Turns out it was raining, so I took the big black umbrella and ventured around the block in 98 percent humidity and this is what I found:
Short post this time, because the dominant monster of this week has been the one inside my maxillary sinuses, gumming up the works with all kinds of intangible crud. I’ve been on a strict regimen of two naps a day, and I rouse for the hour when my desperate fingers scrabble open another blister pack of Tylenol Multi-Symptom Cold & Flu.
For today’s feature, I have two machine monsters.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any additional info on this one. It looks like a pretty straightforward commentary on the perceived danger of railroad crossings to the fledgling automobile. In 1910, only 200,000 cars were manufactured in the U.S.* I like how the train, while clearly mechanical, has taken on the characteristics of a snake, with two stabbing fangs and a forked tongue.
Straight out of a steampunk nightmare, this creature is a smoking, clanking ravener of humanity. Its relentless metal wheels roll over the houses and culture of the tiny towns below. Monstrous & mechanical, though it has headlamp ‘eyes,’ it is clearly indifferent to the lives it shovels and crushes. Presumably a metaphor for the First World War, I actually find it really disturbing.
Benda was a Polish-American artist and illustrator. He was proud of his heritage and often drew heroines in Slavic costume. He designed propaganda posters for both Poland and the U.S. during both World Wars. Later in his career, he turned from illustrating to making masks.
That’s all for the day. My snot-filled brain just can’t take any more.
[All images from The Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs]
Welcome to the 2nd installment of historical monsters. Up today–animal and other ‘beast’ monsters.
Starting with some classic beast-action from the Christian bible, this 15th-century woodcut shows “Saint John seeing a…seven-headed beast that looked like a leopard rising out of the sea.” You can tell it’s a leopard because of the spots. I like how each of the seven heads appear both feline and human.
The sea, being all big and fathomless and salty, is a popular place to store your monster. Here, in a political cartoon from 1901, this cranky-but-not-violent looking sea monster in the shape of a lion (?) references Odysseus mythology to comment on the Tammany Hall corruption scandals in turn-of-the-last century New York. I think today’s political cartoons would benefit from more sea monsters. It could only raise the standard of discourse.
Sea monsters aren’t just useful for scolding naughty politicians into more moral behavior, they’re also good for….selling fertilizer? Apparently so. This ad dates from just after the Civil War and shows “prehistoric monsters” tussling (& dying) in a swamp. According to Carolina Fertilizer’s promotional strategy, their fertilizer “…is made from the PHOSPHATES of South Carolina, and is pronounced by various chemists one of the best Manures known, only inferior to Peruvian Guano in its FERTILIZING PROPERTIES. These PHOSPHATES are the remains of extinct land and sea animals, and possess qualities of the greatest value to the agriculturist.”* So there you have it: only inferior to Peruvian Guano. Can’t argue with that.
I love the skeleton horse at the top – I kind of want one myself. I’d feed it raw hamburger & the ashes of carrots. I’d always keep a supply of sugarplum fingertips in my pockets and…um, sorry. Pony love gone wrong. Where was I? Okay, so actually, this drawing is tabloid journalism, 19th-century-style. According to the catalog record, this is [a detail from] “the second of two prints surrounding the scandalous trial of Methodist minister Ephraim K. Avery for the brutal murder of factory girl Sarah Maria Cornell.[…] Avery has departed the scene of his crime where his victim, now expired, still hangs strangled from a post. Her shoes, kerchief, and a note reading “If I am missing enquire of the Revd. Mr…” lay nearby. As monsters fly overhead, Avery is rowed toward a shore at right where an inferno blazes and a man is boiled in a cauldron.”
More social commentary. This 3-eyed, fanged, and ugly dude with forked tongue appears in a pen and ink drawing published in the New York Herald, Jan. 23, 1919, representing fears of a new threat of drugs (as opposed to the familiar old threat of alcohol) to U.S. society. What you need to know is that the Constitutional Amendment (18th) kicking off the Prohibition Era in the US was ratified by Congress on Jan. 16, 1919. The fez and billowing pants presumably reference the idea that drugs such as opium and heroin hail from the Ottoman East.
And now I leave you, good readers, with this horrible, hideous, fantastical, impossible beast. Machine mosters and comic monsters are yet to come.
[All images from The Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs]
*From Lives Between the Tides, by John Leland. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002. p38-39
What I’m thinking about this week:
- Paleo diet presumptions drive me nuts. Maybe we should all just start eating monkeys. Here’s a (kind of wordy) counter-argument.
- Koalas with human fingerprints! And why glycoproteins keep fish from freezing.
- I am listening to Hari Kunzru’s “Gods Without Men” on audio this week. I’m on Disc 5 (of 12), and I love it! Slip Inside This House with Kunzru’s mixtape playlist.
- Once upon a time in the West, it was totes okay for men to hold hands. (In other places–India, for example–it still is)
- At WisCon 36, I went to a great reading with Chris Barzak— he read from a funny ghost story, a bit out of character for him; Mary Rickert (she read a short story about angels, coming on Tor.com), and Ben Rosenbaum read from “Elsewhere”. Sofia Samatar read from her new novel, “A Stranger in Olondria,” a rich, captivating tale of a young man’s journey. This week her story “Honey Bear” is in Clarkesworld. Read it.
- Also? I would like to eat this. Thank you, that is all.
I like words as much as the next writer/reader but, hey, sometimes I just want to look at pictures. Today, I have some Monsters from History!
According to the catalog entry on this one, Rowlandson was “sometimes accused of being coarse and indelicate.” The other figures in the same study do show acrobats or gymnasts oddly placed on top of lizards.
This guy is from a children’s book. He’s also carrying a large book. Is he trying to scare them with reading? I hope not!
Now we’re getting serious. Our man on the raft has some demon teeth, and he’s scooping up the bodies. Interestingly, the catalog calls this “a humorous picture.”
In some ways, the most disturbing. This is a propaganda poster from 1918, dehumanizing a political opponent with visual scare tactics. The [translated] original text reads: “Bolshevism brings war, unemployment and starvation.”
That’s all for today. Stay tuned for more monsters: beast-monsters, monsters of the machine age, and humorous monsters.
[All photos from The Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs]
My historical fantasy story just won First Place in the Writers of the Future contest (2nd Quarter, 2012). This is the only story I have ever written in a single sitting. I was floating around in the pool on a hot summer day, and I kept thinking about a little girl and an owl*. I paddled around, and the details trickled into my mind. Eventually, I had to drag my butt up out of the delicious water and go inside to sit at my hot desk because this story wasn’t going to go away. I wrote longhand in my notebook until I thought my fingers were going to fall off, but after a couple of sticky hours, I made it all the way to the end**.
[I’ve edited this post from the original, since it seems I’m maybe not supposed to give away the title or any details of my story that could identify it to the judges. So just pretend I am waffling on here about my research difficulties, and how since I sometimes earn my money for life’s necessities*** by working as a photo researcher, I like to use places like the National Archives for looking into the past.]
I’ll re-post the original content sometime next year, when all danger of judging is past, and when the story comes out in the WotF anthology.
*The owl didn’t make it into the final version.
**Neither did the original ending. Or the next one. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.
***Peaches, cat food, and blue ink Pilot G2 Extra-fine point pens