Piecing Together The Back Story Of Humpty Dumpty

The familiar nursery rhyme of Humpty Dumpty is:  “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”  Is Humpty Dumpty, like many nursery rhymes and fairy tales, based on an actual person or event?

This piece explores the back story of the rhyme and potential explanations for its origin.  It concludes that the two proffered explanations of the rhyme that try to link Humpty Dumpty to historical events — like the death of Richard III — are implausible and decides that Humpty Dumpty was originally intended as a riddle to which the answer was an egg — which is why Humpty Dumpty is always shown as an egg in nursery rhyme books.  I’m not so sure about that, because the piece also notes that the phrase “humpty dumpty” first came into the English language as a reference to an alcoholic concoction and then later was used to describe a clumsy or a stumbling inebriated person.  Given the latter meaning, I think it’s more likely than not that the rhyme traces its origin to a drunk person who fell from a wall and was killed.

It’s not a pretty picture, but when you think about it most of the old nursery rhymes and fairy tales were pretty disturbing.  Ring around the Rosie is commonly thought to trace its origins to the Black Death, with “rosie” referring to the red swellings of the lymph nodes associated with the Bubonic Plague, posies being carried to avoid the smell of the afflicted, and “all fall down” reflecting the suddenness of death.  Rock a Bye Baby and its baby mysteriously perched on the treetop who falls to the ground isn’t very reassuring to children, either — and we haven’t even gotten to ugly tales of cannibalism, poisoning and terrifyingly smart wolves like Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood.

We heard these stories as children and somehow managed to make it to adulthood without too much long-term psychic damage.  Kids are more resilient than we think.

Playoff Peculiarities

Ohio State fans are happy because the Buckeyes vaulted up two spots, to sixth place, in the college football playoff rankings announced last night.  That’s certainly better than heading in the other direction, but there’s just something a bit . . . unsettling about this whole process.

The Buckeyes, who won on Saturday, passed higher-ranked Arizona State, which lost.  I get that. But the Buckeyes also moved past Baylor, which had a bye week.  Why?  Who knows?  And for many Ohio State fans, the answer is:  who cares?  As long as the Buckeyes are moving up the chain and still have a chance to make the first college football playoff, they’re happy campers.

But seriously . . . why should Ohio State leapfrog Baylor?  The answer, I think, is that the 12-member selection panel that figures out the rankings is filled with people that aren’t much different from the rest of us.  They’re aware of win-loss records, but they’re not prone to some purportedly scientific analysis of relative strength of schedule, common opponents, and other quasi-scientific factors that the computer wizards have used to determine rankings in the past.  Instead, the panel members are prone to out-of-sight, out-of-mind notions, winning pretty versus winning ugly, the presence of stars on teams, intriguing match-ups, and other attributes of the rest of us everyday football fans.

That means that, if the college football playoff continues in its current form, you’re going to see it affect how the game is scheduled and played.  Late-season bye weeks that might cause you to drop a spot or two in the rankings will be eliminated.  Teams will try to pile up the points to get the most impressive wins, which means that starters will continue to play in blowouts and might suffer injuries that otherwise would have been avoided.  And you’d better hope that your team and your conference are getting pretty good, respectful coverage on ESPN and other college football venues.

All of these factors might work in Ohio State’s favor right now — no late-season byes, a schedule that is backloaded with games against good teams, a lot of scoring, and the interesting J.T. Barrett story — but it only works until it doesn’t.  If the Buckeyes get out to a good lead against Indiana and keep Barrett in the game, we’ll know that Urban Meyer and his staff have learned some lessons from how the rankings are developed.

Stephen King

Recently Richard got me Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep as a present.  It’s the sequel to The Shining, which I had never read.  I’d seen the Stanley Kubrick/Jack Nicholson movie, but had heard the book is different (and it definitely is) so I decided to read the book first.

The Shining was an enjoyable, page-turning airplane read that I finished on the return leg of our recent trip to Phoenix, and I was looking forward to starting the sequel that seemingly just came out.  As we were walking through the airport on our way to our car, however, we passed the bookstore and I noticed that Stephen King had another new book out, called Revival.  My God, I thought:  how many books has Stephen King written?

The answer is . . . a lot.  According to King’s website, if you just count novels, there are more than 50.  50!  Indeed, in between Doctor Sleep and Revival there was at least one other book, Mr. Mercedes — and perhaps two, because I can’t tell whether Doctor Sleep was published before or after Joyland.  And that is just novels; there are countless essays, short stories, and other pieces in a listing of written works that seems impossibly long.

By anyone’s definition, Stephen King has been astonishingly prolific.  Those of us who aren’t creative can only marvel at where he could come up with so many ideas for books — but what really impresses me is King’s obvious dedication to his work and his craft.  You can only publish that many books, short stories, and writings if you are willing to sit down at your writing desk, day after day, and work.  And Stephen King is still doing it, at age 67.

Critics will probably never look upon Stephen King with the same affection they have for, say, Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace.  I don’t pretend to know precisely what separates fiction from “fine literature,” but I do know this:  Stephen King has stayed atop the bestseller lists for decades now, producing book after book that people want to read, and he has done it by working hard, grinding away at new stories when he presumably could kick back, live off his royalties and speaking fees, and become a man of leisure.

If you want a living testament to the merits of a strong work ethic, consider Stephen King.  We should all be able to find some inspiration in his example.

The New-Look Basketball Buckeyes

Tonight Kish and I will be heading to the Ohio State-Marquette game as the guests of two of our generous friends.  It will be my first chance to watch an Ohio State basketball team that will feature a dramatically new look.

For the first time in four years, the Buckeyes’ roster won’t include Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr.  (No Aaron Craft!  No Lenzelle Smith!  Sniff!)  Those two players were mainstays of a series of Ohio State teams that won Big Ten championships, Big Ten Tournaments, and compiled a pretty good NCAA Tournament record.

Now they are gone, and there are some new faces.  We’ll still have Slammin’ Sam Thompson at forward and steady Shannon Scott at the point, and Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will patrol the paint, but the identity of last year’s team was mostly set by Craft and Smith.  Now the Buckeyes will have to find a new identity — and given last year’s shooting woes, that might not be a bad thing.

This new-look Buckeyes team seems to have a lot of talent, but it’s raw.  There’s a lot of buzz about a group of freshmen that includes D’Angelo Russell, a guard who is rumored to be the lights-out outside shooter we’ve been waiting for since Jon Diebler graduated, guard Kam Williams, and forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, as well as Anthony Lee, a power forward who transferred from Temple.  I’m also interested in seeing how Marc Loving, a sophomore who played well at the beginning of last season but seemed to hit the freshman wall, has developed over the past year.

It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from the Buckeyes’ first game, when they smeared UMass-Lowell, but in that contest the Buckeyes played ten-deep and pressed for much of the game.  Whether Ohio State plays the press against a Big East team like Marquette tonight — to say nothing of the non-conference games against perennial powers Louisville and North Carolina that are coming up — remains to be seen.  For now, we’re just trying to get to know this team and hoping that they fill the hole left by the departure of two fan favorites.  I’m guessing, though, that Thad Matta thinks he’s got something here.

Beard Behavior

There’s been a lot of chatter about beards lately.  A few days ago Buzzfeed ran a piece about the rise of “lumbersexuals,” men who like wearing flannel, communing with nature, and cultivating long flowing facial locks.  Many modern baseball players, too, look like they could easily pass for one of the Smith Brothers on the cough drops box.

And, as seems to be inevitable in our modern culture, some people are reacting strongly against the nascent “beard culture.”  There have been postings in the Twitterverse that equate beards with testosterone-drenched, toxic masculinity.  To these folks, the hairy chins of modern men uncomfortably appeal to traditional notions of strutting male behavior and the 16th-century hegemony of elaborately bearded, male-dominated European nations that trampled countless peaceful native civilizations.

Speaking as a guy who has had a beard for most of his adult life, I can only suggest that everybody chill out, already.  There isn’t any deep secret to beards, or burning desire on the part of men to channel our inner Yukon Cornelius.  In reality, the impulses that cause men to grow beards are, like men themselves, much less complicated.

Many men grow beards in college because it is the first time we plausibly could.  We wondered how we would look in a beard, and then if it came in without looking like a laughable embarrassment we realized that ratty beards have another advantage:  they allow you to avoid the hassle of shaving every day.  Anyone who knows a college-age male knows they typically aren’t attentive to the imperatives of personal hygiene, and avoiding another step in the morning ablution rituals is a powerful incentive to guys who would rather sleep in a little longer.

Men often leave beards behind when they leave their college years.  But, as middle age approaches, beards can once again become tantalizingly attractive for two reasons:  you’re going bald, or you notice that you’re developing an appallingly saggy neck, or both.  If you’re losing the hair on the top half of your head, why not try to compensate by growing hair on the bottom half of your head?  And if the area directly underneath your chin bears an unfortunate resemblance to the wattles on a Thanksgiving turkey, why not try to mask it with facial hair and hope nobody notices?

So don’t fret about those hirsute men, whether they’re wearing flannel or not.  They’re not trying to return to the glory days of northern European world dominance.  As like as not, they just want to avoid dragging a sharp razor across their faces or to compensate for the unfortunate physical impact of the vicissitudes of age on their self image.

Bad Bodice-Rippers

Would you believe there’s a Bad Sex In Fiction award, given out by the Literary Review?

You will believe it after you read the passages from some of these finalists.  It’s embarrassing to even scan them, but they are pretty funny stuff.  One of them — in which a scene of deep passion is interrupted by the approach of a slobbering dog chewing on a penguin — made me laugh out loud.

I suppose it’s easy to make fun of bodice-ripper prose, with heaving bosoms and bare-chested men and moans and groans and lingering kisses and waves crashing into the shore.  After all, how many ways can you describe a physical act?  If you decide to actually try to attempt to capture the act itself, you’re inevitably going to sound trite . . . or hilarious.

Still . . . a slobbering dog and a penguin?

Abrupt Change

IMG_3573In the space of one delay-ridden travel day, we went from the sunny, arid, and warm climate of Phoenix to cold, wet, and snowy conditions in Columbus.

IMG_3665From shorts to overcoats.  From sunglasses and the coconut-infused odor of suntan lotion to wool hats and a sharp breeze.

The weather change mirrors the change in factual context, too.  The mini-holiday is over, and it’s time to get back to work.  And because it’s the first snow of the season, you can be certain that the commute today is going to be brutal. And if the snow and the crappy commute alone aren’t enough to provide the cold slap of reality, the weather app is reporting that the temperature is supposed to drop steadily throughout the day until it reaches a frosty 10 degrees.

Bundle up!