Reviews


Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

 

D.M. Mitchell Reviews

“The Killer” by Colin Wilson (Savoy Books 2002)

In every facet of human culture we see the killer has an exalted status, irrespective of whether he/she upholds or undermines the existing ethical or religious code. In western culture, nominally or intrinsically Christian, the taking of human life has become increasingly abrogate. Life is viewed as sacred and the death penalty, even as retribution for the most hideous of unlawful taking of human life, has been abolished. Yet in our cultural expressions, popular and ‘highbrow’, the dealing of death still retains an almost fetishistic glamour. Death and sex are inextricably linked, both physically and psychologically. The killer is inescapably sexy.

Most cultures, whether they belong to the morally dualistic world-paradigm (Christianity, Islam, etc.) or otherwise, still retain the archetypal figures of the hero and villain (or anti-hero if you will). In many cultures the two figures are even interchangeable but whatever background they emerge from, even a cursory examination will reveal that they are inseparable.

People generally need these psychodramas, most openly in childhood. The child’s view of the hero and the villain are generally more pragmatic, concerned and connected with events and people in the story. The concepts of ultimate ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and forces or parties embodying these qualities are cultural overlays, learned as part of the moral education process. In adults the need for these dramas is more covert, more vicarious. Maybe because they are supposed to have ‘put aside childish things’, as the myth-fantasies find expression elsewhere, often projected (in the Freudian sense) into real life situations. Thus sportspeople become ‘heroes’ elevated to an iconic status often disproportionate to anything warranted by their achievements in mundane terms. There is currently a ‘cult of the celebrity’ which by its simple fervour and intensity suggests it is being used to fill some deep unnatural hunger on the part of the public.

So myth becomes mingled with reality. Ordinary people, often non-entities who have done little or nothing of actual worth (in fact they fit the role better being blank canvases, so to speak, for people to scrawl on whatever they want) become heroes. But what of the villains?

The villain has mutated as well. In one sense he/she is in even better health than the hero. The villain’s most important role has, for a long time, been primarily a political one. The villain is usually the leader of whichever country is currently opposed to your own interests, or the leader(s) of whichever political activist group is violently opposed to your own political beliefs. Once the position was filled by Nero, arguably the Beast of Revelation. His role at the top of the pile was later appropriated by Hitler, viewed by his followers as almost a god or at least a superhero. Most recently in the west the job has been jointly filled by Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, both of whom are viewed as semi-divine by their followers.

Prior to the events of September the 11th 2001, the villain suffered a lack of representation in the political arena. It seemed for a while that Perestroika had deprived us of a villain of any considerable power. Even the mass slaughter in the Balkans didn’t touch us in the right way. The whole affair was too nebulous with no clear ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’. During this period, a new figure slunk onto the set and gained a massive boost in popularity; the ‘serial-killer’.

They had always been there but interest in them had previously been either the domain of the criminal psychologist (professional and amateur alike) or had found expression in urban myths such as the ‘hook killer’. Most of us had found the subject little more than distasteful. Suddenly, during the 90s, it became flavour of the month – and many months that followed. The vast majority of the books written were hack-work, many not even based on facts (or at least what facts had already appeared in the tabloid press). The public didn’t care. They wanted these dangerous, suddenly alluring creatures. Charles Manson’s fan club membership more than tripled during the decade. Serial killers even wrote and had published their life-stories. They were the anti-celebrities.

Some books, however, were better written. Many of those were dry, straightforward reportages, conscientiously sticking to real facts, backed up by genuine research and reliable data. They were only concerned with presenting the facts, in essence, with the façade of the phenomenon.

Colin Wilson was in a very small group of writers who approached the subject with the intention of cutting deeper, of fathoming out what made these individuals do the things they did, of getting inside their heads. Their behaviour intersected often with his own obsessions and fascinations. They, like him, were interested in going ‘beyond’ the mundane and the normal and penetrating to the deeper layers of life. Some of their cases even suggested their driving force was the realisation of human potential. They were another piece in the jigsaw of existential philosophy as processed through Colin Wilson’s perception and psyche.

I must confess right here and now to not being a great admirer of Colin Wilson’s philosophical work on the whole. It’s true that there is not a single book of his which does not have at least one brilliant flash of inspiration, or that provides profound insights of the sort missed by more academically respected writers who cultivate a more sophisticated fashionable approach. Colin Wilson has never been an intellectual snob nor a wilful obscurantist. He always makes a virtue of writing clearly rather than surrounding his thoughts with a miasma of pseudo-academic jargon and postmodernist double-speak.

Colin Wilson, like many people (blessed or cursed with an enquiring brain) is troubled by man’s nature, and also (more importantly) by man’s condition. And the things that cause us the greatest trouble are the things most begging investigation.

But Colin Wilson (and to be fair to him, he is not alone in this) often seems to project philosophical agendas onto the case studies he draws from, that are sometimes arguably inappropriate. Behind the ‘existentialist’ façade, an angel and a devil are constantly wrestling; traces of an upbringing he has made efforts to free his mind from, and to an extent has succeeded in doing. But the grip of Christian morality is harder to extricate from the heart, so people often dress it up and rename it ‘humanism’. Wilson’s view of evolution, which seems to be one of the driving mechanisms of his thought, has a teleological slant. Human evolution, for Colin Wilson, seems to be bound up with positivist agendas. To evolve seems to be equated with becoming somehow ‘better’. In the realm of science, which is where the term ‘evolution’ properly belongs, there is no value judgement attached; to do so just confuses the issue and confounds further investigation. But these agendas are not central here and only where I feel it is relevant to specific points will I return to it.

Many of Colin Wilson’s books touch on the subject of aberrant or criminal behaviour always situated within a broader philosophical swathe. He has written quite a few non-fiction books specifically devoted to the subject of the criminal impulse (the best of which is arguably ‘A Criminal History of Mankind’) and a handful of novels of varying quality.

Most of his ‘fiction’ can barely be described as such; usually they only use the fictional form as an opportunity to present philosophical ideas to a wider public. Ideology in the form of frequently long monologues are put into the mouths of his characters, sometimes with minimal background detail or attempt at characterization. Of course, if this approach was good enough for Bertolt Brecht or Dostoevsky then it’s certainly good enough for the rest of us. Unfortunately, in the real world, the public tend to be resistant to having anything other than the most generalised banal tedium drip-fed to them. What people need and what they seem to want are normally at odds with each other. This probably explains why his crime books didn’t make him rich overnight!

One of Colin Wilson’s ‘crime novels’ and one which struck a deep resounding chord with Savoy was the book ‘The Killer’. This was an early example of Colin Wilson writing sincerely and unguardedly. He didn’t do this very often, dismissing this as too subjective. It may be the fact that the book was written under pressure at ‘white hot’ pace, thus sidestepping a lot of his inbuilt self-censoring mechanisms (which we all have). The plot revolves around a psychiatrist/doctor (the role is never made clear) who discovers an inmate (Arthur Lingard) at an open prison and gradually realises the man is more than the pathetic criminal he initially appears to be. As the narrator strikes up and subsequently develops a relationship of trust with Lingard, we discover that he is in truth a dangerous sociopathic sex-killer who has hitherto evaded discovery and capture as a result of his above average intellect and cunning.

It’s conceivable that Lingard, as much as the narrator/doctor is really an aspect of Wilson’s personality shown in the process of searching for answers and finding dead ends. The narrator is supplied as the objective ‘super-ego’ examining the process of the inmate’s (the id) thinking and seeing the wrong-turns taken and suggesting alternatives. Whereas in life it’s normally the serial killer who plays the game of cat and mouse at the expense of the detective or doctor, here you feel that the doctor/narrator could be viewed as doing the opposite, with even an implication of psychological suggestion (what Freud called ‘counter-transference’). In today’s legal climate Khan’s methods would be dismissed as ‘entrapment’ and any evidence uncovered as a result dismissed in court as being suspect. But it is made fairly clear from quite early in the narrative that the doctor doesn’t have criminological motives in setting up the relationship, so the legality of what he does is put aside. He simply wants to learn about Lingard. His curiosity, however, leads him to some shocking realisations about Lingard. I feel there was an opportunity missed here, where the author could have turned the tables and made clear the morally questionable aspects of the doctor’s callous exploitation of Lingard throughout the story. 

One is reminded of the ontological games indulged in by Nabokov in ‘Pale Fire’. There is a dimension to ‘The Killer’ that I believe was probably unintentional on Colin Wilson’s part; an ambiguity that seems to run through many of the books published by Savoy. Who is the real psychopath? How much moral responsibility does the doctor have and to what extent is he exploiting it? To what extent is the doctor continuing the abuse of Lingard by appropriating him as a bolster for his theoretical essaying? In many scenes, the doctor is only manipulating Lingard in the same way Lingard manipulated the people with whom he came into contact. Khan covets something Lingard, this twisted pathetic ‘loser’ possesses – something Khan, for all his respectability and social standing, lacks. These are questions implicit in the text that spill off the page and beg development somewhere else. The development of this theme may even have been enacted in real life much later and also in connection with Savoy. I will deal with that later.

In ‘The Killer’, (as in his other books) Colin Wilson recognises and addresses the transient physical aspects of aberrant human psychology but does not address the possibility that this psyche originates and has roots in their abnormal physical condition.

Of course, at the time of writing this book the popularly held view of psychopathic behaviour was biased towards left-wing paradigms such as those of Foucault and Laing that favoured the belief that we are all the same initially but take different paths through life either through choice or as a result of social pressures and influences of one kind or another. Recent developments in psycho-neurology seem to suggest that much of the time, quite the opposite is actually the case, with people being born with a predisposition to one type of behaviour or another. The debate over this simple point is currently still fierce. Until politics can be kept out of scientific research, it’s unlikely we’ll become any the wiser.   

In ‘the Killer’, Wilson treats the problem of Lingard as a purely psychological one, as the result of ‘bad choices’ or simply insufficient influences in his life of the right kind. This view of the psychopathic mentality belongs to a theory called ‘associative personality disorder’. The psychopath is often outwardly identical to many examples of aggressive males in our (western) society and can often pass unnoticed, at least for significant periods of time. They are often seen by people as ‘over-achievers’.

It has been argued by many left-wing social scientists and psychologists (especially those of the Frankfurt School and many feminists such as Marilyn French and Andrea Dworkin) that our society, as a whole, is the product of an unnaturally violent strain of male behaviour and has been for several thousand years – to the extent that this violent tyrannical behaviour has become the institutional norm in these societies. The ideas of Marcuse and Fromm have even taken root and flourished to the extent that whole social groups, mostly born after 1960, have developed a subcultural paradigm that views white males as being the source of all bad in the world. At its most extreme, these views have created the ‘feminazi’, the ‘Green Anarchist’, ironically more reactionary or even fascistic in their own way than the authoritarian institutions they rail against.

The danger of these philosophies is that they too often generalise and more often than not the theories of these ‘schools’ only muddy the waters rather than shed light on anything useful to us. Despite an early flirting with politics in the form of the abortive and ludicrous Spartacan Movement, Colin Wilson has avoided political ideology and fashionable paradigm shifts, remaining mostly outside of the arena, although occasionally, when his conscience dictates, admitting to things in common with many of the camps involved. The result is an uncomfortable mixture of reactionary conservative and radical views.

Colin Wilson’s recurrent obsession is with the concept (or myth, depending on how you view it) of human potential, of how humanity is not fulfilling the potential of its capabilities and how humanity could escape from its present condition and transform itself into a creature of godlike potential.

‘The Killer’ is suffused by the ‘spirit’ of romanticism and Lingard is an almost romantic antihero. Lingard is not a truly realistic character, and the book is not really a realistic book; rather it’s (admittedly) a collage of realism and mythology with a dash of surrealism for flavour. This is where Wilson actually lets slip the leash on his customary rationality and finds his way to Savoy.

Lingard is a thinly disguised variation of one of Savoy’s favourite archetypes, and one that crops up again and again in their publications. One of Savoy’s primary acknowledged influences was Moorcock with his Elric books. Elric is a variation on the ‘wounded king’ of Celtic legend and Elliott’s ‘Waste Land’. He is a version of Odin of Norse legend, of Gwydion of Celtic myth; both of which are cultural adaptations of the myth of Dionysus which found later cultural mutation elsewhere as the crucified Christ. The same myth-figure has emerged seemingly spontaneously as Hamlet, the reluctant hero. Elric is an albino, a bleached bone-king, paralleled by Strangman in Ballard’s ‘The Drowned World’, by the negative Jerry Cornelius in Moorcock’s later books. He mutates into his own nemesis as Zenith the Albino, as Maldoror, as Fantomas, The Joker (in the Batman comics), as Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos. He is always one step ahead and it is never certain exactly how much knowledge he possesses but it is sure that he knows just that little bit more than us, embodied usually in the ‘hero’.

The background of ‘The Killer’ paints a bleak industrial background, where individuality is stifled by the very culture that espouses the individual as its ideal – post-imperialist capitalism. As Nietzsche pointed out, the very cultures that bleat loudest about the rights of the individual are those least able to offer any proof of its existence. Here, in the portrait economically painted by Wilson of a typical northern town with its atmosphere of pessimism, the graveyard of ambition, the drama unfolds. As with the works of Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore, place and locality are intrinsic to the unfolding of events. This book intersects with the themes and ambience of Jack Trevor Story, whose Albert Argyle dealt with the stifling suburban environment and its challenge to the dominant male psyche in a different way. In many ways Argyle can be seen as the flip of Lingard, as though they belong in one of those parables where two brothers set out to prove themselves in different ways. Argyle is the more likeable character, although possibly more morally reprehensible in his own way than Lingard. Argyle is rat-like in his will to survive and adapt to contingencies. All his dreams of escaping his circumstances however are doomed to failure just as Lingard’s are. It’s even arguable that in his effort to escape his circumstances, Argyle causes more damage to people’s lives than does Lingard. Although Lingard kills, most of his victims are unsympathetic characters. Lingard is focused and specific and limits the damage he does to specific individuals. He is also more troubled by feelings of guilt than Argyle who leaves behind him a trail of debt and disappointment. Argyle consoles himself with the illusion that he is actually helping the people he exploits, whereas in reality he can’t even help himself. 

Neither Argyle nor Lingard however, develop anything resembling a political conscience. Neither view the circumstances incumbent on them as something that should or could be changed. Both accept their circumstances as their natural lot. Humanity is meant to be this way or would be different. Neither Argyle nor Lingard are willing to accept any amount of social responsibility – either in fitting in to the existing scheme of things, or in trying to change conditions. They passively accept their allotted slot as outsiders, Argyle by profiting from others’ weaknesses and ignorance (a pattern of behavior encouraged in some cultures but anathematized in his own protestant work-ethic background) and Lingard by overt anti-social behavior, a thinly disguised self-aggrandizing. 

The subterfuges employed by Lingard in keeping his misdemeanors low-key are however not really in keeping with human nature. Most anti-social behavior is attention-seeking and egocentric. The natural criminal, the small-time crook, lives in a fashion that is generally understated, unselfcritical with little or no attempt made to hide it or apologize for it. The genuine psychopath or serial-killer (as we know them today) wants to be a celebrity more than anything else. Lingard however, desires to disappear. Why? He has been designed by Colin Wilson to embody qualities central to his philosophy of the Outsider – is in fact a distillation of those qualities. The situations in which Lingard finds himself are a concentration of almost textbook scenarios that supposedly contribute to the formation of the criminal personality. The realistic background, the lifelike characterizations and impressive use of dialogue make little attempt to conceal the staged accumulation of these ‘trumps’. At times it appears almost comical while at the same time eliciting sympathy for the character. Nobody could honestly be that predictably unlucky!?

Real life cases of course show that star deviants of Lingard’s type do seem to blunder from one catastrophe to another. It would suggest that they have a subconscious orientation towards it. On a deep level, a part of them directs them willfully towards the events and encounters that are worst for them, as though there is a will to become this sort of unhuman monster. Genuine healthy relationships are even sabotaged by them in subtle ways. The monster inside wants to sever all the links that threaten to hamper it from growing to full power and control.

One of the telling traits of Lingard is his immersing himself in pulp fantasy writing. He devours books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and A Merritt. The alien landscapes in the books become more real for him than the drab northern towns he is trapped in. On one level, this is simple escapism, a way of unfocusing the attention to avoid having to do anything about one’s circumstances. Why doesn’t Lingard study hard, get a successful job, become a truly ‘powerful’ human, someone with ‘social standing’? In effect, he disdains this sort of success as being ‘dancing to someone else’s tune’.

Part of the appeal of fantasy worlds of Burroughs, Merritt and similar fantasy writers is that they provide ‘potency fantasies’, or ‘wish-fulfilment’ fantasies, almost exclusively aimed at young males. Sword and sorcery functions at one level to provide a sort of psychic release for males overburdened with testosterone, blessed with a vivid imagination but strangled by a shrinking world that once would have offered real scope for adventure.

But Lingard goes further and finds deeper aspects to these flights of fantasy. What would be a temporary distraction for the majority of readers – or at most a form of cerebral masturbation to compensate for social ineptitude – becomes for Lingard an almost religious epiphany. Colin Wilson likens this sort of thing to the ‘peak experience’ of Maslow’s psychology, but there are still deeper levels to be plumbed.

Lingard perceives the Martian landscapes of Rice Burroughs’ tales as physically palpably real. Another world, or sphere of existence is intersecting his, a higher more vivid reality intruding into the drudgery of domestic nihilism. The important thing here, brilliantly expressed by Wilson, is exactly how real this experience is for Lingard. This happens almost halfway through the book. I wonder how deliberate this positioning was. In magical terms it is the crossroads, place of destiny where the old self dies giving birth to the new, where pacts with the devil or voodoo gods are made, where Odin or Gwydion are met and give prophecy. It is the heart of the tale, the turning point in the narrative and the defining point in Lingard’s life.

In a (probably apocryphal) tale, Charles Manson – just released from prison and before he gathered his band of mostly female followers – wandered into the desert probably to die. Exhausted by heat and thirst he collapsed and waited to die. Delirious, he was visited by images of sun-wheels and mandallas. Looking up he saw a wolf approach him. He adopted a position of surrender, offering the wolf his throat. The wolf accepted him and took him to water. At this point many things became ‘clear’ to Manson. This was his visionary experience (whether it really happened like this or not is irrelevant) where understood the nature of things – things to be done, things to be taken, where the only requirement was strength. Around about this time, Lingard started to become more daring, more virile. He had heard the ‘heroic’ calling and was now searching for the path to his destiny.

Lingard’s feeling of superiority could be regarded as a socially specific disorder and this would probably be asserted by the Frankfurt School of cultural revisionism as exemplified by Marcuse and Fromm. Politically Lingard would admittedly, be more than likely attracted to a form of anarcho-fascism or crypto-fascism if not outright fascism. But such ideologies originate in cultures with strong collectivist feelings where an individual would excel in service to the group rather than to himself. Lingard does not feel himself to belong to any group or culture unless it is the fictional culture painted by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This failure to find a place within a society that he nonetheless inhabits by default is ultimately the key to his failure. He wants to be respected. He wants to be a hero, essentially to serve, but is instead rejected and reviled. He becomes an embodiment of the myth of the wounded king wandering the Waste Land of Warrington; an exile from a non-existent kingdom which exists primarily in his own head. He can never realize the sacrificial role implicit in his being, at least not until he encounters Kahn.

In Kahn he finds his alter-ego. They have been drawn together by some form of magnetism. Kahn becomes Lingard’s ‘father confessor’. At last Lingard can unburden himself of most of his feelings of guilt while simultaneously exploiting an opportunity to rewrite his own life story, give it a stature it lacked in the real world. He has preserved his feelings of superiority by drawing into his interior world, building around it an impenetrable character armour. Within this psychic fortress, Lingard’s self-aggrandising, essentially self-preserving, delusions gain power. In his head he is first Carter of Mars, later Moriarty, eventually Jack The Ripper. But the real world continually intrudes into his visions, deflating them and rendering him impotent. In the real world, Lingard is literally impotent. He suffers from paraphillia, something shared increasingly by the majority of men but to a lesser and harmless degree. When he indulges in sexual relations, he reaches climax very quickly and feels frustration rather than release. His resorting to rape is simultaneously a development of his paraphilia and a desperate attempt to make natural contact with another human, driven by frustration to deeper and deeper limits of violence. He is elated, tortured by the same thing he exalts as making him ‘superior’ over the ‘herd’ (as he prefers to see it), the isolation that increases his feelings of power. In nature, coitus is both the sacrifice that causes us to die (single celled organisms do not die from natural causes) and enables life to continue. Lingard finally finds the perfect ‘lover’ in Khan. The decision (admittedly from desperation more than anything) to ‘open himself’ to the doctor is an act of deep love, of sacrifice. The doctor acknowledges this vaguely, but is really spurred on by his lust to see what is really inside Lingard. His gaining of Lingard’s trust is accomplished at least in part by a confidence trick. Lingard’s powers are turned back on himself.

One can’t help seeing a real-life version of this developing from Colin Wilson’s real-life correspondence with murderers such as Ian Brady (see ‘The Gates of Janus’), although it is sometimes difficult to tell who is manipulating whom. How much was Wilson a victim of Brady’s flattery in asking for Wilson to provide the introduction? Despite the likelihood that Wilson was not totally taken in by this ruse, the desired effect was still achieved. Colin Wilson wrote the introduction, apparently reluctant or even unable to pass the opportunity by to make comments on this. Derogatory or not, the introduction endowed the book with a credibility it might otherwise have lacked. It might possibly have been better to resist and shut the door on Brady and his twisted games.

A foreshadowing of this duplicity (and vicarious complicity) can be seen in the pages of ‘The Killer’ more clearly than in most of Wilson’s other books, although the covetousness is always there when he deals with the subject of criminality. In some part of his subconscious it seems Wilson does seem to view these individuals as somehow to be admired. They have taken steps to reify things that most people only dream about whilst simultaneously denying. Many of us, if we were truly honest, yearn to let out the repressed savagery inside us. Writers such as Peter Sotos (if we are to take his rhetoric literally) claim that all dominant white males want to emulate Brady but lack the courage to follow our convictions. But the fact is that the majority of us are not simply caged animals longing to be unleashed. We are complex beings; simultaneously caged beasts and the masters who hold the beast on the leash. Our animal drives, sublimated through the lenses of our reason, are the engines that drive our ambitions to become civilized. One cannot exist without the other.

Maybe the ‘white hot’ rate at which the book was written didn’t allow time and scope for the revision and subterfuge which most authors (including Wilson) use as an opportunity to cover their tracks, so to speak. When asked if such-and-such a work of theirs is ‘autobiographical’ most authors are only to quick to deny. The sad truth is that almost every sentence, right down to the full stops and capital letters, will have the stink of the author all over it. It is telling that Savoy chose this specific book of Wilson’s to publish. Savoy have never had any qualms about putting up their hands and saying ‘yes, we’re guilty as fuck. So what?’. They choose the same path as Bataille who, in his preface to ‘Literature and Evil’ admitted that ‘yes, literature is guilty’ and ‘yes, the author is culpable’. Are doesn’t merely represent violence but reproduces it.

One of the prime factors behind Savoy’s publishing programme (as revealed in ‘A Serious Life’) has always been David Britton’s desire to recapture aspects of his childhood. In the case of Wilson’s book, it is the scenery conjured up as much as any other factor; the stultifying industrial city of Manchester (as then was), its streets, buildings, the miasma of its working-class cultures. Against this Wilson’s killer stalks, philosophises, muses on pulp writers (A Merritt, E R Burroughs) and plies his trade. David Britton must have recognised at least some aspect of himself in Lingard.

The recapturing of childhood experience can actually serve a greater purpose than merely retreating to a ‘happier’ time, it can restore the psyche of the artist (or in this case publisher) to a state when life-experience was clearer and more meaningful.

Recapitulation and memory are important factors in many Buddhist meditations. The replaying of the tape of one’s experiences frees up creative energy in a person which can then be employed according to requirement. Most importantly, it acts as a boost to imagination freeing it from morbid or petty preoccupations. There is far more background detail in ‘The Killer’ than one usually finds in Colin Wilson’s books. In this case it must have been inserted because it was relevant to the formation of Lingard’s mentality. But the vividness of it is uncanny. It is as though some ‘stopper’ had been removed and the details flooded out, much like the process of memory instrumental in Proust’s writing ‘Recherche des Temps Perdues’.

There is, yet, another significance to the recreating of one’s childhood state of mind, if one looks at it from the Jungian perspective; the child’s mind is closer to the well of the subconscious and the collective unconscious. The child inhabits (to lesser degrees with increasing age) a semi-mythical world. A land of total possibility always seems to be lurking ‘just round the corner’. The child’s world shimmers with wonder but is also haunted by spectres, by danger and the constant presence of Death. Childhood is almost literally another land, one that predates the adult one in psychic development. In our modern western culture, this wonderland is lost to us at a certain age, as though our acceptance (initiation) into the world of grown-ups has closed a door firmly on this lost world and locked, bolted the doors and thrown away the key. But rather than being locked out, the world of our childhood wonder and terror is locked up inside us, sometimes visited in dreams and nightmares. The monsters, witches and devils of childhood mythology return to haunts us, merging with the adult spectres of financial, social and sexual anxiety. Many of these demonic archetypes are variations on the same theme, all of which can be summed up by the generic term ‘bogeyman’ – a derivation from ‘bogus man’.

Institutions, most especially religious ones, have tapped into this need, sometimes channelling towards positive goals, but more often exploiting it. On the one hand using the fear of supernatural retribution for the transgression of social codes can be a good thing. People cannot always be relied on to choose ‘good’ (the socially acceptable) by their own reasoning and the ‘negative reinforcement’ technique here serves a good purpose. But that fear can also be used to control people for ends not in their interests, to keep subjugated a caste of slave-labourers for instance. It can also work as a cash-cow. These anthropomorphisms reinforced through centuries of conditioning survive in one form or another, passed on through phylogenetic memory as much as through cultural discourse.

Within Savoy’s publishing schedule, this childhood realm of intensely personal myth is the link between many of the books. Apart from the obvious ones – Fudge and Speck, Up The Boo-Aye Shooting Pookakies – this realm forms either a pivot for the plot, or serves as a springboard for more adult development of themes essential to the child’s mentality. Of the latter, examples would be the Cawthorn books, illustrated versions of Moorcock tales, themselves extrapolations of fantasy themes found in Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Merrit and others. In a strange way ‘The Killer’ represents a perverse variation on this escape to childhood, to a freedom outside the laws and regulations of society – in essence the laws mother and father impose on the child that repress the developing libido and cripple the Id. Of course, this realm of freedom has never existed in any real objective sense, and Lingard, like Lord Horror in the series of Savoy novels, ultimately finds himself in a prison of his own making. The one that restricts him physically is only a mirror of the trap he has made for himself psychically.

 

*****

D.M. Mitchell is the editor, along with Dire McCain, of PARAPHILIA MAGAZINE.
paraphiliamagazine.com

*****

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ative reinforcement’ technique here serves a good purpose. But that fear can also be used to control people for ends not in their interests, to keep subjugated a caste of slave-labourers for instance. It can also work as a cash-cow. These anthropomorphisms reinforced through centuries of conditioning survive in one form or another, passed on through phylogenetic memory as much as through cultural discourse.

Within Savoy’s publishing schedule, this childhood realm of intensely personal myth is the link between many of the books. Apart from the obvious ones – Fudge and Speck, Up The Boo-Aye Shooting Pookakies – this realm forms either a pivot for the plot, or serves as a springboard for more adult development of themes essential to the child’s mentality. Of the latter, examples would be the Cawthorn books, illustrated versions of Moorcock tales, themselves extrapolations of fantasy themes found in Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Merrit and others. In a strange way ‘The Hiller’ represents a perverse variation on this escape to childhood, to a freedom outside the laws and regulations of society – in essence the laws mother and father impose on the child that repress the developing libido and cripple the Id. Of course, this realm of freedom has never existed in any real sense, and Lingard, like Lord Horror in the series of Savoy novels, ultimately finds himself in a prison of his own making. The one that restricts him physically is only a mirror of the trap he has made for himself psychically.