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Last of the Titans: A Note on the Passing of Ray Harryhausen (and Forrest Ackerman and Ray Bradbury)

Monstrous_Singularities_150pxEDITOR’S NOTE: With this post we welcome award-winning writer, editor, filmmaker, composer, and artist Jason V. Brock to the Teem. Jason’s work has been published in Butcher Knives & Body Counts, Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities, Fungi, Fangoria, S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings series, and elsewhere. He was Art Director/Managing Editor for Dark Discoveries magazine for more than four years, and he edits the biannual pro digest [NAMEL3SS], dedicated to “the macabre, esoteric and intellectual,” which can be found on Twitter at @NamelessMag and on the Interwebs at www.NamelessMag.com. He and his wife, Sunni, also run Cycatrix Press.

As a filmmaker Jason’s work includes the documentaries Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, The Ackermonster Chronicles!, and Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic. He is the primary composer and instrumentalist/singer for his band, ChiaroscurO. Jason loves his wife, their family of reptiles/amphibians, travel, and vegan/vegetarianism. He is active on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter (@JaSunni_JasonVB) and at his and Sunni’s personal website/blog, www.JaSunni.com.

Jason will contribute an occasional column titled “Monstrous Singularities.” For this inaugural installment, he offers an elegiac reflection on the passing of three authentic titans of fantasy, horror, and science fiction whose work literally helped to define major aspects of popular culture and collective psychology during the twentieth century.

* * *

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

They were present at the beginning… and we are witness to their end.

Endings, in many ways, are entrances into self-realization — whether a portal into some altered state of mind, a window into collective insight, or even a chance for some final and comforting acceptance. Endings signify not only change, but also, often, transcendence, either metaphorically or literally, and on occasion simultaneously. Be it a lonely struggle that reaches a sad (even tragic) conclusion, or perhaps the unexpected outcome of a traumatic situation, or the shared exhilaration of justice served, endings are always transitional, even transformational, in ways that beginnings cannot be. Endings are the true headstones by which we collectively measure and define history. They are markers of conclusiveness — more so than births or the start of a new venture, which can be shrouded in secrecy, obscured by the fog of antiquity, or both. Thus, they are uniquely able to serve as touchstones for what has been bequeathed to the past (what cannot be again) and what is yet to be accomplished (and is therefore allotted to the future).

In May of 2013, the 92-year-old stop-motion animation film pioneer and artistic genius Ray Harryhausen, perhaps best known for his creation of the special visual effects for Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, passed away. His ending completes, in a sense, a circle of loss for the world; with the transitioning of Harryhausen away from the realm of the living and into the annals of time, a triumvirate of giants has now vanished from the Earth, a troika destined to become even more powerful in voice, authority, and veneration over time. This amplification will undoubtedly be quite profound in the immediately foreseeable future, as people who are not yet aware of them, or who may have forgotten the seismic impact of their works and personalities, discover or rediscover their greatness and celebrate it even more, perchance, than those who instantly recognized it and mourned their loss to humanity and culture. Read the rest of this entry

“The Uncanny Convergence of Religion and Horror”: My new column for NAMELESS MAGAZINE

The first installment of Numinosities, my new column for [Nameless] Magazine, is available for free reading at the journal’s Website.

[Nameless] is a newly launched “Biannual Journal of the Macabre, Esoteric and Intellectual.” Edited by Jason V. Brock and S. T. Joshi — a fine team indeed — its stated goal is “to meld divergent (even challenging) critical perspectives on a variety of subjects — fiction, music, art, film, social commentary — and present them with the best content (literary, artistic, and, in the case of the website, multimedia) we can muster from the genres of horror, science fiction, magical realism, slipstream, and dark fantasy.” The format is a biannual print journal and electronic edition combined with a Web magazine.

The debut issue, dated Summer 2012, is now available, and is a really impressive piece of work featuring a beautiful visual layout and contributions from the likes of William F. Nolan, John C. Tibbetts, and Gene O’Neill. So it was a welcome thing when Jason contacted me with an invitation to contribute a recurring column about horror, religion, and philosophy to future issues.

The first Numinosities column is about the perennial entanglement of religion with horror in a way that makes each imply and entail the other. Here’s the gist:

In point of fact, horror and religion have always been bound together in the most intimate of entanglements. Look to the ancient Sumerians: you’ll find in their cosmogony the tale of Tiamat, the great chaos dragon who formed the original, primal substance of reality until her children, who were more anthropomorphic, and who were therefore the gods worshipped by humans, overthrew her. Observe that horror came first, before divine solace, in the most ancient creation story of which we’re collectively aware. Check the ancient Egyptians, those vital quasi-neighbors of the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent, and you’ll find similar instances of daemonic monstrousness built right into their reigning theologies at nearly all points. The same goes for the ancient Greeks, some of whose creation myths involved the progressive overthrow of primal chaotic monstrousness — think the Titans, think Kronos devouring his children — in order to produce the ordered cosmos we have today.

[…]

So why, then, should people today still find it necessary to ask about the connection between religion and horror? When it would be more reasonable to ask if they have ever not been connected, why do so many of us moderns find it odd or shocking to hear their deep linkage called out and explicitly identified?

Perhaps — and here I may simply be indulging my own temperament and mistaking it for insight, or perhaps I may really be onto something (a judgment I will invite the reader to make for him- or herself) — perhaps it has to do with an unconscious recognition that only a few have ever named aloud, a recognition that is simultaneously implicit and explicit in all of those great biblical images of a wrathful God whose transcendent nature is categorically other than the natural world, so that, even though this nature is technically termed “holiness,” it emerges in human experience more as a tremendous, awe-and-dread-inspiring eruption of supernatural nightmarishness that is fundamentally corrosive both to the world at large and to the human sensibility in particular. In other words, perhaps it has to do with a psychologically subterranean sense of unsettlement at the notion that the divine itself, not just in its conventionally demonic aspects but in its intrinsic essence, may be fundamentally menacing.

— Matt Cardin, “Things That Should Not Be: The Uncanny Convergence of Religion and Horror,” Numinosities, [Nameless] Magazine, December 1, 2012

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Image: “”Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons