Month: April 2019

Who Defends Us During the Night?

A Black Cat, Evil Doings, and Neil Gaiman

I’ve always been fascinated with feral cats. I spent a good portion of my childhood on a cattle farm watching a varied collection of Tom and Molly cats prowling about. To be clear these were not indoor cats we put out at night, and they didn’t have proper names (some did acquire nicknames if they hung around long enough). These felines were wild animals. They may not have been lions on the African planes, but they were feral hunters and that is what fascinated me. I used to wonder what kind of lives these wild and free animals led. That question brings us to Neil Gaiman’s “The Price,” eight pages of well crafted, evenly paced fantasy.

The first person narrator of “The Price” is an author who relays a series of events that occur over a period of a few weeks after his family takes in and cares for feral cat known simply as Black Cat. During the brief time Black Cat stays with the narrator’s family it receives several wounds from fighting with some unknown animal. The narrator is determined to capture this animal in an attempt to protect Black Cat from any further harm. It is during the climactic moment of the story that we learn what the unknown animal is and the importance of this Black Cat to the narrator and his family. Gaiman’s resolution is a punch in the gut, which is what makes it great short story.  But a closer look at a couple of points of this story shows Gaiman inverting some common conventions of fantasy literature and folklore.

The first convention Gaiman inverts is that of the black cat as a familiar of witches and others disposed to evil at night. Black Cat is described as, “patch of night.” This a common description of the witch’s familiar, but in this story Black Cat is portrayed as protector, willing to stand against a stronger foe to defend others it doesn’t know. The other convention is that of the black cat as an omen of bad luck and ill tidings. Quite the opposite plays out in this story. Black Cat not only defends this family but it appears to somehow carry the burdens of the family which may explain why it is, “surprisingly heavy.” Black Cat’s presence is a stroke of luck for this family.  Gaiman’s inversions of these common conventions help establish depth for both the story as a whole and the Black Cat in particular.

Gaiman’s story “The Price” took me back to a time when I would wonder what the feral Tom and Molly cats were doing when I wasn’t watching. Of course there was no Black Cat on the farm, and I never did see anything like what the narrator of this story sees. But maybe that’s what makes the story all the better.  Just because I didn’t see doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

-K-

“The Price” by Neil Gaiman from Smoke and Mirrors (1998).

Shots in the Dark

Or Carrying a Camera in the Middle of the Night

Do you check to see if you have your camera before you have your keys when leaving the house? I’ve been carrying a camera of some sort for the better part of three decades now (I don’t consider my phone a camera, but I won’t judge those who do).  Some people have a favorite subject or location when it comes to taking photographs. Other photographers long for the golden hour. I’ve always been a fan of nighttime, not just for photography, but also for reflection.

I’ve never been much of a sound sleeper. Wandering through the neighborhood at night is both a way of passing time (trying to chase down some sleeps as my Pops would say) and as a perfect time to find some good shots. Night is a time to reflect, to think, and to shoot (not necessarily in that order).

Night Walk #2 ( #63-editj20.212)Night Walk.

Time moves slower at night. There is more time to set up shots. I don’t feel so much like a tourist or a lookie loo if I linger at night (of course I have found myself being accosted by the local police on an occasion or few). But the night provides a quiet and a stillness that I’ve never found in the day. Shots taken during the day may freeze time, but shots taken at night preserve time.  Daytime photographs capture a moment, but nighttime photographs embrace that moment.

Clock Face (#126-editj20.116)Clock Face.

If you are the type of person that carries a camera everywhere you go, then the next time you find yourself out after dark take a few moments to look around.  Enjoy the time to reflect, think, and take a few shots.

-K-

One Murder After Dark and Four Stories

Cowboy Junkies, Money, and Murder in a Trailer Park

Songs make for interesting story telling devices. The best songs tell great stories, and great stories always deserve a closer look. These closer looks (criticisms if you want to sound literary) can serve to inform, to entertain, and to persuade. “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” by the Cowboy Junkies is one such great story. There are multiple approaches and interpretations of this song, but I want to focus on how money plays a role in the lives of the characters in this song.

The central plot of “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” is the murder of Mrs. Annabelle Evans. She is murdered some time after sunset. Annabelle’s body is identified by a neighbor, Peg. Nearby an unidentified character is prompting someone by the name of Ann Marie to pack her bags and leave with him. Meanwhile, across town, George Evans is at a bar getting drunk, buying rounds for the regulars, and bragging about how he won big at a game of craps. Later this same night, we see a “faceless man” in a hotel room counting out crumpled bills and waiting for the sports results on TV to see if his wagers have come in. These four scenes occur on the same night, and it is money that connects them.

The apparent motive for Mrs. Annabelle Evans’ murder is robbery. She is killed for what amounts to not much more than pocket-money. The central action of this scene revolves around money, and money plays an important role in each subsequent scene. We aren’t made fully aware of the motive for the unidentified character’s desire to move and to what extent Annabelle Evans’ death may have in that decision, but this character has “been saving pennies” in preparation for the move. He tells Ann Marie that they will head west and make a new start (and money is always needed for new starts). George Evans, who we can presume is Annabelle’s husband, is getting drunk at a local bar and is oblivious to the fact that his wife has been murdered. One can’t help but wonder how things may be different if George had gone home instead of spending his winnings at a local bar. Finally, there is the “faceless man” in a hotel room. Annabelle Evans’ murder has made the late night news. This “faceless man” turns down the sound on the TV and waits for the sports. He isn’t as concerned with the murder of Annabelle Evans as he is with whether or not he has won his wagers. These scenes show that money is more valuable to these characters than the life of Annabelle Evans.

Songs are just one of many ways to tell a great story, and great stories are worth criticizing.  “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” by the Cowboy Junkies tells the story of a murder after dark, and how money is more important than a human life.

-K-

“Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park” from Black Eyed Man by Cowboy Junkies