Monthly Archives: April 2008

Beowulf — the movie and the animated horses in the movie.

We recently watched Beowulf on the very small screen and I’ve got to admit, I liked it more than I thought I would because there were some complexities within the story and some interesting additions to the plot. Of course, it’s that CGI stuff and CGI people have dead eyes (like the Tom Hanks character in Polar Express — he looks  . . .well, maybe Not-Alive is more accurate than “dead”).  And there were some horses because the former Vikings have horses by the time Beowulf is king.  They ride big heavy animated horses which makes sense to us visually, but I wonder if the Norsemen actually rode smaller horses, like today’s Icelandics. The Mongolian warriors preferred smaller horses also since they are easier to mount in a hurry so my suspicion is that heavy draft horses depicted are anachronistic. Hm. I’d like to find out more about that.  But what I *really* noticed was that the CGI horses did not spook when the evil dragon showed up. This big fire-breather comes swooping out the sky and the horses just stood there. Right. As if.  It’s one of those details that makes you understand that someone involved in production didn’t know horses.  There’s no way a horse would stand still for a dragon and one of the riders should have landed on the ground. Funny what you notice, isn’t it, when you like horses.

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Michael cured by a horse

Another horse-instance from Jews Without Money by Michael Gold, woodcuts by Howard Simon, published by International Publishers, New York, NY, 1937 (16th edition)

Michael became deathly ill once, and it started with a Fourth of July firework. A firecracker came in through his bedroom window, landed on his pillow, and went off. It tore a hunk out of his shoulder and while his body healed, his mind did not and he began to lose weight. A doctor was no help, so his mother called in a Speaker-Woman. Baba Sima was a mess — no teeth, a hunched back, dressed like a beggar. First she turned the boy over onto his stomach, then took a blunt knife and drew on his back while chanting a song and praying. She then ate prodigious quantities of Michael’s mother’s cookies and drank a gallon of tea. She came back three more times and always assigned tasks, like drinking water from a certain place at a certain time or collecting various muds and dungs to make a paste. The last time, Baba Sima came with a pan and a ball of lead. She heated the lead on the stove and poured the hot lead into a pail of cold water, and declared the shape to be that of a horse:

“We stared at the chunk of jagged lead. Yes, we assured each other in amazement, it had taken on the shape of a horse. And the next night, exactly at midnight, my father led me into the livery stable, and I whispered into the ear of one of the coach horses: ‘My fright in your body; God is Jehova,’ I said, giving the horse an apple which he munched sleepily. ”

Michael was made whole again. No more nightmares. He even checked with the stable owner to see if the horse suffered from nightmares. It didn’t.

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Ganuf the old Thief, from Jews Without Money

From Jews Without Money by Michael Gold, Woodcuts by Howard Simon. International Publishers (New York NY), 1937. 309 pp HC $5.00.

“In the livery stable on our street there was an old truck horse I loved. Every night he came home weary from work, but they did not unhitch him at once. [. . .] The horse was hungry. That’s why he’d steal apples or bananas from the pushcarts if the peddler was napping. He was kicked and beaten for this, but it did not break him of his bad habit. They should have fed him sooner after a hard day’s work. He was always neglected, and dirty, fly-bitten, gall-ridden. He was nicknamed the Ganuf – the old Thief on our street.”

Michael loved the horse. Stole sugar from home for him, patted his nose and his flanks and mane. Ganuf shook his head and stared at Michael. The horse wouldn’t shake his head for the other members of Michael’s gang. His handler was an Irish man with short, bent legs who would begin an evening of drunkenness and fighting by first abusing the horse. But the horse never kicked or bucked. Just took the abuse. The poor thing dropped in street one hot day. His harness was loosened and he managed to get back to the stable, but dropped dead in the harness. Michael watched the dead horse because the body stayed there for a day until carted off.

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Jews Without Money by Michael Gold

Oh yes it does too have something to do with horses!

OK, maybe Harvey Pekar doesn’t and were I the editor and not the writer of this blog, I would say to Leslie, “Leslie,” I would say, “Exactly what does Harvey Pekar, author of the American Splendor series of comics have to do with horses?” and Leslie would shamefacedly admit that Harvey Pekar has not a thing to do with horses. But when one is the editor and the writer, one is playing a game of Chinese Checkers with/against one’s own self. You can make patterns with the marbles or create elegant yet inefficient bridges for the other marbles to jump on their way to find home and win the game. Or “win” the game (notice effective usage of ironical quotation marks).

So I was following Michael Dirda’s advise to dedicated readers, that they should go into a used book store and make it a point to pick out a book by an author they had never heard of that was at least 50 years old. I went to Areopagitica on a mission of both outreach and book searching — and found Jews Without Money by Michael Gold which I can Not Put Down. My edition is an old hardcover from the late 1930s. There’s some woodcut illustrations and the thing is a wee bit mouldy so I sneeze sometimes while flipping the pages, but it’s a small price to pay for this riveting and heart-breaking story of life on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s. Things were pretty damn bad on the Lower East Side before World War I. I knew this in an abstracted sort of way, but the descriptions of life (especially for young women) are grim.

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Gabby revisited

Gabby has bumpy things on her rear legs near her hoof.  Of course she does. Naturally. I am so not surprised. She’s got bumpy tumor-y things that are causing her some discomfort when she moves, meaning that she can’t be ridden. Leah is talking about seeing if the girl can conceive and there’s a young stallion at the farm who I think is interested in doing just that (although Gabby’s unproven and I see no reason why anything involving that mare and biology should be easy). Gabby was definitely in the Top 10 Mistakes of My Life. I should never have bought that horse, I had no business buying the horse, I’m so glad she’s no longer my horse. I always give her treats when I’m at the barn because I’m responsible for her being there, but Good God. What next? Will she develop gill slits? Wings? Take up smoking? 

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I am (a) Leslie Birdwell

That’s the name I was born with and the name under which I have written some stuff. I know that there is more than one Leslie Birdwell (both women?) and I think at least two of us are writers/appreciators of literature. Isn’t that cool? Like . . . something in the name compels a person to enjoy books. I’m the Leslie Birdwell who was born in Chicago, grew up in Michigan, grew up again in West Virginia, and now lives in Central Ohio. I’m the one lucky enough to be married to Jack, the one who is the proud editor of the Ohioana Quarterly, the one who lost at Jeopardy!, the one who is lucky in friends, has two cats, and who likes dark chocolate oranges (you know, the ones you can thwap on hard surface and that fall into chocolate sections of orangey goodness).

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