Thursday, June 27, 2024

Lilliput Magazine: A History and Bibliography

Lilliput is one of those interesting little magazines that I've come across a number of times over the years. It began in 1937, and ended in 1960. Many prominent and lesser-known authors active during those years appeared in its pages. I think I first looked into it because I desired some possibly uncollected pieces by Lord Dunsany, who had six contributions to the magazine.  Three stories (two Jorkens tales) appeared in 1939; and two more Jorkens tales appeared in 1952 and 1953. In 1940 he contributed to a whimsical symposium on "What I Want After the War". (One of Dunsany's comments:  "I should like to see cocktails utterly eradicated.") 

T.H. White had two short stories published in 1954, and a third in 1957 (all three have been collected in The Maharajah and Other Stories from 1981). Thirteen of Maurice Richardson's comedic Engelbrecht tales (about a surreal dwarf boxer) first appeared in 1946 through 1950; a collection of fifteen stories was published as The Exploits of Engelbrecht in 1950. (It was a favored book by J.G. Ballard.) Richardson contributed many other items to Lilliput. Julian Symons, in his obituary of Richardson in The Times of London, noted that "his most astonishing achievement . . . was that of writing the magazine Lilliput for a time almost singlehanded, using a half a dozen different pseudonyms for writing knowledgeable articles about a variety of subjects" (5 October 1978).


Now Chris Harte has published Lilliput Magazine: 1937-1960: A History and Bibliography, an oversized 362 page volume with multiple chapters of interest, a history of the magazine, the contents of each issue, indices of contributors, artists, etc, and lots of photographs of the people involved. It's worth supporting comprehensive work like this.  The publisher is Sports History Publishing, and the ISBN 9781898010180.

Chris Harte has three other magazine histories/bibliographies that I've written about before.

1.  The Captain

2.  The Badminton

3.  Fore's Sporting Notes & Sketches

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Portal Summer - Robert Ford and Julian Hyde

I am a great admirer of the work of writer, photographer and psychogeographer Julian Hyde. He kindly published my pieces ‘as blank as the days yet to be’ and ‘in the fall of light’ in well-designed limited edition booklets also featuring his fine images.

Julian is now taking pre-orders for a similar booklet by author Robert Ford - details below. I am sure this will be a beautiful and evocative item.

(Mark Valentine)

Robert Ford and Julian Hyde present Portal Summer.

An elusive , delicate and melancholic work.

It will be a full colour A5 risograph booklet printed by Earthbound Press.

It describes a radial walk taken from the centre of a small town into the unregarded landscape of portals.

Julian's photographs suggest that the otherworld you've sometimes sensed is with us all the time, whilst Robert's ghostly prose poem pinpoints the "already debatable lines between the Town and Un - Town".

It is limited to 30 hand-numbered copies, featuring a collaged envelope and two additional art cards. Only 12 copies remain to pre-order.

£15 incl UK postage. Enquire for overseas postage.

To order or enquire, please contact j_kane001[at]hotmail[dot]com 

(replacing the words in square brackets with symbols as usual)

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) by Lord Dunsany

 The 1924 trade edition
When The King of Elfland’s Daughter was first published one hundred years ago, it was Dunsany’s second novel (of fourteen, eventually, including one published nearly fifty years after his death), following The Chronicles of Rodriguez (1922; titled Don Rodriguez in the US edition), which is an oddly structured book, for Dunsany, in writing his first novel, seemed to think that all he needed to do was write a bunch of chronicles about the same character until he had enough pages to call it a novel. Dunsany learned to do much better in his second novel, which is perhaps his best, and one which has been hailed a fantasy classic for many years.

It didn’t start with that reputation. Early reviewers didn’t know who should read it. The Saturday Review of Literature said:  “Children would be delighted by the book, but adults should find it a source of unique enjoyment” (11 October 1924).  While The Outlook warned: “The King of Elfland’s Daughter cannot be read to children; it is too grown up for them; and, despite its indubitable appealing poetic quality, it is likely to seem not quite grown up enough for most grownups” (29 October 1924).

 The 1924 limited edition
Other contemporary reviewers made interesting comments.  Forrest Reid, in The Nation and Atheneum, noted that the novel is: “Delicate, imaginative and persuasive. In the fantasy there is no hint of terror, the magic is a white magic, the enchanted light that touches both worlds is soft and benign” (5 July 1924). Edward Abbe Niles, the writer on jazz and the American promoter of the works of E.R. Eddison, found it: “A strange and beautiful book, wanting in the extremes of terror or of farce found respectively in "The Laughter of the Gods" and in part of "Don Rodriguez" but with all their sorcery; few primary colors here, but pastels, and the deep blue of the night sky” (The Independent, 20 December 1924).

The publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, did an oversized edition, limited to 250 signed copies, with a frontispiece by S.H. Sime.  This came out in May 1924, while the UK trade edition (also containing Sime's frontispiece), from the same publisher, came out in June. The US edition, from the NY offices of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, came out in October. After which, the book drifted into obscurity.  It was not reissued until June 1969, an early title in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, with evocative cover art by Bob Pepper. This edition was successful, and was reprinted a number of times. Other Dunsany titles appeared in the Ballantine series, and Dunsany’s reputation as a master fantasist grew. 

One odd paratext by Dunsany about the novel is found not on its own dust-wrapper, but on the dust-wapper of the US edition (1928) of Dunsany’s fourth novel, The Blessing of Pan. The comment (quoted in a publisher's advertisement) does not appear on the UK dust-wrapper. It is the only hint Dunsany ever gave about his setting of the book “about a thousand years ago,” putting it firmly in this world in the past, rather than in a invented fantasy world.  The full comment appears below:


Of this novel, Lord Dunsany writes:

"My Tale concerns some people living about a thousand years ago, in a perfectly ordinary village in a quite ordinary land, only not far from them, little more than one hard day's walk, lies the border of Elfland. Determining that their village and valley, which they love, should at last become well-known among other lands, they took too much interest in magic. Their traffic with Elfland brings their village that touch of mystery which they think will make it as famous as they had planned. It grows more and more magical and gets quite beyond their plans. And one day Elfland moves and passes over the village, leaving them to dream in the eternal calm of Elfland; but their village passes out of all human remembrance." 

 This tale was written, much of it, at Lord Dunsany's Castle in Ireland, the home of elves and leprechauns, and much of their quality has found its way into the pages of his book. The story is filled with all the gorgeous trappings of a super-fairy tale . . .  enchanted swords,and magic tunes, trolls and unicorns, kings and witches, a great hunter and a Princess.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Current Fascination: The Secret of 'Wind's End' by Herbert Asquith

I first saw a notice of Wind’s End (1924) in a catalogue at the back of another book. It was the first novel by Herbert Asquith, second son of H.H. Asquith, the Edwardian Prime Minister, and it was published one hundred years ago this month. The listing suggested the plot concerned some uncanny force in the English countryside. Wondering if it might be an undiscovered supernatural thriller, I got hold of a copy.

The scene is a village in the Cotswolds. A young semi-genteel rustic full of beer boasts that he will spend the night in a cursed field, Wind’s End, which has a prehistoric barrow crowned by an old thorn tree. There is a folk rhyme which states that no-one who goes there at night ever survives until dawn. And he does not survive: yet there are no signs of violence. There are footprints suggesting someone else was about, but they are not near him. What villainy or devilry is in play? 

There was quite a strong interest in ancient earthworks, including barrows and burial mounds, around this time: they feature in several crime and supernatural novels and stories of the Twenties and Thirties, and at first this appears to be an early example with similar antiquarian aspects. Asquith even brings in at one point an uncanny alignment of several ancient sites, like a ley.

Tom Morland, who is touring the West Country by motor, is staying at the local inn: ‘by nature he was of the exploring type, with an eye not blinkered to the odds and ends of life’. He decides to investigate, and calls in a wartime comrade, Garnet: ‘As an amateur detective he had won considerable fame in a narrow circle’. He achieves his results more by observation and intuition than strict logic. They are the typical Holmes and Watson pairing. 

 We thus have all the apparatus for a Golden Age crime story, and the village setting also has the conventional characters for this: the Rector, the local Doctor, a redoubtable lady of the manor, an eccentric recluse, and a staunch pub landlord. Other sinister incidents happen around Wind’s End, and Asquith also throws in a few more fragments of lore, including an ancestral ghost story. It’s all pleasingly familiar, yet done with a certain dash. The novel is enjoyably written, with plenty of inexplicable mystery and the usual flourishing of red herrings. which keep the reader guessing.

In order to discuss the contemporary context for the novel, it will be necessary for me to reveal the book’s trick: so do not read on if you want to find that out for yourself. For, despite the set-up, the ending would have frustrated strict readers of Golden Age crime fiction because it breaks one of the cardinal rules of the Detection Club. The explanation involves a lethal force unknown to science, wielded, furthermore, by a stock figure, the mad visionary who wants to enforce world peace by deploying a secret weapon. He has been conducting experiments nearby.

It seemed an odd theme for this author, who was then noted as a gentle poet of the pleasant rural scene, somewhat in the Georgian mode. Nor does it fit with his later novels, Young Orland (1927), an autobiographical novel about a young subaltern’s experiences in the First World War, or Roon (1929) and Mary Dallon (1932), mostly social romances. True, he had served in the Royal Field Artillery in the First World War, so presumably knew something about deploying deathly weapons over a distance. Even so, why did he decide to write a yarn about a death ray?

Herbert Asquith was the husband of Cynthia Asquith, the noted editor of ghost story anthologies and writer of ghost stories: they married in 1910 when she was 22 and he was 29. Perhaps her interest in the field was what prompted the idea of an uncanny novel. On the other hand, ghost story savants are no more enamoured of scientific novelty as an explanation than are crime buffs, and Cynthia Asquith would be well aware of that etiquette. She tended herself more towards the literary and lyrical in supernatural tales.

However, in browsing in The Long Week-End, A Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939 (1940) by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, I discovered some useful context for the book. Apparently, death rays of the sort wielded in the plot, were all the rage in the year just before Wind’s End was published. A somewhat colourful British inventor, Harry Grindell Matthews, claimed in 1923 to have discovered one, and was involved in well-publicised disputes with the Air Ministry and others about testing this. The newspapers liked the story and took his side, demanding action, though his demonstrations might best be described as inconclusive. Another death ray had supposedly been developed by a Sheffield University electronics professor. These claims had a receptive audience because of the recent spread of wireless, which prompted the idea that there might be other undiscovered waves or rays. Presumably this current fascination was what had given Asquith the idea for his book.

Asquith’s plot may strike the reader unaware of the context as simply a glib way to cheat in the impossible crime novel, and a deflating rationalisation (of sorts) of a supernatural shocker. But we can now see that, while he was playing with the expectations of these genres, he was also responding to a lively contemporary popular excitement. Indeed, Wind’s End is a mostly unnoticed interwar science fiction thriller, an early example of the ‘death ray’ idea, later to become such a popular device in the field.

(Mark Valentine)

Image: Cotswold Internet Books