sad note, Kate Ross wrote a wonderful series of historical detective novels, starring Julian Kestrel. I own the set. Unfortunately, the rather youthful Ross died of cancer at age 41, so though the series ends strong, it certainly doesn't end where originally planned!

Lieutenant Columbo as Role Model

I teach two Academic Success Courses (How to Be a College Student for Millennials). Each course has a separate literary focus: Murder Mysteries and Lord of the Rings.

At the end of both courses, students are required to write a five-paragraph cause/effect essay about role models. For the Murder Mystery course, the question that the essay answers is "What detective would make the best role model and why?"

And yes, Sherlock Holmes is a common choice! I also get essays about Agent Hotchner from Criminal Minds, Shawn from Psych, Nero Wolfe, Father Brown (!), Nancy Drew, the Scooby-Do Gang, and Magnum P.I. ("His mustache!").

My choice--and example--is Columbo.

1. Columbo rarely loses his cool. 

Columbo is known for his ability to stay on task ("one more thing"). What I find even more impressive is his immunity to others' anger during the investigation. Murder suspects lose their tempers, threaten to report Columbo to his superiors, chide, criticize, and--in the case of the "Columbo Goes to College"--mock. Through it all, Columbo not only doesn't get upset, he even goes along. In the Columbo pilot, "Prescription: Murder" the sophisticated psychiatrist "profiles" his detective tormentor:
Dr. Ray Flemming: I'm going to tell you something about yourself. You say you need a psychiatrist? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. But you are the textbook example of compensation.
Lt. Columbo: Of what, Doc?
Dr. Ray Flemming: Compensation. Adaptability. You're an intelligent man, Columbo, but you hide it. You pretend you're something you're not. Why? Because of your appearance. You think you cannot get by on looks or polish, so you turn a defect into a virtue. You take people by surprise. They underestimate you, and that's where you trip them up. Like coming here tonight.
Lt. Columbo: Boy, you got me pegged pretty good, Doctor. I'm gonna have to watch myself with you, 'cause, uh, well, you figure out people pretty good.
Dr. Ray Flemming: Now you're trying flattery.
What makes this exchange so great is Columbo's complete acquiescence to the "profiling." He doesn't bridle. He doesn't argue. He doesn't protest. He uses the conversation to find out more about Flemming. Even better, he reacts to Flemming's analysis with a shrug and his elfin smile.

Columbo does get angry--precisely, in "Stitch in Time" and in "An Exercise in Fatality." Those two times are all the more noticeable because his anger is such a rarity.

2. Columbo isn't afraid to look silly. 

He's got his "foreign" car. He's got his hard-boiled eggs. He's got his rumpled raincoat (in one very funny sequence, he keeps trying to "lose" the fancy new coat his wife bought him). He's got his dog.

Maybe he comes off as geeky or nerdy or weird. Whatever it is, Columbo doesn't care. Peer pressure? Columbo's never heard of it--not because he is some grand rebel. He simply knows what he wants and what he believes. He is centered without being self-centered.

Columbo is perfectly willing to let other people educate him about art, cuisine, dentistry, horse racing, wine . . . He'll ask an entire bar of strangers what the weather was "last Tuesday." Or play chopsticks to a world-class conductor. Or--my personal favorite--run all over London acting exactly like an American tourist. And if people snicker--so what?

What makes Columbo's indifference to others' opinions so wonderful is that he really doesn't mind looking foolish. He isn't trying to be rude when he asks questions about abstract art; he truly wishes to find out more.

Speaking of which, when Columbo is embarrassed (mistaking an air vent for a sculpture, for instance), he says, "Oh, I'm embarrassed," and the whole thing blows over.

Columbo also treats his fellow officers with respect.
In "Negative Reaction," he relies on several officers
to testify to the murderer's self-incriminating behavior:
"Did you see what he did?"
3. Columbo is kind. 

His kindness, like the kindness of Lucy Liu's Watson, entails bringing out the best in others rather than crumbling under the weight of empathy (a hard line to tread).

In "Dead Weight," he encourages the witness to the murder to trust herself--despite her history of emotional problems. In "Dawn's Early Light," he allows the murderer a final moment of dignity. In "Forgotten Lady," he warns the troubled murderess's devoted admirer and partner of her impending arrest. In "Try and Catch Me," he states the following:
Lt. Columbo: [to group of murder mystery fans] I like my job. Oh, I like it a lot. And I'm not depressed by it. And I don't think the world is full of criminals and full of murderers because it isn't. It's full of nice people just like you. And if it wasn't for my job, I wouldn't be getting to meet you like this. And I'll tell you something else. Even with some of the murderers that I meet, I even like them too. Sometimes like them and even respect them. Not for what they did, certainly not for that. But for that part of them which is intelligent or funny or just nice. Because there's niceness in everyone. A little bit anyhow. You can take a cop's word for it.
He still makes the arrest but he does it courteously and without fanfare or humiliation.

A cool head, a kind heart, and immunity to pressure: great traits for anyone to have!

Guest Star: Courtney B. Vance

I became a fan of Courtney B. Vance the first time I watched The Hunt for Red October.

Vance plays Seaman Jones, the crew member on the Dallas who loses, then finds the Red October on sonar.

Here's my favorite relevant dialog:
Watson: Seaman Jones here is into music in a big way, and he views this whole boat as his own personal, private stereo set. Well, one day he's got this piece of Pavarotti...
Seaman Jones: It was Paganini.
Watson: Whatever.
Seaman Jones: It was Paganini.
Watson: Look, this is my story, okay?
Seaman Jones: Then tell it right, COB. Pavarotti is a tenor, Paganini was a composer.
Watson: So anyway, he's got this music out in the water, and he's listening to it on his headsets, and he's just happy as a clam. And then all hell breaks loose. See, there's this whole slew of boats out in the water...
Seaman Jones: Including one WAY out at Pearl!
Watson: Including one way the hell out at Pearl. All of a sudden, they start hearing, Pavarotti...
Beaumont: Pavarotti!
Watson: Coming up their asses! 
I love the line, "Including one WAY out at Pearl!" especially the way Vance says it, with sudden excited humor and total mischievousness (the story has obviously been told on the submarine a million times).

I ran into Vance again in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, playing D.A. Carver (back when Law & Order: CI still included a courtroom "order" component). He also appears in the sixth and seventh seasons of The Closer as Tommy Delk; he is so marvelous, yet so totally underused (by writers who rarely made such mistakes in The Closer's run) that I assume he was originally slated for a bigger role in the last season before the writers realized that it WAS the last season (their way of getting rid of Delk is so shameless, I kind of admire them: Hey, this particular story arc isn't going to work! Okay, moving on!!)

Vance has a fabulous voice and a no-nonsense way of delivering semi-serious lines (because, okay, nothing on Law & Order: CI should be taken too seriously).

He is, in sum, cool.

Five Romance Storylines: Angst to Slice of Life

Northanger Abbey as Burlesque
I group romances into two broad categories: world-based and character-driven. Originally, I further characterized these categories as having three different plot structures.

After exploring television, movie, shojo, yaoi, and paperback romances as well as nineteenth century romantic literature, I present five romance storylines:

1. Angst . . . 

. . . pretty much says it all. Are we together? Will the person I love fall in love with someone else? Will we break up? Did I do something wrong? Can I admit my feelings? Does the other person feel the same way? Will I? Won't I? Will I? Oh, dread! Oh, terror! Oh, my beating heart!

I can't list many examples for this category because I get so tired of the incessant self-reproach-ment that I give up about a chapter into the novel. Pamela by Samuel Richardson is possibly the only Angsty romance that I like.

Angst is the main reason I never finished Twilight.

2. Burlesque (or Soap Opera)

The Burlesque dwells less on internal problems and more on external ones: STUFF keeps happening. If it doesn't take itself too seriously, this storyline can be a hoot-and-a-half (occasionally, it becomes funny because it takes itself seriously). Jane Austen successfully spoofs the extreme version of this storyline in Northanger Abbey.

A sweeter, gentler version of this storyline likewise depends on the unexpected occurrence of unlikely events but in a way that doesn't send one into a Tess of the d'Ubervilles frenzy (When will all this stuff STOP happening!?). Many of Georgette Heyer's very amusing novels, such as Sprig Muslin, utilize this approach as does Sanami Matoh's cheerful Until the Moon and @ the Full Moon.

In reference to the latter, most manga volumes--especially in the middle of a series--end up in the Burlesque/Soap Opera category, simply due to the exigencies of the form (manga series over four volumes have to supply lots of possible twists and turns). The manga series Gravitation utilizes the Burlesque/Soap Opera approach to the nth degree and is consequently as annoying as one would expect (of course, the setting is the music industry).

With its tongue firmly in its cheek, the sweet spoof-tribute Princess Bride is the most friendly and hilarious take on this approach.

3. Serious Drama

The difference between Serious Drama and Soap Opera is the plot-line. Serious Drama is less about stuff happening to people and more about a situation in which a relationship suffers or thrives.

Although Romeo & Juliet is often presented as Soap Opera, it is really more Serious Drama, being more about the social situation than the romance (really!). Serious Drama is almost always about something other than the romance. Consequently, Robin McKinley's Deerskin, Elizabeth Marie Pope's Perilous Gard, and Austen's Mansfield Park--despite the inclusion of relevant romantic relationships--are less Relationship Central (next category) and more Serious Drama. 

4.  Relationship Central

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the majority of Jane Austen's novels, a manga series like Mars . . . focus almost exclusively on building the relationship. The Relationship Central story differs from the next category (Us Two Against the World and/or at Work, which usually presents the relationship as a given). Relationship Central, on the other hand, takes readers/viewers back to the relationship's beginnings: the past is as important as the present.

Persuasion, for example, builds Anne and Captain Wentworth's relationship through Anne's eyes as she remembers the past, meets her beloved's sister and sister's husband, and watches Captain Wentworth interact with others. The novel isn't what I call world-romance since all events in the novel work towards a single end (in world-romance, Anne would spend far more time shoe shopping and dating other people). Yet Anne and Captain Wentworth's interactions are limited. In Romance Central, the romantic partners are not necessarily working through things together (although they will talk and dance and eat together), but, rather, working through things separately in order to be together.

Many paperback romances fall into this category.

Most mystery romances fall into the next.

5. Us Two Against the World (and/or at Work)

My personal casting for Harriet and Wimsey: Daphne & Niles!
One of my favorites, this romantic storyline sets the couple's relationship within a context of (1) fighting a conspiracy (X-Files); (2) fighting crime (Castle, Bones, Wimsey & Vane, Fake, Scarecrow & Mrs. King); (3) fighting censorship (Library Wars); (4) fighting social pressure (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand).; (4) fighting a war (Queen of Attolia, Maiden Rose) or, (5) in the case of Tangled, fighting a curse plus some henchmen.

I discuss the work aspect of this storyline in my post "Give the Romantic Character a Job: Manga Does It Right".

The downside of this storyline is that it can easily dissolve into Burlesque. The upside is that the reader learns more about the main characters by watching them work together and responding to external problems. As a bonus, the romantic characters will often also experience personal growth.

The Slice of Life or series of Vignettes is a variation of the Us Two storyline. Like the Soap Opera, the Slice of Life has no definitive narrative arc. Unlike the Soap Opera, the Slice of Life is not frenetic or fast-paced. Rather, it has a sweet, lazy feel--enjoyable for its very lack of emotional demands. Many food-based romances use the Slice of Life/Vignette approach as does the joyous movie Bread & Tulips.

Generally speaking, many romances use more than one storyline. Howl's Moving Castle, for example, utilizes all of them; Miyazaki in particular excels at creating a sense of nostalgia through a Slice of Life. 

Great Character Actor: Bruce Kirby

I am quite fond of Bruce Kirby. A fan of mystery shows, I first encountered Kirby on Columbo as Sergeant George Kramer. And then--no great surprise--I encountered him on Kojak where he ambles about the squad room as Sergeant Al Vine. In the trifecta of perfection, Barney Miller--the best cop sitcom ever!--showcased Bruce Kirby as the criminal-or-cop-of-the-week on three occasions.

Born in 1928, Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu (Sr.--his son was junior), Bruce Kirby has had an extensive career (he was taking parts as late as 2009). As mentioned earlier on my blog, I really admire actors like this! Bearing a similar career history, his son, Bruno Kirby, Jr., appeared with his father in a Columbo episode, "At Dawn's Early Light," playing a young cadet.

The most endearing aspect of Bruce Kirby is his ability to capture blithe nonchalance. He strolls through an episode with careful insouciance and just a hint of a wink (but never too much; he doesn't steal scenes). He's the kind of actor where the viewer begins to suspect after awhile that he is simply being himself. Since what he is being is utterly adorable, there's no problem!

Maybe Kirby's quiet internal amusement is all an act. It is nevertheless singularly refreshing to watch--and often downright hilarious.

Daughter of Time: Why it's a great book, Part II

Images from Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts: the face
on the right is a reconstruction based on the discovered skull.
So Tey is probably wrong about who killed the princes. The aspect of her writing that sends professional historians into teeth-grinding pomposity is that she does miss context. Grant and Brent argue from a limited knowledge of the time-period and they isolate information--the princes' mother came out of sanctuary!--rather than placing action and reaction into a larger frame. Consequently, they miss the obvious: just because Richard didn't kill the princes at a particular time and place for a particular reason using a particular person doesn't mean he didn't kill them at a later time and place himself.

They don't even wonder if the princes simply died (because what kind of murder mystery would that be?!).

Nevertheless, Tey's book deserves accolades--not to say gratitude--for its lessons in historical research. Grant and even Brent may be amateurs, but they are amateurs who have grasped several basic principles of researching history, principles that non-amateur historians would do well to remember:
1. History tends to get reduced to memorable stories--this is normal, not evil.
2. Eyewitnesses don't always tell the truth.
3. Virtuous people may tell the truth; that doesn't mean the truth they tell is accurate.
4. Good historical research reveals its sources.
5. Contemporary judgments--such as sticking historical personages into pigeon holes--are not all that useful.
6. True history did happen; it is just terribly difficult to prove. 
What makes Tey's approach all that more fantastic is that Tey turned out to be sort of right . . . about Richard's position in history, that is.

The parking lot--the dig is about to begin!
Recently, Richard III's body was discovered underneath a parking lot in Leicester. Turns out, he wasn't dumped in a river, lost to us forever as that evil hunchback who didn't deserve a proper, kingly burial. I highly recommend the book of the find: Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts. As Pitts makes clear, it was a scientific, archaeological find; when the skeleton was removed from its grave, it was not yet identified definitively as Richard III. It could be Richard III (it was--as the curved spine clearly indicates); it could also be an unknown male of the period.

However, a representative of the Richard III Society--of whom Tey would have been a proud member--wanted the skeleton removed with some dignity, as benefiting a revered-by-some, long-dead king.
"And so," Pitts writes, "late on a Wednesday afternoon in September, the remains of a then anonymous and undated man were carried across a car park in Leicester in a recycled cardboard box, draped with the flag of late medieval English royalty, and laid on the floor through the side door of a small white Citroen van."
There is something so charming and quirky and . . . oh, I'll say it . . . English about the whole thing, it brings a tear to the eye.

And lest anyone forget, the Richard III Society was largely instrumental in getting the dig started, continued, and accomplished in the first (and last) place.

So Tey's passion and the passion of those who have agreed with her over the years paid off.

Isn't that better than being stuffy and annoyed at her? As Mike Pitts writes about Daughter of Time, "[The book] is a warning to read evidence critically and not to accept blindly all you are told."


Tey should have the final word. At the end of his investigation, Grant returns the schoolbooks to the nurse who lent them:
 "We'll miss you, you know," she said. "We've grown used to having you here. We've even got used to that." And she moved her elbow in the direction of the portrait.
 A thought stirred in him.
 "Will you do something for me?" he asked.
 "Of course. Anything I can do."
 "Will you take that portrait to the window and look at it in a good light as long as it takes to count a pulse?"
 "Yes, of course, if you want me to. But why?"
 "Never mind why. You just do it to please me. I'll time you."
 She took up the portrait and moved into the light of the window. He watched the second-hand of his watch.
 He gave her forty-five seconds and then said: "Well?" And as there was no immediate answer, he said again: "Well?"
 "Funny," she said. "When you look at it for a little, it's really quite a nice face, isn't it?"

Daughter of Time: Who (or What) Killed the Princes, Part I

The Princes in the Tower by Millais
Why did everybody want the princes dead?

The problem was the princes may or may not have been illegitimate. Richard III would want them to be illegitimate (and they were declared so while he was acting as regent) since that enabled Richard to become king, a healthier state of affairs, generally-speaking, than a regency (child kings cause lots of problems).

Since the illegitimacy was a matter of law, not absolute proof, the princes alive would still have found supporters among potential rebels. In fact, Anastasia-like claimants did crop up throughout Henry VII and Henry VIII's reigns. A fundamental attribute of the medieval English and British throne is that every politically-minded (i.e. crazy) person wanted it. Not only did Henry VII and VIII deal with Edward V wannabes, they also dealt with Richard de la Poole who made a claim for the throne based on a rather haphazard family line--though no more haphazard than Henry VII's really. Richard de la Poole's dad is circled on the family tree below. (I guess Game of Thrones is more accurate than anyone realizes!)

Henry VII would have wanted the princes dead since he repealed the act that made them illegitimate, so he could marry their sister, yet he certainly would not have wanted them around. Whether or not Henry VII believed the princes were dead in 1483 (when he began invasion proceedings), he would have (1) invaded anyway (oh come on, does anyone really believe otherwise?) and (2) never shared a throne, even as regent, with a dispossessed 13-year-old.

Tey argues that Henry VII had the stronger motive for wanting the princes out of the way, and she has a point, especially from a mystery point of view. Unfortunately, her argument doesn't take into account fear and self-protection. Richard III and his cohorts had good reason to be sick to the eyeteeth with the whole War of the Roses. If a couple of dead princes would help it end faster, well, okay then. (For problems with this argument, see My Theory below.)

The main problem with Henry VII as the guilty party is the time frame. The princes seem to disappear from the historical record in 1483. This means something but not much since historical records are not infallible. Richard III became king that summer. Henry VII began invasion proceedings . . . before that point really but actively in Christmas 1483. The invasion took place the summer of 1485. Henry VII was crowned in October 1485.

If the princes were still alive, surely someone would have removed them from the Tower as soon as Richard's death at Bosworth was reported! (The princes' maternal relations may have wanted Henry VII to save the princes; no one with half a brain would trust Henry VII with the princes.) I am aware that some romantics hope that this did, in fact, happen. My personal assessment is that there is simply not enough evidence to trek down that path.

Anastasia-like claimants of the time believed otherwise! Faced with impostors claiming to be Edward V, Henry VII did eventually argue that the princes were too murdered, so there, nah, nah, nah.

My Theory

It's boring but from an Occam's razor point of view, it makes a tremendous amount of sense:

The princes died in 1483 from illness. Richard covered it up. Henry VII lied his pants off.

The death of Eustace, heir
of King Stephen (above) at 23,
helped end years of civil war.
Infant and teen deaths happened all the time in the medieval era. Richard III lost his heir when the child was 6. Elizabeth of York lost two out of six children in infancy and died giving birth to another child, who also died. Henry VII's first heir, Prince Alfred, died at 15, leaving Alfred's wife Catherine a widow. Edward VI died at age 15. James I's heir, Prince Henry died at 18 and Henry's sister, Princess Elizabeth, at 16.

The list goes on.

Death by illness explains why both Richard III and Henry VII would pretend otherwise. From no sane political perspective could Richard III inform the entire world that his two nephews, both in his charge, were dead, not when France was making noises about invading. Henry VII, with French help, invaded anyway; the princes' officially proclaimed deaths would only have stirred the flames of possible rebellion among Richard's own people.

Death by illness would explain why Henry VII reacted as he did--he invaded on his own behalf and for Elizabeth, not the princes. He may have suspected the princes were dead; he had no way of really knowing until he arrived in London. If he arrived and found dead bodies with no obvious external cause (blow to the head, etc.), he would do . . . exactly what he did do: have Parliament repeal and censor Titulus Regius, the act that declared the princes illegitimate and made Richard III king.

If there had been an obvious cause of death, such as murder, Henry VII would have executed someone. That's the way his mind worked (Henry VII executed Tyrrell--the supposed murderer--for supporting one of the de la Pooles; Sir Thomas More made up the stuff about Tyrrell murdering the princes after Tyrrell was dead; as Tey points out, this doesn't really make sense, likely because the murder never happened at all!).

Faced with no way to make the princes' deaths helpful to himself, Henry VII swept everything under the rug. He not only didn't want the act, Titulus Regius, to exist; he didn't want any reminders of what the act said. He wanted the princes to disappear as if they had never been.

The princes dying by illness explains in addition why their mother rejoined the court under Richard III. She may have detested him, but her unmotherly behavior--so exclaimed at by Grant--would have been a non-issue if she had seen the dead bodies and/or had confirmation from their physician of their deaths. Even if she merely suspected what had happened and wanted confirmation, her worries wouldn't have stopped her from playing politics.

Blackadder is annoyed when the queen pardons people
he has already executed. Royalty has a tendency to
change its mind!
The princes dying from illness isn't a glamorous explanation. It wouldn't serve as fodder for a play. It doesn't satisfy either the Richardians or, oddly enough, the Henry VII-ists, who blame ANY defense of Richard on "amateurism" (patronizing dopes).

Nevertheless, it makes a great deal of sense. And it creates a true human tragedy. Imagine you're Richard--you've just become king, your kingdom is reasonably stable, you have enemies but you also have supporters, France is making threats but eh, when does it not?

In addition, you've got your biggest threat, two nephews, locked up in comfort. No one can accuse you of being a bad uncle; people have seen them playing on the Tower grounds.

And then they die. Overnight. Suddenly. You stand there in the tower looking at their dead bodies and you know if you aren't stupid (and Richard wasn't stupid), "It's all over. There's no way around this. It's the ultimate rallying cry. Even if I bury them literally and figuratively, their disappearance will make matters as they currently stand worse."

And doesn't this explanation also say something about the randomness of nature and the plans of powerful people? All the plans in the world . . . you can't stop Mount St. Helen's from erupting; the rats still arrive in Europe loaded with fleas, and somebody still burns London to the ground by accident.

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Part II will discuss Daughter of Time, the novel, overall.

Daughter of Time: Research & History: Claims 11 & 12

Ingrid Bergman as Anastasia being accepted
by the Dowager Empress. In real life, none
of the remaining Romanovs ever accepted
a self-proclaimed Anastasia.
While researching what truly happened regarding the princes in the tower, Grant (and Brent) postulate several scenarios. Although I am not qualified to judge the truthfulness of their scenarios, I can comment on several of the claims accompanying the scenarios.

Claim 11: If Richard had killed his  nephews, he would have published accounts of their deaths. After all, there is no point in having dead heirs if other people will claim they are still alive.

Consider Grand Duchess Anastasia. (And yes, the infamous impostor Anna Anderson was nuts. Added to which, in-depth forensic analysis of the assassinations of Czar Nicholas and his family indicate clearly that no one got out of that cellar alive.)

I think Grant and Brent have a point but miss out on context: according to one theory, Richard or one of Richard's cohorts reportedly ordered the boys killed on the eve of invasion as a kind of fail-safe. If this theory is correct, the deaths weren't thought through (and possibly not even approved); there certainly wouldn't be time to concoct, publish, and broadcast an official account.

Even if the boys died naturally (which I consider possible), I suspect that presenting the boys' dead bodies to the populace as fever victims would have been risky in the extreme. Richard had JUST taken the throne (he ascended to the throne in summer 1483 and was killed in battle in summer 1485). Having 2 "sweet" boys killed off on the eve of his royal triumph would hardly have made Richard look good (Henry VII and VIII would wait for their victims to hit adulthood before discovering excuses to order executions--how much difference a few years make!).

Claim 12 is one of Tey's sillier claims (yes, she does have them). The boys reportedly disappeared from view in 1483. (They were being kept under close guard in the Tower.) Their mother, Edward IV's wife, and her daughters returned to court. This is admittedly a bit odd. But Grant's deduction is still odder:
"Where would one have to go to meet a woman who became matey with the murderer of her two boys?" he exclaims, the implication of his indignation being that members of the royal family would never put their well-being above their children's. 
"How would you play her?" he later asks his girlfriend, Marta (an actress). "The woman who came out of sanctuary and made friends with her children's murderer for seven hundred marks per annum and the right to go to parties at the Palace." 
Grant makes at least two mistakes here: (1) he assumes that the prince's deaths correspond to their disappearance from the historical record.

Granted, Grant is making the same assumption as the historians he criticizes--all the more reason Grant should know better! The princes may have been killed in 1483; they may have been killed in 1485. Nobody really knows.

(2) Grant applies his own appraisal of how women should behave in 1950 to a medieval queen in the 1480s.

I'm guessing that Tey's interest in Richard was a limited--though fascinating--foray into history. Speaking historically, many royal mothers have shown less than maternal feelings (occasionally, too much). James VI of Scotland and I of England, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, never even knew his mother and made little effort to avenge her execution by Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Caroline, married to George II, had a less than satisfactory relationship with her son, Prince Frederick, who produced George III. Queen Victoria had strained relationships with several of her children, including the prince regent.

Before becoming queen, Elizabeth I did
everything in her power to placate a sister who 
feared her and a father who contrived the
execution of her mother: survival trumped all.
There are no murders here (in fairness to Grant, English queens showed far more loyalty to their children than to their husbands). However, the assumption that a royal mother will always act in the best interest of her child strains credulity. Consider that Jane Seymour's mother handed over her daughter to a man (Henry VIII) with a bad marriage record without apparently batting an eye.

In defense of Tey as a writer, I must add that Grant is reacting in character. He is a very smart guy with a blind spot, that blind spot being women in general (though not specifically). He understands his housekeeper and his girlfriend. That's about it. Otherwise, he seems to adopt the usual attitudes of a British man of his time (1950s). He fails to recognize that even if Elizabeth Woodville (mother of the princes) wasn't so blackhearted as to condone her sons' murders, she might be cunning enough to placate the king holding them captive. Plus, she has other children to worry about. When Grant later discusses Elizabeth of York, who married Henry VII, the man Grant does think murdered the princes (Elizabeth's brothers), he assigns her willingness to marry a monster to survival instinct.

So if Grant can accept that Elizabeth of York acted out of instinctive self-protection, why not accept that her mother might have acted out of the same motivation? 

Tey has made the same mistake here that, unfortunately, many historians make in reverse. Because Tey likes Richard and loathes Henry VII, she--through Grant--maintains that a good woman would have no practical reason to fear Richard but loads of practical reasons to fear Henry. Of course, Tey never saw an episode of Big Brother (he who holds the purse strings . . . )

I have no doubt that Henry would have killed the boys if they were alive when he took over the Tower. I also find it plausible that the boys were killed under Richard's aegis.

More to follow . . .

The Good-Hearted Character: No Angst, Lots of Lovableness

Bingley played to perfection by
Crispin Bonham-Carter
Every series needs a Bingley--that nice guy who doesn't pretend to be anything but nice and actually is.

About Bingley, I wrote the following notes to A Man of Few Words:
One of the nicer things about Bingley is how completely confident and content he is with himself. Bingley can brag about writing letters quickly, and Darcy can question, "What is laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone?" and Bingley can laugh and change the subject: "I assure you, that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference." There's no snideness in that last remark, by the way. Bingley is the ultimate guileless man. For a worrier like Darcy, a friend like Bingley is enormously relaxing.
These guileless sweethearts are great characters! They are rarely the leads (Nathan Fillion as Mal and as Castle comes closest, but even those characters have their dark sides). Yet, without them, any series would be less enchanting.

Here are a few of my favorites:
Wojciehowicz: You spell it the way it sounds.

Wojciehowicz from Barney Miller: Wojo, excellently played by Max Gail, is honest to a fault, good-natured (most of the time), faintly hero-worshipping of Barney, and the quintessential "what you see is what you get" type of guy. Interestingly enough, the writers use Wojo's so-called simplicity to create decent conflict. It isn't only that Wojo creates conflict by his guileless acts (regarding a Russian seeking asylum: "I gave it to him!"). He also questions (and forces others to question) why the nice (if unthinking) act he did was so wrong!

Goober from The Andy Griffith Show, played by George Lindsey. Goober is Gomer's cousin. I prefer Goober. Gomer was . . . a guy who went on to have his own show. Too much of a particular shtick. Goober, on the other hand, is sweet, innocent, and fundamentally kind. One of my favorite episodes is "A Girl for Goober" where Goober fills out a questionnaire for a computer dating services (yup, they existed before the Internet!). Of course, he answers all the questions inaccurately, stating that he reads "30 books" a month since, after all, he reads "30 comic books" (hey, I would count them!) and that he enjoys "painting" because he is paints fences and barn doors. He ends up with a lady doctor (Ph.D.) who decides, what do you know, it's nice to be with someone nice!
A hilarious trio: Jerry Van Dyke 
really came into his own with Coach.

Dauber from Coach, played by Bill Fagerbakke. Dauber is Coach Fox's perpetual student assistant (he does graduate in Season 3). Dauber leads a wholly comprehensible life--he has been a student so long because he takes courses that are close to home or to the cafeteria: why walk any farther?! This means that Dauber has taken A LOT of courses unrelated to his major. He's a Renaissance Man! He is also utterly lovable with a strong sense of chivalry. This is all the more endearing since Bill Fagerbakke at 6'6" towers over the already tall Craig T. Nelson.

Narrative and the Problem of Hero-Worshipping

I recently watched The Missiles of October, a fictionalized docudrama that I've seen several times, and Thirteen Days, which I have now seen twice. Both tell the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, mostly from the point of view of the Kennedy Administration.

Whatever one thinks of the Kennedys, and who doesn't, The Missiles of October is far better in terms of writing than Thirteen Days. This is disappointing since Thirteen Days makes interesting choices regarding point of view; however, it largely undermines itself by its hero-worshipping attitudes.

The Kennedys are the main protagonists of The Missiles of October. William Devane plays Jack while Martin Sheen plays Bobby. William Devane specifically creates a powerhouse role--the tough, stern, no-nonsense president who plays fair, looks at all the options, and makes the tough calls. I can't say whether that's what really happened. I can say that Devane sells the part.

The main protagonist of Thirteen Days is not the president but his special assistant Kenny O'Connell played by Kevin Costner. The movie is told almost entirely from his perspective, a fascinating idea and one that I am (generally speaking) quite partial to (I've always enjoyed Star Trek episodes that are told from a peon's perspective).

Unfortunately, although Costner sells his part as far as it goes, he presents O'Connell not as an objective outsider but as a worshipping member of a boy's club. The Kennedys are SOOOO cool and awesome and smart and, well, cool. He is SOOOO lucky to be part of their coterie. They are SOOOO amazing.

If this was done critically or, even, ironically, it would be sad yet interesting. Unfortunately, it is done with utter seriousness. As a viewer, I am supposed to believe--without question--that these guys (Jack and Bobby) were American saviors.

And maybe it would work--except the audience never sees what O'Connell supposedly sees! Since O'Connell is the hero of the movie, he has to do heroic things, which means he spends more time telling the Kennedy characters that they are awesome as well as shoring up their confidence than actually witnessing their awesomeness.

Steven Culp as Bobby Kennedy
The problem is not the actors. Bruce Greenwood plays Jack and Steven Culp, one of my all-time favorite actors, plays Bobby. To be frank, Devane and Sheen are better, but still, the problem is in the script, not the performances. By the end of the movie, if I didn't know better, I'd think Kenny O'Connell single-handedly prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from escalating into World War III.

I think Kevin Costner, who was one of Thirteen Days' producers, found himself in a bind. He wanted the movie to be about his character; he wanted the movie to be about the Kennedys. And he might have been able to pull off both--if hero-worshipping had been excised from the picture. A narrative that tries to tell you how great characters are rather than showing you how they grow and struggle often ends up staggering under the weight of adulation--or lack of evidence.

Latest Publication: Lord Simon: The Dispossesion of Hannah

My third novella in The Roesia Chronicles, Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah--is now available FREE on Amazon!

Here is the blurb:
Years before encountering the St. Clair family (as both a scourge and a blessing), the mysterious magician Lord Simon used his considerable (but untested) powers to save a woman under assault. As a result, he bespelled her into the walls of his house, where she remains. Trapped. Driven obsessively to free her, Simon consorts with grave robbers and physicians, politicians and priests, twisting the arms of the powerful and the profane in any profession. As his reputation blackens and his house crumbles, his obsession to save a woman long thought long dead may drive him mad. The third installment in the "Roesia" series, Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah encompasses the events in Richard: The Ethics of Affection and Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation.
Lord Simon is the first saga I have written. It starts when the titular character is twenty-three and ends--I won't tell you when . . . Suffice it to say that this was the most daunting writing task I've taken on and to date, one of the most rewarding. As his character emerged in the other two books, I knew I had to give Simon his own story, and *whew* I have!

Enormous thanks to Eugene for editing the entire trilogy, designing the covers, including the awesome one above, and setting up Lord Simon on Amazon.

Daughter of Time: Research & History, Claims 9 & 10

At this point, Chapter 8 in Daughter of Time, Grant and his researcher Brent begin to debate what actually happened when Edward IV died and Richard III took over. Was it a planned coup? Was Richard, as regent, as surprised as everyone else when Edward IV's sons, including the next king, were declared illegitimate? 

I am not qualified to debate these points. It would entail far more research--likely at the British Museum, like Brent, if anyone wants to pay my way--than I have time for. In any case, my posts address Tey's claims about research. I am not totally invested in Tey being right about Richard (partly because I'm not sure that she is).

What I am qualified to discuss are Brent's claims:

Claim 9: Taught history can be wrong/ misleading.

Although this smacks of the cynicism that I deplore, Brent has a point. He uses the Boston Massacre as an example:
The total casualties were four. I was brought up on the Boston Massacre, Mr. Grant. My twenty-eight inch chest used to swell at the very memory of it. My good red spinach-laden blood used to seethe at the thought of helpless civilians mowed down by the fire of British troops. You can't imagine what a shock it was to find that all it added up to in actual fact was a brawl that wouldn't get more than local reporting in a clash between police and strikers in any American lock-out . . . That's partly why I like to research so much.
Brent is being a trifle dismissive. The point of the Boston Massacre is that it offered a great rallying point for disenchanted colonists. What I've always found far more fascinating than the numbers is that the soldiers involved were defended, in part, by colonial lawyers! John Adams and Josiah Quincy II helped acquit 6 out of the 8 British soldiers. That degree of objectivity (John Adams was already a declared Patriot) impresses me no end.

The important aspect of Brent's self-revelation re: the Boston Massacre is that it leads him to Claim 10: Truth isn't in accounts but in account books.
 "A neat phrase," Grant said, complimentary. "Does it mean anything?"
 "It means everything. The real history is written in forms not meant as history. In Wardrobe accounts, in Privy Purse expenses, in personal letters, in estate books. If someone, say, insists that Lady Whoosit never had a child, and you find in the account book the entry: 'For the son born to my lady on Michaelmas eve: five yards of blue ribbon, fourpence halfpenny' it's a reasonably fair deduction that my lady had a son on Michaelmas eve."
Brent is discussing primary research. He makes a mistake (common to students) in that he assumes that primary research doesn't lie; on my semester research test, I ask, "Is a primary source automatically more credible than a secondary source?" Over half my students get the question wrong by answering, "Yes." But a drunk as eyewitness is far less credible than the CSU investigators who came in after the fact.

Richard Evans
HOWEVER, Brent has hit on the fundamental reality of all good research: if you want to know the truth, you have to check the sources. In the David Irving libel trial (libel suit brought by Irving), the vastly irritated Richard Evans was able to damningly show that Irving consistently misused original source material in defense of German Nazism. Evans was able to do this because he is an expert in these same materials, because he read all of Irving's works, because he could show that Irving spoke and read German exceedingly well (it wasn't a "mistake" that Irving misused the material) but mostly because Evans and his grad students actually checked Irving's footnotes, something that other reviewers of Irving had often failed to do.

Judith Rich Harris
The fact is, scholars usually fail to check footnotes since it is incredibly time-consuming. Those who do are rarely thanked for the effort. In No Two Alike, Judith Rich Harris writes about how an amateur historian challenged popular sociologist Sulloway on his theories about birth order (oldest children support the status quo; youngest children are rebels, etc.). Sulloway was completely offended that an amateur would point out the flaws in his arguments (a detailed description of the controversy, including Sulloway's petulant reaction to being challenged, can be found here: "Science, Sulloway and Birth Order: An Ordeal and an Assessment.")  But all the amateur historian did was actually check Sulloway's research. Sulloway made the elementary mistake of reasoning backwards: since I've decided that all oldest children support the status quo and all youngest children are rebels, this figure from history must have been . . . One of my students writing on birth order made the same mistake and got a number of basic facts about the birth order of major historical figures, including Hitler, wrong.

The fact is, birth order theorizing, while not quite as bad as astrology, is not all that dependable since so many things affect how children behave (a youngest child who has an early growth spurt will often assume a leadership role on the playground, which will ultimately have greater effect on the child than the home environment, etc.). As Judith Rich Harris states, " Getting research mentioned in a newspaper or magazine article is far more difficult than getting it accepted by a journal. I'll bet you've never seen a newspaper article with the headline STUDY FINDS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FIRSTBORNS AND LATERBORNS. And yet there have no doubt been thousands of such studies."

In other words, sometimes following things back to their original source will prove nothing. As Brain Games points out, we are conditioned to make comparisons and find differences even when there are none.

Which is why both Brent and Grant are very brave to take on primary research. It is a daunting task! 

Talking About Politics: The 6 Reasons It Stinks

Over the years, I've started to listen not only to what people say but to how they say it. I've consequently come to the conclusion that most political talk sounds the same (with occasional exceptions).

Political talk--specifically the political talk associated with what I call "crisis media" ("The sky is falling! You must vote for or against this policy, person, law, etc. immediately!")--has six traits:

1. It employs "us" versus "them" terminology.

2. It employs "us" versus "them" terminology at a remove.

Consequently, THEY are always intolerant while WE are not. This trait explains why the liberals in my master's program could say, with no irony, "I'm so glad we are more tolerant than those people." "Us" versus "them" at a remove is the same reason why a discussion about humility so often devolves into a discussion of how other (hypocritical) people should be more humble--certainly not me!

3. It employs labels (and the labels are pointless).

Saying, "Those people are power-hungry" or "those people are greedy" is meaningless. Nobody alive is actually greedy; rather, people behave in greedy ways for a variety of reasons.

Take Charles Dickens: one literary theory is that Dickens wrote the character Scrooge to mirror himself. Dickens was obsessed with money and ultimately worked himself to death. Saying, "He was greedy" is far less revealing than realizing that Dickens was haunted his entire life by the memory of his father in debtor's prison.

Likewise, in the great movie A Woman's World, the Fred MacMurray character is working himself to death (ulcers, heart palpitations) much to the dismay of his wife, excellently played by Lauren Bacall, because unlike the other candidates for CEO, he made his way to the top from the factory floor, not through a college degree. He is driven to never looked back, never give up, never stop.

Both far, far, far more interesting explanations than any amount of labeling.

4. Politicized talk is myopic. 

The tunnel-vision of politicized talk has nothing to do with how much a person reads on the web or, for that matter, how many pundits the person listens to since the how of the talk is about personal investment, not balance: THIS LAW, THIS PARTY, THIS EVENT MATTERS NOW. IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING!

Climbing on bandwagons is usually the result of this type of thinking. Writing about the Supreme Court's decision in 1989 on burning American flags, P.J. O'Rourke remarks in All the Trouble in the World, "I don't remember what my opinion was at the time but I remember that I had a strong one."

Time changes so much!

5. Unfortunately, those who indulge in politicized talk often also indulge in the "Chicken Little" syndrome. 

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

What is bizarre about this to me is how seldom anyone remembers their own history. I was told that the sky was falling when I was growing up in the 80's at the end of the Cold War. The Day After came out on television in 1983 and Red Dawn (remember: Russians invade Colorado) came out in theaters in 1984; nuclear power was being protested all over the place, and many of my friends believed (or claimed to believe) that the Soviet Union could blow us up at any minute ("I'm going to sleep with my boyfriend before we all die!").

Bunkers and food storage were also big.

Of course, at the end of Henny Penny (variation on
Chicken Little), the wolf eats the folks on
Henny Penny's bandwagon, so the end did come.
Hmmm, self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?
Since my parents were the kind of people who would have expected me to go to school and get good grades even IF bombs were falling ("Yes, I see the mushroom cloud, honey. So how did you do on your algebra test?") and since I was blessed even as a teenage with a skeptical (not, I like to think, cynical) mindset that acts in accordance with Newton's Laws of Motions ("But I don't see any Russians and I'd much rather continue to spend my time thinking about something else."), I never bothered to climb onto the "we're about to be bombed" bandwagon.

Turns out, the Soviets' nuclear weapons were in such bad shape that they would have blown themselves up first.

That's just my own history. A few years ago, one of my students asked me, "Do you think North Korea [which was making belligerent noises] is going to start a war?"

"No," I said and mentioned the Cold War. I then mentioned the Cuban Missile Crisis and Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the U.N.  I wasn't alive during the latter two; still, I read history, and--

"All this sound and fury has happened before," I said.

The student was disappointed and assured me that WWIII was going to occur at any moment (I still went home and corrected papers that night; a cataclysmic event has yet to save me from having to take a test, attend an interview, go to work, or finish my grades.)

The student's disappointment leads to #6.

6. Politicized talk demands that others get upset and offended. 

Note: Acting upset is more important in politicized talk than doing anything. After all, one can do something without acting upset. But politicized talk always demands an audience.

I've mentioned in other posts that one thing that has kept my integrity intact over the years is that I read what I want, not what I'm supposed to read and/or value. I think there is a relationship here to ignoring politicized talk. In high school, I had friends who read teen paperbacks ("Will Caroline marry Dan?") and friends who read "heavier" stuff. Reading the "heavier" stuff was supposedly more enlightening, fulfilling, and insightful. But there was no notable difference between the behavior of the two groups. And I never could fathom why reading something that I found rather dull was supposed to lend me instant prestige or intellectual stature.

Along the same lines, if I'd wanted to join the "thoughtful teenagers who show awareness of contemporary issues!" brigand, getting worked up about an impending nuclear war would have been the way to go. But teenagers, even supposedly aware ones, aren't that thoughtful, having a tendency to reduce complex issues and motivations to "if only somebody would simply do X!" scenarios (arguably necessary in some cases;  Joan of Arc never would have gotten anywhere if she hadn't been a teen!). Some adults never grow out of this tendency.

In the end, borrowing the book (hey, I wanted to find out if Caroline chose that guy or not), finding out the answer, discussing it with my friends, then tracking down the book years later through Amazon to indulge in some misty-eyed nostalgia proved more satisfying and useful to the universe than a thousand hours of hand-wringing about an "crisis" that never took place.

Good Manga Art: Three Criteria

From Mars by Fuyumi Soryo

Granted, what makes good art is somewhat subjective (though not entirely: whether or not I like Picasso may be subjective; Michelangelo's David is great art). However, I have noticed certain criteria popping up again and again in my summer manga reading, namely three:

1. Good manga art gets the proportions right WHEN REQUIRED.

A great many manga artists use political cartoon type exaggerations (Obama's big ears; Clinton's bulbous nose, for instance).  Some artists employ a fantastical look, lots of flowing lines reminiscent of Arthur Rackham. And a number give us the muscular superman look of Arnold Friburg.

You will see the type I prefer by the manga examples I post.

The important point is that whatever the style, the proportions are accurate to that style. Every now and again, while reading a manga, I find myself doing the same thing I do when I watch Golden Girls, and I start fretting about the fact that there is really no way the outside of the house matches the inside.

I've been reading manga where I've suddenly yelled, "Look, most people's fingers fall below the middle of their thighs. NOBODY'S ARMS LOOK LIKE THAT WHAT YOU'VE DRAWN! Have you never heard of the Golden Ratio!?"

2. Better than usual manga captures motion. 

This is actually terrifically difficult to do--consequently, much manga falls into two categories (1) beautiful "pauses"; (2) motion.

Those who employ motion, such as the skilled Matoh, will often produce mixed work within a single manga. Compare the three pictures to the left. The one in the middle is off. The other two are beyond excellent. (Matoh does proportional motion better than any manga artist I've encountered.)

Those who employ the pause technique can produce lovely and heartrending stuff. Fuyumi Soryo of Mars and Eternal Sabbath creates stunningly beautiful images (see opening image above.) Although the pieces are more set, they do signal a sense of immediacy: a camera still rather than an oil painting.

The difficulty of manga art is that it needs to be more like the first rather than the second, no matter what art class tells you.
"L" from Death Note

And then there's Takeshi Obata of Death Note who occupies a category all of his own.

3. The manga art conveys emotion.

This is the most important criteria.

Yana Toboso of Black Butler effortlessly captures Sebastian's uncertainty (which is NEVER vocalized in the first volumes: he is a devil after all). Sebastian's outsized confidence is captured best in the cover art below.

Soryo captures young male insouciance at its most quintessential (see above).

Obata captures "L"'s confidence yet concern (see above).

And Matoh delivers a sense of fatigue (to the right) and would even without the thought bubble!

 Like Maximus from Tangled, a  well-drawn manga character can look deadpan or excited, sad or happy, and even exasperated! 

A picture in manga doesn't convey a thousand words--it conveys a thousand states of mind.