Friday, April 28, 2017

A Swipe from Virgil Finlay and Back Again?

Virgil Finlay (1914-1971) lived and died by making swipes from the other artists, photographers, that is, who took pictures for the sake of art or commerce. (Those two fields are not, of course, mutually exclusive.) However, I don't know him to have swiped from other illustrators or draftsmen. Until now. But this one is a little tricky. I'll go through it step by step:

First came Finlay's black-and-white interior illustration for Pearl Norton Swet's story "The Medici Boots," published in Weird Tales in the August-September issue of 1936:

Next came Harold W. McCauley's (1913-1977) cover illustration for Imagination: Stories of Science and Fantasy, from May 1953. Although the pose is similar to that of the conjured spirit in Virgil Finlay's illustration above, I would not call this necessarily a swipe by McCauley:

But Finlay's cover illustration for Weird Tales, Summer 1973, published posthumously, is at once an update of his drawing from nearly forty years before and a swipe of McCauley's cover. It's not a straight swipe, though, because Finlay rotated McCauley's Shiva figure slightly, recolored it, and recast it as a kind of Medusa or Gorgon figure:

So what do we call that? A swipe of a swipe? I'm not sure. Another possibility is that both Finlay and McCauley swiped their pictures from an unknown original source. That may actually be the best explanation. On the other hand, it could be that, as the wise old owl said, "The world may never know."

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bernard Austin Dwyer (1897-1943)

William Bernard Augustine Dwyer
Poet, Artist, Fantasy Fan and Correspondent, Farm Worker and Farmer, CCC Camp Worker, Sign Painter
Born May 29, 1897, West Shokan, New York
Died August 19, 1943, presumably in Kingston, New York

Bernard Austin Dwyer is known now among fans of weird fiction as a correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) of Providence, Rhode Island. I don't know that the two ever met, but I don't have many sources on Lovecraft's biography or voluminous correspondence. What I can say is that Bernard Austin Dwyer, who has largely escaped the investigations of biographers, is a little more known today than he was yesterday.

Bernard Austin Dwyer was christened William Bernard Augustine Dwyer--or at least that's the name he claimed on his draft card in World War I. His parents were Philip or Phillip Dwyer (1862-?), an Irish-born farmer and factory worker, and Mary A. Dwyer (Aug. 1863-?), a native of New York. We can speculate that her maiden name was Augustine, thus the origin of her son's second middle name, and, by contraction, his assumed middle name. Dywer had a sister, Katherine or Catherine A. Dwyer Sherman (1899-?), a widow later in life who nursed him when he was sick. He also had a brother, Charles P. Dwyer (1901-1973), possibly nicknamed "Zip."

The Dwyer family moved from place to place in New York State. In 1900, they were in Claverack in Columbia County (which may have been Mary Dwyer's native county). In 1905, Olive, in Ulster County, was their home. By 1915 and through 1920, William B. Dwyer was working on the farm in West Shokan, a place evidently within the town of Olive and in the area of the artist's and writer's colony of Woodstock and Bearsville. By 1925, he was calling himself Bernard W. Dwyer, though still working as a farmer, again in Olive. And by 1930, Dwyer had an industrial job working as a polisher in a factory in Kingston. He was then living with his widowed sister Katherine Sherman.

In the 1930s, Dwyer worked at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps at Peekskill and Cornwall, New York. Described by the Kingston Daily Freeman as a "powerful giant, talented writer and what not," he was a farmer, gardener, woodcutter, and all-around worker in the outdoors. Dwyer was also an artist, a poet, a writer, and the proprietor of Dwyer Sign Shop in his hometown. For a time, there was a place called Dwyer's Corner where his parents lived, worked, and entertained frequent visitors among their family. For a time also, Dwyer was on a live radio program called "Soph and Joseph" with Sophie (Pinkosz) Miller (1910-1997), who also wrote the script. The show was on WKNY of Kingston.

Dwyer, who modified his name to Bernard Austin Dwyer, had a brief career as a writer in and for pulp magazines. His only work for Weird Tales, other than his letters to "The Eyrie," was a poem, "Ol' Black Sarah," from October 1928. He also had a letter in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror.

Dwyer died on August 19, 1943, presumably in Kingston, New York. Like his friend by mail, H.P. Lovecraft, Dwyer was forty-six years old at his death, an event that occurred on the eve of the anniversary of Lovecraft's birth more than half a century before.

Bernard Austin Dwyer's Poem in Weird Tales
"Ol' Black Sarah" (1928)

Bernard Austin Dwyer's Letters to "The Eyrie" (plus one to Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror)
Letter  (June 1929)
Letter (June 1930)
"Oy! Oy! Oy!" (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, Oct. 1932)
"Quinn's Masterpiece" [i.e., "Roads"] (Mar. 1938)
"A de Grandin Movie" (Sept. 1938)

Further Reading
  • "Quinn's Masterpiece," Dwyer's letter to "The Eyrie" from March 1938, at Wikisource, here.
  • "'A Mighty Woodcutter': Bernard Austin Dwyer and His Possible Influence on Lovecraft" and comments, posted by David Haden on the blog Tentaclii:: H.P. Lovecraft Blog, July 13, 2014, here.

A group photograph of Red Cross workers and others from the Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman, June 15, 1943. Bernard Austin Dwyer is the tall man on the far left. His co-worker in radio, Sophie Miller, is on the far right. A little over two months after this picture was in the Kingston paper, Dwyer was in his grave.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Binny Koras, "The Gypsy Poet" (ca. 1895-?)

Psychiatric Nurse, Journalist, Poet, Translator, Teacher, Occultist
Born ca. 1895
Died ?

Binny Koras, known as "the Gypsy poet," was born in about 1895. According to a newspaper article of 1922, Koras
grew up on the highways and byways of middle America, lived in Australia for several years, served during the war as a psychiatric nurse and since returning to the United States in 1919 has been engaged in newspaper writing, teaching and work with boys. A student of oriental languages, he has translated verses from the Japanese, Arabic, and Urdu. (1)
Koras had poems in Dial, Nation, Pagan, Pearson's, Shadowland, and Survey. His poem "Growing Up," originally in the Rock Island Argus and reprinted in The Literary Digest, The Bookman, and Anthology of Newspaper Verse for 1921, was called by the same article "perhaps the most widely printed verse of 1921." He had one poem in Weird Tales, "For Clytie," in the issue for November 1926. Oddly enough, Koras was also an occultist and was listed in Who's Who in Occultism, New Thought, Psychism and Spiritualism, compiled and edited by William C. Hartmann, and published in 1927 by The Occult Press of Jamaica, New York. Here is the entry on Koras in its entirety:
SEVENTAN FELLOWSHIP. Based on the Book of Seveta (Arabic, Seventh Century, A.D.). Missionary for North America, Binny Koras, A.M., Ph.D.
Binny Koras wrote from Davenport, Iowa; Mattoon, Illinois; and St. Paul, Minnesota. His nickname as "the Gypsy poet" may have come from his wandering ways. It may also have referred to a possible ancestry in eastern or southeastern Europe. But what I have written here is all I know of him.

Binny Koras' Poem in Weird Tales
"For Clytie" (Nov. 1926)

Further Reading
None known except for the newspaper article noted below and the poems that follow.

(1) From Des Moines Sunday Register, May 14, 1922, page 31.

Some poems by Binny Koras, perhaps his complete poems extant:

Growing Up
by Binny Koras (1921)

Gee! But I wanted to grow up.
I wanted to put on longies 
And smoke cigars, 
And be a man 
With a pay-day on Saturday. 
I wanted to grow up 
And have somebody to buy sodas for,
And take to the circus 
Once in a while. 

We all did, then: 
Pat, who could throw any kid in town, 
And Don, who went to the Advent church. 
And said the world was coming to an end 
In Nineteen-hundred, 
And Brick Top and Eppie and Skin and Spider.

We all wanted to grow up 
And become pirates and millionaires and 
Soldiers and Presidents and 
Owners of candy stores. 
And all the time we were eating home-cooking 
And wearing holes in our pants, 
And talking Hog-Latin 
And doing what two fingers in the air 
Stood for;
And saving stamps. 
And making things we read about 
In The Boys' World
Do you know how to play mumble-de-peg, 
And skim rocks, 
And tread water, 
And skin the cat? 
Do you know what a stick on the shoulder stands for 
And what "Commggery, wiggery, meggery" means? 

Skin is running a wheat farm, now,
Up in North Dakota. 
Pat is on the road 
Selling something or other. 
Brick Top never grew up, quite, 
And was making darts for a kid of his own 
When I saw him last. 
And Spider is yelling his head off 
About Socialism and the class struggle 
On street corners. 

Don was with the Rainbow Division when the world ended. 

Yesterday I heard a little freckle-face 
Whistle through his fingers 
And tell a feller called Curley 
What he was going to do when he grew up. 

"Smoke" from 1922, "Evolution" from 1927, and "To One Departed" from 1922.

Original text 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sybla Ramus (1874-1963)

Musician, Playwright, Librettist, Musical Arranger, Teacher, Artist
Born October 3, 1874, probably or possibly in Chicago, Illinois
Died January 1963

Sybla Ramus was born on October 3, 1874, probably or possibly in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents were Charles Emil Ramus (1827-1891?) and Sybla Faulds Ramus (1844-1934), who were married in Chicago in 1871 (on Halloween). Charles E. Ramus was a native of Denmark and a veteran of the U.S Army. His wife, whose name was misspelled "Sybilla" and "Sylvia," was born in London, Ontario, Canada. The younger Sybla Ramus' brother was a prominent physician and surgeon, Dr. Carl Ramus (1872-1963), who served in Honolulu, Hawaii, and at Ellis Island in New York.

The Ramuses were a musical family. Carl played cello and maintained a string quartet while stationed in Hawaii. Sybla Ramus was a pupil of a Madame Rounseville of Chicago and gave a piano recital at the age of twelve. She also studied under Max Bendix (1866-1945) in Chicago; Arno Hilf (1858-1909) at the Royal Conservatorium of Leipzig; Otakar Ševčík (1852-1934) at the Prague Conservatory; and others. She played piano, violin, and viola, and was herself a teacher at the Chicago Musical College (ca. 1899) and the American Violin School, also in Chicago. Sybla Ramus played in St. James' Orchestra at St. James' Parish in Chicago. She also wrote the libretto for an opera, Armand, with a musical score by Gerard (or Gerardo) Carbonara (1886-1959), published in 1921. Her Girl Friend, a comedy drama in three acts, from 1923, was also a product of her pen. Her lone story for Weird Tales was the three-part serial "Coils of Darkness," printed in the issues of February, March, and April 1924. As a musician and a former Chicagoan, she may have been in contact with Farnsworth Wright, who was a music critic in Chicago, though not yet the editor of Weird Tales when her story was published.

In addition to Chicago, Sybla Ramus lived in Lincoln, New Mexico, with her mother and brother (1900), and in New York City with her mother (1915, 1920, 1925). She died in January 1963 at the age of eighty-eight.

Sybla Ramus' Story in Weird Tales
"Coils of Darkness" (three-part serial, Feb., Mar., and Apr. 1924)

Further Reading
  • "Dr. Carl Ramus (1872-1963) Physician and Surgeon," a biographical sketch of Sybla Ramus' brother, at the website of the National Park Service, Ellis Island, here.
  • Biographical highlights for Dr. Ramus at a website here.
Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bertrande Harry Snell (1882-1949)

Telegrapher, Poet, Newspaper Columnist
Born June 6, 1882, Fort Plain, New York
Died June 26, 1949, Syracuse, New York

Bertrande Harry "Bert" Snell was born on June 6, 1882, in Fort Plain, New York, to Jacob and Mary Snell. He graduated from Parish High School in 1898 at age sixteen and went to work as a Morse code telegrapher the following year. Snell worked for railroads in Pennsylvania for many years before moving to Syracuse, New York, in 1917. He spent the rest of his working life with Western Union in Syracuse.

Snell was a poet and had his verse in various newspapers over the years. He wrote three poems published in Weird Tales, "Starkey Strang" (Aug. 1926), "Vampire" (June 1929), and "In the Valley" (Dec. 1929). I wonder if Snell knew Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981), who also lived in Syracuse for many years and who was also a railroad enthusiast.

Bertrande H. Snell started as a columnist with The Post-Standard of Syracuse on January 13, 1945. His popular column was called "Just Around the Corner," and he kept it up until his death. Snell's last column was in the typewriter when he had a stroke in June 1949. Taken to the hospital, Snell died on June 26, 1949, and was buried at Pleasant Lawn Cemetery, in Parish, New York. He was sixty-seven years old.

Bertrande Harry Snell's Poems in Weird Tales
"Starkey Strang" (Aug. 1926)
"Vampire" (June 1929)
"In the Valley" (Dec. 1929). 

Further Reading
"Biographical Sketch of Bertrande H.  Snell, Parish, Oswego Co., NY" by Richard Palmer at the following URL:

In the centennial year of the American entry into the Great War, here is a poem from Betrande Harry Snell.

And for Easter, a poem on life and death, from 1916.

Snell also wrote an acrostic poem to a fellow poet, "To Mahlon Leonard Fisher," dated May 9, 1914.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Island Theory of Zombiation

The concept of the zombi(e), like much of our culture, was brought to America aboard a slave ship. The word is African, the idea is African, and the culture in which zombie-ism in America developed is African. Once here, zombi(e)s evolved from perhaps one common original to a number of different species. The speciation of zombies--the zombiation of the title here--seems to have happened on islands of African-slave culture, separated from each other by the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. In Martinique and other smaller islands, the concept was of the zombi, an evil spirit who creates discord in the night. In Louisiana, it was Li Grand Zombi, the great serpent god and perhaps the closest to the original African concept of zombi. And in Haiti, it was the zombie we know today, the walking dead, a slave to some external agent. Coming from a common origin, zombi(e)s in America, evolving in separate island habitats, became separate species. For whatever reason, the undead zombie of Haiti proved to be the strongest or most adaptable of them and has spread throughout our culture and throughout the world.

Author William B. Seabrook (1884-1945) appears to have been the first to describe the zombi(e), species undead. His reporting from Haiti, published in newspaper accounts in 1928 and issued in book form in The Magic Island in 1929, is sober and evenhanded. It doesn't appear to be sensationalized. I think we have three choices when it comes to Seabrook's writing: First, to consider that he was telling the truth. Second, that, though he may have worked from a kernel of truth, he embellished or exaggerated stories of zombies for the reading public. Or, third, that he made it all up himself. I think we can discard the third possibility. The tone of his writing suggests the unlikelihood of the second possibility. That leaves the first possibility, namely, that he reported more or less truthfully on what he heard, saw, and experienced for himself. That would mean that stories of zombie-slaves in Haiti were true, or at least true to the people who passed them on to Seabrook. I haven't found anything to contradict any of that, and I think we have to conclude that Seabrook reported the truth or something close to the truth as he saw it and, consequently, that he was the father of zombies in America.

Seabrook's account of zombies in Haiti, "Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields," opens not on the island of Haiti, but on a smaller island, Île de la Gonâve, located in the Gulf of Gonâve, west of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Although it is the largest of the islands in the waters of Hispaniola or Santo Domingo, Île de la Gonâve is dry and barren, a poor place to live or to try to make a living. William B. Seabrook visited the island in 1928 and interviewed a prominent local citizen, Constant Polynice. It was Polynice who first told Seabrook about zombies and who first showed him zombies at work in a cotton field on the trail to Picmy. Seabrook described them in various terms, saying among other things that they were "like automatons."

Constant Polynice also told his American interlocutor a story of zombies working on mainland Haiti, in the "big cane season" of 1918, when the Haitian-American Sugar Company--Hasco--"offered a bonus on the wages of new workers." A man named Ti Joseph took advantage of that offer by recruiting what Polynice said were zombies. In Polynice's telling, the zombies escaped in the only way they can escape, and Ti Joseph met a fitting end. The point of all this is that zombie-ism in Haiti seems to have been a response either to economic hardship, as on Île de la Gonâve, or economic opportunity, as with Ti Joseph and his work for Hasco. It was not capitalists who made or exploited zombies, but other Haitians, black Haitians for whom the affair of zombie-ism was their own. As Lamercie, the overseer of the zombies chopping cotton on the trail to Picmy, said to the American Seabrook, when it comes to zombies, "Z'affai' nèg pas z'affai' blanc"--the affairs of blacks are not the affairs of whites.

So the first accounts of zombies as the undead--the first of the firsthand accounts--came not only from an island but also from an island off the coast of an island. As with the evolution of any new species, zombies as the undead came about through (literal) isolation. Diseases, too, often develop in isolation, often, by our experience, in tropical or sub-tropical fastnesses, where they jump from an animal host to a human host with little notice. HIV/AIDS, which has done such harm in Haiti, is an example. (1) These diseases may operate at low levels for decades before being transmitted to larger populations, after which point they proliferate, sometimes exponentially, becoming in the process plagues or pandemics. That was the case with HIV/AIDS, which claimed its first known victims--known in retrospect, that is--in the 1950s. The same process seems to have occurred, on a far more trivial scale, with the concept of the zombie. Purely by coincidence, the first zombies caused by disease--zombies in retrospect, that is--also appeared in the 1950s, in Richard Matheson's science fiction novel I Am Legend (1954). These were scientific zombies, caused by disease, moving in hordes, and always seeking to infect the uninfected. In short, they were a plague--or pandemic--in human form.

George Romero gets the credit for the first movie--Night of the Living Dead (1968)--showing zombies as we know them today. (It might be more accurate to say that Mr. Romero invented zombies as we know them today.) But two years before, in 1966, Hammer Films released The Plague of the Zombies, a movie far less well known today, but perhaps equally important or more important in evolutionary terms. I have never seen this movie, but by description, it was or may have been the first to show a zombie plague and the first to show threatening zombies rather than harmless zombie-slaves. In fact, The Plague of the Zombies seems to have been a bridge or the bridge between the harmless Haitian zombie-slave (i.e., what I have called the Seabrook zombie) and the lethal scientific zombie horde as in Night of the Living Dead (i.e., what I have called the Matheson-Romero zombie). The bridging effect is made obvious in the movie in that there seems to be a combination supernatural/scientific explanation for its zombies. There is also a zombie-maker who has been to Haiti and has returned to his native Cornwall, carrying zombie-ism from one population to another and from one island to another, where he puts them to work, as Ti Joseph put his zombies to work, this time in a tin mine. Because I haven't seen the movie, I don't know the answers to some key questions: How exactly are the zombies in The Plague of the Zombies threatening--are they murderous or cannibalistic? How are they made? How exactly are they a plague--does the disease of zombie-ism spread from zombie to person somehow? And how exactly are the zombies destroyed? Curiously, The Plague of Zombies is set in 1860, more than two generations before William Seabrook's trip to Haiti.

A long time ago, I read of the concept of the meme, a sort of gene of culture that is propagated, like genes, through a population. Zombies and zombie-ism can be interpreted as memes. As in the evolution of a species, they developed in isolation. (Evolution is defined as a change in gene frequency.) As with any successful species, they have shown themselves to be well adapted for survival. Like a pandemic or an invasive species, they have proliferated in a host or in an environment not like their original host or environment, one in which there are no natural controls on their populations. So what will be the controls on zombies and zombie-ism? Or will they be uncontrolled and continue to adapt and proliferate in our culture? If zombies are, as William Seabrook described them, like automatons, will they simply evolve into a different form, that is, into the form of the robot-zombie, as on the graph of the uncanny divide? Will they cross over from the world of fantasy (or at least allegory) into the real world? And will they eventually overwhelm us, as so many people fear, once robots reach a technological singularity?

(1) Oddly enough, the origin of HIV/AIDS in humans coincides roughly with the American occupation of Haiti, though HIV/AIDS originated in Africa and is not supposed to have reached the New World until after World War II. The first known victim of HIV/AIDS died in Africa in 1959.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, April 10, 2017

Zombibliography-Muse Magazine

Muse: The Magazine of Life, the Universe, and Pie Throwing
(October 2012)
Cover art by Jimmy Giegerich

Muse magazine did a zombie cover story in October 2012, "Zombies on the Brain" by Doug Stewart. A quote:
Blogger and "monster scholar" Jeanette Laredo, a graduate student at the University of North Texas, has another explanation for why people--young people in particular--are drawn to the idea of a zombie apocalypse. "At their core, zombies represent our fear of becoming part of a homogenous mass, our fear of conformity," she says. "That applies especially to teenagers, because they're struggling with that. They want to be 'in,' but at the same time they want to be themselves."
          The important thing about zombies, in other words, isn't that they're creepy. It's that they move around in big, creepy hordes. (p. 12)
It seems to me that Dr. Laredo (what a great name for a professor in Texas) has drawn her six-gun and shot the prevailing academic "narrative" full of holes, as an ultimate conformity is one of the end-points of the leftist-socialist-statist program. It seems to me also that the author Doug Stewart seems to recognize the threat represented by conformist hordes, another feature of that same program. The upshot of all of this--of all of my series relating to zombies, going back to January--is that the leftist attempt at a theory of zombies in favor of their own program falls apart upon examination, as all of their theories eventually fall apart. But that's enough of all of it. I have beaten this undead three-legged horse enough. I have one more entry on zombies, then I'll get back to biographies of the writers and artists who contributed to "The Unique Magazine," Weird Tales.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, April 7, 2017


Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead by Jovanka Vuckovic
(New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2011), 176 pp.
Cover art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead is a popular, pictorial history of zombies in movies, television, comic books, and popular fiction. The author, Jovanka Vuckovic, is a Canadian writer, editor, and moviemaker. She was editor of Rue Morgue Magazine for six and a half years. I'll leave the details to her, but I would like to provide these quotes from Ms. Vuckovic's book:
It's not surprising belief in the zombie flourished during that time [i.e., during the French colonial period], given the large number of seemingly mindless, and near lifeless, drones working on plantations. Robbed of their individuality and free will, the beaten-down African slave worker would have surely had the appearance of the living dead. (p. 20)
Because a person's most valued possession--especially in a cruel slave nation--was their [sic] individuality, the Haitians' primary fear was not of being attacked or eaten by a zombie, but of becoming one themselves. It was considered a fate worse than death, the ultimate horror, particularly after the Haitian revolution, during which the nation finally overthrew its European oppressors. (p. 20)
I don't think I have to remind anyone at this point that those "European oppressors" were, first, feudal-statist overlords, afterwards, leftist-statist overlords. Contrary to the most fervent hopes of American academia, they were decidedly not capitalists.

Ms. Vuckovic again brings up a good point, that zombie-ism is, at its heart, about a loss of freedom, humanity, and individuality. The modern state, whether socialist, communist, fascist, or nazi in its permutation, seeks to reduce its populace to interchangeable (and highly dispensable) ciphers, essentially to zombies, hence, I think, the fear of zombie-ism in the world today, at least in a large part.

Two more points: First, Jovanka Vuckovic also points out in her book the sensationalism of zombie stories of the 1920s and '30s. In my research, I have sensed the same thing, that there may be more sensationalism than reality in those stories. I wonder how much of the beginning history of zombies in America was true and factual and how much of it came from the imagination--or at least the exaggerations or interpretations--of William B. Seabrook. 

Second, she writes about an author I hadn't encountered before: Captain John Houston Craige (ca. 1886-1954) of Pennsylvania. Like Arthur J. Burks, Captain Craige served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Haiti during the American occupation. And like William B. Seabrook, he wrote about his experiences and observations in non-fictional form. His books included Black Bagdad [sic]: The Arabian Nights Adventures of a Marine Captain in Haiti (1933) and Cannibal Cousins (1934).

According to the website, Captain Craige read up on Haiti in the works of "the French historian Moreau de Saint-Méry (1750-1819), the Haitian historian Thomas Madiou (1814-1884), and the Haitian writer Louis-Joseph Janvier (1855-1911), among others." The source is suspect, but those authors might be a good place to start in pushing the origins of zombies as the walking dead to before 1928. For example: Moreau de Saint-Méry used the word zombi, meaning revenant, in writing, in French, in 1792. Knowing that leads me to the book White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film by Gary D. Rhodes (2001), an even more thorough and scholarly book than Zombies! (1) In fact, Dr. Rhodes' book might be the last word on the history of zombi(e)s in America. It also includes a tantalizing discussion of H. Bedford-Jones' novel Drums of Damballa (1932) and its sources, which are supposed to have been documents or materials, brought from Haiti to the United States in 1803, that mention zombi(e)s. I wish we had more on this. There is no telling what those materials might reveal. One thing all of this reveals is that some American academics, like Dr. Rhodes, do their homework, and some--too many to name here--apparently don't.

(1) That book reveals, surprisingly, that there is a connection between zombie-ism and the consumption of Jamestown weed, also called jimsonweed or Datura, in the form of "concombre zombi," a concoction for inducing the condition in an unsuspecting person. Once again, jimsonweed raises its (seed)head in relation to the supernatural and weird fiction.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Zombibliography-Monsters and Mad Scientists

Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie
by Andrew Tudor
(Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1989), viii+ 239 pp.
Cover design by Miller, Craig and Cocking Design Partnership

When Monsters and Mad Scientists was published, Andrew Tudor was Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of York. He was film critic for New Society from 1975 to 1982, head of his university Sociology Department from 1988 to 1995, and head of its Department of Theatre, Film and Television from 2006 to 2010. He is now retired.

Dr. Tudor is a scholar and a sociologist. Consequently, Monsters and Mad Scientists is scholarly, sociological, and at least semi-scientific. He begins his study by laying out three pairs of what he calls oppositions, all in regards to the threat in the horror movie. These pairs are: 1) The supernatural vs. the secular (what I have called the scientific); 2) The external vs. the internal, that is, threats that are external or internal to the individual person; for example, a vampire is an external threat, but disease is an internal threat; and 3) dependent vs. autonomous; for example, the slave-type zombie is dependent, whereas the vampire, again, is autonomous. Dr. Tudor presents these oppositions in tabular form. A subsequent table lists types of monsters by the number of movies in which they appeared from 1931 to 1984. Zombies ranked eleventh, with forty-eight movie appearances. (Psychotics were first with 271 movie appearances.)

In his analysis of horror movies, Dr. Tudor discusses White Zombie. It's worth noting that, although sociology as a discipline tends to be leftist in orientation, Dr. Tudor's discussion is entirely absent of political content or interpretation. (1) Instead, he writes:
That there is an underlying sexual element to [Legendre's] domination [of the film's heroine], however, can hardly be doubted. In turning Madeline into a zombie he makes her entirely compliant to his will, although nowhere does the film fully draw out the implications of that absolute power. (p. 32)
Later, the author relates zombie movies as a group to "the psycho-movie":
Ultimately descended from the hugely influential Night of the Living Dead (1970) [sic], this group includes The Crazies (1978), Zombies (1980), Zombie Flesh-Eaters (1980) and Zombie Creeping Flesh (1982), all of which postulate the spread of dehumanizing 'disease' and present an apocalyptic vision of total social collapse. In effect, they create a world of mass psychosis in which we are doomed to decline into a subhuman state. Unsurprisingly, given their thoroughly apocalyptic tone, they all end with the implication that the 'disease' will continue to spread unchecked. (p. 71)
Again, as in Caligari's Children, there is the implication that the zombie apocalypse movie appeals most to viewers who are already living in a state of despair, extreme alienation, or at the ends of decadence, and that those viewers may also be essentially nihilists or extreme anarchists, not in a political sense, but in a philosophical and ultimately spiritual sense. Again, the zombie apocalypse seems to be a positive fantasy for those who would like to see the world destroyed or who, in their descent into "psychosis," would like to take the whole world down with them.

There is a good deal more on zombies in Monsters and Mad Scientists, too much, really, to discuss here but all of it piercing in its analysis and fascinating in its insights. It's clear that Andrew Tudor is from a previous generation of scholars, those whose work seems to be unpolluted or undistorted by Marxist interpretation. Now, in 2017, it may be too late for anything like it.

(1) This is in no way to imply that Andrew Tudor is or was leftist in orientation. 

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Zombibliography-Caligari's Children

Caligari's Children: The Film as Tale of Terror by S.S. Prawer
(Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1980), 307 pp.

S.S. Prawer (1925-2012) was Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of The Queen's College. His book Caligari's Children is scholarly but accessible. I'm happy to say that Dr. Prawer was a fan of movies. His book is the first scholarly work in my own library on zombies.

S.S. Prawer's discussion of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and other zombie movies in Caligari's Children is brief but interesting. A couple of quotes from him, then one from another author, whom he quotes in his book:
The archetype and model of all zombie-movies still remains Victor Halperin's White Zombie of 1932, which curiously links its voodoo theme with that of social exploitation: the dead are raised to serve as bodyguards and as cheap labour in a Haiti sugar-mill. John Gilling's The Plague of the Zombies transfers this to England; the evil squire raises the dead to work his tin-mines and thus enable him to live in the style to which his class has become accustomed. [p. 68]
[In Night of the Living Dead] Romero has given the screw an extra turn [. . .] by showing, particularly in his final sequences, that the harm the living can do matches and even outstrips that of the pathetic clawing corpses to which the title of his film refers. The Sheriff and his posse [. . .] are more frightening in their callousness than any miraculously reanimated corpse. [p. 68] 
The critical theorist might see in that first quote proof of the existence of his favorite bugaboo, the capitalist exploiter. That would be a superficial interpretation of White Zombie, I think. I have already written about just who was exploiting whom in The Magic Island, William B. Seabrook's seminal account of Haitian zombies from 1929. I have also written about how zombies, as a part of black culture, were transferred to white culture, in part by making the threatening zombie-maker and zombie-master a white person, moreover, by making the threatened zombie or the threatened living human being a white person. I think that's what the moviemakers were up to in White Zombie, hence the sensationalistic title. With this movie, the zombie went from being an affair of black people to being an affair of white people. (The title, by the way, echoes the phrase "white slavery," one that would have been on people's minds or in their recent memories in the early 1930s. The very strong suggestion would have been that a white zombie might be used for the same purposes for which a white slave might be used, i.e., as a sexual slave. See the story "American Zombie" by Dr. Gordon Leigh Burley from ca. 1936 for more on that idea. The racial implications of this association between white zombies and white slavery are unavoidable. See also the relationship between the black man and the very white woman in Night of the Living Dead from 1968.)

As for the second quote: Dr. Prawer noticed something in 1980 that viewers of The Walking Dead have no doubt seen more recently: that the human characters may actually be scarier than the zombies, which, to some degree, exist simply as an environmental condition that has to be dealt with, like rain or cold. To that point, I'll pass on a quote from Caligari's Children from R.H.W. Dillard, author of one of the earliest if not the earliest scholarly treatment of the zombie, Horror Films, from 1976:
If he [the viewer] chooses Night of the Living Dead (1968) [as an example of a valid and significant esthetic expression of experience, then] he has chosen a life in which moral failure is the natural human condition. [p. 127]
I have written before that the most basic interpretation of the zombie apocalypse is that it lays bare our fallen state as human beings. I don't think you really have to go beyond that, especially not into the realm of politics or economics, to recognize meaning in this story. I would argue on the other side that, although we are fallen, we might still be redeemed: we have that possibility within us. So is Dr. Dillard saying that there are viewers who have given up on the possibility of redemption? Who believe that our falling will not be counteracted by any rising? Is the viewer who prefers the zombie-apocalyptic story, then, a pessimist or a nihilist, a person living in despair or in a state of extreme moral lassitude or decadence? And if so, and if that viewer is actually countless millions of viewers, is not the zombie an apt monster for our time?

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Zombibliography-Zombie: The Living Dead

Zombie: The Living Dead by Rose London
(New York: Bounty Books, 1976), 112 pp.
Cover art by Robert Ellis

I don't know anything about Rose London. I assume she is a British author of popular works and not a university professor or scholar. Her book, Zombie: The Living Dead, is a popular, pictorial history of the undead in movies. It covers not only American movies but also those from Great Britain, Mexico, Canada, and other countries. The book was originally published in Britain. It's worth noting that, although Ms. London's book covers vampires, mummies, and other undead creatures, it is entitled Zombie: The Living Dead. That indicates to me that zombies were gaining traction in the mid-1970s as a leading monster type. Nevertheless, the author's discussion of zombies doesn't begin until page 76, and about half of that discussion is devoted to science fictional themes, including invasions by aliens bent on controlling the minds and lives of people on Earth. There is, without a doubt, a connection between movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and stories of zombies, but I'm not sure that stories of alien invasion belong with stories of zombies in a book like this one.

The zombie section of Zombies: The Living Dead includes a few movies worth mentioning in any history of zombies. One is Revenge of the Zombies (1943), in which "[a] doctor operating in the swamplands of the Deep South tried to create an army of invincible zombies to help the Nazis." (p. 82) Thus, even early on in the history of zombies in America, storytellers recognized the significance of zombies as representative of mass movements, especially political mass movements. Another is Invisible Invaders (1959), an alien invasion movie in which the dead rise from the grave en masse. Thus, as early as the 1950s, there were scientific undead vs. the supernatural undead. And they moved in masses. Still another is Plague of Zombies, a Hammer film from 1966 in which a strange plague kills off the inhabitants of an English town, only for them to come back as zombies. Although there is a scientific explanation for the zombie-ism in the movie, there is also a supernatural explanation in that the man responsible for the plague has been to Haiti and has learned about voodoo there. Having never seen Plague of Zombies, I can't say how those two things are reconciled. In any case, Plague of Zombies seems to have anticipated Night of the Living Dead and all subsequent stories of zombie hordes infected with disease.

So it looks like the zombie in film evolved over the years from a harmless and helpless slave--a walking deadman lacking any will of his own--into a frightening and dangerous monster. That is to be expected, as there aren't very many dramatic possibilities represented by a figure who lives, yet lacks all human personality and attributes, motivation or agency. There was also an evolution from the zombie made by magic to one made by science. And there was of course an evolution from solitary zombie slaves or small groups of slaves to out-of-control hordes or masses. I wonder if there will ever again be a zombie movie based on the original idea of the zombie as one of the harmless (and pitiable) undead. I have a feeling that moviegoers, having forgotten the slave origins of zombies, would complain, "That's not a zombie." That's how far we have come, I think. It seems obvious to me, though, that there was not a first of anything when it comes to zombies in film other than that there was a first zombie movie, which was, of course, White Zombie, from 1932. Instead, there was an evolution of zombies. I'll have more to write on that in an entry I will call "The Island Theory of Zombiation."

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Horror! by Drake Douglas
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966), 309 pp.

From the dust jacket of Horror!:
Drake Douglas is the pseudonym of a gentleman who has been deeply involved with horror throughout his life--and prefers to remain anonymous.
I did a search on the Internet and found that "Drake Douglas" is a pseudonym of Werner Zimmerman, but I didn't find any further information on Mr. Zimmerman except that he has written several books:
  • Horror! (non-fiction, 1969 [sic])
  • Undertow (novel, 1984)
  • Creature (novel, 1985)
  • Death Song (novel, 1987) (with Stephen Kent)
  • Horrors! (non-fiction, 1989)
Horror! is a popular study rather than a scholarly one. If it were scholarly, this book might be a candidate for the first such study of zombies, having been published in 1966. Nineteen sixty-six was also before the advent of the horde of scientific zombies as in Night of the Living Dead (1968), so the zombies described in the book are the old-fashioned supernatural kind, which seem to be of less interest to our contemporary academia. Anyway, zombies in Horror! are covered in a chapter called "The Walking Dead." (I think there's a TV show by that same name.) In it, the author makes a very strong connection between zombies and black slavery in the New World. "According to voodoo belief," he writes, "the zombie is a dead man restored to life as a powerful, emotionless, mindless automaton, an empty shell of a man, complete slave to the will of his master." (p. 187) The author adds: "[T]he zombie poses no great threat to others. He is a monster created by the needs of economy rather than for purposes of evil." (p. 189) Again, there is a strong connection to slavery, but in continuing his discussion, Mr. Zimmerman sounds like he is describing a far more modern creature, the industrial robot:
He [the zombie] is an ideal slave, requiring no attention and little food or sleep. He can be made to work eighteen hours a day at a steady, remorseless pace which never varies from one hour to the next. He need not be paid, he explicitly follows all orders. . . . The zombie is the cheapest source of labor ever discovered. (p. 189)
Maybe that's why zombies are on the same curve as robots (and human beings) in the graph illustrating the uncanny valley, about which I wrote not long ago.

Werner Zimmerman comes to the same realization that I and others have come to, namely, that to become a zombie is a unique fear for the slave or the descendants of slaves, specifically, I would add, for Haitians:
It is not difficult to understand the native horror of the zombie, particularly in the earlier years of slavery. Death was, for them, the only release from a life of brutality and inhumane treatment; they greeted death with open arms. It meant the end of the beatings, of the backbreaking labor, of the heartbreak and misery which were the lot of the slave. Zombieism, on the other hand, was merely another form of slavery which reached beyond death itself. It was the constant fear of the natives that they would be torn from their graves where, at last, they had found rest, to return to a form of slavery even more horrible than that they had known during life. (p. 189)
Mr. Zimmerman also indicts "[t]he white man" for his support of zombie-ism.
He [the white man] was interested in a cheap, reliable labor force and, since only these primitives were involved, did not overly concern himself about its source. The plantation owner became rich, the voodoo priest became powerful, and the black slave had but one more misery to be added to the heavy load he carried. (pp. 189-190)
Again, the critical theorist might see here an indictment of capitalism, or, at the very least, evidence of his idée fixe, the historical "class struggle," but that would be a misreading of the facts, I think. Although Mr. Zimmerman doesn't mention Haiti in this passage, zombie-ism seems to have been limited to that island nation. If there were white plantation owners and black slaves, then the discussion is of colonial times, that is, Haiti before it attained its independence in 1803. That leaves two possible groups of white plantation owners: 1) Those living under the French crown, a feudal, statist, and essentially non-capitalist or anti-capitalist regime; or 2) Those living under the governments that followed the overthrow of the monarchy, which were leftist rather than monarchist or reactionary but were nonetheless statist. By extension, then, the fear of becoming a zombie and of being held as a zombie-slave is a fear of enslavement under either a feudal and statist regime or a leftist and statist regime. Where in this is the capitalist?

Disregarding all of that, the fear of zombie-ism has passed from a fear among black people of being made into zombies and being held in slavery as zombie-slaves--the zombie himself is passive and harmless in this case--to a fear among all of us of being attacked and killed by zombies that are extremely aggressive and dangerous. For white people without a history of being held as slaves, there is no fear of being returned to slavery without end.

Second, the fear of zombie-ism has passed from the realm of the supernatural--which no modern person fears anymore--into the realm of the scientific, which every modern person respects. Third, the fear of zombie-ism has gone from one as on a small scale in a distant and obscure part of the world to one as on a mass scale in one's own modern and advanced society. It is, in short, a fear of hordes of scientific zombies arriving at your door.

Although he described the zombie in 1966 as "a fairly new arrival to the world of monsters" and one "not surrounded by the wealth of legend which has built itself around the more widely known monsters," Werner Zimmerman seems to have predicted something more for this representative of the walking dead. The zombie is, he wrote, "a frightening powerhouse as capable as the vampire of striking fear into the hearts of those who come across him." (p. 194) You could argue that the zombie has actually replaced the vampire in that role.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Weird Tales Books-Black Medicine by Arthur J. Burks

Black Medicine by Arthur J. Burks was published in 1966 by Arkham House of Sauk City, Wisconsin, in an edition of 2,000 copies. Arkham House books are typically rare, costly, and prized by readers and fans of weird fiction. I was lucky enough to find recently a reasonably priced copy of Black Medicine. I finished reading it on March 11, 2017, and can report on its contents. I had hoped to find zombies in the stories of Arthur J. Burks. I'll cut to the chase and let you know there aren't any.

Burks was born in Washington State and served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War I. He also served in occupied Hispaniola or Santo Domingo, probably in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Burks served in other places as well, possibly in the Pacific. These locales show up in the stories in Black Medicine, of which there are eleven. The first, "Strange Tales of Santo Domingo," is actually in six parts, so it might be more accurate to say there are sixteen stories in the book.

The sixteen stories in Black Medicine fall into three groups, plus one story that stands alone. One group of stories is set in the Dominican Republic. They include "Strange Tales of Santo Domingo" in its six parts and "Three Coffins." Another group is set in neighboring Haiti. These include "Voodoo," "Luisma's Return," "Thus Spake the Prophetess," and "Black Medicine." The third is a looser group of unrelated stories set in different places: a time-travel fantasy called "When the Graves Were Opened"; a dream-fantasy called "Vale of the Corbies"; an oceangoing ghost story, "Bells of Oceana"; and a ghost story set in Burks' own Washington State, "The Ghosts of Steamboat Coulee." I consider "Guatemozin the Visitant" to stand alone for different reasons, first because of its length (72 pages in Black Medicine, or of novelette length); second, because it's the only story in the book not to have appeared in Weird Tales; third, for its setting in Mexico; and fourth for its unusual themes and unusual power.

One very appealing characteristic of Burks' writing is its even-toned and effortless authenticity. As a military man serving on board ship and in exotic locales, he had a rare familiarity with his subjects and settings. He didn't have to do research on what his characters do and where they live and work, for he did those things and lived and worked in those places himself. It's refreshing to read genre fiction of such authenticity and verisimilitude. Burks was given to pulpish and purplish prose at times, but those aspects of his writing are easily outweighed, I think, by his skill at describing real places and real situations.

Arthur J. Burks was one of the first authors--if not the first--to have a story on Voodoo in Weird Tales. His first two stories in "The Unique Magazine," published under the pseudonym Estil Critchie, were "Thus Spake the Prophetess," from November 1924, and "Voodoo," from December 1924. "Thus Spake the Prophetess" is set in Haiti, but there is no explicit mention of Voodoo or any of its practices, figures, or spirits. "Voodoo" is of course a different story (no pun intended). It, too, is set in Haiti and involves the search for a Voodoo priest by an American serviceman. The serviceman, Rodney Davis, infiltrates a Voodoo ceremony, where he sees a Maman Loi, "the priestess of the serpent," a Papa Loi, her male counterpart, and the sacrifice of a "goat without horns," that is, a human being, in this case an adolescent girl. Davis returns to his commanding officer to report, laconically, that justice has been served.

Other tales of Voodoo followed, the longest and most detailed of which is "Black Medicine," the title story of this collection and the cover story for the August 1925 issue of Weird Tales. I had speculated before that the larger figure in that cover illustration might be a zombie. As it turns out, he isn't, for there are no zombies in Black Medicine. As it turns out, the figure is a man, Chal David, "chief Papa Loi of Bois Tombé." The woman in front of him is a Maman Loi, "high priestess of the cult of voodoo." In the background of the cover illustration are the "followers of the Great Green Serpent." If I understand Voodoo (also called Vaudoux and Voudon) correctly, the "Great Green Serpent" of Haiti might also be "Li Grand Zombi" of Louisiana. Nevertheless, zombies appear to be absent from the fiction of Arthur J. Burks, leaving William B. Seabrook as still the father of zombies in America.

One more thing: There are many good and enjoyable stories in Black Medicine, but one of my favorites and one of the most powerful, I think, is "Guatemozin the Visitant," a story of a revenant from the Aztec past who, when his burial place is disturbed, comes back to wreak a terrible vengeance on the Mexico City of 1931. I am reminded of The Plague by Albert Camus, a far more significant work to be sure, but I would not take anything away from Burks except for, again, his occasional pulpish and purplish prose.

Black Medicine by Arthur J. Burks
(Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1966), 308 pp.
"Strange Tales of Santo Domingo"
  • "A Broken Lamp-Chimney" (Weird Tales, Feb. 1925)
  • "Desert of the Dead" (Weird Tales, Mar. 1925)
  • "Daylight Shadows" (Weird Tales, Apr. 1925)
  • "The Sorrowful Sisterhood" (Weird Tales, May 1925) 
  • "The Phantom Chibo" (Weird Tales, June 1925)
  • "Faces"  (Weird Tales, Apr. 1927)
"Three Coffins" (Weird Tales, May 1928)
"When the Graves Were Opened" (Weird Tales, Dec. 1925; reprinted Sept. 1937) 
"Vale of the Corbies" (Weird Tales, Nov. 1925) 
"Voodoo" as by Estil Critchie (Weird Tales, Dec. 1924)
"Luisma's Return" (Weird Tales, Jan. 1925) 
"Thus Spake the Prophetess" as by Estil Critchie (Weird Tales, Nov. 1924) 
"Black Medicine" (Weird Tales, Aug. 1925) 
"Bells of Oceana" (Weird Tales, Dec. 1927; reprinted Apr. 1934)
"The Ghosts of Steamboat Coulee" (Weird Tales, May 1926) 
"Guatemozin the Visitant" (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, Nov. 1931; reprinted in Magazine of Horror, Sept. 1969)

Black Medicine by Arthur J. Burks (1966), with cover art by Lee Brown Coye.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley