Friday, March 31, 2023

John Jakes (1932-2023)

Author, Advertising Copywriter
Born March 31, 1932, Chicago, Illinois
Died March 11, 2023, Sarasota, Florida

John Jakes has died. Known for his vastly popular historical novels, the late Mr. Jakes got his start as an author of science fiction and fantasy stories. His first published story was "The Dreaming Trees" in Fantastic Adventures, November 1950. According to Isaac Asimov, the Golden Age of Science Fiction ended in 1950. If that's the measure, then John Jakes just barely slipped in before that age came to an end.

John Jakes could have been in Weird Tales, but he wasn't. By the time "The Unique Magazine" folded, he had had nearly three dozen of his stories published, in Fantastic Adventures, Amazing Stories, Super Science Stories, Planet Stories, Imagination, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Space Science Fiction, Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader, Rocket Stories, and Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy. He also wrote Westerns and crime and detective stories. Weird Tales was on its way down in the 1950s, while magazine science fiction was taking off. You could hardly have blamed John Jakes for choosing one over the other. (Or maybe he submitted stories to Weird Tales but was turned down.) He certainly wasn't above writing stories of fantasy. A later phase of his career proved as much.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Jakes began writing stories of a yellow-haired warrior loose in a world of monsters and magic. In his "Prefatory Note" to Brak the Barbarian (1968), he acknowledged writing his Brak stories in the shadow of Robert E. Howard. He did so not out of cupidity, as a letter writer to Fantastic Stories of the Imagination had suggested. "My motive for giving birth to Brak and his parallel universe on an old black Underwood was much simpler," the author explained. "There just are not enough stories of this kind to go around any more; not enough, anyway, to please me." And so he wrote.

Fantastic Stories of Imagination published the first Brak story, "Devils in the Walls," in May 1963. Eight more followed, plus several novels and collections of stories, some of which are variants of the original eight stories. I haven't done a close enough study of the Brak stories to say just how many of them there are, but it looks like there are twelve. Also, we shouldn't forget a Brak comic book story, "Spell of the Dragon," with a script by Dan Adkins and John Jakes and artwork by Adkins, Val Mayerik, and Al Milgrom, published in Marvel Comics' Chamber of Chills #2  in January 1973. That makes thirteen.

I have compiled the following lists from information in The FictionMags Index, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and Wikipedia, and by consulting my own collection of Brak books:

Brak Stories by John Jakes:

  • "Devils in the Walls" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination (May 1963)
  •  "Witch of the Four Winds" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination (serial, Nov.-Dec. 1963)
  •  "When the Idols Walked" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination (serial, Aug.-Sept. 1964)
  •  "The Girl in the Gem" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination (Jan. 1965)
  •  "The Pillars of Chambalor" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination (Mar. 1965)
  •  "The Silk of Shaitan" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination (Apr. 1965)
  •  "The Mirror of Wizardry" in Worlds of Fantasy, Vol. 1, No. 1, (1968)
  •  "Ghoul’s Garden" in Flashing Swords! #2, edited by Lin Carter (1973)
  •  "Storm in a Bottle" in Flashing Swords! #4, edited by Lin Carter (1977)

Brak Books by John Jakes:
  • Brak the Barbarian (1968), collecting "The Unspeakable Shrine," "Flame Face," "The Courts of the Conjurer" (variant of "The Silk of Shaitan"), "Ghosts of Stone" (variant of "The Pillars of Chambalor"), and "The Barge of Souls"  
  • Brak the Barbarian Versus the Sorceress (1969), originally "Witch of the Four Winds"
  • Brak the Barbarian Versus the Mark of the Demons (1970)
  • When the Idols Walked (1978), originally "When the Idols Walked"
  • The Fortunes of Brak (1980), collecting "Devils in the Walls," "Ghoul's Garden," "The Girl in the Gem," "Brak in Chains" (variant of "Storm in a Bottle"), and "The Mirror of Wizardry"
I have stopped before the current age of non-books called "books" began.

John Jakes was born in Chicago; graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, in 1953; earned his masters degree at Ohio State University; and worked as an advertising copywriter in Dayton, Ohio, before setting off in 1971 to become a full-time author. (His prefaces were dispatched from Kettering, Ohio.) He sold millions of books from the 1970s to the 1990s, and several of his historical novels were adapted to TV miniseries. He lived on Bird Key in Sarasota, Florida, and died in Sarasota on March 11, 2023. Today would have been his ninety-first birthday. We send condolences to his family, wish John Jakes a happy birthday, and say thank you to him for the reading pleasure he has given the world.

* * *

I wrote about John Jakes in my essay "They Should Have Been in Weird Tales," published in The Weird Tales Story, Expanded and Enhanced, edited by Robert Weinberg and Bob McLain (2021).

Fantastic Stories of Imagination, May 1963. Cover story: "Devils in the Walls" by John Jakes. Cover art by Vernon Kramer.

Fantastic Stories of Imagination, January 1965. Cover story: "The Girl in the Gem" by John Jakes. Cover art by Ed Emshwiller. Notice the tentacles in the lower right.

Fantastic Stories of Imagination, March 1965. Cover story: "The Pillars of Chambalor" by John Jakes. Cover art by Gray Morrow.

Brak the Barbarian (1968), with cover art by Frank Frazetta.

Brak the Barbarian Versus the Sorceress (1969), with arresting cover art by Frazetta.

Brak the Barbarian Versus the Mark of the Demons (1970), with cover art by Michael Leonard.

Brak vs. the Sorceress (1977), with cover art by Charles Moll.

Brak vs. the Mark of the Demons (1977), again with cover art by Mr. Moll.

The Fantastic Swordsmen (1967) with a cover story "The Girl in the Gem" by John Jakes and cover art by his friend, Jack Gaughan. Again there are tentacles.

Flashing Swords #2 (1973), with cover art by Frazetta illustrating "Ghoul's Garden" by John Jakes.

Thanks to my correspondent for letting me know about the passing of John Jakes.
Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Julian Kilman (1878-1954)-The First Canadian Author

Pseudonym of Leroy Noble Kilman
Attorney, Government Worker, Author, Lecturer/Public Speaker, Lepidopterist, Angler
Born March 26, 1878, Drummondville, Ontario, Canada
Died April 3, 1954, at home, Gulfport, Florida

Julian Kilman was the pen name of Leroy Noble Kilman and the author of dozens of stories published in magazines from 1913 to 1934, plus nonfiction articles that appeared in newspapers and magazines even after he retired. Born in Drummondville, Ontario, Canada, on March 26, 1878, he was descended from United Empire Loyalists who fled the United States when it was still a young country. His parents were Alva Hamilton Kilman, a schoolteacher, and Ida M. (Noble) Kilman. As a boy, Kilman collected insects with his father. He would return to that hobby after retiring to Florida in the 1940s.

Kilman came to the United States in 1898 and was naturalized in 1904. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1905 with a law degree and went to work for the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant district attorney. In 1914, he transferred to the Department of Labor, eventually to become district director of naturalization for western New York State and part of Pennsylvania. He was based in Buffalo, New York. Kilman retired either in 1933 or 1935. In 1910, he married Cecile Gauntlett, a teacher of Latin, in her native state of Michigan. They enjoyed many long years together. Their son was named Julian N. Kilman.

Kilman's earliest story in The FictionMags Index is "Dan Alders' Revenge," published in Short Stories in September 1913. His writing career picked up again in April 1920, when his story "The Peculiar Affair at the Axminster" appeared in The Black Mask. He had half a dozen stories in that title, all under his pen name Julian Kilman. Still more stories by Kilman appeared in The American Boy, The Atlantic Monthly, Brief Stories, Complete Story Magazine, The Double Dealer (published in New Orleans), Echo, People's Story Magazine, The Smart Set, 10 Story Book, and other titles. His last listed in The FictionMags Index is "The Trap" in Top-Notch, March 1934.

Julian Kilman had five stories in all in Weird Tales, all in its first year in print. In fact, Kilman was one of only two authors with stories in each of the first four issues of the magazine. The other was New Englander Hamilton Craigie. He also had a story in Detective Tales, "For Empire," in October 1923. Kilman admired O. Henry, Rudyard Kipling, Anton Chekhov, and Joseph Conrad. In the 1920s, at around the time Weird Tales made its debut, he was a member of a writer's group in Buffalo called "Scriptories."

Kilman seems to have retired from writing short stories at around the same time that he retired from his regular job. As he explained to a Florida newspaper in 1953:

"The average short story writer has about 10 years of production and then finds he's written himself out. With times changing, new writers come up fast. They have new experiences and have plenty to write about. The older writer must then turn to longer stories or novels or quit. I chose the last."

Even after retiring to Florida, he continued writing nonfiction articles for sports magazines, all or mostly about fishing. He also amassed a collection of butterflies and traded specimens with collectors from all over the world.

Leroy N. Kilman died on April 3, 1954, at home, in Gulfport, Florida. He was survived by his wife and children. He was seventy-six years old.

Julian Kilman's Stories in Weird Tales and Detective Tales

Weird Tales

  • "The Mystery of Black Jean" (Mar. 1923)
  • "The Affair of the Man in Scarlet" (Apr. 1923)
  • "The Golden Caverns" (May 1923)
  • "The Well" (June 1923)
  • "The Black Patch" (Sept. 1923)

Detective Tales

  • "For Empire" (Oct. 1923)

Further Reading

  • "Demand for Mystery Plots Never Lags, Asserts Kilman" in the Buffalo News, April 5, 1923, page 38, coincident with the publication of the second issue of Weird Tales, in which he had a story.
  • "Boyhood Hobby Provides Pleasure for Ex-Lawyer" by George Bartlett in the St. Petersburg Times, June 21, 1953, page 4F.
  • Julian Kilman is also in a blog called Lesser-Known Writers, conducted by Douglas A. Anderson. The date was March 30, 2012. For those who aren't familiar with it, Mr. Anderson began writing his blog in June 2011, about seven weeks after I began mine. His is similar in format to mine, but whereas I have focused on writers and artists who have contributed to Weird Tales, Douglas Anderson has looked at a wider range of authors.

Julian Kilman's Story:

"The Mystery of Black Jean" is a funny and ironic mystery story that reads like a folklore account. It is told in the first person by a witness to the events of the story. The witness was a boy when it all happened. He's now a man, and he addresses his story to unnamed listeners--and to us, the readers. "The Mystery of Black Jean" is set in Canada. The man Jean of the title is a big French Canadian with two pet bears that he sometimes wrestles, sometimes makes work for him, and sometimes treats with great cruelty. Black Jean also has two women in his life, and thereby hangs a tale. I won't go into the specifics of Kilman's story. You should read it yourself. It won't take long. I have to say, though, that his is the most natural of the four I have covered so far and perhaps the most enjoyable, mostly for its very human angle and its human interest.

Leroy Kilman, aka Julian Kilman, with his wife Cecile and part of his butterfly collection, from "Boyhood Hobby Provides Pleasure for Ex-Lawyer" by George Bartlett in the St. Petersburg Times, June 21, 1953, page 4F. Photo by Johnnie Evans.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Otis Adelbert Kline (1891-1946)-The First Serial

Otis Adelbert Kline (1891-1946) was a man of a dozen talents, a hundred friends, and a million words. He was an old-fashioned wordsmith who cranked out story after story over the years. As a manuscript reader, editor, and literary agent, he also helped other writers in their work. According to what I have found in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and The FictionMags Index, Kline's two-part serial "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" was his first published genre work. It was likely his first published story of any kind. It was also the first serial in Weird Tales, even if its two parts, taken together, still come out at only short-story length.

Along with Farnsworth Wright, who was also represented in the first issue of Weird Tales, Kline acted as a manuscript reader, helping editor Edwin Baird wade through myriads of submissions during that first year in print. After Baird's departure, Kline edited the first-anniversary, jumbo-sized issue of May-June-July 1924. He also wrote, anonymously, the Weird Tales manifesto in that issue, called "Why Weird Tales?" The first-anniversary issue of Weird Tales was the only one edited by Kline.

Kline's output declined in his later years, no doubt in part because of his work as a literary agent, including for Robert E. Howard. Like Howard and Lovecraft, he died prematurely, in his case at age fifty-five. I have written about Otis Adelbert Kline before. For his biography, click here. For that and other articles about him and his family, click on the label "Otis Adelbert Kline" on the right. (1)

Otis Adelbert Kline's Story:

"The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" begins with a letter summoning young William Ansley, the narrator of the story, to his uncle's farm outside of Peoria, Illinois. The summons, whether it be a letter, a telephone call, or some other kind of message, is a good and common way to kick off a story, especially a weird fiction story. In Kline's story, it gets the narrator out of the city and into an isolated rural setting, very often a necessity if weird events are going to unfold properly. Peoria might not be Arkham or Innsmouth, but at least it's not Chicago.

The setting is made definite not only by the mention of Peoria but also by the narrator's letting us know that he works as a bookkeeper on South Water Street in Chicago, also that his parents were killed in the Iroquois Theatre fire when he was twelve years old. That fire was a real and terrible event that took place in Chicago on December 30, 1903. My own family has a connection to the fire, as do many, I'm sure, in Illinois and Indiana. Like his protagonist, Kline was twelve years old at the time that it happened. At the time the events in the story take place, the protagonist Ansley is a young man. Presumably, then, "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" is set in the 1910s or early 1920s.

Ansley travels to Peoria where his uncle and benefactor, James Braddock, lived and died on his 320-acre farm. That's a sizable piece of land, half a square mile, or half a section. Maybe the idea is that this is the equivalent of an English estate. Anyway, Ansley lets us know that Braddock was "a scientist and dreamer," adding: "His hobby was psychic phenomena." So maybe he was the equivalent of an eccentric English gentleman, too. The story takes place when scary stories should, in October. (October is the month in which Edgar Allan Poe died mysteriously.) Once at his uncle's house, Ansley begins experiencing and witnessing occult occurrences. He resolves to investigate these occurrences in a scientific manner. When a Professor Albert Randall and his beautiful daughter show up (what do genre fiction writers have against the mothers of beautiful daughters?), Ansley becomes assistant investigator. It is Professor Randall who solves the mystery at hand.

In its two parts, "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" becomes a potpourri of psychic phenomena, complete with ectoplasmic manifestations, mental telepathy, automatic writing, mediums, trances, and hypnosis. There is talk of vampires and an onset of mass hysteria because of it. (Because this is America, the locals arm themselves with rifles, pistols, and shotguns rather than pitchforks and torches as they would in a European setting. Thank God for America.) There are also dream-visions and dream-regressions through time.

"The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" is not an especially good story, although I think we should give Kline a break. After all, this was his first published story. There's no real problem with his prose, nor with his plot or the mechanics of his story, although the scheme at the climax is convoluted beyond necessity. There's also a fair amount of melodrama and a pat, everything-turned-out-okay and they-lived-happily-ever-after Hollywood-scenario-type ending. I think the real problem with "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" is that it came at the beginning of one hundred years of weird fiction. Its only material had come before it either by way of ancient folklore--i.e., the vampire myth--or from the nineteenth-century, mostly American hoax/pseudoscience of Spiritualism. In its sentimentality and somewhat melodramatic events, the story is also more or less from the nineteenth century. In short, Kline had only worn-out conventions with which to work. He wasn't ready yet for innovation and not yet developed well enough as a writer to come up with something very new. Put another way, Kline and writers like him had not yet figured out what weird fiction is, and there were not yet powerful, convincing, and vibrant substitutes for those old and worn-out conventions that came before it, Spiritualism of course being the most obvious example. Kline may have been onto something by taking a science-fictional approach to his story. He simply went down the wrong path in chasing after ectoplasm.

In "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud, the previous story in that first issue of Weird Tales, there is a short discussion of what the author called "the pseudo-scientific story," what we now call science fiction. That passage acts in part, I think, as a guide to the reader, or as an explanation as to what the story and the magazine are all about. Call it the beginnings of a literary theory, or perhaps to an editorial approach that Weird Tales would take in this and its many issues to come. Well, there is a similar passage in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes." In this case, Kline wrote in regards to the supernatural:

     "It is but a step," I reflected, "from the natural to the supernatural."
     This observation started a new line of thought. After all, could anything be supernatural--above nature? Nature, according to my belief, was only another name for God, eternal mind, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient ruler of the universe. If He were omnipotent, could anything take place contrary to His laws? Obviously not.
     The word "supernatural" was, after all, only an expression invented by man, in his finite ignorance, to define those things which he did not understand. Telegraphy, telephony, the phonograph, the moving picture--all would have been regarded with superstition by an age less advanced than ours. Man had only to become familiar with the laws governing them, in order to discard the word "supernatural" as applied to their manifestation. (2)
     What right, then, had I to term the phenomena, which I had just witnessed, supernatural? I might call them supernormal, but to think of them as supernatural would be to believe the impossible: namely, that that which is all-powerful had been overpowered.
     I resolved, then and there, that if further phenomena manifested themselves that night. I would, as far as it were possible, curb my superstition and fear, regard them with the eye of a philosopher, and endeavor to learn their cause, which must necessarily be governed by natural law.

With that passage, Kline placed the supernatural back under nature, thereby making it explicable by way of scientific investigation. The effect seems to be that this story of the supernatural, at the very least, can actually be seen as a kind of "pseudo-scientific story," similar in its way to "Ooze." In "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," hypnosis and mental telepathy are accepted as valid, presumably scientific phenomena. There is also a scientific explanation offered for the existence of ectoplasm. As for the current state of Braddock in his casket and the tragedies that have befallen the local people, prompting their vampire hysteria, there is a medical, i.e., scientific, explanation for that, too. These events aren't so weird after all, meaning, they all have a scientific explanation, as long as you can accept Spiritualism as being based in science.

Unfortunately, Kline's transformation of one type of story--the supernatural story or ghost story--into another--the pseudo-scientific story--isn't very convincing, the reason being that he threw into "The Thing of  a Thousand Shapes" so many of the ragged and decrepit remains of nineteenth-century Spiritualism that it isn't able to take off very well. By 1923, discerning readers, writers, and thinkers would have known that there is nothing to Spiritualism. Harry Houdini was famously skeptical, but he wasn't alone. (Ambrose Bierce was also a skeptic.) Writing about Spiritualism at such a late date was like writing about the luminiferous ether after Albert Einstein had proposed his special theory of relativity in 1905, except that the existence of the ether was proposed in earnest, while séances, knocking, and ectoplasm are all frauds. You can differ with me if you'd like, but Kline was right when he wrote that there isn't anything above God. There is plenty worth exploring under God in his and our very mysterious universe, it's just that ectoplasm isn't one of them. What's missing from "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" is an awareness of and apprehension of weird.

Speaking of God, both "Ooze" and "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" mention him. If I had to guess, I would say that these things were offered in assurance to observers, readers, and critics that Weird Tales was not and would not be profane, godless, atheistic, or otherwise a bad influence on anybody. These stories are offered for fun, entertainment, and momentary distraction and not at all to subvert or corrupt anyone or anything.

"The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" is like Willard E. Hawkins' story "The Dead Man's Tale" in that automatic writing and the psychic or occult investigator make their appearance. The text of "The Dead Man's Tale" is presumed to have been composed entirely from automatic writing. The psychic investigator is mentioned only in the introduction to the story. In Kline's story, there is less automatic writing, but it comes at a turning point in the story. The role of the psychic investigator is far more prominent, and it is that investigator, Professor Randall, who figures it all out. By the way, Randall is dean of the local college. He and his daughter had gone to Indianapolis, only to return to Peoria when they heard of Braddock's death. So the two cities where Weird Tales was born, Chicago and Indianapolis, receive mention here. 

Again, "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" is like "Ooze" in that it lets the reader know that the writer and editor know that God is still above everything. Both are also pseudo-scientific stories, although "Ooze" is far more convincing in that respect. Kline's story is unlike "Ooze" in that the scientist (the elder Cranmer in "Ooze") and the dreamer (the younger Cranmer) are combined in the same person, James Braddock in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes." The narrators in both stories take on the role of investigator, Rud's narrator well after the fact, Ansley in the middle of things. Both take a scientific approach to their investigations.

By Charles Fort's theorizing, all phenomena are continuous, even if science has excluded and damned certain kinds. In his own theorizing on things natural versus supernatural, Kline seems to have followed Fort's lead. It seems likely that Kline, like many well-known and prominent tellers of weird tales, had read and would continue to read the works of Charles Fort. Fort himself wrote about psychic and paranormal phenomena in his last book, Wild Talents (1932), which you might say issued from his grave.

The "Thing" in Kline's title is ectoplasm, a kind of ooze that issues from Braddock's inert body in every shape and form. Ectoplasm is equated in the story with protoplasm. (There's even an amoeba!) In his investigations and theorizing, Professor Randall has postulated the existence of what he calls psychoplasm, a material substance that emanates from the bodies of people in a state of catalepsy. Ansley has unwittingly secured a residue of psychoplasm from a book he used to crush an ectoplasmic bat. (Could the book have been by Ernest Lawrence Thayer?) It is Randall's first sample of this substance. He examines it, concluding, "While it is undoubtedly organic, it is nevertheless remarkably different, in structure and composition, from anything heretofore classified, either by biologists or chemists." (From Part II of "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," Weird Tales, April 1923, page 146.) Again, in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," supernatural things are reduced to merely natural ones, and all is explained by science.

Two more things about ectoplasm. First, it is sometimes supposed to be a fabric-like or fibrous substance. That's what made me think of cotton candy and Barbapapa. In Kline's story, it's more gelatinous. Second, in ufology, there is a substance called "angel hair." Its resemblance to ectoplasm is undeniable. UFOs or flying saucers are like the ghosts of the twentieth century, a technological manifestation of what was previously supposedly supernatural. Every encounter with a ghost and every sighting of a flying saucer turns out the same: "I saw something and then it went away (without leaving any evidence)."

I have covered both parts of "The Thing of  Thousand Shapes" here. Most of the action takes place in Part II, including a sequence in which Ansley dreams himself into the prehistoric past. He rushes from his dream into the path of a car. Professor Randall and his daughter Ruth are in the car, returning from Indianapolis (where Weird Tales came about and where C.L. Moore had just turned, in January 1923, the Golden Age of Twelve). It is Ruth that nurses him after he has been struck, and the three of them together save poor Uncle Jim.

One last thing: a distinction is made in Kline's story between urbane and well-educated people versus local farmers and other bucolic types. As always, there is an awareness of and a resorting to class distinctions in the popular fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Arthur Conan Doyle did it in his Sherlock Holmes stories. So did George Barr McCutcheon in Graustark. Anthony M. Rud and Otis Adelbert Kline did it in Weird Tales. (Rud's bucolic character is a backwoods Cajun.) And of course H.P. Lovecraft did it in so much of what he wrote. In these stories, main characters are high characters and they speak in perfect, unaccented English. Low characters can never be main characters. They speak in imperfect, accented English, for example, in Kline's story, a German man named Glitch, who sounds like the Captain from The Katzenjammer Kids, and another local yokel who talks like Jed Clampett. It's an annoying characteristic of fiction from that period. You wish that writers had had more imagination.

(1) Otis Adelbert Kline was the author of several non-fiction fillers published in Detective Tales in September and October 1923. The first many issues of Weird Tales also had non-fiction fillers. I wonder if Kline was also the author of at least some of those short features.
(2) This anticipates Arthur C. Clarke's famous adage, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Other authors have written variations on the idea. More wondering: was Kline first among them?

Holmes, Houdini, and ectoplasm, all in the same book. What more can you ask for? The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man by Daniel Stashower (1986).

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Internet Ooze, Blobs, Jellies, & Slime Database

So we have a start to an Internet Slime, Blobs, Jellies, & Ooze Database (ISBJODb). This is what the Internet has needed for a very long time. We just didn't know it until now.

* * *

I'll start with the pre-scientists, pseudoscientists, and scientists of ooze, slime, and primordial soup:

Lorenz Oken (1779-1851)-German natural philosopher and apparent originator of the concept urschleim, earth's primordial slime or primordial ooze.

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)-English biologist and "discoverer" of Bathybius, the supposed living/non-living slime at the bottom of the ocean.

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)-German biologist and enthusiast, with Huxley, of Bathybius.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)-English naturalist and originator of the expression "warm little pond," now used to refer to what is called the primordial soup.

Sir John Murray (1841-1914)-Canadian-British biologist, oceanographer, and explorer; scientists on his expeditions debunked the concept of Bathybius.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946)-English author--originally trained as a biologist and zoologist--and historian of everything, including the jellies of the primordial earth.

Alexander Oparin (1894-1980)-Russian biochemist, author of The Origin of Life (1924), and originator of the concept of the primordial soup.

Dr. Carl Sagan (1934-1996)-American scientist and author; proponent of abiogenesis.

I guess I should include Harold Urey (1893-1981) and Stanley Miller (1930-2007) for their work on the Miller-Urey Experiment of 1952.

* * *

Next are swamp monsters. First are fictional monsters generated by the swamp or in the swamp or that came out of the swamp. After that are pseudoscientific, i.e., cryptozoological, monsters that dwell in the swamp.

The giant amoeba in "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud (Weird Tales, March 1923).

The monster in "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan (Weird Tales, March 1953).

The Heap, a comic book character created by Harry Stein and Mort Leav in 1942. The Heap is a German aviator shot down over a swamp in Poland in 1942.

Man-Thing, created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Gray Morrow in 1971. Man-Thing is a scientist working in the Florida Everglades when he dies and is born again from the swamp.

Swamp Thing, created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson in 1971. Swamp Thing is a scientist in a Louisiana swamp who is murdered and arises again from the swamp.

Cryptozoological Swamp Monsters--All of these are Bigfoot-like creatures, but I wouldn't rule out the influence of the pop-culture swamp monster on the people who are supposed to have seen them. As I've said before: before these things can be seen, they must be imagined. It is usually artists who do the imagining. Note that sightings of these creatures were mostly contemporaneous with Man-Thing and Swamp Thing in comic books.

  • Skunk Ape (1950s through 1970s)
  • Boggy Creek Monster (1971)
  • Abominable Swamp Slob (1973)
  • Honey Island Swamp Monster (1974) 

* * *

Next are ooze, slime, jelly, and other colloidal creatures from genre fiction and comic books:

Again, the giant amoeba from "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud (1923).

Ubbo-Sathla from the story of the same name by Clark Ashton Smith (Weird Tales, July 1933).

Shoggoths from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (Astounding Stories, Feb-Apr. 1936) and Robert Bloch (Weird Tales, May 1951).

Again, the monster from "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan (Weird Tales, March, 1953).

* * *

G.W. Thomas, author of Dark Worlds Quarterly, has compiled a list of stories from Weird Tales involving slime monsters. I won't steal his thunder. I'll just refer you to his list:

"Slime Monsters in Weird Tales," July 8, 2020

I will have one to add to that list when I write about Otis Adelbert Kline.

Mr. Thomas has also compiled lists of comic book stories:

"Plant Monsters of the Golden Age: Slime Monsters!" December 23, 2021

"Return of the Slime," September 15, 2022

* * *

Following are some ooze, slime, jelly, and other colloidal creatures or inventions from other media, including radio, children's books and animation, toys, movies, and television shows. I'll start with a blob-type monster that easily fits in with the all-devouring slime monster:

"The Chicken Heart," an episode of the Lights Out radio show, broadcast on March 10, 1937, immortalized in Bill Cosby's comedy routine "Chicken Heart" on his album Wonderfulness (1966).

The Schmoo, from Li'l Abner by Al Capp (1948).

Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss (1949).

Silly Putty (toy) (1949).

The Blob (1958) and its sequels.

Flubber, from The Absent-Minded Professor (1961).

The Globster, a carcass that washed up on shore in Tasmania in 1962, named by cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson; other globsters and blobs came after it.

Antibodies, which attacked Raquel Welch in Fantastic Voyage (1966). We remember Raquel Welch, who died recently at age eighty-two.

Gloop and Gleep from the animated TV series The Herculoids (1967), created by Alex Toth.

The Rovers in The Prisoner (1967) aren't quite colloidal, but I'll throw them into this list anyway.

The giant amoeba from the Star Trek episode "The Immunity Syndrome" (1968).

Barbapapa and family, created by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor (1970).

Slime (toy) (1976).

The T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), a kind of metallic/robotic slime, a machine-slime.

* * *

You might have noticed that certain sounds recur in regards to ooze, blobs, jellies, slime, mud, muck, mire, and other liquids and colloids. For example, there is the "oo" sound in ooze, Oobleck, Schmoo, and GloopOther sounds related to these things include the "o" and "u" sounds in: gob, globglop, glub, blob, blubplop, clot, blot, clod, bubble, blubber, rubberFlubbermud, muck, and putty. Is there any significance in any of that? I don't know. My first guess is that many of these words are onomatopoeic.

* * *

If you have never read the original Barbapapa books, you should. They're really charming, and the creatures themselves are lovable and memorable. One thing I learned in reading about Barbapapa is that he was inspired by cotton candy, which is called barbe à papa--"papa's beard"--in French. The image of cotton candy combined with that of Barbapapa made me think of ectoplasm. The word ectoplasm shares half of its roots--plasm--with protoplasm. Plasm is from the Greek, "something formed or molded." In the modern sense of the word, plasm denotes "the gelatinous fluid found in living tissue," according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. That source notes that "German language purists preferred Urschleim." I guess all things return to their ur-sources. By the way, ectoplasm also refers to the "exterior protoplasm of a cell," and was first used in this sense in reference to amoebas in 1883. Anyway, all of that leads into the first serial in Weird Tales, "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes" by Otis Adelbert Kline, March and April 1923.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Ooze, Blobs, Jellies, & Slime in Weird Fiction

By the late nineteenth century, then, there seems to have been an image or awareness of the ooze and slime that lay at the bottom of the world's oceans. If the 1890s were the beginnings of our current popular culture, then maybe ooze made its debut in genre fiction during that same decade. I can't say that that's true, but I have an example, Rudyard Kipling's short story "A Matter of Fact," from People magazine, 1892, and collected in Many Inventions in 1893.

"A Matter of Fact" is more than just one thing. It's a sea story, a weird tale, an early example of cryptozoological fiction, and a story about journalists and journalism. In that way, "A Matter of Fact" might be a little metafictional, just as is "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud. Kipling's story falls into two parts. The first takes place at sea, in the kind of isolation necessary for a weird narrative to play out. The second part is set on sober land. The seagoing part of "A Matter of Fact" is exciting, suspenseful, and filled with sensations of awe and terror. You can almost believe that Kipling really did witness the death of a sea serpent caused by the eruption of an undersea volcano. The landed part consists mainly of conversations among the three journalists who were witnesses to this event. That part of the story is ironic and a little humorous. If you're an American, prepare to be poked a little.

There is both ooze and slime in "A Matter of Fact":

The gray ooze of the undermost sea lay in the monstrous wrinkles of the back, and poured away in sluices. [. . .] Then the death-struggle began, with crampings and twistings and jerkings of the white bulk to and fro, till our little steamer rolled again, and each gray wave coated her plates with the gray slime.

* * *

In July 1917, twenty-six-year-old H.P. Lovecraft wrote "Dagon," one of his first published short stories. It's the tale of a man who, having escaped in a boat from German sea-raiders, finds himself on what can only be an upthrust stretch of seabed:

When at last I awaked, it was to discover myself half sucked into a slimy expanse of hellish black mire which extended about me in monotonous undulations as far as I could see, and in which my boat lay grounded some distance away. [. . .] There was nothing within hearing, and nothing in sight save a vast reach of black slime; yet the very completeness of the stillness and the homogeneity of the landscape oppressed me with a nauseating fear.

There's a lot of namedropping in "Dagon." In the space of a couple of thousand words, Lovecraft invoked Gustave Doré, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton and alluded to John Milton. There's a lot of word-dropping, too. For example:

I felt myself on the edge of the world; peering over the rim into a fathomless chaos of eternal night.


Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds. I think I went mad then.


Perhaps I should not hope to convey in mere words the unutterable hideousness that can dwell in absolute silence and barren immensity.

My advice to young (and sometimes middle-aged) Lovecraft: try. Please just try.

Namedropping is not storytelling. (Nor is it analysis or criticism.) Word-dropping is also not storytelling. Words can sometimes act as talismans. They may have magical power in them. But certain kinds of words and phrases are not suitable substitutes for real description and real expression. What, for example, is "the fathomless chaos of eternal night"? If you compare "Dagon"--an early work to be sure--to "A Matter of Fact" you can easily see that Lovecraft could have learned a thing or two by reading Kipling.

"Dagon" was first published in The Vagrant #11 in November 1919. It was reprinted in Weird Tales in October 1923, Lovecraft's first story in "The Unique Magazine." It was reprinted again in January 1936 and November 1951. Call it a dry run--or maybe a wet, slimy run--for "The Call of Cthulhu."

* * *

"The Call of Cthulhu" by H.P. Lovecraft is from 1926 and was published in Weird Tales in February 1928. It has slime:

He talked of his dreams in a strangely poetic fashion; making me see with terrible vividness the damp Cyclopean city of slimy green stone [. . .].

There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults [. . .].

So only Briden and Johansen reached the boat, and pulled desperately for the Alert as the mountainous monstrosity flopped down the slimy stones and hesitated floundering at the edge of the water.

And ooze:

Upon retiring, he had had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror.

Then, driven ahead by curiosity in their captured yacht under Johansen's command, the men sight a great stone pillar sticking out of the sea, and in S. Latitude 47° 9′, W. Longitude 126° 43′ come upon a coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror--the nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.

Something very like fright had come over all the explorers before anything more definite than rock and ooze and weed was seen.

The slime and ooze wasn't alive just yet. That would come soon enough.

* * *


Lovecraft first described shoggoths in detail in his novella At the Mountains of Madness, written in 1931 and published as a serial in Astounding Stories in February-March-April 1936. Shoggoths are plastic, protoplasmic, and amoeba-like. They make me think of the giant amoeba in "Ooze":

They were normally shapeless entities composed of a viscous jelly which looked like an agglutination of bubbles; and each averaged about fifteen feet in diameter when a sphere. They had, however, a constantly shifting shape and volume; throwing out temporary developments or forming apparent organs of sight, hearing, and speech in imitation of their masters, either spontaneously or according to suggestion.

 As works of the imagination, however, shoggoths seem to go farther back than that:

It was under the sea, at first for food and later for other purposes, that they [the Old Ones] first created earth-life--using available substances according to long-known methods. The more elaborate experiments came after the annihilation of various cosmic enemies. They had done the same thing on other planets; having manufactured not only necessary foods, but certain multicellular protoplasmic masses capable of moulding their tissues into all sorts of temporary organs under hypnotic influence and thereby forming ideal slaves to perform the heavy work of the community. These viscous masses were without doubt what Abdul Alhazred whispered about as the "shoggoths" in his frightful Necronomicon [. . .]. [Emphasis added.]

More explicitly:

The steady trend down the ages [Lovecraft wrote] was from water to land; a movement encouraged by the rise of new land masses, though the ocean was never wholly deserted. Another cause of the landward movement was the new difficulty in breeding and managing the shoggoths upon which successful sea-life depended. With the march of time, as the sculptures sadly confessed, the art of creating new life from inorganic matter had been lost; so that the Old Ones had to depend on the moulding of forms already in existence. On land the great reptiles proved highly tractable; but the shoggoths of the sea, reproducing by fission and acquiring a dangerous degree of accidental intelligence, presented for a time a formidable problem. [Emphasis added.]

So, like urschleim and Bathybius, like primordial slime and primordial ooze, first of pre-science, then of pseudoscience, shoggoths were created under the sea from nonliving matter. There are lots of oozy and slimy words attached to shoggoths, also lots of colloidal words. Lovecraft's descriptions of them make me think of fruitcake batter or those Jello salads that people used to make using mini marshmallows, Maraschino cherries, and mandarin orange slices.

* * *

Ubbo-Sathla in Clark Ashton Smith's story of the same name (Weird Tales, July 1933), isn't a shoggoth, but it has shoggoth-like qualities. In a kind of body-vision, a man named Tregardis travels back through the aeons to a time before time:

Through years and ages of the ophidian era it [i.e., his de-evolving body] returned, and was a thing that crawled in the ooze, that had not yet learned to think and dream and build. And the time came when there was no longer a continent, but only a vast, chaotic marsh, a sea of slime, without limit or horizon, that seethed with a blind writhing of amorphous vapors.
     There, in the gray beginning of Earth, the formless mass that was Ubbo-Sathla reposed amid the slime and the vapors. Headless, without organs or members, it sloughed from its oozy sides, in a slow, ceaseless wave, the amebic forms that were the archetypes of earthly life. Horrible it was, if there had been aught to apprehend the horror; and loathsome, if there had been any to feel loathing. About it, prone or tilted in the mire, there lay the mighty tablets of star-quarried stone that were writ with the inconceivable wisdom of the pre-mundane gods.

The image of a limitless sea of slime recalls the upthrust seabed in "Dagon." Moreover, as "a vast, chaotic marsh, a sea of slime," an oozy place in which life is generated, beginning with "amebic forms," it is an almost perfect evocation of the primordial ooze, primordial slime, primordial soup, or warm little pool of pre-science, pseudoscience, and unsupported or evidence-free "science" that we seem to have taken for granted for a very long time now. Tregardis' regression through evolutionary time had precedent in Otis Adelbert Kline's serial "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," which is also about a kind of ooze, slime, or plasm.

* * *

Shoggoths came back in "Notebook Found in an Deserted House" by Robert Bloch (Weird Tales, May 1951):

I looked back at the big black thing that was a shoggoth. I looked back as it kep swelling and growing. I guess I told about how it could change shape, and how big it got.

It was real tall and all inky-black, without any particular shape except a lot of black ropes with ends like hoofs on it. I mean, it had a shape but it kep changing--all bulgy and squirming into different sizes. They was a lot of mouths all over the thing like puckered up leaves on branches.

That's as close as I can come. The mouths was like leaves and the whole thing was like a tree in the wind, a black tree with lots of branches trailing the ground, and a whole lot of roots ending in hoofs. And that green slime dribbling out of the mouths and down the legs was like sap!

Lovecraft didn't mention hooves, but if you're going to live on land, you might need them. Pseudopodia are good only in a liquid medium.

* * *

In "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan (Weird Tales, Mar. 1953), we have the fullest, clearest, and most detailed description yet of living ooze or living slime, including its origins. It's hard to believe that Brennan did not write his story in full awareness of the history of ooze and slime, including a possible reading of "Ooze." His story begins:

     It was a great gray-black hood of horror moving over the floor of the sea. It slid through the soft ooze like a monstrous mantle of slime obscenely animated with questing life. It was by turns viscid and fluid. At times it flattened out and flowed through the carpet of mud like an inky pool; occasionally it paused, seeming to shrink in upon itself, and reared up out of the ooze until it resembled an irregular cone or a gigantic hood. Although it possessed no eyes, it had a marvelously developed sense of touch, and it possessed a sensitivity to minute vibrations which was almost akin to telepathy. It was plastic, essentially shapeless. It could shoot out long tentacles, until it bore a resemblance to a nightmare squid or a huge starfish; it could retract itself into a round flattened disk, or squeeze into an irregular hunched shape so that it looked like a black boulder sunk on the bottom of the sea.
     It had prowled the black water endlessly. It had been formed when the earth and the seas were young; it was almost as old as the ocean itself. It moved through a night which had no beginning and no dissolution. The black sea basin where it lurked had been dark since the world began--an environment only a little less inimical than the stupendous gulfs of interplanetary space. 

Everything would have been fine for us surface-dwellers . . .

     Had it not been for a vast volcanic upheaval on the bottom of the ocean basin, the black horror would have crept out its entire existence on the silent sea ooze without ever manifesting its hideous powers to mankind.
     Fate, in the form of a violent subterranean explosion, covering huge areas of the ocean's floor, hurled it out of its black slime world and sent it spinning toward the surface.

So we have come full circle, beginning with Kipling's "A Matter of Fact," then on to Lovecraft's "Dagon" and "The Call of Cthulhu," finally to "Slime," for each involves a submarine disturbance of one kind or another that raises something from the ocean floor to the surface. (The dinosaur in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, released in 1953, is also awakened by a disturbance at sea.) Here's another full circle: Brennan's monster arrives on land in a swamp:

     Along with scattered ash, pumice and the puffed bodies of dead fish, the black horror was hurled toward a beach. The huge waves carried it more than a mile inland, far beyond the strip of sandy shore, and deposited it in the midst of a deep brackish swamp area.

And at last we have an overt example of sea-ooze, Brennan's slime monster, becoming the swamp monster of American popular culture.

Astounding Stories, February 1936. Cover story: "At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. Cover art by Howard V. Brown. This was the first installment of Lovecraft's novella and depicts, I believe for the first time, a shoggoth, a colloidal kind of creature made from inorganic matter on the ocean floor, what Kipling referred to in his poem "The Deep-Sea Cables" as "the womb of the world." Like the giant amoeba in Anthony Rud's "Ooze," they escaped from their creators and captors to wreak havoc upon the world. After their experiences in Antarctica, these polar explorers are likely to become bipolar explorers.

By the way, the swamp creature on the cover of Beware #13 (Jan. 1953), which I showed the other day, looks a lot like Brown's shoggoth shown here.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Origins of Ooze-Part Three

Here's another long one, but just remember: we're going back billions of years here.

* * *

Primordial ooze, primordial slime, and primordial soup have become accepted terms and accepted concepts, even though they describe something that no one has ever observed in nature nor created or recreated in a laboratory. Like the ether of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these concepts are based on lots of assumptions, furthermore in the absence of any evidence or any real knowledge regarding a persistent and nagging scientific problem. In the case of ether, the problem involved the propagation of electromagnetic waves through space. In the case of primordial ooze, the problem has to do with the origins of life on earth. Nobody of a scientific mind seems to question the idea that life here originated in ooze. A belief in its existence would appear dogmatic.

So what are the origins of ooze? Well, the earliest use of the expression "primordial ooze" that I have found in American newspapers is from November 9, 1899, in reference to Sir John Murray's explorations of the ocean floor on board the HMS Challenger. (Sir John Murray, 1841-1914.) The article I found (in the first of its many appearances in stateside papers) is "Floor of the Sea" in the Washington, D.C., Beacon. In its original, the article was in the London Spectator and was written by F.T. Bullen. Bullen's article treats "primordial ooze" as if knowledge of the concept was common. Evidently, even in 1899, it had been around for a while. Murray is considered the father of oceanography. He has an octopus named after him, Cirrothauma murrayi, thus he has connections both to cephalopods and slime. If you're an oceanographer, you'll have that.

The earliest occurrence of "primordial slime" that I have found is in a review of a scientific article called "Bathybius and the Moneres" [sic] by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) in Popular Science Monthly, October 1877. The review, entitled simply "Periodicals," is in the Boston Evening Transcript, October 4, 1877, page 6. In it, reference is made to Haeckel's discovery of a "peculiar slimy substance" on the Mediterranean seafloor. Haeckel called this substance Bathybius or "The Primordial Slime of the Sea Depths." It was supposed to have been a substance that was giving rise, even in contemporary times, to life.

Mention of "Bathybius and the Moneres" leads to the article itself, entitled "Bathybius and the Moners." (I'm not sure which is the correct spelling, but even in Haeckel's article, "moneres" is the spelling used.) In that article, there is more talk of slime, ooze, Bathybius-ooze, and even amoebas. There is also an organism called Vampyrella, though I doubt it's the one with which we're familiar. Again, check the spelling.

The concept of Bathybius was older even than Haeckel's article. The stuff was supposed to have been brought up from the ocean floor during the deep-sea soundings made for the laying of the transatlantic cable in 1857. (Remember that part.) In 1868-1870, Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) and Haeckel went back and forth in some excitement to claim that Bathybius: a) was a type of protoplasm; b) covered the ocean floor; c) was constantly coming into being; and d) was a link between life and non-life. Scientists on board the Challenger blew lots of really big, Fearless Fosdick-sized holes in those claims. Huxley admitted his error in 1879. poem in Punch from 1879 (see below) poked fun at the concept of Bathybius. Yet there were still people who believed in it or at least failed to question it.

To wit:

The earliest reference to "primordial soup" in an American newspaper that I have found is, surprisingly, from 1960. And guess who referred to it? Twenty-five-year-old Dr. Carl E. Sagan (1934-1996) of Yerkes Observatory, that's who! In "Life on Jupiter, Astronomer Says" (Oakland Tribune, May 11, 1960, page 11), journalist Tom Riley wrote of how Dr. Sagan had "suggested that a process of organic synthesis is going on over Jupiter's surface in much the same way as the primordial soup of earth evolved millions of years ago." Dr. Sagan famously said later that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. So where was the proof of organic synthesis, either on Jupiter or on the primordial earth? To paraphrase a well-known bandito: Proof? We don't need no stinking proof! When it comes to the abiogenesis of life, the message is clear: We have faith! No evidence is needed!

By the way, H.G. Wells (1866-1946) studied biology under Thomas Huxley, and so maybe we have a line of descent for the concept of primordial ooze, from Huxley and Haeckel to Wells . . . thence to Anthony M. Rud? And from him, to lots of other creators of slime creatures, ooze monsters, and things that arise from muck, mire, and the swamplands of the earth? I can't say for sure, but I'm getting ahead of myself in any case.

In his article of October 1877, Ernst Haeckel wrote:

With this formless primordial organism of the simplest kind, which, occurring in thousands of millions, covers the sea-bottom with a living layer of slime, a new light seemed to be thrown upon one of the most difficult and most obscure problems of the history of creation--namely, the question of the origin of life upon the earth. With Bathybius, the ill-famed "Urschleim" (primordial slime) appeared to have been found, of which it had been prophetically affirmed, fifty years before, by Oken, that from it was sprung the whole world of organisms, and that this "Urschleim" itself had sprung from inorganic matter at the sea-bottom in the course of planetary development.

At last (I think) we have arrived at the origins of ooze. And they are evidently in the work of another German, a natural philosopher called Lorenz Oken (1779-1851), who wrote, in 1805:

[A]ll organic beings originate from and consist of vesicles or cells. These vesicles, when singly detached and regarded in their original process of production, are the infusorial mass or protoplasma (urschleim) whence all larger organisms fashion themselves or are evolved.

So, in the beginning there was urschleim, the first slime, the slime that is life and from which all life arises in the form of cells of protoplasm, which bind themselves to each other to form ever-higher forms through some unexplained process of genesis and evolution. And now here we are: we came out of slime, we are made of slime, and each of us carries within him or her an ocean floor, a tidal pool, a warm little pond, a swamp.

Thirteen years after Oken wrote came these words:

With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. 

They're from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1797-1851).

* * *

From Oken to Huxley and Haeckel to H.G. Wells, ooze, blobs, jellies, and slime found their home in the oceans, either on the ocean floor or in tidal pools. "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud is set in the piney woods and swamplands of southern Alabama. In his account of what happened at Cranmer's lodge, Rud's narrator uses ooze and similar words to refer mostly to the remnants of the scientist's giant amoeba, which perished in the enclosure that he had constructed for it after it had eaten his son, daughter-in-law, and manservant. Those remnants now lie in a disgusting, fishy-smelling residue over the grounds. But at least once, that narrator also seems to use ooze in reference to the substrate of the surrounding swampland. So, questions arise:

  • Was Rud aware of the concept of primordial ooze or primordial slime as a putative source of life on earth?
  • Did he move primordial ooze or primordial slime from the oceans onto land, specifically to the swamplands of the American South?
  • If so, was he the first to do so? In other words, was Rud's giant amoeba the first science-fictional, weird-fictional, or pseudo-scientific swamp monster--that is, a monster that arises from the swamp--in American popular culture?

We should be clear here that Cranmer's giant amoeba didn't make itself. It did not arise spontaneously from swamp-ooze. Instead, the author Rud replaced spontaneous generation with a pseudo-scientific or science-fictional process: the amoeba was created by a super-scientist in his laboratory using rearrangement of its chromosomes.

Cranmer didn't mean to do what he had done. "Mine is the crime of presumption," he wrote in his final notebook entry. He aimed too high and because of that fell far. His science was Frankensteinian, but he was not like Dr. Frankenstein. Rud's narrator writes that John Corliss Cranmer "believed in both God and humankind." In fact it was not he, the scientist, who brought on disaster but his son, the writer, who did it. The father understood fully the danger posed by the amoeba. He instructed his son to destroy it. The son, though, was more ambitious, and more than a little foolish. He believed at some level that nature can be controlled. There is a phenomenon in the world of today of sons who lack the moral, physical, and intellectual development of their fathers. We see that all of the time. It may be an irreversible trend. The loss of the first of John Corliss Cranmer's twin beliefs might be the best explanation for that.

One more convention appears in "Ooze," that of the widowed scientist, only this one has a beautiful daughter-in-law rather than daughter. This isn't exactly hopeful science fiction though--in this case it's more like fateful weird fiction--and so they all die.

* * *

"In the womb of the world," an illustration for Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Deep-Sea Cables" drawn by William Heath Robinson; from A Song of the English (1909). That looks like ooze to me.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was a near contemporary of H.G. Wells. It's safe to say that Kipling was an entirely different kind of man and artist than was Wells. Like Wells and the men who preceded him, Kipling knew about ooze and slime and the deep sea except that he wrote about these things from a nonscientific viewpoint rather than a scientific one. I don't want to sound like Garrison Keillor, but here's a poem for today by Kipling:

"The Deep-Sea Cables" (1896)
By Rudyard Kipling

The wrecks dissolve above us; their dust drops down from afar--
Down to the dark, to the utter dark, where the blind white sea-snakes are.
There is no sound, no echo of sound, in the deserts of the deep,
Or the great gray level plains of ooze where the shell-burred cables creep.

Here in the womb of the world--here on the tie-ribs of earth
Words, and the words of men, flicker and flutter and beat--
Warning, sorrow and gain, salutation and mirth--
For a Power troubles the Still that has neither voice nor feet.

They have wakened the timeless Things; they have killed their father Time;
Joining hands in the gloom, a league from the last of the sun.
Hush! Men talk to-day o'er the waste of the ultimate slime,
And a new Word runs between: whispering, "Let us be one!"

"The wrecks dissolve above us," by Robinson.

Here's another:

"In the Matter of One Compass" (1892)
By Rudyard Kipling

WHEN, foot to wheel and back to wind,
The helmsman dare not look behind,
But hears beyond his compass-light,
The blind bow thunder through the night,
And, like a harpstring ere it snaps,
The rigging sing beneath the caps;
  Above the shriek of storm in sail
    Or rattle of the blocks blown free,
  Set for the peace beyond the gale,
    This song the Needle sings the Sea:

Oh, drunken Wave! Oh, driving Cloud!
  Rage of the Deep and sterile Rain,
By Love upheld, by God allowed,
  We go, but we return again!

When leagued about the 'wildered boat
The rainbow Jellies fill and float,
And, lilting where the laver lingers,
The Starfish trips on all her fingers;
Where, 'neath his myriad spines ashock,
The Sea-egg ripples down the rock,
An orange wonder dimly guessed
From darkness where the Cuttles rest,
Moored o'er the darker deeps that hide
The blind white Sea-snake and his bride,
Who, drowsing, nose the long-lost Ships
Let down through darkness to their lips--
Safe-swung above the glassy death,
Hear what the constant Needle saith:

Oh, lisping Reef! Oh, listless Cloud,
  In slumber on a pulseless main!
By Love upheld, by God allowed,
  We go, but we return again!

E'en so through Tropic and through Trade,
  Awed by the shadow of new skies,
As we shall watch old planets fade
  And mark the stranger stars arise,
So, surely, back through Sun and Cloud,
  So, surely, from the outward main
By Love recalled, by God allowed,
  Shall we return--return again!
  Yea, we return--return again!

The first poem is easier for me to understand than the second, but both have imagery of the ocean and its benthic regions: ooze, slime, jellies, cuttlefish, "the blind white Sea-snake," and so on. If we consider one or both of these poems to be genre works, then we have some early examples of ooze and slime in such works.

To be continued . . .

Cirrothauma murrayi, an octopus named for Sir John Murray.

Finally, "Bathybius," a poem from Punch, reprinted in British newspapers in 1879.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley