Slither – Edward Lee

edward lee slitherSlither – Edward Lee
Leisure Books – 2006

I recently finished John Halkin’s Slither, and it instilled me with a ravenous hunger for books called Slither about killer worms. One simply wasn’t enough. Luckily for me, I’ve had another Slither waiting on my shelf for the past few years. I remember buying this and thinking it looked pretty gross. I knew of Lee’s reputation, and the blurb on the back sounds sickening.

Yep. This was a nasty one. Since the coronavirus lockdown started a little over a month ago, this is the 8th novel I’ve read about mutant infestations. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but I don’t think it was a coincidence either. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would be able to explain my current fascination with genetically modified insects and why reading about them commiting acts of repulsive violence seems preferable to monitoring the rising death rate of the pandemic. While I’ve enjoyed these books, I think I’m going to give this kind of stuff a break for a while. Lee’s book seems to be a good one to end with. This was by far the most disgusting out of all of them, and it was also a lot of fun to read.

The only other book I’ve read by Lee is The Bighead, an infamously disgusting work of splattergore. That book has such a reputation that I expected Slither to be less gross. Surely Edward Lee isn’t that gross all the time? Well, here he is. In John Halkin’s Slither books, a creepy crawly will occasionally chew through an eyeball. In Lee’s Slither, masses of worms are constantly spilling into and out of every human orifice. Oh, and Lee’s worms don’t just eat humans. These worms also mutate humans, lay their eggs in humans, and secrete a chemical that turns humans’ insides to liquid.

This book was fucking gross.

I did really enjoy it though. The characters are fun, and there’s a great plot twist. I had a lot of fun reading this. It’s definitely not for the squeamish though. Seriously. Blech!

 

Slither, Slime and Squelch: John Halkin’s Slither Series

The titles and covers of the books in John Halkin’s Slither series are ridiculous, so ridiculous that I had to read them. I’ve seen people write these books off for seeming too silly, but I thought they were actually pretty entertaining. In truth, they’re not really a series. The events in these books make no reference to the events in the others. They’re more a trilogy of thematically, structurally and onomatopoeically similar books.

 

halkin slitherSlither – 1980

When I started reading Slither, I didn’t have high hopes. I presumed it was going to be an exercise in scraping the bottom of the barrel, one of those awful novels I can only bare to skim. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it. I mean, it didn’t win John Halkin the Nobel Prize for literature, but it kept me entertained for a few hours. This is the story of a TV cameraman during a killer worm attack on England.

Halkin doesn’t waste much time describing the origin of the worms or their motives. He spends more time describing the protagonist’s complicated relationship with his wife. The plot is ludicrous, but the characters are believable, and when I finished this one, I wasn’t dreading the other books in the series.

 

halkin slimeSlime – 1984

Although I had enjoyed Slither, I didn’t really feel any great desire to immediately pick up Slime, the next entry in the series. I’m off work at the moment though, so after about 2 weeks and 7 other novels, I got going on it.

There’s not much to say about this one.

It’s basically the same novel as Slither. Both are about English lads who work in television. Both protagonists are going through severe marital problems. Both books feature plagues of new breeds of water animals with a hunger for human flesh, and both books end with the protagonists having to put themselves in an extremely dangerous situation to save the person they love most.

For the first part of the book, I was rolling my eyes at the similarities with its predecessor, but by the end, I was reading along happily. I can’t say this book was clever, or even original, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.

 

halkin squelchSquelch – 1985

When I started on Squelch, the final book in the series, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. I didn’t get any either. A struggling TV director ends up as part of England’s first line of defense against a plague of killer caterpillars while also having an affair with her sister’s husband. The biggest difference with this one is that the ending is a little less dramatic than the other two books. It is, however, just as ludicrous. I reckon Squelch is my favourite title for a horror novel ever.  Every time the word squelch appeared in the book, I felt like cheering.

While these books, especially the latter two, are strikingly unoriginal, I got the sense that Halkin was probably capable of a lot more. The depth of characterization on display here is surprising, and although the plots are almost identical, if you space the books out, this doesn’t really make them any less enjoyable. Let’s just remember that these books are titled Slither, Slime and Squelch. If you were writing a series with those titles, would you try to reinvent the wheel? These are competent novels for what they are, and if you are the kind of person who would even consider reading a book called Squelch, you won’t be disappointed. There are a few grossout moments in each book that literally had me squirming.

While reading these books and noticing their similarities, I began to think about the author.  His protagonists are a cameraman, an actor and a director, so I assumed that Halkin himself must have worked in TV. In a comment on Too Much Horror Fiction’s post about these books, horror author Ramsey Campbell confirmed my suspicions, stating that “Halkin was the pseudonym of someone quite high up in BBC arts production in the early eighties.” Also, all three of Halkin’s protagonists are having serious relationship problems and a bunch of affairs. I wonder if Halkin was inspired by his personal experiences here too.

While the plot structure of all 3 novels is the essentially the same, the originality of each book stems from the author’s choice of flesh hungry animals. I was also impressed by his creative ways of getting rid of these slimy anatognists. For those of you who are too cowardly to actually read these books, I’ll just mention how they end for your amusement. Spoilers ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you’re planning on reading these books: The giant water worms are stopped when the queen worms (that may have come from outer space) are bombed to death after most of the worms have been turned into designer belts. The jellyfish are killed by scientists pumping the oceans full of the polio virus. The herds of genetically modified caterpillars are thinned when the government imports thousands of caterpillar-eating lizards from Africa and then dumps them into the English country side.

Halkin wrote another creepy-crawly book called Blood Worm. I don’t feel the need to read it immediately, but I’ll probably get around to it at some stage. These books are unadulterated trash, but when the city where I live is in lockdown because of a dangerously contagious virus, trashy horror novels are just what I need.

 

The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales – Thomas Ligotti

frankenstein ligottiThe Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales 
Thomas Ligotti
Subterranean Press – 2014 (Originally published 1994)

My daughter recently got a book called Little Red Reading Hood. It’s about a little girl who changes the endings of stories that she’s not quite satisfied with.

“You don’t like an ending?” Red Reading Hood said.
“Then change it, arrange it again in your head.
Just switch it and stitch it up some other way.”
The Wolf nodded slowly and whispered, “OK.”

It seems to me that Thomas Ligotti must have encountered this Little Red Reading Hood character in the early 90s and followed her directions when composing the pieces in The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales. This is basically a collection of alternate or extended endings to a bunch of classic horror stories.

The books getting the Ligotti treatment here are The Island or Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Turn of the Screw, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, along with several tales by Poe and Lovecraft. Two movies are also revised, House of Wax and The Wolfman. There are another 4 stories in here that I was not able to source.

  • The Unnatural Persecution, by a Vampire, of Mr. Jacob J.
  • The Superb Companion of André de V., Anti-Pygmalion
  • The Ever-Vigilant Guardians of Secluded Estates
  • The Scream: from 1800 to the Present

Ligotti seems to refer to these as ‘once-told tales’ in his introduction, so I assume they are entirely of his own creation. If I’m wrong and anyone knows what stories/books/movies these tales originate from, please let me know.

The writing and tone here is pretty much what you’d expect. Ligotti makes these classics of horror more painful and horrifying. It’s quite a ghoulish undertaking when you think about it.

The first piece in this collection is an additional scene for The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. This was the only book that Ligotti uses that I hadn’t read, so right after finishing with Ligotti, I started on Moreau. Fucking Hell, it was awesome. I was aware of the general premise, but I thought it was going to be a quaint little science fiction novel. It’s pure horror, a nightmare of a book. After reading Wells’ book, I reread Ligotti’s, and I can confirm that the stories in the latter are better if you’ve read the source material. I quite enjoyed witnessing some of my favourite characters from my favourite books being revived by one of my favourite authors.

Physical copies of this book are extremely rare, and it’s a very short work, only about 50 pages. I read an ebook version in about half an hour, and while I enjoyed it, the experience certainly wasn’t worth the 600 dollars that a physical copy would cost. This is an interesting curiosity, and while entirely enjoyable in itself, it’s simply not long enough to stand up to Ligotti’s other collections. If you’re a fan of Ligotti and horror in general, buy the ebook and put on a pot of coffee. You’re in for a treat.

I’m still waiting for a special occasion to start reading Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, but I finally finished the last season of The X-Files recently, and I am planning on reading Ligotti’s screenplay for the episode that was never made in the hopes that it will temporarily fill the X shaped void in my now miserable life.

The First Wave of Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell

Last year, Valancourt books teamed up with Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson to reissue some of the better books featured in Paperbacks From Hell. After reading Paperbacks from Hell, I made a list of the books featured therein that I thought sounded cool and tried to hunt them down. Some of the books I read were amazing, but some were utter shit. In truth, I wasn’t super excited when the Valancourt reissues series was announced. My experience with “Paperbacks from Hell” had been pretty varied, and none of the books in Valancourt’s series had the Devil or a guitar on the cover. However, soon after the series was announced, I bought a cheap copy of The Tribe in a used bookstore. I read it soon thereafter and was so impressed that I knew I’d have to read the rest of these books.

 

 

the reaping bernard taylorThe Reaping – Bernard Taylor
Originally published 1980

This was a very entertaining novel. The writing is excellent, and I found it difficult to put down once I got a few chapters in. The sense of mystery that Taylor develops is awesome, and my only complaint about the book is that it’s too short. I reckon you’re better off not knowing anything about this one, so I won’t give any plot details. I will recommend that you pick it up if you get the chance. Valancourt have put out a few more books by Taylor, and I am looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

 

whendarknesslovesus valancourt

When Darkness Loves Us – Elizabeth Engstrom
Originally published 1985

Woah, I wasn’t expecting this. Don’t let the doll on the cover of this fool you. This is kick in the bollocks horror.

This is actually a collection of two novellas. The first one, When Darkness Loves Us, is about a woman who gets trapped in a cave. A few months ago, I read an utterly awful novel about a bunch of kids getting stuck in a cave, and this story puts that one to shame. This is twisted horror. Engstrom doesn’t rely on a spooky monster to frighten her reader; she uses the frailty and shortcomings of humanity.

The next story, Beauty is…, was a little harder to get into for me. The protagonist is a victim of brain damage, and I didn’t want to read about anything bad happening to her. Again, I don’t want to give away details here, but I will say that this turned out far darker than I had expected.

This was a good collection. Engstrom’s horror is unsettling, but I enjoyed the ride.

 

the nest douglas

The Nest – Gregory A. Douglas
Originally published 1980

The Nest was incredible. Excluding Cujo, the only ‘animal attacks’ horror novel I had read before this was the underwhelming yet ludicrous Fleshbait. My complaint with that novel was that it never went far enough, always shying away from a potentially gory good bit. I can only say the opposite of The Nest. There were a few scenes here where things probably went too far, gloriously grisly scenes of visceral carnage. This book had me squirming every time I sat down with it. Cockroaches are fucking gross at the best of times, and they are particularly frightening after developing a taste for human meat. I consumed this one in audiobook format, and each night I would sit up alone listening to it with all the lights off. This was an excellent way of making myself feel uncomfortable. I thoroughly recommend this book.

 

the spirit thomas page

The Spirit – Thomas Page
Originally Published 1977

I got around to The Spirit last, and this was a bit unfortunate. Of the series, this is the one I enjoyed least. It’s about a killer sasquatch, and unfortunately I had only finished reading Jack Kewaunee’s Psychic Sasquatch book a few days before picking this up. I was well and truly sick of Sasquatches before I even started this one. It’s nowhere near the worst horror novel I’ve ever read, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the others in this series.

 

the tribe bari wood valancourt

The Tribe – Bari Wood
Originally published 1981

I actually reviewed The Tribe for a different post last year. It was great. I loved it.

 

This post covers only the first wave of this series, but by now Valancourt have put out a second wave and a bonus title. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this awesome collection. You may have noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of books from Valancourt recently. This publisher specializes in underappreciated horror novels, and they have been doing some pretty spectacular promotional offers recently. If you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably be impressed with their catalogue. Go buy some books from them and support this awesome publisher.

The Goblin Universe – Ted Holiday

the goblin universe ted holidayThe Goblin Universe – Ted Holiday
Llewellyn Publications – 1986

The Goblin Universe is a very serious work of non-fiction. It was written in the late 70s, but remained unpublished during the author’s lifetime as he was apparently unsatisfied with it. He supposedly rewrote the entire thing and ended up with a very different final product that seems to have gone unpublished. After Ted Holiday’s death in 1977, his friend Colin Wilson convinced Holiday’s mother to allow him to publish the original Goblin Universe manuscript.

The above information comes from Wilson’s lengthy introduction to this book. I’ve seen several instances of Wilson being listed as the co-author for this one, but while there is definitely a similarity between Holiday’s conclusions and what I’ve read of Wilson’s own ideas, I reckon that the central text here is actually Holiday’s work. Wilson is too critical in his introduction for me to believe that he had much input into the central text. He acknowledges that “The Goblin Universe would never convert a single sceptic; in fact, it would probably make him more certain than ever that ‘the occult’ is a farrago of self-deception and muddled thinking.” This acknowledgement follows a paragraph in which Wilson claims that Holiday’s attempt to show that Gilles De Rais was reincarnated as Edward Paisnel “convinces no one – even the believers.” Wilson poopooing the work that he is introducing will come as no surprise to long time readers of this blog. He was even harsher in his introduction to Roberts and Gilbertson’s insanely paranoid Dark Gods. (I actually first heard of The Goblin Universe in Colin Wilson’s introduction to Dark Gods. His description therein of the Exorcism of Loch Ness that is recounted in Holiday’s book ensured that I would track the latter down. More on Dark Gods later.)

ted holday omand exorcising loch nessTed Holiday and Rev. Donald Omand performing an Exorcism of Loch Ness

So what the Hell is the Goblin Universe? I read this book fairly attentively, but I still don’t really know. It pisses me off when writers don’t explain their technical jargon, and Holiday completely fails to clarify the meaning of what is presumably the most important idea in his book. The phrase is exclusively used in very vague, confusing ways. I went through the book after reading it, and tried to note every time that the author uses the phrase “the Goblin Universe.” I have listed these instances here in an attempt to clarify his meaning:

Holiday claims that the ambiguity over the fact that photons can be observed as particles and as waves “is the very essence of the Goblin Universe”

“If we try to probe a little deeper into the mystery of being, we find ourselves in the Goblin Universe along with Alice having tea with mad hares in top hats. It is all great fun, but what does it mean?”

“The Goblin universe is the place in the play where the actor switches one mask for another”

“The Goblin Universe is a hall of distorting mirrors into which we are born with yelling protest.”

“The Hall of mirrors… is simply the external aspect of the Goblin Universe.”

“The Goblin Universe is a hydrogen bomb. Admit the truth about one thing and you will end up facing the truth about a thousand more, and your existing system blows up.”

“The Goblin Universe… will not be ignored.”

“medics [who] deny the Goblin Universe will never comprehend people like Graham Young.”
(Graham Young was a mass murderer who poisoned his family members. Holiday later claims that Young was possessed by a demon from a Nazi concentration camp.)

“To comprehend the Goblin Universe, we need a modified science of physics.”

“One or two of the real masters see everything, and they know how the Goblin Universe really functions.”

If I missed any instances of the phrase, I assure you, they were no more elucidating than the above.

According to Holiday, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, mermaids, satyrs, the Surrey Puma and all sorts of cryptids are real, but they probably don’t exist in the same way that we do. If they were simple creatures of flesh and blood, we would surely have caught some during the act of sexual intercourse. Holiday suggests that these cryptids are actually semi-physical entities that have been placed here by intelligences far greater than our own. The reason for this placement is unclear; these creatures may be appearing to us to send us a message, but they might also just be appearing to confuse us or shock us into a reaction. The superior intelligences that are sending these appearances to us are probably aliens, or at least what we think of as aliens, the creatures that travel in UFOs.  (Years ago they would have been considered fairies.) This can be proven by the fact that many cryptid sightings are preceded by UFO sightings in the same area. Oh, but some of the cryptids, particularly the ones that look like extinct creatures might just be ghosts.

vegetable manThis picture (presumably from another text) is included at the end of Holiday’s book with little context. A vegetable man.

Holiday goes on to claim that natural selection as the driving force of evolution is wrong. We actually evolve according to the desires of a mysterious yet intelligent force. This intelligent force may or may not be the same entity/group of entities that is causing the cryptids to appear. Holiday claims that our scientific method is incapable of describing these forces and must thus be torn down and rebuilt. Holiday accepts the reality of reincarnation, possession, astral projection, precognition and even the possibility of willing a human automaton into existence. Any new scientific method must be open enough to account for these phenomena.

I’ve come across ideas similar to these before, and I want to take a moment to discuss Holiday’s place in this kind of literature. In the introduction to this work, Wilson references the work of John A. Keel, Erich Von Däniken, Pauwels and Bergier, and T.C. Lethbridge, all authors whose work has already appeared on this blog, but in truth, Wilson’s own book, The Occult, was one of the first I read that used this kind of thinking. Holiday personally asked Wilson for comments on his work, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he was writing in the same tradition. Just as Wilson’s work seems to have influenced Holiday’s, Holiday’s ideas seem to have had a major effect on Dark Gods by Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson. Holiday introduces the idea that a higher intelligence is causing cryptids to appear, and Roberts and Gilberston responded by affirming that this higher intelligence is malevolent.

This sequence is odd. Although The Goblin Universe was written several years before Dark Gods, it was actually published 6 years later. The influence might be explained by the authors’ mutual friendships with Wilson. Perhaps he had given them his copy of Holiday’s manuscript. (They probably would have asked to see it after reading about it in his introduction.) One of Holiday’s earlier books is also referenced in Dark Gods too, so either Roberts or Gilbertson knew of him already. I feel confident in saying that his ideas led on to theirs.

There’s lots of mental parts in this book. The author admits to having heard voices in his head. He claims that ghosts mostly appear in September because certain cosmic rays are shining parallel with Earth’s orbit rather than perpendicular to it. He believes that Uri Gellar is a real deal psychic, and he spends a chapter describing an exorcism at Loch Ness. Oh, and he also includes a ridiculous appendix on spirit photography written by our old friend Dr. Hans Holzer. There’s too much going on for the book to be coherent, even Wilson admits as much, but the general loopiness of the whole thing was entertaining.

I love this stuff.

 

 

 

 

The Tenant – Roland Topor

Topor The TenantThe Tenant – Roland Topor
First Published in 1964

The first thing that I read about this novel was that it was rare. The second thing that I read about this novel was that Roman Polanski had made a movie of it.

We all know that Polanskini is a repulsive paedophile, but he was a very successful film maker, and it puzzled me to think that the novel he based one of his movies on would be out of print and hard to find.

The third peculiar feature of this novel was that Thomas Ligotti, one of my favourite authors, had written an introduction for one of the most recent, yet long sold out, editions of this book. Ligotti’s work is bizarrely dark, and if he liked it enough to write an introduction for it, this novel might well suit my own personal tastes. All of this was deeply intriguing.

Prices for old paperback versions are ridiculous, and I quickly found a digital version on openlibrary.org, but by the time my hold came through, this version had been taken offline. I finally got my hands on a copy yesterday morning, but I had to perform unspeakable acts of degrading infamy in order to do so.

I’m glad I did though. This book was very interesting and seriously weird. I read the whole thing last night, and I feel like it hasn’t properly settled in my head yet. This isn’t a straightforward novel. I’m not academic enough to tell you which sub genre of literature it belongs to, but it’s definitely one of those -ism ones. (Absurdism? Modernism? Surrealism? Existentialism?) I’ve seen comparisons to Kafka and Beckett, and I might throw in Pinter too. That being said, while this book oozes literary merit, it is a horror novel. Topor skillfully evokes a real sense of nightmarish terror.

I don’t want to give away plot details, so I’ll just say that the book is about a lad who moves into a new apartment and finds his new neighbours rather peculiar. I’m already planning to reread this one. It’s very dark and truly strange. I reckon you should read it.

The Nazi Quest for the Holy Grail: Otto Rahn’s Books and Col. Howard Buechner’s Imagination

The field of Nazi Grail lore owes its existence to Otto Rahn. Rahn was an adventurer, linguist, amateur historian, spelunker and member of the SS-Ahnenerbe.

otto rahn
Do any amount of research on Rahn and you’ll soon be confronted with the moniker, ‘The Nazi Indiana Jones’, but realistically, Otto was just a nerd who caught the attention of Heinrich Himmler after writing a dumb book about the Holy Grail. After this, Himmler gave him a job in the Ahnenerbe, the division of the SS that was assigned to try to use mythology to glorify the Aryan race. Otto was allegedly gay and half Jewish, but he took the job. (I don’t really blame him.) Once the SS got a better idea of who Rahn really was, they demoted him, and he ended up killing himself.

Rahn wrote two books, both of which I’ll review in this post. However, before looking at Rahn’s work, it was essential for me to read the book that almost all of Rahn’s work was based on, Wolfram Von Essenbach’s Parzival.

wolfram parzifal

The Holy Grail has been discussed on this blog several times before, and while researching for one of those posts, I read Chretien De Troye’s foundational grail tale, Perceval, the Story of the Grail. De Troye’s book is the first time the Holy Grail appears in literature, but he never describes the exact nature of the Grail.  De Troyes’ Perceval was never finished, but a German poet named Wolfram Von Eschenbach rewrote it and added an ending. Von Eschenbach’s version, Parzival, is a more complete, lengthy and influential text, and it plays an important role in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Dark Gods, The Spear of Destiny and even The Werewolf’s Revenge. It is to my great shame that I admit to having reviewed those books without first slogging through the Parzival. I knew I’d have to read this before looking at Rahn’s stuff, so I borrowed a copy of A.T. Hatto’s translation from my library.

Jesus Christ, this book was so fucking boring. It’s so, so bad. The writing is dense, meandering and dull. The art of writing novels was clearly not yet perfected in the 13th century. A stupid lad ends up in a castle and sees a magic stone and some other weird shit but doesn’t bother to ask his host about it. Then he runs around for years trying to figure out what happened. Honestly, if you want more detail than that, skip the book and read a synopsis online; consuming this trash was a horrid experience. Yuck.

otto rahn crusade against the grailCrusade Against the Grail:  The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome
Otto Rahn

Inner Traditions – 2006 (Originally published 1933)

Otto Rahn’s first book, Crusade Against the Grail, is the latest addition my list of unfinished books. I’m generally pretty obstinate when it comes to finishing boring books, but this one got the better of me. After spending months slogging through Parzival and Rahn’s other book, I simply could not bring myself to finish this. I got about three quarters of the way through before admitting to myself that I had no idea what Rahn was describing. I could either start again or read another 50 pages of text without having a clue as to what was going on. Fuck that. This is terrible, awful, boring, dull garbage.

As far as I can tell, the basic idea behind this book is that the Cathars of Southern France were gnostics and that they were in possession of the Holy Grail. (This idea became very popular with later occult/conspiracy writers.) Rahn believed that Wolfram Von Essenbach’s Parzival was actually a Cathar document, and that it could provide details on how to find the Grail, which he seemed to think was still hidden near the Cathar stronghold of Montsegur.

It’s not until his next book that Rahn makes clear what the Holy Grail actually is.

lucifer's court otto rahnLucifer’s Court: A Heretic’s Journey in Search of the Light Bringers – Otto Rahn
Inner Traditions – 2008 (Originally published 1937)

Lucifer’s Court is Otto Rahn’s travel journal. He travelled around Europe, mostly Southern France, looking for details on the Holy Grail. The most interesting part of this book is Rahn’s thesis that the Holy Grail is nothing to do with the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. Rahn believed that the Holy Grail was a stone from the crown of Lucifer that fell out during his fall. Rahn believed that Lucifer, the Light Bringer, is a source of goodness, and he equates the christian/jewish god with an evil demiurge figure, just as the Cathars supposedly did centuries ago. Otto Rahn was a self proclaimed Luciferian.

Honestly, this book is actually very boring, and it’s not very convincing. Rahn’s sources are mostly folktales, legends and works of fiction. The way that Lucifer’s Court is broken up into a journal format makes it significantly easier to read than Crusade Against the Grail, but this was still very dull.

 

Ok, so that’s three shit books so far, one of which is considered a classic of literature and the other two are well known in certain circles. Now I want to present to you something a little stranger, Col. Howard Buechner’s Emerald Cup – Ark of Gold. I first heard of this book in an episode of Myth Hunters years ago, and for some reason I can’t remember, I set my heart on finding a copy. I eventually found an affordable copy online and bought it, but it remained on my shelf for four years before I got around to reading it. I was pretty happy to discover that my copy is actually signed by the author.

emerald cup - ark of gold howard buechnerEmerald Cup – Ark of Gold: The Quest of SS Lt. Otto Rahn of the Third Reich
Col. Howard Buechner
Thunderbird Press – 1991

The Holy Grail was given to Abraham by Melchizideck (a character from the Old Testament who some view as a proto-Jesus). It got lumped in with the treasure of Solomon at some stage but was later separated from this trove and ended up in some junk store until teenage Jesus saw it. Then teenage Jesus went to England with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. He lived there until he was about 30. When he came back to Judea, he got to work on the whole Christ thing, and when he realised that the shit was about to hit the fan, he threw a party with his mates and decided to use his fancy cup. When Jesus died, his friend used this same cup to catch some of the fluid that was leaking from the hole in the side of Christ’s corpse.

According to Buechner, this grail ended up in the hands of the Cathars after being brought to France after the crucifixion. Although Rahn described the Grail as a stone from Lucifer’s crown, to Buechner, it is the standard Jesus beaker. Buechner does acknowledge that some believe that one of the decorative stones on the Grail might have originally come from the crown of Lucifer, but he also claims that Rahn believed that there were two separate grails, the standard one and a separate German one. (Confused yet?) Although Otto Rahn’s name appears in the title of Buechner’s book, I was not convinced that Buechner had actually read Rahn’s work. It seems a bit like he read somebody else’s summaries of Rahn’s books. While he references several works of absolute nonsense (Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Spear of Destiny, Morning of the Magicians), he acknowledges that at the time of writing Emerald Cup, he had not read Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism, the seminal academic work on Nazi occultism.

Buechner believed that Rahn (and our old friend Bérenger Saunière from Holy Blood, Holy Grail) had found the treasure of the Cathars. He claims that Rahn either would not or could not take the treasure to Heinrich Himmler, so Himmler sent in Otto Skorzeny to collect it.

Otto_SkorzenyOtto “Nazi Supervillain Extraordinaire” Skorzeny

Otto Skorzeny was a Nazi hero. He helped kidnap Mussolini, and he had a big scar across his face. There’s lots of bullshit stories about him. Buechner’s tale is is one of these. There is proof that Skorzeny was in Yugoslavia on the date that he was supposedly retrieving the Grail from France.

Buechner claims that after Skorzeny delivered the Grail to his superiors, it was shipped to Antarctica in a submarine so that it could be deposited in a magical cave that leads to the center of the Earth. (This magical cave also leads to a void from which the echoes of strange voices can be heard.) At the end of the book, Buechner admits that the package that was sent to Antarctica may well have been a map marking the current location of the Grail rather than the Grail itself.

I reckon that any speculation on the final conundrum of Buechner’s book is a complete waste of time. Absolutely all of his book is rubbish. Many of his claims are based on untruths. His sources are books of nonsense. None of what Buechner claims is remotely convincing. He never mentions Otto Rahn’s homosexuality, and actually claims that instead of dying, the young adventurer may have had extensive plastic surgery and changed his first name to Rudolf. Rudolf Rahn was a real person, and there is a record of his life before Otto’s death, so I don’t really understand how Buechner was willing to put such a stupid theory forth in writing.

otto rahn rudolf rahn

Throughout Buechner’s nonsense, he repeatedly references a book called The Occult and the Third Reich. A few years ago, this would have been enough to convince me to read this book, but I no longer have much of an interest in this crap. Buechner has a few other books about similar topics, but I have no intention of tracking them down either. Some of my blog posts are a breeze to write. I’ll read a novel in an afternoon and then write the review while I’m waiting for dinner. This post took a lot of time and effort. Reading these books was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, and I can’t recommend any of them to anyone. Do yourself a favour and read something good instead.

As for Otto Rahn, his reputation as the Nazi Indiana Jones is pretty silly. He seems to have been a lonely, tragic figure whose tendency to speculate wildy drew the attention of the Nazi Party and eventually led to his death.

 

Nightshade and Damnations and Nightmares and Geezenstacks – Classic Strange Stories reissued by Valancourt

nightshade and damnations - gerald kershNightshade and Damnations – Gerald Kersh
Valancourt Books – 2019 (Originally published 1968)

When I added Michael Blumlein’s The Brains of Rats to my to-read list on goodreads, this book by Gerald Kersh popped up in my recommendations. It’s a highly rated collection of short stories titled Nightshade and Damnations, so I threw it on the list too.

There’s quite a few similarities to Poe here. The range and focus of these stories is similar, the general outlook is as twisted, and these stories are superbly written. Kersh acknowledges Poe’s influence by actually framing one of the tales as a submission from Edgar to a local newspaper.

Aside from Poe, the closest thing to which I can think of comparing these stories is The X-Files. There’s communities of freaks, bendy men, radioactive time travellers and immortals. Of course, these stories were published long before The X-Files was produced. While reading this, I started to wonder if Alvin Kersh, the unpleasant boss character in The X-Files, didn’t get his name from the author. (This is apparently not the case.) One can easily imagine Mulder and Scully appearing on the scene at the end of most of these tales in an attempt to figure out what has been happening.

In truth, this collection wasn’t quite what I expected. These stories are not straightforward horror, but they are weird, and some are quite creepy. I’m very, very glad to have read this book, as I enjoyed it immensely. I strongly recommend it to anyone with any interest in strange, well written short stories. (If you don’t consider yourself part of that group, fuck off.)

 

nightmares and geezenstacks frederic brownNightmares and Geezenstacks – Frederic Brown
Valancourt Books – 2015 (Originally published 1961)

This collection caught me off guard. Most of the stories in here are short vignettes of speculative fiction. I wasn’t hugely impressed until I got to the 12th story, ‘The Cat Burglar’. It was at the ending of this tale that I understood the genius of Frederic Brown. While other authors throw out their ideas haphazardly, Brown takes his readers where he needs them to be before planting a one sentence bullet right into their skull. The final sentence in ‘The Cat Burglar’ is hilarious, but the plot twists in some of the later tales feel more like punches than punchlines. Frederic Brown was an excellent writer.

While many of these tales in here are lighthearted (or downright silly), some of the longer tales towards the end get quite dark. These were the ones I enjoyed the most, but I did like the rest of the book too. Stephen King claimed that this book was “particularly important” to the horror genre, and this would be true if all it contained were ‘The Joke’ and the ‘Little Lamb’. Both tales are similar in their set-up, but I enjoyed both immensely. 

 

These two books weren’t quite what I was expecting. Most of the short story collections I’ve read recently have been ultra-violent books of trashy horror. Gerald Kersh and Frederic Brown steer clear of that approach; their writing is far more interesting and enjoyable.  I wasn’t expecting the caliber of the writing to be so high, but that was just my naivety. Both books were recently reissued by Valancourt Books, and the general rule with Valancourt is that the books they put out are awesome. You should definitely read both of these collections.

 

 

Secrets of the Satanic Executioners – Ambrose Hunter

The quality of the books I have been reading has improved in the last few months. I am no longer taking the bus to work, so I have less time to read, and I am therefore less inclined to waste my time reading garbage. With the recent lockdown, I’ve had a little more time, and the pipes of bizarre and stupid occultism have been calling me. I here present one of the stupidest, most bizarre books about Satanism that I have ever encountered, Ambrose Bertram Hunter’s Secrets of the Satanic Executioners.

secrets of the satanic executioners ambrose hunterSecrets of the Satanic Executioners: Medieval Maleficia (2nd Edtion)
Ambrose Hunter
Lulu – 2007

During the Middle Ages, there was a satanic cabal of free thinking militant demonologist executioners. These chaps roamed about Europe killing people for money. They believed in freedom, self worth and science, and they hated oppression and tyranny.

Fast forward a few centuries, and a German lad named Adolf Hitler discovered this satanic philosophy. He hated it. Nazism was actually an attempt to crush all those who accepted this type of independent thinking. In fact, it wasn’t until the surviving members of the order of Satanic Executioners got wind of Hitler’s opposition to their outlook that they discreetly joined the war on the side of the allies. They were so effective that the Nazis actually tried to adopt some of their techniques to fight back, but things didn’t work out for the Nazis, and the Satanic Executioners helped win the Second World War.

hitler satanicWhat?

This story is obviously not true, but that’s not really important. Historical accuracy isn’t necessary for a book to be entertaining. The problem here is the total lack of cohesion. None of this makes sense. The definition of Satanism that the author is working with is never given, and I don’t really know what he means by it. He first describes the Satanic executioners running around killing people for money, but he follows this by crediting them with developing modern science and killing Nazis. Are they good or bad? Are they theistic or atheistic Satanists? How were they still in existence in the 20th century?

After a thoroughly confusing introduction, the author proceeds to describe the Satanic Executioners’ weapons and methods of fighting. I’ve read books about killing people before, and this wasn’t very good in comparison. There’s silly long descriptions of fighting techniques that are of no use to anyone. If you’re reaching for a book like this to teach you how to scrap, I guarantee you are going to get your hole kicked when the time comes to fight. The stuff on medieval weapons was interesting, but I am sure there are far better books on the topic than this. There’s one cool bit where the author describes using a meat skewer to attack enemies. He notes that if the skewer is laden with chunks of meat, these tasty morsels can be used as missiles before the skewer is driven into the heart of the enemy.

meat skewer satanic weapon

There’s also a bit where ol’ Ambrose explains the origins of the notion of witches riding around on broomsticks. This actually comes from the one of the hazing rituals for new recruits into the order of Satanic Executioners. The order had jetpack broomsticks that initiates would have to try to ride through the sky in order to join the gang. The Executioners also had paragliders in the shape of devil wings that allowed them to soar towards their targets in terrifying fashion.

thunder broom“the hat has a ridged aerodynamic point”

There’s another part where the author describes how the Executioners would hide in graves to help them avoid detection. Maybe this is where part of the vampire myth originates…

The last part of the book is a confused discussion of the occultism supposedly utilized by the Executioners. There’s a bunch of nonsense about numerology, magical squares, cabalah and tarot symbolism. BORING. Despite the supposedly Satanic nature of this text, some of the rituals that the author describes include prayers to God. This is pure shit.

This book is so ridiculous that I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s actually a joke. The formatting is awful, it’s full of typos, and the cover is hideous. The text is about 250 pages long, but I’d say 150 of those are taken up with silly pictures that have little bearing on what the author is discussing. If The Secrets of the Satanic Executioners is a actually joke, I’m sure I look like a complete fool. If Ambrose Hunter thought that this text was convincing, I genuinely pity him.

Clive Barker’s Books of Blood

clive barker books of bloodThe 6 volumes of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were published between 1984 and 1985, and they are some of the most infamous and deadly collections of short horror fiction out there. I had been meaning to read them for a long time, and after reading two of the tales in the Splatterpunks anthologies last autumn, I decided to check out the rest. Each volume contains 4-6 stories, and they’re mostly very enjoyable.

Barker’s horror is dark and violent. There’s quite a few ‘Oh God, that’s horrible!’ moments throughout. I feel like I would have read more as a teenager if I had known that books like these existed. (That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy them as an adult.) The writing here is imaginative, exciting and often quite brutal.

I don’t really have a huge amount else to say about these books other than that they’re pretty awesome. In retrospect, waiting until I had read all six volumes before writing a review might have been a mistake. The quantity and variety of stories is so great that I don’t want to get into specifics. There’s countless other reviews online if you want more details, but I suggest you ignore those and just read Barker’s stories instead. If you like horror, you’ll very probably enjoy these books. I’ll certainly be reading more Barker in the future.

I hope you’re all staying inside and being safe during this stressful time.