Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Late Reviews"

Aiken, Conrad. Punch: The Immortal Liar: Documents in His History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921)

I read this short book because I had seen someone refer to it as “an astonishingly creepy foretaste of Ligotti.” So I was expecting it to be in prose, but actually it is a narrative poem, reworking the folklore of Punch from seventeenth century English puppet-shows. Certainly there are Thomas Ligotti-like ideas and elements, but the tone of the whole is entirely unlike anything of Ligotti’s, being both colloquial and jovial in its manner. It is a development from Aiken’s earlier poem “Senlin: A Biography,” in his volume The Charnel Rose (1918), which is demonstrably a influence on another great writer of weird fiction, Leonard Cline. Cline was in 1918 a reviewer for the Detroit News, and Aiken sent him an inscribed copy of The Charnel Rose on 19 November 1918. “Senlin” seems to have been the inspiration for Cline’s poem “Mad Jacob” (first published in Midland in January 1924, and collected in After-Walker (1930)). There is no evidence that Cline read Punch, but the book, interesting though it is, doesn’t really belong on the shelf next to Cline or to Ligotti. Aiken’s work has its own integrity and interest.

Robbins, Tod [Clarence Aaron Robbins, 1888-1949]. Close Their Eyes Tenderly, illustrated by Paule de Nize (Monaco: Editions Inter-Pub, [no date, but circa January 1947]).

Tod Robbins’s last novel is another curious piece of work, reworking the familiar Robbins theme of a man pursuing murder as a creative form of art. The twist this time is that the man—the wealthy, young Maxwell Jenks—finds a soulmate in Elaine Verez, with whom he plans and executes murders. Written with Robbins’s usual misanthopy and wry humor, this novel may be merely a curiosity, but it is an entertaining one.


  1. Is this the same Conrad Aiken who wrote Silent Snow, Secret Snow, in the Great Tales of Horror and the Supernatural anthology, from the old Modern Library edition? It was made into a segment of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, narrated by Orson Welles, if I recall.

    Have you read Tolkien's, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun yet? It's a poem isn't it? I've been trying to decide if I should buy it. I liked the Children of Hurin a lot, but I wasn't sure if it hadn't been previously published in one of the Book of Lost Tales. Whether Christopher Tolkien isn't just recycling material from previously published Lost Tales, and issuing them as separate books. So, is Sigurd and Gudrun good or not, newly published or not?

    What happened to the Ash Tree Press website? they haven't been updated in almost a year.

  2. Yes, that's the same Conrad Aiken (1889-1973), who also wrote another frequently anthologized weird tale, "Mr. Arcularis". He was the father of Joan Aiken (1924-2004) who wrote a much larger amount of weird fiction than her father.

    "The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun" is newly published, and has nothing to Middle-earth. It's Tolkien's reworking, in a modern English variant of an eight-line Old Norse verse form, of some Old Norse legends of the hero Sigurd and his slaying of the dragon Fafnir. For what the book is, it's excellently done. But don't approach it expecting it to be anything like Tolkien's own fiction. If you're willing to settle into its own mood while reading it, you can enjoy it quite nicely.

    You'll have to check with Ash-Tree about their doings (or non-doings).