“Witches’ Hollow”

This week’s weird fiction selection.

Review: “Witches’ Hollow”, H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, 1962.DRKMKHRT3A1962

This, like other “collaborations” between Lovecraft and Derleth I’ve read, was rather lifeless. Derleth’s usual technique was simply to expand on a story note or fragment of Lovecraft’s. On its first publication in the Derleth edited Dark Mind, Dark Heart, he even puts Lovecraft’s name prominently on the story with his own name asterisked in footnote “Completed by August Derleth”.

These collaborations don’t do a thing for me emotionally, and I find them an exercise in just mentally ticking off boxes to see which of the “gods” invented by Derleth he’s going to add to his version of the “Cthulhu Mythos” — a term he coined. There’s also the usual bland domestication of Lovecraft’s vision with what are, essentially, magical relics.

Here Derleth works in some references to Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and sets the story around Arkham.  Continue reading ““Witches’ Hollow””

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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 “The Mind Parasites”

H. P. Lovecraft: A Life

The Lovecraft series continues with a look at S. T. Joshi’s biography of that writer.

Joshi has expanded this 708 page book into 1,200 pages with the updated edition called I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to do my wrists a favor, when I do, and get the kindle edition.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi, 1996, 2004.H P Lovecraft A Life

Joshi is such a concise writer that it would do little good to sum up all the points of interest in this book’s 655 pages of text, and some it, expectedly, repeats Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft and H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West. Since Joshi sums up all of Lovecraft’s fiction including some of his most important revisions, I think this book comes about as close as you can get to a one volume introduction to Lovecraft without reading his work.

He gives brief summaries of Lovecraft’s most important correspondents and professional contacts, the magazines he published in, and other matters related to Lovecraft’s interests, life, and times.

Granted, some of this gets a bit far afield.

Is it really necessary to give a summary of Antarctic exploration when mentioning Lovecraft’s interest in it even though it is, of course, relevant to his “At the Mountains of Madness“?

Still, I learned a lot about Lovecraft. Continue reading “H. P. Lovecraft: A Life”

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 4: The Maze of the Enchanter

The Clark Ashton Smith series continues with an actual retro review from 2010.

Sorry, I made no real notes on volume 3.

Review: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 4: The Maze of the Enchanter, eds. Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, 2009.maze-of-the-enchanter

Clark Ashton Smith is undergoing something of a revival these days. As well as an amateur artist who even illustrated some of his stories for Weird Tales, he was also a superb poet of the fantastic. (The Last Oblivion: Best Fantastic Poetry of Clark Ashton Smith is an affordable, excellent introduction to that side of his talent.) [Or you can just go the site with all things CAS: The Eldritch Dark.]

And, of course, there are the stories. Smith was not as good a writer as poet, but he could still be very good. This series collects his stories in the order Smith wrote them with the editors working very hard to present Smith’s preferred versions and alternate versions as well as Smith’s opinion of those stories as well as that of his famous friends, H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth. This volume’s stories were written in 1932 and 1933 and have Smith working in the many universes he had already established or writing sequels to his popular past stories. In all cases, the stories stand alone even when part of a series.

Smith’s greatest and most influential creation, the decadent, magical, grotesque far future of Zothique, Earth’s last continent, is the setting for many stories here. Showing the influence of Smith’s idol Edgar Poe at several points, “The Isle of the Torturers” has a king and fellow sparse survivors of a plague ending up on said island, a place given to the sadistic pleasure of all kinds of torture. “The Charnel God” has a young nobleman braving the temple of Mordiggian to rescue his dead wife from its priests. (She only seems dead, more shades of Poe.) “The Dark Eidolon” is Smith at the top of his form with a sorcerer determined to avenge an injury he suffered, when still a beggar boy and not Zothique’s most feared man, at the hands of a future emperor. And there’s a god who has his own ideas of justice. A poetic, dark tale of two unpleasant men marred only by a misstep in final imagery. “The Voyage of King Euvoran“, obsessively undertaken to recover a royal symbol and right a slight, ends up in a satisfying, wry conclusion. “The Weaver in the Vaults” has three soldiers sent on a mission to recover a royal mummy so it can be ground up for magical potions. They encounter a strange, vampiric creature underneath a city “where Death has made his capital”. Continue reading “The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 4: The Maze of the Enchanter”

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 2: The Door to Saturn

My Clark Ashton Smith series continues.

This one has an introduction by Tim Powers, the author that got me interested in re-trying Smith.

Raw Feed (2007): The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Vol. 2: The Door to Saturn, eds. Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, 2007.the-door-to-saturn

“Introduction”, Tim Powers — Powers observes two things about Clark Ashton Smith’s work: the pagan sense of fate and the dooming of true love. The glamours of Smith’s work, he says, are inextricable from the “merciless field-equations of Fate”.

The Door to Saturn” — Smith said this was one of his favorite works. He operates in a satiric vein, here, but the satire is more obvious than, say his “The Monster of Prophecy”. And it’s better too. Smith constantly denies expectations and dramatic payoffs and formulic plotting all the while relating his story in a deliberate, detached, yet wry, prose of wonder. Morghi the inquisitor pursues, from Smith’s Hyperboria to Saturn, fellow sorceror Eibon. The former is a devotee of the mainstream god Yhoundeh. The latter worships the primitive god — something of an alien exile on Earth — Zhothaqquah. Eibon is granted a magical escape hatch to Venus by Zhothaqquah in gratitude for his worship. The god’s relatives on Saturn can barely understand Eibon’s language, but bare him no will and speak an enigmatic phrase to him. Eibon thinks it’s important, develops a missionary zeal for delivering the message to others. After Morghi catches up to him, the two put aside their differences. They encounter a frightful animal which turns out to be a beast of burden owned by the headless Bhlemphroims — the latter are in a state of “eugenic sorrow” having devolved from their former headed condition. Rather than get caught up in tribal politics a la H. Rider Haggard and other lost race novelists or attempting to convert the tribe to the worship of their individual gods, the wizards are well treated and bored. They are expected to mate with the sole fecund female of the tribe, a “mountainous female” (a comic image reminiscent of Smith’s “The Root of Ampoi”) — and then eaten by them. The two decide to leave. But Smith doesn’t deliver a daring escape or chase. The tribe simply lets them go. Eventually coming to the Ydheem people, Eibon delivers the message of the relatives of his god. Their translation turns out to be banal, unexpected, yet still significant: “Be on your way.” The Ydheems, hearing it after their city is buried in an avalanche, build a whole new city on the divine revelation. And the two wizards settle their dispute for the rest of their life, a life of disappointments — Morghi can get an inquisition going, Eibon becomes a “minor prophet”. There are the compensations of the “potent though evil-tasting” fungus-wine and females “if one were not too squemish”. After several non-adventures it is said their life is not “so radically different from that of Mhu Thulan …”, their home, “… or any other place”. Such is Smith’s anti-adventure, the relatively mundane and mixed bag of life even if lived on an exotic planet. A final irony is that their absence on Earth, triggers the revival of Zothaqquah worship in Hyperborea.

The Red World of Polaris” — This was a story never published in Smith’s lifetime, a sequel to his “Marooned on Andromeda” and the result of an unexpected commission to do a series of Captain Volmar tales. In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Smith said he had little interest in the “mythology of science”. However, this story sort of anticipates some later transhuman themes of sf. The crew of the Alcyone is pulled into a metal shelled world inhabited by an alien race who has transferred their brains to customizable metal bodies they discard at well. It is not an upload of a consciousness into a computer or cyborg a la the transhumans, but it has many similarities. Furthermore, the inhabitants of the world have a control over constituent atoms that is like nanotechnology. They also have a problem with runaway experiments in life conducted by various scientists. However, I think these were all incidental plot matters to Smith who was most interested seemingly, given his comments to Lovecraft, about the poetically described apocalypse that destroys the alien world at story’s end. It is an apocalypse brought on by a characteristically Smith menace — a blob of living matter that has animal and plant characteristics. It can be seen as a metaphor for the cancer gnawing away, literally, at the heart of this technological civilization which has more than a tint of racial senescence and individual decadence in the experiments of some of its scientists. Given that it’s a red world, it’s something of a worm in an apple. Continue reading “The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 2: The Door to Saturn”

The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 1: The End of the Story

Since there seems to be some interest in Clark Ashton Smith (as well there should be), I will continue my series on him.

Actually, I was going to do it anyway.

After reading A Rendezvous in Averoigne, I decided to start buying Night Shade Books The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith.

Unfortunately, I was reading like a normal person in 2007 meaning I didn’t make notes on a lot of things, and that includes only partial notes on this volume.

So, it’s a …

Low Res Scan (2007): The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 1: The End of the Story, eds. Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, 2006.end-of-the-story

“Introduction”, Ramsey Campbell — Besides a brief account of Campbell’s youthful delight on reading the titles of a Smith collection — to say nothing of the actual stories, Campbell manages a number of concise one sentence summations of many stories in this collection as well as saying how certain stories pre-figured more famous stories by other authors.

To the Daemon” — Not a story but a prose-poem from something called Acolyte (the date is 1943, many years after most of Smith’s stories here but the work could have been written earlier) in which Smith, in his fine poetic ways, tells, in the space of less than a page, how he is tired of stories “that lies between the bourns of time or the limits of space”. He even mentions the Oriental themes of his earliest fiction — “the isles that are westward of Cathay”.

The Abominations of Yondo” — A very simple plot here: a tortured man is released by his captors into the desert of Yondo where he encounters several disturbing sights including a “monstrous mummy of some ancient king” which cause him to flee back to the comfort of his captivity. There is little here except wonderful language, especially the opening paragraph, no moral except perhaps the cynical, weird idea that even captivity and torture are preferable to some things. Continue reading “The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Volume 1: The End of the Story”

Night Voices, Night Journeys

More Japanese weird fiction while I work on new stuff.

Raw Feed (2007): Night Voices, Night Journeys: Lairs of the Hidden Gods, Volume One, ed. Asamatsu Ken, 2002, 2005.night-voices-night-journeys

Foreword:  Recollections of Tentacles”, Asamatsu Ken, trans. Edward Lipsett. — Perfunctory, metaphor laden account of how popular H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos are in Japan. This is described as an anthology concentrating on Lovecraftian tales with an historical element. Asamatsu notes that the only American sf authors with a “solid bibliography” (Whatever that means exactly:  consistently worth reading or most of their works translated into Japanese?) are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and H. P. Lovecraft — and only the latter has TV adaptations and publishing houses devoted to it.

Introduction:  Rush Hour of the Old Ones”, Robert M. Price — Price, who has edited several Lovecraft inspired anthologies and who, I understand, has a degree in theology, purports to find some similarity in the broad mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos and Aum Shinrikyo (humanity must be purged from Earth to make way for supernatural beings who will be worshipped by the worthy members of the cult — Price provides some interesting material on how the group’s theology evolved) and also Buddhism (specifically August Derleth’s corrupted interpretations of the Cthulhu Mythos).

The Plague of St. James Infirmary”, Asamatsu Ken, trans. R. Keith Roeller — This story shows what I’m told is a characteristic Japanese love of icon — kami in their extreme from. This is sort of interesting mélange of American icons fixed in the Japanese mind:  Chicago and its gangster. The entirely predictable revelation is that cunning Scarface is Al Capone. The less obvious revelation that Eliot is the future Eliot Ness.  I have no idea if his girlfriend was a real character.) Taro, the Japanese bodyguard, turns out to be Kaitaro Hasegawa (I assume a real Japanese writer) who created a beloved fictional one-armed, one-eyed samurai (which Taro temporarily is, due to injuries, in this story.) Price’s notes reveal Michael Leigh, the occultist character, to be a borrowing from Henry Kuttner’s foray into the Cthulhu Mythos. There is a certain unintended humor here — besides the improbable assertion that Michael Leigh’s implied ancestor, Judge Leigh of the Salem Witch Trials, moved to Chicago (my research says the first whites arrived in the 1770s there) with it being noted that the Japanese “have an exceptionally keen spiritual sensitivity”.

The Import of Terrors”, Yamada Masaki, trans. Kathleen Taji — This story effectively combines the firebombing of Kobe — and less obviously its devastating earthquake fifty years later — with some of the elements of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness” (I was reminded how rich this is in Cthulhu Mythos elements when I went back and looked at it) and “At the Mountains of Madness”. Two Japanese boys, fleeing the firebombing and starved, enter the mysterious house of a Russian immigrant. They encounter a strange creature who urges the boys to eat it. But they also see the maimed body of the Russian. Still living, he tells them not to eat the alien, that to do so will let a parasite live in their bodies for fifty years, and, when it emerges, catastrophe will result. He even kills one of the boys to stop him from eating the alien but then dies. The narrator, the surviving boy, tells at story’s end how he feels strange impulses and must return to Kobe. Price brief introduction actually helps appreciate the story. He reminds us that Lovecraft’s tale linked the aliens in the Vermont woods with Indian myths and the Mi-Go of the Himalayas and that they feared other aliens. That enemy they feared is implied, believes Price, to be the parasite infecting the alien (seemingly one of the Old Ones from “At the Mountains of Madness”). Price also points out the timing of the narrator’s return to Kobe and the portent of disaster would have been understood by a Japanese audience to mean the Kobe earthquake. Price also compares the state of the boys to the “hungry ghosts” of Buddhism and Hindu reincarnation, a state two notches below being reincarnated as human. However, I don’t quite buy all of Price’s implications.  Yes, the Mi-Go are linked to the Himalayas but they aren’t in this story though, admittedly, the parasite may be one they feared.  (Russian Nikolai’s maiming seems to reveal a man, and not a Mi-Go, horribly injured by the parasite bursting from his body — though how it got to be the size and shape of an Old One is really explained). Nevertheless, it’s an effective story. There’s no reason why a Lovecraftian tale has to slavishly and precisely link itself to the details of the Cthulhu Mythos to work.

27 May 1945”, Kamino Okina, trans. Steven P. Venti — An interesting mythos story set during the midst of the Battle for Okinawa. A priestess of the island’s Cthulhu cult undertakes a mission to release, seemingly, some nascent Deep One forms from beneath Shuri Castle. There is a nice bit at the end of the story tying the destruction, that day, of the castle by an American battleship, the secret nuclear testing two years later on a South Pacific island, and the reluctance of American to have a G8 summit in 1992 at the restored castle to the events of the story.

Night Voices, Night Journeys”, Inoue Masahiko, trans. Edward Lipsett — Forgettable story that invokes the old sex-death link to little effect. The story explicitly mentions Yog-Sothoth.

Sacrifice”, Murata Motoi, trans Nora Stevens Heath — An odd story with a happy ending. A lot of stock horror elements are there:  an unfriendly village with a strange ritual/cult, an urbanite retreating to said village to heal an ill (bad skin), and the village has unusually large and prize vegetables due to their special soil. The protagonist fears his sick wife may be being prepared as some sort of human sacrifice to the Soil God who produces a soil so good that it may be eaten. Said soil may be the product of human sacrifice or, editor Price speculates, the excrement of the Soil God. Because of this speculation and because ingesting such large quantities of soil makes the protagonist’s wife youthful and beautiful and cures her dermatitis, I was reminded of the peculiar Japanese sexual fetish (not widespread) of eating human excrement.

Necrophallus”, Makino Asamu, trans Chun Jin — A sadomasochist tale that has a certain emotional believability and consistency. A sadist who likes to beat women and encounters a mysterious alien, figured like a woman, who may have been born on Yuggoth, her mother disfigured by her grandfather wielding the alien dagger Necrophallus, which maims the narrator and gives him ecstasy at the same time.

Love for Who Speaks”, Shibata Yoshiki — A reworking of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Both stories feature “people” who find that they are really hybrids of humans and Great Old Ones, heredity calling them back to the ocean and an aquatic existence in the deep. But, whereas Lovecraft’s story is a horrifying revelation, genes pulling the hero to a repulsive fate (his cousin, after all, shoots himself rather than go to the ocean with the inhabitants of Innsmouth), the protagonist here finds freedom in not only realizing her biological destiny but escaping from the control of her unloving husband. It is the character of the husband — a gnostic like figure, editor Robert Price notes, who has become enamored with the pleasures of the surface world rather than attending to his calling of finding “women” who are daughters of the Great Old Ones –that has no comparable analog in the Lovecraft story.

 

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