Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology

  Grammar Question of the Week

Most of my readers will know that English isn't my native language. Since I used the English lessons at school to get my math or history homework done and then went home and read English books, my understanding and use of the language rely on my instincts rather than any grammar rules I vaguely remember. More often than not, those instincts seem to serve me fine, but sometimes it happens that I read something and think, "wait, shouldnt' that be X? Are my gut feelings wrong or has the editor had a very bad day?" I tend to assume it's me. :)

So, I'm going to post an ickle grammar question every week. Feel free to educate me and others who read this blog. I promise to listen and not to do my history homework instead. *grin*

This weeks question: The correct use of as and when.

  Marcel Reich Ranicki, The Author of Himself

I have no idea why the simple German title Mein Leben (My Life) was translated as The Author of Himself, but it isn't the first weird translation of a book title I've come across.

Marcel Reich Ranicki* who celebrated his 85th birthday in June is the best known and also most controversial literary critic in Germany, mostly because of his personality and media presence, but also because of the sharp and witty crits he's been delivering for several decenniums now.

But books he trashes sell like warm bread rolls despite. I think it has to do with the fact that people either like or hate him, and thus many want to see for themselves if a book is bad. His media presence, frowned upon in the beginning, has brought books to greater awareness, though. Whenever the Das Literarische Quartett (a book discussion with Reich Ranicki and several other critics) was due, stores had the books on display, libraries ordered several copies. Of course, Reich Ranicki has made enemies among authors. Sentences like, "the best that can happen to this book is that it vanishes into obscurity tomorrow," isn't something an author will want to hear.

With The Author of Himself, Reich Ranicki a few years ago presented his autobiography. As he has proven in countless reviews and essays, he can write well himself. The book is written in a clear, unpretentious language which is a greater bonus considering the subject matter of the first part.

Marcel Reich Ranicki is Jewish, and during the Hitler time, he was a Polish citizen. He was deported to the Ghetto of Warshaw, managed to escape and lived several years hiding in the cellar of Polish peasants whom he entertained with the retelling of books he had read. He tells about this cruel time without being ever larmoyant or accusatory. It is the best Holocaust witness story I've read.

After the war, he lived first in Poland, then East Germany, fell out with the communists and fled to West Germany where his rise as the Voice of Literature began. The chapters taking place in both parts of Germany may prove a bit tricky for US readers because he mentions so many people little known on the other side of the pond: authors mostly, but also politicians, journalists and others.

If you are interested in German post war literature, this book is a must, and if you want to learn something about Hitler Germany from a Jewish POV, it still might worth the money (or checking out a library) to read an inside view free from hatred and bias.

* pronounced: Mahr-seal Rey ch (Scottish ch) Rah nee tz kee

The picture is copied from this website.

  Bernard Cornwell, Warlord Trilogy

The Warlord Trilogy (The Winter King / Enemy of God / Excalibur) is Bernard Cornwell's take on the Arthurian myth. He bases his books mostly on the Welsh tradition, but also includes characters from younger developments, like Lancelot. The world of his Arthur is post-Roman Britain, torn by internal strifes and war, endangered by the ever-increasing Saxon invasion, not the chivalrous world of a Chretien de Troyes with tournaments and fair damsels. It is a dark world most of the time, and the few happy moments are the more precious.

Arthur is Uther's bastard son, a Roman trained warleader who defends the kingdom for the infant Mordred, Uther's grandson. I wondered a bit about his heavily armed cavalry, they reminded me of Sarmatian cataphracti though Cornwell never calls them thus and there is no proof that Sarmatians still served in Britain that late.

It is also a world of different religions, of Christianity and the old belief of the Druids, of Mithras, popular among the warriors, and Isis, secretly worshipped by some woman. In times of change and danger, people cling to whatever religion promises them a hold, Cornwell says in his author's note. His presentation of Druidism differs greatly from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon, and I suppose it's closer to what the religion might have been like. There is human sacrifice and blood, bones and skulls, and a lot of urinating and spitting to avert evil. It is a brutal, down-to-earth religion, not some mystical Wicca variant. And it breeds fanatics as well as Christianity - Merlin and Nimue are no better than Bishop Samsun, they want their religion to be the only one, and they ask a lot of their followers. They ask a lot of themselves, too, which is a somewhat redeeming trait.

While Mists of Avalon is Historical Fantasy, a genre where magic is real and essential for the plot, Cornwell's Warlord trilogy mostly establishes a balance that shows that the characters in his books believe in it, but many incidents can be rationally explained from a todays reader's view. Though there are a few instances where the balance tips in favour of magic as sole explanantion.

It was a time of war, and writing about war is where Cornwell shines the brightest, be it battles against Napoleon in the Sharpe books or 6th century shieldwall pushing and sword slashing. His battles are grim, bloody, often desparate, but there is courage, too, and hope. He also understands the psychology of warfare, the way the attitude of the warriors can matter more than mere numbers. There are several major battles in the trilogy and the world overall is a male world, though some female characters play an important role.

The Warlord trilogy is told from the POV of Derfel, a soldier and later leader in Arthur's warband. Derfel, now an old man and Christian living in a monastery, writes the story down for the charming Igraine, and both he and the young woman cheat the illiterate Samsun about the true nature of the text. Cornwell interrupts the story several times with Derfel / Igraine snippets that show us how the "true story" has been distorted by later retellings (the version Igraine knows is closer to Chretien).

Derfel, half-Saxon and a pagan during his years as soldier, is a honest man with simple expectations of life (fight for Arthur and in times of peace live on a farm with the woman he loves). By using a single point of view, Cornwell gives the story great coherence. Yet Derfel understands those men best that are to some extent like him, and thus Cornwell's approach has its shortcomings when it comes to characters Derfel cannot understand (like Lancelot). If there's not a piece of dialogue to introduce a different view, the reader will have to stick with a maybe biased representation.

Arthur is a man he does understand, a likeable character, though I had wished he sometimes were less trusting. Arthur basically has two weaknesses, and this is one. The other is Guinevere, and I don't spoil anything here because the legend is well known. Guinevere is a woman with a head of her own in this book. The third in this group, the late intruder into the Arthurian legend, Lancelot, is a very interesting character in that he is very different from the usual image of him.

Other characters that were introduced into the legend at a later stage yet appear in the Warlord trilogy, like Galahad (a positively portrayed Christian), but there are elements of older versions as well, fe. the appearance of Culhwych and Tristan. Cornwell moulds all those characters to the older, more cruel versions of the Arthurian legend and thus makes them fit into the story.

Cornwell's style is easy to read, unpretentious, and sometimes he manages to say a lot in a single sentence.

If you like a dark, down to earth, a sword and sorcery presentation of the older Arthurian legends with a fair share of fighting, the Warlord trilogy should be to your liking.

  Fond Memories

The Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda celebrates his 80th birthday today.

He was my first love. Crazy, wonderful, adoring teenage love, the sort that made me spend all my pocket money on his LPs and pin his photos to the walls in my room. The sort that made me pick Russian as third language at school because he is half-Russian. My interest in Sweden started back then as well. And look where that one got me, lol (for those who don't know: I've lived in Stockholm for two years and studied Scandinavian languages and literature, besides other subjects*).

It all started with a recital with arias from German operas my father bought. I fell in love first with the voice and then with the man, and who cares that he's 36 years older than I? I was 13 then and the boys of suitable age were all buttheads. :) I wrote to him - oh the sweet agony of writing that letter, I think I learned how to edit back then - and he wrote back. The autographed photo he sent me still stands on one of my bookshelves (though no longer on the nightstand, and I don't put a vase with flowers beside it, lol). I browsed libraries (no Internet back then) for articles about him and learned to use the distant loan system to get essays from other countries.

My parents gave me lots of indulgent smiles, of course, but my father also bought tickets for a Gedda concert in Frankfurt and afterwards told me he now understood why I use to wax poetic about him.

That teenage adoration lasted a few years and eventually grew into a more adult admiration for a great singer and modest person. I have had several chances to hear Nicolai Gedda live, and it was always a wonderful experience.I still used to have some butterflies in the stomach whenever I met him in person (though it was never more than a few minutes after his concerts).

I still buy his CDs (sometimes the music companies kick out older stuff; and some of my LPs don't sound too good any longer, lol), and I still browse the net occasionally, though there isn't really anthying new, not for a dedicated fan like me. ;)

The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places (like Flanders and the Baltic States), with essays on Roman and Mediaeval history illustrated with lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes. You may also find the odd essay about geology or Mediaeval literature.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)