A little tidbit.

Today is a better day – for writing, at least.  Tomorrow I may actually have time for a real post, if things aren’t as crazy at work.  Here’s a sampling of the good stuff:

“Why do you keep walking around behind me?”  Jim said over his shoulder to me.
“I’m trying to keep you between me and the squirrels.  Those things are dangerous.”
He snorted.  “That great for you, but I’m hardly much of a defense.”
“Well every little bit helps.”
“You know, I was thinking about squirrels the other day – how they get overfed and have relatively sedentary lives.  Does their health suffer, or do they live to a ripe old age?  And what happens when they die?  You never see a dead squirrel body.”
“Well, I’m not sure about the death issue, but they seem reasonably healthy.  Maybe bigger, but still they’re quick on their feet.”
“I suppose competition for resources still applies.  You have to deal with people and other dangers -”
“Like lawnmowers.  I mean, look at their chewed-up tails.”
“Yes lawnmowers.  But yeah, there are still dangers.  I think the tail thing is genetics though.”
“Really?  I thought it was situation.”
“Well either way, do you really need a big bushy tail if you aren’t in trees that much?”
“I guess not.  About the dead squirrel issue though – don’t the groundspeople pick them up?”
“I don’t see why.  They don’t do leaves.  But maybe dead squirrels are considered ‘trash’ rather than ‘yard waste’.”
“I did see a dead squirrel once though, down by the river.  I think those things deliberately stretch out when they die.”  I could see all the pinkening viscera in my head still, the leafy tangle of matted fur and detritus.
“Down by the river?  What was it doing all the way down there?  No trees at all.”
“They’re city creatures now, almost fully adapted to urban life.  They go where the garbage goes.”

The Pirates of the Rhone

Perhaps because I was born in the Midwest, I have always been fascinated by the sea an those who live on or near it.  While I know, at some level, that the romance of pirates, buccaneers, whalers, and even fishermen is largely unwarranted, that a sea life is an ugly, harsh one, I am still attracted to it.  The idea of loneliness, the flat plane of water extending in all directions, the dullness of endless days under the sun broken only by the fear of storms, the gentle comforting rock of the waves at night and the deep inner sense of those who have no one to face but themselves on most days all intrigue me.  But perhaps it’s all perception, not reality.

But all of the stories I know of life at sea have a hidden, secret side.  There’s sunken treasure there, secrets and lost lives and a tangle of the past we all sometimes try to escape.  There’s the wash of waves over land that once was shore, and the odd hollows of cliffs that are caves above water only half the time.  In this shallowness, this wash between land and sea, lies a great deal of our unknown past.  It is here that our origins lie largely unexplored.  It is here that we will find the truth of the first Americans, of the wars of ancient cities, of who we were and the way we lived in the past.

Yet there are those who remain amazed at what we discover in the newer field of underwater archeology.  There are those still surprised at the wonders that lurked offshore at Alexandria, or at the damp caves of Lescaux, or at the new finds in the Rhone near Arles.  For myself, I am more amazed at the comment by Michel L’Hour, who heads the Department of Subaquatic Archaeological Research, in that researchers are trying to determine “in what context these statues were thrown into the river”.  Hm.  I was unaware that we could tell someone intentionally threw them in just by the situation in which they were found.  But I don’t have all the details.  Perhaps the time period of the city was well-enough known that researchers are sure there wasn’t a flood or storm or battle or other natural or political disaster that would’ve led to the disbursement or abandonment of goods.  I suppose it could’ve been the famed Rhone river pirates, up to no good or about to be caught and dumping their loot.

The pillaging of children’s books

One of the weird movies that my sisters and i watched together (and my parents, my mom especially, were a little uncomfortable about ) was Toys. It’s a classic. What more can you say about a movie that takes a fantastical playground of a toy development company and uses it to say something about the relationship of children to war and the relationship of dreams and fantasy to marketability? But it got me thinking about toys generally – the lack of quality ones on the market that really let children imagine and the omnipresent need to sell more stuff.

This can most clearly be seen in the children’s book/movie/TV/merchandise-industrial complex. On the top ten list of highest grossing movies of all time (according to Wikipedia), three were what I would call children’s movies: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Shrek 2. Half were based on books – the two Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings 2 and 3, and Jurassic Park. These numbers are not adjusted for inflation and include only box office sales.

I couldn’t find accurate numbers on related merchandise sales, but maybe we’re not jeopardizing our children’s development by flooding them with movies and related goods. Maybe parents are still reading to their children instead of plonking them down in front of Finding Nemo again. Maybe they don’t have 20 different lunch boxes, each for a different six months of the newest kiddie movie craze. Or maybe we’re simply taking them to more adult films, like the Pirates of the Carribbean.

In order to get a better sense of the scope of the commercialization of children’s literature, I took a short survey of all the kiddo books Corina and I could think of with associated collections of merchandise. These are collections, mind you, not just one or two items but rather an entire marketing campaign. We also used only those examples that started as books. The list follows:

Winnie the Pooh, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Magic School Bus, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Peter Rabbit, If You Give Mouse A Cookie, Chronicles of Narnia, Golden Compass, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, Cordoury, Nancy Drew, Curious George, Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are, Berenstein Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog, American Girls Collection, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. There are probably more, but we were trying to be at least somewhat rigorous.

Now I love books, and I especially love children’s books. And yes, it’s nice to occasionally bring a little bit more of that imaginary world into your own life. I mean, I was ecstatic when JellyBelly did Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans – how else would I get to experience a true-to-life taste of earwax without the unhygienic method of a finger in my ear? But still, do we really have to tear apart stories that are formative for many of use just to turn a profit? Should we reduce the quality of our literary efforts for the young just to church out another hardback to sell? I just remain grateful that the Marsh wiggles and other characters of The Silver Chair will remain forever unmarketable.