Black Wings of Cthulhu 4

After about a year, I decided to finally finish reading S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu anthology series. Partly, that’s to read some David Hambling tales in later volumes, and partly to finally finish at least one of my reading projects.

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, S. T. Joshi, 2015, 2016.

Cover by Gregory Nemec

In his “Introduction” to the book, Joshi notes how several stories here rely on a sense of place. He also mentions the anthology’s one poem, Charles Lovecraft’s “Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount”, a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear”.

In Lovecraft, of course, terrors often come from the past, an idea he inherited from the gothic. Indeed, merely calling something “ancient” in Lovecraft is often used to evoke horror. For me, some of the most memorable tales here are archaeologically themed, an element in Lovecraft’s own The Shadow Out of Time.

Ann K. Schwader’s “Night of the Piper” is my first exposure to her Cassie Barret series. She’s a former anthropology student who now works on a Wyoming ranch, packs a revolver, and has two Rottweiler dogs for companions. Ranch foreman Frank, perhaps because his grandfather was a Crow “man of power”, appreciates the thinness between dreams and reality. Shortly after a flyer shows up in the mail advertising “THE PIPER WITH A PURPOSE”, a local branch of a non-profit advertising and its “Authentic Ancient Designs for a Stronger Community”, they both begin having strange dreams involving coyotes. And the Kokopelli on the flyer seems reminiscent of a sinister version Cassie has seen before. Soon, reluctantly, she gets out the journal of a vanished archaeologist who thinks that particular Kokopelli derives from a far more ancient culture.

Schwader cleverly splices the Cthulhu Mythos into the prehistory of the American Southwest. But, for me, the descriptions of Wyoming and rural poverty evoked things I’ve seen myself, and that made the story richer. Justly renowned as a poet, Schwader proves she’s also a talented fiction writer.

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Ornaments in Jade

Review: Ornaments in Jade, Arthur Machen, 1924.

Cover by Daniel V. Sauer

I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about this book. It is a collection of ten of what S. T. Joshi calls “prose poems” though they many have enough plot that we might call them flash fiction today.

In either case, I don’t see much point in reviewing them whatever they are called. They are brief enough where summary seems superfluous and criticism would require minute examinations of the sort I’m not interested in.

And, frankly, I didn’t find them interesting as poetry or at all memorable though I read them less than three months ago. I do not agree with Joshi saying, in “Arthur Machen: The Evils of Materialism” (in The Secret Ceremonies) saying they are comparable only to Clark Ashton Smith’s poetry in quality. Many remind me of some of the more forgettable pieces in The Dedalus Book of Decadence (Moral Ruins).

Ian Smith’s “Sanctity Plus Sorcery: The Curious Christianity of Arthur Machen” (also in The Secret Ceremonies) does have some interesting things to say about how they show Machen’s “religious influences”. “Midsummer” is blatantly pagan in theme. “The Rose Garden” and “The Moth and the Flame” have Sufi influences.

All ten pieces were written in 1897. Some were first published in magazines first before appearing in the 1924 collection.

The Hill of Dreams

Essay: The Hill of Dreams, Arthur Machen, 1907.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe

In 1896, the year The Three Impostors; or, The Transmutations was published, Machen said, in the introduction to a 1923 edition of this novel, he decided to stop being, in the words of critics, a “second-rate imitator” of Robert Louis Stevenson.

This was not quite all the truth, but there was a good deal of truth in it, and I am glad to say I took my correction in a proper spirit. I resolved to try to amend my ways.

There would be

No more white powders, no more of the calix principis inferorum, no more hanky-panky with the Great God Pan, or the Little People or any people of that dubious sort.

He planned this novel in in 1895, and it was not done until the spring of 1897. His plan was frequently revised, concluding chapters abandoned and restarted. He despaired, at times, of ever finding a way to completion.

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“The Shining Pyramid”

Review: “The Shining Pyramid”, Arthur Machen, 1895, 1926.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

It’s not only the last of Machen’s stories about writer and pseudo-detective Dyson, but it also decisively ends an era of Machen’s literary career.

Like all the Dyson stories, it’s told in a series of episodes. The story was first published in 1895 and slightly revised for a 1925 publication. As usual in this series, editor S. T. Joshi went with Machen’s preferred version.

In “The Arrow-Head Character”, Dyson and his friend Vaughn are discussing the latter’s recent trip to the country. 

They haven’t seen each other in three years, and Vaughn came to see Dyson right after getting off his train in London. He speaks of a haunting and invites Dyson out to the country. Dyson likes London in September. It’s exciting, and he doesn’t want to leave.

Vaughn says the country isn’t always peaceful. It has its mysteries. For instance, Annie Trevor, a beautiful girl, disappeared walking to her aunt’s house about five or six miles away. There were no pits to fall into or cliffs to fall off along the way. The villagers, “bad as the Irish” in their superstitions, have an explanation involving fairies. 

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“A Double Return”

Review: “A Double Return”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

This is another one of Machen’s society stories, written and published in 1890. It actually does have one of those covert sexual themes that S. T. Joshi says often showed up in these kinds of stories. It also has less dialogue than usual for a Machen “smart tale”.

Our protagonist is Frank Halswell, and he’s taking the train back home to London. He is a popular artist who has been on a “sketching tour in Devon and Cornwall”. 

As his train nears Paddington station, he sees a train going the other way and in it a man who looks remarkably like him. However, he writes it off as his reflection in the window. 

He thinks back to an acquaintance, Kerr, he met at a hotel in Plymouth. Kerr, oddly, would look like Halswell if Kerr was clean-shaven. 

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“A Remarkable Coincidence”

Review: “A Remarkable Coincidence”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

In 1890, the British short story market was booming. The Education Act of 1870 had increased general literacy. The three-tier novel and the monopolies of lending libraries affiliated with publishers were giving way to magazines.

In 1887, after he had been in London for four years, Machen inherited some money from his father, and he had the time to devote himself full-time to writing.

The explosion of magazines meant many an author was experimenting with different styles and subjects to see which ones would make their reputation and make money.

In the year that it took Machen to complete all of the installments of the serialized “The Great God Pan”, he also turned his hand to society stories, or, as Machen dubbed them, “smart tales”. (And he said he knew absolutely nothing about “society”.)

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The Chronicle of Clemendy

Review: The Chronicle of Clemendy, Arthur Machen, 1888.

This novel was first privately published in 1888 by the Society for Pantegruelists though the text here is based on its 1923 version. As with all three volumes of Arthur Machen’s Collected Fiction, Joshi went with the text preferred by the author.

If you only know Machen through weird fiction tales like “Novel of the White Powder”, “Novel of the White Powder”, or “The Great God Pan”, this novel has an unexpected amount of humor.

Machen the antiquarian and lover of the Middle Ages and its church is on full display here.

Machen attempted a modern version of two famous medieval works, Boccaccio’s The Decameron and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Like those books, it’s a collection of told stories.

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“A Chapter from the Book Called The Ingenious Gentleman Dox Quixote de le Mancha Which by Some Mischance Has Not Till Now Been Printed”

A brief bit of housekeeping first.

Twitter has locked my Twitter account, and I’m able — but unwilling — to meet the requirements to get it back. You can still be informed of new posts by email. I may post updates on another social media site. I haven’t decided yet.

In find myself doing another author series as I did with Ambrose Bierce, Kathe Koja, and William Hope Hodgson. This one will be on Arthur Machen.

It all started after I posted about his “History of the Young Man with Spectacles“. People commented, here and on LibraryThing, that you can’t really understand that story divorced from the context where it first appeared: The Three Impostors; or, The Transmutations.

When I saw S. T. Joshi at a local bookstore, he talked me into buying his just released three volume collection of Machen’s fiction. And, since I was reading that novel, I might as well read the rest of the first volume. And if I was reading the first volume . . .

I’ll also be looking at some of Machen’s non-fiction too. Since Joshi arranged his collection in the order Machen wrote the stories, that’s how I’ll largely be covering them and the non-fiction.

As you can see from this first installment, I won’t be saying a lot about some of them.

Review: “A Chapter from the Book Called The Ingenious Gentleman Dox Quixote de le Mancha Which by Some Mischance Has Not Till Now Been Printed”, Arthur Machen, 1887.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe

No, I don’t know why Joshi dated the volume this appears in with 1888. It seems to have been privately printed and not commercially published until 1925 under the title “The Priest and the Barber”.

The title really tells you all you need to know. It’s a takeoff on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a book Machen loved and fit his peculiar definition of fine literature. It also shows Machen’s antiquarian interests.

As to the story itself, I have little to say since I know Cervante’s novel only by reputation, and any allusions or parodies of style were lost on me. It’s a conversation about very obscure books (whose titles sound fictitious but could be real) between a barber and a priest. 

Black Wings of Cthulhu

It’s entirely coincidental that it’s H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday today.

Yes, I know I’m jumping all over in series lately. I was on vacation. That’s when I do my impulsive reading.

Low Res Scan: Black Wings of Cthulhu, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2010, 2012. 

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

The inaugural volume for what would become a six-part series is strong but not flawless.

Have I ever read a Nicholas Royle story I liked? No, and I didn’t much care for his “Rotterdam”, either. He’s obviously paying homage to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound” in plot and story setting, but it’s really just a crime story with the Lovecraft connection being Joe, the screenwriter protagonist, in Amsterdam to scout out locations for a possible adaption of Lovecraft’s story. He’s hoping to ingratiate himself with the producer so his own script will be used on the project. What he really wants to do, though, is to get the job to write the screenplay of his own published crime novel, Amsterdam. The world of film production is interesting as are Joe’s less than successful interactions with its more successful members. We get some echoes between Joe and Lovecraft with Amsterdam being sort of autobiographical in the way Lovecraft’s essays are. And, after a bout of drinking, Joe wakes up to a body in his room. No supernatural horror here.

Nor was I impressed by Michael Cisco’s “Violence, Child of Trust”. There’s no cosmic horror here in a story that has a rural cult that captures and sacrifices (after the occasional rape) women to some god. I will grant the ending did surprise me.

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Black Wings of Cthulhu 3

I’m not really sure why, back in February, I decided to read the rest of the Black Wings anthology series but started with the third installment. I suspect it was because it was one of the volumes had a Brian Stableford story in it.

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu 3, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2014, 2015.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

In his short “Introduction”, S. T. Joshi again reminds us that the point of his anthology series is not to present Lovecraft pastiches that just mention the gods, places, and books of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s to explore human insignificance in a cosmos unbounded in time and space; wonder and terror in obscure locales “lashed with age”; horrors from outside infesting our mind, body, and spirit; and parallel worlds just out of sight.

He meets his goal pretty well, but, while not pastiches, a lot of these tales are retellings or follow ups to Lovecraft stories. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what a reader wants from a book with this title. There’s not a really bad story in the bunch, but a couple are slight.

As far as horrors outside the body, a minor theme running through this collection is horror inside the body. A lot of characters in these stories are cancer ridden.

Donald R. Burleson’s “Dimply Dolly Doofey” certainly almost entirely eschews Lovecraft references though it’s kind of a version of Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. Rather than some backwoods sorcerer, we get a very unsympathetic 17-year old methhead and her baby. It’s not a normal baby either. But you kind of expect that when the child’s paternal grandfather preaches the virtues of chemicals to prepare the blood of his son so his mate can bear a child who will open the way for the Old Ones’ return. Methhead Cindy decides she’s not really into this kind of things so swaps her inhuman child for a doll at a store. And an unfortunate family purchases it there.

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