Author’s Notes, Halloween 2010

We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story. –Bram Stoker, Dracula

Though now it is almost a month since Halloween, and in internet time, that’s a length almost inconceivably distant, it is my intention to revisit that holiday once more. For me, the question of this post’s seasonableness is a nonentity for I am of that breed that anticipates Halloween for half a year and spends the other six months in reminiscence of the previous ‘eve.  I had intended to write this earlier and publish it sooner so that it may have been timelier, but other responsibilities took precedence. The four posts I wrote for Halloween, Vampire Numbers, Infernal Integers, Zombi(nacci), and The Sum of All Fears, were wildly popular. The number of hits on Halloween weekend exceeded the site traffic received during any other similar period, and the residual popularity of those posts have made November my most successful month.

Of the Halloween posts, Vampire Numbers received the most attention. This is almost certainly due to the attention given to it by Clifford Pickover, the mathematician who defined vampire numbers. Next up was Zombi(Nacci) followed by Infernal Integers. Disappointingly, the post that went least read was also the post that took the most effort to write: The Sum of All Fears. In retrospect, this is not surprising. It is written in a tone and style quite different than any of my previous posts. At ten pages long, it is of intimidating length as far as internet documents are concerned. Worse, the first five pages are oddly organized exposition. The heart of the post doesn’t begin until page five, and its mathematical content doesn’t begin in earnest until page six. I fear that this presented something unappealing to most readers and that many found this surface impregnable. I apologize for this, and would like to devote the rest of this post to explaining some of The Sum of All Fears’ oddities.

The Sum of All Fears is my attempt at writing a mathematical “weird-tale.” I’m a great fan and collector of horror literature, especially the eccentric, romantic, gothic literature of the nineteenth century and the tone of The Sum of All Fears is my parody of the lexicon and phraseology of those works. Its organization (as a collection of documents) and introduction is a parody of Dracula, which begins in a very similar fashion. In fact, it had initially been my intention for the final Halloween post to be merely a link to a short story by Bram Stoker, The Judge’s House, which has a math student as its protagonist. However, I felt that this was an unsatisfactory, anticlimactic way to end what had been a great creative week for me, and so I endeavored at the eleventh hour to cobble together my own horror story.

The post is loaded with allusions to the horror genre. To someone not wise to their inclusion, their presence probably makes the whole article even more opaque. I will try to provide some clarity by explaining the different references here. I apologize for the absence of mathematics in this post, but the post following this one is mathematically dense, and more than makes up for its absence here.

“The Miskatonic Messenger” is an invention of my own. It is a newspaper serving the communities residing near the Miskatonic River in Massachusetts.  The Miskatonic River is a fiction of the prolific horror/fantasy/sci-fi author, H.P. Lovecraft.  According to him, the river flows from north central Massachusetts to the fictional town of Kingsport just north of Salem, Massachusetts.  He created an entire region surrounding the river and locates several fictitious towns around it. These include Arkham, and Dunwich, where my story takes place.

The seal following the introduction is a design created by other fervent Lovecraft fans for Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. Several of his stories mention this institution and it is within its mysterious library that a copy of the dreaded and forbidden Necronomicon is held.

The date of the first newspaper article is June 6, 2006 or 6/6/06. Its awkward title, Dunwich’s Exciting, Adventurous Double, was merely an excuse to force in an acrostic for DEAD.  Robert Kams, is an anagram of Bram Stoker. The name of professor mentioned in the second paragraph, Andre Delambre, is the name of the scientist in the 1958 version of The Fly. Larry Talbot is the doomed protagonist from the 1941 movie, The Wolf Man. The letter penned by “D” is of course written by Dracula, and he intends to stay at Hill House, Shirley Jackson’s famous haunted house from The Haunting of Hill House.

The next article is dated June 11, 2006, which was the day after the first full moon in June of that year. The first wolf howls were heard on Elm St., the eponymous street from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm St. The first victim of the werewolf is Frank Cotton, the first victim in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.

Dr. Giancomo Rappaccini is the prototypical mad scientist from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter. The family he works for, the Torrances are the family from The Shining. Their daughter, Regan, shares the name of the possessed from The Exorcist. Finally, she goes to Bates High School, the high school of Carrie, which is itself an allusion to Norman Bates of Psycho.

Riget Hospital is the name of the hospital in Lars von Trier’s strange TV series, Riget, which inspired Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital. The name of the first doctor mention, Dr. Stauf, is an anagram for Faust of legend. Dr. Brundel is the scientist in David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986).

Regan dies on Wednesday, July 19 giving 43 days from the onset of her anemia as is the course of the malady that afflicts Lucy Westenra in Dracula. Her parents are Gomez and Morticia from The Adams Family. The poem, “The Death-Bed” by Thomas Hood, printed with her obituary was excerpted by Abraham van Helsing to eulogize Lucy in Dracula.

The name of the author of “The Dunwich Problem, its Global Implications, and the Need for Immediate Action,” Philip Ward, is the name of a recurring character in Lovecraft’s fiction who may represent Lovecraft himself. The excessive amounts of post-nominal titles are a parody of van Helsing who appends his notes in Dracula in a similar fashion. Similarly, his arrogant, eccentric style is a parody of van Helsing’s.

There are a smattering of Latin phrases throughout his paper; their meaning is thus: Barba tenus sapientes– is a phrase attributable to Desiderius Erasmus that means something like “only superficially intelligent.” Ars magna– “The Great Art.” This was Gerolamo Cardano’s term for algebra. Dat deus incrementum– By god they increase. Finally, Pax Dei, Pax Americana, Pax Mundus- Peace of God, American Peace, World peace.

The chief editor of the Journal of Miskatonic Studies, Paul Sheldon is the writer from Stephen King’s Misery.

The towing service is named after Ripley from the Aliens franchise. The truck towed is owned by the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil franchise. It is insured by Milton, Chadwick & Waters, the law firm from The Devil’s Advocate. The vehicle crashes into Crystal Lake, the lake from which Jason Voorhees emerges in Friday the 13th.  It carries the T-Virus, again from the Resident Evil series.

I hope this in some way makes the post more approachable and enjoyable. I had great fun writing it, and hope that people will enjoy it as well. However, I realize that its enjoyment is dependent on the reader having a great deal of specialized knowledge. If you haven’t already read it, I hope these notes allow you to understand its structure, and if you have read it, thank you, and I hope that with these explanations you will enjoy it more. While it was fun to write, it may have been too idiosyncratic a piece to include here. I’m already writing to a limited audience by creating a math-centric site, and when I insist that they also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the horror genre, I may be cutting my audience down to an extreme minority. Perhaps only one:

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About Webster

Transitionally, I’m a math student and tutor en route to becoming a math professor. Permanently, I’m a mathematics enthusiast. I study mathematics professionally, and as a leisure activity. At the time of writing this, I’m a generalist. I have let to reach the depth of understanding that requires specialization. Though I eagerly await that time, I do enjoy the ‘now’ and find there is bountiful food for thought at any level.
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3 Responses to Author’s Notes, Halloween 2010

  1. Pingback: The Sum of All Fears | Spherical Cow

  2. James Rossi says:

    Pretty sure Oscar fits into that nice little graph.

    As do I to an extent only without the mental faculties to actually recall most of what would have been needed to get some of the more obscure jokes. That said while the least mathematical article, I do think it is my favorite simply for the exhaustive references made.

    Also as a wise man once said, “I always liked that, probably because I actually understood it.”

    • Webster says:

      Thanks, it was a really fun post to write. It was exhausting, though. I spent October 30th helping someone move and exhausted my time and energy in that activity, as such I scrambled to get that post done in time for Halloween. I was disappointed that so few people read it, only two on Halloween, and I wanted to call more attention to it (as I’m vain), so I created this follow up post. I’m glad you got it, I hope now you get it more.

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