alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Best Use of Cannibalism

On the way to work this morning (one of the best times for unfettered thinking, along with showering, tooth-brushing, and cleaning the litter boxes), I realized there *has* been a recent book that effectively utilizes a cannibal character: one of the best books I’ve ever read, James Meek’s The People’s Act of Love.The People's Act of Love by James Meek

Samarin is not a bone-through-the-nose colonial “savage” from the tropics, but he does represent what is beyond the fringe of civilization, and he is a flesh-eater. An escapee from an arctic prison camp known as The White Garden, Samarin stumbles into an occupied town in Siberia in 1919. In the first telling Samarin is not the eater but the potentially eaten, the “pig” that The Mohican, another prisoner, brings along to survive the escape across the frozen tundra.

Maybe Samarin escaped from the Mohican. Maybe the Mohican is hot on Samarin’s heels, bringing his ruthlessness to the village and murdering the old blind shaman. Maybe Samarin has made up the story of the Mohican. Maybe Samarin is the Mohican.

“First the old get eaten by the weak, then the weak get eaten by the strong, and then the strong get eaten by the clever.”

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Monster of the Year

The material forms of our collective nightmares are subject to fashion. This year would have to be the year of the vampire. Zombies are also popular.

But just as low-waisted flares get the shove from the fashion scene to make way for armpit-hugging granny jeans, there isn’t room for all our monsters at one time.

A monster we don’t hear much from lately is the cannibal.

Body parts for sale

Body parts for sale

I work in a library, and whenever I go to the water fountain, there’s always a reshelving cart parked right there, full of intriguing titles. This week’s winner was, ‘Our Cannibals, Ourselves,’ by Priscilla L. Walton.

Walton traces conceptual origins of the cannibal to Homer (Polyphemus the Cyclops enjoys the occasional meal of raw sailor), but notes that the word doesn’t enter European languages until Columbus.

As you might expect, there is a lot of ugly racism/colonialism hovering around the representation of cannibals, from H. Rider Haggard through Gilligan’s Island. But there is also the possibility that cannibalism doesn’t have anything to do with actual eating at all:

The admiral says that he well believes there is something in this [report of cannibals], but…they must be an intelligent people…He believed that they may have captured some men and that, because they did not return to their own land, they would say they were eaten.” -from Columbus’s diaries, Walton, p.2ocos_plw

I really love that. That being ‘eaten’ could mean being swallowed by another culture. In many ways, that would make the US, the British, the French, and all the other dominating cultures, the true cannibals, not the poor guy in the palm leaf sarong and the finger-bone necklace.

So where does that leave us in monster-movie land? I’m not sure, but from where I’m sitting, it looks like cannibals are due for a re-examination.