Saturday, December 7, 2019

Natterings about Names

“Birches” by Robert Frost (1916)

They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—

          With a blog name like mine, I should be the last one to comment on the use of alliteration. I do admire it when it’s used well. Frost uses it skillfully to create the sounds of the forest reacting to shifts in temperature in the poem above. (And that poem just reminded me of what I miss about teaching, the detective work as you work through a poem.)

          Outside of poetry, alliteration just seems gimmicky to me. This all crossed my mind last night when I was flipping channels and landed for a few minutes on The Bat, a 1959 grade B movie if ever there was one. It starred Vincent Price and Agnes Moorhead, but the names of the secondary actors were sure signals of a lower level film. Price and Moorhead were both good actors even if they were usually in the type of movie that today would probably have gone straight to DVD. In The Bat were also Lenita Lane and Gavin Gordon, who probably went on to shining careers in shoe sales or secretarial work.

          In reading, give me a good Agatha Christie any day – the queen of cozy mysteries. Ironically, even though I write in that genre, I just can’t read most of the ones written today, partly because of the permeating number of cats, book stores, and recipes in them, and partly because of the number of characters named Linda Laurence, Bitsy Brown, and so forth. Too precious by half.

          Still, one of my favorite writers in Ruth Rendell, so there you are.

          And I just finished a book by one of my favorites of all time, Lisa Lutz. Everything I’ve read by her is brilliantly off-beat. Which, I suppose disproves my belief that anything with an alliterative name belongs in a second-class tier.

          And wait - Walt Whitman just popped into my head. Oh, and Sigfried Sasoon.

          Anyone else?


  1. I prefer Ngaio Marsh to Agatha Christie, though just to be peverse I like Agatha's memoirs much better.
    Alliteration is wonderful skilfully used, and a huge turn-off when it is clumsy.
    Alliterative authors: Danial Defoe and Graham Greene leap to mind.

  2. Lucy Lawless, who played Xena, Warrior Princess in the long running series quite a while ago now, but is currently starring in a series called My Life Is Murder. I think she is a detective in that one.
    I always thought alliteration was when almost all words in a sentence began with the same letter, unlike that poem above where the "c" is used only once or twice per sentence.
    I can't read Agatha Christie, her writing style doesn't suit me, but I agree with you that too many "cosy" mysteries have cats, cake shops and books shops lately. After reading a few, they all seem the same.

  3. I have liked Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Louise Penny and others. But I have come across the type that you have mentioned.

  4. Love the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George. In fact, was actually lucky enough to meet her at a writers' conference a few years ago where she was gracious and patient, joining us for lunch and sticking around for the full 3 days.


Thanks for stopping by and I'd love to hear what you think.