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24 March 2013

The Gold-Bug (1843)

Today's post is one more and perhaps my final entry chronicling my obsession with the Golden Scarab and my inevitable descent into madness. Earlier this week I was looking for something to read. In a funk of boredom, I hopped onto Amazon and searched through the many Public Domain books they have in their catalogue. Having half-heartedly downloaded a whole heap of "stuff", I opened only one book...

"Amenhotep... Akhenaten... Nefertiti... Tutankhamun..."
The Scarab is infecting the Uke Household.
See this wonderful sculpture that J-Uke brought
home earlier this week!

The book that tickled my fancy was The Works of Edgar Allan Poe - Volume 1. As I flicked through to the Contents my eyes opened as I spotted a story called "The Gold-bug". Could this be what I thought it might be... another slant on the golden scarab? There was only one way to find out.

Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, 1974

Before I talk Poe, I want to quickly mention a writer called Richard Scarry. Richard wrote one of my son J-Uke's favourite books growing up. We must have read Cars and Trucks and Things That Go a thousand times. I remember loving Richard's books myself as a child. It's funny that J-Uke should feel the same way about them a generation later. Scarry died in 1994 leaving a legacy of over 300 books. His artwork is unmistakable. The star of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go is a character called Goldbug! YES! In this particular book the challenge is to spot Goldbug hidden away in the beautiful pictures. It's not as easy as you might think!

My own version of "Can you spot Goldbug"

I have talked about the Golden Scarab before on this blog. You might remember me telling you about the brilliant album by Ray Manzarek called Golden Scarab and the sync surrounding my discovery of that. Historically, Scarabs have been used to signify rebirth and I've enjoyed weaving a little bit of Scarab mystery into the legend of King Uke and El Pancho. As my musical collaboration with Daniele Bianchini draws to a close I've been wondering about the story we have been creating. For me, our songs tell a tale of despair and loss, but I can't help but feel that there is the possibility of redemption looming on the horizon. Could the answer be hidden somewhere in the desert sands?

Mad and confused, on the brink of death, our hero has a vision...

The moment of revelation?

For those of you who have stumbled across this blog for the first time, you might want to go back and have a listen to the first two tracks off the upcoming "Wanted" EP. Knife and Outlaw have garnered a cult following amongst Western aficionados desperate to add a little bit of grit to their music. The third and perhaps final track is one called "Bad Blood" and could be available within a week or so. I have an idea that I would love to attempt for a fourth track, but El Pancho is rightfully reminding me that 3 is a magic number. He's right... This might be it guys!

My collaboration with El Pancho has left an indelible mark

The sorry tale of "Wu" came to my attention this
week. The EP hasn't even been pressed and we're
already the target of counterfeiting! Thankfully
my Australian correspondant BrizDaz was
on hand to capture the lowdown.

Before I move on, I just have to mention these wonderful pictures that
Daz posted on his blog. Do you recognise the two shady characters
on the wanted posters? I wouldn't want to run into either of them
on a dark night! Following the release of our second song, Wanted posters
started appearing all over Brisbane. Police are still searching for the culprit.

What do we have here then?

Back to Poe...

The Gold-bug was arguably Poe's most widely-read short story during his lifetime. He submitted it to a writing competition being run by the Dollar Newspaper of Philadelphia and scooped a $200 cash prize. The story captured the public's imagination leading to critical acclaim and republication all over the place. The French translation of the story was entitled: La Scarabée D'Or. Doesn't that sound a whole lot better!

To most people this will appear to be a random set of coloured dots.

This story revolves around the discovery of a mysterious golden beetle... the "scarabæus". Our narrator recounts being summoned to the assistance of William Legrand who has been bitten by the insect and as a result appears to be losing his mind. With the assistance of Legrand's manservant Jupiter, the three set off on a mission to uncover the truth.

Picture courtesy of Laguna Beach Bikini

This isn't a great story by today's standards and in all honesty it was a difficult read in places.

Set in South Carolina, the whole manservant piece is hard to stomach. The loyal "negro" Jupiter is shown to be a man of limited intelligence, who talks in pigeon English and is often goaded on by Legrand with the threat of a beating. Is this racist? I don't know. It is certainly of an era that is thankfully past. I personally don't like the portrayal. Thankfully there is more at play here than this.

Picture courtesy of Mister Fweem

The tale is actually a sort of detective story that had me thinking of the Goonies for reasons that will become obvious if you read it yourself. Much is made of secret messages and cypher which was a growing public obsession at the time the story was published. My Kindle edition of the book let me down here as I couldn't see a number of characters in the text. Disregarding the codes themselves, even fairly simple words like "scarabæus" were being displayed as "scarab⌚us". There were rogue squares all over the place. I contacted Amazon and they've said that they will fix the book. I won't hold my breath. Bear this in mind though, if you are tempted to give this a read yourself.

Picture courtesy of Dirk Rijmenants

I've tried to find out more about the scarab beetle mentioned in the story and the most convincing description I can come up with was gleaned from Wikipedia:
"The actual gold-bug in the story is not a real insect. Instead, Poe combined characteristics of two insects found in the area where the story takes place. The Callichroma splendidum, though not technically a scarab but a species of longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae), has a gold head and slightly gold-tinted body. The black spots noted on the back of the fictional bug can be found on the Alaus oculatus, a click beetle also native to Sullivan's Island."
It appears that Poe is simply using the scarab as a symbolic device to drive his plot forward. What a great device though!

Remember 407Bug? I'll be reviewing his second album
soon. Watch this space...

Time to wind this up. I'm glad I found this story, but I certainly wouldn't have got as much out of it without my crazy-mad scarab obsession. The story is old and at times difficult to read... but it is short. On the Triple-B I'm going to climb 4 trees in search of a sign. Now where did I put that damn scarab?


  1. We had/have the same book
    "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go"
    and my boys would bug me all the time to read it,too.
    Small world.

  2. Funny that in the latest book I read "Babylon",there is a line about the killer so heartless that he would squash you like a bug.
    And all through the book the cops had trouble finding him,too.-)

  3. We've still got "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go" too. It's one of the few "baby" books that we've hung on to. I dug it out yesterday whilst I was putting this post together and me and my son relived the old days by searching for Goldbug. He sure is a slippery character!

  4. According to my youngest son(18) we've still got it in the house somewhere,too.It just bugs me that I can't find where it is at the moment.-)

  5. Check out this video King.
    It's got bugs and ukes,and I'll give you 10 seconds to find the first bug.-)

    I was going to drive down to this yesterday,but felt a bit lazy and not in the mood for some reason,so decided to stay home and watch the Sharks smash the Warriors on TV.
    And I'm glad that I did because I would have got caught in that massive storm that hit last night,and who knows what could have happened to my car...or me for that matter ?

  6. I thought he was singing a song about Wendy... but no... it's "Windy" ;-)