Utter Darkness

Those of you who also follow me on Medieval Otaku know that I’ve placed that blog on hiatus.  Of course, that need not mean that I shall quit blogging here–though, the thought did cross my mind.  That blog was placed on hold so that I might read more, and how better to may one understand what one reads more than by writing about it–especially if people comment on my ideas?

Big Spider

The following passage of The Two Towers occurs after Samwise’s fight with Shelob and the apparent death of Frodo.  Some people accuse Tolkien of not having very interesting prose or prose which obscures his personality–as Neil Gaiman writes.  While it is certain that Tolkien’s work shines more in conversion and when he wishes to give a place a mythic feel, he can create very powerful prose descriptions which have a direct link to his experience.  Read the following perfectly constructed sentence:

And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.

How many better images of utter despair are there in literature?  How many of these are as succinct?  In a single sentence, images of crushing darkness are added upon one another until the light of the intellect is extinguished.  Black despair presses down on Sam from without, the drawing of the grey hood over his head shows that despair has taken a hold on his mind, and lastly the night coming into his heart saliently conveys the image of darkness as all-encompassing and pervasive.  How much more so when one recalls that this takes place in a lightless tunnel?

Anyone else like how Tolkien names the two traditional seats of thought in this sentence?  The heart and the head are also the two traditional seats of the soul.  The heart and the head, in that they point to the soul or the form of man, show the immersion of his mind in black despair.

Tolkien

Tolkien admitted that Samwise was supposed to represent the average doughboy of WWI.  Tolkien lost all save one of his friends in that awful conflict, and one can’t help but think that this image of despair relates to his tragic experiences in this war.  Perhaps, Tolkien even imagined–like Sam–that his last close friend had died at one point.  Then, all the sense and meaning was taken out of life: “and he knew no more.”

Well, I found this passage really cool, but what do my dear readers think?  Any other ways such grim despair might have been present in Tolkien’s life?

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A Few Thoughts on The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I have added another Neil Gaiman to my collection: The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  With a few exceptions, this work feels very similar to Coraline–a better and more fantastic work.  In the work before us, the protagonist is male, and he does not rely upon himself in defeating the antagonist.  In many ways, he is more the observer than the mover of the plot.  The antagonist is so powerful and our hero so young at only seven years of age that he must enlist the aid of the Hempstock women, who are much more than they appear.

Ocean at End of Lane

One deduces that not judging by appearances is the major theme of the story.  In the beginning, a visitor to the protagonist’s house accidentally runs over his pet kitten, which the visitor replaces with a ginger colored tomcat.  The visitor thinks that he has replaced a cat with a cat, but the tomcat can never replace Fluffy in our hero’s heart.  Even when he later gains another black kitten which he loves a great deal, the personality of Ocean differs from that of Fluffy.

But, interior differences matter even more in the case of Ursula Monkton, who possesses the appearance of a young and beautiful blonde.  Her skill in cooking and superficially appealing demeanor hoodwink everyone at the house except our hero, who knows her secret.  The atmosphere reminds one of a story from the Brothers Grimm.  The fantastic abounds in a modern setting, and our villain is of the witch/evil step-mother type, which is popular with Gaiman.  One is reminded of the Other Mother in Coraline.

Odd Diner

At any rate, this 178 page novel reads quite quickly with a few exceptions.  Gaiman expertly draws the reader into his world through suspense and the way the Hempstock women describe a universe far larger than our imaginations.  While not perhaps his best work, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is sure to immerse you in its tale.

American Gods

This is just one proof that I need to talk or at least communicate somehow with M. Otaku more often. I have been procrastinating writing about Neil Gaiman and specifically American Gods for quite a while now. Recently, as I was trying to explain to him the Neil Gaiman experience and the book American Gods in particular, a few utterly new thoughts occurred to me. Obviously, what follows is a bit of a ramble: I am in an Airport, and I should be planning for my interview tomorrow, but these ideas are too pressing to leave for later. You see, after reading American Gods, I could not bring myself to read any more Gaiman because, well, bleak does not begin to describe it…. captivating and bleak.

I found myself in serious conflict because this was the same author (and, at a similar time, according to the prologue) as the writer of Coraline which was my second Neil Gaiman experience, and the two books could not be less similar. Coraline is brave and hopeful.  American Gods is dank and pervaded by nihilism; although, dank is probably the best description. Coraline is brief and shining, American Gods rambles and everything that shines is fool’s gold.

So, which author is Gaiman? Obviously, that cannot be answered, and I am not sure that Gaiman knows. Coraline rises to the level of Narina, books that Gaiman obviously loves and cherishes. I thought, at least at first, that he has some traces of C.S. Lewis’ Christianity and that the ghosts of Christians past sort of haunt Neil Gaiman and his writing. In that case, the ‘Coraline’ would be just the story with the strongest haunting (as the West, now mostly deceased, is haunted by its belief and Christianity yet), while American Gods shows most clearly that desperate nihilism that the postmodern world abides in: the hopes of modernism having been smashed to bits starting 100 years ago this year.

There is a train of thought that I think binds together Coraline and American Gods in the same author. I know, of course, that this is mere speculation, but, having also just now read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (and previously, Anansi Boys), I think that Gaiman knows what he is doing. What he is doing is connected by a source that I would be very, very surprised if he did not know: (obviously, since I only really blog about one thing) “The Ballad of the White Horse.” (For which, I am very grateful to M. Otaku for introducing me.)

Gunthram, the King of the Danes says: “When he shall hunger without hope/ Even for evil gods.” Alfred responds decrying the despair and anger and nihilism of the pagan king, but that black dankness is the end of all beliefs that do not end in Christ:

Your lord sits high in the saddle,
A broken-hearted king,
But our king Alfred, lost from fame,
Fallen among foes or bonds of shame,
In I know not what mean trade or name,
Has still some song to sing;

Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
But the heart of flame therein,
But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
When all is ice within;

Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery.

Now to tell you about American Gods. (This post wanders like the book, and is therefore fitting 🙂 ) If you care about spoilers–tough. The really good stories don’t depend on petty little secrets. The core idea is that people made the gods, but nevertheless, the gods are real. They have some real power, more real the more they are worshiped obviously. However, when people immigrated to America, they brought the gods with them, and America is a harsh place for the gods. They scrabble by, and Oden doesn’t like that. (Obviously…) (And if you whine about me letting the cat out that it was Oden, all I have to say is: the character calls himself Wednesday, its not like its a secret.) He gathers together the old gods to do battle with the new, and hopefully win their places back against the gods of the modern world. (Like the CIA spooks that everyone knows exists etc.) The main character is shadow, and he sees what he sees. Gaiman keeps what I think is a fundamental rule. He allows his characters their privacy, only telling us stuff when we need it.

Obviously, I enjoyed the fact that a lot took place in Wisconsin, and Neil Gaiman. has obviously been there for at least one winter. But the gods, the gods are dismal, and their depredations ranging from petty to horrifying, their origins following similar pattern. Although one is so tragic, and yet so believable, you will (or should) at least weep internally. Oden’s plan eventually falls apart, but nothing is really changed, nor is there any joy in the story.

But, thus is the face of the real world without including Christ. Thus was the ancient pagan world and thus is the modern pagan world. There is nothing for people except nothingness and to forget death for an hour in battle like Gunthram. It is remarkable that Jesus is never seen, nor mentioned. Only the old, squabbling, evil, petty gods, shown for themselves, not as they pretend. Wormwood in tights so to speak. It is entirely possible that Gaiman left Jesus out for the main reason that He is real, and not a figment of peoples imagination powered by people’s minds. I see no other good reason to leave out of America the defining belief of at least half of its people.

My conclusion, Neil Gaiman is a spy, a very good one. And I recommend, in order, Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Anansi Boys, American Gods, and Neverwhere. (The last one falls so far down only because it rambles without reason , American Gods rambles for good reason–ever driven anywhere in American on back roads?)

Sometime, I might well write about one of those specifically, but, for now, you at least know how I sorted out the enigma of Neil Gaiman.

Simply Floored

Taking a look at the result of Cristian Mihai reblogging this article on his premier novel stunned me.  Never has one of my articles gained so many likes (almost 200) or so many new followers.  I give my thanks to Cristian Mihai and all those who read this article and encourage me to write on this blog.

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For those of you new to this blog, you’ll find that our main interests concern writing about authors, especially old ones–though, my partner has written about Stephen King and Andrew Klavan.  I was very much surprised by the quality I saw in Mihai’s work, which makes him one of the few contemporary authors I have written about here.  But, people have told me to branch out: my partner in particular has recommended King, Klavan, and Neil Gaiman to me, and a commentator to whom I expressed the desire to start reading contemporary fantasy again has sent me a huge list which I might finish ere my demise.  My friend and I were publishing articles on the authors listed in our respective top ten lists: jamesdthomps and Medievalotaku.  The contentious nature of these articles can be very amusing, and the best articles in this blog are probably our running arguments.  I also intend to write reviews on some of the works I have recently completed.  Look forward to those.

Happy New Year to you all!

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