Monday, January 30, 2023

S.T. Joshi's The Horror Fiction Index

It's a good idea: an index to the contents of all single-author horror collections since the early 1800s. But then one encounters S.T. Joshi's idiosyncratic exceptions. First, it covers 1808 through 2010.  Why such a book coming out in 2023 should cease coverage in 2010 is a problem. And then when you look at what Joshi has indexed, you see that it is only the fiction--that is, introductions, afterwords, story-notes--interesting and vital things, are all left out. Basically this fiction-only indexing limits the value of this book even further. 

Turning to the entries themselves, I thought I'd look first at books I know have some complexity. I went to the entries for Lord Dunsany. Yes, they are presented chronologically (another Joshi oddity), not alphabetically, so The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories (1908), item 924 on page 129, is four pages before The Sword of Welleran and Other Tales of Enchantment (1954), a different selection of stories, item 940 page 133. If you don't already know the dates for Dunsany's collections, there is an index at the back of the book, so you can waste time flipping back and forth. (This extra-labor idiocy is a common feature of Joshi's "bibliographies".) But the Dunsany I came to look for first is The Last Book of Wonder, the US title, or Tales of Wonder, the UK title, and of course Joshi doesn't tell you that there is a different (longer) "Preface" in the US edition than in the UK edition, nor does he tell you that the tales are presented in a different order in each volume. Joshi lists some reprint editions, including print-on-demand ones up through 2009, but gives no details of which version is reprinted. As is common with Joshi's checklists, any details (and context) are ignored in order to fit whatever rote format Joshi had previously decided upon. The usefulness of this book decreases the more you look at it.  

I then thought I'd check some of the books I edited. The expanded edition of G. Ranger Wormser's The Scarecrow and Other Stories (2001) is present. My Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson (2005) is attributed to "Douglas Anderson" (I never omit my middle initial, simply because there are other Douglas Andersons who write and publish). I also edited the fifth volume of the Night Shade Hodgson series, The Dream of X and Other Fantastic Visions (2007), but Joshi attributes it to Jeremy Lassen. Joshi mentions Devil's Drum (1933), by Vivian Meik, but not my expanded version, as it came out from Medusa Press in 2011, just beyond Joshi's arbitrary cut-off point. There are similar issues with other books I was involved with, but I will move on. 

For Mark Valentine, four books and one booklet are listed, again just covering through 2010, but Joshi has left out The Nightfarers (Ex Occidente, 2009). Reggie Oliver's first five collections are duly listed. R.B. Russell's first two collections are listed, but not any by Rosalie Parker (The Old Knowledge and Other Strange Tales, 2010, should be here). Nor is Brian J. Showers's The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories (2008) to be found. I mention these writers to note that most of them have published several other collections since Joshi's cut-off point of twelve years ago. What use is such a listing of only the stories (no introductions, etc.) of their earliest collections? 

Even when the information appears to distinguish the differing contents of the various editions, it is often incomplete.  For example, with Nigel Kneale's Tomato Cain and Other Stories, Joshi lists three editions, 1949 (UK), 1950 (US) and 1961 (UK), and notes the differences in content between the 1949 and 1950 edition, but not the further differences in the 1961 UK paperback. (Of course, last year's reprint which includes all of Kneale's stories is unmentioned.) 

So it goes. This oversized book, with 428 pages indexing the collections, a 39-page "Index of Names" and 270+ pages of an "Index to Story Titles," totals 741 pages. It is a disappointing production, and one of very limited usefulness. The sad truth is that with a bit more work this volume  could have been valuable.

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Centenary of "The Other End" by R. Ellis Roberts

January 1923 saw the publication of the only volume of fiction by the noted literary critic R. Ellis Roberts (1879-1953). It came from the London publisher Cecil Palmer, and contains three sections of three stories each, all followed by an additional interlude or commentary, making for a total of twelve. It is perhaps not coincidental that in September 1922, The Bookman published Roberts's appreciation of Arthur Machen, whom he had clearly read closely, and many Machenian ideas and themes recur in the stories of The Other End

Its two most reprinted tales are "The Hill" and "The Narrow Way", but various critics have selected other tales as its best.  E.F. Bleiler called "The Rabbit Road" and "The Wind" excellent (the others being "of varying quality"), while David G. Rowlands noted "The Cage" as the best. Readers of Wormwoodiana with long memories might recall that James Doig presented, back in 2012, the March 1923 review of The Other End from The Bookman (link here), which gives a fulsome consideration of the volume. Back in 1989 Mark Valentine noted in his column "The Ghost Story Gazetteer" in The Ghost Story Society Newsletter the possible real world places associated in the tales, and in the recently published Literary Hauntings: A Gazetteer of Literary Ghost Stories from Britain and Ireland (2022, co-edited by R.B. Russell, Rosalie Parker, and Mark Valentine), he repeated the conclusion (with a nice photograph) that "Colmer's Hill" near Bridport in Dorset is the setting of "The Hill" by Roberts.

Roberts had previously written only a few short stories, but they are entirely unlike those in The Other End (which apparently had no prior periodical appearances). We are left to regret that Roberts published no further fiction after this collection, but we can honor here this one volume on its centenary. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Peak Machen, 1923

At The Endless Bookshelf, Henry Wessells explains why, a hundred years ago, 1923 was the year of 'Peak Machen', when he was 'at the height of his literary reputation on both sides of the Atlantic'. Publishers, book-collectors, young acolytes, all gave him an acclaim greater than any he had seen before, even in the Eighteen Nineties. Henry also places the Welsh mage in the context of other literary developments of the time, and recalls some of the choicest Machen items he has seen in his bookselling career.

(Mark Valentine) 

Monday, January 9, 2023

Mah Jong in Britain, 1923

Among the books and booklets I find it hard to resist when I am foraging in second-hand bookshops (admittedly quite a large category) are those about old board or card games. This is irrespective of whether I have ever played them: I just like the arcane history, the mysterious diagrams, the very specialism of the subject.

Thus it was that I found a peculiar fascination in a book about the second move in chess, a theme so particular that I felt sure it must be an elaborate allegory or code. Then I found in Glastonbury, where else?, a facsimile of a monograph on the magical origins of chess, with discussions of Indian cosmology and Moorish sorcery, whose thesis made me more suspicious still of the second move book.

This interest had been fostered as I pursued Ancient Mysteries by a booklet produced by the Cambridge geomancer Nigel Pennick, entitled Pagan Prophecy & Play (1984). Nigel had conducted a game of human chess, using volunteers, at the Faerie Fair in Lyng, Norfolk in the 1980s. His study covered ancient Celtic, Saxon and Norse games.

But even quite modern games may still have their interest. In the bookshop opposite the churchyard and Giant’s Grave in Penrith, Cumbria, was a box entitled The Game of Sky, with sun and moon cards with faces and an elaborate, not to say astrological, set of rules. You rather felt that if the cards fell the wrong way there might be cosmic convulsions.

I did, however, manage to put back in its obscure niche in another Cumbrian emporium a book entirely devoted to Cat’s Cradle string games from across the world, which bore the signature on the free front endpaper of a Squadron Leader in Iraq in World War 1, though now of course I feel I ought to have got it.  If in doubt, do is a good motto for book-collectors.

It was not, however, in the first instance a book that alerted me to the monographs on Mah-Jong that began to appear in Britain one hundred years ago, in 1923, but rather a charming postcard of a ring-tailed lemur.

There was a great fashion for Mah Jong (also spelt Mah Jongg) in that year. The scholar and translator Herbert A Giles claimed to be one of the first to introduce it to Britain, in the late 19th century, but it did not then become popular. There had been earlier attempts to introduce other Chinese games to Britain. Diplomat William Henry Wilkinson developed the ancient card game Khanhoo using adapted playing card type images, in The Game of Khanhoo (Goodall, 1891). Wilkinson was the British Consul-General in various Chinese and Korean ports and cities, and a keen collector and historian of card and board games.

He was also the author of A Manual of Chinese Chess, based on his columns in the North China Herald, Shanghai, and printed at that newspaper’s office (1893): this describes the different board, pieces and moves in that version of the game, based on a 17th century manual, The Secrets of the Orange Grove.

Later, there was an attempt to introduce the strategy game Go, with the publication of Goh or Wei Chi: A handbook of the game and full instructions for play by Horace Fabian Cheshire, with an introduction and critical notes by Prof. T. Komatsubara. This was issued by the author himself in Hastings in 1911.  Cheshire was a local chess-player and there is a note about him at the Hastings & St Leonards Chess Club website, which suggests he may have formed a Goh Club there too, perhaps the first in Britain.

Though Go/Goh may have made some headway among board game cognoscenti, it did not attract attention in the way Mah Jong was to do. Possibly the very simple equipment – effectively just stones (or counters) and a grid – yet highly complex permutations made it seem somewhat austere.

Mah Jong, however, with its ornate sets of decorated tiles, and its vocabulary of Dragons and Great Winds and Peacocks and Flowers, evidently appealed to the delight in Chinoiserie among the fashionable, shown in the taste for the fiction of Thomas Burke, Ernest Bramah and others. Soon Mah Jong was seen as a thrilling house-party alternative to Bridge, Charades and other conventional pastimes. Publishers, games companies and composers rushed to be in on the craze.

It was the wealthy Courtaulds of Eltham Palace who named their ring-tailed lemur Mah-Jongg, because of the fashion for the game. They had purchased him from Harrods pet department in 1923, and adapted aspects of their home to suit his tastes and requirements. The Palace shop offers picture postcards of the languid creature lounging in a bespoke deck-chair aboard their yacht.  

Dance bands, very hot in the early Twenties, soon picked up the trend. George Gershwin provided the music for a 1923 song called ‘Mah Jongg: A Perfect Lady’, with words by B G De Silva. Lester Stevens wrote ‘Mah Jongg Blues’, while J Bolduc also composed a ‘Mah Jong Blues’ (with one g), while the otherwise unknown F Strumillo issued ‘Mah Jongg; Fox Blues’ and Cecil Cowles offered a piece simply entitled ‘Mah Jong’. Meanwhile, the stage was not behind-hand: The Prince of Mah Jong. A musical comedy in two acts, etc. [1924] was the work of N. Fraser Allan while Russian émigré Olga Racster devised a Mah Jong ballet.

The fad seemed to peter out in a year or two, as the In Crowd of the Twenties moved on to fresh fancies, but mentions of it do crop up occasionally in passing in fiction of the interwar period.

Some Early Mah Jong Publications in Britain

Mah Jongg A Complete Guide To The Fascinating Game From China. By ‘East Wind’. George Routledge & Sons Ltd London 1923

Mah Jong And How To Play It By Chiang Lee. Thomas De La Rue and Co, [1923]. The company also issued The Pocket Guide to Mah Jong

Mah Jong in Plain English, a 46pp guide, McBain & Co, 1923          

Mah Jong Do's and Don’ts, etc. By Eileen Beck.  Methuen & Co, 1923.

Mah Jong and how to play it. By “Etienne,” etc. [55pp]. Methuen & Co, 1923.

Mah Jong Rules of the Queen's Club [London]. Queen's Club,1924.

The Official Standardised Rules of the Mah-Jongg League Limited: Mah-Jongg Rules for Playing in the Chinese Manner. By Olga Racster. Heath Cranton, 1924

Mah Jongg: how to play and score. Arranged by an English enthusiast of the game. (C. M. W. Higginson.) Second edition. J. Jaques & Son, [1924].

(Mark Valentine)

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Mental Travailers, or, The Battle of the Books

At Face Press, Mental Travailers: Or, The Battle of the Books: Blake & Latham in Subtle Congress on Peckham Rye (2022) by Iain Sinclair. A well-designed 20pp pocket booklet with screen-printed covers in gold and silver, with French flaps. A bijou grimoire: the novelist, book-collector and psycho-geographer’s oblique meditations on time, place and bibliomancy. Invocations of William Blake and of Sixties art happenings. ‘For me a book is outside of time’: perhaps, he speculates, ‘a dialogue can be initiated by the act of lifting random volumes from the shelf’, which he then proceeds to do, quoting the messages from the passages he finds. 

Also available from the Press, the High Modernist word-hoards of enigmatic magus J H Prynne, including Snooty Tipoffs, Sea Shells Told, Latency of the Conditional and the latest, Not Ice Novice

(Mark Valentine)