Tag Archives: World War II

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D 1954: Black Sun

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This tale is told over two issues, which I read consecutively. It’s kind of a cross between Indiana Jones and the X-Files, with Hellboy fighting Nazis who have reverse-engineered an alien craft and built a fleet of saucers which they plan to use to conquer the world and establish the 1000-year Reich.

Overall, the story was very entertaining, well-written, and the artwork was great. There were also a couple themes that were addressed that I found particularly interesting.

In the first installment, when Hellboy arrives with his field partner in the Arctic, the partner, who is black, is met with racial disdain.

Oh. Didn’t think they’d be sending a colored.

What I found most striking about this short scene is that while the U.S. was fighting against an enemy that was claiming racial superiority, people in the U.S. also had their prejudices and biases. And as proven by recent events, these prejudices are still thriving in our society.

The other part of this graphic tale that resonated with me was how myths and legends are used as symbols for aspects of human consciousness.

There are, of course, countless legends about the hollow earth, and hidden passages that connect one pole to the other. I had assumed these to be a metaphor for the hidden recesses of the human mind, but they may have been a material reality.

I am reminded of the classic Journey to the Center of the Earth. I have not read the book (yet), but watched the film numerous times as a kid, fascinated with the idea that hidden below the surface of the earth was an entirely different world, populated by dinosaurs. Now as an adult, I understand the metaphor. The center of the earth is a symbol for the center of our brains, the primordial root of our consciousness, the primal animalistic part of our psyches that exists in the amygdala within the limbic cortex. The dinosaurs symbolize our collective lizard brains, a residual that we never lost through our stages of evolution.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!

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Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: Beyond the Fences

HellboyBPRD1953_BeyondFence

For me, one of the problems with reading serialized arcs is that I don’t remember the nuances of previous installments. So for this arc, I decided to wait, collect the three issues, and then read them in one sitting. That worked really well for me.

In this tale, Hellboy and two other B.P.R.D. agents go to a small town in California to investigate the disappearance of several children and the mutilation of an adult. The encounter the monster responsible, which is actually a dog that mutated after eating some mysterious material that was the byproduct of a nuclear test. There is also Cold War conspiracy and intrigue woven in to the tale, which works nicely.

What I found most interesting about this series was the use of the fence as a symbol. The fence serves as a metaphor for what divides the two realms of reality, existence, consciousness, and so forth. On one side of the fence is the archetypical 1950’s community, but on the other side, chaos and the psychological uncertainty in the post World War II nuclear age. Also, there is the division between ordinary reality and alternate dimensions. The fence symbolically separates what we perceive in our normal state of consciousness and what lies beyond the veil in the subconscious regions of our psyches, Moving beyond the fence and exploring these areas of the subconscious can be terrifying and dangerous.

The writers and artists who collaborate on this do an amazing job of drawing on occult philosophies, symbolism, and thought. But it’s not just heady mysticism—the story is very good and engaging. It is well-written with excellent dialog, and the artwork is top-notch. I highly recommend reading these three issues if you have time. I suspect you will enjoy them as much as I did.

Cheers, and keep reading cool stuff.

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“Midnight in Europe” by Alan Furst

MidnightEurope

So this is not the type of book I normally read. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a spy novel, especially when it’s considered “historical fiction,” it’s just that it is not the type of book I would generally go out of my way to purchase. But, I was at a fundraising event not too long ago which had a silent auction; so of course, I had to bid on the package of books. I won the bid and this was one of the books in the cache. Anyway, I felt like reading something different, so I opted for this one.

Overall, I thought the book was pretty good. Not great, but I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time reading it. I suspect fans of the spy genre would probably find it more interesting than I did. Still, it held my interest enough for me to finish the book.

The story is about a lawyer in Paris just before the start of World War II. He gets recruited to assist an organization securing arms for the resistance against the Franco regime in Spain. And from there, the plot thickens, to use the old cliché.

Early in the book, Furst describes what it was like for a family to be displaced as a result of the political upheaval, something I have thought about but thankfully have never had to experience.

Two days later they left for Paris. Ferrar, twelve at the time, would never forget the journey: this rupture in the family life had frozen them into silence. Nobody said a word, their minds occupied by the refugees’ litany: Where will we live? How shall we survive? What will become of us? In time, these questions were answered as the family adapted as best they could.

(pp. 26 – 27)

Since I am a bit of a word geek, I liked coming across the etymology of the word Gestapo,

Ferrar and de Lyon were led through the busy waiting room—inspiring the occasional furtive glance—to an office with a sign on the door that said GEHEIME STAATSPOLIZEI, abbreviated in common usage to “Gestapo.”

(p. 79)

While in college, I took a class that explored totalitarian government, and how fascist regimes come into power is something I found fascinating, albeit somewhat frightening. In this book, it is asserted that the goal of fascism is to destroy the established order.

“There is a good possibility that his malice is political. Fascism is a revolutionary force, it wants to destroy the established order and take its place—take its money, its businesses, everything it has because, to these people, the governing class in Europe is hesitant, ineffective, effete. So, destroy it. That’s what they’ve done in Germany and Italy and what they will do in Spain, with the excuse that they’re fighting Bolshevism.”

(p. 152)

I would have to say, though, that the descriptions of the various cities and towns in pre-WWII Europe are this book’s strongest aspects. There were times when I was actually able to envision myself walking along dark, wet streets, taking in the sights and sounds.

As I said, I thought the book was pretty good. If you’re a fan of spy novels, you might want to check it out. If you do, I’d be interested to hear your impression of this book.

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“Some Reflections on War and Peace” by Umberto Eco

TurningBackTheClock

While in Paris this past spring, I visited the famous Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. While I was there I purchased a copy of Umberto Eco’s Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. I began reading it the other day, fully expecting that I would read through the book and then write a review of it. I discovered that the book is actually a collection of essays written by Eco and after reading the first one realized that my original plan would not do this book justice. Hence, I decided to write individual blog posts specific to essays in the book.

“Some Reflections on War and Peace” is the first essay and it explores what Eco sees as the two types of warfare: paleowar, which is traditional war fought on a defined front against a clear enemy; and neowar, which is war where the identity of the enemy is uncertain and there is no front.

Eco asserts that the first Gulf War marked the advent of neowar and a shift in the general psychology and public view of warfare. It was no longer acceptable to simply wipe out an enemy, regardless of collateral damage. Global media has increased public sensitivity to war and the casualties associated with it.

The Gulf War established two principles: (1) none of our men should die and (2) as few enemies as possible should be killed. Regarding the death of our adversaries we saw some hypocrisy, because a great number of Iraqis died in the desert, but the very fact that no one emphasized this detail is an interesting sign. In any case neowarfare typically tries to avoid killing civilians, because if you kill too many of them, you run the risk of condemnation by the international media.

Hence the employment and celebration of smart bombs. After fifty years of peace due to the cold war, such sensitivity might strike many young people as normal, but can you imagine this attitude in the years when V1s were destroying London and Allied bombs were razing Dresden?

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 14 – 15)

Eco seems very critical regarding media’s role regarding neowar. He uses 9/11 as a prime example. In this case, the media actually aided bin Laden in achieving his goals, which is to spread fear and uncertainty.

Bin Laden’s aim was to impress world public opinion with that image, and accordingly mass media talked about it, showed the dramatic rescue operations, the evacuations, and the mutilated skyline of Manhattan. Did they have to repeat this news item every day, for at least a month, with photographs, film clips, and the endless eyewitness reports, broadcasting over and over the images of that wound before the eyes of all? It is hard to give an answer. Sales of newspapers with those photos went up, television channels that offered continuous repeats of those film clips enjoyed improved ratings, the public wanted to see those terrible scenes replayed, perhaps to feed its indignation, perhaps sometimes to indulge an unconscious sadism. Maybe it was impossible to do otherwise, but the fact remains that in this way the media gave bin Laden billions of dollars’ worth of free publicity, showing every day the images he had created, sowing bewilderment among Westerners, and giving fundamentalist supporters a reason for pride.

(ibid: p. 18)

Eco makes another astute observation regarding how media influences the public’s opinion regarding war. People in the West often side with a group not because they believe in a cause, but because they oppose war as it is being presented via international media. A perfect example of this is the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. One could argue that many Palestinian supporters side with them not because they agree with their ideology, but because they feel a sense of outrage at the images which they are exposed to.

Within the ranks of the West, pro-Islamic groups would be formed not out of faith but out of opposition to the war, and new sects would arise that reject the West, Ghandians who would put down their tools and refuse to collaborate with their governments, fanatics like the Davidians in Waco who (without being Muslims) would unleash terror campaigns to purify the corrupt Western world. In the streets of Europe, processions would form of desperate, passive supplicants waiting for the Apocalypse.

(ibid: p. 25)

The later part of the essay deals with the possibility of peace on a global scale. Eco is not optimistic. He asserts that conflict is part of human nature, and while we would like to envision a return to a peaceful state, mirroring that of the Edenic state, the sad fact is that humans have never enjoyed a prolonged state of peace.

I don’t believe that on this earth men, who are wolves preying on their fellow men, will attain global peace. Basically, Fukuyama was thinking about this peace with his idea of the end of history, but recent events have shown that history repeats itself, and always in the form of conflict.

(ibid: p. 29)

While this view of war and peace seems dismal, Eco ends the essay on a note of optimism. While global peace may never be possible, peace on a local level is certainly within our grasp. And I would augment this by asserting that if enough people worked towards local harmony, this could have a rippling effect across a wider plane.

Our only hope is to work on local peace.

(ibid: p. 30)

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“Hollow City” by Ransom Riggs: Myth and the Subconscious

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Hollow City is the second book in Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” series (see my review of the first book: Symbolism in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs). This novel picks up where the first on left off and follows the adventures of the peculiar children as they race through World War II London in an attempt to save their ymbryne, Miss Peregrine (an ymbryne is a person who can shape-shift into a bird and has the ability to create and maintain time loops). They are hunted by wights and hollows. Wights are amoral beings who seek to exploit peculiars to gain their strengths, while hollows are Lovecraftian creatures who feed on peculiars.

As with the first book, this novel’s greatest strength is the inclusion of abundant photographs. These photos drive the story and augment the mental imagery that the writing evokes. They are all black-and-white photos and could easily be included in a surrealist art exhibit. While I appreciate vivid colors in art and photography, there is something eerily evocative about black-and-white pictures. Maybe it’s the shadowy texture or the dreamlike quality. It’s also very likely that they tap into memories of watching old black-and-white sci-fi and horror films on Saturday mornings as a kid. Regardless, the illustrations in this book work really well for me and I think the story would suffer if it did not have the pictures.

There are two other topics that are explored in this book which I found interesting: myth and the subconscious. They are both subjects that fascinate me and are incorporated into the story in a creative and engaging manner.

“Do you realize what this means?” Millard squealed. He was splashing around, turning in circles, out of breathe with excitement. “It means there’s secret knowledge embedded in the Tales!”

(p. 64)

Great art and literature often seeks to express things that cannot be conveyed through traditional communication, hence the use of symbols and metaphor to express the ineffable. The use of symbolism is also a way to mask ideas that may be dangerous to either the writer or the reader. Hence, our literary history is filled with works that contain knowledge which is not visible on the surface, but requires decoding on the part of the reader. In fact, as one of the characters in the book points out, there are some things that can only be expressed through myth and symbolism.

“Yes,” said Addison. “Some truths are expressed best in the form of myth.”

(p. 98)

The book also explores the subconscious in some creative ways. One part that stood out for me is when Jacob was having a dream, which in and of itself draws on the symbolism associated with Jacob’s dream in the Bible, where he ascends to Heaven and wrestles with God. In this story, Jacob also wrestles in his dream, but with his personal fears. What I found most intriguing, though, was that while Jacob is dreaming, he is talking in his sleep. His words are incomprehensible to his friends, because the language of dreams is all symbol and taps directly into the subconscious. There is no way to adequately express in words the realm of dreams.

I bolted upright, suddenly awake, my mouth dry as paper. Emma was next to me, hands on my shoulders. “Jacob! Thank God—you gave us a scare!”

“I did?”

“You were having a nightmare,” said Millard. He was seated across from us, looking like an empty suit of clothes starched into position. “Talking in your sleep, too.”

“I was?”

Emma dabbed the sweat from my forehead with one of the first-class napkins. (Real cloth!) “You were,” she said. “But it sounded like gobbledygook. I couldn’t understand a word.”

(p. 189)

A shift into the subconscious, or any altered state of consciousness, is often symbolized by a descent into a dark place. In this book, the characters descend into a crypt using a ladder, which again ties in to the biblical myth of Jacob. This entry into a dark and subterranean space represents a shift to the shadowy realm of one’s consciousness.

The ladder descended into a tunnel. The tunnel dead-ended to one side, and in the other direction disappeared into blackness. The air was cold and suffused with a strange odor, like clothes left to rot in a flooded basement. The rough stone walls beaded and dripped with moisture of mysterious origin.

(p. 240)

Overall, I liked this book a lot. It was exciting, fun, and it also contains “secret knowledge” that one can discover if one reads carefully. I look forward to the third book. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long.

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Symbolism in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

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So I decided to take a break from reading Joyce’s Ulysses and read something more fun. Also, I was taking a short beach trip and was afraid I’d look awfully pretentious lying on the beach reading James Joyce. So this book was on my shelf and it seemed like a good choice for a beach read. I have to say that it was the perfect book, a quick read and enjoyable.

The book is kind of a dark fantasy novel, dealing with time loops, Lovecraftian monsters, mystical powers, and psychological trauma. While it sounds pretty morbid, it’s not quite as dark as it sounds. But what makes this book so cool, in my opinion, are the photographs included in the book. Riggs incorporates black-and-white pictures as part of the story, and there are quite a lot of them. It works really well. It is almost like a hybrid between a graphic novel and a “normal” book. It also sometimes feels like one of those old films that project a series of images to tell the story.

There is a lot of great symbolism in this book. So while it is a plot-driven story, there is much that you can think about if you choose. The first symbol worth considering is the island, where most of the story takes place. The island is a symbol for an isolated part of the psyche, a fixed point in the rippling sea of consciousness. And like our subconscious, the island is shrouded in mystery.

It was my grandfather’s island. Looming and bleak, folded in mist, guarded by a million screeching birds, it looked like some ancient fortress constructed by giants. As I gazed up at its sheer cliffs, tops disappearing in a reef of ghostly clouds, the idea that this was a magical place didn’t seem so ridiculous.

(p. 70)

The island has a bog, which is a point of transition between two dimensions. This represents a part of the psyche where it is possible to shift between states of consciousness. The bog is neither solid nor fluid, but a combination of the both, like a threshold. It symbolizes the psychic membrane which one must pass through when altering states of consciousness.

And as doors to the next world go, a bog ain’t a bad choice. It’s not quite water and not quite land—it’s an in-between place.

(p. 94)

There is one scene where sheep on the island were killed and mutilated. This is symbolic of the sacrificial lamb archetype. In this book, the sheep represent the Jews that were killed by the Nazis in World War II, and they also represent the peculiars, who are being hunted down.

The violence inside was almost cartoonish, like the work of some mad impressionist who painted only in red. The tramped grass was bathed in blood, as were the pen’s weathered posts and the stiff white bodies of the sheep themselves, flung about in attitudes of sheepish agony. One had tried to climb the fence and got its spindly legs caught between the slats. It hung before me at an odd angle, clam-shelled open from throat to crotch, as if it had been unzipped.

(p. 204)

The last symbol I want to mention is the homunculus. One of the peculiars is able to create homunculi out of clay. This draws on the golem mythology and the Frankenstein parable, of one who plays god and creates man from the earth. In the book, Enoch, the peculiar who makes the clay beings, takes on the characteristics of the cruel god, torturing and punishing his creations for not doing his will.

The clay soldier I’d returned began wandering again. With his foot, Enoch nudged it back toward the group. They seemed to be going haywire, colliding with one another like excited atoms. “Fight, you nancies!” he commanded, which is when I realized they weren’t simply bumping into one another, but hitting and kicking. The errant clay man wasn’t interested in fighting, however, and when he began to totter away once more, Enoch snatched him up and snapped off his legs.

“That’s what happens to deserters in my army!” he cried, and tossed the crippled figure into the grass, where it writhed grotesquely as the others fell upon it.

(p. 217)

As I said, I really liked this book. The only complaint I have about it is that it is the first book in a series, so it has an open ending that anticipates the next book, which is Hollow City. I will certainly read the next book, but I am just getting a little tired of serialized books. It seems to have become the norm in publishing, kind of a way to ensure future book sales. Other than that, great book and I totally recommend reading it. Cheers!!

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 4 of 4: Little Gidding

FourQuartets

For my fourth and final installment on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, I decided to do something a little different. For each of the first three poems, I explored some of the themes and symbolism that appeared throughout the poems. For “Little Gidding” I am going to focus on a single motif: Eliot’s impressions of the impact his poetry had on the world.

Eliot was 54 when he completed this poem in 1942. This would have been right in the midst of World War II. It is not surprising that as he was entering the later years of his life and observing the turmoil around him that he would contemplate the impact he might have had on the world as well as his contributions to humanity.

There are two sections of the poem that I want to explore. The first is within the long stanza at the end of Part II. Here, Eliot is having a conversation with himself. The elder self, having the wisdom that comes with experience, shares his insights with the younger self.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.

It appears that Eliot feels he is at the end of his creative period and that a new voice, or new poet, is needed to begin advancing the next generation. I sense a touch of sadness, but the older self is encouraging and validating, reminding himself that his words had an impact, that they have value. Eliot’s poetry can certainly “urge the mind to aftersight and foresight.” I know that whenever I have read anything by Eliot, I find myself examining my past and at the same time envisioning my future, while somehow staying centered in the present.

The other section I want to talk about appears at the beginning of Part V.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident not ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.

I almost feel guilty writing about this section. It is so beautiful and honest, I feel like anything I write would fail to live up to the poetic beauty expressed here. It is the perfect description of Eliot’s poetry. When I think about all the poetry I have read by Eliot, it is true that every phrase and every sentence is just right. Every word that he chooses, whether common or formal, fits right in and does not seem out of place. The cadence of the language has an innate musicality that causes the words to dance together, bringing the poems to life. And yes, “every poem is an epitaph.” Each of his poems honors his genius and his contributions to humanity.

As a writer and a musician, I am no different from many other artists. I have no desire to become rich and powerful, but I have a humble hope that something which I create and share might have a positive impact on another person. I wish I could let Mr. Eliot know that his words have made a difference in my life.

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