Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror

When I came across this book at a local bookstore, it seemed just the thing to read before visiting Scotland.

Review: Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror, ed. Peter Haining, 1971, 1988.

Scottish Tales of Fantasy and Horror
Cover by Hector Garrido

Besides including some good stories, this is a nice primer on the Scottish tradition of supernatural stories. In 288 pages, in manages to pack in a fair survey on the subject from several centuries ao to 1971. (And it also has a glossary for the Scottish dialect.) It was first issued under the title Clans of Darkness. Haining includes not only stories set in Scotland but work from authors of a Scottish background. Angus Wilson’s “Foreword” notes that faerie stories are a prime element and that the borderlands between England and Scotland and the Orkney Islands contributed more tales than the more well-known Highlands.

Thomas the Rhymer” is a legendary figure in Scottish history. Not only is he credited with the first poetry we have written in English but also with the gift of prophecy. This anonymous tale has him encountering a beautiful woman who may be the Virgin Mary but her accoutrements of expensive saddle, dress, bow and arrow, and three greyhounds suggests Diana. Thomas is smitten with her and proposes marriage. But she tells him he has to be her slave first. And she changes into a hideous woman. But Thomas is faithful and goes on a quest that will include a tree of forbidden fruit and a trip to Elfland. It’s an interesting mix of Christianity, faerie legends, and an historical figure.

Robert Kirk’s “The Secret Commonwealth” is an excerpt from his famed book of the same title. That 17th century work was a book of faerie lore, and this excerpt tells us about the nature and deeds of the Sith or Good People. Continue reading “Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror”

“Against the Abyss”

Review: “Against the Abyss: Carnacki the Ghost-Finder”, Mark Valentine, 2014 1987.

Voices from the Borderland
Cover by Daniele Serra

Valentine says Hodgson took up writing Carnacki stories when the publication of his first three novels won acclaim but didn’t get him much money. He decided a series character, a detective interested in occult mysteries like Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence who first appeared in 1908 (Carnacki first appeared in 1910). You’ll note this contradicts  claims by Joseph Hinton in Sargasso #2 and Sargasso #3 about when Hodgson wrote the Carnacki stories. Such are the unknowns of Hodgson scholarship. 

Hodgson not only tapped into the rituals and plots of the detective story but the semi-rationalized wonders of Spiritualism. Valentine thinks the Carnacki stories should be treated with more respect by Hodgson fans though, from what I’ve seen, they seem to have plenty of fans among Hodgson readers. They hint at some of the same dark cosmic forces that The Night Land does.

He also argues that there is more of Hodgson in Carnacki than any of his other characters. In this regard, he does not mention the shared interest in photography, but that Carnacki may regard the forces (natural or supernatural) menacing the people who contact him as sort of bullying entities, the same sort of bullies Hodgson confronted at sea and that gave rise to his interest in bodybuilding. Continue reading ““Against the Abyss””

“Pioneering Essays”

Review: “Pioneering Essays”.

Voices from the Borderland
Cover by Daniele Serra

This is a collection of the earliest essays on William Hope Hodgson, mostly by writers.

H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Weird Work of William Hope Hodgson” says Hodgson is one of the few writers that can capture “the inmost illusive essence of the weird” and puts Hodgson just below Algernon Blackwood in his skill even if his conception of the universe and man’s place in it is “conventionally sentimental”. I’m not sure exactly what Lovecraft meant. Hodgson’s stories don’t appeal to God or any higher power save man. Perhaps he was noting Hodgson’s characters often have love interests whereas Lovecraft’s (with the exception of “The Thing on the Doorstep”) never do. Lovecraft uses variations on the word “siege” in describing every Hodgson novel except The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. He finds the prose of that novel inaccurate and “pseudo-romantic”. Of The Night Land, Lovecraft says that, despite all its faults, it is one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever conceived. Generally, Lovecraft is not fond of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories but concedes that some have “undeniable power” and show Hodgson’s peculiar genius.

Clark Ashton Smith said that Hodgson’s work had the quality of the “realism of the unreal”. He thinks Hodgson at least the equal of Algernon Blackwood and perhaps exceeded him in The House on the Borderland. Of The Night Land, Smith said “there are few works so sheerly remarkable”. Smith thought those two novels were Hodgson’s masterpieces though he liked the beginning scenes on the island in The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. He thought The Ghost Pirates was “one of the few successful long stories dealing with the phantasmal”. Continue reading ““Pioneering Essays””

Sargasso #2

Review: Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #2, ed. Sam Gafford, 2014.

untitled
Cover by Robert H. Knox

The first issue of this journal had lots of material. This one is thinner – whether from a lack of contributors or due to production costs, I don’t know.

Andy Robertson R.I.P. (1955-2014)” remembers the man who sparked a mini-Hodgson revival with his creation of The Night Land website devoted to Hodgson’s eponymous novel, and Robertson also published and wrote stories set in the world of that work.

Under the Skin: A Profile of William Hope Hodgson” by Jane Frank offers a brief look at Hodgson’s personality. By the age of five, three of Hodgson’s brothers had died. Hodgson’s unusual middle name – usually a female name – may have had theological implications for his clerical father and his wife. (They wanted a daughter.) Frank sees Hodgson as, from an early age, energetic, imaginative, and always wanting more. Part of the behavior that some saw as egotistical and self-centered (Frank quotes from editors who met him and letters Hodgson wrote) may have been the result of his desire for attention.

She sees Hodgson’s personality as shaped by the two ages he lived in: the “repressive” Victorian world of his youth where mores were important and the energetic Edwardian age of fortune-seeking and technology. Hence we see Hodgson as an early adopter of the typewriter and photography and his entrepreneurial streak and attempts to support himself after leaving the Mercantile Navy. Hodgson was in boarding school by age eight, and his family had moved five times by the time he was 13. He was a temperamental lad and, around his father, unruly and disobedient. Continue reading “Sargasso #2”

The Casebook of Carnacki — the Ghost-Finder

Before reading any more of William Meikle’s Carnacki pastiches, I decided I should actually read the original Carnacki tales by William Hope Hodgson since, before this book, the only one I’d read was “The Hog”.

Review: The Casebook of Carnacki – the Ghost-Finder, ed. David Stuart Davies, 2006.th0CG7RAKT

It’s easy to mock the Carnacki tales.

They are not the first occult detective series. Hodgson seems to have created the character to cash in on the potential of a series character. The large number of magazines in 1910, when the first story was published, meant, unlike today, short fiction was usually better paying than writing novels. Carnacki was inspired by the success of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence stories, another occult detective series.

Carnacki’s tools seem somewhat ludicrous, even for the time. There’s a heavy patina of pseudoscience what with the occult significance of various colors and Carnacki’s famous Electric Pentacle, essentially a string of colored lights for magical defense.

The otherworldy is often signified by strings of repeated vowels: Carnacki’s go-to reference the Sigsand Manuscript and its Saaamaaa Ritual, the Incantation of Raaaeee, and the Aeiirii “forms of materialization”.

Yet the stories work. Continue reading “The Casebook of Carnacki — the Ghost-Finder”

Prophecies and Dooms

I discovered Mark Samuels about a year-and-a half ago on his blog in his role as social and genre critic. I went on to read and review a couple of his works.

This one came to me courtesy of subscribing to Samuels’ Pateron account.

Review: Prophecies and Dooms, Mark Samuels, 2018.Prophecies and Dooms

This is Samuels in critic mode, cogent in presentation and never failing to say something interesting about his subjects no matter how familiar I was with them. Between the lines, something of Samuels’ own criteria for good weird fiction peeps through.

There were plenty of material new to me about writers I have a very peripheral knowledge of.

Samuels’ “The Root of Evil: Hanns Heinz Ewers and Alraune” certainly did not have to work hard to educate me. I only knew Ewers through his much reprinted “The Spider” and about his espionage work on behalf of Germany in World War 1-era America. Samuels looks at Ewers’ persona as a drug addict and a bisexual predator (allegedly aided by hypnotism) on men and women and his greatest work, Alraune. Ewers, in that novel, becomes the “Master-Artist Braun” who alone can control the destructive force he has created, the “mandrake-woman” Alraune.

It’s the opening essay, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it ends with a metaphor of an artist in control of his material. Continue reading “Prophecies and Dooms”

Supernatural Horror in Literature

The Lovecraft series continues with a famous critical essay he wrote.

Raw Feed (2005): Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I’d heard for decades that this is a classic essay of criticism in the horror field, and I can see why.

Lovecraft cast a far net and in many languages for stories containing an element, a sensation (even if only a passing one in the rationalistic Gothics of Ann Radcliffe), of supernatural horror.

He read a lot of authors like Oliver Wendall Holmes, Henry James, and E. M. Forester not normally associated with the supernatural but who produced a few such works.

Most important, though, is what all this reading reveals about Lovecraft.

I don’t know when he read these various works — the essay’s publication goes back to 1927 — so it’s hard to state what works inspired his works, but a lot of images and motifs from Lovecraft’s work are mentioned, particularly in regards to Gothics: lurkers in the cellar (“The Alchemist“), evil portraits (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), and family curses. Continue reading “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

“The Colour Out of Space”

The Lovecraft series continues with the first Lovecraft story I ever read.

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Colour Out of Space“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.Dunwich Horror and Others

Before reading this story again — which is probably the fourth or fifth time — I would have name it as one of my top three Lovecraft stories. After reading it again this time, I regard it as Lovecraft’s best work.

The horror and creepiness stand up after several re-readings. The pacing is good; the story never sags.

There is a great line:

 It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside; and as such dowered with outside properties and obedient to outside laws.

Not only is the story a great work of horror but also a great work of sf.

I suspect Lovecraft, an enthusiastic follower of science as shown by the learned interlude where the Miskatonic University chemists analyze the “meteorite”, was smart enough to know some of the implications of something so radically different, at the quantum level, from our universe that it doesn’t even produce colors known to us.

As with “In the Vault” from two years earlier, Lovecraft chooses, for whatever reason, to set the main bulk of his story in the 1880s, the decade before his birth.

However, he also shows some characteristic plotting.

The story is told in the first person in contemporary times by a man who has discovered an historical horror. There’s even a passage of dialect from old Ammi (as with Zadok in Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” — though not as long).

On re-reading the story in 2013, I still found it an impressive piece of work.

I was struck by a few things.

Since I’ve read Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” since last reading this story, I can see the debt in the imagery of the moving trees and open skies.

There is an element of Job in Nahum Gardener wondering what he did to deserve such divine punishment.

The story, because of its frame and foreshadowing constantly moves and doesn’t, apart from the opening paragraph, spend much time building atmosphere without mentioning the menace of weird events.

If the story has any faults, it may be a trifle wordy. For instance, we are told at least two times the “blasted heath” is advancing every year.  Perhaps one would have been enough but, given the unstudied account of the narrator, it is in character.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

Ambrose Bierce the Accidental Legendmaker

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I have reached the pinnacle of my blogging career.

Screw page views and numbers of follows and retweets.

I’ve been footnoted in the Fortean Times.

Specifically in issue 335’s “Nightmare Before Christmas: The Strange Disappearance of Oliver Lerch” by Theo Paijmans and Chris Aubeck which references my Reading Bitter Bierce: Was He a Proto-Fortean?.

Ok, lots of people with widely varying amounts of rationality, credulity, credibility, and coherence get footnoted in the Fortean Times. And I didn’t really offer a definite answer to my question.

Quibbles. Quibbles.

That particular posting on Ambrose Bierce mentioned his story “Charles Ashmore’s Trail”, part of a trio of stories first presented in the entertainment section of the 14 Oct. 1888 issue of the San Francisco Examiner as “Whither? Some Strange Instances of Mysterious Disappearances”.

Marian Kensler’s article “The Farmer Vanishes” in the 12 May 2008 edition of Strange Horizons looked at how “Charles Ashmore’s Trail” and another of the Bierce stories, “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field”, were the wellspring of Stuart Palmer’s “How Lost Was My Father?” in the July 1953 issue of FATE magazine. Kensler showed how this allegedly true account of a farmer vanishing as he walks across a field can be traced to Bierce. (She gets footnoted by Paijmans and Aubeck too.)

She also mentions the legend of Oliver Lerch which got its fame — if not its start, in another “true story”: Joseph Rosenberger’s “What Happened to Oliver Lerch?” in the September 1950 of FATE.

Kensler cites Algernon Blackwood as patient zero for the mutated viral version of Bierce’s tale that became “What Happened to Oliver Lerch?”, specifically in his 1914 story “Entrance and Exit”.

Paijmans has been doing a semi-regular column, with more than 60 installments so far, for Fortean Times called “Blasts From the Past”. Basically, it’s armchair Forteanism which takes advantage of the huge online newspaper archives that now exist thus leading to Paijmans re-telling tales of Parisian child torture rings and mad scientists making monsters and Louisiana devil men.

In the article he pushes the origin of the Oliver Lerch all the way back to Irving Lewis’ “The Man Who Disappeared” which appeared in the Dec. 25, 1904 edition of New York City’s Sunnday Telegraph. Lewis’ has all sorts of good hoax details — the names of specific parties who witnessed Lerch’s disappearances and their residence. Well, good hoax details for 1904.

In the age of online census records and Ancestry.com, they didn’t withstand Paijman’s efforts at verification.

 

More Bierce related is available on the Bierce page.

 

 

Yog-Sothothery

I finished Graham McNeill’s Dark Waters trilogy today.

I enjoyed it, but I won’t be reviewing it. It’s linked to a game, Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham Horror to be exact. I don’t review gaming novels or art books or graphic novels. Part of that is I lack the needed contextual knowledge or vocabulary. Mostly it’s because I read them as a break, books I don’t feel the compulsion to review.

As obvious from the title, Arkham Horror is a game based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft. It’s part of the vast collection of efforts — games, comics, movies, fiction, music, and art — playing off that part of Lovecraft’s fiction usually called the Cthulhu Mythos though Lovecraft himself referred to the literary games he and his friends played with his fiction — fanfic in a way — as Yog-Sothothery after one of the “gods” of his stories.

I don’t know the exact date I discovered Lovecraft. I know the book. It was Sam Moskowitz’s Masterpieces of Science Fiction which included Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”. It still remains my favorite Lovecraft story, and it was also the work that he thought the best. At some time in high school, I found The Lurking Fear collection with the odd John Holmes cover shown here.

It was a glancing Lovecraft blow, no more an impression on my mind than many of the new authors I discovered than. Continue reading “Yog-Sothothery”