alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Picture Thursday: Monsters of the Library of Congress, Part III – Machines

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.

Locomotive threatens an automobile at a road crossing

“The grade crossing monster,” by W.A. Rogers, 1911.

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.

Fierce machine monster rolling over a city

[Smoking monster engine destroying town], by Wladyslaw T. Benda, circa 1922

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.

Want more? See Part I – Humanoids, and Part II, Beasts

[All images from The Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs]

*http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Motor_vehicles


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Picture Thursday: Monsters of the Library of Congress — Part II, Beasts

Welcome to the 2nd installment of historical monsters. Up today–animal and other ‘beast’ monsters.

7-headed beast from 'Revelations'

Woodcut. Apocalypsis Sancti Johannis. [Germany : ca. 1470].

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.

Sea monster

Sea monster, by Udo J. Keppler [1872-1956]

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.

Carolina Fertilizer advertisement

Wood engraving, advertisement for Carolina Fertilizer, 1869

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.

Lithograph of minister in boat surrounded by demons

“A minister extraordinary taking passage & bound on a foreign mission to the court of his satanic majesty!” Lithograph by Henry R. Robinson, 1833

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.”

Illustration showing 'drug habit' as a 3-eyed monster

“The new morality play exit demon rum–enter drug habit,” by W.A. Rogers, 1919.

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.

Woodcut of a rhinoceros, by Albrecht  Dürer, 1515

“The Rhinoceros,” woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, 1515

[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


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Weekly Roundup 8.19.12

Monkey eating flowers

Photo by Ingmar Zahorsky via Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

What I’m thinking about this week:


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Picture Thursday: Monsters of the Library of Congress – Part I, Humanoids

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!

Monster with crossed honrs by Thomas Rowlandson

Study of monsters, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1756-1827

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.

Monster by Oliver Herford

“A horrible monster glared at them.” Illus. by Oliver Herford, 1863-1935. From “The Woog and the Weez,” 1895.

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!

Monster on a raft collecting Buddhist worshippers, by Kobayashi Kiyochika

Harvesting in an enemy river, by Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1847-1915

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.”

Monster holding knife and bomb

Bomb-throwing monster on German anti-Bolshevist poster. Illus. by Julius Engelhard, 1883-1964.

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]


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Writing For the Future With An Eye On the Past [Revised version]

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