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animation / literatureRobert E. Howard (1906-1936) created a sophisticated sword and sandal fantasy more than  decade before Tolkien published his stories. In novels like The Jungle Book (1894), the late victorian writer Rudyard Kipling stripped away the trappings of civilization from man. In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan (1912), man stripped of his culture became a realistic hero. But in Conan and the works of Robert E. Howard, this primordial force becomes a driver of history, affecting the rise and fall of civilizations.  Conan comes drenched in blood and gore. talked to Mark Finn, Howard’s biographer, in order to understand the continuing attraction of the muscular barbarian. Robert E. Howard only lived till he was 30, yet he created a new genre before he committed suicide. Was he a very hard-working writer?  Like most pulp writers, Howard was serious about his craft. He also needed the money. It wasn’t uncommon for him to put in a twelve-hour day at the typewriter, working on stories and poems. He also wrote letters to his friends and correspondents, including H.P. Lovecraft, and some of those letters are thirty pages long. Despite all of that, he wrote over 300 short stories and around 700 poems in a ten-year period. He was a Texan. Do we know how and when he came up with this prehistoric character? It seems so remote from the kind of life he would have led? Howard has a famous quote that Conan was an amalgam of various gambler, oil field roughnecks, boxers, etc. that he’d met. Remember, too, that Howard was a student of history, and he read about the subject extensively. So even though Howard had never killed a panther with a spear, it was easy for him to imagine what that would be like. How was it that he ended up as a writer in the first place? He had an early aptitude for words and language. When he was fifteen, he decided to try his hand writing stories. It took him three years to get published, in Weird Tales, no less. We should all be so lucky. After that it was a lot of long, hard hours writing at a breakneck pace. He published his first work in magazines. How important were these magazines to literary culture at the time? Pulps weren’t important to “literary culture” at the time, even though they sold tens of millions of copies and fostered generations of writers, and gave us so much in terms of American Literature. But at the time, pulps were considered trashy, beneath the notice of certain folks.  There wasn’t really anyone like Conan at the time. That’s not to say there weren’t other rough characters, but part of what makes Howard’s work so unique is that it straddles genres and slips out of any easy labels.  The Viking sagas may have had some influence on the creation of Conan. Yet, few of the Vikings looked like bodybuilders. Where do you think he found the inspiration for the physical look of Conan? Howard himself mentions boxers and roughnecks and the like. The bodybuilding aspect is part of “pop culture Conan,” which includes the comics, the images of Frank Frazetta, and of course, the movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Howard is known as one of the first great world builders. How particular was he about the details of the Conan universe? His details were intended for the reader to picture clearly what was going on and when and with whom. His world itself was based on the idea of a forgotten epoch in recorded history, and so Howard wrote lots of indicators to the readers that this was supposed to be a precursor to, say, India, or Britain. Those choices he made were actually very deliberate. Given that Conan is a violent, sometimes ruthless, killer, why do you think he is so attractive as a protagonist? Conan is a killer, but not without reason. He keeps his own moral compass on who dies and when. This is something that grows throughout the Conan stories. But any character willing to do the right thing, apart from the popular or expected thing, will always be attractive to readers.  What sort of literary style would you say Howard uses? He was a muscular writer, to be sure, but his language was quite poetic, leading to a style that looks effortless, but is actually quite difficult to master. And no one has been able to do so since. “Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars ………… Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” (“The Phoenix on the Sword”, 1932)  There was a psychological subtext to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Does Howard’s writing have any literary qualities beyond entertainment? Is there a message in the Conan stories?   Oh, yes. Lots of messages. Most of them relating to the arguments he was having with H.P. Lovecraft about Barbarism versus Civilization. The Conan stories are all about Howard’s concept of what a barbarian would be like in a civilized world. He felt that our world, in the 20th century, had peaked, and was due for a downward slide, so that the new barbarians could come over the walls and kill everyone. Then they would build their civilization up, up, up, until THEY became fat and lazy, and the new barbarians would come and tear them down. That was Howard’s view of history and it plays out in several Conan stories. What, in your opinion, is the best Conan story that Howard wrote? My all time favorite is “Beyond the Black River,” but I also love “Rogues in the House,” “The Tower of the Elephant,” “Red Nails,” and “The God in the Bowl.”   Pulp refers to inexpensive fiction magazines that were published between 1896 and the late 1950s. They were printed on cheap wood pulp paper, hence the term pulp fiction. The publications were the successors to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short-fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines were best known for their lurid, exploitative, and sensational subject matter. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of “hero pulps”; pulp magazines that often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters (source: wiki)     Listen to “Gods of the North” (a.k.a “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”) by Robert E. Howard. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Aleister Crowley atricia Fleming threw the reins to a groom, and ran up the steps into the great house, her thin lips white with rage. Lord Eyre followed her heavily. ‘I’ll be down in half an hour,’ she laughed merrily, ‘tell Dawson to bring you a drink!’ Then she went straight through the house, her girlish eyes the incarnation of a curse. For the third time she had failed to bring Geoffrey Eyre to her feet. She looked into her hat; there in the lining was the talisman that she had tested—and it had tricked her. What do I need? she thought. Must it be blood? She was a maiden of the pure English strain; brave, gay, honest, shrewd—and there was not one that guessed the inmost fire that burnt her. For she was but a child when the Visitor came. The first of the Visits was in a dream. She woke choking; the air—clear, sweet, and wholesome as it blew through the open window from the Chilterns—was fouled with a musty stench. And she woke her governess with a tale of a tiger. The second Visit was again at night. She had been hunting, was alone at the death, had beaten off the hounds. That night she heard a fox bark in her room. She spent a sleepless night of terror; in the morning she found the red hairs of a fox upon her pillow. The third Visit was nor in sleep nor waking. But she tightened her lips, and would have veiled the hateful gleam in her eyes. It was that day, though, that she struck a servant with her riding-whip. She was so sane that she knew exactly wherein her madness lay; and she set all her strength not to conquer but to conceal it. Two years later, and Patricia Fleming, the orphan heiress of Carthwell Abbey, was the county toast, Diana of the Chilterns. Yet Geoffrey Eyre evaded her. His dog’s fidelity and honesty kept him true to the little north-country girl that three months earlier had seduced his simplicity. He did not even love her; but she had made him think so for an hour; and his pledged word held him. Patricia’s open favour only made him hate her because of its very seduction. It was really his own weakness that he hated. Patricia ran, tense and angry, through the house. The servants noticed it. The mistress has been crossed, they thought, she will go to the chapel and get ease. Praising her.True, to the chapel she went; locked the door, dived behind the altar, struck a secret panel, came suddenly into a priest’s hiding-hole, a room large enough to hold a score of men if need be. At the end of the room was a great scarlet cross, and on it, her face to the wood, her wrists and ankles swollen over the whip lashes that bound her, hung a naked girl, big-boned, voluptuous. Red hair streamed over her back. ‘What, Margaret! so blue?’ laughed Patricia. ‘I am cold,’ said the girl upon the cross, in an indifferent voice. ‘Nonsense, dear!’ answered Patricia, rapidly divesting herself of her riding-habit. ‘There is nohint of frost; we had a splendid run, and a grand kill. You shall be warm yet, for all that.’ This time the girl writhed and moaned a little. Patricia took from an old wardrobe a close-fitting suit of fox fur, and slipped it on her slim white body. ‘Did I make you wait, dear?’ she said, with a curious leer. ‘I am the keener for the sport, be sure!’ She took the faithless talisman from her hat. It was a little square of vellum, written upon in black. She took a hairpin from her head, pierced the talisman, and drove the pin into the girl’s thigh. ‘They must have blood,’ said she. ‘Now see how I will turn the blue to red! Come! don’t wince: you haven’t had it for a month.’ Then her ivory arm slid like a serpent from the furs, and with the cutting whip she struck young Margaret between the shoulders. A shriek rang out: its only echo was Patricia’s laugh, childlike, icy, devilish. She struck again and again. Great weals of purple stood on the girl’s back; froth tinged with blood came from her mouth, for she had bitten her lips and tongue in agony. Patricia grew warm and rosy—exquisitely beautiful. Her bare breasts heaved; her lips parted; her whole body and soul seemed lapped in ecstasy. ‘I wish you were Geoffrey, girlie!’ she panted. Then the skin burst. Raw flesh oozed blood that dribbled down Margaret’s back. Still the fair maid struck and struck in the silence, until the tiny rivulets met and waxed great and touched the talisman. She threw the bloody whalebone into a corner, and went upon her knees. She kissed her friend; she kissed the talisman; and again kissed the girl, the warm blood staining her pure lips. She took the talisman, and hid it in her bosom. Last of all she loosened the cords, and Margaret sank in a heap to the floor. Patricia threw furs over her and rolled her up in them; brought wine, and poured it down her throat. She smiled, kindly, like a sister. ‘Sleep now awhile, sweetheart!’ she whispered, and kissed her forehead. It was a very demure and self-possessed little maiden that made dinner lively for poor Geoffrey, who was thinking over his mistake. Patricia’s old aunt, who kept house for her, smiled on the flirtation. It was not by accident that she left them alone sitting over the great fire. ‘Poor Margaret has her rheumatism again,’ she explained innocently; ‘I must go and see how she is.’ Loyal Margaret! So it happened that Geoffrey lost his head. ‘The ivy is strong enough’ (she had whispered, ere their first kiss had hardly died). ‘Before the moon is up, be sure!’ and glided off just as the aunt returned. Eyre excused himself; half a mile from the house he left his horse to his man to Lead home, and ten minutes later was groping for Patricia in the dark. White as a lily in body and soul, she took him in her arms. Awaking as from death, he suddenly cried out, ‘Oh God! What is it? Oh my God! my God! Patricia! Your body! Your body!’ ‘Yours!’ she cooed. ‘Why, you’re all hairy!’ he cried. ‘And the scent! the scent!’ From without came sharp and resonant the yap of a hound as the moon rose. Patricia put her hands to her body. He was telling the truth. ‘The Visitor!’ she screamed once with fright, and was silent. He switched the light on, and she screamed again. There was a savage lust upon his face. ‘This afternoon,’ he cried, ‘you called me a dog. I looked like a dog and thought like a dog; and, by God! I am a dog. I’ll act like a dog then!’ Obedient to some strange instinct, she dived from the bed for the window. But he was on her; his teeth met in her throat. In the morning they found the dead bodies of both hound and fox—but how did that explain the wonderful elopement of Lord Eyre and Miss Fleming? For neither of them was ever seen again. I think Margaret understands; in the convent which she rules today there hangs beside a blood-stained cutting-whip the silver model of a fox, with the inscription: ‘Patricia Margaritæ vulpis vulpem dedit.’ Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history  In a story by Edgar Rice Burroughs an explorer chops his way with a machete through the Cambodian jungle to a lost world – a remnant of ancient Angkor still thriving. The tale of “The Land of Hidden Men” may be an entertaining yarn, but Angkor Wat – one of the greatest cultures of the medieval world- was swallowed by the jungle, and then rediscovered in the nineteenth century. The ancient kingdom boasted 102 public hospitals. Only one first-hand account of its capital exists, from the pen of Zhou Daguan, a contemporary Chinese diplomat who later published a book entitled “The Customs of Cambodia”. Zhou Daguan was born Zhou Dake, in a small town in a coastal region of China. For some reason, he changed his name after he returned from Cambodia. Some speculate that the Chinese emperor planned to attack Cambodia, and that that might be the reasons for the many details in Daguan’s book. His text only caught the attention of the world after it was translated into French by Paul Pelliot in 1902. The following are excerpts:   “This Tche-la is also called Tchan-la. The native name is Kan-po-tche. The current dynasty, based on Tibetan religious books, calls this country Kan-p’ou-tche, phonetically close to Kan-potche. The royal palace, as well as official buildings and noble residences, all face east. The royal palace lies north of the Golden Tower and the Golden Bridge. Where the sovereign conducts his affairs, there is a golden window; to the right and left of the frame, on square pillars, there are mirrors, about forty to fifty, arranged on the sides of the window. The sill of the sovereign’s window is shaped like an elephant. Everyone, starting with the sovereign, both men and women, wear their hair in a bun and have bare shoulders. They simply wrap a piece of cloth around their waist. There are many rules regarding the fabrics based on each person’s rank. Only the prince can wear continuous patterned fabrics. He wears a golden diadem, similar to those on the heads of vajradharas. Sometimes, he does not wear a diadem and simply wraps a garland of fragrant flowers reminiscent of jasmine in his bun. Among common people, only women can dye the soles of their feet and the palms of their hands; men would not dare to. High officials and princes can wear fabrics with widely spaced patterns. Only officials may wear fabrics with two groups of patterns. Among common people, only women are allowed to wear such special types of cloth. But even if a newly arrived Chinese wears a fabric with two groups of patterns, it is not considered a crime because he is “ngan-ting-pa-cha”, a person who does not know the rules. When officials go out, their emblems and their entourage are arranged according to their rank. The highest dignitaries use a golden palanquin and four parasols with golden handles; the following have a golden palanquin and two parasols with golden handles, then a golden palanquin and one parasol with a golden handle, and finally a simple parasol with a silver handle.” “Both regular writings and official documents are always written on deer or deer skin and similar materials, dyed black. Each person cuts the skins to their liking, depending on their dimensions in length and width. People use a kind of powder that resembles Chinese chalk and shape it into sticks, which they call “so.” Holding this stick in hand, they write characters on pieces of skin, these do not fade. When they finish, they place the stick behind their ear. They can also recognize a writer by his characters. The characters will fade, however, if you rub them with something wet. All documents are written from left to right, not from top to bottom. These people always make the tenth Chinese lunar month the first month of their year. In front of the royal palace, a large platform is assembled that can accommodate more than a thousand people, and it is entirely adorned with lanterns and flowers. In front, at a distance of twenty paces, using pieces of wood placed end to end, a high platform is assembled, similar in shape to scaffolding for the construction of the Buddhist mounds we now call “stupas”. Each night, three, four, five, or six of these platforms are constructed. Fireworks and firecrackers are placed at the top. These expenses are borne by the provinces and noble houses. When night falls, the sovereign is invited to witness the spectacle. Rockets are launched, and firecrackers are lit. The rockets can be seen from over a hundred miles away, and the firecrackers are as large as boulders, and their explosion shakes the entire city. Mandarins and nobles contribute with candles and areca nuts. The sovereign also invites foreign ambassadors to the spectacle. This continues for fifteen days, and then everything stops. Every month, there is a festival. In the fourth month, they play ball. In the ninth, they enumerate. Enumerating means gathering the population from all over the kingdom and reviewing them in front of the royal palace. In the fifth month, they fetch water for the Buddhas. They gather the Buddhas from all over the kingdom, bring water, and, in the company of the sovereign, wash them. In the sixth month, they navigate boats on dry land. The prince climbs a belvedere to watch the festival. In the seventh month, they burn rice. At this time, the new rice is ripe, and they fetch it outside the South Gate and burn it as an offering to the Buddha. Countless women go to this ceremony by cart or on elephants, but the sovereign stays at home. In the eighth month, there is dancing. The term “ngai-lan” means “to dance.” They designate actors and musicians who come to the royal palace every day to perform “ngai-lan.” There are also pig and elephant fights. The sovereign also invites foreign ambassadors to attend. The sovereign holds court twice a day for government affairs. There is no schedule. Officials or people who wish an audience wait on the ground outside. After a while, distant music is heard in the palace. Then the sound of conch shells outside announces his arrival. I have heard that the sovereign travels in a golden palanquin to these meetings; he does not come from far away. A moment later, two palace maidens raise the curtain with their delicate fingers, and the sovereign, holding a sword, appears standing at the golden window. Ministers and people fold their hands and touch their foreheads to the ground. When the sound of the conch shells ceases, they can raise their heads. It is at this moment that the sovereign takes his seat, and on such occasions, he is always seated on his lion’s skin, a royal heirloom. As soon as the matters to be handled are completed, the prince turns around, the palace maidens lower the curtain, and everyone stands up.”   The excerpts come from Paul Pelliot’s French translation, first published in 1902 (then revised before his death and published in 1951). Below is Monash University’s youtube reconstruction of medieval Angkor, from 2017.     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Margie Harris, Mobs magazine 1930(Courtesy of John Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon) A mystery night club queen, with a look of death in her eyes and a little black book filled with names . . . a steadily shorter list! eattle, Queen City of the Northwest, gleaming like a great, white jewel on rising ground overlooking Elliott Bay, is a city beautiful. There roses bloom the year around. There men and women live and love and die, far from the tenements and slums of the great Eastern cities.But in Seattle lies hidden one canker spot. It is the district below Yesler Way, which is the sole blot on the city’s fair escutcheon. There is to be found the last remaining trace of those other days when lumberjacks from the woods and miners from Alaska came whooping forth with gold-filled hands, demanding of Life those things of which they had been deprived.“Below Yesler” is evil, and of all the evil things within its purlieus, none is more depraved, more terrible in the minds of the decent and law-abiding than the underworld cabaret and speakeasy operated for nearly two decades by “Scar” Argyle. There gathered waterfront thugs, gangsters, racketeers, gunmen.Most fearsome of all, to the uninitiated, was its proprietor. His face was thoroughly repulsive. A great red seam led from the stiff hair above his left temple and down across the bridge of his nose. It ended at the right jawbone after creasing the cheek deeply. In healing it had drawn the flesh so that the mouth seemed cast in a permanent sneer. The right eye was so affected that half of the lower eyelid turned down, gleaming redly.That was Scar’s reminder that he once had double-crossed “Nigger George,” a piano player. True, Scar had seen to it that there was an early funeral in George’s personal social circle, but the razor slash had put a permanent end to whatever was delightful, either in countenance or disposition, of Argyle. Now he was a leering, gross mountain of fat. For hours he would sit, seemingly without movement, his piggish black eyes searching, always searching for new methods of vile profit. On a bright afternoon in March, Scar sat cursing his luck, his failing patronage and most of all the police of his precinct. Their increasing demands for graft and favors bade fair to turn his once prosperous business into a losing venture.Only that day he had received a shipment of liquor and had paid his “delivery charge” to the policeman on the beat without demur. Later he had sent to the precinct captain the usual weekly payment for protection. Now, within the last four hours, four sergeants had slipped in to see him.One had compelled him to buy four tickets for a police ball. The next had asked for two quarts of prime liquor “for the lieutenant.” Number Three asked for a couple of drinks and then borrowed five dollars.The fourth brought the crowning blow. With him came a stranger—a supposed friend. Scar had been bullied into cashing a twenty dollar check for this man. He tore it up after they left. Too many such had bounced back from his bank. Truly the lot of an underworld cabaret owner was trouble filled.The side door bell rang as Scar cogitated on his woes, and the doorman turned to say:“Lady to see youse, Scar. Good looker!”“Hell, let her in!” Scar almost spat the words. “Probably a hen cop with another touch; they’re all that have overlooked me this week.”His eyes brightened, however, as a modishly gowned, athletic appearing girl stepped through the door and looked unconcernedly about her. Few such had been there since the days of the gold rush. When her eyes encountered his, Scar beckoned. She walked to the table and took a place opposite him.“Pat Jennings told me to see you,” she said confidentially. “My name is Kate Dever. I’m on the lam from New York—witness in a gang killing, which means a year in the sticks for me. Jennings says you need a hostess to pep up your game; I need a job. Also I know my stuff, Big Boy, and the jack I can make for you will be nobody’s business. I’ll have to do it in my own way, though; no buttinskys.”As Argyle stared suspiciously at her, the girl dropped her coat from her shoulders and removed a close-fitting hat. Scar’s eyes lighted as a throat and shoulders a Diana might have envied, were revealed. He grunted in renewed admiration as the dim lights outlined a beautiful, resolute face and a frame of dark-red hair, well kept and bobbed in the latest mode.“Hell, kid,” Scar burst forth breathlessly. “Sure! You’re fixed fer life.”The tone, the gleam in his eyes, made his meaning all too clear. Kate Dever did not seek to evade his burning glance.“Yes?” she queried coldly. “You wouldn’t kid a little girl, would you, Scar? You think you want me? Then come and take me.”The man lurched to his feet with a speed surprising in one of his bulk and clawed at her in an awkward attempt to draw her into his arms. One hand fixed itself on her shoulder. Before he could do more, she sprang up, thrusting with both hands against his chest.Scar stumbled backward a step and the girl slipped out from behind the table. In her hand, seemingly juggled out of thin air, was a gleaming Spanish dagger, needle-pointed and with a blade almost paper thin. Scar eyed the knife; noted that it was held in the thrusting position—and that the point was aimed directly at his stomach. His arms dropped to his side in token of surrender.“What th’ hell do you think—?” he began thickly.Kate, smiling now, resumed her seat.“Oh, sit down, stupid,” she said quietly. “Sit down and buy me a drink. You had to learn it some time—and right at first is the best time. Remember this hereafter. I’m no man’s woman. Any man who puts his hands on me gets hurt. I know how to take care of myself morning, noon and night—also vacations. Now how about the job?”Scar had signaled for a waiter, who brought whiskey. Scar gulped down a huge portion. Kate poured a few drops in a glass with ginger ale and tossed it off.“My first and last drink in your place,” she said. “If I work here I’m served tea for whiskey, distilled water for gin and sparkling cider instead of what you call champagne. And Lord help the waiter who brings me anything else!” Here was a new type to Scar. A beautiful woman who dared to come to his own joint and flout him when the odds were all his way, would be an asset. He visioned the returning trade when the word went out through the underworld that the Argyle Club had a new hostess who could not be “made.”“You’ve got the job,” he said decisively. “Seventy-five a week and a piece of the profits over the first thousand. That’s about what I’m doin’ now.”“Big-hearted Scar!” Kate mocked him. “Hundred a week, five per cent of the gross—and I start tonight.”About to protest, Scar thought better of it and extended his hand for the underworld shake of acceptance. Instead, Kate turned sidewise, circled his arm with her left, caught the knuckles of his fist with her right and bent the member downward. Scar grinned. It was the gangster method of making the sucker loosen up from whatever he held.“Know your grapes, don’t you?” he chuckled. “Well, I’ve loosened for a yard and five per cent a week, so be here at eight. Wanna little advance?”Kate opened her purse and smiled. A wad of yellow-backed bills had been thrust in there loosely.“No, thanks,” she replied sweetly. “A nice old gentleman on the train attended to that for you. Somehow he got off at the next station; the conductor put him off. He tried to get into my berth.”“Onto all the games, hey?” Scar queried. “Now, what’s your deal?”“What are you using?” she countered, looking about at the small stage and the orchestra stand.“Pretty fair nigger string band, six dancin’ girls who double as drink grafters and cigarette girls, an’ a good boy hoofer. You sing, kid?”“Nor dance,” Kate replied. “I work from the floor; out where the money jingles and the saps need encouraging. Leave it to me, Big Fellow, and don’t mind later on if I make some changes.”Scar nodded perplexedly.“It’s O.K. by me, girlie,” he replied, “but leave Little Laura on th’ job if you can. She’s a good little guy—kinda fond of me. And by the way, kid, what’s your moniker? Got one?”Kate looked him squarely in the eye and said:“They call me ‘Cougar Kitty’—better let that spread around a little.”“She mountain lion, huh?” Scar mused. “Damn if they ain’t right.” Midnight in Scar’s cabaret was merely breakfast time in Gangland.Kate, resplendent in a gold sequin gown which cast forth points of light in every direction as she moved, sat chatting with Scar at a table near the orchestra. With them, snuggled close against the proprietor’s bulk, was the cigarette girl, Little Laura. She was a big-eyed, wistful child woman of the clinging type, but except when she looked at Scar, there was a hard little glitter in her eyes.Scar had said she was “kinda fond” of him. Strangely enough, Kate reflected, there seemed reason for the statement. Between the big-eyed girl and the gross flesh-mountain of villainy there existed some bond. When he spoke to the girl, Scar’s tone was gentle and as nearly affable as it could be. Laura was serious in her talk with him and actually seemed to enjoy his elephantine pawings.The grapevine telegraph of the underworld had carried the news of Scar’s new attraction. Already the tables had filled with a swaggering crew of gangsters, sleek haired, gorgeously dressed young gunmen, and here and there older men—cold of eye, and each seemingly determined to sit so as to face the door.Many brought their molls and, because a thug’s standing is measured by the appearance of his woman, they made a brave showing of costly garments and gleaming jewels. Only those older men, the square jawed poachers in the Land of Rackets, were alone. They hunted among the ranks of the hostesses and entertainers.Presently Kate caught Scar’s eye and nodded. He had his orders and when he lumbered to his feet and stopped the music, everyone became quiet.Scar was about to make a speech! Usually he contented himself with howling, profane comments from his chair by the orchestra.“Listen, guys and molls,” he rumbled. “Seattle ain’t so big as Noo York, but she’s just as lively, and when it comes to givin’ you the best in ent’tainment, Scar Argyle’s the boy to do it. From now on, the Argyle Club’s the live spot here. And I now takes pleasure in int’ducin’ to you Miss Kate Dever—knowed mostly as ‘Cougar Kitty,’ our new hostess.”Kate, self-possessed as her namesake in the home nest, walked to a place beside him and smiled brightly. Prolonged hand-clapping and a few cheers greeted her.“I am glad to be here,” she said, “and I want one and all of you for my best pals. Scar Argyle has given me the right to do what I please for your entertainment. The word hereafter is ‘Go as far as you like, as fast as you like, so long as you keep fairly quiet—and so long as you don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ ”New applause burst forth and Kate nodded to the orchestra. Instantly a mad, jazzing dance number flared forth. Some derisive laughs had greeted Kate’s reference to herself and some of the bolder of the young cannons left their tables to gather around her.Scar was watching, fascinated. Kate dismissed the pleas of dance partners one by one, until Speedball Kane, a leader among the gunmen and handsome in a wild, boyish fashion, clasped her about the waist. He fell into a dance step and tugged. The smile never left her face. Suddenly her hands came up apparently to hold him off, but instead they caught both of his shoulders firmly. At the same moment she stepped forward with the speed of a striking reptile. She thrust her toe back of his left heel, then pushed him backward with all her surprising strength.Though he was a rough-and-tumble fighter trained on the docks, Speedball had not expected the reverse back-heel from a handsomely gowned night hostess. The backward thrust was too powerful, the fulcrum supplied by her foot too far below his center of balance to be resisted.The gangster crashed to the floor on his shoulders. A split-second later his head collided with the maple with a resounding thump. A roar of laughter followed. It stilled a few seconds later when the young tough failed to rise. Two of his friends moved toward him.“Leave him there,” Kate commanded coldly. “I want him to come to there so he’ll realize that he’s to keep his hands off me in future. I’m no better than he is—but I’m as good—and when I want a man’s hands on me, I’ll ask him to put them there.”Speedball stirred, blinked, dragged himself to his knees. Then his glance swept upward and encountered the gleeful eyes of Cougar Kitty. He shook his head and looked about. On every hand he saw the awe-stricken eyes of his friends. Instantly a dull red suffused his face. He gathered his muscles for a leap at the mocking girl before him.“Damn you—” he began. Then the words choked in his throat and his eyes went wide with surprise.Kate’s right hand was extended toward him. A dull ring of blued steel peeped out between her second and third fingers; the whole hand was tightening on something within her palm. Too well Speed knew what that meant.For Cougar Kitty was holding in her plump, beringed hand one of the dwarfed, vicious little plunger guns of Gangland. It was a mere ring of metal extending out of a firing chamber, back of which was a trip plunger which released the pin against a solitary bullet of heavy caliber.Speed could be forgiven for pausing. The one-inch barrel was trained directly on his forehead. A child could not miss at that distance. The crook teetered on his feet uncertainly. Then a girl’s voice cut the silence:“Slap the broad down, Speed,” it said. “Don’t spoil a good notion.”Kate smiled bleakly and waved Speed back to his place. Then came a muffled roar and gray smoke curled from between her fingers.She had fired the weapon into the floor as the best means of squaring Speedball against later accusations of cowardice. Everyone leaped up; all had some question to ask.Kate held the still smoking weapon above her head.“Sorry, boys and girls,” she said. “I hate to pull off rough stuff on our first evening together—but I had him covered—plenty. I had to let you know I meant it when I said: ‘Don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ All right? Well, let’s play again.”She motioned to the goggling bandsmen to continue playing. Then, under cover of the opening notes, she walked straight to where Speedball was struggling into his light overcoat. He felt alone, disgraced in the eyes of the other gangsters and their molls. The red of shame colored his face, but about his mouth was the deadly white line which marks the killing rage in man. Everyone was watching openly. Kate moved as one who has decided on a definite course. Speed jerked his coat into place and clapped his hat down over his eyes. She was at his side now, hand extended.“Sit down, Speed,” she said in a tone intended for his ears alone. “If you go out now, you’ll leave these others laughing. Be nice and I’ll make it all jake for us both. Now shake hands like a sport and tell me it’s all right—even if you did start it.”Speed took her hand, shook it heartily and grinned. Too well he knew it was his only course. Unless there was more to add to the story, Gangland would be yelping taunts at him for months to come. Maybe, he reflected, he could turn the tables on this wise broad from New York if he was crafty.“I’m game; speak your piece,” he half whispered. “But don’t figure to start nothin’ more.”“Be your age,” she replied. “Now, listen, Speed, I’m starting a new racket here and I need at least one friend on whom I can depend. You made me tangle with you before your friends, but I didn’t ask you to. Now, we can be the best of friends, and at the same time I’ll show you how to get yourself some good out of it.“I’ve heard about you. They call you ‘Speedball’ because you drive the stickups and hijackers away so far and so fast, they have to wait ten minutes before they start to make an alibi. What?”Such tribute to his unerring efficiency at the wheel of a getaway car caused the young gangster to flush happily. Maybe here was a woman worth hanging about after.“No,” Kate went on as though reading his thoughts, “you don’t mean any more to me than any other man, but if you wish, I’ll let you be my Number One Pal. We’ll play around together and sometimes you can take me home—as far as the door.“What I want of you is to keep them off my back if things get rough—nothing more. If the others see us palling around together we’ll be accused of having fallen for one another. Now, say it. Want to play, or will you put on the funny hat and coat and go out and get yourself laughed at? First and last chance, boy.”“Sure, Kitty, I’ll play,” he answered, “just to square myself.”“Speedball and I are all made up ‘n’ everything,” Kate announced to the watching crowd. “And now I want you all to walk past here in line and shake hands with us both. Then we’ll all be the best kind of pals. Scar will buy a drink for the house, and I’ll show you the latest New York racket.”She was exerting herself now, putting into her simple little speech and almost childish plan of personal contact with each, all of the hard won personality she possessed. She let her eyes flicker toward Scar. He sat there, a contented mountain of evil, literally drooling over the manner in which she was earning the attention of his patrons. The idea struck the gangsters and their molls favorably. There was an instant rush to get into line. Speed fell into place beside Kate as the orchestra struck up a slow drag march. The head of the line moved forward. Kate had a bright smile, a word, a nod for each. One plump patron found himself being prodded in the ribs. Another laughed when Kate flicked his tie from under his vest. One pretty girl simpered when Kate whispered: “Gosh, kid! I’m jealous of you—you’re so darn lovely.”Scar came to his feet as the last of the line passed and bellowed for the drinks. Kate held up her hand for silence.“Wait, please,” she said. “Will the tall gentleman in dinner clothes, the one at the last table—you, handsome—; the girl with the black hair and the red dress; the man who left his hair at home but wore a horseshoe pin in his tie—and you, Mister Red Necktie—all please come forward?”The four responded somewhat sheepishly.“I want you to search my new pal, Speedball,” Kate said smilingly. “I think he’s turned dip. Look in his left, outside pocket.”Speedball did not wait to be searched. He felt in the pocket himself and gaspingly brought forth a watch, attached to which was a fine chain and gold key; a gold mesh coin purse wrapped in a handkerchief, a diamond stickpin and a thin, but costly, cigarette case.The crowd roared with laughter at Speed’s consternation. No other group could appreciate better what had happened. None had even a remote suspicion of the youth. He was a known gunman and gangster, and as such, he looked down on the dip as dips in turn look down on doormat thieves.Kate waited until there was a measure of silence.“That’s one of the New York night club tricks,” Kate laughed as she restored the property to its owners. They get you all hot and bothered over something that’s happening and then the waiters and house dips put the vacuum to you. One man swore somebody’d stolen his underwear while he waited to kiss a toe dancer whose number he’d drawn in a lottery!”“What a dame,” someone croaked admiringly. “She’s oke for me,” another chimed in. For minutes the place buzzed with admiration for Kate’s deftness. Scar bought for the house. The two losers of property would not be outdone in generosity and the girl in red, whose coin purse was restored, argued her boy friend into loosening up as well.It was daylight when the last patron left. That was Speedball, who had waited for Kate. She dismissed him with a shake of her head.“See you tonight, pal,” she said. “And wear your rod.”When Scar counted up, he found a take for the night of $900.Cougar Kitty was an established institution in Seattle’s underworld.As she walked to the corner of First Avenue to catch a cab, Kate noticed one of the waiters slipping from door to door behind her. As she entered the taxi, she saw him sprint forward and flag down another.“Drive around for half an hour,” she told the driver. He nodded joyously at such luck at the beginning of his day’s work. Kate, sitting in the center of the rear seat, used her compact mirror to watch the street behind her. She was not mistaken, the other car was dawdling along half a block behind her.“Keep ahead and when you get a chance pretend to try to lose a cab that’s following us,” Kate told the driver, putting a folded bill into his hand. “Then when you get a chance, make him pass you and cut him off at the curb. I want to talk to his passenger.”The driver looked at the bill and smiled knowingly. “I’ll have him in two blocks,” he said.At the next corner he slipped along the right hand curb until traffic changed for east-and-west travel. Then he meshed his gears and swung right up the hill to Second Avenue, going at a furious pace in low gear.At First Avenue he turned south again and stopped with a shrieking of brakes just past the building line. In a few moments the other cab charged up the hill and turned right also.“Get him!” Kate commanded. Her driver swung wide from the curb, ran even with the other cab and forced it slowly but surely against the curbing despite the other driver’s shrill curses and the sounds of his horn.A policeman ran up. “Here!” he demanded. “What’s goin’ on?”Kate opened the cab door and smiled at the officer.“The man in the other cab has been following me all over town,” she said, “and I wish to prefer a charge against him, if you please, officer.”The policeman dragged the luckless waiter from the cab by his collar.“Tell me about it,” he demanded of Kate.“He works at Scar Argyle’s,” she replied. “I was there for awhile and when I left this fellow got in another cab and followed me.”But great was the power of Scar in policedom.“I wouldn’t do that, lady,” the officer replied. “You go on about your business and I’ll keep this baby here. If you have him pinched, you got to go to court.”“All right, officer—and thanks,” Kate said as her cab moved off. It was late afternoon when Kate emerged from her tiny apartment in a huge building on the shores of Lake Union to go abroad again in a taxicab.Her first stop was at the office of The Hour, greatest of the city’s newspapers. Largess properly distributed to a reception clerk and office boy bought her way into the paper’s morgue of photographs and clippings.A chubby, partly deaf statistician was in charge. His sole desire seemed to be to prevent any intrusion into his domain. A five dollar bill again wrought wonders and soon Kate was deep in a huge envelope of clippings out of the “H” file.When she departed, the attendant also dumped out the clippings and studied them.“Humph!” he grunted. “Now I wonder?”From the newspaper office she drove to a tall building given over to plastic surgeons, beauticians and hair dressers. One of the latter “touched up” the roots of her dark-red hair. A dermatologist on the floor above injected a white liquid under her skin at the temple, massaged it, and said:“Lay a good cold-cream base under the powder. When you are ready I will radium-peel your face and we’ll hide that scar entirely.”“Thanks, doctor,” she replied. “But I’m a busy girl now.”Dinner at one of the better cafés, a picture show afterward and then Kate took a cab to the Argyle Club where she found a deferential corps of barmen and waiters ready to extend her a grinning welcome. Also she found the place well filled. Her name and fame had spread rapidly among the cannons and molls of South of Yesler.Scar too waved a warm welcome. She walked to his side in response to a beckoning finger.“Where you livin’, kid?” he demanded. “It’s a police regulation, you know.” He produced a soiled memorandum book and a stub of pencil expectantly.“Find out like you tried to this morning,” Kate jeered, but she softened the taunt with an amused smile.“That’s a bet!” Scar replied. “Think I can’t, huh?” He was in nowise disconcerted.“Not by using a waiter for a gumshoe, anyway,” Kate replied, seating herself at his table. “What did it cost you to get him loose?”“Crook of me finger,” Scar jeered in turn. “The bulls don’t want none of my boys.”“Right, Scar. Now tell me, how did you like my stuff last night? Shall I keep it up?”“That’s what I hired you for.” Scar was becoming wary now.“Then we’ll have a novelty night once each week, beginning tonight. You know what I mean? Funny light flashes, contests with everybody doing goofy things like they do at highbrow parties? Get everybody into it and the losers have to buy. Get the idea?”“The dump’s yours from now to closin’ time. Take it apart if you want to.”Kate rose, smoothed down her skirt, and said casually.“By the way, I ordered a regular stage electrician to be here at 11 o’clock to handle the lights. He’s bringing a dimmer; the rest we’ll do with the master switch.”“Bring two,” said Scar grandly, “or three—if he’s triplets. Keep on getting in the jack and you can hire the devil himself.”“No need, Scar old thing,” Kate laughed. “He’s here already—and wearing your union suit.”Scar grunted happily, the nearest to a laugh of which he was capable.“Wrong,” he said. “Mine’s two-piece.” Meanwhile Kate was going from table to table, welcoming the friends of the night before and newcomers, attracted by the news of the tiger-girl hostess at the Argyle Club.The bleak-faced victim of the pocket-picking episode of the previous night was back at his usual table in a corner across from the orchestra and not more than three feet distant from Scar’s customary seat. As Kate stopped before him, he stared at her searchingly.“Did I ever see you before?” he asked suddenly.“Surely you did,” she laughed. “I’m King Tut’s daughter. Remember how you used to hold my hand under the purple Egyptian skies—or what have you?”“Can the jokes,” the man snapped. “I’m serious.”“Oh-h-h!” Kate said derisively, “so, Mister Kinney, racketeer-in-chief and Big Fixer mustn’t be kidded by a night club hostess.”“Drop it!” the man snarled. “Forget that name here. It’s ‘Hanson’ now. What the— Say, did you know me in Detroit?” With the question he snatched at her wrist, his fingers pinching deep into her flesh.The girl did not reply, nor did she wince. Instead she leaned slightly forward, bringing her sneering, ice hard glance on a level with his own.“All right, Kinney-Hanson,” she said, and there was a deadly chill in her tones. “Don’t move that other hand. I can get you before you ever could touch your gun—and believe me, it’ll be one big pleasure to do it.”Hanson’s hard eyes searched hers angrily. The smile clung to her lips but he recognized the basilisk expression of the natural killer seeking the slightest excuse to slay. Yet he held to her wrist, trying to probe her mind—to find some reason for such bitter hatred from the mere touch of his hand.“Let go!” Kate rapped the words out venomously. “I said last night that nobody is permitted to touch me. If I let you get away with it, then I’m sunk here.” Then, in a louder tone for the benefit of those nearby, she said airily:“Unhand me, vill-yun—and when are you going to buy a drink?”Hanson’s steely fingers relaxed. He gestured to a seat across the table.“You’re a nice, pleasant little thing,” he said sarcastically, “but tell me what you want to drink—and all about Detroit.”“Champagne,” Kate replied with a disarming smile. “Detroit? No, I don’t know much about things there. A girl friend of mine was married to a boy named Wilbur Bealey—‘Wib the Gun,’ they called him. He was mixed up in a booze running gang, and soon after I left there he was killed. Someone said his own gang finished him.”“Know him pretty well?” Hanson demanded.“Oh, in a way,” Kate replied nonchalantly. “Daisy, his wife, was an old sidekick of mine, but Wib was away most of the time when I was visiting her.”“Who else did you know there?” Hanson continued.“Let me see—why, you were there! I saw you out at a Grosse Pointe roadhouse the night Merrill Orrum, the criminal lawyer, was killed.”Hanson’s eyes were pinpoint lights of green now, but his poker face did not change. Quietly he produced a cigarette and lighted it. Kate noted that the hand which held the ornate gold lighter did not tremble.He let a thin cloud of smoke drift from his mouth and Kate felt his eyes studying her critically. Her expression was bored, a trifle uninterested.“Ah yes, Merrill Orrum,” he said musingly. “I’d forgotten his name. And by the way”—he almost hissed the words—“how does it happen that you, a stranger, remember it? That was a whole year ago.”“Oh, I don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders as though tired of the subject. “Probably it was because it was an unusual name and the papers said they—the other mobsmen—called him ‘Mary Lorum’ for a nickname, sort of a pun name. Things like that stick in one’s mind, don’t you think so?”“Not so you’d notice it,” Hanson replied quickly. “You haven’t told me all of it. Damn it, you remind me of someone—”“Some dizzy blonde from over the river in Windsor probably,” Kate suggested teasingly. Hanson’s eyes narrowed to mere slits.“Blonde!” he said explosively. “What do you know about a blonde in Detroit?”Kate laughed merrily.“Listen, Big Boy,” she replied, “What I know about all Detroit blondes is plenty. Did poor, little Hansy-Hanson get all mixed up with a fuzzy yellow-head?”Hanson flared up again at the derisive note in her voice.“Hell with her!” he growled. “I fixed her up good and plenty; don’t worry. But it’s you I’m wondering about. What’re you holding out on me?”“What would you give to know?”“Nothing or a lot; I don’t know which. I’ve got a hunch about you, Miss Cougar Kitty whatsyourname, and the first thing you know I’ll be calling the turn on you. Don’t figure me for a dumbbell.”“Do your prettiest, Big Boy,” she replied as she rose. “And if you guess right—you’ll have something coming to you. I said—‘you’ll have something coming to you’!”She accented each of the drawled words. Hanson caught a note of menace in her voice; frowned as he watched her retreating form and sought for the answer to the riddle.He motioned to Scar to come over.“Where’d you get that damned twist?” he said in a low tone. “She just called the turn on me in Detroit—cracked about ‘Wib the Gun,’ and that lousy mouthpiece, Orrum.”Scar grinned knowingly.“She’s a wise head,” he husked. “Doin’ all right here and maybe’ll stand a little watchin’. If she gets flossy she’ll go for a ride—but I ain’t worryin’ none about her. Don’t you, neither.”Further conversation ended with the entrance of Speedball Kane.“Whoopee!” Kate sang out. “Solomon in all his glory! Lookit the boy friend!”Speed was attired in his first dinner clothes. His broad shoulders filled the pinch waisted coat perfectly. He had been shaved, pomaded and massaged into the condition of pink shininess which in Gangland is accepted as perfection.It is true that he hitched once at the harness of his shoulder holster, but in Argyle Club circles that meant no more than button-fiddling meant in the higher walks of life.“Everybody give the dressed-up boy friend a hand!” Kate demanded. The guests obliged. “Boy friend and I will buy a drink now.” She continued. There was more applause. Kate drew Speed to a place near the orchestra.“Speed is to be associate master of ceremonies tonight,” she continued. “So I told him to bring his rod. His job is to see that everybody does just what I tell them to. We’re going to raise hell tonight and put a chunk under it, but we can’t do it unless everybody helps. The first number will be a button busting contest, with Scar Argyle leading off.”“Huh?” Scar grunted in amazement. “Run your own damn show.”“Burn him down, Speed, if he don’t mind,” Kate laughed. “Oh come on, chief, it’s easy. Draw a big breath, lean against the inside of the old vest and see what happens. Snap into it, dearie, take a big breath and do your stuff.” Scar’s mind dealt largely in cash-register terms. Kate had said the loser would buy the drinks. Very well, then, the idea was for him not to lose.Slowly he inflated his huge chest. His cheeks began to purple as he set his muscles and began to expand. Quickly the vast mountain of fat and muscle pressed outward. An audible “pop” followed and a button tinkled on a glass table top across the room.“One!” cheered Kate. As she spoke there were three other “pops.” “Two, three, four!” she counted. “Don’t anybody wisecrack. If Scar laughs now he’ll undress himself.” The final button held but tore its way through the buttonhole.“Fine!” Kate exclaimed. “Four buttons and one buttonhole. Now, who’s next?”Several of the gunmen patrons went into a huddle. Presently ‘Shanty’ Boles turned and said:“Us four’s buyin’ for th’ house, Kitty. Name it an’ we pays. Dat’s cheaper’n buyin’ new vests!”“Lovely!” Kate responded. “Did someone tell me Shanty wasn’t bright?”As the round of drinks was being served, the electrician touched Kate’s arm and told her the dimmer was connected.“Don’t test it,” she ordered, “just follow up the orders I gave you. Everybody out now,” she demanded, turning to the patrons. “There’s another surprise for you. We start off with a march around the room. When the lights go out, drop your partner and take the girl ahead of you for a partner. That leaves an extra man and he goes to the end of the line.“When the orchestra stops playing, everybody buys a drink for the girl with him. Remember now—no cheating or hitting in the clinches.”The orchestra struck up a jazz march and the patrons, hard-boiled thieves and killers playing a “kid” game for the first time in their lives, began to parade about the room. Kate nodded and the electrician pulled the main switch. Stygian darkness followed.“One, two, three, four, five, six!” Kate counted slowly. “Lights on!”As they flared forth everyone went into shrieks of laughter. From a recess back of the stage where Kate had concealed her, an immense negro girl had emerged, taking a place silently beside Scar. She had been well coached for, as the light came on, she leaned confidingly toward the proprietor and snuggled her head against his shoulder.Scar leaped up, glaring ferociously at Kate while the patrons vented jeers and catcalls. Kate raised her hand and said:“The house buys on that one, gang—and Scar ought to be thankful that we didn’t see her coming in with him.”The negress, grinning happily, waddled out. Kate patted Scar’s shoulder and whispered:“We’ve got to give ‘em stunts, Scar—and we can’t kid the money customers all of the time.”The evening was off to an auspicious start. Stunt followed stunt in rapid succession. The lights, on dimmers now, went up and down the range of their power; again they flashed like lightning’s play. They would go out and come on again, occasionally disclosing grim gunmen and their molls engaged in the softer process of “necking.” This brought jeers and another round of drinks.Kate kept it going at fever heat. Between dances she had the girls balancing on beer barrels laid on their sides, or trying to step through the “U” made by their arms and a broom handle. It was a real novelty to the socially starved tough boys and girls and through it all Scar sat and listened happily to the tinkle of the cash registers.Here and there heads not hard enough to resist the kick of Scar’s raw liquor, had succumbed. Shanty Boles and his moll slept side by side, their heads pillowed on the table before them. Someone had taken a lipstick and painted Shanty’s nose a violent crimson.Through it all, Hanson sat sipping his liquor, smoking innumerable cigarettes—but always watching Kate narrowly. He seemed to enjoy chatting with one of the chorus girls—Gladys King—whom he had chosen for his companion of the evening.Once, as the lights came back on, Kate saw him slip a heavy automatic back under his arm. He was taking no chances of an attack in the dark. She slipped to Speed’s side and asked:“What’s the matter with Hanson? He’s out with the gat every time the lights go down.”“He’d better,” Speed whispered. “He’s a wholesale junkie. There’s a gang back east gunnin’ for him, and some of the big boys here figure to spot him if they can get him right. He’s nudgin’ in on their racket.” As they talked, a clock outside chimed the hour of four. Thereafter, Kate kept a close check on the face of her watch.Fifteen minutes later she snapped into action. First she nodded to the orchestra with a signal for a mad jazz number, calling to the electrician, “Use your own judgment, Johnny.”With this she stepped over beside Scar and Little Laura. It seemed to Scar that her fingers, pressing on his shoulder, were unduly heavy. Thus she stood while the electrician ran the gamut of his light changes. Scar still could feel the weight of her fingers on his shoulder when the lights went completely out.There followed a moment of silence, punctuated by minor squeals of fright and laughter. Suddenly someone grunted as though in pain.A gun roared heavily in the blackness. A girl’s screaming moan sounded as a body struck the floor. The music had been silenced with the sound of the shot.Out of the babel of sound came Kate’s clear voice: “Lights—quick,” she commanded.As they came on the horrified merrymakers saw Gladys King squirming on the floor, blood flowing from a wound high up on her right shoulder. Scar leaped up and barked angrily:“Shut up your damn noise—want the bulls in here?”Kate knelt beside the injured girl. A cool-headed waiter brought water and Kate began bathing the girl’s forehead.“What was it, dear?” she asked tenderly. “What happened?”“He—he—shot me!” Gladys replied. She pointed weakly at Hanson.From the others there came a growl of anger. Gladys was a favorite. Then followed a concerted rush to the table where Hanson sat, apparently unperturbed. His eyes were half closed. But as the foremost of the gang reached him his body seemed to sag. Then he toppled and his chin struck the table with a thud.The color had drained from the flesh in his neck. Right at the edge of the hair a single drop of blood stood for a second. It rolled down inside the dead man’s collar and another welled slowly in its place.Hanson unquestionably was dead. Too many present knew the marks of the coming of the Dread One. An unerring hand had struck once at the base of the brain, severing the spinal cord.Scar glared around the room ferociously. A mighty anger shook his frame. Hanson, as an individual, meant nothing to him. As a racketeer, head of a junk-running organization of no mean proportions, his murder spelled trouble.“Who done this?” Scar roared. “Get up on your damned hind legs and have the guts to say so—” A stream of horrible profanity welled and bubbled from his lips.Kate whispered something to Speed under cover of the noise. The gangster moved quickly to Scar’s side. He talked rapidly in an undertone. At first the proprietor shook his head impatiently. Speed continued talking until silenced with a gesture.“Listen, guns and molls,” Scar said after a moment of thought. “This here thing ain’t goin’ to do us any good. Now, we’re all-right guys here tonight; there ain’t a rat or snitch in the joint. Hanson’s croaked. Nobody knows who done it, but me and Speedy figgers it will be a good idee for him to be found somewhere else. What say?”“Take the blankety-blank out and dump him in the bay,” someone growled. “That’s the ticket—out in the streets some’rs,” another said. Scar and Shanty Boles turned to the gruesome task of dressing the corpse in overcoat, gloves and soft gray hat.“Whose car are you going to use?” Kate asked quietly. Then before anyone answered, she suggested: “Better steal one, Speed, and leave him in it out in the residence district. And while we’re about it, poke a gun in his ribs hard. The blood will settle there and the dicks will think his kidnappers did it.”“Damn smart,” Scar applauded. “Go ahead, Speed. Find a likely lookin’ bus and shoot her in the alley. I’ll have a lookout waitin’.”Thus it was arranged. Hanson’s body, with a gangster on each side of it, was loaded into a stolen limousine, Speed at the wheel. Larry Michaels, his buddy, followed in another car. Within thirty minutes all were back at the Argyle Club.Scar closed soon afterward. Kitty, en route home, made certain she was not being followed. When she had disrobed and made her night toilet, she unfastened a secret compartment in a suitcase and brought to light a small memorandum book.Then she drew a heavy black line through the first of three names inscribed on its fly-leaf.The name was “Lester Kinney.” Seattle morning newspapers had good reason for first-page streamer lines that morning.Henry Wilson, a milkman, discovered Hanson’s body, rigid behind the steering wheel and with the gloved hands in driving posture. It was in a shining limousine, standing before one of the beautiful homes in the exclusive Queen Anne Hill district.Wilson notified the police and detectives made several startling discoveries. The first was a footprint in the mud of the gutter where apparently someone had stood beside the car. Plaster casts were made, but later the sleuths were chagrined to find it matched perfectly to the milkman’s brogans.Next came the news that the limousine had been stolen from a patron of the Elk’s Club. Atop of this came the medical examiner’s announcement that Hanson’s death had been brought about by someone thoroughly skilled in surgery.Then the discoloration on the side of the body was discovered. As Kate had predicted, the detectives seized on this as proof that someone had jammed a gun against the victim’s side, had kidnapped him and taken him for a ride.“Gawd, kid!” Scar said to Kate when she entered the club that night, “you sure saved ol’ Scar’s bacon with quick thinkin’ last night. Hereafter they’s another five per cent in the cut fer you.”“Thanks, Scar,” Kate said listlessly. “Who do you think did it?”Scar ruminated for a time, then said in a low voice:“If you hadn’t stood with your hand on my shoulder all the time the lights was out, I’d have said, ‘Mebbe you!’ I seen you and Hanson glarin’ at one another, an’ I copped you two watchin’ each other all evenin’. But I ain’t answerin’ any questions—nor askin’ any. I know where you was every second.”“Who was against him in the dope game here?” Kate asked after a brief pause, during which she studied Scar’s face attentively.“Mugs Dietrich,” Scar replied. “He was the big junkie until Hanson showed up nine-ten months ago. Hanson nudged in on the alky racket, but as soon as he’d built up a gang, he hijacked a trunkful of dope, coming from Kansas City to Mugs.“They was better’n fifty thousand dollars worth in it. Hanson sent for Mugs, covered him with a rod and they talked turkey. When Mugs left, he had half the dope and Hanson had half the town. That’s how Hanson worked. Since then, he’s been edgin’ in on Mugs and four-five boys on both sides has been croaked. Mugs got sore last week and cracked that Hanson better come smokin’ next time they met. That’s why the dicks is figgerin’ last night’s job as a gang-spottin’.”“Who is Hanson’s Man Friday—his next in command?” Kate asked.“A guy twicet as hard as Hanson ever wanted to be. They call him Sugarface Mallon. He’s the reason I didn’t want anybody to know Hanson was croaked here. This pritty boy came from the East with Hanson, and after the first week none of our gunnies wanted any of Sugarface’s game. He throws hot lead faster ‘n easier than anybody I ever did see—and some of the best of ‘em has come through that door there.” Thrill-seeking and curiosity brought back all of the crowd of the night before and yet others who had heard of the live-wire Cougar Kitty. It was by that title she was known in Gangland now; few could have told her last name.But it was an apathetic crowd. Even Kate’s flaming personality could not evoke a real response, except from the newcomers. The shadow of tragedy still lingered over the place.The bar patronage was holding up well, however. Some of the patrons seemed anxious to drink themselves insensible in the shortest possible space of time. These were succeeding admirably. Such failed to witness the new situation which unfolded itself suddenly.During an interval when the orchestra was silent, the doorbell pealed shrilly. When the doorman swung the steel-faced portal open, two well-dressed men stepped into the room. Both stood looking the crowd over coldly.One, the taller, might have posed for magazine collar advertisements. Nature had given him a trig slenderness, height, a handsome face and a certain air of real gentility. His companion was shorter, dark and glowering, seemingly dissipated and he had a hangdog air. As he turned it was apparent that one of his ears was badly cauliflowered. Both had one thing in common. Their air was purposeful and either could be depended on to do what was needful, no matter what the circumstances.Scar started to struggle to his feet, but sank back at a signal from Kate. Straight to the pair she went, eyes shining, teeth flashing in a smile of welcome.“Greetings, Mr. Sugarface Mallon,” she called from the middle of the floor. “Come on in, both of you. The water’s wet—and we haven’t any.”Mallon eyed her with evident admiration, yet curiously. His companion scowled darkly and whispered something. Sugarface stepped forward and took Kate’s outstretched hand.“A stranger in town, yet she calls my name,” he said suavely. “Who am I—to be so honored?”“Tell you later,” Kate said in a low tone. “Play up now.”Now Scar came lumbering forward. Mallon gave him a cold nod; his companion struck the owner’s outstretched hand aside. Scar turned and waddled back to his chair.Two of the waiters removed a somnolent drunk from one of the tables, brought a third chair and Kate, Mallon and the other man sat down. Kate and Mallon faced each other across the table; the other’s back was to the dance floor.“This is Kid Sharkey,” Mallon said, pointing to his companion. “He’s with me always—now that Hanson’s dead.”“Oh yes,” Kate said nonchalantly, “I read of it in the papers. You were his associate, weren’t you—both here and in the East?”Mallon’s eyes probed hers ominously, curiously, for a moment.“See here,” he said as though in sudden decision. “They tell me you’re a wise head; anyway you look it, and I’m going to lay ‘em right out before you. There is a whisper that Hanson was done in right in this room. It is a whisper that hasn’t reached the police, however. One of my boys heard a girl stew talking about it and came to me with the story.“Now get me right; I’m not caring one half-witted damn about Hanson being rubbed out. Probably it saved me the trouble. He was a bad one and would knock me off in a minute, but he knew I could let him draw and then kill him. For the last six months when we talked he sat with his hands folded over his most recent meal. I’d warned him to.“But I’m head of the gang now. I’m taking over where he left off. If it was one of Muggsy’s gang that croaked him, then I know where to watch. If it was done here, then there’s a new enemy for me to go gunning after.“What would you do in my place?”He fairly hissed the last words.“I’d buy a drink!” Kate said nonchalantly. “Waiter!”A red surge of color leaped to Mallon’s pale face.“Damn it!” he snarled. “Answer me, you rotten—”Kate’s hand—the right one—slipped over the edge of the table. With the index finger of the left Kate pointed casually toward it. Mallon’s eyes dropped; visioned the deadly steel muzzle of the little plunger-gun between her fingers. Kid Sharkey gasped. For the fraction of a second the weapon turned on him, then flashed back to Sugarface.“Rotten—what—?” she demanded. “Say anything that’s in your system—and if I don’t like it, then it’s my turn to say or do something—you fool. Say it!” she demanded coldly. Now she was Cougar Kitty indeed. Speedball Kane, who had lost no item of the byplay from a distance, came slipping to the table. His body was poised on the balls of his feet. The right hand was under his left lapel.Kate sensed, rather than saw him.“My affair,” she said over her shoulder. “Don’t interfere unless things get hot—and if they do, then burn Kid Sharkey down and burn him fast.”“Baby,” Speed said with deep conviction. “He’s afire now.”“What a broad!” It was Kid Sharkey’s unwilling tribute as he realized just how hot things had become.Mallon it was who broke the tension.“Stand off all around,” he said putting his hands before him on the table. “I’m apologizing—not because of the palm-gun, but because they taught me as a kid not to call girls bad names.”The deadly muzzle slipped out of sight beneath the table. Mallon had a dubious impression that it still covered his stomach.“Right,” Kate snapped. “Now what do you want to know?”“Was Hanson fixed up here? That’s all.”“He was not,” she replied steadily. “He left here about two.”“Alone?”“Alone. I think he had a telephone call.” Then, before Mallon could stop her, she called over her shoulder, “Oh, Scar!” When he lumbered over, she asked:“Hanson left last night about two, didn’t he—alone?”“Uh-huh, about then,” Scar said easily. “I got th’ idee somebody was waitin’ for him—or did he get a ‘phone call?”“Thanks!” Mallon said carelessly after a moment’s close scrutiny of the scarred, evil countenance before him.“S’all right,” Scar rumbled. “Let’s us have a drink.”“Why not?” the younger man replied lightly. “Kid, you go along and see about the trucks. I’ll be at the hangout later.”Sharkey started to protest, then rose and lurched from the place. His last glance at Kate was one of reverent worship. Kid Sharkey had seen his first real gun-moll.Mallon rose as Kate did and accompanied her to the table adjoining Scar’s lookout chair, unwittingly dropping into the seat where his chief’s body had been but a few hours before.Suddenly Kate felt his eyes on her and turned about to surprise the same searching, calculating expression she had encountered in Hanson’s eyes. She smiled, blandly, seated herself across from him and said:“Want to tell an inquisitive girl something, Mr. Mallon?”“What?” he demanded. She paused before replying, holding his glance by sheer willpower for a moment.“How is it that a man of your class, who could be anything he set out to be, is in the booze and dope game?” she said at last.“Just naturally bad, I guess,” he replied, but Kate saw she had scored her first victory in her fight to draw his interest to her personally.From then until the moment later when Mallon, now warmed by a number of drinks, began paying her elaborate compliments, Kate used her every art to let glances and half spoken sentences show him that she was not indifferent to him. At last, while the electrician had dimmed the lights to almost out, he leaned across the table and whispered:“I’m waiting for you tonight, baby—and every other night, if you say so.”Kate did not answer, contenting herself with letting her hand touch his for a moment in a quick, firm pressure. Then she excused herself and turned to the other patrons. The crowd was thinning out now. Several of the more intoxicated still slumbered in their chairs. Not more than fifteen couples were on the dance floor when Kate stopped the music with a wave of her hand and said:“Not enough pep, gang. We’re closing soon now, and let’s make it all hot ‘n everything in the meantime. Make it snappy now, for Speed and I have a surprise for you pretty soon.”The orchestra swung into a mad jazz number, quickening the cadence until the dancers’ feet literally were flying. Kate called Little Laura to her away from Scar’s side, and whispered something. The girl laughed and took a chair at a vacant table.Kate caught the electrician’s eye and nodded, holding up a silver chime whistle as a signal. He nodded and began a furious succession of light changes. They flickered up, then dimmed down to mere red-brown shapes within the globes. On again—and the electrician snapped the main switch off and on rapidly, giving the effect of lightning flashes. Once Kate caught Mallon’s eyes and tossed him an airy kiss from her fingertips. Scar, sitting three feet distant from him, scowled wonderingly.Occasionally couples would barge together on the dance floor, the girls screaming curses or ribald commands. Kate’s eyes narrowed calculatingly watching the unconscious distribution of the couples about the floor.Suddenly she sounded a musical trill from the whistle. The music rose to a shrill crescendo of noise as the electrician pulled the main switch and threw the entire club into darkness.But over the music, the shouts of laughter and the scrape of feet, there sounded ten clearly spaced blasts of Kate’s whistle as though she was marking time for the next stunt.Three sharp blasts followed one another in rapid succession. The lights flared on and the music ceased in the middle of a bar.For an instant there was a grave-like silence; then gasps of surprise—here and there a nervous titter from one of the molls.There was reason. Midway down the room, clear of the dancers and at a point where every person in the room was under her eye stood Cougar Kitty, in each hand a thirty-eight automatic. Flanking her, four at each side, stood the club’s eight waiters. Now they were masked with handkerchiefs tied across their noses to conceal mouths and chins. Each carried two snub-nose, small caliber automatics! These were trained on the dancing group and the orchestra.Kitty’s guns covered Mallon and Scar.“Up with them,” she demanded dramatically. “Drag me down a star and let me look at it. This is a stick-up and I don’t mean perhaps.”Mallon and Scar laughed happily, admiringly.“Some twist, that one,” Scar said out of the corner of his twisted mouth. “Who else’d think of a stunt like that?”With the words the tension broke. The waiters snapped the handkerchiefs from their faces, broke the seeming automatics and disclosed that they were cigarette guns, made in the shape of pistols. These were distributed to the dancers as they crowded about the smiling hostess.Kate, meanwhile, stood toying with the weapons hanging loosely at her side. She looked anxiously about for Speedball. He was at one of the tables, retying a shoelace. He looked up at her and grinned.It was Scar, master of the double-cross and personification of vileness, who was the first to sense the tenseness which had descended on the room. As he dropped his hands to the chair arms, ready to derrick his great body to a standing position, Kate whirled and leveled both guns.“Down!” she snapped savagely. “Up with them—both of you—you’re in on this too, Mallon. “Quick—fingers together behind your heads.”The muzzles of both guns jumped in unison. With the roar came a splintering crash as the missiles flew past the heads of the two men and buried themselves in the wall behind them.There was no question now of obedience. Mallon, white, silent but watchful as a snake, cradled the back of his head in his hands. Scar was slower and his gross face was splotched and purple as he too withdrew his hands from his holster.The girl’s tense figure, alone in the center of the floor as she held two redoubtable gunmen helpless, appealed to their sense of the dramatic. They were breathless with suspense when at last she broke silence to say in a lifeless monotone:“Listen everybody—I’m going to tell you about a couple of damned, lousy skunks—the two sitting there, and another I got last night—Hanson.“In a little while, I’m going out of here. It is up to you—you boys and girls who, like me, have had to fight for yourselves—it’s up to you whether I go out of here—or whether I don’t! But I’m going to take Skunk Mallon and Skunk Argyle with me! It’ll be the hot seat for them! And I’ve nothing on you!“I’m a slum kid from Brooklyn. My dad was a drunk; mother was a decent woman. I had two brothers, Wilbur and Merrill. Our family name was Orrum. Merrill, the older brother, was a good kid. He made me go to school just as he did. The other was weak, a sneak thief at twelve and an ex-con at twenty. They called him ‘Wib the Gun.’ ”Scar’s arms jerked at the words and the girl’s finger tightened for an instant on the trigger of the weapon in her right hand.“Means something to you, doesn’t it, Skunk Argyle?” she taunted. “Wib was the lad you and Hanson and Mallon, jobbed into killing his own brother that night in Detroit—the lad Mallon and Hanson killed later to stop his mouth.”Someone in the crowd grated out a curse. She continued her story.“Merrill had worked his way through law school and had taken up criminal practice. In a few years he was known as the best crook mouthpiece in Detroit. I was his helper—his private investigator.“But Merrill fell out with Hanson and Mallon, and also with Scar who was the big money back of their booze and dope running. They got poor Wib drunk one night and planted him out to kill a Federal dick near a roadhouse. They decoyed Merrill to the spot and let Wib kill his own brother.“When he found out what he’d done, he went into hiding. It took me days to find him and when I got there he was croaking. He had just enough strength to tell me the story and to let me know that Mallon had run him down and shot him to silence him.“I went crazy then. When I found where Hanson was planted out I went there one night and got into the house. I hoped to get him as he slept. But Sugarface Mallon was on the prowl and got me before I could shoot.“He tied me up. He didn’t call Hanson. He just gagged me—and for that night I was his prisoner. Figure that for yourselves.“The next morning he threw me down the front steps. He’d finished wrecking the Orrum family. Nice boy—Skunk Mallon—isn’t he?”“Hanson and Mallon disappeared,” she continued, and now she was tumbling the words forth with machine-gun speed. “But I found they were here, working with Scar Argyle on a new dope underground.“My hair was gold-yellow. I dyed it red. My figure was slight. I ate sweets, drank heavy cream, stuffed like a Strasbourg goose until I had gained twenty pounds. I went to Chicago and then New York to establish a new identity, but always I kept track of the three skunks.“You know most of the rest of it. I came here and tricked Scar into giving me work. Last night I stood beside Scar, pressing my fingers into his fat shoulder until the lights went out. Then I got Hanson in the neck with a thin, knife. I was back beside Scar when the lights went on again. He thought he had felt my hand on his shoulder all of the time.”She paused for a quick glance about the tables, flashed her eyes toward the doorway where waiters and barmen were grouped.But even that brief second of respite was enough for Sugarface. As she turned back his right hand was flitting under his coat lapel, fingers clawing for the gun butt nestling there.Cougar Kitty’s left gun jerked twice and a horrible oath spat from Scar’s lips as two black holes appeared, one above the other, in Mallon’s smooth, white forehead. He teetered for a moment in his chair, then fell sideways across Scar’s feet.The death threat in the girl’s eyes as they flickered to Scar nerved the gross man to action. He threw himself, wedged as he was in his great chair, sideways to the floor. His hand flashed with incredible speed to the butt of his gun.Cougar Kitty, her eyes pinpoints of blazing hate, waited as the thick fingers grasped the weapon, started to raise it.Crash! Crash! Crash!Her gun spoke thrice in rapid succession. A jet of blood leaped from Scar’s lips as the first bullet smashed against his set teeth.The second smashed through the center of the scar under the victim’s right eye and ploughed into the brain.The third struck squarely between the eyes—a small, purple edged perforation which wrote the final period on the life-tale of Scar Argyle.For a moment Cougar Kitty stood silent, staring at the two unmoving bodies on the floor. “Killing was too good for them!”Then with a gesture of finality she let the guns crash to the floor. Turning, her hands outstretched toward the silent group of grim-faced onlookers, she whispered:“And now—the verdict. Getaway—or?”Tense eyes stared back into hers. Still no word was spoken.Suddenly, as though an invisible wedge was driving into the group, they began to fall back.White lipped, staring unseeingly before her, Kitty passed the grimly watchful cannons and molls who lined her pathway. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureMary Shelley was born the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the influential enlightenment philosopher. Her mother died only 10 days after giving birth to her, and the two seemed separated forever. However, the daughter then took it upon herself to become an expert on her mother’s writing, and to live as much as she could in accordance with the wishes of her dead mother. It was a mother-daughter relationship that defied death. In the following text from 1831, Mary Shelley herself tells the story of how the book was conceived: “I shall give a general answer to the question, so very frequently asked me—”How I, when a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?” It is true that I am very averse to bringing myself forward in print; but as my account will only appear as an appendage to a former production, and as it will be confined to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely accuse myself of a personal intrusion. It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to “write stories.” Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air—the indulging in waking dreams—the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the latter I was a close imitator—rather doing as others had done, than putting down the suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye—my childhood’s companion and friend; but my dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed—my dearest pleasure when free. I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered. I did not make myself the heroine of my tales. Life appeared to me too common-place an affair as regarded myself. I could not figure to myself that romantic woes or wonderful events would ever be my lot; but I was not confined to my own identity, and I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age, than my own sensations. After this my life became busier, and reality stood in place of fiction. My husband, however, was from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation, which even on my own part I cared for then, though since I have become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he desired that I should write, not so much with the idea that I could produce any thing worthy of notice, but that he might himself judge how far I possessed the promise of better things hereafter. Still I did nothing. Travelling, and the cares of a family, occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading, or improving my ideas in communication with his far more cultivated mind, was all of literary employment that engaged my attention. In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland, and became the neighbours of Lord Byron. At first we spent our pleasant hours on the lake, or wandering on its shores; and Lord Byron, who was writing the third canto of Childe Harold, was the only one among us who put his thoughts upon paper. These, as he brought them successively to us, clothed in all the light and harmony of poetry, seemed to stamp as divine the glories of heaven and earth, whose influences we partook with him. But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race, whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise. His gigantic, shadowy form, clothed like the ghost in Hamlet, in complete armour, but with the beaver up, was seen at midnight, by the moon’s fitful beams, to advance slowly along the gloomy avenue. The shape was lost beneath the shadow of the castle walls; but soon a gate swung back, a step was heard, the door of the chamber opened, and he advanced to the couch of the blooming youths, cradled in healthy sleep. Eternal sorrow sat upon his face as he bent down and kissed the forehead of the boys, who from that hour withered like flowers snapt upon the stalk. I have not seen these stories since then; but their incidents are as fresh in my mind as if I had read them yesterday. “We will each write a ghost story,” said Lord Byron; and his proposition was acceded to. There were four of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery, and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language, than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole—what to see I forget—something very shocking and wrong of course; but when she was reduced to a worse condition than the renowned Tom of Coventry, he did not know what to do with her, and was obliged to despatch her to the tomb of the Capulets, the only place for which she was fitted. The illustrious poets also, annoyed by the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task. I busied myself to think of a story,—a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative. Every thing must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before. The Hindoos give the world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it. Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin, (I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth. Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision,—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes. I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story,—my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night! Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. “I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream. At first I thought but of a few pages—of a short tale; but Shelley urged me to develope the idea at greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world. From this declaration I must except the preface. As far as I can recollect, it was entirely written by him. And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations. London, October 15, 1831” Listen  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby Feng Menglong (1574-1646)(an interpretation by Michael Henrik Wynn) It is said that during the cultural revival of the Song Dynasty in the early middle ages, there was a high-ranking official named Chen Ya, who, due to a dispute with the learned Zhang Zihou, was demoted to the position of pacification commissioner for the eastern region of Jiangdong. As such, he was obliged to oversee the important city of Jiankang, located inland on the Yangtze River. One day, while attending an official banquet by the riverside, he suddenly heard a shrill voice beyond the perimeter shouting, “I am able to foresee all your futures, even without consulting the sacred Five Elements!” “Who dares utter such words in my presence?” Chen Ya exclaimed. One of the officials recognized the man and said: “That, my lord, is the fortune-teller Bian Yin of Jinling.” “Bring him to me.” Chen Ya declared. Bian Yin was summoned to the gate, and stepped barefooted forth from the crowd wearing nothing but rags and a tattered hat. His white bushy beard and gleaming eyes gave him a haggard appearance. Supporting himself on a staff, he made a deep and respectful bow before he sat down at the edge of the steps. “You are nearly blind and not even able to read ancient classics, how dare you belittle the Five Elements?” asked the commissioner. “I am adept in discerning the minute signs that fate transmits by sound, the ebb and flow of life. I can even hear faint footsteps move across soft grassland,” the old man said. “And how accurate are these skills of yours?” Chen Ya asked. At that very moment a painted boat appeared suddenly on the river heading downstream, its oars creaked as its keel clashed against the water. “What is the fortune of the vessel we now see? the commissioner said. ” I can hear sorrow in the creak of those oars, my lord. A man of high-rank has been summoned by eternity,” Bian Yin sighed. The commissioner then sent someone to inquire. Upon their return, he learnt that Li, a lieutenant of the army stationed at Linjiang, had passed away on duty. The boat was transporting his remains to his hometown. “Even if Dongfang Shuo were resurrected, he could not surpass you!” exclaimed the astonished commissioner. The old fortune-teller was rewarded with ten jars of wine and ten taels of silver, and then dismissed. The first fortune-teller thus heard the fate of a man in moving oars. But there was another fortune-teller named Li Jie. He came from Kaifeng, the capital city located in a bend of the great Yellow river. After serving in Zhuofu, a County deep inland, he set up a divination stall. Here he displayed a large sword and a sign that read: “This blade is for use by anyone in China who wishes to question the skills of the owner.” Li Jie was indeed well-versed in the Book of Changes (Zhouyi), adept at deciphering the Six Writings, and had a deep understanding of astrology and geomancy. He could explain the significance of the Five Stars and predict good or bad fortune like a deity. His knowledge of the Three Fates allowed him to determine success or failure and rise or fall with great accuracy. One day, as he displayed his sign, a man entered his stall, wearing what might be termed an unusual costume: a headscarf, two black collared shirts, a silk sash around his waist, clean shoes, and neat socks. He also carried a scroll of text. He greeted the diviner, and provided his date and time of birth for a prediction of his fate. “This fortune is difficult to foresee.” Li Jie complained as he examined the hexagram. “Why is it difficult?” “Honorable sir”, Li Jie said anxiously, “you should abstain from drinking and tell only the truth”. “I am as sober as you, and I have nothing to hide,” the man muttered. Fearing errors, Li Jie then verified the dates he was given, and recalculated. Upon seeing the hexagram, he then said: “Honorable sir, some fates are better unprobed.” “Why?” “I am afraid the signs are unfavorable.” Li Jie replied. He then wrote four lines: “A tiger approaches your birthdate,When it does, calamity awaits.Tomorrow, at the hour of the Ox,Your family will grieve in shock.” “But what does this hexagram indicate in terms of fortune and misfortune?” the man asked. “I dare not hide the truth,” Li Jie sighed, “it means that you will die.” “When?” “This year.” Li Jie replied. “In which month of this year?” “This month.” Li Jie answered. “On which day of this month?” “Today,” Li Jie replied. “At what time during the night?” “At the third night watch of tonight,” Li Jie said. “If I truly die tonight”, the man said, “everything will be over. If I do not die, I will deal with you at the county office tomorrow!” “If you do not die tonight”, Li Jie said with sorrow, “come back tomorrow. On that wall hangs a sharp sword. You must then apply that blade upon my neck!” The enraged man could not contain his anger, and dragged Li Jie out of the divination stall. Li Jie had meddled in worldly affairs and now he was deeply worried. However, several county officials approached the man, who was in fact, Sun, a magistrate. “What was this commotion?”“This man has tricked me by means of absurd arguments. I purchased a divination reading, and he told me I would die at the third night watch tonight. I am not ill, and how could I die at the third night watch? I will take him to the county office, and the official investigation will clear things up.” “Divinations are like selling houses and selling divination readings is just talk. Sun, the magistrate, was sold a poor product,” was the popular and quite unanimous conclusion. “You have reached beyond your skill by divining for Sun, the magistrate, “they told Li Jie, “and now you can no longer conduct divinations here. The fate of the poor and the lowly may be simple to forsee. Yet, the length of any life is shrouded in mystery, and the moment of death impossible to specify. Only fathers and brothers can predict life and death with the certainty of hours and minutes. You have been inconsiderate. Divinations can be inauspicious if they flatter people and can lead to misunderstandings if they tell the truth.” Li Jie apologized, closed his divination stall, and moved to another city. Sun, the magistrate, had been calmed by the crowd, and now he felt ashamed and returned to his office. At home, his wife recognized the worried lines on his face. “What troubles you, husband? Are you having problems at work?” she asked. “No, don’t ask!” But she continued: “Have you been reprimanded by your superior?” “No!!” “Did you have a dispute with someone of a higher rank?” she persisted. “No! I bought a divination reading today, and the fortune-teller told me that I would die at the third night watch tonight.” Hearing this, his wife widened her brown eyes and raised her brows, saying, “How could anyone deliver such a message in this way? Why didn’t you report him to the authorities?” “I wanted to, but I was persuaded not to. Wife, I want you to stay with me this evening. If I don’t die tonight, I’ll settle the matter with him tomorrow, which is better than you going to someone else’s house.” Dusk now descended on their home. “Let’s prepare a few cups of wine to pass the time. I won’t sleep; I’ll spend the night awake”, Sun said. After drinking three or four cups, however, he became intoxicated nevertheless, and Sun, the magistrate, then dozed off in his official chair. “My husband, you must not sleep,” she said and called their daughter for assistance. “Shake your father awake, child!” The daughter did her best – in vain. “My child, we must get your father into bed. The chair is not suited for sleep.” The drowsing and quite drunk magistrate had insisted on staying awake, as if attempting to keep Time itself at a standstill. But, such a feat is beyond even the very wise. The magistrate struggled against the pull of his own mind, and his wife wishing to assist her spouse, instructed the maid, Ying’er, to light a candle in the kitchen. “Have you heard the awful news? A fortune teller has today told my husband that the hexagrams have predicted his death at the third watch tonight?” “Yes, I have heard. But how can this be?” “Ying’er, I will even pay you for your effort. Take what coins I have! If my husband does not die tonight, we will confront the fortune-teller tomorrow.” “Make sure you don’t fall asleep!” “I won’t dare!” Ying’er replied.Ying’er did her best, but eventually night overcame her, and she dozed off. “Ying’er, I told you to stay awake” the magistrate’s wife shouted. “How can you fall asleep?”“I won’t sleep,” the drowsy maid replied. But soon after, her head dropped, her eyes reluctantly shut and she drifted off. Her employer now shook the maid, but was unable was unable to get a response. At that very moment, the sudden and steady thumps of a drum pierced the night. The night-watch had arrived for the third watch. “Ying’er, stop pretending!” shouted the magistrates wife. “Don’t do this now!” But to no avail. Suddenly, the middle door of the house creaked, footsteps moved in the hallway and then the front gate slammed. In a frantic effort the magistrate’s wife woke the maid, lit a lamp and together spied into the darkness outside. The front door was open, and a human form dressed in white, the head of their household, slid hurriedly through courtyard towards the raging river, covering his face with one hand. They both rushed outside, only to see him jump into the water and vanish. Two female voices echoed through the night: “What is to become of us now! Magistrate, why did you jump into the river?” Several neighbors were then summoned for help, and the grieving wife then recounted the story of her husband’s death, as you have now heard it.“This is truly a strange occurrence!” the of them said shaking her head. “Yesterday, I saw the magistrate returning with a Taoist priest in a straw robe and carrying scriptures. I even greeted him.” “Yes, I also greeted the magistrate when he returned with the Taoist priest” added another. “I went to the county office in the morning, and I saw the magistrate scolding a fortune teller who was selling hexagrams. Who could have known?” “Why didn’t the magistrate come to us for help?” They all cried, and before they left one of them turned in the door, placed her hand on the new widow’s shoulder and sighed: “Considering what a virtuous man your husband was, anyone would be overcome by grief. This decent man will now never be seen again.” The matter was immediately reported to the authorities, and the magistrate’s wife was ordered to perform good deeds and offer prayers for the deceased. The mourning period passed in the blink of an eye. One day, two rosy-cheeked women came strolling towards the late magistrate’s house. One of them had a bottle of wine, and the other carried two bundles of wildflowers. “Have we come to the right place?” they said and lifted the curtains. The magistrate’s wife then recognized Zhang and Li, the local matchmakers. “I have not seen you two in a very long time!” she said. “We should have been here earlier. We hope you are not offended,” Zhang replied.“How long has it been since my husband passed away?” “Oh, more than a hundred days!” Li replied.“Over a hundred days,” the widow sighed, “well…. time flies! Sun was really a very decent man. Sometimes, he would scold me, but he could still be affectionate. Now that he has been gone for some time, the house is very quiet…….”“It’s time to discuss marriage proposals,” Zhang concluded.“I am not sure there will be another man like Sun in this world for me?” The magistrate’s wife said.“Actually, it will not be difficult to find one,” Li said confidently. “You have a good daughter-in-law, don’t you?” The widow nodded. “But, I am old and tired, and in order for another marriage to make any sense, I have certain specific demands….three in fact. If you can find one who matches my needs, then we can talk about a proposal. If not, I’d rather live alone.” “What are your demands?” Zhang asked.“Well,” the magistrate’s wife said: “First, I am too old to change my surname. I am used to it now. I want to marry someone with the same surname as my late husband, Sun. Second, my late husband had a very good job as magistrate. So, I want someone with a similar position. Third, if we don’t marry, I want him to enter the household.” “Alright! And if we are able to find a person who meets your requirements, will you then agree to a marriage?” Li asked.“I will believe that when I see it. But go ahead and give it your best effort. Maybe fate will intervene, who knows?” Zhang smiled. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life! We will do our best,” she said.“I don’t have any couplets for marriage proposal in my house,” the widow replied.“I have some here,” Li said triumphantly and produced a pair of marriage couplets from her pocket. They read: “Snow hides the mountains of Sichuan until it’s seen; Willow conceals the parrots’ chatter until it’s known.” In the afternoon, the magistrate’s wife scribbled down her own marriage proposal and presented it to Li and Zhang. Gifts were then exchanged, and after a lengthy communication back and forth, a new husband nicknamed Little Sun arrived at her doorstep. Little Sun was everything the widow had wanted, and she was everything he wanted, and the union was judged a great success. One day, the newlyweds both got drunk on sweet wine, and the maid Ying’er then decided to prepare some sobering soup. In the kitchen, she attempted to start a fire, but found that the chimney was blocked. She began knocking on the side trying to clear whatever it was that prevented the flow of air. Suddenly, a cold hand dropped from the opening. Then a neck and a noose followed. And finally the head itself covered by long silvery locks. The tongue protruded from mouth of the corpse, and its eyes seemed to weep blood. While she recovered her breath, she thought it lifeless. But then a spark flickered in the dark eyes, facial muscles contracted – and a faint whisper emerged from its blue parted lips: “Do not forget!” Then the scream of Ying’er echoed through the house, followed by a thump as she fell unconscious to the floor. Wife and husband rushed into the kitchen, and found her lying by the fireplace. Her face had seemed pale, her eyes had shifted back and forth as if she were in a delirium, her lips had turned purple and her fingernails blue. Eventually she came to, and later they told her how happy they had been in that moment. For some minutes they even feared that her soul had been freed, like some caged bird, from the confounds of her body. They then brewed her a herbal potion to restore her health, and asked her what had happened. Ying’er told them about her strange and grotesque vision by the fireplace, how a corpse of what she had assumed was the late magistrate, Mr. Sun, with a noose around his neck, blood dripping from his eyes and hair covering his face, had appeared before her, whispered and frightened her from her wits. This fantasy about the dead magistrate infuriated the widow who immediately slapped her maid in the face and said: “You idiot! I told you to make soup, and you start rambling about my deceased husband. Stop this charade, put out the fire and go to your room!” Ying’er returned to her room and soon after fell asleep. Later that night, as the couple withdrew to their sleeping quarters, the widow whispered, “Husband, that girl is no longer useful. We should send her away.” “Yes, but where?” he replied.“I have a plan.” The next day, after they had breakfast, Little Sun went to handle official matters. The magistrate’s wife called Ying’er and said, “Ying’er, you’ve been with us for seven or eight years, and I’ve always treated you well. But now you bring back so many memories of my late husband. I know that you are dreamer. Have you never a dreamed of a husband yourself?” “I wouldn’t dare to expect such a thing. You should know that I am grateful for what you have done for me.” “I don’t want you to marry just anyone,” the magistrate’s wife continued, “we will consult the matchmakers, read sign and hexagrams, and set the same demands as we did for me. We will tell them you too should marry a man with the surname ‘Sun’. What do you say?” Ying’er hesitated, but realized that becoming the second wife of a magistrate like Little Sun was not only an honor, but a significant promotion. However, once the principle of a marriage had been settled and the matchmakers had consulted wise men, hexagrams and the stars, it was decided that she marry another, more suited man. That man’s name was not Sun, but Wang Xing, a notorious drunk and a gambler. It did not take long before Ying’er saw all their savings vanish. One day, when Wang was drunk, he came home and scolded Ying’er, saying, “You worthless woman! Can’t you see how I suffer for us both? Why didn’t you ask your father for some money to support us?” Unable to bear his insults, Ying’er tied up her skirt, left her home, and returned to the residence of Magistrate Sun. When the magistrate’s wife saw her, she said, “Ying’er, you’ve already married someone else. What brings you here?” Ying’er tearfully explained, “I don’t dare to hide anything. The man I married is a drunkard and a gambler. In just three months, we’ve spent all our money. I don’t know what to do, so I came to ask for a loan, we need three to five hundred coins to survive.” “Ying’er, your marriage is your own affair. I’ll give you some silver this time, but don’t come back again,” the magistrate’s wife replied.Ying’er accepted the silver and expressed her gratitude before returning home. However, a few days later the new money was gone as well. One evening Wang was short of cash, and had to return to his house sober. When he saw his wife, he shouted:“You useless woman! How can you do this to me? Why didn’t you ask the magistrate’s wife for another loan? I need three or maybe five hundred coins!” “I have been once”, Ying’er replied, “I used the necklace as collateral, and told her all sorts of lies to persuade her. How can I go to her another time?” She sensed the anger in Wang’s eyes as he turned to her.“Listen, you’ll better do as you’re told. If not, I’ll break your legs!” This was too much for Ying’er. As dusk descended, she walked the shameful path to the magistrate’s residence. When she arrived, she found the door bolted for the night. She could not wake the whole house by hammering at the entrance? So, she continued down the road passed the lighted windows of her old neighbors. As she stopped to rest, she suddenly heard a voice saying:“Ying’er, you must be ware! The path of any marriage is uncertain. Trust me, life must be lived on its own terms.”Ying’er immediately turned towards the source of the sound, and noticed movement under the eaves of a house. She made out the silhouette of a hat, and outstretched arms in the moonlight. “Ying’er”, was the sudden whisper: “I am the restless soul of the former magistrate. It is with great sadness that I approach you, please accept what I offer.” A lonely woman on a deserted road at night will do what she is told. Before she knew it the shadow had melted into dusk, and she was left holding a small silk purse – filled to the brim with shiny silver. Tucking her robe tightly around her slim waist, she then hurried through evening mist. At home, she found the front door locked, and began knocking. To no avail.Then she shouted, and eventually there was a reply:“Damn you wife, why haven’t you gone to ask for help from the Magistrate? It may be too late now!” “I have already been there, but they’ve already bolted their door. I couldn’t make a nuisance of myself. I was about to return when a man calling himself “the former magistrate” appeared out of nowhere and practically donated me some silver.” “What is this nonsense about ghosts! Bags of silver do not magically materialize. Show me this silver.” Ying’er handed him the silver. At first he was confused, but when he saw the amount, he exclaimed:“This is stolen property! We must report it, or face punishment!” He shook his head in despair. “Keep it safe, tomorrow we must bring it to the local courthouse”. Morning, however, brought second thoughts to Wang.“You know, when I think about this,” he said, “……I cannot accuse a magistrate of theft or dishonesty? And what evidence do I have? He makes good money, why would he do such a thing?” His forehead furled under strenuous thought. “I have an idea, let’s order some new clothes and have them sent to my friend Pei’s house. We then collect them there. They will think he paid for the order.” He smiled. A scheme was thus hatched, and the very next day Wang purchased fine silks and garments for himself and his wife, and had everything sent to his friend’s house. Arriving at the unwitting co-conspirator in the evening, they then cleaned themselves and changed into their new lavish costumes. However, the spectacle caught the eye of their friend’s curious mother.“Where did you get the money for all this?” she asked as she saw the colorful fabrics. “Yesterday I got two taels of silver from some work I had done, bought this and had it sent here,” Wang lied. “I have stopped gambling and drinking…” “Wang Xing”, the mother said thoughtfully, “can you spare your wife for a couple of days? I am old and I need her help, you see?” When the husband had left, her wrinkled face turned to Ying’er.“My dear,” she said, “tomorrow we will burn incense in the great temple.” They woke at dawn, did their chores and made their way to Dongyue Temple. They burned incense in the two long corridors of the lower hall, and were moving passed some offices, when Ying’er felt her skirt loosen. She stopped to fix it while the old mother continued towards the exit. She was tying it up in the back, when she noticed a judge in one of the offices. He wore a slender hat, and like her he was in the process of arranging his attire, the corner of his belt had loosened. Suddenly his face turned towards her, and he whispered:“Ying’er, I am your first magistrate. If you want a sentence, I will pass one. This official paper is yours.”Ying’er received the sealed scroll with shaking hands.“But this is very odd!” she exclaimed. “How can a stranger pass sentences on me? I have never heard of such a thing…” Ying’er hid the document in her clothing, hurried on her way and said nothing to the old woman waiting outside. However, when she entered her own familiar home, she did tell her husband. Wang examined the scroll. It turned out to be a riddle on a single sheet of paper, which read: Follow women who waive in an alley,both young and old have purposeon both sides of a tomb. Listen to the drum of the third watch,Men will plunge and arise from water. The text seemed incomprehensible, and a puzzled Wang ordered his wife to keep silent for many months. It was in February, a year later, that the great Judge Bao entered the story. He was born in Luzhou district in southern China. His full name was Bao Mingzheng. During the Song dynasty, China had system of pavilions, which were higher state institutions. Bao became a member of the Longtu Pavilion, and later he rose to the position of bachelor there. Hence his name became Bao Longtu. He was still a mere county magistrate when these events occurred. But he had been intelligent and upright since childhood, and in his official capacity he always cut straight to the bone, bringing clarity to many who struggled in confusion. Judge Bao had been in office a mere three days, when he one night had a dream that he was sitting in the hall, and there was a couplet posted on the wall: “To know the three changes, light your fires and plunge into water.” The next morning, Bao went to the hall and summoned local wise men to explain the two sentences to him. No one could make any sense of them. He then asked for a white card on which to write a riddle that had come to him in his dream. When he was done, Judge Bao said:“If anyone can make any sense of this conundrum, they will be rewarded with ten taels of silver.” He then hammered the card to the county gate causing much commotion. Even some officials and their servants, sensing an opportunity for profit, arrived to examine the mysterious text. It so happened that Wang- Ying’yer’s drunkard of a husband – was buying food from a stall nearby. He noticed the chatter and the murmur, and overheard puzzled remarks about the magistrate who had pinned an unsolvable riddle to the old oak door. Curiosity then got the better of him. He made his way through the throng, and approached the small white sign. He could not believe his own eyes, before him was the message that a ghost had presented to his own wife. Wang had the odd feeling of being watched, and turned. Suddenly he stared straight into the round face of his friend Pei. “There is no use in hanging around”, Wang said desperately trying to mask his surprise, “the new magistrate is an odd man with a ferocious temper. I can let you in on a little secret”, Wang whispered, “my wife is the only person on earth – except for myself- that has any inclination about what this riddle might mean.” Wang then bought his food, and returned home. The house was empty when he entered, and he began pacing back and forth across the squeaking wooden floor. It was by no means a large home, so he turned frequently, scratching his.arms as if bitten by a leech. At the sound of his wife outside, he rushed out. But then he stopped, afraid to appear unmanly, sucked it all up and followed her slowly inside. Finally, he could bear it no longer and unburdened his mind. “First, the ghost of the old magistrate appeared three times to teach me to avenge him,” Ying’er said, “and I got a bag of silver for nothing. Whatever you do, you must not lock yourself up here like a coward.” It was with a certain reluctance that Wang returned to the county gate. Again he navigated through the throng towards the sign, hoping that it had vanished. But it had not. When he again spotted his friend Pei, he felt slightly relieved and dragged him into a deserted street to ask his advice. There were rows of two storied houses. The sky was blue, but the sun had passed its zenith and long shadows stretched of from the buildings on the opposite side, almost to their feet. They stood under the a solitary tree, and Wang recounted his story under the shade of sighing branches. Then Pei looked at him and said: “What do you want me to do? Where is this piece of paper that the spirit-judge handed your wife?” “The last time I saw it, my wife had stuffed into a closet with her clothes.”“We must bring this before Judge Bao and collect your reward. I will go and tell him that you will present crucial evidence in the case. Go home, fetch the paper and bring it to the court office. When Judge Bao asks for it lay it before him.”At that moment, they heard someone coming up the alley and lowered their voices. “Go now!” Pei whispered as he turned to make out the shadow approaching from the shade at the other end. Wang did as he was told, and hurried off. Pei heard footsteps in the alley, but could not make out where they were coming from. This was not a common place for robbers? Suddenly a door in the side gallery creaked open, and the clear silhouette of Judge Bao appeared three paces from him. Pei immediately threw himself to the ground crying “My Lord, we were just coming to see you. Please do not harm me!”“My dear stranger, please get up!” Judge Bao exclaimed. “I am not here on your account”. Pei looked up with surprise, then he slowly rose to his feet, brushed dust from his clothes and glanced furtively at the Judge.“I am here to buy food from the stalls, just like everyone else,” he said and smiled. “But now that you have admitted that you have something I need to hear, you might as well tell me what that might be.” So it was that Pei recounted what he knew to Judge Bao. Ying’er was nowhere to be seen when Wang opened the door. He headed straight for her closet, throwing all her garments to the floor, even her fine red silk scarf. At last he found the wrinkled piece of paper, but when he unfolded it the calligrapher’s strokes had vanished , leaving only solitary ink stain in one corner. There was no more evidence and no case to be made, and Wang sank down in a chair. Daylight was fading outside, small gleaming stars penetrated the darkening blue above. Suddenly he heard the sound of a horse. It neighed, and out front and man’s voice shouted: “Wang Xing you are hereby summed by the Lord Bao to appear before his court. Bring your evidence and follow!” Wang grabbed the blank paper, and followed the trotting horse of the stern sword carrying official down the road, across the bridge, through the city streets- all the way to the court house. Before he knew it he had been lead down several corridors and a great metal door had closed behind him. He was in a darkened hall, only lit by flickering oil lamps along the walls. In the middle stood Judge Bao. “My envoy has informed me that you collected a piece of paper in the Yue Temple”, the judge said, “I wish to see it”. Wang bowed as respectfully as he could and said “My wife burned incense at the Yue Temple last year, my Lord. As she passed by an office, a spirit showed himself and delivered this written message. “I am sorry, My Lord, but the message seems to have vanished” Judge Bao carefully examined the paper and then directed his penetrating eyes at Wang.“Wang Xing, I’m asking you,” the Judge said, “did that spirit give any instructions to your wife along with this piece of paper?” “The Shinto only instructed her to seek justice,” Wang replied. Judge Bao became angry and said, “Nonsense! No Shinto priest would ask such a thing? Shouldn’t she be the one granting justice instead? This is an absurd story! Who do you think you can fool?” Wang quickly knelt down and said, “My lord, I will explain.” “Your story does not make sense,” Judge Bao said, “If your explanation is reasonable, you will be rewarded; otherwise, you’ll be in trouble.” “My wife used to serve under Magistrate Sun’s family,” Wang began, “and her name is Ying’er. She heard an astrologer predict that Magistrate Sun would die at the age of fifty-three during the third watch of a certain year and month. When it happened as predicted, the magistrate’s wife remarried to the current Magistrate Sun and married off Ying’er to me. When Ying’er was working in the magistrate’s house, she saw the former magistrate appear twice. The first time, he was hanging on a well fence, disheveled, with his tongue sticking out and blood in his eyes. He said, ‘Ying’er, help me decide.’ The second time, near Magistrate Sun’s house, she met the former magistrate again, who gave her a bag of silver. The third time, at the Yue Temple, a mysterious shinto priest appeared and gave her this paper, instructing her to seek justice. The appearance of the judge was exactly like that of Magistrate Sun, who was formerly her guardian.” “I see!“ Judge Bao said with a sardonic smile. “Bring me the second magistrate Sun and his wife. Now!” His subordinates lowered their gazes and did as instructed. “You two have done a fine job! Well executed,” Judge Bao said mockingly as they were brought before him.“We have done nothing wrong,” Magistrate Sun replied.Judge Bao then lifted his scroll, looked at them with doubt and pronounced the following solution to the unsolvable riddle: “‘This text speaks of two magistrates, you and your predecessor. It also hints at your marriage to his widow. And even specifies the time of your predecessor’s death, and the rewards lavished upon you by such good fortune. But more than this, the spirit claims that you keep him prisoner below boiling water. We all know what what your maid saw: the dangling corpse with bleeding eyes and protruding tongue ….and fluttering white locks. In my experience this is the face of a strangled man. Finally, the ghost mentions the time of my arrival and these very words now spoken to you.” The widow sighed. “Take Magistrate Sun and his wife to their house”, Judge Bao ordered. “Search that stove and kitchen from end to end. Every spirit must be free to join its ancestors!” The small crowd looked at each other with doubting eyes and muttered. However, they all obeyed without question, and wife and husband were brought to their own home. There they stood silent while men scoured the kitchen. Even the great stove was moved to one side. Immediately, a hidden stone slab appeared, and beneath it they found a well with cold and murky water. The well was then drained, and a bamboo basket was lowered. From that moist and dark cavity a rotting corpse was then retrieved. It was the old Magistrate, and there was evidence of strangulation. The widow and her new husband turned pale and mute. The onlookers were shocked. As it turned out, the younger Magistrate Sun had initially been a man who been saved from the cold during a heavy snowstorm. After restoring him to health, the elder magistrate had taken him in, educated him, and taught him to read and write. However, the young man later had an affair with Magistrate Sun’s wife. On the day a diviner predicted the death of the elder Magistrate Sun, the old man had discovered the truth. Fearing exposure, the younger magistrate got his rival drunk and strangled him to death, hiding the body in the well. The couple then staged a suicide using the maid as a witness. Thus the rumor of a personal tragedy was spread, an old magistrate had drowned himself. Later, his young rival returned and moved the stove to cover the well. A marriage was then arranged. No-one would have suspected, unless the elder Magistrate’s spirit, tormented by the lack of a proper burial, had made three visits to the maid, Ying’er. This case helped spread the reputation of Judge Bao far and wide. To this day, people speak of Bao Longtu, who solves riddles from this world and the other. As you can hear in the following poem: In a calligrapher’s elegant riddle we find,Judge Bao tracing your footsteps in his mind.If the deed is done, you must be ware,His scarred spirit will be arriving here.     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureA few years back Ify Iroakazi, a Nigerian drama student, sat down and wrote a fantasy novel, a dark 400-page epic about war between kings, magic and revenge. However, writing such a book is one thing, getting it out to the public is another. We asked him some questions about the difficulties he has faced as an African. There can’t be that many African fantasy epics? Why did you decide to write a fantasy novel? Ify Iroakazi: I chose fantasy because this literary genre affords me the opportunity to explore life and reality beyond this material world. I think that it is only in fantasy that writers stretch their imaginative string to its limit. Your imagination must be highly fertile before you will be able to write a great fantasy novel. Take Harry Potter and the Songs of Ice and Fire (Game of Throne) series, The Wheel of time, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and many more. The writers of these fantasy novels taught me that fantasy writers are not only writers, but also inventors and creators. We invent objects and create beings in fantasy books. And by reading these works, readers will enrich their lives. Which writers would you say inspired you the most? Ify Iroakazi: A lot of writers inspired me. I am simply a lover of words and beautiful sentences. I enjoy fiction and non-fiction – there are no limts – I am good as long as I have something new to learn or faint memories to rekindle. But I would say that Shakespeare’s The Tempest introduced me to fantasy. When you wrote the novel, did you have any idea about how you would go about getting it published? Ify Iroakazi: No. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing when I began writing this work, but I believed like every other writer that somehow it would be published. Even when I was done writing, I still was not sure of the direction. Tell us something about the difficulties you have faced? Ify Iroakazi: The first difficult was money. I was and still am very poor. There is no shame in telling the truth about yourself. Born and raised in an environment where I lack the basic necessities of life, I struggle to survive each day. I am very ambitious and I would dare even the devil (hahaha) to change my narrative. My worst ambition was trying to get a university education. This is truly the worst. I think poverty is the major challenge in this part of the world. People rarely afford what to eat, decent shelter and decent clothes. I could not afford the services of proofreaders/ editors when I was done writing the final manuscript. This is one of the reasons it took so long for the book to be published. Another difficulty is finding interested literary agents and traditional publishers to pitch my manuscript. I tried few online. Well, I don’t want to go into my experiences here. But just remember that I am a Nigerian. The first person (I think he is also the only person) who has ever trusted and believed in me outside the shores of Nigeria is a Norwegian guy I met on Facebook. He edited this work for me and helped with the publishing as well. You don’t even own a computer, do you? How did you manage to get the text into a digital format? Ify Iroakazi: No, I don’t own a computer. I wrote the greater part of the work on paper, a large exercise for a book, and then paid for it to be typed. The last part of it I typed with my phone using an app. What about the price of the book, can you afford to buy your own book? Ify Iroakazi: Hahahaha…This is a very funny question. But unfortunately the answer is that I cannot afford the paperback of my own book which is 14.99 USD. The one I think I would have been able to afford was the Kindle version which is 4.99 USD if Amazon had not restricted readers in Africa from accessing it. What about other Africans, can they buy it? Ify Iroakazi: I think not as many as those on the other side of the planet can afford the paperback. Like I said earlier, Amazon restricts readers in Africa from accessing the cheaper version, the eBook. What about payment. Not all payment options are available to Africans, are they? Ify Iroakazi: No. This was also the difficult I faced during the time I was trying to publish this work. Amazon KDP doesn’t do direct deposits into bank accounts in Nigeria. Writers and publishers here have to go through certain intermediaries to receive their royalty. Some of these intermediaries include PayPal and Payoneer, but unfortunately PayPal currently does not allow deposits into account holders receding in Nigeria. You could send out money but can’t receive. Payoneer is the payment option that is currently working for Nigerian KDP authors and publishers. We have heard that you have no birth certificate and no identity card, is this common in Africa? How did this affect your publishing efforts? Ify Iroakazi: Yes it is common in Nigeria, probably all over Africa, in that most people were not given birth to in an established hospital. In fact, most of us were born at home. In the farm, etc. So your birth certificate is always a court affidavit which you get later in life when official necessities call for it. Well, I didn’t care about an identity card, especially the National Identity card, because of the bottleneck involved in getting one until I was asked to fill information from such a card during publication. Now the book has been published, has there been a lot of attention? Ify Iroakazi: Well, NO is the answer for now. But it’s too early for that. The book is not a month old. However, I have been getting  a lot of of congratulations from many people. Many from my university chat and call to know how they can get my book. Do you have a marketing plan? Ify Iroakazi: For now I don’t have a very serious marketing plan other than a kind of book signing in December. I am hoping to make my book available to those those who have the resources to support me come December. I have plan of using that medium to get my books to local libraries and those who love reading, but cannot afford to buy a book. If you were to give any advice to other African who try to self-publish a book, what would that be? Ify Iroakazi: Be ready for the challenges would be my advice. What is next for you now that this book has been published? Ify Iroakazi: Next is to take my time and decide on my next move.   Ify’s novel is available from Amazon.  Click the link below to get it:   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history  Long before Bob Dylan, the 18’th century Scottish poet and song-writer Robert Burns published an anti-war anthem. Surprisingly modern sounding (video below), the song rejects contemporary war mongering and focuses on the human suffering caused by conflict. However, in order to understand the historical context of the song, we do need an expert. We asked George Mcclellan, a director of the Robert Burns Association of North America, to set the scene. Why was “Ye Jacobites by Name” written”? Originally to condemn the Jacobite cause. It’s necessary to understand the period following the Reformation when Great Britain became firmly anti-Catholic after years of conflict. There were two periods of Catholic rebellion, The Jacobite risings, or the Jacobite rebellions or the War of the British Succession, 1688 thru 1748, the intent of which was to return Catholic, James Stuart II and VII, to the British throne and, their last attempt with “Bonnie Prince Charlie’s (Charles Edward Stuart) ending with his loss at Culloden in 1746. Jacobite is Latin for “James.” Do we know who wrote it? I believe the original tune was written by Hector Macneill titled: My Love’s in Germany. He was probably referring to the German House of Hanover who became the sovereigns of Great Britain following the reign of William and Mary. Robert Burns re-wrote the song as an anti-war anthem? What sort of changes did he make? Actually, Burns borrowed extensively from other authors, as well as fill in fragments long lost of many old songs. He did not plagiarize but rewrote or reframed ideas expressed by others to fit tunes from traditional Scottish folk songs, before they became lost forever. Burns borrowed only the first verse from the original version of Ye Jacobites By Name that attacked Catholics from the political point of view of the conservative (and Protestant) British government, aka: the Whigs. Burns rewrote his version in 1791 with an anti-war outlook. His is the version that most people know today. The tune for the lyrics was from a song titled Captain Kid (one ‘d’) and may have been a version of Put in All in ‘Pills’ written after The Battle of Falkirk Garland in 1746. Before Burns was born. Many tunes were written and published comforting the failed Catholic efforts and most were published in Ewan MacColl’s collection titled Personal Choice. Burns wrote for two publishers, Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum and James Hogg. Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum, with Burn’s version was published in 1793. How was the song received when it was published by Burns, with the tune added? Little remark has been recorded as to the songs first appearance. Enough Catholics still existed as neighbors to have been offended when publicly sang. The pro-monarchy pub crowd probably liked it, as they did most things Burns did. The song has a pretty strong political message, at what sort of events would it be performed? Except it be in a pub or ale house, it would not be performed like we understand performers do today. In your face songs would have been punished not glorified. Politics of the time could be deadly if one stood against the Crown. So, public demonstrations of the tune, outside of pubs, etc. ,simply didn’t occur. Burns wrote it. It was published in Johnson’s Scots Museum and received little notoriety except to confirm Britain’s religious conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. In Scotland in Burns time, it was the Calvinism of the people vs. Anglicanism (Church of Scotland) of the Govt. Would you say the song has had any influence on Scottish history? The song, No! Culloden (Protestant government forces vs Catholic pretender) had the greater influence on Scottish History by killing all pretense that a Catholic Stuart would return to the throne of Great Britain. It also killed the Highland Clan system, mostly Catholic, forever. Clarifying why such a song should be important is to understand the Jacobite cause. Charles Stuart’s Jacobite army, largely composed of Catholics and Episcopalians, but mostly Highland Clans, with a small detachment of Catholic Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment, plus some Irish, represented a return to old feudalism. Charlie’s effort was supported by France, with some Irish and Catholic Scots military units in French service, to support the Stuart claim. The British Governments Hanoverian forces were Protestants, English with a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and some non-Catholic Highlanders. The results of that complete and disastrous rout are well known, but it ended the Clan system and took Scotland out of the past and pointed it into the future. But deeper economic motives however, lie hidden as causal effects. England and the Scottish Lowlanders were moving into an industrial age of unprecedented prosperity and growth. A return of the Stuarts would mean a return to feudalism and they weren’t having any of that. Advances in agricultural production and world trade was enriching even the crofters in the Lowlands and the Industrial Revolution was just around the corner. No, a return to feudalism would have ended all that. Culloden’s aftermath did arouse strong feelings for a long time and the original song contributed to that so Burns rewrote the lyrics to temper down ill feelings because he recognized all Scots as kinsmen, “Brothers be for a’ that,” not enemies because of religion. Remember too, Burns had his own private religious war (with words) against the Scottish Kirk too. Too, Burns was more than emphatic to the lost Jacobite cause as revealed in several pieces he wrote on his first tour to the Highlands. Burns understood his own family’s history in the religious conflicts that preceded him, and was proud that his ancestors sided with the persecuted rebels of the Covenanters on his mum’s side and the Jacobites on his fathers side. Burns was particularly aware that the final results of the Scottish religious wars, and the collapse of Catholicism, rendered his fathers family near the poverty level. Burns referred to it as Jacobite “Ruin”and, it did adversely affect his fathers course through life. Burns was also proud that his father recovered, gained an occupation (Gardner) and survived. It was an awful period of time for the people of Scotland. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn the 1930, when the United States was in the grip of the Great Depression, pulp magazines became immensely popular. The country had just been through the age of prohibition, and these were the days of Capone and Dillinger. In the 1910s, magazines had started to publish stories like Boston Blackie, an early gangster favorite. Later, pulp magazines that focused specifically on criminals emerged. One of these was Gangster Stories, Mobs was another. Among the most prominent pulp authors at the time was an individual writing under the name «Margie Harris». Little is known about her life, so we contacted the editor of a collection of her stories, John Locke, to find out more. What do we know about the life of Margie Harris? John Locke: Most of what we know about her came from a letter published in the June 1931 Gangster Stories. Readers had been speculating that the stories with her byline were so tough they had to have been written by a man. She put that rumor to rest, explaining how her career as a newspaper reporter introduced her to many criminals and underworld figures. She cited a number of notorious names which allows us to establish her career in two locales: the San Francisco Bay Area from about the turn of the century to the early 1910s, and Chicago in the early 1920s. Dovetailing with her reportorial background, in the mid-1930s, she wrote articles for a true-crime magazine. All were set within either Houston or a 250-mile radius. If she had been born circa 1880, then she would have been about fifty in 1930 when she started her fiction-writing career, an opportunity afforded by the sudden emergence of the gang pulps, magazines which presented a gangster-centric view of society. Beyond that, her identity couldn’t be independently identified. “Margie Harris” may have been a pseudonym. None of her newspaper reportage has thus far been found, which is not terribly unusual. Many reporters never see their bylines in print. Was she a prolific writer, how many stories did she write? John Locke: She published almost ninety stories in her ten-year fiction career from 1930-39. In the beginning, all were gangster tales. As that genre quickly faded from popularity, she turned to action-detective stories. Most of her stories ranged from 10-25 pages in the magazines. About ten were in the 40-50-page range. Her first published story was 39 pages, so she didn’t exactly ease into the pulp scene. Her only novel-length story was “Little Big Shot,” published in full in the May 1932 Gangster Stories. In the 1930s, pulp fiction was a penny-a-word business for most freelance writers. A 20-page story would run about 10,000 words, for which the author received $100. Margie’s best year may have been 1932, during which she published 14 stories, or about 500 pages of fiction, for which she would have received $2,500. That was at the very depths of the Depression. In 1932, the average hourly wage dropped from 50 to 40 cents an hour, or from $1,000 to $800 a year. How does she compare with Hammett, Chandler and the hard-boiled school of noir fiction? John Locke: She’s definitely hardboiled. Her stories are plenty violent, generally centering around gangland wars, police brutality, etc. She’s not shy about describing society’s soiled undersides. I wouldn’t label her noir since all of her fiction was published in the 1930s, and I associate noir with a post-WWII sense of traditional morality in decay. Gang-pulp stories didn’t show good people falling from grace. They immersed the reader in that depraved world from the outset. Hammett and Chandler are more polished, which is a function of time—and talent. Margie probably wrote her fiction like a reporter writes news stories, i.e. meet the editor’s expectations and move on to the next thing. That was the general approach for a pulp writer. The editors wanted genre thrills, not literature. They weren’t interested in detailed descriptions of settings, complex characters, or intricate plots. They wanted rapidly paced stories of action. Some writers discovered, to their chagrin, that the editors would strip the artful descriptions out of the text; the average reader didn’t want it so the editor wasn’t going to pay a penny a word for it. The seasoned pulp-writer learned the lesson. Hammett and Chandler were pulp writers, too, before they were considered better than that. But they had the advantage of writing for Black Mask which, unlike the majority of pulp magazines, encouraged a higher level of style. The editor of Black Mask, Joseph Shaw, flattered his contributors’ ambitions. Margie may simply have been writing for a living, the way she had in the newspaper business. How would you characterize her prose. It is quite good, isn’t it? John Locke: Yes, she’s a clever wordsmith. She’s writes in a near-steady stream of gangland lingo, most of which is very colorful, but some of which can be challenging to interpret today. She drops artful innuendo into her prose on occasion, as in one of my favorite gags from “Cougar Kitty.” Kitty is the hostess of a speakeasy who greets two mobsters with: “Come on in, both of you. The water’s wet—and we haven’t any.” That one stopped me short. She’s also frequently betrays her insider newspaper knowledge with details like this: “The afternoon papers had extras on the street when Gimpy went underground at a nearby subway station. The Journal’s headlines shrieked: ‘Vice King Sought for Death of Slum Worker.’ Monk Diller was named in the secondary headline. A two-column cut of his features centered the first page. The caption read: ‘$5000 Reward,’ while below it was an accurate police description.” Indeed, her working writer sensibilities seep into her prose in interesting ways: “Tac-tac-tac-tac-tac-tac-tac!” The “typewriter” in the street outside wrote its lethal message in seven stuttering blasts—with dead silence for the final period. She’s referring, of course, to the weapon of choice: a machine-gun. She is entertaining, why do think she has fallen into obscurity the way she did? John Locke: The gang pulps weren’t mainstream when she wrote for them, so the problem starts there. And they only had a few years of success, from 1930 through the end of Prohibition, about 1933. Virtually no authors used their success in the gang pulps as a springboard to something greater. It was a specialized field and, when the gang pulps faded, the careers of most of the authors withered with them. Margie fared better than most through the rest of the decade, but was only one author among many hundreds supplying short stories and novelettes to the detective and crime pulps. Additionally, popular culture is bolstered by a huge industry that constantly churns out new product. Most of the past gets buried in the avalanche. Only a small handful of things remain popular or get rediscovered. There seem to have been a huge number of very substantial writers who have emerged from these pulp magazines. Do you know of other writers whom you feel have been neglected? John Locke: In the gangster field, Anatole Feldman stands out. Like Margie, he had a knack for the underworld lingo, some of which was probably authentic, and some of which he probably invented, but you can’t tell the difference. What sort of circulation did Gangster Stories and Mobs have? John Locke: Most publishers held these numbers close and precise circulation figures for the pulps are hard to obtain. Most pulps were sold on newsstands and very few through mail subscriptions, so the national magazine distributors set the terms. There were about 100,000 newsstands in the country, in railway stations, on busy street corners, in drugstores, etc. Publisher Harold Hersey, who was most responsible the gang-pulp boom, probably had as many copies of an issue printed, hoping to sell at least half the run, which he probably did when the magazines were at their peak of popularity. The minimum circulation to be viable was probably about 30,000. I read once that the lone gunman of the old west was the literary precursor to the noir detective. Why do you think people are so fascinated by the lives of gangsters? John Locke: I think that gang life is a perversion of self-government. We all chafe to one degree or another at being directed, boxed in, or otherwise told what to do, and the man with the gun or, better still, the gang armed like an army, represents a twisted form of freedom. In the old west, we can imagine that protecting one’s prerogatives with a well-oiled six-shooter was actually virtuous, a necessary survival skill in a somewhat lawless frontier. Prohibition (1920-33) violated the social contract of the Constitution by trespassing into what most people considered a valid use of freedom: drinking. Instead of eliminating booze, what the law actually did was to create a set of shadow governments—the mob—organizations who, on one level of interpretation, defended freedom against its oppressors, law enforcement. It was as if the old west view of virtuous self-defense had been appropriated by vast criminal enterprises. For the reader, it’s wish-fulfillment to experience characters controlling their individual destinies through force of arms. The gang pulps emerged in the final years of Prohibition, after the unintended and shocking consequences of the law had become apparent. Many of the fans of gangland fiction, I believe, read the stories as a parody of American society. Reading them was an act of rebellion—they were undoubtedly popular with teenagers and other cynics—a way to say: Our wise elders have been exposed as fools. In that respect, Prohibition parallels the experience of World War I, another noble cause that quickly turned into human disaster on an epic scale. Indeed, the imagery of the gangland story draws upon that conflict, still fresh in the mind in the early ’30s: batteries of soldiers armed with machine-guns facing off in a ruthless fight to the death. It’s probably no coincidence that the gang pulps immediately followed a wave of popularity for pulps featuring WWI fiction, a trend that started in 1926. While the United States in the 20s and 30s turned to the noir and hard-boiled school of mystery, the UK produced writers like Agatha Christie who favored plot over style. Why do you think the two traditions became so different? John Locke: It might be as simple as manners, that is, the British have better manners and thus their crime fiction reflects that. It might be the long shadow of the frontier, as we explored above. Or perhaps it’s the influence of Hollywood on the broader American culture. The movies—especially the silents—favored action over the subtleties of human behavior, things in physical motion over things in thought. In a silent movie, it’s easier to show a conflict resolved by violence than one solved by deduction. Indeed, the gang pulps were clearly influenced by Hollywood. Films like Underworld (1927) and The Dragnet (1928) heightened interest in gangland, which the pulps were all too happy to capitalize on. The introduction of sound into film significantly altered the equation, but the idea of action remains at the core of cinema. What do you think has been the legacy of the gangster stories? John Locke: I think that they helped solidify the mythology of Prohibition: racketeers and gangsters, speakeasies, Tommy-guns, hoodlums shooting out of the windows of their speeding Packards, and so forth. I’m not sure the gang pulps had much of a literary legacy; their flavor is very much wedded to their brief window of time. The pulps returned to gang-fiction magazines at various times, but never with the same vigor. Later, interest in organized crime moved more into the nonfiction domain as awareness of the Mafia grew. In film and television, though, organized crime has remained a popular theme. For my tastes, the closest production to capture the spirit of the gang pulps was the great TV series The Untouchables (1959-63). If you were to recommend a Margie Harris story from your collection, which one would it be, and why?  John Locke: She was remarkably consistent in quality, so you can pick up any of her stories for a good read. I’m partial to the ones with female protagonists, as they break the mold. Most gang-pulp stories—and most of Margie’s—feature male protagonists, as we would expect. But occasionally, like in “Cougar Kitty,” it’s time for a woman to take the ultimate revenge on the men who have wronged her. Another heroine featured in our collection was Lota Remsden, the so-called Black Moll (she’s white), in “Understudy From Hell.” She gets ahead by being smarter than the dumb hoods who populate her mob. There actually was a pulp featuring gang-fiction with female leads, called Gun Molls Magazine. It lasted for nineteen issues from 1930-32 and is quite a scarce collectible today. Queen of the Gangsters: Stories by by Margie Harris is available from Amazon Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / travelWhen Somalis appear in western media it is often as victims or perpetrators. “It is to be expected. They come from a country in anarchy”, we’re told. Yet, even among the ruins of Somalia, books are being read and written, and problems are being discussed in fictional form.  Ali Jimale Ahmed is a professor of comparative African literature, and he draws a nuanced picture of the cultural life of his native country. Somalia has long been considered a failed state, but are there still significant authors who write about daily life in the country? Professor Ahmed: By all accounts Somalia is a failed state–governmental structures and the ideologies that sustained them have collapsed. But that does not mean that a semblance of pseudo-state organizations are absent. The international community–the U.N., the EU, the AU, and a host of other organizations are in the country to shore up the internationally recognized government. That said, when we speak about Somali writing and writers, it is much better to differentiate between two forms of discourses, namely, discourses of the state and discourses of the nation. Seen from that perspective, there are significant authors who write about daily life–the trials and tribulations, as well as the accomplishments of people trying to eke out a living under difficult circumstances–in all parts of Somalia. These writers publish articles and books inside the country. One need only read the many books published in the “country.” What sort of education do the normal citizen of Somalia get these days? Professor Ahmed: Education is one of the sectors severally impacted by the collapse of the state. There is no uniform or harmonized curriculum. The various state entities do not have a coherent educational policy in place. Private institutions and civil society groups run the educational sector. Depending on their affiliation or from where they get their financial or moral/intellectual support from these institutions replicate the kind of curriculum found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, and the UK, and so on. That said, graduates from those schools and universities are found to be well prepared to undertake undergraduate and graduate studies in European and North American universities.  Some such students are now studying at Princeton, for example. Like many African countries Somalia has a proud and ancient history, to what extent do Somali today writers revive this tradition of stories in their work? Professor Ahmed: This is one of the reasons that Somali society has still a viable and resilient culture. Since the collapse of the state, there has been a concerted effort on the part of intellectuals to publish on Somali history and literature. There are Somali websites like Hoyga Suugaanta and Laashin that specialize in literature, and Somali presses, such as Scansom, Laashin and Iftiinka Aqoonta in Sweden, Looh press in England, Redsea-online publishing Group in Italy/UK/Somaliland, that publish the findings and collections of both aspiring and established authors. Literature, in all its forms, is held in high esteem. Indeed, the etymology of suugaan, Somali word for literature, means the sap or fluid of certain plants like the geesariyood. These plants are evergreen, and are associated with life and the sustaining of life under precarious situations or conditions. When all else is gone as a result of a drought, for example, the sap from this plant will sustain a modicum of existence, of life. Thus for the Somali, literature is sustenance that nourishes both the body and mind. When we hear news from Somalia, they often involve Al Shabab and Islamic extremism. What sort of attitude do the major Somali writers take to religion? Professor Ahmed: With the exception of Nuruddin Farah, whose novels have internationalized the Somali case, other major writers rarely discuss religious issues in their fiction. In Maps and Secrets, for example, Farah is at times critical of what he perceives to be excesses and transgressions by those who claim to be religious. In his Past Imperfect Trilogy (2004-2011), In Links, the narrative limns the contours of the post-Siad Barre Somalia–warlords, U.s. intervention, the successes of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), and the eventual arrival on the scene by the better equipped Ethiopian soldiers that denied the ICU what seemed to be a total victory against the warlords. In Crossbones, farah’s narrative reveals a misreading of Somali pirates who were perceived to be Al Shabab members or surrogates. The diaspora is central to the Somali experience, and thus also the racism and prejudices that its citizens face abroad. Are there novels in the Somali language which tell the story of refugees? A recent novel that touches on this topic is Ismaaciil C. Ubax’s Gaax (“Deferment or Postponement”), . It is a novel that describes or trails the lives of three main characters who, even though they live in different climes and times, share certain uncanny characteristics. Equally important are books written for Somali children who are born in the Diaspora. Musa M. Isse’s bilingual tales written in Somali and Swedish help kids born in the Diaspora to develop strong identities. Isse is also the Editor-in-Chief of the first Somali Children’s Magazine in the Europe. The subject of racism is discussed in Igiaba Scego’s Italian-language short stories, and Yasmeen Mohamed’s novel Nomad Diaries, written in English. The topic is also taken up in the novels of two seasoned and award-winning novelists in the Diaspora: Nadifa Mohamed who writes in English and Abdourahman Waberi who writes in French. Somali is a non-european language. Do writers leave their native tongue in favor of English, French or some other European language? To what extent is the Somali language under threat? Professor Ahmed: Somali writers who write in European languages are small compared to those who write in Somali. I do not perceive any threat per se. Rather, the absence of a strong state to nurture and promote the language is perhaps more of a threat to the flourishing of Somali language. Are there big differences between the literary schools of Europe and Somali literature? Is there a Somali modernist school, for instance? Will the intellectual thoughts of urban Europe even make sense in a Somali context? Professor Ahmed: We live in a globalizing/globalized world. The kind of Somalis who could read novels in Somali are, more often than not, the ones who are able to traverse borders. The hundreds of thousands of Somalis who live in Europe travel constantly between Somalia and Europe. That said, we must distinguish between modernization (the process) and modernity (the consciousness). Some parts of Somalia have experienced peace for some time. What sort of literature have been produced in these areas? Professor Ahmed: There are several writers who have written books on their experiences (or those of others) as refugees. But a great deal of literature is coming out of the parts of Somalia that have experienced peace. One need only catalog the plethora of novels published in the country and exhibited at the Hargeysa International Book Fair in Somaliland. The last few years have witnessed the growth of Book Fairs in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and Garoowe in Puntland. We hear a lot about “the great American novel”. Is there such a thing as “the great Somali novel”? Is there a book or a novel that all Somalis love? Professor Ahmed: The novel has not been fully domesticated in Somalia. Of course, the novel genre is such that it is in its protean form; it has yet to crystallize and assume a definite form. That said, two novels would contend or vie for the distinction. Maxamed Daahir Afrax’s (Mohamed Dahir Afrah) Maana Faay (1981;1993) ushers in a new form of storytelling, as it exhibits ingenious and conscious ways of using language to reflect the quotidian life of its characters. With Maana Faay the novel genre in the Somali language comes of age, both in terms of content and structure. The other novel is Yuusuf Axmed Ibraahin-Hawd’s Aanadii Negeeye, a riveting story that recounts the gory details of murder and revenge. The narrative unfolds as the eponymous protagonist, Negeeye, whose father was murdered shortly after Negeeye’s birth, remembers his mother’s account of the brutal killing of his father. Negeeye, then, plots to avenge his father’s death. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureFreedom means freedom of choice. A man exercises his freedom when, confronted by two or more possible alternatives, he realizes one and excludes the rest. Free choices are definite choices. Liberal theologians were foolish to get excited over Heisenberg’s Principle. Vagueness of behaviour may be good enough for electrons, it is not good enough for free men. Choices are of three kinds: • choices of action. A thirsty man in a desert is unfree, not because he cannot satisfy his craving for water, but because he cannot choose between drinking and not drinking. • choices of value judgement; good or evil, true or false, beautiful or ugly, absolute or relative, required or forbidden. A man who has seen only one picture is unfree to decide whether it is beautiful or ugly. A man in a passion of anger or fear is unfree because he is no longer conscious of any alternative state and so cannot judge his anger or his fear. • choices of authority: this God or man or organization is to be believed or obeyed, that is not. Here again, if there is no consciousness or possible alternatives, there is no freedom. The cravings of man’s spirit are totally unlike the appetites of his nature, such as hunger and sex. There are two of them: to be free from conditions and to be important. These can and often do conflict, for the former senses anything that is “given” whether by his own nature or by the world about him as a limitation on his freedom and longs to act gratuitously, yet it is precisely and only from the “given” that he can derive a sense of importance. Absolute arbitrariness would at the same time be absolute triviality Art as playOne of man’s attempts to satisfy both is the criminal acte gratuit, the breaking of a given law for the sake of breaking it, where the law supplies the importance, and the act of breaking it asserts the freedom. Another is play where the laws governing the game are kept by the player because they are chosen by him. At bottom, all art, all pure science, all creativity is play in this sense. The question What is Art? and the question Why does the artist create? are different questions. It seems to me that the basic impulse behind creativity of any kind is the desire to do something that is quite necessary: the desire that the result should turn out to be important comes second. The rules of a game give it importance to the player by making it difficult to play, a test and proof of an inborn gift or an acquired skill. Given that a game is morally permissible, then whether or not one should play it depends simply on whether or not it gives one pleasure, i.e., whether or not one is good at playing it. If one asks a great surgeon why he operates, if he is honest, he will not answer: “Because it is my duty to save lives” but “Because I love operating”. He may perfectly well hate his neighbour and nevertheless save his life because of the pleasure it gives him to exercise his skill. One must say therefore that, in the profoundest sense, art and science are frivolous activities for they depend on the chance possession of special talents. The only serious matter is concerned with what every human being has alike, a will, namely that one shall love one’s neighbour as oneself. Here one cannot speak of a talent for love, nor in terms of pleasure and pain. If one asks the good Samaritan why he rescues the man fallen among thieves, he cannot answer, except as an ironical joke, “Because I like doing good” since pleasure or pain are irrelevant and the point is obeying the command: “Thou shalt love”. A common loveThere are three kinds of human groups. • Crowds, i.e., two or more individuals whose sole common characteristic is togetherness, e.g., four strangers in a railway carriage. • Societies, i.e., two or more individuals united for the purpose of carrying out an action which requires them all, e.g., a string quartet. • Communities, i.e., two or more individuals united by a common love for something other than themselves, e.g., a room full of music lovers. Societies have a definite size and a definite structure and the character of the whole is different from the simple sum of the characters of the parts. Consequently the will of the individual member is subordinate to the general will of the society, however that is established. Someone in the string quartet must have the authority to decide whether it is to play Mozart or Beethoven and the rest must obey whether they agree with the choice or not. A society may at the same time be a community but not necessarily. It is quite possible that the cellist of our quartet hates music and only plays to earn his living. A society is a free society as long as the member who exercises authority does so with the free consent of the other members. Societies function best when they are free, but in certain cases coercion can, and indeed must, be applied to compel a recalcitrant member to contribute his partial function, the moral justification depending on two factors: • the importance of the function the society discharges • the degree to which the recalcitrant member can or cannot be replaced by another more willing individual. Communities, like crowds, have no definite size. It is impossible therefore to speak of the “general will” of a community since the individuals who belong to it cannot disagree; they are a community precisely because as individuals they all love the same thing (unlike members of crowds who have no love in common). In Time Magazine, of June 23, Mr Vladimir Koretsky was reported as having said at the United Nations Conference on Human Rights: “Man should have no rights that place him in opposition to the community. Man opposed to the community is nothing”. If the translation is correct, Mr Koretsky was talking nonsense. An individual can be in opposition to a society, e.g., if the cellist plays out of tune, but if the rest of the quartet love the music of Mozart and he detests it, this simply means that there are two communities, a community of Mozart lovers and a potential community of Mozart haters, for a community can begin with a single individual, while a society cannot exist until all its members are present and correctly related. There are two kinds of communities: closed or unfree, and open or free. The members of a closed community have a common love but they have not chosen it for they are unaware of any other love which they could prefer to, or reject for, the love they have. The members of an open community have consciously chosen their love out of two or more possible loves. Art as looking glassIf I understand either the myth of Orpheus or Aristotle’s doctrine of catharsis correctly, the Greeks held what is, to me, a false theory of art which has plagued the world ever since, namely, that art is a magic device for arousing desirable emotions and expelling undesirable emotions, and so leading to right action. If this were so, then I think Plato’s censures of art in The Republic and Tolstoy’s in What is Art? are unanswerable. For me the correct definition is Shakespeare’s holding the mirror up to nature, i.e., art does not change my feelings but makes me conscious of what I have in fact felt or what I might feel, and of actual or possible relations between my feelings. The world of art is a looking-glass world, i.e., a possible image of the actual world where emotions are observed, divorced from their origin in immediate passion. It is the business of the artist to make a mirror which distorts the world as little as possible and reflects as much of the world as possible. Bad art distorts; minor art reflects only a small or trivial corner of the world. Art does not judgeArt has two values: firstly it gives pleasure, the pleasure of idle curiosity; secondly, it enlarges the field of freedom. If man had no imagination, he could not make a choice between two possible courses of action without taking both, or make a value judgement about a feeling of his until he had felt the opposite. Art does not and cannot influence the choice or judgement man actually makes, it only makes it more of a conscious choice. Reading Macbeth, for instance, cannot prevent a man from becoming a murderer, but the man who has read Macbeth knows more about what becoming a murderer would be like than the man who hasn’t, so that, if he chooses to become one, he is more responsible. Art, in other words, is never a means for converting a bad community into a good one, it is one of the great means by which closed communities are turned into open communities. Art can do harm in two ways. Firstly by failing to be good art and giving the wrong kind of pleasure thereby. If the reflection of the world which it offers is distorted, if it flatters the spectator by omitting the possibilities of evil or draws him to despair by denying the possibilities of good (which, surprisingly enough, can also give pleasure), then it injures him. Secondly and more seriously, because the better the art the greater the danger, it may ensnare the spectator in the luxurious paralysis of self-contemplation so that, like Hamlet, he fails to choose at all. The danger of great art is narcissism. Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it was beautiful but because it is his own in all its endless possibilities. One can tell the myth in another way: Narcissus was a hydrocephalous idiot; catching sight of himself in the pool, he cried: “On me it looks good”. Or again: Narcissus was neither beautiful nor ugly but as commonplace as a Thurber husband*; catching sight of himself in the pool, he said: “Excuse me, but haven’t we met before some place?” Art can encourage the formation of two kinds of bad communities, the community of those with false pictures of themselves, and the parody of a free community in which the knowledge of good and evil is turned against the will, till it becomes too weak to choose either. Every work of art is the focus of the potential community of those individuals who love it or could love it. Such a community is free if the artist could have created something else but chose to create this work, and vice versa, the spectators or readers could have chosen to look at or read another work but chose to look at or read this. If the artist creates a work which no one but he appreciates or a spectator cannot find any work which he likes, there is no lack of freedom, but simply no community. Freedom can be curtailed in two ways; the artist may be forced to alter his work so that the character of the community is other than it would have been if he were left alone; or people may be prevented from becoming acquainted with his work so that the community is smaller than it might have been. CensorshipCensorship can be of two kinds, an unplanned economic censorship where the artist cannot afford to create as he wishes or the public cannot afford to become acquainted with his work, and the planned censorship of authority. Economically the freedom of art is best attained if there is as great a variety of publishers, booksellers, libraries, galleries, etc. as possible and if some, but not all, of these are large-scale organizations. If there are too new agencies, above all, if there is a state monopoly, the variety of works distributed invariably declines even if there is no deliberate censorship. If all are on a small scale, costs are too high for some of the potential public. The obstacle on which liberalism has so often come to grief is the fact that we find it easier to respect the freedom of those to whom we are indifferent than the freedom of those we love. A parent or a government who believes something to be good or true knows well enough that it is possible for their children or their people to choose what, to them, is evil or false, and that, if the wrong choice is made, those they love will suffer and they themselves will suffer with them; further, they and those they love will no longer belong to the same community. However, to love one’s neighbour as oneself means precisely to be willing to let him make his own mistakes and suffer with him when he suffers for them, for no man can himself consciously wish not to be responsible for his thoughts and actions, at whatever cost. Every man knows for himself that right and duty are not identical, that he has a duty to choose the good, but a right to choose the evil, that, as Kafka says: “A man lies as little as he can when he lies as little as he can, not when he is given the smallest possible opportunity to lie”. Authorities who are more concerned that their charges should do the right thing than that they should choose it are always tempted to look for a short cut. In the short run, a man in a passion acts quicker and more effectively than a man who has reached the reflective stage of desire. Usually therefore, authorities would like the artist to arouse in others a passion for the good instead of making them conscious of good and evil; they would turn him, if they could, into Plato’s Noble Liar. Art has hardly ever been censored for aesthetic reasons because artists have rarely been in authority, which is perhaps just as well. In my own daydream state, for example, people caught reading Shelley or listening to Brahms are sentenced to the salt mines, and the possession of a juke-box is a capital offence. The usual reasons for censorship are two: either that the work is immoral, i.e., will incite the public to act immorally or illegally so that society ceases to function properly; or that it is heretical, i.e., will induce the public to adopt other values than those held by the authorities, causing them to desert the latter’s community for a new one. Censorship always implies two things: that there is a potential public for the work and that its members are incapable of making a responsible choice. It is therefore only permissible under two conditions: for minors who are legally presumed to be as yet incapable of responsible choice; and for adults who have chosen their censor and are free to disregard him if they cease to believe in his authority. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, does not violate the freedom of its members by putting books on the index, because no one is obliged to be a Roman Catholic and to choose to be one necessarily implies believing in the authority of the Church to decide what the faithful may read. No State has such a right because one becomes a member of a political society by being born, an act of chance, not a choice. Revolutions and human freedomEach major revolution in history is concerned with some particular aspect of human freedom, and has its representative human type. Each establishes its kind of freedom once and for all. The success of each is threatened by its own false claim to be the revolution, i.e., that the aspect of freedom with which it is concerned is the only freedom that matters. Since the particular aspect with which any revolution is concerned is one conspicuously ignored by the revolution before it, it is apt in its just criticism of the latter’s failing to be hostile to the freedom for which it fought. Nevertheless the fates of all revolutions are bound up with each other; they stand or fall together: if the preceding revolution had not won its battle, its successor could not be fighting its own. In any revolution, therefore, the gains of the revolutions before it have to be defended if the present revolution is to succeed. The Papal Revolution of the eleventh and the twelfth centuries established the freedom of an individual to choose between loyalties, his right to leave one community and join another, his right to belong to two communities at the same time. Its typical figures are the contemplative international priest and the activist local soldier. The revolution of the Reformation in the sixteenth century established the freedom of the individual to choose his career, his right to leave the society to which his father belonged and join another. Its typical figure is the professional man. The French and Industrial Revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries established the freedom of the individual man of talent to develop himself freely and compete for public attention, the right of the individual mind to change the community or lead a society if he can. The typical figure is Figaro. L’esprit seul peut tout changer.  De vingt rois que l’on encense  Le trépas brise l’autel  Et Voltaire est immortel.   (Only wit can make a difference.  Out of twenty kings who wear a crown  Death breaks the altar,  But Voltaire is immortal.)   One of the world crowdOur revolution of the twentieth century is trying to establish the freedom of the individual body to determine its satisfactions, to grow and be healthy. Its typical figure is the anonymous naked man with a dog-tag number, not yet a member of any society or any community, but simply one of the world crowd. Hence the preoccupation of our time with medicine and economics, its activism, its hostility to the achievement of the French Revolution, freedom of speech and thought, which it sees as a threat to unanimous action. At the physical level all are really equal in their needs and individual differences of temperament or talent are irrelevant. In our revolution, therefore, focused on winning freedom from physical want**, all the freedoms gained by preceding revolutions are threatened as never before. The French Revolution is denied wherever there is a controlled press and a censorship of art and science; the Reformation is denied wherever a state dictates what career an individual citizen shall follow; the Papal Revolution is denied wherever a monolithic state claims unconditional authority. The talented individual today is being punished for the airs he gave himself in the past two centuries. Poets are not the unacknowledged legislators of the world and never were and it is a good thing that they should be made to realize this. Those who preached a doctrine of Art for Art’s sake or Art as a luxury were much nearer the truth, but they should not then have regarded the comparative frivolity of their vocation as a proof of their spiritual superiority to the useful untalented worker. In actual fact, the modern censor and the romantic artist are alike in thinking art more important than it is. What role for the poet?“Once he looked rosy, now he looks blue. / Nurse is wondering What shall I do?” sings the poet in the sick room. If patient or nurse were to say to him “For God’s sake, stop humming and fetch some hot water and bandages” it would be one thing. But neither says this. The nurse says: “Tell the patient I am the only one who can cure him and I will give you a passport, extra ration cards, and free tickets to the opera. If you tell him anything else, I shall call the police”. And the poor delirious patient cries: “Persuade me that I am looking and feeling fine and I will give you a duplex apartment and a beautiful mistress. If you can’t do that, I shan’t listen to you”. Perhaps the poet, if he really loved the patient and the nurse as himself, would be silent and fetch the hot water, but as long as he continues singing, there is one commandment which his song must obey, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”.   Published in The Unesco Courier under a Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (CC-BY-SA 3.0 IGO licence. This text was Auden’s response to UNESCO’s 1947 survey on the philosophical foundations of human rights. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureWhy did president Bush quote Graham Greene, an author who was labelled a “communist sympathizer” by the US government and kept under surveillance for decades? The 22 of August 2007, president George W. Bush enters the podium in a convention center in Kansas City. He faced the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a weathered crowd of old soldiers. «I stand before you as a wartime President» he declares before he begins talking about the Vietnam War. «In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called The Quiet American. It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. Another character describes Alden this way: ‘I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.’» Bush’s reference caused much confusion around the United States because the author, Graham Greene, had been kept under surveillance by the CIA because of the publication of the novel. Conservatives in the 1950s disapproved of his analysis of the situation in Vietnam. The protagonist is the British journalist Thomas Fowler who is drawn into a triangular love story battling for the favors of a young Vietnamese girl. His competition is Alden Pyle, a young man with visions for the future of Vietnam, who later turns out to be an intelligence agent directly implicated in a horrible bombing massacre. According to The New York Times, The Quiet American became a bible for journalists covering the Vietnam war because it predicted and exposed American policies in the country several years before they became generally known. But the Republican right loathed the fact that the hero was an aging British upper class reporter and the villain a young manipulative and naive American. The villain becomes good Oddly enough, only a few years passed before the controversial novel was filmed by Hollywood director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz was himself a part of the right wing, dubiously connected to the McCarthy movement, which at this period in history was engaged in their communist witch-hunts. During the work with the manuscripts Mankiewicz contacted none other than Edward Lansdale, a CIA operative who now was in charge of American operations in Vietnam. Soon the perception spread that Lansdale was the real life model for the villain in The Quiet American. In the 1958 movie, the Alden character was thus fittingly played by America’s proudest son, Audie Murhpy, the most decorated soldier in American history at this time. Murphy had made a career in Hollywood. In this heavily altered adaptation, the villain becomes good, a victim of a communist conspiracy. Alden Pyle is in fact no intelligence agent at all in Mankiewicz’s version, but a toy manufacturer who happens to be in Vietnam for humanitarian reasons. Assaulting the author When Graham Greene discovered what was about to happen to his novel, he was dumbfounded, but he was unable to stop the project for contractual reasons. “One could almost believe.” Greene stated, “that the film was made deliberately to attack the book and the author.” Later it has become obvious to everyone that the US was present in Vietnam at this time, and that Graham Greene was correct in his portrayal of the situation. Norman Sherry, who has written an extensive biography on Greene, points out that Greene had left Vietnam before Lansdale arrived in the country. Consequently he cannot be the real life model for the Pyle character. Many years would pass before Hollywood again focused on The Quiet American. The war in Vietnam ended, and slowly but surely the wounds of a bitter period started to heal. A new acceptance of the sufferings of Vietnam veterans was on display in movies such as The Deer Hunter, Rambo and Platoon. A more truthful adaptation The Australian Philip Noyce therefore decided to make a new adaptation of the controversial novel. He felt that the time now was ripe for a more accurate adaptation of Greene’s old classic. He cast the veteran actor Michael Caine as the British protagonist, a role for which Caine would become Oscar nominated. The new movie was produced Miramax and was completed in 2001. Then, in 2001, it happened: the United States experiences a horrible terror attack in New York costing 1000s of lives. Again patriotism was rife, and yet again the desire to defeat your enemies on foreign soil became public policy. Americans now had to form a united front. Miramax panicked. They feared that the film would resurrect the memories of the Vietnam era. “The film can never be released”, Harvey Weinstein, a Miramax executive declared. “My staff says it is unpatriotic.” Michael Caine and Phillip Noyce feverishly lobbied for the release of the movie, but told the press that the film was “as good as dead”. After much persuasion, The Quiet American was released even so, perhaps as a result of the attention that Michael Caine’s excellent performance attracted. Oddly enough the film proved a financial success in the US. This ill-timed success showed that American attitudes towards the Vietnam war have changed, and that it was possible to release a considered reflection of foreign policy issues in the wake of 9/11. In his speech to the veterans of foreign wars in 2007, Bush demonstrated a newly found detachment from the Vietnam era, and he probably attempted to bring an old matter to rest. He may also have tried to undermine that comparison between Vietnam and Iraq that some claim is obvious. But Bush’s reference to Graham Greene still has a false ring to it because most of all the story of The Quiet American, is a story about misuse of art for propaganda purposes and denial of foreign policy objectives. Michael Wynn (blog editor) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureHappy new year to all the listeners of! We have collected some of the darker stories in our blog and radio stream, and published them in a free ebook. It will be much easier to read, on any device you may choose. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storymagine traveling through space at lightening speed, exploring the deep recesses of the universe to unveil her deepest secrets. “Are we really alone?” is one of the most fundamental questions that future generations must explore. The questions really makes my heart beat. Somehow the notion of that grand future, of all those limitless possibilities makes me relax, bringing balance to a boring life. I am a social worker, you see, for a private company. I make rounds helping old people, geezers, hags and cripples. Perhaps they need something. Then I will provide it for them. I will even wipe their bottoms if they need it. Naturally, I often hate my job and like most people I sit on my couch and dream of becoming a millionaire or I get completely wasted and pretend to be one. Sometimes I feel as if I would care for anything or anyone provided the pay was satisfactory. Science Fiction writing is therefore a great passion of mine. When I write about the future, a world of possibilities and probabilities opens up to me and I can mould it into a format I can accept. I will become the next Arthur C. Clark. In the meantime, I will, for a modest fee, remove your excrements and make your bed. In January a few years back, I was given a new patient to take care of, a certain Mrs. Jackson whose husband had died suddenly in a horrible accident a few years earlier leaving her all alone with failing memory. She lived a nice house on the west end of town, with a patch of grass outside and a white fence to match. It would have been a paradise for someone healthy. What it was for Mrs. Jackson, I cannot say. She sat in a wheelchair as I entered, but I don’t think she was physically dependent upon it. When she saw me she was immediately disgusted. “Who are you?” she said. “I am Michael, your new social worker? Don’t you remember?” “No.  Will you be taking care of me?” “Yes.” “Well you damn well better. Crazy old cow like me, sitting here all alone!” I soon found out that Mrs. Jackson had many needs that needed to be fulfilled. She had a schedule to keep and if it was not kept to the letter, she would become hysterical and utter words I have never heard from people her age. Other times – I think this was in her best periods- she would get flashes of clarity and her eyes gleamed of doom and tragedy. “I am so lonely”, she would say. One day she was looking for her glasses in the living room. “Michael! Michael Michael” she shouted as she paced across the room. I ran down the stairs from the upstairs bedroom where I was making the bed thinking that she had suffered some form of injury. When I arrived she said “I cannot find my glasses. I know they are here. Perhaps they have taken them from me?” “Who?” I replied. “Don’t get funny with me! You know very well who I am talking about. Anyway it’s 3 o’clock and you haven’t finished the bedroom yet. That means that you will be late for cleaning the kitchen at 4 like we normally do. I always have the kitchen cleaned at 4. Why can’t I find my glasses”, she said as she sunk down in her chair. I could see now that she was crying. I was going to her side, but something held me back. Then she made it easy for me as she said “Go away!”. “I know what I want”, the old woman said. “I want to be human. You all want me dead. That is what you really want. Actually, if you are going to continue with that sort of attitude, I don’t see how we can work together. I honestly don’t. Where are my glasses? I want my glasses, damn it” The old woman had turned mean on me. Her face was stone cold, even her wrinkles seemed inanimate. I studied her expressions, but I could not find a hint of compromise. “Do you want me to leave Mrs. Jackson?” “Yes” I sighed and gathered my things. As I was leaving, I heard her shout after me: «And don’t bother coming back». The next day I returned to have the matter settled. I expected that she simply didn’t like me and that she would prefer to have someone else in her house, perhaps a woman. Surprisingly she seemed cheerful in her chair by the window. She greeted me and smiled. I sat down, began politely by saying that I understood her situation, that it was her choice and that I was willing to have the company find a replacement within the month. She looked at me and laughed “My dear, what are you rambling about?” “Don’t you remember that you shouted at me and called me a liar?” “No” “You said I had a bad attitude.” “My dear young man, I have never seen you before in my life. I bear grudges to no one, especially not a complete stranger such as yourself. Now be a dear sweetheart and give my pills, will you.” At first, I thought she was playing with me, but her act seemed so natural and her expression so innocent that I discarded the idea. “Mrs. Jackson, do you remember my name?” “John?” “No, it’s Michael.” “Such a nice name too,” she said and touched my hand. I now began wondering what she really remembered from our past encounter. What did it matter what I did, if she would never remember it. Normally I bring some cake every Friday to my patients, but in view of recent events it would seem a waste of time. She always asked me if we had cake on Friday, and having assumed that she simply needed to have the obvious confirmed; I thought she remembered. From that day on I brought no more cake on Fridays. Certainly there was no reason to bring the actual cake. When she asked me if we had cake, I told her we had and she was just as happy as if she actually did. Pretty soon other changes occurred. I no longer needed to follow her stringent rules. She would always ask me if I had done the kitchen at 4 like she wanted it done, and I replied yes, and that was that. I had no qualms about what I was doing because it meant nothing to her now. I started wondering whether there was even any need for kindness. I thought I could insult her one day and come back the next as if nothing happened. But, such deliberate cruelty was beyond even me. Things were bad enough. There was no need to rub it in. The situation with Mrs. Jackson soon started to depress me. Somehow I blamed her for her effect on me, and I am afraid I at times was not as polite to her as she deserved. Seeing her sit there, asking me every time who I was and what I was doing there, got to me in a way that I didn’t understand. It was as if I saw in her my own situation magnified. I began searching for something to do, something that could take my mind of the job. I found it in a newspaper ad. A local writer was organizing a course in creative writing. But it was too expensive for me, a 1000 dollars. The opportunity that presented itself to me at the end of May that year now fills me with shame, although there are parts of me that think I deserved something in compensation for the way she made me feel. Mrs. Jackson’s failing memory had brought more of her practical affairs to my attention. When there was something that needed to be fixed, local taxes or gas bills, I stepped in to pay them for her. Naturally she had given me all her papers and permission to withdraw any amount from the bank. Legally she was in need of a guardian, and in the absence of relatives, the system left those tasks temporarily to me. I now realized that Mrs. Jackson was a very rich woman. In fact, I was told that she owned as much as a million, and that there were no close relatives to inherit the money. In fact, the money would probably be donated to charity when she died, or even worse, it would confiscated by the government. 1000 dollars to her was nothing. It was a drop in the ocean. I would get my writing class, and then I would be a better nurse to her. She might actually want that. Surely, in the end this was something that I did for her too, seeing that she was helpless and needed constant assistance from strangers. I was a tip. Yes, that’s what it was. The next day I withdrew the 1000 dollars from her account and enrolled in the writing class. I was very excited at first. I never thought that I would have any kind of talent for writing. I never compared myself to great writers, but I thought that might actually be able to write for the mass marked rather than for the sophisticated critic, who it was impossible to please anyway. The classes took place every Friday at some shabby downtown haunt. Unfortunately the classes took place at the same time as my Friday appointments with Mrs. Jackson, but I discovered that if I arrived 2 hours later and stayed a few minutes longer, she would never even notice that I was gone. There were about 10 of us and our teacher was just as eccentric as I hoped he would be. Everybody knows that anyone who tries to teach writing to others must be certifiably insane. He was a tall skinny character with bushy hair and a wild staring gaze. Apparently he had published some novels himself, although I had never heard of any of them. There were several people who considered themselves artists in the true sense of the word. They quoted Russian novelists and spoke of literary theory with great insight. Naturally, none of them had ever published anything and in my opinion they were all idiots. When I announced my intention to write about aliens for the mass marked, they said I was insincere. “Don’t you know”, I said, “that the future is a very exciting subject? New developments in biotechnology will revolutionize our treatment of disease and new information technology will bring all the knowledge of the world into our living rooms. In the future, I believe, all humans will learn faster because they can take drugs to improve their memory. We will all become geniuses.” “Interesting”, the teacher said, and stared at me with his crazy eyes. “Very interesting. What do the rest of you think, will there be a brave new world of tomorrow? Hm Hm Tell me.” His eyes searched the room for an opinion. “Well, I think he is on to something”, a girl replied. “I can sort of see the sense of it”. She looked at me with deep brown eyes and smiled. I felt my heart skip a beat. I don’t get many smiles from women. Next time the class gathered, the teacher was late and I got her into a conversation. She was very pretty, too pretty for me actually. She had quiet, subdued manner about her, she never looked straight at me. It occurred to me that she was painfully shy, even delicate. “What do you do?”, I said, “I mean when you are not writing” “I’m a psychologist”, she said. “Really”, I replied, “I am a social worker.” We soon discovered that we had much in common. A few minutes later we talked about personal matters, things that we both seemed concerned about. She had some oddities though, but I easily forgave them considering how beautiful she was. For instance, she would always ask me if I thought she was fat, even though she was extremely skinny. When I told her that I thought she could well gain a few pounds, she gave me a very irritated look, as if I was lying to her. However, most of the time we talked about other things, such as the best Sci-Fi movies and who founded modern science fiction, Mary Shelley or H.G. Wells. Very soon I realized that I was in love with her. This blessing was a tragedy in disguise. I could hardly work anymore without having all sorts of plans for our future in my head. Her face seemed to haunt me constantly, even when I worked with Mrs. Jackson. Once Mrs. Jackson eyed me suspiciously and said “Michael, are you in love?” “Of course not”, I said. “Don’t be silly.” After that I decided that I should not talk to her the rest of the week. After all, I could start talking to her in a week when I had calmed down and she wouldn’t remember a thing. That weekend Lisa and I went up to a cottage she had in the country. It was one of those perfect moments that are forever imprinted in your memory. We drove into her valley and we felt happy. The cottage lay on the bank of a slow moving river that glittered where the landscape opened up into a wide-open space. I think I told myself that this was too good to be true, fearing that I could wake up at any moment. The following week we met regularly, and it goes without saying that I partly neglected my duties with Mrs. Jackson. However, she did not suffer any distress in the sense that her physical needs were ignored. She had food, her house was clean and she never complained. Lisa and I had now become intimate and I cherished the memory of her naked body, elegant and dexterous as it was. I could sit by myself and think about it for hours on end. Sometimes I would catch myself in red-handed apathy and at those occasions I would humour myself with the idea that the senile Mrs. Jackson and I after all were not much different, comfortably seated in our chairs, staring into oblivion. My writing classes were now drawing to a close. I think we had about a week left. To be honest I had not produced much. Lisa had found an expression for her obsession with dieting and produced the first draft of a book for overweight women. I had only produced the first draft of a story about time travel. Our teacher, however, now declared the course a complete success. Some day, he predicted, several people in our class would win the Nobel prize and then we would be grateful for the advice he had given. I think he was just making excuses for our obvious lack of talent, but I went along with it because I wanted to close on a good note. Lisa and I had made plans for a travel to Europe. It was kind of a honeymoon for us. We wanted to travel in France and make love like they do in all the clichés. However, the journey was quite expensive. I had not told her any details about my financial situation. I barely got by on my present salary. The truth was that not only did I not make enough money to live in the dream world we wanted, my house was heavily mortgaged. I therefore asked for extra hours at work. I would stay with Mrs. Jackson the whole week and help her in any way I could. It would be much easier if she had one person to relate to instead of all the people that she had coming and going all week. Perhaps then she would remember my name. I assured my employer that that would be very unlikely. One day Mrs. Jackson came to me and asked me to get her some medicines from the pharmacy. They were very expensive, but she would give me the money like she usually did. I was surprised to find that she had large sums of cash stored in a box in her closet. She handed me a roll of notes, and as I held them in my hand, I could not help thinking what would happen if I took some of it. After all, I had done it before and gotten away with it. Was I stealing from her? She was wealthy and had no one to inherit her money. If I didn’t take it, the money would simply go to waste. I decided to steal yet another time. On the way from pharmacy the remaining notes found their way into my pockets. That evening I called Lisa and told her I bought the tickets. She laughed and said we would have the time our lives. I repeated that phrase over again as I went asleep that night “the time of our lives”. As the morning broke the next day I felt alive for the very first time. It was as if everything was clearer now. I noticed the slow movements of the morning mists and watched the dewdrops on the windowpane. I made my sandwich and prepared for my final day at the writing class. It was, ironically, Friday and we were having a cake baked by our mad teacher. I took the bus through the city as usual, but found that traffic was especially annoying this morning. Cars, streetlights and sirens seemed to conspire against us in a futile attempt to nag me. But nothing could touch me now. I got off the bus and made my way through the crowded park to the building and classroom. As I entered the classroom I found everyone in a strange, almost quiet mood. “Hi guys,” I said defiantly, “guess what”. “Michael, you’d better sit down. Something has happened. Have you not heard about the accident? They are dead.” “What do you mean, ‘They are dead?’ Who is dead? When did they die?” “This morning, in a car crash. Lisa and her sister.” “You are lying? They are not dead” “Yes, they are, ask anyone. I looked at their faces and they all nodded “But I have made plans. We are going to Europe. I have bought tickets. The worst thing about it is that I can’t get a refund now. They don’t give refunds on cheap tickets. It’s funny really because I seldom travel. And I know they like traveling. Most people like traveling. It’s not like I am an astronaut or anything. Imagine going on a spaceship to the moon or something. I just like to see new things you see.” They all gave me a strange look, my hands suddenly started shaking. I was unable to control them, so I stuffed them in my pockets. I began laughing at my own clumsiness. Those damn hands, I thought. Well I have something to do, I said, got up nodded reassuringly to them and left. I shall not bother you with the details of my sorrow. It is, after all, not much different from that which most people experience at some point in their lives. It took me about a month to compose myself. I then took up my job for Mrs. Jackson, who still sat in her chair by the window. “Who are you?” she said as I entered. “I am your social worker. Michael is my name”, I said. “Don’t you remember?” “No” Michael Henrik Wynn (written at the end of the 1990s) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby Michael Henrik Wynn Before king Harald began the unification of Norway, the country consisted of many smaller kingdoms, often fighting among themselves. Bands of violent thugs roamed the countryside demanding protection money from peasants, blacksmiths, carpenters and traders. And many made a claim to divinity. In one such kingdom, located in a long and narrow valley, there was a hamlet in which there lived an ugly and childless woman in her mid fourties. Her loneliness was such that she frequented neighbors at all hours making a nuisance of herself. But she was intelligent, and read the minds of her hosts with just one glance. Therefore, she never stayed long out of fear of outwearing her welcome, and eventually became known as “wandering Hilde”. It was with a certain sadness that locals observed her walking down solitary paths in the evenings, her lamp was visible from great distance in clear weather. They would see it climb the side of the valley to her farm. At least, it was a comfort that her piece of land even though it was small, was the most fertile in the valley. So, she was never short of food, only a person with whom to share it. One winter there came news from afar that a great battle was brewing. The local king was in a bitter struggle for his life with the neighboring kingdom. Men and boys gathered what weapons they possessed, kissed their wives and mothers before they rode or walked off, and were never heard of again. It was said that the neighboring king was an extremely evil man, who enjoyed seeing his enemies suffer. He would engage in the most grotesque torture with a crooked smile upon his face. It was his right as king to hold lives in the palm of his hand, and to do with them as he pleased. At one point the cruel ruler came riding down the valley with his hord of savages, his long hair streaming like some torn grey banner in the wind as he rushed forward with his lifted, blood-soaked sword. They saw the fires spread from house to house. Screams echoed far through the valley unto the plains below. Who had died? What had happened to the children? But the fate of a king is never certain. He eventually miscalculated, underestimated the hatred he had stirred up, and in a flash a crowd had ambushed him, torn him from his proud black stallion, and stabbed him hundreds of times, before placing his decapitated head on a pole. The mob then did to their enemies what they had experienced themselves. New flames flickered under the starry sky, and many young died needlessly for the wrongs of their parents. It so happened that wandering Hilde stood at the top of the enemy’s valley one morning as dawn revealed columns of drifting thick smoke, and fields of golden wheat. She observed the sacking with the distance of an outsider. What did it matter what people did, their petty arguments, she was not part of their world. She knew that the law demanded revenge and that the Gods craved it. But she did not understand it. One of these murdered children could have warmed her heart, stoked her homely fires until her ship eventually sailed for the halls of Hell. She turned with her usual melancholy, and began on her solitary trek home. She crossed the creek, navigated the rutted tracks to the mountain pass. As she was passing the treeline, she heard the neighing of a horse. She stopped, looked in all directions, but could not, at first, understand where the noise was coming from. She heard it again, and walked towards a mighty pine with thick green branches that overhung a path. Underneath it she found a small mare, and by its feet a tiny red-haired child, a girl, five winters or so that seemed to have fallen off. The child did not cry, perhaps because she had been cushioned by the soft ground, or because she was still confused from her ordeal. For a moment wandering Hilde did not know what to do. If there was a child, there was most certainly a mother. But where? “Hello, little one, where is your mother?” The girl did not speak, but pointed towards a column of smoke that rose from treetops four hundred meters away. The child then drew her hand over her throat, as if to indicate that something had been cut. Hilde did not have time to reflect on the macrabre display, for in the very next instant male shouts were not far away, and hooves trampled. Instinctively, she drew the child towards her bossom, slapped the horse on its back, sending it off riderless. She then placed herself and the child as close to the trunk as she could. They were hidden by the low branches, invisible to the panting horses that moments laters raged by. She then realized that she had forgotten to place her hand over the child’s mouth. But, as she looked down she saw that she had no need to worry. The child had buried her face against her thigh, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. So it was that wandering Hilde’s heart melted, and that she brought home an enemy offspring to her own house, fed it and treated it as if it were flesh off her own flesh. But a child can never be invisible to any neighbor. Even if she managed to hide the secret for six moons, the seventh the game was up, and the whole village debated intensly who the child might be, what linage it might have, and whether it was right to feed the blood of an enemy. The average villager, of course, would never get beyond speculation, but there was a traveling merchant, who sometimes also collected taxes. He was by no means rich, but maintained halfway houses, where the earls and their men sometimes made stops. He was obliged to wait on these, and present them with such food and drink as they demanded. But he was handsomely rewarded, even if he almost never raised his voice, or offered any comments beyond those required by his function. He was a man of fifty winters, and the locals thought him wise, and often sought his councel on matters relating to the wider world. The child and her clothes were brought before him. Grey-bearded, bushy-browed and weathered, he sat quietly on a stone in front of a flickering fire, and examined the items in silence. He could find no mark on the child’s limbs that would give any clue. But he noticed that she was well fed, and that all her skins were of fine quality and had regular stitching. Still many men with large farms had daughters, but they were seldom lavished with jewels at that age. Finally, he found a little pouch, and in it a small medallion with an emblem. If anyone had seen his grey eyes at that moment, they would have noticed his schock. But the others had grown impatient, and were looking at the landscape and walking about. They had concluded that nothing out of the ordinary would be uncovered. He slipped the pouch into his pocket without anyone noticing, smiled and schook his head. “As far as I can tell, she is of wealthy kin, but I can say nothing more.” The others sighed, and they all rode to the house of wandering Hilde the very next morning. Four horses with the elders of the village climbed the paths to her farm. They found fires burning, food cooked, clothes hanging out to dry. When they saw the child stumble towards a smiling Hilde, they all sighed and shook their heads in dismay. A few evenings later Thor’s wagon thundered above the mountain, his lighetning split the sky over the valley below. Then there was heavy rain, which dripped from leaves and made stones and paths slippery. But then there was quiet, total silence as a slow fog drifted in from all sides. In that fog there was suddenly the sound of a horse, and solitary cloaked rider made his was to the merchant’s house over the mountain pass. In Norway, sea gulls – the white emissaries – drift in from the endless ocean on summer breezes. As the autumn chill and darkness descend from the mountains, however, they vannish. In their place murders of crows settle upon moist fences and thatched roof tops, greeting visitors with black blinking eyes. When the rider reached the merchant’s house, the gates and shutters were therefore secured and only distant caws were heard. The traveler dismounted, knocked on the door, which creaked open releasing a slit of light. The old merchant then appeared, and bid the stranger enter. Having dispatched the child’s pouch with a messenger some days earlier, the merchant was expecting somone to come. But when he saw the rider remove his clothes his heart froze and his eyes filled with tears. Before him stood Frey, the king’s beautiful sister – and his most feared assassin. “Your highness!” he exclaimed, and immediately went to fetch his best food and drink. Frey, although fourty winters, was a rank darkhaired woman with gleaming eyes. His hands shook as he served her. The story of Frey was well known among those who travel. She had been married three times, and each time she had failed to produce offspring – and blamed her husband. Every time she had sought the help of her brother the king, who each time lured the men to their deaths so that she might marry again. The third time, however, the king had told his sister: “Frey, three good men have met their end because you are barren. Three old mothers have wept not knowing why their son had perished. Honor now demands that you pay me back.” So it was the Frey, in the service of her brother, wielded her charm, exploited her good looks and made men lower their guards, only to plunge her long dagger in their hearts while they were sleeping. “You have guessed why I have come?” she said looking at the merchant. He lowered his gaze and sighed. “Yes” “Now, tell me the story of how the pouch was found” “There is a local woman called wandering Hilde who now mothers the child…” “Wandering Hilde? Does this name have any significance? Is she not a local woman?” A sudden thought came upon the old merchant, a weak glimmer of hope. He excused himself, complained about a bad back and took a seat on the other side of the table. “It is important, Your Highness, that you know all that there is to know” “Yes, naturally” The old merchant then told the legend of wandering Hilde, and in as many strong words as he could elaborated on her character. He described her lantern climbing the hillside in the evening, and how her shadow moved from door to door after dusk. But, he had no hope that anything would make any sort of difference. The woman before him, gorgeous and black-haired as he was, was known as the coldest and most calculating creature ever seen. So, he finished his story, got up and pointed out the window. “The light you see up there, Your Highness, marks the house where wandering Hilde now lives.” He felt Frey approaching him from behind, her cold breath streamed over his shoulder as her gaze followed the direction of his finger. She then whispered: “Thanks for the story, old man” And then she opened the door and melted into the night. Frey was not in a hurry. She walked her horse slowly along the path under the light of a bleak crescent. She made sure that not many people saw her. But it would have made no difference if they did. At foot of the hillside, she dismounted and then climbed on foot untill she stood hidden behind trees at the edge of wandering Hilde’s farm. There she stood for a while, and saw a fire flicker through an open window. A young girl giggled. A long silvery dagger was then unsheathed, and human form slipped quietly to the outside wall. One of the oak shutters had been closed, and in it there was a hole. Frey then placed her eye to the opening and peered inside. Wandering Hilde, an unusually plain woman, was standing in front of a bucket of water cleaning some cloth. In the background there was a loom, and in the corner of the cramped room stood a straw padded bed. That is where the child sat smiling, and dangling her feet. Wandering Hilde was very preoccupied. At one point she realized that she she needed more water, and reached for her bucket. She made her way towards the door, which slowly swung open releasing a warm and damp stream of light into the night. Wandering Hilde did not see Frey in the shadows behind her, with her dagger raised. Frey was about to enter the room, and kill the child when something unexpected happened. Hilde sang. A very slow lullaby to calm the child. She did not look back, but the sudden voice caught Frey by surprise and she withdrew back into the dark. There she stood for a moment, sweating and shivering, not knowing why. Moments later Hilde returned, closed and locked the door, and Frey felt the tremendous solitude of the universe suddenly fall upon her shoulders as it slammed shut. She felt dizzy, and looking up at the stars, that enormous multitude of distant lights were all staring at her. The icemaid fled. First to the trees, then to her black stallion and finally to the merchant’s house. There she demanded a room and left orders not to be disturbed. A volva had once told Frey that when a woman of a certain age climbs to a high mountain pond, and looks down upon her reflection in the water under the northern light, she can see herself the way she could have been. That night, as many other nights, the Arora Borealis twisted and turned like a celestial serpent above. Frey saw this from her window, and immediately asked the merchant whether there was a mountain pond nearby as she needed to brew a magical potion. The old man then told her that four hundred meters up the road, just above the treeline, not far from the mountain pass, there was such a pond. Frey then proceeded in the direction she was given. After walking quietly through the night, her lantern swinging back and forth, her thick cloak sometimes pulled by sudden gusts, she arrived at her destination. It was dark, and the opposite bank of the pond lay shrouded in mist. But on her side, the water shimmered quietly by the moss. This was indeed mirror enough to consult the Gods! As she peered into the water she was at first releaved. There was nothing there, only her own familiar face. She smiled, shook her head. She had been needlessly worried. But then she heard a rustle in the trees. She grabbed her dagger fearing an ambush. Then she spotted a black bird against the night sky, and heard the omnious cry of a raven. Her heart froze, the dizziness returned. She noticed that her feet were soaked, and as she again looked into the water her vision seemed blurred. Who was the shadow in her reflection? For a brief moment she thought she made out wandering Hilde in the ripples. It was just a brief sensation, a palpitation in the surface, but it was overwhelming enough to make her walk back to the old merchant.There she asked for provisions, saddled up her horse and returned to her brother, the king. Ten moons later, ten riders crossed the mountain pass. A herald preceded them summoning the villagers to the hall. Eight strong and grim warriors, all wearing long swords and crossbows, then surrounded the building, and two cloaked nobles entered to consult with the elders. There was murmur inside, the men looked at each other with questioning eyes and there was much speculation about what was about to happen. As the two visitors emerged into the light falling from a shaft into the center of the room, they saw that Frey and her brother, the king, stood before them. Then the brother raised his hand, ordered silence and spoke thus: “Villagers, I am your lawfull king, and I have come among you tell you that I have heard the story of wandering Hilde from my sister. I thought long and hard about it, but did not know what to do. I then fell asleep, and in my dream I saw the many mothers who have cried during our long war. A voice then came upon me saying “Enough!”. I woke from my delirium in a pool of sweat, and walked over to my window for air. I then found a raven purching on my sill.” At this news of this omen, there was much alarm. The villagers were anxious. “It is therefore my decision as king that no harm should ever befall the child while wandering Hilde lives, and that this outsider be treated as one of your own for that period. I have come to you in person to ask you to pay allegiance and swear this to me upon one-eyed Odin himself.” The men of village were obliged to do as any lord demanded. But they needed little persuasion because the king before them was missing an eye himself. The villagers gave their oaths and made their promises, and the king then told them of the orphan’s true linage and what had become of her family. Then the king and his sister left, and they never saw either of them again. Some years later, news reached the village that he had perished when his horse fell through the ice one winter when he was crossing the fjord. His son, Harold the fair-haired, was also a just man. But the son’s mind and ambition were always focused elsewhere, and the little cluster of houses in the remote valley was forgotten. There is moss on the old gathering hall in the village. It has been there throughout living memory. The cracked log walls, slimy in rain, were dry, brown and crisp in summer evenings. On such days, the smell of pine, the crackling of fires and the clanking of a hammer on anvils sounded from the nearby houses. Children laughed – as much as children then were allowed to laugh. Wandering Hilde was not a strict woman, and when she commanded Gudrun, as she had named her adopted daughter, she made sure that her voice was always accompanied by a twinkling eye and a smile. The elders of the village sometimes arrived at the hall robed in sheepskin, looking grey and solumn. It was clear that whatever they were up to, it merrited the raising of voices and the shutting of doors. Only rarely was there an envoy from afar. Then, of course, there was music, mead and minstrels reciting long poems. Occasionally, young Gudrun tried to peer through a crack when the door was open. But she was short of height and never saw much. The heavy wooden door always creaked on its rusty hinges and closed that world from her. Eventually, she gave up, and started doing what other young girls did, learning her womanly chores, preparing herself for that day when a man might arrive to take her away. When she had experienced six winters with her new mother, one of the men appeared in the doorway of the great hall one humid afternoon in autumn and invited her in. She could hardly believe it. As she entered, she saw walls draped with red and blue cloth, and small divinities of carved oak, and barrels of drink. At the summit of the room sat a stern elderly man, and around him children gathered. He told stories of a horrific king, who had murdered his three sons. The stories were full of drama, and all the boys smiled. She realized that the man often looked at her as he recounted his tales. And somehow she did not get a friendly impression of him. His pupils were cold. The stories, however, involved many things she did not know about the village, about the kingdom, and the world beyond the crest of the great mountain. It was not her place to ask impertinent questions. Like all the other children her imagination was captivated by sea voyages, armies and battles in far flung places. This seance became a monthly feature in the calender of the village young. And on all occasions, it would end the same way. “Do you see the golden amulet on that wall?” the man would say and point at what seemed like a holy relic on a shelf. “Who does that belong to?” he would ask. “The Beast King!” the children would shout in unison. And then they would all get up, and return to their chores. Gudrun would be full of excitement, and run her mother’s side to share her new stories. But mother would always ignore her, and declared that those lies were unfit for women, and suited only for boys, and that the best thing she could do was to avoid the evil geezer and his yarns alltogether. Her mother was so in earnest about this that eventually Gudrun stopped sharing her fantasies. In stead, she would sit quietly on a mossy stone, and look down upon the valley below, her thoughts soaring over the landscape like a seagull yearning for an ocean. Stories would always stir her soul, and she began dreaming of a life of her own – the great adventure that would come with independence. But no suitors appeared on Gudrun’s doorstep, and no local boy ever showed an interest in her, and the seasons passed as she flourished into a tall and rank red-haired woman – strong, intelligent and soft-hearted. Often she would bring food for the elderly, and she would clean and do things, as if she were a servant. And she would share of her food with passing strangers, and she would try to follow the example of her mother who had saved her all those years ago. In fact, so many years had passed that whatever preceded the life she now had – whatever it might have been – had vanished into a haze. And there was no way to get it back once it had gone. Old Hilde herself had found the company that was missing from her former years, her evening fires were indeed continously stoked, but age and new worries quickly colored her brows white, and the faint sun and the northern breeze left lines on her forehead. And her steps slowed with each winter, until she moved about like a wise hag with a cane. “Dear Gudrun”, Hilde stammered from her bed one day. The shifting lights from the fire made her dying eyes shine almost magically. “Come to my side, daughter!” Gudrun got up and moved next to her mother. She lifted a skin and placed it over her mothers feet. “Gudrun, I am soon departing this world”. “No, mother, do not give up” “I am old, I feel it coming. The winters weigh heavily on my bones, I cannot carry water. That is when my own mother died.” “Yes, mother.” “I am worried about what will become of you.” “Do not worry about me, mother. I have friends, and I have work at our neighbor’s farm.” “No, child. You do not have friends. When my body is cold, you must leave me unburied, and sneak out of the valley before anyone notices” “What do you mean?” At that very moment, there was a knock on the door, and her mother waved the daughter to the side. Gudrun immediately understood that private matters would be discussed, and went for a stroll along the valley in which she had grown up. She strolled by the clear river, and climbed to the shimmering pond. She even made her way to a crest above the pass, and studied her village from a high vantage point. And she spied passed distant white peaks, and imagined an endless expanse of water. She returned in the evening mist, and noticed a throng of neighbors by the well outside her house. Her brows dropped and eyes teared up as she approached. What she had dreaded had now come to pass. The men seemed to block her, and she found it difficult to penetrate the crowd. Eventually, she fought her way in, and saw her mother lifeless in her bed, her grey gleaming eyes open, staring skywards. Gudrun looked away, and placed her face in her palms. When she glanced up, she noticed the familiar face of wise Astrid. At first she was relieved. But then she saw that wise Astrid’s wrinkles seemed petrified. Her wool-covered figure, normally so crooked, seemed strangely erect, and there was an uncompromising determination in her narrow chin. “Be gone, spawn of Loke!”, wise Astrid whispered and spat before Gudrun’s feet. Gudrun ran out the door, only to feel a man’s fist in her face. She tumbled to ground and got up, and fled into the stable to Alas, her white mare. She mounted as quickly as she could and gallopped down the road in a cloud of dust. After a few minutes she glanced back and saw her childhood home vanish behind the pines. She pulled her reigns, and her horse neighed as she halted. She then dismounted and sat down in the grass to cry. But no tears came. There was simply too much at the same time, and she had no idea what had come over her old friends. But, a life may change with the snap of fingers, only a cold stone will move with the ages. Whether this was fear, sorrow or confusion did not matter, for soon there was trampling of hooves and angry male voices. She decided to mount her horse in a futile dash for the mountain pass. Even in a that humid evening, dark-green branches drooped over her path, casting distinct shadows. And she thought she heard the distant cries of many ravens, one over the other, until they combined into a primordial laughter. And thus it was that Gudrun was ambushed by a crowd of former friends at the mountain pass, torn from her old white mare, stabbed hundreds of times, and her decapitated head placed on a pole. This was done because she was the youngest daughter of the worst man that had ever lived – even if her lineage had been kept from her until the day of her death. In olden times, the word of a king was all that prevented a smiling neighbor from ending your life. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyA story set in 1980s Nigeria Muhammed lay quiet in the corner of his cell when police chief Chuwungu and his deputy passed by. They stopped by the door and smiled at his bruises. After all, Muhammed was a muslim, and what they internally referred to as a “B-citizen” in the station. A B-citizen was a person who had been arrested, but for whom they had yet to come up with a charge. Usually, this was done within a few months. But it was not easy because Chuwungu had limited imagination. Sometimes, he claimed they had attacked the police unprovoked, but most of the time he claimed that they were fundamentalists. This was very convenient, because it was both very serious, there were bombings elsewhere in the country quite often, and most importantly, it was impossible to disprove. After all, not even the judges had access to the man’s mind? And most of his criminals were so starved, unclean and agitated when they arrived in court that the judge – who was a neat well-kept and well-fed academic educated somewhere in Europe – frowned with disgust when they took the stand. Chuwungu always smiled at this. Once, however, the judge had sent him a suspicious and irritated look, and after that Chuwungu always wore his fake Ray-ban glasses court, and pulled his cap a little down. Muhammed was one of those ruffians who became so cocky in their teens that they stood on street corners laughing at the police. Then, of course, he had no choice but to put him in his place. He got some of his men to pick him up one evening while he was out drinking, gave him a real good beating and dumped him in a cell overnight. When he woke in the morning Muhammed was thirsty and bruised. They let him go with a warning.However, next week, he looked at them with even more spite, and it was then Chuwungu decided that Muhammed was a B-citizen. This was some years back. Of course, the local shop owners would be ordered to be very rude to Muhammed, and he would not be allowed to visit certain areas in which there were girls or entertainment. Chuwungu also made sure that the taxi company in which Muhammed worked cut his salary. And that his girl friend did not offer him sex more than once a month. This was the ultimate insult to any African man, and Chuwungu thought Muhammed would beat her senseless. But he did nothing, which was even more contemptible. There were many things that B-citizens would not be allowed to do. Chuwungu and his deputy used to sit and brainstorm in order to come up with ways of limiting their options. Someone suggested that they would deny them chicken, or even bush meat, leaving only pork. But this was very impractical because there was no way to keep track of such things. So, he simply dismissed the idea.Even if Chuwungu was feared by ordinary people, he was not disliked by his own, that is, the other police. He was a tall muscular man with a round face, balled and black as coal. He had teeth, which – by contrast- glittered like ivory when the roar of his laughter was heard. He had six children, and a very proud wife, and who was sometimes seen in the town square in her flowery red robe, negotiating for the price of vegetables. She was not the sort of person who downplayed her position. She looked at you with determination, and she ordered her children about like a true deputy – and she obeyed her husband in everything. For after all, he was the police chief known locally as the Lion of Edo state. Chuwungu almost never beat his wife. He was a man who appreciated loyalty. And she was loyal in every sense of the word. But, if any shopkeeper was late with their payments, he had no qualms about bringing them in, then locking himself in a cell with the unfortunate later payer, who afterwards almost never repeated the offense. Muhammed had never been a major concern for Chuwungu. He was muslim, but one of the nameless characters who sometimes drifted into town from the large shanty suburb north of the center. He lived there with his ailing mother and his younger sister. Little is known about his mother’s past. No one in such places had any identification. Those in the center at least had a local id. Very few, except for academics like the judge and people like himself, and the rich tycoons, owned a passport. Chuwungu had never used his passport, it just lay on his office shelf next to his golden bracelet, his sunglasses and the keys to his car. Muhammed’s mother was fat and frail, and quiet. She had always been this way. 20 years ago she had arrived with some refugees from the north. She married another muslim and they settled in a very modest house in town, and she had her babies. Then suddenly the man left her. Some say they argued and some say he had found another woman. But Chuwungu suspected that he had gone off to join the militants in the jungle. It did not matter because this was ages ago, and all these years Muhammed’s mother had scraped by in a run down shed with her two children. The house she had once lived in had been renovated and extended, and now belonged to Chuwungu’s preacher. There was no bitterness on Chuwungu’s part against Muhammed and his family. But Chuwungu needed to be respected and feared. If teenagers and twenty year olds were allowed to look him directly in the eye that would not be possible. When Chuwungu drove through the gravel covered streets at night, they appeared in his head lights, dancing in front of women – showing off. When he heard the music from portable radios he often wondered why it was that he had never been this carefree himself. He had been destined for something else, for keeping control and for assuming power. He had always been a large man, and when he entered a room, all murmur had always fallen silent. Chuwungu had really only begun thinking about Muhammed two years ago when a young muslim from arrived from the north selling cheap Japanese walkmans. Because he was a man from the other side, he ignored Chuwungu’s warnings and struck up a friendship with Muhammed. They were both muslim, but sometimes drank a little alcohol. Chuwungu had begun pondering about how he could drive a wedge between the two so that Muhammed would be kept in his place. After all, a B-citizen should never rise above his station. One day while Chuwungu was sitting in his office, he was notified of a car crash north of town involving two young men. At first, he did not react. Nobody was seriously hurt, but the car hit a tree and was now a wreck. The officer had been paid on site and Chuwungu would receive his share, so the matter almost slipped by unnoticed.But upon his return to the station the officer mentioned in passing that the men in the old blue Ford were Muhammed and his new friend. “Really?” said Chuwungu. “I have had enough! It is time I had a talk with this electronics seller, whoever he might be. Bring him in. Let him understand that we don’t like drunk driving in our town. Leave him in a cell overnight, I will talk to him in the morning alone”. The next morning Chuwungu entered the cell, and the following week the seller moved back north. The dry season had now arrived. The nights were cold, the stars clear and the cracked ground twice as dusty in daylight. Muhammed was often seen in town, in back alleys drinking cheap alcohol. He avoided those areas where he was not welcome, and kept to himself. But he was not sober, and there were rumors that his aging mother was ill. When Muhammed was fired from his job, his sister took up whoring to pay for his mother’s treatment. This made him feel even worse. For earning money was a man’s duty in life. And what sort of man had he become? Then one day Chuwungu was notified of a robbery. There was no one on call. They had been summoned to the scene of some exploded oil pipe. So, chief Chuwungu answered and drove to the crime scene himself. An old man was waiting for him. He showed visible signs of a beating, and seemed very agitated. “Calm down, old man!” Chuwungu began. “Tell me what happened – very slowly.”“A young lunatic appeared out of nowhere, took all my money and fled.”“Do you have any idea who he was?”“Yes, I know him well. It was that drunk, Muhammed.”“Muhammed? Are you sure?” Chuwungu almost smiled.“Yes. I know him well by sight.”“I see. Don’t worry. We will leave no stone unturned and find him. Get your money back.”“There is no need to search. He entered that shed over there. He has not come out”. He pointed to a rotting wooden shed, hidden in the shade of some trees a few hundred meters away.“How long ago?”“An hour or two.”“Have you spoken to him?”“No, he is mad”Chuwungu nodded, left the old man and slowly and silently made his way towards the shed. There was no sound, only night crickets, but the flicker of a small light could be seen through the window, probably an oil lamp. Chuwungu checked the back. There was only one entrance.He approached the door, stopped and listened. All quiet. Then he tore the door open quickly and stuck his head in. The shed had been used for storage for old scrap metal, and rods and rusty bars were lying about among heaps of paper and plastic trash. In a clearing on the ground sat Muhammed – drunk as hell. He was alive, but only glanced up indifferently at Chuwungu.“You know what your problem is, Muhammed. You have no respect for authority. You never had”.“My mother died last night. I could not pay for her treatment.”Their eyes met, and then suddenly Chuwungu smiled and even laughed. He was a huge man towering above the drunk Muhammed. “So now you finally realize that you cannot change the way things are in this world.”‘Chuwungu went to the window, and looked out to wave at the old man 200 meter away. As he turned he heard a swish and felt a sharp pain in his ankles. The huge policeman tumbled over, and fell to the ground with a thump. He was not unconscious and realized that Muhammed had swung at his leg with one of the rusty iron bars. It had been a tremendous blow, for Chuwungu felt blood on his hands. He looked up and saw the insane and frightened stare of Muhammed looking down at him. In a flash, the mad man had opened the door and fled into the dense dark forest. It goes without saying that Muhammed never returned to his old town. He walked till morning, slept by a river and started to make his way north. He thought maybe there would be a better life for him somewhere where there would be more Muslims like himself. He stayed clear of major cities, ate bush meat, drank water from creeks and wells and consumed berries. In the open areas he hitch hiked with lorry drivers and called himself Ali instead of Muhammed. When he eventually arrived at a mid-sized northern town, he first lived on the street. Then he got a job as a cleaner at a mosque, and he rented a room. It was only 11 square meters, but it was something. A year passed, and Muhammed had the feeling of a new beginning. He had no friends, but he never had anyway. One evening, after he had received his paycheck and was walking home, he took a shortcut via a long poorly lit alley. He was half way through the alley, when a shadow rushed upon him out of nowhere. He felt a sting in his arm, and before he knew it all his money had vanished. He had been robbed. Returning to the light of his room, he noticed a bad stab wound on his arm. There was blood and pain. At first he wanted to deal with it himself, but eventually he walked 4 kilometers under the crescent sky to the hospital. They cleaned and dressed the wound, put on some bandages, and then he sat waiting till morning in the corridor. At dawn the nurses, the doctor and finally a policeman arrived. The policeman was an elderly man, wise in the ways of the world. He told Ali not to worry, the culprit had already been caught. Unfortunately, he had bought alcohol for the entire amount.“Alcohol?” said Ali.“Yes,” the old man replied. “He was one of those drunk infidel Christian pigs.”“I see.”Even if these were cruel words, there was an immediate connection between the officer and the man now calling himself Ali. The old man bought Ali sweet tea, and then they smoked and talked for an hour.At one point, the man said: “I hear you work at the mosque. That is noble work.”“I am only a cleaner”.“But still. It is something. I make an OK living as a policeman. The pay is not much, but it is steady, and there are extra sources of income. My children depend on these, you see.”“Yes”“We are actually looking for new recruits. You need a few courses. But the state provides them one by one. You are spoon fed.” He smiled.“I am not sure if this is my thing…”Before the old man left, their eyes met again, and there was another moment of unspoken understanding. The next week, Ali did contact the recruiting office, and the story goes that he eventually did become a policeman. And some years later even the police chief of a small town. There he became known for his violent temper, his cunning and his ruthlessness. Because of the way he compensated for his feeble stature and his utter lack of mercy, they called him “The Hyena”. They say he referred to all his Christian criminals as “C-citizens”. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureLaura White is a renowned expert on Jane Austen. However, she has chosen a novel approach to this classic British icon. The Nebraska professor is an innovator in the emerging field of digital humanities, and studies literature by means of a computer. The rigid divide between human creativity and the world of binary computer code is quickly being bridged, according to Google.  I had a few words with professor White about this new branch of study, and what it means for writing and literary studies. You have studied Jane Austen, have you discovered something new about her, something we couldn’t have discovered without the use of a computer? Professor White: Yes, I think so. What we did was identify (code) each and every word in the six major novels as to speaker. That’s easy to do for the narrator and character speech, but trickier with free indirect diction, when the narrator is “speaking for” a character, using his or her vocabulary and point of view. Such shared speech we coded as such, and weighted to reflect the depth of ventriloquism. The results are not yet fully known, because what we created is a public sandbox in which people can design their own searches about diction to use the coding we created—there is a lot waiting to be discovered. But at the very least we found that Austen’s use of free indirect discourse (and she was the first major novelist to exploit FID fully) was far more complex and varied than we (and all the scholars writing on the subject thus far) had suspected. We also have found some cute nuggets—for instance, the fact that no male character in Austen uses the word “wedding” and no female character uses the word “marriage”! When you began your studies of Austen, did you have to create your own methodology? Professor White: We had to create coding that would properly reflect the complexity of Austen’s speakers: was the speech spoken or written? How many levels of speaker are in a given phrase (in one letter, for instance, we have the string of Mrs.Younge-told-Darcy-told-Mr.Gardiner-told-Mrs.Gardiner-told-Elizabeth-told-reader). But the flexible marvel of .xml already existed, and even more importantly, the program TokenX, designed by our team member Brian Pytlik Zillig (Professor at UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities), was at our service. TokenX determines unique frequencies of words and thus provides an easy-to-use interface for text analysis (especially through frequency tables) and visualization. I have heard of similar studies on Agatha Christie, and that they were able to create a profile of her style. Is this your goal with Jane Austen? Professor White: You can’t actually get to a full knowledge of Austen’s style, even by understanding her patterns of diction, because verbal irony (and its reverberations) can’t be caught mathematically—and her verbal irony is pervasive. But you can learn a lot about her use of free indirect diction, which is in turn important to understanding her style. One could make a profile about percentages of indirect diction, dialogue, and so on—but that would only be helpful to compare with other writers—or, using big data searches, comparing that data against the profile of such a thing as “the eighteenth-century British novel” or “Henry James” (the latter being an author who took Austen’s innovations with FID and ran with them about as far as they can be run). Our project may indeed do such things in the future—it’s the next obvious step. If you had something resembling a profile, not only of her choice of words, but of the larger patterns in her plot construction, do you think a computer could emulate Austen? Could it produce a fake Austen, so to speak? Professor White: You could perhaps create an Austen that could fool some people, but it wouldn’t be a good fake. Unless you can feed in her values (not possible) AND her education, including but not restricted to her reading (difficult) AND the operations of her irony (not possible), you’ll just get a partial simulacrum. This new approach could be used to compare authors, and then detect larger patterns in literary and cultural history. Austen is of course a central figure in the development of the English novel. In the past, this has been studied by Ian Watt and others. Do you think we now could have a more empirical history of literature? Professor White: I do think we can have more data that tells us interesting things about patterns of diction and clusters of tropes across large bodies of texts—a lot of people at UNL, such as my colleagues Steve Ramsay and Matt Jockers, do work on just that sort of thing. Matt for instance has very recently uncovered a lot of information about patterns among popular fiction, especially bestsellers. If we can design the right questions, we can find some interesting answers. But as I pointed out before, huge literary elements such as irony can’t be reckoned computationally, so a Theory of All Lit from digital humanities is impossible. Gillian Beer, Arthur O. Lovejoy and others have specialized in detecting patterns from the history of ideas in fiction. Can a computer assist us in this type of study? Professor White: This kind of work is my favorite kind of scholarship to read, that which finds the largest patterns in imaginative literature over the centuries. I’d recommend your readers go to Northrop Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism (1957) for the best of such of work; Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis (1946) is also marvelous. For finding the largest patterns in the Bible, read Frye’s The Great Code (1982) (admittedly very demanding). And, yes, to some degree, computers can help with this kind of work, especially with discerning patterns of diction and plot (though in the latter case obviously the text won’t tell you its own plot—a human being has to schematize what happens and feed that information in). Where do you see the field of digital humanities in 20 years or so? Professor White: Moving upward and onwards. By the 90s, humanities had been somewhat exhausted following the usual roads of literary criticism—I don’t generally advise students to focus on Jane Austen, for instance, because it’s very hard to find room for an original thought. One way the humanities are being revitalized is with a much more stringent attention to history, and digital humanities plays a role here too by making it easy to read texts long forgotten, literary and otherwise. For instance, in my recent book on Carroll’s Alice books, I made much use of the texts in Carroll’s library of about 3,000 volumes. They were all auctioned off at his death, but catalogs of the library which have been produced by Jeffrey Stern and Charlie Lovett let one read his library cover to cover through Googlebooks, Hathitrust, and other such digitization initiatives. When read in detail, one finds this virtual library corrects many of the critical and biographical misperceptions about Carroll. And these resources are just a small part of how digital humanities is transforming literary studies: visualization, archives, data-mining all play a part. Some people think that creativity is unique to us as humans, and may feel threatened by the fact that our “cultural soul” is gradually dissected by computers. What do you say to them? Professor White: I’d agree that creativity is unique to humans, though some of the higher apes do seem to like to finger-paint. Computers can’t be creative—it isn’t possible. They can be programmed to make wild outputs, and we might think creative thoughts about those generated outputs, but there’s no creativity on the part of the computer involved. We are more threatened by computers in terms of surveillance; we are not at all private when we’re online, and big data (which doesn’t care about us as individuals) can nonetheless potentially be retrofitted to be small data, fingering us one by one. So people are right to worry about this—since human beings are in charge of computers, it is very unlikely that they will always be used for good (no other human invention has been).   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / moviesListen to Nixon and Hoover discussing the freedom of the press During the decades that J. Edgar Hoover headed the FBI, the height of the cold war, state agencies in the United States increased their surveillance of many writers that today are household names. The files vary in length, and so does their justification. In the case of John Steinbeck, it is stated that his integrity “is beyond question”, but that his wife attended a meeting of the communist party. Others that were more outspoken, like Bukowski or James Baldwin, attracted attention for their own opinions and strong public presence. Today the FBI has released most of these files, sorted them and presented them freely online for history buffs. They resemble scrapbooks, with clippings and notes about the doings of those under investigation. Oddly, the files contain information that many today release themselves on social media. For those interested in literary history, however, Hoover’s archive can shed new light on the personalities of past writers, and satisfy our modern cravings for voyeurism. Below are a few samples:     You can search the FBI celebrity archive yourself at     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Margie Harris, Racketeer Stories, February 1931 (Courtesy of John Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon) It’s a hell of a thing to be waiting for the rubber hose in your B.V.D.’s and suddenly see yourself looking into your cell at you, with blood all over your face! horty Breen, get-away driver for the Bull Coleman gang, was keenly alive to the trouble hunch which had been riding him all afternoon. So it needed but the touch of heavy fingers on his shoulder to send him jerking, leaping, twisting through the crowd on Fourteenth Street. His first spring carried him through a group of chattering women. In a few seconds more he was clattering down the steps of the subway. Behind him was the usual chorus of “Stop, thief!” but over all resounded the bull-like roar of Police Captain McGrehan. An express train was standing in the station. Shorty dropped a nickel in the turnstile, dashed aboard as the doors closed. Damn McGrehan anyway. Two nights before he’d caught Shorty in a dark corner and given him purple hell for playing with Bull’s gang. “Damn ol’ goat,” Shorty growled. “Where’s he get ‘at stuff? You’d think he was me ol’ man, instead of him being just a guy ‘at wanted to marry Mom w’en she was a goil!” At Thirty-fourth Street he slipped from the train and cast a furtive eye over the crowd. Hell’s fire! There he was, getting out of the last car! There was no mistaking the blue uniform with its captain’s bars and stripes in gold, nor the heavy, squared jaw above it. Shorty dashed up the stairs two at a time, made the first half block at a rapid walk. Then he slowed, but no police uniform showed behind him. At Eighth Avenue he turned south, stopping for a final survey of his back trail. He was safe. McGrehan had lost him. Heaving a sigh of relief, Shorty started to stroll along toward Finnegan’s café and Bull’s headquarters above it. For the moment his underworld guardian angel was not on the job. He stopped at the curb to light a cigarette in the lee of a parked Checker cab. He gave the cab and driver no attention until he sensed a flurry of movement. He started to turn but it was too late. A blue clad arm shot forth, clamped iron fingers on his shoulder, dragged him, struggling, into the cab. A split second later he heard the order. “Down to Center Street, lad; drive right intuh the garage.” Shorty didn’t need to see his captor’s—McGrehan’s—face. He couldn’t, had he wanted to. His face was jammed into a corner of the seat, his knees were on the floor. The pressure relaxed; Shorty heaved himself erect, only to suffer the shame of being shoved back, slowly, relentlessly into his former position. “You’re a tough guy, Clyde!”—Jeez! how he hated that pansy name Mom had given him—“But I’m tougher than all of you gaycats. Now sit you down and listen to me.” The big hands heaved again, slammed him back onto the seat. Captain McGrehan’s eyes were blazing; steely fingers were digging into Shorty’s shoulder muscles. Shorty tried to out stare the cop; his eyes fell first. “What th’ hell?” he growled. “This a pinch?” “What does it feel like—a swimmin’ lesson?” “Aw, what have I done? You got nothin’ on me.” The old formula between cop and crook the world over. “I have me hand on you, which’ll do for the present,” McGrehan responded with heavy wit. “It looks like a tough night for you, Clydie.” Shorty winced again at the hated name. “Clyde!” for the speedball who drove the chopper car last week when Bull Coleman’s rodmen shot it out with The Yid’s organ grinders, hijacked two trucks of alky. Uh-huh. Two cops had been killed, but that was their hard luck. “You don’t take kindly to th’ name a good mother gave you, Clyde.” There was contempt in the Captain’s sarcastic drawl. “Well, it’s a hell of a name for a gangster—and it’s a hell of a gangster you’ll be after this night.” Shorty stirred uneasily. Jeez! Suppose some of Bully’s scouts saw him riding with McGrehan. They’d be calling him “Canary” and tomorrow taking him for a ride. Yet he hated a “chirper” worse than anyone, almost. “Lissen, Cap,” he pleaded. “Lemme go. Jess because you’n Mom went to school together’s no reason fer youse to get me put on the spot.” “The spot, is it now?” The reply was a bellow of derision. “You’ll be wishin’ for the spot before tonight’s over. It’s the Third we’re fixin’ up for you.” Shorty’s blood turned cold within him. The dreaded “third.” And at the hands of this ramping, raging old Mick on whom he’d always looked, though from a distance, as a family friend! “Yuh can’t give me no hosin’,” he said. “Whaddyuh think you got on me?” McGrehan’s lips didn’t move; his hand did. It slid down to a point on Shorty’s arm between elbow and shoulder. The fingers tightened, dug into the nerve center under the biceps. Shorty tried to jerk loose. The movement brought a howl of pain from his lips. McGrehan was pitiless. Slowly the grasp tightened. Horrible searing pains flashed down the arm to the finger tips, up over the shoulder. “Enough?” The Captain growled the word. Shorty nodded in mute agony. “Listen to me, then. Don’t you start tellin’ me what I can or cannot do this night. In five days more I retire on pension. Nobody can change that. Them five days is to be given to runnin’ down some rats that killed two brave men recent—and to makin’ a man out of Mary Ann Breen’s lousy brat—or killin’ him.” Shorty sunk down in his corner. Suddenly he felt terribly alone. McGrehan he knew was tough, iron hard. It was said he preferred a billy to a rubber hose—and followed his liking. “Yes, Clyde,” the Captain’s tones were silky now. “It’ll be a tough night, and here we are ready for it to start.” The cab swung across the curb, into a big room filled with riot cars, prowl cars, the fast buses of the strong arm squad; the big racers in which the Commissioners and Brass Collars buzzed to danger points. McGrehan handed the driver a bill, pointed over his shoulder with a big thumb. “Out,” he growled. As the automatic doors closed, he spun Shorty about, crossed his pile-driver right to the button with a snap. Shorty went limp. McGrehan caught him, did not let him fall. “Poor, dumb lad,” he half whispered. “Spoiled as he is, I wish he was mine.” Two plainclothes men came from the shadows, took the drooping form, carried it to the silent cells where there is only silence. While Shorty still was unconscious, the detectives stripped him of coat, hat, shoes, collar, trousers, hat and tie. “Cap said to leave him his cigarettes and matches,” one of the searchers said. “Yeh?” his mate replied. “The ol’ boy’s gettin’ soft. Wouldn’t be surprised to come down here in a day or two an’ find he’s been getting drinkin’ water.” II Doubling for Shorty “McGrehan speaking, sir. I have the lad. May I come up?” “In five minutes, Captain. I’ll ring.” The Commissioner’s voice was curt but friendly. “Any trouble?” “For him, not for me, sir.” McGrehan sensed the beginning of a chuckle as his superior hung up the receiver. Commissioner Van Voort turned back to the stockily built, severe faced man opposite him, Captain Michaelson, Chief of New York’s Secret Police. “That was McGrehan,” Van Voort said. “Reporting he’s turned in the Breen boy. Dammit, Michaelson, I don’t like the thought of Springer and Haddon taking such chances.” “Nor do I.” Michaelson’s face was granite hard. “McGrehan’s plan to save this little Breen rat is apt to spoil it all. But we’re ready—checked and rechecked on the plan.” “Yes, we’re too deep in now to change,” Van Voort replied. He drew a map toward him. “We’ll go over it once again; then you can get your crew together. Here’s the district, with the route marked in red arrows. “The point marked ‘J’ is where the truck will be, with tools, tear bombs, extra ammunition; whatever’s required. When Bull’s third car passes, the boy who’s been trying to start the engine will slip around the corner and signal Lieutenant Henry. The signal to close in will be a burst of blank cartridge machine gun fire. Right? All clear?” “Perfectly, Mr. Commissioner. And in the meantime the other group will surround Bull’s headquarters over Finnegan’s. When the word is passed that the warehouse raiders have been mopped up, we’ll hit Bull from all sides and the roof.” “Good, Captain. Goodnight and good luck.” A touch on the button brought McGrehan from downstairs. “Good work,” the Commissioner said. “Anyone see you get him?” “Not a chance, sir. I snatched him offen the sidewalk before he could squawk. He was goin’ to Bull’s; thought he’d ditched me in Thirty-fourth Street. I hopped a cab, beat it the other way and copped him on Eighth Avenue.” The Commissioner stared for a moment at the stubborn old face before him. “See here,” he said. “It’s a devil of a thing you’ve made me ask of Springer—to gamble his life for a crook like that.” “Wait ‘til you’ve seen Springer in his clothes. They’re enough alike to be twins, except their eyes is different. Springer has painted a couple of fine blue bruises on his lamps to take care of that. You’d swear he’d been in a pip of a fight.” “It’s a terrible chance—” The Commissioner paused. “No worser’n any other man of the Secret Squad’s takin’ every day, sir. No more than the other boy we shoved in on Bull’s gang. It’s all risky; that’s how we’re cleanin’ up on the tips they get.” “I hope you’re right, McGrehan. Anyway, after tonight there’ll be no more cop killings by the Coleman gang.” “Which’ll be a blessin’ in a wicked world, Mr. Commissioner.” McGrehan saluted, about faced and departed. Thirty minutes later the lookout at Bull Coleman’s headquarters opened the peep panel, recognized Shorty Breen and admitted him. “Where th’ hell youse been, punk?” the lookout demanded. “Bull’s been askin’ for youse.” “Aw hell! I had a fight wit’ a guy over a pool game,” Shorty replied out of the corner of his mouth. “I got a pair uh shiners.” “Damn if you ain’t—an’ maybe Bull won’t slap youse down fer that.” Shorty did not reply. Instead he shambled across the room and, dropping into a chair commanding a view of both the office and entrance doors, he seemed to doze. III The Stage Is Set Sharp at 10 o’clock Bull Coleman opened the door of his private office to crook his fingers at four of the loungers. Shorty followed Ginger Olsen, Chopper Allen and Sid Haddon into the room. “Shut the door, kid,” Bull growled. “All of youse set down and hang out an ear. Everything’s set. Sid’ll drive the lead car wit’ two roddies an’ Chopper wit’ his grinder. Shorty’s to drive the guard car. He’ll take two more rods, an’ Ginger wit’ his Tommy. “On th’ way youse’ll pick up the third car, which’ll run between lead an’ guard. That one’ll back into th’ shippin’ alley beside the warehouse. Shorty pulls down th’ street half way of th’ block, headin’ east. Sid heads back west and pulls near to the corner. That way, if they’s a ruckus, they won’t burn each other down. “Now lissen. That gives a guard car headed whichever the dope buggy heads when it comes outta the alley. The other one’ll swing an’ follow. Get me?” All nodded, but Bull, himself a strategist, duplicated the scene of a few moments before in the Commissioner’s office, when he produced a rough map of the route to show the course to be taken. To one man in the room the scene had its element of humor. It was his second view of the maps—one down in Center Street, the other in Bull’s office. For Sid Haddon was the “other fellow” mentioned by McGrehan—a member of the Secret Police, planted on Bull’s gang through clever plotting. Something warned Haddon. He looked up, caught the burning eyes of Chopper Allen studying him intently. Instantly he let his face go blank, gazing back almost stupidly at the other. This simply wouldn’t do. Allen never had been friendly. Just now it is possible the man had caught the half grin on his face. Bull’s bellowing voice brought the duel of glances to an end. “Everybody out now,” he said. “But stick around. Youse know th’ rules. I’ll tell youse when it’s time.” That was Bull’s method. At the last moment he outlined his plans in detail. After that no one was allowed to leave the hangout or to telephone. Even then the exact hour was kept secret until the moment of departure. At the door, Chopper turned back. “See you a moment, Bull?” “Yeh. What youse got on your chest?” Chopper saw to it that the door was closed. He returned to the desk and leaned forward. “It’s that guy, Haddon,” he half whispered. “Lemme knock him off, chief; he’s poison. Don’t ask me how I know. I just feel it. I’ve seen him in my dreams putting the cuffs on me. Every time he comes near me I smell the cops.” “Aw cripes, Chopper, you’re nuts,” Bull answered. “He was sent to me by Mickey the Harp from Chicago after he got into a jam there. I had him watched plenty, and I know he’s all right. Just because you’re a damned old woman’s no reason for me to lose a guy with th’ kinda guts he’s got. He’ll go down intuh hell if I send him—’n come back wit’ a bottle of pre-war in each hand.” Chopper shrugged, started for the door; turned back. “Lissen, chief—” He was bitterly, insanely angry now. “When this guy sends you to the Big Squirm up in Sing Sing just remember that I told you to get rid of him.” Bull’s heavy face crimsoned, turned purple. “Get th’ hell outta here, you damned croaking louse,” he shouted. “When anybody sends me to the Hot Seat it’ll be some rat like youse, afraid of his own shadow. Mebbe you’re th’ one ‘at needs his horns knocked off—” Chopper shivered involuntarily. “Forget it, chief,” he said placatingly. “It’s you I’m worryin’ about; not me. When do we start?” “When I send you, rat,” Bull snarled. “That good enough for youse?” Chopper slouched to the door, white-faced, humiliated. The stage was set for the third act of the drama of Secret Police versus the Coleman dusters. IV The Attack Zero hour was 1:30. Bull strode into the main room, followed by Ginger and Chopper, each carrying his favorite sub-machine gun. “Smitty and Shuffle!” he barked. “Get your rods and go wit’ Ginger. Dutch and Ike, you go wit’ Chopper. He’ll tell youse what to do.” “Come on, punk; get your driving eye alive,” he snapped, halting before Shorty’s slouched form. He stopped and peered under the boy’s hat brim. “Jeez, you would pick a night like this to get slapped up,” he snarled. “One slip-up from you, gaycat, and I’ll knock youse off myself. Kin you see well enough to drive?” Shorty spat nonchalantly. “Sure!” he responded. “What’s a shiner got to do wit’ steppin’ on th’ gas?” “Hell! Get goin’,” Bull demanded. “Ginger’s grinder in your car. If he tells you to drive offen a dock—do it.” Quietly the four slipped through the outer room, down the rear stairs to the alley garage where waited a stolen Packard touring car. Shorty wriggled under the wheel, touched the starter, listened for a moment to the motor’s purr. He cut the switch, looked about him tranquilly. The outer door opened. Sid Haddon entered, followed by Chopper and the two rodmen. Beside the opposite wall stood a Buick. Half way there, Haddon whirled and said to Shorty: “Slip us a pill, kid, I’m all out.” Shorty obligingly extended a package of cigarettes to Haddon. Before returning it, the other snapped his pocket lighter and set the fag going. Stepping close to the side of the Packard he handed the package back to Shorty with his right hand. At the same time, with a deft twist of his left, he tucked a squat automatic between the padding of the front seat and Shorty’s leg. “Thanks, kid—see you in church,” he said nonchalantly, turning back to the other car. Shorty’s eyes flashed to the rear vision mirror. Had Ginger or the other two seen Haddon slip him the rod? It was Coleman’s rule that drivers of get-away cars must not be armed. Thus, if they started any treachery, they’d be at the mercy of the other gunmen. Seemingly Haddon’s sleight-of-hand had gone unnoticed. Dutch Schmaltz, who had been standing at the right of the car, slipped in beside Shorty. He inspected his automatic, lighted a cigarette and wriggled to a comfortable position. “All right—let’s go,” Ginger said in a moment. “Follow Chopper half a block behind, When we pick up the other car on Eleventh Avenue slide back a little further; don’t want it to look like a parade.” The garage doors swung open on oiled hinges. In another moment they closed behind the two dark cars. The side curtains were up on both, but a touch on the bottom buttons would open them for the death-spewing choppers. Otherwise there was nothing to distinguish them from the other motor-cars of the night. Shorty kept a watchful eye on the red tail light of the Buick. He speeded up when the other driver found a hole in traffic; slowed when the lights caused a temporary jam. On Eleventh Avenue, where traffic was light in the early morning hours, a dark shape curved out of an intersecting street, buzzed up alongside the Buick, then dropped into line. It was the raiders’ car. Shorty slowed down to give it room behind the lead car. “All set now,” Ginger barked. “Remember, when we get to the warehouse, you pull east and stop about fifty feet past where Sid turns and heads west. Let the engine run and be ready for a quick lam.” “Gotcha!” Shorty grunted. “Second corner, ain’t it?” “Yeh. What th’ hell’s that ahead of us?” At the curb ahead the lights had picked up an unlighted black shape. As Ginger spoke he saw the twinkle of a flashlight and lifted the grinder from the floor. Shorty gave the engine more gas, swung so that his lights also lit up the scene. By the curb stood an ancient Model T Ford, seemingly broken down. The hood was up and an elderly man, overall clad, was looking on as a youth tinkered with the engine. “Breakdown,” Shorty called over his shoulder. “ ‘Sall right.” “It is—like hell,” Ginger growled “It’s punks and old apple knockers like that who’ll remember seein’ three cars come along and turn the corner.” Grumbling, he glared back through the rear window. Shorty swung his car on the trail of the other two. He cut his lights as he saw the first car turn west. The second was backing into the loading area. Fifty feet farther on he drifted to a silent stop, jazzed his engine to blow out the last vestige of carbon, then let it purr sweetly while they waited. In the rear vision mirror he could see the outlines of the Buick at the opposite curb behind them. He grunted as he reached for a cigarette and remembered the orders were: “No smoking.” As he sat there in the darkness, he felt his nerve tauten as he visioned dark forms creeping through the warehouse, stalking the watchmen, ready to hijack the trunkful of cocaine and hyoscine Snuffles Thornton had stored there three days previously. Wriggling about as though he tried to see farther up the street behind him, Shorty succeeded in getting the automatic under his coat and thence to the holster under his armpit. Ten minutes passed, fifteen, twenty. Still there was no sound from the warehouse, no movement in the street. “Looks like a pipe,” Ginger whispered. “They’ve got the watchman by now, an’ if there’s any dingdongs, they’ve beat ‘em. Pink Tiernan’s the best man in the world on alarm systems.” Another five minutes dragged by. Suddenly three bird notes sounded shrilly. It was the “Get Ready” signal—a special whistle carried only by lieutenants in charge of a job. It meant that the raid had succeeded, that the others were coming out. In a minute or so the trunk would be tossed into the rear of the raiding car. In thirty minutes it would all be over. “Hold ‘er, Shorty,” Ginger warned raspingly. “See which way they turn. Only one man knows. That’s Bull’s system.” With the last word every man in the car stiffened to attention. From somewhere in the distance came the muffled tac-tac-tac of a machine gun—a sustained burst which ended as suddenly as it had begun. “W’at th’ hell?” Ginger growled. Shorty unlatched the door and looked back up the street. When he resumed his seat he saw to it that the latch did not catch. “Sounded like a grinder to me,” he said. “Long ways off, though.” He let his eyes probe the darkness ahead. There were shadows, he thought, shadows in the heart of shadows out there; flitting forms, or did his eyes play him tricks? He turned his head, spoke over his shoulder to the others. “Prob’ly somebody else turnin’ a trick,” he said. “This’ll be a damn good part of town to get away from quick.” Ginger grunted assent, moved uneasily. A shot crashed somewhere near at hand. Then it seemed that the whole world went mad. Orange and blue streamers of flame sprang out of the night everywhere. Ginger howled curses, thrust his weapon out through the curtains. “Now or never,” Shorty whispered to himself. He gathered his body into a compact ball, slid the door open another inch; fell against it and to the ground. As he struck, instead of leaping to his feet, he rolled under the body of the car, lay there quiet. Fifty-feet distant Sid Haddon was executing a similar maneuver, warned by the crash of the first shots. Now the two cars were driverless, helpless until one or another of the rodmen took the wheel. Heavy feet scraped the pavement in the darkness nearer and nearer at hand. From doorways service guns were belching streams of death. Ginger, still howling curses, shifted his grinder to the left door, sprayed the shadows with red-hot bursts of fire. Somewhere in the darkness a moan told of a stricken man’s agony. A pistol fell to the pavement, followed by the thud of a falling body. Over the staccato barking of the rods and the deeper growl of the Tommy guns, grew a new sound. Motors were dashing up from every hand. It was but the second minute of the attack but already scores of blue-clad cops were out of hiding, converging to add their share to the death din. Bullets were thudding now into the body of the car above Shorty. Something wet flowed along and soaked his coatsleeve as he lay hugging the pavement. A strong odor assailed his senses. Gasoline! A cop’s bullet had punctured the gas tank. Shorty dragged himself a bit to one side. It wouldn’t do to soak up a lot of that stuff and then get in the way of a pistol flash. The body of the car above him swayed and groaned. Someone put his weight on the running board, dragged something from the tonneau, pattered across the sidewalk. A moment later Ginger’s chopper began chattering from a recessed doorway where he had taken up his position. The value of his strategy was proved instantly. Entrenched as he was, he could hose death at the compact group of police across the street. Wounded men shouted, fell. The group melted, tried to re-form; melted again. Viciously Ginger swept the muzzle of the chopper right and left. Bullets from service guns slithered off the brick walls of the entryway, ricocheted. Ginger stopped only to change clips, then resumed his firing. “Dammit—get that guy!” The command was bellowed from somewhere near at hand. Shorty swung crosswise under the car, lifted the muzzle of his rod; tried to peer back of the spitting flashes to get a bead on Ginger. It was no use. Another agonized shriek came from the ranks of the attackers. Shorty loosed two shots from his rod at a point beside the spitting muzzle of the chopper. His answer was a burst of slugs which spun from the pavement near his head. Ginger was not to be caught that way. Shorty raised his hand to rub his dust-filled eyes. The odor of gas was strong again. That was the way! He lay for a moment, trying to think clearly. Yes, he could do it—provided the cops did not kill him the first second or two after he had acted. Rolling out from under the car he came to hands and knees. Overhead was the sound of the passage of swarms of giant bees. The smashing impact of slugs against the car’s riddled sides was nearly deafening. The roll of pistol fire was thunderous. Shorty snapped his gat back into its holster. His right hand felt for and brought out his pocket lighter. Holding it within his cap, he spun the wheel. The first spark failed—and the second. Then the wick caught. Deftly he skidded the metal box across the pavement, then dropped flat, rolling rapidly toward the opposite curb. Almost there he collided with someone’s legs. A great weight descended on him; throttling hands caught at his throat. “Springer—headquarters!” he gasped. The hands still held for a split second. The flame from the lighter snatched at a drop of gasoline. Instantly the opposite curb for a distance of twenty feet burst into flames which eddied and danced, making the scene light as day. Whoever was holding Shorty loosed his grasp. A tongue of fire ran along the pool, under the tank, leaped up and enveloped the container. The force of the outpouring liquid was too great as yet to permit the fire to enter. With the lift of the blaze an exultant shout rang out. “There he is—that doorway! Get him, men!” Shorty stared across the way. Ginger and his chopper were outlined as on a motion picture screen. For a second he squatted there, staring dully at the blaze. Police guns barked. Ginger instantly fell prone, sending his stream of death back full in the faces of the attackers. It was a moment of intense drama. Outnumbered, knowing that he could not escape—that the infuriated police would stop shooting only when he was dead, Ginger lay there coolly, firing methodically into the shadowy groups across the street. The car’s body was burning now. Flames burst from underneath the hood and chassis, climbed up the sides, caught at curtains and top. One of the rodmen, badly wounded, pitched out through the flaming curtains, his clothes smoking. Police guns rattled. Dust spots billowed from his clothing in a score of places. He twitched, died. As the curtains burned away, another huddled form could be seen in the tonneau. Death had been merciful to one gunman. Ginger was still in action, but he was firing jerkily now. A passing gust of breeze made the light lift, grow stronger. It showed a hate-twisted, bloody mask, little resembling a human face. A dozen police pistols crashed simultaneously. No one possibly could live through that storm of lead. Expectantly the cops held their fire. There was a moment’s pause, then an unbelievable burst of shots from the doorway. “Tac-tac-tac-tac-tac!” Twenty-five, thirty times the grim chopper sang its song of menace. Silence at last. The police guns roared again. One man, braver than the rest, charged into the doorway, firing as he ran. In a moment he was out, waving his hands excitedly. Others rushed to him. “He’s dead!” they shouted after a moment. “Croaked with his finger on the trigger.” They dragged the body into the light, marveled that one so torn and mutilated could have the spirit to continue fighting. “All right, men.” It was a captain calling. “That mops up this bunch. The others are inside yet. We’ve got ‘em from above and from all sides. Get in there. Don’t let one get away.” Shorty turned dazedly, walked a few steps toward the Buick. He realized now that the firing there had stopped long before. In the darkness he collided with someone in civilian clothes. “You, kid?” the other asked. “Haddon!” There was joy in the tone. “You got through all right, too!” “Yeh—just a few scratches. Better duck now. You know the orders—under cover with cops as well as civilians. They’ll mop up this mess, and anyway I want to be in on the raid on Bull.” Together the two Secret Police melted into the darkness, caught a nighthawk cab and speeded back to the vicinity of Finnegan’s. “I had to tell a flattie I was from headquarters after I’d touched off the gas,” Shorty said after awhile, “but he didn’t get a good look at me. Everything’s jake.” “Nice party,” Haddon said reflectively. “Wonder what the real Shorty’d have done in your place!” “That fuzz-tail!” Springer’s voice was hard. “He’d be dead back there with the rest of ‘em. Wonder why McGrehan wanted to save him?” “Damfino! Hell with that. If you want something to fret about, figure what the newspapers are goin’ to say about half the department layin’ for a bunch of thugs and knockin’ ‘em off. Them and the reformers. Hooey!” “I can see ‘em now,” Springer answered. “And I’m damn glad I’m on the Secret Police instead of the regulars.” The taxi rounded the last corner, skidded to a stop. Uniformed police blocked the way. “Broadway or Tenth,” they chanted monotonously. “Don’t turn up Seventh or Ninth.” The trap was being sprung at Finnegan’s then, according to plan. Haddon and Springer, ex-Shorty, dropped out and paid the driver. For two blocks the avenue was free of moving traffic. At the corner nearest the hangout stood several armored motorcycles, police prowl cars, and two of the big armored trucks used by the riot squad. One of the flatties came over to them. “What’re youse guys hangin’ ‘round here for?” he demanded truculently. “Sixty-six,” Haddon replied, giving the code word which in the department on that particular night meant “on special duty.” The word changed nightly. Only men within the department could know it. It was whispered to each relief on leaving the station. “Oh, yeh?” the policeman said. “Well, youse guys better crawl intuh th’ ol’ tin vests if youse’re gonna stick aroun’ here. Know what’s doin’?” He leered at them craftily, with the curiosity of the harness bull as to what the plainclothes men were doing. “No, handsome; what is it?” Haddon’s reply was like a slap in the face. “Ahrrr, nuts!” the cop replied. “Kiddin’ somebody, aintcha?” Turning, the two scurried along the darkened store fronts. A rhythmic pounding, somewhere ahead, came to their ears. “Smashing down Bull’s steel door in the middle of the stairway,” Haddon said. “That’s a tough spot,” Springer replied. “Be plenty hell when they finally get through.” His words were prophetic. Guns were in action now, their spatting sound curiously muffled by the building’s walls. From higher up came a crashing, rending sound. The roof detail was smashing a way through to the upper floor. Across the street someone opened a window on a fire escape. Two cops with a machine gun stepped out onto the landing, trained the weapon on the windows opposite. The armored motorcycles made a crescent before the open doorway. Each carried a passenger in its protected tub; each passenger carried a Tommy gun. The men in the saddles crouched forward behind their shields, automatics ready for business. The shooting, which had died down after the first few shots, crashed forth again. A policeman, his right arm dangling loosely, blood dripping in a stream from his fingers, staggered from the doorway. “They’re givin’ us hell in there,” he said through set lips. “Door’s down but they’re hosin’ the stairs with a rapid fire from back of a steel shield set on the second flight. Never get ‘em this way.” Springer turned on Haddon, jerked his head. Haddon nodded. “Try it, anyway,” he said. They raced toward the front of the place but were stopped by a captain. “Sixty-six,” Springer whispered. “My friend thinks he knows a way in through Finnegan’s. There’s a half balcony there and a doorway that’s been boarded up. We’ll signal through the window.” “Good! The other way’s suicide. See what you can do, boys.” In the rear of the hallway, under the old-fashioned stairway, was a descending stairway leading to the Finnegan half of the basement. Haddon clicked on a pencil flashlight; inspected the lock. Springer flicked out a bunch of skeleton keys, turned the lock with the second. In a moment they stood in the cellarway. A heavy partition divided the two halves of the basement from left to right. Along this stood a table where peelers prepared the vegetables. At the left, at the wall, was a narrow stair—hardly more than a ladder. Springer led, tried the door at the top. It was held by a bolt on the other side. “Hold my feet so I don’t slip,” he said. Swinging as far back as he dared, he launched his wiry shoulder against the barrier. It creaked but did not give. A second thrust splintered a panel. Three or four driving blows with his palm made a hole big enough to admit his arm. The bolt clicked back. They were in the café now. Outside the Captain stood shading his eyes, peering into the window. Springer seized a bill of fare, wrote on it; ran lightly to the front. “hallway. through cellar and back up here,” the Captain read by beam of his hand torch. He nodded, ran to the doorway, beckoning others to follow. Springer looked about. Haddon was at his side. “Boost,” he demanded. “Right, kid,” the big fellow said, catching the smaller man by the cloth at his hips; boosting him straight up as one might raise a chair. Springer’s hands caught the cross-piece; pulled him up. “Go up the stairs,” he whispered. “Feel along the wall from the stair head toward me. I’ll work back. There’s a boarded up door somewhere.” They met, but without result. “It’s farther back,” Haddon said. “I remember now.” It was almost at the back corner. They ripped away the light deal casing. “This won’t get us anywhere,” Haddon whispered. “They’re still on the floor above us.” “Old building,” Springer grunted. “I’m gambling the stairs are built all the way up on a scaffolding. You know the old system. Four-by-fours, with two-by-four supports; like a grandstand. Get under there—shoot hell out of the choppers from underneath.” “Sure’s hell something there, or there’d be no door,” Haddon replied. “Cripes, listen to those flatties stumble up the stairs!” Springer said. “Good thing everybody’s shooting.” He flashed his torch to outline the way to the stairs. Three men accompanied the captain. One carried a chopper. The other had a sawed-off shotgun and a net of tear bombs. The third attacked the door slit with a jimmy. The old wood gave readily. Back of it, as Springer had surmised, was a dark passage which led toward the rear of the building under the stair supports. One of the flatties produced a long-beam flashlight, disclosing twenty feet back, the outlines of the second floor landing. “I’m going up,” Springer said quietly. “When I find which step they’re on we can shoot ‘em loose in two seconds.” He dropped his coat, set the pencil flash upright in his vest pocket; shinned up to the first cross support. From there he swung like a monkey, up and back to a point a score of feet above the others’ heads. Their flashes revealed him as he balanced on a two-by-four, clinging with knees and one hand. With the other he felt of the risers and treads until vibration told him where the gunmen rested for their shooting down the stairway. Still clinging precariously, he took out his flash and counted the stairs. It was the seventh. A moment later he dropped to the floor, dripping with sweat, his palms bleeding from a score of sliver wounds. “The seventh stair,” he said, “but there’s no use shooting them out of there until the cops are set for a rush. Get word out to be ready.” “That’s the dope,” the Captain replied. “I’ll send word for the boys to be ready. Here, Wilkins, get out and tell ‘em what we’re doing. When they’re ready to rush, wig wag me with a light and when you hear my whistle, you other boys blow them rats to hell outta there.” The police machine gunner took up his place back in the darkness, found a rest; set his weapon with the rays of a flash so he could spray his death hail through the rotting wood of the stairway. It was stifling in the narrow passage. The minutes dragged terribly. At intervals firing was resumed in the stairway. Also there was firing at some distant point; probably the roof crew fighting their way downward. Below, in the rear, were other smashing sounds as the basement was occupied. Haddon, his nerves ragged from waiting, started toward the balcony. Before he had taken three steps, a shrill note cut through the medley of other noises. Springer and the harness cop threw their flashes upward. The gunner’s finger compressed on the trip and the Tommy-gun began its death chatter. Its barking roar smashed on their ears like the turmoil of a boiler shop. Orange flames spurted in a continuous stream from its blunt muzzle. The tread of the seventh stair seemed to lift under its smashing blows. Men bellowed in agony and a heavy object clattered downward. The stairway creaked. The tread flew apart; became a mass of splinters. Springer touched the flattie’s shoulder; mentioned for him to sweep the remaining six steps to blot out any lurking thugs. He obeyed. Other yells of pain or anger burst out in answer. He hosed every nook and corner where a gunman might be hiding. “Hold it!” Springer barked the word. Heavy footed men were pounding up the stairway from the ground floor. It wouldn’t do to shoot down any of the attackers. The cops had gained the hallway now, but were being fired on from within the gang’s assembly room. From farther back came the chatter of guns as well. “Bull’s holed up in the office,” Haddon muttered. “He’s cornered, but it’ll take a hell of a lot of lead to get him out. He’s shooting from behind the big safe; that’s a bet.” Springer shrugged. “Let’s get going,” he said. They slipped back through the café and cellar, into the hallway. The heavy fumes of cordite made it almost impossible to breathe. The stairs were heavy, slippery with broken plaster, pools of blood. At the top the cops stood massed out of range of the death hail from inside. As they watched, Springer and Haddon saw three men raise the steel shield from behind which the defenders had held the stairway. Others fell in behind it, pushed it through the open doorway of the clubroom. The others thrust forward. Springer nudged Haddon, pointing. Three dead men lay at the foot of the second flight of stairs. Another sprawled grotesquely over the splintered tread. “Must have got them with the first burst,” he said. “Wonder if we can drive Bull out the same way?” “Nope. Safe’s on a steel plate about seven by four feet. It stands across the corner. Anyone behind it, with the doors open might as well be shooting from a battleship.” “I’ve got it through the wall.” Springer rushed back along the stairway, returned in a moment, cursing. “Hall only goes part way back; they’ve built a partition there,” he said. “Above then,” it was Haddon’s turn now. “There’s some way for us to get at that rat.” They ran up the stairs, shoving the body of the dead gangster aside as they went. Springer leaped to the door at the head of the stairs, opened it, slammed it again—dragged Haddon down flat on the floor. Lead smashed in a stream through the panels at the height of a man’s chest. More of the defenders were in there, holding back the crew attacking from the roof. A battered broom stood in one corner. Springer tiptoed over to it, tore loose the cord of a droplight and wound it about the handle, leaving one end free. “We’ll pen ‘em in there,” he said. “Door opens inward. When it comes time for them to smash us from the rear, they can’t get out.” Silently he slipped to the door-casing, laid the broom across horizontally, motioned for Haddon to hold it level. He wound the wire several times about the doorknob, then about the broom, tied a granny-knot. Purposely he jiggled the handle. More slugs crashed through, then someone tried to pull the door open from the inside. It held. “That’ll keep ‘em off our backs. Come on,” Springer barked. They ran to the rear of the hallway. The attic scuttle stood open. Back in the shadows he could make out the outlines of a face. “Up with them—I’ve got you covered,” a voice commanded. “Sixty-six,” Springer replied. “Drop a couple of men down here into the hallway to help smash into them from the rear. I’ve got the door barred from this side.” “How’ll that help,” the other demanded suspiciously. “Easy. They figure they can hold us off, while Bull stands your fellows off from back of the safe in his office. We’ve got to smash this bunch and then get Bull through the floor from above.” Long, blue clad legs appeared in the opening. The cop swung for a moment by his hands, fell to his knees. Another followed with drawn gun. “All right, Bob,” the first said. “Headquarters, special service men with the password.” “Get a grinder,” Springer interrupted. “We’ll never get anywhere with hand guns.” The second cop was still suspicious. “Say,” he demanded. “Who in hell are you anyhow, young fellow? You look a helluva lot to me like a punk that hangs ‘round with this gang.” “Yeh!” Springer snapped. “And if it means anything to you, I look a lot like my father too. Come on! Get busy. Introductions can wait.” Still surly, the copper went back and called to someone above through the scuttle. In a moment a third policeman swung down, holding by one hand while he passed over a Tommy gun. “How many in there?” Haddon asked. The policeman rubbed his nose reflectively. “Half a dozen anyway. We got into the attic all right, but they pumped so many holes around our feet that we couldn’t break through. Four of our boys are up there, shot up. They burned the hell out of us every time we started.” “What’s the layout?” “Two big rooms with a door in the center of the partition. Two rooms on this floor, three in the same space on Bull’s floor.” Springer pointed to the door with its broom-and-wire lashing. “By now they’ve found its barricaded,” he said. “That gives us a chance to surprise ‘em. Put the guy with the grinder on the stairs, with just the tip of the gun showing over the landing. You others plant back in the dark and knock over the ones he don’t get. I’ll loosen the bar and kick the door open.” The firing within was intermittent. It seemed that the gangsters were satisfied with a stalemate; glad to hold the raiders from the roof on the attic floor. Springer’s hands were working now at the wire lashing. Silently he released the broom but retained his hold on the doorknob. Flattening himself against the wall he waited for another burst of firing. When it came he nodded to the others, turned the knob and sent the door sweeping back against the inner wall. Someone inside loosed a scattering spray of shots from an automatic through the opening. The copper on the stairs withheld his fire for a second, while the others, waiting for his first burst, stood silent. Springer looked over his shoulder and unconsciously flinched aside from the doorway as the Tommy-gun went into action. He could feel the death-draught of the flying lead. A medley of cries came from within. A bullet or two buzzed through the opening, smashed harmlessly into the plastering. Haddon and his two supporting cops leaped forward, but Springer was first into the room. Four men were prone on the floor. A fifth, his legs shot from under him, was trying to crawl into the second room. Springer’s gun belched twice. The crawling gunny squirmed; lay still. Feet were thudding on the floor inside as the cops dropped from the low attic opening. Springer turned and ordered the man with the Tommy-gun to keep on firing erratic bursts so Bull and his group could not know that the cops finally had occupied the floor above him. “Give me a jimmy,” he gritted. “I want to tear up the floor in this corner.” He cast his eyes about the two rooms. Roughly they approximated the three of the gang headquarters below. Therefore the southeast corner would be directly above the spot where Bull was holding out against his attackers. One of the cops disappeared; returned almost immediately with a jimmy big enough to wreck the City Hall. Springer snatched at it hungrily; turned to the corner baseboard. His agile shoulders twisted. The baseboard came loose. Another wrench. The inside flooring board flipped back in splinters. Another. Another. Haddon slipped to his knees beside Springer. “Easy does it,” he warned. “You’re tipping your mitt. Can’t you hear? They’ve stopped shooting downstairs.” Springer stared at him, wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Who the hell cares?” he snarled. “I’m going to get Bull.” “Be smart,” Haddon said and caught at his wrist. “Don’t be a sap. We’ve got all night—but we’ve got to put this thing over or the Commish is sunk.” Springer nodded in understanding. He slipped the jimmy under the next board and levered it up carefully. It ripped loose at one end. Haddon slipped his fingers beneath the edge and wrenched quietly. Another board gave. Springer arose, wiped the sweat from his eyes. “Enough?” he said, indicating the opening. Haddon shook his head. “More,” he said. “At least three feet. Safe stands across the corner, you know.” Springer loosened two more boards, then a third. Haddon levered them out, keeping the nails from creaking. Then the firing started up again on the floor below, Springer motioned to the copper with the Tommy. “Lie down,” he directed. “Listen carefully and see if you can tell from the sound just about where he’s standing.” The cop complied, laid there a matter of moments, then arose, grinning. “Bet I knock a hole in his skull first thing,” he boasted. “Then get at it,” Springer snapped, passing the gun to the man’s waiting hands. “There’s a big safe across the corner that he’s using for a shield. Sponge out every inch behind it.” The cop up-ended the weapon, stopped to kick loose a sliver of board from a cross beam. He grinned over his shoulders at the others. “Watch this,” he said. He brought the trigger back; drew a jagged line of holes straight from the corner back almost to his feet. The slugs tore through the plastering as a knife cuts whey. He moved the muzzle patiently from left to right and back again, probing into every possible corner. Suddenly there was a dull crash followed by a white dust cloud. A square yard of the ceiling had fallen. Several slugs from automatics buzzed through the opening and crashed into the attic flooring but Haddon, unmindful, leaned forward to peer down. Springer shouldered him aside roughly. The top of the safe was heaped with fallen plaster, as was the floor beside it. Two huddled forms were slumped against the wall. Springer detected sudden movement and dragged Haddon back as one of the two fallen men jerked half erect and emptied a clip from his rod at the faces above him. Feet dashed across the floor below. Rods spoke their death word and the gangster, riddled anew, pitched forward; lay there quietly. “Come on—it’s the finish.” Springer snatched at Haddon’s arm and raced to the stairhead. In the club-rooms below they came upon a scene none of the living participants forgot for days. Five wounded or dead police lay in a corner where they had been dragged by their comrades out of the line of Bull’s murderous fire. The door and partition between the two rooms were splintered wrecks. The steel shield, used first by the defenders and then by the attackers, lay overturned near the doorway. Hardly an inch of its surface had escaped a scoring by flying lead and steel. Back of it lay one of the police, one side of his face shot away by a long burst of fire. Within the inner room the walls and furnishings had been torn to fragments by the hail of bullets. Bull had left open the big doors of the safe as an added protection against police guns. The drawers and pigeonholes were wrecked, their contents smashed and torn until they were mere heaps of waste paper and rubbish. Three dead gangsters lay in a corner back of a heavy oak table which they had up-ended to use as a shield. Another lay beside the safe, at the left. A policeman caught at a pair of feet protruding from behind the safe and dragged out a wounded man. His head was smashed, but he still breathed—horribly, bubblingly. Springer wriggled through the press and caught Bull’s inert form by the collar. The gang leader was badly slashed about the head, either by grazing bullets or falling plaster. Blood gushed, fountain-like, from a wound in his left shoulder. One wrist was smashed. The hand hung, grotesquely, like a wet glove. The movement roused the gangster to consciousness. He gazed, dazedly at first, at Springer. For a moment hope leaped into his eyes. Then he saw the police uniforms and realization came to him. Hate distorted his blood smeared features; his hand clawed at his trousers band for the spare rod he carried there. “You damned, stinking, lousy rat!” he whispered. “Turned stoolie—gave me up to the bulls, damn you! I’m goin’ out—but I’m takin’ you with me.” Bull’s great body surged forward, his right hand clutching at Springer’s throat. Then, forgetful of his wounds, he tried to put his weight on the smashed wrist. The bones grated against the floor; sent him crashing back onto his face. The others were gathering up the injured policemen, only Haddon standing by. Springer jerked Bull erect into a sitting posture again. The gangster’s eyes shifted to Haddon’s face. “Another—rat!” he whispered. “Stool! Snitch! And I—I was warned. You—Shorty—lice, both of you!” Springer leaned forward until his face was within inches of that of Bull. Hatred blazed in his eyes. “No, not Shorty, Bull,” he snarled. “His double. Eddie Springer, son of one of the cops you and your rods knocked off two weeks ago. Take that down to hell with you—and see how it tastes for a kid to make things square for his old man.” Bull’s eyes widened in utter unbelief. “Liar!” he mumbled. “You’re Shorty—and a stool.” He sagged back hopelessly. Springer shook him viciously. “Your mob’s gone,” he gritted. “Every one at the warehouse, everybody here. They’re all finished—like you’ll be in a minute.” Bull sighed. Suddenly his body went limp. The Bull Coleman gang was wiped from the roll of “men wanted for major crime.” V Shorty’s Awakening Daylight! Shorty Breen awoke, shivering in his underclothing in the silent cell. Slowly his mind grasped his predicament. He was A.W.O.L. with Bull. That meant he’d have to duck the town or take a one-way ride with some of his former pals. Damn old McGrehan! Just like a thick-headed cop to get a fellow into a jam like this. Feet resounded eerily down the corridor. Shorty strained his ears to hear. Then he leaped upright, gibbering with fear. His senses told him that he was sitting erect on the hard board in the cell, yet there he stood outside the locked door, dressed in his everyday suit, peering in through the bars at himself! For the first time in years, Shorty made the sign of the cross. The figure outside stood leering at him, wordlessly. Shorty tried to mouth a question—ended with a shrill scream. The words would not form in his mouth. His throat was a frozen waste. With the sound the other Shorty moved soundlessly aside, disappeared. Long minutes passed. Never ending minutes. Once Shorty thought he heard whispering in the distance. The boy fought to still the trembling which shook his every nerve and muscle. He lay back, eyeing the steel grating above him. It was a trick, a dream; something they were doing to crack his nerve. Well, damn them, he’d fool them. Then, while he promised himself they wouldn’t frighten him again, there was a loud click. He snapped erect, gazing in wide-eyed horror; burst into a shrill torrent of screams. The other Shorty—his counterpart—was back, unlocking the door—coming in after him. He covered his eyes with his arms, cowered back against the cold steel wall of the cell. The other was inside now; probably come to take him down into hell. A heavy hand clutched his shoulder, dragged him up, and out, and into the corridor. It was more than even gangster flesh and blood could stand. Convulsively, squirming like an eel, Shorty broke the hold, ran down the corridor at a shambling pace, rounded the cell block—smashed full into the burly form of Captain McGrehan. Clyde Breen, ex-speedball and gangster, burst into tears. He forced himself to look into the eyes of the double who now stood at his side. His face was bloody, his hands gory and torn. “Get goin’; the Commissioner’s waitin’.” Captain McGrehan was speaking for the first time. “Here he is, Mr. Commissioner,” said McGrehan, thrusting the half clad Shorty opposite the official. For a long moment the Commissioner stared appraisingly into Shorty’s eyes. Finally he spoke. “Of all the Coleman gang, Breen, you only are alive today.” Shorty stared at him, unbelievingly. The toneless voice continued: “We trapped them in the warehouse raid, surrounded Bull and the others over Finnegan’s in the hangout; killed every one of them. Captain McGrehan saved you—for your mother’s sake.” “Why? How?” The words were whispered. Shorty’s world had come tumbling about his ears. “Why did we clean them out?” The Commissioner’s tone was savage. “Well, you know why. You drove the chopper car on the raid on The Yid’s trucks. That night two policemen were killed. One of them was the father of Springer here—this boy who wore your clothes, pretended to be you tonight—and drove one of the cars to the warehouse.” Shorty turned and stared wonderingly at Springer. Within his mind he said one word. It was “Guts!” The Commissioner’s dead voice continued tonelessly. “Better men than you’ll ever be, died tonight, Breen. They’ll lie and mold in their graves while you go on living, breathing, maybe loving. “Captain McGrehan convinced me we should save you for two reasons. The first is to keep your mother’s heart from breaking. The other is that you’re going to sit down now and tell a stenographer about everything you know that the Coleman gang did in a criminal way, including the death of the two policemen. You hear me?” “I hope he says ‘no,’ Mr. Commissioner. I want a chance to slap him down until he’s only two feet high.” Captain McGrehan, fists clenched, was advancing from the doorway. “Get square, kid; start all over again—we’ll all help.” It was Springer who drove the clinching nail. “I’ll do it,” he said. Shorty saw the Commissioner but once more. That was the day when Mom and Captain McGrehan went before the good Father O’Grady and rectified the mistakes of their younger years. The Commissioner was best man. Shorty gave the bride away. At the end of the ceremony, the Commissioner said good-bye to Shorty last of all. “Keep your head up, boy,” he said earnestly. “You’ll make it all right.” “An’ damn well you know it,” his new father growled. “He’s ji’nin’ th’ Navy tomorruh.” “Uh—uh—why, sure!” Shorty replied. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyArchaeologists have discovered a treasure deep in the jungles of meso-America more valuable than any city of gold: a Mayan writing system that developed in isolation from Europe or the ancient cultures of Africa and Asia. However, due to the passage of time and our own brutality as colonizers only fragments remain. But what do we know about these sophisticated, urban people and their hieroglyphs?  As always, language offers rare glimpses into the minds of the defeated. contacted Brown University’s Anthropology department, and talked to Mallory Matsumoto, a Ph.d. student who is a specialist on Maya culture and writing. The Maya were one of the very few literate cultures in ancient meso-America, how common was reading and writing among their people? Did everyone know how to read and write? Mallory Matsumoto: As far as we can tell—from the quantity of texts we have, their contents and contexts, archaeological evidence for scribes, and comparison with other cultures—only a small minority in pre-Columbian Maya society would have been able to read or write. Moreover, these people probably would have been elites; some lower-status persons or commoners, who were the majority, may have been able to recognize the hieroglyphs as writing or even interpret a few signs, but probably did not engage with the writing system much more than that. Did the Maya use literature for personal entertainment like we do today? Mallory Matsumoto: For the most part, we don’t have direct evidence indicating in what context or for what purposes the Maya used their hieroglyphic texts—we must deduce this largely from text content and context, including where and when it was created. For example, some monumental texts were positioned to be clearly visible to people, in a space that would have been accessible to many; thus, these may have been intended to serve a broadcasting function. Their texts often record historical or biographical information about the dynasty and appear with images of the king or his allies. The relatively few surviving murals, like those at Bonampak, Rio Azul, or Xultun, would have only been visible to those who were able to enter the building or tomb in which they were painted, and in some cases, the hieroglyphs were small enough that the viewer would need to come up to the wall to read them. In contrast, writing on portable objects, like ceramic vessels or ornaments, is thought to have been intended for more restricted or even individual use. These texts may more directly address the object itself or a mythological narrative, for example, rather than political events. Do we know anything about what sort of literature they had? Is it possible to talk of any Maya literary style, for instance? Mallory Matsumoto: Unfortunately, it’s not clear to what extent the texts we have represent the entire breadth of Maya hieroglyphic writing as it was used in pre-Columbian times. Most hieroglyphic texts have not survived, because of a combination of preservation bias that favors materials more durable than bark paper or (probably) palm leaves, (intentional or otherwise), and random chance. Nonetheless, one key stylistic feature of Maya writing and orality for which we have ample evidence is parallelism, a strategy of articulating two or more comparable elements (words, grammatical forms, etc.) to add nuance or communicate additional meaning. In its most basic form, this strategy juxtaposes two elements (words, grammatical forms, etc.) in a couplet. But more elaborate examples can combine three or more elements to convey very subtle levels of nuance. We have examples of parallelism in hieroglyphic texts from pre-Columbian times, as well as in alphabetic writing and oral traditions recorded since the early colonial period, and it remains an integral component of Maya expression through the present. Many of the books were of course destroyed during the Spanish conquest by people like Diego De Landa? Do we know anything about what was lost? What do the sources tell us about what Landa destroyed? Mallory Matsumoto: Almost all pre-Columbian books have been destroyed or lost. Some simply decayed; painted and plastered bark paper would have needed extraordinary conditions to survive, especially in the hot, humid Maya Lowlands. In this context, it is unsurprising that the four books that we do have all date to within a few centuries of European contact. Archaeologists have found eroded remains of much older, pre-Columbian books, but they are illegible because they are so fragmentary. Most of those books that did manage to survive the stress of time, the elements, and general wear and tear, were abandoned or confiscated by colonial officials as part of cultural persecution under European colonialism. Because these books were written in a writing system completely foreign to the colonizers and many books were integral components of Maya spiritual and ritual practice, they were seen generally as threats to the Europeans’ civilizing and evangelizing mission. We do have records of Europeans seeing these books, but for the most part, their descriptions have proved to be unreliable for reconstructing the original books’ contents. More frequently, they refer to the documents in passing as exotic and impenetrable, if not outright threatening, objects. What about the remaining manuscripts, what sort of text are they? Mallory Matsumoto: Only four books or codices are known to have survived into the present. These books contain hieroglyphs and images painted on bark paper, and their contents are, as far as we can tell, largely calendrical, religious, or astronomical. However, many passages are still opaque, so there is plenty that these codices have left to tell that we don’t yet understand. Are there any significant literary texts inscribed in stone? Mallory Matsumoto: Almost all known hieroglyphic writing is preserved on more durable media, like stone or ceramic, although a handful of surviving texts were recorded on wood, bone, shell, or other, more fragile materials. Hence, texts inscribed in stone have been critical in decipherment efforts and in the ongoing development of our understanding of pre-Columbian Maya political history, among other issues. However, they are not, as far as we can tell, representative of all genres of Maya writing: those on stone monuments typically deal with politically, historically, or dynastically relevant information, whereas those on portable stone objects like jade celts or earspools are, necessarily, briefer, and tend to focus on the immediate context of the object itself and its user. What about the oral traditions of the Maya people, do they in any way reflect what you have discovered in manuscripts and in texts? Mallory Matsumoto: Many narratives known from later oral traditions probably would have been recorded in books and other media that have not survived into the present. We see hints of this in texts from the colonial period, most famously the Popol Wuj, that record community histories and cosmology. However, it’s likely that much content of known oral traditions would not have readily been written down during the colonial period, at least not in documents that were made available to those from outside the local community, because they could have been seen as incompatible with European (especially Christian) values. We have a small number of comparable texts from the pre-Columbian period as well, including the four surviving codices, but most known hieroglyphic texts are different in content and style from oral traditions that have been recorded since European contact. The Maya language system seems very difficult, does it bear any resemblance to any other language found in meso-America or elsewhere? Mallory Matsumoto: Mayan languages form their own linguistic family and are not known to be related to other languages in Mesoamerica, but there has been a substantial amount of contact and borrowing between Mayan languages and those spoken by their neighbors, including Mixtec, Zapotec, and Nahuatl. The language primarily recorded in hieroglyphic texts, now referred to as Classic Mayan, is no longer spoken today. Even at the time, it was probably an elite, literary language that was not spoken by most of the population. Around 30 Mayan languages are spoken now by several million people, although most of them are not directly descended from Classic Mayan. Do you know if the rediscovery of the Mayan script has influenced any modern mexican writers, or literary movements? Mallory Matsumoto: Research on pre-Columbian Maya contexts has certainly influenced contemporary literary and artistic movements. Artists are incorporating elements and motifs from pre-Columbian Maya culture into their paintings, sculptures, prose, poetry, etc. Growing interest, both locally and internationally, in (especially pre-Columbian) Maya society and culture has also generally inspired more pride and association in some contemporary Maya peoples with the heritage of the more distant past. One important, recent development in this context has been the revitalization of the hieroglyphic script itself, led by local and international intellectuals interested in reclaiming the ancient writing system in the present. In addition to hosting workshops to disseminate knowledge of the script, they have also created new murals, paintings, books, and monuments with hieroglyphic writing. What is the most surprising thing you have discovered after the Mayan scripts were deciphered? Mallory Matsumoto: One key realization, catalyzed by the work of Tatiana Proskouriakoff and Heinrich Berlin in the mid-20th century, has been that the content of hieroglyphic texts, especially on monuments, is overwhelmingly historical and biographical, rather than singly focused on esoteric, spiritual themes. This advancement had consequences for our view of pre-Columbian Maya civilization as a whole—as scholars have become able to read more and more and have interpreted them as historical sources, they have developed a more dynamic view of Maya politics and warfare, among other aspects of society. It continues to drive much current epigraphic and archaeological research as we have been able to reveal more of the complexities of pre-Columbian Maya society. For me personally, one of the more surprising aspects of studying the Maya hieroglyphic script has been the sheer diversity of the corpus—of the text forms and contents, of the objects on which they were created, of the manner of presenting the texts, of the materials used to produce them, of the contexts in which they were made and used, among other aspects. It continues to remind me just how many perspectives and corners of Maya epigraphy there are to be explored. Are there any remaining mysteries concerning the Mayan scripts? Mallory Matsumoto: Despite decades of intense and insightful epigraphic work, the Maya hieroglyphic script has not yet been fully deciphered; a number of glyphs cannot yet be interpreted, phonetically, semantically, or both. The early and late hieroglyphic texts remain some of the most enigmatic—to really understand the history and development of the script, we need to be able to read them, which will require the discovery of additional texts and more concentrated effort from scholars. We also know relatively little, for instance, about how much linguistic diversity that the hieroglyphic script records. Most texts seem to have been written in a relatively standard variant, now called Classic Mayan, but this elite literary language would not have been the primary language of everyone, certainly not most non-elites across the region who spoke any of many different Mayan languages. Scholars have found some evidence of local, vernacular influence on hieroglyphic texts, but we still do not fully understand the relationship of the writing system to spoken languages(s), and work on this topic remains ongoing. And these are just a few examples—there certainly plenty of issues waiting to be addressed by future generations of Maya epigraphers. Every discovery or advancement in Maya archaeology or epigraphy raises more questions. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn the 1980s, a new academic discipline became popular in western academia: Postcolonial Studies. New theories emerged from the former colonies around the world about how they would deal with their shared past. Postcolonial Studies emerged from an attempt to give a voice to writers and thinkers that had been marginalized. Suddenly the original ideas of the colonial diaspora and the African universities became visible. As it turned out, even in places as far afield as Papua New Guinea intellectuals had something to say. This new branch of studies became immensly influential, and the first textbook on the subject was called The Empire Writes Back (1989). We contacted one of the authors of that work, professor Bill Ashcroft, and asked him a few questions about what postcolonial studies is and how he and his co-authors came to write this first book. You have worked with postcolonial theory all your career, how and when did you become interested in the subject? Professor Ashcroft: My interest in postcolonial studies originates in the field of Commonwealth literature, which began with the establishment of the Association for Commonwealth Language and Literature Studies (ACLALS) in the 1960s. By the 1970s new terms were emerging such as “New Literatures” and by the late 1970s I became increasingly dissatisfied with the untheoretical and New Critical approach of Commonwealth literature. In 1978 I edited and issue of New Literature Review (later New Literatures Review) on postcolonial literature. By the 1980s the term postcolonial had taken over from other descriptions of the field and my focus at this time was on the transformations of language particularly in African literatures.  You published the first textbook on postcolonial theory in 1989. Why did it take so long before postcolonial studies appeared as an academic discipline in the West? Professor Ashcroft: During the period after WWII when colonies were gaining independence ‘post-colonial’ meant post-independence. The emergence of Commonwealth literary studies dominated the field of English literature in the 1960s until the term ‘postcolonial’ began to gain strength in the 1970s. The Empire Writes Back was written to bring together the textual attentiveness of Commonwealth literature and sophisticated approaches to contemporary theory that could evolve a way of reading the continuing cultural engagements of colonial societies. In fact the conversations in which the book began occurred in the early 1980s. Where did you meet your co-authors for The Empire Writes Back? Professor Ashcroft: We had had known each other in the late 1970s but the project took shape when we met at an AULLA (Australian Universities Language and Literature) conference in 1980. You must have done a careful selection of thinkers to reference. Which ones would you say were the most important ones for you? Professor Ashcroft: Our aim was to highlight thinkers from the colonized societies as much aspossible. Of course Colonial Discourse theorists such as Bhabha, Spivak and Said were prominent in the landscape at that time but contrary to popular belief they were not a major influence on the book. Said’s Orientalism was a well known analysis of Europe’s representation of its others but none of these theorists had a prominent place in our work at that time. This is surprising to most people since I later wrote a book on Edward Said with Pal Ahluwalia, but at that time he featured very little in the book. Our aim was to distil the theoretical insights from postcolonial writers themselves. Postcolonial Studies became quite popular in the nineties. Has it lead to any improvements for the cultural life in the former colonies? Professor Ashcroft: I was struck by the statement by a Dalit woman at a conference in 2006 that The Empire Writes Back “gave us a voice.” Any ‘improvement’ in colonized cultures is represented in this statement through the voice that colonized people were able to use. However a greater and more important improvement has been made by postcolonial writers themselves, who appropriated English, the language of the coloniser, and used it represent their own culture and society to the world. To choose a language is to choose an audience and choosing English ensured a world audience.  Isn’t there a point in history when the colonial period becomes irrelevant, when too much time has passed for it to be used as an excuse? Professor Ashcroft: This question is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the postcolonial. The idea of a chronological stage ‘after colonialism’ was the way the term was used in the 1960s, after the surge of independence. But from the publication of The Empire Writes Back the situation changed radically. ‘Postcolonial’ refers to neither a chronology nor ontology but a way of reading. It is a way of reading the cultural resistances and transformations of colonised and formerly colonised cultural producers. Sometimes this was anti-colonial but more often it was transformative as transformation proved to be the most powerful and productive form of resistance. Postcolonialism has continually transformed itself to provide strategies with which to analyse global power. We live after colonialism but never without it. There is a local scholar here in Norway, Dag Herbjørnsrud, who recently wrote a book in which he argued for the establishment of a new global Canon. Is this in line with what you were trying to do in the 90s? Professor Ashcroft: I don’t think so. Postcolonial studies have always been suspicious of canons, which arise when those with cultural power determine what is best. Postcolonial studies rejected the idea of a canon of ‘great works’ because these invariably marginalized the non-European writers. If we dispense with the idea of a canon, however, then certainly the significance of writers around the world needs to be recognised.  There has been some debate here in Norway about epistemology, and alternative ways of acquiring knowledge. This may seem harmless in literary studies and philosophy, but it would seem to contradict much of what has been achieved in the natural sciences. In what way was postcolonial theory, as it appeared in the 90s, relevant for the hard sciences? Professor Ashcroft: In our next edition of The Postcolonial Studies Reader we are including a section on Postcolonial Science. Postcolonial theory is relevant for the hard sciences because it proposes that indigenous and non western ways of knowing the world, and particularly ways of knowing and caring for the natural world, are of equal importance. As the climate crisis approaches the need to consider alternative ways of knowing the world is increasing. You have read many postcolonial novels in your long career as a literary scholar. Which one would you say was most influential for postcolonial studies? And why? Professor Ashcroft: This question smacks a little of canonical thinking, but one book that stands out is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children written in 1980. This is because it deconstructs so many forms of imperial discourse – the discourse of nationalism, the discourse of history itself within which nations come into being; the discourse of language; those of race and ethnicity and their embedding in language. All these offer a picture of the range of Rushdie’s radical dismantling of the myths of identity that surrounded that fateful midnight when India became a nation, taking over the architecture of the colonial state. What Rushdie is dismantling is not so much the idea of nation as the wider ranging tyranny of borders within which such concepts come into being. The book reminds us of the many ways in which societies unthinkingly take on the model of western society.  Sometimes when you read literary text from around the world, there are great surprises. Is there a literary culture today that you feel is neglected, that is just waiting to be discovered and recognized? Professor Ashcroft: At this stage of my career there are few surprises. I don’t know of a culture that’s being neglected, especially since publication, and particularly publication in a world language is a form of recognition. There are many books that could be better recognised by critics. I will mention just one: Agaat by the South African writer Marlene van Nierkerk. You have traveled the world as an academic. What sort of issues are universities in Africa and elsewhere concerned with today? Professor Ashcroft: Universities in Africa face the same issue as those around the world, only to a greater degree: the marginalization of the humanities and the struggle for funding. Corrections: the introduction to this interview has been edited due to some technical problems during publication.  Further reading: Ashcroft B;Griffiths G;Tiffin H, 2013, Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts (3rd ed), 3, Routledge Press, London Dag Herbjørnsrud, “Beyond decolonizing: global intellectual history and reconstruction of a comparative method” in Global Intellecural History Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyThe actors were all on stage in front of an excited audience. Listeners everywhere, from soldiers in war zones to grandma in her rocking chair, were glued to their radio sets. The attraction of a media reality gone by is apparent in classic comedies such as Abbot and Costello’s Who Done It? (1942) and The Radioland Murders (1994). Historian Neil Verma joins us to reflect upon an art form, which, he says, will never go away. When were the first radio dramas broadcast? What are the oldest ones that survive? Professor Verma: This is hard to answer because you’d have to decide what counts as a “play” exactly. There’s a long tradition in the 1920s and 1930s of reading aloud from works of fiction, and there’s also a number of newspaper records we have of local theaters and dramatic societies playing scenes from ongoing stage productions for radio shows on stations such as New York’s WJZ and Chicago’s WGN in the early 1920s. And what about opera broadcasts? Aren’t they drama? When it comes to written-for-radio dramatic pieces, tradition says that the earliest radio drama in the US was a show called The Wolf, an adaptation of a stage play by Eugene Walter Based on a play by Charles Somerville that aired out of WGY Schenechtedy in 1924. In the UK, many point to Richard Hughes’ The Comedy of Danger, which aired on the newly commissioned BBC around the same time. Throughout the 1920s there are many accounts of dramas written or adapted for the radio ranging from Shakespeare to children’s programming, but it’s important to remember that this also took place against a backdrop of debates about how radio was undercutting theater ticket sales, and there was a tension between the two industries. Radio drama became a mainstay of programming formats with the coming of networks in the mid-late 1920s. By 1930, my colleague Shawn VanCour has established, the radio drama was about 14 percent of network programming. Many of the shows of this period that have survived are skit-like serialized shows that have a similar structure to vaudeville and racist minstrel shows (Amos & Andie) or comic strips (Clara, Lu and Em). What sort of recording devices did they use at the time and how was the radio show edited? Professor Verma: Most dramas were live shows, sometimes with a studio audience. Therefore recording devices were not required. Recording typically entered into the process for one of four reasons (1) rehearsals – many shows would record a rehearsal on a transcription disc of some kind prior to doing a live version (2) as a component of the broadcast itself – many shows used records of sound effects spun manually during the broadcast (3) as part of a transcription distribution system – local stations would very often “time shift” programs by buying recorded-to-disc shows that they would air to fill gaps in their programming or (4) as part of a record for the ad firm or sponsor who paid for the program. The kind of microphones they used were not dissimilar to the ones we use today in terms of design and pickup pattern. Initially much radio drama used carbon-based microphones but by the 1940s many used condenser type microphones, others used ribbon microphones, which were sometimes called velocity microphones. There are many old time radio enthusiasts in the US, why do you think that is?  Professor Verma: I don’t know. There is more and more audio drama being produced all the time, so it can’t just be nostalgia. Why was Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast  a turning point in radio history? Professor Verma: Welles made the most famous radio play of all time, it’s hard to pinpoint that for many other media. That said, much of the so-called panic of the broadcast is a production of the yellow press – virtually none of the mass hysteria that people think happened can be verified by any evidence. There’s a huge irony here – the “lesson” of the War of the worlds “panic” is supposed to be that you can’t trust what you hear on the radio, but it turns out you can’t believe what you read in the paper. For me, it’s a shame that the panic about the broadcast has occluded the play itself. There are hundreds of books and articles about the reception of the thing, but very little about what it sounded like, and how Welles, Howard Koch and the rest of the team evolved their art through it. For example, WOTW is one of the slowest radio plays I’ve ever heard. In a medium best known for loudness and action, it’s rather quiet and lethargic. That’s a really exciting mode of radiophonic art, an unusual one, and it can tell us a lot about the aesthetics of suspense in the mid-20th century. The legacy of Howard Koch, Bernard Hermann and Orson Welles is apparent in later productions, such as the historical drama series CBS is There (You are There) and even a local production, such as the 1970s zombie drama The Peoria Plague. Do you think an updated War of the Worlds would be as effective as a 1938 version?  Professor Verma: My feeling is that the whole War of the Worlds hoax is itself a hoax. So, what should we take from that? I think it’s a fascinating allegory for anxieties we have about the modern media, anxieties that persist today. At some point larger producers, such as NBC and CBS, turned away from radio drama, and began focusing on TV.  Have people in the US stopped listening to radio altogether? Professor Verma: No. The most recent report of the AC Nielsen company I’ve seen says that radio reaches 93 % of adults each week in the United States. That’s compared to 89% for TV, 83% for smartphones. Today there are many independent radio drama producers in the US. On this site we have featured, among others Blue Hour Productions, Atlanta Radio Theater and 19NocturneBoulevard. When did this subculture emerge? Professor Verma: Radio drama production has never really ended from the Golden Age. That said, I think the contemporary period can trace its roots to the Firesign Theater records, ZBS productions by Tom Lopez and Yuri Rasovsky’s works, along with the BBC’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy programs, which are still a gold standard for many of the audio dramas I listen to today. The quality of The Mercury Theater, The NBC University Theater and CBS Studio One, is still unmatched in modern radio. Why do you think that is? Professor Verma: I’m not sure I’d agree with that. These were shows that made sense for their audiences at the time, and created a kind of radio that was energetic about exploration and innovation. There are other traditions out there just as worthy. That said, I think it’s important that many of the authors and directors in the shows you mention could draw liberally on contemporaneous fiction for scripts, invent new vocabularies for sound effects, and work with actors who spent whole careers as voice artists. Being a radio drama professional – working at it day in and day out for decades – was a peculiar affordance of the classical period, at least in the United States. Advertising played an important role in the development of radio drama in the US. Every radio listener in the 1950s US would know the phrase “Lux Presents Hollywood” , the opening for the Lux Radio Theater. Tell us a little about the history of advertising in radio drama. Professor Verma: There are whole shelves of books on this subject. In general, advertising firms would bankroll programs and match them with sponsors, and a few firms (BBDO, Young & Rubicam, J Walter Thompson come to mind) had a particularly effective business model based on this. In general, many of the products that sponsored these shows were national brands. Think of the kinds of products we are talking about – soap, coal, boot black, soup, tea, yeast, cigarettes. These are not “niche” products exactly, and that suggests that these are plays that expected to be heard not by a particularly narrow segment of Americans, but by a very broad group. You should reach out to Cynthia Meyers from the College of Mt St. Vincent for more on this, she knows the ad firm history the best. Today everything is “on demand”. Netflix lets you chose what to watch and when. Sites like and the BBC let you select radio shows to listen at your convenience. Is there a future for linear broadcasts? Professor Verma: When people ask me for a prediction about the future of audio narrative, what historian Michele Hilmes calls “sound work,” I tell them that there will be more of everything. More linear radio drama broadcasts, more podcasts, more of things made in between. In the past few years I’ve heard incredible work from all sides of the industry, from Gimlet Media’s Homecoming podcast to Westdeuscher Rundfunk’s adaptation of The Neverending Story. In 2014 they used serialized radio dramas to promote awareness about Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The radio art world is also booming, with major conferences and installations at Radio Revolten in Halle, Germany and the Radiophrenia broadcasts in Glasgow. In the last year the BBC experimented with a nonlinear radio drama that you can listen to in different sequences, and it recently teamed up with Amazon to create an interactive audio drama on Amazon’s Alexa. Radio technology has always changed and will continue to change. Drama, I suspect, will always be a part of that change.   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literature  Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass, was, in private life, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He latinized Lutwidge to Ludovicus or Lewis and Charles to Carolus or Carroll, and, under this name, produced the first Alice book in 1865 and the second in 1872. He produced other books as well – mostly on difficult mathematical subjects. Queen Victoria, enchanted by the Alice books, asked for all of Mr Carroll’s publications and was bewildered by the delivery of treatises on trigonometry and the binomial theory. Lewis Carroll was also the first of the great photographers, and his studies of children – especially of little Alice Liddell, who was both the heroine and the first reader of the two great books – have a charm and a mastery of technique envied by the snappers of today. He never married, he was deeply and innocently religious, he liked to be cut off from the dangerous outside world. He was happy to be enclosed by the walls of an Oxford college and to tell stories to the little daughter of Dr Liddell, the great Greek scholar. But the publication of the two Alice books brought him fame. There was something in the adult imagination and yet it pleased, and continues to please, children. Carroll was a greater man than he knew. Listen to an imaginative dramatization about how Alice in Wonderland was written, from 1937. Both the Alice books are fantasies, aspects of the love of nonsense which was prevalent in England in the Victorian age. There was no nonsense in the rest of the world. When, in the early years of the twentieth century, France began to discover the delights of nonsense, this was called surrealism, and it was regretted that the British were too old-fashioned to produce surrealists in the staid age of Victoria, and of these perhaps Lewis Carroll was the greatest. Surrealism consists in destroying the logic of ordinary life and substituting a kind of logic of the unconscious mind. Alice’s adventures take the form of dreams in which bizarre things happen, but these things are based on a more serious approach to language than we can permit ourselves in waking life. By language I mean, of course, the English language in which Carroll wrote; many of his dream-jokes are impossible to render into other tongues. If there is an insect called a butterfly, it seems dreamily logical to have a bread-and-butterfly, and Carroll’s illustrator, Tenniel, draws us one of these. The flower known as a dandelion is a dandy lion, hence it can roar. There is a school in which the lessons get shorter every day: the lessons “lessen”. If your watch stops, the dreamworld says that time has stopped. The watch of the Mad Hatter and his friends the March Hare and the Dormouse has stopped at teatime, so they must go on taking tea forever. One of the characters who appears in the looking-glass world is Humpty Dumpty, who is a talking egg. His name not merely describes him: it is him (or he). An egg has a hump above and a dump below. He is the most dangerous, and yet the most persuasive, philosopher of language imaginable. He says “There’s glory for you”, and he explains that “glory” means “a fine knockdown argument”. Alice protests, but Humpty Dumpty says “It’s a question of who is to be master, you or the word.” Words, in other words, can mean what we want them to mean or else what the logic of dreams wants them to mean. Their normal everyday meaning doesn’t apply when we pass through the looking-glass. Alice’s world is a world full of eccentric English Victorians disguised mostly as animals. Like real grown-ups they can be very rude or pompous to a child like Alice, but in her dreams Alice can answer back without being punished for her effrontery. She is temporarily living in a kind of Garden of Eden, in which total liberty seems to be possible – in Wonderland, Alice can change her shape and size merely by drinking from a bottle that says DRINK ME – but liberty is circumscribed not by notions of right and wrong but by mad logic. In the songs she hears or sings herself this mad logic seems to disappear, but there is substituted for it the spirit of parody, which implies an existing logic in the waking world. Alice knows very well a song that goes: Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are, Up above the world so high Like a diamond in the sky. This becomes: Twinkle twinkle little bat, How I wonder what you’re at, Up above the world so high, Like a teatray in the sky. Why bat? Why teatray? For that matter, why is a raven like a writing-desk? We feel that if we dig deeply enough we shall find our answers, but there is no time for digging, except for apples. If, in French, potatoes are pommes de terre, they are apples in the earth, and digging is quite in order. It is the very English eccentricity of the denizens of Wonderland and the Looking-Glass world that endears them to us. The White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, the White Knight, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, marvellously drawn by Tenniel, are also very fully characterized by Carroll. They speak as we would expect them to speak, and they are full of an appalling self-will and vigour. But the men are less vigorous than the women. It is a child’s world of petticoat government in which the women – mothers, sisters, governesses – are near and magisterial, as well as wantonly cruel, while fathers are more distant, nicer, and busied with their own eccentric affairs. But finally the appeal of the Alice books is to the creative imagination, by which space and time can become plastic and language itself diverted from the everyday course of straightforward communication. There is a strong poem, which Humpty Dumpty kindly explains to Alice, that sums up the possibilities of the dreaming world. It is called “Jabberwocky” and it begins: Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. “Slithy” is both slimy and lithe, to gyre is to gyrate, to gimble is both to gambol like a lamb and to turn like a gimlet or corkscrew. Humpty Dumpty calls these “portmanteau words”, because, like portmanteaux, several things can be crammed into them. James Joyce saw the possibilities of this Jabberwocky language and, in his great novel Finnegans Wake, which presents an adult, not a child’s dream, he used the technique. What, with Carroll, began as a joke ends, in Joyce, as the most serious attempt ever made to show how the dreaming mind operates. But we leave it to the psychologists and literary critics to find in the Alice books great profundities and profound ambiguities. The Freudians have seen sexual symbols in them, which Carroll’s innocent conscious mind could not be aware of, and the Marxists have seen images of social tyranny and revolt. We are wisest if we become children again and use the books to recapture a lost innocence. We must learn to identify ourselves with a girl in a Victorian frock whose hair is long and golden and whose manner has the self-assurance of a product of the Victorian ruling class. To be honest, Alice is not a very nice little girl. She is far too sharp and bossy and proud. She lacks humility, but – and this is an aspect of the British imperialist spirit – she also lacks fear. It requires great courage, at the trial of the Knave of Hearts, with the Queen shouting “Off with her head!”, for her to cry: “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” and to see the chaos of the mass pasteboard that, a minute ago, was an imperialist society whirling about her head. She is transported to mad colonial territories and retains something of her sanity. She is very British and very Victorian, but she is also admirably and universally human. Listen to The NBC University Theater version of Alice in Wonderland, from 1948. This abridged version of the article by the British novelist Anthony Burgess in the Unesco Courier (June 1982) was published online at the UNESCO website under a creative commons license: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyThere lived an old retired major in the hills of central Europe. No one knew in which armies he had fought, or which battles that had disfigured his wrinkled face. Some took for granted that he had supported the Nazis during the war. They barely knew his name, and only referred to him with contempt as “the grumpy old major”. His home was a log cabin, overlooking a valley that was often covered in mist. And when the rains and the wind darkened the evenings, the light from his window was a solitary gleam – like the eye of the mountains themselves – peering down on the village below. The major was thoroughly disliked because of his ferocious temper. He arrived in the afternoons, unshaven, stinking of sweat and alcohol, and then he would be very rude and cold – if he indeed he said something at all. The only creature on this earth that seemed to be good enough for the old major was his dog. No one knew the age of the creature, or even of the of the major himself. The dog walked with a proud skip in its steps, and he showered it with luxury and food. In the evenings the major would silently ponder the landscape from his vantage point. What his thoughts were, not even the dog could tell. There was never a visitor to the old cabin, but the major sometimes sobered up and cleared the path. He worked into the afternoons with a pick ax and shuffle. When he was done he would take a seat in a chair outside, and drink whiskey and smoke until he fell asleep where he sat. The evening chill would wake him and then he would withdraw to his bed. Sometimes when the major slept he would kick and scream, as he was struggling for his life. Then the dog would jump down from the bed, and lie down in a corner until he quieted down. When the major woke, he would be sweaty and confused, and then he would drink coffee, and then read a book til dawn penetrated the morning mist. The landscape around the village was vast and wild, and the major would limp up and down those isolated paths followed by his mute companion. In winter, blizzards would descend upon his outpost with terrifying violence. A lighted fireplace and piles of wood kept him warm. He stored canned food of various kinds, beans, spam, fish, and he salted meats to comfort himself. When the water froze he opened the door and collected snow in a bucket which he melted by the fire for his coffee. Sometimes, when he was in the mood, he dug deep into a wooden chest and found an old battery powered radio, and he would sit quietly, intensely concentrated, trying to move the antenna back and forth in order to make out those almost imperceptible voices that penetrated into his dominion from the world outside. But sometimes this proved impossible, and therefore he did not receive advance warning of the horrific storm of 1973. On 21 of October that year the heavens gave birth to the worst winds and heaviest snow fall seen in those parts. The other villagers never talked to the old major because they did not like him, and by the time storm had arrived, and he entered their thoughts, it was too late. They thought that the cabin on the hill has stood there for hundreds of years. Like the major himself it seemed carved out of the hillside. If he just sat quiet where he was, no harm could befall him. And they were right, and the old major knew it. He did what he normally did during winter storms, lighted his fire. The flames flickered, and when the shutters were secured, they filled the room with comfort, light and heat, while the Day of Judgment brewed outside. The old major was used to this, it had been his life, in every sense. He got up a bottle of whiskey, and sipped from a glass. His dog, however, was utterly terrified. It crawled under the table, and whined. The old major tried to reassure the creature, calm it with offers of treats, but the howl of the winds, the creaking walls and what seemed like an inexplicable drone from the heavens above frightened it, and it would take no food. The old major then got down on his knees under the table and sat next to the dog with his glass of whiskey. He looked at the dog, and for a while dog was calm. But then suddenly a tremendous gust blew the door open, filling the room with swirls of snow. The old major rushed to his feet, and struggled against the wind to shut it. When that was done, he noticed that the dog had fled into the night to seek refuge among the trees. First, he was overwhelmed with grief when the room was quiet. He looked at the empty space where the dog used to lie. Then his eyes were suddenly filled with defiance, an old soldier was returning to battle. He put on his thickest coat, and hat and scarf, grabbed an oil lamp and unlocked the door. So it was that the old major decided to take on the very spirits of the mountain to fight for his dog. He waded to his ankles in snow for a few hundred meters up the hill. He shouted, but his voice was inaudible. As he became removed from his cabin, he saw its light extinguish in the storm. And not soon after, the old major was overcome with fatigue and sat down under a tree. That is where the men from the village found his frozen body two days later. They did not have much sympathy for him because he had always been mean and yelled at them. The dog, however, was found alive in the shed outside. Everyone thought that this was the most faithful creature on earth which stayed so loyal to such a terrible person. It was brought down from the mountain, and given to a breeder, who made sure that it produced many litters, whose offspring still run around on the meadows in those parts. They say old majors die, but their dogs live on forever. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... 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short storyAt an undisclosed time in British history, there lived a 14 year old boy with undiagnosed, but mild autism who was fond of school debates. His mind was such that he could challenge most normal people simply by overwhelming them with masses of facts from his prodigious memory. As he grew older, he realised that he could use this in a court of law, and make good money as a barrister. Passing a degree in pedantic quotation and logics posed no problems for a high riser of his particular talents. He got top marks, and was immediately hired by a large London law firm to argue a very important case before a senior and very respected judge. When the new barrister entered the court, however, he immediately turned many heads because of the elevated sound volume with which the fresh legal representative presented his arguments, this being the method he had applied to win school debates. The old judge – first frowning, then staring in disbelief – observed the performance in silence, and then – out of sheer curiosity – got the solicitor into a short discussion. I say short, for five minutes later the fresh barrister was arrested in contempt of court on the grounds that “shouting and screaming like a madman does not improve a flawed line of reasoning”. The barrister remained in his cold cell a few days, until the judge took pity on him, and paid a him a visit. He sat down next to the man, and assumed the role of a well-meaning grandfather. “I am going to order your release tomorrow”, he said. “But in my 40 years as a judge, I have never seen something similar in my court as what you perpetrated a few days ago.” “I understand” “There is a condition to my release, so do not rejoice until you hear it: I want you to promise me that you will NEVER work as a barrister, but in stead find a profession more suited to this kind of rudeness, these constant interruptions with tedious facts and details. This inability to allow a full line of reasoning to reach a natural conclusion. This sort of circus will halt all progress in my cases, and assure that nothing gets done, you see. Will you promise me this?” The young barrister sighed. He was not a bad person, in fact he was kind. He just did not understand. Nor was he a person who would knowingly disrespect authority.“I will heed your advice, Your Honour.” The door slammed shut behind the judge as he left, and the very next morning the barrister was released. He quit the law firm, and for while drifted aimlessly through various business ventures. Even with moderate success in these, he felt that he had been robbed of a setting in which his natural talents for debating would blossom. However, this story has a very happy ending, for the historical records indicate that he – 20 years after the said events – became the most admired Speaker in the history of the British House of Commons. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyMy name is dr. John Smith, and I am – or rather was – a GP in a mid-sized town. I am about to retire, my own health is failing, and I wish to pass on some memories of a patient that really meant a lot to me. Of course, we had no private friendship, but I did talk to him in consultations and I bumped into him now and again in the street. At the time I had just turned fifty, the desperation and ambition of my midlife crisis had passed. I had packed up my leather jackets and my tight training outfits, and had accepted that I would remain in my small practice for the rest of my life. My wife had long since packed up her things and left, allegedly on the grounds of my ties to the male patriarchy, and my son had a pregnant girlfriend in the capital, far from his patronizing, though always well-meaning father. What remained for me then was my own mother, whom I visited every Sunday in her home, bringing various things that she needed from the shops. I also learnt that my only friend, Peter, my colleague at the practice, had been offered a wonderful job in the pharmaceutical industry with a huge pay, and would be transferring some of his patients who did not want a new GP that required lengthy travels to me. I was very sad that last day I saw him in our clinic, even though I knew he would always be there for me on the phone, and that I could visit him whenever I wanted. Work not be the same. As I went through the list of my new patients, I saw that most of them were old, including old Jacob, the subject of this story. At the time, however, he was one of many, and it is in fact because he was so typical that he has remained in my mind all these years. I first saw him a Wednesday in June, and he was a tall thin man in his mid eighties. His face was wrinkled like sun dried-leather, and his brows were bushy, but he had a modest, almost shy smile, and very intelligent eyes. He seemed surprisingly agile for a man his age. Since this was our first meeting, he told me something about himself. He was not an educated man by any means, he had been a fisherman, and then a truck driver, but he had also been on some ship ages ago. This man is an anachronism, I thought, how many old sailors are left these days? I listened to his chest, made examinations, did blood work, nothing unusual. He then got up and left, and the results were Ok when they arrived, which I told him the next time. It was not until August that year that he started complaining about pain and being short of breath, and I then sent him to the local hospital for further tests, knowing his age. At this time, I was feeling a little lonely privately, and I had decided to scan all my mother’s family photos, and restore them digitally. I had nothing to do when I was alone in my apartment, and this also gave me a subject on which to chat and reminiscence with my mother. She was more than delighted, and often looked at each photo with a nostalgic smile. Everything was tied to a story, and even though she had recounted all of these stories God knows how many times, I enjoyed hearing them again. Somehow, I was reminded about who I was, and where I had come from. And this knowledge was more powerful than my wife’s irrational, but long-anticipated departure or my son’s indifference. When I returned from these meetings, I felt that I had more energy in my work, and I spoke to the likes of old Jacob, and was more dutiful in the performance of my job. Once I asked Jacob whether he had anyone to support him during his old age, knowing that my mother at least had me. “Do you know my age?”, he asked. “Yes, but still…” “Everyone I know has long since left this world, and I have no children. You see as you grow older, you will notice that one by one witnesses leave you, one by one..” “Witnesses……?” “Yes, the people who was the life you once had. Who knew you while you still were a man about town and so on.” “I don’t think I have ever qualified for that description. I have been a nerd all my life. God knows I have tried…” “I was a very smooth operator in my prime”, he said with a very unexpected confidence in his gray eyes. As I looked at his face then, I tried to restore the man in my mind the way he had once been. If you straightened out his wrinkles, if you removed the bushy brows, if you corrected his back, and if you gave him a thick black mane, perhaps oiled, he would be a very handsome man! I shuck my head at the thought. But then I looked at him, and laughed. That was a very nice moment for the two of us. And then he left. That evening I went to the shop to get things for my mother. She was very particular about what she ate. Some people think picky eating is an eccentric and demanding cry for attention, but being a doctor I knew very well that the reason was related to bowel movements and stuff that most people feel uncomfortable discussing with others. So, I got her what she demanded. I arrived at the home around seven. Evening was falling, yet no stars were up. As I entered and walked down the white linoleum corridors towards the counter, I noticed at once something new in the glances from the nurses. As I placed my hands its surface, I knew that something had happened. My mother had a sudden heart attack, and had passed away very suddenly in the evening. It had been very quick, she had not suffered, they told me. But somehow that did not matter. I almost ran home, locked the door to my apartment, drew the curtains and cried. I then sent an email to work, and called in sick. In fact I did not leave my home for three days, when I was forced to get food from the store. I spoke to no-one, and I only called my son four days after my mother’s death. I have always been reluctant to burden my son with my own feelings and problems. I have always felt that parents should remain a rock in their children’s lives, and that part of being a parent is hiding those frustrations that one feels at work or elsewhere, and provide safety and security. After all, that is what remained in my own experience. Being a doctor I have dealt with the practicalities of funerals many times. But this time it was different. Going online and visiting what seems like a brochure of various coffins somehow seems perverse. “Special autumn sale!” “20% discount on our finest model!” And when you enter the store in person, and that slick salesman slides in front you with exaggerated sympathy, accompanied by words like “payment options” and “down payment”, it adds to a certain surrealism. And that surrealism is what remains of the person that you once were. I walked down the shop floor feeling the fabric and texture of coffin interiors, the smoothness of their varnish. Then I was overcome by grief and asked for the bathroom. I sat there for ten minutes, staring at the tiled floors. As I left, I had decided upon a model, and was about to wave to the salesman, when I saw him in what seemed like a very pleasant conversation with an elderly man. I heard laughter, the old man patted the young salesman on the shoulder. When the man turned, I recognized old Jacob. His eyesight was poor, I knew, and he hadn’t seen me at the far end of the shop. I withdrew into the corner, and saw him striding about the room touching the coffins one by one. “I will take this one,” he suddenly said. Then he produced his credit card, paid and brought up what seemed like a shopping list. He had a small pencil, and then then crossed out one item. Then he left. The whole scene had come so suddenly, that I quite forgot about my own purchase. The salesman approached me, but I stood completely stunned for a while. “I will be back tomorrow,” I said and made for the exit. It was late September, and there were leaves on the sidewalk. Old Jacob was three hundred meters down the road moving very slowly. I don’t know what came over me, but I followed him at a distance. 200 meters farther on there was a huge supermarket. He then vanished in a crowd, but I tracked him down in the milk section. There he noticed me and his face lit up with that shy smile of that former smooth operator. “Hello Jacob,” I said nervously, what are you doing here?” “Shopping!” he said, “I needed some things”. Then he lifted a liter of milk and placed it in his shopping cart next to a box of coffee. “That would be it!” he said. And then he brought out his list and his small pencil, and crossed out his items. And then he left. I never saw him again. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby John Llewelyn Rhys (1911-1940) WHEN the Old Man came into the ante-room the young officers began to rise in their chairs, but he waved them back with an impatient gesture. It was warm and comfortable in there and the tenor of idle chatter continued. One could hear the crackle of a newspaper page and the sound of bidding from the four who were playing a Chinese game in the corner, their minds apparently intent on the little walls of white blocks on the table before them. ‘ Beneath the Wing-Commander’s arm were a number of files. On the outside of the files was a map. Robert recognised its shape and his heart kicked inside him. And now every pilot in the squadron was watching the senior officer, . watching him without movement of head, watching him while seeming to read, watching’ him while crying ‘Three Characters.’ The Old Man nodded, first at one, then another, and finally at Robert. Silently they rose to their feet, leaving their circles of friends, their reading, their Chinese game, and filed into ‘the neighboring room. The Wing-Commander stood by the grand piano waiting for them to gather about him. 1 IE looked suddenly older, Robert thoughts Now his hair, shone with grey, new lines emphasised the hardness of his features. But his voice was unchanged, harsh, imperious. ‘Gentlemen, the show’s tomorrow.’ He paused and looked ‘slowly at the circle of pilots. . . ‘The target, you know. Here’s the latest from Intelligence and a few other little details I want you to know.’ ? Robert heard his instructions and memorised them, with an ease born of practice, but the words seemed meaningless rattling like hail on the roof of his mind. ‘Any questions?’ But they were all old hands, and no naive youngsters among them wanted to make themselves heard. ‘Well … good luck! I know you’ll put up a good show.’ His voice was suddenly shy. ‘I wish they’d let me come with you.’ They went back to the ante-room, went on talking, reading, playing the Chinese game. Robert sat down by a friend. ‘If anything,’ Robert’s voice was quiet as be flipped the pages of a magazine, ‘if anything were . .] . to slip up . .; . tomorrow, would you attend to the odd detail?’ ‘Of course, old boy.’ ‘Tomorrow?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Tough show?’ ‘Tough enough.’ It was almost day as Robert walked over to Flights with the Squadron Leader, and cold, with the half light lying dead on the roofs of the camouflaged hangars and the wind sock napping drearily on its pole. Mechanics were beginning to start up the motors which clattered protestingly to life, back-firing and shuddering on their bearers. ‘Looks like a good day, sir?’ The leader of the raid looked up, then kicked his heel into the turf. ‘Yes; hope this frost holds off. I hope to hunt next week.’ When Robert got to his machine only the starboard engine had been started. Impatiently he watched -the efforts of the crews. If only they’d get that engine running, he thought, if only they’d get it running. He, went up to the fitter, ‘You haven’t over-doped?’ ‘ No, Sir. She’ll go now.’ Still she refused to start. He climbed up the ladder into the cock. ‘Got your throttle setting right?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ said the corporal, ‘she’ll start in a minute.’ The second pilot was inside, busy at the navigator’s table. ‘All set?’ Robert asked. ‘Bombs, petrol, and everything hunkey-dorey, sir,’ the sergeant answered. If only they’d start that engine, he thought. If only they’d get it going and we could take off. At last the motor roared to life, and be climbed into his seat, ran up the engines, pulled up the ladder and waved away the chocks. As he waited on the aerodrome, his airscrews throwing long flickering shadows, he kicked the heavy rudder violently from side to side. Where were the others? Where were the others? They would be late off the ground and there would be a row. Then he glanced at his watch, and found to his surprise that it was five minutes to his zero hour. And now the other machines were taxiing towards him, huge, heavily laden monoplanes, grim against the dawn, moving fast over the close cut turf, beating down dean thick lines through the white frost. He glanced down at the controls, felt the various cocks, checked the cylinder head temperatures, the hydraulic and brake pressures. Then, when all was ready, he pushed open the throttles, the noise increasing till it filled the long, narrow compartment, beating mercilessly upon his ears, drowning the screams of the hydraulic gear. She was heavy with full petrol and a belly full of bombs, but as he felt her becoming airborne he brought the wheel gently back and she bumped up into the air. From time to tune Robert switched on his microphone and spoke to each gunner in his turret. They were alert and cheerful, and behind him the second pilot worked at his check navigation. Sometimes they saw fishing boats whose crews waved frantically, and minesweepers busy in their deadly task, and once a convoy with destroyers like sheep dogs on its flanks. The weather was fine, with high lumps of cumulus, and they began to climb. In a little while the second pilot came forward and held up eight fingers, Robert nodded. Eight minutes. He felt cold inside, his teeth were shattering, he wished they were in the thick or It, and grinned at his companion. The target came into view, a smudge on the horizon. The leader began to give his orders over the radio, and they started a big circle so as to attack from out of the sun. As they came up the sky filled with anti-aircraft fire. The second pilot had switched on his microphone and Robert could hear him jeering at the enemy gunners, for the shooting was poor, though some of the bursts were un comfortably close. They came over the target and released their bombs. Robert watched the sky unceasingly for enemy fighters, wondering if any aircraft were lurking in its glare waiting for the anti-aircraft to cease before diving to the attack. The second pilot was busy with the camera recording the hits far below, whistling as he worked. A burst of Archies off the port wing tip made the machine rock violently. Soon they were out of range of the ground guns, and Robert saw one of the other machines break formation ‘and rock its wings. He spoke to the gunners. ‘Keep your eyes skinned. There’s a fighter about somewhere.’ Then he saw it, a lone enemy machine, a single seater fighter with square wing tips. It came up quite slowly, lazily, lying on to the tail of one of the bombers. It was so simple a manoeuvre that it might have been a pupil on his circuit at a flying training school. As it turned off, short jabs of black smoke jerked themselves from the back cockpit to the bomber. The fighter turned slowly on to its side. First smoke, then flames poured from its engine, splashing down the fuselage. In the bright sunshine, against the blue sea, the machine fell slowly, twisting, turning, diving. ‘Here they come!’ said the second pilot; and Robert saw that the sky seemed to be filled with fighters. They broke up and began to attack. Robert watched two circling him from the front. As they turned the flank his rear-gunner switched on his microphone and Robert could hear him swearing. Tracer from the enemy streamed overhead, curved in a graceful trajectory, and dropped out of sight. Then the gunner was silent Robert heard the rattle of his guns and his voice, jubilant ‘Got him, sir.’ ‘Good. Keep you eyes skinned. Be patient,’ Robert said. Now a twin-engined aircraft came up on the beam, accompanied by one of the smaller fighters, which attacked from the rear. A burst of fire shattered the roof over the second pilot’s head. The front gunner coolly brought his guns to bear. The twin was an ugly brute, the first Robert had seen with extended stabilisers on the tail. He was frightened now. His mouth dry, his hands wet inside the silk lining of his gloves. Attack after attack came up, filled the air with tracer, turned lazily away. The middle gunner brought down another fighter before he was hit in the leg. Robert sent the second – pilot back- in his place. One burst of machine-gun fire shattered half the instrument panel, sent a shower of broken glass over his knees. Darkness filled his eyes, but in his mind he could still see the face of the enemy gunner, red and foolishly grim, as he fired from the rear cockpit of the fighter. The wheel went limp in his hands, the strain of months of war, the nag of responsibility, lifted from his consciousness… Then his vision cleared, and he – pulled the aircraft level. To his surprise the fighters had vanished, and at his side was the Squadron Leader’s machine, which he thought he had seen go down. He began to sing, thumping his hands on the wheel. They were separated from the others and flew in tight formation, the Squadron Leader turning his head from time to time and grinning and doing a thumbs up. They lost height till they were just above the sea, their patterned shadows sliding effortlessly over mile after mile of water desolation. On crossing the coast their senior officer altered course for base. They flew at a few hundred feet over the sleepy countryside, their shadows now vaulting hedge and haystack. As he looked, first to the north at the black rich earth of the fens, marshalled by dykes, then south to the loveliness of Suffolk, each feature of the country fitted into its place in his mind, each town he knew, each stretch of river. How familiar, he thought. How well I know it all. Truly, England is my village. Soon the little lake, shaped like an elephant’s trunk, appeared and they dived low over the hangars, then broke away, dropped their wheels, and came to land. There were no other machines about and the camp seemed strangely deserted. A little later they walked into the mess. It was warm and comfort able in there and the words and phrases of the many conversations jumbled themselves into a haze of sound. At the table by the fire there was an empty chair at the Chinese game. When Robert saw the other players he stopped in his stride. There was Nails, who got his on the first show, and Dick, who went down in flames, and Thistle, his second pilot and Badger, who was lost in the North Sea in December. ‘Come on’ Badger said. ‘We’re waiting for you.’ ‘But I thought …’ Robert said. ‘I thought …’ A VOICE from a distance interrupted him. A woman’s voice. There were no women in the room. Then the room and the men in it were gone. Robert was lying in a bed,, in a long, dim chamber With other beds up and down its length. The face of the woman whose voice he had heard was looking at him. . It was an *frg»foh face, plain and pleasant, framed severely in a familiar headdress. ‘What was it you thought?’ the nurse was saying to him. ‘You’re all right, you know. Home in England. The second pilot brought you in.’ Robert stirred fretfully in the bed, but the pain made him lie still again. The nurse put a hand to his bandaged head to quiet him. He closed his eyes and thought of the room he had left just a moment ago. He tried to will himself back into it, to be with Badger and the others. It bad seemed so hospitable’ there, so farm, so safe, so full of friends, so free of pain. He couldn’t reach it. Almost . . . Almost . . . Not quite. He couldn’t What h~d happened to him — that he had been there with them, the brave, admired dead, and come away and couldn’t get back to them again? In pain and bewilderment be thought: ‘I wish I knew— I— wish— I knew From The Mail (Adelaide) 22 February 1941 Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / short storyThe vast Amazon Valley, traversed by the largest river in South America, is covered from end to end by forests of spectacular beauty, and is without equal anywhere. However, these jungles have a terrible reputation due to the extraordinary abundance of reptiles hidden beneath those endless canopies of greenery. The most colossal boas can be found there, either lurking below or suspended from the branches of the trees. They wait for unfortunate animals or people to pass by, then drop to coil around their prey. The thinnest and smallest snakes, only the length of a quill pen, are also found here, and these are perhaps even more deadly due to the potency of their poison. Woe to any careless man venturing into these magnificent forests without a large knife or a good machete! He will not leave this place alive, and either die in the terrible coils of the boas or perish from the venom of coral snakes, for which there is no antidote. Some years ago, a great unease spread among those who worked at the San Felipe plantation, which belonged to a Brazilian who had amassed a fortune cultivating coffee. Slaves who had ventured into the nearby forest for kindling spoke with terror of a serpent without equal in length or size. When the owner of the plantation, Don Manuel Herrera, was told about this, he feared that his laborers, mostly Black slaves, would flee for their lives. So he summoned loggers to help him verify the tales – the stories seemed too fantastic even to Don Manuel Herrera. Don Manuel had seen large snakes himself several times, and had even killed quite a few of them. He had also heard indigenous stories of an immense monster called “giloia,” native to the swamps and the marshes, and which was sometimes observed in certain caves along the banks of the Amazon. The four loggers and their overseer, who was also happened to be the farm manager, returned from the jungle and reported to the owner. The poor souls were still trembling with fear. “Tell me, Como,” he said to the oldest one. “Did you find any serpents?” “A huge, horrible snake, sir,” the terrified slave replied. “I’ve never seen one like it, and I don’t think there is in all of the Amazon.” ““We were cutting a dead tree when the ground rumbled… a long crack appeared…. a bad demon rose from hell. It was strange…inexplicable………we ran to a clearing. “Then we saw the monster. The ground had split! Plants were broken. The gigantic snake rose from that crack, master. Twenty-five meters long… thicker than you and me.” “You saw this with your own eyes?” “Yes, sir,” the four of them replied in unison. “Are you sure it wasn’t a python?” “No, sir. No python.” Como replied. “What did it look like?” “It was dark as a demon….with the skin of a dragon” The planter turned to his overseer, a local man who was also well traveled. “Do you think serpents so enormous can exist?” he asked. “It could be a ‘giloia,’ sir,” the overseer replied. “A rare reptile whose existence was doubted for a long time, but it does live in certain Amazon forests.” “How dangerous is this creature?” “They say it can tear a man limb from limb.” “I don’t believe in the existence of such prehistoric monsters at all,” the planter said. “However, I intend to seek out this reptile, determine its species and kill it.” “Don’t expose yourself to such danger, sir.” “Would you be afraid to accompany me?” “I will follow my master anywhere,” the overseer replied. “If you are heading into danger, it’s my duty to accompany you.” “Then we’ll go and look for this legendary “giloia,'” the planter said with a determined voice. “If it exists at all. Gather my weapons and prepare my dogs.” Less than half an hour later Don Manuel Herrera left his house, followed by his overseer and four his enormous mastiffs, dogs used to chase off jaguars and cougars and for hunting runaway slaves. They were fierce and hardened canines, each wearing an iron collar covered with sharp spikes to prevent them from being strangled by wild beasts. The four slaves had proceeded in advance, and were waiting at the edge of the forest. It was noon. The sun – now at its highest – scorched the backs of the poor laborers across the fields, and the valley seemed locked in an ominous silence. The birds, drowsy from the intense heat, no longer chirped. Even the parrots, those eternal chatterboxes, remained quiet, hidden beneath the enormous leaves of the jupati palms. Don Manuel and the overseer hurried across the open fields. The heat in the Amazon valleys, especially between eleven in the morning until four in the afternoon, is extremely dangerous. Only indigenous tribes or Blacks may defy the mid-day sun with impunity, and work without woven head ware. Fortunately, the protective roof of the forest was nearby. It was more than a forest; it was an endless expanse of virgin wilderness, extending from the deserted banks of the Amazon – for leagues and leagues. Plants of all species and sizes grew side by side wrapped in vines. Many of them were highly valuable. In such fertile regions, a person could find the necessities of life without farming or even work. In the depths of the forest, there were trees that produce excellent milk not much different from what a cow might provide. A cut in a tree trunk would make the tasty liquid drip in abundance. Other trees produce a kind of bread, or rather, certain fruits as large as a child’s head. These are filled with pulp that is sliced and toasted on charcoal, and which they say taste almost like artichoke. And still others that produce excellent wax for the making of candles, and filaments for weaving very sturdy clothing, as well as delicious fruits like bananas, pineapples, and more. When the planter and the overseer reached the first trees, they found the four Blacks crouched behind the trunk of a coconut palm, their faces pale. “Master,” Como said, “do not make us meet the devil again. The ‘giloia will eat our soul.” “I don’t know what to do with your help,” the planter replied. “Have you seen the serpent again?” “No, sir.” “Where did you see the crack?” “The gates of hell lie 500 paces yonder, master!” “Let’s go, overseer,” Herrera said. “And you cowards, may return to the plantation!” He released the four mastiffs, loaded his rifle, and ventured into the forest. “Always keep an eye on the treetops, master,” the overseer said. “Boas often hide among the leaves and drop from above as soon as they spot prey.” “I’ll be cautious,” the planter replied. The dogs began to show signs of unease. They stopped frequently, sniffing the air and the ground, and growled while looking at their owner. They seemed frightened, yet they were fearless animals, that never shied away even from the fiercest jaguars, which are the tigers of America. Five hundred paces into the forest, they found the huge fissure. The ground, which appeared to be made of dry mud, had been lifted along a vast stretch, and the force exerted by the monster had been such that it had overturned several plants. “It was under here that the reptile was hiding,” said the planter, astonished that a serpent could develop such strength. “You can still see scales and bits of skin scattered among the debris,” sighed the overseer. “Do you really think it’s one of those infamous ‘giloias’?” “They say that these monstrous reptiles, during the dry season, immerse themselves in swamps where they fall into a deep slumber or hide in caves, only to emerge two or three months later.” “In which direction do you think the monster twisted?” “It must have headed toward the river to seek refuge in caves. There are many of them in these parts, you know.” “Let’s rely on the dogs,” the planter said. “I believe they are already on the right track.” The four mastiffs, after sniffing along the entire crevice, had moved up to the opposite side, trotting among the dry leaves covering the forest floor. They had picked up the scent of the enormous reptile and were determening a direction. Don Herrera and the overseer loaded their rifles and set off after the dogs, looking under the thick bushes and among the branches, although they were convinced that a creature of that size couldn’t climb those trees without breaking them. They had discovered a passage among the plants, like an immense furrow, which must have been created by the monstrous reptile. Many young plants had been flattened, and numerous shrubs were completely broken. It now dawned on the planter that the indigenous legends of the ‘giloia,’ might be true, after all. The evidence was simply too strong. They had been walking for half an hour, trailing the dogs, when barks and agitated growls were heard. They were now near the river. The distant roars of the immense Amazon could already be heard, its waters smashing against protruding rocks. “Master,” said the overseer with a pale and solemn face, “we must be near the serpent’s refuge.” “Are there caves here?” the planter asked. “Yes, there’s a huge one that no one has ever dared to explore, and it’s believed to lead into the heart of a mountain.” “We’ll cut some resinous branches and go visit it.” As they were about to move on, they heard screams from the river, shrill female cries: “Jaco! Jaco!” with an indescribable tone of terror. The howling dogs lead the planter and the overseer toward the river. At this point, the amazon streamed between tall and rocky banks, pierced by deep holes that might lead to the mysterious caves. After passing the cliffs, the planter stopped, and overcome by a paralyzing fear, he was for a moment unable to lift his rifle. An enormous serpent, over twenty-five meters long, all dark, with its body covered in very thick scales still encrusted with mud in their joints, emerged from one of those black crevices, sliding down the steep bank. At the bottom, in a wooden canoe, a young woman from the tribes, desperately clasped her baby, shouting in desperation and despair: “Jaco! Jaco!” It was probably her husband’s name. The terrifying reptile had spotted her and was descending with its mouth wide open, flicking its forked tongue and hissing. Paralyzed by fear, the woman -who belonged to a local tribe – was unable to push her canoe from the banks. She embraced her precious child in desperation, as if this would save it. When she saw the two of them, her arms stretched towards them, holding up her baby. Her voice – almost choking with terror – screamed: “Help, white man!” Two gunshots rang out, one after the other. But it was too late. The enormous reptile had snatched the woman and the child, and with incredible speed, it had slid into its black hole, vanishing from sight. For a moment, they still heard the cries of the poor woman, then there was a profound silence. Even the dogs no longer barked. “She’s lost!” the planter exclaimed, throwing his arms in the air. “We arrived too late.” At that moment, an tribesman armed with an axe hastily descended the riverbank. “My wife! My son! The ‘giloia!'” he shouted, stopping in front of the planter. “Accursed snake! I knew it had to be here. I must avenge my wife and my son, or I can no longer be a chief for my tribe.” After the outburst, he composed himself with a sudden self-control unique to Red men. Whether they belong to the warlike tribes of North America or to the indolent and wild ones of South America, emotions will never disfigure their faces long. Once the initial surprise or anger has passed, they vanish behind a mask of indifference – as if nothing had happened. This came as no surprise to the planter, who had had frequent dealings with the indigenous tribes. “What will you do now that the ‘giloia’ has destroyed your family?” he asked. “I will avenge my wife and my son,” Jaco replied, his jet-black eyes sparkled and gleamed fiercely. “Have you ever killed a ‘giloia’?” “No, those snakes are rare. But I heard that my friend, the chief of the Ottomachi, found one near a cave last year and killed it. Why shouldn’t I, Jaco, neither a weakling nor a coward, be able to do the same?” “The monster won’t be taken by surprise,” said the overseer. “It knows we’re here, it will be on guard. After devouring its prey, it will prepare for a fight.” “At night, snakes sleep,” said the tribesman “Behold the shadow of evening!” “Do you know that cave?” Don Herrera asked. “I’ve visited it several times to find the green stones that we use as amulets against enemy arrows.” “If you help us kill that monster, I’ll give you a rifle.” That was all it took to win over a tribesman. Besides, the man wanted to avenge his wife and son, not because he was grieved by the loss of his companion and heir, as tribesmen are not overly attached to their families, but because of that primal instinct that dominates primitive peoples. “I will kill the ‘giloia,” he said calmly. “Wait for me here.” He climbed up the bank, and half an hour later, he returned with a bundle of resinous branches, which were to serve as torches, and his blowgun, a kind of wooden tube, slightly wider at the base and narrower toward the top, which they use to launch their arrows with tips dipped in the highly poisonous curare. By blowing forcefully into it, they can send their darts a distance of up to fifty meters and are so skilled that they don’t miss even the smallest birds. “When the white man is ready,” he said after distributing the branches. The sun was about to disappear behind the thickets, and night was descending rapidly. The birds were fleeing, and giant bats, ominous vampires that feed on blood, flapped over treetops. They feed on any man or animal that falls asleep in the forests or on the riverbanks. The planter, the overseer, the tribesman, and the dogs climbed the bank and stopped in front of the crevice where the colossal reptile was last seen. Fearing that it might be nearby, they first lit resinous branch and stretched it into the opening, shaking it in all directions. Hearing no noise or hissing, the three men cautiously entered the cave, their rifles and blowgun ready. “It must have fled into the cave,” said the tribesman. “There’s a hall of stone…the ‘giloia’ will feel safe… And a lake without bottom..they love water.” “This tribesman has courage,” the planter said to the overseer. “I must admit, master, that I have an uneasy feeling about this.” “We have the dogs in front of us, and they’ll warn us of danger.” The mastiffs preceded the hunters, but they didn’t seem too eager to discover the terrible cave boa. From time to time, they stopped and turned their heads toward their master, as if to ask if it wouldn’t be better to give up the expedition, which didn’t seem to be to their liking. The cavern widened enormously. Huge rooms adorned with magnificent stalactites followed one another, with lateral cavities that it was impossible to know where they led. The monster could be lurking in any one of these. The tribesman, appearing confident, never hesitated. He continued to advance under the dark vaults, holding the resinous branch high, its reddish flame sometimes flickering, as if strong air currents were entering from invisible cracks. They had already crossed four caves when Jaco stopped, bending toward the ground and showing something that wavered in his hand. “Do you see the ‘giloia’?” the planter asked. The tribesman stood up, extending his hand. “My wife’s hair,” he said in a hoarse voice. “The ‘giloia’ spat them out.” Then he added with a certain satisfaction: “They are black and long and will make a good impression on my war shield.” “These tribesmen,” said the planter, disgusted. “They have not an ounce of heart!” Jaco hung the hair, still smeared with blood and saliva, from his belt and resumed the march. He had abandoned his blowgun and was now wielding the war ax, a much better and safer weapon for facing such a reptile. They crossed four more caves, each one longer than the previous. Then they entered a gallery and arrived on the banks of a large, almost circular, blackwater pond. They were about to go around it when a gust of wind, coming from a lateral gallery, suddenly extinguished their torches, leaving them in utter darkness. “Light the torches! Light the torches! the terrified planter yelled to the tribesman. They heard Jaco rummaging in the bag hanging from his belt, then he exclaimed: “I no longer have the flint!” “Overseer, you do it!” Don Herrera whispered, as if afraid to draw the attention of the lurking boa. “I’m not a smoker, master,” was the reply. “I never carry one with me.” At that moment, they heard the dogs growling, and then the black waters of the pond began to roar and gurgle. “Let’s flee!” the planter cried. “The ‘giloia’ is breaking the surface” They rushed toward the gallery they had crossed shortly before, fumbling in the profound darkness. A few seconds later, they bumped into a wall, and all fell together. “Where are we?” Herrera asked. “We must have lost our way and entered a side gallery,” the tribesman said. “Listen!” the overseer exclaimed, shivering. From the depths of the cave, near the pond, they heard shrill hissing and furious barking. “My dogs are attacking the reptile,” Herrera said. “They’re lost,” the tribesman said. The barking had turned into lamenting cries that lasted for a few moments, and then silence once again enveloped the cave. “The serpent has killed my dogs!” the planter exclaimed, making an angry gesture. “We’ll avenge them too,” the tribesman replied. “You know what, let’s just get the hell out of here,” Herrera said, losing all confidence in the tribesman. “We’ll find the exit,” Jaco said. “Stay close to me, or better yet, hold onto my belt.” He detached from the wall and pushed forward, trying not to veer to the right or left, eventually finding a passage. “We must be in one of the seven caves,” he said then. “Keep following me.” He walked at a very fast pace. He, too, wanted to get out as soon as possible, afraid that the terrifying serpent might strike at them at any moment. Suddenly, he stopped, leaning against a wall. “Halt!” he said. “Have we lost our way again?” the planter asked. “Listen.” A rustling noise sounded nearby, the slither and rattle of the ‘giloia’s’ large scales, and it was approaching at some speed. “Could the boa be heading for the exit?” Herrera whispered. “Yes,” the tribesman replied. “Hold your breath and don’t move! If it senses our presence, it will come at us.” They pressed up against the wall, their rifles and blowgun ready, fearing an attack at any moment. The rustling drew nearer. But then there was a sudden silence. They thought had been discovered, but then the sounds resumed as it moved farther and farther from them. “It has passed us,” the tribesman said. “Now we attack!” “Perhaps we should let it go?” the overseer suggested. “No,” Jaco replied. “We’ll wait until it is halfway out of the crevice, and then off its tail.” They tiptoed after the rustles, until, finally, the mouth of the cave appeared before them – illuminated by the moon. “The ‘giloia’ is about to leave,” Jaco said, holding the ax. “Wait until the head and half of its body is out!” The attack from the dogs had disturbed it, it no longer felt safe and now it searched for another hiding place. The enormous body slid into the crevice, almost blocking it entirely. It was caught in a trap, unable to turn in its defense. “Attack!” the tribesman yelled, his eyes had already adjusted to the darkness. He leaped with the ax raised and began to strike the serpent’s tail vigorously, while the planter and the overseer, with their rifles unloaded, grabbed the cutlasses, which were no less sharp than the tribesman’s ax. As the serpent felt pain it its tails, it hissed angrily and writhed, trying in vain to back up and confront its attackers. The narrow opening held it in a lock. Now, the two planters and the tribes stuck at it repeatedly, breaking its vertebrae and scales. The serpent, mad with pain, then tried to escape. With one final effort, it withdrew the end of its body and slid down the slope into the river below, and vanished in the water. “It’s gone!” the planter exclaimed with regret. “I wanted to preserve its skin.” “It will be my gift to you,” the tribesman said. His wife’s canoe still floated by the banks, and he stepped into it and paddled off. Two days later, Jaco returned to the fazenda, followed by six tribesman carrying the skin of the enormous reptile. He had found the monster on an islet, where it had gone to die. The skin measured twenty-four meters and had a circumference of seventy centimeters. Today that fearsome cave boa makes a fine display in the lounge of the San Felipe plantation, and naturalists flock to admire it.   translated by Michael Henrik Wynn         Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIn 2016, China’s submission to the Academy awards followed a 7th century monk on his journey of exploration to India. The record of Hiuen-Tsiang’s (b. 602– dec. 664) travel has had an enormous impact on Chinese culture, inspiring one of the country’s age-old novels. The manuscript also contains one of the most detailed descriptions of the old Nalanada monastery in India, an intellectual powerhouse that dominated the world for a thousand years, before being reduced to ruins. In this text from 1911, a prominent sinologist comments. “Centuries before biography became a business, before the peccadilloes of royal mistresses and forgotten courtesans obtained a “market value’ the writing of the Master’s life by some cherished disciple was both an act of love and piety in the far East. The very footprints of the famous dead became luminous, and their shadows shone in dark caves that once withheld them from the world. Memory looking back viewed them through a golden haze; they were merged at last in ancient sunlight; they were shafts of God rayed in the tangled forests of time. In this spirit, then, the man of compassionate feeling, the Shaman Hwui Li took up his tablets and wrote the life of Hiuen-Tsiang. The Master had already written his immortal Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (published 646 AD), yet the sixteen years of that wonderful quest in far-off India, of cities seen and shrines visited, of strange peoples and stranger customs, cannot be crowded into one brief record. And so we watch the patient disciple waiting on those intervals of leisure when the task of translation from Sanskrit into Chinese is laid aside, when the long routine of a Buddhist day is ended, waiting for the impressions of a wandering soul in the birthplace of its faith. The Life is supplement to the record. What is obscure or half told in the one is made clear in the other. Hwui-Li begins in the true Chinese manner with a grand pedigree of his hero, tracing his descent from the Emperor Hwang Ti, the mythical Heavenly Emperor. This zeal for following the remotest ancestors over the borders of history into the regions of fable may be largely ascribed to a very human desire to connect the stream of life with its divine source. We are chiefly concerned to know that he came of a family which had already given notable men to the State, and was launched in the troublous whirl of birth and death but a little distance from the town of Kou-Shih, in the province of Honan, in the year 6oo A.D. Here and there biography leaves us a glimpse of his outward appearance as boy and man. We are told that at his opening life he was rosy as the evening vapours and round as the rising moon. As a boy he was “sweet as the odor of cinnamon or the vanilla tree.” A soberer style does justice to his prime, and again he comes before us, “a tall handsome man with beautiful eyes and a good complexion. He had a serious but benevolent expression and a sedate, rather stately manner.” The call of the West came early to Hiuen-Tsiang. From a child he had easily outstripped his fellows in the pursuit of knowledge, and with the passing of the years he stepped beyond the narrow limits of Chinese Buddhism and found the deserts of Turkestan between him and the land of his dreams. Imperfect translations from the Sanskrit, the limited intelligence of the Chinese priesthood, the sense of vast truths dimly perceived obscurely set forth, the leaven of his first Confucian training—all contributed to the making of a Buddhist pilgrim. The period of his departure, 629 A.D., was an eventful one for China. Taizong (b.598- d.649), the most powerful figure of the brilliant Tang dynasty, sat on the throne of his father Kaotsu, the founder of the line. The nomad Tartars, so long the terror of former dynasties, succumbed to his military genius, and Kashgaria was made a province of the Empire. Already the kingdom of Tibet was tottering to its fall, and Corea was to know the devastation of war within her boundaries. Ch’ang-an was now the capital, a city of floating pavilions and secluded gardens, destined to become the center of a literary movement that would leave its mark for all time. But the days were not yet when the terraces of Teng-hiang-ting would see the butterflies alight on the flower-crowned locks of Yang-kuei-fei, or the green vistas re-echo to the voices of poet and emperor joined in praise of her. Only two wandering monks emerge furtively through the outer gates of the city’s triple walls, and one of them looks back for a glimpse of Ch’ang-an, the last for sixteen eventful years of exile. Others had crossed the frontier before him, notably Fa-hian and Sung Yun in the fourth and the fifth centuries AD, others in due course would come and go, leaving to posterity their impressions of a changing world, but this man stands alone, a prince of pilgrims, a very Bayard of Buddhist enthusiasm, fearless and without reproach. As we read on through the pages of Hwui-li the fascination of the Master of the Law becomes clear to us, not suddenly, but with the long, arduous miles that mark the way to India and the journey home. Take the Master’s tattered robes, let the winds of Gobi whistle through your sleeve and cut you to the bone, mount his rusty red nag and set your face to the West. In the night you will see ‘ “fire-lights as many as stars” raised by the demons and goblins; travelling at dawn you will behold ‘ “soldiers clad in fur and felt and the appearance of camels and horsemen and the glittering of standards and lances; fresh forms and figures changing into a thousand shapes, sometimes at an immense distance, then close at hand, then vanished into the void.” The time comes when even the old red steed avails not, the Great Ice Mountains loom in front of you, and you crawl like an ant and cling like a fly to the roof of the world. Then on the topmost summit, still far away from the promised land, you realize two things—the littleness of human life, the greatness of one indomitable soul. But the superman is also very human. With the vast bulk of his encyclopedic knowledge he falls on the pretentious monk Mokshagupta in the Kingdom of Agni, he flattens him and treads a stately if heavy measure on his prostrate body. And withal clear-sighted and intolerant of shams, he is still a child of his age and religion. With childish curiosity he tempts a bone to foretell the future, and with childish delight obtains the answer he most desires. In the town of Hiddha is Buddha’s skull bone, one foot long, two inches round. “If anyone wishes to know the indications of his guilt or his religious merit he mixes some powdered incense into a paste, which he spreads upon a piece of silken stuff, and tlien presses it on the top of the bone according to the resulting indications the good fortune or ill fortune of the man is determined” Hiuen obtains the impression of a Bodhi and is overjoyed, for, as the guardian Brahman of the bone explains, “it is a sure sign of your having a portion of true wisdom (Bodhi).” At another time he plays a kind of religious quoits by flinging garlands of flowers on the sacred image of Buddha, which, being caught on its hands and arms, show that his desires will be fulfilled. In simple faith he tells Hwui-li how Buddha once cleaned his teeth and flung the fragments of the wood with which he performed the act on the ground ; how they took root forthwith, and how a tree seventy feet high was the consequence. And Hiuen saw that tree, therefore the story must be true. But it is not with the pardonable superstitions of a human soul of long ago that we need concern ourselves. The immense latent reserve, the calm strength to persist, is the appeal. It comes to us with no note of triumph for the thing accomplished or the obstacle removed, but rather underlies some simple statement of fact and is summed up in these few trite words: “We advanced guided by observing the bones left on the way.” The little incidents of life and death are as nothing to one who looks on all men as ghosts haunted by reality. And so the Master of the Law resigns himself to the prospect of a violent end at the hands of the river pirates of the Ganges, to the miraculous interposition of a timely storm, with the same serenity with which he meets the long procession streaming out of Nalanda in his honor, with its two hundred priests and some thousand lay patrons who surround him to his entry, recounting his praises, and carrying standards, umbrellas, flowers, and perfumes. “The tradition of the old people is this: To the south of the convent, in the middle of an Amra garden, is a pool. In this pool is a Naga called Nalanda, and the convent built by the side of the pool is therefore called after his name. Again there is a saying that Tathagata whilst a Bodhisattva was the king of a great country and built his capital in this place. He was deeply affected towards the orphans and destitute, and, ever moved by this principle, gave away all he had for their good. In memory of this goodness they named the place ”doing charitable acts without intermission,” The place was originally the garden of the lord Amra. Five hundred merchants bought it for ten lacs of gold pieces, and presented it to Buddha. Here Buddha preached the law for three months, and most of the merchants obtained the fruit of Arhatship, in consequence. After the Nirvana of Buddha an old king of this country called Sakraditya, from a principle of loving obedience to Buddha, built this convent. After his decease his son seized the throne, and continued the vast undertaking; he built, towards the south, another temple. Then his son built a temple to the eastward. Next, his son built a temple to the north-east. Afterwards the king, seeing some priests who came from the country of China to receive his religious offerings, was filled with gladness, and he gave up his royal estate and became a recluse. His son succeeded and built another temple to the north. After him a king of Mid-India built by the side of this another temple. Thus six kings in connected succession added to these structures. Moreover, the whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall, which encloses the entire convent from without. One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls, standing in the middle. The richly adorned towers, and the fairy -like turrets, like pointed hill- tops, are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours of the morning, and the upper rooms tower above the clouds. From the windows one may see how the winds and the clouds produce new forms, and above the soaring eaves the conjunctions of the sun and moon may be observed.” There are moments of sheer delight when scenes of physical beauty are fair enough to draw even a Buddhist monk from his philosophic calm, when even Hiuen-Tsiang must have become lyrical in the presence of his recording disciple. Who would not be the guest of the abbot of Nalanda monastery with its six wings, each built by a king, all enclosed in the privacy of solid brick? “And then we may add how the deep, translucent ponds, bear on their surface the blue lotus, intermingled with the Kie-ni flower, of deep red color, and at intervals the Amra groves spread over all, their shade. All the outside courts, in which are the priests’ chambers, are of four stages. The stages have dragonprojections and colored eaves, the pearl-red pillars, carved and ornamented, the richly adorned balustrades, and the roofs covered with tiles that reflect the light in a thousand shades, these things add to the beauty of the scene.” Here ten thousand priests sought refuge from the world of passing phenomena and the lure of the senses. Wherever our pilgrim goes he finds traces of a worship far older than Buddhism. He does not tell us so in so many words, yet underneath the many allusions to Bodhitrees and Nagas we may discover the traces of that primitive tree and serpent worship that still exists in remote corners of India, as, for instance, among the Naga tribes of Manipur who worship the python they have killed. In Hiuen’s time every lake and fountain had its Naga-raja or serpent-king, Buddha himself, as we learn from both the Si-yu-hi and the Life, spent much time converting or subduing these ancient gods. There were Nagas both good and evil. When Buddha first sought enlightenment he sat for seven days in a state of contemplation by the waters of a little woodland lake. Then this good Naga “kept guard over Tathagata ; with his folds seven times round the body of the Buddha, he caused many heads to appear, which overshadowed him as a parasol ; therefore to the east of this lake is the dwelling of the Naga.”…. The Buddha sat for seven days contemplating this tree ; “he did not remove his gaze from it during this period, desiring thereby to indicate his grateful feelings towards the tree by so looking at it with fixed eyes.” Hiuen Tsiang himself and his companions contributed to the universal adoration of the tree, for, as that impeccable Buddhist the Shaman Hwui-li rather baldly states, “they paid worship to the Bodhi-tree.” How did Buddhism come to be connected in any way with tree and serpent worship? The answer is, through its connection with Bralimanism. As Buddhism was Brahmanism reformed, so Brahmanism in its turn was the progressive stage of tree and serpent worship. Siva the destroyer is also Nag Bhushan, “he who wears snakes as his ornaments.”… But Hiuen-Tsiang was born into a world that beheld the tree of Buddhism slowly dying from the top. He bore witness, if unconsciously, to a time of transition and a noble faith in decay, and the swift, silent growth of jungle mythology around the crumbling temples of Buddha. His record of these sixteen years of travel is a priceless one, for through it we are able to reconstruct the world and ways of Buddhist India of the centuries that have passed. Yet far more priceless still is that record, read between the lines, of a human soul dauntless in disaster, unmoved in the hour of triumph, counting the perils of the bone-strewn plain and the unconquered hills as nothing to the ideal that lay before him, the life-work, the call of the Holy Himalayas and the long toil of his closing years. It is difficult to over-estimate his services to Buddhist literature. He returned to his own country with no less than 657 volumes of the sacred books, seventy-four of which he translated into Chinese, while 150 relics of the Buddha, borne by twenty horses, formed the spoil reverently gathered from the many lands we call India. And so we leave him to his rest upon Mount Sumeru, where once his venturous soul alighted in the dreams of youth, with the serpents coiled beneath its base, with its seven circling hills of gold and the seven seas between, and the great salt ocean encompassing them all. May 6th, 1911″ by sinologist Launcelot Alfred Cranmer-Byng (1872-1945).   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureMaking it as a script writer in Hollywood is not easy. There is a whole support industry for creating stories, classes on almost every corner in Tinseltown. One of the more dedicated teachers of the craft is professor Ken Dancyger of New York University. We spoke to him about his work as a teacher of writing, and about the realities of the business. When did this notion of a “script guru” become common? What sets such a person apart from, let’s say, a professor of literature? Professor Dancyger: The “script guru ” for me started with Syd Field. I remember going to see him in Toronto along with 400 others and being outraged by his ideas about scripts. He made me define where I stand on the vital issues about how to write a strong script. At that point I myself had written, alone or with partners, 10 scripts. The first secured me a Hollywood agent, the second sold to Canadian television. I seemed on my way. A script guru is very different from a Professor of Literature. A Professor of Literature is well-read and has an area of interest. He or she may or may not be a novelist. Script guru is much closer to the popular arts i.e. the media. Certainly the guru may borrow ideas from literary critics such as Northrop Frye but his or her knowledge base is strongly rooted in the hundred plus history of Film. The earliest writers about script were often playwrights and so ideas about plays, their structure, was much more likely to influence Script gurus than Academic Professors of Literature. They must get their ideas from somewhere? Do you read a lot of academic literature, and then translate this into practical advice? Or have you done the empirical work yourself? Professor Dancyger: I read a lot of history as well as literature and see many plays and of course I see every film I can, always with an eye to what makes the work compelling. The scripts I’ve written, the writers I’ve worked with, the classes I’ve taught are all laboratories where I define and refine my ideas about storytelling and what constitutes a strong screenplay. If you were to give a little praise to one of your colleagues or competitors, who would that be, and why? Professor Dancyger: I like David Howard from USC and Judith Weston who teaches acting for Film and Television. David is very good on character-driven stories and Judith is excellent on character arcs and their importance. Both have written strong books. The late Syd Field was famous for his 3 act-theory. Robert McKee also presents a lot of rules about what constitutes a good script. What is your main dictum on how movie scripts should be constructed? Professor Dancyger: My approach is as follows: In a feature length screenplay a character changes. What is the issue (crisis) when we meet the main character? How does the character change by the resolution or end of the screenplay? Who/what changes him (relationships and plot)? Next what will the dramatic arc (plot) be? Every genre has a different dramatic arc. What genre is your story? Genre is pliable in terms of how it is used. What tone will you use? (light, realistic,dark). Will you alter any genre expectations? (How you begin or end, the nature of relationships). Screenplay that succeed often surprise is in our expectations. Will your screenplay defy our expectations? Can you really create a norm for what a good script is? If you look at prose, some writers excel on plot construction, like Agatha Christie, others on their poetic qualities? Wouldn’t the same thing be true for a movie script? Professor Dancyger: There is a norm for expectations of what a script will be. This is based on how particular story forms have been used over time. Writers differ, some are strong on plot, others on character, yet others on dialogue. Robert Towne is very good on dialogue, David Rayfiel is very good at story construction, Francis Coppola is very good at tone. Each is unusually gifted in their area but few writers are good at every thing. What is the best way of breaking into the hollywood script business? Do you just email your script to someone? Or do you need to know a lot of people in order to make it? Professor Dancyger:  Working in the business at all levels is the way into a career. Schools help as you can make a good short film that will get you attention. At that point the door may well open for you. Have a well written feature film script written. That too will help. At the moment CONTENT is king in Film and Television. The opportunities are abundant. It remains tough but this is a good time for writers. I have seen European writers and directors go from a nominated foreign film to a Hollywood opportunity. This is the competition students who graduate from Film Schools face. When your script has been bought, it may be reworked by someone else, might it not? So the end result doesn’t really have to look anything like you originally intended? Isn’t this frustrating? Professor Dancyger: The realities of the industry is that many voices will impact your script, in both Film and Television. It might be frustrating but my advice is get over it. Its the way of this world.. When I was a student, my professor told me a story about the Irish Nobel laureate, Samuel Beckett, and how he was rejected many times, only to become famous as a mature man. At what point should one give up, and simply accept the fact that perhaps one’s talent isn’t sufficient for a career in Hollywood? Professor Dancyger:  Persistence is more valuable a trait for a writer than in many fields. There is no one path. Everyone has talent, not everyone is persistent. You must have read thousands of scripts, what would you say is the most common mistake that young or novice writers make? Professor Dancyger: The most common mistakes early writers make are, in order: Excessive reliance on dialogue.  Not understanding how much change in the main character has to take place in the Feature film and how many barriers to the main character’s goal need to be overcome in the course of the screen story. That plot an external pressure on the main character, needs to be deployed and that it should have surprising twists and turns. Tone is how your unique voice underlies the story. Genre or story form matters and given its plasticity it can make your story seem fresher. What is the best movie script of all time, and why? Professor Dancyger:  The best movie script of all time is a tough nut. I have many favorites: Casey Robinson’ NOW VOYAGER for story construction Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD for character and dialogue Samuel Raphelson’s SHOP AROUND THE CORNER for sheer pleasure Federico Fellini’s 8/1/2 for creativity Elem Klimov’s COME AND SEE for daring and passion I could go on but will stop… Like this:Like Loading... [...]