Tag Archives: CS Lewis

Marsha Albert’s Letter

Edward Bulwer Lytton, a man of letters, once wrote ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. He wrote several other memorable phrases, one of which has led to his name adorning an annual competition, the goal of which is to write the most hilariously bad, convoluted opening sentences ever written. Just go and download an e-book of Paul Clifford and you will see why. It is a great phrase though isn’t it? The pen is mightier than the sword. Think about it for a second.

In 1860 presidential hopeful Abraham Lincoln, then very much a fan of the barber’s chair, got a letter from an 11 year old girl named Grace Bedell. She told Honest Abe his unshaven face looked too thin. He should grow a beard cause “all the ladies liked whiskers”. In 1894 an anonymous letter containing various state secrets was handed to French intelligence. It led to the wrongful arrest of a Jewish officer named Alfred Dreyfus. He would languish on the infamous Devil’s Island until 1906; but lest we forget it was an 1898 public letter “J’Accuse” written by the author Emile Zola which sparked the public outrage that finally freed him. A 1917 telegram sent by German Foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to his counterpart in Mexico, promising them the return of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to them if they invaded the USA the moment the States entered World War One was a precipitating moment in the Great war. Needless to say it backfired horribly for the Germans when the letter was intercepted then leaked by British intelligence.

Einstein wrote a letter to Franklin Roosevelt, which warned of the dangerous possibility Nazi Germany could build a superweapon. His letter kicked off the Atomic Age. Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, which stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, kicked the civil rights movement into high gear. My focus this week, however, is a letter sent by a 14 year old girl at Sligo Junior High School to a man known as CJ the DJ, and how that letter may have changed the course of popular music forever.

On November 22nd 1963 CBS Morning News ran a piece on an all but unknown British band whose very presence back in Old Blighty was a sight to behold. A bona fide phenomenon, girls, and no doubt some boys fell head over heels at the very mention of their name. It may have garnered more attention but for an incident in Dallas that afternoon which would eclipse everything else that day. The Kennedy assassination overshadowed the 95th birthday of Franklin Roosevelt’s former vice president John Nance Garner, the deaths of CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley, and Walt Disney’s announcement of the planned site for Disneyworld. The unnoticed piece on this group of mop topped Liverpudlians was to be re-run that evening on Walter Cronkite’s CBS evening news, but as you could imagine, it got shelved, and passed more or less unnoticed.

The piece would resurface on the evening news, however, on 10th December. Cronkite felt the USA, deep in mourning over President Kennedy, needed something to lighten the mood. What better than a tale on four charming British entertainers you never knew you needed in your life? The piece did not spark a revolution, but Marsha Albert of Silver Spring, Maryland was bowled over by the group. A motivated Marsha wrote a letter to WWDC-AM radio DJ Carroll James jr, which begged him to play some songs by this group, asking “Why can’t we have music like that here in America?”.

(This author chooses to ignore that America was making some fantastic music at the time, when you got away from Fabian and teen idols named Bobby, and that the group in question’s first album contained covers of songs by Arthur Alexander, The Cookies, The Shirelles, Lenny Welch, and The Isley Brothers. Their second album, released in the UK on the day of the Kennedy Assassination featured covers of Peggy Lee, The Marvelettes, Chuck Berry, The Miracles, The Donays and Barrett Strong songs.)

This author too, is a fan of the group in question and, anyway the point is America was missing out on this cultural phenomenon that was taking off across the Atlantic.

Marsha’s letter got CJ the DJ seriously thinking about this, and how to get an advance copy of this record that had been released in the UK but was not planned for any release until early 1964 in the USA. CJ the DJ spoke with station management, then a friend who worked for British Airways, and within a few days had a copy of I Want To Hold Your Hand, in his hot little hand.

On 17th December Marsha Albert was invited to the WWDC-AM studio to introduce the record, by her new favorite band, The Beatles. The US release of their album was brought forward, just in time for Christmas, and they were on their way to massive fame and fortune stateside, and around the world.

Thank you, Marsha Albert, for caring enough to put pen to paper.

Carroll James Jr and Marsha Albert.

The Temple of Artemis

Hi folks, just a quick foreword. I wrote the following post in late February 2019, in the wake of American actor Jussie Smollett’s unwise publicity stunt. For future readers, Smollett was on a popular show called Empire, and looking to leverage a rise in white supremacist violence against people of colour, and the LGBTQI+ – both fair descritpors of Mr Smollett- for a little publicity. It backfired horribly when it was revealed he’d paid a couple of acquaintances to rough him up and hang a noose around his neck while pretending to be Trump supporters.

My piece was a musing on the topic of Herostratic Fame – the pursuit of fame at any cost, by any means necessary – and how the act of authorities demanding no-one uttered the name of the Herostratuses generally causes the opposite to happen. This was all good and fine…. until a far right terrorist went on a rampage in Christchurch, New Zealand days after, killing 51 muslim New Zealanders. In the wake of March 15th, the consensus was to not name the killer – To name him makes him a martyr to future shooters, and may inspire future mass shootings.

Sadly, there is a viral element to actions like those of the Christchurch shooter. It has been observed in the actions of mass shooters across the world, and specifically in the USA. In a 2015 article for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell wrote Thresholds of Violence – apparently the study of a wave of riots in the 1960s (a far more understandable phenomenon in my books) shone a light on the viral nature, and increasing normalization of mass shooting. It is well worth the read.
One may imagine this little blog post got a LOT of views in the wake of March 15th 2019. The topics may be a little apples and oranges, there may be a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t element to it all. I believe it utterly fruitless if you hope to consign someone like the shooter to the trash heap of history, but in terms of not naming the shooter in the near future – for both crisis management, and humanitarian grounds – absolutely. Do not utter his name.

Were I ever to write on the shootings at some point in the future, I would intend to honour, name and remember both the 51 Muslim New Zealanders who were murdered by a weak, ineffectual man, and the heroes of the day. When writing of the shooter, I’d denounce him for what he is, to quote Christopher Hitchens new commandments a “…psychopathic criminal with ugly delusions”. Future writers will name him. I’d only ask they do not lionize him.

This piece was originally titled “On Herostratic Fame…” Today I am re-christening it “The Temple of Artemis”.

Hi folks welcome back to Tales of History and Imagination. I’m working from a laptop this week as my tablet is in the shop being repaired – it took a tumble off the work desk over the weekend and needs a new screen. This also means I don’t have Photoshop – sorry if this week’s pictures are a little uninspiring.

This could be listed as a “Tales of History and imagination are all around us” post, the topic jumped into my head in the wake of the Jussie Smollett incident, although it is fair to say his case only loosely fits the purview.

Today we go back to ancient history, to a famous date in 356 BC, to recall the 2nd biggest event of that day.

The Temple of Artemis was built in the Greek Enclave of Ephesus, in what is modern day Turkey. One of Antipater of Sidon’s Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it had three iterations- a Bronze age temple built in the 7th Century BC and destroyed by a flood, a second iteration paid for by their Lydian overlord, King Croesus (the man who gives us the term, not well used these days “As rich as Croesus”), and a third version eventually demolished for good by Goth invaders in the late 4th Century AD. Our story today is concerned with the second iteration.

Oh, I should mention, Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt, wilderness, wild animals, the moon, and chastity- In Rome their version was Diana.

A statue of Artemis

The second temple of Artemis was impressive for its’ time. 115 metres long, 46 metres wide, and 40 metres high – much bigger than the Parthenon, (which is just shy of 70 metres long and 31 metres wide). What also made it impressive was that it was the first Greek temple to be built of marble. Now of course you couldn’t completely build a temple out of marble at the time. There were wooden braces helping to hold it all together, and a wooden roof. There were heroic scenes from Greek mythology on show throughout the temple, including the Amazons, who in Greek legend sought protection from Heracles in Ephesus. At the altar, open to the air, there was a wooden statue of Artemis, possibly carved out of ebony – though I have seen it claimed it was made from cedar. On 21st July 356 BC an incident occurred at the temple. Two things of note happened that day, and I should mention if our protagonist could look into the future 3 or 4 decades I think he would have picked another date. If he could look forward to November 22nd 1963, where very little was being said about the deaths of CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley due to John F Kennedy’s assassination, or 25th June 2009 where Michael Jackson’s death overshadowed Farrah Fawcett’s passing he would have learnt a little something also. Herostratus however was overshadowed by the birth of Alexander the Great. This stress on fame is pertinent to our tale.

In the early morning of 21st July 356 BC, chaos broke out in the streets of Ephasus. A huge cloud of dark smoke rose from the temple. The entire building enveloped in a wall of flame. Someone had climbed up into the rafters and set the place on fire. The historian Plutarch later wrote of the terror and despair as Ephesians

“…ran through the city beating their faces and crying out that that day had brought forth a great scourge and calamity in Asia”.

The destruction of the temple alone was bad enough, what upset the Ephesians more was that such a calamity could happen must mean Artemis had deserted them. Amid the chaos a young man – possibly a foreigner or a slave – of whom very little is known, stands there looking very pleased with himself. He stops panicked Ephesians here and there to comment on how incredible the fire was. The young man happily told all around him, he was the arsonist. He invited them to also admire his handiwork. Herostratus, the young man in question, was soon brought in. Though happy to confess he was tortured just to make especially sure he was the firebug.

Herostratus destroyed the Temple of Artemis because he wanted to do something the world would remember him for forever. Aghast, the Ephesians executed Herostratus, then forbade the utterance of his name for all eternity, a “damnatio memoriae” (condemnation of memory). If the Ephesians could have looked forwards to 2003, they may have moderated this action somewhat.

In 2003 Barbara Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for $50 Million over an unapproved aerial photograph of her oceanside home (one of 12,000 photos taken to document coastal erosion). Her action turned an obscure site with few views and only 6 downloads of the photo (2 of which were by Streisand’s lawyers) viral. Thousands downloaded “image 3850”. The site had close to 500,000 views in the following month. The “Streisand Effect” can have quite the kickback.

The Ephesians never faced the same kickback. Of course they would have other troubles. The aforementioned Alexander the Great would conquer them in his war on Persia. After his death his general Lysimachus tried to relocate them out of existence, which did not go well for him.. but those are stories for another day. Of course people spoke his name, quietly, because he was taboo – and we all like to live a little dangerously. Ancient historians Theopompus and Strabo discuss him by name. Medieval English author Geoffrey Chaucer references the incident in “The House of Fame”. Sir Thomas Browne mentions him by name, pointing to how his name has outlived the names of the judges who sentenced him. Cervantes mentions him in Don Quixote. Herman Melville, of Moby Dick fame wrote in “Mardi, and a Voyage Thither”

“whoso stones me, shall be as Erostratus, who put torch to the temple…”

On 6th October 1939 Adolf Hitler made a speech to the Reichstag, translated

“It is clear to me that there is a certain Jewish international capitalism and journalism that has no feeling at all in common with the people whose interests they pretend to represent but who, like Herostratus of old, regard incendiarism as the greatest success of their lives”

In more recent years he pops up from time to time. The iconiclast and writer Gore Vidal mentions him in the novel Two Sisters. Jean- Paul Sartre wrote a short story on the tale. Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky delves into the tale in his 1979 film Stalker.

I don’t think we use the term enough these days but to seek Herostratic fame means to commit a criminal act for the notoriety.

Originally posted 25th February 2019, before many New Zealanders realized the extent to which far right ideology existed in New Zealand. Edited 2020. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow, unapologetic leftist, humanist and progressive.