Sunday Potpourri

Well, classes resumed at Mondoville this week. I have two sections of froshcomp and my course on the Age of Johnson this term, and I’m also working with my chair to try to get an academic journal off the ground. As part of the Augustan course, we’re starting with Milton, a necessary stage setter. In particular, we’re doing “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity“, “L’Allegro“, and “Il Penseroso” on Tuesday.  I’ve got to admit that I’m not as strong on these works as I am on his later stuff, but it always tickles me when I see Milton essentially originating the phrase “trip the light fantastic” in “L’Allegro.”


The Spawn is taking an American Lit class at Flagship this term, and it started with a look at some of the local color and Southwestern humor that followed the Civil War. As part of this, she read a couple of pieces from Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories. She hadn’t really encountered them before, and after a bit of struggle with the dialect, she discovered she really liked them. Consequently, I went to my bookshelves and have now handed her the copy of the complete Uncle Remus stories that my parents gave me (and Dad read to me) when I was three. After she read the stories, she rang me and said that Br’er Rabbit reminded her of my own spirit animal, Bugs Bunny. I said that made sense — they’re both lapine manifestations of the Trickster archetype, I also pointed her in the direction of the African tales that likely influenced the slave stories that Harris essentially preserved. In class, they watched a couple of YouTube clips from Song of the South, which she’s too young to have seen. It occurred to me that I may be part of the last American generation to know the film — I saw it in the theaters in 1972, and it hasn’t been shown here since 1986. Later, the prof asked them if Br’er Rabbit reminded them of anyone, and in the Spawn’s words, “Dad, someone said the Road Runner! How do you reference the Looney Tunes in that context and not think of the tricky rabbit?” A good question. Meanwhile, I feel a bit remiss in not having exposed her to Harris’s work sooner, but the book was packed away for years. Better late than never, I guess.


On a related note, one of my stronger memories of the stories when I was a smaller Mondo was how hard it was for a lot of folks to read the dialect. My dad never had a problem with it, and neither did I, but we seem to be the exceptions rather than the rule. Years later, in the course of reading L. Sprague de Camp’s bio of Lovecraft, I saw de Camp’s suggestion that dialect writing became a casualty of the decline in phonics as a strategy for teaching reading. While I haven’t seen any data on that (nor have I sought it), de Camp’s idea makes sense to me. Even so, I have to admit that one can take dialect too far — my favorite/most annoying example is the character of Joseph from Wuthering Heights. I never liked the book anyway, but Joseph’s barely penetrable accent made it even worse. Far better if like Chandler’s Tar Baby, he had just “sit dere and don’t say nuffin.”


And for today’s musical selection, we’ll get a bit Antipodean, with the Chants R&B, from Christchurch, New Zealand. (As an aside, we have a significant number of ANZAC kids at Mondoville — when I point out that their feet look normal, they never get the joke. Such is the life of a medievalist.) Anyway, here’s a restaurant-quality rave-up version of a song previously done by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, but with a Preludin-fueled lead guitar that may not be better than Clapton’s work with Mayall, but is a hell of a lot more fun. So here’s “I’m Your Witchdoctor.” Hope you like it, and I’ll see you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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2 Responses to Sunday Potpourri

  1. Andrew Stevens says:

    I don’t find reading dialect difficult, but I do find it tedious. I can really enjoy it if it’s only one or two characters who speak it. This may be politically incorrect, but it particularly works for me if it’s a humorous character. (This is often done in British literature.) But if everybody is speaking in dialect, then I’d really prefer that it be left out. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t enjoy reading Pogo for that reason. Interestingly though, I don’t seem to mind it when it’s written by people who actually grew up with the dialect themselves. I enjoy it in Huckleberry Finn, for example and enjoyed the Uncle Remus stories as a kid.

    You would be a better judge of this than I am, but it seems to me that my problem with Walt Kelly might be that he was a Yankee appropriating a culture not his own. Southern writers seem to be a lot better at writing the dialect. Kelly lays it on too thick, in my opinion.

  2. Withywindle says:

    I remember liking Faulkner’s *As I Lay Dying* in part because the representation of dialect was both utterly convincing and not annoying. Like Andrew, I don’t like reading dialect on the whole. As a writer, though, I keep on being tempted to do it myself–it’s a fun challenge. It may be one of those things that are generally more fun for the writer than the reader.

    Stephen Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage” has the most horribly undecipherable Ohio dialect.

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