Showing posts with label Swamp Thing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Swamp Thing. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Horror? How Grimm! (Michelle)

So, my horror-reading jag continues, sort of - I don't exactly get a lot of time to read these days.

But it's got me thinking about other reading jags of mine. I spent almost two months last year reading nothing but fairy tales, retellings of fairy tales, and critical essays on fairy tales. And it occurred to me that perhaps these two reading jags are not unrelated. It's fairly common knowledge, at this point, that Disney pretty much eviscerated the raw power of the original tales collected by people like the Brothers Grimm and Straparola -- if you spend time with the original tales, there's plenty of horror to go around, and yet it doesn't quite qualify as horror fiction. There are important differences that I'm exploring imaginatively at the moment.

The following is typed pretty much verbatim from a free-write I did, and in it I'm working out the delicate balance between dark and light in my own aesthetic. I imagine that balance is different for everybody, but at the moment I feel like a tuning fork, striking some clear, precise note between horror and happy endings:

Horror is always lurking in the darker corners of fairy tale -- cutting out a young princess' heart, cooking children for dinner, killing wives and keeping them in a bloody chamber...ugh. But what I like about fairy tales is that those dark corners are offset by brighter shades, by the glittering gold of happiness and beauty.

Horror, true horror, is in actual fact a bit too dark for my aesthetic. Though I read Swamp Thing to the end of Alan Moore's run and feel that I got a lot out of it, it was too grim for me. I like a hint of the macabre, but too often in horror it takes over and the darkness is unrelieved.

I like the way fairy tales gesture at horror, at chaos, at darkness, without dwelling there for too long. It does seem rather as though, if you chase the horror too much, if you deliberately linger in the bloody chamber, you can just keep going into ever-deepening dark corners that just grow narrower and narrower but never actually end, as though the actual corner were some kind of asymptote or event horizon which you never reach. From the horror of the threat of incest in "Donkeyskin," you find yourself with the actual presence of a dead uncle reanimating the dead body of your husband in Swamp Thing...and the images are horrible, crawling bugs and rotting can always, always get darker. You never actually reach the heart of darkness, but really, do you want to? Aren't you more interested, really, in the light that escapes from it?

Being focused on bottoms, on the roots and limits of evil, leaves you like Gollum, like Matt Cable with his disgusting fantasies. It turns you into Kurtz from The Heart of Darkness; master of your own horrible empire of death. A little bit of the macabre is great, is a good reminder of the speckled, spare, and strange that is truth, but it's too easy to be like some Gothic heroine, edging towards darkness with perverse fascination.

Better by far to explore the mysteries of the light, as though we were all versions of Stephanie Meyer's vampires, who glitter with a thousand colors in sunlight, with so much to see.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Swamp Thing (Michelle)

Continuing me on my horror-reading jag, my brother-in-law has recommended the comic books of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing to me. It's been a mind-expanding experience in a lot of ways, especially since I've never been a comic book reader before, outside of Calvin and Hobbes, and it's opened a whole new genre of art to me.

The jury is still out for me on what I think of the medium, and sometimes I definitely find Swamp Thing too overwhelmingly horrible for my sensibilities - the story with the Monkey King (if you're familiar) terrified me, and some of the images are viscerally terrible, disgusting beyond my ability to assimilate.

Yet I keep returning to the stories, because I feel like I'm learning something, about the fate of medieval romance in modern culture (how can you resist a comic book that makes use of the medieval folk motif of the Green Man?!), about the interplay between text and words, about how to write compelling stories and characters...anyway, watch this space. I'm sure I'll have more to say.

I have also been very impressed with Alan Moore's prose. It's dramatic and reminiscent of Lovecraft's excesses, perfectly pitched for comic books, but it has a strong poetic sense as well that really makes the stories as much about words as images. I am impressed.

A sampling, from "Down Amongst the Dead Men":

There are people. There are stories. The people think they shape the stories, but the reverse is often closer to the truth. Stories shape the world. They exist independently of people, and in places quite devoid of man, there may yet be mythologies. The glaciers have their legends. The ocean bed entertains its own romances. Even here. Even here, within these chill and perished thickets that know no witness save the sleeping toads, each curled like a gorgeous alien fetus beneath its stone. There are stories even here. Stories that grow, as blighted trees, into a tormented puzzle. Frictions that become over-ripe and fester on the vine. The stories here have blossomed into deformities, nurtured by a curious soil. There are heroes, there are wicked uncles and princesses, but the drama is askew, the fairy tales contorts into a tragedy…The hero, slow and massive, comes too late…the wicked uncle’s passing achieves nothing…and the princess finds no cliché in the fate that’s worse than death.

There are also some wonderfully imaginative stories. I loved the dream sequence "Abandoned Houses," in which Abby Arcane visits the collective unconscious, which turns out to be two decrepit houses, the House of Mysteries and the House of Secrets, where all the stories in the world are guarded by Cain and Abel respectively. Cain is being punished for being the first killer, Abel for being the first victim, and every night the crime is repeated. This fusion of Jung and medieval allegory is just bursting with poetic energy and possibilities. Love it.

Likewise, another story includes a journey through the afterlife a la Orpheus, Odysseus, Aeneas, Dante, or, most recently, Philip Pullman's Lyra. I was a little disappointed with the execution, but any modern story that attempts to assimilate those ancient, primal themes of Western literature gets my stamp of approval! I still remember how excited I felt, reading The Amber Spyglass, when I realized I was getting a reworking of the Inferno. Nevermind that I completely disagreed with the worldview fuelling it; it was so exciting to read another modern author engaging the ideas that fuel my own imagination.

So...Swamp Thing. Scary and stimulating. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I have a feeling it's the cup of chai that helps me understand why I like Earl Grey...if I may extend the metaphor to the point of absurdity.


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