Pygmalia: Photo Essay

Pleasure merchantThe following photo essay is a stand-in for this month's Pygmalia blog. Yes, I know you were looking forward to another rambling musing in re: Galateas and such, but instead, you can thrill at the sight of various locations from The Pleasure Merchant, out in paperback and ebook (Kindle and Nook) this month! 

The Pleasure Merchant; or, The Modern Pygmalion is a novel near and dear to my heart, and going around London looking first-hand for the first time at many of the set pieces was curious and intriguing. I actually teared up a bit at the sight of 12 Bloomsbury Square. I know! 

I love London. It's my favorite city in the world, and tramping around all over the place seeking various addresses in real life, rather than on Google Maps, was really just such a thrill. Many thanks to my hosts Jared and Anne for hosting me as I cavorted around, being overly excited about things like... well, like putting money on an Oyster card, fumbling through change, eating curry, saying "Sorry!" to everyone, and so on and so forth. Many thanks as well to Mark and Rachel Newton for allowing me to come to the country to impose on their hospitality, as well.

So, here we go on a trip into the heart of 18th century London - as much as we can by looking at pictures of modern London! Just imagine everyone is way sicker and instead of cars and Arc'teryx jackets everyone is in carriages and wearing frock coats. 

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Pygmalia: Necrophallus

Night voicesThis year I’m selecting a series of Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz

A brief note before we begin: The Pleasure Merchant is up for Kindle pre-order! If you’ve enjoyed these blogs, or hey, even if you hated them but love Pygmalion stories, or know someone who does, boy howdy I’d appreciate it if you pre-ordered, or schlepped on over to Amazon on November 17th to pick up a paper copy.

Anyway, with that out of the way… it’s my birthday, and it’s also close to Halloween, so it’s time for some horror content. Read on with caution, as this month’s entry is pretty brutal. I mean, it’s literally titled…

“Corpse Dagger (Necrophallus)”, by Makino Osamu, translated from the Japanese by Chun Jin, 2005, in Night Voices, Night Journeys, ed. Asamatsu Ken and Robert M. Price.

With a title like that, how could Osamu’s Lovecraftian tale of pain and desire not be an instant classic?

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Pygmalia: Pygmalion

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz 

PygmalionIt’s Low Hanging Fruit month here at Pygmalia, hot on the heels of me totally flaking out of a July column, but don’t judge me too hard… I’d never seen Pymalion, and quite frankly I didn’t know it existed until April, as I was idly browsing the “English” section of my local video store. After noting the Criterion case, I rented it immediately. Um, by which I mean, I noted it starred Second Hottest Actor Of All Time Award-Winner Leslie Howard* as Professor Henry Higgins, I rented it immediately. What? I’m only human.

Pygmalion (1938)

I grew up on musicals, and as I first saw My Fair Lady during the pre-Internet age, I think I can be forgiven for not going down the Google-hole to discover that the dialogue and the staging were taken from the 1938, Bernard Shaw-scripted black and white film, Pygmalion. To be fair, I did run out and buy myself a copy of the play at a used bookstore, the same one I still have, and read it several times—but as to finding out about the Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller version, that took me until this year.

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Pygmalia: Robocop (1987 & 2014)


It’s a two-movie column this month at Pygmalia! In a fit of madness I watched the 2014 Robocop remake and realized it could sort of be considered a Pygmalion story, which led me to re-watch the original Robocop, which is much better… even if it’s less of a Pygmalion story. Let’s see if I can straighten out my thoughts into something coherent below…

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Pygmalia: Galatea

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz

Many people suggested the subject of this month’s column, either in the comments here at Pornokitsch, or on Facebook/Twitter, so here we go with this column’s first video game! Or at least, text-based adventure. 

GalateaGalatea (2000)

Galatea, by Emily Short, is an award-winning text-based adventure, or interactive fiction game. Praised for its NPC, the eponymous Galatea, it apparently revolutionized the genre of interactive fiction games due to of the depth and complexity of Galatea’s responses to the player. Not only that, but the game is multilinear, meaning you can take multiple paths to the same endings, having a different experience each time, creating your own story within the framework of the game.  

On its surface, Galatea seems simple enough: you are a famous art critic at a gallery opening, and you discover the statue of Galatea on a pedestal. But Galatea is more than a statue; she is an “animate,” which you may or may not get explained in more detail, while you play the game. The game is then to talk to her, to solicit responses, and respond in turn to have a conversation with this strange creature. Once you start, however, you may find it's more challenging than it might sound...

The first thing Galatea says to you is, “They told me you were coming.” From there, you can speak to her by “asking” about topics. You can “look,” you can “touch” and do other physical actions like “embrace” or “smell” Galatea; you can “tell” her things, and apologize if you annoy her. 

The game is… unsettling. Galatea is wise but naïve, direct but oblique, as confusing to speak to as you might imagine a living, sentient statue would be. She has what appears to be a rich inner life. It is very strange.

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Pygmalia: Watch and Ward by Henry James

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz. I’m woefully under-read in comics specifically, but any and all recommendations are welcome!

This month’s entry is not only our first novel, but our first audience suggestion! Back in January, BenjaminJB mentioned Henry James’ 1871 novel Watch and Ward contained a wife-training element, and boy howdy yes it does. Thanks, BenjaminJB! I think.

Like last month, Watch and Ward doesn’t directly reference the Pygmalion myth… but it is in many ways a flattering, and even romantic treatment of Thomas Day, real-life Pygmalion wannabe, so we’re going with it.

Watch and Ward (published in 1878) - Written by Henry James (later disowned by him)Watch and Ward (1871)

I’ve never read Henry James before, so Watch and Ward served as my introduction to his writing… which is interesting, because apparently James at least partially disowned this novel later in life. It does read like an early novel, and its being written for serialized publication in The Atlantic Monthly makes for a necessarily episodic feel to the action, though not in a particularly good way.

Watch and Ward is the story of Roger Lawrence, a well-to-do dandy who wants nothing more than to marry a nice lady and settle down happily. He settles his affections on a young lady, Miss Morton, even though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him, which she shows by declining his advances on several occasions. Proto-Nice Guy that Roger surely is, he tries one final time, only to depart, humiliated, after she reveals she is engaged to someone way richer (and presumably less soppy) than Roger. Nice guys finish last, am I right, my fellow MRAS? Anyways, after this Roger “would now, he declared, cast his lot with pure reason. He had tried love and faith, but they would none of him.”

It’s important to note that Roger is at this point currently staying in a hotel in town—and before he even goes out to call on Miss Morton, a seedy man in the lobby tries to touch him for one hundred dollars. When Roger declines the man’s desperate pleas, he declares if Roger doesn’t help him, he will “slit his throat.” Roger doesn’t believe the threat, and dismisses the fellow.

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Pygmalia: Vision of Escaflowne

There’s something completely fascinating to me about tales where a person tries to make another, whether from scratch, as in the original Pygmalion myth, or by attempting to permanently re-shape another person’s mind or body. Every aspect of the conceit bewitches and absorbs me—the process by which the metamorphosis occurs (or fails), the fraught relationship between creator and created, the end result of these sorts of experiments. Thus, this year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz. Or email me, emollytanzer [at] I’m woefully underread in comics specifically, but any and all recommendations are welcome!

As January’s column on The Bride featured a storyline that directly referenced the Pygmalion myth, for February I decided to write on something with a much more esoteric relationship to Pygmalion: Vision of Escaflowne, one of the most mid-90s animes ever to come out during the mid-90s. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you, like I, are a veteran of 90s anime, but I’m really not sure how else to describe it… Vision of Escaflowne is a baffling, indescribable thing, and one impossible to meaningfully discuss without revealing major series spoilers. So, you’ve been warned.

Vision of escaflowneVision of Escaflowne (1996)

Vision of Escaflowne gets real weird, but it begins like any other magical girl anime: Kanzaki Hitomi is just your every day high school girl. She has a crush on her senpai, is on the track team, seems to be generally liked by her peers. But Hitomi is special because she can tell accurate fortunes by using Tarot cards, possesses a pendant necklace from her grandmother that has magical powers/can tell accurate time (I dunno), and occasionally (meaning 3x an episode at least for the first half of the series) has prophetic visions.

During a normal everyday track practice, Hitomi, mid-run, has one of said visions, of a young man holding a sword, who appears to her in a pillar of light. This then turns into a different vision of the earth breaking under her feet, her falling, and some winged guy swooping down, angel-like, to save her. Then she awakens in the infirmary—it was just a dream! After a sexually tense interaction with Senpai she does a Tarot reading for them and sees—gasp!—the cards for the Tower, which means separation of lovers (OH NO!! AMANO SENPAI!!) and a dragon. Or serpent, I don’t remember. It looks like a dragon, and dragons are important in Escaflowne. Anyways, this reading inspires her to go back to school with Senpai that night, where she asks him to time her with her magic pendant. If she can run fast enough, he’ll kiss her as a prize.

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Pygmalia: The Bride (1985)

PygmalionSing, O Muse, of Pygmalion, the sculptor so disgusted with womankind that he chiseled himself a wife from stone! Sing of Aphrodite’s decision to reward this questionable impulse by turning the resulting statue into a real, living girl! But most of all, O Muse, sing of the enduring legacy of Pygmalion, for his misogyny and unreasonable expectations inspired generations of artists to contemplate what it would mean to create an ideal instead of finding one in the real world. (Or just, you know, settling.) 

Many Greek myths have found their way into fiction over the years (uh, millenia), obviously and otherwise. Prometheus’ fire-bringing set aflame the Shelleys’ imaginations, among others; Orpheus and Eurydice are recalled in diverse media ranging from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to the film Moulin Rouge!. Countless texts warn against the sort of hubris that damned Icarus, and Dionysus and his maenads show up in that beloved coming of age novel, The Secret History, to name but a few examples.

The Greek's myths endure because they continue to resonate. While Donna Tartt treats The Bacchae directly, the tale of Dionysus’ razing of Thebes is at its heart about the terrifying power of religious mania, the danger in believing you possess all the answers; it points a finger at the hypocrisy of those who pretend they have no shadow side, and cautions them to beware what they repress. Similarly, who among us has not wished we could retrieve something irretrievable, as Orpheus tried in vain to do? And what isn’t appealing about the noble attempt to bring fire to a dark world? 

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