Ursula K. Le Guin: The Grand Dame of American Fantasy & Science Fiction

Posted in A Wizard of Earthsea, Bildungsroman, Earthsea Cycle, Fantasy, Uncategorized, Ursula K. Le Guin with tags , , , , on January 26, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A few days ago I heard the sad news about the passing of author Ursula K. Le Guin, the outspoken grand dame of American Fantasy & Science Fiction whose career spanned over 50 years. I won’t pretend to be that knowledgeable about her vast body of influential work, but what I did read, I liked a lot.

Author Ursula K. LeGuin, 1973.

I believe I first heard of Le Guin through my colleague, Derek Fetler. Back in the days when Derek and I haunted the Cambridge open mike circuit as the Gloom Twins, there was a song we used to play that Derek had penned called Sparrowhawk, based on Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). I was not familiar with Le Guin’s work prior to that, but I was a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis from my childhood, so I was intrigued when Derek turned me on to the original Earthsea trilogy. I recall burning through A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), and The Farthest Shore (1972), which told the coming-of-age tale of Ged, a wizard from the isle of Gont, and getting totally absorbed in Le Guin’s very distinctive fantasy world.

The Bantam paperback editions of the original Earthsea Trilogy. I always loved the artwork on these by Pauline Ellison.

While still under her spell, I picked up a chapbook called From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973) which is an essay by Le Guin on writing fantasy that had some valuable insight on dialog writing that I have tried to follow to this day when writing my own dark fantasy tales.

Chapbook of Le Guin’s essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973, Pendragon Press).

Over the years I tried to find more Le Guin books to read, but since a good portion of her output is pure Science Fiction, a genre I don’t have much interest in, I stopped seeking out her books. I did however read the novella The Beginning Place (1980), as well as the story The Rule of Names (1964), the latter of which I really got a kick out of, but I haven’t read much else since.

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1979, Bantam) featuring another lovely cover by Pauline Ellison, where I first read The Rule of Names.

When Le Guin published a 4th novel in the Earthsea Cycle, Tehanu (1990), I was initially excited, but I was so deep into my exploration into H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos by then that I didn’t get around to picking it up until relatively recently and still haven’t read it yet. Apparently, there is also a 5th novel called The Other Wind (2001), as well as a short story collection called Tales from Earthsea (2001) which I have yet to read as well, but might take a look at now that I have begun re-reading the original trilogy.

Paperback copy of Tehanu (1991, Spectra) which I used to see everywhere when it first came out.

At the tail-end of 2004 I saw a SiFi Channel mini-series adaptation of the original trilogy called Legend of Earthsea (2004) which was a watered down affair with none of the wonder and wisdom from Le Guin’s novels. I understand Le Guin herself was dissatisfied with it and accused the producers of “whitewashing”, by casting a fair-skinned actor in the lead when Le Guin explicitly describes the inhabitants of Gont as being of reddish-brown cast.

1st edition of A Wizard of Earthsea (1968, Parnassus Press) featuring cover art by Ruth Robbins depicting Ged’s coppery countenance.

Apparently there is an anime as well, which is a very loose adaptation of the original trilogy that also had Le Guin in a tizzy:

“Ursula K Le Guin, the author of the Earthsea series, gave a mixed response to the film in her review on her website. Le Guin commended the visual animation in the film but stated that the plot departed so greatly from her story that she was “watching an entirely different story, confusingly enacted by people with the same names as in my story”. She also praised certain depictions of nature in the film, but felt that the production values of the film were not as high as previous works directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and that the film’s excitement was focused too much around scenes of violence. Her initial response to Gorō Miyazaki was “[I]t is not my book. It is your movie. It is a good movie”. However, she stated that the comment disclosed on the movie’s public blog did not portray her true feelings about the film’s vast departure from original stories; “taking bits and pieces out of context, and replacing the storylines with an entirely different plot…”” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_from_Earthsea_(film)#Reception, retrieved 01/25/2018]

Perhaps someday someone will come along and do it right. Till then, do yourself a favor and pick up Le Guin’s exquisite books.

PS: As I re-read A Wizard of Earthsea I am reminded constantly of Derek’s song, Sparrowhawk, the melody of which goes round on a loop in my head. I wish we had recorded it together. Perhaps someday we will.

 

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Lucifer’s “Faux Pharaoh”

Posted in Doom Metal, Faux Pharaoh, Johanna Sadonis, Lucifer (band) with tags , , , on January 20, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Lucifer band logo featuring the current trio line-up.

Well it seems that after a 2 year hiatus,  Lucifer has finally got a new album in the can which they plan to release sometime in the Spring of 2018. In the meantime they have released a download of their newest single, Faux Pharaoh.  Despite retaining their Doom Metal stance, their new sound is slightly more polished and mainstream than their previous work, though it still rocks, and of course Johanna’s lyrics explore familiar themes of occultism, Egyptology and death. The band is down to a trio, consisting of Johanna Sadonis, Nicke Andersson & Robin Tidebrink.  Multi-instrumentalist Andersson seems to be a veteran of the Stockholm punk & metal scene, most notably in The Hellacopters, Death Breath and The Entombed, and Tidebrink (ex-Saturn) played supplementary guitar for Lucifer on the last tour. One may see him in the Oldenberg video on Youtube playing some tasty solos over Gaz Jennings’ heavy riffage. I assume the wah-wah solo in Faux Pharaoh is his.

Lucifer in 2017: Robin Tidebrink, Johanna Sadonis, and Nicke Andersson, looking as polished and pretty as their new single.

Speaking of Mr. Jennings, his guitar sound is conspicuously absent from this recording. I imagine his layered tones and unique riffing style will be sorely missed on Lucifer II. Even so, the new song is decent, Sadonis sounds great, and I am curious to hear the full album when it comes out. I just hope that I am not disappointed, as my expectations are high after having played both Lucifer I and the Oath album to death,  which also features Ms. Sadonis. I will definitely review it here once I give it a few spins, and I will also try my damnedest to see them when they take the new album on the road.

Faux Pharaoh is available for download on Lucifer’s Bandcamp profile: https://luciferofficial.bandcamp.com/releases

Rush’s “Caress of Steel” (1975)

Posted in Caress of Steel (1975), Prog-Rock, Rush (band), Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien with tags , , , on January 12, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

During my sappy youth in Montevideo, Uruguay during the early 80’s my friend Rolando turned me on to Rush. Over the years my appreciation for the band has grown, despite their fluctuating popularity. Although I respect their decision to move with the times and explore new trends, I really only ever listen to the early classic works from 1974-1981, which chronicle their growth from a Led Zeppelin-inspired hard rock band to the heavy prog-rock royalty.

Cover art for “Caress of Steel” by Rush (1975, Mercury).

Caress of Steel (1975) was the band’s 3rd album, and the 2nd one to feature their new drummer Neil Peart, who brought to the mix not only his singular percussion skills, but also his talent as a thoughtful and imaginative lyricist. Topics range from French history to Tolkienesque fantasy, and nostalgia for the halcyon days of one’s youth. It is musically “heavy” in the old-style rock vein, though not quite heavy metal per se, with complex arrangements and serious chops. It also has moments of delicacy, many of which may be found in the epic track, The Fountain of Lamneth.  The album opens with Bastille Day, which rocks like a classic Led Zeppelin tune, yet with much headier lyrics than anything the mighty Zeppelin ever penned. Somehow I can’t imagine Robert Plant ever singing about the storming of the Bastille and guillotines claiming their “bloody prize”.

Then comes I Think I’m Going Bald, a mid-tempo rocker which according to Wikipedia is a spoof of the Kiss song “Goin’ Blind”:

Canadian progressive rock band Rush, who had opened for Kiss during both bands’ early years, poked fun at this song with “I Think I’m Going Bald”, from their 1975 album Caress of Steel. In the book Contents Under Pressure, Rush frontman Geddy Lee explained: “We were touring a lot with Kiss in those days and they had a song called ‘I Think I’m Going Blind.’ So we were kind of taking the piss out of that title by just coming up with this.” Lee noted that the title originated with Rush drummer Neil Peart, who was making light of the fact that guitarist Alex Lifeson was constantly worried about the future possibility of going bald, often employing “all kinds of ingredients to put on his scalp. And I think it just got Neil thinking about aging…” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goin%27_Blind#Parodies, retrieved 01/07/2018]

Lakeside Park is a light song about Neil Peart’s memories of working a summer job at the titular venue on Victoria Day. I rather like its wistful sentimentality, although I understand Geddy Lee would as soon forget it:

A lot of the early stuff I’m really proud of. Some of it sounds really goofy, but some of it stands up better than I gave it credit for. As weird as my voice sounds when I listen back, I certainly dig some of the arrangements. I can’t go back beyond 2112 really, because that starts to get a bit hairy for me, and if I hear “Lakeside Park” on the radio I cringe. What a lousy song! Still, I don’t regret anything that I’ve done!

— Geddy Lee, Raw Magazine  
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakeside_Park_(song), retrieved 01/07/2018]
The Necromancer is where the album really begins to hint at what was to come as far as Rush’s new direction is concerned. This is a song which really shows the influence of some of the Prog-rock bands they had been listening to at the time, particularly Genesis:
Alex Lifeson cited Steve Hackett as a major influence on the sound he strove for in this song and album, particularly on the guitar solo during “No One at the Bridge”: “Steve Hackett is so articulate and melodic, precise and flowing. I think our Caress of Steel period is when I was most influenced by him. There’s even a solo on that album which is almost a steal from his style of playing. It’s one of my favorites, called ‘No One at the Bridge.'” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fountain_of_Lamneth#Song_information%5D
The song is separated into three parts: Into the Darkness, Under the Shadow, and Return of the Prince. Each segment begins with a half-speed voiceover setting up the scene. The lyrics tell the story of “three travelers, men of Willow Dale”, which apparently is a veiled reference to the members of Rush, as both Lee and Lifeson grew up in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale. The travellers find themselves in the demesne of the Necromancer who espies them through his prism then, magically ensnaring them, locks the trio away in his dungeon. They are eventually freed by Prince By-Tor who, oddly enough, appeared in the song By-Tor and the Snow Dog on the previous album Fly By Night (1975) as a villain.
The music is moody and the lyrics are evocative of the darkness and doom of the Necromancer’s lair:
“Even now the intensity of his dread power can be felt, weakening the body and saddening the heart. Ultimately they will become empty, mindless spectres. Stripped of mind and soul.” My favorite line comes soon after where the shadow of his nearness weighs like iron tears. This is all very reminiscent of what Frodo and Sam go through as they try to avoid the Eye of Sauron when trudging through Mordor to destroy the One Ring.
The flip side of the album continues in this vein with the sidelong track, The Fountain of Lamneth which tells the tale of a young man’s quest to find the titular fountain in six individual, but thematically connected, songs. Along the way he has experiences that constitute a sort of rite of passage. In the opening track, In the Valley, Geddy Lee sings: Look at me, I am young / Sight unseen, life unsung. The rest of the song tells of the beginning of his journey traversing a valley and over a mountain. There is some nice pastoral imagery as the young man muses on the novelty of all he sees:
Living one long sunrise, for to me all things are new / I’ve never watched the sky grow pale, or strolled through fields of dew
Continuing, he affirms his steadfastness of purpose:
I do not know of dust to dust, I live from breath to breath / I live to climb that mountain to the Fountain of Lamneth.
Part 2, Didacts and Narpets, the title of which is I have never seen explained anywhere, consists mostly of waves of percussion cresting in exclamations of commands. From what I gather of the following quote from an interview with Peart, I assume Narpets is a scramble of the word Parents, but I cannot suss out Didacts:
Regarding the section “Didacts and Narpets”, Neil Peart, in the October 1991 news release from the Rush Backstage Club, said: “Okay, I may have answered this before, but if not, the shouted words in that song represent an argument between Our Hero and the Didacts and Narpets – teachers and parents. I honestly can’t remember what the actual words were, but they took up opposite positions like: ‘Work! Live! Earn! Give!’ and like that.”
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fountain_of_Lamneth#Song_information, retrieved 1/10/2018]
 
This segment seems, lyrically at least, to be in an odd spot in the narrative since the hero is already on his journey. Unless he is remembering what he was told by his elders before he left. (Update, 02-13-2018: I have since given a closer listen and think that I may have been too hasty in my assessment of the timeline here. I believe the actual journey does begin in part 3 ) Some cassette editions of the album swapped the sequence of this track to with I Think I’m Going Bald on side A, sandwiched between Bastille Day and Lakeside Park. I actually owned one of these back in the 80’s. I have read somewhere that this was because of time constraints in the formatting, but there do exist cassette versions with the tracks in their rightful places.

Caress of Steel US cassette tape with Didacts & Narpets swapped with I Think Im Going Bald.

No One at the Bridge continues the journey, this time at sea. Sea spray blurs his vision as the hero’s barque is tossed about on the pitching waves. Desperate, he cries out for guidance and salvation but no one seems to hear. He reflects on how eager he had been at the start of his voyage, how eagerly he took the helm, but now his crew has deserted him and he is lost at the brink of the maelstrom.
Despite his precarious situation in the previous segment, he makes it ashore where he encounters a mysterious woman, Panacea, who gives him shelter…with benefits. Although artless in execution, Panacea has a lot of tenderness and is an honest depiction of a young man’s moon-eyed first encounter with love. Alas, his bliss is short-lived, as he must move on to continue on his journey:  My heart will lie beside you / as my wandering body grieves.
 Bacchus Plateau finds our hero drowning his sorrows in wine as he questions his path and hankers for his former passion for the quest:
Draw another goblet from the cask of ’43 / Crimson misty memory, hazy glimpse of me / Give me back my wonder – I’ve got something more to give / I guess it doesn’t matter – there’s not much more to live.
In the end, he reaches the fountain: Now, at last I fall before the Fountain of Lamneth / I thought I would be singing, but I’m tired…out of breath / Many journeys end here but, the secret’s told the same / Life just a candle and a dream must give it flame.
In fine, although a bit unwieldy and naïve, The Fountain of Lamneth is an inspiring and epic song, and it resonates with me even today in my maturity. Unfortunately, I am about the only person who seems to feel that way. Caress of Steel didn’t fare well with critics and sold poorly.

Mercury Records ad for Caress of Steel.

Due to poor sales, low concert attendance and overall media indifference, the 1975–76 tour supporting Caress of Steel became known by the band as the “Down the Tubes” tour. Given that and record company pressure to record more accessible, radio-friendly material similar to their first album – something Lee, Lifeson and Peart were unwilling to do – the trio feared that the end of the group was near. Ignoring their record label’s advice and vowing to “fight or fall”, 2112  ultimately paved the way for lasting commercial success, despite opening with a 20-and-a-half-minute conceptual title track. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caress_of_Steel#Reception, retrieved 01/10/2018]

Rush promo pic from 1975. (L to R: Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson).

 
By sticking to their guns they created the album that made them stars, but were it not for the chances they took on Caress of Steel and the flack they caught for it, they might never have been inspired to prove their mettle and create such an epic album as 2112. To me Caress of Steel is a prime example of an artist following their heart despite what the pundits or mainstream taste might dictate to the contrary. A sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.

 

In My Time of Dying

Posted in black humor, exequies, In My Time of Dying with tags , , on December 30, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

In my job as a communications assistant for the hard of hearing, I hear, and dictate, a lot of calls where people talk about death and exequies. Either a kinsman is calling to relay a notice of a relative’s passing, or two biddies are gossiping about who showed up at Minnie Teetotaler’s funeral. Many times the conversation turns to the handling of the remains of the decedent, and how they themselves would be handled when it was their turn to go the way of all flesh. Surprisingly, 9 out of every 10 people say they want to be cremated. I say “surprisingly” because most callers profess to be Christians and my understanding has always been that Christians believed in a physical resurrection of the Day of Judgment. Once your body has been reduced to cremains and scattered to the four winds or upon the briny sea, there will be nothing to resurrect. I know most Christian denominations accepted the practice of cremation by the mid 20th century, though some, like the Catholics, still discourage it and others, like the Methodists and some other orthodox branches, still see it as a denial of bodily resurrection and forbid it most strenuously. Although not a Christian myself, I do not relish the thought of my mortal shell being roasted like a carne asado, which is what I have been told cadavers smell like when roasting in a crematory oven. What’s more, I have always felt (as I understand celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson does) that when it is my turn to go I would prefer to be put into a simple coffin and lowered into the ground so, through the process of decomposition, I can return all of my personal energy and nutrients to Mother Earth, which would otherwise be vaporized or dispersed into the ether during the cremation process.

Come to think of it, just to dispel any doubts about my final wishes, let me lay out here for all to see how I’d like for my final journey to play out: first off, unless there’s a question of foul play I’d rather not be autopsied or embalmed. Just so, there should be a wake as soon as they clean me up and run a comb through my hair, because without the preservative embalming process I would be getting pretty ripe before too long. At my wake, my friends and family should converge in a great hall where my venerable carcass would be wrapped in a sable colored shroud, tucked under a complimentary mortcloth, like a sleepy moppet for a never-ending nap, then placed upon a catafalque surrounded by candles, at the center of the room. There they can eat, drink, and recount their memories with me as they contemplate my mortal remains. Party favors shall include a piece of mourning jewelry incorporating a lock of my lustrous mane.  A contemporary daguerreotypist (they do exist you know) should be on hand to take a portrait of me lying in repose, which may later be scanned and distributed to those who couldn’t make it, or given as a keepsake to those who did. Guests will be offered the opportunity for a final daguerro-selfie as well, for a price, which they may negotiate with the anachronistic shutterbug. While they’re at it, they might as well bring in a sin eater too, to quaff a cruet of claret, crunch on a crumbly crostini, and absorb, and thus absolve, my ideological transgressions.

Depiction of a sin eater I got from the Internet. It is accredited to the Oriel Washington Gallery.

Once everyone has had their fill of well booze and tall tales they’ll slip me into a pine overcoat and transport me to a mort house where my body will be lain on a limestone slab, safe from paparazzi, resurrectionists, and necrophiles, while a spotter monitors my cadaver for signs of corruption. Perhaps I should qualify that. By corruption I mean decomposition; for my morality, that is between myself and my maker, whom I expect will have more pressing things on his mind to worry about since (as I have heard many a client affirm in my quotidian captioning) we are indeed living in the End Times.

Coffin portrait of Stefan Radomicki by Anonymous from Poland, 1690s, Muzeum Archidiecezji Gnieźnieńskiej (note the coffin-shaped frame)

For comparison, I shall commission a coffin portrait to be painted and installed in the vault so the spotter can see what I am supposed to look like as opposed to how Death’s pernicious touch may have rendered me. Once the dissolution of my mortal coil has been ascertained then it’s off to the cemetery with me.  For transport I will require a horse-drawn hearse and tailing my cortege should be a litter carrying a ghetto blaster blaring thanatotic rock songs of doom and death; I want an electric, not jazz, funeral, thank you.

Electric Funeral [B-side of Iron Man single] Black Sabbath (1971, Warner Bros)

Like a scene from Dark Shadows, the funeral attendees will gather outside the door to the mort house in the pouring rain clutching their umbrellas and muttering oaths under their steaming breath. As they bear my body beneath the memento mori on the transom and from the somber chamber, a flank of wailing moirologists (professional mourners) will throw their lithe, crêpe-swathed bosoms across the lid to my coffin as the pallbearers struggle to keep me aloft on the slippery rain-soaked lich path. Did I say rain-soaked? At the rate those crocodile keeners charge, it had better be tear-soaked.

Moirologists

At the graveside, a Dickensian looking codger can play a Marche funèbre on a harmonium whilst an owl stares down at the unsettled funeral attendees with fulgent yellow eyes from his perch in a nearby yew tree and in sepulchral tones utters his enigmatic mantra of  “Who…?” For my marker, I have always been partial to the weathered  headstones from the antiquated kirkyards I used to wander through back in my halcyon days in New England. Something with a winged death’s head, and an hour glass with the legend “Tempus Fugit” engraved beneath it, or a quote from an 18th Century Graveyard Poet about the transitory nature of life behind the veil of tears.

A vintage New England headstone with the customary imagery.

Since I claim no religious affiliation, in lieu of a service perhaps a close friend or relative can read my poem “Black Hymeneal” before they lower my paltry hull into the gaping maw in the ground, to be swallowed up by Mother Earth and her attendant creepy crawlies: just another mortal morsel for the Conqueror Worm.

 

Goodbye 2017

Posted in 2017, Black Hymeneal, Krampus, Nativity in Black, Uncategorized, Year End Review with tags , , , , , on December 18, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Well,  December is almost over and 2017 has already got one foot out of the door. Unfortunately, it will just be yet another in a sequence of shitty years for me. For starters nothing has changed since my last year end update. Black Hymeneal is still in limbo, waiting to be published. I have revamped the original manuscript, made some changes in the selection of poems, and rewritten the introductions then sent the manuscript to my friend Denisse Montoya who is supposed to help me with the cover art and layout, but I do not have an ETA on that at present.

My buddy Dick Kelly got sidetracked and wasn’t able to complete the Krampus illustrations for our proposed chapbook, but we recently talked and he said he was getting back on it. Again, I am hopeful, but there is no ETA at present.

I have been writing more these days and actually was able to write a prose piece I had conceived of last year then shelved. It is called Nativity in Black and I debuted it at the Space 55 7 Minutes Under the Mistletoe on 12/15/17. I have recently requested a video of my performance which I may post on here once I receive it, if I can figure out how to do that. Perhaps Denisse can help me with that as well. I also have been working fairly regularly on two stories from my Helldorado series, however, what has kept me from completing them in a timely manner is that my tablet shit the bed back in April and I cannot afford to replace it so I have had to do my work at the library where my access is limited and there are multiple distractions and no privacy.

I am still at the caption job and still have yet to make a single friend. I hate some of the calls I have to dictate, most actually, but it pays the bill for now. I still long for the day when I can make my living off of my art.

Speaking of living, I may have to live somewhere else by the end of 2018. My landlords are raising the rent so I have renewed my lease for the last time then my roomie and I are parting ways. So now my future living situation is uncertain.

Without getting into the boring details, my personal life hasn’t changed either. I had hoped sometime in my 50th year things would look up for me in that department, but no such luck so far. Perhaps it’s just as well. If I should decide to leave Arizona at the end of 2018 I will only have to worry about myself and no one else.

If I had to live in AZ for the rest of my life, I had hoped to make a name for myself writing Southwestern Gothic Horror, with a Latin bent, but I would gladly give that up if I can leave the Southwest all together.  I am so unhappy here. I would love to return to my beloved New England, but I don’t think I can afford that. I also don’t relish being so far away from my family if anything happens. Perhaps the Northwest would work. I will have to weigh my options very soon.

 

 

The Grimoire of the Dark Young

Posted in Gothic Poetry, Gothic Prose, Nostalgia, song lyrics, The Dark Young with tags , , , , on December 14, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Now that Black Hymeneal is on the verge of publication, I have begun work on my next release: The Grimoire of the Dark Young. This sinister sounding booklet will feature the words to the poems and lyrics featured in the music of the Dark Young in which I had a hand in writing.

It shall contain brief essays on the book and the band, scans of related artwork, and photos of the band from those halcyon days of yore. The table of contents will run as follows:

01. Tetragramophone

02. My Friend Boris

03. My Love and I

04. Gargoyle

05. Tasty Little Muffins

06. The Silent Sibling

07. Reflections in the Darkness

08. Flower of Evil

09. Thoughts of a Soulless Savior (The Golem of Prague)

10. Femme Fatale

11. The City Never Sleeps

12. Ring-a-Ding Dingy

13. XIII

I will keep you all posted on any updates as things develop.

The Grimorium Iuvenis Obscurum.

 

Nativity in Black

Posted in Antichrist, Black Sabbath, Gothic Prose, N.I.B., Nativity in Black, Nativity in Black (album), prose, The Omen (1976), Weird Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I will begin this post with a disclaimer. I was hesitant to post this little prose piece for fear of a backlash from people who don’t understand the difference between fiction and reality. The following is a fantasy, not a comment on my personal beliefs, nor is it meant to be a parody of anyone else’s beliefs. Okay, now that’s out of the way let’s move on…

About a year ago, I was listening to Black Sabbath when the tune N.I.B. came on and I began to reflect on the amusing story behind its name:

“In a 1992 interview, Geezer Butler states that the title simply refers to Bill Ward’s goatee at the time, which the rest of the band thought was shaped like a pen nib; also referred to as nibby. Apparently, Geezer Butler said: “Originally it was Nib, which was Bill’s beard. When I wrote N.I.B., I couldn’t think of a title for the song, so I just called it Nib, after Bill’s beard. To make it more intriguing I put punctuation marks in there to make it N.I.B. By the time it got to America, they translated it to Nativity In Black.” Ronnie James Dio can be heard mentioning (but not confirming) this assumption on several live bootleg recordings with the band from the early 1980s and on the 2007 released Live-CD Live at Hammersmith Odeon, recorded in 1982. “Nativity in Black” was later used for the title of a series of Black Sabbath tribute albums.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N.I.B. retrieved from Wikipedia 11/14/2017)

Cover art for the Black Sabbath tribute album, Nativity in Black (1994, Columbia Records).

As I pondered over the title Nativity in Black I was struck with an idea to write a prose poem describing the nativity of the Antichrist. It would be a mirror reflection of the traditional story, showing the shadow side, the yin to its yang, if you will. I did some research, made some notes, and then put it aside in favor of some other more pressing projects. Fast-forward to October 2017 after the 7 Minutes in Hell show at Space 55, my buddy Ash invites me to participate in a special Horror-themed Christmas show to make up for the Lovecraft show in August which got canceled at the last minute. I of course agreed then promptly began to panic as I didn’t have anything Christmas-themed save for my Krampus poem which I have read at several events over the last few years. I needed to write something new, but what?

Then one evening I was sitting in my room looking through my DVD collection for something to watch, when I pulled The Omen (1976) from the shelf. I put it on, and within minutes was reminded of my shelved project. I pulled it out and found that inspiration came very quickly so that within days I had the body of the piece written and just had to tweak it until it was ready to be shared. So without further ado, I present Nativity in Black

 

In the days of political cronyism and religious extremism, when the underprivileged were exploited and social minorities were discriminated against or persecuted, a coven of Spanish witches were celebrating an akelarre in a remote cave in the vicinity of Zugarramurdi, in Navarra, Spain, when they were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of an emissary from Hell.

Naked and dreadful she rose from the flames of their bonfire, her long red hair cascading down the entirety of her pearly flesh to rejoin the flames; her green eyes were fierce and dazzling. The witches were sore afraid and trembled at her approach, but she opened her palms at her sides and in tones of surety set their minds at ease:

“Fear not my little darklings, I am Lilith, true first woman and Queen of all Hell, and I bring you good tidings that will be a boon to all children of darkness. Tonight, in the ruins of Chorazin an oppressor was born unto you; he is the Antichrist, your Overlord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby swathed in shadow, lying in a minikin ebon coffin.”

In response to her announcement a host of cherubic heads on bat wings sprung from the fire from whence arose their mistress; their lambent eyes glimmering like tiny candle flames in the gloomy cave, their red mouths chaunting in antiphonal response, “Hail to Satan in the lowest chasm, and on earth woe to those who incur his wrath.”

At the conclusion of her annunciation Lilith raised her arms from her sides and flames appeared on either palm as she declaimed “Let these lights become a beacon to all who wish to undertake the Black Pilgrimage and witness the beginning of the end.” Clapping her hands together the flames coalesced to form a fireball which she released into the heavens beyond the cave. Simultaneous with the egress of the beacon was the withdrawal of fair Lilith and her dreadful chorus followed by the return of the lackluster normalcy of the natural world.

At the departure of the infernal host the coven rallied to choose 3 of their 13 to follow the ignis fatuus, traveling through never-ending night on a small barque with a lone sable sail, blown by an ill wind, to the shores of Galilee. Upon their dawn arrival, as the barque and the beacon flame faded, giving way to the oppressive daytime sunlight, they climbed the hill of the ancient city where they sought and found the fabled lost synagogue of Jacob Ory. Exhausted, they collapsed at the foot of the ruin and fell fast asleep.

Awaking to the gloom of the crepuscular hour they waited for the reappearance of the guiding light which appeared anon in the caliginous heavens above the ruin before falling, like a comet, toward them. Frozen in mingled fear and anticipation they followed it’s decent until, at the last moment, it slowed to alight on the flambeau between the horns of the terrible Goat of Mendes, Baphomet, who was the first to appear in the formerly occulted tableaux which was suddenly illuminated before his dais in blasphemous splendor.

Acknowledging the pilgrims the Light-bearer deigned to motion for their approach. The witches, complying, were awestruck at the scene before them. To the left, lurking just beyond the fulgor of Baphomet’s beacon, were a coterie of ashen-faced men in tailored suits. Each one in his livid hands bore a bauta mask adorned with the semblance of a human face, each vizard representing one of the sundry races of humankind. Their red eyes smoldered in the shadows as their forked tongues slithered betwixt their acuminate choppers.

To the right was a menagerie of benighted beasts: a prodigious toad squatting and squinting, it’s cat-like eyes surveying the coven with a scrutiny that betrayed an aberrant intelligence; a three-headed serpent, reared upright, with its heads thrown back, exposing its belly in obeisance; and an enormous black canid with a single flaming red eye in the center of its forehead which stood menacingly as acting sentinel to the infernal infant in the funest cradle before them. Next to them were a band of sooty devils creating a discordant din: one blew a steerhorn from his buttocks, another played a tabor and a third a viol all fashioned from human bones, gut, and skin.

Opposite them, genuflecting to the unholy family, were the bedeviled shades of the three magi: Otsanes, Zoroaster, and Hystaspes, granted leave from their underworld abodes to present Satan’s son with individual gifts of goety, astrology and prophecy. The child’s mother, a callow and corrupted apostate, was fair of face, lithe in figure, and arrayed in black. Crowned with a star-ruby in a silver diadem, she accepted their gifts with unseemly gusto which she submitted to her consort for his consecration before placing them on the dais.

The hell-bound Hadži, with hesitant steps, approached the little black funerary box lined in black silk where an august newborn, swaddled in a protective wreathe of tenebrosity, gurgled and wriggled before opening his penetrating black eyes to gaze upon his menials who quailed at his uncanny gaze and fell on their knees to grovel.

“Woe to you, oh earth and sea, for the devil sends the beast with wrath because he knows the time is short. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number: its number is six hundred and sixty six.”*

 

*Fans of the band Iron Maiden (Maidenheads?) may recognize this quote from the opening of the title track from their Number of the Beast album (1982), but it is in fact 2 separate quotes from the Book of Revelation, 12:12 and 13:18 respectively. I really like their translation the best and tried to find the source but the only other place I have seen it is in the 1976 novelization of The Omen by David Seltzer. I believe both quotes are in there, but when I went to look for them to cite here, I only found 13:18 [Seltzer, David (1976) The Omen, pg. 137, Signet / New American Library]