Oxford Version of History

02/26/2009 § 1 Comment

So I’m studying a bit of history these days and I picked up The Oxford History of the American West. Honestly. I should have known better. It ended up being a giant book, which at first excited me because that means it’s packed full of useful information and I’m sure it still is but I dont’ know… I haven’t been able to get past page eleven.

Page eleven has a time-line of events from 28,000 B.C. all the way to 1821. And I realize that in the time-line scenario one can’t expound on the bullet summaries that must be given. However there must be proper ways to say things.

The fourth entry in this time line is for the year 1492. It reads:

“Christopher Columbus’s landfall in the Bahamas inaugurates centuries of cross-cultural exchange. ”

Cross-Cultural Exchange.

That is one way to put it I guess.


The Order of Odd-Fish

02/25/2009 § 2 Comments

I had a whole post written up about The Order of Odd-Fish but then I realized something.

This book isn’t forgotten or old. It came out very recently. And just because it sort of falls in line with what I’m trying to write about on this blog, doesn’t mean it actually fits with the theme.

So I deleted my post…

But since I liked it and the writer James Kennedy is from Chicago¬† I decided I’d at least mention it.

The book is not without it’s flaws but it is a fine read and unique in lots of ways that are not simply odd but also surprising and fresh. Things aren’t just weird for weird’s sake. They all fit together in the weird salad that Kennedy has tossed together, or spun…however you prefer salads made.

So, if you are into things like kids saving the world, flying ostriches, giant fish, pranksters, and Akira style endings, go read it.

The Castle of Otranto

02/21/2009 § Leave a comment

“Manfred’s heart misgave him when he beheld the plumage on the miraculous casque shaking in concert with the sounding of the brazen trumpet.”

Can’t really argue with how awesome that sentence is. And then when one knows that the “miraculous casque” with said plumage is a giant helmet that has fallen atop the pro/antagonist’s son it only gets better.

Even though this sentence rates off the charts, I still don’t know what I think of this book. Yes, it is the “first” gothic novel and all that, but it all is kind of too convenient. The plot is just a nonstop barrage of crazy devices devices pushing it forward and accelerating after every push. I think I read recently that it seemed like the characters were racing to the finish, and I think this is a pretty accurate description.

The novel begins with a dad, Manfred, who’s running around preparing for his sons wedding. He’s kind of a schmuck and his son is bogus and ugly but he dotes on him because he is the son. He also has a beautiful daughter who he pays no mind to because she’s a girl. Then the son gets crushed under a giant helmet. And the dad basically loses his mind, wants a divorce from his honorable wife, and then marry his son’s fiance. She runs and is saved. There is a giant hand in there a few times on a stairway. A peasant ends up being royalty. Girls fight over him. &tc.

I really like giant helmets and hands appearing in a castle. And I like secret passages and mysterious old castles as well. What I don’t like is a bunch of magical elements and people, particularly Manfred (the main idiot), who act completely irrationally and then in the last few pages lots of ’em die and then it gets nicely explained in the last few paragraphs.

So. It is pretty good and it sort of sets up a lot of standards I guess, as far as the gothic novel is concerned. Lots of atmosphere and passages and apparitions &tc.

Next it’s onto The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis.

The Great God Pan (Updated)

02/20/2009 § Leave a comment

Something I had forgotten to mention that is worth note.

Not only is there that little bit about the lobatomy to see “The great god Pan,” but there is also a character who keeps a journal of mysterious things. He calls this journal¬† Memiors to Prove the Existence of the Devil.

I don’t know why I like that. I don’t really want to think that there is a devil but I think characters in stories these days don’t do things that are as interesting as keeping a memior of that nature.

The Great God Pan

02/18/2009 § Leave a comment

Until today I had never read anything by Arthur Machen. I had heard his name often enough, as he is often spoken of in the same breath as H.P. Lovecraft, but I never got around to reading him. Now that I have I am super excited to read more, multiple times.

I began with the preface, which, as it often turns out, was lamesville (except for a lovely excahnge between Machen and Oscar Wilde). Maybe after a while I’ll get a more scholarly edition, not the one from the Harold Washing Library, and the preface will be more readable. I hope so at least. After the first few pages I abandoned it and skipped to the story in the collection that, at least to me, is the most famous of all his works The Great God Pan.

H.P. Lovecraft was an admirer of Machen and names him one of the four fathers of “weird” or “horror” literature in an essay he wrote about the subject. He definitely borrows ideas from Machen , particularly the cult and demon related elements. Machen however creates a more powerful mood than Lovecraft in his settings, mirroring the gothic much more than Lovecrafts spiraling narratives of madness and secret cults, and aliens and elder beings.

The Great God Pan begins with two men about to perform a procedure on a young, and conveniently willing 17 year old woman. What this procedure amounts to is something akin to lobotomizing the poor girl. What this will do, says the mad scientist to his skeptical friend, is allow the veil of this world to be lifted and the girl will see “The Great God Pan” which is basically code for things not of this world like, God and demons and other horrifying creatures.

I really loved this idea. I don’t know that I’ve ever come across brain surgery as an avenue to God and Satan, but it is a wonderfully unique one. It also reminded me of The Statement of Randolph Carter by Lovecraft. Not so much in its general ideas but in its general structure, i.e. two guys, one who is much more interested in finding the secrets of greater beings than the other,¬† who do something crazy to accomplish this. And of course it ends with catastrophic results, at least for many involved.

The story is split up into many different parts with different characters coming and going, utilizing some straight 3rd person narrative, but also epistolary and first person. What ends up happening is horrible (I almost wrote wonderful. It is wonderful in a literary sense) and very reminiscent of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.

I highly, highly recommend this story and will update as I continue to read his other prose.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

02/11/2009 § Leave a comment

I think that it is safe to say Sleepy Hollow thrives in the collective consciousness of most Americans. This is thanks to Disney, Tim Burton, and the Ghostbusters cartoon. We have all sorts of images associated with Ichabod Crane and that little town in the Northeast. The most powerful of any of those images is the headless horseman. I wonder how many people have actually read the story “found among the pages of Diedirch Knickerbocker”?

This story by Washington Irving was the first story I read aloud to Gemma. How or why we landed on Sleepy Hollow I don’t recall. I do remember reading it aloud to be an arduous affair because, on revisiting the original text, it proved to be an incredibly wordy piece of literature. Reading aloud run on sentence after run on sentence proved incredibly difficult for my then weak lungs. The median word count of every sentence must be close to fifty, which is totally fine as long as you don’t have to read aloud.

I bring up Sleepy Hollow not because it has been forgotten or people no longer consider Washington Irving an American Literary hero….they do don’t they? I bring him up because I think that America’s collective brain remembers the cartoon (which I like), Tim Burton’s disaster of a movie (which I don’t like), and not the original text.

The original text is admittedly labor intensive but it is classic in terms of mood. I would agree that it is kind of boring, but the best kind of boring, and Ichabod is kind of a fool and Brom Van Brunt is kind of a tool and Katrina Van Tassel is kind of typical but that is what makes it so great. It is just these regular cliche characters placed in the town of Sleepy Hollow, which is a great name to begin with.

Then, these three whatever-type characters are set amidst legends of Dutch settlers, Hessian Warriors, and Cotton Mather and his witch trials. The prose of the first three quarters evokes terror quietly and crawls under the readers skin so that when the horseman does appear the readers sense of despair is total. We know that Ichabod will not escape. And despite the tons-of-fun early 19th century prose we know we will have to read it again.


02/03/2009 § Leave a comment

Fake Country.

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