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Review: Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate

As story elements, the cauldron and the magical potion are almost overinvested with the history of Western literature and folklore. They stand out as props. Handling them clumsily will dissolve a horror story with staleness.

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Review: Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate

There’s word of a clandestine gathering. Of the congregants performing rituals with talismanic objects and blood. Is it a witches’ sabbath or an underground Catholic mass? The answer wasn’t so clear in (fiercely Protestant) King James I’s England. As far as the authorities are concerned, they’re the same thing. “Witchery popery popery witchery,” the king’s clerk repeats assuredly in Jeanette Winterson’s new novel, The Daylight Gate, inspired by the real-life trial of the Lancashire witches in 1612. Having narrowly survived a shipwreck and then a Catholic assassination conspiracy known as the Gunpowder Plot, King James allows his paranoia and religious fundamentalism to fuel each other. When the Gunpowder Plot failed, the conspirators fled to Lancashire. The king’s enforcers followed, determined to eradicate heresy of all kinds.

Winterson plunges us into a frightening Lancashire of her own making, with the witch hunt already underway. A vagrant woman known as Old Demdike has been imprisoned on suspicion of witchcraft, and her ragged relatives and supporters meet on Good Friday to plot her escape. Alice Nutter, a wealthy landowning widow, happens across the meeting, and the Demdike crew move quickly to draw her into their plot; they claim to know Alice has magical powers and insist she use them to free Old Demdike. When the local magistrate appears to round up the Demdike crew, Alice isn’t taken into custody. But her presence at the meeting is noted and she’s tarred by association. Her freedom will last only as long as it takes the clerk and magistrate to build up a case.

The witch hunt is a horror narrative, but the horror in The Daylight Gate comes not from the sudden, lethal whims of the crowd. It derives instead from the mundane violence and wretchedness of existence in 17th-century Europe, a century of war and plagues. Awaiting their trial, the Lancashire prisoners waste away in an underground cell where they sleep next to, and eventually in, their own waste. Their skin festers and they fight with rats for the rainwater that dribbles in. The youngest Demdike girl, Jennet, an underfed girl of nine, is pimped at the local alehouse by her mother. These details sound almost baroque in their hellishness, as if Winterson were spinning a stylized, Boschian dystopia. In fact, her description of 17-century life isn’t too off the historical mark. During anxious times of plague, famine, or as in this case, political unrest, survival was often a nasty business. When people are dehumanized and powerless against the sources of their suffering, it’s alarmingly easy for them to brutalize others. Winterson’s clipped, matter-of-fact narration underscores the degradation of daily life. One rape is disposed of in a sentence: “Tom Peeper raped Sarah Device.” Horror does indeed lie in banality.

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Magic is real in Winterson’s Lancashire and this is perhaps the author’s biggest risk. As story elements, the cauldron and the magical potion are almost overinvested with the history of Western literature and folklore. They stand out as props. Handling them clumsily will dissolve a horror story with staleness. In The Daylight Gate, Winterson unabashedly incorporates some of the most familiar tropes of fairy-tale magic: an enchanted mirror, a Faustian bargain, warty old hags, toadstools. But why not? This is, after all, a story about witches. To omit these objects, or worse, include them without motivation would drag the novel down with tentativeness. In the novel, poppets pierced with pins inflict real damage, and Alice isn’t merely stunningly beautiful, but impossibly so, maintaining her looks with a youth elixir.

Alice’s beauty is familiar territory for Winterson, who takes a special interest in the power of human bodies to attract and repel. In her earlier novel, Written on the Body, Winterson’s narrator (name and sex never declared) takes a lover, Louise, who, like Alice, is an unearthly beauty. Later, the narrator halfheartedly takes another lover, Gail, whose body repulses: Gail is like “a left-over jelly at a children’s party.” At one point Gail gets drunk and vomits half-digested clams onto her blouse without bothering to clean herself. Such difficult bodies also populate The Daylight Gate. Old Demdike is covered in weeping sores, and on the day of their execution, two of the female condemned are so racked with syphilis contracted from their jailers that they cannot stand. These are grotesque bodies we want to recoil from, but Winterson takes us by the scruff and shoves our faces closer to them. Amid the squalor, there are also moments of brief transcendence over corporeal humiliations. Alice takes one of the fugitive Gunpowder Plotters, Christopher Southworth, as her lover. Though castrated and severely disfigured from torture, Christopher and Alice nonetheless take deep pleasure in their own and each other’s bodies when they’re together.

Witch hunters often find what they’re looking for, and today there are countless works—from scholarly books to plays—that reckon with the twisted logic of the hunt. Winterson’s novel is a valuable addition to these; in the end, it isn’t proof of magic that does in the accused, but plain old miscarriage of justice and exploitation of the most vulnerable. Witch hunts work by dismantling the traditional bonds of community and turning people against those close to them. These relationships may already be under strain when people are forced to compete for limited resources or tenuous social standing. In The Daylight Gate, the witness who condemns the accused at trial is a relative of theirs who “shows no emotion,” for there’s “no emotion to show.” Winterson shows us that such denial of hope and human feeling in a person is a curse far more evil than anything achievable by hexes and “dark magic.”

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Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate is available now from Grove Press; to purchase it, click here.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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