Annotating Irving

Really concentrating on a short story is sometimes difficult to do.  I don’t have a degree in literature (I took a few courses, but my specialization was religion).  I’ve been on a bit of a Sleepy Hollow kick lately and I wanted to move beyond just the short story by Washington Irving.  Although I’m sure working through the entire Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., the book in which “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was published, would probably be rewarding, it would also be time consuming.  Irving was trying to find his way as a writer and this particular story has been his lasting contribution.  So I turned to local historian Henry John Steiner’s annotated edition.  It has a useful introduction, but still wouldn’t be “book length” without several pages of photos and a large font size.

Sleepy Hollow may lay claim to several signs of historical importance.  It featured in the Revolutionary War.  Washington Irving did eventually settle there.  As a getaway it attracted the wealthy and powerful from New York City because it’s not that far from Manhattan.  Several movie and television renditions have been made of Irving’s story.  This book generally provides local place connections in the annotations.  A visitor to Sleepy Hollow might wonder where this or that event in the story was set.  This book will help with that.  Still, it left me looking for a bit more substantial treatment.  Not necessarily a literary-theory kind.  Let’s face it, academic writers tend to write for other academics. No, a bit more of the folklore, I suppose.

It did allow me to slow down and really concentrate on the story.  Books have an endpoint that really helps in that regard.  This little book (as was the one I recently read on the Old Dutch Church) was published when the Fox series Sleepy Hollow was taking off.  That all-important media tie-in helps to sell books.  Interestingly, the details of a closer reading are revealing.  This isn’t, in origin, a Halloween story.  It’s a tall tale told American style.  Steiner indicates it was based on an older legend—this is something I’d be interested in hearing more about.  Writers are great recyclers.  I suppose a book on the folklore of the lower Hudson Valley might have more of what I’m seeking.  Nevertheless I came away from this edition feeling as if I’d gotten to know the story better.  Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” also appears in his Sketch Book, but perhaps it’s asking too much to have both analyzed together.


Status Check

It took many months, but one of my few Twitter followers was removed not for trying to take the nation by force, but because he’d died.  If I learn to tweet from beyond perhaps I’ll score a few more followers.  The situation, however, is one of the oddities of our socially mediated world.  I was trying to find some information on a potential author the other day and the only online presence I could locate was LinkedIn.  I clicked on the profile only to see the latest update was “Deceased.”  More than that, the Experience column indicated that “Deceased” continued from the date of passing up to the present.  I guess once you’re gone, your gone for good.  Social media, however, will perhaps find a way to keep you alive.

When I’m gone, I imagine WordPress will shut this blog down because nobody will be paying for it.  It’ll probably take a while for Facebook or Twitter to figure out I’m in the new category of “deceased.”  I do hope Academia.edu will keep my downloaded papers there for free. Real immortality, it seems to me, lies in the writing of books.  They too will eventually disappear, and who knows about the real longevity of social media.  It’s pretty difficult to believe Facebook wasn’t even around at the turn of the millennium.  I drive a car that’s older than Facebook.  I keep thinking of LinkedIn listing “Deceased” as a vocation.  Isn’t it really the ultimate vocation for all of us?  If you can’t be found online, do your really exist at all?

While experts debate social media, my job prevents me from using Facebook or Twitter during the day.  After work I’m anxious to get on to the other things in life that virtual friends and followers have to wait.  Early in the mornings I write and research.  I have mere minutes a day to look over social media.  I check Facebook only for alerts.  Life is short.  Is social media making it better?  It’s easy enough to be overlooked in real life, so why indulge in it virtually as well?  Of course, many see social media as a place to vent their spleen.  Why not try to inject some good into the virtual world instead?  There is hope for the dead, for they may still publish.  Their tweets may become somewhat less frequent.  Only the most callous, however, would drop them as friends for being dead.  Let’s just wait for Zuckerberg or Musk to notice.  It may take a few months.


Television Fed

There have been a number of television shows—The Simpsons primary among them—that instead of castigating the media-raised generation, celebrate it.  As I watch the younger, internet-raised generation, I realize that we were the kids raised on television.  Before the fifties and sixties televisions were too expensive to reach into every home.  Although we were poor, we managed to scrape and scrounge enough to buy a color television by the time I was an early teen (what’s now technically a tween).  And even before that I had a television habit.  Dark Shadows, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and the list could go on and on.  Since neither of my parents finished high school, we used television as a window into the wider, more educated world.

Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

As an adult I’ve moved beyond that academic stage of being embarrassed about being raised on television.  I’m inclined now to embrace it.  It was forming me long before I started reading and these days I prefer reading to television, which I practically never watch.  Still, I have a great appreciation for its formative influence.  How else are you supposed to learn about the world when you’re poor and uneducated?  Dark Shadows taught me about vampires.  The Twilight Zone made me appreciate the strangeness of life.  Star Trek awoke wonder about space.  Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart taught me to laugh in tough times.  The Partridge Family taught me about music and the Brady Bunch prepared me for Zoom.

For many years I’ve tried to put this behind me as a cause of shame.  I was an academic.  A book-learner.  That way of life, however, shouldn’t deny what has made us who we are.  While following the new rendition of Sleepy Hollow in television format, I came to realize that there was a new direction to go.  Religion in horror had been lurking in the background for many years, even before my career malfunction.  To deny it was to deny the same academic pretentiousness that has refused me a place.  Media can hold meaning for us.  There’s no replacing those younger years in front of the tube, the intravenous meaning that successful writers and media producers of the sixties and seventies were giving us.  When you don’t have the free time for research, you can still access what childhood taught you in the first place.  And perhaps, if you’re lucky, move it forward.


Boone to Some

Folk heroes sometimes put us in compromising positions.  We appreciate their importance for where we are and yet we recognize that where we are came at a tremendous cost for those who lived here first.  Still, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Daniel Boone was born right here in Pennsylvania.  Like most people my age, I learned of Boone primarily through the television series that aired in the 1960s.  In other words, I learned the commercial Boone.  In reality he was a fascinating individual who preferred outdoors living to the comforts of home.  His prominence meant that he would meet and know such figures as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  He was largely responsible for US westward expansion, leading the first Europeans into the territory of Kentucky.  His association with the south is so pronounced that I was surprised to learn he was born in a homestead, that is today, less than an hour north of Philadelphia.

Of course, the land settled by the Boone family was stolen from American Indians.  The story might be somewhat easier to appreciate if we treated Indians better today, but our culture still insists on repressing them.  Racism runs deep, it seems.  Boone himself seems mainly to have gotten along with the Indians he knew.  The fact is his story is exciting to hear.  He was an able negotiator and both Indians and other settlers respected his position.  When tales of his adventures were written down he became famous, if not wealthy.  What seems to have really struck those who heard his story is that he continued his outdoor existence into his eighties.  At an age when many have become frail, he continued to spend months of the year living outdoors in the wilderness.

Being there where he was born felt like a revelation.  Of course the docent was a gifted storyteller, and she told his story with humor and an obvious pride in the man who’s responsible for her living.  I reflected how television once again had shaped my childhood.  Fess Parker’s portrayal of Boone was among the most popular prime-time shows of the mid-sixties to 1970.  I had no idea that I was consuming pop culture in such quantities as I watched it, along with other staples such as Dark Shadows, Gilligan’s Island, Scooby-Doo, and the Brady Bunch.  Some people worry that the rising generation “learns” its narratives from the internet, but my generation learned them from television.  Daniel Boone would have, and indeed did, learned from the outdoors.


Shadows of Childhood

Childhood, it seems to me, is where we define ourselves.  In the days when life expectancy wasn’t terribly long and people generally lived only long enough to reproduce, there was not much of a need to revisit childhood.  Now that we live several decades, however, childhood begins to loom large.  We have time to revisit and reassess.  This is one of the reasons I’ve been addressing Dark Shadows so much, and why my memories of it have been of such interest.  I recently watched the second feature film based on the series, Night of Dark Shadows.  This was aired after the original soap opera had been cancelled.  It focuses on Quentin Collins rather than Barnabas and it again caused me to reassess.

The story is complex—the soap opera was quite literary and intelligent to begin with—and it involves several characters from the series.  In my mind Quentin is a werewolf.  In the movie he’s not.  This made me realize that my image of Quentin is largely from the Marilyn Ross novels, not from memories of the television show.  I never did see the original series through.  Nor did I ever read all the novels.  Like most people my childhood was a pastiche of this and that as I sampled the somewhat small set of offerings made available in a modest family in a small town.  Fossil collecting and exploring within two or three blocks of home were about all the options.  And then there was television.  I watched a lot of it.  When the rigors of homework started to really hit in high school, I stopped watching so much.  I’d begun reading quite a bit by middle school, and many of those books are the ones I’ve been seeking out in recent years.  Not that middle school was that great, but it was formative.

Night of Dark Shadows, although set in Maine, lacks the Collinwood I remembered.  Yes, it’s a grand old house, but there’s no hint of being on the Atlantic coast.  No crashing waves.  No theremin.  Quentin is instead haunted by the ghost of Angelique and is apparently a reincarnation of an ancient ancestor whom she loved.  Angelique decides to kill off Quentin’s young bride so as to have him to herself.  It wasn’t bad, but I guess I was expecting a werewolf movie.  My view of Quentin was formed by the imagination of W. E. D. Ross, I’m coming to realize.  Sam Hall wrote many of the original episodes.  He also co-wrote this movie.  My childhood, however, remembers all of this differently.


Wicker Lessons

Beltane creeps up unnoticed.  Not an official holiday in these parts, it is, hopefully, a sign of slightly warmer weather than we’ve been having in April.  It’s also the day that I can’t help but think of The Wicker Man.  One of the early intelligent horror offerings, it came out 49 years ago.  My book on the movie, as far as I know, is still scheduled to come out next year, on its fiftieth anniversary.  Watch this space for further announcements.  In any case, today I have a piece on The Wicker Tree—the “spiritual sequel” to the movie, appearing on Horror Homeroom.  Societies in old Europe tended to celebrate this as the beginning of summer, which explains why Midsummer comes half-way through June.  The seasons aren’t always the same in all times and places.

In Germanic countries, Walpurgisnacht, which began last night, was a time of concern about witches.  Our modern calendar tries to concentrate our fears in late October, but they are appropriate any time of year.  These days Beltane’s more of a day when we expect warmer weather to start rolling in and perhaps, especially this year, hopes for peace.  May tends to be a hopeful time—it’s a transition.  The persistence of our fears suggests that learning to deal with them might well be a good idea.  Instead of hiding monsters away, why not face them?  The Wicker Tree isn’t a great horror movie, but something holds true for it—the monsters are us.  In that film capitalism is the real horror.

What makes The Wicker Man the classic that it is is religion.  More specifically, the clash between religions, neither of which is willing to yield.  This is largely behind religious violence throughout history, up to the present.  Religions convinced that they’re the only possible way to the truth can’t recognize that believers of other religions feel exactly the same way.  Yet May is about transitions—one season giving way to another.  It’s part of the inexorable change that marks life on this planet.  We may not fear witches in the mountains any more, but we still fear what’s out there.  Beltane is a hopeful holiday—a day of blessing animals and building fires to encourage the strengthening sun.  Instead of making it a day of clashing beliefs, perhaps we should look for our common humanity in it.  Perhaps we can learn a deeper lesson from The Wicker Man.


Normal Paranormal

One of my favorite televisions shows of all time is The X-Files.  I didn’t watch it when it originally aired, but eventually got a hankering to see it on DVD.  There are many reasons to like it, including its originality and the dynamics between Mulder and Scully and the sense that governments really do hide things.  As I rewatch episodes I see how much religion plays into it as well.  This post is actually not about the X-Files proper, but about a place in Bethlehem I recently discovered.  I’m not a preachy vegan, but I do like to support the establishments who make such lifestyles as mine much easier.  It was thus that I discovered Paranormal Pizza in Bethlehem.  I wondered about the name, figuring that it was paranormal that you could have non-dairy, non-meat pizza at all.

To celebrate Earth Day we decided to check it out.  The menu has a set of fixed items, each named after an X-Files character.  I was glad to see that I’m not alone in my appreciation of the show.  The pizza’s very good, and I’m sure the college-age crowd that was there would agree with me.  I did wonder how many of them knew the X-Files.  Is it still a thing?  Maybe recent government disclosures have brought it back into the public eye.  Hey, I’m a Bible editor, about as far from the public eye as you can possibly get.  Vegan pizza on Earth Day, however, just felt right.

Foodiness seems to be trending.  A great many options are available in the land of plenty.  Still, I know that vegetarians and vegans in developing countries exist, and many of them for similar reasons to me.  They know animals think and feel.  We promote the myth that they don’t so that we don’t have to feel guilty about exploiting them.  It seems to me that many of our world-wide problems would start to vanish if we realized we can evolve out of being predators.  Cashews and almonds can become cheese.  Soy beans and wheat can become meat.  And peanuts are about the best food ever, in any form.  Then there’s the natural fruits and veg.  Industrial animal farming is perhaps the largest polluter of our planet.  Yesterday was Earth Day.  I was eating a pizza made from wheat, tomatoes, and cashews.  These ingredients might seem a bit unusual.  Paranormal, even.  But that’s precisely the point.  I won’t be waiting until the next Earth Day to go back for more.


Body Doubles

Learning about how Dark Shadows developed has freed me a bit, I think.  The stories between the original program, the novels, and the movies were never consistent.  I’d made that most fundamental of Fundamentalist errors—I’d assumed there was only one story and it went in only one way.  This helps explain, but not excuse, the Burton-Depp version of the story.  In any case, now I can read the novels with minimal baggage.  Understanding childhood is important if we survive long enough for it to haunt us.  Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers is a departure, even for Marilyn Ross.  Something critics sometimes overlook is just how literate the original, and subsequent, program was.  Ross occasionally attempts to cash in on that without feeling tied to the story line.

This plot relies on the 1956 movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Indeed, as a daily show Dark Shadows couldn’t really utilize a “monster of the week” format effectively (although it seems to have given the idea to those who later did).  The novels, however, could draw on such cultural tropes.  Both major releases of Body Snatchers (there was a remake after Dark Shadows ceased, in 1978) were considered terrifying by implication: how could you tell if someone took over the body of someone you know?  Who could you even trust, if such a phenomenon were possible?  Since such things aren’t common down here, it’s easier to suggest they come from outer space.  So it is that this installment has the weird juxtaposition of a vampire and werewolf having to outsmart aliens who take over human bodies. Kind of an early monsters vs. aliens scenario.

Again, not to seek too much depth where it doesn’t naturally exist, this scenario raises interesting questions.  How would terrestrial and extraterrestrial supernaturals interact?  I’m not sure W. E. D. Ross was up to this kind of gothic-sci-fi mash-up.  He was, after all, primarily a romance writer.  (Although, a recent trip to a library book sale and used bookstore in the same day led to the realization that paranormal romance is a burgeoning field.)  I recently read an article disputing the “willing suspension of belief” that is said to accompany such ventures.  As an adult I know that these novels are what must be considered cheesy, quick, and formulaic ephemera.  Still, I couldn’t help being pleased to see Barnabas and Quentin cooperating here.  If aliens ever do decide to invade, we’ll need all the help we can get.


Shadows of Childhood

While it may not seem to fit my current re-fascination, I’m not really a “fan”personality.  My interests are far too diverse.  Since I’ve been thinking about Dark Shadows a lot lately I decided to do some reading on it.  There’s a genre of nonfiction that involves small format, short introductions to various media.  I’ve read a few of the Devil’s Advocates series about horror movies and I recently discovered the similar TV Milestones series about, well, TV.  They have a volume on Dark Shadows by Harry M. Benshoff, and I knew it would help scratch my current itch.  You see, I wasn’t really a devoted fan of the show—I watched it after school like a lot of kids did in the late sixties and into the early seventies.  I read a few of the novels.  I never attended any conferences (they exist) and never wrote any fan fiction.  I think my level of engagement was different.

Nevertheless, this is an informative little book.  I found out that there’s even more to the phenomenon than I already knew I didn’t know.  I never really followed the whole plot line.  I didn’t realize just how complex the story is.  Perhaps on some level I knew the series was culturally significant.  As a child I didn’t know much about the wider culture.  We were working class poor, how was I to find out about such things?  For me, Dark Shadows was a kind of escapism, I suppose.  A fantasy that met a need, not a plot to be unraveled.  I wasn’t aware of how sophisticated, if cheap, it was.

By the time I got to college and started to meet different people, it was a moment that had passed.  I really didn’t think much about Dark Shadows again until after my own gothic tragedy of Nashotah House.  During the days of my career malfunction I rediscovered my childhood, perhaps looking for something better.  I started collecting and reading the novels again, and if I’m honest, were it not so expensive I’d consider watching the original series again.  Like all things nostalgic, I know my Rosebud will never be today what it was back then.  My reading sense wasn’t developed enough to see what might’ve been going on behind the scenes.  Benshoff does a good job of bringing much of that to the light.  I’ll likely read more on the series as time goes on, but I now have a better framework for looking at this particular milestone.  Not, however, as a fanatic.


Search and Research

Woe to those who live to research but who have no professorship!  I have been prone to research since about high school, driven by the need to know.  Almost Wesleyan in my need for certainty, I have always been inclined to check things out.  It took college and a doctorate to teach me the necessary research skills.  It took years of teaching for me to learn how to frame questions on my own.  And it took years of being shunned by the academy to realize that as I’ve been pursuing my personal research agenda that I lack the time to fulfill it.  I’m a slow learner.  Yet I can’t give it up.  The thought process that led to Holy Horror was a kind of epiphany.  I could write a book without reading every last thing about the subject.  The problem, however, would always be time.  I’ve read an awful lot about horror media and I’m only beginning to scratch the surface.

I’m not totally naive.  Okay, I’m pretty far along on that path sometimes, but I want my readers to know that I understand movies and television are made for money.  It’s a business, I know.  But I’m an artist at heart and I like to think the creators are fond of their characters.  Writers are advised to drown their darlings, to put their protagonists on a cliff and then throw rocks at them.  And I also understand that money can make you do even worse to them.  Of course, I’m still thinking about Dark Shadows.  For me it’s been a rediscovery of my childhood.  And just how much time I’d need to make sense of just one television series with a five-year run.  There’s far more information on the web on Dark Shadows than I was able to find in print on Asherah for the years of my doctorate.

And the expense involved.  Plus, it’s only early April and the lawn needs mowing!  I’m still wearing a heavy jacket some days but the grass is always greener.  Period.  What a time to fall into a research reverie!  I need a sabbatical but they don’t have those in the 925 world.  And I need a professor’s salary to be able to afford the media required.  The Dark Shadows series alone has over 1200 episodes.  House of Dark Shadows introduced the fear of the cross to my understanding of Barnabas Collins.  My world has been shaken and to settle it I need research.  What I have, however, is work starting in just a few minutes.

Now watch this, for time is fleeting

Ghost History

Books on art are often eye-opening to me.  When I was young and trying to escape the working-class hell in which I grew up, I discovered high culture.  This was mostly through local libraries.  I would check out classical music LPs and look at books of classical art.  I did the latter until I could identify several artists by their styles.  (It was probably originally because they’d painted pictures of Jesus and I went to see what else they’d done.)  In any case, I never studied art history.  I recently read an art-historian on the Devil, and now I’ve read one (Susan Owens) on ghosts.  The Ghost: A Cultural History does not address the question of whether ghosts exist, but rather traces the history of how they’ve been portrayed in literature and art throughout time.

Owens quite ably takes us through ancient to modern, pointing out that ghosts change to fit the Zeitgeist—the spirit of the times (not her pun).  In the early modern period ghosts were portrayed as physical revenants.  They were dead bodies that came back to physically harm the living.  We know this fear was widespread because some burials were clearly intended to keep the dead in their graves.  The idea of the physical ghost still comes up in modern horror as the monster you can’t kill because it’s already dead.  It was only gradually that ghosts became spirits and this was largely through emphasis on purgatory, which made it possible for the dead not to be in Heaven or Hell.  Once the idea caught on the literature and art began to focus on the spiritual nature of revenants.  As cultural interests turned towards ruins ghosts inhabited haunted houses.

This is a fascinating study of the way ghosts have evolved over time.  One of the things that struck me was that early commentators often didn’t distinguish clearly between ghosts, demons, and devils.  Demons, as we think of them, really depend quite a bit on The Exorcist.  The use of “devils” in the plural complicates the spiritual geography where we have God v Devil as the main poles of spiritual rivalry.  These ideas, and also those of ghosts, likely blended throughout most of history until a renewed emphasis on literalism came in.  Medieval scholars composed angelologies and demonologies, trying to keep everything straight.  They puzzled over ghosts, however, which don’t fit the scheme very neatly.  They would have benefitted, perhaps, if they had had Susan Owens’ book to help guide them.  It’s an exciting nighttime journey.


Quiet Company

Even as a lifelong fan of speculative fiction, some of the most effective horror is that where a reader is kept guessing.  One of the acknowledged masters of this is Henry James, whose The Turn of the Screw is considered a classic.  There are perhaps too many writers active today to predict who will be considered authors of classics a century or two down the road—writing has to take a long view.  Nevertheless Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions is, in this reader’s opinion, quite effective.  And ambiguous.  I’m on the constant lookout for gothic novels that work and this is one that surely does.  I’ll try not to give spoilers here, but I do recommend it for those who want a gothic atmosphere.  It is also genuinely scary.  A great deal of this is because the reader is never quite sure what has happened.

The eponymous companions are decorative curios purchased to impress royal visitors in the seventeenth century.  Life-like cutouts of people, they are silent.  Throw in an old, sprawling house in need of repair and a widow who had abusive parents and who’s inherited resentful servants and you’ve got a recipe for an eerie atmosphere.  The novel splits its time between the nineteenth and seventeenth centuries, focusing on the former.  Elsie Bainbridge is a protagonist with many secrets, and not a few skeletons in her closet.  The house she inherited also has a past that included accusations of witchcraft and cruel masters interested in self-promotion.  Told from the point-of-view of the women in a patriarchal society, there is an authenticity to the victimhood even of strong women.

It would be difficult to tell too much of the plot without giving away some of the creepier moments.  There’s a lot going on here and although it’s not a short book it doesn’t drag the reader down with filling too many gaps.  It’s also a novel that allows imagination to outstrip rationality.  Good speculative fiction will do that.  Even some of Poe’s work makes the reader wonder just what is happening—is this in the mind of the observer or is it objectively real?  Think “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Literature takes us into such places and gothic literature does so with more shadows and ambiguity.  Throw in some betrayals, and keep a few well-placed secrets and the recipe is in place for a creepy novel that will keep you reading.


Shadowy House

The more you learn the more you realize just how little you know.  The House of Dark Shadows was like a key, a missing puzzle piece for me.  Dark Shadows has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert.  I never saw the whole series on television—I saw many episodes once, during my childhood.  Enough to know who the characters were—especially Barnabas—but when I stopped watching it (when? Why?) I started reading the novels by Marilyn Ross.  Clearly the soap opera was gaining enough ratings to merit the building of a franchise.  But the thing was, there is so much in life that I never concentrated on it.  I read the novels occasionally, and I never saw House of Dark Shadows when it came out in 1970.  Not, in fact, until 2022.

Since I was only eight when it came out, even though it was rated PG, I would’ve had neither the means nor the money to get to a theater.  I had, in fact, never even heard of it.  Having been raised a Fundamentalist, I have a tendency to believe there is just one way a story goes.  I know there are variations—they occur in the canon of Scripture, even—but something deep-seated tells me it should go this way.  House of Dark Shadows (which explains a lot of Tim Burton’s decisions for his movie reboot) has a different story line.  Given that it was 1970 it would have been in the midst of the initial series broadcast.  The movie was quite successful.  Still, Barnabas ends up victimizing Carolyn (which in the novels he is reluctant to do), and Roger, and outright killing a number of people.

I spent the movie trying to process how the story should go.  Of course, I haven’t seen the soap opera enough to know.  This Dark Shadows franchise is episodic and it doesn’t add up.  The film was shot quickly and leaves gaps in the story.  It certainly doesn’t track well with the tale of the Maine family who knows about “cousin Barnabas”and that he visits Collinwood from time to time.  Our course, between the series and the novels there are many, many avenues to select.  When Tim Burton got the idea to make a movie he had an abundance of stories from which to choose.  The House of Dark Shadows isn’t a great movie.  It is gothic and moody and a standalone story.  And it has me wondering about what other dark shadows conceal.


Looking North

As organized religion continues its slow decline, mythology remains.  Indeed, it seems to be growing in interest.  The problem with many mythologies, for monolinguals, is that they come in languages other than English.  Translation always loses something, which is why, I suspect, Neil Gaiman was tapped to retell the Norse myths.  A very talented story-teller, Gaiman has written about gods before.  He knows their literary potential.  Norse mythology is rather odd in the canon of western thought.  The stories feature gods with as many foibles as humans and with conflicting motivations.  In some ways they are more believable than the monotheistic tradition.  They are both fun to read and poignant.

At the same time Norse Mythology is a somewhat perplexing book.  It’s difficult to tell, without being an expert, what is Gaiman and what is ancient.  In fact, the book sits next to another one with the exact same title on my shelf.  That one is labeled nonfiction, and it’s a bit more academic.  Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard that I tend to want to approach mythology in original languages, if possible.  I’ve never studied Nordic tongues and it would be a little difficult to justify starting now, with all the other things I’ve got to do.  It’s not that I don’t trust Gaiman, it’s just that every retelling is an interpretation.  Still, I’m sure the book gives the flavor of the records that survive.  One of the fascinating features of Norse mythology is that gods die.  Since it ends with Ragnarok, that seems inevitable.

Many mythologies have the world ending with the establishment of the happy reign of a singular deity.  Ragnarok, which Gaiman (and perhaps the originals) sets in the past, sees the gods dying on the battlefield against Loki and the giants.  As the earlier myths make clear, however, death in battle is the most glorious way for the Norse to end their lives.  (And seeing how it has led to a pretty peaceful adult nation, one wonders if the mythology had a calming effect.)  I’ve not read extensively in other versions of Norse mythology so I don’t know if Gaiman’s ending with Balder returning and the world starting anew is his innovation or part of the original.  Having gods who die, however, seems like a potential leveler for humans who suffer from greater powers.  There’s a sobriety to it that lends gravitas to the whole.  And like all good books, Norse Mythology has left me hungry for learning more.


The Best Religious Horror Movies Streaming Now

Here’s an extra-special second guest post this week, enjoy!

Many horror movies have religious themes, plotlines or undertones. Here are a handful of the best religious horror movies to make you pray the bad away, in order of release.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rated R

Director: Roman Polanski

Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

A young couple moves into a NYC apartment with a haunted past. When the wife gets pregnant, she experiences an array of strange feelings, believing her baby may be the spawn of Satan.

Stream Rosemary’s Baby on Hulu, Sling TV, The Roku Channel and Amazon Prime Video.

The Exorcist (1973)

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow

An increasingly strange-acting 12-year-old girl causes her mother to volley between scientific and supernatural explanations. Ultimately, she seeks the aid of a priest who himself is experiencing a crisis of faith.

Stream The Exorcist on Netflix.

The Exorcist spawned two sequels: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) available to stream on Apple TV, Vudu and DirecTV and The Exorcist III (1990) available to stream on Apple TV and FuboTV. There was also a 2016 television remake of The Exorcist that lasted two seasons and is now available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Carrie (1976)

Rated R

Director: Brain De Palma

Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie

Based on a novel by Stephen King, the master of horror himself, this is the story of a shy, introverted and sensitive teen bullied by her schoolmates and abused at home by her highly religious mother. Then, she becomes imbued with the devilish power to take revenge on them for the suffering and humiliation they’ve made her endure. This is such a timeless and beloved horror classic, it’s been remade twice: once made-for-TV in 2003 starring Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson in the leading roles and again in 2013 starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in the leading roles.

Stream all three versions of Carrie on Apple TV, Vudu and AMC On Demand.

The Omen (1976)

Rated R

Director: Richard Donner

Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remmick, David Warner

When the wife of an American diplomat gives birth to a stillborn child, he adopts a child named Damien. After the child’s first nanny commits suicide, the family calls in a priest, who delivers a dire warning: the child may be the anitchrist himself.

The original The Omen spawned two sequels and one remake.

Stream the original The Omen on Hulu, Paramount+, Epix on Amazon Prime Video or Epix On Demand, Tubi and DirecTV.

Stream Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) on Apple TV and Vudu,

Stream the 2006 remake of The Omen on HBO Max.

Summary

Catch up on these, and you can say you’ve survived the most harrowing classic religious horror films of all time.