Patronage and Poets in Hell Now On Kindle

Hello everyone. I’d like to make two very important announcements.

I have received my first ever patron on my Patreon account. So let me take some time to publicly thank John Chui for his donation. John, thank you for believing in my writing and my work enough to support me and donate $25 a month to my ambitions.

It really makes a difference. It’s not so much the money, which is always both useful and helpful to have, but the fact that someone respects what I do enough to support me. Not only does it provide a little bit of an impetus, but it reminds me that there are people out there who like my writing and believe it is deserving of payment and recognition. John, you are definitely one of those friends who encourages me to keep doing what I do: even when I get tired. Even when I start to question myself.

You have to start somewhere and thanks to John and in words that he can truly appreciate, I will continue to soldier on. I do still expect a Twine out of you personally at some point, however, so don’t think I’ve forgotten. ūüôā

And now, for the second announcement. A little while ago, I told all of you that my short story “When You Gaze Into an Abyss” was accepted in Janet Morris’ book Poets in Hell: part of the Heroes in Hell series. I said that I would update all of you when the book came out.

And so here it is:

The Kindle version of Poets in Hell.

Poets in Hell Kindle

And here is a nice description of what you will find within it should you dare to read it:

Where else but Hell can you join Beowulf, Dorothy Parker, Diomedes, Sappho, John Milton, Robert E. Howard, Odysseus, Caliban, Helen of Troy, and Mary Shelley? Where else but Hell can you adventure with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, e.e. cummings, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, David Koresh, Eliott Ness, Marconi, and Plato? Where else but Hell can you find the Jabberwocky, Li Po, Albert Camus, the Sphinx, Frank Nitti, Aeschylus, Goethe, Sycorax, and Merlin all in one place? Where else but Hell can you meet Galatea, Robert Burns, Ghengis Khan, Foster, Solon, and Lemuel Gulliver? Where else could you find Homer, Lilith, Victor Frankenstein and his famous Monster, Edgar Allen Poe, Jimmy Hoffa, and Lord Byron’s dog, Boatswain? In POETS IN HELL, that’s where. BYO pitchfork.

The book version of Poets isn’t ready yet, but for those of you who are eager to read the excellent tales — including my own first-ever published story — please download this Kindle version should you have one.

And if you live in the United States, this entire saga will cost you — aside from your peace of mind and soul — $6.66. I’d say that, all things considered, that is a pretty good deal.

This past while has just been a series of firsts for me. Let me tell you. I’ve seen my name on Amazon before, but only as a reviewer: and that was before I created Mythic Bios and placed the majority of my reviews on here. But it is a whole other experience to see my name on Amazon as an author, and right next to the names of giants: of my fellow diabolical, grandiose, and truly hilarious peers.

I’ve come a long way since that person who knew I had something to say but had little under my name to show that I could truly say it. But this is only the beginning and as I said with regards to my Patreon: you have to start somewhere.

And what better a start than writing from a place in Hell: from the hellfire in my soul, from where all of this truly began. Thank you all for reading this and Following my work. Again, please consider reading, supporting, and spreading the flaming word of POETS IN HELL.

You will not be disappointed.

I Am Getting Published In Hell

I was away last week, but I had a pretty good reason: one so compelling that I actually changed the article that I was going to post up here today.

For those of you who have been following me, you know that I’d participated in the Dark Crystal Author Quest. Unfortunately, I had too many other tasks at the time and I couldn’t deliver on that story beyond the outline and crude introduction that I posted on Mythic Bios a while ago.

What some of you might also remember was that I’d been working on another project at the time. Some months before, Janet Morris–the creator of Heroes in Hell–approached me and asked me if I wanted to write a story for her universe. Of course, I agreed. Not only do I find the world she created captivating, but it would be the first opportunity I’ve had in getting a short story of mine published into print.

Of course, I didn’t want to say anything too soon. There was not guarantee that I was actually going to get my story published. First of all, it had to be accepted first. There were a lot of challenges in even creating this story, and then editing it. Two weeks ago I was going a little crazy: hitting a major learning curve in the collaboration process. This was happening for a while, but in particular almost concurrently after showing off my Twine game and attending the GeekPr0n Third Anniversary Party.

But I was lucky in that there were good people to help me through the process, including and especially Janet Morris herself. So now, let me make it nice and official.

My story WHEN YOU GAZE INTO AN ABYSS has been accepted into the latest volume of Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell POETS IN HELL.

Poets in Hell

As a bit of background information, Heroes in Hell is a shared universe that operates on the premise that anyone who has had an interesting life will have violated one of the 613 commandments intrinsic to the fabric of a moral universe and will thus find themselves in hell. So imagine hell filled with underworld gods, fallen angels, demons, monsters, mythological figures, historical figures, genii, mass-murderers, thieves, and–well–humankind in general. And make no mistake, my friends. This is literally hell.¬† If you think our world is bad, and it has a lot of bad qualities, reading this will make you appreciate our world a whole lot more: as all good and intelligent literature should.

My story “When You Gaze Into An Abyss” features Lilith, the apocryphal first wife of Adam, and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche — amongst other diabolical friends.

I look forward to hearing what you think about this story and the volume that it comes in. I can’t reiterate enough that this will be my first short story ever in print. Expect POETS IN HELL to become available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon around June to July 2014. I also believe it will be on Kindle as well along with its other volumes. I will update you all with more images and links when they arrive.

Suffice to say, and considering all the struggle it was to get to this point in time, it feels good to be a poet of hell.

What If Comics Had Been a Place Without Codes? Would We Live as Air?

I’ve been having some technical issues these past few days and time hasn’t really been my friend but what I’m going to write here past most reasonable people’s sense of sleep is another down and dirty, and therefore ad hoc, article on comics.¬† So if anyone out there is an expert or has done their homework, by all means, please correct me if need be.

As some of you already know Sequart created and is now in the process of editing, a Kickstarter called She Makes Comics: a documentary on women in the comics industry and the culture surrounding it. One element in particular that it has focused on is the fact that long ago there were more female readers of comics than they were male. Now, I wrote a short article on what will soon be called GeekPron in which I found some of my own assumptions to the question, well, questioned.

I believed that it was the Comics Code Authority, inspired by the fear of McCarthyism “witch-hunting,” blacklisting,¬†the detrimental testimonials by psychological experts such as Frederic Wertham, and a loss of business that had comics publishers eliminate most of their different genres of comics and focus mainly on watered-down stories about superheroes. All the horror, revenge, gore, westerns, romances, and sexuality all went the way of the dodo at the time because of fear. Anything that challenged the rules of the Comics Code, of authority always being right and just for starters, could not exist in mainstream corporations that published for money.

But the comic book editor Janelle Asselin also mentioned that this female readership of 55% over 45% of male readers changed as the superhero genre became more mainstream. Think about that: the idea that after a time the superhero not only reduced a female readership, but also eliminated or greatly marginalized a whole body of stories and genres that made the medium different. I realize now, looking back on what I wrote earlier, that these two statements are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I mean, if you are afraid of losing your business and your liberty in telling stories for which you want a certain pay cheque and livelihood then eliminating anything that could be construed as an overt challenge to your culture’s status quo or even subversive to it, it unfortunately makes a horrible kind of sense.

The godfather of manga Tezuka Osamu once said that “Now we are living in the age of comics as air.” And while he was most likely referring to the influence of manga in Japan as becoming more widespread, its connotations can be applied to the comics medium in general. According to Paul Gravett, in Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, Tezuka believed that comics without passion or originality can become damaging and even create pollution. It took me a long time to figure out what this meant. When I first encountered the quote and the explanation, I thought that it referred to the potential damage to the morality of the reader but now I realize that the quote can definitely apply to comics as a medium and what occurred during the heyday of the Comics Code Authority.

The age-old notion of the superhero ghetto that we are so used to hearing about with regards to the comics medium: the notion of an immature all-boys club with shallow depictions of sexuality and simplistic violence with no consequences is damaging not only society’s concept of the medium but also that of its readers and future creators.

I’m not, by any means, saying that the comics that existed before the Code and its predecessors were the fonts of enlightenment for gender or, really, humankind. But there was a lot more experimentation before the Code and it just makes you wonder: what would have happened if these vigilantes and superhuman beings in tights had just remained one of many genres and there had been no Code?

I mean, there is always the scenario that Alan Moore presented in Watchmen: that if masked heroes and one a superhero had been in existence then no one would have paid attention to Wertham and the horror comics of Bill Gaines and friends would have dominated the medium from the fifties all the way into the eighties: becoming darker and more grotesque with time while also innovating itself much like our comics have done.

But that is just one creative interpretation. Who knows? Maybe a flat period of unoriginal and recycled stories would have followed regardless. Perhaps female readership demographics would have changed or something else would have challenged the “morals of comics:” for or against the status quo. Or we could have had another Golden Age: where comics became, earlier on, a widely accepted form of beautiful art and every great artist might have tried their hand at one. Maybe comics could have become widely accepted and mainstream coffee table or instructional as manga has in Japanese society to an almost ubiquitous degree. Instructional comics even had their place in North American society and to some extent they still do.

Of course, those latter thoughts are just me playing at utopia and I’ve never been really good at that. Maybe if there had been no Code comics would have, earlier, been just another form that challenged conventional morality much like any work of great art or literature should. Of course, again, this also happened in the Western world through the advent of what we understand as Underground Comix defying the establishment during about the late 60s: about that same time frame that Asselin gave when she talked about the female comics readership majority existed from the 1950s to the 1960s. Or perhaps the comics medium would have burned itself out as a fad and amateurs such as myself would be wondering, even then, what if: what if it had been different.

As for me, if you really want my honest opinion I will say this. I think that if there had been no Comics Code or anything like it children would have still been influenced by Tales from the Crypt, and Archie, and The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and all of those others. And some girls and women would have had Wonder Woman and Black Fury. Many things would have continued on, but sometimes I think about that idea of all people–young, old, straight, LGBTQ, male, and female, different ethnicities, different classes–making their own comics and showing them to their friends and the world. They would realize how different they and everyone else are but also how many things they have in common.

And when you wipe away my pseudo-utopia of a whole loss of potential for a readership of intensely intelligent men, women, and sentient beings, when it comes down to it I do like the idea that without the Code and the forces behind its development, the medium of comics would have been considered more than just silly laughter and transparently hidden BDSM parodies. Those things would have been a part of the kaleidoscope. I think that many more people might have seen comics as a medium that tells all kinds of stories: a space inside and outside of us that is pictures and words. I think many more people may have been more accepting that the medium of comics as that place of sheer variety, like film, between both art and literature.

There is another way to look at Tezuka’s quote about “comics as air.” If you take the pollution of censorship and unoriginality away, what you might ideally have is a fluid art-form that anyone can learn and use. And if you consider that we all live in the continuing Age of Information and in societies that utilize wireless Internet and you include webcomics into the medium … perhaps we can all fly where only superheroes used to tread: up, up, out of the ghetto and away.

Miracleman Balloons

There’s No Place Like Home

“I am Oz! The Great and powerful …”

I ignore the floating green skull and its superior glare, hovering theatrically in its own flames as I make my way to the red curtain not too far away.

“How dare you!” the terrible voice booms, “You have not been given permission to go there!”

The sounds of thunder explode throughout the great chamber. Lights not unlike lightning explode into my eyes. I continue to stalk towards the booth with the red curtain with Apollonian purpose, an ironic reference in itself. Mists and fog swarm around me, and frightening admonitions echo throughout the great throne-room. These sights, and sounds and smells almost make me dizzy.

“Taking a scrap from the Pythia’s scroll, I see,” I speak aloud and continue walking.

“Cease this insolence!” the other cries, his below prompting a burst of orange flame around me, “Or I will summon my Guards to destroy you!”

“No,” I say calmly and without feeling, “you won’t. As an Oracle, you can’t afford to have your men that close,” I get closer to the booth, “besides, we both know they are already dead.”

I walk through the illusionary flames, images channeled there by glittering panels from the corner of my eye.

“Desist, or be struck down by the power of Oz the Great and Terrible!”

“I’m surprised, really,” I tell him as I get closer, “I’m surprised that in a world of magic and strangeness like this one, they wouldn’t have seen right through your disguise. Of course, a magician of any kind–mystical or otherwise–does his best work,” I come up to the curtain, “in plain sight.”

I rip open the curtain. And there is great maniacal laughter.

The man behind the curtain … is not a man at all. It is something else dressed in long emerald coattails. The bronze creature lunges for me with its blade. I barely dodge it, and meet it with the sword in my own hand. Then the curtain completely collapses and two more metallic creatures wielding great silvery wicked-looking scythes surround me. I parry the central construct’s blade even as the others come towards me from the sides …

And promptly collapse into pieces.

The central construct, the Tik-Tok as my companions outside called them, halted. In its beady clockwork eyes, I can almost see fear before it too shudders, steam bursting from its neck-bolts, and falls to the ground with its fellows in one great ruinous scrap-heap.

I hear the click of the weapon at my neck before I even turn around.

“Steam-powered clock-work automatons,” I nod, “I’m impressed.”

“Why thank you,” the voice behind me said, “it took me quite some time to create them.”

“I can imagine.”

“Get up.”

Slowly, I turn around. He’s dressed in the same green coattails that his construct wore. He’s short, and stout, and his receding hair is grey, almost silver. Anyone who saw him would probably have thought him some kind of minor janitor in the Emerald City, a harmless and perhaps even friendly old man. But the hard eyes behind the small rectangular spectacles say otherwise.

“There’s always one in every crowd,” his voice quavers somewhat nasally without the machines to make it sound fearsome, “someone who just won’t believe in the magic.”

“So that’s what you call it,” my words are cold, and final.

He trains his weapon at me, a black antique Colt pistol, “Young man, it is all magic. It’s all one spectacle. Bread, and circuses, you know,” he drawls casually, “It’s just very rare that you find one in the crowd that sees through the trick,” his eyes narrow, “But since you seem to know how my tricks work, it’s only fair–from one magician to another, mind you–that you tell me yours.”

“It’s a trade secret.”

The man laughs, “It was Elphaba, wasn’t it?”

“And what makes you think the Witch is the only one with magic?”

“Well, she isn’t. Not really. She is just more skilled at it than most here. You’d be surprised how much ‘magic’ is left in even these lands.”

“Actually,” I tell him, “I’m not.”

“Tell me what I want to know, young man,” his nasal voice becomes low, the weapon in his hand clicking again, “we are not in Kansas.”

“Though we do come from the same world,” I relish telling him this, now, “Oscar Zoroaster.”

The man seems to freeze in place. His beady eyes seem to dilate like that of a bird’s, “What?”

“Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs,” I repeat, “You were a showman in the United States, probably in the late nineteenth century. A minor conjurer, traveling magician, and tinkerer. You know a lot about mirrors, tricks, sleight of hand, sophistry, clock-work devices, and the power of steam, your Age being what it was before you … left.”

“So …” he says after a while, “You are from Earth.”

“From a different time, yes. You missed a lot since you’ve been away, Oscar Zoroaster.”

“I am Oz now,” he grins at me, waving his gun at me, “the great and powerful Wizard of these Lands.”

“You’re an artificer at least,” I amend, “Like I said, you must have spent a lot of time here, letting you hone your craft. You made one great Industrial Revolution here, I’ll grant you that much, but not much else. I wonder though … how much of it was your innovation, magic filling the gaps … or slave-labour.”

“Merely dirty Animals, and savages,” he says dismissively, “no one will miss them. I brought peace here. Stability. I brought them civilization.”

“And all the horrors of Industry to go along with it,” my mouth clenches and I remember why I want to kill this man, “Like I said, you missed a lot after you left us. Pollution, starvation, two World Wars, and mechanized genocide. An entire century of human atrocity and dehumanization, anticipated by and brought to scale right here by a carny-man. You are an Oracle after all, ‘Wizard’: a retrograde Oracle from our world more than anything else.”

“Hush now,” he growls at me, “you only live because I want to know how you know about me. I mean, you could have researched, but there are things … perhaps you read The Book. Elphaba probably learned …” he shakes his head, “a pity I can’t let you live beyond this.”

“It won’t matter what you do or don’t do to me,” I tell him, “you’ve already lost, ‘Wizard.'”

“I can recover easily enough. My men are a dime a dozen, and there are many exits to this place. I know. I had it built myself,” his gaze becomes considering, “And then I will rebuild. It won’t take long. None of it really did in relative terms. Then …”

“Your Madame Morrible is already dead. I’m sure that Elphaba and Glinda of the South made sure of that by now, even as we speak,” I allow a smile to appear on my lips, “By the time you kill me, they will be right here. Them and the flying monkeys you experimented on. And all of this, all of this here will be even more meaningless than it already is.”

“You’d be surprised how quickly one can disappear,” he takes aim at me, and pulls the trigger.

There is a sharp click. And then nothing. I let him pull the trigger of his gun again. And there is still an empty click. His small eyes have dilated further into shock, disbelief, and then fear. Very calmly, I take the gun from his hand.

“This is quite the antique you have here. It’s almost as dated as your Vaudevillian antics,” I throw it on the ground.

“Please …” he backs away from me.

“It is already too late for that. And no, I don’t want emeralds, or power, or ruby slippers,” I grab the collar of his shirt, “you’ve already taken enough from these Lands as is.”

“H-how …”

“Oz is a magical place, as you well know. Back in our world, I always had a knack for causing my machines to malfunction. But Oz … seems to make things less obvious things very pronounced, taking concepts and rounding them up to the next most cosmically ridiculous common denominator. It’s like one great Caricature.”

I let my rage fill my eyes, “But it was a Caricature I loved. Dearly.”

I throw him to the ground, “Your mistake, you murderous charlatan was that I watched this place from the very beginning. I saw it grow. I grew up with it. And saw you. I used to think you were pretty something. I used to think, much like Elphaba did, that you were a wise and benevolent Wizard. Even when I knew you couldn’t use magic. I looked up to you,” my voice cracks, “I liked you, and your hot air balloon until I realized that the only thing in your heart is precisely that. Hot air.”

The next thing I know, I’m shaking with fury, and pointing his own gun at him with one hand, “You ruined the Land I loved, that gave me any meaning in my life — poisoned it with the exact same nationalism, and war, and death from our own world. Our own garbage. You … had … no … right! I should kill you right now.”

I walk back a few paces. And then, I do the unthinkable. I toss his own gun back at him. He catches it, with shaking hands and trains it on me again.

“I helped Elphaba figure out how to read The Book. All of The Book. I didn’t have to do much. You can run anywhere you want. You can hide. You can try to kill your way through. But she will find you. Her and all the citizens of Oz: the Munchkinlanders, the Vinkus, the Quadlings, and the Animals. Especially the Animals. They’ll find you, and make you wish you were dead.

“But I don’t want them to get any more blood on their hands on your account. So you have two choices really. Choose wisely.

I wait and watch him. He knows he can’t run from me. And I can see that he knows that even if he can, they will find him. Elphaba even knows who he is. It doesn’t take long for him to make the choice. I swallow violently and look away after. Even after all he did … I almost wished that what I saw come out of him was spilled oil, and shattered coils and springs. An advanced Tik-Tok mechanism that was created with benevolent intentions, then went out of control and killed his real creator: enchanted to look like a man. Like him. But sadly, all that hot-air inside him was not merely the result of steam-power.

It was just the result of another man playing at being God. I feel less like a child now than ever.

But there is just one more thing for me to do. I search around for a little while until I find it. The green elixir.

I hide it in my pocket before she comes back in. She stands there, surrounded by her winged monkeys and Vinkus allies. They scatter and start securing the room. She sees the body on the floor. Fiyero isn’t here yet, so it falls on me to get to her first. Elphaba doesn’t flinch from the sight. But even after all this man did, I can see in her eyes that her heart is broken. I hold her and she holds me back tightly.

“Glinda is fine,” she says to me, “she handled Madame Morrible. I came here as fast as I could …”

“I know,” suddenly I find a lot of my wordiness is gone.

“It’s done then,” she looks sad, and lost, but at the same time there is a great flush of strength from her emerald skin, “I suppose … you have to go now.”

I look at her. We stand at the same height. None of the literature from my world ever really did her justice. This time, I look away from that penetrating stare, “I … don’t want to,” I admit it. I love this world. I love it and its people, and the magic and the friends I’ve made here. I want to see them grow, and prosper. I want to be with them. There is so much wrong with the world that I came from, so much that disgusts me and isolates me there. There is just too much potential to become petty and small again. To forget everything. And her.

“But you have to,” this is not a question. For a few insane seconds, I want to ask her to come away with me, to fly with me on the Wizard’s hot air balloon back to my world. But although my world is more politically correct in some places, she would be no less green to anyone there as she is here. And she would know that. Those few seconds are gone. She has a life here … and a new life to begin. This entire Land has a new life to begin, and Earth and those few people from it have already done enough to it.

I look at this amazing person who is the best of both worlds–though she would never know it–embodied into a beautiful green form with discerning intelligence and an even greater heart and I know that Fiyero is a lucky man, whatever else he is now. A choking feeling sits hard in my chest, not unlike the one I felt as a child when I saw another farewell scene.

“There must be people who care for you,” she prompts, and then hands me something. It is The Book.

“Elphaba …”

“No, I want you have this. Glinda, and I learned everything we needed to. We want you to have it and keep it safe. Who knows …” she smiled, sadly, “maybe one day it will lead you back to us.”

Then she wraps her arms around me and I hold her.

“What will you do with all of this?” I ask her, looking at the throne-room.

She smiles, “I think I might have a plan or two.”

We hug again, and then I manage to walk away. I don’t know what I’ll do now. Maybe I will go back home. Maybe I will succeed in finding the hot air balloon in one of those workshops that the self-styled Wizard had lying around. Or maybe I’ll take it and ride across the clouds to other places, others untouched by time and always going. A little girl and her family one day will move to Oz, hopefully under better circumstances. Maybe I will find the Oz I knew from my childhood again. Though it would be one without her.

No, it will be better to find other Lands. To keep travelling. A young girl from Kansas once said that there is no place like Home.

But I now know, however, that Home is where I carry The Book: this Book and story, that I now keep on living.

Photo and Collage Credit: Beth Ann Dowler

This is Not a Less Impressive Daffodil: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I thought I was going to just make that small post about how most–if not all–of Neil Gaiman’s stories could be construed as being part of a multiverse of his own creation. I thought I could leave it at that and not talk about The Ocean At the End of the Lane in and of itself. Certainly, that would have been easier. For a 181-page novel, Ocean is intimidating and in a lot of ways really hard to describe.

In fact, the reason why Ocean is so hard to deal with, at least from my perspective, is that its writing is seemingly so sparse, but there is so much packed into those charged sentences. In terms of structure, the narrative and writing style reminds me of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s Julian The Magician in all the different ideas that have compacted into almost poetic sentences. At the same time the resonances, metaphors and allusions to other events through imagery and small stories is reminiscent–to me again–of a more “spread-out” George R.R. Martin: in that there is a very intricate storytelling structure that incorporates physical, visual, visceral and emotion description well. I even know that if and when I read this novel again there will be more hints and foreshadowing‚Äôs and authorial winks that will meet me along the way to the end of the lane.

All of the above are the technical elements that stand out at me with regards to the writing style of the book. And I haven’t even gotten to where this can fit in with regards to Neil’s own mythic “storyscape.” Amanda Palmer goes into this far better than I can–even better–she provides no spoilers to the book whatsoever. I will however say that one very striking part of her Blog review on Ocean is that apparently this story is the closer to autobiography or semi-autobiography than a lot of Neil’s other words or, as Amanda put it, “Neil dialed down the usual setting of his blender” so that you can see a much clearer distinction between “the reality that we experience” and “the art we create.”

Of course, this is not the first time he has done this. Violent Cases and The Tragical Comedy or the Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch are works that definitely come to mind with regards to where the writer’s experiences and what the writer creates can be observed to some extent as that “twilight place where the man and the writer smash into each other and for a second there‚Äôs a wrinkle, a schism, where you can jam a stick into the works of the blender and see the whole, floating components of a soul” but I will say that this is probably the first time that Neil has ever written a prose novel along these lines.

I also can’t help but wonder if somehow Neil was somehow, in some stylistic or personal way, inspired or influenced in some part by C. Anthony Martignetti‚Äôs Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections: a collection of short stories that Neil read, wrote praise for and even–as “an American God” sent an editor to look at. You can find my review of Anthony’s book here. Certainly, there is a nice resonance between the first-person mostly-child narrative of Anthony’s stories and the unnamed mostly-child protagonist in Ocean: both of which were narrated by adults.

And now, my friends, this where I place my obligatory disclaimer: for in this Ocean there be Spoilers. If you plan to read this book, turn back now. It is a really good book, so please read it. If not, or if you’ve read it continue walking down this lane … if you dare.

If I had to sum this story all up in one sentence, I would say that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story about childhood fear and wonder for grown-ups. I’m not talking about Coraline or any of Neil’s other children’s stories that are made for children but can be read by adults or even the film MirrorMask with its own child protagonist putting herself into danger. No, the danger inherent in the situation of the unnamed protagonist is one of a very painful real powerlessness in the face of an unfathomable adult–and also fantastic–reality. The protagonist discovers a lot of hard truths at his age of seven even before the magical element comes into play: which, in turn, is triggered by one of those harsh adult and alien truths in a really terrible way.

The protagonist already starts off as a child that can barely tolerate his reality without books and is alternatively lonely and does not care much for people in general. He actually describes it as mostly unhappy, though he does admit that he had moments of contentedness. He is not a child like Coraline who can trick her way out of situations, or Bod with his canniness and supernatural influence: and he is made very painfully aware of how weak and small he is compared to an adult. That is not to say, in retrospect, that he doesn’t his own intelligence or craftiness: after all, not only did he learn basic survival skills–if only out of necessity–but he has books as his oldest companions and books can teach you things if you let them.

But even his resources and the high level of child intuition that he possesses, the protagonist cannot solve all of his problems by himself: which is something that the narrative makes quite clear. Even the books he reads, each one about children overcoming adversity, or an evil adult is offset by his reality of actual helplessness: as if Neil is trying to hit home–the home and childhood the protagonist realizes he is losing–that this is not that kind of story. The protagonist can be a cowardly child, a thoughtful child, a brave child but he is still just a child.

And children need help when they find themselves in a bad situation: domestic or otherwise.

The Hempstocks are a family of three women that live at the end of the lane. The youngest is Lettie, her mother is called Ginnie and the grandmother is, well, Old Mrs. Hempstock. Lettie Hempstock, with her red hair and snub nose, is a seemingly eleven year old girl reminiscent of a Pippi Longstocking with magical strength and “just-so” knowledge. Of course, these three women are not what they seem and yet, at the same time, they are. This pattern of three women of power comes up a lot in Neil’s works: from the Lilim in Stardust, to the Kindly Ones in Sandman and even the immigrant Slavic goddesses in American Gods. I’d also be remiss if I forgot to make mention of the Norns or the Fates from mythology as well.

In this case, though, the three are here to help the protagonist: at least whenever he finds his way to them. The Hempstocks themselves seem to have come from another dimension countless millennia ago, from the Ocean pond next to their farm and in at least one form they are pure energy. These three are pure Hempstocks and apparently there are other female Hempstocks throughout the world created by the wandering male Hempstocks: who aren’t as powerful, but are just as special in their own ways. The fact that there is a Hempstock in Stardust and The Graveyard Book may well be coincidences.

What is also interesting is that the pure Hempstock females do not have fathers. Perhaps they are born from the multiverse or perhaps not. The original male Hempstocks may be the same and I wonder if there is one as old as Old Mrs. Hempstock out there somewhere. It is not known if male Hempstocks can make other male ones in the same as they do female ones. So basically, while these male Hempstocks wander and play Zeus across the world and nowhere in this narrative whatsoever, we are left with these three who are a child, an adult woman, and an old woman: and yet so much more.

And then we have the antagonists. Skarthach of the Keep is a flea. She isn’t a flea in the conventional sense, but rather an ancient creature in the multiverse of the Ocean that is awakened by the badness that happens in this world and seeks to rule it by providing what people want and feeding off of the sensations they get from it. She is massive, powerful and old. So you might think to yourself that what we have here is a classical Lovecraftian entity or even an Other Mother that will manipulate the protagonist and Lettie as they come into her acquired dimension. Well, if you did think this, I’m afraid you thought wrong.

What Skarthach does–after becoming a humanoid named Ursula Monkton–is worse. She physically infiltrates the protagonist as a worm–which in and of itself has some very unsettling overtones–and after he takes her out, she changes into a human that becomes his babysitter. Out of perhaps some pettiness for Lettie attempting to seal her away in her own dimension or simply wanting to keep the protagonist “safe”–because she placed a gateway back into her dimension within him after being in his body–she begins to control his life. She infects his family with her “food” and makes them love her: his married father in particular. But before and after that, Ursula limits his physical freedom–essentially taking it away–and threatens to take away his books while enforcing “early bedtimes.”

And all of this is before she gets his father–who has some aggression issues of his own–to attempt to drown him. She is literally the stereotype of every wicked stepmother–or surrogate mother as she takes over the family–rolled up into pettiness, spite and pure evil. She is an epitome of insidious adult bullying and abuse. Neil did such a good job on illustrating all of this that I’ve even stated that Ursula Monkton is the first of his antagonists that I have ever truly despised and I took great joy in watching her pretend a fearless she didn’t have and then cry like a little baby smeared in mud– just as she had done to the protagonist before (it’s not so grand when it happens to you, huh Ursula?)–as her very painful doom came to her.

But it is slightly before that when you begin to understand something. Apparently, fleas had come to reality before and they were almost always accompanied by things that Old Mrs. Hempstock called varmints. I originally thought that they were just infected humans or offspring that the fleas made when they colonized worlds. But I fall victim to expectations as well and I realized after a while that I was wrong. Fleas are deathly afraid of varmints: and anything else with half a soul would be too. The reason for this is because they are cleaners: they eat fleas and everything associated with them. And apparently a lot of them dwell in Earth’s universe because there are no native fleas there. I pictured them like the mounts that the Nazgul in Return of the King rode, but I know they are even worse than that and only barely have passing resemblances. All I know is that when they ate one constellation out of existence, it reminded me of various terrible events from Dr. Who.

I think what I really related in the end is that the protagonist, even after the removal of the worm and the path to her portal still has the gateway to other dimensions inside of him. It is described as this piece of ice in his heart. Later you discover that when he is older, he makes art and even though the Hempstocks observe that he is “growing a new heart,” even though he may have died in one version of reality from the varmints hunting every last bit and trace of the flea,¬† I wonder if that shard is really gone. It was a nice allusion to what a writer can actually be.

Other things that I really liked in Ocean was the metaphoric and literal quality of the ocean itself and how, through simple language and the perspective of a child, Neil manages to show the wrongness in the death and supposed replacement of a loved one: as if somehow substituting one cat for another that you killed can ever replace the being you loved, or if another thoughtlessly intentional violation somehow makes the previous accidental one better. It is that last image that really sets the tone for the protagonist’s story really: at least to me.

I am nearing the end of this strange review now. I just want to leave off with some quotes that really caught my eye: both in their meanings and undertones and just for the simple elegance of their craftsmanship.

“I was far away in ancient Egypt, learning about Hathor, and how she had stalked Egypt in the form of a lioness, and she had killed so many people the sands turned red, and how they had only defeated her by mixing beer and honey and sleeping draughts and dying this concoction red, so she thought it was blood, and she drank it and fell asleep. ¬†Ra, the father of the gods, made her the goddess of love after that, so the wounds she had inflicted on people would now only be wounds of the heart. I wondered why the gods had done that. Why hadn’t they just killed her, when they had the chance?” (53)

It is a very good question, I might add, although it might be answered by the shard of ice in the protagonist’s heart and the art it possibly inspires him to make: as some consolation anyway.

“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were (53)

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t” (112).

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world … Except for Granny, of course” (112).

“In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping” (43).

This particular quote has a flow to it and a glowing golden aura–like reading some precursor to ancient Greek–and yet flows so well and with such a seeming effortlessness like breathing that it makes me want to cry. This was by far my favourite quote in the entire book for that reason alone.

And then there is this one:

“My book of Greek myths had told me that the narcissi were named after a beautiful young man, so lovely that he had fallen in love with himself. He saw his reflection in a pool of water, and would not leave it, and, eventually, he died, so that the gods were forced to transform him into a flower. In my mind, when I had read this, I had imagined that a narcissus must be the most beautiful flower in the world. I was disappointed when I learned that it was just a less impressive daffodil” (68).

I have to say that aside from the various nuances and connotations within these lines, this has to be one of the best, most subtle and utterly poetic insult ever. I can just imagine going around telling a person that annoys me that they are “just a less impressive daffodil.”

So, suffice to say, I am going to give The Ocean at the End of the Lane a 5/5. I know there is so much I did not discuss or make parallels to, but then I have to also remember that this is just one road to one place in Neil Gaiman’s multiverse. I think what really got to me, when all of this is said done, however, is the fact that this style of story–with the exception of a few descriptive details and elements–is something that I have been working on myself in my own writing and it was really interesting to see Neil making a story like this for himself and the rest of us. Perhaps we all dip into the same place: a place that can be a well, or a spring, or a stream of consciousness, or a pond … that is an eternal, bottomless, ocean.

Contains Language: Reader’s Discretion is Advised!

I know the above title is a low blow for attention, but I really couldn’t resist.

Whenever I write something on Mythic Bios, I try to make the language and the content as accessible as possible. I know I don’t always succeed, but in the case that I don’t my hope is that I have a little something for everyone that I am also interested in writing about.

In my later years in high school and throughout my early years at University I was really interested in Philosophy. I liked writing that made me think and that also played around with ideas of varying kinds with regards to, well, pretty much existence. But even then, before I realized how didactic–how dry and rambling it could get–I had one other issue with Philosophy and texts that purported to be as such.

Sometimes, they would reference subject matter that I wouldn’t understand or, in my case even worse, begin to quote a language of what I was not at all familiar. And it annoyed me. A lot. To be honest, it still does.

Philosophical texts are not the only culprit in this non-crime of course. Many literary classics–novels–do this exact same thing: at least from the Modernist era. And, finally, there are comics that do the exact same thing from time to time. Take Alan Moore for instance. Alan Moore is a genius. He creates multi-layered plots that start off very slowly but ultimately become very epic and grandiose. And even though his characters have tended to lean towards the cynical side of humanity, his characterization is very human and excellent.

But I will tell you now: when he has whole passages of From Hell and Lost Girls in German, or I believe Punjabi in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910, or even … freaking Martian in the second Volume of The League I start to get … annoyed.

Don’t misunderstand: I like the authenticity he brings to the characters and the fact that you can clearly see how his well-read nature and research is paying off in the background. Now I am not just talking about his appropriate use of other languages, but his many, many literary and historical references that make me feel very under-read as a reader and overwhelmed as a writer. He simply makes so many references and allusions that I can’t always keep track of them, or even know what they are. I can see how other people would really have difficulty relating to this. I guess it’s like what Austrian Emperor Joseph the Second purportedly once told Mozart: that his work has “too many notes.”

I know that when he has used other languages, I feel a bit … cheated: because I want to know what the hell the characters are saying! It’s that simple. Likewise, I want to get all the references. I’m greedy like that and it feels like I’ve reached a certain level of understanding, and then I hit a wall.

A language is another perception of reality. Really, another language is a different world. This leads me to the other perspective on the matter. Anna Anthropy has said a few times that one of the issues with regards to video games is the very exclusive culture or subculture that has developed around them. More specifically, she talks about how video game design and dialogue around it becomes this interaction of in-jokes and references that people outside the circle do not always get. I would imagine that this is something, especially with regards to games as an expression of art–of language–is something that Anthropy believes we should watch out for.

On the other hand, Anna Anthropy is also one of those who wants to allow for a different voice or perspective in the medium of video games. For Anthropy this seems to have been in the form of making games for different genders and practices outside what was–and still is–the social norm. Essentially, and others like her, use this chosen medium to subvert it and change it: to reveal its full potential through a new perspective.

Alan Moore did something very similar. He, and others like Will Eisner, took a medium that became very associated with superheroes and some two-dimensional character development and morality and injected a whole different kind of perspective into it: using comics to talk about scholarly, metaphysical, philosophical, sexual, and realistic matters as well as still telling a story. Eisner and Moore are known for bringing the idea of the novel to the comics form and–eventually–leading to a place where a larger audience could access and relate to the stories being made in this medium.

In a way, they were making a new language as all languages are made: through innovation of an older dialect.

Anna Anthropy seems to believe that video games still need to “grow up” and deal with these matters as well: with gender and sexuality and life experiences in an accessible way. And one of these ways is to make the audience for games grow by trying not to make so many exclusive references within a game’s structure. Geeks by their very nature are exclusive in that they tend to know many obscure facts and bits of knowledge and trivia, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

But I would argue with Anna Anthropy–at least with regards to knowledge and not necessarily that sense of shared social experience–that if a player doesn’t understand one element in a game, there are resources online and elsewhere that they can access to understand what is going on. And I suppose that is why, with regards to Alan Moore, there are so many Annotations of his works out there. I do think that it is more than okay, especially with regards to continuity and art, to make references that a reader doesn’t always understand: provided that there is enough that they do understand and enough impetus for them to go and learn something new.

It is strange how my knee-jerk reaction to seeing other languages in a primarily English language comic is a feeling of exclusion and also this annoyance: as though the author is trying to be pretentious and show how smart they are instead of telling a story that I can relate to. Sometimes I feel it to be very elitist. This is the same with references at times. On the other hand, I know–especially with regards to the latter–that I do the same thing regardless of how well I might explain it, and that I should really take it as a challenge.

I don’t want to be talked down to, but I also don’t like it when things go over my head. And this is me as a reader and–as such–I need to keep it in mind as a writer too. I also, as I said, don’t always succeed.

I like to think that Alan Moore doesn’t write in different languages in his works for the sake of being clever, but he actually does it to keep his characters in character and to maintain a continuity in his world-building. Granted, he could <do what some other creators do and but triangular brackets around dialogue to indicate a different language like so>, or make a different font for those words, but it would not be the same. There is no real solution to that, I’m afraid: not for me anyway.

But there is something that my studies in Philosophy also taught me. Whenever I do come across things I don’t understand, as I said I look them up, or I try to find a speaker of the language. I can tell you that it was enjoyable having a German-speaking friend of mine translate some words to me as I typed them out to her so long ago. And when I don’t get a reference, I consider it a real challenge and it is like an easter-egg hunt that allows me to reread Alan Moore’s text and graphics all over again. And sometimes, I find something new I didn’t get in the first reading.

I would never bring up any of this at a signing–should Alan Moore ever come to Toronto one day and I can access the line–because that is not the time or the place. But I do have this place to talk about it. Alan Moore helped take a medium that people did not always take seriously and made it into some serious literature: and as long as “serious literature” is always questioned, always makes you think, and can function on its own merit– and can take you into another perspective–then it is definitely a past-time, and a calling, that I want to continue for my own: because there is always room for growth.

So hopefully this made sense. My Mythic Bios is another world itself and perhaps a language of differing ideas sometimes reaching critical mass, or becoming exercises in poetry. Or it’s that fine line between talking down, and or being the wind over someone’s scalp. I’ll leave that up to you, my awesome readers.

Sea Shells, See Shells by the Sea Shore: A Review of C. Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes

I have been looking forward to reading C. Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections for some time, and now that I have finished reading it, I find I have a lot of different things to say. In fact, what I think I’m going to do is the following.

I am going to write two sections to this review. The first will be an attempt at a more literary perspective of Lunatic Heroes, while the second will deal with my own personal reactions to the stories themselves. Before I go on, however, I just want to say that I will be referring to Anthony by his first name due to the way that I was introduced to him. I will elaborate on that later, but I just want to say that it would feel weird after reading about him and his own work to call him anything else. It’s the not first time I have done this with an author and it probably won’t be the last.

Lunatia heros is a species of Northern moon-snail that likes to live close to the shoreline of bodies of water. They are large gastropods that like to eat clams and other snails: including members of their own species. They consume their prey by drilling holes in their shells, releasing digestive enzymes, and sucking out the partially digested contents of their victims from within those shells. In fact, the only thing left of their fellow snails are these empty shells. According to Wikipedia, these moon snails hunt other mollusks down by searching for those that bury themselves in the sand of the shoreline.

Of all the titles Anthony could have given his work, Lunatic Heroes is by far the most apt. This book is essentially a collection of fifteen short stories or, technically written recollections, of some of the major events in Anthony’s life. Even though the book itself is categorized as a memoir, which it is, each narrative is both interrelated and self-contained.

At least twelve of these stories deal with Anthony’s childhood with his Italian-American family in Boston, while the remaining three focus on Anthony as a developing independent adult all the way to contemporary times. I don’t want to make too much of a generalization, but each story is about the insanity of the human condition. After all, the word lunatic is derived from the Latin word Luna and it was once thought that someone suffering from madness was “moon-touched,” while at the same time the moon itself has always been associated with the other world of the night, creativity and intuition.

In this, the metaphor of Lunatic Heroes functions in a few different ways. On one hand, most of Anthony’s stories are about the dysfunctional elements of his own family and his 1950s childhood: about the way each character would attempt to devour Anthony’s extremely introverted essence, digging under the sand where his self hid in order to successfully–or unsuccessfully–get at it.

On the other hand, Anthony’s narratives also take many of these same characters and portray their other more relatable sides. It is no coincidence, after all, that the heroes of ancient literature–for all of their deplorable moral behaviour by contemporary standards–still possessed a spark of divinity and managed to perform great deeds. In a fiercely passionate and witty voice tempered with a nostalgic unsentimentality not unlike that of Will Eisner, Anthony manages to show that these characters from his own life aren’t always monsters, but are very fallible human beings with some moments of relation, levity, and downright comedy: even and especially in some of the worst situations that he depicts.

What drew me in as a reader were the very mutable archetypes that Anthony managed to identify in his life: specifically with regards to how they transferred and inter-lapped throughout each story that he gathers together into a strange whole. Sometimes each narrative doesn’t always fit in a straight-line–which is more than fair given how a life of human interactions is generally never shaped that way–and he occasionally repeats a sentence from a previous story. But the archetypes really drew me in. Certainly, the whole Scylla and Charybdis parallel childhood dilemma in “Force Fed” was made very uncomfortably clear, just as the figure of a Far Eastern form of enlightenment and a symbolic place of personal transformation is within “Swamp.”

So thus ends the very brief and relatively spoiler free part of my review. Now I am going to talk about my personal reaction to Lunatic Heroes. I will say that I particularly related to “Force Fed.” When I was a boy, I was a very fussy eater and after I started to lose weight at twelve, my family thought that I had some kind of eating disorder. I didn’t really see a problem: in that when I stopped feeling hungry, I simply stopped eating. I was also lactose intolerant and I didn’t know that until my doctor and a slough of very uncomfortable and embarrassing tests happened. I lost a lot of weight from simply no longer eating dairy and then having a growth spurt. It also didn’t help that I was a very nervous child and my stomach suffered for it. But I could definitely relate to Anthony’s account of being made to feel like there was something wrong with you just because you simply weren’t hungry enough by the standards of others or the fact that you didn’t want to become sick.

I could definitely relate to the moments of introversion and hyper-sensitivity from Anthony’s depiction of his childhood self and that paradoxical need to have your parents always in your life, but at the same time that need to keep that bubble of personal space around you from being violated by the rest of the world: sometimes in vain. That is why I particularly related to–and if anyone knows me and is reading this they will be laughing by now–the last story “Hate.”

I admit that I was actually concerned when Anthony ended his memoir with a story entitled “Hate,” but it made sense. The thing is, Anthony is a psychotherapist and there are some things he talks about throughout the entire book–mindfulness, being in your head and needing to be in your body–that is very reminiscent of what my own therapist has been telling me for quite some years now. In “Hate,” Anthony even mentions how he still has snap judgments and immediate–and sometimes unfavourable–superficial impressions of people. They can bring up various associations his life: not all of them pleasant. But he also mentions how by realizing that these same people have pain and loss in their lives, it makes them relatable as human beings. It is still a lesson I have to keep reminding myself of during some of my more misanthropic world-obliterating moments of glee.

I also totally understand where Anthony is coming from in “The Head,” when he writes about the darkness and anger that he is feeling in himself even while he is with his wife and dog at a peaceful retreat: the knowledge of this fact that just made him feel worse until he has one moment of mindfulness. I think Anthony really hit home for me that you can mentally and emotionally awaken many times in life: and for different reasons. In that, “Swamp” and the events with regards to the freak show in “Carnival” really come to the fore. In addition, the story “Nonno” made me really miss my own Zaidy while I can more than sympathize with the need to belong and centre yourself and finding a place like “Harvard Square” home.

I am almost finished this strange review. But to make it even stranger, I want to write down some very notable lines, or moments of text that just made this entire book for me:

Anthony writes about longing: “But this time I felt the ache you get when longing for something you don’t think you have, coupled by the fear that you’d blow it if you did” (107).

He also describes the process of maturity, stating, “I was pulling off the heist of the decade, stealing the truth about myself from every encounter” (108-109).

Finally, there is this: “I imagined eventually befriending the Devil and getting promoted to demon status, sharing the power of evil and control over an infinite number of she-devils who would hungrily do my bidding” (129).

These are just such universal impulses and feelings, and as a writer I kind of wish I had been the one to express myself in such a way. The metaphor of the Lunatic Heroes is even more ingenious because in addition to moon snails being predators, Lunatia heros always leaves perfectly preserved husks from all of its feedings. Think about that for a few moments: even though the snail is gone, like the imprint of a lost self or Virginia Woolf’s spot on a wall, its shell–the testament to its existence–is left unearthed in the sand. It’s left there for others to find and see and marvel in the patterns that they created. In other words, we are the predators and the prey of our selves, but by simply living we take the selves of others with us, and we leave a testament to their existence. It is an excellent extended metaphor for a writer, the act of writing, literature itself and the state of being human.

Now I am finally going to tell you the reason why I refer to Anthony by his first name in this review. Through reading Anthony’s book, I feel like I know him a little more. But that is only part of it. The rest of the reason has to do with how I discovered him.

It was mainly by accident. I was searching for Amanda Palmer’s Blog and I came across her entries about Anthony and just some of what he means to her. I will let you read that entry should you so wish. But what I will say is that Amanda wrote the “Introduction” to Anthony’s book and she said something that really got to me.

Amanda wrote the following, “I had a small glimpse into the act of writing as a direct escape from pain. For the first time, I experienced the physical truth of what it felt like to dwell in the act of creation as the only viable escape from an unbearable, unfaceable reality” (ix). I read this statement and I took a look at myself. I took a look at my notebooks around me in my room. And then I looked at the one hundred or so posts I’ve made on this very Blog. I took a look at what I try to do every single day now and I thought…

Yes. Just … yes.

Amanda also went on to talk about how she and Anthony delve into the uncomfortable, and awkward, and painful moments of clarity that is life. And you will find that and more in exquisite detail if you read this book.

Now I am going to end off now by doing something even stranger. I am going to give Lunatic Heroes a four out of five.

And here is why.

After reading “The Introduction” and Anthony’s “Acknowledgments,” and just hearing about him and some of his life from Amanda’s Blog, I wanted to know … more. Even though the way he describes his childhood, sometimes blatantly and sometimes tinged with hazy mythical half-memories is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Violent Cases, I want to know about the rest of it: the adolescent rebellion you see forming in the latter stories, what happened in the rest of his travels, what his other fights were about, and more about his exposure to other philosophies and other relationships.

When it comes down to it, I want to see more. And as one lunatic hero to another, Anthony, I sincerely hope to.

Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

So now I’m going to do an actual review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey. And yes, there will be spoilers in addition to Middle-Earth references. So watch the movie first please, and I will try to be more specific with my Tolkien knowledge as well.

Anyway, let me start this off by stating that the last time I’d seen so many singing Dwarves was back when I first watched Snow White.

File:Snow white 1937 trailer screenshot (2).jpg

But all joking aside, I really liked this film and the entire world, the story thus far, and even the singing elements were incorporated well. The narrative begins slowly and much in the way that the multitude of trailers suggested that it would. I smiled when I saw Bilbo on the screen writing in what would become the Red Book of Westmarch.

I was puzzled, though not completely surprised, to see Frodo in those initial scenes as well. I know that many people have had some issues with him being there: saying that his and Bilbo’s interactions were superfluous to the plot and point of the story. But it was refreshing to see Frodo there: young and unburdened by the absolute hell he will be thrust into much later on in his own saga. He also provided a nice counterpoint to Bilbo as an old, and as a young Hobbit.

So now let’s get to the adventure. I’ve not actually read The Hobbit in some years, or read all of The Unfinished Histories and Tolkien’s notes, so you Tolkienites please bear my ignorance as much as you can. I really liked the encounter and banter between young Bilbo and Gandalf. But I think what I caught my eye in particular were two things in this beginning. First, I appreciate how each Dwarf that comes to Bilbo’s home looks and acts differently from his fellows. They looked very different from my kind of generic view of Dwarves in my head when I first read the story.

And then there is Bilbo. I’ve realized now that Bilbo has always been my favourite Hobbit for a variety of reasons. I guess I can relate to him: as the unwanted person thrown out of his comfort zone and not always wanting to be there. But there was one part in the beginning of the movie that Gandalf states: namely about how once Bilbo used to take after the adventurous Took side of his family before his mother died. And that really turned my head because, from what I inferred from that comment, Bilbo almost seemed to become sedentary and stuck in his ancestral Hobbit-Hole after his parents were gone. For a few moments, it made me wonder if it was a bit of fear or grief that changed Bilbo from a child to a more conservative Hobbit at the time. Even if it was unintentional on Jackson’s part, it was a nice detail.

The Dwarves, like I said, were fleshed out well and their singing more than appropriate given the nature of Middle-Earth as we have seen it through Jackson’s perspective and the gravitas of their quest. I talk about some scenes that really touched me when I watched this film and made me really relate to it, so now I can go on and mention some things I didn’t talk about in my previous post.

The panoramic views of the Shire and the path the company of fourteen (or thirteen and a half) take are breathtaking as always. I think that sometimes the film compensated for certain aspects by adding a lot of battle scenes. I don’t, for instance, recall Gandalf being involved with Bilbo’s dealing with the Trolls quite the way he had. At the same time, I loved how other things were inserted into the film narrative.

I absolutely loved Radagast the Brown. He is so unlike Gandalf or Saruman. He is kind of goofy and ridiculous, but he is still an Istari–a Wizard–and he acts like one when he needs to. There is something very shamanic about how he looks: especially with his fur robe and hat, and his sleigh of rabbits. I loved the nod to Middle-Earth lore with the mention of Ungoliant being the ancestor of the giant spiders of Mirkwood, and also Gandalf mentioning the two Blue Wizards whose names he … can’t particularly recall after two thousand years (which is fair because even now not everyone who has read the Middle-Earth books is sure what they were called or really whatever happened to them in the East). Now, what really intrigued me was the White Council. You know: Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and our favourite White Wizard-before-he-becomes-an idiot-Saruman.

I do recall Gandalf disappearing, or not appearing, in the book’s narrative at various points and apparently Tolkien’s notes and The Unfinished Tales have explanations as to what the Grey Wizard was up to during those times. And believe me, he was not just smoking pipeweed or drinking red wine or … letting Galadriel stroke his hair. I like how they draw The Necromancer into this saga and even how Saruman has some hilarious lines. Really, he was so serious in the Lord of the Rings films, but his comment about Radagast, as short-sighted and arrogant as it is, is really kind of funny. It also makes some matters clear with regards to what might happen in the other two Hobbit movies, and I will get to that later.

Before I move on though, I really like that gesture between Gandalf and Galadriel. All I can say is that Elves have a very different culture from the race of Men and a very radical understanding of the world. Galadriel actually has a husband and consort–Celeborn (who is known as the wisest Elf on Middle-Earth, take from that what you may)–so the gesture between her and Gandalf could be as an old friend and colleague comforting another.

At the same time, it should also be mentioned that Gandalf is not human, nor is he an Elf. He is a Maiar spirit: one of five sent from the Undying Lands by the Valar (or gods) of Middle-Earth to help the land deal with Sauron: who is also a Maiar. He is a powerful spirit that has been manifested, or chose to manifest in flesh. Galadriel herself is thousands of years old, but Gandalf is much older. He could have looked very different back in the day and they both lived in the Undying Lands once. Also, he has worked with her and the White Council closely and Galadriel herself is probably the most approachable consolatory member of the rest. So whatever the case, there is definitely a history there between them and it is fun to think about.

Now onto other matters. I must say that I have never heard of, or really recall the stone giants in The Hobbit or anywhere in Middle-Earth and it makes me wonder if Jackson simply put them there. They look like animated humanoid rocks that throw each other, and I will avoid making a pretty self-evident crude joke about the matter, but they were jarring to see in an otherwise seamless film.

I really appreciate the rapport of riddles and then the subsequent treachery between Bilbo and Gollum. I never get over how sorry I feel for Gollum and the way that he is almost friendly but vicious with Bilbo, ultimately insane when his ring is gone, and then completely despondent. That last is actually heartbreaking to watch.

So … now for the end. My brother wondered just why it is that the Great Eagles took the whole company only halfway towards the Lonely Mountain and not directly to the Mountain itself. I also wondered about this and I’m pretty sure that How It Should Have Ended would have addressed this much in the same way they did Lord of the Rings. But it actually makes sense when you think about it. Gandalf and the White Council were very reluctant to let the company go to disturb the Mountain because of the Dragon Smaug. Even Gandalf was concerned that Smaug might awaken and ally himself with Sauron.

Now, if you’ve seen that ending and you see what one bird managed to do can you imagine what would have happened if a whole flock of giant Eagles with twelve Dwarves, a Wizard, and a Hobbit with a Ring of Power (that he might not put on as of yet) came to the Mountain right away instead? Place your bets as to who would actually prevail in that immediate struggle. Then wonder what Smaug might do after that. He might just go back to sleep. Maybe. Anyway, it’s kind of a moot point at this time considering.

All in all, it was an excellent movie. I suspect that the second movie will deal with Smaug himself, and then the third will focus on the aftermath and the Battle of the Five Armies. But for now, I give this film a five out of five because, I think I am quite ready for another adventure.

P.S. And my answer to How It Should Have Ended‘s Lord of the Rings are Nazgul … on Fellbeasts.

Paradigms Lost, Paradigms Regained: Looking Back and Looking Forward Can Be Both One and the Same

Foregone Warning: the title of this post is a play on words and borderline off-key rhyme. It almost verges into the territory of the pun. Actual warning: this article is going to be a very link extensive post and I hope it will all make sense towards the end.

In my post A World Coming Together, A Possible Paradigm Forming, and Other Stories That Find Themselves On Their Way, I make a lot of promises and claims but there is one in particular that I feel I need to go into a little more detail about.

I said before that it seems like we are in the process of the rise of a new paradigm: based on the geek nostalgia of the late seventies, but mostly the eighties onward to early 2000. As I said before, I feel I need to be more specific about this. What I actually mean is that we have been, for some time now, at a point where we can look back what was the present not too long ago and actually subvert and critique it. I mean, we can actually ask some questions about a lot of things that we took for granted: either in all seriousness or through satire.

For instance, look at Robot Chicken and how it makes fun of a lot of popular culture from the 80s and onward. The thing about Robot Chicken, however, is that it makes fun of generally everything to a warped and twisted degree of hilarity: and I wonder if this hasn’t also been a product of the past thirty or forty years or if it takes a paradigm about that amount time to gestate and create itself.

I guess I am trying to talk about a few things at once: which is not the first time something like this has happened for me. So I’m going to take a risk and bring up some theory, and then see what I can do with it from there.

In about the 1980s, there was–or even is–this theory that we had entered something called post-modernism. There is a lot of debate as to what post-modernism actually is, but from my understanding it seemed to be a period in which¬† literature and other media had become fragmented or combined with one another to make entirely different meanings from what they once were, or could have been. In addition to this was the rise of another idea called deconstructionism which, in the very reduced way I’m explaining it, is a theory that likes to take things apart. When you combine these ideas together, you essentially create writings and cultures that are incredibly ironic, sometimes “self-aware,” and that like to dissect themselves while at the same time attempt to reveal a multiple amount of different meanings.

There are a lot of scholars and artists that dispute these terms, of course, and say that every generation or paradigm goes through a phase of critiquing what came before and making something new from these elements afterwards. I like to think that the 80s and onward really favoured making pastiches–narratives and stories created from parts of things like patchwork monsters–to either subvert something that once existed or make as unique as is humanly possible.

Now, take that idea. You can definitely apply that to Robot Chicken. But it goes further than that and it doesn’t always manifest in the same way. For instance, take ItsJustSomeRandomGuy. As I mentioned in another post, he takes primarily Marvel and DC superheroes and villains and actually makes them aware of their fictional status but keeps them in character in doing so and even manages to make some incredible meta-narrative plots with a whole lot of geek culture references. I‘m A Marvel, I’m a DC is a whole lot less “profane” than Robot Chicken, but they operate on similar principles. I also would be greatly remiss if I forgot the How It Should Have Ended series: where popular movies and videos are depicted as cartoons and their plots are changed or subverted by … well … common sense. But since when do good fictional plots make sense with common sense? ūüėČ We can argue that point.

The whole idea of popular cultural or geek references, sometimes to the point of being self-referential in different media seems to have originated from Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer: where in addition to a whole lot of witty “dialogue without pity,” there was a regular string of different kinds of references. The issue, however, is that I’m not sure this where it came from, or one of the points of entry into mainstream culture and entertainment. All I can say is, it was for me.

I have noticed, however, that a lot of my examples of this paradigm are very television and Internet-based. And there it is. I would argue that a paradigm or a culture is created when it evolves to the point of being able to look at itself and critique itself. And right now, this impulse, which may have started in the 80s as we know it, has sky-rocketed as information technology has advanced.

Look at the Abridged series for instance. Abridged series are fan-made parodies of television shows and cartoons. Parodies like LittleKuriboh’s Yu-gi-oh Abridged and Team Four Star’s Dragon Ball Z Abridged have become very popular and entertaining shows among fans: so much so that many other fans create their own Abridged series, or parody the Abridged series that exist. They are practically viral phenomena.

And these are just the fictional examples. I haven’t even begun to go into the actual Critics¬† like The Nostalgia Critic,¬†The Angry Video Game Nerd and Cinemassacre Productions, Nixie Pixel, G33kPron and countless others who review and critique video games, movies, and geek culture old and new. They also use the pastiche form in some cases to make various verbal and media references. There are also so many more people we do this as well.

Now, somewhere in all of this fictional and non-fictional stuff … is me.

It took me a really long time to realize that not only was I already a part of this nebulous process, but that it was legitimate and more than okay to be so. I’ve had at least one teacher or two who would have once considered comics and video games utter dreck: or at the very least very un-serious diversions from real life. And I’m not going to lie to you or myself: there is a lot of garbage out there that isn’t even entertaining like “YouTube Poop”: videos created specifically to be obnoxious. But every literary and media culture has garbage. They also have gems and other treasures.

Think about this prospect. All the video games you’ve played and the comics you’ve read are becoming references that more people from a generation of thirty or forty years understands. These references make it into literature and criticism. Moreover, we exist in an Age of Information: where many obscure and old elements of our childhood are much more accessible to us now than ever before.

Some scholars have even argued that we are–or we were–in an age of Hypertext: a situation where we can click on a vast amount of chain-information through links and linked words on the Internet. You know, like when you are on Wikipedia or anywhere else, and you search for one thing, and then click on a highlighted word or phrase to be linked to another–or multiple other–online pages. In part, this allows us to look back on “our childish things,” and we don’t turn our backs on them, but instead we embrace them with an adult perspective and understanding that only someone who knew them way back when can give.

Moreover, we can even take this perspective–possibly created from our own nostalgia–and apply it to times that existed before us, or take that and make something entirely new in our time now. But also think about this: in addition to having more information technology, we are developing more interactive technology as well. Video games are much in the same place that comics, and film used to be–and to some extent–still are in public opinion. They have not always been respected, but as we continue to make them we can add more content, more distinction, and more variety. We can–and we have–gotten to the point where video games can even make references or “literary allusions” to other video games and culture in general. I am definitely going to revisit this thought at some other people.

Then consider the other people who participate in these interactive narratives and add the Internet to that fact: which connects people all across the world and different forms of life. Sometimes, I believe–in my more optimistic moments–that we could be on the cusp of creating something truly great and maybe even in our own lifetime. I can’t even imagine what will come after this if all goes well.

So in all of this, I am trying to find my own place: to find my niche. I want to take advantage of this time and do something that matters. This Blog, in no small way, is a part of this drive. It is here that I can combine my geeky interests with my academic background and my creative impulse to construct new things and state my opinions. I want to be a part of this. I want to do something great as well.

I grew up in the nineties or, as a friend of mine likes to chant, “90s 90s, living in the 90s!” Once, it was my present and sometimes it’s weird–really weird–that it and the early 2000s aren’t anymore. Sometimes, I feel time-displaced. I feel lost. I have another acquaintance who once stated that the children of the 80s, and even those before are a Lost Generation: of people who never really achieved their full promise in today’s world. But we’re not. We’re really not. I think we have been coming into our own and we will continue to do so as we ascribe a multiplicity of new meanings to old things, and create things that will make other things together.

Because there it is: perhaps post-modernism and deconstructionism might have taken things apart to see how they work, as they work, but we–whether we are in a Hypertext age or not–are starting to put them back together … and make different things entirely. Now that is something to celebrate.

A Hesitant Hero or the Pause Before the Precipice: Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Virgil’s Aeneid

I always find it amazing when you set out to write one simple thing and then not only does it become more complex than you thought it was going to be, but the implications of what it might say can be very difficult to gauge as well.

When I first started reading Alan Moore’s run of Miracleman a while ago, I made a whole lot of notes on the margins of a piece of paper as strange literary parallels occurred to me. One of these, a comparison between the Moore Miracleman’s world, the Platonic World of Being and Aristophanes’ myth of love, made it into an article.

My comparison of the character of Miracleman to the protagonist of Virgil’s Aeneid did not.

Aeneas is depicted by the Roman writer Virgil as not only a demi-god and a high-ranking survivor of Troy after its Sacking by the Achaians, but also as the founder of another greater Empire: Rome. He has a son named Ascanius from his wife who dies during the end of the Trojan War, and has a few adventures dealing with the gods plans for him. In fact, he leads his son and the survivors of Troy to a new life: carrying his father Anchises with him out of the lost city. His father is also notable for having been a mortal man who had been chosen by and ultimately impregnated the goddess Venus (or Aphrodite): who is also the mother of Aeneas himself.

File:Aeneas' Flight from Troy by Federico Barocci.jpg

Later, Anchises dies but due to his intimate association with divine leaves him a whole other legacy: so in a way it is more than fitting that the hero carries his father on his back and ultimately later lays him to rest.

But while he is ultimately loyal to the gods–to their plan to make him the creator of a new Empire–he has his doubts: about himself and about how successful he will be. From what I remember, he mourns his old life and some of the decisions that his destiny forces him to make: such as leaving Queen Dido of Carthage whom he had fallen in love and had a relationship. Much later, he marries Lavinia of the Latins in what will one day become the city-state of Rome while his son becomes his heir.

But before this, Aeneas descends into the Underworld to see the future of the Empire that the gods decreed that he would help build: learning about the future of his people and descendants in immense detail from the spirit of his now deceased father Anchises. This is obviously a transformative experience for him–making him see that reality is far different than he had always known–but what strikes me is that the doubt never really leaves him in Virgil’s depiction. I will go more into that later.

Miracleman, or Marvelman–also known as Mike Moran–is depicted by Alan Moore as a genetically altered human being that survives the destruction of his super-hero team with few of his memories intact. He was engineered with advanced alien organic matter and technology to fulfill a purpose that was ultimately taken away from him when the authorities that made him and his Marvel or Miracle Family believed them to be too dangerous: and sought to destroy them. Despite this, Miracleman and his Family were created by Project Zarathustra to help “save” the world: or at least the status quo version of it at the time.

Miracleman has a wife named Liz while he still believes he is a human being and eventually reawakens his power and many of his lost memories. At first he believes he is a superhero, but after a trip to the Spook Show bunker that created him and his Family, he realizes that he is the result of a physical and psychological weapons experiment: his first trip to the “Underworld,” if you will. Eventually, he meets his creator–and nemesis–Dr. Gargunza who reveals more about his true nature before trying to kill him.

Gargunza himself is a mortal human man that has also–in a way–delved into the divine by adapting crashed alien technology to create Miracleman and his Family. Miracleman also carries him: though in a somewhat different fashion than Aeneas and Anchises.

17

He both honours his nemesis creator and sends him directly into the Underworld where, at least in Neil Gaiman’s run of the comic, he remains in another Underworld … in a sense. ūüėČ

The hero ends up having a child named Winter with Liz, who eventually leaves him when she can no longer relate to either him or his superhuman and intellectually advanced child. He also gains a new lover in the form of Miraclewoman. In the end after a time in his original base of operations–the Silence–to mourn his old life, he, the remainder of his Family, and other heroes he has assembled take it upon themselves to create a utopia on Earth: whether ordinary humans like it or not. This also ushers in the creation of a new race of humans created from his DNA: of which Winter is the first. At the same time, even though he discovers what he truly is and that he seemingly made his own destiny upon the world, Miracleman never loses his sense of doubt in his own motivations or what he has wrought.

So we have two demi-gods that survived the destruction of their way of life, losing loved ones and finding new ones, creating heirs to the Empires that they leave behind, finding knowledge and terrible enlightenment in the Underworld, and reshaping the status quo while always questioning their motivations in doing so. These are the superficial similarities and differences between the two figures, and you can definitely see some eerie parallels at work. I’m not saying that Alan Moore attempted to copy Virgil, or was even consciously inspired by this epic. In fact, I’d venture to say that it is more the case of the hero archetype that functions similarly in both an ancient novel and an early 1980s comics form.

But the implications, for me at least, go deeper than that.

I’m mainly thinking about how both stories end: especially how they end.

Aeneas is told that there are are two kinds of dreams that leave the Underworld from two different gates: prophecies from the Gate of Horn, and false dreams from the Gate of Ivory. After being shown Rome’s future history, Aeneas is shown the way out of the Elysian Fields and the Underworld: specifically through the Gate of Ivory. This act says a lot of things right off the bat and perhaps foreshadows the very end of The Aeneid itself.

It is a strange ending: almost a very abrupt one. Aeneas confronts Turnus, the King of the Rituli and former suitor of Lavinia, on the battlefield. The latter instigates a war with the Trojan survivors with his own subjects after he loses the hand of Lavinia to Aeneas. At the very end of their personal duel, Aeneas gains the upper-hand and Turnus begs for his life. Aeneas actually pauses for a few moments, and as a reader I can almost picture him looking right at the reader somehow, before he lets anger consume him and strike his enemy down. The last obstacle to Aeneas’ destiny over the Latin people and Rome is removed: but it is a troublesome and problematic ending in that Aeneas, despite fulfilling the will of the gods and having seen the future of his actions–or because he saw the future before he left through the Gate of Ivory–hesitated for that one moment of possible doubt.

File:Aeneas and Turnus.jpg

That is one possible reading of The Aeneid in any case. I mean, what could it possibly mean if you saw a glorious future and legacy before leaving it through a Gate of false dreams: of lies?

Then we have the way Alan Moore ended his run of Miracleman. Miracleman’s entire existence, despite his extraordinary powers and advantages, has been a layer of dreams and lies. People have constantly manipulated him in some way or form with either maliciousness, expectations, or even good intentions. Finally, he makes his own decisions: not merely for himself but for the species of fallible beings that created him.

He does this after killing his former friend, Family member, sidekick and now nemesis and mass-murderer Kid Miracleman–or Bates–having him return to his child form, promising to save him, and snapping his neck.

miracleman-kills-johnny

The beginning of a new utopia in Miracleman’s version of a 1980s world starts with him cradling the half naked brutalized child alter-ego of a friend that he failed to save and who he himself kills for the “greater good.” And even after he eliminates capitalism, ends world hunger, encourages the advancement of medical science, creates an Earth alliance with advanced aliens, as well as creating a process of giving normal human beings powers like his own, where he and his heroes have essentially taken rulership of the Earth for themselves in a benevolent dictatorship– they have become the embodiment of the human need to have gods to aspire to and worship–that he stares from a balcony at the very end of the story … and he ponders again, in his garden of horrors and wonders, if he actually did right.

This is the main reason why I see Miracleman as an Aeneas figure within Alan Moore’s and–to some extent–Neil Gaiman’s run of the comic. I was also willing to end it at this point as well: to merely show the parallel between these two heroes with problematic issues to the destinies they’ve taken on themselves. But there is something else that I find interesting.

In one of my courses at University, when I first read The Aeneid, there was this implication presented to us that Virgil may have had some other motivations when he wrote his book. Virgil was around during the time when the princeps Augustus of Rome reigned. Before Augustus, Rome had been a Republic with two consuls in governance, and sometimes a triumvirate after periods of civil unrest. There were many accusations that Augustus had, once becoming ruler of Rome, made it into a monarchy again or controlled it as a tyrant. Some scholars have seen Virgil’s act of writing the glory of Rome and Augustus through the Gate of Ivory and Aeneas’ supposed doubts of the future as a subversive criticism of Augustus’ regime and the way that Rome was heading. It may have been coincidence or premature death that left The Aeneid unfinished after the death of Turnus at the hands of Aeneas, or it may not have.

So what does any of this have to do with Miracleman? Aside from creating a narrative that uses a superhero to criticize and end the late-Cold War politics and social orders of the early 80s? Or Moore himself being an integral force in re-innovating the medium of comics? Well, this is where the theme of prescience–of seeing the future–becomes ironic. I’ve read somewhere that Alan Moore believed that the comics medium–at least that sponsored by the industry–has become stagnant and that it uses techniques and themes that were created about twenty-five or so years ago. He especially goes into this when he talks about DC’s decision to create the Watchmen prequel series: another work of his from the 1980s era. I think about this. Then I think about Miracleman. It was one of the earliest 1980s revisions of the superhero genre, and the comics medium, that Alan Moore ever undertook.

And then I wonder if the iconic Miracleman–Moore’s Aeneas–looked out over the balcony surveying the dark and yet promising structure his writer created around and before him … and found himself afraid.