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Growing up a space child

I hereby declare this International Honor Your Influences Week. To kick things off, an appreciation of The Space Child's Mother Goose, which I recently mentioned a couple times. All quotes for purposes of squeeing over critical discussion.

More so than Tom Lehrer (whom I met later), the rhythms of Frederick Winsor are engraved in my marrow bones. I was raised on this stuff, and pieces of it tumble out when I'm not looking -- I rarely twiddle in forms he didn't use. Every few years, as an object lesson for the new crop of graduate students, my father would post outside his office "The Theory That Jack Built" ("This is the flaw / That lay in the theory that Jack built.") My mother's favorite was
    Little Jack Horner
    Sits in the corner
Extracting cube roots to infinity,
    An assignment for boys
    That will minimize noise
And produce a more peaceful vicinity.
Over the years, I've come to see her point. Though my favorite is
    Rock and Roll
    With self-control,
My Cybernetic Baby;
    The Laws of Mede
    And Persian need
That infants heed them--maybe.

    Foundations shake,
    Computers break
And Science goes Be-bop,
    But Baby's joy
    Is still the toy
With foolish ears flop.
As for what's so good about this book -- the loopy parodies of nursery rhymes1? The jaundiced opinions of modern technology2? The footnotes in verse3, sometimes less than helpful? -- supplemented by a glossary (called "The Answers") that often helps even less4? The philosophic fillips5? All of those and more.

What impresses me most now, leafing through my battered copy, is Winsor's craft. His verse (as good light verse must be) is spot-on, swift and deft and deadly sharp6. There's a reason many were originally published in The Atlantic. For all this and more, I honor it.


1. Little Miss Muffet / Sits on her tuffet / In a nonchalant sort of way. / With her force field around her / The spider, the bounder, / Is not in the picture today.

2. The Hydrogen Dog and the Cobalt Cat / Side by side in the armory sat. / Nobody thought about fusion or fission, / Everyone spoke of their peacetime mission, / Till somebody came and opened the door, / And there they were, in a neutron fog, / The Codrogen Cat and the Hybalt Dog; / They mushroomed up with a terrible roar -- / And Nobody Never was there -- Nomore.

3. The Pseudo-Anapest / Moves awkwardly at best; / His feet are long, uneven, and retractile. / Who hunts the beast in rhythm / Should take his meter withm / And still may only bag a Ptero-Dactyl.

4. Cymric is defined as Brythonic. Gee, thanks.

5. Russell and Whitehead and Hegel and Kant! / Maybe I shall and maybe I shan't. / Maybe I shan't and maybe I shall. / Kant Russell Whitehead, Hegel et al.

6. Hey diddle diddle / Distribute the middle / The Premise controls the Conclusion / This Disjunctive affirms / That the Diet of Worms / Is Borbetomagic confusion.

(The Answers helpfully points out that Borbetomagus was the Roman town that became Worms.)



( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 19th, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)
It's the sort of charming book that can (and will) be adored well before one gets all the jokes. Much like 1066 and All That.

Hmm. I think another honored influence post is on the way.

May. 19th, 2006 04:13 pm (UTC)
Oooo! Must Get Book. *twitch*

Richard Armour delighted my youth. Sillier than "1066" but in a similar vein.
May. 19th, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC)
*falls over on butt at icon* Where did you get that???

I always had mixed results with Richard Armour -- my favorite remains his Shakespeare book. "If the quality of mercy isn't strained, how is it kept from getting lumpy?" I imprinted on 1066 like a duckling on an orinthologist.

May. 19th, 2006 04:30 pm (UTC)
Stole icon off newspaper website--it's from the Desert Museum. (pssst, don't tell anybody)

Armour was just my speed when I was in middle school. "If Charlemagne was 7 times as long as his foot, how long was his arm?" Hilarious if you're in the fifth grade. 1066 worked better for me when I was older.
May. 19th, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
Whereas I don't think I met Amour until college -- or maybe late high school. 1066 would have been seventh grade.

May. 19th, 2006 04:36 pm (UTC)
Timing is everything. Armour is horribly silly and rather unbearable if you're in high school.
May. 19th, 2006 04:42 pm (UTC)
"The golden age of science fiction/Dave Barry/et cet ... "

May. 19th, 2006 04:26 pm (UTC)
Can I honour this?
If you were only one inch tall, you'd ride a worm to school.
The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
A crumb of cake would be a feast
And last you seven days at least,
A flea would be a frightening beast
If you were one inch tall.

If you were only one inch tall, you'd walk beneath the door,
And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
A bit of fluff would be your bed,
You'd swing upon a spider's thread,
And wear a thimble on your head
If you were one inch tall.

You'd surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
You couldn't hug your mama, you'd just have to hug her thumb.
You'd run from people's feet in fright,
To move a pen would take all night,
(This poem took fourteen years to write--
'Cause I'm just one inch tall).

Shel Silverstein
May. 19th, 2006 04:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Can I honour this?
The author of Where the Sidewalk Ends and Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book definitely deserves honoring. (Did you know he wrote "A Boy Named Sue"?)

May. 19th, 2006 04:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Can I honour this?
No- I didn't realise he wrote that classic piece (*cough) of musical history!!!
May. 19th, 2006 06:04 pm (UTC)
Now I've got book envy.
May. 19th, 2006 11:27 pm (UTC)
It can be yours....

May. 19th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
I was told about this book years ago and it was far beyond my reach. VERY pleased to see it has become available again, and at a reasonable price!

Thank you.
May. 19th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
De nada.

(Deleted comment)
May. 19th, 2006 11:25 pm (UTC)
You probably need a copy. Heck, the entire SFPA membership probably does.

(Deleted comment)
May. 20th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
I need a "successful pimping" icon.

May. 20th, 2006 07:29 am (UTC)
I love this!!

I tried to teach my nieces that the Battle of the Bulge and the Diet of Worms were linked, but they were wise to me.
May. 20th, 2006 02:04 pm (UTC)
Confess -- you got that from 1066 and All That, didn't you.

Jul. 17th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC)
Many years ago I found a photocopied page on the floor in a busy hallway of my high school. It had a few strange totemic little drawings around the border, and in the middle a bizzare verse that went something like this (from memory, pardon my errors)

Möglich-Wahrscheinlichkeit, mein Schwartzhenn,
Legt ihr Ei in das Relativwenn.
Sie legt kein Ei in das Positivdann
Weil sie nicht nur einmal postulieren kann.

Since I was studying physics and German at the time, I was fascinated. It was several more years before I discovered the source.
Jul. 17th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)
Hee. That's not that far off, your memory.

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )