The White City Devil: How To See Through Nonsense

518tlzBdM8L

Read this and tell me what’s wrong with it:

“Born in 1861 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, H.H. Holmes was one of America’s first serial murderers. He took over a Chicago pharmacy and built it into an elaborate maze of death traps to which he lured numerous victims during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. He was eventually captured and hanged in 1896.” link

I have a thing for wanting to know things other people don’t know…I want to really know nonsense when I see it, especially if the crowds are stampeding in the other direction. Not sure why that is. It’s just how I think. I read The True History Of The White City Devil recently; and it got me thinking about this side of me again. I’ll get back to the Holmes thing in a bit. Stick with me.

A few years ago, after reading a book about the Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story Of The Mary Celeste And Her Missing Crew, I compiled a few rules for how modern myths develop, which I’ll share below. At the time, it struck me how so many of the “unsolved mysteries” I grew up fascinated by were probably benign and dull in fact, but made salacious by people with agendas and a need for good gossip to spread. In this Mary Celeste book, the traditional view is a ship’s crew disappeared with warm food on the table and no log explanation or damage to the ship. Gone – into thin air. Google it; and you’ll read about black holes and aliens and teleportation. I’m not sure you’d buy and read anything that just suggested fumes from burst barrels of alcohol drove people to the lifeboat and subsequently got them separated from the ship in a storm.

Arthur Machen’s introduction to his story “The Bowmen” captures this myth development process in its tracks. Go read that – it will blow your mind.

Have a look at the convoluted history of the Voynich Manuscript and see if you don’t agree this thing is just a hoax. People see what they want to see. The 2016-2017 political climate should make that point as loudly as anything I can tell you here.

Here are the rules I’ve distilled regarding myth development:

  • The story needs a new or interesting hook to rise to critical mass in the first place
  • Often, the story suits or in some way encapsulates its era, or symbolizes a way of life (like Jack the Ripper’s foggy London)
  • Confirmation bias is the first sign of critical mass – contrary evidence starts getting ignored
  • Major players involved in the story’s propagation have agendas (like selling books or their story to news outlets, career advancement)
  • Details begin to accumulate and attach, which aren’t true but fit well with the original kernel

Back to the book about H. H. Holmes, the problem with the statement I provided above is it’s basically not true. The reviews for “The True History Of The White City Devil” said in a big way that the book is bland at times because it’s so well researched. In fact, I adored this book because of that. No junk here – the author cuts through the noise and has spent countless hours dredging through microfiche and dusty library stacks to bring us truth. It’s a lot less sexy of a story than the traditional view of a lusty villain in his murder hotel luring innocent visitors to the World’s Fair into their dooms. It’s the story of a pathological liar and con man who got himself stuck in his schemes and wound up doing away with a small handful of people to clean up the mess. In fact, no one at all may have even rented a room in what has come to history as the “Murder Castle”. Fascinating.

I put this myth development concern at the heart of my first novel, envisioning a mystic who manipulated myth development to guide history.

There’s a TV show on now presenting a relatively popular theory that Holmes was in fact also Jack The Ripper. It’s a theory being propounded by a great-great-grandson of Holmes himself. What’s presented as evidence is actually just crackpot talking heads in a lot of cases. Anything working against the theme is waved off as an obstruction to the truth. It’s absolute nonsense; and I’m not even going to give you a link to it.

Anyway, if you’re into truth and can appreciate a well-researched study done by someone who cares about cutting through the noise, pick up a copy. It’s worth your time.

Advertisements

‘The Dark Tower’: We’re gonna need more dunce caps…

3260242-20170714_darktower_thumb

Don’t go see it. Please.

Go ahead and nod knowingly, and tell yourself here’s just another fanboy with his diaper full because the movie wasn’t just like the precious book. You need to know specific reasons first – why the new ‘Dark Tower’ movie with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey is a steaming pile of it. I can do that for you…if you promise me you’ll skip it. Skip it so the lack of box office revenue will force the rights back to someone who can think beyond making diluted nonsense in hopes of creating their own Marvel-style connected universe. Please, God, stop with the connected universes!

Full disclosure – I am a fanboy, though. Those books are amazing. Seriously. But I digress.

There are probably spoilers here; but unless I can make them more interesting than the movie did, you’ll forget them as soon as you read them anyway. I wouldn’t worry about it.

The movie: A bad guy with cardboard back story who’s got superpowers and a ridiculous agenda of destroying the universe is kidnapping kids to do so. He’s awful and kills people so you’ll think he’s scary, and struts like a rooster afraid of nothing. Wide-eyed kid convinces battle-weary reluctant warrior to go to battle one more time and defeat the evildoer. You even get a scene where he teaches the kid how to shoot. Special effects. Special effects. Minor jokes. Climax. Victory. Open ending for sequels. The end.

It’s absolutely impossible for you to get confused because they outdid themselves with narration all throughout like you have no imagination whatsoever. Characters say things just to make the next scene make sense, or to explain the last scene. I’m not exaggerating here – it’s brutal to watch. The dialogue may as well have been stage directions.

“That’s how the demon died, a psychic could override it”

“Didn’t they lose a kid the other day? Maybe it’s the same kid!”

The plot is so eye-rolling plain vanilla that you could easily substitute the Power Rangers for Roland and have basically the same movie. If you just guessed at some scenes and some dialogue that the movie probably has, you’re almost certain to be right. I finished several lines in my head before the characters spoke them.

“Your shine is your weapon. The guns are mine.” That’s one of the lines I saw coming.

The Man In Black is intriguing in the books because he was part of the end of an age that led to the end to the gunslingers, a weird-western type of knight with supernatural six-shooter skills that defended Mid-World. He’s afraid of the lead character, and runs when he has to. He is a schemer and seducer, hiding and manipulating, and not necessarily up to his schemes because it’s his idea. Yeah, you get none of that here. McConaughey’s just the little Martian from the Bugs Bunny cartoon that wants his Iridium 238 Space Modulator so he can blow up the universe or whatever.

Roland is intriguing in the books because he’s a vestige of a fascinating old order. People step aside and respect him; and he helps when he has to as long as he can get back to his quest as soon as possible. He’s not afraid to sacrifice even his friends, and in fact lets Jake die when he first comes across him. He’s going to get to the tower no matter what. The movie version is your Hollywood archetype dude who’s amazing in battle but tired of it, and has a paper-thin motivation served up to you in a tight, 3 minute package with the guy from the All-State commercials.

I’ll stop, because you’re losing patience with my bitterness.

If Sony had paid closer attention to what works in the series, what is truly unique and inventive, this movie could have been paradigm-shattering. There hasn’t been a blockbuster ‘Star Wars’ for the weird-western genre yet. This could have been it! There’s a world of people out there pretending to be jedi to more deeply immerse themselves in their entertainment – this movie could have launched something similar for gunslingers.

There’s a body of Stephen King movies out there already that actually get tied together in the series – almost everything the man ever wrote comes together in these books. If they wanted a connected universe, what a twist it would have been to buy and show spiffed-up scenes from some of those already-existing movies? The rights would have been pennies compared to the interest drummed up by such a novelty. I’d rather have been marveling over how they pulled that off than spending time watching a male Rita Repulsa fire the deathstar beam from ‘The Force Awakens’ at a bland lego tower.

If you do go see it, please let me know your thoughts. If you never read the books, I’m particularly interested in what you thought of the movie. It’s hard to separate from what I’d hoped to see, so I could be completely wrong about all this.

But I doubt it.