mysteries of life and literature

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mysteries of life and literature

Postby mouse on Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:14 pm

i agree with ian - and (i believe) agatha christie. if you are writing something you bill as a mystery, you have to give the readers enough clues that they could solve it themselves (even though you may throw them enough red herrings that they never do)...and it's only fair to give them the answer in the end. this is one of the satisfactions of mysteries as a genre - the knowledge that in the end, it _does_ all work out, the ends are tied up, the guilty are revealed (if not necessarily punished).

and i will agree (somewhat) on the "too horrible for description" complaint (i read a bunch of lovecraft's short stories, and found them repetative and not really terribly scary). i don't think the writer/filmmaker has to give you _everything_ - but they do have to give you something. for example - jaws. you didn't see the shark until well into the movie - but you saw what it _did_, you had indications of what it was like - and it was terrifying. same with the beast on "lost" - we got threw the whole first season without seeing it, but we heard it, and we saw people being snatched up and then dropped as bloody corpses - and it was rather frightening. actually seeing it this season was in some ways rather a letdown - but then again, it was such a strange thing to do what it did...it still leaves room for you imagination.

your imagination is the best thing at making you, personally, afraid - because it knows what you fear most. take lovecraft's description of cthulu, and look at drawings/stuffed critters/etc. made from that. lovecraft was reasonably explicity - the body of a man, with a head like a squid, bat wings, claws - but he left enough open that you can scare yourself with the details you fill in. are you scared of slimy tentacles? bats? things that rend with claw? the wrongness of a human with a non-human head? you are free to emphasize the thing that is most awful to you.

as to mysterious mysteries - while they _can_ draw you to consider the larger mysteries of life, that will happen only if the author is skillful enough to point you in that direction. and if he/she can, i think the reader is not frustrated at not knowing the answer, because they are busy considering the implications of the question.

i recently saw a play like this - "a body of water", by lee blessing. it concerns a man and a woman who wake up one morning in a house on an island, surrounded by water. they have no idea who they are, where they are or why - no idea what relationship they have to each other or why they don't know these things. eventually a young woman arrives and answers their questions...but then it becomes clear that she is playing with them, and in different situations, she tells them different stories. and eventually you realize that this is their life - they have no memory of anything but the day at hand, and we are left with no explanation of who or what or why. but blessing (in my opinion) is skillful enough that i was left pondering the questions of what, exactly, we _do_ know about ourselfs - how much of our memory is selective, how much do we depend on other people to define us...and more practical matters like, thoughts about people with alzheimer's, about how much are memory of ourselves define us. of course, he also made the couple likeable and interesting enough that i came away sure that the more horrible stories the young woman told them couldn't possibly be true, which perhaps helped me be OK with not knowing the "absolute" truth.

anyway...i guess that's more than 2 cents worth, but there you are.
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Re: mysteries of life and literature

Postby Limax on Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:38 pm

mouse wrote:i agree with ian - and (i believe) agatha christie. if you are writing something you bill as a mystery, you have to give the readers enough clues that they could solve it themselves (even though you may throw them enough red herrings that they never do)


Like The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Chuck Dickens, which is a classic example. Personally, I don't read a lot of mysteries because they're all about murder. I haven't found much that aren't... and I know there's more to life than murder. However, it seems to me that mystery and murder have become synonomous, as far as literature is concerned. And don't get me started on King. There was one point where I thought he was really good. However, after attempting to read Cell, I've decided that he should have stayed retired. I noticed that my list of authors that I used to read and don't any more has been growing again recently. (I'm up to about five so far)
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Postby Tim Tylor on Tue Apr 04, 2006 1:21 am

I know what you mean about Lovecraft. I can't decide whether "The Statement of Randolph Carter" is a wind-up or not:

Full text (pdf, courtesy of NoveltyNet)

Condensed version:
Idiot A: My inexplicably frightful studies compel me to go into this old tomb. You wait here.
Idiot B: Okay!
Idiot A (From inside tomb): Oh! It is horrible.
Idiot B: What's horrible? What's horrible?
Idiot A: I cannot speak of it, it is so horrible.
Idiot B: Oh please I wanna know
Idiot A: Wow this is even more horrible, I did not think the cosmos could contain such horribility
Idiot B: Tell-me-tell-me don't be mean please!
Idiot A: This is more horrible yet. It is going to kill me.
Idiot B: I wanna see!
Idiot A:
Idiot B: Did it kill you? Did it kill you?
Voice of The Unshowable: Yep, we killed him, go AWAY.

And he passed the habit on to Arthur Machen:

"... Rachel told her a wild story. She said --

Clarke closed the book with a snap, and turned his chair towards the fire. [A paragraph on how horribly amazing Clarke thought the story was.]
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Re: mysteries of life and literature

Postby Mewtarthio on Sun Apr 09, 2006 9:47 pm

Limax wrote:
mouse wrote:i agree with ian - and (i believe) agatha christie. if you are writing something you bill as a mystery, you have to give the readers enough clues that they could solve it themselves (even though you may throw them enough red herrings that they never do)


Like The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Chuck Dickens, which is a classic example. Personally, I don't read a lot of mysteries because they're all about murder. I haven't found much that aren't... and I know there's more to life than murder. However, it seems to me that mystery and murder have become synonomous, as far as literature is concerned. And don't get me started on King. There was one point where I thought he was really good. However, after attempting to read Cell, I've decided that he should have stayed retired. I noticed that my list of authors that I used to read and don't any more has been growing again recently. (I'm up to about five so far)


The trouble with big-name novelists is that eventually they figure out that any book with their name on it will become a best seller no matter what. I generally try to steer clear of anything that has the author's name so large it looks like the actual title is really a subtitle by comparison. And I definately avoid anything that has the author's name as a literal part of the title (eg Tom Clancy's Evil Terrorism!)
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Re: mysteries of life and literature

Postby Tim Tylor on Sun Apr 09, 2006 11:13 pm

Mewtarthio wrote:The trouble with big-name novelists is that eventually they figure out that any book with their name on it will become a best seller no matter what. I generally try to steer clear of anything that has the author's name so large it looks like the actual title is really a subtitle by comparison. And I definately avoid anything that has the author's name as a literal part of the title (eg Tom Clancy's Evil Terrorism!)


And as for books where the "author" has been exhumed from her rightful rest and shot full of zombie-juice by a greedy estate...
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Postby Limax on Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:33 am

Same goes for Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.
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On Mystery: Long and irrelevant, but it comes with a salad.

Postby AisA on Tue Apr 11, 2006 4:49 am

I've avoided posting on the latest Tribune as I thought it was rather subjective and didn't see any necessity to start a pissing match over something irrelevant. However, having been assured by Ian that EVERYTHING we argue about is irrelevant, I'll offer this:

The connection drawn here between the story "Colorado Kid" and the work of Lovecraft is tenuous at best, and unfair to the work of either author.
In CK, King is taking a point of view that some mysteries are, essentially, unsolvable. There are too many possibilities and too many unknowns to ever put together a complete picture. And then, when you have what appears to be the facts, you still don't have a complete picture. This was not a potboiler about a series of events, but an exploration of the nature of mystery itself, as well as a look at the people who investigate mystery and, like Ian, can sometimes be dissatisfied with the answers they get. To view it in a purely narrative light and dismiss it on those grounds is to miss the point entirely. While I grant that it is far from King's best work, it is at least an honest attempt and a refreshing change from this author.

Lovecraft, on the other hand, wrote most often about the "ineffable", the things that, even though they may be revealed, we cannot understand or fully grasp with our limited set of concepts. Thus, his Cthulhu is seen by the sailors, but their minds are unable to accept the conjunction of elements that compose him/it, and it is the fact of having their minds blasted outside of their own view of reality that drives them mad. Granted, this made for a nice little narrative tool for H.P. in many of his shorter stories, but it was also an expression of a worldview and his particular philosophy of life and horror. As such, it is a different creature from the type of mystery King talks about in CK in that it is a (fictionalized, exaggerated) challenge to the limits of perception and thinking rather than merely an unsolved sequence of events. King's mystery is knowable, but unknown. Lovecraft's is known, but incomprehensible.

Blair Witch on the other hand....in my opinion one of the better horror movies in recent years...is another type of mystery again. This is simply a story based on the fear of "what's out there", which is a very primitive impulse of the human animal, leading to the creation of such boundary pushing tools as the campfire, maps of the new world, science fiction, SETI, and god. This story reminds me not so much of either CK or Lovecraft as it does of Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks", of which it could easily be called a loose adaptation. The intended effect of this mystery is to produce fear from being in an alien environment, unable to identify the thing that is growling outside your circle of light. It might be human, animal or some unimaginable beast, but because it is unseen, you do not know, and so your imagination fills in the details, and your imagination is crueler than any reality. The result is like putting your hand under a mossy tree root and feeling something move without being able to see it...you don't know what it is, but don't want to leave your hand in there to find out. Pure animal instinct/response.

So, Ian, in short (oops...too late for that), I'll say that your argument doesn't hold water just because you don't clarify your terms well enough. You're mixing apples with oranges with ineffable monstrosities, and that makes for one crazy fruit salad.
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But furthermore...

Postby Connacek on Fri Apr 14, 2006 12:23 pm

First of all, great comic today... "If I knew I was gonna be seduced, I'd have shaved..."
How many times I'VE said that. (Luckily, though, I've never HEARD it said to me before...)

Secondly: Making the statement that CK is unsatisfactory in kind of the way that Lovecraft can sometimes be is not really comparing; the reference to Lovecraft's "ineffable" tendency is like saying, "He sauntered into the room like Cher with an empty bottle of tequila." It doesn't imply other similarities between the saunterer and a drunken Cher... just that he walked "about like that". Of course it's apples and oranges and Chthulhu... it's... um... one of those things that's meant to imply other things. (Dang! And up until that point, my english teacher was smiling and nodding enthusiastically.)
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Postby Ian McDonald on Sun Apr 16, 2006 6:33 pm

To my dear AisA: first off, I'm glad that The Colorado Kid and The Blair Witch Project worked for you. I really wanted to like both of these as well, but both came up short for me. But I'm sorry, I do think my comparison of these two items as well as Lovecraft are valid. In all 3 cases I was examining how something important was missing from each, thus making them unsatifying to me.

Actually, I will concede your point on Lovecraft in that you are right, he doesn't fully describe the monstrosities in his stories, because they are supposed to be beyond human comprehension. Fair enough. But the problem is that he may have gone to that well once too often, thus turning a neat idea into an overused plot device.... one which I parodied in this strip.

As I said, I understood what King was trying to go for in Colorado Kid. I just don't think he did a terribly good job of it, for reasons I've already explained. As for Blair Witch, to me, the filmmakers copped out, by using the oldest (and to me, one of the lamest) of horror plot devices: we won't show you the mosnster: Use Your Imagination! But as I say, I'm glad both worked for you. Your opinions haven't changed my mind, any more, I'm sure, than my opinions of these works changed yours.

BTW, I don't believe in pissing contests, but differing opinions are always welcome on this board, especially if they're well-thought out, as was yours (for a change :wink: ).

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Postby AisA on Mon Apr 17, 2006 8:45 am

Ian McDonald wrote:BTW, I don't believe in pissing contests, but differing opinions are always welcome on this board, especially if they're well-thought out, as was yours (for a change :wink: ).

Later,
Ian


OK...it's on. You know it's on now!!!

Seriously, though...I will still take issue with your point about Lovecraft and his having "gone to that well once too often", rebutting with a crack on the knuckles with a wooden ruler and a recommendation to go and read "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/superhor.htm). I'll also point you to such works as Herbert West: ReAnimator, The Lurking Fear and Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, in which the horror is very present and throughly effable (er....ok, give me that word, I don't know if it's real). I suspect that Lovecraft's reputation suffers from a plague of imitators...try parsing the work of Clark Ashton Smith sometime (bring Excedrin!)... and the success of some of his more popular pieces...The Colour Out of Space and Call of Cthulhu.
If Lovecraft's work suffers from anything, I think that it is an excess of verbiage that dismays most modern readers who live in the truncated world of James Patterson's five page chapters and netspeak like OMG, BRB and ROTFLMAO, which leaves one largely unprepared to parse such poetic turns of phrase as "She lived in a phosphorescent palace of many terraces, with gardens of strange leprous corals and grotesque brachiate efflorescences, and welcomed me with a warmth that may have been sardonic", so it is easier to dismiss the work itself as being incomprehensible. This, of course stemmed from the word rate of the pulp magazines at the time, no less than it did from his veneration of Poe, next to whose florid constructions, Lovecraft's language is made to look positively exiguous.
Still, your opinions are valid, in that they are your opinions. Like Douglas Adams's electric monk, you can believe any fool thing you like, including the possibility that thirty five percent of all tables are hermaphrodites. Which opinion I would treat with equally as much veracity. 8^P
But I won't argue the value of King's book any further, as, although I grasped it's intent a little more firmly, I do not think it was one of his better works...certainly not as gripping and well constructed as, say, "Pet Semetary" (ooohhh....the cat is back from the DEAD!!!!)...and barely deserves the support I have given it to date. I throw its battered carcass to your pit of lions; do with it what you will.
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