The Magic of Forgiveness


As a South African I felt a personal obligation to write this. Call it a tribute or a lesson. Last Friday was probably one of the saddest days in the history of mankind. The weight of sorrow could be felt around the globe. The world mourned the death of a great man.

But what defines greatness? I suppose we could argue all day about the definition of the word. Many of us would have differing opinions, I’m sure. See, I think greatness does not only lie in great acts or feats. Greatness is not always something that has to be seen in a person’s actions. Greatness can lie in a simple thought or feeling.

There are many reasons why people think Nelson Mandela was great. Usually the reason has to do with his role as a freedom fighter- standing up to an oppressive regime; languishing in prison for 27 years for fighting for what he believed in; unifying and leading a divided country into a new era. You will also hear accounts of his humility from every person who has met him.

But for me his ability to unify a divided nation lay in a simple act. The act of forgiveness.

I’ve used the word ‘simple’ twice so far. Perhaps wrong of me since the act of forgiving is far from simple.
Why did I admire Madiba so much, why do I think he was such a great man? Well, because I’m the least forgiving person I know.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who can claim guilt. I think everyone harbours some degree of resentment when it comes to being wronged. We have all been wronged at some point in our lives whether it was by our former friends, best friends, lovers, colleagues, bosses, relatives or even by people we don’t even know. I, for one, have the horrible habit of holding grudges long after everything is over.

"What did you say about me while I was in prison? *POW*" - ...exactly what did NOT happen.

“What did you say about me while I was in prison? *POW*” – …exactly what did NOT happen.

I’m sure many people would have behaved differently if they were in Madiba’s shoes. If they had just been released from prison after a very, very long time, and had the power he had, I’m sure the first thing they would liked to have done was to don their gloves on, use his well-known boxing skills and punch those captors in the face! Then I’m sure they would have gone to Malan’s, Verwoerd’s and Vorster’s and punched all of them in the face too! (Which would not make any sense since they were all dead by then, but you get what I’m saying here). While I was preparing this post, my boyfriend related to me the story(which I was not entirely aware of) of Madiba’s visit to Betsie Verwoerd shortly after becoming President. In a gargantuan step towards reconciliation, he defied logic by having tea with the wife of the man who was responsible for imprisoning him!

That is why Nelson Mandela was great. He came out not only forgiving his oppressors but embracing them too. It might seem like a simple human thing to do, but how many of us would have? It truly takes greatness and courage to make such a step.

After 1994 there was an aggressive aim towards reformation. Everything had to be changed- the flag, emblems, street names. Then there was the Springbok emblem debacle. Why was it a debacle? Because everyone wanted our national rugby team’s logo to be changed…except one person.

Rugby was not just considered a white man’s sport, it was an ‘Afrikaner sport.’ That springbok image came to embody everything that was associated with Apartheid. Yet our Tata wanted to keep it. Not only did he manage to convince the relevant authorities to keep the image, he would take it a step further by wearing it.

I can imagine a thousand years from now, legend will state that it was his act of wearing that Springbok jersey with Francois Pienaar’s No.6 on it that won us the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Yes it’s true. An all white team (bar one player) represented us in the final that year. Did it matter? No. Because on that day Madiba rendered skin colour insignificant. It was one of those moments that were so magical Hollywood had to go and make a movie of it. As for the Springbok, it has since shed its pre-Democratic associations. It is now a symbol of victory and unity. The man managed to change the symbology of an emblem. That’s true magic. Madiba Magic.

And that’s what lies in the power of forgiveness. Nelson Mandela had no hatred in his heart and his attitude brought peace to this country. Imagine how the world would change if we all followed in his footsteps?

Unfortunately the likes of Nelson Mandela will never be seen again, not for a very long time at least. Such greatness in man is rare which is why our country, and the world, weeps.
 

 

Nelson_Mandela,_2000_(5)“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
– Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918 – 2013

NM 😦

The Beast Of Gevaudan – an HML post


BESTIE~130 June 1764, Gevaudan, southern France. A 14-year-old girl named Jeanne Boulet is found dead in the hills near the village of Les Hubacs where she often tended to her sheep and cattle. Her body was found savagely maimed. Authorities attributed the attack to some wild animal. Given the girl’s youth and vulnerability they thought nothing more of the incident.

Within two months of Boulet’s death however, there were 6 more attacks in the Gevaudan (now modern-day Lozere) area. Those that did not survive the attacks were found to have sustained serious injuries to the face and neck and parts of their body appeared to have been eaten. Those that did survive gave an alarming description of their assailant: possessing the features of a wolf it was bigger than a cow, had giant teeth, an enormous tail and dark-reddish fur. It also had a terrible odour and some eyewitnesses claimed that they saw it walk on its hind legs…

What creature was this that was roaming the French countryside, devouring humans at will? To this day the true identity of the Beast of Gevaudan still remains a mystery…

The hunt begins…

By September 1764, the number of attacks not only escalated but became ever more violent. Some corpses were found decapitated as a result of their necks being torn out completely. These incidents caused such a stir that the reigning King Louis XV felt obligated to get involved.

In June 1765, he dispatched Francois Antoine, his personal Lieutenant of the hunt to hunt and kill the beast after previous searches by professional wolf-hunters proved unsuccessful. On 21 September, Antoine killed a large grey wolf which he believed to be the one guilty of the attacks. Everybody believed so too, and Antoine was hailed as a national hero. The animal was stuffed, preserved as a token of his achievement, and sent to the King’s Court.

Two months later however, the attacks started again and more deaths were reported. The Beast of Gevaudan was still at large…

Antoine shows off the stuffed wolf at the King's Court in Versaille.

Antoine shows off the stuffed wolf at the King’s Court in Versaille.

The reign of terror comes to an end

In June 1767, nearly three years after the first attacks, farmer Jean Castel shot and killed a large animal resembling a wolf. When its body was cut open, human flesh was found in its stomach. The attacks ceased completely after that day and Castel has become a legend –now known as the man who killed the Beast of Gevaudan. This heroic feat of Castel’s is shrouded in controversy however. Legend claims that Castel used a gun loaded with silver bullets and waited for the animal which approached him cautiously. The farmer was then able to fire at close range. This is apparently were the idea that silver bullets kill werewolves originated from.

Theories abound

Not surprisingly, thanks to historians, cryptozoologists and animal behaviourists, a range of theories exist as to the nature of the Beast of Gevaudan:

Not just one?

A popular theory was that a pack of wolves were responsible not just one single animal. It could explain how the attacks stretched across a vast distance of 90sq kilometres across the countryside. Although survivor accounts always seem to state the presence of one attacker.

Asian Hyena?

Some experts are adamant that the Beast of Gevaudan was not a wolf but in fact the Asian(now extinct) or Striped Hyena. They argue that no breed of wolf, even a large one would be able to able to bite through human bone but the hyena can (however it should be noted that hyenas tend to have distinct markings (stripes/spots) on their bodies, which the Beast did not).

Mutation?

Some claim that the Beast was a mutation of some sort, a hybrid of a wolf and another animal. Animal behaviourists state that its behaviour was very unusual for a wolf. Wolves generally fear humans and are known for attacking domestic animals and livestock. Why attack people but leave their cattle (which were clearly in plain sight) alone? Its appearance might have been that of a wolf but its behaviour suggests some other DNA in its makeup.

Human Involvement?

Plaque dedicated to Jean Castel in the village of la Besseyre Saint Mary in Lozere where he killed the 'Beast'.

Plaque dedicated to Jean Castel in the village of la Besseyre Saint Mary in Lozere where he shot the ‘Beast’.

A theory that is quite popular is that Jean Castel was somehow responsible for the attacks, the human agent that was controlling the Beast. If Castel’s story of how he killed the Beast holds true, then the animal’s behaviour towards Castel comes into question. Castel managed to get awfully close to it without it attacking which was unusual for the Beast. Theory goes that Castel kept the Beast as a pet or possibly reared a wolf pup to become a killing machine. Although as to what Castel’s motive could have been in setting this monster upon the citizens of Gevaudan has not properly established by theorists.

Werewolf?

And what sort of mystery would this be without a possible supernatural explanation? Even if cynics do call out the overactive imaginations of superstitious 18th century peasants, they would still find it hard to explain the exclusive tastes of the Beast. Why did it only attack humans? What also added to this theory were the accounts of bipedalism in the animal from some eyewitnesses.

In three years, there were over 100 deaths attributed to the murderous beast and a hundred more people who were attacked but who escaped with their lives. The events from 1764 to 1767 were well documented yet almost 250 years later it’s still a topic of debate.

So, my perceptive readers, who or what exactly was the Beast of Gevaudan? Was it an ordinary animal with extraordinary strength? Was it a crossbreed, a mutation? Maybe a human agent was involved, controlling the beast. Were a pack of wolves responsible? Or was it in fact a werewolf???

NM 🙂

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

REFERENCES

Breverton, T. Breverton’s Phantasmagoria: A Compendium of Monsters, Myths and Legends, Lyons Press, USA. 2011.

Smith, J. Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast.Havard College, USA. 2011.

Wikipedia-Beast of Gevaudan

Other interesting sites:

http://www.unknownexplorers.com/beastofgevaudan.php

http://cryptozoology.wikia.com/wiki/Beast_of_Gevaudan

http://cryptidchronicles.tumblr.com/post/26205872354/beast-of-gevaudan

The Pied Piper of Hameln – An HML Post


Most of us are familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale, the Pied Piper of Hamelin. 
The German town of Hamelin(or Hameln, the German variant spelling) is besieged by rats and the townsfolk are at a loss at how to deal with this pestilent problem.
One day a man appears, dressed in an outfit of many colours, and offers to rid the town of the vermin in exchange for a fee. The town elders agree on a price and the man takes out a flute and starts playing a strange tune. As he walks through the streets of Hameln, the sound of his music brings forth the rats, which follow him as he makes his way to the river Weser. He leads them straight into the water where they all drown.

Oldest picture of the Pied Piper, reproduced from the painting on the glass window of the Market Church in Hameln. Image in Public Domain.

Relieved as the people were to be rid of the rats, the town elders go back on their word and refuse to pay the Piper for his troubles. Seeking revenge for their treachery, the rat-catcher returns to the town the very next day. He plays a different melody but this time it is the children who become influenced by his playing and start dancing and following him through the streets. He leads them out of the town, to the base of a mountain where a cavern opens up. The children enter the mountain, the cavity closes, and they are never seen again.

No doubt a grim and morbid fairytale but did this incident really take place? Does this children’s story have a basis in fact?

Of course, the town of Hameln really does exist in the German province of Lower Saxony. And to this day the town still holds certain traditions and annual festivals in honour of the missing 130 children and two 16th century houses bear commemorative plaques mentioning the date in which they disappeared.

But what do the historical records say?

The commemorative plaques give the precise date of that fateful day as 26 June 1284. A historical document called the Luneberg Manuscript (published in the 1400’s) also gives this exact date this yet later records give the date of 22 July 1376.

It should be noted however that the earliest mentions only tell of the children’s disappearance. No reason or explanation is given. It’s only until the 16th century that mention of the Pied Piper is made and was popularized by English poet Robert Browning and the Grimm Brothers.

Interestingly, the Market Church in Hameln’s town centre has a stained glass window on which is a clear depiction of a colourfully dressed flute player leading a group of dancing children who are all dressed in white. The construction of the building dates back to the 1300’s.

The Symbolic Rat-Catcher

Where precise dates are given for the children’s’ disappearance, the figure of the Pied Piper seems to be shrouded in mystery. There obviously is a supernatural quality to the Piper but did such a person actually exist or was there someone who at least inspired the famous fairytale figure?

During the Middle Ages, rat-catching was a popular profession due to the outbreaks of bubonic plague and rat-catchers were often sought for their services. But no disgruntled rat-catcher with a grudge to bear has been noted. Perhaps the iconic Pied Piper was representative of, not so much the rats, but of the certain death that was brought on by the plague-some scholars feel he’s a representation of the Grim Reaper leading the children away into the afterlife…

The Missing Children

If the Piper really did represent Death, there is no historical proof to suggest that the children died of natural causes. There are no records stating that the plague was responsible. In fact the plague, or Black Death, only reached Europe in the 14th century.

Re-enactments of the Pied Piper story take place annually in Hameln. Image in Public Domain.

Due to the motif in the legend that the children were ‘dancing’ to their doom, some claim that the disease was not the plague but St.Vitus’ Dance, an infliction that was common during Medieval times and characterised by involuntary body movements due to the motor senses being affected.

Of course this is also conjecture as there’s no solid evidence to back this theory either. Up until the 19th century, two crosses stood erect at the base of the Koppelberg Mountain to mark the spot where the children apparently entered and were last seen. The original date when the crosses were erected could not be found but perhaps this is evidence that the kids had indeed left the town?

The Children’s Crusade

One of the more popular explanations given for the mass disappearance were the events that took place during the 13th century known as the Children’s Crusades.

In 1212, due to the European Christian Crusaders’ failure to capture Jerusalem, two armies, consisting of entirely children from France and Germany, marched on to the Holy Land. Convinced that God would protect them, the children were determined to fight the Muslim Crusaders but the mission was a disaster and many of the kids died along the way due to exhaustion and the rest never made it back home.

There have been some incidents recorded of travellers to Eastern Europe and North Africa, who met locals who claim to have been born in Germany and were separated from their families. Indeed the Grimms’ fairytale version (possibly an attempt to give the story a happier ending) has an itinerant come across a small village in Transylvania, whose residents spoke German and who claimed their forefathers were from a town in Germany.

The problem with the Children’s Crusades theory however, is that the earliest date given for the disappearance of the Hameln kids is 1284. The Children’s Crusades were well-documented and the well-established date of 1212 is given.

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Whether a complete literary hoax or a legend based on fact, the origins of the Pied Piper will continue to be a mystery.

To this day, the town of Hameln celebrates its association with the legendary rat-catcher as re-enactments are carried out every year on 26 June, in honour of the 130 children who disappeared. There is even a street, named the Bungen-Strasse, which forbids the playing of music (the Bungen-Strasse was allegedly the route the Pied Piper had taken). If that isn’t enough, a bronze statue of the iconic flute-player stands proudly outside the Hameln Town hall.

So my perceptive readers, do you think the Pied Piper really existed? What of your thoughts on the children’s disappearance? If it’s all just a fairytale, how do you explain the preciseness of all the dates given? All thoughts are welcome 🙂

NM 🙂

LITERATURE

The Pied Piper of Hamelin(poem) by Robert Browning

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by the Brothers’ Grimm

MOVIES 

The Pied Piper of Hamelin(1957) –(dir.) Bretaigne Windust

The Pied Piper(1986)(Original Czech title: Krysar)- (dir.)Jiri Barta

REFERENCES

Facts and Fallacies, Readers’ Digest, pages 354-355. Readers’ Digest Association. USA.1988.

http://www.hameln.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin

http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/3805/the_lost_children_of_hamelin.html (MJ Perez Cuervo)

ALL IMAGES TAKEN FROM WIKIPEDIA COMMONS.

The value of undervalued things.


When Becky asked me last week, in reply to Legendary Ladies of Literature, whether I had known any of those women prior to working on that post I vaguely commented that I had heard of Sappho when I was younger. But the vague comment hid the flood of memories that came cascading into my mind as I thought about the first time I heard Sappho’s name. Now this might come as a shock to you but it was not in a book or in a documentary or even in school. I was introduced to her via a…kids’ cartoon.

Now granted there are many animated shows aimed at children which incorporate elements of classical history and ancient folklore which I suppose could be deemed educational in a sense but this cartoon was different. I will go so far as to say that it was probably my favourite show as a teen although nowadays I’m never eager to admit it. Why? Well because the show was not as famous as it should have been.

Years ago, at university, during the first tutorial of a semester, for orientation we were asked to introduce ourselves and state what our favourite show was (amongst other things) in an attempt to get to know one another. I mentioned this cartoon as being one of my favourites only to receive reactions of weird looks and furrowed brows. Nothing is worse than speaking about something you love only for it to be unappreciated because nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about. Just because something is not well-known, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good.

For the record this cartoon I’m harping on about was called Histeria (yes, that is the correct spelling). It was a Warner Bros production, ran for only two years but was cancelled due to issues with the budget. Not surprisingly, it was created for the purposes of edutainment, quite similar to Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series, but it didn’t seem to catch on in the viewership rankings.
In History and English I attribute a lot of what I know now to Histeria, rather than my lessons at school. And that is no exaggeration. When knowledge stays with you years after the lesson has ended – THAT’s real education.

Yes, the humour was juvenile but famous names and places stuck with me. In one memorable episode I found out who Emily Dickinson, Moliére , Basho and Sappho were. In the very same episode I learnt what a haiku was and got to know a bit more about the life of Mark Twain.
Aaaaaaand…guess what? You gotta love Youtube. I actually managed to find a clip from that very episode for you! Quality’s not very good but better than nothing. For the life of me I cannot understand why this show was not as popular as it should have been. Of course I’m known for being terribly bias…

What about you? Was there a not-so-famous show or movie that made an impact on you or your life? Or perhaps you read a really inspirational book but it never quite made it to Eat, Pray Love-status? Tell me, always love to hear from you…

NM   🙂

Legendary Ladies of Literature


August is Women’s Month here in SA. We celebrated National Woman’s Day on the 9th so in honour of it (a bit late, I know, oops), I decided to pay tribute to a few special ladies who have left their mark in the history of literature.

Of course, considering how many brilliant female writers there are, there is a special twist here. The following were not just ordinary authors and poets, they were pioneers of their craft. Yes, I’m going waaaaay back in time, back to ancient history. Some of these names you might know, most of them you might not. They might not be as well-known as the Austens and Brontes but they set a precedence in their communities, influencing not only their own culture but future generations of writers as well. Our histories are marked by patriarchal dominance, yet these women broke new ground and made a name for themselves. So I present to you now, legendary ladies of literature…

ENHEDUANNA (circa 2280 BCE)

Enheduanna is considered by some literary scholars to be the earliest known author/poet in history, pre-dating Homer. She was an Akkadian princess, daughter to the famous Sargon of Akkad, who lived in the ancient city of UR in Sumer.
Enheduanna was most noted for her title and role of High Priestess (‘Enheduanna’ actually means ‘high priestess, adornment of the God of the Sky’) to the Moon God Nanna. Her literary works(written on cuneiform tablets) consisted of numerous poems dedicated to the Goddess Innanna as well as a religious collection known as the Sumerian Temple Hymns.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Enheduanna was well celebrated during her time. Inscriptive seals and an Alabaster disc bearing her name were found during excavations at the Royal Cemetery at Ur.

SAPPHO

Probably the most famous woman in ancient literature, Sappho was a Greek lyric poet who lived most of her life in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. The exact dates of her life are uncertain but she was said to have lived during the late 7th century BCE.

Engraving of Sappho – Author unknown.

Sappho was a lyrist- writing and performing her poems with the help of a lyre. She composed her own music as well. She has also been credited with being one of the first poets to write from the first-person perspective. Her poetry centred around love and heartbreak, with its target being women. As a result, Sappho’s name has become synonymous with female homosexuality, resulting in the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘sapphic’.

Only fragments of her works have survived and therefore difficult for scholars to analyze completely. But she’s been highly praised by many esteemed figures such as Plato and Horace.

BAN ZHAO (45 – 116 CE)

Ban Zhao has the distinction of being the first female Chinese historian. Her brother Ban Gu wrote a history of the Western Han Dynasty but died in 92 CE, before he was able to finish it. His sister completed the work for him and then went on to write a very influential guide, Nu JieLessons For Women. Ban Zhao also wrote poems and essays but she is most famous for her instructions on female etiquette as can be read in Nu Jie.

Most of her other works have not survived but she was said to have been knowledgeable in History, Confucian and Chinese Classics, astronomy and mathematics.
Revered for her knowledge and intelligence, she was made Lady-In-Waiting to Empress Deng Sui. At Court, Ban Zhao was instructed to educate and train the staff, the other ladies-in-waiting as well as the Emperor’s many concubines. The Empress placed her in charge of the royal library and even sought her council on political matters. On hearing of Ban Zhao’s death in 116 CE, Her Highness was said to have taken the news very badly, mourning the loss of her favourite Lady by wearing all white.

HYPATIA of Alexandria (370 – 415 CE)

Hypatia is considered as the first female mathematician and philosopher in history. A teacher of Neo-Platonist philosophy she was an intellectually brilliant woman who had many devoted students and followers.

Hypatia by artist Raffaello Sanzio(1509 – 1510)

Unfortunately when Arab conquerors invaded Egypt in the 6th century and burned the Library of Alexandria, all of Hypatia’s written works were destroyed.
Many ancient writers have discussed and quoted her work however and this is where most of our knowledge of her writing comes from.
The topic of her tragic death at the hands of Christian monks for her pagan beliefs seems to be just as popular with modern scholars as her celebrated life. The events leading up to Hypatia’s death were immortalized in the movie Agora (2009) with Rachel Weisz.

AL-KHANSA (575 – 645 CE)

Al-Khansa is one of the most famous poets in Arabic Literature. She won admiration for the elegies she had written for her father and brothers upon their deaths. Their deaths caused Al-Khansa tremendous grief and this anguish is vividly expressed in her poetry.
Her meeting with the Prophet Muhammad in 629 CE was well documented and it’s said that He himself was a great admirer of her work.

MURASAKI SHIKIBU (circa 973 CE)

Murasaki was a writer from Kyoto who served as Lady-in-Waiting to Empress Akiko(during Ichijo’s reign 986 -1011 CE).

Murasaki Shikibu by artist Hiroshige

She wrote The Tale Of Genji which is considered one of the greatest works in Japanese literature. Many scholars refer to her as one of the first novelists in modern literature.
Murasaki was known for her intelligence and writing skill from a very young age. It was this reputation that caught the attention of the Royal Imperial family and led to her appointment at Court.
Where the Tale of Genji was a work of romantic fiction, her experiences at Court led her to write The Diary of Lady Murasaki. In it she exposed the daily goings-on of Royal life but also blatantly hit out at the debauchery and misbehaviour of the affluent males whom she came into contact with.
The Tale of Genji has been translated into many languages and Murasaki herself has been the source of inspiration for many painters/artists over the centuries due to her reputation as a virtuous woman and illustrious writer.

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Did I miss anyone out? Who’s your favourite lady of literature?

Side note: To all my lovely ladies who follow my blog, Happy Woman’s Month from me, no matter where you are in the world. Stay beautiful and positive. Oceans of love…

NM  🙂

REFERENCES/LINKS

http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/gods/ladies/ladyenheduanna.html

http://www.angelfire.com/mi/enheduanna/index.html

http://www.sappho.com/poetry/sappho.html

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/hypati1/a/hypatia.htm

JSTOR, The Crayon, Vol. 1, No. 7. Page 106 – Hypatia

http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/9.1/lee.html – Ban Zhao

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/316311/al-Khansa

http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine9.html -Murasaki Shikibu

IMAGES

All images taken from Wikipedia Commons (in Public Domain).

The Name Game…once again.


Now I’ve written about names before and the thought we put into choosing appellations for our main characters. The topic has crept up on me once again yet with a slightly different dilemma of sorts this time.

Some of the most memorable literary main characters we know are usually the ones with the most unusual names: Heathcliff, Sherlock, D’artagnon, Atticus, Lestat or any Dickens’ character for that matter. Many will argue that the peculiarity of these names has contributed to these fictional creations becoming legends of literature.

But as a writer have you ever been tempted to christen a character (main or not) after another literary character, especially one with an unusual name that many would recognize?

Many famous authors have done it. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye mentions three sisters named Miranda, Perdita and Cordelia; many of JK Rowling’s characters have famous literary namesakes-Mrs. Norris(Filch’s cat) was named after a character in Mansfield Park by Jane Austen whereas ‘Hermione’ was also taken from Shakespeare. In Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, there’s a modern character called ‘Clarrissa’. Since the story was about Virginia Woolf and her writing of Mrs. Dalloway, the name ‘Clarrissa’ was clearly referential but I actually thought it was a bit too obvious. Bringing me to another point:  is it lame to make reference to the original namesake in any form or way?

I was looking at a story I had started writing years ago but which I haven’t completed. Reading through it, I had a good laugh when I came upon the introduction of a particular character. He was a policeman and I had dubbed him …’Ichabod.’

(Yes, I’ll give you a second to laugh/muse about this)

(You’re done? May I proceed? Thank you)

Unfortunately my Ichabod looks nothing like this…

Now if you’re one of those who have heard this name before, I’m willing to bet my life that on reading that, your immediate thoughts turned to a certain skull-deficient horseman of popular Dutch-American myth.

It is very difficult to hear the name ‘Ichabod’ and NOT think of Sleepy Hollow. Knowing this, I envisioned a potential reader screaming, “Hey! She stole that from Washington Irving!!!!”

 So I decided to give myself a leg up and point out the obvious by stating in the narrative that (my) Ichabod’s father was a big Irving fan! Is it lame? Should I just give up on this whole malarkey and call my policeman ‘John’ instead?

…but thankfully, not like this dude either.

I would like to state in my defence that the name actually suits my character although I can’t explain why. He looks nothing like Johnny Depp and he certainly doesn’t resemble a skinny, hook-nosed bird!

Of course my opinion alone doesn’t matter, what do you think? Would you get excited if you were reading a modern book and came across the namesake of a famous fictional figure?

And I know I’ve asked this question before in a previous post but how do you writers go about choosing names for your MC? Do you go for the unusual or do you opt for something more ‘common’?

NM 🙂

Images

1. Still from Sleepy Hollow(Tim Burton) taken from www.killermovies.com

2. Still from Legend of Sleepy Hollow(Disney) taken from http://www.chroniquedisney.fr

The Strange Case of Deacon Brodie – An HML Post


The term “Jekyll and Hyde” has become a famous metaphor for anyone who is two-faced, hypocritical or deceptive. Even if you have never read Robert Louis Stevenson’s most famous horror novella, you probably know the gist of the story anyway. A well-respected gentleman by day who, with the aid of a potion, turns into a sadistic debauched monster at night in order to fulfil his animalistic tendencies.
It is a supernatural tale of course but did you know that the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was actually inspired by a real person?

The true-life story of Deacon Brodie

Artist’s sketch of Deacon Brodie

William Brodie was born to a prosperous family in Edinburgh in 1741. His father was a respected and reputable cabinet-maker and at the age of 41, William inherited his father’s business and vast fortune. With his financial situation taken care of and a thriving cabinet-making business, he seemed set for life. He acquired many titles as a result of his benevolent reputation: Burgess, Guildbrother and Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and eventually rising to prominence as official Town Councillor.However there was one dark secret that the Honourable Deacon Brodie hid from upper-class Edinburgh society: he was a compulsive gambler and often lost large sums of money as a result. The only people who knew of his weakness were the disreputable inhabitants of Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly-the gambling houses, brothels etc. He often fraternized with petty criminals and other men of disrepute.
To add to his secret activities, he also kept two mistresses, whilst putting up the front of being a responsible family man. Rumour has it that he bore over six illegitimate children.

With his gambling debts mounting and having to support three households, William Brodie was soon strapped for cash. He soon had to find other means of making money while still keeping up the appearance of an honourable and affluent citizen.

Edinburgh plagued by burglaries

Between 1786 and 1788, numerous establishments were burgled and looted with no suspects being apprehended. In March 1788, one John Brown came forth with information pertaining to a robbery that had taken place months before at a silk mercer’s shop on the High Street. He admitted involvement in the robbery and turned himself in (motivated by the generous monetary reward that was publicized as well as a promised reprieve from punishment). He also implicated his friend and accomplice George Smith. Brown also admitted to various other crimes and robberies including an unsuccessful burglary at the Excise Office – a building that stored most of the collected taxes and revenues of the entire country. He left out one vital piece of information however.
While both men were ensconced in the Tolbooth awaiting trial, news broke out that Deacon William Brodie had fled Edinburgh for London leaving absolutely no explanation for his sudden departure. The reason however would soon be revealed.

Deacon Brodie exposed

When John Brown heard that Brodie had fled the Scottish Capital, he dropped the bombshell that would leave Edinburgh High society reeling in shock. Brown revealed how, since 1786, it was actually Brodie who had orchestrated the string of robberies, along with him(Brown), Smith and another man Andrew Ainslie. Brown had initially withheld this information in hopes of bribing the lionized Town Councillor.

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Now that Brodie had disappeared, Brown gave full evidence that brought the Deacon’s double life into the spotlight…

Brodie had been robbing establishments long before the formation of his gang. He would often visit tradesmen for a bit of idle chit-chat at their place of work with a piece of putty concealed in his hands. He would take impressions of the keys to their shops (back in those days, the keys were hung on a nail at the back of a shop) when the owners were busy with other customers, have a copy made and break into the shop later that night.
Robbing humble shopkeepers was not lucrative however and that is when Brodie recruited Brown, Smith(a locksmith) and Ainslie.
Amongst the many ‘jobs’ that the quartet had carried out, it was revealed that it was in fact Brodie’s gang who were responsible for the theft of the College Mace at Edinburgh University in 1787. The disappearance of the silver mace from the College Library made headline news and the next day, Town Councillor Brodie, in true thespian fashion, expressed his shock and outrage at the crime.
Their biggest job however, was not a successful one and inadvertently led to the demise of the gang, resulting in Brown’s confession.
In early 1788, Brodie set his mind on the Excise Office. Given his influence, Brodie had connections within the establishment. Having managed to create a false key to the building, the robbery was planned for the 5th March.

It all goes wrong.

Three of the men found no trouble in entering the building of the Excise Office while Ainslie stood watch outside. The plan went downhill from there however when Ainslie, on seeing an employee rush into the building and then rush out a minute later, panicked and blew the alarm-whistle. He fled thinking their cover had been blown.

He was wrong however. The employee had rushed in having forgotten some documents. The man bumped into Brodie whose presence there raised no suspicions and he left soon after. Brodie, feeling the heat however, departed as well, leaving Smith and Brown in another part of the building.
Smith and Brown ransacked the areas that were most likely to have money stored. But they failed dismally in their search, managing to only find £16. Comically, they missed a secret drawer containing £600!
John Brown was not happy with Brodie for having deserted them and that’s when the gang parted ways.
When the Deacon fled Scotland in March of 1788, a £200 bounty was placed on his head following Brown’s full confession. For months, Brodie evaded capture. His whereabouts were eventually traced to Amsterdam. He was captured and held by Dutch officials until July, when he was returned back to Edinburgh.
Given his fame, Brodie’s trial became the centre of an 18th century version of a media circus. It seemed unbelievable to the people of Edinburgh how such an upstanding member of society could have deceived almost everyone by leading such a life of corruption and wickedness.
On 28th August 1788, Deacon William Brodie was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Inspiration for Jekyll and Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850, more than 60 years after the death of Deacon Brodie. Even though the two men were a generation apart and never met, Stevenson’s father knew the famous Brodie who actually built a cabinet for Stevenson Snr. which currently stands in the Writers’ Museum in the Scottish capital. Stevenson must have heard tales of the famous Brodie as a child.In 1880, Stevenson wrote a play with WE Henly simply titled Deacon Brodie, loosely based on the disgraced former Town Councillor. The author’s interest in Brodie did not wane after that though. The idea of the duality in man’s personality continued to fascinate him and in 1886, he wrote The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which many consider to be a masterpiece in horror fiction.

“I had long been trying to write a story on that strong sense of man’s double being … For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterwards split in two, in which Hyde for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers”. – RL Stevenson

The spirit of Deacon Brodie will forever live on in this invented tale of evil and metamorphosis, proving once again that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. 🙂

NM  🙂

Deacon Brodie Influences

Books/Plays (Fiction)

Deacon Brodie by Stevenson RL. and Henly WE.

Movies

Deacon Brodie (1997) starring Billy Connolly. Dir. Phillip Saville

Main Reference

 Wilson, AJ; Brogan D; McGrail F. Ghostly Tales and Sinister Stories of Old Edinburgh. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh & London. 2003(latest ed.).

References

http://www.robert-louis-stevenson.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brodie
http://www.sawneybean.com/horrors/DeaconBrodie.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Louis_Stevenson