“Many, many years ago, word came down to a small Scottish village from the ancient castle in the mountains above. Its lord, an eccentric old bachelor, required a maid-of-all-work to come up there to live and serve him…”
So begins mum’s famous tongue twister. She never did reveal who passed along this centuries-old recitation, which all of us children loved to hear, especially when we were young enough to still be grappling with the mysteries of language and words. It remains to this day a gently amusing artifact from the parlor humor of a time when families were expected to entertain themselves. Little kids laugh at it even now.
The next morning, a young village lass knocked on the castle door. She had volunteered for the job but now felt a little unsure and nervous. The door opened, and there — large, red-nosed, his long red hair wild and uncombed, stood the lord. He gestured to follow him and led her into the castle hall, where the lord’s black-and-white cat crossed their path.
“What a nice cat!” The lass curtsied. “Your lordship, I am–”
“I am not ‘your lordship.’” He held up a hand to stop her talking. “Nor is this a ‘cat.’”
Looking confused, the lass could only curtsey again.
“While you live here, there are certain rules you must obey.” The lord approached her, glowering. “I am to be called Master of All Masters. This castle is High-Topper Mountain. The cat is White-Face Simmery. My pants are squibs-and-crackers. Bed is barnacle. Fire is hotcocklelorum, and water: pandelorum. If you make a mistake and misspeak, you will be sent home, immediately. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do.”
The lass quickly learned the daily routine, which involved much cooking and endless cleaning, and for several weeks, everything went smoothly. But then, early one morning while making breakfast in the kitchen, a stray spark from the fireplace chanced to land on the cat’s fur. The terrified pet ran through the hall, accidentally setting a wall tapestry on fire.
The lass ran upstairs two steps at a time through thickening smoke and burst into the lord’s bedroom, shouting:
“Master of All Masters, get out of your barnacle, put on your squibs-and-crackers! White-Face Simmery has a spark on her tail, and unless you get some pandelorum, High-Topper Mountain will be all on hotcocklorum!”
“The Herd of Independent Minds” –Harold Rosenberg
When is a conformist not the smartest guy in the room? When he’s there alone.
So privacy terrifies conformists even more than originality does. Not surprisingly, then, conformists embrace — they kneel before — the ideal of petabyte computational power used against the private lives of an arithmetic number of “naked” civilians.
That’d be you and me. Call us The Unclubables. We join no clubs.
Unclubables are not the professions we serve. We do this, that, and the other job, to get by. Within the infinity of our own private aspirations, however, we walk alone and always straight ahead, unblinkingly fixed on working our way up to a long-term goal whose consummation is fully understood to be impossible. Herman Melville named us isolatos and said of our ilk, they are “the true American type.”
Now, on the other hand, the conformists’ Holy Grail — this airless end-of-days dystopia — envisions a world when the State achieves absolute power to harmonize all waking human thought and actions: Complete Control.
Is it here yet? Certainly not, and not tomorrow, either, but soon, yes, and for sure. Only unmitigated global disaster can head it off now. It’s what uber-techies with limitless billions of tax dollars on hand like to call — to only the right people, in strictest privacy — “doable.”
Worse, no simply political solution exists to what is essentially a medieval mass hysteria spread on contact through social media — a millennial religion for urbanites in dying over-crowded cities where they are taught to hate God and worship sterility.
Nietzsche foresaw the future rise to power of some new post-Christian profession equal in influence to lawyers, doctors, priests, and politicians. At last, they are among us — anti-god, anti-life, anti-beauty, anti-love — black-clad preceptors of a global culture of dark-and-edgy conformists busy hacking into what Sigmund Freud recognized as the Universal Human Death Wish.
This cold-blooded bathing in filth for its own sake is exactly what Unclubable Americans are organically dumb to and incapable of grasping. They wonder, in all seriousness, as the skies further darken over us, What the hell do these people think they are doing?
What do you suppose the international elite talk about at all those ultra-high summits, smothered in secrecy, where every stripe of political, social, and economic world leader come together? Try to imagine what possible message can be uniting in one attentive audience those exact same sworn enemies whose warring factions are presently tearing our planet to pieces.
The answer happens to be an open secret. The people who run the world today are consulting with those new professionals who will end it on some tomorrow within a foreseeable future. Power and Vision are arranging for the suicide of the human race.
New professionals are frigid and fearless post-humanists who stand for the elect’s secret comprehension of the approaching end of history. Think of them as undertakers, here to manage our gradual “scientific” extinction.
They do this 24/7. What else can they do? You think putting a man on the moon was complicated and took long-term planning? Try removing all the men on Earth. You don’t understand. You’re not “scientific.”
People, you see, aren’t going anywhere. Inter-stellar space travel is “unscientific.” So this is it. And natural resources, in the long run, are “scientifically” unsustainable. Be it sooner, be it later, the human race is kaput, and controlled Massive Die-Off must eventually be instigated worldwide by the new self-anointed Lords of Life.
Won’t be pretty, of course, but imagine how humble and yet proud of themselves those Lords will feel at day’s end. A relative handful of trillionaire superheroes of, say, five different sexes will, at least, have given the rest of us a dignified and orderly demise. Some among them will feel it is almost more than we deserve.
Does an Unclubable like you still doubt the necessity? Of course, you do. But what is your alternative?
The only possible alternative to Death Camp Earth happens to be Pain Planet – whole civilizations guttering out over monstrously savage years of human suffering on a scale beyond comprehension, from family-to-house-to-neighborhood-to-city-to-state-to-nation-to-pole-to-pole, as hysterical populations fight to the death over the last ham sandwich. Or, whatever.
So now surely even Unclubables must understand why, someday, for our own good, the conformists must smother us in our sleep, after first making sure all of us are dreaming together the identical lovely implant-chip dreams of once having been free in a green world whose name only now, looking back from its final dark edge, do we realize was always simply “Love.”
Afloat through moonlight sky in quiet gondolas the color of stars, the Lords will lie awake in the dark, perhaps savoring the dry “scientific” ecstasy of snuffing out God’s choicest creation. Try to understand why, as the world dies, the last Lords of Life must live on as ultra-pampered super-beings. How else can they console themselves for the pitiful hard work they must do to serve Gaea’s best interests?
“I’ve been trying to make a picture of a man. Changing, yes. Developing, I hope. Fantastic, improbable — perhaps. Or a slightly cockeyed ideal, if you feel differently. It doesn’t matter so much, so long as you feel that you would recognize him if you met him tomorrow.” –Leslie Charteris
Most popular 20th century action hero? The Saint.
In 1926, twenty-year-old half-Chinese half-English Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin changed his name by deed poll to the shorter, more sibilant Leslie Charteris.
“I was born in Singapore, and learned Chinese and Malay from native servants before I could speak English,” Charteris explained in 1942. “My parents (Chinese doctor father; British mother) dragged me around the world three times before I was twelve and then they decided it was time I went to school. This was a mistake.”
No school could hold him. The precocious individualist began selling popular fiction at age seventeen. After placing his first novel, Charteris quit King’s College, Cambridge, to live his own life on his own terms and to be wealthy enough to get away with it.
Charteris kept writing stories while working through his personal version of the typical 20th century author’s street education: shipping out on a freighter, tending bar at a country inn, prospected for gold, went pearl-diving, labored in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation, joined a carnival and drove a bus.
The Saint was the fifth fictional hero invented by Charteris; and, in 1928, twenty-seven year-old Simon Templar breezes into an English seaside village hot on the trail of a gold smuggler in Meet — The Tiger!
Not a detective by any means, Templar is “The Robin Hood of Modern Crime,” a laughing dashing hell-for-leather buccaneer perfect for the mad sped-up Jazz Age. Handsome, superb, bantering — d’Artagnan reborn without a sword. If his pre-war British literary predecessor, Raffles, was a “Gentleman Safe Cracker,” times have changed. Post-war Simon Templar is the original Gentleman Killer. And, even more startling, he often goes to bed with pretty flapper girls, too.
He fights smiling, with a touch of poetry, like silent movie hero Douglas Fairbanks. Women see Templar’s sleeked-back dark hair and call him a Rudolph Valentino “sheik.” He is Europe’s first truly Modernist action hero, Roaring Twenties star-quality, and he comes complete with his own mocking logo, which shatters criminals with terror: a halo-ed stick figure striking a slightly effeminate pose.
Meet — The Tiger! embarrassed Charteris for the rest of his life. “I can see so much wrong with it,” he wrote in 1980, “that I am humbly astonished that it got published at all.” Charteris preferred to date the Saint’s debut from a run of brilliant novelettes published after signing a 1930 contract with Thriller — The Paper of a Thousand Thrills.
By his fifth urban showing, The Policeman With Wings, the Saint enters as an already-full-blown London public sensation. Charteris’ famous high style immediately demonstrates how to create a youthful, slightly satiric world perfectly scaled to Simon Templar in much the same spirit that, physically, Douglas Fairbanks movie sets were scaled down to make the most gracefully impressive use of his five-foot-six height.
By this time all the world has heard of the Saint. It has been estimated (by those industrious gentlemen who estimate these things) that if all the columns that the newspapers have devoted to the Saint were placed end to end, they would reach from the southeast corner of the Woolworth Building, New York, to a point seventeen inches west of the commissionaire outside the Berkley Street entrance to the Mayfair Hotel, London — which, as was remarked at the time, only goes to prove that the bridging of the gulf between rich and poor can be materially helped by the vigorous efforts of a democratic press.
The Saint’s normal conversation is a slangy stream of ad-libbed nonsense because he will not be cross-examined. One running joke has him make harmless statements sound naughty by adding “…as the actress said to the bishop.” (“You’re getting on — as the actress said to the bishop.”)
In this novelette, Leslie Charteris fully ignites the most charismatic hero in the history of action-detective fiction…
The Saint in those days had moods in which he was unwontedly sober. He was then nearly twenty-eight, and in those twenty-eight years of his life he had seen… and done more than most men would… have done in a hundred and eighty. And yet he had not fulfilled himself. He was then only upon the threshold of his destiny; but it seemed sometimes that he glimpsed wider visions through the opening door ahead. But this was not so much a dulling of his impetuous energy as the acquiring of a more solid foundation for it. He remained the Saint — the flippant dandy with the heart of a crusader, a fighter who laughed as he fought, the reckless, smiling swashbuckler, the inspired and beloved leader of men, the man born with the sound of trumpets in his ears. And the others followed him.
The pre-WW II Saint takes down bad guys, keeps a tenth of their “boodle,” gives the rest to charity, and he does this for a living. His perpetual nemesis, deceptively sleepy, fat, gum-chewing Chief Inspector Claud Eustace Teal of New Scotland Yard admits in The Gold Standard,
“We aren’t in the Saint’s class, and someday I suppose we shall have to admit it. If this was a republic we should make him dictator and get some sleep… I’ve had it out with Templar before — privately. The plain fact is he’s in the game with a few highfalutin’ ideas about a justice above the law, and a lot of superfluous energy he’s got to get rid of somehow.”
By the iron logic of public fads, each new Saint adventure must somehow top the one before. Charteris, now in his greatest years, bangs out Thriller novelettes and a series of “Brighter Buccaneer” short stories for Empire News. Finally, there seems to be no way ahead for the character. The Saint is a notorious criminal, and, however personable, the moral code of his era demands he be brought to justice.
Charteris neatly solves this dilemma in “the first big Saint novel,” 1930′s The Avenging Saint. Simon, for the first time, goes up against international terrorists, corrupt European royalty, and a high-finance war-monger. After a still-exciting mid-air airplane-to-speeding-locomotive climax, the Saint receives a full pardon for saving the King of England from an assassination attempt.
What Thirties standards of public decency could not do to dampen the Saint, the outbreak of World War II did. The Forties made impossible what Charteris called the “spurious glamor” he had created around Templar. The Saint couldn’t saunter into Berlin, pull Hitler’s noise, shoot Mussolini in the “tum-tum,” and drive away jauntily reciting to Patricia Holm a little poem of his own creation. Those days were gone forever.
So, during World War II, Simon Templar necessarily became a secret agent, just as, in the Seventies, secret agent James Bond, deprived of Sean Connery’s “spurious glamor,” became the Saint. Affable Roger Moore in no way resembled Ian Fleming’s “blunt instrument of state,” but casting television’s internationally-syndicated Simon Templar as the new Bond revived the movie franchise by subconsciously resolving for theater audiences the paradoxical silliness of a glamorously high-living secret agent.
The 20th century enjoyed seven Saintly decades of best-selling Simon Templar novels, novelettes, The Brighter Buccaneer short stories, Saint motion pictures in several languages (there was a French Saint), his weekly American radio show and various international television series, a long-running daily newspaper comic strip, endless paperback reprints along with, starting in 1952, month after month of The Saint Mystery Magazine.
Everybody loved the Saint. In the second half of his century, in print, Templar becomes the man at the cocktail party to whom people say, “So you’re the Saint.” His very presence promptly incites a mystery adventure.
Charteris penned his last stories for 1963′s The Saint in The Sun. Other writers chosen by him kept the now-ageless adventurer triumphant in new novels, on television and in movies. Charteris protected his character’s core elements through every reinvention, but in later incarnations, the mocking righteous murderer blurs to suit the blander requirements of whatever media was exploiting the uncanny glamor of Simon Templar.
Leslie Charteris wrote in 1980 a preface for a commemorative reissue of — what else? — Meet — The Tiger!
There will always be a public for the old-style hero, who had a clear idea of justice, and a more than technical approach to love, and the ability to have some fun with his crusades.
That is how and why the Saint was born, and why I hope he may eventually occupy a niche beside Robin Hood, d’Artagnan, and all the other immortal true heroes of legend.
Anyway, on this date, I can say I’ll always be glad I tried.
“…As the actress said to the bishop.”
Romantic and attractive 20th century women were frequently either too subtle or too complex to be merely cute or simply charming.
(This post is a companion piece to “Cute Versus Charm” http://herbork.com/2013/03/10/cute-versus-charm/)
Nobody ever invited Mary McCarthy or Susan Sontag to a Greenwich Village party expecting they’d end up around the upright piano singing Broadway show tunes.
Yet, internationally, nothing else said “USA!” louder than our cute small-town girls and charming big-city women. In the CinemaScope movies, they might be Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, or Katherine Hepburn. “Straight white teeth, flawless skin, big knockers!” The whole war-wrecked planet envied these perfect embodiments of our nation’s popular vision of itself as free, open, energetic, and wholesome.
But what about depicting all those other American girls from coast to coast who were, by the standards of their time, either too smart or too complicated? Hollywood’s reply was to import. On-screen, German-born Marlene Dietrich specialized in portraying too-smart, and Swedish icon Greta Garbo owned too-complex. Dietrich fascinated, but Garbo was enchanting.
Fascination and enchantment coolly differ in body-temperature from charm and cuteness. Young Dietrich’s premature weltschmerz fascinated movie-goers, and the allure of Garbo’s soulful aloofness became legendary. They were Hollywood’s European minority-report on “The Glorified American Girl.”
Dietrich and Garbo both played lovely romantic introverts who walk around constantly being distracted by either intense inner echoes of a drastic private history, like Dietrich, or else, Garbo-esque, by the subtlest promptings of her own tremulous soul. Their similar acting styles during famous love scenes — a ceaseless signaling of mysterious private selves — challenged male co-stars, who found themselves being up-staged by a phantom third female presence to whom the star is reacting more ardently than to his big-screen love-making.
Cuteness and charm draw people closer by brightly denying that, right at this special moment, any personal or social barriers could possibly exist between us two. Both bring into being a spontaneously amorous democracy where everybody votes Yes, yes, yes!
But, whatever their physical beauty, both more subtle and the more complex women hold you off at a nearly aristocratic distance — a distance measured by the exact vantage point from which they hope to look their shattering best. So, unlike the spontaneous assent of charm and cuteness, fascination and enchantment say Maybe, yes, no, oh, I don’t know!
So, neither type of woman will draw strangers into a vital intimacy because both these personalities fail to offer what the 20th century called a “love interest.” Love requires the touching warmth.
Enchantment is a signal but not a summons. And fascination is slightly fiercer, if no less distancing an emotion, because I am being, not softly plucked at and beguiled, but compelled by this sudden odd beauty. Not love, not even fondness is necessarily involved. I am simply unable not to take a personal interest — for as long as it lasts. Because, self-sealed and unrevealing, fascination is always a surface effect, a trick of the light, with nothing remarkable behind it after all.
When fedgov won’t help, it’s everyday guys versus punk terrorists. Men are back. Tell your neighbors.
You wish to be a man, my boy?
Not a jerk, dweeb, pansy, simp, twit, fool, clown, or conformist — simply, a good man?
Manhood cannot be conferred on you. Virility is not measured by romance or battle, fame or wealth. Those come later, if ever. Nor need you be tall, handsome, smart, or particularly well-favored in any social way. Other people may like you or despise you. That doesn’t matter to a man, does not reach where you live.
No, boy, to be a man, first and foremost, you must have a word and be able to give it.
Promise-keeping begins in the language and actions of our family. Classically, in the West, the first word we speak names our mother — lisping “mama” — and the first word we ever write names ourselves — block-lettering “Johnny.”
Here I am, only a few years old, and I live in the sunny eye of now. Mama will coo and shine on me, using pet names whose only meaning is love. And I am a good boy but sometimes mama clouds up and scolds — “Bad boy!” – which at first startles and offends me. I begin crying. After all, what suddenly has changed? Always in action is just myself, the warm focus of all household love.
One day mama walks in, sees me and says, “Don’t pet the goldfish.” I understand her to mean, “Stop doing it right now.” Nothing new. I have been curbed many times before. But then something different happens. Mama goes on to ask me never to pet the goldfish ever again. She sweetly explains the good reasons why I should not, but this future-binding makes no sense since I always encounter myself now and only now. So, next day she catches me, wet up to my elbow again.
For the first time, I experience the terror of her being really and truly angry. It has never before occurred to me that the elastic boundaries of her sympathy might pop. “Johnny Jones, promise me you will never ever do it again!” In short, I am being put in charge of myself. What compels me to try is the threatened withdrawal of her love. I am terrified. Only her love guarantees my existence.
So I, Johnny Jones, resort to the language of my family. Mistaking talk for an easy expedient, I commit instead an irreversible act. Tearfully, I promise out loud not to do it again and get sternly questioned but swear, yes, I give my solemn little boy’s word, and so I am hugged and kissed and forgiven. But I know now mama can always become terribly angry if I forget and do you-know-what again with the fish. My blurted words, at a stroke, have altered everything between us. Words spoken, I dimly perceive, can be as deeds done.
A certain kind of boy will have told mama a cold lie and meant to. These bad boys are not so common. Let’s suppose, in this majority case, my first-given promise has a child’s hopeful pretense to good faith. But what has this use of language led me to? If I mean to keep my oath, what must I be prepared to try to do?
Taking personal responsibility demands wrenching myself loose from now and projecting myself above my own head, to look down and judge what I do every second of every day, and, simultaneously, I must also send myself ahead to some far-off day when I agree to meet myself again in a calm place of honor called Never Did.
Impossible! And yet I love my mama. On a child’s swelling heart, eyes shiny, I swear my promise must be true forever…
We know the rest. Johnny will keep or break his word after a great or minimal private struggle.
A boy either builds up or else fails to assemble a good character. And, briefly put, character is the ability to say no. If I do stay true, I am acquiring a full human power of self-discipline that can be lent later to other, more public oaths — pledges of allegiance, wedding vows, business contracts. I no longer merely behave like a child but become capable of taking action.
That is to say, I am a man of my word. And of what worth, really, are truthful, honest men? Do we not laugh at them today? Are boys not taught manhood is antique, truth a flimsy construct ad-libbed on shifting sands, and virility admirable only as a female trait?
And yet, look ahead, boy. Without average men of a character strong enough to honor a few simple oaths, history warns us. What English-speakers call “civilization” breaks down into murderous hell.
So, my boy, the fundamental event of Western consciousness is a promise kept.
I give you my word.