Andrew Lang’s “The Red Fairy Book”

This book is a Folio Society edition of a collection of Fairy Tales put together around the end of the 1800s.  Most of the stories are from Grimm, or French sources, but there are a few oddballs from other places.

Its a well put together book, like all Folio editions, with lovely line art and paintings. It looks like it could last another 100 years.  And in a change from modern impressions of children’s stories, there are some pretty nasty things going on.

For example, take “Snowdrop”, which is basically Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Everything seems to come as the Disney story except the evil queen has to make several attempts to kill Snowdrop, all of which work except that the one of the dwarfs knows CPR.  And the Prince, who seems a little bent since he wants to take home a glass casket with a pretty female corpse inside of it, does the equivalent of a Heimlich Maneuver to eject the poison apple bite from Snowdrop’s throat.

Luckily for his reputation, he did it by dropping the casket from his horse and not in some other fashion.

The evil Queen gets her comeuppance at the wedding where they make her wear red hot iron dancing shoes and dance until she dies. This is why you should always read the part of the invitation describing the proposed entertainment before deciding to attend.

I don’t recall that last part in the Disney version, but I may be mistaken.

And that’s nice compared to the Sigurd story, which like Hamlet has the Danish proclivity for having the entire cast dead at the end.  Lang does give a warning to the reader that this one has an especially high body count.

A “normal” body count is having the wicked stepmother and stepsister thrown in a pit of snakes.  This would have made the Brady Bunch television show a lot more interesting.

The Folio boys have a lot more in the series available – Lang apparently put out a bunch of them in different colors.  The two I have so far were annual gift throw in books for resubscribing, as I am not the usual market for Fairy tales.  But if I had kids I’d read them these, to make them more streetwise than the wimpy stuff put out today.

Reading Update

Ed Bearss’ The Vicksburg Campaign III

I’ve made a bit of progress here – the sections destribing the siege are finished. He then went into detail about the operations outside the lines, first involving the covering armies on the “Second Front”.

Remember that before defeating Pemberton at Champion Hill, Grant had scattered the forces at Raymond and Jackson. Together with the forces in the city, they actually outnumbered Grant for some time.  He needed to divert some troops to hold them off while the siege progressed.

Eventually, Grant got new troops from the rear areas and other districts to give him a substantial second army that he put under Sherman. These forces discouraged Joe Johnston from making any credible attempt to raise the seige.

From there, the discussion moved to North Mississippi, where General Hurlbut in Memphis is a bit worried himself, because he sent much of his force to reinforce Grant. However, he used cavalry raids to keep the commanders opposing him off balance thus keeping them from doing any damage to his position, aside from some tense moments.

The Sun King – Nancy Mitford

An interesting book – she really makes the characters despite the bewildering variety of titles and names.  Notable moments are when the King’s mistress places her first three children with a friend to raise to avoid raising a scandal – since both Louis and she are married to others. She is then annoyed to find that the woman is getting influence with Louis by discussing the children, and is using this influence to try and get him to end his affair with the mistress.  The struggle lasted for years…

Kindle Report 1

I downloaded and manually added to my Kindle a book by a journalist in the Civil War about the various generals he knew. He’s very good with his observations and anecdotes and has been used by myriads of authors since then. Its good to see the original source.

Kindle Report 2

I have now read several of the Doc Smith science fiction novels in my huge omnibus volume. The last two were particularly amusiing because they “The Skylark of Space” and “Skylark Three” were apparenly the ultimate source for Harry Harrison’s very funny parody of the old pulp stories “Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers”.

As to the original stories, they are pretty good. I prefer Stanley Weinbaum’s tales from that period as they are less ray blasting and more world building.

Don’t expect a lot of angst from Doc Smith’s characters – not when they can use Element X to build a super ship and form a galactic federation to destroy the foe instead!

New Books

I picked up the Folio society book on the Desert War – The Desert War Trilogy by Alan Moorehead.  He was a jounalist who was present at a lot of the action there in World War II. Seems interesting if I ever get through the pile ahead of it.

I also got a book I had pre-ordered from Amazon on the fight for Chinn Ridge during Longstreet’s assault on the second day of Second Bull Run. Books on the Civil War can get very specialized. I have a second book that covers just a fraction of this same battle – the Iron Brigade at Brawner Farm.  There’s a book I have on Gettysburg that relates the action of a single regiment charging for just a few minutes. No, actually I have two such books – one on the 6th Wisconsin on Day 1 and one on the 1st Minnesota on Day 2.

“The Sun King” – Nancy Mitford

This is my new lunch walkabout book.  It’s about Louis XIV and his court. The author has a breezy style that reads well, and the characters come and go, each with an anecdote or two to remember him by.

For example, at the moment a woman, and a married one at that, was annoyed enough by her inability to attract Louis’ eye and become his mistress, finally makes a deal with the Devil to charm him, which apparently worked! She’s now his favorite…

This isn’t the kind of thing that pops up in the usual scholarly book.

Reading Update

Neptune’s Inferno

Just finished this book on the Naval Battles of Guadalcanal  Ironically a lot of it was read at a Japanese restaurant. The full review is in another post. It will be followed by the “Sun King” on Louis XIV.

A Ship To Remember

The question last time was whether this book was going to be a history of the Maine and the investigation into its sinking or on the Spanish-American War. It appears to be the latter. The Spanish contend it blew up due to a coal bunker fire, and the US contends that the raised keel of the wreck must have been from an external explosion, and events are moving on.

There was a quick mention of a coal bunker fire on the Oregon as it steamed from the West Coast to join the fleet. Of course, the ship did not blow up from this fire due to the crew’s action.

The Vicksburg Campaign III

The two assaults have failed, and the text describes the attempts to drive approach trenches up to the Rebel works for an assault up to the surrender. It does each approach in each sector from start to end to give a coherent story, but it does take you out of the flow of the campaign.

The commander of the XIII Corps, McClernand has been fired for illegally publishing articles in the paper disparaging the other corps in the army. He’s an odd duck – as a General its hard to find any major problems with his performance. Certainly in this campaign he did as well as, say, Sherman. He didn’t get along with Grant and his clique, which was pretty much the rest of the army by now.  This caused some problems all by itself, and Grant and the others were quick to use this friction to call his competence into question.  If he’d been buddies with Grant, it would have never been a problem.  It’s almost a shame he couldn’t have gotten transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, or that he couldn’t have channeled his ambitions into helping Grant instead of undermining him – because Grant could play army politics almost as well as he could fight against the Rebels.

How Rome Fell

Slogging away on this one, and I the mistake I feared when I found he was starting at the Antonine Period seems to be happening. He’s narrating the entire sequence of emperors for the two hundred years or so, and the point he is trying to make is lost in a discussion of trivia such as if Emperor X diddled little boys or not.

Gibbon started there, but he had three fat volumes to work with, and frankly he wasn’t that interested in why the Western Empire fell – since he carries on with the East for another thousand years or so.

Goldsworthy is trying to show that reason for decline was an absolute weakness in the Empire. He hasn’t really addressed the power of the Germanic tribes in the Antonine period (critical in establishing that the decline in relative power was due to stronger barbarians, which is a competing thesis).  He seems to claim that destructive civil wars were a major factor, but at this point we have had two already without any description of huge losses in men or morale.  Perhaps he will go back to this, but so far it seems like “proof by Blatant Assertion”.

Review of ‘Neptune’s Inferno – The US Navy at Guadalcanal’

I finished this book by James D. Hornfischer on the naval campaign between the USN and Japanese fleets around the island of Guadalcanal.  It had been a while since I had read much about this fight, so a lot of the information was new to me.

The US went into Guadalcanal on a shoestring, in order to beat the Japanese to the punch. While we had scored a victory at Midway with the carriers, the surface fleets of cruisers, battleships, and destroyers were either at the bottom of Pearl Harbor or had no combat experience. Similarly, most if not all of the commanders were new to the business and were trying to pick it up on the fly.

Many of them would not live through the training period.  In a few months several fleet engagements were fought, and pretty much all of them the USN lost heavily, while punishing the Japanese severely in some and not so severely in others.  But just by engaging the Japanese fleets they interfered with the intended mission to deliver troops and supplies to the island or to destroy the Marine airfield.  So with time, the balance tilted in the Navy’s favor and the Japanese pulled out of the island.

Between the descriptions of the battles are descriptions of the aftermath, so the human cost is apparent, even down to the suicide of a captain who mistakenly steered his cruiser away from the battle at Savo Island and missed being sunk with much of the rest of the fleet there.

All in all this is the best Naval book I’ve read since Walter Lord’s “Incredible Victory”.  I believe he’s written a book on Leyte Gulf, and I look forward to reading that in the future.

Neptune’s Inferno – update

I did some more reading in Neptune’s Inferno, an excellent book on the Navy in Guadalcanal.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Day 2

I left off just when Admiral Lee was able to determine which ships on his radar were friendly or enemy. Meanwhile, the battleship South Dakota was taking fire, and was unable to respond due to an unlucky short-circuit that killed all power to the ship.

But the battleship Washington was undetected and was able to fire on the Japanese battleship at point-blank range and riddle it.  Even shells that fell short shot through the water and holed the ship under the waterline. The rudder was jammed and the Kirishima was forced to steam in helpless circles, listing severely.

This was the second battleship to be lost in two days. The Washington was damaged more by the concussion of its own guns than by the Japanese. The Japanese fleet fled back to base, and Henderson field was spared bombardment.

The Battle of Tassafaronga

The battle was a victory, but the two battleships were withdrawn due to the severe damage taken by the South Dakota.  Again a scratch force of cruisers and destroyers was collected to defend the slot.  This time, however, the Japanese were not interested in destroying Henderson Field as much as trying to get supplies to their starving troops.

This battle did not go so well. Admiral Carleton Wright denied an initial request by his destroyer group to fire torpedoes. By the time he gave permission, the angle of fire was all wrong and they all missed.  The inexperienced squadron grouped all its fire on the lead ship in the Japanese squadron, giving away their position while leaving the bulk of the enemy free to respond.

And respond they did. The cruisers whipped around 180 degrees and fired a huge spread of torpedoes at the USN line, blowing the bow off of the cruiser New Orleans, sinking the Northampton, and severely damaging two more cruisers.  Luckily for the US, the Japanese retired from the scene and abandoned the resupply mission, making this a costly victory, trading four cruisers for one destroyer.

Even with these losses, the balance of power was shifting away from the Japanese. They were planning an evacuation now, instead of any further attacks. The troops on the island were starving to death.

Neptune’s Inferno – James Hornfischer

I made a little more progress in this excellent book on the Naval Battles around Guadalcanal in WWII, especially the surface actions near that island. I’ve mentioned these in some of the previous reading updates, but today it gets its own post.

The first day of the battle left the American fleet heavily damaged, but they had kept the Japanese from bombarding Henderson field with their battleships, possibly knocking out the airfield. Also, the attempt to land reinforcements was blocked. So that counts as a win, but the remnants of the USN cruiser force retired, too damaged to fight again.

And even worse was in store. On the way back to repair, the cruiser Juneau was torpedoed and exploded, killing most of the crew. Those that survived could not be recovered by the other ships because of the danger of further attacks. The survivors were forced to drift for days before rescue, and only a handful made it.

The Japanese resolved to try again, and Admiral Halsey decided to strip the two battleships that were escorting the Enterprise and Hornet (before she was sunk by torpedo) away and deploy them in the Slot near the island to block just such a move.

There was another difference. The first night’s action was led by an Admiral that was unfamiliar with the new Radar systems and its benefits were not exploited. The one ship, the Boise, that managed to come through the battle unhurt was one that used its own radar instead of lights. The admiral of the scratch battleship force, Admiral Lee, was an expert in radar, and was going to use it.

The Japanese had more ships than the two US battleships, but they were smaller. Even the one battleship they had, the Kirishima, was outclassed by each of the two USN capital ships.

The battle opened with the US Radar detecting a light cruiser force and quickly getting its range, scoring hits. The force scattered. Meanwhile, the US destroyer screen drew the fire of  a second column of Japanese ships, and was quickly overwhelmed. The battleship South Dakota turned to engage, but suffered a severe short circuit that disabled all her guns. She also passed in front of the burning destroyers and was illuminated from behind, forming a perfect target for the entire Japanese fleet, unable to fight back.

Admiral Lee on the battleship Washington had problems of his own. Because the radar sets did not beam all around the ship, there was a cone behind him he couldn’t see. The South Dakota was in that cone and when she emerged, Lee was unsure which return was the South Dakota and which were Japanese. He was forced to hold off firing.

So far, things looked pretty grim – one ship taking a pounding and the other unable to help. But the firing did light up the area enough that Lee was able to tell which ship was the USN battleship, which was all he needed to know.

And that’s where I left off. Quite a cliffhanger.

Reading Update

It’s been rather a slow week for reading, as I got a new computer delivered last week and have been working on it part of the time.

Bearss’ Vicksburg Campaign III – Unvexed to the Sea

This is just getting started. The city is invested, and the question of the day is if the Confederate army has any fight left in it. Pemberton did do one smart thing – he arranged his lines so that the most demoralized troops were isolated from the possible assault areas, instead using troops that hadn’t been present or were solid veterans.

The first hurried assault on the city was repulsed, but much of the Union army wasn’t really ready, so a second assault is being prepared. It did signal that the Confederates were not just going to fold.

Neptune’s Inferno

I’ve gotten up to the end of the first day of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, or rather, the night as it was a night battle. The American fleet, a group of cruisers and destroyers met a Japanese fleet that also had two battleships. The American Admiral didn’t really trust his radar, and squally weather meant that the two fleets didn’t sight each other until they were virtually in contact. In fact, they actually interpenetrated each other during the action, forming a giant melee.

This somewhat favored the smaller American ships, as at this close range their lighter guns could savage even a battleship. Of course, the battleship could wreck them in return, and did.

The next day was what was called ‘The Battle of the Cripples’ as severely damaged ships took time out from keeping themselves from sinking to try to get a last shot at any nearby enemy derelict ship.

A Ship to Remember

The Maine has exploded and sunk in Havana harbor, now its time for the reaction and recriminations.  I am not sure if the book will follow the deteriorating political situation or the actual cause of the disaster, or both.

How Rome Fell – Adrian Goldsworthy

I just started this one. He does tip his hand by explaining his thesis from the start. He disagrees with Peter Heather and others that Rome at about 400 AD was ‘as strong as ever’ and thinks that it was weaker than in the Antonine period. He seems to going to argue that the relative change in power between the barbarians in 150 AD and 400 AD was mostly or all Rome weakening rather than the barbarians getting stronger.

If he ends up saying ‘mostly’ or ‘partly’ I think this is defendable, Saying ‘All’ is a lot less so. We shall see.

For myself, I am sure there is a qualitative difference between the barbarians in Caesar’s time versus 400 AD. The coalitions were larger, the rulership had a stronger hold on the nation. Historians think this was largely fueled by Rome itself – the wealth of spoils or the bribes to avoid raids gave the ‘government’ a way to strengthen itself at the expense of the ‘people’. (the analogy with modern terms is pretty weak – a German tribe was no Marxist class warfare state).

The question is if this evolution was complete or nearly so by 150 AD, or if the Germans had increased in power over those 250 years. I suspect that they had, and the actual situation was a combination of both – Rome weakening and the opposition getting more powerful in turn.

In the Queue

There’s some new books lined up – Guadalcanal – a major history of Guadalcanal by Frank, the Cambridge history of the Barbarossa Campaign, Prange’s Miracle at Midway book (I’ve read that years ago, I believe), Knight’s Cross – a life of Rommel, 1858 – on that year in Antebellum America. If it’s half as good as 1857 by Stampp, it will be worth the reading.  I also got The Secret War for the Union, about military intelligence during the Civil War.

History of Rome Podcasts

I also have been moving along with these and am sadly almost caught up. It is now the era after Diocletian and the wars that will end with Constantine coming to power are in full swing. I am not a big listener of podcasts, but these could change that. If you do like podcasts or audible books, you really should check these out. There’s a link in the sidebar if you are interested.