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Was it possible that the great Tower didn’t actually exist? After all, no one had ever seen the entire structure, which kept vanishing from sight no matter where you stood. Except for a handful of visible bricks, the whole thing was little more than a collection of rumors, longings, dreams, and travelers’ tales. It was less than a memory. The Tower was a prodigious absence, a soaring void, a pit dug upward into the air. It was as if each part of the visible Tower had begun to dissolve under the vast pressre of the invisible parts, operating in every direction.

the towerIn Millhauser’s “The Tower,” he takes the Biblical Tower of Babel, but he changes it into another interesting place that makes the story unique from the Biblical story. Right at the beginning of the story, we are introduced to the setting of this tall tower that reaches up to heaven. This is similar to the Bible in that the people of Babylon were trying to build a tower that reached up to heaven, but they failed to God’s actions. The great Tower does reach heaven, but it presents different problems that are relatable to the human experience. In the story, Millhauser uses the horizontal versus the vertical world as a way of expressing problems such as the lack of mystery that came with reaching what was once unattainable. The main focus is to create a believable world in which drastic changes in our environment become ordinary and appear minute over time. He also presents the problem of communication in ways of messages traveling and making our stories sound more appealing than what is actually reality. This relates to how in the human experience we often exaggerate events that we witnessed so that our story and our lives appear more interesting. Furthermore, the idea of messages becoming changed over time as it is passed down from person to person is another part of the human experience.  It is similar to the game telephone in which the story changes over time and by the last person, the story is an entirely different story is comprehended differently.  This is also similar to how rumors are spread because details are changed and it can lead to what appears to be true to be false; similar to the mixup of what heaven looked like and what the plain city looked like.

“People began to turn elsewhere for the pleasures of the unknown and the unseen.” (157)

Millhauser’s story “The Tower” while using the fantastic element of exaggeration with the size of the tower, also makes use of the idea of duality in a never ending ‘grass is always greener on the other side’ metaphor.Multiple instances of this physical dichotomy appear: in and out, up and down, vertical and horizontal. More subtly, there is the mental dichotomy between the known and unknown that permeates the physical elements of life. The most obvious appearance of this contrast occurs when observing the people who live in and around the tower. Travelers would choose to settle into the calmer and easier life within the tower, while horizontal dwellers would feel the need to leave their portion of the tower in search of something else. This theme of duality reflects the continuous human desire for more and better things that, even when quenched are unsatisfied. This dissatisfaction can be observed in the reactions to the completion of the tower, a marvel that quickly passed into “daily life” that left the inhabitants restless and unfulfilled (156).

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Every day here is like deer season.  We are allowed to flourish in this space free of men our age, only seeing them when we choose, allowed to be more genuine relaxed versions of ourselves.  Do we appreciate it enough?  For us, it’s more than just one day a year, so the novelty wears off.  You don’t need boys to get into petty squabbles, but they sure help.  We belong to ourselves as much as we belong to the numbers we attach to our self worth. GPA, weight, shots on goal; this is what it is to be a girl.  It’s pulling yourself out of bed for your 9:00 am after staying up until 4:00 working on a paper.  It’s doing one more pull up.  It’s crying in your friend’s arms in a bathroom stall for reasons you don’t understand.  It’s raw emotions that you allow yourself to feel because there’s no man around to make snide comments about overreacting.  Here, we can be the best, the worst, the most genuine, and the most artificial versions of ourselves, and no one can tell us not to be.  Every day here is like deer season.

“It was said that no matter how close you examine one of the Master’s little pieces, you always discovered some further wonder.” (123)

In Millhauser’s short story “In the Reign of Harad IV” the point of view shifts from third person objective to third person limited omniscient seemingly for a main purpose of exposition and foreshadowing. By beginning the story in an objective point of view, the narrator is able to foreshadow the Master’s final goal in the first paragraph. This would be impossible to do with a limited omniscient point of view due to the Master not being able to understand how those who did not share his experiences perceived his work. Thus, the foreshadowing he would be able to offer would be of a different nature that could inform him but would not necessarily warn a reader. The foreshadowing that comes shortly after this first foreshadowing is offered by the Master; the Master realized that the “stirring restlessness” he felt was due to an urge to construct ever smaller creations (124). He could not even recognize when the foreshadowing of the restless feeling appeared to him.
The narrator, both objective and limited, is immediately trusted until the new apprentices attempt to view his new construction and praise him despite having “seen nothing” (131). This hollow praise calls into question the previous wonders the narrator described. The visit also enforces the Master’s isolation from the world as he sinks deeper and deeper into the world of the invisible.
The fantastic in this story is exaggeration. The Master creates smaller and smaller figures, moving from the visible world of miniatures and later crossing into “the dark kingdom of the invisible” (129). This desire to constantly outdo oneself, even to the point where the oneupmanship is impossible to perceive, as well as the “stirring restlessness” relates to the human experience of ambition (124).

…he understood that he had traveled a long way from the early days, that he still had far to go, and that, from now on, his life would be difficult and without forgiveness.

“In the Reign of Harad IV” has an excellent example of an unreliable narrator. Theimages
protagonist, a master miniaturist in the service of Harad IV  becomes dissatisfied with the work he is doing one day and resolves to challenge himself by making something smaller. He crafts tiny baskets of apples, a tower contained within a thimble, and many other wonders.  With each achievement the
kingdom is awed but he still feels restless and begins to inch down to a scale not visible to the eye without some aid from magnifying glasses.  Eventually he reaches the realm of the invisible and can no longer see his work even with the aid of magnifying glasses, but he “knows it’s still there”.  This is where an unreliable narrator comes in and tests the suspension of our belief. Is there really “an ivory oblong box” or a “peacock, radiant with unseen colors?”  The Master knows they’re there but knows also that no one else can see them.  Are they really there? We don’t know.  All we know is what he has told us and we must choose whether he is someone we’re willing to trust.

 

The other town, when we enter, suddenly casts over our town a therness, an otherness, which we find pleasing, if a litle confusing. It’s almost as if we can’t feel our town, cannot know about it, until we’re there, in the other town, imagining our town on the other side of the woods. So perhaps it’s true, after all, that when we visit the other town we aren’t escaping from our town, as some say, but entering it at last.

the other town“The Other Town” is a mysterious yet intriguing quite story that grabs the reader into these two towns—vastly similar, but also noticeably different. The story is approached from both an objective point of view and first-person point of view. The story is written almost like a newspaper article, but we the narration is objective because the narrator themselves live in the town and is critiquing the actions as well as opinions of other citizens in the town. Similar to the “The Dome,” this story is written to inform the reader of a place we are unfamiliar with and show us what makes this place different from what we know as the familiar. Millhauser chooses not to follow the common format of stories such as the presence of a protagonist or antagonist. Instead, Millhauser focuses in on the setting of the story and creates in detail, a conflict between the two towns. Millhauser approaches the conflict of the story in an obscure way, which brings out the fantastic. He presents the conflict by detailing how the citizens interact and are so involved with the other town as well as the lack of secrecy that the replication of the other town brings. Millhauser’s creation of the other town, which sole purpose is to replicate the lives of the main town, reminds me of social media and reality television. Similar to the citizens in the story, who often don’t realize what is going on where they live in until they go to the other town, social media users often don’t realize what occurs in their own homes or town until it is through the camera lens or post of another person. Along with the precise replication of the town which invades others privacy. Social media and reality television can open the curtain to no privacy and it can expose the missteps or blemishes in people’s lives. It may seem enjoyable and entertaining when we are looking into someone else’s life, but when it is our own it can be perceived as intrusive. I think Millhauser used such a strange setting and circumstance of having a replicated town to reinforce the differences of perception: the outside looking in vs. the inside looking out.

… and as he sank below the crust of the visible world, into his dazzling kingdom, he understood that he had traveled a long way from the early days…” (p. 131)

Millhauser injects the fantastic into his short story “In the Reign of Harad IV” as he describes a king’s craftsman, the Master, who is an expert at creating extremely small, detailed miniatures. When the main character is first introduced, the story seems relatively realistic even with the detail that the Master has been asked to refurnish the king’s “toy castle” with more than 600 miniature rooms. At first, the descriptions of what he creates are comparable to real-life small things we know, such as a “miniature orchards a basket of brilliantly lifelike red-and-green apples, each no larger than the pit of a cherry, and as a finishing touch he had placed on the stem of one apple a perfectly reproduced copper fly.” (p. 124)

The story veers into the fantastic, though, as the Master is driven to carve even smaller objects, so tiny they are practically invisible to the human eye. It is fantastic how insanely small these miniature pieces become, edging toward the impossible: “From the pit of a cherry he carved a ring of thirty-six elephants, each holding in its trunk the tail of the elephant before it.” (p. 125) The Master then begins creating pieces that are in the “realm of the invisible,” (p. 126) crossing over into projects that are so small that no one can actually see them with their own eyes. The Master recreates the King’s toy palace in exquisite detail, but all of  it is “entirely invisible to the naked eye.” As the Master works on his “imaginary kingdom,” (p. 129) he becomes so focused and concentrated on working within his new, invisible world that he becomes isolated from the rest of the real palace and people while his old apprentices take over his old tasks.

I think this story relates to the human experiences of loneliness, isolation, ambition, and being replaced.

“I felt like a damn fool whenever I actually said anything about this kind of feeling and she looked at me like she could start hating me real easy and so I was working on saying nothing, even if it meant locking myself up.”

Butler chooses to have us read it from first person point of view which is effective because it gives us his direct and immediate thoughts. We may struggle to understand that “hello” means “You are still connected to me, I still want only you.” With the point of view given we also are able to read the story as if it were actually through his eyes. This allows us to view the wife as he would be viewing her. It also allows us to see the world in a different way. This creates an interesting aspect in the reading of the story. Another smart choice is to have this character that was quiet and self-sheltered turn into a parrot in his afterlife. He essentially turned himself into a parrot at the end of his life, so he returned as one. Could this be a comment on how people affect their reincarnation by the choices they make in life? Is it possible that they we end our lives is the way we will start it in the next one? If so, Butler makes this comment hilarious and depressing. Having the husband die from suffering head trauma and having him kill himself with head trauma is a startling and heartbreaking detail. It’s made more heartbreaking through the fact that he gets another chance to be with his wife, only to be tortured by watching her infidelity. As we’ve continually discussed in class, this is a comment on the human experience of mistrust and grief.

“But now she appears from the hallway and I look at her and she is still slim and she is beautiful, I think—at least I clearly remember that as her husband I found her beautiful in this state. Now, though, she seems too naked. Plucked. I find that a sad thing. I am sorry for her and she goes by me and she disappears into the kitchen. I want to pluck some of my own feathers, the feathers from my chest, and give them to her. I love her more in that moment, seeing her terrible nakedness, than I ever have before.”

parrotThrough the portraying of reincarnation of a husband into a bird with the first-person point of view, we are able to hear the thoughts and emotions of the deceased husband (the parrot) who sees his former wife sleeping with various men. We are also able to learn about his death as a human being which was due to her unfaithfulness to him. What makes this story fantastic is not just the reincarnation, but how Olen uses this unique circumstance to bring out the human experience. The human experience that we see in this story is the former marriage of a man, whose wife has been unfaithful to him, how she has easily moved on despite his death, and his love for her in spite of her adulterous behavior. I think the theme of this story is: undying love, loss, and the power of love–even if it means death due to the unattainable love you so desperately need and want. I think that Olen chooses the parrot not just for humor, but also to portray the lack of language/communication that not only hinders the parrot from expressing himself to his wife or to the men she is sleeping with, but it also symbolizes his lack of communication with her during their marriage, when he knew she was cheating and lying to him when she said, “I love you.” I think the lack of communication illuminates the pain of the parrot’s love for his wife both before his death and as a parrot, which helps us as readers to empathize with him.

 Eisenheim deliberately crossed boundaries and therefore disturbed the essence of things.” p. 235

Millhauser’s story, “Eisenheim The Illusionist,” is a story about the fantastic story of the illusionist who crosses boundaries between reality and magic. Further, into the short story, we discover how some of his tricks seem to have a fantastic presence instead of being mere tricks that had reasonable explanations. Millhauser describes how the audience eventually couldn’t understand how his performances worked, as in the mirroring mirror in which the identical image of the person stabs themsUnknown-1elves, dies, and their ghosts would float up. It begins to get extremely clear that this was a fantastic story that cannot happen in our reality later on, especially when Eisenheim conjures up the first girl from thin air, then the two younger children that charm the crowds and create an obsession with them. Eisenheim would concentrate for a while until a black fog would appear, and then turn into the form of the children. It is even said how the boy’s parents died long ago, and that he did, too. The audience members would reach out to touch them, but their hands would go through them. At the end when Eisenheim was being arrested, Herr Uhl’s hands go right through him, Eisenheim now a ghost-like, magical being as his creations were. After that, his entire being went darker and disappeared into nothingness. The surrealness of the story in which he performs these illusions that are utterly impossible and does the impossible to himself, as well, is very fantastic. The character Eisenheim, himself, is quite fantastic with what he does, but also his personality is very wild as he masks himself, creating a rival for himself, against himself, and at the end, revealing it was actually him. I love how this story steps the line of reality and of the fantastic, just as magic tricks do, but this story is on a real magic level, crossing the line into completely fantastical.

“Eisenheim the Illusionist” By Steven Millhauser is told in the form of a biography. While fictional biographies have a first person point of view as a general rule, this short story’s narrator attempts, to the best of their ability, to tell this from a third person dramatic point of view, employing first person terms such as “we” as little as possible (216). Millhauser’s choice to format the story in such a manner makes the reader believe in the reliability of the narrator, leading us to believe in the world within the story, because it is difficult to know who the narrator is. Another choice of Millhauser’s is to set the story in a historic time period and include actual events, places, and people. This also cements our trust in the narrator, as we know, or can discover, that all aspects of the world mentioned around the fantastic were indeed real at the time, such as “The Mysterious Orange Tree, a feat made famous by Robert-Houdin” (218). This increases the realism of not only the setting but also Eisenheim’s beginnings as an illusionist. “Eisenheim the Illusionist” is a story about power struggles. The story is set in a time when the Hapsburg Empire “was nearing the end of its long dissolution” as magicians and illusionists became increasingly popular (215). The increase of magicians could be a metaphor for how people didn’t wanted to escape from the real world into a world of pretend. Eisenheim however did not stop at simply poking into the world of illusions from reality but instead “deliberately crossed boundaries” (235) By blurring the boundaries between reality and illusions he was perceived as attempting to injure the already wet empire by implying that boundaries did not matter. He then disappeared before he could be punished and like many failed revolutionaries faded from the memory of all but the most devoted of his followers.

For the dome, but you say, how to transform the entire country into a gigantic mall, whose sole purpose is to encourage feverish consumption.” (p. 118)

 

Millhauser’s short story, “The Dome,” has an extremely fantastic world in which these domes are invented that are able to cover, protect, and isolate a house, and then it describes the rise of these domes, eventually spiraling into domes covering communities, cities, and then eventually the whole United States. The fact that they are able to cover such large portions of land in this world with such a large dome is impossible and definitely not realistic, but the author describes it as if it was bound to happen once the house domes began. It is fantastic how the citizens of this world are able to control the weather within the dome, and how the fact of living under a dome automatically makes everything under it artificial, not natural, and not realistic. A quote that expresses this perfectly is, “The hills, the streams, the woods, the fields, all have Unknowncommon elements in a new decor, an artfully designed landscape- designed by the mere fact of existing under the dome.” (p. 119) The narrator mentions how even murder itself isn’t taken seriously now that they seem to be in an artificial and fake world. Nearing the end of the story, the author explains how they are devising plans to create a dome cover for the entire world, which in our reality, is ridiculous and not something that could actually happen. I think the way it relates to real life and our human experience, though, is how technology and inventions can seem successful, but can get out of hand with how they are used, along with showing how the most amazing inventions can have their negative impacts on the world or on people.

“No doubt we shall never rest content until the great All is enclosed in a globe of transparent Astrilume.” (120)

“The Dome” uses exaggeration as an element of the fantastic. The domes share characteristics with a greenhouse or a snow globe, creating an artificial environment that’s better for whatever is inside than the outside environment and can be entirely cut off from said outside environment. The objective third person omniscient point of view gives the story the vibe of a historical document. This makes the narrator appear trustworthy and nonbiased. The society within the story is quite interested in both isolation and control to such an extent that the society itself is fantastic, also due to exaggeration. The quote is an example of exaggeration, a once individualized construction being expanded to the entire world. Through this use of exaggeration, Millhauser is able to employ the fantastic in a manner that could be realistic and could even conceivably happen, on a less exaggerated scale in the real world.

dome biosphere 2

 

Indeed, one might argue that under the regime of the Dome, the country has become not a mall but an immense hall of entertainment, in which every citizen is a player. Certain unpleasant facts of life—rundown neighborhoods, traffic accidents, robberies, drive-by shooings—are in this view taken less seriously, since they are felt to be part of the artificial displays under the Dome. Death itself is losing its terror, has come to seem little more than a brilliantly contrived effect.

“The Dome” by Steven Millhauser is fantastic in that the dome is an allegory to technology, capitalism, and how humans get carried away with new inventions and the conflict that new technology brings. The story is told from a third-person objective point of view. Instead of relying on dialogue, Millhauser describes the dome as if it is in a history textbook or a column in the newspaper. This makes the story seem more authentic and plausible. In the beginning, the conflict because apparent when the manufacturer tries to fix consume’s small problems with the dome, but as time progresses and more people who own the dome have problems that become too much for the manufacturer to fix. This conflict is exaggerated but is portrayed in a unique way because the realism within the story shines through the fantasy. The allegory that the dome exemplifies is how the human race possesses something new, but it quickly becomes problematic or unsatisfactory to us, and before we realize it, it takes away the reality that we once had within our lives. The ways in which Millhauser displays the dome makes me wonder whether he was influenced by the rise of cell phones, computers and how it would change our lives to be unauthentic and unsatisfactory.

The Pard

Read this article and then compose a short short story that makes use of the fantastic. Your story should be entitled “The Pard.” You will then read it to the class.

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wordle wordle!

Was that the beginning? Was it the first sign of a disturbance that had been growing secretly?

The fantastic in this story is surprisingly normal. Thinking about the meaning of words makes them become distorted. They end up meaning more when you think about them because their definitions take on the word itself. The fantastic becomes weird when the main character starts to ruin his relationships in order to prevent the discomfort that comes from the thought of words. The feeling of discomfort that comes from thinking about words too much is a fleeting feeling for us and in the beginning of the story it is fleeting for the main character too, but he latches onto that discomfort and allows it to engulf him. Millhauser causes an interesting reaction from the story. When the main character starts to obsess over the words we start to question their meanings and how our response to those words will affect their meaning. Its a smart choice by Millhauser because it makes the fantastic jump off the pages.

[T]hat single word, “love,” was trying to compress within itself a multitude of meanings, was trying to take many precise and separate feelings and crush them into a single mushy mass, which I was being asked to hold in m
y hands like a big sticky ball.

We’ve talked a lot about the choices a writer makes in this class, especially about point of view.  In “History of Disturbance,” Millhauser uses second person, which up until this point, we haven’t seen a lot of in this class.  The interesting thing about how Unknown
this story is told, is that at the beginning, the narrator is addressing Elane and using what seems like straightforward second person.  This begins to shift however, as we see that it’s really being told from more of a first person perspective addressed to a specific audience who is constantly being referenced.
The narration becomes much more of a self reflection as the story develops. One of the things I found ironic about this story was that despite becoming disenchanted and uneasy with the use of words, even refusing to write things down, he is still choosing to tell this story.

Millhauser also employs the tactic of starting the story at the end (in present tense) and reflecting back on what has lead up to this point.  If he had started the story at the lake, instead of at the end of the story the tone would’ve been less clear.  We wonder why Elaine is so patiently furious, what this narrator has done to her to make her so upset.  These choices Millhauser makes, set us up to maintain our interest throughout the story, they keep us reading, wanting to find out what happens next.

You turned slowly to me. I remember the lazy roll of your head, your cheek against the vinyl strips, your hair flattened on one side, your eyelids sleepy. You said, “Do you love me?” Your voice was flirtatious, easy—you weren’t asking me to put a doubt to rest. I smiled, opened my mouth to answer, and for some reason recalled the afternoon at Sandy Point. And again I felt that burst of irritation, as if words were interposing themselves between me and the summer night. I said nothing. The silence began to swell. I could feel it pressing against both of us, like some big rubbery thing. I saw your eyes, still sleepy, begin to grow alert with confusion. And as if I were waking from a trance, I pushed away the silence, I beat it down with a yes yes yes, of course of course. You put your hand on my arm. All was well.

Steven Millhauser’s story uses sensory detail in order to explain the world that the narrator wants to live in with his wife. The story includes very little dialogue because the narrator is focused on the sounds and sites around him, and the emotions these things invoke in him. Because the story is a written first person, there is a lack of understanding of the world that the readers are familiar with more dialogue, but this allows for us as the reader to be captured into the world that the husband sees and understand what that world would be like. The readers are engulfed into the husband’s head in order to sympathize with him and understand where he is coming from with wanting a place with little to no words. In one way, the husband is similar to a lot of men because he doesn’t understand why his wife asks questions like, “Do you love me?”. He dissects what seems like a simple question, but his own interpretation of the question causes the reader to understand the problems that words cause. The details of the sounds and places are more in-depth and it is appreciated more because of the lack of dialogue. Through this sensory lens, we are more appreciative of things that often get ignored because of what a person is saying or why they are saying. This story is very interesting because Millhauser is a writer so words are important to him and they are important in the story because they are what makes the scenes come alive, but the story shows the importance of silence and the amazing world you see in silence.

 

I’ve seen krill accelerate toward the maw of Team Whale, streaming bubbles, a mute shrimp battle cry.” (p.140)

In Russell’s short story, “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating,” the narrator goes into detail about these Food Chain Games in the Antarctic between whales and krill. This story is very fantastical because it takes this wild, crazy idea that made into a sports-game-esque guide in how to be prepared for and how to have a great tailgate at this much-anticipated game. Right off of the bat, the fact that one must completely say goodbye to their family, leave their job, and prepare for their own death is quite extra for a game, but in this world, that is a normal measure in preparation for the games, doing this every time before another game. It is also fantastical that the narrator travels to the Antarctic so early for the games, saying, “Honestly, for the March game I like to get down to the Ross Ice Shelf by mid-January.” (p.136) The elements around the character in this world are fantastical, too, mentioning that the “water will taste a little like movie popcorn unless you doctor it with Tang or Crystal Light lemonade. (p.138) The krill below are personified very much as the narrator and others cheer them on from above. He says, “Do they understand what they are seeing with their shrimpy compound eyes? Yes. Definitely.” (p.140)  Another silly fantastic part of the piece is that Team Whale’s costume costs so much, like when he says that “Just the fin portion costs three thousand dollars.” (p.141) The narrator eats whale meat off of hot coalsUnknown
with his teeth, which is obviously far from our normal reality, but the character’s specialty. The fact that there is traffic in the straits is an amusing fantastical detail, imagining this world where many boats are trying to get to this game in the freezing Arctic with their boats. The skua eating the kid after Team Whale had killed him is pretty gross, but fantastical as well since birds do not eat human meat. Another fantastical thing is the fact you can “lose at tailgating” because tailgating in our normal world is something that is supposed to be enjoyable, no rules, and not at all competitive, but in this world, tailgating at this specific game has many requirements to survive and is very competitive. And, lastly, the quote “Krill will surge along either side of your boat in a rosy pregame warm-up. Lots of excitement in the frozen air.” (p.144) expresses the fantastic images of krill being able to do warm-ups for their games and the krill knowing what is going on, along with such excitement in such a cold environment.

 

 

“Rule Five-A: If your wife leaves you for a millionaire motel-chain-owning douchebag fan of Team Whale, make sure you get your beloved mock-bioluminescent Team Krill eyestalks out of the trunk of her Civic before she takes off” (141)

In a second person narrative it can be difficult to convey any life of the narrator to the reader. Russell frames this story as a list of instructions, but instead of making it impersonal, and thus quite boring, and inserts life into it using narrative voice. The narrator reveals bits of his personal life via the instructions provided to the reader. The narrator is unreliable in hisdescription of what exactly occurs at the so-called tailgates. The descriptions of Team Whale seem as though they would be fairly typical of most whale watching ships, even ones that go so far south. The seeming disdain that Team Krill receives would also be typical for people who would uproot their entire life to go to Antarctica and watch krill. The story could be taking place in our world, where there is no sporting event surrounding the watching of whales eat krill, but just seen through the eyes of a person suffering from delusions who believes the recreational activity of whale watching a league sport between whales and krill.

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