Sunday, July 8, 2018

Roanoke




Imagine my surprise when Doris Kearns Goodwin appears at the beginning of episode five of American Horror Story's Roanoke House.  She lends credibility to the story of Edward Mott, a late 18th century English dandy who builds a private mansion near to the fabled Roanoke Colony, which forms the mystical backdrop to season 6.  Doris had me there for a moment, but Mott's delicious tale, like much of Roanoke House, is contrived.  She was just having a good time.

The Roanoke Colony is prime fodder for a horror tale, but sadly the writers just turn it into a bunch of pagan nonsense, linked to ancient Druid societies rather than embedding it in Native American folk tales.  The only thing they took from the local culture that flourished before Sir Walter Raleigh arrived was the word "Croatoan," which they turned into some sacred word to ward off evil, when in actual fact it was the name of the tribe that lived on Roanoke Island, or at least the bastardized English interpretation of their name.

No one really knows what happened to this lost colony.  John Smith was told by Chief Powhatan himself that he had killed what was left of the settlers when he took out a rival tribe which had absorbed them.  Smith, however, was well known for putting words in other person's mouths for his own gain, and this led King James to send in reinforcements to subdue the local tribes.

There were actually two colonies at Roanoke set up by Raleigh, as the island served as a strategic point in raiding Spanish galleons coming up from the Caribbean on their way back to Europe.  It was never really intended as a permanent settlement.  Some of the colonists got rides back with Drake two years later, while others fended for themselves further inland, which forms the basis for AHS's tale.

What is a bit hard to swallow is Lady Gaga's role in all this.   She's a mysterious dark figure who the writers decide to ground in some ancient Druid legend rather than in a Native American folk tale.  She apparently came over on an earlier English voyage, but there were none. Raleigh's was the first to America in 1585.  As we found out with Mott, it really doesn't matter.  Gaga's "Scathatch" provides the baseline for the series' witches in Coven, the third season, as most of these characters are part of the show's own mythology linking the seasons together, but they're supposed to be actors in a dramatic re-enactment of events the first half of the season.

Nevertheless, it is quite fun to watch once you get past the exceedingly dull introductory two episodes.  The writers set up their narrative much like The Blair Witch Project, and spend way too much time on this before letting the fireworks begin.  What makes AHS work is its shameless disregard for history and contemporary events, twisting them into their narratives whether they fit or not and just going with the flow.

It helps having great actors like Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett and Frances Conroy to embody the roles.  It seems Jessica Lange had enough by this point.  Evan Peters gets better and better with each season, making the most of his characterization of the flaming Edward Mott.  Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr. aren't very convincing as the young couple who buy the haunted mansion at auction.

Anyway, you shouldn't expect too much, especially in regard to the ealry Roanoke settlers, but I imagine it has led to increased visitation of Fort Raleigh National Historic Park on Roanoke Island. However, woe be it to anyone who tries to search out the Edward Mott House, as you will only find it among the AHS fandom.

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