Of Wells and Ray
I’ve re-read The Invisible Man, prompted by re-seeing the first movie version (1933). Whereas this movie and its progeny talk about the threat that an invisible man poses, the novel deals much with the problems that invisibility encumbers a person with—being unintentionally jostled and stepped upon, freezing in the cold, etc. The “power” of invisibility proves quite debatable, even being able to steal with impunity.
A flaw of this novel is its puckish tones. The title character is called both The Voice and The Invisible Man, but seldom by his proper name. Other grist for Wells’ humor is the incredulity and victimization of the country folk. It jars with the serious part, the personality of the man himself and the relation of his adventures. The comedic portions of the narration take away from the power of the story.
A similar problem is shared by the work of Jean Ray, a Belgian writer in the French language who has been occasionally mentioned by EOD members in the same breath as Lovecraft. I encountered their writing almost simultaneously, for my first adult horror story was “In the Vault,” followed by Ray’s translated “The Mystery of the Last Guest” in a library copy of the 1941 anthology The Other Worlds. Practicing my French, I have been going through an anthology of Ray stories (Histoires Noires et Fantastiques), and upon finishing “Le Dernier Voyageur” I realized that it was the original version of the aforementioned story.
Based on my
practice reading, I will make several generalizations about the writer. Many of
his stories involve the sea, and many take place in
But I have moved a little off-track. Ray’s humor works against the atmosphere, partly because he switches tone from horror to sardonicism, as in “Les Sept Châteaux du Roi de la Mer” (“The Seven Castles of the Sea King”). Anticipation is built as the possibility of the appearance of a dreaded, supernatural something is about to materialize—and then the authorial presence of Ray dissipates it. Likewise annoying is his creation of a puzzling mystery, increasing the puzzle as the story goes along, and then not solving it, not even on a supernatural basis. The longish “La Ruelle Ténébreuse” tells of people who disappear within a certain habitation (and town), then nods to “The Horla,” but in the end the story fails to explain either why the disappearances or what happened to the people. The story makes big promises but doesn’t deliver on them. Ray has a fixation on the supernatural, but he remains in the Gothic conventions (spooks, curses, etc.). I suspect that Ray is more comfortable with the early Gothic writers than with the Lovecrafts.
There is a comparison of Lovecraft’s texts that use archaeological speculations with the fantasy assumptions of Erich von Däniken, Robert Temple, and Graham Hancock. *** A case is made that von Däniken borrowed from HPL, in “Charioteer of the Gods,” Skeptic (v. 10, no. 4, 2004, p. 36-34).
dedicating her song “Space Monkey” to him, songwriter Patti Smith has stated, "I'm
a real reader, and I've always got some area of study on the go. It could be
mathematics, it could be
Art and Comics
“Fear Factor” by Steve Craig is an article in Seacoastonline that covers the art (with examples) of Robert H. Knox, whose drawings are featured in Kennett’s zine. There are allusions to Arkham House, Necronomicon Press, and Derrick’s Hippocampus Press. *** The Vertico/DC comics “biography” of HPL has been translated into Portuguese for the publisher Vitamina BD. It was translated by Fernando Ribeiro, frontman for the music group Moonspell.
Chilean films are planned for “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Colour out
of Space.” *** Calling itself a documentary, the Italian H.P. Lovecraft: Ipotesi di un Viaggio in Italia seems to be a
speculation about him traveling in
HPL stories compose the Russian collection, Skitalets t’my : [Rasskazy, Sonety]. His proper name, translated to Russian and transliterated, I dare say, from the Cyrillic back to Roman letters, is Govard Fillips Lavkraft. Also, 2003 saw the publication in Korean of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as Ch`alsu T`eksut`o Wodu ui pimil.
S.T. talks more
about Lovecraft and other matters than the title of the article indicates in “Indian
Critic Sheds New Light on Writer H.L. Mencken,” India-West (
A “favicon”—the name of the tiny icon seen in a browser’s address window—serves as the famous formal portrait of HPL at a French site.
Mentioned in an
earlier edition, composer Claude Ballif died in July. One of his compositions
was Lovecraft. *** In his The Arabian Nights: A Companion erudite
Robert Irwin includes HPL on a list of authors who were influenced by this
work, though he goes into no specifics. While we know of its influence on him
when a child, it is more of a challenge to figure out which of his stories bear
the influence, or at least establish some standard. For example, does a
reference to ghouls count; or a Dunsany quality; or allusion to Irem, the city
“The Call of Cthulhu”
“The titan Thing from the stars slavered and gibbered like Polypheme cursing the fleeing ship of Odysseus. Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily into the water and began to pursue”.
The classical reference is an accurate detailing from The Odyssey, Book IX. .However, I wish to call attention to another possible classical allusion that may form an alloy with this one, that from Vergil’s Aeneid, Book III, where Polyphemus re-appears, this time to threaten hero Aeneas and his men, who have departed the island and boarded their ships. To quote the John Dryden translation, with narrator Aeneas describing the Cyclops’ actions, “But, when our vessels out of reach he found,/ He strided onward, and in vain essay'd/ Th' Ionian deep, and durst no farther wade.” Like Cthulhu, Vergil’s Polyphemus goes into the water in pursuit of its prey, though he is mindful of not getting in over his head.
“The Lurking Fear”
“Without having any exact knowledge of geology, I had from the first been interested in the odd mounds and hummocks of the region…I stopped to analyse my reason for believing these mounds glacial phenomena.”
I have found no
evidence that there was a reference here to what have been called—one variety,
anyway—Mima Mounds, found on the prairies. One view is that prairie mounds were
left by receding glaciers; and another is that they were the results of
burrowing gophers. “Some of the mounds … may be of glacial origin” was a theory
offered in Science (
“The Crime of the Century”
The title of a
Lovecraft racist essay (1915), the phrase was used around the 1890’s to denote
a particularly horrible crime, a political murder, or the background of the
Spanish-American War. However, I have discovered examples where the term was
used in a context similar to the essay’s subject. In the 1890’s a black
newspaper called the treatment of Negroes “the crime of the century.” A 1906
racist speech in the South used this phrase to describe granting suffrage to
blacks (see “Was It a ‘Crime’” in The New
York Times (
HPL as Character
Peter Cannon has
written an alternative history of Lovecraft in The Lovecraft Chronicles (Mythos Books, 2004), which is reviewed in
Publishers Weekly (
There’s a collection of tales by Francis Stevens, The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy (Bison Books, 2004) edited by Gary Hoppenstand, who writes in “Editorial: Collecting Popular Culture” (Journal of Popular Culture (Nov 2004), p. 235-238): “She was a contemporary of A. Merritt and H. P. Lovecraft, and strongly influenced the fantasy and horror fiction of both” (p. 235).
I’ve read volume one (2003) of Collected Stories by Richard Matheson, arranged in chronological order. Each story has an accompanying commentary by Matheson, who does not state any influence by Lovecraft, though he does for Bradbury, Bierce, Stoker, Oliver Onions, and Machen.
I will give a brief summary of each story along with a bit of evaluation. First is the classic “Born of Man and Woman,” which ought to be read as a companion piece with Lovecraft’s “The Outsider.” Both are first-person monster narratives that end in revelation. “Third from the Sun” is, like the rest of the stories, well written, which compensates for its tired idea revolving around escape from a coming planetary disaster. “When the Waker Sleeps” has a Philip K. Dick quality, and unfolds pleasantly. “Blood Son” is a good character portrayal of a boy who wants to be a vampire. “Clothes Make the Man” is a joke told as a story and has, as Matheson writes, a “zinger” in the end. There is a zinger, too, at the end of “Dress of White Silk,” but its two words convey so much, a dark lens that throws the rest of this short story into a different focus. The character in the time travel “Return” made me sorry for what happened to him, a ghastly tragedy. “The Thing” is one of those stories that teases you into wondering what the “thing” is that all the characters are hankering to see, and is a case where the reader is more ignorant than most of the people in the story, which is a strategy that I find annoying; and, as Matheson notes in his afterword, the surprise is small.
“Through Channels” is narratively interesting due to its being completely in a question and answer format, though like some other of his stories it is more of a joke, especially where a TV spells out certain words. “Witch War” was one of the earliest genre stories I ever read (in an anthology from my high school library, Best Science Fiction Stories: 1952), and on re-reading it—more likely re-re-reading it—I find it has a punch through its skill in its telling, characters, and subject matter, which is witches using their devilish craft in the destruction of enemy soldiers. “Advance Notice” has as a first-person a science fiction writer who makes a discovery about the truth of what he has written. Its stylistic cleverness with words is not one I care for, since there is a self-consciousness, an insincerity, and artificiality in the tone.
“Brother to the Machine” looks at a rather grim future, though (as I no doubt repeat myself) it is well told and has a surprise at the end. “F---”, a satire about the lust for food in a future that lacks it in substantial form, rates more of a “C” in effectiveness. A story of a male eventually raped by an alien female—though not stated so baldly—“Lover When You’re Near Me” is solidly terrific. The punning title of “Mad House” provides a memorable character sketch of a man constantly exploding with anger and the eventual effect on himself and others. Far more shivery is another title with a pun, “Shipshape Home” (one of my favorite stories), which depicts the suspicion of apartment dwellers as they become convinced that they are sharing the building with non-humans; this one was dramatized pre-Twilight Zone, with Peter Lorre playing the character who is said to resemble Peter Lorre. “SRL Ad” is one of Matheson’s more successful stories in a light-hearted vein, with the entire short a series of letters, chiefly between a man who answers the personal ad and a mangler of language who tells him she is from outer space.
As “Mad House” is a character study of someone who is nasty, “To Fit the Crime” profiles a cruel poet who finds an untenable afterlife. Later made into an episode of The Twilight Zone, “Death Ship” tells of three spacemen landing on a planet to discover a shipwreck with images of themselves aboard; the conflict among the three men about the meaning of this anomaly furnishes the dramatic spring (the interaction reminded me of such Bradbury stories as “The Long Rain” and “Kaleidoscope,” a favorite). Another Twilight Zone adaptation, “Disappearing Act,” is much scarier than the original story, a first-person narration where a man starts to lose his memory, his grip on reality, and more.
Disinheritors” uses a smart alecky tone and “wit” to tell a rather boring story
involving Goldilocks and the bears, though things prove in the revelation to be
something else. “Dying Room Only” is also about illusion, here of a
conspiratorial kind, where a husband disappears at a café in the desert—and
when the wife is told by some patrons that he did not exist, she calls the
sheriff; in today’s paranoid times, the officer would prove to be part of the
conspiracy, but relievedly the gentler world of fifties fiction believes in putting
things to right. The heart of “
I think the Matheson dramatization of his own “Little Girl Lost” for The Twilight Zone was better than the story itself, which is about the dimensional disappearance of a small girl and the hunt for her by her parents. On the other hand, I prefer the eeriness of the original “Long Distance Call”—an invalided old lady receives calls from a mysterious voice—to The Twilight Zone episode, though Matheson states his preference for his dramatization
The best stories are “Born of Man and Woman,” “Witch War,” “Lover When You’re Near Me,” and “Shipshape Home.” Honorable mention goes to “Blood Son,” “Dress of White Silk,” and “Return,” while “Mad House,” “SRL Ad,” and “Death Ship” are on the next level of merit. Throughout, even in the weaker stories the dialogue, character, and style are alive and vivid. Through these gifts his ability to make interesting a story compensates for a prosaicness in imaginative power.
"For Love of
the Craft: Sixty-five Years of Arkham House" is a display that began in
October and runs through February, 2005, at Weinberg Memorial Library,
“The Rats in the Walls”
In writing about
this tale in “The Hound and the Rats” I had located Exham Priory around other
various English place names beginning with Ex--, but not until beginning Ken’s (et al.) Devonshire Ancestry of Howard Phillips Lovecraft did I realize that
there could be autobiographical
elements to account for the location; and even, possibly, that the de la Poers
could be the Lovecraft ancestry. The authors quote HPL: “In direct male line, I
can’t get back to the Conquest at all; the family of Lovecroft (early spelling)
first appearing in
I do not know about the likelihood of a connection,
but under the Eliott name there is reference to “St. Germans [priory] in
Ken: In Moshassuck Monograph Series Number 9, I wish that you had ended with an alphabetical index of all the names recorded throughout the text.
Ben: As with you, your Joseph A. West cover reminded me of Lee Brown Coye. *** You have not seen W.C. Fields’ It’s a Gift, but I did, thirty-something years ago, and I think it is his funniest film.
Leigh: It is
curious (to me) that there are so many Ofians who adhere to occultism, since
this belief system may have been used by HPL for his fiction, but he remained
as skeptical of it as he did Christianity. *** Whereas “Pickman’s Model” took
up nine pages when it originally appeared in Weird Tales (1927), it takes up just five pages in Pleasure Annual (no. 1) magazine; the pages
must be big and the type small. The name “Lovecraft” and title word “model” may
have been inducement enough for the casual reader of a sex magazine to think
that he was getting something other than what there was. The anecdote of
Lovecraft’s objection to W. Paul Cook about a short story in which a model
appears nude is too appropriate for me not to mention. *** I enjoyed your
account of your neophyte trip to the
John H.: I too
have wondered of late about the status of T.E.D. Klein. It is a loss that he
has written so little. Maybe we should all pitch in and ask him to write more. ***
Like me, your responses to mailings can leave a reader puzzled, since the thing
that prompted you may not be obvious to the other Ofians. *** I didn’t mean to
imply, or have you infer, that August Derleth discouraged de Camp from writing
a biography, since I recall that the latter explained (in Lovecraft) that he did not do a biography until after Derleth’s
death because he surmised that Derleth would do it—and, as I interpret it,
there is no use competing for such a small market share, which could’ve
happened had both written a biography; I don’t think de Camp could have been
intimidated in this case, as he suggests Derleth did to J. Warren Thomas. ***
You question if Edmund Wilson read “The Colour out of Space.” There is no
reason to think otherwise, since in his essay he commented about it as well as
“The Shadow out of Time” (so, one may ask, did he read this story too?). You
Ben S.: “The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan” shows Smith at the top of his sardonic humor. I get a kick out of it and would include it in a “Best of” collection. *** A work can exist, influenced by another author, yet does not fit into your four categories (pastiches, fan fiction, homage, and plagiarism/re-write). For example, Fritz Leiber did a number of stories influenced by HPL, but they are none of the above. Although you rule that re-writes should only be for the poorly written story, this happens all the time with movies. For example, the second screen version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a rewrite of the first, and the first was certainly a classic. *** Couldn’t the Cthulhu Mythos be just a superficial collection of proper names (the gods, the places, the books, the characters)?
S.T.: You, a cat lover! *** In your printing of the articles about HPL by Steven Mariconda, he mis-states, “Lovecraft repudiated [sic] the literary use of Dunsanian fancy in the short novel The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” (p. 2-3). This was his longest work of “Dunsanity.” Here are two more of my sics. The first is a matter of innumeration: “three [sic] authors Lovecraft deemed ‘Modern Masters’: Machen Dunsany, Blackwood, and M.R. James” (p. 4). The second is an omission: “Lovecraft repeatedly failed to convince leading book [sic] to issue a volume” (p. 5).
I’m back from a
recent trip to the country of
I also went to
that Chilean possession,
The writings of
As a result, through the years I have thought of Cave as a kind of non-genre writer within the genre, even though I have read stories of his that obviously are horror tales (e.g., “Ladies in Waiting” in the 1970’s). Unfortunately, my first impression has been so strong that it over-rules my others, so unfair as it may be, the Cave name has a connotation that prompts caution.