Archive for December, 2012


William Shakespeare and The Shiny Beast of Thought

December 30, 2012


Ah, the entanglement of nature and the mind… One of these days we’ll get the leak in the roof fixed. In the meantime we’ll just have to marvel at the mutating patterns of damp and mould on our ceiling and this interesting juxtaposition of the left-facing profile of William Shakespeare (with a touch of the Jimmy Hills) with the orangey, rightward-leaping, buck-headed form which looks like it might have jumped out of a Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) painting, like, say The Shiny Beast of Thought (1987)…


Thanks to the Captain Beefheart Radar Station page where I lifted this picture:





‘Safe Under Ravens’: A Coincidence of Crows

December 28, 2012

It certainly hasn’t escaped the notice of at least one commentator* that Alan Garner has woven a subtle allusion to Hitchcock’s film, The Birds (1963), into the text of Boneland, his 2012 completion of the trilogy begun by The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963). This textual allusion was brought home to me last night when I actually watched this film for the first time. In one particular scene the atmosphere darkens as crows start gathering in increasing numbers, perched on play equipment, outside the school house where children are singing the traditional song, Risselty Rosselty. As I watched this scene unfold for the first time, with the dawning recognition of its coincidence with Boneland, as previously remarked on, I was reminded of the looming danger evoked by Garner in The Weirdstone, when Colin and Susan are stalked by a black-eyed carrion crow in a dell (likely the Morrigan in crow form), before it oversees an ambush on them from which they narrowly escape. Flocks of these sinister birds appear later in the book as they fly in search of the fugitive children, pursued by the Morrigan and the rest of the morthbrood. Not forgetting, of course, the Morrigan’s connection with crows in Irish mythology and her periodic transformation into one.

Risselty Rosselty is sung or recited by Colin in Boneland at the very start of a passage where he is cycling speedily to work in a ‘now’ which, significantly, follows on immediately from an episode where the stone age shaman-figure – ‘The Watcher’ – has laid to rest the bodies of a woman and child on a raised platform, to leave them ‘to the circle of life in air and earth’. Finally, the Watcher is reassured to see, ‘At the end of day… that they were safe under ravens’. This concluding sentence of the episode contrasts with the subtle sense of menace conjured by Garner’s allusion to a scene in Hitchcock’s film where each verse sung sees more and more crows perching on the climbing frame in the playground, a climbing frame perhaps recreated by Garner in the excarnation stack upon which the Watcher has laid the bodies – presumably of his partner and child – for the birds. The air of menace conveyed in the song – as imperceptible to Colin as to the singing children in The Birds – accords with Colin’s own pathological fear of crows and, furthermore, perhaps we should note the song’s occurrence in the text as a foreboding of Colin’s looming relationship with the black-clad psychotherapist, Meg Massey, who appears in the book to guide him through the trauma of the loss of his sister, Susan, as well as help him confront the root of his fear of crows.
 Meg seems to me very much to embody many aspects of the character of the Morrigan, but figures as almost a benign presence in comparison to the unambiguously ‘evil’ character portrayed in Garner’s earlier books ‘for children’. This could be read in different ways, not necessarily mutually exclusive, as either an aspect of the maturity of a writer troubled by a relatively superficial treatment of complex forces in his earliest work, and/or the developing maturity of Colin who has grown to appreciate the gifts that Meg/the Morrigan can offer. The possibility of such a reading is hinted at by the character of Angharad Goldenhand in The Moon of Gomrath as she tells Susan, “Our power waxes, and wanes: mine is of the full moon, the Morrigan’s is of the old. And the moon is old now, so she is strong”. She explains the destiny put on Susan as she fastens a bracelet to her wrist: “You are young, and your bracelet is the young moon’s. Then you can be more than the Morrigan, if you have courage”. The maiden/mother/crone theme, popularised by writers like Robert Graves, is introduced in Gomrath as a site of conflict. In the ‘adult’ world of Boneland there appears to be a suggestion of some resolution, even synergy between these trinary qualities, such that some commentators have seen Meg Massey combine aspects of Susan, Angharad and the Morrigan. In the context of the theme which animates Boneland, the Watcher’s and Colin’s quest for the missing female, then to watch and listen with this in mind through the medium of the scene in The Birds,  there is an added poignancy to the schoolchildren’s singing of the line, “He brought her home by the light of the moon” as the song draws to a close, a line which can now be recognised as bearing some of the weight of Garner’s text.
  Anyway, here’s the clip from The Birds

One coincidence that did strike me as I was piecing this together, was the little bit of promotional text at the very end of the clip: What are MEG’S top MOVIE picks of 2012?
I didn’t click on the link…

Edit 7/6/13 – having viewed the clip today, there’s now no reference to Meg’s top MOVIE picks.

* P. Neal makes this connection in a comment (30.8.12) to someone’s review on Amazon:






December 2, 2012


Beneath his depiction of The Christ-Child riding on a Lamb, this extract from William Blake’s illuminated book, Jerusalem The Emanation of The Giant Albion, seems appropriate:

“Prepare the furniture, O Lambeth, in thy pitying looms!
The curtains, woven tears and sighs, wrought into lovely forms
For Comfort; there the secret furniture of Jerusalem’s chamber

Is wrought. Lambeth! the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife loveth thee;
Thou art one with her, and knowest not of Self in thy supreme joy.
Go on, Builders in hope! tho’ Jerusalem wanders far away
Without the Gate of Los, among the dark Satanic wheels.”