Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Castles New and Old

The Examples:
I’ve been thinking about European and American castles, spurred on after reading Revenge of the Shadow King, reviewed below. I’ve been to a few European castles. At Edinburgh Castle, time-blackened parapets brooded above the city, ready in centuries past for defense. Thick wooden steps at Chateau Chillon in Switzerland, worn smooth and hollowed in the center, silently reminded visitors of their centuries of use. It’s a very cursory view of the castles, but they breathed history.

The only American castle I’ve been to is Biltmore, a Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, North Carolina. I remember it was big, really big; apparently the Vanderbilt brothers had been in competition over who could build the biggest and best house. Extensive grounds rolled into woods and meandered to a winery down the hill. In the home, a little Renoir hung on a guest room wall, roped off so no one could really see what was in the picture. An empty, fully tiled swimming pool hid in the basement, I think next to the bowling alley. It’s a very cursory view of the castle, but it breathed…money.

What does the contrast between the two illustrate about two cultures or societies? Any thoughts?

The items below are geared for (possible) adult-child conversation…

Fun Links:

The Etymologies: Castle
From Latin castellum, fortress, diminutive of castrum, fortified place
And Fort:
In a roundabout way from Latin fortis, strong. Think also of forte in music; fuerte, strong, in Spanish…and what else?

The Book: Revenge of the Shadow King, Part I of the Grey Griffins Trilogy
by Derek Benz & J.S. Lewis
Revenge of the Shadow King is the quintessential boys’ novel, starting with the billionaire 10-year-old protagonist living in a castle in Minnesota and ranging from cool treehouses and magical books to catacombs and goblins at the window. My eleven-year-old (at the time) couldn’t put it down.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The Example

“Daddy,” my four-year-old asks from her secure perch in his arms. “Can I have one chocolate?” Her pigtails swing and she opens her eyes wide. “Please?”
“Uh, sure,” he says, and she flings her arms around his neck. Then she casts a triumphant, sidelong glance at me.
What Daddy doesn’t know is that she already asked me for chocolate, and I said no. No, you just brushed your teeth, no, you’ve had enough sugar for today, no, you’ll get it all over your face right before bed, no.
Ah, undermining.

The Definition: Undermine

“To subvert or weaken secretly. “ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/undermine.

The Etymology: Undermine

In the middle ages, forces attacking castles would mine under the outer castle walls, shoring up their tunnels with wooden beams. Then they would set the beams on fire, run like crazy, and wait for the tunnel to collapse once the supports no longer held it up. The portion of the castle wall over the tunnel would collapse too, and behold! A breach to the inner fortress.

The Book: The World of Castles and Forts, by Malcolm Day

This is a fun, do-able survey of castles and forts from China to England, from Roman to modern times. Each castle or fort appears in a two-page spread well-balanced with illustrations and text. I read it with my nine-year-old son, and the format made the book easy to pick up and put down.

Watch for the illustration of undermining!