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.