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Dracula on the Page, Stage, & Screen

Here’s some October reading as we invite Autumn to cross the misty threshold and make itself at home. Honestly though, Bram Stoker was not really a very good writer, but though the means through which he told his most famous tale – via the characters’ diaries and letters – is disjointed and often difficult to follow, there is something positively charming about it. Based partly on a dream and partly on his reading into Eastern European history and legend, “Dracula” does tap into some powerful fears humans have involving death, blood, sex, helplessness, and the fear of innocence corrupted. And herein lies its power.

The novel took six years to complete, and was published in 1897, but the man for whom he had in mind for the title role – his employer Sir Henry Irving who was the most celebrated Shakespearean actor of his day – refused to participate in a proposed stage adaptation. It probably would have been one of his greatest roles. And sadly to this day it has never been accurately produced for the theater or filmed for the screen despite countless productions. Hollywood always decides to rewrite what does not need to be rewritten, and cocks up the most powerful scenes with trivial nonsense and overly dramatic posturing, while completely omitting vital aspects and scenes. For instance, did you know that a dashing Texan named Quincey Morris is one of the primary heroes of the novel?

The book is well worth wading through the rather stiff dialogue – Van Helsing’s pidgin Dutch-inflected English is especially hard to read – simply because the mythos that has gone into virtually every vampire story written since and every movie ever made is all there. If you want to understand why there is so much pop culture material today on vampires, sink your teeth into the original book. Plus McNally and Florescu’s research into vampire legends and the history of Romanian hero Vlad the Impaler makes an excellent companion volume for understanding Stoker’s literary creation. By the way, the final action in the closing pages occurs on 6 November, so October would be an excellent time to begin reading. And the late great Christopher Lee did make a largely forgotten film version in 1970 called “Count Dracula” that is supposed to be the closest to the book, even with a white-mustachioed elderly Dracula who grows younger with the biting of each neck. Sounds tasty.

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The Living Speak for the Dead

Stonehenge Burial on Display in the Museum

The story of the recent excavation of the Mycenean Age Griffin Warrior is an amazing one. As an archaeologist, I love reading about such exciting finds, and imagine what it must be like to experience such an event. It must be simply mind-blowing.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/golden-warrior-greek-tomb-exposes-roots-western-civilization-180961441/

But…archaeologists need to be much more careful about their assumptions when excavating any burial. Saying the grave goods are items that belonged to this warrior is a complete and utter assumption. Imagine if his enemies buried him thus in mockery of his non-elite status. This is surely not the case here, but consider it for a moment. Assuming his status based on the presence of these incredible grave goods compounds our assumptions about the grave goods being his own. As Mike Parker Pearson said, we need to think of grave goods as gifts representing the social bond between the living and the dead. After all, who does the burying and the placing of items into a grave – the dead person, or the living human beings who remain to tidy up? And the living may have their own reasons for adding grave goods to a non-elite burial or not adding any at all to an elite burial.

As a child, one of my friends was killed when a train hit the car he was in. At his funeral, I went to the front of the church with my mother to say my goodbyes and see him for one last time. He looked very peaceful, but not real. He must have had considerable physical injuries that had been disguised. A baseball glove with a baseball inside it had been placed beside one arm and a football on the other . I don’t know if he was actually buried with them or not. If he was, would such grave goods tell future archaeologists his was an elite burial, if he alone of all the burials in that cemetery had such items in his coffin? Or that he excelled in sports (which he did)? Or that these items were symbolically placed there by his family? Or that his injuries coupled with those particular items could tell us something vital about his sex, race, class, status, and the society in which he lived? Were those even his own personal belongings, or were they brand new, purpose-bought to look nice to those intrepid enough to look at a 9 year old child in a coffin?

For instance, my paternal grandmother made her own simple dresses all her life. She was a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife and a seamstress. But when she passed away, one of my aunt’s insisted she be buried in a brand new expensive light blue dress that resembled nothing she ever wore in her entire life. I have always cringed at what she would have said about that dress. But she had no voice in that matter. The living speak for the dead.

My point is that we just don’t know enough about most previous societies to assume we know much of anything, and should remain skeptical and alert to interpretations based on these sorts of assumptions based on theories developed by the rather arrogant New Archaeologists of the 1960s. The Romans had it correct: caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. And the excavator and interpreter, too.

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A Lonely Magpie

Magpie

The famous Scottish folk duo called the Corries, whose music I first discovered on my first visit to Culloden Battlefield before the turn of the century, have recorded many, many great songs.  Perhaps the most beautiful , though, is ” Turn Ye Tae Me.”  It was written in the 19th century by a friend of Scott, Wordsworth, & Coleridge named  John Wilson, who was a Scottish writer and academic.  Here is a link to that song as sung by the Corries, if you are interested in hearing the tune I played over and again while writing the following lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTctF1s3dsk  And here is another page with those original lyrics: http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2011/09/turn-ye-to-me.html.

——–

For Rowena Wherever She May Be

A Lonely Magpie

(Tune: Turn Ye Tae Me)

A lonely magpie haunts my dreams and sorrow is his only song

He’s missing his mate, his joy, his true love, and calls for her to come along

When will you come to me, why are we parted?

How will I live so brokenhearted?

Sweet was our song, its echoes I hear

Come home and sing again, my dear.

—-

The woods were dark and I was alone in them, then you were there and you smiled at me

Taking my hand you brought me to life again, and when I kissed you it set me free

Our hearts sang but one song and danced but to one tune

And the bright spear of joy was ours for a while;

Never a thought that we’d ever be parted,

And the music of happiness made us smile.

—-

Then in the dark I let go of your hand, and awoke without you like all was a dream

Deep in the woods I struggled to find you, but the moment had passed – not a trace could I see

White were the blossoms I placed in your hair

Smiling I saw Love in your eyes

Kisses as gentle as dew on a Rowan leaf

Forever I’ll love you – true love never dies

—-

A lonely magpie haunts my dreams and sorrow is his only song

He’s missing his mate, his joy, his true love, and calls for her to come along

When will you come to me, why are we parted?

How will I live so brokenhearted?

Sweet was our song, its echoes I hear

Come home and sing again, my dear.

————————————-

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret,

Never to be told.

One for Sorrow, traditional English nursery rhyme spoken every time one sees a magpie

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The Old Country: Another Take on Another Auld Song

Silly Wizard Wild and Beautiful (1981) LP Cover

I did not awake planning to write new words to another folk song today. Instead, I made some coffee and stirred the ashes of last night’s fire to get it going, and sat down with a book on hunter-gatherers! However, the playlist I chose this morning started off automatically with “Hame, Hame, Hame” – a gorgeous song recorded by the Scottish folk band Silly Wizard for their album Wild and Beautiful (1981). The haunting tune is borrowed from “Tha Mi Sgith” (I am Tired), also known as “Buain na Rainich” “(Cutting the Bracken), which is supposed to be a song of heartbreak by a fairy after being separated from his human girlfriend. The lyrics of Silly Wizard’s version made me consider how sometimes home is really not where you are from, but where the heart is. So here is my attempt to express those feelings in words set to this tune, and here is a link to Silly Wizard’s beautiful rendition of “Hame, Hame, Hame,” – should you like a sense of the tune I was thinking of when I made this new version this morning as the sun was rising – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RND2KMlgP-w.

The Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

Where the rose and the oak

And my bonnie Rowan tree

They are all blooming fair

In the Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

Where my Love and I did run

Through her forest new to me

Where my heart will ever remain

In the Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

Where my Love still remains

Among her mountains green

And I am far away

From the Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

For home is wherever she rests

O my bonnie Rowan tree

Though I am far away

In my own country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

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For Paul, Who Died in the Philippines in 1945

Previously I wrote about my great uncle Dee Douglas, who served in the European theater against the Germans, and his lost love Rosemary of Manchester, England (https://ramblingmuser.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/to-r-h-in-manchester-with-love-from-georgia/). Another tale that must be told is that of his brother Paul, who died in the reinvasion of the Philippines during MacArthur’s 1944-45 campaign to free those islands from Japanese tyranny and oppression.

Everyone living has troubles and worries and pains and griefs, if not when they are younger, then certainly by the time they are a little older. Perhaps this a reminder to myself that as painful as life can be at times, there is much greater grief and pain. This is certainly not to say that today’s heartbreak is not actual heartbreak or that today’s tears are not genuine tears. But the death of a 25 year old boy is something that his family never ever forgets, even though neither I nor my mother ever even met him.

I have several primary source letters to transcribe regarding this, as well as photographs of Paul’s personal effects inherited by my mother, so if you will check back over the next few days, I will add them here. For starters, here is the letter written to Paul’s parents after his death on January 17, 1945 by his company sergeant.

Co. A. 103rd Inf.

A.P.O. 43

March 5, 1945

Phillippines

Dear Mr, Mrs. Douglas,

It has been a custom for us in this unit that when a comrade passes away to write to his folks and pass the information we have about his death.

At the time your son was killed, I was his Platoon Sgt. having lost my platoon leader a week before. So seeing that I was the one in his charge and was there when it happened, I will write down every thing that happen on that bad day of Jan. 17th.

I was given orders to from a line across a river and protect the rear of the companys while they were crossing the river. We were just getting into position when we were fired upon by a group of Japs. We all ran into our position and as Paul was running to his a Jap was hid a short distance from where Paul was going – the Jap being well hid in bamboo patches was not seen by any of us or by Paul.

The Jap fired and his shot entered your son’s right side under the shoulder and came out on his left side – killing him instantly. A few of us made a run where Paul layed but was fired on. We made three attempts and finally reached him while the rest of the boys gave us supporting rifle fire. Two of his comrades really put themselves in danger to reach him. That’s how a good your son Paul was to all of us.

I and many in our company have known your son for a long time. And I must say, Paul had always been a very good soldier, never gave any of us any sort of trouble and whenever anything turned up, Paul would be willing to help.

We will all miss him as you do too. No doubt it was a bad shock to both of you but I’m sure that his death was not one of suffering. And his fine conduct as a soldier no doubt brought him to God. At our first service for our fallen comrades I and all remembered him in our prayers and also you and Mrs. Douglas.

In closing, I am wishing you and all the very best of luck and health. May God bless you all. And if Paul’s personal effect doesn’t reach you within the next month or so, please write me and I will see to it that they are mailed to you.

May God be with you,

2nd LT. ROLAND A. LECLAIR

CO. A. 103rd INF. A.P.O. 43

c/o P.M.S.F. CALIF.

You will notice that I’m in a different company now, being promoted to 2nd LT. I was transferred to this unit, but I still miss my former CO. F.

image

PFC Paul Douglas of Coffee County, Georgia; KIA on January 17, 1945 in the Philippines, and awarded a posthumous Purple Heart

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