December 19th, 2003

Clara Rihn, R.I.P., 12-17-03

Wednesday evening, I came home to the news on my answering machine that my "Grandma Clara" had passed away rather suddenly, probably as a complication of surgery on thrombotic leg veins that she was recuperating from. Clara Rihn was not my father's mother, in fact, she was Grandpa Earl's third wife. Dad's mother, Ella Zinke Rihn, and a baby sister both died as a result of injuries received in the explosion of a kerosene stove when my father was quite young, which resulted in Dad's being fostered with his maternal grandparents, George and Bertha Zinke. When Earl re-married to Evelyn he attempted to reclaim my father (Harold) from the Zinkes, but was driven off by George, so that my father continued to live with the Zinkes, while Earl established a new family with Evelyn, eventually begetting a daughter, my Aunt Edith. Earl and Evelyn were later divorced, and Earl married Clara, who had a child, Jack Koerner, from a previous marriage of her own, and eventually grandchildren on that side as well. So, as a boy I had: "Grandpa Zinke", who lived with us; "Grandma Lambert ", mother of my mother as well as an aunt and two uncles; and "Grandpa Earl and Grandma Clara," (The term "Grandpa Rihn" was reserved for Earl's father Alvin, and "Grandma Rihn" for the memory of his deceased spouse, who had been a notable termagant.) In the classic way of families who don't talk about certain things, it took us a while to learn that:
1) Clara was Earl's wife but not Harold's mother.
2) Harold's mother Emma was Grandpa Zinke's daughter.
2) Edith was Harold's half-sister, but not Clara's daughter either.
3) The Evelyn Rihn in the Baraboo phone book had been married to Earl at one time. (Although Edith showed up at family events, I never met Evelyn.)
4) Jack was Clara's son but not Earl's.

(Just to further complicate matters, Harry Lambert had married Elizabeth Clark (Grandma Lambert), and her brother, Great-uncle Robert Clark had married Harry's sister, Mary, so Elizabeth was Robert's sister and Mary's sister-in-law, and Harry was Mary's brother and Robert's brother-in-law. So much for classical linear nuclear families.)

Clara was the only paternal grandmother I ever knew, and she was good to us in a rather distant way. Grandma Lambert was the domestic, cookie-baking grandmother. Clara was younger, more social, more dressy in her fashion. She was a good wife to Earl, sharing his love of their small house in Baraboo, their succession of pampered cats, and, "camping" at their travel trailer which spent much of each summer at Devil's Lake State Park, where over the years Earl became almost an unofficial extra park ranger.

Now that she is gone, my family's oldest generation has all passed on. My father and Clara were never terribly close, but the loss comes at a hard time for him, with my mother's poor health meaning she is spending a second Christmas in rehabilitation care. The funeral will be Monday in Baraboo.

The Return of the King, 12-17-03

Oh. My.

As has become our custom, we went out to see Return of the King with the Burrahobbits opening night. Very seldom is a motion picture or artist's conception better than my visual imagination (I have a wonderful visual imagination, couple with an almost total inability to draw it out--). Return of the King was that rarity. I found Minas Tirith so beautiful that tears came to my eyes. There were so many other things that were so beautifully realized it is hard to count them all. The long shot of Arwen riding across the bridge to Rivendell is one. Andy Serkis in the flesh as Smeagol, and the transition scenes making his devolution into the wretched Gollum quite chillingly believable was another. There are so many others. Shelob was believable, but less terrifying than I might have thought, whereas Sauron's assault on Pippin through the Palantir of Orthanc was far more so than I expected. The army of the dead Oathbreakers was more scary because they moved with speed—something not usually associated with the undead. Gollum's blissful fixation on the Ring, even as he falls to his death clutching it, was perfect. Watch the frantic and expressive movements of the Great Eye as Barad-Dud crumbles under it. Frodo and Sam looked authentically worn out as they approached Mount Doom—subtle details like the chafing around Frodo's neck from the 'weight' of the Ring are just so impressive.

Of course there are quibbles. The computer army generators get carried away for effect: the armies you see on screen are way too big and far exceed the numbers declared. Think of it—a group only ten wide and ten deep is a hundred. Ten of those are a thousand. Thus you can see that the army of Saruman that marched on Helm's Deep had vastly more than ten thousand figures in it. The force that assails Mina Tirith would have to number in the hundreds of thousands, yet they are put to flight by Rohan's alleged six thousand, who, on screen, appear nearly as numerous as the orc horde.

Legolas' one-elf assault on the rampaging oliphaunt was pure showing off, and I would have preferred to have cut that a few seconds to give us an expanded version of the death of Theoden and the Nazgul King—keeping in Eowyn's speech that begins, "Back, foul dwimmerlaik!" and Angmar's reply, "I will bear you down to the Houses of Darkness--." Especially since Legolas could have achieved the same result with an arrow to the eye, and Eowyn accomplished the same thing with a swift double hamstring. I also wanted to see Merry screwing up his courage to strike the Witch-King. His sudden attack from behind (echoed by Sam's attack on the orc menacing Frodo in Cirith Ungol) tends to reinforce the role-playing game stereotype of hobbits as sneaky backstabbers. We may get some of this in the extended version, since the film's producer, Barrie M. Osborne, is quoted in today's Milwaukee Journal describing the demise of Saruman, the Houses of Healing, and the scene where Eomer discovers the fallen Eowyn on the battlefield, so there is hope.