Thursday, September 26, 2019

Philip N. Pullman, The Haunted Storm (1972)

The 1972 dust-wrapper, from Facsimile Dust Jackets, L.L.C.
Pullman, Philip N. The Haunted Storm (London: New English Library, 1972)

In 1971, a London publisher held a contest for the “New English Library's Young Writers' Award”, offering a prize of £2,500. Philip Pullman submitted as his entry The Haunted Storm (the second novel he had written, the first had been set aside unpublished), and it was named as a joint winner alongside of The Waiting Game, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Both were published in hardcover by New English Library in 1972, and the two writers split the prize money. Because of the timing of the contest, the published book lists its copyright date as 1971, which has caused considerable bibliographical confusion. A paperback edition, also bibliographically indeterminate, came out in April 1973; it is sometimes mistakenly credited as being the first edition. The author has since disowned the book (as “a terrible piece of rubbish” in a 1999 essay published in Talking Books, edited by James Carter) and it has never again been reprinted.

Lady Antonia Fraser was one of the judges of the contest, and her blurb published on the dust-wrapper states: “I liked The Haunted Storm for its honest and enterprising attempt to interweave the eternal—and immortal—longings of youth into the texture of a contemporary story. It is thus a serious book, and refreshingly free from triviality.” On his website Pullman himself notes that it was “my first book. I was only 25 at the time it was published by a publisher who didn't realise it wasn't a very good book.” He describes its plot as follows: “Unease and suspicion divide a small village following violence and death. Matthew Cortez is physically involved in the investigation, finding his spiritual problems have a greater depth of reality. Only in the final disastrous confrontation in a ruined Mithraic temple does he, at last, glimpse the possibility of peace.” This is an inadequate and misleading description of the book.

The Haunted Storm consists of eleven chapters. There are three main characters, and two significant ancillary ones (though the ancillary characters are given limited stage time). The primary character is Matthew Cortez, aged twenty-three, who encounters on the seashore a young woman with whom he finds both a metaphysical as well as sexual rapport (he fondles her genitalia but nothing more happens). This encounter is belabored and unrealistic, making the characters seem entirely like cyphers and playthings for the author's exploration of meaning. The woman claims that Matthew reminds her of her previous lover, and after lengthy speech on metaphysics and love, they part. Six months pass, during which time Matthew feels drained of all will and energy. He feels he is in some way in love with this young woman. He goes to stay with his “uncle” (actually his mother's uncle) Harry Locke, an evangelical preacher, who lives in the west country, in the imaginary town of Silminster. There Matthew talks theology with his uncle and also with the local vicar, Canon Cole, to whom he confides that while he does believe in God, he wonders why God seems to be dead. Canon Cole opens up about his own unorthodox Gnosticism, and his study of some ancient ruin he believes to be a Mithraic well. Canon Cole notes he has in this pursuit a competitive enemy, who was formerly his daughter's boyfriend. Of course his daughter, Elizabeth Cole, turns out to have been the young woman Matthew encountered on the seashore six months earlier.

Thus Matthew and Elizabeth are reunited, and despite feeling an almost otherworldly love, they decide to remain completely chaste, like brother and sister. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Matthew has a brother some nine years older, who was thrown out by their parents a dozen years previously and never seen again. His brother Alan of course turns out of have been Elizabeth's previous lover. And Alan shows up in town, and invites Matthew to meet him. Matthew finally learns why his brother had been kicked out of their home: Alan had had a homosexual relationship in school. He admits this to Matthew: “They [his parents] thought I was homosexual, because the headmaster thought I was. So did the boy I was sleeping with; so did I” (p. 160). Mathew finds his brother something of an enigma, particularly for his openly racists views, as well as for his politics, while Matthew acknowledges that his brother is more intelligent than himself, the first time he has felt this way about anyone. Of course all this happens at the same time as two murders in Silminster, at specific times when Matthew has blacked out from severe headaches, to the point that he wonders whether he himself might have been the murderer. At other times, he suspects the murderer might have been his brother. The plot crescendos to an encounter of the three main characters and Canon Cole at a midnight eclipse at the remote location of the Mithraic well.

I have given this lengthy summary because the book is so rare, and also to exemplify certain themes that are cruxes in this early work that will be familiar to readers of Pullman's later books. Some aspects—particularly how Gnosticism is used and described—feel like they descend right from David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, a novel known to be admired by Pullman. And there are also elements of fantasy in the book, though they are not developed very far. Matthew has some faculty of what he calls clairvoyance, and some particular odd mental connection with his brother. And the whole interest in the supposed Mithraic well borders on the fantastical, for supposedly “it makes you see the truth about things” (p. 189).

As a novel this book is a real mess. The set-up is long and labored. The prose is often clunky. The denouement is too hasty and the resolution unsatisfying, to say nothing of the nature of the characters as authorial mouthpieces. It is seriously flawed as a book, but it is also one that is not without interest, especially to readers of Pullman's far better subsequent books.

The 1973 paperback cover

Sunday, September 22, 2019

R.I.P. Charles M. Collins (1935-2019)

I recently learned that my friend Charlie Collins passed away at the end of August. I met him because his company of publisher's representatives, Como Sales, called on me at my Ithaca, New York, bookstore in the 1980s and early 1990s. Charlie didn't call on me himself, but his colleague Ken McConnell did, and Ken often said, in his thick Scots accent, that he must get Charlie and I together because of our shared interests. And eventually he did. He introduced us at a bookseller's convention, and for years afterwards I looked forward to catching up with Charlie at that annual event. We swapped books and a few letters.

Before I knew him, Charlie had been one of the founders (in 1970, with his old friend, Donald M. Grant) of Centaur Books. The first Centaur book was a reprint of The Pathless Trail, by Arthur O. Friel, a pulp adventure novel. It was mass-market sized but printed on much better paper, as were most of the Centaur publications. Between 1970 and 1976, Centaur published over a dozen more such editions, including three by Robert E. Howard (The Moon of Skulls, The Hand of Kane, and Solomon Kane, each of which went through three printings), as well as another Friel, two Atlantis books by J. Allan Dunn, and other reprints, including Alfred H. Bill's werewolf novel, The Wolf in the Garden, City of Wonder by E. Charles Vivian, Caesar Dies by Talbot Mundy, Grey Maiden by Arthur D. Howden Smith, and Dr. Cyclops, originally a movie tie-in novel to the 1940 film of the same name, published under a house pseudonym "Will Garth." One original anthology, Swordsmen and Supermen edited by Donald M. Grant, came out in 1972. In 1976 there was a reprint of H. Warner Munn's The Werewolf of Ponkert, originally collected in a volume published in 1953. Of Centaur's final four titles, published in 1978 and 1980, two are trade paperback reprintings of volumes originally published in limited editions by Donald M. Grant. These include Galad Elflandsson's short novel The Black Wolf, and a collection of William Hope Hodgson stories, Out of the Storm, which omits the long introduction by Sam Moskowitz in the original 1975 Grant edition. There was also a Tolkien-related volume, The World of Tolkien Illustrated, by Lin Carter, with cover and illustrations by David Wenzel. Its first printing of 10,000 copies sold out before publication, and a second printing of the same number was made. The final Centaur book was in essence a showcase of the art of David Wenzel called Kingdom of the Dwarves, with text written by Robb Walsh. It has over one hundred illustrations, with twenty-five in color. It is a kind of pseudo-archeological book about dwarf artifacts supposedly found in northern England.

Even further back in time before I knew Charlie, he edited three mass market horror anthologies for Avon Books, and these are the main reason for attention here.  These books are Fright (1963), A Feast of Blood (1967), and A Walk with the Beast (1969).  Each went through multiple printings, and Fright was retitled Harvest of Fear in its 1975 printing.

Fright contains six tales, by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, L.P. Hartley, Seabury Quinn, C. Hall Thompson, and H.P. Lovecraft. The Hoffmann tale, "The Forest Warden," is of the most lasting interest because it is presented as a lost early version of Hoffmann's more famous tale "Ignaz Denner." In the brief foreword to the story, Collins notes that the tale "received limited circulation in a Bamburg periodical in early 1814, and was later modified as 'Ignaz Denner.'" The story was translated by Haywood P. Norton.  But the history of this text, and of the translation as published, has problems.  First, no Hoffmann scholarship that I have seen gives any periodical appearance for the tale in 1814. In fact, "Der Revierjäger" (better translated as "The Gamekeeper") was  Hoffmann's intended title for the story when he wrote it (according to his diary) in late May and early June 1814 for inclusion in a volume of Fantasiestücke, but his publisher did not like it and it appeared, slightly revised (with an altered ending), in 1816 in Nachtstücke.* 

By the time I queried Charlie about this, his recollections were no longer clear. He said that the translator had brought him the text, and that the translation was quite messy and took a lot of work to get it into publishable shape.  The translator, Haywood P. Norton, was by then no longer around, having died in early 1977 at the age of thirty-four.  Norton is known to have contributed a piece ("The Caliph of Auburn") on Clark Ashton Smith to Pat and Dick Lupoff's fanzine, Xero, and is understood to have assisted (without credit) Calvin Beck in the compilation of The Frankenstein Reader (Ballantine, 1962). His translation of the Hoffmann tale must remain as questionable and unsourced unless some German original actually turns up. 

A Walk with the Beast contains nine stories, four in "supernatural" section, and five in a "human" section.  Some of the authors (Vernon Lee, Ambrose Bierce, David H. Keller, Nugent Barker) are fairly well-known, but others are uncommon (William Wood, Sir Frederick Treves Bart).
A Feast of Blood contains nine vampire stories, including classic stories like Polidori's "The Vampyre", "The Mysterious Stranger" (here unattributed, but by Karl von Wachtsman), "Wake Not the Dead" (here misattributed to Johan Ludwig Tieck, when it was by Ernst Raupach), and Bram Stoker's "Dracula's Guest." More recent tales are by Carl Jacobi, Clark Ashton Smith and Richard Matheson.

Though Charlie's three anthologies are no longer cutting-edge, they remain good basic anthologies for their time, with some occasional worthwhile obscurities.  Rest in Peace, Charlie. Here is a link to a more formal obituary.

* The one account I know of of the manuscript of "Der Revierjäger" is in an appendix to volume 3 (1909) of Carl Georg von Maassen's Sämtliche Werk by Hoffmann, pp. 386-408, which includes about twenty pages of readings of variants in the text of the manuscript from the printed story "Ignaz Denner" (as given in the same volume, pp. 43-103), the most significant being at the beginning and the end of the story. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Wild Tumultory Library

A Wild Tumultory Library
, just published by Tartarus Press, offers the following:

Three essays on figures of the Eighteen Nineties

Three essays on aspects of the Himalayas

Three essays on writers of peculiar thrillers

Three essays on writers of the haunted Forties

Three essays on forms of fortune-telling

Three notes on dandies of the Thirties

Three notes on forgotten avant-gardistes

Three essays on M R Jamesian themes

Three essays on other supernatural fiction

Three notes on associates of Arthur Machen

Three essays on aspects of the mystical in Britain

and Through the Three Choir Shires, on a book-collecting holiday

among other matters