Too Rare to Live, Too Weird to Die

“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert…when the drugs began to take hold.” – Hunter S. Thompson, July 18, 1937 – Feb 20, 2005

Fuck “Call me, Ishmael.”  The first sentence of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is the best opening line to any book I’ve ever read.

Five years ago today, Hunter penned a suicide note titled, “Football Season is Over,” and shot himself in the head.  In accordance with his wishes, his remains were cremated and then shot out of an enormous cannon of his own design.  Five years ago today, we lost the father of Gonzo journalism.

Hunter S. Thompson had a gift.  He was one of those rare mutants he spoke of in his writing.  Creatures like him are necessary to provide that first brave leap into the unknown so that other, less courageous souls can follow in their footsteps.  He was journalistic evolution in action.

He threw himself into the middle of his stories, took drugs, and blurred fact and fiction so that it was hard to tell the difference between the two.  His coverage of the 72 Democratic Presidential Campaign is a good example, where his reporting of Ed Muskie’s use of an obscure drug, Ibogaine, was interpreted as fact and reported by various news agencies, possibly affecting Muskie’s standings among the public.   Given Hunter’s skill for weaving truth and lie interchangeably in his stories, often with a good amount of corroborating numbers and “sources” for both, I would imagine fact-checking his work to be a nightmarish prospect.   He would often go way past his deadlines and then submit all at once, forcing most of the story to go through unedited.

He broke a lot of rules for writing in general and journalism in particular, creating his “Gonzo journalism” in the process.  Gonzo is a type of subjective journalism where the writer is immersed in the story and uses fact and fiction to convey an overall message.  You see, Hunter learned a long time ago that it was very difficult to truly report anything objectively and additionally it was not necessarily desirable to do so.  At the end of the day, reporting a point equally two ways doesn’t impart anything of real value to the reader, especially if the argument for one side has much more substance than the other.  The reporter and their story are intertwined and he was one of the first in the modern era to embrace it with wild abandon.

While you can see many different examples of Gonzo journalism online today, the reason it took off in the first place  is because it put you directly in the head of Hunter S. Thompson.  Instead of  simply reading coverage of the Kentucky Derby, you could read, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.”    And Hunter’s head is an interesting place to be, filled with boozed up lizards, demons covered in tits, “a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers,” and brilliance.  We’ll miss him.

The Age of Romance

We found this pamphlet while cleaning out my Grandfather’s house.  Now I’m sure it was considered the cutting edge of dating and sexual education upon its release, but parts of this were just too damn funny for me to leave alone.  To be fair, it was published in 1933,  and tries to paint sex as a beautiful and wonderful thing when it occurs in the context of a marriage.  A hefty portion of it deals with mitigating the confusion of newly virgin newlyweds with the honeymoon (nothing graphic obviously) as well as instructing the youth on how to properly develop into decent chaps and nice girls, avoiding sex until marriage.  Anyway, I love some of the language they use and the helpful reminders to try to keep the young people of America from fucking in the streets.  Here are a few of my favorite passages:

The Age Of Romance

Regarding a girl who’s perhaps too amorous with the boys: “A girl during this time cannot afford to get the reputation of being “everybody’s sweetheart.”

Regarding a couple who perhaps might have taken things a bit too far before marriage: “In case such a couple, engaged for years, should split up, considerable damage may have been done, as other eligible young people may regard them as being a bit ‘shopworn'”

In training for a happy Home life

“Girls and boys are stimulated on every hand long before they can possibly expect to assume the normal and legitimate sexual status of the married couple.  Risque books, ‘sexy’ plays and moving pictures, ‘jazz’ music, immodest dances and the like call the attention of the young man or girl to the matter of sex.”

Paths to Unpopularity

“Those who are constantly chasing after the girls or the boys, as the case may be, are defeating their purpose.  Nothing is so disgusting as a girl who is ‘boy-crazy’.  Giggling and squealing, affected and designing, she is utterly despised by every decent chap, though she may be highly attractive to the fellow who thinks that one so silly might be easy prey to his improper intentions.  Likewise, a foppish man who is always following the girls stands little chance of winning their favor.  Women admire men’s men rather than squaw men.”

Avoid Excessively Stimulating Experiences

“The sheer clothing of the present time leaves little to the imagination and may cause strong passion to be developed, particularly when the young couple is alone.  Bathing suits on the other hand have little effect when used as bathing suits….Furthermore, it is impossible for sexual passion to be strongly aroused when the body is cool or wet….The modern bathing suits are marvelously suited for swimming, and in addition, probably serve a useful purpose in accustoming young people to the appearance of the body of members of the opposite sex and at a time when sexual stimulation is retarded and gratification is impossible.”

Good stuff.

Eldritch Tales of Horror and Macabre

H.P. Lovecraft.

There’s a lot to say about both the man’s work and the man himself.  I just saw “Dreams in the Witch House” at the Athenaeum Theatre  in Chicago by WildClaw productions and was so pleased to see a Lovecraftian tale work on stage that I had to write something.  First of all, great work guys.  Portraying Lovecraftian dimensions is not easy work and it was done fantastically by the effects and sound crew, and the movements of the cast too (Tom this means you!)  As a matter of fact, the entire set, sound, lights and everything was pretty amazing for the budget, location and subject matter.  Liberties were taken in parts with the plotline, but this was very understandable as Lovecraft is often sparse on dialogue  and writing any kind of storyline that could be adapted into this format while retaining the Lovecraftian feel must have been challenging.  The show could have benefited from a little more clarity as to how Lovecraftian monsters differ from your average agent of good or evil, and the tentacle scene needs to either go or be reworked, but overall I was impressed.  The cast was excellent, doing a great job of illustrating the bizarre kind of inhabitant that Arkham breeds as well as making us identify with the protagonists, letting us follow them down the dark road they travel.  Now a few words for the uninitiated…

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890.  His father became “acutely psychotic” while on a business trip in Chicago and was subsequently hospitalized.  He was then raised by his mother who tended to be rather overprotective of him, padding corners around the house and coddling him at every turn which likely only furthered to isolate him from his peers.

Many would consider Lovecraft to be a flawed  human being.  He believed that the American revolution was a mistake, he was a monarchist, later he was a socialist.  Re-reading him lately, I can’t really deny that he was a racist as well.  Some of his works, have overt racism in there, even bearing the times in which he wrote in mind.  He tended to be an anglophile, seeing the English culture as the pinnacle of human accomplishment, and other races and cultures (especially African and Native American cultures) seem to be cast in his works as the heathen savages and barbarians.

Lovecraft could also be said to be a flawed writer.  He seemed to be in love with his use of archaic language, which he frequently used to describe things to melodramatic effect (eldritch, cyclopean, ichor, to name a few).  His characters were rather one dimensional, his narrative too muddy at times, his setup too dry, and confusing.  Despite his flaws, the man was also brilliant and one of the best things to happen to horror-fiction in a long time.

What Lovecraft may have lacked in dialogue or complex characters, he gave back tenfold in terms of ambience and invention.  In “Call of Cthulhu,” for example, I found his description of the ancient city stumbled upon by the sailors, with it’s non-Euclidean geometry, to be far more memorable and frightening than any recollection of the protagonist on his road to discovery.  His manner of horror-fiction emphasized fear of the unknown, often only hinting at horrors, or allowing the reader to simply view a piece of the puzzle since the full picture is always too horrific for the mind to bear.  Many writers since, have been influenced by him and his ideas.  Lovecraft often encouraged other writers to borrow from him in order to expand the mythology he had created.  The Necronomicon (the book of the dead) is one of his best known ideas and has found its way into many different stories and movies as a plot device.

Lovecraft is to horror-fiction what Nietzche was to philosophy.  He decided to rewrite the rules.  He could have tried to build a better vampire or frankenstein.  He could have given you a monster more depraved than the rest, or a complicated villain that does evil but has his own twisted code of ethics.  Instead he gave us all something truly, “alien.”  It wasn’t that the “Great Old Ones” were evil, they were just so far beyond what we consider to be good and evil, which made them truly frightening.  It’s like a kid with an ant and a magnifying glass.  Their wants and needs are far beyond our understanding and are at odds with what we want, they’re older than we are, having arrived from distant stars, can’t die,could ruin life as we know it forever, and our lives would have been so much happier if we would have never stumbled upon their existance.

Scared yet?

In Lovecraft stories, your protagonist generally either dies or goes insane.  The Great Old Ones, they’ll still be there.  We may be able to lull them to sleep for a few more years, a decade or a century, but they’ll be ready to retake the earth when the stars are right, they’ll never really go away and we’ll never really win.

Now that’s some serious horror fiction.

For me, Lovecraft’s horror ideology is best summed up with this opening paragraph from “The Call of Cthulhu”

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Pretty fucking eldritch, huh?

The Silmarillion

©Chris Mills. All rights reserved!

If JRR Tolkien had been born in ancient times, he could have founded a mythology with the stuff of The Silmarillion. This is a book that I find myself rereading again and again. A fair amount of criticism is attached to this work, as it was compiled by the son of JRR Tolkien from his father’s notes, and is not canon, as such. That being said, I think I enjoy The Silmarillion as much, or more than The Lord of the Rings for several reasons.

First of all, JRR Tolkien was wont to make the past grander than the present, even in terms of his mythology, and evidence of that can be seen in this book where armies of gods, elves, and men fight armies of dragons, balrogs, and the first enemy, Morgoth. The concepts, magic, battles, and beauty are on a much larger scale than anything that appears any of his later works. Great heroes live and die. The world is richer for them having lived, and also a little diminished at their passing.

Secondly, The Silmarillion was initially started by Tolkien when he was serving in World War I and while he never published it during his lifetime, he kept adding to and refining it until it served as a fictional cultural heritage to all of Middle Earth. All the characters of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have been touched in some way by the events of The Silmarillion even if not explicitly, and some characters in those books have seen the events described in it, firsthand.

The book is divided into 5 parts: The Ainulindalë (the story of the creation of the world), The Valaquenta (information about the gods and of their first battles against Morgoth), Quenta Silmarillion (The story of the war of the Silmarils), Akallabeth (the story of the Numenoreans and of the fall of Numenor), and of The Rings of Power and the Third Age.

The Silmarillion should be read as a book of mythology and folktales rather than as a coherant standalone story.  It jumps between chapters that are informative and chapters that read like epic tales that would have been passed down by word of mouth in older times.  Nevertheless, the book paints such a vivid world with such a compelling mythology that the entire Tolkien universe benefits from its having been. To the reader it gives greater insight into the nature of Tolkien’s creation and of the degree of thoughtfulness that was put into its inception. While this is definitely a sadder story in terms of content and while it is structurally different from his other works, I highly recommend it.

The artwork in this post was created by Chris Mills, and depicts an event in the fall of the elf kingdom of Nargothrond.  It illustrates the meeting of Glaurung the father of dragons and the tragic hero Turin Turambar (a serious badass who apparently didn’t get the message that you’re not allowed to provide your own nickname).  Chris was kind enough to let me use his artwork here and has created some exceptional watercolors of dragons, including Smaug.  Some of his artwork can be viewed at http://www.elfwood.com/art/s/t/steading/steading.html.

Confessions of a Reader

I only read 10 books.  Well that’s a lie.  I mainly read about 10 particular books/series.  I’ve been re-reading these books for so damn long, one would think I’d be completely sick of them by now.  Truth is, I’m hopelessly addicted to them and will probably continue to re-read these series for the rest of my life.  Once one is finished I find the one that I haven’t read in the longest or have been aching to read again.  I feel like they keep me flush in a supply of dark and bright worlds to inhabit. 

Since I just finished reading one of the ten, Midnight Blue, I figured that I’d start posting about these books or series after I re-read them in order to both praise them highly and let people know that I’m open to suggestions for new books or series to get started on.

Midnight Blue.  In my opinion, this is the definitive work in modern day vampire literature.  This trilogy contains three books: Sunglasses After Dark, In the Blood, and Paint It Black.  This series  was written in the late 80’s, early 90s and involves a vampire/vampire hunter Sonja Blue and her quest to hunt down and destroy her maker.  The world of Midnight Blue is a dark reflection of our own with a race of Pretenders(vampires, werewolves, ogres, etc.) that exist undetected amidst us, preying upon humanity.  As a warning to any prospective readers, this is a DARK book, utilizes some seriously brutal imagery and is not for everyone.  However, the story is grabbing, the descriptions vivid, and it recreates some of the traditional horror archetypes for a new age.  What first grabbed me about this book is how it opens, a poem from a vampire (Sonja Blue) from the Danger Ward of a mental hospital:

“Moon.
Big white moon.
White as milk moon.
You’re all I can see from my window, here in the dark. Your light falls silver and white across the walls of my cell. The night-tide surges strong in me. So strong I can feel the grip of their drugs loosen. They fancy themselves high priests. Their gods have names like Thorazine and Lithium and Shock Therapy. But their gods are new and weak and cannot hope to contain me much longer. For I am the handiwork of far more powerful, far more ancient deities. Very soon my blood will learn the secret of the inhibiting factors the white-coated shamans pump into my veins. And then things will be very different, my beautiful moon.

My big moon.
White as milk moon.
Red as blood moon

      THE DANGER WARD” -from the beginning of Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins