Category Archives: English fiction

July meeting

There will be no meeting in June. And I will move the meeting to the FIRST Wednesday of each month instead of the last. The next meeting will therefore be July 3rd. We will contune reading “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”.

In the May meeting, we finished discussing “How the First Letter was Written” and started reading “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”. We read up to where the mongoose saves the young boy’s life by killing Krait, a small, deadly snake.

I look forward to seeing you there.

2013 February meeting

March meeting announcement

March’s meeting will be on March 27th, and we will discuss “Jeeves and the Old School Chum” by P.G. Wodehouse. P・G・ウッドハウス. This story, first published in 1930, appeared in the volume titled “Very Good, Jeeves” でかした、ジーヴス (森村たまき訳、国書刊行会より刊行) (2006年7月)

February meeting report


A smaller group than usual today, and less discussion than usual, but that was mostly because of the kind of text we were reading: “The Elephant’s Child” by Rudyard Kipling.

I mentioned the sad story of Kipling’s only son, Jack, who died in World War I.  There is an excellent movie about this, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Rudyard’s “My Boy, Jack“. Daniel Radcliffe gives an excellent performance as Kipling’s son. David Craig (Kipling) looks so much like the real Kipling, it’s spooky. I heartily recommend the film マイボイジャック


Some famous quotes from Kipling:

  1. the white man’s burden” 「白人の責務」which is the title of a poem Kipling wrote in 1899 (a Japanese translation of it is here – thanks to T.O. for the link). The poem has often been taken as a justification for colonization, and arouses strong emotions in people, both for and against. Wikipedia says“At face value it appears to be a rhetorical command to white men to colonise and rule other nations for the benefit of those people (both the people and the duty may be seen as representing the “burden” of the title). Because of its theme and title, it has become emblematic both of Eurocentric racism and of Western aspirations to dominate the developing world.[8][9][10] A century after its publication, the poem still rouses strong emotions, and can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.”
  2. “If” (a poem written for his son, John or “Jack”, then 12 years old. In 2009, it was voted Britain’s favourite poem. Here is the text of the poem with Japanese translation (I haven’t checked it). What do you think?
  3. OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” –
    from “The Ballad of East and West” 「東と西のバラード」. (Complete English text is here Couldn’t find a complete Japanese translation; can you help?) The first line of the ballad is the most famous and often quoted, but the story tells of two brave and honourable men, one British, one Indian, who come to respect each other for their courage and honesty, despite their difference in culture. しかし東もなければ西もない、国境も、種族も、素性もない、


2013 January meeting

In today’s session, we discussed “The Man in the Passage”, a short detective story by British author G.K. Chesterton. The mystery is solved by one of Chesterton’s memorable characters, Father Brown, a Catholic priest. Father Brown has taken his place in the pantheon of famous detectives, alongside Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Chesterton was born a generation before C.S. Lewis. They were both Christians and both wrote about Christianity for the general public. They also both wrote fiction which helped to make them nationally, then internationally, famous.

In today’s session, I mentioned something about the “rules of detective stories”. I was referring to the “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories” (1928), by S.S. Van Dine, the pen-name of Willard Huntington Wright, an American journalist and fiction writer. If any of you can find a Japanese translation of this online, please let me know. Do you think Chesterton obeyed all these rules in “The Man in the Passage”?

Update: a reader has found a Japanese translation here 探偵小説を書くときの二十則

Here are the first 3 rules:

  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

For February’s session, we will read a shorty story for children written by Rudyard Kipling: “How the Elephant Got its Trunk” (also called “Elephant’s Child”)  from the Just-So stories. Kipling was the first English-language author to win the Nobel Prize for literature, in 1907 (he was 41 years old). He was a contemporary of Mark Twain, and friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry James.


June meeting

Iris Lemon (Glenn Close) in "The Natural"
Iris Lemon (Glenn Close) in “The Natural”.

In today’s session, we read part VII (7). After meeting Irish, swimming with her and making love, Roy seems to change course and is seriously chasing after Memo again. What?!? This guy is crazy! Can’t he see which woman is better for him? Even he admits to himself that Memo is not the domestic housewife/mother type, yet still he lusts after her. What an idiot!

He carries a letter from Iris around with him, but he doesn’t read it! Instead, he eats and eats and eats and finally gets sick. Ha! Serves him right! He cannot control his appetites, either for food or for sex, or for fame and glory on the baseball diamond.

By the way, I found the photo above on a blog which discusses the movie “The Natural”: the blogger says the father-son relationship is one of the biggest themes in “The Natural” (the movie, not the novel). I wonder what you think? You can read it here:


Our next session will be July 11th when we will read part VIII.

There will be no session in August, and in September we will finish reading “The Natural” – yay!!  (At last.)



March meeting

In our March meeting (thank you to all who attended), we read part IV of “The Natural” by Bernard Malamud.

We discussed whether Roy should leave Memo or try harder to win her trust and respect. We also discussed Roy’s short speech to the crowd on the occasion of “Roy’s Day”. Some thought there is nothing wrong with Roy wanting to be the best in the game, but others thought he should have been more grateful to the fans and to the other players as well as to Pop Fisher.

At our next meeting we will read and discuss section V.

Roy thinking they hit someone while Memo is driving reminded me of a similar scene in “Bonfire of the Vanities”:

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Here’s a summary of this section:
The fans of the Knights hold “Roy’s Day” in his honour,  as it has leaked out to the press that Roy’s salary is meager and that the Judge has refused to give him a raise. The fans bring thousands of presents to Roy, some quite lavish, including televisions, lifetime passes to the Paramount Theater, and even a Mercedes-Benz. Roy addresses the crowd, thanking them and saying that he will do his best to be “the greatest there ever was in the game.” He then drives the Benz triumphantly around the field, stopping at Memo’s box and asking her for a date after the game.

The game goes well, and afterward Roy and Memo head toward the ocean. They eat in uncomfortable silence; Roy is troubled by Memo’s continued indifference. They stop by a stream to go swimming, but a sign tells them the water is polluted. As they stand looking at the water, Memo recalls Bump, and Roy demands to know what Bump had that he does not. Memo responds by listing a number of things, absentmindedly reminiscing about her times with Bump. Roy believes that Memo is seeing her memories of Bump through rose-coloured glasses, and that Bump was not nearly as good a boyfriend as she remembers him.

Roy changes the subject. Memo tells Roy that her father left her family at a young age, and that she then went to Hollywood, where she won a beauty contest. She was told, however, that she could not act, and she was sent home. Memo says that after Bump, she realized she could not be happy anymore. She asks Roy to talk about his past, but he refuses to, saying only that he has suffered. He now thinks only of becoming the champ and “having what goes with it.”

He tries to kiss and grope Memo, but she resists him, saying that her breast is “sick.” They get in the car and she drives, faster and faster in the night without the lights on. Roy thinks he sees a young boy coming out of the woods and he quickly tells Memo to turn on the lights, hearing a thump as she does so. Memo insists it was a log, but Roy is sure they hit the boy. Roy makes her pull over, but there is no blood on the bumper.

Roy then drives, but he accidentally drives the car off into a ditch. He and Memo are relatively unhurt; Memo’s sick breast is bruised while Roy receives a black eye. Upon returning to the hotel, Pop yells at Roy for injuring himself and for getting no sleep before an important game. Pop also warns Roy to stay away from Memo; Pop says that she is unlucky for other people. Roy assures Pop that he will change Memo’s luck as well as Pop’s, and get him the pennant. Before Roy goes to bed, Max Mercy tries to get a picture of his black eye, but Roy escapes him.

February meeting

The Worm Ouroboros
The Worm Ouroboros

In February’s meeting, we read Batter Up! Part 3 which begins with Bump Bailey’s death, and ends with Roy having dinner with Memo Paris, Max Mercy and a new character, Gus Sands, a “bookie” with a glass eye.

We discussed the various meanings of “hit the wall”, the associations of worms in English/Western literature and culture (I forgot to mention that “worm” has an old meaning of “snake” and is sometimes used to refer to the snake/Satan in the Garden of Eden; in Old English, “worm” was also used as a synonym for “dragon” – see “The Worm Ouroboros”, and “The Hobbit” (chapter XV) by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The king is come unto his hall, Under the Mountain dark and tall. The Worm of Dread is slain and dead, And ever so our foes shall fall!“), and why Roy does not want anyone to know about his past.

Our next meeting will be March 7 at 3 pm (not 3:15)

The Natural – pre-game

Today we finished reading the first section of Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural”. This first section is called “Pre-game”. It ends with a shocking event: Roy Hobbs is shot by a mad girl in a Chicago hotel, before he even has a chance to try out for a baseball team!

What we discussed today:

  1. the story of Perceval and the Holy Grail (see the previous blog entry)
  2. the vegetative deity or the Green Man myth
  3. the Biblical story of David and Goliath
  4. Chiyonofuji and the end of his career (this is the same story of any fighter or warrior who grows old)
  5. why does Harriet Bird shoot Roy???!?

The Natural: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols (from SparkNotes)

It is difficult to appreciate The Natural without some knowledge of the mythological traditions behind it. The most important of these are the legends of the Waste Land and the Fisher King. Malamud loosely based his novel on the story of Sir Perceval and his quest for the Holy Grail, originally recorded in the eleventh century by the French writer Chrétien de Troyes.

In Chrétien’s story, Perceval starts out as a country bumpkin, much like Roy. Raised in the forest by an overprotective mother, he has little knowledge of manners or chivalry. One day, Perceval meets several knights of King Arthur, and he immediately wants to join them. He goes to Camelot, but Arthur refuses to make him a knight until he proves himself. Perceval goes out to do so, and he proves his worth by winning many matches; he turns out to be a surprisingly good knight. Perceval meets a knight who arms him and teaches him about chivalry, particularly the idea that he should not chatter, and should instead remain quiet most of the time. Perceval plans to return to his mother and show her his new skills, but he is waylaid by an infatuation with a woman named Blancheflor.

Finally, one day, Perceval comes upon a strange castle. Inside is an old man, who presents Perceval with a fine sword. Perceval then witnesses a strange procession: several youths enter the hall carrying a bleeding lance, golden candelabra, and a golden grail. Perceval, remembering the advice of the knight who instructed him, decides to stay quiet and wait to ask the old man about the mysterious procession until the next morning. When Perceval wakes up, however, he finds the castle and its inhabitants have disappeared. He rides on and meets a woman who tells him that if he had only asked the right questions, he would have learned about the lance and the Holy Grail and could have healed the Fisher King, and thus also the Waste Land.

Though Chrétien died before he finished the story of Perceval, scholars are reasonably sure, based on the sources from which Chrétien worked, that Perceval returned to the Fisher King and, swallowing his pride, asked the questions necessary to obtain the Grail and heal the King.

via SparkNotes: The Natural: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols.