by

An 1886 Washington Post article outlines a plan to put Rock Creek in a tunnel from about M Street to just north of R Street, fill in the ravine, and create city blocks between Georgetown and Dupont.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Proponents estimated it would create 50 "squares" (generally city blocks) of space, for a cost of about $600,000 to $650,000, or about $15-16 million in today's dollars.

By keeping Rock Creek, DC has not only a surface waterway but a number of park spaces on the banks, such as Rose Park. Unfortunately, a different plan ultimately greatly marred the creek: Rock Creek Parkway, which dominates this section of the creek valley.

At any spot, someone trying to enjoy the edge parks or trail has to contend with a large freeway creating most of the noise and taking up much of the ravine floor. National Park Service management practice in this part of Rock Creek prioritizes motor vehicle traffic over any other user. Features in the park, like signs that tell trail users to yield to cars when crossing the on- and off-ramps, further make clear that nature and recreation come last here.

Here is the map from the article:

Tom from Ghosts of DC also posted an excerpt from the story:

"From what I have seen in the papers," said Capt. Symonds, when asked by a POST reporter for his opinion regarding the cost and practicability of the proposed Rock Creek tunnel, "I should consider it a perfectly practicable and feasible scheme, and I should think that the benefits resulting would fully justify the outlay necessary."

"How long would be the tunnel?"

"From the location as described it would require a tunnel about 2,000 feet long with some open cut work at the ends."

"What would be the cost?"

"Its cost would depend largely on the nature of the rock encountered. It would probably be necessary to arch it over throughout its length and if the excavated rock were suitable in quality it could be used for this purpose. In this case I should estimate the cost of the tunnel, with a sufficient water-way for all floods, to be about $250 per lineal foot. This would make the 2,000 feet of tunnel cost $500,000. Another $100,000 would cover all the open work at the ends, and all engineering expenses, etc. If it was found necessary to use brick for arching the cost would be about $50,000 more. This would make the cost from $600,000 to $650,000, which I believe would cover all expenses for the work proper without including any question of right of way. The excavated material would be used for arching in the form of rubble masonry, not in the form of concrete. The bed of the creek could not be used for a dumping ground. It could not be filled up directly with the excavated material, for it would have to be kept open for the passage of water until the tunnel was completed.

"It is not at all improbably," continued Capt. Symonds, "that a sufficient amount of good material would be excavated to arch the creek over from the lower terminus of the tunnel to the outlet of the canal. In this way the improvement could be made more far-reaching and beneficial. The creek would be blotted out of sight from Lyons' Mill to the mouth of the canal. I should think that the best use for the excavated material, beyond that used for curbing the tunnel, would be in building embankments across the valley of the creek connecting the streets of Washington and Georgetown, thus doing away with bridges and uniting the two cities. The spaces between the embankments could gradually be filled in. If properly managed it would be a splendid improvement.

We originally ran this post in 2013, but since the history hasn't changed, we wanted to share it with you again!

2 comments

youreviltwin: (Default)
([personal profile] youreviltwin Jul. 27th, 2016 03:08 pm)
 I have had it up to here with Livejournal. I can't post there. I can crosspost from here but actually trying to post there... nope. The post button is grayed out... so... if I really wanted to (which I don't) an LJ account, I would have to re-register. :-(

So, I will stick to DW. Sorry Jon and Athena. Why don't you come here to Dreamwidth with me? I'd love to have you here.

I just had some ice cream for snack.
 
Sam
 
 

Posted by Jessica

Jessica Alba Jessica Alba Jessica Alba 
Like Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Alba is one of those women who is often snapped coming to and from her office. Also like Reese W, she often looks super sharp in the process. Less often, she’s snapped taking her kids to Au Fudge, the Jessica Biel Kid-Friendly Restaurant, which I suspect might be the best place Read More ...


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([personal profile] lycomingst Jul. 27th, 2016 11:49 am)
So I'm reading a bio of John le Carré (actual name: David Cornwell) and I think the author is giving him too much of a pass, which might have something to do with Cornwell still being alive. Cornwell's father was a philandering, con-man raconteur. My favorite story about David is when left his first wife on an isolated Greek island that had running water only three hours a day with their three kids. He was off on a lionizing tour with his first book, off to the United States. Wined and dined and made passes at. When he finally returned home, he pouted because she wasn't interested in hearing what a great time he had and how everybody loved him. Nobody sees how much his father's son he is.

Still, I like the book and I was inspired to get out my dvds of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and watched that, enjoying it a great deal.
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([personal profile] purplecat Jul. 27th, 2016 07:44 pm)
When I first stumbled across The Story of Fester Cat, on Amazon I think, I was equal parts interested and dubious. I'm very fond of cats; I have mixed feelings about Pauls Magrs' work; and I was concerned about the twee potential of a memoir written from a cat's point of view. The book opens with a critique of another cat memoir in which the protagonist looks down upon its owners from heaven, so this last point was clearly a danger Magrs was well aware of.

The story starts with the final week of Fester's life, an artefact I think, of the way the book was written. I got the impression those first chapters were written in the immediate aftermath of his death as a coping mechanism and only after that did Magrs go back to write the rest of story. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does, in part because the book is meant to be a celebration of Fester Cat and dealing with his last week at the beginning means it does not have to be the end of the book itself.

It is very much the story of Fester Cat as imagined by Paul Magrs. You get the impression that Magrs was very much a watcher of the local cats even before Fester took up residence in his house. The opening sections give names and characters to many of them and, within reason, flesh out Fester's life as a stray. Later on Fester often discusses Magrs' own thoughts and feelings but, necessarily, Magrs' partner Jeremy remains a more shadowy character.

It is, essentially, a cat's eye view of two men settling down properly for the first time. There are ups and downs but it is coloured by lazy summer days spent in the garden or curled up on someone's lap. It is full of the details and rituals that surround Fester and infused with their love for him and the central place he assumes in their life. At the end of the book, I had to go and do a bit of concerned stalking to establish that they now appear to have been adopted by another cat, Bernard Socks. So someone feline is still keeping an eye on them.

It is, frankly, often twee in places but somehow it works, possibly because it is written from the heart.

Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.It’s Hump Day! It’s also the last week of July and I’m waiting for the heat to break and give way to crisp autumn weather. Before we get to this week’s links, we have a few housekeeping things first!

If you’d like to sponsor a podcast transcript for August, we have availability! You can become a permanent part of the podcast archives, and reach new readers as more people discover our podcast each week. Please email Sarah for details and price options. And thank you for listening!

For those who participated in or kept up with the RITA® Reader Challenge this year, we have a quick survey, if you’d like to complete it. We’d like to know should we continue reviewing the nominees. One question with two options!

Fill out my online form.

Mashable reported on a modern meet-cute between a book lover and the man who runs the social media account of a bookstore:

The people behind corporate Twitter accounts are a mystery to us all. Witty, creative and enigmatic, they are the unsung heroes of the social media world.

But, one woman’s tweet to bookstore Waterstones’ official Twitter account not only unveiled the identity of the man behind it; it led to a first date, a love story, and — most recently — a wedding.

Her wedding dress is super cute, and any author that can put a social media meet-cute into a romance novel easily has my money.

Sarah: I was sent a heads up about this Kickstarter, and given how many of you love notebooks, I wanted to make sure to pass the link along. The creators are calling it the “most featured notebook ever” (in terms of features it contains, not features about it in news media, I think):

With 30 plus prominent features such as ultra-slim solar calculator, ultra-slim USB drive, 2-in-1 pen, goal tree, multi-color cover (17 options), Mont page marker, gold foiling & so on; Mont notebooks are perfect amalgamation between traditional and modern aspects and are miles ahead of its predecessors.

For those who don’t get The Ripped Bodice’s calendar newsletter, you’re missing out on a serious case of  FOMO. Seriously, I live on the East Coast and I love seeing their events, even if I can’t attend. In August, they have a Fresh Romance launch with Buffy‘s Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, and Kate Leth. Plus, Emily Nagoski will be there in September!

Big thanks to Reader Tam for sending me down the rabbit hole of Emily Writes. If it wasn’t for Tam, I wouldn’t have stumbled across Emily’s other movie reviews, like her one for Central Intelligence, complete with earnest love for Dwayne The Rock Johnson:

I imagine being married to him sometimes. He would always fix things and lift heavy stuff in the house and he’d never get tired of lifting heavy stuff because that’s his job. He would sing with his eyes closed and make me dance around the kitchen with him and I’d be like OH my gosh, stop it Dwayne The Rock Johnson. And he’d say – Emily, my wife, we have been married seven years – please just call me Dwayne.

We are all Emily Writes.

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

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([personal profile] prillalar Jul. 27th, 2016 10:37 am)
So, after about 4 years gafiation I've been getting back into fandom stuff. It turns out I'm still really, really into Prince of Tennis. And now also into Haikyuu!! (And a ton of other stuff, but these are the big two.)

I'm trying to get more content for these series into my life, so if you have any recs for people/blogs I should follow on Twitter, Tumblr, and (wishful thinking) LJ/DW, please let me know! Or if there's a Sekrit New Platform everybody's moving to.

I've got to know some cool new people via SASO but I'm hoping to meet even more. And maybe find some people that I fell out of touch with. If you tried to get in touch with me during my offline time and I didn't get back to you, I'm sorry. I was fine, just burnt out, I guess. No worries if you'd rather not hang out any more.

My contact info for all these services is here: https://prillalar.dreamwidth.org/511604.html
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([personal profile] youreviltwin Jul. 27th, 2016 02:05 pm)
It has something to do with playing cards, it is so easy that young children can play. All you do, is this -- the dealer (the person that hands out 4 cards) calls out numbers and suits.. if you have the corresponding card, you put it out of your hand. The person who has all the called out numbers gets a bingo and thus a prize. I won twice. I got myself some chips and a note pad for writing down my sims names or ideas for writing a book.

Right now Coll is having a siesta. I might too. Or I might sim. IDK. I play the Sims2. I have a personal vendetta against the Sims3. Too slow and glitchy. The Sims4 looks good. I might buy it as a Hanukkah early gift.

I am pretty bored.. I might make some icons. I do my own icons.

Sam



owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)
([personal profile] owlectomy Jul. 27th, 2016 01:08 pm)
I am still thinking about this essay, now several years old, which constrasts the kishoutenketsu structure that characterizes traditional Chinese and Japanese narratives with a traditional western plot structure that relies on a conflict-driven plot characterized by a protagonist trying, failing, and eventually succeeding at something.

I don't think it's necessarily useful to divide things so neatly. Kishoutenketsu literally means something like 'arising, development, turn, resolution,' and this idea of a 'turn' or a 'twist' is broad enough to encompass Eastern and Western narratives, high-conflict narratives and low-conflict ones. My book on writing (very cheesy and commercial, and certainly not low-conflict) Boys Love novels says that you should use kishoutenketsu as a plot model. But then I think about a Yoshimoto Banana short story that I read several years ago. The viewpoint character is a girl who lives next door to a boy who's well-off but whose family life seems mysterious and sad. One day, circumstances lead her to understand the boy's family life much better; then he moves away.

By the standards of the conflict-plot model, this is a bad story. The girl isn't really driven by her efforts to help the boy or find out more about his family life; these are just things that happen. (If you were hung up on the conflict-plot model, you'd say she gets things too easily.) But the story works because really, there are two kinds of questions we're asking through the course of a narrative that generate tension or suspense. There's wanting to know what's going to happen next; and there's wanting to understand what's going on now. If a story like this one works, it works because we feel like we understand a little more about the boy and his family; and it works because we feel like that knowledge is meaningful in the context of the story; and maybe we feel like we understand a little more about the ways in which families can be sad or cruel or complicated. It's not driven by success or failure, but by revelation. Or epiphany.

This is where the Western/Eastern thing breaks down, because epiphany-driven storytelling has been the model for Anglosphere short stories for the last hundred years. And even if we think of Hollywood blockbusters, even in hugely conflict-driven movies, it's often the epiphanies that generate the most resonance -- isn't "I am your father" the key moment of any of the Star Wars movies? Even very traditional conflict-plot stories are driven by much more than the conflict, by much more than the protagonist's success or failure -- they're driven by a situation with mysteries that need to be understood. And a lot of that is lost when we try to cram stories into a conflict-plot model that reduces events to a try-fail cycle.

This is true even when it's really just a conflict-plot model with a Freudian overlay: we've got to dig up the hidden trauma, search out the mystery at the center of the problem, so that we can beat the Big Bad. But even then, I think it reflects something important -- the idea that we'll succeed not by being the cleverest or the strongest, but the ones with the deepest understanding of things. Perhaps, if we're lucky, by being the ones with the most empathy.

But there are also stories where understanding things better doesn't really get you anything, except for understanding things better. These are the stories that often feel aggressively anti-narrative to me, in the same way that Japanese fiction often used to feel anti-narrative to me when I started reading it. And at worst, these kinds of stories can feel meandering and pointlessly sad. But at best, I can relate better to the people in these stories: people who don't know what will make them happy; people who don't have much of anything concrete to fight for or fight against; people whose action in the world often consists in watching and waiting and hoping to get a better understanding of themselves and what's going on around them. These are the stories that say, if the conflict-plot model doesn't work, if you're not going to win or lose at life, what else matters? Where else can we build meaning, or find meaning? The epiphany story is bigger than an assumption about the cruel and brutal truths at the center of the universe. Kindness can be a revelation; the moments in Miyazaki's movies of quiet and natural beauty come like revelations, even in a movie as violent as Princess Mononoke.

The conflict-plot story is fundamentally a story about how you can win as long as you have enough strength or guts or will. That's not my story; it's not most people's story, I think. I want a story that decenters its protagonists, a little. A story with enough room for the cruelty of the universe and also its beauty. A story where, in the middle of all the other conflicts that are going on, the protagonist can sit down and breathe in the fresh air and see things at a different angle than they did the night before.
I walked downtown this morning to give blood; I was well-hydrated, and it wasn't terribly hot, and I felt fine donating, but I've felt queasy since I've gotten back. Bah.

What I Just Finished Reading

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. I really enjoyed this! No lie, I was probably inspired to read it by any amount of Steve-and-Bucky Prewar Fic. It really did have the feel of AU Steve getting his feet wet in the commercial art/comics world.

Icon, which was the sequel to Persona, by Genevieve Valentine. Have you ever read any of Valentine's satirical write-ups of, say, the Academy Awards Red Carpet, or maybe the Miss Universe pageant? I think these books grew directly out of those, and it's an intriguing (though frightening premise): that these fashion/style/celebrity icons (called, here, Faces) are actually the political representatives of their countries in a world parliament, similar to the UN or EU. Every word, every outfit, every personal appearance carefully manipulated for maximum impact. These Faces don't operate in a vacuum, though; like RL celebrities in our world, they have Handlers who oversee every act, every event. It's fascinating, thought-provoking, and (WHY AM I READING THIS STUFF ALL THIS SUMMER?) intensely topical.

What I Am Currently Reading

I started reading The Lie Tree, using my library's new Hoopla interface, but then the Hoopla crapped out on me, refusing to load pages either on Chrome, Safari, or my Kindle. Bah! I was really enjoying it! It's sort of creepy-gothic, a genre I hadn't read in years. And it's not available on any of the other e-book interfaces we have, Overdrive or 3M Cloud Library, so I bit the bullet and requested the book. I shall probably have to start it all over again, so good thing I wasn't too far in.

But I still wanted an e-book to read, so I picked up Gentlemen of the Road, also by Michael Chabon, after our discussion of it last week. I like it! I guess I can blame my Swordspoint book-hangover for not fully appreciating it the first time around.

What I Am Reading Next

Just got the notification that The Dark Forest, the sequel to The Three-Body Problem is waiting for me at the library, so that will probably be next up.

*off to nibble some more saltines*
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([personal profile] sunnymodffa posting in [community profile] fail_fandomanon Jul. 27th, 2016 07:58 pm)
 
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([personal profile] solarbird Jul. 27th, 2016 10:50 am)


Anybody using gnome3 know what I need to set to get rid of these stupid little failed-clips/failed-transparancy handles on the upper left and right corners of every window? It's an extremely minor thing, but still annoying.

(This is the same problem I blogged about here, only I now know that gnome-tweak-tool doesn't address this problem.)
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([syndicated profile] go_fug_yourself_feed Jul. 27th, 2016 05:00 pm)

Posted by Heather

Beyonce 
I love that Bey went for the dots, and with a funky photonegative lining, too. But I just truly tend to be biased against the front-and-center slit. It’s like discovering a secret passageway to the art of gynecology. Read More ...


Posted by Anne M. Pillsworth, Ruthanna Emrys

Last Feast of Harlequin cover

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Thomas Ligotti’s “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” first published in the April 1990 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can find it in the Cthulhu 2000 anthology, among other places. Spoilers ahead.

 

Summary

Unnamed narrator, a social anthropologist, first hears of Mirocaw from a colleague who knows of his interest in clowns as cultural phenomenon. Apparently this Midwestern town hosts an annual “Fool’s Feast” in which clowns take a prominent part. Narrator not only studies these things, but is proud of being an “adroit jester” himself.

On impulse, he visits Mirocaw. The town’s topography is broken up by internal hills—buildings on hillsides seem to float above lower ones, giving the impression of things askew, tilted, “disharmonious.” An old man, vaguely familiar, ignores his request for directions. A woman at city hall gives him a flyer begging people to “please come” to Mirocaw’s Winter Festival, December 19-21. Reluctantly she admits it features people in…costume, clowns of a sort.

Leaving, narrator passes through a slum peopled by lethargic and morose-looking individuals. He’s glad to escape to the wholesome farmlands beyond.

His colleague locates an article about the “Fool’s Feast.” It’s titled “The Last Feast of Harlequin: Preliminary Notes on a Local Festival.” The author is Raymond Thoss, narrator’s former professor, whom he revered as a lecturer and fieldworker par excellence. Some claimed Thoss’s work was too subjective and impressionistic, but narrator believed him “capable of unearthing hitherto inaccessible strata of human existence.” The “Harlequin” article confuses narrator with its seemingly unrelated references to Poe’s Conqueror Worm, Christmas as descendant of the Roman Saturnalia, and Syrian Gnostics who thought angels made mankind but imperfectly. Their creatures crawled like worms until God set them upright.

Thoss vanished twenty years before. Now narrator realizes where his hero went—wasn’t he the old man in Mirocaw, who ignored narrator’s request for directions?

Narrator learns that Mirocaw is subject to “holiday suicides” and disappearances, such as that of Elizabeth Beadle a couple decades before. Thoss thought there was a connection between the town’s epidemic of Seasonal Affective Disorder and the festival. Narrator himself suffers from wintertime depression—perhaps participation in Mirocaw’s “Fool’s Feast” can lift his spirits as well as further his clown studies.

He arrives to find the town decked in evergreens, green streamers and green lights—an “eerie emerald haze” permeating the place. At his hotel he meets the younger likeness of Elizabeth Beadle; she turns out to be the missing woman’s daughter, Sarah. The hotel owner, her father, evades questions about the festival.

The next morning narrator spots Thoss in a crowd and pursues him to a dingy diner in the southern slum. Two boys flee looking guilty. The rest of the occupants look like empty-faced, shuffling, silent tramps. They surround narrator, who falls into a mesmeric daze. Panic supplants his inertia and he escapes.

That night Mirocaw’s festival begins. People, many drunk, swarm the green-lit streets. Among them are clowns whom the rowdier elements abuse at will. Narrator questions young male revelers about the sanctioned bullying and learns that the townspeople take turns playing “freaks.” They’re unsure what the custom means. Narrator spots a strange “freak,” dressed like a tramp, face painted into a semblance of Munch’s famous “Scream”-er. There are a number of these “Scream” freaks. Narrator pushes one, then realizes that’s a no-no, for no one laughs. In fact the crowds avoid the “Scream” freaks, who seem to celebrate their own festival within the festival. Narrator wonders if the normal folks’ festival is designed to cover up or mitigate the pariahs’ celebration.

Next day he finds a riddle scrawled on his mirror with his own red grease-paint: “What buries itself before it is dead?” Shaken but determined not to abandon his research, narrator makes himself up like a “Scream” freak and plunges into the festivities of the Winter Solstice. Normals avoid him now—he might as well be invisible. His “Scream” fellows pay him no attention either, but allow him to get aboard the truck that comes to pick them up.

It takes them deep into the woods outside town, where lanterns light a clearing with a central pit. One by one the “Scream” freaks drop into the pit and squeeze into a tunnel. Narrator enters near the rear of the pack and finds the tunnel weirdly smooth, as if something six feet in diameter burrowed through the earth.

The crowd ends up in a ballroom-sized chamber with an altar at the center. Thoss, clad in white robes, presides. He looks like a “god of all wisdom,” like Thoth in fact, the Egyptian deity of magic, science and judgment of the dead. Thoss leads the worshippers in a keening song that celebrates darkness, chaos and death. Narrator pretends to sing along. Does Thoss look at him knowingly? Thoss whisks away the altar covering—is that a broken doll?

The worshippers start dropping to the cavern floor. They writhe, transforming into great worms with proboscis-like mouths where faces should be. They squirm toward the altar, where the “doll” awakens to scream at their approach. It’s Sarah Beadle, the Winter Queen, sacrifice to the forces of the underworld, as her mother Elizabeth was two decades earlier.

Narrator runs for the tunnel. He’s pursued, but then Thoss calls the pursuers back.

Narrator leaves Mirocaw the next day, but not before seeing Thoss and another “freak” in the road behind him, merely staring.

Unable to return to teaching, he writes down his experiences in hopes of purging them. No such luck. Thoss’s last words echo in his mind, for Thoss did recognize him, and what he called to the “freak” pursuers was “He is one of us. He has always been one of us.”

But narrator will resist his “nostalgia” for Mirocaw. He will celebrate his last feast alone, to kill Thoss’s words even as they prove their truth about humanity, about the Conqueror Worm.

What’s Cyclopean: Adjective of the day is “epicene,” a descriptor for one of the slum-dwellers along with “lean” and “morose.” Means androgynous, only not in a good way.

The Degenerate Dutch: “Harlequin” inverts the usual sources of eldritch rituals by explicitly denying rumors that the festival is an “ethnic jamboree” with Middle Eastern roots. The citizens of Mirocaw are “solidly Midwestern-American,” whatever that means.

Mythos Making: Al-Hazred had a thing or two to say about worms and magery. And Lovecraft himself had a thing or two to say about the ancient horrors of New England.

Libronomicon: Peer reviewers, let this story stand as a warning. Only you have the power to prevent creepily vague academic articles.

Madness Takes Its Toll: This week, madness takes the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, in all its holiday-ruining glory.

 

Anne’s Commentary

Oh, Mirocaw, where are you? The only Mirocaws I find online are Ligotti’s apparent invention and a Star Wars Expanded Universe ship, belonging to a very naughty bounty hunter. We do know we’re in the Midwest and there are sunny farms and fields. I’m guessing Iowa, or else Sinclair Lewis’s equally mythical Winnemac. What fun if Lewis’s Babbitt were to wander into Mirocaw during the winter fest, looking to buy up derelict properties in the southern slum. Or for Elmer Gantry to preach to its pulpy denizens. Or for Arrowsmith to try diagnosing their singular languor…

Ligotti dedicated “The Last Feast of Harlequin” to Lovecraft, and I’m pretty sure Howard would have been gratified. The story makes sincere (rather than satirical) use of Mythosian tropes and weaves echoes of Lovecraft’s “Festival” and “Shadow Over Innsmouth” into a superb tale of nauseous terror—“nauseous” being a compliment here. Worms are just icky, aren’t they? Especially the maggoty ones, all pale and squishy and ravenous. Much worse are humans with wormy characteristics: faces mask-like in their lack of expression, wavering locomotion, and general flaccidness. And what would worms sound like if they could sing? Yep, like Ligotti’s “freaks,” all high and keening, shrill and dissonant and whining.

Ew. Ew, ew.

It’s interesting how one (non-Mirocavian) journalist mistakes the town’s community as Middle Eastern, when in fact Mirocaw’s founders were New England Yankees. But maybe they were New Englanders descended from the “dark furtive folk” who enacted unhallowed rites in “Festival’s” Kingsport. And maybe that “dark furtive folk” were descended from Professor Thoss’s Syrian Gnostics. And maybe among the books and papers in that dim slum diner are transcripts from Alhazred. You know, like, “For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”

In Lovecraft’s story, the narrator never makes it to the climax of the Kingsport winter festival. Ligotti’s narrator, social anthropologist that he is, lingers to hear the fat lady sing, or rather, to see the fat worms writhe toward the sacrificial virgin. He’s not necessarily a lineal descendant of the celebrants, as Lovecraft’s narrator is, but he is their spiritual kin, prone to winter depressions, eager to emulate Thoss in “unearthing hitherto inaccessible strata of human existence.” Ligotti’s narrator is fascinated by the “protean” figure of the clown, has played the clown himself, understands that clowns were frequently cripples, madmen and other “abnormals” forced to take on comic roles so they wouldn’t distress “normals” by embodying the “forces of disorder in the world.” Or else clowns might do the opposite—like Lear’s fool, they might point to those forces of disorder, unwelcome prophets.

No wonder Ligotti’s narrator is drawn to clowns. He might have tried to be a jolly fool, an adroit juggler, but he ends up in the “Scream” freak makeup, one of Thoss’s “us.”

Mirocaw has its pariah slum. Innsmouth is a whole town of pariahs. Both towns also have “normals” who are afraid to interfere with the “abnormals.” The “normals” keep their mouths shut. They blink at the periodic disappearances of young people. Mirocaw is more chilling than Innsmouth in that its “normals” seem to dominate, to keep the “abnormals” at bay, confined, their feast glossed over by a simultaneous “normal” celebration. But the “normal” celebration still provides the “abnormal” one with its sacrifice, the Winter Queen. It attacks only the fake “freaks,” for it cannot even acknowledge the presence of the true ones.

Like “Innsmouth’s” narrator, “Harlequin’s” realizes he belongs among the monsters, for he is one of them. Unlike “Innsmouth’s” narrator, he hasn’t gotten over his horror at his heritage by story’s end. He’s with “Dagon’s” narrator—suicide’s the only relief for unbearable knowledge. His final feast will be poison, I guess. Or maybe not. In the end, the draw of Mirocaw may prove as strong as that of Innsmouth.

Although, got to say, Mirocaw doesn’t have the undersea allure of Y’ha-nthlei. It’s not a place of eternal glory but one of eternal darkness, a “melancholy half-existence dedicated to the many forms of death.” It does have the annual human sacrifice, its own never-rescued Persephone. Exactly what happens to poor Sarah and the others, we don’t see. Apparently the bodies of holiday “suicides” are often discovered in a lake outside Mirocaw, which implies that the worms don’t always devour their victims. That the worms have “proboscises” they seem intent on applying to the “Winter Queen” more than hints at sexual atrocities, “perverted hopes.” [RE: Thanks a lot, Anne—until you brought it up, I totally managed to avoid going there. I just assumed they were sucking out souls or something. Mirocaw honestly seems more likely to shelter dementors than Fager’s passion-fanning furies.]

Again, ew. Ew, ew.

I think I’ll take my winter vacation neither in Kingsport nor Mirocaw. Deep undersea, Y’ha-nthlei is glorious all year round, or so I’ve heard.

 

Ruthanna’s Commentary

Brrr. Ligotti takes a bunch of things that I don’t normally find scary—clowns, winter holidays, the dark of the year—and makes them freaking terrifying. He may have just ruined my next circus.

Clowns, as our academic narrator points out, have a long and darkly ambivalent history. They’re outlet and scapegoat for the socially unacceptable. They’re masks that both permit and require people to take on new roles. And in Shakespeare or a tarot deck, they’re the wise fool: saying or doing what no one else dares, and risking all for that truth. At the same time, they’re inherently duplicitous. Paint hides true reactions, covering smug amusement with exaggerated tears, or terror with a bright smile. Perhaps that’s why clowns have long been a favored form for monsters.

For our narrator, clowns offer both scholarly interest and an escape in their own right. This is shifty by the standards of academic culture—the anthropologist is expected both to immerse and remain aloof, certainly never to fully identify with the thing they study. People risk tenure over this sort of thing. Some activities are appropriate objects of study, and some appropriate hobbies for western academics, and never the twain should meet.

He walks this same line as a narrator. On the one hand he’s the detached scholar, just in town to add another reference to his research. He’s kin to Lovecraft’s Miskatonic profs in this, reporting on the scary as an outsider, coming home with a handful of dread notes and a few new nightmares. But this is only his clown make-up: he’s also in town to track down a beloved professor whose charisma and excitement he’s long internalized. And deeper and more personal still, to fight his own inner demon face to face. For him, that’s a harsh form of the Seasonal Affective Disorder that afflicts so many people when the days grow short.

With personal investment masked by academic disinterest, he stands in sharp contrast to the narrator of “The Festival,” a story that “Harlequin” closely mirrors. The “Festival” narrator’s motivations are overtly personal. He seeks long-lost relatives and an ancestral celebration in a place he’s never before visited. But he never truly connects—as soon as he’s in town, he feels nothing but dread and disgust towards his hosts. When he flees, he flees to safety, with the worst aftereffect being the Necronomicon’s unwelcome hints about his would-be relations.

In “Festival,” it’s what’s under the mask that terrifies: worms grown fat on the flesh of his ancestral wizards, now trying to carry on otherwise dead traditions. In “Harlequin,” seeking wisdom and magic causes people to, um, turn into worms. It’s not so clear what Thoss/Thoth gets out of that transformation, but clearly the sacrifice meets with his approval.

Somehow the narrator’s seasonal depression, and the apparently depression of the “slum” dwellers, are tied up in this search for wisdom. At some level they’re one and the same, leading to the same dreadful end. As in “Shadow Over Innsmouth,” there’s only one way to avoid that transformation. I have to admit, the transformation in “Shadow” seems much more pleasant. But perhaps there is wonder and glory under the earth in Mirocaw, that we never get the chance to see.

 

Next week, a seaside vacation may not provide the most ideal artistic inspiration in Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow’s “The Night Ocean.”

Ruthanna Emrys’s neo-Lovecraftian stories “The Litany of Earth” and “Those Who Watch” are available on Tor.com, along with the distinctly non-Lovecraftian “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” and “The Deepest Rift.” Winter Tide, a novel continuing Aphra Marsh’s story from “Litany,” will be available from the Tor.com imprint on April 4, 2017. Ruthanna can frequently be found online on Twitter and Livejournal, and offline in a mysterious manor house with her large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.

Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story.The Madonna of the Abattoir” appears on Tor.com. Her first novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen along with the recently released sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, uncomfortably near Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.

Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

The Killing Joke, film

DC’s animated feature based on Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s classic story has hit both theaters and digital video. When it premiered at San Diego Comic Con this past week, fan reaction was… tense to say the least, and apparently culminated with screenwriter Brian Azzarello using a decidedly gendered slur to insult a reporter who expressed his issues with the film vocally in a room full of people.

Talking about this film, this story, is rough. It’s rough because it commands a lot of questions on multiple levels of the creative process. It’s rough because it deals with sexual violence and brutality, and what it means to make money off of stories that heavily feature those themes. It’s rough because this project involved many beloved creators and talent, and it’s hard to speak ill of people whose work you love and respect.

But we have to talk about The Killing Joke. Because we have to work through the shockwaves that this film has already prompted, and question the wisdom of this particular enterprise at a point in time when its legacy has never been more highly contested.

SPOILERS for The Killing Joke film.

Trigger warnings for discussions of rape and sexual abuse.

The Killing Joke has the burden of a dual pedigree. On the one hand, it is easily one of the most compelling stories about Batman and his coin flip counterpart, the Joker. Many artists and actors have cited this story again and again in their interpretations of both characters for good reason—it addresses the psychology of two men who are each defined by one horrible day in their past, making one into a hero hiding behind a mask and the other the most notorious criminal Gotham city has ever known. In that respect, it is a fascinating character study and worthy of its place in comics canon.

But the well-known problem (aside from the blatant disability-phobia of using “scary circus freaks” as the Joker’s lackeys purely for the sake of thematic adherence) with The Killing Joke is one of comics history’s ugliest sticking points—the story also led to the sexual abuse and paralyzing of Barbara Gordon, also known as Batgirl. This choice had positive and negative repercussions in terms of the character’s future; while the violence enacted against Barbara was disappointing due to her trauma being a footnote in the larger Killing Joke story (her wound and abuse only serve as a catalyst to motivate both Jim Gordon and Batman against the Joker), it did result in Barbara’s transformation into the hero Oracle, creating a female superhero with a disability, thus providing DC with greater representation among their roster. Awkwardly, this disability was then erased when DC rebooted their line with the New 52 universe in 2011, reverting Barbara Gordon to Batgirl and suggesting that the gunshot wound in The Killing Joke had only paralyzed her briefly (for three years) before she made a full recovery.

To make matters more complicated, the decisions made in regard to Barbara’s role with The Killing Joke have been tinted with misogyny. Alan Moore (who is famously not a fan of his own story in this particular case) admitted that paralyzing that character was perhaps an egregious move, and one that DC editors couldn’t give a whit about:

“I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon—who was Batgirl at the time—and if I remember, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project … [He] said, ‘Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.’ It was probably one of the areas where they should’ve reined me in, but they didn’t.”

Given this distressing history, it was hardly surprising that fans were concerned over a film version of The Killing Joke. DC likely hoped to ameliorate those worries by stacking the deck with a creative team full of fan favorites—producers Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett and voice actors Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Tara Strong have been long-adored by fans for their work in the DC Animated Universe, primarily Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Teen Titans.

The Killing Joke, film

The film is now out, and has already caused its fair share of controversy. At a Friday night panel at San Diego Comic Con, io9 reported that Azzarello took exception to Bleeding Cool‘s Jeremy Konrad when Konrad verbally called out the film for its depiction of Barbara, replying with, “Wanna say that again? Pussy?”

Failure of professionalism aside, the use of a gendered insult in response to the potential mistreatment of a female character should not fill anyone with confidence. This is particularly relevant when Azzarello is the screenwriter—the one essentially putting words in Barbara Gordon’s mouth and dictating how other characters react to her.

Unfortunately, The Killing Joke film is just as much a failure of storytelling as it is a failure of depiction. The film tacks on a half hour prologue that deals with Barbara before the events of the comic, making the choice to portray her as a young woman hung up on her older crime-fighting partner. It seems that wasn’t the intention, as Azzarello claimed during the SDCC panel that Barbara was stronger than the men in her life, and that “she controls the men in her life in this story.” It’s an odd assertion, when no part of the additional narrative indicates this control. Instead, Barbara is angered by Batman when he takes her off a case involving a sociopathic mob prince named Paris Francesco who has taken to stalking her, trying to goad her into interacting with him. Batman informs her that she still thinks crime fighting is a fun game because she’s never reached her limit before—she’s never “been taken to the edge of the abyss”, as he phrases it. This leads to a couple of bizarre conversations—including one where Batman decides to explain “objectification” to Barbara, as though your average woman would not be pretty well versed in that concept—that culminates in a fight and ends with the two having sex on a rooftop. (Apparently no one cares about being unmasked in plain view of other building rooftops when they’re all hot and bothered.)

For the record, this is not the first time that a Timm/Burnett-led project has gone down that road. In the Batman Beyond series, set decades in the DCAU’s future, it’s made clear that Batman and Batgirl had a relationship that ended poorly due to Bruce Wayne’s inability to leave crime-fighting behind. (The comic spin-off Batman Beyond 2.0 gets into more detail in that regard, but the series creators were not involved with the creation of that plot arc.) Beyond is ambiguous about when this affair occurs, but Timm stated at the time that he intended for the implications to make fans uncomfortable. In the series continuity, it works effectively as a example of how Gotham and its pantheon of protectors have deteriorated over time, contributing to the nihilist themes of the show. (It’s worth noting that there’s no reason to think that The Killing Joke film is a part of this DCAU continuity, and it has not been billed as such.)

The Killing Joke, film

While the former relationship between Barbara Gordon and Bruce Wayne helps to build out the world of Batman Beyond, the presence of their affair in The Killing Joke is baffling because it has no direct bearing on the plot—and if it did, the result might have been even worse. As it stands, the sexual encounter causes Batman to retreat from Barbara, attempting to take on Paris alone, as he’d intended—but Paris gets one up on him and blows up the Batmobile. Batgirl enters the fray only to beat the man senseless, essentially blaming him for the breakdown in her relationship with Bruce. She stops when she realizes that she has reached that “abyss” he spoke of, that she’s in danger of going too far. Later, she hands in her Batgirl stuff and tells him she’s done with the whole vigilante thing, which is when the original plot of The Killing Joke kicks in.

The transition from one story to another is jarring because the two seem to have nothing to do with one another at all—a fact that was recognized by the creative team. In an interview with Vulture, Bruce Timm essentially admits that the two arcs don’t fit together, even thematically:

That’s the tricky part of it. We deliberately tried to not really link the opening to the Killing Joke part explicitly. There was some discussion about that: Should we try to fold it into the Killing Joke part of the story more? Should we hint at the Joker in the first part? It’s kind of an odd structure for a movie. It isn’t one long complete story. It really is two different stories with a break in the middle. We just decided that would be the best way to go with it. I honestly don’t even think of them as being one story. As weird as that may be. We just didn’t go down that route.

In terms of thematics: Boy, I don’t know. It’s probably going to take me years to figure that out. Often these things don’t hit me straight up. A lot of what we do is instinctual and intuitive. There can be deep, thematic resonances I don’t get until years later, when I go, Oh yeah, look at that, how clever we were!

This is more mind-boggling when Timm claims that the purpose in adding the Barbara-focused section was due to his own discomfort with her role in the initial story, where she was far from the focus: “So we thought, If we’re going to add a whole bunch of new story, let’s make it all about Barbara. We decided that it should be dealing with Barbara as Batgirl, so we can spend more time with her and kind of understand where she comes from.”

The problem is that this addition does nothing to alleviate Barbara’s mistreatment in the original story. Allowing us to spend more time with her doesn’t make her part in the main event any more meaningful—aside from providing a sense of whiplash when we suddenly step into the original narrative. It doesn’t help either that we’re treated to half an hour of Barbara Gordon talking about her frustrations with her “yoga instructor” (that is her coded term for Batman) with her Gay Best Friend at the library… which, aside from the usual troubling fetishization of the GBF trope also has the added benefit of denying Barbara anyone female to talk with at any point in the story.

The natural assumption is that adding the sexual relationship between Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon is meant to change the stakes when Batman goes after the Joker… except it doesn’t do that at all. In fact, Batman seems less enraged with the Joker by the end of the film than he does in the comic, removing most of the ending’s ambiguity. (The original version leaves the Joker’s fate up in the air, but the animosity is far less apparent at the end of the film.) In a way this could be viewed as a preferable outcome; in the comic, Batman’s anger is rooted in the Joker inflicting physical and psychological harm on people he views as “family,” and if it had visibly changed to anger over harm inflicted on a woman he slept with once, that would only serve to further diminish Barbara’s role in the tale, reducing her to an object of desire rather than a partner and friend. But it also makes the choice to include a sexual relationship between the characters slapdash at best—if it has no bearing on the outcome of the story, why does it need to be included at all?

The Killing Joke, film

According to Bruce Timm, it was to show that the characters are flawed? At least, that’s what he said at the SDCC panel:

“I actually like that in that opening story both Batman and Batgirl make a series of mistakes and then it kind of escalates, because Batman kind of overreacts and then she overreacts to his overreaction. That’s a very human thing.”

…Okay. But what does that have to do with The Killing Joke?

Timm went on to say that this attraction made sense to include because it’s been present between Batman and Batgirl from the start:

“There’s clearly an unstated attraction between the two of the characters from the very beginning and I think it’s there in the comics. If you go back and look at the Adam West show, it’s there in the Adam West show. It’s subtle, but to me it’s always been there.”

So… even though it has ostensibly nothing to do with what occurs in The Killing Joke, it made sense to add on because that tension has been a subtle part of the characters’ histories forever? If that’s a good reason to add on a half hour detour to a story, then I have to ask—where is the important canonical work being modified to include a sexual relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (also known as Robin #1 and Nightwing)? Because comics author and guru Grant Morrison has stated that the “gayness is built into Batman” since Bruce is “more interested in hanging out with the old guy [Alfred] and the kid [Robin]”; by Bruce Timm’s logic, it makes as much sense to explore the possibility of a relationship between Bruce Wayne and his former ward as it does to explore one between Bruce and Barbara.

But, of course, we know exactly why that’s never happened in a Batman movie.

There is only one moment of thematic resonance between the two disparate sections of this film—it is down to both Batgirl and Batman being confronted with a moment when they are emotionally reckless enough to make the wrong decision and hurt a villain who has hurt others. Both Bruce and Barbara arrive at that place, and perhaps it was meant to be poignant that Barbara immediately sees that she’s gone too far. The problem then becomes not her, but her antagonist: Paris Francesco is a misogynist piece of garbage who only takes interest in Batgirl because he wants to sleep with her. He’s not worth the time of day. Batman’s antagonist is his equal in every sense but morality. So these moments still don’t match up; instead, this progression suggests to female viewers that a woman crime-fighter’s greatest trial—the battle that spells out her destiny, tests her emotional limits and capabilities, dictates her future choices—is the equivalent of a preppy high school serial harasser or the guy who won’t stop wolf-whistling or cat-calling them in the street. Paris is a spectacular creep, for sure, and one who needs to be stopped—but as nemeses or adversaries go, he’s amateur hour when compared to a maniacal criminal mastermind like the Joker (or any other top-billed Rogue’s Gallery members, for that matter). Real villains are still for Batman.

The Killing Joke, film

And all of this is even more upsetting because it detracts from the good work done elsewhere in the film. Those final minutes between Batman and the Joker are every fan’s dream of this confrontation. They encapsulate each panel of the comic gorgeously, like the book has come to life. It’s a shame that the film had to go out of its way to do further damage to Barbara Gordon in an effort to get there, and for no discernible reason whatsoever.

The truth of the matter is, there is no way to adapt The Killing Joke without offense. There likely never was, but it is particularly true at a point in time where Barbara is not Oracle in comics continuity (though the film does slip in a tonally awkward mid-credits scene that shows her starting on that path), because it results in DC continuing to make money off of the sexual abuse of a character who is supposed to have moved well beyond the event in her character arc. It also makes it abundantly clear who this film is for—and that’s not fans of Barbara Gordon or Batgirl. It doesn’t help that the film takes Barbara’s abuse a step farther via a much stronger implication of rape (the question of whether or not Barbara was raped by the Joker—and indeed whether or not Jim Gordon was as well—is left ambiguous in the comic) when the Joker’s sex life is addressed… something that the creative team didn’t seem to notice. When asked by Vulture if an added scene—one where a trio of prostitutes suggest that the Joker hadn’t been to visit them as per usual because he’d maybe “found himself another girl”—was meant to imply that the Joker had indeed raped Barbara, Bruce Timm’s response was:

“I don’t think that, actually. I did not think of it as supporting that. If I had, I probably would have changed the line.”

This lack of awareness on the scripting level begs perhaps the most essential question—if it was so important to make Barbara part of this story, wouldn’t it have been beneficial to ask a female writer onto the project? Someone who was perhaps more likely to notice the tone-deafness and contradictions? Or perhaps to have a woman working in any executive position on the production side at all?

The Killing Joke, film

There are answers to all these questions, real ones, better than the answers that have been given. But in reality, this is just a blip on a radar, more of the same whenever a deeply controversial work is given the red carpet treatment. (Heck, with Suicide Squad coming up, we’re likely to hear more of the same within days.) Every fan who takes issue with the telling will be told the same things—if you don’t like it just don’t watch; don’t be so sensitive; it’s a classic so your opinion doesn’t matter; I liked it and that means you’re wrong; critics are idiots and not real fans; feminists ruin everything and are not real fans; it’s not a big deal, don’t be such a crybaby; stop overreacting; you probably hate everything; shut up [insert slur here] and make me a sammich. But it doesn’t change the fact that The Killing Joke fails as both a film (because it isn’t one) and as an attempt to better involve Batgirl in a story that relies on her abuse as a plot point (because it doesn’t).

The creative team was well-aware that the film was going to be met with controversy, and controversy they got. Though it has given a contingent of fans something that they have wanted for decades, another contingent are left alienated and furious. This is not a surprise—it unfolded exactly the way everyone expected to. What should upset us collectively is that no steps were taken to prevent it. Hands were thrown into the air, and shoulders were shrugged, and the people involved said, quote, “Yeah, that’s kind of where we need to go,” without bothering to consider the ramifications of their creative choices.

Can someone answer me a question? How, precisely, is that any different from saying: “Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch”?

Because I’m not really sure.

Emily Asher-Perrin really did enjoy the last ten minutes of the film. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

dancesontrains: Art of Captain America in a body of water, saying 'Avengers Assemble.' (Captain America in water)
([personal profile] dancesontrains Jul. 27th, 2016 06:23 pm)
Hello, I need a beta for a Flash CW fic. Can't really specify the pairing or lack of, as it's for a remix, but I'm happy to tell you more in DMs/emails/etc.

EDIT: Beta found, thank you <3
brainwane: My smiling face in front of a brick wall, May 2015. (Default)
([personal profile] brainwane Jul. 27th, 2016 01:21 pm)
If I decide to check out Gail Carriger's books, should I start by reading the Finishing School sequence or the Parasol Protectorate sequence? Or something else? Or does that reading order not matter?
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