"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This Week in the Secret History: Terrifying the Tots

This week marks the birthdays of American illustrator Edward Gorey, and of pioneering German linguist and folklorist, Wilhelm Grimm, who, with his older brother Jacob, created the seminal folk and fairy tale collection, Kinder-und Hausmärchen, better known to us as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the source of such tales as "Rumpelstiltskin", "Snow White", "Sleeping Beauty", "Rapunzel", "Cinderella", "Hansel and Gretel", and "The Frog Prince.”

Part of the revolutionary and romantic spirit of the early 19th Century was the notion that there could be wisdom and delight in the traditions of the rural poor, that such lore would tell you something you might not otherwise understand about your society, a knowledge that had heretofore been hidden from the literate urban elites.

No-one had previously conceived of these tales as being of any value. Now, for the first time, intellectuals sat and listened respectfully to old story-telling peasant women. It was people like the Grimms, in their generation, who began to open urban society’s eyes to the treasurehouse in the imagination of the poor.

Though more than a century separated the Grimm’s from Gorey, their work illustrates a shared insight—that childhood and terror go hand-in-hand.

In the Grimm Brothers stories characters regularly meet grotesquely awful fates. And the evil entities seem to have bubbled up out of some unhealthy Mitteleuropean nightmare, the id of the dank forests and the festering inbred little hamlets. The target of their frequently cannibalistic desires, are almost always children. The Grimms peasant informants knew that in the visionary realm, beauty and horror live close together.

But there’s a golden thread that runs through the darkness. Many of the stories in the Grimms' collection seem to resonate with some primal narrative that we were born knowing. Wilhelm Grimm said that the tales were “fragments of belief, dating back to most ancient times, in which spiritual things are expressed in a figurative manner. The mythic element resembles small pieces of a shattered jewel lying strewn on the ground all overgrown with grass and flowers, and can only be discovered by the most far-seeing eye…Their signification has been lost, but is still felt, and it imparts value to the story.”

And here’s a story you should know about the brothers Grimm:

In 1837, the Brothers Grimm joined five of their colleague professors at the University of Göttingen to protest against the abolition of the liberal constitution of the state of Hanover by the reactionary King Ernest Augustus I. This group came to be known as The Göttingen Seven. The professors were fired from their university posts and three were deported, including Jacob. Jacob settled in Kassel, and Wilhelm joined him there. Their last years were spent in writing a definitive dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch, the first volume being published in 1854.

Edward Gorey's illustrated (and sometimes wordless) books, with their vaguely ominous air and ostensibly Victorian and Edwardian settings, have long had a cult following. Gorey became particularly well-known through his animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery! in 1980, as well as his designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula, for which he won a Tony Award.

Gorey’s imaginative backdrop is woven out of themes from mystery and horror fiction of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras in England. Because of the settings and style of his work, many people have assumed Gorey was British; in fact, this person who made a life’s work out of channeling the elegantly perverse dream life of pre-WWI Britain never actually so much as visited the place. Gorey classified his own work as literary nonsense, the genre made most famous by Englishmen Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

Gorey has become an iconic figure in the Goth subculture. Events themed on his works and decorated in his characteristic style are common in the more Victorian-styled elements of the subculture, notably the Edwardian costume balls held annually in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which include performances based on his works.

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