Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Today I'm going to tell you about brownies! When you hear the word "brownie" what do you think of? Probably a luscious dense chocolaty cake-like rectangular prism, perhaps with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or drizzled with chocolate syrup. Well, that doesn't really have anything to do with literature, so that's not the kind of brownie I'm talking about.  If you think of little uniformed girls from the youngest division of Girl Scouts, then I'd say you were closer to today's topic. For a brownie is indeed a small person who does good, but they're not Girl Scouts.  Brownies are small people of folk lore who "adopt" a house and perform chores at night. In return the family puts out simple food for him, such as fresh milk, an oat cake, or a bowl of porridge on the hearth. The brownie usually stays hidden from site and although they are seldom seen they should never be taken for granted or angered, I repeat: NEVER. Their needs are so simple yet they are fussy creatures.  I heard a story where a man was boasting to a friend about how his brownie did everything for them and that he did not need to work any more and assumed that the brownie would always be at his service.  The brownie was so angered he left. Also, when a brownie is angered he turns into a bogart. The bogart will wreak havoc on the household before leaving the place and no longer serving that family.  As I said, their needs are simple: respect and food.
Any changes in the way you treat a brownie may result in his turning into a bogart or else his peaceful departure as a brownie. One book I read told that even changing the arrangement of his food may anger him into a bogart.
Even an extra act of kindness may send the brownie off in search of another household. Seeing the weather growing colder, a girl made some wool garments for Aiken-Drum (the brownie) and left it with his porridge.  He did not become a bogart, but he left the town because he had been paid with clothes. (This story is called, "The Brownie of Blednoch" and appears in "The Book of Elves and Fairies" from Dover Publications.)
Brownies live in Scotland, so unless they've immigrated, probably the only brownie doing chores around your house is your helpful girl scout. Also, if traveling in Scotland I'd be careful about talking about how delicious brownies are, or you might have some angry bogarts on your hands...
Well, I hope this has been an informative discussion on these over-looked but helpful little people and their evil side: the bogart.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lamenting the Bygone Days

I'm not the first to notice the strong similarities between The Lord of the Rings and The Wanderer.  The latter is a beautiful Old English poem.  The Lord of the Rings contains many poems and songs, and one of them has lines that are very close to those in The Wanderer.  Both use the ubi sunt motif, which basicially means, "where are?" and laments the passing of the days done by.
The beginning lines of these poems are quite close. The LOTR poem is a song of a race called the Rohirrim and begins, "Where now the horse and rider?" The section of The Wanderer that I am talking about is an imagined speech by a man looking back and begins, "Where has the horse gone? Where the young warrior?"
The structure of these poems is similar too. They both begin with "where are?" questions and move into a discussion of the passage of time: it flows of time and how everything is fleeting in the context of time.
The imagery is similar too, they seem like they could have both been written by Anglo-Saxons. Both conjure up images of the hall and war near the beginning and darkness and shadow near the end.  The wanderer asks, "What has become of the feasting seats? Where are the joys of the hall? Alas, the bright cup!" The Rohirrim song asks, "Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?" Although this does not directly indicate the hall, we know from reading the book that the Rohirrim kings did live in a hall and where simila. The "harpstring" could indicate a bard who would perform in the hall before an audience.  On the other hand, it could denote a smaller intimate setting.  For the war imagery, The Wanderer has, "Where the young warrior?" and "Alas, the mailed warrior!"  while LOTR asks, "Where the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?"
Both poems mention the flow of time, how time is fleeting, and that glory days are no more. "How that time has gone, vanished beneath night's cover, just as if it never has been!" says the wanderer.  "They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;" are the lines from LOTR. In fact these lines of the poems blend together easily and seem like they could be from the same poem!
When reading The Wanderer I am also reminded of "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" (Ballad of the women of yore) by Francois Villon.  He was a French poet of the 1500s and he asks where the great women of history have gone.  Like The Wanderer and the Rohirrim poem, the passage of time is highlighted and the glorious past lamented.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Aiding the Inevitable

"One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it" said Ooguay in the film Kung Fu Panda. This theme has been around for quite some time and I find it interesting that it is reiterated in this light-hearted movie.  After Ooguay has a vision that Tai Lung (an imprisoned enemy with vengeance on his mind) will return, his friend Shifu quickly sends a messenger duck to double the guards and enact extra precautions.  It is then Ooguay says his line, which turns out to be true in this story.  For, with a feather from the duck, Tai Lung picks the lock on his prison and escapes.  Thus, by trying to stop the inevitable, the inevitable happened.  Or was it inevitable?  The story begs the question, “If the duck had not gone to double the guard and lost a feather, would Tai Lung have escaped?”  These types of stories play with your mind. I often wonder, would it have happened if they had tried not to stop it, or would it have just happened another way?    Ooguay’s wise words nicely summarize the events of other stories I’ve read. In an ancient Irish tale, a man is told that the marriage of his daughter would bring about bloodshed in his household.  So he decides he will never let her marry.  However an Irish warrior falls in love with her and asks for her hand.  After her father’s refusal to give her to him in marriage, the warrior kidnaps her by force with the help of his warriors.  They had to fight the household retainers and left behind several rooms full of bloody corpses in order to make good their escape.  Thus the prophesy came true.  Just as in Kung Fu Panda, the story is ironic.  The reader puzzles over the thought that if the father had just let the man marry his daughter, then none of those people would have died.  Yet, maybe it would have just happened another way, if the father had said yes, then perhaps another suitor would have appeared at her wedding and started a fight then.  Anyhow, this is definitely a theme.  The events in both of these stories evoke the same questions. Another similar tale is summarized as follows:  a man was told he would meet Death in a certain city; by a strange turn of events plus his attempts to avoid Death, the prophesy came true and he met Death in the location foretold just the prophesy specified.  Again, the prophesy the character tries to escape comes to pass despite (or through) the attempt to escape it.