Thursday, April 29, 2021


by James Ponti
Recommended Ages: 11+

Florian Bates, age 12, is a kid who's seen a lot of the world. And I mean, really seen it, in laser-focused detail. Having moved around a lot – with stays in Boston, Paris, London and Rome – he has developed a survival strategy for navigating the social snakepit of a new school. He calls it TOAST, which stands for the theory of all small things. He ignores the obvious and reads the truth from excruciatingly tiny details. And now, as he starts seventh grade in Washington, D.C., he puts his secret to uses he never thought of before – like making a new best friend and solving an art heist at the National Gallery.

Best friend first: Her name is Margaret, and she soon shows a gift for TOAST herself. She has a mystery of her own that she would like Florian to solve for her – just a small matter of who her birth parents are. As partners, they become secret assets of the FBI, foiling an espionage plot and, yes, finding the stolen paintings and who dunit. Florian gets to train at Quantico, the FBI training facility in Virginia. He gets to meet the head of the bureau and mingle with high-level agents. But along the way, Florian gets kidnapped by a Romanian gangster, he finds the secrecy of his secret identity at risk, and his precious new friendship is put to a terrible test.

All right, there isn't much to that synopsis. But it's a fun book, full of kid-friendly mystery, action and humor, as well as some eye-opening information about art and the FBI. The clues and the deductions they lead to make it especially fun. It might even inspire some young Sherlocks to try a little TOAST.

This is the first of three "TOAST mysteries," also billed as "Framed! novels," by the author of the "Dead City" trilogy, two "City Spies" books and several junior movie novelizations.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Fun with Top-Grossing Actors

My source of information may not be very reputable: It was the answers to a Sporcle quiz on which I scored only 26 percent. The object was to name, in something like 15 minutes, as many as you can of the top 300 money-earning actors in the first 100 years of the film industry – between 1911 and 2011 – in gross, non-inflation adjusted dollars. Even dispensing with the dollar amounts, which are considerable (ranging from almost $1.3 million to over $5 million per actor), I found the answers to be an interesting mix of people I'd expect to see there and names whose presence really surprised me. So, just for the fun of it...

These people you'd pretty much expect to find high on a list like this, right? (1) Samuel L. Jackson. (2) Tom Hanks. I mean, these are blockbuster stars. But already (3) is Frank Welker. I mean, who? Frank Welker, the voice actor best known for playing Fred on Scooby-Doo. He's been in a bunch of other stuff. I mean, like, 860 credited roles, including characters in the Transformers franchise. Though he's had a few live action roles, he's mostly a voice actor. And he's grossed almost $4 million. How about that? Those ads showing up on Facebook offering careers in voice acting are starting to look good, aren't they?

(4) is John Ratzenberger, whom many of us still remember as Cliff on Cheers. More recently, he's been serving as voice talent in pretty much all of the Pixar animated features.

We go back to a couple more that are no big surprise: (5) Harrison Ford. (6) Eddie Murphy. And then there's (7) Warwick Davis. The little guy makes it to the top 10! Davis, of course, played multiple magical characters in the Harry Potter films and was also the hero Ewok in the Star Wars movies.

(8) is Hugo Weaving – also not a big star, really, but he's been a principal cast member in several blockbuster franchises, including the Lord of the Rings and Martix trilogies.

(9) Tom Cruise is no shocker. But the fact that (10) is Alan Rickman kind of blows me away. Best known as a villain in Die Hard and Snape in the ensemble cast for Harry Potter, he crushed his D.H. co-star (14) Bruce Willis in these rankings. Does this mean nice guys really do finish last?

(11) Morgan Freeman, (12) Gary Oldman and (13) Robin Williams clearly deserve to be high on this list, even without having played action heroes. (15) Johnny Depp is the sort of celebrity who just has to be up there. But then you get good old (16) Robbie Coltrane, a.k.a. Hagrid from the Harry Potter films. (17) James Earl Jones, a.k.a. voice of Darth Vader. (18) Maggie Smith, a.k.a. Prof. McGonagall. That's six Harry Potter stars in the top 20 (counting Fantastic Beasts as an extension of the franchise).

(19) Owen Wilson and (20) Cameron Diaz represent comedy. Just think about it: A guy in the top 20 list of top-grossing actors tried to kill himself.

(21) John Cleese is there, probably mostly because of Monty Python but a touch of Harry Potter doesn't hurt. (22) Timothy Spall – a.k.a. Harry Potter's Wormtail. (23) Tom Felton - a.k.a. Harry Potter's Draco Malfoy. We're up to nine Harry Potter castmates now, kiddies.

(24) Matt Damon. (25) Helene Bonham Carter - a.k.a. Bellatrix LeStrange. (26) Kathy Bates. She's in this league? She's done quite well. Off the top of my head I can think of The Blind Side, Fried Green Tomatoes and Misery for her career. Respectable work. But wow!

(27) is Michael Gambon, a.k.a. Dumbledore from the third Harry Potter movie on. (28) Ben Stiller. (29) Robert De Niro. (30) Frank Oz. Yes, Miss Piggy! (31) Jim Carrey. (32) Dustin Hoffman. (33) Julia Roberts. (34) Liam Neeson. (35) Jason Isaacs – who now adds Star Trek stardom (Capt. Lorca from Discovery) to his Harry Potter creds as Draco's dad. (36) Will Smith. (37) Willem Dafoe. (38) Devon Murray. That's Harry Potter's roommate Seamus to you. My running count of Harry Potter cast members on this list reaches 13.

(39) Sigourney Weaver. (40) Emma Watson - Harry's friend Hermione. (41) Julie Walters – Harry's future mother-in-law, Molly Weasley. (42) Geraldine Somerville - you may not know it, but she played Harry's mum, Lily. (43) Michael Caine. (44) John Travolta. (45) Richard Griffiths – Harry's Uncle Vernon. (46) Daniel Radcliffe – at last, the Boy Who Lived himself! And only the 18th Harry Potter cast member from the top!

(47) Orlando Bloom, a.k.a. Legolas from the Lord of the Rings franchise. (48) Rupert Grint, a.k.a. Harry's pal Ron. (49) Josh Herdman. Who?! Well, he played Draco's crony Goyle in all eight Harry Potter movies. How could you forget? A tiny, almost silent role to be sure, out of a career that hasn't exactly stood out otherwise; but he's earned almost $2.4 million. It's good work if you can find it.

(50) Matthew Lewis, a.k.a. Harry's friend Neville. (51) James Phelps and (52) Oliver Phelps, actual twins who played Ron's older twin brothers Fred and George. (53) Bonnie Wright, as their sister Ginny. That's 24 of those Potter people so far.

(54) Kenny Baker was R2-D2 in the Star Wars films. He did pretty well for an actor known for neither his face nor his voice. (55) Geoffrey Rush. (56) Mel Gibson. (57) John Turturro. (58) Christopher Lee - my, aren't comics and character actors doing well! (59) Mark Williams - that's Molly's husband Arthur Weasley, you know; Potter 25.

(60) Nicolas Cage. (61) Clint Howard – Ron Howard's character actor brother, who hasn't had what I would exactly call a string of starring roles. (62) Dan Aykroyd. (63) Bonnie Hunt. (64) Whoopi Goldberg. (65) Jim Cummings. Who?! He's another voice actor, known for Pooh, Tigger and the Tasmanian Devil.

(66) Gene Hackman. (67) Jon Voight. (68) Anthony Daniels – that's C-3PO from Star Wars. (69) Steve Buscemi – doing better in real life than the characters he plays. (70) Mike Myers. (71) William Fichtner, a character actor you'd probably recognize if I showed you his picture but not the household name his placement on this list would suggest.

(72) Jack Black. (73) Ian McKellen, buoyed by both his X-Men and Lord of the Rings roles. (74) Brad Pitt. (75) J.K. Simmons, who only adds an Oscar statuette to what I said about #71. (76) Tommy Lee Jones. (77) Alec Baldwin. (78) John Hurt – who, besides many other great roles, played Ollivander in the Potter films; Potter 26.

(79) Jon Favreau, who's been in some blockbusters to be sure, but I wonder how they segregated his earnings as a director from his acting income? (80) Adam Sandler. (81) David Bradley - Filch (Potter 27). (82) Michael Clarke Duncan. (83) Ralph Fiennes - Voldemort (Potter 28). (84) Paul Giamatti. (85) Wallace Shawn - Vizzini in The Princess Bride and Nagus Zek in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If it weren't for Jason Isaacs, I'd be able to say how appropriate it is that the top-earning Star Trek actor played a Ferengi.

(86) Shia LaBeouf. (87) Danny DeVito. (88) Chris Ellis. Who?! I don't know, but he's been in the cast of a lot of big movies, like My Cousin Vinny, Apollo 13, Con Air, Armageddon, October Sky, Catch Me If You Can, etc. (89) Julie Andrews. (90) Cheech Marin. Wow, there's a juxtaposition you don't see every day. (91) Adrian Rawlins. Who?! Why, that's Harry Potter's dad! (Potter 29).

(92) Alfred Enoch – Harry's roomie, Dean (Potter 30). (93) Cate Blanchett. (94) James Cromwell. (95) Bill Paxton. (96) Anthony Hopkins. (87) Elijah Wood. (98) Rob Schneider – whose appearance in the top 100 is proof that there's no justice in the world. (99) Christopher Walken. And (100) Natalie Portman. I'm not going to go through all the numbers from 101 to 300, and you're welcome. But I'll note, since I'm on a "Look how many Harry Potter cast members are on this list, I bet there's a connection" tear, I'll mention them as well as some miscellaneous "Who?!" names.

(101) Brendan Gleeson, a.k.a. Mad-Eye Moody. (104) Jim Broadbent, a.k.a. Horace Slughorn. (106) Kevin Dunn. Who?! Some guy who's been in a bunch of successful movies, like Dave and Transformers (playing Shia LaBoeuf's dad). (108) Keith David. Who?! He was the imam in Pitch Black and was also in Armageddon and a bunch of other stuff. (117) David Cross is known for TV's Mr. Show and Arrested Development. (127) Marton Csokas was Celeborn, Lady Galadriel's husband, in The Lord of the Rings. (129) Bill Nighy, a.k.a. Mr. Scrimgeour (Potter 31).

(130) Martin Klebba - he played a pirate in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. (145) Bill Nunn, whose picture I'm gonna put right here because I don't know what to tell you. (153) Tracey Walter, a scruffy-looking guy who, like Steve Buscemi, has done better in life than the characters he usually plays. (160) Wayne Knight, a.k.a. Newman on Seinfeld. (163) Jamie Waylett, who I believe was Draco Malfoy's crony Crabbe (Potter 32).

(177) Philip Baker Hall – another character actor of whom I can only remind you by showing you his picture. (178) Fiona Shaw – Harry's Aunt Petunia (Potter 33). (181) Kevin McNally, also of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. (190) Bernard Hill was King Theoden in the Lord of the Rings movies. (191) Conrad Vernon is a voice actor known for roles in DreamWorks animated features, like the Gingerbread Man in Shrek. (212) Afshan Azad was one of the Patil twins at Hogwarts (Potter 34). (213) Katie Leung was Hogwarts student Cho Chang (Potter 35).

(228) Xander Berkeley played "Red John" (the serial killer nemesis of the title character) in TV's The Mentalist. He's also played roles on 24, The Walking Dead and in some pretty big movies. (239) David Thewlis was Prof. Lupin at Hogwarts (Potter 36). (244) Peter Mayhew was Chewbacca in the Star Wars movies. (246) Robert Pattinson, whose career has really taken off post-Harry Potter, did play Cedric Diggory and so qualifies as Potter 37.

(250) David Schofield is another Pirates of the Caribbean who, while not a household name, can probably afford multiple households of his own. (259) Harry Melling was Harry Potter's cousin Dudley (Potter 38). (260) Chris Rankin is best known as the Weasley brother Percy (Potter 39). Down in this region of the list, where we also find such names as (261) Bill Pullman, (262) John Malkovich and (263) Dwayne Johnson, here's (264) Verne Troyer, who appeared as both Dr. Evil's Mini-Me and a Gringotts goblin (Potter 40).

(276) Brian Doyle-Murray is a gravelly-voiced character actor who has frequently co-starred with his brother, (136) Bill Murray. (283) Richard Kind plays the quintessential sit-com nebbish in such shows as Mad About You and Curb Your Enthusiasm, but has also starred in A Serious Man and voiced a number of Pixar animated characters. (284) David Wenham - Seriously! Who? - was Faramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and has scored roles in several other blockbusters, like Van Helsing, 300 and one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Finally, wedged between (298) Nathan Lane of The Birdcage and (300) Mark Hamill of Star Wars is (299) Imelda Staunton, who apparently hasn't suffered financially from playing the most hated character in the Harry Potter franchise: Dolores Umbridge. Unless I missed my counting, that makes 41 Potterites who made it into the top 300 gross-earning actors of all time. How do you like that, eh?

EDIT: I left off (205) William Melling, because I'm not sure, but he might be the kid who played Nigel in a number of Harry Potter films. If he is, it's remarkable that he's so high on the list considering that he plays a character who didn't exist in the books!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Tacky Hymns 86

We continue with the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy, 1996). I repeat:
I'm pointing up three types of hymns in this series of critiques: (1) Hymns that I think the editors should have known better than to put in the pew hymnal of a liturgical, confessional Lutheran church – the kind that, doctrinally and artistically, qualify as "tacky" in the sense I've been using it on this thread; (2) noteworthy text-tune pairings; and (3) hymns of such high quality that I feel they deserve to be better known and more widely sung. I'll try, but not too hard, to avoid vain repetition from previous threads. That's a lot of material to try to keep in mind, you know.
Resuming with the Ascension section, (390) Look, O look, the sight is glorious is an altered version of the hymn that LW and LSB have as "Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious," by Thomas Kelly. Allergic to saints, Ev. Luth. Synod? The tune BRYN CALFARIA is quite dramatic and, in this book, is arranged for echoey part-singing at the refrain "Crown Him, crown Him!" As an organist I have to say this is a very challenging piece to play, but it rewards the effort by being thrilling and fun.

(395) Awake, Thou Spirit, who didst fire, earmarked for Easter 7, is one that I'm accustomed, thanks to TLH, to singing to the chorale tune ALL EHR UND LOB, rather than this book's choice of Henri Hemy's Protestant-church-carillon tune ST. CATHERINE (cf. "Faith of our fathers, living still"). I guess it could go either way, but this is one of those tunes that to me smacks of trying to pass as a member of a socially acceptable church.

(398) Hail thee, festival day is an all-festivals, all-seasons arrangement of the hymn by Fortunatus, which Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and LW split into separate hymns for Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. That's an efficient use of space, if awkward for categorization purposes, but it doesn't solve the problem that Ralph Vaughan Williams' tune SALVE FESTA DIES is a long, rhythmically tricky, complicated affair with a refrain repeated after each of two musically distinct strains of stanza melody. The older translation, "Welcome, happy morning," set to SEI DU MIR GEGRÜSSET (TLH 202) might be the safer bet for Ma and Pa Smurf and the other members of their church.

(400) O enter, Lord, Thy temple, sic, once again misspelling "Oh," is a wonderful Pentecost hymn by Paul Gerhardt that TLH set to its own tune, Johann Crüger's beautiful ZEUCH EIN. I am twice sad to see it relegated to a Bottom of the Page Text Block (BOTPTB) in this book, and paired with a different suggested tune (although VON GOTT WILL ICH NICHT LASSEN is a fine melody). I am sad a third time to consider that this hymn, at one time considered a hymn of the day for Trinity 8 (cf. Jan Bender's book of organ settings for the hymns of the week) has been utterly dropped from the repertoire of American Lutherans outside of TLH and this book. Here's what we're missing by not keeping this hymn to the Holy Spirit alive: Stanza 1 confesses that He gives "me, the earth-born, A second birth more blest," and He reigns and is adored equally with the Father and the Son. Stanza 2: He makes our prayer and praise efficacious, so that "unheard they cannot fall." Stanza 3: "Thy gift is joy, O Spirit," drawing comfort from the Spirit's voice. Simply and without being dogmatic, it eloquently says so much that needs to be said at Pentecost-tide.

(401) O day full of grace is a Danish folk hymn, set to Weyse's harmonically rich tune DEN SIGNEDE DAG, which I have loved most of my life. It was in TLH, the hymnal of my childhood, but it took immersion in Scandinavian-American Lutheranism to awaken me to its charms. I think it is more of a "looking ahead to the end times" type of hymn than a Pentecost hymn, strictly speaking.

(405) The mystery hidden from the eyes is a Trinity hymn by Paul Gerhardt that was in the old Evangelical Lutheran Hymnbook (ELHb) – the predecessor to TLH from out of the English-speaking group within what is now the Missouri Synod, the main body of which was still worshiping in German at that time. Somehow, this hymn didn't survive into TLH or subsequent Missourian hymnals LW and LSB. Another interesting survival is the tune paired with it: EIN NEUES LIED, arranged from Martin Luther's own tune to his very first hymn, which has otherwise fallen out of use in American Lutheranism although, again, one still hears it from time to time clanging out of the belfry of the local Church of the Electronic Carillon System. It's a neat hymn, words and music altogether.

(408) Round the Lord in glory seated is a three-stanza hymn by Richard Mant, who recognizes as the author of some 70 hymns still more or less in circulation. While this BOTPTB's setting of the temple scene of Isaiah 6 is very impressive, especially set to the suggested tune EBENEZER, I don't feel that impressiveness runs very deep. It just doesn't do very much with the seraphim's song "Holy, holy, holy," other than atmospherics. The application seems to go no further than "Heav'n is still with glory ringing, Earth takes up the angels' cry," etc. I've always felt that text implies far richer things – things to do with sacrifice applied to forgive sins, etc.

(416) 'So truly as I live,' God saith is based on the same Matthias Loy translation of Nicolaus Herman's hymn as TLH 331, "Yea, as I live, Jehovah saith." Maybe the reason the first line was changed is that the term "Jehovah" has fallen out of favor to the point where it stuck in the throats of ELHy's editors. I don't know, it seems to me that usage becomes a language unto itself and so, perhaps, we should just let things like this be rather than "correct" them. TLH fans will probably also be a little tetchy to see their tune, Jeremiah Clarke's ST. LUKE, replaced with SO WAHR ICH LEB by Johann Georg Schott. However, Schott's tune probably has first claim on this hymn, since it shares its title with the first line of Herman's text in the original German.

(418) How fair the Church of Christ shall stand is a Thomas Kingo hymn, here set to John Bacchus Dykes' tune MELITA ("Eternal father, strong to save"). It's a hymn of admonition to the church to live together in sanctified brotherhood and cross-bearing submission. Paul's epistles bear witness that it's a message that often needs to be be repeated. However, if it has a drawback, it's the overall tone of me-centered moralism that only in the seventh stanza resorts to seeking God's help, "That Thou be sanctified in me," etc. Well, better late than never.

(419) Most ancient of all mysteries is a BOTPTB by Frederick Faber, suggested to pair with the early American tune DETROIT ("Forgive our sins as we forgive"). The eternal and infinite nature of the Triune God is the mystery in view here, in verse of high quality despite ELHy's insistence on incorrectly turning "Oh" into "O." (If, after all the times I've carped about this, you still don't know what I mean, "O" is a grammatical particle when it's immediately before the name of whomever or whatever you're addressing, as a sign of the vocative case. Otherwise, as merely a rounded murmur of emotion, it's spelled with an aitch and should be set off by a comma.) My only other note about this hymn is to watch out for the word "pitiful," which I believe means "merciful" in the context.

(421) We are called by one vocation is another hymn about the church, by K.J. Philip Spitta. It's an unusual case for me, as a critic of hymnody: I love the tune, KOMM, O KOMM DU GEIST DES LEBENS. However, I don't think it's the right hymn for this tune, because of two short rhyming phrases toward the end of each stanza (e.g. "Nor by strife Embitter life") that the penultimate phrase of melody squishes together so that it obscures the verse structure. It's the kind of dilemma that makes me want either to find out what tune originally went with Spitta's hymn or to compose one afresh, with a pause after "life."

(424) Jesus, I my cross have taken is Henry F. Lyte's familiar hymn about discipleship, which Missouri sinners are quite comfortable singing to HYFRYDOL. Here, however, we find it set to ROSENMÜLLER, by Johann of that name, which is a charming enough tune. Only, I've always felt that the final strain's switch to a triple meter made the ending awkward. My inclination would be to straighten out the rhythm to the steady quarter-note pulse heard through the first three-quarters of it, but that procedure founders on the evidence of Bach's harmonization of this tune, which preserves the original meter change.

(425) Light of the minds that know Him is written by Timothy Dudley-Smith – whom I've heard described as the hymn-writing embodiment of postmodernism – based, the text credit says, on something by fifth century church father Augustine. My inclination to be leery of anything by TDS until persuaded that it's good is immediately undercut by the hymn's pairing with Irish folk tune MOVILLE, which knocks my socks off (cf. "Christ is the world's Redeemer"). I'm not enough of an expert on Augustine to judge how Augustinian this hymn is, but there's something irresistable in its structure, its eloquence, its rhetorical momentum, building a case stanza upon stanza that Christ is my light, life and strength. It gives you the same thrill as ST. PATRICK'S BREASTPLATE ("I bind unto myself today") while only being 60 percent as hard to sing and without ending in an argument over the difference between a confession of faith and legalism.

(428) Weary of all trumpeting is a hymn that I personally like, as I personally care about the hymns of Martin Franzmann and the music of Hugo Distler. However, the fact that I like it doesn't necessarily mean that I would use it in church, because it's challenging on multiple levels and the fight might not be quite worth it. Some of that fight will be on a vicious, ad hominem level: on Franzmann's part, because he bailed out of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis just a tick ahead of Seminex and, by his comments from his safe armchair at Westfield House, left a flavor in many people's mouths of a churchman who sympathized with the Biblical higher critics; on Distler's part, because he suicided, which is not a great look for a servant of the church – but then, so did Jeremiah Clarke, and Distler's act could be construed as an act of principle since he had been conscripted by the Nazis. If I seem to be unequal in my defense of the two gentlemen, let it suffice that I've already said my piece on Franzmann's behalf. As for the hymn, it's a bit of a downer, and it has a modern sound that won't be to the taste of Ma and Pa Smurf and their set. A spectacular work of art, it'll depend on town-gown forces to do it justice. But in my opinion, it beats a lot of ditties resounding with empty triumphalism into a cocked hat, simply by looking honestly at where the true joy lies in life, even for believers who have good reason to feel tired and discouraged.

(430) By Adam's fall is all forlorn is a translation, in part by Mark DeGarmeaux of the ELHy editorial committee, of Lazarus Spengler's hymn of which TLH 369, "All mankind fell in Adam's fall," is a very different, very free translation by Matthias Loy. The ELHy version is much longer, both in stanza structure and overall content, suggesting that Loy's version made deep cuts from the original. The tune, DURCH ADAMS FALL, dates from 1525 and is a really impressive specimen that should be better known in our circles. Here's our chance! What does this hymn give us? Other than proclaiming the exchange of God's Son for sinful mankind (which the Loy version certainly does as well)? The hymn's structure, in this version, leans more heavily on the contrasting parallelism between Adam and Christ, and our situation under both. While in Adam, "the poison's there when we are born," Christ has "the ransom won, freed us from condemnation" (stanza 1). Because Eve was deceived, "therefore the need was great indeed that God should mercy show us through His dear Son" (stanza 2). Since in Adam "we all have sinned ... so now in Christ we live again," whose "dear blood renewed what was corrupted" (stanza 3). "Since God gave us His only Son while we were yet His foemen," says stanza 4, "we gain ... libety." He is the Way, Light, Door, Truth and Life, God's Counsel and Word, through whom no one can snatch us from His hand (st. 5); without faith in Him there is no salvation (st. 6), while the believer builds on the solid rock (st. 7). The hymn closes with a prayer to Him who washes and cleanses us of sin and shame (st. 8), trusting him to guide us to eternal life. Loy's version is good; I'd be happy to have both in my book. But this is a strong testimony of faith that towers over many a religious ditty that swoons sentimentally over the cross.

(432) Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, Count Zinzendorf's hymn, is here set not to ST. CRISPIN as in TLH, but to HERRNHUT. I like it to either tune, but I have to admit that HERRNHUT is much meatier and more impressive tune.

(433) Not what these hands have done, by Horatius Bonar, is a nice little hymn attributing everything concerning salvation to God alone. TLH set it to the shorter, minor-key tune ST. BRIDE, which I prefer to this hymnal's choice of TERRA BEATA – known to many as the tune to "This is my Father's world" and for its similarity to a theme in the soundtrack to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

(434) God moves in a mysterious way is another one I'm mentioning only because ELHy and TLH go different ways on the tune pairing. TLH uses the shorter DUNDEE, while ELHy sets William Cowper's lyrics to the Early American shape-note melody SALVATION. This might actually be an improvement, especially since I'm not familiar with any other hymn particularly associated with this tune. I might have to use it for one of my originals sometime!

(437) In Jesus I find rest and peace is a hymn against worry, translated from an anonymous Norwegian text (I think) and set to a passable, workaday tune by Ludvig Lindeman, whose work as both a composer and an arranger is well represented in this book. There's a certain subjectiveness to this hymn's mode of expression that doesn't sit right with me, as a congregational hymn; it's a bit too like an individual's testimony of religious experience and too unlike a proclamation that addresses everybody. Still, it posits some ideas worthy of thought, like "I will not trouble borrow" (st. 1); the unsatisfying search for peace in things other than Christ (sts. 2-3); Christ making the move toward me (st. 4); the peace found in Jesus despite the vexation of the world (st. 5); "To me the preaching of the cross Is wisdom everlasting" (st. 6, an excellent verse all around); "The dove at last Hath found sweet rest" (st. 7, a touching conclusion). So, a little touchy-feely, but on the other side of the anxious bench from your typical altar call song.

(438) King of glory, King of peace is another one of George Herbert's mystical songs, here set to the modern melody GENERAL SEMINARY by David Charles Walker. I've mentioned Herbert before, and I think I said what I'll say now – his work seems, to me, more suitable for private meditation, or maybe performance by a soloist or choir while the audience reads along in the program, than to be sung straight through by the worshiping congregation. It just demands such focused and deep meditation, I think, to ponder the meaning of such lines as "I will move Thee," "Thou didst note my working breast," "with my utmost art," "the cream of all my heart," "alone, when (my sins) replied," etc. In brief, it's very sophisticated poetry and might go over the heads of simple folks who are doing their best just to hit Walker's notes. Just sayin'.

(445) We give Thee but Thine own, that stewardship hymn by William Walsham How of which many congregations sing a few stanzas at every service, ELHy sets to the American tune SCHUMANN, which seems to be a common pairing – outside ELHb-TLH-LW-LSB circles and a few other American Lutheran books, where it is customarily sung to ENERGY a.k.a. ST. ETHELWALD. I, for one, would find it strange to hear it to any other tune.

(447) Almighty Father, heaven and earth is a nice little stewardship hymn (actually a BOTPTB) by Edward Arthur, which hits about the same points as How's hymn and that might be a nice alternative to change things up once in a while.

(449) Thy love, O gracious God and Lord, a "new obedience" hymn from Kingo's Danish, is also set to DURCH ADAMS FALL and seems to be a buried treasure, from the perspective of someone brought up on the TLH line of hymnals. "I love Thee for Thy love to me" (st. 1). Stanza 2 applies John 3:16 to me personally: "My soul, forget it never." Why is the world preserved, when so many reject the gospel (st. 5)? God saw nothing good in us (st. 6). The enemy misleads us with our good works, but Christ redeemed us while we were spiritually dead (st. 7). God's "grace and justice found a way To save us" (st. 8). My faith is anchored "on Christ, the Rock" (st. 9). "O Jesus, at my dying breath Hold Thou my hand," etc. (st. 10). I'm just a little concerned about the latter half of Stanza 3, which (perhaps due to translator George Rygh) seems to suggest that a soul receptive to the gospel meets the Holy Spirit partway. I'd be interested in hearing a knowledgeable comment on this.

(451) All that I was, my sin, my guilt is another Bonar hymn that was in TLH, but set to a different tune – the rather bland ST. BERNARD – than this book's selection: again, DETROIT.

(452) Out of the depths I cry to Thee, a paraphrase of Psalm 130 by Martin Luther set to his own tune AUS TIEFER NOT, is a Renaissance masterpiece recognized even by secular musicologists ... except that ELHy screwed up in its choice of translation. TLH 329 gets it right with "From depths of woe I cry to Thee," preserving Luther's original tone-painting of the word "deep" (the first syllable of tiefer) with the downward leap of a fifth. I'm disappointed with the bright minds behind ELHy for missing this.

(454) Not in anger, mighty God is a penitential hymn by Johann Georg Albinus, set to Rosenmüller's tune STRAF MICH NICHT – which, by the way, is the opening tag of this hymn's original German. This suggests that this hymn, new though it may be to people of the TLH line of hymnbooks, is the original beneficiary of the tune that in TLH is used with "Rise, my soul, to watch and pray."

(457) Blessed is the man that never seems to be based on Magnus Landstad's translation of a paraphrase of Psalm 1 by Paul Gerhardt. Whew. That's an interesting pedigree, there.

(458) O God of mercy, God of might, a Godfrey Thring hymn stimulating believers' compassion for our fellow men, is doubly (if not triply) "Type 2." First, the tune to which we TLH-ophytes know this hymn is ISLEWORTH, whereas the tune chosen for it in ELHy is titled JUST AS I AM. But before you confuse that with the hymn "Just as I am" – which most people associate with the tune WOODWORTH and which TLH alternatively pairs with ST. CRISPIN – the tune thus titled in ELHy is the same one that TLH titles DUNSTAN and pairs with "Drawn to the cross, which Thou hast blest." Aren't you glad I straightened that out.

(462) As after the water-brooks panteth is, I reckon, a paraphrase of Psalm 42 by N.F.S. Grundtvig, set to its own tune by Lindeman. So, again, maybe a buried treasure for us Missouri sinners; though to my taste, it seems partly buried by the fact of its melody not being one of Lindeman's most inspired creations. Maybe another tune, one that isn't trying too hard, could bring it out into the light again.

(469) Sweet is the work, my God, my King is a tightly-woven little hymn by Isaac Watts, of whom much fun is made; and a BOTPTB with ST. CRISPIN as its suggested tune. It was unfamiliar to me when I read it through just now, but I really like it how it expresses the joy of devotion to prayer, praise and the word of God: "To show Thy love by morning light And talk of all Thy truth at night" (st. 1). Stanza 2 extols the day of rest, when the heart is cleared of worldly cares to attend to the Word. Stanza 3 looks hopefully to that time "when grace hath well refined my heart," and stanza 4 to "that eternal world of joy." Really nicely done.

(475) Praise God, this hour of sorrow is a death-and-burial hymn by Johann Heermann, who is represented by at least parts of 10 hymns in TLH. In it, the departed Christian seems to preach to those who mourn him: "I go to Paradise. ... Lay me to rest with songs of praise" (st. 1). It's really a fine poem of consolation, set to Heinrich Isaac's O WELT, ICH MUSS DICH LASSEN, a.k.a. INNSBRUCK.

(479) When earth with all its joys defeats me is a translation by Gracia Grindal from a cross-bearing hymn by the 17th-18th century Norwegian writer Dorothe Engelbretsdatter, set to Georg Neumark's tune WER NUR DEN LIEBEN GOTT ("If thou bust trust in God to guide thee"). "The cross before me turns to greet me," says st. 1, "and sees into my heart of woe." Christ knows my woes "much better than I know my failings," says st. 2. The surprise is st. 3: "Therefore, my thoughts have turned to singing" the praise of Christ, knowing (st. 4) that "my suffering here is brief" compared to eternal glory. Stanza 5 plays the "Lord, how long?" card: "I would much rather serve my Lord than rule on earth." And st. 6 counts it a blessing to be buried and rest until Christ calls, "Rise up, O sleeper, come to me!" I've had my differences with Gracia Grindal, not that she knows of them, but this hymn is legit.

(480) Now hush your cries and shed no tear, a BOTPTB funeral hymn by Nicolaus Herman, has the misfortune to open on a false note. Ministers who act all perky and glad when they announce that somebody has died, and who urge people to pull it together and stop crying, should be whipped out of town in my humble opinion. But I'm willing to hear Herman out past the first line, and he makes an argument that, one hopes, will be a consolation to people who will in any case have their cry out regardless. "A faithful Christian now has won," st. 1. Resurrection will follow this peaceful rest, sts. 2-4. This God-breathed soul lives by faith in Christ, st. 5. We will meet again when Christ returns, st. 6. So, if the opening move is a bit tacky, everything after it is sound.

(482) In heaven is joy and gladness is a funeral hymn by Norwegian minister, literary figure and politician Johan Nordahl Brun. I've never cared for this poem, here presented as a BOTPTB. Its view of life on earth (contrasted with the hoped-for future in heaven) is totally negative, and though there's some truth in that, I think it crosses the line into excess just a bit. I mean, Luther and all Lutherans recognize that the world is full of evil and, along with our flesh and Satan himself, strives against the faithful; but he was, and I hope we still are, capable of enjoying life to some degree and recognize that the kingdom of God is active among us, here and now. I'll grant that Brun's language offers consolation to the afflicted; but let's not forget that Christ is present with us, at work among us and living within us as well.

(484) Christ alone is our salvation is an unattributed hymn text, set to Johann Anastasius Freylinghausen's tune O DURCHRECHER. It's a solid, confident piece, focusing every hope and benefit, for this world and the next, on Jesus.

(486) O Jesus, Lord of heavenly grace, a BOTPTB by fourth century church father Ambrose, is John Chandler's translation of the hymn that I know, from TLH 550, as "O Splendor of God's glory bright" – a reprint of the translation in Hymns Ancient and Modern. This hymn, particularly in the HAM translation, is one of my all-time favorites, thanks in part to a professor who once offered extra credit to anyone who could write the entire hymn by memory on the back of his final exam.

(488) I am, alone, your God and Lord is this hymnal's translation of Martin Luther's catechetical hymn on the 10 Commandments, which TLH styles as "That man a godly life might live," LW as "Here is the tenfold sure command," and LWB as "These are the holy ten commands" – so you see the problem. Nobody can agree on how this first line should go (Luther's German: "Dies sind die heilgen Zehn Gebot"). No worries, everybody has their reasons; it's just too bad congregations using different hymnals will never even know they're the same hymn. Also, I object to ELHy replacing Luther's original tune DIES SIND DIE HEILGEN, a.k.a. IN GOTTES NAMEN FAHREN WIR, with TALLIS' CANON. Stop fooling around with the tunes to the foundational hymns of Lutheranism, people. It's only going to divide us even more deeply.

(490) These are the holy Ten Commands is literally another translation of the same hymn I was just ranting about. I'm not quite sure what the difference between "Tr. composite" (488) and "Tr. Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary" (490) signifies. But at least this version stuck with IN GOTTES NAMEN. So, I withdraw my previous objection. Partially.

(496) Lord Jesus, think on me, an ancient Greek hymn, is set here to the tune ABER by the same William Monk who penned ENERGY. I like it. The tune in TLH is SOUTHWELL.

(498) Wilt Thou forgive that sin is "A Hymn to God the Father" by John Donne, set to a contemporary (i.e., 17th century) melody titled DONNE. It's kind of in the same literary register as those George Herbert hymns I've previously commented on. I've read, or heard, somewhere that Donne embedded a perhaps ribald pun in this poem, particularly in the lines "When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done, For I have more" – something to do with Donne/done and the fact that his wife's name was Anne More. Of course, that could be total rubbish. On its surface – if Ma and Pa Smurf's struggle to fit their throats around the notes of the Renaissance-style words and music can spare them enough headspace to ponder it – the hymn seems to be a very sincere confession of sinfulness, actual sins, sins of omission and commission, and of sin that exceeds even what the penitent knows about. And in the end, it's the pun "Swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son Shall shine as He shines now, and heretofore" that really ties it up. Yeah, but it'll be the choir, ensemble or soloist that performs it.

(499) Now I have found the ground wherin is the same hymn by Johann Andreas Rothe that TLH 385 gives as "Now I have found the firm foundation." In place of TLH's "composite" translation, ELHy gives us John Wesley's. Naturally, because the metrical pattern is different, so is the tune. Because I'm at the end of a long post, and a long day, I'm not going to trouble myself with comparing the two translations just now; just be aware of the common origin of the two hymns.

And that brings me to the point where I planned to quit for the time being. I hope it continues to be clear that, while this hymnary is rich in differences from the tradition in which The Lutheran Hymnal stands, and from which I personally come, I approve of it highly and only reserve relatively few objections, perhaps milder and fewer ones than I harbor toward the books prevailing in my native corner of American Lutheranism. To rewrite that sentence shorter and more to the point, ELHy is pretty good, innit?

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Dying Trade

The Dying Trade
by David Donachie
Recommended Ages: 14+

The brothers Ludlow, Harry and James, have survived the loss of their privateer schooner and crew, solved a murder mystery and reunited with a sort of adopted uncle who happens to be the Royal Navy admiral in charge of the Mediterranean fleet. It's 1794, there's a war on, and privateers and Navy men generally aren't on good terms with each other because they have to compete for a limited number of prizes. Nevertheless, Adm. Howe sends them ashore in Genoa with a hint that he'll consider helping Harry continue his privateering career, provided that Harry helps him solve the grisly murder of a Navy captain found strangled in the city's streets.

Harry and James don't get very far ashore before someone tries to kill them, too. In no time at all, they find themselves entangled in a complex weave of villainous conspiracies, from a squadron of privateersmen who suspiciously don't bring any prizes ashore to a French warship that somehow has the liberty of a port that is supposed to be allied with Britain. While Harry shops for a new vessel and a crew to sail it, James struggles in vain to check his brother's tendency to poke his nose into other people's business – like a sickly Italian count and his too-beautiful-to-be-believed wife, a ship's captain who everyone knows is not sailor and whose second-in-command is a known thief, a corrupt port admiral, an inkeeper who fleeces sailors of their hard-won prize money, and another captain with whom Harry soon shares a mutual death grudge.

Half murder mystery, half naval adventure, it starts to look like it's all going to unfold on shore, but then there do come some pretty exciting sea battles – all while Harry probes deeper and deeper into some disturbingly evil doings. There's combats on board a mostly abandoned ship, exchanges of gunfire between ships, fiendish traps, and a particularly nasty episode in which a man must fight for dear life against a bunch of rats. And in case it isn't already clear that an Adult Content Advisory is in order, there's also some pretty graphic nookie in this novel.

You'll go from wishing you were Harry Ludlow to being glad you aren't in only a couple of pages. You'll be brought to the edge of your seat, even if you're lying down, during several thrilling, suspenseful and shocking passages. And two books into your cruise with David Donachie's Privateersman Mysteries, you'll be on board for the next book, A Hanging Matter.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Two Movies on DVD

This 2018 movie, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (the writer of Moonstruck and Doubt) and based on his 2014 Broadway play Outside Mullingar, features Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan as Rosemary and Anthony, a pair who have grown up on neighboring farms in the Irish midlands. She has loved him from childhood; he has never made any romantic offers, and conceals a secret that seems to condemn him to a life of lonely eccentricity. Anthony's father, Tony (played by Christopher Walken in a sad excuse for an Irish accent), worries about leaving the farm to his boy with no prospect of marriage in sight, so he toys with the idea of selling it to an American cousin named Adam (Mad Men's Jon Hamm) – who, in turn, toys with the heart of Rosemary until things come to a sweetly goofy, romantic climax.

While it doesn't have the sharpness of Moonstruck, it's a fun movie, deserving at very least of Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) "Bad News" Cleary witnesses Anthony practicing proposing marriage to Rosemary with a donkey, and hilariously concludes that Anthony has inherited the daftness that ran on his mother's side of the family (such as an uncle who thought he was a fish). (2) Rosemary catches Anthony talking to himself while floating down the creek in a fishing coracle. She calls out to him and in surprise, he falls into the stream. Later in the scene, he says something poetic to which she responds, in an aside, "When he says such things, God help me, I know I must have him." (3) The whole, extended scene (broken up by cuts to what Adam's up to) in which Rosemary finally forces Anthony to sit down and talk to her, leading them both to reveal everything and finally, after a crash in her car, to declare love for each other. I think of it as the comic-dramatic equivalent of the breakfast scene in Moonstruck where Olympia Dukakis finally tells Vincent Gardenia he must stop seeing his mistress. Both characters' eccentricities and emotional insecurities come right to the surface in a passionate, bizarre and laugh-out-loud funny sequence that's worth the whole trouble of seeing the movie, in my opinion.

There are, to be sure, a few things that took away from my enjoyment of the movie. Besides Walken's accent (his acting is otherwise all right), and the little boy's prayer to "Mother Nature" in the opening flashbacks to the hero couple's childhood (a pagan note that I thought sounded false against Anthony's churchgoing character), there's the fact that the scene of Swan Lake that makes Rosemary cry, when she goes to the ballet in New York, is actually so very generic and unexpressive; and then some little continuity details, like the fact that Anthony shows up at the gate of Rosemary's pasture to unload some sheep that he moved from a higher pasture but ends up driving away with the sheep still on board, etc.

Nevertheless, it's actually harder to stop listing "scenes that made it for me" than to put up with any of those details. I also liked one in which Anthony tells his secret to a girl he picked up at the pub, only to see her literally fall over laughing; some clever foreshadowing that nevertheless didn't lead me to guess what that secret was; Adam's "you have to let childhood dreams go before they ruin your life" speech; and the way Rosemary and her mother talk Tony out of selling the farm to Adam. Jon Tenney, late of TV's The Closer, makes a couple brief appearances as the emcee at a folk singing contest, and stage actor Barry McGovern is delightful as Cleary.

I actually paid more for this pre-watched DVD, picked up at a grocery store, than it would have cost me brand-new out of Walmart's cheapo bin, but I impulse-bought it anyway and I'm happy to say that it exceeded my low expectations. A dead giveaway that a movie is going to suck is that its labeling advertises the other titles its makers are associated with. Another sign may be that it gives top billing to an actor you've never heard of (Jack Reynor, perhaps best known for Grassland or maybe the horror flick Midsommar), while its actual lead actor (Myles Truitt) isn't even named on the movie poster. Surprisingly, both actors delivered strong performances and weren't at all upstaged by supporting performances by Dennis Quaid, Zoƫ Kravitz, James Franco and another big star whose surprise appearance I won't spoil for you (a secret that the opening credits also withhold).

Kin is the story of two brothers who have powerful forces chasing them, and one of them doesn't even know about it. The younger brother, an adopted child, has discovered a piece of alien weaponry that responds to his touch and his alone. The older, fresh out of prison, wastes no time falling back into his criminal ways, getting their dad (Quaid) shot in a robbery attempt that also results in a violent loan shark (Franco) declaring open season on them. Older bro Jimmy tells younger bro Eli that their dad is going to meet them in Tahoe, and misses several golden opportunities to break the bad news to him. But the bad guys Jimmy knows about aren't the only guns on their trail; there are also a couple of cleaners in scary costumes that conceal what they look like – are they even human? You wonder – and who have tons of advanced tech at their disposal. They're closing in fast, too. Also, an FBI agent gets involved, suspecting Jimmy of being involved in his dad's death and of kidnapping Eli.

All parties finally converge at a sheriff's office in Nevada, where death and destruction are dealt on a huge scale, much of it done by the weapon in Eli's well-meaning hands. Although there have been hints throughout the movie to make you wonder, the final revelation of how the word "kin" applies comes across as a bit too over-the-top, I felt. It's certainly a surprise ending, and a more satisfying outcome than anything that seemed possible for the two brothers up until the last couple minutes of the movie's run time.

It's a pretty dark, gritty, down-to-earth picture, for a sci-fi shoot-em-up. James Franco plays his nastiest villain role yet. Quaid manages in only a few minutes to come across as noble and principled while, at the same time, the rigidity of his principles puts him in the way of a bullet. You expect everything from disappointment to doom for the brothers almost until the end, and somehow you come out of the film thinking, "I wonder if there's going to be a sequel."

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) The first time Eli fires the gun, while saving Jimmy from a beating in a strip bar. I enjoyed the whole scene, really, including Jimmy's line about getting drunk while his little brother gets caffeinated. (2) Franco asks a gas station attendant how to get into the bathroom. The guy says you can't, it's not open to the public. Franco proceeds to whip it out and take a pee on the floor in front of the cash register, pausing only to make the cashier turn around because he can't do it while someon'e watching. (3) The standoff at the sheriff's office, up to the point where time freezes(!).


Bob Odenkirk, who headlines this movie, is best known for his roles in "Breaking Bad" and (I think) its spinoff series, "Better Call Saul" – neither of which I've ever seen. Connie Nielsen, who plays his wife, was in Gladiator and Wonder Woman. Other cast members include hip hop artist RZA, Christopher Lloyd of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Back to the Future fame, Michael Ironside of, well, you know, and Colin Salmon, who played Oliver Queen's stepfather in the first season of Arrow – along with a bunch of Russian actors and some talent I'm just not familiar with. You could call it an ensemble flick, in the sense that it has a lot of characters who spend their time on screen mostly trying to kill each other. It's a super violent flick. It made me laugh out loud. It was the first movie I've seen in the theater since, I believe, Onward more than a year ago. I had the time of my life.

Odenkirk plays a guy named Hutch who used to be an assassin for the USA's "three-letter agencies," but who retired to settle down with a wife and kids. Now, he admits in a therapeutic chat with a group of bad guys he is about to incinerate, it seems he may have overcorrected. His life has become a blur of meaningless routines: disrespected by his teenage son, married to a woman who no longer lets him touch her, holding down a boring job at a company that his father-in-law (Ironside) refuses to sell to him, and basically led by the nose by a cute little daughter. One night, he lets a couple of home-invasion burglars get away unscathed even though it's in his power to mess them up. But then the little girl's kitty-cat bracelet goes missing, and he goes looking for it, and on the way home from an unsuccessful attempt to shake down the burglars for it, he relieves his feelings by messing up a bunch of low-level Russian gangsters who are threatening a young woman on a city bus. This is just the start of where the feces impinges upon the air circulation device.

Lloyd plays Odenkirk's dad, who lives in a nursing home but still has some fight in him, too. Based on the credits, RZA seems to be Odenkirk's brother, though within the movie he seemed more like an asset that Odenkirk had helped to disappear. They join him for a climactic battle that is just the tip-top part of an action fest accompanied by perfectly selected and (at crucial moments) synced tracks of music. You may think Odenkirk messed with the wrong people, but actually he proves to be the wrong people to mess with. By the way, stay for a mid-credits Easter egg scene.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) The framing scene in which Odenkirk, handcuffed to a table in an interrogation room, pulls out a cigarette and a lighter, lights up; then pulls out a can of tuna and a can opener, and opens it; then pulls out a kitten and starts stroking it while it eats the tuna. One of the interregators says, "Who are you?" He says, "Me? I'm ... " Well, you don't need me to draw a picture. The first time this scene played, it made me feel like laughing. The bit where I laughed out loud was at the end of the movie, however, where the look on the cops' faces wordlessly conveys the information that they've just been ordered to let him go and forget they ever saw him. (2) Odenkirk goes out to his car, after having baited the boss bad guy in his own nightclub, and sits at the wheel with his fingers crossed, praying that the goons will come out and start chasing him. The ensuing shoot-em-up chase scene incorporates the song "Heartbreaker" in the chief example of what I meant before about perfectly chosen and synced music. (3) The brother-in-law gets a punch in the gut. Obviously, he's going to have to re-think his relationship with Hutch.

EDIT: I'm indebted to movie blogger Matthew Liedke for alerting me to the existence of this movie. His review, which I was typesetting yesterday to reprint in my newspaper, got me interested and I found out that it was playing, last night and tonight only, before it leaves the screen of the theater three towns down the road from me. I'm glad I caught it!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Devil's Own Luck

The Devil's Own Luck
by David Donachie
Recommended Ages: 14+

It's somewhere around 1793, when the U.K. is at war with France and the world's oceans are alive with navy and merchant vessels, all powered by wind. Former naval officer Harry Ludlow is now a prosperous captain of a British privateer, in partnership with his younger, more artistically inclined brother James. One fine day, they spot an opportunity to tag-team with a 74-gun ship of the line to capture a French frigate, but unfortunately the other British captain happens to be Harry's greatest lifelong enemy – the officer with whom he fought a duel, resulting in the end of his naval career. Long story short, Harry wakes up on the HMS Magnanime to a painful head wound and the news that his schooner has been sunk, his crew has been put aboard the prize and Capt. Oliver Carter has taken full credit for its capture, without even firing a shot.

As if that isn't bad luck enough, Harry finds himself on board what seems to be almost a shot-rolling ship. That is to say, its crew is very unhappy, possibly thinking about mutiny, in part because of the cruelty of its first lieutenant, a drunkard named Bentley. Hated and feared by everybody, including his captain, Bentley seems like just the type to find himself in a dark passage in the bowels of the ship with a dagger stuck through him. But of all the people who had reason to want him dead, it has to be James who is found at the scene with the murder weapon in his hand.

Hampered by the hostility of Capt. Carter, who seems to be bending all his power toward hurting the Ludlows, Harry starts sniffing out the real killer in a desperate hope of clearing his brother's name before they reach a port. It doesn't look good for James, however. Two witnesses are ready to swear they saw him do it. Everybody seems to be closing ranks to keep Harry from getting at the truth. Yet at the same time, there is clearly something amiss on the Magnanime – a secret no one will tell, but that may have something to do with the death of a popular ship's boy and a mysterious power the late Bentley seemed to hold over Carter. Aided at times by a sympathetic lieutenant, an alcoholic surgeon and a personal servant appointed to him from the ship's crew, Harry seems to get closer and closer to cutting the noose off James' neck – if only his hatred of Carter doesn't blind him to the evidence right in front of him.

This is an interesting genre mash-up, combining a historically realistic and often thrilling depiction of naval life in the age of Napoleon with a clever whodunit that almost drinks of the spirit of hardboiled fiction. Well researched and (to my eye at least – I'm no seaman, but I've read all the Hornblower, Aubrey-Maturin and Ramage books) authentic in its depiction of ship life in the age of sail, it doesn't glamorize it; it's quite open about the moral failings, harsh discipline and nasty conditions one had to get used to between the decks. But it also makes a strong case for both the high and low water marks of that world, showing men both at their noblest and in the lowest sink of vice. Harry himself is a man of complex character, neither infallibly right nor quite innocent of other men's blood, but with the more cultured James at one elbow and the devoted Pender at the other, I think he may turn out to be a remarkable force for exposing the truth.

This is the first of six "Privateersman Mysteries," published in the 1990s and featuring the brothers Ludlow. Also publishing under the pen-names Jack Ludlow, Tom Connery and Johnny "Two Combs" Howard, David Donachie specializes in naval historical fiction, mostly set in the Napoleonic area. He is also the author of three "Markham of the Marines" novels, three "SAS/Boat Troop" novels, the "Nelson and Emma" trilogy of biographical fiction about Horatio Nelson, the "John Pearce" series of currently 15 novels following the naval careers of a group of friends known as the Pelicans (the 16th installment, HMS Hazard, is slated for release in October 2021), the "Contraband Shore" trilogy and four "Midshipman Wormwood" short stories.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Tacky Hymns 85

We continue with the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy, 1996). I repeat:
I'm pointing up three types of hymns in this series of critiques: (1) Hymns that I think the editors should have known better than to put in the pew hymnal of a liturgical, confessional Lutheran church – the kind that, doctrinally and artistically, qualify as "tacky" in the sense I've been using it on this thread; (2) noteworthy text-tune pairings; and (3) hymns of such high quality that I feel they deserve to be better known and more widely sung. I'll try, but not too hard, to avoid vain repetition from previous threads. That's a lot of material to try to keep in mind, you know.
(330) Beneath the cross of Jesus, the reason I quit last time before proceeding into the Good Friday section of this book, is a hymn about which I have commented before so (sigh) I won't go into it again. Though I might not have mentioned that I don't think the tune ST. CHRISTOPHER by Frederick C. Maker is any better than Elizabeth Clephane's lyrics. The smarm dial on this one goes up to 11.

(332) O darkest woe is the most solemn Passion hymn imaginable, taking Jesus' death as its starting point and working through the grief of his burial to explore the comfort of the eternal blessing his sacrificial death and rest in the grave bring to the believer. However, this hymn isn't unique to ELHy; TLH, LW and LSB all have it, for example. What ELHy adds is a slight alteration to Catherine Winkworth's translation, which (according to a prof I heard speak on this when I was at Bethany College) is more faithful to the original German. Winkworth, stanza 2: "God's Son is dead." ELHy: "Our God is dead." German: "Gott selbst ist tot." You be the judge. I think this is a powerful confession of the correct side of the controversy, earlier in this century, between Lutherans who either agreed or denied that it is appropriate to say God died on Good Friday. It shows exactly how far God put himself out to save sinners.

(334-335) O sacred Head, now wounded is a beautiful 12th century Passion hymn by way of Paul Gerhardt's German, set to a 17th century tune (HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN) by Hans Leo Hassler that fans of Paul Simon might recall as "American Tune." Judging by its importance in, for example, J.S. Bach's passion oratorios, it isn't hard to understand why some simply call this tune the Passion Chorale. I'm preaching to the choir, as it were; you find this hymn practically everywhere. I quit counting at 28 instances of the tune in anglophone Lutheran hymnals, not including alternate settings of the tune within the same hymn (like in this pair of hymn numbers), set to a bunch of different texts but most frequently this one. While I'm OK with offering the choice of either the rhythmic (334) or isometric (335) version of the tune – even, in the latter case, with a harmonization by J.S. Bach – I do question the wisdom of arranging the stanzas, like in the previously discussed "Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior," celebration-style with odd stanzas on one page and even on the other. I don't think it's reasonable to expect a congregation to hop back and forth between two very different settings of the same tune; you should choose one or the other, and take into consideration whether your organist is up to the Bach arrangement.

(336) Of my life the Life, O Jesus is Richard Massie's translation of the same hymn that Winkworth (333) renders as "Christ, the Life of all the living." By either name it's one of my favorite hymns of all time. Massie's lesser known version ends most stanzas with the refrain "Thousand, thousand thanks to Thee, Blessed Jesus, ever be" – again, a slight variant of the Winkworth. The biggest difference will be the tune, for which both ELHy and LHy use Johann Crüger's magnificent DU, O SCHÖNES WELTGEBÄUDE instead of 333's better known (and also perfectly lovely) JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN. More Lutherans need to be exposed to the Crüger tune. Toward that end, I paired it with one of my original hymns.

(338) So Rest, my Rest is a hymn by Salomo Franck about Christ's Sabbath rest in the tomb, presented as a "bottom of the page text block" (BOTPTB) but connected with the same chorale tune O TRAURIGKEIT as 332. I recommend this for the opening of a Saturday evening Easter vigil. Application: The grave is nothing to fear now that Christ has blessed it by his death and resurrection.

(339) The Lord into His Father's hands is another beautiful Passion hymn by Icelandic poet Hallgrimur Petursson. Three golden stanzas applying the moment of Jesus' death to my hope of resurrection and a renewal of life on this side of the grave.

(342) O Paschal Feast, what joy is thine by Swedish writer Olaus Petri (a.k.a. Olof Persson), is the first BOTPTB in ELHy's Easter section. Some Lutherans, whose catechesis has been sadly neglected, may need to be instructed that "Paschal" is an adjective form for "Easter" (or Passover). Jesus' redeeming sacrifice and resurrection, it says, free us from bondage to sin, give us strength in all our trials, and enable us to live resurrected lives now (from sin) and at the end (in eternal life). But stanza 2 is my favorite bit: "The Tree where Thou wast offered up Now bears the fruit of life and hope; Thy precious Blood for us was shed That we might eat of heav'nly bread."

(346) Death is dead, the true Life liveth is a BOTPTB by 19th century Icelandic writer Helgi Hálfdánarson – so, I would guess, new to you if you're not a Lutheran of Scandinavian background. The accent in this hymn is on the direct connection between Jesus' resurrection and ours. "Christ arisen bursts our prison," says stanza 1. On Calvary dying, Christ "wins a crown of life for me" and causes the grave to flower into life, says stanza 2. The blood from His wounds will bring flesh and spirit back together for those who sleep in Him, says stanza 3. Stanza 4 styles Him "death's Destroyer" and offers "day by day to die with Thee," the better to rise and live as His forever. Seriously, our hymnals could use more hymns like this, that pack as much power into as few stanzas.

(349) How rich, at Eastertide is the Dutch Easter hymn, set to the attractive tune VRUECHTEN, that LW and LSB render as "This joyful Eastertide."

(355) Now Christ is risen is an original Easter hymn by the same Harry Bartels whose paraphrase of the Athanasian Creed I remarked on – a gentleman I am proud to have met on at least one or two occasions. The tune for this hymn is Bartels' own PASCHAL ALLELUIAS, which is eloquent in its simplicity. In stanzas of two lines each (not including Alleluias) it covers the Easter story pretty thoroughly, which is a remarkable feat of verbal economy, and employs such muscular expressions as "Death could not hold Him, He would awaken; Hell's powers then by Him would be shaken." OK, so it's not the highest literary style; but some of my attempts to write hymns in a lofty register have been, perhaps rightly, sneered at for failing to achieve the direct effect that Bartels seems to hit with every line.

(359) This is the feast of victory for our God is John W. Arthur's hymn, set to the tune FESTIVAL CANTICLE by Richard Hillert (the setting Missouri Synod Lutherans will probably know best from LW and LSB), about which I'd like to say that at last a hymnal gets that this is a hymn, best used for an occasion like the Easter season; it does not truly belong in the front of the book as an alternative to, or more likely replacement for, the Gloria in excelsis in the Divine Service liturgy.

(360) Triumphant from the grave is an Easter hymn by Martin Franzmann, set to the tune TRIUMPH by Bruce Backer, both of which I like because of their modern-accented muscularity. Example: "He crushed – O Christian, mark it well! – Sin, Satan, death and hell." At the opposite end of the sliding scale from the eloquent simplicity of Harry Bartels' work in 355, it's nevertheless the kind of thing that I think could pierce a heart looking for strong affirmation of the Easter message. It may take a congregation with an understanding attitude and musical leadership of better-than-average skill to learn to negotiate its rhythmic and melodic twists. I think this tune has had a big influence on me as a hymn-tune composer.

(364) O for a faith that will not shrink (sic) gets a Type 2 mention because, instead of Alexander Reinagle's tune ST. PETER to which TLH folks know it, ELHy goes with Richard Redhead's tune WOLVERHAMPTON. It's a nice enough tune, though, and probably won't have to strain very hard to become well accepted and familiar. The "(sic)" above, as well as below, is about the misspelling of "Oh," which persists throughout this book.

(365) O sing with exultation (sic) is by "the father of Danish poetry," Anders Christensen Arrebo. I mention it again for the Type 2 reason that instead of AUS MEINES HERZENS GRUNDE, to which we Missouri Sinners are used to singing this hymn, ELHy pairs it with THOMISSØN, from a 1569 Danish psalter. It certainly has a Nordic texture.

(367) Gracious Savior, gentle Shepherd is my first (edit: OK, second) "Type 1" hit in this installment, pairing a precious children's hymn by Englishwoman Jane Leeson (of the Catholic Apostolic Church) with a tune by Norwegian organist and composer Erik Hoff. I find it a bit too sugary, personally. But if you want a sentimental hymn, more about children than for children, depicted in the musical and poetic equivalent of soft-focus photography, here's your shop. At least as Lutherans we have the opportunity to think sacramental thoughts when stanza 3 talks about being cleansed in the "Mingled stream of blood and water Flowing from Thy wounded side," and to choose to think "third use of the law" thoughts rather than being stifled by downy waves of moralism when the hymn goes on to stress being guided in our behavior by Christ's word. However, the word "lisp" in stanza 5 is pretty much the moment when I have to walk out of the church for a breath of air.

(368) The Lord my faithful Shepherd is, words by Arrebo set to the chorale ES IST GEWISSLICH, adds yet another Psalm 23 paraphrase to our hymnody's burgeoning literature for Good Shepherd Sunday (Easter 3 by this book's reckoning). It's a decent paraphrase, though.

(372) Jesus, Thy boundless love to me is that warm, devotional hymn by Paul Gerhardt that we Missouri Sinners always sang to the solemn, didactic chorale VATER UNSER until LSB switched us to Norman Cocker's warm, devotional tune RYBURN. ELHy took the initiative even earlier to pair Gerhardt's hymn about discipleship with Henry Carey's tune SURREY, which is more cheerful and dancelike than both alternate tunes.

(373) I know that my Redeemer is neither the "I know that my Redeemer lives" jingle everybody knows by Samuel Medley (ubiquitously paired with the tune DUKE STREET), nor the hymn with the same first name by Gerhardt (to which I wrote one of my original tunes, OXENFORD), nor even the aria from Handel's Messiah, but a completely different text from Petursson's Icelandic, with the word "Lives" bumped onto the next line ("Lives crowned upon the throne"). Here's some of the great stuff in this BOTPTB: "He conquered death by dying" (stanza 1); His pain "O'erthrew the king of terrors And broke the captive's chain" (st. 2); "Christ is my Rock, my Courage; Christ is my soul's true Life" (st. 3); and finally, "O grave, where is thy triumph? O death, where is thy sting? 'Come when thou wilt, and welcome!' Secure in Christ I sing." That's some ending! The suggested tune, JEG VIL MIG HERREN LOVE, is the tune of TLH 655, "I pray Thee, dear Lord Jesus."

(380) When in our music God is glorified is a hymn about which I've commented before, but rather than search for a hyperlink to where I did so, I'll just repeat as briefly as possible, from memory, that this poem by Fred Pratt Green really is no hymn but more of a verse treatise about hymnody and probably shouldn't be in the pew hymnal, despite the attractiveness of Charles Villiers Standford's tune ENGELBERG. Also, someone needs to say it, Standford's setting of the tune, with mittfuls of notes, is a little on the challenging side for a keyboard arrangment aimed at congregations where the best organist available is often a self-taught beginner (for life) who doesn't have a lot of time to practice. It's really, in the last analysis, more the kind of thing that you'd hear in a campus chapel or town-gown church.

(382) Lord, teach us how to pray aright (that's "a-right," not "all right") is a more than passable prayer hymn by James Montgomery, set to Justin Knecht's tune DOMINE, CLAMAVI known, in some Missouri Synod circles, with the funeral hymn "Why do we mourn departing friends."

(385) What a friend we have in Jesus (Type 2) is a tune switcheroo that I'm ambivalent about. I think Henry Smart's tune BETHANY is far superior to CONVERSE, the tune to which the hymn is popularly sung; objectively beautiful, not just standing up on the strength of sentimental attachment, it moves along at a pace that is less deadly to the lungs and larynxes of those singing it, and it offers the would-be accompanist less of a trap than CONVERSE's narrow and elusive range of tempo choices that someone isn't going to find fault with. I would be 100 percent in favor of substituting BETHANY for CONVERSE in any hymnal that has the latter, but I would probably be lynched if I did (I've had some narrow escapes as it is) and I'm not even sure I'd get away with playing BETHANY straight out of ELHy at a church that uses the book. But I'd like to think I'd at least have rear end coverage in that scenario – one of the reasons I sometimes envy organists who get to play out of this book every week.

(386) Lord God, who art my Father dear, another BOTPTB, is a very brief paraphrase of the Lord's prayer, attributed (perhaps spuriously) to a disciple of Luther named Mathesius. I have no previous familiarity with it, but I think it's well done and could be a useful ditty for the catechesis of young children.

The Ascension section begins next, so I reckon this is as good a place to pause as any.