Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mary Fortune, Three Murder Mysteries

The acclaimed Australian writer/researcher, Lucy Sussex, has edited and introduced a collection of three Mary Fortune crime stories for the Canberra-based Mulini Press. Fortune, who wrote under the pseudonym Waif Wander or WW, is a fascinating figure, best known as the author of the longest-running early detective serial known, the Detective's Album, which appeared in the Australian Journal between 1867-1908.
In the introduction, Sussex traces the life of this extraordinary woman who was described in an 1898 article as "probably the only truly Bohemian lady writer who has ever earned a living by her pen in Australia."
Born in Belfast in around 1833 she came to Australia in 1855 via Canada, leaving her husband behind in Quebec. Of her two sons, one died aged 5 on the Victorian goldfields, while the other, George, became a real-life criminal, spending 20 years in Victorian prisons.
Apart from the Detective's Album, Fortune also wrote Gothic serials for the Australian Journal such as "Clyzia the Dwarf" and several supernatural tales, one of which, "The Phantom Hearse" is included in this collection. Such was the obscurity into which she fell that the year of her death remained uncertain until recently.
At 74 pages Three Murder Mysteries offers a sampler of Fortune's work and an authoritative introduction - my copy cost a meagre $10 at the National Library of Australia's bookshop.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Wind in the Rose Bush

Ever since having read the collection of ghost stories by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman published by Arkham House in 1974, entitled Collected Ghost Stories, with an introduction by none other than Edward Wagenknecht, I have cherished fond memories of her strange and wonderful tales.

So it is with a certain nostalgia that I share this review published on 18 March 1903 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of her most famous collection The Wind in the Rose Bush here, and I heartily agree with the reviewer who wrote more than a century ago that "The Wind in the Rose Bush' is a collection of ghost stories of a peculiarly creepy sort... they are nerve chilling in their originality."

That title alone, the wind in the rose bush, it evokes a deep yearning to a different time and place, where one could sit outside ones house at night when all the world was at rest, and one could hear the soft rustling of the wind in a rose bush nearby... It reads almost like a Haiku. Now who has the luxury of such a simple, but oh so beautiful thing these days? I know I don't.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Erle Cox, Out of the Silence

The best known Australian lost race novel is Erle Cox's Out of the Silence, serialised in The Argus in 1919 before being published in book form by Edward A. Vidler in 1925. It's been reprinted many times since, and even appeared as a comic strip in 1934. The typescript of the novel was sent to the Patent Office in 1919 along with Cox's copyright application, and has been digitised by The National Archives of Australia - go to www.naa.gov.au , click on RecordSearch, select Search Now as a guest user, and do a keyword search for Out of the Silence. A superior example of early SF/fantasy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A "Lost" Lost Race serial

The lost race novel set in Australia had a particular vogue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Probably the best known example is Erle Cox's science fiction classic, Out of the Silence (1919), but well known authors of weird and fantasy fiction like Rosa Praed and Ernest Favenc also dabbled in the genre. A particularly bizarre example is Austyn Granville's The Fallen Race (1892), about a strange spheroidal race evidently descended from kangaroo-human hybrids.
The Australian author of colonial adventures, William Sylvester Walker (1846-1926), wrote a lost race novel called The Silver Queen (1908), which has attracted some academic attention in recent years. Walker, who often wrote under the pen name "Coo-ee", was the nephew of the great colonial writer, "Rolf Boldrewood", who wrote Robbery Under Arms (1888). Late in life Walker moved to Scotland and died at Oban in Argyllshire in 1926.
His last work appears to have been a lost race novel that was published in The Queenslander in 1924-25 with the unlikely title of Koi; or, The Thing Without any Bones. It traces the efforts of an Australian adventurer and bushman, Mark Payton, and his love interest, the rich, beautiful and ambitious Brenda Sardrou, to foil the machinations of the evil German Jew named Solomons, an international spy, self-made millionaire and dabbler in the occult. Solomons is the direct descendant of Ben Suleiman, who two thousand years earlier led an expedition out of Mesopotamia to northern Australia where he established a new civilisation based on Egyptian magical beliefs. Koi is the Soul Shadow, a disembodied spirit that attaches itself to a living person and only departs during sleep, sickness and death to wander in other places - aboriginal descendants of the ancient race are accompanied and aided by their Koi. Solomons plans to return to northern Australia and set himself up as ruler of the revived kingdom - a European invasion of the Commonwealth, no less! Heady stuff: a spectacularly over-the-top fantasy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Classic Fantasists on Film": Lord Dunsany's Dean Spanley

It was a surprise for me to learn recently that a novel by Lord Dunsany had been newly filmed, and even more of a surprise to learn that of Dunsany’s dozen or so novels it was My Talks with Dean Spanley (1936) that had made it to the big screen. By no means Dunsany’s best novel, it is an enjoyable, minor work, in which a cleric, under the influence of a certain tokay, recollects his previous incarnation as a dog.

The film, titled more simply Dean Spanley, was scripted by Alan Sharp and directed by Toa Fraser. It boasts a first rate cast: Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, and Bryan Brown. An independent British production, the film was released in England in December 2008, and had a limited release in the US a few months afterwards. The film has a running time of 98 minutes. It is now out on DVD in England (I don’t know if a North American release has yet been scheduled).

What a delight! It is frankly a skilful deepening and slight expansion of Dunsany’s novel, rather than merely a screenplay based upon it. Dunsany’s book is the first-person narration of an unnamed man, a scientific writer, who uses the tokay on Dean Spanley in the hope of learning the answers to some of the mysteries of life. To this end, the narrator gets help from his friend Wrather, and late in the book, the Maharajah of Haikwar. The pleasure of Dunsany’s novel is primarily to be found in the Dean’s uncanny revelations about the inner life of a dog.

Alan Sharp names the narrator Fisk (he is played by Jeremy Northam), and centers the story upon Fisk’s relationship with a new character, Fisk’s elderly father (Peter O’Toole), bringing in a familial and emotional center that is nowhere to be found in Dunsany’s novel. Sam Neill plays the difficult part of Dean Spanley excellently, and the screenplay utilizes many of Dunsany’s own words in the Dean’s reminiscences. The character of Wrather is also slightly altered—he becomes Fisk’s supplier of the tokay, as well as a participant in the experiment. Northam and Neill give first-rate performances, but it is Peter O’Toole who steals the show as the elder Fisk. O’Toole has most of the best lines, too (all original to the screenplay, not lifted from the novel). It is not merely for sentimental reasons that I hope that the film garners some award nominations for O’Toole’s acting and for Alan Sharp’s screenplay.

Dean Spanley is one of those quiet, enchanting little films that come along too infrequently. Keep your eye out for it.

My Talks with Dean Spanley

The cover of the first edition of Lord Dunsany's My Talks with Dean Spanley (London: William Heinemann, 1936), left, has always seemed garish to me. Trying to translate the central conceit of the novel into an image for advertising purposes must be difficult, and this one succeeds only in appearing laughable. The cover to the American edition (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1936), right, utilizes the frontispiece illustration drawn by Robert Ball. It's is not especially attractive, and only slightly better. S. H. Sime contributed the frontispiece to the London edition, his last illustration for a Dunsany book, top. While it is a delightful illustration that does indeed capture the spirit of the book, I'm not sure that it would have made a successful cover illustration. (Click on the illustrations for larger views.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Arthur Conan Doyle Exhibit at the University of Michigan

Yesterday I was in Ann Arbor, researching at the University of Michigan libraries. Displayed in the elevators at the graduate library was an eye-catching poster about the current exhibition in Special Collections, “Clues Beyond Sherlock Holmes”—the illustration on the poster also serves as the cover to the exhibition booklet (reproduced above). The exhibit showcases items from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Collection donated by alumnus Dr. Philip Parker, collected by Parker and his family, including his father Hyman Parker and his cousin Dr. Bruce Parker. The exhibit showcased Doyle’s interests and publications, from his war histories to his books on spiritualism, including items on the Cottingley Fairy photographs, as well as his historical novels and his immortal stories of Sherlock Holmes. This delightful exhibit continues through the end of this month. (I have a spare copy of the 32 page exhibition booklet, should a rabid Sherlockian wish to claim it.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Demon of Brockenheim

Australian journals and periodicals are a largely untapped source of supernatural and fantastic fiction. This is a shame because there are some fascinating examples of the genre that have been forgotten. One such is the excessive gothic serial "The Demon of Brockenheim" which was serialised in The Australian Journal between April and October, 1877.
AUSTLIT, which provides useful synopses of stories and serials in The Ausralian Journal up to 1900, describes it as follows:
"In the town of Mayence, Germany a dark foreigner who speaks an unknown language is to be hung for the murder of Baron Von Brockenheim. A mysterious pilgrim attempts to bribe the gaoler to see him but fails. In his search for the prisoner he sees alchemical flames in a distant tower of the castle, and knowing thus that the Baron still lives he utters the terrible summoning cry of the Secret Tribunal, warning the Baron that he has been detected and justice must bedone. For the Baron had been due to appear before an ecclesial commission to answer charges of evil and illicit activity. The foreigner, emissary from Grenada's king, is executed and the pilgrim - his father - swears he will have the blood of the Baron's daughter in revenge. He is unaware that she had tried to save his son who had given her the magic ring of Mahmound in return ..."
The author of "The Demon" remains unknown. An advertisement in the March 1877 issue of The Australian Journal says, "We have much pleasure in intimating that in our next number will be commenced a sensational serial tale, by a well-known author, entitled "The Demon of Brockenheim; or, The Enchanted Ring." The well-known author may have been Mary Fortune, the Ireland-born author who wrote a regular detective series for The Australian Journal for 40 years, and who produced four gothic romances for the journal in succession throughout 1866, including "Clyzia the Dwarf." The Austalian writer/researcher, Lucy Sussex, has written extensively on Mary Fortune and has recently edited a selection of her tales for the Canberra-based Mulini Press. Another possible author is the prolific American, Sylvanus Cobb, whose tales were serialised in The Australian Journal, including "Wolfgang; or, The Wrecker's Beacon" in 1876.
The resourceful Australian bookdealer, John P. Quaine, bound up "Demon" and "Wolfgang" and advertised them in his 1931 catalogue of Bloods. The asking price, 7/6.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

“Classic Fantasists on Film”: William Hope Hodgson

There are three filmed adaptations of fiction by William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918), two of them being based on his most-anthologized short story “The Voice in the Night” (1907), and the third is from one of his short stories of the occult detective, Thomas Carnacki.

The first, chronologically, was a straightforward version of “A Voice in the Night” done in the U.S. as the twenty-fourth episode of the hour-long NBC television series Suspicion (1957-59), a rival to the more famous CBS series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62). In fact the rivalry perhaps instigated this production of Hodgson’s story, for after “A Voice in the Night” was reprinted in the July 1954 issue of Playboy magazine, it re-appeared soon afterwards in the anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV (1957). Broadcast on 24 March 1958, this episode had a small but distinguished cast and crew, most of whom became well-known in the industry. The cast of four included James Coburn and Patrick Macnee as the two sailors on the ship who hear the tale, and James Donald and Barbara Rush as the couple who are the victims of the fungus. The director was Arthur Hiller. The script is well-written and well-acted, and, though a black-and-white production, the program stands up well to the passage of time. This is the best and most effective of the three film productions made from Hodgson’s tales.

A further adaptation—indeed, a re-conceptualization—of “A Voice in the Night” is to be found in the Japanese film Matango (89 minutes, color, 1963). Hodgson’s story is reframed around a yacht trip taken by five Japanese men and two women. They become lost in a storm, land on a deserted island, and find a derelict ship filled with mold and fungus. As they starve, some begin to eat the mushrooms (matango), with results as found in Hodgson’s tale. It makes for a better-than-average B-movie, with decent special effects for its time, though it suffers from limited characterization and a barely adequate script. Nonetheless, a good deal of the creepiness of Hodgson’s story comes through effectively.

The final production is of “The Horse of the Invisible” (1910), one of the Carnacki stories. It was the fifth episode of season one of the U.K. television series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971-73), first broadcast on 17 October 1971. A color production filling an hour time-slot, it starred Donald Pleasance as Carnacki, and Tony Steedman as Captain Hisgins. Both are dreadful, and the script itself isn’t very good either. The whole production has an over-earnestness that elicits sneers (or even laughter) rather than suspense.

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.

Yellow Vengeance

Oriental villains were also a staple of British theatre. According to Steve Nicholson in The Censorship of British Drama, Chinese villains and their drug and torture businesses continued to be a staple ingredient of melodrama after melodrama in the 1920s and '30s. Admittedly, much of the popular drama of the day was inferior rubbish, roundly condemned by the Chinese community which frequently petitioned the Lord Chancellor's Office to have them banned. The Twister, licensed in 1928, was set in Chang's Torture Chamber and featured cocaine gangs. Another Chinese-dope melodrama was The Yellow Hand, licensed to the Bilston Hippodrome in 1929.

Another example of this type of drama is Yellow Vengeance, licensed to the Theatre Royal, Worthing, in 1928. In this play, Wong Koo, a brilliant Chinese doctor, injects the son of Gerard Pearson with tetanus in revenge for Pearson violated Koo's betrothed (who then committed suicide) when they were at Oxford together. It turns out that Koo is only bluffing, however, and his aim is to teach Pearson a moral lesson. According to the Lord Chancellor's Office it was an example of 'the Chinese rubbish play reduced to a very simple form.' The play's interest is that it was written by Evelyn Bradley, the theatre manager from Hove who wrote several 1930s cult thrillers under the name R.R. Ryan. Letters fom Bradley, whose stage name was Rex Ryan, indicate that a play about 'the Mandarin Wong Koo' was one of his.

For 150 years a system of censorship existed in Great Britain demanding that all plays be reviewed by the Lord Chamberlain before they could be licensed for public performance. Until the practice ended in 1968 a copy of every play was lodged with the Lord Chamberlain's Office, which are available for public access in the British Library, one of the great resources of literary and social history.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Le Fanu

Just published by The Swan River Press of Dublin is My Aunt Margaret's Adventure, an unsigned mystery story from The Dublin University Magazine of March 1864, first attributed to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu by M. R. James in the introduction to his edition of overlooked Le Fanu stories, Madam Crowl's Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery (1923). Though James mentioned the tale, he excluded it from his collection, so this marks the first reprinting since its original publication. This attractive booklet includes informative additions---an Introduction by Jim Rockhill, an Afterword by Gary W. Crawford, and the reprinting of a relevant old ballad, "The Maid of the Moor" (1797) by George Colman the Younger. For ordering information, click here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Twisted Clay

Australian author Frank Walford's novel Twisted Clay has the distinction of being one of the more bizarre thrillers published in the 1930s, which is saying something given the excruciating excesses of R.R. Ryan, Harry Keeler, J.U. Nicolson amongst others.
Walford himself bragged that the novel was applauded by the London Times as 'the best book ever written with a lunatic as a central character'. Twisted Clay, first published by Werner Laurie in 1933, was banned in Australia for nearly thirty years before the Australian paperback publisher Horwitz reprinted it in the early '60s. They cashed in on its notoriety, declaring on the back cover: 'Just Released From The Banned List!'
The narrator and anti-heroine of Twisted Clay is Jean Deslines, a precocious fourteen year old in every way. Her mother died giving birth to her, which took place during a terrible storm, and she lives with her loving father and tyrannical grandmother in a “bleak old house on the crest of the Blue Mountains.” Jean delights in causing trouble and innocently denying that she has done anything wrong. Early on in the book she describes how as a twelve-year-old she led on a clergyman, drawing his hand around his waist and kissing him, knowing that her grandmother is spying on them through the window. She also enjoys sharing a bed with the buxom maid, but it is only when her savvy, university-educated cousin, Myrtle, tells her to read psychology textbooks that she realizes she is a lesbian. At first she is appalled, regarding herself as “something unhealthy, a gross abnormality which should have been strangled at birth”, and she tries to kill herself by boiling herself alive in the laundry tub. The textbooks inform her that lesbianism is caused by a deficiency of female hormones, and that she might excite her suppressed femininity by consorting with the opposite sex. She hits onto the bank manager’s son and manages to get herself pregnant; confessing all to her long-suffering father she has an abortion and dumps the perplexed boyfriend. Soon afterwards she has a dream that recurs through the novel: Jean, dressed as a slave girl witnesses the stabbing murder by barbarians of a Roman centurian who, when examined by a doctor, turns out to be a beautiful woman. Events take a turn for the worse for Jean when she eavesdrops on a conversation between her father and the doctor who performed the abortion; they plan to take her to Europe to undergo experimental hormone treatment that they hope will cure her lesbianism and improve her personality. The only way she can see to avoid the treatment is to murder her father; one night she takes him to the local cemetery where a grave has been freshly dug, kills him by smashing his skull with a shovel, and buries him in the grave. Although the doctor suspects her of the crime, she is able to convince the local police that she is an innocent victim who is beaten and abused by her grandmother and the doctor. When it seems that she has escaped all suspicion, she starts to experience intermittent bouts of insanity in which her father appears and implores her to perform specific tasks; her first task is to dig him up and stop up the hole in his head because his brains are slipping out! She accomplishes this over a couple of nights, and when suspicion falls on her she manages to deflect it onto the doctor. Meanwhile, her cousin Myrtle appears on the scene again and becomes infatuated with Jean; the two attend a fancy dress ball, Jean dressed as a slave girl and Myrtle as a centurian, seemingly suggesting that Jean’s dream was clairaudient. The doctor employs a detective to investigate the case and he sees through her charade of innocence; when in another fit of insanity she digs up the corpse of her father he is on hand to apprehend her and she is placed in an asylum. Jean escapes from the asylum and finds that easy money can be made as a Sydney prostitute; however her hatred of men and her intermittent bouts of insanity compel her to become a “Jill-the-Ripper” serial killer as she ruthlessly dispatches her clients. She is able to live in an apartment undiscovered until she murders Myrtle, with whom she has resumed a relationship, in the flat. Once again she takes on a new identity and sets herself up as a beautician; she even seems to be “cured” when she is seduced by “scar-face” Harry Lees, a rough, masculine criminal and drug-dealer. The two go into business together and the partnership prospers. Unfortunately for Jean the detective reappears and she is forced to kill him; when she tells Harry what she as done he is horrified and deserts her. Disillusioned once and for all she gases herself in the kitchen, leaving behind her diary for posterity.
So there you have it! Classic 1930s pulp. Sad to say Walford's other works don't live up to the promise of Twisted Clay. His collection of short stories, The Ghost of Albert and Other Stories, includes a couple of supernatural tales, but they are fairly bland humorous efforts with little to recommend them.
And what of Walford himself? Born in Balmain, Sydney, in 1882 he led an adventurous life in his youth, going to North Queensland as a buffalo hunter and crocodile shooter and living with Indigenous people to learn bush survival techniques. He sailed a schooner between Townsville and Broome with an Aboriginal crew. He settled in Katoomba in 1919 to work for the Blue Mountains Echo newspaper in which he published poetry by Eleanor Dark and Eric Lowe.
His first novel, Indiscretions of Iole, evidently sold 20,000 copies in Britain, and his short stories we regularly broadcast on Australian radio. In 1942 he won 200 pounds in a Woman's Weekly short story contest. He was active in the local community at Katoomba, NSW, where he settled in 1919. During World War Two, he joined the Volunteer Defence Corps and roamed the Blue Mountains seeking out strategic locations for ammunition dumps and bases for guerrilla fighters in the event that Australia was successfully invaded. He died in 1969.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dunsany as Jorkens

The first volume of Lord Dunsany's tall tales of Joseph Jorkens, The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens, appeared in 1931. Unlike many of Dunsany's books, which were often illustrated by Sidney Sime, this volume has no illustrations at all. However, Sime did illustrate the first two Jorkens stories, "The Abulaheeb" and "The King of Sarabh", when they appeared in the Christmas number of The Graphic for 1926. Sime, best-known for his exquisite work in black-and-white, uncharacteristically contributed five color illustrations: three for the first story, and two for the second. The best and most characteristic of the illustrations is the headpiece, which seems to depict the Van Dyked Dunsany as his own famous character. (Click on the illustration to see a larger version.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sidney Sime

In my column "Late Reviews" in Wormwood no. 6 (Spring 2006), I reviewed favorably the rare shilling shocker A Curious Case (London: Digby and Long, 1891) by one Sidney Sime. Whether this author was also the famous artist Sidney Sime is uncertain, but based on stylistic traits I suspect they are the same Sime.

Recently I happened upon a short review of the book, contemporary to its original publication, and thought I'd share it. It appeared in The Academy, 5 September 1891, and was written by William Sharp, who is better remembered as "Fiona Macleod."

Mr. Sidney Sime's Curious Case is a sufficiently sensation return for the shilling demanded for it. It is, indeed, better than most books of its kind; and the social problem involved in Dr. Hart's ethically justifiable if legally reprehensible and punishable action is one that is all the better for being brought before the attention of thinking men and women in all manner of ways.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mark Hansom

One writer of supernatural thrillers who remains unidentified is Mark Hansom. Hansom wrote seven novels for the publisher Wright & Brown between 1934 and 1939. The novels are fairly crude but quite entertaining and invariably include sorcerers, magicians and Black Magic, as well as the inevitable girl in distress.

The accepted wisdom is that ‘Mark Hansom’ was a pseudonym, as no eligible person with this name has turned up in genealogical records. The 1911 English census website, now complete and which allows a free name search, has no Mark Hansom though there are several dozen Hansoms listed.

The usual way of tracing author identity is via publishers' records. Unfortunately, the records of Wright & Brown were destroyed along with its offices in 1940 during the Blitz. Ward Lock went up with it. W&B survived the war and continued to publish popular novels, particularly romance, until it wound up in about 1969/70. No one seems to know the whereabuts of the W&B archive following its dissolution and it may have been dumped or destroyed, a great shame if true. A number of W&B authors moved on to Robert Hale, but inquiries there revealed no connection between the two publishers.

Interestingly, all of Hansom’s books were reprinted by Mellifont, which specialised in cheap, abridged reprints. A Canadian book seller has a copy of the Mellifont The Shadow on the House for US$550, a fair whack for a 96 page abridgment. Mellifont had offices in London and Dublin – its entry in the 1953 Writers and Artists Year Book says, “Cheap editions of novels…also cheap edition rights of books previously published.” I’ve no idea if a Mellifont archive survives somewhere, or who, if anyone, acquired the company. Interesting that all the Hansom books were reprinted by Mellifont, at least one as late as 1951. Perhaps he/she was hard up and sold the rights cheaply?

Anyway, without contracts or letters or other documentation Hansom seems doomed to obscurity. Can we tell anything about him/her from the books? Not a lot, I think. He may have been well educated. Hansom includes a Latin quote in Beasts of Brahm, a fun horror tale reprinted by Midnight House in 2001. Arthur and Jeremy break into the evil Count’s house and find a book from which Jeremy reads: "Cum animi e corporum vinculis, tamquam e carcere evolaverint", which is from Cicero's Somnium Scipionis: “Immo vero inquit hi vivunt, qui e corporum vinculis tamquam e carcere evolaverunt.” He had a liking for black magic plots. Probably English.  He knew London well, and was acquainted with the theatre scene.

Why did he stop writing in 1939? Called up to fight? Possibly, though it may well be that he was cut from the W&B list as a result of war time paper restrictions. There is at least one Mark Hansom story in a popular magazine of the day, so he must have had a certain popular profile.

Ascribing authorship is a fun game to play over a pint, but in reality a complete waste of time. So let’s have a go. Are there any obvious contenders? There were dozens of thriller/mystery writers around at the time who churned out novels for W&B, Herbert Jenkins, Jarrolds, Ward Lock etc etc for the circulating library market. What about E. Charles Vivian, born Charles Henry Cannell in 1882? He wrote a celebrated series of supernatural thrillers for W&B under the name Jack Mann - there were 8 Gees novels published between 1936 and 1941. Vivian wrote an Inspector Head novel called Shadow on the House, which was published in the same year as Hansom’s The Shadow on the House. Was he playing games? It’s possible, but the learned opinion of experts is that Hansom’s writing style is less polished than Vivian's.

Who else? The execrable Sydney Horler? Walter S. Masterman, author of some off-beat thrillers? The equally mysterious "Rex Dark" whose Wright & Brown career coincided with Mark Hansom's and whose books were similarly reprinted by Mellifont?  Alan Grant (Gilbert Alan Kennington) of It Walks in the Woods (1936) fame, which was also published by Mellifont. The prolific John Robert Stuart Pringle, who wrote crime thrillers under the name Gerald Verner, amongst other pseudonyms, under which name he edited the anthology of witchcraft stories, Prince of Darkness? Certainly, one of his pseudonyms was "Nigel Vane", which is playfully self-referential, as is "Mark Hansom".  J. Jefferson Farjeon, whose short stories and novels appeared in many of the same places as Hansom's, such as the Australian Woman's Weekly and the Weekly Times, and who published some novels with Wright & Brown? Brenda Cecilia Hopwood, who under the name Patrick Leyton wrote mystery thrillers like Haunted Abbey? Gilderoy Davison, who wrote the Twisted Face novels for Herbert Jenkins? Gret Lane, Francis Duncan, Wyndham Martin, etc etc?

What about Frank King (1892-1958), a doctor from Halifax who turned to writing in the late 1920s? One of his early books was The Ghoul (1928) which was turned into the classic Boris Karloff film in 1933. He also wrote Cagliostro: The Last of the Sorcerers (1929) and the ‘creepy’ Terror at Staurs House (1927). Later he turned to rather innocuous detective stories featuring “The Doormouse”, a Raffles style private detective. He was educated at Rishworth and Bradford schools before studying medicine at Leeds University. He also wrote for Windsor, Story Teller, Cassells, New, Passing Show, amongst others magazines. An interesting guy, worth reading. Is he Mark Hansom? Probably not. In all likelihood Hansom is a complete unknown, someone who turned to writing to make a quick buck in straitened times and managed to do okay for a short period before the war intervened.

"Late Reviews"

Adcock, A. St. John. The World That Never Was: A London Fantasy (London: Francis Griffiths, 1908). Illustrated by Tom Browne.

Arthur St. John Adcock (1864-1930) was a literary gadfly of the early twentieth century, for many years the editor of The Bookman, and an acquaintance to a large number of literary writers, including Arthur Machen and William Hope Hodgson. He is remembered today chiefly for his two volumes of impressions of contemporary authors, Gods of Modern Grub Street (1923) and The Glory That Was Grub Street (1928), but one of his more enduring volumes should be his study For Remembrance: Soldier Poets Who Have Fallen in the War (1918; revised 1920).

Amongst his diverse output is one fantasy novel, The World That Never Was. It is actually a children’s fantasy, about young Olive and her brother Tony, and their adventures in London at night. They meet various characters, some from folklore and legendry like Bluebird, Dick Whittington, Mother Hubbard, and the law-breaking Bill Stickers (known from the common sign “Bill Stickers Will Be Prosecuted”), before returning home the next morning. The children are cloying to the modern reader, and the story never casts a spell. The book is unremarkable and eminently forgettable.

Pain, Barry. Three Fantasies (London: Methuen, 1904).

The title of this elusive book makes it sound much more desirable than it actually is. The short story which opens the book, “Cheevers and the Love of Beauty,” is the best in the volume. A local busy-body businessman is accused of having no love of beauty, and the remark rankles him. Soon afterwards he encounters a gypsy who reads his palm, and remarks upon this fact. For a small sum of silver, she gives him a love of beauty for seven days, during which time he neglects his business and spends his days at the National Gallery, much to the bewilderment of all who know him. After seven days, he returns to his normal self. The two novellas in this book are romance stories, neither of which really count as fantasies in the modern sense.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Drolls From Shadowland

From The Bookman, April, 1896, pp. 13-14




MR. J. H PEARCE is, I believe, a novelist. He has published two or three Cornish novels, one of which has received Mr. Gladstone's imprimatur. I do not know his work as a novelist, though I can well believe that something of the vague, shadowy, elusive poetry which is the very breath of his short stories might escape from a long book. I ought perhaps to apologise to Mr. Pearce for calling the two books named above neglected. They must have reached the ears of the small audience which is ever alert for new voices in literature. A good many of his critics at the time of their publication were enthusiastic. But the outer public the books scarcely reached at all; and my complaint is that, instead of taking their place in the body of literature which is always in demand, they have seemed to disappear with their season, as a drop of rain in the sea, so quickly and silently. It might be easy to explain this by saying that the public adores, with a comprehensive passion, the trite and the commonplace; but it would not be an explanation. The great body of circulating-library readers who make a worthless book go for a season or two, have no power to grant fixity of tenure. There is a stronger public opinion on literature which in the end, after blunders and injustices, is always right. Nothing that is really of literature is lost and forgotten; it is acknowledged and honoured at last; and this is the thought which comforts one when one is wroth at seeing fine work pushed down and trampled out of sight by the vulgar and the obvious.

“Drolls from Shadowland” appeared in 1893, “Tales of the Masque” the following year. Their effect on my own mind was so deep and abiding that at any time since, without consulting the books, I could tell the story of “The Little Crow of Paradise, or Joanna,” or “the Calling of the Sea,” or the yet earlier “Man Who Talked With the Birds,” or “The Man Who Met Hate,” or “The Unchristened Child,” or “A Pleasant Entertainment,” or “The Man Who Wished to be a Tree.” The quality of imagination in Mr. Pearce's work is extraordinarily fine and subtle. There is no imagination in young poetry at present which can stand beside his in prose excepting that of his brother Celt, Mr. W. B. Yeats. Between the genius of these two there is a certain kinship, but Mr. Pearce sees life whole as Mr. Yeats does not. To make his glamour, Mr. Yeats uses gold, and grey, and purple, mists of fairyland and splendour of legend; to make his, Mr. Pearce takes more homely material. He is something of the sage and philosopher, and, elusive as he is, he is a student of life and his fellow-men. His is a genius at once aerial and intimate.

There is a depth of human feeling in "The Unchristened Child." The Cornish fisherman had refused baptism to his child, and it is the superstition that an unchristened child, whether he die on the land or the water, becomes a creature of that element. The little lad, when out fishing in a punt with a playfellow, falls overboard and is drowned. "His companion, leaning over, could see him sinking down slowly into the crystalline depths, with his hands stretched up and the hair on his head tapering to a point like the flame of a candle.” A few days afterwards the father is out fishing when he sees a little seal emerge from a cave and come swimming towards him.

“’Why dedn'ee ha' me christened, faather?’ asked the little seal piteously.

“’My God, are'ee Silas?’ said John, trembling violently.

“’Iss, I'm Silas,’ said the little seal.

“John stared aghast at the smooth brown head and the innocent eyes that watched him so pathetically.

“’Why, I thought thee wert drownded, Silas!’ he ejaculated.

“’I caant go to rest 'tell I'm christened,’ said the seal.

“’How can us do it, now?’ asked the father anxiously.

“’Ef anywan who's christened wed change sauls weth me,’ said the seal, ‘then I wed go to rest right away.’

“’Thee shall ha' my saul, Silas,’ said the father tenderly.

“’Will'ee put thy mouth to mine an' braythe it into me, faather?’

“’Iss, my dear, that I will,’ said the father. ‘Rest thee shust have ef I can give it to’ee, Silas. Put thy hands or paws around me neck, will'ee, soas?’

“And John leaned over the side of the boat till his face touched that of the piteous little seal.”

It has the profound simplicity and tenderness of genuine folklore. Indeed, of all the Cornishmen in love with Cornwall, Mr. Pearce seems to have come nearest to the secret of the Celtic magic which is in the haunted moorlands, and on the wild cliffs over the sea, and in the hearts of the primitive people. "The Little Crow of Paradise" might have come from the times when faith was so ardent that imagination centred about the things of faith, embroidering them with lovely accessories. The Robin, says Mr. Pearce, because of its kindness when Christ hung on the Cross, is permitted once a year to visit Hell, bearing a drop of water in its beak for some poor sinner it had loved while on earth. But the crow is the bird of the devil, because he mocked Christ on the Cross, and he has a cinder for a heart; yet one little crow for ever sits on the wall of Paradise. His friend was dead and in hell, "in the awful Pit of the Great Thirst, with the lidless eyes of Satan fixed unsleepingly upon him," and the crow had in vain implored the robin to bear him a drop of water. The robin is the only bird that can go scatheless near the fires, but the crow, moved by pity and love, took the drop of water in his beak and flew down to Hell.

"In the Black Pit of Thirst his friend moaned helplessly his throat and lips parched into horrible blackness, and the sharp brine running through his veins instead of blood. ‘Water! give me water!’ he gasped to the crow. The crow sank down, and alighting on his shoulder, poured the cherished drop of water between the black, parched lips. ‘A hundred years of agony have rolled away from me!’ gasped the man. ‘Now, caw once, that I may remember the woodlands. . . .' ‘Caw,’ cried the little black crow, ‘Caw! Caw!’ But at that moment the Ancient One, who is of stone and without a heart, thrust his huge claws forward and the crow was in his palm. Then God who seeth all things was moved to compassion, and as His thought became a deed, Satan's huge claws opened, and up flew the little crow straight to Paradise; alighting, singed and panting, on the vast, gold walls. Except the dove, no bird has ever entered heaven. The crow might not be admitted to the shining streets of pearl, but within sight of heaven he should dwell for ever, said the Merciful One. And on the great gold walls against which the Water of Life ripples musically, the Little Crow of Paradise still builds his nest.”
This is the very spirit of fantasy, but Mr. Pearce is not always so remote. Most of his allegories are indeed fraught with deep human meaning. Tragedy and pity, and cynicism and scorn, the "saeva indignatio," and wit and tenderness are in each tiny masterpiece. Elusive as they are, they are artistically satisfying, and one would no more wish anything away or anything altered than one would with “Tanglewood Tales” or "Mosses From an Old Manse."

Monday, July 13, 2009


A short Q & A I did with Adam Smith at Tolkien-Online.com has just been posted, and I thought some cross-mention between there and here would be in order. The interview is here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Claude Houghton

Some years ago I read some very ardent reviews of Claude Houghton novels in 1930s volumes of The Bookman, which claimed that spiritual archetypes stalk his books, bringing us substantial profundities and a clear, strong vision of the mystic destiny which is shaping for humanity. Not long after, I D Edrich books sent me a catalogue devoted only to Dunsany, Ernest Bramah and Houghton, and from this I bought a good stock of his work, which (with others I had picked up) numbered well over 20 titles.

However, I was at first disappointed in them. Firstly, his most noted, I Am Jonathan Scrivener has a trick ending that seemed unworthy of the high endeavour attributed to him. Secondly, for reasons I cannot understand, he had done a novel version of Jerome K Jerome’s cloying and religiose play The Passing of the Third Floor Back. Thirdly, there seemed to be a marked tailing-off in his late work, which enmeshed itself in themes of marital discord with no obvious mystical import. And finally even the promising books of the Thirties - Julian Grant Loses His Way, Chaos Is Come Again, This Was Ivor Trent - seemed, on dipping in, to have a rather painfully solemn tone, ponderous with portent and peopled with Big Characters. The books never seemed quite to deliver. In short, I disposed of the lot to a more patient friend.

I rediscovered him, when, desperate for something to read while on holiday in Galloway, the cottage we rented had only a shelf of leatherette condensed novels, all adventure thrillers: or a History of the Scottish Music Hall. The salvation, as soon as the Wigtown bookshops opened, was Claude Houghton’s This Was Ivor Trent (1936). Whether by force of contrast or not I cannot say, but I was soon utterly engrossed in this.

It has a very effective opening on the Embankment in a London fog, where the majestic author of the title, haunted by the potentiality that man might evolve into another form of spiritual being, suddenly comes face to face with a hooded figure which seems to be just such a being: the image precipitates a nervous collapse and we do not see Trent again until the last section of the novel. But we do see a swarm of characters, lonely and damaged by the world, who talk about their encounters with Trent and the inhuman power he possesses over others. There is one highly memorable character, a valetudinarian misanthrope with utter contempt for virtually all he meets, whose brittle conversation and mannerisms are brilliantly portrayed. Others include a vaguely Buchanesque main protagonist, a hollow-eyed artist’s model, a young woman in flight from her boorish family, a vain and self-pitying critic lamed in the war, a youth who thinks he is a reincarnation of Nietzsche. Their lives hold a morbid interest for the reader but we are waiting as we witness them for the re-emergence of Trent and a resolution of the hooded figure vision.
This we do not quite get, but Houghton just about manages to hold the novel back from anti-climax.

Though ultimately unsatisfactory, I thought This Was Ivor Trent had a bitter and brooding power which seemed to convey well the disillusion, the weariness of the Thirties, and the expectation that something massive was needed to shatter the dismal order of things. When the Common Sense Englishman characters puts in a half-hearted defence of the masses against the vituperative invalid’s contempt, the latter hisses, “Oh, so you’ve think they’ve advanced as far as the brink of 1914 do you ?”, prophetic words. Claude Houghton’s work requires perseverance and is not easily assimilable to familiar terrain in the sf, fantasy or supernatural fiction spheres, but a handful of his novels may well be worth trying.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Volume of Tolkien Studies

Volume VI of Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, which I co-edit along with Michael D. C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, has just come out. For those with access to the (subscription) database Project Muse, the contents have been online for a few weeks. (You can see the table of contents, via Project Muse, by clicking here.)

A thorough index of all six volumes of Tolkien Studies was compiled by André Gand of the German Tolkien Society and can be seen here, or a nice pdf can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Not at Night" No. 12

Anyone interested in British horror from the 1920s-30s will be familiar with the eleven volumes of the "Not at Night" series, edited by Christine Campbell Thomson and published by Selwyn and Blount. I recently was reading Arthur Compton-Rickett's Portraits and Personalities (Selwyn and Blount, 1937). Interestingly, there is a Spring 1937 Selwyn and Blount catalogue, bound in at the rear, which lists twelve books in the "Not at Night" series, the twelfth being a Coronation Omnibus. Clearly a mistake, of course. A WorldCat search turns up no book with such a title, though with George VI's coronation on 12 May 1937 it would seem to have been a possibility. But was there a prankster involved who thought that the idea of a Coronation Omnibus clearly deserved to be marketed as horror?

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Late Reviews"

Dupont, Inge, and Hope Mayo (eds). Morgan Library Ghost Stories (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990). Wood engravings by John De Pol. Reprinted from the limited edition published in the same year by The Stone House Press of Roslyn, New York.

A collection of seven original tales, plus an introduction by Hope Mayo—the results of a ghost-story writing competition, the conditions for which being that the stories be in the style of M.R. James, and that they be in some way related to the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City. The connection with M.R. James is facilitated by the fact that James (from Cambridge) worked on the cataloguing of the large number of medieval manuscripts and early printed books from the years 1902-1907, before the collection made its way across the Atlantic.

The seven stories, one of which is in verse, were all written by people associated at some time with the Morgan Library, or who were then professional librarians at other institutions. As a result, it is not surprising that the stories, while mostly competent and amusing, are not particularly original or in any way outstanding. The most interesting item in the volume (outside of the excellent illustrations) is the “Introduction”, which tells the story of the beginnings of Morgan’s Library, and of M.R. James’s connection with it. We learn that Belle de la Costa Greene, who was for many years in charge of Morgan’s library, exchanged letters with James (some of which are quoted in the book). She was also a fan of James’s ghost stories, and even requested new ghost stories from his pen. In 1933, James wrote her that “I am afraid that the vein of ghost stories has run rather dry.” After James’s death, the manuscript of “A Warning to the Curious” was purchased and presented as a gift to the Morgan Library in 1942, where it remains to this day.

Wuorio, Eva-Lis. Escape If You Can: 13 Tales of the Preternatural (New York: Viking Press, 1977)

Wuorio (1918- ), at the time of publication of this book, is described as a Canadian citizen of Finnish descent who has been living and writing in Finland for the last several years. Most of her novels are for young adults.

This short story collection, also marketed for children, has a deftness to the writing and a cosmopolitan feel overall. There is little questioning of the supernatural, or shock at the experience of it: it merely is. Some of the stories are from a child’s perspective, while others are more adult. All are somewhat unconventional, and even when using familiar tropes (like werewolfery) Wuorio creates a story that is uniquely her own, moody and introspective, with a distinct sense of place and setting. I wouldn’t expect these stories to be popular with many children, but some will like them. More adults should read them, despite their being packaged as for children.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

13 Spook Stories

In 1941 the landmark collection 13 Spookverhalen (13 Spook Stories) was published in the Netherlands. Landmark, as before that time to my knowledge no other collection had appeared in the Netherlands, devoted to supernatural and ghost stories and including translations of short stories by E.F. Benson. M.R. James, H.R. Wakefield, W.F. Harvey, E. Nesbit and W.W. Jacobs. Also included were short stories by H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Edith Wharton and others, thirteen tales in all.

E.F. Bensons 'Caterpillars' and M.R. James 'Casting the Runes' were found in this collection. In 1941 the Netherlands were occupied by Nazi Germany; one would think the Dutch had more realistic horrors on their minds than this splendid collection of supernatural tales. But perhaps the publication of this collection was a subtle act of literary resistance, as in the collection all the featured authors were English.

The design on the dustwrapper and the quite nice interior black and white illustrations were drawn by J.M. Prange.

Seven Phantoms

Another peculiar title in the small, pre second world war list of Dutch language supernatural stories, is Zeven Fantomen (Seven Phantoms) by Dutch author Ben van Eijsselsteijn (1898 - 1973).

I once inspected an early edition of Gustav Meyrink's Der Golem that had belonged to Van Eijsselsteijn.

If mentioned at all these days, Zeven Fantomen is a curiosity as its contents - short stories in the Poe/Hoffman vein - are original in theme but unfortunately quite forgettable in execution. Zeven Fantomen was published in 1934 and it is chiefly remembered owing to its striking cover design and its very effective interior black and white illustrations. These were drawn by artist Hein von Essen (1886 - 1974) who was a friend of Van Eijsselsteijn.

Before and after midnight

The Dutch fantastic literature tradition is virtually nonexistent. Instead of an influx of Edwardian and Victorian ghost story influences, the Dutch opted for a no less dark subject; that of the 19th century grave poetry, earmarked by an all pervading melancholy, ennui and sorrow.

Although never establishing itself firmly, the Dutch supernatural tradition took off in the 1920's with F. Bordewijk's three collections of his short stories (published in 1919, 1923 and 1924), entitled Fantastische Vertellingen, with in one particular gruesome short story, 'Talamon of Ye Old Bowe' a nightmarish description of an abandoned house where a woman sits with her bare legs in a tub, filled with maggots.

As to collections of supernatural stories translated in the Dutch language, two can be considered pioneers: 13 Spookverhalen, published in 1941, and Voor En Na Middernacht, published in 1949.

While we will return to 13 Spookverhalen some other time, Voor En Na Middernacht was a particularly beautiful production for such a relatively unknown genre in the Netherlands. A Large sized hardcover volume with gold on the back and blind stamped motif on the front, it was printed on quality paper with haunting interior illustrations by Dutch artist Eppo Doeve who also drew the dustwrapper with its design spanning the frontside, the back and the backside of the wrapper. The collection features tales by August Derleth, H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, Henry Russell Wakefield, W.W. Jacobs, Saki, John Collier, Francis Marion Crawford, Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and the like.

The collection was assembled by Amsterdam bookseller Jessurun Lobo, and even today, dustwrappered copies are scarce. This collection saw a number of reprints, but never again such opulent production standards.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Devil's Drums and Veils Of Fear

My knowledge of Vivian Meik, author of the two horror story collections Devil's Drums (1933) and Veils Of Fear (1934) went, until today, no further than an entry on pages 362-363 of Shadows in The Attic: A Guide to British Supernatural Fiction 1820 - 1950 (review here), the entry found on the online Guide to Supernatural Fiction, and having read the two volumes mentioned above.

Meik (1894 - 1955), it turns out, led a fascinating life, at one time returning to the United States with as "One outstanding feature... when he arrived in the US was that he was missing his left eye", according to the very detailed online biography with a wealth of other details The Complete Vivian Meik.

Meik, who died in California, not only wrote the horror story collections mentioned above, but also The People of the Leaves (1931), reviewed in one entry on the Complete Vivian Meik as "...an absorbing account of the obscure Juang or Patuas (meaning people of the leaves or leaf-wearers) tribe located in Orissa. How he fell in love with this extremely shy, withdrawn people makes for fascinating reading..."

A view that was not shared by this contemporary review, published in 1931 in Texas state newspaper San Antonio Express that I found.

The Water Wolf

Who today remembers Leon Lewis (1833 - 1920)? A prolific Dime Novel author in the 1860's and 1870's, he penned novels as The Silver Ship, The Web Of Fate, The Reef Spider and many others, serialized in publications as The New York Weekly and New York Ledger.

While researching something else I found this advert for his novel The Water Wolf: or The Demon Of The Bermudas, published in an 1866 New York state newspaper, the Roman Citizen. The advert also provides some insight into the plotlines and characters in Lewis' story and makes for some interesting reading.

To appreciate this form of literature since long gone, spend some time at Albert Johannsen's site The House of Beadle & Adams and its Dime and Nickel Novels, the story of a vanished literature.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Recent Acquisition

Harris Merton Lyon (1883-1916) published only two books, both collections of short stories from off-trail publishers, Sardonics (1908) and Graphics (1913). Theodore Dreiser called him "De Maupassant, Junior" and H. L. Mencken was a fan. When O. Henry realized he was too ill to finish his story "The Snow Man", he asked Lyon to do so for him. Carl Sandburg was a fan too, so it's surprising that Lyon has so disappeared from modern literary awareness. A small revival was begun by his daughter Zoe Lyon (1915-1976) in the late 1960s, but since her passing, his works have slipped back into literary oblivion.

Sardonics (1908) is a collection of sixteen sketches, plus three poems. The cover is gloriously ornate---a skull in a jester's cap, surrounded by orange poppies. The quotation (from the Book of Job) printed on the title page reads: "Cannot my taste discern perverse things?" The stories I've read so far aren't macabre, but written with a gritty realism and a distaste for sentimentality. One sees why Dreiser and Mencken liked them, and Dreiser's epithet "De Maupassant, Junior" is particularly apt.

Ghost Stories

The Author's and Writer's Who's Who (1934) mentions the following chap:

BRUCE, Rev. Archibald Reid Turing. b: London 1873. e: Burneys Naval Acad, Gosport, Tonbridge Sc & Salisbury Theo. Col. m: Dorothy Elisabeth Crick. Publ: Scourge of the Moors. c.t. Blue Mag. s.s.: Boys' books, ghost stories. Rec: Archae. a: Sixpenny Handley, Salisbury.

Anyone come across his ghost stories?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Phantom Clutch, Final Part

J.P. Quaine didn't take kindly to Bill Loft's claim that he had taken credit for inventing what were in fact genuine titles. Writing to Stan Larnach at the end of 1955 Quaine wrote:

"I repeat that in a moment of exuberance I invented the two titles, despite what our expert says. The trouble is that all my four witnesses are dead, Jay, Ono, Steele and Medcraft...The affair occurred in this way. About 1926 I wrote a short article for the Melbourne Herald called Varney the Vampire, and, to pep it up, I created the two titles under discussion. As I usually sent over sea to the pals copies of any articles I had done on Bloods, I posted one to Jay, Ono and Steele. I did not know Medcraft then. I pointed out to all of em my little joke, never dreaming that I was laying a pitfall for the unwary."

In fact, the article appeared in the Melbourne Herald in October 1927, and in the interests of laying this ghost forever, here is the article in full:

Varney the Vampire, by J.P. Quaine

It has been asserted that at one time the whole human race were cannibals, and through various stages of evolutionary development we have arrived at a period when we reject as unbecoming the flesh of our fellow man. This may be a debatable point; but the fact remains; we are now so overwhelmingly submerged in mawkish sentiment that we speak disparagingly (just as if we were all greengrocers or vegetarians) of those whose ideas are not strictly in accord with our own. After all, diet is a matter of taste! Thank heavens, one of the bygone scribes of the “penny blood” school immortalised on at least three occasions, those heroes who held unconventional views upon diet. Thomas Peckett Prest, the talented author of The Maniac Father, The Blighted Heart, and The Skeleton Clutch; or, The Goblet of Gore, wrote also first of all an elegant narrative entitled Varney the Vampire; or The Banquet of Blood. This was, as you may suppose, crammed with unforgettable thrills. Most lamentable, however, poor Varney, just as we are beginning to love him, meets with an end which is compatible with his life. ‘Twas ever thus! Just as you are commencing to appreciate the worth of a really strong character in action, he is accelerated from this world of woe! The second effort in this line by Mr Prest was Sawney Bean the Man-eater of Midlothian. Now, Sawney was worth writing about; besides, it is said, he was an actual character. He lived during the reign of “The Scotch Solomon” James the First of England, when the demand for food exceeded the supply. But Sawney proved himself no mean economist, and, withdrawing to a cave by the seaside, he, though embarrassed with a numerous and ever-increasing progeny, manfully supported himself. High cost of living problems, which engender so much misery midst moderns, had no terrors for him; they dwelt in cherub-like innocence till the many strange evanishments of travelers from the Galloway road led the officious authorities to investigate. Then the secret of Sawney’s cuisine was laid bare.

He and his wife, eight sons, six daughters, 18 grandsons, and 14 grand-daughters were apprehended, and the cave searched. It was immediately evident to the meanest mentality that Sawney understood not only the management of a family, but the principles of domestic economy. With remarkable thrift and foresight, imitating in his humble way the ant and the bee, Sawney had kept his larder well stocked. Innumerable left-over remnants of the givers of the feast, who had formed the staple article of diet in Sawney’s menu were found hanging nicely dried in anticipation of a severe winter!

Prest’s greatest success was Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet-street. This gentleman, now said to be a myth, combined the art of the perruquier with that of the pie-maker. Through a trap in the floor of his shop, Mr Todd send down all those of his customers whom he imagined would not only bear transforming into pasties, but would probably, through the depths of their pockets, repay him for the trouble and undue risk he was taking. There is no evidence that Todd himself partook of these toothsome delicacies, but he and his lady love, Mrs Lovett (who presided over the pie emporium) were responsible for a generous proportion of Londoners reverting to cannibalism. Even the Bow-street Runners were extremely partial to those pies, and so attached did the great body politic become to the succulent dainties that on one occasion when Sawney had been unable to keep up the supply of raw material and Mrs Lovett had used mutton, there was a general outcry by the customers who declared that the quality of the pie had deteriorated!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Karl Hanns Strobl, a dark prince of German horror

Due to all kinds of causes, the German language supernatural tradition is somewhat underrepresented. In the case of Austrian writer Karl Hanns Strobl (1877 - 1946) it is not difficult to see why.

In 1917, Strobl's anthology of horror tales with the remarkable title Lemuria was published in Germany. The horrible blackness and almost pathological nature of its interior illustrations closely connected to the fate of the German nation, embroidled in the onslaught of the First World War. Lemuria struck a chord in the German psyche and was reprinted well till after the Great War. German horror writer Hanns Heinz Ewers (wo later wrote the National-Socialist anthem Horst Wessel Lied), published Lemuria in a series titled Gallerie der Phantasten (Gallery of the Fantasts) published by Georg Muller Verlag in Munich.

Strobl was also the editor of Der Orchideengarten (Garden of Orchids), the world's first magazine devoted solely to the supernatural that debuted in 1919, four years before Weird Tales saw the light of day.

During the First World War Strobl was a messenger. After the war, he developed a strong sympathy for the Nationalsocialist cause. In 1938 Strobl worked in an important position in the Ostgau, leading a department of Goebbel's Reichsschrifttumskammer. This lead to his arrest by the Soviet troops in 1945. Strobl was forced to work at road construction for a while. He was released due to age and poor health. He died a year later in a home for the elderly near Vienna. At the time of his death, the Allied forces had prohibited his works to be published. Where once his books commanded multiple reprints and Strobl formed with Gustav Meyrink and Hanns Heinz Ewers the three dark princes of the German horror and supernatural tale, he died totally impoverished.

Poe's Rival

Writes the Encylopedia Brittanica on Algernon Blackwood: "...operating a hotel, mining in the Alaskan goldfields, and working as a newspaper reporter in New York City, experiences that he recalled in Episodes Before Thirty (1923), Blackwood returned to England in 1899. Seven years later he published his first book of short stories..."

A contemporary review of Blackwood's Episodes Before Thirty that was published the next year, gives a much better insight in the trials and tribulations that Blackwood encountered during his early career as a writer. 'Poe's Rival in Mystery Tales Starved on New York Papers' was the headline of the review in the Auburn, New York newspaper The Auburn Citizen of Episodes Before Thirty in its April, 11, 1924 edition.

Book Collectors

Book collectors are all too often forgotten, aren't they. A few have made a name for themselves through their bibliographic work - Michael Sadleir, of course, and in our particular field of interest, George Locke, Lloyd Currey, Everett Bleiler, and in Australia, Don Tuck and Graham Stone. A.E.R.M. Stevens has acquired a certain cache via the 1996 Sotheby's catalogue of his substantial collection, another useful source of titles and bibliography. But all too often they sink without trace and their collections go with them, confined to some murky purgatory.

One such was the Australian collector, David Cohen, who died in 2003. Cohen is mentioned by the Melbourne book-dealer, J.P. Quaine in letters to fellow Bloods-collector, Stanley Larnach. Quaine writes in a letter of 6 February 1951, "I must tell you glad I was to welcome Comrade Cohen into the circle of sweetness and light. It is not often that I meet in such rapid succession two men with whom I can discourse about uncommon books. His taste for the terrific resembled mine, for next to gory bloods I like anything of a ghostly nature. We had a good yabber, and I managed to sell him a few books, mainly out of my own lot."

And around the same time in a letter to the great Australian bibliophile, Walter Stone, Quaine wrote, "I also got a kick out of Comrade Cohen’s visit. Once again I was in my element, for he is fond of the type of book which appealed to me in my younger days, and still intrigues me a lot. Best is the real gory uns. I wallow in spooks, phantoms, chain-rattling spectres, hobgoblins and poltergeists! Used to have quite a collection of them till the pinch of impecuniality prevailed and I had to part with them! However, I managed to sell him a few. We had a very interesting discussion, and I learned a lot from him."

So what happened to Cohen's collection? In an article in Biblionews, the journal of the Australian Book Collectors' Society, in 2004, Graham Stone tells how he was called in by an RSL friend to examine the remnants of Cohen's collection after his death. Some science fiction books and magazines had been piled on trestle tables - some nice stuff there including a run of Amazing from 1926 to 1933, including the first legendary issue, most of the issues of Unknown from 1939-1943, Weird Tales, Strange Tales, and much else.

But what of the Arkham House, Gnome Press and other specialty presses? And more particularly, what of the rare Penny Bloods and other early volumes of supernatural fiction that Cohen prized above all else? Not a trace. In the basement garage were scores of water damaged boxes full of ruined stock, the stuff at the bottom reduced to sludge. But surely Cohen wouldn't have confined his treasured items to his basement. Evidently Cohen had been losing his faculties in his last years - perhaps they were sold off to dealers, or pilfered, or given away. What happened to them, and where they are now, is anybody's guess.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

John Silence

I was looking up something else in a magazine from January 1909, and was pleasantly surprised to discover a snippet about Algernon Blackwood, along with a choice illustration. The text reads:

His John Silence, published some months ago in England, was described as having for the hero the most mysterious character in fiction, and the poster which we reproduce herewith caused considerable talk as a successful rendering of this motif.

The picture is fairly small, and the scan is the best I can do. But I wish I could find an original poster, though I doubt many have survived the century since it was issued.

The Golden Snake - a Dr Fu Man-Chu pastiche

In my anthology of occult detective stories for Wordsworth, The Black Veil, I included a story, ‘The Necromancer’, by Donald Campbell, which some readers have thought might be a spoof. I describe its hero, Leslie Vane, perhaps a bit exaggeratedly, as “the James Bond of the Jazz Age”. In fact, the tale is authentic vintage hokum, included in a volume entitled The Golden Snake, a sub-Sax Rohmer thriller, featuring Kse Chao Ting, leader of a Tong brotherhood, whose order venerates and takes it name from the aforesaid gilded serpent. From the opening: “ ‘Leave me in peace, fool’ said the Chinaman in perfect English…’And so I shall have the plucking of an English flower,’ he said aloud…’: and somehow you just know he doesn’t mean he’s going to purloin one of Mrs Arbuthnot’s prized nasturtiums.

Fifteen breathless episodes take our hero, Vane, from England to the USA to the Far East to France, and back to Blighty in the wink of an eye, via ‘The Temple of Evil’, ‘The Feast of Love’, ‘In the Grip of the Apaches’ (that’s the Parisian underworld, not the native Americans - still a nasty business, though) and so to the conclusion, ‘England, Home And Beauty’ - yes, truly . As if that were not excitement enough, tacked on the end is ‘The Necromancer’, a three chapter filler, in which a lineal descendant of Genghiz Khan incites the hordes to contemplate the down fall of the British Empire in the East, aided and abetted by dark magician Tristram Parr, who, clad in strange-symboled dressing gown (the cad!), proclaims: “And this is the Law. Do thine own will!”, an intriguing nod in the direction of Aleister Crowley ? Parr ends as an imbecile in hospital, safe from the law but possibly poised for a sequel: if so, I haven’t seen it.

There does not seem to be a copy of this pulp volume in the British Library - no great loss to the nation’s literary heritage, perhaps - but there are 40-odd titles by the same publisher, Federation Press Ltd of 61-62 Chancery Lane, WC2. These, to judge by their titles, include mostly popular fiction of the romance, horse racing and crime variety, all from the period 1925-8: The Devil’s Plaything and Ghost Hall being the most tempting-sounding titles. And though there are various Donald Campbells in the catalogue, the only likely titles by him are The Mask of Murder (1934) and The Murder Trap (1942), assuming that he is not the Donald Campbell who edited C. Plini Secundi Naturalis Historiae liber secundus [A critical appreciation and commentary.] (Aberdeen, 1936) or A Short Course of Differential Equations (New York, 1906).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Phantom Clutch Pt 2

George Foster, writing of Barry Ono's famed collection of Bloods in Collector's Digest, #16, says, "I remember seeing copies of some of these of the period, which were Mr Ono's proudest possessions. There was "Varney, the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood", which he told me was the book which gave the idea of his plot to the author of "Dracula". There was another publication entitled, and sub-titled (for they were all sub-titled then) - "The Skeleton Clutch; or, the Goblet of Gore". These were by another author called Thomas Prest Lloyd."

Could Barry Ono, born Frederick Valentine Harrison in 1876, and a well-known comic singer and comedian, be having a laugh at Foster's expense? Hmm. Ono certainly took his collection seriously and it eventually ended up in the British Library. However, the catalogue of the collection, published in 1998, makes no mention of The Skeleton Clutch. On the other hand, other Bloods that we know he owned, including Varney, didn't make it to the BL either - sold to other collectors before his death in 1941.

By the way, a brilliant video of Barry showing off his choicest items (but no Skeleton Clutch) is on the web - well worth a look. Might be the only chance you get to see the original Varney, Sweeney Todd and Spring-heeled Jack.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spurious Titles

There is a tradition of spurious bibliography that includes many imaginary books mentioned in works of fiction, like Lovecraft and his Necronomicon; but also, less frequently, some truly imaginative titles appear in nonfictionin articles and reference books that seem on the surface to be entirely reliable and authoritative. How many of these references slip by even the most knowledgeable readers?

Ramsey Campbell apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to invent a new rarity when writing a column (“Ramsey Campbell, Probably” in Necrofile #27, Winter 1998) about a two-part 1983 article in Twilight Zone magazine in which R.S. Hadji, Thomas M. Disch, and Karl Edward Wagner recommended a bunch of obscure horror and weird fiction titles. (All of the titles they recommended were real, though some certainly seemed imaginary by their scarcity.) Campbell wrote that “the article deserves reprinting, guaranteed as it is to send all but the most arduous collector in search of treats as obscure as Francis Xavier Faversham’s The Rising of the Gorge.” Yes, Campbell’s tongue was clearly in his cheek in coming up with that title. For a title as as obscure as The Rising of the Gorge, arduous collectors will indeed search in vain.

Another that I know of appears as a ghost entry in Roger C. Schlobin’s The Literature of Fantasy: A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Modern Fantasy Fiction (1979). Here’s the entry:

Regor Clarkk

220. The Last of the Sorcerer-Dragon. Trans. [from the Welsh] Philip D. Baugher. West Hempstead, NY: Grail Press, 1944.

In this poignant and bittersweet love story, a young professor, on leave in the Gobi Desert, discovers the last of a race of sorcerous dragons. The dragons have guarded mankind since its beginning. The beautiful and compassionate reptile tells the young man the story of man’s beginning—a tale stripped of its Christian overtones that is influenced by the medieval love story, Tristan and Iseult, and which retells the Eden myth in a totally new and delightful way. Throughout, the tragedy of the slowly dying race of benevolent dragons is intertwined, and their powers gradually explained and transferred to the young professor. As she ends her tale, the dragon dies and the man suddenly realizes that he is now the one with the power to aid mankind. One of the least read and least noticed of all fantasy works.

The first clue to me that this was a spurious work, beyond the fact that I found no other reference to it anywhere, was in noticing that “Regor” is Roger spelled backwards—as in the first name of the bibliographer. And sure enough, Schlobin’s middle initial “C.” turned out to be short for Clark. I checked with Schlobin back in 2001, and he admitted that it was a ghost entry, and that I was the first to notice it, adding, “Of course, I did go on to write and publish the novel although [it is] between e-publishers at the moment.”

My all-time favorite bogus entries are to be found in the two editions of John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations as edited by Christopher Morley. These are the Eleventh Edition, published in 1940, and the Twelfth Edition, published in 1951. Among Morley’s imaginative additions is one quotation attributed to Sir Eustace Peachtree (floruit 1640) who (supposedly) wrote in The Dangers of This Mortall Life:

Among the notionable dictes of antique Rome was the fancy that when men heard thunder on the left the gods had somewhat of special advertisement to impart. Then did the prudent pause and lay down their affaire to study what omen Jove intended.

(page 184 of both the 1940 and 1951 editions)

This quotation appears on the title page of Morley’s novel Thunder on the Left (1925), which Morley admitted that he made up for the purpose of his novel.

The best of all spurious references is the quote which ends the section headed “Of Unknown Authorship”:

Nunc scripsi totum: pro Christo da mihi potum.

Monkish inscription at the end of medieval manuscripts

(page 957 of the 1940 edition; page 1219 of the 1951 edition, where it is moved to the end of the section of “Miscellaneous Translations”)

It translates, in essence, “I’ve finished the job, for Christ’s sake give me a drink.”

Does anyone know of further examples of spurious academic bibliography?