These are my notes from the first panel at MidMoot 3, held on September 24, 2016. An archaeologist, a toxicologist, and an engineer walk into a literary conference…
Marie Prosser: Narrative Voice in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Lots of people have wondered: Who is the narrator of JS&MN? Marie undertook a thorough examination of all the possibilities: age, education, social class, hometown, the side they take in the Strange/Norrell debate. The part that struck me the most was the attention the narrator pays to servants. The writer is obviously upper class. What kind of upper-class Englishman pays attention to the servants? The book is completely devoid of socialists, so I have no clue.
It surprised me that there’s some debate about whether the narrator is male or female. Susanna Clarke is good at writing in distinctly male and female voices, and the narrator struck me as female from the first few pages. Ultimately Marie agrees with me and Belle Waring that she’s female, so I guess this is just making sure she’s not unduly influenced by any preconceptions.
April raised an intriguing point: if the narrator is a magician, she’ll have access to sources that regular scholars don’t. Remote viewing, necromancy, who knows?
April Neal Kluever: Externalization of Evil in Dracula
Bram Stoker’s Victorian audience believed you could recognize someone who’s evil by external cues. The book is full of such cues, if you dig back into ancient pseudoscience to find them.
April talked a lot about physiognomy. She cites a reference work from 1898, subtitled “true guide to a perfect marriage”, to general hilarity. The long description of Dracula at the beginning is all facial indicators of cunning, deceit, intelligence. Jonathan Harker doesn’t seem to know much about physiognomy, though he mentions it in his diary. Hands matter, too. There were actually “laws of scientific handreading”. (Her source looks like one of the odder corners of the Web.) Benham’s description of short fingers is funny, in the context of some running jokes in the current election campaign.
In the movies, Dracula has softened. April tracked the image from Max Schreck’s cartoonish monster to Lugosi’s aristocratic manners, to Lee’s benevolent (at first) appearance, to the “almost perfectly honest faces” of modern-day actors. Now that the audience all knows what vampires are, movie directors create horror through using outward signs of good-guys to mask the inner monstrosity.
Implication – we’re still slightly physiognomists at heart.
Meaghan Searle: Gravity Falls: Growing up and Being Grown-up
I’ve never seen Alex Hirsch’s Gravity Falls. It’s a Disney animated TV series. The villain is a demon named “Bill”. Meaghan unraveled its fascinating interweaving of mythical elements (which are frequently sad) and fairy-tale elements (which have eucatastrophes). Her best line: “A happy story for children finds itself in the nastier chapters of the Book of Revelations”
It’s about the last summer of childhood, so you know the children will end up in a bittersweet situation. An amusing twist is that the old men get the happy ending. The director sounds like he finds a lot of creative ways to mix humor into genuinely terrifying situations. I’m glad to hear Disney isn’t grinding the sharp edges off of fairy-stories anymore, like they did when I was young.