Tag Archives: colin wilson

162 – Unknown Codex: The Voynich Manuscript and Other Mysterious Books

There’s nothing quite as sexy as a good mystery. Sometimes the game is figuring out clues left by an artist to discover a hidden clue to their true intent (just look at the Twin Peaks online discussion fury that was happening all summer), sometimes the game is understanding what a mainly symbolic work is actually trying to say (look at Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aaronofsky’s new film mother! and how its strange Biblical metaphor is alienating audiences looking for a straightforward horror film), and sometimes it’s just about figuring it out what words are said in the first place.

voynich manuscript
Gibberish and naked ladies…

The Voynich Manuscript has been called the most mysterious book in the world. Two-hundred forty pages of undecipherable language, pictures of plants, constellations, and naked women… it almost looks like a high school stoner’s notebook, all it’s missing is a crude #2 pencil rendition of the Dark Side of the Moon album cover. But what does it say? What does it mean? Is it a magical spellbook (there seems to be a recipe section)? Is it about finding the fountain of youth? One researcher in the 1970s claims that it contains the secret to the elixir of life…

Brought to the United States by Polish-American (yeah, just like me!) book trader  Wilfrid Voynich in 1912, it was said to have been bought by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in the 16th Century who was interested in old books that might turn his depressive moods around. By that era, it was already an old book and it was claimed to have been written by 13th Century English monk and “wizard”, Francis Bacon (who is famous for having a “brazen head”, which was an automaton made of bronze or brass that would answer people’s questions like a Medieval Magic 8-Ball.)

francis bacon voynich manuscript
Francis Bacon and his brazen head

To make it even more mysterious, it was thought that Rudolf II bought the book from Elizabethan astrologer John Dee and his companion Edward Kelley. Dee was a mystic who spent decades of his life trying to talk to angels and Kelley was a spirit medium who would sometimes receive supernatural instructions to do a wife swap with his friends (hey, you’re not going to turn down a request from the Angel Uriel, are you?!)

So, the book has a definite paranormal pedigree. People have spent the past hundred years trying to figure out just what the Voynich Manuscript might mean. It was donated to Yale in the 1960s after someone bought it from the estate of Voynich’s widow and you can see the whole thing online because they’ve digitized the whole thing!

Since people have been studying this mystery for the past hundred years, everyone was surprised when the prestigious Times Literary Supplement in the UK published an article saying that the Voynich Manuscript had been “solved” and it was just a medieval women’s health manual using Latin abbreviations instead of words. Hey, of course gynecological well-being is extraordinarily important and we’re 100% behind that, but let’s be honest, we were hoping for something a little more, well, mystical… (or at least a well-made hoax!)

Of course, the fine people of the Internet disagreed with Nicholas Gibbs’ conclusions on the manuscript almost as soon as he released them, but while we might never know the truth, it seemed like a reasonable explanation for such a strange text. At least for about five minutes anyway…

After we discuss some other famous mysterious books like the Codex Gigas (also known as The Devil’s Bible), a 17th Century letter “from a nun possessed by the Devil” that was recently deciphered, the Gospel of Mary, and the awesome treasure hunter’s code of the Beale Papers

codex gigas voynich manuscript
The Devil from the Codex Gigas, the largest  of any Medieval manuscripts…

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention some of our other favorite mysterious texts from the land of fiction.  Necronomicon Ex-Mortis of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series to the Darkhold of Agents of SHIELD, mystical books capture our imagination in stories as well as real-life mysteries. The most famous is H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon (which, in a story by Colin Wilson, actually was the Voynich Manuscript.) Lovecraft himself never fully created the text of his purely fictional book, but fans decided to make a version in the 1960s and sell it in bookstores, which lead to decades of kids thinking that Lovecraft’s evil book of the Old Ones transcribed by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred was an actual book and not just created out of whole cloth by the weird fiction master.

 

But in the end, all of these Medieval mysterious texts had to be copied by hand, a long and arduous process that could take years. Not that many people could read because there weren’t that many books! Before the printing press, the only way to disseminate written knowledge was manually and the copying would often be imperfect. That’s the idea of this week’s song, when you just make a copy, there’s something missing, and when you make a copy of a copy, it’s even worse (see the Michael Keaton/Harold Ramis underrated comedy, Multiplicity, for more!)

Whatever happened to your passion,
and all the pretty things that you used to believe in?
Was it worth trading your soul in,
for a vampire bite and a lump of coal?

I heard all the junior high school cheerleaders had a crush on you,
I know because I read it on your FAQ,
and all the small town boys were chomping at the bit,
a rose by any other name smells just like $&@#.

Did you get your piece of the action,
Your pot of gold and an ice cream cone?
Did my death give you satisfaction,
I saw you paint my picture on an old tombstone, yeah.

I heard all the neighbors’ kids,
were in love with you/
I know because I read it on your FAQ,
and I tried for so long to put my finger on it,
a rose by any other name smells just like $&@#.

Are you real,
or just a carbon copy?
A bloodless rose has a heartless body,
And you feel,
just like a carbon copy,
you’re paper thin of who you used to be.

I heard all the high school cheerleaders were in love with you,
I know because I read it on your FAQ,
and all the small town boys were chomping at the bit,
a rose by any other name smells just like $&@#.

Are you real,
or just a carbon copy?
A bloodless rose has a heartless body,
And you feel,
just like a carbon copy,
you’re paper thin of who you used to be.
Now you’re just like me,
just like me, just like me, just like me.

Are you just a carbon copy?
A rose by any other name,
smells like shit just the same.

160 – Texas Chainsaws, Space Vampires, and The Poltergeist Curse: Remembering Tobe Hooper

Filmmaker Tobe Hooper passed away on August 26th, 2017 at the age of 74. Hooper was most famous for being the director on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, but he also set his indelible mark on great films like Salem’s Lot and (the extremely under appreciated, in my opinion) Lifeforce. While he’ll always be remembered for having a massive impact on the the horror genre with his first big film, his other works have had real life paranormal urban legends and inspirations behind them. Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts, Wendy, and I talk about they recent Mothman investigations (Allison in Chicago and Wendy just went to Point Pleasant, West Virginia) and then we get right into our favorite Tobe Hooper movies.

First of all, we discuss the marketing behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because the original tagline said that it was based on true events – which is completely not true! Of course, that kind of marketing helps sell tickets and makes something even scarier (just think about The Conjuring as a modern example). That little bit of brilliance helped Tobe Hooper turn his $300,000 independent Austin, Texas movie turn into a 146 million dollar (adjusted for inflation) horror juggernaut that inspired sequels, remakes, and even launched the careers of Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger.

But Leatherface was inspired by our own America’s Dairlyand homegrown Psycho, Ed Gein, who created his own masks of human skin from corpses he’d dig up in the Plainfield, Wisconsin graveyard. Ed died in Wendy and my town of Madison, but Allison has a fun story about her college poetry professor who used to volunteer at socials at the Mendota Mental Health Institute here and even got to dance with Ed himself (who was prone to dementia and considered good natured in his old age.) That was about as far as the “Based on a true story”, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre got. Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and a little known Roddy McDowell film called It! were also inspired by Ed Gein.

Tobe Hooper made a huge impact on the cultural zeitgeist with his adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot for television and 11 years before kids were traumatized by IT, it was vampires in Maine that gave them nightmares.

Tobe Hooper
Hooper and Spielberg on the set of Poltergeist

But then Tobe Hooper hit Hollywood pay dirt by scoring the directing gig for Poltergeist. While there was a controversy that Steven Spielberg might have been the real director, our interest comes from the curse that supposedly followed the actors involved with the production.

The story of the Poltergeist curse has been around for at least 20 years and it involves the fact that the two of the actresses died very young, Dominique Dunne was murdered by her boyfriend and Heather O’Rourke (the girl that says “They’re here”) died of bowel obstruction complications during the filming of Poltergeist III. 

Plenty of stories on the Internet and on reality TV try to make it seem like there’s something to the curse, and the actress who payed the mother in the first two films, JoBeth Williams, even added fuel to the fire by claiming that real skeletons were used during the making of the film (that part might be true!). But beyond the coincidental tragedies of the two young actresses dying young, there really is no other evidence of any Poltergeist curse.

Hooper followed up Poltergeist with the awesome Lifeforce, written by Alien‘s Dan O’Bannon, but also based on Colin Wilson’s work The Space Vampires. Wilson was a fiction and nonfiction writer who would often deal with the paranormal and metaphysical and what makes The Space Vampires extra fun is that Wilson wrote the book on a challenge from Wisconsin author, August Derleth. Derleth is the one who kept H.P. Lovecraft’s world and mythology alive after his death, and he challenged Wilson to write a book in the Lovecraft vein. The Space Vampires was the book, and Tobe Hooper made it come alive (or undead!) with his adaption in Lifeforce. It wasn’t a big box office hit, but it’s been critically reevaluated in recent years for the terror-filled science fiction extravaganza that it was.

tobe hooper the saw is family
Tobe Hooper helping out one of Leatherface’s family onset

After the mid-80s and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 not lighting the box office on fire, Hooper did mostly television work and one of his coolest shows was a 1991 TV show (hosted by Leonard Nimoy!) called Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories where he dramatized the events of the haunted Toys R’ Us in Sunnyvale, California. Now, that story means a lot to me since I saw it on That’s Incredible! when I was tiny. It probably was the first “real” ghost story that I can remember.

tobe hooper haunted toys r us
The image captured during the seance

The ghost story of the haunted Toys R’ Us in Sunnyvale, California involves a farm hand in the Nineteenth Century named Yohnny Yohanson who was in love with the owner of the farm’s daughter named Elizabeth. He loves her, she doesn’t love him, he dies in a tragic accident. One hundred years later, there’s a Toys R’ Us built on the site and strange things start occurring. Famous psychic Sylvia Browne shows up, has a seance, tells everyone the story, and they capture a photo during the seance of a “ghost”. It’s a classic ghost story made for TV and it had a huge impact on me as a kid. The fact that Tobe Hooper made a dramatized version of the events (that had way more inventive camera work and effects for a time than these shows usually had!) blew my mind!

Check out this great in-depth article about the Yohnny, Elizabeth, and the haunted Toys R’ Us that is well worth the read! 

1991 Haunted Lives True Ghost Stories – Episode 1 (Real Ghosts) from Jonathan Moser on Vimeo.

And it’s the Toys R’ Us story that helped us decide on this week’s Sunspot song. “Broken Toy” is a track full of 1980s’ nostalgia, when Tobe Hooper was in his directing prime. In the Texas Chainsaw Massacre it’s Sally Hardesty’s “innocence” that saves her, which is  one of the most common tropes of slasher films that followed (deftly parodied in the third act of the first Scream film), but still relatively novel back in 1974. The main thrust of this track is how once youthful innocence is lost, nothing is eve quite the same.

I opened a box of toys I broke,
and the ones that have broken me.Cruising in my lego car,
and Jem was my favorite star,
But I fell in love with a girl,
from a galaxy far, far away.
Hey boy, where did you go?
Life ain’t that simple, don’t you know?
And the Duke boys couldn’t get away,
when I painted in shades of grey.Don’t look me in the eye,
I can’t take what it makes me see.
It opens a box of toys I broke,
and the ones that have broken me.
It reminds me too much,
of the way things used to be.
I can’t play with a broken toy,
I can’t live on a memory.

Ronnie’s got a million guns,
Protecting us from Mao Tse Tsung,
but I don’t want to think about,
”The Day After” today.
Hey boy, what did you say?
Can Voltron make it all okay?
Or will my faith that ran away,
bump into me someday?

Don’t look me in the eye,
I can’t take what it makes me see.
It opens a box of toys I broke,
and the ones that have broken me.
It reminds me too much,
of the way things used to be.
I can’t play with a broken toy,
I can’t live on a memory.

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