The images on my pottery are heavily influenced by kayaking, canoeing, and my work as a wildlife biology. I'm also a sucker for mythology, however. A childhood spent devouring Tolkien and Lewis will do that to a kid.

Long-term, I'm interested in exploring some of my thoughts about natural resource conservation... and doing it through the lens of mythological imagery.

To do this, however, I'm going to have to push myself a bit when it comes to representing the human form. I've always been more drawn (no pun intended) to the inhuman and the animate in the inanimate. There's less room for error with representations of Homo sapiens, however. We're utterly unforgiving when the nuances of shape and expression are a bit off... sucked down into the 'uncanny valley' we are.

This all makes the recent suggestion that I draw some centaurs (see my recent pottery giveaway contest) an interesting one.

Classically, centaurs were creatures caught at the sharp edge between the bestial and the spiritual. In literature, you have your 'noble' centaurs (the stargazers and warrior poets of C.S. Lewis's books and Hercules's mentor Chiron)... while on the other hand, you have the rampaging frat boy centaurs that Theseus subdued on behalf of the Lapiths.

In either case, it seems to me that there's a certain standard you need to rise to in depicting a creature with some 3000 years of western art and literature at its back.

I drew a female centaur (although these are comparatively rare in classic literature... especially before the time of Ovid) since the contest participant gave me a female image to start from.

Here's the best sketch out of the current batch (see below). As with most of my designs, I'm trying to rely on limited, hard lines, hopefully conveying a dynamic feel at the same time.

Because of this, the face is particularly hard. Ideally, it seems to me that centaurs should articulate a sense of tension... wisdom and violence co-mingled, beauty and possibly a touch of brutishness. Not the sort of nuance that can be easily whipped out with three strokes of a carving tool.

The final challenge- with the sort of 'mosaic-style' surface carving that I do- is to translate the drawing to the leather-hard surface of a pot. A centaur- with thundering hooves no doubt- seems a good subject for a drum. So- I whipped out a conga and re-did the drawing as a surface decoration.

On the whole, I'm not displeased... although it's interesting how the carved lines subtly increase the androgyny of the centaur. It wasn't my intention to give her an Adam's apple!

In addition, I goofed a bit on the bow. That thing looks way too much like a long-bow... not like the sort of thing Genghis and the boys would have been toting out on the steppes.

In fact, the bow in the carving looks better suited for ventilating French knights in the Agincourte mud. Still... if anyone would be able to wield a long-bow in motion, it would have to be a centaur.

I'll post further images when I fire and put a head on the thing.

_ The snow is trickling back into the bottomless volcanic soils of the Palouse, and I’m anticipating a return to the studio this weekend. Mixed emotions, to say the least- that was some wonderful, glide-worthy power for a couple of days.

Since I’m bereft of my clay time, I’m going to indulge in some remarks about ‘The Hunger Games’ series, by Suzanne Collins.
_ The three books (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) are teetering on the edge of becoming a cultural juggernaut on the level of Harry Potter, or 

(here I swallow a half liter of liquid Dramamine)


 They certainly passed the ‘white-knuckle’ test with my 12-year old stepson. There’s a major film adaptation lurking in the wings, starring the splendid Jennifer Lawrence (please see ‘Winter’s Bone’ as soon as possible if you haven’t already).

_ I totally get the hype (more on that in a minute) and I confess that I devoured the series, often fighting my family members over an increasingly dog-eared copy of each book.

But… I was left with a pretty sour taste in my mouth.

There’s actually a lot to like in the trilogy. Katniss (the protagonist) is a courageous, complex heroine in a desperate setting. It’s a wildly imaginative, dystopian world with revolutionary undertones. The characters are richly drawn, often flawed, dynamic and prickly. There’s some devilishly nasty social commentary as well.

(I’m about to move into spoiler territory here- Caveat Lector)

_ Here’s the thing….  I simply can’t get past the level of cruelty in the book. In my opinion, it crosses the line into sadism.

Let me throw out a few qualifiers here.

First, I have no interest in censoring literature- including children’s literature. Leave that to The State of Arizona.

 Second- I don’t object to violence, despair, sexuality, or other mature themes in books written for children. Kids are savvier than we often realize… and literature provides context, even catharsis.  Many of the best in the genre- from C.S. Lewis to J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman, treat with despair, mortality, and cruelty in their writing… but there’s a moral center- a sense of providence.

_ So when Suzanne Collins starts destroying some of her gentler characters, or torments her protagonists, I have to ask why?

Make no mistake- these books are being marketed at thirteen year-olds and younger (although I’ve seen them in weekly readers aimed at a younger demographic)… but in many ways, they’re thematically more aligned with George R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ series or Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’… both noteworthy for ruthless fate, virtue dragged through the gutter, and an cosmology that’s cold, almost bloodthirsty.

Mind you- I like both ‘Thrones’ and ‘Tower’. I even know a couple of pre-teens who have read ‘Thrones’, although I’d personally want to have a few pow-wows with our 12-year old as he digested that one.

_ ‘The Hunger Games’ is captivating in part because the events and character arcs are so brutal. The book evokes ‘Lord of the Flies’ on some levels. Innocent children slaughter each other with spears. The protagonist is forced to pantomime suicide, to ape a sexual relationship with another adolescent. I’m not sure if we should ever be ‘easy’ with presenting children with themes like these. I know that it’s a bleak, shrill world out there… but there’s a certain creeping normalcy in effect when we stop filtering how it reaches our kids.

The ‘Hunger Games’ series ends with ‘Mockingjay’, and that’s where it lost me. The climax involves the horrorific death of one tangential but beloved character, and the utter moral degradation of another. Katniss- indeed the entire network of humanity that anchors her- fades out in an unsatisfying, gray-shaded dénouement that fails to justify or redeem the ugliness that preceded it.

_ So- am I off base here? I’d like to field a challenge or two on this one… because I know a lot of good people who love these books.

One thing I know for sure, though- just because a book is addictive to kids (or anyone) doesn’t mean it’s healthy. I don’t know how many people remember ‘Flowers in the Attic’ a truly sickening goulash of incest, debasement and cruelty that was all the rage when I was a kid.  (Link to a slightly less negative review of Flowers). ‘Twilight’ isn’t quite in that ugly league, but in many ways, it’s more pernicious, with its passive, acquiescent ‘heroine’ (every copy of ‘Twilight’ ought to come with a complimentary burkah).

Note- I’m not implying that ‘Games’ is in the same rarified league of shame as ‘Flowers’ or ‘Twilight’. Collins has infinitely better chops as a writer… but more importantly, I truly feel that her intentions were honorable.

_ In the end, I suspect that Collins really wanted to write an adult novel, somewhere in the weird but fertile no-man’s land between horror, sci-fi, and dystopian realism, one that serves as a cautionary parable. The fact that she succeeds on so many levels makes me all the more frustrated that she targeted her work at the wrong audience.

Anyhow, let me know what you think.

_ P.S. Can we at least all agree that a marketing machine that spins off Hunger Games themed Nail Polish is a little depraved? I mean… did they even read the book?