Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boogedy

I'm reading old spooky stories from The Horror Hall of Fame, Edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg.

Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu is as refreshing as its titular beverage because it forces this MTV Generation reader to downshift his kinetic forward-thrusting narrative expectations. The basic plot could be squeezed into a story half its length with room left over for The Cask of Amontillado, but Le Fanu wants to ground his story in the real world or something, so we get, for example, a step-by-step account of how a servant looked in on his master every hour on the hour. Some narrative compression could have whittled such sequences down, but that ain't Le Fanu's way. Check out Kevin Huizenga's witty but faithful comic book retelling in his collection Curses.

The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce is the evident inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft's semi-famous story The Dunwich Horror. Both involve huge invisible monsters; Bierce never reveals what it is, where it came from, or what ultimately comes of it, while Lovecraft gives us an origin story, a monster-slaying, all that. I am fond of Dunwich, but I have to give The Damned Thing the edge. For one thing Bierce is a better writer. Plus, the ultimate message of Damned Thing as I read it is "There is something that's going to kill you, and you can't see it coming." That's true, so that's scary. While Lovecraft tells us "There's something that's going to kill you, and it is the spawn of occult miscegenation." Are you scared of occult race-mixing? Cuz I'm not.

The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers was an influence on Lovecraft (The book-within-a-book The King in Yellow is a precursor of The Necronomicon, as well as the videotape in The Ring) but I find Chambers more fun to read. He's actually interested in people, and he understood one thing better than silly old Poe: a creepy story doesn't have to be creepy every step of the way. A story with charming, witty and likable characters can be all the creepier since the reader is more likely to take a rooting interest in their not getting overtaken by horrid occult forces.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Revising some previous.

I was a bit off the mark in my post about Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series yesterday. What's really driving those books seems to be an interest in structures of mythic meaning interweaving with modern life, and while the forms of adventure narrative are there, the stories come across more like rhapsodically descriptive poetry than like storytelling.

For example (spoiler warning) IIRC in The Dark is Rising Will receives an antlered carnival mask for a Christmas gift. It comes from a brother who's stationed overseas, and the mask has a backstory about how it was a gift from a mysterious guy with mysterious knowledge about Will. Later in the story there's a flood as the evil forces of The Dark mount their final attack; Will spots the mask being carried downstream in the floodwater. Soon he travels to a park where Herne the Hunter lives; Will hopes to rouse Herne, who has the power to drive the Dark away. A human figure lurks nearby... the mask sweeps by on the current, the figure grabs and dons the mask... behold! The figure with the mask is Herne the Hunter, and he saves the day. A carnival mask and an English legend are broguht together, with a little help from family ties, Christmas traditions and the Thames flooding.

Note that Will didn't have to do anything to bring about the sequence of events. He receives the mask, and he observes the later events, but he's rarely an Active Protagonist. Cooper doesn't really construct narratives around heroic deeds or cunning problem solving; she constructs them around the interplay of modern life and the web of mythology and imagination that gives resonance to life, at least for Cooper. It's kind of like a Pirates of the Caribbean style ride, where threats loom but the point isn't the challenge of surviving the threats; there is no real challenge. The point is to enjoy the spectacle of the imaginative construction someone has prepared for you.

This drives some people nuts, and in interviews the screenwriter of the Dark is Rising film huffed and puffed about the importance of rejiggering the story to make Will an Active Protagonist. Ah, me.

* * *

Just to be fair to my new town:

someone thinks it's on the right track.

Monday, June 08, 2009

An Act of Will

I'm reading The Grey King by Susan Cooper. It's the fourth in The Dark Is Rising series. What I find continually fascinating about these books is that Will, the young protagonist, never has to solve any problems. He's an Old One, one of several folks who just happen to have awesome mystical power and significance, and while he has plenty of problems he never really has to figure out a solution. Either his fellow Old Ones show up and fix things or he manages to reach down deep into his Old-Oneness and intuitively whip out an unstoppable solution to whatever's confronting him.

In most hands this would make for a ludicrous Mary Sue story, but for Susan Cooper it's thematically justified. Will is simply of a better spiritual class, and you know how Brits are with class consciousness. It would be rude of the universe to do more than tease an Old One. Will's apparent problems are simply a kind of roughhousing on existence's part; perhaps goodnatured, perhaps resentful, but always destined to back off upon a gentle well-bred rebuke (in the form of an ancient incantation, the kind Will can pull out of his pocket at will, so to speak).

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Shadow Over Kannapolis

Some of my readers may wonder what the real spirit of my new town is like. It's like this.

Sadly freelance wife-rapist is the only employment available right now in this town (Oh boy, am I gonna get a lot of unwanted search engine hits over that). Per a TV report, the alleged rapist is black; the husband who hired the rapist is white. Think about that. Exactly what narrative was the husband trying to stage manage?

It's been said that fetishes are often the eroticization of the worst thing you can image happening to you. For some guys that could mean having one's wife raped. For some it could mean having one's wife raped by a black man. Racists are often equally repelled and fascinated by miscegenation (check out H. P. Lovecraft's story The Shadow over Innsmouth for an interesting horror-story example of this); could the recent election of a mixed-race President have indirectly inspired this crime? Is it the acting out of a Birth of a Nation notion about white men losing their position to black men? I've posted before about local honkeys getting upset about how a black man got a prominent job that has traditionally gone to white men. Some fume; others fetishize.

BTW according to some reports the police aren't sure the alleged rapist knew this was an actual rape: his ad suggested he was looking for a consensual fantasy role-play... "All limits will be respected." Some folks (Not me, ugh) get into acting out such extreme things, but here's a tip for aspiring pretend-rapists: make sure you've thoroughly talked it over with the pretend-victim beforehand, not just with her greasy hillbilly hub who keeps calling you "boy".

Speaking of stage-managing horrid fantasies, the husband was unknowingly staging one of my deep-seated (though non-erotic) fantasies: "the Horrible Hillbilly." Look, I rode the school bus with some country boys who innocently breached my comfort zone, and while I understand the problem was my youthful comfort zone rather than anything to do with them, I still have a lingering fixation on creepy white trash. I know what to do about it: watch Texas Chainsaw again. Not treat anyone badly, and not hurt anyone. Keep the fantasy on the level of fantasy. Trying to play out fantasies in a literalized and hurtful way reveals a depressing poverty of imagination.

Obviously there's a lot to be said about what this case suggests about gender relations and such, but I don't feel up to it.