Category Archives: 20th century

Peter Pan

One of the aspects of Peter Pan that has always intrigued me is that of the crocodile that swallowed a clock and that tracks Captain Hook.

Crocodiles have a rich heritage in many folklore stories and myhologies. Below are listed a brief and incomplete examples.

Among many Egyptian references there is Ammut who devours the  hearts of wrongdoers.

In some Native American mythologies the crocodile, or alligator, is a sun-swallower with links to rebirth.

In Arabian folklore it passes judgement on the accused and in West Africa it embodies the soul of someone wronged who seeks vengeance.

In Mediavel Europe it represented hypocrisy and in Jungian psychology it represented torpid ill-temper.

I am sure there is also an Alchemical meaning for the crocodile, but have not been able to confirm this with research so far.

Captain Hook is, certainly, an ill-tempered wrongdoer and there are other aspects of the definitions above that apply but, to my mind, the crocodile in Peter Pan represents something else.

 

Mortality and Aging.

 

Pan is the eternal boy who never grows up. His adversary, Hook, represents all he desires to avoid, namely, his own maturity, old age and death. Hook, in essence, is Peter, grown up or, at least, how Pan may, potentially grow up; into a joyless, hollow and, ultimately, meaningless life. A person who has grown up, or had to grow up in a world that denies magic and wonder. The “real” world of responsibility, work, commitments…

Peter fights against his own inevitable destiny. How many adults are walking around today having lost touch with their inner Pan? Trapped in the cycle of survival and necessity feeling lost, with the ever present sound of a clock ticking and the crocodile of regret snapping at their heels? Perhaps, regretting their lost youth and envious of those who are still young. Trying to recapture it in some form of mid-life crisis.

Peter Pan fights Hook in an attempt to stay ever young Hook wants to kill him, to destroy the magic represented by Peter which he, himself, has lost. Hook is all too aware of the ticktock croc’.

The story represents an internal struggle in each individual human psyche.

If we then start to contemplate Wendy and Tinkerbell, representing the Feminine and magical aspects of our psyche, we may begin to unravel a mythological teaching.

In some respects there are too many Peters in our modern culture; men who want to remain eternal boys, mothered and pampered, taken care of and avoiding personal responsibility. Lost little boys who want to continually act like a lad and never grow up. Being Peter Pan is not a healthy choice. One might also suggest that Peter remaining a boy means never going through adolescence and sexual maturity. He remains unable to “father” the next generation. Fraud would see something in this fear of sexual potency

So too, many grow up and become disillusioned and weary, their spirit broken and out of touch with their inner sun/son. Regretful of a lost youth and living a tick tock life of dissatisfaction and torpid ill temper.

So if both have destructive aspects what is the answer?

We have to grow up, to move from being a child to being an adult but we can still retain a childlike awe and wonder for the world and the things within it. We just need to acknowledge the inner Wendy, the inner Pan and sprinkle a little fairy dust into our lives.

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Reading the Detectives

The genre of detective fiction is a large and complex one and it is not the aim of this post to provide a comprehensive history but, rather, to put forward a few points that may be of interest.

In the decades proceeding the publication of The Moonstone (1868), authors such as Poe and, to some extent, Dickens had established the concept of a detective being an important and, in the case of Poe, the main, character in a novel or short story. There was a growing readership for the “Sensation Novel” and Collins, along with other authors such as Henry Wood and Elizabeth Braddon, were producing works that fitted this description. The sensation novel, itself, could trace a trail back to the Newgate Annals and French detective fiction.

A Touch of Class.

It is with The Moonstone and Sergeant Cuff that I make my first observation. Collins, allegedly, based Cuff on a real policeman, namely, Whicher who had been, notoriously, ostracized for his failure to bring a satisfactory conclusion to Road Hill House Case. Cuff also makes mistakes and does not completely solve the mystery of The Moonstone.

The Victorian class structure regarded policemen of all ranks as “trade” and generally of a lower social order. The fact that these men were often investigating and, most disagreeably, accusing their “betters” was an uncomfortable and threatening issue in regards to the defined social structure. It could be said that this issue was tackled in literature of the period by having the police fail, or to have them appear bungling and ineffective. This led to the emergence of the Amateur Gentleman Detective who, invariably, outwitted not only the criminal but his professional counterparts. Normally, he was of a standing that allowed him accepted access to the higher levels of society while not preventing him donning a disguise and mixing with the common people. He would, also, have colleagues or accomplices from these lower social classes too.

Into the Golden Age.

This literary device can be seen in operation throughout the emergence of the detective story as a specific genre and into thr “Golden Age” of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The main characters of Allingham, Sayers and Christie were of a class above “working”. Poirot also had the advantage of being an outsider due to nationality, so could circumvent the social etiquette to some extent and move freely between the classes without causing offence.
That is not to say there were not exceptions but of the characters that retained their popularity it is, largely, true.

Americans prefer hard boiled.

It was with the emergence of the harder edged American gumshoes that this formula began to break down. They came from a nation that saw itself as classless and it fragmented the strict genre of Golden Age Puzzle in various directions; thriller, spy caper, etc, along with harder and more violent detective stories.

Girl Power.

A second observation and an interesting footnote to this discussion is the emergence of a number of authors now writing books set in Victorian or Post-Great War periods. These often feature female detectives who come from the lower classes but have access to all levels of society. It is a vein that, for the most part, remained untapped by authors writing in those periods and comes from a view of the past constructed firmly by the present, one that presents the modern author with a number of creative opportunities.

Of these modern stories (and there are many) some works of note are Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, a well written and researched series featuring an intriguing main character with some unique approaches to solving crimes against a backdrop of an haunted past as a VAD nurse in The Great War. There is also the Mary Russell novels by Laurie R. King, who has an older Sherlock Holmes as her companion, having met him keeping bees in Sussex. As an avid reader of Conan Doyle in my younger days, I was wary of this series. Using Holmes as a main character could so easily go wrong. However, these are good reads and the author handles her subject with skill, good characterisation and cracking plots. There are many others, some good, some not so good. Indeed, much like the Victorian period when work ranged from the Penny Bloods, Yellowbacks through the many Quarterly Magazines and Periodicals, the quality of writing covers a large range, written by authors, the majority of whom, have faded into obscurity; in some cases, undeservedly so, but that is a subject for another post.

The Vikings are coming!

One cannot end a discussion on contemporary crime fiction without a mention of Scandinavian literature. TV and bookshops have seen the emergence of interest in these stories. Within TV series’ I think many a viewer had grown tired of homegrown and U.S output which is often formulaic and predictable, or refers back to Golden Age style plots and characters, but to fully understand the popularity of Scandinavian Detectives is, indeed, a three pipe problem. I would suggest it is a bit of a fad that will, eventually, diminish; consider the hype surrounding The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years ago and one can see that interest wains swiftly in a fast moving market.

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reference sources:

The Crime and Mystery Book by Ian Ousby. Thames and Hudson, 1997.
The Art of Mystery & Detective Stories by Peter Haining. Treasure Press, 1986.

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competition or collaboration

I heard a story recently. it may be factual, it may be untrue but it has a sort of mythological energy to it.

 
Dinosaurs where, on the whole, either carnivores or herbivores. Herbivores tend to group together, the same is true today with mammals. The story goes that certain species of herbivores collaborated, not just with eachother but with other types of herbivore. Those with keen eyesight keeping lookout, those with heavy armour were ready to protect the group, those that were good at knocking down vegetation to eat leaving enough for the other herbivores to consume.

 
The carnivores existance was very different. Theirs was a kill or be killed world. Each day an individual struggle to survive. Not only would they hunt the herbivores, they would pretty much kill and eat anything they could, including their own species, their own young. Even their own kind were potential competiton rather than potential companions. You do not want the old or the disabled living, they just use up resources that would, eitherwise, be yours (unless someone beats you to it..better rush). Anyone different is a potential threat, best remove them. Carnivore society is a pretty bigoted place to exist.

 
It may not be true but, there in a nutshell, you have the two ways humans can organise society. Give it names if you want but certain tags have connotations created by paranoia, propoganda, et al, and I do not wish to use them. The bottom line is which would you choose as the society you wish to live in, to bring your children up within. I guess a few strong alpha males out there would choose to live like the carnivore, be top dog. You only get to be that for a brief, brutal while though; always someone bigger, younger, quicker on the draw coming along, unless you get them first..but you get old and then someone replaces you and you are left to die. Basing a society on the carnivore model is a nasty, rat race existance: yet, it seems to be the one that most of the world chooses, which is odd. On the whole, art and culture spring from a herbivore way of doing things; support, patronage, mutual respect and assistance. Competition or Collaboration, I know which one I prefer.

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Winds of Change

This is not to dispel the legend surrounding the Battle of Britain. I have read extensively on this period of British history and have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for all personnel involved. Rather it is an examination on how those in government, in positions of power and responsibility bathe in the limelight despite the fact that decisions made by them were not always the correct ones. In some ways, the Battle of Britain; a genuine battle for democracy and freedom was won, not because of political decisions, but in spite of them.

Firstly, it must be noted that both the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire were private enterprises and each company and designer had to fight to have these planes accepted, manufactured and ready for 1940, replacing bi-planes armed with two or four light machine guns within months of the battle.

Is a whirlwind more destructive than a hurricane?

As much as I admire the Spitfire, I retain a deep affection for the Hurricane. A solid plane, good gun platform, easy to fly…dangerous if the engine caught fire. It shot down more enemy aircraft during the battle than any other aircraft, yet it has to be accepted that it was based on bi-plane technology and would always struggle to remain an equal to ever advanced rivals.

In 1935 Westland began work on the Whirlwind to meet Air Ministry Specification F.37/35. It first flew in October 1938 and entered service in 1940 after delays attributed to a lack of Peregrine Rolls Royce engines.

“..four closely grouped heavy cannon in the nose had a rate of fire
of 600lb/minute which, until the introduction of the Beaufighter,
placed it ahead of any other fighter in the world” (Profile series).

The 20mm cannon armed Whirlwind had great speed and rate of climb, excellent manoeuvrability and good all round vision from the cockpit, it was also faster than a Spitfire Mk1 fitted with a three bladed airscrew. The Spitfire and Hurricane were armed with eight .303 rifle calibre machine guns that were often too light to destroy Luftwaffe bombers.

That statistic is even more remarkable when you consider that the Whirlwind was engined with 885hp Peregrines and the Spitfire had the famed Merlin rated, at the time, at 1030hp.

So why wasn’t the Whirlwind powered by Merlins?

There was a general fear that Merlin production would not be sufficient to power the Hurricanes and Spitfires needed for the Battle of Britain. Indeed, tests were being made to fit Hurricanes with Bristol built radial engines. This fear was, largely, proved, unfounded. No doubt, Rolls Royce, run by the level headed Lord Hives, was concentrating on Merlin production and not Peregrine improvements. This lack of Peregrine engines severely slowed Whirlwinds introduction to frontline squadrons. The thought had occurred to someone that the Whirlwind could be re-engined with Merlins but at some stage the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production rejected the idea because they considered “it’s fuselage was too small and it’s entire layout unpromising”. A conclusion that seems misguided. The engines were mounted on the wings and the layout of four grouped cannon in the nose and sighted through the pilot eye-line seems very promising.

It is always difficult to compare aircraft; this is from The Fighting 109.

At 15,000 feet.

ME 109 E-3         338mph
Hurricane Mk1     303mph
Spitfire     Mk1A    342mph

Profile magazine gives a normal loaded weight Whirlwind as 304mph at the same height (360mph empty; it is unclear whether the figures in The Fighting 109 are based on a loaded or empty airframe. It is assumed that it is based on their combat weights and speed. It must also be remembered that the Whirlwind speeds are based on the 885hp rated Peregrine).

Which leads us to an interesting conjecture. What if the Whirlwind had been powered by Merlins?

A rough calculation would be that the Merlin Mk I, Mk II engine was around 20% more powerful than a Peregrine. So, taking this we could, at a conservative estimate, postulate that a Merlin powered Whirlwind would have been, at least, 10% faster. Giving it a speed of around 340mph, possibly more. One needs only to look at the improvement of the P51 Mustang when the Allison engine was replaced by the Merlin.

From the pilot’s point of view, he had a plane that was speedier than anything the Luftwaffe had, including their fighter and which packed a lethal punch. There were other advantages: If one engine was shot out, even on fire, there was a good chance he could still land the plane; he had the advantage of fighting over home territory. If a Hurricane’s engine was hit and flaming, the pilot would have to get out, the plane and the Merlin engine lost. So many pilots were also lost or terribly injured in this situation. A Whirlwind, because of its two engines, had a better chance of leaving the fight and landing, saving the pilot and, at least, one if not both engines. An argument that, I think, dismisses any of the concerns about lack of Merlins or unsuitability of the airframe.

In conclusion, the RAF had the opportunity to have a plane similar to the P38 Lockheed Lightning, with much heavier armament, in 1940; those in positions of responsibility chose otherwise.

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