Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Still More Weird Tales from France

Alphonse Louis Constant
Aka Eliphas Lévi Zahed, Eliphas Lévi
Author, Mystic, Magician
Born February 8, 1810, Paris, France
Died May 31, 1875, Paris, France

For Weird Tales
"Black Magic" (article, Sept. 1923)

Alphonse Louis Constant had been gone nearly half a century by the time Weird Tales printed his article "Black Magic" in the magazine's first year in publication. Born on February 8, 1810, in Paris, Constant studied for the priesthood but left the seminary before being ordained a priest. The reason? Cherchez la femme as the French say. Constant became a writer and associated himself with various names, including the socialist and feminist Flora Tristan, fellow mystic M. Ganneau, "messianic mathematician" Jozef Maria Hoëhne-Wronski, British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and French sculptress Marie-Noémi Cadiot (1832-1888), whom he married in 1846. (1) Constant was a mystic and a magician, evidently one of the most important names in that realm of knowledge. According to Wikipedia, he incorporated the Tarot into contemporary practice and was a great influence on other mystics and magicians of his time and after, including Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). (2) Constant was also the originator of a famous "Sabbatic Goat" image and of the idea that a pentagram pointing upwards represents good, while one pointing downwards (approximating the countenance of a goat) represents evil. He wrote under the pseudonyms Eliphas Lévi Zahed and Eliphas Lévi and died on May 31, 1875, in Paris.

You can read more about Constant on these websites:

(1) M. Ganneau was the inventor of the religion Evadaïsme, "a compound of all the dogmas, doctrines and philosophies that have divided mankind," of which he was "the Mapah," a title combining "mama" and "papa" and a reference to our "first parents," Eve and Adam. The quotes are from The Living Age, Volume 29, on the occasion of Ganneau's death.
(2) Crowley, born less than five months after Constant's death, considered himself a reincarnation of the great magician.

Villiers de l'Isle-Adam
Né Jean-Marie-Mathias-Philippe-Auguste, comte de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam
Born November 7, 1838, Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, France
Died August 19, 1889, presumably in Paris, France

Villiers de l'Isle-Adam was not in fact published in Weird Tales but in an offspring of "The Unique Magazine," Robert W. Lowndes' Magazine of Horror from the 1960s. Born on November 7, 1838, in the city of Saint-Brieuc, Villiers seems to have been a man ill-suited to life's demands. Unlucky in love, frequently impoverished, and not often successful as a writer, he nonetheless gave us two terms still in use today. One of them has become indispensable in science fiction and in fact.

Under the influence of Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe, Villers wrote tales of fantasy, mystery, horror, torture, and cruelty. (3) In his novel L'Ève future (translated by Wikipedia as Tomorrow's Eve, 1886), Villiers employed the term android (which had been in use since at least the 18th century) in its more modern sense, meaning a robot in human form. George Lucas and hundreds of other science fiction writers owe Villiers a debt for that. Villiers is most well known for his collection of short stories from 1883, Conte Cruels. The conte cruel has become a subgenre or a type of fiction, a short story (conte) in which characters are subjected to cruelty, torment, and torture, not because they deserve it but simply because--I suppose--life itself is full of cruel vicissitudes. I can imagine that Villiers sometimes felt himself to be such a character. I looked in several books on literature and fantastic fiction for a definition of the conte cruel and came up empty. Barbara, a contributor to Google Groups, admirably answers the question "What is the definition of conte cruel?" at this link. She attributes the origin of the term to Villiers' collection of the same name. She also mentions Villiers' story "The Torture by Hope," which by no coincidence appeared in Magazine of Horror #10 (Aug. 1965). Barbara also mentions Ambrose Bierce and W.C. Morrow as authors of contes cruels

The digest-sized Magazine of Horror was not Weird Tales of course, but I'm not sure there was any closer imitator between the end of the original Weird Tales in 1954 and the revival of Weird Tales in 1973-1974. That title is subject for an article of another time.

(3) Villiers is supposed to have been an admirer of Constant's Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (1856). Villiers' other associations: He was friends with Stéphane Mallarmé; he asked Théophile Gautier for his daughter's hand in marriage (and was rebuffed); his hero was Richard Wagner, with whom he was visiting when war broke out between their two nations in 1870.

Alphonse Louis Constant (1810-1875) aka Eliphas Lévi, a portrait from 1874.
Eliphas Lévi's Bephomet, an image of the Sabbatic Goat. I don't know enough about magic to say anything more. Note the name at the bottom, cut off in this image.
Villiers de L'Isle-Adam did not contribute to Weird Tales, but he was responsible for the conte cruel, a kind of story named for his collection of short stories from 1883. Here is the cover for one edition of Contes Cruels. The image is disturbing, mostly because it looks like it could have been drawn from life.
The image on this cover of a different edition is pretty tame by comparison. The man is being tortured, but he doesn't seem to be suffering much. Take away the bindings and it looks like he could be in a steam bath.
The image on this cover of a Spanish-language edition of Conte Cruels (Cuentos crueles) is even more inviting. Are those tiger lilies?
Villiers was the author of at least fifteen books. Isis is an incomplete novel (more accurately, romance) from 1862.
In L'Ève future (1886), Villiers wrote of an android named Hadaly--invented by a fictional Thomas Alva Edison! It's from this book that we have our contemporary usage of the word android.
"The Torture of Hope," one of Villiers' contes cruels, was reprinted as the cover story in Magazine of Horror in August 1965. The cover artist was Carl Kidwell, who also contributed to Weird Tales
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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