Thursday, February 1, 2024

Thumbs as art

My January 30 post "Hearts of gold, new shoes, dirty paws, and walking on air" included a video montage of scenes from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty set to the song "Dirty Paws." At one point, the video shows someone holding a black-and-white photo of a thumb:

In today's post "Wolves, swans, mirrored cities, and Kubla Khan," Alph came up, as both the name of the sacred river in Kubla Khan and the word for "swan" in one of Tolkien's Elvish languages. This made me think of Tintin and Alph-Art, the unfinished 24th Tintin book -- Hergé's "swan song"? -- which I had heard of but never read. I checked the summary on Wikipedia, which ends with this sentence:

Akass declares his intention to kill Tintin by having him covered in liquid polyester and sold as a work of art by César Baldaccini.

I'd never heard of that particular artist, so I clicked through to his Wikipedia article. One of his famous works is called Le Pouce ("The Thumb"):

Note added: In the song "This Country's Going to War" from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup, there's a bit where they sing, "They got guns / We got guns / All God's children got guns" -- but, due to the poor audio quality, as a child I always thought that what they were saying everyone had got was thumbs. This was reinforced by the body language as they sing that part, holding out their hands with thumbs extended:

Yes, I know thumbs doesn't make any sense in that context, but come on, was I supposed to be surprised at the Marx Brothers saying something that doesn't make sense?

I think I've mentioned before on this blog my uncle's half-serious opinion that Groucho Marx was the incarnation of the Greek god Zeus. When I asked him where that idea had come from, he said the thing that originally suggested it to him had been Groucho's duck-like walk, which made him think of Zeus taking the form of a swan when he seduced Leda, fathering Helen of Troy and Pollux. (Castor was a twin half-brother, fathered by Tyndareus, as was Helen's twin half-sister Clytemnestra.)


William Wright (WW) said...

Thumbs, and their placement, are critical for secret handshakes (in some religions, like Mormonism, given in temples... a temple/tower being one part of my response I just gave to a comment you left on my last post).

For example, the hand position you just describe in your added note with the group holding out their hands with their thumbs extended is, quite literally, one-half of one of these handshakes from the Mormon endowment ceremony. That handshake it forms a part of has a name, too, and that name just came up yesterday (again) in my post around various characters walking or running through the air.

William Wright (WW) said...

In fact, you could rewrite your post title "Thumbs as arta".

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Good links. Benjamin means “son of the right hand.” But what do you mean by “arta”?

William Wright (WW) said...

Arta is Elvish for "high, lofty, exalted, lofty". The imagery of Men in a war fervor holding up a token of the Melchizedek priesthood fits within my story, specifically of Numenoreans who in the end tried to exalt themselves by going to war (with Heaven itself).

By name, I was referring to more simply "Ben" as both men are called, so simply "Son", though the longer form works also, I guess, in a way.

Ra1119bee said...


And speaking of Big Ben, Ben Stiller and a film crew were in my neck of the woods
( Wilmington Ohio ) last month filming a movie titled Nutcrackers.

It was kinda cool to see the Murphy Theater all lite up with all the film
trucks and equipment.

I wonder if Ben made it down to the Serpent Mound in Adams County which
is only about 40 miles or so from Wilmington.

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