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Posts Tagged ‘Roald Dahl’

Baronial Colonials, and Other News

August 18, 2016 | by

The alligator insignia of “The Calcutta Pococurante Society.” Image via the Public Domain Review.

  • I’ve never understood the appeal of mixed martial arts—too often it features, as Matthew Shen Goodman puts it, “an unending barrage of increasingly indistinguishable bald men and cornrowed women with terrible tattoos throwing the same one-two into a low kick and wrestle-fucking each other into the fence.” But maybe we’re watching it for the storytelling? Or maybe not: “MMA’s drama tends to be somewhat undercooked and boring, or terrifying and repulsive: incidents of domestic violence; hyping fights with xenophobic slurs (please, Conor and Joanna, stop telling your Brazilian opponents to go back to the jungle or that you’ll ransack their villages on horseback) or intense narratives about face-punching for Jesus/America/family legacy. There are a few fighters who thrive on being death spirits personified (Robbie Lawler, for example, who soberly told a broadcaster he takes people’s souls on Atlanta local television), but an actual story is often lacking, as are characters. This makes for difficult viewing, given how many fights there are, and the fact that you usually have to pay to watch, as well as the time spent sitting through ads for MetroPCS and new appetizers at Buffalo Wild Wings.”
  • Everyone knows that Netflix’s Stranger Things pays homage to eighties-era horror and sci-fi, but if you want to be a real asshole at the next party you go to, you can insist that its roots go much, much deeper, back to Lovecraft and an earlier tradition of speculative fiction: “The idea—central to Stranger Things—that the unnatural is weirder, more widespread, and therefore scarier than the state of nature dates back at least to 1927, when H. P. Lovecraft published a short story called ‘The Colour Out of Space.’ It’s about a meteor that lands on a farm in rural Massachusetts. A strange life-form is buried within the meteor, and it soon leaches into the soil. The farm’s plants begin to glow in shades ‘unlike any known colors of the normal spectrum.’ The animals, too, begin to move in unnatural ways. Eventually, the life-form takes a concrete shape. It begins to move about, stalking the farmer and his family and turning their bodies into a kind of living ash. Of the meteor, the narrator concludes, ‘It was nothing of the earth, but a piece of the great outside.’ ” 
  • Before fat shaming was a thing, there was Roald Dahl, peppering his books with gluttons and the many objects of their gluttony. As Annalisa Quinn writes, food in Dahl’s work is uniquely fraught: “If you look closely, the danger inherent in food is everywhere. There’s the dinner party in ‘Taste,’ Dahl’s chilling adult short story in which the host bets his gourmand guest that he won’t guess the provenance of the wine (the prize: his daughter); the chocolate Xanadu of Willy Wonka, where handling food the wrong way subjects you to contortions and tortures; and the dripping, voluptuous peach that kills James’ aunts. He entices us and then shows us what happens if we succumb: derision, loss of bodily autonomy, death.”
  • Calcutta in the early nineteenth century was full of British fat cats cooling their heels in various exotic locales. Joshua Ehrlich looks at 1833’s Calcutta Quarterly Magazine, which includes a bizarre supplement mocking a fictitious group called the “Calcutta Pococurante Society” for its indulgent ways: “The members’ wandering dinner chat, peppered with lines of poetry and elements of the occult, is not the kind of thing modern readers are used to seeing in print. Nor is it obvious why past readers should have wanted to … It is striking, meanwhile, how little the text is concerned with India or Indians … The aloofness of the British transplants, their dislocation from their surroundings, seems part of the satire … At the Society’s dinner, even local ingredients are rendered in French on the menu. The members discuss almost exclusively Western politics, philosophy, and literature. On the rare occasions when the east enters the scene, it does so obliquely and fancifully, for instance in the decoration of the Society’s meeting place: ‘a Turkish tent of white silk … Ottomans of pale Blue and Gold … a profusion of Purple Velvet drapery.’ The everyday experience of life in India is relegated to outside the tent-flaps.”
  • While we’re on the British empire: Zimbabwe’s Harare City Library boasts a new Doris Lessing Special Collection, commemorating the thirty-five hundred books she gave to the library after her death. Lessing had a special history with the place, as Percy Zvomuya writes: “Lessing lived in Southern Rhodesia between 1925 (when she was six) and 1949 … The independent Zimbabwe that Lessing returned to in the 1980s was a different country from the Southern Rhodesia she left in 1949, which had declared her a ‘prohibited immigrant’ when she went back in 1956. She described it as an ‘awful place’ in one interview. ‘Only someone who’s lived in these dreadful colonial places will understand why. They are so dead and narrow and stultifying. If you are living in that kind of society where a small number of people are oppressing a great many, they become obsessed by the fact, and they talk about nothing else, day and night. And I always think of Goethe, who said, if you are going to keep a man down in the ditch, you are going to have to get into the ditch with him.’ ”

A Polar Wind: Robert Kloss and Matt Kish in Conversation

September 29, 2015 | by

A detail from Matt Kish‘s illustration for the cover of The Revelator, by Robert Kloss.

A detail from Matt Kish’s illustration for the cover of The Revelator, by Robert Kloss.

On the relatively short list of authors and artists who have collaborated on multiple books, there are few who so perfectly mirror one another’s sensibilities that it becomes difficult to imagine art and word as separate entities. I’d place Aleksei Kruchenykh and Olga Rozanova, A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake in that select group. And now I’d add author Robert Kloss and artist Matt Kish. The pair have, to date, worked together on two novels (Alligators of Abraham and The Revelator), a hybrid novel written with Amber Sparks (The Desert Places), and an ongoing project they call the “Bestiary.”

The two have published work independently—Kish, notably, has illustrated every page of Moby-Dick and Heart of Darkness—but their joint efforts are of a different order, primarily because, being of like minds, one’s work influences the other’s in the course of making. The Revelator, which was just published this month, is a psychologically brutal tale about an itinerant zealot in nineteenth-century America. In the opening paragraphs, a group of forlorn sailors, “their faces blistered and their minds bleached and weary,” espies a mountain: “some named it the ‘Finger of the Evil One,’ and some called it a tower of soot, dreamed it an ancient citadel misshapen by flame, the horror of all trapped within.” Kish’s illustrations, sprinkled throughout, are correspondingly prophetic, alien, and apocalyptic.   

Kloss recently moved from Boston to Boulder, Colorado; Kish lives in Ohio. The two have never met. Earlier this month, they conducted a conversation via online chat about the nature of collaboration and working in the shadow of Melville.  

—Nicole Rudick

Kish: I’ve been thinking about this conversation for some time, alternately veering between excitement and intimidation. Aside from our numerous e-mails, this will probably be the most in-depth communication we’ve shared, at least on a sustained level.

Kloss: Let’s start with Melville then, since I don’t think we would be having this conversation without his work. Read More »

Almond Joy

April 28, 2015 | by

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From a 1905 sheet-music cover.

“That parrot,” he said at last. “You know something? It had me completely fooled when I first saw it through the window. I could have sworn it was alive.” “Alas, no longer.” “It’s most terribly clever the way it’s been done,” he said. “It doesn’t look in the least bit dead. Who did it?” “I did.” “You did?” “Of course,” she said. “And have you met my little Basil as well?” She nodded toward the dachshund curled up so comfortably in front of the fire. Billy looked at it. And suddenly, he realized that this animal had all the time been just as silent and motionless as the parrot. He put out a hand and touched it gently on the top of its back. The back was hard and cold, and when he pushed the hair to one side with his fingers, he could see the skin underneath, grayish black and dry and perfectly preserved. “Good gracious me,” he said. “How absolutely fascinating.” He turned away from the dog and stared with deep admiration at the little woman beside him on the sofa. “It must be most awfully difficult to do a thing like that.” “Not in the least,” she said. “I stuff all my little pets myself when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea?” “No, thank you,” Billy said. The tea tasted faintly of bitter almonds, and he didn’t much care for it. “You did sign the book, didn’t you?” “Oh, yes.” “That’s good. Because later on, if I happen to forget what you were called, then I could always come down here and look it up. I still do that almost every day with Mr. Mulholland and Mr. … Mr. …” “Temple,” Billy said, “Gregory Temple. Excuse my asking, but haven’t there been any other guests here except them in the last two or three years?” Holding her teacup high in one hand, inclining her head slightly to the left, she looked up at him out of the corners of her eyes and gave him another gentle little smile. “No, my dear,” she said. “Only you.” —Roald Dahl, “The Landlady”

We all know that cyanide tastes like almonds. If something is almond-y, and you’re somewhere sinister, well, mister, look out! You’ve been poisoned. I first learned this from the Dahl story cited above–or, more accurately, from the episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents based on the story. 

But generally, one assumes, writers only know this themselves via hearsay. They know—like the rest of us—that cyanide smells like “bitter almonds.” As one article explains it, “in murder mysteries, the detective usually diagnoses cyanide poisoning by the scent of bitter almonds wafting from the corpse.” In its pure form, cyanide apparently does have an almond-like scent—and this makes sense, since the toxin is found in the wild form of the nut. Read More »

Border Control

September 8, 2014 | by

customs

The queue for customs was long, and very disorganized. People kept trying to cut—or they cut inadvertently, and were yelled at. But really, it was hard to tell what was a line, and who was in charge, and what they wanted from you. You could only do wrong. It was like being a child in a Roald Dahl story, arbitrary and potentially magical, if you are in the business of silver linings.

And then suddenly a new officer appeared. He didn’t seem to be standing anywhere official, exactly; I mean, there were no dividers or ropes or podium sorts of things around him. He had just chosen an arbitrary spot kind of near the exit. But he was wearing a uniform and radiated great authority. “New Line!” he shouted. “I AM A LINE!”

I was pondering what it meant to be a line—I was very tired—when he beckoned me forward. “Now!” he barked. And then, “STAY BACK. DO NOT RUSH FORWARD.” And then, “IF YOU HOARD ME, I WILL LEAVE.”

“If you hoard me / I will leave.” Read More »

Pynchon Defends Homer, and Other News

September 4, 2014 | by

script

The Simpsons’s executive producer Matt Selman tweeted this script with Pynchon’s remarks.

  • Before he made his second “appearance” on The Simpsons in 2004, Thomas Pynchon made a few edits to the teleplay—he crossed out a pejorative line of dialogue about Homer’s ample posterior. “Homer is my role model,” he wrote in the margins, “and I can’t speak ill of him.”
  • Walter Benjamin’s “vexed relationship with academia”: “Benjamin could do first-paragraph seduction with a vengeance; yet on the several occasions when certain essays were the key to a prestigious university post—when those powers of seduction would really have worked in his favor—what does he do? He goes in the opposite direction, producing dense thickets of prickly, forbidding verbiage. Today, there isn’t a university press anywhere in the world that wouldn’t kill to get the rights to publish those same contentious, rejected essays.”
  • Now that so much of our media is stored in the Cloud, “the tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”
  • From If Only He Knew: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding, and Loving Your Wife, a 1988 Christian relationship guide that seems to presume marriage is a total bummer: “While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation … Comfort her when she is down emotionally. For instance, put your arms around her and silently hold her for a few seconds without lectures or putdowns.”
  • In which a Roald Dahl story moves a man to pursue beekeeping, a hobby that teaches us much about the nature of loyalty (and the loyalty of nature).

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Inside Stories

September 3, 2014 | by

Quentin Blake at the House of Illustration.

Located somewhat improbably behind King’s Cross St. Pancras, the thrumming London tube and train stations, is the cheery House of Illustration, which opened in early July. The path leading to it is lined with illustrated panels, a showcase of the visual treasures to come: advertisements and poster art, medical and botanical sketches, children’s books and fashion illustrations. The center’s present exhibition, “Inside Stories,” features original work by the beloved illustrator Quentin Blake, one of the House’s trustees and now an octogenarian, whose drawings have enchanted young readers for nearly half a century.

Blake is perhaps best known for his work with Roald Dahl, but no matter who he’s collaborating with, his illustrations retain a buoyant, often impish air. His first drawings were published in the magazine Punch when he was still in high school. He began illustrating children's books in 1960, and taught for more than twenty years at the Royal College of Art. Since the nineties, he’s worked as exhibition curator, and has more recently created larger-scale works for health care wards and communal spaces.

Claudia Zeff, a publishing industry art director who has spent twenty years designing book jackets, curated “Inside Stories.” Zeff’s collaborative process with Blake was already comfortable—the two have worked together for more than a decade. The ideas for the exhibition “evolved quite gradually,” Zeff said. “Quentin came up with the idea of using the story behind the books as the theme … and expressed the different approaches/techniques he uses to illustrate to different types of narrative.” Read More »

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