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Waiting in line for Isabel Allende to sign my son’s copy of La Isla Bajo Del Mar, I struck up a conversation with a fellow lit-fan who was clutching a copy of a Russian grammar.   She was planning to visit Russia shortly with her husband and wanted at least to learn the alphabet and a few elementary phrases.  It turned out she was widely traveled, and had spent the cusp of the millennium in Arequipa, Peru with a group of curanderos on the summit of the Misti volcano.

We discussed the ephemera of the event; the rituals performed, the incantations spoken, and the atmosphere generated.  However, I completely missed the opportunity to ask her what the experience meant to her.  It would have been very interesting to hear why a pagan would find it significant to celebrate an event calibrated according to a Christian calendar.   I remain highly interested in non-Christians’ appraisals of Jesus Christ, and of His significance to them.

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I have been reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and it is good beyond hope.  Over and over again, I found myself saying to myself, “This is a comic book, how can this possibly be as good as it is?”  It was the first time in  a long time when something surpassed the expectations that I had of it, or the rumours of its quality.

The Sandman is the best Gaiman I have read to date.  The narratives related in the  comics have a non-Euclidean, surreal quality to them that is unlike anything outside actual dreams.  Uncannily, dreams have been propelled into the forefront of my attention lately due to some striking dreams that have occurred [and been fulfilled] in my wife’s family, and to a reading of Pavel Florovsky’s Iconostasis, which deals extensively with dreams, non-waking states of consciousness, and iconography.

More on all of this much later, but I would like to take the time to especially recommend Sandman issues #15, #19, and #50.  They are as good as any imaginative literature I have ever read.  Interestingly, first editions of  the magazines are still available on Ebay for very reasonable prices.  I have always daydreamed about a collection of first editions of the works of the Inklings.  Uncirculated first editions of Tolkien and Lewis are now running into the four digits, but if I ever had such a collection, I would not be at all hesitant to add the Sandman comics to it.   Even in that mighty company, they would not be ashamed.

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His art was very, very sexy, but I was virginally unaware of that.  When I heard of his repose, I thought back on all of the covers he drew for the Ace editions of the Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars books, the Pellucidar books, the Carson of Venus books, and the Tarzan books.  His men were creatures of high testosterone, brandishing swords and exploding with muscular virility.  His women were feminine,  curvy, and jaw-droppingly beautiful without ever appearing weak or dependent.   One look at Duare facing off against the tharban on the cover of Escape On Venus, and you knew this woman meant business.

He also illustrated the covers for the Robert E. Howard Conan books,  Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser collections, and a number of heavy metal album covers, where his beefy aesthetics were widely appreciated.

Although he was never tapped to illustrate anything from the Tolkien mythos, I believe he would have drawn a marvelous Beren, Boromir, or Aragorn.  When I got older, and began to appreciate fantastic art for its own sake, I found I preferred Boris Vallejo. Nevertheless, it was very sad to hear about the passing of this great artist yesterday.

May you rest in peace, Frank Frazetta.

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Update – Frazetta did draw some Tolkien illustrations. Now that I see them, I remember having seen them back in the 70s. I must have thought they were Bakshi’s.

Thank you Mr. Herron


The title is from DH Lawrence – oh, the things you find on the Internet:

Some considerable time ago, I commented on something that I had gleaned from a reading of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods; that is, that America was a poor place for mythology, that we lacked the deep psychic topsoil that nourished our European forebears.  I remember reading somewhere about a Finnish poet who lived in a house where his family had lived and farmed for the past 900 years.  I can only the imagine the poetry that would emerge from such an intimate congress between soil and DNA.

America has poets, quite good ones, but the American story has yet to be told, really.  Some works have come damned close:  The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, The Magnificent Ambersons, On The Road, these spring to mind immediately as coming close to American mythopoeia.  But DH Lawrence seems to intimate that we still have to atone for our sins:

When you are actually in America, America hurts, because it has a powerful disintegrative influence upon the white psyche. It is full of grinning, unappeased aboriginal demons, too, ghosts, and it persecutes the white men, like some Eumenides, until the white men give up their absolute whiteness. America is tense with latent violence and resistance. The very common sense of white Americans has a tinge of helplessness in it, and deep fear of what might be if they were not common-sensical.

[W]hen one comes to America, one finds that there is always a certain slightly devilish resistance in the American landscape, and a certain slightly bitter resistance in the white man’s heart. Hawthorne gives this. But Cooper glosses it over.  The American landscape has never been at one with the white man. Never. And white men have probably never felt so bitter anywhere, as here in America, where the very landscape, in its very beauty, seems a bit devilish and grinning, opposed to us.

Moralists have always wondered helplessly why Poe’s ‘morbid’ tales need have been written. They need to be written because old things need to die and disintegrate, because the old white psyche has to be gradually broken down before anything else can come to pass.

So there you have  it;  the strength of the hills is not in us because they are not yet our hills, except by legal fiction [I use this term consciously].  America bestrides the earth like a colossus, and appears immeasurably strong – the last superpower and all of that, but the strength is the waning strength of modernism and abstraction.   I fear this strength will fail in the crucible, that it will be a brittle strength.

I wonder how this strength compares with the imaginative fecundity of Latin American letters, where the fantastic and the real rub cheek to jowl (and not only imaginative fecundity – it doesn’t take any prescience to predict what are the comparative futures of two societies where the average age of one is 38 and increasing, and the average age of the other is 22 and dropping).  The dominant myth of Iberian America is one of mixture and synthesis, whereas the predominant myth north of the Rio Grande is replacement and surveying.

Note – My knowledge of South African history is next to nil.  I have been informed that when the first European settlers, the ancestors of the Voortrekkers, arrived in the Cape Colony, the land was empty.   The Bantu had not yet arrived.  Nobody took South Africa away from anybody.  Everybody just collided, sort of. Steve, if you can add anything to this, I would be extremely grateful.

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams