Book Talk: HEX, Chapter 6

Posted January 6, 2017 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Not-A-Review / 0 Comments


Bilingual read-through of HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

List of Prominent Characters

So, the NL and EN tags are the ones actually used in the story. If it’s listed for both then it’s a shorthand I’m using to note which of the characters is which. Where no name for ‘both’ is included I haven’t used a name for both. (Expect this list to get updated per chapter!)

  • Beek (NL), Black Spring/Black Rock (EN), Black Beek (both)
  • Stefan (NL), Steve (EN), Ste (both)
  • Katherina (NL), Katherine (EN), Kat (both), aka Wylerheks (NL), Black Rock Witch (EN) Wyler Witch (both)
  • Jolanda (NL), Jocelyn (EN), Jo (both)
  • Timo (NL), Tyler (EN), Tiy (both)
  • Oma (NL), Gramma (EN), Granny (both)
  • Max (NL), Matt (EN), Maxmatt (both)
  • Robert Grim (NL, EN)
  • Claire Hamer (NL), Claire Hammer (EN)
  • Jens van der Heijden (NL), Warren Castillo (EN), Jenren (both)
  • Jasmine Aerendonck (NL), Bammy Delarosa (EN), Jasmy (both)
  • The Aerandoncks/The Delarosas, Aerenrosa (both)
  • Martijn Winkel (NL), Marty Keller (EN),Winler (both)
  • Loes Krijgsman (NL), Lucy Everett (EN), Loucy (both)
  • Pieter van Meerten (NL), Pete VanderMeer (EN), Pete van Meer (both)
  • Marieke (NL), Mary (EN), Marie (both)
  • Laurens (NL), Lawrence (EN), Lau (both)
  • Jelmer Holst (NL), Jaydon Holst (EN), Jaymer (both)
  • Mirna (NL), Sue (EN)
  • Burak Sayers (NL), Burak Şayers (EN)
  • Bert Aerendonck (NL), Burt Delarosa (EN)
  • Gemma Holst (NL), Griselda Holst (EN), Gemelda (both)


Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.

In chapter 5: the witch has been sighted at the Aerenrosas! Also Grim has decided to show the clip the boys recorded around town and got yelled at for it.

Chapter 6 – Scene 1

Interestingly, in this chapter we learn that Kat’s surname is the same in both versions, spelling and all. “van Wyler” and yes without the capitalisation of the v. So! Since it’s come up with a lowercase letter now, let’s take a look at why we don’t spell the word with a capital letter.

First of all, you’ve seen this name construction before, I’m pretty sure! One of the most famous examples, if not the most famous, is this one: Jeanne d’Arc. Or, in English, Joan of Arc.

Like the ‘de’ in French (well, d’ because it loses the vowel when the following word is a vowel sound) , ‘van’ means ‘of’. Unlike ‘de’ there’s no way to abbreviate it. And, much like we see preserved in English titles, small grammatical words like prepositions do not get capitalised. Therefore ‘van’ does not get written with a capital V in this case.

Once upon a time, Dutch settlers came to the USA (and Canada) with names like ‘van Wyler’ or ‘van der Meer’. And over time their spelling changed, altered and solidified, especially as Dutch was lost through the generations and the meaning of the surname was lost and, thus, the reason the words were separate to start with. Also of course you may have people who change the spelling to suit the pronunciation so it’s easier to write down. Somehow capitalisation sometimes survives, though.

That and, of course, the fact that spelling wasn’t always standardised may have seen some of the names originally written without spaces even in the Netherlands because languages are never easy. I mean Dutch has something like half a dozen ways to spell what is essentially the same surname (Jansen, frequently rendered in translation as ‘Jones’), so why not the loss of a few spaces?

Anyway! If that wasn’t fascinating and/or complex enough, I’m about make it more so! You see, there’s another rule about capitalisation in names: you do capitalise the preposition (or the article in the case of a name like Charles de Lint) if there is no name preceding it. This is, I reckon, to avoid confusion among readers. The capitalisation marks it out as not being a standard part of the sentence, so you’re not as likely to stumble because the word you thought was going to come next didn’t happen.

And, for me, I find it intriguing that the translation keeps the Dutch spelling of the name here because I think it tells us (or can tell us) a fair bit about the (personal!) history in play in this narrative just from how the linguistics work. And you can’t do that in Dutch because the equivalent changes to surname spellings doesn’t exist! Sadly, I am not well-versed enough in the linguistic changes undergone by Dutch names in the US to really get that history, but I want to note that it’s there because it is a REALLY COOL change that stems from localising the text, rather than straight-up translating, You couldn’t do this in a translation of the Dutch setting.

Well, you could, sure, but it would run untrue to just about every Dutch-speaking person who reads it because it’s just not how names evolved in the Low Lands.

HA! And here in the exposition chapter, we get some of the background to this story! AWESOME! Okay! So! Let’s get to it because some things have been changed to reflect the change in setting.

Though first I want to note that, once again, the English version is a little more precise as Grim picks up everyone in a Dodge Ram, and the Dutch Grim picks them in ‘his car’. I’m really curious as to why those changes were made. I know that dropping names like that can really help the imagery and the setting and I like the change for that, but the vagueness of the Dutch works perfectly well and should actually make it easier for the story to feel ageless. Well, sort of because the Dutch version too has name-dropped things.

Anyway! So in the Dutch version Katharina was sentenced to death in 1665. In the English version it’s 1664. Which, really, if we’re going for a backblurb of ‘medieval practices’, I think is very sad. ON THE OTHER HAND, I do need to note that the year falls squarely within the time period of the second plague pandemic in the Netherlands.

Other things you need to know about the Dutch version: the churches built by Karel de Grote (read: Charlemagne) have been destroyed and Old German settlements have also been abandoned because no one wanted them. Only in the 18th century did people try to live in the area because by then it was super-undesirable and people already thought it was cursed.

In 1556 a comet was seen in Tiel, a small town in the Netherlands, which is relevant because superstition afterwards linked the comet to a bad harvest. And in 1635 Amsterdam was in an uproar over a big bird sitting on a church roof. It was shot and blamed for a lot of misfortune.

I bet you never knew that about Dutch history! According to the book, there was also a local doctor, called Van Diemerbroek who observed children playing ‘funeral’ and parents who thought their children were possessed. Anyway the point of these stories is to capture the mindset of the people who were living in Beek at the time. There’s actually a really interesting (and rather gruesome) look at burial practices from the period combined with the scientific explanations we have for certain phenomena nowadays. Such as how the dead were buried with bricks between their jaws.

And now we learn something about who Katherina was as a person and, as the book notes, considering that we’re talking about a witch that’s pretty much what you’d expect: she’s a woman living on her own. She’s also noted as being in her thirties and a single mother. (The latter fact will become relevant. The former not so much except that we too have this general idea in society that women over 30 are ‘too old’.) Oh, and she’s not religious.

And now we’re getting to the SUPER SPOILERY PART of the exposition chapter, so if you’re not interested in having the backstory spoiled, turn away now. I’d add a content warning too, but I don’t know how to write it save by spoiling it. So. General content warning ahoy! And a trigger warning for, ah, forced suicide.

Anyway, so you know I said she was a single mother? Well, she had two children. One of them reportedly died of the plague. Then was seen alive and well the next day. Of course that meant Katherina was a witch. Cue very brief descriptions of the Inquisition’s methods because witch. But the one to note here is the one that’s singled out and given more page-time: Katherina is forced to kill her own son. (The threat is “Kill your son, or we’ll kill him and his sister for you”.) Then she’s forced to hang herself.

And the current people assume that all the torture she went through made her into the haunting figure she is now.

And that’s it! That’s the backstory we have to date. Let’s go look at the English backstory because there’s a lot we need to change to fit the setting!

First off, the town itself and this is a really clever and neat little trick of the translation that I appreciate a lot and which actually makes me hopeful that the localisation is going to have something up its sleeve that I wasn’t expecting at all. (Namely: ties to the original book.) It’s not inconceivable! From what I understand, Heuvelt was directly involved with rewriting the book before translating it, so I would love to see more little references to the original book in this that he could’ve added because he (obviously) wrote the Dutch original too.

Anyway, so in the English version, Black Spring was originally known as New Beeck, a Dutch trappers’ colony. So here we have a nice little bit of US history in how place names are used and changed. And here the changes happen.

Now we think she arrived on one of the ships of the Dutch West India Company around 1647 and we make slight changes to how we assume she made a living, opting for naming specific professions, and for an additional layer of US history about the Dutch getting along with the Munsee and the English driving them away a year later after annexing the Dutch colony. (Technically it’s usually taught as more of a swap. Surinam for the New Netherlands, which on the surface is a terrible deal, but hey it’s why the US has cookies instead of biscuits.) Anyway there are rumours that the Munsee left because the area was cursed.

And, of course, we have some changes to the general fears people have to reflect the fears of settlers at the time. We lose the clarity of the meteorite example, citing it as a general “People saw comets as bad omens!” instead of a specific example. And, being the US, we of course get a reference to the Salem witch trials. Our first one!

If you thought, by the by, that the story of the bird on the church was true, I’m sorry to say that I’m about to burst your bubble. The English version keeps that one, except it moves it to New Amsterdam (i.e. New York). They keep it up to and including the note that it was probably a vulture that occasionally (rarely, but occasionally) wandered into the area. They also blame the bird. The English version also includes a note that the Dutch were a little more down-to-earth than the Puritans. I’m not going to comment on that beyond noting that, again, it adds a layer to the setting, especially if this era of history is something the reader is interested in.

We also keep the story of the Dutch, though now his name is Frederick Verhulst. Not only did our doctor get a first name, we lost his surname to a Dutch one that’s a lot easier to pronounce for English speakers. And while the Dutch doctor studied the children in 1635, the English one does it in 1654.
We further now reference the Boston Yellow Fever Epidemic in 1693 and we get the same gruesome stories of corpses being dug up again etc.

And then! And then! We get to Katherine’s own backstory and we get a note that one of the things that spoke against her was that , and I quote so brace yourself for racism, “[w]ord went around that she had mated with Indians”. I’m just going to leave that there. This is all dialogue and they’re reiterating what the Dutch settlers must have thought, so I’m a little more forgiving of the phrasing than I would otherwise be.

And then we have the same threat with her children. And instead of the practices being thought medieval, they’re Old Worldy. Which makes sense as a change, of course, but it annoys me as a European because these are stories told by well-educated Americans and I expect them to have a better grasp of history than the comment shows.

Oh and Burt gives us a reference to Oz (well, the Wicked Witch) that the Dutch doesn’t have. I think that actually loses something in the change because the Wicked Witch… Well, compared to what we’ve just heard about life in the past and the way fear affected everyone, she’s… just not that scary. Seriously, we’ve been discussing some severe events here. Can I remind you all that we just finished talking about how a likely innocent woman was tortured and forced to kill her own son and then herself? And we’re going to be talking about a witch whose worst remembered offence is probably going to be kidnapping? I mean, I can see where the juxtaposition is supposed to lighten the mood and break the tension and the severity a little, but the interruption itself does a good job of that as it stands. This is likely a case where your mileage will vary. I find it a tonal shift that’s discordant to the content around it and I much prefer the Dutch version of a wandering witch because that description lets you decide on the tone to fit what you’re reading and that, for me, makes it a much better choice. I can read it as your average amusing witch or your average Disney Princess film witch (though admittedly those are pretty scary), as a witch ala the Blair Witch Project, a film we’ve already mentioned in the text, or one that fits the stories that we’ve been hearing in the previous paragraphs.

And that’s it! So after this really long historical interlude, let’s get back to linguistics! To be precise, let’s go back to modal verbs. (That’s verbs like could, may, would, etc.) You see, modals are really fascinating auxiliary verbs in that they act like grammatical words (and specifically grammatical verbs) and we all know (or if you didn’t you’ll know now) that the meaning of a grammatical word depends on the context, if it has a meaning at all.

And languages, even related ones like Dutch and English, use modals differently. So! On the surface, there’s absolutely nothing remarkable about the fact that the English translation of Jasmine’s sentence is rendered as “May I tell them how it happened?”

After all, that is a perfectly good and acceptable translation of “Mag ik vertellen hoe het gebeurde?” Some will undoubtedly argue that it is the proper translation since ‘mogen’ (of which ‘mag’ is the first person conjugation) is the dictionary translation of ‘may’. In fact, when Dutch teaches ESL modal verbs, that translation is the shorthand that’s used to teach when, how, and why to use ‘may’. Well, sort of. They do the same with ‘might’, after all, which technically doesn’t have a single verb translation, but that’s neither here nor there.

My point is: there’s nothing wrong with this sentence when it comes to the translation. So why did I bring it up? I brought it up because the Dutch sentence, at least for me, has an underlying element of meaning that is missing from the English translation.

When we use ‘may’ in a question in English, what we’re doing is asking permission. Specifically, it’s a fairly formal way of asking for permission. We could just as easily translate the question with “Can I tell them how it happened?” and no meaning is lost. The may, for me, adds an uncomfortable layer of submissiveness to Bammy’s question.

I mean, sure, in both cases she’s asking for permission and we’ll learn why soon, but when Bammy is asking whether she may tell it we end up, as I read it, with an emotional element that the Dutch doesn’t have because it implies that Bammy needs Burt’s permission to speak at all.

This, by the by, is entirely unfair on the poor modal. I’ve read the book cover to cover once before, after all, so I know why she’s asking Burt for permission to share and, trust me, as we’re about to see it is definitely the kind of thing you ask before telling practically complete strangers. It’s just the use of ‘may’ carries this overtone of power dynamics that I don’t like and that’s a lot weaker in Dutch because Dutch is more likely to use ‘mogen’ and ‘kunnen’ (can) somewhat interchangeable and so the Dutch version, for me, implies the idea of asking for consent rather than permission far more strongly.

That’s it. That’s what bothers me. The English sentence doesn’t feel like it’s asking for consent to me. I would like to stress, given how much I’ve just rambled, that the actual translation is TOTALLY FINE. It’s just the way I read it that bothers me.

Anyway, this issue with telling and consent matters because Kat showed up in the Aerenrosas bedroom while they were, um, otherwise occupied shall we say. And her appearance kind of seriously killed the mood, seeing as how she apparently Apparated to the foot of the bed.

Also, thanks to the English version, which happily continues its namedropping, I’ve learned that it is possible for the Jamaica Bay to freeze. Granted, I also learned that such a bay exists, so maybe not pin too much on my reaction because I had to look up where it was located and how far north it actually is.

Oh! More history incoming! Dutch version first to be consistent! SPOILERS ARE INCOMING.

In 1666, everyone in Beek ends up disappearing. (This information is IN NO WAY going to be important later.) There are no records of this disappearance until one dated to 1708. In 1713, people resettle in Beek and this time what happens is a matter of proper public record.

Three people commit suicide and Jacoba van Swinckel kills eight children before being locked up. She claims that a woman in the woods told her to do it. A month later, initiates of the Church enter the forest and come out of it claimed to have put to rest a woman’s spirit by sewing her mouth and eyes shut and chaining her. It doesn’t elaborate on how this is supposed to put the spirit to rest and we can safely assume that it did nothing because they all die in unknown circumstances later that year.

We get another ablist comment about autism from Robert (seriously, here is one more spoiler because I think people will like hearing this: Robert does not survive this book).

And now we’re actually done with the mini-history lesson, so let’s go compare to the English version!

In 1665 Peter Stuyvesant led parties into the woods to see what was up with New Beeck. The Dutch suspected a curse (there’s no mention what anyone else thought) and soon Stuyvesant returns to the Netherlands.

We find a record of what happened in 1708 in Dutch annals. It’s a brief record, but it’s there. Anyway, the document attributes the deserted village to the Second Anglo-Dutch War and the annexation of New Amsterdam. Also, it’s assumed the Native Americans killed the settlers in a tribal battle.

And then we get another story about how ‘the Indians’ had already abandoned the area in the middle of the hunting season because it was ‘contaminated’ and there are more questions about why ‘the Indians’ chose that exact moment to disappear than anything else and can I just point out, once more, that these characters were using the names of the individual tribes before this point?

Anyway, so in 1713, the English settlers move in and renamed it Black Spring. Jacoba van Swinckel becomes Bethia Kelly and we’re specifically told that she was a midwife. I find that additional more chilling actually.

And after that things match up again and sadly we keep the ablist comment there was never any need for.

Oh, a typo. I just want to note that there’s a typo because of the myth that books published by the Big Five are always flawlessly edited. They’re not. It’s on page 68 of the Kindle edition, if you’re curious, though I suspect a second edition will see it no longer exist.

Oh, no. No, more history lessons incoming.

I’ll keep it fairly brief: the Dutch version discusses how the area was annexed by the Germans for a while in WW2 and then they didn’t want it back. You know, on account of the creepy witch lady wandering around. Also they talk about how the government would prefer to create a nature reserve, except that would be mass murder and 9-11 imagery is brought into it.

The English version notes that the president doesn’t even know about The Point, but they must have from Washington to Lincoln because they visited Black Spring in 1802 and established the military academy to serve as a cover.  We also get a note about how The Point gained the authority to act on its own and how they came up with the name HEX, which is all information that’s not present at all in the Dutch version.

And now we’re mostly back on the same page in terms of descriptions and what happens. There’s also nothing really noteworthy to mention here, except we have an instance where the Dutch namedrops brands for a change.

Chapter 6 – Scene 2

This whole section comes with a trigger warning for graphical description of extreme self-harm resulting in death.

And this is more or less the same in both versions. There are some small changes to clarify sentences and the expected changing of names, but that’s about it. The biggest changes are these:

  • The English version clarifies that his sons are not the same age. The Dutch sentence can be a bit confusing if you don’t clearly recall the details of Ste’s sons. The English gives each son his own subclause when the book notes that Ste tried to keep them home from school. (To be fair, the school decided it was a good idea to show primary school children a video of a guy stabbing himself to death, so you can’t exactly fault Ste for trying to shield them. But alas there are fees and he cannot afford them, so now we know that pretty much everyone who was a child in this town was traumatised in primary school.)
  • Doctor Van Reed becomes Doctor McGee.
  • The voice of the person narrating the video is described differently. The Dutch version goes for a fairly generic description of how people sounded in the 60s and the English goes for linking the name to Walter Cronkite. I assume he is well-known enough that this will not actually confuse people reading it. It will definitely confuse anyone reading it who is not American (or old enough to remember Cronkite), but hey at least they add the description of ‘newsreel voice’, so we have something to make sense of how the voice is supposed to sound.

And that’s it. Pretty chilling stuff.

Chapter 6 – Scene 3

And this scene has nothing of any note that’s not been covered before. (i.e. names) And if you’re curious, the Aerenrosas are about to disappear from the picture forever. They’ve served their purpose as audience surrogate to get the backstory into the book, so if you thought things weren’t pretty dire-sounding already (*cough*likeme*cough*) then things are about to kick into high gear. We’re at the top of the horror rollercoaster and there’s nowhere to go now but down into the dark tunnel of nightmares come to life.