Thursday, November 24, 2011

Snapecliff - Why Snape is as sexy as Heathcliff

He's as dark as the Other can be. He's quiet and brooding in ways that can be attributed to philosopher and psychopath, both. He's wild, charged with untamed emotions. In a nutshell, this is what makes Heathcliff a romantic character. Let's ignore the fact that he quickly becomes an enraged psychopath with horrific outbursts of violence and the sort of patience and will that is required to destroy two whole generations of friends and family.

He's as dark as the Other can be. He's watchful and carefully measured in ways that can be attributed to genius and psycopath, both. His emotions are wild, but roped in with a visible but exerting sense of self-control. This is Snape, the tragic anti-hero. Let's ignore the fact that he spends most of five books being the cruel tormentor of his true-love's child.

Heathcliff, however, is the ultimate in tragic anti-hero. Not only is it self-fulfilling prophecy that the Gypsy blood should turn him against those who were close and that it was those who were close who enforced the racism and turned the Gypsy blood sour, but that in pushing him away they gave Heathcliff every reason to enforce every idea they projected onto him. Ouroboros as applied to sociology.

As the powers of peer pressure force Heathcliff into the darker, more ruthless parts of his psyche, he pushes his one true love away from him, and she turns to the only people who will give her emotional support, the same peers that are abusing her one true love. It seems that the two classes of people, those of the self-indulging, aloof, cultured class, and those of the wild, free-wheeling travelling class, cannot mix. And what's more, they don't want to mix. What's more dreamy than a man who can hold his own through thick and thin (mostly thick) for a forbidden love?

But even the love can turn sour - unbreakable, yet sour - as the forbidden girl finds a husband called Edgar who is more suitable to her society, and births his child. For a man who has suffered as much as Heathcliff and had to drive his thoughts into unspeakable places in order endure the suffering, the tip over the edge into pure, destructive evil is inevitable.

To add to his suffering, the daughter of his love physically resembles the other man, but maintains the spirit of Cathy. Unable to deal with Cathy's betrayal he projects his anger onto the aspects of Cathy 2 that resemble Edgar. A bit like Harry Potter, inverted. All Snape can see in Harry is the eyes of his one true love, and the insufferable aloofness of manner from the man who stole her from him. In Snape's defence his ignorant aloofness and lack of natural curiosity in people is a little insufferable.

Snape has experienced the same sort of emotional traumas as Heathcliff, almost in the same order as well. He is not a Gypsy, but the moment the Sorting Hat puts him in Slytherin he's as good as shunned without reason like the class of people Heathcliff is attributed to. And yet the Sorting Hat is supposedly better than the self-inflicted social divisions of Wuthering Heights. The Sorting Hat can see innate qualities that are perhaps not so obvious as the assumption 'all Gypsies are cuckoos'. Snape has the Darkness inside him. Let's call it natural curiosity. It's enough to push Lily away from him until he develops a tortured jealousy for the other boy she has befriended. James is even possessed of the same uppity personality that makes Heathcliff hate Edgar.

Oh, if only Snape and Heathcliff could have met. Perhaps a bond over shared tortures could have saved them both from the path of self-destruction.

Only, Snape is the hero that Heathcliff could never be. Where Heathcliff rejected God and found himself on his own, Snape had God to help him out all along... Sorry, Dumbledore, he had Dumbledore, the father figure that Heathcliff didn't have. With Dumbledore's help he was able to channel his love for Lily into causes for good.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Size matters

Sherlock Holmes and Watson are investigating rumours of a beast roaming the Yorkshire Moors. Holmes seems to have a plan, but he has not told Watson the details. It is just as well that Watson has complete faith in his friend.

They set up a tent, eat a small meal of bread and cheese, and lie back to wait the night out.

In the middle of the night Watson wakes up to find Sherlock staring up at the stars. He sees that Watson is awake and says to him, "What do you see up their Watson?"

Watson thinks for a moment, and quickly decides that the obvious answer, stars, is unlikely to be the one that Sherlock is expecting. He stares up into the abyss and finds himself thinking how peculiar it is that everything in the heavens is reduced to points of light.

He reminds himself that Sherlock has several coffee-table books in his rooms, the variety that are A2 in size and composed of glossy photographs taken by the Hubble Deep-Space Telescope. "I find the great whorls of stars somewhat comforting," Watson says. He instinctively believes that Sherlock will understand what he is referring to. Such is the nature of their friendship. "They look like pieces of art," he continues, "almost abstract splodges of white and yellow paint, like a pointillist painting in an incomplete state. I find it humbling to think that all of that matter is not only clumped around points of space out there, but so far out there that we can barely see it." He pauses. After this, he concludes: "I see the unknown. I suppose it is what they call the 'Sublime'."

"Peculiar," Holmes mutters to himself, and looks around Watson's face expectantly. "Not that all those objects are not so incredibly far as to each be rendered a pointilistic dab in the firmament, my dear Watson," Holmes tells him. "Our third closest galactic neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy, if it wasn't so obscured by closer things, would sit in the night sky more than three times the size of our moon." He pauses for effect while tracing a shape in the sky. "The problem is, it is obscured by closer things and all that is visible - if you know what you're looking for; you really should read Brian Cox's Wonderful Universe for how to see it with the naked eye - is a vague bulge of stars."

"You mean, that the moon is in the way?"

Sherlock stays silent. Eventually: "One of the ways in which it is so obscured is that it lies some twenty three and a half trillion kilometres away from us. And by that same token, light can only travel at almost three hundred thousand kilometres per second, which makes our view of the Andromeda about two and a half million years out of our date."

Watson thinks about this while he scans the points of light glittering above him. He has never really given much thought to the objects up there.

"Imagine," Holmes suggests helpfully, "that someone on the other side of the world has asked you whether you like their new jacket. They send you a picture of themselves across the internet, and then, impulsively, they change their mind and decide to show you in person. They start running round the world in order to give you a twirl in your living room."

Watson thinks that over too. Eventually: "It might be a while before we get to see the current state of Andromeda's jacket."

Holmes sits up and lights a cigarette. "When the light from Andromeda that we see here on Earth today first began it's journey Homo Erectus had not even appeared on the scene. If so much could have changed here on Earth in that time, it makes you wonder what's really going on over there right now. But we can never know."

"What more do you notice?" he asks.

Assuming that Holmes meant in the light of the information he had just imparted, Watson tries to deduce. "Andromeda must be in a different place to the one in which we can see it?" he ventures.

"Your powers of observation are exemplary," Holmes tells him (though Watson hears a tone of sarcasm buffing the statement), and puffs on his cigarette. "Andromeda is moving in the radial direction of our Milky Way. This is known because almost all the galaxies in the observable universe are in red-shift (which is when the light waves coming from it are longer than expected) and this means that they are travelling away from our galaxy. But the Andromeda Galaxy is in blue-shift, meaning it is heading towards us, likely at about one hundred and twenty kilometers per second, a speed which would surely only be legal on the Autobahn. At this speed it is probably much closer than it seems, potentially about nine thousand, four hundred, and sixty one billion kilometers closer, a pitiful number astronomically, but still mind-bogglingly big for us." He thinks for a moment. "That is the equivalent of two hundred and thirty seven thousand million times around the circumference of the Earth. We just won't see it until the light has had the chance to travel that much less distance."

Watson stares up at the sky in wonder while the smell of Holme's burning tobacco blows past his face. And then he is struck by a thought, a brief one which he struggles to put into words. It has a persistence that demands that he does.

"Time is not the only thing obscuring our view," Holmes says pointedly, as if he has been peering into Watson's thoughts. "Not only are there usually more Earthly obstructions, but all of the free-floating matter filling the space and the time between us and Andromeda is equally blocking on our view."

"So it is true then, that space is black because it has everything in it, just as if someone had scribbled across the heavens with all their coloured crayons and made the sky black," Watson says. "I used to believe that a lot of space was empty. That's what we are taught in school, after all, that space is a vacuum. "

"Neither of these ideas are completely true, my friend," replies Holmes. "There is a lot of matter in space. A lot of dust, a lot of debris. It's not all close enough to all be congealing into larger objects, like our old planet Earth, but there is enough of it in such vast areas as to obscure far objects. The night sky's colour isn't black because it contains everything, but because so much of it is nothing. So there is enough matter to render the sky black, and at the same time, so much of nothing that there is no light to colour it.

"Are you confused, Watson? There really are more important matters."

Watson is very confused, but he remains silent.

"Let's sort it out then," Holmes tells him, swung by a moment of pity for his friends inferior cognitive abilities.

"The thing about light and colour, my friend, is that physically, they don't work like a pack of crayons. If you make a black mess with all your colouring-in tools, you have created the colour black, but what you are actually seeing is an absence of colour. You have created a black mess that is absorbing the colours in the light spectrum. When we say the orange crayon is orange, what we are actually saying is that it is radiating every colour minus orange."

Watson felt that Holmes was facetiously enjoying the idea of young Watson with crayons too much.

"All of that debris that obscures our local (relatively speaking) view is like a windjammer on a microphone; it does not block our view of the lit up universe, so much as feather it. So the volume of debris we are talking about is far, far from as great as the space it fills. There might be enough stuff to blur much of Andromeda, or even our own Galactic Centre, to the naked eye, but we have space telescopes that can focus on sources of incoming light for long enough to circumvent this issue.

"What they see is that much of space is still black, and we are told it is because we can't see anything producing light. The furthest spied object is some two hundred and sixty billion light years away, and I would just like to take a moment to hammer home just how unimaginably far that is. We confront numbers of this size every day in relation to business and economics, which I think only serves to demean in our imaginations the actual amounts in question. Light travels at almost three hundred thousand kilometres a second. There are just over three million seconds in a year. So we are talking about three hundred thousand kilometres multiplied by three million seconds, multiplied by two hundred and sixty billion years." Multiplications rush through his mind. "That's more or less nine hundred and thirty six thousand trillion times round the Earth.

"Thank God we are doing this with rough numbers, because it might hurt a little bit to try and comprehend a more precise number with far fewer zeroes and far more of the other nine digits.

"So we know that there is matter out there as far as we can see, perhaps further. We don't know what lies out further. But we do know that we can't see it. Which can mean one of two things: 1. There is nothing else beyond that point. Maybe an edge to the Universe, maybe an infinity of nothing, but definitely no matter producing light. 2. There is still plenty of stuff out there, but it is so far out that there has not been enough time in the Universe for it's light to reach us yet. Both options are equally mind-blowing, do you not think?

"Let's not travel too far out and return to our view of Andromeda from Earth.

"Earlier I mentioned that Andromeda is in Blue-Shift, and most of the rest of the Universe seems to be in Red-Shift. Now, you remember the Doppler effect from school, the sound of a siren passing goes down in pitch as it approaches and passes. Essentially the same goes for light with the range of colours taking the place of the range of pitches. This needs vast distances and fast objects to be particularly noticeable, and still then machines are needed to actually see the difference because they are looking at the pitch intervals of white light, which, unlike the light reflected off a black object, is a radiation of all the visible colours. Curse our inferior eyeballs.

 "Are you all to rights, my dear Watson? Despite my inferior eyeballs in this dark, I could swear your mien has lost a few shades of colour, and I doubt it is the chilly moor winds that has brought it about. Perhaps you have noticed something?"

Finally the words that Watson had been looking for have found there place and order. "I feel - somewhat - insignificant," he says.

"Science has a tendency to do that to people," Holmes says without much consolation. "Try not to think about it too much until there is less of the sky visible to intimidate you and tell me what can you infer solely from looking at the night sky tonight, Watson?"

"Why, I do believe that someone has nicked out tent."

"Very good, Watson."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winter is coming!

Written for the Foyles blog.
The temperature plummets. The green begins to go, and the grey comes out. Insects drop like, well, flies, and small mammeloids try to invade human property. Daylight all but becomes a flash in the pan, and getting out of bed each morning becomes harder and harder... and colder.

Winter is coming!

For me, the first real sign of winter is when my chilli plants go pale and limp like Mina Harker under Dracula's gaze. A sad start to a season.

But I like the winter. It's not like the transient English summer. Whereas the heat of summer can remain an expectation, the cold of winter almost always comes, without fail.

I like the constrictiveness of winter. My favourite thing is dredging the wardrobe for all those thick comfy clothes: woollen scarves, heavy Scandinavian jumpers, and pillowy hats. The moment the cold comes I whip out my slightly-too-large duffle-jacket. It's the one time of year you can get away with wearing something as thick and snug as a duvet.

It's also the real time for heart-warming hobbies.

My number one hobby is probably reading (of course, I work in a bookshop). Next to my bed is a small, but gradually mounting, pile of recent releases that just haven't had the time to be read. 11.22.63 by Stephen King. Snuff by Terry Pratchett. Charles Dicken: A Life, not by Charles Dickens. Come the freezing months of January or February the reluctance to climb out of bed will become quality time with these tomes and a hot water bottle.

Watching away the icy months with all those DVD's that I bought up on pay-days during the sunny months is also another quality reason to enjoy the winter from bed.

Knitting and crochet seem to be popular past-times, but not necessarily always from bed. In the winter I often see groups of people in cafes knitting. A Stitch'n'Bitch as many of the sessions seem to be called. I don't knit, or crochet, and the way to a lack of success in this craft has been paved with the good intentions of learning how to. This winter I have no intentions of trying to learn, so hopefully I will.

It's as the leaves fall with the temperature, about this time of year, that is the best time to begin slow cooking things. The perfect excuse to put on a few pounds. To lessen the blow of heating bill my housemates and myself start roasting all our food and making jams. It's time to try out all those recipes that felt like a bit too much in the summer. The fruit of my chilli plants are going to experience a chilli jam recipe first hand. Nigella's chocolate and bacon brownies, or Whimsical Bakehouse's peanut butter cheesecake are also on the list of cooking experiments to try.

And then as soon as the boredom of cooking begins to kick in it's suddenly time to start planting things.

My housemate spends all summer joking about any drop in temperature, "That's it, it's here. Here's winter." He never complains about the winter once it's here. And I'm with him on that one. Winter is coming whether it's wanted or not, and it's best to make the coziest of it while it's here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011