Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Blair Witch Project: Film Platypus

My Save the Cat homework continues, this time branching out into films within the broader horror genre. Where I began with Alien, a 70s horror classic, I decided to move on to the late 90s with The Blair Witch Project.

My first introduction to The Blair Witch Project, appropriately enough, was a student film advertising Biola University's Saddie Hawkins week: The Babs Witch Project. I particularly liked the on campus tie-ins in the spirit of the original: hanging stick figures outside the cafeteria. Anyhow, I regret to say that in spite of spending six years hanging out with film majors, I never saw the original. So here I am now, yet again, a day late and a dollar short. It's a happy coincidence however, since I now know more about Film and legend tripping.

Preface aside, there are three things about The Blair Witch Project that I appreciated and think helped to sell this rather unorthodox film:

1. Nostalgia -The film is set in 1994 and was released in 1999. That's just enough time for a young person to develop a golden haze around teenage and college years. It removes the viewers one step from the experience (and hopefully shutting down thoughts like "how stupid are these guys?") while simultaneously tapping into all sorts of teenage folklore and experience. How many of us, after all, went into the woods for a good scare? There's also the added practical benefit of being able to deny the doomed trio of characters cell phones and a GPS.

2. Ambiguity - If, as Lovecraft said, the most primal human emotion is fear and the most primal fear is fear of the unknown, then a healthy dose of Ambiguity is a must for any horror film. The Blair Witch Project has this in spades from the way that the shaky camera work keeps us from ever really seeing what the characters are seeing, the indistinct nature of the threat (is it the 1700s witch, the 1800s cult, the 1940s serial killer, the 1970s cult, rednecks, or a homicidal member of their own group?), and the final question of what happened to the three film students.

3. Human Drama - The driving force behind The Blair Witch Project is neither gore nor ghosts but the human relations between the three characters. What we are watching is not so much a horror story as a revelation of how average young adults can react under pressure with disastrous consequences. The real horror is the horror of Aristotle's Poetics: humans like ourselves coming to a horrific end when their every day faults combine with the right circumstances.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Alien Vs. Aliens: Film Platypus

This summer has been a film summer as much as it has been anything else. That is due in large part to kicking things off with a read through the unofficial screenplay bible Save the Cat. While I was casting about for a means to better digest its principles, I noticed that another Alien prequel had landed and so my Save the Cat homework for the next few months was set. In order to prepare for Alien Covenant, I would work through three other movies in the franchise and an assortment of related films. You can find my assessment of Prometheus here.

In anticipation of Alien Covenant, I chose to work through the films according to the mythos' chronology. That meant beginning with the most recent of the three, Prometheus. I then moved on to the core of the franchise with Ridley Scott's Alien and Jame Cameron's distinctly different sequel Aliens.

Each of the core films is very much the product of the decade that produced it. Alien is a horror pic that resonates with the pessimism and confusion of the 1970s. Aliens is a sci-fi action flick full of 80s can-do spirit. There's a key genre difference there that shapes each film and it is only by a very clever act of cinematic legerdemain that James Cameron has been able to convince us that they belong to the same universe.

At its core, Alien is a Lovecraftian work that exposes the fragility of human life in the face of an impersonal and often hostile world. The blue color Janes and Joes of the Nostromo find themselves facing Jungian nightmares of the corporate world: the alien and the android. Already bedeviled by racism and sexism, our space truckers must face the fact that they are completely dispensable to the soulless megacorp and indeed are already up for replacement by robots and aliens: the plight of 70s middle America. The megacorp prefers robots and aliens precisely because they are inhuman -or at least "unAmerican" in their utter willingness to execute their functions and relatively low cost of up keep. Ash the android just needs milk while the alien is capable of survival in almost any environment and can reproduce asexually (though it can still brain-rape/oral rape the men and sexually harass the women -workplace equality!), obviating any need for community or home life (a key difference from Cameron's conception of the Alien). In fact, Ash the robot tells us that he respects the "purity" of the alien. Against such forces, the Janes and Joes are helpless. They can fight and die, or they can escape, and hope that someone will pick them up. Ripley ends the film floating in space as a metaphor for her entire class.

A few years, George Lucas, Ronald Reagan, and a massive economic recovery made a big difference in the type of stories Hollywood wanted to tell. Aliens belongs to the new genre of 80s action films and can stand on its own without any knowledge of Alien. In Cameron's world, blue collar Jane and the Vietnam Vets can reclaim their dignity by fighting back against the corporate sellouts, chickenshit officers, and vague fears of foreign domination that plagued them during the last decade. We even find out that robotic automation is nothing to fear in the person of Bishop and that Hispanic immigrants just want to kick ass like the rest of us in the person of Private Vasquez. Rather than run from the impersonal forces that dominate her life, Ripley has to face her fears by becoming both super-mom (Newt replacing her lost daughter) and career woman (new and improved with rocket launcher!). This contrasts with the Alien Queen who is a first merely a baby factory but can evidently drop her ovaries and turn into a raging monster -but not both! Though there's plenty of blood-letting, the forces of the American middle class and the nuclear family prove strong enough to face any threats (especially those posed by giant space cockroach-lizards).

The goal of this piece is not to say that i prefer one to the other -quite the opposite! They two movies are actually so different that they can be enjoyed side by side. The problem comes, of course, when you want to make a third, or a fourth, or a fifth. What genre will your movie be? What story will you tell? One of the core principles of Save the Cat is that audiences want the same old thing -but different! Both Alien and Aliens found ingenious ways to solve that Gordian Knot. Audiences and critics have split on the rest of the films. We'll see what magic Scott has cooked up for us in Alien Covenant.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Beren and Luthien, A Tolkien Retrospective: The Platypus Reads Part CCCXIII

Pastel is the right medium for The Silmarillion even if I haven't figured out how to properly scan it. I suppose that's ok given that Tolkien himself could never settle on the right medium for his massive corpus of myths and legends. Following his father's will, Christopher Tolkien attempted to codify the stories of the Elder Days into a definitive version -a sort of "elven bible" -the published Silmarillion. Over the next forty years, however, Christopher developed his own ideas regarding the presentation of his father's work. As a scholar himself, he chose to bring out groups of fragments as they stood contextualized by a mass of critical apparatus. As a consequence, The History of Middle Earth, and the stand-alone volumes that followed it have garnered many scholarly readers and very few lay ones. For good or ill, it is the choice Christopher has made and his long work is now complete with the final volume: Beren and Luthien.

Beren and Luthien presents no new material, but rather offers a compendium of every version of the tale that Tolkien committed to paper over sixty years of adult life. The reader is invited, with a little help from Christopher, to watch the tale develop and unfold in prose and verse, historical voice and more detailed narration. The final effect is arrestingly beautiful -like reading an actual body of myth. To put it another way, C.S. Lewis once stated that it baffled him how J.R.R. Tolkien could keep whole worlds inside his little head. In Beren and Luthien Christopher Tolkien uses all his professional and personal skill to show us exactly how accurate that statement is.

Beren and Luthien is by Christopher's intent a requiem on two lifetimes of work. It is his father's last word, graven on the tombstone he shares with his wife, and as far as Christopher's work on middle earth, it is now his as well.

There was a man and a woman who loved each other with such love that they changed the mighty world -for a time. Now, all that is left to us is a memory and song. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Prometheus: Film Platypus

In preparation for this summer's Alien Covenant, I went back and did something I should have done a while ago, watched Ridley Scott's Prometheus. The film marked Scott's return to the franchise after being there at its creation in 1979 when he directed Alien.

The Alien franchise is a bit of a mish-mash, which each film in the series having its own unique director who exercised considerable freedom. Scott's Alien is a simple yet elegant "monster in the house" horror film. James Cameron's Aliens blends "monster in the house" with Ellen Ripley as the "dude with a problem" who must willingly confront and destroy the monstrosity from which she originally fled. As opposed to the original movies limited cast and claustrophobic feel, Cameron gives us an action flick with plenty of "red shirts", a "boss bad guy" complete with an evil lair, varied locations, and cool sci-fi gadgets galore. David Fincher's Alien 3 promptly eradicated all of Cameron's work by killing the supporting cast off and brought us back to the original "monster the house" but made crucial changes to the tone with a dystopian setting, apocalyptic cult, and a much grittier heroine who ends the movie by killing herself off. Of course a franchise worth that much money can't be killed off so we had Alien Resurection which even Joss Wedon's writing apparently couldn't save. That was the state of the series when Ridley Scott returned to direct a prequel, Prometheus.

I liked Prometheus. It sets the entire series in a wider context by showing us Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and synthetic David 8's "quest for the golden fleece"gone horribly wrong. Elizabeth Shaw is a very different focal character from Ellen Ripley ensuring that while the movie contains many homages to its predecessors it never becomes a simple re-imagining. Noomi Rapace nails the complexities of portraying an educated, post-evangelical, missionary kid, struggling with infertility and a passionate, but emotionally stunted boyfriend (sound unbelievable? Welcome to my entire age group!). Michael Fassbender's David 8 gives us a new take on the poor, persecuted, but ultimately devious androids from the prior movies. His fastidious reverence for Peter O'Toole's Lawerence of Arabia reminds me of more than a few tormented young aesthetes I've known. I enjoyed watching these two play off each other and the rest of the cast. I would have enjoyed continuing to see their growth and adventures as "Dr. Shaw and the Amazing Severed Head -in Space!". Sadly, that's not to be. At any rate, as you'd expect from the two focal characters (and the movie's title), Prometheus is about creation -that's "the Golden Fleece" or "Elixir" the principle cast is trying to find. It's a fitting topic for a director at the height of his career and for an epic film in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. Scott handles it well as we see various characters respond to the challenges posed by the question of our own origins and our own role as "sub-creators".

That said, I understand why the film split both fans and critics. With each of the original Alien films having a distinct vision and a distinct genre (not to mention all the video games and comic books from 1979-2012!), there is no core "Alien Experience" for Scott to offer. Attempting to cover all the bases would have produced the schlock-fest of the Alien Versus Predator franchise. What Scott and company seem to have attempted was to tell a new, contextualizing, story in the Alien universe in the epic style of Scott's mature career (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven) with plenty of homages to the original material. It's a very different tone and project from prior Alien installments, but is also fair-play given the smorgasbord of the franchise. Where the movie did strain is where it was caught on the horns of telling a new kind of story while still honoring the old material. More fundamentally, it was the friction between trying to merge a "golden fleece" story with the old "monster in the house". The more philosophical scope of Prometheus also risked breaking audience suspension of disbelief the more large-or-squishy-aliens-killing-people-or-each-other it involved. This would be a violation of what Blake Snyder calls "double-mumbo-jumbo" in his book "Save the Cat".

Those are my thoughts thus far. I'm disappointed that Scott and Co. had to kill so much of the story they were setting up to tell with Prometheus due to fan blow-back, particularly the loss of Dr. Shaw, but I understand that's the game if you're a film-maker and Alien Covenant looks to be a worthy, if more predictable, entry in the franchise.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream (Cont.): Creative Platypus


As part of my Save the Cat homework, I'm working my way through the Alien series. It also has the added benefit of getting me ready for a viewing of Alien Covenant, whenever that happens.

In addition to all the Alien material, I've also been taking a closer look at some of my favorite comic book artists. Mike Mignola and his team have been right at the forefront with Helllboy: Into the Silent Sea and Hellboy: The Midnight Circus along with Witchfinder volumes I-IV. On a very different end of the spectrum, I've also been looking back through Doug TenNapel's old black and whites. My eye is specifically on the use of shadow and highlights and last weeks Alien-inspired mini-comic reflects that.

This week again merges my two fields of study into my ongoing quest to become a better artist. The above picture is a refinement of my first Alien homage refined with Prismacolor markers and colored pencils (no computer editing). The second is a new piece composed entirely in Clip Art in grey scale with a final red filter thrown on top to simulate emergency lighting. Both show that I have a lot more work to do, though getting a tablet to use with the Clip Art program might help as well.

In the meantime, I'm still mulling over my viewing of 2012's Prometheus as well as the five-minute net intro to Covenant. Once my thoughts are in good order, I'll present them here in the context of what I've learned from reading Save the Cat.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Comic Fun: Creative Platypus

This summer, I'm spending some dedicated time with my art markers and copy of Clip Art Studio. As part of this artistic endeavor, I've put together a rudimentary comic inspired by Ridley Scott's Prometheus and Alien Covenant. My goal was to try illustrating in simple black and white under the influence of Doug TenNapel's early work and Mike Mignola's Hellboy. So here we go...


















Thursday, June 01, 2017

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Ok, so one more before I close up shop for the night. Incidentally, have you noticed that the focal character in each Alien movie is a woman? That makes it rather unique in a male dominated genre. When I was in college, the one unforgivable sin was not inviting the our female friends over for an Alien marathon.

So, Ripley, Shaw, Daniels... Why is it always a woman? Is it a matter of "give me the same thing... but different"? Is it that images of motherhood and birth dominate the dark language of the films? Does one necessitate the other? Given Alien's roots in H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, the choice to consistently move away from an academic, male, hero is a decisive one. It's given us some great characters and a great string of movies (I leave the exceptions up to you).

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Here are two more entries in what's shaping up to be my Alien-inspired oeuvre. These aren't taken from any movie in particular, but rather involve images from across films, comics, and concept art surrounding the series. After looking the material en masse, it underlines the Save the Cat principle of "give me the same thing... bu different!" That's what these movies are: giving us the same thing by different. We, the audience, are paying for story, but fundamentally we're paying for the "Alien Experience" one more time.

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea: The Platypus Reads Part CCCXII

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea

S.T. Coleridge: U bless Snek
Mike Mignola: Bless Snek? U crazy?
S.T. Coleridge: Y U noe bless Snek? U bless Snek
Mike Mignola: U bless Snek, Snek et U: CHOMP!

That's about the shape of it, and well taken it is. Of course, there's also the nods to the styles of Prince Valiant, Gustave Dore, and Arthur Rackham, not to mention the allusions to Moby Dick, Diogenes, Robert E. Howard, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If you're a Lit Geek and a Pop Culture Geek, then it's still pretty hard to get cooler than Mike Mignola. Oh, did I mention that he critiqued the entire 19th century scientific project in the same terms as The Abolition of Man? Yeah, cool stuff.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream (Cont.): Creative Platypus

I was dissatisfied with my first attempt at creating a creature from Alien. Here is my second attempt using only black pen. I've tried to pull toward the Egyptian elements of some of the original artwork that keep the world of Alien close to its lovecraftian roots.

Friday, May 26, 2017

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream: Creative Platypus

Alien Covenant has just come out and I thought I would make a small contribution here with a quick bit of fan art. The art of Alien puts teeth into H.P. Lovecraft's tales of forgotten extraterrestrial civilizations or Clark Ashton Smith's journeys of interstellar doom. They are the consummate horror stories for a secular age.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Return of Summer Reading: The Platypus Reads Part CCCXI

Summer has returned, though you wouldn't know it in Texas right now. Whatever the weather may be doing (and it's appreciated), school is out and that means that it's time for a new "Seven Heavens of Summer Reading". Stuff has been piling up on the shelves, so there's lots to work through.

In the comics department, Valiant Comics is leading the field with Divinity, XO Manowar: Soldier, and Britannia: We Who Are About to Die. All of these are absolutely excellent middle-brow fair.

Historical reading finds me following up last summer's A Storm of Spears with Christopher Matthew's new ANZAC salvo on all things hoplite Beyond the Gates of Fire. We'll see if Matthew's team can send old V.D. Hanson's Western Way of War running for cover by showing that their models of hoplite battle can shed new light on the well trodden sands of Thermopylae.

In the Fantasy genre, my wife and I are taking a second trip through The Last Unicorn after spending time with Y.A. titans The Hunger Games and The Giver. The Last Unicorn is a consummate work of art and a reminder of all that was good in late twentieth-century America.

That's what's on the docket so far. Puritans and New Englanders will undoubtedly find their way on to the list along with some other surprises because that's what summer reading is all about: the freedom to be surprised.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

For Those Who See: Creative Platypus

For Those Who See

Those who See
Echo Divinity
Wisdom
Love
Might
Crucified on the World
And for the World
In the burning dream
of William Blake
Painted with Autumn leaves
Summer sunsets

There is meaning in the
Fall of a sparrow
or the expiration of a flea
Did you have courage
to stand there when Life
Passed out of them in gasps
and a spasm?
Then you are like your Creator
Who hung stars and suns
as Eyes that do not shut
Burning Seraphim

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wagner's Ring: Creative Platypus

This year marks the completion of Houston Grand Opera's staging of the complete Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner. My wife and I have been able to attend all four operas and have witnessed Wagner's retelling of the creation and destruction of the Nordic World. I haven't seen anything like it.

The La Fura Dels Baus staging HGO used seemed to swirl the Volsungsaga with The Orestiea, Final Fantasy, Mad Max: Fury RoadThe Wasteland, The Dry Salvages and The Abolition of Man. It was a heady cocktail that appeared to leave those over forty cold while it made the twenty-somethings I know weep with rapture. So you know where I fit in, I bought the boxed set on DVD.

Wagner's work is a paean to the power of Nature and a warning to those who would use power over Nature to gain power over others. It's a timely message for the city of Houston, a place that worships unbridled wealth, revels in the wholesale destruction of the natural world, builds its low-cost of living on the backs of undocumented workers, and is the hub of human trafficking in the United States. Yet the city also has a dynamic energy I haven't found anywhere else. Here, the gods and heroes are still young and a rainbow bridge rises up through the Woodlands to a Valhalla that is still under construction. There is so much good here, so much potential, if only they can heed Wagner's warning in time. If not, then it will collapse in blood and fire, and I will not blame those in Los Angeles and Greenwich who shake their heads and say "we could have told you so".

Even the Platypus occasionally speaks an uncomfortable truth.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Falling Forever: Creative Platypus

Still playing with my Clip Studio Paint... Here we have test of certain effects and wire modeling. There are dual inspirations here: Ghost in a Shell and The Hunger Games. So whether this is The Major plummeting to the tune of Inner Universe or Katniss imagining what it would be like to leap from the top of Training Center is something you get to decide. Of course, it could also be a reference to an Evanescence song. It all depends on what you were up to during the Oughts.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Weird New England (Cont.): Creative Platypus

I'm still learning the ropes of Clip Studio Paint, so here's a little of what I've been working on. These are two characters from an unpublished novel (The King of the Summer Court: The Strange Life of Ronald Fairfax Volume IV). Each one took more time than I care to admit, but at least it gives you an idea of my learning curve.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Weird New England (Cont.): Creative Platypus

concept art from an unfinished novel (The Place of the Skull: Volume II in The Strange Life of Ronald Fairfax) done in Clip Art

Mr. Hunter looked at the clock and dropped his lecture voice.
“Ok.  So it’s Halloween season, right?  Do you know Huntington has its own history of ghost stories?”
“Like Mellonheads?”  Horrowitz ventured.
“That’s a rather newer one, but ok, so you’ve heard of the Mellonheads.”  Mr. Hunter leaned back against the wall.  “Anyone else?”
“Hannah Cranna?”  One of the boys in the back piped up.
“Yep,” Mr. Hunter nodded, “ that’s one from Monroe.  Now, how many of you know about Sigismund Chesterville?”
To his surprise, Ronald found that his hand was in the air. 
“Fairfax?”  Mr. Hunter turned to face him.  “Evidently, we’ve got a connoisseur of local history.”
Ronald’s mouth felt dry and his mind went curiously blank.  He had a sudden sense of panic at the thought that he might be asked to say something more.
            To his relief, Mr. Hunter went on.  “Ok, so see how much of this you know, Fairfax, and the rest of you can learn something new.”
            Ronald swallowed hard and the saliva returned to his mouth.  There was a slight pressure on the right side of his face, but his thoughts began to return.
            “Back about a hundred years ago, they used to call Chesterville ‘the wickedest man in New England.’  He’s supposed to have used divination to find gold that the British buried during the Revolution and used it to buy an immense house along the banks of the Housatonic River, not far from here.  That house burnt down when he died and no one’s been able to build on the property since.  Two men working for the W.P.A. in the 1930s went digging there looking for his treasure and reported being chased off by wolves –wolves haven’t been seen in Connecticut for two-hundred years.  According to his own claims while living, Chesterville drove his wife mad, conversed regularly in his parlor with the spirits of the witches who died at Salem, killed six men by black magic, and started World War I.  Talk about an egoist.  Now, if you check in the town hall records, which I did once when I was down there doing some genealogical research, you’ll find that he died in a hunting accident.  What local legend says is that he tried to swindle the Devil at a game of lawn bowling one night and they were picking pieces of him off the trees the next morning.  Supposedly the pieces were still shaking so his friends cremated him and dumped his ashes in the river.
            Now, here’s the interesting part: Chesterville’s tombstone is in the old Cemetery about ten minutes drive from here.  When I was a kid, they used to say that you could light a candle on Chesterville’s grave and if you blew it out and said his name three times then his spirit would come and re-light the candle.  Lot of rubbish, right?  Well about a year ago last September, when we had all that rain, I was driving home –and it was coming down cats and dogs, wind howling- and what did I see in the cemetery?  There was a candle up on Chesterville’s grave, burning strait and clear.”
            He stopped, and there were a few awkward chuckles across the room.

            “Well, anyhow, the bell’s about to ring, so there you go.  No homework tonight.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Coloring Katniss: Creative Platypus

So... I have Clip Art now. I am learning how to use it and getting another reminder that my creative abilities lag behind that of many 14-year-olds. Sigh... Anyhow, as a preliminary test of these new tools, I decided to sketch my version of The Hunger Games heroine, Katniss. I made sure to get the rough composition down before seeing the movie in an effort to record what I saw while reading the book. So, here we go. And yes, the jacket is from L.L Bean.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Hunger Games: The Platypus Reads Part CCCX

We're never on the cutting edge of anything over here at Platypus of Truth. So, today's confession is that we have only just finished reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The movie is in our Netflix queue. We intended to read this book when it first became popular, as we did Stephanie Myers' Twilight. Business got in the way as it usually does and the years rolled on. When I finally snagged a copy from the school library, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard so much about the novels and the films at this point and yet I remained fairly spoiler free and couldn't form any real conception except "it's sort of like Battle Royal, but not".

I was pleasantly surprised. The Hunger Games packed Hemingway's terse prose with Orwell's conscience to deliver a world peopled by incredibly well-drawn teenagers forced to grow up way to fast. The pacing is perfect, and the Games, when they finally appear, were not at all what I was expecting. The combined effect is being forced to watch society's most vulnerable members victimized by a very American type of evil -not one we are exactly committing right now, but the kind we could so easily commit under the right circumstances. The Romans did it on a much larger scale for half a millennium -and the Founders viewed us as the new Romans. Collins real genius, however, is that her particular cocktail delivers its message in a way that is simple and elegant. I appreciate that even more after years of watching students wrestle through 1984, Animal Farm, and Brave New World.

On a personal level, I appreciated Collins' hero, Katniss. I know people from western Pennsylvania. I know poor people from western Pennsylvania. As a teacher, I've only just begun to dimly appreciate the way that generational poverty creates a prison for the mind -even when the body has escaped. Katniss embodies this reality in her relentless drive for survival, her ignorance of and ambivalence towards larger social forces, and her dyed-in-the-wool fatalism. She also is quite clearly a girl who grew up in the woods. As a boy who grew up surrounded by large tracks of state forest, I appreciate the way that Katniss moves through her environment. There are things that come with growing up in the wooded Northeast that are second nature even to a wimpy nerd like me and they saturate every page of The Hunger Games. I never feel quite right unless I can see (preferably be under) a canopy of trees. It's good to see a heroine who feels the same way.

Catching Fire has just come in from the library, so we'll see where Collins takes us in volume two. Volume one will be a hard act to follow.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sunny Day: Creative Platypus

Sunny Day

The Sunny Days have returned
(You can have them)
Soon, no one will want them.
Heat and humidity will send
Us all in doors
and things will go unseen
as so much of the World
Does that can’t be
Viewed from a screen.

I think Hell is full of screens
Where we watch anything
but what we should be watching.

You, Stranger, who pass
Through this day with me,
Stop a moment with me
to regard the things
That need regarding.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Proclamation, December 2017: Creative Platypus

Proclamation, December 2017

I Do Proclaim:

That this is my hour.
I take as my demesne
All things that you reject:
Rainy days,
Cold, crisp Autumn,
The glistening thickets of Winter,
Old churches,
Graveyards.
And the moss about the foot of trees.

I will be kind to postmen,
And those who prepare my food.
Praise God for tobacco, and
The fellowship of working men
Smoking cigarettes on the porch.
I will thank God for immigrants
Who cut grass,
Domestics,
All who do the work my Irish ancestors
did.
Praise the Almighty for every man
Who calls himself a stranger in his home,
Chronically reduces his boil to a simmer.

I will not forget you either,
If you have what you love
Taken from you
Yet remain unbowed.
You are my teacher.

I welcome All
From the boarders of my kingdom
In the particular-
A shake of hands
Or a nod
Between potentates.

Monday, February 06, 2017

On Rainy Days: Creative Platypus

On Rainy Days

On Rainy Days like this one
I feel Gettysburg in my bones-
or maybe Plymouth-
seeing puffs of smoke in
the wet air
when no one else is out.

You happy people
who will not face the
Rain,
you Insiders, who never
looked in through lighted
Windows
and wished to God that you
belonged:

What do you know of
Astor or of woodsmoke-
who never had the larger fellowship
that comes with being
Alone.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Moby Dick: Creative Platypus

After a drawing by Rockwell Kent
Marker on Strathmore Toned Tan

A whale-ship was my Yale college and my Harvard.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Howard's Conan: Final Thoughts: The Platypus Reads Part CCCIX

Well, I've done it: I've finally finished Robert E. Howard's entire Conan oeuvre. The journey has been several years long, and I've also taken side trips to cover Howard creations Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn, but I have finally reached the finish.

What do I say now that I have reached the end? When I began this journey, one of my friends quipped that Conan should be known as "the venerially diseased" instead of "the barbarian". Others told me that they had simply given up along the way -the racism and misogyny were too much. I did give up on Howard's younger contemporary, Fritz Leiber, for about that reason. Having read to the end, I can confidently say that these criticisms are true: Conan is not a good man, and Robert E. Howard was a cynical nihilist out to earn a buck -but that's not the whole story. Conan and his creator also reflect the realities of the Great Depression and a life on America's not-so-tamed former frontier. It was an age of motorized bandits, speak-easys, okies, mafia, and lynchings. Howard reflects that reality in his fantasies as surely as Tolkien and Lewis do the Great War and its sequel. It's that artistic integrity -to show the world the way he saw it- that kept me reading. Texas often makes no sense to me, but reading Howard I get it just a little more than I might otherwise.

I love Lovecraft in spite of all his evils because he loves New England. I don't love Howard, but I do see in through his eyes how someone could passionately love Texas. Thank you Rob.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Conan: Beyond the Black River: The Platypus Reads Part CCCVIII

This post will cover two of Robert E. Howard's Conan short stories: Beyond the Black River and The Black Stranger. Prior posts on Conan and his world can be found by following the "Howard" tag at the bottom of this post.

Beyond the Black River:

The last phase of Howard's Conan stories find him transitioning from the world of oriental adventures to the American frontier. Beyond the Black River owes more to books like Buchanan's A Salute to Adventurers than to Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse. Nonetheless, Howard still preserves the ancient world setting by calquing the American frontier onto the Roman frontier and cover the whole thing with a facade of Hyborian places and peoples. The author's commitment to side with barbarism over civilization comes to the fore here and the lesson seems to be that of the noble savage showing up the folly and weakness of society. One wonders, given Howard's deification of the "barbarian," how he thinks the United States was ever settled by Europeans and transformed into a modern nation state. With this final decision to side with barbarism also comes a firm decision to side with racism and misogyny as well a generally darker tone that sees the death of all the lead characters except for Conan. Which leads us to...

The Black Stranger:

The Black Stranger is a more "barbaric" retelling of Beyond the Black River. Howard eliminates as many civilized elements as possible by peopling his cast almost entirely with Picts, pirates, and outcasts. As with Beyond the Black River, there is a touch of the supernatural to make the story fit for Weird Tales (The Sci-Fi-Horror-Fantasy magazine Howard sold his Conan stories to). Unlike Beyond the Black River, Howard throws us into the heart of the siege and allows us to witness the sack and ruin of the Zingarian fort. This key choice ramps up the brutality of the tale and makes the action feel more immediate. The ruin of the fort also marks Howard's farewell to civilization as each of the remaining stories pictures Conan assaulting the corruptions of urban society and returning to a life of wandering.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there is one real gem in this episode: the cave of the cursed pirates. The great banquet table with its eternally slumbering feasters seems to be a direct parallel with the cursed feasters in The Voyage of the Dawntreader. Given the dates of the two stories, it is entirely possible that the scene inspired C.S. Lewis or that both authors drew from the same source material (perhaps the table of dead kings in King Solomon's Mines?).