Friday, December 29, 2017

The Platypus in 2017

As Counting Crows tells us it's been one long December, but there's reason to believe maybe next year will be better than the last. I suppose by now I can say that I successfully got out of the canyon, Hollywood, and all that. So, aside from surviving Harvey, what occurred here at Platypus of Truth?

Well, for starters, this year has been the least productive of posts since I started blogging. There are some outside reasons for that: new job, shorter summer, travel to see relatives, Harvey. There are also internal reasons. Unlike previous years, 2017 wasn't given over to reviewing books so much as to learning how to watch film. A new discipline means more time spent on organizing my thoughts and less time spent on writing. 2017 also saw an uptick in artwork on the blog as I began attempting to work in new mediums, particularly digital ones. Finally, I spent the year barfing out a lot of bad Eliot as free verse seemed the best way to get my thoughts out. There were other kinds of writing too (Powerpoints, Greek study, notes on Rome and Egypt), but they all went into the job rather than the blog.

At face value, 2018 isn't promising to be any different from 2017. We all know that doesn't mean much. This blog has always been about whatever happens to be on my mind at a given time. It is in that sense truly a "web log"; a sort of public journal. That may make it eclectic, but it also keeps things fresh. After all, who can tell where thought may take us? So as we close down 2017, here's looking forward to new adventures in the next year at Platypus of Truth!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sappho: Creative Platypus


Resistance is always a bitter agony
but the bitterest antagonist is

All right rebellion begins in the self
and ends in the self;
For Men may master many things
but which of them can tame
his little tongue?

Teach us, Queen of Lesbos,
How the tongue is tamed;
For what Men cannot do
a Woman might.

O Fire higher than the Pierean Muse,
Burn my blindness that my sister
May teach me what she has to teach!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Chains: Creative Platypus


There are chains we make and
Chains we break
All praise to God, the maker
and breaker
of chains!

Whatsoever ye bind on earth
Shall be bound in Heaven
and whatsoever ye loose on earth
Shall be loosed in Heaven

Praise be to God who sets
The captives free and
Binds rebel angels in the
Lake of Fire
Which is the Second Death!

Can you bind the Pleiades
or Loose the cords of Orion?

Praise then the God who set
The stars on course when Jael
Smote Sisera.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Platypus Says: "Go See The Last Jedi!"

It's too early for spoilers, so all I will say is: "Go see The Last Jedi"!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

December: Creative Platypus


Loving Christmas is easy
As a child;
You have to learn to hate it.
Business encroaches and
Seasons fall out of joint
The further finance forces you
From home.
Moloch always did hate children.

I tried to find the snow
That fell at Christmas
But it withered with the
Carols that Anglicans are
Too holier-than-thou to
Or maybe it was just the
Commercialism Harvey blew
All the way to the windy side
of Thanksgiving.

There was no magic
In those eight lost years
When we hauled our own
Christmas trees from the
Jones' and set them up
Beneath the vault of a
Cathedral ceiling.
There was pain in every
Movement of the saw.

These words are blood upon
The snow.
They lead past the river to
Our exile.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Admin on a Rampage

Poor Bob... He set out to traverse the upper elementary like Flat Stanley. On the way, he lit the teacher's desk on fire and our Admin decided to make an example of him. Below is the rule of our Awesome Imperiatrix as the 9th graders describe it (with a little help from Frank Miller and Herodotus).

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Found Among Papers in the Miskatonic Archives: Creative Platypus

Drawing of life form uncovered by the disastrous Miskatonic expedition to Antarctica in the 1920s

No organic specimens related to these drawings has been located though a related bronze artifact of unknown provenance is in the keeping of the Mathematics department

Please forward this picture and attached memorandum to Mr. Weyland

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Oedipus in LA: Creative Platypus

Oedipus cut out his eyes and placed them
On a table
So he could see himself

Oh tell Artaxaca that his bridges are broken down!

Monday, November 27, 2017

November: Creative Platypus


These are the days when I feel
It would not be sad to die;
My hopes and dreams add up
To so little.

Does life go on there
In cities under grey skies?
In places I know not?
Tell me all your ways and stories:
Men in heavy coats and caps,
Coffee held in hands wrapped in finger-less gloves,
Who breathe the air in plumes of smoke.
I dreamt I wandered through the cities of the North
And loved them.
Their seasons' beauties were beautiful to me
Who knows only hot and hotter.

If you care to know, here is the thing that
I am saying:
Can our sorrows be sharpened to a sweetness
and what Kassandra said come true?

What is the weight, then, of one dead Irishman
In a world that belongs to Swedes and Anglos?
We died in droves an no one noticed except
To hang signs saying "No Irish need apply".
(God make us kind to Mexicans!)
Can I reach across the ages and make meaning
From their deaths?

The only thing that matters here is service
And the Iliad of our own sinfulness
(though that word's gone out of fashion).
So we'll keep fighting on for justice until
We're slain.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Lilith: Creative Platypus

See the Lilith of the Waste Place
Stand beside her spouse the Dragon

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October: Creative Platypus


October is
The return of the world
To the way it should be.
Days grow short
-even this far south.
Slate grey skies
With a head held together
By Cymbalta
And too much tobacco.

The Sibyl of Cumae
Writes her books on
Autumn leaves,
Carving strange signs
In outlawed pumpkins.

The Sphinx stands in my way,
Corpses beneath her feet
Glow strangely
In the fading light.
There are things in that smile
That only heroes know,
But I am no Oedipus,
And there are questions
Not worth answering.
(Though one is free to ask.)

Hippias stood upon the
Shores of Athens
Coughing out pieces of his
Is there a coffin in Egypt
For my tooth?

The Sphinx smiles on.
I turn away.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Return of Bad Nun: Creative Platypus

A while ago, I posted about an imaginary pitch I composed with my study hall students called Bad Nun. It was a sort of swan song for a position I was leaving after six years. While working with Clip Art the other day, I decided to go back to one of my old concept pieces and dress it up a little.

Just a reminder that while things can be misplaced, they are never really lost...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Jim Henson Reflections: Film Platypus

We have been watching some of Jim Henson's quintessential productions this past month: The Storyteller, Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal. Looking back, there are things these films share in common. There is a sense of gentleness, wonder, and wisdom about them that speaks to the best creative impulses in late 20th century pop-art.

These films strike a blow for the world of the imagination without being anti-intellectual, despairing, angry, or escapist. There is instead a true sense of "escape" in the way in which J.R.R. Tolkien envisioned it: they are dreams of a better world. When each is finished, we return to the primary world refreshed and enlightened; ready to carry on the battle. I don't know if these films will last -many younger people I've met don't like them- but for a generation of us, they have done good yoeman's labor. For that, I am thankful.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September: Creative Platypus


September is
The Legend of Zelda
Link running through the forest
Shield in hand
A spreading oak tree
A cave
Broken memories
and the effort that goes into forgetting

If I forget thee oh Jerusalem
May my tongue be cut out
May my right hand lose its skill

The white girls sat in a row of
Deracinated messy buns
And drank the PSLs
Which they purchased with their souls
Paltry things
Worn white in women's work
Handed down by a post-war committee

Oh you cannot buy a soul
Not at Target or at Walmart
Though you took a trip to Selma
Or you stood at Standing Rock

I stood upon the rock
I stood upon the rock
But the memories slipped
Through my hands
And shattered

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Dark Crystal: Film Platypus

This film, like so many of Jim Hanson's works, is a miniature gem finely cut. All the characters and the world they inhabit are perfectly designed for the medium in which they exist. If they were taken out of the medium, or even redone in the same medium with modern technology, it would dramatically alter the whole -it would become something else. I think that's why the comics have turned to the mythology and history of The Dark Crystal. They are at enough of a remove that the change in medium doesn't violate the original work. All that to say that there is something insistently Toronto School about telling an entire film story with puppets; a furious insistence that the medium is the message.

The story of The Dark Crystal reaches the level of myth. Its theme is the recovery of lost unity by the meeting of opposites: Uru and Skeksis, make and female, light and dark. The symbol of union is well chosen: a shattered crystal that turns light into darkness. It is an image of perversion, of un-making. As Gandalf could have told the Urskeks "he who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom". Like the revelation of Hermione in A Winter's Tale, the healing of the crystal with its transfiguration of the castle and the Urskeks, and the resurrection of Kira, provide a sense of wonder and a the promise of ultimate renewal.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Seven Heavens of Summer Reading 2017: The Platypus Reads Part CCCXIV

Another Labor Day Weekend is upon us and that means that another Summer Vacation has come to a close upon this middle earth. With that, it's time for 2017's annual Seven Heavens of Summer Reading Awards. As in summers past, I award the the most interesting books of the year's summer reading to the various medieval planets that most correspond to their virtues.

Sun: The Sun is the heaven of scholars. A hundred years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien was penning the first words of what would become Middle Earth. It has taken two lifetimes to bring out all that was in that tweedy little don's head. Christopher Tolkien, at 93, has brought out what he considers the capstone of his father's work Beren and Luthien. Though there is no new material here, the arrangement allows the reader to see how the central tale of Tolkien's mythology evolved over the course of its creator's long life. The Solaric Award, then, goes to both Tolkiens for two life's-works well done.

Mercury: Words are tricky things, not the least because they often say more than we mean them to. For looking behind the words we use to deal with race to the power-dynamics behind them, the Mercurial Award goes to Shelby Steele for his ever-challenging The Content of Our Character.

Venus: Venus is the planet of creativity and its award goes to a work that has challenged me to think harder about the creative aspect of the cinematic enterprise: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

Moon: I've enjoyed diving into Valiant Comics' considerable oeuvre this year. Though the school year was taken up with Rai, I turned this summer to look at something a little more niche. The award for the planet of madness and changes goes to Valiant Comics' Britannia: We Who Are About to Die, and its singular centurion, occult detective Antonius Axia.

Mars: The planet of warriors goes to another Valiant comic series for bringing us into a world of Jon Carter of Mars type fun XO Man-o-War Soldier and General. This soaring space opera featuring a time-traveling 5th century Goth and his sentient suit of space armor is ongoing!

Jupiter: The planet of kings goes to the story of a man who thought our highest duty was to rule ourselves: The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. This is American theater at its finest -right up their with Death of a Salesman- and I can't believe that I missed out on it for years. Thanks to the nice drama teacher at Half-Priced Books who tipped me off while I was helping her look for stuff on the Salem Witch Trials.

Saturn: How do you make an end? Agatha Christie spent decades creating an intricate alternate universe peopled with some of the world's most memorable super-sleuths. She also had the courage to follow her creations into their twilight years, and even killed off her great creation, Hercule Poirot. By The Pricking of My Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence mystery, isn't one of Christie's greatest works, but it does put on display the unique courage she had in allowing her characters to age and falter.

So there you have it folks! Another successful year of celebrating the oddly mundane here at Platypus of Truth.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Film Platypas

Having watched The Blair Witch Project, I went looking for another groundbreaking horror film from the same time period to compare it with. That led me to Scott Derrickson's Exorcism of Emily Rose. This was yet another of those films I remember being talked about when I was in college (Derrickson was an alum after all) but, in spite of rooming with film majors, I never got around to seeing. I had my doubts: "a court room drama mashed up with an exorcism movie -really?". It sounded like some cheesy, low budget, well-meaning, Christian film. That -or it was going to be a Hollywood gore-fest that was going to have me traumatized for weeks. When I heard a few years ago that Derrickson had been tapped to direct the Marvel Universe property Doctor Strange, I suddenly began to see things in a different light. I figured I'd go back and give The Exorcism of Emily Rose a chance. I'm glad I did.

I took five pages of notes on the movie during my first viewing (I think the most I've done so far is three). Perhaps the movie is just simple enough that I can get my amateur head around it. I also made sure to watch the associated featurettes, though I have not watched the movies with the director's commentary, and I think that helped. So where do I begin?

The movie is almost Aristotelian in its purity. It follows a single action in three major locations with a small cast and asks the audience to experience catharsis by sitting as jury over the event. It is really and truly like watching a Greek Tragedy unfold. Each character is clearly delineated and being who they are, the incidents of film lead them down inevitable paths to the conclusion. At no time, and I think this is very important for the success of the movie, did I feel that the writers/director were manipulating a character to make a point. There are no surprise conversions. The changes the characters, particularly Bruner, go through are subtle and entirely intelligible given their starting points and what they have experienced.

Given that the movie has very little variety to distract the audience, the writers/director and the studio wisely chose a cast that was up to the challenge of credibly portraying the exorcism and attendant trial. Jennifer Carpenter is extremely convincing as a physical actress in portraying possession; a fact that allows special effects to be minimal and heightens the sense of realism. Laura Linney sells the agnostic defense council from beginning to end while allowing for subtle changes that take us on a journey with the character. Tom Wilkinson gives us in Father Moore a very realistic clergyman who is neither a fanatic nor an otherworldly hero. I feel like I might have met him in Connecticut or New York working a soup kitchen or wrangling about Catholic politics on a park bench. Campbell Scott as the prosecutor is every devout Christian who has worked too hard to earn others' respect to have some fundamentalist nut-job make all Christians look like rubes.

Characters aside, this is a beautifully designed film. As in The Sixth Sense, color is used to signal changes in theme and reality. The sets have a timeless and time-worn feel to them that is visually interesting. The sets are also sparse so that there is very little in the of visual clutter to distract the audience. Derrickson rightly compares the film to a crucifix: a beautiful work of art and a horrific image at the same time.

Finally, I appreciated that the film does not present any answers, rather it provokes questions. Many films claim to do this as a cop-out. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not one of them. Not all the questions are of a religious nature either; there's quite the running dialog on the role of consent in treatment that I greatly appreciated having friends and relatives who have suffered brutally from medical malpractice.

Those are my thoughts after finishing a first viewing. There's so much to think about here. If anything comes to me in the next few days, I'll be sure to post it here at Platypus of Truth.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Blade Runner (Director's Cut): Film Platypus

Having looked at James Cameron's Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, I thought it was time to watch another classic Ridley Scott film to go with my viewing of Alien. In order to keep with the science fiction theme, I chose the director's cut of Blade Runner.

This movie should not work. It is too slow, lacks explanations, and is full of evil and unlikable characters -yet it's an artistic masterpiece! Why? What's going on with this film?

Visually, it's stunning. The cityscape blends historic L.A. buildings with maze-like Mayan-mechanical and bits of the Tokyo redlight district into a unity that has influenced the look of scifi across the globe. These visuals subtly underline the basic concept of the movie: Theseus and the Minotaur, the rat in the maze.

Speaking of the story, it doesn't need all the info supplied by the theatrical cut as it's all there -if you watch carefully. Once you you figure out what's going on, the characters become much more empathetic and stock noir scenes are turned on their head. Decker becomes Theseus, Rachel becomes Ariadne, Tyrell is Minos, Batty is the half-human-half-machine Minotaur, and Edward James Olmos gets to descend from the sky like a god to help out his mortal favorite.

With it's tight fitting of form and function, it's no wonder that this movie casts such a long shadow. Look for references to it in odd places: Tyrell's owl and the Goblin King's owl in Labyrinth, Decker backwashing blood into his stemmed glass and President Snow doing the same in Catching Fire. Of course, the film's final triumph is having a sequel made thirty-five years after the original.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Back to Square III: Platypus Nostalgia

I finished the Steam port of SquareEnix's Final Fantasy III. It took me a year, and having to go all the way back to the start to relearn the job system, but I did it.

Final Fantasy III is a role player's RPG. The job system makes the characters much more customize-able than other early titles in the series and the lack of save points in dungeons make proper supply and strategy non-negotiable. All-in-all, it's the most difficult classic role playing game that I've encountered -no wonder it took so long to hit the U.S. market.

That said, however, what would have been a disadvantage when I was a kid is now a major selling point of the game. Final Fantasy III requires and rewards thought and care as players delve into its lushly imagined world -and a delightful world it is! The tone is light and upbeat with its Funkopop-like animation and sense of high adventure, but without the kiddieness of a Secret of Mana (though it also should be noted that there are no moments to compare with Aerith's death or Celes' opera). The world of Final Fantasy III also coheres in a way that the world of Final Fantasy VII doesn't. It's high fantasy all the way and no superfluous towns or elements that seem like they belong in another game.

The final word on Final Fantasy III is that it's fun. If it doesn't soar as high as later entries in the series, it also avoids their pitfalls and provides a more challenging play experience.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Terminator 2 Judgement Day: Film Platypus

Works of Art endure for a reason. Even when aspects of them become out outdated, (say as in the case of the Iliad, composition-in-performance goes out of fashion) the power of the story shines through. That's a rare thing for a genre that is as dependent on up-to-date technology as a Science Fiction Film. The story, the message, has to be uniquely powerful to endure once the future becomes the present or special effects take another leap forward. I spent some time this week on a sci-fi film that has endured, even though 1997 has come and gone: Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

My reasons for picking T2 were three-fold: 1. I hadn't seen it in over ten years, 2. It's a James Cameron film that fits in with my Save the Cat homework, 3. the film had a powerful impact on me when I was a teenager and I wanted to see how it held up. The edition of the film I viewed was the extended cut. While I get the impression that Cameron prefers the theatrical version for aesthetic reasons, I wanted to get as full an idea of the story as possible. Having watched the special features, I understand why Cameron chose to cut the film down for theater audiences, but I prefer the greater depth of the extended cut. Those things said, let's move on to six things I think make T2 a winner:

1. A score that sounds like the coming of Armageddon.
2. A 90s era sense, born out of the fall of Communism, that the future is not inevitably bad and that human choices can still have meaning in a technological age because technology is morally neutral -we may have the bomb, but having it does not mean we have to use it.
3. Linda Hamilton is allowed to be strong, ugly, and unhinged -and she sells it. This gives the movie a sense of seriousness that it desperately needs to keep from derailing into absurdity.
4. Arnold sell the machine-as-a-machine while making us care about him. He helps us believe that the human ability to learn can counterbalance our will-to-death.
5. The movie is filled with powerful images: The Bomb hitting L.A., Jon teaching the Terminator to give a high-5, Sarah carving "no-fate" into the table, Sarah's near murder of Dyson, Dyson's heroic death, and Jon and Sarah's dream-like first meetings with the T-800.
6. Like Aliens, T2 is about creating a family in the wake of loss. Boomers get to identify with Sarah Conner trying to put her life back together while Millennials are Jon Conner living in an uncertain world with overbearing parents who are terrified that they will fail if mommy isn't there.

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
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,
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,
All who do the work my Irish ancestors
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
you Insiders, who never
looked in through lighted
and wished to God that you

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

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?).