Watership Down Retrospective Pt. 1: The Novels

First edition cover

The original novel was inspired by a series of improvised stories that the original author, Richard Adams, told his two daughters, Juliet and Rosamund, during long car journeys. They centered on two rabbits named Hazel and Fiver, the latter of whom had psychic powers that allowed him to see the future. When Adams had finished his story, the girls insisted that he write it down. He hesitated but was finally convinced when he was reading a bedtime story from a mediocre book and became convinced that he could write a better story than that. By his account, he spent the next eighteen months writing the book, working in the evenings after supper. The completed book would bear the dedication, “To Juliet and Rosamund, remembering the road to Stratford-upon-Avon.”

Adams drew from several sources in building the characters, especially several characters that he met during his service in the Airbourne Company of the Royal Army Service Corps during World War II. Hazel was based on an officer he served under who “had the natural power of leadership.” Bigwig, future head of the Watership Down Owsla (aka rabbit law enforcement/military caste), was based on another officer who was “a tremendous fighter who was at his best when he had been told exactly what he had to do.” Kehaar, the rabbit’s seagull ally, was based on a Norwegian resistance fighter who Adams had become acquainted with. Fiver was inspired by the tragic Greek character of Cassandra (although he’s obviously more successful in getting others to listen to his prophecies, otherwise we wouldn’t have a book). Finally, he tied it all together by reading the book The Private Life of the Rabbit by Welsh naturalist Ronald Lockley so he could convincingly portray his rabbits in their wild setting.

The book was rejected by seven publishers, all of whom thought there was no audience for it. Adams puts their objections this way: “Older children wouldn’t like it because it’s about rabbits, which they consider babyish; and younger children wouldn’t like it because it’s written in an adult style.”

However, when the manuscript landed on the desk of Rex Collings, a one-person publisher in London, the book finally went somewhere. He asked his associate, “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of whom has extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?” Fortunately, he wasn’t. The first edition of the book, published in November 1972, sold out very quickly and garnered numerous positive reviews. The Economist even went as far as to claim that “if there is no place for Watership Down in children’s bookshops, then children’s literature is dead.” The book would receive a big boost in popularity after Macmillain Inc. published the first US edition in 1974.

But enough of the making-of documentary. What is it about the book that captured the hearts of so many readers?

The Novel

The basic story should likely be familiar to most, but for those who aren’t, here’s a quick rundown of the plot:

The story starts in the hedgerows of Sandleford, a hamlet in the English country of Berkshire. A warren of rabbits lives there, among them a pair of “outskirters” (basically unimportant average Joe rabbits) named Hazel and Fiver. Fiver, a diminutive runt with the gift/curse of clairvoyance, foresees a horrible disaster descending on the warren. Hazel, his brother, fails to convince their chief rabbit to evacuate, and so he and Fiver leave of their own accord. They are joined by Bigwig and Silver (both former Owsla), Blackberry (the “smart guy” planner of the group), Dandelion (gifted with speed and a great storyteller), Pipkin (a runt rabbit even smaller than Fiver, naturally inclined to timidity), Hawkbit (“a rather slow and stupid rabbit”), Buckthorn (strong and a good fighter, though still too young to join the Owsla), and Speedwell and Acorn.

They encounter several perils along the way to their new home, with the elil (predators) and hrududil (motorized vehicles) sometimes being the least of their problems. They also encounter a warren led by an eccentric rabbit named Cowslip, which seems like an idyllic paradise where a kindly farmer feeds the rabbits. After Bigwig is nearly strangled to death by a snare, however, the rabbits figure out that the man is harvesting them for their meat and skins, and the native rabbits are using them to increase their own odds of survival. They depart, but not before being joined by Strawberry as they leave, heartbroken over losing his doe, Nildro-hain, to another wire.

They finally make a home on a hill called Watership Down, located about three miles south of Sandleford. Speaking of Sandleford, two rabbits from the former warren, Owsla captain Holly and plucky jokester Bluebell, arrive at the down to inform the others what happened: Men came, filled in the burrows, poisoned the trapped rabbits with gas, shot most of the ones who escaped and then dug up the warren to make way for housing developments.

After Holly recovers, he leads an expedition to another warren another three miles south called Efrafa, which was spotted by Kehaar, a wounded black-headed gull who was nursed back to health by the rabbits. They wish to see if their chief rabbit wishes to relieve its overcrowding problem by sending some of their does to Watership Down, for the rabbits neglected to bring any does with them when they left Sandleford. Meanwhile, while attempting to release some other does from a hutch on nearby Nuthanger Farm, Hazel is shot in the hind leg by the farmer. He miraculously survives, mostly because Fiver has a vision telling him where his brother is hiding, only to receive bad news about Efrafa.

Their chief rabbit, General Woundwort, is a despot who ensures that no rabbits succumb to elil through harsh regimentation, brutally punishing those who refuse to fall in line. However, the cunning Watershippers manage to outsmart the general when Bigwig meets up with Hyzenthaly, a doe leading a passive resistance movement in the warren, and orchestrates a massive escape, leading the fugitives onto a small boat, with Kehaar hampering the Efrafan’s pursuit.

But the Watershippers underestimate Woundwort’s vindictiveness, and he leads his own Owsla to the down and lays siege to the warren (Kehaar, having departed for his native “peeg vater,” is not available to assist). He is thwarted when Hazel, Dandelion, and Blackberry set the dog from Nuthanger Farm on them. Woundwort stands his ground and is presumably killed, although his body is never found, and at least one of his officers still believes him to be alive even months after the fact. Hazel, meanwhile, is saved from the farm cat by the farmer’s daughter, Lucy, and returns to the down unscathed.

The story ends years later, with the warren thriving. A much older Hazel is greeted by the rabbit’s legendary folk hero El-ahrairah, who invites him to join his Owsla, to which he happily obliges.

Why It’s Worth Your Time

Perhaps the book’s best feature is how Adams refuses to anthropomorphize the rabbits beyond raising their intelligence level a bit to make them more relatable to human readers. They are still believably portrayed as vulnerable prey animals, even if they are better able to hold their own in a fight. Consequently, they behave as if death is a moment-to-moment possibility, which it very much is, not just from foxes, badgers, stoats, weasels, and birds of prey, but also men.

Indeed, rabbit-human relations are rather complex in the book. Whereas seemingly any animal can effectively communicate with the rabbits if enough effort is put into learning their language (even elil), humans are so far above them on an evolutionary scale that understanding them is all but impossible. Their presence hangs over the story in the same way that Cthulhu and his eldritch brethren hang over the protagonists of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. Of course, as Hazel finds out in the final chapters, humans do have a leg up on Cthulhu in that they sometimes do notice their fellow animal’s suffering. Of course, this fact is more confusing than uplifting for Hazel since Lucy is still of the same species that so brutally tore apart his old warren.

Besides that, Adams also distinguishes his rabbit protagonists by giving them their own unique culture, which revolves around their religious beliefs. I mentioned El-ahrairah above, who basically serves as both an Adam figure (as the first rabbit) and a Jesus analog (given how the rabbits treat him as their mythic savior). However, given the rabbits’ love of tricks, his personality could be better described as “halfway between Beowulf and Bugs Bunny,” in TV Tropes’ words. In addition to him, there are several other mythological god-like figures, including Lord Frith (their creator deity), Prince Rainbow (Frith’s right-hand-man who has something of a love-hate relationship with El-ahrairah), Rabscuttle (chief of El-ahrairah’s Owsla and his closest friend), and the Black Rabbit of Inle (the rabbit grim reaper). General Woundwort is added to the pantheon after his disappearance as a sort of bogeyman figure who serves as the Black Rabbit’s right-hand… er, rabbit, I guess.

Adams even came up with a language for the rabbits to speak for whenever he needed a word for a concept unique to the lagomorph experience. For example, humans don’t really need a word for the practice of going above ground to feed. This concept is simplified into the Lapine word silflay, meaning “above-food.” Other Lapine words used in the book include hlessi (wanderer), flayrah (garden food like lettuce, carrots, etc.), and hrair (thousand… or any number above four, since rabbits can’t count any higher). Adams has explained in interviews that he wanted the language to have “a wuffy, fluffy sound” since he figured that’s what rabbit speech would sound like if they could talk. Certain words also have an onomatopoeic quality, especially hrududu (made to sound like a rabbit’s impression of a running engine). Granted, the Lapine language isn’t nearly as well developed as the various languages that were the foundation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium (which isn’t that surprising since Tolkien was a linguistics scholar and Adams wasn’t). Indeed, Adams freely admitted that he made up the words to the language as he went along. Still, as Keren Levy of The Guardian notes, the language is “somehow easy to accept as one we have always known.”

Much has been made of supposed political allegories present in the book. Adams swore up and down until the day he died that it was not his intention. As he states in the introduction to the edition I own: “I want to emphasize that Watership Down was never intended to be some sort of allegory or parable. It is simply the story about rabbits made up and told in the car.” It isn’t hard to see why people started drawing those connections, though. The novel is rife with themes of exile, leadership, liberation, self-determination, heroism, and community-building, and it’s hard not to read certain themes of environmentalism into the discussions the rabbits have regarding humans. Take, for example, this impassioned plea from Strawberry to the Efrafans (who are often thought to have parallels with Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia):

“Animals don’t behave like men,” he said. “If they have to fight, they fight; if they have to kill, they kill. But they don’t sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures’ lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”

Chapter 27, “You Can’t Imagine It Unless You’ve Been There,” pg. 237, Scribner edition

There’s also this infamous quote from Captain Holly as he recounts Sandleford’s destruction to the Watershippers: “Men will never rest until they’ve spoiled the earth and destroyed all the animals.”

Even if Adams didn’t intend a political message to the story, it’s clear that a lot of people struggling against oppression have seen themselves in the characters.

One last cool feature of the book I want to talk about before I move on is the fact that every location described in the pages actually exists in real life. Every location can be found within a single strip of land stretching about 7-8 miles long, between the hamlet of Sandleford in the province of Berkshire all the way to the stretch of the River Test where the towns of Overton and Laverstoke are located (Efrafa is on the other side of the railroad at the crossing of two bridle paths known to the rabbits as the Crixa), with the actual Watership Down located smack dab in the middle. Indeed, Richard Adams lived in the region his whole life, so it makes sense that he might want to immortalize it in his most popular work.

If there is one criticism I have to give of the book, it would definitely have to be the portrayal of the female characters. Aside from Hyzenthlay, most of the does are treated as little more than breeding stock to help the Watership Down warren survive, especially the hutch does that Hazel nearly gets himself killed over. Indeed, while Holly and Hazel are discussing the hutch does as the latter lies recovering in a ditch at the foot of the down, he asks, “Are they any good?” Adams tries to dismiss this in the narration by pointing out that rabbit gender relations are not comparable to humans. But the damage was still done, as far as some feminist critics were concerned. Adams apparently came to agree if the official sequel is any indication.

Tales from Watership Down
Cover of the December 2012 first Vintage Books edition, which I own a copy of.

Tales from Watership Down, published by the Hutchinson printing firm in 1996, was written to be more of an anthology series than a single narrative. The nineteen stories contained therein are divided into three parts. The first part, consisting of seven stories, features more tales of El-ahrairah and two more modern stories. The second part, consisting of four stories, consists entirely of side quests taken by El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle on their way back from Inle, the land of the dead. The third part, consisting of the last eight stories, detail events in the Watership Down rabbit’s lives that take place in the months after Woundwort’s defeat.

Some have criticized the new El-ahrairah tales as pointless since they don’t have context with the story like the ones in the original novel. While I can’t argue against that criticism, I still find many new adventures entertaining in their own right. “The Scent of Smell” is probably my absolute favorite story in the book, thanks to probably being the most epic and adventurous tale in Lapine mythology. Others that have stuck in my mind include “The Tale of the Three Cows” (especially because of the downright Lovecraftian way in which the Third Cow is described), “The Hole in the Sky” (okay, seriously, how much cosmic horror was Adams reading when he wrote this?), and “Speedwell’s Story” (in which one of the more nondescript rabbits from the original novel reveals himself to have a… rather interesting imagination, to say the least).

The stories of how rabbit society on the downs restructures after the fall of Woundwort’s regime are also interesting to read, even if the stakes are a lot lower with the dictator dethroned. We get to see things like forming a new warren halfway between Watership Down and Efrafa called Vleflain. We get to see the story of Flyairth, a spirited doe who, despite nearly undermining the stability of Watership Down due to her pathological fear of the “white blindness” (known to humans as myxomatosis), inspires the Watershippers to promote Hyzenthlay to the position of co-chief rabbit alongside Hazel. We see an escaped hutch rabbit named Stonecrop who gets treated like dirt because of how strongly he smells of humans, only to prove himself by scaring an invading horde of weasels away from Vleflain with his scent. And, perhaps most importantly for feminist critics, we get to see Hyzenthlay-rah prove herself as she leads a wounded doe named Nyreem to Watership Down.

Ironically enough, given how critical the reviews on Goodreads seem to be of the El-ahrairah stories in this book, I actually somewhat prefer them over the Watership Down tales, as they had much more of an epic style closer to the first book. Still, despite all that, I think Tales is a worthy sequel and well worth reading at least once.

My Life on the Autism Spectrum

Of all the various disorders of the human brain, perhaps none has fascinated and terrified the public as much as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The reasons for this are varied. It may be because autistic people, especially those deemed “low-functioning,” often challenge our perceptions of human nature whenever a seemingly stupid and helpless individual reveals their astounding level of knowledge about whatever topic it is that they are hyper-focused on. It may be because of widespread myths and romanizations popularized through movies and TV shows, many of them harmful and infantilizing. Or it may be because society is finally starting to see past these stereotypes and learn the complex and wonderful reality behind the myths. In this blog post, I’d like to talk about my experiences on the autism spectrum and maybe help debunk a few myths along the way.

Notes on the Term “Asperger Syndrome”

When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a disorder that has since been reclassified within the greater autism spectrum. This move has been met with a mixed reception. Some argue that it is no different than what is commonly known as “high functioning autism.” Others argue that it can be distinguished by the fact that there are no impairments in language and intelligence in individuals with Asperger’s. Of course, autism acceptance advocates will point out that modern-day IQ tests are made by and for neurotypical people, obscuring the average ASD person’s intellect.

Another much darker reason why the Asperger label has fallen out of favor recently mainly has to do with the man the syndrome is named after, Dr. Hans Asperger. You see, Asperger, alongside American psychiatrist Leo Kanner, was the first to codify modern understanding of autism back in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Up until recently, Asperger’s work with his so-called “little professors” at the University of Vienna was considered superior to Kanner’s, mostly because he recognized a spectrum of behaviors in his patients and also, as Steve Silberman reports in his 2015 book NeuroTribes, protected his charges from the eugenicist wrath of the invading Nazi regime by inventing the term “high-functioning autism” to throw Hitler’s brownshirts off (as opposed to Kanner popularizing the now-discredited “refrigerator moms” theory).

Except it turns out that actually wasn’t the case, as evidence uncovered in 2018 revealed that Asperger actually referred at least two “little professors” that he deemed “low-functioning” to a children’s clinic known as Am Spiegelgrund, despite knowing full well that the Nazis used the clinic as a euthanasia center. It’s probably not hard to see why several people, myself included, have consequently become hesitant to associate themselves with his name in that manner. And it also makes me question whether the governments of the world should continue to celebrate Asperger’s birthday on February 18 as International Asperger’s Day.

In any case, I simply prefer to refer to myself as “autistic” and “on the (autism) spectrum” nowadays. But enough history: let me explain how the symptoms of autism manifest in me (please note, however, that I will mainly be using TV Tropes.com’s Useful Notes page on Asperger Syndrome as a template for the following section: I know it’s not exactly a medical source, but the notes they have seem to be medically accurate. Plus, it’s straightforward and clearly explained, so… yeah).

The Symptoms

The pervasive developmental disorders commonly classified under the autism spectrum are generally diagnosed based on three criteria: difficulty in communication, difficulty in socialization, and restricted interests. We’ll examine how those diagnostic criteria manifest in me in that order and then go through some miscellaneous symptoms that the Useful Notes article also mentions.

Communication Difficulties

People on the autism spectrum have often been described as having “body language blindness.” On the other hand, TV Tropes argues that it can be more accurately described as “body language dyslexia.” It’s not that we can’t see the body language being used; it’s correctly interpreting it that’s difficult. Some of us try to compensate by watching TV and seeing how characters use their body language. That usually causes other problems since body language in fictional settings tends to be exaggerated, which causes neurotypical people to think that there’s something off about us.

Woe betide the poor Aspergian soul who learns his body language from the wonderfully over-exaggerated world of Disney movies.

It’s also not uncommon for autistic individuals to have speech problems (unless, of course, they’re nonverbal). They may develop a natural speaking voice that’s too fast, too loud, too formal, or too monotone. I was lucky enough to develop a fairly normal speaking voice, even though I do have a bit of a stuttering problem like others on the spectrum. My grandfather tends to stumble over his words as well, though, so I at least have company there.

Related to the restricted interests part of the diagnosis is that, naturally, autistic people tend to struggle with conversations that have nothing to do with whatever kind of topic they’re hyperfocused on at the moment. Indeed, we don’t tend to care for small talk, since in our view, a conversation that exists just for the sake of filling silence is pointless. We don’t want to talk about the weather or want to know “What’s up?” We have knowledge we want to share, damn it!

Unless, of course, the weather is your special interest as an autistic person. I’m more concerned about climate change personally, but hey… you do you!

Finally, there is the fact that autistic people have a lot of trouble with facial expressions, which may have contributed to the myth that autistic people are sociopaths. Once again, autistic people may try to compensate by learning facial expressions from movies and TV.

Again, woe betide.
Socialization Difficulties

Of course, the difficulty with expressing emotion and reading body language is a part of our problem with socialization, as is the unwillingness to speak unless the conversation is lucky enough to steer into whatever subject the ASD individual is interested in at the moment.

Another part is that it takes very strenuous effort for an autistic individual to initiate communication with another person because we never have any clear idea what to say. Not only that, but normal social interaction is often outright physically exhausting for people like us who aren’t built for it. Thus, we often adopt a “do not speak unless spoken to” attitude that we may stick to rigidly. I’ve mastered this art so well that my family full of Trump supporters still doesn’t know that I hate the man’s guts, simply because they’ve never bothered to ask my opinion.

There is also the fact that, unlike most neurotypical people, autistic people dislike eye contact, often finding it uncomfortable or even painful. Naturally, this is another factor that often hinders the autistic individual’s ability to read body language properly. Personally, I think I’m on the lower end of the “eye contact discomfort” meter, as I usually don’t have a problem with it if a person is directly addressing me. It’s usually still a bit uncomfortable, though, especially if the person is standing right next to me.

Perhaps other difficulties with socialization can be explained by the autistic individual’s relationship with logic. We tend to focus on step-by-step answers to any problems that cross our path. This often leads to autistic individuals being very literal-minded, often telling things how we see them because we see no point in pretending that something is anything other than what we perceive it as. Indeed, this often makes us unable or unwilling to tell a convincing lie.

Speaking of which, that brings us to the final socialization-related topic I want to talk about: the autistic individual’s relationship with empathy, especially social/cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy refers to the ability to predict other people’s thoughts, emotions, and intentions. Unfortunately, this requires a lot of “reading between the lines” regarding body language and speech patterns, which, as we have established above, autistic people are terrible at. This, combined with our inability to emote properly, often leads people into inaccurately labeling us as sociopaths.

On the contrary, however, autistic people often have a higher than average capacity for affective empathy, meaning an ability to share another person’s feelings with them. While this often makes autistic people into very morally upright citizens, it can often be overwhelming for a person, given the amount of death and disaster that affects the world every day. Empathy and logic often combine in an autistic individual to produce a very “Treat others as you would want to be treated attitude.” This can present problems of its own, though, since not everyone wants the same things. Indeed, while some people like the idea of sadomasochism as part of their sex life, I certainly don’t.

Especially if they learned about it from probably the one person who’s worse at writing romance than Stephanie Meyer.

The autistic ideas of empathy and logic may often combine into a deep sense of social justice. They logically think that powerful people using their power for selfish ends is illogical and hurts far more people than it helps. Indeed, logic and empathy were what made me turn away from my family’s conservatism when Trump was elected president. They tend to assume that there was a good reason Trump got into the White House because the American political system is the best in the world and only produces good results (although usually only if conservatives are leading it). On the other hand, I refused to accept that Trump was in any way qualified for the office of the most powerful person in the world. Of course, that ultimately led to me deciding that no one person should ever be allowed that much power, and now I am an anarcho-communist.

Restricted Interests/Behaviors

This is almost certainly the most visible symptom of ASD, even though it is the least significant, medically speaking. Of course, a big part of this is the fact that they often find themselves fascinated by a certain subject to the point that they end up defining their whole existence around it and gather as much knowledge as they can on it to the point that they can become leading experts on it. They can even make whole careers out of these restricted interests. Temple Grandin used her insight on animal behavior, especially cattle, to create innovations to make slaughterhouses as humane as possible. Greta Thunberg has managed to channel her rage and despair caused by her autistic obsession with climate change into political activism. Donald Triplett, one of Leo Kanner’s patients who became the first to be formally diagnosed with autism, would later put his abilities with rapid mental multiplication to good use at his family bank.

Of course, it can be equally common for a person on the spectrum to end up changing their defining interest constantly. My personal experience is somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. I remember being even more obsessed with dinosaurs and other prehistoric life during my childhood years than the average kid was. There was also a period when I became oddly obsessed with the RMS Titanic (and the Hindenburg to a lesser extent). I also developed an interest in the paranormal during my later childhood, which has since developed into my obsession with religion and esoteric occult practices that combined with my love of fantasy novels to create The Divine Conspiracy. I’ve also had some low-key obsessions with subjects like music and literature crop up from time to time. For example, my family hates playing Trivial Pursuit: Classic Rock Edition with me because I usually wipe the floor with them. I also became obsessed with everything Watership Down after I rediscovered it (something you’ll learn all about during the retrospective this month).

It’s not just interests that are restricted for us, though. Autistic people are also well known for being oversensitive to certain stimuli, be it tactile, visual, or audio. Certain clothing materials can irritate their skin, for instance. Certain colors, patterns, or speeds of light can cause distress, especially for those who are co-morbid with epilepsy (which I, fortunately, am not). They can also be picky eaters, not just because of flavors they don’t like but also because certain textures can make a piece of food unpalatable, even if the flavor agrees with them. Sudden loud noises can trigger panic attacks in autistic individuals who are sensitive to noise.

While I’ve never had panic attacks or meltdowns due to loud noises, several have been problems for me in the past. I used to avoid restroom blow dryers like the plague when I was younger because I hated the noise. I also used to have such a low tolerance for spicy foods when I was a kid that I couldn’t even eat pepperoni pizza. Nowadays, I can use both without problem, although I still have trouble with spicy foods. I’m still a very picky eater today, as I still have trouble with several kinds of vegetables (although I have taken a liking to garden salads with ranch dressing as of late).

Autistic individuals have also tended not to be very “outdoorsy,” possibly due to being very unwilling to break their comfortable routines. I was born into a hunting family, though, so I tended to be much more of an outdoor person when I was younger (even though I didn’t become a hunter myself, as I loved animals too much). I tend to spend much more of my life indoors nowadays, although I usually like to walk in the woods surrounding my house now and again. I also really want to explore America’s national parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Olympic sometime in the future once this COVID epidemic finally dies down.

Miscellaneous Symptoms

People on the autism spectrum often seem to appear less physically mature than others with different developmental disorders since their faces tend to be more rounded and thus more childlike. This has definitely been the case for me. I’m 25 (going on 26), and yet I still look like I’ve barely finished high school. As recently as three weeks ago, when I was showing an official at the local vaccine distribution center my ID, she was surprised that I was 25, as she would have guessed I was 18 at first glance.

Another symptom often associated with autistic people is a tendency to compulsively talk to themselves, similarly to Tourette’s Syndrome (minus the stereotypical foul language, which in real life only happens in ten percent of those with the disorder). This is especially true if the ASD individual starts daydreaming, which, as an aspiring fantasy writer, I tend to do quite frequently. Sometimes I’ll blurt out something one of my characters says in certain vignettes I cook up in my head. It’s never at the top of my lungs, though, and it hasn’t caused a major disruption… yet.

The autistic individual may also experience sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, frequent nocturnal awakenings, and early morning awakenings. I tend to struggle quite a bit with falling asleep myself. Sometimes I manage to fall asleep within an hour of going to bed. Other times I end up lying awake for hours on end, unable to drift off because my mind is still buzzing. Either way, I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of going to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow as some others do.

Another symptom associated with ASD is a higher than average visual or auditory perception. This may be associated with the fact that the autistic brain tends to filter out fewer auditory signals than the neurotypical brain, which can be a major factor in why several autistic individuals are sensitive to loud noises. My version of this heightened perception often comes in being able to see and hear things that others around me usually don’t notice… although I’m not entirely sure if it’s because I actually have heightened perceptions or because I’m usually not interested in what people around me are talking about, so I let my eyes wander about my surroundings. Of course, I also wear prescription glasses, as my banner photo will attest, so it’s not like my senses are unimpaired in any way.

One other symptom I have that often worries me is my trouble with short-term memory.

Not that kind.

Our issues with short-term memory usually come in the form of not being able to follow step-by-step instructions very well since the last task given to us often pops out of our head when the next task is given. This hasn’t caused much of a problem at my workplace, although I couldn’t tell you how to operate the paint mixer even though the boss has shown me at least once.

Somewhat related to this is our struggle with executive function, which means we have difficulty fully grasping the steps of certain processes and carrying them out. This is especially difficult for me since I’ve never been able to grasp how finances work (and have been somewhat unwilling to since, as a newly converted socialist, I’d much rather our society got rid of money anyway). This means I have a lot of trouble planning for the future, which makes me fear the future immensely, so I avoid it even more. I admit there is some comfort in “Indiana Jones-ing” it through life, especially given my newfound fondness for Daoism. However, at the same time, it still often feels like I’m gambling with my future “in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time…” at least, that’s how Terry Pratchett might put it.

Final Thoughts

Indeed, a lot of this may make it seem like my existence is a living hell. Sometimes, I don’t entirely disagree, especially given the capitalist dystopia I’m living under. Not only do I have to live with the fact that most of the people we put in charge of our governments and corporations are perfectly fine with letting hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people die every year just to preserve their own wealth and privilege. Not only do I have to live with the fact that there are likely more working-class people in the industrialized world (my own family included) who support them than don’t. I also have to live with the fact that my neurodivergence makes me a target for the ruling class, who would gladly throw me under the bus the first chance they get and replace me with a more neurotypical cog that can properly follow their orders.

However, at the end of the day, I still have my empathy. I still have the complete inability to have ulterior motives for the kind acts I perform. I still have impeccable attention to detail. I still have exceptional visual thinking skills. And probably most importantly, I still have my passion. I still have a desire to show my art to the rest of the world, no matter how much my inner critic tells me it sucks. I still have my drive to see this world changed for the better. I still have my intense love of what little unspoiled natural wilderness we still have in this world. And I still have unexplored horizons waiting for me to explore if I only have the courage to take that first step.

Announcing the May Retrospective

So, for a while on this website, I’ve been teasing a retrospective for the month of May since my birthday falls on that month, and I want to do a series of essays talking about a fictional work that had a big impact on me during my formative years. I’ve mentioned before on my blog entry about The Divine Conspiracy that I was a bit slow to discover the wonders of fictional literature. There were plenty of novels assigned to me by my English classes that I thoroughly enjoyed (The Outsiders, The Hobbit, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, and probably some others that escape me now).

Especially as I got into my high school years, I began to seek out novels on my own time, like The Hunger Games trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Stephen King’s The Shining, and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. But out of all the books I discovered during that period, there is but one that I can honest to God say actually changed my life. That book was written by a humble British civil servant named Richard Adams, and its name was Watership Down.

Cover of the Scribner 2005 trade paperback edition, which I own a copy of

I mentioned in the “Animation Age Ghetto” essay I did a while back that I watched the 1978 film adaptation when I was around 8-10 years old after Mom rented it from a video store. I rediscovered it on YouTube during high school, and it (along with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away) woke me up to the fact that animation was more than a genre of children’s entertainment, which I had been deluding myself into thinking for most of my teenage years. From there, I purchased the novel on my Amazon Kindle, as well as some of Richard Adams’ other novels, like Shardik and The Plague Dogs. And it shortly grew into a life-changing rabbit hole (no pun intended) that led me on a journey that ended with me deciding to become a writer myself when I attended college just a few short years later.

There are five works from the franchise that I will be covering for this retrospective:

  • The original novel, as well as the 1996 sequel Tales from Watership Down
  • The 1978 film adaptation
  • The 1999 children’s television series
  • The discography of the British punk/metal band Fall of Efrafa, whose Warren of the Snares trilogy is loosely based on the Lapine mythology presented in the books
  • The 2018 Netflix miniseries

So yeah, I’ve got a pretty busy month ahead of me as far as writing goes. I’ve also got that essay on my relationship with autism spectrum disorder that I still have to finish. I also want to get the first part of my Divine Conspiracy pilot uploaded on DeviantArt before the end of the month, come hell or high water. The Watership Down franchise is something I am very passionate about, however, so it should be relatively easy for me.

Things are gonna get pretty busy over the next month, beautiful watchers. I hope you’re ready to come along for the ride!

Post-Vaccination Update

Well, technically not post-vaccination since I got the Pfizer vaccine, and I need a second shot of it in three weeks or so, but it’s definitely a start.

I just wanted to give a brief summary of what kind of writing activities I will be up to in the next two months, both here and on DeviantArt. I have two ideas for major essay posts. I’ve wanted to write a post detailing how being on the autism spectrum affects me for a while now. I feel that it’s important to share my story to maybe give other potential readers out there, be they neurotypical or otherwise, perspective on where exactly I’m coming from.

I’ve also become interested as of late in comparing different anarchist schools of thought to see which ones I like best. I’m personally biased towards anarcho-communism since that’s the one I currently know the most about (aside from anarcho-primitivism, which I’m not really a fan of). Still, I’m very interested to learn about other philosophies on the libertarian socialist front to see what they have to say.

Of course, those are likely to be very research-intensive subjects, so I definitely won’t be able to get both out before the beginning of May, which is when I plan to roll out a new yearly project: the Birthday Retrospective. My birthday is in May, so I figured I’d give myself a present by doing a retrospective on a media franchise that had a big impact on me at some point during my formative years. What’s this year’s retrospective going to be about? You’ll have to wait until May 1st to find out. It’s a surprise!

Finally, there’s the matter of what the coming months will hold for my DeviantArt account. I haven’t posted there since I uploaded my Melonheads story sometime around Valentine’s Day. I plan to change that shortly, as I have made it my goal to upload the first part of my Divine Conspiracy pilot before I get my second vaccination. That might take a while, as I’ve had many ideas for changes to the opening scenes ever since I first published the manuscript for a college writing class three years ago. The good news is that I feel the manuscript gets better as it goes along, so there will likely be less need for major changes as it goes along. Stay tuned on my DeviantArt site for more info.

And that’s pretty much everything I have to update you on at the moment. You can probably expect the autism piece sometime before the end of this month, and I’ll likely be getting to the anarchism ranking list after the May retrospective. Have a nice spring, and please, for the love of God, get yourself vaccinated so we can get this virus under control!

P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist #4: My Top 20 Led Zeppelin Songs

Much ink has been shed over the past half-century arguing which band in all the history of rock music is the greatest. Some may point to 50s rock ‘n’ roll icons like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry, who help codify the genre in the first place. Some may point to the Beatles and the Beach Boys for helping elevate not just rock but also popular music in general to an art form. Others may point to the rough and tumble blues rock of the Rolling Stones and the Who that helped lay the groundwork for punk rock. And still others may invoke the names of prog rock icons like Queen, Yes, and Pink Floyd for fusing rock and roll with the artistic sensibilities of classical and jazz music.

And while all those things are certainly true, for this humble music lover, the greatest band would have to be one that really feels like it represents rock music’s past, present, and future. And that band, for me at least, is Led Zeppelin.

Got no time for spreadin’ roots; the time has come to be gone. And though our health we drank a thousand times, it’s time to ramble on…

This band is often best remembered for its heaving blues rock tunes like those of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple that helped lay the blueprints for the genre of heavy metal. However, the band is equally famous for its eclectic influences. Their songs included influences from genres as disparate as folk music (including Middle Eastern and Indian), country, gospel, funk, reggae, and even synth-pop and punk rock in their later years. Granted, they probably weren’t as prone to genre roulette as Queen was, but their discography is still pretty diverse. Guitarist Jimmy Page has even gone on record saying that he wanted Led Zeppelin’s music to have elements of “light and shade.” That’s certainly obvious in songs like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “In the Light,” and others that I will cover in my top 20 list of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs. Why top 20? Because the band is just that good!

So without any further delay, let’s talk about them. I should tell you ahead of time that if you don’t see any of your favorite songs on here, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Indeed, I can’t think of a single Led Zeppelin song I outright hate. This is just my list, and these are the songs from their discography that appeal most to my musical tastes, starting with…

20. All My Love

I hate to start the list with such a tear-jerker of a song, but there was no way I could leave this one off the list. Indeed, this song is all about one of the most painful events an adult person can go through: the pain of losing a child.

During the band’s 1977 US tour, singer Robert Plant received the news no parent ever wants to hear: his five-year-old son, Karac Pendragon Plant, had died of a stomach infection aged only five. Perhaps it was only natural that Plant felt it necessary to include a song dedicated to his memory on their 1979 album In Through the Out Door (the last album released by the band before drummer John Bonham’s untimely death from alcohol poisoning a year later necessitated the band’s breakup).

The song is notable because it was one of only two songs on which Jimmy Page didn’t receive a writing credit (the other being “South Bound Saurez,” also from In Through the Out Door). Instead, it was up to bassist John Paul Jones to help craft the musical accompaniment to Plant’s tale of grief, loss, and acceptance. As such, Jimmy Page’s guitar takes a back seat to Jones’ sweeping and orchestral synthesizer work.

Plant’s lyrics, meanwhile, make heavy use of symbolism and mythological references in his struggle to put his feelings into words. He compares Karac’s soul to “a feather in the wind,” having become one of the soft, lighter-than-air things that a child chases while out in the yard having fun. Plant goes on to call out the Fates (possibly referring to either the Moirai from Greek mythology or the very similar Norns from Norse mythology) to weave him a thread to lead out of the labyrinth of despair he finds himself in, much like how the Cretan princess Ariadne gave Theseus a thread to find his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur. In the end, though, Plant concludes that nothing, not even death, can break the eternal bond of love between a father and son.

This song caused something of a divide between the band when it first came out. Plant obviously considered it one of Led Zeppelin’s finest moments. But Page and Bonham greatly disliked its soft rock sound, thinking that it strayed too far from the band’s roots. Of course, they weren’t brave enough to voice their opinions at the time, as they knew that criticizing a song about their lead singer’s dead son would be in poor taste. Personally though, I think it’s great when a band that cultivated such a macho image can show such vulnerability. Although, speaking of macho…

19. Whole Lotta Love

What can I say about this song that hasn’t already been said? It’s the single that made them big in the U.S. and was the only song of theirs to break the Billboard Top 10 in the country. It also holds the bittersweet distinction of being the final song performed live by the band before Bonham’s death.

It was also one of several that landed the band in court when one of the American bluesmen they took inspiration from took offense to the band not crediting them. Plant decided to sing lyrics heavily inspired by the song “You Need Love” by Muddy Waters over an original riff created by Page. Willie Dixon, who wrote the lyrics for “You Need Love,” ended up suing the band over it in 1985 after his daughter introduced him to the song. The suit was settled out of court, and Dixon was given a writing credit on the song.

Genius.com has described the song as the band’s most sexually explicit track (even though the “squeeze my lemon” verse from “The Lemon Song” exists), mostly because of how obvious it is that Plant is using the word “love” as a euphemism for his…

Of course, this song would probably be just another Led Zeppelin proto-metal freak-out if it weren’t for the infamous middle section, a psychedelic free jazz-esqe sound collage produced through a combination of Page twiddling around with a Theremin as well as every dial, knob, and switch on Olympic Studios’ mixing board. I remember Ozzy Osbourne describing how freaked out the middle section made him when he first heard it, and frankly, I don’t blame him.

Cap it all off with a short but very sweet guitar solo from maestro Page, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide hard rock classic.

18. Going to California

The penultimate track from the band’s famous untitled fourth album originally started as a song about California earthquakes. Indeed, Jimmy Page even experienced a minor earthquake when he traveled to L.A. to mix the album. It ended up as an acoustic folk ballad about a lovesick man traveling to the Golden State to escape an unsupportive girlfriend, likely inspired by how both Plant and Page had a crush on Joni Mitchell at the time.

Someone told me there’s a girl out there, with love in her eyes and flowers… in her hair.

However, several oblique references to California’s tectonic instability still show up in several places, often as references to godlike entities throwing obstacles in Plant’s way in the same manner they did to Odysseus in the age of myths:

The mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake,
As the children of the sun begin... to awake.
Seems like the wrath of the gods;
Got a punch on the nose and it's started to flow.
I think I might be sinking.

Honestly though, it’s the last verse of this song that really put it on the list since it really speaks to the unshakable feelings of wanderlust, loneliness, and lovesickness I’ve been feeling, especially in the age of COVID:

To find a queen without a king;
They say she plays guitar and cries... and sings... la la la.
Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn,
Tryin' to find a woman who's never, never, never been born.
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Tryin' to tell myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems...

The last couplet is especially poignant for me since I have painful social anxiety thanks to being on the autism spectrum. I’m also very far left in terms of politics, which is extremely frustrating for someone living in this hyper-capitalist dystopia we call “The Land of the Free.” My dreams of an anarcho-communist utopia seem like hills compared to the mountainous walls that the 1% have built to keep them from coming to fruition. But I have no intention of surrendering them any time soon.

17. The Rover

This track (the second on the landmark double album Physical Graffiti) started as an acoustic piece before it evolved into the swaggering hard rock masterpiece we know today, boasting one of my favorite riffs in all of the band’s discography.

The lyrics tell of a person living a nomadic lifestyle, traveling all across the world to see places like London and the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and experiencing the simple joys of life like firelight, purple moonlight, and “the rested rivers flow.” But there are signs of “a new plague on the land,” which the protagonist elaborates on in the third verse:

Oh how I wonder, oh how I worry,
And I would dearly like to know
If all this wonder, and earthly plunder,
Will leave us anything to show?

However, the protagonist also seems to be on a messianic mission (“Traversed the planet, when heaven sent me; I saw the kings who ruled them all”). He warns the people of Earth:

And our time is flying.
See the candle buring low!
Is the new world rising
From the shambles of the old?

He tells us that we can survive this apocalypse “if we could just join hands.” That’s definitely a message this soy-boy pinko commie can get behind.

16. No Quarter

The penultimate track from Houses of the Holy is definitely one of the darkest tracks Zeppelin ever put out. The band achieved the atmospheric sound on this recording through Page slowing the recorded track down using pitch control in the studio and compressing his guitar track, thus giving the instrument a smooth yet growling tone. The track’s cold tone is accentuated by John Paul Jones’ cryptic keyboard lines, played on both acoustic and electric pianos.

This greatly complements the lyrics, which seem to be told from the point of view of the wife of a soldier telling her children why their father has gone out into the cold winter night. Given the line “the winds of Thor are blowing cold,” many have speculated that the song is about a party of Vikings going on the warpath against Christian missionaries trying to stamp out the Norse religion. How else would you explain lines like “They carry news that must get through… to build a dream for me and you”? Of course, the song’s title indicates that the Vikings are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.

Sadly, some lyrics, like “The devil mocks their every step,” indicate that their mission is doomed. The line that goes, “The dogs of doom are howling more,” even seems to draw parallels between Scandinavia’s Christianization and the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok. Indeed, the “dogs of doom” could easily be referring to Fenrir, Skoll, and Manegarm (or Hati), who fulfill their roles at the last battle by killing Odin, swallowing the sun, and swallowing the moon, respectively.

Indeed, this song often puts me in mind of Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, which is somewhat ironic, given that story takes place in the deserts of the American West. But still, both that and “No Quarter” are equally bleak tales about the horrors of war and the often bloody history that lies at the foundations of Western civilization.

15. The Rain Song

Believe it or not, Houses of the Holy’s resident love ballad was actually John Bonham’s idea. The idea came to him after George Harrison asked him why the band didn’t do more ballads. Page even quoted “Something,” one of Harrison’s most beloved contributions to the Beatles’ discography, on the song’s first two chords. Plant still considers this one of his favorite vocal performances.

The lyrics tell the story of a romantic relationship’s ups and downs, using the seasons as a metaphor. It starts with “It is the springtime of my loving; The second season I am to know,” referencing the blooming of love against the barrenness of winter. The verse is backed with an orchestral instrumental backing, thanks to Jones’ Mellotron keyboard and soft guitar courtesy of Jimmy.

Hints of cynicism start to cast shadows over the protagonist’s happiness in the second verse (“It is the summer of my smiles. Flee from me, keepers of the gloom”). This indicates that the singer knows that fissures are starting to form between him and his significant other as autumn rolls around. Still, though, the instrumental backing continues to be joyful and upbeat.

Things take a turn for the darkness of winter as the guitars get louder and more distorted, as the gloom that the singer was trying to chase away comes crashing down (“I curse the gloom that set upon us!”). However, the track still ends on a hopeful note, as the lyrics in the image at the top of this section will indicate, while the instruments settle back down into the more relaxed tone they kept through the rest of the song.

The song tends to put me in mind of a quote by singer-songwriter Nick Cave discussing love songs in the context of Federico Garcia Lorca’s famous essay “The Theory and Function of Duende” (Duende being a Spanish term for heightened and authentic emotion conveyed through the arts, especially of a melancholic nature):

All love songs must contain duende, for the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain… The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic, and the joy of love. For just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil- the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here- so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgment of its capacity for suffering.

Nick Cave, Love Song Lecture, October 21, 2000

I think Plant does a fine job capturing the suffering that love can bring even to couples who know they are right for one another. So much so, in fact, that it brings out my own anxieties about the struggles of love. What if, if I ever do find a girlfriend, I’m not emotionally strong enough or mature enough to handle the challenges that will inevitably come to test our relationship? What if there are still some toxic elements from my conservative upbringing held within my subconscious that will drive her away? Or maybe my autism will be too much for her to handle? But still, I want to try at least.

14. Immigrant Song

Without a doubt one of Led Zeppelin’s most popular songs, this track opens up their third album with a bang, somewhat tricking the first-time listener into thinking the rest of the album will be this much of a heavy metal barnstormer before surprising them (hopefully pleasantly) with the diverse folk-blues offerings that would characterize the band’s later discography.

The somewhat tongue-in-cheek lyrics were inspired by a concert the band performed in Reykjavik, Iceland, in the summer of 1970. The band likened themselves to the Vikings that lived on the island nation in days of old, even making references to its famous hot springs (“We come from the land of the ice and snow, From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow”). Of course, references to aspects of Norse mythology, like “the hammer of the gods” (i.e., Mjolnir) and Valhalla, are obligatory. Several historical references, like the bloody battlefields the Vikings left behind (“How soft your fields of green can whisper tales of gore”) and their eventual Christianization (“So now you’d better stop and rebuild all your ruins! For peace and trust can win the day, in spite of all your losing!”) also appear in the lyrics. However, that last one could also be the victorious Vikings making peace with their conquered, promising a fair rule as long as the colonized cooperated with them.

The song has since been described as one of the first Viking metal songs, even though it bears no musical resemblance to many contemporary bands often considered “Viking metal” (i.e., Bathory, Ensiferum, Enslaved, Falkenbach, etc.). Still, it’s probably the closest to true heavy metal that the band ever reached (except for another song on this list that we’ll get to later).

13. Fool in the Rain

This song is most famous for its instrumentals and the story told by its lyrics. On the instrumental side, it’s probably best remembered for John Bonham’s performance on drums. Whereas the rest of the band performs in common 4/4 time, John’s drumming follows a 12/8 meter, giving the track a polyrhythm that lends a sense of tension despite its light and upbeat tone. The breakdown in the middle, where the song doubles down on its Latin samba-inspired elements, is also well regarded, as well as the guitar solo that immediately follows it, one of my personal favorites from Jimmy.

The lyrics seem like they’re just the usual Led Zeppelin tale of heartbreak and loneliness, with a coming rainstorm symbolizing our protagonist’s heartbreak over his lover standing him up… until it suddenly isn’t. As the last verse reveals:

Now my body is starting to quiver
And the palms of hands're getting wet.
I've got no reason to doubt you, baby;
It's all a terrible mess.
And I'll run in the rain till I'm breathless.
When I'm breathless I'll run till I drop (Hey!).
The thoughts of a fool's kind of careless;
I'm just a fool waiting on the wrong block!

Plant apparently took inspiration from a similar story told in the 1957 song “Silhouettes” by the doo-wop group the Rays. Whereas that song ends happily with the singer clearing up the misunderstanding with his girlfriend, “Fool in the Rain” ends ambiguously, with the singer still running to catch his lover as the song ends. I sincerely hope he made it, honestly.

12. Misty Mountain Hop

This song, which opens side two of the untitled fourth album, is one of several to feature references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth legendarium. The song itself, however, is based more on real life events that happened to Robert Plant. From what I can gather, Plant was loitering in Hyde Park (some sources say Primrose Hill Park), possibly due to intoxication, which led to him getting arrested. Wikipedia also suggests that a police raid on a “Legalize Pot Rally” on July 7, 1968, also in Hyde Park, may have inspired the lyrics to the song.

Plant uses these incidents as a jumping-off point to discuss whether or not our law enforcement agencies, as we have constructed them, are really qualified to handle such power, and how the average person seems to ignore all the abuse committed in the name of law and order as long as they are not on the receiving end of it:

If you go down in the streets today, baby, you'd better,
You'd better open your eyes!
Folk down there really don't care,
Really don't care, don't care, really don't,
Which way the pressure lies!

In the verse before that, Plant asks the listener if they are truly happy under this flawed system:

Why don't you take a good look at yourself,
Describe what you see,
And baby, baby, baby, do you like it?!
There you sit, sitting spare like a book on a shelf rusting
(AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!) Not trying to fight it!

All the while, the jaunty riffs provided by Page’s guitars and Jones’ electric piano keep an ironically upbeat tone despite the dystopian lyrics (“You really don’t care if they’re coming (Oh oh oh!); I know that it’s all a state of mind!”). It kind of reminds me of “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads, come to think of it.

It makes the actual Tolkien reference in the last verse somewhat confusing, however, when Plant has been criticizing his listeners throughout the rest of the song for drowning themselves in drugs and escapist fantasy novels rather than confronting the horrors of the modern world. It also seems to tread dangerously close to “love it or leave it” territory, which, at least currently, is impossible considering that my country is powerful enough to squash any socialist movement in any developing nation the minute it starts hurting Fortune 500 bottom lines.

Then again, maybe the protagonist has been captured by the dystopian government portrayed in the song and tortured until he’s so insane that he thinks he’s become a character in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. Or maybe he’s just using the Misty Mountains as a metaphor for a socialist movement powerful enough to finally challenge the capitalist status quo, come hell or high water. I would definitely prefer the latter.

11. Over the Hills and Far Away

This is one of the best songs to demonstrate the band’s “light and shade” approach to several of their songs. The song is famous for its shift between an acoustic intro and a hard rock middle section before ending with a soft harpsichord solo courtesy of Jones. It also may be another Tolkien song, as the title is similar to the poem “Over Old Hills and Far Away.”

The lyrics are yet another tale of heartbreak and loss. But unlike, say, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” or “Dazed and Confused,” where the singer wallows in despair over losing their lover, here the lyrics take a more introspective and optimistic outlook. The first verse, where the singer proclaims that the love his girlfriend has is “maybe more than enough,” seems to take place many years before the second verse, where the singer has become older and wiser (“Many times I’ve loved, many time been bitten; Many time I’ve gazed along the open road”).

The narrator continues to describe all the things he’s learned over the years, with the second verse and part of the third taking the form of several aphorisms:

Many times I've lied, and many times I've listened.
Many times I've wondered how much there is to know.
Many dreams come true, and some have silver linings.
I live for my dreams, and a pocketful of gold.

In the third and final verse, after the narrator has decided he has lived his life to the fullest (“Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing; Many, many men can’t see the open road”), he proceeds to ponder the philosophical implications behind the word “many”:

Many is a word that only leaves you guessing.
Guessing 'bout a thing you really ought to know!

From then on, the song gradually quiets down, presumably symbolizing the narrator growing old and making peace with his youthful mistakes as he lays himself down for his final rest. I wonder how relatable this song is to the surviving members nowadays?

10. What Is and What Should Never Be

The second track from the band’s second album seems to be a tale of forbidden love. It is another light and shade track, with soft verses with lightly picked guitars alternating with crushing hard rock choruses. Plant sings the chorus in a way that almost seems to predict rapping, with lyrics inspired by an affair Plant had with Shirley Wilson, the younger sister of his then-wife Maureen.

The song has got a lot going for it: the poetic lyrics describing castles and sailing away high up in the sky on wings of passion, the epic riffs (including one at the end of the song that alternates between stereo channels), and one of my favorites John Paul Jones basslines.

I’ll admit, though, that the whole lyrical theme of “forbidden love” kind of sours the experience since it reminds me a bit too much of Jimmy Page’s infamous fling with Lori Maddox, a groupie who was only 13-14 when their relationship started. This, sadly, was a common practice back then, as I’ve found out. Maddox even claims to have lost her virginity to David Bowie before she even met Page. This hasn’t ruined my appreciation for their art, but it’s still important to remember that these people were humans, and discussing where they went wrong in their personal lives is important if we want to avoid making the same mistakes they did.

9. Gallows Pole

This song is kind of similar to “Misty Mountain Hop” in that it combines dark lyrical subject matter with an infectiously groovy instrumental track that takes normal folk instrumentation, turns it up to an almost punk rock level tempo, and ends with one of my favorite Jimmy Page guitar solos.

The song is an adaptation of an old English folk ballad named “The Maid Freed From the Gallows” that became especially popular after folklorist Francis James Child collected it in his Child Ballads collection in the 1880s. Knowing Led Zeppelin’s influences, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took inspiration from Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s version, recorded in the 1930s as “The Gallis Pole.”

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this song, besides how the instruments build on a crescendo as the song gets faster and faster, is how the story ends. You see, in the original folk ballad, the protagonist would usually end up being released from their punishment, the hangman satisfied with their bribe. In Led Zeppelin’s version, the hangman receives gold and silver from the condemned man’s brother and sexual favors from his sister. How does he respond?

Your brother brought me silver
And your sister warmed my soul,
But now I laugh and pull so hard!
See you swinging on the gallows pole!

Yeah, it’s not exactly a happy ending. It gets darker when you remember this quote from the first verse where the condemned man asks his friends if they have anything to offer the hangman:

I couldn't get no silver,
I couldn't get no gold.
You know that we're too damn poor
To keep you from the gallows pole.

That opens up the disturbing possibility that the condemned man is in this situation because of his poverty rather than being an unrepentant serial offender. It’s certainly not hard to read this song as an anti-death penalty tract in that light, something that is sadly still relevant today, especially in America where systemic racism in the criminal justice system means that black people are far more likely to be sentenced to death than white people.

8. Ten Years Gone

I think Robert Plant explained the song best in a 1975 interview:

I was working my ass off before joining Led Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said, “Right, it’s me or your fans.” Not that I had fans, but I said, “I can’t stop. I’ve got to keep going.” She’s quite content these days, I imagine. She’s got a washing machine that works by itself and a little sports car. We wouldn’t have anything to say anymore. I could probably relate to her, but she couldn’t relate to me. I’d be smiling too much. Ten years gone, I’m afraid. Anyway, there’s a gamble for you.

Robert Plant

Remember that duende that Nick Cave was talking about earlier? This song has it in spades. It’s difficult not to empathize with Plant’s dueling emotions here. On the one hand, choosing the music over his girlfriend allowed him to be hailed as a god of rock and roll and gave him, in Freddie Mercury’s words, “fame and fortune and everything that goes with it.” But on the other, Plant still clearly feels a lot of regret at how the affair turned out and still often thinks about how it would have worked out if he had stayed with her.

Of course, Plant was seventeen in 1965, and lasting relationships don’t usually form in your teens. But the connection is still there, which Plant compares to the flow of rivers (“Though the course may change sometimes, rivers always reach the sea”) and eagles who always come back to the same nest (“We are eagles of one nest; the nest is in our soul”).

Greatly complementing Plant’s conflicting emotions is Page’s guitar work, which used up to 14 different tracks on some of the harmony parts. While it’s greatly effective in embodying the complex emotions evoked by the track, it made the song difficult to replicate in a live setting. John Paul Jones had to have a three-necked guitar built for him to help recreate the song live.

7. In the Evening
…when the day is done, I’m looking for a woman, but the girl won’t come…

This track, which opens In Through the Out Door with quite a bang, is notable in that Jimmy Page forgoes his stalwart Gibson Les Paul guitar in favor of a Fender Stratocaster. This allows him to pull off some pretty unique stunts with the guitar’s tremolo arm, including depressing the strings low enough to create a unique metallic scraping sound by letting the strings rub against the pick-ups before launching into a truly epic guitar solo. It also introduces the orchestral stylings of John Paul Jones’ newly acquired Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer.

Plant’s lyrics follow a simple theme: a man who is unlucky in love trying to figure out what he’s doing wrong. He appears to spend much of the track arguing with someone else, either a friend, family member, psychologist or even himself. After spending the first verse declaring that he needs to assert dominance (“So don’t let her play you for no fool. She don’t show no pity, baby. She don’t make no rules.”), the outside party steps in, telling the protagonist he can’t force a woman to sleep with him if she doesn’t want to (“So don’t you let her get under your skin. It’s only bad luck and trouble from the day you begin.”).

The outside party tells the protagonist that it’s his wallowing in despair that’s keeping him from seeing a way out of his situation (“I hear you crying in the darkness; don’t ask nobody’s help. Ain’t no pockets full of mercy, baby, because you can only blame yourself.”). Indeed, a lot about the lyrics seem, at least to me, to represent a member of the incel community trying to pull himself out of his nihilistic downward spiral (which I know is a bit of a stretch considering the word wouldn’t be invented for another fourteen years, but still…). I especially like the message presented in the last verse:

Oh, whatever
That your days may bring,
No use hiding in a corner
Because that won't change a thing!
If you dance in the doldrums,
One day soon its got to stop, got to stop,
When you're the master of the off-chance,
When you don't expect a lot.

Maybe that’s the reason this song speaks to me so much (or maybe it’s just the “twilight majesty” of the instruments, as AllMusic puts it). As a person on the autism spectrum, it is tough to be assertive, which I feel is a good quality to have when trying to get a date. Autistic people also tend to find comfort in routines, and it takes a lot to get them to break those routines. (Let me be clear, though; I am not an incel, and I find their views on women and sexual assault to be truly sickening). But I’m not giving up hope just yet.

6. The Battle of Evermore
Artwork courtesy of Jon Vogel of The Flood Gallery

Coming to us from the untitled fourth album, this track (as well as the next song on this list) is probably the most overt flirtation the band ever made with Celtic folk music. It is also one of several to feature references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s work and even throws in some Arthurian references for good measure. Plant claims the lyrics were originally inspired by a book he read about Scottish warfare, however.

The song is backed by acoustic guitar and mandolin courtesy of John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, respectively, even though the latter had virtually no experience on the instrument before recording the track. As he explained in a 1977 interview with Trouser Press, “I just picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, having never played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting.” He would later describe his fingerpicking style as “sort of a cross between Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, and total incompetence.” Maybe it’s just because I don’t know shit about how the mandolin is actually played, but I definitely can’t tell the difference when listening to the track.

As for the lyrics, that’s where this song’s other unusual feature comes in. It is the only Led Zeppelin song to feature a guest vocalist, namely Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention. She and Plant perform a call and response vocal throughout the song, with Plant as a narrator and Denny as a town crier:

R.P.: The Dark Lord rides in force tonight
And time will tell us all!

S.D.: Oh, throw down your plow and hoe!
Rest not to lock your homes!

All of this combines to create a song that breeds an atmosphere of pure mythological majesty. The numerous references to The Lord of the Rings certainly help with this (the “Queen of Light” aka Galadriel, or “The drums will shake the castle wall; the Ringwraiths ride in black, RIDE ON!!!”), as does the passage that refers to King Arthur (“I’m waiting for the angels of Avalon, waiting for the eastern glow”). The song overall seems to refer to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields outside Minas Tirith, which served as the centerpiece of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Return of the King.

It overall shares the same melancholic yet hopeful atmosphere that I feel whenever I rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and one that I hope I can replicate if I ever get The Divine Conspiracy off the ground.

5. Ramble On

This article was originally just going to be about this song before I remembered just how obsessed with this band I was. It’s another song dealing in Tolkien references (their first, in fact, as it was released on their second album).

The instrumentals are notable for Jimmy Page’s violin-like guitar solos (produced through cutting the treble on the neck pickup of his Les Paul and putting the signal through a specially produced sustain-producing effects unit) and by the unusual percussion utilized during the verses, which John Bonham played on an unknown object (a guitar case? An upside-down garbage can? His drum stool?).

Several references to Tolkien’s writings show up again, as Plant sings about trying to find a girl. Although “girl” might be a symbolic term here, as there are several indications that the “girl” may actually be referring to the One Ring:

'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor,
I met a girl so fair,
But Gollum and the evil one
Crept up and slipped away with her!

Then again, the Tolkien references may be allegorical, and the singer is comparing his girl to the One Ring because he knows she’s not good for him, yet he just can’t bring himself to let her go. No matter what you think, though, one cannot deny that this song is a beautifully ethereal masterpiece. The editors of Rolling Stone magazine apparently agree, as they listed this song as the 440th best of all time.

4. Stairway to Heaven

This is the song that first got me into Led Zeppelin. I had remembered hearing a few of their songs on the local classic rock radio station and eventually decided to look up “Stairway to Heaven” on YouTube. I expected it to be a hard rock banger like the others I’d heard. What I found instead amounted to nothing less than a religious experience, and nothing was ever the same.

Much like with “Whole Lotta Love,” this song has been discussed and analyzed so much that it’s hard to know where to start. Of course, everyone knows that the instrumental track is gorgeous, with the vaguely Celtic folk-sounding intro, the angelic twelve-string guitar riffs, the sweeping guitar solo, and the triumphant hard rock conclusion. But what do the lyrics mean? Do they even mean anything at all, or was Plant just using words like another instrument, like Jon Anderson of Yes was often apt to do? I can’t pretend to know the definitive answer, as this song seems to be one of those “death of the author” type deals, but I can offer my own interpretation… or rather, talk about why I agree with Genius.com’s interpretation since it’s the one that makes the most sense to me.

What we know for sure is that it starts with a materialistic woman who has somehow attached spiritual meaning to her worldly possessions:

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold,
And she's buying a statirway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed,
With a word she can get what she came for.

In an interview with Total Guitar magazine in 1998, Plant himself summarized the lady in the first verse as “a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration.”

Sound familiar?

The verse continues with the lady seeing “a sign on the door,” which may be a reference to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which (among other things) condemned the Catholic Church’s practice of indulgences, which was a very literal case of buying a stairway to heaven. The “you know sometimes words have two meanings” portion could be a reference to the Doors of Durin in Moria from The Lord of the Rings, or it could just be a cheeky reference to the cryptic nature of the song itself. Then it takes a turn toward the natural with the couplet that seemingly criticizes the lady’s self-absorption in not noticing the natural beauty around her:

In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings;
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

From then on, the song takes a turn toward the more spiritual as the narrator wonders how he can earn himself a stairway to heaven the right way. He references going west, which may be a reference to the Undying Lands in The Lord of the Rings, the Native American belief that the human soul travels west after death, or the popular Old West colloquialism “Go west, young man!” The “rings of smoke through the trees” line could refer to psychedelic drugs or Gandalf and his fondness for tobacco.

Plant’s assertion on the Song Remains the Same recording of “Stairway” that “I think this is a song of hope” is demonstrated especially well in the next two verses, the fourth verse starting with a metaphor of spring bringing new life:

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now.
It's just a spring clean for the May Queen.

And ending with this truly inspiring message:

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run,
There's still time to change the road you're on.

Throughout this section, though, there is a new antagonist in the form of the “Piper,” who seems to be trying to lead our hero astray and has already got the lady in his grasp. He tries one last time to get the lady to listen to his words that money only has power because we believe it does:

Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know,
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

A shade of darkness casts itself over the lyrics as the hard rock section kicks in, with the narrator singing about how “our shadows [are] taller than our soul.” This could be a reference to Carl Jung’s conception of the shadow archetype, which is all the parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of and try to keep hidden, or it could be a commentary on legacy. The lady comes back, but this time as a figure shrouded in light, seemingly having finally realized the futility of her materialistic existence and realized that “the tune will come to you at last when all are one and one is all.”

In all, it would seem to me that the song is a story about a holy man (Jesus? A bodhisattva? An aboriginal shaman? Just some spiritually-minded everyman?) trying to save a woman he loves (platonically or otherwise) from being consumed by the horrors of the 20th-century capitalist system by showing spiritual truths from a simpler pre-Industrial pagan age.

Then again, maybe this comment on “Stairway to Heaven’s” Genius.com page sums it up better:

This all happened in 1970. It’s fair to assume they were pretty high. As in 1970 Led Freaking Zeppelin high. So, yeah… deep, meaningful Biblical allegory, or some hippies trying to rhyme, often unsuccessfully, bits of Tolkien-style mythology in between coughs and giggles? You decide.

Genius.com user SSL9000J
3. When the Levee Breaks

Moving from the closing song of side one of the untitled fourth album to the song that closes out the album as a whole, we come to probably Led Zeppelin’s darkest song, both musically and lyrically. The song features several parts where Jimmy Page slowed down the already heavy and droning guitar riffs and harmonica solos during recording. The result was probably the closest that Page’s guitar work came to the heaving proto-doom metal of contemporary hard rockers Black Sabbath.

Lyrically, the song retains the same subject matter as the 1929 country blues classic by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie that inspired it. In 1927, the Mississippi River burst its banks in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, inundating 27,000 square miles in up to 30 feet of water. Around 500 people drowned, and 630,000 were left homeless, including 200,000 African-American farmworkers, many choosing to join the Great Migration to northern industrial cities. It remains the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States.

The original song and the Led Zeppelin cover both use this tragedy to illustrate the dark place that black people in America were in at the time. The flood came toward the tail end of what has often been called “the nadir of American race relations,” which, depending on who you ask, started with the end of Reconstruction or with Northern Republicans fully abandoning the Jim Crow South in 1890 and lasted until either the 1920s or World War Two.

Of course, this period also saw the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the end of the American Indian Wars, with the Natives being imprisoned in reservations and their children getting their indigenous heritage beaten out of them in boarding schools. Indeed, listening to this song in 2021, it’s hard not to think about how things still haven’t changed in terms of how people of color are still discriminated against in this country, even though legal discrimination is a thing of the past.

The sludgy and echoing instrumentals (including John Bonham’s much-beloved drum intro) provide a perfect complement to Plant’s wailing vocal delivery as he grants us this peek into the darkness at the heart of American history. It’s not for nothing that AllMusic critic Steven Thomas Erlewine calls it “an apocalyptic slice of urban blues.”

2. Kashmir

This song, which closes out disc one of Physical Graffiti, has been described by all four band members as Led Zeppelin’s crowning achievement. Even though there’s no guitar solo, I find it hard to disagree. Everything about this song just comes together so well; the guitar riff and how the orchestra echoes it, John Bonham’s underplayed yet sill bombastic drumming, the subtle polyrhythms (the guitar is in triple meter while the vocals are in quadruple). Everything’s flawless!

The lyrics are in a class of their own. Much like “Stairway to Heaven,” the lyrics tell of a journey. Unlike the quasi-religious lyrics of “Stairway,” however, the story told by “Kashmir” seems to be more of a metaphor for the journey of life itself. As Plant explains:

It was an amazing piece of music to write to and an incredible challenge for me. Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is… not grandiose but powerful. It required some kind of epithet or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments. But everything is not what you see. It was quite a task because I couldn’t sing it. It was like the song was bigger than me. It’s true: I was petrified, it’s true. It was painful: I was virtually in tears.

Robert Plant, radio interview with Richard Kingsmill, 1995

As with many other Zeppelin tracks, possible references to mythology and Tolkien abound. Some have suggested that the “elders of a gentle race” might refer to Tolkien’s elves, although others suggest that it’s a reference to the Book of Revelation. The “father of the four winds” may refer to the Greek god Aeolus and his four children (Boreas (north), Zephyrus (west), Notus (south), and Eurus (east)). It could also refer to Vayu, the Hindu god of wind and breath, and his three avatars (Hanuman, Bhima, and Madhvacharya).

Of course, the verse that begins with “All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground” is a reference to the real life journey that first inspired the song: a trip Page and Plant made through a road in southern Morocco after the band’s 1973 tour that traveled for miles in a dead straight line, with sandstone ridges surrounding it all the while. It was apparently named after the Kashmir region of the Himalayas because Plant had wanted to visit the region for a long time and apparently still hasn’t.

I sincerely hope he does though, because if that country is half as beautiful as these pictures make it look…

But in all the annals of rock history, I think we can all agree that Plant’s fifteen-second howl at around the fourth minute is in the top ten greatest moments in rock and roll history, even in the 2007 performance at the O2 Arena. The old man’s still got it!

1. Achilles Last Stand
Artwork courtesy of Shinigami1289 on DeviantArt

This is another travelogue song with mythological elements which opens up the 1976 album Presence with a bang. Their far more metalized answer to “Kasmir” describes Robert Plant’s travels in Morocco, Spain, and Greece. The references to Greek mythology were inspired by Plant likening his heel, broken in a recent car crash, to Achilles, killed by an arrow to the heel during the sacking of Troy. The opening lyrics (“It was an April morning when they told us we should go”) even refer to how the Illiad describes the Greek fleet leaving for Troy on an April morning. Of course, it also describes the carefree nature of travel itself and the excitement of introducing new songs like “Achilles’ Last Stand” to their screaming fans once Plant is recovered (“Oh, the songs to sing, when we at last return again!”).

Of course, though, the most famous lyric to come out of the song is this immortal line: “The mighty arms of Atlas hold the heavens from the earth.” While mentioning Atlas here is appropriate considering the Greek mythology theme, it more likely refers to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Further references include “Albion remains, sleeping now to rise again,” which is outwardly a reference to English poet William Blake’s prophetic works. However, I wouldn’t blame anyone who took it as another reference to King Arthur.

The music manages to replicate “Kashmir’s” orchestral magnificence with Page’s copiously overdubbed guitar work. It’s another song that inches very close to bona fide heavy metal territory over its ten-and-a-half-minute runtime. It even includes the so-called “heavy metal gallop” that would become a staple of Iron Maiden’s discography. Indeed, John Bonham’s rapid-fire drumming reminds me of Lars Ulrich’s drumming in the thrash section of Metallica’s “One.” And of course, we can’t forget to mention Jimmy Page’s epic guitar solo, which he himself has described as the best he’s ever done.

With a driving groove that never gets boring even over ten minutes, soaring vocals complemented by an equally soaring guitar solo, and wonderfully evocative lyrics that speak to my own sense of wanderlust, I feel very confident in rating as my favorite Led Zeppelin song of all time.

Well, that was much bigger than I expected it to be. It was a lot of work, but probably the most fun I’ve had working on this blog in a while. Stay tuned for updates on what to expect in the next two months. I promise you that May will be a particularly eventful month for this website, as my birthday is that month, and I’m going to be doing a retrospective on a work of fiction that this blog very likely owes its very existence to. I’ll see you then, guys.

Introducing My DeviantArt Page

Those who watch my blog may know that I have been talking about joining DeviantArt for a while, partially out of a desire to promote The Divine Conspiracy on it. I have been active on the site for about four months now, and I figured it would be a good idea to promote it on the blog. So let’s not waste any time, shall we? Let me show you what I’ve posted on the page so far:

Pretty much all of them so far have been stories I composed for various writing classes in college. The first is a five-part ekphrastic tale based on a series of paintings by Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole titled The Course of Empire. Each painting shows the progression of a fictionalized human civilization from a tribal hunter-gatherer culture to a pagan agricultural society and then to a Greco-Roman style empire that is ransacked and then left for Mother Nature to swallow back up. Links to each of the five chapters are provided below:

The Course of Empires Chapter 1: The Savage State

Course of Empires Chapter 2: The Pastoral State

Course of Empires Chapter 3: Consummation

Course of Empires Chapter 4: Destruction

Course of Empires Chapter 5: Desolation

Those five chapters were originally composed for a creative fiction writing class based on an ekphrastic prompt. This next story, “Skookum,” is based on a magical realism prompt, although I don’t think what I came up with falls into the parameters of the genre. Basically, it revolves around a Bigfoot hunter whose obsession with finding the legendary beast nearly gets him killed but is eventually saved through miraculous means.


As I’m sure you can guess by the format in which the following stories were written, these next three were composed for a screenwriting class. The first deals with a Cristian knight serving in the Crusades who has an existential conversation with a Muslim prisoner of war.


The second takes place inside a writer’s head, where his inner critic (personifying his superego) and the Greek muse of epic poetry, Calliope (personifying his id), battle over his artistic freedom, while a beleaguered bureaucrat from the Ego Department tries to mediate between them.


Finally, I posted a piece of dystopian fiction, centering on a female police officer in a version of the United States that has fallen to a theocratic government, as she struggles to figure out what to do with the gay reeducation camp fugitive who she has allowed to shelter in her apartment.

Love Is Love

Stay tuned for the near future when I upload another story based on the Melonheads urban legend from Ohio, which should be coming very, very soon. After that, I’ve decided that I will publish a story that I have already written based in the Divine Conspiracy universe (in parts, because the original manuscript is over sixty pages long) and then post profiles on the characters in the story to help me figure out just what makes them tick. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that and, hopefully, I will see you next time for a very special episode of P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist. In the meantime, here’s the link for my DeviantArt page as a whole:


So I Just Watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker…

…and I think the fact that they brought back Palpatine for this one really says it all (Warning: I don’t give a shit about spoilers for this one. You have been warned).

…in a story full of sound and fury that signifies nothing.

Upon its release on December 20, 2019, this film was just as divisive as its predecessor, The Last Jedi. Fans who hated The Last Jedi applauded it as a return to form for the franchise. Fans who liked The Last Jedi panned it as a nakedly obvious case of corporate cowardice on the part of Disney. This review is being written by someone in the latter camp, unfortunately. Granted, I am more of a casual Star Wars fan who’s only watched the movies so far, but I still think I have a right to give my two cents here.

There were several aspects of The Last Jedi that had a lot of more traditionalist fans angry with director Rian Johnson, but probably the biggest was the reveal that Rey’s parent were nothing more than “filthy junk traders,” in Kylo’s words, who “sold [her] off for drinking money.” This made many fans upset, as they couldn’t fathom how Rey could have such mastery over Jedi magic without having been born from a previous Force-sensitive lineage. So how did J.J. Abrams decide to remedy that “problem” here? By making her Palpatine’s granddaughter.

Of course, Palpatine being alive in this movie in the first place is its own can of worms (assuming this is a clone of Palpatine, like some characters in the film suggest, how did they recover his DNA from the wreckage of the Death Star?). But by far the biggest insult in this reveal is how it slaps fans who liked Johnson’s message from the last movie in the face. The Last Jedi tried to teach the message that anyone can be destined for greatness, illustrated beautifully by the film’s final scene. To be fair, Abrams insisted that he thought making Rey Palpatine’s grandaughter would show a more powerful message by having her come from “the worst place possible.” But it still runs into the trap of the “divine right of kings” issue that has plagued previous Jedi protagonists in the franchise.

Another aspect that really pissed me off was how Rose Tico was sidelined after her actress, Kelly Marie Tran, was bullied off social media by racist and sexist alt-right trolls. Many people criticized Disney for this, as they felt the company was capitulating to the absolute worst aspects of the Star Wars fandom. One of the film’s screenwriters, Chris Terrio, tried to defend the choice by arguing that she was written to be a companion of Leia in this film, which became a problem when Carrie Fisher died in the middle of pre-production. But that doesn’t explain why scenes between her and Rey were also cut and why the character was also removed from official merchandise.

Speaking of wasted characters, many reviewers have argued that Finn’s character was utterly wasted in not just this film but the trilogy as a whole. This includes his actor, John Boyega, who felt that Disney had used him as a token minority and didn’t give his character a proper arc. It was implied in the novelization for this film that Finn was going to be revealed as Force-sensitive, but that reveal didn’t make it into the film for whatever reason. Indeed, the only character that felt like he had a genuine arc was Kylo Ren, but his abrupt swerve away from the Dark Side, which was completely against everything Johnson set up in The Last Jedi, made the arc feel hackneyed and without an adequate explanation for his motivations.

But ultimately, that brings us to the biggest reason this film failed: it tries so hard to be the anti-Last Jedi that it completely fails as a standalone film. Doing so completely undermines any artistic purpose that the sequel trilogy could have had and basically turns it into a trite retread of the original trilogy. Indeed, the scene where Palpatine gloats to Rey about how her friends in the rebel fleet are being destroyed in front of her during the climax was so similar to the climax of Return of the Jedi that it was physically painful for me to watch.

The film’s technical aspects were good; the special effects, the camera work, the art direction, etc. The performances were still great, especially from Adam Driver, who manages to sell Kylo Ren’s redemption as well as he can with the script he’s working with (he only says one word after his conversation with Han’s force ghost and acts mostly through body language and facial expressions). John Williams’ music is as exciting as ever, and the battle scenes are as good as they can be given the film’s breakneck pacing.

But still, as someone who really liked the direction that Rian Johnson was hinting at the end of The Last Jedi, I would much rather be watching that film instead. And I’m giving this one a 4/10.

10 Paranormal Triangles (Not Located Anywhere Near Bermuda)

It occurred to me recently that I have not written anything on this blog in the category of “The Supernatural” despite my previously stated interest in the topic. So in the spirit of remedying this oversight, I will now present to you an article on the subject of paranormal triangles.

Not that kind!

After the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon gained extraordinary popularity in the late 60s and early 70s, it became common to label many supposed paranormal hotspots with the label “(x location) Triangle.” Most of these tend to be located in the United States, Britain, or other developed countries. I’m not going to speculate on why that is, mostly because I want to write a blog post that doesn’t mention politics for once.

Even if you don’t believe any of these stories (I’m ambivalent about them myself), you still have to admit that they make damn fun reads. So get your flashlight faces ready and come along (if you dare) as I take you on a road trip through ten paranormal triangles.

1. The Bridgewater Triangle (Massachusetts)

Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman first popularized the Bridgewater Triangle in his book Mysterious America, published in the late 1970s. He identified the Triangle’s points as Abington, Rehoboth, and Freetown, including parts of fourteen other townships within its perimeter. Alongside the Bennington Triangle and the Dragon’s Triangle (described below), it is undoubtedly one of the most famous paranormal triangles, for despite not having much in the way of high-profile mysterious disappearances, it makes up for it with a whole host of other paranormal phenomena.

As might be expected with a North American paranormal hotspot, the Native Americans of the region, specifically the Wampanoag tribe, told stories about the area long before the white man came. The centerpiece of the future Triangle was the Hockomock Swamp, from a word that means “the place where spirits dwell” in the native Wopanaak language. The name “Hockomock” was also ascribed to a god of death and disease that supposedly resided in the swamp and served as a sort of Satanic counterpart to their creator deity, Kautantowit.

A much more down to Earth horror came to pass in the 1670s when King Phillips’ War pitted the Wampanoag against their Puritan colonizers. Hockomock Swamp was even the site of an aboriginal fortress used by Metacom himself, aka the titular King Phillip. Given how utterly the Wampanoag were massacred during the war, it’s not to see why some believe the land surrounding the swamp was cursed by the spirits who looked after the natives. Even the English settlers came to refer to the region as the “Devil’s Swamp.”

So exactly what kind of paranormal phenomena has been reported in the Bridgewater Triangle? Ask me what paranormal phenomena hasn’t been reported in the region! That would be the shorter answer! So, from here on, I will present the reported phenomena in a list format, starting with:

  1. Ghosts

There are many hauntings described in the picture I used above, but I will repeat them here for the sake of not causing eye strain.

Stonehill College, located in Easton just outside the swamp, is allegedly home to the spirit of a little girl, supposedly the daughter of the school president who drowned in a pool where the gym is located today.

Taunton State Hospital, located almost in the Triangle’s dead center, was allegedly a hotspot of Satanic cult activity in the 60s and 70s alongside nearby Freetown-Fall River State Forest (visitors still report being touched by unseen hands).

In Rehoboth’s single-room Hornbine School, visitors have reported hearing and seeing spectral teachers and students.

And finally, there are the roadside specters, like the ghostly truck on Copicut Road in Freetown or the red-headed hitchhiker on Route 44 who disappears whenever someone stops to pick him up. There are probably others I’ve missed, but I don’t have the space to list more here, so let’s move on to…

2. Assonet Ledge and Profile Rock

These landmarks are located in Freetown State Park, and both have creepy legends attached to them. Assonet Ledge, an 80′ deep rock quarry mined by the Fall River Granite Company in the 1800s, is reputed to produce a deep sense of dread and/or melancholy in visitors and is even a popular local suicide destination.

Profile Rock is eerie enough with its resemblance to a human face (Wampanoag legend states that it’s a dead ringer for Chief Massasoit of Plymouth Rock fame and that his son died at the spot). But what’s even eerier are the ghosts of native warriors said to dance around the rock, and the spirit of a man said to sit on the rock with arms outstretched. Also, the park is said to be a hotspot for another Bridgewater mystery…

3. UFOs and Black Helicopters

UFO sightings in the Triangle date back to 1760, when a flaming sphere was sighted over Bridgewater. The sightings really seemed to pick up steam in the 1970s, however. These include a sighting by multiple witnesses at a restaurant in Rehoboth in 1973, a sighting by two Boston radio reporters in 1979, two flying craft seen landing near Route 44 in Taunton in 1976, a triangle-shaped craft observed by a police officer in 1994, and a fast-moving craft that produced a sonic boom over Lake Nippenicket in 1999.

There was also apparently a wave of black helicopter sightings in Rehoboth in 2002 with spotlights mounted on them, although one witness described at least one of them as grey-camouflaged or striped.

4. The Hockomock Swamp Monster

This Bigfoot-like creature has been sporadically sighted around Hockomock Swamp, especially since the 1970s. While mostly harmless, there were a few incidents where it was blamed for livestock deaths. There was also an incident in May of 1970 when two police officers claimed that a bearlike creature lifted the back end of their car while they were still inside.

5. Thunderbirds

These mainstays of Native American mythology are surprisingly common in modern cryptozoological lore, most often being ascribed to surviving pterosaurs left over from the age of dinosaurs or (perhaps more plausibly) large Ice Age-era birds of prey like Teratornis. These creatures have been reported as having wingspans of 8-12 feet, and sightings in the region date back to a 1971 report from a site within the swamp called Bird Hill (yes, really) by Norton Police Sergeant Thomas Downy. Another notable sighting was a report where two giant birds were seen fighting in 1984.

6. Other Cryptid Sightings

Other assorted weird animal sightings include, but are probably not limited to:

  • A giant black snake as big around as a stovepipe that was seen by Civilian Conservation Corps engineers on the edge of the swamp near King Phillip’s Road in 1939.
  • A giant dog with glowing red eyes witnessed ripping the throats of ponies in Abington in 1976.
  • Misplaced wildlife like black panthers, giant turtles, and even alligators, despite being far out of the range of their southern swamps.
  • A strange creature reported on Elm Street in Bridgewater that seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to the so-called “Dover Demon,” another paranormal anomaly native to Massachusetts.
  • A black mist-like entity that has been reported along Route 138 in the swamp.

7. Pukwudgies

The last major phenomena I’ll cover here are the Wamapnoag’s resident fairy folk. The pukwudgies are described as three-foot-tall hairy humanoid beings who delight in causing trouble for local humans. They will blind victims who annoy them with sand, lead them into the wilderness with ghost lights known as Tei-Pei-Wankas, attack them with knives and spears, and even push them off cliffs. Some locals have blamed them for the suicidal feelings evoked on Assonet Ledge.

There have even been eyewitness reports of creatures resembling pukwudgies in the modern day. The most notable of these comes from Raynham resident Bill Russo, who claims to have seen a four-foot-tall hairy humanoid in 1995 while taking his dog out on a midnight walk on the edge of the swamp. The creepiest part about the encounter was that the creature actually spoke to him, repeatedly saying, “Eee wah chu. Keahr.” Russo later came to believe that the being was saying, “We want you. Come here,” in broken English.

Of course, there is plenty of more mundane weirdness to be found in the region. Some examples include the escaped emu that rampaged through Freetown State Forest in 2006 and the Dighton Rock. This forty-ton boulder, discovered on the shores of the Taunton River by the Reverend John Danforth in 1680, is covered in petroglyphs and other ancient designs. The thing is… no one knows who made them. Guesses have ranged from indigenous tribes and Vikings to Phoenicians and the Portuguese. Even Chinese explorers have been suspected. Of course, many of the fellows at the Dighton Rock Museum believe that multiple sources are responsible.


Aaron Mahnke, The World of Lore: Dreadful Places, New York: Del Ray, 2018




Bridgewater Triangle, Massachusetts on Legends of America

2. The Bennington Triangle (Vermont)
Grout Pond and Glastenbury Mountain

This vortex centers on Glastenbury Mountain in southwestern Vermont, which is surrounded by the towns of Bennington, Woodford, Shaftsbury, Somerset, and Glastenbury. The latter two are unincorporated ghost towns today, owing to major economic upheavals in the early 1900s.

Glastenbury was founded by New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth in 1761 and named after Glastonbury Tor in Somerset, England, which is reputed to be the resting place of King Arthur. Glastenbury became a logging town in the wake of the Civil War. But by the late 1880s, the forests were stripped, and local officials tried rebranding the area as a tourist destination. But after the trolley going up the mountain was washed away by a flood in the spring of 1898, all hope was lost, and the town was abandoned.

But that wasn’t the only type of darkness that descended on the town. In 1892, a sawmill worker named Henry McDowell beat John Crawley to death with a rock and was placed in a mental asylum after claiming that voices in his head drove him to commit the murder. McDowell is rumored to have escaped sometime later, and was blamed for the death of John Harbour, found dead from a gunshot wound under an old cedar tree by his brother Harry in 1897.

But around fifty years later, the Bennington Triangle would truly leave its mark on the world when a wave of disappearances swept the region between 1945 and 1950. Here is the list in chronological order:

  • Middie Rivers (November 12, 1945): Rivers, 74, was out hunting with a group of four hunters near the intersection between Route 9 and the Long Trail Road when the others in the group lost sight of him after he got slightly ahead of them. He had been leading them back to camp, and while the group wasn’t concerned at first, as Rivers was an experienced outdoorsman, they soon became concerned and organized a search party. The only remains ever discovered were a rifle cartridge found in a nearby stream.
  • Paula Jean Welden (December 1, 1946): Welden is almost certainly the most famous missing person associated with the region. The 18-year-old Bennington College student was last seen by an elderly couple who had shared Welden’s sudden urge to hike the Long Trail on that cold winter day. They saw her go around a corner in the trail, but by the time they reached the corner, she was nowhere to be seen, despite the bright red coat she was reportedly wearing. No trace of her was ever found. The incident is believed to have inspired the 1951 novel Hangsaman by noted horror author Shirley Jackson, who was living in Bennington at the time of the disappearance.
  • James Tedford (December 1, 1949): Tedford’s disappearance, assuming it was reported correctly, is undoubtedly one of the most perplexing. The 68-year-old veteran had boarded a bus after visiting relatives in St. Albans. Others on the bus claimed he was still in his seat as it was approaching Bennington. But by the time the bus had reached its last stop, Tedford was gone. No one had seen him disembark, and his belongings were still in the luggage rack. No trace of him was ever found.
  • Paul Jephson (October 12, 1950): Jephson, 8, accompanied his mother as she drove out in her pickup truck to feed their pigs. When she returned about an hour later, Paul had vanished. Search parties could find no trace of him, even though, as with Paula Welden, he had been wearing a red jacket when he disappeared. Some stories claim that bloodhounds tracked his scent to the same spot on the Long Trail where Welden vanished, only to lose it forever. Equally strange was that Paul’s father later claimed that his son had talked about an inexplicable yearning to go to the mountains before his disappearance.
  • Frieda Langer (October 28, 1950): Langer, 53, vanished only sixteen days after Jephson. Langer had gone out on a family camping trip and was hiking with her cousin Herbert Elsner when she slipped and fell into a creek. She headed back to camp to change into some drier clothes, but when Elsner returned, Langer was nowhere to be seen. Unlike the other four cases, Langer’s body was eventually discovered on May 12, 1951, on the shores of Somerset Reservoir, despite the area having been searched already. No cause of death could be determined due to the state of decomposition.

There have been several attempts to explain these vanishings. One theory is that a serial killer may have been responsible, with some even going as far as to argue that Henry McDowell was responsible, even though he would have been an elderly man at this point. There were also sightings of a man who lived in a cave near Somerset in 1867 who would expose himself to female passersby and threaten them with a gun.

Others have blamed the Bennington Monster, another Bigfoot-type creature seen around the area since the early 1800s when it allegedly tried to run a stagecoach off the side of Glastenbury Mountain in the middle of a thunderstorm. Another incident that preceded the disappearances occurred on November 11, 1943, when Carl Herrick disappeared while on a hunting trip with his cousin Henry. His body was discovered three days later, surrounded by large footprints and showing signs of having been crushed as if by a pair of giant arms.

Others point to stories told by the indigenous Abenaki tribe about how Glastenbury Mountain is cursed. Part of the reason is that the mountain was where the “four winds” met in an eternal struggle. Interestingly, this legend has been scientifically verified. The wind pattern on the mountain is so erratic that plants have no consistent growth patterns. This can mess with a hiker’s sense of direction and can easily cause them to become lost.

Less explainable was a particular rock on the mountain that the natives say caused anyone who stepped on it to vanish instantly, never to be seen again. There are also several cairns, or human-made rock piles, strewn across the mountainside, although the human-made part may be up for debate because the natives refuse to take credit for them.

Strange reports have continued to come out of the region since the disappearances ended. A hiker named Chad Abramovich told a story on the website Obscure Vermont of how he and some friends found themselves caught in a torrential thunderstorm while exploring ruins on an otherwise sunny July afternoon. However, when they managed to escape the downpour, they discovered that their surroundings were dry as a bone. When they reached civilization, the locals claimed that no thunderstorm had passed through the area.

Another hiker named Robert Singley, who works at Bennington College as a music professor, told a local newspaper how he became lost on the trail away from Bald Mountain in 2008. He walked five miles before he realized he should have reached his car already. Then a thick fog rolled in. He huddled beneath a maple tree and started a fire as the night came down. He was mildly unnerved when most of the sticks he picked up turned out to be animal bones. Luckily, he survived the night, although he discovered that he was on the other side of the ridge from his car the next morning.

Other strange happenings include a silo-shaped UFO seen over Bennington by Don Pratt in 1984 and an apparent incident involving “terrifying voices showing up over dead-air radio” in the region. The only link I could find on that story is dead, however, so I don’t know the details.


Aaron Mahnke, The World of Lore: Dreadful Places, New York: Del Ray, 2018


10 Creepy Mysteries of the Bennington Triangle by Renee Chandler on Listverse

Inside the Unsolved Disappearances of the Bennington Triangle by All That’s Interesting

Bennington Triangle, Vermont on Legends of America

The Vanished Town of Glastonbury and the Bennington Triangle by Chad Abramovich on Obscure Vermont

3. The Devil’s Sea (Japan)

Also known as the Dragon’s Triangle, the Formosa Triangle, the Pacific Bermuda Triangle, and the Taiwan Triangle, this is the Pacific Ocean’s answer to the Bermuda Triangle. In his 1974 book The Bermuda Triangle, Charles Berlitz popularized it and later elaborated on it in 1989’s The Dragon’s Triangle. Some have claimed that it is even more dangerous than its Atlantic counterpart. While its perimeter often changes depending on who tells the story (sometimes its points stretch as far as Taiwan, the Philippines, Guam, and Iwo Jima), it is almost universally agreed by paranormal enthusiasts that the phenomenon centers on the Izu archipelago, especially the islands of Miyake-Jima and Mikura-Jima.

Legends about the region date back to around 1000 BCE when the Chinese whispered about a dragon that supposedly lived in that region of the ocean and would destroy any ship that passed over its territory. Some have linked the destruction of the two invading Mongol fleets by the so-called “divine wind” or kamikaze typhoons in 1274 and 1281 to the Triangle, even though they were wrecked in the Strait of Korea on the other side of the Japanese archipelago.

Another strange incident occurred in the early 1800s when several sailors told of a strange ship that looked like a box for burning incense sailing the waters of the Devil’s Sea. This Utsuro-bone or “hollow ship,” allegedly washed ashore in the Hitachi province on February 22, 1803, where its pilot, a young red-haired woman, was discovered not to understand Japanese. She carried a box that she would not allow anyone to touch and later set sail again when local fishermen helped pull her ship out of the sand.

Although the Dragon’s Triangle has had its fair share of UFO encounters and sea monster sightings (including one by Navy pilot Toshiaki Lang who saw a 150-foot-long serpent-like creature with large triangular fins in 1944), its biggest claim to fame is a supposed cluster of disappearances in the early 1950s that claimed 700 lives, according to Berlitz. Nine of these ships, which Berlitz describes as belonging to the Japanese Navy, were apparently lost in perfect weather. The most famous disappearance was of a ship called the Kaiyo Maru No. 5, which vanished from radio contact after being sent into the Triangle to investigate the disappearances in 1955. Berlitz also claimed that ships belonging to both the Japanese and American navies vanished in the region during World War Two.

As with the Bermuda Triangle, though, skeptical author Larry Kusche debunked many of Berlitz’s claims about the region in his 1975 book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved. He pointed out that Berlitz’s military vessels were actually deep-sea fishing boats. The Kaiyo Maru No. 5 has long been understood to have been sunk by an underwater volcano on September 24, 1952, with the loss of all 31 souls on board. Also, Brian Dunning, host of the Skeptoid podcast, noted that despite claims of legends about the Devil’s Sea going back centuries in Japan, no mention of the Triangle shows up in books or news articles until twenty years after the Kaiyo Maru sinking. Even legends like the one the Chinese had about the hostile dragon can be explained by the region’s often volatile volcanic activity.

Also also, the Japanese name for the area, ma no umi, has been applied to many different areas, including the Bay of Bengal, the Korea Strait, the Taiwan Strait, Lake Baikal, and the seas around the U.K. and the Chinese island of Hainan. So yeah, to the Japanese, the Dragon’s Triangle really isn’t anything special.





25 Little Known Facts About the Dragon’s Triangle by Katie Tedesco on The Travel.com

Unraveling the Deadly Legend of the Pacific’s Bermuda Triangle on All That’s Interesting

The Devil’s Sea Zone: Secrets of the Dragon’s Triangle of Japan on mysteriesunsolved.com

4. The Lake Michigan Triangle

Some have claimed that this stretch of water in the only one of the Great Lakes located entirely within America’s borders is even more dangerous than the Bermuda Triangle. That’s certainly a bold claim to make for an area that’s not located over the open ocean. Before we look at the probability of supernatural goings-on, let us examine some of the supposedly anomalous incidents reported in this triangle:

  • Le Griffon (1679)
    • This vessel, launched in the Niagara River the same year it vanished, belonged to the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. The ship was last seen on September 18 when it left from an island in what is now Green Bay in Wisconsin, bound for the Niagara region with a load of furs. The ship, and its six crew members, were never seen again. The ship remains the “holy grail” of Great Lakes shipwrecks to this day.
  • The Mary McClane (1883)
    • One of the more bizarre reports from the Triangle’s history comes from the crew of this Chicag0-based tugboat, who claimed to have been bombarded by giant chunks of ice falling out of a clear blue sky while out on the lake. The deluge lasted for about a half-hour and left large dents in their wooden boat’s hull.
  • The Thomas Hume (May 21, 1892)
    • This three-masted schooner vanished after setting out from Chicago en route to Muskegon, Michigan, with a cargo of lumber. Her companion, the schooner Rouse-Simmons, decided to return to the shelter of the port as a storm rolled in. The Thomas decided to press onward and was never seen above water again. Her wreck was discovered in 150 feet of water in 2006.
  • The Rouse-Simmons (November 22, 1912)
    • The so-called “Christmas Tree Ship” itself would fall victim to the Triangle twenty years later as it was transporting Christmas trees from Thompson, Michigan to Chicago. Unlike the Thomas Hume, the Rouse-Simmons vanished in clear weather and was apparently sighted flying a distress flag. By the time a lifeboat from a neighboring ship reached its location, no trace of the schooner could be found. However, Wikipedia helpfully mentions that a storm had swept the area the day before, which may help demystify the incident a bit. In any case, the ship’s wreck has also been discovered, this time in 1971 near Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, in 172 feet of water. Her ghost is still reported sailing on Lake Michigan to this day.
  • Mini-Tunguska Event (November 26, 1919)
    • This one of several incidents in the Great Lakes region that has been blamed on UFOs. Several southern Michigan residents reported seeing two large balls of fire descend on Lake Michigan and, upon impact, make an explosion so powerful that it shook the Earth as far away as South Bend, Indiana. Contemporary news reports of the incident (perhaps more plausibly) attribute the incident to a meteorite.
  • The Rosabelle (1921)
    • This two-masted schooner was found capsized with all eleven crew members, all members of the Benton Harbor House of David, nowhere to be seen. The most baffling aspect of this case is that the ship showed evidence of having been in a collision, even though no other ships claimed to have collided with the schooner. Then again, some speculated at the time of the Thomas Hume’s disappearance that a larger ship had run it over, and its crew was sworn to secrecy by the captain, so maybe that’s the case here.
  • The O.M. McFarland (April 28, 1937)
    • This wasn’t a case of the ship disappearing, but rather its captain, George R. Donner. The fifty-eight-year-old had retired to his cabin, exhausted after having painstakingly guided his ship through icy and dangerous waters. A few hours later, as the ship neared its destination in Port Washington, Wisconsin, several crew members went to Donner’s cabin to wake him. When they received no answer, they broke down the door, only to find him gone. The so-called mystery behind this incident lies behind the supposed fact that Donner’s cabin was locked from the inside. However, Jeff Wagg, writing for the James Randi Educational Foundation, couldn’t find any primary sources that mention this detail, which might demystify the case a bit.
  • Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 (June 23, 1950)
    • This incident is probably the most famous disappearance to come out of the Triangle and was even the deadliest commercial airline disaster in the U.S. at the time. The DC-4 propliner was flying at 3500 feet 18 miles NNW of Benton Harbor, Michigan when its pilot requested a descent to 2500 feet after encountering turbulence. Soon after, it lost radio contact, and witnesses onshore reported hearing sputtering engines and seeing a flash of light. In contrast to some reports that say the only trace of the plane discovered was a blanket bearing the airline’s logo, the Coast Guard reported seeing an oil slick, debris, and human remains at the crash site. Certain reports that mysterious lights were seen over Lake Michigan on the night of the plane’s disappearance might be less easy to disprove. In any case, no trace of the main wreckage of the plane or its 55 passengers and 3 crew has been found since.
  • Steve Kubacki (February 21, 1978)
    • Kubacki’s case is certainly one of the strangest missing persons’ cases I’ve come across. This former Hope College student’s strange story begins in February of 1978 when he went out on a ski trip near Saugatuck, Michigan, and never returned. The only traces of him that could be found were his skiing equipment, his backpack, and a set of footprints that abruptly stopped on the shores of the lake. However, the plot thickened when Kubacki suddenly turned up alive and well in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on May 5, 1979, a full 700 miles away from his hometown. All that he could remember was that he lost consciousness at some point during the hike and woke up in Massachusetts wearing a completely different set of clothes and carrying a bag and maps that he did not recognize. Shortly after returning to Michigan, he expressed a desire to retrace his steps on that fateful hike, hoping to discover answers to the mystery. If he did figure anything out, he has kept it to himself and refuses to talk about the incident. He currently works as a psychologist in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Other Missing Persons’ Cases (21st Century)
    • Sadly, others who have disappeared in the region have not been as lucky. Christopher Hallaxs, thirty years old and an experienced outdoorsman, vanished on March 17, 2004, while heading out to his cabin in the Tahquamenon Falls State Park area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His snowshoe tracks ended in a tangled wooded swampland. He had stashed several food caches in the area in case he ever got lost, but none had any food missing when searchers checked them. The only other trace of him found was a spent shell casing.
    • Another man would go missing from the Tahquamenon River area four years later. 73-year-old Joe Clewley drove out to the region to hike with his dog Chip on July 13, 2008 and never returned. Despite an extensive search, neither man nor dog was anywhere to be seen. Chip inexplicably turned up at Clewley’s cabin on August 1st, malnourished but alive. Clewley, sadly, has yet to do the same.
    • No less than three days after Chip’s reappearance, 35-year-old Derrick Henegan was reported missing in nearby Newberry by his pregnant girlfriend when he failed to meet her at a local deer hunting spot. Local authorities suspect foul play was involved.
    • Amber Rose Smith was only two and a half when she disappeared from the front yard of her own home in Newaygo County in the summer of 2013. She was playing with the family dogs and had vanished in the time it took for her father to step inside and relieve himself. Much like Kubacki, Amber, thankfully, would reappear, this time on a road two miles from her house the very next day. How a two-year-old managed to navigate that distance is anyone’s guess.
  • Discovery of underwater “Stonehenge” (2007)
    • Some fringe theorists have suggested that this underwater rock formation, discovered under forty feet of water in Grand Traverse Bay by archaeologist Mike Holley in September of 2007, might be connected with the disappearances. It should be noted that the formation is not a megalith in the same sense as Salisbury Plain’s famous standing stones. It is merely a line of smaller rocks extending about a mile in length, one of which bears a carving resembling a mastodon. Researchers believe prehistoric Native American tribes used it to herd caribou. Its precise location has not been publicly disclosed, both out of a desire to preserve the site for future study and due to the wishes of the local Native American tribes.

In all, the Lake Michigan Triangle story seems to have as many holes in it as the modern-day reports from the Dragon’s Triangle. A lot of the mysterious incidents there, as with the ones from the Devil’s Sea, have been proven to have mundane causes. Unanswered questions remain, especially in the Kubacki case, but in any case, it seems that the paranormal club has overstated its case here somewhat.


The Legend of the Lake Michigan Triangle on milwaukkemag.com



People Who Vanished Into Thin Air at the Michigan Triangle on Mysterious Universe



The Truth About the “Stonehenge” in Lake Michigan on Dr. Mark Holley’s personal website

5. Marysburgh Vortex (Lake Ontario)
Map showing the Marysburgh Vortex. (Marysburgh Vortex column, 0117 col King)

This one strikes a little close to home for me, seeing how I live in the Saint Lawrence River Valley. This particular Triangle seems to have been particularly dangerous in the late 19th and early 20th century, with as many as 100 ships reported lost in the area. Granted, the vast number of shipwrecks can be rationally explained by the abundance of shoals, inlets, and strange currents. This is on the western edge of the Thousand Islands archipelago, after all.

Still, stories that seem to defy rational explanation have been reported in the area. On June 29, 1900, a caravan of three schooners, the Picton, the Anne Minnes, and the Acacia, were carrying a cargo of coal from Rochester, New York, to Bellville Kingston in Ontario. At one point during the voyage, the caravan ran into heavy seas, and the Picton suddenly sank. When the two other ships reached the sinking site, they found lots of wreckage but no bodies from the seven crew members. One crew member on the Anne Minnes claimed to have seen a boy in the water who did not attempt to grab a rope that the crew member threw at him. Weeks later, a child found a message in a bottle from the Picton’s captain that read:

John Sidley, Captain of the schooner Picton, in great peril. Expect to sink at any minute. Goodbye to all friends. Finder please report to my wife.

John Sidley, captain of the Picton, June 29, 1900

Some other sources have claimed that Sidley went on to say that he had tied himself and his eleven-year-old son Vesley together. What would drive him to such actions is anyone’s guess.

Another incident from May of 1889 involved the three-masted timber drogher Bavaria, which was found run aground on a shoal near Kingston. However, when salvagers boarded her, they could find no signs of the crew, who had left freshly baked bread loaves in the oven. The ship was found to be seaworthy and towed back to Kingston, but the mystery of her missing crew continues to this day.

As modern technology has largely staunched the tide of shipwrecks in the region, UFO sightings and magnetic anomalies have largely taken their place. Some have blamed the magnetic anomalies that mess with ship’s compasses on the Charity Shoal, a ring-shaped formation located 7.5 miles southwest of Wolf Island, halfway between Sacketts Harbor, New York, and Amherst Island, Ontario. While scientists have yet to determine if it is, in fact, a meteor crater, many other meteor craters have a history of producing magnetic anomalies, which certainly could provide a more rational explanation for the large number of shipwrecks there.



The Marysburgh Vortex, Our Very Own Local Bermuda Triangle on gailhamiltonwriter.com


The Graveyard of Lake Ontario on HistoriaMag.com


6. Coudersport Triangle (Pennsylvania)
The Black Forest Trail in Tiadaghton State Forest

Unlike the other Triangles on this list, this one only has one supernatural claim to fame: thunderbirds (also black panthers, but they aren’t as prominent in local lore).

The thunderbird sightings seem to be centered on the Black Forest region of northern Pennsylvania, which encompasses parts of Clinton, Potter, Lycoming, Tioga, Cameron, and McKean County. Also included in this area is Tiadaughton State Forest. Local folklorist Robert Lyman described their territory back in 1973 as “in the southern edge of the Black Forest, north of Susquehanna River, between Pine Creek at the east and Kettle Creek at the west. All reports for the past 20 years come from this area.”

Sightings of the giant birds date back to the nineteenth century, that is, if one doesn’t count the many times these birds show up in Native American folklore. Lyman himself claimed to have seen a large vulture sitting on a road outside Coudersport in the early 1940s that proceeded to unfold its twenty-foot wingspan and fly off into the nearby woods. Another sighting from 1969 comes from the wife of Clinton County sheriff John Bovle, who claimed to have seen a gray-colored bird with a seventy-five-foot wingspan splash down on Little Pine Creek while she was sitting in front of the family cabin. Three other men would come forward that summer claiming that they saw a giant bird carry off a 15-pound fawn near Kettle Creek. A group of motorists in Lycoming County reported seeing a dark-colored winged creature with a wingspan “almost like [that of] an airplane” flying toward the town of Jersey Shore on October 28, 1970.

Sightings across Pennsylvania have continued well into the 21st century. A wave of sightings occurred in the northwestern corner of the state in June and July of 2001, with witnesses describing a dark gray bird with a 15 to 17-foot wingspan. Other sightings include a black bird with a ten-foot wingspan reported near Bryn Athyn in the opposite corner of the state on May 26, 2013, and a black or grayish-brown bird with a 10-15 foot wingspan seen over South Greensburg on September 25, 2001.





7. Virginia Triangle (Virginia/North Carolina)

No, this isn’t about the Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg. This Triangle refers to a vortex that, at least according to Loren Coleman, exists over the Great Dismal Swamp that straddles the border between Virginia and North Carolina.

There is a lot of actual history behind this Triangle that is just as, if not more, interesting than the paranormal history. The swamp was “discovered” in 1655 by William Drummond, and the lake in the center of the swamp (one of only two natural lakes in Virginia) was named after him. Of course, Chesapeake and Chowan natives lived in the region long before the white man came, but of course, the white man didn’t care back then. Indeed, no less a figure than George Washington himself sought to drain the entire swamp and replace it with farmland. While the swamp’s massive size rendered that plan unworkable, timber was still a major industry in the swamp. By the time the swamp was designated as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1973, it had been reduced to half its size.

But by far, the most fascinating part of the swamp’s history is its “maroon communities.” These communities were largely formed by enslaved Africans who escaped and fled into the wilderness to avoid recapture. The maroon communities dated back to at least 1700 and lasted all the way until the Civil War. Harriet Beecher Stowe, famed abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, even based a novel on the Great Dismal Swamp maroons called Dred: A Tale of the Dismal Swamp, published in 1856 by Phillips, Samson and Co.

Of course, when a place has a history as rich as that, ghost stories tend to follow. Some of the paranormal phenomena reported in the swamp include ghost lights, hunters reporting their kills vanishing with nary a drop of blood in sight, and ghostly figures dressed in anything from colonial-era garb to early 20th-century lumberjack fashion. One story tells of a phantom cemetery that appears to anyone who’s lost their way in the swamp. Others tell of sightings of giant snakes and Bigfoot-type creatures in the swamp.

But the most famous paranormal tale to come from the swamp is the tale of a pair of star-crossed Native American lovers. After the bride died on the morning they were supposed to be wed, the groom, driven mad with grief, claimed he could see her paddling a white canoe on Lake Drummond. He constructed a makeshift raft to try to reach her, but the raft collapsed out from under him, and he drowned. To this day, the ghost of the Lady of the Lake and her lover continue to haunt the shores of Lake Drummond in their white canoe. The story has inspired several works of art, including A Ballad-The Lake of Dismal Swamp by Irish poet Thomas More, “The Lake” by Edgar Allen Poe, and The White Canoe, a hand puppet play by the notoriously macabre children’s writer and illustrator Edward Gorey, found among his papers after his death in 2000.

Another mystery from the Great Dismal Swamp concerns how exactly Lake Drummond came into existence. There are no rivers that flow into or out of it, as it is the swamp’s highest point. Some geologists believe a tectonic shift formed it. Others, pointing to Native American legends of a “firebird” that created the lake, have argued that it was formed either by a meteor or a part of the peat layer that underlies the entire swamp catching fire.





8. Big Lick Triangle (Indiana/Kentucky)

This Triangle comes to us from local folklorist Ben Schneider, who created a website cataloging the menagerie of paranormal phenomena that has occurred in an area he calls the Big Lick Triangle. The Triangle gets its name from its three supposed vertices: the town of French Lick in Orange County, Indiana; Big Bone Lick State Park in Boone County, Kentucky; and Pope Lick Creek in Jefferson County, Kentucky. It covers 2,269.9 square miles and includes parts of 10 counties in Indiana and seven counties in Kentucky. As one can see from the picture above, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on there. Allow me to recount some of the more interesting occurrences in chronological order:

Clark County, Indiana (1170): The Welsh Prince Madoc allegedly sets up a fort on what is now Charleston State Park after landing in Mobile Bay, Alabama, and sailing up the Mississippi. Unwelcoming natives eventually kill the prince and his entire company. Despite tales of blonde Welsh-speaking “white Indians” in the region, no hard evidence of the story has come to light. One surveyor claimed to have discovered a stone fortification on the shores of the Ohio River in 1873, but it was reportedly cannibalized to help build a bridge across the river in 1888.

Trimble County, Kentucky (colonial era): The natives warn white settlers to stay away from this region for fear of the “wild people.” Settlers later report hairy men throwing rocks and tree limbs, stealing livestock, breaking into outdoor freezers, and looking through their windows.

Floyd County, Indiana (1700s): Several Native Americans are killed in skirmishes with settlers. Their ghosts reportedly haunt the region to this day.

Floyd County, Indiana (early 1800s): A giant snake, 30-40 feet in length and wide as a barrel, is reportedly seen by pioneer farmers.

French Lick, Indiana (late 1800s): Two black horses and their colt are struck by lightning and killed. Their ghosts have been seen running for shelter ever since whenever a storm rolls in.

Vevay, Indiana (1891-1894): Several sightings of creatures called “mud mermaids” are reported along the Ohio River’s shores. They were said to be lizard-like but with “strikingly human” faces and showed no signs of intelligence.

Henryville, Indiana (early 1900s): A young woman dies in a car wreck on Blue Lick Road and is buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery. She now haunts the cemetery as “the Green Lady,” throwing herself on parked cars and leaving green ectoplasm behind.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Jefferson County, Kentucky (1910 onwards): The former tuberculosis hospital has become infamous as one of the most haunted places in the United States. As such, many popular ghost hunting shows have visited the location, including the teams from Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Most Haunted, and my personal favorite, Buzzfeed Unsolved.

Pope Lick Trestle, Jefferson County, Kentucky (the 1940s/50s): Stories of the satyr-like Pope Lick Goatman begin. Stories of the Goatman attacking passersby with a bloody ax or luring them to get run over by oncoming trains are only some of the stories that are told about him in local legend.

Boone County, Kentucky (the 1950s): A Bigfoot nicknamed “Satan” by locals terrorizes several people in the Big Bone Area.

Louisville, Kentucky (1953): A man claims a grey alien contacted him. The city has allegedly been a UFO hotspot ever since.

French Lick, Indiana (1960s): A Bigfoot-like creature with glowing red eyes is seen several times and dubbed “Fluorescent Freddy” by locals. Several large tracks are also frequently spotted in nearby Hoosier National Forest.

Warsaw, Kentucky (the 1960s): A family reportedly dies in a house fire. The site of the tragedy is now allegedly haunted by sirens, ghostly fire trucks, and tortured screams.

Rising Sun, Indiana (1969): A farmer’s power goes out as several UFOs flock over his house. He later sees a Bigfoot in his yard and finds four-toed footprints.

Hoosier National Forest, Indiana (1970s): A wave of thunderbird sightings occurs in the park.

Lockport, Kentucky (the 1970s): A Bigfoot reportedly harasses several farms, stealing chickens and canned foods and throwing rocks. A local farmer’s wife claims to have chased it off with a broom several times.

Milton, Kentucky (1975): A “lizard man” with zebra stripes, a forked tongue, and bulging eyes was seen roaming the woods around the local automobile junkyard.

Ohio County, Indiana (1980): A man reports a Bigfoot charged at him as he was getting out of his car on State Road 56. He apparently scares it off the next night by shooting at it.

Boone County, Kentucky (1980): A Bigfoot jumps into the Ohio River to escape a scared family who starts shooting at it.

Corydon, Indiana (1987): Wave of UFO sightings, reportedly saucer-shaped.

Clarksville, Indiana (2006): A giant fireball is seen making figure-eights in the sky.

Bon’s Chapel Graveyard, Paoli, Indiana: The headstone of a soldier killed in battle is seen glowing on some night, with the black-clad ghost of his lover standing over it.

Blue River, Indiana: Local legend tells of a woman decapitated by a fishing line strung across the river. Her ghost is still seen on the river banks, searching for her head to this day.

Charlestown, Indiana: The ghost of a hobo who died on Tunnel Mill Road is said to manifest on 10 Penny Bridge whenever a person turns their car engine and lights off. If one leaves a row of ten pennies on the road, they will either be gone or scattered when you turn the lights back on.

Scottsburg, Indiana: Several ghosts reportedly haunt the local Bridgewater/Owens Cemetery. One called “Old Red Eyes” reportedly circles parked cars and leaves handprints. A white horse chases gawkers at night, and the tombstone of a soldier who awakens to guard the cemetery gate every night glows in the dark.

Madison, Indiana: Reportedly has several haunted locations. Charlie, the ghost haunting the elevator at the Jefferson County Library, apparently has a habit of sexually harassing female passengers. The Ohio Theater is haunted by a heartbroken chorus girl who committed suicide there. The old State Hospital is reportedly haunted by the ghosts of mentally ill people who were imprisoned there.

Big Bone Lick State Park, Kentucky: The so-called “birthplace of American paleontology” is reportedly haunted by several ghosts, many of them Native American. An evil spirit who was murdered in the park reportedly delights in stealing children.

Fort Knox, Jefferson County: Several silent black helicopters have been reported flying into and out of the Bullion Depository’s airspace.

And I think I’ve made my point here. Suffice it to say, this Triangle offers a lot for the avid legend tripper. Just remember to make sure you’re not liable to be arrested for trespassing in the course of your explorations.




9. Nevada Triangle (Nevada/California)

This Triangle is said to cover the area between Las Vegas, Fresno, and Reno. That’s certainly a lot of territory, including such diverse areas as the Great Basin Desert, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, three national parks (Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon), even Area 51. Could that explain why over two thousand planes have either crashed or gone missing over the area in the last seventy years? Well, before we jump from zero to aliens, let’s look over the facts of some of the more famous Nevada Triangle incidents.

Leonard C. Lydon (1941): This Air Force Lieutenant is leading a fighter squadron on a training exercise over the Kings Canyon region when a malfunction leads him to bail out of his plane. The wreckage has never been found, despite Lydon saying that he witnessed where the plane went down.

The Lost B-24 (December 5, 1943): This aircraft was scheduled for a routine night training mission between Fresno, Bakersfield, and Tucson when it lost radio contact. The mystery almost deepened when another B-24, part of a squadron of nine sent to look for the plane, also vanished. Fortunately, two of that plane’s six crew members survived and revealed that it had been lost when the pilot mistook the Huntington Lake Reservoir’s frozen surface for a forest clearing. The wreckage was recovered in 1955 when the reservoir was drained to help make repairs to the dam. The other missing B-24 was finally found next to a then-unnamed lake in July of 1960 by geographical surveyors. The lake was named Hester Lake as a memorial to the plane’s co-pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Robert M. Hester.

David Steeves (May 9, 1957): This time, the plane was a T-33 training jet on a flight from San Francisco to Arizona. This was another case where the pilot lived to tell the tale, although it took him fifty-four days to reach civilization in Kings Canyon. He explained that something exploded in his aircraft, forcing him to bail out. He badly injured his ankles upon landing and was forced to drag his parachute behind him to keep warm at night. He spent 15 days in freezing temperatures until he found a National Park Service cabin 20 miles away from where he landed. He nursed himself back to health with the canned foods he found inside and hunted and fished until he felt ready to rediscover civilization. The only trace of his plane that has been found so far is the canopy, discovered by a group of Boy Scouts in 1977.

Charles Ogle (August 1964): This wealthy real estate tycoon vanished while on a flight from Oakland to Las Vegas. His disappearance is especially odd when you consider that he was a trained pilot from his days in the Marine Corps. No trace of the plane or its pilot has ever been found.

The Gambler’s Special (February 18, 1969): More formally known as Hawthorne Nevada Airlines Flight 708, this plane, which was carrying 32 prospective gamblers and three crew on a round trip between Long Beach, Burbank, and Hawthorne, Nevada, was lost with all hands. Five members of the search party died before the wreckage was discovered on Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. No cause for the crash has ever been determined.

Ross Mulhare (July 11, 1986): This Air Force Major lost his life when the F-117 he was piloting crashed into a mountain near Bakersfield. As with the above case, no cause for the crash has been determined.

Steve Fossett (September 3, 2007): Fossett’s story is probably the most famous to come out of the Triangle. The businessman and record-setting aviator vanished along with his single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon over Nevada’s Great Basin Desert. While several plane wrecks were discovered during the month-long search, none of them were Fossett’s. The plane was finally discovered in September of 2008 when a hiker stumbled across his plane, his identification tags, and two of his bones in the Sierra Nevadas, 65 miles south of his take-off site.

Naturally, given the aforementioned Area 51 connection, some are quick to blame UFOs and/or secret government experiments for the high number of plane crashes in the area. However, the more scientifically-minded are quick to point out the Sierra Nevada’s unique and unpredictable geography and weather patterns, particularly the so-called “mountain wave.” This is the local name for the sudden downdrafts and microbursts that occur when the Pacific Jet Stream collides with the Sierras at a perpendicular angle. These downdrafts can even reach speeds of 400 miles per hour, which is certainly bad news for any plane that finds itself at its mercy.


Nevada Triangle- A Trap on the Mountains on Legends of America



10. Alaska Triangle (Alaska)

This Triangle may be the single largest I’ve covered on this list (the Dragon’s Triangle might be larger, but the paranormal authors can’t seem to make up their mind on exactly how big that Triangle is). It covers much of the Frontier State’s eastern half, spanning between Barrow, Anchorage, and Juneau. According to official sources, the rate of people who go missing in Alaska is about four in every 1,000 people, about twice the national average. In 2007 alone, 2,833 people were reported missing. Keep in mind, this is a state with a total population smaller than the entire city of San Francisco (710,249 vs. 881,549).

Perhaps the most famous disappearance to occur in the Triangle was none other than U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-Louisiana). Boggs was in Alaska campaigning on behalf of fellow Democratic Representative Nick Begich. The two were on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau alongside Begich’s aide, Russell Brown, and pilot Don Jonz on October 16, 1972, when the plane seemingly vanished into thin air. The search involved 400 aircraft and numerous boats and covered 32,000 square miles. But it was all for naught, and no trace of the plane or its occupants has ever been found.

Naturally, supernatural portals and UFOs have been blamed. One Japanese pilot on a trip from Iceland to Anchorage even claims to have had a close encounter with a group of three UFOs over Alaskan airspace in 1986. He described one of them as being twice the size of an aircraft carrier and that the two smaller ones zipped in front of his plane at very close range. Air traffic controllers on the ground even caught the strange airships on their radar. The pilot reported seeing the crafts speed up and slow down suddenly and even disappear and reappear as he took evasive maneuvers to try to shake them off. They tailed him for 32 minutes over 400 miles before they finally lost interest and vanished for the last time.

Some fringe theorists have even pointed to the Kushtaka as a culprit for the high vanishing rate. This demonic entity from indigenous Tlingit folklore is a shapeshifting half-man half-otter type creature that lures people into the wilderness by imitating women or children calling for help. It then captures the lost person’s soul and steals it away to its own realm. Sometimes the Kushtaka will violently rip a hapless victim to pieces. Other times the creature will turn victims into a Kushtaka themselves. This is sometimes done because the Kushtaka is trying to save the person from drowning or freezing to death. This gives them the power to shapeshift and perform Jedi mind tricks on humans.

Of course, there are many non-supernatural ways for a person to be lost and never found in eastern Alaska. The Triangle area includes the Barrow Mountain Range, dense forests, hidden caves, massive glaciers with deep crevasses, and lots of untamed wildlife. Heavy snowfall and avalanches can bury a dead body very quickly in the wintertime, and it can be very easy to stumble into one of the three million lakes within Alsaka’s borders and drown. With all those dangers lurking about, it’s probably no wonder so many people have gone missing in the state.

Although in Hale Bogg’s case, some people have brought up that he made a speech viscously attacking J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. in April of 1971. And Hoover certainly was no stranger to playing dirty with his opponents. But that’s all just speculation.


The Alaska Triangle- Disappearing Into Thin Air on Legends of America




And there you have it: ten supernatural triangles and all the strange unsolved mysteries that have happened in them. Maybe we’ve debunked a few of them along the way, but it was certainly a fun ride. Indeed, there’s a lot more I have to say on the subject of supernatural triangles in the future. For example, I still have at least ten more triangles I could talk about in a future article. I could also examine Ivan T. Sanderson’s so-called “Vile Vortices” (of which the Bermuda Triangle and the Devil’s Sea are a part) to see whether they really are all that vile. I could even cover some of the more famous disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle itself and see whether or not they were really as mysterious as the paranormal crowd makes them out to be.

But that’s all for another time. Join me on the next article where I do a “P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist” episode on my personal favorite rock band of all time. Until next time, beautiful watchers!

Quarantine Update

Well, dear readers, it finally happened.

Pictured: it

Yes, the ‘rona has struck my household, and now my family and I are quarantined for the next ten days.

It happened when my younger brother caught COVID sometime earlier this week. Usually he’s away at college, but he came home this Thursday, only to discover after he returned to his apartment that he had tested positive. True, he had been feeling fatigued that week, but he thought it was just because he was tired from all the work he’d been doing lately. If only it had been that simple.

So yeah, no work at the hardware store for me for the next ten days. But on the bright side, that means I can focus more on writing, especially on DeviantArt. There’s the revamping of the Melonheads short story that I’ve been procrastinating on. I’d love to at least get started on that sometime during quarantine. I also might post my screenplay about the police officer in the anti-gay fundamentalist dystopia there sometime next week.

There’s also an important announcement regarding The Divine Conspiracy that I wish to inform you about. From now on, every update regarding this and all of my other fiction products will be made on DeviantArt. I figured it would be a good idea to separate my fiction and nonfiction writing between DeviantArt and WordPress, respectively (though your mileage may vary on whether the blog posts I write under the “Supernatural” and “Religion” categories counts as the latter or not. Hell, I’m not even sure myself half the time!).

As for what you can expect in The Divine Conspiracy’s near future, my first plan is to copy my WordPress post talking about the basic ideas behind the series on my DeviantArt blog so that my DeviantArt watchers can have a better idea of what they are supporting. My other plan is to post something of a “pilot episode” for the series on DeviantArt to give my watchers an idea of the character’s personalities, what kind of environment they live in, and what kind of enemies they face. Once I finish that, I plan to post profiles on the story’s central characters to further flesh out their personalities (honestly, as much for my benefit as for my audience because I’m still not sure I fully know what I’m doing with some of them yet).

Be advised, though; the “pilot” might be a long time coming. Part of the reason is that I’m adapting it from a manuscript I wrote for a class I took in my very last semester of college. That semester ended way back in December of 2018, and a lot of the ideas I put down in that manuscript have changed and evolved since then. Plus, the document itself is 62 pages long, so it will definitely have to be uploaded in multiple parts.

So yeah, probably don’t expect that one for a while. But when it finally gets on DeviantArt, I think it will open a floodgate of creativity, and the story I want to tell might finally start going places. Maybe I’m being too optimistic in my predictions, but no one ever accomplished their dreams by being a Debbie Downer about their future prospects.

But that’s all I have to say about that right now. Hopefully I can make the best out of this COVID quarantine, and hopefully our new president can get this virus under control a lot better than the last one so we can finally be rid of this virus once and for all.

Then maybe when his term is done we can finally have a president who is sympathetic to anti-capitalists like myself.

So I Just Watched Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous…

…and it’s definitely a lot better than you’d expect an animated kid’s show based on a franchise about dinosaurs eating people would be.

Man, this camp counselor really bites!

This iteration of the much-beloved Jurassic Park franchise follows six teenagers who win a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the new adventure camp on Isla Nublar. They include Darius Bowman, the resident dinosaur expert of the group; Brooklynn, a travel vlogger; Kenji Kon, the oldest of the group and something of an upper-class twit; Sammy Gutierrez, an extroverted farmer’s daughter whose family farm supplies meat to the park; Yasmina Fadoula, an introverted athlete; and Ben Pincus, a hypochondriac worrywart.

Unfortunately, the events of Jurassic World happen off-camera, and the teens find themselves having to survive in the tropical ruins of the park as the Indominus rex’s rampage unleashes all the dinosaurs from their paddocks.

Like many fellow Jurassic Park fans, I had reservations about the series when I first heard about it. However, even before the Indomius breaks out in episode 4, the kids (usually Darius and Kenji) end up getting themselves in danger several times through their own childish stupidity. While plenty suspenseful, these scenes did wear on me a bit as they seemed to establish the characters lacking any common sense.

But as the Indominus attack brings the plot into conjunction with Jurassic World’s plot, the kids are forced to use their wits to survive as the few adults left on their part of the island are eaten alive right in front of them. Yes, that happens on this “kid’s show.” One incident in episode 5 even has them getting abandoned by a paranoid and psychotic scientist named Eddie, who immediately gets eaten by the Indominus shortly afterward.

The show definitely knows how to raise stakes in a very effective manner. In episode 6, they are relieved to have survived going over a waterfall… until they realize that they are in the Mosasaurus lagoon. In episode 7, the group braves a pterosaur attack and narrowly avoids having their monorail run off the tracks… only for Ben to fall out of the train when a Pteranodon smashes into it. And then finally, Season One ends as the monorail brings them to the docks, and the group finally scares off the Carnotaurus that has been chasing them throughout the season… only to find that the ferry left without them. Later on, in Season Two, they meet a trio of adults who call themselves eco-tourists and say they have a way off the island… only to discover that they have much darker intentions for the dinosaurs.

Suffice it to say, this series is right up there with the best of the films when it comes to dino terror. But the other aspects of the series are good as well. The dinosaurs look absolutely gorgeous. The designs of the human characters got some flack for clashing too much with the dinosaur designs. I don’t feel like they did all that much. The only problem I had on that front was Sammy’s design, which makes her look Asian even though she’s supposed to be Hispanic.

Speaking of the human characters, this might be my favorite human cast in the franchise since the original film (and this is coming from someone who actually likes the Jurassic World films so far). They quickly managed to grow out of their reckless first impression from the first three episodes and grow increasingly resourceful and clever, especially Ben, whose character arc I refuse to spoil here. The voice cast is excellent, featuring such names as Jenny Ortega as Brooklynn, Jameela Jamil and Glen Powell as the kids’ beleaguered counselors, and even Bradley Whitford as the duplicitous “eco-tourist” Mitch in Season Two.

The story also deserves credit for not descending into fanservice when it dovetails into the Jurassic World plot beats. It could have easily turned into something of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-type affair where the film’s plot plays out while the series characters sporadically interact with it. Fortunately though, the story here is able to stand on its own.

And finally, the musical score is just as good as the films, even if such big names as John Williams and Michael Giacchino aren’t there to helm it this time.

Basically, this series is probably one of the best things to come out of the franchise in a long time. Definitely check this one out on Netflix if you have the time. Even if you hate the Jurassic World films, I have a feeling this series might win you over. And I’m giving this one a 9/10.