Dialogue of Chivalry of Duke Finnvarr de Taahe, by Etienne de l’Isle

Full Text

This is one of those times when I fall in love with the internet all over again. I wandered onto this great website, and found a typed version of this 12th century “dialogue.” It should be a must-read for all history majors at college. I learned a lot about chivalry and the 12th century in general; most of the following I learned by reading this 19-page work.

STORY: A recounting of an evening spent in the hospitality of the Duke Finnvarr de Taahe. This being the 12th century, the Duke and his fellow peers are peers by virtue of personal merit/selection by a committee of other peers and the king (not, as most people now understand it, by ancestry). These educated elite gather in one another’s homes and at tournaments to have fun and take pleasure in educating themselves. The evening, as recorded by a scribe of de Taahe’s entourage, is unusual in that the peers spent all night talking about the problems of their society and ways to fix them. Most of their concerns are about the knights and peers who are supposed to set the example for society; pride, trying to appear all-knowing instead of knowledgeable, arrogance, over-competitiveness, and putting appearances over substance. Most of which sound like modern social problems.

BAD: Well, being a typed version, there are a few adjustments of translation. I don’t know if this was originally in Olde English or Latin or even French, but the transliterator mixes a few modern colloquialisms, so certain points of accuracy could be in question. Otherwise, nothing else objectionable. However, some parts may be confusing for the un-medieval-Europe-literate; especially since no background information is given for the characters or even the placement of their story into a particular era or country. I figured it out from reading other works (“The Troubador’s Song”, and especially “Henry II”). If anyone has more specific research on this work, please enlighten me, but my estimation is that these are Irish people (or possibly Britons, from Brittany aka France), 12th century, and they’re talking when King Henry the Younger (III) is reigning (possibly his brother Richard aka the Lionheart: it’s hard to tell as their reigns were intertwined).

GOOD: What I loved about this “book” was how closely related the “modern” problems of today and the “modern” problems of the 12th century are. Its easy to forget, when reading history, that at any given point in time, what was happening was “modern” to the people living through it. It seemed like the high point in history, and the low point in culture, for just about every generation. Considering how this election went, it’s a comforting thought that humanity has survived poor leadership before, and will continue to do so for a while yet. This “book” is extremely quotable, with dozens of good stories and examples of proper “gentle” behavior, bad form in manners, and ways that people can recover from the latter and regain honor lost in the heat of the moment. Despite my delight in the similarities of modernity, I must note that the discretion of wording is impressive. No ad hominem (personal) attacks, only examples of poor behavior with the names omitted. No curse words or discussions of lust, torture, or other disgusting things, even when their occurrence is implied. And the ladies are not kept out of the discussion, but they don’t dominate it either (ironicly, for a discussion on chivalry, it was the example of true compatability by the females that most impressed me).

OVERALL: highly recommended. If you enjoy reading history, this will give you a fresh perspective (I recommend reading through W. L. Warren’s “Henry II”, which is about the previous century, for background information on where all these chivalric ideals fit into the big picture).

Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler

Atlantis Found

Have you ever read a book by Clive Cussler? Strangely enough, I’ve met plenty of people who haven’t read or heard of him, and frankly, that’s a shame. Cussler is an extraordinarily talented writer of adventure stories. He has several series but the most famous is the Dirk Pitt series. You may have heard of the movie Sahara with Matthew McConaughey in it. That was a Cussler story.

The main characters, Dirk Pitt and his side kick Al Giordino, work for the National Underwater and Marine Association. From the NUMA website:

Founded by Clive Cussler, the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) is a non-profit, volunteer foundation dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.

This quote describes the books precisely and they describe Clive Cussler. Cussler found and raised the Hunley, the first submarine.

Dirk and Al travel the world and go on adventures that combine history, archaeology, and intriguing marine facts into page turning books. The most interesting part? The books typically don’t seem to absurdly impossible. What makes the books even better is that Cussler often ties some alternate theory into the books. Consider Atlantis in which Cussler makes use of the theories of Charles Hapgood (reviewed by me here). Hapgood stands out against the standard interpretations of the scientific community, but his theories aren’t easily dismissed. Hapgood makes credible claims and Cussler ties them into the story. Of course, Cussler does this with many other things as well. Atlantis also references the crystal skulls which apparently are the source of the Indiana Jones 4 script.

I know, that information is useful, but what about the book? The characters are well written and hilarious. The pages turn themselves. And Cussler always gives you reason to stop and think about the way you view things by his choice of plot direction. Whether its his interpretation of Atlantis, a discussion of the smuggling of illegal Chinese immigrants into the US in the 1990s or an alternate view on the Illiad or Odyssey, Cussler challenges your opinions and preconceived notions. So, these are just page turning thrillers, they are also thought provoking.

Dirk travels from submerged mines in Colorado to South America to Antarctica in an effort to find people who tried kidnapped a linguist and tried to kill Dirk and Al. Their search takes them to amazing discoveries and brings them face to face with the most catastrophic event in human history: a universal flood. (Well, OK. Cussler agrees that a mostly universal flood occurred but that humans survived in the mountain tops and not by an Ark.) Still, he has most of it correct here. Beyond that, I won’t say much more on the plot, because I don’t want to ruin it.

There is seldom objectionable content beyond a few swear words so I’d generally recommend that you grab a book, settle down over the holidays and enjoy yourself. You will enjoy these books. At least, I always do.

Please, do yourself a favor. If you haven’t read Cussler (Dirk Pitt series; I’ve never read the Kurt Austen books), please read one over Thanksgiving or Christmas.

101 Years’ Entertainment Edited by Ellery Queen (Part 5 of 6)

101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories of Over A Century

Part 5 of 6

I’m not big on short stories, mysteries excepted. Unfortionately, this anthology includes a selection of “mystery” stories that are more like horror, or fairy-tales gone amok; so I can’t recommend the whole batch of 50. That said, there are too many stories for one review: this is review 5 of 6, the (more than ten) short stories that are truly great.
• The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allen Poe, C. Auguste Dupin, 1841. The very first mystery short story, and believed to be the founder of the genre of mystery in general. Exceptional writing, clever (if well-known) premise. Pay attention to the way things are phrased, as many clichés arise from this story even though the method of writing makes them, in this case, sublime.
• The Disappearance of Mrs. Leigh Gordon, Agatha Christie, Tuppence and Tommy. A humourous Detective farce, sibling detectives play Sherlock Holmes while trying to find a missing fiancé. Finally, a good Agatha Christie short story! She’s quite good at the ironic twist bits.
• A Matter of Taste, by Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey. A well known detective is charged with obtaining a special formula by an old scientist, but two Lord Wimseys introduce themselves to at the mansion. Can’t say anything else about this one ‘cause that would give it away, but sufficient to say, its my second favorite story in the whole book (after “The Purloined Letter”), and superior to some of the Holmes stories as well.
• The Avenging Chance, by Anthony Berkeley, Roger Sheringham. A box of chocolates sent to a promineant businessman are full of arsenic; two people are poisoned; a lady is dead, and the culprit is the talk of London. I inheritly dislike this kind of tale (ie, this kind of cliché murderer I’ve already complained about), but the clever mechanisms of the detective make it notable.
• The Problem of Cell 13, by Jacques Futrelle, The Thinking Machine. Not so much a mystery as a philosophical mind-bender. The Thinking Machine is an old man so sure that thinking can solve every problem he’s willing to try the ultimate test: a week in a prison cell, which he must escape using only his wits. The escape mechanism is brilliant political commentary even for today. A must-read.
• The Lenton Croft Robberies, by Arthur Morrison, Martin Hewitt. Not novel today, but this idea is so well presented it must have preceeded the cliché. Many pieces of jewelery have gone missing at Lenton Croft Lodge over the last few years, but the latest one send the owner over the edge and Mr. Croft is off to fetch Mr. Hewitt for some first-rate detecting.
• A Man Called Spade, by Dashiell Hammett, Sam Spade. A man is found dead is his apartment, surrounded by people who hated his brutish ways. The maid is annoying, but everyone else in the story plays their part to the perfect pitch, until each’s secret is found out by Spade in turn. A classic case of whodunit with all the requisite twists and a few new ones.
• The Resurrection of Chin Lee, by T.S. Stribling, Professor Poggioli. Not wholely original, but it says something about the state of immigration in America then and now (my politicial plug of the month: lets ditch the immigrant quotias and just let the qualified people in, okay? This overcrowding idea with keeping refugees out is as unbiblical as it is impractical).
• The Dublin Mystery, by Baroness Orczy, The Old Man in the Corner. A novel idea by one of my favorite old-time writers; a detective who solves mysteries from his table in a high-class London club. Two brothers are to share their weathy father’s riches teased out in rich detail.
• The Crime In Nobody’s Room, by Carter Dickson, Colonel March. A twist on the usual whodunit: an eccentric builder, apartments that look just alike, a newspaper picture that looks just like the original only in sepia, and three neighbors who all had reason to want in on the sceme.

The crème de la crème of fifty detective stories. Need I say more?