Sunday, September 29, 2019

July: We, The Moon, and Things to Come-Part One

Here it is the end of September and I'm still on topics from July. This is the last of this series, though. Even so, I'm going to go farther back into the early part of this year and try to catch up on some things that I have left hanging, including a return to the Thompson-Pendragon controversy, plus I'll look at a couple of Weird Tales-related books that I read this past winter and spring.

On July 20, 2019, we celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the first moon landing. I had already been thinking about moon-related topics--actually just one moon-related topic, the subject of this essay and its sequel. The anniversary only brought these thoughts to the fore. I was working on my science-fiction story that weekend, too, and there is a silver moon in the green sky of Carillon, my fictional, faraway planet. That weekend was also the birthday of a girl I knew a long time ago, and she was on my mind as well.

Some friends and I get together once every month or two for a movie night, usually a science-fiction movie night. In March--on the evening of the new moon, March 6, to be exact--we watched Things to Come, from 1936. It was the first time I had seen this movie since I was a teenager or young adult. I have to say, I didn't remember it very well at all, and I had almost forgotten the core of the movie in which Ralph Richardson gives a bravura performance as a kind of strongman leader in a post-apocalyptic world. He is tough where other men are weak, decisive and brave where they are afraid. "I adore him," says his consort, played by a very attractive Margaretta Scott. There might be a lesson in her words and the feelings they express for every man of today.

There are three parts to Things to Come, and they cover a lot of science-fictional ground. First is a future-war. Moviegoers of the 1930s could hardly have avoided thinking about some true things to come when they saw the cinematic Things to Come: just three years after it was released--and eighty years ago this month--the Nazis invaded Poland and thereby plunged the world into war. There are some effective scenes in the first third of the movie, perhaps none more so than the one in which some partygoers step out into the evening to witness the start of the air campaign against their country. In a scene that's as true-to-life as any, they can hardly believe what is before them--that war has come into their lives.

The middle part of the movie depicts the post-apocalyptic world of 1966 and after. As I said, Ralph Richardson plays the Boss, whom I think might have been intended to remind people of Benito Mussolini. Played by another, less skilled actor, this role might have been simple and stereotyped, even comical. Instead we have something a little more nuanced and complex. We're supposed to root against the Boss and in favor of the man who comes along to spoil his fun, played by Raymond Massey. Instead, the Boss has our sympathies--or he at least has mine, or at least a little of mine. I'll get to that in a while.

My friend Hlafbrot made what I think is a really important observation: in this post-apocalyptic world, there are those who suffer from "the wandering sickness." Hlafbrot pointed out that these poor people might have been the first zombies in cinema--not the helpless, solitary zombies of Haiti as in the movies and stories of the 1930s and '40s but zombies as we think of them today, that is, as victims of a contagion that turns them into hordes turned loose in the world, very often in a post-apocalyptic setting. There are some very brief scenes in Things to Come that could easily appear today in The Walking DeadThe Boss, by the way, demonstrates his strength, toughness, and decisiveness by shooting the zombies down.

The last part of Things to Come is a Utopia where everything is clean and modern, everybody is perfect and dresses in gauzy curtain-like garments, and the world, guided by science and reason, has progressed into a great and glorious future. In other words, it's a Dystopia. But in H.G. Wells' extraordinarily breathtaking naïveté (he wrote the screenplay), this is the world we're supposed to want to come about: we're supposed to be in favor of Raymond Massey's character, called Cabal, and his very progressive ideas--he's a man of science and reason after all--and we're supposed to be against the irrationality and reactionary conservatism of the artist played by Cedric Hardwicke, who wants to say, if not "Stop," then at least "Go slowly."

And this is where I had my own insight, for I realized by the end of the movie that Cabal is the real villain of Things to Come, and the whole thing is an exercise in the same kind of utopianism, internationalism, scientism, and collectivism that resulted in the deaths of countless millions of people during the century just past. In other words, here was a movie warning against the true-to-life war that was about to be waged by socialists--national socialists and fascists to be sure, but socialists nonetheless--and offering as a favored alternative just another brand of socialism. I ask myself, how could anyone have been so naïve, so ignorant of history and human nature? But then we have nearly ninety years of history that were unavailable for Wells' review.

In watching the end of Things to Come, I also realized that Wells had been unknowingly outflanked a decade before by a far more clear-seeing author who had had personal experience with the crimes and horrors of socialism and collectivism. In effect, Wells' movie had been rendered obsolete even before it was made.

To be continued . . .

Directed by William Cameron Menzies and with art, design, and special effects by a large crew headed by Victor Korda and others, Things to Come is visually extraordinary. It's still hard for me to believe that this film was made in the 1930s. How did the moviemakers ever figure out how to show these great vistas of buildings and spacecraft, ramps and walkways, with apparently real people walking and rushing here and there among them and over their surfaces? Anyway, as you can see by the movie poster above, Things to Come has a classic science-fiction look that must have influenced artists and writers for years and decades after its release. But that may have been a problem. If it was or is still, the problem was diagnosed nearly four decades ago by William Gibson in his story "The Gernsback Continuum" (1981), which ought to be on your reading list if it isn't already. Again, Wells was outflanked, this time by an author of a later time.

By the way, Things to Come ends in the year 2036, a century after its release and only seventeen short years from now. We should be happy that we haven't yet had an apocalypse as it foresaw, but we should also be happy that the socialist/progressive/collectivist/internationalist Dystopia envisioned--and longed for--by H.G. Wells and others hasn't befallen us . . . yet.

(Just wait until the fake Indian and Crazy Bernie get ahold of us. Then the wailing will begin.)

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 26, 2019

July: Geismar and Fiedler-The Science Fiction Connection

In writing about Ernest Hemingway and H.P. Lovecraft, I also wrote about two eminent literary critics of the twentieth century, Maxwell Geismar (1909-1979) and Leslie A. Fiedler (1917-2003). We might think of these two men as high falutin' academics, but both had their connections to the lowly pulp genre of science fiction. Fiedler's connection is more well known. In addition to treating science fiction (and other genres) in his landmark work Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), he wrote on Olaf Stapleton, Philip José Farmer, James Branch Cabell, and Kurt Vonnegut. (Two of those four writers were Hoosiers--can you guess which two?) He also edited a collection called In Dreams Awake, published in 1975. (I detect a bit of Freud in the title: Fiedler was influenced by Freud.) And, Fiedler wrote a published science fiction novel, The Messengers Will Come No More (1974), and an initially unpublished science fiction short story, "What Used to Be Called Dead" (1990). The latter was one of the stories assembled by Harlan Ellison for his collection Last Dangerous Visions, which has famously (or infamously) never gone to print. You can find an entry on Fiedler in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb), here. He's also in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. A couple of the names mentioned here will come up again in a bit.

Maxwell David Geismar is not in the ISFDb. I found his connection to science fiction through that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia. Born in Manhattan on August 1, 1909, Geismar grew up in Westchester County, New York, and graduated from Columbia University in 1931. (1) He spent a year writing short stories (could there have been a pulp story in there somewhere?) and began teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, in (or about) 1932. He was the author of many essays, articles, and books of criticism, most famously, I suppose, of Writers in Crisis: The American Novel 1925-1940, published in 1942. Here is at least a partial list of his works:
  • Writers in Crisis: The American Novel 1925-1940 (1942)
  • The Last of the Provincials: The American Novel, 1915-1925 (1947)
  • Rebels and Ancestors: The American Novel, 1890-1915 (1953)
  • American Moderns: From Rebellion to Conformity (1958)
  • Henry James and the Jacobites (1963)
  • Introduction to Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver (1968)
  • Mark Twain: An American Prophet (1970)
Geismar also taught at Boston College and Harvard University and was an editor with two left-leaning magazines, Ramparts (which originally published Soul on Ice) and Scanlan's Monthly.

As a left-leaning university professor and an opponent of the Vietnam War, Geismar became involved in the countercultural movements of the 1960s. He signed his name to "The Triple Revolution," a memorandum sent to President Lyndon B. Johnson and other members of government on March 22, 1964. I don't want to go into "The Triple Revolution" too much, but the three revolutions of its title are the cybernation revolution, the weaponry revolution, and the human rights revolution. The cybernation revolution, one in which the increased use of automation results in large numbers of unemployed human workers, is the basis of the short story "Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip José Farmer, originally published in Harlan Ellison's first Dangerous Visions anthology in 1967. (It's funny how these things fit together, isn't it?) According to Wikipedia:
At the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco, Farmer delivered a lengthy Guest of Honor speech in which he called for the founding of a grassroots activist organization called REAP [sic] which would work for implementation of the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendations.
I have done a quick search on the Internet for Farmer's speech or a summary of it and have come up empty. I can't say what its significance might have been then or might be today. I also can't say what REAP or Reap might signify. I can say that one of the conditions in the future society depicted in "Riders of the Purple Wage" is a universal guaranteed income. Who says that science fiction lacks predictive power, right, Andrew Yang? By the way, "Riders of the Purple Wage" was co-winner of a Hugo Award in 1968 for best novella.

I'll close by noting that Maxwell Geismar died at his home in Harrison, New York, on July 24, 1979, a week before his seventieth birthday and now forty years in the past. He was survived by his wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren.

(1) Geismar's parents, Leo and Mary Geismar, were German-born immigrants. Leo Geismar worked in the millinery industry.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

July: Hemingway and Lovecraft-Part Two

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) were hardly alike as writers and men, but if Leslie A. Fiedler was right to put them together in the mainstream of American literature (or to lead us in putting them together), then maybe they were more alike than what we think.

First, both had fathers who more or less abandoned them and who also ultimately destroyed themselves (thus setting a pattern for their sons' own self-destruction). Both also had overbearing, oppressive, or domineering mothers. If you're a Freudian, you might look for family dynamics like those to lead to psychosexual problems among the offspring, and in the case of these two men, you might find what you're looking for. Whereas there is reason to believe that Hemingway had latent homosexual tendencies, also tendencies towards a general kind of gender bending, there aren't any indications at all of that kind of thing in Lovecraft. If anything he suffered from a kind of asexuality.

Hemingway married four times and had three sons, one of whom thought in later life that he was a woman. Lovecraft married only once and died without issue. Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, was eight years older than he, while Lovecraft's only wife, Sonia Greene, was seven years his senior. Again, if you're a Freudian, you might see some significance in those age differences, especially in regards to the relationships that these two men had with their mothers. In any case, Hemingway was married for most of his adult life and was doted upon by women. Lovecraft lived a scarce two years as a married man (his divorce was never finalized), but he, too, was looked after by the women with whom he shared a household.

Hemingway admired Mark Twain and helped to bring a new kind of prose style into American literature. Lovecraft had his own nineteenth-century American idol in Edgar Allan Poe. In terms of prose, he is not really thought of as an innovator. In fact, Lovecraft was a backward-looking author and was fond of archaic words, spellings, and pronunciations. Nonetheless, I detect elements of modernism in his work, specifically in "The Call of Cthulhu," with its nonlinear narrative, multiple viewpoints, and use of found sources, such as newspaper articles and diary accounts. Hemingway may have gone against all of that old-fashioned prose of the pre-World War I era, and Lovecraft may have written after those fashions, yet Lovecraft is still read with real pleasure by people of today. In fact there may be more Lovecraft fans than there are Hemingway fans among readers of the twenty-first century. It's not so simple to dismiss Lovecraft's prose, no matter its shortcomings, as an artifact of the early twentieth century. It still holds up, at least for his fans. Like Hemingway, he carefully labored over his writing, all for what he hoped would be maximum effect.

Hemingway famously nicknamed himself Papa. What's less well known is that he did this while he was still in his twenties. In calling himself Grandpa or Grandpa Theobald, Lovecraft also took on a nickname denoting age, wisdom, and authority. I don't know when he did this, but it seems to me that Lovecraft thought of himself as an old man even when he was quite young. Both men seemingly wanted to be looked up to and thought of as men of wisdom. Both were part of extensive literary circles.

Lovecraft is mentioned, but only by his last name, in Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie A. Fiedler (1960, 1966). Hemingway gets a little more coverage in those pages. Seemingly by Fiedler's estimation both are within the mainstream of American literature, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. In Hemingway's case, it's because of the author's obvious flight from women into the wilderness and into the company of men. Lovecraft fled from women, too, but he more nearly matches the other half of Fiedler's thesis, namely, that "the American novel is pre-eminently a novel of terror," (Delta/Dell, 1966, p. 26) and that "our classic literature is a literature of horror for boys." (p. 29)

Here is Fiedler on a quite different author, but in discussing Herman Melville, could he just as easily have been talking about Lovecraft?:
Everywhere the figure of the Stranger moves through Melville's work . . . . Snob, greenhorn, madman, schlemiel, god and exile: the Outsider has a score of forms in Melville's fiction, but he remains, in his various masquerades, always the artist, society's rejected son with his "splintered heart and maddened hand . . . turned against the wolfish world." Though Outsider, he is not alien; invariably a native white American in Melville, he remains so as Twain's Huck and Faulkner's Ike McCaslin and Hemingway's Nick Adams or Jake Barnes: lonelier and lonelier in a country overrun by other stocks; "Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which one is which nor cares . . . ." (pp. 361-362)
Remember Lovecraft's story "The Outsider." Remember, too, Lovecraft's notorious nativism. I'm not sure that Lovecraft had the confidence in character--any character--that those other writers had, though.

I'll close by pointing out that Lovecraft was not really a sentimental author, whereas Hemingway very often was. I'm not sure that Hemingway was a believer, but he also doesn't seem to have worked out a philosophy of cosmicism as Lovecraft did. Okay, so humanity is saved and Cthulhu is returned to his crypt at the end of "The Call of Cthulhu," but that's only because the stars aren't quite right. They will be right one day, we can be sure of that, and when they are, well, it will be Katie, bar the door. And then there's this last thing: we should consider in all of this talk of maturity and immaturity the possibility that Lovecraft was a more mature person than was Hemingway.

Chew on that one for a while.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 8, 2019

July: Hemingway and Lovecraft-Part One

You don't ordinarily see the names Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) together in one place, but they're in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944), Hemingway near the end of the section called "Tales of Terror," Lovecraft at the very end of "Tales of the Supernatural." They're also in Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie A. Fiedler (1960, 1966). Lovecraft is barely mentioned in that book. Hemingway gets a little more space. If Fiedler was right, both fit within the mainstream of American literature.

I wrote the other day that Hemingway "was not an escapist and did not seek to retreat into otherworldly fantasy," also that he "was not an arrested adolescent." Those things aren't entirely true; my purpose in writing them was to draw a contrast between men of Hemingway's generation and those of today. The contrast appears strong, but it may also be deceptive and due more to time and circumstance than to anything else. More to the point, today's Star Wars fans may simply be acting out a natural evolutionary process that began long before Hemingway came into the world and of which he was only a part. Maybe there's less of a difference than I indicated.

Hemingway killed himself on July 2, 1961. A year later, literary critic Maxwell Geismar (1909-1979) wrote an evaluation. My emphasis here is on the twin questions of fantasy and arrested adolescence. Geismar began in that regard by writing:
Hemingway . . . had very early trapped himself into the stereotype of the romantic and virile literary "man of action," so American in essence, and so little conducive to either intellectual or emotional development.
The suggestion here is that by trapping himself in this stereotype, Hemingway was never able to move beyond a kind of childishness, immaturity, or arrested adolescence either in his personality or in his writing. Geismar was not the first nor the last to see the author in this light, nor was Hemingway the first nor the last American author to act out the stereotype of a "virile literary 'man of action'."

A second quote from Geismar:
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"--a novel of the Spanish Civil War which sold close to a million copies. Sometimes called Hemingway's best novel, too, it is a curious mixture of good and bad, of marvelous scenes and chapters which are balanced off by improbably or sentimental or melodramatic passages of adolescent fantasy.
Here, then, are the words themselves, adolescent and fantasy. Along those same lines, Geismar wrote towards the end of his essay, using here the words youth and romantic instead:
Hemingway . . . continued to pour the romantic emotions of youth, now somewhat stereotyped and stylized, into his aging later heroes. In this respect, "Across the River and Into the Trees" (1950) was probably his worst novel. (1)
And so we have Hemingway and his work characterized, first, by youth, adolescence, and a lack of "either intellectual or emotional development"; and, second, by romanticism, sentimentality, melodrama, and fantasy. So Hemingway wasn't given to fantasy and was not an arrested adolescent? Maxwell Geismar had a different opinion on all of that.

You'll find the same kind of thing in Love and Death in the American Novel, the main thesis of which is that the American novelist repeatedly acts out a flight not only from women and mature, erotic, and progenitive love with women but also from everything that women might represent, including domesticity and civilization. Put another way, in and through our literature we flee into the wilderness and into worlds of men without women, wherever those worlds might be found (2). Like Geismar, Fiedler remarked on the immaturity of the American novelist:
     There is a real sense in which our prose fiction is immediately distinguishable from that of Europe, though this is a fact that is difficult for Americans to confess. In this sense, our novels seem not primitive, perhaps, but innocent, unfallen in a disturbing way, almost juvenile. The great works of American fiction are notoriously at home in the children's section of the library, their level of sentimentality precisely that of a pre-adolescent. This is part of what we mean when we talk about the incapacity of the American novelist to develop; in a compulsive way he returns to a limited world of experience, usually associated with childhood, writing the same book over and over again until he lapses into silence or self-parody. (Delta/Dell edition, 1966, p. 24)
What Fiedler wrote here about the American novelist in general can be applied more specifically to Hemingway, including that last part where the American author "lapses into self-parody." We can't rule out that Geismar was influenced by Fiedler, or vice versa. In either case, both seem to have been on to the same thing, namely, that in Hemingway in particular and in the American novelist in general, there is, first, childishness, juvenility, immaturity, arrested adolescence, and an overall lack of emotional or psychological development; and, second, a tendency towards romanticism, sentimentality, melodrama, and fantasy of one kind or another.

Fiedler didn't otherwise devote a lot of space to Hemingway, but here is an apt quote:
     In Hemingway the rejection of the sentimental happy ending of marriage involves the acceptance of the sentimental happy beginning of innocent and inconsequential sex, and camouflages the rejection of maturity and of fatherhood itself . . . . and surely there is no writer to whom childbirth more customarily presents itself as the essential catastrophe. (p. 317)
Again we see an American author in flight from maturity, erotic and progenitive love with a woman, and adult responsibility into perpetual childhood or adolescence. (3) That flight, which began in our earliest literature, continues even today in our most popular forms and genres, namely, in movies, television, comic books, video games, science fiction, fantasy, and the literature of mystery, crime, and detection. It is also within our general society, in which men have run away from women (or have been driven away) for whatever reason and seem determined to stay there.

Back to my original point, it's not really accurate to say that Hemingway was not an arrested adolescent, but compared to countless men of today, he might be called a paragon of masculinity and adulthood. Likewise, I wrote that he "was not an escapist and did not seek to retreat into otherworldly fantasy." Hemingway obviously was an escapist, though, the difference being that his was an escape into the West, Spain, Africa, or wartime Europe. In every case he remained in the real world and played at real-world games of life and death. He definitely did not play video games. He obviously also indulged in fantasy. In staying in the American mainstream, though, his fantasies were romantic, sentimental, or melodramatic in nature. (4) They were not otherworldly, and he did not dress up as Yoda. (Of course there weren't video games and Star Wars during his lifetime, but you get my point.) In any case, maybe what I have described as a hard break between generations of the past (B.S.W.) and the present (A.S.W.) is actually more of a natural evolution, a kind of stepping down from the conventional American romantic, sentimental, or melodramatic fantasy of the past and into the more extreme otherworldly fantasy of the present: Star Wars as a natural outgrowth of the Leatherstocking Tales. So maybe there isn't after all a strong contrast between the men of yesterday and the men of today. Like us, Hemingway was a man of his time, he remained in a state of arrested adolescence as many men of his time did, and he indulged in the romantic, sentimental, or melodramatic fantasies of his time. Maybe we of today are not very much different from him, for we are also arrested adolescents, and we all indulge in our own types of fantasy. The difference is that after Star Wars our fantasies detached themselves from the real world and became otherworldly--and we have followed them where they have led to the point where we have become ridiculous, even contemptible.

Leslie Fiedler's idea is that American literature is essentially gothic in nature. Although I would not describe Hemingway as a writer of gothic works, he still remains within the mainstream of our literature by writing on themes of death, violence, and the flight from women. But if we have never grown up and will never grow up--if we have always fled and will always flee from reality into fantasy, from women into the company of men, from civilization and domesticity into the wilderness--then what we are witnessing today is really just a continuation of an old story. Maybe in fifty or sixty years, once we have all retreated into our FaceGoogle virtual fantasy pods and our gender-fluid bodies have wasted away into soft, white, maggot-like masses, we will look back on the grown men of today--those who wear flip-flops, shorts, baseball caps, and t-shirts and wield plastic light sabers--as like Ernest Hemingway. And using our Amazoft brain-to-brain interfaces we'll say to each other, Now that's when men were men. Except that by then men and maleness will have been extirpated from the earth and we'll all be happier for it.

(1) Quotes are from "Was 'Papa' a Truly Great Writer?" by Maxwell Geismar in the New York Times, July 1, 1962, accessible by clicking here.
(2) A phrase that--with or without irony--forms the title of an early collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women, from 1927.
(3) Fiedler also commented on suggestions of homosexuality in Hemingway's life and work. You could easily follow that line of inquiry into another issue involving the men of today.
(4) Even the hardest American authors seem incapable of escaping sentimentality in their work.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 5, 2019

C.L. Moore in Traces Magazine

The magazine of the Indiana Historical Society, called Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, has published my biographical article on Catherine L. Moore (1911-1987). Entitled "Amazing Tales: The Weird and Wondrous Fiction of C.L. Moore," it appears in the Summer 2019 issue of the magazine. The article is eight pages long and includes photographs as well as full-color reproductions of the covers of Weird Tales and many hardbound and paperbound books.

C.L. Moore grew up in Irvington, the same neighborhood in which my brothers and sisters and I grew up on the east side of Indianapolis. One of the houses in which she lived as a child was only about two blocks away from our own childhood home. Strangely enough, around the corner from the Moores lived the Cornelius family, who later financed and printed Weird Tales. Catherine's house is gone now, but I believe the Cornelius family home is still standing on Layman Avenue.

C.L. Moore was an innovative writer in her chosen field of weird fiction. As a Hoosier, Indianapolitan, and Irvingtonian, I'm proud to recognize and write about her. I'm happy and thankful to Traces magazine and its editor, Ray E. Boomhower, for the opportunity to introduce her to readers and fans of Indiana history.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley