Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Man Who Would Be King.

The most common question an author gets asked is, "Where do you get your ideas"?  Part of what makes it so difficult to answer is that the ideas could very as well come from anywhere, at least to a certain extent.  J.K. Rowling has claimed that Harry Potter just stepped into her head one day while riding on a train.  Tolkien found himself faced with a blank sheet of paper and all at once wrote, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit", without any clue as to the meaning of the word.  Both cases are examples of what might be called sudden inspiration, or a story idea that occurs more or less of its own accord.  This is perhaps as close as anyone can get to a standard operating procedure in the creative arts.  However it's not the only way that a work of fiction is created.  It's also possible for writers to draw inspiration from the world around them.  Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" is one of those cases where sometimes real life encounters lead to the creation of a totally made-up situation.

Kipling scholar Richard Jaffa is able to provide a glimpse at the events that set everything in motion.  "The origins of the story can be found in Kipling's correspondence.  In a lengthy letter to his cousin...He goes on to experience he had...on a train on the other side of India.  He describes how he met a man who was also a Mason.  "Ships upon the sea' are nothing compared to our meetings in India."  The man told Kipling that he had a friend coming across the Empire by train from the East, (that) he could not meet him but that Kipling's route meant his train, if on time, would cross this man's route.  He asked Kipling to take a message which he would not write, to give to this man.  The message was unintelligible to Kipling.  "My brother gave me this message...." continues Kipling.  He goes on to describe how at 5:00 a.m., on a cold winter's morning the Calcutta train drew up alongside his and he sleepily put his head out the window.

"Kipling relates, "I didn't want to go threshing all down the train - there were three Englishmen on it - in my search for the unknown, so I went towards the window and behold, it was the man I was told to find; for he also (doesn't this sound mad?) was a brother of mine."  The man thanked Kipling and said he knew what the message meant.  Kipling comments that he didn't know the name of the man who gave him the message or the man who received it.  The description in this letter confirms the great enthusiasm that Kipling felt for Freemasonry and the concept of universal brotherhood.  It also demonstrates the contemporary significance of Masonry among its adherents in British India at that time (99-100)".

I'll have more to say on the topic of this symbolism later in the review.  At the moment it's enough to note that for a simple short work of fiction, it's amazing how many layers of depth there are to explore if you take a closer look.  It's one of those old curiosities that somehow stand as a kind of sentinel, or testament to the staying power of a well told story.  Perhaps just a handful of authors are able to keep the heads of their popular reputations above the tide of time in such a fashion.  Dickens was one, and Lewis Carroll seems to be another from the time when Kipling first wrote.   In what follows, I'd like to examine both the original story, and it's film adaptation in order to unpack the materials hidden in this simple tale.

This review will be a bit different as I've decided to see if I can't review both Kipling's original story, and its later movie adaptation all in one go.  I'm at least sort of confident in this approach because John Huston's film is an example of that rare beast where the adapter seems to understand his source material on an almost fundamental level.  The result is one of those cases where the text and the picture can be placed alongside without either doing harm to the other.  Huston's respectful approach to the material also has the added bonus that both versions share a thematic overlap.  This makes the critic's job a lot easier, as the underlying concepts of the text inform the movie in a way that is near beat-for-beat.

There are at least three levels that I'm able to unpack in Kipling's narrative.  The first is the lingering question of Imperialism, and how the story tackles this difficult subject.  The second revolves around Jaffa's recognition the presence of Masonic themes in the tale.  An examination of this symbolic aspect of the work leads to a further inspection of the story's third and final theme: the idea of antiquity, and the uses and abuses that this concept is subject to in an ill-informed modern age.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling.

There are two ways to immortality.  One of them is earn the kind of achievement that people will talk about forever.  Mahatma Gandhi provides a good example of this first type.  The other is create such a scandal that your name has no choice except to survive forever as an example to be avoided.  Rudyard Kipling is a rare and exotic breed.  He seems to managed both tricks in the space of a single lifetime.  At least, I think that's what he did.  Part of the hesitation stems from a number of interlinking factors.  Part of it is that all you have to do is mention The Jungle Book to call up whole film reels of childhood memories.  The catch is that just because most viewers are familiar with Walt Disney's last animated feature film, that's still no guarantee the majority of them will ever know that the film's author even existed.  Fewer may even realize that The Jungle Book was, in fact, an actual text.

The result is I can't say I know just what kind of reputation Kipling has in this day and age.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he's a fossil relegated to the darkest corner of a nursery that's escaped our memories.  I'm willing to go far enough in believing maybe handful of book types might remember who he is.  Even if that's the case, there's still a problem of having a notorious reputation.  The closest thing to a basic consensus I can find is that Kipling is regarded in much the same light as H.P. Lovecraft.  He's a great talent lodged inside a troubled and troubling personality.  Like his Providence counterpart, Kipling is seen as the great Imperial Apologist.  He's a man with a blind loyalty to Queen and Country, right or wrong.  Even his best works are alleged to be thinly disguised propaganda.  If he isn't cheering young British boys to throw their lives away for an unjust cause, then he's urging them to keep the "others" in their proper place.

At the same time, he's something of a childhood favorite.  Aside from the Mowgli stories, Kipling is responsible for filling our world with the likes of a mongoose christened "Rikki Tikki Tavi", a street urchin named Kim, and a "Man Who Would Be King".  Each one of these tales, taken together or separate, have since won recognition as genuine classics of both fantasy and adventure.  Still, there is the nonsense drivel known as "The White Man's Burden".  "And so it goes".  You can't admire Kipling.  You can't just bring yourself to throw him away either.  The worst part is the odd, almost schizoid quality that seems to live in his work.  The "Burden" doggerel is some of the most shallow and insensitive waste of good ink ever committed to paper.  Then, if you go from there and read about "The Man Who Would Be King", the strangest result happens.  It's as if the author of that tale were another man who, after reading the poem, got inspired to dash off, as in a white heat, a story with a clear anti-imperialist message at it's core.  The message in that short story is not just true, it's almost downright prophetic in the way it narrates the slow decay and downfall of British rule in India.  An ending that was written by none other than Gandhi himself.

How does one reconcile such a dichotomy?  How can two men live in the same head?  Are we dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde personality?  Does the right hand truly have no idea of what the left is doing?  What gives with this Kipling guy, anyway?  Is he some sort of elaborate fool, or just plain crazy?  Charles Allen is one who author who has at least made a valiant attempt to find an answer.  The question is what kind of writer does historical examinations turn up?  That' the question at the heart of Kipling Sahib, which details RK's exploits in the land of his birth, and how it shaped the writer he became.  It sounds like a standard enough approach, yet the writer uncovered by Allen is not the one I was expecting.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Silkworm (2014).

Part of the stated goal of this blog is to ask questions about the nature of creative writing, in addition to critiquing the finished results of this same process.  That's why it's gratifying to know that a number of writers out there are just as obsessed with the subject as I am.  I suppose it's kind of an honor to discover that one of those authors is J.K. Rowling.  That a writer like her should be concerned with where the stories come from (much less whatever they might mean or not) is one those ideas that might strike an average person as puzzling, if not outright pointless.  What does a success story like her have to be concerned about?  Isn't she rich enough to the point where she can leave that sort of thing to the hired help?

Even if I'm willing to grant that a lot of artists take just such an attitude to their work, the impression I've got from Rowling's books is that she's not the phone-it-in type.  If you can manage a deep dig into her Cormoran Strike novels, for instance, what you'll find is the craftsmanship of a woman who takes her day job too seriously to be lackadaisical about her art.  That's a particular impression I get whenever I turn my attention to her second performance in what is turning out to be a whole series of detective novels, The Silkworm.

It's the second book to be released detailing the exploits of a private detective who's set up shop right in the heart of Denmark Street in London.  Together with his professional colleague, Robin Venetia Ellacott, each novel in the series plays out the by now familiar formula of the Mystery novel.  A crime is committed. Someone consults Rowling's amateur sleuth about it, and together he an Robin start their investigation until the search for clues points them toward the guilty party.  For such a standard setup, it really is amazing just how well Rowling is able to pack almost all of her novels with incidents.  Her writing is able to accomplish two things in these stages.  On the one hand, she always manages to find a way to hook the attention of her readers and lead them into the pages of the mystery.  She does something a lot more important than that, however.  She is able to hold that same attention span for the entire length of the narrative in such a way that you've got to keep turning the pages in order to see what happens next.

With Silkworm, however, Rowling is interested in just a bit more than spinning a good yarn (although she never loses sight that this is the main goal of her book, or the novel in general).  She flat out wants to investigate the art and craft of writing in the same way that her detective is always eager to sink his teeth into a new puzzle to solve.  The way she does this is by creating a mystery with a novel within a novel at its center.  This make-believe text is more than just a prop.  It's probably the closest thing that her actual book has to a guiding symbol.  In addition to this, it also serves as a very useful macguffin that helps drive both the action and conflict of her story.  To understand why the whole thing works, though, is the job of this review.

It will help to make a few caveats before this article gets down to business, however.  The approach of this review is perhaps a bit more involved than normal.  If this should become a problem anywhere down the line, all I can do is point to the author and say, "Don't look at me, she started it".  The reason for this has to do with the way Rowling composes her work.  She's the type of author who always manages to write layers into her novels.  You get them every now and then.  Her technique is very similar to Vladimir Nabokov in this respect.  He was one of those artist who wrote in such a way that often the finished work was a simple looking book on the outside, while on the inside, one theme and meaning was stacked upon another like an intricate birthday cake.  What this means is that a lot of times there are several aspects to be unpacked in just a single text.

The biggest layer of importance is of course Rowling's thoughts on the creative process itself.  This shall be the main subject to which this article will build up to.  Before we can get there, however, there is also the matter of the main character's over-arching narrative.  In addition to the mystery-of-the-week, Rowling's new Mystery series is similar to TV shows like Monk, where every stand-alone story must share space with the series' main plot.  In shows like this, the main plot can often revolve around an unsolved mystery or trauma in the backstory of the detective's past.  For TV's Monk, it was the murder of his wife.  For Rowling's protagonist, it all revolves around the death of his mother Leda.  It's one of those cases where the coroner ruled suicide, while the detective remains convinced it was really homicide.  I suppose the setup is stock-in-trade enough for the Noir genre.  If that should be the case, then what matters is how Rowling chooses to fill in the form.
I have some ideas about the nature of the series back story that we'll get to in a moment.  For now, I should stress that in some ways I probably don't have much business talking about the back story.  The reason why is because a lot of it is pure speculation, with little to go on except for a few hints and clues that may just be red herrings.  I don't know if this is a less professional way of looking at a book or not.  I am certain that, on the whole, I'd be a lot more comfortable just standing back and letting the author do her own thing.  That said, it has to be admitted that part of the fun of mystery thrillers is that it pulls you in by inviting you to speculate on what comes next.  If that aspect can lay claim to being a legitimate part of examining any given work of fiction, then at least I can say it has its place in the critic's toolbox.  With all these caveats in mind, I'd say it's time we begin.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Outsider (2018)

If I had to recommend a good place to start reading Stephen King, which book would it be?  That's a question with no single answer.  Different people will always find their own way into King's works.  Most of the time this means finding the novel or short story that works best for this or that particular person.  With any luck, the experience of browsing through one of these texts will be enough to turn the average person into a reader.  There are a lot worse things you can do than get hooked on books by reading a King novel.

I can point to a lot of good starting places.  Perhaps the best gateway text has proven to be the author's 80s anthology series, Skeleton Key.  It's easy to see why this simple collection is often cited as an ideal reading primer.  Most of the stories in it can be taken in at one reading, which is a value if the daily schedule is busy.  Another plus is that all of them appear to be simple enough in terms of subject matter.  In addition to all this, a response I keep hearing from readers, one that seems to span the passage and arrival of generations, is that for a series of unconnected short-stories, the whole thing almost reads like a novel.   

Skeleton Key seems to be one of those books that can sometimes grow on the reader.  The first time you read it, what grabs your attention are the situations to be found in each individual story, and all the gory special effects that come with it.  Those who choose to have a second and, maybe, with any luck, third read-through will perhaps find themselves focusing more on the character dynamics, and slowly become aware of King's skill at drawing you into his narratives.  For those who find themselves turned into dedicated readers by the experience, a fifth and sixth study of Key might just make them aware that King is an actual author, one with legitimate, and above all, literary themes embedded in his writings.

In some ways, I guess the best praise I can find for King is that his work itself is often a discovery process of literature, if that makes any sense.  Perhaps it makes sense to view his books like one of those paintings that look simplistic at first glance, only to catch you off guard when you start to notice little minute details that add to its overall complexity.  What makes Skeleton Key such a likely beginner's candidate in this sense is that as a collection of short-stories, it is able to combine a surprising amount of artistic depth and sophistication into an easily digestible package.

This is even more of a bonus when you stop to realize that while vast majority of people can read, knowing how to read well is often just as much an art as being able to spin a good yarn.  Just like books themselves, being able to read them well is a multi-layered activity.  What makes any story valuable is what lies beyond its surface appearances.  That's an idea that sounds obvious on the face of it, and an immediate assumption is that anyone can do it.  It's true, anyone can read if they truly want to.  The  trouble is you can't expect a young mind to read any given text with an automatic, sophisticated point of view.  The goal of being a good reader is to see just how many levels (or lack thereof) is contained within the pages.  In that sense, being able to read well is less a natural ability like breathing and seeing, and more like a hidden, invisible skill that you have to work at for quite a while in order to do it well.  Skeleton Key helps in that training by offering itself up as a stepping stone to greater heights and conquests.

Nevertheless, I'd like to offer an alternative place to start making this author's acquaintance.  While Skeleton Key is often cited as the best place to begin an acquaintance with King's writing, the fact remains that this is just one staring place out of many.  Real life experience points to readers getting hooked by works like Cycle of the Werewolf, The Stand, or even out of the ways novels like The Dark Half.  I myself, for better or worse (and I still can't say it's all that bad) got hooked on King by listening to Jeffrey Demunn narrate the author's 2001 book, Dreamcatcher.  That's an argument of defense for another time.  The point goes back to what I said earlier.  Everybody finds their own way into this author's work.

I think a novel like The Outsider deserves its place as a beginner's candidate for a number of reasons.  The most obvious point in its favor is that it is a neat examination of the theme of the doppelganger in literary Gothic fiction.  King uses this trope in his novel to hold a mirror up to the Dionysian/Apollonian conflict in American society.  The other point I can think of is that the novel is something of a neat distillation of a lot of the prototypical settings, characters, and situations that sort of typify the nature of a Stephen King book.  In the sense, I think what makes The Outsider a good primer for King neophytes is that it helps ground the new reader into a clear idea of the main subject matter of King's secondary world.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

At the Foot of the Story Tree: An Inquiry into the Fiction of Peter Straub (2000).

This is less of a review and more of a first introduction.  Maybe it's best to think of it as a sort of user's guide, or the barest sketch of a cartographer's map.  What I'm really here for today is to get readers to shake hands with a guy who's worth knowing.  Even if he is kind of strange.   It's with this idea and setup in mind that Bill Sheehan's At the Foot of the Story Tree is a useful glimpse into the literary world of one of the Gothic genre's most interesting practitioners.  Sheehan is also a big help in that his book might bring a greater awareness to a talent could be in danger of falling off the map.  His name is Peter Straub, and he still (as of this date) writes Horror fiction for a living.

It is just possible that the name sounds familiar, yet the face or work it's associated with is somewhat vague, or hard to recall.  Maybe some readers will have heard something about this particular writer, but have forgotten his work with the passage of time.  Or else his name was mentioned and no one ever bothered to find out just who he was, or what made him in any way special.  Despite this, I'd argue that Straub's work is capable of a defense on its own merits.  Before we jump to conclusions, however, it helps to get a sense of the historical setting which in Straub first made his name.  If this sounds like a digression, I'd argue it's not on the basis that context is everything.  Gaining a proper literate understanding of Straub and his work means placing him in the proper setting from which he first emerged on the publishing scene.  To do this, it is perhaps best to start out with a decent summary of Straub's artistic milieu, and in particular the other writer who sort of defines it.

This is where Bev Vincent's Stephen King Illustrated Companion comes in handy.  Vincent is able to provide a neat capsule snapshot of Straub's context.  The irony is he does this by talking about the work of someone else.  "In part", Vincent writes, "it was all a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  Readers who had experienced the terrors of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist were primed for more, and (Stephen King) delivered.  By the time his third novel, The Shining hit the best-seller lists, King was already being called "the master of modern horror".  Seemingly overnight, he had become a "brand name" author.  However, few of the other writers he identified as his peers in other genres at the time are still household names...(6)".  It is here that the subject of this article comes in.  

It is debatable whether the Horror genre has ever been in any way respectable.  However, Straub, like King, was a beneficiary of a time when the genre was at it's most commercially viable.  To that extent, publishing houses everywhere seemed willing to lap up the next kid who showed up on their doorsteps with a Shilling Shocker manuscript in hand.  This setup seems to have been made possible by a previous explosion of talent during the preceding decades.  The 50s and 60s can be thought of as the time when Horror fiction began to come of age.  The genre had undergone some growing pains in the form of a series stylistic leaps and bounds dating all the way back to the Victorian Era.  Writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne brought the genre to mainstream awareness, while H.P. Lovecraft and the Weird Circle helped begin it's modern identity.  The process of bringing Horror to it's full maturity seems to have been the work of artists like Ray Bradbury and a group of writers known as the California Sorcerers.

They were the first to find ways of taking the horrors into settings like a modern suburban home,or of re-introducing the haunts of old folklore into the middle of a busy 20th century street, and turning all of it loose to mess up our cozy conceptions of order and stability.  King and Straub were effectively the inheritors of this tradition of the Modern Gothic, and it is safe to say that the latter was no slouch when it came to living up to his inheritance.

As Sheehan explains on the very first page of his study: "Peter Straub first came to prominence with the 1979 publication of Ghost Story, a gaudy, expansive novel of supernatural terror that was deeply rooted in the classic tradition of the American Gothic tale.  Ghost Story was an immediate popular  success that quickly established itself as one of the seminal works of late twentieth century horror fiction.  Like the very best examples of its kind - Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Stephen King's The Shining spring immediately to mind - it offered  conclusive evidence that art and entertainment, literature and "popular fiction" need not be regarded as mutually exclusive categories.

"Despite his apparent status as an "overnight success", Straub had been a working writer for more than a decade before Ghost Story put him on the map, having published two slender volumes of poetry (Open Air and Ishmael), a modest, rather tentative mainstream novel (Marriages), and a pair of striking, increasingly ambitious horror novels (Julia and If You Could See Me Now).  With Julia, Straub achieved a modest degree of financial success and began the process of discovering his own true voice.  At the same time, he demonstrated an instinctive affinity for the requirements of the Gothic form, a form that proved particularly suited to his own sensibility and narrative gifts.  With If You Could See Me Now, his grasp of those requirements deepened.  With Ghost Story, he achieved a new level of mastery, and made the form his own (11)".

I have written elsewhere that it is possible to notice how certain creative projects during the 70s and 80s tended to coalesce around the work of several differing authors into something resembling an informal artistic group similar to Bradbury and the Southern California writers.  I'd argue that Straub counts as one of that number.  By saying he is an inheritor, he is also part of a much larger literary tradition.  That would make his work uniquely placed and crafted in such as way as to help further set the definitions of Modern Gothic literature.  As such, this article counts as part of an ongoing series that examines the work of writers like Straub, and how they have shaped our understanding of the stories we enjoy.  It also helps grant a certain perspective on the nature of our favorite books and films over the past century and a half, when it's possible to see them as part of a greater, albeit informal, artistic movement.

Since this article is meant to be a user's guide, it's focus will be more on filling in a general outline of the author, as well as the thematic nature of his works.  Because of this, an emphasis will have to be placed on where he stands in the historical continuum of the Horror genre.  Straub's case is interesting in that he is one of the most self-aware writers operating in the confines of this particular category of narrative.  The best place to start is to discover how his life led to the work.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Halloween (2018).

Sequels have become something of a problem for me in recent years.  I started out more or less neutral at first.  I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I began to look at the proliferation or more of the same franchise as a problem, yet it has to have been pretty recent, as I don't recall having these issues, say, as far back as 2002.  If I had to say what brought about this growing negative outlook on dragging a story and it's characters on, then maybe it has to do with a perceived slip in quality among a lot of the popular franchises, such as Trek, Star Wars, DC.  It's like some kind of important narrative quality, or creative writing element got lost or mislaid somewhere along the way and now most filmmakers are scrambling to remember how to get the engine running like it used to.

I think a filmmaker like John Carpenter might know something of what I'm talking about.  At one point he found himself on the receiving end of a Hollywood's sequelitis complex.  The difference is he may have had only himself to blame.  In 1978, Carpenter made his name with the release of Halloween.  It remains something of a rare anomaly in the field of the slasher genre.  Unlike a lot of the knock-offs and imitations it spawned, Carpenter's original narrative somehow manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that mar a great majority of films that came in it's wake.  I'm afraid the same can't be said about the sequel that came a few years later.  I can remember being willing to give Carpenter a second chance as far as a follow up was concerned.  I wound up tuning out and turning off Halloween 2 somewhere near the middle of the whole thing.  It's kind of obvious that Carpenter's heart isn't really in it the way it was the first time.  The plot lumbers along with the struggle he had in coming up with a usable sequence of events that would pad out a standard movie-house runtime.  The director later admitted that when he wrapped up the first film, a sequel wasn't strictly a part of the package.

The trouble for Carpenter was that he chose to end his film on a shot that more or less begged a sequel of some kind.  To be fair, Carpenter did claim that the ending was meant to be taken on something like a symbolic level.  The disappearance of that film's villain, the now iconic Michael Myers, was meant to suggest the pervasiveness of evil, or a palpable sense of threat.  I suppose it means Carpenter's real trouble stems from the fact that sometimes most audiences can only read symbols on their most literal level.  Either way, fans were left wanting to know what happens next.  Over the following decade, each sequel detailing Michael's twisted life and exploits made everyone less anxious to find out what happens as time went on.  The original Halloween saga came to its inglorious end with Busta Rhymes kung fu-ing the Shape into cinematic irrelevance.  Rob Zombie tried to give the mythos his own spin, and as a result we don't talk about that particular episode.
Like I  said before, I've grown leery of sequels these days.  The gradual, disappointing slope of Carpenter's original vision is just one of many examples of why knowing when to write "The End" can sometimes be the most important way to guarantee a story has a meaning and therefore a purpose.  Now, after number of years, we have yet another entry in the Myers story.  The difference is this time, director David Gordon Green has decided the best course of action is to chuck the whole thing as a bad go and create what amounts to a soft reboot that starts more or less from scratch.  The big question is: does it work?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of The Twilight Zone's Magic Man (2009).

Nobody knows him.  I'm not sure how many even realize he existed.  Is it possible for a real person to become a myth, or figment of the imagination if enough people never realize that you're there?  Either way, if you mention the name Charles Beaumont, the sad fact is people are going to have no other choice except to give you a blank stare in response.  If you mention someone like Rod Serling or The Twilight Zone, however, then you might be lucky enough for someone's eyes to light up.

The Zone premiered in 1959 as the brainchild of TV wunderkind Rodman Edmund Serling.  After half a decade of having to fight for his scripts to get an airing in the censorious world of 50s network television, Serling's idea for an anthology series centered around the horrific and fantastic was a spark of inspiration that provided just the platform that could solve his woes.  Serling found that network a lot of network executives were squeamish if you wanted to put on a dramatization of subject matter like the death of Emmet Till.  However, if you couched you're messages in the generic forms and formulas of Sci-Fi or Horror, then you were given sort of a free pass.

The reason why Serling was given liberty to say whatever he wanted with the Zone is very simple when you realize that that popular genre fiction was never regarded as something that mature people were meant to take seriously.  All that sort of thing was little more than juvenile trash.  Who could possibly care for any of it?  It's even less than a deck of cards.  The curious part is that a lot of viewers still remember and re-watch the Twilight Zone long after it's original critics have been shuffled out the door.  I think a lot of great names should be so lucky.

One of those names belongs to a part of the of crew that Serling gathered around him to help create his fabled 5th Dimension.  I'm not at all sure whether it's true to say that the Zone had anything like an actual writer's room, with a fixed staple of creative talent waiting in the wings and on-call whenever a new idea had to be brainstormed for next week, and the one after that.  It at least sounds like standard operating procedure as far as most contemporary television goes.  However, I still don't know if that's how Serling ran his operation.

What I do know is that Rod would employ a continuous, returning roster of talent to pen some of the most well-known and remembered episodes during the entire series run.  Richard Matheson, who wrote such classics as The Howling Man and Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, is probably the closest author anyone can recall in connection with the show.  However that unofficial roster included quite a few other names as well.  George Clayton Johnson was responsible for the Robert Redford episode Nothing in the Dark, Kick the Can, and what I still consider his best effort of the series, A Game of Pool.  There was a third name in that roster, however.
He was Charles Beaumont, and almost no one knows who he is.  That's why filmmaker Jason Brock has probably done history a favor by making a documentary about the creative legacy of a forgotten name.  The best part about Brock's efforts is that he gives his viewers more than enough clues to not just reconstruct the life of Beaumont, but also the nature of his imaginative writings, and how they have managed to shape the current nature of the fantastic genres in America.