Fascinating lists!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Famous Writers and Director’s Quotes, With More or Less Direct Application to the Theory and Practice of Writing Horror

Ambrose Bierce
  • Edible--good to eat and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
  • Impiety--your irreverence toward my deity.
  • Mad--affected with a high degree of intellectual independence.
  • Ocean--a body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man--who has no gills.
  • Politeness--the most acceptable hypocrisy.
  • Pray--to ask the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
  • Success is the one unpardonable sin against our fellows.
  • The hardest tumble a man can make is to fall over his own bluff.
  • There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.
  • To apologize is to lay the foundation for a future offense.
  • When you doubt, abstain.

Ray Bradbury

  • Americans are far more remarkable than we give ourselves credit for. We've been so busy damning ourselves for years. We've done it all, and yet we don't take credit for it. First you jump off the cliff and you build wings on the way down.
  • The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance--the idea that anything is possible.
  • Touch a scientist and you touch a child.
  • We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.
  • You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

John Carpenter

  • Evil hiding among us is an ancient theme.
  • To make Michael Myers frightening, I had him walk like a man, not a monster.
  • What scares me is what scares you. We're all afraid of the same things. That's why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you'll know what frightens me.

G. K. Chesterton

  • A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
  • A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying.
  • All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.
  • An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
  • Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.
  • Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.
  • Brave men are all vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle.
  • Cruelty is, perhaps, the worst kid of sin. Intellectual cruelty is certainly the worst kind of cruelty.
  • Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man and fable tells us about a million men.
  • Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
  • It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem.
  • If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.
  • Man seems to be capable of great virtues but not of small virtues; capable of defying his torturer but not of keeping his temper.
  • Men always talk about the most important things to perfect strangers. In the perfect stranger we perceive man himself; the image of a God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of the wisdom of a mustache.
  • Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much.
  • Nothing is poetical if plain daylight is not poetical; and no monster should amaze us if the normal man does not amaze.
  • Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pocket. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.
  • The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything.
  • The most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men.
  • The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
  • The ordinary scientific man is strictly a sentimentalist. He is a sentimentalist in this essential sense, that he is soaked and swept away by mere associations.
  • The perplexity of life arises from there being too many interesting things in it for us to be interested properly in any of them.
  • The purpose of compulsory education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense.
  • The simplification of anything is always sensational.
  • The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.
  • The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land.
  • The whole order of things is as outrageous as any miracle which could presume to violate it.
  • Their is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.
  • There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.
  • There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.
  • Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.
  • When we really worship anything, we love not only its clearness but its obscurity. We exult in its very invisibility.
  • With any recovery from morbidity there must go a certain healthy humiliation.

Wes Craven

  • A lot of life is dealing with your curse, dealing with the cards you were given that aren't so nice. Does it make you into a monster, or can you temper it in some way, or accept it and go in some other direction?
  • I have a lot of fans who are people of color. I think, if nothing else, I kind of understand that sense of being on the outside looking in, culturally.
  • The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • A hero cannot be a hero unless in a heroic world.
  • All brave men love; for he only is brave who has affections to fight for, whether in the daily battle of life, or in physical contests.
  • Easy reading is damn hard writing.
  • Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry, or look at pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has actually expressed. Their highest merit is suggestiveness.
  • Religion and art spring from the same root and are close kin. Economics and art are strangers.
  • The founders of a new colony, whatever utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.
  • We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death.
  • What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one's self!

Alfred Hitchcock

  • Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.
  • Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.
  • The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.
  • The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.
  • There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.

Stephen King

  • I guess when you turn off the main road, you have to be prepared to see some funny houses.
  • It's better to be good than evil, but one achieves goodness at a terrific cost.
  • No, it's not a very good story--its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.
  • We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.

Dean Koontz

  • A fanatic is a nut who has something to believe in.
  • Because people see violence on the movie screen, they're not going to go out and hold up a liquor store and kill somebody. It really doesn't correlate.
  • Civilization rests on the fact that most people do the right thing most of the time.
  • Each reader needs to bring his or her own mind and heart to the text.
  • I don't write a quick draft and then revise; instead, I work slowly page by page, revising and polishing.
  • I have been reading Stephen King since Carrie and hope to read him for many years to come.
  • I have to admit that when I watch a movie in which there is no moral context for the violence--I find that offensive. I think that's potentially damaging to society.
  • I think it's the people who have no doubt that every word they put down is gold that probably don't write very well.
  • If I drive myself to the brink of my ability, then I don't get stale or bored.
  • Never, never try to scope the market.
  • Readers will stay with an author, no matter what the variations in style and genre, as long as they get that sense of story, of character, of empathetic involvement.
  • Some days I'm lucky to squeeze out a page of copy that pleases me, but I get as many as six or seven pages on a very good day; the average is probably three pages.
  • The only reason I would write a sequel is if I were struck by an idea that I felt to be equal to the original. Too many sequels diminish the original.
  • Vladimir Nabokov said the two great evils of the 20th century were Marx and Freud. He was absolutely correct.
  • We are coming out of a century that was taught that one way of looking at the world, that one form of behavior, is as valid as another.
  • The idea of true evil has been blown away.
  • What we do as a society is seek simple answers.
  • When I'm working on a novel, I work 70-hour weeks.

C. S. Lewis

  • An explanation of cause is not a justification by reason.
  • Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable.
  • Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
  • Humans are amphibians--half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.
  • If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
  • If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reasons.
  • Let's pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.
  • Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.
  • Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.
  • The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil.
  • The safest road to hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
  • The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.
  • We are what we believe we are.
  • What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

Joyce Carol Oates

  • If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework you can still be writing, because you have that space.
  • Life and people are complex. A writer as an artist doesn't have the personality of a politician. We don't see the world that simply.
  • Love commingled with hate is more powerful than love. Or hate.
  • Our enemy is by tradition our savior, in preventing us from superficiality.

Flannery O’Connor

  • All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.
  • Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.
  • I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I'm afraid it will not be controversial.
  • I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.
  • It seems that the fiction writer has a revolting attachment to the poor, for even when he writes about the rich, he is more concerned with what they lack than with what they have.
  • Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do. Bad manners are better than no manners at all, and because we are losing our customary manners, we are probably overly conscious of them; this seems to be a condition that produces writers.
  • The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.
  • The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.
  • To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.
  • When in Rome, do as you have done in Milledgeville.

Edgar Allan Poe

  • Experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger portion of the truth arises from the seemingly irrelevant.
  • I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity.
  • I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.
  • It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.
  • The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
  • The death of a beautiful woman, is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.
  • They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
  • Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

Anne Rice

  • Evil is always possible. Goodness is a difficulty.
  • First-person narrators is the way I know how to write a book with the greatest power and chance of artistic success.
  • I feel like an outsider, and I always will feel like one. I've always felt that I wasn't a member of any particular group.
  • I'm always asking questions.
  • I'm fascinated by almost any mythology that I can get my hands on.
  • Re-telling the Christian story is the essence of my vocation. That has been going on since the Evangelists in one form or another.
  • The thing should have plot and character, beginning, middle and end. Arouse pity and then have a catharsis. Those were the best principles I was ever taught.
  • The world doesn't need any more mediocrity or hedged bets.
  • Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds.
  • We're frightened of what makes us different.

Steven Spielberg

  • All of us every single year, we're a different person. I don't think we're the same person all our lives.
  • I interviewed survivors, I went to Poland, saw the cities and spent time with the people and spoke to the Jews who had come back to Poland after the war and talked about why they had come back.
  • I never felt comfortable with myself, because I was never part of the majority. I always felt awkward and shy and on the outside of the momentum of my friends' lives.
  • You know, I don't really do that much looking inside me when I'm working on a project.
  • Whatever I am becomes what that film is. But I change; you change.

H. G. Wells

  • Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative.
  • Affliction comes to us, not to make us sad but sober; not to make us sorry but wise.I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.Some people bear three kinds of trouble--the ones they've had, the ones they have, and the ones they expect to have.
  • The past is but the past of a beginning.
  • There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.
  • What really matters is what you do with what you have.
  • You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.

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Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

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My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.

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