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afireSalt Lake Telegram, June 3, 1922. Is it because Salt Lake City is a faraway foreign capital that I cannot make heads or tails of what should be a straightforward bit of scandal-mongering? afire2

She fainted while her underwear was on fire. Sheesh, what a mystery are the autonomous functions of the human body! But how odd that her dainties should catch fire and not the rest of her clothing. (Is silk particularly flammable, compared to other pre-synthetic fabrics?)
Then again, perhaps she was wearing only her underwear at the time–that would help explain their exclusive and limited combustion.
Or maybe she wasn’t wearing them at the time: She might have built a symbolic bonfire of her knickers on the hotel room floor before shooting the dude and herself.
The questions multiply the mysteries. . .
Anyway, I’m guessing “hotel attaches” are to house dicks as sanitary engineers are to garbagemen. Or maybe “attache” applies only to house dicks small enough to fit through transoms. But now let’s proceed to the intriguing literary aspects of the story.

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The poem is “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” a Victorian chestnut by Francis William Bourdillon that you younger folk may recognize as the chorus to the song “Drawn to Black” by Finnish deathmetal band Insomnium. (Melynda: I need full psychological and literary profiles on Bourdillon, stat! Jackie: What’s the deal with Insomnium? Why can’t they write their own mopey lyrics? And what’s the exact difference between death metal and black metal, anyway?)

As for the book, it is of course Thuvia, Maid of Mars, the fourth novel of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s 11-volume Barsoom cycle. But here’s what’s really fucked up: The chapter in question, “The Hall of Doom,” does not actually begin with the sentence “The room was empty save for herself and the still form of the jeddak of Lothar lying at her feet.” In fact, that sentence doesn’t appear until nearly two-thirds of the way through the chapter. (You don’t believe me? Check it out yourself.) Man, talk about distorted reporting! Did the Salt Lake City Telegram really think they were going to get away with this in the long run? Especially given that the dead man’s mother was a huge cheese in Esperanto circles? Oh wait: we haven’t come to the Esperanto part yet. Sorry.
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Flaming underwear, Insomnium, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Esperanto–it all fits, see? The Peggy Joyce Hopkins angle is an obvious red herring though. Some kind of Mormon black-ops/disinformation thing I expect.

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9 Comments

  1. What’s the deal with Insomnium? Why can’t they write their own mopey lyrics? And what’s the exact difference between death metal and black metal, anyway?

    Unfortunately I can’t offer much clarification on this one. I actually had never heard of Insomnium until you mentioned them, although I’m not much of a fan of any variety of metal. The only thing I know for sure is that Nightwish loves to sprinkle little doses of Tolkien throughout their lyrics, so maybe literary plagiarism is part of the overall Finnish metal genre?

    Also, I’m not sure about silk, but I know wool has natural flame retardant properties. The phrase “silken undergarments” reminds of me of the Mormon temple garment. I’m not sure what those are supposed to be made of, or whether they are flammable.

  2. >The only thing I know for sure is that Nightwish loves to sprinkle little doses of Tolkien >throughout their lyrics, so maybe >literary plagiarism is part of the overall Finnish metal >genre?

    Oh let’s be charitable and call it pastiche. Nobody wants to get on the wrong side of Nightwish, after all.

    >The phrase “silken undergarments” reminds of me of the Mormon temple garment.

    Interesting point, but these folks strike me as Gentiles rather than Saints, what with their heathenish preoccupations (science fiction, Esperanto, fornication) and far-flung points of origin (Springfield, Illinois; Camden, New Jersey). So this strikes me as more like a prurient Mormon interrogation into the alien cultural habits of strange and immoral visitors.

    Of course, sci-fi and the Book of Mormon are not at all incommensurable, as the worthy fictions of Orson Scott Card and the literary criticism of Thomas Disch both attest. And in any case, a reference to magic Mormon underwear is never amiss.

  3. Is it possible that the excerpt from the book was a picture caption at the beginning of the chapter and the harried and hurried kansas city up reporter or cop that glanced at it conflated the caption with the beginning of the chapter? Yes, it is possible. But I’m just guessing based on my cursory knowledge of early 20th century pulp fiction.

    • I concede that it is possible.

  4. There must be something lacking in my education. This is the only “Night Has a Thousand Eyes” I am familiar with.

    • Well, even a consummate artist like Bobby Vee absorbs his inspirations from somewhere. Thanks for the nice Scopitone. I always thought this song was deeply fucked up, in that the paranoid, jealous and threatening lyric is violently at odds with the chirpy melody and arrangement. This creepy visualization throws that disconnect into the highest imaginable relief.

  5. Peggy Lee Hopkins did collapse on one of her six honeymoons (in 1923, I think). Her underpants appear to have been on fire more or less throughout the 20s. Bourdillon, on the other hand, led a blameless life as the tutor to some of the thousands of Victoria R.’s grandchildren–in Schlesswig-Holstein or some other Godforsaken den of sausage-suckers–and as a translator of later Medieval French poetry. Not so much a minor poet as a poet minimus, really.

    (on the other hand, if I could write even one line of poetry or prose that could inspire both a Scandinavian death metal band *and* a cheesy lounge singer, I’d be pretty chuffed.)

    • if I could write even one line of poetry or prose that could inspire both a Scandinavian death metal band *and* a cheesy lounge singer, I’d be pretty chuffed.

      Yeah: true that. I’ve actually suffered intermittent but serious earworm from that Bobby Vee song since my mid-70s exposure to the Carpenters’ cover version. A meme is a meme is a meme.

  6. All I could think was.. liar liar… panties on fire???

    I’m not the most dedicated death/black metal person. But, to paraphrase a good description: Death metal is what the soldier sees. It’s the staccato of machine guns, the blast of explosions, and the immediate and in your face nature of the violence and horror. Black metal is the view from above. The abstract, the philosophy, the wisdom, and the muddled unsettling din of the battle field.


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