Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parallel Botany - Avatar

I had the same feeling walking out of the theater after watching the James Cameron movie Avatar in 3-D as I had when seeing Star Wars when it first came out in 1977 - I wanted to fly. But what to do with the scenery made up of the plant life growing upon strange landscapes on Pandora - I wanted to be there. A complimentary book has been published that catalogs all of the flora and fauna and culture of this distant world: Avatar: A Confidential Report on the Biological and Social History of Pandora, but is not that great - the movie is better than the book. Also, this is not a first-of-a-kind attempt to create a pseudo-authentic compendium of life.

Leo Lionni's Parallel Botany predates James Cameron's world by 32 years, and is just one year younger than George Lucas'. I read a new book review of Parallel Botany in Time Magazine while just starting graduate school, and then went to a local Walden Books in Fresno to order a copy. I am sure it wasn't more than ten dollars new at that time, but when the store called to say my book was in, I couldn't bring myself to go pick it up and put down that much cash for an impulsive purchase of what seemed like a frivolous purchase when serious text books were a greater priority. Ever since, I had always had it in my mind to get a copy some day, and that's what I did last year - ordered a used copy from a parallel seller on the Amazon Website. I was disappointed when it turned out to be a former library copy, but it was still the real deal (1).

What is unnerving about Parallel Botany, is that its narrative reads like a classical science text book as serious scientists would write in times gone by - but not any different than how serious scholars still speak at scientific conferences today, about things that may or may not be real. Unlike the feeling I had after watch Star Wars and Avatar, I didn't know what to think as I began to read the last chapter On Fairy Stories in Tolkien's Tales from the Perilous Realm - at first I couldn't tell whether the essay I was reading was a serious discussion about previous literature on the topic, or one made up as in Parallel Botany'esque style - or is serious literature about fairies just like those serious science texts - new and old? But even more strange are when elements of the parallel world are blended with those of the real - where the separation of the two worlds becomes less distinct - but pretty nice to look at, regardless.

(1) I have had the same regret for not picking up a copy of Jefferson Starship's Blows Against the Empire album since I ordered it at the Montgomery Wards department store in my hometown when I was a freshman in college - there is a pattern here. My favorite song on the album is Have You Seen the Stars Tonight? which sounds like Pandora looks. My friend Ken, whom I had know since middle school, and I would trade albums regularly. I had his copy of the album when Ken died the summer before our senior year in high school. I returned the album to his family, and haven't had a copy of it since.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Like Children's Stories....

....and even better yet, well-made children's movies. I bought a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe while I was in graduate school, but didn't read the book until we had moved back to Oregon, with four kids, and saw the first hour of the story on Oregon Public Broadcasting television one Saturday late afternoon. I read the entire book before by the time the second part of the movie was on the next Saturday. This kids story blew me away - that is for another blog. I had read last year that Disney had dropped production of the theater version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. After seeing my son's 100-days-to-graduation count-down blog - I checked out the Web to see what was posted about the third Chronicles of Narnia story, only to be pleasantly surprised to find out that Fox had picked it up, and that it may be released in December this year - this should be good news. Of the original BBC movie adaptations of the C.S. Lewis stories that were broadcast on PBS - which were remarkably close to the narrative of the original books - the Dawn Treader was my favorite....plenty of fantasy to go all around....sailing to the end of the world....enchantments brought to an end....sorry to see the story end. I hope that there will be enough momentum with this film to finish the series - three down, four to go. Maybe some one will figure out that it would be worth it to make an animated version of The Horse and His Boy, release it at Christmas time, and some how get to The Last Battle in film.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


The opening ceremonies to the Vancouver Winter Olympics featured the works of Canadian artists and composers. After recognizing Joni Mitchell perform Both Sides Now, I began blogging about an effort to save the last sugar farm in Hawaii - but in the meantime, also came across this old song I hadn't heard before. As usual, the lyrics bring images to mind, so I posted some of those images with the lyrics below, as well as a link to the song (1).

I was driving across the burning desert
When I spotted six jet planes
Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
It was the hexagram of the heavens
it was the strings of my guitar
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Of picture-post-card-charms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

People will tell you where they've gone
They'll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself
you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Other's just come to harm
Oh Amelia, it was just a false alarm

I wish that he was here tonight
It's so hard to obey
His sad request of me to kindly stay away
So this is how I hide the hurt
As the road leads cursed and charmed
I tell Amelia, it was just a false alarm

A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

Maybe I've never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I've spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitude
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

I pulled into the Cactus Tree Motel
To shower off the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust
I dreamed of 747s
Over geometric farms
Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms

Joni Mitchell, 1976

(1) This piece among the best of Mitchell's work - the lyrics are poetic, the performance haunting - I love the pedal steel guitar in the background. If you didn't select the link above to hear the song Amelia, you can also select it at:

For a short biography of Amelia Earhart, see: