Feeling Disney

What’s the earliest Disney movie you remember seeing?  If you’re my generation this will’ve likely been in a theater since home recording wasn’t a thing yet.  I suppose it could’ve been on Disney TV, but if it was a new movie you wanted to see it just after it was out.  Mine was The Jungle Book.  Or, at least that’s how I recollect it.  Reading about Ub Iwerks made me curious about Disney so I decided to read Aaron H. Goldberg’s The Disney Story.  The subtitle, Chronicling the Man, the Mouse and the Parks, gives you an idea of what it covers in more detail.  Goldberg’s upfront in letting the reader know that newspapers and period media are his main sources.  The book is arranged chronologically.  It makes for an interesting story but I personally have never been tempted by a Disney theme park—quite a bit of the book discusses these—although there was that one time…

It was back in 1998—what a different world then!  Pre-9/11, pre-Trump, pre-pandemic.  I was still teaching at Nashotah House.  The American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature held their annual meeting in Orlando, on the Disney campus.  The experience wasn’t a good mix.  Academics and cartoon characters just don’t—wait, maybe they do.  In any case, you had to eat at the Disney estates, although you could sleep in an off-site hotel, that was a considerable shuttle ride away.  And no bars.  I did meet David Noel Freedman there.  It was in a room painted like the inside of a circus tent.  A strange place for a meeting of such gravitas to a still young scholar.

The point is, Walt Disney affects all of our lives.  He was a self-made man, but he had lots of help.  He didn’t live to see Walt Disney World (that’s the one in Florida) open, but he died knowing just about every child in the country recognized his name.  I never considered myself a Disney fan.  Yes, I watched a few of his movies and watched his Sunday evening television show, but I preferred Bugs Bunny and the Warner Brothers’ crowd.  Growing up with television you had your loyalties.  Still, we were well aware of Disney and especially his movies.  We couldn’t afford to see all of them, not by a long shot.  And those we did see were at the drive-in where kids could hide under a blanket in the back seat to economize a bit.  Still, we were infected.  Everyone was.


All About Blurbs

A book recently arrived.  It was unexpected, but when I saw the return address I knew what it was.  My young colleague Daniel Sarlo from the University of Toronto had kindly asked me to blurb his book The Solar Nature of Yahweh.  I’ve known Dr. Sarlo virtually for many years.  He’s engaged me a number of times on issues surrounding my research on solar worship in ancient Israel and Ugarit.  I had a book project in the works on the latter topic when other colleagues suggested going with something biblical for my next book, thus Weathering the Psalms was born.  Books, particularly academic ones, are in constant conversation with one another.  I’ve been writing on horror and religion now for over five years but my material on ancient West Asian religion is just now starting to get noticed.  It’s a funny old world.

One day I stumbled across a blurb lifted off my website for a book from Johns Hopkins University Press.  I was impressed.  First of all, that some author or editor had found my remarks on their book from this blog and that they’d liked them enough to cite them.  Getting blurbs can be a difficult task these days.  Academics are under a lot of pressure and time for such things is at a premium.  The payment is generally a copy of the book.  For some of us, though, it’s a thrill just to see yourself cited at all.  Once you’re no longer an academic you’re easily forgotten.  It has been a number of years since I’ve researched Yahweh and the sun, but someone, at least, still remembers.

Like book reviewing, reading a book for a blurb is one of those things you really can’t talk about pre-publication.  Book production is a slow process.  Like most things in life, it takes a complicated chain of events to lead to something as humble as a printed book.  And you need things like blurbs well before the release date.  As an author you often worry that—even in a field like ancient West Asian studies—your book will be outdated before it’s even published.  Some new find, or new idea might invalidate all that you’ve worked for.  Higher education should be one of the best venues for building humility in a person.  Your great learning is only one example among myriads of other scholars.  It’s a great accomplishment to get a book published in the midst of all that.  And this one, as the blurb indicates, is well worth reading.


The Denver Curse

I’m posting this early today because I’m flying to Denver for the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) annual meeting.  At least that’s the plan.  I don’t have a good track record with Denver and this conference.  I’d been attending AAR/SBL since 1991.  I can’t recall what year it was when I first attended in Denver.  I was still a professor then and had a paper to read.  I also had free time (something editors don’t have at conferences).  I decided to view the world-famous mineral and dinosaur exhibits at the Museum of Natural History the morning of my paper day.  While at the museum something very embarrassing happened—I got sick in public.  It was scene-from-a-cheap-movie bad.  Literally sprinting to a public waste can to throw up in front of strangers.  I’d never been sick at AAR/SBL before, despite the November timing.  When I went to read my paper that afternoon, the motion of my eyes made me sick again and I had to sit with my head between my knees while a bunch of biblical scholars looked on with what passes for concern in academic circles.

The second, and last, time I was flying to Denver  for the conference there was a small snowstorm.  I was flying out of Newark on an evening flight.  Because of the snow (which ended up being about two inches) my flight kept getting delayed and delayed.  They made the decision to cancel the flight after 11 p.m. by which time all local hotels were full from the earlier cancelled flights.  To make matters worse, there was no way out of the airport.  All public transit shut down.  Even if I could’ve caught a taxi where was I to go?  I live in Pennsylvania.  With no other choice, I slept on the floor of Newark’s Liberty International Airport.  I awoke early, having used my briefcase as a pillow (a step up from a stone, I expect) and found my way to Somerville, where we used to live.  My wife picked me up at the train station there and drove me home.  I missed the conference, needless to say.

And so you see that I’m a bit dubious about trying this again.  I have nothing against Denver.  Before getting sick I was enjoying my time there.  So, if things go according to plan, I’ll be on a plane headed that direction by the time I usually post my daily thoughts on this blog.  Will the Denver curse be broken?  Only the next few days will tell. Watch this space.

Photo by Acton Crawford on Unsplash

Monsters in Common

The thing about monsters is once they’re released they go wild.  Antlers is sometimes criticized for cultural appropriation—it takes the wendigo, an American Indian monster, and uses it in an Anglo story.  There’s perhaps some truth to that, but the wendigo is the perfect monster for the social commentary the film makes about the poor.  Those who’ve never been poor can’t really understand, and I can’t blame them for it.  Pointing fingers at symptoms like drug abuse is pretty typical.  It’s not directing the extinguisher at the base of the fire, but at the dancing flames that keep shifting as the base consumes.  In short, I found it a powerful movie, and one that is beautifully filmed.  Yes, it does lift an American Indian monster, but that monster was released long ago.

The wendigo was addressed by Algernon Blackwood in his 1910 story that goes by that name.  It has appeared in other horror venues as well.  Antlers is the first full-fledged horror movie I’ve seen to use it and it builds the story up nicely.  And it does so by tying religion into the narrative.  In brief, Lucas Weaver, a twelve-year old, is protecting his father and younger brother.  After being attacked by a wendigo, his father has become one.  Lucas’ teacher, Julia Meadows, was abused as a child and recognizes it in Lucas.  She become determined to care for him but his father has given over to the spirit of starvation that inhabits him.  

I could’ve used this in Holy Horror because when Julia is searching Lucas’ desk at school she finds, among other things, a Bible.  At one point Lucas’ brother asks if God is dead.  His father has told him that he is.  And when the police are trying to determine what they’re up against, the former sheriff, an American Indian, tells them about the wendigo.  Native beliefs are treated as superstitions, of course.  The wendigo is brought out because of cannibalism.  The use of a native monster and the role of the landscape in the film make this a fine example of folk horror.  And it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of abandoning the poor.  Those who criticize the film for that have perhaps lost sight of the monster.  Monsters belong to everyone.  The golem, the wendigo, the mummy—these all play a role in someone’s religion and culture.  They also serve to haunt anyone who’s concerned with fairness and justice.  And that’s why we must chase any monster that roams free.


James and John

One of the first questions expectant parents are asked is if they have yet come up with a name for their child.  Quite often, and probably without realizing it, some of the most popular names are biblical.  Jacob is one of the most common boys’ names in English.  It derives from the story of Isaac’s younger son in Genesis.  Its popularity increases exponentially when its variant James is added to the total.  The name James comes into English from Old French where it was derived from the Latin Iacomus.  B and m are, phonetically speaking, bilabials (the former voiced, the latter not).  This Latin form also led to the Spanish name Iago, which many know from the apostolic name Santiago (“Saint James”).  Or Saint Jacob, only nobody calls him by that name anymore.  Biblical names are exceptionally common in the western world.  Even so, it often seems implausible that names like Jimmi could be alternatives to Jacob, but small steps make evolution possible.

It has been popular among evangelicals for years to know that Jesus is the Greek form of the name Joshua.  Having a savior named Josh just doesn’t have the gravitas we’re looking for, however.  Greek is an Indo-European language while Hebrew is a Semitic one.  While these two family trees have points of contact, their vocabulary and syntax developed quite independently.  Names change when they’re translated.  Many of our familiar New Testament names are translations from their Hebrew (or Aramaic) counterparts.  The New Testament was written in Greek and we receive Greek versions of such names.  John, for example, is another name that comes to us in many forms.

The apostle we call John was called Ioannes in Greek.  This was derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan.  John comes into English via the Germanic form Johannes, where the connection to the Greek becomes obvious.  From there it shortens to John.  It comes in many varieties too: Juan, Jan, Ivan, Han, Evan, Sean, Jonas, Giovanni, and even Jack.  The latter sounds more like Jacob, but in their original forms the names are quite different.  Apart from names, Indo-European borrowing from Semitic languages isn’t terribly common.  Throughout the Christianized world, names based on these two apostles, however, have become extremely popular.  In recent times parents have been branching out into more creative names for their children, but many of them still derive from their biblical antecedents.  This is just one more way that the Bible continues its influence in an increasingly secular world.  


Jason’s Javelin

This past weekend was my third this year spent recovering from vaccinations.  The shingles jabs were worse, but this time it was a double-duty flu shot and bivalent Covid vaccine.  That’s as good an excuse as any for admitting to watching Friday the 13th, Part II.  In general I’m not a fan of sequels, but I’d read quite a bit about this one and I was curious because I hadn’t realized before watching the first installment years ago that Jason wasn’t the original killer.  I’m also not a fan of slashers, and I know that many people who dislike horror think all horror consists of such movies.  (It doesn’t.)  But still, Jason is a household name as a movie monster and I was having trouble concentrating with all those vaccines swirling around inside.

Utterly predictable, there are still a few jump startles that’ll catch a first viewing off-guard.  All I really knew about the film was Jason and Camp Crystal Lake and that generally teens get killed for having sex.  As many critics report, this kind of horror tends to have a “conservative” outlook—“sin” is brutally punished and the girl who refrains tends to be the last survivor.  That much you know just from doing your homework.  So as Jason hunts down the teens and dispatches them, along with a police officer and a crazy guy, you almost get bored.  There was one scene, however, that had unrecognized biblical roots.  Interestingly, I haven’t found anyone pointing that out.  When Jeff and Sandra go upstairs for sex, Jason takes a spear and thrusts them through, right in the act.

Analysts trace this scene to the movie Bay of Blood (which I’ve not seen), but in fact the inspiration comes from the Good Book.  In a genocidal mood in Numbers 25, Yahweh tells the Israelites to kill the Midianites among them.  Zimri is seen taking Cozbi into his tent, and Phinehas the priest grabs a javelin, rushes into Zimri’s tent and skewers the two of them in the act.  That scene stuck with my young mind as I read through the Bible, which is probably why it immediately came to mind while watching Part II.  Others may well have noticed this connection, but with the vaccine-induced lethargy I didn’t have the energy to go thumbing through my library to find it.  Besides, when I read things about movies I haven’t seen, they don’t often stay with me (which is one reason I give thorough descriptions of movies when I analyze them in my books).  This particular horror over, I know I don’t have to worry about the flu this year.


What Lurks

One question that I get asked by those who don’t understand is “Why horror?”  The asker is generally someone that knows I’ve been “religious” all my life, or affiliated with religion—which people think means sweet and light—and who associates horror with bitter and dark.  I know Brandon R. Grafius has been asked such things too, because I’ve just read his Lurking under the Surface: Horror, Religion, and the Questions that Haunt Us.  Like me, Grafius has been writing books on the Bible and horror—I’ve reviewed a few on this blog.  As in my former life, he teaches in a seminary.  People find this juxtaposition jarring.  This little book is Grafius’ struggle with various aspects of this question.  He’s not anti-religion, but he’s drawn to horror.

For those of us familiar with Grafius’ other work, this offers a more detailed explanation of what one religion scholar finds compelling about horror.  Specifically, he shows how various films deal with similar issues to his Christian faith.  The book deals with that for about half its running time, and the other half discusses similar themes in horror.  You get the sense that Grafius has been at this for a long time.  Scooby-Doo seems to have been his childhood gateway to horror and it raised some deeper questions as he explored further along the line.  If you read this blog, or search it, you’ll find such things as Dark Shadows and The Twilight Zone in my background, but then, I’m a bit older.  The point is, being a religious kid doesn’t discount finding monsters fascinating.

As usual with books like this, I’ve come away with several films to watch.  And more angles of approach to that tricky question of “Why horror?”.  A recent post on a panel discussion titled “Religion and Horror” led to an online exchange about religion and fear.  Grafius deals with that here as well, but from a more distinctly Christian point of view.  Although he’s an academic, this book is written (and priced) for wider consumption.  I found it quite informative to hear the story of someone else who grew up with monsters and the Bible.  He had the sense, however, to start addressing this early in his academic career.  We each have different paths to walk and for some of us it will take a jarring experience to chase us back to our childhood monsters.  And being religious is no barrier to that, as this brief book demonstrates.


Holy Nightmares

The thing about ratings, as John Green astutely notes in The Anthropocene Reviewed, is that they are in many ways arbitrary.  From the very few reviews of my own Nightmares with the Bible, I get the sense that people misunderstand the book.  Or it could be that they just don’t like it.  To each their own.  To me it is quite a personal book.  It is also a bookend to Holy Horror.  They represent first steps into a new kind of endeavor for me—saying something (hopefully) intelligent about horror films.  And writing books with no institutional support at all.  There are several intentional interlacings between these two books and to understand one it helps to read the other.  For those who want to get a sense of the way this addled brain works, in any case.

Holy Horror was literally one of those “if you see something say something” books.  I had noticed something that apparently nobody else had—the way the Bible is presented in horror films tells us something about the Good Book.  I have not seen every horror movie made.  I know of nobody who has, or even can.  I’d noticed a commonality, however, among those films.  The Bible isn’t rare in horror.  In fact, it’s quite common.  I’ve done quite a lot of reading about religion in horror since then, and this is something that has to be taken into account when considering the effects of Christianization.  It brings fear in its trail.  Nightmares with the Bible is a bit more ambitious and a bit of a hybrid.  That may be why its been reviewed so poorly.  It is a continuation of the thesis—if you want to understand how people really believe, look at what popular culture teaches us.

What do we believe about demons?  What The Exorcist taught us to believe.  Anyone who looks at the history of the idea sees that this concept really only took off, after the Middle Ages, when movies reminded us of the threat.  From the early modern period on, belief in demons and their impact on the world had been in decline.  Anyone looking at the headlines today will have to wonder about the wisdom of that loss of interest.  When The Exorcist hit, it struck a nerve.  Since then demons have been back on the big screen time and time again, each showing providing more information on what to believe.  I suspect those who’ve been rating the book really don’t get what I’m trying to do.  At least, I tell myself, somebody’s reading my work.


Banning Together

Banned Book Week starts today.  As the political situation in this country continues to deteriorate into a Republican fascination with fascism, we find books challenged and banned for suggesting real fascists were anything other than nice, white boys misunderstood.  It will take decades, if not another World War to undo the damage Trump unleashed.  Instead of sitting in my corner worrying about the future, I read.  Banned books make up quite a bit of my reading, but I do try to read one every September intentionally in honor of the occasion of Banned Book Week.  It’s misguided to suggest children shouldn’t grow up.  A deep-seated fear of education reveals the hypocrisy at the very heart of book banning.  Adults should know better.  They should read.

I love America, but nationalism is poison.  Just like those who believe that only their religion can be right, many believe only their nation can.  Divide that up among the almost 200 nations of the world, with individuals in each thinking this way, and conflict logically arises.  Those who look at other cultures—read about them—and try to understand them, realize we each have our own way.  One of the major problems is that capitalism insists all must trade and barter the way that we do.  We think of people in terms of their “net worth”—which is, in reality, infinite—and want to know who owns more and is therefore more powerful.  Lackeys will always follow the wealthy, kissing posteriors and professing loyalty until they have enough of their own to challenge the more wealthy.  It’s enough to send any Bible-reader back to Ecclesiastes.

Books have stirred up ideas ever since they were invented.  The Bible wasn’t the first book, but it too appears on Banned Book lists.  Many of those who thump it read it with the acumen of a kindergartener.  That’s not why it’s sometimes banned, however.  It is full of sex and violence.  The bits about love and hope are far outweighed by it.  Books contain ideas and ideas will get out.  There’s a reason I surround myself with books.  They are a strange sort of castle that invites others in even as it protects.  It’s not comfortable to challenge the way that you think, but nothing fascinates like a new idea taking root and growing.  One of the best ways to meet people far distant and explore the way they think is to read.  Banning reflects our small-mindedness, and even worse, our desire to keep that small-mindedness intact.


First Choice

One of the first things I do when I finish a book, unless I know about the author already, is ecosia (google) her or him.  I want to know who it is that wrote this, and the internet’s right there!  So it came as a surprise to see my first (two-star) review for Nightmares with the Bible on Amazon, where the reviewer did no follow-up.  The reviewer is quite upset that I don’t take the Bible literally, but at least s/he bothered to leave a review.  A more positive rating might bring me up to three stars, but I’ve failed classes before.  I’m a big boy, I can handle it.  In any case, if you ecosia me you’ll quickly come upon this humble website that’ll tell you what you need to know.  No, I am no longer a Fundamentalist.  And the book was about demons in movies.  (I was actually searching for reviews of the series.)

I scrolled down.  The named reviews solicited for the book I knew, so I was surprised, and delighted, that further down the page I had a Choice review.  Even a disgruntled evangelical couldn’t bring me down after that!  In case you’re not a librarian, or an academic publisher, Choice is THE periodical librarians use for deciding on which books to buy.  It is very difficult to get a review in it—I work at a prestige publisher and seldom see our books in there.  If you’re a trade author that’s not so important, but if the only sales, or majority of sales, are for libraries, to get a “recommended” status is a big deal.  That’s worth celebrating.

If you’re wondering, authors do not get notified of reviews.  Some editors will let them know (my editor at McFarland hasn’t been in touch for years).  The journals are too busy doing what journals do to send every author a copy of their review.  So I swung by Amazon’s Holy Horror page.  I’ve got four ratings there now, mostly on the lower end of the scale.  If you’ve read it and liked it (not something I assume, of course) a nice review would go a long way.  Disgruntled evangelicals (aren’t they all, these days?) may make the books look bad, but colleagues who’ve read them seem to think differently.  I hold to the publishing adage that there’s no such thing as a bad review, but good reviews feel so pleasant.  I’ve only written one negative book review in my life, and that was because I felt any other would be utterly dishonest in that particular case.  It’s a choice I make because of the Bible: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”


Things that Appear

As a movie, Apparition fails on many levels.  One way that it passes is being free on Amazon Prime, which is how I found it.  The trick with Prime, of course, is that really good movies tend to be available for a limited time, keeping you on the website.  Time is money, after all.  I was drawn into Apparition from the “based on real events” tagline, even though I should know better.  It was a hot, sleepy weekend afternoon, and I’m not a good napper.  I’m not going to worry too much about spoilers here, so if you’re into penance, you might want to wait until after you’ve seen it.  Set at the real life Preston School of Industry—a boy’s correctional institution in California—the boys are tortured and sometimes murdered by the warden and guards.  This is one of the few real-life parts: a housekeeper at the facility was murdered in an unsolved crime at the site.

Fast-forward two decades.  The former warden (the place has been closed), is hosting the lavish rehearsal dinner for his son’s wedding.  The son is unloved (his father is a sociopath, after all), and doesn’t treat his fiancée very well.  Meanwhile a younger son is a nerd who’s developed an app called Apparition.  Through some unexplained technological wizardry, it allows the user to connect to the dead.  Another couple, son and daughter of two of the former prison guards, decide to try it and discover that it works.  When the bride gives it a try it leads the five young people to the Preston School.  There various ghost-hunter startles are used as the ghosts of the murdered boys take their revenge on the offspring of the warden and guards.  The bride discovers her father was a “good cop” and that’s why she wasn’t killed.  The younger son is actually the son of the murdered housekeeper, another of his father’s dark secrets.  The parents come and get what’s due to them.

What makes this unremarkable film (and very little comment has been given on it) worth discussing here is that during the opening credits a Bible is shown open to Exodus.  The verse called out is 20.5: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”  This isn’t referenced per se in the film, but the warden does suggest the school is a righteous place.  That’s a fairly brief reward for watching, but I hate to waste even a lazy weekend afternoon when it’s too hot to work outdoors.


The Truth, for Free

The Book of Common Prayer, reaching back to my Anglican days, is and always has been in the public domain.  Although the poetic language and culturally relevant phrases could by charged for use, they’re not.  The idea seems right-headed to me.  Although the Church of England, like many other religious bodies, has its own specific theology and approach to things, which it believes is right, as opposed to all other belief systems, it shows its conviction in making its sacred text free.  Copyright exists to protect intellectual property.  If an individual or an institution, or a company, creates something, copyright assures them that nobody else can monetize it without the creator’s permission, and often such permission involves a royalty.  The C of E has foregone that.  Print away!

I tarried many years among the Episcopalians before it became clear to me that I wasn’t exactly the kind of saint they were looking for.  I’ve had to move on, but I very deeply appreciate the integrity of an institution that says, “I made this, but you can have it.  I really believe in it.”  If you’ve decided to print and sell religious books, however, beware the Bible.  Most of the common translations in circulation (apart from the good old King James) are covered by copyright.  Unlike the Church of England, the bodies that sponsor Bible translations expect to be paid for the use of said translation.  This is, in part, a business decision.  They have valuable property—for many the keys of salvation itself—and if you want it you should be willing to pay for it.

This contrast has often struck me as very odd.  How capitalist religion has become!  In what do Bible translating bodies really believe?  Believe me, I know that any large publishing effort requires a lot of work.  Resources.  Still, those who do the translating generally have church or university jobs.  They’ve already got a steady stream of income, no?  And yet they will expect to be paid their billed hours for bringing the truth to the world.  I’m not a good investment thinker.  Money doesn’t really motivate me.  This is one of the reasons I have tried several times to find acceptance as a clergy person.  My values seem out of sync with the rest of the world.  I even bothered to learn the original languages in which the Bible was written, the better to read, mark, and inwardly digest them.  Still, I wonder if those who truly believe would not feel more authentic giving away all they have in order to attain the kingdom of Heaven.


The King

Stephen King.  I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve done quite a few.  I’ve watched movies based on some.  I read my first story by him in Junior High School.  I’ve even read books about him.  From what I can tell, he’s actually a man with his head on straight.  While some may find that a strange thing to write about a horror writer, it’s been my experience that those who enjoy horror, either as producers or consumers, are generally good people.  Recently King was testifying against the proposed buyout of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House.  Penguin Random House is already the largest trade publisher in the world.  The buyout would probably benefit King personally, but he testified it would make things worse for other writers and for independent bookstores.

How many people these days argue against things that benefit them personally?  Certainly not elected officials, particularly of what used to be a grand old party.  It’s all about me!  That seems to be the mantra of late capitalism.  King has publicly called for his own taxes to be raised.  This is nothing short of heroic.  While the Good Book advocates over and over for this kind of behavior, “Bible believers” have somehow overlooked it.  Leave it to a horror writer to get to the heart of the message.  I have no idea if King is part of any religious group or not—he certainly uses a lot of religious imagery and many religious concepts in his writing.  Of course, you don’t have to be in such a group to embody their proclaimed principles.

Thinking of the needs of others was drilled into me as child raised in a Fundamentalist faith.  Looking around me these days, I don’t see many Fundamentalists that hold to that any more.  Enamored of power—especially the power to control other people’s lives—they flock after rich pretenders who care nothing for the Gospel.  Sacrifice (for that’s what we’re talking about here) is something horror writers know well.  It’s never easy giving up something that’s valuable to you.  Or even thinking about it.  Writing, while very enjoyable, is hard work.  Training your mind is like physical exercise—it doesn’t just happen.  I’ve got a few Stephen King novels on my “to read” pile.  They’re big books, often intimidatingly so.  Once I start reading, however, I know I’ll find the work engaging.  And if I pay attention, there will be a message there too.

Not that kind of book.

Yep, Nope

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a movie that starts with a quote from Nahum.  I also honestly admit that Nope left me scratching my head, but very glad to have seen it.  I trust Jordan Peele implicitly as both a screenwriter and a director, and I know I need to see Nope again to make it all fit (if that’s possible).  His movies are the most Twilight Zoneish things out there, and despite Peele’s reported reason for naming the film Nope, I’m going to keep watching the skies.  It’s clear he had done his ufological homework.  Even the idea that—SPOILER ALERT—have you seen it yet?  Are you going to?  You might want to finish this later, if you haven’t—they are biological entities has been widely discussed.  

Although classified as horror, Nope has mercifully few jump startles.  In fact I noticed (there were maybe only 10 of us in the theater) that one couple had brought their kids.  I can imagine they had some interesting discussions on the car ride home.  For me, driving home alone, I felt like I’d watched Close Encounters, Twister, Signs, and Arrival simultaneously.  Peele set out to film a spectacle and he did indeed.  Horror has become more intelligent of late, and there’s so much going on here that I’ll need some time to sort it out.  The online nattering suggests the Nahum quote (“I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle”) reflects Peele’s thoughts on the Bible.  A more literal take might see the evacuation of waste creating a spectacle, which it does.  How to explain the angel form of the creature?

Alien horror works.  Alien sees them deep in apace, but many films, such as Fourth Kind, see them closer to home. Fourth Kind, also by an Africa American director (Olatunde Osunsanmi) never received critical acclaim, but I thought the first half was impossibly scary.  It’s natural enough to fear those we don’t understand.  Perhaps that’s one reason we tend to deny their existence.  If we deal with them in fiction we can call it horror and go home happy.  Nope asks us to consider whether our differences matter so much in the face of a non-discriminate predator that eats any human that enters its territory.  Even if they were there first.  I still have a lot of questions about the movie.  Some of them will likely never be answered.  One that will is “Do you plan on seeing it again?”  The answer is yep.


Odd Getaway

It’s small.  Almost cramped, you might say.  But then again, a Pennsylvania Railroad caboose wasn’t really designed to be a two-bedroom apartment with en suite bath.  Why the Gideon Bible was laid open to Ezra 2.62–4.19 I couldn’t fathom.  I suppose the story begins in Wisconsin, and ends up with me deep in Trump territory for an overnight getaway.  Let’s start at the Badger State.  I’ve always been a sucker for the unusual.  In that regard, I suppose getting a job at Nashotah House was inevitable.  When I spied Weird Wisconsin in Books & Company in Oconomowoc, it became an obvious birthday ask.  When we moved to New Jersey I learned that Weird NJ was a magazine as well as a book, and I bought, and read, every issue.  I also bought both volumes of the book and those of nearby New York and Pennsylvania.  It was in the latter that I first read about it.

The Red Caboose Motel began as a kind of a lark in the late sixties.  A Lancaster county man bought a bunch of cabooses at an auction and then had to figure out what to do with these tons of steel.  He settled on refurbishing them as individual hotel rooms.  I read about them in Weird Pennsylvania and hoped that someday I might stay in one.  My family, feeling restless after more than two years of pandemic isolation, wanted a short staycation.  Hotels involve corridors and breakfast rooms, often tiny, and too many Americans just won’t get vaccinated.  This seemed an ideal opportunity to spend a night in a discrete, self-contained caboose.  And, I admit, to tick something off my bucket list.

Driving behind Amish buggies to get there after a hot day on the streets of Lancaster—a surprisingly busy and loud city—the Red Caboose felt like a good getaway.  Given the number of cars parked outside cabooses, we weren’t the only ones with this idea.  Lancaster is more than just Witness territory.  Known for its boutique shops and pretzels, as well as its thriving Central Market, it’s a busy place in July.  Bumper stickers and loud, aggressively roaring pickup trucks indicate that outside the city the Trump myth reigns supreme.  In town we visited two independent bookstores, one of them quite large.  With at least seven to choose from, Lancaster feels like a readerly place.  Indeed, I could, had I the money and time, envision renting a caboose for a month or two to do nothing but write.  Why they wanted me to read about rebuilding the Jerusalem temple I just don’t know.  I’ll chalk it up to being weird in Pennsylvania.