Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, April 27, 2020


Openers:  For a few seconds after the shot rang out there was utter silence.

In the clearing of the humid forest the fawn-coloured, white-tailed deer sank slowly forward, its thin front legs struggling to keep it upright; then it lurched sideways, kicked a few times and lay still.  The noise flooded back.  The wild screech of birds, the frantic splashing of aquatic creatures in the nearby pools and riverlets blended with the puzzled cries and scuttling sounds of frightened animals racing away through the course undergrowth.  It was a frantic bedlam of noise, arising as a discordant requiem to the life that had abruptly gone.

-- "Peter Tremayne,"  Swamp (1985)

"Peter Tremayne" is the most recognizable pen name of Peter Berresford Ellis (b. 1943), a historian, biographer, and novelist whose degrees are in Celtic studies.  Recognized as a leading authority on the Celts, his many nonfiction books under his own name include Celtic Inheritance, The Celtic Empire:  The First  Millennium of Celtic History 100 BC to AD 51, A Guide to Early Celtic Remains in Britain, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, and Celtic Women:  Women in Celtic Society and Literature.  Related nonfiction books include The Scottish Insurrection of 1820, The Problem of Language Revival:  Examples of Language Survivals, The Cornish Language and Its Literature, Macbeth:  High King of Scotland 1040-57, and The Druids.

As per Wikipedia, he "is a Fellow of the Royal History Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries; an Honorary Life Member of the London Association for Celtic Education, in which he served both as chairman and vice-president; Honorary Life President of the 1820 Society (Scotland).  He was chairman of the Scrif-Celt (Celtic Languages Book Fair) in 1985 and again in 1986; International chairman of The Celtic League (1988-1990) and has served on the committee of such groups as The Irish Brigades Assocoaition (New York), The Irish Literary Society, etc.  In 1989 he received an Irish Post Award for his contributions to Irish Historical Studies.  In 1987 he was named a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd" (an organization dedicated to retaining the Celtic spirit of Cornwall).

Ellis' interest in fantasy is evidence in the four literary biographies he has produced -- one on H. Rider Haggard, one on Biggles creator W. E. Johns, one on fantasist/mystery author E. Charles Vivian, and one on Talbot Mundy.  Ellis was the first to discover that Mundy's real name was William Lancaster Gribbon and detailed his adventurous life from ivory poacher to world-famous author in The Last Adventurer:  The Life of Talbot Mundy 1879-1940.

Ellis' interest in fantasy led to the first of many books under the "Tremayne" pseudonym, The House of Frankenstein in 1977, followed by Dracula Unborn later that year and The Vengeance of She the following year.  He continued to mine other writers works with two additional Dracula books and with The Return of Raffles.  He also penned a number of horror books -- many based on Celtic legends.  Peter Berresford Ellis has also written hisrotical novels and, as "Peter MacAlan," he has published eight thrillers.

Swamp (published in England with an exclamation point: Swamp!) takes place in the Florida Everglades where "horrible mutilation and haunting death stalk the picture-postcard beauty of America' favorite wilderness" revealing a "horror as primeval as the murk from which it slithers.  A horror born of ancient evil, now unstoppable before an unsuspecting world..."  As with his other horror novels, Swamp is a fast-paced read with little pretensions.

Today Ellis is best-known for his long series of mysteries about Sister Fidelma, who is both a dalaigh (a court advocate) and a Celtic nun in the mid Seventh century.  She first appeared in the short story "Hemlock at Vespers" (1993); her first novel appearance was in Absolution by Murder (1994).  Since that time, "Peter Tremayne" has published only books in this popularseries.  To date there are at least 38 Sister Fidelma short stories (including two collections) and 29 novels in the series.  In addition to providing a good mystery, the Sister Fidelma stories explore many social, religious, and historical themes of the time, both within the Celtic society and elsewhere.

Peter Beresford Ellis has published over a hundred books and over a hundfred short stories, as well as numerous academic articles.  Whether under his own name or as "Peter Tremayne" or "Peter MacAlan," he has provided fascinating reading that is sure to please almost any taste.

Sarcasm:  /sar casm/  noun  the use of irony to mock or convey contempt

Why is it when President Trump says something controversial (or "cavernously stupid" as one commentator put it) that has absolutely no basis in fact he either a) doubles down or b) he later claims he was kidding or being sarcastic ("I was joking.  Joking.  Everyone there knew it except you, the Fake Media!)?

His remarks about a malaria drug as an unproven means to combat Covid-19 led to a number of people dying ("What have you got to lose?") or putting themselves at risk for heart and other problems ("Seriously, what have you got to lose?"), while also creating a shortage of the drug for people with conditions approved for the drug.

Now he has suggested that people inject themselves with disinfectants (or somehow UV light up their insides) to kill the virus.  Trump is not a doctor, nor does he play one on TV, but he's pretty ffee-wheeling with nonsensical medical advice, based either on right-wing lunacy or on his personal hunch.  How can you go wrong with that?  Let's ask Randy Rainbow:

Paradise Lost:   "Knowledge forbidd'n?
Suspicious, reasonless.  Why should thir Lord
Envie them that?  can it be sin to know,
Can it be death?"

One of the greatest epic poems ever written was Milton's Paradise Lost, taking as its subject both the war among the angels, the creation of the world, and man's fall from grace.  Milton's poetic sweep and vision was ambiguous enough to allow a God capable of evil, or is He?  Lucifer, for all his arrogance and hatred, can be considered a sympathetic character, or can he?  There is a beauty and a depth in this work that has seldom been equalled -- something I was never really aware of until I read the full text some fifteen years ago.

Milton -- poor, old, blind, gouty, and beset by the tragedy of his second wife's death and that of their infant daughter -- sold the publication rights to the poem 450 years ago today for 5 pounds (under 800 pounds in today's money) to pupblisher Samuel Simmons, with another 5 pounds due if and when each print run sold out; it took eighteen months for the first print run to sell out.   Although now considered one of the premiere poets in history, Milton's reputation wavered over the centuries because of his political and theological beliefs.  Those beliefs were contradictory, battling between his Puritan faith and his beliefs in republicanism and free speech.

Have you read Paradise Lost?  Were you as impressed as I was?

Boop:  Created by Max Fleischer ninety years ago, Betty Boop is an outlier among popular cartoon icons -- a female character who is blatantly sexy.  It was not always so.  She first appeared in the animated cartoon Dizzy Dishes as the girlfriend of then cartoon star Bimbo.  She did not have the Betty Boop name, was intended as a one-off character, and was portrayed as an anthropomorphic French poodle.  She appeared in ten cartoons before she was transformed from a human-like dog character into a fully human character, with her very short skirts, babyish face, pouty lips, and close cropped hair festtoned with ringlets on her forehead.  Betty Boop was the epitome of a young, sexualized flapper while retaining her innocence and virginity -- something which did not stop the cartoons to be full of innuendo.

Betty was modeled on singer and actress Helen Kane, although Fleischer Studios denied the connection.  Others thought she resembled acteress Clara Bow (she did).  Two years before Betty's debut Helen Kane had a hit song with "I Wanna Be Loved by You."  Both the song and Kane's girlish voice were incorporated into the Betty Boop saga, as was Kane's signature saying "Boop-Boop-a-Doop."  Kane sued Fleischer in 1932 for infringement and exploitation of her personality and image.  Carttonist Grim Natwick admitted that he based Betty Boop's image on a picture of Kane and five of the women who voiced Betty Boop in the cartoons were (coincidently?) all one-time contestants in a Paramount Pictures sponsored contest to find a Helen Kane impersonator.  Yet, Helen Kane lost the lawsuit, in part because it was revealed that she had based her stage persona on Baby Esther (Esther Lee Jones), an Afro-American entertainerand Cotton Club regular in the late 1920s.  Kane retained Baby Esther girlish voice but changed her signature "boo-boo-boo" and "doo-doo-doo" to "Boop-Boop-a-Doop."  Esther was about nine years old when Helen Kane saw and began to appropriate the younger singer's voice and skat style.  At the time of the trial Baby Esther was on a long and very successful tour of Europe.  A voice recording of hers was entered into evidence and swayed the outcome in Fleischer's favor.   Baby Esther has been called the "Black grandmother" of Betty Boop.

Although portrayed as a sexual woman, Betty Boop was supposedly a sixteen-year-old girl. according to Fleischer.  Her sexuality was strictly through innuendo.  Twice, however, Betty came close to losing her virginity but was rescued from her would-be deflowerOur er in the nick of time.  After the second attempt, Betty sang "He couldn't take my boop-oop-a-doop away," leaving no doubt as to what that phrase referred to.  She became a symbol of feminist freedom.  With the introduction of the Production Code of 1934 and The National League of Decency, Betty Boop changed.  She became more mainsteam, her clothing was more conservative, her curls slowly disappeared, her winks and shaking of her hips were now verboten; in short, Betty Boop became wholesome and more appropriate for juvenile fare.

Nonetheless Betty Boop has survived over the years, twice in short-lived comic strips, twice in television specials in the Eighties, in commercials, and in merchandising.  She will remain with us for a long time yet as a well-beloved and pioneering cartoon character.

Here's her first appearance -- Dizzy Dishes, from 1930:

Birthday Quote:  Today is the birthday of Ulysses S. Grant who famously said, "I know only two songs.  One is Yankee Doodle and the other isn't."The Volunteer

Our Superhero:

  • Florida Man has been absent in some quarters during the pandemic.  Miami reports no homicides in 7 weeks -- the biggest streak since 1957!
  • A Miramar, Florida Man, Richard V. Hamilton, 36, decided he did not want to work and was "having a bad day" this past Thursday so he called in a bomb threat at the water treatment plant where he worked.  His bad day got worse when he was arrested.
  • If you are going to be a Florida Man, think big.  That's was Tampa man Steven Lawrence Brickner, 48, did when his investment syndicate raised five and a half million dollars to invest in a Colorado legal marijuana business.  There is a hitch in the plan when the business exists only as a UPS mail box.  But the  money was there in Brickner's hot little hands and he did what any good Florida Man would do -- he started spending it.  $465,000 went to buying crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.  $580,00 went to paying off personal mortages.  $1,200,00 was spent on cars, including eleven old sports cars.  $286,000 went who knows where after it was taken from ATM machines.  And $335,000 was spend at a Tampa "adult entertainment club," not that there's anything wrong with that.
  • Sherry L. Grant, 43, of Marion County. was arrested again due to dubious choices.  Last June, the Florida Woman was arrested for breaking a window with an angel decoration, broke a glass table, and assaulted a woman and broke her glasses.  Her angel-throwing skills brought her some notoriety at the time.  Last Monday, Grant was found passed out behind the wheel of her car and was charged with DUI.  She told police she had only drunk four shots of vodka, of course this was on top of the Percocet, morphine, and Propofol she had ingested.  Grant said that she realized that she was too impaiered to drive and asked her passenger to drive the car, whereupon he exited the car and fled through the woods.
  • You can't be too young to start a career as a Florida Woman.  A ten-year-old Naples girl was sent to her room to finish her math assignment.  She struggled with the homework, then placed a sign in her window saying "Help! Get me out of here!"  A maintenance worker saw the sign and notified authorities, County Sheriff's deputies rushed to the home and were glad to find everyone safe.  A statement from the Sheriff's office stated. "[W]e totally relate to the frustration that comes with math homework."  A deputy gave the family his personal cell phone number and said the girl can call him at any time with homework questions, just don't scare us like that again.

Happy, Happy:

Today's Poem:
The Volunteer

Tell them in England, if they ask,
What brought us to these wars.
To this plateau beneath the night's
Grave manifold of stars --
It was not fraud or foolishness,
Glory, revenge, or pay:
We came because our open eyes
Could see no other way.

-- C. Day Lewis
an ode to the International Brigade

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