For those ...
... who refused to believe that one could learn a language by just reading loads of books (and what about pronunciation?) here is a short example of what might happen:
The learned geographer (Monsieur Paganel) gladly availed himself of the opportunity of making use of the language he had been studying so conscientiously, but to his great amazement, found he could not make himself understood by the people. "It is the accent I've not got," he said. [Jules Verne, In Search of the Castaways (1868).]
I am afraid you are right. But sometimes I think that pronunciation is nothing more than a bad habit mainly used for giving orders. Writing is less noisy and the world would be far better off anyway if people wouldn't talk too much and that's all about that.
In these days children are normally seen playing computer games, buzzing about with mobile phones, speeding away on skateboards or just hanging around and smoking cigarettes. It was on the corner of the street that I noticed the first sign of something peculiar - a child reading a book.
Maybe I was too amazed to spot the title when passing by but, whether or not, I knew on the instant that it was "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire". Bookshops were entirely stuffed with Harry Potter books this year and I felt quite haunted by those books (the same way as Mr Dursley must have felt by Hogwards letters when it all began).
Yes, I agree that Harry Potter (the first book at least, I didn't read the others) is one of the best childrens books ever written, and no, as I am not a friend of continuations it is very unlikely that you should ever find another Harry Potter book on my list here (unless it starts raining Harry Potter books).
Now let me continue with the continuation of my giving you a short summary of stories written by me, as I announced, one story for each year. This time it is ...
Among the various crafts and powers a man (or a woman) can achieve there are two things which are, and will always be, beyond my skills. Those are cooking a meal and writing a song.
I do not mean to say that I am particularly good at e.g. writing stories or drawing pictures or assembling bookshelves but whenever I try there will always be a more or less tolerable result at the end to call it a story or a picture or a bookshelf.
As for cooking food and composing music, all my efforts ended up in nothing. And then, in 1995, I wrote a little something, not a story but rather a poem, although it didn't rhyme. I did it by first conceiving a real story, a story about a little boy living in the Middle Ages who was mistaken for a sort of wild creature, a Bluehead, because his hair was blue and he was not able to speak. Then, in a sort of evaporating process, I started to remove words. All the light words, those ones of minor importance, drifted away. Only the heavier words, I called them good words, words of importance, mainly short words they were, only these words remaind. And what I got was a highly concentrated solution of words. But I did not know what I should call this thing. And then I remembered that I always wanted to write a song and always failed. "Why not call it a song?" I asked myself. And that was what I did, I called it "Song of the Bluehead".
Let me continue now with another continuation, that is ...
Let's get organized! was one of my favourite catch-phrases from one of my favourite books this year and to get a little bit more organized myself (I am really quite unorganized) I reorganized my list of books by starting each entry with a set of (one or more) quotations from the book in question, quotations I thought of importance for various reasons (which I have already forgotten, maybe you can tell me?).
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, 1938
- She belonged to another breed of men and women, another race than I. They had guts, the women of her race. They were not like me. If it had been Beatrice who had done this thing instead of me she would have put on her other dress and gone down again to welcome her guests. She would have stood by Giles's side, and shaken hands with people, a smile on her face. I could not do that. I had not the pride, I had no guts. I was badly bred. -
- 'My husband says all these big estates will be chopped up in time and bungalows built.' -
Many years ago I happened to see the most horrifying horrorfilm of my life. The film was "Rebecca" and it was about a poor young women who was doomed to live among aliens. A cruel insensitive man, Maxim de Winter, came along and married her and took her away to his large scary house at the seaside where she was captivated in a nightmare of mortification and fear.
To my complete bewilderment that house had a name, Manderley, and the very fact of those aliens giving names to houses frightened me the more. Young and unexperienced as I was, I thought names were only made for living creatures and houses had only numbers and naming that house appeared to me like turning it into a living thing, a sort of gigantic breathing monster.
But everything was blurred in my childish mind. I remember there was a wicked woman, the housekeeper Miss Danvers, and an awfull lot of servants, and there was, I thought, the ghost of Rebecca haunting the house. What was going on in that house, what the people were talking about, all that was beyond my comprehension.
And yet I must have suffered a sort of emotional shock, a trauma, that caused an ever growing fear of large houses and of servants. Large houses were scary houses. Servants would never respect me, they would always treat me with envy and disdain. And what do those people think hollow trees were made for?
Then I came across this book and I thought reading it might help me, in a sort of catharsis, to overcome my fears. At least it would tell me what really happened (was there a ghost?). What I found was one of the most beautiful languages of the world, rather a song than a novel, simply enchanting.
A Sight For Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell, 1998
- People who don't understand a foreign language that you do always expect you to know every word it contains, to be a complete walking vocabulary. You couldn't be that even in your own language, there would always be some words you had to look up in the dictionary. -
Too much reading can make your eyes sore, but this is not a cure, it's a thriller. Some people called it a frightening tapestry of warped minds but I knew it couldn't frighten me half as much as Rebecca could. I was not afraid to read it alone.
There's murder in it and madness and a chilling sort of indifference. But at least there are people, reasonable people, living in flats and sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
There was a cottage at Manderley, just a single room with a boat store attached. I would call this a cottage. But be carefull with the word "cottage". As for Orcadia Cottage, I'm not so sure. Maybe they just call it a cottage to conceal what it really is, a large scary house.
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, 1981
- I wish, at times, for a more discerning audience, someone who would understand the need for rhythm, pacing, the subtle introduction of minor chords which will later rise, swell, seize the melody. -
- Reality can have a metaphorical content; that does not make it less real. -
- Let's get organized! -
Wonderful children of midnight, born at the hour of the birth of a nation, miraculous gifts mistaken for faults, but I would not believe that this phenomenon should be restricted to India on August 15th, 1947. My idea was that whenever a child was born at midnight in coincidence with a special event in history, especially the starting of something new, this coincidence caused the child to acquire a special gift or talent.
The birth of a nation is not an everyday event but many other things start at midnight, such as the beginning of a century, the introduction of a new currency or the issue of a new Harry Potter book. And a child born at midnight actually is an everyday event.
All I had to do to proof my new U.M.C.T. (Universal Midnight Children Theory) was to go to a large playground were hundreds of children were playing and try to find at least a single child displaying a special talent or gift. What I found was a little girl turning water to tea and a boy singing glass into pieces, both of which were minor talents but it probably depends on the importance of the event of conincidence.
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, 1967
- The original owner, whose name is long ago forgotten, had only lived in it for a year or two before the huge ugly house was standing empty and up for sale. -
- 'You wrote it? No, I don't wish to hear it, thank you. Strange as it may seem, I prefer Mrs Hemans'. -
- 'Exercise! You mean those ridiculous tortures with bars and dumb-bells? At their age young girls should be strolling under the trees in light summer dresses with a young man's arm around every waist.' -
Education meant to be proper and sound may sometimes turn out to be crazy and queer.
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, 1987
- 'Isn't it wonderful? To live in this wonderful twentieth century? For the first time in history, you don't need to own a thing.' -
- The 'war boys' are the ones who never grow up. -
- 'What the fuckers don't understand', drawled Titus, 'is there is no such person as an Aboriginal or Aborigine. There are Tjakamarras and Jaburullas and Duburungas like me, and so on all over the country.' -
Among all the CD-ROMs that came with my computer I found a sort of multimedia encyclopedia and I made an atempt to (virtually) travel around the world on song lines. There were samples of songs from places all over the world, but there were gaps. I had to entirely skip several countries. Unfortunately there was not a song from Hamburg (Germany) on my encyclopedia CD-ROM, so I lost my way and couldn't even find home again. To serve as a road map ancient Australien songs must obviously be more densly connected with the land, there must be more verses per metre.
The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1937
- This invisibility has it's drawbacks after all. Otherwise I might have spent a warm and comfortable night in bed! -
When writing my Red Bonnet Story (remember the summary I gave you last year) I thought that invisibility by all means is a rejectable disease and never a desirable gift. But then there were objections because normally in literature children love being invisible and the whole story was said to be incredible. Now I'm glad that I've found a little support in my contrary position at last. Mr Baggins takes great advantage from his invisibility ring but he is aware of the disadvantage too.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, 1971
- Lately she had been producing a number of illustrated poems which had been much admired both at home and at school. There had been one about fire, one about an earthquake and one about a man who died in dreadful agonies after being cursed by a tramp. -
- If you want to write about disasters, that's what you must do. It's no use trying to write what other people want. The only way to write anything good is to try to please yourself. -
- Then Madame Socrate pointed to the dictation, "Very bad!" she said, but made such a funny face as she said it that Anna did not mind. Anna looked at her book. Her dictation had disappeared under a sea of red ink. -
- Suddenly the work seemed quite easy and she was beginning to enjoy writing stories and compositions in French. It was not a bit like writing in German - you could make the words do quite different things - and she found it curiously exciting. -
What Hitler did with Pink Rabbit and whether he played snakes and ladders with the childrens games compendium is a question not to be answered in this book. But it is a book about learning a new language and little Anna has become a quite encouraging example for me to follow. At least I want to learn the difference between writing about disasters and writing disasters.
So we have finally reached the end now, the end of my list and the end of another year (and the end of a long and weary night). As it turned out the new century will just begin with the year 2001, which means there is another chance for me left, which means that once again I wish you a merry last christmas of the century, a happy new year and all the best for the next millenium.
Friday, December 15th, 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Hartmut Schwarz