Saturday, May 11, 2019

Problems in Science Fiction-No. 1

A long time ago, I wrote about Fritz Leiber, Jr., and the problem of the weird tale. The problem was and is this: How do we write convincingly about the supernatural, the rural, and the irrational in a thoroughly materialist, urbanized, and (supposedly) rational age? Leiber tried to solve that problem and I think he succeeded. Part of his success comes from the fact that he recognized the problem straightaway and treated it directly in his work. You can see the results in stories such as "Smoke Ghost" (Unknown Worlds, Oct. 1941) and "The Hound" (Weird Tales, Nov. 1942).

Science fiction, too, has its problems. For example, as early as the 1950s, people began asking, Is science fiction dying? I have written about this problem, too. (See the label on the right.) If science fiction is dying, though, the dying is sure taking a long time. So maybe dying isn't a problem in science fiction after all. Anyway, the problems that I see in the genre are manifold, but in this series I want to cover just two of them.

* * *

Earlier this year, I read a short science fiction novel called The Ballad of Beta 2 by Samuel R. Delany (Ace, 1965). I like these short novels from the 1950s and '60s, the kind that you can read in an evening and that don't break the back of your bookshelf. Mr. Delany's novel is interesting and entertaining, but as I read it, a thought occurred to me. Not a thought so much as a problem. That problem shows itself right in the title with the word Beta. It's inside, too: Centaurian, Sigma, Gamma, Epsilon, Delta, Alpha. It's elsewhere in science fiction, too, especially in the original Star Trek.

So what is the problem?

These and so many more names and terms in the science fiction of the future are from classical sources, from the culture, history, philosophy, literature, and mythology of ancient Greece and Rome.

And how is that a problem?

Well, despite the fact that the people of ancient Greece and Rome were pagans (at least before the Romans became turncoats by converting to Christianity), they were white Europeans (1), most of the names we know today were those of men, and they together founded a now hated thing, Western Civilization. Our politically correct culture is against these things, of course, and though you might comfort yourself by thinking that the standards of political correctness are by definition ever-changing, you should also know that hostility towards the classical world as the root of Western Civilization (along with the Judeo-Christian tradition) is rampant not only in academia in general but also in classical studies themselves and among classical scholarsFor example, classical scholar Mary Frances Williams was recently giving a talk at a conference, one of her points being this:
It is important to stand up for Classics as a discipline, and promote it as the political, literary, historical, philosophical, rhetorical, and artistic foundation of Western Civilization, and the basis of European history, tradition, culture, and religion. It gave us the concepts of liberty, equality, and democracy, which we should teach and promote. We should not apologize for our field [. . . .] (2)
when she was interrupted by a fellow scholar who heckled her with these words:
"We are not Western Civilization!" (3)
I don't know anything about Ms. Williams or her heckler, and I don't really know very much about this controversy except that it appears to be part of a far larger one that, like a great, black hole, has engulfed everything within reach, including the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. My purpose here is simply to point out that a prominent scholar of classical studies would shout these words and believe this idea:
We are not Western Civilization!

So what does any of this have to with science fiction?

Well, if we ignore the question of whether a navel-gazing culture like our own will ever go into outer space, then we're left with the likelihood that nothing out there will ever be named for a person or concept that has come to us from ancient Greece or Rome, or for that matter from any other period of the history of Europe or the United States or West Civilization in general. In addition, everything that is currently named for people or concepts from those periods will be renamed. Everything that we have will sooner or later be judged impure, and all of it will go into the memory hole. In other words, if, as a science fiction writer, you're going to make extrapolations into a fictional future, then you won't use any Greek or Roman names or roots or words or concepts in your work, as Samuel R. Delany and countless others have done before you. In fact, you won't use anything of real value from our past because all of it is or soon will be considered tainted by the sins of racism, sexism, imperialism, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and so on and on, seemingly infinitely, into areas of sin that we don't yet know about but may yet sense. In their stead, you might try naming things after undocumented transgender Muslims, gay indigenous atheist revolutionaries, gender-fluid Marxists of color, and other peoples dwelling or soon to dwell at the intersections of oppression and resistance. (And you can forget about naming things after women and feminists. After all, they want to protect themselves from the abuses and depredations of people higher up on the ladder of victimhood. What a bunch of oppressors they are.) We already have people talking about racial and gender diversity in a proposed real-life Mars colony. That is, after all, the most important consideration when you're planning on how to survive on an alternately deeply-frigid-to-scorching-hot planet with barely any atmosphere and almost no water. (4)

At this rate, we'll never reach the stars.

To be concluded . . .

(1) "White" can be a pretty loose term when applied to Mediterranean peoples. If you want white, look at an Irishman or Scotsman.
(2) These words are not--I don't think--taken verbatim from her talk but from her written summary of her talk.
(3) Source: "How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting" by Mary Frances Williams, dated February 26, 2019, and published on the website Quillette, here.
(4) Douglas Adams, who was, we have to admit, a numbskull of a different stripe, anticipated all of this when he wrote his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the last episode of the BBC-TV show, a population of numbskulls arrives on Earth in the distant past. When someone points out that their design for a a wheel--it's hexagonal--can't possibly work, one of them responds, "All right, Mr. Wise Guy, you're so clever, you tell us what color it should be."

The Ballad of Beta 2 by Samuel R. Delany (Ace, 1965), with cover art by Frank Kelly Freas (1922-2005), who of course did work for Weird Tales.

Text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Miscellany No. 5

Also in The Thing's Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales, 1923-1924, author John Locke reprinted an essay called "Writing the Fantastic Story" by Otis Adelbert Kline, originally in The Writer in January 1931. Remembering his childhood talks with his father, Kline wrote:
There was the great mystery of man's advent on this earth, which religion explained in one manner and science in another. We discussed these, and a third possibility, an idea of my father's, that some of our ancient civilizations might have originated by people come here from other planets--the science of space-navigation forgotten by their descendants, but the tradition of their celestial advent persisting in their written and oral traditions.
Kline was born in 1891; he would have been twenty-eight years old when The Book of the Damned, Charles Fort's first, was published in late 1919. The concept of what we now call ancient astronauts was almost certainly in the works of Charles Fort (I'm not sure where exactly), but those would seem to have come too late for Otis Adelbert Kline's father to have been inspired by them, assuming father and son talked about these things when Kline was a child. So who originated the concept? I'm not sure. An older concept, panspermia, is ancient in its origins, but who first imagined an extraterrestrial intelligence coming to earth in the distant past? H.G. Wells touched upon the idea of a far older and more advanced civilization in his opening paragraphs of The War of the Worlds (1897). (There are echoes of Wells' opening in H.P. Lovecraft's opening of "The Call of Cthulhu.") Wells didn't exactly say that Martians had been here before, though. (Or at least I don't think he did.) Morris K. Jessup, about whom I wrote the other day, was one of the twentieth-century originators of the ancient astronaut hypothesis, but it's clear that others thought of it before he did. So when did it begin?

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, May 6, 2019

Miscellany No. 4

In his recent book The Thing's Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales, 1923-1924, author John Locke reprinted Farnsworth Wright's poem "Self-Portrait," from Fantasy Magazine, April 1935. Wright began his versifying with these words: "The editor's a gloomy guy who fusses, fumes and frets." By the end of the poem, Wright had mentioned all kinds of monsters, including the zombie, here in reference to himself as editor: "A zombie he, undead, yet dead; immortal, and yet mortal." I guess that's one small piece of evidence to show how quickly the zombie moved into American popular culture in the 1930s. Once an obscure Haitian legend, zombies were referred to in common usage in America in less than a decade, from their first appearance in 1928 to Farnsworth Wright's poem of 1935.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Miscellany No. 3

Speaking of Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully, there is mention of a teller of weird tales in that book. I have the Popular Library paperback edition of 1951, and there she is, on page 56. In a discussion of The Ether Ship Mystery and Its Solution by Meade Layne, Scully lists Layne's associates, Millen Cooke, John A. Hilliard, and Edward S. Schultz, all of whom contributed to the book. Scully would not have known it but Millen Cooke was an alias of Wilma Dorothy Vermilyea (1915-1995), who wrote a poem for Weird Tales, published in 1936. (Scully might have known it if he had asked Mulder, who has access to all connecting information, no matter how hidden and obscure it might be.)

I have never read Mead Layne's book, but by its title, he seems to have been holding onto an obsolete idea. I'm not sure how often these things have to be said, but there is no such thing as the ether, nor is there a dark side of the moon, nor spontaneous generation of life, nor inheritance of acquired traits. Likewise, carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound generated by nearly every living thing and essential for life on earth. It is decidedly not a pollutant. Nor can you become male or female merely by wishing for it, even if you wish really, really hard, like when you wished for a pony when you were a child. Nor is history a science, nor are there unicorns or engrams or a flat or hollow earth. All of these things and more are nonscientific, pseudoscientific, or anti-scientific. You can believe in them if you want, but they're not science, they're not true, and they're not factual. They are instead the stuff of fantasy or ignorance or even sometimes evil, which so often seems to be just a variation on fantasy (or delusion) and ignorance.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Miscellany No. 2

Here is a quote from The Lurker at the Threshold (Ballantine Books, 1971, 1976), which August Derleth wrote mostly on his own but tried to pass off as a collaboration with his master, the recently deceased H.P. Lovecraft. The character Dr. Lapham speaks:
I often think [. . .] how fortunate most men are in their inability to correlate all the knowledge at their disposal. [. . .] If the common man were even to suspect the cosmic grandeur of the universe, if he were to have a glimpse of the awesome depths of outer space, he would very likely either go mad or reject such knowledge in preference to superstation. (p. 152)
This passage very obviously echoes the opening paragraph of "The Call of Cthulhu":
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. [. . .] but some day the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open up terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
I guess Derleth loved Lovecraft's words so much that he wanted to make them his own. There are some problems with the thinking of both men, however. For one, we already "suspect the cosmic grandeur of the universe" and we already "have a glimpse of the awesome depths of outer space." After all, we have minds and imaginations. Moreover, we have eyes in which to look into the night sky, something we have done since the beginning of time. How little confidence Derleth, a man of faith, seems to have had in us. Likewise Lovecraft, a man of no faith, or, alternatively, of a faith in nothing. We don't actually go mad looking into the depths of space or contemplating the nature of reality or our place in the universe. We instead feel awe and wonder. We reach into the heavens and touch the infinite, the eternal, and the absolute. We come in contact with the great mystery. You could have seen that for yourself a few weeks back when the first photograph of a black hole came out. Here is a thing scarier than Cthulhu and bigger than our solar system, its accretion cloud like a fiery iris and the hole itself an immense pupil through which we might gaze into the essential facts of the physical universe. In contemplating this thing, nobody went insane. Instead we laughed and smiled and wondered and felt awe.

Conspiracy theorists think the same thing about humanity: that if we were to know the truth, we would go mad. And so the shadow government of their imaginations hides from us the truth about flying saucers. (I know of a Squatcher who believes the U.S. Army is hiding the truth about Bigfoot. Why would it? What would be the point?) I guess they imagine that we would react in the same way that listeners of Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" or the people in Earle Bergey's cover illustration for Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully react, with fear and panic (the names of the moons of Mars). Again, I think these people underestimate us. After all, the one recorded signal that some people believe to have been evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization is called the "Wow! Signal," not the "Run For Your Lives! Signal."

Anyway, there have been so, so many articles lately about flying saucers, extraterrestrial life, and aliens zipping around the universe, but, alas, nobody has showed up yet. I suspect nobody will anytime soon. Believers in Nothing and the religion of Scientism seem ready to cry about it. If only there were some comfort for them. I also think that we should consider the possibility that we are completely alone in the universe. I know that idea bothers a lot of people. In fact, it may be the more likely thing that would drive them into madness, a madness of despair. But are we really alone? Or do we feel awe and wonder and contemplate mysteries because we are not?

Text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Miscellany No. 1

Here is an item from "The Bizarre Mystery of M.K. Jessup and the Allende Letters" by Brad Steiger and Joan Whritenour in Flying Saucers Have Arrived!, edited by Jay David and published in 1970:
On June 11, 1958, the New York Herald Tribune carried a story that told of the results of a series of excavations conducted by archaeologists in Mongolia, Scandinavia, and Ceylon in which similar artifacts were discovered to those found among the Eskimos. The Smithsonian Institution, sponsors of the study, thereby concluded that ten thousand years ago the Eskimos inhabited Central Asia, especially the warm tropical paradise of Ceylon.
Why any people would want to leave a veritable Garden of Eden for the bleak northern wastes seems beyond comprehension. The Eskimos themselves, however, have had an answer for hundreds of years, which was always received a patronizing chuckle from anthropologists and missionaries. The Eskimo tradition says that they were "deported" to the frozen northland by a flock of giant metallic birds. Shall we continue to laugh at a "legend" of metallic birds today? (p. 175)
I'm not sure that the Smithsonian Institution ever concluded that Eskimos originated in Central Asia, and I'm really, really sure that Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, isn't anywhere even close to that part of the continent. Reading that item, though, made me think of "The Call of Cthulhu" and the nineteenth-century expedition of William Channing Webb to West Greenland during which he "encountered a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Eskimos" and looked upon their "fetish . . . . a very crude bas-relief of stone." This fetish bears a distinct resemblance to one recovered by Inspector John Raymond Legrasse in his later raid on a group of Cthulhu-worshippers in a swamp close-by New Orleans. It is here in the story that pieces of the Cthulhu puzzle are put together for the first time.

In the supposed nonfiction item above, the Eskimos are described as having been "deported" from their ancestral home. They would seem, then, to have been victims of a kind. And what were the giant metallic birds that did the deporting? Could they have been the Vimana of ancient Indian legend? (The Eskimos came from Ceylon, you know, which is slightly closer to India than to Central Asia.) Now in researching this posting, I find that eight American soldiers disappeared in a "Time Well" generated by a Vimana discovered in a cave in Afghanistan (which is in Central Asia) just like the men who got "stuck" after the unsuccessful Philadelphia Experiment, in which Morris K. Jessup was indirectly involved by his correspondence with Carlos Allende, aka Carl Allen. (1) This reminds me of the story of Fred L. Crisman, who claimed to have encountered Shaverian Deros in a cave in Burma (a cave which seems to have been by his description in Central Asia). Remember, too, that Lovecraft's Leng is also in Central Asia. I also find that Eskimo warriors wore laminar armor (pictured below) which seems to have had a delta-wing configuration, just like a Vimana. Could this configuration have been an evocation of a long-ago time when the Eskimo people were carried away on silver wings from their tropical paradise of a homeland in Sri Lanka into exile in the frozen north? I tell you, thinking about these things will wear out your brain.

Anyway, the Eskimo cultists in "The Call of Cthulhu" are obviously not victims, as they worship Cthulhu, who plans on stomping over the Earth like Godzilla on Tokyo. (Both are green and come from under the sea by the way.) But like the Eskimos who were deported, they have connections to faraway places, in this case to Louisiana and the South Pacific. And speaking of crude, H.P. Lovecraft once again demonstrated his crude racialism in casting brown-skinned non-northern Europeans as among his villains. I have written before about the idea that cultists, fanatics, and true believers tend to emanate not from the lower classes or peasantry as in Lovecraft's stories but from the middle class. Karl Marx came from the middle class and hated the middle class. Lenin and Mao were teachers. They hated the middle class, too. Hitler was an artist and the son of a minor government official. Osama bin Laden and Yasser Arafat were engineers. Writers, journalists, and pundits always seem surprised to learn these things. They were so surprised, I think, to find out that the Easter-worshipper bombers in Sri Lanka turned out to be middle-class businessmen and former university students. (The California Passover-worshipper shooter is very distinctly from the middle class.) I'll say it again: they are generally people from the middle class who become the terrorists and the political murderers, the tyrants and the totalitarians, I suspect because they despise what they have come from and wish to see it destroyed. (I feel certain that they also very often despise themselves and wish to see themselves destroyed.) Fancying himself an aristocrat, Lovecraft seems to have missed that insight. Today, fancying themselves aristocrats, too, journalists, pundits, politicians, and academics also miss it. It seems to be a simple thing, yet they miss it. But then they live by lies and are purveyors of lies, so why should they see the truth in anything? All I can say is that the Eskimos should be glad that they were carried away from Central Asia and Ceylon all those years ago because now they can live in peace way up above the murderousness, chaos, and destruction of our current culture.

(1) Here's a link to the article in which these things are discussed, "A five thousand year old ancient Indian VIMANA found in Afghanistan cave, eight American soldiers stuck in TIME WELL disappeared in attempt to remove it" by Sathish Ramyen.

The laminar armor of an Eskimo warrior in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), St. Petersburg, Russia.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, April 29, 2019

Easter Stories

The holiday is past us. Now people all over the world will have to wait until next year to worship Easter again. Hopefully their holy colored eggs and sacred chocolate bunnies will last for a while. In the meantime, there has been an attack on Passover worshippers in California. It happened on the seventh day of the holiday that they worship, about forty-eight hours after the New York Times published a cartoon showing the current prime minister of Israel as a dog leading our current president--depicted as a blind man wearing a yarmulke--wherever he pleases, I guess. And he's not just any dog. He's a dachshund. You know, a German dog. Isn't that so funny? Isn't the New York Times just the greatest? The really funny part will come when they try to condemn Jew-hatred after having perpetrated it in their own pages.

In all seriousness, the root of the problem before us is not so much that there are barbarians at the gates as that there are those inside the gates who wish to fling them open to allow the barbarians in. I suppose the reason is that the barbarians will do what the enemy already inside the gates wishes to be done, namely, lay waste to this city called Civilization. Only then might Utopia be built upon its ruins. The shooters and the bombers are without a doubt monsters, but the philosophers, inspirers, and facilitators of and apologists for mass murder may be more monstrous still and an even greater danger to all of us. A Jewish woman in California gave her life saving a life on the last day of Passover. More than two hundred Christians died in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. I would wager that the faith of no one is shaken by these things. It is likely only strengthened. The enemies that we have with us inside the City should know that, and they should know also that--despite any power, prestige, status, or fame they might have attained--they cannot win and that their grand ideas and schemes will be the ones to perish.

* * *

It's a little late for this year, but here's a list of weird fiction and fantasy stories with themes of Crucifixion and Resurrection. This list is by no means complete. Feel free to add to it in the comments section below.

  • "Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani" by William Hope Hodgson, originally entitled "The Baumoff Explosive" and published (posthumously) in Nash's Illustrated Weekly for September 20, 1919. Reprinted in Weird Tales, Fall 1973. I should warn you that this is a muddled story and one that relies in part on the obsolete notion of the ether, this in the same year in which Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was validated by the observation by astronomers of the bending of light waves during a solar eclipse. That was a century ago, in a seminal year and by Paul Johnson's estimation the beginning of the twentieth century.
  • "When the Graves Were Opened" by Arthur J. Burks, published in Weird Tales, December 1925. Reprinted in Weird Tales, September 1937. An unusual story of faith and time travel and one that attempts to puncture materialism by an encounter with the supernatural.
  • "Roads" by Seabury Quinn, published in Weird Tales, January 1938. The fourth most popular story, as judged by readers, in the period 1924-1940. "Roads" is also a Christmas story and a Viking story.
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, written in 1928-1940, published in an English (American) edition in 1967 by Signet. An extraordinary work from a Russian author who labored away under sickness and Stalinism but who continued to love and to hope.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

And Explosions on Easter

Holy Week began with fires atop the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris and ended with terror and murder in Sri Lanka. Predictably and almost on cue, people on the leftist/socialist/statist end of the spectrum, notably our most recent ex-president and his hench-woman, the most recent big loser of a presidential election, weighed in, less predictably referring to the murdered as "Easter worshippers" and their murderers not at all.

"Easter worshippers."

As if the murdered were members of some strange cult that reveres colored eggs and fluffy white bunny rabbits. As if they worshipped a holiday rather than a Supreme Being.

As someone on social media wrote, "If only there was a single word for 'Easter Worshippers'." There is in fact a word for them. There is also a word for people who so obviously and laboriously avoid using that word, but this is a family-oriented blog, and we can't use words like that here.

The word for the murdered is "Christians," Mr. Ex-President.

"Christians," Ms. Never-President.

Say it with me, both of you: "They were Christians."

(Thank God, thank God, I thank God every day that she wasn't inflicted upon us.)

And not only were they Christians, they were also Christian martyrs, murdered for their faith by people who will be called martyrs by the worst of their co-religionists. (Or else the religion/ideology of the murderers will be brushed aside with words like these, spoken by a Democratic member of Congress: "Some people did something"--a phrase that leaves off its most logical conclusion, "And some other people became dead because of it.")

I wrote last week about the anti-Christian stance of our current culture and its élite, especially its governmental élite. But I'm not sure that I or anyone else could have come up with a more telling example of that stance than the bizarre locution "Easter worshippers." And yet here we have it. Even some Muslims have called it as they have seen it and referred to the murdered as Christians. They have also condemned the attacks and the terrorists who committed them. In this they and many millions of others have shown courage, while from our mealy-mouthed élite we have words of what exactly? Cowardice? Or conviction? Haven't they really just shown themselves to be what they are, that is, hostile towards Christians, Christianity, and any religious belief that lies outside that of and in and for the State? They have in fact done that for anyone who cares to hear it.

I would rather write here about genre fiction, its authors, artists, themes, and stories, but if the subject of the more conservative genres of weird fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance is the past, and the subject of the more forward-looking or progressive genres of science fiction, utopia/dystopia, and the post-apocalypse* is the future, and the subjects of the past and the future have become and are now so thoroughly politicized, then we can't avoid politics in talking about genre fiction. As much as we as readers and fans would like to escape from the concerns of the day, we are continually thrown back into them by its events. Maybe all of that is just an excuse for me to write about these things now. Then, too, if I were to leave them alone, I would be leaving unfinished what I began the other day. I made a halfway prediction on Wednesday last week. Now that the other shoe has dropped, or, to use another metaphor, now that we have bookends to Holy Week 2019, I write again. Predictions or projections for the future lie within the province of genre fiction. Knowing what we know now (and what conservatives have known for centuries), what might we say about things to come? What predictions or projections might we make? What horrors might we foresee in the great and glorious future?

*Stories of dystopia and the post-apocalypse are actually better written by conservatives, who have a better understanding of human nature and a more healthy skepticism of the idea of "progress" than do their more liberal counterparts. 

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Fires Before Easter

For the second time in less than a year, a great work of culture, art, and history has burned. First it was the the National Museum of Brazil in September of last year. This time, of course, it was the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. Things look better today than they did last night, but it's hard to see the fire at Notre-Dame as anything less than a disaster.

I wish to speak, and I might use any tenuous connection there might be between the cathedral and Weird Tales or weird fiction as a pretext, but the things I wish to say have little to do with the magazine or the genre. As it stands now, the fire is supposed to have been caused by an accident. Risking their lives, Parisian firefighters finally extinguished it several hours after it began. Other Parisians rescued relics and works of art from the interior as the fire raged, including the Crown of Thorns, saved by a heroic Catholic priest. (The Crown of Thorns, the flames, and the Cross--which at Notre-Dame survived--are among the elements of the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.) We can't take anything from these and the many millions of people of Paris and of France, and we can't exploit the incalculable loss experienced by them in this tragedy. But we also can't overlook the symbolism of the event, or a possible interpretation of it as something more than a mere fire in a centuries-old building. We are now in Holy Week and we will soon have the holiest day in the Christian calendar. It seems needless to point out that Western civilization in general and Europe in particular were built upon a Judeo-Christian foundation. The cathedral of Notre-Dame was constructed at the height of an age of faith, but in a later age of reason, after having been seized by the State, it was abused, plundered, and converted to the house of an atheistic cult. Soon returned to the Roman Catholic Church, the cathedral was again taken over by the State in 1905, and it is under the ownership of the State that Notre-Dame burned. For eight and a half centuries Notre-Dame stood, and now it burns.

I don't think it's any stretch to say that the current European State--and Western culture in general, at least among the élite--is secular, materialist, and anti-Christian, even radically and viciously anti-Christian. I don't think anyone in the French State has anything to gain and much to lose in the burning of a cathedral. Notre-Dame and places like it have become secular symbols of the cities or countries in which they are located. Even adherents to anti-Christian and post-Christian religions have their uses for things made by the Church and its members. The Hagia Sophia comes to mind as an example. It's curious to me, though, that the current president of France should ask for help from other nations to rebuild Notre-Dame. I guess his France is fiercely independent except when it's not. More to the point, people of faith built the cathedral to begin with. Are there not enough now in France to rebuild it? I'm certain there are in fact. Despite the best efforts of the State in that nation and elsewhere, Christianity lives and thrives, as do faith, hope, love, and charity in the hearts of Christians everywhere. And who has stepped forward to offer funds for the rebuilding? None other than the wealthy of France, the same kind of people who are ceaselessly vilified by the leftist and socialist State and its true believers, the same who are looked at as an endless source for legalized plunder. As always, though, that same State and its adherents survive on other people's money, and as always they bite the hand that feeds them. In any case, I believe that Notre-Dame will be rebuilt. I also believe that some people will see this as a symbolic event--"a wakeup call" as people say after there has been a terrorist attack. Some will even see it as an intervention or as a kind of miracle, as an act of God, not in the mundane, actuarial sense, but in the real, literal sense. In 1944, Adolf Hitler demanded to know: Is Paris burning? The German commander there stayed his hand and did not set the city afire. Yesterday a symbol of the city, of France, of Christendom itself burned. Are we paying attention? And if so, how will we respond, not just to the fire in the cathedral but to the flames that threaten to burn down Western civilization? With post-Christian lassitude and ennui? Or with vigor and confidence charged by belief? In the choice between fire and ice, we seem to have chosen ice. We are in trouble, perhaps without even realizing how seriously we are in trouble. Is this then a fire that might thaw us, that might warm us, warn us, and wake us?

* * *

From the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, selected titles containing the phrase "Notre Dame":
  • "The Fools' Pope," an excerpt from Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (1831) in The Monster Book of MonstersMichael O'Shaughnessy, ed. (1988)
  • "Notre Dame des Eaux" by Ralph Adams Cram in Black Spirits and White: A Book of Ghost Stories (1895)   
  • "The Juggler of Notre Dame" by Anatole France in Tales from a Mother-of-Pearl Casket (1896) 
  • "The Specter of Notre Dame" by Lloyd Owen in Ghost Stories (May 1931)
I have written before about Weird Tales from France, but neither Victor Hugo (1802-1885) nor Anatole France (1844-1924) had bylines in "The Unique Magazine," even if Hugo's Hunchback of Notre-Dame is recognizably a Gothic work (and his title character was an Aurora monster model of the 1960s). Today is Anatole France's birthday by the way, so Happy Birthday, Anatole!

Notre-Dame converted into an airbus station, from Le Vingtième Siècle (1883) by the French artist and writer Albert Robida (1848-1926), reproduced in Science Fiction: An Illustrated History by Sam J. Lundwall (1977). As I have written before, the artist is a canary in the coal mine of culture and history. In this case, the artist foresaw that a cathedral might one day be used for worldly purposes. At least these people are having fun: perhaps Robida and visionaries like him could not have equally foreseen the funlessness of our world today. (We may be hedonistic but there doesn't seem to be much fun and certainly no love or warmth in any of it. In America at least, that funlessness seems to come from a certain Protestant, more specifically Puritan, worldview that--even if they have thrown off Christianity as the most hateful of things--infects progressives like a disease. The creation of Utopia-on-Earth is, after all, a deadly serious business, partly because it must be done NOW, for there is no after.) Anyway, all of this makes me think of the opening sequence in La Dolce Vita (1960) in which a statue of Christ, dangling from a helicopter, shows religion in our age to be merely a worldly spectacle to distract and momentarily entertain bored and jaded people.

The box lid for the 1960s Aurora monster model of Quasimodo, from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1923), the screenplay for which was cowritten by Perley Poore Sheehan (1875-1943), who was, as it turns out, a teller of weird tales.

Text and captions copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Brundage and Ingres

No, those are not emotional states. ("I take Brundage at your remark!" said Margaret. "I am in turn Ingres at you!" replied the Frenchman.) They are the names of artists. Margaret Brundage (1900-1976) of course drew dozens of cover illustrations for Weird Tales magazine. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) was a French painter. Whether she realized it or not, Margaret Brundage worked in a Romantic tradition. Ingres, on the other hand, was a leading Neoclassical artist who worked in reaction to Romanticism. Both, however, created fantastic scenes, including the two shown below.

I am not the one to make the connection between these two images. That distinction goes to Jacques Sadoul (1934-2013), a Frenchman and a fan of science fiction and fantasy. He may or may not have put his observation into writing, but we have it from another fan, Richard Minter (1920-2005) of North Carolina, who wrote to The Weird Tales Collector in 1978 (#4, page 12), letting us know that it was Jacques Sadoul who pointed out to him the resemblance of the Brundage drawing to the Ingres painting. I have come upon the late Mr. Minter's letter because I have finally completed my collection of The Weird Tales Collector: last month, I found the missing issue #5 in a dark, dusty room in the back of an antique mall in Nitro, West Virginia. Thank you, West Virginia.

At the left, the cover of Weird Tales for June 1933, with a drawing by Margaret Brundage illustrating "Black Colossus" by Robert E. Howard. At the right, "Jupiter et Thétis" by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, from 1811. The resemblance of the first image to the second is unmistakable; whether Margaret Brundage was inspired by or even swiped the painting by Ingres is another story. I suspect that this pose--the supplicant kneeling at the foot of her god and touching his mouth or chin--is rooted in the natural expressiveness of the human body and the ways that it moves and poses itself in various emotional or psychological states. In any case, Ingres is recognized as an extraordinary draftsman--just look at the folds in the drapery over his two figures--but I have never liked his distortions of human anatomy--the rubberiness and stretchiness of arms, legs, shoulders, necks, and so on. (People have skeletons, you know.) Margaret Brundage seems to have floated her figures into the scenes she drew. Ingres manipulated them--to his own artistic purposes to be sure--like he was pushing and pulling on Stretch Armstrong.

Text and captions copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Thing's Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales by John Locke (2018)

This month, March 2019, marks the 96th anniversary of the publication of the very first issue of "The Unique Magazine," Weird Tales. That first issue was big: 196 pages and twenty-six stories all together, plus the first installment of a letters column called "The Eyrie." The history of Weird Tales, especially in those early days, is shrouded in mystery. I have written before that if something in biography or history seems not quite right, it's for good reason. There seems to be something not quite right about the early history of Weird Tales, and author John Locke has delved into that not-quite-rightness in his book The Thing's Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales, 1923-1924, published last year (July 2018) by Off-Trail Publications of Elkhorn, California. Mr. Locke has done his homework, and his book shows it. In reading it, you're likely to come across things you have never seen or heard of before. The main body of text is 229 pages, and its facts are well documented and supported by extensive notes, seven appendices, and two pages of bibliography. Thank God and John Locke that there is also an index, a feature too often lacking in books about popular culture.

A lot of the information on Weird Tales and its founders, Jacob Clark Henninger and John M. Lansinger, is just plain missing and will probably never be recovered, but Mr. Locke makes the best of a bad situation by fleshing in around the missing parts. The result is a series of holes or gaps in a certain shape, and that shape is one of a bitter, final, and irreconcilable break between the two founders of the magazine. It's a wonder that Weird Tales ever got off the ground or survived its first year or year and a half in print. Somebody believed in it, though, and fought for it, and that somebody seems to have been J.C. Henneberger. In my mind, Henneberger was an unlikely hero of weird fiction. There seems to be something not quite right about his story and the early history of his creation. But we have only the evidence, and the evidence is a magazine that should never made it past its infancy--but did. Weird Tales lived for thirty-one years in fact, and since 1954 it has come back again and again--although the current holders of the license or owners of the rights have still not put out an issue since 2014. But that's a story for another day. The point here is to let everyone know that John Locke's book of the early history of Weird Tales is available. You can find it by following this link to the website of Off-Trail Publications:

Text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Conclusion

H.P. Lovecraft was by all accounts generous. In a final act of generosity, he gave his work to all of us by allowing it to lapse into the public domain. He didn't intend for that to happen, I guess, but he didn't do much to keep it from happening, either. Now anyone can write a Cthulhu story without first securing any rights or trademarks from anyone else. In his lifetime, Lovecraft allowed and even encouraged his fellow authors to use and adapt his creations. I don't think he would have minded that C. Hall Thompson wrote stories in his manner. He may even have taken Thompson under his wing had he lived.

August Derleth, on the other hand, was, by appearances, stingy, greedy, and envious. He seems to have wanted it all for himself. He was, essentially, a fanboy, and like the fanboys of today, he jealously guarded the things that he thought were his. These are my toys, he seems to have said, and you can't play with them. He didn't say that to Robert Bloch, who wrote one of the best post-Lovecraft Cthulhu stories, "Notebook  Found in a Deserted House" (Weird Tales, May 1951), but then Bloch was one of Lovecraft's circle. He had already received an imprimatur from the master himself. (He was also a better and more popular writer than Derleth.) But Derleth said it more or less to C. Hall Thompson, who was younger, a newcomer, and less powerful and influential than Bloch or anyone else from Lovecraft's original circle. Thompson may also have committed an unforgivable sin in Derleth's eyes: he had done a better job at writing a Cthulhu story than had Derleth in his recent and pretty awful novel Lurker at the Threshold (1945). Worse yet, Thompson was popular and his stories well liked. Weird Tales published four of them and paid Thompson for his efforts. Perhaps worst of all, he played with the toys that Derleth had thought were his own. Like I have said, no one will ever know whether Arthur Pendragon was really C. Hall Thompson unless and until a letter or original typescript or some other sound piece of evidence turns up. For now, I guess, we'll just have to read, discuss, study, and speculate about--alternatively, to simply enjoy--two stories from more than half a century ago, written by the mysterious and pseudonymous Arthur Pendragon, and four more by C. Hall Thompson from a time that is rapidly receding beyond living memory.

"The Crib of Hell," originally in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination in May 1965, was reprinted in Strange Fantasy No. 9 in the summer of 1969. Strange Fantasy reused part of Gray Morrow's cover art for Fantastic, the part on the right. It also spelled Arthur Pendragon's name as Pendragan, as Fantastic had done previously. I'm not sure why the name would have been spelled differently in the bylines for two stories that theoretically came from the same author, but you never know about these things. Maybe it was simply a misspelling. Or maybe it was another attempt to throw Derleth off the trail. Or maybe, just maybe, Pendragon/Pendragan was two different authors, the true identities of whom are now lost and not likely to turn up anytime soon.

Text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Five

Arthur Pendragon's two stories in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination:

"The Dunstable Horror" (Apr. 1964) is a long short story told in the first person by a character called Thomas Grail, a British paleographer who arrives in Dunstable in "northern New England" in March 1920 "to find and study the long-buried records of the Massaquoit tribe of red Indians." (p. 52) These records are in the form of pictograms drawn with berry juice on birchbark and packed in ash to prevent their deterioration. Grail is also searching for the grave of the Massaquoit sorcerer Pauquatoag. With the help of Mr. Varnum, a local sawmill owner, Grail finds the grave and the rolls of birchbark records. In the process, though, an ancient curse placed by Pauquatoag upon Varnum's family is carried out, and Grail is forced to flee for his life and sanity, as Lovecraftian heroes so often are. (The curse comes about because of a sexual encounter between a white man and an Indian woman. Lovecraft of course would never have included such an element of plot in his work.) Incidentally, the tale told in "The Dunstable Horror" is only part of a book of memoirs written by Grail. You have to wonder what else he witnessed in his career.

"The Dunstable Horror" includes the following elements:
  • Lovecraftian conventions, structure, language, mood, plot, etc. In fact the blurb at the beginning of the story describes it as "A Gothic, Lovecraftian tale . . ."
  • A Lovecraftian setting in "northern New England," presumably in the wilds of Maine.
  • Lovecraftian place names in the town Dunstable and the river Penaubsket.
  • A blasted sort of landscape where nothing will grow (a "roughly circular fifteen acre clearing"  [p. 61]).
  • A remote and terrifying backwoods setting.
  • A mysterious dying-off of animals.
  • An ancient curse and an ancient vengeance visited upon the heir of the curse.
  • The "eerie call of a night-roving whippoorwill" (p. 63).
  • The dreaded adverbized color: "The light filtered greenly . . ." (p. 60).
  • Found series of manuscripts, one kept in the home of Mr. Varnum, the other recovered at an Indian burial ground deep in the woods.
  • Exotic, literary, and otherwise unusual names in those of Thomas Grail and the deceased Prester Varnum.
Some of these are characteristic of H.P. Lovecraft's stories or of pulp fiction in general. At least three, though, also appear prominently in stories by C. Hall Thompson: the Lovecraftian place names, the found manuscript used to help explain the events of the story, and the unusual names of the characters. (The "northern New England" setting is also in Thompson's "Clay.") So is this evidence of authorship by Thompson? Maybe, but it's still pretty weak. (1) I will say, though, that the writing style in "The Dunstable Horror" is far more restrained than in the work of either Lovecraft or Thompson, at least the early Thompson of 1946-1947. Thompson's style in "Clay," from 1948, is more restrained than in his previous stories, but it still has some Lovecraftian excess. If Pendragon was Thompson, then maybe he no longer wrote at forty-one as he had at age twenty-three, but then who does?

"The Crib of Hell" (May 1965) is novelette-length, and unlike all previous stories I have covered in this series, it is told in the third person. It takes place in Sabbathday, a seacoast town not far from Dunstable in "northern New England." (What's wrong with just saying Maine?) The year is 1924. The house is Cullum House, a "gray New England Gothic mansion." There is a woman with the Poesque name of Ligeia. There are also gothic elements, including witchcraft and a consorting with the devil (hence the "crib" of the title). Unfortunately, I have seen only fragments of this story in an online source. To me it reads like a potboiler, and in terms of style it seems to be the work of someone other than the author of "The Dunstable Horror." Now I wonder whether Arthur Pendragon (or Pendragan as it's spelled here) was a house name at Fantastic used by more than one author. It's pretty late in the game to make a supposition like that one, but then my series on the Thompson-Pendragon controversy was bound to be anticlimactic anyway. And I have to admit that there really isn't a controversy, but you've got to call it something. Now all that remains is a conclusion, and so I write:

To be concluded . . . 

(1) More on "The Dunstable Horror":

First, there are anachronisms, both of which would have come naturally to an author who came of age during the 1930s and '40s. Mr. Varnum asks Thomas Grail, "Did you find your Indian comic books?" (p. 61). Comic books didn't come into existence until the 1930s. Grail describes an entity as like "a mad surrealist's rendering of the Angel of Death" (p. 71). Surrealism did not begin until a manifesto issued in 1924. However, Grail may have been writing this after surrealism had become well known as an art movement.

Second, there is reference to the hair of a corpse growing after death. This was once a common myth. Another once common myth: the last thing that a man sees before he dies is imprinted upon his retinas. C. Hall Thompson referred to the retina-imprint myth in his story "The Pale Criminal."

Third, Pendragon seems to have had some knowledge of anomalous phenomena, describing a phantom blue glow like swamp gas moving through the woods, also translatable chronicles of events made by American Indians. Swamp gas has been used as an explanation for lots of things, most famously the UFO sightings in Washtenaw County, Michigan, in 1966. Indians are now known to have drawn pictograms on rolled pieces of birchbark, as in Pendragon's story. However, these are not known to be chronicles. In the 1950s, though, there was controversy over the Walam Olum, supposedly a chronicle of the Lenape Indians of the Mid-Atlantic region (C. Hall Thompson's home region, too). The Indiana Historical Society even published a book-length study of the Walam Olum. And, although the fifteen-acre circle in "The Dunstable Horror" may be intended to remind us of "the blasted heath" in "The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft, it makes me think of the Devil's Tramping Ground in North Carolina.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Four

C. Hall Thompson's four stories for Weird Tales:
  • "Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Nov. 1946) is novelette-length and told in the first person by the character James Arkwright, a man convicted of murder and awaiting execution. Within Arkwright's narrative is embedded a manuscript by another man that explains some of what happens in the story. The main action in "Spawn of the Green Abyss" takes place, I think, in the 1940s at a place called Kalesmouth, "sprawled on a forlorn peninsula off New Jersey's northeastern coast." There are elements of  "The Shadow over Innsmouth," "Dagon," and "The Call of Cthulhu" in "Spawn of the Green Abyss." The name of the town Kalesmouth sounds Lovecraftian, as do the names of the characters or beings Zoth Syra, Yoth Zara, and Yoth Kala. There is even a Shoggoth-like creature. But there are no overtly Lovecraftian proper nouns. I didn't find any reaction to "Spawn of the Green Abyss" in the letters column of Weird Tales. We'll have to take the word of Robert Weinberg and others that the tale was popular and well received. August Derleth could not have been very pleased, though. (Aquaman [2018] bears some similarity to "Spawn of the Green Abyss" as well, but the makers of the movie need not have looked any further than "The Shadow over Innsmouth" for inspiration.)
  • "The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947) is also novelette-length and told in the first person. It is written from an insane asylum by a patient whom doctors believe to be insane. (You can't blame them.) Set in Inneswich, New Jersey, beginning in the early 1900s and ending in the 1920s, with a climax in 1925-1926 or so (the timeline is a little messed up), "The Will of Claude Ashur" is the most Lovecraftian of Thompson's stories. First the title character, then his brother, travel to Arkham and Miskatonic University for different and opposing reasons. Claude Ashur occupies a room in Pickham Square, where he paints a ghastly portrait of his father. (The reference to "Pickman's Model" here is obvious.) There are elements of the vampire tale and the zombie tale in "The Will of Claude Ashur," but it is most obviously a tale of the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. One difference is that there is a woman--and sex--in Thompson's tale. In this way, it's more Poesque than Lovecraftian, for we know that Lovecraft was squeamish about sex and incapable of writing about women, eros, and any expression of romantic love between the sexes. Poe never shrank from any of those subjects.
  • "The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947) is a short story, told in the first person by a police constable, but, like Thompson's other stories, it includes the text of a manuscript written by someone else. In this case, the author of the manuscript is the subject of the story and the constable's investigations. This is Thompson's most Poesque story; Derleth could hardly have objected to it, although there is a scene with a mirror that is reminiscent of a similar scene in Lovecraft's very early (and also Poesque story) "The Outsider." Like a story by Poe, "The Pale Criminal" begins with an epigram, but this one is from Nietzsche and it explains the meaning of the title. Set in Germany in the period 189_  (pertinent information is dropped, as in Poe) to perhaps the first decade of the 1900s, the story closes with a Freudian explanation of its events. Although Lovecraft was erudite, he seems not to have been greatly influenced by two of the revolutionary thinkers of his own time, namely Nietzsche and Freud. Thompson, on the other hand, here mentioned both in one story, though admittedly not in any profound way.
  • "Clay" (May 1948) is a short story narrated by a psychiatrist who once worked at an insane asylum that has now been abandoned. As in Thompson's other stories, there is reliance upon a found manuscript to explain the events of the story, and the text of that manuscript is embedded once again within the main narrative. "Clay" is set in northern New England, at a place called Dunnesmouth. The subject of the story, Jeremy Bone, was born on December 13, 1930, and is now described as a "kid." We can safely assume, then, that the events in "Clay" are more or less contemporaneous with its publication. There are similarities between "Clay" and any number of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror" being the most obvious.
Now, what about the stories by Arthur Pendragon from the 1960s?

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Three

Of C. Hall Thompson's four stories for Weird Talesthree are set in the Northeast and two of those in New Jersey. The main action in all four stories takes place in a remote and lonely house, a conventional setting for the gothic romance. I am reminded more than anything here of Collinwood, from Dark Shadows. There are other gothic elements in Thompson's stories--locked rooms, secret books and manuscripts, twin or switched identities, possession, ancient curses, etc.--but there are also Lovecraftian elements. In "The Will of Claude Ashur," these include an outright naming of Lovecraftian books, beings, and places, including the town of Arkham and its Miskatonic University. Even when they are not obviously set in a Cthulhian universe, Thompson's stories are otherwise Lovecraftian in their conventions, structure, mood, language (ichor, blasphemies, gelatinous, and so on), and treatment of a doomed or fated narrator or protagonist.

It's clear that Thompson read, admired, and wished to emulate Lovecraft. In writing his Lovecraftian stories, however, Thompson made a mistake that too many young and enthralled writers make, for he failed to strain out the worst of Lovecraft's impulses as a writer. There is some bad writing in the younger author's stories, and he succumbed to some of the pulpwriter's many possible diseases, including adverbitis. Witness:
  • "The ocean pounded choppily . . ." (from "Spawn of the Green Abyss," in Weird Tales, Nov. 1946, p. 14)
  • "blood that oozed obscenely" (from "The Will of Claude Ashur," in Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors, p. 494)
  • "smiling evilly" (from "The Will of Claude Ashur," p. 497)
Worst of all, Thompson committed that extreme offense against the human ear, i.e., the adverbized color: blackly, whitely, redly, etc. (If something can be done redly, can it also be done pucely? Teal greenly? Magentaly?) At least he never used the "word" oilily, a crime committed, by the way, by C.L. Moore and Fritz Leiber, among others.

C. Hall Thompson liked exotic, literary, biblical, classical, and Dickensian names. These include Cassandra and Lazarus Heath and James Arkwright in "Spawn of the Green Abyss"; Claude Ashur and Gratia Thane in "The Will of Claude Ashur"; and Jeremy Bone and Peter Gaunt in "Clay." He also seems to have had a special interest in psychiatry, for all four of his stories have some psychiatric angle or element, and two even mention Sigmund Freud. I wonder if Thompson worked in medicine or psychiatry or if he simply recognized the possibilities for storytelling in a world in which Freudianism held sway. (1)

Lovecraft mentioned Freud, too, but Thompson, writing in the immediate postwar period when Freudianism was so much in vogue, seems to have given it more credence than did his predecessor. (2) "Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Weird Tales, Nov. 1946) opens with the narrator's telling us why he wishes his narrative remain sealed until after he has been executed: he wishes to die for his crimes rather than to "spend endless remembering years in the State Asylum for the Criminally Insane." In "The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947), the narrator is unable to avoid that fate, for he is indeed a patient in an insane asylum and trapped in a body he believes not to be his own.

The Freudian and psychiatric elements became more prominent in Thompson's stories as he advanced in his brief career. "The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947), set in the 1890s or early 1900s, is less Lovecraftian than Poesque (3), but Poe could not have written a story like this one, for it offers an overtly Freudian explanation for its events. When the coroner, Herr Roderick, explains what has happened, the narrator, a police constable, interjects, "My dear Roderick, you've read too much of this new fellow Freud. Why . . . it's absurd." It occurs to me now that Thompson set "The Pale Criminal" where and when he did just so he could bring in the Freudian explanation. In the 1890s, such an explanation would have seemed fresh and insightful, not only in real-life investigations of crime but also in fiction. In any case, "The Pale Criminal" is an early and intuitive illustration of the the power of the placebo effect. It also reminds me of Psycho (1960) and of "Eyes," the Joan Crawford sequence of the original Night Gallery movie (1969).

Thompson's last story for Weird Tales, called "Clay" (May 1948), may be, in stylistic terms, his best story. It may also be his most sophisticated, and it indicates an author breaking from his earlier influences and reaching towards a greater maturity. (Thompson was twenty-five when it was published.) As in "The Pale Criminal," the narrator is one looking at a problem from the outside rather than from the inside, unlike in Thompson's first two stories. (4) In this case, the man is a psychiatrist who works at Wickford House, an insane asylum located somewhere in New England. His subject is a young man named Jeremy Bone, who believes he is being influenced by his missing twin. Among the group of psychiatrists at Wickford House, there are those who believe only in material explanations for human affairs and others who are open to supernatural explanations. But this is weird fiction, and so we know who will turn out to be right in the end.

To be continued . . . 

(1) We shouldn't forget the very obvious influence of Freudianism in L. Ron Hubbard's formulation of Dianetics (1950) and Scientology (ca. 1954). Volney Mathison, Hubbard's associate and the inventor of the E-meter, practiced for a time as a "psychoanalyst," by this measure a more or less useless term but one derived from Freudianism. Although Robert Bloch began his career as a part of Lovecraft's circle and wrote stories in the so-called Cthulhu Mythos, he also wrote Psycho (1959), a story heavy with the influence of Freudianism but not quite free of gothic convention. Think of the Bates house, with its literal gothic design, in Alfred Hitchcock's movie version of 1960.
(2) The Hitchcock film Spellbound, with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, is an early example. It was released on October 31, 1945.
(3) The name of the castle in "The Pale Criminal," Zengerstein, is an obvious truncation of the title of Poe's first published short story, "Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German," from 1832. It's probably fair to say that "The Pale Criminal" is a tale in imitation of a tale in imitation of the German, only with a twist of both Nietzsche (who was German, not Polish, as he liked to claim) and Freud (who, though Austrian, spoke not the Austrian language but the German language--I'm not sure why; maybe we should ask our previous president who was so smart about these things).
(4) "The Pale Criminal" and "Clay" are actually hybrids in that they are narrated by a man on the outside of the problem but include a found manuscript written by someone on the inside.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley