"But horror, like its favorite creatures of the night, does not perish so easily. The doomsayers forget its persistence, its uncanny ability to mutate and survive, which ought to serve as the most powerful clue that this fiction is not easily consigned to a category--it exists, thrives, lingers, and occasionally triumphs because, unlike any other supposed kind of fiction, horror is not about anything … It is fiction that explores --or, more often, conveys--an emotion."
--Douglas Winter, "By Any Other Name," Necrofile #13, Summer 1994, p. 23
"Horror fiction has always been a genre of ideas … The very best horror fiction should have the power to disturb and cause us to question ourselves and the world we live in."
-- Stephen Jones, "The Beckoning Void," Necrofile #17, Sumer 1995, p. 23
Shadows, Sadists, and Sandkings: The Modern Tale of Terror, 1967-1997
by Boyd White
Despite what some might think, the tale of terror has never been the special province of just horror writers. In the earliest decades of the 20th century, authors of fantastic fiction moved effortlessly among the slowly codifying genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, often blending them successfully despite the occasional consternation of editors and fans. Readers of Weird Tales, for example, complained that Clark Ashton Smith's "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" (1932) and "Vulthoom" (1935) did not belong in a horror magazine because their Mars settings made them science fiction. Likewise, three of H. P. Lovecraft's greatest stories, "The Colour Out of Space" (1927), "At the Mountains of Madness" (1936), and "The Shadow Out of Time (1936), all considered science fiction by E. F. Bleiler, appeared in Amazing Stories and Astounding rather than in Weird Tales, Lovecraft's usual haunt. C. L. Moore's use of ray guns, rockets, and interplanetary landscapes, however, didn't prevent her Northwest Smith stories, such as "Shambleau" (1933) and "Scarlet Dream" (1934), seminal fusions of space opera and macabre horror, from getting placed in Weird Tales. At the other extreme, weird menace pulps, including the infamous Terror Tales and Horror Stories, offered more supposedly gruesome fare such as Arthur Leo Zagat's "House of Living Death" (1934) and Frederick C. Davis' "The Mole Men Want Your Eyes" (1938), stories that, despite their titles, contained no supernatural content since the "monsters" inevitably turned out to be insane doctors or unscrupulous heirs dressed in outlandish costumes or rubber suits who only revealed their true identities when they finally disrobed to torture their scantily clad female victims. Because genre fiction had not yet been completely ghettoized, even authors of more mainstream work made the occasional foray into the fantastic. After writing three unsuccessful literary novels 1902 and 1906, Margery Williams, who would later pen the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), published The Thing in the Woods, an obscure werewolf novel, in 1913. Likewise, Eleanor Ingram, a successful author of women’s fiction, published The Thing from the Lake in 1922, the story of a songwriter battling dark forces from another dimension in a Connecticut farm house. Regardless of the circumstances under which they were written or first published, all these works aim to evoke a sense of terror in the reader, disturbing us with the possibility that the world as we know it can betray us in an instant and everything we love can be taken away.
By the late 1950s, pulps featuring horror fiction were virtually non-existent, and horror comic books, such as EC’s groundbreaking New Trend line which included Tales from the Crypt, had been eviscerated by the advent of the Comics Code Authority for supposedly fostering criminal tendencies in impressionable adolescent boys. Culturally, horror was considered third-rate, a genre fit only for dreadful b-movie fare like The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958) or The Wasp Woman (1959). No one could have predicted how significantly the landscape would change, however, with the publication of Rosemary's Baby in 1967.
Written by Ira Levin, an author primarily known for the crime novel A Kiss Before Dying (1953) and the Broadway adaptation of Mac Hyman’s humorous No Time for Sergeants (1954), Rosemary's Baby enjoyed enormous critical and commercial success, bolstered further by the subsequent highly regarded film directed by Roman Polanksi. Genre scholar Stefan Dziemianowicz notes that Rosemary's Baby "helped kick off the modern horror movement with its portrayal of a contemporary satanic cult that blends seamlessly in with the urban culture of New York and uses financial and social stratagems, rather than supernatural powers, to control its acolytes." William Peter Blatty, another mainstream writer known for his comic novels, replicated the Levin's success with The Exorcist (1971), another book quickly adapted into a critically acclaimed film, which was eventually nominated for ten Academy Awards. As books and films, Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist not only indicated that a vital market for horror existed, but also proved the genre could produce serious, thoughtful, compelling art. The publishing boom in modern horror fiction shortly followed, and the renaissance in the modern tale of terror had begun.
Rooted in skepticism about humanity's ability to control its external circumstances or impose order on an otherwise meaningless universe, modern horror fiction uses the tropes and conventions of classic supernatural tales to explore the social and political unrest defining the period. Within this framework, traditional monsters, such as demons and werewolves, serve as expressions of our own darker psychological impulses and perceived threats to the established order, our deepest cultural fears and anxieties. The widespread political and social despair wrought by Vietnam underscores Thomas Tessier's The Night Walker (1979), a modern take on the werewolf tale, and Herman Raucher's Maynard's House (1980), an ingenious reimagining of the traditional haunted house story. Racial oppression fuels John Farris' All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By (1977), an account of the effects of a voodoo curse on a Southern plantation, and Bari Woods' The Tribe (1981), a modern golem myth in which a street gang is ruthlessly slaughtered after murdering a Jewish philosophy professor. Growing concerns with urban decay, street violence, disaffected youth, and an indifferent social elite underlie the gory excesses of influential splatterpunk novels, such as John Shirley's Cellars (1980) and John Skipp and Craig Spector's The Light at the End (1986), unsubtle, over-the-top works that should have surprised no one living in an era plagued by corporate greed, government distrust, the AIDS epidemic, disintegrating social structures, and the shadow of nuclear war. By contrast, quieter modern horror focused on ordinary people subjected to terrors clothed in the routine realities of daily life. In Sub Rosa (1968) and Cold Hand in Mine (1975), Robert Aickman's sophisticated "strange stories," always elusive and ambiguous, navigate the author's own discomfort with shifting gender roles and the power dynamics inherent in male and female sexuality. Ramsey Campbell's Demons by Daylight (1973) replaces antiquarian scholars and lonely spinsters with disgruntled civil servants and unhappily married couples who encounter a range of horrors in isolated playgrounds, abandoned warehouses, and empty bus stations. Likewise, Lisa Tuttle's outstanding A Nest Nightmares (1986) critiques the emotional, physical, and psychological abuse that women often suffer at the hands of family, spouses, and lovers. Similar concerns inform the excellent stories of Angela Carter, a master of dark fantasy who, in collections like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979), recasts classic fairytales and folklore as disturbing examinations of sexual politics.
Like horror fiction, science fiction has always grappled with the most pressing economic, social, and political concerns of the day. Even during science fiction's Golden Age and Atomic Age, significant writers produced excellent tales of terror such as Robert A. Heinlein's "They" (1941), Margaret St. Clair's "Prott" (1953), and Alfred Bester's "Fondly Fahrenheit" (1954). In the late 1960s, the changes in horror fiction were mirrored by parallel developments in science fiction. Influenced by the cultural turmoil typified by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., science fiction writers embraced the narrative techniques and characteristic tropes of modern horror as they pushed themselves in terms of form and content to express their growing concerns with scientific and technological achievements. As these writers struggled with issues involving genetic engineering, biotechnology, cybernetics, and ecology, the optimism in humanity's ability to overcome any challenges to its existence, a defining trait of previous generations of science fiction writers, was gradually replaced by uncertainty and dread, what Michael M. Levy refers to in "The New Wave and After, 1964 to 1983" as a "tend[ency] toward a depiction of disasters and decay, entropy in all its forms," bleak assessments not only of present terrors already engulfing us but also the dark futures towards which we are inevitably headed.
1967, the year Rosemary's Baby became a best-seller, heralded the publication of two groundbreaking apocalyptic modern tales of terror, Anna Kavan's Ice, an unclassifiable surrealistic novel, and Harlan Ellison's Hugo Award-winning short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." A Kafkaesque nightmare in which a nameless woman is relentlessly pursued by two men across a frozen landscape created by a nuclear holocaust, Ice shares thematic concerns with Rosemary's Baby about the oppression and exploitation of women. "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" depicts the aftermath of humanity's extinction by a sentient supercomputer known as "AM" that has left four men and one woman alive so they can be endlessly tortured to satisfy the AM's insatiable need for revenge on humanity for actually creating it. These pioneering works heralded a wave of science fiction authors who effortlessly merged horror and science fiction. Two of Robert Silverberg’s finest novels, The Book of Skulls (1972) and Dying Inside (1972), both nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards, are carefully constructed variations of modern horror, the former dealing with a group of college students searching for immortality and the latter centered on a telepath's inability to come to terms with his fading powers. Likewise, some of the most seminal work produced by female science fiction authors of this period are brilliant tales of terror envisioning grim futures brought about as the result of conflicts involving rigid gender roles. Joanna Russ' "When It Changed" (1972) and James Tiptree, Jr.'s "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" (1976) are superb stories of thriving female cultures that have developed after men have been wiped out by disease or war, innovative matriarchal societies that are threatened generations later when men manage to make unexpected returns. Other stunning modern science fiction tales of terror include D. G. Compton's The Unsleeping Eye (UK title: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, 1974), the devastating narrative of a terminally ill woman dealing with intense media coverage of her final days in a future where old age is the only remaining cause of death; J. G. Ballard's High-Rise (1975), the riveting account of tenants in a luxury apartment building descending into chaotic violence and madness; and George R. R. Martin’s "Sandkings," the frightening tale of Simon Kress, a bored, wealthy playboy who forces his highly intelligent alien, ant-like pets to engage in brutal death matches with the dangerous creatures that guests begin bringing to his parties. Combining the past with the future, Connie Willis's Hugo- and Nebula-Awarding winning Doomsday Book (1992) recasts terror as time travel, a tour-de-force in which Willis employs painstakingly accurate historical detail to fully immerse readers in the horrors of the Black Plague as a 21st-century Oxford historian becomes trapped in 14th-century England while a devastating virus threatens to eradicate all future civilization.
From its earliest days, 20th-century crime fiction, like horror fiction, has been fascinated with serial killers and homicidal schizophrenics, individuals whose shocking crimes are outward manifestations of their distorted internal psyches, a key component of novels such as Joel Townsely Roger's Red Right Hand (1945), Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me (1952), Margaret Millar's Beast in View (1955), and Robert Bloch's Psycho (1959). These novels are structured primarily as mysteries in which the revelation of the killer's identity and mental condition serves as the solution not just to readers but also, in first-person narratives like The Killer Inside Me and Beast In View, to the killers themselves who often unaware of their own insanity or how deeply it has shaped their behavior. Such novels are among the earliest examples of dark crime or dark suspense, a subgenre defined by its intense focus on violent crimes and the psychology of those who commit them. The fact that Robert Bloch's Psycho is often discussed or categorized as a classic of horror fiction indicates how dark crime virtually obliterates the boundaries between horror and crime fiction.
As dark crime coalesced into an important subgenre in the late 1960s, authors began exploring more explicit content, often drawing direct, uncomfortable connections between sex and violence. Far from exploiting such material for mere titillation or cheap thrills, the most accomplished practitioners of dark crime have always devoted attention to, and promoted more awareness of, the various cultural forces plaguing their characters, especially the killers, whose crimes and aberrant behavior reveal not only the damage society has done to them but also what society is doing to us. A seasoned student of twisted psychology effecting seemingly normal people, Patricia Highsmith provides several examples of her skilled artistry with the macabre in The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories (1970). The title piece follows Peter Knoppert, a mild-mannered broker whose voyeuristic passion for watching his pet snails mate and reproduce eventually leads to him being eaten alive. Highsmith's equally chilling "The Terrapin" describes the plight of Victor, an 11-year old boy whose domineering , emotionally abusive mother continues to infantilize him through the clothes she forces him to wear and by constantly referring to him as her "lee-tle boy still," a situation that takes a nasty turn when she brings home a terrapin Victor becomes attached to only to realize his mother is going to kill it to make soup. An equally sharp observer of the irreparable harm that can result from unhealthy parent/child relationships, Ruth Rendell's A Demon in My View (1976) charts the demise of Arthur Johnson, a strict, middle-aged clerk abandoned as child by his mother who now routinely "strangles" a mannequin hidden in the basement of his apartment building in order to control his homicidal urges. A superior prose stylist and a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Stanly Ellin dissects the familial and societal causes of racism in his outstanding novel The Dark Fantastic (1983) in which retired college professor Charles Winter Kirwan, dying from cancer and slowly losing his mind, is determined to blow up the apartment building he owns in an African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, killing himself and all his tenants in the process. The most extreme dark crime novels from the 1980s and 1990s include Jack Ketchum's Off Season (1981), Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy, and Ian Banks' Complicity (1993), all serious novels, albeit very disturbing ones, steeped in graphic sex and violence, that rise above their seemingly sordid subject matter to provide compelling, insightful commentaries about gender and class that cannot be easily dismissed or forgotten. None of these novels, however, approaches the Grand Guignol of Brett Easton Ellis' American Psycho (1991), a scathing indictment of yuppie culture and Reagan-era consumerism in which Wall Street banker Patrick Bateman plunges into a maelstrom of rape, torture, mutilation, and cannibalism, acts inseparable from his obsessions with his physical appearance, designer clothes, expensive watches, and five-star restaurants. Although Ellis' novel was reviled by critics and authors alike upon its initial release, any perceptive reader could easily discern Batemen's horrific crimes as emblematic of the vicious, predatory nature of Wall Street and corporate America.
Given the range of writers revisiting and reinventing the tale of terror during this era, mainstream authors, including a few literary giants, inevitably tried their hands at crafting horror novels, some with excellent results. Two of the most effective haunted house novels of the second half of the 20th century have been produced by authors with no connection to supernatural fiction at all, including Paul Theroux's Black House (1974) and Anne Rivers Siddons' The House Next Door (1978). Although he's certainly never even been remotely associated with dark crime, Cormac McCarthy's interest in social isolation, sexual perversity, and extreme violence achieves one of its most disturbing expressions in Lester Ballard, the central character in Child of God (1973), a transvestite serial killer and necrophiliac living in Appalachia far beyond any societal norms. Arguably the most important American novelist since 1950, McCarthy has done more than any actual genre writer to push the literary possibilities of Gothic conventions and the tropes of modern horror. His magnum opus Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West (1985), regarded by noted literary scholar Harold Bloom as the finest American novel since Moby-Dick (1851), reads like the bastard love child of William Faulkner and H. P. Lovecraft, a dense, phantasmagoric, bloody Western chronicling the exploits of the Glanton gang, a band of scalp hunters, along the Texas-Mexico border circa 1850, a tale filled with enough visceral carnage to churn even the stomach of the most jaded splatterpunk. Ian McEwan, another of modern literature's brightest lights, has produced what Paul Di Filippo terms "postmodern macabre," novels that include The Cement Garden (1978) and Enduring Love (1997), tense psychological thrillers in which all human relationships ultimately seem pathological with the potential for violence always lurking beneath. The finest example of the modern tale of terror's ability to achieve enduring literary significance, however, might be Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel Beloved (1981), a haunting, beautifully written, brutal ghost story that explores the long-lasting horrific repercussions of slavery.
Like all good things, the renaissance in modern horror finally came to end with the implosion of the horror fiction publishing boom in the late 1990s as a result of a glutted market and surplus of inferior product. Merely competent writers like Anne Rice and Dean R. Koontz clogged the best-seller lists with endless variants of clichéd scenarios while hacks such as Rick Hautula, Andrew Neiderman, and J. N. Williamson cranked out forgettable paperback originals as fast as they could type, obscuring the work of superior authors such as Charles L. Grant, Kenneth Greenhall, and Melanie Tem. No one should be surprised that as we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, readers and collectors show little interest in anyone from modern horror's heyday except for Stephen King, and to a lesser extent, Clive Barker, both of whom have had their work endlessly repackaged in a variety of signed limited and anniversary editions.
The most compelling writers from the modern horror movement and the most important examples of the modern tale of terror, according to Lloyd Currey, "are now lost in the continuing deluge of mostly crap--importantly, the recycling of hoary old 'classics'--which has buried books that should be better known and acquired by intelligent and/or seasoned devotees of modern and strange stories." Who bothers to seek out Michael McDowell's fine paperback originals like The Elementals (1981) or Katie (1982), much less A. R. Morlan's chilling Dark Journey (1991)? Who's even heard of Steve Fisher's Saxon's Ghost (1969) or Marcy Heidish's The Torching (1992)? Who cares about Jack Cady or Dennis Etchison, much less foundational works of "dark science fiction" like Thomas M. Disch's 334 (1972), Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979), and Michael Marshall Smith's Spares (1996)? How central is terror to the macabre humor of cartoonists and illustrators like Charles Addams, Gahan Wilson, and Edward Gorey, all of whom for years have unsettled children and adults alike with delightfully wicked works such as Favorite Haunts (1976), I Paint What I See (1971), and The Dwindling Party (1982)? Can anyone be convinced to read Joan Aiken, John Gordon, Philippa Pearce, or Robert Westall, young adult writers of supernatural fiction whose well-crafted stories leave the work of most contemporary horror writers in the dust?
These authors are The Other Masters of Terror, every bit the equal of their more well-known contemporaries. Regardless of what classification one prefers--horror, dark crime, dark fantasy, ecofiction, cybernoir, the new weird, or the new Gothic--the great works of modern horror are, at heart, all tales of terror that explore their thematic concerns by evoking strong unease and discomfort in the reader, tilting his or her world slightly askew. As the Other Masters of Terror continually remind us, nightmares need not be supernatural or cosmic to jolt us awake covered in a cold sweat, gasping for breath as we fumble for the lights.
Please note: The selections in this catalogue, which we hope you enjoy, represent only a portion of the titles that constitute our recommended reading list The Other Masters of Terror: 1967-1997, which we invite you to peruse. We welcome inquires about any titles on this list, in stock or not.Read More
"The books I love were published during the horror paperback boom that started in the late ‘60s after ROSEMARY'S BABY hit the big time … When’s the last time you read about Jewish monster brides, sex witches from the fourth dimension, flesh-eating moths, homicidal mimes, or golems stalking Long Island? Divorced from current trends in publishing, these out-of-print paperbacks feel like a breath of fresh air." – Grady Hendrix, Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80 Horror Fiction (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, ).
MODERN HORROR PAPERBACKS:THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE INSANE
Introduction by Boyd White
In his excellent overview of contemporary horror fiction in Neil Barron's Fantasy and Horror: A Critical and Historical Guide to Literature, Illustration, Film, TV, Radio, and the Internet (1999), critic and scholar Stefan Dziemianowicz notes how the horror fiction boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s reflected the "the predominant moods and concerns of the [Vietnam] era," a period defined by "distrust of traditional political authority, the paranoia of the counterculture, the intransigence of the generation gap, the chaos of the protest movement, the moral ambiguities of the war in Asia, the upset of traditional race and gender roles through the civil rights and feminist movements, and the new morality fostered by the sexual revolution." Horror fiction of this period, as Dziemaianowicz emphasizes, resonated with audiences because it "assured readers that horror was a legitimate emotional response to personal betrayal, family dysfunction, loss of faith, emotional estrangement, and other personal and social issues that create in their narratives the sense of the individual overwhelmed by forces beyond his or her control." As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, horror fiction naturally reflected increased social and cultural anxieties about corporate greed, the growing class divide, urban decay, rapidly developing new technologies, and the very real possibility of nuclear annihilation. During these watershed decades, some of the most successful and influential subgenres of horror fiction steadily gained traction, particularly dark fantasy, small-town horror, urban horror, and dark suspense, each focused on exposing the terrors, both real and metaphoric, underneath our most deeply cherished ways of living.
The publication of Ira Levin's Rosemary Baby in 1967, a huge critical and commercial success, triggered the modern horror fiction boom, with William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (1971) and Thomas Tryon's The Other (1971) soon following, all three books first issued as hardcovers from major mainstream publishers. As massive bestsellers that claimed the top-spots on the New York Times Best-Seller List for weeks, these books established horror as a legitimate marketing category and genre with true literary merit. Likewise, the phenomenally successful mass market paperback editions of these novels, including their movie tie-ins, revealed a vast untapped market for paperback horror, as evidenced by the contrasting sales of hardcover and paperback editions of Stephen King’s Carrie (1974). While Doubleday's first hardcover printing of Carrie sold a modest 13,000 copies and remained in print for years, Signet/New American Library's paperback edition sold one million copies during its first year in print. As publishers strove to feed the public's increasing appetite for horror, ambitious works that had only limited success in hardcover, such as Herman Raucher's Maynard's House (1980) and Bari Woods' The Tribe (1981), found new life as paperbacks issued with often misleading ghastly covers and provocative blurbs, as did earlier classics, such as William Sloane's The Edge of Running Water (1939) and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), making them indistinguishable from the dozens of paperback originals that had begun flooding the market on an annual basis. The horror fiction boom also gave birth to a cottage industry of specialty presses, such as Dark Harvest and Scream/Press, devoted exclusively to publishing signed limited and trade hardcover editions of new writers. With as many as several hundred horror titles being published a year by the late 1980s, as Stefan Dziemanowicz astutely observes, the work of many excellent authors "was frequently in danger of being washed away by the tide of mediocre potboilers churned out by horror hacks and opportunists." As the market became oversaturated with product and the audience for horror fiction steadily dwindled, marketing departments and the reading public shifted their interests to dark crime, novels featuring serial killers and psychopaths, and by the mid-1990s, the horror fiction boom was over.
Grady Hendrix's deliriously delightful Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of 70s and 80s Horror Fiction (2017) celebrates the sublime ridiculousness of the packaging and marketing of horror paperbacks during this period. Hendrix's remarks about the industry conditions that produced so many paperback originals also underscores the over-the-top marketing approach for such books: "These books, written to be sold in drugstores and supermarkets, weren't worried about causing offense and possess a jocular, straightforward, 'let's get it on' attitude towards sex … Thrown into the rough and tumble marketplace, the writers learned they had to earn every reader's attention. And so they delivered books that move, hit hard, take risks, go for broke. It's not just the covers that hook your eyeballs. It's the writing, which respects no rules …" Not surprisingly, these books pushed our socio-political anxieties and fears to their outer limits. Brian McNaughton's Satan's Love Child (1977) stuns even the most jaded readers as Marcia Creighton, small-town journalist and mother of three, contends not only with her alcoholic husband but also a Satanic hippy orgy cult and a reanimated corpse. Alan Ryan's Dead White (1983) confronts audiences with a circus train of killer clowns terrorizing a snowbound Catskills community at Christmas. William W. Johnstone's Toy Cemetery (1987) tosses in the whole kitchen sink and then some as Vietnam vet Jay Clute battles Bruno Dixon, an obese pedophile who manufactures Satanic child pornography in a doll factory. Such books sported covers and publisher's blurbs as outrageous as their plots, an endless parade of scantily clad or nude women being tortured or killed, or engaging in unspeakable sex acts with the undead; innocent children about to be torn apart by rabid dogs, vicious cats, and killer rabbits with slavering jaws; broken dolls with glass-eyed stares and rictus grins clutching unsuspecting newborns in their cradles; and biological aberrations of varying size and shape slithering out of every imaginable orifice, smothering their victims with slime and viscera. In Joseph Nazel's The Black Exorcist (1974), "Voodoo rituals and human sacrifices spawned by a cult of Black devil worshippers grips a town in a nightmare of terror." Bob Randall's The Next (1981) teaches us how "Love can turn a boy into a man. But evil can do it faster." Richard Haugh's The Farm (1984) is "Where Gut-Crunching Bone-Grinding Terror Is The Only Crop." Russ Martin's The Possession of Jessica Young (1982) serves up "An Extraordinary Sensual Novel of Vast and Organized Evil." In our current highly politicized cultural climate, no publisher would dare touch any of these books, and it's hard to imagine them casually resting amidst the line-up of paperbacks in the ever-shrinking books section of the local Wal-Mart or an airport newsstand. The publication today of Jack Couffer's notorious Nights With Sasquatch (1977), which depicts on the cover Bigfoot carrying a terrified nude woman underneath the publisher's tease of "An Explosive Ordeal Of Rape And Revenge Beyond Any Woman's Experience," would lead to a social media feeding frenzy, public boycotts, and a few carefully orchestrated industry resignations.
Similar to the era of the shilling shocker in Victorian England that resulted in the publication of such classics as Vernon Lee's A Phantom Lover (1886), the tide of utterly disposable paperback originals published during the late 1960s to the mid-1990s fostered an environment that allowed a number of contemporary horror's most important and unique voices to get their fiction into print, masters of the genre whose significant contributions were unjustly overlooked at the time because they were subject to the same marketing techniques as their less reputable, more tawdry cousins. Charles L. Grant's The Nestling (1982), one of his most ambitious novels, draws upon Native American mythology as a small rural community in Wyoming's Wind River Valley is terrorized by a winged predator amidst the inhabitants' struggles with racial and cultural tensions. Dennis Etchison's Darkside (1986), routinely cited by horror scholars as one of the most significant depictions of post-Vietnam America, explores the relentless hold of a death cult on the teenagers of Beverly Hills. Lisa Tuttle's A Nest of Nightmares (1986) employs familiar horror tropes to examine gender identity and the psychological trauma endured by women negotiating familial and marital problems. A. R. Morlan's The Amulet (1991) and Dark Journey (1991) plunge us into the unsettling world of Ewerton, Wisconsin, a small town beset by supernatural forces that seem insignificant in comparison to the town's history of economic despair, alcoholism, incest, and domestic abuse. Michael McDowell's magnificent six-part Blackwater (1983) is as rich and complex as any Southern literature penned by McDowell's more literary contemporaries like Harry Crews and Bobbie Ann Mason, but his books' brooding, macabre cover designs and the publisher's blurbs emphasizing the apparently sensationalistic content of "Nature Gone Berzerk," "A Horrifying Revelation," "A Diabolical Birth," and "The Cold Bloody River" certainly did not result in Blackwater being properly evaluated as the complex, powerful modern Gothic it is. In the early 1990s, Dell's Abyss line, generally considered the last gasp of the paperback horror explosion, published significant works by new important female authors, such as Melanie Tem's Prodigal (1991) and Kathe Koja's The Cipher (1992). Other classics of contemporary horror from this period first published as paperback originals include Ramsey Campbell's The Face That Must Die (1979), Brian Talbot's The Delicate Dependency (1982), and Robert McCammon's Swan Song (1987).
Grady Hendrix appropriately laments the loss of creativity that coincided with the crash of the horror fiction market as mainstream publishers cut their horror lines and houses devoted solely to paperback originals, like Zebra Books, folded entirely--"A weird, wild, wonderful world that feels totally alien today … In these books from the s '70s and '80s, doctors swap smokes with patients while going over their ultrasounds, housewives are diagnosed as having 'too much imagination,' African-Americans are sometimes called 'negroes,' and parents swoon in terror at the suggestion they have a 'test tube baby.'" Like pulp magazines in the 1920s and 1930s, the no-holds-barred publishing approach to mass market paperback horror produced not only crap and classics, but also what we can now fully appreciate as "classic crap"--politically incorrect, distasteful, disgusting books that provide us with valuable glimpses into a profound part of our cultural past. That world is gone forever, much of it rightly so, but the paperbacks remain in all their lurid, insane glory. Real estate developers who build subdivisions with Satan. Killer teddy bears that wield bloody axes. Gay Indian warriors resurrected by twins with ESP. Stoned bulls that go on killing sprees with their enormous horns and penises. Corporate shareholders who perform dark rituals amidst the Gothic recesses of Manhattan skyscrapers. From trashcan terror to neglected masters, they're all here.Read More
THE DARKEST SEASON OF THE YEAR
By Boyd White
"… even if the U.S. never acquired the English tradition of ghostly tales at Christmas time, I like ‘em. Far better way to spend an evening than going out shopping."
— Karl Edward Wagner, letter to Richard Fawcett, 3 December 1984
"The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve in an old house a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to note it as the only case in which such a visitation had fallen on a child."
— Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898)
No one can say with certainty when the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas first originated. The concept of spirits walking the earth at specific times of the year was a feature of holiday festivals around the world long before the advent of Christianity. Since ancient times, Winter Solstice, usually December 21 or 22, the darkest and longest day of the year, has long been considered an instance when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes somewhat permeable, providing restless spirits with access to humankind. Even today, non-Christian midwinter festivals, such as the Iranian Yaldā, center around gatherings of family and friends who stay up all night eating, talking, and sharing stories to stave off the dark forces that may be about. Such features also characterized early pagan festivals like the Germanic Yule, a 12-day celebration connected with belief in the Wild Hunt, a procession of ghostly hunters in wild pursuit across the night sky that supposedly foretold catastrophes, such as plague or war, or the abduction of people to the underworld or to the realm of fairy. King Haakon I of Norway Christianized Yule in the 10th century when he rescheduled the dates for Yule to coincide with Christian celebrations. To this day, the Christmas season retains traditional features of Yule, including the Yule log, the Yule ham, and Yule singing. When we consider that Christmas follows soon after the observance of Allhallowtide from October 31 to November 2, a combination of ancient Celtic harvest festivals and Christian celebrations associated with restless souls and remembering the dead, fall and winter holiday traditions, particularly Christian ones, have always clearly had a touch of the uncanny.
The use of cold, wintry settings for depictions of encounters with the supernatural is a feature of both early oral and written storytelling. In the Old English epic Beowulf (circa 700 to 1000), Grendel's raids upon Herot Hall take place at night over the course of twelve long winters while King Hrothgar's subjects are sleeping around the hearth after indulging in celebratory feasts. Likewise, in the 13th-century Icelanders' Grettir’s Saga, the troll attacks that Grettir wards off occur on Christmas Eve. By the time William Shakespeare's pens The Winter's Tale in 1611, setting supernatural stories in winter has become an accepted convention; in Act 1, Scene 2, when Hermione, the queen of Sicily, asks her young son Mamillius to entertain her with a story, he replies, "A sad tale's best for winter. I have one / of sprites and goblins." 17th-century England also provides one of the clearest historical examples of the association of the supernatural specifically with Christmas: the reported sightings in 1642 just prior to the holiday of spectral Royalist and Parliamentarian forces re-enacting the Battle of Edgehill, the first conflict of the English Civil War, in the night sky near Kineton. Seen by shepherds, the local priest, and numerous villagers, sightings of the phantoms--complete with screams of horses, clashes of weapons, and cries of the dying--were so numerous over a period of successive days that Charles I sent royal emissaries to investigate the situation; they themselves also attested to witnessing the same ghostly battle, even identifying certain participants. To stop the apparitions, villagers eventually buried all the corpses that had remained strewn across the battlefield since the conflict had taken place on October 23. The story of the Edgehill ghosts was soon memorialized and spread through the publication of a pamphlet in January 1643 entitled A great wonder in heaven shewing the late apparitions and prodigious noyse of war and battals, seen on Edge-Hill, neere Keinton, in Northamptonshire 1642. Similar to the legend of the Edgehill ghosts, as Keith Lee Morris notes in "Christmas Ghost Stories: A History of Seasonal Spine-Chillers," Mary Shelly's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (1845) are prime examples of winter's tales. Shelly's novel opens aboard a ship in the Arctic in the month of December, and Poe's raven confronts the narrator in "the bleak December" when "each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor." In both the United States and Great Britain, by the early 19th century, winter and all things ghostly were defining aspects of foundational works of supernatural literature.
Critics and scholars regard the Victorian era, particularly the period from 1850 to 1902, as the high watermark for the development of the ghost story. In her seminal study Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story (1977), Julia Briggs emphasizes how the Victorian ghost story's "remarkable success was closely connected with the growth of a reading public who consumed fictional periodicals avidly, magazines such as Blackwood’s, the Cornhill, Tinsley's, Household Words, All the Year Round, Temple Bar, St. James, Belgravia, and The Strand … The predominantly middle-class audiences enjoyed romance and pictures of high life, but also liked to read of familiar settings transformed by a sudden eruption of crime, violence, or the supernatural. Ghosts, like detectives, commonly operated in middle-class homes." With a formulaic approach that was easily repeatable, ghost stories were often used as filler alongside longer works serialized in magazines, and as the popularity of the genre grew steadily, "more talented writers," as Briggs notes, "began to explore the ghost story's possibilities as a serious literary form." Somewhat predictably, the rise of the ghost story during the Victorian era corresponded with an increased public interest in spiritualism, including séances and spirit photography, the practice of photographing sitters with deceased loved ones, cultural phenomena that clashed with rapidly increasing scientific and technological progress that, combined with Darwinian theory and Freudian psychology, threatened to strip the world and human existence of any sense of mystery or wonder. "True" accounts of ghost sightings and other spiritual phenomena, such as Catherine Crowe's The Night Side of Nature: Ghosts and Ghost Seers (1848) and Frederick George Lee's The Other World: Glimpses of the Supernatural. Being Facts, Records, and Traditions Relating to Dreams, Omens, Miraculous Occurrences, Apparitions, Wraiths, Warnings Second-Sight, Witchcraft, Necromancy, Etc. (1875), were immensely popular. Viewed in this context, fictional and factual ghost stories during the Victorian era embodied the tension resulting from outmoded but not entirely abandoned traditional religious and/or supernatural systems of belief being displaced by reason and rationalism, as well as the erosion of the individual and the communal through industrialization and urbanization.
Amidst these swirling cultural forces, Charles Dickens, as Briggs so astutely observes, "revived the traditional connection of ghosts with Christmas through the custom of telling ghostly stories on Christmas Eve." A savvy writer and editor with a knack for spotting and establishing commercial trends, Dickens had already included several chapters in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-37) that featured supernatural stories, but the publication in 1843 of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas ushered in the golden age of the ghost story as a literary form. The success of A Christmas Carol led to a host of Christmas books, fantasies--often ghost stories--with clear moral objectives, including Dickens' The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas-Time (1848) and others that today are virtually forgotten like Frederick William Robinson's Twelve O'Clock. A Christmas Story (1861). The popularity of Christmas books soon gave birth to the Christmas annuals, special supplementary issues of popular magazines for which Dickens set an incredibly high standard with the Christmas numbers of Household Words (1950-1858) and All the Year Round (1859-1867) that he edited.
By creating narrative and thematic frameworks for the stories he solicited from his fellow writers for his Christmas annuals, Dickens firmly established the late 19th-century literary convention of ghost stories being told at gatherings of family and friends or by traveling companions on holiday trips, a conceit that has its roots in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (circa 1387-1400), particularly Chanticleer's lecture on the significance of dreams and apparitions in "The Nun's Priest Tale." The titles of Dickens' Christmas annuals are transparent in terms of their linking devices, such as A Round of Christmas Stories by the Fire (Household Words, 1852), The Haunted House (Household Words, 1855), Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings (All the Year Round, 1863), and the railway-themed Munby Junction (All the Year Round, 1866). Given Dickens' editorial acumen, the stories featured in his Christmas annuals constitute a veritable roll call of some of the most brilliant Victorian ghost stories, including Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Story" (Household Words, 1852); Amelia B. Edwards' "The Phantom Coach" (All the Year Round, 1864) and "The Engineer's Story" (All the Year Round, 1866); and Dickens' own "To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt" (All the Year Round, 1865) and "The Signalman" (All the Year Round, 1866). Dickens' influence, in fact, on the overall shape and direction of Victorian supernatural literature extends far beyond just the traditional ghost story. His Christmas annuals include superb examples of key types of horror fiction, such as Wilkie Collins' "The Ostler" (Household Words, 1855), a chilling instance of a dream portent, and Rosa Mulholland's "Not to be Taken at Bed Time" (All the Year Round, 1865), a highly regarded tale of Irish witchcraft. Dickens also serialized several cornerstone works of fantastic literature in the regular issues of All the Year Round, most notably Edward Bulwer-Lytton's A Strange Story (1861-1862) and J. S. Le Fanu's "Green Tea" (1869).
Given the enormous success of Dickens' Christmas annuals, other periodicals quickly followed suit. The first three Christmas issues of Tinsley's Magazine--Storm-bound (1867), A Stable for Nightmares (1868), and Thirteen at Table (1869)--employed the now familiar framing device of people gathered together under various circumstances telling tales, including ghost stories, to entertain themselves or pass the time. Far from being second-rate imitations of Dickens' Household Words and All the Year Round, competitors’ Christmas annuals contained equally excellent examples of the Victorian ghost story. Storm-bound, for example, features Amelia B. Edwards' "The Story of Salome," widely regarded as her best work. The first Unwin's Christmas Annual, The Broken Shaft (1886), in which passengers tell stories while aboard a stranded ocean liner, includes F. Marion Crawford's superb "The Upper Berth," the tale of cabin 105 haunted by the malevolent ghost of a suicide. The zenith of the holiday periodicals are probably the issues of Routledge's Christmas Annual devoted to novella-length ghost stories by J. H. Riddell, especially The Uninhabited House (1875), which E. F. Bleiler considers "probably the finest High Victorian supernatural novel." In addition to the Christmas annuals, publishers also issued single-author ghost story collections specifically tied to the Christmas season, including Rhoda Broughton's Tales for Christmas Eve (1873), a legendary genre rarity, and Mrs. Baillie Reynolds' The Relations and What They Related (1902), a scarce, well-regarded collection. Jerome K. Jerome even parodied the convention of Christmas ghost stories in Told After Supper (1891), a series of tales exchanged during a drunken storytelling session on Christmas Eve.
With the exception of books issued to coincide with the Christmas season, only a small fraction of the ghost stories published during the Victorian era in story collections and periodicals actually take place during the Christmas season. Like Victorian crime fiction writers, authors of Victorian ghost stories proved themselves especially inventive within a range of typical scenarios and settings, often resulting in subtle, sophisticated variations on a handful of central themes. While the ghosts themselves often fall into easily recognizable categories--restless but benign spirits who return to protect loved ones or reveal past crimes, vengeful spirits who wreak havoc on the individuals who have wronged them, and tortured souls whose extreme grief or guilt prevent them from finding eternal peace--the best practitioners of the Victorian ghost story work wonders as they explore social and cultural concerns rooted in urbanization, traditional gender roles, and the expansion of the British Empire. In A Christmas Carol and The Haunted Man, Dickens' yuletide spirits issue strong warnings against the alienating forces of materialism and industrialization, positing generosity and community as necessary correctives to the societal ills plaguing the author's beloved London. Mary Elizabeth Braddon's "The Cold Embrace" (1860) and E. Nesbit's "From the Dead" (1893) serve as condemnations of an oppressive patriarchal society that subjects women to institutionalized forms of abuse and exploitation through marriage and economic dependence. In such stories, the ghosts of dead women typically function as proto-feminists who return to the living in order to haunt the men who have destroyed their lives. The murdered civil servant in Rudyard Kipling’s "The Return of Imray" (1891) and the dead fakir who comes back as jackal in Alice Perrin’s "Caulfield’s Crime" (1892) are harrowing expressions of cultural conflicts arising from the British presence in India. Highly sophisticated, ambiguous tales, like Vernon Lee's "Amore Dure: Passages from the Diary of Spiridion Trepka" (1887) and Henry James' The Turn of the Screw (1898), add a depth of keen psychological insight to hauntings mired in complex issues of sexuality and desire. The sheer number, in fact, of landmark collections of ghost stories published in England and the United States during in the late 19th century--J. S. Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly (1872), J. H. Riddell's Weird Stories (1882), Amelia B. Edward's Monsieur Maurice and Other Tales (1883), Ambrose Bierce's Can Such Things Be? (1893), and Ralph Adams Cram's Black Spirits and White: A Book of Ghost Stories (1895), to name only a few--confirms the ghost story's status as one of the premiere genres of Victorian literature.
The Victorian ghost story's influence on modern and contemporary horror fiction, of course, cannot be overestimated. M. R. James, a towering figure in the development of supernatural literature in the 20th century, began writing his antiquarian ghost stories in the 1890s to entertain the choristers of King’s College while they waited to perform during services on Christmas Eve. Like Mary Elizabeth Braddon and E. Nesbit, early 20th-century female authors, such as Edith Wharton and Marjorie Bowen, continued to use the ghost story as a vehicle for critiquing gender roles and the transactional nature of relationships between men and women. More importantly, modern and contemporary horror fiction’s obsession with "the return of the repressed" would not exist without the classic Victorian ghost story. With its astute yet subtle examination of mental illness, aberrant psychology, and lesbianism, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959, arguably the greatest haunted house novel in the history of the literature, is firmly in the tradition established by Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s "The Haunted and the Haunters; Or the House and the Brain" (1859). Taking their cues from B. M. Croker, Rudyard Kipling, and Alice Perrin, in Toni Morrison’s Beloved: A Novel (1987), Hari Kunzru’s White Tears (2017), and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “Black-Eyed Women” (2017), writers of color craft terrifying expressions of racial and sexual exploitation, as well as cultural concerns about class privilege and immigration, in the form of ghosts of children born into slavery, conjured African-American bluesmen, and dead Vietnamese boat people. Dickens would have certainly shuddered, but he definitely would have been pleased.
Ghost stories, in the end, have always been somewhat claustrophobic--stuffy, closed rooms and shuttered windows with roaring fires that can't quite drive out the evening's chill. As Andrew Smith states in The Ghost Story, 1840-1920 (2010), "Throughout the 19th century, there is a progressive internalization of horror, the idea that monsters are not out there but to be found within … With the ghost story there's a sense that instead of being able to lock yourself away in your home, to leave the monster outside, the monster lives with you, and has a kind of intimacy." The true significance of Victorian ghost stories is frighteningly simple. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, every generation unknowingly, through its shortcomings, forges its own chains socially, politically, morally, and aesthetically. We haunt ourselves. We invite our ghosts in. What, even now, scratches at our windows? Who, as we speak, waits at our doors?Read More
THE ROBERT AND PHYLLIS WEINBERG COLLECTION
By Boyd White
Recently, Lloyd Currey showed me a copy of the classic science fantasy collection A Gnome There Was (1950) inscribed by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, the wonderful husband-and-wife team who often wrote under the pseudonym “Lewis Padgett.” Lloyd was discussing the provenance of the book, how he had sold it to Robert Weinberg many years ago only to have it come into his hands again now that Bob is no longer with us. As I was reading the inscription, Lloyd remarked, “I think this copy might be unique. I have never seen another inscribed copy.” We could easily apply this same sentiment to Bob himself. He was one of a kind, a unique individual whose like we won’t see again.
As a teenager growing up in rural Tennessee in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I loved receiving catalogs from Weinberg Books in the mail. When I would come home from middle school and one of Bob’s catalogs was waiting for me on the kitchen table, I would race to my room and read it from cover to cover. I had already developed a love for the pulps from reading Bantam paperback reprints of Doc Savage. Likewise, the Ballantine two-volume paperback edition of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1973) with its marvelous cover artwork by John Holmes had introduced me to H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Frank Belknap Long. Unsurprisingly, Bob’s catalogs always increased my appetite for such fare tenfold. Who was the Spider? The Phantom Detective? What were “shudder pulps”? Would I enjoy Leigh Brackett or Cornell Woolrich?
Being the son of factory workers, I had very little money those days, only what I could earn from running errands and mowing neighbors’ lawns. The first collectible books I ever purchased were in-print Arkham House titles featured in Bob’s catalogs—Joseph Payne Brennan’s Stories of Darkness and Dread (1973), Gerald W. Page’s Nameless Places (1975), and Mary Elizabeth Counselman’s Half in Shadow (1978). These works formed the basis for my love of weird fiction, and I dreamed about books that I knew I could never hope to afford like Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others (1939) or a first edition of Ray Bradbury’s The October Country (1955). After I earned my driver’s license and began operating a forklift part time at a local K-Mart, I soon found myself placing a telephone order for Manly Wade Wellman’s Worse Things Waiting (1973) for the outrageous price of $75 from a somewhat intimidating—or so it seemed to me at the time—New York bookseller named L. W. Currey, who had also started sending me catalogs in the mail.
Bob Weinberg’s 40+ year career as a collector, editor, author, bookseller, and publisher is widely known. A complete list of his accomplishments could easily fill a substantial volume. Anyone who visits his official website can’t help but be astounded by the breadth and depth of his interests as a collector—Robert E. Howard, H. Rider Haggard, Nero Wolfe, Frank R. Paul, Virgil Finlay, Kelly Freas, EC comics, Uncle Scrooge, and anything related to the pulps. As a publisher, Bob reprinted numerous pulp classics, often rare or obscure titles like The Octopus, The Scorpion, or Dr. Death, in addition to issuing key reference works such as Mike Ashley’s The Complete Index to Astounding/Analog (1981). As a bibliographer, Bob made significant scholarly contributions, most notably The Weird Tales Story (1977), The Louis L’Amour Companion (1993), and his masterwork, A Biographical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (1988), which remains an essential resource for the field and which, like The Weird Tales Story, won the World Fantasy Award.
In Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Granger, the leader of a group of exiles who have literally become living books by memorizing entire works to preserve their contents from the firemen, tells Montag, “’Grandfather’s been dead for all these years, but if you lifted my skull, by God, in the convolutions of my brain you’d find the big ridges of his thumbprint.” I never met or spoke with Bob Weinberg, but he did start a lifelong conversation with me about books through his catalogs during my formative years. I am certain he holds a similar place in the lives of many other collectors and readers. The closest we come to eternity is through what leave behind, our families and our children, the stories and anecdotes that loved ones recite about us. Bob’s life and work reminds us that books last forever. I still haven’t bought a copy of The Outsider and Others or a first edition of The October Country, but I have all the books I purchased from Bob’s catalogs. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
Although Sir Thomas More coined the word utopia in the 16th century from Greek that translates literally as “no-place,” in common usage the term refers to an imagined ideal community constructed upon egalitarian principles of economics, government, and justice. While its homophone eutopia, derived from Greek that means “good place,” is the correct term for a positive utopia, utopia and eutopia have been used interchangeably for decades.
More’s Utopia (1516), a fictional account of the religious, social, and political customs of an island society located in the South Atlantic, is not the earliest example of a proposal for an ideal community. That distinction rests with Plato’s Republic (380 BC), a rigid class-structured society ruled by philosopher-kings whose wisdom has eliminated poverty and want through the equal distribution of all resources. For every utopian ideal a political philosopher or satirist has imagined, however, a counter proposal has never been far behind. The deification of logic and reason in Plato’s Republic reaches its horrific extreme in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) when the narrator finds himself among the Houyhnhnms, a race of hyper-intelligent talking horses without emotion, who have degraded and enslaved human beings because humanity, from the Houyhnhnm point of view, lacks reason and cannot overcome its base nature.
Lloyd Currey’s Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature explores the innumerable ways that authors throughout the centuries have imagined rebuilding and perfecting civilization, as well as their inevitable anxieties about how such attempts to save humanity may ultimately only end up destroying it. As Lloyd’s catalog illustrates, from the rustic matriarchal households of W. H. Hudson’s A Crystal Age (1887) to the interstellar mixture of socialism and anarchy in Ian M. Banks’ Matter (2008), utopias and dystopias have taken many forms.
While the classics of the literature are certainly well represented—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888), Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis (1926), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962)—the most fascinating books Lloyd has gathered include some of the earliest and least known examples of the genre, unclassifiable works that combine elements of lost race fiction, interplanetary romance, occult fiction, and high fantasy. Simon Berington’s The Memoirs of Sigr. Gaudentio di Lucca: Taken from His Confession and Examination before the Fathers of the Inquisition at Bologna in Italy (1737), recounts di Lucca’s life as a successful artist in the kingdom of Mezzoraim in Northern Africa among isolated descendents of the ancient Egyptians whose culture is defined by a natural religion that channels all ambition for material gain into a desire to benefit the nation as a whole. James Reynolds’ Equality; A History of Lithconia (1837), one of the earliest American utopian novels, describes an island society that “denounces private property and requires no assistance from the divine, placing its faith in bureaucracy to impose order, technology to reduce drudgery, and omnipresent gardens to instill virtue.” Neither of these titles, however, compares with the screwball eccentricity of Austyn W. Granville’s The Fallen Race (1892) in which the lone survivors of the doomed Frisbee Expedition into the Great Australian Desert find themselves in the land of the Anonos, the descendants of female aborigines and a particularly randy troop of kangaroos, or John O. Greene’s The Ke Whonkus People (1893) in which an arctic utopia executes its religious heretics by sacrificing them to vampire dragons who drain their blood in underground caverns.
Perhaps the most remarkable work in Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature is Shirby T. Hodge’s The White Man’s Burden: A Satirical Forecast (1915). Written by Roger Sherman Tracy, a noted graduate of Yale University and an associate of the New York Board of Health, this remarkable book is narrated by an unnamed white man from 20th-century New Hampshire who is mysteriously transported to West Africa in 5027 AD. The narrator encounters a remarkable utopia inhabited by African-Americans who relocated after achieving economic superiority in North America and eventually defeating the white race in a devastating war. Characterized by technological marvels such as air cars, interplanetary travel, and disintegration rays, the society the narrator explores is essentially anarchist with no laws, private property, money, or prisons, each person working at whatever he or she chooses to do. A ground-breaking work decades ahead of its time socially and politically, The White Man’s Burden: A Satirical Forecast is a work ripe for rediscovery by scholars and enthusiasts.
Of course, not every author has embraced the progressive economic and social reforms that have characterized such ideal societies. For many early writers, the concept of an idealized socialist utopia is inextricably linked to the enslavement of the individual and the erasure of all creativity or desire. Frank Cowan’s Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land (1879) satirizes numerous tropes of 19th-century utopian fiction in its depiction of a super-scientific matriarchy destroyed, as the author says, by a “big and brawny man, with many of the vices of his sex and years.” Likewise, Walter Besant’s The Inner House (1888) imagines the eradication of aging through medicine and the institution of a socialist state not as unleashing humanity’s unlimited potential but instead as breeding out all individuality, desire, and creativity. While The Inner House is often read as a literary precursor to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), Besant’s novella, unlike Orwell’s masterpiece, is steeped in anxieties about the progressive social movements of its time and is best understood as the kind of anti-utopian work that gets taken to its logical extreme in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) and its rejection of governmental controls for unrestrained capitalism and individual achievement.
Lloyd rounds out Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature with an excellent selection of key contributions by modern and contemporary speculative fiction writers, including Zenna Henderson’s Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961), Keith Roberts’ Pavane (1968), Suzy McKee Charnas’ Motherlines (1978), Alasdair Gray’s Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1985), Elizabeth Hand’s Glimmering (1997), and Charles Stross’ Glasshouse (2007).
Economic. Ecological. Feminist. Religious. Single-gender. Single-sex. Scientific. Technological.
Looking for the perfect world? Here’s a good place to begin.Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
From the moment humankind first drew breath, all cultures and religions have envisioned the end. Gods and devils war over creation. Great floods and fires destroy the Earth. In Norse mythology, during Ragnarok, the Midgard Serpent spews poison over the world, the sun dies, and the Earth sinks into the sea. In the Book of Revelation, the Four Horsemen ride, and creation is plunged into war, disease, starvation, and death. From the very beginning, the end has always been with us.
Given our pressing concerns with global warming, dwindling natural resources, cyberterrorism, and flourishing pandemics, no one should be surprised that grappling with the apocalypse has become the dominant motif in our popular culture. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011) and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014) depict futures ravaged by climate change. Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) chart humanity’s demise at the hands of unstoppable viruses. Such books have inspired the term “eco-thriller” and have become huge best-sellers, attracting the attention of A-list filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg and Alex Garland. Likewise, the Zombie Apocalypse is now the defining scenario for expressing our culture’s anxieties about our future. Robert Kirkman’s enormously successful graphic novel The Walking Dead (2003 to the present) has spawned two television series and host of imitators, including films such as Zombieland (2009) and novels such as The Girl with All the Gifts (2014). Apocalyptic themes are no longer just the purview of writers whose work critics often categorize pejoratively as science fiction or horror. Contemporary literary giants have also embraced such concerns, including Kazuo Ishigoru (2005’s Never Let Me Go) and Cormac McCarthy (2006’s The Road).
Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions shines a spotlight on speculative fiction that explores humanity’s future in often unexpected, unusual ways. The catalog is the result of a lifetime spent reading and reflecting on trends in fiction. The range of books Lloyd has selected is remarkable and refreshing--science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, rare first editions, paperback originals, genre high spots, and obscure or virtually unknown gems. Lloyd's approach both challenges and invites us to discover what radically different works like Margaret Oliphant’s The Land of Darkness (1888), Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959), and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station (2000) actually have in common. All of us are familiar with H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” (1936) or Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959), but how many of us have even heard of Cicely Hamliton’s Lest Ye Die: A Story from the Past or of the Future (1928) or Sam Lundwall’s 2018 A.D. or the King Kong Blues (1975)? As a unique thematic grouping, Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions breaks down genre boundaries and allows these books to engage in conversation with one another.
As Lloyd’s catalog demonstrates, the threat of human extinction or the destruction of civilization via natural catastrophes, widespread pandemics, and nuclear warfare has been a core part of fantastic fiction from the beginning. A great rarity with only a single recorded copy in the Library of Congress, Alexander Pitts Bettersworth’s The Strange Ms. By --, M.D. (1883) imagines a world in which the polar ice caps melt, and most of humanity has perished, the few survivors fleeing Kentucky amidst a new Ice Age in hopes of finding a warmer climate in which to live. The threat of a nuclear holocaust first rears its head in Robert Cromie’s The Crack of Doom (1895) as a telepathic political radical threatens to destroy the world with an atomic explosion, a theme that dominates science fiction over the next century. M. P. Sheil’s The Purple Cloud (1901) is the seminal last-man-on-Earth novel, the story of Adam Jeffson who travels the world after a cloud of poisonous gas devastates civilization. These early works prefigure later classics of their kind, including John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956), J. G. Ballard’s The Drought, and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), a landmark fusion of science fiction and horror in which a pandemic spread by dust storms and mosquito blooms turns everyone into a vampire. As the novel George Romero has long acknowledged as the inspiration for his influential film Night of the Living Dead (1968), I Am Legend, a direct descendant of The Purple Could, is the grandfather for the Zombie Apocalypse.
Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions also illustrates how the current crop of dystopian fiction, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008 to 2010) and Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking (2008 to 2010), which floods the young adult marketplace and has clear adult crossover appeal, pales in comparison to its predecessors. First collected in The Eternal Moment and Other Stories (1928), E. M. Forester’s “The Machine Stops” imagines a future in which technology rules the world, and most of humanity lives underground in individual rooms they never leave, their daily needs met by an omnipotent, self-repairing mechanical entity known as “Machine.” In Sarban’s The Sound of His Horn (1952), set in a world in which the Nazis have won World War II, Reich Meister Count von Hackelnberg and his guests hunt women dressed as birds for sport and watch genetically engineered leopard-women feed on deer. One of the most harrowing and prescient visions of the United States ever created, Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974) confronts us with a police-state dictatorship which confines professors and college students to underground communes, sterilizes African-American couples after the birth of their first child, and promotes widespread recreational drug use.
The most intriguing and rewarding aspect of Lloyd’s catalog, however, are the “Terminal Visions,” unique, unclassifiable works whose highly imaginative scenarios both thrill and terrify us. William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (1912), David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), and Mervyn Peake’s Gorgmenghast (1946-1959) are undeniable visionary masterpieces, but the obscure or little known gems Lloyd has included are equally gripping and powerful. Alfred Gordon Bennett’s The Demigods (1939) introduces us to highly intelligent giant ant-like beings living underground in Africa that threaten to take over the Earth using powers derived from an ancient hive mind, including the ability to hypnotize humans. In Peter Brown’s Kafkaesque Smallcreep’s Day (1965), we meet Pinquean Smallcreep who, after spending years his inside a vast, labyrinthine factory slotting slots in pulleys, decides to learn the purpose of what he’s been making by seeking out the mysterious General Parts Store deep within the bowels of the factory. Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer (1975) charts the quiet destruction of Harlowe, New Hampshire, at the seemingly benevolent hands of Perly Dunsmore, a kindly auctioneer who wishes to raise money via weekly auctions to rejuvenate a struggling town. Nothing, however, can prepare the most discerning reader for M. John Harrison’s A Storm of Wings (1980), which recounts how the dying consciousness and bloated corpse of a lunar explorer unwittingly trigger a psychic invasion centuries after a nuclear holocaust on Earth as alien and human realities attempt to rewrite one another, creating unstable lifeforms, shifting landscapes, and decaying cities.
A society that allows its members to mortgage their own bodies for spare parts (Richard Engling’s Body Mortgage, 1988)? An America devastated by environmental ruin whose government rests upon the constant oppression and humiliation of the unprivileged (Rebecca Ore’s Gaia’s Toys, 1995)? What, indeed, does the future hold for us? Start perusing Dark Futures: Dystopias, Disasters, and Terminal Visions and find out.Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
With the publication of William Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” in the May 1981 issue of Omni, the burgeoning science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk arrived on the scene almost fully formed. Gibson’s tale of a data trafficker who becomes a target of the Yakuza is an inspired mash-up of science fiction and hardboiled fiction set in a near future dystopia characterized by low-life anti-heroes, nihilistic femme fatales, corrupt mega-corporations, sprawling cities, and cybernetically enhanced humans. That same year, the anonymously edited Dell paperback anthology Binary Star No. 5 featured Vernor Vinge’s novella “True Names” in which hackers wage war in both virtual reality and the real world against a sophisticated AI known as a personality simulator. Vinge’s novella is the first work of science fiction to conceptualize “cyberspace,” a term Gibson would later coin in his 1982 short story “Burning Chrome.” Gibson honed cyberpunk to perfection with the publication of the Hugo- and Nebula-Award winning novel Neuromancer in 1984. The story of Henry Case, a former drug addict and burnt-out hacker who infiltrates a private corporate enclave with the assistance of a “Razergirl” named Molly, Neuromancer reads like Dashiell Hammett hopped up on science fiction steroids with the mean streets of cyberspace replacing the mean streets of San Francisco.
An equally defining moment for cyberpunk came with the 1982 release of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which Gibson saw when he was two-thirds of the way through writing Neuromancer and from which he feared readers would think he had cribbed heavily. An adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), itself a huge influence on cyberpunk, Blade Runner cemented the relationship between cyberpunk and film noir in terms of thematic concerns and style. Set in Los Angeles in 2019, Scott’s film follows Richard Deckard, an ex-cop who hunts down genetically engineered workers known as “replicants.” Deckard’s investigations immerse him in a web of deceit and paranoia as he discovers the Tyrell Corporation has developed a new breed of replicants with false memories that lead them to think they are actually human. Although Scott filmed Blade Runner in color, he lifted his visual palette entirely from classic film noir from the 1940s and 1950s. His futuristic Los Angeles is a rain-drenched world of street hustlers, prostitutes, and corrupt police, the perfect setting for exploring social decay, economic exploitation, the effect of technology on human nature, and the blurring of subjective and objective realities.
Critics and scholars have long pointed to Blade Runner as the work that gave rise to the term “cybernoir,” a hybrid genre that blends elements of science fiction and film noir. In fact, “cybernoir” is a much more apt description of many foundational novels and short stories often characterized simply as “cyberpunk.” While everyone readily acknowledges the classic works of science fiction to which this subgenre owes it origin, we often overlook cyberpunk’s equally vast debt to hardboiled fiction. Cybernoir touchstones such as Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, Nicola Griffith’s Slow River (1995), and Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon (2002,) draw as much upon Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (1929), Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister (1949), and Ross Macdonald’s The Chill (1959) as they do Alfred Bester’s Tiger! Tiger! (1956), Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (1967), and James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973). The same forces that disrupt Chandler’s Los Angeles or Macdonald’s San Francisco—patriarchal industrialists, corrupt corporations, and a wealthy, insular elite—are still front and center in cybernoir, only now with increased technology, such as cybernetic enhancements and virtual reality, at their ready disposal.
Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Cybernoir gathers influential and interesting works in this important subgenre of science fiction, all of which deal with a dark vision of the future in which humanity is enslaved by or in conflict with machines and technology. In addition to seminal books like Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), Mary Rosenblum’s Chimera (1993), and Peter Watts’ Starfish (1999), Lloyd includes some early forays into the subgenre. In Algis Budrys’ Who? (1958), we encounter an American physicist no longer sure of his identity because his entire head, arm, and internal organs have been replaced by highly advanced artificial prosthetics. John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1975), often considered the first true cyberpunk novel, follows Nick Haflinger, a fugitive hacker, who uses his computer skills to avoid capture in a fragmented 21st-century America in which vast computer networks and sophisticated quantitative analysis have become the cornerstones of international competition.
A good many of the entries in Dark Futures: Cybernoir feature scenarios and characters that emphasize the influence of film noir and hardboiled fiction on the subgenre. George Alec Effinger’s Hugo-nominated When Gravity Fails (1987) introduces us to Marid Audran, a small-time hustler in Buyadeen, the criminal quarter of an unnamed Middle-Eastern city, who reluctantly undergoes a series of experimental cybernetic modifications in order to pursue a serial killer who is not only murdering witnesses but also Marid’s friends. Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends (1994) focuses on Cerise and Trouble, young lesbian hackers who steal industrial secrets and later try to go straight only to learn someone is impersonating Trouble on the web and committing industrial espionage. Tricia Sullivan’s Someone to Watch Over Me (1997) follows the complex love affair between Adrien Reyes and Sabina Lazarich, lovers who work as surrogate bodies via The Deep, a network of brain-wave surfers who “watch” their hosts’ minds and experiences, a situation that puts Sabina at risk when Adrien’s “Watcher” takes an unexpected interest in her. What situation could be more typically noirish than Michael Marshall Smith’s One of Us (1998) in which Hap Thompson, a petty criminal who works as memory receiver temporarily storing other people’s unwanted memories, must clear himself of murder by finding the woman who gave him her memory of actually committing the crime?
Like the great authors of 19th-century scientific romances, such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, cyberpunks do not predict the future but instead extrapolate from their given circumstances to imagine what the world could become. Virtual sex, identity theft, data security, extreme body modification, surveillance and drone warfare, the dangers of being constantly “plugged in”—spend some time surfing Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Cybernoir and see how reality has finally caught up with these innovative authors.Read More
The Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. This list, showcasing Lunar travel in fact and fiction from Lucian to the present, has been compiled to honor this event.
The mechanics of space travel were secondary to the object of satire in most of the early interplanetary voyages. In the 19th century, writers like Chrysostom Trueman (i.e. H. Cowen), George Tucker and Jules Verne added more seemingly realistic technical methods of travel to their stories of space exploration, especially the use of anti- gravity metal, a popular method of propulsion into the 20th century. The rocket experiments conducted by Robert H. Goddard in America and scientists in Russia, England and Germany led to the perfection of the liquid fuel rocket engine, most notably used in the German V-2 rocket bomb in World War II. After the war, rockets launched satellites, animals and, ultimately, humans into space. The Lunar fiction by Jules Verne, Kurd Lasswitz, H. G. Wells, Otto Willi Gail, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and others inspired and influenced the scientists who made mankind’s dream to reach the Moon a reality.
Introduction by Michael L. Ciancone
(Adapted from Ciancone's "Introduction" to Foreword to Spaceflight: An Illustrated Bibliography of pre-1958 Books on Rocketry & Space Travel [Apogee, 2018].)
Three men are widely recognized as the fathers of rocketry for spaceflight—Konstantin Tsiolkovskii (Russia), Hermann Oberth (Germany), and Robert Goddard (United States). Tsiolkovskii developed the theory underpinning human spaceflight and wrote small books on space travel and cosmology (the expansion of humans into the cosmos). The “holy grail” of this genre is an article he wrote in the May 1903 issue of “Nauchnoe Obozrenie” [Scientific Review] on “Exploration of Space by Means of Reactive Devices” in which he established the “rocket equation” and addressed various aspects of future spaceflight. Tsiolkovskii was influential as a mentor and inspiration to experimenters and spaceflight advocates in the Soviet Union. Oberth was also an early theoretician who was well-known to early rocket pioneers in Europe and beyond. He tried a bit of experimentation, but he was a better writer than scientist or engineer. Oberth wrote one of the most influential books on spaceflight—Die Rakete zu den Planetenrӓumen (Oldenbourg, 1923)—which inspired a generation of “rocketeers” around the world. Goddard, on the other hand, was an experimenter who spent his life building and testing rockets. He published his seminal monograph, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, in 1919 through the Smithsonian Institution and launched the first liquid-fuel rocket in the world on 16 March 1926.
What began as a solitary endeavor grew, as people with similar interests formed small groups to share news and plan for the future. Writers, particularly during the formative years of the 1920s and 1930s, were the publicists who used their medium to spread the “gospel” of spaceflight and to explain what it offered to the future of mankind. These visionaries were able to take the dreams of spaceflight and weave them into stories for public consumption. The first book of non-fiction in English on the use of rockets for human spaceflight, The Conquest of Space (Penguin Press, 1931), was written by David Lasser, a founder and the first president of the American Interplanetary Society (later re-named the American Rocket Society, which exists today as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). The first British books of this genre appeared shortly thereafter—Stratosphere and Rocket Flight (Astronautics) (Pitman, 1935) by C.G. Philp and Rockets Through Space—The Dawn of Interplanetary Travel (Allen and Unwin, 1936) by P.E. Cleator. Although many of these early rocketeers tended to be writers, they were soon augmented by technical members, such as engineers, who were interested in the practical application of rocketry to human spaceflight. Together, these groups of dreamers and doers provided a fertile breeding ground that merely awaited a catalyst.
Certainly, it has to be said that it was extremely important to the development of rockets when the military became interested. This took rockets from the realm of the amateurs and into the arena of military applications. However, there is also a price to pay for relying on military support for a particular technology, whether it is atomic energy or rocketry. Technology is a sword with two edges that cuts in both directions. Rockets that fulfill dreams of launching humans into space are also potential weapons of war. This is a dilemma with which rocketeers have struggled. But it is a legacy that we must acknowledge and understand.
The development of the A-4 (V-2) rocket by Germany during World War II was a catalyst for rocket development in the United States and the Soviet Union following World War II. One of the most interesting contemporary books on the V-2, Ballistics of the Future by Kooy and Uytenbogaart(Stam, 1946), provides detailed schematics of the V-2 rocket and the location of launch sites in The Netherlands.
Early rocket experimenters were pleased to see their rockets launch into the sky without exploding. Then they were eager to send their rockets higher and farther. The destination was unimportant, other than “up.” Later, it became important to control the flight of the rocket with an intended destination. To advocates of human spaceflight, this destination took the form of placing a spacecraft into orbit around the Earth, or sending it to the Moon or Mars. Perhaps the most influential book on this theme was The Mars Project (University of Illinois Press, 1953) by Wernher von Braun, who was an early member of the German Society for Space Travel and architect of the V-2 rocket program in World War 2, and later a prominent figure in the US space program.
Cold War tension between the United States and the USSR led to the space race—space was the new field of competition in a battle of ideologies. The initial venue for this competition was the International Geophysical Year (IGY) during which nations of the world were encouraged to join together to explore and better understand the Earth. At this same time, the United States and the Soviet Union were both eager to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). IGY offered a convenient opportunity to sustain rocket development in support of the launch of the first artificial satellite into orbit around the Earth, ostensibly for peaceful purposes.
Like a bicycle race, the space race was a race of stages. The Soviet Union won the first “stage” with the launch of Sputnik on 4 October 1957. And it won other stages as well, representing major milestones, such as the first human in space (with the launch of Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961). But on 20 July 1969, the United States became the first nation (and thus far, the only nation) to land humans on the Moon.
These achievements generated a lot of public interest, which resulted in many publications about those achievements. Before the launch of Sputnik, there had only been a few hundred books published of speculative nonfiction on human spaceflight since the early 1900s. Most of these appeared in English and German, but there were also books published in Russian, Italian, French, and Spanish. After the launch of Sputnik, the number of books about spaceflight increased significantly as people around the world sought information on efforts to explore this ultimate frontier.
An early chroniclers of the history, current status and future of human space flight was Will Ley, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1935. He is perhaps best known for Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel, which first appeared as Rockets—The Future of Flight Beyond the Stratosphere (Viking, 1944), and went through many editions and printings under different titles through the 1960s.
The history of spaceflight is still being written as mankind continues its journey, back to the Moon and on to Mars.Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
On February 6, 2018, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation became the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the sun—a 2008 Tesla Roadster convertible with a space-suit-clad human mannequin named Starman in the driver’s seat, a copy of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the glovebox, a digital copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series on a 5D optical disk, and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” playing on a continuous loop via the vehicle’s sound system. The roadster’s circuit board carries the simple message, “Made on Earth by humans.” Musk’s stunt succeeded in demonstrating that SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket could carry a payload as far as the orbit of Mars. A savvy entrepreneur and ambitious technological visionary, Musk hopes to facilitate the eventual colonization of Mars with the first human landing scheduled for 2025. SpaceX’s colonization plans include fully reusable launch vehicles, human-rated spacecraft, and a Sabatier propellant plant to synthesize methane and liquid oxygen on the surface of Mars.
Musk is not alone in his desire to extend humankind’s reach deep into the solar system. This year, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services begins accepting formal corporate proposals for sending small robotic landers and rovers to the Moon as an initial step towards exploring and using its natural resources. Likewise, NASA’s own Mars Exploration Program is in the midst of Mars 2020, an astrobiology rover mission to investigate the planet’s geology and assess its past habitability. Similar research involving the exploration of the solar system is also being undertaken by the European Space Agency and The Planetary Society. Similarly, New Horizons, an interplanetary space probe, has just completed the most-distant planetary flyby in the history of space exploration, passing over Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt, a realm of icy objects at the edge of the solar system, well beyond Pluto.
Our obsession with exploring other worlds is as old as time itself. Centuries before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon in 1969, astronomers, philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists were contriving often outrageous methods for visiting not only the Moon but other planets, imagining the unique lifeforms, cultures, and civilizations that they could encounter. In Lucian of Samasota’s second-centrury Verae Historiae (“The True History”), the earliest surviving fictional narrative to include interstellar voyages, aliens, and interplanetary warfare, Lucian and his shipmates are carried by a whirlwind to an inhabited Moon where Endymion, the king of the Moon, is at war with Phaeton, the king of the Sun, who is opposed to the former’s plans for colonizing Venus. As E. F. Bleiler notes in Science Fiction: The Early Years, Lucian’s parody of the traveler’s tales of his time is “the prototype for Renaissance and Baroque lunar voyages and also for later terrestrial imaginary voyages.” The most significant Renaissance piece of proto-science fiction is, of course, Johannes Kepler’s Somnium, Seu Opus Posthumum De Astronmia Lunari (“A Dream,” 1634), a remarkable work that presents advanced ideas in astronomy, lunar geography, and physics in the form of a dream narrative in which a demon from the Moon describes in detail its geography and biology, including how lunar lifeforms, both plants and animals, are able to survive in extreme heat and extreme cold. Of nearly equal significance is John Wilkins’ The First Book. The Discovery of New World Or: A Discourse Tending to Prove That ‘Tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World in the Moone (1638) an early work of popular science aimed at explaining to a general audience the new science of astronomy as expressed by Kepler and Galileo through Wilkins’ speculations about lunar inhabitants and interplanetary travel. Because of his foundational ideas concerning the plurality of worlds and lunar flight, as scholar Marjorie Hope Nicolson asserts, The First Book, along with Somnium, “established the conventions of the Moon voyage for more than a century. There is not one of the full-length English voyages that did not draw from it.”
Lloyd Currey’s Imaginary Places: Other Worlds 1595 -1900 is an astonishing gathering of early interplanetary fiction, the finest such offering in the trade. In addition to the Lucian, Kepler, and Wilkins, Lloyd’s listings include other seminal works that provide the foundation for modern and contemporary science fiction. Each entry is a wealth of information, providing numerous insights into how specific tropes in the genre have developed over the centuries, highlighting the significance of rare books that will be new to many readers and collectors. The catalog also clearly illustrates how science fiction has always been a keen tool for criticizing social and political structures since the time of the ancient Greeks, not just the post-World War II SF satirists. Early interplanetary or cosmic voyages are often vehicles for questioning the religious views, philosophical musings, scientific theories, and social institutions of the periods in which they were written, including government, commerce, colonialism, education and child-rearing. The titles themselves can be worth the price of the ticket, announcing their authors’ grandiose, complex designs. How can anyone resist Chrysostom Trueman’s The History of a Voyage to the Moon, with an Account of the Adventurer’s Subsequent Discoveries. An Exhumed Narrative, Supposed to Have Been Ejected from a Lunar Volcano (1864) or Willis Brewer’s The Secret of Mankind With Some Singular Hints Gathered in the Elsewheres or After-Life, from Certain Eminent Personages as also Some Brief Account of the Planet Mercury and Its Institutions (1895)?
As varied and entertaining as the titles themselves are the ingenious methods of interstellar travel devised by the authors in the centuries before reaction engines, liquid oxygen, and rocket-grade kerosene propellants. These include spirit voyages, transport by angels or fairies, balloons, spacecrafts constructed from feathers, a steam-driven North Pole, a steel globe insulated from the Earth’s gravity, and a fiery chariot. The most insane means of lunar transport, however, occurs in the pseudonymous A Voyage to Cacklogallinia: With A Description of the Religion, Policy, Customs, and Manner of That Country (1727) in which Samuel Brunt, a former slave trader, travels to the Moon in hopes of exploiting the gold reserves he believes to be found there via a covered litter carried aloft by sentient, flying, human-sized chickens that talk.
Equally engaging are the alien lifeforms encountered by early interplanetary explorers. In Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and the Sun (1687), credited by Arthur C. Clark as the first narrative containing rocket-powered space flight, M. Drycona lands in the Garden of Eden, which is located on the Moon, a familiar trope of the time period. In addition to meeting the biblical prophets Elijah and Enoch, Drycona discovers a race of highly civilized nude giants that move about on all fours with weapons that cook game for meals as its being shot and talking earrings that educate their offspring. Many interplanetary romances of the 17th and 18th centuries imagine the Moon as being inhabited by the spirits of dead Earth people or their reincarnated souls, and invariably, aliens in such narratives are typically humanoid. In Arthur Penrice’s Skyward and Earthward (1875), for example, the Moon is inhabited by genderless telepaths who neither eat nor sleep, and Mars is inhabited by beautiful rose-skinned vegetarians with birds trained to pick fruit. Florence Carpenter Dieudonne’s Rondah; Or, Thirty-Three Years in a Star (1887) is noteworthy for its attempt to create a lifeform with a truly alien biology—a race of flying people who are actually vegetables that hatch from pods.
Imaginary Places: Other Worlds 1595 -1900 is replete with landmark works that provide the earliest examples of some of science fiction’s most defining elements. As Bleiler notes, the “first. . . scientific account of an interplanetary voyage, and the first hard science fiction story” is J. L. Riddell’s Orrin Lindsay’s Plan of Aerial Navigation, with a Narrative of His Explorations in the Higher Regions of the Atmosphere, and His Wonderful Voyage Round the Moon! (1847), the printed version of a lecture supposedly read at a New Orleans lyceum recounting Lindsay’s construction of spacecraft from magnetized plates that are an amalgamation of mercury and steel, and his two trips into space using compressed tubes of oxygen for an air supply. The narrative concludes with Lindsay’s plan to travel to Mars, which he believes could be inhabited by intelligent life, in hopes of opening interplanetary commerce. Camille Flammarion’s “Lumen,” the story of the soul of a dead 19th-century Frenchman that has traveled around the universe and witnessed the birth of entire planets and civilizations (1873), is a ground-breaking work that conceptualizes the universe on a vast scale, considering the finite speed of light and applying evolutionary theory to the development of alien lifeforms, examining how different planetary environments lead to the development of radically different creatures. Percy Greg’s Across the Zodiac: The Story of A Wrecked Record (1880) engages in the kind of world building that characterizes much contemporary fantastic fiction, devoting considerable detail to a Martian culture rooted in rationalism and scientific achievements that have led to the extinction of disease and old age. Pre-dating H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1898) by six years, Robert Potter’s The Germ Growers. An Australian Story of Adventure and Mystery (1892), is considered to be the first alien invasion story, an “aliens among us” tale of indestructible shape-shifting beings who have established hidden outposts in remote locations around the Earth and plot to destroy mankind by breeding and releasing new virulent diseases.
For sheer scope and scale, however, Kurd Lasswitz’s Auf Zwei Planeten (“Two Planets,” 1897) and Robert William Cole’s The Struggle for Empire: A Story of the Year 2236 (1900) are unbeatable. One of the great classics of interplanetary fiction, Auf Zwei Planeten is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, but exerted a tremendous influence not only on German science fiction but also German science, providing inspiration for an entire generation of rocketry pioneers, such as Wernher von Braun, who obsessively read Lasswitz’s novel. For the time period, the set-up itself is mind-boggling. With the aid of enormous space stations 6,500 miles above each of the Earth’s poles, Martians have constructed scientific installations in the Arctic and the Antarctic in hopes of conducting trade with humans for the wasted solar radiation that strikes the Earth. War unfortunately breaks out between Mars and the British Empire, and after the destruction of the latter, Mars turns the Earth into a protectorate under Martian rule, a situation that leads to the cultural and social degeneration of both Martians and humans with resistance movements brewing on each side. An equally impressive warning of the dangers inherent in colonial exploitation, Cole’s The Struggle for Empire is essentially the first space opera, complete with galactic empires and interstellar military tactics. In Cole’s novel, the Anglo-Saxon Federal Union (the United States, Great Britain, and the Germanic states of Europe) rule the solar system, conquering entire planetary systems using energy weapons and vast interstellar ships that travel ten million miles per hour. Armed conflict breaks out between Earth and Kairet, a planet orbiting Sirius, and Cole’s detailed depictions of space battles, complete with metal fragments, chunks of flesh, and spouts of blood are, according to Bleiler, “the most gruesome and most powerful prepared up to modern times.” Other striking imagery includes “the Earth surrounded by a barrage of space torpedoes and mines.”
Over a five-year period in the 1640s, working from his homemade rooftop observatory in what would become the modern city of Gdańsk, Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius produced Selenographia (1647), the first detailed atlas of the Moon, documenting every crater, slope, and valley that Hevelius could see through his telescope. Even today, the level of detail in Selenographia is staggering. Over 300 years would pass until the first manned mission to the Moon, but as Imaginary Places: Other Worlds 1595 -1900 emphasizes, humankind certainly did not allow its imagination to stagnate in the interim with regards to the universe and the stars. As of this writing, we have not had a manned Moon landing since 1972. For many of us, the dreams of Elon Musk and his like-minded visionaries for extended interstellar exploration are surely the stuff of science fiction, but when has that not ever been the case?Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
In 1692’s “An account of the cause of the change of variation of the magnetic needle; with an hypothesis of the structure of the internal parts of the earth,” astronomer Edmond Halley first posited Hollow Earth Theory. Wishing to explain magnetic phenomena, Halley suggested that the earth was a hollow sphere consisting of two inner concentric shells and a core with a small central sun. Each inner region contained an atmosphere, was luminous, and, of course, possibly inhabited. Like climate change denial, dowsing, reptilian overlords, or psychic surgery, the concept of a hollow earth could hardly stand up to serious scientific scrutiny. Mathematician and surveyor Charles Hutton disproved the theory definitively in 1778.
Even so, Hollow Earth Theory continued to exert a hold on the popular imagination, primarily through the efforts of John Cleve Symmes, Jr., an American military officer and trader who self-published his Circular No. 1 in 1818 in which he “declare[d] the earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick [sic] spheres. . . I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.” Symmes believed that the earth’s interior could be accessed through openings in the Arctic and Antarctic regions since he was certain the earth was flattened at the poles due to the centrifugal force of its rotation. Early converts to Symmes’ theory included pioneer statesman James McBride and newspaper editor Jeremiah Reynolds.
Not surprisingly, Hollow Earth Theory exerted an almost immediate influence on the development of fantastic fiction. Halley’s ideas find their earliest expression in Danish author Ludvig Holberg’s Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum (1741) in which Niels Klim, a recent graduate of the University of Copenhagen, falls through a hole in a cave and lands on the planet Nazar, which revolves around an inner sun. Among his misadventures, Klim is accused of attempted rape, exiled from a utopian kingdom because he believes women should not hold higher positions in society, and eventually finds himself living among a race of sentient monkeys. The first significant inner earth novel written in English is the anonymous A Voyage to the World in the Centre of the Earth (1755). As in Holberg’s novel, an explorer on Mount Vesuvius plummets through a hole and discovers an underground utopia whose inhabitants live to be at least 200 years old and possess telepathic abilities, as well as trained gigantic birds who provide air travel throughout the kingdom. In the United States, Symmes’ hollow earth beliefs were heavily satirized in Symzonia; A Voyage of Discovery (1820), written by the pseudonymous Captain Adam Seaborn, the narrator of the tale who sails to the Antarctic in a modified side-wheel steamship, determined to prove Symmes’ theory. The Symzonians, the utopian race that Seaborn encounters, are vegetarian pacifists who live entirely in unselfish harmony presided over by “the Best Man,” a leader who holds his position for life after being elected by a council. Seaborn’s Antarctic expedition is echoed in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), a book admired by H. P. Lovecraft.
In addition to all of the above works, Lloyd’s Imaginary Places: The Earth’s Interior 1721-1947 also includes notable titles by eccentric American crank authors from the 19th century. Such writers use the concept of an interior world to engage conflicting ideas about political systems, religion, science, social hierarchies, and technology, resulting in novels that are unclassifiable blends of science fiction, fantasy, lost race, and utopian motifs. Part of the joy in perusing Lloyd’s listings is discovering the incredible scenarios encountered via interior worlds that are always accessed either by plunging down a crevasse or unwittingly sailing through an aperture at one of the earth’s “flattened” poles. William Jenkins Shaw’s Under the Auroras: A Marvellous [sic] Tale of the Interior World (1888) describes a journey by airship to a world of perpetual sunshine characterized by “giant sub-men, a Lilliputian civilization, and the remains of titanic cities left by antediluvian people.” William R. Bradshaw’s The Goddess of Atvatabar. Being the History and Discovery of the Interior World and Conquest on Atvatabar (1892) presents us with a kingdom in which male and females are allowed to unite only in platonic relationships that allow their pent-up sexual energies to be drained from their souls and then used by sorcerers to create matter. Charles L. McKesson’s Under Pike’s Peak; Or, Malhalma, Child of the Fire Father (1898) focuses on the lives of the Azonians, a deaf, dumb, and blind dwarfish race with telepathic and clairvoyant powers who live in a subterranean world complete with electric vehicles and sophisticated electrically sustained gardens.
Not to be outdone, the contributions by European authors included in Imaginary Places: The Earth’s Interior 1721-1947 are equally compelling and consist of several seminal works of fantastic fiction. Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871) details the exploits of a mining engineer who discovers the Vril-ya, a technologically sophisticated people with no emotional or physical needs whose women are larger and more intelligent than their men, a race that ruthlessly preserves its own superiority at any cost. Jean Gabriel de Tarde’s Fragment D’Histoire Future (1904) depicts a far future in which humankind, faced with a dying sun and ecological disaster, creates an underground paradise maintained by the earth’s internal heat. S. Fowler Wright’s monumental The World Below (1929) focuses on a time-traveler 500,000 years in the future who finds himself caught in a staggering conflict between the Amphibians, telepathic denizens of the deep, and the Dwellers, giant humanoids who control the only remaining land mass on the earth.
Scholars and researchers should take particular note of two landmark works of feminist speculative fiction highlighted in Lloyd’s catalog. A legendary rarity considered to be the “first significant all-female utopia written in the United States,” Mary E. Bradley Lane’s Mizora: A Prophecy of the Civilization of the Future (1890) imagines a technologically advanced civilization in which men have been eliminated, eugenics has been embraced, and rain is produced by discharging electricity into the air. Alcanoan O. Grigsby and Mary P. Lowe’s Nequa or The Problem of the Ages (1900) is another important early feminist utopia. In order to search for her fiancé, Cassie Van Ness disguises herself as a man named Jack Adams and participates in an expedition to the North Pole aboard the Ice King. When the ship unknowingly sales inside the earth, the crew encounters the Alturians, a socialistic society characterized by advanced technology and complete equality between the sexes in which women handle all rescue and exploratory work.
No selection of interior world fiction would be complete without some rousing two-fisted tales of adventure, the direct descendants of Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). In addition to Edgar Rice Burrough’s David Innes novels, including lovely copies in jacket of At The Earth’s Core (1922) and Pellucidar (1923), collectors will find several key examples of boys adventure fiction from different eras, most notably E. Douglas Fawcett’s Swallowed by An Earthquake (1894), Frank Powell’s The Wolf-Men: A Tale of Amazing Adventure in the Under-World (1906), and Carl H. Claudy’s The Blue Grotto Terror (1934).
Lloyd Currey’s Imaginary Places: The Earth’s Interior 1721-1947 has something for everyone. Shall we dig in?Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
Lloyd's bookselling website is a treasure trove of bibliographic information that other booksellers, collectors, and bloggers refer to frequently. The website is essentially an ongoing "Guide to Fantastic Literature," an invaluable electronic reference tool that is ever changing depending upon acquisitions and sales, which is why anyone deeply interested in fantastic fiction knows to check Lloyd's listings regularly.
Recently, Lloyd wrote to me, “I get as much pleasure handling and describing the material as I do selling it. . . . The only reason I sell books is to pay the overhead, and I use most of what’s left to buy more material. Basically, I am a bibliographer and collector who enjoys being surrounded by interesting and curious books, art, manuscripts, and relics.” Nowhere is Lloyd’s attitude more evident than in The Development of the Fantastic Tradition Through 1870 in Fiction and Verse, an electronic catalog that is an ongoing project of Lloyd’s with 371 listings and counting. Consisting of books featured only on Lloyd’s website, the catalog is a virtual who’s who of early fantastic fiction and includes a wide range of genres—imaginary voyages, lost race novels, utopian fiction, interplanetary travels, hollow Earth adventures, fairy tales, Gothics, and ghost stories.
To be sure, Lloyd’s catalog contains a number of high spots with which any enthusiast of science fiction, fantasy, or horror will be familiar, such as first editions of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Uldolpho: A Romance (1794), Mary Shelly’s The Last Man (1826), Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), and J. S. LeFanu’s Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851). The most fascinating books, however, are early works that very few collectors or bibliographers have actually seen in the first editions even if they have been able to read them in later reprints.
The representative works of science fiction are almost overwhelming. One of the earliest imaginary voyages to the moon, the first edition of Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1634) is described as “virtually unobtainable,” and Lloyd’s listing details not only key aspects of Kepler’s dream voyage but also its publication history and the merits of currently available translations. Images of Somnium and its title page are included. Equally interesting are the listings for Ludvig Holberg’s Nicolai Kilmii Iter Subterraneum (1741), a journey to utopian cultures amidst an undiscovered world in the interior of the Earth, and Jane Webb’s The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (revised edition, 1828), a futuristic romance that involves weather control, mobile houses, and a reanimated Cheops.
Some of the most compelling and entertaining content descriptions belong to the American Gothics in Lloyd’s catalog, important books that are rarely seen in any edition. This brief excerpt from the summary of George Lippard’s The Quaker City; Or, The Monks of Monk-Hall (1845) reads like a lost film treatment written by Dario Argento and Wes Craven: “Monk Hall itself is an updated version of the infernal subterranean of the castle or abbey. Teeming with malicious creatures of every type and presided over by a crippled monster called Devilbug, Monk Hall also has a Gothic maiden-in-residence, Mabel Pyne. The plottings of Devilbug provide the occasion for live burials, necrophiliac love affairs, necromancy, satanic ritual, and other depravities embellished with nauseating scenes of Lippard's own.” The list of plot devices in Mansfield Walworth’s Warwick: Or, The Lost Nationalities of America (1869) is equally delightful: “A sensational Gothic romance with alchemy and occult science, detection, mysterious disappearance, impersonation, dastardly deeds, murder (skeletons of killer and victim ultimately found in a hidden room), discovery of artifacts of a forgotten advanced people who inhabited America in antediluvian days and perished in the Biblical Flood, fabulous riches found in the depths of Mammoth Cave (a long fantastic and horrific sequence), and more.”
The substantial contributions of female authors to the fantastic tradition also play a significant part in Lloyd’s catalog beyond the obvious highlights by Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, and Charlotte Smith. Ann Augusta Carter’s The Great Rosy Diamond (1856) is a children’s fantasy with shape-changing elves, a hollow Earth kingdom consisting of floating islands, and life forms that are both mineral and vegetable. Harriet Prescott Spofford’s The Amber Gods and Other Stories (1863) is a seminal collection of American short fiction that includes a number of genres, such as the detective story (“In the Cellar”), the frontier adventure (“Circumstance”), and the erotic fantasy (“The Amber Gods”). Jane Porter’s Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) is a legendary rarity of Gothic fiction, a superb historical novel about a young man of Polish-English descent who flees Warsaw in the 1790s to seek his fortune in London.
The Development of the Fantastic Tradition Through 1870 in Fiction and Verse is more than just a distant window into the past. It is a celebration of the human imagination from the earliest days of fantastic fiction before genre elements codified into what we now term science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Anyone who wants to appreciate the rich tradition from which spring contemporary works as diverse as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2001), Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes (2014), and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (2015) should spend some time with Lloyd’s work-in-progress.Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
“So it is in poetry that we first encounter permanent entry of the weird into standard literature.” --H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Natural Horror in Literature
Readers, collectors, and scholars of fantastic literature have little interest in fantastic poetry. While they routinely seek out first editions of Robert E. Howard’s Skull-Face and Other Stories (1946) or Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), rarely do they feel compelled to read, much less purchase, first editions of poetry collections by these same authors, such as Howard’s Always Comes Evening (1957) or Le Guin’s Wild Angels (1975). It’s equally difficult to imagine readers, collectors, and scholars of modern literature wishing they had first editions of Leah Bodine Drake’s A Hornbook for Witches (1950) or John Brunner’s A Hastily Thrown-Together Bit of Zork (1974) sitting on their shelves alongside Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues (1926) or Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in An Emergency (1967). Lovers of fantastic literature certainly know that William Hope Hodgson, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith all wrote poetry, but how many of them have actually bothered to read any of it, much less consider its place in relation to these authors’ fiction? Marion Fox, who wrote several rare weird novels, including Ape’s Face (1914) and The Mystery Keepers (1919), also wrote Vocation (1911), a volume of poetry issued by David Nutt, the publisher of Count Stenbock’s legendary story collection Studies of Death (1894). Plenty of collectors search for Fox’s novels, but who even cares about her book of poetry? Similarly, collectors pounce on first editions of Studies of Death when they manage to turn up in the market, but would they display the same enthusiasm for any of Stenbock’s poetry collections—Love, Sleep, and Dreams (1881), Rue, Myrtle, and Cypress (1883), or The Shadow of Death (1894)—rare books that are virtually unobtainable? A serious aficionado of 19th-century poetry would have an easier time acquiring a first edition of Keats’ Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820) than any of Stenbock’s poetry collections and would probably show very little interest even if offered one of them.
In his essay on Robert Aickman in the revised edition of Supernatural Fiction Writers, John Clute emphasizes “the literary world’s displacement of the twentieth century’s most significant form of literature, the literature of the fantastic, to the periphery of ‘high culture.’” As Clute’s remarks indicate, academic elites and literary snobs view landmark works of fantasy, horror, and science fiction as second rate when measured against the accepted canon of great literature. Genre writers supposedly lack the thematic seriousness and stylistic achievements of literary authors whose work can loosely be categorized as “realism” with its attendant emphasis on contemporary social and political concerns, the relationship between the self and society, and examinations of institutionalized structures of power, such as marriage and religion. As a result, William Faulkner’s complex novels of race and class inherently merit more attention than David Lindsay’s equally complex examinations of myth and personal identity. Similarly, John Cheever or Flannery O’Connor can be considered a master of the short story, but Avram Davidson or Margaret St. Clair cannot. Such hierarchies and divisions also occur within the literature of the fantastic. Authors who excel at short stories but who produce few noteworthy novels, such as C. L. Moore or Robert Sheckley, don’t achieve the same status as Fritz Leiber or Octavia Butler. Within such a framework, not surprisingly, fantastic poetry ends up being valued far less than fantastic fiction.
Prior to the 20thcentury, however, distinctions between high and low art, between literature and popular fiction or poetry, were not so firmly set or finely drawn, nor was realism more highly valued in literature and art than the fantastic or supernatural. Numerous foundational works in the current canon of great literature consist of fantastic poetry and contain the earliest inklings of what would become modern fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Originally composed orally, Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BC) includes the eponymous hero’s battle with Humbaba the Terrible, a fire-breathing monster, as Gilgamesh attempts to cut down the Sacred Cedar. Homer’s The Odyssey(ca. 750 BC) follows Odysseus, master strategist and tactician, as he sleeps his way through a bevy of immortal females, outwits the Cyclops, and avoids being turned into a pig by a sorceress. Not to be outdone, the 24,000-verse-long Ramayana (ca. 500 BC) recounts the colorful life of Rama, the prince of Kosala, who wages war against Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, who has kidnapped Sita, the prince’s wife.
As oral traditions gave way to written forms, fantastic poetry continued to thrive and develop as evidenced by the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf (ca. 1000), a distinct influence on Tolkien, and the Norse Poetic Edda (ca. 900 to 1100), each replete with tales of gods and monsters and of doomed warriors at the edge of the world locked in struggle against dragons and darkness. During the Renaissance, fantastic poetry ascended great heights with works such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy (1308-1320) and its depiction of the tortures suffered by condemned souls in Hell, such as the Forest of Suicides whose leaves are eternally eaten by harpies, a fate as horrific as any imagined by Clive Barker. Likewise, William Shakespeare’s finest plays are not just masterpieces of world literature—they are masterpieces of fantastic poetry. From the avenging ghost in Hamlet (ca. 1602) to Prospero’s manipulative magic in The Tempest (ca. 1611), Shakespeare’s artistry is suffused with his deep love and appreciation of the supernatural. Any reader or critic would be hard pressed to think of a more memorable line in horror literature than the Wayward Sisters’ invocation in Macbeth (ca. 1607), “By the pricking of my thumbs, /Something wicked this way comes.”
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, fantastic poetry was inextricably linked to the development of the Gothic and the search for the sublime, a defining characteristic of the Romantics that stresses beauty can be terrifying and the terrifying can be beautiful. Graveyard poetry, such as David Mallet’s “The Excursion” (1726) and Edward Young’s “Night-Thoughts” (1743-1745), meditations on mortality characterized by funereal settings and images of death and decay, set the stage for the generous public reception of Germanic ballads, such Gottfried August Bürger’s “Lenore” (1773) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “The Bride of Corinth” (1798), when they were first translated into English. These ballads, among the earliest narratives to feature spectral lovers and sexual unions between the living and the dead, are considered not only foundational texts in vampire literature but also an important bridge to Edgar Allan Poe, whose macabre poems “The Haunted Palace” (1839), “The Raven, ” (1845), and “Annabel Lee” (1849) remain as well known today as his short fiction. Classics of Romantic and Victorian literature that are high spots of fantastic poetry could easily fill several volumes, and include Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798), a fever dream narrated by a sailor doomed to wander the Earth for eternity, relating his horrific encounter with a ghost ship on which Death and Life-in-Death roll dice for the lives of his companions; William Wordsworth’s “The Thorn” (1798), an unwed mother’s lament over killing her newborn baby on an isolated hilltop only to periodically suffer reminders of her crime because the very landscape has been transformed by her baby’s death; and John Keats’ “Lamia” (1820), a tale of ancient Greece in which a young man engages in a doomed love affair with a serpent in the form of a woman. The dramatic monologue, poems narrated by fictional or historical personas, is often considered the most accomplished poetic form practiced by Victorian poets, and among the finest examples are Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” (1842) and “My Last Duchess” (1842), poems narrated by psychopathic murderers that represent a watershed moment in the use of Gothic elements to critique the relationship between gender and power. In a similar vein, Christina Rossetti’s wonderful narrative poem “Goblin Market” (1862), the story of two sisters struggling to resist the temptation of cursed fruit offered to them by male goblin merchants, employs the supernatural in one of the defining feminist texts of the era, engaging issues of public and private space, traditional genders roles, and social mores regarding female sexuality. An American writer who lived during the Victorian era, Emily Dickinson produced remarkable poetry that is considered by critics to be the birth of a truly modern poetics. Her famous carriage ride with Death (“Because I could not stop for Death,” 1896) and her painful accounts of her consciousness experiencing extinction (“I heard a Fly Buzz—when I died—” and “My life closed twice before its close,” 1896) are also logical extensions of not only the macabre preoccupations of Poe and the Romantics but also the Victorian’s concerns with gender roles.
As we eased into the 20thcentury, the status accorded to fantastic poetry as literature waned rapidly. In his essay “Fantasy and Horror Poetry,” Steve Eng notes, “Supernatural poetry thrived on rhyme and meter for its hypnotic, musical, incantatory force. But the general worthlessness of sentimental magazine verse caused the ‘modern’ or free verse revolution, led initially by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.” In addition to the shift to free verse and non-narrative poetry in the 1910s, critics and scholars also tended to lavish their attention on poetry not just firmly grounded in more realistic subject matter, but also that demonstrated a more modernist sensibility in approach and technique. The Second Industrial Revolution and the rise of Social Darwinism fueled a steady erosion in traditional values, particularly those associated with formal religious institutions. Growing political and social unrest on a global scale, which would eventually result in World War I, furthered a sense of uncertainty among the general populace and an increased sense of fragmentation and alienation, all of which played a role in changing literary tastes and critical opinions. Like the great poets of the centuries preceding them, writers such as Thomas Hardy and William Butler Yeats, who straddled the end of the 19thcentury and the beginning of the 20thcentury, wrote both realistic and fantastic verse, but critics and scholars often dismissed their more macabre or fantastic poetry as merely sensationalist or sentimental and, therefore, inferior to their more supposedly “serious” work. From this perspective, only a naïve reader would consider Yeats’ “The Black Tower” (1939), written a week prior to his death, with its depiction of the dead buried upright in a mass tomb on an Irish hillside, as even being in the same league with “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” (1937-38), famous for Yeats’ use of “the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart” as an expression of his despair over his declining poetic imagination due to old age. While magazines and journals throughout the nineteenth century had always published a wide range of fiction and poetry, both literary and fantastic, as the 20thcentury progressed fantastic poetry, like fantastic fiction, was soon relegated to pulp magazines, most notably Weird Tales, and disappeared entirely from mainstream literary publications.
That fantastic poetry in the 20thcentury only survived in the pulps and later via specialty publishers like Arkham House and small press magazines such as Nyctalops and Weirdbook is a claim typical of surveys of supernatural and macabre poetry. Like the assertion that fantastic fiction and poetry cannot be considered serious literature, such a perspective is skewed and further diminishes fantastic poetry by making it the sole province of supernatural and speculative fiction writers, such as Lord Dunsany, Frank Belknap Long, Walter de la Mare, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman. Ignoring the numerous fantastic and macabre poems written by prominent 20th-century literary giants suggests that the Gothic and Romantic impulses nurtured by the most highly regarded British and American poets of the 19thcentury ceased to be a worthy pursuit for poets with serious literary ambitions. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Some of the most important poets in 20th-century mainstream literature incorporate elements of the fantastic into their work. While their subject matter may not be overtly supernatural or speculative in nature, their language and imagery absolutely are. An astute chronicler of the relationship between rural isolation and mental illness, Robert Frost’s “A Servant to Servants” (1915) is narrated by woman whose life is completely circumscribed by the daily domestic chores she must do for the hired men who work for her husband on his property. Her account of her uncle who took to “carrying his pillow in his teeth” and was kept in “a sort of cage, / Or room within a room, of hickory poles, / Like stanchions in the barn, from floor to ceiling” and who gives way to violent fits throughout the night is a superb example of a modern Gothic in verse. Even more disturbing, and as grotesque and bizarre as anything in Lovecraft’s poetry, is James Dickey’s “The Sheep Child” (1967), a harrowing account of a Southern legend that functions as a prohibition against bestiality—the supposed existence of a museum of oddities in Atlanta that contains “this thing that’s only half / Sheep like a woolly baby / Pickled in alcohol because / Those things can’t live.” The opulent, baroque decadence of Clark Ashton Smith’s prose poetry is rivaled by the surreal mental landscapes of Wallace Stevens’ great modernist poems whose strange, idiosyncratic nature and sense of awe are evidenced even in their titles, such as “Tea and the Palaz of Hoon” (1921) “The Emperor of Ice Cream” (1923), and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts” (1942). Fairytales and biblical myths get turned on their heads in many modern feminist poems, including Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” (1971) and Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” (1966) who warns both God and Lucifer to “[b]eware” because she rises “[o]ut of the ash” and “eat[s] men like air.” Dramatic monologues reach new extremes via the richly absurd first-person personas who speak John Ashbery’s “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” (1977) and William Matthews’ “Homer’s Seeing-Eye Dog” (1988). What work of supernatural or macabre poetry is more terrifying than Carolyn Forche’s prose poem “The Colonel” (1978), based on her firsthand volunteer experiences in El Salvador, in which a colonel dumps a grocery sack of severed human ears onto a table in front of her, or Frank Bidart’s “Herbert White” (1977) with its matter-of-fact account of a little girl’s rape and murder, which begins, “’When I hit her on the head, it was good, // and then I did it to her a couple of times,—// but it was funny,—afterwards, // it was as if somebody else did it.’”
As these examples illustrate, fantastic poetry is not just the purview of writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, nor does it require subject matter that is strictly supernatural or fantastical in order to terrify or elicit awe. Just as critics, scholars, and collectors of literature often have a ridiculously narrow conception of what constitutes actual literature, readers, collectors, and scholars of fantastic literature have an equally limited view of the value of fantastic poetry and the significant role it has played in the careers and lives of writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, as well in mainstream literature. If supernatural and macabre elements can be used with such success in so-called “high” or “serious” literature, isn’t possible that genre writers whose poetry has been dismissed as mere doggerel hack work might also exhibit the same levels of fine craftsmanship and intellectual rigor demonstrated by their more lofty literary cousins?
Lloyd Currey’s Fantastic Poetry invites you to reconsider the most neglected form of supernatural and speculative literature. This curated collection challenges readers, collectors, and scholars to stretch their imaginations and move beyond their comfort zones into what is still relatively uncharted territory, an infinite world of words and possibilities.
Not surprisingly, many of the most unique, interesting volumes included in Fantastic Poetry predate the twentieth century. One of the earliest is Joel Barlow’s The Vision of America; A Poem in Nine Books (1797), a 5,000+ line epic consisting of a dialogue between Christopher Columbus and an angel that covers the entire history of North and South America. A direct result of the popularity of Bürger’s “Lenore,” Matthew Gregory Lewis’ Tales of Wonder (1801), the first anthology of supernatural and macabre verse in English, contains 60 poems by a diverse group of writers working the early Gothic and ballad modes, including Sir Walter Scott, Ben Johnson, John Dryden, Robert Burns, and Thomas Gray. A six-canto chivalric romance in the tradition of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590), John Milton Harney’s Crystalina: A Fairy Tale (1816) describes the adventures of Rinaldo, a young knight who must rescue his beloved Princess Crystalina after she is kidnapped by Oberon, the fairy king. A great rarity, John Greenleaf Whittier’s much neglected Legends of New-England (1831), a foundational contribution to the development of supernatural literature, consists of eighteen tales in prose and verse, a veritable catalog of horrors, natural and supernatural, which confronted early American settlers, including man-eating wolves, frontier massacres, pacts with diabolic forces, and spectral warriors, all told with a gruesome and grim gusto. Mark Drinkwater’s The United Worlds, A Poem, in Fifty Seven Books (1843) is an early utopian work of American science fiction in the form of a narrative poem concerning the discovery of a subterranean world whose inhabitants have devoted themselves to philosophy and engineering. Equally enticing is a complete thirteen-volume set of The Yellow Book (1894-1897), Henry Harlan and Aubrey Beardsley’s influential Victorian literary quarterly, a treasure trove of fiction and poetry, much still waiting to be properly assessed, whose contributors include numerous authors of the weird and fantastic, such as R. Murray Gilchrist, H. G. Wells, Baron Corvo, and Netta Syrett. Written for young readers, Solon L. Goode’s The Winged Ship (1897) recounts in verse a tour that four “Sprites” from “Elfin Land” take of our solar system in a spaceship. Such works from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries illustrate the richness of fantastic poetry, which like fantastic fiction from the same time span, encompasses everything from fairy tales to folklore, interplanetary travel to utopian discovery, and Gothic horror to psychological terror.
While the poetic achievements of the Weird Tales authors have received some recognition due to August Derleth’s efforts with Arkham House, other writers of fantastic fiction have barely been acknowledged for their poetry, as Lloyd’s listings clearly indicate. While Ambrose Bierce is justly revered for stories such as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “The Death of Halpin Frayser,” the poems collected in Black Beetles in Amber (1892) and Shapes of Clay (1903) have been all but forgotten. The same is even truer of Fitz-James O’Brien whose sole book, The Poems and Stories of Fitz-James O’Brien (1881), would be completely ignored if it did not contain such classic stories as “The Diamond Lens” and “What Was It?” Aleister Crowley’s reputation as “the Beast 666,” as well as his sexual exploits and drug use, has always overshadowed his fiction, which includes The Stratagem and Other Stories (1929) and Moonchild: A Prologue (1929), so it’s no wonder barely anyone recalls that Crowley, according to Montague Summers, wrote “some fine poetry.” Readers, scholars, and collectors willing to investigate Summers’ claim can delve into Olla: An Anthology of Sixty Years of Song (1946), Crowley’s own selection of his best poetry, the last of his books published in his lifetime. Lagging behind her male counterparts from Weird Tales, the less prolific Mary Elizabeth Counselman produced a number of fine poems, some for mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, which were not collected until the publication of The Face of Fear and Other Poems (1984) when she was in her seventies. Even the most jaded reader of fantasy will attest to Mervyn Peake’s brilliance with language in his landmark Gormenghast Sequence (1946-1949). Why doubt that Peake would achieve less heart-wrenching magic in his poems, particularly those based on his experiences as a documentary artist who visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, all of which are collected in The Glassblowers (1950)?
Most importantly, Lloyd’s catalog highlights a Who’s Who of contemporary horror, fantasy, and science fiction writers most of us aren’t even aware have written poetry. Thomas Tessier’s first published book was not a novel but the poetry collection How We Died (1970). Joe Haldeman’s Vietnam and Other Alien Worlds (1993) contains not only fiction but also poems as do Tanith Lee’s Unsilent Night (1981), Gene Wolfe’s Plan[e]t Engineering (1984), and Neil Gaiman’s Adventures in the Dream Trade (2000). Fritz Leiber’s The Demons of the Upper Air (1969) and L. Sprague de Camp’s Heroes and Hobgoblins (1981) may sound like collections of sword and sorcery stories, but they’re actually poetry. Titles such as Roger Zelazny’s Poems (1974) and Peter Straub’s Leeson Park and Belsize Square: Poems 1970-1975 (1983), of course, speak for themselves. Then there’s Ursula K. LeGuin’s tour de force Always Coming Home (1985), the story of the Kesh, a future people living in the Valley, as told through a stunning combination of folktales, artwork, maps, poems, and stories. Lest anyone think poetry is not a crucial component of LeGuin’s artistry, the first edition of Always Coming Home was issued with a cassette called The Music & Poetry of the Kesh long before the Internet facilitated the simultaneous posting of words, images, and music. How’s that for old school?
No one’s ever heard of, much less read, W. Theodore Parke’s The Spook Ballads (1895) or L. H. Allen’s Gods and Wood-Things (1913) despite such very promising titles. Likewise, begun over 100 years ago, Lafcadio Hearn’s important work on Japanese goblin poetry in The Romance of the Milky Way and Other Studies and Stories (1905) remains sadly unfinished.
Dive into Lloyd Currey’s Fantastic Poetry, and see what else you can discover.Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
Could smuggling Faerie fruit into Dorimare possibly be connected to the decades-old poisoning of Jeremiah Gibberty with the berries of merciful death? What is the Society of Sparta’s motivation for engineering a suicide epidemic all across Europe in 1875? Why do the Three Imposters sew discord and death throughout London as they search for an ancient Roman coin commemorating an orgy held by the Emperor Tiberius? How can Ben Reichs possibly kill his chief business rival and avoid being demolished when the entire police force has telepathic powers that allow murderers to be detected before they even commit a crime?
The answers to these questions and many more are found in Lloyd Currey’s Fantastic Crime, a genre-bending selection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that chronicles the exploits of robot detectives, telepathic masterminds, murderous ghosts, and fiendish secret societies. The books Lloyd has gathered illustrate how classic elements from crime and mystery fiction have long been used to ingenious ends by writers from the fantastic tradition.
Since science fiction’s golden age, numerous authors have expanded the scope of crime and criminals by invoking a wide range of highly imaginative contexts. E. E. Doc Smith’s The History of Civilization (1934 to 1948) pits the Lensmen, an interstellar peacekeeping force, against the Boskone, a ruthless galactic criminal organization bent on ruling the universe. The defining space opera, Smith’s Lensman novels provided the blue print not only for DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps but also George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, as well as numerous intergalactic police forces, such as Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol and Harry Harrison’s Special Corps. Some of science fiction’s most thoughtful, enduring scenarios, however, involve crimes on a much smaller scale. In Hal Clement’s Needle (1950), a symbiotic alien policeman and his quarry crash on Earth, respectively taking over the bodies of a young boy and his father as cop and criminal try to outwit one another. Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel (1954) introduces us to detective Elijah Bailey and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw who solve murders in the far future when tensions between humans and robots have reached the breaking point. Ken Malone, an FBI agent who specializes in “impossibilities,” pursues a telepathic spy in Randall Garrett and Laurence Janifer’s Brain Twister (1962), and DeWitt Dawson, police chief of a small Texas town cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible alien barrier, investigates the death of a Mary Kay sales representative in Patricia Anthony’s Happy Policeman (1994).
Supernatural fiction, of course, has always had its share of investigators of the bizarre and unusual. Most readers and collectors are familiar with K. and Hesketh Pritchard’s Ghosts: Being the Experiences of Mr. Flaxman Low (1898), Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence (1908), and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (1913), but what about Josephine Bacon’s The Strange Cases of Dr. Stanchon (1913), Uel Key’s The Broken Fang and Other Experiences of a Specialist in Spooks (1920), or John Nicholson’s Costello, Psychic Investigator (1954)? Drawn into a number of strange disappearances and particularly gruesome murders, Arthur Machen’s Mr. Dyson participates in a memorable series of investigations that bring him into direct contact with the treacherous little people in The Three Imposters (1895), “The Red Hand” (1895) and “The Shining Pyramid” (1895). Pulp great A. Merritt combines elements of hardboiled crime fiction with supernatural horror in two of his most memorable novels, Burn Witch Burn! (1933) and Creep Shadow! (1934) in which wisecracking New York mobsters team up with a skeptical neurologist to battle a range of dark forces, including an evil dollmaker and a two-thousand-year-old sorceress. In his World-Fantasy-Award winning The Skin Trade (1988), George R. R. Martin extends the blending of crime fiction and supernatural fiction to its logical conclusion—having monstrous crimes investigated by actual monsters—as P.I. Randi Wade tackles a series of brutal killings with the help of Willie Flambeaux, a collection agent who is an actual werewolf.
Of course, a catalog of Fantastic Crime, by necessity, highlights not only criminals and their adversaries but also the plethora of incredible, over-the-top schemes and devices employed by both sides. In Richard Marsh’s The Goddess: A Demon (1900), a Hindu idol clockwork automaton commits a series of grisly murders, and in Allan McIvor’s The Mechanic (1908), a brilliant engineer seeks revenge on corrupt industrial trusts by using fluids that deodorize oil and decompose metal. Robert M. Coates’ The Eater of Darkness (1929) features a weapon that “sees through solids and applies remote-control heat to kill people invisibly.” Sydeny Horler’s The Screaming Skull and Other Stories (1930) includes a “death beam transmitted over the wireless.” C. S. Forester’s The Peacemaker is a bumbling schoolmaster who creates a machine that demagnetizes iron at a distance while Belli Luigi’s The Metal Monster (1951) is “a radio-controlled flying killer automaton. . . used for jewel smuggling.” Even the most jaded reader or collector must pause when considering David V. Reed’s The Thing That Made Love (1951), a bit of pulp-fiction insanity whose tag line “No Woman Could Survive Such Harrowing Ecstasy!” apparently refers to women being murdered by a metal swamp monster.
Match wits with Madame Koluchy—doctor, scientist, extortionist, bank robber, murderer—the criminal mastermind behind L. T. Meade’s The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1899), a super genius who precedes Siegel and Schuster’s Lex Luthor by three decades. Try not to get lost while following Gabriel Syme of Scotland Yard’s Philosophical Policemen in G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) as he infiltrates the Supreme Council of Seven, a clandestine terrorist group who may not be quite what it seems. Wander with orphan Kirth Gersen in Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes (1964 to 1981) as he tracks down the five intergalactic criminals responsible for the death not only of his family but also of an entire planet.
Peruse Fantastic Crime, and discover worlds beyond Holmes and Moriarty. Be quick. The game is afoot!
(To view alternate copies of these books and additional fantastic crime titles, click here.)Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
For collectors and scholars of weird fiction, Arkham House needs no introduction. Established in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei in order to rescue the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft from obscurity, Arkham House secured not only Lovecraft’s literary legacy but also those of Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. Along with landmark collections by Weird Tales’ “Big Three,” Arkham House published the first books by Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, and Robert Bloch, earning a pre-eminent place in the history of American fantastic fiction. Derleth and Wandrei also introduced US audiences to the work of significant British authors of supernatural fiction, including William Hope Hodgson, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Marjorie Bowen, and H. R. Wakefield. Towards the end of his career, Derleth’s mentoring of younger writers, particularly Ramsey Campbell, helped usher in a more sophisticated age for horror fiction in terms of psychological and cultural depth. In addition, Arkham House has served as the template for dozens of specialty presses for almost eighty years, including Dark Harvest, Ash-Tree Press, Golden Gryphon Press, Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, and Tartarus Press. Without Arkham House, the entire landscape of fantastic fiction would be significantly impoverished.
Lloyd Currey’s Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran catalog provides the perfect entry point for exploring the rich legacy of the most important specialty press in the history of American publishing. All of Arkham House’s seminal publications are represented, including signed or inscribed copes of Robert Bloch’s The Opener of the Way (1945), Ray Bradbury’s Dark Carnival (1946), Fritz Leiber’s Night’s Black Agents (1947), and Ramsey Campbell’s Demons by Daylight (1973), as well as beautiful copies of H. P Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others (1939), Clark Ashton’s Smith’s Out of Space and Time (1942), and Robert E. Howard’s Skull-Face and Others (1946). Lloyd’s listings also include a significant number of Arkham House titles rarely found signed or inscribed, such as H. R. Wakefield’s The Clock Strikes Twelve (1946), L. P. Hartley’s The Travelling Grave and Other Stories (1948), Zelia Bishop’s The Curse of Yig (1953), and John Metcalfe’s The Feasting Dead (1954). In fact, one of Lloyd’s most impressive offerings is a superb association copy of August Derleth’s first collection of short fiction, Someone in the Dark (1941), inscribed to M. P. Shiel.
As Lloyd’s listings indicate, from the beginning Arkham House published interesting, important works of weird fiction by women writers. Evangeline Walton’s Witch House (1945), an excellent neo-gothic, has the distinction of being the first full-length novel that Arkham House published. Cynthia Asquith’s This Mortal Coil (1947) has the similar distinction of being the first collection by a female author that the publisher issued, the only book of original short stories by the noted editor of such classic horror anthologies as The Ghost Book (1927) and When Churchyards Yawn (1931). Other works of supernatural fiction by women writers included in Lloyd’s catalog are Greye La Spina’s Invaders from the Dark (1960), Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s Collected Ghost Stories (1974), Marjorie Bowen’s Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales (1976), Mary Elizabeth Counselman’s Half in Shadow (1978), Elizabeth Walter’s In the Mist and Other Uncanny Encounters (1979), and Tanith Lee’s Dreams of Dark and Light: The Great Short Fiction of Tanith Lee (1986).
Not surprisingly, Arkham House’s enormous achievements in the realm of weird fiction have often overshadowed its contributions to science fiction. Thankfully, Lloyd’s catalog remedies this oversight by including Arkham House’s most singular efforts in this genre, starting with A. E. Van Vogt’s first novel Slan (1946), an acknowledged classic of science fiction’s golden age originally serialized in John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Astounding Science Fiction. While Derleth and Wandrei published very little science fiction during their tenure, James Turner, Arkham House’s managing editor from 1975 until 1996, shifted Arkham House’s focus to cutting edge speculative fiction, publishing the first short story collections by a number of key authors, including Michael Bishop’s Blooded on Arachne (1981), Greg Bear’s The Wind from a Burning Woman (1983), Lucius Shepard’s The Jaguar Hunter (1987), Bruce Sterling’s Crystal Express (1989), and Mary Rosenblum’s Synthesis and Other Virtual Realities (1996). Lloyd’s listings of Arkham House’s science fiction titles also includes two cornerstone collections of feminist speculative fiction, Joanna Russ’ The Zanzibar Cat (1983) and James Tiptree, Jr.’s (Alice B. Sheldon) Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990). A posthumously published career retrospective, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever ranks as one of Arkham House’s most significant publications, gathering together numerous Hugo- and Nebula-Award-winning works, such as “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” Houston, Houston, Do You Read?,” “Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death,” and “The Screwfly Solution.”
In addition, Lloyd has included a number of titles published by Arkham House under the Mycroft & Moran imprint, which Derleth created in order to publish his Sherlock Holmes pastiches featuring Solar Pons, as well as occult detective stories, such as Seabury Quinn’s The Phantom-Fighter (1966), featuring Jules de Grandin, and Margery Lawrence’s Number Seven Queer Street (1969), featuring Miles Pennoyer.
Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran is a strong reminder of Arkham House’s pre-eminence in the field of specialty presses and genre fiction. Collectors and readers who only know Arkham House as a publisher of weird and supernatural fiction are in for some pleasant surprises.Read More
"A time came three decades ago, when I found I must choose between going out into the wider world or traveling widely in the microcosmos of Sac Prairie. I had been away from Sac Prairie scarcely half a year, immured in a city at editorial work, and I could ill bear separation from the village, the river, the hills, and the lowlands among which I had put down roots and with which I had come to terms of a sort ... When the opportunity came, I went back to Sac Prairie without regret ... I set about to write so that I might afford the leisure in which to improve my acquaintance with the setting and the inhabitants--hills, trees, ponds, people, birds, animals, sun, moon, stars--of the region I had chosen to inhabit, not as a retreat, but as a base of operations into a life more full in the knowledge of what went on in the woods as well as in the houses along the streets of Sac Prairie and in the human heart." - August Derleth, "Prologue" to Walden West
"Home is one's ideal setting if one is to develop one's best attributes … A man belongs where he has roots--where the landscape & milieu have some relation to his thoughts & feelings, by virtue of having formed them." - H. P. Lovecraft (Letter to August Derleth, October 6, 1929)
WISCONSIN IN HIS BONES
By Boyd White and Lloyd Currey
For scholars, collectors, and readers, August Derleth (1909-1971) unfortunately begins and ends with Arkham House. Derleth is primarily remembered for preserving the literary legacy of H. P. Lovecraft, as well as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, in addition to publishing first books by Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, and Ramsey Campbell. A relentless self-promoter, somewhat understandably given the non-existent profit margins of specialty press publishing, Derleth flirted with self-parody throughout his career, particularly after the demise of Weird Tales in 1954 when his focus became codifying and exploiting the Cthulhu Mythos as the defining element of Lovecraft's fiction in order to keep flagging public interest in the author's work--and by extension Arkham House--alive, providing a template for an unending flood of bad Lovecraft pastiches in a variety of media that shows no signs of abating even today.
By devoting so much energy and resources to ensuring Lovecraft's legacy, keeping Arkham House afloat, financially supporting an older generation of all but forgotten pulp writers, and encouraging promising new talent, Derleth inadvertently sabotaged his own literary career, ensuring his reputation as an author with substantial contributions to American literature would be overshadowed and neglected. Derleth considered his supernatural fiction mediocre at best, derivative and formulaic work that, along with his mystery stories and detective novels, provided him not only with the means to be a full-time writer with the leisure to pursue his more literary ambitions but also, later in his career, with the ability to meet his obligations as a publisher. "My prolificacy," he once wrote, "is a matter of economic necessity, and I have no doubt that the quality of my work has suffered to some extent because of its necessary quantity."
In "The Un-Demonizing of August Derleth," Peter Ruber notes that Derleth is the only member of the Weird Tales circle "who had the ability, ambition, and determination to rise above the level of a pulp writer," a sentiment shared by H. P. Lovecraft. When Derleth's story "Five Alone," first published in Pagany, received a three-star mention in Edward J. O'Brien's Honor Roll in The Best American Short Stories of 1932, Lovecraft wrote to E. Hoffmann Price, "You will see in these things a writer absolutely alien to the facile little hack who grinds out minor W.T. [Weird Tales] junk. There is nothing in common betwixt Derleth A and Derleth B--no point of contact in their mental worlds--and yet one brain houses them both … artist and businessman … Nearly all the gang agree that the kid will go far in literature--probably farther than any of the rest." Lovecraft's remarks, however, also highlight the tension that would haunt Derleth throughout his career as his continued immersion in the cesspool of market-driven fantastic fiction kept him from being recognized as a major Midwestern author of the twentieth century. As Peter Ruber states, "To the world outside his home state, Derleth was a man of many literary personas, and they frequently clashed: the critical establishment looked down on Derleth's continued involvement with pulp-type writing and ignored his serious works. They simply didn't understand his versatility."
Derleth always referred to his literary efforts as his "serious work." His greatest achievement in this vein is the Sac Prairie Saga, a deeply personal, frank, detailed account of the rural Midwest that draws upon his lifetime of personal experiences in and around the twin Wisconsin villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. Derleth originally conceived of this saga as a sequence of fifty books consisting of novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, journal extracts, and nature writing. In an interview with Norbert Blei from 1971, Derleth remarks of his hometown, "This is the microcosm that reflects the macrocosm. Everything is to be found here--hate, greed, lust, love, sacrifice, courage. I saw it. It's all here! I can find every kind of perversity, sexual or otherwise." From the publication of Place of Hawks in 1935 to Return to Walden West in 1970, the Sac Prairie Saga reflects Derleth’s adherence to the transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau and the literary influences of Thomas Hardy, Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Lee Masters, and Robert Frost. Displaying Derleth's vast knowledge of regional history and nature, Sac Prairie, Wisconsin, is as fully rendered as Willa Cather's Nebraska plains or William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Novels such as Still Is the Summer Night (1937), short story collections such as Country Growth (1940), and volumes of poetry such as West of Morning (1960) are infused with the rhythms of the land and the people who live there, what is locked away in their hearts and the region itself, a beautiful but unforgiving landscape in which the villagers of Sac Prairie struggle with frustrated ambitions and lost ideals, a world fraught with loneliness, insanity, alcoholism, and suicide. In a 1945 article in Esquire, Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis writes of Derleth, "His series of the 'Sac Prairie Saga,' most of them novels, is already formidable. He has not trotted off to New York literary cocktail parties or to the Hollywood studios. He has stayed home and built up a solid work that demands the attention of anybody who believes that American fiction is at last growing up … He is a champion and justification of regionalism." Likewise, John O. Stark describes Walden West (1961) and Return to Walden West, Derleth's masterpieces, "as the closest thing we have to essential literary illuminations of life in Wisconsin … In both books Derleth alternates descriptions of nature and vignettes about Sac Prairie people … Derleth compares the human and natural realms, pointing out the transience of the former, the constancy of the latter, the desperation of the former, the peace of the latter."
Key works from the Sac Prairie Saga include the short story collections that Derleth considered his finest works--Country Growth, Sac Prairie People (1948), and Wisconsin in Their Bones--as well as Walden West and Return to Walden West. The intimate, poetic observations of village life in these books introduce readers to finely drawn heartbreaking characters portrayed with sincere pathos, including Ella Bickford, who goes insane when her parents prevent her from marrying, and Norman Kralz, whose mother tries to poison him. Far more chilling than Derleth's supernatural fiction are the superb midwestern Gothics scattered throughout the Sac Prairie Saga, particularly the studies of aberrant psychology in The House of Moonlight (1953), which traces the mental and physical breakdown of concert pianist Joel Merrihew when he returns to Sac Prairie after a long absence, and "Where the Worm Dieth Not" (from Sac Prairie People) in which young lovers Horace Burdace and Laura Kelton run afoul of Horace's murderous uncle Anson Nohr. Historical novels such as The House on the Mound (1958) and The Shadow on the Glass (1963) form the backdrop against which Derleth develops the Sac Prairie Saga as they chronicle the lives of prominent Wisconsinites from the state's formative years, including Hercules Dousman, a fur trader and real estate speculator who became a millionaire, and Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin's first governor who oversaw the transition from territorial to state government. Collections of poetry, including Here on a Darkling Plain (1940), Rind of Earth (1942), and The Edge of Night (1945), feature some of Derleth's most carefully crafted, moving writing, such as his epitaph for Effie Kahlmann, who "left behind in needlework most exquisitely made, her tears, her loneliness, the hidden places of her heart."
Derleth's deep connection to his native Wisconsin extends to the author's strongest non-supernatural genre fiction as well. Sac Prairie serves as the setting not only for Derleth's Judge Peck detective novels, such as Murder Stalks the Wakely Family (1934) and The Seven Who Waited (1943), but also for the majority of his books for juveniles, including the Steve-Sim mysteries with the Mill Creek Irregulars. Set in the 1920s, this series follows Stephen "Steve" Grendon and Simoleon "Sim" Jones as they foil a variety of criminal plots during their summer adventures in the Wisconsin River Valley. As Steve’s description of the scene of one of his and Sim’s nighttime rambles illustrates, these young adult mysteries exhibit the same keen attention to the natural word--the light, weather, and water--as Derleth's poetry and fiction for adults: "All along the south now, between us and the river, where the marshes were and the lowland meadows, a thin bank of fog was rising. With moonlight on it, it looked like a distant lake. And with the fireflies flickering on it by the thousands, it looked as if a sunken city lay far beneath the surface of that mysterious lake out of which came the far sound of cow bells from cattle in the night pasture." Not surprisingly, Steve Grendon is August Derleth's fictional alter ego, and his recurrence throughout much of Derleth's fiction--as an adolescent boy detective in The Moon Tenders (1958), a high school student in love in Evening In Spring (1941) and a budding writer in The Shield of the Valiant (1945)--shapes Derleth's work, as does the setting of Sac Prairie, into a living, breathing world subject to the same forces, both good and bad, we all encounter as we age and grow.
In his foreword to 1962’s 100 Books by August Derleth, Donald Wandrei perhaps best sums ups Derleth's career, which still had nearly a decade to go, when he writes, "This variety of interest makes it impossible to identify the work of August Derleth by any label or to classify him easily--he is sui generis … But only the distant verdict of time can determine which of his works will have the most enduring value." As George Feinstein was praising Return to Walden West in The Los Angeles Times by proclaiming, "One needs to be reminded that America has never been all big city. The village plays its role--and in August Derleth--has found a Homer," Derleth's reputation, even as regionalist, was already waning. When he died a year later in 1971, he had received very little of the recognition as a writer that he so desperately craved and deserved. These days, when every cramped note or itemized budget Lovecraft managed to scribble on the back of an envelope is endlessly analyzed and scrupulously annotated, Derleth’s considerable oeuvre, flawed as it is, lies fallow with no major critical overview or appraisal in sight. Upon publication of Hawk on the Wind (1938), Derleth’s first book of poetry, Edgar Lee Masters wrote, "The music and imagination of these poems, the originality of the verse schemes in this day when so many experiments have been made and so many have failed--these cannot be forgotten." The same could easily be said of the best of Derleth’s work. Let us hope this is the case.
MARK SHORER ON AUGUST DERLETH
August Derleth is almost certainly the most prolific of modern American writers and, the author of well over one hundred books, perhaps of American writers in all time. He is also among the most various. Except for the very long poem and the drama, he has probably published in every current literary form, and not once in each but many times. His fiction itself is extremely various, not only in a formal sense--short story, novelette, novel--but also in a generic sense, ranging as it does from the macabre story and the mystery novel to the poetic novelette and the historical chronicle, and, what is more, addressing itself now to an adult, now to a juvenile audience.
He is above all a novelist of place, and the place is his homeplace, which he calls "Sac Prairie" but which is in fact the two little adjoining villages named Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. These little towns on the Wisconsin River are set among marshland, hills, and prairie, and they provide the intimately experienced natural detail of most of Derleth’s writing as they also provide the prototypes for many of his characters. Beyond Sac Prairie is the entire state of Wisconsin and its history since early pioneer times. These two settings, the small one within the larger, divide his most important fiction into two sets of novels which he designates as "Sagas"--the Sac Prairie Saga, consisting of eight novels, and the Wisconsin Saga, consisting of five. But the Sac Prairie Saga spills over into other works, into at least seven books of short stories, at least six works of miscellaneous or discursive prose, and into a dozen volumes of verse.
The novels in the saga series comprise Derleth’s most substantial work. Solidly constructed historical narratives, based on a sure sense of past achievement, evolving growth, and the inevitable currents of change, these novels move through a wide range of effects, from the bucolically comic through the delicately pathetic to the dramatically tragic, and the vast case of characters similarly ranges from country clowns to fabled heroes. Through all their variety there is one constant element, Derleth’s profound feeling for an intimate knowledge of the natural environment, and this feeling works paradoxically in, on the one hand, recreating vividly and with deep affection the particular locality that he has made his own, and on the other, through the universal rhythms of nature, moving his narratives beyond any special time and place into the timeless and enduringly human.
Substantial as his achievement in the sagas is, Derleth’s own preferences (and those of many of his readers) are for other work. Notable among these in the fiction is his early lyric tale of adolescent love, Evening in Spring. But perhaps even more impressive are two books that are not fiction at all even though they give us the very roots of his fiction, books made up of entries from his journals with sharp observation of village life and the natural life around it. He called them Walden West and Return to Walden West, and it is probable that they are classics of their kind.
From Contemporary Novelists, edited by James Vinson. London: St. James Press, New York, St. Martin's Press, , p. 347. A childhood friend of August Derleth, Mark Shorer (1908-1977) was a leading critic of his time, known for Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (1961), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for biography. In the summer of 1931 after August Derleth’s graduation from college, Shorer and Derleth rented a cabin near the Wisconsin River where they spent a few weeks collaborating together, often writing a story a day, most of which were accepted for publication by pulp magazines such as Weird Tales and later collected in Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People (1966).
SELECTED FURTHER READING
By L. W. Currey
The more important or informative studies, essays and articles on Arkham House and Derleth's life and work. Items of special interest are marked with an asterisk.
* Archer, Marion Fuller. "The Juvenile Books of August Derleth." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 29-43. Reprinted in Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 105-132.
Ashley, Mike. "Hands Across the Ocean." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 1-10.
"August Derleth." In: CONTEMPORARY LITERARY CRITICISM. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1985. Volume 31, pp. 126-139.
* AUGUST DERLETH SOCIETY NEWSLETTER. Edited by Richard H. Fawcett, later Kay Price. 1978 (volume 1, number 1) through June 2019 (volume 40, number 2). For contents through volume 17, numbers 1-2, see AUGUST W. DERLETH (1909-1971): A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL CHECKLIST OF HIS WORKS (1996), pp. 60-69.
* Bishop, Zealia. "A Wisconsin Balzac: A Profile of August Derleth." In: THE CURSE OF YIG. Sauk City: Arkham House, 1953, pp. 153-175.
* Blei, Norbert. "August Derleth: Storyteller of Sac Prairie." Chicago Tribune Magazine, 15 August 1971. Collected in Dutch, William, and Others. AUGUST W. DERLETH (1909-1971): A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL CHECKLIST OF HIS WORKS (1996), pp. 9-20.
Blei, Norbert. "Hills, Trees, Ponds, People, Birds, Animals, Sun, Moon, Stars: The Walden Books." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 11-19. Reprinted in Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 82-95.
Campbell, Ramsey. "Afterword: The Past Lies in Wait." In: Campbell, Ramsey and August Derleth, LETTERS TO ARKHAM: THE LETTERS OF RAMSEY CAMPBELL AND AUGUST DERLETH, 1961-1971. Hornsea, England: PS Publishing, 2014, pp. 391-395.
Campbell, Ramsey. "Chasing the Unknown." In: Campbell, Ramsey. COLD PRINT. London: Grafton, 1987. [Not seen.]
Copper, Basil. "The Game’s Afoot: August Derleth and Solar Pons." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. 1-6.
* Currey, Lloyd W. "August William Derleth." In: SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY AUTHORS: A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FIRST PRINTINGS OF THEIR FICTION AND SELECTED NONFICTION. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., , pp. -155. Revised and corrected, 2002 on searchable CD-ROM.
David, Donna. "The Borrowed Cast: The Use of Characters in August Derleth’s Writings." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. 8-18.
Derleth, August. "American Regional Literature." Madison, WI: College of Agriculture, University of Wisconsin, n.d. [circa 1940], pp. 16.
* Derleth, August. ["Autobiography."] In: Kunitz, Stanley J. and Howard Haycraft, eds., TWENTIETH CENTURY AUTHORS: A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF MODERN LITERATURE. New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1942, pp. 373-374; and First Supplement, 1955, p. 275. Autobiographical sketch, plus brief bibliographical checklist of publications.
* Derleth, August. "Autobiography." www. catholicauthors.com/derleth.html
* Derleth, August. "An Autobiography." In: Dutch, William, and Others. AUGUST W. DERLETH (1909-1971): A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL CHECKLIST OF HIS WORKS (1996), pp. 3-7. Written circa 1961.
Derleth, August. "H. P. Lovecraft: The Making of a Literary Reputation, 1937-1971." Books at Brown 25 (1977), pp. 13-25.
Derleth, August. "My Life in Poetry." See HAWK & WHIPPOORWILL RECALLED (1973).
Derleth, August. "On Publishing a Little Magazine." Hawk & Whippoorwill IV:3 (1963), pp. 79-81.
Derleth, August. 100 BOOKS BY AUGUST DERLETH. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House: Publishers, 1962, pp. 121.
* Derleth, August. THIRTY YEARS OF ARKHAM HOUSE 1939-1969: A HISTORY AND BIBLIOGRAPHY. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1970, pp. 99.
Derleth, August. "The Weird Tale in English Since 1890." The Ghost 3 (May 1945), pp. 5-34. Derleth's B.A. thesis at the University of Wisconsin, 1930, with bibliography and "covering letter" added.
Derleth, August. WRITING FICTION. Boston: The Writer, Inc. Publishers, , pp. xii, 201. "The Imaginative Story," pp. 96-159, is a major early critique of fantastic fiction to place on the shelf next to H. P. Lovecraft's "Supernatural Horror in Literature."
Dutch, William and Others. "A Bibliographical Checklist of the Books of August Derleth." In: Dutch, William and Others. AUGUST W. DERLETH (1909-1971): A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL CHECKLIST OF HIS WORKS (1996), pp. 21-39.
Dyke, Bill, ed. REMEMBERING DERLETH. Sauk City, WI: Published by The August Derleth Society, 1988, pp. 112. A useful miscellany of articles, tributes, reminiscences, and photographs.
* Dziemianowicz, Stefan. "August William Derleth." In: Pringle, David, ed., ST. JAMES GUIDE TO HORROR, GHOST & GOTHIC WRITERS. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1998, pp. 177-181.
* Eng, Steve. "August Derleth: Friend of Fantasy Poetry." In: Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 151-160.
Fawcett, Richard. "Middle America in Amber: An Introduction." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. i-ii.
Ferguson, Malcolm M. "In Re: August Derleth -- A Tribute." The Capital Times, Madison, WI, 5 November 1973.
* Ferguson, Malcolm M. "Walden Rendezvous: A View from Wisconsin." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 47-52. Reprinted in Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 96-104.
* Gerberding, Rodger. "The Gentle Engraver: August Derleth & Frank Utpatel." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. 85-96.
Grage, Charles. THE USED BOOK PRICE REFERENCE FOR THE IMPRINTS OF ARKHAM HOUSE. [Atlantic Beach, FL: Charles Grage], 1996, pp. [x], 84.
* Hadji, Robert (Robert Knowlton). "August William Derleth (1909-1971)." In: Sullivan, Jack, ed. THE PENGUIN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL. [New York]: Viking, , pp 122-123.
* Haefele, John D. "Arkham House Ephemera: The Modern Years." In: Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine. September-October 2019 (volume 29, number 9-10), pp. 24-32. A checklist is scheduled to appear in the November-December 2019 issue. There was an earlier article in Firsts on Arkham House ephemera (in the October 2002 issue) which I can't lay my hands on to verify at this moment.
* Haefele, John D. AUGUST DERLETH REDUX: THE WEIRD TALE 1930-1971: A MONOGRAPH. Foreword by Don Herron. N.p. [Denmark]: H. Harksen Productions, 2009, pp. 72.
Haefele, John D. A LOOK BEHIND THE DERLETH MYTHOS: ORIGINS OF THE "CTHULHU MYTHOS." N.p.: [Published by The Cimmerian Press A Division of LMG Books, 2014], pp. . This edition was preceded by a limited hardbound edition published in 2012 in Denmark by H. Harksen Productions. [Not seen.]
HAWK & WHIPPOORWILL RECALLED. Madison: The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, Summer 1973 (volume 1, number 1). This first issue "devoted to the memory of August Derleth" includes Derleth's "My Life in Poetry," excerpts from his final public address, delivered 11 June 1971 at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, before delegates to the annual convention of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.
Howard, John. "Somebody Pointed Earth: August Derleth’s Science Fiction." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. 53-59.
Howard, [John] Nic. AUGUST DERLETH’S POETRY: A SURVEY. Haddenham, England: Tumulka Press, 1983. [Not seen.]
Howard, [John] Nic. THE HORRORS OUT OF WISCONSIN: AUGUST DERLETH’S CTHULHU MYTHOS FICTION. Haddenham, England: Tumulka Press, 1986. [Not seen.]
Howard, [John] Nic, ed. MASTERS OF FANTASY 2: AUGUST DERLETH. Birmingham: British Fantasy Society, 1984, pp. 24. Includes Nic Howard's "Derleth: An American Life in Literature," pp. 5-12; 19, and Nic Howard's "Dark Glory: Derleth's Achievements," pp. 13; 19.
IS. October 1971 (number 4). Edited by Tom Collins. The "August Derleth Memorial Issue." Contributions by Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Lin Carter, Fritz Leiber, Frank Belknap Long, E. Hoffmann Price, and others.
Jacobi, Carl. "Memories of August." Is 6 (1972), pp. 25-29.
Jaffery, Sheldon R. THE ARKHAM HOUSE COMPANION: FIFTY YEARS OF ARKHAM HOUSE. A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY AND COLLECTOR'S PRICE GUIDE TO ARKHAM HOUSE / MYCROFT & MORAN INCLUDING THE REVISED AND EXPANDED HORRORS AND UNPLEASANTRIES. [Mercer Island, WA]: Starmont House, Inc., 1989, pp. xvi, 184.
Jaffery, Sheldon R. HORRORS AND UNPLEASANTRIES: A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY & COLLECTOR'S PRICE GUIDE TO ARKHAM HOUSE. [Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1982.], pp. 142.
* Joshi, S. T. SIXTY YEARS OF ARKHAM HOUSE: A HISTORY AND BIBLIOGRAPHY. [Sauk City, WI]: Arkham House Publishers, 1999, pp. viii, 281.
* Lewis, Sinclair. "The Sac of Fortune." Esquire, November 1945, pp. 78-79.
Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN. [New York]: Magico Magazine, , pp. 6, vi, 172.
Litersky, Dorothy M. Grobe. DERLETH: HAWK -- AND DOVE, Aurora, CO: National Writers Press, 1997, pp. x, 228.
* Long, Frank Belknap. "The Contributions of August Derleth to the Supernatural Horror Story as Author, Critic, Anthologist and Publisher." In: Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 1-12. Reprinted in Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. 61-70.
* Meudt, Edna. "The Poetry of August Derleth." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 57-74. Reprinted in Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 133-150.
* Moore, Harry Thornton. "Derleth of Sac Prairie," The Amateur Writer. November 1939 (volume 1, number 1), pp. 3-6. "An interesting and perceptive article written when Derleth was seemingly on the threshold of fame." - Wilson.
Moskowitz, Sam. "Derleth’s Lament to Love." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. 71-84. Not a very informative article.
Moskowitz, Sam. "I Remember Derleth." Starship 18:1 (Spring 1981), pp. 7-14.
* Olsen, T. V. "August Derleth's Historical Novels." In: Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 30-68. Reprinted in Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. 19-51.
Price, E. Hoffmann. "August Derleth, 1909-1971." SFWA Bulletin 7:2 (1971), p. 4.
Price, E. Hoffmann. "August W. Derleth." In Price, E. Hoffmann. BOOK OF THE DEAD: FRIENDS OF YESTERYEAR: FICTIONEERS & OTHERS (MEMORIES OF THE PULP FICTION ERA). With an Introduction by Jack Williamson. Edited by Peter Ruber. [Sauk City, WI]: Arkham House, 2001, pp. 267-295.
Price, Kay. WHO WAS AUGUST DERLETH? Sauk City, WI: Geranium Press, 1992. [Not seen.]
Price, Kay, ed. A DERLETH COLLECTION. Sauk City, WI: Geranium Press, 1993, pp. [vi], 61. A miscellany of Derleth's writings published by the August Derleth Society, including "Arkham House: A Thumbnail Story," first published in The Fossil, October 1950, and "Novels at 1,000 words a Day, first published in Writer's Review, January 1934.
Roberts, James P. "August Derleth." In: Roberts, James P. FAMOUS WISCONSIN AUTHORS. Oregon, WI: Badger Books Inc., 2002, pp. 35-49.
* Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS. [Madison, WI]: White Hawk Press, [1993; 1995]. Two volumes, pp. 74; 96.
Roberts, James P. "Introduction: Where is August Derleth Today?" In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS VOLUME TWO (1995), pp. i-ii.
* Ruber, Peter. "The Un-demonizing of August Derleth." In: Ruber, Peter, ed. ARKHAM'S MASTERS OF HORROR: A 60th ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY RETROSPECTIVE OF THE FIRST 30 YEARS OF ARKHAM HOUSE. Edited and with Historical Notes by Peter Ruber. [Sauk City, WI]: Arkham House Publishers, 2000, pp. 3-33.
* Schroth, Evelyn M. THE DERLETH SAGA. Appleton, WI: Quintain Press, , pp. 87. A survey of Derleth's Sac Prairie Saga -- the fiction, the poetry and the journals -- a revision and updating of Schroth's Master's thesis.
* Schorer, Mark. "August William Derleth." In: Vinson, James, ed., CONTEMPORARY NOVELISTS. London: St. James Press, New York, St. Martin's Press, , pp. 342-347.
Smedegaard, Paul B. "Pons and Predecessor." In: Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 13-29.
Sneyd, Steve. "Making Poets Less Alone." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 44-46.
* Spencer, Paul. "The Shadow Over Derleth." In: Schweitzer, Darrell, ed., DISCOVERING CLASSIC HORROR FICTION I. [Mercer Island, WA]: Starmont House, 1992, pp. 114-119.
Squires, Roy A., ed. THE PHIL MAYS COLLECTION OF ARKHAM HOUSE EPHEMERAE: A DESCRIPTIVE LISTING. Glendale, CA: Roy A. Squires, 1985, pp. 11. See Haefele above for a continuation.
Stark, John O. "The Sac Prairie Saga." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 21-27. Reprinted as "The Sac Prairie Sage" in Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 69-81.
* Stark, John O. "Wisconsin Writers: August Derleth (1909-1971)." In: THE STATE OF WISCONSIN 1977 BLUE BOOK, Compiled by Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. Madison, WI: Department of Administration, Document Sales and Distribution, 1977, pp. 165-177.
Stephens, Jim, ed. AN AUGUST DERLETH READER. Madison, WI: Prairie Oak Press, 1992. [Not seen.]
* Tweet, Roald D. "August Derleth." In: Bleiler, E. F., ed. SUPERNATURAL FICTION WRITERS. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, , pp. 883-890.
Wandrei, Donald. "Foreword." In: Derleth, August. 100 BOOKS BY AUGUST DERLETH (1962), pp. 5-.
Wilson, Alison M. "Addenda to the August Derleth Bibliography." In: Dutch, William and Others. AUGUST W. DERLETH (1909-1971): A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL CHECKLIST OF HIS WORKS (1996), pp. 40-58.
* Wilson, Alison M. AUGUST DERLETH: A BIBLIOGRAPHY. Metuchen, N.J., & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1983, pp. 4, xxvi, 229. Includes a short but useful introduction, "Derleth's Literary Reputation," pp. xi-xiv.
* Wilson, Alison M. "Judge Peck -- An Eccentric Hero Who Never Found His Audience." In: Liebow, Ely M., ed. AUGUST HARVEST: ESSAYS PENNED BY VARIOUS HANDS TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF AUGUST DERLETH GREEN (1994), pp. 161-172.
* Wilson, Colin. "A Touch of Tragedy." In: Roberts, James P., ed. RETURN TO DERLETH: SELECTED ESSAYS (1993), pp. 53-55.Read More
“I have pledged myself to the worship of the Odd, the Queer, the Strange, the Exotic, the Monstrous.” - Lafcadio Hearn (letter to W. D. O’Connor, May 1884).
CONCERNING LAFCADIO HEARN
By Boyd White and Lloyd Currey
Since his death at age fifty-four, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) has never received the critical attention or appreciation that his significant body of work deserves. Beloved by his Japanese students in the country he made his adopted home and arguably the single greatest Western interpreter of Japanese culture, Hearn has been dismissed by most critics and scholars as a second-tier author not worthy of serious consideration. His adherents have attributed such negligence to the itinerant life Hearn led, comprised of significant periods in Ireland, the United States, the West Indies, and Japan, all of which prevents him from being easily seen as writer belonging to any particular nation or culture. Primarily remembered for his kwaidan ("ghost stories" or "weird tales"), retellings of Japanese legends and folklore, Hearn's style is sparse and lean, rooted in the oral tradition of the Japanese folktale as filtered through his work as a sensationalistic newspaper reporter, his own translations of Theophile Gautier and Guy de Maupassant, his love of Gothic literature, and the Irish fairy tales and ghost stories told to him by Catherine Ronane, his childhood nurse. As Jack Sullivan, a clear admirer of Hearn, has noted, "His cross-cultural influences may cause Hearn's final resting place to be in literary limbo."
Hearn's most vocal champion, Paul A. Murray, contends, "Few writers have been so permeated by horror in their lives and work, and few horror writers have been blessed with Hearn's literary ability … In his horror writing, Hearn was not concerned with achieving cheap thrills or titillation; it was rather a means of expanding the boundaries of experience." Immersing himself in a culture that views elementals, ghosts, and goblins as a natural part of everyday reality, an accepted feature of the world in which we live and work, Hearn produced taught, terse highly polished stories that thrust his readers into a rich traditional of supernatural fiction that is still far too little known to most Western audiences, a mystic landscape populated by creatures both horrifically malignant and, at times, surprisingly benign.
In "The Legend of Yurei-Daki," an angry Shinto god rips off the head of an innocent baby whose mother steals a collection box from a shrine, and in "Jikininki," a priest is punished for his past sins by being reborn as a ghoul condemned to eat the flesh of the dead in a remote village. By contrast, the beautiful snow demon in "Yuki-Onna," falls in love with a stranded youth in a blizzard, sparing him as long as he never reveals he has seen her, and the shark man in the "The Gratitude of the Samebito" weeps tears that turn into jewels that facilitate a mortal man marrying his true love. Hearn’s skill with such material is so great that in Japan he remains a cultural icon, an author often regarded as a Japanese writer even though he wrote entirely in English.
Hearn was much more, however, than just an accomplished writer of weird fiction. Collections such as An American Miscellany (1924) and Editorials (1926) emphasize how, as a 19th-centrury American journalist, Hearn should be as highly regarded as Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce. As a young reporter covering the police beat in Cincinnati, Hearn produced notable examples of early American true crime writing, such as "A Violent Cremation," an account of the notorious Tanyard Murder, and "Gibbeted," a somber depiction of an execution, both characterized by a keen eye for gruesome detail seemingly incongruous with Hearn's sensitive nature. An outsider because of a disfiguring childhood eye injury that left him a painfully shy individual who viewed himself as a physical grotesque, Hearn quickly moved beyond mere newspaper sensationalism, identifying with individuals and cultures on the margins of society. His articles about the Bucktown and Levee neighborhoods of Cincinnati are among the few depictions of African-American life in a post-Civil War border city. Later, while living and working in New Orleans, Hearn continued in this vein, writing editorials against political corruption, child labor, lynching, and urban decay. New Orleans also provided Hearn with the opportunity for studying and writing about local Creole and Negro folklore, including voodoo, in a series of eerie sketches posthumously collected in several volumes, including Fantastics and Other Fancies (1914) and Creole Sketches (1924). Likewise, while Hearn did not publish any volumes of literary criticism during his lifetime, works such as Appreciations of Poetry (1916) and Some Strange English Literary Figures of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1927), which consist of verbatim transcripts from his students' notebooks of his lectures while he served as chair of English Literature at the Imperial University of Tokyo, reveal that Hearn was, in fact, a fine critic. His lectures, as well as his correspondence, contain numerous insights into figures as diverse as the pre-Raphaelite and Romantic poets, Charles Baudelaire, Emile Zola, and Gustav Flaubert. Scholars and readers interested in Hearn's ideas and opinions of fantastic literature need look no further than the author's "'Monk Lewis' and the School of Horror and Mystery" or his seminal essay "Goblin Poetry."
An eccentric genius of seeming contradictions, Hearn drank blood in the abattoirs of Cincinnati slaughterhouses when the craze for the "blood cure" swept the city, yet he deeply loved children, flowers, and animals, particularly birds, cats, and insects. Given his unique mixture of the poetic and the macabre, we should not be surprised that Hearn, according to George F. Haas, "was a favorite of [Clark Ashton Smith's] who had a complete set of his first editions." From his seminal collection of ghost stories Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1904) to his sketches of modern Japanese life in "Out of the East": Reveries and Studies in New Japan (1895) to posthumously published collections of his voluminous correspondence and journalism, Hearn’s work allows us to inhabit the unique perspective of a writer scholar Mary Gallagher lovingly characterizes as "an absolutely homeless storyteller, who dwelled long enough in the American South, the Caribbean, and Japan to be able to translate these worlds into words."Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
Since the publication of “The Call of Cthulhu” in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales, H. P. Lovecraft’s influence on modern and contemporary popular culture cannot be overestimated.
A prolific correspondent, during his short lifetime Lovecraft befriended and mentored such seminal writers of fantastic fiction as Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, and Clark Ashton Smith. Stephen King has called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” Not surprisingly, one of the many aliases of King’s immortal sorcerer Randall Flagg, the villain in The Stand (1978), The Eyes of the Dragon (1987), and The Dark Tower series (1982 to 2012), is “Nyarlathotep,” a direct nod to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu’s Mythos. As one might expect, Lovecraft’s influence is easy to detect in the work of many of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century’s most important writers of supernatural fiction, such as Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Keirnan, and Thomas Ligotti. Literary giants as diverse as Jose Luis Borges, William S. Burroughs, Michael Chabon, and Joyce Carol Oates have also praised Lovecraft’s work, as have French cultural theorists Delueze and Guattari. In 2005, the Library of America cemented Lovecraft’s acceptance among the first tier of American arts and letters with the publication of Tales, a selection of Lovecraft’s best fiction chosen by Peter Straub.
Lovecraft’s influence, however, extends well beyond fiction and literature. Directors John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro have long acknowledged Lovecraft’s influence on their films. Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), has stated that Alien was “strongly influenced, tone-wise, by Lovecraft,” a remark which should surprise no one since H. R. Giger’s conceptual designs for Alien were a direct follow-up to Giger’s first published book, the Lovecraft-inspired art compendium The Necronomicon (1977). Junji Ito, Hideyuki Kikuchi, and Chiaki J. Konaka have incorporated elements of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror into their various manga and anime storylines, and Alan Moore’s graphic novels The Courtyard (2003), Neonomicon (2010 to 2011), and Providence (2015 to 2017) are firmly rooted in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Likewise, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Eisner-Award winning Locke and Key (2008 to 2013) takes place in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, while Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s The Doom That Came to Gotham (2000 to 2001) pits an alternate universe Batman against an ancient entity known as The Lurker on the Threshold. Lovecraft’s influence in the gaming world is no less extensive. Chaosium’s highly regarded Call of Cthulhu has been one of the most popular role-playing games since its initial release in 1981 and has spawned a cottage industry of table games steeped in Lovecraftian elements. Video games, such as Alone in the Dark (1992), and online role-playing games, such as The World of Warcraft (2005), also draw heavily from Lovecraft’s work. Lovecraftian references even crop up in popular music, particularly heavy metal, such as Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep” (1970) and Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” (1986). As a crowning achievement, Narragansett Brewery in 2015 inaugurated its Lovecraft Series of beers that now includes Lovecraft Honey Ale, Innsmouth Olde Ale, and Reanimator Helles Lager. What other author of fantastic fiction can claim such a pervasive influence?
Lloyd Currey’s H. P. Lovecraft: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1990s, is a curated gathering of Lovecraft’s writings that provides fascinating insights into Lovecraft’s life and work. To be sure, the catalog contains seminal works by Lovecraft such as The Shunned House (1928), The Outsider and Others (1939), and Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943), but the most intriguing and important items in this catalogue are unique offerings that are virtually unobtainable. Only 42 copies of The Cats of Ulthar (1935) were printed by the Dragon-Fly Press—the copy offered by Lloyd is inscribed by Lovecraft to his close friend Samuel Loveman with the note “A ‘Rare First Edition’ with ye / Perpetrator’s Compliments.” The complete set of tear sheets for “At the Mountains of Madness” is a remarkable item, one of three known copies with extensive handwritten revisions in pencil by Lovecraft himself. As Lloyd notes, these tear sheets “made their way (presumably through HPL’s literary executor, R. H. Barlow) to August Derleth at Arkham House where they provided the ‘revised’ text [of Lovecraft’s novella] for its appearance in The Outsider.” The revisions include not only “minor corrections of spelling or punctuation” but also “insertions of major blocks of copy that were cut from the original text.” The most astonishing item, however, is an archive of 55 letters from Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, totaling 509 pages, 80% of which is unpublished. The archive is a treasure trove of insights into the most significant decade of Lovecraft’s life, 1921-1931, the period when Lovecraft’s mother died and Lovecraft began publishing in professional magazines, as well as composing “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” In addition to his assessment of Poe and his recent reading discoveries, these letters reveal Lovecraft’s thoughts about a wide range of subjects, including literature, history, theology, philosophy, anthropology, and race. The archive is a major find of significant interest to research institutions with holdings in supernatural fiction and to scholars of Lovecraft’s fiction. Additional manuscript material include letters to Robert Bloch and a six-page handwritten synopsis of revisions for a Wilfred Blanch Talman horror story called “The Pool.”
Lloyd has supplemented his selection of Lovecraft manuscript material with the inclusion of amateur press publications from the beginning of Lovecraft’s career, several of which contain the earliest publications of Lovecraft’s fiction. The November 1919 issue of W. Paul Cook’s The Vagrant features the first printing of “Dagon,” considered by many to be Lovecraft’s first mature weird tale, a clear precursor to ideas that would be developed more fully in “The Call of Cthulhu.” The November 1925 issue of C. W. Smith’s The Tryout contains the first printing of “In the Vault,” a story of supernatural vengeance originally rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. The April 1922 and June 1922 issues of Home Brew contain the first printings of parts three and five of “Herbert West—Reanimator.” Other amateur press publications include all three issues of The United Cooperative, which Lovecraft helped edit and publish, and several issues of W. Paul Cook’s The Ghost featuring E. Hoffman Price’s reminiscences of Farnsworth Wright and Robert E. Howard that would later be collected in Arkham House’s Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers and Others (2001).
In addition, a handful of rare publications highlights Lovecraft’s poetry and criticism. Further Criticism of Poetry (1932) is a critique of amateur verse written by Lovecraft that the National Amateur would not publish because it was too long. Some Current Motives and Practices (1936), one of the rarest Lovecraft publications with only eight extant copies, is a mimeograph of Lovecraft’s open letter to the National Amateur Press Association in which he defends NAPA president Hyman Bradofsky against attacks from the association’s membership. HPL (1937), a twelve-page booklet limited to twenty-five copies sent to subscribers of Corwin F. Stickney’s Amateur Correspondent, collects eight of Lovecraft’s poems with occasional commentary by Stickney. Issued in an edition of 75 copies, The Notes & Commonplace Book Employed by the Late H. P. Lovecraft (1938) includes Lovecraft’s musings on various elements of weird fiction and potential story ideas.
For anyone interested in H. P. Lovecraft’s life and works, Lloyd Currey’s H. P. Lovecraft: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1990s, is essential reading. As always, Lloyd’s catalog entries contain a plethora of interesting details, and the pictures Lloyd has included of these publications and manuscripts are the only way many readers and enthusiasts will ever see these often unique items.Read More
Introduction by Boyd White
Along with H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Clark Aston Smith is one of the three giants of Weird Tales’ golden age. Unlike Lovecraft and Howard, however, Smith has never quite had the reputation he deserves. Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror, which August Derleth codified as the foundation for the Cthulhu Mythos, and Howard’s Conan the Barbarian have inspired countless pastiches and imitations that continue to keep each author a vital part of contemporary popular culture. By contrast, Smith has always been an acquired taste. He created no series characters, like Conan, Solomon Kane, or Bran Mak Morn, and although he contributed to the Cthulhu Mythos, he was not its inspiration.
The baroque, ornate language that characterizes Smith’s best fiction has often been blamed for his lack of popularity, but plenty of Smith’s stories are not written in his “high style,” a carefully measured, cadenced prose as meticulous as that of Dunsany or Shiel, with both of whom Smith shares clear affinities. Smith’s fiction, too, is difficult to categorize. His most fascinating stories are genre hybrids uniquely his own, such as “The City of the Singing Flame,” which is visionary science fantasy, or “The Dweller from the Gulf,” which is interplanetary horror, or “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros,” which is swords and sorcery with a Lovecraftian touch. Critics and scholars have also written extensively about Smith’s morbidity and his obsession with death and decay, but such assessments typically miss the point. Like the Romantic poets he greatly admired, such as Shelley and Keats, Smith understood and appreciated the close relationship between beauty and terror—how the terrible can often be beautiful and how beauty can often be terrifying.
Science fiction and fantasy grand master Ray Bradbury has cited Smith’s fiction as playing a central role in his decision to become a writer, referring to Smith as an author who “permanently touched and changed and excited his life.” As Bradbury writes in his introduction to In Memoriam: Clark Ashton Smith (1962), Smith’s stories “filled my mind with incredible worlds, impossibly beautiful cities, and still more fantastic creatures on those worlds and in those cities . . . . Take one step across the threshold of his stories, and you plunge into color, sound, taste, smell, and texture—into language.” With Averoigne, Poseidonis, and Hyperborea, Smith created his own version of The Arabian Nights, tales set in legendary exotic lands populated by foolhardy thieves, vainglorious warriors, egotistical sorcerers, and beguiling princesses who seek their fortunes and more often than not meet their dooms amidst remote mountain ranges, abandoned cities, desert wastes, and forbidden islands. His greatest achievements—“The Dark Eidolon,” “The Isle of the Torturers,” and “Necromancy in Naat”—are masterpieces of the imagination characterized by rich painterly detail which immerses the reader in the very fabric of Zothique, the last continent on a future Earth with a dying sun. An enormous influence on Jack Vance’s Dying Earth tales and M. John Harrison’s Viriconium series, Smith’s Zothique is a seminal contribution to the development of fantastic fiction.
Lloyd Currey’s Clark Ashton Smith: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1970s, is a discrete selection of Smith’s most important publications and writings. In addition to an inscribed copy of Smith’s self-published first collection of fiction, The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (1933), the catalog includes beautiful copies of Smiths’ landmark Arkham House collections, Out of Space and Time (1942) and Lost Worlds (1944), which contain Smith’s most highly regarded stories. Later collections, such as Genius Loci and Other Tales (1948) and The Abominations of Yondo (1960), are also included.
Lloyd’s listings serve to remind us that Smith considered himself first and foremost a poet, not a fiction writer. As a teenager, Smith’s poetry attracted the attention of George Sterling, whose involvement led to the publication of Smiths’ first book when Smith was just 19, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912), represented in this catalog by a signed copy. Smith’s poetry not only garnered the recognition of California writers, such as Ambrose Bierce and Porter Garnett, but also eventually led to his association with Donald Wandrei, whom Smith later introduced to H. P. Lovecraft. Of great interest are the typed manuscripts of numerous poems, all signed by Smith and some with his holograph corrections, including “Satan Unrepentant” (dated “2-28-1915,” published in Odes and Sonnets in 1918) and “The Barrier” (dated “Nov. 2, 1921,” published in the September 13, 1923, issue of The Auburn Journal). “The Garden of Dreams” (dated “Jan. 7, 1916”) and “To Thomas Paine” (undated) are apparently unpublished as is the handwritten manuscript of “The Tempation” (undated), which Lloyd describes as “[a]n erotic poem of sufficient explicitness as to have undoubtedly prevented its publication during Smith’s lifetime.”
The crown jewel of Lloyd’s catalog of Smith material, however, is undoubtedly a remarkable association copy of Smith’s third book Ebony and Crystal: Poems in Verse and Prose (1922) inscribed to Smith’s future publisher and patron August Derleth: “For August W. Derleth, / This reliquary of forgotten / arabesques and grotesques, / from his friend / Clark Ashton Smith. / Auburn, Cal., Nov. 25th, 1930.” The catalog is rounded out by the Arkham House editions of Smith’s poetry, most notably an inscribed copy of The Dark Chateau and Other Poems (1951), Spells and Philtres (1958), and Poems in Prose (1964). Donald Sidney-Fyer’s Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (1978) and David E. Schultz and Scott Connor’s Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith (2003) are also listed and provide important insights into Smith’s life and works.
With the recent publication of Night Shade Books’ five-volume Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith (2007 to 2010); Centipede Press’ In the Realms of Mystery and Wonder: Collected Prose Poems and Artwork of Clark Ashton Smith (2017); and Hippocampus Press’ Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith (2017), Smith is enjoying a long overdue revival of renewed interest. Clark Ashton Smith: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1970s, provides collectors and scholars with an excellent opportunity to revisit the Weird Tales writer whom critic Michael Dirda claims is “just possibly, the greatest of all.”Read More