November 30, 2015

Sokurah the Sorcerer

Tonight I watched The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, a Ray Harryhausen film from 1958. I love the stop motion animation in this film, but I am particularly fond of the sorcerer character, Sokurah, played by Torin Thatcher. His costume in this film is perfect in its simplicity: simple black robe with a black cloak decorated with mysterious, occult symbols. I appreciate when magicians are rendered in this way: quite ordinary on the surface but possessing great depths and deep secrets. Later Sokurah evolves, becomes quite extraordinary, the most dangerous denizen of the deadly Island of Colossus. He has a mysterious underground castle, a scrying sphere, and a pet dragon; he is a necromancer and alchemist,  and is able to animate a skeleton and command it as his loyal guardian and soldier. Although Sokurah transforms from court jester to arch-villain, his death, at the end of the film, sees him come full circle; he is squashed, quite incidentally, when his pet dragon, wounded in the breast by a giant crossbow bolt, falls upon him. This always seemed like the perfect, symmetrical finish for this character: clown becomes villain becomes clown again.

November 29, 2015

The Mutability of Reality in Shakespeare

This weekend I saw some Shakespeare performances, A Midsummer Night's Dream and A Winter's Tale at Blackfriars Theater in Staunton, Virginia, a wonderful venue, a recreation of Shakespeare's indoor theater. I was thinking about how both of these plays express a core aesthetic strategy inherent in "the literature of wonder," my term for science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural horror: reality is conditional. The ordinary is mutable. This comes through in A Midsummer Night's Dream with Bottom's soliloquy. He wakes up alone in the woods having been, for a brief moment, the guest of fairies and the beloved of the queen of fairies: "I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream -- past the wit of man to say what dream it was." And this comes through in A Winter's Tale, when Antigonus, leaving a condemned child to the wilderness, states, "I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o' the dead may walk again: if such thing be, thy mother appear'd to me last night, for ne'er was dream so like a waking." In both instances, there is a blurring between waking life and dream life, the objective and the subjective. Tzvetan Todorov discusses the fantastic in these terms.