Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Sleepy Hollow" and a quick note on "lieutenant"

I watched the premiere of "Sleepy Hollow" (LOOSELY based on Washington Irving's story) on Monday and found it entertaining enough to keep watching for at least a few more weeks. My officemates also liked it, which will help keep the momentum going, along with the fact that it's being filmed near my hometown.

One thing I thought the show didn't explore enough was how disorienting it must have been for Ichabod Crane to find himself in modern times. (I did like that they gave him a moment to be puzzled by the paved road before he almost got run over.) To be fair, the pilot was just an hour long, and they had a lot of plot to cram in there, and it would have dragged the show down for him to be asking about how they can light up a room without candles, etc. He adapted awfully quickly, but I hope they keep using little points like his fascination with power windows to point out that he is a fish out of time. I expect they will, for comic relief if nothing else.

One of the ways they'll keep reminding us about his origin, without actually spending any time on it, is his accent. Ichabod was born back before America and England became "two countries divided by a common language," so although he's American, he has what sounds like a slight English accent (No, there isn't one English accent any more than there's one American accent, but you know what I mean.). The actor, Tom Mison, is English, so we shouldn't have to worry about his dropping it.

At one point during the pilot, Ichabod pronounces the policewoman's title as "lef-tenant" instead of "lew-tenant." Being a longtime fan of Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery and period dramas, I was not surprised by this British usage. But it did occur to me to wonder just why it's pronounced differently.

According to Google, many people have asked this question before me. I stopped looking after visiting about a dozen links. Ken Greenwald at Wordwizard seemed to have the most comprehensive explanation:
In any case, the pronunciations with "f" and "v" are reflected in various 14th-century English spellings of ‘lieutenant,’ which included ‘leef-,’ ‘leve-,’ ‘lyff-‘ and later ‘lief-,’ ‘live-,’ ‘liev-,’ and ‘uff-.’
Other early forms reflected a "w" pronunciation, among them ‘lu-,’ ‘lieu-,’ ‘lyue-,’ and ‘lew-.’ 
So people disagreed on the pronunciation of lieutenant long before the United States were born or thought of (yes, the U.S. took a plural back then, before becoming an it).

Greenwald went on to say that the U.S. settled on the "lew-tenant" pronunciation largely due to  Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, who "almost single-handedly promulgated American pronunciations as well as American spellings."

But before Webster, even with various people disagreeing for centuries on how to pronounce it, was there any preferential rift in pronunciation between the two sides of the ocean? I wonder if the English-American split may have arisen or broadened during the American Revolution when non-British Europeans came to help drill, advise, and lead the Continental soldiers. Baron von Steuben probably would have used the Deutsch "leutnant" (loit-nant), but the Marquis de Lafayette would have assuredly used the French pronunciation (as "in lieu of"). Lafayette was popular, so that could have helped his way of saying it to become preferred.

If anyone has better explanations or links, do let me know!

UPDATE 11/20/13: We found out several episodes ago that Ichabod was actually a British soldier who decided to fight on the American/anti-apocalypse side, not someone born in North America. So that explains the accent. And yes, the show has continued to give us merry-making moments of Ichabod agog and/or aghast at modern life, such as a 10% tax on breakfast pastries, whereas the 2% Stamp Act tax was enough to foment rebellion in his day -- oh, but it turns out that the Tea Party was actually just a fortuitous diversion for secret anti-apocalypse operations. I love the combination of action, emotion, humor, and crazy in this show.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Non-spoilery review of the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal

I read Mary Robinette Kowal's debut novel, "Shades of Milk and Honey," a few years ago when it came out. It's a novel of manners set in Regency England, with the addition of magic. The form magic takes in this world is glamour, a limited form of illusion that is mostly women's work, used for adorning the ladies and their homes, although there are a few male professionals who basically combine art and interior decoration. Much of the plot is similar to a somewhat simplified "Pride and Prejudice," although some elements are reversed and it builds up to a dramatic action-adventure conclusion. I thought it was a good read, entertaining if a little light, and I planned to look for her later books.

Last week, I spotted her third book in the Glamourist Histories, "Without a Summer," and checked it out. I also tracked down SoMaH again and found the second book, "Glamour in Glass." I figured it would take a week or so to get through them.

I finished them in three nights, one per night. I couldn't put them down, not even SoMaH, which was better than I remembered.

GiG is similar in tone, and like the first, it has a slow, weaving build to a dramatic finish, but other elements are very different. Although the protagonists have interesting, character-based conflicts, they are in Belgium and are increasingly affected by world events, including Napoleon's return to France, rather than mere social mores and misunderstandings. The viewpoint character, Jane, has to make hard choices and endured real consequences. The implications of glamour are examined and expanded. Another satisfying read.

But it was "Without a Summer" that really sold me on the series and the author. We see more of the social strata of the world now, with prejudices (examined prejudices, obviously not the author's views) spurring some people's actions. Along with historically accurate class, racial, and religious prejudices, the public irrationally blames coldmongers, specialized glamourists who help preserve food and suchlike, for the unusually long-lasting cold weather of 1816. The coldmongers were seemingly a convenient throwaway element from the first book, but here they become a major plot element. I love it when backstory comes to the forefront like that.

Other elements from the first book are also revisited in the third book, and revelations about longstanding misperceptions occur. In fact, MRK uses a wonderful metaphor for this cascade of revelations, and I was gasping, "Oh! OH! Wow!" as they all coalesced and bound all three books together. A meta-metaphor, if I can use such a term.

I went through a number of passages from the first and third books today, and yes, there were some strong hints of the hidden truths there, so MRK definitely played fair with the readers. But like Jane, I had glossed over those things as I kept following the current main actions, and so they were simultaneous revelations for me.

Some significant mistakes and misjudgments are made by the viewpoint character, who is so smart and perceptive in other ways, and MRK acknowledges Jane's debt to Austen's "Emma" in her afterword.  I'd be a little disenchanted, so to speak, if I thought MRK were just going through Austen's canon and adding glamour; however, the second book is its own thing, and even in the first and third books, there are plenty of non-magical plot elements and character actions that Austen would never have dreamed of writing. MRK can and does thank Austen, and I also noticed a few fun Easter Egg references to other authors' works, but she is definitely building her own rich world here. I can't wait to see where MRK takes this series next.