Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy and the Use of Metaphor

Whenever I get bored I know I can stir up shit by making a bold statement. It creates interaction on social media and tends to be harmless. Unless you say something along the lines of this.

THE ROAD is a zombie apocalypse survival horror movie and the novel by Cormac McCarthy shares this affiliation.

This starts up a shit storm each and every time. Without hesitation the naysayers come out of the gate and tell me how wrong I am without fully understanding what I am saying. Which is fine. They can do that. Nothing they will say will change my mind when it comes to this. And they can rot in their box of overused tropes. It comes down to one thing and one thing only. Metaphor. 

Defined as. 

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

And.

A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else especially something abstract.

What people forget is zombies and all monsters in fiction are a metaphor. They are symbolic of something else. It does not matter what that something is. THE ROAD is a realistic depiction of the end of the world. We all know zombies do not exist. However in THE ROAD the nature of man becomes akin to that of the zombie. Mindless. Destructive. Cannibalistic. Zombie horror is typically survivor horror. And THE ROAD is a survivor horror work of art.

The horror of THE ROAD is not the first time McCarthy has delved into the fears men hold in their subconscious. No Country For Old Men was a modern western mashed up with Silence of the Lambs. And BLOOD MERIDIAN a book considered by some to be the greatest of our era.

Art By Jarrod Owen

BLOOD MERIDIAN is an anti-Western and metaphorical horror story about the demons within all men and the devil they grow to be. It tells the tale of “The Kid” and his violent adventures across the southwestern USA as part of a gang of scalp hunters. Through the course of the story we frequently meet a man known simply as The Judge or Judge Holden. Heralding back to my earlier comments on metaphor Holden is an earthly manifestation of the devil inside all men. He is possessed with superhuman strength and diabolic wisdom and shows up in the story whenever it is appropriate.

This gets mighty spoilery from this point on. If you have not read BLOOD MERIDIAN and do not want to be spoiled I advise you to stop reading.

Art By Jarrod Owen

OK… You already read it or don’t give a fuck.

The book is written in almost a Biblical prose. It is also violent and graphic. But what brings forth more discussion from readers of the book is not its bleak portrayal of violence in the American West. It is the ending. The common belief among scholars is The Judge raped and murdered The Kid and left him for dead in the outhouse in Fort Griffin. I cry foul at this. And here is why. I do not believe The Judge was alive.

There is a point in the narrative where The Kid and his companion the ex-priest escape from the clutches of Judge Holden after an Indian raid. The Kid kills the Judge’s horses and stranding him in the desert. From here the wounded the Kid sees the Judge come visit him in jail complete with mystical visions. 

Art by Deimos R Emus

And this is where the psychological horror of BLOOD MERIDIAN is so subtle and brilliant. I don’t think the Judge was really there.  I think The Kid hallucinated it. I think The Judge died in the desert. The Kid was fucked up from an arrow wound at this point. He was delirious. So yes I believe in the last quarter of the book any time The Judge shows up he is a manifestation of The Kid and his imagination. 

Flash forward to The Kid becoming The Man in Fort Griffin. He murders a kid who was his age when he started his wicked ways. Then he goes to the saloon and low and behold the judge shows up. There is some fuckery regarding a dancing bear. The Man leaves and finds a whore and fucks her. Then he goes to the outhouse and opens the door to see The Judge waiting for him. The Judge pulls the Kid into the outhouse without ceremony. The Judge exits the shitter and returns to the party. Time to dance naked.

I do not believe The Man saw the actual Judge in the Saloon. I believe the Man was seeing himself from the outside. Seeing what he had become. In storytelling coming of age stories usually involved young men on a chase to lose their virginity. The penultimate scene in BLOOD MERIDIAN has The Kid aka The Man both murder a teenager and bang a whore. He makes a sacrifice and gets laid. He transcended into the embodiment of War. He moved on. He was no longer the Man or the Kid. 

Yes. 

It becomes FIGHT CLUB. But only in this The Judge equates Tyler Durden analogy.

I believe the Man became the embodiment of ideal The Judge. The Kid became the Man who became The Judge. The Judge is the physical embodiment of War and the evil that men do. He is a metaphor for the Devil or any God of war and corruption. This makes BLOOD MERIDIAN more than a hyperviolent Anti-Western. The last quarter of the book turns into a psychological horror story where the protagonist is transformed into the eternal antagonist. 

If you have read this book am I perceiving it right? Or am I high? Or did I come up with a theory you had not thought of yourself? Let me know in the comments on Facebook or below here on WordPress.

-30-

 

Everything Dungeons & Dragons Is New Again

Has it really been 5, almost 6 years since D&D got its current edition? Here’s the article I wrote on the venerable game when 5th Edition hit… This game molded me like no other mentor. It taught me how to be a storyteller off the cuff. I was 47 when I wrote this… I’ll 53 this July.

There was a time in what is my memory, a mystical point wherein glass ceilings limiting imaginations failed to exist. This time period was decades ago, five to be precise, and to the youth of today, that was surely a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This post STAR TREK epoch supersedes the legendary 1977 release of STAR WARS and its resulting legacy, an era of creative Johnny Appleseeds planting the kernels of inspiration that we enjoy and relish in, to this day. This was the years surrounding 1974, perhaps the most influential era ever to exist in geek culture, a golden age of geek culture that has finally come full circle forty years later, an era that has influenced how you view and experience genre entertainment. Having just reached the graceful old age of 47, I am blessed with being the elder statesman of This Is Infamous, and it from this title that I am able to tell you stories of the days before cell phones, VCRs and video gaming consoles. Yes, there was a time without CALL OF DUTY, FINAL FANTASY or THE LAST OF US. And quite honestly, none of this would have existed without a seemingly innocuous little game that came to be in 1974. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, the first role-playing game and, in turn, a cornerstone of modern geek culture.

Everything old is new again, folks. Last month saw the release of the next generation of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS books. Now simply called D&D, this “fifth” (to some it is “sixth”) edition of the game has come about 40 years after the debut of the original game, further instilling 2014 as the year where everything old is new again. Forty years ago the fledgling TSR, or TACTICAL STUDIES RULES produced the game that would change the world and touch most aspects of entertainment you enjoy to this day. The game is now published by WIZARDS OF THE COAST, the HASBRO gaming company’s most profitable division and with good reason. WIZARDS OF THE COAST also produces the world’s first and most popular collectible card game, MAGIC: THE GATHERING. 

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was created by the late, legendary gentlemen Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson as an expansion for their fantasy miniatures war game CHAINMAIL, first published in 1971. 1974 saw them release a 3 book box set, essentially a collection of digest-sized pamphlets. Heavily inspired by fantasy works of the likes of JRR Tolkien, the popularity of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, or D&D as it was commonly called, soared faster than anyone could have imagined. A new box set was released in 1976 and then again in 1981, alongside hard-covered “advanced” rule books. A marketing juggernaut was created. In the forty years since its initial inception, D&D has gone through two publishing houses, no less than six rules editions and countless expansions and adventure settings, or “modules” as we used to call them back in the day. They set the standard on how to make people buy the same thing over and over again, sometimes this was simply achieved by changing the cover art on a book, other times the game-changing edition changes. Regardless of the method, D&D laid the foundation for how genre gaming is marketed to this day and nearly every tabletop role-playing game utilizes the same marketing credo.

How did DUNGEONS & DRAGONS get so popular, inspiring the creation of a plethora of other RPG systems? Mostly because of its unique aspects: the game had no winners or losers, the rules were “free form” and players were encouraged to bend them to fit their game. What mattered was the story, the backbone of the game. Your only boundary was your imagination and imaginations, as we know, are unlimited. D&D filled a gap missing from our lives, the opportunity to role-play and be someone else, even if just for a short time. This naturally increased the appeal of the game as you could be anything you wanted to be in a D&D game. You want to be a green-skinned alien princess making out with Captain Kirk? Sure! Do it! This desire to be something other than yourself has transformed into unfathomable aspects of geek counter culture and its community, with much of it leaking into the general populace. The RPG boom of the 1980’s was unprecedented. Games set in different settings from the fantasy in D&D itself, to science-fiction via the likes of Steve Jackson’s GURPS, to the superheroes of CHAMPIONS; all with subtly different rules yet all of them sharing the same basic fundamentals: They all had beautifully illustrated, thick rule books and utilized pencils, paper and sometimes miniatures to help visualize combat situations. 

Social acceptance of D&D and its kith and kin hasn’t always been positive, despite its brisk sales. A common myth of D&D is that it was for bookworms and nerds and back in the day if you had D&D books you could easily be a target for hazing by a sport affiliated jock in school. It’s ironic then, that today one of the most popular activities out there are fantasy sports leagues, essentially placing you in the role-playing position of uber-coach. leading your made-up team to victory. I like this comedic irony, as it has brought together two formerly disassociated social groups. Yes, I’m saying that fantasy football leagues and their ilk are D&D for jocks. D&D’s influence has manifested itself in bizarre manners, not that pretending to be a sports coach isn’t peculiar in its own right. But some people take things to an extreme. 

Sometime in the 1990s, Live Action Role Playing groups started popping up around the country, perhaps the most infamous of the lot would be the DAKKON group on the east coast, who gained attention from a documentary on the group a few years ago. The video can be found on Netflix and is an interesting watch. LARPING is a direct descendant of the role-playing first introduced in D&D, an example of players taking their characters too seriously. The family tree of geekiness doesn’t stop there, as LARPING eventually helped beget the now honored tradition of cosplaying and turned what was formerly a Halloween tradition into a cultural anomaly. I’m certain that STAR TREK’s Trekkies had the most influence on this activity, as well, but LARPING certainly made an impact on the social acceptance of such activities.

Ultimately, D&D was perhaps the most influential force on the evolution of modern video games and how we play them. D&D, as it was presented, wasn’t for everyone, that was a fact. Not everyone has a vivid imagination. But a video game that allows you to see what is going on, well that is a different story. D&D was filling a gap that we didn’t even know existed when it hit in 1974: the desire to go on a virtual adventure, kill a bunch of monsters and take their treasure. The first attempts to visualize the D&D experience on a console came with the first video gaming consoles and computers. The classic ATARI system ADVENTURE game is a perfect example of this, and though the graphics were horrible, the game sold like mad, eventually evolving with the consoles and becoming your SKYRIM and FINAL FANTASY games. Jump forward a couple years past the ATARI as the first CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN releases hit and we see the first-person shooter also evolving from the same dragon’s egg. This makes the ever-popular CALL OF DUTY a direct descendent of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. You can’t escape D&D’s influences in modern culture, geek or otherwise.

Me and that first D&D set…

I got my first TSR D&D set during the 1981 holiday season. Somewhere exists a picture of a young Token Tom in his Amazing Spider-Man blue PJs opening this venerable box, which I still own to this day. Admittedly, I wasn’t old enough when the game first came out in 1974 to play it, being seven I was more concerned with my Mego action figures and bionic Bigfoot. However, fall 1981 had found my good friend John Reed, whom I played RISK with regularly, getting his first D&D set. It was classic miss-inked “Pink” box with module B2, THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS and we played this game non-stop. John was the Dungeon Master, or DM, and our group consisted of local kids and friends. I begged my mother and father for this game. When I got my set that winter, DMing duties were turned over to me and I’ve rarely played other than as a DM since. The rest is, shall we say, faux-history. The kids I played with over the years: Joe Hahn, Joe Giordano, Doug DeVaul, Tim Nortz, Anthony Roe, Shane Perry, the late Richie Clark; all contributed parts of themselves to a great and long-lasting story, a pinnacle and massive D&D campaign spreading out over two decades. At Richie’s funeral a couple years ago, Shane, now a lead singer in a successful east coast touring rock band, and I had the chance to talk for the first time in decades. We reminisced about our youth and especially our D&D games. He told me “Tom, you always told the best stories.” 

And that is the final bit, the last piece of the puzzle, the keystone at the top of the arch for the forty-year success story of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. D&D allowed us to tell good stories and, even more so, to participate in a good story. Your game was only as good as your story, bottom line, and this trait continues into today, whether it’s a movie or a game or a book. If you have a good story, it will speak for itself and propagate. This can be said of any fantasy novel out today, from LORD OF THE RINGS to GAME OF THRONES. It is the secret to a successful video game franchise, as well. THE LAST OF US taking the prize for understanding that methodology and turning it into golden coffers for Naughty Dog and SONY. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is heavy on story, with this year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY leading the charge, showing you can have a story behind the explosions. Television is in a platinum age with shows like HANNIBAL and THE WALKING DEAD giving you more story sometimes than you want, but it’s a story all the same. The bottom line is, if it’s interesting enough and good, people will watch it or read it or will play it. 

Prior to getting that initial holiday gift of the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, I spent much of the early summer of 1981 with my Uncle Donny and his wife, Aunt Pat. While at their huge farmhouse I stayed in a loft in their attic. In the room were a couple items, almost magical things now that I think about them in hindsight, enigmatic pieces of a puzzle that gave me my nerd superpowers, tantamount to Hellenic gifts from the gods. There was a dreadnought acoustic guitar, a copy of Terry Brook’s SWORD OF SHANNARA and the 1976 “Blue” box release of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. I didn’t understand the game, and actually let it sit there, not sure what it was all about. I taught myself how to play the guitar and jammed the heck out it until the strings broke. I read the book from front to back, and the SWORD OF SHANNARA became my first exposure to high fantasy and the inspiration to my own future D&D campaigns. Finally, Aunt Pat bought me Ozzy Osbourne’s BLIZZARD OF OZZ album. She let me take SWORD OF SHANNARA and Ozzy home with me, but made me leave the guitar and the D&D set, as she played the latter with her sons. This column is dedicated to my Aunt Pat Dimon, she is as instrumental in my geekness as my father, and for that I am grateful. I also wrote this to honor my best friend growing up, he was my brother from another mother with the same surname and his memory, taken from us to soon by a freak fall on New Year’s Eve a couple years ago. Miss you, Richie. 

 

Flashback review: Brian Keene’s The Complex

A few years ago I took up a mentorship through the HWA at Rue Morgue. It was a great experience, I worked with Monica S. Kuebler as my mentor, and learned how to hone my craft. Covering Scares That Care 3 for the site proved to be eyeopening to me, and as a result, I switched my focus to writing fiction.

Some of my reviews went in the magazine, some went on their blog site. One of the positive reviews I wrote for Rue Morgue’s blog, was for Brian Keene’s The Complex. As this is no longer available on their site, what the heck… I’ll post it here. Brian called this review his favorite review for the book, so it needs a life online…What happens when you combine Dexter with Elric of Melnibone and stick him in Fort Apache/Assault on Precinct 13? Brian Keene’s The Complex.

With his new novel (out now from Deadite Press), Keene’s taking no prisoners. But this isn’t exactly the Keene we are used to; the prose is subtly different, almost reminiscent of A.A. Milne in its simplicity, an ingredient this story very much requires. He has cut off any fat that will distract you from the dire situation our protagonists are in. And don’t let the Milne reference fool you, by no means is this Winnie-the-Pooh on any level, rather the short sentence structure adds to the tension he’s building. It’s almost uncomfortable at times, but so is living in an apartment complex.

The plot is simple, the residents of an apartment complex suddenly and inexplicably find themselves under attack by a legion of crazed, naked people with one goal in mind: to savagely murder any clothed person they come upon. The survivors band together and board themselves into the complex, besieged by the horde, buying time to plan an escape. Unsure if the problem at hand is localized or not, the fellowship must do something before they are overrun. It’s a take on the classic siege story/last stand formula, but one that works exceedingly well. Although he takes the time in the opening chapters to delve into each person’s back story, allowing us to bond with this ragtag group, Keene quickly throws them into the blender of madness that is his twisted imagination.

A rich selection of modern archetypes drive the story: the despondent, suicidal author on his last leg; an aging Vietnam vet who has seen his share of nightmares; a young transwoman fighting against her own perceptions, as well as those of others; a rescued cat that has faced its fair share of tragedy; a mother and her young son; and an elderly woman with a surprisingly open mind. But it’s the character known to Keene’s fans as The Exit that shines in The Complex.

Continuing his recent trend of creating a shared universe of characters, a la Michael Moorcock, The Complex is an all-star affair featuring a trio of previously introduced characters for its fellowship, have been previously established in the Keene-Verse in his short fiction. There’s Grouchy old Grady Hicks from the Keene short “Customer Service Letter Written by an Angry Old Man on Christmas Eve,” Hannibal the survivalist kitty (“Halves”) and, the aforementioned Javier Mendez, aka The Exit.

An anti-hero previously shown in a trio of short stories and one novel (“I Am An Exit,” “This Is Not An Exit,” “Exit Strategies” and The Seven, respectively.), The Exit is Keene’s Elric of Melnibone. Fundamentally a serial killer, The Exit’s duty is to close spiritual doorways between our world and the cosmic horrors of the multiverse. He accomplishes this through what he calls “a sacrifice.” These sacrifices haunt The Exit much in the same manner as Stormbringer taunts Elric for souls, and try as he may, he cannot escape it. Because of this, much like with Elric, becoming a companion of The Exit is a surefire way to get yourself killed, as his neighbors in the complex soon learn. This McGuffin allows Keene to make some surprising decisions in the direction the story moves, adding to the shock factors as our heroes fall, one by one.

There is no explanation for the events that happen, they just do. And it ends as ambiguously as it starts, a wink to the infamous ending of his first novel, The Rising. The Complex is a welcome addition to Brian Keene’s body of work and is practically cinematic in its telling, and should he choose to revisit this Elseworlds setting, I’ll happily jump on for the ride.Brian Fucking Keene

Brian Fucking Keene

Game of Thrones And Elric: The Influence of Michael Moorcock on TV’s Most Popular Show

Why do I love George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones? From the first episode right through to the very end? From the first page of the first volume through to what Martin hasn’t completed yet? I’ll tell you why.
Part of it is why I loved how Game of Thrones closed on the screen. I understood it because I was familiar with the story beats. It’s been told before. To me, Game of Thrones, be it on the screen or the written page – will always be the story of the Young Kingdoms from their point of view.
Who the fuck are the Young Kingdoms, you ask? The young kingdoms were the kingdoms of Man, rising through the ages as our world evolved. They soon overtook the old world of magic and sorcery and elementals, making the earth their own. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? No, it’s not the back story of Game of Thrones, a Song of Ice and Fire. It’s the setting of veteran author Michael Moorcock’s fantasy novels. The similarities to Michael Moorcock’s fantasy world, best known for Elric of Melnibone and the soul-eating sword Stormbringer, and Westeros are many.
And what’s wonderful is Game of Thrones is the complete antithesis to all things Tolkein and seems to subscribe to Moorcock’s theory of #EpicPooh. It’s almost as if Martin’s been writing this as an answer to Epic Pooh theory all along. According to the theory, stories like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are flawed. They’re no more than fundamental Winnie the Pooh stories, wherein standard archetypes go on an adventure in the 100 Acre Wood with no real danger. They don’t take into account the real world ramifications of the wars being fought around their stories. There is death in the real world – and it has an effect on people. Subscribers to the theory are pretty grim in their narratives. Moorcock’s stories were nihilistic, designed as the alternative to Conan or The Hobbit. He was killing everybody long before Tarantino or Martin, for the sake of the matter.
Sounds like Game of Thrones, no?
Jon Snow is a hero not unlike Elric. His Dire Wolf, Ghost (a “White Wolf,” Elric’s moniker – he was an albino and feared in battle.). His sword, Longclaw, although not the cosmic entity that Elric’s Stormbringer was, is still a memorable weapon in canon. Jon was a reluctant prince, the last of his lineage, to a throne who fell in love with his aunt (Daenerys)… Elric was in love with his cousin, Cymorril. Most everyone who is a companion of Jon Snow’s ends up dead. It’s the same with Elric, except for the redheaded Moonglum. And Jon has Tormund, who seems to come out of things alive? Oh – and did I mention, Elric accidentally on purpose killed the cousin he was in love with? Didn’t Jon Snow kill Daeny?
There are similarities between the actual Elric character and the Night King, as well – in appearance and magical powers (Elric was a wizard who controlled the elements and demons).
The Targarians… they are not unlike the Melniboneans, insane, fair featured, inbred, magical in some aspect and oh… who can forget their dragons? And they ruled the world for eons. Yeah, they’re evil to the core and only care about power.
The Three-Eyed Raven who travels through time… and brings to mind the multiverse that is Moorcock’s playground. This makes Brandon Stark an eternal champion… and keeper of the balance.
A diligent eye can find many more similarities between the two. Yeah. Game of Thrones was/is Moorcock for the masses. And I thank George RR Martin for making it consumable for the mainstream. Call it what you want. A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones. Or even the history of the Young Kingdoms… I love it for the same reason we love Dune… and Star Wars. Another example of how one popular franchise was inspired by a previously popular franchise, but a bit Epic Pooh, if that’s your take.