Finding pathos for the suffering creature within.
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” -Edgar Allan Poe
“There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love… Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.”- Lord Byron
As Human beings, we have been given access to and are a part of the expansion of the universe, our potential is godlike, we rise, we grasp, we even gain glimpses of the infinite. Still, the one thing we cannot control and that happens to us all is death. It is the great leveler and it drives us. It stirs in us like a phantasm, it dances with us, it calls to us. It causes us to build empires, to reach for the stars. It stirs our longing to create poetry and songs to court it, to postpone it, to live after it. The true dancers are augmented by it and live before it. But the mad scientists in us long to create something that will defy it. Because love ones are lost, the captain Nemo in us arises to take revenge on all of the war machines that rob others of their loved ones, blind to the irony of this destruction. The poet William Blake said Eternity is in love with the productions of time. We are all part of the grand play and because we long for the light behind the veil, we are fascinated by the shadow play rippling on its surface.
Our fascination calls to us from the Mountains of Madness* to procure something unexplained, something beyond our mortal frame. We long to face our fear- to see and feel beyond it, to be assured, even beyond faith that there is something more than the terrible treadmill emptying into the void.
Yet Friedrich Nietzsche said, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The void can appear to be an abyss instead of an invitation to recognize our identity beyond form. If one clings too tightly to this mortal coil, the inevitability of shuffling off can lead to despair or worse to a rage that leads to malevolence. Nietzsche also said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
My Uncle Jeff said when he was a boy, he would make friends with all the monsters so they wouldn’t get him.
On a Saturday night while my folks were out, I would arrange all of my stuffed animals on the couch so they could see the TV and watch Creature Features with me. I too made friends with the monsters. My favorite universal classics however, had elements of pathos in them. It was when Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer said to Esmerelda the gypsy, “You ask me why I saved you? Oh, I tried to carry you off, and the next day you gave me a drink of water and little pity,” that I knew we were all capable of being monsters and heroes.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster echoed this understanding 145 years before I was born, “I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other… I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
Many of the classic monster movies offered insight and compassion for the monsters inside us, thrust into life and yearning for love’s absorption. One of my favorites was The Wolfman. Maria Ouspenskaya, playing Maleva, the gypsy, alone had the ability to transform poor Laurence Talbot back from his wolf form while the moon was full because of the empathy she had for his suffering.
Maleva: “The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.”
Because my father was a radio man, he was able to introduce me to the host of Creature Features. At the time, it felt like I was meeting Abraham Lincoln. I thought my dad was the coolest guy in the universe for knowing him. Looking back, I realize that the hosts of these shows were our link to movies that would open the door to exploring the unknown, the chance to make peace with our monsters.
The cool ghoul pioneer host Zacherley passed away at 98. He not only had a laugh to rival Phyllis Diller but he was important enough to leave us, not in January or a month where he might have been overlooked, but right before Halloween.
Long live Zacherley and those who get us to recognize that our abyss isn’t all that terrible. It can be laughed at; it can become a part of the firmament that inspires and thrills us at night.
Zacherley on Mike Douglas:
May your All Hallows Eve be merry and dance within your void!
*- a reference to HP Lovecraft’s book At the Mountains of Madness