Sunday, 6 August 2017

Nature, Lacking Tooth and Claw: A Review of Algernon Blackwood's "The Dance of Death" (1928 Short-Story)

In The Dance of Death, Algernon Blackwood uses the supernatural to express platitudes. A modern man, a modern-deskbound-man, yearns for rugged nature. Mr Browne’s nine-to-five deadens him, you see. Blackwood does not redeem this trite setup with nuance, character depth, and/or Weirdness. From respect to Blackwood, an acknowledged master storyteller, I was tempted to uncover layers of irony, to find, beneath the naïve protagonist’s thoughts, a subtext criticising the protagonist’s naiveté. But no, The Dance of Death depicts a love of nature held only by those who have never met nature.

Mr Browne loves nature. He saves up, from his stultifying desk-job, so he may retire to a life among nature. His doctor’s diagnosis, then, comes as quite a shock; and a shock is the last thing he needs, what with his weak heart. Living among nature would be far too strenuous for him. Even dancing must be undertaken with care. He attends that night’s dance hesitantly and sadly. Then he sees a woman, Miss Issidy, a woman none else seem to see, a woman more like a forest sprite than an urban dancer. He dances with her, and she reveals she knows him, and was waiting for him. We zoom out: Browne died on the dancefloor from overexertion. His boss is glad to be rid of him. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

An Ape is an Ape is an Ape: An Analysis of Kafka's 'A Report to an Academy' (1917)

Trying to adopt another culture is difficult. Trying to adopt a different species is damn-near impossible. Kafka talks about the former through a fable about the latter. An ape assimilating into humanity allegorises a person of one ethnic background assimilating into a different culture. This person may mimic every behaviour and internalise every value, but at some level his audience will only see this person’s origin.

Red Peter – Peter to those who respect him – is an ape. An academy has invited him to talk about life as an ape. As Peter’s has no memory of his ape-like days, he hijacks the engagement to talk about how he became human. Captured in the Gold Coast by a hunting party, and imprisoned in a cage on a boat, Peter needed an escape. Ape-strength could not break his cage, and even if it could, a bullet would be his reward. The only way out, he realised, was to become human. Through a vigorous apprenticeship under his shipmates he learnt how to smoke, spit, and drink. He continued his education on dry land, employing five teachers at the same time to help him reach the level of the ‘average European’. With humanity under his belt, he took a job as a variety performer, the only job available to him outside the zoo. But as he says to the academy, he does not seek their approval. Through his narrative, he only hopes they understand him.  

Sunday, 4 June 2017

You Will Never Be One of Us: An Analysis of 'The New Advocate' by Franz Kafka

A new advocate has come to the bar, Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse. The narrator acknowledges that, as a horse, Bucephalus will have an awkward time. No sooner does the narrator introduce Bucephalus than his mind drifts towards the horse’s past, to Alexander the Great. Where have the great men gone. But, being gone, perhaps it is better to be like Bucephalus. Abandon the battlefield, and devote oneself to quiet study.

That is the plot, but this story is not a plot. Progressive sentences do not unfold events, but unpeel the narrator’s mind, his prejudice, nostalgia, tone-deafness. The narrator, by telling us about Bucephalus, shows himself. Bucephalus is an Othered individual – it doesn’t matter exactly what marginalised group he stands for. What matters is how the narrator, a member of the dominant class, views this Other. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Comedy in Horror: A Review of 'The Bride of Frankenstein' (1935 film)

Camp ages better than seriousness. Subjected to the ironising current of time, straight-faced gothic horror becomes ridiculous. James Whale prevented The Bride of Frankenstein suffering this fate. He makes his film ridiculous to begin with.

One night, Mary Shelley reveals to Lord Byron and Percy Shelley that her tale, Frankenstein, had a second part, that of the bride of Frankenstein’s monster. Henry Frankenstein has put mad science behind him. He’s settled down in his massive castle, and all’s right with the world. That is, until an even madder scientist, Dr Pretorius, drags him back into the game. They will make a female monster. And it turns out the original monster is alive and well. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The White Powder's Not That Either: Review and Analysis of Arthur Machen's 'The Novel of the White Powder' (1895)

This review will spoil the plot in full

Machen could only have disappointed. Praised by Lovecraft and Stephen King, Arthur Machen’s story will be known by horror fans, though rarely read. And if read, better left unread, if The Novel of the White Powder indicates his oeuvre. Machen writes competently, but he cannot justify the label ‘horror’.

Helen Leicester’s brother does nothing but study law. His idea of recreation involves sitting idly in a chair between case law binges. But even lawyers grow sick, and he requires a special medicine. Too special it turns out. The prescription he gets from Dr Haberden changes him – Francis wants a holiday! More than that he wants to give up the law altogether. He starts slumming around London. Helen doesn’t know what’s happened, or what she can do. Her brother rots in front of her, and the very weather seems to degenerate alongside him. Eventually, he shuts himself in his room, saying he’s studying law again. When Helen and Haberden knock down the door, they find a oozing mass. Haberden leaves England, never to return, but sends Helen his colleague’s analysis of the medicine. This white powder, left on the shelf so long, with the temperature rising and lowering, had become something… other. And it has something to do with medieval pagan devil-worshiping cults.   

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Dark Before Dawn: An Analysis of Oscar Wilde's 'Salomé' (1891)

Without knowing its disease, the body still succumbs to disease. A civilisation’s flame dwindles to flicker, before snuffing. In The Hollow Men, T. S. Eliot wrote the world ends ‘not with a bang but a whimper’. Eliot wrote of a tired death, a whimper at the end of weariness. Wilde culls a world with decadence. Only when the rotting flesh of Herod, Herodias, Salomé ferments do they whimper.

Reading Salomé, another of Eliot’s poems echoed: Journey of the Magi. One of the three wise men recounts meeting the baby Jesus. But through his opaque narration, we learn he witnessed not just Christ, but his world’s death. With Christianity came a revolution in values, a revolution in culture, a revolution in the world, but the old world, culture, values must die. The magi cannot become a Christian. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Style Substitutes Substance: A Review of Waid and Samnee's 'Black Widow' (2016-7 comic)

I don’t mean style over substance as an insult. In Waid and Samnee’s twelve-issue, single-arc run on Black Widow, plot threads only just hold together, characters have rote motivations, and the themes extend to characters saying ‘secret’ a lot. On their own, these elements are merely competent. Here, they are redeemed, because they fuel the book’s style.

Black Widow runs from SHIELD. A masked terrorist named Weeping Lion blackmails her into digging up her own past. He wants information on the Red Room, a school for child assassins. The Red Room has resurrected, ready to educate a new generation of assassins.