“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.” –traditional Guy Fawkes night rhyme.
Guy Fawkes and his Gunpowder Plot were popularized by the film V for Vendetta, and now it seems like everybody who’s protesting anything makes references to him. I’d heard of him before the movie came out, and always thought he sounded like a pretty interesting–pardon the semi-pun–guy. Then I read about him on Wikipedia and thought that his plot sounded kind of stupid. It’s not everyone who fails so spectacularly as to have a holiday dedicated to their failure.
But if nothing else, it makes for a good excuse to have a bonfire, and I think that it’s a good, melancholy sort of holiday, well suited to the season. In some ways, this atmosphere transcends the political purpose of the holiday. (For me, at least.) As Thomas Hardy put it in his novel The Return of the Native:
“It was as if these men and boys had suddenly dived into past ages, and fetched therefrom an hour and deed which had before been familiar with this spot. The ashes of the original British pyre which blazed from that summit lay fresh and undisturbed in the barrow beneath their tread. The flames from funeral piles long ago kindled there had shone down upon the lowlands as these were shining now. Festival fires to Thor and Woden had followed on the same ground and duly had their day. Indeed, it is pretty well known that such blazes as this the heathmen were now enjoying are rather the lineal descendants from jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies than the invention of popular feeling about Gunpowder Plot.”