It's a giddy height
and the wind is blowing
Gusting fingers pulling at me
trying to tear me free
Falling down the storm
Polar bears are proof that the Earth was once visited by intelligent aliens.
They're just too cute to be explained any other way--they must have been bred as pets by some very large aliens, ones so big that a polar bear would be about the same relative size as a large dog.
Cuteness, recently discussed on the dictionary list, may have an evolutionary function amongst humans, but why would polar bears be cute? They're pretty nasty critters, by all accounts. I've never met one in the wild, and my encounters with other bears have all been friendly, so maybe I'm biased.
My earliest encounter with a black bear was at the age of four or five, when I saw a mother with two cubs down a path from the site where my family was camping. I returned to the campsite and said I'd seen some bears, and was ignored (a phenomenon that I would eventually get used to, though never happy about.) A bit later my father came rushing back to camp to excitedly announce the presence of bears.
The odd times I've enountered bears in the bush they've always been black bears, and the encounters have always been harmless, although that's partly because I've never done anything stupid, like do anything other than watch from a safe distance while slowly moving away from the scene.
There's a delightful bit of film of polar bears that shows the results of an attempt to film them from ground level. A photographer was put into a thing like a shark-cage, and the rest of the crew retired to a nearby observation tower. The resulting film is interesting--rather than getting footage of bears doing their natural thing, the photographer was reduced to filming a circle of bears sitting around the cage, waiting for him to come out so they could eat him.
They were still incredibly cute, and cuddly too.
So my theory is that aliens landed in the north long ago, and some of their pets got loose. They were clearly bred for pest-control, like cats. The alien's home-world must have been over-run by walrus-like vermin, and they domesticated polar bears to deal with the problem. As a natural off-shoot of the domestication process, they bred for cuteness as well.
This clearly happened millions of years ago, although legends of giants amongst the Inuit and Esquimo suggest that there were subsequent visitations as well. Just like feral cats, the bears are dangerous and unpredictable, but there may be a galactic market in rare fauna where prize specimens fetch high prices.
All of this suggests an alternative explanation to the northern lights: clearly they are the exhaust emissions of alien spaceships, come to collect wild bears to breed into pets on distant worlds.
A Handful of Dust is a horror story, disguised as a realistic novel.
I'm not a big fan of horror, particularly not when the horrors described are perilously close to ones I've lived through or am flirting with, and it follows that I'm not a big fan of this book.
Waugh is at his best in his spare, conversational depictions of archetypal characters. Even those that are hardly more than caricatures speak with distinctive voices, and Waugh catches them so perfectly that hardly any explanatory narrative is required. When he lapses into narrative, however, the book lags, and loses its sparkle and charm.
One of the many reasons the book fails is that the death of John Andrew is unrelated to the behavior Waugh wants to condemn. From the viewpoint of a parent deeply involved with the upbringing of his own children, the problem is that neither Tony nor Brenda had more than a peripheral interest in their child, leaving his nuturing to servants who all have agenda of their own. Neither Brenda's affair nor Tony's inability to cope with modern life are significant factors compared to that.
And Tony's macabre fate is as contrived and grotesque as anything out of Poe or Lovecraft.
I'm not sure what the appeal of horror is. If it isn't contrived and fantastic, it cuts to close to reality for me. The world is full of real horrors, and I'm not comfortable with them being fictionalized for entertainment. If it is contrived and fantastic, then it's too easy to imagine an alternative contrivance that lets things end well and happily.
So I don't get it.