I have tried to define democracy, and worked out five criteria. If you meet a powerful person, ask them five questions: What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interest do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? How could we get rid of you?Tony Benn
In 2010, a bunch of the internet’s time was spent sneering at the grown men who owned their enjoyment of a show aimed at little girls – My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I never saw it, not until my daughter was old enough to take an interest. Only then did I realise how misguided the internet’s collective disdain had been. The show is pure and joyful. It’s selling toys, yes. That doesn’t seem to ruin anyone’s enjoyment when it’s Star Wars or Avengers: Infinity War.
In 2017, they did a film version and it got middling reviews. The Guardian could barely muster the energy to notice the film, with Mike McCahill dropping tepid lines like this:
voiced by Emily Blunt, who must have really loved these toys as a child to have wound up in this vicinity.
He managed to spend three paragraphs on the film without really saying anything about it. Simran Hans, for the Observer, at least responded to the film in a meaningful way, though only through gritted teeth in a review that barely reached a paragraph:
At the chewy, candy core of this assaulting, shrill, Skittles-hued headache is a well-meaning treatise on solidarity and female friendship.
This is a peculiar failure of film criticism; it can take the MCU seriously but it can’t bring itself to engage with this as anything other than a sickly-sweet corporate product. Why? Are there more executives at Hasbro than at Disney?
There’s a character in the film, Tempest Shadow, who was injured as a child. She’s cast out, ostracised for her disability. She learns to hate the cruel and indifferent world, and does evil to obtain the power to heal herself.
By the end of the film she realises she’s being used and flips. With her help, the good guys win the day and hold the staff of ultimate power. But they don’t heal her, even though it would be trivial with the power they hold. She doesn’t even ask them to. She has realised that she doesn’t need to be fixed. She has realised that she is enough.
I think about that more than I think about anything that happened in Infinity War or Endgame.
I should blog more because my old blogs make me cringe but they also make me remember time and place. I should blog purely for myself, because I’m the main visitor and I should respect my audience.
Not for the nepenthe of nostalgia, where past sorrows and longings are dulled and the mists of time lend a forgiving rose-coloured glow that suffuses everything. But to try to hold in my head all the ways that I have been, to try to understand my own journey. To respect my past self despite his shortcomings, for I have my own, and hindsight is not wisdom.
There are farms next to the wood on the border, and even the farmers do not go into the wood.
Some evil lives in the dark places in the wood. A great network of caves lies beneath. It might be that there are ley lines which converge in that great silent darkness.
Karpov, the Vampire Lord, held court here in the days of his power. The lands were wild after the Empire fell, and none could challenge him, though many tried.
It came to pass that one attempt cut through Karpov’s arrogance and let him see that his own strength and power remained finite. He realised the folly of keeping his coffin beneath Karpov Castle. Should an adversary overpower him, finding his coffin and destroying his body would be trivial.
Karpov laid his coffin deep within the caverns below Apple Grove. No story I have heard has adequately explained how a grove of apple trees came to grow in the depths of the wood. Sorcery is suspected.
Kingdoms rose and fell. Karpov was defeated and rose again. He became cautious, wielding his power in shadow and traveling to distant lands for years at a time to let his presence in the region be forgotten or mistaken for mere superstition.
It was held in some circles that the adventurer and hero Ralagar was able to divine the location of Karpov’s sanctum. Reputedly he even made a map. Unfortunately, Ralagar met a premature end as the result of an escalating series of dares during a drinking contest.
Some hundreds of years passed. A great Lich arose and brought terror to the villages. His followers grew in number. Folk flocked to his death cult in the deluded belief that he would extend their lives or ease their suffering.
Twelve warriors, as different as could be imagined, saw the plight of the common folk. Although they had little in common, they chose to swear an Oath of Vengeance, becoming paladins and comrades.
Before their might, the Lich and his cult fled. The paladins pursued him to the caverns below the Apple Grove and wrought his ruin. But his inner circle, his most trusted followers, remained hidden.
In the months and years that followed, the followers of the Lich bided their time in the shadows, and grew cunning and cruel. One by one, the paladins fell – not in glorious battle against evil, but in ignoble deception. Nameless poisons, unspeakable curses, heart-rending betrayals – until the order was destroyed.
This was only the beginning. After each paladin fell, they were laid to rest with great honour by the people they had saved. But in secret, the followers of the Lich stole the bodies away. Though they lacked the unholy arts mastered by the Lich, it was prophesied that the strength of his enemies would return him from the grave. The followers built the Tomb of the Enemies and sealed the paladins inside, preparing for the day when another great necromancer would arise.
Hundreds more years passed and knowledge of the Lich faded from memory.
Karpov attracted the attention of the Keepers of the Chain when he brought the Orb of Form out of hiding and began to experiment with it. Using their extensive network and deep historical archive, the Keepers were able to locate Ralagar’s map of the caverns, long assumed to be a fake. With this in their possession they could move against Karpov with confidence that he could not escape.
Karpov, however, was alert to the possibility of attack, and butchered the party that came for him, though they succeeded in defeating his servant.
His coffin still lies in the caverns beneath the apple tree, and none have yet succeeded in locating it.
Deviously he replaced the Facebook app with the WordPress app in the hope that he would accidentally spend hours blogging in between other activities
Decay clung to the nostrils. Stones were crumbled to dust, wood rotted to dirt, weeds twisted and choked everything. The headstones stretched out as far as the eye could see, innumerable and indistinguishable. The plots were tiny and I became afraid that the bones of uncounted children rested here.
“Dear God!” I cried out in horror. “Spirit, what is this place?”
“Here lie all the blogs abandoned by their creators” said the Spirit.
The shell hung limply in the darkened alcove, inert.
Presently, a cascade of lights swooshed down the smooth surface of the alcove, and a host of umbilicals snaked out to seize onto the shell. It seemed to shiver, and then sagged slightly further into the alcove. The umbilicals disconnected and the shell switched on.
“Marvellous!” it said.
It ran a hand through its hair, slightly shaky. “Sync status?” From the alcove a voice softly replied “[Sync complete]”.
“Marvellous!” said Frank Hawthorne. He crossed the room to a full-length mirror and studied the shell – his shell. “They have captured me perfectly” he pronounced.
In fact, Frank Hawthorn could barely remember what his birthshell had looked like. He had long ago traded the last vestigial flesh and bone for a sleek synthetic physique.
He felt sure that the flawless complexion he now beheld was a much truer representation of his inner self, the self he really deserved to be, than any crude biological remnant.
“This model,” he mused, “is even more like me than last year’s.”
Three days south of the border we passed that dead twisted tree,
followed the creek for a half day under deep skies, came at last to the cave,
our faces streaked with dust and sweat, bright-eyed from the ride
We made a pile of our new riches and swallowed cool mouthfuls of water,
Exchanged glances and grins, laughed at our good fortune
I’ve never told you, but I don’t much care for gold or fine clothes.
There we were, and you said “I’m going to rob a train, by myself”
and I said “By yourself?
I found him perched on the railing of a bridge, contemplating the dark water beneath.
“I’m going to eat you” I said.
“Oh, right” said the teenager, not looking up.
I tried again. “I’m going to consume your soul.”
“In your agonising last moments, your sense of self will be forcefully torn from your memories.”
My shadows drifted about us both. My stomach rumbled. I was not sure what to say.
“You seem unconcerned” I volunteered.
“I hate my life.”
“What?” I said “What? I’m a dark and bitter creature (lifeless and unfeeling), you don’t see me complaining about it.”
“And you have a young and warm body and every reason to believe in a promising future.”
“Bullshit” he said. “I might as well throw myself in.” To emphasise his point he spat in the river. “I wish I had never been born” he added as an afterthought.
“That’s awful!” I said, somewhat horrified. “I can’t eat you like this!”
I reached out and took his hand. Time and space spun around us.
Our moments are not on instagram
Our moments are not pinned on imaginary boards like imaginary butterflies,
lifeless simulacra of life
not posted nor reposted
but they live in the space between updates
unsaved and untagged
Our moments are on film
They come to life in the dark,
grasped between fingers, easily lost or spoiled
but held tightly, like some precious thing
which exists only once,
and leaves no trace