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Father of Lies V: miscellaneous thoughts

Father of Lies V: miscellaneous thoughts published on No Comments on Father of Lies V: miscellaneous thoughts

Miscellaneous thought 1: My identification of Lucian as a psychopomp owes much to my own psychopompic story character, Lucian, who pesters Ellery over in Me and My Muses. [Insert link to his first appearance in the comic, during which he utters the immortal lines, “Hello, my name is Lucian. Let’s have sex.” Actually, I’m much more a fan of “Ta dah! Now let’s do the horizontal mambo!” myself, which comes in the episode after. But I digress.] Interestingly, though, given that I first read Father of Lies when it was published in 2011, i.e., before I started working on Me and My Muses, my Lucian quite possibly owes something to Turner’s Lucian.


Miscellaneous thought 2: Lucian could be an imaginary character and function of Lidda’s mental illness, or he could be an actual supernatural entity who has chosen to associate with her. I have to admit that the possibility of him as an actual supernatural entity would help to explain some of the odd implications of previously quoted statements. For example:

  • P. 4: “It is lonely here… I yearn for warmth…to be in a living being…” Possible implication: He’s a discarnate spirit looking for a host.
  • P. 114: “I have knowledge beyond your wildest dreams, you poor child, stuck in this backwater of a town.” Possible implication: He’s much more widely traveled, urbane, and experienced than Lidda could imagine.
  • P. 118 [when Lidda asks where he comes from]: “That does not matter. You do not need to know that.” Possible implication: He’s a being separate from her who wishes to keep his true origins a secret.

Of course, I do not think that Turner supports a supernatural origin for Lucian. For one thing, Turner shows that Lidda’s universe contains no magic whatsoever. Despite the Salem residents’ claims of magical persecution and spectral torment, Lidda perceives that conspiratorial human malice drives the panic. Turner’s materialist, societal explanation of the witchcraft outbreak implies that any other supposedly supernatural phenomena in the book — i.e., Lucian — may also be adequately explained as functions of human behavior.

Second, Turner argues more directly that Lucian is a figment of Lidda’s mind, rather than a magical being possessing her. In fact, Lidda herself gestures toward this idea when she compares her “fits” to those of the accusers, concluding that the accusers’ come from external cues [i.e., secret gestures to coordinate behavior or the influence of ginned-up xenophobia], while hers come from “within” [p. ????] — that is, from inside her. Furthermore, Turner’s afterword, About Bipolar Disorder, notes that hallucinations symptomatic of the disorder may have a “dark, demonic appearance” [p. ??????]. A threatening presence [at least at first] in Lidda’s life that most people around her would deem devilish, Lucian fits the description perfectly of a sinister illusion. He’s not an unreal, magical demon. He’s a real, imaginary hallucination.

Miscellaneous thought 3: This book isn’t perfect, of course, but several things keep me coming back: Lidda’s overall dignity as a mentally ill person, Lucian as the quintessential psychopomp, the strong, ambivalent relationship between them, and, finally, the writing. Whatever her failures with historical accuracy, Turner sure knows how to write well. Her style remains clear and straightforward throughout, but she constantly hits grace notes when she evokes Lidda’s perceptions in immersive clarity. [Check out Lidda’s first full sight of Lucian, which I quoted in part III, or her synaesthetic experience of colored music, which I quoted in part IV.] The specificity and immediacy with which Turner transmits her protagonist’s sensations facilitates the reader’s sympathy for and identification with Lidda. Ultimately the good writing subserves Turner’s overall characterization of Lidda as unusual [because mentally ill], but also understandable [because human — just like the reader], and thus contributes to the book’s strengths.


Miscellaneous thought 4: Since historical Salem, Puritans, and witchcraft outbreaks represent Turner’s largest failures, I think Father of Lies would be greatly improved by changing the setting to the present day. All the well-done elements could remain essentially the same, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to find some other repressive bullshit for Lidda to speak out against. If Turner wanted to sustain the socio-religious conflict, Lidda could be a child of evangelical, Dominionist Christians objecting to the limited possibilities available to her as a young woman. Or she could involve herself in intersectional feminism and the Black Lives Matter movement. She could agitate for anti-racist causes on account of debates on Islamophobia and increasing numbers of refugees. Hell, she could even propound the truly radical notion that trans people should be allowed to use the bathroom. [You can see where my interests lie… :p ] She could be the exact same person chafing at the exact same prejudices in the community around her, and we could even have the exact same ending of her running away from home and Lucian coming back. However, there could even be a realistic glimmer that she might survive and even thrive — perhaps not in her culture of origin, but in some other subculture. If Turner wanted, she could create a more convincing hopeful conclusion.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Part III here.


Part IV here.

A perfect example of gender discussion in the Style section…

A perfect example of gender discussion in the Style section… published on No Comments on A perfect example of gender discussion in the Style section…

Monica Hesse writes in the Washington Post about Kelsey Beckham and their non-binary or agender gender, as well as their relationship with their mom. And of course this story is covered by a staff writer for the Style section because that’s where all the discussion of people who aren’t straight white cis rich dudes should go. Hisssssssssssss.

Thoughts on digital skimpwear…

Thoughts on digital skimpwear… published on No Comments on Thoughts on digital skimpwear…

Whenever I see pretty much anything by powerage or Exnem, I’m like, Damn — that’s gotta chafe! I certainly understand that one of the main points of digital is that it don’t chafe. I mean, heck — that’s why I have a whole section of my digital wardrobe devoted to fetishy stuff. But it tends to be more like models of things I’ve seen in real life, as opposed to stuff like, uh, this [Exnem’s G3F Spike and Chain].

Wtf is that? I mean, I know what it is, and it looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Just about as useful as putting buckles on underwear. Whyyyyyyy? I guess injury by clothing is t3h sexx0rs. Or something.

“I’m asking you as a person / Is it a crime? / Do you think that you could fall in love / With Frankenstein?”

“I’m asking you as a person / Is it a crime? / Do you think that you could fall in love / With Frankenstein?” published on No Comments on “I’m asking you as a person / Is it a crime? / Do you think that you could fall in love / With Frankenstein?”

Been listening to some New York Dolls, the eponymous album only, in the last few days. Also been trying to figure out what’s going on in Frankenstein, since I can only understand about 50% of the words, and it drives me up the wall. Let’s see if I can follow along with the lyrics…


We start off in New York City. Something [bad] must have recently happened. All the kids are fucked up. Probably has something to do with Frankenstein.


The person to whom the speaker is singing used to be pretty cool, dancing, tripping, figuring out what was what. Behind that nonchalance, though, lurked the listener’s sense that Frankenstein would start controlling their life.


So now Frankenstein’s back, trying to run the listener’s life, telling them that everything they’re doing is wrong. The listener feels like shit because of Frankenstein’s treatment and takes it out on the local scene, trying to manipulate it in the way that Frankenstein manipulates them.


Is it wrong to fall in love with someone like Frankenstein? Maybe the listener could use a friend. Sure, Frankenstein might be misunderstood, but still — he makes the listener feel trapped in their own home.


The listener knows they’re not alone, right? Even though the role doesn’t quite fit, even though the listener’s gonna get it, the speaker can’t keep quiet. It’s time to scream this story in the streets.


The speaker concludes with a single serious question: Does the listener really think this is going anywhere?


Hmmm, okay, now I clearly understand what the song’s about. Looking at the lyrics, I read it as a description of an abusive relationship, as observed by the sympathetic singer. The singer contrasts the listener’s earlier, pre-Frankenstein happiness with their behavior since meeting the nasty Frankenstein. Desperate and control freaky, the listener seems to be using Frankenstein’s own tactics on their social circle. The speaker perceives that the listener feels some sort of attachment to Frankenstein, but also feels lonely and oppressed. The speaker says that it’s okay to have friends besides Frankenstein and foresees nasty events in the listener’s future. Even though they love Frankenstein, Frankenstein ain’t ever gonna love them back.


The Wikipedia article on the album offers interpretations of the song about Frankenstein as New York City itself, working a transformative number on naive young people who flock to it.







Fairyland recently blogged a preview of its new FairyLine 60 line. The preview includes shots of a 60cm mermaid with an articulated tail in lovely translucent yellowish-brown resin. The number of tail joints seems to be greater than that of Soom’s mermaids, but less than that of Asleep Eidolon’s. I’m indifferent to the generically pretty head, so I’d definitely swap it out for something cooler, like an AOD Hui Xiang.


So there’s a 1:3 scale mermaid in my near future….

Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic

Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic published on No Comments on Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic

I detest characters who think that no means yes [fuckin’ Lovelace… >_> ], but I must admit I have a special depth of hatred for characters who manipulate others’ ambivalence.

For example, in no particular order:

  • Christian Grey. As I’ve discussed ad nauseam [most recently here], Ana thinks Christian’s pretty hot. However, he also terrifies her. Christian gives exactly zero shits about Ana’s terror. He assumes that her lust for him means that she wants him. He equates the presence of her lust with consent to sexual activity. Thus, in his mind, he is perfectly justified in raping her.
  • Frank from Rocky Horror. In my discussion of rape scenes I’ve missed, there are successive parts of RHPS in which Frank rapes both Brad and Janet. Both of them express distress in these scenes, as well as some indications that they’re turned on. Some twisted logic in Frank’s mind, same result.
  • That pervert in that movie who’s obviously watching that girl’s house, just waiting for her to give him an excuse to break, enter, scare her, and wangle her into his mind games. [Which movie? Find out below the cut.]


I have a particularly violent loathing for scenes according to the following template:

Protagonist [all by herself]: Hmmmm, should I do make this statement?

Audience: No!

Protagonist: I really shouldn’t.

Audience: Yes!

Protagonist: I mean, it’s not very nice…

Audience: Don’t say it!

Continue reading Home invaders, vampires, rapists, kidnappers, and other people who think intent is magic

50 Shades of Poooo, book 1, chapter 12: not missing it this time

50 Shades of Poooo, book 1, chapter 12: not missing it this time published on No Comments on 50 Shades of Poooo, book 1, chapter 12: not missing it this time

After having read Clarissa, which handled the whole rape scene plot in a frighteningly realistic manner, I repair to 50 Shades of Pooooooooo, chapter 12, location of a rape scene that I’ve apparently missed all the times I’ve looked at it. Continue reading 50 Shades of Poooo, book 1, chapter 12: not missing it this time

One of the things I especially dislike about rape scenes

One of the things I especially dislike about rape scenes published on No Comments on One of the things I especially dislike about rape scenes

…When I miss the rape scenes because I’m so inculcated, acculturated, and inured to depictions of normalized sexual assault that I gloss over them as examples of…well, not unproblematic sex, but at least not-rape scenes.


Rape scenes I have missed:


  • The bit in Rocky Horror where Frank tricks Brad into sex by pretending to be Janet and Janet into sex by pretending to be Brad.
  • The one in chapter 12 of 50 Shades of Poooooooooooo. Hat tip to Cliff Pervocracy for identifying and deconstructing it.

I figured out my main problem with romance novels.

I figured out my main problem with romance novels. published on No Comments on I figured out my main problem with romance novels.

I’m reading them from Clarissa’s perspective, in which all the women should be respected and allowed to live their lives on their own terms, without the male characters steamrolling them and assuming that the women really, truly want their hot bods, even if they express ambivalence or lack of interest. Let the women make up their own minds without being coerced.


Meanwhile, other people, who enjoy them much less critically, are reading them from Lovelace’s perspective. This point of view, in which intent is magic and we can obviously skip all the negotiation because they both know that, deep down, she really wants it, has a powerful hold on people, but…but…it’s just not how the world works.

The most horrific scene in Clarissa…

The most horrific scene in Clarissa… published on No Comments on The most horrific scene in Clarissa…

…is not actually the rape scene, in my opinion. It’s the scene in which [yet again] Clarissa has escaped Lovelace’s clutches and found refuge in some nice person’s house.

Lovelace finds out where she is and barges in. He claims that Clarissa is his wife. In excessive anger over a disagreement, she, the silly thing, is now denying their marriage. He has, however, come to take her home now.


Clarissa, understandably vibrating with fear and barely able to support herself at the sight of her jailer and abuser coming after her [yet again], says that she is not his wife. He is not her husband. He’s vile, horrible, contemptible, and mean, and she wants nothing to do with him.


And the women who stand between Clarissa and Lovelace, guarding Clarissa, don’t know what to do. They hold their ground in compassionate defense of the obviously terrified and distressed Clarissa. And yet they can’t dismiss Lovelace out of hand. He has cleverly predetermined the situation so that every statement of Clarissa’s may be interpreted as the unreasonably incensed blather of a hysterical wife. Plus he’s a straight white cis aristocratic dude, and, just as the women are used to deferring to him and his ilk, so he is used to receiving deference.


That, right there, is the horrifying crux of Clarissa: the realization that straight cis white rich dude privilege may be employed to break links of compassion, altruism, and resistance so that even allies start thinking that they should betray each other for a man’s favor. It’s this sort of scene that demonstrates the chilling omnipotence and inevitability of straight cis rich white dude privilege.

In such a setting, Clarissa’s choice to opt out of the toxic system entirely by dying appears less like the Instructive Apotheosis of Virtue and more like The Only Thing She Really Could Do. I pretty much loathe Heroine Deaths for the Promulgation of Moral Sentiment, but I can accept Clarissa’s death because, besides being morally sentimental, it arises straight out of Clarissa’s character, conflict, and setting. She chooses to die because, as the bulk of the novel demonstrates, it’s the sole action she can take on her own terms. It’s not a happy ending, obviously, but, given the fictional universe and its populace, it’s right and fitting and good. [The happy ending is when Lovelace dies. > :p ]

I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night.

I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night. published on No Comments on I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night.

No one really knows how long Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Clarissa, first published in 1748, is. The exhaustive story of a young rich white woman’s struggle for self-determination is, however, considered the longest novel in the English language. If you’d like to follow the story, I’ve modernized, condensed, and dramatized it for you in a single blog post below! You’re welcome. Continue reading I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night.

45 Things You’ll Never Hear Someone From Vermont Say

45 Things You’ll Never Hear Someone From Vermont Say published on No Comments on 45 Things You’ll Never Hear Someone From Vermont Say

From here, with my commentary.








  • The middle of the road is the best place to stop your car and take pictures of the leaves! We like to complain about leaf peepers as much as we complain about the weather. We’re also sometimes uncertain why they’re taking pictures of the leaves and why, if they like them so much, they just don’t take them back with them.
  • Who are those two guys that started that ice cream company? Ben and Jerry! We’re still sad that they sold out to Unilever.
  • I’ll take all of my groceries in plastic bags, please. This is implying that Vermonters tend to go for paper bags, their own bags, or no bags, but I dispute this, having seen plastic bags in use ubiquitously.
  • What’s your area code? ‘S’all 802, buddy.
  • You should probably shave your beard. I guess we don’t remove our facial hair here?
  • I wish more people would get married in rustic farm barns. “Rustic farm barns” is a tridundant phrase; we just call them “barns,” and they’re not some vintage shabby chic wedding destination in our view. If we’re talking wooden barns, those are the dilapidated structures all over the state that people either use as makeshift garages/sheds or just allow to slowly decompose by the side of the road.
  • I’d love some vanilla soft serve. It’s a vanilla creemee, not “soft serve,” and local tradition decrees that it [and any other flavors] must be advertised via large, handmade wooden cutout of a creemee in a cone.
  • I need something to put on my pancakes. Please pass the Aunt Jemima. We don’t use racist water, sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, here. We use what comes from sugar maples — so-called “REAL maple syrup,” the adjective being there to distinguish it from the swill that almost everyone else in the country counts as syrup.
  • No, I don’t know any farmers. Most of us know farmers…
  • You just moved here from Connecticut? Oh, you are definitely a Vermonter now. People who have moved here from out of state are called “flatlanders.” We tend not to consider people Vermonters unless they were born here, along with their parents, etc.
  • I bought so much stuff at Target today! We have no frickin’ Targets in this state, but plenty of Wal-Marts. What gives, Target?
  • There is no such thing as Champ the Lake Monster. We take our cryptid seriously.
  • I don’t own any flannel. Better statement: “I don’t dress in layers.”
  • Did you see that great billboard advertisement on I-89? We don’t have billboards in the state, so we always experience the shock of their ugliness whenever we cross the borders.
  • I never run into anyone I know! Vermont: a small town cleverly masquerading as a state.
  • I’ll pass on the craft beer; just toss me another Bud. Microbreweries proliferate.
  • I’ve never met anyone who smokes weed. I guess it’s ubiquitous, like real maple syrup.
  • I don’t eat organic food. I guess it’s ubiquitous, like real maple syrup.
  • This restaurant only serves local, farm to table food? No thanks. Locavore and farm-to-table movements have great support here, to the extent where we assume that all locally based restaurants should participate.
  • What’s a fiddlehead? It’s the unripe, rolled-up frond of certain types of fern, edible steamed or in salad.
  • Vermon-T. We swallow the T and insert a glottal stop.
  • Moun-T-ain. Insert glottal stop instead.
  • Spring is the season that comes right after winter. Nope, that’s mud season.
  • The weather here is so predictable. The only thing predictable is that we complain about it.
  • Rain in January? Yes! January is statistically our cold month; though we may have some rain for January thaw [or at least we did when our weather was more regular], we tend to get lots of snow then.
  • You have gluten intolerance? Good luck finding a restaurant to eat at. We apparently have lots of gluten-free options.
  • We are proud supporters of the University of Vermont football team! UVM doesn’t have one. We’re all about hockey instead.
  • You’re from New Jersey? Wow, that’s so cool! Flatlanders…! >_>
  • Let’s leave the beer brewing to the professionals. See statement on Bud.
  • Let’s go to Stowe for an inexpensive weekend getaway. Stowe is not cheap at all!
  • I’ll just quickly run into the store and grab what I need. I won’t talk to anyone, promise. See “small town” comment.
  • No more kale! “Eat more kale!” [Corollary: HISSSSSSSSSSS to Chick-Fil-A.]
  • The leaf peepers are leaving for the season? Nooooooooo! See comment on taking pictures of leaves.
  • I wish my neighbors lived closer. They live so close that they won’t go away.
  • I hate that we have to drive so far to go hiking. Getting anywhere is pretty much a hike.
  • Let’s move to Massachusetts! Some of us moved to get away from Massachusetts and have no desire to return.
  • I think I’ll just stay inside all weekend. We tend to like to frolic outside.
  • It’s snowing out, looks like school is going to be closed. Snow does not necessarily guarantee school closure; lots of ice and crappy back roads, however, tend to shut it down.
  • What’s Town Meeting Day? It’s when the local government gets stuff done.
  • Phish got started in Vermont? I had no idea. We tend to have some idea.
  • I sure wish there were more Subarus in this parking lot. Four-wheel drives like Subarus really help in the winter.
  • People go on vacation here? Really? Why? Some of us have deep, unreasoning love for this state.
  • The air is so dirty. I guess it’s cleaner than other places, but it’s really not that great over all.
  • This state has nothing going for it; I think it’s time to leave. “Deep, unreasoning love.”
  • Bernie who? The politician we’ve all been on a first-name basis with since the 1980s.


The power of the anime hair!!! or, What, philosophically speaking, is a shirt?

The power of the anime hair!!! or, What, philosophically speaking, is a shirt? published on No Comments on The power of the anime hair!!! or, What, philosophically speaking, is a shirt?

Jareth with anime hair and what may or may not be a shirt, depending on your definition of the word… Continue reading The power of the anime hair!!! or, What, philosophically speaking, is a shirt?

Vermont Doll Lovers St. Patrick’s/Easter meetup, 03/12/2016

Vermont Doll Lovers St. Patrick’s/Easter meetup, 03/12/2016 published on No Comments on Vermont Doll Lovers St. Patrick’s/Easter meetup, 03/12/2016

Never the Less made her debut at today’s VTDL meetup. I posted her photostory below, while the full complement of VTDL photos is, as usual, on the blog. Continue reading Vermont Doll Lovers St. Patrick’s/Easter meetup, 03/12/2016

Father of Lies IV: Lucian the psychopomp

Father of Lies IV: Lucian the psychopomp published on No Comments on Father of Lies IV: Lucian the psychopomp

Welcome, folks, to part IV of my enumeration of the strengths and weaknesses of Ann Turner’s YA novel of Salem witchcraft accusations, Father of Lies. Though Father of Lies founders under loads of anachronisms [particularly protagonist Lidda’s feisty feminism and her imaginary friend Lucian’s shirtless sex appeal], it accomplishes things that I have rarely seen in fiction. For one thing, Turner treats Lidda with respect and empathy, instead of the rank ableism seen in so many descriptions of people with mental illnesses. For another thing, Lidda’s relationship with Lucian depicts the exhilarating, ambiguous messiness of having a guide/guardian/friend/pest/sex object character in one’s head.


Though Lucian manifests as he does in large part because of Lidda’s mental illness, I’m referring to exhilarating, ambiguous, messy characters more generally. I’m talking about Lucian as one of those characters created by people — who may or may not have mental illnesses — in a desperate attempt to learn more about themselves. Let’s call them psychopomps, after those supernatural entities supposed in many religions to guide a dead person’s soul on its travels from its body to the realm of the dead. Anyway, when creators like Lidda personify unknown aspects of themselves as psychopomps, they can only go so far with their characterization. After all, we can’t delineate in detail what we don’t know about ourselves. We thus end up with imaginary people encompassing our unknown aspects and, as such, behaving in ways that we can’t fathom. Their unexpected actions and obscure [at least to our conscious minds] motivations make these characters seem like independent, separate beings. The knowledge that they provide can bring comfort and a sense of security. At the same time, their apparent otherness destabilizes the order that they were ultimately created to support. Throw some experimentation with sexuality and/or gender identity in there, and it’s an ambivalent whirl of excitement and panic. Turner never explicitly identifies Lucian as a psychopomp, but he acts just like one.


Lucian works as a wish fulfillment for Lidda. For example, he represents himself as older, smarter, and wiser than her. He sets himself up as a subversive teacher, claiming, “I have knowledge beyond your wildest dreams, you poor child, stuck in this backwater of a town” [p. 114]. In this way, he functions exactly as Lidda wants. Scared and confused by her unique perceptions, she wants to know why they occur, where they come from, and what they mean. She wants to be understood and to understand herself. Lucian, who implies that he has a handle on everything and a particular investment in Lidda learning his skills, is the ultimate wish fulfillment for a 14-year-old girl who has heard all her life from authority figures that she should sit down and shut up. In other words, he’s a person with power who treats Lidda as someone with potential and promise of her own.


Though Lidda gives Lucian traits of her fantasy authority figure, he’s mostly her match, her equal, her counterpart. To illustrate this, Turner makes him similar, but not identical, to his creator. Lidda experiences the world  less through language, analysis, and word-based thought and more through full-body perceptions of sensation. In a particularly illustrative scene, she thinks of Lucian singing, but she’s not really paying attention to the content of his song, so much as what it looks like: “Lidda felt the notes slide down her arms and legs, and circle up through her head; they had colors like sky birds — orange, yellow, blue, purple, and a kind of green almost beyond imagining, like the tiniest, brightest, newest leaf just before it unfurls, all curled in upon itself. That kind of green” [p. 151]. She concentrates on what words feel like and look like. Lucian has his own linguistic interests, but more based on semantics [e.g., what his name means]. Lidda senses intuitively when people are propagating bullshit around her, and Lucian gives her the words to precisely call it out. When they get along with each other, they form a team that gives Lidda enough confidence and courage to make her voice heard amidst the clamor of the witchcraft outbreak.


Even Lucian’s manipulative button pushing rings true for psychopompic characters. Lucian reassures Lidda that, whatever’s rotten in the state of Salem, it has nothing to do with her vaguely preternatural ability to detect bullshit and everything to do with feuding villagers lathering each other up into senselessness. Thus he turns her sense of isolation into a virtue of analytical detachment. At the same time, he urges her to laugh, dance, and behave in ways that earn her censure. In other words, he sometimes gives her a sense of comfort and security that she craves, while simultaneously provoking her to actions that make her feel frustrated and humiliated. His alternating niceness and snideness correlate to his status as both known and unknown creation. Lidda made him to help her make sense of the world; when he gives her answers, she looks on him favorably. However, when she reaches the limits of her knowledge, Lucian highlights her ignorance and seems nasty and arrogant. Being a part of Lidda, he knows exactly how to flatter her and make her feel good, but he also has enough intimacy to know where she’s most vulnerable, so he knows as well how to wound her. And yet she made him have what she wants — “truth and lies…and the wit to tell the difference” [p. 39] — so, even though he regularly irritates and unnerves her, she can’t stay away from him.


The cracks in Lucian’s facade of masterful superiority also help to characterize him as Lidda’s psychopomp. My favorite exposure of his limitations occurs when Lidda asks where he comes from. As Turner puts it, “There was an answering silence, then something that sounded almost like a cough, and a muted reply: That does not matter. You do not need to know that” [p. 118]. This is a moment that’s at once hilarious, pathetic, and realistic. It’s hilarious because, at least for a moment, Lucian quits acting like some omnipotent, omniscient magical being and suddenly comes across as an fallible person who’s embarrassed and possibly ashamed about something. It’s pathetic because, being part of Lidda, he obviously partakes of her self-examining anxiety, but, even though she bares the inside of her head to him, he doesn’t reciprocate. Instead, he keeps from her the source of his perturbation. Finally, it’s realistic that he avoids answering Lidda’s inquiry about his origins because Lidda, who made him, has no idea what said origins are. She can’t answer the question that she created Lucian to answer, so of course he’s going to squirm out of a point-blank response.


As a figment of Lidda’s mind tasked ultimately with helping Lidda [though his methods often seem infuriating and questionable], Lucian works desperately on her behalf to assuage her worst fear: that she’s going to be alone forever. When her mental illness causes her suffering, it literally separates her from the rest of the world. At several times in the novel, she tries to escape hallucinations by running outside, away from the dinner table and her family to the outhouse. To put it another way, at her most miserable, Lidda sits in a stinking shit heap, sobbing, overwhelmed by inarticulate confusion that she can share with no one. Thus Lucian’s first words — “It is lonely here… I yearn for warmth…to be in a living being…” [p. 4] — basically describe the chill sense of divorce with which Lidda associates her lowest points of depression. Because he’s part of her, he knows exactly what such excruciating despair is like.


Like Lidda, Lucian has no interest in remaining in a frigid shit heap, so he does everything he can to ensure that he and Lidda avoid such a fate. That’s why he says to Lidda, “Yes, girl, I am here, with you always” [p. 56]. She fears being alone, with its stench of sadness [and shit], so she makes up someone who, even though he doesn’t always answer her summons, proves a more constant companion than the fickle townsfolk.  That’s why he says, “I do not wish you to marry. …Because you belong to me” [p. 38]. Realistically speaking, if Lidda did not marry, she would end up without a husband, without the opportunity to have legitimate offspring, without children, without a family — in some sense, she would be without context, without identity, without a place in her Puritan society. On the margins of the community, she would face general suspicion, disapproval, and a certain measure of ostracism. Single life would bring some of the loneliness that threatens her so much. Terrified by that possibility, she tries to change it from a negative absence of family, friends, and community support to a positive presence of an internal companion, guide, and friend. Lucian is such a strong, vivid creation in part because Lidda wants so much not to be alone that she attempts to make herself a friend out of a piece of her mind.

As Father of Lies closes, Lidda interrupts the hearings at the Court of Oyer and Terminer, describing the witchcraft outbreak as not Devil-induced suffering, but lies wielded on purpose by people who want to harm others. Fearing that she will bring accusations of witchcraft upon herself or, at the very least, that she will subject her family to ignominy if she stays, she runs away from home. She plans to travel on foot to Boston and obtain “a position in some household” [p. 235]. Her brother gives her a little money to help her. Lucian, who has been absent for a while, reappears, congratulating her for her bravery, and — scene.

In other words, at the end of the book, Lidda separates herself from her family and social supports. Now on the aforementioned margins of society, she faces an uncertain life. With “a strange excitement,” Lidda contemplates the possibility of being herself, “with no one to criticize her” [p. 235]. However, the fact remains that her worst fear — solitude — has come to pass. Furthermore, since her behavior has reduced her already limited prospects as an unmarried young Puritan woman in Massachusetts Bay Colony, her chances for an expansive, uncensored, liberated existence remain dubious. I think Turner is trying for a happy ending here, but I don’t buy it.

Over in my [cynical] head, I imagine that the book stops at this particular moment because Turner doesn’t want to look several years into the future. In a few years, Lidda may have found a place as a servant, but her masters abuse her physically and emotionally. Upon perceiving her symptoms of mental illness, her masters berate her as “distracted in her wits,” which was the term back then for being mentally disturbed. The family she works for claims that no one else would accept such an unreliable worker, and they use her fear to keep her with them as a convenient punching bag. Dancing, laughing, and speaking up now seem like luxuries for Lidda, who expends more effort on mere survival. Lucian no more promises delights, but he does teach her skills of dissociation, which help with the pain. At the same time, even though she vowed in the past not to consider it, marriage to a fellow servant ten years older is looking good. He lacks any sort of “spirit,” as Lucian would say, but he’s unobjectionable, and he has nearly saved up enough to strike out on his own. Right now, that looks like the best she can hope for. The [much more realistic] end.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Part III here.


Part V here.



“Richard O’Brien disappoints fans with transgender rant” — and Gay Star News misses the point.

“Richard O’Brien disappoints fans with transgender rant” — and Gay Star News misses the point. published on No Comments on “Richard O’Brien disappoints fans with transgender rant” — and Gay Star News misses the point.

Failure and disappointment abound on multiple levels here. First of all, Richard O’Brien is apparently an essentialist transphobic stinker who thinks he knows what people are better than the people themselves.

Second of all, Gay Star News, source of the subject line of this post, completely misses the actual story. The actual story is not that Richard O’Brien disappoints people. The actual story is that Richard O’Brien ranks right up there with Germaine Greer in transmisogynist bigotry. They’re locked in deadly serious competition for who can drag the worst concepts from the 1970s into the 2010s.

As a related aside, O’Brien’s statements illustrate the direct connection between transmisogyny and queer coding, at least in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. As I have noted elsewhere, queer coding is a process whereby a fictional character, almost always an antagonist, is loaded with stereotypical signifiers of non-heteronormativity as a way of making them look even worse. Male characters typically suffer queer coding in the form of caricatures of femininity.

In RHPS, the original script and lyrics to which were written by transmisogynist extraordinaire O’Brien, Frank, l’antagoniste, is queer coded through a performance of negative femininity. Just too much in all the wrong ways, Frank wears too much makeup and too little clothing. His heels are too high, his reactions too hammy and unhinged. Excessive in vanity and overly voracious in sexual appetite, he epitomizes the worst traits associated with femininity.  Because he’s too femme, he’s seen as silly, vapid, and trivial. Queer coding makes him more contemptible, demonizable, and dehumanizable.

Besides reducing antagonists and making them easier to dislike, queer coding can even go further and narratively justify bumping off an antagonist. Frank ends up so overdetermined with transmisogynist traits that the characters easily move from despising him to killing him. Riff Raff [who is, significantly, played by O’Brien] connects Frank’s queer coding with his demise in the following lines: “Frank N. Furter, it’s all over / Your mission is a failure / Your lifestyle’s too extreme.” For “lifestyle,” read “gay lifestyle,” and the queer connection becomes apparent. Queer coding thus contributes to a variant of the trans panic defense, in which the movie would like you to believe that Frank was asking to be murdered because he was just so…well, you know!

Anyway, it’s sure nice of O’Brien to make his rotten transmisogyny so obvious. It makes pointing out the multifarious problems of RHPS way easier.

Anyone who pulls the “It’s just a movie” riposte clearly has never hated themselves for years and years after watching queer coded antagonists contend with vast amounts of narrative transmisogyny.


I rescind my “trans yay” tag, applied several years ago to a discussion, also on Gay Star News [and also with an inaccurate tag line], about Richard O’Brien’s supplemental hormone use and statements about himself.

Father of Lies part III: Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams

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Welcome back to the third part of my extensive rant about Ann Turner’s Father of Lies, a YA historical fiction novel about a teenager, Lidda, with mental illness and a very interesting character inside her head, Lucian. This book does some things horribly and other things excellently. As I’ve detailed, Turner’s version of 1690s Salem during the witchcraft outbreak falls apart under multiple anachronisms. At the same time, the author gives Lidda and Lucian dignity and seriousness almost never granted to fictional people with disabilities, especially when said people are written about by authors without disabilities. Reading Father of Lies is an exercise in frustration, as it’s the novelistic equivalent of the little curly-haired girl of nursery rhymes. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, but, when it’s bad, it’s horrid!

Sometimes, just to put my poor emotions through the wringer, Father of Lies manages to be very, very good and horrid simultaneously, mostly as far as Lucian is concerned. As Lidda’s most active hallucination, he shares her restless contempt for the restrictions of her small-town life, as well as the repressive model of Puritan femininity to which Lidda is supposed to adhere. At the same time, he crystallizes Lidda’s often-inchoate tendencies toward physical rebellion [dancing, tree climbing, not wearing her stays] into an articulate stance of license in all respects. He mocks the villagers’ petty, dissembling behavior; he pushes Lidda to speak out in favor of the truth. He even challenges Puritan religious orthodoxy when he asserts that he has nothing to do with God and then helps Lidda to the conclusion that witches do not actually exist. While he directs her fidgetiness into intellectual rebellion, he also adds sexual aspects to Lidda’s disobedience, as, for example, whenever he appears half naked and then comments that she would look good naked [“You would like being naked, girl. No stays or petticoats to trap you like a snared rabbit” (pp. 102-103)]. In response, Lidda views the smart, sly, sexy, borderline blasphemous Lucian as a private ally, imperceptible to everyone except herself, and spends a lot of time trying to figure him out and please him. His running commentary on her experiences and her disputes with him form the entertaining, engaging core of the book.


As the overview in the previous paragraph intimates, I think Lucian is a wonderful character, but he also has serious flaws in his construction. Just as Lidda is essentially modern into her proto-feminist critique of Puritan beliefs and culture, so Lucian seems to have time traveled from the 21st century back to the tail end of the 17th, a fact most apparent when you take a look at his appearance, described in breathless detail on page 88:


“Then, like something becoming clear under the surface of a rushing stream, piece by piece the creature assembled himself so that Lidda could see him in the darkness of her head: He unfolded his body, starting with his long, elegant feet; up his lean legs, encased in shining black breeches; his bare torso became visible, gleaming as if from distant firelight; then his long smooth arms and hands with exquisite pointed fingers; and last his head, which was frighteningly handsome, more glorious than anything she had ever known, with black hair cascading down his back, waving in an invisible breeze. Complete, there, unlike anything ever seen before in the drab confines of her village.


“But his eyes! Silver like a running stream — a straight nose — and a mouth that curved in an intimate smile over pointed teeth.”


Given that your average Puritan man wore layers of clothing, including a hat, at almost all times and regularly tied his hair back or wore a wig, where does this hatless hottie come from? And what’s with the dramatic, flowing locks, sharp teeth, and silver eyes? Lucian looks like the bishonen fever dream of someone who’s been reading too much vampire romance manga. His sexiness is discordantly ahistorical. [“Hey, everyone, it’s Discordantly Ahistorical Sexiness, opening for Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams!” I imagine both of these groups as New Wave in sound, though Discordantly Ahistorical Sexiness looks like Cotton Mather by way of Adam Ant, while Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams looks like William Stoughton crossed with classic V-kei. Incidentally, both of these groups sound awesome!]


Just as I wonder where Lidda’s image of Lucian comes from, so I wonder where she gets his personality. Lidda uses Lucian as a way to consolidate and refine her iconoclastic thoughts and practices, some of which do have some grounding in her own experience. For example, Lidda’s criticism of Puritan life derives from contrasting it with what little she has heard about the practices of local Native Americans. When Lidda resents wearing her stays, she reminds herself that Indians don’t wear such uncomfortable clothing. Since the Puritans at large were scared shitless by the Indians, whom they regarded as marauding tools of Satan, I can’t believe that a Puritan teenager would admire the dress of the natives. However, that’s what Turner writes, and, while Lidda’s distaste for Puritan fashion rings false historically speaking, it works in a certain way. Lidda’s contrast between Puritan and Indian dress gives a real-world context for her annoyance with restrictive clothes. Thus Lidda’s — and thus, by extension, Lucian’s — interest in loose clothing and the idea of naked frolicking [as well as, now that I think about it, Lucian’s penchant for hanging around in the equivalent of underwear] makes sense.


I can see where Lidda gets Lucian’s concepts of physical rebellion, but I remain at a loss to explain Lucian’s [i.e., Lidda’s] proto-humanist critic of the Puritan religion and worldview. Obviously people other than Puritans lived in and around Salem in the 1690s who could have provided alternatives to the Puritan perspective. Turner mentions two possibilities in Father of Lies: the local Indians and then Tituba and John Indian. The New England natives, however, appear only in the context of a clothing contrast, so they do not serve as a philosophical counterpoint. Likewise, Tituba and John Indian, characterized as dark-skinned servants of Samuel Parris who look and speak differently than the white people, function as contrasts of appearance, not as contrasts of thought. Turner does not set up either Indians or Tituba and her husband as possible influences on Lucian’s anti-Puritan perspectives.


The most historically believable model for Lidda and Lucian’s proto-humanism would have been the Quakers. The Puritans mistrusted the Quakers as they mistrusted the Indians, but, since the Quakers were supposedly civilized and also white speakers of English, like the Puritans, the Puritans tolerated them somewhat more. According to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, however, Quaker beliefs posed a significant threat to the Puritan establishment. Puritans viewed religion as a hierarchical chain of command with God at the top, who then imparted His Word to the [male] ministers, who then imparted it to the people. Quaker theology eschewed the patriarchal rigidity of Puritan practice because it emphasized each individual’s direct, personal experience of God. Both men and women, in Quaker belief, had the capacity for Inner Light — their term for personal knowledge of the Divine. Several aspects of Quaker belief — their insistence on a unique, individualized knowledge of God, their potential for equality of men and women before God, and their resistance to being ordered around from the pulpit — could have convincingly correlated to to some of Lidda and Lucian’s contrarian views. However, the Quakers do not appear in Father of Lies, and so my question remains. With no in-world role models for her modern, anti-Puritan rhetoric, how in the hell does Lidda develop Lucian’s sophisticated, occasionally ironic analysis and detachment?

While I’m discussing Lucian’s failures as a character, I would just like to say that I still can’t get over Lidda’s easy acceptance of him as a non-demonic entity. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, this makes no sense, as both devils and angels were real and ubiquitous to your average Puritan. Therefore, if someone like Lucian appears out of thin air and starts chatting with you [and he’s not someone you recognize and thus a spirit], he’s either a devil or an angel. Although devils may disguise themselves as angels and try their hardest to fool you, you can usually determine the nature of an apparition by its topics of discussion. Is it, for example, giving you advice on a cure for your sick family member or exhorting you to renew your commitment to God? If it encourages you to support Puritan society, it’s an angel, and you can trust it. If, however, it recommends swimming naked, doubting the existence of witches, and otherwise contradicting the tenets of Puritan society, it’s a devil, and you should resist it by quoting Scripture, praying, and loudly proclaiming your devotion to God. In other words, everyone around Lidda would, at most, interpret Lucian as a demon and tell him to shove off or, at the very least, have serious reservations about him, but she doesn’t.

Lidda’s welcome of Lucian represents a problem insofar as her entire culture would read him as a devil and a generally bad, unwanted thing. It’s also a problem because Lucian characterizes himself as demonic, but Lidda doesn’t really seem to care. He tells her very early on [p. 12], “Heaven has nothing to do with this, girl,” implying that the other place, Hell, does. Slightly later, when Lidda asks who he is, he says, “You may call me Lucian, light bringer. … I deal in truth and lies, and to you I give the wit to tell the difference” [p. 39]. He might as well say, “Hi, I’m Lucifer, and I’m a fallen angel,” especially since Lucifer, another name for the fucking Devil, means light bearer in Latin. Of course, at this point in the story, I’m screaming at Lidda, “He just equated himself with the Devil and told you he was a sneaky bastard — don’t trust him! And, if you want to be historically accurate, run to your nearest minister for spiritual guidance!” But nope — fictional characters never listen when I yell at them.

As an aside, though, I suspect that Lucian’s oblique comparison of himself to Lucifer constitutes another historical inaccuracy, mostly because I don’t think Puritans referred to the Devil by that name. I’ve read an exhaustive amount about the Salem witchcraft outbreak, and I remember primary sources referring to “the Devil” and “Satan.” Even when warning that the Devil could deceive people in the appearance of an angel, the clergy commentators at the time apparently didn’t remark on the Devil as “the fairest of the fallen” — or, at least, not as far as I know. Then again, I’m not conversant with the history of appellations for the Devil, so I could be wrong.

Yet again, I have gone on much longer than expected and hit my bedtime. More later. Maybe, in the next section, I’ll finally get around to what I think is so awesome about Lucian.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Part IV here.

Part V here.

NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: transactions and evaluation

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I attended the NERDS Show to meet fellow doll fans and new dolls. I hoped that I would sell some stuff, preferably enough to break even, and maybe find some doll stuff to buy, but I didn’t really expect to. I was therefore happily surprised to a) offload some stuff I didn’t want and b) acquire some stuff that I did.


In terms of riddances, I sold a Sleeping Elf/Tinybear Bon Bon [$125.00] and a fur wig [$5.00]. I got rid of a pair of Dikadoll jointed hands in a sale [$30.00] + partial trade [wig]. That was more than enough to cover the expense of table and room rental [$35.00], and I even got a small chunk of change to put toward taxes.


In terms of acquisitions, I picked up two freebies: a leotard and a sparkly overskirt. The second will work for Isabel, but the first may not be adequately modifiable for her, though it will certainly fit a narrower 1:6 scale doll. No pictures.


I took pictures of my more exciting acquisitions.


Continue reading NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: transactions and evaluation

NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: Sacred Stones Studio, LuckyXIII’s dolls

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The owners from Sacred Stones Studio in Connecticut were kind enough to give information about owner, maker, and sculpt for all their dolls, as well as credits for wigs, faceups, and outfits, not to mention character sketches for a significant number. Very entertaining! All information about Sacred Stones dolls comes directly from said signs.

Continue reading NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: Sacred Stones Studio, LuckyXIII’s dolls

NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: swap meet table, CatalystFlours, and Holy Calamity

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Lyrajean and I conveniently sat next to the most popular area of the show: the swap table. Besides things available for sale or trade, the swap table also held a bunch of dolls belonging to Missi. Continue reading NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: swap meet table, CatalystFlours, and Holy Calamity

NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: our table + Maverick and Madison’s

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Lyrajean and I started bright and early for Lowell, MA, yesterday, leaving my house at 7:00 AM for the long-awaited NERDS Show. I brought Yamarrah, not for sale, but to attract attention to the various clothes and small resin items I was selling.  Lyrajean hauled along a few display peoples, but mostly a yard sale’s worth of furniture in various scales, as well as clothes she had made.


We traveled without incident until we approached Lowell. The city, which started off as a mill town, features densely packed, narrow streets, the lay-out complicated by canals and the Merrimack River. This lay-out probably worked fine before cars, but it’s a clusterfuck for automotive traffic. Because it’s so hemmed in by water, Lowell cannot easily expand its streets for the usual complement of cars + bikes + pedestrians, so it accommodates all modern-day travel by creating a labyrinth of one-way streets. Somehow this gets people where they’re supposed to go, but in a manner that is neither logical, nor expected, nor easily discernible by the casual visitor. Let’s just say we had some difficulty getting around in Lowell. Fortunately we had budgeted time for getting lost, so we arrived at the Western Ave. Studios before the show began.

But we made it! Western Ave. Studios, a previously light industrial space converted into a warren of artists’ studios, reminds me favorably of artists’ studios in the South End. The NERDS Show set up in the Onyx Room. Painted black, windowless except for a skylight, and strung with disco balls and paper lanterns, the Onyx Room looked like a great place for a dance party or theater in the round. Round display tables, where people could show off their dolls, were distributed in the entry way, while about ten rectangular vendor tables, including ours, lined the inside perimeter. Some clusters of upholstered chairs in the center provided a space for mini meetups. Right by the off-street parking, the bathrooms, and all the studios participating in the Western Ave. Studios’ open studios event that day, the Onyx Room was optimally situated to attract not just doll enthusiasts, but also people who came for the open studios. In short, the Onyx Room proved the best possible place to have the show, with the sole reservation being that the lack of natural light made photos a challenge.

Lyrajean and I set up our wares all over our table. Good thing I had much less stuff than she, as her stuff was literally stacked in layers. As I have never staffed a vendor table, I did not know what to bring beyond my goods, my tablet computer [in case people wanted to use Paypal], cash, and my camera + memory card, of course. Thus I tossed in paper, pens, plastic bags, tent cards, an extension cord, water bottle, snacks, painkillers [as I fell on the ice last week and banged an unpadded part of my ass], even my cell phone [which usually never leaves my house]. That seemed to be a comprehensive array of supplies, although, in future, I will also bring hand cream and a snot rag. I will also eat a substantial lunch [not a bag of Deep River rosemary and olive oil chips, however delicious they may be] before the event starts.

I set up Yamarrah on Jareth’s “crotch stand” [i.e., a stand of adjustable height with a U-shaped clip that a doll can situate their crotch in] with one her favorite creemees to attract attention. As Lyrajean observed, she did a very good job of it. Her bright and unusual styling caught the eye of passersby, as did the fact that she was standing up in a naturalistic position. Anyway, I have decided to acquire more “crotch stands” for my 1:3 scale BJDs. They’ve been sitting around [literally] for years and years, as I’ve always been worried that standing them without support would lead to shelf dives, but they just look so much cooler when upright occasionally!


Continue reading NERDS Show, Lowell, MA, 03/05/2016: our table + Maverick and Madison’s

Father of Lies part II: disability = difference

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I just reread Father of Lies by Ann Turner, and I both love it and hate it in equal measure. Briefly put, it’s about Lidda, an unconventional Puritan girl who lives in the time of the Salem witchcraft outbreak. She feels compelled to denounce her town’s mass panic over the supposed machinations of Satan. Her developing relationship with an invisible man inside her, Lucian, who encourages her defiant, rebellious behavior and claims to give her the power to see the truth of the witchcraft accusations, makes her life somewhat more complicated. Much to my dismay, Turner completely misrepresents Salem, a failure that I have discussed earlier at great length. As the Goblin King would say, “What a pity,” because Turner does so well at other aspects of the story. For example, her depiction of Lidda and Lucian’s relationship — indeed, Lidda’s mental illness in general — is powerful, sensitive, nuanced, rich, and basically everything that I wish her treatment of Salem was.


Regarding Lidda’s mental illness, it is neither a surprise nor a spoiler that she has one. The Library of Congress data at the front of the book categorizes Father of Lies as a book about “1. Manic-depressive illness — Fiction,” even before “2. Trials (Witchcraft) — Fiction.” If that ain’t explicit enough, Turner dedicates the book to “all those with bipolar disorder who work so hard to make lives for themselves.” She also includes an afterword entitled About Bipolar Disorder, in which she makes it clear that all of Lidda’s strange and frightening perceptions [racing thoughts, seeing auras, uncontrollable movement, hallucinations] may be adequately explained by the disorder. Though she concludes with an open question about Lucian’s reality, Turner obviously characterizes him as a hallucination, an unreal product of Lidda’s imagination, and thus the most salient symptom of her mental illness.

Okay, so Lidda has a mental illness, and she directs much of her time, energy, and interest to Lucian, a person who does not exist outside of her head. Now, if this were a typical book written by an author without a mental illness and/or characters in their head, Lidda’s mental illness and her relationship with Lucian would be horrible barriers to happiness, fulfillment, or satisfaction. Lidda’s inability to be like everyone else would cause her no end of distress; her relationship with Lucian would just highlight for her what she was missing in relationships with people outside her head. In other words, she would be wretched and miserable because of her mental illness. She would only attain peace through managing her symptoms, denying her unique perceptions, and almost certainly killing off Lucian. And the narrative would stink of condescending pity for the poor little mentally disabled protagonist.


But this is not your typical book written by someone without a mental illness [and, I’m assuming, without characters like Lucian in her head]. Nope, in fact, Turner takes both Lidda and Lucian seriously in Father of Lies. While definite that Lidda has a mental illness, of which Lucian is a particularly egregious manifestation, Turner accords Lidda robust characterization without ableist authorial pity. Because of her mental illness, Lidda suffers physical and emotional pain that those around her do not: when she feels chilled and overheated in rapid succession, for example, or when she panics upon seeing flames emanating from her sister’s head. Yet she also experiences unshared joys: the sense of flight and freedom in a wild onrush of thoughts, the secret solace of a friend inside her who admires her for those traits that people around her chastise. As Turner writes it, Lidda’s mental illness makes her life different from that of most people around her, and it frequently contributes to the difficulties she faces. However, Lidda’s mental illness is never shown as inherently bad, wrong, pathetic, or burdensome. It may be disabling on occasion, but mostly it’s just a difference upon which the author places no negative judgment.

Turner’s respect for Lidda comes across most subtly and pervasively in the way that Lucian is written. As noted, Turner’s descriptions of Lucian as a voice in Lidda’s head, a sensation centered in her belly, and sometimes a shifting, flickering form on the wall demonstrate to the reader that he is an imaginary, unreal hallucination and byproduct of Lidda’s mental illness. To Lidda, however, he is a true, concrete, separate individual with his own agenda and personality. She jokes with him, argues with him, asks his advice, wonders where he goes when he won’t talk to her, fantasizes about him, and otherwise treats him like a real person. Turner reports all of Lidda’s interactions with Lucian in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner. Turner never looks down on Lidda for believing in Lucian, nor does she invite the reader to do so.  Avoiding the evaluative and contemptuous distance endemic to so many portrayals of people with disabilities and/or mental illness, Turner’s portrait of Lidda shows that she is mentally ill, but also fully human, fully sympathetic, and fully dignified.

I must note that Turner’s treatment of Lidda isn’t perfect, verging as it does on the stereotype of Super Crip with Compensatory Powers. In the concluding paragraph of the afterword, Turner writes, “Was Lidda mad, or was she saner than the villagers? You decide” [p. 239]. Ignoring the artificially binary choice, we can discern that Turner wants us to answer yes to both questions. She wants us to think that, yes, Lidda was “mad” or mentally ill, and, yes, she was “saner” — or, more precisely, more reasonable and accurate in her analysis of the witchcraft outbreak — than the villagers. In fact, because Turner has Lucian tell Lidda that he gives her the wit to separate truth from lies, Turner effectively argues that Lidda’s reasonable, accurate analyses derive directly from her mental illness. Like Daredevil, Professor X, Daphne in Heroes, or any other superhero who loses some capacity, but then gains a magical ability that allows them to do way more than they ever did and thus basically renders the lost capacity irrelevant, Lidda has the superpower of seeing the truth. Her superpower comes from her mental illness and reinforces her unfortunate status as an insufferable Visionary Before Her Time Doomed to Pass Her Days Among the Small-Minded Masses. [See my analysis of this anachronistic concept in part I.] In other words, Turner risks defining Lidda by — and thus reducing her to and objectifying her with — her disability. Turner’s sympathetic and respectful treatment of Lidda ensures Lidda’s full humanization, but the deleterious authorial tendency to objectification yet remains.


Despite my caveat, I generally approve of Turner’s deployment of mental illness in Father of Lies. Though it occasionally smells like a crashingly obvious metaphor that Turner uses to highlight the “true” “madness” at play [i.e., the anti-witchcraft panic], Lidda’s mental illness mostly functions with a refreshing realism. Sometimes it contributes to her distress, sometimes to her happiness, always to her unique interpretation of reality. While Lidda’s mental illness sometimes estranges her from people and causes her difficulties because her perceptions don’t accord with others’, Turner does not ask the reader to pity Lidda because of her disability. The matter-of-fact way in which Turner reports on Lidda’s treatment of Lucian demonstrates that Lidda recognizes her difference from other people, but does not think any worse of herself for it. In a culture where the treatment of people with disabilities defaults to snide objectification, Turner’s well-rounded, compassionate characterization of Lidda is a radical [and depressingly uncommon] argument for disability rights.


Well, it looks like I don’t have time tonight to expatiate about Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams. More later….

Part I here.

Part III here.

Part IV here.

Part V here.

Ann Turner’s Father of Lies part I: flunking Salem

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Two kinds of books automatically draw my interest: 1) those about the Salem witchcraft outbreak and 2) those about girls or women who talk to people in their heads and fear that they might be going insane. A book about a girl who talks to someone in her head and fears that she might be going insane in the context of the Salem witchcraft outbreak will thus make me drop everything and read. Since Ann Turner’s Father of Lies — featuring fourteen-year-old Lidda as the girl in question and Lucian as the ambiguous person inside her — combines both of these interests, you can see why I snatched it up eagerly. Unfortunately, Turner uses these combustible, promising subjects to tell what I consider is the wrong story.

First, a little plot summary. Lidda, as I have mentioned, lives in the Puritan colony of Massachusetts, on the verge of the eighteenth century. She has no desire to comport herself as expected; she does not want to be a sober, modest, God-fearing wife. She likes the tales of murder and flirtation in the Bible, but has no patience for the apocalyptic visions of doom and punishment that the ministers conjure up regularly. She would rather dance, wear bright colors, climb trees, and speak her mind. She wishes that she lived someplace more exciting than Salem.

As if Lidda’s inability to accept any aspect of the Puritan status quo wasn’t enough, two other complications mess up her life. First of all, she has these episodes with inconsistent symptoms. Sometimes her thoughts race, and she can’t control them; sometimes her bodily sense of temperature is off, or she sees burning auras around people, or she can’t help but yell, laugh, or dance. During these episodes, this man, Lucian, appears inside her at intervals, alternately mocking and complimenting her. He claims that he has given her the power to tell truth from falsehood, but Lidda’s not sure what to do with that.

Lidda’s Lucian-granted power of discernment would certainly be an asset in the case of the second complication, which is, to put it simply, an infestation of evil. Starting with a few girls around Lidda’s age, people all over town have been falling into fits, tortured by the specters of witches. Most people believe that, indeed, devils and witches live among them, lurking, waiting for the chance to ambush and torture. But Lidda, who has overheard the afflicted girls planning their accusations, knows that there is no witchcraft here, only petty vengeance and a sense of self-importance magnified by a panicked mob mentality. How can she speak out against this dissembling without being called a witch herself?

…And here we arrive at the problem. Turner frames the central conflict of this story as the struggle of an insightful, independent-minded, rebellious girl to tell the truth in a repressive, ignorant, and sexist setting. Not just any repressive society either, but the Puritans, who, as conventional wisdom tells us, were quite possibly the most uptight, humorless, judgmental, prejudiced, irrational, retrograde, philosophically constipated, and generally miserable people in the history of the United States. In other words, Turner is writing not The Father of Lies, but The Tragedy of Lidda Johnson vs. the Evil Puritans, with Bonus Salem Witchcraft Outbreak to Illustrate Just How Evil the Puritans Really Are. And that’s the wrong story, mostly because it’s a historically inaccurate crock of shit.

If we want to be historically accurate [and much more interesting] about this, the theme of the story should be something like one girl’s struggle to identify good and evil in a society ravaged by war, violence, and political instability and characterized by fundamental uncertainty. And, just to make things even more difficult, let’s throw the entire community into a crisis of faith and pitch the girl into her own personal crisis about the nature of reality and her experiences. Woo hoo! Now step back, and watch the action begin.

Turner’s simplistic concept of the Puritans diverts her from one of the most salient aspects of the setting: the constant terror. Her portrayal of the witchcraft outbreak as cruel games orchestrated by some power-drunk girls, which were then enhanced by gullibility and rabble-rousing, completely ignores the levels of pain, suffering, and fear that these people lived with on a daily basis. First of all, they lived in a culture of rudimentary, ineffective medicine and high mortality [especially of mothers and kids], when so many babies died young that they just recycled the dead kids’ names for the next ones to be born. Second of all, they lived in New England, which, with its long, snowy, cold winters, impassable mud season, and short, hot summers, is a climatological craphole. Third of all, back then, Salem was on an unstable, war-torn frontier, isolated from what the Puritans considered civilization [i.e., Great Britain] by an entire ocean. People died in wars against the French and Abenaki all the time. Indians kidnapped, tortured, and killed settlers just miles away. Everyone knew someone who had died in such violence. In summary, Salem was not a good place to live; physical suffering was ubiquitous.

Puritan religious beliefs compounded the bodily suffering by adding spiritual and emotional dimensions. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony believed that they were born sinful. They would not know if they were part of the elect — that is, if they would go to Heaven — until they died and actually ended up there. God determined who was saved and who was damned according to some secret process that no human could fathom and that no human could affect. Not even good works and piety could guarantee one’s place among the elect. Furthermore, assuming that one was saved was arrogance of the worst sort. One should always interrogate oneself, looking inside for signs of worthiness. This left your average Puritan in an endless introspective recursion of helpless anxiety, vacillating between hope that they were Heaven-bound and terror that they weren’t.

With this information in mind, we can see how the Salem witchcraft outbreak is not primarily about silly, superstitious people being easily whipped into a pointless panic, as Turner would have it. It’s more about people who, already on edge, physically miserable, and emotionally tortured, find themselves besieged by their worst nightmares. Let’s face it — if, on top of the shitty weather and the high mortality and the dubious health care and the upheaval of frontier life and the casualties of war and the threats of Indian invasion and the fact that you’re a born wretched sinner and the possibility that, no matter what you do, you might not go to Heaven, you also have to deal with your neighbors having fits and your friends and enemies hurling witchcraft charges at each other and the Devil taking other people’s shapes and invisibly tormenting people and an ever increasing number of townsfolk confessing to alliance with the Devil, you might be slightly concerned that reality as you know it appears to be coming apart at the seams. Please note that I am not discounting the superstitions, racism, classism, sexism, religious bigotry, and socioeconomic factors that shaped the Salem witchcraft outbreak. The point I’m trying to make here is that every single person affected by the Salem witchcraft outbreak faced a fundamental, epistemic terror that led them to see witchcraft as both a personal and a community threat.

While the historical Salem and environs labored under a burden of fear, Turner’s Salem lacks such pervasive anxiety. Lidda herself epitomizes this anachronistic insouciance. For just a few examples:

  • The Puritans hated the Indians, feared them, thought them subhuman, murderous monsters, and elided them with the Devil, but Lidda does not see them as a threat. “Perhaps she would run off and join the Wabanaki Indians farther north,” Lidda thinks [p. 11]. “Were they as cruel as the tales said? She thought people exaggerated…” Instead, she fantasizes about running away to live with them because they don’t make their kids wear corsets.
  • Puritan society, including the ministers, who were considered general experts and role models, had a complicated relationship with magic. Even though belief in God and the Devil predominated and was supposed to exclude a belief in magic, the principles of sympathetic magic circulated as general cultural knowledge. Not everyone practiced magic, but Puritans thought that it could be a good supplement to more Godly activities — a way to hedge bets, so to speak. At one point, however, Lidda concludes that the baking of a witch cake, a piece of folk magic designed to identify the witches in their midst, arises from a combination of “fear, lies, and stupidity” [p. 83]. Lidda’s harsh condemnation of the cultural vocabulary of magic thus seems unconvincing.
  • All the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony worried about the state of their souls. They wondered incessantly about their damnation and/or salvation. While the Devil was always a real and imminent threat to them, the witchcraft outbreak turned him into a particularly personal adversary. You had to watch out for him because he was going to do everything in his power — corrupting your neighbors and family, sickening your animals and crops, sending nightmares and physical pains, even taking the shape of innocent people and plaguing you — to turn you to evil. However, the Devil does not seem to bother Lidda. When Lucian appears in her head, inciting her to rebellious behavior and implying that God has nothing to do with him, Lidda barely entertains the thought that he’s demonic. In fact, she rejects that conclusion: “How seductive he was, how beautiful, just as Reverend Parris spoke of the Devil, except she did not think Lucian was evil. Something else, but not — the Evil One” [p. 56]. She interprets him as her friend and a flattering source of evidence that she possesses perspicacity that everyone else lacks, even though Turner gives Lidda no reason for her conclusions.

In other words, Lidda is a thoroughly modern fourteen-year-old, inserted into Puritan Salem solely to foment righteous indignation at her plight in automatically sympathetic, modern-day readers. Ugh. The Noble Struggles of the Feisty Proto-Feminist in a Time of Sexist Bullshit is one of the least nuanced, least accurate, and least satisfying interpretations of any historical event ever. It’s also a cheap, lazy authorial ploy to gain reader engagement at the expense of sophisticated character development and historical depiction. Worst of all, it flattens out the glorious messiness and ambiguity of history into a boring linear teleology of increasing progressiveness, of which we — O glorious, enlightened moderns! — are naturally at the apex.

I’m so very disappointed that Father of Lies turns a volatile subject, full of my favorite narrative elements [marginalized women and girls, magic and magic users, the power of storytelling, endless self-examination, queries into the nature of perception and reality, moral ambiguity, existential dread], into a simplistic morality tale. In fact, my disappointment feels particularly acute because, for all that she botches the historical part of her fiction, Turner does a virtuoso, amazing, fascinating, suggestive job with the other part of her fiction: viz., Lucian. Tune in next time when I discuss the strengths of Father of Lies in a little segment I like to call Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams. [Hey, that’s a great name for a band…]

Part II here.

Part III here.

Part IV here.


Part V here.

Some more virtue names

Some more virtue names published on No Comments on Some more virtue names

I’ve long known about the Puritan virtue names that appear occasionally among New Englanders until about the mid-1800s; I mean hell — when one has a Submit as one’s greatx8 grandmother, one does have an incentive to learn where a name like that comes from. While some virtue names like Charity, Chastity, Faith, and Hope are used even today, others have died out.

Puritan virtue names that have died out include Submit and Thankful, but also two that I recently learned about: Silence and Desire. I’m sure the Desire is something like “desire for God’s love” or “desire to be saved.” The first seems more about not expressing and the second about expression, though. I find it especially interesting that, in the context where I learned these names, Silence and Desire were sisters.

Such names have always gotten me thinking, particularly Submit. Verb names, much less imperatives, are pretty rare [although, around these parts, we are familiar with Remember Baker, Green Mountain Boy and cousin of Ethan Allen]. Was having a command as a name considered odd back then? Did Submit and Remember go by nicknames or by the one-word sentences that served as their first names? What did Submit think of having that name?

Submit, Silence, and Desire just beg for me to write a story about them — well, mostly Submit. It would be a modern-day story about a modern person named Submit and her struggles with family, ancestry, expectations of femininity, and irritatingly overdetermined nomenclature. I envision Submit as coming from a long line of women with Puritan virtue names and being particularly pissed that she didn’t get something like Faith or Hope…or, hell, even Chastity, because at least you can shorten that to Chaz. But noooooo, her mom had to name her ironically in some sort of feminist statement [????]. I get the sense that she rattles off her standard greeting — “My name is Submit Delacroix, sierra-uniform-bravo-Mike-India-tango, like the verb” — through gritted teeth every single time, and if someone says anything more than “Oh” or “Okay,” they receive the Death Glare. >:(


Cakeland!!!! published on No Comments on Cakeland!!!!

If you put a gingerbread house, the feast scene in Pan’s Labyrinth, and any sort of Barbie furniture sets made by Mattel into a blender, something like like Scott Hove’s Cakeland would emerge. It’s a dizzyingly bright and confusing milieu of artificial sweets, flounced and swagged with endless curlicues of fake frosting. It’s — sniff! — so beautiful! This is definitely my aesthetic, though I feel that there need to be more skulls [human and avian] and switchblades.

P.S. That chandelier is making me HUNGRY!

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