Monday, December 21, 2020

Masks & Hoods on the Cover of Weird Tales

I am out of time in this terrible year of 2020. My series on Utopia and Dystopia in Weird Tales will have to wait until after the new year arrives. In the meantime, I offer this entry in another of my series, this one on Weird Tales cover themes. I'll have to make it fast and without providing credits. I should let you know that these are covers showing masks or hoods that obscure at least part of the wearer's face. Hoods and robes that allow us to see his face are out.

My reason for making this entry and showing these pictures should be obvious to all of us living under the current and very crushing coronavirus regime. According to Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore (1950), "The function of masks varies from society to society, so that few generalizations can be made either as to their forms or uses." (p. 684) It seems to me, though, that masks can be used both to hide and to reveal, often simultaneously, and that even in the hiding there are signals. In our current situation, there can be little doubt that the wearing of masks is a signal sent out by the wearer, mostly to do with his or her political beliefs and personal psychology, far less to do with science, medicine, or public health.

Some of the masks and hoods shown below are worn by torturers and headsmen, others by cultists. There are some domino masks, which morphed in the 1920s through the 1940s into the mask worn by the uniquely American superhero. There are indeed superhero-like masks in the images shown below, none more iconic than the bat-woman mask from October 1933.

All but two of these masks and hoods are from Western culture, and only one has twentieth-century, technological origins. I think there's something to that--that Weird Tales, working within Western tradition and with its eyes mostly on the past, put the iconography of Western or European culture to good use, even if sometimes it resorted to tropes and clichés. Now here we are, nearly a hundred years after the founding of the magazine, and still we use the same iconography. Remember that the next time you see a superhero in a domino mask, a cultist or other figure wearing red robes (such as the Red Guards in the Star Wars series), and on and on.

One last note: the first image below shows not one but two masked figures, as well as a very, very long woman. The torturer or cultist may be about to sink a knife into her supine figure, but at least he's protecting her from terrible viruses and diseases by wearing a piece of really porous cloth over his face. And don't worry, what he has planned for her is a mostly peaceful human sacrifice. (He's planning to stab only one very small part of her body.) Luckily for her, she is about to be saved by a man in blue.

Love in a Time of Coronavirus

All of this mask-wearing makes me think of cartoons by the great Sam Cobean, especially the one shown here. From The Cartoons of Cobean (1952).

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, better for sure than the one now ending.

Text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Birthday Wish

As you know, my dad died in August. Today would have been his eighty-third birthday. He liked to say that he was FBI--Full-Blooded Irish. His Hanley grandparents came to America from western Ireland in the late 1800s. His great-grandfather served in the British army under the Duke of Wellington and fought at the Battle of Waterloo. I would wager that my dad and his lone surviving brother were the only living Americans in the year 2020 to have had a great-grandfather serve in that long-ago clash of arms. It's a pretty amazing thing when you think about it.

The Duke of Wellington was an Anglo-Irishman and advocated for Catholic Emancipation for his native island. My dad's family were and are staunch Catholics. Many were also staunchly anti-British. It is an irony that their progenitor served in the British army, but then they never knew anything about him or his service, for Peter Hanley is only a recent discovery for us.

My dad always liked to read about and watch movies and TV shows about Nazis and the Mafia. I asked him a long time ago why this was so. He said that he was fascinated by how people gain and exercise power. To one descended from a race of utterly powerless and often despairing Irishmen, the idea that a person might hold great power must have been perplexing, if not inconceivable, to him. To be poor and Irish and Catholic in both Ireland and America was to be on the bottom rung of the ladder. Charles Durning's character in Blazing Saddles said it all. Anyway, for the first time in my life, I realize that my dad was born almost exactly nine months after St. Patrick's Day: the power of the Irish people is in their great numbers and fecundity.

Also in their talk. My dad's mother's maiden name, Daly, refers to "one who is present at assemblies," or, simply, "gregarious," as I have seen it translated. It comes from the same root that has given the lower house of the Irish legislature--the Dáil Éireann--its name. The Dalys have also included many bards and poets going back to the Middle Ages. A Daly of Ireland had delivered to my dad's funeral the most breathtakingly beautiful and angelic arrangement of flowers I have ever seen--warm, creamy-white lilies and other flowers, extraordinary in every way. Thank you to our very, very distant cousin.

Of course the other side of the Irish gift for language is its equal gift for lies, exaggerations, boasting, misrepresentations, wordplay, and other verbal mischief. Remember that blarney and malarkey are Irish words. My dad had that talent in spades.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Here is the URL and link to all of the Hanleys in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database:

And here are the Dalys:

Have fun reading!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Two

Looking Forward to Going Backward

Probably the most well-known and certainly the most influential utopian novel by an American is Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy, first published in 1888. It is a Utopia in Time, set in what was then the future year of 2000. This is in contrast to the earlier Utopia in Space, set in the present day, though somewhere else on Earth. It seems to me that the Utopia in Time became necessary and the Utopia in Space implausible as the world's undiscovered places shrank away from the Age of Exploration onward. Utopian novels were popular, too, during the very progressive-minded nineteenth century. Looking Backward is another in a line of such works. You could say that the title is ironic in more ways than one. For example, Looking Backward is actually a look forward, into a socialist future. There will forever be a double irony in the Socialist's headlong rush and ceaseless drive towards the medieval, feudalistic past of which he is so enamored.

We can forgive nineteenth-century naïveté about the nature and effects of the socialist regime. The horrors of twentieth-century socialism had yet to bubble from the bowels of the earth and the dark heart of humanity when Bellamy wrote. In fact, he failed to make it to the new century, dying as he did in 1898. Like H.P. Lovecraft, he was a New Englander, and like Lovecraft, he went too soon into his grave. (1) Oddly enough, Lovecraft also had to his credit a work called Looking Backward. Written and serialized in 1919-1920 and published as a booklet in 1920, Lovecraft's Looking Backward is an essay on the early days of amateur journalism.

Were authors of the nineteenth century really so naïve as to have swallowed whole the socialist fantasies of their day? Actually no. A few months before Looking Backward came out, a few readers had the chance to read a preemptive strike against it. The Republic of the Future: or, Socialism a Reality by Anna Bowman Dodd has never been as well known or widely read as Bellamy's book, yet it has proved far more prescient: leave it to the Conservative always to envision clearly the disastrous results of the progressive program. And she was a woman to boot. (A woman in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase, meaning a woman.)

The first or one of the first dystopian novels of the nineteenth century, The Last Man (1826), was also by a woman, Mary Shelley. That fact strengthens the case that she was the originator of the genre of science fiction. Her title anticipated the Nietzschean concept of the Last Man, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (1883-1885). All lead to works of the twentieth century, including Brave New World (1932), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis (1943).

The dystopian novel was a subgenre quick to reach maturity. There are dystopian elements in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895), as well as in other of his works. (2) The Iron Heel by Jack London (1908) features a well-developed concept of dystopian society and totalitarian means. I wrote about The Iron Heel five years ago. At the time I made a distinction between London's fictional capitalistic or oligarchical dystopia and the real-world, socialistic governmental or political dystopia, the distinction being that the former seems implausible, while evidence of the latter is abundant in countless millions of starved and murdered dead during the last century. I admit that I was skeptical of Jack London's vision. Now I'm not so sure. In fact I'm starting to see that he may have been right in his way. What he failed to foresee, however, is that we would have a seeming contradiction: a regime formed by capitalist leftists, by illiberal liberals not very interested in exercising conventional political power, not when working outside of government and within culture and commerce is so much more satisfying and surer to get them what they want, which is the same old-fashioned remaking of the world according to their vision.

Anyway, a really astonishing thing happened in 1924: E.P. Dutton of New York published an English translation of We by the Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin, and in it we had a fully formed Dystopia, a model for all subsequent stories of its kind and undoubtedly an influence on many of them. I call it astonishing because of its precociousness: written in 1920-1921, We came before the establishment of--even before the coining of the word--totalitarianism, and yet Zamyatin's novel has it all so right. (He was of course a witness to the formation of the regime that would become the U.S.S.R.) We had its precedents to be sure. The parable of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880) is an obvious example. (3) But here, sprung from the earth like a well-armed warrior from a dragon's tooth, came a novel that still stands, and is as fresh and pertinent now as the day it rolled off of the presses nearly a century ago . . .

The year after Weird Tales was first published.

To be continued . . .

The dust jacket from the 1951 Modern Library edition of  Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, with a design by the adopted Hoosier artist E. McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954).

(1) I mentioned in my previous entry that the utopian novel has become a rarity. Now I find that just this year, author William P. Stodden published The Practical Effects of Time Travel: A Memoir, based on Bellamy's Looking Backward. Congratulations to Dr. Stodden on his accomplishment and success.
(2) The theme of a division in society between the low or subterranean and the high or ethereal is in The Time Machine. It is repeated in the movie Metropolis (1927), the Star Trek episode "The Cloud Minders" (1969), the Cloud City sequences of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and the recent animated short subject Smash and Grab from Pixar (2019), which is beautifully made and well worth a look--and then another after that.
(3) We might call the parable of the Grand Inquisitor a Dystopia in Time but of a conservative stripe, opposite the progressive Utopia in Time. To wit: the progressive Utopia is set in the future, which is all the Progressive cares about. The conservative Dystopia in this case is set in the past. I'm not sure of Yevgeny Zamyatin's politics, but he turned things around: We is set in the far future. Dystopian stories after that were also set in the future (although there are dystopian elements in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is set in the distant past.) The dystopia in The Iron Heel, though set in the future, near and far, is superseded by a progressive utopia of the even farther future, thus the pattern holds. Offhand, I can't think of another book that includes both a Utopia in Time and a Dystopia in Time.

Revised slightly and corrected on December 18, 2020.
Copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part One

Man has always sought to embody in literature his visions of a better life.

--Frederic R. White, the first line of his introduction to
Famous Utopias of the Renaissance (1946) (1)

Utopia Before Dystopia

Utopia came before Dystopia. It probably goes back to half-memories of the Garden of Eden, of a lost Golden Age, perhaps ultimately to a keen and piercing nostalgia for childhood, for infancy, even for a life enwrapped in the loving womb. Life and the world seem miserable to our memories and imaginations. We long for a return to perfect happiness, and we will have it, properly in our works of art and imagination, too often disastrously in our attempts to bring it into the real world.

The proper place for Utopia is in art. Countless millions have perished at attempts to bring it to life. We are not gods and are incapable of perfection. We cannot create whole worlds except in our imaginations. In our creative impulses alone--in art, in love, in family, in other things--do we emulate God and reach towards eternity. He is not a destroyer. In attempting to usurp his role and authority--in trying to remake his Creation--we in our madness and in our blackest hearts murder and destroy. The real-world Utopia is murderous and destructive. The real-world Utopia is actually Dystopia.

Utopia goes back to our beginnings. Dystopia is a later creation and became fully formed only in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That is to be expected, I think, inasmuch as Dystopia seems possible only under mass conditions, the nineteenth being the first mass-century in human history.

Utopia was first located in Space. Published during the Age of Exploration, the original Utopia (1516), by Thomas More, tells of an island discovered in the New World. (2) Utopias, then, are related to the Lost Worlds genre. Sometimes the two are indistinguishable. Even as late as 1915 and the publication of Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Utopia was an undiscovered place on present-day Earth. But even then time was running out for the utopian storyteller.

Islandia (1942), by Austin Tappan Wright, was a very late entry among utopian novels, a last hurrah for an old genre. Too late to take place in an already fully (or mostly) discovered world, the events in Islandia are set in the past, in or about 1905, before the Great War and disaster had struck. As the twentieth century moved down its bloody road, Utopia could no longer be located in Space. After World War II, it would instead have to be located in Time, in what you might call the Lost Worlds of the Future. If it wasn't already a subgenre of science fiction by then, the utopian story became one in the postwar world. I suggested not long ago that no author today seems ready--or naïve enough--to attempt a contemporary utopian novel or even one set on a future Earth. Stories of Utopia have become a rarity. They may even be nonexistent. In contrast, stories of Dystopia have thrived in the twenty-first century.

To be continued . . .

(1) Frederic Randolph White (1910-1984) was a professor of comparative and classical literature and a founding faculty member of Florida Presbyterian College, now Eckerd College, in St. Petersburg. In addition to Famous Utopias of the Renaissance, Prof. White wrote an introduction to Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy (1888).
(2) It is ironic that the author of Utopia was named More, for the asymptotic more is the ceaseless pursuit of the real-world utopian theorist.

Revised December 18, 2020.
Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Star References

First, the Star Trek reference:

Several months ago I wrote about the Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force." I ended with a prediction that John Gill would not be president. Well, it looks like we'll have him after all. That's assuming he isn't machine-gunned by Melakon before Inauguration Day. Who'd-a-thunk-it but I was wrong. I should follow the example of a wise man who once said, "I don't like to make predictions, especially about the future."

After the election, another quote came into my head. From H.L. Mencken:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

At the risk of making another faulty prediction, I think that the people who voted for John Gill are likely to get--and they will certainly deserve--exactly what they voted for.

* * *

Now, the Star Wars reference:

I had thought that by being elected the first time around, our current president had destroyed the three dynasties that had preceded his presidency. Another bad prediction. He may have blown up the Death Star, but he got only two out of the three. Dark Helmet escaped, he has combed the desert for some helpers, and now the Empire is about to strike back. There may be disassembled droids, carbon-frozen heroes, and severed wrists ahead of us, but there's bound to be a return and a third movie if we can just hang on long enough.

In the meantime, here's another quote for today from many decades ago, again from Mr. Mencken:

As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

* * *

That's about enough, I guess--or more than enough--of all of that. Now let's get back to Weird Tales, which is what this blog is supposed to be about.

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

A Quote for Today from 1969

The chance for a violent revolution in America is always there. There's always that many stupid people. I think it would be a ridiculous waste of time--a typical loser's revolution. Makes me vomit to hear the word. People don't know what a revolution is. Everything that they ever read, everything they ever thought about a revolution is completely irrelevant to this day and age, especially in the United States. There are more subtle ways to the altering of things. It's not a question of picking everything up and dumping it, and starting over again. I simply don't believe that. There are a lot of good things about the way society is set up today. The main problem is education. The education of the people who elect those representatives. An uneducated mass cannot function in a democracy. [. . .] I wouldn't want to have any part of a revolution engineered and executed by today's crop of young rebels, because they wouldn't have the faintest idea of what to do after they took over.

--Frank Zappa, quoted in "Rock and Revolution," Circus magazine, July 1969

Compiled by Terence E. Hanley, 2019, 2023