The Silkworm - JK Rowling

I just finished the latest crime series novel by JK Rowling.


The woman continues to show her ability to write a good plot hook AND fill the book with her own twisted morality.

This is why I refuse to give the woman monetary support by buying her novels (I only read library copies or borrow from friends) and her other book merchandise tie-ins.

Her latest post Harry Potter character, Cormoran Strike, is very interesting if a bit of a paper doll. Ever eager to toady to the latest politically correct cause, Rowling has made her new hero a war veteran.  He even lost his leg in action.  Despite making a big deal how scarred her character is due to his war experiences, the Strike books (both this novel and the previous The Cuckoo's Calling) NEVER make any comment on Afghanistan/Iraq wars.  Strike never has an opinion on the validity of the wars.  He never has an opinion on the politicians who are war hawks.  His war experience only comes up to extort sympathy from the reader.  Rowling plays the "Lets Support the Troops!" card but is too cowardly or craven to take a stand for or against wars against Muslims.

Her female characters are also wildly off kilter.  The lead female, Strike's assistant Robin, is very smart and resourceful.  She is woefully saddled with a pill of a fiance.  But she has a fiance and that is important!  Robin is surrounded by broken female characters who are suffering from hysteria mostly due to having no strong male husbands or boyfriends.  Rowling has Strike call one major character limited simply because she never married, had children or had numerous lovers.  This character is also portrayed as manly and unattractive.  Of course ugly people don't have sex and therefore suffer hysteria and major psychotic breaks from it!  It doesn't matter that said character had developed her own business and a place in high society strata.  In Rowling's world lack of penis in vagina makes you limited.  The woman is positively victorian in her outlook.

But she is good in planning a story and a hook.  The mystery story line kept me guessing and the clues were very nicely placed.  Rowling is also an ace at the misdirect ploy.

I just wish she would come out of the conservative closet and be what she is not pretend to be liberal. I could respect her more that way.


More Past

My last post had me remembering my babyhood in the 70's.  I found the above video short filmed in the 70's.  Aside from Guiliani/Bloomberg homogenization there is not too much difference between then and now.  But the faces have changed, there was a unpretentious quality to folks back then.  Unlike now, the city seems filled with posers.

On a side note, I can't believe the clothing.  It looks as if the ugly clothing donation truck made a drop off and everyone grabbed something to wear.  I like the 70's time period but this film reminds me that most times people were stuck with some really awful clothing.


Out of the Past

I was wandering around the web, when I got into a kick about NYCB history and Gelsey Kirkland.  That was when I stumbled upon these pics.  They were old promotional photos about the Kirkland baby ballerina sisters at NYCB circa 1970.  BUY them HERE!  There are even a few of Balanchine posing with them.

Its been awhile since I've read Gelsey Kirkland's autobiography, at the time I think Balanchine was trying to sell them as a sister act (to the annoyance of both sisters).  This is just before Gelsey exploded into superstardom.

On a darker note, I can't believe how much Gkirk messed with her face.  These photos were also before she began experimenting with numerous plastic surgery procedures.  She was just barely 16 at the time and pushed into adulthood way too fast.  Its saddening that there were no adults to help her out during that difficult time.


Lets Scare Jessica To Death

As a child of the 70's there are movies in which the whole generation shares as touchstones of pure terror.  One of them was the hallowed Don't be Afraid of the Dark.  Which used to play regularly on the late Saturday Afternoon feature flick.  Sometimes as the Friday 8pm movie.  Whenever a network needed to fill the airwaves.  I guess no one cared that it ran during prime hours for kids.  Hence a whole generation was traumatized by little demons calling for Kim Darby's Sally.  Other movies included in this shared terror were Trilogy of Terror (the voodoo doll simultaneously hilarious and terrifying), Burnt Offerings (the chauffeur, sweet gods the CHAUFFEUR!) and Night of the Living Dead.

Lets Scare Jessica To Death was also included in this group as well.  However, luckily for my childhood psyche, I missed it when it was on the air.  After scaring a generation of 70's children, it disappeared for years on end.  It was no longer aired on television, it had a small VHS release to no fanfare.  It appeared briefly on DVD but then disappeared once more.  Recently, in the past year, it surfaced on Itunes and Amazon to frighten a whole new generation of film fans.

So I decided to rent it and check out if it lived up to its hype.

Oh fates...it did...it did.

The film is very low Fi, practically no special effects.  There is just one jump scare.  Strangely, it isn't a film that you can claim terrifies in a conventional sense.  It is a monster movie without the monster.  It is a haunting without ghosts.  What the film manages to invoke in viewers is completely through subliminal visual and audio tricks.  Despite nothing really wicked being shown (until the climax), the film is a study in paranoia.  It creeps up on fans until we, like the heroine, are jumping at the slightest shadow.

All of this can work because the film has complete faith in the talent of its actors particularly Zohra Lampert.  I don't want to discuss the plot really because that would give far too much away.  Just rent it as soon as possible for a scary good time.


"The Wren...Oh the Wren is the King of all Birds" - Eyes Wide Shut

The wren, the wren, the King of All Birds,
On Saint Stephen's Day he was caught in the furze.
Although he is small his family is great.
Come out, good lady, and give us a treat!

Although I do like Kubrick's work there are a few films of his that I just can't like.  2001 A Space Odyssey will always make me run screaming for an exit.  I can't stand that film.  Until recently Eyes Wide Shut had the same effect on me.  But now I can say it is an intriguing film.  It represents, in my opinion, Kubrick's return to the horror genre.  It appears to be a loose sequel to The Shining.

Like The Shining there are a great many fantastic analysis of the film from Jeffrey Scott Bernstein, Tim Kreider, and Rob Ager.  The more arcane and paranoid analysis can be found on Vigilant Citizen.

Aside from all those great essays, I really have nothing more to add except for an element not commonly discussed and the reason why I think this film is related to The Shining.  Both films are modern plays on old celtic and christian mythology.  Kubrick enjoyed layering his films with old mysticism buried under modernism.  In The Shining, the retelling of the The Wild Hunt/Cernunnos/Jack O' Green was encoded into the film.  It was an eerie sub-message that indicated to the audience that the ghostly elite worshipped ancient, bloody gods.  The same mysticism is in this film.

It takes place during the same time of year and the elite are up to their old tricks.  There is a key difference.  The pagan imagery of Christmas is ever present.  The Torrance family were without protection of the Evergreen tree.  The Harfords are surrounded by Christmas trees but these trees are bereft of giving protection.  Why?  The film equates the trees with prostitution/slavery, debauchery, and greedy consumerism.  Kubrick argues that the greed that has taken over our culture has destroyed the power of evergreen protection during the winter solstice.

Follow the Wren

The Wren is a sacred bird in many ancient myths.  The Native Americans believed it was magical and one of the powerful trickster gods.  But I believe Kubrick was more inspired by the darker Druid myth in England.  It was said that young Druids, at the winter solstice, would go on a quest to find the nest of the wren.  An almost impossible task because Wrens are known to build false nests in order to hide their real home (hence the reason why Wrens are so sacred to many cultures).  If the Druid managed to find the wren, he would be celebrated throughout the new year as a wise man.  Later on the Wren quest became considerably more macabre with groups called the Wren boys killing a wren then hauling its carcass door to door to sell its feathers.

Can you see the connection now?

The Wren in this film are the various ladies in the film:  Mrs. Harford, the drug addict Mandy, doomed prostitute Domino, The Rainbow Girl, the masked woman and even the Harford's daughter Helen.

Bill Harford's journey is started by his wife who startles him when she reveals the "false nest", that she has sexual desire for other men.  This destroys Bill's image of her and their family life.  It sets him off to find a true woman.  But instead what he discovers are more subjugated women, more slaves.  Each women is another false nest until he reaches his rainbow's end at Somerton mansion.  In that nightmare world the elite practice black magic and blood sacrifice.  Bill is pegged as their sacrifice until the true Wren gives herself up for him.  Because of her sacrifice Bill is set on a new, wiser journey...to save the women he met on his previous quest.  However each women slips past him into ever more danger.  All of them, like the masked woman, become sacrificial wrens.  Domino discovers that she is HIV positive, the Rainbow Girl is now being sold outright by her father (or is he really her father...hints point to him being an Eastern European white slave trader), and Mandy dies of drug overdose.  The last sacrifice is Bill's own hard earned knowledge about society and his place in it.  His own wife tells him to forget it all even while their own daughter becomes embroiled in consumerism and vanity.

Unlike the Druid in the old myths, Bill does not become wiser instead he closes his eyes to reality.


The Songs of My People?

When you are adopted, your family and its definition expands into interesting territory.  At first, I made no claim to anything else than what I was...Athabaskan.

But since no one ever knew who Athabaskan were (except if my fellow conversationalist was Canadian or Russian or an Alaskan), everyone just thought I was Inuit or Eskimo.

This annoyed me as a child, because my part of the Indian family tree barely resembled them culturally.   After awhile I would just accept the "like an Eskimo" comments even though my ancestors were considerably further south than the arctic circle.

It was hard for me to accept allegiance to my extended, adopted roots.  Even though I was smashed into their corner as well.  My Great Grandmother found it easy to claim my heritage.  It made her thrice-first...she claimed English Pilgrim heritage, New Amsterdam Dutch heritage and through me Native Alaskan.  All first people in the Americas.  It was only natural in her mind.

Of course she was still thinking about the WASP glory years.  The ancestors who carved that city on the hill, that Protestant nation of good sense.  The Dutch gumption to live out their years amongst the Natives desperately trying to forestall the English encroachment.

To this day I both laugh when I recognize WASP in jokes and I cringe as well.  Being WASP or related to them does not hold the allure it once had.  Not even when my Great Grandmother was still alive.  They were on their downward spiral.  The one thing they have in common with my Native Ancestors is that they are going extinct.

And who wants to claim a background that has been iconized by hated villains such as Daisy Buchanan or Gloria Upson in popular culture?

My mother solved this dilemma by emphasizing her Irish side more than the WASP remnant.  She saddled me with an Irish name which further confused everyone around me.  In high school, I would just let my classmates stew with trying to put together the Native American...Irish...Italian designations.  I would stifle my laughter when they came up empty.

Growing up with Irish means you have to grow up with the drunkard jokes.  Unlike my Great-Grandmother being thrice blessed in her heritage I was thrice cursed.  I could claim allegiance to the three biggest drunkard heritages in all the world, Native American, WASP and Irish.  Its amazing how relatively sober I am.  Even so, I feel the affinity for alcohol and its easy answer for dealing with problems.

Another thing growing up with Irish relatives...you get used to the DOOM.   On one hand my WASP grandfather would push the stiff upper lip, gracious smiles and my Mother's side had the ALL IS LOST funks.  Lets say, I totally understand Eugene O'Neill and his headspace.  Hysteria R' US, indeed.  And yet popular culture totally ignores the gloominess and pushes the simpleton Dances with Leprechauns stereotypes over the Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Darby O'Gill...I remember watching it during a Sunday TV special.  My grandfather muttering under his breath and the rest of us ignoring him.  The banshee scenes were up there with my all time greatest film induced trauma moments.

Another mixed feeling I have with the Irish is their veneration of the Kennedy clan.  Then again not all feel that way.  I remember my Grandmother never failing to add that they were good for nothing bootleggers.  But I can still see why they were so idolized, storming WASP bastions and aping their lifestyle.  Which upper class Irish never fail to follow in those footsteps.  I always wondered why.  Why emulate people who called you apes?

The Italian side...doesn't hold as much sway over me as the rest.  If my Grandfather muttered about the Irish, you can only imagine his one sided conversations about the Italians.  The one thing I remember from the Italian side is that letting everyone know how you felt was not considered a sin.  This is totally anathema to the WASP or Irish way of dealing with problems.  It is anathema for the Native Americans as well.  I recently read that Native American culture felt that being emotional or showing emotions was low class and irrational.  Hence the stone face portraits galore.  But it also explains their gravitation toward alcohol.  The same impetus shared by WASPs and the Irish.  So being able to speak my mind was always just a far flung dream for me.  I didn't understand my Italian relatives.

The food was great though and there was plenty of it.  No boring baked potatoes or bland mush at the Italian table.  Heaven is Italian food.

However claiming the Italian part of the family was no easier than the rest.  American culture up until the 1980's was all about how Italians were incredibly violent and prone to gangsterism.

I hated The Godfather for many, many years.  But now it is a relic from a more distant past, I can appreciate it now.  I never forget the cannoli either....


As a young person, I never claimed common ties with any of my people.  But the influences are there and as I get older they come out.  All of them have been a big force in forging my personality.  As an old or older person, I find that I have to make peace with the warring heritages of my family.  I have to accept who they were, who they are and why I am because of them.  On one hand I am Native American who were the first in America and on the other hand I have family who took land from Native Americans.  On one side I have family who ruled culture and politics since the Pilgrims on another side I have family who were reviled as being of lesser stock.  As you can see it all messes with the mind and I have to come to grips with it.  Yet to deny any of them would be a crime.  How can you deny family?  It can't be done.


The Torture of the Elements - Now You See Me

Now You See Me was a film that I just recently watched despite being released about a year ago.  I caught part of it on cable and it intrigued me enough to borrow it from the library.  This film was also written up on the Vigilant Citizen site.  This site does have interesting insights on arcane imagery but all too often it collapses into a dead weight of hysteria.  VC goes into Illuminati rigamarole but let me tell you, I think the film's intent is more pedestrian and more disturbing than a big commentary on secret groups.

First things first about Alchemy.  I don't believe at its heart that it has dark intentions.  All of my readings point to it being a belief system about enlightenment much like Buddhism.  Its tenets are about finding balance and bliss in life.

This is not the Alchemy we see in films and books.  I see the exact opposite.  In the Harry Potter series, the alchemical hero, Harry, engages in torture and attempted manslaughter.  But he is still held up to be a man of pure love, worthy of worship.  The same occurs in the film Prometheus, David8 is the alchemical hero but murders the boyfriend of his future Soror Mystica, Elizabeth.  The film implies heavily that he is blameless because he is a slave of the Saturn figure in the film.  Yet, the film also keeps implying that he has free will.

In Now You See Me, the film plays heavily with story elements stolen from The Count of Monte Cristo.  But unlike the far superior Dumas novel, the film subverts Dumas' moral denouncement of revenge.  The hero of Dumas' tale destroys himself in the process of his revenge, the alchemical hero of Now You See Me achieves Quintessence with true love as his reward!

This film celebrates revenge and announces to the viewer that it is a noble pursuit along with robbery.  The practice of revenge is far from the tenets of Alchemy that champions emotional and mental balance.

Entering the Cave

The film begins with an introduction of the four elements and the hidden alchemist.  In order to achieve quintessence the alchemist balances and harnesses the power of the elements.   Above the 4 is the Tria Prima: Mercury, Sulphur and Salt.  The union of those three leads to the union of the red king and the white queen  leading to the birth of the philosopher's stone/child/quintessence/true love.

The hidden alchemist chooses 4 magicians each representing the 4 elements.

Fire - J. Daniel Atlas -The Lovers card
Water - Henley Reeves - The High Priestess card
Air - Merritt McKinney - The Hermit card
Earth - Jack Wilder - Death card

Why did I decide upon these designations for each of these characters?  In the case of J. Daniel and Henley they are presented as the quarreling lovers.  In this film there are two sets of lovers, two Red Kings and two White Queens.  One set actually reaches quintessence at the end of the film.  But in the case of J and Henley their journey, or chemical marriage, has not occurred by the end of this film.  There are rumors that there will be a sequel (my bet is on two sequels) and their ultimate union will be the main story arc for the rest of the films.  I give them the fire and water designation because when these elements finally unite they herald harmony and union of all 4 elements.

Merritt and Jack, I had to think awhile about their designations.  The film is tricky with their visual symbols.  Both display characteristics of the god Mercury and his metal quicksilver.  My final decision rests on the simple fact that Merritt (played by Woody Harrelson) is the more important character, he is also an impish conductor of disharmony between BOTH sets of lovers.  He also has more interaction with J and Henley completing the first iteration of the Tria Prima. Therefore he became the element Air with Jack taking on the role of Earth.

The Alchemist leads them to a dark apartment.

The concept of the cave or castle is that it represents the oven in which the Alchemist tortures/transforms the elements.  The apartment in this film represents the first heating to purify the elements to form them into the stone.  The major symbol that this is so, is the presence of the white rose.  The rose represents the Albedo stage of the great work, it represents the purity that the cooking of the elements aspires to and it also symbolizes the chemical marriage between the Red King and White Queen.

The Nigredo - The First Magic Show

The Nigredo stage represents the death stage.  The film frequently mentions the supposedly doomed Lionel Shrike who died during a Houdini inspired magic trick that had gone horribly wrong.  The figure of Houdini also resides in the film's nemesis, Thaddeus Bradley.  Bradley makes a living debunking magician tricks much like Houdini's quest to debunk spiritualism.  Now why the film makes much ado about a former magician explaining magician tricks really makes no sense.  Since magic shows are built on the fact that everything is sleight of hand and part of the challenge is for the audience to figure out how the trick was done.

The reason why the nemesis is a black man is due to another Alchemical symbol called the Black King or the Ethiopian.  The Black King is the foremost symbol of the Nigredo stage.  He is the stone in its initial state, waiting to be purified.  This film also showcases another King, Old King Saturn, who is Arthur Tressler.  King Saturn is mostly shown in artwork as an old man with a scythe, he is a figure that creates and destroys.

Each round of the stage show highlights how each magician or element begin to work together more harmoniously.  But the real changes are shown in the chemical marriage between the two couples, J Daniel/Henley and Dylan/Alma.  The chemical marriage is the marriage of opposites so frequently alchemical tales have a warring couple.  Out of the two couples the J Daniel/Henley is the most important.  As mentioned before,the film is playing upon the tria prima factor with J Daniel representing sulphur or heart, Henley representing Salt or body and Merritt representing Mercury or Mind.  Usually the tria prima showcases the red king and white queen as representing Sulphur (male) and Mercury (female) with their "rival" falling away as the sulphur and mercury unite.  This film argues that it is J Daniel who must learn to trust Merritt in order reunite with Henley as a more deserving partner.  If there are sequels, the love triangle between all of them will take center stage.  Ultimately J Daniel will make a sacrifice for all his fellow magicians that will herald the philosopher's stone and win him Henley's love.

Now in regards to the actual magic show, it represents the Nigredo as a burial.  A king figure is "buried" in a vault of riches.

The Albedo - The Second Magic Show

The second couple of Dylan and Alma kick off the chemical marriage of the albedo stage.  In artwork the couple is usually shown making love, dying, being buried then to rise and be reborn.  Time is a very important indication in Alchemy.  So the fact that 4 Horseman are performing their 2nd show during Mardi Gras is important.  According to Brian Cotnoir in The Weiser Concise Guide to Alchemy, the spring equinox is the height of the great work, the center of the chemical marriage.

The conductor of this process is the Air element which is why Merritt is shown as an instigator of trouble for J Daniel and Henley on their plane trip to New Orleans and he is the main magician in the second show.  The film also shows more albedo symbols such as the clouds the Horseman's plane flies above, the bubble trick that impresses the audience of the second show, and more examples of Merritt's mentalism.

The sacrifice of the King Saturn figure, Tressler, is an indication that elements have achieved conjunction and it is clear that Dylan and Alma have fallen in love.

The Rubedo - The Third Magic Show

Now that the elements have been united, the philosopher's stone is ready to be born.  The indication for the rubedo however is not solely showcased in the last magic show.  The film has a red death in which the audience thinks that Jack Wilder dies in a bid to save the other Horseman.  Wilder dies in an inferno representing the final fire uniting the couple of opposites.

The last 3 Horseman, the Tria Prima, conduct the final show.  Their sacrifice is giving up fame and fortune for the mysterious Eye.   There is also an indication that Mercury/Merritt and Sulphur/J Daniel have come to an understanding if not outright friendship.

The final stage, the philosopher's stone of the film, is the reveal of the 5th Horseman...the Quintessence.  Who turns out to be none other than police officer Dylan Rhodes.


Unfortunately, as most films using Alchemy, the creators thought that merely showing the steps and symbols of Alchemy shows character growth.  They think the symbols will do everything thereby letting characterization fail.  This is why Rowling can think Harry Potter is a symbol of pure love while he commits questionable actions.  It is also why Dylan Rhodes of this film can be the embodiment of the Philosopher's Stone while committing illegal acts and encouraging others to do the same.  Instead of being a force for love and enlightenment, he is a figure of revenge.  His rage at the loss of his father justifies his crimes.  Alchemy is about letting go of desires such as revenge and emotions such as rage.  It is about love for humanity and forgiveness of faults.  But the creators of the story can't see this, since they did their paint by numbers Alchemy kit.

Therefore we see Dylan being rewarded with true love and reunited with his Queen, Alma.  To drive the fact that they are so wonderful...the philosopher's stone...Alma decides not to report Dylan's crimes.

As for the Horseman?  They will get a sequel which will represent the Albedo stage of the work.  Alchemy is a circle, the tracts state that to truly achieve the stone, the great work must be repeated 3 times.  Each cycle represents a more purified stone.

Nigredo Cycle - Now You See Me
Albedo Cycle - Now You See Me 2
Rubedo Cycle - Now You See Me 3

References for this essay:
Lyndy Abraham - A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery
Brian Cotnoir - The Weiser Concise Guide to Alchemy
Dennis William Hauck - The Complete Idiot's Guide to Alchemy