Reaching out to a fellow blogger

Who’s that blogger you follow, or that comments on your blog? Is it a real person, or just someone trying to sell you something? And would you ever want to meet the real person behind that blog in person?

That's Crispina on the left. Me, I'm sporting a t-shirt with the death's head design from Mother Goose's headstone. Call it a tribute to story-tellers.

That’s Crispina on the left. Me, I’m sporting a t-shirt with the death’s head design from Mother Goose’s headstone. Call it a tribute to story-tellers.

For the first time, I’ve actually met someone in person whom I did not know before we encountered each other in our respective blogs. Crispina Kemp, who blogs as crimsonprose, has been a longtime follower of my blogs, and I hers. But the chances of our meeting seemed slim, as she lives in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England . . . which is a long way from New England, where I live. However, along with my partner E.J. Barnes, who blogs at Shunpike, I was going to be visiting Paris this summer. And the trains to Great Yarmouth take only a few hours. I asked Crispina if she would like a visit. She allowed that if U.K. border control didn’t bar me as an undesirable, she’d be willing to see both of us, and so we laid our plans.

Great Yarmouth is not a likely destination from Paris. Just ask U.K. Passport Control for the Chunnel train from Paris, which asked me point-blank, “Why would you want to visit Great Yarmouth?” Facetious answers came to mind: I want to see where the dragon Skimaskall rests under the windmill farm; I have a hankering for seaside resorts of the Victorian Era; I left my terrorist gear there.

Yes, I was in Paris. No, my French is not very good.

Yes, I was in Paris. No, my French is not very good.

But I settled on saying a friend lived there. This earned a raised eyebrow, but it also earned me a visa stamp, so I was happy.

Traveling from Paris to Great Yarmouth is a mixed bag. The Chunnel train is rapid, topping out at near 300 km/hr, or about 186 mph, and Eurostar is so proud of this that the trains have on-board displays that tell you just how fast the train is going. So, great. But then you have minutes to master how to buy a London Underground subway ticket to get to the station for the next leg of the trip, a local train to Norwich. And then you walk a few feet to another platform for the train to Great Yarmouth. After the Chunnel train, these could not help but seem less impressive. Still, they were clean, they were on time, more or less, and we got to see the countryside.

Crispina met us at the station. No, the Earth did not wobble on its axis at this momentous meeting. Instead, there were smiles all around as we all complimented each other on looking better than our photographs (see above).

Well, it's actually the expansion of the windmill farm that's supposed to dig up Skimaskall, but you get the idea.

Well, it’s actually the expansion of the windmill farm that’s supposed to dig up Skimaskall, but you get the idea.

After helping us check our bags with the bed-and-breakfast where we’d be staying, Crispina took us for a walk along Breydon Water. Those of you who follow her blog (for example, her piece on, yep, Breydon Water) know how much she’s attuned to the landscape. But that didn’t stop us from simultaneously having a conversation about ourselves, what we’d been up to, and comparisons with other places. This kept up the whole time we were together; none of us are shy about talking with friends. And, to be fair, we had a lot to talk about. For example, we did get to see where the dragon Skimaskall (featured in the crimsonprose story Neve) is buried, at least in an alternate reality.

No self-respecting medieval wall would be complete without slits for the archers to shoot the besiegers.

No self-respecting medieval wall would be complete without slits for the archers to shoot the besiegers.

After a tour of some of the remaining walls of Great Yarmouth, we settled down to drinks and dinner. We were in England, and in a seaside resort town, so it wouldn’t do but to have authentic English fish and chips now, would it? And we’d got properly prepared by having some fruity hard cider or English bitter beforehand.

By that point, E.J. and I were tuckered out, and adjourned to our room at the bed-and-breakfast. Said breakfast the next morning offered us more options than either of us could eat, but I got in my serving of black pudding (sausage).

Julian's cell (reconstructed after the WWII bombing of the church)

Julian’s cell (reconstructed after the WWII bombing of the church)

Then the three of us were off on the local bus to Norfolk. Yesterday had primarily been a nature walk, so today was a history walk. We explored the old walls and various ancient structures, all the while keeping up a steady conversation. E.J. had a hankering to see the cell where Julian of Norwich, a famed mystic and anchoress, lived and prayed, so that was included among our stops.

At the end, we sat down at a local restaurant by the river for lunch. Chicken and kidney pie for me, such a change after days of French food, and another local beer. And then, too soon, we had to say our good-byes, and depart on the London train, leaving Crispina behind.

We lunched by the Wensum, which is popular with boaters as well as swans

We lunched by the Wensum, which is popular with boaters as well as swans

So was it worth it? If you haven’t figured it out already from the amount I’ve written here, the answer is “yes.” Crispina and I could talk as friends, after so many years of just interacting over the Internet. We had plenty to talk about, from each other’s writings, which took up a surprisingly small amount of our time, to our own histories, to local history, to observing and commenting on the sights of Norfolk. And E.J. is good at making friends, so she quickly found her place in these conversations, too.

And now I need to figure out how to visit Judy, the photographer who blogs at Janthina Images. She’s sent me books to read, so I’m not going to let a paltry 1000 miles or so stop me, not when I went over 5000 to see Crispina!

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Women as werewolves: reviewing Ginger Snaps and When Animals Dream

Daddy to the rescue, musn't let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Daddy to the rescue, musn’t let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Horror creatures began as men. Varney the Vampyre and Dracula, Universal’s werewolf, even the original mummy monster, they were all guys. “Ah,” but I hear you say, “what about J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla?” Thank you for making my point. By all rights, Carmilla should be as well-known as Dracula, which it predates by over two decades. And if vampires are about sex and rape, then the bisexual Carmilla should have blown Victorian minds altogether. Maybe it did, and that’s the problem: a sexually empowered female rapist was just not an acceptable possibility in Anglo-American culture in those days. And not very acceptable now, either.

Werewolves can be about sex, too. Remember how in An American Werewolf in London (1981), werewolf David Kessler is symbolically killed by his English lover? And how in the movie Kessler specifically ties the idea back to Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941)?

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

So what happens when we get female werewolves? Well, horror films are typically not noted for subtlety, so we get blood. Not just other people’s blood, but menstrual blood. And sex. Yep, becoming a werewolf becomes a female form of puberty. Somehow with a guy, this can be played for humor, as in the original Teen Wolf (1985). With girls? Oh, the horror! Sexually empowered women are dangerous beasties, as the two films, Ginger Snaps (2000) and When Animals Dream (2014; Danish with English subtitles) demonstrate. Ginger and Marie both have unprotected sex and start killing people. And people thought Twilight was about abstinence!

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger's shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger’s shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

What’s interesting about these two films is that they are effective because they place their werewolves in social contexts that make us concerned about their fate. Dracula preys on women, so we hope he gets staked; we have no personal interest in him. Ginger, on the other hand, has a loyal younger sister named Bridget who goes all-out in trying to save Ginger. While Marie has a troubled family and hostile community that makes her social isolation heartbreaking.

Otherwise, the films couldn’t be more different. Ginger Snaps is a Hollywood film about werewolves. The lead is pretty, her transformations are extensively portrayed, and the menstruation, sex, and gore are all as obvious as can be. Ginger’s every outcast girl who turns into a slut, and we know how troublesome those are. But, ironically, she’s humanized by the sister she’s dominated in past. Bridget, unlike her sister, is still an outcast, but she cares about her sister. Ginger may now be a slut, but she’s also a werewolf and a killer, which means she’s still an outcast, and Bridget wants to reclaim her.

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

Marie, on the other hand, is always an outcast, even before she begins her transformation. She’s not especially pretty, either. We see less of her transformation, and a good deal less blood and gore all around. What makes Marie human, and enlists our sympathies, is that she tries to connect to others. She may be bad at it, and the isolated Danish village she lives in demonstrates how distant Scandinavians can be, but she does try. We cheer for Ginger’s possible redemption because Bridget enlists our sympathies, but we hope against hope for Marie’s salvation because she herself enlists our sympathies.

On the other hand, I'm growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of glass

On the other hand, I’m growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of broken glass

Ginger Snaps is considered something of a cult film these days. Don’t let that label discourage you. If you don’t mind the gore, it’s a touching, scary, and occasionally funny film about growing up and sisterhood . . . and lycanthropy. I doubt When Animals Dream will even reach cult film status in the U.S.; it’s more understated and atmospheric than American films, and is often unfavorably compared to the vampire film Let the Right One In (2008). I would rank it below Ginger Snaps. And yet it has its charms. Here’s a thought that might help you decide whether you want to watch it. Did you see both Let the Right One In and its Hollywood remake, Let Me In (2010)? Or, not quite as appropriate, but still a help: how about the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its Hollywood remake (2011)? If you did, and you liked the Swedish originals in ways the American remakes didn’t capture, then the Danish When Animals Dream may be for you.

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Chapter 23 of Magician’s Misfortune, and time to take a break

“Resolutions?” is the title of chapter 23 of Magician’s Misfortunes, my weekly serial about a government magician whose life has gone very sour. With a title like that, you can guess that it’s the end of the story (or is it?), so I will say no more.

And it’s time for the blog to go on hiatus for a while. I’ve got a birthday to celebrate over the weekend, some personal affairs to clean up, and some adult education courses to prepare. Those of you who follow the sister blog Sillyhistory should see some new posts up starting in late March when I start teaching a course on 19th century American communes, the places that inspired Prophecies and Penalties.

Until the next story, or book review, or belated review of a movie several decades old, take care and goodbye!

Ultima Thule, the end of the world, has monsters

Ultima Thule, the end of the world, has monsters

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Chapter 22 of Magician’s Misfortune

I’m just going to go all meta on you and tell you the title for this week’s chapter of Magician’s Misfortune is deliberately inaccurate, sort of. Hey, it’s the big fight, the action-filled climax, and if you haven’t been reading this story before, you sure as hell aren’t going to read this chapter.

Oh, yeah, maybe you say to yourself, “Self, an action-filled climax? Maybe it’s got a great fight scene? Oh, yeah, definitely!” My first response is to ask why you call yourself “self” in your own thoughts. You got some sort of identity problem? And then I’m going to tell you that the fight scene (yes, there is one, thanks for blowing the suspense) is going to be absolutely meaningless unless you’ve read the rest of the story . . . unlike the big fight scene at the end of the Twilight movie series, which was absolutely meaningless even if you did watch the rest of the movies.

Anyhow, this is chapter 22, “All hell breaks loose,” that we’re talking about. The title isn’t just a hackneyed cliché; it bears a deep and profound connection to the weighty themes of the chapter.

That doesn’t really save it from being a hackneyed cliché, does it? (And “hackneyed cliché” is a redundant phrase, come to think of it.) And do you really believe me when I talk about profound themes in this story?? And the title isn’t even right, sort of, even though it is sort of right.

I’m not making this at all clear, am I? Good. Read the chapterThen you’ll understand.

You think after what I've written I'm going to explain why I used this picture? OK, here's the deal. It's WIlliam Blake, if by some off-chance your inadequate education didn't include art history. It's from his interpretation of Dante's "Divine Comedy." And yes, it's set in a circle of hell. Which one? Think about Harry Eberhardt, and the answer should be obvious.

You think after what I’ve written I’m going to explain why I used this picture?
OK, here’s the deal. It’s WIlliam Blake, if by some off-chance your inadequate education didn’t include art history. It’s from his interpretation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” And yes, it’s set in a circle of hell. Which one? Think about Harry Eberhardt, and the answer should be obvious.

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Chapter 21 of Magician’s Misfortune

Harry Eberhardt likes sex. Preferably with willing women. Which rules out Deecee Young, who’s a lesbian. And Sanderson, who’s quite unwilling and just helped bust Harry’s nose again. So why is his life revolving around these two women? It’s “SNAFU,” chapter 21 of Magician’s Misfortune, my weekly serial about a government magician being quite down on his luck.

"SNAFU" originated in the military, so a picture of a military SNAFU seemed appropriate. This is "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. (1856-1927) who's family's life has its own SNAFU moments. Although famous and successful as a battlefield artist, Woodville committed suicide by shooting himself. Sadly, he may have taken after his father RCW, Sr., another noted artist, who died of a morphine overdose at age 30.

“SNAFU” originated in the military, so a picture of a military SNAFU seems appropriate. This is “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. (1856-1927) whose family’s life has its own SNAFU moments. Although famous and successful as a battlefield artist, Woodville committed suicide by shooting himself. Sadly, he may have taken after his father RCW, Sr., another noted artist, who died of a morphine overdose at age 30.

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Chapter 20 of Magician’s Misfortune

Tumbling through an interdimensional magical teleportation system isn’t as easy as it sounds. And Harry Eberhardt hates surprises, even in bed. But Harry has a nose for trouble. All of which leads him to the question, “Who can you trust?” in chapter 20 of Magician’s Misfortune, my weekly serial about a government magician having an off day . . . off month? . . . off life!

Where Becky had her first adventure

Where Becky had her first adventure

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Chapter 19 of Magician’s Misfortune

Some traps can be quite convoluted (Longleat maze, England)

Some traps can be quite convoluted (Longleat maze, England)

Harry Eberhardt has walked into a trap. People are coming for him and his associates. So we should expect Harry to react with his customary initiative, bravery, quick thinking, and resourcefulness. Which is exactly what he does. Too bad Harry’s a bit short on those qualities. Harry is “Trapped” in chapter 19 of Magician’s Misfortune, and if he doesn’t like it, he’s going to dislike what happens next even more.

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