Friday, May 31, 2013

You Can't Always Trust the National Geographic

      It is true, you cannot always trust what you read in magazines, even a magazine like National Geographic. I was sitting at a tire place, getting a nail removed from one of my tires, and reading an old magazine because they featured an article on Greenland. In the article was a tidbit that caught my eye: the expression 'on the lam' comes from the Vikings because it is derived from their verb 'lemja'. Being the word-nerd that I am, I look it up as soon as I get home.
      Whoever authored this is wrong. The Oxford Dictionary states that it is of 20th century coinage and origins are unknown. It follows 'lam' in the dictionary which does mean 'thrash, hit with a stick ' from the ON lemja which means to 'beat so as to lame' but there is an asterisk in front of the colloquialism which makes it seem to follow the 'beating' word. A quick check at the Zoega Old Norse dictionary reveals that lemja means 'beating' and not 'fleeing' or 'running'. A good and knowledgeable proof reader would have caught that. I am offering my services. :-) (for a fee, of course)

Another quick look in the Brewer's Guide to Phrase and Fable for thoroughness adds nothing because the expression is not even listed, leading me to think 'on the lam' might be an Americanism.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dead Ever After (not spoiler free)

      The thirteenth and final book in the Southern Vampire Series, aka Sookie Stackhouse novels, has come out and reaction has not been great. Charlaine Harris has gotten death threats over her ending according to the CBC and several newspapers. It is a disappointing end to the saga but not unexpected.
When Sookie used her cluviel dor to save Sam rather than Eric, we all knew which way it was going to go.
     She said she was not ever going to do a Twilight and make Sookie a vampire and Eric was never going to be unmade as a vampire so eventually the relationship would have to end. It is her story to tell and I am fine with that except.....
     There is so little chemistry between Sam and Sookie. Sam is more of a comfortable older brother where Eric was always the exciting bad boy who was tameable and loyal. Of course making Eric stay in at nights and watch Survivor with Sookie would have caused him lose the qualities that made him so attractive to Sookie and Charlaine Harris. Harris is a much older woman who has seen something of life and who knows Sam is a sensible choice but she does not appear to find him as stimulating as Eric. Even the sex scene between Sam and Sookie lacks a certain intensity. In spite of that, she did the sensible thing and had Sookie settle down to a relationship with a nice guy who is likely to marry her.
      Other than that, the series had to come to an end. How many times can people and supernatural beings try to kill you before someone succeeds? Sookie had more lives than a cat. This story begins with a tale of revenge but the act for which vengeance is wanted seems a stretch. There is a twist at the end in which the real culprit is shown not to be the person one is lead to believe is the guilty party at the beginning of the book. The identity is revealed much like one pulls a rabbit out of a hat, with a bang and a flash.
     It reminded me of the final Harry Potter novel in that Harris seemed to have brought back everyone who was still alive for one last look. It is not 'literature' but Harris managed to keep it as fresh as she can with a story that she had wanted to end three books ago. If you can get past the change in Sookie's relationships with men, it is an enjoyable read.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Boston Bombing and Christopher Marlowe

      Everything is interconnected. The bombing of the Boston Marathon is connected to Christopher Marlowe in a surprising way: the name of one of the bombers, Tamerlan. It is also the name of a 14th century conqueror from Central Asia who aspired to be like Genghis Khan and called himself the Scourge of God like Attila the Hun. I myself was surprised to see Edgar Allen Poe connected to the name as well.
     The conqueror was Timur the Lame but his name has also been spelled Tamburlaine, Tamerlaine, Tamerlane (as Poe spelled it in a poem published in a book that was ironically not credited with Poe's name but "A Bostonian".) and Tamerlan (like the bomber in the Boston Marathon). Timur was a regional chief who eventually acquired an empire larger than Alexander's. He did what Alexander could not do: conquer Delhi. He accomplished this by sending flaming camels against the elephants. He was ruthless, i.e. he killed people, lots of them, age and gender did not matter, and was often very cruel in his methods of killing people, as anybody who calls himself the Scourge of God is likely to do. He seems to have been a devout Muslim but he preyed upon other Muslims as much as he preyed upon other people. He did declare jihad against Delhi and in his seventies against the infidel Chinese, mainly to raise the unwilling armies necessary for such a distant trek. He was born in the same part of the world as the bomber but on the other side of the Caspian Sea in modern day Uzbekistan.
      Christopher Marlowe wrote a play about Timur the Lame called "Tamburlaine the Great" in which he made the conqueror a shepherd who rose up to become master of his part of the world. Marlowe was probably making a statement against religion. He had Tamburlaine begin life as a shepherd, a veiled allusion to the role priests are supposed to take, and, in the attack on Babylon, has him burn the Koran as well as claim to be greater than God. The writing of this play got Marlowe killed.
      There was some political unrest in London at the time and some heretical and subversive bills posted about town, especially on the doors of Dutch Protestant churches, signed "Tamburlaine" which drew the attention of the crown. Then Walsingham and Queen Elizabeth wanted to know more about the play and suspected Marlowe of being behind the bills and an atheist. His room mate was tortured, with the usual confessions, and Marlowe was later stabbed in the head in a "bar fight". It was claimed that the man, who was a government spy, acted in self defence and that Marlowe had not been executed.
      I wonder if that part of the world has made a historical hero out of a man who was brutal murderer and did not deserve it. There are certain names one does not name one's children: Adolf springs to mind, Attila, is another, although odds are it was the guy's grandfather's name. It is a strange little name to have. While people are googling the bomber's name, surely links to the 14th century conqueror come up but nobody has commented in the news.