Thomas Robert Parker
Not too far from where I live, if you follow that road through the moors, there’s an old stone house. It’s not too hard to find; just carry on until you pass the ‘Dog and Duck Inn’ and after half a mile or so you’ll come to a fork in the road. If you go on a day like this, when the sun’s high and the birds are in full choir, you’ll find the walk a pleasant one. Many a time I’ve walked up that way with the family. You often see hang-glides out over the tops, trying to outdo the hunting Peregrine falcon, (though you’ll be lucky to spot one of them.)
The walk usually continues along the main road on to the ‘Golden Fleece’; where the cider’s chilled and the tables have a perfect view over the Dales. But today, if you decided not to follow the main road, you’ll see it forks sharply to the left. A car would miss the lane entrance under the strangling growth of Bell Heather and Bilberry plants. Fortunately, without the hindrance of machinery, you’ll find walking down the reclaimed lane to be a minor challenge.
Only about a mile down the lane, the crawling plant life gives up and clears. Here, in this clearing stands an old stone house. And it is just that; don’t be fooled by the moss burdened, wooden post claiming it to be ‘Moor Top Cottage’. For this does not resemble a fairy-tale, thatched roof cottage, straight out of a Disney film. It is a two story Yorkstone house with heavily weathered, wooden windows that are just too small for such a dominating building; and a dry stone wall clinging to the perimeter.
Feel free to knock on the door. Don’t mind the peeling paint. Two people will greet you; a man in his late thirties, already showing a patch-quilt of greying hair; and his wife whose tempestuous, red locks are being held at bay in a tight ponytail. Both share piercing dark eyes that almost betray their soft smiles. They are well dressed and do not seem out of place. The offer of a cup of tea and rest from walking seems almost natural and is certainly welcoming. It is all innocent enough for you to take a moment to sit in the front room and accept a glass of juice instead; the walk back is still to come. Read More
Recently, much attention has been given to a short song (really little more than a ditty) from the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. The unsuccessful campaign to get ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead’ to the number one spot of the UK singles chart in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s death sparked a large debate as to the ethics of such an act of protest, with many, including BBC Radio One controller Ben Cooper, labeling it as ‘distasteful’. This short article, submitted to an English Literature journal, will not attempt to analyse the ethics of this politically motivated campaign. Instead, it will briefly examine the song in its original context, and ask whether similar ethical difficulties can be read in the film as were raised regarding the recent campaign.
For the purpose of the article, I will treat the song as an example of an anti-elegy. Spargo explains anti-elegy as tracing ‘the horizon of dis-satisfaction’, turning from elegy as an aspect of ‘lyrical economy to a more open mode of ethical complaint’, allowing for criticism of the departed. Elegy, on the other hand, can only present ‘a song of lamentation’, and this song certainly does not lament. Rather it celebrates the death that it addresses, the crushing of the Wicked Witch of the East by Dorothy’s tornado riding house. This joyful tone is most clearly expressed in the simplistic rhyming of ‘witch’ with ‘which’ and the energetic pace at which the song is performed, combining to produce a sense of impromptu over-emotion at hearing what is apparently good news. That the celebration of the Wicked Witch of the East’s death is twinned with welcoming Dorothy to Munchkinland, serves to keep the song palatable to a family audience. The parade and colourful ceremony with which Dorothy is greeted serve to encourage us to focus on how glad the Munchkins are to see her rather than their disturbingly simple pleasure in verifying that the witch is ‘not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead’. It is this rather naively callous ‘coffin cheering’ which was deemed ethically questionable in the attempt to place the song at number one in the UK music charts following Thatcher’s passing, and yet it is unashamedly present here in the song’s original filmic presentation, aimed at families and children especially. Read More