Monday, June 21, 2010

The Monsters and Geniuses I Have Just Read

I've been a bit under the weather lately and not feeling quite good enough to write much but good enough to get quite a bit of reading done, here it tis.
yet another piece by the late great Frank Frazetta, it relates specifically to this weeks topic.

The Mothman Prophecies, by John Keel
If you have seen the movie-forget it.
It has got nothing on John Keel's writing, the man is brilliant, funny, entertaining and thoroughly thought provoking. The book does recount the events in 1967-68 at Point Pleasant, West Virginia when people started seeing "the Mothman" and details these absurd frightening events with a style that is a joy to read. Along with the Mothman are Men in Black, UFO's and a host of spine tingling weird.
There is the dramatic buildup to the tragedy of the Silver Bridge (which was in the movie-it really happened)
I have come away thinking Keel is closer to the truth than anyone-just my 2 bits.
This is the second time I have read the book and it stands up-I know I will read it again someday, but for now I am just going to borrow the Mothman for a current writing project.Demonology/News from Scotland, by King James I of England
When James wrote this he was not yet the King of England-just King James the VI of Scotland, still it makes for interesting reading if you can blaze through Shakespeare you can make it through this. My copy is still rendered so that Devil reads as deuill and many more things that beg an editors hand-but I did read it. James had a preoccupation with Witches and their being out to get him-so this is a primer in how to be wary of them. The News From Scotland section deals with the capture and execution of a sorcerer known as Dr. Fain.
Demonology itself reads similar to a wide variety of evangelical works that are out today that paraphrase scripture, show an example from say Exodus (Witch of Endor) and then an example for the current era in this case 1597. Reading it, I couldn't help but think how little people have really changed. Whether that's good or bad I'll let you decide.

Chronicles of Conan 16: The Eternity War by John Buscema, J.M. DeMatteis, Roy Thomas
Much like collection 15, I am not terribly impressed with DeMatteis' writing-it's not bad mind you, its just not great. Roy Thomas' reworking of Robert E. Howards tales are much more satisfying-which this volume doesn't have at all. The high points (because this is not a bad review) are the two annuals at the end, each chronicling events directly after Hour of the Dragon, both involving Zenobia. If you don't know who Zenobia is get thee to a nunnery. As usual Buscema's art with Ernie Chans inks are top-notch, just the storytelling leaves a bit to be desired.

Wings in the Night Weird Works of Robert E. Howard vol.4
Now this is the real stuff, REH's tales collected here as they were published in various pulp mags like Weird Tales and others. I like the Steve Fabian covers, they have all been pretty good. This collection has some great stories- Wings in the Night~Solomon Kane, the puritan avenger, destroying a race of gargoyle-like monsters on the dark continent. Worms of the Earth~one of the best revenge yarns in fantasy. And three of the great Conan tales-Phoenix on the Sword, Scarlet Citadel and Tower of the Elephant (my son's favorite-yes, he's 5) It doesn't get any better than this.

Fortune is a River by Roger D. Masters
This is a brilliant historical piece about two of the greatest minds from the Renaissance, Leonardo DaVinci and Niccolo Machiavelli and how together they...failed.
I of course think DaVinci is a genius and love his work (even copies of his work see below * a personal visceral favorite)
When I was in high school and we read The Prince by Machiavelli, I was the only one who stood up in class (when the teacher, Mr. Armstrong asked) and admitted I generally agreed with the Mach-man. Everyone else in class parroted that what was outlined in the Prince was bad.
I thought he had a point and I was willing to hear him out, besides it wasn't an ethic's class it was a world history class.
Anyway
These two teamed up for the idea to re-route the Arno River (the one in the Mona Lisa) and make Florence a seaport while simultaneously putting the hurt on the enemy city-state of Pisa (since they would no longer have a river!)
This could have been a glorious victory for Florence, except it didn't work.
The new canals weren't deep enough and soon filled with silt and the river returned to its natural course.
My personal belief is that the two of them weren't hands-on enough and left the actual digging work (for which DaVinci designed a fantastic earth-moving machine) to idiots who skimped on the width and depth of the new channel. DaVinci had designed a much deeper cut.
Mr. Masters has put together a compelling book that I heartily recommend.
Why haven't you heard of this whole story before?
Because neither DaVinci or Machiavelli wanted to talk about their failures-would you?

And Yes I am taking this idea for my own gangster-fantasy-steam punk story along with the Mothman.

8 comments:

Angie said...

Oh my gosh! Do you know how scared I am of moths??? I am going to be having mothman nightmares now! I admire your diverse and interesting reading list. Hope you are feeling better.

David J. West said...

Thanks Angie-I had no idea how you felt about moths.

Th. said...

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I've had students read excerpts from James before when reading Macbeth. Good stuff.

David J. West said...

Th-I hadn't thought of that-but yeah, good idea. The similarities are right on.

Angie said...

Yeah, my kids tease me endlessly because I am afraid of moths. They'll even catch them and taunt me with them, the meanies.

David J. West said...

Sorry to hear that Angie-maybe you won't want to read "GODS & ROBBERS" course I won't call them Mothman, instead I'll use the sinister "Watchers" but you'll know I mean Mothman.

Th. said...

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Plus Macbeth was Shake's attempt to show James how awesome he was. How better than to deal with all his favorite issues (witches, heroic famous ancestor . . . )

David J. West said...

Right on Th, Macbeth has always been Shakespear's tale that reverberates in my mind the most-likely in part because of a classic tales graphic novel I read of it when I was a kid. Had great art, wish I could remember who did it-memory says very similar to the Kubert bros.