Ancient Curse, Modern Cure: The Horror of Victorian Sexual Repression

Ancient Curse, Modern Cure: The Horror of Victorian Sexual Repression

 

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The social aspects of nineteenth century Gothic horror are a study in the dichotomous nature of the Victorian mind. This period, characterized by its sexual repression, gave rise to some very salacious fiction, especially of the horror variety.  Early in the century The Second Great Awakening had renewed religious fervor in both Europe and America. This is juxtaposed against eighteenth century cultural trends that had seen great strides towards intellectual, scientific, and sexual enlightenment. The reemerging repressive attitude seems to have been a reaction to the more libertine nature of the previous century and it is possible this grew out of advances in female empowerment. The temperance movements and the social purity movements of the period acted as a political outlet for women in a time when they were locked out of more traditional political activity. These movements worked hand in hand with the newly empowered religious institutions to counter any and all things they perceived as sexually or morally deviant.  Sexuality had to go underground and find new outlets of expression safe from the burgeoning social nanny state. One of the most obvious of these outlets was the convergence of sexuality and literature specifically as found in Gothic horror fiction.

Gothic horror became a cloak under which the Victorian who wished to explore ideas of a more sensual nature could feel free to do so with abandon. From the first half of the century we have such works as The String of Pearls (better known today as Sweeney Todd). Here, ideas regarding sex are completely disguised in the form of a cannibal, his victims, and his accomplices: The sex is merely suggested and never acted upon openly. However, the very act of eating human flesh is one of the most intimate acts one could possibly imagine and becomes a means through which the author relates the deviancy of the characters. It also doesn’t take much imagination to link the horror created by Sweeney Todd to many sexual practices that would have been considered deviant at the time such as bondage and elicit affairs between married partners. The story is full of semi-hidden double entendres, but it was far from the open bucking of cultural conventions when compared to later more explicit works. These later authors touched on subjects as varied as physical seduction, bestiality, and very surprisingly frank depictions of transvestism. Two late Nineteenth Century novels represent the peak of this trend towards sexualization in Gothic horror literature, Bran Stoker’s Dracula and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle.

The two novels explore sex in a very open and frank way. While it is still depicted as deviant and dangerous, there is no doubt it was meant to titillate the reader.  Not only did these novels seek to express sexual themes, they also took shots at British imperialism and conformity. To the modern reader sex and imperial rule would seem very disconnected but, to the Victorian sensibility, sexual prowess and imperial might were intimately intertwined. Inserted into this mix, the villains of both Dracula and The Beetle seek to overturn British hegemony through “means of the appropriation and destruction of symbols of the moral, spiritual, and racial superiority of England’s ruling class- its women.”(30). Thus the two novels explore the ideas of sexual deviance through the domination of racial “others” over pure British womanhood. This interracial aspect of sex acts depicted in both books feed into both fear and arousal. 

      In the article, “Purity and Danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the late Victorian Degeneracy Crisis”, Kathleen Spencer seeks to explore the sexual undertones of Bram Stoker’s Dracula from the perspective of the body of literature available during the Victorian period. It is her belief that the novel should be read in context with the other novels that explore sexual and supernatural situations, in order to form an overall synthesis of how sexual mores are expressed in these works. Spencer breaks these works down into their composite pieces to illustrate how abnormal sexual situations could be presented through supernatural aspects without causing the Victorian reader to reject the works outright. This would be important in inoculating the literature from conventional social forces that may seek to ban these novels.

 Authors like Stoker set their works in the contemporary period to lure their readers into a sense of the normal. Spencer states that, “First and most important, the new authors insist on the modernity of the setting not on the distance between the world of the text and the world of the reader, but on their identity. A modern setting means, most profoundly, an urban setting, as by the end of the Nineteenth Century well over half the population of the British Isles lived in cities.” (200).   The authors of the time were intent on relating to their readers and to bringing them into their stories. They used a variety of techniques, from using familiar settings to creating intense emotional content, to capture the reader’s attention. This increased the tension within their narrative and resulted in much more vivid storytelling. The authors then introduced fantasy elements to shock the reader out of their normal lives, allowing them to embrace ideas and situations that would not appear in mundane society.

 Spencer then goes on to explore further how sexuality is expressed in Dracula and other novels of the period. She contends that, “the crucial distinction between Dracula and his opponents: he is degenerate.” (213). Dracula represents the opposition to the sexual norm. He and his creations are monsters of the fantastic and illustrate the dangers of degeneracy and sexual deviance. These monsters are powerfully alluring, but they can be defeated. Men and even woman can hold out against their sexual power, at least for awhile, and those that can’t are doomed. It is important that those characters shown to fall prey to the sexual deviant are damned, as this plays into the themes that protect the novels from conventional social criticism. If these novels are seen as cautionary tales against evil then they could break social/sexual taboos without fear of reprisal by moral authorities.

The Beetle, published the same year as Dracula, delves even further into what Victorians would have seen as sexual aberration. It was so successful that it outsold Dracula into the first decade of the Twentieth Century.  Victoria Margree calls the novel The Beetle “an extended homoerotic and masochistic fantasy.” (76) The book focused on the strict attitudes against female empowerment and women acting as men. We, as a society, may not be as concerned with female identity as we once were, but the interplay of homosexuality in the book fits well into the fears and anxiety of our own society and its struggle with the idea of gay marriage and rights. This is a novel that broke all the rules regarding sex and morality of the period and managed to be one of the best selling novels of its day without raising an as much as an eyebrow among the religious elite.

The horror genre continues to be a place in which authors, artists, and especially filmmakers can explore the fringes of human experience. Attitudes toward sexuality may change, but horror fiction continues to push the boundaries of society on that front. My generation often attended horror movies just to see the scantily clad bodies of the girls who would be menaced once again by those eternal supernatural creatures. Those movies taught us that having sex would surely result in decapitation or a bloody death in a lakeside cabin. It never prevented me from returning each week and it certainly never really turned anyone off sex. We were just playing the same century long game of hide and seek with the puritanical among us.

 

Works Cited

Garnett, Rhys. “Dracula and the Beetle: Imperial and Sexual Guilt and Fear in Late Victorian Fantasy”. Science Fiction Roots and Branches. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990: 30-54. Print.

Kathleen L. Spencer.Purity and Danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the Late Victorian Degeneracy Crisis.”ELH, 59.1 ( 1992): 197-225 The Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Margee, Victoria. “Both in Men’s Clothing: Gender, Sovereignty and Insecurity in Richard Marsh’s The Beetle.” Critical Survey 19.2 (2007): 63-81. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

The Admirable Crichton: One of the Most Influential and Unknown Stories of Science Fiction History

The Admirable Crichton: One of the Most Influential and Unknown Stories of Science Fiction History

robots_crichton2The name Crichton pops up in science fiction over and over again. From the irritable know it all robot in Buck Rogers, to the robot butler in Red Dwarf, and again as the lone human surrounded by a universe of aliens in Farscape. Why are all these characters named Crichton and what do they all have in common?

In 1902 J.M. Barrie (yes the same J.M. Barrie who created Peter Pan) penned a short comedy about a butler named Crichton modeled on the real life Scotsman James Crichton who was himself a genius in several disciplines at once (a polymath). In the play Crichton is shipwrecked on a desert island with his employers and quickly proves more capable than those who would profess to be his betters. He is so capable that he becomes the leader of the group of castaways. His knowledge is also so complete and efficient that he turns the desert island into a small self-sufficient colony. On being discovered by the outside world Crichton once again returns to the life of a butler and those whom he saved on the island take credit for everything that Crichton accomplished.

The play itself is in no way science fiction and does not have the fantasy elements of Barrie’s other works. The purpose of the play was to serve as a critique of British society and the class system. Barrie wanted to show that the lower classes could be, and quite possibly were, more level headed and capable of ingenuity than the vaulted upper crust. Barrie had also considered ending the play with Crichton marrying the daughter of his employers. That ending would have stretched even his ability to poke fun at the stifling class system and it was not used for fear of causing an uproar. Little did Barrie know that he would be creating a literary meme that has popped up over and over again in both literature and film. This play has reached  across the entire panoply of literature and it has often found a fertile home for itself in science fiction. It is a perfect match for a genre in which ideas of class, and race are often explored in a fictional milieu.

This site probably owes its name to the meme Barrie created. The Freehold was named after Robert Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold. In Farnham’s Freehold the African American servant Joseph not only prove himself the equal to his employers he goes on to save them time and again throughout the novel. Heinlein’s novel shares many characteristics with the Barrie play and while there is no overt proof that the two are linked, such as the name Crichton, Heinlein often utilized classical literary references in his work.

The most obvious references to The Admirable Crichton all occur in television serial science fiction. The Crichton robot in Buck Rogers, the Kryten robot in Red Dwarf, and the human character in Farscape were all named after the lead character of Barrie’s play and all have one or more traits of that character. In all three of these shows Crichton acts as a repository of knowledge and information.

Crichton in the Buck Rogers serial is the least like the Crichton from the play but still retains certain aspects of the character. This Crichton considers himself above his human masters. Refusing to acknowledge that such lowly beings could have created him. While he retains the knowledge of the play’s title character, and his ability to save the crew from certain death from time to time, this Crichton lacks any amount of humility and serves only because he is programmed to do so.

The other two Crichtons are much more in line with Barrie’s creation. The Kryten robot in Red Dwarf is the closest. He is a mechanical butler who has been shipwrecked, has vast amounts of knowledge, and who saves the crew of the Dwarf with his ingenuity. Kryten is far more capable than anyone else on the crew and is only held back by his programming from becoming the defacto leader. He is also constantly encouraged by his fellow crew mate Lister to act beyond this programming. It is very likely the fact that this show is British that it comes so close to the original idea. The idea of class struggle has become a common trope on British television.

The latest version  of Crichton comes in the form of John Crichton of the television show Farscape. At first glance this version does not seem to match the Barrie play. John Crichton is a scientist, and an astronaut. He does not seem to meet the classic idea of the servant who finds himself preforming above the abilities of his betters. However, once you scratch the surface it comes closer philosophically to the original play than either of the other two television iterations. The best example of this is the episode “Crackers Don’t Matter”.


In this episode the show explores the idea that all the aliens consider themselves superior to John Crichton. It is constantly reenforced on the show that Crichton is a barbarian from a technologically primitive society. The reality of the situation is that, while Crichton may not have the luxury of coming from a society with advanced technology, he is willing to learn how that technology works. His alien adversaries and friends take this technology for granted and don’t understand the first thing about how it actually functions. Crichton soon understands their technology better than the aliens and uses this knowledge to his advantage.  John Crichton stranded millions of light years from home turns the tables on those who profess to be his betters. An exploration of class, race, and culture that rivals and even surpasses Barrie’s original work.

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Chad Byers of the World of the Weird Monster Show

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Chad Byers of the World of the Weird Monster Show

The Enquiring HitchhikerThis week The Enquiring Hitchhiker interviews Chad Byers who is better known as Undead Johnny the host of World of the Weird Monster Show.

The World of the Weird Monster Show is a horror host/sketch comedy show that premiered on Halloween Night 2004. It airs on Comcast Cable in Chicagoland as well as on The Monster Channel (monsterchannel.tv) The show is currently on hiatus on The Monster Channel but will be back soon with all new shows showcasing up and coming independent film makers featuring some of the best new horror short films being made today. The World of the Weird Monster Show also does a Live Show on the Second Friday of every month at the Wilmette Theatre in Chicagoland where they present and shadowcast the ultimate cult film of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Chicago Sun-Times called The World of the Weird Monster Show “a sketch comedy/horror show that could be likened to SCTV and Son of Svengoolie having a mutant offspring together.”

The Hitchhiker asks…

Question 1. How did you get into the horror host business in the first place?

1. Horror Hosts had a huge influence on me growing up in Rockford, Illinios. As a kid I watched Svengoolie (then Son of Svengoolie) from right here in Chicago as well as Rockford’s own Uncle Don’s Terror Theater. And of course Elvira, Commander USA, and Joe Bob Briggs over syndication. I would be a totally different person if I hadn’t been exposed to those movies as a child. Everything from the Universal and Hammer classics to the AIP films to grade Z monster movies….I loved them all. It was a wonderful introduction to film in general and film of all types (color, black and white, foreign, old and new) and just gave me a place to go where my imagination could run wild. Later in life, I had an encounter with William Shatner that really inspired me and thru a series of events, The World of the Weird Monster Show is what came from that inspiration. We premiered on Halloween night 2004 and have been going ever since. It’s a great way to share my love of these types of films and this subject matter with other people as well as a great creative outlet for myself. And it’s been wonderful. The World of the Weird Monster Show has led to so many magical and memorable moments in my life.

Question 2. My favorite episode of World of the Weird Monster Show has to be the one where you parodied Mystery Inc. What is your favorite?

2. Well, I’m a huge Scooby Doo fan so I love the Mystery, Inc spoofs so thanks for saying so. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite. I do have a soft spot for our first Christmas Special. To me it’s exactly what I want a Christmas special to be. I also have enjoyed the three or four El Santo episodes we’ve done as those are just plain goofy and ridiculously silly and over the top. Probably our best episode was the one we made for “Horror at Party Beach.” Where we infiltrated the studio of one of our fake ‘shows within a show’ “The Geek Fantasy Hour.” But my personal favorite? I don’t know. Maybe our “Night Train to Terror” episode. Or our HP Lovecraft tribute, “Pardon me, is that a shuggoth in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

Question 3. Do you script most of the shows or are they largely improv?

3. The shows are scripted. Pretty much 100%. Once we get on the set, we all definitely play with the words a bit. And we’ll go thru each sketch a few times before shooting and we’ll maybe drop a line here, add a line there. Change some stuff. So there is some improv, but not too much. We use the script as a firm structure, but everyone contributes while we’re shooting.

Question 4. I have to ask about Dementia. I will be honest and tell you that she is the reason I first started watching World of the Weird monster show. Why did she leave the show? Will she ever return for a cameo?

4. Dementia was great (and still is great!) Dementia left the show in the middle of the 5th season. She was a favorite of so many viewers and I think she was definitely one of the reasons for the show’s success. The Dementia and Johnny characters just worked very well together and a lot of that came from the friendship between her and I in real life. She left on the best of terms after four years and five seasons of being on the show. We definitely hope to have her back at some point…maybe a cameo, maybe a whole episode. We’ll see. It’s brought up now and again.

Question 5. Most people hate to discuss their politics in public for fear of alienating parts of their audience, and your show never seems to get political beyond the politics of Viseria, so I will simply ask do you think the country is heading in the right direction?

5. That’s a hard question to answer. I mean, I feel as if there are many things wrong with the country for sure. And our political system. But on the other hand we have a President speaking out for same sex marriage in his inaugural speech and so many states have passed laws for marriage equality. You know? So many things are going right, and are better than ever before, but yet, I can turn on the news and hear a politician….someone who obviously had the people’s support in his area to get elected…blatantly not know something like how a woman’s body works. You hear terrifyingly hateful speeches from public officials and from the American public itself all the time. It can be frightening. But there is always hope. And I think we can be better.

All that being said, I have to say that I don’t think that just because someone is in the public eye (even in such a small way as us) that they automatically need to start talking about where they stand on every topic under the sun. Nor do I think we the public should really care what, for example, our favorite action hero has to say about gun control. The cult of celebrity in this country is ridiculous. If I or the cast of WOWMS has something to say, we’ll say it thru our art. We’ve made plenty of statements on various topics such as religion, politics and elections, commercialism and more on the show thru satire and humor. And we will continue to do so. Our show strives to be more than just your typical one camera/one host talking directly to the audience horror host show. Thru our comedy and the overall feel of the show we strive to be entertaining and also to say something about how we feel about the world we live in. And obviously politics is a part of that. But I prefer to let the show speak for itself. If you watch it, I believe our viewpoints on many topics are pretty clear.

Thank you for the Interview.

What Does a Boy With Eternal Life Really Want? The Sexual Cravings of Peter Pan

What Does a Boy With Eternal Life Really Want? The Sexual Cravings of Peter Pan

 

Peter Pan is the boy who never grows up but what does a boy with eternal youth and absolute freedom really want?  Is it perhaps a Mother to love him? Does he confuse motherly love with sexual fulfillment? There is very little fertile ground left in the study of J.M. Barre’s classic novel of childhood and I doubt I will stumble over any great secret hidden in the text, however I would like to revisit the ideas of motherhood and sexuality in the story. I think much can be revealed when we delve into Peter’s fascination with both those subjects as well as J.M. Barrie’s childhood and his dysfunctional relationship with his own mother.

Lois Rauch Gibson in her article  “Beyond the Aprons: Archetypes, Stereotypes, and Alternative Portrayals of Mother in Children’s Literature.” looks into the idea that mother’s are not always who they appear to be in children’s literature. She focuses on the mother figures found in Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and most notably Peter and Wendy. Gibson states that,”books are also an important way for a culture to transmit its varied social values to its children” (Gibson 177). This simple statement would seem to be the very foundation of children’s literature. Gibson goes on to discuss the importance of children’s literature in forming a child’s view point about their peers, parents, and people in all walks of life. The female role model or mother figure is especially prevalent in children’s literature and her presence need not just be that of the traditional mother. Gibson uses Jungian ideas of archetype to deconstruct the mother figure and show how we can get “beyond the apron” as she put it in her title and look at the varied mother figures that populate and inform children in this type of literature. The mother is a complex archetype and while a Jungian idea could suffice in examining her, the competing ideas of Freud can help us understand Peter Pan as well. This is especially important in looking at Barrie’s work because of his seemingly incestuous fixation with his own mother.

J.M Barrie had an unusual relationship with his own mother in which he attempted to fill the void in her life left behind by his older brother when he died. Going to the extremes of wearing his brothers clothing and pretending to be his brother in an attempt to cheer his mother up. Barrie in Peter and Wendy is not shy in suggesting that Wendy is the mother figure and we might speculate that Peter is Barrie’s dead brother who can never grow up. Can we link Barrie and by extension Peter Pan into the Freudian idea of a Oedipal relationship with the mother figure of Wendy?

Peter Pan on learning that Wendy knows all the stories that her mother tells becomes excited. He has listened to these stories at the window and wants more. Wendy offering to tell him about mothers is in a way a seduction, an offering to tempt the boy into bringing her to Neverland.  Barrie says it himself ,“There can be no denying it was she who first tempted him.” (Barrie 30).  Wendy has the knowledge of a Mother and this is something Peter is desperate to have. Wendy is excited to go and have adventures and see exciting sights but is somewhat reluctant. Peter in turn entices her further with the promise of seeing mermaids and flying, but what really gets her attention is being the mother to the lost boys. Wendy is just as excited to play house and act as mother to the children of Neverland as she is to see a mermaid and Peter uses this to convince her to come with him. This attitude towards motherhood is somewhat foreign to the modern mind. Wendy is excited by the prospect of tucking children in at night and of darning their clothing but if we look at it from the perspective of the time Peter was offering her the adult world. He was elevating her from child to woman. Treating her as a grown up with all the authority that went with that. Barrie did not see his mother as a put upon house wife, and in these passages seeing Wendy’s excitement he elevates motherhood to a staggering height even greater than flying.

Gibson suggests that Wendy, her daughter, and daughter’s daughter become Persephone to Peter’s Hades. The mother who returns each spring to the underground house in a mirror image of the original myth. This “Reversal of the myth” (Gibson 179) says much for the emphasis Barrie places on the mother figure. She is not returning to hell to hearken in the winter she is returning to paradise to bring forth the spring.  Gibson further suggests that Wendy and her progeny are stand ins for the rites of Spring in which the maiden becomes the mother. Wendy is the mother but never the wife and this is the cause of distress in the Peter and Wendy household. Peter allows them to play act the roles of father and mother. He can never be the actual Father but he expects her to be the mother. Gibson states that Peter can never be a sexual creature that he is the perpetual child. I disagree with Gibson in this respect. I believe that Peter not only has sexual desires, he has surrounded himself with those desires. His world is full of sexually desirable females. Wendy, Tinkerbell, the mermaids, and Tiger Lily all try to seduce or entice him throughout the story.  He only lacks the adult understanding of sex to consummate his feelings. The real strife between Peter and Wendy is sexual in nature. It is not that Peter can not be the father figure it is that Peter lacks the ability to complete the sexual act itself. He never grows up and Wendy grows away from him. He offered her motherhood but she can only realize that gift without Peter. Peter’s immortality has rendered him impotent but far from lacking desire.

While Wendy is the Madonna and love interest Tinkerbell takes the role of sexual predator. As Peter Pan put it “She is quite a common fairy” (29). To the late Victorian reader this would have been the same as saying she was akin to a prostitute. Tinkerbell makes her claim to Peter clear. She is sexually attracted to Peter but again there is a problem. Here Barrie puts up another roadblock to sexual completion beyond Peter’s youth. Tinkerbell’s size certainly separates the two from ever being sexually complete. These impediments to sexuality occur with every female character that Peter meets even though he is surrounded by women some who wish to be his sexual partner.

Peter is a sexual being and has desires. These desires are just beyond his reach. He can never be a sexual being because of his eternal childhood but even in that state he can and does have needs and constantly interacts with those who could fulfill them if only he allowed himself to move from boy to man.

 

Works Cited

Gibson, Lois Rauch. “Beyond the Aprons: Archetypes, Stereotypes, and Alternative Portrayals of Mother in Children’s Literature.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 13.4 (Winter 1988): 177-181. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Scot Peacock and Allison Marion. Vol. 93. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Sep. 2011.

Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan. Penguin Classics, 2004. Print.

 

Further reading suggestion

Shipley, Heather E. “Fairies, Mermaids, Mother, and Princesses: Sexual Difference and Gender Roles in Peter Pan” Studies in Gender and Sexuality Vol. 13 Iss.2, 2012. Print.

The Poet as Prophet: T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as Post-Apocalyptic Speculative Fiction

The Poet as Prophet: T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as Post-Apocalyptic Speculative Fiction

T.S. Eliot

 

There are so many distinct levels in The Waste Land that this short essay will not even begin to touch the surface of the work. The Waste Land goes beyond simple poetry and reaches into story telling in a way that is both poetic, prose, and song all at once and with many voices telling many stories that coalesce into one single overarching narrative. The Waste Land tells the story of a world that has lost it’s innocence and spirituality. Moving from prophetic warnings  of utter desolation, to a world of barbarism and war. The spirits of  dead warriors return to the desolate destroyed city of London seeking to speak to the living. It is a poem of the loss of spiritual and physical reality. It can also be seen as one of the finest examples of post-apocalyptic literature.

To understand Eliot’s work in terms of speculative fiction we must look at his influences as a poet.  In many ways Eliot builds on the legacy of Mathew Arnold. Arnold’s poetry is considered in some corners the first of the modern poets. His work delved into classical Greek and Roman ideas putting them into a Victorian and early modern. His work combined these classic elements with more fantastical  ad dark elements creating such works as The Forsaken Mermaid and Dover Beach. Dover Beach with its dark prophetic themes and apocalyptic nature could almost be a  prequel to Eliot’s later work. The poem’s theme even inspired Ray Bradbury and appears in his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Arnold, who died in the same year Eliot was born, is seen generally as one of the progenitors of Eliot, but Eliot adamantly disagreed, “[W]hile Mr. Eliot assumes the same general position as Arnold in criticism; he will own no connection with him.” (Loring 479). Eliot admitted no connection between their work but he stated that he understood “deeply” what Arnold was saying as a poet. Arnold stressed in his poetry that man should look inward for meaning between nature and spirituality. His work is introspective and contemplative. Arnold considered himself the concluding poet of his own age the last of the romantics. Eliot seems to have picked up the torch where Arnold dropped it, building on Arnold’s dark romanticism and creating a modernist approach from it. Eliot’s approach was to seek out the introspective nature of man and draw it out. For example we can look at the second section of  “The Waste Land”. Here Eliot seems to be trying to draw out that inner contemplative world into the open. “What are you thinking of? What Thinking? What?” (Di Yanni 458). This drawing out of the inner world is especially evident in the section of the poem which describes the prophetic tarot reading. Eliot exposes the innermost self to the world transcending the romantic poetry of Arnold and the Victorian period. He creates a new canvas for poetry and uses that to explore a dark future.

Another author and thinker upon whom Eliot drew inspiration is  Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead was particularly important when looking at ideas of metaphysical and physical balance in Eliot’s poem. Where Matthew Arnold was introspective and contemplating of self in his poetry, Whiteheads work concentrated on the conflict between the physical world and on the spiritual world. Whitehead was a philosopher rather than a poet, a contemporary of Eliot. His work was highly influential in Eliot’s day and may have helped solidify the spiritual and scientific aspects of Eliot’s work. Whitehead also pioneered a philosophy that postulated the world must give up science and embrace spirituality. Whitehead stated that we must find, “an end of the dominance of scientism and materialistic naturalism, and the beginning of the re-construction of a livable and believable world out of the fragments” (Waggoneer 101). This was also the theme that Eliot was attempting to explore in The Waste Land. Mankind had embraced physics and science and with that emphasis on the material world he has lost his soul. These same themes can be found throughout modern post-apocalyptic literature. David Brin for instance expresses almost the exact same sentiment at the beginning of The PostMan.

      The Waste Land is a multi-layered narrative that defies easy classification. Is it a poem about a spiritual wasting away of the human spirit, or is it about the wasting away of our physical existence, or could it be both at once? I believe that it is both and neither. I think it defies those simple classifications and is a creature all on its own. It transcends the inner contemplative work of Arnold and embraces the ideas of the new modern “god” and new metaphysical reality envisioned by Whitehead. Here is a poem that is truly modern in scope and essence. The Waste Land exposes the duality of modern man set adrift in a world beset by the physical on one side and seeking meaning in the metaphysical on another.  In embracing this duality Eliot uses it to speculate on the fate of man. He asks the question have we lost our souls while embracing science and materialism? Questions like these are at the very heart of speculative fiction. Eliot gives mankind a choice, he must find a balance between the spiritual and the scientific or forever be lost in the apocalyptic wasteland.

Works Cited

 

 

DiYanni, Robert. Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions. New York: McGraw Hill, 1994. Print.

Hyatt Howe Waggoner. T. S. Eliot and the Hollow Men American Literature , Vol. 15, No. 2 (May, 1943), pp. 101-126. JSTOR. Web.

M. L. S. Loring. T.S. Eliot on Mathew Arnold, The Sewanee Review Vol. 43, No. 4 , pp. 479-488. December 3, 2012. JSTOR. Web.

 

Buy Either of the SteamGoth Anthology Books for 0.99 cents on Kindle

Buy Either of the SteamGoth Anthology Books for 0.99 cents on Kindle

We don’t normally push our products but since we are having an after Christmas sale  I thought I would give everyone that reads the Freehold a heads up.

Check out our books here…

vintage002002

Monsters, Magic, and Machines

 

 

Or Here…
SSS
Sorcery, Steam, and Steel
(BTW Kindle lists SSS as having 94 pages it is actually 202 pages long so it is longer than MMM… For some reason Kindle has read the page length incorrectly when it was uploaded)

 

That also reminds me that in March our next SteamGoth Anthology will be coming out and it will be called Goggles, Gears, and Gremlins (we like to beat a theme to death)

Enjoy the sale and we will soon have brand new articles up for your enjoyment.

Seductive Beasts: The Female Werewolf in Victorian Literature


      The most exotic and interesting of all werewolves  must be the female werewolf. While the she-wolf is rare in any period’s literature, she does appear in the Victorian period quite a few times. Her appearance in literature is much rarer than in the oral history of lycanthropy which is full of women changing into wolves at night. When she does appear the she-wolf is often a sexual beast. She uses her dual nature and female charms to ensnare her prey. She is also a vehicle for at least one author to explore feminism and male sexual obsession something that would have been frowned on if it had been written about outside of the peculiar confines of Gothic horror.

 

A Rare Breed? The Female Werewolf

The female werewolf while very uncommon in literature holds a prominent place in myth and folklore. In our modern age when we think of female shape shifters wolves are often the last thing to come to mind. There are literally thousands of popular books depicting women turning into cats or catlike creatures but not wolves; however the female werewolf was much more popular in European mythology than our modern literary and media tradition would suggest. The female werewolf was prevalent in medieval stories and was often a witch that transformed herself with a magical potion. While the witch werewolf hybrid was the most common form of female werewolf it is far from the only type. Just as with males, female werewolves could be created by supernatural curses, deals with the devil, and even wearing the skin of wolves. Women could even turn their unborn children into werewolves by a simple magical spell that makes childbirth painless, “If a female at midnight stretches between four sticks the membrane which envelopes the foal when it is brought forth, and creeps through it, naked, she will bear children without pain; but all the boys will be were-wolves,” (Baring-Gould 80).

The female werewolf  was written about by several 19th century authors such as Clemance Housman and Frederick Marryat.  Housman was a writer, illustrator, and a leading feminist of her day. She wrote stories which fit more in with the traditional folklore than some of the other Gothic horror novelists. Her werewolves are the most interesting of the Victorian period and her exploration of the theme was more thoughtful and thought provoking than any of the other werewolf literature at the time.

 

 White Fell: Feminism, Sexuality, and Duality

The Were-Wolf, by Housman introduces us to the story with very little in the way of context or exposition. We know that it is winter, this is a large farmhouse, and that an extended family lives there. The names of the characters and even their pets give very little away about where or when this is taking place since they are a mix of Norse, Anglo Saxon, and Celtic names. We do know that this story probably takes place before the invention or at least the popularity of firearms as the only weapons used are an ax and a boar spear. Housman seems to have intentionally masked the characters in time and place to give the reader a sense of timelessness. This is important to the story in another way. White Fell, who we discover later is a werewolf, does not surprise the characters with her appearance. In she acts and dresses like a man and this is important for Housman’s underlying narrative. While White Fell is certainly the villain of the piece she also seems to be an extension of Housman’s ideas on feminism. White Fell is the equal to a man on every level. She is obviously a successful huntress. She able to best Christian (one of the two brothers in the story) in a foot race even after the narrative suggests that Christian is almost preternaturally fast. She is also able to outfight Christian and eventually gets the best of him. White Fell seems to represent a ferocious female spirit which can’t be defeated by any normal means.

This is however a Victorian novel and as such the female protagonist must be in some way depraved. Housman is able to get around that Victorian trope in several innovative ways. White Fell is the object of desire by Sweyn. Sweyn is the more beautiful and athletic of a pair of twins. He is only bested in one thing by his twin Christian and that is in the ability to run quickly. It may also be suggested that Christian has a much more keen sense of danger than Sweyn since Sweyn is totally taken in by the “Fell thing” (Housman 27). In Housman’s story it is not the werewolf who is the sexual wanton it is Sweyn. There is no suggestion in the story that Sweyn falls under the sway of the wolf woman by guile or even supernatural methods. No, Sweyn falls for White Fell naturally and because she is beautiful. He will hear no protest by his brother that she is a werewolf and his lust for her blinds him to the truth and to his brother’s concern. The tragedy of the story is not that a werewolf has arrived, but it is the unreasoning lust/love of Sweyn. This lust allows each death in the story as he protects White Fell from all accusations.

Christian from the beginning warns Sweyn and then the entire family that White fell was a supernatural creature but Sweyn convinced them all that Christian had gone mad with jealousy. In the end it was actually Sweyn’s jealousy that doomed them. White Fell is merely a predator doing what any predator would do. She is a monster but she would have had no power over the family if not for a lust that was not her own. Housman created what should be taken as a warning to all men that unreasoning love/lust is destructive.

Housman’s work is one that delves deeply into many issues that were prevalent in her time. Early on she explores the twin concepts of sexuality and feminism. Here she rejects the Victorian norm in which the strong sensual woman is the sexual predator. White Fell is a predator just not a sexual one. Instead she explores the idea that men are the origin of sexual deviancy and furthers her own ideas of feminism through the White Fell character. In fact if the last page of the story was missing this could have well been a story of a strong woman falsely accused of lycanthropy.

 

For Housman the female werewolf in her classic story is a vehicle for her to present a strong feminist inspired female character. White Fell is as competent as any man and had she not been hiding the creature inside herself she would have been the epitome of the perfect confidant woman. It is possible that Housman was telling the world that women had a hidden strength and that men should beware of their own hidden nature. This is an important concept because while White Fell has a dual nature the two male protagonists represent a dual nature of their own. The two men are twins and that alone should suggest this duality. Sweyn is beautiful and well made. The perfect male form but he harbors lust and distrust in his heart. Christian on the other hand is not beautiful and not the equal to his brother but he is pure of heart. Housman creates a modern parable by weaving a tale around three people who are never what they seem on the surface. It is a warning not to trust appearance but to find out the contents of a person’s heart.

Works Cited

Baring-Gould, Sabine (1865). The Book of Werewolves: Being an Account of a Terrible Superstition. New York: Causeway Books, 1973. Print.

Clemence Housman (1896). The Were-Wolf. Web (Project Gutenberg) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13131

 

 

 

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author Greg Bear

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author Greg Bear

 

I have long been a fan of Greg Bear’s work. I think the first thing I ever read by him was The Strength of Stones and that segued into Blood Music which is probably my favorite novel by Bear besides Darwin’s Radio. It is hard to choose between the two.

 

The Enquiring Hitchhiker asks….

Question 1- As an archaeologist I found Darwin’s Radio fascinating. Do you think that the human race will undergo another major evolutionary change before we manage to wrest control of our own evolution?

 

Evolution never stops. We’ve defined evolution at the species level, but adaptation to changing environments occurs at the individual level throughout one’s life; we don’t individually grow wings to fly from danger, but we do bring into play phalanxes of genetic responses to changing seasons, physical threats, food supplies, sexual needs—you name it. Every aspect of biology is about solving problems on a second by second basis. What we call evolution, then, is a larger scale instance of that constant flux, observable in the different body plans of separate species, in the fossil record, in ontogeny AND phylogeny, which may or may not give us clues as to how change has happened in the past. Societies solve and support and adjust as well, politically and culturally, organizing populations, and that echoes back to how individuals adjust. To be sure, human evolution is now as much about social and technological adjustments as actual genetic adjustments; the mix and back-and-forth of this scale of evolution is not easy to quantify. But it’s important and may signal even greater changes to come. Whether or not, in all of this, a new “human” species will evolve is unknown—but if that sort of change is to come, it will have to sneak in soon. Because we’ll likely soon have the understanding and means to reverse such change, should we find it inconvenient.

 

Question 2- In Eon and subsequent novels you deal with the idea of alternate universes and alternate futures do you think that we are currently moving toward a physical model of the universe that allows for alternate universes in which life can arise?

 

These ideas are certainly fun to write about. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that a kind of “sum over histories” approach to alternate universes comes into play in living systems, including plants, which apparently have ways to maximize efficiencies through quantum adjustments in their photosynthetic chemistry. If that’s the case, and it appears pretty solid, then I may have to reassess my opinion of Frank Tippler’s quantum neurobiology! And that could imply that our own cognition and behavior may rely on a kind of motion through time which is less of a knife-edge slide into the future, and more of a smeared-out perception of competing futures… in which we may at times be able to make a choice. In CITY AT THE END OF TIME, I call it Fate-shifting. Fascinating prospects!

 

Question 3- Many of your works are about Humans evolving in a direction that seems to make them more dependent on each other physically and mentally. Do you think humanity is evolving toward a singular “overmind” or a small group of “control minds” and away from the rugged individual. Do you think there is room for the individual in the “Singularity”?

 

Centralization is not how minds get things done. Minds get things done through efficient and orderly distribution of problem-solving. An “overmind” is frightening because it’s basically unnatural. Likely it would also be terribly inefficient, and perhaps have a difficult time shedding waste heat! The Singularity is already upon us, has been upon us; no individual can grok the totality of modern technology. I know I can’t!

 

Question 4- I have not yet read The Mongoliad yet I am very interested in the concept and will pick it up at some point. Tell our readers why what is unique about it?

 

MONGOLIAD is distributed problem-solving (and story-writing) spread out among seven writers, with several other good folks providing tech support and fact checking. That it works at all—and it does, very well indeed!—points toward not just forward-looking attitudes on the part of Subutai’s founders, but a unique group of writers able to shed ego and focus on character and story.

 

Question 5- Our site is of course geared towards rational conservatives, libertarians, and objectivists. How would you describe yourself politically and what do you think are the major problems facing our society?

 

In many of my novels, I demonstrate my political persuasions through future-casting and social modeling—and because I try to play an honest game, many readers are confused about what to call me. I keep telling Jerry Pournelle I’m a liberal, mostly to irritate him—he’s been a major figure in my life–and he says I’m not a liberal, more of a maverick. Probably true. We still like each other, despite major disagreements. But the so-called rationalist and objectivist political persuasions have in recent decades slid into a lock-step with confederate conservatism that I find not only distressing, but irrational. I respect old-school libertarians—but not bigoted, pseudo-libertarian evangelicals who somehow manage to draw their ideals from both patriarchal plutocrats and Ayn Rand. That mix just doesn’t make sense. I doubt that Mr. Heinlein would sympathize with core Republican conservatism today, and I know Rand would have been disgusted. But that’s all part of continuing evolution in American politics! And times are a-changing, or swinging about in new winds. I remember back in the nineteen sixties, when I was a pre-teen conservative, trying to read a cruddy little tome called “None Dare Call It Treason.” I couldn’t get through it. The author accused Eisenhower of being a commie. Some currents never shift or run pure. Plus ca change!

 

Thank you for taking time out to answer these questions for us.

 

The Girl Adventurer Comes of Age: Heinlein, Feminism, and the Juvenile Novel

The Girl Adventurer Comes of Age: Heinlein, Feminism, and the Juvenile Novel

 

In the early days of science fiction the genre was almost entirely the domain of male heroes. While female characters existed in science fiction they were generally the love interest of the hero, his mother, or a convenient damsel in distress. There are a few notable exceptions. Wilma Deering in Philip Francis Nowlan‘s 1929 novel Armageddon 2419 A.D is a capable and commanding female character. To a lesser extent, the same can be said of Dale Arden in Alex Raymond‘s Flash Gordon. These women were momentary aberrations in science fiction and even they were soon to be relegated to the damsel in distress and love interest roles in later publications. A handful of other female characters exist that would challenge the traditional roles, but no science fiction author wrote consistently strong females into his work until Robert Heinlein. This is especially true of the juvenile market. One would be hard pressed to find a science fiction novel marketed for teens produced before the middle 1960s with a strong female character…..except for those of Heinlein.

Heinlein began writing his juvenile novels in 1947 for Scribner. In all he wrote twelve of these novels most all of them centering on a precocious young boy at odds with an often violent but fascinating universe. In that time Heinlein changed the juvenile adventure novel forever and in many ways he changed the face of science fiction as well.

Heinlein added a new dimension to science fiction stories. Before him the female character had a very specific and submissive role. That would not be the case with Heinlein. Heinlein’s female characters were equal to any male character. In a scene from the Heinlein juvenile novel Tunnel in the Sky, Rod Walker a young boy about to embark on his adventure is given advice from his older sister. The advice is about survival on an alien planet and she gifts him her favorite knife  “Lady Macbeth” and tells him not to be overconfident or it could get him killed. Not only is her advice sound, it comes from authority. She is a soldier and the equal of any man who may be giving this type of advice. Further into the book we find Rod teaming up with girls from his survival class. Not only do they not need saving, they are more prepared than Rod or any of the boys who have been sent to survival training. This is a revolution in story telling for young boys. Here is a novel aimed at the tween/teen demographic that not only shows that some girls are better and smarter than boys  it also includes veiled sexual situations with powerful females that are more than the traditional platonic friendships. This book was published in 1955 in the same year Tom Swift had still never held hands with his love interest, the Hardy boys barely spoke more than a sentence in each novel to theirs, and Biggles the main British juvenile hero was left wondering if he even liked girls. Love interest or not Heinlein had grabbed the juvenile market and injected females and feminism into the mix.

Heinlein not only introduces us to interesting and engaging female characters he goes deep into sociological explorations of female centric cultures. These are not the sex crazed Martian women of so many 1950’s science fiction movies but examination of living cultures. According to C.W. Sullivan in his article Heinlein’s Juveniles: Still Contemporary After All These Years he states,  Space Cadet is important because it contains the first of Heinlein’s interesting aliens, the Venerian natives. All of the Venerians with whom Matt and his friends come in contact are females. The group is headed by a female, the “mother,” and the others are her “daughters.” Matt finds himself being referred to as a “daughter” and his superior, Lt. Thurlow, referred to as his “mother.” (Sullivan 65)  here Heinlein is at his best as the anthropological storyteller leading his youthful charges in a National Geographic tour of the solar system. Introducing young boys to concepts that they would have never experienced until they were in college in 1950’s America. Heinlein had leaped light years ahead of the other children’s literature that was being published at the time. According to Marrietta Frank, “Although the females portrayed in Heinlein’s juveniles break the stereotypical roles most females were assigned in science fiction stories, especially stories of the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Heinlein is all but ignored by feminist science fiction critics.” (Frank 119)

There was one thing Heinlein had yet to do and it was not until 1963 that he published what would be one of the most important pieces of science fiction in feminism. With the publication of Podkayne of Mars Heinlein accomplished something that no one had done before, he gave juvenile science fiction it’s first girl centered adventure novel. Podkayne is written in the boy adventure novel vein but instead of the typical teen boy here we have a typical teen girl as hero. This should be a landmark in feminism and in children’s literature. Frank suggests that feminists dismiss Podkayne and all Heinlein’s juvenile work because in the novels  some of the female characters disregard feminism and seek very traditional gender roles. Podkayne for instance has trouble deciding whether to be a space pilot or a mother. “In Heinlein’s juveniles, readers will find examples of female characters in traditional females roles. Heinlein also peoples his juveniles with strong female characters, often in untraditional female roles. Because Heinlein chose to show females in both types of roles, Heinlein’s juveniles reflect today’s society, even though he began writing them more than fifty years ago” (Frank 130). Regardless of the dismissal by feminists themselves, Heinlein’s work is the culmination of feminism in juvenile fiction.

You would be hard pressed today to find a juvenile adventure novel without a strong female character. You may be hard pressed to find a boy adventure novel marketed solely to the male audience. The genre has begun to fade as juvenile fiction begins to blend male and female characters together. This is legacy of Heinlein. His novels began the integration of the strong male and female protagonists and led to the combination of male and female gender roles in boy and girl adventure fiction. Would a Hermione Granger exist without the influence of the genius girl child Podkayne? Would Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials have as it’s protagonist the plucky little girl that went up against the religious establishment of her entire world without the confident and intelligent female colonists in Tunnel in the Sky? It is hard to say, but the Heinlein juveniles did change how people looked at females in  male dominated adventure literature. Children who grew up reading those books did take away something from them.  That something has helped create our current literary world. From the sailing ships of the Victorian period and the boys who jumped a ship, were shanghaied, and were washed onto deserted islands to massive starships of the future cruising through the solar system the male/female dynamic continues to be illustrated through the literature of our youth.  Over the past hundred years in boy adventure fiction women have slowly climbed out of their traditional roles from mother and love interest all the way to equal partners. Sometimes they are even more than equal in the adventures that boys read and take to heart. While the prejudices of the past are never gone completely the time of the women who knows “her place” is over… Long live the strong, intelligent, adventurer.

 

Heinlein wrote something in his novel Tunnel in the Sky that sums up his belief in the power of the feminine…

“I’ve said this nineteen dozen times but you still don’t believe it. Man is the one animal that can’t be tamed. He goes along for years, peaceful as a cow, when it suits him. Then when it suits him not to be, he makes a leopard look like a tabby cat. Which goes double for the female of the species.”(Heinlein 6)

 

Works Cited:

 

C. W. Sullivan III, Heinlein’s Juveniles: Still Contemporary After All These Year.
Children’s Literature Association Quarterly – Volume 10, Number 2, Summer 1985, pp. 64-66 Web 25 Nov. 2011

 

Frank, Marietta, Women in Heinlein’s Juveniles. Young Adult Science Fiction. Ed. C. W. Sullivan, III. Greenwood Press, 1999. p119-130. Web 28 Nov. 2011

 

Heinlein Robert A., Tunnel in the Sky. NewYork: Simon and Schuster, 2005 Print.

Wagon Train to the Stars*: How the American Frontier Experience Created Modern Science Fiction

Wagon Train to the Stars*: How the American Frontier Experience Created Modern Science Fiction

Frederick Jackson Turner changed the face of American history when he introduced his thesis on the importance of the American Frontier experience in 1893. While not initially embraced his work is seminal in understanding how historians and even the public viewed the frontier for almost a hundred years. In Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner we find a succinct series of essays on the American frontier and how it shaped the United States. This powerful collection of essays encompasses Turner’s frontier thesis. No single American Historian has had such an effect on our culture. His ideas are so poignant that they stretch well outside academia. His revolutionary rethinking of the American frontier reached out from the classroom into boardrooms and even colored public policy decisions. So pervasive were his ideas we can now see how these ideas became the basis for segments of American pop-culture.  The introduction to Turner’s book suggests that his thesis of the frontier as the lifeblood of the American character resonated with academia and the public alike. Turner’s readers believed that his work gave reason to the economic downturn that accompanied what they saw as the closing of the West in 1890. To them the end of the frontier meant that America was in the doldrums and new frontiers needed to be opened for America to prosper. They believed they had been shaped by the frontier experience into a people who thrived on the cusp of the unknown and needed frontiers to bolster their individualist spirit.

The rise of science fiction in the early part of the twentieth century can be directly traced to the closing of the Western frontier. Frontier themes permeate early American science fiction. These are tales of high adventure featuring exploration of unknown lands, meeting the natives, and often blasting them with ray-guns. The meshing of Science Fiction and the frontier experience begins in 1898 with the first piece of “fan fiction” Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss . This novel which is an unofficial sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds sets the stage for all modern space opera.  It introduces the audience to almost every aspect of American science fiction. These ideas would dominate the Science Fiction genre until the 1960s.  It is in Serviss’ novel that we see the first hint of the American Frontier in Science Fiction. Where the original story by Wells is a tale of survival against all odds, Serviss’ story is an all American tale of frontier individualism conquering against an unknown and implacable foe. It ties directly into the popular ideas of the American West being promoted in the dime novels of the late 1800s. Later writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs would again revisit these same frontier themes in his Martian stories. Time and again American fiction would probe the new frontier of space carrying with it a cowboy mentality only now dressed up in a spacesuit instead of a stetson and carrying his trusty ray-gun instead of a colt. Native Americans transformed into Aliens ready to play both bad-guy and guide in the new frontier. Is it any wonder that science fiction and American frontier mythology share many of the same genre tropes. Both share in the exploration and conquering of the unknown. Science fiction in America was fiction powered by a cultural belief in “Manifest Destiny”.

This returns us to Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis. It had and still to some extent has reverberations throughout American society. American History according to Turner is the history of the frontier. Our entire culture revolves around our unique origin.  Every society needs its myths and legends and this is especially true of America with it’s population composed of such disparate origins and background. The frontier provides us with a collective myth on which to base our shared experience as Americans. We are all cowboys, we are all mountain men, we are all astronauts, and we are all seeking the next frontier.

 

Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, By Frederick Jackson Turner with commentary by John Mack Faragher. New York, NY: H Holt & Company, 1994. 255 pages

*Gene Roddenberry used this phrase to sell Star Trek to TV executives