Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Stories of Francis Stevens-Claimed!-Part Two

If you want to trace the origins of dark fantasy back to the early days of genre fiction, I'm not sure why you would stop at Francis Stevens and say, "Here it began." "Claimed!" is evidence that fantasy dark in mood and philosophy preceded her work, for I can see the roots of her story in The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers (1895), The Boats of the Glen Carig (1907) by William Hope Hodgson, and to a lesser extent The Night Land (1912), also by Hodgson. From The King in Yellow comes the artifact that by being possessed drives a person into despair or insanity. The Boats of the Glen Carig, like "Claimed!", opens with the log of a ship at sea and the approach to a strange and desolate island. Like Poe, too, Francis Stevens used epigrams (from Psalms and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner") to open her chapters.

Francis Stevens was an imaginative writer (though not outstanding in style or ability), and she was an innovator in some ways, but I think she worked more or less within the conventions of her field or by logical extension to what had gone before. I doubt that the influences I have mentioned here are direct. She probably read Chambers and Hodgson, probably also H.G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling, and very certainly Edgar Allan Poe and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Fans and critics look for influences of course. Everyone wants to discover the secret history of a story or book, or the facts in a writer's life, just as they wish to discover the secret history of the world and humanity. There are those who believe Francis Stevens was an influence upon A. Merritt and H.P. Lovecraft. That has become an ineradicable meme on the Internet, reproducing like the most virulent of pathogens. There isn't any forthcoming evidence that she was such an influence. But because someone said it somewhere at sometime, and it has been repeated endlessly on the Internet, it must be true. "The Call of Cthulhu" by H.P. Lovecraft has some similarities with "Claimed!"--the upthrust and desolate island with its slimy, dripping ruins; the awakened and vengeful god; the dream-states of its characters and the lingering images from those dreamstates; the resulting madness among some of them; the unearthly prehistoric artifact; the climax at sea; also the uncanny mystery and even the use of log entries, newspaper articles, and letters in the story. (1) If you're looking for forerunners to "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926, 1928), you might consider "Claimed!". But was one an influence upon the other? Did Francis Stevens influence A. Merritt and H.P. Lovecraft? If your answer is "Yes," then please make your case, and don't let it be "Because I saw it on the Internet."

To be continued . . .

(1) The use of clippings, letters, diaries, etc., was elsewhere in the literature of the time, in the U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos (1930, 1932, 1936) and Show Girl by J.P. McEvoy (1929) for instance.

Famous Fantastic Mysteries, February 1941. Note the white horses as in the original cover  for Argosy. The cover artist was the great Virgil Finlay.

Super Science Stories, a Canadian edition from October 1944 with cover art by Leo Morey. Don't let the blurb fool you, there are no cavemen, cavewomen, or black panthers in "Claimed!".

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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