Hazel’s Leadership Style

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Richard Adams (Watership Down) does an ask-me-anything on Reddit and gets asked about Hazel’s leadership style and whether it was inspired by somebody he knew in real life:

Yes! I had the good luck to get accepted for service in airborne forces during world war 2. Not everybody who put their name forward was accepted for it. I felt tremendously proud. I went as an officer to 250 light company RASC airborne. The commanding officer was a Major called John Gifford. I admired him tremendously. He was very quiet – in fact one of the quietest I’ve ever known. Regardless all of his commanding officers respected him and obeyed him without question. All his officers were parachutists whether they were commanders or not. My point is that everyone in 250 light company respected and admired him, and he certainly influenced Hazel. He was so sensible. Not all commanders are sensible! I would even say his officers loved him.

Late Vulgar Adûni

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

As the appendices explain, The Lord of the Rings is simply Tolkien’s translation of the Red Book of Westmarch, an ancient manuscript written in Late Vulgar Adûni — which Austin Gilkeson decided to translate for himself:

Tolkien’s original translation is justly famous and beloved. He treeherds an unwieldy ancient text into lyrical modern English and captures the vast scope and romance of the epic.

It is also deeply flawed.

Tolkien refers to Quendi people as “elves,” a common term in his time, but considered highly offensive today. And while Tolkien was a great scholar of the Quenya and Sindarin languages, his command of Late Vulgar Adûni was rudimentary at best, and his translation of the Red Book suffers for it.

In the most infamous instance, Tolkien botched The Hobbit’s “Riddles in the Dark” chapter in the first edition. He was so confused by the text’s use of pronomial prefixes in the subjunctive that he has Gollum leading Bilbo to safety in the goblin caves, rather than pursuing him with murderous malice. Tolkien corrected this blunder in later editions, but the damage was done. Similarly, he describes there being nine Nazgûl, when in fact there were only three.

Norwegian Lemmings

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Norwegian LemmingNorwegian lemmings go through dramatic population cycles, with their density increasing and then decreasing by a factor of 3,000:

Accounts of lemming migrations go back hundreds of years. In 1823, for instance, one explorer wrote of seeing “such inconceivable numbers” in his Scandinavian travels “that the country is literally covered with them”.

An army of lemmings advanced with extraordinary purpose, “never suffering itself to be diverted from its course by any opposing obstacles,” not even when confronted by rivers, or even the branches of narrow fjords. “They are good at swimming,” says Stenseth. “They can easily go across small bodies of water, across small lakes,” he says.

Given such sudden and apparently reckless behaviour, it is perhaps inevitable that local people in bygone centuries came to see the lemming as a crazed creature, and a swarm as “the forerunner of war and disaster”. But we have Walt Disney to thank for really embedding this stereotype in the public consciousness.

On the back of the animated classic Bambi, Disney undertook a series of ground-breaking, feature-length nature documentaries known as The True-Life Adventures. In one of these, White Wilderness, he dramatised the lemming mass suicide.

Stenseth is generous about the movie. “It is a nice film actually,” he says. “But there are some bits and pieces that are wrong with it. That [the lemming segment] is one of them.”

For a start, White Wilderness – filmed in Canada rather than Scandinavia – depicts the wrong species. Although all lemmings experience population highs and lows, the accounts of mass movements were all based on observations of Norwegian lemmings, not the brown lemmings that Disney used. He paid Eskimos “$1 a live lemming,” says Stenseth.

But that’s just the start. In an infamous sequence, the lemmings reach the edge of a precipitous cliff, and the voiceover tells us that “this is the last chance to turn back, yet over they go, casting themselves bodily out into space.”

It certainly looks like suicide. “Only they didn’t march to the sea,” says Stenseth. “They were tipped into it from the truck.”

Once you know the sequence has been faked, it makes for rather awkward viewing.

That movie-fueled myth did lead to a delightful computer game though.

The World Goes Mad

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

“My world is fire and blood. Here they come again.”

Inside Out

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Pixar’s Inside Out comes out next year. This is apparently the second UK trailer:

Le Petit Prince

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Dessine-moi une bande annonce officielle:

(The official trailer for the new Little Prince movie is out.)

Polar Bear Sweater

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

I must admit, I got a chuckle out of this polar bear sweater:

Alex Stevens Men's Polar Bear Pair Ugly Christmas Sweater

The Couch Gag Before Christmas

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

The Simpsons‘ team has some fun with The Couch Gag Before Christmas:

Posters for Imaginary Sequels

Friday, November 28th, 2014

The Sequel “gallery show” presents posters for imaginary sequels:

Sequels Iron Giants

Sequels Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

Sequels Labyrinth 2 Return of the Gobline King


Richard Scarry’s Busy Town in the 21st Century

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Ruben Bolling updates Richard Scarry’s Busy Town with jobs more appropriate for the 21st century:

Tom the Dancing Bug

The Popularity of Frozen

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

The popularity of Frozen has been magnified by the rise of gender segregation in toys:

Princesses may seem like a permanent feature of the toyscape, but they were less common before the 1990s. “The idea that pink princess fantasy dream dolls have always been a part of girlhood is false,” says Elizabeth Sweet, a lecturer at the University of California, Davis, who studies the cultural history of toys. Sweet has found that the popularity of gender-neutral toys reached a peak in the mid-1970s. Since then, toy makers have embraced the market-doubling effect of pushing certain toys to boys and other toys to girls. Sweet says the level of gender segregation has never been higher. A typical big-box store might have four aisles of blue toys and four aisles of pink toys with an aisle of yellow toys in between. “Separate but equal,” she says. Legos, for example, evolved from simple packs of building blocks into play sets mostly sold to boys, often with brand tie-ins. In 2012, the company introduced Lego Friends, which are basically Legos for girls.

Disney really began to focus on princesses in 2000, after a new executive went to see a “Disney on Ice” show and was struck by how many of the girls in the audience were wearing homemade princess costumes. “They weren’t even Disney products,” the executive, Andy Mooney, told the writer Peggy Orenstein for her book about the rise of princesses, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.” The Disney Princess line now makes about $4 billion a year, on par with the earning power of Mickey Mouse himself. (The “Frozen” girls are not, as yet, official members of the Princess ensemble.)

Go Big or Go Home

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Go big or go home!

Peanuts Trailer

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

The official trailer for next year’s Peanuts movie is out. The CG look is surprisingly true to the minimalist line art of the original, and — if we ignore the not-at-all-timeless pop song in the middle — the tone feels right:

FPS Action Movies

Friday, November 21st, 2014

First-person-shooter games came out before the modern action-camera craze, but it turns out the GoPro footage of a practical-shooting stage looks just like a video game.

Now we’re getting first-person-shooter action movies:

The Giver Giveth and the Giver Taketh Away

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Doug Lemov discusses film adaptations:

A few weeks ago a transatlantic flight finally caused me to watch Saving Mr. Banks the story of how Walt Disney won P.L. Travers’ trust and warmed her cold, cold heart just enough to get her to gift the ages with a Disney version of her book Mary Poppins.

Decent movie, that Saving Mr. Banks.  If nothing else it offers compelling proof that history is a tale told by the winners.  The winners being movie makers in this case.  It turns out that when you leave it to a movie studio to tell the story of what movies do to books — really nice books — you get a very nice tale indeed, in which the books get really-nicer.  Don’t you see? A movie is just an act of love for a book.  A movie only wants honor a book and bring it to life — make it live forever, and maybe add a little music.  Is that so wrong?

No, the movie tells us. No, it is not wrong at all. It is right! In the end even the curmudgeon-ish author is shown to see it.

But If P.L. Travers told the story of the movie-fication of Poppins it might sound different.  After all, she did cry at the official release of Mary Poppins, but it wasn’t tears of appreciative joy.  In real life, she cried to see what they had done to her baby.

And in a lot of ways she was right to cry.  The movie is fine.  Not much wrong with it except Dick Van Dyke’s unconscionable effort at an accent. And the fact that it ain’t the book. That’s the big one.  I read the book with my kids a few years back and was stunned, so incredibly stunned, to find it nuanced and complex and rich and fascinating. It was beautiful: anything but schlocky, light years better than the movie, even if I read it in a horrible garble of Van-Dyke Cockney. But I only found out by accident that the book is a jewel. Having a song-and-Dick-Van-Dyke version of the movie out there made me assume for years that I should not read the book. I mean, with a hokie movie like that, who would?

He’s not going to see The Giver.