Fog

By the time she took her leave, darkness had fallen, and the fog with it.  Together these obscured the path so thoroughly as to make her memory doubtful – even memory built up over years of taking this road, thousands of times.

This route should never feel anything but friendly – and yet, cloaked in obscurity as it was, every mile turned foe.  Nothing promised that the curves would remain as she had always encountered them; nothing could assure her that the trees and ponds and buildings by the way did not lay under some enchantment of their own, shifting thither and yon.  Whole minutes had gone by since she passed the last traffic signal, had they not?  Surely she should have reached the next red-light-turned-green by now.  But in between the road stretched on and on, with only fresh darkness on the horizon.

Ghostly eyes of lamps passed intermittently in the dimness, floating in the mist, whatever car or carriage they might be attached to invisible.  She shuddered at the thought of a deer, or a man, wandering out into the road, standing frozen while her car barreled into it.  Him.  Worse was the thought of a driver approaching without any lights, colliding twice as fast, with pulverizing force.

Pondering this, she eased off the gas and played idly with the headlights.  The regular lamps were dimmer, and thus of limited use – but the high beams fell on the cloud of water droplets, illuminating no further.  However slow she went, it couldn’t be helped – she couldn’t see.

No wonder fog stood in for fear.  Not only would it veil the unknown twice over, but it sent even the familiar into oblivion: dementia come sixty years early.

Review: Pontypool

On Sunday, I saw an atypical vampire movie. The weekend prior, I saw an atypical zombie movie.*  Next up: atypical werewolf movie! I’ve no idea which one, though, so please comment with your suggestions, and in the meantime, let me tell you about Pontypool.

Were you to say “Hmm, you don’t strike me as a zombie movie watcher,” you would be quite correct. But Pontypool is a zombie movie the way Signs is an alien movie, which is to say that the plague-monsters themselves don’t get a lot of screen time. In an hour and a half of film, there are perhaps twelve minutes of shuffling revenants, and fewer of gore. There is neither a shotgun nor a cricket bat to be seen, and only a few splashes of red against a subdued background of bluish grays.

That said, there’s a lot to hear. The film is set in a radio broadcast studio built in the basement of an abandoned church, and most of the suspense and horror comes from what information can be gleaned from people calling in to the station, sometimes mid-attack, reporting a mob of people converging on the doctor’s office or a car being buried under a “herd” of people. Since none of it is shown, the mind is free to imagine just how awful those attacks might be. The responses and actions of announcer Grant Mazzy, his manager Sydney Briar, and assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond underscore the terror of ignorance and the slowly-dawning horror of understanding.

Even the former shock-jock is creeped out.

Even the former shock-jock is weirded out.

That creeping comprehension makes the movie. From the first two minutes, shown below, each little word is significant. The missing cat and its name; the people speaking French; the BBC broadcaster; the Valentine’s Day cards: all of it matters, and it takes watching and re-watching to understand why.

The pacing, the music (curse you, creepy violins!), the language, and silence all put the viewer in thrall. I had to talk to bring myself out of it a bit, had to eat my popcorn with determination, had to hug the friend sitting next to me whilst watching it. I’m no nail-biter, but it’s full of nail-biting tension anyway. There are those moments when one is left hollering at the screen, Don’t call him! No, hang up your phone! Such is the way of suspenseful movies: they mess with you as they draw you further in.

More thoughts and some spoilers under the cut.

Continue reading

I Expect a Guardian!

Book Group Thing has started back up, and with
it, a stream of winding Harrius Potterdiscourse on more diverse topics than our ostensible subject, Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy.  A tangent on book-thievery and book-reclaiming prompted me to bring up Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis, which is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Latin.

“How did the translator render the spells?” wondered my fellow bibliophiles.  “Some of them are already in Latin, yeah?  How do they get set apart as spells?”

“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much to the characters, does it?” said I.  “Instead of thinking of the spell as Nox, they just say, Night!  Or [instead of Expecto Patronum,] I EXPECT A GUARDIAN!

Which prompted a bit more laughter than I expected, and more thought on the Patronus Charm than is typical.  Not everyone reading is a Potterite, so here’s a brief description: a Patronus is a sort of offensive shield, a silvery animal-shaped guardian which is the corporeal form of a happy memory or thought.  It launches itself at both Dementors and Lethifolds, holding them at bay if not driving them off.

There are several occasions where Harry or other characters conjure a Patronus; the spell’s use becomes ever more frequent in the later books, as war descends and Dementors appear more and more often.  I wanted to focus on three particular occasions of Patronus charm use:

– In the maze Harry goes through to reach the Goblet of Fire, he meets a Dementor-shaped Boggart.  Driving it away isn’t quite the same as driving away a real Dementor, but the mechanism is the same: he concentrates on getting out of the maze and celebrating with Ron and Hermione, something that hasn’t happened, but which he hopes for.

– During battle in Deathly Hallows, Harry attempts to conjure a Patronus but cannot summon up any happy thought whatsoever.  Luna prompts him with “We’re all still here; we’re still fighting.”  It costs him more effort to conjure than it ever has before, as the situation is so grim, but Harry’s Patronus still bursts forth to stand guard.

– Harry uses one to drive away a lot of Dementors near the end of Prisoner of Azkaban.  In his words, “I knew I could do it this time, because I’d already done it – does that make sense?”  In this event, he focuses not on a happy memory, nor a positive thought, but on his certainty that the Patronus will save him because it already has in his other-time’s experience.

Dementors as Rowling wrote them aren’t a foe we ever meet with; that said, it is Monday again, and we have our own battles to fight, be they e’er so humble.  Where a happy memory may not get us through, our hopes may; perseverance may; or faith may, the assurance about what we do not see.

There are occasions, even in the Muggle world, when our happiness is drained away, when we feel as though we will never be happy again.  What happy memory or hope is your guardian against Dementor-like feelings?

Tuesday with Thalia: The Job Hunt

In the last 6 months, I have sent about 105 resumes. Figuring for my powers of exaggeration, but factoring a forceful and concerted attempt at accuracy, call it 97. I have a file full of resumes; one page summaries of my teaching and of my orchestral experience, two Curriculi Vitae, and dozens of cover letters. I write professional but personal emails to all and sundry. I provide these people with everything they could possibly need to know more about me than my stand partner. (Which is an odd position in an orchestra. They’re not always friends, but they know your quirks and habits as well as your family does.) I give a pretty clear picture of who I am, even before I walk into an interview.

I have had 7-10 interviews for my trouble. It’s not a great rate of return, but it’s a tough market. Everyone needs a job, and everyone is hiring, but nobody is hiring…me…. which is peculiar, but there it is. Perhaps companies are being choosy and I am too quirky. After all, I have deep purple nails, burgandy sparkly glasses, and a haywire sense of the ridiculous. Well, it’s no use crying over spilled milk, or 8 hour interview days that administer math tests and then don’t hire you.

The thing is, all these interviewers ask the Dumb Thing. Now, I have been an interviewer too. Some questions get you lots of helpful information, and some questions get you nothing you didn’t know by looking at them. But after asking questions that led to dead ends and misrepresentations one year, I changed the questions the next year. Seems a logical thing to do. Nevertheless, from these people who work for much larger corporations than I did, I get the silliest question.

Tell us about yourself.

Grrrrrrrrrr…..

I try reversing a lot. “What would you like to know?” Because really. I mean to say! It would be much easier to tell them them who I am not, than who I am. So I have made a list of the things I am not. I think it narrows the field considerably. You know the story of the sculpter who was asked how he created such a beautiful marble elephant? He said “It’s easy! I just chip away all the marble that doesn’t look like an elephant.” So that is how we shall sculpt an idea of me. I’ll show up like a negative on film.

I am not an entymologist.

I am not a herpetologist either.

I am not neutral. (hehehehehehehe)

I am not dull, bland or narrow.

I am not fond of mathematics, but arithmatic might be ok occasionally.

This is really working! So, my friends, who aren’t you?

Ye Anciente Books of Face

Have you ever wondered what classical stories might look like if they were written in modern terms?

Have you ever meditated on the phenomenon of “micro-verse”, so-called because it stays within the character limit of such modern conveniences as “twitter”, and “facebook”? (Oh, the creative outlet, it never withers!)

Have you ever wondered if this technically advanced society could create – in its particular voice, approach, and form – as nuanced, universal, and delicate an art as the past ages.

Well, wonder no longer!

Recently, archeologists have uncovered several very telling artifacts that depict the Ancients as being much more similar to us than we think! Upon deciphering and restoring, the artifacts are revealed to be something altogether unexpected and amazing, and might even rewrite the cannon of literature as we know it.

Now, solely at the behest, scheming, and brilliant power plays of the Muses of the Egotists Club, here is a sneak peak of these awfulsome relics!

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, there you have it.

Enjoy!

~Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy

Created with the wonderful powers of time-traveling telepathy, and the Wall Machine

In the Event of Cylon Apocalypse, the World Must Be Peopled

What book will I bring with me on the emergency evacuation ship when the Cylons destroy civilization, and we have to start over again?

In true Apocalyptic form, I am late for this last meme question. That’s not because I didn’t have an answer, though.  No, I’ve always pretty much known that in the event of the alien invasion, I’m grabbing my Bible first, and then a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

This is what my copy looks like. Though I’m pretty sure I don’t have the “portable” edition. But a heavy book will do double duty as part of my personal defense system. Even alien robots pay attention when 20 lbs. of sonnets and tragedies come hurtling their way.

There really wasn’t a very complicated decision process here.  I asked, “Which book could I not bear to have perish from history forever?” and the Bard was the obvious answer.  No more Hamlet?  No Julius Caesar or Romeo and Juliet?  I don’t want to live in that world.  These are the stories that have shaped the imaginations of readers for generations.  They’re the books behind all the books I love today.  They’re the fertile ground from which springs much of modern English language and usage.  If we want to preserve our tongue and some piece of our storytelling tradition, we ought to keep these books alive.  I’m not really surprised by my choice.  After all, these are all the reasons I’m going to grad school to (God-willing) get a degree to teach English lit at a university setting.

Now, I hope I never have to take such action for real.  There are plenty of other books I’d weep to have to leave behind.  My Gaiman, my McKillip, Tolkien, Lewis, Jane Austen.  James Thurber!  I hope that by the time the Cylons come, I’ll have a Kindle with all my favorite books on it.  Heck, the need for a contingency plan might just be reason enough to overcome my technophobia regarding digital books and buy a Kindle.  I’ll be the first to admit, all this sci-fi that I read and watch has made me a little paranoid…

Mel’s Book Meme: Ze Villianous Villain of Villainy

Terpsichore has given an excellent outline of  a “Villain”, and I find myself with really nothing to add.

Except, perhaps, to utter the injunction, “Oh villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this!”

Dogberry’s misspeaking aside, The Villain of my nightmares is not going anywhere near redemption.

He is a man, who presumably started life as a human, but choose evil so willingly and wholeheartedly that he can barely identified as such anymore. In fact, it is suspected that the devil has given him a third eye so as to better see and manipulate people.

He is:

Mr. Jackman,
from Russell Kirk’s Old House Of Fear

Kirk, better known for his philosophy, economics, and literary commentary, loved ghost tales. He discovered them during his sojourn at the University of St. Andrews, where he was surrounded by the ghostiness of the town. (St. A’s is known for being haunted.)

And Kirk’s taste for the sublime spooks came out in his fiction. He is, (as Lewis says of MacDonald,) perhaps not the best writer but he is a great teller of myth. All of his tales are chilling, but in a very good way.

Each is shot through a sense of the otherworldly, where the possibilities of meeting  a devil or meeting an angel walk side by side.

Each is told from a human standing: imperfect but trying, and oh, so very mortal.

And each highlights the dangers of Evil on the immortal soul. From the ghosts of thieves, to the possessing spirits of truly fiendish mobsters, Kirk’s stories create an intense interior repulsion from all things devilish.

The tales are told in such away that the reader is not sure what is happening, or if there is even something truly diabolical going on. But the little twists and turns that the plot takes slowly uncovers the supernatural working. Every story has surprised me in some way. But none laid a chilly finger on my spine the that my first Kirk story did.

This a Gothic Romance, written because Kirk simply wanted to see if he could write one.

Old House of Fear is narrated from the point of view of a prosaic American Lawyer, Mr. Logan, on a business trip to buy a castle. He gets stranded on the island off the coast of Scotland where this castle resides, with the dying owner, her beautiful niece, and Mr. Jackson. And Mr. Jackson’s henchmen. And Angus the shepherd.

But mostly Mr. Jackman. Mr. Edmund Jackman, who wants the castle, the niece, and the money. And can use evil powers to get it all.

Mr. Logan starts the story denying the possibility of any hocus-pocus. But as he becomes involved, he slowly becomes convinced of the actual, real, palpable existence of Evil. (And the fact that that wrinkle in Mr. Jackman’s forehead is really the lid for his third eye.)

There is terror, evil, a beautiful girl, midnight romps across a storm-tossed island, Scottish accents, and bottle dungeon.

(The bottle dungeon is modeled after the one in the Castle in St. Andrews!)

And the best part is, the Good wins! Mr. Jackman faces the eternal consequences of his choices. Logan gets the girl. And everything is resolved in a way that brings not only narrative and literary but spiritual satisfaction. For not being explicit Christian in any fashion, there is still an underlying system of belief. A portrayal of the Devils assumes the presence of the True God.

So the memory of Mr. Jackman remains to remind me that not only is Evil real, it is vanquishable.

Just as if . . .

 
 
 

A few years ago I went to visit Thalia at her university. In the course of my stay, she told me stories of the local defunct insane asylum. Or, as it used to be called, the sanitarium.

This Sanitarium was known for its fairly humane treatment of patients. And also for its self-sufficiency, until the government took over and they quite suddenly had no money and had to shut down.

This place features intriguing architecture. From afar, it appear blandly symmetrical. But up close, it is anything but. The window casings are different for each floor. The two turrets of the main office are similar, but not alike.

It is terrifying.

And then there is the graveyard.

The insane were buried on the property, unless their family could afford to bury them elsewhere. There is the hill of the first cemetery, with rows of little, numbered rocks marking each grave. Most of the numbers are worn off, but careful records still identify each person. Except for in one upper corner of the field, where the stones have not only had the numbers worn off, but they are set in a circle.

The entire place is eerie.

Not necessarily with ghosts, but with the weight of confronting humanity, and all that humanity means. Which is what encounters with insanity does: forces  upon us the ideas of what it means to be human.

Last night a lecturer read Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead” aloud, and the imagery brought the Cemetery of the Ridges suddenly to my mind.

And I had to write about it.

I just started scribbling sentences, in between taking notes. Not all of it made sense as I went, I wanted to get the idea-pictures down.

I had known – I think – that this graveyard did not start at the number one. (The first cemetery is missing.) I thought it began somewhere in the hundreds. But “hundred” does not fit well into the flow of a line.

So I made up a number.

The first one that came into my mind.

Sixty-four.

It sounds good and has the right syllables.

When I got home, I looked up the cemetery, to see if this numbering thing was a myth.

It is real. The first graves are lost to time and legend.

This graveyard starts at the number sixty-four. Exactly.

 

 

The poem above is, with a few minor word changes, exactly what I wrote during class.

I revised it slightly on my return home, trying to make spookiness even more present.

 

 

In the Graveyard at The Ridges Insane Asylum

They do not start at one. That one has been lost.
So now they begin in the center of their count:
Sixty-four, sixty-five, sixty-six, white stones on a hill.
Row on row from the crest slope down
To the river, wending, whispering,
With tall, stark pines on one side
And short, flat markers on the other.
We were taught not to step where they lie,
The buried ones, just as if there were not
Six feet of sod between us. But some markers
Stand in a perfect circle, and we are unsure
Which way the insane lay, facing outwards or in.
So we stop, one body length from the edge,
And wondering, gape at the sacred ring of Dead.