Iron Maiden: Run to the Hills: The Official Biography by Mick Wall

I have been a fan of Iron Maiden, especially the old stuff, for years, but never really knew anything about them. I’m not sure how this book came to my shelf, but it is a pretty hefty read at 348 pages. The book is not a critique; more like a love letter. We do get the true creation story from everyone’s point of view. First person conversations run throughout the book. Any time the music is mentioned it is always with glowing terms. In the foreword, Steve Harris, founding member of Iron Maiden, writes “This book was written by Mick Wall, someone respected enough by the band for us to want him to take on the task. A fan and friend of Maiden for many years, Mick decided to approach not just the current members but also past members of the band, plus management, agents, and past and present members of the crew for the material for this book. It makes interesting reading, even for me, because everybody has a different view of how things have happened over the years!” Here are some interesting bits and quotes.
“…Iron Maiden begins and ends with the dreams and ambitions of one man: Steve Harris [bassist, lead writer and head honcho]. He it was who can up with the name, came up with the songs, the idea, and the attitude…’Arry, as the band affectionately know him…” (16).
Harris is a huge soccer fan, especially of Ham United. Study some of their album covers closely and you may find soccer references.
“Steve came up with the name of the new band, Iron Maiden–a medieval torture device that could be described as a coffin lined with long, sharp spikes–simply, he says, because ‘it just sounded right for the music. I was sitting around at my mum’s place, talking about names for the band and that was the name that was bandied about, and I said, Yeah, that’s great. I like that. I don’t remember if I thought of it or my mum did, or someone else in my family, I can’t remember. But I do remember saying it to my mum and she went, Oh, that’s good. I think I had a short-list of four or five names and she said, Oh yeah, that’s the best one’” (29).
[Can you imagine being in high school, starting a heavy metal band, and your mom going “Iron Maiden…now, that’s a name!”]
Harris had been in cover bands, but he wanted his own band in order to perform the originals he’d been writing. “Even then, the Harris penchant for an unexpected time-change which would become the hallmark of all Iron Maiden’s most respected work, was already much in evidence” (32-3).
“But with the arrival of Wilcock came the news of a guitarist mate, of Den’s that, he said, would blow them away. His name was Dave Murray. I said, ‘Well, if he’s that good get him down here!’ recalls Steve. ‘So he did. And that’s when everything really changed…’” (34).
Maiden was seen as part of the “new British rock scene.” Sounds journalist Geoff Barton “had a name for it; he called it the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). The phrase New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was this slightly tongue-in-cheek thing that first cropped up in a sub-heading and we just expanded it a bit to give the feature some sort of slant” (94).
[I’ve included a large section on the creation of Iron Maiden’s mascot, Eddie, because I’ve always been fascinated with the image. I used to draw him in doodles during high school. I’ve named various objects “Edward” in homage to him across the course of my life, and he was even the inspiration for a teenage poem entitled “Spoon.” I’ll share it later if I can find it.]
“The other most striking feature of Maiden’s first single was the introduction into the scheme of things of one of the most important characters in the entire Maiden story–Eddie, the cartoon creation of self-styled English eccentric and former art-school drop-out, Derek Riggs” (142).
“…the one thing that never changes is the thrill that runs through an Iron Maiden audience the moment Eddie bursts forth onto the stage at the climax of every show. If you’ve never seen Iron Maiden live, you won’t know what is so palpably obvious to those of us who have been there to see it for ourselves: that Eddie is the immortal soul of Iron Maiden; the defining symbol of the eternally youthful, blissfully uncompromising spirit of the band’s music. No matter what your age (and after nearly three decades there are plenty of Maiden fans whose memories are now longer than our hair), Eddie stands for the part of us that will never stop loving loud, live, over the top rock music; that will never shrink or hide from adversity; and never give up hope that there are still better times to be had…somwhere. Which is why Eddie no longer belongs either to Derek Riggs, Rod Smallwood or Steve Hrris. He belongs to us all” (143).
Rod Smallwood explains that the band did not have a defining feature; “they didn’t have that one figure who utterly stamped his presence and image on the band in a way that was obvious enough to make a good album cover. There wasn’t anything extra to give the image that continuity. So I went looking for someone, something…an image, that would look good on the record sleeve and say something more about this band than just another photograph of them on stage.’
“Rod was in John Darnley’s office at EMI one afternoon when–of all things–a poster on the wall for trad-jazz star Max Middleton caught his eye. ‘It’s not like I’m a big Max Middleton fan or anything,’ he says, ‘but the artwork on this poster was just so striking, you couldn’t miss it. Your eyes just went to it as soon as you walked in the room. So I immediately asked John, ‘Who did that for you?’ And it was this guy I’d never heard of called Derek Riggs. I asked to meet him so he could show me some more of his work, and in the middle of a load of drawings for what he thought would be good sic-fi book covers, there was the first album sleeve! It was this sort of cartoon of this mad-looking sort of punk monster, but as soon as I saw it, I knew. That was it! The only change we asked Derek to make was to make the hair a bit longer, so it was less obviously like a punk. Derek had been round all the record companies trying to sell it for a punk band–album or single, she didn’t mind. But I saw that and thought, ‘No, that’s for us, that’s exactly what we need.’ I remember taking his portfolio around to show the band. I just threw it on the table and said, ‘See if you can pick out your album sleeve,’ and it was the first one they picked out! It was just obvious to everybody from the word go–there was Eddie! It was like he’d been done just for the band.’
“‘People always ask if Eddie was inspired by Maiden’t music but I’d never even heard of Iron Maiden when I drew the first Eddie,’ Derek admits. ‘I’ve never really been into heavy metal. In fact, when I’m drawing, instead of listening to whatever Maiden are up to, I’m much more likely to spend most of my time listening to Beethoven, Stravinsky or even The Spice Girls. In those days, though, I was quite fond of punk and originally that’s what Eddie was supposed to be–this sort of brain-damaged punk. I was very influenced by the punk idea of wasted youth, this whole generation that had just been thrown in the bin–no future and all that. Which is funny, because I then included it with some other stuff I’d been sending around to various sort of science-fiction book publishers, to see if they could use any of it on one of their book covers or whatever. I didn’t really know what else to do with it. I’ve never even really been into art, not in the conventional sense. Not since they threw me out of art college, in Coventry, when I was nineteen.’
“‘But no-one was interested–I was pretty crap at book covers, actually. I discovered I could paint city streets really well, but that wasn’t much help when it came to ski-fi. Then, out of nowhere, Rod and Maiden picked up on this particular image, only they wanted me to make it a bit less like a punk and more like them. So I redrew him with pretty much the same face, the same body and clothes and everything, just with longer hair. It was still spiky but now it was long and would shoot out in all directions.’
“‘I liked the idea because it gave you great visual continuity.’ says Rod, ‘and it made the Maiden sleeves just stick out a bit more than the average sort of ‘could-be-anything’ sort of sleeves most rock bands used then. And it became a very important part of Maiden’t image, in that way. We’ve never done a lot of television, we’ve never really been on the radio, but because Eddie struck such a chord with the Maiden fans, we didn’t need to be. Wearing an Eddie T-shirt became like a statement: fuck radio, fuck TV, we’re not into that crap, we’re into Iron Maiden. And, of course, we’ve had a lot of fun wit Eddie over the years, trying to find new and ever-more outrageous things for him to be and do. Sometimes the ideas come from Derek, although usually they either come from me or one of the band. But it can be anybody or anything that inspires us. Like with Number Of The Beast, where we had Eddie in hell with the Devil as his puppet, only the Devil’s got a puppet Eddie, too, and it was like, well, who’s the really evil one here? Who’s manipulating who? The concept was very simple, but the way Derek executed it was fantastic. Originally, he came up with it for the sleeve of the ‘Purgatory’ single, but we said, ‘No, that’s much too good,’ so we kept it for the album. We had the artwork months before we had the music.’
“The idea of turning the original Eddie the ‘Ead that had adorned the backdrop of every Maiden gig for the last three years into the more recognizable face of Riggs’ Eddie was a fairly obvious one. Smoke would still billow from its mouth during the usual ‘Iron Maiden’ finale, only now the ghastly, staring mask had acquired not just long spiky hair but a long spiky personality to match. But the real masterstroke was when they eventually hit on the idea of having a three-dimensional Eddie that didn’t just stare from the back of the stage, but actually ran about it terrorizing both the band and the astonished audience. Rod credits former EMI managing director in the Eighties, Rupert Perry, for the original suggestion that Eddie might become more than just a useful merchandising icon;that he might somehow become an active part of the show.
“‘Rupert was at a show with us one night,’ says Rod, ‘and he just said, ‘Smallwood, why don’t you get this guy on stage?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s right, that would be great.’ At first, it was just me with an Eddie mask on. I’d just go bounding around the stage like a lunatic during the intro to get the audience worked up, and the place would go mad. So we started doing it every night. Once, in Detroit, a guy from the record company came up when I had the mask on and asked me if I’d seen Rod. I just growled! Then various tour managers did it. One tour manager we had, Tony Wiggins, absolutely refused to do it so he would always wear cord trousers to the show, because he knew we’d never let Eddie go on stage in cords! It had to be a leather jacket and jeans. So Tony never did Eddie.’”
“‘I can’t actually take all the credit,’ insists Rupert Perry. “It’s true that it was me who first said to Rod, ‘You know, what if the Eddie character could move?’ But I was thinking more along the lines of something that would happen at the start of the show, perhaps before the band even came on. But Rod, in his genius, took that and turned it into something much more exciting. And now, of course, Eddie is a very big and important part of every Iron Maiden show. It would be hard to imagine them without him. He’s become like the sixth member.’
“Originally, Eddie’s brief but blustery appearances took the form of a leather-jacketed man (as he admits, usually Rod, or one of their tour managers) in a specially-designed head-mask. But as the band’s international career took off around the world and the arenas they filled grew larger and larger, so, too, did Eddie. Bigger and more berserk with each new album that rolled around, by Powerslave, in 1984, he was over fourteen feet tall and able to launch thunderbolts with the wave of one giant, bandaged hand. Clearly, this was no mere man-in-a-fright-mask.
“Dave Lights remembers how the idea arose. ‘I had taken my family to see Jack And The Beanstalk in pantomime the previous Christmas,’ he says, ‘and I remember how impressed all the kids had been every time the giant walked on stage. It was basically a bloke on stilts but dressed up to look about ten feet tall. It was just such a simple, marvelous effect that I mentioned it to the band and said, ‘You know, maybe we could have Eddie as some sort of giant when he comes on stage.’ I think the first time we did it, on the Number Of The Beast world tour, the Eddie we had was about eight feet tall, but he ended up about fourteen feet in the end, I think. He just kept growing, getting bigger and more ridiculous with each tour we did. And it’s kind of become the best part of the show. It’s always right at the end, during ‘Iron Maiden’, and it’s just turned into this big, mad celebration. Just when you think you’ve seen all the effects there are, had all the best lights and heard all the best numbers, suddenly here comes Eddie and it just sends everybody right over the top.’”
“Dickie Bell, the band’s current tour manager, who has worked with Maiden since 1981, reckons, ‘The kids fucking love Eddie more than they love the band. And you can see why: it’s ‘cause he’s one of them. In their minds, he’s like the Maiden fan from hell! And when he gets up on stage, it’s like one of their own getting up there and doing it for them. It’s like Eddie is the ultimate headbanger” (144-147)! [End Eddie section.]
“With new Steve Harris-penned mini-epics like ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ (the dying note of a condemned man) and the track from which the album takes its title, ‘the Number Of The Beast’ (inspired by the film Omen II) Maiden had entered new creative territory.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

There are two reasons I did not want to read A Clockwork Orange. The first had to do with the movie. I’ve seen it more than once and what always stands out, besides the bizarre grossness of Alex having his eyelids held open, was the ultra violence. The scene that sticks in my brain the most is when the droogs break into a house and terrorize a couple, beating them both and raping the woman. It’a a horrific scene. Because the scene has always bothered me, why would I want to read the book? The second reason I was reticent is due to the language. I’d heard from others that the author, Anthony Burgess, made up his own language which made the book slow-going for some. That very feature would turn many off the book straightway and never attempt it at all. So, with much trepidation, I began the book.
     My paperback version has an intro written by the author “Introduction: A Clockwork Orange Resucked.” I wrote at the top of the page, “Please read. Very revealing.” Burgess explains that in the American version of the book the final chapter had been deleted to make the book twenty even chapters, yet the final 21st chapter is where we learn that Alex is maturing. Burgess writes, “He grows bored with violence and recognises [sic] that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive” (xi). In chapter 21 Burgess says for Alex, “It is with a kind of shame that this growing youth looks back on his devastating past. He wants a different kind of future.” While his American publisher argued that Americans were tough; they could enjoy a story of pure violence and evil without a denouement that came round to growth and change, Burgess disagreed. “I do not think so because, by definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange–meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities” (xiii). I did notice while reading that Alex more than once states that doing wrong is just one choice of many; he does not place a moral judgement on the choice itself; it is one of many ways to go and he exercises his right to make his own choices. Regarding the title, he says it is a known phrase with “old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing. ‘He’s as queer as a clockwork orange’ meant he was queer to the limit of queerness” (xiv). [Any younger readers must realize that the word “queer” here does not mean homosexual, but unusual or out of the ordinary.] Back to a clockwork orange Burgess states, “I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness” (xv). Lots of good groundwork set in the intro; please read it if you have a version that contains Burgess’s point of view.
The main character’s name is Alex and he runs with a small group of boys named Pete, Georgie and Dim. When I first entered the chapter I contemplated the necessity of making a vocabulary list so I could understand the slang. I attempted this by writing droogs = friends; rassoodocks = plans, but even by the second page I felt no need for this work. For experienced readers, the sensation is very much like filling in the blanks of a word or sentence. For example, if we see the sentence “Th cat wnt up te tre” we can can, with little effort, see that the cat went up the tree. That’s what reading this slang is like. The unknown words, in a sentence surrounded by known words, still allows one to comprehend what is being said. Before long, you find a pattern in the slang and begin learning what some of the words mean. If you are an adventurous reader and have read Old English, African American colloquial narratives or old Greek and Roman myth stories, then reading A Clockwork Orange will be no problem.
Fashion: One theme from the book that comes across in the movie as well is fashion. These boys may not have much, but they are well going to look right while doing wrong. “The four of us were dressed in the heighth of fashion, which in those days was a pair of black very tight tights with the old jelly mould, as we called it, fitting on the crutch underneath the tights, this being to protect and also a sort of a design you could viddy clear enough in a certain light, so that I had one in the shape of a spider, Pete had a rooker (a hand, that is), Georgie had a very fancy one of a flower, and poor old Dim had a very hound-and-horny one of a clown’s listo (face, that is)…(4). I believe this is what we would call a cod piece!
Violence: Yes, the ultra violence runs throughout the story. They beat up a professor type coming from the library. They beat up two shop clerks for money and cigarettes. They kick around a drunk guy in the street and fight a rival gang. They steal a car and later dispose of it by pushing it into a lake. In chapter two the horrorshow scene occurs with the gang breaking and entering while an older couple is home. The woman later dies from the trauma. Alex lures two ten-year-old girls from the record shop, gets them drunk and rapes them. They hear of a rich old lady who lives alone with her cats. The scene with Alex trying to attack while the cats are attacking him is vastly entertaining. But see here: breaking into an old woman’s house to beat and rob her is entertaining? I hate to say it is. Later we learn that two of Alex’s female victims have subsequently died at the hospital. Two different women on two different violent occasions. He is a murderer at age fifteen. At one point Alex tries to explain why he’s bad. “But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? If lewdies are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malarky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do” (45). Alex is found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to 15 years in prison. His number is 6655321. He learns that Georgie was killed during a home invasion. Due to overcrowding and horrible food and living conditions, the guys in Alex’s cell, (but especially Alex) end of beating the new guy to death. In the second part of the book, section 6, Dr. Brodsky says, “Delimitation is always difficult. The world is one, life is one. The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence–the act of love, for instance; music, for instance. You must take your chance, boy. The choice has been all yours” (130). This refers back to the idea that violence is interwoven into life and is not a thing set outside it. Choice is reiterated just as Alex stated before.
Adults: One thing we see from adults in this novel is that they are not much different from the kids. For example, there are a group of old lady barflies. The boys learn that if they buy the old ladies drinks, the women will become the gang’s alibi and tell the police the boys had been there all night. The ladies just want to sit, gossip, play cards and get drunk. They don’t care who buys them drinks, they just want to drink! This group could easily have been another group of less adventurous boys who’d rather stay in and out of trouble. Alex lives at home with two parents who cook for him and ask about his life. He has his own room and nice clothes. Alex’s stable home life adds a layer of confusion as to why he is so bad. Just like the barfly women, Alex’s parents are ineffective when it comes to influencing his behavior. They are just there, yet without any power to actually effect change. They seem rather comforting, but Alex makes sure the audience knows that in the past he must have schooled his dad a time or two because Alex always gets what he wants. Alex has a parole officer that visits if he doesn’t attend school. Alex puts on a clean persona in front of this man and pretends to be everything he’s not. The parole officer warns him that if he messes up again Alex will no longer be in juvenile detention, but real adult jail. Of course, Alex goes on to break the law again rendering the parole officer of no use in Alex’s world. Just as his parents never knew what their son was up to in real life, they also know nothing of Alex’s length of sentence or the experimental treatment he is being given in jail. They have been separated and silenced from Alex’s life as long as the reader has known him. When Alex begins his jail sentence they decide to take in a boarder to help with finances. The parents do not know when their son will be released, do not visit him, and seem to simply find a replacement body when he leaves. They eat meals with the border and they bond like family. There is a disconnect between the adults and kids in the novel as if they are all interchangeable cogs with no identity that makes a unique impression upon another. As long as the machine keeps turning no one seems to care very much for the individual cog. After Alex jumps from a high window and ends up in the hospital his parents finally come to visit him. They invite him back home to live even though he’s acting like an asshole (their true son). Alex says he will return as long as they both understand that he’ll be in charge. They agree, rendering them exactly as ineffectual as before.
Leadership: Alex is forever on the lookout for anyone who wants to crush his position of power. His comrades, his parents, and a dude named Billyboy are all suspicious targets and must be kept in line. At one point the boys are in the bar and a girl sings for a second. Dim acts dumb so Alex punches him. This sets up a new dynamic within the group; they’ve never turned on each other before. Alex wants to keep Dim in line but the others, especially Dim, don’t take kindly to fists being used between them. By chapter five Georgie states there will be no more picking on Dim. Alex says they’ve been talking behind his back and he wants to know more. Pete chimes in that they’d like a more democratic group, not just Alex telling them what to do and not do all the time. The gang ends up physically fighting each other with Georgie’s hand and Dim’s wrist getting cut. When the blood begins to flow Alex thinks “So they knew now who was master and leader, sheep, thought I” (59). When Alex has broken into an old lady’s house to rob her he determines he can do the entire job alone…he doesn’t need to let in the other guys. When he gets to the exit, Dim chains him in the face as the police sirens sound in the distance. The other gang members leave as Alex stands red-handed and red-faced. There is no loyalty, as Alex gives up all the guys in his gang the minute he hits the back seat of the cruiser. What kind of leader does Alex actually make? What kind of leaders are the parents, the barflies? Who is really in charge of this fiasco we call life?
Music: Alex prefers classical, and he knows all the greats and the parts he likes best of all the greatest works of classical music. There are scenes where he listens to music in his bedroom, he visits a favorite record shop and music is later involved in his rehabilitation therapy. One would think that classical music is a high brow Alex characteristic, yet he twists this bit of culture into something low by imagining violent scenes while listening. He deeply loves the music and uses some rather technical language to engage it. At the same time he can sully something so brilliant by picturing what he would do to this or that person on the street if he had the right energy and time. It is an odd juxtaposition.
Society: and its (legal) mechanizations. We see columns in the newspapers asking what is wrong with the youth. What has made them all so bad? Would culture tamp down the violence? (Yet we know Alex to be a great fan of classical music and fashion.) Alex has always been a delinquent, so he has been assigned a parole officer. When the police officers catch Alex they beat him. His parole officer spits on him. We get the distinct impression that the “good” guys are no better than the bad guys. While Alex is in jail we see that every cell is overcrowded. He comes to hear of some type of experimental rehabilitation that, if undergone, will make one a candidate for immediate release. After Alex and his cellmates beat the new guy to death they decide Alex is ripe for rehabilitation. When discussing what the rehabilitation is to do we come across what could be considered the novel’s thesis statement: “You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against the State’s Peace. I hope you take all that in” (106). After a stint in jail Alex seems to be looking forward to returning to his old life; it now doesn’t seem so bad after all. When it comes to this method of rehab, the readers come to know that the doctors are reluctant; they are not at all excited. We can see this method had been handed down as an experiment that the doctors cannot get behind; they are being bullied as well. The Ludovico Technique involves shooting the patient with a nausea-inducing chemical, strapping them down and making them watch ultra violent film clips. The idea is for violence to be coupled with a sick feeling ever after. The treatment begins to work. As rehabilitation begins to take hold within Alex, one of the observers states that Alex is making non-violent decisions not because he has developed morals, but because he does not want to be sick. This is not the same thing as actually being nice and actions coming from a place of kindness. “He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice” (141). Alex begins to scream “Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?” They are turning him into a human machine; when wound up by violence he reacts in a prescribed manner. During his treatment his parents are never contacted. Government and law enforcement want to be able to create promising stories for the press so they will appear competent and in control. “The Government’s big boast, you see, is the way it has dealt with crime these last month” (179). The old man who helps Alex recover from a police beating wants to use Alex to make an anti-government statement…just like the government wanted to use Alex to make a pro-reform statement. Alex states that he had always just waited “to have done to me what was going to be done to me, because I had no plans for myself” (181). What a huge statement regarding wayward youth! If you do not determine a legal path for yourself, you will be given one by the authorities. The men who want to reform Alex into an anti-government, anti-reform cause lock him up (just like jail) and leave on the classical music (just like torture) that Alex had experienced before. Alex wants to kill himself and jumps out the window hoping to die. Alex sums it up when he says, “…not one chelloveck in the whole horrid world was for me and that that music through the wall had all been like arranged by those who were supposed to be my like new droogs and that it was some veshch like this that they wanted for their horrible selfish and boastful politics” (189). After Alex hits his head and returns to his hateful self, the government uses this development to show ‘Hey! See? We didn’t fuck up anyone’s mind. He’s fine!’
Change: The gang that was once a fighting unit begins to divide. When the boys become unsatisfied with Alex as the sole leader, they begin to break ranks. When Alex goes to jail the group changes again with Georgie being killed during a home invasion. Alex changes through harsh rehabilitation. The family unit changes by taking in a lodger. Alex’s room and all his stuff is gone when he returns. When Alex returns to his favorite record store he finds that popular music has changed and the kids are dancing funny. The guy he always knew to work at the store is no longer there. Alex, who had been so strong before, changes into a person who wants to commit suicide. The professor type the boys had beat before ends up recognizing Alex, calling his cronies, then the old men beat up the young boy. “It was old age having a go at youth, that’s what it was” (163). Billyboy and Dim, former gang members, are now cops who take Alex to the edge of town, beat him, and leave him. This shows us the youth turning into the very things they couldn’t stand while growing up. In a strange twist, Alex ends up in the house they had broken in with the couple. The woman has since died. The boys had on masks during the horrible attack, so the old man does not recognize Alex; he’s just a young man who has been beaten and dumped by the police. Instead of a home invasion, this time Alex is coddled and cared for by the man, not knowing this is the boy who wrecked his life. When the anti-government group holds him hostage Alex jumps from the window hoping to kill himself. Instead, he knocks his head in such a way that he’s no longer prone to sickness when thinking of violence. After his release from the hospital Alex is again found in the milk bar, but he has a new set of friends and an actual job. Now that he actually works for his money he doesn’t like throwing it around like before. When the gang wants to go out and terrorize the city, Alex says he’s not feeling into it; they should go on without him. As Alex sits and thinks about what he’d like to do he surprises himself to learn that what he really wants is a nice cup of chai and a fire to sit by. Just as Alex longs for a nice boring adult evening alone he runs into old gang member Pete. He barely recognizes him from the grown up attire, the kind demeanor and the wife on his arm! Alex thinks about being 18 and how so many people had already made a name for themselves by that age. Alex thinks about having a son of his own and all the things he would teach him. Then he realizes that because youth is like a wind-up toy without a brain, his son probably won’t listen to him, probably won’t care for his father’s hard-earned experience and advice.

The Walking Dead (Compendium Two)

Robert Kirkman, Charlie Allard and Cliff Rathburn (Second publishing, 2013).

After reading The Walking Dead (Compendium One) what else was there to do but read compendium two? I am a huge fan of the AMC television series which introduced me to the fact that the show was created from a comic book series. The tv show films an entire season, then takes a long hiatus, so superfans are left out in the cold. I’ve been contemplating watching the spin-off: Fear the Walking Dead, but I am kind of prejudiced against it. I watched the first three of four episodes and found the characters so unlikeable that I actually WANTED them to be eaten by zombies. I may go back for another try since the regular series does not return until OCTOBER! From a writing perspective, one of the most fascinating ideas surrounding The Walking Dead is not only that the comic is an on-going affair, the creators are actually involved in a re-write of the original material as they make the tv show. How interesting would it be to create something once, decide that you’d like to try an alternate version, then put it in your own tv show based on the same material. It’s a true-to-life ongoing revision!
Compendium Two opens with Chapter Nine: Here We Remain. We open with the struggles of father Rick and son Carl. The young son is coming to learn that his dad cannot protect everyone at all times; each individual must be responsible for their own safety. Rick is losing a small portion of his sanity every time he hears a phone magically ring, he answers, and he hears the voice of his dead wife.
Chapter Ten: What We Become. We see Maggie try (unsuccessfully) to hang herself. We meet the group of creeps who terrorize Rick and Carl to the point where Rick takes a big chunk o’throat out of one of the bullies; (a classic scene in the tv show). Morgan re-appears after not being seen in ages.
Chapter Eleven: Fear The Hunters. We have twin boys (instead of the tv sisters) who end up meeting tragedy when one of the brothers kills his twin because he cannot understand murder or death. Dale and Andrea had taken these boys in as their own. Carl suggests that the murdering brother (a mere child) should be killed because he is a danger to the group. The idea is viewed as obscene by the adults around him. Dale is knocked out and taken by a rival group. (Taken on by another actor in the show), Dale’s leg is prepared and eaten by a cannibal group of humans. After they have ingested the meat, Dale reveals that he had been bitten; they were eating tainted meat. The cannibals drop off Dale, sans leg, in front of the church where our group is holed up. This leads to one of the show’s cliffhanger lines when Rick says, “They’re fucking with the WRONG people.” Both Rick and Carl have to admit that they have crossed over into new territory at this point in the story: they’ve killed living people. Carl later confesses that he killed the murderous twin boy, Ben. (In the show it was Carol who shoots the little girl from behind by telling her to look at the flowers. Classic.)
Chapter Twelve: Life Among Them. Rick and Carl discuss the philosophy of how to remain human in this inhumane world. Eugene finally admits that he’s been lying to the group in order to be protected by them. They meet Aaron who takes them to Alexandria. With other children laughing and playing, we come to understand that Carl no longer knows how to be a kid. We learn that Michonne used to be lawyer. Our group now finds it difficult to act “normal” like all the other people in Alexandria. It feels fake, shallow and strange. Our group had been stripped of their guns coming into the town; Glenn is now given the job of secreting the guns back to their owners.
Chapter Thirteen: Too Far Gone. Carl actually sees his father on the phone talking to a ghost.
Chapter Fourteen: No Way Out. Keeping the walls secure around Alexandria becomes a full time job. Morgan gets bitten by a walker on the arm and without much ado, Michonne cuts off his arm. Morgan shares wisdom with Carl about the importance of caring. Morgan dies from his wounds. We get to see another classic cliff hanger from the show in which the group is trying to escape an over-run Alexandria by drenching themselves in death-goo. This is when Rick’s would-be girlfriend’s son starts talking too loud drawing the attention of the walkers. As Mother and son are eaten, Rick has to sever her grip with an axe. Then Carl gets his eye shot out! The team knows they must band together to solve their problems.
Chapter Fifteen: We Find Ourselves. Rick recognizes that as he meets people now he is evaluating if he should kill them or not. What value do they hold? Can they be trusted? What use will they be? He says that contemplating killing them now seems a casual, routine thought. Rick says he felt he actually died a long time ago. Andrea jumps his bones by kissing him…(to make Rick feel alive, I guess?).
Chapter Sixteen: A Larger World. Our group meets the character Jesus who says he comes from a settlement on a hilltop. A scuffle ensues and the hilltop leader, Gregory, is stabbed. Our group learns about a rival group led by a guy named Negan. Our group view the hilltop as just another place to take over and command. They want to stop fighting and start living.
This is where compendium two ends. (I did not mean to get into all that, but I got carried away. It was interesting to note the titles and seeing their progression.)


The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Vintage International 2006 paperback
     Why does my son keep choosing books I’m not looking forward to reading? This gets into issues regarding the mind of the reader. Of course I want to read everything on my shelves. I want to read all the time. That doesn’t mean that my moods and feelings about reading are indiscriminate. Sometimes when I see a title I jump towards it and my mind screams “Yes! I’ve been waiting so long to read this!” Other times a title can be presented and I’ll shrink away from it thinking, “Oh no…here it comes.”
     One reason I didn’t want to read The Road is what I’ve heard about the book from other readers. Oh my god! Devastating! Whose opinion most stands out is my ex-husband who said the book emotionally pummeled him all the way through. He may have even mentioned crying. My ex is a very emotionally sensitive man and he read it during a time when our son was much younger. Knowing the story centers around a man and his young son, it would make sense that this plot tugged at the heartstrings of my ex who could easily place himself in the character role of the father. I didn’t know if I wanted to dive in to such an emotional read. Still, I find it interesting to test certain material when really close to it. For example, I found it an entertaining challenge to watch Rosemary’s Baby while pregnant. For mothers of young sons: can you watch the movie Cujo without cringing?
     Another reason I was resisting the read was the author’s style. I have read No Country for Old Men and I have a joke I usually roll out when Cormac McCarthy gets brought into the conversation. I note the dry and straightforward nature of the writing by making up a quote in the same style. “The man took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He took out one cigarette. He raised the cigarette to his lips and lit the cigarette. He blew out a stream of smoke. He returned the pack of cigarettes to his pocket.” Even though I do this as a joke, it is not far off the mark. McCarthy is very succinct, dry and basic in his descriptions. He very rarely elaborates on things that are not physically there. I am more drawn to authors that have the opposite style. An example would be Dostoyevsky who takes labyrinthian trips through mind and space using unique and often poetic language.
Yet…The Road is a perfect confluence between McCarthy’s writing style and the subject matter. The tone could, if one were so inclined, be described as boring. Yet, in this particular story, the tone reflects the setting. This is a post-apocalyptic tale in which gray ash is the dominating feature. How do you pretty that up with language? The tone is as devoid of color as the setting. There is little to reflect on except for the road…the road on which the two main characters travel south in search of warmer climes. There are very few flashbacks. There is no color and very little action (as compared to our shoot-em-up action movie standards). The reader is not inside anyone’s head. As a credit to McCarthy, he somehow makes boredom not so boring. He draws us on although we know the picture is not going to get better. In fact, with the father’s coughing, we gradually come to know it will only get worse. So for this particular story I feel McCarthy’s tone and style fit the plot and setting. All of these elements marrying made more sense to me while reading.
Now the book proper:
Suicide. Any post-apocolypic tale naturally lends itself to thoughts of suicide or the specter of one or more suicides along the way. After everything has died, what is there to live for? We learn the boy’s mother consciously decides to check out; being a mother is not reason enough for her to carry on. The father would much rather be dead. The reader is told this more than once. The father feels that the life of his son is the only thing that keeps him on this dead earth. McCarthy doesn’t use any quote marks; each speaker gets a new line. To save room I’ll simply identify the speaker: Son: What would you do if I died? Father: If you died I would want to die too. Son: So you could be with me? Father: Yes. So I could be with you. Son: Okay (11). But because Papa has a son–because he is in charge of one of the few living things on earth–he decides to carry on. “…the boy was all that stood between him and death” (29). There is not much reason to carry on besides spending another day with his son, teaching him something, comforting him, hugging him, trying to toughen him for what is left of the world. At one point we learn that Papa has actually taught his son how to successfully shoot his own self in the head if he is ever taken captive. The only way this could happen would be if something were to happen to Papa. In that event he has taught his son what to do in order not to be tortured, eaten or killed. At one point the child wonders at the reasons for staying alive if there are no other people on earth. He asks Papa if maybe there are people alive who are not on the earth. Papa explains that people couldn’t live if they were not on earth. Son: Not even if they could get there? Papa: No. The boy looked away. Papa: What? He [Son] shook his head. I don’t know what we’re doing, he said. The man started to answer. But he didn’t. After a while he said: There are people. There are people and we’ll find them. You’ll see” (245). He couldn’t kill his son, and if he killed himself it would be like killing his son. He just had to let the wheel spin out. By the time that happens, the child knows why and how his father’s batteries have run down. As a kid, he is prepared as he can be, but he still does not want, or need, to be alone.
No life. McCarthy feels no need to elaborate regarding how we have entered the post-apocalyptic world. We do know there are a few blasts and that the husband and wife somehow save themselves by being underwater. Here is the scene never to be revisited: “The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions. He got up and went to the window. What is it? she said. He didn’t answer. He went into the bathroom and threw the lightswitch but the electricity was already gone. A dull rose glow in the windowglass. He dropped to one knee and raised the lever to stop the tub and then turned on both taps as far as they would go. She was standing in the doorway in her nightwear, clutching the jamb, cradling her belly in one hand. What is it? she said. What is happening? I don’t know. Why are you taking a bath? I’m not” (52-3). Due to dense ash cover, the sun is blotted out. It is either because of lack of sun or a combination of the blasts and the blackening of the sun that everything in the known setting dies. Our story picks up a few years in, so we don’t know if everything has been harvested, hunted and eaten, or if everything instantaneously died. Besides a few ragged humans, there are no animals. We hear a dog once and only once. There are no fish to catch and no animals to hunt. All domestic pets have vanished. There are no crops, no live trees, no flowers and no vegetables. Our characters have to rely only on canned goods and brackish water. There is rain, which I suppose one could say is alive. Sometimes the wind blows. Sometimes there is lightning or snow. The ocean rolls but produces no food. ALL is dead.
Cannibalism. Food shortage leads some to cannibalism. There are hints that some hunt humans for meat. There is the ever-present threat of being caught by some sort of cannibal cult that harvests people. This theme is not overwhelming or pervasive. In fact, there is only one real scene where cannibalism comes into stark relief…but it WILL scare the fuck out of the reader. This scene occurs on page 111 so look out!
Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. “Papa”, as he’s known in the book, uses this simple (excuse my cultural inappropriateness) cowboys and Indians theme to give father and son their identity. Every parent enters that teaching phase where you blatantly point out who is behaving well and with whom you do NOT want to identify. Papa always tells Son that they are on the side of the good guys. He really has no choice in which side to choose since they are both so soft-hearted that they can barely stand this life. For example, they do not kill strangers but rather hide from them. They are not, and would not become, cannibals because they know it is wrong. They are constantly near death from starvation because they will not give in to dark forces. Son tries to expand this philosophy outward at every chance: “If you break little promises you’ll break a big one. That’s what you said” (34). He has trouble understanding the logic of NOT helping. If we are the good guys, how come we didn’t take that little boy with us? If we are the good guys why didn’t we help that old man? (They eventually share a meal with an old blind man.) If we are one of the good guys why did we take all the clothes and shoes from the thief whom we caught stealing all our shit? (They eventually go back and leave the clothes for the thief who has now disappeared.) We can see that sometimes the boy’s insistence on the concept of being the good guys influences the behavior of the father, however reluctantly he may acquiesce. Trying to remain good in a bad world takes constant vigilance and there are many shades of gray in between. In this setting one is often pushed up against the decision to either be good or be alive. Add another layer: sometimes in order to protect your goodness you must defeat others so that one more bad person is deleted while one more good person moves forward. Further, aren’t all good guys bad from time to time? Does an isolated, fact-motivated “bad” behavior make a person bad? As one can see, this rabbit hole digs deep.
Communication. The world we live in today is one of mass communication. There are billions of people to talk to using a wide array of formats in order to express innumerable ideas. What happens to communication when everyone and everything is gone? They can’t even talk to their houseplants! Because there are no things, Papa slowly forgets the names of things. The novel progresses in a way that a human relationship might: the newer the relationship the more there is to say. As time wears on and you know each other’s stories and preferences, less talk is needed. Between Papa and Son communication becomes a dying art. Early in the novel the father has to train and explain. There are a lot of reassurances. Directions are often a main focus of their communication. As the boy grows and learns certain protocols, less information is needed. Just as no animal lives and no plant grows, their conversation cannot live and grow because there is nothing new to see. There are no new adventures. There is no color, no art, no music, no entertainment, no books, no jokes. No one knows luck, god, or thanks anymore. Common polite gestures disappear with the world. The reader may think the kid simply needs no words, but at one point he spots another boy near his age. Son is so desperate for social interaction that he chases the boy which places them in a dangerously vulnerable position. It’s as if the son is willing to die to have human interaction outside the relationship with his father. We learn that there used to be story-telling between Papa and Son, but the boy grows to no longer care for made-up stuff. Once, he asks his dad just to talk about himself, from before. Papa never shares stories of The Before (my emphasis) because he knows his son will never experience such pleasures. “What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not” (131). Why tell a kid about a beautiful day catching fish with grandpa on the big lake when that will never happen for Son? Why describe Six Flags or the Grand Canyon when he will never experience such things? I got the sense that Papa felt these stories of The Before would be taunting; like cooking a steak you never intend to share in front of a starving teenager. Son asks: You forget some things, don’t you? Papa: Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget (12). They only talk about things that used to be, like a crow, if it naturally comes into the conversation. The boy only asks for basic information and the father only gives as much as is asked. Like I said, there are no flights of fancy or philosophical debates here.
No comfort. With no sun there is no warmth.With no sun or warmth there are no longer seasons. Although they are headed South the entire story, it never gets warmer and the sun never shines. Bundling and constant search for warmth and food are the number one priorities. There are twisted and pruned bodies but no shoes. No readily available food means constant movement. There is no mental rest because one must always be on the lookout for anything edible or for anyone who may want to eat you! If you find food, someone else will find you. There is no rest and no sound sleep. The best sleep anyone experiences comes only through utter exhaustion. (You don’t wake up refreshed after passing out from exhaustion.) Constant movement during starvation means no time for entertainment or daydreaming. Nothing can be made funny. There are no witty asides; those have died as well. There is no music or dancing or art to transport one from physical and emotional stressors. There are no distractions from the slow death at hand. Sickness has to be endured. Stitches have to be self-stitched. There are no medications, no alcohol, no weed (!) to transport one from the gray ashen world at hand, however briefly. For Papa, even having a pleasant dream is stressful because he feels the images in the dream are trying to lure him toward death. Papa doesn’t want Son to have negative images stuck in his mind, but they are already there and the child seems strangely untroubled. This is troubling! It is also discomfiting that Son used to find things from time to time that he would pick up and attach to. He’d carry something around and play with it for a few days. When the boy no longer does this Papa notices the disappearance…a childhood vanishing. Anything that used to be joyous, like the kid instinctively feels when they arrive at the ocean, is no longer a happy place. There is a stress at the deletion of joy. Making a simple mistake can mean life or death; leaving the valve open on the lantern and wasting the gas could mean getting lost from each other in the night. One can’t rest for want of vigilence. The father’s cough grows more frequent and both of them know he will eventually die. They both simply must face this fact because there are no doctors, no hospitals, no treatments that can ease or cure the father’s symptoms. There is nothing available on earth that can make him live longer. If there is any shred of comfort in this world, it is the ability to sit by a fire and the love between father and son. They are often in contact from the slightest—where the son may be holding the jacket tail of his father—to the closest; where the father bundles the child in his arms under his coats to keep him warm and alive. So, what is that…like, two comforts? Damn.
Poetics. Yes, yes, I know what I said about McCarthy being literal, dry and fact-based in his descriptions, but damn, sometimes he throws us a gem that takes the breath away. Due to his apparent genius, his short, infrequent poetic bursts somehow don’t seem out of place. Here are the gems sourced just for you: “In that long ago somewhere very near this place he’d watched a falcon fall down the long blue wall of the mountain and break with the keel of its breastbone the midmost from a flight of cranes and take it to the river below all gangly and wrecked and trailing its loose and blowsy plumage in the still autumn air” (20). A short one on page 27: “In the nights in their thousands to dream the dreams of a child’s imaginings, worlds rich or fearful such as might offer themselves but never the one to be.” A longer flight: “In those first years the roads were peopled with refugees shrouded up in their clothing. Wearing masks and goggles, sitting in their rags by the side of the road like ruined aviators. Their barrows heaped with shoddy. Towing wagons or carts. Their eyes bright in their skulls. Creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a fever land. The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes the class with it. Turns out the light and is gone. Look around you. Ever is a long time. But the boy knew what he knew. That ever is no time at all” (29). Sometimes McCarthy flings excellent analogy: “By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp” (32). After washing his son’s hair the father watches him falling asleep by the fire. “All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breath upon them” (74). After carving a crude flute for the boy: “…after a while the man could hear him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin. The man turned and looked back at him. He was lost in concentration. The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves” (77-8). Fucking brilliant, eh? After searching a burned and abandoned home: “He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it” (130). Along the way Papa notices rock formations that were at one time messages between groups. McCarthy gets biblical: “By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond” (181). The “squid ink” line here undoes me! Unbelievable. They hear something unfathomable in the distance. “He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salitter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering. No sound but the wind. What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack? At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt” (261). I like the way McCarthy makes up words. “Ten thousand dreams ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts” (273).
Wrap up. In the end, the story seems to ask: Did we teach our children enough to survive out there on their own? Did we fortify them with enough morals to remain good guys no matter what? It also warns: there is only ONE earth. I gleaned this message from this poetic ending: “Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery” (287). We get only ONE chance to live in this world that will sustain both the earth, its people, and all life. DON’T FUCK IT UP!