Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington

Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington. via Wikimedia

[Note: This post originally appeared as my Goodreads review of “Aspects of the Novel.”]

I recently read E.M. Forster’s 1924 classic, “A Passage to India,” so I was interested to learn that he had written a book about fiction writing. “Aspects of the Novel” is based on a series of lectures Forster gave in 1927 at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Copy on the back cover describes “Aspects of the Novel” as “Forster’s renowned guide to writing.” However, to me it reads more like literary criticism than guidance. I found it interesting and enlightening but not highly practical for me as a novelist. Forster organizes his treatment around seven themes, or aspects:

  1. Story
  2. People
  3. The Plot
  4. Fantasy
  5. Prophecy
  6. Pattern
  7. Rhythm

Out of these aspects, I found his chapter on people, or characters, most useful, particularly his comments on page 75 about the distinction between “round” and “flat” characters, using Jane Austen as an example of round characterization:

Why do the characters in Jane Austen give us a slightly new pleasure each time they come in, as opposed to the merely repetitive pleasure that is caused by a character in Dickens? … [T]he best reply is that her characters though smaller than his are more highly organized. They function all round, and even if her plot made greater demands on them than it does, they would still be adequate. … All the Jane Austen characters are ready for an extended life, for a life which the scheme of her books seldom requires them to lead, and that is why they lead their lives so satisfactorily.

In reader reviews, I often see critical comments to the effect that a novel’s characters are “flat,” and I usually scratch my head over that criticism, especially when it appears in a review of a book that I have read and enjoyed. Maybe some reviewers are just looking for something to gripe about, and “the characters are flat” is a useful trope to fall back on. Or maybe my standards just aren’t that high.

But in any case, here in Forster is an explanation of flat-versus-round that makes sense to me as a writer and that provides some real guidance for developing good characters.

ARK — 4 September 2015

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Detail from The Scream, Edvard Munch

This morning I thought about this trope, which I often run into as a reader. But as a fiction writer who sometimes portrays screaming people, I wonder whether it ever really happens. Could I really be so horrified that I might start screaming or crying or otherwise expressing my distress — and then hear the sound of it without realizing it’s coming from my own throat?

I’ve seen this device used in many works of fiction to help the reader sense how appalling the character’s experience is. What he or she sees or hears or experiences is so distressing that he screams or cries without even being aware of it. I can go along with that, but what’s hard for me to believe is that you could hear the screaming or crying and not realize that is your own voice.

This question occurred to me this morning when I was listening to Sinners and the Sea, a work of deluge fiction by Rebecca Kanner (I’ve coined the term “deluge fiction” to describe a kind of sub-sub genre of Biblical historical fiction that includes my Cursed Ground series. I say I was listening to it, because audio books are one of my main methods for consuming content.) At one point in Sinners and the Sea, the following passage appears:

Just after the sun’s rays hit the eastern side of the tent, I heard footsteps. Someone raised the door flap, and there was screaming.

“It is only me, child,” my father said, and I realized that the screaming was my own.

I know I’ve run across this trope before many times. I haven’t kept a record, so I can’t tell you the specific novels where it shows up. However, I did a Google search on similar language and found its usage in a couple of works:

Then I heard someone crying out loudly and realized it was me. (The First Game With My Father, by Michael Tierney)

Then it became so quiet, the only noise was someone crying. It was me. (Faith and Drama: Plays and Readings From a Biblical Perspective, by Montana Lattin)

Suddenly I heard someone scream, “I give up. I’m not going to fight you any more. Do whatever you wish, I give up.” Then suddenly I realized it was me screaming. (My World Passes, by Donovan Harrison)

Yes, that last one beggars belief, doesn’t it?

I even found such a passage in a BBC News article about a man who left his baby for three hours in the car, where she died:

“I heard someone screaming,” he says. “Then I realised the screaming was coming from me. The rest is just a total blur.”

Even though that comes from a supposedly true story, I find it hard to credit. It sounds like a tragic, disingenuous, defensive fabrication.

Because this idea of hearing-your-own-voice-screaming-and-not-realizing-who-it-is has become such a cliché, I don’t plan to use it in my own stories. But my question for readers is whether this is a known psychological phenomenon or just a meme created by some fiction writer years ago and picked up by future generations. Anybody know?

ARK — 31 July 2015




Uh, no.

As readers here will already know, you can pretty much assume that any photo showing a giant skeleton unearthed at an archaeology dig is faked.

I ran across this photo at an article on Liberty Voice called “Giant Human Skeletons Discovered in Wisconsin?Liberty Voice‘s tagline is “Boldly Inclusive,” and I would venture to describe it as a little too bold and a little too inclusive.

Faked photo of a giant skeleton

This photo is faked. Note how the shadow of the archaeologist is cast to the left, while the shadow of the skeleton is cast in a different direction.

A few years ago, I ran an article here called “Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece?,” which has proven very popular with readers. That article showed that some of the best-known photos of giant skeletons at archaeological digs have been “photoshopped.” That doesn’t mean that giants never existed, but it does caution all of us to avoid being gullible.

The Liberty Voice article was mostly about the old stories of giant skeletons discovered in connection with the North American mound-builders, which I wrote about at “Did a Race of Giants Live Among the American Mound-Builders?” It’s possible that a race of outsized humans existed in prehistoric North America, but those giants for the most part were described as measuring six to eight feet in height, whereas the skeleton shown here would obviously come up to 25 feet or more. Nevertheless, the Liberty Voice writer says:

It seems that the majority of people just do not believe in this type of thing, because it sounds like complete nonsense. However photographs have been taken to record the finds as the picture with this article shows.

One reason it sounds like nonsense is because people keep reproducing these same faked photos. If you’re wondering how I know that this photo is faked, take a look at the shadow cast by the archaeologist in the original photo. Then look at the shadow cast by the skeleton in the section that was pasted in to create a phony scene. The shadows are cast in nearly opposite directions.

ARK — 1 June 2015

Painting of an Egyptian Pharaoh

Egyptian Pharaoh, from a New Kingdom tomb painting. Credit: Jeff Dahl, via Wikimedia

Oxford Egyptologist Sir Alan H. Gardiner once wrote that “What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.”

Lately I’ve been writing about the authenticity of the Bible book of Genesis as an historical source. (See “When Did Moses (or Somebody) Write Genesis?“) Many people who consider themselves educated like to sniff that the chronology of ancient Egypt goes back before the Genesis dating of the great deluge at 2370 BCE. Therefore, they claim, Genesis must be fiction.

However, a more in-depth examination of the conventional chronology of Egypt reveals that it rests on fragmentary evidence. In fact, the uncertainties around the conventional Egyptian chronology illustrate the problems that exist in reconstructing the human past in general.

Egyptologist Alan Henderson Gardiner’s book Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction appeared in 1966.  Here is a more complete quote from that work:

Even when full use has been made of the king-lists and of such subsidiary sources as have survived, the indispensable dynastic framework of Egyptian history shows lamentable gaps and many a doubtful attribution. If this be true of the skeleton, how much more is it of the flesh and blood with which we could wish it covered. Historical inscriptions of any considerable length are as rare as the isolated islets in an imperfectly charted ocean. The importance of many of the kings can be guessed at merely from the number of stelae or scarabs that bear their names. It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with a civilization thousands of years old and one of which only tiny remnants have survived. What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.

For similar comments by University of Chicago scholar Helen J. Kantor, see my article “How Much Does Archaeology Really Reveal?” Kantor once wrote:

The evidence preserved to us by the passage of time constitutes but a small fraction of that which must once have existed. Each imported vessel from Egypt represents scores of others that have perished… The amount of information that can be extracted from such occasional articles as the scraps of harness from the tomb of Amenhotep II or the dog collar of Mahirper indicates how much has been lost.

For comments from Cambridge Classics scholar Moses I. Finley about the paucity of true documentation of Roman history, see “How Much Do We Really Know About Human History?” In discussing the documentary evidence from Roman history, Finley wrote:

For the whole of antiquity, in sum, what we have at our disposal (apart from Athens) is a scatter of documents from one end of the Mediterranean world to the other, the great majority of them isolated texts without a context …

History is in important and valuable area of study, but the reality is that history and chronology are often tentative and based on fragmentary evidence, regardless of the assertions of those who claim to have the official version of the truth.

ARK — 29 May 2015

Artist's representation of a giant

Artist Marcia K. Moore has created some startling (but speculative) images, based on accounts about North American prehistoric giants.

In recent years, independent investigators have become interested in the claim that remains of gigantic humans have been found in association with some of the North American mound-building cultures. At the same time, self-styled “skeptics” have taken up the task of debunking these claims. (For an overview, see Nina Strochlic’s article in The Daily Beast: “Hunting for a Real-Life Hagrid.”)

I’m fascinated by the topic itself. But I’m also interested in these investigations and the reactions to them, as a cultural phenomenon. Why are people drawn to this idea of giants walking the earth, and why does the idea draw such rabid opposition? I think several phenomena are operating around this issue:

  • A long-time interest in giants within human culture.
  • A fascination with what I call anomalistics.
  • A particular interest in giants among adherents of Bible-based religions, due to the connection with the Genesis account of the Nephilim (see Genesis 6:1-4), a population of “mighty ones” who lived before the global deluge.
  • Among materialistic contrarians, a compulsion to contradict anomalistic and supernatural claims, particularly those that might lend credence to the Bible.

Not just a bunch of sensational newspaper accounts

A recent series of articles in Ancient Origins reminded me of the claims of prehistoric North American giants. The articles are written by Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer, who are investigating anomalous physical types reportedly found at archaeological sites of the Archaic and Early Woodland cultures of North America. Jarrell and Farmer say that for the past five years they have been undertaking fieldwork and scholarly research around sites in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. (See their articles here: “The Establishment Has Already Acknowledged A Lost Race of Giants – Part 1” and then “… Part 2.”

Jarrell and Farmer refer to the sensational 19th- and early-20th-century newspaper accounts you usually hear about in connection with the North American giants. However, they also cite a number of scholarly reports from government and institutional investigators, which are harder to dismiss. For example, they quote reports from University of Kentucky researchers William S. Webb and Charles Snow, who examined the Dover mound in Mason County, Kentucky and wrote:

The remains of burial 40 is one of the largest known to Adena; the skull-foot field measurement is 84 inches (7 feet)…

Not only do the Dover people show the results of head shaping (deformation), but they exceed the total Kentucky series in the great width and height of the skull vault!…it is to be noted that the head shaping…has been extreme in these skulls…These people as a group…have the highest skull vaults reported anywhere in the world…

One of the outstanding and un-Indian traits present among the Adena people is their prominent and often bilateral chins…One of the skulls from the Dover Mound, Burial 25…represents a bilateral chin with a width of 52 mm.

But where are the physical remains?

Doctored photo purporting to show archaeologists discovering skeletons of giants.

Doctored photo purporting to show archaeologists discovering skeletons of giants.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the investigations of the North American giants is the lack of physical remains available for study, at least today. Some researchers explain this paucity of remains with a claim that they were repatriated under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

I would add that cultural and natural processes also work against the preservation of human remains. Human bones buried underground usually don’t last very long unless they are intentionally protected somehow. This is particularly so in moist climates. Recoverable remains are inherently rare.

Anomalistic claims and investigations tend to bring out extreme reactions. Some people are willing to believe almost any extraordinary claim. As an example, take a look at the many comments submitted to my article, “Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece?,” in which I showed that some of the popular photos of giant skeletons have been faked. Even so, many readers persist in believing that the photos are authentic. At the other extreme are people who are quick to deny any anomalistic claim. The same article about giant skeletons also attracted some nasty trollish comments from “skeptics” who disparaged anyone who would take seriously the Bible’s accounts about giants.

Is a seven-foot giant really such a big deal?

Robert Pershing Wadlow

Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918-1940) suffered from a hormonal disorder and grew to nearly nine feet tall. via Wikimedia.

In reality, the claim that the prehistoric peoples of North American included a race of oversized humans doesn’t seem that extraordinary. For the most part, the newspaper and scholarly accounts describe remains between six and eight feet in height. This is well within the known human range. What’s called gigantism today is generally seen as a rare hormonal disorder, but it does show that a large human frame is physically possible. There’s no reason to think that extraordinary size couldn’t be passed along genetically and appear within a clan or even a wider population. In fact, this appears to have been the case among some Canaanite groups mentioned in the Bible — see the accounts about the Rephaim at 1 Samuel 17:4-7, 2 Samuel 21:16-22, and 1 Chronicles 20:4-8.

While a seven- or eight-foot human isn’t such an extraordinary idea, literature and popular culture have often propagated the idea that the giants mentioned in historical accounts were 20 feet tall, 50 feet tall, or greater. As I’ve pointed out before, humans of such sizes are almost certainly impossible due to the ‘engineering’ challenges involved — see “Could Giant Humans Exist?

It sounds to me as if enough written accounts exist to suggest that a race of giants could have lived among the ancient inhabitants of North America. It’s certainly worth investigating further, but it’s sure to be controversial. That’s the nature of anomalistics.

ARK — 24 May 2015




Statuette of a proto-Elamite horned hero or deity

Proto-Elamite statuette of a “horned deity.” Credit: Camocon, via Wikimedia Commons.

How did today’s culture develop its images of the Nephilim (called “Sunder” in my fiction series The Cursed Ground), that is, the race of super-human “mighty ones” referred to in the Bible account at Genesis 6:4? Some Bible accounts, such as the King James Version, call these creatures “giants.” In my stories, they appear as giants, but only in the sense of larger-than-normal hybrid offspring of angelic “sages” with human women.

Echoes of these characters appear in human stories and legends, particularly in Greek myths, which often feature giant half-gods with violent natures. I’m interested in these mythological images, especially as they relate to the historical-fiction tales I’m writing.

One such image came to my attention during a recent tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The tour guide for Oasis Group Tours stopped briefly at a small statuette in the Met’s “Gallery 402 – The Rise of Civilization: The Ancient Near East ca. 8000–3000 B.C.” The statuette he showed us is similar to the one pictured here, but I’m not sure whether it is actually the same figurine.

The Met’s profile of this exhibit calls it a “Striding figure with ibex horns, a raptor skin draped around the shoulders, and upturned boots.” The Met identifies the figurine as Proto-Elamite, and the detail that our tour guide pointed out is that the copper-alloy sculpture is dated to about 3000 BCE. If the museum’s dating of this object is correct, he said, that would place it before the time of the great deluge of Noah’s day, which occurred in 2370 BCE, according to the Bible’s internal chronology.

That makes the connection to the Nephilim, because the Met’s description identifies the figure as a deity or hero:

This solid-cast sculpture is one of a pair of nearly identical images of a hero or a demon wearing the upturned boots associated with highland regions, his power enhanced by the mighty horns of the ibex on his head and the body and wings of a bird of prey draped around his shoulders.

If the sculpture was created before the Flood, then it was fashioned by an artist who could have known first-hand what the Nephilim and their materialized-angel fathers looked like. That would fit with the enhanced musculature of this figure and other characteristics mentioned in the description:

… the triple belt and beard that define divine beings and royalty … [the] blending of human and animal forms to visualize the supernatural world and perhaps to express shamanistic beliefs …

The Elamites are identified as Semitic in the Bible account at Genesis 10:22, but they could have become mixed in with descendants of Japheth, who were known for their mythological depictions of “mighty ones.”

I intend to post more articles about legends, historical accounts, and other depictions that could related to the pre-flood world, but I thought this image was particularly striking and noteworthy. Some related articles I’ve written include:

ARK — 22 May 2015




I’m proud to let readers know that the first two books in my historical series The Cursed Ground have been approved by Awesome Indies and listed on their site. Awesome Indies is a volunteer organization dedicated to reviewing and evaluating the works of independent authors. Awesome Indies Approved (AIA) books are “independently published books that meet, or improve on, the standard of books published by major mainstream publishers and their imprints,” according to the organization.

Cover for The Child-Stealers

Book cover for Children of the KeepterThe first two books of The Cursed Ground, The Child-Stealers and Children of the Keeper are now both available on Kindle eBooks. I’m currently working on Book 3 of the series, The Safeguard, which I expect to release in September 2015.

ARK — 12 May 2015



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