Sunday, December 28, 2014

What I'm Reading - Christmas Edition

I was  a good boy, so I got books for Christmas! Here's what I'll be tucking into over the next few weeks. Or months, or year. So many books, so little time . . . .

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the making of The Princess Bride Cary Elwes. This is one of my all-time favorite films, and the books is a bounty of funny and heartwarming tales about its production.

Hornblower and the "Hotspur" by C.S. Forester. From my boys. Hornblower is required reading for anyone who claims to like adventure stories. 

The Next 100 Years: a Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman.  My appreciation for STRATFOR is well known on this blog.

Raising Steam by Sir Terry Pratchett.  Another Discworld novel. Satire and Fantasy and outstanding storytelling.  Do yourself a favor, and read Pratchett's Discworld books. Really. Go get one right now.

And as if that wasn't enough, I've already got a few things on the bedside table to read:

Organizations, a Very Short Introduction by Mary Jo Hatch. One in OUP's Very Short Introduction series.

The Geopolitics of Israel and the Palestinians compiled by Stratfor.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from Deep in the Stacks!

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.  

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works. 
What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend. 

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.
Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. 

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker. 

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant¢s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Off the Cuff Movie Review - Sleeping Beauty

Over the weekend my wife went with friends to see Maleficent. She enjoyed it, but I'll let her write that OTC review. For our Sunday evening movie, she decided it's time to watch again her favorite of the Disney animated films, Sleeping Beauty.
This picture is copyrighted by Disney. Like they'll let you forget that.

The Plot

So just in case someone doesn't know the story-line here, I'll give a brief summary. The Good King and Queen are celebrating the birth of their first and only child, Aurora. They invite everybody in the neighborhood, except for Maleficent, who rules some undefined region known as the Forbidden Mountain. She shows up anyway, and uses this social snub as a reason to be Really Evil, cursing the child to die on her 16th birthday. This probably would mean, in-story, that she would never marry, and therefore, the King's line would come to an end - he's arranged Aurora's marriage to the heir of the kingdom next door, to keep the family line going. This goes beyond pettiness about manners, Maleficent is trying a political power grab.

Among the guests are these three fairies, and one of them offers her blessing to partially counter-act the curse, changing it from death to unending sleep. The fairies, attempting to side-step the curse altogether, take Aurora away and hide her and them in a remote cottage, disguising themselves as mortals to escape Maleficent's notice.

Fast forward fifteen years, 364 days where the plot proper begins. Aurora is All Grown Up but doesn't know who she really is. Prince Philip, traveling to the castle for what he assumes is his wedding to the Princess, meets Aurora in the woods, and with both of them ignorant of the other's identity, they fall in love.
Shortly thereafter, Aurora gets told who she is and that she's got to get to the castle to get married. Philip also heads to the castle, but plans to return to the cottage later to meet up with Aurora. Now, due to the fairie's bumbling, Maleficent finally discovers where Aurora is, and learns of her meeting with Philip. So, in an impressive stroke of villainy, she gets into the castle and puts Aurora under the curse, as promised, and captures Philip, whom she tosses in one of her dungeons.

The fairies help Philip escape, he fights his way to the castle, defeats Maleficent and rescues the Princess with True Love's First Kiss.  Dancing, singing and rejoicing follows.

My Thoughts

Right from the start this film reminds me of the 'cast of thousands' epic films from the 50's, which makes sense, as this one came out in 1959. Like many of those epics, SB is a sort of musical. Princess Aurora and Prince Philip have one on-screen duet, which also serves as their "falling in love" scene. There are a few other song sequences, but all by off-screen singers. The majority of the background music, by the way, if Tchaikovsky's ballet Sleeping Beauty. It only makes sense, and boy, does the music work.

Maleficent, clearly the film's antagonist,  deserves to be credited as one of the best animated Disney villains ever: she is not just self-centered (like Gaston) or greedy (like Edgar the Butler), or of petty cruelty (like Cruella DeVille) she is full-on Evil cuz she likes it that way. Her entrance at the start of the film is impressive and meant to intimidate (it does), her dialogue with the king sounds civilized but keeps that "I could go mad-ape crazy on you any second" vibe that threatens no matter what she's saying. Her plan for prince Philip is just heartbreakingly cruel; she blasts her own minions for being stupid and turns into a DRAGON to stop Philip at the climax.

The fairies, according to my wife, are the actual protagonists of this film. When it comes right to it, Aurora, the title character does pretty much nothing through the whole film.  Philip turns in probably the most old-school heroic performance by a Disney prince ever (who else in the Disney canon can claim the title Dragon Slayer?) but even he is really a secondary character to the fairies, who get far more dialogue and screen time. So I find it very interesting the way Disney portrays the fairies. They are not all-wise all-powerful demigods, it is a real struggle for them to carry on as mortals during their custodianship of Aurora. When one first suggests that they raise the child in secret, another objects that they don't know how to do such things, not without magic. The first responds "If humans can do it, so can we." The fairies are actually inferior to humans - they are limited by their magic.

Relations to other films

Tangled. Oh my goodness, Tangled. Philip's horse, Samson is clearly the inspiration for Maximus the horse, both in personality (Philip talks to him, and Samson responds) and in actually being useful to the plot - he never shies away from carrying Philip to his princess, no matter what crazy stuff Maleficent throws at them. Also in both Tangled and in Sleeping Beauty, the princess doesn't know she's a princess, grows up essentially alone in the forest, with only animal friends and her mother/aunt figures, with none of them being actual relations. Both fall in love with the first guy they meet, which happens on their first 'adult' birthday, and both are just naturally charming to both people and animals. Both princesses are separated from their parents soon after birth, but both are reunited by the film's end, after being rescued by the man they love.
A scene of Aurora singing with the birds in the woods is parodied in the first Shrek film, which also employs the "princess in a tower" trope. 

In Conclusion

The artwork on this film alone makes it worth seeing. This is all traditional cel animation, and it is gorgeous. The music, as I said before, is terrific, particularly the Tchaikovsky ballet. The duet between Aurora and Philip is good and is one of only a few direct man-to-woman love songs in Disney's animated canon. The voice acting is solid and enjoyable all around, and many of the voices are familiar to Disney fans - all they were missing was Phil Harris.

Is this my favorite Disney animated?  No. That would be Robin Hood or Beauty and the Beast. Is it good? Definitely. It has all the right story elements - humor, pathos, excitement, a hero & heroine to cheer for and a villain to cry "fie upon thee". The story may be straightforward and not very complex, it is a much more coherent story than some recent Disney films (yeah, you, Frozen).  Good triumphs, the two lovers get together, the kingdom is secured and a major villain is vanquished.

Best line in the movie: "Father, you're living in the past. This is the fourteenth century!" Yeah, Philip said that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Say Farewell to the Roaming Librarian

 This will be the last entry in my series on the Roaming Librarian. The project will be closed out at the end of this semester. My feelings about this are mixed. 

First, the reasons for the change.  There have been just a few meetings of the librarians who participated in the Roaming project, and the feedback we've given each other is for the most part negative. I've mentioned the drawbacks already, such as librarians being by temperament more inclined to introversion. This means it takes a lot more social energy for us to initiate a reference interview with a patron, than having them come to us. 

There was an even more significant negative. We have comment cards, like most libraries, where patrons can tell us what they think. From the comment cards, we got the understanding that students felt that the librarians were monitoring students' behavior; a few commenters even used the word 'spying'. Obviously this is not the impression we were hoping to make. 

Advertising for this project was all but non-existent, so the students did not know ahead of time why we were walking around and looking at what we were doing. I had a sign that I hung on the tablet computer that gave an invitation to ask me questions, but in retrospect, I could have worded it more clearly; something like "Roaming Librarians - on the spot assistance. We'll come to you."  Anyway, the sign was fun but it could have been better. 

Our student workers were asked to get student feedback in a survey, and to do so were walking through the library with a clipboard and randomly asking students questions. All of the workers that I spoke to expressed great distress with having to take this approach. They felt as though they were intruding upon the patrons, and many said the patrons let them know they didn't like the intrusion. 

Many days while I was Roaming around, I found it uncommon for students who were seated and going about their work to even make eye contact with me. If they're not looking up or looking around, they are probably intent enough on their work that I would be an unpleasant intrusion. I chat with student workers at our service points, which is all good. This has had an unexpected side effect - I have become the librarian of choice when the student workers have to transfer a phone question. Because I've taken just a few minutes twice a week to stop and chat with them, we've developed a relationship, and so they think of me as someone who, as advertised, "knows stuff". 

While the Roaming Librarian is coming to an end, I'll still be here, taking phone calls, emails, chats and even questions in person. It is sometimes difficult to accept the essentially passive nature of our profession. Maybe there are ways to be more active, but it seems that Roaming wasn't it. Well, librarians are an adaptable lot; if this didn't work out, we'll surely find something else that will.
I'll be back, folks.

photo credit: <a href="">peterharding</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>