Monday, May 31, 2010

inspiration: "Sonnet" by Rupert Brooke


I said I splendidly loved you; it's not true.
Such long swift tides stir not a land-locked sea.
On gods or fools the high risk falls — on you —
The clean clear bitter-sweet that's not for me.
Love soars from earth to ecstasies unwist.
Love is flung Lucifer-like from Heaven to Hell.
But — there are wanderers in the middle mist,
Who cry for shadows, clutch, and cannot tell
Whether they love at all, or, loving, whom:
An old song's lady, a fool in fancy dress,
Or phantoms, or their own face on the gloom;
For love of Love, or from heart's loneliness.
Pleasure's not theirs, nor pain. They doubt, and sigh,
And do not love at all. Of these am I.

-- Rupert Brooke, in Collected Poems (1915)
[read this book online here]

Saturday, May 29, 2010

ramble: the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, or necromantics

I've studied a great deal of medieval necromancy--ritual magic that is not just the tired old reanimation of the dead. Folks well into the 17th century* generally considered "necromancy" to be a kind of ceremonial divination primarily (though not solely) involved with conjuring demons and/or other spirits.** A necromancer might conjure a demon to serve him (almost always him) domestically, bodily,*** by giving him a magical object,+ or by bestowing extraworldly knowledge on him.

Necromancy and exorcism were thus closely related, but the Church was not exactly cool with the former. However, clerics interested in necromancy did not usually think they were acting counter to Christian belief; the ceremonial systems are very much embedded in Christianity, and from the perspective of a practitioner, there is little difference between "religion" and "magic."

There are hundreds of extant necromantic manuscripts. Some are wedged in among other things in miscellanies while some are standalone codices. Such ritual textbooks are often called grimoires: two well-known examples are the 15th/16th-century Key of Solomon and the 17th-century Lesser Key of Solomon. Johann Weyer's late-16th-century book De Praestigiis Daemonum is not quite in the same vein; he was responding to the growing trend of brutal witch-hunting handbooks.++ His book, especially its appendix, the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, has prevailed as a fascinating record of demonology and the necromantic practices that relied on it.

The Pseudomonarchia Daemonum is a major source for the first book of the Lesser Key of Solomon, the Ars Goetia, and itself draws on the grimoires that came before it. It lists and describes sixty-nine demons with their "ranks" or "titles" as well as the appropriate times for conjuring them. The following are three of my favourites--note how they're not necessarily intrinsically evil.+++

- Marbas, who appears as a lion, inflicts and cures illness and can shapeshift the conjurer [link to full description]
- Astaroth, who appears as a "foul angel" riding a dragon, teaches liberal arts and sciences and has bad breath [link to full description]
- Gomory, who is male but appears as a lady riding a camel, finds treasure and can get women (especially virgins) into the conjurer's bed [link to full description]

Requisite safety disclaimer: don't try conjurations at home. At least not without proper preparation and preferably an expert on hand. I'm still not responsible for what happens, mind.

* And even into the 18th and 19th centuries; the Victorian interest in spirits didn't come out of nowhere.
** As opposed to natural magic, wherein one uses animals, plants, and minerals in conjunction with the zodiacal and lunar cycles, sometimes incorporating written charms, for generally more practical ends.
*** Sexy. I mean it; some of them are hot fairy-women.
+ Like a ring of invisibility (hot fairy-women bring one in a manuscript I've studied; the conjurer then gets it on with them. Double score).
++ I haven't read the whole thing, however, so I can't say if he seems to have fully believed in the validity of ritual magic; I get different impressions from different secondary sources (however, he did at least believe in the existence of demons). Probably the fellow was (wisely) being cagey.
+++ Like any sort of technology, necromancy's a tool; it's all in how you use it.

- A "great pentacle" from the Key of Solomon [via link]
- A depiction of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal, an 1818 work on demonology [via link]

- Biography of Johann Weyer [link]
- Full text of the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum in both Latin and English at Esoteric Archives [link]
- Full text of the Lesser Key of Solomon at EA [link]
- Full text of the Key of Solomon at EA [link]
- List of demons in the Ars Goetia (slightly different from the PD) [link]
- The Dictionnaire Infernal [link] (I'll blog about this one in detail someday)

Friday, May 28, 2010

recommendation: "Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles" (2009 video game)

Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles is a follow-up to 2007's Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, both on-rails shooters for the Nintendo Wii. I played RE:UC with my best gamer buddy and it rocked, so clearly we had to play this one. I'm also quite the fan of rail shooters. I've heard them derided as archaic, arcade-style, outmoded games, but I find them to be a very particular and very enjoyable blend of movie-like storytelling with gaming. Sometimes, I really enjoy having control of the camera and world taken out of my hands--letting the director guide me, yet still asking for my input in order to progress. It's a particularly effective mixture of relaxation and tension. And it trains you damn well for the headshot.

RE:DC is, in fact, a serious improvement over its predecessor. Lots of shaky cam and jostling about, meaning you're frequently confronted by oozing, rotting zombies RIGHT IN YOUR FACE and you'd better be damn good already at the ol' headshot. There are plenty of opportunities to upgrade your weaponry. The bowgun is silly but rad, the grenade and rocket launchers are badass, and the shotgun is still trusty (though you can't upgrade its reload speed. Realism. Sigh.) The inventory (I love a good inventory) is easy to manage; you never have quite enough ammo, of course, and rightly so. The co-op mode is fantastic. Your health and your partner's health decrease separately, and you've got to decide whose state is the critical one if you've only got one restorative herb. Sometimes, the camera will cut away to show you your partner in the third person, and you'll be unable to shoot (this happens equally for player 1 and player 2). It's massively frustrating, but in a good way, as it adds to the tension--"BEHIND YOU! I CAN'T SHOOT IT! YOU HAVE TO!"--and it allows you to ogle your exquisitely hot partner.*

You get to play as five characters from Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Code Veronica: Leon Kennedy, Jack Krauser, Claire Redfield, Steve Burnside, and Chris Redfield. There are three scenarios: Operation Javier (South America), Memories of a Lost City (Raccoon City), and Game of Oblivion (Rockfort Island). The adversaries are nicely varied between the scenarios. The only real disappointment is that the scenarios are pretty short. It took us about seven hours to finish the whole thing, and this even with getting stuck on one of the bosses.** The graphics, pacing, and overall story are just so bloody*** good that it is a Major Bummer when it's over.

You can certainly have a grand old time with RE:DC without being a Resident Evil fan (though I am a wild-eyed one of both the games and the movies). You might not understand everything that's happening, but just remember: T-virus bad. T-Veronica virus bad. G-virus bad. All make BOWs (Bio-Organic Weapons)--gross mutated zombie monster things--giant toad monsters! giant plant monsters! giant turkey monsters! They're all bad. Kill them. KILL THEM ALL.

* By which I really just mean Leon Kennedy. SMOKIN' HOT, right there. Of course, your tastes may vary, but if so: you're weird. Leon is the man. He's perfect. End of. Don't argue with me on this one.
** A minor flaw: the occasional cheap trick is involved in order to off certain bosses. Relying on blind luck is no fun.
*** Seriously.

Friday, May 21, 2010

ramble: patches, or the history of the beauty mark uncovered

Her patches are of every cut,
For pimples and for scars;
Here’s all the wandering planets’ signs,
And some of the fixed stars.
Already gummed to make them stick,

They need no other sky.
-- Anonymous [via link]

In eighteenth-century Europe, beauty spots or marks were much in fashion. Marks both real (moles) and false (patches) had started to come en vogue in sixteenth-century England, first a fad among the trendy and foppish male courtiers. (Patches may initially have been used to disguise pockmarks left by disease.) Both genders began to patch themselves with fervor in the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth, delicate facial marks were all the rage or--ahem--as we might say, widespread.

As few folk are graced with perfectly placed, aesthetically-pleasing moles (heaven forbid your facial mole be too prominent or, indeed, hairy), false patches were usually quite necessary. Called mouches (French for "flies"), they were made from silk, velvet, taffeta, or leather and affixed with gum. They could be of any colour and certainly did not conform in shape to a simple dot. Patches in the shape of hearts, stars, moons and yet more outrageous forms were common. A particularly elaborate--and popular!--patch design was an intricate (and no doubt sizeable) coach-and-horse!

Such extravagant facial adornments were, of course, much despised by the moralizing set, and while some infatuated souls admired their patched lovers' faces, others felt a patch (or too many patches) marred, not enhanced, beauty. In many modern films, beauty marks become a joke, a sign of neither loveliness nor dire moral corruption, but rather a marker for airheaded vanity (see: the hardly-period-appropriate-but-hilariously-awesome Prince John in Robin Hood: Men in Tights).

The popularity of beauty marks waned in the latter half of the eighteenth century and through the nineteenth, but the trend continues today, though (like so many things) it seems to be more acceptable for women than for men (Enrique Iglesias had his facial mole removed in 2003; however, take note of Prince!). Famed beauties Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Cindy Crawford all flaunt(ed) their pretty moles. The gorgeous and talented Dita von Teese has an artificial-but-permanent beauty mark on her left cheek. And, speaking of tattoos, the lovely Kat von D's smattering of stars on her left temple can be read as another manifestation of the urge to patch.

Then there's my own pale imitation: little girls' stick-on earrings make excellent, cheap-and-easy beauty marks. Or, when one is feeling a little bit more posh and moneyed, this darling little packet with its hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds would be absolutely perfect.

- The exquisite Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette in the eponymous 1938 film

- The Costumer's Manifesto: 18th Century Makeup [link]
- Chambers' Book of Days (1869) [link]
- The Faces Behind the Masks: The "Toilette" in 18th Century England [link]
- Wikipedia [link]
- TVTropes [link]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

recommendation: "North & South" (2004 miniseries)

Historical drama is what keeps me breathing, by God. And I ought to be writing the BBC an annual thank-you letter for single-handedly rejuvenating my will to live.

North & South is a four-part series based on Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel (which was originally a twenty-two-part serial). I haven't read the book, but--tangent--I am not much of a stickler for accuracy. I don't really mind if a film adaptation is unfaithful to either the history or the literature on which it is based (though it's delightful when it is bang on) as long as it works on its own as a cohesive tale within a cohesive world and doesn't pretend to be a documentary or The TRUE Story. Good storytelling is good; therein my concerns end. (The key, as ever, is sincerity.) So, I haven't the faintest sense of true-to-the-bookness here, but, to be semi-appropriately referential, I don't give a damn, because it is a damn good series.

Damn good. It's the mid-nineteenth century. Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) is from the southern English countryside, modern-yet-spoiled daughter of a dissenting minister who uproots his family to the north to stay true to his principles. John Thornton (Richard Armitage*) is the owner of a cotton mill in the northern industrial town of Milton: a strict and severe yet equally principled businessman. It is the perfect clash. Milton might as well be an alien planet for Miss Hale, a fact she realizes while trying to accept, if not enjoy, her new life. Mr Thornton is also struggling with acceptance: of his social position--a master, yet hardly aristocratic; supposedly wealthy, yet in fact in danger of losing his business--and of his developing affections for Miss Hale.

There are clashes at all levels: between masters and workers, men and women, families of differing status, the charitable and the prideful. Mr Thornton may declare his love for Miss Hale before either of them is able to deal with it, and Miss Hale may be trying to settle everyone else's problems before realizing she must first remove her own blinkers, but each is trying to do what he or she believes to be best. North & South is all about principles: not right and wrong, but rather the unique personal morality of every individual and how we must mediate it in order to live with each other.

And yet, Milton is somehow not a morally grey place. "I have seen Hell," Miss Hale says, "and it is white." The pale fairylike fluff of the cotton kills those who work in the mill and dictates the lives of everyone in Milton. It is the master, the sole livelihood for Mr Thornton and his employees alike. It is no abstracted evil; it is real. Miss Hale and Mr Thornton must learn how to cope with it when roles are reversed, responsibility must take the place of charity, and white will somehow have to meet black without either losing its purpose and clarity.

Also, there are trains. And kissing on trains. Crossings of paths and revelations in transit; where do we meet? How can we meet halfway? The emotional brilliance of North & South is positively feverish. Perfect.

* Shallow meter: savagely broken. Richard Armitage always shatters all records of SMOKIN' HOTNESS. For reference: the innumerable scenes of lurking, stalking, gazing-through-windows, pining-through-windows, brooding, angsting, and principled passion. Principled passion. Just look at the principles emanating from him in that photo. I take it back about the will-to-live thing. I AM SLAIN.

Monday, May 17, 2010

inspiration: "The Queen of the Tournament (Ivanhoe)" by Frank William Warwick Topham


see high-res image here at the Art Renewal Center

-- Frank William Warwick Topham (1838-1924; exact date of painting unknown)
[see more works at the Art Renewal Center here]

Friday, May 14, 2010

ramble: book soundtrack

Books ought to come with soundtracks! I don't like to write without music, so I wish I could include the same instant atmosphere for the reader. I've been messing about with this soundtrack for my WIP for a while now.* The order of the songs roughly follows the order of events. Gives an interesting impression of the story.** It's also a useful yet fun way to examine plotting, pacing, and emotional arcs. (Links are to youtube.)

1. Secret Garden - Divertimento [link]
2. Lady Gaga - Beautiful, Dirty, Rich [link]
3. HIM - Passion's Killing Floor [link]
4. Emilie Autumn - Swallow [link]
5. Bond - Duel [link]
6. Abney Park - Love [link]
7. Darren Hayes - Popular [link]
8. Icon of Coil - Love as Blood [link]
9. Nightwish - Escapist [link]
10. Edge of Dawn - Elegance [link]
11. HIM - Gone with the Sin [link]
12. Valeria - Rhythm of the Night [link]
13. Emilie Autumn - Revelry [link]
14. Blutengel - A New Dawn [link]
15. The Birthday Massacre - Unfamiliar [link]
16. Placebo - Happy You're Gone [link]
17. Unsun - Whispers [link]
18. Delain - Frozen [link]
19. Elysion - Dreamer [link]
20. Nightwish - Bye Bye Beautiful [link]
21. Jakalope - Go Away [link]
22. Hannah Fury - Meathook [link]
23. Reflexion - Twilight Child [link]
24. Placebo - Song to Say Goodbye [link]
25. Black Eyed Peas - Meet Me Halfway [link]
26. I:Scintilla - Cursive Eve [link]
27. Emilie Autumn - God Help Me [link]
28. Elane - Half Past You [alas. cannot find a link.]
29. Negative - Glory of the Shame [link]
30. Muse - Undisclosed Desires [link]
31. Lady Gaga - Paparazzi (Demolition Crew Remix) [link]
32. Tarja - Die Alive [link]
33. Secret Garden - Passacaglia [link]
34. Within Temptation - Our Solemn Hour [link]
35. Beseech - Between the Lines [link]
36. Nightwish - While Your Lips Are Still Red [link]
37. Hole - For Once in Your Life [link]
38. Leaves' Eyes - Take the Devil In Me [link]
39. The Dreamside - The Feast Is Set [link]
40. Delain - On the Other Side [link]
41. Placebo - For What It's Worth [link]
42. Emilie Autumn - Dominant [link]
43. I:Scintilla - The Bells [link]
44. Apocalyptica - Nothing Else Matters [link]
45. Garbage - It's All Over But the Crying [link]
46. The Birthday Massacre - The Dream [link]

* It is now very long. Think of it like a double album. Or triple.
** And also illustrates the fact that I love pseudo-historical movies that include modern music in their scores (see: Marie Antoinette; Moulin RougeA Knight's Tale).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

recommendation: "Bandidas" (2006 movie)

I love westerns; I love silly westerns. I also love sexy westerns, which means I knew I'd love Bandidas before I'd done more than hear about it. It's a girl-buddy-western-comedy starring the gorgeous and talented Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, both of whom I've been head over heels in love with for ages (Penelope's hair... dreamy sigh). Hayek and Cruz are best friends who'd long wanted to work on a movie together, but never had the right opportunity, so they made this one themselves.

And it's badass. Maria (Cruz) is a poor girl who's lived on her father's farm her whole life; Sara (Hayek) is a posh girl who's been educated in Europe and has only just returned to (vaguely late 1800s) Mexico. Shady New York bankers are moving in (things never change) and attempting to steal everybody's land and gold. Sara's father is murdered, and Maria's is nearly so, and the two become outlaws to avenge their families and save their country.

Both characters totally shine as their relationship grows from a cat-fightin'-bitch-slappin'-in-the-middle-of-church-sorry-Father beginning into a close trust-you-with-my-life friendship. The first token Man, Maria and Sara's weatherbeaten mentor, rides off into the sunset instead of hovering protectively, leaving the pair to kick ass on their own terms. The second Man, Quentin (Steve Zahn), is a bumbling yet endearing fool who's never particularly necessary to the action.

Maria and Sara are neither impossibly-tough-as-nails heartless female killing machines nor idealistic-and-incompetent fluttery chicks; they're just two strong-yet-flawed women on a mission, whether that mission is looting and/or blowing up banks or practicing their kissing techniques on hapless Quentin.

Sure, there's a few scenes of heaving cleavage in which a baffled Quentin clearly stands in for your stereotypical male viewer and his fantasies, but Cruz and Hayek are well aware of the game they're playing, and in those scenes I* found the focus remained on Sara and Maria, with Quentin merely their prop. This is a movie about female friendship (and tearing around on horses with guns) and neither the females nor the friendship are ultimately compromised.**

The camaraderie (stop obsessing over your hair!), hijinks (ice-skating across the alarmed floor of a vault!), and action (slo-mo gun- and knife-fight on a train!) are all fantastic, the costumes (corsets! chaps! bandanas!) are heart-attack beautiful (hello! my ideal wardrobe), and I absolutely adore the brand of crazy slapstick but heartfelt humour. In sum: Bandidas is my new favourite movie.***

* Girl who has studied far too much gender theory.
** Nor is the SMOKIN' HOTNESS ever compromised. Let me be clear about that, because it is of equal importance. (You can't be deep if you don't also have shallows. I fully own this. Sexy is fucking+ important.)
*** There are very few things in this world that are so perfectly tailored to my tastes; naturally, you may hate it. But I am no reviewer. I recommend. And this! This I highly recommend.
+ Intended.

Monday, May 10, 2010

inspiration: "The Hosting of the Sidhe" by W. B. Yeats


The host is riding from Knocknarea,
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare;
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, "Away, come away;
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are a-gleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart,
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart."
The host is rushing 'twixt night and day;
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, "Away, come away."

-- W. B. Yeats, in The Celtic Twilight (1902)
[read this book online here or here]