Book Review: 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Capitalism! The American Dream! Except that what we believe about capitalism, and how it actually works, are two different things. We’ve been told that the essence of preserving the economy involves making things better for the wealthy, so that they will make bigger companies and hire more people for more jobs, and thus the crumbs of their good fortune will “trickle down” to the rest of us. Except that it’s not true; wealthy people won’t part with their wealth unless regulations force them to.

We are told that the American Dream rewards the hard-working and the worthy, and that anyone can succeed if they try hard enough. Except that it’s not true; people in poorer countries are more entrepreneurial than people in wealthier countries, and good infrastructure is the key to building the wealth of nations.

We are told that you must pay good CEOs and Directors of large corporations top dollar so that you will get the best. Except that it’s not true; Board Directors often make decisions that are best for them in the short term, and really bad for the company itself in the long term (fancy that!) And by the way, you’re probably wrong about how much they’re getting paid. Most people think it should be about 10 times what the average worker in their companies get paid, and they think it’s actually more like 30 times. But they’re wrong; it’s really more like 300-400 times as much!

We are told that what’s good for the shareholders of a company is good for the company overall. Except that it’s not true; shareholders want to buy low and sell high, and quickly, and that means that often decisions are made in companies to cut corners, cheat, and patch instead of fix, until the whole structure collapses. Like with pretty much every automobile company you’ve ever heard of, and several large airlines.

We are told that the free market economy is the best way to handle things, because market forces will ultimately balance everything out. Except that it’s not true; there is actually no such thing as a “free market economy;” governments and corporations fix the conditions of the market all the time. So could we; and so we have in some ways, which is why “fossey jaw” is a thing of the past.

We are told that education is essential to the future wealth of a nation. Except that this isn’t true either; there’s almost no correlation. What drives the wealth of nations is actually manufacturing.

Don’t believe me? That’s okay; Ha-Joon Chang is a Cambridge trained economist who has won prizes for his work, and he’ll tell you better than I can, with figures to back it up. And he’ll explain it in a way that even an arts major like me can clearly understand.

I can’t say enough good things about this book! If you, like me, see the rot at the core of our economic system but you lack the words to tell people why it’s rotten, this is the book for you. If you don’t understand economics and you want to learn without taking a course, this is the book for you. If you think that capitalism is the best thing since sliced bread, and you think lefties are wingnuts who don’t understand how the world really works, this is still the book for you because you can acid-test your theories against an educated dissenting opinion. I wish that my Prime Minister would read it because I think he would run things a little differently if he did.

Over the next couple of months I’ll be writing an extended series focused around the theories presented in this book on Gods & Radicals if you want to know more.

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Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge 2016 and the Apocalypse Now Reading Challenge 2016.

Method of the world’s destruction: ecological devastation, corporate greed, and a mad scientist’s bioengineered supervirus.

Oryx and Crake is the second Margaret Atwood book I have read. I am finding that I have mixed feelings about her. I think she’s a brilliant writer. Her prose is magical and her sense of character amazing. I can’t help but feel a little pride in her as a Canadian. But the critics always wax rhetoric about how wonderfully original she is. She’s not, at least not that I’ve seen yet. Obviously these people just don’t read science fiction.

Atwood’s basic scenario here is a weird mating of The Time Machine, The Stand, and Frankenstein. Professional reviewers claim that Atwood has written “an innovative apocalyptic scenario in a world that is at once changed and all-too familiar because corporations have taken us on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.” It sells books because of our secret fears of genetic engineering. However, it’s not true, and if that’s what these people think then they weren’t paying attention. Also, one professional reviewer who was quoted on the cover of the edition I read said it was “uproariously funny.” I don’t think it was funny at all, and I think that if this guy thought it was funny he’s probably one of the corporate drones that Atwood was critiquing in the book. Someone in a review also said that it was confusing because she jumps back and forth between different moments in time and changes tenses when she does; and this same reviewer had the audacity to criticize Atwood’s grammar! Her grammar was the professional quality one might expect of such a critically acclaimed writer, and the story started in media res and was told primarily in flashbacks, and if that was confusing, I think you should stick with teen fiction.

What is actually great about this book is the fact that it is a brilliantly-written Greek tragedy that ultimately results in the likely extinction of the human race; along with quite a lot of the animals that we are familiar with. There’s a lot of “for want of a nail” stuff going on here. At several points disaster could have been averted, but it isn’t because of human flaws and human mistakes, and so all hell literally breaks loose. The epicenter of many of those flaws and mistakes is the protagonist, once called Jimmy but now known as Snowman, who found himself uniquely in a position by which he could have saved the world but, like Hamlet, fails to do so because of ignorance, negligence, and his tragic flaw, which is a desperate desire to be loved or even liked by someone, largely stemming from childhood neglect, emotionally distant parents, and a very lonely childhood. I love it because so many people in real life fail to do the right thing because of that flaw, or they overlook things that probably should have triggered alarm bells.

Others have found Snowman to be really unlikable as a result of those tragic flaws, but I didn’t. I found I had a lot of sympathy for him, and I could understand why he did a lot of what he did. Jimmy’s mother reminded me of my own, who was bipolar, undiagnosed and untreated for the length of my childhood. You learn that she and Jimmy’s father were at odds over some morality issue associated with the work that Jimmy’s father did for the Corporation they both used to work for. And in this future vision, Corporations own Compounds and keep their people entirely separated from the rest of the world, which they call the “pleeblands” (which of course was actually “plebelands” at one time, one would guess), and your worth, status and wealth depend entirely on your usefulness to the Corporation. Scientists and mathematicians are valued; artists and writers are considered a waste of oxygen; unless they write advertising for the Corporation, of course. Protesting the Corporations is outlawed and demonstrations are punishable by death. In this, Atwood borrows extensively from the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction (or, if you believe her and the critics, she reinvents the wheel).

You learn also, mostly as side stories in Jimmy’s personal observations of what goes on around him growing up, that the world is in a desperate state of ecological disaster due to climate change, there are too many people and too little resources, and the work that the genetic engineering companies do is actually important, or at least some of it is, in assuring the human race’s survival; except that they create primarily what makes the CEOs of the Corporations money, rather than what is good for humanity, due to selfishness and an innate sense of their own superiority over the pleebs (the rest of the planet). In this we also see some shades of the overpopulation horrors of the 1970s, such as in Soylent Green (or Make Room! Make Room!, as the book it was based on was called.)

Quickly you learn that Snowman is looking after an artificially-created sentient race that bears some resemblance to humans, and who comes from humans, but who aren’t quite human. They’ll remind science fiction aficionados of H.G. Wells‘ Eloi. They were created by someone named Crake, who is a very important character in the novel, being the mad scientist in question, and who was once a friend of Snowman’s. Also, there was someone named Oryx in his past, a woman he quite clearly loved, who for some reason was believed by the Crakers to be the creatrix of the animals. But since they are guileless, innocent, and somewhat simple like the Eloi, their beliefs seem almost mythological or biblical. You also learn that Crake was somehow responsible for whatever killed humanity, which was clearly a plague, and if Atwood tried to tell me she never read either The Stand or I Am Legend I would call her a liar, because parts of the book were full of eerie scenes of human life stopped dead, just like Stephen King and Richard Matheson wrote about so well. The title of the book is meant to represent both sides of human nature and not just the characters.

Sounds like spoilers? Nope, not a bit, because you find out most of this stuff in the first chapter. The story is more about how it all unfolds than what happened. And in this, Atwood displays a masterful understanding of the dark side of human nature and how the light side of it can be manipulated and twisted to dark purposes. It’s an amazing story and I was reading it with page-turning alacrity because it was gripping and fascinating. Only at the very end does everything become clear.

There are many questions that should concern the modern mind. Have we already gone so far with climate change that it will inevitably destroy the human race? How far is too far to go with genetic engineering? What are we going to do when there are so many of us that we overwhelm the planet’s resources to care for us, which might already have happened? Are we doomed to destroy ourselves out of greed, neglect, indifference?

And yet there are also subtler questions of human morality and the nature of religion. The Buddha’s dilemma comes up; the Buddha abandoned his wife and child to pursue enlightenment. Did he do the right thing? Buddhism is founded on the idea that attachment is sin, but if anyone did this in modern society we would call them a nutbar or a jerk, and certainly they don’t have normal human empathy and are probably something of a sociopath. There’s a Frankenstein-like element too; the Biblical references in the story of the Crakers is quite clear. Did God mean to create us? If so, was S/He aware of the full consequences of that? Were we created imperfectly and almost by accident, to be lesser, or greater, beings than our creator(s)? Was the Creation a total accident, or some madman’s weird plan?

And there’s a subtle human dilemma too, and that is the damage created by neglecting a child and denying them real love. Snowman might have been able to recognize that Crake was a sociopath if he’d had anything resembling normal parental empathy, but he had no basis of comparison. Is Atwood subtly critiquing the fact that since our society demands that both parents work, our children are being raised by babysitters and the internet? I think perhaps she is.

I really wish I could recommend this novel to everyone, because it does what really good science fiction is supposed to do, which is to make you question the world and society we live in, in a setting that is weird enough to make us feel a little safer than confronting it directly in the present, real world. But not too safe, because some of this sounds a little far-fetched; but not enough of it. Not enough of it by far.

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Book Review: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Lord of LightLord of Light by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this book was outstanding. It was deep, thoughtful, and marvelously subversive, and like all good science fiction, it makes you think.

A bunch of people in a far future on a distant planet with some superpowers establish a society that they model consciously after Vedic civilization (it never says why or how, but there is an assumption that most of the people are Indian). For some reason (again never fully explained) the people do not start out with the levels of technology of their ancestors; somehow it has been lost. They discover the people with the superpowers and start to treat them like gods. The “gods” divide into camps. Some take the fascist view that since they can do things that others can’t, they *are* gods and worship is their due. Others (the minority) take the position that they need to help people to rediscover the technology they lost, and if they *must* be seen as gods, they will use the press to further that end and then “resign” their positions and disappear into myth. Sam, our protagonist, consciously uses the legends of the Buddha to that end.

Some have commented that they don’t understand this novel, or that it reads more like fantasy. It’s intended to be read that way, and to someone with even passing familiarity with Vedic mythology it’s brilliant. The characters who assume the roles of “gods” speak to each other and their “worshipers” with a weird mishmash of pseudo-archaic-speak that can’t possibly be anything but affected, which is downright funny. Much of their “miracles” are also due to extremely advanced technology. The technology used to justify their Ascension is extremely loosely described by design and might just as well be magic for the reader’s purposes.

The author explores many deep themes of religion. He asks us to consider the nature of what a “god” actually is. Gods get to be gods in our myths because they are immortal and they can do amazing stuff that the rest of us can’t. So at what point does that become true? I have read numerous dissertations that theorize that superheroes are modern stand-ins for Pagan deities (Superman = Sun God, Wonder Woman = Moon Goddess, Batman = God of Vengeance/Justice, etc.) If they can do things that we can’t, and they’re effectively immortal, aren’t they *actually* gods?

If not, then how do we justify our gods being gods in the first place? Perhaps the gods we are familiar with were just people who can do things that we can’t. If it’s because they’re more “enlightened” than we are, how do we know that? Maybe they’re con artists, like Sam, who says all the right things but doesn’t believe them himself, until an enlightened “follower” shows him that the words of the Buddha that he’s aping do actually have truth. And furthermore, many gods in mythology behave just like us, only they do more damage when they do stupid or mean things because of their powers. (And that’s every god ever, from Thor to Zeus to Jesus to Jehovah himself).

Is religion a good thing or a bad thing? Is it a necessary part of human development? Is it something that we “transition out of” when we grow up as a species, or is it something that we always need? Which gods are the “real” gods anyway?

Some have wondered if this book might be disrespectful to Vedic beliefs. I can see that some might find it so, and considering that when the book was written no one would have thought twice about it because it wasn’t Christianity, Judaism or Islam, that’s progress. But I don’t personally find it so. For the record (full disclosure) I am a rather devoted Wiccan Priestess who has written books and keeps a blog on the topic, and I’m sympathetic to the Vedic deities because a) Hinduism and Paganism are very similar in many ways, b) some modern Pagans worship Vedic deities, and c) many of us dabble with Buddhism as well because it also has a lot in common with contemporary Paganism. So understand that I take these deities very seriously and have the highest respect for Them. But this is no way invalidates the issues being raised by the author, who is challenging and exploring the nature and necessity of religion as a whole. Is religion something that holds us back as a species, or does it inspire us to greatness? Is faith the only thing that keeps the darkness within human nature in check, or is that only our mortality? What kind of horrors would we get up to if we weren’t limited by human frailties?

At the time Lord of Light was written, science fiction extolling the virtues of human ascension through technology were common. Zelazny, with a combination of cynicism, humour, respect and love, suggests that no matter how advanced our toys and powers become, we’ll still just be people and we’ll still act like it, for good and for ill.

I found myself contemplating those figures who were said to be divine incarnations throughout history, such as the Buddha, or Jesus, or Zoroaster or Pythagoras, and I find myself wondering if they, as Sam does in this novel, originally established their following as a protest *against* the gods and those who claimed to speak for them. The Buddha was protesting the Vedic caste system; Jesus was protesting the Pharisees. Did they intend to become objects of worship, or was that a corruption of their original message?

More than the religious issue, however, Lord of Light can be read as a powerful anti-capitalist message. What starts the conflict between Sam, the handful who join him, and the rest of the “gods,” is that a new merchant class takes over the Wheel of Karma (the technology that allows people to transfer to new bodies when they die) on behalf of the “gods,” who direct them to only permit people to reincarnate if they’re doing the things that the “gods” want them to do, which they get to make up arbitrarily. They encourage the populace to labour for them with lesser technologies than they might receive, and destroy their works whenever their civilization discovers a higher level of technology than the “gods” wish them to have (such as the printing press) by promising that those who are pleasing to the “gods” might reincarnate into better positions when they die. But the “gods” and the Lords of Karma make up the rules to suit themselves and secure their own “divine positions,” so who really gets to advance? Free thinkers are also punished by being reincarnated as apes or dogs, for example. In this I see the message we are told by the 1%; we are all just temporarily embarrassed millionaires. But who really gets to advance, and by what rules other than toeing the party line?

Not only does this story contain all of that, but the allegory is a lot like “American Gods” or “Gods Behaving Badly”, and it’s a funny and sympathetic look at the human condition. Highly recommended!

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The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two days and one hundred years ago, women first achieved the right to vote in Canada. This was in the Manitoba provincial election; the federal government followed two years later. So it is perhaps fitting that the day before is the day I finally chose to start reading “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

I’ve been a feminist and a science fiction fan since childhood, so many people have recommended this book to me over the years. The year it was published, 1986, I was eleven. I think someone first recommended it to me in 1991, when I was protesting the Gulf War. I always meant to read it. It was “on my list,” especially as a Canadian. Margaret Atwood is considered to be one of the most significant Canadian writers and “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a feminist icon.

I was not inspired to read it because of the centennial of women’s suffrage in Canada. I was finally inspired to read it because I am doing some science fiction related reading challenges; one to read new-to-me female authors, and the other to read LGBTQ related speculative fiction. “The Handmaid’s Tale” was both on a list of award-winning speculative fiction by female authors, and a list of award-winning LGBTQ speculative fiction. You can find those lists at https://www.worldswithoutend.com/list… and https://www.worldswithoutend.com/list… respectively. Because I’m intending to read a lot of books this year, it was convenient for me that this book, which I meant to read someday anyway, was on both lists.

Let’s just establish, right off the bat, that I think this is an absolutely stunning book. I am glad I waited so long, because I don’t think I would have been mature enough to understand a lot of it until this point in my life. And I have mixed feelings about it. It’s frustrating and disturbing. Atwood has made some statements about it that make me angry. Some of the things critics have said about it make me want to beat my head against a wall. It can be difficult to follow if you’re not used to the style, because it is written in a flow-of-consciousness perspective that changes back and forth between present and past tense. Some have criticized her for this but I’m sure it was deliberate. The epilogue of the book, a fictional history lecture, says that the story was found recorded over some secular music cassette tapes from the 1980s, usually after a few minutes of music have played. So when you read it, picture a woman about forty, maybe forty-five, telling a story in a tired voice that is sometimes deliberately neutral, sometimes choking back tears and other times choking back rage. Listen to her talk; don’t read it expecting standard writing conventions. Perhaps, if you’ve ever heard a woman telling her tale in an interview for the Shoah project, picture her voice sounding like that.

So, yes. Mixed feelings. On the other hand, I chewed through this book in two and a half very busy days, abandoning all my other reading projects after leafing through the first ten pages. I was riveted to the edge of my seat. Would the protagonist live? Would she die? The whole novel was like holding my breath, waiting for what comes next. If Atwood intended us to feel this way — waiting in desperate anxiety — because that was what the protagonist’s life was like, then she succeeded admirably. The suspense was downright torturous. Also, the message . . . the message . . . How subversive. How frightening. What a fantastic wake-up call in so many different ways, and not just in how it pertains to women.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” takes place in an alternate history in which declining birth rates in the mid-eighties, attributed to toxic chemicals, pollution, radiation and other ecological disasters, along with AIDS and a virulent strain of syphilis that caused infertility in most men exposed to it, fell to frightening levels. Women’s independence, the use of birth control, lesbianism and homosexuality, were seen as exacerbating this (and perhaps they did). People reacted with fear, as they often do in such situations, and a religious Christian fundamentalist cult rose to power, toppled the United States government, shot the President and most of the Congress, and formed the Republic of Gilead. They used a symbol and a militant ideology never seen before. And suddenly the lives of women drastically changed.

Because all money had become electronic and there was no paper money, they started by freezing the bank accounts of anyone with an F attached to it rather than an M, and they forced people to fire all women from their jobs. Women were denied the right to own property. Men and women who were in second marriages or extramarital relationships, or anyone who was gay or lesbian, were declared unpersons. Their children were taken from them because they were considered to be “unfit parents,” and women so classified with viable ovaries were forced through reeducation camps, with cattle prod wielding “Aunts,” to become Handmaidens; that is, broodmares to the rich and powerful. Women of the right status and religious background were assigned in arranged marriages as Wives to significant and powerful men; women who were no longer fertile but weren’t “undesirable” were assigned to be “Marthas” (maids,) “incorrigible” women were taken out of official existence to become “Jezebels” (sex slaves,) and those who were too old to do anything else or beyond “reformation” (accomplished through a combination of brainwashing and torture) were sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste and radiation until they died. All of them were assigned different modes of dress to signify their role. Jezebels never went out in public and never left the brothels they’d been assigned to; Handmaids could only go out in pairs so that they could spy on each other and only to do specifically assigned tasks, wearing a red habit with winged wimples described as “blinders” so they couldn’t see out of the sides. All “vanities” such as immodest dress and makeup were banished and women were forbidden even the right to read. Conversely, men were denied the right to marry until they had proven themselves to the people in power, and were forbidden sex or even masturbation until that time also.

Lots to be discussed here. First of all, critics of the novel have tisked at how unlikely they feel this is to happen in the glorious United States of America. Except that I’ve seen many disturbing echoes of Atwood’s predictions in our society right now. How so many things are blamed on Islamic terrorism. How gradually freedoms and rights and privacy have been eroded in the name of “safety” and “security.” How we are gradually being railroaded into giving up paper money. The anti-abortionists, the censors in Britain. The backlash against LGBTQ rights; the “bathroom” laws. The systematic discrediting of feminism and of Planned Parenthood. Encouraging intolerance as a religious “right.” I won’t lie; you guys to the South of us are beginning to scare the shit out of me.

Some critics have said that they just don’t see all of this happening this quickly. But it has, and it is happening right now. The state of women in the Middle East, two generations ago, was comparable to that of women anywhere else in the world at that time. When the Soviet Union broke up much of Eastern Europe erupted into a seething hotbed of “ethnic cleansing.” In a mere five years in the late 1930s Germany transformed from a modern 20th century country to a totalitarian regime which is still causing shockwaves in our world culture. And in the Islamic State, right now, women are being given to jihadis as brides or sex slaves. I think of American “purity balls” and I shudder.

The story is set in what used to be Boston, Massachusetts, and the choice was made to emphasize the United States’ history of Puritanism. The corporate media and the religious right have been building up our political climate for something like this since at least 1991. I am not a doomsayer; I don’t believe in end-of-the-world prophecies; but I am a student of history and if you don’t recognize the parallels and it doesn’t concern you, you’re being willfully blind.

In order for such a regime to exist, you must create a hierarchy of haves and have nots, and so Atwood establishes that hierarchy in vivid detail. The Unwomen of the Colonies were the bottom of the food chain, deprived even of a right to life and health. The Jezebels at least had the privilege of that; though of course they were deprived of the right to liberty and personhood and were required to service the men who came to them. The Handmaidens came next, who at least could live and go out in public, though of course they, too, were required to do what was commanded of them, perform sexually for men, and had severe restrictions on their behaviour, their speech, and even were denied the right to a name; being called “Of-” plus the first name of the Commander they belonged to. The Handmaiden of the tale was called “Offred”; we never learn her real name. The Marthas were not required to spread their legs on command but were menial servants. The Wives had to obey their husbands but otherwise were the mistresses of the household. Aunts held an in-between place in which they are given extra privileges; what those were weren’t defined, but they earned their extra privileges by disciplining the Handmaidens, as some Jewish people earned extra privileges in the death camps by disciplining their fellow Jews. And above all of them, the young men, who at least had the right to read and go where they wished; then the Guardians, who were the foot soldiers; then the Commanders who were effectively above the law; until they weren’t.

One cannot help but consider the issues of intersectionality of our own time. Our corporate masters give lip service to religious fundamentalism to whitewash their activities and control the populace through “moral instruction.” They tell women not to complain about the inequalities they are handed, because they could be transgendered. They tell white people in poverty not to complain because they could be black and thus subject to being shot in the street, even for being a twelve-year-old with a toy gun in an open carry state. That’s how they control us. And we really need to stop allowing it, because the elite, whoever they are, will keep pushing until we force them not to. This, ultimately, is the message behind “The Handmaid’s Tale”; the sad reminder that we must band together, and view an assault on the rights of any one of us as an assault on the right of all of us. Otherwise, who will be there to help when they come for you?

Atwood sometimes receives anti-feminist criticism because her male characters are two-dimensional (true) and because even Offred’s former husband Luke was suspect. When women were denied the right to own property, hold jobs and have money, he put his arms around her and said, “You know I’ll always take care of you.”

Perhaps he didn’t react the way we thought he should have. We might think that Luke should have immediately said, “Okay, let’s run for the border.” But lots of Jews stayed in Germany because they just couldn’t believe that what was happening was actually happening. No one would go that far . . . would they?

I also believe that Atwood’s purpose in having Luke react in this way was to point out how complicated gender dynamics are. Let’s be frank; in many ways, modern feminism is a brand new thing. For centuries men have owned all the property (actually, I believe property rights created the patriarchy) and all of their identity has been wrapped up in their net worth and how well they can take care of their families. Feminism, especially social feminism, challenges that. It causes us to question what it is that makes one a man. Even now, women will rarely marry a man who makes less money than she does, and if she chooses to, people keep telling her to ditch the bum. If we had true gender equality, what difference would it make?

I have said little about the writing in the wake of the politics and the message. On one hand, I must compliment Atwood on her brilliant, liquid prose. Every word chosen is there for a reason; every symbol means something (for instance, the Handmaidens wear red, which of course hearkens back to red light districts, the Scarlet Letter, and also menstrual blood; red in Western culture is the colour of sexuality and fertility, as well as of anger, passion, and blood). It’s truly a pleasure to read such a good writer.

On the other hand . . .

You may be a bit surprised, after my glowing explanation of the message and the politics, when I say that really, Atwood’s story isn’t all that original. Dystopian societies meant to highlight challenging modern political issues are nothing new in science fiction. Nothing new at all. “1984” should come immediately to mind. Remember, Big Brother is always watching (and keylogging your internet usage).

Which is why it makes me gnash my teeth in fury that Atwood had the audacity to claim that this story wasn’t science fiction. She actually said (in an interview included in the back of the edition I read) that “Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that.” But she was nominated for a Nebula and she won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. I shake my head in dismay. I’m sure Ms. Atwood knows perfectly well that what she’s talking about is only one sub-genre of science fiction, known as “space opera.” Let’s face it, the real reason she said that is that she was afraid that they would take away her magical “literary writer” card if she lowered herself to writing mere “genre fiction.” And why isn’t “literary” considered a genre? Snobbery and nonsense. Ursula K. LeGuin, easily her equal in this craft, responded to that “but isn’t this science fiction?” question with bold statements that she could see no reason why genre fiction should be considered less “literary.”

Science fiction fans get so tired of this. I am reminded of how everyone, including James Cameron, was soooo convinced that “Avatar” was so original, when basically he wrote “Dances With Wolves” with special effects and I’ve seen even his variation of it as least twice in popular sci-fi novels written in the 90s or earlier. I suppose if you’ve never read science fiction this might look original, but literary critics have a lot of gall claiming that it is if they sneer at my beloved “genre fiction.”

However, Brian Aldiss argued in his book “Billion Year Spree” that reading science fiction is generally a lot different from reading other forms of fiction. When someone is described as looking up at the green sun, we assume the sun is green, not that this is a metaphor for something else, and that it will be explained later. One thing that is clear is that Atwood is not writing to science fiction audiences. And that might be a good thing. I referred it to my mother, who has never understood my love of science fiction, in the hopes that it will help to bridge the gap.

And thus I, as many others have, found the epilogue annoying at best, and wish that Atwood had simply let the book end when it did. First of all, it didn’t wrap up any of the things that were left up in the air. Some things we will never know for sure. Second, I don’t feel it added anything at all that I didn’t already know. I did not feel that the nature of the Gilead Regime or who, exactly, some of the characters were required any further explanation than was already given. Fictional lectures to give perspective to science fiction stories have been tropes since Robert Lewis Stevenson first delved there in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

That epilogue has also annoyed feminist critics. But maybe that was the point. The (male) professor giving the lecture on “The Handmaid’s Tale” pooh-pooh’s Offred’s style and level of education. He remarks that it’s clear that Offred was an educated woman (“as educated as anyone can be in 20th century America”,) which the class chuckles at, and then he goes on to say that since she was so educated, how much more valuable this document would have been if there had been some information about the nature and structure of the powers-that-be in Gilead, if she had included dates, wars, important commanders, that kind of thing.

I say that maybe this was the point, however, because in the first place, it points out how quick we are to sneer at our ancestors, and how much more advanced we always believe ourselves to be, even when we’re not; and perhaps she was also critiquing how our white privilege and militant Anglo culture is always so much concerned with who is important rather than the suffering and experience of ordinary people. Is this a commentary on the way we teach academic history?

Despite my quibbles and its flaws, however, this suspenseful, subversive, emotional and beautifully-written novel is perhaps more relevant in our time than ever before. Everyone should read it at least once, and sit with the things that it forces us to think about. I am inspired once again to band together, defend the rights of the underdog, and seek out the company of other women.

View all my reviews

Behind the Revolutionary, the Revolt

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A Review of Lucifer: Princeps, by Peter Grey (Scarlet Imprint, 2015)

The most insidious aspects of the authoritarian regime depicted in George Orwell’s book, 1984, is not the shifting of language, nor the omnipresent surveillance, nor the visceral torture by rat-cage, nor even the permanent state of ahistoricity foisted upon the people of Oceania. Rather, the most terrifying—and most prescient for our current Late-Stage Capitalist empires– is the troublesome matter of the clandestine revolutionary, Emmanuel Goldstein.

In that novel, the protagonists attempt to escape the hegemonic oppression of Oceania by searching for the leader of the liberation movement hated so severely by Big Brother.  But in the end, they learn that the scapegoat upon whom all the failures of the regime are placed, may not have existed at all.

The matter is left ambiguous—it is the Authority itself which claims to have created the Luciferian figure (which Orwell himself crafted from his own distaste for anarchist Emma Goldman), but how can such an Authority be trusted?

Emmanuel Goldstein, then, if the rulers of Oceania are to be believed, is what Lacanian psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek understood as a generated opposition. In his readings of St. Paul’s letter, the atheist Marxist expounds upon Paul’s attempts to describe the existence of sin through the founding of law.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (Romans 7:7, KJV)

What Paul appears to argue is that the very existence of a Law (such as ‘thou shalt not covet’) defines the boundary between what is sin and what is not, and without such a law, sin can be unknown. What Zizek later extracts, important more for an understanding of modern Capitalism than for the Bible, is that a stricture generates its opposite specifically because there is now a law against the thing.

Consider so-called ‘radical Islam,’ which stands in opposition to the continued incursions of European and Anglo-American Capitalism in the Middle East. Radical Islam does not exist as a thing at all; there are those who follow Wahhabi teachings, or argue for strict understandings of Islamic Sharia law, or wish to establish new political orders modeled after the Moorish and Turkish Caliphates, or the particularly terrifying Daesh being resisted by the Anarcho-Marxist PKK.  But “Radical Islam,” is a Liberal Capitalist short-hand for any Muslim-identified group which uses violence to resist or oppose the West.

That is, the West generated its own opposition by naming all opposition to it in the Middle East as ‘Radical Islam,’ and also has variously funded warlords and ideologues in proxy-struggles who then, when they turn upon their backers in the United States, become part of the circumscribed opposition.

But this does not mean Liberal Capitalist nations are faking their opposition, only that they’ve channeled the narratives of their enemies into an easily-identified (yet eternally irrespressible) foe of their own naming. Like the ambiguous existence of Emmanuel Goldstein’s ‘Brotherhood,’ Radical Islam both does and does not exist.

Such opposition to Authoritarian order will always exist the moment Authority is established—like Paul’s understanding of sin and law, it is the very thou shalt not which creates the “I shall anyway.” But as in Orwell, the most affective Hegemonic Authorities then name and define the rebels who seek to de-throne them, a dualistic trap seen in George W. Bush’s ‘either with us or with the terrorists.’

Behind the Revolutionary, the Revolt

With that understanding and a familiarity with Critical Studies and Historiography, Peter Grey’s Lucifer: Princeps is an incredibly rewarding book. It is not an easy text, but no mystery is ever easy.

Those looking for the ‘historical’ Lucifer in these pages will be as disappointed at those thumbing through the hundreds of books purporting to unveil the ‘true Jesus.’For such things, one might as well also ask a historian for a true account of the life and times of Ceridwen, or archeological evidence for Ariadne’s birth and death.

Yet those looking for Lucifer will certainly find him, in a manner similar to Winston Smith finding Emmanuel Goldstein or soldiers of the United States finding the terrorists they were sent to kill– a truth both raw and incomprehensible until the very thing you are looking for is forgotten, replaced by the brutal reality of insurgency obliterating the body, overthrowing the Authority, and torching the cities.

Likewise, a reader hoping for an easy path to unraveling the mystery of Lucifer outside the Biblical texts or discourses on the political climate of early Mesopotamia will be precisely missing the real magic of Grey’s work.  Like the fraught, climatic unveilings in 1984, Grey meticulously–and slowly–unravels the historical and religious processes which obscured ancient magical and spiritual forms, appearing each time to lead down a false path to a dead end.  And yet each apparent non-answer gathers to form the question we didn’t know to ask.

The story repeats throughout the pages of this work, a story we already know because we live it.  Ancient cults crushed by state-priests in distant Mesopotamian cities is nothing unfamiliar, for it is the everyday life of the urban poor, the displaced indigene, the low-waged worker, or the would-be re-wilder: always our attempts to become the meaning of the world are stolen and re-written into a narrative of The Enemy.

In searching for Lucifer, we learn just as much about those who re-made him as we do about the fallen kings and the demonized gods.  Reading Bibical (and apocryphal) texts as a political history unveils the processes by which Authority crafts the Heretic from the screams and flesh of heretics, the Whore from the menstrual blood and dangling bangles of whores.  From these pages could just as easily be crafted a grimoire of Authority as a narrative of the witch, but those seeking easily-grasped Power-Over will be as frustrated as those hoping to summon the Lucifer we were told opposed the True God.

The creation of Yahweh as Hegemonic god and state founding-myth becomes as interesting as the composite figure of Lucifer, and integral to finding the path out of the relentless false-stops.  Particularly the opening to Grey’s dissection of Deuteronomy is worth quoting:

Deuteronomy is delivered in the form of the purported sermons of Moses.  Though ostensibly a book of law, at heart it is an attempt to explain away the consistent and crushing failures of Yahweh….

…Deuteronomy appeals to the state origin myth of Moses and the promise of a land to be ruled by their god, recounting the bloody conquest of an already occupied territory of Canaan.  Here is a god who brooks no rivals.  This rousing account of entitlement and slaughter, or inflexible law and order, would have been sustenance for the exiles who returned, radicalised, to build the state of Israel.

…The combined texts were designed to provide the only explanation for failure, that is was not Yahweh who had broken his covenant, but the people who had not submitted to the justice of his yoke.” (p. 57)

Similar to Zizek’s notion of the generated opposition, we begin to find, also, that just as the state priests further craft political myths to defend Yahweh from the rebel, the rebel begins to become an inextricable shadow of Yahweh.  As the authoritarian state in 1984 relied on the ‘2 Minutes Hate’ and their crafting of Emmanual Goldstein to keep the populace subservient, Lucifer becomes, for Yahweh, an enemy whose power increases from that reliance.

And here then, at the end of the chapter aptly named The Key, is revealed the deep magic of Lucifer: Princeps.  Grey deftly weaves not only biblical narratives but confluent narratives such as Atrahasis into a revelatory tapestry displaying precisely who it was the priests were so afraid of:

After the deluge, the gods regulate the population by means of sterility, stillbirth, infant mortality and the office of the chaste priestess.  Whilst this appears to give credence to the over-population thesis, we cannot cleave this from the blood song of rebellion.  Silvia Federici’s reading of the early modern witch hunts shows that social and sexual control are intrinsically linked.  I suggest there is a similar authoritarian dynamic at work here.  Like Genesis, Atrahasais is a discourse on the limits of human powers and the establishment of a covenant.  Yet for oath breakers, it provides a vista of our divine inheritance, should we wish to opposed the tyranny of kings.  It falls upon some generations to renew the war, and thus the pact. (p. 105)

Lest the occultist suspect Peter Grey’s work is merely political, there’s significant enough reference and threads of ritual (the second volume, Lucifer: Praxis, is slated to “transform into ritual actions” the knowledge of the first) to whet such appetites.  But the book is hardly only for them, and those seeking feasts of the sort of power Authority wields will likely finish more ravenous than they began.

Although an esoteric work, Lucifer:Princeps is possibly even more brilliant as an initiatory guide to an uprising, assuming the reader, upon hearing Authority’s claim to be the creators of the Revolutionary, has the courage to become the revolt they’re seeking.

Scarlet Imprint’s Tara Morgana and the Magic of Poetry

What is this book?

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The book description tells me it’s about magical work and a journey, seeking a form of the Tibetan Tara mixed with Morgan Le Fay. How does that even work? I don’t understand this book. What am I missing?

Let me start it over. Again. Perhaps this time with a cup of nettle tea by my side……

Before we talk text, let me talk about headlessness. Beheadings, mine, yours. Headless statues and bleeding gods appearing everywhere. The gods, at least my gods, as if gods can be “mine” or “yours,” are asking for my head. Three paragraphs into the first preface I am reading about akephaloi and staring at a picture of a headless statue.

What have I gotten myself into?

Peter Grey, in the second preface, suggests these prose poems are what “the Fool’s journey looks like.” I agree. Because I feel like a fool when this book is in my hands, and I have no idea where we have leapt.

This is a work to be read more than once, and in more than one state of being, state of mind, geographical state even.

I’m working through this book  yet again. This short work is pretentious and banal.

And then I am gut punched, spirit sucker punched, by an image that bypasses my brain. It’s like I’m walking down an ordinary street and all of a sudden a strange hand grips me, pulls me into the hedges, and I stare at a beautiful, dirty face that speaks of love and birds, lost objects and rose-hips. I’m simultaneously confused and annoyed, and desperately trying to remember every word she utters, because I know there is meaning in each syllable, waiting to be unwrapped like a gift.

Is Paul Holman, the author, obsessed with a manic pixie dream girl (1) who doles out words like skeleton keys and candy coated E? We will each of us find who we want to see in these words. Who are you? And who are you looking for? Likely she/he/they/you are in this text.

Tara Morgana reads like a magical journal, too personal to have much meaning for most readers. Except – dammit, there is another headless statue.

This book is a found sign that catalogs found signs.

My head hurts.

I don’t know who this book was written for, or why. I don’t know who this book was published for, or why. I really don’t get it.

Except, I think it was written for me, right now, as an offering, gift, encouragement.

Fuck.

One more reading awaits me. Once I’ve lost my head.


1 – Nathan Rabin ‘defined the MPDG as a fantasy figure who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”’


I received the Bibliothèque Rouge edition of Tara Morgana for free as a review copy from Gods & Radicals editor, Rhyd Wildermuth. You can read more about this book and purchase it here.

Book Review: Like Water

by James Lindenschmidt

I love the idea: souls travel in packs. It works on several levels, and can describe the peculiar bonds souls form with one another, in countless different ways and contexts. Everyone has the experience of meeting someone for the first time, with immediate rapport, a feeling of connection, where the souls effortlessly fit together like long-lost pack-companions. Packs mean that you depend on one another, you protect one another, and you look out for one another. T. Thorn Coyle’s Like Water is a story of such a pack of souls.

Like Water is set in “in-between Oakland.” I don’t have much personal connection to Oakland, but the setting of the novel is nonetheless quite familiar to me, being situated in the post-Occupy radical community, in academia, in paganism, & in the polyamory community. These are my people. So the story’s context got my attention right away.

As did the event that drives the course of the novel. This event occurs before the novel begins, so I don’t need spoilers to say that Alex, one of the main characters in the story, is killed when a police officer hits him with a taser and it disrupts his heart. Much of the story revolves around people coming to terms with Alex’s death, moving on from it, and using it as fuel for their own inner fires. Jonah, Alex’s best friend, in particular has difficulty adapting to the world without Alex, and much of the story revolves around his particular struggle doing so. And of course, we hear quite a bit about Alex’s struggle adapting to death.

There are many things to like about Coyle’s first novel. First of all, I dig the writing style. I’ve read a fair amount of her stuff over the years, but this is the first time I’ve read her fiction (and I believe this is her first published novel). It can be a challenge for a nonfiction writer to enter the realm of fiction, but Coyle does so seamlessly. We do hear a lot of the character’s inner thoughts, almost nonfiction contained within the fiction, with some nice philosophizing in the “thought bubbles” each character has. For instance, in one passage, Alex is reminiscing about when he was alive, thinking about his lover, Amber:

Nothing wrong with sex. Most art required it. The best art grabbed us kicking and screaming and wrestled us down to look something in the face. To feel something, once and for all. That impulse was the power of life. The power of life was sex. People mistook this all the time. Even the gentlest art — the paintings of sunrise over water, the love songs that were filled with sweetness — if it was good, it tapped that primal life connection. Picasso? Tupac? Zora? ‘Yonce? They ripped your guts out. Great art requires us to confront life. To confront ourselves. That’s why it’s so painful sometimes (71).

I also liked the metaphysics of the book. The fact that Alex is the speaker in several chapters (each chapter has its own speaker) despite being dead is a nice touch, as are Coyle’s insights of the dead. They have no sense of smell, for instance, and that’s the biggest jolt of novelty they must grow accustomed to. In addition to the dead themselves, Calliah, Jonah’s partner, has the ability sometimes to see the dead:

I don’t see ghosts all the time, thank goodness. I seem to see them only when there is some trauma, or a message to be passed along. Mostly my ghostly encounters are just about having a sense of something “other” hanging around. It’s not like suddenly there are figures with gold teeth floating around me… It’s gone. Although I hadn’t really seen Alex yet, I knew when he was around. And not just when I was picking up on the sense of him (81).

By focusing on several consciousnesses, alive and dead, having their experiences, Coyle weaves fertile ground to tell a good story. And tell a good story she does.

I loved “the Moms,” or Alex and Jonah’s Marxist & Anarchist mothers. These matriarchs raised their children together in radical, intentional communities, still working together even after their children are grown. I got a chuckle out of Kate, the token polyamorous witch; it seemed like Coyle had fun with her character and the insights she provides. I liked the rapping in the novel, which is strange because reading rap lyrics is a vastly different experience than listening to music. Coyle credits MC Do D.A.T for “lending Alex his rhymes,” and they are good. I’m not sure how Coyle managed to convey the energy of a live performance with music into text, but she did.

Despite the 3000 miles between me and Oakland, I feel that Like Water is a story about my tribe, my comrades. The reality of police brutality, violence, and murder of civilians on the streets is foregrounded in the story, but the novel never comes across as preachy or even judgmental. The fact is, these characters must endure, each in their own way, in the aftermath of state-sanctioned murder. This is the story of Like Water.

Because this is a story about my tribe, I really wanted to like the novel. I am happy to say I didn’t have to work very hard to do so. I recommend this novel, and I can’t wait to read more fiction from T. Thorn Coyle.

Review of Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis

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Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis

Edited by Ruby Sara

When Gods & Radicals first asked for volunteers to review this book, I offered to do so with some reservations. I tend to be cranky about poetry. I like it so much that I don’t like most of it, but I do love the idea of “esoteric poesis.” Having read the book, and before I get into any specific comments, I’ll say this right at the start: if you find the idea of esoteric poesis at all intriguing, you won’t regret taking the time to read this book. Most of the poets and authors here seem to be more interested in the occult tradition than in pagan religion, but obviously there is no sharp dividing line between the two, and there is much here that a pagan or polytheist would find intriguing.

I can’t say I liked all the poetry in it equally. Still, you could easily hate the pieces I loved and love the pieces I didn’t love, so there’s not much point in talking about what didn’t work for me. Instead I want to talk about what did, because the sum total of what worked for me is certainly enough for me to recommend the book.

The concept of esoteric poesis is obviously going to mean different things to different people, but a number of the writers and poets in Mandragora seem to think of poetry itself as a magical practice.

For instance, Michael Routery’s essay “The Head of Orpheus” expresses the unorthodox view that the poet’s professional task is not to comment on the minutiae of daily life through finely-chiseled turns of phrase but to bring back the gnosis of the otherworld from the land of the dead.

I’ll take a wild guess and say that very few of those who get published in Poetry magazine every year would agree with this assertion, but their poetry would probably be more interesting to me if they did (and Routery’s own “Lava Flowers” on page 52 bears that out).

Erynn Rowan Laurie’s “Burying the Poet” is an essay about the Cauldron of Poesy text, the bard Amergin and the practice of Incubation among the Irish bards. Incubation is the activity of sequestering yourself in darkness and silence to induce a dream oracle from the gods or the otherworld. I’m the author of a book on these exact same topics, which is partly a response to Laurie’s own previous work on the same text. That makes it a bit odd for me to review the essay, but no matter.

The Incubation of visionary poetry in total darkness bears an obvious resemblance to Routery’s ideas about Orpheus and the otherworld. In both cases, the poet descends into darkness, learns something by occult means and brings it back to our world. The magic can be described in terms of Greek tradition or Irish tradition, but the method isn’t restricted to Greek or Irish themes. Laurie’s Lost Text” on page 50 is a poem on Egyptian rather than Celtic mythology, but it could still be seen as an illustration of the method in action. The poem reads like ancient liturgy, almost as if it was channeled from the distant past.

In contrast, T. Thorn Coyle’s poem “After Amergin” on page 20 is inspired by the same mythic bard Laurie discusses in “Burying the Poet,” but Coyle takes Amergin’s “Song of Power” and updates it to the 21st century. Instead of “I am a wind on the sea, I am a wave on the ocean,” we have “I am the shine of neon on black leather./ I am the life that courses under concrete.” Coyle’s poem is an invocation of the magic inherent in our world rather than a trance journey to the underworld.

The Poet As God-Seducer” by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus examines the role of the poet as a seer and mediator with the otherworld in different European traditions. PSVL suggests that the ecstatic furor of poetic trance has an erotic element, and presents quotes from the Greek Magical Papyri and other sources to support the assertion. The idea of writing erotically-charged poetry to deities is likely to seem strange to many people, including many pagans. However, the bhakti poets of India have been writing this sort of poetry to Vishnu and Shiva for a number of centuries now. The poem “Hadrianus Exclusus” by the same author (page 84) reminds me strongly of bhakti poetry. It’s not an imitation of the bhakti style, but it has a similar sense of immediacy, presence and highly personal yearning. That’s exactly what makes bhakti poetry so fresh and intense. No matter how long some poets have been doing it, sexuality remains a revolutionary way to approach the divine.

A brief word on the poems that worked less well for me. I feel there’s been a tendency in recent poetry to create long trains of images disconnected from any narrative known to anyone other than the poet. This approach seems to produce poems that leave no impression on the reader, and some of the poems in Mandragora have this flaw.

However, I wrote down the page numbers of the poems that interested me the most as I was reading the book, and it turned out to be far too many to mention more than a few of them here. So much for my crankiness. In any case, many of the poems that moved me in some way were written as magical workings rather than poems about magic, carrying on with the theme of the essays.

For example, “The Knot and the Bottle” by Craig Fraser is actually a knot charm. “To Take On Bestial Form” by Peter Dubé is a charm to take on bestial form. These poems have both powerful imagery and focused purpose.

There are more gods than radicals in Mandragora, but Peter Grey argues in “A Spell to Awaken England” that writing poetry-as-magic is a revolutionary act:

Our culture is hostile to the numinous, disenchanting nature that it might be destroyed, splitting man and woman into consumer slaves selling us the grave goods of industry. It is time that we make our spells potent in song and deed, make terror our ally.

That’s what many of the writers here at Gods & Radicals have been trying to do. Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come!

 

Review: Song of the Sea

Promotional Poster (Fair Use--Review)
Promotional Poster (Fair Use–Review)

By Judith O’Grady

‘Song of the Sea’, a beautiful Irish-made children’s animated film, was recently released.

Absolutely astonishing artwork! Fabulous folk tale-drenched findings! Marvelous mythic machinations!! (that’s the review, there).

My son set my tv-connected computer up with his film-on-demand thingie so I could watch it with the family (except for the son who refuses to watch movies on principal), which was fun and engaging; it’s always enjoyable to have a movie explained to you by your three-year-old grand-daughter. Due to the fact that I, like the authors of the film, have read a lot of folklore I picked out the mother as a selkie (a mythic being who is a seal but upon taking off the sealskin on land becomes human) at a glance because any west-coaster with brown eyes in a story is by default a seal. As is usual with selkie/ human marriages, it ends sadly. There is a lot of exciting action story plot—

Will the human older brother rescue his selkie sister in time (selkies will eventually die away from the sea)?

Is Macha (an Irish Goddess with a…..complex….. character) ‘good’ or ‘evil’ (it IS geared for children, neh)?

Will the lighthouse-keeper get back his selkie wife (no matter what age it’s meant for, it’s IRISH; no, of course not)?

Swept away by the extremely beautiful artwork and the clever story (written in the modern day but glancingly referencing a f-ton of folklore) I missed the point in the first viewing. But the next weekend there was an Irish film festival downtown and I was able to view it on a larger screen, surrounded by people with delightful Irish accents, and proceeded by a brief demonstration of step-dancing by little girls……

All really lasting Irish mythic tales have a lot of deconstruction. So this film is:

A delightful children’s cartoon where the (somewhat) selfish older brother rescues his differently advantaged little sister and learns to be a better person.

Eloquent proof that the culture that produced the Book of Kells can blow animation right out of the water.

Bitter Irish sarcasm detailing how degraded and destroyed the country that was once second only to Tir-na-Og has become in embracing capitalism.

A heart-wrenching dirge that these are the end times and the Magic People are leaving Ireland and going into the West.

That’s a lot of backstory. The children are taken away from the lighthouse and driven by their human Granny to Dublin from Donegal (the extreme rural North-West to the lower South) through a landscape of increasing trash, abandoned construction, wasteland, and ugliness as the urbanization increases. The Dublin children are celebrating Hallowe’e’n (an essentially American holiday) with tire fires and dressing up in commercial costumes rather than Samhain, guising, and straw-boys. All but a few of the mythic beings are already imprisoned in stones and those left are made ridiculous and inept through senility and stupidity. The children are assisted by their silly, bouncing Old English Sheepdog (named ‘hound’ in Irish Gaelic) and at the end (in contrast) by Manannán MacLir’s ineffably graceful Irish Wolfhounds made of light, freed from their trap by Macha (who turns out to be conflicted rather than good OR bad).

Manannán, His wolfhounds, Macha, the F***ies, and all the Heroes and Spirits in the dolmens and standing stones all LEAVE IRELAND at the end of the film following the song-made-solid (which is like an astounding Aurora Borealis of drawing) of the little girl who, as it turns out, was the VERY LAST SELKIE up until she decides to stay with her human family and be a regular little girl.

The film went into production right after the hit of ‘The Book of Kells’ (an excellent and beautiful movie but a little too obvious for me) brought the production company grant monies (I presume) in 2009. Right when the Celtic Tiger turned and bit the countryriding on it. So the film is a horrible Irish dirge (tip your muzzle up and keen, Cú), “We were once a poor country with an immeasurable heritage preserved against centuries of oppression. We sold it to join the EU and be (for the short term) a rich country. Now we are a poor country with a sold-out heritage and our Spirits and Gods are going away into the West. Wurra-Wurra, that we should live with hearts and land empty.”

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


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