An Idyllic Education, Dragons, & Reverse Scrabble

I spent a lot of time in this building.

I am a traditionalist.

After graduating from Hippie High, I was astonished to find the state university provided the inspiration and structure I needed.  I was spellbound by humanities, studied three languages,  relished the Renaissance, fell in love with Latin lyric poetry and Greek tragedy, and read nineteenth-century novels in my spare time.

And so I was intrigued by Ellen Fitzpatrick’s essay in the Atlantic, “Remembering the Bold Thinking of Hampshire College.”    This small experimental liberal arts college, founded in the late ’60s,  sounds idyllic.  Unfortunately Hampshire College is in financial trouble now.

Hampshire College

Here is her first paragraph:

It’s hard to believe that nearly a half century has passed since I stood on a hillside in South Amherst, Massachusetts, with Van Halsey, then Hampshire College’s director of admissions, gazing at the rolling green farmland that stretched out toward Hadley, Massachusetts. “That is where the college will be,” Halsey explained. I was 17 years old, entering my senior year of high school, and convinced that this largely invisible place—then mostly a collection of dreams and ideals—was the only college in the country where I wanted to study.

2. And now a change of subject:  dragons.  At Tor, Mari Ness discusses the fantasy elements in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, the first novel in the Dragonriders of Pern series.

Here is Ness’s first paragraph.

In later interviews with press and fans, Anne McCaffrey would bristle at any attempt to classify  her Dragonriders of Pern series as fantasy. Her dragons, she pointed out, were genetically engineered animals ridden by descendants of space explorers, not magical elves. The language of Pern was not a creation of the author, but descended in a fairly straight line with only a few expected deviations from English and, after McCaffrey moved to Ireland, a few Irish cadences. The plots focused on the development and rediscovery of technology. Most importantly, the presence of dragons, fire lizards, and just a touch of telepathy aside, no one in her Pern books could do magic. They focused on technical solutions to their problems—the use of nitric acid; telegraph machines; metal tools and machines; bioengineered invertebrates; and, when possible, spaceships.

3. And for poetry lovers,  David Lehmann at The American Scholar proposes a prompt.

Reverse Scrabble is a prompt I invented last week. The aim is to derive as many words as possible from one given polysyllabic word and then integrate them artfully into a poem.

The word I suggest we use is operation.

Click on the link for his explanation.

5 thoughts on “An Idyllic Education, Dragons, & Reverse Scrabble”

  1. I loved McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series! I discovered in back in the 70s and 80s and it has stuck with me. It could be time for a re-read.

    1. Gina, I was a great fan of McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang and know I read at least one of the Dragonrider books. I did enjoy this essay at Tor, and guess what? Mari Ness at Tor is leading some kind of readalong of the first book.

  2. “Reverse scrabble” is a rediscovery: Oulipo pre-emptively plagiarised David Lehmann about fifty years ago.

  3. Diana sent me this comment through the contact page. Here it is, with my reply.

    Name: dianabirchall

    Comment: Oh mercy. Just feel inclined to tell you that those Dragonrider books were the sole work of fiction that made me decide to retire, after decades of very happy reading in my movie studio job. Hundreds of pages of interchangeable dragon names, writing that coverage was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They say you know when it’s time to retire, and that was it. And I haven’t looked back. I only read what I want to read now, and what a luxury it is! I’d probably have gone on for a few years more, but je regrette rien.

    Cheers, Diana

    Name: Kat

    Poor Diana!  I know I read one of these in my teens, but whether it was Dragonflight or Dragonquest or something else, who knows? And I can see that compiling the catalogue of dragons for the movie studio would not have been quite in the league of cataloguing Jane Austen’s spinsters.  The essays at Tor are really smart, often much smarter than the books they write about. 

    Best, Kat

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