Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindenwald

Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindenwald

 Saturday the 17th of November I took the kids to see Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindenwald. We all enjoyed the movie despite the plot holes. A lot of Harry Potter fans are frustrated with details that don’t line up with the information JK Rowling laid out in the original books. I remain hopeful that Rowling will address these issues in the third film. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the matter:

One interesting note is that fans have wondered if Newt Scamander is on the Autism Spectrum or if he has Asperger’s. Overall, Newt is an odd fellow but still incredibly likeable.

Although it is not explicitly stated, Eddie Redmayne does seem to play Newt as on the Spectrum or Atypical.  Newt doesn’t like to look people in the eye and he gets along much better with animals than people. Though brilliant, he comes across as a bit shy. We see in Fantastic Beasts 2 that he is offered a job at the Ministry for Magic working with his brother, but turns it down. As a student at Hogwarts his worst fear—as shown to him by the Bogart—was office work. He doesn’t like to be tied down to daily schedule doing work he doesn’t enjoy and he doesn’t like having to deal with people. Although these things are by no means conclusive, it does shed a new light on the character.

People have complained about Queenie’s shift in character though. She seemed so strong in the first and then by the second movie she is obsessed with getting married. Although it is sad, perhaps the regression was the only way to make her alliance with Grindenwald make sense. She would need a reason to switch sides and those who are swayed by the dark side are often taken advantage of when they are at their most vulnerable. I see her shift as a way to move the plot forward even if it is frustrating to fans.

When we saw Dumbledore visiting Tom Riddle in the orphanage in London he looks much older than Jude Law in this film. Although Jude Law fits the age Dumbledore would be in the 1920s, it doesn’t align with having Michael Gambon play a younger Dumbledore in The Half Blood Prince movie. Fans joke that Dumbledore’s duel with Grindenwald aged him. He had a stressful decade between Crimes of Grindenwald and the flashback in Half Blood Prince.

There is a meme of Jude Law as Dumbledore next to Richard Harris as Dumbledore in Sorcerer’s Stone. It asks when Dumbledore gave up elegant three piece suites for the more traditional wizard robes and why. This is a valid question. Both Fantastic Beast movies show a wizarding world that embraces new technology far more than the Harry Potter movies. Maybe there was a shift after both World Wars two to go back to Pre-Industrial times and abandoned Muggle Technology and Fashion. Rowling doesn’t explain this really, but it makes the most sense given what we know about tension between the wizarding world and the muggle world.

One minor quibble fans had was with Professor McGonagall being in Crimes of Grindenwald. One source puts her birth on October 4, 1935, which is about eight years later than the second movie. If I recall, Dumbledore did mention her last name, but not her first. This tells me that it could have been Minerva’s mother or aunt or sister even. Again, given what we were told in the books, this is the best explanation. It could be that Rowling wanted her character to appear, but had forgotten the timeline she’d laid out. Mistakes do happen and Rowling isn’t perfect. It isn’t the end of the wizarding world since it is a brief moment in the film.

What does matter is the presence of Aurelius Dumbledore. We are following this young man named Credence who is crucial to the plot somehow. We don’t realize why until the twist ending when Grindenwald tells Credence he is really Albus Dumbledore’s long lost younger brother. It left fans going crazy. Many pointed out Rita Skitter and Bathilda Bagshot would have known about a younger brother if he had existed. Between the two of them, they knew pretty much everything there was to know about Albus. Bloggers speculate that Grindenwald was lying to him.

My first thought was that he was really Ariana. What if Ariana didn’t die during the first duel, but did in the second. What if Grindenwald pulled a gender switching curse to disguise her as Ozma had been disguised as Tip in the Oz books? Credence or Aurelius is an Obscurial. This dark power sounds an awful lot like the explosions that Ariana caused before her death. In fact, it has been put forth that Ariana was an Obscurial So either there are two obscurials in the same family, or they are the same person! Also, the actor Ezra Miller who plays Credence is non-binary or gender fluid. I think it lends credence to this theory if you pardon the pun.

There has also been speculation about how Grindenwald and Dumbledore were able to duel the first time around if they had a blood vow not to. Perhaps that blood vow took place AFTER Ariana’s supposed death. If it was Grindenwald and not Dumbledore who shot the curse that killer her, perhaps he meant to hit her. And just maybe he cast a spell that didn’t kill her, but made it look like she died instead. Or maybe he did kill her, but then used the Resurrection Stone on her. I wouldn’t put it past him to have manipulated Dumbledore in this way.

On a side note, I loved the appearance of Nicholas Flamel and Nagini. We also get a glimpse of some Thestrals in the beginning. And then, of course, we see Dumbledore use the mirror of Erised. Not to mention all the cool, funny and scary creatures that live up to the name Fantastic Beasts. There are many wonderful Easter Eggs and crossovers to spot and enjoy.

Overall, the acting and the special effects were all well done. And the plot holes did not bother me as much as they did others. The movie was trying to cram in a great deal of information in a limited amount of time. It did make it messier than the first, but it also made it more interesting than it as well.

I agree that JK Rowling is better at writing books than movie scripts, but I still feel the movie is worth seeing. In novels one can take their time and have many subplots. It is more difficult to unfold a complicated and complex story in the two hours allotted by a movie. That is why I have found more enjoyment in books made into a TV series than movies recently. Having said that though, I felt that the Harry Potter movies were well done and translated about as well as they could have been to the big screen. And while Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindenwald has its share of flaws, I would still recommend it.

I still find comfort in the world Rowling has created and welcome more additions to that universe. You’d better believe I will be watching the third movie in the Fantastic Beasts series due out in 2020.

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She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

November 2018

This She-Ra is less edgy than the original perhaps, but more modern. She-Ra represents modern Feminism and it is interesting to note the sometime subtle differences crept up in the 32 or so years that have passed between the two versions. The 80s She-Ra sexualized the characters and placed their ages around 20-25 years old. The new one is drawn more modestly and makes the characters more like 16-18 years old. They also removed the tie in to He-Man. It is cool because that makes She-Ra less dependent on her men in general. They also downplay the role of Hordak and emphasize Shadow Weaver’s influence instead.

Without He-Man they had tweak the origin story. We have hints, but haven’t gotten a detailed history. It seems people from Eternia landed on Etheria in their spaceships. They had advanced technology, which was lost over the centuries. We find out that each of the “Princesses of Power” were each given a rune of power. The runes helped them protect themselves and the planet. Now the Horde is destroying the planet and they need to band together to stop the Horde from killing them all. It keeps the original undertones of Feminist Ecology while not blaming technology. Its vision is one where technology can be used to balance things rather than destroy them. In this version, greed is seen more as the issues more than industry.

I noticed the influence of Norse Mythology in the original cartoon, but the new cartoon highlights those influences even more. She-Ra’s headdress hinted at her status as some sort of goddess or Valkyrie. Now with the presence of the runes we see a confirmation of this Norse influence.

The truth was the original She-Ra was pretty much a white-washed fantasy world. I applaud the diversity in the Netflix Series. In the new show Bow is black and Perfuma appears to be of mixed race. Mermista looks to be Indian perhaps and Frosta in an Eskimo who is all of 11 years old. Frosta reminded me of Lyanna Mormontt from Game of Thrones. Both Lyanna and Frosta are tiny but fierce.

It was an interesting choice to portray Glimmer who has curves that show she is a fuller figured gal. I liked the mother-daughter relationship between Glimmer and Angella. While Glimmer comes across as whiny and annoying at first, we eventually do see the struggle to become an adult and be taken seriously. Angella obviously worries about her daughter, but begins to let her grow.

One thing I noticed is that there is no rebel camp where Glimmer and Bow hangout. Glimmer still lives at home and who knows where Bow stays when he is not hanging out at the castle Brightmoon.  The rebellion seems to be centered with Angella and Glimmer. During the Netflix Series we see Glimmer recruiting the other princesses, which begins to build the rebellion.

The original She-Ra drew a great deal from Star Wars with the rebel camp and the storm trooper robots.  They even had laser guns. This new series downplays the robots. The troopers look more like they are from Halo than Star Wars. Not to mention the fact the droids draw more from the Star Wars Prequels and even The Incredibles than the original Star Wars.

Swift wind is less She-Ra’s companion and more about freeing other horses while occasionally helping out. Lighthope is no longer a beam of light with a male voice. Instead, she is a hologram the helps Adora. Lighthope is more like Synergy from Jem in this one. Scorpia is may be a bit butch, but she has a softer side in the new series. The old Scorpia alternated between silly and cruel.

One character I wish we saw more of was Castaspella. She was always one of my favorites. The new series portrays her more as kooky aunt than a serious sorceress. She was good for a laugh, but I wished they had explored the role of magic and mysticism more. It seems to me they really missed opportunity.

However, they did include a hint at Shadow Weaver’s back story, which was cool. I wasn’t sure what to think of this new Shadow Weaver. She seems much more malevolent in this one. While the 80s cartoon drew inspiration from Maleficent, this new Shadow Weaver reminded me of the villain from Big Hero Six. I think it is perhaps the style of the mask and they way she throws her tendrils of shadows around.  I also noticed Shadow Weaver relied on psychological manipulation as well as magic to control Adora and Catra, which made her scarier somehow.

I liked the way Adora stumbled onto Madam Raz’s house in the woods and helped her pick berries. They pulled off the forgetful, but wise old woman well. And I liked how she talked to her broom but the broom didn’t talk back this time.  I just wish they had spent more time with her. I felt like she knew a great deal more than she was letting on. If only Adora had known what questions to ask!

Mermista grated on me at first with her apathetic teenager routine. She was all like “whatever.” Eventually she grew on me though. Her relationship with Sea Hawk is amusing. I noticed that Sea Hawk is written more like Jack Sparrow instead of Errol Flynn. Although I like the humor attached to Sea Hawk, I found his character to be less developed than some of the others.

The best and most developed relationship is the one between Adora and Catra. They were kind of catty toward one another in the original, but the new show adds depth to their friendship. They still care about each other even if they are on different sides of the conflict. This alone makes the series worth watching.

Overall, the series is intelligently written and drawn well. It doesn’t underestimate its viewers like the original ones sometimes did. Also, the Netflix series feels like it has an arc while the original 80s cartoon felt very episodic.  In any case, I can’t wait for Season 2 to see where they take it. The 13 episodes we got were just not enough!

 

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The Lady in White

The Lady in White

Halloween 1992 was different.  I skipped the Haunted Hotel, Trick or Treat and the Parade. It was a chilly October night when I took a stroll downtown in Shelby. I often took walks alone, exploring and adventuring.  Messing around, I found an open door that lead to apartments above an old store. These apartments were not the same ones where they held the Haunted Hotel, but they were close by. I imagined that the Haunted Hotel had once been an abandoned area before the Jaycees rented it and used it for our amusement.

In any case, the apartments I explored had not been lived in for many years. Alone, I quietly tip-toed up the stairs and into the ruined rooms. I treaded softly and cautiously as I examined an old mattress and an open medicine cabinet still stocked with bottles from the 1940s or earlier. My footsteps echoed in the dark silence as I stepped on wooden floors covered in dust, plaster and other debris. I peered through a broken window that had once been between walls. All that was left was a frame and a single shard hanging from it. No one heard me and I saw no one. Though I feared I might see a ghost that night, I did don’t think I did.

I came to the back stairs and descended them softly. I sat on the steps for a moment thinking back to a past life back in 1940. Had I really experienced something traumatic in another time? Or was I struggling to understand a trauma in this life? There was some darkness inside I latched onto and tried to hold in an effort to understand. I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath. I saw a vision of a girl into an upstairs window—crying. Then the vision faded. I glanced up at the window above me, expecting to see something. There was only darkness.

That night I walked home thinking about reading The Vampire Diaries. I thought of Stefan and Damon and I thought of my past life in the 10940s.  When I got home I set about writing my story Damon’s House.  I envisioned a nearly empty English Manor that was haunted. I figured that those apartments were probably the closest I was going to come to touring any sort of haunted castle or haunted mansion, but they still inspired me.

Years later, I returned to the abandoned apartments to find that someone had bought them and began remodeling them. One apartment was completed and the rest were in progress by 1999.

Halloween night came, I had decided to stay home and watch some scary movies—but not too scary. I walked down to my local video store and asked for some recommendations. I explained that I wasn’t into blood and gore, but I wanted something thrilling. Karen pointed me toward The Abyss and The Lady in White. I checked out and went home.

My Mom left to go hang out with her boyfriend that night. My friend came over and wanted to ride our bikes to a nearby graveyard. I agreed to go with her and even grabbed some flashlights for the trip. We peddled quickly in the cool night; our hearts were beating wildly in our chests. Fear mixed with anticipation over what we might find there.

When we got there we dropped our bikes and began walking around. Our flashlights beams danced and landed on various headstones. I enjoyed reading their names along with their birth and death dates. Some of the last names I recognized, others I didn’t. No one I was close to was buried there though. Despite the shifting shadows and Gothic atmosphere, everyone was resting comfortably. No ghosts appeared before us during our fifteen minute visit. Content with our outing, we got back on our bikes and rode home. My friend went home and got ready to go out with some of her other friends. I returned to my dark, empty house and turned on the VCR.  I popped in the VHS tape of The Abyss and watched it alone. When it was over, I put in The Lady in White. The Lady in White scared me a tad bit, but not too badly.

Years later, I walked into a pawn shop in Monett, Missouri and did a double take. I swore I saw Lukas Hass at the front counter. Turned out it was just his doppelganger though!

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Halloween Costumes

  Halloween Costumes

When I was four my mother took a picture of me next to a scarecrow she’d made and placed on the porch. This was at our apartment on Broadway, so it must have been around 1979. I don’t remember it at all, save the snapshot I have.

It was 1980-something when my mother decided to dress up as Raggedy Anne for Halloween and pull me in a wagon as a Jack or Jane in the Box. I am not sure where Mom got the idea, but it was cute.  During the parade, Mom pulled me in the wagon and my job was to just pop up every so often and wave. At the end of the parade we won a trophy for Most Creative Costume.

For about 3 or 4 years after that I went as a witch for Trick or Treat. My mother made my costume. I think she used a sewing pattern from McCall’s or Simplicity. It was a simple black dress with orange yarn trim. We bought a black hat from the store and I carried a plastic pumpkin around. I’d fallen in love with witches after reading the book My Mother The Witch by Rose Blue. I have searched my photo albums for a picture of this costume, but I can’t find it anywhere.

But then my mother didn’t take a ton of pictures while I was growing up. The constant documentation of holidays and daily life didn’t start until I got my own camera when I was 10 years old. And of course since I was behind the camera most of the time, there still weren’t a lot of pictures of me.

One year I got a Halloween Joke book from Scholastic. I lay on the floor of our dining room as Mom worked in the kitchen and flipped through my new book. It was dark out and the lights were on in our apartment. It was cool outside and warm inside, so I felt cozy and safe that night. It was a pleasant memory.

I am not sure what year it was, but I have a distinct memory of trick or treating with my cousins and then and coming home to eat what I had gotten. I sat in a dining room chair or something in front of the TV. I watched Bugs Bunny’s Halloween Special. There was something about Marvin The Martian in the Special. The Special came out in 1977, but it reran every Halloween for a while in the 80s.

I pretended to smoke my candy cigarettes before chewing on them. I am not sure what year they stopped handing those out on Halloween, but I haven’t seen them in years. In any case, my mother and grandmother both smoked. Surprisingly, when I grew up I never did become a smoker despite the corruptive influence of the candy cigarettes!

One year I decided to be The Ghost of an Indian Princess for Halloween. I’d just finished reading An Acceptable Time, which was published in 1989 and it dealt with the Native Americans, so that was probably the book that was source for my crazy idea.  I do have a picture of this costume. It was merely a white cape, tiara and white gloves. It didn’t fit what a Native American would look like at all. It was more like just the Ghost of a Princess! It was fun to creative even if no one got what I was going for.

It was 1990 when my friend Nikki talked me into walking in the parade with her. We dressed as Hippies. I wore my peace sign earrings, tie-dyed t-shirt and bell bottom jeans. Although I enjoyed hanging out with my friend and participating in the festivities, I did not walk the entire parade route. I was tired and cold, so I ducked out and went to my grandmother’s house for a bit. I met back up with Nikki for the judging of the costumes on the Boulevard. We didn’t win, so we went home to talk, watch TV and eat some candy. I didn’t get a picture of that exact costume, but I did something similar for a picture in 1991. That is what you see below.

In 1993 I took the kids I babysat for trick or treating. I don’t think I dressed up, but it was fun to walk around again. They made out like bandits and shared some of their candy with me or maybe I just stole a few pieces. Either way, it was a good Halloween.

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Dark And Stormy Night

A Dark And Stormy Night

Memory is not reliable. It gets tangled among emotions and thoughts. Who is to say what really happened and what we felt happened. Who is to say that both are not real in some way even though no one is around to bear witness to an event?

I sit here at my computer trying to sort out the sequence of events, but I find it less and less clear. Did I somehow read the book in High School and not remember it? The first time I remember reading The Haunting of Hill House was for class in 1999. And yet, somehow it parallels my own novel Damon’s House, which I wrote in 1992.  And the dreams. When did the dreams about the third floor begin? Did they begin in 1992, 1994 or 1999? I can’t say for sure. All I know is that The Haunting haunts me.

My Grandmother was a Home Health Aide from a woman named Elizabeth Black. The 92 year old women lived alone in a huge house. Her husband had died and her children and grandchildren all lived elsewhere. She had a cook, a maid and a nurse to take care of her during the day. At night someone was required to watch over her as well. That was my Grandmother. She spent every weeknight at the Estate for over a year.

It wasn’t long after Grandma started working that she invited me to spend the night with her. I jumped at the chance. What writer wouldn’t want to spend the night in a creepy old mansion, right? So I packed an overnight bag and hoped in the car with my Grandma. We drove to Marion Avenue in Mansfield. There was a long drive to the house, which was hidden back behind some trees. It would have been in the country at one time, but was now simply on a large pocket of land between developments. Grandma parked in the garage and we got out.

We entered the house through the Mud Room. From the small room off the garage, we entered the family room. It held a couch and chairs for lounging around. I noticed there was a piano with pictures on top of it. I studied the pictures briefly, observing the children and grandchildren in clothes from the 1970s. They looked happy. We passed through an entire closet filled with liquor. Most of the bottles were half empty and looked like they hadn’t been touched in years.

Grandma continued the tour. She showed me the room that had been dedicated to the servants. No maid was there at that late hour, however, there was an ironing board and iron ready to go for the morning. There was also a small TV in the corner, possibly from the early 1980s. We walked through a breakfast nook with a small table and four or more chairs. A swinging door opened up into the sunny kitchen. It was a long kitchen with fairly new appliances. Despite that, it still had the same decorations from the 1940s. We exited on the other side of the kitchen into the dining room.

The dining room had a buffet table against the wall and a picture of the Revolutionary War or a Hunting Scene or something above it. There was a cabinet with dishes against another wall and a nice wooden table in the center. Though obviously dusted and kept up, I guessed that no one had actually taken dinner there in quite some time.

We left the dining room and crossed a hall to the formal sitting room. There were two chairs facing a fireplace. Grandma mentioned that Mr. Black was said to haunt this particular room. It had been his favorite in life. We took a quick peek into a den or study. It was a small room that was lined with book cases. A desk set inside as well. I didn’t get a chance to notice the titles on the shelves.

Grandma turned her attention to the pictures on the Hall wall. She explained that Frank Blymyer Black’s family was originally came from Ireland.  His family moved to Zanesville, Ohio. Eventually, he came to Mansfield, married and founded The Ohio Brass Company. It was a factory that ultimately made him wealthy. The house we were in was built in 1940.

We took a quick look inside a bathroom right next to the front door and then headed up the stairs. Grandma showed me to our room on the left. I settled as she checked in on Mrs. Black. When she returned, she gave me a quick tour of the upstairs. There were quite a few bedrooms and bathrooms that all seemed to connect. At the end of the hallway was another stairway to the attic room. I don’t believe we ventured up there that night, although, I did eventually see the attic space a year later.

Grandma set the alarm and we went back to the bedroom. She slept in a brightly painted room with a canopied bed. The canopy had green printed curtains on it. Grandma read a bit of her book and I read a bit of mine. It was probably 11pm when she turned out the light and went to sleep. I couldn’t sleep though. All I could think about was the liquor downstairs in that rather large closet.

When I was satisfied that Grandma was asleep, I snuck out of bed and down the stairs. I searched in the darkness for that ever elusive room at the end of the hall. I pushed open the door to the breakfast nook and set off the alarm. I’d forgotten that it went off when doors opened and closed—even swinging doors. The blare of the alarm startled Grandma awake. I was running back toward the bedroom when she spotted me. She came down the stairs and turned the alarm off. The phone rang shortly after and she assured the alarm company that all was well. Grandma suspected that I had tried to get to the liquor, but said little. We went back to bed and I finally got a few hours of sleep.

The next morning Grandma checked on Mrs. Black and then spoke to Dreamia the Nurse. Dreamia had urged Grandma to go back to school and take Nursing Classes. We walked back passed the liquor closet and through the family room to the garage. Grandma drove me home and dropped me off.

It was nearly a year later when I spent the night again. In April of 1994, I was trying to stay sober. I had been to AA . I didn’t know then that I would fall off the wagon just a few months later.  I had not yet unraveled the damage done. My second stay found me older and worse for the wear. I had been drinking with increasing frequency and was aware of the emptiness more than ever when I arrived. So, I arrived prepared. I brought emptied out shampoo bottles in my bag to store the liquor in.

Grandma and I drove up the long drive once again. It was cloudy out and had rained off and on throughout the day. We came inside the mudroom and spoke with Dreamia briefly. Grandma and I went upstairs right away to check on Mrs. Black. She had been growing weaker. They didn’t expect her to live for very much longer. I think she did eventually passed in 1996.

I went with Grandma inside the Master bedroom. Mrs. Black laid on her bed quietly. Grandma spoke with her, but she wasn’t really with it. I walked through her rather extravagant walk-in closet that was painted pink. It was still filled with clothes from the 1940s onward. There were dresses and feather boas, among other things.

We left Mrs. Black and Grandma took me to see the attic space at the end of the hallway. I had been obsessed with seeing what was on the Third Floor since we skipped it the year before. We went up the narrow staircase and walked into a large open room. Apparently, the children had played up here long ago. There was a huge toy box filled with toys. I glanced at them before we went back downstairs. It was kind of anti-climatic.

Grandma was tired and wanted to retire to bed. I requested time to explore on my own before she turned on the alarm. Grandma granted that wish. I crept downstairs and found the liquor closet. Nervously, I poured some vodka into one shampoo bottle and gin into another. I tucked the bottles into my pockets and returned upstairs.

The upstairs felt like a maze. I remember passing through a couple of bedrooms connected by a Jack and Jill bathroom. I came around the other side and through a nursery and a children’s bedroom. I decided to sleep in the children’s room alone. I couldn’t explain why I wanted to be alone in a dark and scary place. I just did.

I remember it stormed that night and it was scary. I saw shadows dance along the walls as the wind blew. I stared at the small bookshelf with kids books still on it. I wondered who once slept in the bed and the bed next to it. Were the kids happy here or did they suffer some sort of trauma? Did they still haunt the place perhaps? Though scared, I dared not get out of bed and venture across the hall to Grandma’s room. I had to prove I was brave enough to finish out the night alone.

 In the morning Grandma checked on me and Mrs. Black. I changed back into my clothes and went with Grandma downstairs. We met the Nurse and then left through the Mud Room once again. I glanced at the pictures on the piano. They had not been moved. And I wondered why they no longer lived at the Estate.

Grandma dropped me off to an empty house that morning. She went home and I was left alone. My Mother and Step-Father had gone to work. It was Friday after all. I might have had the day off from school, but they still had work. The loneliness I felt at the Black Estate came back. So, I dug out my bottles of liquor that I had taken from them and drank them. I didn’t want to feel the emptiness inside.

That large house could have easily been a representation of the vast emptiness inside me. I imagined the parties the Black’s must have had in the 40s and 50s. How the house must have been alive with people talking, playing and even making love. But what was it now? It was a shell of its former glory. It was well kept, but devoid of any real love or warmth. I felt bad for Mrs. Black living there all alone. How could she not be haunted by her memories? How could I not be haunted by mine?

I was completely drunk by 11am that day. It was a new low for me. I’d been drunk three days in a row and the third day was the worst. I started drinking at 10am. Who does that? I hated how it made me feel. I hated myself.

Just four years later I tried to write a story about my experience of surviving a dark and stormy night at an old mansion. The story was anti-climatic because I saw no ghosts. There were no demons or things that went bump in the night. There was nothing to report that would have made for a good ghost story.  After reading The Haunting of Hill House, I wanted to capture my own Haunting.  But I didn’t have the words for it. I didn’t understand it.

I went on to struggle with depression and loneliness for years. I tacked issue after issue. I tackled the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. I sorted through my relationship with my father and my ex’s. I trudged through them bravely—challenging myself as I did alone in the dark bedroom of the empty house. I faced my fears and dealt with the shadows year after year.

Now here we are in 2018 and I just finished binge watching the Netflix Series The Haunting of Hill House. It takes the back story and runs with it. The TV show is touching in a way the book wasn’t though. Why? Because it shows us how every family is haunted in their own way. All of the grief and guilt was experience in real life follows us. We can’t escape the horrors in our mind any more than the Crain’s could escape Hill House. The show explores how families can be so dysfunctional around trauma and tragedy, but how they need to come together to heal. The Haunting of Hill House is effectively chilling, but more than that it cuts to the core of why people even write, read and watch horror. It is cathartic.

I saw in this new incarnation of Hill House how the overwhelming grief over losing a child was at its very core and how that core had framed my story Damon’s House back in 1992. It was Damon’s grief over losing a child that drove him crazy. It was Olivia’s fear of losing her children that led her to be so easily manipulated by Poppy and Hill House. And that grief spilled over onto The Dudley’s when she poisoned their little girl. I actually cried when the Dudley’s begged Hugh not to burn the evil house to the ground. The house kept the souls it took and they could visit their little girl any time they wanted so long as the house stood intact. Hugh took pity on them that night even though it eventually cost him his daughter Nell’s life. All of that got me to thinking about the nature of grief and how it haunts us.

Maybe the core of my Haunting is the scene where I sit on the floor alone in my home drinking. Maybe the real story is not about the night I spent in a mansion and saw a bunch of ghosts, but how I was battling my own ghosts and inner demons at the time. And like the TV show, it isn’t a linear progression so much as a spiral that keeps coming back on itself. It is a narrative that needs unwound in the space of more than one single night to really understand it.

My take away is that tragedy surrounds us when we are isolated. It is only through other people and other narratives that we can move past it. Hell is wandering alone through an empty house. Hell is being stuck in your own mind. If Heaven is the opposite then it must be communing with our loved ones and finding some sense of community through family or friends.

PS As far as I could tell the Black Estate was sold 10 or 20 years ago and most of the stuff in the house was auctioned off recently. Not sure who owns it now.

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Dia De Los Muertos

November 1, 2017 Dia De Los Muertos

Dia De Los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican Holiday celebrated around Halloween. In the 1960s the Mexican government had the Aztec festival declared a National Holiday.  In the Aztec Mythology Mictecacihuatl is the Goddess or Lady of the Dead. She and her husband rule the Underworld—similar to the Greek Hades and Persephone. The Lady of the Dead was born mortal and sacrificed as an infant. Now she watches over the bones of the dead. Each year goods are offered to the dead ancestors, including toys for the little children who have died.  Families decorate graves. Pictures of La Calavera Catrina and Sugar Skull candy are also a part of the festival. Recently, Calavera decorations have become popular. I’ve seen them on clothing and in Halloween make-up. The question is: Are Calaveras Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural Appropriation or misappropriation is a modern form of Colonialism. For example, elements of Hispanic or Latin Culture are borrowed and assimilated into mainstream American Culture. Essentially, this would be White Anglo-Saxon girls dress and Latina girls. Cultural Appropriation is also sports teams using Native American names and symbols. Many people from these Indigenous roots are highly offended and feel as if their culture has been stolen from them. It is no longer special or unique to their people and their history.

There are many instances where I can see how fashion, festivals and other events may be offensive.  Other times, I feel like everyone is overreacting. Someone pointed out that it is usually a matter of intention. Respecting, honoring or celebrating another culture is a good thing. However, if someone who is blatantly racist borrows or steals an element of culture that they openly mock, then yes, it is more than a little offensive and just plain wrong.

There is a thing going around facebook warning parents not to let their girl dress as Moana because it is Cultural Appropriation. I don’t remember anyone getting upset at Princess Jasmine, Pocahontas or Princess Tiana. And what about Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty? Should Non-Caucasian girls avoid them? Disney is American and World Culture. They are already once removed from anything indigenous. Does that mean they shouldn’t try to be all-inclusive or multicultural? Moana and others were added because people complained the Princesses were all white. I say if it is wrong to dress as Moana, it should be wrong to dress as Snow White as well.

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The Haunting of Hill House 1959

February 22, 1999 The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House was a 1959 book by Shirley Jackson. Shirley Jackson was born December 14, 1914 in San Francisco. She had been reading and writing all her life. She moved to New York. She was a lonely person. She went to the University of Rochester and Syracuse University, where she took Creative Writing classes.

Shirley Jackson met Stanley Hymn, who was her mentor. There was problem in her marriage. He was Jewish and from New York. She wasn’t. They had four children.  She wrote in two styles: 1) Family novels and 2) Unexpected Evil in Life.

She is also famous for her short story The Lottery. Some critics love The Lottery and other critics hated it. People were offended by it.  Anyway, she did research on ghost stories before writing the Haunting of Hill House. There was a local house that was supposed to be haunted that had been burned down by the villagers.

Jackson suffered from depression. She was agoraphobic for three years and had panic attacks. She died when she was 65 years old of a heart attack. Her alcohol and prescription drug abuse contributed to her early death.

The Haunting of Hill House was made into a movie in 1963 and again in 1999. The 1963 movie is relatively close adaptation of the book. Did Jackson influence Scooby Doo, which came out in 1969? Eleanora is a daredevil driver and homeless girl similar to Daphne in Scooby-Doo. Theodora is the lighthearted assistant similar to Thelma. Dr. Montague is the occult scholar like Fred. Luke Sanderson is the one is supposed to inherit the house. He is similar to Shaggy (AKA Norville Rogers).

There are 12 letters sent people who had some supernatural experience. There were 4 responses and only 2 people showed up to the house.

     Characters: Eleanor lived with her sister and sister’s husband. She took care of her mother mostly and blamed herself for her mother’s death. She steals her sister’s car. She wanted to have a journey end in a lover’s meeting.  Eleanor is nervous about the trip because she hasn’t been out of the house in a long time. She is secluded or isolated.

She goes to the house on the hill or Hill House to meet Dr. Montague who is going to retire after his Hill House experiment. There are two servants there Mr. and Mrs. Dudley. Mrs. Dudley wears a clean apron and has a suspicious face. Everything must be on a schedule for her. She can’t keep all the rooms up though and refuses to wait on people. She leaves before dark.

Theodora is light and bubbly. She is flaky at times but witty other times. She is a psychic who believes in telepathy.

Luke is a liar and a thief. Luke is there as a part of the price for Dr. Montague. He is an asset to the Haunted House or views the Haunted House as an asset?

Arthur Parker is the friend of Mrs. Montague. He is a headmaster. He is a meat and potatoes man. Straight and narrow.

Mrs. Montague at the end thinks she knows. Eleanor, Theo and Luke don’t know, but she does. She wants to sleep in the nursery and experience the spirits. She is clueless really.

Plot: Eleanor doesn’t like the house from the start. There are strange passage ways and rooms with no windows. (Inspired by the Winchester Mystery House in California 1888-1922?) The house is built at an angle and is off just a little. The inhabitants are off a little as well. People are killed in the house. The guy who lived there had like four wives who all died under mysterious circumstances. One sister fell and one grew sick. Another committed suicide.

Eleanor or Nelly is reading the book Pamela one cold night. People are locked in rooms on this very cold night. There is a strange dog running around through the house. They have discussions on Ghosts vs Poltergeists. They mention Oscar Wilde’s famous story The Canterville Ghost. They talked about the weakness of the human mind. They walk into a rose garden and a blue room. “Help Eleanor come home,” is written in red on the wall. Is it blood? Eleanor is scared when she sees a child being hurt.

There is a mention of Heaven and Hell by Blake. Eleanor and Theo walk down a path with a luminous glow. They run. Arthur Parker and Mrs. Montague show up. In the nursery they witness automatic writing and the use of an Ouija board.

Luke sends Eleanor away even though she doesn’t want to go. Luke went to Paris. Dr. Montague left. The Hill House is still there. Whatever walked there, walked alone. Eleanor didn’t make it. Her car runs into a tree. Did she kill herself?

Point of View: It is mostly from Eleanor’s point of view, but sometimes we get a glimpse into other’s point of view as well.

Setting: It is a realistic setting. The house was built in the late 1800s. The book was written in 1959. The house was not able to be lived in. Outside of Hillsdale. There is beautiful scenery. But then the land decays as it approaches Hill House. The Gate is tall and is padlocked. The house is very much the Gothic Manor. There are signs on the trees that say “Dare” and “Evil.” The house is at an odd angel. It is dark and oppressive and ominous. (Page 67, 75, 81).

Foreshadowing: Phrases on page 44: Mrs. Dudley won’t stay after dark. Page 67: Dr. Montague’s horse bolted and killed someone who was trying to leave. There were two girls upstairs who screamed and Luke and the Doctor didn’t hear.

Symbols: The house is an evil unknown. It plays on the characters and gets into their heads. The Angles of the house create a sense of uneasiness. It also reflects Eleanor’s unstableness. The Animals on the Nursery look like a deer head on the wall. The Oleander is a poisonous plant. There is something secretive in them and drawn to deadly games.

There is blood on the floor that is later not there. What happened to it? Cold spot in front of the nursery. Suicide took place in the tower, which couldn’t be seen in front of the house. The cold spot equals death. Cold can be emotional or physical.

One view is Eleanor gave herself over to the evil power. Another is that it is all in her mind. Yet another view is that the mind creates these physical manifestations.

Being straightforward made Eleanor feel live. She had leave by herself. Eleanor felt like stealing a car because she knew she’d never bring it back.

Hugh Crain built the house. He wrote a book to a daughter—a graphic book. One of them lived in the house after the father died and remained a recluse. The driveway circles the house and kept her and keeps them prisoner. Hugh’s distorted view is reflected in the house and its architecture.

The way the mind works forces them to face their particular fears. Eleanor is afraid of being alone. Theodora is afraid of not being the center of attention. Mrs. Montague is having an affair of Arthur. The house leads us to ask: are some people just born bad?

Several things happen at the brook. Eleanor seems more paranoid after the visit to the brook. Theodora and Luke are friends and leave out Luke. Page 214: Heard “Eleanor” as she held tight to her spot. “Don’t let me go.” “Stay.” Is it the spirit in the house or in her mind? Luke and Theo are calling her. She twisted it into something else.

The theme is not can be explained. The world view comparison between James and Doyle and Jackson. Dr. Montague is trying to explain everything. The scientific method or explanation is thrown out in the end.  The objective riddle by Shirley Jackson was about a wife who was abused by her degrading husband and his work is worth noting for its characterizations.

In The Haunting Mrs. Montague is comic relief. She takes herself seriously, but is completely crazy. Theodora is sarcastic and cruel at the end. The ghosts seem to be separating all of them. Divide and conquer.

Did Eleanor commit suicide or did the ghost drive her to it? How does the movie differ from the book in its portrayal?

 March 2, 1999 The Haunting 1963 Movie

 

The director of The Haunting movie was Robert Wise. He chose black and white. Certain things are always missing from the movie. Watch for what they cut out.

The narrator says, “Hill House, 90 years ago….  Anyone that has ever walked there has walked alone.” Hugh Crain’s wife died on the way there. The horse and carriage ran into a tree.  The daughter Abigail died. The second wife fell down the stairs.  Hugh Crain died in England—he drowned. It is an interesting morph of Abigail from young to old. There is a young companion to take care of Abigail. The old woman died and the young companion inherited the house. The companion then hung herself. There was a distant relative named Mrs. Sansborn who inherited it. Mr. Markway is his name in the movie.  Wife disappears and it is suggested that Luke go to Hill House.

Eleanor begs for the car. There is silly, happy music playing. She yells at her sister to get out. She gets to get the car from the parking garage in a big city. She is happy to go where she is wanted.  They do a voice over of her thoughts.

Hill House is big with huge metal gates. “What do you want?” an Irish voice says. It is Mrs. Dudley. Dudley nearly runs her over while driving in the gate. A foreshadow of her death?

She sees the house with its Medieval Towers, etc. It is huge and spread out. Evil is patiently waiting for me she thought. Mrs. Dudley answers the door and says nothing. She is tall and thin and homely. We see a statue of a cherubim praying. It startles Eleanor when she sees it in the mirror.  Mrs. Dudley leaves before the dark speech.

Theodora comes in through a series of connecting rooms. Mrs. Dudley launches into a repetitive speech as Theodora and Eleanor keep talking to each other. They have an instant connection and friendship. They explore. They can’t open doors. There is coldness and a chill in certain places. Nobody heard the moan but Eleanor (Nell). The house is calling me she thinks.

Dr. Markway appears. He says the door that he opened closed on its own. There is a Ghosts versus Ghoul discussion. There is a purple parlor, but the angles are off. There is a big distortion.  Markway goes into a broom closet and it is funny. One of ladies of the house was a witch. Luke appears and Theo talks about her ESP. There is a mention of the House of Hades. Atmospheric pressure and underground rivers are to blame the Mayor says.

Nell interrupts to say that the neighbors threw the rocks at her house when she was little. Theo guesses or knows somehow that Nell wasn’t upset when her Mom died. She tells Nell that she hasn’t a ghost of a chance.

Theo places Luke at cards. She wins. Nell screams because she thought she was being watched. She has forms to fill out. They discuss telekinesis. Nell was thinking of changing her hair. Theo says she could fix it. Was that too friendly of a conversation? The camera angel looks down on Nell. Then to the floor and pulls back.

Eleanor gets up and says, “All right, mother.” There was a pounding. Theo and Nell hear it as well. It is at the other end of the hall. Both of them act very afraid. Then the noise quits. There are weird camera angles.  They go to the end of the hall and find it very cold. Both of the girls are very afraid.  Markway comes up and the girls are laughing in relief. Markway then chases a dog from the inside of the house to the outside.  Eleanor talks about taking care of her mother all her life.

There is writing in chalk—not in blood or lipstick. It says, “Help, Eleanor. Come home.” Eleanor blamed Theo for it. Theo suggests that she wrote it herself. She says the house did it.

There is a beautiful conservatory and garden. There are big statutes of Hugh Crain and his family. There is a companion statue that looks like Eleanor.  Luke puts the moves on Theo. Theo tells him to keep his hands to himself.

Nell dances and the door flies open. Nell can’t go into the library. It smells. The stairs are where a woman hanged herself. The stairs are shaky and feel like they are about to fall. Nell faints thinking about the suicide tower. Nell has a breakdown. Markway wants to send Nell home.

Later, Theo and Nell are in the same room. Nell paints her toes and drinks brandy. Nell tells lies while she is drinking. She says she has an apartment of her own. Nell doesn’t want to leave Hill House, but Theo thinks she should. They talk about the cold spot in front of the nursery. Is Nell in love with Markway? Nell gets upset and is mad at Theo for suggesting it. Theo says, “I don’t think you killed your Mom.”

Nell goes to bed, but hears crying and laughing coming from the other room. She faces the design in the room. Thinks she hears a ghost hurting a child. Nell yells for it to stop. She wakes up and realizes she was sleeping on the edge of the bed. Whose hand had she been holding?

She sees Markway and a harp playing itself. “Journey’s end when lovers meet,” Nell said as the harp played. Nell says she refused to answer her mother’s knocking and she died, so she blames herself.

Hugh Crain’s memoirs are strange, blunt and dark. Theo keeps reading Nell’s mind, which pisses her off. Theo mentions Tristan and Iseult and how Nell loves Markway. Mrs. Markway shows up. The papers will have a field day she says. Grace says she will join the Ghost Hunt. She foolishly says she will stay in the nursery. Nell begs her not to.

Eleanor is arguing with herself about staying or leaving. Nell and Theo are trying to sleep downstairs. Luke comes downstairs to drink. The door slams loudly behind him. They hear pounding . It stops. The door bulges and moves as if it was breathing.

Dr. Markway runs upstairs to see if his wife is okay. The Pan statue is where the noise was coming from. Nell runs out of the house. It sounds like the house is destroying itself.  She goes up to the nursery, but finds Grace Markway gone. Nell is disappearing into the house. Nell says, “You and I killed her, didn’t we Hugh Crain.”

Nell dances through the halls and goes through the library. There is no cold spot there any longer. She feels like she has broken the spell. She refuses to come down the stairs. Eventually, she reaches the top of the stairs at the tower and leans over the edge. She starts to fall, but Markway pulls her back.

Does Nell see a ghost? She screams. Mrs. Markway is upstairs above them where the trapdoor is. She has to leave now. She confesses that she made up the apartment. She really has nowhere to live. Nell only wants to get Mrs. Markway back now that the house has taken her.

Nell goes down the driveway. Luke is in the car with her. Theo told her to go and be happy. They said their goodbyes. Luke gets out at the gate. Nell drives off alone. The Ghost takes control of the car. She tells it to stop it! Why don’t they stop it? She sees ghosts and wrecks.

The other see from the house and run to see. Nell is dead. Grace shows up. Did Grace kill her or did Eleanor kill herself. Markway says the house in haunted and now Eleanor has to walk alone.

March 2, 1999 The Haunting Book and Movie

There are significant changes to the plot, character and theme. The film uses techniques to set up suspense and showing the house.

Changes are: the doctor’s wife saw a ghost in the movie. They changed the name from Montague to Markway (Marquay). In the book Mrs. M wants to do the job right. In the movie she wants him to come home and away from the nonsense. There is the obvious absence of Arthur from the movie. Jackson doesn’t like the character. He is there as a contrast or as a foil.

The characters pair up differently at one point. In the movie Eleanor likes the doctor and she sense he returns the feelings. The book had her leaning on Luke instead. She is just desperate to belong. Theo and Nell were more competitive for Luke’s attention. The original two sisters in the House are gone from the movie. Theo and Nell double for the two sisters in the book. In the book the sisters were knocking to get attention and Nell’s mother was knocking to get her attention.

The windows of the house look like they are watching people. There are two windows as there are two eyes. The house is always dark and in the shadows. In the book, the rooms of the house were ugly. In the movie they were decorated in flowery wallpaper. There were no open spaces. There were closed drapes and darkness within. The house is very Victorian in that it was full of things and made everyone very claustrophobic. It works against the Gothic conventions.

There are statues of The Innocents and Statues in The Haunting.

Nell sees herself in the mirror and jumps. The last voice says, “We walk alone.” In the book the narrator says that. In the movie, Nell says it. In the movie it is Hugh Crain who wants her. In the book, it is her mother. In the book she is looking for sisterly or motherly attention. In the movie she is looking for male attention.

In the film there was objective narration. In the novel we have a sort of voice over and we get to know the characters through their thoughts. In the movie Theo says she has ESP and reads Nell’s thoughts for us. Nell calls Theo a monster. The Implication is that Theo is a lesbian. Theo has no attraction to Luke, but maybe some to Nell.

Maybe Theo develops feelings for Eleanor and feels jealous over Markway’s (Marque) attention. The book has scenes out of doors. Someone is chasing them. In the movie it is all in doors. There is more concentration on the house itself. The blood is cut out, but there are references to the rabbits and cats. The house is toying with them. Something else has control of the car it seems. It wasn’t suicide.

 

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