Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy: a major unseen influence

Out of all of the works of Robert A. Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy is the one I like best. I first discovered it at the age of 12 or so. This story educated, entertained and inspired me; it sank into my subconscious mind and some years later influenced the course I took in life. I still go back to it occasionally, and it is just as enjoyable and moving now as it was when I first read it.

I like the descriptions of life on Jubbulpore, capital of the Nine Worlds. I feel relieved when Thorby, the young hero, escapes from the regimented, restricted, custom-ridden, ship-bound life of the clannish Free Traders, which is my idea of hell. It is an anomaly that he had more freedom in his previous life as a beggar than he did as a high-ranking member of that closed society.

I feel for Thorby when he experiences the cold wind of fear, when he feels some sick twinges because people he cares about have gone away forever and when he feels lost once more.

I envy Thorby his string of benevolent mentors, father figures even. His abilities are recognised, and he is educated and rigorously trained accordingly. Older women are there to help him just when he needs it, and he gets some useful briefings from young people too. He has people to tell him the score, to explain what is happening, to show him how to look at situations objectively and put his life into the context of various societies. 

Doctor Mader, an anthropologist, enlightens him by explaining that while some people just function, using information they have acquired subconsciously, others must learn and apply their knowledge consciously. This to me is a vitally important point that explains a lot about the differences between people.

At a time when the Free Traders have told and shown Thorby nothing, Doctor Mader fills the gap. I see something symbolic in the way she shows him how to transform the bare, featureless cube of his cell into a well-equipped little bunker.

I wish that I could have had such helpful adults and this kind of instruction in my life when I was that age.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Defence Against the Dark Arts Part VII: Charlotte Brontë’s Martin Yorke

Of all the characters in all the Brontë sisters’ novels, Martin Yorke, who appears in Charlotte Brontë’s socio-historical novel Shirley, is my favourite.

Shirley is set in rural Yorkshire in 1811/12 against a background of industrial unrest, of violent opposition to the introduction of machinery in the local textile industry. Charlotte Brontë intended Shirley to be a counterpoint to her first novel, Jane Eyre, which was considered to be melodramatic and unrealistic. Shirley was to be political, significant, true to life and, in her own words, “real, cool and solid, as unromantic as a Monday morning.”

Similarly, Martin Yorke is far from being a dominant, dangerous, glamorous, smouldering, rugged romantic hero like the demonic duo of Heathcliff and Mr Rochester. Martin is nobody’s fantasy ideal man: he is a funny, greedy, clever, mischievous schoolboy who in my opinion is worth more than both those bad Byronic boyos put together.

Martin Yorke is only a minor character in Shirley, but the scenes I most enjoy in the book are the ones that he appears in. His antics and sayings remind me not only of Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky, but also of people I have known in real life. Charlotte Brontë modelled him on the brother of a close friend of hers.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Three Hostages: a sinister scenario

I was very young when I first read John Buchan’s thriller The Three Hostages, an adventure story that features Richard Hannay and contains a fascinating mystery to be solved.

At the time, certain expressions that would now be considered ‘politically incorrect’ and offensive did not register, nor did I see anything particularly noteworthy in the horrific mental state of the hostages and the unpleasant, alien conditions in which they were forced to live. At the time, the clues to the hiding places of the hostages and the challenge of finding and freeing them were the most gripping aspects of the story. The details of life as lived by privileged, well-connected people were very interesting too. I found the book exciting and informative. I envied Richard Hannay: I wanted that sort of action and lifestyle for myself.

Now, after many years of investigating unseen influences, it is the references to magic, wizards and the stealing of souls, the discussions of psychology and the subconscious mind and the descriptions of hypnotism and mind control that are for me the most significant aspects of the book. As his friend and colleague Sandy Arbuthnot says to Richard Hannay:

“…the compulsion of spirit by spirit.  That, I have always believed, is to-day, and ever has been, the true magic.

There is a lot of general information in The Three Hostages about the sinister and unethical practices mentioned above, and about the attributes, abilities and personality of the kind of man who would make use of them.

Now, what holds my attention above everything else is the effect that these practices have when applied to the hostages, also the details of hostages’ lives while in captivity.  Much of this has relevance to the real world; some of it is also very familiar to me. The resemblances that I can see and the connections that I can make to my own life are very painful to dwell on.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones: two alarming coincidences

I have written about some connections I made between certain scenes in Charlotte Brontë’s writings and events in her life. I doubt whether she ever realised that episodes she had created and dwelt on in her imagination had manifested in the real world.

Diana Wynne Jones is another matter. She did notice a connection between what she was writing about and unexpected, unwelcome incidents in her life:

“… And my books have developed an uncanny way of coming true. The most startling example of this was last year, when I was writing the end of A Tale of Time City. At the very moment when I was writing about all the buildings in Time City falling down, the roof of my study fell in, leaving most of it open to the sky.”
- The official autobiography, first published over ten years ago in Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 7

She wrote a scene in The Homeward Bounders in which a character is hit in the head with a cricket bat, and not a month later, her son was hit in the head with a cricket bat. She felt responsible, rather.

Charlotte Brontë and Diana Wynne Jones have childhood neglect and harsh treatment in common. Many other writers whose lives I have investigated had similar experiences. Is this all just chance, or could it have been arranged from behind the scenes? Are selected candidates deliberately put through processes designed to develop their creative imaginations? Does persecution strengthen the ability and inclination to perform psychological black magic?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nicholas Stuart Gray’s witch: Mother Gothel

The witch Mother Gothel appears in Nicholas Stuart Gray’s story The Stone Cage, which is a re-telling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Rapunzel is a maiden with very long hair who is kept prisoner by a witch at the top of a tall stone tower.

The book is currently unobtainable: all I could find was the dramatized version of The Stone Cage, which is better than nothing. This play has also been performed under the name The Wrong Side of the Moon.

Mother Gothel as depicted in The Stone Cage is based on a real person - Nicholas Stuart Gray’s mother.

Mother Gothel is introduced
She is a witch, in the worst meaning of the word. A creature of malice, egotism and cruelty. She is so interested in herself, that she has little time to spare for anyone else’s feelings or well-being. She considers the world against her, and beneath her. She is absolutely alone, and does not even realise that she minds the fact…Once, long ago, she was beautiful. Now, she would be avoided by anyone with sense…”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Four drowned sisters: accident or sinister arrangement?

A uniquely high tide and severe gales caused the River Thames to burst its banks in the early hours of January 7th 1928. Some areas were flooded, and 14 people drowned in their beds. Four of these were the young Harding sisters, who were trapped in their basement bedroom in central London.

These and many other subsequent deaths caused the Thames Barrier to be proposed and eventually built to help prevent such disasters from happening again. I am wondering whether the deaths of the sisters could have been prevented at the time.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The second golden rule: be very careful what you dwell on

I have written here about the possible link between Charlotte Brontë’s youthful obsession with Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and her eventual marriage to a dark man called Arthur. I have also mentioned the possible connection I noticed between Mr Rochester’s fall from his horse in Jane Eyre and Charlotte’s fall the first time she ever got up on a horse.

An incident in the life of the Spanish Surrealist artist Remedios Varo, whose strange and wonderful pictures deserve to be more widely known, provides another example of such possible connections. I found it in Unexpected Journeys, The Art and Life of Remedios Varo by Janet A. Kaplan.

It happened in Paris in 1938, when she was with a group of other members of the inner circle of Surrealists. They had been drinking, when one man, Esteban Francés, made a remark criticising her personal life. An artist called Oscar Dominguez rose to defend Varo’s honour. An ugly fight broke out; people tried to separate the two men but Dominguez managed to free one arm and hurl a glass at Francés. Unfortunately, it completely missed and hit someone else, an artist called Victor Brauner. It tore one of his eyes out.

The strange coincidence here is that Brauner had painted many one-eyed creatures earlier, including a self-portrait of himself with one eye missing in 1931.  Another picture, painted in 1932, shows a man with his eye being punctured by a shaft with the letter D attached to it.

Did Brauner have a premonition that this loss would happen? Did he subconsciously will it to happen? Could it be yet another example of something manifesting in the life of a creative person just because he had been dwelling on it? Did he get caught in his own psychic trap?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Watership Down: a sinister scenario

There is an episode in Richard Adams’s Watership Down that made me feel very uncomfortable when I first read the book and still affects me negatively some decades later. I now see this book is much more than an entertaining story about the adventures of some fictional rabbits: it has many relevancies to real life.

The nomads meet a settlement of eerie, unnatural rabbits
A band of wandering rabbits is seeking a new home because of a predicted disaster. They find a promising looking field then discover that it is already inhabited by other rabbits. The existing occupants are large, sleek and healthy and seem very prosperous. They are not hostile: they are unexpectedly welcoming and invite the newcomers to join them, saying that there is plenty of spare room in the warren.

Fiver, a member of the travelling band who is psychically gifted, advises his companions to have nothing to do with the place and its inhabitants. He says they should all leave at once. The rabbits are under the unofficial leadership of Fiver’s brother Hazel, who despite the warning decides to accept the strangers’ hospitality and leads his band down into the warren. The others start to mingle and settle in, but Fiver sits alone and apart, apparently ill or very much depressed. The new rabbits avoid him instinctively.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nicholas Stuart Gray’s witch: Barbara

Barbara is the main character in The Stranger, a short story in Nicolas Stuart Gray’s book The Edge of Evening. She does not at all resemble the witch Huddle, who also appears in this book. She is described as being neither young nor old, neither ugly nor pretty. She has brown hair and violet eyes, and is slim and rather tall.

Barbara has little in common with other witches I have written about: for example, she is not seeking some black magic book, magical artefact or other item as are Dr. Melanie Powers, Rowena Cooper and Miss Heckatty; she is not power crazy nor planning to rule the world like Gwendolen Chant; she is not cruel and evil like Madame Delubovoska nor surly and unpleasant like Mrs Lubbage.

Her problem is that she is miserable: she is a stranger in a strange land; she hates her life in a world where kindness is dreadfully lacking and wants to get away from it. She is tired of people telling her to pull herself together.

She has learned magic and sorcery just to obtain the power to find a world of her own, a place that is right for her, somewhere with people who speak her language, somewhere she can meet her own kind at last and be happy. She is so desperate for help that she performs a summoning ritual and conjures up a demon – whose name is Balbarith – and orders him to obey her. She commands him to show her other worlds and how to enter them.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Defence Against the Dark Arts part VI: two amusing anecdotes

I have many painful memories of incidents in shops and on buses. I have one or two positive memories to offset the bad ones, memories that give good feelings whenever I return to them.

The honest electronic equipment salesman
Some years ago, I was very dejected after realising that I had been cheated by a laptop repair company. They lied to me when they told me that they had returned my laptop to the manufacturer: the latter said they had never seen it. I was without my laptop for weeks, and paid a lot of money for repairs that did not last very long.

I found another repair shop nearby; they told me that they got a lot of business from people like me, people who had been given bad service by the other place.

I was waiting in this shop when some people came in and asked if they sold video cameras. One of the men behind the counter said, “We only have one model, and I wouldn’t buy it if I were you: it’s rubbish!” When I told him that I admired his honesty, he said, “It’s always best to be honest. The only person I ever lie to is my wife:  I would never get any peace if I didn’t.” I thought that this was very amusing. It lifted my mood and things did not seem quite so black. 

I was much more selective when choosing the second repair company than I was with the first one, which by coincidence went bankrupt not long afterwards.

The witty bus conductor
I may have still been at school at the time of another amusing incident: it certainly happened a very long time ago. I was on a bus when a very smartly-dressed man jumped on. There was something about him that suggested to me that he was not accustomed to travelling on buses: perhaps his chauffeur was ill or his Rolls-Royce had broken down!

He asked the conductor, “Does this bus go to Marble Arch?” The conductor, a pleasant, relaxed Jamaican man, said, “Yes, Sir, it does”. The man brightened up: he obviously liked being called ‘Sir’.

He then asked “How much do I owe you?” The conductor said in reply, “Sit down and make yourself comfortable Sir, and we’ll discuss the money question later.”

The man obviously thought that this was very funny: he kept smiling to himself for the remainder of his journey.  I guessed that he could not wait to tell the chaps at his club about his unexpectedly entertaining bus journey. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Angela Brazil, her brother, and the child prodigy pianist

Reading about J. M. Barrie and his infiltration of the Llewelyn Davies family has reminded me of a chilling little story that I read about in The Schoolgirl Ethic: Life and Work of Angela Brazil by Gillian Freeman.

The victim in the case was a boy called Gilbert Morris; the villains were the schoolgirls’ fiction writer Angela Brazil and her brother Walter.  Angela appears to have been the main driving force, decision maker and giver of orders in this affair: it is likely that Walter just followed her lead and went along with her wishes.

Gilbert Allan Morris was a child prodigy, a professional pianist who made his first public appearance at the age of six. He was born in 1901 and came to the attention of the Brazils when he was 12 years old; Angela was in her 45th year at the time and Walter in his 52nd.

The Brazils took Gilbert up, railroaded him towards a career that they believed would bathe them in reflected glory, raised his hopes then pulled the rug out from under him. They gave with one hand and took with the other; they made plans and arrangements on his behalf without informing him. He became enmeshed in the tentacles of their household and was driven by their pressure to the edge of destruction.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ouida and the death of her Italian nobleman: curse or coincidence?

Deaths, illnesses and misfortunes that seem to be natural, accidental, unavoidable or just coincidences – after all, stuff happens and such things are part of life – may seem less innocent when other, similar incidents are taken into account and patterns start to emerge.

Reading about the convenient (for J. M. Barrie) death of the Llewelyn Davies boys’ father has reminded me of another death that I learned about from biographies of the Victorian writer Ouida. Thinking about the curse that Biddy Iremonger put on the man she hoped to marry when he chose someone else and the Kathleen Raine/Gavin Maxwell affair, not to mention the Bronte family's misfortunes and the jilted woman in Patrick Brontë’s past, makes me wonder whether Ouida could have been indirectly responsible for the death of an Italian nobleman, someone she was infatuated with and hoped to marry.

Monday, July 7, 2014

More positive paranoia

It sometimes happens that after I have pulled some incidents out of my mind and got them down on paper, more memories emerge from the depths and rise to the surface.

I have just remembered another occasion when I had a big attack of positive paranoia, a feeling that the universe was arranging things for my personal benefit.

It all started when I unearthed and re-read an Edwardian guide to a small seaside town where I had spent some time as a child. Memories of these days by the sea were deeply buried; I had not talked or even thought about them since my family left the town many years earlier.  The book made me decide to go back there for the first time and try to find the house where we lived, the school, the children’s playground and other places I vaguely remembered. I decided to wait until summer to make my pilgrimage to the past.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch Aunt Maria: part III

A brief summary of Diana Wynne Jones’s Black Maria makes it seem like a complete fantasy, a children’s story that is interesting and entertaining but has little relevance to real life. I have actually found much of it familiar, informative and very useful - not so much the purely supernatural parts but the scenes involving mind control and manipulative behaviour.

It is ironic that this little book is considered suitable reading for eight-year-olds yet it has inspired me to produce so much material that I decided to break my article first into two then into three parts.

The first part of Aunt Maria.
The second part of Aunt Maria.

Telepathy, spying and psychic attacks
A member of Aunt Maria’s circle gives Mig a book of pictures, the kind a little girl will love. Some of them are indeed of flittery little fairies, but others are frightening and sinister: the worst one is titled ‘A naughty little girl is punished’ and makes Mig feel ill. This seems like a message, a warning, and reminds me of one of the disturbing pictures sent to Marianne in Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore by Sheri S. Tepper.

Aunt Maria invites her circle in for tea and cake. Chris, who has had enough of the way she speaks to and about him, makes some amusing but ill-mannered remarks that upset the ladies. Elaine, who is second in command in the coven, strides in from next door and says that she wants a word with Chris. Mig wonders how Elaine could have known that Mig’s brother was responsible for the uproar. I have seen people rush to the scene like taxis driven by evil spirits when there is trouble: the negative emotion seems to draw them.

Mig sees Chris turn pale when Elaine tells him that he looks like a ghostly court jester (he is wearing a pair of Aunt Maria’s huge pale blue bloomers on his head as a joke).  Elaine has hit on something in the uncanny way that witches do: Chris has recently seen a ghost, and when Mig sees the ghost for herself, he does look a bit like a court jester. I have had people home in unerringly and immediately on painful subjects in a similar way, causing me much distress.  It is very jarring, and seems not only like psychic spying but also a psychic attack.

Chris notices that whenever he and his sister are out on investigations or talking about things they don’t want their aunt to know about, members of her circle just happen to be out in force all along the route. Aunt Maria knows immediately when the children have been to see someone she considers to be an enemy. Her former friend frequently falls over: Aunt Maria implies that this is a punishment for making critical remarks. Elaine, who is much more direct, mentions various places where Chris has been seen and asks what he has been up to. Some kind of hive mind appears to be at work here.

Some effects of being around witches
Elaine is paramilitary in appearance and rather blunt, loud and hearty in manner; her husband looks like a pale, drained zombie. He rarely speaks and when he does it is in a low voice. He is browbeaten and obeys his wife’s orders.

When Mig is forced to obey the commands of another of Aunt Maria’s circle, she has a strange sensation. It is as though someone has put a transparent plastic bag around her feelings, which bulge and struggle inside and can’t be accessed. Some people do have this effect on others in real life: I have felt it.

After the spell has been broken and the battle lines drawn, Mig goes back to Aunt Maria’s house to collect a diary in which she has written things that she doesn’t want the old lady to see. She has by chance temporarily forgotten that Aunt Maria has informed her that she is aware of what has been written: Elaine has found and taken the diary. Mig intends to tell someone what she plans to do, but by chance her friend is asleep so she returns to the house unknown to her allies. This reminds me of the first murder victim in The Whitby Witches. She suddenly remembers who Rowena Cooper really is; she storms out of her house with the intention of going straight to the police station nearby, but she is so overcome with anger that she decides to confront Rowena first, despite knowing what the witch is capable of. She digs her own grave when she tells Rowena that she has not been to the police – yet. Witches can compel people to tell the truth.

Mig does some very stupid things. Just like Marianne in Marianne, Madame and the Momentary Gods, she ignores some warning signals: she sees that her diary out of its hiding place and in plain view but actually sits down and starts to update her record of events.  She has come within the evil orbit and fallen under the influence again. Witches can make people behave as though they are in a dream: they don’t see things at all, they see them but don’t really register what they are, they register them but don’t understand their significance, they understand the significance but don’t think of taking action or they take too little action too late.

Mig is discovered and taken to have a little talk with Aunt Maria. She now understands why one member of the circle appears to be completely mad: her son was disposed of by Aunt Maria and everyone carries on as if nothing had happened. Refusal or inability to accept reality has consequences. This woman has never been the same since the incident; she goes on seeing Aunt Maria even after the old lady has eliminated her son.

In Mig’s own words:

Here were all these peculiar and awful things going on, and you knew all about them and wanted to scream and yell and cry, and yet here was Aunt Maria, so gentle, cuddly and civilised that you couldn’t quite believe the awful things were happening. You felt guilty just thinking about them. You felt guiltier believing the awful things were true. As Aunt Maria began talking, I really began thinking something must be wrong with me for imagining she was wicked in the least.”

This is all very familiar: this is exactly how witches can make you feel. Evil people reverse everything; they make black appear white and vice versa; they make victims feel guilty; they make people doubt the reality of what they are seeing and feeling; they inflict terrible injuries and expect them to be ignored.

There is another example of such reversal in a scene near the end of the story in which Aunt Maria and her circle make a last stand. They launch a concerted psychic attack on their assembled enemies. The waves of pitying disapproval that roll from the witches make Mig and her friends in the anti-witch faction feel overwhelmed and tortured with feelings of guilt, remorse and shame. The innocent are made to feel guilty. Yet when the witches are forcibly confronted with the truth in the form of images of desperate, unhappy, bewildered people they have hurt and killed, they refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong. Aunt Maria genuinely believes herself to be a good, charitable and religious person.

Aunt Maria’s minor manipulations
Many readers will have encountered and suffered at the hands of someone similar to Aunt Maria in her non-supernatural aspect: controlling people who play the hurt and helpless game are very common and emotional blackmailers and manipulators are everywhere.

Aunt Maria says things such as, “Don’t bother to put napkins, dear. It’s fun using kitchen cutlery.” This is her polite way of giving orders, of letting people know that she wants the best cutlery and napkins to be used. “It’s quite fun eating runny egg for a change” means that she wants her eggs to be hard boiled in future.

Elaine gives orders too, in a much more direct and authoritarian manner. The children’s mother is at a disadvantage because she is too civilised to fight back. She also rather likes nursing people. Aunt Maria and her circle know this, and take advantage of her weakness and inclinations. Mig thinks that being civilised is a handicap: other people can break the rules and you can’t. This is another way of saying that evil will always triumph over good because evil people have no scruples.

People who give others the benefit of the doubt and are slow to think ill of anyone need to learn that people such as Aunt Maria are completely selfish, and when they appear otherwise it is for their own benefit.

For example, although she appears to behave considerately when she encourages Mig to go out and get some fresh air because she looks pale, Aunt Maria only does this because she wants her out of the way so the circle can have a confidential meeting. She later sends Mig and her mother out, once again apparently to get some air but really to get rid of them so that she can talk freely with her circle.

Aunt Maria is hypocritical: she is not interested in people and things for their own sakes, only if and when she can use and control them and treat them like chess pieces. On a previous occasion, she protested strongly when their mother sent the children out to get some fresh air because she had other plans for them. Another time, when Mig wants to accompany her brother when he goes out shopping, Aunt Maria objects and only backs down when the worm turns and the children’s mother says, “…isn’t it enough to have me tied to the house waiting on you hand and foot, without making a prisoner of Mig too?”

There seems to be something symbolic here: the victims of energy vampires often feel either like trapped and stifled hostages or unwanted nuisances who are discarded and thrown out into the cold.

Aunt Maria’s zones of operation
Aunt Maria operates and does damage on three levels.

At the lowest level, she exploits and annoys the hell out of people with her manipulative behaviour. She uses natural characteristics and tactics in common with ordinary people, people who are not witches, people who can be found in many families, neighbourhoods and workplaces in real life. Many books and articles have been written about such people and how to deal with them. Basic assertiveness and a few useful expressions may be enough to put a stop to their nasty little games.

At the highest level, Aunt Maria uses pure magic and ritualistic language to turn people into animals “By the power vested in me”. Only someone operating in the same way on the same level can reverse the effects of such dramatic transformations.

In between the witchcraft and the games playing lies the area of mind control.  Her victims behave as though they are under the influence of evil spells.  Aunt Maria’s augmented powers may be responsible in the book, but in real life some people have this effect on their victims without ever consciously practising witchcraft: they may be unwittingly making use of the powers of the subconscious mind.

Aunt Maria’s technique involves talking a lot of mind-numbing drivel and slipping important things in among the droning. She actually explains to Mig that the talk is the main spell, but underneath she works away putting ideas into people’s minds and tying their thoughts into the right shape. Aunt Maria finishes the little talk by informing Mig that she is tired. This seems like hypnotic suggestion: Mig immediately goes to sleep and wakes up as a prisoner in an orphanage. 

The end of the story
Mig’s friends rally round and rescue her. Aunt Maria is eventually dealt with and made harmless by someone of power equal to hers, but not in a way that has any relevance to real life. 

Victims who had their power taken away start to revive and become their real selves, just like Cat in Charmed Life. One man was buried alive for 20 years, so has a lot of catching up to do. He finds it difficult to adjust to normal life. This applies to many victims of real life energy vampires. He also has horrible dreams about his time underground, and there is doubt that he will ever be completely normal.

Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011. Her books are her legacy to us all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jane Austen and J. M. Barrie: intriguing deaths of two future in-laws

There are many different types of unseen influences to be investigated. Of particular interest to me are cases of creative people having a bad effect on those around them.

I have listed some ‘sacrificed sons’ in one article; I have highlighted the early deaths of Louisa M. Alcott’s brother-in-law and younger sister and the convenient death of Jane Austen’s future brother-in-law in another. From the latter article:

“…Cassandra became engaged to a military chaplain who was sent overseas and died of yellow fever somewhere in the Caribbean. His patron said that he would never have taken the young man out there if he had known that he was an engaged man. Why didn’t he ask, and why did no one tell him? The end result was that Jane Austen kept her chosen companion: Cassandra never considered marrying anyone else...”

I have just read something about J. M. Barrie that has brought the Jane and Cassandra Austen case very much back to mind.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Brontë family misfortunes: curse or coincidence?

I have written elsewhere about the witch Biddy Iremonger, a major character in Wilkins’ Tooth aka Witch’s Business by Diana Wynne Jones. She deliberately put a curse on the man she had intended to marry when he chose someone else. This curse hits him and his family very hard: his wife has to go into a home for mentally ill people and his pale, shabby, neglected children are considered peculiar, old fashioned and strange looking.

Reading about the effects of her curse makes me feel very uncomfortable: it all reminds me very much of what happened to and in my own family after my step-mother left in a fury because of disappointed hopes.

It also reminds me of another family: that of Charlotte Brontë. The strange, old-fashioned appearance of the children, the unsuitable housing, the dreadful school, the suffering, the ill health, the blighted lives, the terrible state that Branwell Brontë was reduced to, the ‘too little too late’ successes and the untimely deaths have all been recorded in family letters and described by many biographers. 

Some of it is very familiar: once again my own family comes to mind.

The Biddy Iremonger story left me wondering whether there was someone who could have put a curse on the Brontë family. I refreshed my memory by re-reading some biographical material, and found a person of interest.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Unseen influences: good luck and good timing

There are people for whom nothing ever seems to go right. It seems as though someone has cursed or put an evil spell on them. They make bad decisions and miss opportunities; their timing is always off; everything they want seems out of reach, and if they do get something they want it turns sour; they get bad service and never seem to find good bargains; they find unpleasant people everywhere they go. They may feel paranoid – for good reason.

I have had experience of this, and attribute it to being under the influence of energy vampires.

It is possible to break the spell, lift the curse, turn bad luck into good and completely turn our lives around.  This gives us feelings of positive paranoia: we feel that the universe is arranging things just for our benefit.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch Aunt Maria: part II

I have performed several data mining exercises on Black Maria aka Aunt Maria by Diana Wynne Jones and found a lot of useful material each time I made another pass through the story. There are always more points of interest to be extracted and connections to be made.

The first part of Aunt Maria.

Diana Wynne Jones said that Aunt Maria was based on a real person. This might well have been her mother, who by her account was a horrible woman. I have never met anyone quite like Aunt Maria, but some of the actions of her and her circle and the effects that they have on people are very familiar indeed. More and more similarities come to mind each time I go through the book.

Aunt Maria lures the family into a trap
With people such as Aunt Maria it is important to identify them immediately, if possible avoid them completely and if not begin as we mean to go on and let them know where we stand. Unfortunately, we often realise this too late.

The children’s mother says that everyone should be nice to Aunt Maria because she is old and has had a shock: everyone is far too nice to her, and suddenly they have gone too far to start being nasty. The children’s mother knows what she is like, but still agrees to go and stay with her. The children are furious and say there is no obligation as she is only a distant relation by marriage: they have a better grasp of the situation than their mother does. Unfortunately, she is a sucker and a pushover: she would feel guilty and selfish if she didn’t accept the poor lonely old lady’s invitation.

In any case, we are damned if we do obey or confront such people and damned if we don’t. Failure to assert ourselves has serious consequences, but even worse things may follow when we do try to state our positions, protect our interests and defend ourselves against attack.

The boy, Chris, realises soon after arrival that they have been got there under false pretences: Elaine, the second in command in the circle, informs them that they will be responsible not only for cooking and other household tasks but also for bathing, dressing and undressing the apparently helpless old lady. Chris does stand up to Aunt Maria – he makes some very funny remarks - but when he tells her a few home truths and accuses her of murder, she loses her temper and turns him into a wolf.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sheri S. Tepper’s witch: Madame Delubovoska

Positive paranoia: this is we believe that people are conspiring to help us and events are being arranged in our favour. This happened to me in the case of The Marianne Trilogy by Sheri S. Tepper, which I wanted to re-read but could not find anywhere. I visited many second-hand bookshops before giving up the hunt.

I had done everything I could without success, so the universe took a hand. I experienced a strong inner prompting to visit a small town with historic associations. I wandered around the back streets, and found a charity shop with a big pile of Sheri S. Tepper’s books in the window: an omnibus volume of The Marianne Trilogy was among them! I bought the lot for a very reasonable price. Not only did I have some good reading material, I also gained some more inspiration for articles.

Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore introduces a very unpleasant character called Madame Delubovoska, who also appears in Marianne, the Madame, and the Momentary Gods, the second book in the trilogy. Before she even comes on the scene we are learn that she is a sociopath, a psychopath, someone who uses people and doesn’t care about anyone.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch Aunt Maria: part I

Aunt Maria appears in Diana Wynne Jones’s Black Maria aka Aunt Maria. She operates and does a lot of damage on more than one level: she is both a dreadful, detestable, manipulative old woman and an evil witch.

Aunt Maria gets under my skin in a way that none of the other witches I have discussed so far does. I can read about her turning people into animals without any problems, but I can hardly bear to read the descriptions of her ‘this world’ behaviour towards the family that she asks to come and stay with her: it comes too close to home; it triggers very painful memories and feelings.

Her intrusive behaviour over the phone in the first few pages of the book is more than enough to make me want to stop reading, but I persevere because there are lessons to be learned and points and connections to be made.

Aunt Maria’s personality and behaviour
Aunt Maria is hateful; she is insufferable; she is intrusive, annoying, selfish, demanding and controlling. She is a complete expert in using suggestion, disapproval, martyrdom, disappointment, guilt trips, intimidation, emotional blackmail and mind control to manipulate people into doing what she wants. She is cruel and unscrupulous. She is a tyrant in disguise: she subtly forces everyone to dance to her tune.

Aunt Maria makes very intrusive phone calls with the pretext of being concerned for people’s welfare. This is ridiculous: people who genuinely care about someone think about the effect that their actions may have on that person. She is really trying to turn people into remotely-controlled puppets.

Aunt Maria is deceitful; she is not on the level; she is an expert games player. She gets a family – a girl called Mig, a boy called Chris and their mother (the father is missing presumed dead) - to come and stay with her under false pretences: she offers them a break, but when they get there they find that they are expected to do all her shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing and gardening and run her errands. They do not learn this immediately, but she has turned her home help into a cat and played the bait and switch game because she needs a replacement.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Robin Jarvis’s Whitby Witches: Rowena Cooper

When I first started to get my thoughts about modern-day fictional witches down on paper, I made a list of books from the past to re-read and mine for information and ideas. Although I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with some old friends, the stories were incidental this time around. I wanted examples of various types of witch; I was looking for patterns and features in common in the witches’ lives, personalities and eventual fates; I was looking for fictional characters who reminded me of real people I had known or encountered along the way.

I remembered some relevant scenes and characters from Robin Jarvis’s wonderful Whitby Witches trilogy, which I had read soon after they were first published. The first book in the series is The Whitby Witches. Jennet and her little brother Ben, two children who are core characters, remind me of Gwendolen and Cat Chant in Charmed Life: they too are orphans whose parents died in an accident and they are much the same ages.

The villain of the story is a middle-aged woman who first appears under the name of Rowena Cooper. Just like some of the other witches I have written about, she is looking for something and will do whatever it takes to get it. She is the most ruthless of the bunch: anything or anyone who stands in her way will be removed. She attempts to manipulate people with threats and promises. She is described as having a black and rotten heart and being full of evil. She is desperate and eaten away with her lust for greater power.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch: Gwendolen Chant

I am very interested in fictional witches whose attitudes, characteristics and behaviour remind me of people I have encountered in real life, including energy vampires, horrible stepmothers, unpleasant teachers and negative colleagues.

Not only that, but I also have an unpleasant and unwelcome suspicion that some of these witches show and embody something of what I might have become by default if I had taken the path of least resistance and not faced reality, escaped the clutches of energy vampires, fought my fate, defeated my destiny and overcome many unseen influences.

Gwendolen Chant, who appears in Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life, is yet another witch of interest. There are some scenes in this book that make me feel very uncomfortable, not only because of how I was treated but because of how I felt and behaved – or wanted to behave – when I was much younger than I am now.

Gwendolen’s life before Chrestomanci
Gwendolen Chant is around 12 years old; she is a very pretty and charming young girl, a golden haired, blue eyed princess; she has much innate magical ability; she is convinced she has great talents and will achieve future fame; she displays queenly behaviour, feels destined for great things and expects to rule the world. The people around her take her at her own estimation and greatly admire her; they give her many presents; they praise, support and encourage her and do whatever they can to help the golden girl in her studies of witchcraft.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

John DeLorean and Gerald Durrell: born on the same day?

I noticed an interesting coincidence recently: two very different men with very different lives and outlooks share the same birth date. The automobile engineer and executive John DeLorean was born on January 6th 1925 in Detroit; the author, naturalist, zoo keeper and wildlife conservationist Gerald Durrell was born in India on January 7th 1925. Allowing for time differences, they were born at much the same time – and under the sign of Capricorn.

One appears to be on the whole one of the good guys, the other was a fraudster. From his obituary in The Guardian:

Almost everyone who had business dealings with car-maker John DeLorean … suffered either money losses in the millions, public vilification for the vanished cash, or both. Through all this turbulence, DeLorean remained unscathed: even if he did lose a fortune, he had not been entitled to it in the first place… DeLorean was a world-class conman, despite a brilliant early engineering career at General Motors. Among his victims of fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion or defaulted loans, were the governments of Britain, the US, and Switzerland

John DeLorean called the British government ‘suckers’ and his Irish workers ‘dummies’; Gerald Durrell built good relationships with various authorities and made friends with and allies of ordinary people wherever he went. John DeLorean ruined the livelihoods of many people; Durrell saved several species from extinction.

DeLorean appears to have been all take and everything he did was to benefit and promote himself: he seems to me to have been the sort of person who wants fame, fortune and the jet-setting, celebrity filled life for their own sakes and flaunts his belongings and lifestyle to make the peasants feel wiped out; Durrell did everything for the sake of the wildlife and his zoo: he shared his life, his travels and expedition experiences and his animal collections with everyone via his unforgettable books, which entertain and inform and have given good feelings to millions of people.

Some episodes are hysterically funny; I found one of his books in a charity shop while on a day trip and bought it to read on the return journey: I had to stop as it was just too funny to read in public. Durrell’s books make the reader feel that they were actually there, living in Corfu as described in My Family and Other Animals or travelling in Cameroon, which he wrote about in A Zoo in My Luggage; I feel as though I have made several African expeditions, met the Fon of Bafut and captured wild animals myself.

“My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.” 
Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals

He had the craft, and while he could not give he certainly could and did share not only his childhood but everything else. DeLorean gave the world the gift of his gullwing door car. I think that Durrell’s books and life’s work are the greater gift.

John Delorean died in Summit, New Jersey (so he did actually get right to the top!); Gerald Durrell died in Jersey in the Channel Islands.