When Charlie Chaplin Entered a Chaplin Look-Alike Contest and Came in 20th Place

chaplin contest

Charlie Chaplin started appearing in his first films in 1914—40 films, to be precise—and, by 1915, the United States had a major case of “Chaplinitis.” Chaplin mustaches were suddenly popping up everywhere–as were Chaplin imitators and Chaplin look-alike contests. A young Bob Hope apparently won one such contest in Cleveland. Chaplin Fever continued burning hot through 1921, the year when the Chaplin look-alike contest, shown above, was held outside the Liberty Theatre in Bellingham, Washington.

According to legend, somewhere between 1915 and 1921, Chaplin decided to enter a Chaplin look-alike contest, and lost, badly. A short article called “How Charlie Chaplin Failed,” appearing in The Straits Times of Singapore in August of 1920, read like this:

Lord Desborough, presiding at a dinner of the Anglo-Saxon club told a story which will have an enduring life. It comes from Miss Mary Pickford who told it to Lady Desborough, “Charlie Chaplin was one day at a fair in the United States, where a principal attraction was a competition as to who could best imitate the Charlie Chaplin walk. The real Charlie Chaplin thought there might be a chance for him so he entered for the performance, minus his celebrated moustache and his boots. He was a frightful failure and came in twentieth.

A variation on the same story appeared in a New Zealand newspaper, the Poverty Bay Herald, again in 1920. As did another story in the Australian newspaper, the Albany Advertiser, in March, 1921.

A competition in Charlie Chaplin impersonations was held in California recently. There was something like 40 competitors, and Charlie Chaplin, as a joke, entered the contest under an assumed name. He impersonated his well known film self. But he did not win; he was 27th in the competition.

Did Chaplin come in 20th place? 27th place? Did he enter a contest at all? It’s fun to imagine that he did. But, a century later, many consider the story the stuff of urban legend. When one researcher asked the Association Chaplin to weigh in, they apparently had this to say: “This anecdote told by Lord Desborough, whoever he may have been, was quite widely reported in the British press at the time. There are no other references to such a competition in any other press clipping albums that I have seen so I can only assume that this is the source of that rumour, urban myth, whatever it is. However, it may be true.”

I’d like to believe it is.

via France Culture/Stack Exchange

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Andrei Tarkovsky Answers the Essential Questions: What is Art & the Meaning of Life?

“An artist never works under ideal conditions,” says Andrei Tarkovsky, who, even under his own set of less-than-ideal conditions, managed to make movies like Solaris, The Mirror, and Stalker. (Watch them free online here.) “If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”


Tarkovsky calls that the central issue of Andrei Rublev, his earlier historical drama about the titular 15th-century icon painter, footage of which we see in the clip at the top. It comes extracted from the documentary A Poet in Cinema, essential viewing for those seeking to understand the mind behind all these singular cinematic visions. Tarkovsky used film in an art form in a way that no other director did before or has quite done since, which will raise a certain curiosity in any of his viewers: how, then, did he conceive of art itself?

Just before the beginning of the clip above, a disembodied voice put the question to him directly: “Andrei, what is art?” Tarkovsky, looking even more pensive than usual, declares that “before defining art — or any concept — we must answer a far broader question: what is the meaning of Man’s life on Earth?” An ambitious topic, certainly, but he, in his own way, embodied the very concept of the ambitious filmmaker. “Maybe we are here to enhance ourselves spiritually. If our life tends to this spiritual enrichment, then art is a means to get there. Art should help man in this process.”

Rejecting the idea “that art helps man to know the world like any other intellectual activity,” Tarkovsky made films from his lack of belief in the “possibility of knowing. Knowledge distracts us from our main purpose in life. The more we know, the less we know. Getting deeper, our horizon becomes narrower. Art enriches man’s own spiritual capabilities, and he can then rise above himself, to use what we call ‘free will.'” Those who subscribe to these views of the world and of art will find that his work still serves this purpose. Even many of those who don’t accept Tarkovsky’s austere philosophical premises have to admit that, if a perfect world doesn’t contain his movies, we’d probably rather not live in it.

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“Auteur in Space”: A Video Essay on How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Transcends Science Fiction

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Animated Introduction to the Life & Literary Works of Charles Dickens

The social role of the writer changes from generation to generation, but at no time in the history of literary culture have novelists and poets faced more competition for the attention of their readers than they do today. Before visual media took over as the primary means of storytelling, however, many writers enjoyed the measure of fame now given to film and pop music stars. Or at least they did in the age of Charles Dickens, whose tireless self-promotion and populist sentiments endeared him to the public and made him one of the most famous men of his day.


Dickens was “a great showman” says Alain de Botton above in his School of Life introduction to the author of Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and too many more great books to name. (Find them in our collections of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.) He was a natural celebrity before radio and television and, to the dismay of his more high-minded colleagues, “entertainment was at the heart of what Dickens was up to.”

But Dickens used his public platform not only to advance his career, but also to “get us interested in some pretty serious things: the evils of an industrializing society, the working conditions in factories, child labor, vicious social snobbery, the maddening inefficiencies of government bureaucracy.” Then and now, these are hardly subjects readers want to be reminded of. And yet, then as now, great storytellers can make us care despite our apathy and desire for escapist pleasure. And few writers have made readers care more than Dickens.

His “genius was to discover that the big ambitions to educate a society about its failings didn’t have to be opposed to what his critics called ‘fun’—racy plots, a chatty style, clownish characters, weepy moments, and happy endings.” Yet Dickens didn’t only seek to educate, de Botton argues; he “believed that writing could play a big role in fixing the problems of the world.” In this he was not entirely wrong, despite the anti-political sentiments of so many aesthetes who have argued otherwise, from Oscar Wilde to W.H. Auden.

Though he opposed many working class movements and had no “coherent doctrine” of social change, says Hugh Cunningham, professor of social history at the University of Kent, Dickens “helped create a climate of opinion” by emotionally moving people to sympathize with the poor and to take action in controversies already raging in the zeitgeist. In this role, Dickens preceded dozens of writers who—like himself—began their careers in journalism and sought through fiction to motivate complacent readers: naturalist novelists like Emile Zola, Stephen Crane, and Theodore Dreiser, and muckraking realists like Upton Sinclair all owe something to Dickens’ mode of social protest through novel-writing.

De Botton goes on in his introduction to explain some of the biographical origins of Dickens’ sympathy for the afflicted, including his own time spent as a child laborer and his father’s confinement in debtor’s prison. The conditions Dickens and his characters endured are unimaginable to most privileged readers, but not to millions of people in poverty around the world who still live under the kind of squalid oppression the Victorian poor suffered. Whether any author in the 21st century can bring the same kind of sympathetic attention to their lives that Dickens did in his time is debatable, but De Botton uses Dickens’ example to argue that art and entertainment can “seduce” us into compassion and taking action for others.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Gets Turned into an Interactive Web Film, the Medium It Was Destined For


Two radical modernists, James Joyce and Sergei Eisenstein, once met in Paris in 1929 and, “depending on who you read,” writes Dan McGinn, “are purported to have discussed a film version of ‘Ulysses’ and how Karl Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ could be depicted onscreen.” For many years, an adaptation of Marx’s dense political-economic critique seemed about as plausible as a film version of Joyce’s famously dense novel, which takes place on a single day, June 16th—forever after known as Bloomsday.


A great admirer of Joyce’s cinematic imagination, Eisenstein once remarked that “formally Joyce went as far as literature could go.” Given the conventionally narrative, realist route film eventually traveled, Ulysses, with its recursive digressions and hyperallusive interiority, seemed unfilmable until Joseph Strick’s admirable effort in 1967.

Just as Eisenstein admired Joyce’s literary experimentation, Joyce was a lover of Eisenstein’s experiments in film. He founded Ireland’s first movie house, the Volta, in 1909, and though the venture flopped a year later, Joyce’s investment in the aesthetics of film survived. Colm McAuliffe observes that Ulysses “deployed a whole range of techniques such as montage and rapid scene dissolves which are more commonly associated with the cinema.” Eisenstein “raved about the way Joyce had adopted a scientific approach to the story of a day in the life of one man,” writes McGinn, “putting almost every aspect of that day under the microscope.” After Joyce, Eisenstein said, “the next leap is to film.”

But if Ulysses went as far as the novel could go, Finnegans Wake exploded the form altogether, dissolving the boundaries between prose and poetry, subject and object, history and myth. Ulysses employed the techniques of film; Finnegans Wake imagined technology which did not even exist. It is a novel—if we are to call it such—written for the 21st century, and perhaps the only way it can be adapted in other media is through the internet’s nonlinear, labyrinthine structures; the online project First We Feel Then We Fall does just that, creating a multimedia adaptation of Finnegans Wake that “transfers” the novel “to audiovisual language,” and demonstrates the novel as—in the words of The Guardian’s Billy Mills—“the book the web was invented for.”

Conceived and executed by Polish artist Jakub Wróblewski and scholar Katarzyna Bazarnik, the project’s “main goal,” its press release announces, “is to show complexity of narration, language and meanings included in this masterpiece. Based on an interdisciplinary analysis, the work translates the text into the cinematic form.” As you can see in the short clips here, it’s a form much like we might imagine Eisenstein adopting to film Finnegans Wake, had Eisenstein had access to web technology. Central to the project is “an interactive video app… designed in order to enhance an experience of Joycean stream of consciousness.”

Selected passages and within them specific words, phrases or sentences serve as the basis for video sequences. Shots illustrating a passage are divided into four separate channels. The viewers have the opportunity to choose in real time which channel they would like to watch…. This system is supposed to reflect the tenets of Joyce’s fiction: that the book can be read in different ways, while the readers can solve its verbal puzzles, yield to the melodious rhythm or look for hidden meanings.

The project’s creators base their adaptation on the novel’s conceptual principles: “Based on a cyclical vision of history, the book is a textual merry-go-round, too: it begins mid sentence and ends with another one broken in the middle, which finds it continuation on the first page: the same anew.” And although they don’t say so explicitly, they also employ Eisenstein’s theoretical principles of montage: “Primo: photo-fragments of nature are recorded; secundo: these fragments are combined in various ways.”

In addition to a jumble of abstract images, the project’s short videos—as you can see in these excerpts—incorporate a wide range of voices, accents, and musical and sonic accompaniment. The only way to experience the full effect of First We Feel Then We Fall is to visit the site’s player and spend some time cycling through its dizzying collection of images and voices reading from the text, using the up and down arrows on your keyboard to move from video to video. As a key to understanding Joyce’s work and their own adaptation, the project’s artists chose the Joycean words “Meandertale” and “Meanderthalltale,”—“two of innumerable puns making up the textual labyrinth of Finnegans Wake,” neologisms that nudge us to read the book “as a ‘tall tale” wandering waywardly, looping backward and flashing forward, into the pre-historic past, and the origins of the human species.”

If Ulysses seemed unfilmable, Finnegans Wake truly is—at least in the conventional narrative language film has settled into since Eisenstein’s time. But in using the abstract vocabulary of avant-garde film and the post-modern technology of the internet, First We Feel Then We Fall has created an adaptation that seems worthy of the book’s innovations, and that authentically translates its vertiginously playful poetic strangeness to the screen. Enter First We Feel Then We Fall here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

R Crumb, the Father of Underground Comix, Takes Down Donald Trump in a NSFW 1989 Cartoon

Trump Crumb

Nature’s way is to take away from those that have too much and give to those that have too little. Man’s way, on the contrary, is to take away from those who have too little to give more to those who already have too much. 

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, circa 500 BC

Two and a half thousand years later, the ancient sage’s quote continues to resonate, especially in this election year.

Lest we get too gloomy, there is another quote I would like to submit:

And isn’t this a nutty kinda country where you can draw any irreverent, degrading thing about the most powerful people and nobody cares! You don’t get jailed. You don’t get persecuted. They just ice you out of the marketplace. 

R Crumb, Hup, 1989

Crumb is to underground comix as Lao Tzu was to Taoism, but the fame Crumb achieved in the late 60s and early 70s did not protect him from the 80s, “an awful decade” as he told the Observer. His astonishing creative output never flagged, but he hated the culture and struggled to make ends meet:

…it all gradually fell apart through the 70s, and by the 80s with the rise of the yuppies, Reagan’s election and the real estate boom. In California it was always about real estate ever since the Gold Rush, but the 80’s saw a new explosion of it. They went crazy. Everybody was getting their real estate license. They kept on building these hideous housing developments where we lived. It used to be farmland there when we first arrived, then everything became a fight. Dow Chemical tried to come there, we fought that. Then the Super Collider, we fought that. It was this constant battle against these forces of development and business. 

In 1991, he fled America for a small village in Southern France, a prescient move, given “Point the Finger,” a comic published two years earlier in his short-lived Hup series. The semi-fictional five-pager pits Crumb himself against real estate developer Donald Trump, billed as “one of the more visible big time predators who feed on society,” as well as “one of the most evil men alive.”


The then-42-year-old Trump is quick to take Crumb’s bait, piling on some insults of his own. He may not be familiar with the cartoonist’s work, but he knows how to mount an attack, with labels like “crass,” “venal,” “some kind of self-styled terrorist,” “the picture of negativity,” and “filled with hate.” Had Crumb set this smack down on a beach, Trump would be the bully kicking sand in the scrawny nerd’s face, as a couple of hot babes look on, admiringly.

In fact, the comic comes very close to ending on such a note. Two of Crumb’s characteristically powerfully-thighed females are on hand, ostensibly as members of his camp. Their heads are quickly turned, however, by an invitation to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s lavish Palm Beach estate. The Donald starts looking pretty good to Tracy and Marny, bedazzled by the promise of banquets, manicures, world-class entertainment, and a hedonistic after-hours romp with Trump and his then-wife Ivana.

The cartoonist, defeated, compares the tycoon to Trimalchio, the vulgar but loaded host of Petronius’ Satyricon, before preparing to take things out with the Lao Tzu quote at the top of this post.

It’s here that things take a turn for the meta, as Stan “the Man” Shnooter, the self-assured fictional producer of Hup, rallies Crumb to assert authorial control.

Crumb rewinds to a pivotal moment. In this redo, Tracy and Marny remain steadfast. The bully is frogmarched to the toilet to be given a taste of his own medicine. The saga draws to a close with the sort of acrobatic, questionably consensual, NSFW sex that has rained feminist ire on Crumb for years, as the unlikely conquerer savors victory in his preferred style.

Is it fantasy? Reality? All just a dream?

(Any way you slice it, I’m pretty sure Tracy and Marny aren’t the winners…)

You can check out Crumb’s 1989 Trump comic in its extremely NSFW entirety here or buy Hup, Issue 3 to read it the old fashioned way. Some of the tamer panels can be sampled here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Take UC Berkeley’s Free “Edible Education 101” Lecture Course, Featuring a Pantheon of Sustainable Food Superstars

edible education

Dinner at Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse shows up on a lot of foodie’s bucket lists. Its founder, Alice Waters, has been promoting the importance of eating organically and locally for nearly half a century.

With the Edible Schoolyard Project, she found a way to share these beliefs in true hands-on fashion, by involving thousands of children and teens in kitchens and gardens across the country.




We will all benefit from this revolution, though I can’t help but envy the kids at its epicenter. Back when Waters was pioneering California cuisine, I was suffering under my school lunchroom’s mandatory “courtesy bite” policy. The remembered aroma of Salisbury steak and instant mashed potatoes still activates my gag reflex.

The University of California’s Edible Education 101 course has been continuing the Edible Schoolyard’s work at the collegiate level since 2011. It’s a glorious antidote to the culinary traumas experienced by earlier generations. UC Berkeley students can take Edible Education 101 for credit. The public is welcome to sit in on lectures featuring a pantheon of sustainable food superstars, including Waters, author Michael Pollan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, above, and course leader Mark Bittman (you know him from The New York Times and his new startup The Purple Carrot).

Fortunately for those of us whose bucket list splurge at Chez Panisse requires such additional expenses as plane tickets and hotel rooms, many of the lectures are also viewable online.

The range of topics make clear that edible education is not simply a matter of learning to choose a locally grown portobello over a Big Mac.  Transportation, technology, marketing, and pubic policy all factor into the goal of making healthy, equitably farmed food available to all at an a non-Chez Panisse price.

A complete playlist of 2015’s Edible Education 101 lectures is here, or stream them right above. A list of 2016’s topics and guest lecturers is here. The Edible Education lectures will be added to our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

1,000 Vintage Postcards Show Famous Actors Performing Shakespeare’s Plays from 1880 to 1914

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We’ll never fully know how anything looked in Shakespeare’s time, much less how the Bard’s own plays did when first performed on the stage of the Globe Theatre. Thorough scholarship of history in general and Shakespeare in particular has enabled us to imagine and reconstruct such a sight with reasonable credibility, but only so much direct accuracy, since the development of photography wouldn’t happen for a couple hundred years. But not long after humanity got its photographers did those photographers begin taking pictures of humanity’s best-known dramas, and a set of particularly vivid examples survives on Emory University’s relaunched web site Shakespeare and the Players.

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The site describes itself as “an online exhibition of nearly 1,000 postcards featuring many famous English and American actors who performed Shakespeare’s plays for late Victorian and Edwardian audiences,” specificially from around 1880 to 1914. It “showcases postcards featuring the dominating actors of the time in roles from some of the more popular and oft-performed plays, like Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet, as well as those from plays not often performed, like Cymbeline and The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

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Slate‘s Rebecca Onion refers to scholar Lawrence W. Levine, who writes of how, in the 19th century, “many Americans, even if illiterate, knew and loved Shakespeare’s plays; they were the source material for endless parodies, skits, and songs on the American stage. Nor was Shakespeare fandom confined to the elite; in the first half of the 19th century, theater ‘played the role that movies played in the first half of the twentieth … a kaleidoscopic, democratic institution presenting a widely varying bill of fare to all classes and socioeconomic groups.'”

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Shakespeare and the Players first went live back in the 1990s, a project of English professor Harry Rusche, who has written an informative preface for the site in its recently redesigned form (with its images completely re-digitized). “Postcards on Shakespeare appeared in a dizzying array of contexts,” he explains, “some humorous and some serious; these cards of actors were only a small part of Shakespeare and of the card-industry as a whole.” A “mania for collecting” swept up their contemporary buyers, not to mention an appreciation for the stars of the day: “handsome men and beautiful women are always popular in any medium.”

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But plenty of them actually used these postcards for their intended purpose, about which you can learn more on the site’s postcard backs section. It notes that “the philosopher Jacques Derrida, in The Postcard, encourages us to read the two conflicting, yet resonating scenes — in our case, the Shakespeare image and the handwriting on the back — two sides of the postcards together,” an experience that may “be especially interesting to those of us born in the age of email, video conferences, Twitter, and text messaging,” those who will now wonder when a set of Shakespeare emoji will come along, providing us a means of continuing to incorporate these eternal characters into our correspondence today.

via Slate

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Discover the First Horror & Fantasy Magazine, Der Orchideengarten, and Its Bizarre Artwork (1919-1921)

Der_Orchideengarten,_1920_cover_(Leidlein)

From the 18th century onward, the genres of Gothic horror and fantasy have flourished, and with them the sensually visceral images now commonplace in film, TV, and comic books. These genres perhaps reached their aesthetic peak in the 19th century with writers like Edgar Allan Poe and illustrators like Gustave Dore. But it was in the early twentieth century that a more populist subgenre truly came into its own: “weird fiction,” a term H.P. Lovecraft used to describe the pulpy brand of supernatural horror codified in the pages of American fantasy and horror magazine Weird Talesfirst published in 1923. (And still going strong!)

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A precursor to EC Comics’ many lurid titles, Weird Tales is often considered the definitive early twentieth century venue for weird fiction and illustration. But we need only look back a few years and to another continent to find an earlier publication, serving German-speaking fans — Der Orchideengarten (“The Garden of Orchids”), the very first horror and fantasy magazine, which ran 51 issues from January 1919 to November 1921.

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The magazine featured work from its editors Karl Hans Strobl and Alfons von Czibulka, from better-known contemporaries like H.G. Wells and Karel Capek, and from forefathers like Dickens, Pushkin, Guy de Maupassant, Poe, Voltaire, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others. “Although two issues of Der Orchideengarten were devoted to detective stories,” writes 50 Watts, “and one to erotic stories about cuckolds, it was a genuine fantasy magazine.” And it was also a gallery of bizarre and unusual artwork.

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50 Watts quotes from Franz Rottensteiner’s description of the magazine’s art, which ranged “from representations of medieval woodcuts to the work of masters of the macabre such as Gustave Dore or Tony Johannot, to contemporary German artists like Rolf von Hoerschelmann, Otto Lennekogel, Karl Ritter, Heinrich Kley, or Alfred Kubin.” These artists created the covers and illustrations you see here, and many more you can see at 50 Watts, the black sun, and John Coulthart’s {feuilleton}.

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“What strikes me about these black-and-white drawings,” like the dense, frenzied pen-and-ink scene above, Coulthart comments, “is how different they are in tone to the pulp magazines which followed shortly after in America and elsewhere. They’re at once far more adult and frequently more original than the Gothic clichés which padded out Weird Tales and lesser titles for many years.” Indeed, though the format may be similar to its successors, Der Orchideengarten’s covers show the influence of Surrealism, “some are almost Expressionist in style,” and many of the illustrations show “a distinct Goya influence.”

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Popular fantasy and horror illustration has often leaned more toward the soft-porn of seventies airbrushed vans, pulp-novel covers, or the grisly kitsch of the comics. Rottensteiner writes in his 1978 Fantasy Book that this “large-format magazine… must surely rank as one of the most beautiful fantasy magazines ever published.” It’s hard to argue with that assessment. View, read (in German), and download original scans of the magazine’s first several issues over on this Princeton site.

via 50 Watts

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Handy Guide on How to Download Old Coursera Courses Before They Disappear

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Image by Mathieu Plourd, via Wikimedia Commons

On June 30th, Coursera plans to wind down its old e-learning platform. And according to this email the company sent around, any “courses and course materials on [that] old platform will no longer be accessible.” Concerned that dozens of older MOOCs could be lost, some have called this move a form of “cultural vandalism.” Others, like the good folks at Class Central, have created a very thorough and handy guide that will show you how to save the course materials (videos, slides, transcripts, etc.) before the June 30th deadline. You’re on notice. Start reading the guide and thank Dhawal Shah for putting it together.

For a list of MOOCs starting in the second half of June, click here.

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Hear Ernest Shackleton Speak About His Antarctic Expedition in a Rare 1909 Recording

What more harrowing story has the history of twentieth-century exploration produced than that of Ernest Shackleton‘s disastrous Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17? With one of their ships, the appropriately named Endurance, crushed by pack ice, Shackleton and company had to spend years far outside civilization, living in makeshift camps and ultimately using a lifeboat to make the grueling 800-mile journey to the hope of rescue. Though the heroic efforts of Shackleton and others ensured no loss of life among the men they led, making the expedition at least a success in survival terms, the famed explorer had had much better luck last time.




Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-09, also known as the Nimrod Expedition, took him and his crew nearly to the South Pole, setting a record for the longest southern polar expedition to that date. Or, to describe the achievement in Shackleton’s own words, “We reached a point within 97 geographical miles of the South Pole; the only thing that stopped us from reaching the actual point was the lack of fifty pounds of food. Another party reached, for the first time, the South Magnetic Pole; another party reached the summit of a great active volcano, Mount Erebus. We made many interesting geological and scientific discoveries and had many narrow escapes throughout the whole time.”

You can even hear that account given in Shackleton’s own voice in the video above, which captures the playback of My South Polar Expedition, an Edison Amberol wax cylinder record he recorded in New Zealand just a week after re-entering civilization. He returned to great acclaim, but also in serious debt, and so putting out a piece of merchandise like this, and setting out on the extensive lecture tour that followed, only made good financial sense. But before long, the celebrated Shackleton found himself at loose ends, becoming, in the words of journalist and politician Sir Harry Brittain, “a bit of a floating gent,” one who must have felt more than ready to take on a challenge as an ambitious Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

As vividly as history has remembered Shackleton’s Endurance experience, he himself came home from that second grueling voyage to little fanfare. He arrived in England not just during the news-dominating Great War but later than the rest of his crew, having given another lecture tour in America first. But this explorer, it seems, did not live for fanfare. Despite what happened in his second Antarctic expedition, he organized a third, the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, in 1921, though he died of a heart attack the following year, with the journey still underway. Shackleton enthusiasts, and there are many, can only imagine what tales that expedition would have given their hero to tell — and how they might have sounded on the slightly higher-fidelity recording media developed by the time he’d planned to return.

To hear an audio version of Shackleton’s harrowing 1914-17 voyage, listen to Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, which you can download for free if you sign up for Audible.com’s 30-day Free Trial program.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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