Posted in Books, Pop Culture, Religion

John C. Wright on the Genius of Robert E. Howard

Fascinating essay:

Conan is somewhat more deep and complex than the cartoon image of a brute in a bearskin loincloth found the popular imagination, with a dancing girl clutching his brawny thigh and a devil-beast dying under his bloody ax. The theme and philosophy he represents is not the product of adolescent neurosis (as certain bitter critics would have us believe) but of somber, even cynical, reflection on the age of the world, the costs of civilization, and the frailty of man.

You really have to read the original Conan stories to understand what there was about the character and the stories he enlivened to make him still a household name, 80 years later. For my part, the more I have read them, the more I have come to appreciate the vitality of them, and the flexibility of the character:

Conan is, in Wright’s estimation, a product of Theosophy’s pagan theories of eternal recursion:

the world of successive cataclysms captures the grim mood of the Hindu mystic, where a Kali Yuga routinely wipes out all life in the universe, only to have it start again. The Ecpyrosis of the Roman Stoics was the same idea, and said the whole cosmos periodically burned to ash and was reborn. And the successive destructions whispered in Aztec legends, where different generations of man and god alike are obliterated, all these and others capture the pagan spirit and atmosphere needed for the Hyborian Age of Conan.

In this way, Conan is something like an avatar of Shiva, or at the very least of Ares, the Greek troublemaker and brawler.

I recently picked up Wright’s Count to a Trillion, the start of one of his spacefaring trilogies. I haven’t cracked it open yet, but I hope to soon.

Read the Whole Thing, obviously

Posted in Pop Culture, writing

Of Conan and Carver

 

One of the difficulties of approaching art of any kind is learning to drop your prejudices when encountering it. This is true regardless of what class of art you’re talking about. It’s very easy to dismiss something you haven’t read as without value, because if it had value, you’d have already appreciated it, right?

Over the course of this past year, I’ve dropped my attitudes toward two writers, one “highbrow”, one “pulp”, by taking the time to actually read their stuff: Raymond Carver and Robert E. Howard.

11-birdman-st-james-marquee-of-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love

Carver I came to via the film Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It’s a film I’ve enjoyed rewatching, partly for its silly spirit, partly for its full-throttle ranting about Meaning in Art. The plot involves Michael Keaton (playing an alter ego of himself), adapting a Raymond Carver short story into a full-length Broadway play. The story/play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” fairly reeks of that pretentious, mid-century Clifford-Odets-style talkiness that denoted Serious Art About Serious Things. I couldn’t imagine anything I’d enjoy reading less. But exposure to the movie gradually changed that, and I picked up an anthology of his shorts (the one with the same excessive title).

Howard I started reading after picking up some of the Dark Horse Conan comics. I debated buying a Conan collection or a Lovecraft one and decided on the latter because Lovecraft’s painting of his universe is often too grim for my mood. Howard made his creatures of the Outer Dark vulnerable to steel.

img_2863At first glance, you could not pick two more unalike writers: in subject matter and prose styles, Howard and Carver diverge a great deal. One practically birthed the Blood & Thunder style of pulp fantasy, the other worked strictly in American Realism. One spent his career a “lower class” of writer, the other recieved continuous critical acclaim. One created a character who has never left the scene, the other had to be name-dropped in a Oscar-winning film to remind the world of his existence.

And yet.

What struck me about both of these authors is the efficiency of their storytelling. Carver’s stories are brutally laconic; he gives you sufficient detail to sustain a narrative, and nothing more. He cuts to the quick. He covers a single emotion and when he’s covered it, he ends the story. It’s been a tonic for me.

Howard is likewise efficient, regardless of the purpleness of his prose. While Howard will stop to describe the monsters and mazes he puts his hero in, it never slows down the action. Conan stories move with an electric energy, from point to point without stopping to examine the hero’s inner life. This was never the point of them. We are along for the ride through vistas marvelous and terrible, and it all feels real and lived in regardless of how short a time we spend there. Conan himself might be impenetrable, but the world he moves through drops its secrets at a dizzying pace. So the purple prose serves to establish that world, that Conan may cut through it swift as a dagger in the dark.

Examining these two writers together, I’ve started to up my pace in the production of short fiction. The same day I picked up my Carver anthology, I sat down and penned a sci-fi short, start to finish. I built it off a fragment that had been sitting in my Tablo collection. I was never sure if I wanted it to be a short or a novella, and so never invested the thought into it. An afternoon of Carver and I hashed out the scene and put a ribbon on it. It’s called “The Filth of Living” and it’s going to be in the next issue of Unnamed Journal, as is a Blood and Thunder story of my own devising, called “The Dying Goddess”.

I don’t know if continually absorbing influence is a good strategy for an author. But I’m going to try it.

Posted in Pop Culture

Comic Book Post 5.1: The Death and Return of Superman

Pursuant to Comic Book Post #5.

Max Landis, of ChronicleAmerican Ultra, and Red Letter Media fame, parodies the killing and unkilling of Superman in the famous 1993 DC cash-grab. It’s funny, and he makes a salient point at the end about ruining death in comic books (NSFW due to language).

 

Philosophically speaking, death and life are inextricably intertwined, as mutually exclusive states of being must be. Thus, if death is a state into which one can pass in and out of with a wave of the narrative hand, then the stakes of life are shrunk accordingly. The meaninglessness of Superman’s Death just made him the more boring.

Posted in Pop Culture

Comic Book Post #5

Being the continuance of a series abandoned…

I never read any of D.C.’s New 52, because I objected to it on principle. The whole point of comic books is that they provide the balance of new tales as part of a coninuity. I get that managing said continuity can be a challenge. But re-booting is pointless. Every issue is a reboot.

Plus, stop “killing” characters. It’s lame.

But D.C. Has abandoned all of that, and given us Rebirth, which is supposed to restore everything as it was without erasing the New 52 stuff. So …


This doesn’t mean I haven’t read anything. I checked out the first few issues of Marvel’s Star Wars reboot, and that was fine. Decent Luke storylines, anyway. I stopped because they started spreading the storylines over five or six separate titles, so I have to buy Princess Leia #8 to continue Darth Vader #11 to continue Star Wars #9. And that’s too damn nerdy for me.


I also kept up on Dark Horse’s Conan titles. Conan the Avenger had a wry humor to it, occasionally at the expense of the title character, while Conan the Slayer is tonally more in line with the original Robert Howard stories.  Both are enjoyable, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I also got this:


Because Deadpool is funny, and he makes Spider-Man funnier, and I have the Erik B. And Rakim album this cover references. You got me, Marvel. You got me.

But what finally broke me from my D.C. boycott was a little documentary I caught on Hulu, Batman & Bill, which chronicles the campaign to get D.C. to officially credit the man who created much of the Batman universe, Bill Finger. Bob Kane, who claimed all the credit as the creator of Batman, apparently came up with the name, and not much else. Everything around the name, from the costume, the villains, the secondary characters, even the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, was Bill Fingers work. But Kane made the deal with D.C., so every Batman comic and movie and TV show has “Batman created by Bob Kane” in the credits. Kane died a millionaire and Finger died in poverty and obscurity.

But the truth will out. As early as the 1960’s, people whispered the truth that Batman was not a solo act, but Kane vigorously stuck to the legend. And after he died, so too did D.C. Finally in 2015, after generations of Finger’s heirs and the nerd community shouted loud enough, D.C. agreed to change the credit, starting with the Batman vs. Superman movie.

So I picked up Batman #23, a Swamp Thing crossover with an interesting nihilist villain. It’s well-drawn and appropriately gloomy. And on the first page:

That’ll do, Bats. That’ll do.

Posted in Pop Culture, This Modern Life

Nerd Culture Abused

This is old, but if you’re sick of the way “nerd culture” has been inflated into a Seriously Important Thing, Red Letter Media is Awesome. NSFW for some crude language.

 

There’s a second episode:

 

You might not get this if you don’t hang around on YouTube, but they’ve been making fun of the hysterical dweebery surrounding Disney and Marvel’s Cinematic Universes for some time. And going by this recent Screen Junkies video, it’s already having the desired effect.

 

The best kind of satire is the kind that makes its targets reconsider things.

Posted in Pop Culture

A Sober and Logical Analysis of Disney Princes, or No, Disney Doesn’t Hate Boys

This click-baity article at the Federalist: “Why Does Disney Hate Boys So Much?” way overstates its case. Contra the article, male Disney characters have not gotten lamer lately. As the father of two little girls, and as a boy who had a sister during the “Disney Renaissance”, I’ve seen my share of Princess movies. And when you look at them all, in total, the male characters have gotten much more interesting as the films have gone on.

Don’t believe me? Then absorb this totally objective analysis. Herewith, a selection of primary male characters in Disney Princess Movies, together with how much they speak, and what their function is in the plot. I exclude Aladdin and any other film with a male protagonist (which spares me having to re-watch Hercules and Hunchback of Notre Dame, which seems to be when the so-called Renaissance went through it’s Mannerist Phase, or something).

Continue reading “A Sober and Logical Analysis of Disney Princes, or No, Disney Doesn’t Hate Boys”

Posted in Pop Culture, This Modern Life

That’ll Do, 2016. That’ll Do.

I had this long blog post about Statistical Clustering and Artists Die, but Art Survives written in response to Carrie Fisher’s demise called Why I Don’t Get Sad Over Dead Celebrities. I was letting it lie to give it an editorial once-over before I posted it. Here’s the part that got Overtaken By Events:

Is it sad? Of course it is. Not merely because she died, but because she predeceased her mother (that’s right, Debbie Reynolds is still alive), and that’s not a thing that should ever happen.

I still think some of those points are solid, but now Todd Fisher has to bury his mother and his sister in the same week. That is just sad, so I’m going to shut up about it. Starting … now.