“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”

WHH Short Fiction: “Out of the Storm”

Essay: “Out of the Storm”, William Hope Hodgson, 1909.

This is an interesting if not a completely successful story.

It’s weird but naturalistic and exhibits an anti-Christian attitude more explicit in only one other Hodgson story.

It seems that the narrator’s friend, a scientist, is receiving transmissions through some kind of instrument whose nature is never detailed. It seems to be like a wireless telegraph but transmits a long and detailed message from “one in the last extremity”. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “Out of the Storm””

“He”

Another look at a story I’ve already covered once, but it was this Deep Ones reading over at LibraryThing, so I thought I’d say a few more things about it and defend Lovecraft on some points.

Review: “He”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I was faint, even fainter than the hateful modernity of that accursed city had made me.

“He” is the second of what I call Lovecraft’s “I hate New York” stories.

It is also, after his “The Silver Key”, written in 1926, the most autobiographical of his stories, a hate letter to New York City and modernity.

The story opens with that cry from the heart of the narrator and continues:

I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision. My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.

The hero goes on long nocturnal jaunts to find the hidden historical curiosities of Old New York:

tottering Ionic columns and fluted pilasters and urn-headed iron fence-posts and flaring-lintelled windows and decorative fanlights.

Continue reading ““He””

“The Space-Eaters”

Another recent reading for the Deep Ones discussion group at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Space-Eaters”, Frank Belknap Long, 1927.Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

In his H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi says the following:

This story can be said to have two distinctive qualities. It is the first work to involve Lovecraft as a character … and – although this point is somewhat debatable – it is the first “addition” to Lovecraft’s mythos.

And yet, to be perfectly honest, “The Space-Eaters” is a preposterous and ridiculous story.

Well, I’ve certainly read worse stories in and out of the Mythos. But it’s not a good story, and I’ve briefly talked about it before.

I don’t think it is a Cthulhu Mythos story. It references none of the locations, blasphemous tomes, or “deities” of that vast conception carried on for 90 some years now. The brain-eating menace from space isn’t even given a name.

The story is 32 pages long, and, for most of that, Long fails to create any sense of menace or wonder except for a couple brief scenes.

The story has Howard, a writer, and Frank, his narrator and friend. Yes, that’s Howard as in Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Frank as in Frank Belknap Long.

Lovecraft’s only requirement for his fictional portrayal was that he be shown as “LEAN” since he was a bit pudgy during his recent failed marriage and exile in New York City and had lost the weight.

Writer Howard opens the story complaining of his inability to write a horror that “transcends everything” and then goes on a riff imagining a horror that “could eat their way to us through space!”.

Long seems to be having a bit of fun with his friend Lovecraft and making some sly, personal jokes because the very first page of the story sums up Howard’s opinion, not all that favorable, of many of the authors Lovecraft mentions favorably in his Supernatural Horror in Literature: Bram Stoker, Anne Radcliffe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Algernon Blackwood. Lovecraft’s idol Edgar Allan Poe even gets criticized has having “really accomplished very little with his Lady Ushers, and liquescent Valdemars”.

Howard also trembles and gets angry at several points in the story whereas I think of Lovecraft as probably often stoic or good-humored with only occasional outbursts of exasperation or anger.

Howard also laments that he is not a mathematician and cannot glimpse the “strange curves and angles” of the fourth dimension. This may, as well as bringing to mind Long’s far better tale of menacing geometry, “The Hounds of Tindalos”, may be a reference to Lovecraft’s lack of mathematical aptitude keeping him from his intended career as an astronomer.

Anyway, a local man, Henry Wells shows up Frank’s house, with an odd story and an odd injury.

And here is where Long makes his biggest mistake.

A classical opening gambit for a Mythos story is to make some grand philosophical observation based on the events later in the story. Perhaps the best examples from Lovecraft’s work are the beginning of “The Call of Cthulhu” and “At the Mountains of Madness”.

Long wants us to swallow the coincidence that Howard’s opening speculations are realized in random later events.

Wells has an odd hole in the right side of his. It’s clean and bloodless and may just go into the middle of his brain.

He tells us how he got it. He was driving his horse and cart that foggy night through Mulligan Wood, a rather sinister place whose menacing vegetation may be a reference to Lovecraft’s recently completed “The Colour Out of Space”. He feels something odd drop on his head, something soft and with a jelly-like consistency.

Then he sees what looks like a thin white arm, and just the arm, descend from the tree tops and grope around the ground.

Wells and his horse bolt away, but then he feels a lancing, ice cold pain in his skull, passes out for ten minutes and then goes to Frank’s house.

Howard thinks this is a splendid story, an “accidental tour de force”, and that Wells’ wound is self-inflicted, that Wells is crazy.

Wells is not happy to be thought a liar and is overcome with pain again and runs into the night.

Frank and Howard decide they really should go find him and get a doctor, so they go into Mulligan Wood. After seeing the shapes of “venomous tongues and leering eyes” in the fog, they find the screaming Wells and take him back to the house, tie him up, and call for Dr. Smith.

Smith doesn’t think Wells is going to last long, and one of two effective episodes in the story is his probing of Wells’ head and wound.

Smith is aghast. He believes they are dealing with an alien menace, and Frank’s house is now marked for destruction.

Howard and Frank agree a menace is out in the foggy night and head for Frank’s launch and the sea. Mulligan Wood is alive with ominous dronings and humming.

They make it to the launch and, at sea, they see a “vast, formless shape” above the forest which has, unaccountably, started to burn.

And here Long makes his second mistake. The alien menace is kept at bay with some burning cotton from the boat and the sign of the cross. Banal folk magic defeating cosmic menace is a mistake Lovecraft made in “The Dreams of the Witch House”.

And there concludes the first part of the story.

The second part has Howard trying to turn the whole thing into a story. Frank thinks that’s a blasphemous violation of “the privacies of the mind”, that the story is too convincing, too real. The event should be suppressed. (Which picks up a theme of many of Lovecraft’s stories: the suppression of the truth by individuals and institutions.)

Howard refuses, and, in the concluding third section, Frank gets a strange call from Howard. “They’ve come back! I have become a priest of the Devil.”.

Frank goes to Howard’s house where he sees strange shafts of light penetrating Howard’s head, Howard who is lying on the floor, his hands before his eyes as if blotting out a hellish vision.

And when strange sounds come from Howard’s mouth, Frank makes the sign of the cross, the house starts burning, and Frank leaves his dead friend on the floor.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related material are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

And more reviews of fantastic fiction in general are indexed on the title and author/editor pages.

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”

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 “The Disciples of Cthulhu”