All posts by Lars Walker

Dr. Norvald Yri, 1944-2018

Norvald Yri

I learned today of the death (on Sunday) of a man I’d worked with and respected greatly. Dr. Norvald Yri was a Norwegian missionary and Bible scholar. Born in 1944, he served on the mission field for many years, both in Ethiopia and in Tanzania, and served as secretary for an international mission organization. He took his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1975, and was the author of several books. One of them, Guds Ja, was a commentary on Romans 1 through 8. I translated it for him, but we never found an English publisher.

In recent years he had been a teacher at the Fjellhaug Bible School near Oslo. He also participated in a Bible translation project. He and several others were unhappy with the Norwegian Bible Society’s most recent translation, so they produced an alternative one, based on the King James version.

I corresponded with him by e-mail for many years, but only knew him personally for a short time when he was a visiting instructor at the seminary where I work. He and his wife were/are splendid people, and I think he will be hard to replace.

Hvil i fred (Rest in peace), Dr. Yri.

‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’

They played a recording of this classic Grieg piece from “Peer Gynt” at the convention today. I thought I’d post it here, in the version I prefer, with the chorus included. The singers are frequently omitted from performances, and in my opinion, once you hear the singers, the impression lingers.

I’d always understood the singers to be singing, “Satan!” But it’s actually “Slagt ham!” which means, “Kill him.” The Underground Folk go on to explain that Peer has deceived the Mountain King’s daughter, and to list all the acts of violence they plan to inflict on him, in revenge.

‘Murder of a Silent Man,’ by Phillip Strang

Murder of a Silent Man

Yet another in an apparently infinite supply of English police procedural mystery series. I tried Murder of a Silent Man (I suppose I identified with the title) by Phillip Strang. It had certain virtues which I won’t deny, but overall I wasn’t much impressed.

Gilbert Lawrence is the murder victim in this story. He’s an old, reclusive man who only went out once a week, to the liquor store. No one would have guessed he was one of the richest men in the country, unless they noticed the large house where he lived, holed up in a small locked area. But someone took the trouble to stab him to death in his front garden, and now DCI Isaac Cook and his team must unravel the mystery. It’s compounded by the discovery of a human skeleton in an upstairs bed.

There’s no lack of suspects. Lawrence had two estranged children, one a prosperous wife, the other a drug addict and con man. For years his affairs have been handled by his solicitor and his daughter, who have been profiting well from his business interests – perhaps too well.

The great virtue of this book was its realism. It followed police procedure in a believable way. No flashes of genius insight here, no car chases or terrorist situations. Just solid police work leading finally to a solid – and undramatic – conclusion. I don’t mind that at all. Some people might want more bells and whistles, but I liked this approach.

What I didn’t care for was the presentation of the story. The prose was sometimes weak. The characters weren’t very vivid – the suspects were more interesting than the cops, but they weren’t all that fascinating either. We weren’t even given descriptions of most of the cops – except for DCI Cook, who is Jamaican by heritage. Apparently author Strang assumed the reader would have read the earlier books in the series and would remember earlier descriptions.

So all in all, I wasn’t greatly impressed. I did appreciate the realism, though.

Man of leisure, about town

Monday was for translation work and my novel. Tuesday was just the novel. Today was the Sons of Norway International Convention, held in a hotel down in Bloomington, not far from the Mall of America. I was not a delegate, but a volunteer.

I wore my Viking clothes. Greeted people at the door. Sold books (I’m almost out of Viking Legacy, which is suffering a bottleneck at the source right now). Stood in the sun for about an hour, showing people what path to take to get to the light rail line, for an outing to the big new stadium.

I think I was in violation of the law when I did that, because I was wearing my Viking scramasax, which exceeds the legal length for a sharp blade. Though I’m not entirely sure whether I was on a public street or hotel property. However, the cops who drove by didn’t hassle me. No doubt it was due to my dangerous, intimidating appearance.

Tomorrow, back for more of the same.

Exhausting for an avoidant, but I shall persevere. What does not kill me makes me very, very tired.

A man of leisure

I’m taking a week off from work. Having lost my job, effective the end of the month, I have vacation time left I’ll never use. So I’m using some. This is also the week of the Sons of Norway convention, here in town (starts tomorrow). Although I’m president of my lodge, I successfully avoided becoming a delegate. I did agree, however, to help in greeting people (who wouldn’t want to be greeted by an avoidant curmudgeon?), and to make some chocolate chip cookies for the hospitality suite.

Yesterday I made the cookies. I’m pretty good at this; used to make them all the time. But it’s been a while now. I forgot one basic element of the procedure – you mix up the wet stuff in the big bowl, and then stir in the dry stuff from the smaller bowl. I got that backwards, with the result that I poured the wet stuff into the flour mixture and had to mix that up. It came out OK, but I judge these cookies a tad mealy.

But hey, I’m giving them away for free. And Norwegians are too polite to complain.

Also, I got a little boost yesterday. Heard from the movie translation company in Norway after months of radio silence. They threw me enough work to fill up the rest of the day.

Occasional freelance translation jobs won’t replace my library position. But it was an encouragement, and the timing couldn’t have been better, from the morale point of view.

‘The Snowman,’ by Jo Nesbo

The Snowman

So I’d kicked the dust of John Verdon off my feet, and was looking for another mystery to read. “Hey,” I said to myself, “you’re gonna be unemployed soon. Why not check out the public library’s selection?” So I did that.

The public library site is kind of hard to browse, but eventually I hit on Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, another in his long-running Harry Hole series. And I thought, “I don’t love the Hole books, but this’ll be free. Give him another chance.” So I did that.

Takeaway: A readable, exciting book. Also overcooked and kind of annoying.

Harry Hole (pronounced “hoo-leh”) is an Oslo police detective. His colleagues often joke that he’s a specialist in serial killers, even though Norway has never had a serial killer case (his expertise comes from visits abroad). But now they’ve got one. They just hadn’t realized it. Continue reading ‘The Snowman,’ by Jo Nesbo

‘White River Burning,’ by John Verdon

This isn’t a review. It’s more of an adieu (hmm, there’s a song there, somewhere). It’s my farewell to John Verdon’s Dave Gurney series.

I’ve enjoyed this series, but White River Burning brought about that moment when (as Job said) “the thing I greatly feared had come upon me.”

I’d been concerned about the increasing levels of political messaging in the books. Not that I think that’s a sin – I’m an ideological writer myself. But I know I’ve lost readers because of the opinions I’ve embedded in my books. In the same way, John Verdon has lost me.

I didn’t get far into White River Burning, which centers on the murder of a policeman in a city torn by riots similar to the Trayvon Martin unrest. It didn’t take many pages before we were treated to a scene where a “commentator” on the RAM News Channel (which seems to be a surrogate for FOX) engages in open white supremacist rhetoric.

I can understand how a leftist might think that FOX is a forum for neo-Nazis fresh out of their white sheets. FOX is often criticized as racist by the left, but this is because leftists generally believe that all conservative opinions are racist. It isn’t surprising that author Verdon might think you can turn on FOX on any given day and hear its commentators calling for, oh, a return to Jim Crow and revived miscegenation laws.

But it’s not reality. And at that point I couldn’t overlook the political passion of the author. I wish him well, but I’m confident he doesn’t want my business.

‘Wolf Lake,’ by John Verdon

Wolf Lake

I continue my trek through John Verdon’s Dave Gurney mysteries, continuing the adventures of the retired NYPD detective retired to the Catskill Mountains.

In Wolf Lake, Dave and his wife Madeleine are headed for a week of snowshoeing in Vermont, when he is asked to look into a mystery at Wolf Lake lodge, which is located more or less on the way. He almost begs off for Madeleine’s sake, but – uncharacteristically – she encourages him to make the detour.

There they meet Richard Hammond, a psychiatrist famed – and notorious – for his experiments with hypnotism. He had been living at the lodge at the invitation of its wealthy owner, but now that owner is dead by suicide. On top of that, three other men have committed suicide in various places around the country. Each one was treated for cigarette addiction by Hammond, and each reported having an identical nightmare, before killing himself – also in an identical manner.

The local district attorney is building a case against Hammond, for “murder by hypnosis.” The whole thing seems crazy to Dave, and he continues to look for reasonable explanations, even as inexplicable things happen around him, and Madeleine grows deeply troubled but refuses to leave the place.

I thought, frankly, that Wolf Lake was a little over the top. Portents in nature, a prophetic madman, a snowstorm orchestrated to raise the stakes in the climax – some of this gets explained, but overall it seemed melodramatic to me. And the solution seemed contrived. Also, author Verdon appears to have grown more comfortable expressing his politics in his books. The evils of homophobia underpin a lot of the narrative.

I’m reading the next book, but I’m not sure I’ll finish it. I’ve liked the Dave Gurney stories, but a little more politics will put me off them.

Cautions for language and adult themes.

‘The Happy Wanderer’

First of all, thanks for all the prayers and support I’ve received after my announcement of losing my job – both here and on Facebook.

Second, I’ve been rather preoccupied, so all I have to post tonight is another happy European song from the 1950s. This one stretches my parameters a little, since it’s not an instrumental. But it’s European and happy, and I’ve always liked it. Memorized it long ago (three verses of it), without much effort.

The song has an interesting story. The music was written by Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller shortly after World War II. He had a sister, Edith, who was the conductor of a small children’s choir, the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir, in northern Germany. She adapted a poem by Florenz Friedrich Sigismund (1788-1857) to the music and taught it to the choir. In 1953, they performed it at an international music festival, and it was recorded by the BBC. It became an immediate sensation, and spent a very long time on the UK Singles Chart. Meanwhile it swept the world. The fact that many of the children in the choir were war orphans added a piquancy to the story and (no doubt) helped to build some bridges between old enemies.

The German version uses the chorus, “Falleri, fallera,” but several translations soften the phrase to “Valderi, valdera.”

If you like to hike, consider memorizing it. It’s a great song to sing while walking. I used to do it myself, when I was younger and lighter on my feet.

Redundant

If you’re one of the multitudes who follow me on Facebook, you may have noticed my post last night in which I asked for prayer, over a personal matter I did not reveal.

This blog post is to explain my situation.

I lost my job yesterday (Monday). I wasn’t told to pack up my stuff and get out; my job ends at the end of the month, and I have the option of working four more months (half time), or two months (full time).

But my present job will no longer exist.

This is due to altered circumstances, circumstances that have changed radically in the roughly five years since I started graduate school. At that time our accrediting agency demanded that a school must have a full-time librarian with a master’s degree.

Since then, the market value of a degreed librarian has fallen pretty steeply. Today the agency only asks that there be a librarian with an MLS somewhere around the place, occasionally. The operation of the library is assumed to be largely automated. Books themselves have become secondary to electronic services, which are the domain of IT people.

Bottom line: A fair amount of money (I won’t say a lot) can be saved by cutting the position of Librarian. I’m not entirely sure how they plan to get the actual physical work done – accessioning and processing, etc. – after I’m gone. But it’s no longer my problem.

I have small hopes of finding another job in the library field. What happened to me is happening everywhere. The few jobs that remain in the field are probably too technical for me.

So if you know of any copywriting jobs, or any openings for Norwegian-to-English translators, or publishers looking for sophisticated Christian fantasy, or anything else I might be adequate at, please let me know.

And pray for me. Thanks.

‘Peter Pan Must Die,’ by John Verdon

Peter Pan Must Die

At times like this he always recalled, uneasily, that everyone on earth at a particular latitude sees the same stars in the sky. But no two cultures see the same constellations. He’d seen evidence of the phenomenon again and again: The patterns we perceive are determined by the stories we want to believe.

Another novel in John Verdon’s interesting – and somewhat disturbing – series of mystery-thrillers starring David Gurney, retired NYPD detective. Now living with his wife on a farm in the Catskills, he keeps getting diverted from the peaceful, pastoral pursuits she prefers to various murder mysteries that people bring to him.

At the beginning of Peter Pan Must Die, Dave gets a request for help from his friend Jack Hardwick. It’s really more than a request, and his relationship with Jack is more complex than ordinary friendship. A constitutional rebel, Jack has helped Dave in previous cases by passing him information civilians shouldn’t get access to. Now Jack is calling his favors in. He’s been fired from the state police and has set up as a private investigator. He’s got a big case on the line, and needs “famous” Dave’s participation to close the deal.

Jack’s client is the wife of Carl Spalter, a hard-driving real estate tycoon who was running for governor. Spalter was shot fatally by a sniper during his mother’s funeral, and the wife was convicted of hiring the assassin. She thinks – and Jack agrees – that the defense was incompetent and the prosecution corrupt. All they need to do is identify the holes in the prosecution case, inform her new attorney, and bank their payment check.

But that’s not enough for Dave. What obsesses him is the solution, what really happened. As he examines the evidence, he discovers that the murder shot could not possibly have been fired from the spot which ample evidence shows the killer must have used. That’s only the first of the conundrums that will fuel his obsession and ultimately put him in conflict with – very possibly – the most dangerous human being he has ever encountered.

Like all the books in the Dave Gurney series, Peter Pan Must Die was fascinating and engrossing. But there’s something more – an unease, the constant dissonance in Dave’s marriage and the underlying knowledge that something is seriously wrong with Dave. He analyses everything except his own heart, and is blind to the subconscious urges that force him to put himself – and often the people he loves – in danger again and again.

Cautions for language, adult themes, and intense situations. Highly recommended if this is your sort of thing. The final twist is pretty good too.

‘The Poor People of Paris’

Spent most of my day on the road today, having to attend a meeting in Fergus Falls, Minn. So I’ll just post another cheerful European pop song similar to the one I posted yesterday — so that the young folks may know the glories of the past.

This one came rather earlier than the other. This version by Les Baxter and his orchestra came out in 1956. The original song, called, “La Goualante du Pauvre Jean de Paris” (The Ballad of Poor Jean of Paris) was first recorded by Edith Piaf. In 1954 it was translated by Jack Lawrence, who misunderstood the name “Jean” as “gens,” which means “people.” Thus the English title became “The Poor People of Paris.” Doesn’t matter much, since all the popular versions in English-speaking countries have been instrumentals.

I like it. Always have.

Enjoy your weekend!

‘Eine Schwarzwaldfahrt”

Due to a lack of anything to write worth reading, I thought I’d look for music to post. My memories flowed back to 1965 (I would have sworn it was earlier) and a certain kind of music that used to exist back in those days. Cheerful instrumental pop, generally emerging from Europe. One of my favorites was “A Walk in the Black Forest,” done by Horst Jankowski.

Wikipedia doesn’t tell much about Jankowski’s life, aside from professional stuff. But he would have grown up during World War II. Perhaps he knew starvation in the aftermath. So he produced happy music. A good response, in my opinion.

Maybe we need to have some bad times in this country, to produce some happy art.

‘Let the Devil Sleep,’ by John Verdon

Let the Devil Sleep

He’d long ago discovered that one way to get to a solution was to step away from the problem and go on to something else. The brain, relieved of the pressure to move in a particular channel, often finds its own way. As one of his born-and-bred Delaware County neighbors had once said, “The beagle can’t catch the rabbit till you let him off the leash.”

I continue to work my way through John Verdon’s very satisfying (to me at least) series of Dave Gurney mysteries. Dave, as you may recall, is a decorated New York police detective, retired. Now he lives on a farm in the Catskill Mountains with his wife Madeleine, in a relationship both loving and full of tension. She loves nature and growing things, and “lives in the moment.” He never feels alive unless he’s solving a complex murder mystery – which is why his retirement has involved one unofficial investigation after another, often stepping on the toes of the real authorities.

In Let the Devil Sleep, Dave is recovering from a fight to the death in the previous book which left him with both emotional and physical trauma. Then he hears from an old acquaintance, a female journalist. She asks him for a favor – to “look over the shoulder” of her college-age daughter, who is working on a journalism project. Would he give her some pointers? He soon understands that the real, underlying request is for him to help the girl investigate the unsolved case of “the Good Shepherd,” a killer who shot six people to death in their cars on lonely roads. They were all driving the same expensive model automobile. The killer released a “manifesto,” a fanatical screed against greed, vowing to wipe out all the greedy people on earth. Dave immediately suspects the manifesto is a smokescreen, which means that the working theory of all the investigators, including the FBI, has been wrongheaded all these years. Continue reading ‘Let the Devil Sleep,’ by John Verdon

Epic theology

Uhlfbert sword

Today is my birthday. I got more than 100 birthday greetings on Facebook, which is gratifying. At the restaurant where I eat most Tuesday evenings, I got a free hot fudge sundae. Now, of course, I’m exhausted by all the excess.

How did I spend my weekend?

Following up my radio triumph on Saturday afternoon, I decided to go to Wisconsin on Sunday – in spite of the ever present threat of Packers fans.

The town of Glenwood City, about an hour and a half northeast of here, hosts a small Renaissance Festival, “Ren in the Glen,” a little ahead of the Official, Authorized Minnesota Renaissance Festival starting later this month. Glenwood City’s is a smaller operation which (according to the old hands) resembles what our festival used to be like at the beginning, before it became Disneyland North.

A Facebook friend who’s a member of Folkvangr, a Viking reenactment group, invited me to visit their encampment there. And, contrary to my basic nature – perhaps suffering the lingering disorienting effects of four days in Iowa – I decided that wasn’t a bad way to spend the final day of my vacation.

It was a nice time, and the Folkvangr folks seemed to suffer from the delusion that I possessed a measure of prestige. One subject we discussed is a common one among reenactors – “What are the best and worst Viking movies?” This gave me the opportunity to trot out my old lecture on the differences between two Beowulf movies that came out around the same time, an Icelandic one starring Gerard Butler (which I loathed), and the animated one written by Neil Gaiman and starring Roy Winstone. I’ve written about it on this blog before. My view is that the problem with the Gaiman script is that it tries to transform a Germanic saga into a Greek tragedy. Greek tragic heroes die because of their tragic flaws, as Beowulf does in this film. But Germanic heroes don’t have tragic flaws. They’re always exemplary. They die just because they’re doomed. The point of a saga is not a moral one, but an existential one – we’re all doomed to die; our only control is over the courage with which we face it.

It occurred to me, thinking about it later, that there are theological implications. For a long time Christians have enjoyed Greek tragedies, understanding the idea of the tragic hero as a kind of metaphor for original sin. We die because we deserve to die; we chose badly. Whatever our other virtues, we’ve earned death.

But it seems to me a similar argument can be made for the saga. The saga hero is simply doomed from birth; a kind of original sin. The Norns spin out the thread of his life and cut it off arbitrarily. The hero’s virtues are also not enough to save him – not because of his choices, but because he has inherited the general doom of mankind.

In other words, the Greek tragedy is sort of Arminian. The saga is arguably Calvinist.

Now where else can you go to get that kind of insight?