Tavern Recommendations for Books, Beer, and Other Refreshments #1

By now, many of you have likely given up on seeing that article on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from me.  Don’t despair!  National Blog Posting Month is upon us, and I am reading the poem; so, it shall certainly be posted one day soon–as long as I write one post per diem, anyway.

Inside a tavern

But, a new idea popped into my head.  It’s been a while since I’ve written a beer review (over two years ago to be precise), and, though this website is dedicated to history and literature, it’s named after a pub.  I’ve determined on a way to combine the two.  When one does a beer tasting and records that it has flavors of malt, caramel, coffee, pears, tea, apple, or whatever, they are recording the flavor impressions which they receive on the tongue.  In most cases, brewers do not actually add caramel, coffee, pears, apples, or tea to their brews, but the beer still impresses one as having those flavors.  (Probably not all in the same beer.)  Other alcohols feature the same phenomenon.  Why should it not be possible for spirits, wine, or beer to somehow connect with a piece of literature?

Monk drinking wine

Suspend your disbelief, my dear readers!  Please read on and see whether there might be some truth to my assertion.  At any rate, you might discover some nice brews and interesting books.  I hope that my co-writer will soon join me on this project.  You see, beer and he do not mix well; so, he shall likely focus on wines and spirits in order to give more variety to these posts.

While the following drinks perhaps ought to be reserved until after you’ve read the works in question, I’m sure that you will enjoy talking about them over these fine craft beers.

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1) Tröeg’s JavaHead Stout

I’m a great fan of this brewery and Pennsylvania’s beers in general.  I enjoyed the hearty coffee and vanilla flavors featured in this stout.  Perhaps, I should have tried it warm in order to see if other flavors came out when tried at this temperature.  At any rate, this stout is very simple, hearty, and pleasant, which brings me to the following recommendation.

The Seaside Parish by George MacDonald

George MacDonald’s books are often down-to-earth themselves–unless we speak of his masterpieces, Phantasies and Lilith.  Like the stout, his books are simple and filling–only, they fill the soul rather than the belly.  Often, his novels feel like a long sermon, but a sermon which strikes new and interesting chords all the time.  The Seaside Parish features a simple pastor whose daughter becomes paralyzed in a riding accident.  This leads to various questions about man’s duty to God and the right way to follow the Will of God.  A simple but hearty work.

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2) Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale

This is one powerful beer!  The Beer Advocate website classifies this as an American Amber/ Red Ale, but the dark fruit and tea flavors reminded me of a German altbier.  Indeed, it feels like an altbier with a twist–the twist being the loads of caramel malt added to the brew.  I need to restrain myself lest I buy a whole case of the stuff!

Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach

Most of our chivalric literature comes from England and France, but Parzival is perhaps the best of chivalric literature from Germany.  It uses figures from Arthurian legend but carries a very different flavor from other such works.  Very much like how the Censored tastes like an altbier, but has something more.  The story follows Parzival, known to most English speakers as Percival, from his early years to his attainment of knighthood and some of his adventures.  After his father’s death, Parzival’s mother attempted to keep her infant son away from knights so that he might not take up the swords and suffer the same fate as his father.  But, he runs into some knights during his late adolescence and nothing can shake Parzival from his desire to become a knight.  A fun and rather quirky tale.

Hope that you liked these recommendations!

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The Fear of Writing

Well, my dear readers, I find myself suffering from a case of scriptophobia.  Scriptophobia is defined as the fear of writing for the public.  The Wikipedia article says: “Scriptophobes tend to be very cautious in writing, while suffering symptoms including nausea, trembling, raised heart rate, and even losing consciousness.  Sufferers should be treated with the help of therapists.”  Be at ease: I only suffer from excessive caution and diffidence.  The thought of needing a therapist caused me to burst out laughing!  Though, I pity persons who fear criticism and become anxious over people knowing their inmost thoughts so much that they need a therapist to overcome this fear.

Hemingway is famous for a writer's block which lasted ten years and ended with what might be considered his masterpiece: The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway is famous for a writer’s block which lasted ten years and ended with what might be considered his masterpiece: The Old Man and the Sea.

In a sense, however, I am writing this very article as therapy.  My case might be compared to stage fright, which I know no way of overcoming save by stepping into the spotlight.  (Admittedly, this is a smaller theater than I have at Medieval Otaku, but a theater all the same.)  Curiously, this case stems from me having submitted a novel to a writing contest.  You might say that I have finished a performance, but have experienced neither the approbation nor opprobrium of the spectators.  I feel like Beethoven with his back toward the audience at the end of his Ninth Symphony.  May my story have as happy an ending!

Beethoven

I sympathize heartily with Beethoven.  All my learning and creativity was poured into that novel, which I am not sure will be loved or hated.  This uncertainty has paralyzed my motivation to write.  As I write this article, I feel like a bed-ridden patient needing to re-accustom his limbs to exercise–even though my present case has lasted only four days.  I fear whether what I write will contain anything of value.

I'm reading a book on Joseph Conrad's life.  He did not have a very happy beginning, but I hope that it gets better.

I’m reading a book on Joseph Conrad’s life. He did not have a very happy beginning, but I hope that it gets better.

Yet, I have in the past described my posts as much mediocrity with a few gems.  A coal mine may have a few diamonds hidden among its depths, but one will never uncover the diamonds without shoveling tons of coal.  And it must be remembered that coal, though neither as beautiful nor as prized as diamonds, has much usefulness.

And so, it is time for me to start mining again.  Look for my article on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight soon and expect more articles to come after it!

Works of the Pearl-Poet Series

While digging through some of my old books, I came across The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet translated by Casey Finch.  As an undergraduate, I purchased this work for the class on Medieval English literature, which was then taught by Prof. Justin A. Jackson of Hillsdale College.  He made us cover the poems Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  The Pearl offers a beautiful vision of heaven, and Prof. Jackson offered some interesting insights into Sir Gawain.  You might have caught by now why this poet is referred to as the Pearl-Poet: he wrote anonymously in the 14th century, so some academics chose to call him by one of the five poems attributed to him.  He also wrote Cleanliness, Patience, and Saint Erkenwald.  Of these poems, Pearl, Cleanliness, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are the longest.

Pearl Poet

My dear readers might see what’s coming now.  I intend to review all five of these works within the next two weeks.  Each book shall be read once or twice, time permitting.  I shall give myself four days for the longer works and two days to digest the shorter.  This gives me a schedule that looks like this: review of Pearl on Sept. 13th, Patience on Sept. 15th (We all need a little patience on Mondays, don’t we?), Cleanliness on Sept. 19th, St. Erkenwald on Sept. 21st, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight on the 25th.  Of course, I shall try to follow along in the Middle English as best as I can to discern the rhyme and rhythm of the pieces, but this Middle English is not Chaucer’s London dialect, but a West Midlands dialect.  Compare the well known beginning of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with the opening of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth          5

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,

And smale fowles maken melodye,

That slepen al the night with open yë,                10

Chaucer

That wasn’t too hard to understand, was it?  Now compare that to the West Midlands dialect:

Siþen þe sege & þe assaut wat3 sesed at Troye,

Þe bor3 brittened & brent to bronde3 & aske3,

Þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wro3t,

Wat3 tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erthe;

Hit wat3 Ennias þe athel, & his highe kynde,                           5

Þat siþen depreced prouinces, & patrounes bicome

Welne3e of al þe wele in þe west iles,

Fro riche Romulus to Rome ricchis hym swyþe,

With gret bobbaunce þat bur3e he biges vpon fyrst,

& neuenes hit his aune nome, as hit now hat;                         10

Sir Gawain beheading the Green Knight.  Hey, the guy asked for it!

Sir Gawain beheading the Green Knight. Hey, the guy asked for it!

If you understood all that without flipping back and forth from a Modern English translation, you’re pretty good!  The West Midlands dialect is much closer to Old English than the London dialect.  They even use the word athel for prince!  Any idea what the word bobbaunce means?  Gret bobbaunce gets translated as “pride,” and I’m pretty sure any etymological relatives of bobbaunce have been completely and utterly buried in the sands of time.  So, I shall try to read from the Middle English as much as I can, but I know that the language will exhaust me pretty quickly.

Look forward to my thoughts on these medieval English works!