Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stolen Apples Taste the Best

Last summer, I made a resolution to forage for at least one wild foodstuff a week during the growing season. This time of year, ripe wild grapes are abundant, and apples are available to those who know of untended orchards (which are not uncommon in localities which were once farmland). This week, I was able to pick some "feral" apples:

I do not, and would not, pick apples on private land without permission from the owner, but apple-theft, or scrumping, traditionally has been common enough to earn its own verb. This crime, usually indulged in by youthful gadabouts, was referred to in the Who's 5:15:

On a raft in the quarry
Slowly sinking.
On the back of a lorry
Holy hitching.
Dreadfully sorry
Apple scrumping.
Born in the war
Birthday punching.

While I have never played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I purchased the Hogshead publishing version of the first edition rulebook and have read it enough to write up a brief summary of "Scrumper" as an introductory profession within the thief class:

M __
BS +10
Dex +10

Indentify Plant
Scale Sheer Surface
Silent Move-Rural

Shoulder bag
15' Rope

Career exits:
Thief (general)

Not an overly powerful career, but an appropriate skill set for a 16th Century apple-thief in a magic-haunted, decadent world.

To clarify that I am not, indeed, a thief, my activity, picking otherwise unused fruits, is more properly known as usufruct (gleaning is a particular type of usufruct- gleaners would follower harvesters and take the agricultural products that had been missed (the French documentary The Gleaners and I is a poignant and entertaining look at this phenomenon). For additional reading on usufruct, this thread about "guerrilla harvests" has an anecdote, from commenter "Keith Talent", which amused and impressed me to no end:

When we were kids, my mother was a devoted canner, her favourite game, (still is actually) was "lets pretend we're poor," which dovetailed nicely with her other favourite passtime (sic) "Lets save pennies." Explaining the cost of driving across town to save on tinned tuna wasn't really a savings due to gas and time did not compute for her.

Anyway, the local high security prision (sic) had a number of apple trees on the grounds, outside of the formal prison proper but within a barbed wired yard. Mom marched up to the gate, informed the gaurds (sic) on duty she was a taxpayer and intended to not see the apples fall uneaten to the ground agian (sic), she was here to pick them with her two young sons. She'd make applesauce.

Unbeleiveably (sic) they allowed it, we picked apples on the prison yard. I liked my mom for throwing nice apples over the fence to the prisoners on excercise break in the actual yard. My brother and I were completely terrified the whole time. We never went back a second time, I suspect my father probably forbid it, or maybe my brother and I whining made the apples cost more than they were worth.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Brief Thoughts on Elfses

I recently got my hands on a copy of Margaret St. Clair's The Shadow People, and it is pretty clear that it played a role in inspiring Gary Gygax' drow. Actually, the drow are closer to the traditional depiction of elves than the noble, post-Tolkien elves that have taken over fantasy literature and gaming. The aos sí of legend are a perilous group, liable to kidnap surface dwellers, or bewilder them. They are a capricious group, an ominous background presence which should be placated by wary crofters, not the wise, benevolent elder-kindred of J.R.R.T.'s Middle Earth. I would posit that the greatest lasting legacy of Tolkien's writing is this elfin make-over.

Poul Anderson (writing contemporaneously with Tolkien) portrays his elves (in
The Broken Sword and
Three Hearts and Three Lions) as amoral, soulless creatures who have no qualms about using humans as pawns, and have developed an intricate culture simply to alleviate the ennui of immortality. In >Three Hearts and Three Lions, Holger Carlsen is told that the elfish duke may help him not for altruistic reasons, but out of a desire for novelty. Anderson's elves are sophisticated, while St. Clair's are primitive cannibals with some supernatural characteristics. I'll post a more detailed review of The Shadow People when I get a better handle on the book (it's a pretty odd read, and seems "dated"). I did, however, want to post briefly about how the "dark elves" of the modern fantasy industrial complex are actually more in line with traditional elfses or faeries than the modern "high elf" or "light elf" of Tolkien-pastiche modern fantasy.

Actually, I wanted to post briefly because I have been woefully remiss about writing.