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Longdog Library: CSI: Edinburgh

By John Linwood Grant

We’re going way back in the Longdog Library archives this time, for something which is both an episode of early Victorian history and yet spawned a popular detective character known today. OK, who can tell me what connects Silence of the Lambs, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edinburgh Old Town in the 1830s. Yes, the girl at the back, with the green hair and the switch-blade. No, sorry, it’s nothing to do with butchers. Not directly, anyway. It’s the actor Brian Cox, of course.

What? You want to know more? I can explain.

You see, I love Inspector McLevy. In fact, I think anyone who likes crime and detective stories, or police procedurals, would enjoy McLevy. He isn’t occult, psychic or any of those weird things you’ve come to expect from me (though see more below about the audio adaptation). He was a tough cop in a tough city, and a real person, whose history I came across a while ago when I was looking for Victorian period detail. You know, like what brands of mobile phones they had in 1850, that sort of thing. I’m a meticulous writer James McLevy (1796-1875) was, by many accounts, the first proper police detective in Edinburgh, in the cheery old days of hanging and transportation.

Magistrate: Why did you steal that loaf of bread, you little vermin?
Street Urchin: ‘Cos I wanted to be a-feedin’ of them kangi-roos dahn under, guv’nor.
Magistrate: Oh God, just string him up anyway.

After time as a nightwatchman with the Edinburgh police, McLevy was given the rank of detective in 1833, and had a successful career which spanned thirty years and a reported 2,220 cases. This might all have ended up as a minor historical note, except for three things:

1) McLevy wrote up his cases in a number of books from 1860 onwards, around his retirement. How much of what he recounts is true, we can’t tell, but they are not wildly exaggerated tales. They cover the ups and downs of policing Edinburgh Old Town, with its slums and theatres, cobblers and cut-throats. Dickens without the silly names, so to speak.

2) Actor/writer David Ashton, whilst researching Conan Doyle, decided to create a series of radio plays about McLevy’s, developing fictional exploits from the actual case histories. These are quite superbly done, terrific fun, and occasionally rather moving.

3) More directly relevant to our library, Mr Ashton has also written a number of novels featuring the character as well, including ‘Shadow of the Serpent’, ‘Fall from Grace’ and ‘A Trick of the Light’. These are well worth checking out

The real McLevy was a hard worker. He had an insight into criminology, employing stings and forensic techniques. He seems to have had a certain sympathy for the miscreants in his parish, and was not without mercy at times. Eventually he became well enough known to be consulted by parliament and social reformers on the subject of how to deal with criminality.

Some claim that because he consulted the medical school of the University of Edinburgh, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later studied, he might have influenced Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. McLevy was better known back then, and Conan Doyle might at least have considered some of the cases when constructing his own stories.

On the radio, Brian Cox gives one of his best performances yet as Jamie McLevy, thief-taker in the Parish of Leith. He brings humour and humanity into what can be quite brutal tales, covering such diverse subjects as:

  • Revenge tragedies;
  • The horrors of the Crimean war;
  • Women’s rights;
  • Deadly rivalry between brothels, and
  • Victorian pornography.

McLevy’s own accounts in his books are relatively dry and straightforward, so don’t expect detective thrills as such. Ashton’s McLevy is far more accessible. He’s dedicated to his job, cranky and occasionally eccentric. He needs his coffee. He has a dry wit, and he eats too many sugary sweets.

The good Inspector (not as high a rank as it is now) has a love-hate relationship with Jean Brash (played in the audio version by Siobhan Redmond), the owner of a body house, or brothel, called the Happy Land. I’m guessing that there is intended irony from Ashton here, as the real Happy Land was a tenement/slum area in Victorian Edinburgh. If I wanted to sound really mock-academic, I could point out that it’s also referenced in an 1838 hymn:

“There is a happy land, far, far away,
Where saints in glory stand, bright, bright as day.”

‘The Happy Land’ was therefore sometimes mentioned by spiritualists as where the souls of the departed would end up – if they were lucky.

Curiously, while James McLevy was an Irishman who came to Scotland as an immigrant in his teens, Brian Cox is himself a descendant of Irish immigrants to Scotland. A match born in… well, somewhere up there. David Ashton, for fun, plays Lieutenant Roach, McLevy’s superior.

The other notable character on the radio is Constable Mulholland, McLevy’s assistant, who spends his time getting exasperated with his Inspector, fishing, keeping bees and hitting people with a big stick. And he likes the ladies, but is not the luckiest of fellows. Mulholland is supposed to have been a real contemporary of McLevy, but I can’t prove that bit.

I’m always mithering on about occult detectives and period crime, so I look out for spooky references in everything I read or listen to. The radio series does have a distinctly unsettling element – odd presentiments, a sense of the violence and death which follows McLevy, and a prophetic vision or two from the locals. You can feel doom and vengeance on the wind.

However, the original James McLevy gives little shrift to spookiness. The best you get is the ending of The Cobbler’s Knife:

“This is the only dream-case in my book; and I’m not sorry for it, otherwise I might have glided into the supernatural, as others have done who have had more education that I, and are better able to separate the world of dreams from the stern world of realities.”

You’ll have guessed the other connections by now, which include the title. If not…

Brian Cox plays Inspector McLevy, but he also played Hannibal Lecter in the original 1986 movie Manhunter, the film adaptation of the book ‘Red Dragon’ by Thomas Harris, who wrote Silence of the Lambs. Cox’s son Alan played Dr Watson in the film Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). And in Manhunter, the lead FBI agent/profiler hunting Hannibal was played by William Petersen, who, of course, was Gil Grissom in CSI.

And none of the above are actually from Edinburgh.

If Walls Could Talk: The Value of First Impressions

M.H. Norris

There is something to the saying, “you only have one chance to make a first impression.” When you’re writing a novel, you have to make sure that opening page, the opening chapter, stand out and make your reader want to come back and read more.

Openings can be tricky, there are many ways to start a story. Some people launch right into the plot, still others set up the premise, still others use the opening pages to introduce a character. One method is not better than another, it’s up to you as the writer to decide which option is best for your particular story.

Opening the Curtain for your Readers

Let’s look at some examples. First, the opening to Badge City: Notches:

Curled up under a tree in the middle of Coal Hill Park, the girl lay in such a way that Detective Deidre Tordano could almost imagine that she was sleeping and dreaming of princess and ponies, sunshine and rainbows.

The camera flash could be mistaken for a parent taking a picture of her sleeping child, wanting to hold that memory for years to come.

The leaves crunched under Deidre’s feet as she got out of her car.

“Got the call an hour ago, jogger found her on the trail. She was left with her backpack that had an ID in it. Grace Miller.” Officer Hamilton walked up to her, clipboard in hand.

“How old.”


A gust of wind blew past them and Deidre pulled her trench coat closer. “Coroner’s here?”

“Just arrived a few minutes ago. CSU is almost done with the scene.”

There are two things out of Badge City: Notches that I’m especially proud of are the climax and the imagery of the opening two paragraphs. Here I am, embarking on my first murder mystery and I open with that scene.

What do I establish in this opening?

  • The Protagonist, Detective Deidre Torando.
  • The victim, Grace Miller, and that she is a child.
  • That she was murdered, and it staged so you wouldn’t be able to tell it was a murder scene.
  • That this novel is a police procedural, and implies that it will strive for accuracy.

There’s something about crime fiction that people can’t seem to get enough of. There are spin offs of both “NCIS” and “CSI” (with “NCIS” still beginning its 15th season this week) along with a handful of other shows spread across the networks all dealing with crime and the people who solve them.

With a mystery, hooking them into the idea that it’s there’s a crime to be solved might not be a bad idea.

But, let’s look at another set up, from my upcoming “Midnight”:

Dr. Rosella Tassoni looked over the auditorium full of half-asleep freshman and quickly remembered why she usually only agreed to lecture upper-level courses.

“Since the beginning of time, man has told stories. When a written language came along, these were written down. Some would surpass their own cultures, becoming what we know to be legends. Today we call the study of those legends mythology. Every culture has their own distinct legends, yet many share a similar foundation. Max Müller considered these legends ‘a disease of language,’ but clearly they’re something more. I prefer Tolkien’s explanation for legends in his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories,’ originally delivered to students very similar to you.  ‘The history of fairy-stories is probably more complex than the physical history of the human race, and as complex as the history of human language.’”  

Rosella clicked the slide over before reading the quote. “What are the origins of, as Tolkien would call them, ‘fairy-stories’? ‘I am too unlearned to deal with this question in any other way than with a few remarks…It is plain enough that fairy- stories (in wider or in narrower sense) are very ancient indeed. Related things appear in very early records; and they are found universally, wherever there is language. We are therefore obviously confronted with a variant of the problem that the archaeologist encounters, or the comparative philologist: with the debate between independent evolution (or rather invention) of the similar; inheritance from a common ancestry; and diffusion at various times from one or more centres.”

Turning away from the screen she studied the crowd. “Tolkien is considered one of the greatest fantasy writers in the history of mankind. His books are still widely read and have even inspired a popular MMORPG.”

That comment helped her pick out the gamers in the audience by their grins. She could tell a couple of them were thinking about playing that as soon as class was over. In fact, the way one boy’s head shot up, she couldn’t help but wonder if she looked at his screen if she would find Middle-Earth.

“But, more than that, he was one of the great philologists, with an intense knowledge of language’s history—and the mythology that has always clung to it. Gilgamesh, after all, is our earliest surviving written record. Tolkien acknowledged Müller’s quote though and had this to say, ‘Max Müller’s view of mythology as a ‘disease of language’ can be abandoned without regret. Mythology is not a disease at all, though it may, like all human things, become diseased. You might as well say that thinking is a disease of the mind. It would be more near the truth to say that languages, especially modern European languages, are a disease of mythology.’”

That caused her to chuckle. “I prefer to agree with Tolkien on this. After all, that quote is how I earn my living, in a sense.”

As she walked across the stage, clicking through slides, she eyed one of the students. He slipped into the back of the lecture hall, border-lining the time that it was socially acceptable to arrive late. Which was, also, the time it was polite for Rosella to be late. She’d earned her doctorate. At least according to the old myth—Rosella preferred to be on time to speaking events, not in the mood to waste not only her time but the time of those listening. The student quickly opened his laptop and tried to look attentive, but his shoulders were tense yet his face portrayed a different story. His face appeared to be relaxed but his clenched jaw told her he was stressed and a little over focused on the task at hand. Not only that but she could see his wire from here. He must be new, he was too tense. That or he hadn’t been warned that she was pretty good at reading body language. But seriously, Quantico was slipping if they thought that act was covert. She assumed he was wired simply to test him in the field, in a safe situation. Baby’s first op.

“Some stories are to teach a lesson, it’s the reason we have fables and how Aesop became a household name. Others are fun stories to tell around a campfire or a childhood sleepover or to be turned into the next Disney movie.”

“Others take a darker side, or rather people choose to let them.” Another click another slide.

“Serial killers, immortalized in this day and age by the influx of crime dramas which seem to occupy most major networks. People are obsessed with the idea of the forensic sciences.”

Now she had their attention.

“Sometimes, the two meet. Killers think they can hide behind the myths. Forensic Mythology if you will.”

Here, instead of a crime, I set up the concept of not only the story but the series that will follow. I introduce the character before properly introducing the plot. I allow Rosella to tell you what she does and what to expect from her investigations.

What do I establish in this scene?

  • The protagonist, Rosella Tassoni
  • The tone of the series
  • Her approach to her work
  • That while this is not specifically a police procedural, it remains an accurate approach to police procedure
  • Her relationship with college-age people, which will be expanded on later.

Both approaches, for all their seeming differences, draw the reader in and establish your story.

Conclusion: Openings are Important

They’re the first thing your readers see when they open your book. I’ve said it in this column before, but I have put books down because they failed to capture my attention.

Sometimes, when writing, finding the proper place to start is half the battle. Remember the story I wrote about a couple of weeks ago that I’m having problems with? The opening scene has shifted at least a half dozen times. I’ve changed the circumstances, location, characters involved, all to find what fits the story I’m trying to tell best.

Keep in mind, if you go with a plot base opening, you need to be careful that you don’t give too much away. But, you want to give enough to hook your readers in.

It’s a balancing act and you get a sense of where the line between enough and too much is (and this is another instance where a good editor is invaluable).

Whether you’re doing a plot based opening or a character based opening, make sure that these opening pages shine. This is your story you’re telling. It’s something you will spend hours upon hours on and you want to give it its best chance at succeeding.

And a strong opening is the best way to do it.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Sensorites (Part 1 of 3)

By Sophie Iles

It’s that time of the week folks, today I’m writing live from the outskirts of Devon to bring you my take on The Sensorites. A story with some flaws but with some great moments, and lets Susan shine for the first time in the series. 

Let’s take a look! 

We left the team confused about how the TARDIS could have stopped, but the instruments show they still moving. Everyone has changed clothes. It’s been at least a few hours, even a sleep, for our humans before they all return together to the console room. It’s Ian’s turn to wear a polo neck jumper, Barbara’s in a pretty dress and Susan’s in a dress. With this change of dress comes a fresh attitude to their next adventure. In fact, the conversation they have before they leave the TARDIS to explore is one of my favourites!

Our content TARDIS team, Susan, Barbara, The Doctor and Barbara.

IAN: There’s one thing about it, Doctor. We’re certainly different from when we started out with you.
SUSAN: That’s funny. Grandfather and I were talking about that just before you came in. How you’ve both changed.
BARBARA: Well we’ve all changed.
SUSAN: Have I?
DOCTOR: Yes, it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a, quite a great spirit of adventure, don’t you think?
IAN: Yes. We’ve had some pretty rough times and even that doesn’t stop us. It’s a wonderful thing, this ship of yours, Doctor.

Look at that development! It’s lovely to watch how this four before used to really despise the idea of being together and having to rely on each other (see Edge of Destruction). Now, not only are Ian and Barbara so willing to leave the TARDIS for adventure, they accept there is danger. It still appears that they still have hope the Doctor will still get them home, one day. 

So, off the TARDIS they go and they find they are on a spaceship, and the two crew are dead. Except they’re not. Suddenly, one of them wakes and asks for a heart resuscitation device, which they use on him and his colleague. The two members of crew, Maitland and Carol explain they were not dead but in a deep sleep. They said they were put there by The Sensorites; aliens who live on the planet The Sense Sphere. They have been orbiting the planet for as long as they can remember, as it appears the aliens are using mind control to attack them.

One of the more fun moments in this episode is finding out that the crew are from 28th Century Earth. Excited about this knowledge, Ian and Barbara want to learn about their future. They then learn not only is there no more Big Ben but that London is now part of ‘Central City’. It’s the first time the series dealt with the future of Earth before, even though we had a futuristic sense of time from Marinus and The Daleks. It’s a good clip to watch these humans of the 20th Century get excited about the future they will never live to see, unless the Doctor has his way of course…  They also learn that Maitland and Carol have another crew member called John. He’s somewhere else on the ship, having been the most affected the most by the Sensorites and could be temperamental. The team decide they shouldn’t get involved or learn too much about the future; but when they go back to the TARDIS to leave the lock has been completely removed! They haven’t got a choice now but to get involved in this mystery.

The Crew and the TARDIS team in the Observation Deck.

Moments later the Sensorites attack the group telepathically again rendering them hopeless. Luckily, it doesn’t affect the Doctor or his companions. The affect on the crew causes the ship to try and go out of orbit and crash which fortunately the Doctor stops. These creatures being able to make such a difference without being present is quite a powerful thing. When the situation has solved itself, Barbara and Susan go looking for water but find John instead. He’s moving around in a zombie like state and terrifies them. Also, as the door shuts behind them it can’t be opened again. Now Ian and The Doctor can’t go to help them so they have to deal with John themselves.

The whole sequence is actually quite creepy. Despite the reuse their corridors in this episode, Barbara and Susan do a wonderful job of convincing us of the threat. They hold hands and stand their ground together against the threatening, deranged crew member. Finally, John breaks down in front of them, weeping at the horror of being controlled. Always the mother figure, Barbara strokes his hair as he lays in her lap, comforting him in their predicament. She’s hoping that the others will break through the door so they can all be reunited.

Meanwhile as Maitland is trying to cut through the door to get to them, they here another sound. It’s the the transport the Sensorites use to get onto the ship makes a low whining noise, which they can all hear. This is our first cliffhanger of the serial ends, with the Sensorites finally being introduced outside the window, peering through the observation deck.

So this is how we meet the Sensorites. As a NuWho fan, you might recognise this look from somewhere. If you look at a picture of an Odd from the Tenth Doctor era you’ll see resemblances. The mild mannered poses, the larger heads and the eyes being small are all comparable. In fact, The Tenth Doctor tells us that the races planets revolve around the same sun, which is a cool piece of canon that Russell T Davies created when he made them. 

Either way, though the Odd can appear a evil at times, the Sensorites don’t appear as threatening as their actions have been. They disappear from the observation deck window to enter the ship. The Doctor and Ian have to wake up the crew again as they have been made to fall asleep. Once awake, they can continue to cut through the door. Meanwhile, poor John is still being affected by the Sensorites as they closer to him. This time, Barbara and Susan are there with him. They tell him, to build his confidence, so that they feel safe with him now he’s on their side. This moment is when Susan shows a beautiful moment of intelligence and cunning that I wish we had seen more often in her character development. She tells Barbara about how they should try and use mental telepathy of their own to fight back against the Sensorites. She suggests that if they think about something clearly in their mind they could then defend themselves together, with the same thoughts. 

SUSAN: He’s quiet now, but we can’t be sure the Sensorites won’t make him help them. Look, if they can use their brains, why can’t we use ours?
BARBARA: To defend him?
SUSAN: Yes, and ourselves. Grandfather and I landed on a planet once called Esto. The plants there used thought transference. If you stood in between two of the plants, they set up a sort of screeching noise. Grandfather said it was because they were aware of another mind.
BARBARA: Breaking in on their communications.
SUSAN: Yes, exactly. I thought if we both tried together.
BARBARA: Well anything’s better than just sitting here.

It works! The Sensorites crumple and can’t fight back. Though it causes Susan faints it means that there probably is a way to keep themselves safe. This happens just in time for Ian and Maitland to be able to cut through the door to save them and bring them back to the observation deck to safety.  

It cuts from that scene to later on in time. The Sensorites appear to have left them to their own devices for now. Ian puts John to bed, who mumbles the phrase “the dreams of avarice.” Ian shares this with the others. This leads to the team to try and figure out why John’s reaction to the Sensorites is bigger than everyone else by seeing what he was doing before the Sensorites affected him. The Doctor puts his finger on it. He notices that John’s job, studying minerals in the Sense Sphere, meant he saw that the planet is rich in molybdenum. This is a precious material and it could make them all rich! All the intentions of the Sensorites make sense. This is why they’re keeping them hostage, but not wanting to hurt them but not wanting them to leave. 

Once that happens, the Sensorites attack telepathically at the crew again. This time, Ian and Barbara go running through the corridor to go looking for them but when they do. Ian orders Barbara to find a way to lock the doors, rushing towards the observation deck but Maitland can’t help. Meanwhile, Ian raises a hammer to defend himself from them as they move backwards as they move after him. It’s a horrendously tense moment that made me shiver to watch. Barbara runs to get John who could help her instead at the Doctor’s request but she observes when they return to him that Ian is never attacked by the Sensorites. John closes the door, it’s a relief but a wonder as to what they will actually do now they are on the ship….

Back on the observation deck when they are all back together with all the doors locked. Now, the Sensorites try something new… Susan gets a message from them, asking if they can talk. Clearly, she is more telepathic with her than the other TARDIS team in this moment. The two aliens enter the room to speak to the Doctor and the crew for the first time and they give their demands. With the discovery of the material on their planet they can’t let the Doctor go or the crew, as predicted, but they don’t want to hurt them. They offer instead to give them a place of their own to live on the Sense Sphere.

The Doctor refuses. In fact, it leads to one of the first time that we see how the Doctor is with another alien race when threatened. Something that he wasn’t like previously except with perhaps the Daleks, and even then he was their prisoner standing his ground. Now, in this moment, despite not knowing how to defeat them, he is in his element here that we recognise more in future episodes. 

DOCTOR: Now listen to me, both of you. You’ve taken the lock of my ship and I want it returned immediately.
SENSORITE 1: You’re in no position to threaten us.
DOCTOR: I don’t make threats. But I do keep promises. And I promise you I shall cause you more trouble than you bargained for if you don’t return my property!

The Sensorites leave, temporarily to ‘decide’ on what they want to do next. Meanwhile, The Doctor has noticed more things about his enemy. Their possible weaknesses with dealing with darkness could be a help to them. Also, there was a really interesting comment made by the Doctor in regards to telepathy…

BARBARA: Well, how can you be sure that the Sensorites will be frightened of the dark?
DOCTOR: My dear Barbara, wouldn’t you be afraid if you couldn’t see your enemies, hmm? Thank you for your admiration, dear boy. Thank you.
IAN: I never said a word.
DOCTOR: Telepathy. You know, telepathy isn’t only a prerequisite of the Sensorites. I know sometimes what you’re thinking.

Now is this intentional to suggest that The Doctor, like Susan are telepathic. They are aliens after all, and not humans, perhaps there was an intention here to show the difference again. After all The Doctor and Susan as opposed to the rest of the crew are supposed to be more alien. This telepathic streak is played on before in the future with NuWho and the Classic Who era, so it’s really awesome to again speculate if this was the intention or not. I wonder if this was what led to the use of telepathy with the Doctor later on… 

And speaking of telepathy…

Susan with the Sensorites…

It’s then when Susan is getting another message for the Sensorites. Worriedly, they watch as she listens and replies to them out loud before moving away from her friends and towards the door. Turns out that they told her if she didn’t go live in the Sense Sphere, they would kill them and she couldn’t have that on her conscience. This left us with a cliffhanger, both for the following week in the past all those years ago and now with this article. 

So! Part Two will show us the best parts of Susan Foreman, The Sense Sphere and just how much the crew need Barbara Wright. This week I don’t have a doodle because I’m actually away from home.  

But have a picture of my brother in law watching the Sensorites with me instead.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Aztecs (Part 2 of 2)

By Sophie Iles

Welcome back Whovians! We are into the second part of this serial and already we’ve had everything you could possibly want. There’s danger, there’s history, there’s hints of a romantic subplot and now there’s this bone chilling cliffhanger that we were left on as Ian is about face death at the hands of his rival Ixta. It’s up to Barbara Wright to save the day, as she often seems to do…

Before I start laying down the groundwork of the next two episodes I must say out of all of the episodes, this one has such a variety of things going on. Lots of threads being neatly sewn together for the climatic ending of episode four. I really think David Whitaker was a very good script editor to make this serial as good as it is!

So, without further ado let’s find out how our foursome get out of their sticky situation in The Bride of Sacrifice and The Day of Darkness!

Barbara saves the day, because she’s awesome.

Barbara saves the day obviously. She snatches a knife and uses it to threatens the life of Tlotoxl if they don’t let Ian live. They do as their told. Her fierceness sincerely got my back up as I watched this sequence. As this is the end of the fight, no one is given the victory; Ian is unconscious and Ixta ‘cheated’. When Ian next wakes up, Ixta promises to kill him next time (foreshadowing Ixta’s last scene in the serial). Ian also learns that Ixta’s promise to give The First Doctor drawings was false, as there were none. Imagine my frustration as I shake my fist at the screen. I want this dude dispatched as soon as possible.

Ian also learns that Tlotoxl is plotting something, but he doesn’t know what, and he goes straight to Barbara to tell her. It’s strange, but up until this moment in the series, Ian has never been this physically active to me. He was always an action man surely, but he really does feel like a man who trained in the National Service in this series with how well he handles himself and even how he speaks to Barbara about how Autloc is the only good man here willing to see her point of view about sacrifice; it all seems clearer cut than Barbara’s idealistic wish to stop the Aztecs from destroying their civilisation.

Meanwhile, with Barbara having threatened Tlotoxl he’s even more suspicious of her than he already was. Planning with another man, Tonila, to see if poison will kill the goddess, a way of proving she is false.  When both he and Tonila go to her with a poisoned chalice, Ian is hiding waving his hands suggesting she shouldn’t drink it after his warning, and Barbara calls them out on it trying to make them drink it first. Obviously they don’t.

TLOTOXL: I only meant to test you.
BARBARA: With poison?
TLOTOXL: Yetaxa would have lived. The gods are immortal.
BARBARA: Well I would have died. I am not Yetaxa.
TLOTOXL: False. False! I knew.
BARBARA: And who will believe you? I warn you, Tlotoxl, you say one word against me to the people and I’ll have them destroy you. Destroy you!

She’s so upset and angry by the whole event that once he’s gone she just begins to cry into Ian’s arms and her really at her weakest point. This adventure just seems to get rougher and rougher for Barbara with every passing minute and I would personally hate to be in her shoes.

Whilst all of this is going on, Susan and The Doctor have their own problems, though in the case of the Doctor, it’s his eagerness and clear misunderstanding of reading the signs that gets him into trouble. Perhaps, you can call this the good kind of trouble? His relationship with Cameca reaches a new level, when she brings cocoa beans to him when they’re spending time together in the Garden of Peace. In Aztec custom, if you make someone a drink of cocoa beans, you offer them a marriage proposal due to their importance in use as currency.

She wishes to see if the Doctor feels the same way about her, by bringing the beans, which, out of what is probably just politeness and excitement to have a hot chocolate he insists on making a drink for her. To Cameca this is a massive moment, to be made a marriage proposal, and for her feelings to be reconciled. For the Doctor, he’s barely aware of the meaning and just can’t wait to share a drink of hot chocolate with her as a distraction from the chaos around him.

As a viewer you basically know this information before he does, it’s only when she announces the truth that you see William Hartnell react to the news, and it is one my favourite scenes of the serial.

The Doctor gets engaged….accidentally.

DOCTOR: Happy days, my dear.
CAMECA: The happiest of my life, dear heart. Was ever such a potion brewed? In bliss is quenched my thirsty heart. 

DOCTOR: Very prettily put, my dear.
CAMECA: Oh, sweet-favoured man, you have declared your love for me, and I acknowledge and accept your gentle proposal.

It does make you wonder just how much the First Doctor felt about Cameca, bringing in that thought again about previous adventures he had with Susan before we are introduced to them and what ideas William Hartnell had about the Doctor’s past.

Whilst this is going on Susan is still training to be a good Aztec housewife. With Tlotoxl now wanting to destroy Barbara he decides to put pressure on Susan after hearing how defiant she had been before and tells the Perfect Victim to visit her. Of course, being that he is considered the Perfect Victim he can marry who he chooses before he is sacrificed and he chooses Susan. She’s outraged of course! She refuses. This gets her in a hell of a lot of trouble, as even Barbara, not knowing this was Susan who made the mistake, clearly insists that their teachings must be stuck to.

Whoops. That Tlotoxl is a real sneaky git isn’t he?

Susan’s due to be punished, Ian’s unable to be truly helpful to anyone because Ixta is always watching him, and the Doctor has his own issues, but he’s finally found an idea thanks to his new “fiancee”. She offers him a gift of a stone with Yetaxa’s mark on. The Doctor strikes on an idea that there’s another stone, a large tablet in the garden he had been sitting behind. Perhaps that will lead to the tomb.

He tells Ian about this and they decide to meet in secret in the Garden of Peace to check it out for themselves, though this isn’t without the Doctor admitting “he got engaged”, which is hilarious to watch Ian find that funny, a proper belly laugh at that. When they do finally meet, The Doctor can’t take the stone off out of the wall on his own, and Ian has to do it as it’s too heavy. He uses a flashlight to climb into the tunnel, hoping this is an entrance to the tomb. Of course, it’s never that simple with Doctor Who. Ixta was following and tells the Doctor he must put the stone back because it will flood the Garden. He knows full well Ian is in there, trapped in the dark as water floods the tunnel and The Doctor even tells him that Ian is trapped in there but it just means Ixta has defeated Ian again his mind!

Of course, it’s a perfect moment for a cliffhanger too, but luckily, we all know Ian is a smart cookie. He finds another symbol of Yetaxa’s in the tunnel, and he pushes it to find another to crawl through, reaching back into the tomb just as he and the Doctor hoped.

Now, just to find a way to keep the door open so they can get back in the tomb, all of them safe and sound.

It would be easy to say it was as simple as Ian made it look, tying some old cloth from the tomb so the door could be opened on the other side whenever they want it. Alas, even when all four of them are reunited after Ian rescues Susan from waiting to be punished they have difficulty getting into the tomb. Ian’s trick with the cloth just causes it to get snapped before they can open it again. The Doctor concludes they need a pulley of some sort, in a time when the wheel didn’t exist.

Ian and Susan go back to the Garden, with the hope of climbing through the tomb tunnel again, but little do they know Ian is being set up to be framed for an assault on Barbara’s only ally Autloc (Oh, Doctor Who loves setting Ian up for murder don’t they?) so Susan and Ian are locked away to be punished during the eclipse, Tlotoxl is hoping to bind Barbara and get rid of her, and The Doctor is creating a pulley device of his own.

It’s in this moment, that Cameca has realised that the Doctor doesn’t really intend to marry her, and this sad subplot makes me feel so much for the Doctor, he clearly has enjoyed her company, smiling at her and comfortable. They have been sat together looking quaint. Even discussing a garden of their own. We all know that the Doctor can’t do that. Even in this early in the life span of the show, we know he needs to go off with the others.

She’s no fool, she tells him she knows he plans to leave, and he confirms them, not unkindly, but not apologetically either but he doesn’t even meet her eye. It is a sad moment to watch and William Hartnell does so well to pull you into the moment.

DOCTOR: There you are, my dear, it’s nearly finished.
CAMECA: As is our time together. I do not know what its purpose is, but I’ve always known it would take you from me.
DOCTOR: Yes. I’m sorry, my dear.
CAMECA: Tomorrow will truly be a day of darkness.
DOCTOR: For both of us.
CAMECA: Tlotoxl is determined to destroy Yetaxa?
DOCTOR: He must do to safeguard his own beliefs.
CAMECA: We are a doomed people, my dear. There’s no turning back for us.
DOCTOR: You’re a very fine woman, Cameca, and you’ll always be very, very dear to me.  

Cameca’s part of the story isn’t over, and has in fact saved them all with her wisdom in all matters and her influence. She, aided by the Doctor before she realised the truth asked Autloc who survived his attack go to see Barbara. Their friendship isn’t quite the same, but still believes that Ian did hit him round the head with the club. Barbara tries to explain to him that there would be no reason why her servant will attack him, but even then, his faith is shaken. Poor Autloc decides that it would be better to disappear into the wilderness and find his own way.

But not before asking Cameca to bribe the guard protecting Ian and Susan so Susan can get away. Though Ian uses the opportunity to knock the guy out so he can also escape.

This also makes for one last time for Cameca and The Doctor to meet, he thanks he for giving him back Susan, but you can see the heartache. The first time we ever see someone ask to be taken with them wherever she is heading and he doesn’t even face her. Truly heartbreaking to watch, and again both William Hartnell and Margot Van der Burgh do it all beautifully before she rushes away.

This leaves the climatic ending of the whole serial now they have the means to escape into the tomb because of the Doctor’s pulley. Ian — dressing in the guard’s head dress is on hand to protect Barbara at the sacrifice of the Perfect Victim when Tlotoxl tries to stab her. Tlotoxl and Tonila move to the side calling for Ixta to fight Ian, which leads to a really wonderful tense final fight between Ixta and Ian, and we know it’s to the death this time.

Ian and Ixta face off for the last time…

It’s not the best fight scene (my favourites are within The Romans) but it does make for a dramatic climax, whilst Barbara Susan and the Doctor get the tomb open. Ian and Ixta’s finally stand is tense and the matte painting to show the rest of the Mexico  really gives depth to the situation when Ian finally uses his feet to throw Ixta down the steps to his death.

Ian finally joins them in the tomb, to get back into the TARDIS, where Barbara removes the jewellery and the headdress of the goddess and place it back from where it once came, on the bones of the high priest she had taken them from before.

BARBARA: We failed.
DOCTOR: Yes, we did. We had to.
BARBARA: What’s the point of travelling through time and space if we can’t change anything? Nothing. Tlotoxl had to win.
BARBARA: And the one man I had respect for, I deceived. Poor Autloc. I gave him false hope and in the end he lost his faith.
DOCTOR: He found another faith, a better, and that’s the good you’ve done. You failed to save a civilisation, but at least you helped one man.

Her heart to heart with the Doctor leads to the realisation that at least Autloc, the man she trusted can now find his own faith and not be restricted to the forced Aztec traditions and it really nice to see how NuWho echoes this in the future. Of course, personally, I think this serial did it better.

Next week it’s time for The Sensorites an adventure though I have already seen before can’t wait to revisit, and personally, one of the best stories to depict Susan so we’ll talk about that next week.

Here’s my fanart for the week. Barbara in her Yetaxa garb, and an extra bonus, I’m adding this link where you can watch me draw and colour it too!

Just Like In The Movies: Little Things Mean a Lot – How a Two-Day Screenplay, a One-Day Shoot, Fifteen Minutes of Film, and One Lady Set Off The Modern Intellectual Property Wars.*

 *And Made It Increasingly Unlikely J.K. Rowling Will Ever Live Long Enough To Spend All Her Money (Stephen King, Too)

Micah S. Harris

The legacy of the nineteenth century’s great age of invention includes not only cars, telephones, radios, and motion pictures, but also each and every cease and desist letter that ever broke a Brony’s heart.

Or a Treker’s. Or a Whovian’s. Whatever the case may be—if you are a fan who celebrates creatively stories and characters you love in the form of, but not limited to, art prints, fanfic, cosplay, homemade videos for YouTube—you may learn that the parent of the object of your affection objects to your intentions. Even that tattoo of Pinkie Pie you brandish on your thigh, young man, probably isn’t safe from a good laser grooming if the person who owns the trademark decides it must go.

But what creator and/or copyright holder would really complain that their work has captured an audience’s imagination to the degree that their fellow artists in the crowd are compelled to give them creative feedback? Something that could never possibly take a crumb from the property owner’s mouth, like, say, an eleven-year old girl posting her drawing depicting the Frozen girls?

Certainly, anyone can understand the concern of all owners of intellectual property that they may turn on their computers to find their trademarks have spread across social media like dandelions over the entire neighborhood’s lawns. To say nothing of losing control over their own characters (Harry Potter? Meet Gandalf. Yes—it happened in the unauthorized final volume of the Potter saga that hit the market before some amateur named J.K. Rowling’s version).

Particularly frustrating for people who make money by making up stories and characters is that new technology makes it increasingly harder to keep control of those stories and characters. And at the start of the twentieth-century, movies were the new storytelling technology.

In 1903, Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery had more than resuscitated the dying vaudevillian novelty of moving pictures; it had resurrected them as a glorified entertainment industry.

Now there existed the potential for new audiences to be exposed to a writer’s story, people who would never attend a stage production or crack the spine of a book.

What author wouldn’t want a piece of that revolutionary market?

Early screenwriters, however, could have cared less what the actual authors of the stories they stole wanted. No, what the new industry’s fledgling studios wanted was an endless supply of narrative material. As one offending screenwriter, Gene Gauntier—“the Kalem Girl”—stated unapologetically, even gleefully: “There was no copyright law to protect authors and I could and did infringe upon everything.”

What made Gauntier “the Kalem Girl” was not her writing skills. She was also the small studio’s star, an embodiment in both real life and the characters she played of the spunky new twentieth-century’s ingenue, a girl not afraid of breaking a nail—or perhaps her neck—in search of contemporary adventures to be had.

Gauntier’s initial film career was something of a vagabond’s rough and tumble existence. For instance, as a working actress in “the flickers,” she might be called upon to leap into a quite possibly unsanitary river. In fact, that accurately describes part of her first day on the job. Though “terrified at each daring thing I had to do,” she continued to put her life at risk while filming her character’s perils—some of which were her own ideas!

Though Gauntier’s daredevil work as an actress made her “the Kalem Girl” in her day, it was her career as the company’s principle screen writer, more specifically its principle plagiarist, that would make her mark on movie history. Her first script, in fact, was an unlicensed adaptation of Tom Sawyer in 1907. She quickly followed that same year with rip-offs of Hiawatha, Evangeline, and As You Like It.

She was on safe ground with Shakespeare, of course, who, at that point, had not written anything new in three hundred years, and, even then, showed little to no interest in maintaining exclusive rights to his plays. But the first generation heirs of Twain and Longfellow were still alive, and they stood to take umbrage at the piracy of the family literary heirlooms.

Heedless—perhaps “brazen” is the word—Gauntier proceeded to whip up a script to take advantage of the closed-for-the season race track facilities at Shepherd’s Bay, New Jersey. And what literary property has ever gotten more mileage out of a race than General Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur?

And so, a change of the seasons prompting the departure of the fireworks company which had been using the grounds all summer, a young screenwriter capable of whittling down the epic Ben-Hur in a two-day writing session for a one-day shoot…and voila! The powder is in place to be lit and fire the first shot over the bow in the modern war for all creators of fiction, characters and entire worlds to maintain exclusive rights to their intellectual property.

The film was only going to be the standard Kalem length, just fifteen minutes. It was only a small portion of a much larger work. Such a little thing, really. Who could possibly make a big deal out of fifteen minutes of film?

Well, Lew Wallace’s son for one, the guy who owned the rights to his late daddy’s novel.

Ben-Hur, though published in 1880, was still hot, still the best-selling novel in America. There was a popular play version (complete with on stage chariot race) whose owners had paid for the right to adapt the story, as opposed to Kalem which hadn’t forked over one nickel and garnered all the profits.

The result was the Wallace estate, Wallace’s publisher, and the theater company brought a law suit against Kalem and Gene Gauntier herself.

Amazingly, it wasn’t an easy win. There had to be a few years of legalities before the court decided against the Kalem company in 1911 and ordered them to pay $25,000 to the plaintiff.

Gauntier’s literary transgression led to the legal decision that if you turn a preexisting work of fiction into a movie…and, by precedent, create a derivative work in any new medium, in part or in whole… you pay the writer first. Really, it took four years for a court to reach that verdict?

Gauntier herself seems to have come out of it all smelling like a rose. She continued working in the movies, her career unimpeded by blatant literary theft.  She married a wealthy Swede in 1909, and retired from the film industry on her own terms in 1920.  She lived until 1966, dying at age 81.

Her remains are buried in Sweden, her chained off gravesite presided over by a large chunk of jutting rock which has been given by the locals the delightful sobriquet of  “Gene Gauntier’s thumb.”

Gene Gauntier’s thumb

I like to think of it as “Gene Gauntier’s thumbs up” from the grave to every creator in whatever medium who has made six figures from a studio just taking an option on their work, as well as those who have had so many “adaptive works” actually reach the big screen that they can now, shall we say, afford to leave Ben Franklin behind all flushed.

The “thumbs down” for fandom is that every time you go back to a YouTube link to rewatch a Tomb Raider fan film that was there yesterday, only to find a note saying it has been removed due to the copyright holder’s intervention….every time the amateur writer who loves the Vampire Lestat or Daenerys , Mother of Dragons, and wants nothing else but to make up their own adventures for the character and publish them on their little website, just for fun, but receives a cease and desist letter…..

Well, it all goes back 110 years ago to a two-day-to-script, one-day-to-film “epic;” the easy availability of a local race track determining the fateful choice of which popular novel to rip off; just fifteen minutes of silent film; and one little lady accustomed to acting (and writing) with abandon.

If Walls Could Talk: Writing Round the Wall

M.H. Norris

I ran into an interesting problem last week, and I hope that by talking it out with all of you we can figure out the solution.

Several times in the past, I’ve mentioned my hatred of outlines. Sure, to an extent, I know where the story is going (except for when I don’t and have on occasion written a chunk of a story without knowing some rather important details) but I tend not to write detailed outlines.

“Tapestry” (Lauren Finkle)

The story I’m currently working on is one where I figured out a rough idea. I know the who, what, where, when, why, and how.

But still, I find myself stuck.

It’s like I’ve hit a wall in my writing and I can’t see my way around it. I know where this story is going, but I can’t make it go there.

I’ve heard the advice, especially around NaNoWriMo, that you should just write, it doesn’t have to be perfect (in fact it won’t be perfect) but get words on the page.

Yet this time, I sit here finding myself unable to do that.

Here are some things I’ve tried, they didn’t help me this time, but they have in the past so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share them with you in hopes that you can use them next time you’re writing feels as if it has slammed against a wall.

1) Put Some Space Between You and Your Writing

I’ve done this several times with this particular story. I’ve taken days where I’ve worked on other things and then tried to come back.

The thing with writing is we often get extremely close to what we write, especially if it’s longer work. The amount of hours planning, researching, planning some more, writing and editing, cause us to miss some of the flaws because we are too close to see the ultimate design. We become lost in the individual threads, not seeing the full tapestry.

We have the privilege of knowing things our readers might not know, which hinders us in seeing how the whole forms for the reader. What we see as the ultimate design while working individual threads, may not be the ultimate design we’ve created.

Sometimes, by taking a few days, you can put some space between you and the project, allowing your head to clear a bit which might allow you to see what’s wrong.

The downside to this is that sometimes you realized what you wrote before is a giant pile of crap and you want to start over but sometimes time will not allow you that luxury.

2) Come From A Different Angle

This one was my latest attempt to make this story work. I had an opening partially written but I wasn’t even remotely happy with it.

With “Midnight” I found myself extremely happy with the opening and felt like it allowed the story to have a solid foundation to stand on.

This story however, has a flat opening that feels forced. And I’m not sure how to fix it. I rewrote it again but still it feels forced.

That just means I have to try again.

3) Take Another Look At Your Outline

Maybe there’s a plot hole, maybe something is missing. Maybe there’s something there that can help you figure out where to go from where you currently are.

When I use outline here, I do mean it in a vague sort of term .Some people don’t outline (yours truly is one of them) and instead have a vague idea of “here’s point A and I’m going to point B.” Other’s have pages upon pages of outlines.

I was reading a screenwriting book the other day and it had an entire section on how to draw up the outline, before it showed you how to format the script itself.

Maybe that outline holds the information you need. Or, at the minimum, it lets you try and avoid plot holes early on.

4) Return To Research

As previously mentioned in a post, research is highly important to any writer. I spent over a month doing research for Badge City: Notches before I even wrote the first sentence. I watched documentaries covering similar material, I read books on police procedure, I read report after report on serial killer psychology.

Maybe that’s the problem, you haven’t researched enough.

Hit the books, watch a movie (or television show) that covers similar subject matter, read reports from experts. Find blogs (for crime writers, I suggest DP Lyle’s blog

I think  that’s what I’m going to try next. See if it helps me.

If you’re like me and stuck on your current writing project, I wish you the best of luck.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Aztecs (Part 1 of 2)

By Sophie Iles

The Aztecs is a masterpiece. There, I said it. You can shout at me all you like later, you can tell me there are better serials out there in the world of Who, and I will listen, but the levels this serial goes to really is wonderfully thrilling to watch. There’s some dodgy fighting, and some of the dialogue is a little stuffy — but overall, it’s a thrilling watch and one of the few I could probably watch all over again after getting to the end of the episode. I can now also see where Dreamworks got some of their ideas for The Road to Eldorado…

Funnily enough, The Aztecs was the first episode of Classic Who I ever saw. It was on Netflix, and it cut like the first five minutes so i didn’t know what was going on. I was expecting the legendary Tom Baker at the time, to suddenly see it in black and white and his grumpy old man shouting at a woman about not changing history. Unfortunately, teenage Soph wasn’t impressed and switched off after the first episode. This time couldn’t have been further from the truth, I absorbed it like a sponge.

Lets look this week at the intro to this tale: The Temple of Evil and The Warriors of Death!

First we see Barbara and Susan exit the TARDIS after landing in a tomb, which Barbara correctly identifies as an Aztec tomb, of a high priest no doubt, as we discover it’s her favourite historical period — her specialism — which is pretty lucky if you ask me. Barbara and Susan become interested in a door after some exploring and putting on the priestess’s jewellery, Barbara leaves the tomb despite Susan saying she’ll get the others and she walks right into the clutches of the Aztec outside. Susan returns with the Doctor and Ian to tell them Barbara found a door, but obviously can’t find her. The Doctor is furious with her, and Ian is obviously a little worried, which escalates when they too run into the attendants outside.

DOCTOR: You know where we came from?
AUTLOC: The tomb.
DOCTOR: Tell me, is there a way through from this side?
AUTLOC: The tomb is sealed. Go now with these attendants, and soon you shall meet the one who wears the bracelet of Yetaxa.
DOCTOR: What’s he talking about now?
SUSAN: He must be talking about Barbara. She picked up a bracelet from the tomb.
IAN: Well, perhaps we’d better go and meet her.

Whilst behind them, the entrance to the tomb, and their escape is closed and no entrance can be made from the outside. Which, is a big problem, but at least for now, everything appears safe.

Barbara shows the TARDIS team the high priestess’s bracelet.

Barbara has been dubbed the reincarnation of the High Priest Yetaxa, due to the fact she was wearing their bracelet. The company are in good spirits, except for being unsure how to get back to the TARDIS, but Ian and the Doctor are given permission as the ‘Servants of Yetaxa’ to wander the city, which Susan, her handmaiden, is to stay with her.

We meet two priests who are in complete contrast to each other. Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge, and Tlotoxl, the High Priest of Sacrifice, who Ian labels the “local butcher” before he even announces his title. The latter is wonderful, played by John Ringham, who brings a creepiness to his performance, claiming that Ian should be the commander of their armies, as the chosen one of Yetaxa, to which our friendly neighbourhood science teacher can’t possibly refuse, and that he must challenge the current man fighting for that honor, Ixta.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is taken to the Garden of Peace, which is where the residents over the age of fifty three are given a place of solitude to spend their final years. This is where he meets the beautiful elder Cameca, who he decides to question about the tomb when he finds out she knows of the father and son in regards to whom built Yexata’s tomb.

For a few good moments, perhaps possibly Ian having to deal with the jealous Aztec warrior, the crew seem to be enjoying their stay. Barbara and Susan enjoy wearing the Aztec headdresses, observing how the Aztecs had both beauty and horror, which the Doctor seems overwhelmingly charmed by Cameca in the garden. It’s not until Ian rushes to Barbara to tell her that he has to hold down a sacrifice in her honor that Barbara decides she, as the Goddess Yetaxa, would not allow it.

She wants to meddle with history, remove the sacrificing all together, and protect the Aztec civilisation before it gets destroyed by the Spanish. The Doctor is furious but Barbara as she often does stands her ground. The whole moment completely opening up a discussion on why the Doctor is so set on not meddling with time. The whole dialogue in that scene, and the delivery made me wonder, as I often do, what William Hartnell’s mind had concocted as we know he and Carole Ann had their own ideas of their family background just what the First Doctor meant by that final appeal:

BARBARA: There will be no sacrifice this afternoon, Doctor. Or ever again. The reincarnation of Yetaxa will prove to the people that you don’t need to sacrifice a human being in order to make it rain.
DOCTOR: Barbara, no.
BARBARA: It’s no good, Doctor, my mind’s made up. This is the beginning of the end of the Sun God.
DOCTOR: What are you talking about?
BARBARA: Don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that is good would survive when Cortes lands.
DOCTOR: But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!
SUSAN: Barbara, the high priests are coming.
DOCTOR: Barbara, one last appeal. What you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know, believe me, I know.

In other words, what the hell did you try to do before now One?

As the time for sacrifice comes, Barbara stands her ground, informing them all she does not wish the sacrifice to go ahead, but insulted and dishonoured, the victim instead throws himself off the top of the tomb at Tlotoxl’s suggestion. And just then the rain arrives just as Tlotoxl said it would. Susan also tried to stop the sacrifice too when she was not permitted entrance, which gets her sent away to learn their customs, better than to be punished. Poor Barbara trying to protect everyone, just gets people dead anyway or in more trouble than it’s worth. Not to mention, Tlotoxl is now absolutely sure that she’s a false goddess.

The Doctor is really harsh with her when he sees her alone again, shouting and now even more upset that Susan is somewhere they can’t reach. It’s a good moment, strongly acted, Barbara trying to show her strength of will is still crushed at the thought that Susan could not come to any harm to which she starts to cry. The Doctor does apologise to her, comforting her, and tells her that they’ll be fine, he has plans to find out to get into the temple with his new found friend in the Garden of Peace.

Yexeta and Tlotoxl

It’s after this that Barbara gets to face off against Tlotoxl, who tries to trick her into giving knowledge she wouldn’t know, but her knowledge on the Aztecs and her quick cunning words give her time and space to speak to them. She’s great here, both actors spar with each other expertly, and when it is said and done, Barbara has asked that Autloc challenge her divinity as the High Priest of Knowledge, whilst Tlotoxl informs her, Ian is to fight Ixta over the command of their armies.

Ian and Ixta trading barbed words.

Ian seems to not be out of place though next to Ixta, the young man who is his rival to command is a try hard, desperate to prove himself, and is obviously good with weapons. Ian though, cool as you please suggests that the only he only needs his thumb to defeat him and proves as such, putting said thumb on the pressure point at the back of Ixta’s neck that renders him unconscious in front of a lot of influential people. (Go Ian Go!)

This only makes Ixta hate Ian further, he’s determined to defeat Ian and he’s about to get his chance. Cameca approaches Ixta, asking about his father’s plans for the tomb, claiming the older servant of Yetaxa is after information. He says he will speak to him, and tricks the Doctor, by claiming that he needs his help to defeat his rival in combat. The Doctor is unaware that it’s Ian that Ixta is facing, gives him a poisoned thorn from one of the plants in the garden, and tells him that if he scratches his opponent with it it will drain them of his strength. So by giving Ixta the tool to defeat Ian once and for all.

Susan meanwhile seems to be doing well learning the customs of the Aztecs, but still is in refusal to accept some of their traditions. It’s a very strong serial for her in that regard, considering the smaller part she plays, and showing that defiance to Autloc is going to get her into a lot of trouble, and she, taking after her other female role model Barbara, won’t take no for an answer.

The Doctor goes to tell Barbara about Ixta and the plans for the tomb, but Barbara informs him that she’s not allowed to see anyone but their own priests whilst Tlotoxl is challenging her divinity — and informs the Doctor that he’s assisted in Ixta defeating Ian which clearly the Doctor is troubled about, and though he rushes out to help, he’s taken away to be punished!  Barbara tells Autloc he had not known of the denial of entry, and was ignorant and she tells him also that the fight between Ixta and Ian should not end in death and she forbids it with the hope that it’s not too late.

So the fight between Ian and Ixta begins at sunset, Susan blissfully unaware still learning away in the city, whilst the pair fight on. As an observation, Ixta who’s supposed to be well trained does do badly against the science teacher. This is surprising as a new viewer but actually there’s a Big Finish Audio that does explain this Ian trait (It’s Farewell, Great Macedon check it out if you like this serial!) but Ixta finally uses the thorn on Ian and it’s not good news.

It’s terrible to watch as The Doctor rushes forward towards the fight, newly released, trying to warn his friend but it’s too late, Ian Chesterton’s reflexes slows down, fighting hard all the while as he’s slowly poisoned. It’s only when Ixta is ready to give the final blow when Barbara turns up in her beautiful headdress every bit a goddess — determined to make sure it doesn’t end in blood shed and left in a chilling cliffhanger that I don’t think I could have handled to wait a week for…

TLOTOXL: A false goddess forbids it. Destroy him.
TLOTOXL: Your place is in the temple.
BARBARA: I am loyal to those who serve me.
TLOTOXL: If you are Yetaxa, save him.

And so next week, we look at what happens to Ian, what will Susan’s modern views mean for her safety, and how far will Tlotoxl go to prove Barbara isn’t a goddess. Find out next week with The Bride of Sacrifice and The Day of Darkness….

Sadly, I don’t have a picture today, due to having been at Cardiff Comic Con this weekend, so instead, have a picture of men, dressed like a miniature sized twelfth doctor who left his real jacket at home and stole Ace’s badges….. I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend and see you next week!

Me with a mondasian cyberman!

Literary Archaeology: The Unexpected Night: Eclipses and HistFic

By Jon Black

2017 Eclipse at totality. Steelville, Missouri.

On August 21, 2017, millions of people in the United States witnessed a total solar eclipse. In the days leading up the event, eclipse-talk dominated watercooler conversations, social media, and even the national news. That eclipses command such attention in a scientific and technological era, when their processes and mechanics are fully understood, testifies to the grip such displays of cosmic forces have on us. One can only imagining how profound such events were during times and places lacking the paradigm to understand what was transpiring in the heavens above them.

All of that is a long, flowery way to say that the recent eclipse gave me an easy topic for this fortnight’s HistFic blog. Because of the significance ascribed to them, eclipses can be a powerful element in historical fiction. They, of course, offer an unforgettable backdrop for events. But it would be easy to take them one step further, making them a major plot point within a story.

At the Beginning

The ruins of Ugarit, site of the earliest known record of a solar eclipse.

For peoples with no understand of celestial mechanics, the disappearance of the sun was, understandably, an awe-inspiring, profound, and often terrifying event. Eclipses were often intended as divine omens or portents. The context of an eclipse recorded by Herodotus was a battle between the Lydians and Medes. Interpreting the eclipse as the gods’ displeasure with their warring, the armies sat down their weapons and made peace (to whatever extent we can take Herodotus at face value). An eclipse witnessed in China during 1302 BC was interpreted to mean the emperor had lost divine favor. He had abstain from meat and engage in other rituals to restore the sun … and his favor with the Celestial Court.

While it would take us beyond HistFic into the realm of time travel, historical fantasy, or alt-history … a character with foreknowledge of an eclipse (or the ability to accurately predict one) would appear to wield phenomenal and likely supernatural powers in pre-modern world before heliocentrism, the scientific method, or calculus.

The first conclusively recorded solar eclipse, written in cuneiform on clay tables from ancient Mesopotamia, occurred on May 3, 1375 BC (Coincidently, 3,090 years to the day before the first verifiably predicted eclipse).

Predicting Eclipses

Diagram of Eclipse, Georg von Peurbach, 15th Century

Herodotus (an entertaining but not always reliable source) alleges that the philosopher Thales of Miletus successfully predicted an eclipse (see above). No information is offered by Herodotus regarding how the prediction was made and considerable skepticism exists regarding this assertion. But, if true, it was likely the eclipse of May 28, 585 BC.

Early Chinese astronomers placed considerable emphasis on eclipses. Attempts to understand them were underway by the Warring States Period of the First century BC. The Chinese deduced the cause of Solar Eclipses by 20 BC and there is evidence they could predict eclipses with some reliability by the Third century AD and could even estimate the fraction of coverage by the Fourth century. 

The first absolutely verifiable prediction, however, was by Edmond Halley (of Halley’s Comet fame) who predicted a May 3, 1715 event visible over Britain and northern Europe.

Map of Halley’s 1715 Eclipse.

A Selection of Eclipses

The historicity of some of the eclipses presented below is debatable. Nevertheless, because they were (or are) widely believed in and constituted part of a cultural worldview for various peoples at various points in time they have been included along with their better documented counterparts.

July 31, 1063 BC, China. Another eclipse recorded by Chinese astronomers (no word if the emperor had to go vegetarian this time).

June 15, 763 BC, Mesopotamia. Documented by Assyrian astronomers at Nineveh.

33 AD, the Levant:  The darkness described as occurring during the Crucifixion of Jesus has long been interpreted by some people as referencing a literal solar eclipse. From the 16th to 19th centuries, it was fashionable among amateur (and not so amateur) astronomers and theologians alike to try to establish Good Friday’s exact date by dating the eclipse.

569 AD, Arabian Peninsula: The Quran records a total solar eclipse at the birth of Mohammed. Interestingly, Muslims traditionally do not ascribe any special portent to the celestial event, with Mohammed himself ascribed to have said “the sun and moon do not suffer eclipse for anyone’s life or death.”

1100 AD, North Africa. A total solar eclipse was described by Arab scientist and astronomer Ibn Yunus from his observatory near Cairo.

1131 AD: A solar eclipse is associated with the death of Henry I of England. Historian William of Malmesbury wrote that the “hideous darkness” unnerved the English people. More contemporary historians have speculated that chaos and social unrest sparked by the eclipse may have caused or deepened the civil war following Henry’s death.

June 8, 1918: Japan, the Pacific, and Western US. Occurring amidst the Spanish Influenza Epidemic and with WWI still in full swing, even a thoroughly modern person might be forgiven for thinking this eclipse a dire portent (Attention writers of period horror!).

[PHOTO 5: Painting of 1918 event by American Artist Howard Russel Butler. 

Painting of 1918 event by American Artist Howard Russel Butler.

May 29, 1919: South America to Africa. Occurring at a time when causes of eclipses were understood and their prediction well established, this event remains notable for helping confirm Einstein’s theory of general relatively. With the sun’s light obscured, scientists were able to measure the distortion of light from other stars caused by the sun’s gravity.

February 26, 1979: US Pacific Northwest and Northern Great Plains. The last total solar eclipse visible in the US prior to 2017, this event created unprecedented multi-state traffic jams along interstates and highways as Americans took the roads to journey toward to totality. For writers, such a situation provides a fertile ground for Kerouacian chance encounters with almost every type of person possibility on the road, yet not going anywhere fast.

Leading up to the 2017 eclipse, speculation was rife that a larger population (nearly 90 million greater than in 1980) and ease of access to online information about the eclipse might lead to even more titanic traffic snarls. This proved not to be the case. One plausible interpretation is that the internet was an actually an asset rather than a liability. Dependent only on limited media coverage and word of mouth about the eclipse and with no equivalent of online maps or navigation apps, the 1979 event may have put more people onto fewer roads compared with today.

Photo of 1919 Eclipse taken by the expedition of Sir Arthur Eddington from the island of Principe.

Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus  (Part 3 of 3)

By Sophie Iles

The end is nigh! The Key of Marinus quest is almost over, but with a slight hitch. Ian’s being framed for murder and the last micro key has been stolen. Welcome my friends, to the final part of this adventure looking at The Sentence of Death and the Keys of Marinus. I like this serial, but I do feel that the end gets slightly rushed, but I feel that a lot with Terry Nation’s stories — at least these few that I’ve seen. Let’s go through this and find out for ourselves?

As per our cliffhanger, Ian has been set up for murder and theft, found knocked on the head on the floor by the body, fingers all over the murder weapon: a mace, locked in a vault, which he can’t have been allowed access to, where the micro key has been stolen. With all these thoughts in hand he must be guilty. It doesn’t help that in the lovely city of Millennius, the legal system is “guilty until proven innocent”. Doesn’t that make you feel a little uneasy? We after all know the truth, our audience hoping that someone will find evidence to prove his innocence

Of course, they’ve yet to reunite with the Doctor who we’ve not seen for two episodes.

Welcome back Doctor!

When he does turn up there is a little bit of fanfare of course, Susan practically tackles him, and once again you can really see there’s been so much development since these characters met, even between Susan and the Doctor, perhaps, dare I say it, having Ian and Barbara around have left him open up to his more sensitive side?

IAN: Doctor!
SUSAN: Grandfather!
BARBARA: How did you get here? ALTOS: We looked everywhere.
SUSAN: I’m just glad we’re back together again.
DOCTOR: Yes, so am I, dear child. So am I. However, we have some important work to attend to. Excuse me. Chesterton, you and I must have a talk.
IAN: We haven’t much time for a talk, Doctor. In a moment I’ve got to go in there and face an accusation of murder. I need a man to defend me.
DOCTOR: I am that man.

Alas, they still have hard work to do, as Ian needs to be proved innocent, even if the poor man who was murdered, Epiram was a friend of Altos’s, also sent to get the key by Arbitan, makes no difference. Concrete evidence is what they need. Which is why the Doctor promotes himself to defend Ian in court.

This episode really does prove how valuable the Doctor is to the team, despite the fact he’s not been around for almost an hour of this serial, here he is using logic to figure out that the murderer was either the relief guard who found Ian — or in cahoots with him. On meeting said relief guard, Aydan, they discover he’s a bit tetchy, doesn’t like them talking to his wife Kala and when they leave they stay by the door to see him hit her.

So, with this information at hand they pull a trick, claiming the fake micro key is the one they found in Aydan’s office when they call Sabetha for a witness. Aydan’s reaction shows his guilt, but before he can implement anyone else in the crime, he is killed in the courtroom by an unknown assassin. As Kala cries over her dead husband, all of this feeling very little like  a Doctor Who story and more like a satire of any court room case I’ve ever seen, they still believe Ian is guilty, with no proof that he isn’t the one who’s in league with Aydan.

Whoever killed the lad too is stirred up by it, because not long later, The Doctor still trying to plead for more time to find evidence, Barbara gets a phone call (though it looks more like a hairbrush but you’ve got to love 60’s predictions of future technology) claiming that they have Susan and are going to kill her. This ends Sentence of Death, which actually on it’s own is a fine episode, showing a lot of strong moments, but sadly, it’s the second part that I feel rushes through to the conclusion.

Barbara gets a distressing phone call from Susan….

The Keys of Marinus shows us, once again as she has done plenty of times this serial, Barbara takes charge of hopeless situations. She decides not to distract the Doctor, but to try and find Susan herself with the help of Altos and Sabetha, tying the link that perhaps Kala might know Susan’s kidnapper if it was someone her husband’s dealt with. On talking to her however, she cries and exclaims she doesn’t know anything…and without realising it implicates herself in the crime!

KALA: I know of no one. My husband was very secretive. He never told me who he saw or where he went. Now, please, Aydan is dead. If he committed a crime, he’s paid for it. He’s dead, but I’ll have to live with the memory of his crime for the rest of my life.
BARBARA: I’m sorry, but you see, you’re our only help.
KALA: Leave me alone. Leave me alone. I do understand and I sympathise with you. You must have been sick with worry since you spoke to Susan, but I just can’t help you. I know nothing.
BARBARA: I’m sorry.
ALTOS: Come on.
BARBARA: Please understand, we had to try. Goodbye.

After they’ve left she has the lightbulb moment, they never even mentioned about the telephone call to the wife, and therefore she’s the culprit behind the kidnapping! The three of them then sneak back in the flat just before she can murder Susan, to the relief of everybody capturing her.

The next sequence is one of my favourites, Ian has been tried for the murder, and he’s waiting on his sentence, and The Doctor can do nothing but sit and try to wrack his brain. He looks rather upset to have failed Ian, and the development of The First Doctor in this moment, is so heart breaking. A man who’s always rushing off to the next adventure, never staying in one place, and up until very recently had no love for the human’s he’s absconded away on his time machine and yet, despite the fact Ian is sentenced to death, he won’t give up on him or in clearing his name. Though Barbara is about to ring, and change the course of this scenario, the reaction of the Doctor being told to leave, still makes me incredibly proud of him.

TARRON: It’s time to leave, sir.
DOCTOR: Leave? I can’t leave now. I must find new evidence and re-open the case…

The Doctor who failed Ian Chesterton…

But with the revelation that Kala murdered her husband, Susan said that her accomplice would be “along to collect the key” and the Doctor finally realises a way to trap the murderer, because he claims he knew all along where the key was hidden, inside the murder weapon itself.

So, when they catch the prosecutor red handed trying to steal it alone with Tarron of Millennius’s police guard. They not only have the key, but they also have Ian safe and sound back with them so they can return to Arbitan.

Whilst Susan, Ian, Barbara and the Doctor say their goodbyes, Sabetha and Altos go on ahead, to find what was their home with Arbitan taken over by the Voord, and by Yarkek, their leader. He is dressed as Arbitan in his robes, and interrogates the pair about the micro key and it’s whereabouts. Sabetha tries to claim that Altos means nothing to her to save him, but it doesn’t work, and Yartek threatens to hurt the other if he doesn’t get any answers.

The Voord at this point really are a great villain, but with only ten minutes left of the episode, it’s clear that everything is going to be summed up fairly quickly and makes them lacking in reality.

Susan, Ian, Barbara and the Doctor arrive back in the building too with their travel dials, and when they reunite in the corridor, (it is one of the sweetest examples of the friendship of this group might i add) they end up splitting up in search of their new friends and for Arbitan after they attacked by a Voord soldier again. Ian takes the key, and has been told explicitly not to give it over unless he’s absolutely sure, but when he and Susan find Yartek, the Voord claims that it really is him but he is dying of a horrid disease and so covers his hood. For a long and rather annoying moment, I am sure that Ian believes the rouse — until he questions Yartek about Altos when he claims to believe Sabetha had picked up the young man on her adventure, when he in fact had been his assistant.

But even with that, Ian makes sure to leave on a good note. He gives over a key alright, but it’s the dummy key. A key that Sabetha warns will disturb the computer and set it to destroy the building, the supercomputer and everyone inside with it. They all get out of the labyrinth of a building just in time, where Altos and Sabetha hand in hand plan to return to Millennius to live together, whilst the Doctor and his companions have places next to visit.

It’s a lovely way to end the serial, Barbara looking off longingly as their new friends go off to start off somewhere new, whilst Ian taps her shoulder gently to join him in the TARDIS. They’ve settled into this life now of danger and adventure, and it shows despite the obvious wishes to return back to home. It’s a nice ending, but it is still incredibly rushed at the end which for me is it’s only downfall.

So, what’s next week? It’s another historical of course! Join us next week to watch the Aztecs, and how Doctor’s first ever real efforts to make sure they don’t meddle with history starts to take shape.

As for this weeks doodle? You have Sabetha standing up to Yartek. Enjoy!

PS: If you like the idea of the Voord, one of my favourite First Doctor Big Finish Stories is Domain of the Voord and I think it’s one of my favourite Big Finish stories, elaborating on Voord history, lifestyle and religion and some very exciting and terrifying adventures with relatives of Yarket involved.

Longdog Library: Ain’t No Witch – Hoodoo and the Blues

By John Linford Grant

Never let it be said that the Longdog Library is limited in its scope. For example, you might not know that it includes sundry volumes on hoodoo and conjure-work, kept carefully surrounded by a circle of Hot-Foot Powder. I’ve always had an abiding interest in the Cunning Folk of Europe, the hedge-wizards, wise women and others, often Christian (though not always), who could be called upon for protection against curses, hexes and blights. In the US, whilst Wicca, historical witchcraft, and voodoo or vodun, are fascinating in themselves, the real roots that interest me there are those of hoodoo, which is something different.

“Because sometimes I’m waitin’ at the crossroads, but I does it how I choose,” said Mamma Lucy. “I ain’t one of your mamalois, Voodoo girls or Sant-eria ladies, liftin’ their skirts when you come callin’, neither.”
John Linwood Grant, ‘Tales of the last Edwardian’

Historically, as with many of the Cunning Folk, the guiding principle for most hoodoo was belief in God and the Bible. Where Caribbean and New Orleans spiritual movements blended Catholic saints with African belief systems, a lot of hoodoo folk were Protestant in one form or another. Voodoo and hoodoo get confused, but they ain’t the same.

You might call hoodoo a dominant blend of African beliefs, with threads of European herb and symbolic lore pulled in as well. Much conjure-work links back to Ewe and Fon lore from West Africa. If it was a predominantly black road, it didn’t automatically exclude whites, because it slowly blended with folklore from European immigrants, especially Germanic ones. It came from the big slave plantations, but it spread into communities through freedmen and women, and had resonances for many poor and disenfranchised people. It absorbed elements of Native American herbalism, and became its own thing. Root-work is one other name, from the use of medicinal or magical roots and herbs.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), the black novelist and folklorist, wrote a study of Afro-American folklore, including discussion of hoodoo, root work and conjuration in her 1935 collection of tales, ‘Mules and Men’. One crossover example is ‘The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses’, a magical text allegedly written by Moses, passed down as hidden portions of the Old Testament. A grimoire, a collection of magical incantations and seals, the text circulated in Germany from at least the 1700s, passed through immigrants such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and entered both white general folklore and black Christian hoodoo.

One of Manly Wade Wellman’s books

The writer Manly Wade Wellman also slipped in to my mind when I came across a copy of  ‘Pow-wows, or The Long Lost Friend’. This book crops up in a number of Wellman’s stories. This is another genuine ‘grimoire’ from the 1820s, by one Johann Georg Hohman, and was originally called Der Lange Verborgene Freund.

“Bind,” he said to someone over me. “Bind, bind. Unless you can count the stars, or the drops in the ocean, be bound.”
It was a spell-saying. “From the Long Lost Friend?” I asked.
M W Wellman, ‘Vandy Vandy’, (1953)

‘The Long Lost Friend’ is a mixture of spells, charms and remedies for everyday use. Like the Books of Moses, it initially entered hoodoo through the Pennsylvanian Dutch and other groups of Germanic origin. It crossed relatively easily into hoodoo because it also puts Christianity in the driving seat and emphasis belief in the Bible as core. ‘Pow-wows’ was added to later editions, in reference to real or supposed Native American practices.

“The book has remained quite popular among practitioners of Hoodoo… James Foster noted that many shops in Harlem and Brooklyn stocked The Long Lost Friend in 1957.”
–Daniel Harms, ‘The Long Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire’ (2012)

And if you write about hoodoo from around the early 20th Century, you can’t avoid the blues. You also can’t avoid Aunt Caroline Dye. Despite her association with hoodoo, Caroline Dye was a psychic, a fortune-teller –  there’s less evidence of her performing root-work, setting up actual spells. People went to her for readings, and they went in their thousands.

Aunt Caroline Dye

She was born to enslaved parents in Jackson County, Arkansas – or in Spartanburg, South Carolina. There are different versions, both of her origins and her death. The earliest suggestion of her birth is 1810, which seems unlikely, and the more accepted one is in the 1840s. As Caroline Tracy, a name which seems to have come from her family’s original owners (a phrase which should never have had to be typed), she married Martin Dye of Sulphur Rock, some time after the American Civil War.

Called “one of the most celebrated women ever to live in the Midsouth”, she is said to have died September 26th, 1918 (which would have made her 108 years old – or, more likely, in her seventies). She is buried in Jackson County. Caroline Dye was supposed to have the ‘second sight’ even when she was young, but became famous for being a seer after the Dyes set up home in Newport, Arkansas, around 1900. 

Despite the dates above, others such as catherine yronwode of have compiled evidence that suggests Caroline Dye may have been around longer. One of the problems is that there are mentions of her in music which suggest she was alive in 1930, when Will Shade and the Memphis Jug Band recorded their song about her. This details Dye’s hometown as Newport News, in Virginia, but the song’s music and a verse was lifted from the band’s 1927 song Newport News Blues, so that was probably just convenient (or locally popular).

Others have spoken as if she was around until 1936-37. This may have been the general remembrance of a notable figure. It may even have been complicated by the tendency for famous ‘names’ in fortune-telling and hoodoo to be adopted by later practitioners. So there may have been a second ‘Caroline Dye’, no relation but using her reputation.

Dye was ‘the gypsy’ in the 1914 song “The St. Louis Blues,” according to W.C. Handy, who wrote it.  He later names her directly, in his 1923 song “Sundown Blues.”

For I’m going to Newport
I mean Newport Arkansaw
I’m going there to see Aunt Car’line Dye
Why she’s a reader
And I need her
Law! Law! Law! She reads your fortune, and her cards don’t lie.
I’ll put some ashes in my sweet Papa’s bed,
So he can’t slip out, Hoodoo in his bread

In 1937, Johnny/Johnnie Temple named her again in his Hoodoo Woman song:

Well, I’m going to Newport,
          just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
Well, I’m going to Newport,
        just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
She’s a fortune teller, hooo, Lord,
        she sure don’t tell no lie

She also crops up in “Wang Dang Doodle,” (1960) by Howlin’ Wolf and Koko Taylor. This is a curious song about rowdy merry-making. It borrows from black oral history, including lesbian nicknames of earlier times. The original reference to Fast Talkin’ Fannie, for example, used a word other than Talkin’.

Dye would read futures and make predictions. Her most commonly quoted method was using cards, as in Handy’s lyrics. It’s said that she wouldn’t help in romantic matters, though, and told people that they should sort their own love lives out. She did offer to find lost people, lost cattle and other items through reading her deck, or through her visions.

“Going to go see Aunt Caroline” became a common saying among black people of the time, and as she grew famous, she became respected by many whites as well. She reportedly died a landowner with substantial fortune. In the 1960s, Will Shade from the Memphis Jug Band spoke of her having wider powers. He said of her:

“White and Colored would go to her. You sick in bed, she raise the sick. Conjure, Hoodoo, that’s what some people say, but that’s what some people call it, conjure.”

Interview by Paul Oliver, ‘Conversation with the Blues’.
“Seven Sisters ain’t nowhere wit’ Aunt Caroline Dye; she was the onliest one could break the record with the hoodoo.”
— ibid

The Seven Sisters were supposed sisters in 1920’s New Orleans. As usual, controversy surrounds their nature. Some say they were genuine sisters, others that they were just seven women working together, and it’s even been claimed that they were one woman in different guises. The name also crosses concepts of seventh sons and seventh daughters being special. And as with Caroline Dye, they were well known for their psychic abilities or clairvoyance.

They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans that can really fix a man up right
They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans that can really fix a man up right
And I’m headed for New Orleans, Louisiana, I’m travelin’ both day and night.
They tell me they’ve been hung, been bled, and been crucified
They tell me they’ve been hung, been bled, and been crucified
But I just want enough help to stand on the water and rule the tide.

As to hoodoo itself, apart from mid-century and later commentaries, it’s interesting to read earlier writers. One source is Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858 – 1932), an African-American author, essayist, political activist and lawyer. Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio, his parents being ‘free persons of color’ from North Carolina. His position was odd – Chesnutt was legally white in some States, black in others. In a shameful time of Jim Crow laws in America, many state had a ‘one drop’ rule, which meant that even if you had only a single grandparent or great-grandparent who was black, you could be discriminated against. North Carolina adopted ‘one drop’ legislation in 1923. Chesnutt’s paternal grandfather was known to be a white slaveholder, and he would have had other white ancestors. Despite his outward appearance, he identified as African American, and never chose to be known as white.

Charles Waddell Chesnutt

Here’s a passage from his essay ‘Superstitions & Folklore of the South’:

“Conjuration: The only professional conjure doctor whom I met was old Uncle Jim Davis, with whom I arranged a personal interview. He came to see me one evening, but almost immediately upon his arrival a minister called. The powers of light prevailed over those of darkness, and Jim was dismissed until a later time, with a commission to prepare for me a conjure ‘hand’ or good luck charm, of which, he informed some of the children about the house, who were much interested in the proceedings, I was very much in need. I subsequently secured the charm, for which, considering its potency, the small sum of silver it cost me was no extravagant outlay. It is a very small bag of roots and herbs, and, if used according to directions, is guaranteed to insure me good luck and ‘keep me from losing my job’. The directions require it to be wet with spirits nine mornings in succession, to be carried on the person, in a pocket on the right hand side, care being taken that it does not come in contact with any tobacco.”
Modern Culture, volume 13. 1901

His collection ‘The Conjure Woman’ (1899) is available on-line, and also includes the full essay

There is one problem with writing about hoodoo, by the way. It’s difficult to get right, and yet sometimes difficult to get wrong. People did make up ‘spells’ to suit them. There are so many variants, and styles of traditional conjure-work can be personal to a practitioner, or peculiar to a geographical area. The terminology varies across the States, and some branches came from passed-down pamphlets, others through family word of mouth.

So be careful, now.

One of John Linwood Grant’s Mamma Lucy stories, “Hoodoo Man,” is in the 18thWall Productions anthology Speakeasies and Spiritualists, curated by Nicole Petit. His new collection A Persistence of Geraniums & Other Worrying Tales is available on Amazon.