His Unconquerable Enemy (an old fashioned tale of quadriplegic revenge)

12/20/2009 § Leave a comment

Oh, the desperate, insane thirst for revenge which could have unhinged so clear and firm a mind.”

-W.C. Morrow

It is not really my intention to keep posting about stories from the Library of America’s American Fantastic Tales (though they all merit inclusion), but I’m too lazy to read other stuff right now, and this story by W.C. Morrow is too good to ignore.

It’s a pretty straightforward story of revenge. It’s only a few pages long and details a quadriplegic’s plot against the man who had his limbs amputated, the rajah. So this rajah has his limbs amputated and then places him in a cage high above a grand ballroom with an open top, to make feeding time easier for the guards. Then, in the rajah’s increasing perversity he just stops by the punished man’s cage all the time and hangs out in the room with him. They sort of watch each other with decreasing interest.

And just when you think revenge isn’t going to happen, revenge happens.

The story goes quickly, told with a sense of urgency. The unbelievability of the whole thing is lost in the blurred confusion of the descriptive language and hurried pace.

Just read it. After reading such an outrageously impossible and disturbing story you’ll be surprised at the inexplicable smile across your face.

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The Sword of Wellerran, or Lord Dunsany Revisited

11/18/2009 § Leave a comment

A few years ago I read The Gods of Pegāna by Lord Dunsany.

I sort of had a tough time with it. It may have been because in my minds voice I pronounced it as a rhyme for vagina. This possibly contributed to the weirdness I felt after reading what turned out to be a dry, structureless, no-plot, biblical (-esque) collection of stories (or anecdotes). It is probably something more like peg-anna, but there is nobody around to tell my minds voice the correct pronunciation.

So that was problem one and two. The vagina rhyme and the dry, structureless, &tc.

Problem three is sentences like this: When Māna-Yood-Sushāi had made the gods there were only the gods, and They sat in the middle of Time, for there was as much Time before them as behind them, which having no end had neither a beginning.

And this: Time is the hound of Sish.

And countless others.

Aside from those things, I like the incomparable weirdness of Dunsany… as did Lovecraft and Tolkien. Seriously. There really is nothing like Dunsany.

It had been a while since I had first read The Gods of Pegāna in the Penguin Classics collection I own. Because of my first experience with him I have had very little inclination to pick up the collection I own since, but thanks to the horrible service of Chicago’s postal system I was in need of something until the three new books I ordered arrive at my doorstep.

Yesterday afternoon I read a story called The Sword of Wellerran. So far so good. Can’t rhyme any of those words with privates, male or female.

It is the story of an ancient city with a long history of epic battles and heroes. It begins after the heroes have died and says that the town is practically sleeping because all memory of them has turned into legend. With limited exposition Dunsany creates a harsh reality for the inhabitants of this dreaming city. It feels dirty, cold, and tired, with little to no description of the environment.

Through dreams the heroes of old rouse the folks in the town to defend their city.

It’s short and sweet. It really made me change my opinion of Dunsany.

Plus, he’s a Lord. Like, for real. Pretty awesome that someone with such a noble family line decided to create mythologies and write something that is to this day considered nerdy. He must have been super nerdy. King of the nerds. Or at least Lord of the Nerds.

H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life

03/06/2009 § 4 Comments

So, I’ve decided that I’m a jerk. I’m very interested in Howard Phillips Lovecraft as a person and have not read the biography by S.T. Joshi, which I would have liked to have picked up before this book by Michel Houellebecq, but the library didn’t have it, so this is what I get. I’m a jerk because I am prejiduced against it before I had begun. Now, about 40 pages into it, even though it is a fine read and more of just a rambling essay than a bio or anything (I’m pretty sure I read that it was a bio of sorts when it was published but I may be wrong), I am still prejudiced against it. Why? Because it’s written by a French person. Now, I’m making large assumptions here, but I don’t think they are wild assumptions.

He has probably read Lovecraft in translation, I believe he says as much around page 20. His essay was originally written in French. It’s not that I think he’s off the mark in his arguments and it is obvious he is a devoted fan, but I still feel like he’s an insult. It’s like me writing a german published essay, translated from my English, on Kafka.

Sure, maybe the intention was never to translate for an English audience….

Anyways, the argument in many assface English classes, or at least some English classes, is that some authors are untranslatable and I guess I never felt that. How many times have you heard you can’t read Dostoyevsky or Rimbaud in translation? Too many times. Far too many times. But, I’m an American with just a smattering of other languages and still naively assume English can effectively emote everything in all languages… we do have a hell of a lot of adjectives. Dig up your thesaurus if you don’t believe me.

This whole lost-in-translation phenomenon has never come up in the reverse. Not to me anways. It’s always European writers that one is supposed to read in the original text. I don’t believe I’ve come across the Americans getting all huffy with Europeans about reading in the original text (then again we are Americans so we probably have)….but with Lovecraft and all his cosmic descriptions and absurd pseduo-scientific words and the like, it seems tough to get the full sense of the horror. I mean, c’mon. The word “cosmic” translates as “cosmique” in French. How scary is that?

In any event, I’ve never chastised a foreigner for reading something in translation. Indeed, I was probably happy that they read the book at all. And I am glad Lovecraft is translated into many languages.

Ugh. I’m rambling. I am enjoying the essay. But still kind of annoyed I guess.

Anyways. I feel like this blog has gone off-topic for the last few posts and I just wanted to assure you I am getting back to fairytales proper in the coming posts. Maybe Norse or more American. Something with Giants perhaps….

The Great God Pan

02/18/2009 § Leave a comment

Until today I had never read anything by Arthur Machen. I had heard his name often enough, as he is often spoken of in the same breath as H.P. Lovecraft, but I never got around to reading him. Now that I have I am super excited to read more, multiple times.

I began with the preface, which, as it often turns out, was lamesville (except for a lovely excahnge between Machen and Oscar Wilde). Maybe after a while I’ll get a more scholarly edition, not the one from the Harold Washing Library, and the preface will be more readable. I hope so at least. After the first few pages I abandoned it and skipped to the story in the collection that, at least to me, is the most famous of all his works The Great God Pan.

H.P. Lovecraft was an admirer of Machen and names him one of the four fathers of “weird” or “horror” literature in an essay he wrote about the subject. He definitely borrows ideas from Machen , particularly the cult and demon related elements. Machen however creates a more powerful mood than Lovecraft in his settings, mirroring the gothic much more than Lovecrafts spiraling narratives of madness and secret cults, and aliens and elder beings.

The Great God Pan begins with two men about to perform a procedure on a young, and conveniently willing 17 year old woman. What this procedure amounts to is something akin to lobotomizing the poor girl. What this will do, says the mad scientist to his skeptical friend, is allow the veil of this world to be lifted and the girl will see “The Great God Pan” which is basically code for things not of this world like, God and demons and other horrifying creatures.

I really loved this idea. I don’t know that I’ve ever come across brain surgery as an avenue to God and Satan, but it is a wonderfully unique one. It also reminded me of The Statement of Randolph Carter by Lovecraft. Not so much in its general ideas but in its general structure, i.e. two guys, one who is much more interested in finding the secrets of greater beings than the other,  who do something crazy to accomplish this. And of course it ends with catastrophic results, at least for many involved.

The story is split up into many different parts with different characters coming and going, utilizing some straight 3rd person narrative, but also epistolary and first person. What ends up happening is horrible (I almost wrote wonderful. It is wonderful in a literary sense) and very reminiscent of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.

I highly, highly recommend this story and will update as I continue to read his other prose.

The Cats of Ulthar

01/08/2009 § 1 Comment

“The Cats of Ulthar” is a short story by H.P. Lovecraft about cats. Before I even read the story I naturally thought of Algernon Blackwood’s “Ancient Sorceries,” in which a man wanders into a town where the people are cat people and they end up worshiping the devil in a scene that appeared like the end of Rosemary’s Baby in my minds eye. Thanks movies for ruining my minds eye. I then thought of Sleepwalkers, a story by Stephen King and a bad movie from 1992 in which the mysterious folks are afraid of cats, and they end up being aliens or something to that effect. I don’t really remember.

Then I looked at my cat Hattie. That calculating stare and insatiable tongue that licks as if she were trying to lick your skin clear off your body. I don’t think these “kisses” as Gemma calls them are innocent, but an attempt to subdue and dominate me. Hattie bats me on the head every morning until I let her under the covers. She rests there for a moment and runs out, jumping across my body like a jerk.

The point is. I can understand why one would write a horror story about cats. They are cold, calculating, mysterious, come in all shapes and sizes, unpredictable, and nocturnal. Why do people even own them?

This story is not particularly scary and it seems much more like a fable than is typical of Lovecraft’s brand of “cosmic horror,” which I enjoy. The story is as follows: Some mean, mysterious old folks live way out of the village and purportedly kill any cat that comes by. Whatever works to keep your relationship alive I guess. Then some gypsies camp near and one of their cats goes missing. There is some more plot and good character names and then cats circle the old peoples house in pairs as if in some ancient ritual. Old Folks taken care of. I won’t tell you how. But you can find out here.

Kind of funny really. I guess my point is that I do find cats scary, but I have not really read or seen any scary things with cats. In practice it comes out sort of corny.

The Outsider

12/19/2008 § Leave a comment

I don’t know what it is about Lovecraft I enjoy so much; the run-on sentences or the constant looking up of adjectives as if I were reading an Umberto Eco novel (who I’m positive is a fan). One thing is certain; I love that crazy asexual man–his writings anyway.

Rather than just sing praises in general about the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, every now and again I’ll write about a specific story. Plus, if I just gush about him in general that is super boring.

The story The Outsider is the second offering in the Library of America’s collection of Lovecraft Tales. As is the case with most Lovecraft stories, it is told in the first person. Some of these first person stories are more epistolary than others, but this one is more Rime of the Ancient Mariner; as if some creepy dude, possibly hiding behind a stone that looks eerily like a headstone, says to you from the shadows “Hey, I’m going to transfix you with my gaze while I tell you this F’d up S. But before I do so I’m going to give you a quote from Keats.”

And so we enter the world of Lovecraft.

The story begins with statements about the loneliness of childhood and sets up a dark and dismal environment full of things like a crumbling castle, complete with moat, ancient trees, and of course endless darkness. In the narrator’s loneliness and curiosity, he climbs the highest tower and to his surprise is met with the ground. He ventures towards the noise of an inn full of folks drinking and dancing. When he enters he is met with shrieks and fainting and running away. Then, for the first time, he sees a mirror. And then there is some stuff about Egypt and nepenthe and other awesome things. And I’m left in bed with a smile on my face because it’s so good.

Then of course I read it to Gemma.

Rereading this post and remembering how I was shocked by the end of this story I am slightly embarrassed. I should have seen it coming. I should have seen all of the endings coming. I admit I did not. My theory, at least the theory for myself, is that Lovecraft is one of the few writers who can command my full attention to the immediate moment. The words and phrases and dated language (even out of date for the early twentieth century) leaves no room for prediction and speculation. Every next sentence is a surprise. A present you did not ask for and did not even know you wanted.

In any event. Go read all his stories. And remember, “Most daemoniacal of all shocks is that of the abysmally unexpected and grotesquely unbelievable.”

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