Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Secret Origin of Zombies-Part One

Zombies Are Here!

Zombies as we know them today are revenants, a French word that translates more or less as those who come back. I have written about zombies before. Earlier this month I wrote about them again. Now here they are again today. Being revenants, zombies have come back to my blog. I will continue to write about them over the next few weeks. My purpose will be a little different this time around, but I will return to some of the same themes and interpretations as before.

The article with which I began this month of January is called "A Retreat of the Totalitarian Monster." You can read it by clicking here. I'm still not completely happy with what I wrote, but I'll let it stand for now. I can tell you, though, that if you're thinking about writing on zombies, you'd better be ready for a tussle.

At first glance, the zombie story is an entertainment. Millions of people watch zombie movies and television shows; read zombie novels, short stories, and comic books; and participate in zombie walks and other zombie events. They do these things for fun or escape or to pass the time. There may be something more going on, though, something deeper and with greater significance. I wrote about zombies before and I have written about them again because I have sensed deeper meaning in the zombie storyAny meaning or significance is open to interpretation of course. Some people see it this way. Some that. But the fact that discussions of zombies get so contentious indicates that there is indeed some deeper meaning in their story. It's obvious that people on both sides of the argument have something very serious at stake. Usually the argument is or becomes political--and pretty quickly. There are controversies when it comes to other monsters in our culture, but none seems to match the controversy over zombies. I would hazard a guess that no one has ever said that werewolves represent a consumerist, conformist, statist, or socialist society, nor has anyone ever said that people who want to destroy werewolves are capitalists, fascists, or racists. To say those things about zombies and their human opposition, though . . . well, them's fightin' words.

Two questions came up in my article on zombies. The first is a larger question that ought to be answered. The second is much smaller and will be answered when we have an answer to the first.

The first question is this: When did zombies first enter popular culture in America?

The second is this: Was there some kind of connection between: a) the entry of zombies into American popular culture; and b) American capitalism and colonialism or imperialism around the turn of the twentieth century?

An answer to the first question is important because zombies are so popular and pervasive in our culture. We ought to know their history. An answer to the second question is important because of suggestions that human society in the zombie story, specifically in the television series The Walking Dead, represents fascism and/or an extreme of American capitalism and colonialism or imperialism. That case is made by writer Sean T. Collins in an article called "The Shameful Fascism of The Walking Dead," dated December 17, 2016, and posted on the website The Week, here.

My second question was not really prompted by what Mr. Collins wrote. He has his interpretation of the zombie story and I can easily live with that. I have a problem with his expert, though. That expert is Dr. Stephen Olbrys Gencarella of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Dr. Gencarella is an associate professor of folklore, humor, and related subjects. His doctoral degree is from Indiana University, so I'll say hi to a fellow Hoosier. The description of his interests on his university's website is a lot of overly intellectualized academic gobbledygook. But lurking in his list of publications is this: "Thunder without Rain: Fascist Masculinity in AMC's The Walking Dead," published in Horror Studies, 7 (1), 125-146, 2016. I have not read that paper, nor have I seen The Walking Dead. Maybe I'm not the right person for this discussion. But I can tell you what I have found so far in my research.

In his article, Sean T. Collins quotes Dr. Gencarella:
The zombie trope in the United States emerged with the zombie-as-slave phenomenon around the turn of the 20th century, when American capitalism and colonialism led to ethical conflicts about labor and human rights.
The implication seems clear to me: by associating the emergence of "[t]he zombie trope" with an age of "capitalism and colonialism" in America, Dr. Gencarella seems to be saying that zombies represent an underclass of industrial workers and/or colonial laborers. By extension, then, the human beings in the zombie story must represent their overlords. A further implication, it seems, is that capitalism and colonialism have reached an extreme in the present day, and that that extreme is fascist. That's Mr. Collins' argument, anyway. Judging from the title of Dr. Gencarella's paper, I would say that he agrees. Or maybe the idea was his originally, as the title and publication date of his paper suggest.

It seems to me that much of the argument that The Walking Dead--and by extension the country that voted for our current president--is fascist hinges on the supposed emergence of "[t]he zombie trope" coincident with a capitalist-colonialist age, i.e., around 1900. So here's where the first question comes in: When did zombies come into American popular culture? If it was around 1900, then Dr. Gencarella's interpretation might have some weight. But if not, then what? How strong is an argument that hinges on an association that turns out not to be any association at all?

So when did zombies enter popular culture in America? The story on the Internet seems to be that zombies arrived with the publication of William B. Seabrook's book The Magic Island in 1929 and the subsequent release of the movie White Zombie in 1932. From what I have found so far, that seems to be true. People had encountered the word zombi(e) before in print, but nothing before seems to have matched the popularity or the staying power of The Magic Island or White Zombie. There were Vikings in America before Columbus (and probably other Europeans, too) but Columbus gets the credit for discovering America because once he had discovered it, it stayed discovered. Likewise, once William Seabrook wrote about zombies and people saw them on screen in White Zombie, zombies stuck. They haven't been forgotten in the almost ninety years since. But there were zombi(e)s in America before The Magic Island. Long before.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (more accurately, according to accounts on the Internet of what the Oxford English Dictionary says), the first use in print in English of the word zombi(e) was in Robert Southey's History of Brazil, published in three volumes from 1810-1819. I haven't found the exact passage yet, but I think the word was spelled zombi rather than zombie. (The spelling has some importance, as we'll see.) Just nineteen years later, the word zombi entered popular culture with the publication of a story called "The Unknown Painter" in Chambers' Edinburgh Journal for June 30, 1838. Within weeks, that story was reprinted in American newspapers. (The earliest occurrence I have found is in The People's Press and Wilmington Advertiser of Wilmington, North Carolina, for August 24, 1838.) That began an extraordinary run, for "The Unknown Painter" was reprinted again and again in American newspapers, popular magazines, and books for more than half a century after its first appearance. In short, Americans had encountered the term zombi long before 1900 and long before the age of capitalism and colonialism in America.

Now to be fair, the zombi in "The Unknown Painter" is not one of the undead. He appears to be more of a nocturnal mischief-maker or trickster, like the African folkloric character Anansi, or like the elves in the story of the elves and the shoemaker. There were other zombis in American popular culture after the unknown painter's zombi, though. There were also related creatures and beings, including duppies, loogaroos, and jumbies (also spelled jumbis or jumbees). All were supernatural creatures or beings. Most were spirits. Even as the story of the unknown painter faded, Americans continued to write about these creatures and beings, often after having been in direct contact with Caribbean culture. Chief among them was Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), who went to the Caribbean in 1887-1889 and returned dispatches for publication in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. He collected his stories in book form in Two Years in the French West Indies, published by Harper and Brothers in 1890. Again, in the stories and accounts of Lafcadio Hearn, zombis are not really the undead, certainly not the bodily undead. (1) They are more nearly evil spirits, and they remained evil spirits in the popular fiction of his time and later, such as in The Isle of the Winds: An Adventurous Romance by Samuel R. Crockett (1900) and The Marathon Mystery: A Story of Manhattan by Burton E. Stevenson (1904). (See below.)

So we have arrived at the turn of the century, and zombis are still one of three types: 1) The mischief-maker or trickster, an interpretation that seems to have disappeared after "The Unknown Painter" fell out of print; 2) An evil spirit of varying kinds and manifestations; and 3) One I haven't mentioned yet, Li (or Le) Grand Zombi, the Serpent God of Voodoo culture, apparently equivalent to the Damballa or Damballah of African mythology. (George Washington Cable mentioned Zombi in his book Creole Slave Songs [1886].) What is missing in all of this is William B. Seabrook's version of the zombie, i.e., one of the undead, a bodily creature who has been enslaved through magic. That zombie--spelled with an -e, apparently for the first time in The Magic Island--is the version that has come down to us today as the shambling, mindless slave, only today, he is a slave to his appetite for human flesh rather than to a human master.

So there were zombis in American popular culture as far back as 1838, there were zombis throughout the 1800s, and there were zombis into the early 1900s. My research isn't bulletproof by any means, but I have not found, in any source before the 1920s, an example of or a reference to zombi(e)s as bodily revenants, the undead, the walking dead, or mindless or soulless slaves made that way by slave masters of whatever color. No zombies suffering under the capitalist, colonialist, or imperialist America of the turn of the century. No zombies yoked to the machine of American oppression. No zombie underclass, no zombie proletariat, no zombie peasants or zombie farm workers exploited for their labor, no mass of industrial zombie workers or zombie wage slaves. Nothing but evil spirits, tricksters, duppies, and serpent gods.

I hope Dr. Gencarella has found something more.

(1) Hearn in fact asks a young woman, Adou, straight out:
"What is a zombi? [. . . .] Is it the spectre of a dead person, Adou? Is it one who comes back?"
She answers:
"Non, Missié,--non; çé pas ça."
("No, Monsieur,--no; that's not it.") Italics are in the original. The trouble Americans (or maybe just white people) have in getting an answer to the question What is a zombi(e)? is a recurring theme in the early literature of zombi(e)s, i.e., from 1838 to 1929. I believe there is some significance in the question and answer, even if the point is only that the rationalist modern mind may try but is not up to the task of understanding something from the pre-rational past.

To be continued . . . 

The Isle of the Winds: An Adventurous Romance by Samuel R. Crockett (1900) is a historical adventure involving, among other things, a search for the treasure of Sir Harry [sic] Morgan. On board a jolly boat, young Philip Stansfield and his companions are beset by a school of devil fish . . .
"But this is rank witchcraft," I cried. "This is the blackest of black magic."
Eborra shrugged his shoulders.
"It is my mother," he said, as if the explanation were sufficient; "my mother and Obeah--Obeah always great magic."
(Obeah is a type of magic of the West Indies and is related to Voodoo.)

A little later:

"It is nigh to the hour of the zombis!" said Eborra behind me, speaking in a whisper with his lips close to my ear.
"And what are the zombis?" I asked him without moving [. . . .]
"They are the spirits of the dead," he answered solemnly. "They come when my mother calls them. It is they who have entered into the devil fish. Soon they will depart."
And so they do, in a scene worthy of Weird Tales.  

The Marathon Mystery: A Story of Manhattan by Burton E. Stevenson (1904) is a contemporary mystery/adventure set in New York City. In it, the narrator questions a young woman named Cecily, late of Martinique, about a man named Tremaine, whom she refers to as doudoux (an endearment referring to one's lover or boyfriend):
"You were happy there [at Fond-Corre]?"
"Yes--except for the times when doudoux was in his black spells."
"His black spells?"
"Yes--oh, then every one ran from him--even I. He was terrible--raving and cursing M'seur Johnson."
"Johnson?" I repeated with a sudden leap of the heart. "Who was he, Cecily?"
"He was doudoux's zombi," she answered with conviction, and crossed herself.
"Then he didn't live at Fond-Corre?"
"At Fond-Corre? Oh, no! He was a zombi--in the air, in the earth, everywhere. Doudoux would fight with him an hour at a time. Oh, it was terrible!"

Here, then, are two examples of the zombi of the turn of the century. In the first--set in the historical past--zombis are indeed revenants, but they are spirits, not bodies. In the second, the zombi is obviously a spirit in fleshly form, but like the spirits that possess the devil fish in The Isle of the Winds, the zombi Mr. Johnson is a tormentor, seemingly in a position superior to that of the tormented person and nothing like the zombies of today.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 27, 2017

Peacocks on the Cover of Weird Tales

I closed the last series with a cover showing a peacock. That made me think of a further entry on the peacock covers of Weird Tales. I wish I could say that this is a happier topic than the previous several series, but there's more human sacrifice and bondage here. 

There are four peacock covers in Weird Tales, a fair number for a subject you wouldn't ordinarily associate with weird fiction, although Flannery O'Conner, who wrote what might in a broad sense be called weird fiction or at the very least gothic fiction, was known for raising peacocks. I suppose the association between peacocks and weird fiction has to do with the association between peacocks and the Orient: very often, weird stories are set in that part of the world, or its villains originate there.

Weird Tales, November 1926. Cover story: "The Peacock's Shadow" by E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by E.M. Stevenson.

Weird Tales, August 1932. Cover story: "Bride of the Peacock" by E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by T. Wyatt Nelson.

Weird Tales, November 1937. Cover story "Living Buddhess" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, November 1943. Cover story: "The Valley of the Assassins" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. The artist Tilburne specialized in depicting animals. It's no surprise that his peacock would be the most prominent on the cover of Weird Tales.

I still have a few categories to go in completing this series on the cover themes and subjects in Weird Tales, but I would like to take a break from it and get back to the biographies of the writers and artists who contributed to "The Unique Magazine." First, though, I will write about the secret origins of zombies in America.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Whips, Chains, Bondage, and Torture-1936-1943

The following covers are not very much different from those before them. There are two more showing people wielding a cat-o'-nine-tails. In the first, the red-robed cultist is showing his victim the whip or caressing her with it in what seems to me a sexual way. A knife or sword can be used to represent a phallus. Maybe a whip can be, too. Anyway, there are two covers here showing women wielding whips in self-defense, a change in theme over previous covers. Then, finally, there is a man bound to a wheel, like in Margaret Brundage's cover of June 1938.

Weird Tales, March 1936. Cover story: "The Albino Deaths" by Ronal Kayser. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. Three years into the weird menace fad, Weird Tales gave its readers this cover promising "weird tortures in a ghastly abode of horrors." I assume those tortures were carried out by the albinos of the title, who might have been thrown with dwarves and hunchbacks into the pot of weird menace villains.

Weird Tales, January 1937. Cover story: "Children of the Bat" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, May 1937. Cover story: "The Mark of the Monster" by Jack Williamson. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. The weird menace fad continues in this cover illustrating "a powerful tale of weird horror."

Weird Tales, October 1937. Cover story: "Tiger Cat" by David H. Keller. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, November 1937. Cover story: "Living Buddhess" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, May 1938. Cover story: "Goetterdaemmerung" by Seabury Quinn, called "A Strange Tale of the Future" on the cover. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. Finally, the cat-o'-nine-tails have worn out and we're back to bondage.

Weird Tales, June 1938. Cover story: "Suicide Chapel" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. The last weird menace type cover in Weird Tales.

Weird Tales, September 1942, Canadian edition. Cover story [?]: "Masquerade" by Henry Kuttner. Cover art by an unknown artist.

Weird Tales, November 1943. Cover story: "The Valley of the Assassins" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. In this last cover in the category of whips, chains, bondage, and torture, the bondage is not the focus of the illustration but only a detail. In other words, the kind of cruelty and depravity so common in the covers of the 1920s and '30s effectively came to an end in June 1938. Weird Tales was sold to Short Stories, Inc., later that year. I wonder if those two events were just coincidental. More likely, the weird menace fad was coming to an end. Evidence of that: probably around the time Weird Tales had its last weird menace cover, Dime Mystery Magazine announced that it would change its format beginning with its September 1938 issue. The emphasis would be less on weird menace and more on mystery and detective stories. Not long after that, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City launched a crusade against obscenity in magazines. Weird menace was in the spotlight in a way you don't want to be. The fad finally came to an end in the 1940s, although it likely just migrated to paperback books and larger format magazines, especially confessional magazines of the kind that were still on the newsstand in the 1970s and '80s.

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 23, 2017

Whips, Chains, Bondage, and Torture-1932-1935

More bondage, more whipping, more cruelty. The only cover here that doesn't exactly fit in this category is the last, showing Conan in prison, about to be helped by a spunky young woman straight out of a Hollywood movie. He is in chains, though. The 1930s were the decade of the weird menace fad. Weird Tales seems to have participated in that fad, especially in the covers following these, in the last of the three parts of this series. Note that two of the four covers here that show a woman whipping another woman are of stories by Robert E. Howard. He may have been giving his readers some thrills when he wrote scenes of lesbian sadism and bondage. Then again, maybe he was giving himself some thrills.

Weird Tales, February 1932. Cover story: "The Devil's Bride" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf.

Weird Tales, September 1933. Cover story: "The Slithering Shadow" by Robert E. Howard. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, January 1934. Cover story: "The Red Knife of Hassan" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, April 1934. Cover story: "Satan's Garden" by E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, December 1934. Cover story: "A Witch Shall Be Born" by Robert E. Howard. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, February 1935. Cover story: "The Web of Living Death" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, December 1935. Cover story: "The Hour of the Dragon" by Robert E. Howard. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

To be concluded . . . 

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A New Page and an Updated Page

I have added a new page for links to various websites related to weird fiction, fantasy, and weird fiction. See the list of pages on the right. If anyone has suggestions for additions to that page, please send them in. I will consider adding links to websites that are scholarly or encyclopedic in nature. I'm not interested in commercial websites, in sites that hype or advertise anything, or sites that contain objectionable content or just plain bad writing, art, or design.

I have also updated my page on my new story magazine. Just click on the link on the right.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Whips, Chains, Bondage, and Torture-1924-1931

Very often, Weird Tales was a magazine of terror, violence, torment, and cruelty. Cover after cover--about twenty in all in the magazine's original run--show scenes of whipping, bondage, torture, and other kinds of sadism. Much of the violence and cruelty is sexual. The cat-o'-nine-tails, with its connotations of sexual and homosexual flagellation, is especially common, especially in covers from the 1930s. Why all the cruelty? Part of it, I think, can be explained by the origins of the weird tale in the work of Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote several of what are now called contes cruel, or stories of cruelty, "gruesome physical horrors" (a quote from H.P. Lovecraft), and savage and ironic twists of fate. Some of these covers are in poor taste. Others are carried out pretty well, I think, like Hugh Rankin's moody illustration for "The Inn of Terror" by Gaston Leroux (Aug. 1929). At least one, the last shown here, is a nightmare of theme and composition. Like I said, there are about twenty of these covers. I'll show them in three parts beginning with the period 1924 to 1931.

Weird Tales, March 1924. Cover story: "The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt" by Harry Houdini. Cover art by R.M. Mally. This is one of few images of a naked man on the cover of Weird Tales. It's also one of the few in this three-part series that does not depict some kind of torture or cruelty.

Weird Tales, October 1928. Cover story: "The Werewolf's Daughter" by H. Warner Munn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. This cover almost makes it into the category of human sacrifice and execution, but there doesn't seem to be any executing going on, despite the presence of the headsman. There's also an odd detail: a dead cat on the lower left.

Weird Tales, November 1928. Cover story: "The Mystery of Acatlan" by Rachael Marshall and Maverick Terrell. Cover art by C. C. Senf. The whipping begins.

Weird Tales, August 1929. Cover story: "The Inn of Terror" by Gaston Leroux. Cover art by Hugh Rankin.

Weird Tales, January 1930. Cover story: "The Curse of the House of Phipps" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. There were lots of redheads on the cover of Weird Tales. Curtis Senf seems to have had a special liking for them.

Weird Tales, February 1930. Cover story: "Thirsty Blades" by Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by Hugh Rankin.

Weird Tales, January 1931. Cover story: "The Lost Lady" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. This one has a reaching hand, a pistol, a green ghoul, a young, bound, and scantily clad woman, and a bald sadist with a cat-o'-nine-tails. The only thing missing is the kitchen sink.

To be continued . . .

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Scientific Experimention on the Cover of Weird Tales

If science is the religion of the twentieth (and twenty-first) century, and if the god of science is an indifferent god, and if human beings are merely material objects without souls, then human sacrifice in the cause of science can be considered acceptable, even desirable. Witness Nazi experimentation on their victims. That's just some theorizing on my part. But on the cover of Weird Tales and other pulp magazines, the imagery of scientific experimentation isn't very much different from that of the fiend and murderer, or of human sacrifice and execution. Note the first three images shown below, especially the second, in which the woman is bound to what looks like a stainless steel table, her tormentor wields a scalpel instead of a knife, and he also wears a white lab coat instead of a red robe. He is evidently a scientist, but he acts like a cultist or a fiend. In my mind, that's a strange and significant association.

Weird Tales, January 1926. Cover story: "Stealer of Souls." Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch.

Weird Tales, November 1929. Cover story: "The Gray Killer" by Everil Worrell. Cover art by C.C. Senf.

Weird Tales, May 1930. Cover story: "The Brain-Thief" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C. C. Senf.

Weird Tales, April 1935. Cover story: "The Man Who Was Two Men" by Arthur William Bernal. Cover by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, February 1938. Cover story: "Frozen Beauty" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Virgil Finlay.

Weird Tales, November 1944, Canadian edition. Cover story [?]: "Death's Bookkeeper" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by an unknown artist. The cover artist or artists for the Canadian edition of Weird Tales seem to have worked pretty readily from a picture file: that's obviously a depiction of Boris Karloff and an even more realistic image of a snake.

Next: Whips, Chains, Bondage and Torture.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Human Sacrifice and Execution in the 1930s and Beyond

There was more human sacrifice and execution in the 1930s in Weird Tales. The pattern was pretty well the same as before: a helpless woman, usually bound and recumbent, is about to be knifed, usually by a man. The pattern is a little different in two pictures here. One shows a man as the victim. The other shows a woman as the perpetrator. Once again, there is only one scene of execution, this one with a rope. In the last picture, there is no weapon at all, but I assume this is an image of human sacrifice.

Weird Tales, February 1930. Cover story: "Thirsty Blades" by Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by Hugh Rankin.

Weird Tales, October 1930. Cover story: "The Druid's Shadow" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Hugh Rankin. A nicely done cover by Hugh Rankin in complementary blue and orange.

Weird Tales, March 1932. Cover story: "The Vengeance of Ixmal" by Kirk Mashburn. Cover art by C. C. Senf.

Weird Tales, July 1933. Cover story: "The Hand of Glory" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, July 1936. Cover story: "Red Nails" by Robert E. Howard. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, September 1938. Cover story: "As 'Twas Told to Me" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, Summer 1974. Cover story: None. Cover art by Jack L. Thurston, a reworked version of an earlier paperback cover by the artist.

Next: Scientific Experimentation.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Human Sacrifice and Execution in the 1920s

There is more fiendishness and murderousness in this series on human sacrifice and execution in Weird Tales. In the previous series, the fiend or murderer attacked a woman who might somehow resist. Here, she is helpless. You can interpret this situation sexually, just as in the previous series. There is even a name for the desire to have sex with a sleeping or helpless person. It's called somnophilia. Bill Cosby, whom we loved so much when we were kids, has been accused of raping women after having drugged them. Some people think that he is a somnophiliac. Not long ago, I watched Mother, Jugs & Speed from 1976. There are scenes of drug use and of somnophilia in that movie, and you just can't watch it in the same way now as you might have then. I suppose this desire to put women into situations where they are helpless has to do with the viewer's (or participant's) feelings of inferiority or a lack of confidence, sexual ability, or sexual experience, or his attempts to avoid rejection or humiliation. Anyway, here they are, the covers of the 1920s showing human sacrifice and execution. In this first installment, all of the victims are women.

Weird Tales, September 1925. Cover story: "The Gargoyle" by Greye La Spina. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch.

Weird Tales, November 1926. Cover story: "The Peacock's Shadow" by E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by E. M. Stevenson.

Weird Tales, February 1927. Cover story: "The Man Who Cast No Shadow" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C. Barker Petrie, Jr. I assume this is an image of sacrifice: the woman is helpless and tied down, while the man holds a knife. That makes three knives in a row.

Weird Tales, Ocober 1929. Cover story: The Woman with the Velvet Collar" by Gaston Leroux. Cover art by Hugh Rankin. Here the weapon of choice is not a knife but a guillotine blade. I remember in the movie The Da Vinci Code that the blade is supposed to be a masculine symbol and the cup a feminine symbol. So far in this series (and in the previous one), that seems to be true, at least for the male symbol.

To be concluded . . . 

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rogue One and "Escape"

I have been thinking about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and of a few more things that bother me about the movie. I have a friend who is a big fan of Star Wars movies. I asked her what she thought of Rogue One. She said it bothered her that there are so few female characters. It's true, there are few, but I pointed out that the lead character is female. That didn't do much for her (my friend), though. But is the female lead, Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, really female? Or is she just a male character cast as a female, as is so common in movies, television, comic books, and fiction these days? Worse yet, is she not even a character but just a plot device disguised as a character?

Forest Whitaker plays a character (or plot device) called Saw Gerrera in Rogue One. (His name is an obvious pun on the theme of war.) In the movie, he is referred to as an extremist and is looked down on by the Rebellion. I thought that was odd. Is that the intrusion of contemporary politics into a movie about a time long ago and a galaxy far, far away? There seem to be parallels in the movie between Gerrera's group and Muslims on Earth and between the attack on the convoy and a terrorist attack in the Middle East of today. Just what are the moviemakers getting at? Wouldn't it be better just to leave out things like that?

Speaking of the attack, why didn't the Empire just fly their shipment out of the city? Why did they have to transport their kyber crystals in overland vehicles? In too many science fiction movies, science and technology are used in the same way magic is used in fantasy: what the wielder of magic (or technology) can do with his abilities is essentially arbitrary. Gandalf can do all kinds of things, but he can't levitate himself out of the pit when he falls in with the Balrog? The Empire can fly a moon-sized space station between galaxies, but it can't lift off from the surface of a planet with a shipment of kyber crystals?

The way the Rebellion makes important decisions is downright laughable. Everybody gets together in a big room, they all get to put in their two cents worth, and there isn't any order or organization to their meeting. It's just a bunch of people shouting at each other. It's like a bunch of students sitting around in a lounge or a dorm room and talking about a problem. I suppose these scenes (there's one in The Force Awakens, too) are supposed to let us know that the Rebellion is democratic and inclusive, unlike that nasty, oppressive Empire. I'm skeptical, though. I doubt that a democratic structure, which tends to become no structure at all and very quickly a mob, has ever led to victory in war. I'm pretty sure only a hierarchical structure is capable of that.

The Rebellion seems to be pretty timid and tentative before being forced into the final battle. Keep in mind that Rogue One takes place very shortly before Star Wars. However, the rebels in Star Wars are not the same rebels as in Rogue One, and they didn't get that way because of the events in Rogue One. They were hard, tough, determined, and courageous long before the opening scene of Star Wars.

Finally, it's pretty obvious that women and minorities are the good guys in Rogue One and that white men are the bad guys. Well, whatever. It's their movie, and I can't say that really bothered me. What bothered me more is that Darth Vader seems smaller. Yeah, David Prowse no longer plays the character, but they could have at least found someone with shoulders to (literally) fill the role.

* * *

There is a good commercial playing on television right now. It's for PlaySation Vue, and it's called "Escape." You can watch it by clicking here. I don't know how aware the makers of the commercial are of science fiction and dystopian literature. I wonder if these images and ideas are actually a part of the collective unconscious or of the zeitgeist of today's world. But the commercial begins like The Matrix and ends like THX 1138 or Logan's Run. "Escape" depicts a corporate dystopia, the great fear of at least one-half of the political spectrum in this country. I'm skeptical of the prospects for a corporate dystopia. I even have doubts about the plausibility of the conventional political dystopia. But this is a good commercial, and if there is anything like a corporate dystopia in America today, it surely has to do with cable television. (Just ask my sister, who has encountered men like Spoor and Dowser lately in her dealings with the cable company.)

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fiends and Murderers of the 1940s and '50s

There was less murder and fiendishness on the cover of Weird Tales in the 1940s and '50s. That might be because the editor was a woman. Maybe she didn't want any more of that menacing and threatening of women. As you can see, none of the following four covers fits easily into this category, at least at first glance. I have read The Damp Man series, though, and I can tell you that the title character is the very definition of a fiend.

Weird Tales, January 1942. Cover story: None. Cover art by Gretta. This cover, by Joseph C. Gretter, is kind of a throwback to the 1920s or '30s. This was a time of transition in Weird Tales. Gretter, an artist of those decades (though he later assisted on Riley's Believe It or Not!), seems to have been a fill-in artist, and this was his only cover for "The Unique Magazine."

Weird Tales, March 1944, Canadian edition. Cover story [?]: "The Valley of the Assassins" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by an unknown artist. I'm not so sure about putting this cover in the category of fiends and murderers. The man on the right kind of looks like one of the undead. Or maybe he's a sorcerer of some kind. Anyway, here it is. You'll see this cover again.

Weird Tales, May 1949. Cover story: "The Damp Man Again" by Allison V. Harding. Cover art by John Giunta. That's the Damp Man himself, a real creep and a fiend.

Weird Tales, March 1950. Cover story: "Home to Mother" by Manly Wade Wellman. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. The figure on this cover looks like he could be a murderer or fiend, but he could be just another one of Coye's decrepit souls.

Now it's on to Human Sacrifice and Executions.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley