Dracula and his many shapes

Dracula_Book_Cover_1916

Academic study of Dracula is a funny subject.

Apparently the readers are not supposed to believe whatever the characters have written.  They are either ignorant or concealing their true thoughts, and they are not the virtuous knights and pure maiden as Bram Stoker described, but just bunch of xenophobic bullies who want to drive away this old man from the East and conservative and submissive woman worthy of Victorian gentleman’s wet dream.  No other literature had its critics deny the credibility of the very text they study.

They even go far to say that the whole story is nothing but a misunderstanding; Dracula, according to some scholars, is supposed to be the heroic super-hero who helps the local people, and when he moves to England for some nice life his dream is shattered by the ignorant racists.  In this theory, every horrendous act of Dracula is nothing but misunderstanding or xenophobic delusion.  Some say that when Jonathan Harker witnesses a woman demanding Dracula to return her baby and wolves are sent by Dracula to kill her, it is actually the opposite – a woman was actually asking Dracula for help to find her baby (Harker does not know the local language so he completely misunderstood it, apparently) and wolves were sent to protect her.  I read this from the note in The New Annotated Dracula and had to laugh a little.  Why?  Because such theories completely turns Stoker’s story around and turn everyone who read it in traditional way into idiots.  There are many literary critics who offer alternative interpretation to the books, but Dracula critics seem to be a little extreme…

Even Neil Gaiman had such moments too.  In the introduction for The New Annotated Dracula, Gaiman confesses that he used to think Quincey Morris was either Dracula’s henchman or even Dracula himself.  I think that notion would make an entertaining retelling of Dracula, but I digress.

So why such extreme reputation with the credibility of “texts” in Dracula?  There are many other books with epistolary formats, but never have I seen such strong suspicions as in Dracula scholars.

Common explanation is that Dracula embodies Freudian concept, therefore all the narrators in this book are unreliable narrators.  Due to the mental blockades and denials often seen in psychological studies, the characters of Dracula become the samples for Freudian concepts.  Do I buy it?  Just a little.  If I am going to take such skeptical scholar’s attitude with the text, I would go further and say that this is actually a Sci-Fi novel where Dracula is actually a mad scientist experimenting on himself and others to create an ultimate immortality project and he moves to London to find more test subjects, and the good guys mistake him to be a vampire.  What about the ending?  Hell, there are scholars who think Dracula threatened Bram Stoker or Jonathan Harker to write that way despite his survival so he could elude the annoying vampire hunters.  I am pretty sure I can say Jonathan Harker was an ignorant simpleton who was seeing things, or the death process of Dracula was a result of his serums.  Fun thing is that this might be even possible route to take (note to myself.  Write this for NaNoWriMo before anyone does).

Anyway, all these theories and reinterpretations used to annoy me a lot.  My Dracula was the charismatic yet sad loner who wanted to keep his dignity of the past but driven away and succumbed by the new age.  But many scholars and authors plastered the story with that reincarnated romance and depicted Dracula as prototype Edward.  I used to hate Francis Coppola’s Dracula for this reason, and I still don’t like it.  However, such movements make it fun to read criticisms.

With Dracula, each criticism becomes almost fanfiction.  Each essay is their take on the story with the familiar characters like fanfiction writers do with their favourite works.  All these interpretations collide with each other but that’s the fun of it.  There is something wonderfully delightful about seeing the scholars discussing what they see in the ambiguous texts.  Perhaps it is the glimpse of their passion that makes re-takes and interpretations fun to read.  I did not read Dracula much but vigorously read any annotations or commentaries on Dracula, because the version offered by each writer is so different.

So to this day, I read Dracula criticism for fun.  Their sometimes outrageous explanations for the events in the novel are entertaining discussions I enjoy in fan forums, and they rarely fail to amuse me.  Recently I obtained Elizabeth Miller’s Dracula: Sense and Nonsense and it is great fun to read as well.  Miller furiously shoots down any misconceptions regarding the book, Bram Stoker, and the historic Dracula.  Her main targets are usual idea such as Count Dracula being strictly inspired by Vlad Tepes (Miller explains that the novel itself was being written under the title “Prince Wampyr” and only after Stoker heard about the name Dracula he changed little details in the story), or the historic Vlad Tepes being associated with vampirism (Tepes was NEVER associated with vampire myth before Bram Stoker’s novel).  It is a shame that this book is hard to find, and the best way to get it is to purchase it through Kobo.

Never has been a book where criticism was more fun than the text itself… Now I’m off to find another outrageous and delightful take on Dracula.  It will be a good night’s entertainment.

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Thoughts on Ninjas

Sw2iDld

Problem with Ninjas is that people try to put one definition over something that cannot be defined in one way.  You will see people arguing whether Ninjas were assassins or spies or etc.  Well, the sad fact for people like them is that there is hardly any historical evidence that Ninjas were involved in assassinations.  The Japanese Daimyos lived in danger of assassination all the time, so they did not let strangers approach them in any way.  Forget all the images of Ninjas dressed in black sneaking in.  The soldiers were not idiots.  The castle walls were painted white to spot any intruders in night, so good luck trying to sneak in with that black outfit.  In reality, they dressed up like a plain pedestrian to avoid guards’ suspicious eyes.  So the Agent 47 is in fact the closest thing to the modern Ninja?  Probably.  Except all the assassination parts…

“Realistic” Ninjas were… well, they were information brokers.  Hungry vagabonds hearing rumours and selling the information at the highest bidders.  That was the case for the most Ninjas.  Even Japanese historical TV show admit this and described Ninjas as modern businessmen selling information to their clients.  But you would be wondering about all the training manuals and secret scrolls.  Well, here’s the reason why Ninjas became hard thing to define.

There were Iga and Koga, who were “professional” information brokers.  They did train to acquire spying techniques, and they were exceptions.  In fact, Koga clan was a remnant of low ranking Samurais, and they fought at war as soldiers too.  So much for the stealthy assassin.  The secret scrolls?  They were lucky charms.  Ninjas did not believe they would work in real life, but people under high pressure need something to keep them calm.

So the realistic Ninjas were secret agents, not mystic assassins.  And their qualities varied.  Few were highly trained spies, while the others were nothing but rogues.  And they were never assassins.  You may wonder where the images of Ninja assassins come from.

The modern stereotypes of Ninjas were established by novelists, such as Futaro Yamada and Ryotaro Shiba.  In fact, the modern depiction of Ninjas, who use martial arts and “nin-jitsu” was invented by Futaro Yamada, in his work Koga Ninpo Cho or Kouga Ninja Scrolls.  This work was later adapted as manga and anime series Basilisk.  This became popular fantasy among readers, and many manga artists and novelists used images created by Yamada, and sometimes “improved” it.

The image of Ninja assassins were popularized by theatres and Ryotaro Shiba’s novel, The Castle of owls.  But you have to realize that it was still the popular fiction, not the actual history that depicts Ninjas as assassins.  Actually, the Ninja’s popular image as men dressed in black came from theatres too.  They dressed in black to “hide” from the audiences.  Interestingly, Dracula’s cape was added in the theatre versions for the same reason.

Fictional Ninjas were naturally popular; it could be considered distinctively “Japanese”, and manga artists such as Sanpei Shirato added social/political contexts to add depth to the Ninja mangas.  In Shirato’s works, Ninjas became representative of socialist messages, who fought against Samurais who represented high class or capitalists.  Shirato’s work was the first Ninja media to feature “Izuna Otoshi”, one of the most famous Ninja techniques.  With masters like Shirato, Ninja media thrived more.

When Ninja media was exported to the West, they sold such “modern Ninja” rather than realistic one.  After all, “fictional Ninja” was the popular and “sellable” merchandise.  Soon, Ninjas became oriental icons.  Thanks to the diverse Ninja media, Ninja characters became versatile; you want martial artist?  Add Ninjas.  You want sorcerer?  Add Ninjas with ninjitsu.  You want assassin?  Add Ninjas.  You want something oriental and mystic?  Add Ninjas.  They were extremely easy to design too – wrap their faces in certain way, everyone recognize them as Ninja.  Such versatility helped Ninjas to become recognizable, and fed off the fantasy of audiences outside Japan.

So here is the problem.  The various images of Ninjas, mostly fictional, were mixed up in the popular media, and it became hard to separate.  People are mesmerized by the glamour of stealthy assassin, yet never had a chance to learn about the historical facts (because foreign histories rarely sell unless it is European).  Japanese continue to sell the fictional depiction of Ninjas because they sell really well.  So many images are distant from what Ninjas were, yet people are trying to pinpoint one definite version of Ninja.  And whatever they believe Ninja to be, they are quite far away from historical versions thanks to all the popular media.  Even among historical Ninjas, there were so many different types.  So how can you define Ninja?  My best effort would be “spies in historical Japan who became popularized as something different from what they were throughout the history”.

In a way, Ninjas succeeded in disguising their true identity.  People are mesmerized by the fictional images, and not many can see through this deception.

While historians suffer from headaches, popular fictions thrive.  That’s how it goes with many “popular histories”, such as Dracula, Vikings, Cowboys, and Samurais.

Quick thought about The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Memoirs

 

Sherlock Holmes’ significance in pop culture is undeniable.  Not only his character turned private detective characters into “heroes”, Holmes also introduced and consolidated several clichés of pop cultures.  Elements such as eccentric detective and his narrator friend were introduced by Edgar Allan Poe, but Arthur Conan Doyle expanded on the concepts.  Holmes’ eccentricity was described in more details, which made it amusing to read about his behaviour and mannerisms, and John Watson became more than a narrator, but solid character.  I would go as far as to say that Holmes provided archetype of lone eccentric hero type in many genres, including Sci-Fi and Fantasy.  For example, look at Doctor Who.  We have the eccentric outsider hero (the Doctor), and his close friend (Companions).  Like Sherlock Holmes, many incarnations of Doctor share eccentric behaviour, contempt for high class society, and close friendship with one close friend, although Doctor Who played variance in this cliché by switching companions regularly. 

Sherlock Holmes’ second short story collection, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is significant in a way that it introduced and consolidated clichés we see often in pop cultures.  This collection is most famous for the demise of hero and introduction of arch-nemesis, but also provides the origin story and “before he was famous” type of story.  I personally consider The Memoir to be better than The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in literary sense because it offered few of most enduring clichés. 

The Adventure of Gloria Scott introduced “the origin story” of Sherlock Holmes (in a way).  We get to read about Holmes’ youth for the first time, and how he decided to become the master of deduction.  In The Adventure of Musgrave Ritual, Conan Doyle tells us the first official detective work of Holmes.  The Adventure of Greek Interpreter introduced Mycroft Holmes, who is another enduring character in many reincarnations of Sherlock Holmes stories, and this story also tells us a bit about Holmes’ ancestry.  Basically, Conan Doyle was preparing us for the end of the beloved character by giving us more details about Sherlock Holmes the human; all these stories humanize Holmes little by little by informing us that Holmes was not an overnight creation, but a human being who paved his way into who he was, and had a family as well.  I believe it was not the coincidence that Holmes’ most humiliating failure was included in The Memoir.  Conan Doyle was reminding us that Holmes was human after all.  And death comes to every human being. 

Conan Doyle was humanizing Holmes through the stories of Holmes’ failure, his emotion for Irene Adler, his kindness in Blue Carbuncle and witty remarks in many other stories.  In The Memoir, Conan Doyle expands on his task by getting us to know Holmes’ history more, as if he was preparing us for the end of Holmes’ career. 

The Memoir of Sherlock Holmes provides the beginning and the end of the character.  Of course, “the end” was nulled with The Return of Sherlock Holmes, but when Conan Doyle wrote it, it was really the end.  With such structure in mind, this book offers many occurring themes of pop culture – the beginning of the hero, his family and lineage, his nemesis, and his end.  In a way, The Memoir is what turned Holmes into the archetype of many heroes to come.    

The Road to Dune

 

 

I still remember my first exposure to the World of Dune.  In 1998, I was reading a feature article on the video game magazine about the history of Real Time Strategy Games.  1998 was the year the first Star Craft game was released and the RTS fever was sweeping through South Korea; there were handful of RTS games which claiming to be unique and authentic (the most of which turned out to be another Star Craft clones), and PC game centres appeared here and there.  Star Craft supported LAN gaming so these PC game centres provided the environments optimized to play Star Craft on LAN, which attracted many kids including myself.  Anyway, that RTS fever was the reason why these game magazines started to examine the history of RTS.  There were some familiar names in the article.  I already knew the presence of War Craft 2 at the time, though did not know anything about the first one.  Command and Conquer (R.I.P?) series appeared several times in the article.  But amongst all, one game caught my attention more than anything.

 

Dune 2.

 

The article introduced Dune 2 as the father of RTS genre; you had to collect resources, build bases and armies, build according to the tech tree to access better weapons, and attack your enemies to win – these familiar formulas were completed in Dune 2 according to the article, and I was fascinated with this game.  I already was a bit of history geek since my childhood, thanks to the Romance of Three Kingdoms novel, so Dune 2 seemed to emit blinding aura on me with its historical significance.

I know that there were “Real Time Strategy” games before Dune 2, such as Herzog Zwei, but you have to admit it is the formula set up by Dune 2 that popularized the genre.

Blizzard Entertainment developed War Craft: Orcs and Humans, which exhibited Dune 2’s influence in its interfaces and the base building system (In Dune 2, you have to place building on concrete slabs, and In War Craft 1, you have to place buildings next to roads).  War Craft managed to have its own unique features such as grouping units, special abilities, and more story oriented missions.  War Craft 2 proved to be even more successful, and eventually this success led to the development of Star Craft.  And Koreans went wild.  Trust me, I witnessed the rise of e-sports in Korea with my own eyes, and it was insane.

Dune 2’s own developers, Westwood, started another RTS series, Command and Conquer, which retained some of Dune 2’s interface and system (they ditched concrete/road/ etc system though).  Other RTS games, such as KKND and Total Annihilation (the game which made Blizzard to basically ditch everything they worked on Star Craft up to that point after seeing it on E3 and start over again) appeared and they all tried to be unique.  But in the end, they owed their spirits to the conflict on Arrakis.  Look what that war on the desert planet led to.

For months, the name Dune 2 carried the mystical air in my mind.  Questions popped up in minds; what was the game like (the magazine only showed the cover with the soldier in front with the wind trap in the background)?  Why was it called Dune 2? And what was Dune 1 like?  What was the story? Etc etc…

Some of my questions were answered when Dune 2000, modern remake of Dune 2, was released.  The magazines did the walkthroughs of the game, as well as introductions on the series.  The story intrigued me; three houses competing against each other on the desert planet where the rare and important substance called “Spice” is produced – the story was simple enough but my imagination went wild with its world as I read about the Fremens, and Sonic Tanks.  The desert people?  The tank shooting soundwaves?  All these sounded too awesome for me.  I was only 5th grader at the time, so the world introduced in Dune 2000 was the first “unique” universe I have seen.  Oh, yes I’ve watched countless animes and movies and comics as a kid already, but Dune had very distinctive feel that differentiated itself from many other fictional worlds I had read about.

When I first came to Canada, my family often visited another immigrant Korean family.  In their house, I discovered Dune 2 on their computer.  The moment I was waiting for.

It was very different experience from other RTS games I’ve played till that point.  I could control only one unit at a time, and more strict restriction in constructions made me plan the base building more carefully.  Sandworms were pretty annoying.  But overall, it was pretty enjoyable.  I felt like an archaeologist finding a hidden relic he was seeking for years after finally playing Dune 2.

But Dune faded away, or was buried under the sand of mind for several years, mainly due to all the new materials I had to absorb as the new immigrant to Canada.  I managed to read Two Towers in grade 8, which made me sick of reading for a bit until I started reading other “manageable” books.

I eventually found a copy of Dune in the dollar store.  It was one of older edition which showed the desert illustration with what seemed to be two people in the foreground.  I believe it was supposed to show Paul and Jessica escaping from Arakeen.  Anyway, I was taken aback by the pure size of it(at that time, any book more than 300 pages seemed pretty overwhelming for me), but kept it anyway.

Some time in my high school era, I had a chance to watch Dune movie on the cable.  I was pretty hyped to watch it; for the first time ever, I will watch the story of Atreides and Harkonnens and others fighting for the control of Arrakis!

And I got something very unexpected.

Duke Leto Atreides dies early in the story, the house Atreides is destroyed, there was no House Ordos, and the movie focused on Paul’s awakening as Muad’dib, which was one element never mentioned in any of Dune 2 franchise.  It was not what I expected.  Only the scenery of endless desert and the worms were things I expected to see in the film.  Was I disappointed?  Not really.  I later learned that Dune movie was…more of cult classic than commercially successful movie, but I still liked the imagery and the distinctive feel of it.  I thought the introduction of “weirding modules” gave the movie interesting imagery because now the name of Muad’dib literally became the killing word and the Fremens looked more like religious fanatics.

This was the time when I started to suspect that Dune was nothing like I expected.  The only similarities between games and movie were 1. They were both set in Arrakis, 2. There are sandworms and Fremens.

It was only in this October that I started to read the book that started it all.  Reading Dune felt strange, because while I was familiar with some of the key concepts such as Spice, Sandworms, and the desert planet, the book threw unfamiliar concepts at me for the most part.  I knew the basic plots from the movie, but the movie missed out on many details, such as Paul’s internal struggle between his identity as Duke and his larger-than-life role as Muad’dib.  I have watched movie only once, and that was more than 6 years ago.  So the overall story of Dune was more of mirage than actual memory.  But this had unexpected benefit to my reading.  I realized that Princess Irulan’s historical account foreshadowed each chapter, so reading this book with the knowledge of its plot did not ruin it as much as I feared.  In fact, it felt like I was living through the events after seeing the uncertain future.  I knew what was going to happen, but how was the event going to unfold?  What were the characters thinking at the time?  I was fascinated with the characters’ psychology throughout the book and enjoyed complex plots involving political schemes.  What I loved the most was constant appearance vs truth; Yueh’s deception was the beginning, then Paul’s rise to becoming Muad’dib involved Paul and Jessica’s manipulation of the legend sown by Bene Gesserits to make the Fremens accept them as the saviours, and Fayd-Rautha’s plan to win people’s admiration by intentionally fighting the Atreides Gladiator are all fine examples of how appearance of the event can be deceiving.  The last duel between Paul and Fayd-Rautha was no longer simple good vs evil by the time I read it on the page.  Paul felt defeated because no matter what he does, he would not be able to stop jihad; if he dies, the Fremens will believe he sacrificed himself for them and start fighting, but if he wins the Fremens will believe Paul is invincible and start waging war anyway.  The Duke cannot stop the Prophet no matter what.  I will have to read the book again to be sure, but I had an impression that this duel was Paul’s struggle to remain as Atreides, and human opposed to Muad’dib who is the symbol of the Fremen jihad.  That’s why he had to fight Fayd-Rautha despite objections from his friends.  At least that was the impression I got.  This may change when I read this part, or whole book again.

After finishing reading Dune, I felt strange emotion.  I have finally read through the book that I was seeking without conscious effort.  Initially the name Dune attracted me for its influence on historically significant game, then I unwittingly drew closer to the point of origin.  It was little different from simply reading the book that inspired your favourite movie/game etc, because Dune and its offsprings surprised me whenever I was exposed to them.  Walking on the road to Dune was full of surprise and wonders.  I am not sure where I should go from here, whether to finish the rest of Dune series, or to read non-Dune books by Frank Herbert, but I am certain of one thing.

It will be full of pleasant surprises.

 

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec_Ops_The_Line_cover

 

Spec Ops: the Line is the military shooter game released in 2012 developed my Yager.  Although Spec Ops series had existed before, the Line does not share story with the previous games.

The story premise is as follows; Dubai was hit by the disastrous sandstorm, and Colonel John Konrad of 33rd Battalion refused to follow the order and decided to remain in Dubai to save people.  Dubai was buried in sand, and in the end UAE declared Dubai a no-man’s land.  But two weeks before the story starts, there was a radio transmission from Konrad, claiming that evacuation of Dubai was failure, and too many people are dead.  So the US military sent three Delta Force team, consisted of Captain Martin Walker (voiced by Nolan North, who participated in Uncharted series as Nathan Drake), Staff Sergeant John Lugo, and Lieutenant Alphonse Adams.  The Delta Force enters Dubai and faces not only physical, but psychological dangers as well.

This game was peculiar in many ways.  Although it is considered a military shooter, the gameplay itself does not stand out much.  It is a typical TPS with cover system and battle management system where you can order your teammates to perform certain tasks.  You carry two weapons, can attack melee or executions.  You can shoot glasses or barriers to bury your enemies in sand but you won’t see that often.  And multiplayer is terrible.  Even the developers said they did not feel any need to make multiplay but had to make one because of publisher’s demand.

But this game earned so much praises, because of its narrative.

At first, the game seems like a typical military shooter; your protagonist is a dutiful soldier, accompanied by cynical sniper and hard-working fellow soldier.  The game is even set in the Middle East.  But as the player progress through the game, it twists all the clichés.  The majority of enemies you fight are the 33rd Battalion, your fellow American soldiers.  They attack you on sight, and you cannot negotiate (like any other military shooters).  You will witness the atrocities committed by the 33rd Battalion throughout Dubai, such as massacres, tortures, and infamous white phosphorous usage.  Also, you will commit such atrocities yourself, not because you are playing as a villain, but because your protagonist Captain Walker wanted to help.

Yes, the Captain Walker is the stereotypical American hero type soldier – he is dutiful, loyal to his comrades, and wants to do the right thing.  He will explain to his teammates that they are in Dubai to do the right thing and make sure those who started the atrocity pay for what they have done.  But his actions make situation worse; he thought he was fighting the bad guys, but he ended up killing civilians in the most horrible way possible.  Walker helps CIA agent to steal the only water supply left in Dubai to force the 33rd Battalions to surrender, but in the end the water supply is destroyed and the people in Dubai will die of thirst within few days.  Throughout all the atrocities he commits, Captain Walker continues to justify his actions by blaming Konrad.  But in the end, Walker faces the truth he wanted to avoid.

The changes the Delta Force goes through are exhibited continuously.  In the beginning of the game, the characters communicate in professional language and tone.  No swears, no overt frustration, just plain and simple disciplinary languages.  But after going through several traumatic events, the characters will swear more often and yell in frustrated voices.  Their looks will become more scarred and behaviours will become more barbaric.  Their initially “heroic” attitudes will be replaced with violent and vengeful attitudes, but why are they being vengeful?  If Walker had walked away after seeing that the situation in Dubai was horrible, none of this would have happened.  And there were situations got worse with the lack of communications.  Walker repeatedly tells other characters that “there is no other way”, but really?  You have to wonder what could have happened, if Walker tried to negotiate with the troops at “the Gate”.   Lugo questions whether the use of white phosphorous is the only option, but Walker ignores Lugo’s opinion.

One change I found it ironic and chilling was Adams’; when Gould was captured Adams suggests that they should rescue the civilians.  Fast forward few hours later, Adams asks Walker’s permission to fire at the angry civilians.  These dramatic changes effectively portray how war turns people into monsters.

This game directly asks you the questions too.  The loading screen will continuously talk to you and it does not have much pleasant things to say.  After killing innocent civilians, the loading screen will ask “do you feel like a hero yet?” and mock your sense of heroism and escapism you feel from playing typical shooters.  How many times have you played as a hero who solves every problem with guns?  In pretty much every shooter out there.  Your hands may be soaked in blood by the end of the game, but no other games made you question your actions.  This game does.  Spec Ops: The Line asks you if all those bloodsheds were necessary by forcing you into the downward spiral, and mocking your actions.  Novels and other narrative arts have done similar things by constantly placing the characters in living hells, but this rarely happened in video games.

Spec Ops: The Line may not have the best gameplay overall, but it certainly shows how narrative can be used in the games.  It does force your decisions, but the game provides deep emotional impact to the gamers in the way only games can.  Simply seeing a character committing an atrocity feels different from you actually committing those atrocities, and because you “did” those monstrosities you may ponder about the matter deeper.

Father Brown

Father Brown is a peculiar figure.  He is a Roman Catholic priest who looks rather foolish and sometimes seems to have little understanding of the situation.  But in the end, it turns out that he is the only one who sees through everything.  The truth in his stories are simple (Chesterton believed that “the truth” in detective fictions should be simple), though shrouded by confusing or seemingly absurd situations.  The true meat of Father Brown stories is when the truth is revealed, the readers see the situation differently.

Spoiler ahead, but it is required to make my point.

In Father Brown’s first story, The Blue Cross, Father Brown walks with the thief Flambeau disguised as a priest.  Two priests are supposed to carry very valuable crucifix to another church, and Flambeau plans to steal the crucifix from Father Brown.

But on their way, Father Brown does series of extraordinary things, such as throwing soup on the wall or switching the position of salt and sugar – all of these are noticed by the police detective Valentin.  In the end, Father Brown is left alone with Flambeau in the middle of isolated place and Father Brown reveals that he saw through Flambeau’s disguise and the crucifix is in safe place.  All his weird actions – throwing soup bowls or breaking windows to compensate for over payment – were his test to examine Flambeau and through theological conversation Father Brown realized that Flambeau was not a clergyman.  In addition to this, Father Brown knew that the police were on their tail, and deliberately created scenes to lure police.  So in the end, the dumb looking priest was smarter than both the star detective and the master thief.

When Flambeau asks Father Brown how he could have known about criminals, Father Brown explains that since he listens to confessions of criminals he knows about their methods well.  Such reversion of stereotype occurs constantly in Father Brown stories and it provides intellectual stimulus to the readers.  Father Brown’s stories are filled with psychological examination of extraordinary criminals and the readers have to examine the characters more to figure out the criminals.

The tricks used in the stories exploit people’s stereotypes and assumptions, but the truth is simple if one can see through them.  For example, Arrow can be used to stab people, but the characters in the story are obsessed with the idea that arrow must be shot from the distance that they are unable to figure out the simple solution.  But the solutions of Father Brown stories are satisfying because it enlightens the readers rather than ridicule them.  It was G.K Chesterton’s belief that detective fictions should enlighten rather than confuse; therefore he made sure the crimes in the stories are simple yet shrouded with supernatural or impossible cover.  Similar theme was used in Chesterton’s other wonderful work The Club of Queer Trade, which is about the people with extraordinary occupations.  These stories start out with surreal air, then give reasonable explanations about the situation.  The character in The Club of Queer Trade emphasizes the usage of “common sense” (which is not common at all if you read the stories) to see through the confusing situations and find the truth.

I love Chesterton’s paradoxical view, because such perspective encourages the reader’s creativity in analysis of the details in the story.  His perspective adds philosophical depth to the stories as well since his stories question how people’s minds are shrouded with all the social and cultural assumption, and explain how they can be harmful to seeing the truth.  Reading Chesterton’s detective stories are more than just reading crime mysteries, because the author is asking you theological and philosophical questions as well.

Although Father Brown stories did not attain the same classic status as Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie’s stories (Father Brown rarely explains how he arrives his solution.  He simply explains that he thinks like criminals, but you can see how such methods can be hard to be studied, unlike Holmes’ deduction, or “abduction” depending on how you define his method), they stand out as the mystery genre’s fine attempt to offer more than an intellectual entertainment.  Mystery genres have asked many social questions in the past, but I believe the genre can be used to examine different sectors of human lives.  Father Brown stories showed me that such attempt is possible.

 

The Defenders by Philip K Dick – short thought about the writer’s “pattern”

When you read one author’s works for a long time, you begin to see certain patterns.  For example, Lovecraft will spend pages over pages about the indescribable and unspeakable horror from something out of space or this world.  Sherlock Holmes stories contain many daily chit-chats between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson where Holmes explains his methods and Watson is awed like always.  I’m not saying these are bad; Lovecraft needs to describe those unspeakable horrors to emphasize the hopelessness of the situation, and Holmes and Watson’s conversations lead to the same conclusion(Watson admiring Holmes for whatever he does) so that Holmes’ lecture on deduction can be taken with admiration.

Philip K Dick has such pattern too, but one of his signature traits is rather interesting.  The one of such characteristics of his writings is twist.  None of PKD’s stories are straight-forward; when you think the situation will go in certain way, PKDk always twist the situation in opposite direction.

The Defenders is the good example of Philip K Dick’s “clichés”.  In the future where America and Soviets continues fighting the war after the nuclear blasted the whole surface, the Americans start to suspect something is not right.  For the last eight years, the humans have been using the robots called “leady” to fight the war on the surface but recent examination of one leady did not exhibit evidence of radiation.  Intrigued by this anomaly, the few American officers travel to the surface to investigate only to find that what they have believed was a lie.

This work is full of PKD’s signature characteristics, and you may feel dejavu if you have read his other works; the basic premise is similar to Penultimate Truth, and the concept of robots fighting humanity’s war can be seen in Second Variety as well.  Yet the same plot did not make it less amazing.  PKD’s concepts are quite fascinating that I did not mind reading variance of the same theme; for example, the humanity created killer robots to fight their war, how will the robots react?  Second Variety told one version of this scenario, and The Defenders showed completely different outcome despite being rooted from the same concept.  Every time you read the recurring theme in PKD’s work, you can be assured that it will not be the mere repetition.  There will be a twist when you think the story is going one way, and that twist keeps the story fresh.

I recommend reading both The Defenders and Second Variety and make comparisons.  If the writer finds him/herself writing about recurring theme, he/she should give variety into the subject in order to prevent redundancy and to experiment on the subject.   Examining how PKD handles the repeated topics may give you a hint with how you should handle observed redundancy.

Also, they are both good stories in my opinion.  So just read them both.