Monthly Archives: July 2012

Cool Words From Robin Hood

An illustration of the first meeting between R...

An illustration of the first meeting between Robin Hood and Little John, from Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, let me apologize for not posting in a few days. The wonderful monsoon storms this time of year in central Arizona mess with the electronics around here. Sure enough, the internet service has been pretty sketchy the past two days. Sorry.


Fortunately, storms have no effect on my books. I can read them rain or shine. As I promised a few posts ago, I’ve started reading the Paul Creswick version of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” originally published in 1902. My copy is from the Reader’s Digest Association and includes some amazing illustrations by N.C. Wyeth. Believe me, I could just stare at these pictures for hours.


I’m only 10 chapters in at this point, but I wanted to share one of the best things about this book so far; the words. Of course, Creswick conveys a strong sense of Robin’s era with his use of words, particularly the idioms of the day. For someone like me who loves words, this book is a treasure. Here’s a small sample.


One of the supporting characters so far is a monk, called an anchorite in the book. Anchorite comes from a Greek word, anachorein, which means to withdraw or to make room. So our anchorite lives in self-imposed seclusion for religious reasons.


A little later in the tale, young Robin drops his bodkin in the forest. Before you jump to any conclusions, a bodkin is the Middle English word for a dagger or a stiletto. It can also be an ornamental hairpin shaped like a stiletto, but I doubt Robin would have threatened a robber with a hair accessory.


Just one more, I promise. While exploring his room at his uncle’s estate, Robin comes across a “bench in the nook, curiously carven and filled with stuffs and naperies.” Napery means household linen, especially dealing with the table. It comes from the French nappe or nape meaning tablecloth. Our modern word napkin comes from this. Whether Robin and his Merry Men ever used them is another question.


There you are, some wonderful old words from the Middle Ages. A special thanks to my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary for the great information on the word roots. A good dictionary, used well, is a joy.


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Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Grazing, History, What I'm Reading, Words


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Book Hunt 7/28/12: Tales Old And New

Book Hunt 7/28/12: Tales Old And New


My wife deserves a medal or some sort of official recognition. Every Saturday I have my errands to run, and inevitably I wind up at the local library to check out the ongoing book sale there. Rarely do I come home empty-handed. I mean, I DO call myself the old book “junkie” for a reason. My wife seldom complains even though we have too few book cases to put them all in.

Yes, I love her.

Had a good hunt today. Found a nice copy of the Reader’s Digest book “American Folklore and Legend” (Reader’s Digest Association, 1978, 1983.) Snicker if you want, but Reader’s Digest publishes some wonderful things and this volume is no exception. It contains many tales and traditions from the earliest days of our country up until the mid-1970s. Fun stuff, yes, but also very important. One of our nation’s biggest problems today is the lack of a national sense of identity, and at least part of the reason for that is we have largely forgotten and ignored our shared stories. Part of this book’s stated goal is to help correct that.

I also grabbed a book by an author I’ve never read before, Michael Chabon. The book is titled “Summerland” (Hyperion, 2004). It’s supposedly a children’s book, but I’ve found that some of my favorite books are those for younger readers. According to the blurb on the back of the book from Time magazine, “Summerland adapts Norse mythology, Native American folklore, American fables, Homeric myth, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, to teach the enduring lessons about finding strength within yourself.”



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Posted by on July 29, 2012 in Book Hunting, Children's Books


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The Senior Citizen Prayer

The Virgin in Prayer

The Virgin in Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months back I found a marvelous book titled “The Complete Book of Christian Prayer,” (Continuum Publishing, 1995). It contains almost 500 pages of prayers from the first century to the present. Since I’m closing in on 60 years on this earth, I found this prayer to be especially relevant:

Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am getting older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody: helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint – some of them are so hard to live with – but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.

- Source unknown, 17th century

If this prayer is really from the 17th century, somebody has updated the language a bit. I don’t mind, though. I intend to recite this prayer often.



Posted by on July 27, 2012 in History, Prayer, Quotations


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The Mermaid Tavern

Sketch of John Keats.

Sketch of John Keats. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Souls of Poets dead and gone,

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern,

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

Have ye tippled drink more fine

Than mine host’s Canary wine?

Or are fruits of Paradise

Sweeter than those dainty pies

Of venison? O generous food!

Drest as though bold Robin Hood

Would, with his maid Marian,

Sup and bowse from horn and can.

        -from Lines on the Mermaid Tavern by John Keats

I’ve always enjoyed Keats’ poetry and Lines on the Mermaid Tavern is one of my favorite poems from him. However, because of my woeful knowledge of history I never realized that the Mermaid Tavern had been a real tavern in London.

While browsing through another collection of poetry, “Ben Johnson and the Cavalier Poets” (W.W. Norton, 1974 – does Norton know how to do anthologies or what?) I came across a reference to the Mermaid Tavern in conjunction with Richard Corbett, another poet. Further research yielded some details. It seems that the Mermaid Tavern was a celebrated meeting place for scholars, lawyers and poets during the early- to mid-1600s. It was located in London’s Cheapside, east of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The “Friday Street Club,” a literary club started by Sir Walter Ralegh in 1603, held its meetings there. The Mermaid’s other famous patrons included Ben Jonson, John Donne and William Shakespeare.

What is it with English writers and pubs?

Unfortunately, the Mermaid Tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September of 1666. It was memorialized in verse by Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont and, nearly 200 years later, John Keats.

Souls of Poets dead and gone,

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern,

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in History, Poetry


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On the Road

This week I got my hands on a fascinating little volume at the local library’s ongoing book sale. “American Journeys, An Anthology of Travel In the United States,” (Travel Vision in association with the Exxon Travel Club, 1975) is a collection of excerpts from pioneer diaries, explorer’s journals and articles about travel in America from the late 1600s up to the lunar landing.

It includes pieces from such writers as Benjamin Franklin (describing his trip to, and first night in, Philadelphia), Charles Dickens (writing about a steamboat trip with his wife in 1842. He did not like it), Mark Twain (a description of a stagecoach trip, excerpted from his book “Roughing It”) and John Muir (recounting one of his long walks among California’s sequoia trees).

This book reflects an important characteristic of the American people; the urge to travel and explore. For over 200 years the call of the open road has stirred something in our souls. Even if it’s only a trip into town:

When labor is light and the morning is fair,

I find it a pleasure beyond all compare

To hitch up my nag and go hurrying down

And take Katie May for a ride into town;

For bumpety-bump goes the wagon,

But tra-la-la-la our lay.

There’s joy in a song as we rattle along

In the light of the glorious day.

From “Riding to Town” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1896.)


Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Book Hunting, Grazing, History, Poetry


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Too Sad To Write

I really was going to write a post today, but when I heard the news about Aurora, Colorado, it just didn’t seem right. Silence and prayer seem more appropriate.

There is one Book we should read today.

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Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Uncategorized




Had a pretty good book-hunting weekend. This was my prize find, a virtually new copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Children of Hurin,” (Houghton Mifflin paperback edition, 2008). Edited by his son Christopher and illustrated by Alan Lee, it is the tale of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth and his battle against the Elves and the man Hurin.

I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this one. Thanks library book sale!


For those interested, Dorothy Parker, the legendary writer and reviewer from The New Yorker and Esquire, has a Facebook page which deals very generously with her quotes. Go and “Like” it now. I mean, LOVE it!


Read in the Wall Street Journal this weekend:

This year, e-books will account for more than half of my total sales, and I’m grateful for that. But in the back of my mind, I wonder whether a book is still a book if it is not a book.

               Thriller Novelist Daniel Silva

Good question, don’t you think?


Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Authors, Book Hunting, Quotations


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A Postcard From A.D. 1247

Cropped screenshot of Olivia de Havilland and ...

Cropped screenshot of Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn from the trailer for the film The Adventures of Robin Hood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently gave you a brief overview of my reading so far in “A World Lit Only By Fire” by William Manchester. Now I’ll give you a taste, a postcard from the book so to speak.

Hear underneath dis laihl stean

las Robert earl of Huntingtun

neer arcir yer az hie sa geud

And pipl kauld in Robin Heud

This is an inscription on a gravestone in Yorkshire, England. The final line is “Obiit 24 kal Decembris 1247.” Robin Hood lived, folks. Now as to what he was really like, Manchester writes, “Everything we know about that period suggests that Robin was merely another wellborn cutthroat who hid in shrubbery by roadsides, waiting to rob helpless wayfarers. The possibility that he stole from the rich and gave to the poor is . . . highly unlikely.”

Visions of Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits.”

However, this two sentence brush-off does nothing to explain how the stories of Robin Hood developed and why he became such a large folk-hero to people then and now. Plain highway robbers wouldn’t have inspired John Keats:

So it is: yet let us sing,

Honour to the old bow-string!

Honour to the bugle-horn!

Honour to the woods unshorn!

Honour to the Lincoln green!

Honour to the archer keen!

Honour to tight little John,

And the horse he rode upon!

Honour to bold Robin Hood,

Sleeping in the underwood!

Honour to maid Marian,

And to all the Sherwood-clan!

Granted, the real Robin was probably nothing at all like Errol Flynn and was more than likely not a very nice man. But something is his life and exploits was tale-worthy. Something endeared him to the peasants who built his legend. A history made of facts alone and stripped of all lore tells us very little about the humans who lived in it. The facts and the stories must go together.

I have a copy of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” by Paul Creswick, who was one of England’s best children’s writers. According to the introductory material that came with the book, it has been in print ever since it came out in 1902. It is filled with the stories of Robin Hood. It also has gorgeous illustrations by a different legend, N.C. Wyeth. If you’ve ever seen any of Wyeth’s work you’ll understand why I used the word legend.

With due respect to William Manchester, I’ll be reading this book soon and hopefully learning more about Robin and life in the middle ages.

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Posted by on July 15, 2012 in Grazing, History, Ideas, Poetry, What I'm Reading


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Storms and Books

We have a nice summer storm going on right now here in central Arizona, complete with steady rain and the occasional rumble of thunder.

I don’t know about anyone else, but this weather makes me want to curl up in a comfy spot with a selection of good books to browse through. Or maybe a single, absorbing volume that defies being put aside. Let’s see: a cup of coffee or tea, some soft music in the background, a good dictionary and lots of time.

Unfortunately there are chores to be done today, and I must be off.


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Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Like It Or Not, History Is Vital

A world lit only by fire

A world lit only by fire (Photo credit: One lucky guy)

Well, I’m still working my way through William Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire, The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance.” It’s slow going, but not because it’s boring. Manchester fills the book to bursting with a plethora of facts and observations that keep coming page after page until the mind spins. For people who like to think, it’s intoxicating stuff.I’m not going to attempt a review at this point. Heck, I may not even try when I’ve finished. There’s just too much material here to process. If I may, though, let me give you an idea of the broad story Manchester is trying to tell and why it is so important for all of us to hear.

He starts us in the Dark Ages, about A.D. 400 to A.D. 1000, after the Roman Empire had perished. Say what you will about Rome, it was the unifying force of civilization in the world at that time. Without it, order collapsed and chaos rushed in to fill the void.  Chillingly, Manchester points out that among the many reasons for Rome’s fall were “apathy and bureaucratic absolutism.” Sound familiar?

During this time the intellectual life of Europe was gone. Manchester describes the Dark Ages as a portrait of “incessant warfare, corruption, lawlessness, obsession with strange myths, and an almost impenetrable mindlessness.” At this point the future did not look any too bright.

Fortunately, we humans know how to push ahead. At about the halfway mark in the book, the story I see is humanity’s struggle to reclaim civilization and the battle for which ideas  will be its cornerstone. Yes, Christianity and humanism are the main combatants again. But in this arena neither side is attractive. As Manchester tells us, Christianity survived despite the medieval Christians, not because of them.

I’ll write more as I get further into this book, but so far it is an amazing story. The older I get, the more I come to realize how important history is and how poor a job our schools are doing teaching it.

Here’s a little thought experiment for you. Imagine that the United States collapses tomorrow, for whatever reason. Take your time and think. What would happen in the short-term and in the long-term? What would happen to the world?



Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Book Review, What I'm Reading


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