The Sword of Wellerran, or Lord Dunsany Revisited

11/18/2009 § Leave a comment

A few years ago I read The Gods of Pegāna by Lord Dunsany.

I sort of had a tough time with it. It may have been because in my minds voice I pronounced it as a rhyme for vagina. This possibly contributed to the weirdness I felt after reading what turned out to be a dry, structureless, no-plot, biblical (-esque) collection of stories (or anecdotes). It is probably something more like peg-anna, but there is nobody around to tell my minds voice the correct pronunciation.

So that was problem one and two. The vagina rhyme and the dry, structureless, &tc.

Problem three is sentences like this: When Māna-Yood-Sushāi had made the gods there were only the gods, and They sat in the middle of Time, for there was as much Time before them as behind them, which having no end had neither a beginning.

And this: Time is the hound of Sish.

And countless others.

Aside from those things, I like the incomparable weirdness of Dunsany… as did Lovecraft and Tolkien. Seriously. There really is nothing like Dunsany.

It had been a while since I had first read The Gods of Pegāna in the Penguin Classics collection I own. Because of my first experience with him I have had very little inclination to pick up the collection I own since, but thanks to the horrible service of Chicago’s postal system I was in need of something until the three new books I ordered arrive at my doorstep.

Yesterday afternoon I read a story called The Sword of Wellerran. So far so good. Can’t rhyme any of those words with privates, male or female.

It is the story of an ancient city with a long history of epic battles and heroes. It begins after the heroes have died and says that the town is practically sleeping because all memory of them has turned into legend. With limited exposition Dunsany creates a harsh reality for the inhabitants of this dreaming city. It feels dirty, cold, and tired, with little to no description of the environment.

Through dreams the heroes of old rouse the folks in the town to defend their city.

It’s short and sweet. It really made me change my opinion of Dunsany.

Plus, he’s a Lord. Like, for real. Pretty awesome that someone with such a noble family line decided to create mythologies and write something that is to this day considered nerdy. He must have been super nerdy. King of the nerds. Or at least Lord of the Nerds.

Lair of the White Worm

05/04/2009 § 3 Comments

Your God is your great kite, which cows the birds of a whole district.

-Mimi Salton

Lair of the White Worm is Bram Stoker’s final novel before he died in 1912. I was particularly excited about this book after learning it was based on the legend of the Lambton Worm. The lambton worm (or Wyrm) is of course an antediluvian beast that wreaked havoc on the English countryside (something I am one day looking forward to doing…and something my good freind Mikey is currently doing).

I haven’t read all of Stoker, but I really like Dracula, at least it’s main elements. I don’t care for its epistolary format and the way in which it reads, i.e. kind of slow. Maybe it’s the format. Maybe it’s just me. But I liked it nonetheless.

And I didn’t love Lair of the White Worm but I did really like it. I can overlook all of the books faults, such as introducing characters and then forgetting about them completely, only to have them return in the final pages. I can overlook deus ex machina. I can overlook the (as is typical in this genre and time period) less than generous portrayals of woman and minorities.

I can overlook final paragraphs like

“I think it is quite time you young people departed for that honeymoon of yours! -There was a twinkle in his eyes as he spoke. -Mimi’s soft shy glance at her husband, was sufficient answer.”

I enjoy happy endings as much as anyone, maybe more, but c’mon.

I can forget about these things because the book has so many wonderful ideas; the ancient beast living in the English countryside, a kite that becomes sentient (at least to one maniac) who receives scheming messages up it’s long umbilical, Scanner-style psychic battles…..&tc. Unfortunately in the end they don’t really work together. Any one of those would be sufficient for a single novel. Perhaps it just needed to be beefed up. It’s a mere 210 pages.

A brief synopsis:

The White Worm has evolved somewhat and can roam about as a woman name Lady Arabella, with some level of scanner-power. She slinks around in white dresses seductively. She is trying to marry this rich guy….to prove once again women, even ones that have evolved from antediluvian creatures all want a rich man.

Adam Salton returns to England from Australia to reclaim his estate. He joins his uncle and his uncle’s friend in the battle against this scourge that nobody else seems to know about. Then a random stranger comes from Africa with a servant who also has scanner-like powers. There is a pair of cousins who are beautiful…also, with scanner-like powers.

The uncle is introduced and then ignored until the final pages of the book. The only explanation being, he is too old and infirm to be swept up in the intrigue and final battle with the worm. Which, I must say is the biggest disappointment. There is no real final battle. The Giant Kite is incorporated (I must say I was worried it would not be brought back for the finale), as is the madman who sends it letters up the wire. Then there is a scene very reminiscent of Tremors.

(“What the hell is going on! I mean, what the HELL is going on!”)
It’s worth it just to read it with Tremors and Kevin Bacon in the back of your mind.

A redeeming element in the book, considering it’s portrayal of woman as evil (Lady Arabella/White Worm), and helpless (all other women in the book), is that a woman does stand up to the maniac who flies his kite and the white worm (scanner-style). So that’s awesome. But then, she is named “Mimi.” Ugh. Barf.

So I don’t know. Totally unorganized post. But I just finished it and haven’t had time to let it stew in my brainpot. I liked it. It’s a quick read.

And the title is awesome.

Epic Evening

04/11/2009 § 4 Comments

“Water before love, my girl.”

“Does it take the whole Nile to quench your thirst?”

-Joshua and Lilia

I’m all alone this holiday weekend. Sure, sure, there are options. Things to do. Friends to see. &tc. But Gemma is out of town and I’m lazy without her. In an attempt to inject some epic into my life (something it’s been sorely lacking lately) I was planning on getting drunk by myself and and then blasting music and making my cat Hattie dance with me…all the while pretending that she was the size of a brown bear.

Luckily….or providentially perhaps(?)….I turned the tv on while I was eating my pizza– made from the dough I made the other night– and I caught the very beginning of The Ten Commandments! Thank you, thank you, thank you Cecile B. Demille.

…on top of that! old girl upstairs was tickling them ivories as if a frenzy had overtaken her. Sometimes things just work out.

I don’t really have much to say about the film, so I’ll just list some things; some awesome things. I like lists.

Firstly. Yul Brynner must be from a distant planet filled with crazy awesome people. That guy’s crazy awesome. Though his acting in The Ten Commandments is no different from  his acting in Westworld, (it’s funny to juxtapose those characters he played in my minds eye) it is still somehow spot on. Imagine that crazy robot running around Egypt claiming he was Ramses (probably by writing it in the sand….since, if memory serves me right, that wild west robot is a mute.

Secondly. What a funny time in which to live when folks thought that Gods would want grain…. and people would fill up silos full of it, just for the Gods. Isn’t that funny? If God has been around forever, and he made you, and you’ve never seen him/her, how on earth could you be presumptuous enough to think that God wants your lousy grain. Not even like bread or beer or prepared food….grain. haha. cracks me up. Eat it. Eat the grain. You grew it.

Thirdly. When old boy Seti and his daughter are playing Anubis cribbage or whatever, the dice they use is three round sticks that they rub between their hands and drop. …..are they always rolling threes?

Fourthly. Yul Brynner’s right hand man, perhaps some vizier(?), sounds like the Brain from Pinky and the Brain on Animaniacs.

Fifthly. Why’s he gotta chuck the commandments. I know he’s mad, but should Moses still be in too much awe of God to chuck them at the Baal worshipers? (It was Baal, right? Could have been Hermes for all I know)

Haven’t read my old testament in a while but I’m pretty sure Demille and company took some liberties. Still. It’s worth watching . Don’t know if Easter is the right occasion though. What’s Moses got to do with Jesus? I mean, I guess he foretold the coming and all that(?), right?

Any ideas. (Jer)

Added a few hours later.

God opens the sea with the blast of his nostrils.

-The Blind One

Haha. Blast of his nostrils. I’m sure there is a better, less comical way to say this. Perhaps “With his mighty breath,” or “with slight exhalation.” Anything other than blast of his nostrils. Say it aloud sometime.

Reading aloud: The White People, Cosmicomics

03/09/2009 § 2 Comments

All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes.

-Arthur Machen

I really like that sentence. I like to call it my favorite of my favorite of my favorites.

Gemma likes when I read to her. We do this fairly regularly. The other night I started reading the story, The White People by Arthur Machen  to Gemma. We have decided to stop  this story.  It is longer than what Gemma and I try to read together but since I had loved The Great God Pan so much I thought it would be a good one to try before bed. Boy was I wrong. We abandoned it after about five pages. It is definitely not something one should read aloud to their loved one. It is wordy and abstract and more of a conversation in the vein of a Demonic Platonic dialogue. Riviting stuff, but when read aloud more like reading a How-To book aloud…as written by Socrates and Theatetus.

Oddly enough, the stories we have enjoyed reading aloud most are Lovecraft stories…and as long as you can get past the obstacle of saying things like Cthulhu, R’yleh, Yog-Sothoth, and Azozoth, it’s great. It’s also great to read American Folktales aloud as fast as you can. This is key.

I ended up finishing The White People on my own. So after abandoning that story we were in need of something else. Luckily, at Half Price Books I had just acquired Cosmicomics by Calvino and The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman for like four bucks.

I managed to read the first story of Cosmicomics, The Distance of the Moon, on the bus. It’s the story of some folks, with no vowels in their names (things like Qfwfq), who remember when the moon orbitted so close to the earth they could reach it with the help of a ladder and then harvest the lunar milk that collects in the crevices. It is also a story of unrequited love. I find it odd how many stories that have unpronounceable words end up being the best for reading aloud. To get around names like Qfwfq, I just said Q. Works fine. I’m sure there is some significance in Calvino’s use of nameing things like this but we are reading for enjoyment and not criticism.

Anyway, the story has beautiful imagery and is told in that special way that is particular to Calvino. I really enjoyed this story, and I think Gemma did as well.  I think it is a good candidate for reading aloud. There is something about the dreamy quality of Calvino’s words that deserve to be spoken.

The Bloody Chamber

03/04/2009 § Leave a comment

I was not a fan of The Company of Wolves. Definitely not. Sometimes I don’t think Hollywood has any idea what to do with certain material. i.e. The Brothers Grimm, Dune, 1984, all of Kurt Vonnegut Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and on and on and on…

I had heard about The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from some essays that I recently read and did a quick search about it. Slightly annoyed that she was the writer of aforementioned Neil Jordan’s stinker of a movie, I decided to get the book and give it a go.

After reading the title story The Bloody Chamber I was was starting to think this Angela Carter was a genius. Then I read her two versions of Beauty and the Beast and was certain. Unfortunately nothing gold can stay. Thanks Stevie Wonder and Ponyboy Curtis. And of course Robert Frost for writing that poem.

The Bloody Chamber is a retelling of Bluebeard. Oh that Bluebeard. Such a joker. It’s told from the new wife’s point of view and it really succeeds in capturing the crazy gamut of her feelings. From horror to revulsion to acceptance. It’s a strange line of narrative to go down because I feel like she must have been fairly screwed up in the first place for her to be a willing victim in the end.  I accidentally pictured the tomb of the dead wives exactly like Vincent Price’s oubliette in The Fall of the House of Usher…complete with Iron Maiden and woman inside. When our heroine discovers the wonder emporium for killing wives she just kinda takes it in stride. She freaks a little but not what you’d expect. I’d have probably pissed my pants, gone totally bonkers, then ran into the woods mumbling something about Cthulhu. Whenever I’m scared it always comes back to Cthulhu. But that’s just me. I must say though It was thoroughly enjoyable read and incredibly well written…at times wordy but often that is packaged with really flowery prose.

The Beauty and the Beast retellings are equally good, though a little shorter. In a particularly nice touch the Beast wins the girl from her drunk old man in a game of cards. *wink Why is the Beast playing cards anyways?

So. I don’t know. I really enjoyed these three stories. Definitely worth reading.

Then came Puss in Boots. I never really cared for this story in the first place and was very skeptical, then ultimately disappointed. I almost couldn’t read it. The story is told by Puss and ugh! I don’t know. Why is it every time someone writes from an animals point of view…when there aren’t other anthropomorphized animals for them to talk to, they turn them into horrible caricatures of precocious children….or in this case a horrible version of Peppy Le Pew. No doubt because the origins are French but…merde!

Proud of his fine, white shirtfront that dazzles harmoniously against his orange tangerine tesselations (oh! what a fiery suit of lights have I); &tc.

Oh yeah. Puss sometimes speaks in the third person.

…and on and on and on for fifteen pages. Puss connives to steal away some girl for his master. And everyone is having sex. And Puss is licking himself like a jerk. So bad. Shockingly bad. I don’t even want to mention the rest in this collection. The story that The Company of Wolves is based on is in here and I think those involved with that movie should have gone with The Bloody Chamber….but that was like 1984 so I was three. Eh. Maybe that’s unfair. The wolf stories are okay I guess.

There’s all sorts of critical readings for stories as dense as these. I don’t want to get into a feminist breakdown or a postmodern reading or anything….but it’s all there and I don’t want to talk about it. It’d probably be an annoying discussion.

I really do recommend the first few stories. And she is an incredible author. Upon recommendation I will next read her novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Probably not for a while, but it’s on the list. The title alone merits a look.

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 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.

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