Friday, October 31, 2008

What's In The Bag?

What's in the bag?
What can it be?
Somebody left it here
On Halloween.
Sometimes it gurgles
And sometimes it screams.
What's in the bag?
Let's see.

On a cold and windy evening
Someone left it at our door.
It was the weirdest thing
We've ever seen before.
We tried to open it,
But that we couldn't do,
'Cause every time we tried
It moved.

What can it be?
Oh my oh me,
What can it be?
Oh, wouldn't you
Just love to see?
What can it be?

What's in the bag?
What can it be?
Somebody left it here
On Halloween.
Sometimes it gurgles,
And sometimes it screams.
What's in the bag?
Let's see.

We put it in some water,
But it floated to the top.
We stood on top of it,
But it just knocked us off.
We lit some dynamite,
But it blew out the fuse.
And sometimes late at night
It sings the blues.

What can itbe?
Oh my, oh me,
What can it be?
Oh, wouldn't you
Just love to see?
What can it be?
...It's me!

It was the early Seventies, and there was The Groovy Goolies, the most phantasmagorical polychromatic cast of weirdos to ever grace a kid's show with Laugh-In style joke delivery and songs by The Archies, no less. Most of the songs were rollicking good fun, but a few of them delivered a true eerie punch, and "What's In The Bag?" was one of our favorites. Hagatha's struggles with the unknown entity demonstrated to us early the old horror maxim that the unseen and suggested is often scarier than the revealed. At the end of the song, when the screen went dark, and the creepily joyous voice said "It's Me!" and started laughing, Hagatha struck a match... that was immediately blown out, revealing nothing.

I almost pooped my pants.

Nudar and Captain Yesterday

Futurama Series Four is finally out, and I got it! It consists of Nudar, the chief nude scammer alien featured in Bender's Big Score, and Fry as Captain Yesterday, his superhero persona brought on by using Miracle Cream.

Each figure is 5 3/4" high. Each cost $13.99. Nudar comes with a ray gun and the torso of Santa-Bot. Captain Yesterday comes with a tube of Miracle Cream and the head of Santa-Bot. When all six figures of Series Four come out, all the pieces of Santa-Bot can be assembled into one figure, and from the bulk of just these two pieces, indications are it will be huge.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There Was An Old Lady All Skin And Bones

There Was An Old Lady All Skin And Bones
There was an old lady all skin and bones,
Sure such a lady was never known.
It happened upon a certain day,
This lady went to church to pray.
When she came to the church stile
There she did rest a little while;
When she came to the church yard,
There the bells so loud she heard.
When she came to the church door,
She stopped to rest a little more;
When she came the church within,
The parson prated 'gainst pride and sin.
On looking up, on looking down,
She saw a dead man on the ground;
And from his nose unto his chin,
The worms crawled out, the worms crawled in.
Then she unto the parson said,
"Shall I be so when I am dead?"
"O yes! O yes!" the parson said,
"You will be so when you are dead."
--First printed in Gammer Gurton's Garland, 1784. Ancestor of the American version, "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out." Traditionally the last line is shrieked to scare the young'uns, all in good fun. In some versions it is the corpse that answers her. Said to have driven the poet Robert Southey (author of "The Three Bears") to hysterics whenever his family members recited it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Lyke Wake Dirge: Favorite Poems

The Lyke Wake Dirge
This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.
When thou from hence away art past,
Every nighte and alle,
To Whinny-muir thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Every nighte and alle,
Sit thee down and put them on;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.
From Whinny-muir whence thou may'st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Brig o'Dread thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If ever thou gav'st silver and gold,
Every nighte and alle,
At t'Brig o'Dread thou'lt find foothold,
And Christe receive thy saule.
But if silver and gold Thou never gav'st nane,
Every night and alle,
Down thou tumblest to Hell flame;
And Christe receive thy saule.
From Brig o'Dread whence thou may'st pass,
Every night and alle,
To Purgatory fire thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If ever thou gav'st meat or drink,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire sall never make thee shrink;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If meat or drink thou ne'er gav'st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.
This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.
This is a very old song from the Midlands of England. "Lyke wake" translates as "corpse watch"; it is literally a dirge to be sung while watching over the dead before burial. It tells the departed what to expect on his journey through the afterlife. For the one night of the wake--"this ae night"--he can still enjoy benefits of human life, warmth and shelter ("fleet") and light. But then he must fare forth, and his deeds while alive will determine how he fares.
According to the dirge, first the soul comes to Whinny-muir, a vast moor covered with thorns (whins). If he gave shoes and leggings to the poor in life, he can put them on and pass safely over the moor. If not, he shall be "pricked to the bare bone". If he gave money in charity he can then pass safely over the "Brig (Bridge) o'Dread". In folklore this is sometimes depicted as a huge sword laid edge up ("no broader than a thread") over a vast gulf. Finally he reaches Purgatory which he can pass safely if he has fed the poor. Traditionally after Purgatory you reach Heaven, "and Christe receive thy saule".
All in all a rather creepy song, not unsuitable for the All Hallows' Eve spirit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tales From The Perilous Realm

This is an anthology volume of five short books by J. R. R. Tolkien. It includes Roverandom, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, and Leaf by Niggle; included as an appendix is the essay On Fairy Stories.
Now, I have all these books in individual volumes, and some in collections like The Tolkien Reader and A Tolkien Miscellany. So for me the real buying point of this book are the illustrations by Alan Lee, the celebrated English artist who not only produced art for the illustrated volumes of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit but was one of the main visual conceptual artists for The Lord of the Rings movies.
The pictures break down like this: on the cover, a color painting of Farmer Giles and the dragon Chrysophylax(reproduced above); for Roverandom, 10 drawings; for Farmer Giles of Ham, 4 drawings; for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, 30 drawings; for Smith of Wootton Major, 3 drawings; and for Leaf by Niggle, 2 drawings. So all together, 50 pieces of original art, delicate pencil sketches, some of things not often pictured in the Tolkien canon. I particularly enjoyed the ones in The Adventure of Tom Bombadil (a poetry collection), where there was at least one drawing per poem.
Also included are an Introduction by famed Tolkien scholar T. A. Shippey and an Afterword by Alan Lee. The book itself is uniform with other Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt volumes of Tolkien works and so fits snugly with them on a shelf. So even if you have most of the books in the Tales of the Perilous Realm in some form or another, but are missing at least one (I think Roverandom might not be in some people's collection) this volume might be well worth the $28 I payed for it at our local Hastings.
Especially if you are a Tolkien nut like myself.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Scariest Book In The World

It is a shabby cloth-bound red book. Pop brought it back from the dump in the late sixties. Why had it been thrown away? I begin to wonder, now... Over the forty years it's been in the family it's been in the same shape; ragged, moldy, stained, it always seems on the verge of disintegrating but has never lost even a single page. And it is the scariest book in the whole world.

It's title: Great Ghost Stories. Edited by Herbert Van Thal, illustrated by Edward Pagram, published by Hill and Wang, Inc., of New York in 1960. Here is the list of stories, great classics of the Victorian and Edwardian eras all:

Running Wolf by Algernon Blackwood
The Haunted and the Haunters by Lord Lytton
The Spectre Bridegroom by Washington Irving
Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Squire's Story by Elizabeth Clegghorn Gaskell
The Story of Mary Ancel by William Makepeace Thackery
A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins
An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
The Phantom Coach by Amelia B. Edwards
The Signalman by Charles Dickens

Haunting tales, especially the Lytton and Le Fanu. But what puts the extra horror on these stories are the illustrations. I don't know who this Pagram fellow was, but he manages to fill his pictures with more scabby, nebulous horror than all the air-brushed color pictures I ever saw since. The picture reproduced above is one of the scariest of the lot, from The Phantom Coach.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Trick Or Treat For Halloween"

How do I begin to talk about this picture? Between June of 1968 and February of 1976, the Western Publishing Company, Inc. produced 57 issues of the Walt Disney Comics Digest magazine. Basically what they were were reprints of stories from comic books in handy digest form (not unlike Reader's Digest, but for kids). When we were very young, our Mom would buy us issues now and then (I was surprised to find in retrospect we actually had Issue #1 once upon a time). In October of 1969 we picked up #16, that featured the Carl Barks comic adaptation of the animated feature "Trick or Treat". This is the last panel, and it always impressed me deeply, especially the grey/purple sky retreating before the morning.
It is this panel I hunted down for years. I almost wept when I found the story reprinted in the giant Abbeville Press Walt Disney Donald Duck and His Nephews, and found it printed in harsh flat colors on slick paper. It in no way reproduced the soft, crumbling, subtle effects of the old newsprint; even the accuracy of the coloring (you can see in the picture above the colors are slightly out of line) didn't make up for it. At last this July when I went hunting for Digests on eBay (I ended up with 35 of the 57) I tracked it down.
The importance of the Disney Digests to me as a kid are hard to explain. They were studied so intensely even before I knew how to read they assumed a sort of hallucinogenic reality for me. Some panels I thought the characters were looking out of like windows. As I read recovered copies now, phrases once so familiar, not thought of for 35 years, began to jingle through the dusty corridors of my mind ("The jig is up!/ It's jail for you, you dirty pup!"--from the Bucky Bug stories, always written in rhyme). Two-part stories we never saw the beginning or end of were completed at long last.
How do I stop talking about this post? I've given a few facts, and tried to convey nebulous feelings and memories. Perhaps it's enough on this night of the full moon to look back at that "fading harvest moon" in the picture, and muse on time, and memory, and recurrence.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Saturdays Are For Garage Sales

This Saturday, for some reason, there was an abundant number of garage sales locally. I usually accompany my sister and her family on their "saling", and that day was no exception. I always look for any action figures or old books that are in good shape, and maybe once every four trips I find something good. This time, at the second garage sale we visited, I found a good batch of action figures for sale, for fifty cents each. I ended up with thirteen figures and a bag of accessories.

Three were super heroes. There was a Justice League Superman and Batman. The Batman had a bluish sheen to his basic black color that made him sufficiently different to warrant inclusion. There was also a Batman from the animated Batman Begins, that is really different, mainly in the sculpt of the chin.

Two were from Code Lyoko. I had often seen these figures at Toys'R'Us and thought about getting them if there was nothing else, but never did. They were Yumi and Odd, and I was glad I got the bag of accessories because Odd's tail was in it.

But the main batch was from Avatar. What is with this suddenly? I'm finding used and remaindered figures from this series everywhere. Is it because the show is finally ended? Anyway, there were two Angs, two Zukkos, one Waterbending Ang, Sokka, Avatar Roku, and the reportedly rare Fire Nation Soldier. Most of the weapons in the bag were theirs.

I love going to garage sales, because not only might you find a good bargain, you also get a glimpse into how other people live. You see their fads and follies, and discarded fashions. You could fill a library with the diet and cook books that are offered up at every single sale. I comb through the interchangeable genre fiction and every now and then I find a gem tossed thoughtlessly aside. I like to think you don't often find the good stuff, because the good stuff is what people keep. Or maybe they just don't buy it.

But most melancholy of all is an estate sale. Here you observe not just the gleanings and leftovers of life, but the spiraling outward explosion of possessions breaking away from the gravitational pull of a life suddenly no longer there. We visited one this Saturday, and I fancy I could read some of the history. A widow, with still some of the things from her husband, and either grown children who had already taken the few memories they wanted, or none at all. Furniture that had not been changed since the 70's. Neat over all, but with things dragged out of the neglected corners into the sunlight, appraised by strangers and disposed impersonally. I bought a couple of books, Norman Rockwell's Christmas Book and Fairy Tales and After by Roger Sale, a book of literary criticism on children's books. I wondered how that one had ended up there. Was somebody a teacher, or just interested in fantasy? The other volumes for sale gave no clue.

The last garage sale took us by a had pale green carpet grass, yellowing around the edges, and starred with fallen sycamore leaves. A scent rose from it, earthy, dry, baking already in the sun. Perhaps only my brothers can understand how evocative that is of the past for me. Garage sales are good. They take you to places nearby you've never known, and sometimes they can lead you by your past again.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jack Lantern Light

Jack Lantern Light

Where can we wander
By jack-lantern light,
Treading dead leaves
In the dim smoky night?

Down to the cornfields
Under the moon
Rustling and empty
Except for raccoons;

Down the bare pathway
Winding through trees
Where dark woods are leaning
In a dry lonesome breeze;

Down to the graveyard
Covered with stones
Trying to hold down
Restless old bones.

Oh, what is that Thing
Coming near through the night?
Oh, where have we wandered
By jack-lantern light?

Drawing and poem both by me, though the drawing was not made to illustrate the poem. But it's always more interesting to have an illustration rather than simply text.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Images of Halloween One

Halloween has changed a lot since I was a kid. I want to spend a little time posting images and reflections on the season as the days go by. This is the introductory panel from an old issue of Plop! that as children we always felt was very evocative of the holiday spirit. It features those three tale-spinners Cain, Abel, and Eve, and was drawn by the great Sergio Aragones. The old house, the dark sky, the suggestion of wind and leaves, the apprehensive look on the bird's face contrasting the ghoulish glee of the creepy trio, all conjure up the Halloween mood of old.