Showing posts with label folklore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label folklore. Show all posts

29 March 2017

Beyond the locked gate


by Robert Lopresti

Saturday will be April Fool's Day, which makes this an excellent opportunity to talk about Mulla Nasrudin.  I am amazed to find that in all my years of blogging I have only discussed him once, and  that, in passing.

The concensus is that the real-life Nasrudin was a Sufi born in Turkey in the 1200s.  But since he is known in folklore from the Middle East all the way to China there is obviously much debate about that.  (Also about his name: Molla Nasreddin, Nasr Eddin, Nasrudeen Hodja, or just the Hodja, to name a few variations.  The catalogers at the Library of Congress settled on Nasreddin Hoca.)


What is certain is that the character belongs to the tradition of the wise fool: the spiritual leader who passes on his message by behaving in eccentric ways, perhaps on purpose, perhaps not.

I don't claim to understand Sufism at all but I think it is a mystical tradition within Islam which believes enlightment cannot be achieved by study or words alone.  It requires long-term commitment to a great teacher and one learns from the behavior of the teacher as well as from texts.  There is an interest in achieving the conditions necessary for grasping truth, not in merely sitting down with a text.  Everyone who has actually studied Sufism is now welcome to explain in the comments that I am full of beans.

Remember the old joke about the man who lost his keys at Point A but looked for them at Point B because the light was better there?  Classic Nasrudin.  And, if you think about it, clearly an allegory for the pursuit of truth (although, in proper mystical fashion, the message itself is debatable).

I had a friend who spend a year in Afghanistan several decades ago and he said that a day never passed without someone telling him a Nasrudin story. They were always told to make a point but they were so far from Western thinking that my friend sometimes could not tell when the punchline had arrived.

Here are a few stories relevant to crime fiction.  As far as I know they are all ancient and in the public domain.  Whether they have deep meaning I leave up to you, but the last story makes an interesting argument about the administration of justice.  (By the way, there is no relation between the books shown and particular stories.)

The Detective

One day Nasrudin bought three pounds of meat.  While he was out his wife cooked it and ate it.  When he came home he asked where it had gone.

"The kitten ate it."

Nasrudin pulled out a scale and found that the kitten weighed three pounds.  "If this is the cat, where is the meat?  If this is the meat, where is the cat?"

The Victim

One night Nasrudin found a burglar in his house, stuffing objects into a sack.  Nasrudin immediately began to add more to the bag.

"What are you doing?" asked the burglar.

"I thought we were moving," said Nasrudin, "so I was helping you pack."

The Criminal

"Mulla, you are so wise!  Has anyone ever asked you a question you can't answer?"

"Only once.  It was: 'Why are you sneaking through my window in the middle of the night?'"

The Judge.

A woman came to Nasrudin's court and complained: "My son is addicted to sugar.  I can't make him stop eating and he is spending all my money.  Please order him to stop."

"This is a very difficult case," said Nasrudin.  "Come back in a week."

She did.  "This still requires more work," he said.  "Come back next week."

This happened twice more.  Finally Nasrudin called the boy before him.  "You are making your mother's life a misery!  I order you to stop eating sugar or you will be severely punished."

The mother thanked him.  "But Mulla, why couldn't you have done the same thing weeks ago?"

Nasrudin shrugged.  "How could I know it would take so long for me to give up sugar?'

****************************************************

There is a beautiful tomb in Aksehir, Turkey, supposedly that of the great Mulla.  It is guarded by a gate, sealed with a great padlock.

There are no walls connected to the gate.







27 October 2016

A Celtic Halloween


by Eve Fisher

When you say folk music in America, the first thing that comes to most people's mind is Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and music that's a mixture of politics and sweet ballads. Folk music in Britain? Try some of the dark stuff. You want to know how to cheat the Fairy Queen? Kill a monster or two? Go crazy? Be killed by a werefox? Try old British folk songs.

Back in 1969, a British group called Fairport Convention issued their fourth album, called "Liege and Lief". It's been credited as the beginning of the "British folk rock" movement, and in 2006 it was voted "Most Influential Folk Album of All Time". I love this album, because it's chock full of traditional British and Celtic folk material, done with an edge and a steel guitar. And the amazing vocals of Sandy Denny.   Let's just say it makes for a good, alternative Halloween sound track.

My personal favorite on Liege & Lief is Reynardine. Listen to it here:

A Scarfolk Council-issued card to remind you you're always being followed."Your beauty so enticed me
I could not pass it by
So it's with my gun I'll guard you
All on the mountains high."
"And if by chance you should look for me
Perhaps you'll not me find
For I'll be in my castle
Inquire for Reynardine."
Sun and dark, she followed him
His teeth did brightly shine
And he led her above mountains
Did that sly old Reynardine

And, to prove that fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you, try this (fairly obscure) movie by Neil Jordan, "In the Company of Wolves", starring Angela Lansbury as Granny, who tells her granddaughter Rosaleen stories about werewolves, wolves, innocent girls, dangerous strangers, and full moons... (See the trailer below:)



Back to Fairport Convention and the eerie "Crazy Man Michael":



Pair that with Francis Ford Coppola's "Dementia 13", set in an Irish castle, and you'll probably check under the bed at night.  And lock all the doors.  Maybe burn a little sage...



Of course, sometimes they aren't crazy.  In "Grabbers", directed by Jon Wright, a small rural Irish village is taken over by monstrous sea creatures who love the typical Irish day:  constant rain and drizzle.  The creatures are killing off as many people as they possibly can, as gruesomely as possible. But they have one weakness – alcohol. If you're drunk, they can't kill you.  So, the whole village takes to steady drinking...  Laughs, gore, and terror, what more can you ask for?



The remainder of the instructional booklet, complete with a helpful quiz.A poster from a Scarfolk Council anti-people campaign.
BTW, all the photos above are from "Scarfolk, England's creepiest fake town,".  A big shout out to AtlasObscura.com for a great article.  Check out, also:
Carmilla, the first vampire story by Sheridan LeFanu
The Essential Guide to Living Lovecraft
Traveling Thru Transylvania with Dracula
Satan's Subliminal Rock Music Messages

Finally, two things:  first of all from Pink Floyd, a wonderful song that is, perhaps, the Addams Family lullaby, "Careful with that Axe, Eugene":


And for a last video, check out Michael Mann's 1983 movie, "The Keep".  It is World War II in German-occupied Romania. Nazi soldiers have been sent to garrison a mysterious fortress, but a nightmarish discovery is soon made. The Keep was not built to keep anything out. The massive structure was, in fact built to keep something in...




Happy Halloween!


31 October 2012

Zombie Jamboree


by Robert Lopresti

 Don't forget you can still enter our contest for a free copy of David Dean's book.  Details are in his column, right below mine...

 Before we get to the main topic of today's lecture, a brief musical interlude.

Michael P. Smith, one of my favorite songwriters, released a new CD last  week, and what do you know?  The very first track, "Accokeek,"  is perfect for a mystery website on Halloween, involving both a murder and a ghost story.  I found this concert recording of that song  on Youtube.  Alas, the soundtrack is a bit fuzzy, but it is worth the effort.


Now then.  A happy, safe, and spooky Halloween to each and all.  And speaking of spooks....

At the university where I work a lot of the students have been engaged in an activity called Humans versus Zombies which is, as near as I can tell, a, elaborate and  humongous game of Tag. The players wear orange headbands or armbands depending on which team (species?) they are on, and race between points of safety.

Okay.  Makes more sense then streaking, which was popular on campus when I was a wee laddie.  So when I say I don't get it, I don't mean the game, I mean the current fascination with zombies.

The weird thing is that the world is dealing with, so to speak, two unrelated types of zombies.  The first are the revived dead persons we think of as a piece of Haitian folklore/religion, but which apparently originated in Africa.

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston, doing anthropological research in Haiti in the 1930s, was apparently the first to suggest there might be a pharmacological explanation for zombies; i.e. drugs that simulate death and/or controlled their will.

But zombies had already staggered into popular culture.  White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi had appeared in 1931.

And it is in movies that the second wave of zombies arrived.  George A Romero is credited (blamed?) for starting it with his 1968 hit The Night of the Living Dead.  And the odd thing about this, of course, is that the movie never calls the stumbling brain-seekers zombies.  But those are the ones that people have in mind when they use the term today.

People who think hard (maybe too hard) about society have suggested that we can learn something about the current world view by noticing which monsters are popular in a given time.  For example, see the movies in the fifties in which the monsters are the productions of mutations caused by nuclear weapons.  What were people worrying about then?  You bet.

Or consider the rash of vampire movies in then 1980s when AIDS made contact with blood a terrifying issue.

So what does it say about our society today that a prominent monster is the mindless, undead, seeker of brains?  Insert political joke here, I suppose.

And speaking of politics, our favorite federal government joined the zombie industry this year, with predictable results.

The illustration on the right is from a comic book created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, using a character's dream of a zombie attack as an opportunity to explain how to prepare for an emergency.

I'm sure it seemed very cute and clever, but when, a few months later, some people were accused of doing nasty cannibalistic things the CDC was forced to issue a statement:  "CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).”

As I have said before, if a government author thinks he is being clever and hip, he is probably making a tragic error.

Let's go out with some more music.  Do it Rockapella!...