Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Santa Claus Mythos

The popular legend of Saint Nicholas is of course founded on the life of that sainted fourth century presbyter of what is modern-day Turkey, but his journey to twentieth century America had many winds and turnabouts along the way. The modern concept Santa Claus owes as much to English folklore and slick Madison Avenue advertising as it does to any hagiographical accounts of the original St. Nick. Yet perhaps one of the most unusual twists in the tale of Kris Kringle was provided by early twentieth century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, who added new dimensions and perhaps extended the life of our most popular holiday icon.

pitchsanta

Lovecraft grew up in 1890s Providence, Rhode Island at the time when Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” had just captured the popular imagination. Children all over New England, and indeed all over America, thrilled at the newly minted notion of a Christmas Eve visit from a jocund elf distributing holiday gifts of toys and sweets. Yet it is clear from an 1897 short story by the young Lovecraft that the tale had made quite a different impression on him. Only the title, “The Sorcerer of Winter’s Darkness,” survives, though it gives some indication of Lovecraft’s attitude toward Saint Nicholas, whose name he would eventually reconstruct as Hsintauur-Khlaous, and which would be irretrievably bowdlerized by publishers of as Santa Claus. Late in life Lovecraft would complain that the name didn’t do justice to a creature he regarded more terrible than any of the “night gaunts” of his youth.

In his late teens Lovecraft expanded on his earlier concept of Hsintauur-Khlaous (hereafter referred to as Santa Claus). The origin of Santa Claus is set down in blasphemous texts such as the Necronomicon, in which the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred tells of a servant of the Elder Race who betrayed them and was punished in turn with the dissolution of his body, for he could not be destroyed by any power known in this world or beyond. Over the aeons his body slowly reconstituted, eventually completing that horrendous process in the Korvatunturi Mountains in what is modern day Finland. This was still before the dawn of man but after the war between Cthulhu and the Elder Race, when they were at their weakest and had forgotten the being that would be known in the tongues of man variously as Kringle, Noel and Santa, to mention but a few of his names which can be safely uttered.

Though the Elder Race was broken and largely vanished, Santa was also weak and bided his time, allowing his strength and menace to grow. As it did the mountain range he dwelt in became known as a loathsome and dreaded place by the tribes of the new race of men who dared venture so far north. In his chilling grip the mountains of Korvatunturi came to be regarded as the remotest, most alien point of the frozen north lands where men had begun to settle. Those who did venture near the foothills of those mountains brought back tales of a distant, hollow laugh unlike that of any human, forced and mirthless. They passed on cautionary stories of the reindeer of that region, who watched the traveler cautiously and intelligently during the day. Any man brave or foolhardy enough to sleep in the shadow of those cursed mountains at night heard the pawing of hard-shod creatures in the branches of the forest canopy, and in the morning cloven prints could be seen in places impossible for any normal reindeer to reach by leaping.

Dread of Santa grew into awe and fascination, and a Santa cult developed among the more secluded, fallen tribes of the men who dwelt in the north in those days. The cult was already ancient at the arrival of the Norse gods, and Santa mingled with the pagan religions in various guises. Later Christian scholars mistakenly discounted as erroneous depictions of Loki as a crimson, adipose figure resembling a man, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, who smoked a pipe and carried a sack with mysterious contents. In part they were disquieted by accounts of this figure’s fixation on the dreams of children and his attempts to engender avarice and covetousness in households dug in for the long northern winters, perhaps in an attempt to drive them to panic and violence, whence they might lose hold of all reason and venture out into the blinding snow, where reindeer or small unspeakable beings in league with Santa might await them.

Lovecraft’s Santa Mythos spread across sixteen short stories, mostly set in modern New England. In these stories rustics and academics struggle with, and usually succumb to, attacks both psychic and material that occur in the midst of the Christmas holiday season. The insidious essence of Santa’s power insinuates itself by way of the restlessness, tension, and ennui Lovecraft associated with a New England Christmas. His characters can be seen arming themselves against the Christmas spirit, though never in an explicitly irreligious sense. Lovecraft was never closer to impiety than he was with his Christmas-themed tales, and he seemed aware of this in choices of language and narrative focus as his characters did battle with the forces of Christmas.

Lovecraft’s reaction to Christmas’ social phenomenon resounded strongly with his readers, who demanded of his publishers a new Santa story every year. The first story in the Santa Mythos appeared in the December 1923 issue of Weird Tales, and one followed every year, even as the publishers rejected Lovecraft submissions such as “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” Though Lovecraft maintained a regular output of Santa stories he steadfastly refused his publishers’ demands to feature Santa in the works of his Cthulhu oeuvre, which he regarded as vastly superior. To a colleague he wrote:

“To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the local attributes and concerns of mankind are acknowledged cosmically. I have done my best to reform the popular Christmas legend of this revolting conceit, but it cannot be done away with entirely in the character of Hsintauur-Khlaous. His interference in human events, for good or ill, smacks of the sort of convenience I’ve striven my entire life to avoid in my work.”

Numerous anthologies of Lovecraft’s Santa Claus stories have been published over the years, most notably an Oxford World Classics edition edited by S.T. Joshi, who is among the many Lovecraft scholars and admirers who have expressed distaste at the latter-day pastime of pitting Santa Claus against the Old Ones in popular role playing games. There have also been several successful stage adaptations of Lovecraft’s Santa stories, which are regularly performed during the Christmas season by both community and professional theaters, the most popular of which are “The Shadow Over Bedford Falls” and “The Caroler in Darkness.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pirate Pets Part 44: Parrots

The parrot became a favorite pet of seafaring pirates in the Caribbean Sea during the Golden Age of piracy (the late 17th century). It is likely the buccaneers first claimed tame parrots from the plundering of Spanish ships laden with exotic tropical goods on the way back to Europe.



A parrot



The parrot soon became a popular choice of animal companion, eventually eclipsing the ever popular monkey as pet of choice. This was largely due to the parrot’s unique nature and the demands of the larger, more complex pirating operations of the buccaneer age. The parrot had one skill the average rum-addled pirate did not: the ability to memorize and repeat random facts and figures ad infinitum. Lacking both this and an ability to read and write, many pirates came to rely on parrots to retain key pieces of data that could mean the difference between finding crucial land markers, remembering debts and sums, and other values that couldn’t easily be counted in physical objects. The parrot kept many swashbucklers sailing independently who otherwise would have had to join larger concerns of the day.

When rival bands of pirates did close in battle, one of the top priorities was to capture the enemy’s parrot in attempt to learn information that could be of value. Many pirate captains taught their birds a word or phrase the bird would have to hear first before it would recite anything else.

The pirate parrot entered popular culture in 1881 in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island. In it, the pirate captain Long John Silver is depicted with a parrot ever perched on his shoulder. Pirates of the day did often take their parrots with them for security, but often wore capes of rough fabric to keep the parrot’s feces from building up on their clothes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sheep

The Common Sheep (Ovis laneus) is an animal known to every household. A pestilent creature, it feeds relentlessly on mankind's precious grasses and leaves behind its useless waste product, "wool." The sheep has thus plagued humanity for millennia, with possible references to the animal turning up even in ancient Mesopotamian documents.

Little can be done to stop the scourge of the Common Sheep, even in modern industrialized countries. Attempts, in the form of pens and fences, have been made to stem the rising tide of destruction. Edutainment films (such as "A Close Shave," by anti-sheep crusader Nick Park of Aardman Animations) have helped to raise public awareness and keep spirits high in the face of the ovine emergency. Nevertheless, the future of humanity in the face of the sheep epidemic has yet to be determined; if nothing else, the disposal of thousands of pounds of useless "wool" annually throws many governments into a state of crisis.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Big Rock Candy Mountain

More an eminence than a true mountain, the verdant slopes of what is colloquially named “Big Rock Candy Mountain” ascend gently from the dessicated verge of Death Valley. Its official name--Mont Finale--derives from the words of delight uttered by the first European explorer to set eyes on it. “Va te faire foutre finalement!” Jacques Cartier is said to have exclaimed, reaching the eminence after many days’ arduous travel through the desert. Although technically a detour, many westbound wagon trains would steer for Mont Finale, using it as a landmark in memoriam to Cartier’s courage and determination. The additional time spent navigating Death Valley may have occasionally cost the lives of humans and livestock, but many settlers felt it important to honor and keep their traditions alive in their new home, and the tradition of Mont Finale was no exception.

The mountain’s popular name, Big Rock Candy Mountain, arose from an accidental discovery by a pregnant traveler in one of the many wagon trains. Suffering from pica, she found herself overwhelmed with a craving for dirt (rather than the more common craving for rampion experienced by so many expectant mothers). Ashamed of her strange appetite, she furtively left the protective circle of the wagon camp and climbed to a particularly lush area of the hillside, where she proceeded to scoop up a handful of dirt and eat it. Her shame was forgotten, however, when she found the dirt tasted sweet. Amazed by the discovery, she took samples of the dirt back to the camp, where her fellow-travelers were glad of it: they had been without sugar for some time, and were unable to bake delicious cakes and pies as was common for settlers during the journey west.

The response among the travelers in the wagon train was sharply divided. One group, led by Jeremiah Wilkes, a wandering preacher whose long string of misfortunes had caused him to seek better luck in California, thought that the discovery of the sweet soil was a sign from God. “For is it not written that our Lord said to Ezekiel,” he said, “that ‘Where I tread, there ye shall make your dwelling-place, for the presence of the LORD maketh the earth itself to be as honey and frankincense’?” The Wilkes party, clearly intending to stay, began making dugout shelters in which to weather the coming winter. Another group, whose spokesman seems to have been one John Reed, thought Wilkes’ interpretation of the Gospel to be somewhat questionable; although the soil was sweet, there was certainly no hint of frankincense about it. This smaller party wished to press on westward, and knew that in order to make the dangerous Sierra Nevada passes before winter set in, they would have to leave soon.

Camp life became turbulent as the two factions first debated, then argued, then, increasingly, came to violence. The Wilkes party grew furtive and strange, and the most prominent among them would frequently depart from the rest of the wagon camp and, led by Wilkes, climb the eminence at night. When questioned by their fellow travelers, the group said that they were merely going to pray with Wilkes for guidance from the Lord; nevertheless, as Reed recalled later, “there were strange sounds in the night, and fires dancing upon the mountain; there was oft a sound as of many voices raised in a great cry, but the words were no language that we knew.” As the religious mania of the Wilkes party grew, the settlers who desired to leave were increasingly ill-treated, and began to fear their onetime fellow-travelers, whose mirthless smiles and staring expressions were a growing cause for alarm.

“A great hubbub arose this eve in the tents and dugouts of our now-strange companions,” reads the journal of Lloyd Packard, one of Reed’s followers, for the date of September 17, 1846. “They have been slipping by twos and threes into the tent of Wilkes, and thence to their neighbors, chattering in low murmurs but with evident excitement, as if an event of some import has occurred.” The nature of the happening was not discussed openly, and with no one of Reed’s party; fearing some act of violence was being plotted by the increasingly brutal Wilkes band, Reed and Packard slipped quietly as close as they dared to the rear of Wilkes’ tent in order to divine whether any threat was in the works.

What they saw there terrified them, although they refused to disclose the full nature of it to their fellow travelers. They would only say that the Devil himself was among them now, and that those who feared God must flee at once. The party had delayed their travel, first out of a desire to convince their fellow settlers to continue west, and then because lack of cooperation among the Wilkes party meant that valuable livestock and supplies could not be gathered to keep even the smaller Reed band alive and safe during the dangerous mountain crossing. After nightfall, however, the Wilkes party--no longer just the inner circle, but the entire band--gathered and crept up the mountainside. A hideous din rose and fell for long hours, and seeing the other band thus occupied, Reed and his followers knew that their opportunity for escape had arrived. Taking as much water, fodder, food, fuel, and other necessities as they could pack into their wagons, and gathering together as many of their own livestock as they could separate from the group’s communal pens, the Reed party fled Big Rock Candy Mountain and the horrors they had seen there.

They arrived in California near Sutter’s Fort on January 17th, 1847, exhausted and terrified. Inhabitants who allowed members of the party to share their lodgings and recuperate from the brutal winter travels reported that their guests suffered from night terrors. Slowly, however, they adjusted to the peace and normalcy of life at the Fort, and their initial fears were dismissed as the effects of nervous distemper brought on by too great an exposure to the outside air. John Reed, however, remained wary for the duration of his life, always keeping armed; he was often observed to stop and look over his shoulder, as if he feared some pursuer. Lloyd Packard, who had accompanied Reed to Wilkes’ tent that fateful night, exhibited no such apparent fear, but was known to have nightmares on occasion, during which he would shout incoherently about a “hideous Thing” and “horror in the mountain.” His wife, whom he had met after his arrival in California, once asked him the meaning of such exclamations; Packard seemed surprised that he should shout so, and told her that surely they were old dreams brought on by his travail during the passage, and that she should not let such things trouble her, nor attend to anything he said in those moments.

Once the spring thaw cleared up the mountain passes, a search party, guided by Reed, went up to Mont Finale to see if any of the Wilkes party had survived. What they found was “a great desolation,” in Reed’s words; there were no living persons or domesticated animals at the camp, which looked as if it had been uninhabited for months. There was, however, a small heap of human skeletal remains at the camp’s verge, with the flesh entirely gone from them. The search party’s first assumption was that the Wilkes band had merely run out of food during the winter and had begun to kill and eat each other, an event so common during the westward expansion that it was barely remarked-upon in newspapers or official records. Closer examination of the skeletons, however, revealed deep gouges upon the bones, which were dissimilar from any known marks of butchering or injury. The remains, when tallied, were considerably fewer than the known number in Wilkes’ party when Reed and his band escaped.

Thinking that perhaps the remaining survivors had taken refuge on the slopes of Mont Finale, most likely at that place where they formerly gathered to pray, Reed attempted to lead a small group of rescuers up to the spot. However, a rock-slide had occurred in the meanwhile, and the location of the gatherings, and of the spot where the sweet soil had been found, was now hidden. The ground being broken and impassable, the party descended to the camp, where they gave the skeletal remains a decent burial, then left for Sutter’s Mill once more. Although doughty of temperament, they seemed shadowed by the mystery of the Wilkes encampment, and it is said that they, and the settlers from the Reed party, reached an agreement to destroy all notes and maps pertaining to the location of the encampment or of Mont Finale. Whether or not this is the case, it is true that no explicit directions to the eminence are extant. John Sutter, upon interviewing Reed and others from the rescue party, used his influence with Federal personnel in that region to have Mont Finale declared off-limits to travelers, officially for “reasons of health, as the site is known to encourage dysentery.” The actual location of Mont Finale was lost, and “Big Rock Candy Mountain” gradually assumed the status of a legend.

In 1997, a thorough re-cataloging of the files and papers in the archive of the Sacramento Historical Society uncovered many letters, journals, official records, and even some newspaper clippings related to the disaster at Mont Finale. U.S. historians were intrigued by the findings, and the location of the eminence soon became a matter of some debate. Eventually, a team of archaeologists associated with UCLA gathered the hints and clues inadvertently left behind in the notes of Reed, Packard, and other settlers, and hit upon the idea of comparing them with maps made of the region in the years before the fatal wagon train arrived. Having pinpointed the location of Mont Finale in this manner, they then found the location on a current map. Surprisingly, what was once known as Mont Finale seems to have been leveled, perhaps by the earthquakes common in the region. The area is now almost flat, and without resorting to maps from the 1840s, it is certain that seekers would have continued to overlook it.

Archaeological teams were dispatched in 2008 to uncover the secrets of Mont Finale. To all accounts their work progresses well, despite occasional sinkholes, sudden unseasonal rains, and other naturally-occurring annoyances such as might plague any expedition. The high rate of turnover among the digging teams, and reports by those who depart that the wind in the rocks sometimes carries the sound of human voices, have been dismissed as “drug-addled laziness” by Ken Albrick, the expedition’s manager. “We hope to have a full excavation and cataloging complete by 2012,” he said in his most recent interview, six months ago. At this time, no further communication has been forthcoming from Dr. Albrick or his team.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus is a novel in which Mary Shelley, a newlywed in her early twenties, delved into her feelings of a personal nature but also those on the subject of the Enlightenment and the pending boom of the First Industrial Revolution both in her native Great Britain and abroad.

Frankenstein

In her novel Shelley relates in the form of letters and memoirs the events of the life of young Victor Frankenstein, the son of a Genevese doctor and diplomat. Victor aspires to become a doctor himself and seeks his education in Wittenburg, where he meets a mysterious professor of the College of Medicine, Doctor Oleaus Snape. Snape is secretive and only after much pleading does he allow Victor entrance to his secret laboratory, which he tells Victor he must secure for himself if he is to become a serious scientist. Victor promises to run out and purchase a crumbling mill or slaughterhouse that very afternoon.

Victor learns much from Snape, including the teachings of Paracelcus, Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Tesla’s coil. With this new knowledge he is worked up into a furor, toiling in his secret laboratory night and day to come up with a really neat experiment to conduct, something impossibly complex with high voltage that’s impervious to peer review. After a string of sleepless nights he strikes upon the pinnacle of scientific achievement: He will create a Frankenstein.

In his zeal Victor skipped the planning phase and went straight to the naming phase, and he was already quite proud of his invention. There would be loud crashes of blinding sparks, massive gears and swooping platforms as his experiment summoned the might of the gods to complete. Finally he decides he will adapt ancient descriptions of alchemists’ experiments with homunculi for something similar on a larger scale. Securing a more or less agreeable bouquet of corpses he sews and knits and staples and glues and bolts together a form so amazing he is proud to call it the Frankenstein Mark 1.

But what is a Frankenstein? This is a matter of some debate, both within the narrative and among present-day scholars. By all outward appearances a mindless, unfeeling, hideous brute composed of the dead, Frankenstein is also known to attempt speech, and with his creator holds forth most persuasively, by perhaps some innate talent, or perhaps simply flattered by Victor’s own considerable guilt.

Upon his creation Frankenstein fled his master, and is next heard of in the frightened alarums ringing up and down the countryside of a terrible monster, a Frankenstein to be sure, sailing children into wells and frightening kindly old blind men with his Cowardly Lion guffaw and constant references to someone called Lilly. Though eloquent on previous occasions, now the Frankenstein is chiefly heard to repeat one blunt, heartfelt opinion to the detriment of fire. He tries this argument on the villagers with torches and pitchforks, with whom he now seems to run a perpetual marathon.

The novel takes readers by surprise at this point by introducing a new major character in the third act. Word of the terror spread by Frankenstein reaches Castle Dracula in Transylvania, which is a short journey from Lake Geneva. Jealous of what would appear to be a potential rival, Dracula sets out for Geneva at once to face Frankenstein and reassert his place as top spook.

Meanwhile Victor has been searching for Frankenstein himself, up and down the Alps and along the lake, but his creation seems visible only to frightened mobs, all of whom have just come back from the torch and pitchfork shop. Dracula finds Frankenstein first and a battle ensues. After a fierce contest of wills Frankenstein dives off a cliff to save a kitten and evil Dracula is triumphant. Yet he did not suspect that Victor had watched the entire proceedings with old Professor Snape and the two are ready, cross, stake and hammer in hand, to deal with the Dracula. They make quick work of the Dracula and return home in time find Van Helsing in a compromising attitude with the Bride of Frankenstein. Not knowing if she is Victor’s bride or the Frankenstein’s, the novel concludes with Victor roiled in a confused mixture of revulsion and jealousy, suggesting Shelley’s anticipation of the decadence of the oncoming consumer age.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The MPAA Film Rating System

The Motion Picture Rating System is a scientific classification system for American motion pictures. The system recognizes five possible ratings for films: G (approved for general audiences), PG (parental guidance suggested), PG-13 (parental guidance suggest for children under the age of 13), R (parental guidance suggested for children under the age of 40), and NC-17 (suitable for practice censoring only). There is a sixth theoretical category of films, known as NR, or "not rated." Such films currently defy accepted scholarship and their existence is refuted by many experts.

MPAA

The Motion Picture Association of America first instituted the rating system in 1968 as a clarification of standards initially set by the Hayes Act in 1931, which established Hollywood's first production code enforced by government censors. The move was an answer to claims that the definitions of decency set by the Hayes standards were outmoded, ill-defined and even ineffective. As one government censor pointed out, "the Hayes Act has failed dismally to ensure that the Oriental and the Filipino are portrayed in an appropriate light of suspicion." The MPAA also wanted to give motion picture companies a more helpful metric when making pictures, and released explanatory pamphlets to film studios with a graph explaining the relationship between an R rating, distributors' reception, and Sidney Poitier.

Though very different from the Production Code that preceded it, the MPRS shares much in common with its forbear. The key changes have been to the governing body in charge of the code. The MPAA was instituted in 1946 when President Harry S. Truman realized the major studios could do a better job of censoring the output of American cinema than a government agency ever could. Truman was proved right less than a decade later when it was the industry itself that searched zealously for left-leaning filmmakers and writers as proof of a vast conspiracy to instill mass confusion and hysteria and engender Communist sympathies in the heartland with films such as "Brotherhood of Man," "It's a Wonderful Life," and "Our Gang and the Glorious Revolution." Initially lauding the industry's compliance with HUAC subpoenas, Senator Joe McCarthy expressed some discomfort in a 1952 memo to Paramount studio executives, saying "Would you like to hang on to some of these names? I have enough to work with for the time being."

The MPRS has also adjusted the metric for setting a film's rating, establishing new priorities that downplay the use of tobacco and alcohol and eliminate displays of graphic violence against women, children, and animals unless the dude is totally about to get his shit kicked in. Some films are are appointed de facto ratings due to the volume of submissions. For example, independent films routinely show female pubic hair at some point and are given NC-17 ratings unless it can be proven without viewing the film that this is not the case. For this reason many independent filmmakers now opt to include no women in their casts, or at least ensure they are baby smooth.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lang, Fritz (1890-??)

Friedrich "Sammy" Christian Anton Lang was an Austro-Hungarian filmmaker whose career began in Weimar Germany. Interested in the budding medium of film from an early age, he knew that in order to be taken seriously as a director, he would first have to adopt the appearance and mannerisms of a great artist. Accordingly, he began wearing a monocle and puffy director's pants, and within a few years he was among the top tier of directors at Ufa, Germany's premier film studio.

Early in his career, Lang acted as well as directed. For a short while, his breakout role as the best friend in "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" brought him more fame than his directing credits. Mobbed by paparazzi and disgruntled that the press focused on his acting work while neglecting his serious directing credits such as "Die Spinnen" (a docudrama about the plight of wool-workers in rural Austria), Lang vowed never to appear on-screen again, a vow which he would keep to his dying day. He asked insiders at Ufa to secretly replace his acting credits in previous films with the names of other, lesser-known actors, and refused to speak to the press again until the release of his first true masterpiece, "Der Letzte Mann."


Lang's expressive acting in "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" won him considerable fame.
[Description: A man in heavy eye-makeup and disheveled hair looks wide-eyed at the camera.]


Lang's career rose like a rocket throughout the 1920s, bringing great pride to all of Germany. In 1928, with his futuristic magnum opus, "Metropolis," he caught the eye of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (aka "the Nazis"). The Nazis were amazed at the glorious sets and effects in "Metropolis" and thought Lang had mystical abilities. Through their representative, Johann Goebbels, they approached Lang for a secret meeting and asked him to use his powers for evil. Goebbels, knowing Lang's two passions were directorial fame and oysters, even offered Lang the position of Supreme Film Minister and all the bivalves he could eat. Lang, who to that point had remained seated and utterly still throughout the interview, then unfolded his full seven foot, two inch frame and declared, "Never will I sully my art with the foul taint of politics!" He then spat in Goebbels' eye, turned on his heel, and stormed out of the Rijksmuseum.

It was then that Lang's life took a grave turn: infuriated with Goebbels' insulting offer and disgusted by Nazi policies, he teamed up with the √úbermensch, Dr. Mabuse, whose powers of mental agility and persuasion made him a valuable ally. Together, they fought crime across Germany, foiling their enemies' plans and restoring hope to the German people. It was only when Dr. Mabuse turned to crime, swayed by another overture by Goebbels, that their partnership came to an end. Goebbels offered Dr. Mabuse the opportunity to rule all of Europe as the head of the Nazi Party; Mabuse, whose dedication to freedom and justice had never been quite as strong as Lang's, accepted the offer. Lang was now forced to cease his disruption of the Nazi Party as a whole in order to take down his old friend and mentor before he could cause terror and suffering to Europe, perhaps even the entire world.

Broken in body and spirit after an epic battle, the details of which are lost to posterity, Lang took three years off from filmmaking in order to recover. When he returned to directing, his first act was to produce a film about his former partner. Both an homage and a condemnation of Mabuse's decline into evil, "M" was a hit at the box office, but was quickly banned in Germany because of its anti-Nazi message. Hitler, the new leader of the Nazi Party, was especially incensed at the use of Nazi-like slogans in the screen-Mabuse's lines, and additionally was convinced that references to "the Empire of Crime" in the movie referred to the Guild of Furriers, whose high prices had been the cause of riots in Austria some twenty years ago. Hitler came from a long line of furriers and was extremely sensitive to any negative references towards them in popular entertainment.

Yet Hitler was also intrigued by Lang's genius when he saw a print of "Metropolis" for the first time. "He knew that with an army of Machine Men, he could swiftly conquer all of Europe and succeed where Dr. Mabuse had not," an aide later recalled. Hitler, fearing to use force because of Lang's tremendous physical strength, made friendly overtures to the filmmaker in an attempt to persuade him to give the Nazis the secret of making Machine Men like the ones in the film; Lang, still recovering from his earlier struggles with Mabuse and the Nazis, opted to use cunning and diplomacy rather than refusing Hitler outright. Telling Hitler that he would have to review his shooting script in order to recall a crucial step in the creation of Machine Men, Lang went home, packed his favorite Expressionist paintings, his best monocle, his finest directing pants, and his only companion, a stuffed monkey named Peter Lorre. With these few belongings, Lang slipped over the border that very night into France and organized the French Resistance.

Although determined to continue fighting the Nazis in Europe for as long as possible, Lang was forced to relocate to the United States in 1935 because of his asthma. It would turn out to be the most important move of his career. He quickly found work in Hollywood creating films noir which hinted at the growing menace of totalitarianism in Europe: movies like "The Philadelphia Story" and "The Awful Truth," which contained carefully-layered metaphors about the terrors of Nazism. Unfortunately, these movies did not go over well with the American public, who wanted lighthearted viewing. Lang was declared box-office poison. He humbly sought assistance from Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who suggested that Lang turn his attention to comedies instead. Lang then went on to make "Fury" and "The Big Heat," a two-part series in which a hilariously mismatched pair of newlyweds, the Fredersons, are forced to resolve their differences because their loud squabbles upset their neighbors ("Fury"), and then cope with a terrible heatwave by going to the beach ("The Big Heat"). Hijinks ensued, and the American public turned out in droves for the films. Lang's reputation as a great director was reaffirmed.

It was during his years in America that Lang adopted the moniker "Fritz," in response to his studio's insistence that his full German name would be too lengthy and confusing for moviegoers. Unfortunately, Lang's unusual mannerisms and abrupt mode of speech would not find the same acceptance in Hollywood circles that they did in free-and-easy Nazi Germany; Lang's habit of meditating for days in a closed box, for instance, without food or water, frightened away a succession of household servants and caused nervous speculation among the film community, who were afraid that the prescient abilities granted Lang during his "slumbers" would allow him access to their deepest secrets. Fearing blackmail, they ignored Lang's protests that his meditations merely helped provide him with new ideas for movies, and Lang was effectively blacklisted from American filmmaking.

Becoming old before his time, Lang was increasingly reclusive and refused contact with outsiders. It was only a young French upstart, Jean-Luc Godard, who was able to finally encourage Fritz Lang to emerge from his shell. Godard, who had tracked down the secret of Lang's early acting work and admired his film presence, begged Fritz Lang to appear in his new movie, "Contempt." Lang, however, took his earlier vow to never again appear on film very seriously, and initially refused his young friend's request. Finally, he acquiesced, but on one condition: Lang would speak on film for Godard, but the director could only show a still photo of Lang during the relevant scenes. Godard agreed, and "Contempt" opened to rave reviews.

Despite a brief resurgence of fame in the wake of "Contempt," Lang's fortunes continued to decline. Still full of vigor, if not wealthy, he opted to take to the high seas and try his fortunes as a pirate.


Lang in his final years, after great success in piracy.
[Description: A photo of Fritz Lang, very elderly, smiling, with an eyepatch and a monocle.]

Piracy was good for Lang, and the air quality on the open seas cleared up his asthma at last. Although he harried a good many merchant ships, he was always known to be exceptionally courteous to any ladies on board, leaving them unmolested and guaranteeing them safe return to the nearest port. Because of this he was known along the Spanish Main as the "pirata do cavalheiro," the gentleman pirate. His buccaneering cost many businessmen their fortunes, and indeed the CEOs of Sony, British Petroleum, and United Artists demanded that the governments of their respective nations intervene and use force to end Lang's career on the high seas, but Lang's past as a great Nazi-fighter and filmmaker made politicians reluctant to attack him. Nevertheless, Lang's piracy caused increasing financial ruin all over the industrialized world, and his swift ship, Die Nibelungen, became a byword for fear in boardrooms everywhere.

In order to solve this growing problem, the great countries of the world gathered to form the United Nations, and decided after lengthy debate to quietly pay off Lang's victims to avoid both scandal and global financial collapse. The only condition was that the payees must agree to never again demand financial recompense for past victimization, and must promise complete silence regarding both the piracy and the payoffs. In this we find the origins of the modern saying, "Don't ask, don't tell."

The date of Lang's death is unknown, and his body was never found. However, it is known that in August of 1976, an immense typhoon off the coast of Normandy intercepted Die Nibelungen, destroying it utterly. Fragments of the ship and the corpses of many crewmembers washed up on nearby beaches, but Lang himself was missing, and continues missing to this day. Although some ignominy is lent his name by illegal activities in his final years, Lang continues to be best remembered as a great director and courageous warrior for freedom.