Monday, January 5, 2009

Interesting Things that I Learned this Morning

As you know, I read a blog called The Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor - a Minnesota celebrity. Actually, I signed up to get the newsletter, which comes in an email every morning. It's so interesting! Today I read through newsletters from the last three days, and found all of this:

It was on this day in 1882 that the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde docked in New York. Customs asked him if he had anything to declare. Oscar Wilde replied, "Nothing but my genius."

It's the birthday of the ornithologist James Bond, (books by this author) born on this day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1900). He was the leading expert on birds of the Caribbean, and his book Birds of the West Indies (1936) is still in print today.

The novelist Ian Fleming was an enthusiastic bird-watcher, and he was living in Jamaica and came across a copy of Birds of the West Indies. Fleming was writing a thriller and decided to use the name James Bond for the protagonist, agent 007. That thriller was Casino Royale (1953), the first of Fleming's 12 James Bond novels.

It's the birthday of Jacob Grimm, born in Hanau, Germany (1785), one of the men responsible for collecting fairy tales like "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Snow White," "Rapunzel," and "Hansel and Grethel." He and his younger brother, Wilhelm, collected more than 200 German folk tales and published Grimm's Fairy Tales in 1812.

Lots of people thought the stories weren't appropriate for children. There was violence, grief, an old woman who ate kids, abandoned children, and young women chopping off pieces of their feet to fit in slippers. But the book was still a big success, and it changed the way scholars collected folklore — trying to present straightforward narratives as people told them, instead of taking the basic story and turning it into a sophisticated literary piece.

It's the birthday of artist, writer, and diplomat Dominique Vivant-Denon, (books by this author) born in the Alsace, France (1747). He traveled in Egypt with Napoleon's expedition against the British, and he wrote a book about it, Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt (1802). "It is hard to decide what is more astonishing," he wrote about the Pyramids, "the tyrannical dementia that dared order their building, or the stupid obedience of the people who agreed to help build such things."

And it's the birthday of Jack Norworth, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia in 1879. Jack Norworth had never been to a baseball game, but one day in 1908, he was riding the subway and he saw a sign that said "Baseball Today — Polo Grounds," and he started thinking of baseball lyrics. He wrote them down on a piece of scratch paper, and then took them to the composer Albert Von Tilzer, another man who had never seen a baseball game, who went ahead and wrote the music. And the song became very famous: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

It's the birthday of the man who said, "All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost," the man called "the father of modern fantasy," the writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien, (books by this author) born in Bloemfontein, South Africa (1892). His mother taught him Latin and Greek, and then one day he saw Welsh names on the side of railway cars, and he thought it was the most beautiful language in the world. He wanted to learn Welsh and any languages like it. He created simple languages of his own, like Animalic, which came from animal names, and Naffarin, which took elements from Spanish.

Tolkien went on to Oxford, and he studied philology, the study of the origin of languages. He became fluent in many ancient European languages, including Classical Greek, Old Norse, Old English, medieval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon, and an ancient form of German called Gothic.

He became a teacher at Oxford, and he invented his most ambitious language yet, composed entirely of his own alphabet, sounds, and structure. And that was the language High Elvish, spoken by elves. He spent 12 years writing a book that incorporated that language. He said he wrote this new book "to provide a world for the language." He said, "I should have preferred to write the entire book in Elvish." But it was in English, and it was The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien intended it to be one book in three parts, but it was published in three volumes — The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955).

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, "I wish life was not so short. Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."


Tiffany said...

The Writer's Almanac is one of my daily favorites, too! I loved that quote at the end.

Kelli said...

Amazing! I need to go to the Almanac obviously! I did not know that Tolkien said the "All that glitters" quote. Talented man

Nicole said...

How fun! I would have learned nothing today if it wasn't for you. Would you do a post on your favorite quotes? Seriously. I need them.

Also, I dreamed I had to go back to work. I tried to follow you out of the building and I just kept going around in circles. Booo.