Weekend links 89

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A drawing from Bestiario Moderno by Domenico Gnoli (1933–1970).

RIP Russell Hoban. Nina Allan celebrates a favourite writer while David Mitchell, writing in 2005, pays tribute to Riddley Walker. For me the gulf between Hoban and many of his contemporaries could be measured by his entry in the Writer’s Rooms feature the Guardian Review was running for a couple of years: Hoban’s room was the only one that admitted to being cramped and chaotic.

A wristwatch could be “a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air” and still tell time. A short story could take the shape of an instruction manual for the most routine of tasks (crying, singing, winding said dungeon, killing ants in Rome), or a compendium of tales about fantastical but oddly familiar species. A novel didn’t have to progress from the first page to the last, hung on a rigid skeleton of plot: it could proceed in oblong leaps and great steps backward, like a game, say, of hopscotch. “Literature is a form of play,” said Cortázar. […] It is perhaps because he so stubbornly resists categorization, as much as for the ludic complexity of his work, that Cortázar is in these parts more admired than he is read. The Anglophone literary imagination (or perhaps just its material substrate: the market) appears to have room for only one Latin American giant per generation—Borges, García Márquez, the freshly beatified San Bolaño. Cortázar was too weird, too difficult, too joyously slippery to make the cut.

Eels Über Alles: Ben Ehrenreich on Julio Cortázar

• Alfred Jarry is another writer the Anglophone world has often found “too weird, too difficult”. Jarry has been dead for over a century but Alastair Brotchie’s recently-published full-length biography is the first such work in English. Mark Polizzotti reviews a life of “the poster boy for literary cult figures” at Bookforum.

• “A Beautiful Trip”: Frances Morgan interviews David Lynch about music and sound. And Robert Wyatt talks for 95 minutes to Tony Herrington about his favourite music.

• Twilight Science: Paul Schütze presents solo musical work and various collaborative projects in new digital editions.

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Jonathan Barnbrook‘s logo design for Occupy London.

• Winter reads: Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green. Related: What became of illustrations in fiction?

The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen is a new Penguin Classic out in January.

• “This Christmas, why not give Viriconium, city of sex, syphillis & consubstantiation?”

• The Casual Optimist announces its Favourite Book Covers of 2011.

The Collect Call of Cthulhu

Living with Burroughs

Function (2011) by Emptyset | Aftertime (2011) by Roly Porter with Cynthia Miller on the Ondes Martenot.

Maps and legends

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Following the mention yesterday of my facsimile John Speed map I set about searching for the map in question since it’s managed to survive all these years. For the moment I haven’t been able to find it but going through a portfolio of old drawings I finally found this item, a map or chart or the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology which I drew when I was 11 years old. Various family traumas mean a lot of my early artwork hasn’t survived so this drawing is the earliest piece of my work that I own. (Click below for a bigger view.)

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Sol in her Sun Chariot. The horse evidently looked better after a second attempt.

I can be specific about my age since I remember drawing this in 1973 shortly after moving to secondary school. The paper is the horrible stuff that was standard issue at that place, rough and terrible for pencil work. I’d been given a new set of coloured pencils so took advantage with this to use just about every colour in the box.

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Cain’s son: the incarnations of Grendel

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Beowulf wrestles with Grendel, Lynd Ward (1939).

There’s nothing new in pointing out Hollywood’s crimes against literature, the film business has been screwing up book adaptation since the earliest days of silent cinema. But sometimes the wound is so grievous you can’t help but speak out, in this case against Roger Avary’s Beowulf which is released next month. This is another CGI-heavy confection along the lines Polar Express, with the actors being given digital bodies via motion-capture, and it’s something I’d probably have ignored until I saw this picture of Grendel, the story’s principal monster. Beowulf is one of the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon poems and Grendel, the bloodthirsty creature which Beowulf battles, is one of the ur-fiends of English literature, along with his equally monstrous, lake-dwelling mother and the dragon which fatally wounds the hero. The trio give us a peek back into the dark imagination from a time before recorded history and Grendel especially has always had something raw and primal about its character. So when you see a beast with such a history portrayed as little more than a diseased muppet you wonder what’s going on. Are the creators inept? Ignorant? Were studio restrictions at work? How does an industry with the talent to give splendid life to the trolls and Balrog of Lord of the Rings, or Davy Jones and crew in Pirates of the Caribbean, screw up so badly?

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