“While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.” — Reepicheep, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Ok, so here’s the thing about giving swords to mice. It’s the freaking best. While the symbolism of the swordsmouse probably goes without saying, let me at least say that one of the reasons swordsmice are awesome is that they remind us never to be daunted by long odds and to always persist in the face of adversity (two lessons that are becoming increasingly important).
In the case of Reepicheep, a well-known character from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and my very favorite swordsmouse, the lessons about being fierce despite small size are still there, but they’re slightly overshadowed by the main thrust (no pun intended) of the character, which is that you should be a total and complete badass in every and all situations, no exceptions. Full stop.
Reepicheep’s whole thing is that he might be the tiniest bit insecure about being, you know, a mouse, so he way, super overcompensates by being really into fighting everyone who even slightly annoys him in any capacity. Now. On the surface, does this seem like really not an admirable quality? Yes. But! Reepicheep completely makes up for this egregious old-timey bellicosity by being extremely noble, chivalrous, and basically just a big, damn hero.
Another great swordsmouse is Matthias, the main character of Brian Jacques’s Redwall. Matthias is a classic unlikely hero and really, who doesn’t love that? Matthias is opposite of Reepicheep in most ways. He’s a peace-loving mouse who pretty much just loves working at Redwall Abbey and is portrayed as a bit of a bungler at first. But he rises in defense of his home and his loved ones when the Abbey is threatened. Without spoiling the book for you, I’ll tell you that Matthias’s transformation from hapless pastoral duffer to mighty swordsmouse is exactly what you need to read if you feel helpless.
Narnia and Redwall are very, very different from one another, but aside from swordsmice and being written by Brits, what they have in common is the deep-rooted theme that good will defeat evil as long as heroes have the will to persevere.
Basically what I’m trying to say, you guys, is this: Swordsmice are one of the greatest things ever given to us by literature. They remind us that valor, bravery, and physical prowess are not the domain only of the large and strong. They teach us not to be afraid to pick a fight, if we feel threatened. They show us that you can be peaceful and still protect those you love. These are important things for every child to learn, which is why swordsmice are mostly found in books for children and young adults, but I have found myself needing reminders lately. If you do, too, these books, and others like them, are the places to find them.
March 21st is International Day of Forests, which has honestly got to be one of the best and most important days ever implemented by the U.N. Here’s a link to the Wiki article, if you’re interested in the boring technical stuff that they do.
Forests are amazing. I have loved them since I was a kid, exploring what I perceived as the rugged wilderness of my grandparents’ suburban backyards. And while I grew to understand that the small stretch of woods between properties in Hampton Township did not constitute a forest, I have yet to outgrow my awe of, connection to, or love of, wooded areas.
Did you know that 80% of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity is found in forests? And that while tropical rainforests cover only 10% of the Earth’s surface, more than half of all terrestrial species are thought to live there? And don’t be fooled by the phrase “thought to” in that sentence. Half is probably a significant underestimate, since new species are being discovered all the time, and many of the rainforests throughout the world remain largely unexplored.
Also! When people hear the word rainforest, they usually think of the jungles of the tropics, but did you know that there are rainforests right here in the USA?! On the West Coast of the USA and Canada is what’s known as a temperate rainforest, stretching from Kodiak Island in Alaska to Northern California. Temperate rainforests are also found on the southern tip of South America, in Australia, Northwestern Europe, and Northeastern Asia.
Probably the coolest forest, though, is the taiga. Taiga refers to the biome found just below the tundra at the Earth’s north pole. There’s not really southern taiga because Antarctica is surrounded by oceans, but the Arctic region is surrounded on a few sides by North America and Asia, and the land below the Arctic Circle is home to the taiga. Taiga is characterized by thick forests of evergreen, mostly coniferous trees, and weather patterns that can most easily be described as tundra-lite. Winters are long and severe, summers short and mild. Despite the harsh living conditions, though, the taiga is still home to plenty of awesome plants and animals. The Asian taiga is home to the Siberian Tiger and the Amur Leopard, two of the rarest big cats in the world. The taiga also contains approximately one third of all the trees in the entire world, and produces about one quarter of the oxygen we breathe.
Basically what I’m saying, people, is that forests are totally amazing and are probably the best thing on this entire planet of Earth. With the way things are going, it’s likely that the entire concept of forests is going to radically be changing in the next 50 years or so, so take the opportunity now to experience forests as they are, and maybe participate in some of the ways that people are trying to preserve and protect them.
You can learn more about the United Nations’ Day of Forests efforts here.
Well, it’s that time of the year again. March 10th marks International Bagpipes Day! I know most of us are (obviously) great bagpipe lovers already, but for anyone out there who has ever thought, “Wow, bagpipes are totally amazing, but I wish I knew more about them!” this post is for you.
Let’s start with some basic bagpipe facts.
- Bagpipes were invented in the Near/Middle East, evidence suggests some time before the Roman era. The exact timeline is unknown, but references to bagpipes and bagpipers are made in ancient Greek plays and Roman writings. There are sporadic mentions of the instrument in earlier texts.
- Although the Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland is the most widely known bagpipe in the English-speaking world, bagpipes are actually fairly common across all Indo-European countries, with most every region sporting several examples. In addition to the Great Highland Bagpipe, pipes from the British Isles include the Scottish Smallpipes, the Border Pipes, the Irish Uilleann Pipes, and others. In Europe, instruments include the zampogna of Italy, the biniou of France, and the Dudelsack (yes, really) of Germany. There are also bagpipes indigenous to India, Iran, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Norway, Sweden, and pretty much every other European country you know.
- Bagpipes were used on the battlefields of Scotland and England as early as the 16th century. Bagpipes were used in a manner similar to the use of the bugle by the cavalries of Westerns, with different types of tunes to denote marching to battle, retreating, reveille, etc. The commonly known music of the Great Highland Bagpipes today comes mostly from the tradition of martial music; bagpipe competitions strongly emphasize marches specifically.
While different types of bagpipe vary greatly in their tones, the instruments have an underlying unity to their sound, which is due to the way they are played. Almost all bagpipes consist of a chanter, which plays the melody, and at least one drone pipe, which plays a single note in the background (hence the name). The piper fills the bag with air, either blown in by mouth or pumped in by a bellows, and then squeezes the bag, which forces the air through reeds in the pipes, which produces the notes of the instrument.
From Wikipedia (because I tried to say this as concisely and failed): “The chanter is usually open-ended, so there is no easy way for the player to stop the pipe from sounding. Thus most bagpipes share a constant, legato sound where there are no rests in the music. Primarily because of this inability to stop playing, technical movements are used to break up notes and to create the illusion of articulation and accents. Because of their importance, these embellishments (or ‘ornaments’) are often highly technical systems specific to each bagpipe, and take many years of study to master.”
- Bill Millin, personal piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, piped British soldiers ashore at Normandy like a total badass. After the battle he asked some captured German snipers why they hadn’t shot him and they told him it was because they thought he had gone insane. What other instrument has a story like that?! None other.
That’s about enough of the educational stuff! Here are some bagpipes for you to listen to! Enjoy!
Pipe Major Brian Donaldson and Willie MacCallum, two of the best pipers living (and two of the nicest people you’d ever hope to meet!)
The late Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies, last Pipe Major of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, and possibly the greatest piper of the 20th Century. (Also a fantastic person.)
Here’s some Italian bagpipes! Wtf?!
Russian Bagpipes! Ah!
That’s all from your favorite bagpipe lover for today! Haste ye back! <3
February 20th is National Love Your Pet Day! Aka the best and most beautiful day of the year! We love pets. They are cuddly and adorable and the actual best. Pet ownership has been scientifically proven* to make your life better. Taking care of a creature other than yourself not only imparts responsibility and makes you a less narcissistic crazypants, but it is also the essential ingredient for a perfect meet-cute. Basically what I’m trying to say is that you should have a pet. Because if you don’t have a pet, you will get pregnant. And die.
Nevermind that, though! Let’s look at pictures of the various and sundry pets of Kards Unlimited!
*I don’t really think that science has proven anything of the kind, but it sounds reasonable. Pets are the best. Just trust me.
I read a book a while ago called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. The book isn’t really about stealing, of course, but about how to go about capitalizing on inspiration and understanding the differences between emulating a style because you appreciate it and straight up copying someone else’s work.
When I heard Neil Gaiman was going to publish a book of Norse mythology (inventively entitled, Norse Mythology), I immediately thought of Steal Like an Artist because one of the things Kleon talks about in the book is getting to know the influences of your influences. If you want to paint like Van Gogh, find out not only all you can about him, find out all you can about the painters that he admired and that influenced him.
Gaiman’s appreciation for Norse myth is very obvious when you read his novel American Gods, since several characters directly from Norse mythology are transformed into main characters of the novel. However, I’m excited to read the Norse myths retold by Gaiman himself, since they are such a significant influence on his writing.
Norse mythology is not nearly as well known in America as its Southern European counterparts. Indeed, the word mythology in and of itself generally gets people thinking of Olympus and Hercules and the rest of the Greek pantheon. Norse mythology is quite different. The gods are more heroic and human, their enemies are much more diverse and, frankly, weird, and the nine worlds that make up the Norse universe provide a multitude of paths a departed soul can take from life instead of a simple trip across a river to the Underworld of the Greeks and Romans.
Anyone who has asked for book recommendations at Kards Unlimited has undoubtedly been pointed in the direction of Neil Gaiman. All of his books have been picked as favorites of at least a few of the staff and the KU Book Club has read three of his novels over the course of our meetings. I’m certainly not alone in being excited for Gaiman’s newest book, and I think you will be too. Come pick up a signed copy, on sale tomorrow, 2/7/17!
“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
I admit from the outset that I am not a very good Bradbury fan. Bradbury, born 22 August 1920, published at least 27 novels and over 600 short stories (and likely wrote a ton more-he wrote religiously every day for almost 70 years) and I’ve only ever read one of his books, Fahrenheit, 451 and I only thought it was ok. One of his works that has stuck with me since I first saw it, though, is the made-for-TV movie The Electric Grandmother written by Bradbury and based on his short story I Sing the Body Electric (named for a Walt Whitman poem).
The movie tells the story of a widower and his three children who obtain an android grandmother to help assuage the loss of their wife/mother. It’s a lovely and heart-wrenching story and it affected me very strongly as a kid. Ray really knew how to hit you right in the feels, man.
Despite not having a great grounding in his works, I do really love Ray Bradbury for his love of and commitment to the art and craft of writing. Aspiring writers now have so much discouraging them (us) from pursuing our goals that it’s great to have the moral support of someone so influential in the field.
“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.”
Pretty much everyone knows what ventriloquism is, but in case you don’t, ventriloquism is the art of throwing one’s voice. The ability to speak while appearing not to speak. Great ventriloquists can have full conversations with thin air! Can give life to otherwise inert objects! (Usually a puppet of some kind, but it’s fun when it’s something else too!) Ventriloquists, in short, make boring (and, depending on the puppet, sometimes creepy) things fun!
National Ventriloquism Week is coordinated through the Vent Haven Museum in Cincinnati. William Berger, a Cincinnati industrialist, founded the museum using his large collection of ventriloquist’s dummies that he had accumulated over many years and business trips. The week is celebrated on the third week of July every year (that’s the 19th through the 25th this year).
Even if you can’t make it out to Cincinnati for the celebration, appreciate the fine art of ventriloquism by seeing a show or watching one on Netflix if there isn’t a live one convenient. Or practice some ventriloquism of your own! You never know when it might come in handy!