Pins & Needle No. 27: Matthew Mercier

Pins & Needles

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

No. 27: Matthew Mercier

Q. Do you think humans are naturally drawn, in some way, to the ugly, as you once were to the witch in The Wizard of Oz? Why might that be, considering the connotation that ugly = evil?

Absolutely, whether we admit it or not. But it’s queasy territory—defining the grotesque in physical terns. Every culture creates it’s own prison camps—ugly and pretty—and it’s hard to break out. Ugly behavior sells, that’s for sure. Look at realty television. We can’t look away. We say, “At least I’m not like that!” But it’s hypocritical. We’re all capable of being ugly, acting ugly, and we’re all one nasty disease or car crash away from an altered appearance. I think I’m attracted—in fiction and life—not so much to ugly as unconventional beauty, the way people break out. Margaret Hamilton didn’t fit the Hollywood conventions of beauty, but she’s more dynamic then Dorothy and she stole the film.

Q. You move from Oz to Middle Earth—did that change complicate at all your understanding of beauty and ugliness and good and evil? Aren’t the ugly orcs evil and the pretty elves good, or is that too simple a statement?

Most of my lessons concerning beauty and ugliness came from the schoolyard. I’d be lying if I said Lord of the Rings changed me. As a boy, I read it simplistically, flattened it like a fairy tale, which it’s not. When we played in the woods you can bet it was Orcs vs. Elves. But then I re-read it in college. Allow me to geek out. The orcs were once elves. The Nazgul, men. The dwarfs: noble but greedy. The elves: brave but apolitical and greedy. Hobbits come the closest to being purely “good,” until you read “The Scouring of the Shire,” chapter, which everyone forgets. But of course the granddaddy of anti-heroes is Gollum, the addict who’s trying to kick the habit. Without his ying & yang heroics, the book loses its core.

Q. “Mother’s philosophy of parenting—justifiably sheltering her children from a violent and toxic culture—left a void in me that needed filling.” Fairy-tale characters often have a void, or a lack, that sets them out into the world to then find the solution. Have you ever found that solution or fix, the thing that fits into your old void?

This will sound pretentious and cliché, but it happens to be true: I fill the void with writing and stories. Ugh. Makes me sound like I’m on the couch, but writing is hardly therapeutic or cathartic for me. It fills a hole. Story is my church. Not always a healthy thing. It’s led me to take crazy chances in my life. (Like, being a writer) Hell, I recently ended up living in Edgar Allan Poe’s basement in The Bronx–nobody in their right mind takes a job like that unless they’ve a got a magnet for darkness, a hole to fill. Don’t know if I’ll ever fill it. Maybe I’m Gollum.

Matthew Mercier’s essay, “What Margaret Hamilton Means to Me,” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.

“What Margaret Hamilton Means to Me”

Mother—staunch feminist, veteran of the ’80s anti-nuclear protests, a blue-ribbon Peace Mom—does not allow war toys in the house. No G. I. Joes. No model B-52 bombers. And certainly no plastic guns—not even a water pistol. This pacifist philosophy extends to comic books, violent movies, and Saturday morning cartoons—television in general she considers a wasteland so her solution is to ban it outright, except PBS.

Denied the basics of ’80s pop ephemera, my brother and I are unable to earn the respect of our peers on the schoolyard. We cannot reenact scenes from the A-Team or Knight Rider. We cannot quote Arnold or Stallone or Mr. T, although we do know Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Sid Caesar skits by heart, thus ensuring our perennial roles as outcasts. Freaks. Nerds.

We despise the regime we are living under, and what it has made us.

In the feudal system of the family, however, the rulers make exceptions, and the No Television commandment is broken one night a year. The night will be different depending on your age. For me, it’s early in the year. Around Easter, if memory serves. We’ve waited eleven months for this. Nothing is left to chance. Days in advance, Father climbs on the roof and aligns the flimsy antenna just so, in order to catch a clear signal from NBC. Even Mother will lose her cool if the image is not pristine and sharp. For this one night, our lower middle class family has scrimped and saved so that we might graduate from a black and white television the size of a toaster to the wide-screen glories of the color Magnavox.

For what will this night be without color? Without green?

I’m always a little impatient with the whole Kansas prelude, with Judy leaning against the haystack and dreaming about rainbows, with the tornado, with the first big musical number. I’m always on the edge of my seat, waiting for the camera to pull back into a wide shot and an explosion of blood-orange smoke to scatter the Munchkins.

There she is. Fluttering black cape, sharp pointy hat, cackling laughter, and of course that beautiful, luscious, delectable key-lime skin.

I’m screwed to my seat. My pulse quickens and my skin prickles.

She scares me, but I love her. Not romantically, of course, and certainly not sexually. I just love her, the villain, and everything she stands for. Or what I think she stands for.