My heroes have always been villains, Episode V: Tom Marvolo Riddle

I first read the Harry Potter books as an adult—I began them when book four was still only available in hardback—so my reaction to them and their characters might be expected to differ from how I responded to those tales that had first begun to grip me when I was younger, such as The Lord of the RingsYet, like so many millions of others, I was enthralled by Rowling’s work.  When the new volumes were published, I was one of the midnight-pickup pre-buyers, waiting in the bookstores in the wee hours for my copies the day they came out.

Unlike many of my earlier reactions to such sagas of good versus evil, I was not—at first—particularly interested in the bad guy, Lord Voldemort.  Based on the first three books, which only showed us Voldemort in fragmented or highly reduced form, he seemed a petty villain to me.  Racist and otherwise bigoted, he—if his followers were any indication—was simply a spoiled bully, a reflexive defender of ancient and unearned privilege raging against a more modern, rationalist, and egalitarian way of life, embodied most fully in Dumbledore.  I did enjoy the plays on words Rowling made with his name, but he himself didn’t seem very interesting.  He didn’t elicit a feeling of overwhelming threat and natural force like Sauron does, and I thought it a bit cheeky for anyone to call him “The Dark Lord,” a title I scarcely felt he merited.  He didn’t have the tragic sense of twisted, broken, could-have-been greatness embodied in the likes of Darth Vader and Doctor Doom.  And he certainly didn’t have the cool, detached intellect, that sense of an almost alien intelligence, that Hannibal Lecter possesses. Continue reading

‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood and blog such bitter business as the bitter day would quake to look on.

I started this morning with no idea what I was going to write.  There isn’t much new to report with respect to my stories.  Progress on Unanimity and on Penal Colony goes on at a steady pace.  I haven’t started any new projects, and I don’t mean to do so until at least Penal Colony and In the Shade are both finished.

On the other hand, today is the last Thursday before Halloween, which is my favorite holiday.  Last October, as a celebration of the season, I wrote the first draft of Hole for a Heart, a quite Halloween-ey tale.  The story actually takes place in late spring, but its atmosphere is decidedly redolent of Halloween, and I pay lip-service to that fact during the story.

I’m not entirely sure why Halloween has always appealed to me so much.  Part of it probably has to do with its arrival shortly after my birthday, but that annual milestone hasn’t pleased me for quite some time, and I still like Halloween just as much.  Similarly, when I was younger, there’s little doubt that the acquisition of candy had no small influence on my holiday joy, but I’m not that big a candy person anymore, yet I’m still very much a Halloween person.*

Part of the attraction is that this is the most quintessentially autumnal of the holidays, and autumn has always been my favorite season, entirely unrelated to candy, to birthdays, and to any other more parochial concerns.  I simply love the feel of this time of year, especially as it is up north.  The changing of the colors of the leaves in southeastern Michigan, where I grew up, remains one of the most magical spectacles of nature.  Also, I was one of those supposedly rare kids who really liked going back to school after summer vacation (I think there are more of us than we’ve been led to believe).

Autumn has also almost always been the time of year when I restart the Tolkien cycle, beginning sometimes with The Silmarillion but often with The Hobbit, and always proceeding to The Lord of the Rings.  The fact that Frodo begins his adventure in the autumn surely contributes to my associational joy with the time of year.  That happy connection has only been bolstered by the fact that the Harry Potter books begin on Halloween (albeit on a tragic note).

Deeper than this, though, is that I’ve always felt an affinity for dark stories (in case you couldn’t tell) and Halloween is the holiday of the shadowy tale; I don’t think I’m anything like alone in this.  It’s not a coincidence that Stephen King is one of the most enduringly successful authors the world has yet seen.  Halloween is a time when huge numbers of people, at least in America, indulge their inner King, and embrace stories of the dark, the supernatural, the otherworldly.  For some people, it seems to be the only time when they use their imaginations at all.

Oddly enough, I’ve never really found Halloween scary, not even when I was a young child (no, not even the movie).  It’s just too much fun, frankly, and that’s true even of most scary movies and stories.  Weirdly, although I love most of Stephen King’s work, only two of his novels have ever frightened me (The Shining, and, more prominently, Pet Sematary).  It’s odd, but horror stories in general seem to affect me much the way Halloween does:  I feel them deeply, when they’re good, and I enjoy them; they resonate powerfully with me; but I don’t usually find them frightening.

The exceptions to this rule are interesting, and probably instructive.  Only a rare few books have literally made me feel afraid for any noticeable period of time, including the two listed above, as well as Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, and—the long-reigning champion—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has perhaps the best opening and closing paragraphs of any spooky story ever.  A few Lovecraft short stories, and more Stephen King short stories—as well as some Orson Scott Card stories, surprisingly enough—succeed in this area, as do intermittent others (most notably, the bone-chilling story Nadelman’s God by T.E.D. Klein).

In movies, the phenomenon is rarer still, with crowning glory going to the original Alien (Event Horizon was pretty darn spooky, too; also—though lamentably stupid as a science fiction story—as a horror movie, Signs really and majorly creeped me out…possibly because I first watched it in a hotel room, alone, at night, far from home).

Obviously, I like writing stories that might make other people frightened, but I don’t approach the writing with the idea of doing anything calculated to build a scary atmosphere, to make people feel uncomfortable, to surprise them, to worry them, etc.  At least, I don’t do it consciously.  It’s the darkness, rather than the scariness, that seems pivotal to me, both in my writing and my reading.  The same holds for my enjoyment of other literary forms, from plays, to movies, to video games, to TV shows.

And, of course, autumn is that time when darkness is gaining ground, with Halloween its most prominent celebration.  After Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthday, which is roughly at the equinox, the days in the northern hemisphere grow ever shorter, and darkness is ascendant.  In the shadows, where there is less blinding, glaring, external input entering the mind, the imagination can be brought more readily into play.  The mind’s eye sees most clearly in the dark.

Well, it seems I did have a fair amount to write today, after all.  I could probably go on and on about this topic, but that might be truly horrifying, and not in a fun way; the “Chinese water torture” isn’t very dramatic as torments go, but it does sound maddening.  I’ll spare you such erosion and hold off further discussions of darkness and stories for later times.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy your Halloween (those of you who observe it).  If you get a chance, dress up for it.  Have some candy.  Laugh at and about scary things.

But you might want to avoid going out by yourself too long after night falls.  Even the darkest of entities like to give themselves treats from time to time, and a solitary human is a juicy morsel indeed.

TTFN


*This isn’t quite the same—nor is it as bad—as being one of the Autumn People, à la Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it’s not entirely orthogonal, either.

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 4: “Dinosaur Dogs and the Dining Room” – the audio

Okay, well, here it is, slightly earlier than I had expected:  The audio for Chapter 4 of The Chasm and the Collision.

As always, the usual disclaimers and restrictions and permissions apply:  Feel free to listen, to download, and to share ad libitum, but you are not authorized to make any money by doing so.

I’ll be putting this audio up on YouTube either this weekend or early next week, but in the meantime, feel free to listen to it in this post.

For links to earlier chapters and other audio stories, you can go to my earlier post, here.

 

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 3, “The Waves in the Wall” – the audio

Well, here it is, the audio for the third chapter of The Chasm and the Collision, read by me.  It will be posted on YouTube sometime early next week, but for the moment, feel free to listen to it here.  As always, feel free to download it, share it, etc., but you’re not authorized to make any money off of it…

…even if you could.

By the way, for ease of use, here are links to the entries on my blog where you can listen to earlier chapters:

The Chasm and the Collision Chapter 1:  A Fruitful Day and a Frightful Night

The Chasm and the Collision Chapter 2:  Shared Visions

Also, here are the links to the audio for my thee short stories, so you can easily navigate to them:

“I for one welcome our new computer overlords”

Prometheus and Chiron

Hole for a Heart

 

I hope you enjoy.  Remember, if you like them, you can find them all (in written form) at Amazon.  You can find my author’s page here.

TTFN!

My heroes have always been villains, Episode II: Sauron, lord of Mordor

It’s the second Thursday of the month and, as promised, this is the second installment of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Today, I discuss one of the greatest villains in modern fantasy literature:  Sauron of Mordor, the title character of The Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson’s amazing LotR movies (and the slightly less amazing The Hobbit movies) have brought Sauron to the attention of the population at large to a greater degree than ever before, but he was hardly a shrinking violet to begin with.  Millions upon millions of us met him in the books, after getting teased by him as the Necromancer in The Hobbit. Continue reading

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 2: Shared Visions – the audio

Here it is, my audio for Chapter 2 of CatC.  I hope you enjoy it!

As always, feel free to listen, to download, and to share, but do not charge anyone or otherwise make any money from this.

Author’s note for “The Chasm and the Collision”

CatC cover paperback

See on Amazon

The Chasm and the Collision is my currently published novel that has the most recent—and what might be thought inauspicious—origins.  I came up with the idea for it while I was an involuntary resident of Gun Club Road, a period lasting eight months.  It was a longer stretch of enforced restriction from most of the sources of intellectual stimulation to which I was used than I think I’ve experienced either before or since.

During that time, thanks to the help of my ex-wife, I was able to keep in contact with my children by calling them two days a week—though the calls were restricted to fifteen minutes at a time, and this was disheartening (though positively luxurious compared to my current interactions).  My children were around eleven and twelve at the time, my son just entering middle school and my daughter in the latter year or so of elementary school. Continue reading