Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Yellow Face – a Sherlock Holmes short story

The Yellow Face – a Sherlock Holmes short story

Also known as The Adventure of the Yellow Face* by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a Sherlock Holmes short story from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collection. According to The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, it was Holmes 17thcase.

It is also one of the few cases, wherein Holmes fails to correctly solve the mystery. Watson explains
…it is only natural that I should dwell rather upon his successes than upon his failures. And this is not so much for the sake of his reputation, for indeed it was when he was at his wit’s end that his energy and his versatility were most admirable, but because where he failed it happened so often that no one else succeeded, and the tale was left for ever without a conclusion. Now and again, however, it chanced that even when he erred the truth was still discovered.

It is a touching tale, revealing soft spots in both Watson – not entirely astonishing – and Holmes himself.

Additionally, it reveals a commendable sentiment in the author. When the mystery is solved, no thanks to Holmes’ power of deduction, central to the case is the interracial marriage of an Englishwoman – now widowed and remarried – and her long-kept secret of her mixed-race child. Doyle treats the situation with respect and tenderness. Nothing very laudable by today’s standards, but pretty progressive for late 19thCentury.

The case takes place in Norbury – which is only important in understanding the following quotation and lines of this story, when Holmes speaks to Watson before turning in:
“Watson” said he, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

It’s different, as I have explained, from most of Holmes’ exploits. I enjoyed it very much.

*Many of Doyle’s short stories, that were originally published with titles such as The Yellow Face, had the titles changed to THE ADVENTURE OF the Yellow Face, when the stories were collected into volumes such as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Original Cover Art for The Once Lost Wanderer

Original Cover Art for The Once Lost Wanderer

Hopefully, you have noticed the new image on The Once Lost Wanderer. It was created by my son, who does some free-lance art work. You can view more of his work at: Jonathan F did an Art on Facebook.

About the image – he’s sort of lost see…wandering…nose in a book…map in his pocket. Hopefully that’s obvious, but I didn’t want you to miss it.

There are five allusions to classic literature in the drawing, most of them pretty obvious, one is rather subtle. Do you get them all?

I wanted an allusion to Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, and perhaps The Little Prince as well, but my son and I couldn’t come up with anything simple and subtle…open to suggestions.

The Wanderer

Live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (novel #131)

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

…history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn.

Hanging Rock is a real place in Victoria, Australia.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is fiction, though in forward note, Lindsay casts some doubt on this point. Hence, the story has become legend and the novel is an Australian classic comparable to Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn in the U.S.

For me, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a perfect argument for rereading. I didn’t like it when I first read and reviewed it, four years ago. In fact, I felt cheated.

The story, set in Southern Australia, 1900, concerns the mysterious disappearance of three girls and one teacher from an all-girl boarding school, during a Valentine’s Day picnic to Hanging Rock (Down Under remember, so the height of summer). One of the girls is found, nearly a week later, barely alive, but even though she eventually recovers, she is unable to shed any light on the mystery.

Maddening! No one who ascended crags and crannies of the Rock could seem to remember ANYTHING. So, it’s a mystery. The first time I read this I was hooked, fascinated, obsessed, reading it entirely in one setting, anxious for the solution to the maddening mystery.

And then…Nope! No solution, no clue, mystery unsolved – Cheated!

As I’ve hinted, I had a different reaction with this reread. Two reasons: First, I was not obsessed with getting to the end and was able to appreciate Lindsay’s characters, settings, and dialogue. But, more importantly (still reason #1), when reading the all-important chapter 3 – last scene before the girls disappear – I was reading more deliberately and noticed a few marvelously subtle clues that did after all give a hint to an explanation.

Just the slightest hints…that there was something unworldly afoot. This was a wild-eyed, oh my goodness, no it can’t be moment for me, and I would probably doubt it still, if it were not for reason #2…

There is a missing chapter that confirmed my suspicions. It was in Lindsay’s original version, but excised by the publisher with her consent. I was very pleased with myself that I did not learn of the excised chapter until after I had formed my hypothesis. The 18thchapter, also known as The Secret of Hanging Rock, is available online along with some interesting commentary.

I enjoyed Picnic at Hanging Rock much more with this reread. The 18thchapter is quite bizarre and rather inharmonious to the otherwise realist style of the novel. That was probably Lindsay’s intent. It might even work better, as published without the 18thchapter, and just the subtle hints, but for me – I just had to know if my suspicion was correct, so I’m glad to have the final chapter available.

My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019: a classic of Africa, Asia, or Oceania.

And in an odd bit of synchronicity, on the very day I would later finish Picnic at Hanging Rock, I was driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains, when my route took me through Hanging Rock West Virginia.


Although we are necessarily concerned, in a chronicle of events, with physical action by the light of day, history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn. Those dark fruitful hours, seldom recorded, whose secret flowerings breed peace and war, loves and hates, the crowning or uncrowning of heads.

To take a sword and plunge it through your enemy’s vitals in broad daylight is a matter of physical courage, whereas the strangling of an invisible foe in the dark calls for quite other qualities.

It is probably just as well for our nervous equilibrium that such cataclysms of personal fortune are usually disguised as ordinary everyday occurrences, like the choice of boiled or poached eggs for breakfast.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Recap of Novels 121-130

Recap of Novels 121 – 130 

Average rating of novels 121-130 – 3.6 stars (out of 5)

121.  ★ ★ ★                 The Ox-Bow Incident
122.  ★ ★ ★                     Wise Blood
123.  ★ ★ ★                     Papillon
124.  ★ ★                      Candide
125.  ★ ★ ★ ½             In Cold Blood
126.  ★ ★ ★ ★                The Old Man and the Sea
★ ★ ★ ★                The Valley of Fear
★ ★½                      Gargantua and Pantagruel
129.  ★ ★ ★½                  The Shadow Over Innsmouth
130.  ★ ★ ★ ★                The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Favorite: In Cold Blood
Honorable Mention: The Old Man and the Sea

Least Favorite: Gargantua and Pantagruel

Best Hero: Tom Sawyer
Best Heroine: I hate to say it, but not one heroine in the group

Most Villainous: Perry Smith from In Cold Blood

Most interesting/Complex character: Papillon

Best Quotation: Most men are more afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else, and a lot more afraid of being thought physical cowards than moral ones. ~ Art Croft, first-person narrator of The Ox-Bow Incident

Best film adaptation: The 1973 version of Papillon starring Steve McQueen as Papillon and Dustin Hoffman as Dega is very good. As is the 1958 version of The Old Man and the Sea starring Spencer Tracy, and the 1942 version of the Ox-Bow Incident starring Henry Fonda.

Worst film adaptation: I didn’t watch any, but I know there are some awful renditions of Tom Sawyer out there.


Monday, July 1, 2019

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (novel #130)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Finn by Mark Twain

Who knows, he may grow up to be President someday, unless they hang him first! ~ Aunt Polly regarding Tom

I read this as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019: A Classic from the Americas. 

Well, you don’t get much more classic, nor more American than Tom Sawyer.

As I did in my review of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I will refer to the novels as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and the characters themselves as Tom and Huck.

Tom Sawyer comes before (not properly called a prequel) Huckleberry Finn. I think Huckleberry Finn is considered Twain’s greater work, but not for me. I enjoy both, but if forced to choose, I like Tom Sawyer better.

It’s more fun. Huckleberry Finn is fun – but it’s also important. Tom Sawyer is just fun. And once in a while, “just fun” is better than fun and important.

If that doesn’t make sense – I sort of feel sorry for you.

Another reason I like it so much, is I identify with Tom much more than with Huck. I lived a pretty carefree, barefoot in summer, fishing, swimming, and playing cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, or soldier, much like Tom. Like Tom, and unlike Huck, I was also loved and nurtured.

Tom is a wild, mischievous, but good at heart boy growing up along the banks of the Mississippi River in the 1840s. I don’t believe Twain ever gives his age, or grade. My guess is about 12.

And, did I mention this? It’s just loads of fun. Tom has adventures with his friends Joe Harper and Huck Finn, he falls in love with Becky Thatcher, blows it by being a jerk, then redeems himself by taking blame, and a whipping, for Becky. He runs away and becomes a pirate, witnesses a murder, saves a convicted criminal, finds stolen treasure, and attends his own funeral.

What fun.

I know; there are some who think this book is inappropriate today. I understand and I disagree.

This at least the third time I’ve read Tom Sawyer. It doesn’t get old. Well, I mean it is old, but I don’t get tired of it.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“What's your name?"
"Becky Thatcher. What's yours? Oh, I know. It's Thomas Sawyer."
"That's the name they lick me by. I'm Tom when I'm good. You call me Tom, will you?"


Sunday, June 30, 2019

From the Backcourt to the Front Office: The Isiah Thomas Story by Paul Challen

From the Backcourt to the Front Office: The Isiah Thomas Story by Paul Challen

This is the fourth in a series of biographies I am reading/reviewing about Detroit sport legends: Ty Cobb, Gordie Howe, Bobby Layne, and Isiah Thomas. Although each played a different game, there are several common threads: each played either the entirety or majority of their career in Detroit, each had Hall-of-Fame careers, each brought championships to the Motor City, and each had a somewhat notorious reputation. 

Isiah (Zeke) Thomas is the only living member of this set, and his biography had a distinctly different feel than the others. The first three told all: the good and the bad, but I thought the Thomas bio was a bit too generous in its praise and too gentle in its critique. As the name implies, the biography details Thomas’ career as a player, and then as a basketball executive, coach, and even owner of a minor-league basketball league.

Thomas’ playing career was stellar. ESPN ranks him as the 5thgreatest point guard of all time, and 26thamong players of all positions. Zeke led Indiana University to a National Championship, and the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back NBA Championships. He was a perennial All-Star and was inducted into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame. As a player, he was one of the best ever.

Thomas’ greatest success after his playing days was probably that of General Manager and part owner of the expansion Toronto Raptors beginning with the 95-96 season. Thomas made some unpopular and questionable moves, such as selecting undersized point guard Damon Stoudemire, whose size and playing style was reminiscent of Thomas, as the Raptor’s first ever draft pick, Stoudemire silenced the critics by winning Rookie of the Year honors. As a team the Raptors exceeded expectations on the court and at the box office each of their first two seasons. When Thomas left early in the third season, the Raptor’s record plummeted. And even though the Raptors didn’t have a winning season during Thomas’ tenure, he was largely responsible for creating basketball culture in Toronto. Challen, a Canadian, gave Thomas some well-deserved, and often overlooked, credit for bringing the NBA to Canada and ensuring its continued success. 

The rest of Thomas career as executive and coach are not so impressive.  As a General Manager, his teams rarely made the playoffs and as a coach, he had a losing record. When his teams did make the playoffs, they were eliminated first round. 

The notorious reputation I mentioned? He had a petty feud with Michal Jordan that marred his reputation and probably cost him a spot on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. You don’t run afoul of the greatest ever without consequence. He had another flap with Larry Bird that may have cost him a head coaching position with the Pacers. And then there’s the “Bad Boys” reputation of the Pistons – they were hated around the league – because they won.

Like the other Detroit legends I read about, Thomas dubious reputation was mostly undeserved and overstated. In spite of a few personal foibles, he takes the high ground with his critics and always wears a smile. Unlike the other three – The Isiah Thomas story isn’t finished yet. He may yet win another championship.

In a way, he already has. The Toronto Raptors just won their first ever NBA Championship. It is impossible to measure Thomas’ impact on the championship so many years after his departure – but he definitely made an impact. The Raptors organization recognized this and paid him courtside honors at game one of the finals.

And by the way, – the other Canadian expansion team from 95-96, The Vancouver Grizzlies – no longer exists.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Edward III by William Shakespeare

Edward III by William Shakespeare 

For, from the instant we begin to live,
We do pursue and hunt the time to die: ~ Lord Audley

The Raigne of King Edward the Third commonly referred to simply as Edward III is a play at least partially attributed to Shakespeare. It was written late 16thCentury and concerns King Edward III of England, 14thCentury.

But in my opinion it is more about his son, Prince Edward, the Black Prince who is nearly as prominent in the play, and much more noble than his father.

The play has two distinct plots. Acts I and II concern a conflict with the Scotts, but are really about a dalliance Edward attempts. Acts III – V, cover an English foray into France. There is very little connecting the two plots. Edward does not come off very well in either.

In the first part, after putting down a Scottish uprising and rescuing the Countess of Salisbury, Edward is enamored with the Countess and attempts to seduce her. The Countess puts up a brilliant defense.
     But that your lips were sacred, my Lord,
     You would profane the holy name of love.
     That love you offer me you cannot give,
     For Caesar owes that tribute to his Queen;
     That love you beg of me I cannot give,
     For Sara owes that duty to her Lord.

When Edward persists, and determines to have the Queen and Count killed, so that he may have the Countess, she rebukes him
     Either swear to leave thy most unholy suit
     And never hence forth to solicit me;
     Or else, by heaven this sharp pointed knife
     Shall stain thy earth with that which thou would stain,
     My poor chaste blood. Swear, Edward, swear,
     Or I will strike and die before thee here.

That does the trick. Edward repents in shame and that’s the end of that.

Next, the English invade France – all part of Edward's belief that King John of France is a usurper and that he, Edward, is the rightful King of France. In this section of the play, Prince Edward comes to the fore and outshines his father.

The English advance along several fronts, and Prince Edward is hopelessly outnumbered, 8,000 against 60,000. Count Artois, urges the King to send reinforcements to the prince. Edward answers curtly
     Tut, let him fight; we gave him arms to day,
     And he is laboring for a knighthood man.

When an emissary from King John offers to spare Prince Edward his life if he surrenders, Prince Edward rebuffs
     I will not give a penny for life,
     Nor half a halfpenny to shun grim death,
     Since for to live is but to seek to die,
     And dying but beginning of new life.
     Let come the hour when he that rules it will!
     To live or die I hold indifferent.

Somehow Prince Edward prevails, but King John, ever haughty, complains
     They fortune, not thy force, hath conquered us.

Prince Edward replies
     An argument that heaven aides the right.

I liked this play, and would be very near loving it, but for one major flaw – the parts are so without transition; it hardly seems like a single play. But there is some great dialogue in each, (duh…it’s Shakespeare). 

It leaves me thinking it’s a shame Prince Edward never took the throne. (in true English history, he died before his father, but his son, Richard II did wear the crown.)