“Bells of Oceana”

Still catching up on recent Deep Ones discussions over at LibraryThing.

This one is in H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales. Now, you might think that a tale of a menace lurking under the vast realms of the Pacific Ocean may have influenced Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”. However, the latter story was written in the summer of 1926 according to S. T. Joshi’s Nightmare Countries: The Master of Cosmic Horror, and Burke’s story appeared in the December 1927 issue of Weird Tales.

Review: “Bells of Oceana”, Arthur J. Burks, 1927.

HP Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales
Cover by Daniel Govar

This is an engaging weird fiction sea story. (I wonder, on reading this the second time, if David Hambling might have read it and been inspired to write his “The Devils in the Deep Blue Sea”.)

Our narrator is Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and is on a troop ship bound for China. (Presumably, though this is unstated, this was for service in the American naval forces in China in the interwar period. Burks, incidentally, served in the Corps in both world wars.) The ship is taking an unusual route west, traveling between the usual sea lanes.

One night, around midnight, after making the inspection of the onboard sentries, he retires to his stateroom. He’s gripped by a sense of unease. He thinks someone has been in his stateroom.

He knows he has the only key to the room. He even opens the porthole window and looks, but he sees nothing. But he still is uneasy and keeps an eye on the porthole.

Then, after undressing, he sees a strange, “dead-white” face with a “thin and ironic smile”, for a moment, at the porthole. Continue reading ““Bells of Oceana””

Sargasso #1

Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies was an unfortunately short lived, project by Hodgson scholar Sam Gafford. Only three issues were produced.

Sam Gafford’s “Introduction” lays out his intention that this journal address the lack of a specific outlet for exploration, in nonfiction and fiction, of the themes and concepts in Hodgson’s work.

Review: Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #1, ed. Sam Gafford, 2013.

Sargasso
Cover by Robert H. Knox

Shadow Out of Hodgson” by John D. Haefele lays out a case, even though S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz do not mention in Hodgson in their annotated version of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time, for the influence of Hodgson’s The Night Land on that work. First, Lovecraft mentioned Hodgson’s novel in several letters when the story was being written between November 10, 1934 and February 22, 1935. Second, there are several similarities in the narratives. First, like humanity in the Last Redoubt, the Great Race is under siege. Second, the consciousness of both narrators is projected into the future. Both stories feature libraries of metal bound books that the narrators access. Less convincing is Haefele seeing similarities between X descending the gorge on his way to the Lesser Redoubt and the narrator of The Shadow Out of Time, in contemporary times, descending into the uncovered structures of the Great Race.

Phillip A. Ellis’ “A Reassessment of William Hope Hodgson’s Poetry”, Phillip A. Ellis looks at almost all of Hodgson’s poetry and finds Hodgson’s poetry full of vivid physical tales as well as a preoccupation with, as Hodgson scholar Jane Frank noted, “strange visions, supernatural phenomena, hallucinatory events”. Poetry seems to have been a lifelong literary outlet for Hodgson. He took it up earlier than fiction writing and wrote most of his poems between 1899 and 1906. He even wrote poetry when he was in the army and Ellis thinks that, if would have had the chance to develop his facility more, he might have been a noted war poet. Ellis thinks most of the weaknesses in Hodgson’s poetry came from him being a self-educated poet lacking the necessary technical training. I’ve read a lot, but by no means all, of Hodgson’s poetry. Frankly, little stuck in my brain (but, then, most poetry doesn’t) apart from the prose poem “Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death”. I do agree with Ellis that Hodgson is best when he takes inspiration and metaphors from the sea. Continue reading “Sargasso #1”

Tales of the Al-Azif; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Right now I’m reading David Hambling’s new novel, War of the God Queen, which gave me a good reason to read this book which I bought a few months ago when I was in the midst of reading William Hope Hodgson and various Scottish writers.

Reviewer parallax on this one is provided by The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviewer. I would have completely missed this title if he hadn’t mentioned it.

Review: Tales of the Al-Azif, eds. Matthew Davenport & C.T. Phipps, 2019.Tales of the Al Azif

Editors Davenport and Phipps have called up something impressively different here. They ensorcelled their contributors to give over their worlds and characters to serve a larger narrative, the story of something that is feebly and inadequately called a book.

If the language of their spells is a bit obscure at times or crafted to combine that which was separate and hide discontinuities, their vision and direction is to be applauded. They have created worlds from a throwaway title in a monograph from the Great God Lovecraft.

In six stories (one being broken into the opening and closing framing sections), we get the history of the Al-Azif, sometimes known as The Book of the Insect. Maybe the Mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred used it as the source for the Necronomicon. And, maybe, he was torn apart by invisible demons in a day-lit market square. One thing is certain, though: Al-Azif is not just a static text. It shifts in meaning, is a power unto itself, a power often affiliated with those strange members of the Class Insecta we share Earth with. And the Al-Azif seduces with promises of wishes fulfilled. Continue reading “Tales of the Al-Azif; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Schweitzer and Lovecraft on Hodgson

There still are a lot of William Hope Hodgson stories I’ll be looking at as well as Hodgson criticism. However, I’m mostly taking stuff in the way I read it.

These are both in The William Hope Hodgson Megapack.51GClMcTj+L._SY346_

The first, “A Note About Hodgson”, is from author and critic Darrell Schweitzer.

He justifiably says going to sea gave

Hodgson the formative experience of his life, and surely contributed to the sense of vastness, solitude, and cosmic strangeness found in his best work.

Schweitzer argues that Hodgson still has no peer “or even serious challenger” for writing the creepiest sea horror stories. Schweitzer talks briefly about Hodgson’s novels, the Carnacki stories, and regards “The Derelict” and “The Voice in the Night” as two of his most notable stories. He thinks that, given that Hodgson was turning to short stories, many of them not supernatural, when he died that, if he hadn’t have been killed in World War I, he would have become a “pulp generalist”. He concludes by stating that Hodgson is like Arthur Machen or David Lindsay – writers whose works are not particularly popular but “because of their utter uniqueness” refuse to die.

H. P. Lovecraft’s “Notes on Hodgson” is taken from his Supernatural Horror in Literature. He calls Hodgson’s style uneven but sometimes powerful. While he thinks Hodgson had a tendency “toward conventionally sentimental conceptions of the universe, and of man’s relation to it”, only Algernon Blackwood matches him in describing “unreality”. Continue reading “Schweitzer and Lovecraft on Hodgson”

“The Harbor-Master”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Harbor-Master”, Robert W. Chambers, 1904.untitled

The narrator of this is engaging story is a 24 year old general supervisor of the waterfowl section of the Zoological Gardens in Brooklyn, New York. We never do get his name.

Among his many jobs is answering the various letters from people offering to sell or donate exhibits of alive and stuffed animals. (The zoo does not hire people to collect samples.) The letters and answers are reviewed by the narrator’s supervisor Professor Farrago.

One day he’s surprised that Farrago actually wants him to respond to a letter from Burton Halyard, a man who claims he has some living great auks to sell for the princely sum of $10,000. Great auks are thought to have gone extinct around 1870 when the last ones were seen in Labrador. Halyard’s letter cryptically says that he may have an even more remarkable specimen for them – an amphibious biped – which seems even more ludicrous. However, he says that, when the narrator arrives, he’ll meet people who have seen it and are believable.

So the narrator is off to Black Harbor. We’re never told where on the Atlantic coast or even the state or Canadian province that Black Harbor is in. I’d guess, given that we hear of mica mining, that it’s New Hampshire. Continue reading ““The Harbor-Master””

Walking the Night Land: “A Question of Meaning”

We return to the Walking the Night Land series already.

I completely forgot about this story when I was reading William Hope Hodgson a few months ago. It’s not surprising, given its appearance in the first issue Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson, that it would tie into Hodgson’s The Night Land. (I’ll be reviewing all three issues of the journal as well as more of Hodgson’s short fiction.)

Essay: “A Question of Meaning”, Pierre V. Comtois, 2013.

Sargasso
Cover by Robert H. Knox

This story combines many things. It uses the background of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and is partly set in Dunwich, the god Nodens, Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, and the far future setting of The Night Land. Taking place in 1999, it also benefits from Comtois’ personal and historical knowledge of New England.

Given its length, it works better than you would expect. Divided into six parts, each titled with a character’s name (though the last two parts really center on the same character), the story has a farmer finding a strange stone in his field near Dunwich. A local historian takes it to the local “crackpot” Corwin who tells him it’s from the cult of Nodens and there will be other stones in the field. Night-gaunts show up farmer Fritch’s field. A local archaeology professor is notified, and a dig is done uncovering the rest of the stones.

Then Montrose is introduced. He’s a priest in the Nodens cult (Nodens sent the night-gaunts.) He is instructed to get the stones back by Nodens. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: “A Question of Meaning””

“MS Found in a Chicago Hotel Room”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Ms Found in a Chicago Hotel Room”, Daniel Mills, 2012.Lord Came at Twilight

There is a sort of reader of fiction – not exclusive to fantastic fiction – who enjoys the cloth of a created world so much they like to see multiple writers sew their own pieces onto it, thread new and allusive patterns into it, and quilt in secret connections and new characters. It’s literature as a quilting project across the decades or even centuries.

You can all provide of this, writers and works that compel successors to works of literary embroidery. For this piece, that would be Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow and H. P. Lovecraft.

But creating new chronologies for characters, new associations between them, giving us veiled allusions to pre-existing work is not weird of and by itself. It may be, to one degree or another, an entertaining fictional game and fan service, but it’s also decadent in the sense that the main effort goes to elaboration, reference, and explication and not creating something new.

This story kind of straddles the line between giving us a truly weird story and just playing with The King in Yellow and Lovecraft. Continue reading ““MS Found in a Chicago Hotel Room””