First Lines: La Belle Sauvage

Years ago, I was quite impressed by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which is an uncompromising story about religion, authority, and individual freedom. Late last year, he published La Belle Sauvage, the first part of The Book of Dust trilogy, set in the same world.

Set ten years before the events in His Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage is divided in two parts. In the first part, the scene is set, our heroes Malcolm and Alice are introduced, a flood of Biblical proportions might be coming soon, and we are reminded that there are dæmons and something called Dust, that the Church has its own agencies and is not always out for your best interest, and that world might be similar to ours, but is quite something else as well. Also, there is a little baby, called Lyra, and Malcolm adores here.

In this part, I had to do some digging through the back of my head, to see who was who and what was what again, and how all these things were supposed to fit together. I should perhaps have reread His Dark Materials first, but I am not saying that that is an absolute must. Pullman’s world is rich and complex, and that is just fine.

The second part is more of an adventure tale: Malcolm and Alice try to keep the baby Lyra away from the Church’s forces, are being chased by a deranged French scientists, and eventually set out in Malcolm’s canoe, La Belle Saugave, over the flooded landscape to London, to find Lyra’s father. On their way, they have encounters with faeries and Old Father Thames and people who try to double-cross them. But every time, they win through, and continue their quest. It gets a bit improbable at times, but as I said, Pullman’s world is rich and complex, so stuff like that apparently happens, and that is fine with me.

Book read
Philip Pullman — The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage
First line
Three miles up the river Thames from the centre of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and the two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

First Lines: Dominee Gremdaat

Dominee Gremdaat is minister of unknown denomination who used to appear on TV a lot, and whom you probably have never of if you are not Dutch.* Back in in the 1990s two collection of his sermons were released. In his sermons, he does not dwell on theology, but rather on encounters he has had. He meets people, talks to them, and helps them to make sense of their situation. Or, just as often, something quite unexpected happens.

The first of those books, the a ‘best of’ collection Kent u die uitdrukking?, I hadn’t revisited since probably 1998. I read them with Dominee Gremdaat’s voice and mannerisms in my head. I would hear him pause and stutter and his voice rise and fall at all the right moments, with his hands fluttering around in excitement. That made reading his escapades and borderline brilliant similes, like Het gebeurt vaak in het leven: de rij voor je wordt kleiner, en de rij achter je groter. En soms ben je blij, het is nu mijn beurt, en soms ben je teleurgesteld, het is nu al mijn beurt. (If often happens in life: the line in front of you gets smaller, and the line behind you gets longer. And sometimes that makes you happy: it is now my turn. And sometimes you are sad: it is my turn already.) so much better.

The other book, Dominee Gremdaat wijst de weg naar een prettige overgang, collects a series of sermons trying to guide people through the confusing time that was the transition of the 1900s into the year 2000. Those haven’t aged very well.

Book read
Kent u die uitdrukking? De beste preken van Dominee Gremdaat.
First line
Onlangs zag ik in een afgelegen bos een wat oudere man.
Book read
Dominee Gremdaat wijst de weg naar een prettige overgang
First line
Van de week botste ik in een drukke winkelstraat tegen een vrouw op.

* He is also a character played by comedian Paul Haenen, who is able to imitate the voice of Bert in Sesamstraat quite well.

First Lines: Zilvertand / Weerwolvenbos

Last year, I read two of Paul van Loon’s Dolfje Weerwolfje books. As the others have since returned from a loan, I read those as well. Not to sound too much like an old man, but I guess I was too old for them.

The first two were loads of fun, as I never read them, but these, well, if I had read these two first, they’d be loads of fun too. It’s just that I figured out the formula, and that made them more repetitive than fun. Dolfje is a werewolf, Timmie is his best friend, Dad is weird, they get in trouble (Zilvertand wants to capture werewolves to sell them / some business persons want to cut down Wolvenbos), and cousin Leo, Grandpa Werewolf and Dolfje’s girlfriend Noura come to the rescue.

Then there were also two even shorter stories for children just starting to read, and there even less happened.

So: fun, but not keeping me interested beyond the time it took to read them.

Book read
Paul van Loon — Zilvertand
First line
Book read
Paul van Loon — Weerwolvenbos
First line
Doodstil was het in het Wolvenbos.
Book read
Paul van Loon — Het nachtmerrieneefje
First line
‘Hé, Dolf, weerwolven!’
Book read
Paul van Loon — Niet bijten, Dolfje!
First line
Rennen, rennen!

30 Day Song Challenge #30

Day 30: a song that reminds you of yourself.

Acda en De Munnik — Als je me morgen ziet

The main reason I like Acda en De Munnik so damn much is the words. Thomas Acda has diminutively said that he just puts them it the right order, but in truth, both he and Paul de Munnik are really, really good at that. On every album there are a couple of songs where the lyrics are borderline genius. A turn of phrase here, a simile there, a song that is so meta that it is all about what type of song it is … for someone who is into words and the order they’re in, I can not recommend them enough. Especially if you’re a hopeless romantic who rather keeps dreaming of what could be, instead of finding out what would really happen (cf. day 27), like me.

This post would be so much easier in Dutch, ‘cause then I’d just post a bunch of lyrics, and you’d get the drift.

Songs like “Als je me morgen ziet”, “Geen Liedje”, “Jaren ver van hier”, “Eva” and “Halve zinnen” are exactly about that: being hopelessly in love, and not being able to do something with that. It’s almost un-doable to pick a favorite from those, so I went for the one with the most watchable video. From a purely textual point of view, “Jaren ver van hier” would be so spot on that it’d be the “Love Theme” on the soundtrack of the first movie they’ll make about me. (For those who want to know: Love Theme, Part II)

Of course, I can’t end this post without a proper quote, so just to illustrate how well they could capture the lovestruck idiot I was, from “Halve zinnen”:

Je was het mooist dat ik ooit zag
‘t Was in de zomer van de eeuw
Ik wilde sterven in je armen
Ik was zestien—wist ik veel

Ik heb al wat klassiek is wel gedaan
‘k Heb onder aan je raam gestaan
Schreef je gedichten … ach, een paar
Vijfhonderd zes-en-dertig maar

And with that, the 30 day song challenge concludes.

First Lines: The View from the Cheap Seats

The View from the Cheap Seats (ToC) is a collection of the selected non-fiction of Neil Gaiman. It’s a hodge-podge of essays, interviews, book introductions, speeches, and the like. Some of them I had read before, either online or as part of the Neil Gaiman Humble Bundle.

What makes this collection work, I guess, is that despite some of the pieces being deeply personal, they are never private. Even when I knew nothing about the subject/person being talked about, Gaiman manages to make a connection. So that you can relate. After reading some of the included book reviews, there were quite a few titles I might want to look into eventually. But the pieces about making art and the process of making things up were the most fun for me.

Throughout the book there are little nuggets of quotable wisdom, like “I don’t get only supporting the freedom of the kind of speech you like. If speech needs defending, it’s probably because it’s upsetting someone.” and “Things can mean more than they literally mean. And that’s the dividing line between art and everything that isn’t art. Or one of the lines, anyway.”

Two pieces are among my all-time top 5 favorite things Neil Gaiman put on paper. The first is a Credo:

I believe that you have the absolute right to think things that I find offensive, stupid, preposterous or dangerous, and that you have the right to speak, write, or distribute these things, and that I do not have the right to kill you, maim you, hurt you, or take away your liberty or property because I find your ideas threatening or insulting or downright disgusting. You probably think some of my ideas are pretty vile, too.

I believe that in the battle between guns and ideas, ideas will, eventually, win.

Because the ideas are invisible, and they linger, and, sometimes, they are even true.

Eppur si muove: and yet it moves.

(full text, full text illustrated by Chris Riddell)

And then there is perhaps my favorite thing Gaiman ever did, the incredibly uplifting The ‘Make Good Art’ Speech (transcript):

So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.

And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.

Book read
Neil Gaiman — The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-Fiction
First line
I fled, or at least, backed awkwardly away from journalism because I wanted the freedom to make things up. (from “Introduction”)