Victims and Villains

Following is the front cover for my next book, Victims and Villains: Barbie and Ken Meet Sherlock Holmes, and the text for the back cover. It will be published by Ramble House (www.ramblehouse.com) later this year.

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BARBIE’S DEAD, at last!

On March 9, 2009, the infamous Barbie doll turned 50. As for her companions, the curiously asexual Ken and the forgettable Skipper (what kind of name is that for one’s baby sister, anyway?), nobody seems inclined to bake cakes with candles for either one of them. Barbie’s the star, at least for feminists and professors with time on their hands who have argued ad infinitum that this doll is turning our daughters into prepubescent sex maniacs, enthralled by her perky and anatomically impossible physique. But less hysterical researchers have recently noticed that little girls don’t seem at all inclined to emulate Barbie. They do, instead, hack off her oh-so-perfect hair, melt her dainty fingers over purloined cigarette lighters, and generally use her and her cohorts as subjects for grisly acts of mayhem. Kill them! And make ‘em suffer.

The innocence of childish impulses toward the dastardly is, of course, the real charm of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Hanging. Stabbing. Poisoning. Death by snake. One poor fellow even “blanched.” To read the most famous of Holmes adventures through at a sitting only increases one’s admiration for the ingenuity of the author who finds such varied and engaging ways of tumbling his victims into the hereafter. How much more gruesome pleasure is thus afforded by the sight of Barbie and company done to death over and over again in living color and three dimensions. It’s almost as delightful as spending an afternoon mutilating Barbie—or the truly dreadful Ken—with lighters and scissors! Sex? A passing fancy. Violence? Ah, that’s the ticket!

Karal Ann Marling
Professor Emerita, American Studies and Art History
University of Minnesota

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Vale John Michell, 1933 – 2009

fortean_times_3442_124.jpgjm_self2.jpgI was very sad to learn of the death of John Michell, the eccentric ‘Dr Who-like’ author of many books on geomancy and sacred geometry. I corresponded with him when I was doing my Masters on building ceremonies in the early 1980s, inviting him to give a lecture at the University of Minnesota in 1984. When I picked John up at the airport, he had a brown paper bag full of clothes and a suitcase full of books. His lecture at the university was the best … and the worst. He needed a heliograph (?), and when I asked him what that was he said after a moment’s thought, ‘A toaster for books’. And he was absolutely right! The spine of the book he was projecting broke, the extreme heat melted the glue, and the in-built fan blew the pages out of the machine one after the other while he was speaking. It was hilarious! But John wasn’t fazed one bit. He stayed in our tiny one-bedroom flat in Minneapolis for a couple of days, and there were stories galore concerning that. For instance, he slept in the nude, blanket-less, on our sofa, waking very late, while we woke early and had to ‘divert our eyes’ as we tip-toed around him! Then in 1992, when I was doing my PhD and flat broke, I stayed with him for a few day in London (his house was just around the corner from the Portobello Road Market) and he was an extremely gracious host. What a colourful character John was!