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Trenches of the Black Land.

The descriptions of battle scenes in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ seem lifted from the grim memories of the trenches: the relentless artillery bombardment, the whiff of mustard gas, the bodies of dead soldiers discovered in craters of mud. In the Siege of Gondor, hateful orcs are ‘digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring,’ while others maneuver ‘great engines for the casting of missiles.'”

In the NYT, author and historian Joseph Loconte writes on the impact of the Battle of the Somme on young J.R.R. Tolkien. “When the Somme offensive was finally called off in November 1916, a total of about 1.5 million soldiers were dead or wounded.” (Among the deceased: my great-grandfather, Alfred Amory Sullivan.)

Gone with the Whiskey.

“The memo..[is] candid in its assessment of the writers’ strengths and weakness. Of William Faulkner, who had written a few screenplays in the early 1930s, the anonymous memo author notes that he was now living in Mississippi but ‘can fly anywhere in his own plane.’ On the downside, Faulkner was ‘not very reliable in his plane nor his habits.'”

But has he taken a stab at the rasslin’ form? Rebecca Onion of Slate birddogs this memo to David O. Selznick on possible Gone with the Wind screenwriters. The quip above reminded me of Mencken’s review of Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, from the dissertation: As good as Babbitexcept the last 30,000 words, which you wrote in a state of liquor.”

The Bayou of Madness, Pt. II.

“Much has been made of the connections between True Detective and the cosmic-horror tradition…and rightly so. But what’s largely been missed is that the cosmic-horror genre — rooted, as it is, in humankind’s subprime position in the pecking order of the universe — is deeply entwined with the character of Louisiana’s physical and cultural landscape.”

In Slate, Adrian Van Young delineates True Detective — and Lovecraft’s — debt to Louisiana, one of the cultural crossroads and borderlands where shadows linger and tricksters thrive. “Lost cities, liminal realms, and cosmic fear come more or less naturally to Louisiana…The chief-most horrors of the show are not voodoo curses or tentacled monsters or consciousness-destroying plays, but environmental slippage, religious perversion, badly mangled family trees. True Detective wears the cosmic-horror genre and its lineage, in other words, not unlike the Mardi Gras masks being worn today all over its native state. The mask is scary, sure enough, but what’s underneath can be even more frightening: one place in the U.S. where anything, it seems, can happen.'”

Also, for a more prosaic take on HBO’s current hit, see the credits for Law & Order: True Detective, below.

But It’s Better Than the Alternative.

“I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse…The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.”

Well, my friends are gone and my hair is gray. I ache in the places where I used to play, and I’m crazy for love, but I’m not coming on: Also in The New Yorker, Roger Angell files a dispatch from the far side of ninety. “Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already.”

At the Bayou of Madness.

“For many fans of weird fiction, the surprising appearance of this madness-inducing play into what ostensibly appeared to be just another police procedural was a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, the tone of the show changed completely, signaling the descent into a particular brand of horror rarely (if ever) seen on television.”

In io9, Michael Hughes explores True Detective‘s many references to The King in Yellow, an 1895 collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, and a “fictional play…that brings despair, depravity, and insanity to anyone who reads it or sees it performed.”

As Molly Lambert of Grantland pointed out of HBO’s dark and addictive mini-series, “True Detective’s closest relative is Twin Peaks, which mined similarly nocturnal depths. Both shows espouse mythologies that feel extremely personal to the creators but also eerily universal, tapping into the same brain waves as paradoxical sleep.”

For his part, show creator Nic Pizzolatto recently talked about his debt to another Weird Fiction author, Thomas Ligotti. “I first heard of Ligotti maybe six years ago, when Laird Barron’s first collection alerted me to this whole world of new weird fiction that I hadn’t known existed. I started looking around for the best contemporary stuff to read, and in any discussion of that kind, the name ‘Ligotti’ comes up first…[H]is nightmare lyricism was enthralling and visionary.

On top of everything else, True Detective also has one of the more captivating credit sequences in recent years, as per below. (It apparently owes a heavy debt to the work of artist/photographer Dan Mountford.)

The Shadow from Ekkaia.

“Outerra…is a ‘3D planetary engine’ that purports to be able to render a world in full detail, from space all the way down to pebbles on the surface. Meanwhile, Steve Edwards and Carl Lingard created the ME-DEM (Middle-earth Digital Elevation Model) Project in 2006, with the ultimate goal of rendering the entirety of Middle-earth in open-source data. Last year, they exported their data into the Outerra engine.”

Also in world-building news from Wired, Middle Earth as seen from space. As another Wired writer aptly noted on Twitter, Mordor looks like it was probably an impact crater.

Craft of Cthulhu.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” Via Liam at sententiae et clamores, Douglas Wynne ranks H.P. Lovecraft’s top ten opening lines. “He may have meandered a bit after getting your attention (and I’d argue that’s part of his charm), but in his pulp fiction heart Lovecraft understood the importance of grabbing you right away to earn your patience, and his stories consistently showcase his mastery of the intriguing opening.”

The painting above, by the way, was Jon Foster‘s contribution to a 2010 exhibit of Lovecraftian-themed art. His gallery is definitely worth a look-thru.

The Good Doctor Prescribes.

“There are a lot of ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people — who are almost always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled, because they are wrong. This is a dangerous notion, and very few professional journalists will endorse it — calling it ‘vengeful’ and ‘primitive’ and ‘perverse’ regardless of how often they might do the same thing themselves. ‘That kind of stuff is opinion,’ they say, ‘and the reader is cheated if it’s not labeled as opinion.’

“Well, maybe so. Maybe Tom Paine cheated his readers and Mark Twain was a devious fraud with no morals at all who used journalism for his own foul ends. And maybe H. L. Mencken should have been locked up for trying to pass off his opinions on gullible readers and normal ‘objective journalism.’ Mencken understood that politics – as used in journalism – was the art of controlling his environment, and he made no apologies for it.”

Via Brain Pickings, the late and missed Hunter S. Thompson (RIP) makes the case for advocacy journalism. “With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” (HST pic via here.)

The Last Days of Orwell.

[B]eset by poor health in various manifestations, he had to finish off the novel’s manuscript, which he had then tentatively titled The Last Man in Europe, before his conditions finished him off. ‘I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied,’ he wrote his agent of the rough draft. ‘I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB.'”

In The Guardian, Robert McCrum tells of a desperately sick George Orwell’s race against time to finish 1984. “In late October 1947, oppressed with ‘wretched health’, Orwell recognised that his novel was still ‘a most dreadful mess and about two-thirds of it will have to be retyped entirely’.” Orwell died in January 1950. (As seen as OpenCulture, who also point the way to these jpgs of Orwell’s original manuscript.)

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