In 1982, Viking Press published four novellas by Stephen King, themed loosely (and probably ex-post-facto) after the four seasons. Someone else did it first, of course, and King seems to be referencing Vivaldi’s sonatas (even presenting the seasons in the order of Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter). This kind of performative literary touch might indicate an attempt to step outside the horror genre, and the novellas back this up. They’re not King’s usual work.
The first novella, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”, impresses the heck out of me, every time I read it. I think it’s one of the best things he ever wrote.
It contains the famous line “prison is no fairytale world”. But King’s Shawshank is a fairytale world: and the character of Andy Dufresne is as much a folk figure as Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan. The plot is very famous thanks to a Frank Darabont movie: it’s about a wrongfully convicted man (but everyone behind bars is wrongfully convicted, the worldly narrator explains), and the ingenious use he finds for a poster of a Golden Age Hollywood actress.
But a straight telling of the plot doesn’t do justice to how rich an experience “Rita Hayworth” is. Its pages seem to bleed colour and sound. Literally everything about it is fascinating, from the desperate thrust of the main story to the little asides and sketches about incarcerated life. King always shines when writing about guys in prison, probably because they “contain” the action and actors in one place (subverting the questions about “why doesn’t [insert bozo] run away?”), as well as allowing time to move as fast or as slow as he chooses.
The ending is genuinely moving, even if you know what’s going to happen. Early in the story we get a vignette about a con who owned a pet pigeon. The day after he gets paroled, the pigeon is found “dead as a turd”. That’s life. The pigeon dies. “Rita Hayworth” is a legend where the pigeon gets to live, winging away into the blue silent sky.
“Apt Pupil” is a portrait of a young sociopath. Thirteen-year-old Todd Bowden accosts an elderly German immigrant and threatens to expose his secret: he’s a former Nazi commandant called Kurt Dussander, who ran an extermination camp. Bowden doesn’t want money, he wants knowledge. He’s is obsessed with the Holocaust. Obsessed with mass graves and incinerators. He wants to hear about the Holocaust from someone who actually perpetuated it. He wants to become Dussander’s pupil.
This character is totally believable – thanks to the internet, you can encounter Todd Bowden online any time you want to. The world is full of Holocaust fetishists – let’s face it, there’s something chic and sexy about the Final Solution that other historical tragedies lack: it’s the Rolls Royce of genocides. The Bowdens of the world aren’t overtly pro-Nazi – far from it, in fact. Even notorious Nazisploitation flick Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS dutifully informs the viewer that it’s only staging depictions of the Holocaust “with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again”. Whether or not you believe these cover stories, the disconcerting reality is that people still pay money to watch Judenfleisch get brutalized.
The story takes unpredictable turns, and avoids several obvious cliches. Although the relationship between Bowden and Dussander is initially one of extortion, soon they’re both in over their heads and reliant on the other to survive. Dussander doesn’t want his identity revealed. Bowden doesn’t want his all-American parents to discover his Nazi fetish. A game theoretician could teach a class based on “Apt Pupil”: Dussander and Bowden each have the ability to destroy each other, and this gives them perfect trust, as any betrayal will be punished by the other. In real life the strongest teams aren’t the Justice League, they’re La Cosa Nostra: bad guys with guns held to each other’s heads. Nevertheless, the mental (and soon physical) violence soon increases, to the point where the story explodes. A nice little tale about rattling skeletons and having them rattle you back.
“The Body” sees King going for an easy score. Plucky children, 1950s Maine, dark secret: how can you go wrong? It has plenty of connective tissue to other King stories (the character of Ace Merrill appears in a few other tales, and even Joe Camber’s mad dog Cujo gets a shout-out), but the strongest link might be to King’s own childhood.
The actual plot (four young boys go into the woods because they’ve heard there’s a dead body) is slender and almost irrelevant. The focus is on their characters, and the idealism of childhood interacting with the complexities of a world where trains and dogs and guns can kill you. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that the white picket fences of the 1950s often concealed scenes of unpleasantness, even horror, and a lot of King’s work consists of vivisecting America’s Leave It To Beaver era for the modern reader’s education. I like “The Body”, but compared to “Rita Hayworth” and “Apt Pupil” it seems conservative and safe: King colouring well between the lines.
The final novella is the least like the others. “The Breathing Method” is quite brief, almost a short story, contains overt supernatural and horror elements, and is detached from its central character in a way the others aren’t. It still has a stately literary air that separates it from his “I Was a Teenage Grave-Robber” stuff, but next to the first three it’s as insubstantial as breath on a winter’s day.
It’s about a woman way up shit creek. She’s pregnant, and the father has booked it out of town. She approaches a doctor, although not for the reasons you might expect. She wants to keep the baby, and she needs the doctor’s help.
King has made no bones about his difficulties in writing female characters, and here he avoids that difficulty by telling the story from the perspective of the male doctor. This is probably for the best, but it creates a lot of distance between us and the main character. It’s like trying to feel empathy for a person you can only glimpse through a periscope. But, importantly, it also casts the tale’s supernatural (or magical realist) elements under a shadow. Is this the truth? Or only what the narrator believes or wishes was the truth?
Hard though it might be to believe, in the 1980s the question existed as to whether King could escape the horror ghetto. These days the question is settled, and the new one is should he write outside that ghetto. Whatever you might think his neverending quest to write the Great American novel, this was an early, profitable attempt at broadening his portfolio. I just wish the final story was longer. If these are seasons, Stephen King Metro is built on the Equatorial line, where winter only lasts for a few days.
The Portuguese were probably more technologically advanced than China by the mid 16th century. They had arquebuses, matchlock muskets, and breech loaded cannons. We know this stuff was better than the Chinese equivalents, because the Chinese copied them. After the battle of Shancaowan, the Ming captured some Portuguese swivel guns and produced their own imitations, which they called “Folangji”. When a Ming prince received a shipment of Folangji to deal with a seditious local lord, he literally wept for joy.
It’s surprising, considering that China had the first guns, rockets, and cannons. It’s like if Apple’s next iPhone was a reverse-engineered Huawei.
How did Europe leapfrog over China’s early technological advantage? One explanation I’ve heard is that early Chinese cannons were never as useful against Chinese walls as early European cannons were against European walls.
European fortifications were made of solid courses of stone blocks mortared in place. They were rigid, hard, and inelastic. Fire a cannon at stone, and it cracks.
Chinese fortifications tended to be two relatively thin layers of brick, with a large interior cavity (several meters thick) filled with packed dirt. This is a very strong design against sharp, sudden force, as the dirt absorbs the impact. Another difference was that Chinese walls tended to be sloped, which better deflected projectiles than the vertical surfaces of European castles.
So where the Europeans were firing early cannons at castles and seeing encouraging results, the Chinese were taking an opposite lesson: that cannonry were toys with largely just a ceremonial purpose.
Ironically, their advanced walls caused their artillery to stagnate.
Technology is a evolutionary process. You build a thing, then build a better thing, then build a better thing. Crude early artillery in the 13th century soon evolved into the powerful bombards that felled Constantinople. But the danger of evolutionary processes is that you can get stuck in a local maximum – where no further adaptation is worthwhile because you’ve hit some barrier or another. Your stepwise process becomes thing -> better thing -> better thing -> same thing -> same thing -> same thing -> (…) -> amazing thing. The Europeans had a logical hill-climbing path that the Chinese didn’t, and the early Chinese advantage was wasted because they got stuck.
Similar to the argument that the wheel never took off among the Incas because, without gearing, wheels are of limited use in the mountainous Andes. But of course, unless you use wheels a lot, you’ll never think about gears.
“Hey, it’s ya boiiiiii. Thanks for the 200 bits, cancerfart420. Holy shit, these queue times are seriously pepega. I just wanna frag out, man. Okay, my team’s here. PogU. Ready to get carried, boys? Here we go.
“Oh my God. That guy was trash. Trash. Terrible. Complete dogshit. The only reason he killed me was because I missed my shots and he hit his shots. Literally, that’s the only reason he beat me. If I hit my shots and he missed his, he’d be dead. That’s how trash he is.
“Holy shit, that gun keeps melting me. Nerf that shit already. I asked a dev about adding some extra bloom to the recoil pattern, and he said they’d consider it. That’s right. I talk to game devs on Twitter. No kappa. You won’t hear me mention it, though, I keep that fact on the down-low.
“This kid’s aim is feelsweirdman. I don’t want to be that guy, but could he be…hacking? Okay. That does it. I’m spectating this little shit. Oh, look, he has “TTV” in his name. I’m not telling you to go to his Twitch stream and bully him. I’d get banned if I did that. All I’ll do is insinuate that he’s hacking and then loudly read his Twitch handle to my viewers.
“Goddamn, I’m actually whiffing everything. Okay, I’m changing my mouse sens again. Please watch me for 5 minutes while I do this. This is now a tech support stream. Wait, why does my mouse have “CPI”? Is that the same thing as “DPI”? Can someone tell me? Also, why aren’t my stream alerts working? I need my chat to diagnose and fix everything wrong in my entire life.
“This is gonna be a huge nade. Huge. Kobe. Do you know that ‘kobe’ means a grenade thrown with accuracy and precision while ‘yeet’ means a grenade thrown with raw power ? I’m sure this is the first streamer you’ve ever seen explain this. Glad to help educate y’all.
“Okay, I see some little kids causing trouble in chat. Where are my mods? For the last time, I’m not a racist. All I did was call a black teammate a monkey and tell him to get back to Africa. How’s that racist? Technically we’re ALL monkeys and we ALL come from Africa. Try reading a book sometime, 4head. Anyway, that incident happened fifteen whole days ago, and I apologised for it. Yes, you heard me. Even though I did nothing wrong and was 100% in the right, I still apologized. That’s the kind of guy I am.
“Just drop it. I’m not here for drama. I just come on here to chill with you guys and to spread positive vibes. Yo, thanks for the 500 bits. My boy cancerfart420 going crazy today.”
“Fan theories” have become increasingly popular in recent years (now you know what they are). Like the related phenomenon of “creepypastas”, they’re exciting at first but soon fall into repetitive cliches: bad guy is secretly good, good guy is secretly bad, dumb guy is secretly a genius, up is secretly down, main character is secretly dying of cancer and hallucinating. There’s 10-15 basic fan theories and soon you’ll have seen them all.
However, the best fan theories are compelling enough to make people forget that they’re theories, and start talking about them as if they’re accepted canon.
In Star Wars, the Imperial stormtroopers miss a lot. They do more missing than Graham Lineham addressing a transgender man. Their accuracy has become such a joke that it’s given rise to terminology such as the Stormtrooper effect.
In 2015, a theory was proposed that stormtroopers are being ordered to miss, in order to keep Luke alive and fulfill Vader’s plans. It was posted on the Fan Theories subreddit, and the author never pretends it’s anything more than fanciful speculation. The theory quickly spread across the internet, however, and soon nobody was treating it as a theory. Soon, it became a generic “checkmate, atheists” rebuttal to the most casual mention of Stormtrooper accuracy. For example, this meme on imgur (with no less than THREE lines of text explaining the joke, holy shit dude) has the top-voted comment :
haven’t we established that the stormtroopers miss on purpose?
…No. We have not. There is zero textual evidence that they miss on purpose. There’s a theory that they do, and in light of the facts, the theory’s probably wrong.
1) Why fire guns at all if they want the heroes to live?
As any marksman is taught, you never, ever point a gun at something you don’t want to kill. It doesn’t matter if you try to miss. What if a stormtrooper kills Luke with a stray shot? Blast rifle bolts have an area effect (as seen in the Docking Bay 94 scene, where blasts take out large sections of concrete), so even a “miss” might kill Luke with shrapnel.
2) They miss when there’s no reason to.
We see Stormtroopers miss R2D2 and C3PO on the Tantive IV, miss Han Solo when he’s leaving Mos Eisley, miss Ewoks, etc.
3) It’s not true that they want everyone on the Millenium Falcon to escape.
Luke Skywalker needs to live because he’s capital-I Important. Leia needs to live because she knows the location of the Rebel base. They could have plausibly wanted Han Solo alive, as he was the pilot of the ship.
…But why miss when shooting at Chewbacca, a wookie of no tactical value?
4) there aren’t many positive examples of Stormtroopers hitting shots.
Here we see Stormtroopers storm the Tantive IV, and accomplish the feat of killing several guys in a narrow hallway with no cover. It looks like hard work.
Here’s the scene of the execution of the Jedi. Stormtroopers shoot them at point blank range. Not an amazing feat of marksmanship.
4) “These blast points… too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial stormtroopers are so precise.”
Ben Skywalker’s quote re: a wrecked sandcrawler doesn’t necessarily imply that stormtroopers are good shots. He could mean “they knew where to aim, as opposed to Sand People who just blast away indiscriminately”. This is the risk of using dialog as evidence.
When consuming art, it’s possible to see things that aren’t there. Sometimes these mirages persist, are spread across time and culture, and the imaginary thing becomes part of the “official” tale. Nowhere in the nursery tale of Humpty Dumpty does it say that he’s an egg.
“Stormtroopers miss on purpose” was created as an imaginative “what if” theory. However, it now seems to be accepted as the gospel truth of what’s happening in Star Wars. Much of history is probably composed in a similar way.
This book (155 pages long, written in the biggest print I’ve ever seen in a book not for children or blind people) is about how everyone is conspiring against everyone about everything.
But when you point at everything, you’re really pointing at nothing. If a New World Order existed and included everyone from George W Bush, Gorbachev, Kissinger, Mao, “Adolph Hitler” (sic), Stalin, Reagan, Osama bin Laden, along with all the world’s royal families and all the world’s billionaires, there would be no point in writing a book like this. The Order has won, they control everything, and a book detailing their crimes would never see print.
This is the oddest thing about Alex Jones’ world: there’s no room in it for Alex Jones. The One World Government would never allow a man like him to live. The book ends with a request to send him money. “The Republic is in great danger of being completely overthrown.” This prompts a rather incredulous: “you just told me that every President since Eisenhower meets annually at Bohemian Grove to perform human sacrifice. What’s left to overthrow?”
But internal contradictions don’t matter to people like Jones. A 2012 scientific study found that belief in one conspiracy predicts belief in another conspiracy…even when that conspiracy contradicts the first. For example, the more likely you are to answer “yes” to the statement “Princess Diana faked her own death”, the more likely you are to answer “yes” to the statement “Princess Diana was murdered.”
This aligns with my own experience with self-described truth-seekers. I’ve seen Holocaust denialists simultaneously argue that 1) Auschwitz had no crematoriums, and 2) the rate at which Auschwitz could cremate bodies was insufficient to conduct the Holocaust. I’ve seen 9/11 truthers simultaneously argue that 1) the pilots were CIA patsies 2) no plane hit the Pentagon or the Towers.
Most people are driven by a need to make sense of the world. Conspiracy theorists, however, are driven by intellectual narcissism: they alone know the truth, and everyone else is stupid. So they watch Youtube videos and scroll Twitter for sixteen hours a day, packing as many “truth bombs” into their heads as possible. Facts are like dollars. The more of them you have, the better off you are. And if your indiscriminate quest for knowledge causes you to believe two contradictory things at once, too bad.
I found the book to be a slog. Jones has a wearisome, hectoring style: one suited to a loud-mouthed talk show host who’s used to steamrolling guests and callers. Reading it made me feel pity for whoever has to sit down with him for Thanksgiving dinner. You couldn’t have a reasonable discussion with this man about anything.
Sometimes the stream-of-consciousness style produces funny results. On page 15 Jones repeats the tale of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, but he gets it jumbled: he has Nero fiddling while setting fire to Rome (was he holding a firebrand between his toes?)
Most of the time, though, it just makes the book even sloppier and less grounded in fact. On page 101, he writes “For years, we warned people about FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). The federal documents have been around for decades and include round-up plans and concentration camps.” Such handwaving would be fine on the radio, but in a printed book the reader feels justified in seeing excerpts from these supposed “federal documents”. The fact that Jones doesn’t provide any just makes him sound like he’s making it all up.
Descent Into Tyranny was written in 2002. I was curious to see how Jones’ political outlook evolved over time. I vaguely remember Infowars being a vaguely left-libertarianish outlet at the start, and the book certainly devotes time to conspiracies beloved of left-wingers, like IMF and the World Bank and Waco, Texas. It’s published by a small outlet called Progressive Press, whose other fine titles can be viewed here. (Sample excerpt: “The “Arab Spring” is revealed as part of the scheme to extend the Anglo-Zionist empire and its neo-liberal regime of plunder over the entire planet.”).
Jones was certainly less fond of “Vladymir Putin” (sic) in 2002. In the section entitled “Putin Uses Terror”, he reveals that Putin destroyed an apartment complex using explosive plastique, killing 350 people. Fifteen years later Jones would be on Twitter writing stuff like “Looking forward to Putin giving me the new hashtags to use against Hillary and the dems… “ In fairness, Putin’s killing of 350 people happened a long time ago. You have to let stuff slide eventually.
The book runs out of material by the end, so Jones pads it out with the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Communist Manifesto (which he insists was written by“global banking cartels”.) All that’s missing is Huckleberry Finn and summer reading list experience would be complete.
Some people become JoJo fans naturally; I was forcibly converted. I was part of a movie-watching group and whenever we ran out of material our host would inflict JoJo marathons on us. I still recall his mounting panic when we didn’t share his enthusiasm (“…this gets really good around Stardust Crusaders, I promise!”)
It took me a long time to like JoJo, and even now I’m not a superfan. But I “get” what it’s about. Not in the sense of plot (a cursed mask, sibling rivalry, an ancient blood debt), but what it’s really about: the glory of the West. Or, less politely, weebishness in reverse.
Traditionally, weebs are white kids who are fascinated by Japan (or the Japan they see in anime) and assign various romantic ideals upon it. The stereotypical weeb is overweight, undersocialized, a disappointment to his parents, and a failure with women – he holds no love for the place of his birth. Japan represents a kind of Avalon to him, an isle across the waters where nerds and misfits are accepted.
Hirohiko Araki is an anti-weeb: a Japanese person who’s in love with Western culture. I guess the bamboo is always greener on the other side. Japanese authors are often attracted to a certain element of Western culture (Edogawa Rampo loved the Gothic movement, Yukio Mishima loved fascism, Haruki Murakami loves bohemians) but Hirohiko Araki’s tastes are exceptionally omnivorous. He loves everything about us.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is about rockstars, pirates, highwaymen, knights, athletes, gangsters, gamblers, and rakes. Everyone’s an archetype of masculinity, cool beyond cool, a muscular, flamboyant ubermensch. JoJo takes Western machismo and exaggerates it to cartoonish, absurd levels.
It’s pretty gay at times. I don’t know whether JoJo’s homoeroticism was intended, but it’s striking that the manga has one female character, and she’s passive and pathetic, serving as a prize for the strutting male peacocks to fight over.
The love weebs have for Japan is often an intellectually shallow one, and they tend to get stuff wrong. Hirohiko Araki gets details about western culture wrong, too. For example, the villainous Dio resurrects a pair of medieval warriors, Brufold and Tarkus, to help kill Jonathan Joestar. We’re told that they’re knights who served Mary, Queen of Scots…but neither of them look like knights. Tarkus (left) is armored like a Roman Centurion. Brufold (wearing a horned helmet) is clearly modelled after a Viking warrior. These are not knights.
Or consider the family name, “Joestar”, which sounds jarringly wrong to the Western ear – people don’t have surnames like that. It reminds me of the infamous Fighting Baseball player roster, where a Japanese game programmer had to invent a bunch of American-sounding names and came up with “Sleve McDichael” and “Bobson Dugnutt”.
But realism isn’t important in JoJo. Perhaps hyperrealism is, though: everything given a little push over the cliff (in the words of Nigel Tufnel). JoJo is the world of could-have-been truths that are exaggerated to compensate for the fact that they never existed.
Obviously a name like Dio Brando gives the game away – a stilted amalgamation of a heavy metal rockstar and a Hollywood actor. As is the character of Zeppeli, who is visually modelled upon Salvadore Dali. JoJo often surprises the reader with its degree of literacy and wit.
I enjoyed the start of Phantom Blood more than the end. The way Dio Brando whiplashes from gentlemanliness to psychotic brutality is hilarious and shocking, and puts the reader squarely in Jonathan’s corner. And the “down-to-earth” nature of the tale was pleasant: something gets lost when the hero is battling a sentient hairstyle.
The final few volumes sort of blur together. Jonathan faces a threat, learns a new power or ability to overcome it, faces an even bigger threat, learns a new power or ability, and so on. It’s like a treadmill that speeds up all the time – soon you’re tired and want to get off. It was probably more enjoyable in its original run, where the repetition is less obvious. Probably better as an anime, too, where colours and music help establish JoJo’s mojo. I’m curious to see where the Joestar family goes next: hopefully a Jonathan Joestar vs Sleve McDichael crossover.
‘The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. It’d take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. Now, if you’re lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go.’ – Max Rockatansky
One man chains another to a pipe in a burning building (or some other place that will kill him if he doesn’t escape). He gives the chained man a hacksaw and a choice: cut through the chain, or cut through a limb.
This scenario appears in George Miller’s apocalyptic film Mad Max. It also appears in Alan Moore’s Watchmen (likely as a homage or parody).
Hurling the dogs’ corpses at Grice, Rorschach then handcuffed the man to a pipe and doused the room with kerosene. After handing Grice a hacksaw and stating that it would be futile for Grice to attempt to cut through the handcuffs (implying that he would have to cut off his hand), Rorschach set fire to the room and exited the house. He watched outside for over an hour in the unlikely event that Grice might free himself in time; Grice did not survive. – Watchmen Wiki
It also appears in the first Saw movie.
Adam finds a bag containing two hacksaws inside the toilet, which they try to use to cut through their chains, but Adam’s saw breaks. Lawrence realizes the saws are meant to be used on their feet, and identifies their captor as the Jigsaw Killer, whom Lawrence knows of because he was once a suspect. – Wikipedia
It’s as brutal an act as one can imagine, but it has an element of chivalry (or moral handwashing). After all, you’re being given a chance.
…Or are you? The man who chained you up a) knows better than you how long you have to escape and b) wants you dead. Would he give you a hacksaw if there was any way you could escape in time, however remote?
This is such a common (and weirdly specific) trope in fiction that I started wondering: what’s the absolute first time it appears? Is there an ur-hacksaw scene that predates all others?
I might have found it. Ironically, it might be in a book that was never actually written.
The 120 Days of Sodom is the legendary and never-completed epic by 18th century aristocrat Marquis de Sade. Written on a single roll of paper while its author was imprisoned in the Bastille, its production was interrupted in 1789 by the French Revolution. Only the first part is extant: the second and third parts exist in outline form.
In the third part, we come across this scene:
“He chains one of the girl’s hands and secures the chain to the wall; he leaves her thus, without food. Near her is a large knife, and just beyond her reach sits an excellent meal: if she wishes to eat, she has but to cut through her forearm; otherwise, she dies of starvation. Prior to this he has embuggered her. He observes her through a window.”
This has some interesting parallels to Mad Max.
- The chain
- The cutting instrument
- The “ticking clock” (in this case, the girl will starve if she does not escape)
- The victim must self-mutilate
It has some differences.
- A knife is not a hacksaw.
- Cutting through the chain isn’t suggested as a possibility (although she probably would have tried)
- The girl won’t become free if she cuts off her forearm. She will have earned a meal, and will then be subjected to further tortures.
There’s another big difference between this scene and its later incarnations.
Max Rockatansky and Rorschach are (dark) heroes. Even Jigsaw is given some odd philosophical motivations for his deeds. Nothing like this exists for the barbarous noblemen of Sodom, who have retired to a chateau in Germany to destroy as many young lives as possible. Their evil is a black hole, existing beyond any reasonable motive.
Another Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Say, once said that supply creates its own demand. In the Marquis’s case, the same holds true for sadism. When men have knives, they use them.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is an classic in Australian psychological horror. It’s a genuinely disturbing book. Thinking about it makes me feel queasy and cold. It’s also Australia’s Blair Witch: a literary stunt that left its own provenance unclear. Many thought that the book told a true story, and even now you’ll meet folk who talk about the events of Hanging Rock as if they really happened.
It was written in 1967 and is set over half a century earlier, at a girls’ boarding school in Victoria, Australia. A group of four people (three students and teacher), leave a picnic to explore the nearby Hanging Rock formation. Three are never seen again. The fourth is discovered days later, nearly dead from sunstroke. When she recovers, she has no memory of what happened to the others.
The rest of the book is the community coming to terms with the mystery. A bloodhound fails to find the missing women, as does a local “black tracker”. An army of well-meaning volunteer searchers soon blanket Hanging Rock in footprints and trail-marks, destroying whatever evidence might have existed. The final people to see the party report some odd things: the three students were in a trancelike state, with staid mathematics teacher Greta McShaw literally undressed to her underwear. The reader actually follows the girls until the final moment, and knows some additional facts that the other characters don’t. But ultimately, we don’t know what happened, either. Isolated facts are grains of sand, and we need hard stone.
Whatever happened at Hanging Rock (and there are signs that certain characters know more than they are telling), the lack of resolution is like a thorn embedded in flesh, driving the community to frustration and then madness and then further tragedy.
The events of the story bear an odd resemblance to Finland’s Lake Bodom murders, where three backpackers were slaughtered, with the sole survivor possessing no memory of the night’s events. Bodom happened in 1960, but I doubt Joan Lindsay was aware of it. Finland is far from Australia, and in 1967 was even further. And unlike the United States (where a Bodom-style murder would have led to sixteen made-for-TV movies, a Netflix series by Jordan Peele, and teenage girls on Tumblr obsessed with finding and marrying the killer), Finland isn’t culturally fascinated by violent crimes, nor does it possess the regency to spread them all over the world.
Like Lake Bodom, Hanging Rock exists in the real world. I learned some interesting things about it on Wikipedia. It’s more properly called Mount Diogenes, after the Greek philosopher who held that civilisation is corrupt and nature is moral. Geologically, Hanging Rock is a mamelon, after the French word for nipple (is it important that all the main characters are female?)
Joan Lindsay does a good job of making Hanging Rock sound old-fashioned. Like any turn-of-the-century novelist, she almost puts on a pair of white gloves and chaperones you through the pages. This is the sort of book where you read sentences like “All this was nearly six years before this chronicle begins”. Only a few anachronistic words reveal the book’s modernity – such as “deadbeat”, an American slang word that entered common usage in the 1940s.
When you climb Hanging Rock, you ascend a to a sharp point and then descend down gently rolling hills. The book’s structure is a little like that: the climax arrives in the first three chapters. The rest of the book is a gradual come-down. Some readers find this anticlimactic, but to me it adds to the book’s sense of unease. As you read on, you realise you are wandering further from solving the mystery. It’s as if the answer to the puzzle is a solid island, and the book is an ocean dragging you ever further away. It’s agonizing, and compelling.
So, do we ever learn what happened? Do we even get a look through a crack in the door? Make up your own mind, but there’s a reason they call it mystery fiction as opposed to solution fiction.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil explores the often-overlooked fact that George Orwell’s 1984 could be rewritten as a comedy with little effort.
In Room 101, Winston is tortured with his worst fear (rats). Why do this? Do they give everyone in Room 101 a personalized torture? What if my worst fear is something expensive, like having diamonds rubbed on my nipples? Why go to the trouble – wouldn’t a generic but still fearsome torture be equally effective? Why not just shoot Winston? (etc)
Brazil takes this latent absurdity, and focuses on it, enlarging it. As with 1984, absurdity doesn’t damage the film’s integrity at all. The movie’s seriously ridiculous and ridiculously serious.
It is a satire about bureaucracy grown so rampant that it throttles humanity like creeper vines. Paperwork. Chains of command. Spelling mistakes that lead to deaths. Blood-red tape. In Gilliam’s world, the future is a man filling out triplicate government forms, forever.
In real life, bureaucracy serves a valid purpose: it’s a cultural shock absorber. If I have poor impulse control, maybe I’ll think a $30,000 exhaust mod kit for my car is a good purchase. If I have to fill out 20 forms and wait a month, maybe I’ll decide I don’t need it after all. But there’s a dark side to bureaucracy: complex and multilayered systems allow responsibility to be diffused into vapor.
Brazil takes place at the furthest, blackest point of this dark side. A fly jams up a printer, turns a “T” into a “B” on an arrest warrant, and the wrong man dies. It’s not clear who’s to blame. The fly?
Sam Lowry is a low-level drone in a monstrous system. He is unhappy, and dreams of soaring above the world on perfect, tesselated wings. These dreams are the closest he comes to experiencing any sort of power, in a life boxed in and mangled both by a suffocating society and neurotic social set. All of the actors are good, but their main purpose is to stare obliviously at the huge, scary environment that rears up around them like prison bars.
As well he might, because the film gives you a lot to stare at. In fact, the true reason to see Brazil might be to sample Gilliam’s terrifying but strangely wondrous world.
There’s a Perry Bible Fellowship comic depicting far-future cinema-goers watching a film about World War II – full of sailing ships and medieval knights riding zebras into battle, and various other things. It’s a vivid image: all the strata of history collapsed into one because the future no longer cares about their distinction.
Brazil is a like that: it’s as if people from the year 3000 made a documentary about the 20th century. It’s both futuristic and laughably out of date. It’s chic and chintzy and garish and austere. It’s ten decades and several hundred fashions and movements mashed up together. But even this ignores Gilliam’s countless weird, inspired touches, such as the ropey, maggotlike tangles of air ducting inside Sam’s apartment. Everything looks great, with detailed sets and puppetry worthy of the Henson studio.
People in Brazil live weird, pampered lives, catered on by perpertually misfiring machines – we see one pouring orange juice on Sam Lowry’s toast. Everything always happens in the most inefficient way possible: for example, cars can only be exited by lifting up the entire roof. The one person who does his job properly is an unlicensed repairman, on the run from the law.
Brazil‘s ending is more pragmatic than 1984‘s but no less grim. In a world where all your (mis)judgement is done by the cancerous edifice of the state, there is no need to have a brain anymore. Certainly no need to use it.
An album full of tracks that weren’t deemed good enough for Load: it’s much better than that one was, needless to say. “Fuel” has nice energy and propulsion, although the guitars sound badly intonated. “The Memory Remains” has a solid set of melodic hooks. “Devil’s Dance” is actually a heavy metal song, although drawn from the Black Sabbath model rather than Slayer or Diamond Head. Every band at some point rips off the massive crawling bass riff from “Heaven and Hell”, and here’s Metallica’s turn. “The Unforgiven II” is very long but is ultimately the album standout, developing nicely and containing a good vocal performance (for once).
Although the first half of ReLoad would be a good album if it came from a different band (I can’t disentangle it from the superior early Metallica), the rest of the album’s just filler. Seek ye not good music in this wasteland. The band themselves have probably forgotten that “Slither”, “Crappy Diem Baby”, “Prince Charming”, etc exist.
“Low Man’s Lyric” is a folk/country experiment that’s memorable in all sorts of wrong ways. It runs seven and a half minutes, contains one of the most annoying choruses ever raped into plastic, and features a hurdy-gurdy: an instrument I was happily unaware of until now. Stephen King’s book Hearts in Atlantis contains a digression on the traits of “low men” – they wear hats with feathers in them, whistle at women from across the street, and so on. A trait he forgot to mention: they write songs with a hurdy-gurdy part. “Fixxxer” is another long one about Hetfield’s parental issues that isn’t particularly worth listening to.
The good: combine the good songs from Load and ReLoad, and you’d have an alright Spin Doctors album. The bad: re-read the past sentence.