January 11th, 2009


APED: "not quite a ballade for joseph merrick"

In a small theater on Whitechapel Road,
in the front of a warehouse that had been sublet,
in a mean little room that was darkened and cold,
For the price of a shilling -- "No, you won't regret.
Stand up!" called the barker. And that's how they met.
That day an unusual friendship began:
joined for all time, so none can forget
Sir Frederick Treves and the Elephant Man.

The hospital Elephant Man lived below;
the Princess of Wales called -- there's a vignette.
He received gifts unlike he'd ever known:
autographed photos, a dressing-room set
with a comb (of no use) and some fine cigarettes
that his lips couldn't hold -- but he felt like a man;
And therefore the two of them had no regrets,
Sir Frederick Treves and the Elephant Man.

Treves saved the king's life once -- oh, didn't you know?
He was revered and created a baronet.
The Elephant Man died, but Treves never slowed.
Oh, Treves wrote about him a few times, you bet.
In lectures he gave, in notes no one read,
in journals professionals only would scan,
and in his last memoir -- just twelve pages, yet!
Sir Frederick Treves and the Elephant Man.

Great reputations the world will forget;
remembrance does not run according to plan.
You might be remembered for friends that you've met,
like Frederick Treves, for the Elephant Man.

Collapse )
cass groovy

ah, sweet victory -- wait, what's that sucking sound?

So, the first big D&D campaign we ran ended last night. We fought the big bad guy, foiled his ritual to unleash an alien dimension on the game world, and were getting ready to run out before the building did the traditional implosion. Except guess who got sucked into the dimensional portal? ME. Apparently, if this happens the module says you are officially supposed die. But the party had no time to escape and so charged in after me, presenting our DM with the choice of a Total Party Kill or giving us an adventure in another dimension. Which is par for the course for how we play. We're pretty much The Gang That Couldn't Roll Straight. If things can go wrong, we will figure out a way to make it worse than the DM has anticipated.

My favorite example involving me: We hear faint goblin voices on the other side of a closed door. This, we figure, must be enemy barracks. It seems like a natural for a surprise round. So Ash and I, who play dwarf cousins -- he's a fighter, I'm a cleric -- kick open the door and burst in with loud cries of "The dwarves are upon you!"

...and find ourselves facing an empty fifty-foot corridor, down which we have to run in order to get up to fighting range before the enemies we've just alerted have time to grab their longbows and turn us into pincushions. Whoops.

the Elephant Man's siblings

On a side note to today's installment of "A Poem Every Day:" I've gotten around to reading THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE ELEPHANT MAN, by Michael Howell and Peter Ford. It's really quite remarkable, and presents a magnificently detailed picture of what Joseph Merrick's life and times were like.

Did you know he wasn't an only child? He had two siblings, one brother and one sister. Frederick Treves apparently never knew this, because Merrick didn't talk about his family at all, with the exception of his mother, whose beauty and grace he stressed to emphasize that his deformity was no reflection on her. Treves believed Merrick's mother was a fantasy construct to replace a cruel woman who abandoned Merrick, but she wasn't; she was a loving mother who died when Merrick was ten.

In particular, Treves seems never to have known of Merrick's sister Marian Eliza, who was still living at the time Treves became Merrick's benefactor. This may have been because Merrick's sister didn't measure up to Merrick's ideal of his mother or of his wishes for himself: Merrick's sister was crippled, as Merrick's mother had been. I say "crippled," because that's literally the exact word used by the primary source to describe their disability. The primary does not go into details, and because they never came to Treves's attention nothing is known about their disabilities: not their nature, or manifestations, or what limitations they faced, or if their disabilities bore some slight resemblance to Merrick's own.

Merrick was deeply proud of his left arm, which had been untouched by his disorder(s); perhaps his mother similarly took comfort in her other son William, who, unlike his siblings, was normal -- validation for her, as Merrick's mother was for him, that if not something she felt was beautiful she was at least kin to it.

Of course, William died young. The following paragraph just floored me.

In the days of preparation leading up to Christmas 1870, the Merrick's second son, little William Arthur, nearly five years old, fell dangerously ill with scarlet fever. Within twenty-four hours his condition was desperate, and on 21 December he died. The following day Mary attended the Register Office to notify his death, and the death certificate bears mute witness to the devastation she felt at the loss of her one perfect child. When she came to sign the document, Mary, the Sunday school teacher who had signed her name so confidently on her marriage license and on the birth certificates of her children, could manage no more than a cross, identified by the registrar as 'the mark of Mary Jane Merrick, present at the death."

Across almost a hundred and forty years, you can feel the woman's pain.