Monday, February 11, 2019

Reading Materials: Thoughts on Field of Blood


There is a thing that happens with history, where it becomes mythologized.  I have my own framing for it when historical figures go from being human to being part of some story.  They become the Gods, Heroes or Monsters.  We don't often think of them as people anymore.  Instead, we identify them in less specific ways, some of which might not be true.  Or worse, might be half-true.

The Field of Blood


The recent book in my craw is The Field of Blood by Joanne B. Freeman.  It covers a part of the Antebellum period of the US, the decades before the Civil War.  Its focus is on violence in Congress.  This is something you might've thought happened only once or twice in US history before the Civil War.  Most likely you'd be thinking of the Caning of Charles Sumner, but The Field of Blood reveals much more tarnish view.

It strings together a history of duels, intimidation and open brawls on the floor of Congress.  Key is the word 'Strings.'  Because such violence isn't something we Americans seem to remember about those years.  In fact, the Antebellum period seems to be this sort of blank spot in the American mind.  We can remember only certain things from it.  All cast by the lens of Lincoln and the rest of the 19th Century that followed antebellum.  Biased without seeing the stains.

Antebellum Abuses


This is a period of US History I'm fascinated with.  I've written my own fantasy setting that pulls from it rather than the latter parts of the 1800s.  Y'know, the difference between the "wild west" we whites fantasize about.  Or that steampunk-ish period prior to World War 1.  The one that seems to catch the dreamer's mind, while forgetting all the imperialism.  I find the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, interesting because of the dark marks they have.

The 1830s saw the advent of the photograph.  In 1830, the United States had almost no rails.  By 1840, railroads connected most of the east coast together.  Humans were unkind and cruel to animals; often it was a form of entertainment for many places.  We engaged in chattel slavery, which we still seem unable to digest the consequences of.  People found industry wanting and started to romanticize about something new.

In other words, it was a dark time and it was a new age.  What always fascinates me is those voices then that were trying to do what they thought was right.  Even if it was immoral by our standards.  The revealing framing of The Field of Blood is how much honor culture factored in.  It suggested a strategy for the South of threats and violence against the North to get what they wanted.  Yet, Southern violence, when used over and over again, didn't create a docile North.  Instead, violence and dueling only seemed to do the opposite.  It made aggression between both sides more palpable and certain.

The thing that struck me the most was John Quincy Adams.  Adams is largely a forgettable US President.   One doesn't remember him right away.  If one does, it's as the last President elected before suffrage expanded.  Albeit only to all non-landowning white men.  After being President, John Quincy Adams became a member of the House of Representatives.  Which, by today's standards, feels like a demotion.

But his tenure there was shockingly impressive to me.  Adams, in a place where Southerners threatened violence all the time, challenged them right to their faces.  An old man.  He opposed them out of the simple principle that it wasn't right that Northern people had their representatives silenced.  I hadn't known that, and my context for him bumped my opinion of him up in my mind.

Yell, But Never Be Silent


I found The Field of Blood insightful.

The revelation of the violence in Congress during the Antebellum period struck me as a relief.  That there were flaws amongst the leading politicians of that leaden age.  That the Civil War wasn't born out of some flickering moment.  It was the opening of the old wound, that had festered and never healed fully.  If anything, it says something about political discourse.  If you lack the will to fight for what you believe, then what is the point of politics?  Or better yet: in no age are political battles won with civility.

It is almost never about coming together.  It's about making something more of what we have.  And yes, you aren't the only one scared of the other side.  But you still are willing to talk, even if it is yelling.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Vengeant (A Flavor Reskin for Barbarians in D&D/Pathfinder)

Golga hid in the darkest corner she could find.  The little girl squeezed into the furthest, hardest to reach a corner of the pantry.  The raiders couldn't find her here.  She hoped they couldn't.  Golga shivered; her cotton shift had turned red from the all the blood.  It was cold.  She was cold.

"Don't find me.  Don't find me.  Don't find me."  She chanted to herself, over and over.  Golga had seen what they'd done.  They'd be gone.  Soon.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Or they would kill her.

A voice in the dark startled her.  It was soothing.  It reminded her of her mother, but after she had caught Golga doing something she wasn't supposed to it.  Anger vibrated in it.

"What if you found them first?"

"What?"  Golga replied.  "They'll kill me."

"Not if you kill them first."  A face seemed to melt out of the darkest before her.  Eyeless, it still looked at her.  "Anger.  Fury.  Golga, aren't you angry?"

"Yes... but I am small."

"And they killed your family.  They think they can stop you.  I am Vengeance.  I am Fury.  Take my gift.  Let the Rage flow, child."

When Golga woke up, she still was covered in blood.  But five corpses were before her.  All of the raiders that had attacked her village, dead.  She looked at her fingers, at the knife.  Trembling she dropped it.  She trembled because that rage she had felt, didn't bring her shame. 

The vengeance made the child feel complete.  Yet Golga knew there was much more to do with it. 

Vengeance's Scions

Spirits of Vengeance, sometimes called Furies, are entities that have existed since before civilization began.  The first murder birthed them.  Or so the story goes.  They themselves don't directly assault or hunt the wicked unless there is no other recourse.  But often these Furies have done something else.  They spark a fire in the hearts of those victimized.

The Furies exist to punish wickedness.  They are incapable of seeing redemption in others.  They are not merciful.  Some Spirits of Vengeance fall, but often are destroyed if they fall.  Mercy or worse, enabling the guilty to commit evil again, can cause a Fury to fall from their power. 

Most often Furies craft scions, inheritors of the unending Wrath all Spirits of Vengeance tap into.  When a Fury does this, it touches the heart.  They put a spark of themselves, enough to let that soul tap into the Wrath.  To let them do a small, milder version of the fury all Spirits of Vengeance draw power from: Rage.

Raging

They go by many names, but often the words given to those of the furious path speaks of condescension.  Barbarian.  Savage.  Thug.  Brute.  The name the wise and those who know their hearts calls them reveals a bit of truth.  The Vengeant.

Spirits of Vengeance gift them, not just in physical ways, but with a deeper spiritual bond.  The dark spirits of vengeance are said to have trained the First Vengeant.  An lone child who survived the brutal genocide of his people.  Their anger led them deep into the pits of Hell.  To the screeching halls of Darkest Nicht. Through the endless prison-mazes of Urdam and many other brutal places.  Their rage broke the universe and never could satisfy them.  But it gave them a grim purpose.

Savagery

This is a different path than those who learn traditional martial arts or magecraft.  Because it is given by a spirit, some consider it to be the purview of the primitive or the uncivilized.  Furies care not for whoever it is their gift with rage.  They empower anyone victimized with the power to seek their own vengeance. 

This savage path can end in multiple ways for the Vengeant.  Their vengeance ended, the Rage that burns from it might fade.  If they finally find justice, it might turn into something for others, to do as the Furies did unto them.  Others instead become the same kind of monsters that created them.  Still, others never find satisfaction and die sooner than someone who left it.

Furies often empower the young or those in a position that no other could aid them.  A rare few seek out Spirits of Vengeance and convince them to give them access to the Rage.

Over time, a few Vengeants even learn to master the Rage.  They turn it into power that rivals the terrible might of the Furies.  Hulking strength.  Unstoppable wrath.  Earthshaking power.

Metagame Notes

This is mostly a flavor thing.  The Fury could use the stats for any low-level-ish Devil or Angel if you need a place to start for that. Overall, the Vengeant concept is intended to replace the normal Barbarian flavoring.

Classes reflect a kind of stereotype.  It's meant to be a starting place for creating a character.  The Rogue is the classic thief in fantasy, or the Paladin is the classic good-natured knight, for example.  The classic Barbarian, though, has always troubled me a bit. 

The implication of "primitive tribes" or "barbarian peoples" implies a lack of empathy.   The "Noble Savage" as a stereotype is flawed for many reasons.  The downward look at anyone who doesn't act or look like your culture.   Even in cloying words, it's problematic. 

The word Barbarian reflects a Greek concept.  The Ancient Greeks coined the term.  Because of the sounds, they perceived foreigners made.  "Bar-bar."  Y'know, because Greeks.  It became an antonym for civilized.  Thus it's implied an entire class that represents an "uncivilized people."

There is a problem with calling one culture primitive.  After one gets past the problem of who gets to call who "primitive", there are other concerns.  Are Barbarians in a setting foreigners?  Are they primitive from a choice?  What does primitive mean?  Does eschewing armor make you primitive or poor?

In other words, the noble savage also is less interesting than the Vengeant.  If anything, it's because the motivations are more interesting.  It doesn't imply a "primitive" culture based on dated stereotypes.  But it does give a character a goal to look for.  It creates actionable goals.  It opens the door for players to explore questions on whether vengeance is worth it, or if it is something to fear.   

Monday, January 28, 2019

Secret Histories: All Begins and Ends in the Water

Bit of short fiction this week.  A tale from the Secret Histories, the Historica Arcanum, as written and forgotten both long ago and tomorrow.  A tale about Delphi, her many lives and about how a few choices echo through more than one century.

You are born in water.  You die made of water.  Water sees you come, and water sees you go.  It is in your eyes, your blood, your soul.  Does it bind you, free you or is it a chain?  If you enjoy this tale, leave a comment and more like it might come this way.


1836 CE

The wolf-masked stranger so frightened them, they tied a noose about his neck.  They shoved him off the port bow, letting him drag behind their swift sloop.  Slaves below deck heard their laughter.  The devils riding among the slavers giggled.

Then there was a splash from the sea.  Saltwater elongated in a tentacle.  The wolf-masked man rose upon that wave, beside a woman in a blue-gray cloak.  Dolphins of blue, silver and green adored her cloak.

The white-skinned maiden wore nothing but saltwater and her cloak.  But her shaved head and glowing white eyes commanded the sea.  Men screamed in fear.  They panicked.  They fired shots at the witch they saw before them.

Muskets missed their marks as the sea witch gave the slaver lives back to the sea.  Twenty sailors left the world, drowning.  Much less pain than those in the hold beneath them had gone through.

401 CE

They brought the small boy to her that midwinter.  They came down to her cave.  The blue cloaked crone smiled at the sight of their company.  She stepped out of the dark, the cold vapors of the sea about her.

The boy looked up at her.

His eyes were large as shells, she thought.  He trembled.

"Is Delphi so scary to one only beginning his journey?"  She asked.

The boy shivered, hesitating.  Still.

"You are Delphi?  Grandfather said I had to ask-"

"You and yours never can.  Your father couldn't and your grandfather couldn't either.  Doesn't matter." The dark-haired woman bent down, revealing she wore only the wet cloak, despite the chill of winter.  The boy could see sigils and runs embroidered on it.

"I- I- why do come to us?" The boy stammered

"This is the beginning.  All things begin with the water."  She whispered to him.  "You have it in you, but need someone to tell you to take the first step.  I can see where that step leads, but I can't force it on you.  They call me Delphi.  What is your name, child?"

"Merlin."

"Merlin, if you wish to know the path before you, take my hand,"  Delphi said.  "And I will show you how to start a journey the world will never forget."

1836 CE

The boy trembled as the wolf-masked man and the woman in the wet cloak landed upon the deck.  She opened her hands, the water about her turning from tentacles to vapor and fog.  Splashes and screams from the slavers in the roiling sea echoed behind her.
I should hide, the boy told himself.  But he couldn't.  He trembled in fear.  It locked him.

"I am called Delphi."  The woman said.  She gentled bent down, enough to look into his green eyes.

"Robert."  He squeaked.

"Robert, Robert."  The woman seemed to taste the words.  Then her eyes flashed.  "Ah.  I see."

"See what?"  The man in the wolf-mask asked.

"Quiet."  She told him.  "Robert?  We aren't going to hurt you if you obey."

"Y-yes."  Robert replied.

"This is a slaving ship.  But we came because it is also full of demons.  Do you understand?"

"Slaves.  Right.  They are demons too?"

The bald woman sighed.  She reached out a water-pruned hand and touched Robert's small head.  The cabin boy screamed as a vision washed over him.

2551 BCE

"Ha!" The woman in the wolf mask responded.

"You laugh at Delphi?"  The man in the wet cloak replied.

"We both know that this isn't the beginning of anything.  That the pyramids that they raise over there have been only the middle part of our tale."  The dark-skinned woman in the wolf-mask gestured to the other side of the Nile river in the distance.  There was a wry tone to her voice.  "Yet you tell me you are here to share the beginning of the journey with me?"

The cloaked man sighed.

"Damn you Lupis.  Everyone else appreciates prophecy, but you have to cheat the idea altogether."  Delphi responded.

"And you love enlightening the unenlightened.  Unlike some of us, you better the world, although don't you ever want to do something directly?" Lupis replied.  "You and the waters you command could take down a devil or demon or three.  Maybe help expand the possible choices for those you help find their way."

The man waded back into the water.  The water went up to his knees.
"Spilling blood you mean, for your constant task?"

"Spilling blood to stop suffering.  To create freedom.  Happiness."
Delphi looked up at her.

"For someone who refuses to a crown-" He growled.

"-I certainly like to give commands?"  Lupis finished her tone with a bit of humor to it.

Both looked at each other, but Delphi felt embarrassed at having to agree with Lupis this time.  Like the other times.  Both before them and to come.

1836 CE

The cabin boy vomited.  "How... what?  How did you know my name?  What did you show me?!"

"I'll be below."  The wolf-masked man told the cloaked woman, her skin still glistening with saltwater.  "Don't break him."

"The future can't break the vessel that will carry it, Lupis."  She retorted.  She helped the boy back to his feet.  "Robert Greensmith, do you need a moment more?"

"My name.  How do you know it?" He shivered in fear.  But her eyes looked at him with something he hadn't seen since the ship had kidnapped him in Dublin.

"A strange man grabbed you.  Took you to his ship, and whipped you when you tried to get away.  Those tears didn't go away to nothing.  They fell somewhere."

"I don't understand.  That doesn't explain what you showed me.  It hurt.  I felt- I was somewhere I never been before.  Twas dark as night.  And I heard gunfire.  Horrible..."

The woman pressed a finger to his lips.

"I am the Delphi.  And I can't see the future.  But the waters know.  I can open it to others.  A glimpse of something you are destined for.  I'd hoped it would help you."  She closed her eyes.  "You have a choice, boy.  Either your vision enlightened you, and this slaving ship is something you want to help fight.  Or it isn't, and you ignore it.  Either way, I can't abide harm to one who hasn't even seen the path they walk yet.  Innocence should mean something."

The boy shook his head.

"The future?  The priests back home always spoke of witchcraft like that, but I thought it just... tales to scare us to be good or old stories of when people hated things they didn't understand-"

"People still hate what they don't understand," Delph told him.  "Like water in the sea or air in the sky, fear of the unknown is a constant."

"You won't kill me?  I have a choice?"  Robert asked.

"In that hold below us, are spirits born from the suffering this ship makes.  Demons and other ill things.  Poisonous things that feed on their suffering.  Pains and wicked droplets.  Sin.  You can sense it when you feel the wrongness of an act.  We don't just want to free people because it's the right thing, Robert.

"I do the right things because it keeps the demons weaker.  So even though killing you would be prudent, it wouldn't solve the true stain here.  So yes.  You have a choice.  And I'll respect it, rather than risk ruining the spiritual side of my actions here.  You understand?"

He shook his head.

Nonetheless, he made a choice before the woman whose voice was as gentle as low tide.

1863 CE

The Irish man pulled the burlap bag from the ebony-skinned girl's head.

"Go!  C'mon hurry!"

"You never said why!"  Her voice squeaked.  The embroidered cloak clung tight to her.  "And you-"

"The bullet is a wee thing."  The man was out of breath.  A ragged breath.  He couldn't follow the girl, but the Canadian border was so close.  The bandage kept the blood back, but Robert Greensmith had known for most of his life what it was.

"You're bleeding!"  She yelled, pulling at him.  "Come with me!"

"Nay."  He turned toward the light in the distance coming at them.  "I saw this coming a long time ago.  A wise woman once told me the choice matters.  That we all begin and end in the waters."

"What?" She shook her head.

But the baying hounds seemed to grow closer.  He couldn't follow.  Not if she had to fight him.

So she ran into the night.  The old Irishman turned and faced the vision that had plagued him the last 27 years.  The noise in the night.  The bullets.  Something seen through the waters.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Behold 2018, Long May Be Dead

I haven't written here in a while.

The last two posts were an attempt to get back in the habit again.  I fell off the "creative" horse.  While the idea for a post looking back came to me, I avoided it as being too easy a subject to dwell on.  But, before we get deep into 2019, I guess I should gaze a bit backward.

2018, 2018, 2018

One of the recurring things I heard of 2018 had been that people tended to feel like the year could not yet end.  I never experienced that particular feeling.  2018 felt like 2017, to me, a dark despair sort of lingering, waiting to hit the wall still.  When the dark comes, sometimes you drown in it and can't tell how much time has passed.

I fell off of some of my larger creative efforts.  Although friends and Inktober definitely reignited my own efforts.  I felt like 2018 was less productive. than prior years for my art and stories.  Almost all Inktober 2018 of mine was a comic.  This marked the first time I wrangled a whole tale through all my inktober arts.  So at least one achievement achieved.

2018 marked the second in two long years where I did not have any tabletop RPG campaigns going on.  I marked the start of 2018 by deep diving into Critical Role, and finally picked up some 5e D&D books.  My thoughts on 5e aren't coherent enough to blog post about.  I digested a good chunk of it.  But roleplaying game rules are kinda like sunlight or wine.   It's what you pair it with that matters, not what you take with it.

I did see some of the bigger films, but largely I have not been keeping up on a lot of TV or film.  I know there are sci-fi or fantasy media all over nowadays.  But I've found myself less in a hurry to consume TV or film.  Infinity War did what I expected, but I saw it at home long after it had left our local theatre.  I let my Netflix account go since I can't remember when I last watched something on it.

The Bullet Journal

The other thing I started in 2018 that marked a change I've still kept is my bullet journaling.  In February will mark my first full year of the habit, which I thought I would fail to maintain.  It stuck, and my "paperbrain" has shifted from experiment to an object that helped me.  Various things I need to do, or would rely on digital artifice for, it's supplanted.  The goal was for something to free up brain space.  Hence my term for them, "Paperbrains."

Bullet Journaling is a best called an Operating System for journaling. I'd recommend googling up material on it if you're interested in the how to do of it.  In my case, I used it more in a therapeutic methodology.  Daily thoughts go into it, as well as things to do, and now, despite my surprise, good spending habits.

If you look up Bullet Journals you often find many beautiful page spreads.  It can look more like scrapbooking than anything else.  That's more a side effect of social media than the actual use case of my own.  I do engage in some pretty things in it, but that's because I'm a crazy arts person who likes making pretty things.  It isn't a necessity to start one.  Better to think of it as a tool, and if you can't, I'd say don't expect more from it than paper addition to your brain's hard drive.

Art, Social Media and Me 

I did do Inktober again.  But I produced less art and things in 2018.  Nothing major, but here are a few of my faves from the year:

  
 

I had been trying Instagraming a bit during 2018.  But I had to stop.  I've never wanted to post political things on this blog- it's meant to be a writerly dumping off spot.  But I can't use Instagram or Facebook anymore.  The reports that came out about them made me feel less than trusting of their platforms.  Facebook's response especially put me off.

But also?  Facebook and all social media have never helped any of my projects get noticed.  I've never found my efforts in social media to reward me.  The game of it is tiring, and disappointing.  It is aimed at helping someone else's platform remain important.

Add in the very real, very risky abuses of Facebook.  After that, I don't see how anyone can use it, but I'm not one for telling people what to do.  I'd rather do what I think should be done.  Words aren't as important as putting your feet where you mean to be.

The real goal it seems is for me to try and build up my own platform.  Something for my creative... madness, I guess, to go.  Even if it doesn't get noticed, at least it'd be mine.  Not some material helping some technocratic corporation look okay to trust.  It isn't that people didn't notice my work, but that my works could make Facebook look superficially ok.  Safe.  Interesting.

Here's to more works in 2019.  Be they dreams, or accomplishments wrought real from nothingness.

Watch this space.  More to come.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Reading Materials: The Bear and the Nightingale (book review)

Winter is cold and dark.  The winds howl.  It is the end of time.  The old tales tell that one gives offerings and performs the rites to ask for aid to survive the dark until spring.  Are these tales true or are they demons scratching at the edge of the mind?  Is magic real? Or is it a part of fairy tales meant to pass the cold night along?

The Bear and the Nightingale is an entrancing 2017 novel by Katherine Arden.  The tale starts with a fairy tale told during a cold winter night to pass the time.  That is where it begins.  It sits at a series of crossroads, a historical fiction, yet a fantasy novel.  It is a coming of age story.  Yet it is also a tale about the conflict between Christianity and Russian pagan beliefs.

Two Roads Yet One

Even the heroine, Vasya, often is a being between so many things that could otherwise define her.  She keeps the monsters at bay and is the wild maiden of her village.   She also is the daughter of a lord and helps her family maintain the village that comprises their lands.  The setting of medieval Rus cements The Bear and the Nightingale to a clear time and place.  Throughout the story Vasya is often the focus of frustration, being born two of worlds and feared for it.

What I found most intoxicating of the story is how it oft-echoed beats of fairy tales.  One can find the tropes of the wicked stepmother, or the auspicious birth, albeit in their own new tunes.  Key to Vasya's childhood is her relationship to classic Russian mythical creatures.  She interacts with a murderous Rusalka or makes offerings to the hearth-bound Domovoi.

As a heroine Vasya chooses to be kind, to try her best to help everyone she meets.  She does this rather than use her secret knowledge to manipulate or intimidate.  Monster, human or otherwise.  However, she fails to bend to the demands of a patriarchal, medieval society she is born to.  It sees her as little more than a good to be traded off.  Or worse, to be sent away to some convent out of sight, out of mind, to live as a nun.

Vasya defies this.  Not through finding her power in the supernatural.  Instead, she pulls from her own knowledge, and the positive choices she's made.  This is refreshing to my fantasy story mind.  If only because it is not some sword or tool she finds in the other world that saves the day.

No.  Vasya saves the day by refusing anything but herself.  Even then, she pays the price.  There is always a price to change.  Even change you don't want.

The Old Winter Magic

The magic of The Bear and the Nightingale is a subtle song.  It echoes medieval magic stories.  Almost everything that one could call magic in the novel is protection.  Offerings to spirits.  Talismans of protection.  Promises that keep the monsters at bay.

All this magic is protective first.  Only when one starts demanding or wishing for things do they pay a horrible price.  This is the old magic.  Something whose rules are about paying a price.  Being polite and earning protection against something hidden in the night.  Being willing to believe something that isn't true is true.

Winter is cold and dark.  Would making that offering of bread help the hearth burn hotter?  Or does performing the old rite protect against monsters?  Or do they do nothing?  Maybe that dark is cold and empty.

Or maybe the magic still will help.  Even if it has been in oneself the entire time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Viewing Materials: Thoughts on Gravity Falls

Sometimes one finds something that clicks.  It finds the empty notch in your skull and completes the circuit.  The circle closes.  The sequence aligns.  You uncover the clue that makes the code make sense.  You decipher something strange, even though the world around you doesn't notice it.

I found Gravity Falls.  Well, my younger sister did and thrust it into my orbit.  I didn't know what to expect, and at first sort of it didn't quite click.  But then it did, as many solid animation does, and it sank its roots deep.

Gravity Falls, for the uninitiated, is a Disney animated series that ran from 2012 to 2016.  The series is about the summer the 12-year-old Pine fraternal twins spend with their great uncle Stan.  The twins have the usual animated hijinx.  But a serious underlying mythos undergirds the series, starting with hints.  Then it takes over the story with tons of secrets, ciphers and clues the series drops every second it can.  It's a mystery box that hit me full of nostalgia.

Nostalgic Mystery Box Hit to the Alien in the Head

The nostalgia hit of Gravity Falls struck me in a particular fashion. I don't know how common an experience it is, to spend whole summers away from home as a kid.  The idea of a TV series about it struck a chord.  Although I never experienced the same mysterious goofiness the Pine Twins did.  I was more than weird enough for my cousins to give me the nickname "Alien."  So perhaps the strange was in me all along.   That made me curious about Gravity Falls to give the series a watch over the holidays.

Yep.  Gravity Falls has a mystery box-ness.  That whole hidden thing going on that I had to find out.  It had plenty of references for adults, but the humor is the right kind.  Appealing to everyone, and not dumbed down.  Instead, it's that kind of cartoony gag material that anyone can enjoy.  Continuity and story and things that were rare in the animated series I grew up with.

Yet today it seems to be the floor for the current golden age of TV animation.  Gravity Falls has those before it gets going.  I'm avoiding spoilers in this as much as possible.  But the heart of Gravity Falls is its own strange horror.  The kind of horror that is toned down enough for some of its audience, but it still is there.   It is that cosmic weird horror.  The same kind that inspired Twilight Zone, the King in Yellow and others.

Even as a cartoon, Gravity Falls taps into the old school kind of horror, even as a comedy.  Cosmic horror isn't about doing creepy for creepy sake.  Or to be a weird flavor of opposition for some action tale.  It taps into a darker fascination.  That horrible facet where you stare at something that is beyond human understanding. Or so horrible you can't look away from it.  That everything in your life or universe is at the whim of things beyond your comprehension.

Yes.  You read my take correct.  It is an animated series that rings of cosmic horror and your standard gag comedy at the same time.

Of course, Gravity Falls stays a comedy and doesn't walk away without some conclusion to its weird horror.  Which helps it.  All great fare like this needs comedic beats so that the dark truths are starker in tone. This never strays from the core themes of the series.

Good to the End 

Gravity Falls has a beginning and an ending.  It starts and ends.  You can watch the whole thing from episode one to the finale and the story reaches a conclusive end.  That isn't easy to do, and that is rare.
From personal experience, it's hard to put a period at the end of the last sentence of a story.  To end it.  It's almost as hard as starting a story.  Ending something is important.  Gravity Falls does this, and in doing so, it does the last true thing you need to do to give life to a story.  You make it greater than the sum of its parts because anyone can start it and end it.  Like being alive, you start it and reach its end, wishing for more and reliving joyful, brief moments.

There is the part of the series that struck me in a personal way.  The notion of a summer spent with an older relative vibrated my heartstrings.  Especially one who isn’t what you expect them to be.  I remember driving with my grandfather to Montana.   It was my first summer there without my parents coming along.

The memories about that trip are still in the back of my mind.  Fond things about an old man, who I know for certain enjoyed spending time with his grandson.  It isn't something you get told- it is something you sort of feel and can't unfeel when it happens.  The memories stick harder because of his death that came a year later.  Gravity Falls shares its own version of that.  Enough that every time I remember of the series, I think of my grandfather too.  The two fit together for me in that way.

The End that Remains Unending

Yet Gravity Falls ended.  Even then,  it still...

Well, ciphers and codes were a core part of the audience experience in the series.  This conceit is clever, as it spreads the mystery to viewers.  And it infects you with a bit of the horror too, that you can't help but be fascinated by it.

What if the ciphers and codes and symbols weren't just in the series?  What if there was some truth to it?  Every episode ends with mysterious clues.  The end finale of Gravity Falls included an ARG- an alternate reality game.  It ended with players uncovering a core piece of the series as an actual, physical object in the real world.  Something anyone could find, something others have found.

Something that, if its real, even though it was only an animated cartoon... could, in a small, horrible, fascinating way... be something that actually happened?  That the mystery has bled through the page of reality.

It's still fiction.  But the allure of that horrible mystery still lingering there.  That seems like a valid ending for a series to have.  Experience it for yourself, at least to find out if you that mystery can bleed through your own mind.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Summer and Winter

Once, long ago, there was a thirteenth star to be found in the constellation of the Mother.  Yellow and bright, it bore many things.  That star, yet, one day left the constellation of the Mother, looking for a new home.

She looked for years.  She journeyed through all the other constellations.  She spoke with the Mother of Wolves, and she hid from the darkness that lies between the stars.  But then, one day, she came upon a strange bird at a crossroads.

"Hello?"  She asked.

The strange bird with black feathers turned to her.  He had five eyes.  She flinched, worried it had to be something of the Void.

"Who are you?"  The bird croaked.

The star hesitated, clutching her hood tighter.  She pondered using her knife on the Bird.  She could also wait.  The two thoughts warred in her mind.  Instead, she decided to reply.

"I am Thena of the Mother.  I am looking for a new home."

"Do you have food?"  The bird croaked.

"Who are you?"  Thena asked the bird.

"I hunger."  The bird shivered.  "I am so hungry I've forgotten my names.  My two eyes have become five, and my stomach has riddled me so much I struggle to dream as I once did."

"All I have is my knife and my clothes."  The Star told him.

"Nothing else?"

Thena looked down.  She closed her eyes.  She then saw something she could give.  But she would have to cut it from herself, with the knife.  It would hurt.

"I... could give you one thing, but it is sour and all I have left,"  Thena told him.  "Why should I give it to you?"

"So many dreams, I see."  The bird croaked.  "Feed me!  I will tell you my dreams.  I see your home, I see your Daughters you will have there."

"You will tell me where my new home is?"  Thena doubted him.  The Star had always thought of having children.  But this bird, it couldn't predict what children she would have would it?

"Yes!  End this hunger and I will tell you!"

"Is it free from the void and the dark?  Is it safe there?  Safe enough for my family?"  Thena asked her voice tense.

"Feed!  ME!  I WILL TELL!"  The Five-Eyed Bird at the Crossroads cried.  "Feed me your Stomach!  Give it to me!  I know you know how!"

Thena paused.  Then she cut out her stomach.  She cut them into long strips.  Then she fed each, one at a time, to the Bird.  The slurped each up as Thena felt blood well up in her starry, empty belly.

"Black and White."  He purred, slurping up the meat.  "A place my cousins, the Ravens have found.  Black and White stars, twins.  One true, one wrong.  A world with a moon and you can hear its future crawl.

"Walk toward the Black and the White Star, toward the heart of the Constellation of the River.  Do not sleep.  When you begin to falter, when you feel pain claim your every inch, that world you fall to is the new home you seek."

Thena bandaged her now stomach-less belly.  The next day, she walked toward the River.  She didn't see a black or white star.  But she walked.  And walked.  And walked.

After two days, her throat felt parched.  Her blistered feet had started to leave red nebula in the Western night sky.  We still see in the Constellation of the River to this day.  After five days, she longed for slumber.  Her stomach-less belly had starved her, but something else had happened.

The star's stomach-less belly grew.  Upon the seventh day, she fell down.  The Star womb had swollen with two babes.  They grew so fast, so hard, that in three days they had made their mother go into labor.  She crashed into the nearest world, orbiting two stars.  One black, one white.

Thena felt the cold stone of the world under her as her two daughters stood up before her.  Twin seasons, one quiet and one warm, comforted their mother upon their fall.