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Magical Siberia: A Russian Take on Middle-earth
But did the map make the Soviet Hobbits more communist than their western counterparts?
A poor motherless kid and a runaway slave are floating down a mighty river, on the run from the authorities. Huckleberry Finn? Well, sort of. In a 1973 film adaptation of Mark Twain’s best-loved work, Huck and Jim speak Russian throughout, and river they’re navigating definitely doesn’t look like the Mississippi. It probably is the Volga, and the flat landscape that surrounds them exudes the melancholy bleakness that seems to chime with the Russian soul.
The movie is called Sovsem Propashchiy (Hopelessly Lost), and although a Soviet production from the middle of the Cold War , it has been called one of the more faithful movie adaptations of Twain’s American classic. Yet Soviet authorities were so nervous about their version’s perceived ‘anti-Americanism’ that they postponed its release by several weeks, to avoid embarrassing Comrade Brezhnev, then on a state visit to the US.
It wouid seem that fitting artistic content with another geographical context - and in this case, no doubt supplemented with a bit of ideological fine-tuning - leads to a strange kind of disorientation, providing fiction with an added layer of meaning that can have unintended relevance for the present. One has to wonder if something similar also happened with the translation into Russian of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit - the dwarves as toiling, dispossessed dwarves as symbols of the proletariat, the all-too-comfortable inhabitants of the Shire as petits bourgeois or, worse, revisionists?
The Hobbit is the prologue to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Both works describe Middle-earth, a mythical predecessor to our own time and place, give or take a few Ages. It is populated by Men, but also Elves and Dwarves, Orcs and Hobbits, Wizards and Ents, and many other creatures that seem to have stepped right out of (or rather: into) a fairy tale. Tolkien found the material for his yarns in ancient myths, and was inspired to spin them in order to provide England with the deep mythology he thought it lacked. The Shire and its inhabitants obviously are based on an idyllic view of the English countryside . It is less clear on which parts of the present-day world, if any, the other regions of Middle-Earth are based. But some fun may be had in speculating .
This map, however, brings something definitely Russian to The Hobbit. The map is the work of Mikhail Belomlinsky, who illustrated a translation of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by N. Rahmanova. The artwork provides the story with a decidedly Slavic ambiance, as incongruous here as it in the case of Huck Finn. Exactly what is so Slavic about this map - and whether or not it (or the translation itself) has socialist overtones - is a bit harder to establish.
- In the bottom left corner, we see what seems to be a collection of log cabins rendered in black, woodcut-like style: Хобитон (Hobbiton)
- One branch of an unnamed river, the first of three on the map, separates Hobbiton from Ривенделл (Rivendell); the other separates the latter from a place called последний домашний приют (posledniy domashniy priyut), the Last Homely House, as well as from дикий край (dikiy kray), literally the Wild Land, or the Wild Edge.
- What looks like a wolf and a mountain chain called туманные горы (tumanniye gori; Misty Mountains) separate the flatlands to the south from another river, containing скала каррок (skala karrok, or [the rock] Carrock) and beyond it a weathervane-topped wooden dacha, дом беорна (dom beorna): Beorn's house.
- What looks like a large, dark, northerly pine forest is called, appropriately, чëрный лес (cherniy lyes), Black Forest. It contains a castle named дворец короля эльфов (dvoryets korolya elfov), the Castle of the Elf King .
- The river flowing out of the Black Forest is called, adjectivally, быстротечная (bistrotechnaya), the Swift [River]. It feeds долгое озеро (dolgoye ozero), the Long Lake, which contains the island city of эсгарот (Esgaroth), all black and with turrets, looking like little Middle-earth version of the Kremlin.
- In the top left, we see the железные холмы (zheleznye kholmy), the Iron Hills, and in the top right, одинокая гора (odinokaya gora), the Lonely Mountain, patrolled by a small-winged, heavy-breathing dragon. At the mountain’s foot we find the English name of Dale simply transliterated in Russian, instead of translated to the rather pleasing-sounding долина (dolina).
So what makes this a particularly Slavic map? The Cyrillic lettering helps, obviously. And so do the log houses (didn’t Hobbits live in holes?), the wolves, the pine trees and the dark, brooding, xylographically rendered landscape. All somehow adding up to the conceit as if Middle-earth were some kind of magical Siberia.
But maybe there’s a deeper link between The Hobbit and the Russian soul than even this map suggests. For it seems that this work by Tolkien, even if so much more lightheartedly narrated than the Ring trilogy, meticulously conforms to the 31 motifs  that form the structural basis for much of Russian folklore, as described by the Soviet scholar Vladimir Propp, in his Morphology of the Folk Tale (1928).
And what about those ideological shifts, mentioned above? We'd need a textual exegesis; little can be said from studying the map alone. But since this translation apparently dates from 1987 (or earlier still), Communist inferences might be present. Could this Russian translation reflect the secret indoctrination of Soviet youth into believing in a Comrade Baggins, from the Soviet Republic of the Shire, defeating the Big Bad Capitalist Dragon? Maybe, maybe not. Many things have been read into Tolkien's work, but not yet, to my knowledge, a leninesque, pro-proletarian trait in the Hobbit psyche.
This map, found here, is part of a series, showing cartographic designs for foreign-language editions of The Hobbit, including maps in Portuguese, German, Swedish, Japanese, and Finnish (or Estonian, more probably).
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 Hopelessly Lost (Совсем пропащий) was directed by Georgi Daneliya, who supposedly infused Twain’s epic with some of the trademark wit of his native Georgia (the mountainous Caucasus republic next to Armenia, not the Peach State just north of Florida). The film participated in the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, featuring Roman Madyanov as Huck, and Felix Imokuede as Jim. Madyanov would go on to be a mainstay of Soviet cinema, but Hopelessly Lost was Imokuede’s only acting job. The Russian-speaking African was a Nigerian student at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University, which catered to Third-World educational needs. Preferably those of Soviet-leaning countries. As Imokuede came from a ‘capitalist’ country, his actor’s biography was sexed up and he was ‘provided’ communist parents.
 "The Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination - not the small reach of their courage or latent power," said Tolkien of the centrepiece race of his created world.
 See Strange Maps #121: Where On Earth Was Middle-earth?
 Black Forest in essence is a synonym of Tolkien’s name, Mirkwood, if a little less poetic. Similarly, the Castle of the Elf King is a literal translation of the Russian, but seems a a tad pedestrian when compared to the grandiloquent original: Elven King’s Halls. Do the translated terms sound equally terse in Russian, or is something lost in re-translation?
 These include absentation (leaving the security of home), unrecognised arrival (the hero arrives home or elsewhere, unrecognised), and transfiguration (the hero is given a new appearance).
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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