“Seaton’s Aunt”; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: “Seaton’s Aunt”, Walter de la Mare, 1922.Seaton's Aunt

This week’s Deep Ones’ story strikes some of the same notes as E. F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower“: old English school chums reunited in a country home with strange things going on.

That’s where the similarity ends.

There’s been a lot of discussion and diagramming and classifying of weird fiction and its relation to cosmic horror, “regular” horror, the ghost story, and stories of the supernatural.

Whatever taxonomy or diagrammatic schema you use, this story belongs solidly in the category where the weird is not obvious or surrealistic, yet the tone is of menace, the story unsettling and mysterious. Continue reading

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“The Lurking Fear”

Review: “The Lurking Fear”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1922.Lurking Fear

Usually, for these posts, I put up the edition’s cover in which I read the work.

Since I’ve already looked at this story, briefly, before, I thought I’d put up the cover under which the world first saw this story.

Home Brew was a humor magazine. Editor George Julian Houtain, for some reason, wanted horror pieces for it, and commissioned Lovecraft to write some.

You could argue that Lovecraft’s earlier work for the magazine, “Herbert West – Reanimator” is sort of humorous in its over the top narration.

Like that story, “The Lurking Fear” was a serial piece which explains it’s four parts.

Like many Lovecraft stories, it’s narrated in the first person and opens with its hero going to the environs around Tempest Mountains in rural New York. In that area, surrounded by

“poor mongrels who sometimes leave their valleys to trade hand-woven baskets for such primitive necessities as they cannot shoot, raise, or make”

several people have died during thunderstorms.

In one incident, 75 of those natives died or disappeared. Continue reading

“The Room in the Tower”

Every Wednesday over at LibraryThing the members of the Deep Ones weird fiction discuss a different work of fiction.

I’ve thought about putting up reviews of the works in question, but I thought that might be a bit unfair to the other members of the group if I passed off their insights as my own.

So, I’m going to compromise and put up my reviews of the discussed works before the general discussion takes place.

Review: “The Room in the Tower”, E. F. Benson, The E. F. Benson Megapack, 2013.E F Benson Megapack

The Setup

The narrator has a recurring dream, starting at age 16 and for a period of fifteen years, of going to a house in the country, meeting the people there, one an old school acquaintance he had little to do with, and given a “room in the tower”.

Entering that room, he is overcome with terror and wakes up.

The odd thing about the dream is that it maintains a continuity. The people of the family move away, marry, and the woman of the house, Julia Stone, dies and is buried near the house with a grave marker “In evil memory of Julia Stone”.

The Conclusion (with spoilers)

The narrator meets an Clinton, old school friend in London, and goes to visit his country house – which turns out to be the house of his dream.

The people are different, and the narrator has a good time finding the gathering not at all oppressive and fearful. Until he is given the room in the tower to sleep in.

There he finds a malevolent portrait, a self-portrait, of Julia Stone.

He tells Clinton he can’t sleep in that room with that portrait. With the help of a servant, Clinton and the narrator move it. It is strangely heavy and leaves blood on their hands though they have no wounds.

When he goes to bed that night, the narrator feels a strange presence in the room. It is Julia Stone, accompanied by a smell of corruption. She tells him

“I knew you would come to the room in the tower … I have been long waiting for you. At last you have come. Tonight I shall feast; before long we will feast together.”

The narrator bolts out of the room, and Clinton hearing the noise, joins him. They see blood on the narrator’s shoulder.

Clinton at first thinks the narrator has just had a nightmare, but he goes into the dark room and finds Stone’s portrait unaccountably back on the wall and a burial shroud.

A sort of explanation follows with a reference to burying a suicide, three times, eight years ago. Her coffin was found open each time and finally she was put in unconsecrated ground outside her home – now Clinton’s house.

The story ends by telling us that her grave was opened a fourth time, and the coffin was full of blood.

Weird Factors and Unanswered Questions

Benson’s tale not only combines the weird dream, ghost, and vampire motifs but the cursed object with Stone’s portrait and an element of clairvoyance.

Unexplained is why it seems Stone has been calling out to the narrator all these years. He never met Julia Stone in life and “rather disliked” her son the brief time he knew him.

The portrait seems to be either sort of a repository for Stone’s soul or an enabling mechanism for her return. There are no wounds on anybody after moving her portrait which suggests, along with its weight, it’s sort of a blood-infused surrogate for Stone’s human body, a symbol her vampire appetites. It is, after all, a portrait painted by Stone which hints at some sort of supernatural investiture of her identity in it.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

The Angel of Mons

My look at Arthur Machen’s “The Bowmen” concludes with a review of a book detailing how Machen’s fiction became a modern myth.

Review: The Angel of Mons: Phantom Soldiers and Ghostly Guardians, David Clarke, 2004.Angel of Mons

On September 29, 1914, Arthur Machen presented a bit of “indifferent piping” to the world, his story “The Bowmen”.

Twenty years later he found himself still talking about that piece of fiction, arguing that there was “not one word of truth in it”.

Machen’s story had become legend, one of the great legends of the twentieth century, claimed as true in history books and an official Belgium guidebook and from the pulpit. An army of angels saved the British Expeditionary Force from annihilation by the German Army at the Battle of Mons in August 1914. The Germans were slowed (though more by the retreating BEF than at the battle itself), the Schlieffen Plan stalled, and the French and British achieved one of the pivotal victories of world history at the First Battle of the Marne.

Clarke lays out a clear, well-written chronological account on how Machen’s fiction became a legend of hope and conciliation, a story that stayed in the minds of the British military until the early days of the Cold War. Continue reading

“The Lost Legion”

The series on Arthur Machen’s “The Bowmen” continues with a look at its literary model.

Review: “The Lost Legion”, Rudyard Kipling, 1891.Rudyard Kiplings Tales of Horror

When researching Arthur Machen’s “The Bowmen”, I discovered that this story was his model.

The similarities are very basic. In both, a military encounter is decided by specters from the past.

However, perhaps because Machen used a journalistic voice and his story became overly familiar because it transmuted into the legend of the Angel of Mons – a process I’ll be looking at in a future post, this tale excited me more.

Kipling, as you would expect of a man of his poetic talents, frequently has a nice turn of phrase. Kipling’s story benefits from its details of the British expedition with its English and Goorkha troops and native cavalry.

The story starts out by recounting how a mutinous Sepoy detachment in the Great Sepoy Rebellion went to Afghanistan to incite the locals to join it in sacking Delhi. Continue reading

The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War

The Philip K. Dick series will resume in the future.

For now, though, I’m actually putting out something new for the first time in over three months.

This is the first of four posts centering around Arthur Machen’s “The Bowmen”. They’re already written, and I’ll put out one a day.

This may seem familiar to long time readers of the blog. The original entry had some factual errors in it, so I’m making corrections based on my recent research.

This collection came as part of the giant (in terms of megabytes) ebook The Works of Arthur Machen from Delphi Classics.

I came to it as part of a research for an article on fantastic fiction dealing with World War One and written by authors who were adults during the war. (The article  was published at Innsmouth Free Press.)

Eventually, I’ll take a closer look at the other stories besides “The Bowmen” in this collection.

Review: The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War, Arthur Machen, 1915.The Angels of Mons

When you talk about fantastic fiction and the First World War, Arthur Machen’s “The Bowmen” is the ur-story.

It may be the most known work of primary fiction to come out of that war. The only other contender I can think of is, mostly because of its title and the movie adaptations, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. But how many know Machen’s story or have read it?

You may never have read a word of Machen and know this story: retreating British soldiers in the early days of World War One are protected from pursuing Germans by an angelic army appearing in the sky.

I think I first came across the story as a grade schooler reading a Twilight Zone comic book digest. (And, if that isn’t true, it will be a “fact” in the future thanks to the wonders of search engines.)

Except that’s not Machen’s story. That’s the folklore it created.

In his introduction, a bemused and mostly annoyed Machen talks about how his story became a legend.

In his story, British soldiers, the “Eighty Thousand”, occupy a key salient under attack by the Germans. They expect to die. One, musing on a picture of St. George he saw in a London restaurant, thinks of St. George’s motto “Adsit Anglis Sanctus Geogius — May St. George be a present help to the English”.

Next think you know, the din of battle lessens and bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt appear in the sky and kill the advancing Germans.

Note, bowmen — not angels. (Machen, a Welshman notes that, to be historically accurate, the bowmen of that battle should have spoken Welsh and not French.) In modified versions of the legend, arrows are found in the bodies of the dead Germans. Machen says he considered that for his story — and rejected it as too over the top.

Machen spends a lot of the introduction — written, based on internal evidence, about June 1915 — debunking the Angel of Mons stories and how none of them can be documented to have existed before his story was published on September 29, 1914. It’s not, says Machen, that he’s a disbeliever in the supernatural. He just sees no evidence for the truth of the Angel stories.

It is this introduction that Forbes Phillips was responding to in War and the Weird, Phillips, of course, being a believer in the Angel of Mons.

The other three stories in the collection are nothing special as Machen works or supernatural fiction in general. They do have the merit of being short and not stretching their premises into tedium.

German beastliness in Belgium and the consolation of a heavenly reward for self-sacrifice on the battlefield are the themes of “The Soldiers’ Rest“, a story conceived in August 1914 and preferred by Machen over “The Bowmen”.

More German barbarism is at the center of “The Monstrance“, specifically, in its explicit use of Christian symbols, the notion that Germans are a menace to not only civilization but that religion as well.

Next to “The Bowmen”, “The Dazzling Light” is the most interesting. It hearkens back to the medieval tradition of dream stories as in Langland’s Piers the Plowman. Lieutenant Smith falls asleep on holiday on the coast of Wales on August 16, 1914. His peculiar vision is

of men in various types of armour, carrying maces and metal balls about their waists and with crossbows

on the battlefields in France.

It is, of course, not a real prediction by Machen via Smith but a retrodiction of the peculiar medieval aspect trench warfare took on through troops’ clubs, knives, grenades (those metal balls), grenade throwers (those crossbows) and even, in some cases, metal armor.

The collection ends with a wistful, short essay: “The Bowmen and Other Noble Ghosts”. It’s attributed to “The Londoner”. That would seem to be Oswald “Londoner” Barron, a medievalist and friend of Machen. Both men wrote for the (London) Evening News. Barron laments that stories of the war are all that is written now and how he no longer writes about Greece.

Actually, the book doesn’t entirely end there. In a postscript, responding to Miss Phyllis Campbell’s article “The Angelic Leaders” in the magazine The Occult Review, Machen takes one more swipe at believers in the Angel of Mons legend.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

The Mind Parasites

The Lovecraft series continues with a novel and more ruminations on Lovecraft. I should add that, while the Amazon link takes you to the edition I read, Wilson scholar Gary Lachman, whose blog you’ll find on the lists of blogs I follow, wrote an introduction to a new edition.

Raw Feed (2005): The Mind Parasite, Colin Wilson, 1967.Mind Parasites

In his preface, Wilson recounts his history with H. P. Lovecraft.

His first encounter was entirely provoked by the similar title of a Lovecraft collection, The Outsider and Others with his own first work, the non-fiction The Outsider. Wilson initially found Lovecraft a sick, pessimistic recluse who weakly turned away from the world he was alienated from, taking vengeance on it in “gloomy fantasy”.

While he doesn’t come right out and say it, this seems to back up S. T. Joshi’s contention that Wilson found Lovecraft a pessimistic (Lovecraft would have said indifferent) materialist to be the polar opposite in temperament to Wilson and reacted accordingly. Wilson proceeded to put forth this view in his The Strength to Dream “in which Lovecraft figures largely.”

Later, Wilson came to see Lovecraft as one of those rare, obsessed outsiders doomed by circumstances of economics, not able to give free reign to his powers unlike more famous outsiders like Shelley, Keats, and Byron. He speculates that a financially independent Lovecraft would have given free rein to his curiosity and produced less horror and more fantasy like “The Shadow Out of Time” or “The Call of Cthulhu”. A richer Lovecraft would have had more time and energy, probably would have produced more fiction, and, if it was well received by those he respected, he would have continued to write it. Continue reading

Miskatonic University

The Lovecraft series continues with some modern takeoffs on his fiction.

Raw Feed (2005): Miskatonic University, eds. Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg, 1996.Miskatonic University

A Letter from the President to Incoming Students“, Stefan Dziemianowicz — An attempt, in keeping with the theme of the anthology, to introduce newbies to the Arkham/Miskatonic references in H. P. Lovecraft’s works.

Kali Yuga Comes”, Tina L. Jens — For me, this story was not only marred by the gratuitous swipes at James Watt and the Reagan administration by the narrator but also her usually unfunny wisecracks. The mixing of Kali (complete with rather incongruous interludes of third-person narrative in the Kali-killing sections) with Lovecraft didn’t work very well. The use of conventional mythologies in his work was something Lovecraft usually tried to avoid. It weakened his “The Horror at Red Hook” and only the inclusion of alternate dimensions and higher mathematics caused it to work in his “The Dreams in the Witch-House”).

Teachers”, Mort Castle — This story is not a tribute to Lovecraft but a bittersweet tribute to Castle’s friend, Robert Bloch — not only a one time protégé and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft’s but a comic writer on occasion. Upon his death, Bloch, here Robert Blake (the name he is known by in Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark”) has earned immortality and gets to join the faculty, including Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft (the other authors I didn’t recognize), in teaching man at Miskatonic University. Oddly, enough this is the second story (out of two) in the anthology which makes a contemporary political reference — here a reference to Bill Clinton lying about sex. Continue reading

The Disciples of Cthulhu

The Lovecraft series and now we’re getting into Lovecraftian authors rather than the Gentleman from Providence.

Raw Feed (2005): The Disciples of Cthulhu, ed. Edward P. Berglund, 1976.Disciples of Cthulhu

“Editor’s Foreword”, Edward P. Berglund — Brief summation of the various waves of H. P. Lovecraft imitators.

“Introduction”, Robert Bloch — Bloch talks about how the reputation of his old mentor, H. P. Lovecraft, has been on the ascendant unlike the celebrated mainstream authors of 1929 the year Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was actually published. He talks briefly about the religion/cult of Lovecraft of which he is one of the oldest members.

The Fairground Horror”, Brain Lumley — In his biography of Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi singled out Brian Lumley as symbolizing the worst of the Lovecraft imitators. I have a fond spot for Lumley though.  After being introduced by a friend to Lumley’s first two Titus Crow books (the best ones of the series), I read all the Lovecraft fiction I could find thereby filling in the gaps from reading a lot of his short stories earlier but none of Lovecraft’s novels. However, this biter-bitten story simply seemed, with its Cthulhu idol in a carnival funhouse, a takeoff on the Hazel Heald — H. P. Lovecraft story “The Horror in the Museum“. Lumley also seems determined, as Joshi noted, to work in as many references as possible to names in Lovecraft’s work.

The Silence of Erika Zann”, James Wade — Certainly not written in H. P. Lovecraft’s style and not using any elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, this story doesn’t really work. Basically, it’s about the daughter of Erich Zann, as in Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann“, encountering an extra-dimensional entity called to Earth by the strange properties of her psychedelic rock music (the story is set in a psychedelic club in San Francisco). The combination of too-explicit prose with, paradoxically, too vague of an explanation, doesn’t work. Continue reading

Explorers of the Infinite

The Lovecraft series, sort of, with a book I read because it contained some material on Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction, Sam Moskowitz, 1957, 1963.Explorers of the Infinite

I read this book now for its chapter on H. P. Lovecraft. (I had read the chapter on Edgar Allan Poe years ago as research for an English paper.) There wasn’t a whole lot there that I didn’t know except for the letters from other writers about Lovecraft and the stories of others inspired by Lovecraft.

Moskowitz’s great strength is the uncovering of a lot of obscure stories and others. His particular interest is tracing the treatment of certain technological and scientific ideas which is a valid school of sf criticism though I think it’s a mistake to think, and I don’t think Moskowitz does, to think sf exists to prophesize.

Most of the chapters are titled with the name of a science fiction author and were originally published in sf magazines. However, most chapters end by connecting a particular author — as well as more obscure authors — to the subject of the next chapter.

As with most sf criticsm, it makes me want to read a lot of this stuff.

Moskowitz sums up a lot of work including non-English language stuff. However, describing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as combining the travel tale, utopia, and “science story” makes me wonder about the accurateness of those descriptions. I’ve read Frankenstein twice and recall no element of the utopian in it.

I found the chapters on Hugo Gernsback; M. P. Shiel; Lu Senarens aka Frank Reade, Jr; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Philip Wylie, and Olaf Stapledon of particular interest.

Moskowitz details Gernsback’s importance as an inventor as well as publisher.

M. P. Shiel’s work, especially The Purple Cloud, seems interesting.  The plot descriptions seem to bear out Brian Aldiss’ remark, in his Billion Year Spree, that, “if ever there was a racist, it was M. P. Shiel.” Jewish Moskowitz simply lets Shiel’s work speak for itself in its anti-Semitism.

Frank Reade, Jr had an amazing career in its early start, prolificness, and financial success. Verne was an admirer. I never paid attention to the dates before, but Reade’s adventures started in 1876 with The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward F. Ellis, a dime novelist (Senarens continued the series to great success); therefore, its steam man and horse (imitated by Jules Verne in his The Steam House, which I have read) is sort of contemporary steampunk.

I was surprised to see how many of Burroughs novels were written to compete with his many imitators in setting and story.

Moskowitz’s covers the popularity of Wylie as both a fiction writer and, in his attack on “Momism”, a social critic.

Olaf Stapledon’s career as fiction writer and philosopher is nicely covered.

 

Reviews of more works touching on Lovecraft and his legacy are on the Lovecraft page.