Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Shaman in Paris

Alexei Remizov was a Russian writer in exile in Paris: but not only a writer, an artist, a craftsman, a storyteller, a fabulist, a shaman. His work has only been tantalisingly translated into English: enough to see that here is an original visionary.

In Wormwood 25, Avalon Brantley, author of Descended Suns Resuscitate and Aornos, celebrates this neglected figure with a fervent evocation of his life and work, starting with a recreation of his rooms:

“In his study one sees more than one small candlelit ikon, snake skins and bits of bone, a shred of rope strung with strange little amulets and charms, unsettling arrangements of twine and twigs. Mysterious dolls—zoomorphic poppets composed of suede, cloth, even scrap metal—gaze from cluttery shelves or from corners near the ceiling. These latter are his ongons, representations of ‘spirit helpers’, after ancient Siberian tradition. Remizov once remarked to a friend that these are ‘toys which have a heart, and they breathe’”

She also suggests that though Remizov drew on ancient sources for his art and fiction he was also working as a modernist:

“Remizov’s tragedy is a Modernist’s. He worked alone, his own way, rather than as part of any wider literary movement, so that those literati with the cultural background to possibly appreciate the depths of his talent chose in large measure instead to ignore it, whilst the general reading public, lacking the intelligentsia’s resources for comprehending much of what the Modernist school was doing, quickly dismissed him as incomprehensible before seeking other, easier trends of literary diversion”

This is one of the first studies of Remizov in English and it is characterised by Avalon’s sympathetic understanding of what he was trying to do. It is sure to direct new attention to this remarkable figure.

Friday, October 30, 2015

More Than A Werewolf

The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore is often regarded as the definitive werewolf novel, the lupine equivalent of Dracula for the vampire. It was an instant best-seller in its time and has been popular ever since.

Yet how many readers could name another book by Endore, or know anything about his life? In Wormwood 25, Australian author Chris Mikul recounts Endore’s extraordinary career and examines his other writings:

“In person, Endore was a mass of contradictions. Slightly built and mild of manner, his demeanour was in such contrast to the violence of works like The Werewolf of Paris that his friend Alexander Woollcott, the famous critic for the New Yorker, dubbed him ‘the Weremouse’. He had been a vegetarian since his student days, was a keen practitioner of yoga, and always looked years younger than his age. Every morning he sprang out of bed and stood on his head for half an hour, and repeated the exercise later in the day. Although Jewish, he kept a Bible by his bed and often read from it, and had a lifelong interest in mysticism, especially Theosophy. Yet, while such enthusiasms sometimes made his fellow communists suspicious, he was a confirmed Stalinist for most of the years he was a member of the party.”

And Endore’s other fiction proves to be just as strange as his famous werewolf novel, lurid, brutal, fast-paced, yet also with genuinely thoughtful themes and original ideas, a bizarre hybrid of pulp prose and radical philosophy. It’s as if Freud and Marx had joined in a danse macabre with figures from the bestiary of the uncanny.

Chris Mikul’s essay reintroduces us to an author whose classic book has obscured his other work and the hectic story of his life and thought.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Universal Witch

A Voyage to Arcturus
by David Lindsay exerts a powerful effect on its readers. This extraordinary metaphysical fantasy is often seen as the peak of his visionary and literary achievement, even though it was his first book.

His other novels also have their admirers but it has been difficult for them to be read outside of the context of that volcanic work. In some, Lindsay tried (not, thankfully, very successfully) to compromise with the commercial fiction of the day.

But in Wormwood 25 Doug Anderson explains that Lindsay’s last work, The Witch, ought to be regarded as another vast achievement. It has so far been published in an incomplete version. When the full text finally appears, it will be understood as a fitting conclusion to Lindsay’s work:

“the fact that nearly forty years later the full surviving text of The Witch remains unpublished is frustrating to Lindsay readers and scholars. For it is a unique and remarkable book, though it is at the same time flawed and unfinished. It is a masterpiece in conception and partially so in execution.”

The book contains some of Lindsay’s most abstruse but also beautiful prose as he strives to convey spiritual realities through the creaking medium of language, focused on the figure of Urda Noett, a witch whose work is with the universe.

Doug’s regular Late Reviews column in Wormwood is a treasury of information and commentary on some of the rarest, most obscure and strangest books in our field. It is infused by Doug’s shrewd and unflinching assessments; bad books are named as such, overlooked achievements are justly celebrated.

And in this issue he offers us a special edition looking at unpublished books by authors linked together in friendship and affinity – Lindsay, E.H. Visiak, and Colin Wilson.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Nazi Doll Maker

The Sound of His Horn by ‘Sarban’ is a classic of the ‘if the Nazis had won’ theme. Its vision of a forest in which cat women and other human-animal hybrids are hunted for game by bland fascist gauleiters has rightly earned it a strong reputation. It is both a powerful work of the imagination and a profound study of evil.

But what about Sarban’s other major novel, The Doll Maker? Set in an English country house boarding school, where a young woman befriends an enigmatic neighbour who makes marionettes, it may seem a quieter achievement.

Not so, suggests Rebekah Memel Brown in her essay in Wormwood 25. This story is just as chilling a meditation on the Nazi mentality, she argues:

“…the novel marries a study of character with three key philosophic ideas summoned up by reflections on the life and death of Hitler’s Third Reich: the voluntary surrender of a person’s will to another person, the attempt to create an amoral artistic aesthetic, and the destructive effect such an aesthetic has on the creator.”

We should understand better what Sarban achieved:

“Within the context of a fairly straightforward supernatural novel, it examines broad philosophical issues of the nature of evil and of human ethics. It deserves to be much more widely known and widely read.”

To read in full this fresh insight into Sarban’s fiction, order Wormwood 25 today.

Want to know more about Sarban?
Try the biography, Time, A Falconer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

WORMWOOD 25 - Modernist Ghosts

This autumn, we’re celebrating 25 issues of Wormwood, and over 150 thought-provoking essays on the literature of the fantastic, supernatural and decadent.

Over the next few days, we’ll be highlighting the contents of our landmark issue 25, due out on 9 November.

The ghost story: an old-fashioned form; its finest writer an antiquarian. A thing of graveyards and cloisters, steeped in tradition. Surely it simply “wallows in the nightmares of history”?

Not according to Cambridge academic James Riley, who opens our new issue with his ‘Notes on the Modernist Ghost Story’. It’s time to acknowledge a different approach:

“…the figure of the ghost, theme of haunting and the presence of the supernatural are not concepts alien to ‘high’ modernism. Woolf opened her collection Monday or Tuesday (1921) with the story ‘A Haunted House’ which later became the title of her posthumous collection A Haunted House and Other Stories in 1944. Consider also Leopold Bloom’s reflections on communication with the dead in Ulysses, and the spectral image of London as an “unreal city” that pervades ‘The Waste Land’.

"Mary Butts used similar imagery in ‘Mappa Mundi’ (1938) when describing the “matrix” of dream and physical experience that constitutes “Paris and the secret of Paris”. Occupying the ghostly position of that which is there and not there at the same time, the city is compared to the face of Isis glimpsed during an initiation. Similarly, in ‘Mysterious Kȏr’ (1942), Elizabeth Bowen appropriates the fabulous city of H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887) to present wartime London as a “ghost city”."

But his essay doesn’t just broaden our image of the ghost story. James Riley also argues that M R James himself uses modernist concepts, especially in his treatment of time. The distinction between the classic and modernist ghost story may not be reliable.

To read more of this ground-breaking essay, why not order Wormwood 25 today?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Man in A Black Hat - Temple Thurston

Valancourt Books have announced the publication of Temple Thurston's macabre Thirties thriller Man in A Black Hat, in which a sinister magician pursues an ancient grimoire offered for sale at a country house auction. This overlooked book should appeal strongly both to admirers of the Jamesian antiquarian supernatural story and those who enjoy the occult shockers of Charles Williams and Dion Fortune.

It was a book I discovered in my local library at about the same time I encountered the work of Arthur Machen, and although it was the latter's incantatory prose that most drew me in, Temple Thurston's novel also lingered in my imagination for many years. There was something about the atmosphere that I found compelling, and both the decent, rather diffident narrator and the suave necromancer, far from a caricature, were figures that were well-drawn. For some reason I associated it with the streets of a quiet town in the afternoon sun, and with the gleam of the black hat proceeding along these, bringing a sense of foreboding.

Indeed, the book made such an impression on me that later, when I became a collector, I found I had to have it not only in the original edition but also in the very form in which I had first read it, a series of library reprints, as if the authentic appearance of it to me then was important to its power.

The book is dedicated to the Scottish-Canadian actor Matheson Lang, who played in many performances the title character in Thurston's phenomenally successful play The Wandering Jew, and whose memoirs recount one or two eerie experiences associated with the play. That friendship leads me to suggest, in my introduction, a possible model for the magician in Thurston's book, which I don't think has been proposed before - it's not the obvious candidate.

But whether I'm right about that or not, I think Temple Thurston gives us a well-crafted novel of the dark fantastic which certainly deserves to emerge from the shadows.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Watch Repair - Sea Shanty Town Ship

The work of Watch Repair involves music as delicate and intricate as their name suggests. Their compositions involve subtle, almost diffident, movements which seek (and reward) attentive listening. The opening track, 'Far Asleep', of their new recording Sea Shanty Town Ship involves glowing clock chimes, mechanical abrasions and shimmering bell peals. The overall effect suggests an Edwardian music box made by an eccentric recluse, or the revolving of an orrery in some lost observatory. It is wistful and haunting.

The second, title track is more austere, with brittle and slithering guitar notes proceeding slowly as if the player or even the instrument itself were on a restless quest for the precise expression of fragile truths. There are rising, yearning surges of other sounds shifting in and out of the restrained guitar explorations, like the wind in our hair or rain at the window, and at intervals we hear unearthly echoes.

It is an exquisite, gentle, timeless piece, the aural equivalent of the enigmatic stories of Walter de la Mare. The listener emerges with the feeling that they have brushed against the experience of another, elusive way of knowing.

This is the fourth Watch Repair release, available from Manchester outlet Boomkat: the three previous titles are Stopped Clock Chimes, Watch Repair (self-titled) and The Tidal Path. These (and Sea Shanty Town Ship too) are available on Watch Repair's Bandcamp page.