Monday, March 1, 2021

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Five

The Utopia of Lost Worlds & the Lost Worlds of Europe

A long article to last for a while . . .

Utopia literally means "not a place," alternatively "no place" or "nowhere." (1) It has never existed and can't exist except in the imagination, but it's where the imagination goes from time to time. In attempting to bring about Utopia, the political imagination has instead created horrors. (We may soon see a bit of that for ourselves.) It is only in the literary imagination that Utopia truly lives.

The original Utopia, created by Thomas More (1478-1535), is an island, discovered in a world then and now called new. The twenty-first century reader of genre fiction might recognize More's Utopia and places like it as Lost Worlds. For decades--for a century or more--authors set their adventures in these places--in worlds that are at once lost and new--and the satirical and high-literary ambitions of the original utopian chroniclers gave way to romantic and adventurous popular fiction. As the known world grew and the unknown shrank away, Lost Worlds became a place to wander not for the reasoning mind but for the adventuring heart.

It seems to me that Lost Worlds are those that are lost in any civilized age. An escape from civilization seems to be a key element in the Lost Worlds story. I'm not the first to reach that kind of conclusion. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls (update, 1995), does these things a lot better than I do. Here is that source on the British author H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925):

With his third and fourth novels, King Solomon's Mines (1885) and the even more successful She: A History of Adventure [1886-1887] HRH was catapulted to fame [. . .]. These novels of anthropological sf remain his most famous; they established a pattern he would follow for the rest of his career. That pattern might best be described as a central model for Edgar Rice Burroughs and the science-fantasy subgenre whose popularity attended the latter's revival in the 1960s: it is a pattern in which realistic portraits of the contemporary world (in HRH's case South Africa) are combined with backward-looking displacements (in his case invoking Lost Worlds, immortality and reincarnation) to give a general effect of deep nostalgia. [Emphasis added.] (pp. 531-532)

And again:

Not all of these books [the Allan Quatermain books] could be described as science fantasy, but all project that sense of desiderium--the longing for that which is lost--that lies at the heart of true science fantasy [. . .]. [Emphasis again added.] (p. 532)

Part of that bears repeating for the reader of Weird Tales: "the longing for that which is lost [. . .] lies at the heart of true science fantasy." 

For the first two or three centuries, utopian stories tended to be progressive, yet still geographic: Utopia is now, but it is somewhere else on Earth. In the progressive-minded nineteenth century, utopian stories, in association with progress then being made in the sciences, were cast into the future: Utopia is not in the now on Earth, but in the will-be or might-be of the future, either here or on other worlds.

At the same time all of that progress was going on, there was also a conservative or nostalgic reaction. Men wanted to hold on to the Lost Worlds of the past even as they disappeared. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there were Gothic and Romantic reactions to Reason and Neoclassicism. In the late nineteenth century, there were Lost Worlds fantasies and romantic, medieval, anti-technological Utopias. The Pre-Raphaelite artists and members of the British Arts and Crafts movement wanted to turn back the clock. So did American makers of utopian communities. In the late 1800s there were Dystopias, too, a new genre, originally known, I think, as anti-utopias. Reaction was literally in the word itself. These tended to be written by conservatives, such as the American Anna Bowman Dodd (1858-1929).

So it looks like in the nineteenth century, conservative-minded people looked backward with pangs of nostalgia. (Again, Edward Bellamy's title is ironic.) The past was being lost--whole worlds were being lost. The future--especially a scientific and technological future--must have looked to them like a nightmare-in-the-making. Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach" (published in 1867), in which the "Sea of Faith" has long since retreated, comes to mind. Here is the famous closing stanza:

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

In his book Conservatism (Van Nostrand, 1956), Peter Viereck had Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) as a conservative. In reading about him now, I wonder whether Arnold was indeed conservative and whether "Dover Beach" might actually be an ironic poem, again on the subject of nostalgia and a yearning for the Lost Worlds of the past.

When Utopia migrated from a place somewhere on the current Earth into the imagined future, it entered into the realm of science fiction, a genre that tends towards progressivism, as opposed to science fantasy--weird fiction, too--which is nostalgic or backward-looking, as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes. There it stayed for a while, but maybe only for a while. "Utopian thought in the last half century" observes the Encyclopedia, "has to a large extent disassociated itself with the idea of progress; we most commonly encounter it in connection with the idea of a 'historical retreat' to a way of simpler life [sic]." It adds: "Even the recent past has been restored by the momentum of nostalgia almost to the status of a utopia [. . .]." (p. 1261) It was no coincidence (or at least I don't think it was) that the two most recent of the works offered as examples, Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach (1975) and Time and Again by Jack Finney (1970), were published in the 1970s, when some people--older writers and fans, I think--feared that science fiction was dying. Maybe what was dying was the old progressive, utopian brand of science fiction, the supremely confident, outward-bound Gernsbackian and Campbellian brand of the 1920s through the 1930s and '40s. I think I'll have more on that later. Meanwhile, I will refer you once again to "The Gernsback Continuum" by William Gibson, published in 1981, just three years before his landmark Gothic science fiction novel Neuromancer came out.

* * *

Things were being lost, worlds were being lost, and with them possibilities, too. Here's another thing that was no coincidence (or at least I don't think it was): a conservative, nostalgic, romantic, or anti-science, anti-technology, anti-civilization reaction came along at about the same time that the conservation movement began in America. (Conservative and conservation are from the same root after all.) Yellowstone National Park, the world's first, was established in 1872. King Solomon's Mines was published in 1885. The National Geographic Society was founded in 1888. (2) Percival Lowell (1855-1916) discovered Lost Worlds on Mars in the 1890s and early 1900s, and novelist Edwin Lester Arnold (1857-1935) sent his new Gulliver there in 1905. The first national wildlife refuge was already two years old by then. The establishment of the first national monument followed in 1906. In between, several prominent Americans and one prominent Norwegian got together to form the Explorers Club of New York (1904). (3) Then, in 1912, both John Carter of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes made their debut. I sense that all of these were efforts to discover, explore, conserve, and ultimately escape into places in danger of being lost in one way, and appealing because they were already lost in another. I sense that many, if not all, were exercises in nostalgia.

I have one more type of Lost Worlds to enter into this gazetteer: the Lost Worlds of Europe. When I was a teenager, I read King Solomon's Mines again and again. The only rival to it in my reading was The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (1863-1933). Published in 1894, The Prisoner of Zenda was the original Ruritanian romance. Scads more followed, including the Graustark novels of my fellow Hoosier, George Barr McCutcheon (1866-1928). The Lost Worlds of Europe became pretty prominent in weird fiction and fantasy. I guess I could write a whole article or series of articles on them. I would have to do a lot of research first, though. I invite readers to send in their own examples or lists, especially from the pages of Weird Tales. That kind of research could help build the case that Lost Worlds, descended from Utopia, are a more conservative or nostalgic genre, thus one suited to the traditional, conservative, or backward-looking genres of weird fiction and fantasy.

Anyway, the Lost Worlds of Europe are also prominent in movies, from Frankenstein (1931) to Brigadoon (1954) to The Mouse That Roared (1959) to The Last Valley (1971) to The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Mission: Impossible (1966-1973) is full of fictional countries, many of them in Europe. Seemingly every one has a Rollin Hand lookalike as its dictator or generalissimo. Shades of Rudolf Rassendyll. In The Prisoner (1967)--no Zenda--a different kind of prisoner, called Number 6, is held in a miniature European Lost World, which also happens to be a Dystopia. He has a doppelgänger, too. You'll find out who it is in the last episode. (4) The Lady Vanishes (1938), begins in a Ruritanian country. In that film, Michael Redgrave plays a kind of ethnomusicologist, like Alan Lomax, recording the works of the worst and most forgettable folk culture in Europe before it is lost. (5, 6) He had better hurry. The members of that family seem to be the last practitioners of it, although there is an insurance commercial playing right now with perhaps a related family and culture living upstairs, joyously and tirelessly clogging away . . . 

To be continued . . .

Notes

(1) "Nowhere," thus the anagram in the title of Erewhon: or, Over the Range, a Lost Worlds novel (or romance) written by Samuel Butler (1835-1902) and published in 1872.

(2) The first issue of National Geographic magazine was dated September 22, 1888, and for more than a century things went pretty well, I guess. Then, in January 2017, National Geographic jumped the woke shark and began trading in gnostic and anti-scientific claptrap. According to Wikipedia, the Walt Disney Company has, since 2019, owned a "controlling interest in the magazine." What Disney has done to Star Wars and Marvel can only be done to National Geographic, too. I think Disney owns the John Carter and Tarzan franchises as well. It's probably just a matter of time before John and Jane swap sexes and names.

(3) Cryptozoology, an investigation into the fauna of Lost Worlds, dates from that period as well. Antoon Cornelis Oudemans (1858-1943) is considered its founder with his book The Great Sea Serpent, published in 1892.

(4) So would the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda be called Return to Zenda? You know, a lowly British postal employee has to deliver some packages to Ruritania, only to discover that he is the spitting image of the King . . .

(5) That's Lomax, not Lorax. The Lorax was another famous conservationist. (Alan Lomax knew of a Utopia, too. It's called "The Big Rock Candy Mountains.")

(6) The opening sequences in The Lady Vanishes try a little too hard to be funny. It doesn't work very well for me. I sense a kind of mean-spiritedness in some of it, a peculiar brand of snobbery and disdain for people of supposed lower classes or what used to be called "races." George Barr McCutcheon did the same kind of thing in Graustark: The Story of a Love Behind a Throne (1901). Holding people up for ridicule because of their perceived low status is kind of a cheap way towards humor. Writers should work a little harder and use a little more imagination. (This is coming from someone who just sprang two puns on you.)

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope was published in 1894. This illustration I think is from 1895 and is signed Hooper. Maybe that was the British engraver and illustrator William Harcourt Hooper (1834-1912), who worked in old forms. To that point: there is nothing new under the sun until there is. Although The Prisoner of Zenda was the first of a new genre, the Ruritanian romance, it received an old treatment in this illustration: the dark, creaky Gothic castle from the previous century once again looms over the European landscape.

William Harcourt Hooper worked with William Morris (1834-1896) of the Arts and Crafts movement. Among his other works, Morris wrote News from Nowhere, a utopian story (1890), and The Well at the World's End, a famous fantasy (1896). Morris was also a socialist, further evidence that a link exists between socialism and utopian thinking in general, and a backward-looking, nostalgic kind of reactionary conservatism. Put another way, the Socialist wants a return to the Middle Ages and stasis, to a stable and ordered society in which there are masses of immobile serfs below, a permanent, select, and élite aristocracy above (of which he, of course, is a member, if not leader), and no ambitious, energetic, grasping, usurping bourgeoisie in between.

In 1896, Parker Brothers came out with a Prisoner of Zenda board game. Here the castle is white and the scene sunny and bright. Maybe this is the castle of the good guys, while the previous one is Black Michael's. Anyway, we might think of merchandising and multimedia marketing campaigns as twentieth century, but here is an example of both from the nineteenth. My contention is that the elements of our current popular culture date from 1895-1896 (some from a couple of years earlier). Here is another piece of evidence for that. Stratego, another board game (though of the twentieth century) has a Ruritanian look to it, too, but I think that's because both Stratego and The Prisoner of Zenda were drawn from the essentially Ruritanian imagery of the real-life, nineteenth-century Europe of Napoleon, Metternich, Bismarck, and so on. Most of that came crashing down, I think, in and with the Great War.

It's at once comic and tragic to look at photographs of military men of the old Europe taken in the 1920s and '30s: here are relict grand, sculpted moustaches; bright plumes and cockades and cordons; brass buttons, fringed epaulets, and braided piping--here are airs of dignity, rectitude, and pride; things and ideas and ways that can no longer survive in the postwar world, originating as they have in the world that has been lost if not destroyed outright in the apocalypse of the tenches. It seems to me that in the nineteenth century the military uniform, especially the officer's uniform, still had its trappings of a proud and confident aristocracy. In the twentieth, it became democratic, and the officer in the field came to look just like his men. Herman Melville's phrase "the Dark Ages of Democracy" comes to mind.

Here's a nice painted cover of the Classics Illustrated comic book version. Unfortunately, the artist did not sign his or her work.

Lastly, a paperback edition by Magnum with a classic 1960s-1970s men's magazine-type cover. This isn't the edition I had when I was a kid, but I did have the Magnum edition of King Solomon's Mines, with a cover perhaps by the same artist. I think these are from the 1970s. (No, that is not a green light saber.)

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-The Story So Far

My series "Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales" grew out of the previous series of quotes from Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and the Parable of the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. After writing so much about Utopia/Dystopia, I wanted to circle back to Weird Tales, but I didn't have any examples of either genre drawn from the pages of "The Unique Magazine." In other words, I started something without knowing where it would go--or if it would go at all. I think I have an idea now, a thesis that I hope will hold up and carry me through to the end of this series.

Weird fiction and its related genres would seem to have little to do with Utopia/Dystopia. The former are more nearly popular or traditional genres, while the latter seems higher, more intellectual, more philosophical. Weird fiction very often takes an old form--the tale, hence the title of the magazine. Utopia/Dystopia is newer, more contrived it seems to me. It is or can be considered within the realm of science fiction; both parts of that term, science and fiction, are developments of the modern world, I think, more particularly the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The combined term science fiction didn't appear in print until 1929. Weird Tales by then was already six years old, and the phrase weird tales had been used in the titles of books for more than forty years.

People try to intellectualize weird fiction, but that might not be as easy a task as intellectualizing science fiction. There have been myriads of studies and examinations of science fiction, and if I calculate correctly, far fewer--at least until recently--of weird fiction. I might be stretching ideas here, but I don't have to go very far with that in order to get to where I'm going with this series.

Anyway, here are the parts so far:

I have touched on related topics in some of the things I have written since December--Mars, H.G. Wells, Orson Welles and the Panic Broadcast of 1938, maybe some others--but these four numbered parts are the main ones, and I'll stay on this line until the end.

One of the problems with starting before you know where you're going is that you have to stop along the way to do all of your reading, thinking, and research. I have had to stop along the way, but I have found some good sources and my thesis has been a-building. I think I have a thing figured out. I would like to think that this is an original idea, but we should all remember--especially the utopian thinkers among us--that, as Ecclesiastes said, there is nothing new under the sun.

One unexpected source--one that is turning out to be essential in all of this--is the writing of Jack Williamson (1908-2006). Last evening (Feb. 20, 2021), I read his short story "With Folded Hands" (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1947). It's a dystopian story but one completely within the realm of science fiction. As a pulp-fiction story, a genre-fiction story, it stands tall and maybe only a step below other great dystopian stories. It's also truly terrifying. When I read it, I thought: The Humanoids are now! Williamson's story is an extraordinary vision of what was to him the far future but is to us our present and near future.*

One more thing: I read "With Folded Hands" in A Treasury of Science Fiction, edited by Groff Conklin (1904-1968) and published in 1948. Conklin mentioned stories of Utopia in his introduction, adding, "today we have few such tales." This was the postwar after all, and anyone imagining Utopia before it would surely have been disabused of his or her ideas and visions by the end. Nonetheless a Utopia-like story appears in Conklin's collection. It's called "Flight of the Dawn Star" (Astounding Science-Fiction, Mar. 1938). The author was Robert Moore Williams (1907-1977), a contemporary of Jack Williamson. Williams' story was pre-war. That might make a difference of a kind. "Flight of the Dawn Star" reaches towards Utopia, but I'm not sure that I would call it utopian. I think I would call it an idyll instead. Anyway, it's in strong contrast to "With Folded Hands." It reminds me of The Time Machine only without Morlocks: there is no serpent in this garden of the future.

-----
*Earlier in the day, I heard on the radio a story about people stealing catalytic converters because of the high price of palladium. Palladium and its related metals figure pretty prominently in "With Folded Hands." After reading the story, I thought: Could someone today be working on a rhodomagnetic super-science project?

Next: Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Five: The Utopia of Lost Worlds & the Lost Worlds of Europe

The Humanoids, Jack Williamson's sequel to "With Folded Hands." This is the book version, a Lancer edition from 1966 with cover art by the great Ed Emshwiller (1925-1990).

I'm waiting again for another source, but it seems likely to me that Williamson had read Yevgeny Zamyatin's We before writing "With Folded Hands," for he included in his own story a surgical operation that "cures" people of their unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their enslavement. Jack Williamson had certainly read We by the time he wrote his doctoral dissertation, published as H.G. Wells: Critic of Progress (1973), for he mentioned We in his book. Anyway, everyone should beware, for . . .

The Humanoids Are Now!

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 22, 2021

Les Baxter (1922-1996)

I wrote the other day about Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and his suite The Planets from more than a century ago. Listening to his music and looking into the covers of recordings of his music made me think of two topics related to genre fiction. Both involve Les Baxter. If you haven't listened to Les Baxter's music, I would urge you to as soon as you can. There is so much there for fans of popular culture, especially Exotica and what I think of as one of its progenitors, the genre of Lost Worlds.

Leslie Thompson Baxter, called "the Godfather of Exotica," was born on March 14, 1922, in Mexia, a small city in east-central Texas. His parents were Jesse Elliott Baxter (1890-1955) and Leta Thompson Baxter (1890-1964). Both were native Texans and the families of both originated in the Upper South. Les Baxter had one brother, James Edward "Jim" Baxter (1913-1964), an author, playwright, composer, and lyricist who worked with Les in the 1950s and '60s. Les Baxter married just once, in 1953. He and his wife, Patricia C. Baxter, had two children together. Tragically, she died at age thirty-four, after they had been together for just seven years. Les Baxter raised their children on his own after that. So, at the height of his musical career in the 1950s and '60s, Les Baxter lost his parents, his brother, and his wife. Things are given while others are taken away.

Les Baxter's father, Jesse Baxter, worked as a stenographer, bookkeeper, and realtor, but his family included more than one prominent preacher. His brother, Batsell Baxter (1886-1956), was a preacher, writer, and college president. (More on that below.) Batsell Baxter was the father of Batsell Barrett Baxter (1916-1982), also a preacher, writer, and educator. He started Herald of Truth Bible Hour, a TV show that lasted for decades.

Jesse Baxter's sister, Anna Lee Baxter Hockaday (1892-1970), was married to a preacher, too. He was William Doniphan "Don" Hockaday (1888-1958), a second cousin, twice removed of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). If you look at a picture of Don Hockaday, you might see a resemblance to the Great Emancipator. Don Hockaday's daughter-in-law died just last month. We send condolences to her family. We also find that an important idea is once again affirmed: History is alive in this moment. What we think of as being dead and in the past still lives.

Les Baxter was a musical child prodigy. He started playing piano at age five and as a six-year-old won a scholarship to the Detroit Conservatory of Music. The 1940 census indicates that in 1935 the Baxter family lived in Detroit. That would have been about the time, I think, that Jim Baxter attended Wayne University (now Wayne State University). Jim Baxter went on to write the Western novel The Circle on the Plain (1961) and the play Next Case. He also collaborated with his brother Les and songwriter Karl A. Suessdorf (1911-1982) on the songs "Rovin Gal" and "Calypso Boogie" (both from the movie Bop Girl Goes Calypso [1957]), "A Gun Is My True Love" (from the movie The Dalton Girls [1957]), "Shooting Star" (from the album Space Escapade [1958]), "Black Sheep," "Destination Honeymoon," and "Memories of Maine."

Les Baxter studied at Pepperdine University, an institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Baxter's uncle, Batsell Baxter, served as the first president of Pepperdine from 1937 to 1939. I suspect that Les Baxter was in attendance at about that time. In the census of 1940, Les, aged eighteen, did not have an occupation listed, but in 1942, when he filled out his draft card, he was employed by Central Casting in Hollywood. By age twenty, then, he had begun working in show business. 

Baxter worked as a concert pianist and joined Mel Tormé's vocal group, the Mel-Tones, in or about 1944. The other singers in that group were Betty Beveridge, Ginny O'Connor, and Bernie Parke. Some combination of them appeared in two motion pictures, Pardon My Rhythm (1944) and I'll Remember April (1945). (Baxter played a singing sailor.) Ginny O'Connor soon after married Henry Mancini (1924-1994), another sometime composer of Exotica. (Be sure to listen to his "Lujon.") Les Baxter also played saxophone in Freddy Slack's big band.

Les Baxter was not only a singer and musician but also, of course, a composer, arranger, conductor, and producer of music. He wrote more than 250 scores for radio, television, and movies, including music for the Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello radio shows. I won't go into his list of credits except in the bullet points and record covers shown below. You can easily find his credits on your own on other websites, including on the Internet Movie Database (here). But I wanted to tell you a little more on the life of this extraordinary composer of so much exotic, evocative, and atmospheric music of the postwar era. I also wanted to tell about his influence upon and connections to the old pulp genres of science fiction, fantasy, and weird fiction:

First, as a maker of Exotica, Les Baxter helped to carry some of the moods and forms of more nearly classical music into popular realms of the 1950s through the 1970s. He did this chiefly, I think, by his use of African-influenced percussion, impressionistic woodwinds and strings, and soaring, wordless voices, these first with the Peruvian coloratura singer Yma Sumac (1922-2008), later in other albums of his own. (He produced and composed the music for her first studio album, Voice of the Xtabay, in 1950.)

If you listen to Gustav Holst's Planets (1914-1916, 1918), specifically "Neptune, The Mystic," you will hear wordless voices, but they are in other early twentieth-century compositions, too, such as in Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé (1912). You can hear the influence of Ravel--Debussy, too--on Les Baxter, but then these two French composers had a large effect on American popular music, especially film scores, in which seemingly every ocean-going movie for decades quoted from Debussy's La Mer. (Be sure to listen, too, to the angelic wordless singing of Edda dell'Orso [b. 1935], who worked extensively with Ennio Morricone [1928-2020] on his own film scores.)

The wordless singing and rapid-fire percussion of Exotica found their way into the main title theme of Star Trek, especially in the first season opening. The music was by Alexander Courage (1919-2008) and I think very much influenced by Les Baxter's Exotica. All of these voices remind me of the high, sweet, otherworldly, vocal group- or choral group-type singing in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Remember that Les Baxter started out in a vocal group, singing with a man nicknamed "the Velvet Fog." Talk about atmosphere.

Second, Les Baxter also used the theremin early on, an instrument that is kind of a science fiction instrument anyway but also became one of the essential elements of the science fiction movie soundtrack of the 1950s, such as in Rocketship X-M (1950), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and The Thing from Another World (1951). Here's a chicken-and-egg question: Did science fiction movies use the theremin because of Les Baxter, or was it the other way around? Or maybe both discovered the instrument at the same time.

Third, Baxter composed music drawing from or meant to evoke the genres of Lost Worlds and science fiction (see the record covers below), but he also wrote scores for every kind of genre movie, including: The Invisible Boy (science fiction, 1957), The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (Western and Lost Worlds, 1958), Goliath and the Barbarians (sword and sandal or heroic fantasy, 1959), Master of the World (scientific romance or Vernian science fiction, 1961), Reptilicus (monster movie, 1961), Tales of Terror (weird fiction, 1962), Panic in the Year Zero! (post-apocalypse, 1962), and many others, plus plenty of beach-party and motorcycle exploitation movies.

Fourth, he also wrote the score for The Dunwich Horror (1970), the first movie based on a work by H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) that also shares its title with the original source. (I think.) So if a movie score is a kind of program music or a kind of adaptation, then Les Baxter might get credit for the first musical adaptation of Lovecraft's work on film. However, the first film adaptation of a work by Lovecraft was actually The Haunted Palace (1963), a film based on "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (1927, 1941, 1943). The author of that score was Ronald Stein (1930-1988), whose list of credits might be indistinguishable from Les Baxter's, for these two men wrote music for all of the same kinds of movies. Anyway, Ronald Stein should probably get credit for the first recorded musical adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's work, assuming, like I said, that a movie score is a kind of program music and therefore an adaptation. (See my article "The Other Forms of Lovecraft," dated October 2, 2018, by clicking here.)

Well, this article has gone on pretty long and it might be time to wrap things up. I'll close by letting you know that Les Baxter died on January 15, 1996, in Newport Beach, California. He was seventy-three years old, but in departing he left behind music that I hope we can listen to forever.

Further Reading

  • "Les Baxter" on the website Space Age Music Maker, here.
  • A website called Les Baxter at this URL: Lesbaxter.com.
  • The Exotic World of Les Baxter, a website accessible by clicking here.

The "banned" record cover of The Planets by Gustav Holst, which I showed the other day, reminded me of this one, for Space Escapade by Les Baxter (1958). The rocketship in the background might be a little phallic, but it also reminds me of the Flatwoods Monster.

Here's the reverse side of that album. I don't know who the artist is, but he or she knew something about science fiction imagery. And talk about a phallic rocketship.

In Music Out of the Moon (1947), Les Baxter collaborated with composer Henry Revel (1905-1958) and theremin player Samuel J. Hoffman (1903-1967). New things with this album included not only music of the theremin but also the full-color cover and the scantily clad model (actress Virginia Clark). One old-fashioned thing about it: it was released on three 78 rpm records. One real-world application: Neil Armstrong played Music Out of the Moon--on the moon!

To me, Exotica is related to the Lost Worlds genre of literature but perhaps filtered through the overseas experiences of servicemen and women during World War II. Think of South Pacific with its "own special island." Whatever its origins, Exotica was very popular during the 1950s and '60s. Here is an early recording in that genre, Le Sacre du Savage or Ritual of the Savage by Les Baxter and his orchestra, from 1951.

The cover artist was William Chapman George, Jr. (Aug. 10, 1926-May 25, 2017), who for some reason is not very well identified on the Internet despite his having been a very accomplished illustrator over the course of a very long career. As an example of his talent, the late Mr. George painted this picture when he was just twenty-five years old. He went on to paint interior illustrations and covers for men's magazines, paperback books, especially Westerns, and packaging for He-Man toys of all things. There is an interview with him in Illustration #8, from 2003. On the other hand, there is very little of him on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. I hope someone will correct that oversight soon.

A few years ago, I was at a Bigfoot conference in Ohio and stopped at the table of the Explorers Club. One of their promotional items, a flyer or postcard, showed William George's cover for Ritual of the Savage but missing all identifying information. In other words, I think they swiped his artwork and violated somebody or other's copyright. But these are the things people do to the work of the artist. Anyway, I'll have more to say about the Explorers Club in a future article.

Speaking of swipes, here's a movie poster for House of Usher (1960), for which Richard Matheson (1926-2013) wrote the screenplay and Les Baxter wrote the music. The swipe is from Harry Clarke's illustration for "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). (Click on the previous sentence to see it.)

It's strange to think that Edgar Allan Poe and Abraham Lincoln were born less than a month apart.

By 1970, when The Dunwich Horror was released, H.P. Lovecraft had name recognition. Moviemakers didn't have to hide his story behind Poe's byline as they had done just seven years before in The Haunted Palace. I wish I had the name of the cover artist here: he or she deserves some credit for this full-color illustration of a story that had seldom--or maybe never--gotten this kind of treatment before.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mars on the Mind

Tonight (February 16, 2021), I heard on the radio a story about the 100-year anniversary of The Planets by the British composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934). I'm not sure why the story was on tonight. Holst wrote The Planets in 1914-1916, and it was first performed in 1918. The first performance of the entire suite took place on November 15, 1920. That's still more than 100 years ago.

Anyway, Holst began his work by composing "Mars, The Bringer of War," the intended or eventual first movement of The Planets. Holst didn't bring on the war in his composition of "Mars," but it came anyway, war that is, on July 28, 1914, just a few months after he had begun. The Planets made its premiere on September 29, 1918, just a few weeks before the war ended.

Mars was on people's minds in those years. It all began with Giovanni Schiaparelli's observations of what he called canali on the surface of the Red Planet in 1877. Percival Lowell picked up the ball and ran with it in the early 1890s with his own observations of an intricate webwork of canals, as well as other features on Mars. He wrote about these things in three books, Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). His visions of Mars endured for generations, even into the 1960s and '70s.

H.G. Wells carried Lowell's interpretation to a logical and terrifying conclusion in The War of the Worlds (1897, 1898). Finally there came along a lowly pulp story, "Under the Moons of Mars" by Norman Bean, aka Edgar Rice Burroughs, serialized in The All-Story beginning 109 years ago this month, in February 1912. His story was published in book form as A Princess of Mars in 1917. Since then, gazillions of young fans have wanted to be his hero, John Carter, and have fallen in love with Burroughs' princess, Dejah Thoris.

Gustav Holst was influenced by astrology, not pulp fiction, but that hasn't stopped anybody from giving his record covers the science fiction treatment. Here are a few of them. I saved the most science-fiction-y--and the only scandalous one among them--for last.

That looks enough like Mars in the background for this image to earn its place as first in this series. In the foreground is an aerial view of the current state of Texas.

I like these highly stylized versions of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. The faces of Jupiter and Mars look almost like those of living beings. And Mars here is the Mars of the popular imagination, Percival Lowell's Mars with its canals and oases. 



Here's a version done by the great space artist Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986). Entitled Saturn as Seen from Iapetus, it appeared in the book The Conquest of Space by Willy Ley (1949) and before that in Life magazine. The difference is that the image here is flipped for some reason, maybe to make Saturn read better in visual terms: as your eye drifts across the image, it can ride the ramp of Saturn's rings to reach the title "The Planets."

This is a pretty small picture, but I can still detect a swipe . . .

The picture on the right is by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, that on the left by Margaret Brundage. I've showed this juxtaposition before in "Brundage and Ingres," dated April 4, 2019, and accessible by clicking here.

Chesley Bonestell seems to have swiped Ingres' painting, too. See the endpapers of The Art of Chesley Bonestell by Ron Miller and Frederick C. Durant III (2001) for that and for another depiction of Percival Lowell's Mars.

This version of The Planets is supposed to have been banned. You can kind of see why. Comic strip fans will recognize the more fully dressed of these two figures as a repurposed Flash Gordon. Here's another one: 

On the cover of the hardbound edition of The Best of C.L. Moore (1975). The figure on the left is the Shambleau from the story of the same name. If you haven't read "Shambleau" yet, you should. Those who have read it know that it takes place on Mars, the Red Planet and Bringer of War. Anyway, one of these images was banned while the other was not. Go figure. The art, by the way, is by Chet Jezierski (b. 1947). 

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Miraculous Expressions & Equations

Last week, commenter Iberdot left an excellent summary of the argument in favor of intelligent life in the universe. I'll quote him or her:

Here is how you "prove" the existence of intelligent ET life. List the number of stars in the universe, then come up with a percentage with planets (any number will do--doesn't matter), then continue inventing percentages with favorable conditions and so on. Due to number of stars, you can come up with any number you want and people will believe it.

I think his or her allusion is to the famous Drake Equation, developed by Frank Drake (b. 1930), which, truth be told, can be used to "come up with any number you want":

(From: We Are Not Alone: The Search for Intelligent Life on Other Worlds by Walter Sullivan [McGraw-Hill, 1964].)


I think the Drake Equation is an exciting and thought-provoking idea, but it can't really be thought of as a way of reaching a surefire answer. And I don't think it was meant to. I think it was meant only as a jumping-off point for discussion. Anyway, as soon as I read Iberdot's comment, a cartoon by Sidney Harris (b. 1933) leaped into my mind. Here it is:


Science is not supposed to be about miracles or counting on miracles, nor is it supposed to be about wishing or faith or superstition. And yet we have so-called "science" and scientists doing just those things, not just about stars and extraterrestrials but about all kinds of things. Anyway again, a lot of astronomers, astrophysicists, planetologists, cosmologists, and just plain laymen and -women seem to believe in these magical expressions: insert a miracle into the Drake Equation and you have proof that there are other intelligent species in the universe. They sound like a lot of emotional teenagers, telling themselves in the dark, "It has to be true, it just has to be true, my life won't be complete unless it's true . . . "


Maybe someday I will be proved wrong and we will discover that there are other intelligent species in the universe. That would be an exciting thing, too. But until there is proof, I think that every science-minded person has to remain skeptical on this question. Or, as Carl Sagan (1934-1996) said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." You can have faith, but that goes somewhere else, in a different box not called science.


Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Remember with Me . . .

I have written about artist Dwight Boyce (1910-2003) before. Since then I found an illustration by him from an old magazine, though not so old as Weird Tales. The magazine is called Good Old Days and it's still being published in my native state of Indiana, Berne to be exact. As you might guess, Good Old Days is a magazine of nostalgia. The article that Dwight Boyce illustrated and that I have now in front of me, called "Remember with Me . . .", is also nostalgic. The boy in the picture is every boy who ever read stories of adventure, mystery, romance, and terror while lying in bed at night. He reminds me of Little Nemo. The author of the article, from January 1986, is Alan Sanderson.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley