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December 2021

Thanksgiving in Christmastide

To thee, O Christ, O Word of the Father, we offer up our lowly praises and unfeigned hearty thanks: Who for love of our fallen race didst most wonderfully and humbly choose to be made man, as never to be unmade more; and to take our nature as never more to lay it off; so that we might be born again by thy Spirit and restored in the image of God; to whom, one blessed Trinity, be ascribed all honour, might, majesty, and dominion, now and for ever. Amen

From St. Gregory's Prayer Book, published jointly by the several Ordinariates--the Chair of St. Peter (U.S. and Canada), Our Lady of Walsingham (England and Wales), Our Lady of the Southern Cross (Australia).

I was wondering whether Southern Cross included New Zealand, so I checked Wikipedia. It does not, I assume because there are no Anglicans, or not enough of them, in New Zealand who are interested. But I found to my surprise and delight that there are two congregations in Japan:

The ordinariate has also begun to form in Japan, where it has presently two congregations. In February 2015, a congregation of the Traditional Anglican Church of Japan was received as the Ordinariate Community of St Augustine of Canterbury in Tokyo, the first ordinariate community in Asia. In June 2016, another priest was ordained for the Ordinariate Community of St Laurence of Canterbury in Hiroshima.

A month or two ago, or whenever it was that Pope Francis clamped down on the Tridentine Mass, I read somewhere someone's speculation that the pope's real goal is to bring those who want a more beautiful and reverent liturgy into the Novus Ordo parishes where they will improve the liturgy. That sounds pretty far-fetched to me, for several reasons, but let's hope it's true. Or maybe not, because the same logic would recommend shutting down the Ordinariates. When they were established, someone reasonably knowledgeable told me that it would be extremely difficult for a future pope to dismantle them. I hope that's true. 

Joan Didion, RIP

At this point in my life I find myself sometimes mentally compiling, not a desert island list of books and music, but a nursing home (or, preferably, assisted living) list: the books I would take with me if I had to go live in a very small place with one very small bookshelf. I've actually only read three or four of Joan Didion's books, but The White Album would make the list. Maybe also Slouching Toward Bethlehem. She saw some things that nobody else was seeing in the '60s. And mostly still don't. RIP

In her early years she wrote for National Review, and they've put those contributions online. You can read them here. I haven't read these particular essays, and probably won't get a chance to do so till after Christmas. But if you haven't read anything by her they might be a good place to start. Although I see they are PDFs of scanned copies of old magazine pages, and not all that comfortable to read. 

Accents of the British Isles

(Does Ireland count as part of the British Isles? I wouldn't think they'd be very pleased about that.)

I saw this on Facebook, then went looking for it on YouTube so that I could post it here. I was surprised to see that there are a number of videos of the same basic type. There's a lot to work with, I guess; it always surprises me a little that there are so many and such different accents in such a relatively small geographical area, though it really shouldn't. I suppose the actually atypical thing is that they all speak English, which is of course a political more than an organic linguistic development. There are different accents within Alabama, which is roughly the same size as England, and they didn't have hundreds of years and geographical concentration in which to develop.

I've developed a strange liking and fascination for the Scottish accents that I hear on some of the British TV shows. In one, the villain was a Scotch (Scottish?) woman, and I kept wanting her to be on screen more just so I could listen to her talk. Katia Kvinge, by the way (whom I had of course never heard of), is "a Scottish BAFTA New Talent Award Nominated comedian, actor and impressionist." Doesn't sound like a Scottish name--I wonder where it came from. Oh wait--from her web site:

Q: Where is Katia Kvinge from?
A: Mum is Norwegian, Dad is American. Born in London, grew up in Oxford and Scotland

Fourth Week of Advent

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour forth righteousness..

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, my salvation shall not tarry:
I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions:
fear not for I will save thee:
for I am the Lord thy god, the holy one of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Lazily searching for an online text that I could copy to save myself the trouble of typing it, I found it at a blog called Chantblog. I also found there this beautiful recording of the hymn in a chant setting. It's a bit puzzling to me, as it's the Book of Common Prayer English, but is described as Gregorian chant. Was it done fairly recently, or was chant used in Cranmer's time? I don't know and don't have time to dig into the question now. 

The choir is the choir of St. Etheldreda's church, a Catholic church in London. I'll have to go back and read more about it. Did it stay Catholic through the Reformation? 

Comfort ye, my people.

Peter Hitchens Muses on the Wind

His latest post at The Lamp's blog is a jewel:

What is it about the wind? When I am watching some piece of ancient black-and-white archive film, imprisoned in the time when it was made, a gust of wind will lift a person’s hair or shake the trees in the background, and the whole thing will spring to fierce life. For the moment when the wind blows, it is freed from the past and is happening now. I do not know why. It just is so.

Something similar happens when the wind comes into poetry or prose....

It's not very long, but read it when you're not distracted and are at liberty to take it slowly. As those who have read this blog for a while know, I live on the hurricane coast and am all too well acquainted with truly terrible and dangerous winds. Yet even at times when I've lain in the dark wondering if a tree was going to fall on the house, or the roof come off, I couldn't help feeling, in addition to the fear, a degree of awe bordering on admiration. And I've been close enough to a tornado to hear it, and have seen the damage. Hitchens notes

I was once on a train between Denver, Colorado and Omaha, Nebraska, halted for hours by tornadoes. The small towns through which we crept, when we at last moved, looked as if they had been visited by war.

That's no exaggeration. After one tornado in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1989, I went to help with the cleanup. I saw, among other things, cars that had been picked up and dropped upside down, completely flattening the top, or right-side up, warping the wheels. Not the tires, the solid steel wheels. A wind that can pick up a car and throw it around. 


A couple of other things worth looking at on the web:

Slant Books is doing some great things. Among their recent offerings is a collection of three plays by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The title play is about a family of Elizabethan recusant Catholics who...well, here's the description:

Shakeshafte imagines an encounter between a young sixteenth century Englishman with a faintly familiar surname and an undercover Jesuit missionary. Two visions of how words change the world collide and converge and slip away again.

You can read an excerpt here. Also, at this link, you can register for a December 28 online book launch for Shakeshafte which will include performance of a scene from the title play and a Q&A with Williams. 


The Friday Links at the Dappled Things blog usually include some interesting stuff. In this case it's all of them. I haven't watched that video about the hermit yet but I intend to. I wonder where Liechtenstein is. 

Not so sure I want to read the entire piece by the young women who says "Over time, though, I outgrew the conversion narrative as a genre." Yeah, I hear you. I'm pretty sick of the one I wrote. 

Third Week of Advent

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour forth righteousness.

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen;
that ye may know me and believe me:
I, even I, am the Lord, and beside me there is no Saviour:
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

That last line sounds pretty menacing, and yet in a way comforting, even apart from the words that immediately precede it. Somehow it captures the sense of God being inescapable, whether that's going to be a good thing or a bad thing for you. It makes me think of Christ's warning in Matthew 10:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

I was into middle age before it dawned on me that the second part of that refers not to Satan, as I had assumed, but to God. There is a pathological fear of God but there is also a very healthy fear of him. The substitution of "awe and wonder" for "fear of God" in current English renditions of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is a mistake.

But this was Gaudete Sunday, not the time for fear. I have a feeling that people who read this blog are likely to have heard Steeleye Span's performance of the old hymn "Gaudete," so here's a different one.

Or maybe you haven't heard Steeleye's, or have heard it but not this live performance, which is not perfect, but still rich:

I've always found their not-upper-class English pronunciation of the Latin charming. 

And speaking of Peter Jackson...

It's been twenty years since the release of the first film in his adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. A youngster named Jack Butler, writing at National Review, gives what I think is a fairly good appraisal of the whole effort. I say that even though my own view is somewhat more negative than his. I think the article is subscriber-only, so I'll quote liberally from it:

It is widely acknowledged that there are many serious differences between Jackson’s adaptation and Tolkien’s novel. Answers vary, however, to the question whether Jackson’s work maintains Tolkien’s spirit or ruins it. Ian McKellen, who plays the noble wizard Gandalf, has remarked that “the enthusiasts who have read the novels over and over may notice every change but in doing so they will miss the point.” On the other hand, Christopher Tolkien, the author’s son and literary executor, complained that Jackson and his crew had “eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.”

Who is right? Both — and neither. Some of Jackson’s innovations do make sense, at least when considered in light of the exigencies of filmmaking..... Other of Jackson’s changes are blatant concessions to Hollywood blockbuster sensibilities..... 

There are also some fairly egregious changes to certain characters....

Even more notable is the mutation of Aragorn. Jackson’s version is unsure whether he is worthy of assuming his kingly destiny. His story becomes much more a standard hero’s journey. Tolkien gives Aragorn the occasional stumble, but he is largely intent on his destiny from the moment we meet him. Jackson’s alteration of Aragorn partly recenters the movies on him and his internal conflict, somewhat shortchanging Frodo and the hobbits in their respective journeys.

Bradley J. Birzer, a Tolkien scholar and professor of history at Hillsdale College, believes that Tolkien would not have approved of the films. “They’re too violent and have too much action with not enough focus on the philosophical elements of the books,” Birzer has said. There is some truth to that observation, too. Some of the thematic depth of The Lord of the Rings, such as what Tolkien called its “fundamentally religious” (Catholic) nature, is mostly (though not entirely) subdued in Jackson’s trilogy.

Whatever the flaws of Jackson’s films, they captured Tolkien’s spirit and much of the work’s philosophical core. As [Tolkien scholar Tom] Shippey put it, they preserve some of Tolkien’s more important themes, such as “the need for pity as well as courage, the vulnerability of the good, the true cost of evil.”

Even an imperfect representation of that essence puts Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy leagues above much of the dreck that Hollywood produces today.... But whatever complaints one may have about it, the deserved and enduring popularity of his original trilogy will continue to point new generations of readers to Tolkien’s work. And that will remain a virtue in itself.

I'm sure I've said this before, but it's probably been a while, so: I found that the further I got from the films the less highly I thought of them. My view now is closer to Christopher Tolkien's and Bradley Birzer's, though I still acknowledge that the films have their virtues and are considerably "above much of the dreck that Hollywood produces today." And I've never wanted to see them again, not so much because I disliked them as because I didn't want Jackson's often misguided imagery to take over my mind completely. I've only been partly successful in that effort.

There's a line in one of John Berryman's Dream Songs in which "Ol' Possum," presumably T. S. Eliot, says that he seldom goes to the cinema, because it's too powerful--or words to that effect. I have no idea which of the several hundred Dream Songs that occurs in and don't want to look for it, though it's most likely in 77 Dream Songs which was once and probably still is his most popular book. ("Popular" of course is a much more limited thing in modern poetry than in, say, film. Or even in literary fiction.) I understand Eliot's reservation, though I indulge to excess in moving pictures on the much smaller screen in my house. The visual impact and persistence of cinematic images is extremely strong and often unwelcome.

I think Peter Jackson's conception of Aragorn, for instance, is seriously flawed, not only for the reasons given above but simply visually. And I suppose that's partly the fault of the actor. But at any rate I still have it in my head. And I'm still annoyed by that stubble which looks like about a week's worth of beard, and neither grows nor disappears. When I see a celebrity going around like that (it seems still fashionable) I want to say "Either grow a beard or shave, dammit."

At the turn of the year this blog will be eighteen years old. The very first post, January 4, 2004, was a brief review of the third film in Jackson's Lord of the Rings. I more or less agree with what I said there, though as I say I'm a little more negative now than I was then. I still think this is probably true: surely is the best possible screen treatment of the book. I do not mean that in a philosophical Panglossian but rather in a very straightforward sense: it is the best for which we could reasonably have hoped.

I could have added, for clarity, "considering the nature of the movie industry."


Amazon, as you may have heard, is producing some kind of Tolkien-based film project. As you may also have heard, they advertised for an "intimacy coordinator" to work on it. It will be surprising if whatever they produce doesn't justify another sentence from that 2004 post:

I fully expected that the movie industry could not touch such a work without soiling it.

A fantasy series called The Wheel of Time is currently being released, one episode per week, on Amazon. Because of a general weakness for fantasy, I've watched the first couple of them. I don't recommend it to anyone who doesn't really like fantasy, and only with reservations there. And I don't want to bother saying anything more about it than that it's well-produced and socially conscious entertainment. The first of those is a compliment, the second is not.

Second Week of Advent

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour forth righteousness.

We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing,
and we all do fade as a leaf:
our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away;
thou hast hid thy face from us:
and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

Back in my Episcopalian days they had a song meant to be used in the "folk" liturgy. The refrain, as I recall was

God likes me just the way I am
I turned out just fine

I don't know where they got that idea. 

Here's another setting, not however including the words above. This one is by William Byrd. I had never heard of the performers, who call themselves the Gesualdo Six. That certainly indicates good musical judgment on their part.

Get Back (Peter Jackson's Beatles Documentary)

If I didn't have, um, access to someone's Disney+ account, I wouldn't have paid much attention to this. Who needs another Beatles documentary? But I do have access, so I have watched part of it...and now I think, more or less, who needs another Beatles documentary? Or book, or re-master re-issue re-organization of their recordings, or collection of outtakes and scraps? 

If that sounds like I'm not really that much of a Beatles fan, I'd have to say "you're right." I admitted as much to a couple of people who said they had been glued to their TVs for the entire six (!) hours of the thing. Not me. I was bored after 45 minutes or so and stopped. then a day or two later went back and watched another hour. That still didn't finish the first of the three two-hour episodes. I will most likely eventually watch the rest, because it's somewhat interesting, and after all it is the Beatles. But it's not at the top of my to-do list.

When I say "not much of a fan," I mean "fan" in the sense of "fanatic." I do like the Beatles, and I do think their work is is one of the greatest achievements in popular music. But I don't revere them. Even back when they were an active band putting out new records, and I was young, I didn't hang on their every word or take them as gurus. If anyone had that kind of effect on me then, it was Dylan. And I had gotten over that by the mid-1970s. 

The movie does have a nice humanizing and demythologizing effect. If you've ever been in a band, or just in a group of people casually trying to play together, that first 45 minutes is pretty much the same thing: a bunch of guys sitting around playing bits and pieces of stuff, getting irritated, getting bored, trying to be funny, and so forth. It's just not very interesting to watch, even when I remind myself that they are going to end up with at least a few brilliant songs.

I guess I should back up a bit: this is basically a revisiting, at great length, of the Beatles' Let It Be documentary, released in 1970, covering the sessions that led to the recording of the album of the same name and to a rooftop concert. I saw it when it was originally released, and did not realize that it has mostly been unobtainable since then. It was, to me at least, not exactly an enchanting film. The group was falling apart--I think they had already broken up when the film was released--and the album was a mixed bag at best. Apparently a whole body of belief about the last days of the band grew up around that documentary: it was Yoko's fault, it was McCartney's fault, and so forth. The new one claims to provide a fuller and more accurate picture. Here's the trailer:

I will leave it to those who are more interested and knowledgeable to pick over what this film does or doesn't tell us about the breakup, the personalities, the relationships, the relative importance of musical contributions, and so forth. For what it's worth, my long-standing belief that McCartney was by far the most musically gifted of the group is confirmed. He also seems to be, at this point, the only one of the four who really wants to work, and to keep the band going. Watching him work out the title song is striking: he does it with just his bass, and if I'm not mistaken he's using the bass as a 4-string guitar--which of course it is, but typically it's only played one note at a time. McCartney seems to be strumming chords on it. I'm not a musician but I think that's pretty unusual. And of course he does it with perfect ease.

It also brings out something which I guess has been pretty obvious for a long time: by this point in their career, the songwriting had really declined. Both McCartney and Lennon sometimes seemed not to want to spend much time with lyrics. "Get Back" is great musically, and it has a great chorus, but the verses are throwaway. I'd say something similar about several of the other songs on Let It Be. "You can syndicate any boat you row". Whatever.

But if you are a real Beatles fan, you'll want to see it.

First Week of Advent

Drop down, ye heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,
neither remember iniquity for ever:
thy holy city is a wilderness,
Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation:
our holy and our beautiful house,
where our fathers praised thee.

This is the first section (verse, stanza, whatever the right word is) of the Latin hymn Rorate caeli in the old Anglican translation known as "The Advent Prose." There are four sections, each preceded by "Drop down...." Here's a setting of the whole thing, composed by Richard Lloyd. The text is a little different, adding "let the earth open and bring forth a Savior" to the refrain.