Random quote of the day:

“There are people that need me. And that, in itself, is life. There are people I do not know yet that need me. That is life.”

—Bobby Mcilvaine, diary, August 20, 2001, quoted in “What Bobby Mcilvaine Left Behind,” The Atlantic, September 2021 by Jennifer Senior

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.”

—Li Po (China, 701-762) (tr. Sam Hamill)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“The force of spirit is only as great as its expression, its depth only as deep as it dares to spread out and lose itself in its display.”

—G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit (tr. Michael Inwood)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Fact is not truth, but a poet who willfully defies fact cannot achieve truth.”

—Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

This was originally released under the title The King’s Grave and reissued under the title The Lost King as a tie in to the excellent Stephen Frears movie based on this book. Ms. Langley’s fight to be taken seriously by academia and officialdom in her search for Richard III’s grave is a compelling story of a rare underdog victory. Her story is laid out in alternating chapters with historian Michael Jones’ telling of Richard’s life and milieu. It makes for a fascinating read, especially Philippa Langley’s mysterious intuition (backed by meticulous research) that led her to the unlikely final resting place of a king

It would seem that Thomas Maloney is an admirer of the novelist John Fowles and this work does have something of a lesser Fowles feel. I was a big John Fowles fan at one time though I haven’t read any of his works for decades and have no idea whether they would hold up. My tastes have changed, my life experiences have evolved. (Or devolved according to one’s POV, but this review is only tangentially about myself–as all reviews by anyone are tangentially about themselves. I’m moving on from that.) Initially I was going to give it 3 stars then thought 4 stars and bounced back and forth quite a bit.

From the start when reading The Sacred Combe (a phrase from John Fowles!) I felt it was a book from another era. Not Victorian, more recent than that, but not contemporary (though it was published in 2016). Modernist or postmodernist maybe. It’s slyly self-conscious in that pomo way. 

This is a character and setting driven novel rather than plot-driven. I’m certainly okay with that, though the characters at times seem more like set pieces than fully fleshed works of the imagination. It’s a tricksy novel, full of literary allusions, some more obvious than others. It has secrets that once revealed are more “Oh, okay,” rather than stunningly revelatory. Things seem about to happen then they don’t. The story is told in a wandering way with lush nature writing that at times walks the line of being over written.

Am I glad I read it? Well, I finished it. I no longer finish books that aren’t giving me *something.* So that tells you…something. Am I satisfied with having finished? I don’t know. It’s not only a tricksy novel but pondery with a placid surface. Perhaps I should have done more pondering before writing this review, but I’m done pondering. I woke up with the need to write down my thoughts and move on. And I suppose that, too, tells you…something.

Random quote of the day:

“This is the only real maturity there is: the maturity of struggling beyond the physical world and discovering that you’re also at home somewhere else. As for immaturity, that’s when we grow old and empty because we’ve missed the opportunities life always brings for making conscious contact with the timeless.”

—Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.”

—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.”

—Walter Bagehot, ”The Waverly Novels,” The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, Vol. III

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

This blog features a guest appearance from my friend Lynn (with her permission and cooperation) who had an experience that dovetailed with one of my own.

When Lynn was eighteen she moved into a small studio apartment above a garage in Ocean Park, a suburb of Santa Monica, California:

I think the stuff there was more about me than about the place, if that makes any sense. I had a lacquered wicker chair right by my bed. Sometimes when I was laying there, this feeling of energy would start to swirl around the room. That chair would really get to squeaking when that happened like it was being jiggled around by this energy moving through the room.

During this time, Lynn was having bouts of sleep paralysis syndrome where she would “wake up” but couldn’t move and would get panicky.

This condition is one in which, essentially, the mind “wakes up” before the body’s sleep-suppressed body movement does. In this state (called hypnopompic sleep) it’s still possible to be in a dream state and not realize it. Often times, fearful beings are perceived as being in the room with the sleeper, adding to the terror of the paralysis. These visions have intense clarity, as real as being fully awake. It’s also possible to experience these things while falling asleep (called hynagogic sleep).

Lynn’s bouts of sleep paralysis lasted from her late teens to her early twenties. Some people have this condition for years, others only occasionally or once in a lifetime. It often corresponds with stress but may also have a genetic component. Science is still figuring this out.

The paranormal community (and indeed many traditions around the world) say that although sleep paralysis explains some of these experiences, there may also be times when the visitations are real—an invasion from another dimension, et al., when we are at our most open and vulnerable in sleep.

One incident in particular was significant for Lynn:

My bed faced the open doorway to the kitchen/breakfast nook. One time I startled awake and was looking toward that doorway. A figure stood in the doorway regarding me. I kept thinking of it as an “elemental” even though I don’t really know what the heck that is and don’t know if it really fits at all. It wasn’t like a person but a very geometric blocky humanoid shape with a head, torso, limbs. And it was the darkest black I could imagine. It was like the complete absence of something rather than a solid thing. It moved towards me and didn’t move smoothly like a human or animal; it was like a series of still images of one limb out then the next limb out, like a Speed Racer animation. That’s when I freaked and woke up. Interestingly, soon after I was in the hospital to remove a very large cyst on my ovary and kept getting infections so I was in the hospital for way longer than normal for a routine surgery, like three weeks. After being there way too long, I remembered that figure and it suddenly felt like an ally and a healing force. So I imagined it visiting me in the hospital and reaching out and touching my abdomen. The infection soon disappeared and I was able to go home.

I find the illness aspect of this quite fascinating. Many years back, my mother got an infection that went undiagnosed until it reached her bloodstream and made her very sick. She almost died and was in the hospital for over a week while they pumped massive doses of antibiotics into her. She told me later that one night in the hospital she woke to see three tall, shadowy figures standing in the corner of the room. They said to her, “You can let go now if you choose and come with us, or you can choose to stay. But if you stay, things will get much harder.” My mother, ever the fighter, told them she wasn’t ready to go yet and they disappeared. Her infection finally came under control enough that she could go home and continue the antibiotics there.

But they were right. Mom had been suffering from kidney disease before this but not at the point of dialysis. That infection pushed her over the edge into end stage kidney disease and she had to start dialysis soon after. Some years later when she was in a rehab center recovering from a stroke, they appeared to her again and gave her the same message. She still wasn’t ready to give up, they disappeared, and once again, things got tougher. I’ve wondered sometimes if they appeared during her final hospice stay, but by then she was beyond communicating with me. I do know that her time in hospice was very short. She checked out quickly.

Then there’s my own experience.

Several years ago, my roommates and I (one of whom was Lynn) lived in a “haunted” apartment. We all had odd experiences there—but that’s a story for another post. While there, I often woke up sensing a dark cloud hovering over my bed, something evil reaching tentacles out for me while I lay frozen, panicking. I knew that if I could just get myself to move, just reach out to turn on the light, the menace would disappear, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t even blink, only send up fervent prayers for movement and light. Then, all at once like a bubble bursting, I could move, lunged for the light, shot out of bed, panting with terror.

Sometimes instead of the evil cloud I caught a glimpse of a figure I’ve labeled (long after the fact, when I felt safer) the shadow wench. She was a shapely woman figure that looked as if she’d dressed in a black body stocking that went completely over face and head, every speck of flesh covered, no eyes or features visible. Like Lynn’s geometric figure, she was the blackest black I’ve ever seen—no light escaping her, all light absorbed into her. She sat in a chair beside my bed (except there was no chair beside my bed). Unlike the amorphous hovering cloud, I got no sinister sense from her. More like a deep puzzlement and curiosity, perhaps a slight sense of alien judgment, as if examining a specimen. As soon as I moved and turned on the light, she disappeared like all the other phantoms.

Eventually, we moved from that apartment and went our separate ways. My roommates experienced no more weird things, and I had only one more incidence of sleep paralysis in my new place. Many months later, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The doctor said it had probably been responsible for the emotional rollercoaster I’d been on for the previous couple of years—sweeping swings of emotion that came out of nowhere and bore no relation to the events of my life. Oh, and had I been having odd dreams?

Had the shadow wench been a harbinger or just a symptom of a chemical imbalance?

Once the cancerous gland was removed and I was on a stable dose of thyroid hormone, all of that disappeared. I have been cancer-free for many years, and thankfully, sleep paralysis free. Like others, I have never felt sleep paralysis syndrome an adequate explanation for all incursions of weird stuff in night. Perhaps the majority of these experiences can be explained that way, especially in the proximity of beds or comfy chairs, but sometimes weird invasions occur when they can be corroborated by others. People aren’t always in bed. Sometimes they are in their cars, or reading a book, or sitting around a campfire when the strangeness comes creeping in and about them.

And why did my experiences, and those of my roommates, stop as soon as we left that apartment? Why didn’t they continue in the months before I received treatment for my thyroid cancer? I had very intense, weird dreams after that, but only that one incident at the new place of waking up with something creepy in the room. One last farewell appearance before the carny of odd went permanently on the road. At that time, I told it I’d had enough of it’s bullshit and was able to move—I clasped its odd, bulbous white head between my hands and squeezed until it popped like a soap bubble. It got the message and didn’t return.

I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation, perhaps some borderland between illness and otherness, but I do wonder, and always will. Certainly, I have not stopped having uncanny experiences or strange dreams, but my sleep remains mostly untroubled. Thank the gods, and the body chemistry, and the spirits, and the interdimensional beings.

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