A magical ritual to pay our rent

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Adam Riggio
    July 26, 2013 @ 5:34 am

    I'm pretty sure this was the first episode of Star Trek I ever saw, about at age three. Appropriate for the explicit premise and setup of the episode.

    The point you make about Catspaw's Lovecraftian elements are particularly interesting to me, because I have a similar take in my novella coming out later this year, Under the Trees, Eaten. I take a Lovecraft premise, mysterious aliens that live in a pocket dimension under a secretive small town. Entering the space where the aliens live has the Lovecraftian effect of driving the humans mad, at least temporarily. But I blow the premise apart from several directions. The aliens are radically different, but far from being empty eldritch horrors, they have their own daily concerns. The protagonist is an everywoman whose progressive (but implicit) knowledge of the genre conventions of the story she's in give her the power to take control of the narrative from the people of Innsmouth-in-a-forest. And the biggest actual threat to the protagonist isn't the aliens themselves, but a group of townspeople who decide to enforce their isolation policy with petty violence: a posse armed with cheap rifles, crowbars, and steak knives.


  2. Josh Marsfelder
    July 26, 2013 @ 8:03 am

    Your story reminds me in more than several ways of Alice in Wonderland, and not at all in a bad way: I love the idea of using the fairy realm to deconstruct and subvert the Lovecraftian trappings and the fusion of this with tropes from media studies. It sounds like it'll be quite interesting!


  3. K. Jones
    July 26, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

    I knew two TOS episodes featured mention of Old Ones, but it never even occurred to me the same writer might be behind it. It baffles me now that Bloch wasn't behind "By Any Other Name" because those aliens were totally Eldritch Abominations, and the "sensory overload" theme was expounded upon tenfold in that one.

    Any episode which doesn't feature Doohan in a sort of "the fourth musketeer" role is typically a missed opportunity. I think he elevated well past his caricature the same way Shatner elevated beyond his own role, and in no small part because he could elicit boundless sympathy. Scotty's instincts and feelings are always good ones.

    It's more a topic for another time, but Scotty's sensible, slightly sensitive everyman who you never want to see bad things happen too even if he can handle it, is easily the prototype for what Miles O'Brien became (somewhat unoriginal, but man, they really mined that character type for all it was worth).


  4. Josh Marsfelder
    July 26, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    I agree: I think James Doohan was a remarkably skilled and professional character actor and the warmth and humanness he brings to Scotty is the primary reason the character is as beloved as he is. In that sense he is very comparable to Colm Meaney, it's just sad the writers of his show weren't able to respond to and accommodate his performance the way those on Meaney's shows did.


  5. Daru
    July 29, 2013 @ 7:15 am

    Great essay – thanks Josh! Interesting to hear your thesis about the appearance of magick on the Star Trek narrative. I really look forwards to reading how that journey grows…


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    July 29, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    You won't have to wait long: I pick it up in the next story and becomes a major aspect of at least one more episode after that.

    And once I get to the 1980s all bets are off…


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