Sir Walter Scott’s “Quentin Durward”

BLOG #35, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #44
SIR WALTER SCOTT’S QUENTIN DURWARD
September 2, 2015

I was still in my childhood when I read my first historical romance. It made such an impression on me that I searched out more. By my mid-teens, historical romances had become an integral part of my yearly batch of must-read books

Early on, I stumbled onto my first Sir Walter Scott novel—I’ve been hooked on Scott ever since. So much so that I have concluded that our 44th book selection must be one of Scott’s historical novels.

Margaret Drabble, in her monumental The Oxford Companion to English Literature, declares that Sir Walter Scott’s (1771 – 1832) “influence as a novelist was incalculable; he established the form of the historical novel, and according to V. S. Pritchett, the form of the short story. He was avidly read and imitated throughout the 19th century, not only by historical novelists such as Ainsworth and Bulwer-Lytton, but also by writers such as Mrs. Gaskell, George Eliot, the Bronte sisters, and many others, who treated rural themes, contemporary peasant life, regional speech, etc., in a matter that owed much to Scott.”

Early on, impressed no little by Goethe’s romantic German poetry, Scott wrote romantic poetry that celebrated his native land of Scotland. His greatest successes being works such as Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), and Lady of the Lake (1810).

Then he turned to a new genre: historical novels. Of which two centuries of devoted readers have reveled in romances such as Waverly (1814), Guy Mannering (1815), Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), Ivanhoe (1819), Kenilworth (1821), and Quentin Durward (1823).

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I am choosing Quentin Durward first on the assumption that many of our readers will already have read the ever-popular Ivanhoe. There is something about Quentin Durward that so resonated in my mind many years ago that I have been unable to forget it.

The lead characters include Quentin Durward (a young Scottish adventurer, in France searching for action). He more than finds it!
La Balafré (Durward’s maternal uncle).
Isabelle, Countess of Croye.
King Louis XI of France (a Machiavellian pragmatist).
Charles, Duke of Burgundy (hasty and pugnacious).

The time: 1468.
The setting: France and Flanders.

Bear in mind that the action may seem slow at first; but, before long you’ll find it increasingly hard to put the book down. Surprisingly, you’ll discover that Scott’s portrayals of King Louis and Duke Charles seem modern in that their ethical behavior appears almost distressingly contemporary to readers of our time.

Also, it quickly becomes obvious that royal and aristocratic marriages back then had precious little to do with love; in that respect, both women and men were merely dynastic pawns.

Welcome to the anything-but-calm 15th century.

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There are a multitude of editions to choose from, but I heartily recommend a hardback with color plates such as the Dodd, Mead (New York) edition of 1924 which sports 16 color illustrations by Percy Tarrant.

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LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK – Part Two

BLOG #34, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK
Part Two
August 26, 2015

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As our long-time blog-readers know, I first wrote about trains a little over a year ago. A number of you responded to that series. Now we were back on the same route, but in late summer rather than spring. Each season, on Amtrak, is different. Indeed, no two journeys in life are ever the same for life never repeats itself.

The reason for this particular trip was a family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. More on that at a later date.

I’ve become convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God takes special delight in vicariously traveling on trains. Again and again I’ve seen our universe’s Master Choreographer set up anything-but-chance meetings between His children on trains. For there is something about train travel that lends itself to introspection, to thinking deep thoughts about life, of posing Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who Am I? Where Have I Come From? And Where Am I Going?

When I travel, I habitually load myself down with comp books to give away to those who appear to be seriously interested in them. This time, since I was traveling by train, I took twelve of my most recent: Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten, My Favorite Angel Stories, and My Favorite Miracle Stories; all found homes by the time we detrained in Denver nine days later. In trains, people read.

Just to give you a feel for the people who shared the train with us, I’ll tell you about some of them:

On our westward-bound train two roomettes behind was a vivacious young woman and her in-love-with-life nine-year-old daughter. Since their door was often open and they were often reading aloud to each other, I stopped to get acquainted. Since the little girl loved books about animals, I inscribed Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten to her. Within only a couple of hours she was already part way through. The mother was using the train as a vehicle to teach her the geography of our nation. Clearly, the mother strongly controlled electronic gadgetry, for I never saw the girl with one. Instead, she was entranced with all she saw out her window and the people who walked down the hall.

One couple was only going over the Rockies and down to Glenwood Springs (one of the most spectacular train trips on the continent). They planned to stay in a hotel in Glenwood Springs, swim in the vast hot springs pool, wander around town, then board an eastern-bound train back to Denver. This section of the Rockies is extremely popular with Coloradans.

Sitting next to us at breakfast was an athlete from Fresno, California, who plays basketball for Wichita State. He was returning from attending a wedding in Breckenridge, Colorado. He told us he much preferred train travel to air travel. Also at our table was a lady from Nevada City, Nevada who travels a lot, as often as possible by train.

A couple from Wisconsin sat with us at noon. In the Observation Car I sat next to a lovely young graduate in music from BYU. I’ve long been amazed at how many young people travel on trains, seeking answers for life problems. Turns out she was one of them. Deeply troubled by a romance with a young man who did not share her own close relationship with God, she had hoped to find someone on the train she could trust to listen to her story and perhaps offer guidance or suggestions. Above all: kindness, a quality she’d discovered to be all too scarce in this hectic society we live in. She read my own life-changing-story in the new Miracle book—and that convinced her that I could be trusted. Just before she got off in Reno, I inscribed a copy of the Miracle book to her; and she, in turn, inscribed a copy of her new CD release. I shall always treasure the words she wrote on it.

But by that time people to my left and across the aisle asked to see my books, and confessed to having overheard our dialogue. One of them, a grandmother of an eighteen-year-old co-ed was treating both her daughter and granddaughter with this train trip, coast to coast then south to San Diego and back to the East Coast. All in honor of her granddaughter’s graduation and birthday. I inscribed a book to the lucky girl. Two older women traveling together (across the aisle) stopped me and thanked me for taking the time to counsel the BYU graduate. It never ceases to fascinate me to see how open travelers are to share serious, even intimate, things with strangers they’d not even share with family members or close friends; reasoning, no doubt, that they’d never see their traveling listeners again anyhow.

After our five-day family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we boarded an Amtrak eastward-bound train). On board were two train historians who, on the intercom, pointed out places of historical significance as the train approached them.

Also on the train was Tony, a retiree from New England (and whose single great obsession in life was trains). Even his CHASE credit card was Amtrak-designated. All points translated into Amtrak trips. Also, he regularly attended all key get-togethers for obsessive train devotees like him. In fact, it appears that Amtrak employees across the country recognize him on sight, even calling him by name in the dining car. He regaled us with many fascinating stories about Amtrak culture. He even got to meet the Amtrak president – twice.

We ate lunch with a British family, owners of an ice cream establishment in the UK. Both of their sons are techies, who are so interested in attending the University of California at Berkeley that they both attended a special class for serious applicants there: the younger one was on the train; the older one was still in Berkeley.

At dinner, we got acquainted with an ER doctor and his wife from London. They enthusiastically praised all that they were seeing in America.

Then there was the young techie from Munich, Germany, who had landed a contract job in San Francisco. He’d seen most of our national parks already, and climbed a number of our highest peaks. Indeed, he was planning to climb Long’s Peak ( one of Colorado’s fabled 14-ers) next day. He even liked the relative slowness (up to 80 mph) of U.S. trains, pointing out that many of Europe’s bullet trains move so fast the scenery is just a blur.

Unforgettable too were the young family doctors who were on their way to Colorado’s San Luis Valley where they were setting up a family practice. Their baby boy was the darling of the entire train—everyone, even the Amtrak employees, gravitated into his orbit.

All in all, on Amtrak, you will rub shoulders with people from all around the world. And if you have not yet traveled by train, put it on your Bucket List this very moment. Train trips will enrich your life in ways past quantifying.

LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK – Part One

BLOG #33, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK
Part One
August 19, 2015

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Once more, we heard the haunting “All Aboard!”

Once more we were shown to our aptly-named “Roomette,” and shoe-horned ourselves in. And once more, we felt forward movement—another adventure begun.

Sadly, air travel offers little adventure anymore: cramped seating with only inches separating passengers and no leg room at all. Food-wise: maybe crackers, pretzels, or cookies. Only on transcontinental flights do you receive more than that. And once you climb to cruising altitude, all you see are clouds below you.

Not so, train travel. Comfortable seats with plenty of space between passengers and more than adequate leg room. Large windows; and in the Vistadome cars, glass overhead as well. A café car for snacks and a dining car for meals. For those who travel in sleeping cars, all meals are included. For travelers with families, larger sleeping quarters are available.

Children love it for they are not strapped down and can roam the train at will. Once they experience train travel, they can’t wait to get on another train. They are mesmerized by the scenery outside their windows: the mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, oceans, cities, people, animals, birds—entranced, they watch as the scroll of America unwinds before their very eyes. But adults too are fascinated at being able to really see America.

It is travel as it used to be. No driving hassle, jockeying with traffic; no toll booths, no road-work.

Equally significant: on trains travelers from all over the world get the opportunity to really get to know each other. In the dining car, you are seated in groups of four or six, facing each other; thus everyone gets acquainted. One hears much laughter for, once introduced to each other, they share their personal journeys with each other and become friends. Since many of the seats in the Observation Car are set at angles, this too encourages conversation. Others gather around tables conversing or playing table games.

At night, room attendants convert roomette seating into bunk beds. Admittedly, the beds are narrow and the overhead mattress is thinner than the one below, but even so one can sleep far easier than those on coach seats. There is something sleep-inducing by lying down on a train bed. Once the train is in motion, the gentle rocking is akin to being rocked to sleep as a child. You tend to awaken only when the train stops. And in the interstices of sleep and waking is the haunting sound of the engine horn far ahead drifting past you.

For this particular trip, we left our home on the top of Conifer Mountain, 9700 feet in elevation high in the Rockies, drove down to Golden as dawn broke; there we boarded Light Rail for the brand new renovated Union Station, already the hub of downtown Denver. Here we boarded the California Zephyr that had departed from Chicago the day before.

No sooner were we ensconced in our roomette when the train left the station. Shortly afterwards, on the intercom, we were invited to head up to the dining car for breakfast. Then we’d ricochet down the weaving cars like drunken people, laughing all the way. After being seated by another couple, we gazed out the window as the train began the long ascent to Moffat Tunnel in the Great Divide (from which all Front Range rivers run to the Mississippi and the Caribbean and all rivers on the other side empty into the Colorado and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez/Pacific Ocean).

We’ll continue this saga on Wednesday, August 26th.

 

THE “NEW” LONELIEST ROAD IN AMERICA

BLOG #32, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE “NEW” LONELIEST ROAD IN AMERICA
August 12, 2015

It was clear back on June 26, 2013, at the tail end of our second National Park Series, that I annointed Highway 50’s seemingly almost empty stretches of mostly straight highway, stretching from Fallon, Nevada to Holden, Utah as America’s loneliest highway. I never thought I’d ever find one to rival it—much less upstage it. But I have. And we were blindsided by its existence. Not the road itself, but its loneliness.

So fast-paced is this life that we live that we rarely take long road trips any more: it’s much easier and faster to fly. But every once in a while we get nostalgic for auto-travel (not interstates but rural roads).

Early in July, we decided to put together a 2200-mile tangent, beginning in Conifer, Colorado, then angling south on I-25 to Raton, NM; angling SE to Amarillo, Texas; then south on I-27 to Lubbock; then angling SE on all kinds of country roads to Austin; then SW on I-35 to San Antonio. We hadn’t ever driven on the back roads between Lubbock and Austin; indeed, we hadn’t driven south of Fort Worth in over thirty years.

My what changes we noticed! First of all, instead of everything being July-brown it was the greenest green we’d ever seen in Texas in July. Reason being the nonstop rainstorms that just wouldn’t quit. And even Texas backroads were generally in fine condition with 75 mph speed-limits being the norm. And what a difference population-wise! I’d heard, of course, about the continually increasing population in Texas, but it was jolting to see how tiny hamlets were now towns, towns were now cities, and cities—well, just take Austin for example. Austin is a city that is growing so fast city-planners have all but lost control. It was one vast traffic jam while we were there—even on I-35. Locals we spoke with confirmed that sometimes it takes them up to four hours just to get from one end to the other! The other big change we noticed was that on ridge after ridge after ridge, as far as the eye could see, virtual forests of white wind-turbines. Connie and I agreed that these days—at least in West Texas—wind-millionaires must be rivaling oil-millionaires.

But then, after seeing how it was almost all city now between Austin and San Antonio, it was time to head home. Not having any desire to re-experience I-35 traffic again, we decided to explore a route we’d never tried before. Perhaps it would be a bit more serene. Little did we know!

Our chosen route was Highway 90 west through Hondo and Uvalde to the border-town of Del Rio. This is wide-open country with relatively few habitations. Only Del Rio of any size at all, no small thanks to being home to Laughlin Air Force Base and the vast Amistad Reservoir. Though I’d heard about Amistad it was something else to actually experience it! It took us well over an hour NW of it to get past it. About the only vehicles we’d see would be Border Patrol vehicles. Another epiphany was that the Rio Grande River is part of the Amistad Reservoir. Yet another was the discovery that the Rio Grande is America’s fifth-longest river (1885 miles long). It is born in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, meanders south through Colorado and New Mexico, then forms the entire 1240-mile border between Texas and Mexico. What a road-trip following the Rio Grande from its source to the Gulf of Mexico would be. Ah! As Lucy Earp would say: “A blessing for another time!” Believe me, I now realize what a daunting challenge it is for Texas governors to police 1240 miles of the river border with Mexico!

Though it was already a lonely road en route to Del Rio, it really became lonely once we left Del Rio. We stayed on Hwy. 90 until we reached Sanderson, then turned NW on the southern terminus of 285 [Denver is its northern terminus]. Then it was on through small towns such as Fort Stockton and Pecos in Texas; and Carlsbad and Roswell en route to Santa Fe, and it is otherwise almost entirely devoid of human habitations. Not until we reached the outskirts of Santa Fe did we get back into much cell-phone coverage.

It so happened that we had to drive through a very large storm front, driven by fierce winds and characterized by one huge purplish-black thunderhead after another. I don’t believe I’ve ever, in my entire life, experienced such dramatic constantly changing sky paintings. It was often difficult to stay on the road, thanks to extremely strong side-winds and torrential rain. But it was grand to experience!

North of Santa Fe, it was a little lonely, but not nearly as much as between San Antonio and Santa Fe.

So, if you ever want to get away from it all in the lower 48 states, I wholeheartedly recommend you take 90/285 from San Antonio to Santa Fe!

Try it!

Axel Munthe’s “The Story of San Michele”

BLOG #31, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #43
AXEL MUNTHE’S THE STORY OF SAN MICHELE
August 5, 2015

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It is August, for millions a time to vacation, get away from it all. It is because August is, in that respect, such a seminal month that it is a difficult month to marry a book-of-the-month to.

In the end, it was no contest. It had to be the incredible story of Capri’s Villa San Michele, and the man whose dream it was: Dr. Axel Munthe.

On July 10, 2014, Connie and I set eyes on the near mythical Isle of Capri for the very first time. Earlier that morning, we had seen the ancient city of Naples outside our veranda room on the Norwegian Spirit. One more item to cross off our Bucket List: See Naples and die—but we hoped we wouldn’t die too soon. Certainly not before we reached Capri :-). We were one of the first foursomes (Connie, I, our son Greg, and our grandson Seth) to be permitted off the ship. Soon our excursion boat was racing out to sea. About an hour later, there looming above us was the towering Isle of Capri. Shortly afterwards we boarded a minibus for one of the wildest rides of our lives! Our little bus tore up the narrow serpentine road barely missing other busses, autos, motorbikes, etc. by only inches; our driver and the other drivers kept up a running commentary with each other (verbal and arm gestures); again and again you could hear our fellow passengers belting out “Mama Mia!” as once again we escaped a crash by only an inch or so. Especially terrifying was the bus’s hair-raising careening around curves, and seen over the flimsy low brick walls the deep blue Mediterranean far far below!

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When we shakily disembarked in the little town of Anacapri, Greg and Seth took the chairlift to the top of the island and Connie and I were led by our guide to another place on my Bucket List: the world famous Villa San Michele. All my life, at various times, the subject of the villa would come up. Always, how beautiful it was. Soon we reached the villa, paid to get in, ambled through the villa, then walked out under that glorious colonnaded pergola, with verdant gardens and trees on both sides, and then, a thousand feet below the bluest blue one will ever see. Connie and I were speechless. Rarely, in this short lifetime we are given on earth, do we encounter a scene so incredibly beautiful that it is beyond speech’s capacity to describe it in mere words. As for me, it proved to be a time-stopper.

After we had walked through the gardens and taken pictures (so inadequate to capture it all!), we stopped at the gift shop where we purchased two books: Axel Munthe’s best-selling The Story of San Michele (translated into over 40 languages) and the definitive biography of the man who created this masterpiece: Axel Munthe.

Capri, A Garden in the Blue. Carcavallo Editore. Milano, Italy, n.d.

Capri, A Garden in the Blue. Carcavallo Editore. Milano, Italy, n.d.

He was only eighteen, when the young Swede first set eyes on Capri. On shore, he looked up, up, and up the 777 steps carved out of solid rocks by orders of the Roman Emperor Tiberius who lived on the island the last eleven years of his tumultuous life. Munthe was warned not to try to climb it for it was a mighty steep thousand feet to the top. But he ignored the warnings and made the ascent. At the top—well, he never got over that view! Right then and there he vowed that whatever it would take, he’d somehow buy that land and build on it a villa of such beauty it would be the talk of the world.

Many years later Dr. Munthe would tell the riveting story of his life—and what an incredible life it was!—in The Story of San Michele. The novelist Henry James was the one who suggested that he write it. For Dr. Munthe moved in, and received at the villa, the likes of Henry James, Howard Carter, Oscar Wilde, Greta Garbo, Count Zeppeliln, Rainer Maria Rilke, and much of Europe’s royalty, including Sweden’s Crown princess Victoria, who locked in a loveless marriage, was destined to fall in love with Munthe. Russian Czar Nicholas II tried to get Munthe to become physician to his family, and Herman Goering tried to buy the villa from him.

Oh all this is but the beginning of one of the most remarkable autobiographies I have ever read! I was so glad later on that I’d also purchased Bengt Jangfeldt’s powerful life story: Axel Munthe: The Road to San Michele. Reason being that his biography fills in, amplifies, and builds upon the original book. Half of the Munthe story is missing if you fail to also read the biography!

I will be mighty surprised if you don’t conclude (at the end of your reading both books) that your life will never be the same as it was when you began. Munthe’s life story is so quotable, so mind-numbing in its intensity and in the sheer number of people of all levels of society Munthe treated as a physician, the unforgettable stories of improbable but true personal encounters, the menagerie of animals he surrounded himself with, and on and on and on.

Long before you complete reading Munthe’s book, I predict you will yourself vow, “I will see Capri and Munthe’s Villa San Michele myself before I die!”

Will be interested in hearing from you after you read the books—especially Munthe’s, because that’s the starting spot for Jangfeldt’s biography.

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The Story of San Michele, by Axel Munthe (London: John Murray, Publishers, 1929). The trade paper edition I purchased is that edition’s 17th printing. ISBN 978-0-7195-6699-8. 2004 printing.

Axel Munth: The Road to San Michele, by Bengt Jangfeldt (London, New York: I. B. Taures, distributed by Palgrave Macmillan/San Martin’s Press, 2008). ISBN 978-1-84511-710-7.

33rd ZANE GREY ROUNDUP – Part Two

BLOG #30, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
33RD ZANE GREY ROUNDUP
Part Two
July 29, 2015

We here pick up on Tuesday, June 23, the first full day of our 33rd convention.

After the morning’s presentations, we were more than ready for our annual Members Memorial lunch. We take this time each year to celebrate the lives and contributions of members we no longer have with us. And always, for 33 years now, I first read out loud and then we all recite together famed poet Edwin Markham’s brief poem, “Outwitted.”

He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Before we founded the Society in 1983, the Rev. G. M. Farley (the other co-founder) and I decided that by making this poem of inclusiveness our mantra, we’d have no lonely people in our Society. And so it has turned out.

After our lunch, it was time for our annual auction of Zane Grey material, a great opportunity for members—especially new members—to build up a Zane Grey collection at very economical prices. The auction monies help keep the Society alive as our magazine costs alone more than uses up our annual dues. All our officers serve pro-bono. That’s why we’ve only raised dues once in 33 years!

In the evening, it was time for our annual ice cream social. Never have we been feted with better ice cream than this year.

WEDNESDAY

On Wednesdays, we recover from our rigorous Tuesdays. This year, we bussed and caravanned our way through Flagstaff and spectacular Oak Creek Canyon (celebrated by Zane Grey in his Call of the Canyon), en route to Sedona, a Southwest magnet for tourists.

Wednesday evening we were treated to the movie, The Rainbow Trail (2015 is the 100th anniversary of the famed novel). Dr. James D’Arc, the world’s foremost authority on Zane Grey films, not only brought us the film from BYU’s film vaults, but he also regaled us with the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of the actors, directors, and producers who made the film possible. Popcorn was provided by FOREVER Resorts.

THURSDAY

Thursdays—being the last day of our annual conventions— are always bittersweet. Mornings are taken up by the annual business meeting in which we elect (or re-elect) officers, discuss issues of interest to the members, and vote on further convention sites.

Our 2016 convention is going to be held the third week of June on the Florida Keys, for Grey fished from Long Key almost every year over about a twenty-year period. We will have a pre-convention get together in Fort Everglades (Grey also fished here) and have the convention on Islamarada in the Keys. The following year, we voted to meet in Kanab, Utah, situated between Zion and North Rim Grand Canyon National Parks. Already a number of people have told me they’ll join the Society just to be able to attend the 2016 convention in the Keys. Another special thing about our conventions is that we secure excellent rates at lodge facilities and charge members only our at-cost prices.

In the afternoon, we gathered in a very large circle and got into a rousing book discussion of Rainbow Trail (2015 is its 100th anniversary). Each year our members read a given Zane Grey book ahead of tine so all members can get fully involved.

Then it was time for the annual banquet, when Purple Sage awards and gift books are presented. Purple Sage awards represent the highest award the Society can give its members. Gift-books, on the other hand, are given to those who did the most to make the previous convention such a success.

Finally, the most moving moment in every convention: holding hands in a large circle and singing “Auld Lang Syne,” usually led by David Leeson, a Society member from England. Then, it’s time to bid everyone adieu and perhaps shed a tear or two.

Next day, the after-convention attendees headed to Lake Powell and a trip to the iconic Rainbow Bridge (on so many people’s bucket list).

Once more, I do hope you’ll join our Society. Again, tell Sheryle Hodapp I invited you to do so. Here is her address:

15 Deer Oaks Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588
Phone: 925-699-0698
Email: Sheryle@ZGWS.org

 

33rd ZANE GREY ROUNDUP – Part One

BLOG #29, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
33RD ZANE GREY ROUNDUP
Part One
July 22, 2015

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For the eighth time in 33 years, faithful Zanies headed to Arizona. Our second convention had been held in Payson, in 1984; in 1986, we met in Flagstaff; in 1988, Page; we returned to Payson in 1995; it was Prescott, in 2008; we returned to Payson for the third time in 2007; two years later, we met at Mormon Lake; and now, in 2015, faithful Zanies returned to Mormon Lake for the second time.

Prior to the convention, Connie and I and Lucy and Bob Earp joined a large group of others for a visit to Kohl’s Ranch at Christopher Creek. Sunday afternoon, we caravanned up the slope of the Mogollon Rim to the site where Grey’s cabin once stood before the Dude Fire of 1990 erased it from the map. For me, it was so poignant to revisit a spot I have loved for so long. I first came here in the early 1970s, and returned again and again. Once I spent most of a week here; like Zane Grey himself, at night I’d spread out my bedding and sleep out under the stars, listening to the soughing of the pines. In those days, pilgrims came here from all over the world. I’d see them sitting on the veranda, a far-off look in their eyes as they gazed at range after range of mountains. And how could I forget college coeds, leaning against trees, lost in reading Grey’s timeless Mogollon Rim romances, Under the Tonto Rim and Code of the West. And there in the Cabin, holding court, the inimitable curator, Margaret Sell, to whom the place represented life itself.

Then it was back down the vast mesa to Kohl’s Ranch, loading up the Honda Pilot, and heading up on the mesa to Mormon Lake, there to be greeted by the gathering clan. Of all the places where we’ve met over the years, the Mormon Lake ranch is the most rustic, only the West Texas convention facilities at Fort Davis coming close. But it was its very rusticness [is there such a word?] that so many of us enjoyed so much.

A phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me is the sight of the returning faithful—many (usually a third to half the attendees) arrive days early, so eager are they to get together again. And so it proved to be once more.

In the evening, it was time for our opening banquet in the ranch’s so-called “Steakhouse.” Not formal like most banquets, but western attire the norm. In no time at all, the decibel level, caused by old friends finding each other and catching up on each other’s lives, got louder and louder—not to recede until Friday morning.

The highlight of the evening was the introduction of new attendees (seventeen, to be exact). Each was made to feel welcome—more than welcome: made to feel “at home.”

The food, provided by Scott Gold’s FOREVER Resorts team, was splendid.

Then it was time to head for the cabins and RVs. Tomorrow would be the biggest day of the convention.

TUESDAY

Not until Tuesday morning is over do I ever get to relax at our conventions. Reason being that I put more work and thought into the annual Keynote Address than I do any other speaking engagement. And, naturally, I don’t dare ever resort to anything that is stale or a re-run. Beginning in June of 1983, until now, in a very real way, I have measured my life by Keynotes. Now, here I was with my 33rd consecutive Keynote Address. I titled it, “Light of Western Stars — Why It Stands the Test of Time.” I chose this book for my Keynote because 2014 was the 100th anniversary of this, one of Grey’s greatest books. Also, it has always been one of my personal favorite reads. Those of you belonging to the Zane Grey’s West Society will be getting the full text of the Keynote in your next issue of our magazine, The Zane Grey Review.

I was followed by three fascinating presentations: Harvey Leake’s “From Kayente to Rainbow Bridge: The Rugged Route that Inspired Zane Grey’s Geography of The Rainbow Trail.” Leake is a direct descendant of John and Louisa Wetherill, famed Traders to the Navajos in Monument Valley and who had much to do with the discovery of Mesa Verde and Rainbow Bridge. We always look forward to his behind-the-scenes personalized history of the region.

Next came Dr. James D’Arc’s “BYU Happenings.” D’Arc is head curator of Brigham Young University’s film archives and has had a big role to play in the acquisition of major Zane Grey collections (including my own) and films in recent years. BYU is now the largest repository of Zane Grey archival holdings in the world. Reason being that Zane Grey’s books did more to bring fame to the American Southwest (especially Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico) than any other writer who ever lived.

D’Arc was followed by Dr. Alan Pratt’s “Appalling Beauty, Dangerous Crossing: Zane Grey at Lee’s Ferry.” Pratt, like Mr. Leake, has become a regular in terms of his visual explorations of Zane Grey book and travel settings. Pratt pointed out that back before the Colorado was dammed, during spring flood periods, the silt-laden river ran so fast that if you fell in while trying to cross it, inevitably you’d be swept away to your death.

Mr. Ryan Taylor then told our audience about a new Arizona opera: “Riders of the Purple Sage.”

* * *

I will complete the story of the 33rd convention in next week’s blog. If you haven’t yet joined the Zane Grey’s West Society, I urge you to do so! You will learn so much about—not just Zane Grey (the Father of the Romantic West)—but also this incredibly fascinating West tourists come from all around the world to see.

Our dues are only $35 a year (which includes four issues of our magazine, a veritable treasure of Western Americana). Just drop a line to our Secretary-Treasurer, Sheryle Hodapp, at 15 Deer Oaks Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588
Phone: 925-699-0698
Email: Sheryle@ZGWS.org

and tell her I invited you to join our extended family. Also you can check out our Society’s website at: http://www.zgws.org.

 

Independence Day — What Does It Mean Today?

BLOG #28, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
INDEPENDENCE DAY – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TODAY?
July 15, 2015

July 4 has come and gone, and I’ve been wondering just what it means to Americans today. It’s more than obvious, for starters, that it doesn’t mean what it used to.

Fortunately, for untold thousands of American parents and teachers, traditional patriotism is still taught in many homes, schools, and universities across this great land. But what deeply disturbs more and more thought-leaders is a totally different philosophy making serious inroads into American education these days. It is based on Naturalism, a movement that began in France over a hundred years ago with writers like Zola, the Goncourt Brothers, and Balzac. Dreiser was heavily influenced by them.

Today, Naturalism has evolved into Deconstructionism. Both Naturalistic and Deconstructionist authors, scholars, and teachers portray a world seriously deficient in heroism. Reason being that their protagonists are devoid of heroism, true patriotism, idealism, and integrity. Perhaps the most apt metaphor is this: none of them climbs out of the muck, thus they have no true heroes.

The natural result, when teaching American history, is to strip bravery, selflessness, patriotism, altruism, goodness, integrity, from our traditional heroes, leaving the students with the perception that we are a hopeless nation; since if we are devoid of leaders who did their utmost to do what they felt was best for their country, even if it meant giving up their very lives to save it, then why do we even bother to celebrate holidays such as Independence Day?

This is a gravely serious issue, for if America ceases to believe in itself, in its leaders, in the men and women that sacrificed so much to make us “the greatest nation on earth,”—then our future is bleak indeed.

Doesn’t it make one wonder when we hear about yet another so-called “American” who turns traitor to his own nation, and joins terrorist groups like ISIS and Taliban who seek to destroy us? Or traitors like Snowden, who would have been excoriated earlier in our history—wonder what kind of U. S. History or civics they were taught?

But each of us can take a stand on the issue, and then together perhaps we can reverse this insidious erosion of our erstwhile patriotic celebration of our nation and our roots.

Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer”

BLOG #27, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #42
MARK TWAIN’S TOM SAWYER
July 8, 2015

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It is fitting that we follow up last month’s selection, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the first great and timeless book ever written in America specifically for girls, with Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, the first great and timeless book ever written in America specifically for boys.

What intrigues me no little is now modern each book was: how both authors suck the reader into the book with that very first sentence. Both authors, scorning preambles, leap immediately into the heart of their book (most unusual for the time to start in the middle of a conversation).

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First: Little Women

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy with an injured sniff.
“We’ve got Father and Mother and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

Now re-read those four lines. This time note how completely Alcott captures the essence of each of the sisters in those four lines.

Now, let’s see what Twain does with his beginning lines:

“Tom!”
No answer.
“Tom!”
No answer.
“What’s wrong with that boy, I wonder. “You TOM!”
No answer.
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for “style,” not service—she could have seen through a pair of stove lids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
“Well, I lay if I get hold of you I’ll—”

* * *

Both are priceless beginnings.

Little Women was published in 1868 – 1869. Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in 1876, eight years later. So clearly Twain had eight years to ponder the one-of-a-kind phenomenon that was Little Women before he launched Tom Sawyer. In the Airmont edition of the book are these words:

But it was in 1876, with the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that unforgettable excursion into the private province of the very young that Twain attained the stature of greatness. Lively, touching, penetrating—the whitewashing incident is one of literature’s wittiest dramatizations of applied psychology—Tom Sawyer is one of those rare novels that become more endearing with each reading. Its beloved sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884, is immortal.”

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens [Mark Twain was a pseudonym] (1835 – 1910), is one of the very few American writers who reached the very pinnacle of both popular and academic success—and who has stayed there for over a century, not just in novels, but in short stories as well. His books are still read by generation after generation of readers. Books such as—

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865-1867)
The Innocents Abroad (1869)
Roughing It (1872)
The Gilded Age, with Charles Dudley Warner (1873)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
A Tramp Abroad (1880)
The Stolen White Elephant (1882)
The Prince and the Pauper (1882)
Life on the Mississippi (1883)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)
Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896)
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)
Following the Equator (1897)
The Mysterious Stranger (1916), etc.

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In his later books, due to many reasons, Twain became embittered and cynical about the human race. He had reasons. Late in life, he suffered through personal tragedy after tragedy. In 2010, sealed for a hundred years, Twain’s autobiography saw light at once, becoming an instant bestseller.

* * * * *

There are many editions of Tom Sawyer. Just make certain you get an unabridged copy. My personal favorite edition is the Heritage Press boxed edition, wonderfully illustrated in color by Norman Rockwell. Huckleberry Finn was also boxed and illustrated as a companion book. Another splendid edition is the 1931 John C. Winston hardback edition, illustrated by Peter Hurd.

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Even if you’ve read the book before—you owe it to yourself to read it again. It never grows old!

‘”THE HIGHWAYMAN”

BLOG #24, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE

ALFRED NOYES’ “THE HIGHWAYMAN”
June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.