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Category Archives: History

A Sad and Terrible Truth

A Sad and Terrible Truth

When I first read last summer about the stomach-turning sexual crimes committed by two famous authors — and how fans and fellow writers excused those crimes and silenced the victims — I was repulsed beyond words. (Read more in The Guardian, and at a SFF writer’s blog.)

Now, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen‘s daughter, Moira Greyland, has told her story in her own words. (Read it here.) She is forthright, does not excuse her parents’ behavior, and makes no apologies– nor should she. I applaud Moira’s strength and honesty.

I attempted reading MZB’s books, because other writers kept recommending it, but I could never get past the beginning paragraphs, or — at the most — a page or two. So I was never a fan. However, since she was a respected writer, and since she helped found the Society for Creative Anachronism, I was rocked back on my heels by those initial articles.

The recent kerfuffle over the Hugo Awards stands in stark contrast: In the past, Bradley and Breem were enabled and, even if temporarily shunned, remained esteemed despite their crimes; however, some modern writers who are of a particular political, social, or religious bent have appeared to be shunted aside because they’re “incorrect” in their views.

No, I am neither making a statement about the Hugos nor inviting debate. I’m simply making a connection / contrast between incidents, decades apart, that have occurred within the literary community.

Despite its difficult revelations about child molestation and the far-reaching and often tragic effects on victims, Moira Greyland’s post is well worth the reading, and reminds us that talent does not excuse crime or abuse.

3^re-edited

SCA event – Beltane (c2013, KB)

 

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Images and Words

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

The photo above is of the old Fred Jones plant in downtown Oklahoma City. Now empty and surrounded by fencing, the building is apparently undergoing renovations. The distance and angle created by the fence, the short range of my lense, and the shortness of my stature all combine to make the building seem a veritable tower. A fraction of reflected city skyline is caught in the windows, lower right. (c2015, KB)

As I read the four issues of Popular Photography that have been awaiting my perusal, I am struck with a longing for this lens and that camera, this tripod and that backpack, and a wish for a much bigger bank account.

However, I also recall a piece of advice drilled into me over the years by older, much better, more knowledgeable photographers than I:

A good photographer doesn’t need expensive equipment.

The problem there is the word “good”.

Sigh.

I want that new $849 Sigma 24mm f/1.4 lens, but there’s the nagging little problem of no money, and I’m nowhere near the photographer I want to be.

A story has been rattling around in my head for over twenty years. It features a journalist who becomes a soldier during WW1. He’s a photographer, as well. Someday, I’d like to use an antique camera. The physicality of setting up the equipment, and then the light and the stillness required for the shots, seems the equivalent of writing with quill and inkwell: There’s a meditative creativity that is inspired by the delayed gratification of capturing a scene on film or in words.

It’s different from the instant-ness of digital cameras or computer keyboards, the laying down of images or words without necessarily the weight of thought to anchor them.

But I digress.

We’re experiencing rainy weather here in Oklahoma, punctuated by days of sunshine, never long enough to dry out the ground. As soon as mud and moisture are no longer impediments, the Canon and I shall venture forth once more.

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

 

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The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises DVD coverDirected by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautics engineer who designed the infamous Zero fighters used to attack Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Some viewers dislike the film for its fiction (Jiro’s wife did not die of tuberculosis, for instance), some for its pacing, some for its glossing-over of the death and destruction his planes caused. There was offense at the way his wife was portrayed, and offense at the way he treated her. Some viewers were either offended on Jiro’s behalf, thinking the added fictions dishonored him, and some were offended that the creator of the Zero was the focus of an animated film.

Regardless of detractors, the hand-drawn animation and the beautiful colors are beyond excellent. There’s a night scene in Germany where the elongated and distorted shadows of men running through the streets are stunning in their realism, and the clouds throughout the film are nigh photo-realistic.

The story — which borrowed heavily from an unrelated novel, The Wind Has Risen, by Tatsuo Hori — is interesting, and the dialogue is often sharp and funny.

It’s an homage to love and dreamers, and is a film well worth seeing.

 

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Silence

Silence

In honor of Poetry Month, a short piece by Paul Laurence Dunbar that speaks perfectly to friendship:

Silence

‘T is better to sit here beside the sea,
Here on the spray-kissed beach,
In silence, that between such friends as we
Is full of deepest speech.

A prolific black writer from Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar died at the age of 33 from tuberculosis. Read more about Dunbar at The Poetry Foundation, at Biography, and at Wright State University.

The above poem was taken from my copy of Selected Poems, purchased at one of the National Park Service visitor centers in the Dayton area.

 

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Annotated Dracula (part 1)

(Below is a revised re-post from January 27 and February 7, 2010.)

‘You are early to-night, my friend.’ The man stammered in reply: —

‘The English Herr was in a hurry,’ to which the stranger replied: —

‘That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much, and my horses are swift.’ As he spoke he smiled, the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger’s ‘Lenore’: —

‘Denn die Todten reiten schnell.’ —
(‘For the dead travel fast.’)

I picked up a copy of Bram Stoker’s classic novel after I finished NaNoWriMo 2009 (during which I worked more on what’s probably my darkest effort to date), and re-acquainted myself with one of the foundational vampire tales. Dracula is far removed from the modern re-imaginings of the mythology — and, strange as this may seem, it was refreshing.

Anybody else tired of hearing about Bella and Edward and whoever else they hang with? Anybody else look with a canted eye at Buffy and Angel?

But the suckers — ahem — critters have populated frightening tales for centuries, and I don’t expect them to leave anytime soon.

On occasion, I participate in the CSFF Blog Tour, which has featured modern vampire novels: Shade by John Olson, and Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson. (My blog posts about each can be found here: Shade 1, 2, 3 and Jackals 1, 2, 3.) Both books are in series, and are different takes on the mythology. Shade presents more of a “psychic vampire” image without the traditional blood-letting, but Jackals is much more graphic and offers a twist on the ability of vampires to shape-shift.

I read those books, sampled some television series (those mentioned above, also Forever Knight and Moonlight), listened to teenagers — and even adults — rave about the Twilight books and films, and experienced the strange sensation of being lost, of being pressed under the weight of all those versions and the various leaps (or chasms) in logic that made me unable to suspend disbelief for long, if at all.

Dracula coverSo I went back to what many might consider source material: Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. He was not the first to cover this ancient ground (other well-known stories include Polidori‘s The Vampyre, and Le Fanu‘s Carmilla), but he is very likely the most well-known and most-referenced author of vampire fiction. The copy I chose is the Simon & Schuster Enriched Classics edition, with notes and commentary by Joseph Valente, a Professor of English.

[Though I enjoy books in which such additional information helps provide historical, social, political, or religious context, or discusses why something may have been important or overlooked by characters in the book, and so on, I sometimes wonder how much of the commentary is really just the commentator’s twisting of the text to fit an opinion, and how much is straight-forward observation of the material.]

Vampires and sex, an age-old coupling. The reasons are obvious: attacks that happen at night, usually on victims who are of the opposite gender to the vampires doing the attacking, and (in Dracula the novel) after the victims are in bed. And there’s the whole neck-biting schtick—which, as we all know, is more than a flirty little nibble.

There’s a lot of writing out there concerning vampirism and Victorian views of sexuality, and there’s a realm of scholarship that sees Dracula the character as freeing women sexually while Van Helsing, et al, try to suppress them. And, though the women seek help from their friends and send up prayers to God, they are drawn to the immortal count because their subconscious supposedly really, really wants him.

While such arguments might be made, there’s not much in the novel itself to support them. Yeah, vampires may work their mojo, but they’re presented as evil, and not all that sexy. Sensual, maybe, but not freeing. They’re rapists—even the females. After all, rape isn’t about sex or mutual expression or love. It’s about power and control.

Dracula controls Lucy. He controls Mina. Neither woman wants what he’s offering, and the men do what they can to stop him. Sure, they make some bonehead mistakes, like leaving Mina alone while they scout the count’s London digs, but I never get the impression they are trying to suppress either woman. In fact, Mina and Jonathan seem quite happy with their marriage. Until Dracula gets involved, of course.

to be continued

UPDATE: Last year, I read John Whalen’s excellent Western twist on vampires, Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto. You can read my review of his well-received novel here.

 

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The End? (Examining Famous Novel Endings While Trying to Write My Own)

Today I return to the final bits of writing before a book is published: the acknowledgements, the back cover summary, the author bio (the dreaded bio), and more.

In so doing, I am drawn back to an old blog post from April 2009, in which I addressed endings from classic novels, as well as the endings for two of my own novels. Perhaps I should not have struggled — those two endings have yet to be written.

_________________________

I’ve been considering endings. Writers are constantly being advised about the best ways to begin their tales, though what comes after may be less than stellar, but a strong ending can redeem a weak opening (not that I’m advocating such).

What makes a story work, beginning to end? All writers have the same tools, but each wields them differently, so that time bends in one writer’s hands, but is linear in another’s. One writer excels in action, another in dialogue or description. But one shouldn’t only play to one’s strengths; all writers should — in my occasionally humble opinion — practice to add muscle to their weaknesses, turning them into strengths.

TCOMOne way is to study other writers and other stories. I often go back to the classics. For instance, the classic revenge tale, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, begins thus:

On February 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.

A deceptively quiet first sentence, it still has the tang of mystery about it. Why the importance of the date? The word watchtower has more than one implication, the arrival of a ship also signals the arrival of people and goods, and the cities are ports of call where intriguing events might have occurred that will affect the story.

Just as the book opens with a ship’s arrival, it ends with the sailing of another vessel:

“Look,” said Jacopo.

The two young people looked in the direction in which he was pointing. On the dark blue line separating the sky from the Mediterranean they saw a white sail.

“Gone!” cried Maximilien. “Farewell, my friend, my father!”

“Gone!” murmured Valentine. “Farewell, my friend! Farewell, my sister!”

“Who knows if we’ll ever see them again?” said Maximilien.

“My darling,” said Valentine, “the count just told us that all human wisdom was contained in these two words: Wait and hope.”

I’m not a fan of all those exclamation marks, but that last line is as strong an end as a story needs.

Some Danger InvolvedFast-forward a couple centuries, and Will Thomas writes an excellent series of mystery novels featuring Barker & Llewellyn. The first book, Some Danger Involved, begins thus:

If someone had told me, those many years ago, that I would spend the bulk of my life as assitant and eventual partner to one of the most eminent detectives in London, I would have thought him a raving lunatic.

It ends thus:

I mused for a moment. “We did it, didn’t we? We actually solved a case. Well, you did, anyway. Racket tried to throw us off the scent, but you saw through it all. There’s just one thing that puzzles me.”

“What is that?” he asked.

“Who’s this widow you haven’t mentioned before?”

He didn’t say anything, but I knew I’d struck a nerve. His pipe went out.

Humor and mystery, even at the end. Perfect.

The Queen of Bedlam 260x420The Queen of Bedlam, another mystery, this one by Robert McCammon, begins with a bit of philosophy and history:

‘Twas said better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but in the town of New York in the summer of 1702 one might do both, for the candles were small and the dark was large.

And it ends with a bit of rumination:

Matthew held the glass close to the fingerprints and narrowed his eyes.

How like a maze a fingerprint was, he thought. How like the unknown streets and alleys of a strange city. Curving and circling, ending here and going there, snaking and twisting and cut by a slash.

Matthew followed the maze with his glass, deeper and deeper, deeper still.
Deeper yet, toward the center of it all.

Again, a book that ends but a story that doesn’t, as the main character, having survived and solved a case, still seeks a killer who eluded him.

Hobbit-bookHow about another classic? JRR Tolkien‘s The Hobbit, my introductory drug to the whole fantasy genre, begins with a now-famous paragraph:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Hmm. Exactly how does a hobbit-hole mean comfort? And what in the world is a hobbit?

“The the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

A cozy ending to a rousing adventure, coming (almost) full circle, for the hobbit at the end, while still enjoying his comforts, is a different hobbit from the fussy little man at the beginning.

The Meaning of NightThis last illustration is from The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox:

After killing the red-haird man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.

The first time I read that line, I didn’t want to read the book, because such a sentence could only be a trick, a flamboyant barker’s call to ride the rollercoaster, and the rest of the ride would be disappointing. Not so. And, just as in The Count of Monte Cristo, the quest for revenge turns the man seeking the revenge:

This, then, is what I have learned, since writing my confession on this final shore:

Honor not the malice of thine enemy so much, as to say, thy misery comes from him; Dishonour not the complexion of the times so much, as to say, thy misery comes from them; justifie not the Deity of Fortune so much, as to say, thy misery comes from her; Finde God pleased with thee, and thou hast a hook in the nostrils of every Leviathan.

I long for sleep, and for soft English rain. But they do not come.

E.G.

Regret, lessons hard-learned, and desires unmet: Was the revenge worth the cost?

As for my own writing, I know where I want a fantasy story to end — the final scene has been written for years — but there’s still a manuscript-and-a-half to finish first. However, because of what the three characters endure before that scene, the quiet ending will carry the weight of all the adventures and sacrifices, all the dreams and losses, that have gone before it.

In the science fiction serial novel, I don’t know the ending. I know the conflicts and the characters, and the broad brush-strokes of the background, but the minutiae I’m learning as I go, right along with the readers: the less-obvious motives of the characters, the various reasons the colonies exist and are in conflict with the rebels, what’s going to happen next.

I just don’t know how it’s going to end.

Having a work in progress even as it’s being published is a disquieting circumstance for me. It keeps me writing, and it takes me on a journey. Maybe I’ll only know the ending when I get there, and not a moment before.

_________________________

UPDATE:

The two novels remain unfinished.

Life, you see, has a way of imposing roadblocks.

But roadblocks are only delays, not final destinations.

After all, one need not use roads to achieve the goal. Sometimes one must blaze a trail.

The “manuscript-and-half” mentioned above has become merely one manuscript. The trilogy has been shrunk to a duology, and the first book should be coming soon. Dragon’s Rook was expected in the summer, but I’m hoping it will be available in e-book form by winter. A cover is forthcoming.

 

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Family History

Last night at the writers group, there was another new face, an older woman, as are at about half of the members, and yet another family historian writing her mother’s life story and family exploits.

c2014, KB

c2014, KB

Among the writers I know, this seems to be a trend: female writers using family history for creative nonfiction, biography, or historical fiction. They are all at least twenty years older than I, meaning the youngest is in her sixties. One seventy-something friend, Nancy, recently published the third volume of historical fiction based on her mother’s life. Kathryn, in her early sixties, is currently organizing notes about and transcribing stories told by her near-century-old mother to write a fictionalized account of her mother’s early life. The new writer, Susan, wants to take readers back to the 11th century, then follow her mother’s family to the present day.

Yet another member of the group, Marguerite, is writing true short stories about her childhood and youth; and Mary is expanding her great-grandparents’ daring romance into a novel.

Other members are writing urban fantasy, fractured fairy tales, outer space adventures, a memoir about raising a severely autistic foster son.

And then there’s me.

Yes, learning about my family history is interesting. I’d love to have the money and the time to do thorough research. But I can’t. Not yet. Still, I know enough interesting details about recent generations that I could write a few short stories, maybe a whole novel, but nothing resembling a viable fact-filled tome.

I wonder, in contrast to all the women using their mothers’ stories or family trees as springboards for literature, are there any male writers out there writing their fathers’ stories? Where are they?

 

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Autumn in Carthage

Although I’ve read several such novels since, the last time-travel book that intrigued me enough that I read every word and hated being interrupted was Michael Crichton‘s Timeline. Considering the novel was released in 1999, you can see how tough a sell time-travel stories can be. At least to this reader.

Who knows if I’d like it quite so well if I re-read it today, but it holds a special place in my history (no wordplay intended), and for good or ill has become the marker by which similar stories are measured. The same holds true for Enders’ Game, Roadmarks, and a few other speculative fiction novels. I’ll read something similar, and whether I mean to or not, comparisons are made.

Each book, however, deserves to stand on its own, and I’ll endeavor to write this review without harking back to other books I’ve known.

Readers looking for a leisurely, quiet read, Autumn in Carthage is the story for them. It is a mix of mystery, time-travel fantasy, history, and romance, and much of it takes place in the small fictional town of Carthage, Wisconsin, an enclave of old wealth hiding a powerful secret.

Jaded college professor Nathan Price is our first guide to Carthage. A strange letter arrives one day. It’s from his best friend, Jamie. And it’s dated 1692.

Against reason, against known science, somehow Jamie has traveled back in time. And Nathan is going to find out why and how, and so much more than he ever anticipated knowing.

On that premise and on the decent writing, I decided to read the book. (I liked the cover, too.)

The writing is solid, and by turns scholarly, gentle, literary, or carnal, depending on the point-of-view character for a particular scene and on the story’s events. Although the tactic might work to make characters distinct from one another, for me it makes the story uneven, and the harshness or awkwardness of some word choices made me stumble out of the story. It’s as if the story doesn’t know what it wants to be or how it wants to be told.

There are phrases or moments in the book that gave me the feeling the author was trying too hard, or was unsure of his footing. Or maybe he was just tired. There’s a particular section where the writing is lazy and emotional at once, where adjectives are more editorial than usefully descriptive; where the language is jarringly carnal (there’s that word again; it fits better than “erotic”, due to the tone of the language); and at least one paragraph of dialogue that is filled with pat cliches, as if the author was bored when he wrote it.

The plot is slow to unroll, but not without reason. This isn’t a high-octane story until the last third or so. The author takes time to introduce characters and ideas, and let the reader settle in. Autumn in Carthage is, for the most part, cerebral and intriguing.

Except when it’s not. Sometimes I was reading quirky spec-fic, sometimes an erotic romance novel. I preferred the spec-fic, especially the descriptions and histories of Flectors and Flecting (time-travelers and their abilities to detect and influence history and events).

The first few chapters held my attention better than most novels I’ve read lately, but not to the point I couldn’t put it down. I might never have finished the novel were it not for a promise to write a review, and even then I skipped chunks of story to find something that kept my attention. Events certainly did pick up near the end, when the characters visit Old Salem, and the epilogue is poignant. For me, the end saves — or, perhaps, redeems — the middle of the book.

It is written by Christopher Zenos (pseudonym for a college professor published in other realms), and on the strength of his creativity alone I’d like to read more of his work. As for Autumn in Carthage, were I assigning stars, I’d give five for the ideas, three for the writing, and three for the execution/storytelling.

 

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Out West (part 1)

A couple weeks ago, I went west.

“Go west” was a euphemism for death during World War I, and literary analysts say it’s the reason WWI vet JRR Tolkien sent the elves and Bilbo west at the end of The Lord of the Rings.

a view of the Three Sisters across a ranch outside Sisters, Oregon (c2013, KB)

a view of the Three Sisters, from a ranch outside Sisters, Oregon (c2013, KB)

I came from the west, being born in California and raised in Oregon before heading east and south as a teenager. The American South has been my home for almost three decades, and my accent, colloquialisms, outlook, and family history reflect that.

Still, in memory, there was a golden glow cast over the places where I used to live and visit during childhood. “You can never go home again,” goes the old saying, and sometimes it’s best not to try. Yet, in order to look forward, one must look back.

A glance, not a stare, because living backward, always looking over one’s shoulder or being mired in the past, is neither healthy nor constructive.

Sometimes what was beautiful has changed. Sometimes beauty remains despite time’s devouring or emotion’s charring flame.

Blue Lake, along the Santiam Pass in the Cascade Mountains, seen through a stand of trees burned in a 2003 fire (c2013, KB)

Blue Lake, along the Santiam Pass in the Cascade Mountains, seen through a stand of trees burned in a 2003 fire (c2013, KB)

So I went west, ostensibly as a travel companion for another family member, but really on my farewell tour. My travel buddy’s, too, because — family matters put to rest — we don’t foresee a reason to ever return to that coast. Maybe for a particular funeral, but likely not.

a cemetery in Nebraska, as seen from a moving vehicle (c2013, EE)

a cemetery in Nebraska, as seen from a moving vehicle (c2013, KB)

A few days ago on Facebook, I posted this:

(S)ometimes memory lane is a long journey best left alone…(Events) happened decades ago, when this part of the world was home, but some of the places that caused fear and anxiety are disappearing — either eaten by time, neglect, and the elements, or scraped clean by machines and progress. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.”

We drove through towns I almost didn’t recognize, so overgrown were they with businesses or shrubbery. Houses had disappeared. Buildings were repainted and had new signs announcing different businesses within. People who once occupied these towns had moved away or died. Vague disappointment occasionally prodded at the back of my mind, but sometimes I felt relief — and, most often, nothing.

Nada.

Just a blank curiosity.

“Oh. So that’s where it happened,” or “Hm. The driveway and the sawmill are just where I remember them.”

Two people (a third died decades ago) who tried to harm my brother and I when we were children are now so frail they cannot care for themselves. One is in a wheelchair, and the other uses a walker. I didn’t have any interest in seeing them, but they were the reason for my travel buddy’s trip. A chance to heal, to say goodbye.

Though one person saw me and immediately said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” — an admission of guilt and responsibility decades late — and reached out to me, I had to force myself to allow and even return the embrace. I said nothing but drew away. Smiled. Took photos. Listened to conversation. Behaved like a dutiful grandchild.

The next day, travel buddy and I repeated the process with the other relative. Though that visit was much lighter, and I participated more, I never sat down, ready to leave as soon as we arrived. Weird fidgety blankness again.

We stayed in a motel, named an “inn” on the sign, that housed professional fisherman during the season, and the smell of fish permeated the corridors. The room had no air conditioning, but didn’t need it. Not only was the temperature in the sixties when we arrived in mid-afternoon, but a strong, cool wind off the ocean swept through the open window and dampened the odor.

The weather reflected my thoughts: foggy, grey, cold.

fishing boats at anchor in Yaquina Bay, Newport, Oregon (c2013, KB)

fishing boats at anchor in Yaquina Bay, Newport, Oregon (c2013, KB)

Yaquina Bay Bridge (c2013, KB)

Yaquina Bay Bridge (c2013, KB)

the old Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (c2013, KB)

the old Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (c2013, KB)

As in any good story and in any journey, there were turning points, twists in the tale. We visited places we thought we missed, where we once wanted to live, where we were disillusioned and wounded, and realized we didn’t need to come back. Been there, dreamed that, let it go.

Sure, I’ll return to the Oregon coast at some point — not to revisit the past, but to travel from Washington to California, all down 101 Highway along the Pacific.

“Go West, young man,” Horace Greeley famously stated, concerning Manifest Destiny and the settling of wide-open territory. “He went west,” said soldiers of a fallen comrade in World War I. We went west, and said goodbye to people, places, and memories.

North, south, east, or west, time to look to the horizon and what lies ahead.

on the road in Eastern Oregon (c2013, KB)

on the road in Eastern Oregon (c2013, KB)

 
 

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Talismans

I’m considering re-reading a hefty piece of fiction–hefty in size, scope of story, and theme–The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The Historian might be described as a story that tells a story about a story. It’s about the historical Dracula, beyond Hollywood or Stoker or any of the modern vampire tales, and Kostova deftly handles the intertwined stories.

Remember the film Sliding Doors? The alternating storylines could easily have become tangled and difficult to keep separate, but the filmmakers handled them very well. The same with The Historian and its layers of stories that are centuries deep. It’s the kind of tale that I’d like to write–not that I want to write about Dracula, but I want to write absorbing, tangled stories that are as well handled as this one.

But, all that aside, one thing strikes me about the whole spectrum of Dracula/vampire myths: the use of a variety of talismans used to ward off Ol’ Vlad or other evils. What makes a silver bullet through the heart any more effective than the average bullet through, say, the head? Why is garlic such a big deal? Or a sharp wooden stake? Why are crucifixes, holy water, or other holy symbols from other religions, such powerful weapons?

They are, after all, only things. What power do they have over what is, essentially, spirit? And what happens if a vampire’s victim is non-religious? What’s a poor neck-bitten atheist to do?

The topic is addressed in The Historian, but even then the atheists resort to religious talismans to protect themselves from an evil so far beyond understanding or human power to overcome that they don’t know what else to do. One person carries a silver knife, another a gun loaded with silver bullets, and another an ancient vampire-killer kit. Garlic in their pockets, silver crucifixes around their necks. Again, just things.

I’m not a ghoulish person, nor do I revel in gore or evil, but there’s something about the various vampire legends that have captured my imagination since I first saw a version of Dracula on TV when I was about six years old. It gave me nightmares for years, but–and this is odd, perhaps–it strengthened my faith in God. In my worst terrors, I prayed for peace. No teddy bear or talisman worked the same.

Where did all those traditional talismans originate? Why did/do people think they possess any power? Guess this means I’ll be cruising Wikipedia.

 
 

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