Remember, remember

Guy Fawkes setting the fuse, by George Cruikshank

“Remember, remember the Fifth of November”… and also all the dates leading up to it: this post is a reminder that Witch Week 2021 will be have as its focus the theme Treason and Plot for a series of guest posts between Halloween and Bonfire Night, all inspired by momentous events back in November 1605.

Duke Prospero’s conniving brother and his associates appeared in Shakespeare’s The Tempest for the first time on 1st November 1611, in front of King James who, you may remember, was the intended target of the Guy Fawkes and the other Gunpowder Plotters.

The play naturally forms an ideal text to consider as part of our week-long event. In a post entitled ‘Rough Magic’ I have discussed D G James’s collected essays on the play, The Dream of Prospero (1967), which included the conventional belief that Shakespeare himself took the part of Prospero, as a kind of farewell to the stage in this his final play.

But much more is being offered as part of our Treason and Plot theme, so in the meantime here are some bookish suggestions for you to get you in the mood.

You might like to seek out Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta (1989) in preparation for the week. The theme of this graphic novel is resistance to the jackboot of a prevailing power, and its symbol of a Guy Fawkes mask has been taken up by movements intent on questioning the legitimacy of fascistic regimes and the insidious reach of corporate entities.

I’ve long wanted to reread Michael Moorcock’s Gloriana (1978, later revised) which pictures an alternative Elizabethan kingdom surviving long into the 17th century, set in a claustrophobic court where espionage holds sway and rivalries decide direction — soon, I hope, soon. Meanwhile, just to show that treachery and plotting aren’t limited to medieval or early modern Britain, Frank Herbert’s series beginning with Dune (1967) deals with intrigue, attempted assassination and treachery to decide the succession in Paul Atreides’ planetary empire), themes which are obsessively followed through in its many sequels. And in The Malacia Tapestry Brian Aldiss details how the inhabitants of an Venetian-like possibly Illyrian city-state cope or not with a repressive regime who brook no innovation.

In fact, many plotlines in fiction are based on duplicity, intrigue and betrayal, by people being two-faced, conspiring with others to stab others metaphorically and sometimes literally in the back. No doubt you can name some of these, and perhaps some of you are planning to read and draw attention to these titles for this year’s Witch Week: The Merlin Conspiracy is one of the titles discussed, a fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones, the author whose own Witch Week originally inspired Lory Widmer Hess to inaugurate this event.

Meanwhile I’ve been plodding away reading seasonally appropriate titles for Readers Imbibing Peril using this meme’s categories as a kind of template to help decide what to read.

Some of the following titles are linked by the tag RIPXVI (accessed here).

  • Mystery: Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger is a classic Miss Marple whodunit.
  • Suspense: Katherine Addison’s The Witness for the Dead is a fantasy featuring an investigator who has to cope with ghosts and ghouls
  • Thriller: James M Cain’s Double Indemnity is a classic noir thriller of murder and betrayal.
  • Gothic: Friedrich Schiller’s The Ghost-Seer‘s setting in Venice also inspired me to pick up Brian Aldiss’s Venetian-like The Malacia Tapestry, located in an alternative world at around the same period as Schiller’s fiction.
  • Horror: H G Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau is Victorian horror at its best, based on contemporary fears around vivisection.
  • Supernatural: Zoë Gilbert’s Folk is a novel I’ve yet to finish but there’s still time!
  • Dark Fantasy: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Volume 1 is on my list to start (and maybe complete) before the end of October.

Finally, I am currently stewarding again for the Crickhowell Literary Festival, returning after a two-year break with over fifty events crammed in over five days. As well as big names (like poet Pam Ayres, comedian Robin Ince, journalist Pete Paphides, Twitter poet Brian Bilston, and authors Mary Lawson, Laura Shepherd-Robinson and Jasper Fforde, among others) there are practical activities, panels composed of Welsh crime fiction writers and poets, and presentations of books on mainly local social history. Oh, and discussions by academics on, for example, the works of Katherine Mansfield and Patricia Highsmith.

8 thoughts on “Remember, remember

  1. I’m happy to read that your local literary festival is back. That’s good news for book lovers and for the town.

    All the books you mention raise a question for me: is it “rebellion” or “treason”? The terms favor opposing sides of the same event. Ah, language!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, good news indeed, Lizzie! There were seventy people at the talk I helped out at last night, though two or three events have had to be cancelled because there weren’t enough attendees to make them viable (that is, pay the authors for appearing, let alone admin costs).

      There’s a continuum, I think, or better still a spectrum for these degrees of opposition. Treason, while usually defined as a crime against the state, is surely just a form of betrayal, which could include friends and loved ones in a situation of somewhat lesser importance nationally. Rebellion is a kind of intensification of treason against an established order, whether or not that order is regarded as legitimate or not. Whether Guy Fawkes and his mates saw their plot as a murderous form of rebellion against Catholic persecution or accepted it as treason which could somehow be justified (and thus legitimate) is a moot point. Certainly it was a betrayal, planned not openly but in secret, which they hoped would eventually allow James’ Catholic daughter to ascend the throne after the king’s death.

      Liked by 1 person

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