Soundtrack: New Kingdom—“Paradise Don’t Come Cheap”
Sean Collins outlines his plans for “Horror Month October” on Attention Deficit Disorderly Too Flat. Now, I’ve never been a big horror fan (although some of my favourite films—especially those by William Dieterle, the great unsung auteur…no! I’ll stop right there…I’ve already done my Dieterle rant!—certainly feature the supernatural), but in the course of making this announcement, Sean delved into his predilection for the apocalyptic and now he’s set me off on a tangent! To wit:
Somehow I got to thinking about all the movies and books I’m really passionate about, and I realized that the overwhelming majority of them have down endings. And not just “oh, too bad things didn’t quite work out for them” endings, but “her friends and brother have been beaten with sledgehammers and carved up with chainsaws and she was just tortured for hours and now she’s escaped but she’s been driven batshit insane” endings. In many of these works, and in the horror ones particularly, there’s no shelter, no safety, no hope. And that’s when I realized that what these films and books offer is certainty. Yes, it’s an awful certainty, the certainty that nothing will ever be right again, but to stare that darkness in the face is preferable to the great not-knowing, isn’t it? And if we’re left with nightmares, that seems but a small price to pay for the lesson learned.
This is great stuff—and Sean, you can definitely count me in for that 13 days of Hallowe’en thing! This all reminds me of Hawthorne’s oft-quoted appraisal of Herman Melville: “He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief”. It was meant as a complement—the two were good friends, and Hawthorne often lamented his own tendency to rest quite comfortably in the skeptical space between the poles of belief and unbelief. Now, my guideposts as a writer are Hawthorne’s fiction, Jonathan Edwards’s theology and Keats’s poetry (+ his theory of “Negative Capability”). I share Hawthorne’s Zen-Buddhist-with-a-deeply-Calvinist-sense-of-original-sin attitude, and I’ve always found myself on his side of the binary. Which is not to say that I don’t love Melville, because I do, and the author’s most apocalyptic book of all—Pierre, Or the Ambiguities (Pierre really hates those ‘ambiguities’)—is one of the most forceful things I’ve ever read.
It’s a crazy novel, about a perfect, DC-type hero of the Hudson River Poltroon variety, who cherishes the memory of his dead father, loves his mom (whom he calls “sister Mary”), and is engaged to an equally perfect and understanding blonde named Lucy Tartan. Pierre always does the right thing. Unfortunately, his life begins to unravel when a dark-tressed young maid at a party announces herself to him as his illegitimate sister (it seems dad took a lot of trips to New York city, and he had at least a little free time while he was there). Pierre’s head begins to swim. He cannot allow his father’s reputation to be sullied. Nor can he allow his sister (Isabel) to go on living in rags, when she could be enjoying the wealth that is her birthright. So, of course, he jilts his fiancée and marries his sister… From then on, there isn’t much to laugh about. Except perhaps the craziest thing of all—which is that Melville was telling everyone that the novel was “calculated for popularity”. The American public wasn’t ready to deal with incest back in those days—nor were they disposed to welcome characters called “Plotinus Plinlimmon” into their hearts. So Pierre winds up dead, and Melville’s career as a popular author hit the wall (he kept writing though, and it’s all interesting).
Anyway, once I started thinking about Pierre, in conjunction with all of the comic-book related stuff that I’ve been obsessing on lately, I couldn’t help finding a lot of similarities between Melville and Jack Kirby. There’s bit of narration early in the novel, when things are just starting to go horribly awry, that has never ceased to chill me: “[Pierre] felt that what he had always considered the solid land of veritable reality, was now being audaciously encroached upon by bannered armies of hooded phantoms, disembarking in his soul, as from flotillas of spectre-boats.” Just imagine the King’s interpretation of that scene! I’d love to see it…
tomorrow, back to Marvel & the American romance tradition!
good night friends
p.s. Sean, maybe you’ll be interested in the novel I’m working on whenever I get the chance—it’s called Longing For Catastrophe!