Oddtober 2020: The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll by Jean Nathan

Book: The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright

Author: Jean Nathan

Type of Book: Non-fiction, biography

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The Wright Family was odd.  Dare Wright’s upbringing is a perfect distillation of what would happen if you crossed Grey Gardens with Martha Stewart’s micro-managed zest for living with the entirety of the old “cluster B” section of the DSM.

Availability: Published in 2004 by Picador, you can get a copy here:

Comments: This didn’t turn out to be as creepy an analysis as I had hoped.  I may have misjudged the overall creepiness because I’m not really scared of dolls. I never understood the people who were and still are scared of the Chucky franchise.  It was too campy and an active fire and competent voodoo priestess could have wrecked that doll’s shit right quick. The Annabelle franchise is a bit more frightening, I guess, but I also feel that if a possessed doll could be safely secured in a glass case in the home of two elderly fraudsters (no real shade, I love Ed and Lorraine Warren) who kept chickens in the house, maybe all you have to do if confronted by an evil doll is send it to whomever is in charge of the Warren estate and ask that it be put behind glass too.  Or maybe encase the doll in concrete and send it to the Vatican or drop it into the Mariana Trench? But really who cares because if I’m not scared by dolls, I won’t get it and people who aren’t scared by people wearing masks will not understand my utter revulsion at Slipknot or the original Shatner Michael Myers configuration. Horror is relative.

But creepy or not I am going to continue because maybe the creepiness is the books we read along the way. This is the second part of my look at The Lonely Doll and Dare Wright. You may want to have a look at the first part because in that entry I discuss the book itself and my speculations behind what was at work in the book and what may have happened to Dare Wright to cause her to create such a needy, emotionally shattered character in what was meant, one supposes, to be a pretty little children’s book. I wondered why Dare included the spanking scene and what the reader was supposed to take away from the message behind such a spanking.  I had some conclusions, given my tendency toward armchair psychoanalysis.  Among them:

–The Lonely Doll was terrified of abandonment by a male father figure, and that she would submit to any sort of punishment if it meant that the father figure, Mr. Bear, would stay.

–I wondered if Mr. Bear and Little Bear’s sudden arrival signified a stepfather and step-sibling, forcing Edith into submitting to a male figure who was essentially sprung on her, while negotiating a relationship with another child, whose own rebellion against a father figure could create all sorts of problems.

–Because of these two possibilities, I pegged Dare Wright as having been a little girl whose own parents were divorced and who missed her father.  I thought perhaps she had a stepfather whose assertion of his authority over her was at times draconian but she still wanted to please him because he represented stability and because her new step-sibling brought her companionship she missed out on when her mother was single.

I was kind of right but I was also very wrong.

Oddtober 2020: The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright

Book: The Lonely Doll

Author: Dare Wright

Type of Book: Children’s fiction, photography, inadvertently creepy

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because it’s only odd if you’re a grown-up.

Availability: Initially published in 1957, it went out of print for a while but the copyright was renewed in 1985.  I cannot find a publication on my copy but it was published by the Sandpiper division of Houghton Mifflin, and is visually identical to copies you can purchase new:

Comments: When I was bouncing around the idea of trying to get out of my rut and rev my writing engine for Halloween, my friend and PUBLISHER WHO IS STILL PATIENTLY WAITING FOR MY FINISHED WORK ON MANIFESTOS, Chip Smith, mentioned that last year’s foray into children’s books was interesting and made a few suggestions on other works I could pursue.  He didn’t mention The Lonely Doll, but his enthusiasm for the topic reassured me I was on the right path.  So here we are, discussing this pretty but potentially alarming book.

This book was not a part of my landscape as a child. It wasn’t just that dolls didn’t frighten me – I never set eyes on this book until very recently. I first became aware of the book when actress Famke Janssen filed a police report believing that someone had broken into her apartment and did nothing but leave behind a copy of The Lonely Doll.  Police were highly skeptical about her claims, though they never charged her with making a false police report because they believe Janssen believed this happened and was sincere when she made the claims.  There were no signs of entry, the security cameras at her apartment never showed a break-in attempt, and inside the book the police found a to-do list that was written by Janssen herself.  It was the book that grabbed my attention more than the notion that an actress would make up such a story because regardless of whether or not the break-in really happened, I’m still left wondering about the significance of the book and why anyone, Janssen or an intruder, would feel the book conveyed malice or ill-intent.

The story was not enough to provoke me into purchasing The Lonely Doll, but over the last couple of years, the book has come up on various list sites (Top Ten Sewer Disasters, Five Reasons Why You Personally Are Worse Than Hitler, etc.) when the topic of terrifying things from childhood make their rounds. I’m unsure how all my years in the book arena, from childhood to a year ago, passed without me seeing this book but I suspect it’s the case that I tune out that which is not relevant to my interests. I very quickly passed from picture books with minimal text to books marketed to teens and adults, and when I was still reading books for little kids, I liked drawings more than photos. I also tended toward smaller books, like the Little Golden Books.  So the uneasiness this book caused some readers and still causes adults who investigate the book wasn’t something I experienced either as a child or in retrospect as an adult who read this book as a child.

The awkwardness in the final sentence in the above paragraph is intentional because it’s important to narrow down who is upset by this book and why. From what I have seen, children don’t really respond poorly to this book, or at least the children who were the target market for this book during its heyday, and that audience is mostly women who now are between 40 and 70 years old, though younger readers of the book pop up from time to time.  I walked an uneasy line when looking into this book because I genuinely don’t want to know much about books, even fluffy picture books, before I look into them for myself but one statement came up so often that it was unavoidable, words to the effect of:

“I didn’t realize how creepy this book was until I found my old copy in a box in the attic and thumbed through it for the first time in decades.”

Though I was terribly interested in what sparked such a retrospective reaction, I managed to stop reading before these (mostly) women explained themselves. I’m glad I did because I was able to see the book through mostly uninfluenced eyes and, in the end, my reaction as an adult who did not read this book as a child is similar to the women who did. When I went back to review their reactions, there one one large commonality that I will discuss in a moment, but mostly we all felt a strange uneasiness that is hard to pin down. And though I feel I must emphasize that this is a book that is despised by the woke among us, the fact is that this is not a wicked or deliberately unpleasant book.  It’s a relic of its time and possibly a very useful tool in armchair psychoanalyzing the author, a favorite pastime of mine.  Unless one was a child who was very frightened of dolls in general, this book is unlikely to be that upsetting.  More modern children may have a negative reaction because of changing mores regarding appropriate discipline for children but much can be said for any book about children written before the 1970s.

Though this is a very well-conceived, well-executed book, it’s an emotionally taxing book for an adult to read.

Little Edith, the Lonely Doll, is terribly lonely, to the point that she begs pigeons to stay and be her friend but all they do is eat the bread crumbs she leaves them and fly away. When Mr. Bear and Little Bear show up, it is literally an answer to this forlorn toy’s prayers, and that it is visually adorable helps draw you in.

The bears and Edith quickly settle into a domestic life that involves lots of playing, mischief and even vacations to the beach. All is right in the world until one rainy day, Edith and Little Bear find themselves at loose ends because it is raining and they cannot go outside. Mr. Bear is not there – running errands one presumes – and the two decide to explore the house, finding a wardrobe full of clothes and shoes and a dressing table covered in cosmetics, perfume and jewelry.

This scene is compelling for little children who enjoy dressing up and especially compelling given the grown-up nature of the items they find on the dressing table, like jewelry and expensive perfume. The two play dress-up until Little Bear dares Edith to put on lipstick.  She demures, certain Mr. Bear would be angry if he found out. Little Bear is feeling rebellious and takes the lipstick and writes, with a nod to Christopher Robin, no doubt, “Mr. Bear is just a silly old thing.”  He then hands the lipstick to Edith, egging her on. She puts on the lipstick, playing along with Little Bear’s antics.  Of course this is when Mr. Bear walks in and is appalled that she is wearing lipstick, something he believes she knows better than to do.

And this is where most people focus their unease with the book. Mr. Bear spanks her.

 

After her spanking, still defiant, Little Bear still stands by his “silly old thing” comment but Edith breaks down into sobs, terrified that Mr. Bear will leave her and take Little Bear with him if they continue being bad.  Little Bear, immediately chastened, soothes Edith and together they clean up the mess and then seek out Mr. Bear for absolution.

Mr Bear, who was reading the newspaper on the couch like a furry Ward Cleaver, was waiting for an apology and willing to forgive them both of the heinous crime of acting like children.

There’s a lot in this book that adult me finds unpleasant.  The spanking thing is kind of nasty but let’s bear in mind that in the 1950s spanking was the norm and perhaps being spanked over the knee of a teddy bear isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a pretty, unsupervised doll. But the rest of the book is disturbing outside the realms of relativist parenting techniques.

Like, who the hell does this bear think he is and why does he think he has the right to spank this doll?  If Edith is a doll, where is the child who plays with her?  Where are the other toys?  If she’s a stand-in for a little girl, where are her parents?  Why was this doll left utterly alone in this house that she hasn’t even explored enough on her own to discover the dressing room before the bears showed up?  These are real toys interacting with real objects, which gives the reader a voyeuristic feeling as they watch photos that maybe shouldn’t be shown to others.

The author of this blog uses The Lonely Doll as a graphic stand-in for the way adults view spanking of children versus the spanking of adults and wonders if people are upset about Edith’s spanking because they are blurring the lines between childish fantasies about the secret lives of toys and their own reactions to past and present spankings in real life. The author finds fault with some of the negative reaction to this book because the adult is viewing the punishment from the lens of receiving it as an adult, and even if I may not agree, I can see the logic. Whether or not there is anything sexual about spanking Edith, and plenty think that there is indeed an erotic element, the fact that spanking children was not taboo when this book was written and photographed is important.

But we also need to ask ourselves what this spanking was meant to convey. I’m deliberately shying away from discussing spanking in media aimed at children because up until the 1970s, most cases of spanking in children’s media at worst were portrayed as a necessary evil and the children receiving such spankings – think of Tom Sawyer and similar – were just fine. There were some rather Dickensian looks at abuse but the wholesale beating of a child was generally not seen as appropriate discipline and was a thing apart from spanking.  Moreover, the spankings were not the larger message of such books.  They seldom were the actual message of any media that presented spanking. Through the 1980s, media as a whole, including advertising, didn’t shy away from spanking – a trope that seems fairly negative – as they sought to sell their products because the message the ads were conveying was so outrageous as to be culturally understood to be outrageous, or they sought to avoid spanking altogether. Ads featured children and adults alike being spanked. When it was a child receiving the punishment, the message the ads conveyed was that use of their product could avoid discipline issues that led to spanking, which was a thing a good parent would want.

As for spanking adults, most of it was tongue-in-cheek, slyly implying that a wife might be a slattern or slipshod in the hopes of receiving an erotic spanking over the knee of her husband.

Sometimes the script was flipped and the man got the spanking but most of those ads were deliberate inversions of previous ads and it was difficult finding an “organic” use of a woman spanking a man.  This one comes very close.  The man in this ad is not being spanked but her dog bit his ass, ruined his pants, and he ends up humiliated and sprawled over her knee with a pained posterior. The posture of this ad is of submissive acceptance of authoritative dominance and her arm is raised up above her head in a perfect mimic of spanking. Incidentally, this whole ad encapsulates why the seventies was so very awful.

 

It’s remarkable how many movie posters featured spanking. These ads invariably show how fun spanking a full-grown woman is, especially if there’s at least one person watching as it happens. Spanking was “racy.”

 

Women evidently wanted to be “tamed” by old screaming men, and, again, it was all in fun, even if the dude looked downright homicidal like John here. This is a nicer version of the poster – another shot has a crowd gathered, presumably to cheer him on as he wrecked this woman for sass or maybe she put on some lipstick, too.

 

While few modern women will look at these ads and find them wholly amusing, it’s hard to get too worked up over adult women in heels and shellacked hair getting spanked in perfectly posed technicolor.

But mostly these images are deprived of miserable impact because of how fucking stupid they are.  Spanking a wife for not “store testing” coffee or implying drug store shampoo will help a modern woman assert disciplinary dominance are on their faces really stupid premises, deliberately stupid, in fact. Spousal abuse was less discussed when these ads ran and physical violence in relationships was a societal ill that still plagues us but the audiences then, as well as now, understand that these ads are hyperbolic, and that only a lunatic would hit their spouse over supermarket coffee and lunatics were not the target audiences for these products or films. Audiences today might see far more violence in these images than a 1960s housewife but within the times these ads ran, the audience understood the message being conveyed – buy fresh coffee, get the right shampoo, we can’t show you pent up perverts penetration on film so spanking will suffice. At no time is the actual message, “Beat your spouse.”

As an aside, I found this image when searching for spanking images.

Our grandparents were absolute madmen. Jesus Christ, the kid is farting so often that his teacher has to get involved, dragging his mom into class and everything.  But helpful Ovaltine saves the day, proving that the boy isn’t a bad kid, farting up the place on purpose.  No, the problem is with the parents since dad leaves his idiot wife alone to her devices and without him there to instruct her, she evidently feeds her son like a goat at a petting zoo.  But as remarkably awful as this ad is, the message is to avoid spanking your kid by reducing his flatulence.

Back to the book.  What is the message behind Edith’s spanking? The doll in this book is one of the most emotionally desperate child characters one can find outside of depictions of war.  She’s utterly alone, bereft and literally praying for relief from her torment of loneliness.  Then two bears – an adult and a peer – arrive and a weird power balance develops wherein Edith is now subject to the will of a masculine parental figure and the whims of her brother-bear can result in this adult bear hitting her (because Little Bear egged that shit on, for sure). For Edith, the power of the spanking is not that she has disappointed her father figure because she engaged in behavior that any loving caretaker would want to correct, but rather the fear that a spanking is the prelude to future abandonment, a fate she will do anything to avoid.

The message can vary but it boils down to variations of a child learning appropriate boundaries and trusting that bad behavior will not result in parental abandonment.  These two do not have such a boundary set in place, so shown when Edith is spanked and this resulted in her sobbing from fear of being alone again.

And let’s discuss how she got spanked by a random male doll who showed up one day to live in her home.  I do not yet know much about Dare Wright though I hope to have her biography finished today so I can discuss it next, but I guarantee you many young girls whose mothers remarried after divorce or just moved their lovers into the house understand a message very specific to their lives.  One day, a male figure whose arrival and possible departure has nothing to do with you or your wants, has physical and social control over you.  How many abusive stepfathers were seen as Mr. Bear spanked this emotionally shattered doll? For many adults, childhood is a horror they compartmentalize until they are old enough to cope with it all and I can see very easily how an adult woman can see herself in this doll and remember being a child who was not treated fairly and who feared being left behind more than physical violence.

But you don’t even have to have this specific memory to feel uneasy about a book that features a stand-in for a little girl who begs pigeons to stay with her and talk to her. When confronted with this book, you see dolls interacting in a human environment, standing in for humans.  There is a reality to this book that I did not encounter in my Little Golden Books.  It is very easy to assign Edith a human role even though she is clearly not a real little girl because the rest of the book is very real. Plus the environment is clean, pretty and the dolls themselves are very cute.  A sad little girl is finally given a sort of family and then BOOM! The goddamn big bear is apparently looking right up her dress as he spanks her and she descends into a fit of sobbing despair.  That they seem like they’ve mended fences at the end is nice, but that is not the ebb and flow of childhood. It takes a long time to overcome the misery of years of loneliness and fear.  The reality of this book mirrors the reality of the unstable nature of childhood itself, where lessons have to be learned over and over and children don’t always spring back.

Dare Wright produced eighteen other books in the Lonely Doll series (one features a kitten and another features Edith kidnapped and tied to a tree), and this book still routinely makes “Best of” lists for children’s books in defiance of how adults may feel about it.  Clearly the message children receive from this book, even modern little children, is very different than mine.  I don’t know what they see when they read this book but the beautiful photography, cuddly bears, pretty doll, the allure of the make-up and high heels during dress-up all likely play a role in the enduring interest some children have with this book series.

But I still wonder, what message was it that Dare Wright wanted to convey?  What caused her to create such a sad, needy character?  Did she even realize Edith was needy and miserable? Why did she create a scenario wherein a doll is spanked by another doll in a genuine attempt at discipline? Did she really think Edith deserved a spanking for something so minor?  Was the scene a touching look at a father’s attempt to tame an unruly child, or was there something far more malignant that only distance from childhood can show us?  Will any of this information help us understand why this book was involved in an actress’s presumably delusional belief someone planted the book in her home?

We’ll find out in my next entry.  Until then, share with me any books you read as a child that now as an adult freak you out.

Oddtober 2020: Biblio-Curiosa No. 5 – The Children’s Books Issue

It has been far too long since I have discussed Chris Mikul on this site.  When I decided to devote a bit of Oddtober to media for children, I remembered that Mikul had released a Biblio-Curiosa devoted to kid’s books and the authors of said books. As is the case with just about everything Mikul writes, I could write reactions to his articles that are longer than the articles themselves but I will work to restrain myself.  In the past, Chris Mikul sent me down a fascinating rabbit hole chasing the memory of the man  known as F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, as well as discussing the book that has since become my odd book Holy Grail, The Pepsi-Cola Addict by the surviving Gibbon twin, June, a name likely known more to fans of strange phenomena than to bibliophiles.

His body of work is what I’ve often said I hope OTC can be when it grows up, which it probably won’t. Which is just as well because Mikul’s work approaches being sui generis, and it’s a bad idea to mimic that which is one of a kind, though it’s always nice to have such inspiration.  Issue 5 isn’t creepy or Halloween-y in a supernatural way, but all the books he discusses in this issue have some element to them that is strange, eerie or odd.  Emphasis on “odd” because, as the title reveals, one the books he covers is actually entitled Odd.

The fact that the cover is re-enacted in my neighbor’s backyard in no way influenced me where Mikul’s look into this book is concerned. It should also not be surprising that I would be kindly disposed toward a book that features two little girls washing a pig.

 

This was one of the shorter of the seven articles in this edition, but it struck me as being the most relevant to my interests and as being the story that best illustrates one of the many paths a child can take to becoming an odd adult.  Odd tells the story of six-year-old Betty, daughter of an MP and the middle child of five.  Her two elder siblings are close in age and her two younger siblings are twins, leaving Betty on her own.  She is literally the odd one out.  One day Betty accidentally knocks one of her younger brothers down and is locked in a storage room with a Bible (!!) as punishment.  Her nanny tells her she cannot come out until she memorizes a Bible passage.  And it’s here that the “weird kid” roots begin to take hold. Mikul describes the scene:

Turning its pages, Betty comes to the Book of Revelation and the text “And I came unto him, Sir thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” Betty learns the text by heart and becomes obsessed by it.  She finds out what tribulation means, and after that asks everyone she meets if they have experienced it yet.  She is terribly worried that tribulation is only for grown-ups, and if she dies before experiencing it she won’t go to heaven.

This resonated with me strongly.  As a child who grew up in a large city in the American South, I cannot be the only kid who, when confronted with another child’s steadfast opinions regarding baptism and salvation, became convinced that I was going to hell because Southern Baptists didn’t baptize babies (or at least my church didn’t).  Luckily I was able to ignore conversations about full body immersion versus top of head christenings and avoid a freakout because I figured that even if the top-of-headers were correct, the top of head got wet in a full body immersion so pretty much everyone would be fine in the end.

So the middle and odd kid’s parents have to go away and in what I feel like is a typically upper-class British manner, the kids are sent to live for six months on a farm their nanny’s brother owns, and are permitted to run amok unsupervised in manner that would likely make the evening news if it happened in my neck of the woods.  Betty meets all sorts of grownups, including a church organist, who gives Betty a puppy, which predictably causes Betty to worry about whether or not her dog will go to heaven. Betty develops a friendship with the father of a dead little girl, and genuinely enjoys the company of adults, and in turn the adults in her life don’t mince words or treat her like a foolish little child.  They don’t speak to her like an equal, but they also do not shelter her and as a result she takes the slings and arrows of life with more equanimity than many modern adults would.  The book ends with a tribulation that involves a mad dog and sacrifice and if this sounds familiar know that Amy le Feuvre’s Odd was published in 1897 and that she handled the way such a plot plays out far better.

In this issue, Mikul also shares the story of E.W. Cole and his astonishing book store in Melbourne, Australia, Cole’s Book Arcade, and his charming picture books that appeared to have a preternaturally Aquarian Age reliance on rainbows.  He has me rather interested in finding one of the Wallypug novels by G.E. Farrow, a series of books influenced by but not nearly as smarmy-sounding as Carroll’s Alice books.  He also revisits an author he discussed in issue two.  Murray Constantine, who wrote Swastika Night in 1937, was actually a lady named Katherine Burdekin and she wrote a book aimed at children in the 1920s called The Children’s Country under the name Kay Burdekin. In retrospect this is a heavy book for children if they are skillful in picking up on subtext.  I wonder how modern, woke audiences would feel about Burdekin’s blurred sex/gender lines.

If nothing else, this issue shows how many books for children and young adults were written by women. Amy le Feuvre is clearly a woman’s name but one could be forgiven for assuming Erroll Collins and EE Redknap were men, writing heavy and at times brutal science fiction with a splash of fantasy for young readers.  Nope, those were the writing names for Ellen Redknap, whose hardcore militaristic and intensely martial story lines ensured that a reader like me would not have enjoyed her writing when I was her target audience. What makes this writer all the more remarkable is how… girlie she was.  Evidently she was known as “Goody” as in goody-two-shoes.  Deeply maternal and helpful, she raised her siblings after their mother died, lived as a spinster while offering all sorts of assistance to aspiring writers, all the while writing books aimed at aggressive pre-teens entitled The Black Dwarf of Mongolia and The Hawk of Aurania.

The oddest book Mikul looked at is the utterly bizarre, plot-driven Susie Saucer & Ronnie Rocket by Stella Clair, illustrated by Edward Andrewes.  Whew lad, this is one hell of a book and hopefully Mr. OTC adds this to the “need to buy if I come across it” list. Heavily influenced by the 1947 description of “flying saucers” and the horrors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this 1957 children’s book is a synthesis of that which is cute, that which is arcane, and that which is absolutely fucking terrifying.

Honestly, she’s waving a little handkerchief that matches her bloomers. How could something this adorable be so creepy?

 

Stay with me: Okay, so on Venus, the business men decide to stop making flying saucers and Susie is one of the last ones constructed. Susie is recruited by “Flame,” who is a Lord of Venus, to be his… I don’t know, spaceship ward, and he places her in service on a huge spaceship carrier called Jupiter.  On a mission to Earth, Susie meets a rocket, Ronnie, and the two race each other and get up to all kinds of shenanigans but Susie gets stuck in a pond and she and Ronnie are found and taken in to be examined by Earthlings, certain Ronnie and Susie are enemy weaponry.  Ronnie gets help, Susie is rescued but Ronnie is caught again and turned into a bomb and the UFOs have to save the day.

This story is full of absolute WTF-ery that make it absolutely mind-boggling, especially given how adorably illustrated it is.  Here Mikul is discussing when Susie and Ronnie meet:

They strike up an awkward conversation, with the rocket’s “gorgeous dorsal fin” making Susie’s magnet quiver.

Later, when Susie is captured, the attempts to disassemble her sound very close to rape.  It’s a weird little book to be sure.

The part I liked the best about Susie is clearly she was a means by which true believers in UFO-ology were trying to make the topic approachable for children, going so far as to mimic a widely known but disputed photograph of a UFO.

The book benefits greatly from its colourful and charming illustrations by Edward Andrewes.  Susie, with her ribbons and polka-dot outfits, must surely be the most feminine flying saucer ever conceived.  Andrewes based her closely on the iconic flying saucer Adamski claimed to have photographed in December 1952. This looks like a hubcap (probably because Adamski made it from one) and has three round protuberances at its base (probably light bulbs). In Andrewes illustrations, these become Susie’s three legs, clad in polka-dot material with frills.

I feel like I need to say something here but words sort of escape me.

You know terribly scary and awful Christian cartoons are?  Like Davey & Goliath and basically all those weird vegetable and fruit animations? They mean well but they are invariably off-putting at best, nightmare-fuel at worst. It’s good to know ufology attempts to recruit the young suffer from similar shortcomings.  I guess dogma marketed to children will be a tough row to hoe, so to speak.

There’s much more to the article than this and I’m holding myself back because this is a “worth the price of admission” article.  Actually, every article in this issue is worth the price of admission.  If this is the first time you have encountered Chris Mikul’s work on my site, I should apologize for my sloth of late because you really need to be made aware of him annually, if not quarterly.  I plan to discuss his most recent book, My Favorite Dictators, here as soon as I reasonably can, and you can have a look through my “Authors A-Z” list and see more of my looks at his work.  Also, if you are interested in buying issues of Biblio-Curiosa or Mikul’s equally fascinating Bizarrism, you can contact him at cathob@zip.com.au to get costs and shipping rates.

Mikul’s look at children’s literature was an excellent starting place to discuss media for children that ended up being unintentionally disturbing to children or alarming to adults.  And what better time to consider terrifying children than during Oddtober?

Oddtober 2020: Hellebore: The Sacrifice Issue

A couple of weeks ago, a young man who follows me on Instagram recommended a magazine that is dedicated to dark folklore. I want to send him a cookie bouquet or maybe some free healthcare because had he not mentioned Hellebore on his feed, I might not have heard of it at all, let alone found out about it in time to discuss it for Oddtober2020. Living in your own little world has its drawbacks, and basically all the youngsters who follow me on Instagram expose me to all kinds of new media, ensuring I will always have fodder for OTC. The kids are alright and most of the time they have really interesting taste.

Hellebore is a fascinating journal. The magazine’s subtitle is “A Summoning of Ancient Terrors” and so it is.  When I placed an order, only the first two issues were available.  Number one is the “Sacrifice” issue and number two is the “Wild Gods.”  It is a biannual magazine, released at Beltane and Samhain, and since I placed my order, the third installment, the “Malifice” issue became available for pre-order.  I am sort of bummed that I will not be able to get the third magazine in time for this year’s Oddtober because, of the three issues, it is the one most relevant to my specific interests.

But that’s a very small complaint because the first two issues are definitely worth talking about.  But I now know I already have an entry planned for Oddtober 2021.  Just sayin’…

It’s been a while since I wallowed in the occult, and what better time to solve that problem?  Walloween, my friends.

I’m only going to discuss the first volume, the “Sacrifice” edition, this go around but it should be mentioned that both issues are deeply interesting.  At the time of this writing, Hellebore is offering all three in the “Wyrd Sisters” bundle at a reduced price.  Definitely worth the purchase and shipping price, but if you’re in the UK or the US also have a look at the stockists list just in case a book store near you carries the magazine.

As is likely obvious, the “Sacrifice” issue handles the topic of sacrifice and how it manifests throughout history, and in this context history is confined mostly to the British Isles and some Northern European locations.  Among the eight articles in this 68-page magazine are:

  • A look at stone circle sites in the UK and discussion regarding their purpose, which was possibly serving as locations for human sacrifice (Druids enter stage left) and larger, megalith sites, like Stonehenge, were possibly mass cremation sites.
  • An interesting literary discussion about the man who was the inspiration for the creepy and wicked Mr. Abney in M.R. James’ story, “Lost Hearts.”
  • A brief examination of various types of animal sacrifices throughout history.
  • A discussion of the perception of English small towns as places where the old gods and old ways reign supreme and the casual visitor may want to bear that in mind if they find themselves wanting to disparage the rural inhabitants of seemingly backward burgs.  This article, “From His Blood the Crops Would Spring” by Maria J.Perez Cuervo, was deeply interesting to me.  Earlier this week I happened across a channel that is essentially a computer reading some of the creepier threads from 4-chan boards, usually /x/.  I had listened to this video on occult happenings in Yorkshire, including what appeared to be wholesale sacrifice of horses as well as possible child sacrifice.* That level of happenstance generally means I will want to talk a topic to death, so to speak, but I don’t know enough about this topic to hold forth at length. I will definitely be sorting through the references Cuervo used for the article because this was a “worth the price of admission” story.

This journal actually has two articles that are worth buying the magazine for – the Cuervo article above and “The Bodies in the Bog” by John Reppion.  I’m focusing on Reppion’s article because I know a thing or two about “bog bodies” and because I appreciate Reppion’s scholarly attempt to shed light on how some of these people actually died versus the very salacious assertions of human sacrifice offered up with every newly discovered bog body.  What initially looks like a body buried with its limbs severed could very easily be a person whose limbs were cut off by the peat-cutters who discovered the corpse.  What appears to be a garotte may just be a leather necklace that shrank over the centuries.

But Reppion is also willing to cede that many bog bodies are, indeed, the results of human sacrifice, or at the very least capital punishment with a disregard for burial customs.  He specifically mentions the Haraldskaer Woman, found in 1835 in Jutland, Denmark, so well-preserved that she was initially believed to be a recent murder victim (as are many bog bodies, it must be said).  It was believed she was Queen Gunnhild of Norway, who lived between 910-980 AD.  In the Jomsvikinga Saga, it is said that she was the wife of Eric Bloodaxe and was the mother of many subsequent kings, but Harald Bluetooth of Denmark had her drowned in the bog on his estate.  So certain that they had found the body of this historical heroine, the then-king of Denmark and Norway ordered an elaborate burial casket for the bog woman. When subjected to modern testing, it was revealed that the bog woman was definitely not Gunnhild.  The Haraldskaer Woman lived around 500 BC.  And if she lived in 500 BC, during a time when cremation was the preferred burial method, it seems rather likely that there was a significant reason why her body was sunk in a bog, with branches placed atop her limbs to hold her in place.  A faint groove along her neck points in the direction that she was a victim of human sacrifice.

I love stories of bog bodies.  They seem to follow a script.  Manual workers find the corpse as they are digging up or cutting into something, they think it is a murder victim, the academics gather and declare the corpse to be a specific type of bog person, only to have academics gather later and declare all the earlier information null and void. I became interested in bog people when I was in college. I read about one for the first time in a Margaret Atwood story that framed the breakup of a student and the older professor who should have known better around the discovery of a bog body.  The story, called simply “The Bog Man” was the first time I recall knowing about such things, but I also recall that bog people played a big role in some of Seamus Heaney’s poetry. Regardless, it wasn’t science that sparked such an interest, which probably goes without saying.

I have a favorite bog person – which also probably goes without saying because of course I have a favorite – and it’s the Elling Woman.

The Elling Woman likely had blonde hair, but the tanning process in the bogs renders all lighter hair colors a deep, reddish brown.

She was found in Denmark in 1938, and she’s been overshadowed in bog folk-lore by the discovery of the Tollund Man, found in 1950 about 200 feet away from where her body was discovered.  Both bodies were killed by hanging, and the positioning of their bodies indicates they were ritual sacrifice victims rather than people subjected to capital punishment.  Initially, it was believed the Elling Woman was a young man, but a later scan of her pelvis revealed her sex.

This is a recreation of both the braid as well as the cloak the Elling Woman was found wearing. You can find tutorials on YouTube that take you through the process of plaiting your hair up like the Elling Woman.  And yes, I’ve attempted this braid and sort of got it but I suspect I am just not Nordic enough to pull it off. You need to be very tall and in possession of at least one embroidered dress from the set of Midsommar to wear hair like this without looking a bit odd.

You know the world is a fascinating place when you can read about the disturbing enthusiasm a reclusive Texan has for a charming Dutch woman’s recreation of a hairstyle worn by an Iron Age woman hanged for cultural reasons we will likely never know then stuffed into a bog. But mostly, yeah, I selected the bog men article so I could talk about this specific bog woman because I tried to replicate the hairstyle during a long spell of jittery insomnia. Not even close to the worst reason I’ve chosen a topic for this site.

All in all, Hellebore has proven to be a righteous purchase.  In the off-chance my copy of the “Malefice” edition crosses the pond fast enough for me to talk about it for Oddtober2020, I’ll devour it in one sitting and write it up.  Otherwise meet me back here next year.

 

*Beware: Any time missing children are mentioned from anything related to a /chan, you are no more than an Internet inch away from falling down a deep and relentless Q-Anon rabbit hole, which is less a rabbit hole than a gaping chasm in the time-space continuum from which you will not emerge for months, if you’re lucky.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oddtober 2020: WKCR Interruption and Master Post

I began a discussion about the creepy WKCR broadcast interruption tape last October and I hate to admit that I still haven’t “solved” it.  But I have cleared up a bunch of the names in the video, and still think that I, or anyone else who reads here and takes up the mantle of transcribing the tape, can eventually determine its purpose or its creator. I’ve noticed some incoming links from other sites that analyzed  the tape and realized I never shared what I discovered since I last wrote about the case.  So this will be a master post that has all of my research and I’ll post any new findings in this entry as I find them. If anyone reads this and has information they’d like to share, please comment. I’d love to hear what you think.  Also please feel free to take any of my research and run with it.

My first entry beat down a few of the more unfounded conclusions people had regarding this tape interruption, and in the interests of completion, I’ll pull that data over into this entry.

The lore behind this tape is that in 1994-1996 – the time frame is never clear but is restricted to these years – a kid who enjoyed taping radio shows and listening to them later accidentally recorded a broadcast hijack in a radio program on WKCR radio, the station for Columbia University.  He or she rediscovered this strange recording twenty years later and shared it on 4chan. It’s not as well-known as the bizarre Max Headroom broadcast interruption, but is still discussed on paranormal sites, mystery message boards and similar.

Quick description: In the middle of a radio broadcast, the music was interrupted by a strange recording that began with the sound of breath exhaling and soft feminine moans.  It’s fairly creepy to listen to.

Initially you can hear a bit of chatter and eventually the sound of chatter increases enough in volume that you can tell names and dates of deceased people are being recited, along with names of the deceased’s family members.  Each person’s information ends with a ringing bell.  After the recording ends, there’s a brief moment before the DJ comes back to continue with the show’s format and many people, myself included, think the DJ’s voice is identical to the voice reciting names during the interruption.

Multiple attempts to contact WKCR regarding DJs who worked at the station during this time frame have gone unanswered.  In fact, the station stopped broadcasting this year and I suspect there is little to no chance any time soon of finding someone who has the time to search such records.  Similarly I cannot find anyone who claims to have heard this broadcast interruption as it happened.

My goal has always been to either find out if there is a link between all these names, or if these names could lead us to the person who performed the interruption.  I’ve never felt this was a genuine broadcast interruption.  Either the radio DJ staged this as some sort of avant garde experiment or the tape was created by the person who leaked it with the purpose of passing it off as an interrupted broadcast.  As I listened to the recording over and over (and over and over…), I picked up on some clues the performer seemed to have laid that might lead to her identity or purpose, but I still don’t have the whole of the tape deciphered.

Before I share my research, I want to emphasize that you should not get hung up on the fact that one of these names is of a student who died in the PanAm 103 flight that Libya shot down over Lockerbie.  Also, don’t put too much into the fact that one of these names belonged to a famous physicist who was the brother of the father of the Manhattan Project.  Though I have not figured out every name yet, among those I have I cannot find any links to terrorism, plane crashes, or nuclear physics.  The connection these people share – if they share any connection – I suspect will be the person behind the interruption, a belief bolstered by the fact that the speaker in the interruption specifically states her relationship to some of the people whose names she recites.

I also want to emphasize that the recording has errors in it, either by design or by accident.  If this recording was actually aired between 1994-1996, errors could be chalked up to misremembering dates. It could be deliberate, but I tend to think it wasn’t. If this recording indeed happened more than 20 years ago, it’s not like the woman on the tape could look up information on the Internet.  When you have to rely strictly on memory because Find-a-Grave and Ancestry.com weren’t invented yet, you’re gonna make some mistakes. I also am not wholly sure who the “my friend” or “our friend” portions refer to, the deceased or the name that immediately precedes such statements of relationship.

So join me under the cut and see what I’ve come up with.  And please share anything you think may help or that I’ve overlooked.

Oddtober 2020: Celador and cellar doors…

Much of what happens on OTC is the result of me falling down a rabbit hole and writing about it, and often if there isn’t a rabbit hole, I’ll dig one, just to cover all the bases. But if you’re new here, hi, sometimes when I consume media, a brain switch gets tripped and I end up worrying the piece of media like a dog with a bone, obsessively gnawing on details until I wear myself out and move on to the next little or sometimes massive obsession. It’s hard to predict what will flip the switch but when it happens I just have to roll with it until the obsession ends and I can move on to something else.  My most recent obsession is with a song, and it seems fitting to share it during Odd-tober because while it isn’t wholly Halloweenish, the more I looked into it, the creepier it was.  An Odd-session, as it were.

I have to assume that most of you have encountered the often wretched and frequently bizarre recommendations that happen when YouTube algorithms try to predict your tastes.  You listen to, say, an acoustic set from a Finnish doom metal band, and helpful YouTube suggests you follow it up with a Halsey video wherein she both spits blood and features Debbie Harry in a random but charming cameo.  It’s baffling, and I have no clue what I watched that caused YouTube to throw up the video for “Evil in Your Eye” by a band called Church of the Cosmic Skull.  Not complaining – it was a righteous recommendation, and I liked the song enough to look into the band, which led me to a solo project the guitarist and lead male vocalist, Bill Fisher, recently released.  (As an aside, this is the golden age of the solo project.  All these bands, unable to tour due to Covid-19, restless and waiting…)

I watched the video for Bill Fisher’s song, “Celador,” at three or so in the morning on Saturday and am beginning this entry three days later, having thought about it in my usual spiral of insomnia-laced (un)focus.  As soon as I realized I was going to write about Bill Fisher, I stopped opening the emails I got after joining his site. The emails are fun invitations to try and understand the mission behind the album.  I almost wish I hadn’t signed up before posting this discussion because just knowing the title of the album Fisher released has probably colored how I look at this video, though I like to think I’d have reached the same conclusions regardless.  I really hate knowing too much before diving into a rabbit hole but sometimes you get in your own way, I guess.

You may want to watch the video for “Celador” before I begin.

This particular rabbit hole led me to three small warrens, wherein I considered the reason behind the video concept, Fisher’s use of euphonia and dual meaning, and how I think this song is, in a way, an updated fairy tale.  Join me beneath the cut, and let’s gnaw this bone together.