I think it's just elegant to have an imagination

We went to Disneyland last week. We enjoyed ourselves very much. Disneyland is a great place for remembering what it was like to be a child, when Reality and Imagination blended together so nicely instead of colliding unhappily as they are wont to do later in life. It is also a place to ponder one of Life's Great Questions: why is the line for the Peter Pan ride always the longest in Fantasyland? I took advantage of my visit to do a little investigating, in hopes of arriving at an answer to that question.

I believe the reason for the popularity of the Peter Pan ride is that, of all the rides in Fantasyland, it has the perfect combination of coolness and scariness.

In relation to this, I also think there is a connection between how frightening the film is and how frightening the ride is. If parents do their duty, they will have shown the Disney animated films to their children numerous times before taking them to Disneyland so that the children can make a connection between what they viewed at home and what they are experiencing at the park. It helps if characters from the film are walking around in the park so that kids can have their photos taken with the characters. By the way, Disneyland has improved on that aspect since I went there as a youngster. I cannot tell you how wretchedly disappointed I was, at the age of 13, to cross the bridge from Main Street to Sleeping Beauty's castle and see Captain Hook standing there. He put out his hand to shake mine as I approached. It should have been an important day for me, because no character (or Cast Member, as they call 'em) had ever paid the least attention to me before, except one of the Three Little Pigs. But I heeded Hook not. I was looking for Peter Pan. Alas, he was nowhere to be seen, because Peter Pan at that time was not on the list of Cast Members. Nor was Mary Poppins, if you can believe it. It was a sad, sad day.

I have to add that, while I was at Disneyland this time, I did see Peter Pan heading for the Cast Members Only room, and three young women of about 18 or 20 years were chasing after him, screaming his name. What folly! As if you could catch Peter Pan! He ran for it, looking back over his shoulder, and made it safely to sanctuary.

Anyhow, back to answering the Great Question.

The Coolness Factor

Now this is cool

I've said before that I consider Wendy's room my home away from home.

My room at Disneyland

The view from my window

Not only is the scenery fantastic . . .

. . . but you get to sail through the sky in a pirate ship (and I'm happy to report that when we went on the Peter Pan ride this time, we got a pirate ship with a black sail - the best kind). Most of the other rides send you through in a cart or something.

Now to . . .

The Scariness Factor

Peter Pan is not too scary for little kids. There's a bit of tension when you see Tiger Lily about to drown and Wendy about to walk the plank, but it's not serious because Peter Pan always saves the day. (Speaking of which, have you noticed how sexist Peter Pan the animated film is? Not only are all the magical females depicted as jealous airheads, but Wendy has to do housework while her brothers go off having fun, and even the Indian women try to make Wendy do chores. It's one of the reasons I no longer count it as my favorite Disney animated film. Fortunately, you don't see much of that in the ride.)

Show White's Scary Adventures, indeed! The music is loud, the sights are frightening, and that's even before you get out of the dwarves' house. Then there's the witch, who I personally think is less scary as the witch than as the queen.

I once had an English professor at BYU who told the class that, back in 1938 or 1939, after SnowWhite had finished playing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, they had to replace the covers on all the seats in the auditorium because of all the children who wet their pants in fear of the witch while watching the film. He thought Snow White was a horrible film and Disney was evil.

Which leads me off on another tangent. So many people think Disney (using the name to represent the many different people responsible over the years for the production of the various animated features) whitewashes or sugar-coats things. Maybe so, but sometimes I think they improve things. You have to consider your audience. Really, would you rather see the wicked queen in Snow White forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance around in agony until she dies, or is it nicer to have her crushed by a boulder thrown on her by the dwarves? And what's so sugar-coated about being crushed by a boulder?

Or would you want to see Sleeping Beauty being ravished by the prince instead of kissed by him, and then she doesn't wake up until going into labor 9 months later? That's a lovely thing to show a youngster.

Would you rather see the Little Mermaid totally lose out on marrying the prince and then not even get her voice back in compensation, plus she ends up dying? Ugh.

Would you rather see Pinocchio fling the cricket against a wall and smash him? Actually, come to think of it, that one doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

But think of the tortures suffered by Cinderella's stepsisters - doves pecking their eyes out at the wedding celebration! Delightful.

The rides are scary enough; I don't think we need to include those horrific original endings in the films or the rides to totally terrorize and traumatize children. Kids have enough worries nowadays without being saddled with another monkey on their back.

Anyway . . . on to Pinocchio's Daring Journey.

This is also pretty scary, what with the threat of imprisonment and of being turned into a donkey, not to mention being swallowed by a whale.

I have to say, first of all, that here, at Mr Toad's Wild Ride, Disney goes out of its way to make things scarier than they are in the original book or in the film adaptation. The little journey through "hell" is completely apocryphal to both media. If it weren't for the little Dante-ish side visit, Toad's Wild Ride might almost be a contender for Coolest and Least Scary Ride. For coolness, you get to drive a car (and I was so happy that, when we went on the ride, we got a car labeled "Ratty", which is almost as good as a pirate ship with a black sail), and Toad has a beautiful library . . .

. . . and there's that lovely view of London, which is always a plus in my book.

But, in spite of the library, and in spite of the heartwarming scenery, and even if the infernal addition had never been made, Toad's Wild Ride can never qualify as my favorite ride because of the gross instance of character assassination performed by Disney against the beloved and lovable character of Ratty. They (i.e., Disney) took a generous, compassionate, helpful, immensely practical yet spiritually sensitive character from the book and turned him into a stuffy, fussy, officious boor.

The real Ratty

Disney's Ratty (so-called)

They also robbed him of his house! If you go on the Storybookland ride, they show you Toad Hall and, next to it, right on the riverbank, a charming little house with a sign over the door that says "Mole's". Mole's!! And the chick steering the boat even says it's Mole's house! Outrage! Sacrilege! Thievery! As everyone knows, or ought to, Mole's house is a snug little tunnel out in some field. The house on the riverbank is dear, dear Ratty's house, and Mole is his permanent guest. Really, it's an awful thing to turn a perfectly wonderful little animal into someone unworthy of our affection, and then, because of that supposed unworthiness, give his house to the lovable mole.

I love Ratty's house. If I can't stay in Wendy's room, then Ratty's is where I'll go.

The Alice in Wonderland ride, The Teacups, and Dumbo don't count. Alice in Wonderland is the only ride that compares in nature with Peter Pan, Snow White, etc, and it just isn't cool or scary. Nor is the film. That's what you get when you take a very clever and witty book and turn it into an animated children's film but neglect to include the cleverness and wit.

Incidentally, I noticed that, of all the 1940s-1950s-era fairy-tale inspired Disney films, Cinderella is the only one that isn't represented in Fantasyland. I wonder why that is.

Even Sleeping Beauty has the castle, and she used to have the carousel to herself, although nowadays she shares it with Arthur from The Sword in the Stone.

Personally, I'd like to see a Beauty and the Beast-themed ride. That would be a real favorite of mine, since that's my favorite Disney animated film.

I mentioned that back in the day they had no Cast Members of Peter Pan or Mary Poppins, but that they added them, oh, 10 or 15 years ago, I'd guess. My other goal for the day, besides figuring out the answer to one of Life's Great Questions, was to see Mary Poppins. I almost missed her, but then Adrien told me she'd seen her and Bert dancing out in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle. We wandered out that way to see what we could see. We were in luck: about five minutes later, she appeared!

That really made my day. She and Bert were pulling little kids out of the audience and dancing with them. I knew, at my age, it was too much to hope. . . .

After the thrill of seeing them dance and sing, we went over to get some ice cream at a shop on Main Street. While we sat there enjoying our treat, a fellow came up and started playing on a handy piano situated in the courtyard outside the shop. I think his name was Michael. Anyway, he said he expected a couple of his friends to come by in a moment to help him perform some songs, and suddenly, there were Mary Poppins and Bert again! More dancing with kids, more signing of autographs. Then I got up the nerve and asked Bert, who had wandered over near our table, if I could have my picture taken with Mary Poppins. He said certainly. So I went up to stand by her. She held out her elbow for me to put my arm through. I complied, then turned to her and said, "You're my favorite!" She said, "Thank you."

I'm glad that I'm still young enough, or silly enough, to allow reality and imagination to come together amicably.


That's a bargain all right, but a bargain ain't a bargain unless it's something you need

I mentioned previously the great deal I got on the hardcover Lord of the Rings set. Lately I've been thinking about other really good deals I've had in acquiring books, and I thought I'd share a few.

The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson - free. This book was a gift from my "boyfriend" in the 7th grade. I put "boyfriend" in quotation marks because, although we were friends, I didn't really like him as a boyfriend, but we went steady for a couple of weeks anyway because of peer pressure. Part of the reason we broke up was because he was such a liar. Also, he moved away. Anyhow, knowing how much I enjoyed reading, at one point in our short relationship he gave me a paperback copy of The Black Arrow.

I think this book was my first exposure to RLS's fiction (other than maybe watching a black & white film of Treasure Island), and my enjoyment at reading it is one of the reasons I like him so well. So, inside the cover of this book, someone had written "This book belongs to Jim F." Only, my friend's name was Paul (the names have been changed to protect me). I wondered momentarily where Paul had got it from, but I didn't ask questions. I took a pen and, underneath the previous inscription, wrote "Not anymore".

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (aka By the Great Horn Spoon!), by Newbery-award-winning author Sid Fleischman - 60¢. This is the first book I ever bought for myself. I was in sixth grade, and our teacher, Mrs Poppenhager, passed out one of those book order forms like Scholastic and Arrow Books do now, and I took it home and discussed it with my mom, who gave me permission (and probably the money) to order the book.

The book is really called By the Great Horn Spoon!, a much apter name, if you ask me, but it had recently been made into a Disney film, and they changed the title (and the name of the main character), and the copy I bought was a movie tie-in paperback reprint. For sheer entertainment value and lasting life influence, it's probably the best 60¢ I ever spent.

By the Great Horn Spoon! is about the adventures of an orphan boy named Jack Flagg who runs away from Boston with Praiseworthy (aka "Griffin" in the Disney film), who is Jack's aunt's butler. They head for the gold fields of California in 1849 in order to restore the family fortune so that Jack's aunt and two younger sisters won't have to be penniless.

The book immediately became one of my favorites ever (a set that is approaching 100 in number). Not only that, it exerted a great influence on my life, as books were wont to do back in those days. After reading Fleischman's book, I developed a passion for the California Gold Rush era and was somewhat more than mildly obsessed with the idea of becoming a Forty-niner. It didn't matter to me that I was about 115 years too late; the constraints of reality were no match for my imagination.

Our family would occasionally take little trips up to Gold Country, especially to the town of Columbia. Our parents bought us rock candy and sarsaparilla and little pokes (tiny drawstring bags, for those of you unfamiliar with gold miner lingo) of bubble gum pieces made to look like gold nuggets. After chewing all my gum, I saved the poke. It came in handy because once, while we were going through some field or walking by the side of some road or traipsing through some dry riverbed or something like that, I knelt down and picked up a handful of dirt and then, letting it escape ever so slowly, gently blew on the falling debris so that the dust and bits of plant matter were blown away and the heavier stuff (tiny rocks and the like) landed in the palm of my other hand. This was a trick I had learned from reading By the Great Horn Spoon! And I actually found a little tiny flake of gold that day, or so I believed. I put it in the poke and kept it safe in my pocket.

A day or so later, while we were at our cousins' house, I stepped on a nail protruding from a board and was taken by my mom to a nearby doctor for a tetanus shot. The doctor, who was a friendly, teasing sort, asked if I had any money to pay for the office visit. I thought about the gold in my pocket. I thought about how much I really, really wanted it. Then I thought about how much trouble I'd been, getting stabbed in the foot through my own carelessness, and how I ought to do my part. So I told him I had some gold I could pay him with. I showed him the little flake. He laughed at me. (And I wonder sometimes why I don't like talking to strangers.) Anyway, my mom paid the bill.

A few years ago, I tried to buy a first printing of By the Great Horn Spoon! - not with my little gold flake, which I lost many years ago. At the time, there were none available, so I got a 2nd printing. I just looked up the title again, and someone is presently selling a first for $50, but I think I'm happy for now with my 2nd printing. Incidentally, that 60¢ paperback is currently selling for $6 to $8.

Madam, Will You Talk?, by Mary Stewart - $100. Sometimes I go to book fairs. They're like comic book conventions, only with no comics, just books. And no one dresses like a freak. Once, back in 1993, I happened by one of the stalls at one of those fairs, and saw, in a little glass case, a copy of Madam, Will You Talk? I was very excited. Could it be a genuine first printing? Because it's a pretty scarce book to find in that state. First printings of an author's first book are generally on the small side. So usually, if you see a copy of Madam, Will You Talk?, it's a book club edition or a later printing masquerading as a first. Anyway, I asked the owner if I could look at the book, if I could hold it in my hands. He let me. I checked it out: yes, it was a first printing, a real true first printing. But I didn't have $100, which was what he was asking for it. I reluctantly walked away.

But I went home with a new goal: to save up the money and to hope the book would be there at the next book fair, which was six months later. So, six months later, I went back to the book fair, back to the same booth . . . and the book was not there!

Do not weep for me. If you can believe it, I didn't spend (all of) that $100 and I went back to the next fair, another six months later, and there it was again. So I bought it. It was the most I'd ever spent to date on a book. But I'm very glad to have it.

I looked it up on line today and there's somebody selling one for $345. There's also someone selling one for $95, but, for reasons I won't go into here, I'm not so sure it's a first printing. (I think one of these days I'll write a little monograph on how to identify a Mary Stewart first printing.)

Of course, the book I have is not really a first printing. It's a first American printing. Mary Stewart is British, and since her books were published in the UK before they were here, the UK edition is the real first printing. I don't have one of those. There's a copy currently selling for $636. I think I'll wait.

Why Mary Stewart? you may ask. Isn't she just another one of those gothic romance writers? No, she is not. She is sui generis, and someone who helped form my ideas about the nature of duty and love and doing what is right.

Of course, you don't need to spend $100 or more on a first printing to be influenced by an author. Sixty cents gets you the same message.


Who's the author of this foul outrage?

This list is from librarything.com, a place where you can list books you've read, rate and review them, and compare yourself and your books to other people with similar reading habits.

50 top-rated authors
Authors with at least ten ratings and five raters
(I haven't included the actual ratings numbers, because they're meaningless)

1. Jeannie Fulbright
2. John Schreiber
3. Amy Guth
4. Kyoto Costume Institute
5. Takehiko Inoue
6. Josemaria Escriva
7. Ninya Mikhaila
8. Kyoko Hikawa
9. Arthur G Bennett
10. John Bonnett Wexo
11. Trish New
12. Eberhard Nestle
13. John P Meier
14. Timothy Ferriss
15. Albert Goldbarth
16. Luigi Serafini
17. Cyril Hare
18. Beverly Jenkins
19. Jonathan Larson
20. Sho Fumimura
21. Ernst Haeckel
22. Tim Hegg
23. Yasuko Kosaka Mitamura
24. Lynn
25. Percy Dearmer
26. William T Cavanaugh
27. Maida Heatter
28. Abingdon Press
29. Ole Risom
30. Ludwig van Beethoven
31. Mazo de la Roche
32. Elizabeth Crowfoot
33. Vardis Fisher
34. Brian Selznick
35. Alex Grey
36. L J Maas
37. Clyde Pharr
38. Marshal G S Hodgson
39. Deric Longden
40. Paul Rusesabagina
41. Caroline Lawrence
42. Francis Lathom
43. Mary B Morrison
44. Julie Phillips
45. Anton Corbijn
46. G B Edwards
47. Howard Tayler
48. Walt Kelly
49. Janet Arnold
50. Toni Weschler

Maybe it shows my lack of broad reading material, but I didn't even recognize a name until Ludwig van Beethoven (# 30), and he's not even an author! Finally, at #31, I saw a name I knew for sure was an author, but I haven't read anything by him. And then, at #33, another familiar name (whose books I also have not read). Finally I came to #48, Walt Kelly, and the only name listed whose works I have actually read. He wrote the comic strip Pogo. (I have one of his books of collected comics, by the way.)

What does this mean? I'm not sure, so I decided to look up a few of these authors. I skipped number 4 and number 28, because institutes and presses are not authors, no matter how much they think they are.

At random, I chose #6, Josemaría Escrivá. He wrote The Way and other books. He was the founder of Opus Dei (and we all know all about them because of another classic work of literature, The Da Vinci Code). He practiced corporal mortification. He helped the poor, a lot. He was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Well, saints have been writers, and I don't mean Vardis Fisher.

Next, #8, Kyoko Hikawa. She writes manga. Just out of curiosity, I looked up all the Japanese names on the list: three of the four write manga, and the fourth writes books on how to learn to write and speak Japanese. No one on librarything.com has heard of Haruki Murakami? Or Yukio Mishima?

Next, #38, Marshall G S Hodgson. He was a historian who wrote The Venture of Islam.

Next, #10, John Bonnett Wexo. He has written a number of non-fiction books for children, including Sharks, and Elephants, and Giraffes.

Next, #29, Ole Risom. Another children's author. He wrote I Am a Kitten.

It's not that I think people who write children's books aren't legitimate authors, because they are. Some of my favorite authors ever wrote children's books. But Ole Risom, author of I Am a Kitten . . . one of the fifty top-rated authors ever?

So I looked up a handful or two of other names from the list, just to see what I would find. Writers of cookbooks, art books, how-to books, homeschooling books, photography books, fashion and clothing books, technology books, and Broadway musicals. Not that those things aren't useful, especially the Broadway musical. But where are the authors who really belong on this list, authors like Jane Austen, and E B White, and Federico García Lorca, and like that?

And who the heck is Lynn (#24)?

I looked her up, too. She writes Harlequin romances.

Okay. Enough of that.

They also had a category called "50 lowest-rated authors". Guess who was number 20? Bruce R McConkie. Go figure. Well, I guess it's something to get your name on a list. If you're a
medium-rated author, you don't even get noticed.

So, I ask again, what does this mean?

I think it means that lists like these demonstrate the weakness of gauging the popularity or value of anything where humans and computers rely on each other to make choices. As in, "garbage in, garbage out". On the other hand, popular book lists concocted by humans alone are only as reliable as the mental health of the listmakers and the frequency with which they vote on the titles listed. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "People do not deserve to have good writing, they are so pleased with bad."


That is no trinket you carry

I was at the Bottom Shelf the other day when the cover of a book caught my eye.

"10 Cool Things about Being a Ring Bearer!" I thought. Now that sounds interesting. I already know a couple of Cool Things about being a Ring Bearer: the ability to become invisible, for one. A prolonged life, for another. Of course, there are the drawbacks, like being in eternal thrall to the Dark Lord. And probably having to ride fell beasts. That one is particularly unattractive to me because I'm afraid of heights. But if there really are 10 Cool Things about being a Ring Bearer, maybe those things would outweigh the drawbacks.

Some of the Cool Things mentioned are:

"A Ring Bearer gets to wear a really cool suit." I've been thinking about this one, and I can't remember any cool suit that a Ring Bearer got to wear, unless it was the mithril shirt. The only other suit I can remember is Frodo putting on orc armor, and that was revolting.

"A Ring Bearer makes new friends." Yeah, until they go mad and try to take the ring away from you.

"A Ring Bearer gets to take home favors and treats." This is true. Frodo got lembas bread and that little bottle with Eärendil's light or whatever in it.

The rest of the Cool Things weren't really that cool. I still say the drawbacks outweigh the coolness.