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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Having put forth the idea of "coherent improbabilities" here, it occured to me that though I've given examples of particular tropes or literary works that fit this category, characters are probably more accessible as exemplars.  Thus here are ten characters to match each of the ten tropes with which I've illustrated the manifestation of the "uncanny" phenomenality.

In all but one case, I chose an exemplar who appeared during the period that gave birth to the phenomenon of popular fiction, though a few of my choices come from canonical literary works.

ASTOUNDING ANIMALS-- Moby Dick, from Herman Melville's MOBY DICK.  Melville's book technically remains within the causal realm in a cognitive sense-- that is, the colossal cetacean is constantly compared with godlike beings, but there's no evidence that he's anything but a formidable animal.  But the Great White Whale, like his obsessed co-star Ahab, dwell in a world that constantly pushes into the metaphenomenal in a purely affective sense.

BIZARRE CRIMES-- Juliette, from the novel of the same name by the Marquis deSade. Sade is, in his way, something of an apostle of naturalism to the extent that he constantly denies the ideas of divinity.  Nevertheless, for Sade as for Goethe the motto is, "In the Beginning was the Act!"  But for Sade the act is not creation, but the obsessive need to find new and more exotic ways to destroy human beings-- a need which seems embodied most strongly in the character of Juliette, the blood-hungry sister of the innocent Justine.

DELIRIOUS DREAMS AND FALLACIOUS FIGMENTS-- Alice, from Lewis Carroll's two books starring that prodigious dreamer.  Within this trope, even though causality seems to win the game when Alice wakes from her descent into meaningful nonsense, it's the dreams that become more real to us than the reality.

ENTHRALLING HYPNOTISM AND ILLUSIONISM-- Svengali, from the 1894 TRILBY by George DuMaurier.  As yet I haven't reviewed any of the films starring literature's most famous
hypnotist, though most moderns know the Svengali of the movies if they know him at all.  As noted elsewhere, both "hypnotism" and "illusionism" have the effect of waking persons that dreams do upon the dreamer; making the impossible and improbable become real for the subjects.

EXOTIC LANDS AND CUSTOMS-- Allen Quatermain, from H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel KING SOLOMON'S MINES.  The novel is famous for launching the genre of the "Lost World story," in which an archaic civilization has managed to survive in some remote corner of the world without contact with the onrush of history.  I have not read any of the "Allen" books aside from the one in which Haggard encountered Haggard's other great character, "She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed," but have gained the impression that most of the other Allen books possess an uncanny phenomenality, rather than a marvelous or naturalistic one.

FREAKISH FLESH-- Quasimodo,from Victor Hugo's 1831.  Though Hugo's original novel hews closer to the genre of the "historical novel" than that of horror, the image of the hunchback-- be it Quasimodo's or that of some lesser epigone-- has become a familiar icon of horror.  In contrast to a naturalistic exhibition of a "freak of nature," as one sees in the 1980 David Lynch film THE ELEPHANT MAN, Quasimodo's physical freakishness in the novel is constantly tied to the dark nature of humankind as a whole.

OUTRE OUTFITS, SKILLS, AND DEVICES-- These three aspects do not always occur together in a given character, though I group them together because weapons and costumes, as much as a character's physical skills, are extensions of his persona as an uncanny spectre.  One character who combines all three in significant fashion is The Lone Ranger, spawned by a 1933 radio series.  Although the hero moves through a largely naturalistic world in most of his incarnations, the very notion of an Old West champion able to dispense justice despite wearing a bandit's mask and firing silver bullets with flawless accuracy, is a figure who resides only in an uncanny domain.

PERILOUS PSYCHOS-- Norman Bates, from Robert Bloch's 1959 novel PSYCHO.  Though Jack the Ripper is a more famous psycho-killer, he's disallowed here by virtue of being a real character, however mysterious.  The Norman birthed by Bloch and midwifed by Hitchcock seems to have the fictional psycho who, directly or indirectly, spawned the greatest number of imitators.  Some of these may be considered merely naturalistic versions of the original, as with the current BATES MOTEL teleseries.  But an uncanny psycho is always discernible by his ability to invoke more "dread" than simple physical "fear."

 PHANTASMAL FIGURATIONS-- The Phantom of the Opera, from Gaston Leroux's 1909 serial novel of that name.  Leroux also employs the trope "freakish flesh" for this famed monstrous presence, but the trope that most informs the novel is the character's ability to lurk beneath the Paris Opera House, pretending to be "the Opera Ghost."  Regardless as to whether readers believed or did not believe in the existence of this particular ghost at the outset, the Phantom remains far more than the sum of his impostures.

WEIRD SOCIETIES AND FAMILIES-- Fu Manchu, first appearing in Sax Rohmer's 1913 MYSTERY OF FU-MANCHU.  Admittedly, even in that first novel, Fu Manchu displayed more "marvelous" characteristics than any of the other characters cited here, in that he often controlled assorted weapons of "mad science." At base, though, Fu Manchu's greatest appeal to readers was one that did not depend on the marvelous elements of the series: his status as a sort of "Alexander the Great" of Oriental Evil, in that his "Si-Fan" organization embraced a wildly diverse group of Asian fiends-- Indian thuggee, Burmese dacoits, the Sea-Dyaks of Borneo, and so on.  This vast conspiracy by itself stands as one of the period's best evocations of a "weird society" that goes beyond the bounds of a mere criminal organization, and sometimes seems more like a "Pandemonium" presided over by the Satanic genius.

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