Blood and vampires go together like October and, well, vampires. Although I don’t understand manga, I do know it’s extremely popular, and a friend has been lending me the volumes of Hellsing by Kouta Hirano. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read numbers 4 and 5. Hellsing sets up a world where the Catholic church destroys vampires, as does the English, Protestant organization Hellsing Organization. The latter, however, has as its secret weapon the vampire Alucard who, in nearly every number, gets dismembered in some bloody way before pulling himself back together to overcome the enemy. In the latest issues I’ve read the Catholics and Protestants have to cooperate against the threat of neo-Nazis (and this was before Trump was elected), who also employ werewolves. (It’s October, remember.)
Having been pondering the vampires of Maine, I decided to read the next in my own generation’s vampire hero, Barnabas Collins. I’ve been reading the Dark Shadows series by Marilyn Ross to try to find a lost piece of my childhood. There was a scene in one of these poorly written Gothic novels that made a strong impression on me that I finally re-encountered in Barnabas, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin. Interestingly, in this installment Barnabas, the gentleman vampire, is cured of his curse while traveling back in time with Carolyn Stoddard. The story doesn’t explain how some of the characters from the twentieth century appear a hundred years earlier, but it does bring an early encounter of the vampire against the werewolf—an idea monster fans know from its many iterations such as Hellsing or, famously, Underworld.
You might think vampires and werewolves would get along. In both the Dark Shadows and Hellsing universes the personalities of both come through clearly. Both monsters have deep origins in folklore and people have believed in them since ancient times. Just because they’re not human, however, is no reason to suppose they’ll get along with each other. As soon as Universal discovered that monsters translated well to film the idea began to develop that monster versus monster would be a great spectacle. We had vampires and werewolves clashing on cheap budgets with fog machines. A new orthodoxy was created that the undead just don’t get along. It’s a idea that continued into the relatively bloodless Dark Shadows series, and on into the violent and gleefully bespattered Hellsing. And since it’s October nobody should be surprised.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Literature, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Barnabas, Dark Shadows, Hellsing, Kouta Hirano, Marilyn Ross, October, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin, Underworld, vampires
In celebration of Banned Book Week (go ahead, let your hair down!), I thought I might muse about some good news. Since I already posted on my banned book (Slaughterhouse Five) I need another angle of approach. One of the less envious aspects of being an editor at an academic press is being yoked to facts. Many authors have a basic misconception about numbers in their heads. They think their book will sell on the scale that Barnes and Noble, such as it is, will stock them on the shelves. I have to admit that I dream of walking into a bookstore and finding one of my titles on the shelf—and I know it’s not likely to happen. Those of us who work in publishing see the hard figures, how many copies have actually sold. And the results can be quite sobering.
The news isn’t all bad, though. I ran across an article by Andrew Perrin titled “Who doesn’t read books in America?” and the way the question was phrased made me think. I’m used to thinking of it the other way around: how many people read, or buy, books? I once read that about 5% of the US population constitutes the book-buying market. Now, that is a large number of people, even if it’s on the smaller end of the overall spectrum, but Perrin’s article from the Pew Research Center states that only 24% of Americans state they haven’t read a book, whole or in-part, over the past year. This, I think, is cause for celebration. It means more of us are reading than are not, even if we don’t always finish the books we’ve started.
Think of it like this: whether print or electronic, people know to turn to books for information. Oh, there are all kinds of details I’m leaving out here—the safeguards of a reputable publisher over the self-published manifesto, as well as the self-published brilliant book over what managed to squeak through the review process at a university press because an editor felt the pressure of a quota—but the numbers are encouraging nevertheless. Looked at this way, more people are reading than are not. And the best way to promote books is to suggest they should be banned. That’s why I don’t despair of the shallow books praising Trump—if they’re banned they become prophetic. Academic books, my colleagues, don’t sell as many copies as you might think, even if they’re not banned. The good news is, however, that we haven’t forgotten whence to turn for knowledge.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Holidays, Literature, Posts, Publishing
Tagged academic publishing, Andrew Perrin, Banned Book Week, literacy, Pew Research Center, Slaughterhouse-Five
As summer wends its way slowly toward autumn my reading becomes more gothic. It feels as natural as the progression of the seasons, I suppose. While waiting for the turn I’d been holding onto Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. Not having read any Zafón before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My copy had been blurbed by Stephen King, and I figured that was pretty high praise. I found the book through one of my web searches for the most gothic novels and this one takes a while, but I can see why it makes some of those lists. I wasn’t sure at first if it was intended to be comic or serious, but that combination is an imitation of life itself. We laugh, we cry, we shudder.
The story slowly builds, and I’ll address this further on Goodreads. What I want to consider here is the nature of place. Human beings—and I would argue animals as well—have a sense of place. Space becomes sacred through events both dramatic and quotidian. That’s why we make pilgrimages to places where our heroes lived. Just to be there. To think about it. To feel it. The Shadow of the Wind is a story of Barcelona during a time of war. There’s no escaping the moody sense of old Europe in this tale. In that sense religion is quite often casually mentioned. It’s part of place in a way many Americans overlook. The church bells I can hear everyday beg to differ, no matter how empty the pews may be. Zafón wants to share his gothic Barcelona with a story that leads to real shivers.
It would be a stretch to call this a horror novel, but it is in the sense that V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic is. It reminded me at several points of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (my copy of which was destroyed in a flooded garage). Many lives, I suspect, have quiet gothic elements to them. I know that mine does. While there may be a little supernatural at work in The Shadow of the Wind, most of the action is believable. This is the way people behave. The way they treat, and mistreat one another. While the days are still hot around here, the angle of the sun in the sky doesn’t lie. We’re fast approaching the equinox from which we’ll slide into the long nights of winter. And reading, the more gothic the better, will help us make it through no matter where we are.
Posted in Books, Literature, Memoirs, Posts
Tagged autumnal equinox, Barcelona, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Flowers in the Attic, Gothic fiction, sacred space, The Shadow of the Wind, The Woman in White, V. C. Andrews, Wilkie Collins
Humans tend to be visually oriented. Arresting images stop us cold, causing us to focus on what we’re seeing. As a tween I could be transported by large, lavishly illustrated, full-color books of other worlds. While these went the way of Bradbury, I still sometimes recollect scenes that stopped me in my young tracks, making my juvenile mind wonder, what if…? As an adult I realize “coffee table” books are heavy and a pain when you’re moving. Printed on specialized paper, they have more heft than your mass-market paperback, or even most academic tomes. Nevertheless, Gothic Dreams Cthulhu was a book that carried me, like a time-machine, back to my younger years. Unlike in those days, however, I read the text as well as lingered over the images. And I wondered about Cthulhu.
You see, I didn’t know about Lovecraft as a child. The only reading regularly done in my family was Bible-oriented. I discovered science fiction and gothic literature as a tween and, living in a small town, had no one to guide me in my choices. Rouseville (the town pictured in the background on this website) had no public library. My reading was left to my own, uninformed devices. I discovered Cthulhu through my long fascination with Dagon. I’d pitched Dagon as my dissertation topic, but settled on Asherah instead. While teaching religion at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, I discovered Lovecraft, and Cthulhu, through Dagon.
Gordon Kerr, the author of Gothic Dreams Cthulhu, might be forgiven his hyperbole about H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was not a great writer—that’s not intended as any kind of slight, I hasten to add. Classically, however, he didn’t have the level of literary finesse of Edgar Allan Poe, for example. Still, Lovecraft created credible worlds. His was a life of imagination—one might almost say divinity. He was a creator. Cthulhu has become a cultural icon. With the magic of the internet bringing a writer still obscure to international attention, many people who never read horror fantasy nevertheless know who Cthulhu is. Or they think they do. As Kerr explains, the descriptions by Lovecraft himself are spare, thus the variety of ideas represented in the delicious artwork on every page of this book. As Lovecraft earns more academic attention, surely others will notice the religious potential of the Great Old Ones that were, in their time, gods. A guilty pleasure read, to be sure, Gothic Dreams Cthulhu fits well into this serious world of chaos we’ve created for ourselves.
Posted in Art, Books, Deities, Literature, Memoirs, Monsters, Posts, Religious Origins
Tagged Cthulhu, Dagon, Edgar Allan Poe, Gordon Kerr, Gothic Dreams Cthulhu, H P Lovecraft, Rouseville, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh