The Atlantean High Priest Klarkash-ton

klarkash-ton cycle clark ashton smith.jpgThe Klarkash-Ton Cycle – Clark Ashton Smtih
Chaosium – 2008

Collecting books of weird fiction can be a frustrating hobby. Many writers’ short story anthologies are out of print, expensive and yet available online for free. Other collections are haphazardly thrown together by careless publishers only looking to make some quick cash. There are decent collections out there; I’ve read Penguin’s editions of Lovecraft, Blackwood and Machen, but these are generally just primers that include the 10 most famous stories by the writer. There’s nothing wrong with these, but I always feel that they might be leaving out some true gems. In a perfect world, a publisher would put out complete or at least exhaustive, annotated, multi-volume collections of the writings of Lovecraft, Bierce, Machen, Blackwood, Chambers, Smith and all the other lads.

Now, there’s a publishing company called Chaosium that had an idea to do something along those lines. Their Machen collections were a decent effort, although the tales in each volume get progressively worse. Their Robert W. Chambers collection claims to complete, but it’s not really.  From what I have read of Chambers, this is probably a good thing, but the collection shouldn’t claim to be complete if it’s not. This collection also includes isolated chapters from The Tracer of Lost Persons because those chapters are a bit weird. I’m sorry; I know I just complained because this collection wasn’t entirely complete, but I find the inclusion of isolated weird chapters from a novel to be really annoying. Give me the whole thing, or give me nothing at all.

The only other Chaosium book I own is a collection of stories by Clark Ashton Smith. I picked it up on a whim at a used bookstore a few years ago. It was one of those ‘I’m the only customer in this shop, so I better buy something’ situations. It sat on my shelf for a good while, but last week, I picked it up off the shelf and dove in.

Let me tell you something; Clark Ashton Smith is deadly. I don’t really want to analyze these stories too deeply. I’ll just say that they are exactly the kind of thing that I want to read: evil wizards, cosmic insect gods, infernal texts of black magic including the fabled Necronomicon, bodily dismemberment with a surgical saw… Holy Fuck, this stuff is amazing.  I need more stories like this in my life. Delicious.

Now that I have gotten my feelings about the writing of Clark Ashton Smith out of the way, I want to address my feelings about this book. It was quite disappointing on two counts.

The typos.
How was this book was allowed go into print. It is full of typos. They’re frustrating typos too. Normally, a typo will consist of a misspelled word, e.g. ‘horesradish’ instead of ‘horseradish’. Big deal, we can all figure that kind of thing out. However, the typos in this book are all incorrect words, e.g. ‘ton’ instead of ‘top’. It’s as if the person who typed the text allowed Microsoft spell check to do their proofreading for them. This is actually far more disruptive to the stories than simple misspellings would be. There was one point in which a character ‘picks up his face’ that had me rather confused. After rereading the passage, I realised that he had actually been picking up his mace. There’s at least 2 or 3 of these mistakes in each story too. I’ve seen several other people complain about this issue online, and I have to say that it was very frustrating. There is zero doubt in my mind that this book was not proofread before being published, and I think that reflects very poorly on Chaosium.

The Story Selection
The stories in here are great. Please don’t think that I am saying otherwise. My problem is with the way that the editor has split Smith’s stories between this and at least two other volumes. This collection supposedly contains the Klarkash-Ton Cycle. Klarkash-Ton was the author’s pen-name when writing to his friend, H.P. Lovecraft, and these are the stories that are most akin to Lovecraft’s own tales. (Incidentally, Klarkash-Ton and Lhuv-Kerapht briefly appear together in the last book I reviewed, Robert Anton Wilson’s The Sex Magicians.) Chaosium also published the Tsathoggua Cycle and the Book of Eibon, both of which are mostly comprised of tales by Smith. We have then Chaosium’s distinction between Smith’s Lovecraftian tales, his tales about Eibon, and his tales about Tsathoggua. But Tsathoggua also appeared in Lovecraft’s work, rendering him somewhat Lovecraftian, and Eibon appears in several of the stories in the Klarkash-Ton Cycle. Why the fuck didn’t they just issue 3 ‘best of Clark Ashton Smith’ collections and skip the silly attempts to separate the stories into cycles. I wouldn’t even care if the three collections contained the exact same sets of stories, just don’t give me this ‘3 cycles’ bullshit. Robert M. Price, the editor, addresses this categorization in the introduction, but I wasn’t at all impressed.

One other thing to note about this book, and I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, is that the versions of some of the stories in here are based on original, unpublished drafts of those stories. Also, the final story in here, The Infernal Star, is incomplete – Smith never finished writing it. This book, if it were not so full of spelling mistakes, would probably be great if you were a Smith collector. It’d also be a pretty good starting point if you hadn’t read Smith before. However, even though I haven’t read it, I would suggest buying the Penguin collection if you’re in that position. I’m sure the stories will be great, and the editing has to be better than this muck.

Smith’s writing is good enough to allow me to see past Chaosium’s weird categorization of his stories into three separate cycles, but the absolutely pathetic standard of this book really makes me want to avoid giving that company any more of my money. Their books, although all print-on-demand jobs, aren’t cheap either. Penguin have a collection of Smith’s work, and I’m sure it’s of a far higher standard, but it’s also much smaller. Maybe I’ll buy that one and try to track down the missing stories online.

drake penguin vs chaosium

Robert Anton Wilson, Sex Magician!

robert anton wilson the sex magicians

Today, the 23rd of July, is Robert Anton Wilson day. Today is also the 44 year anniversary of Robert Anton Wilson’s first contact with extraterrestrials from Sirius. To celebrate the occasion, I’m going to discuss RAW’s first published novel, The Sex Magicians. fnord

I need preface my discussion of The Sex Magicians by mentioning a few facts concerning the author’s best known book. Robert Anton Wilson claimed that he and Robert Shea started working on The Illuminatus! Trilogy in 1969. He also said it took 5 years to find a publisher for this cult classic. The book was published in 1975, suggesting that it had been finished at some stage in 1970.

In 1973, after three unsuccessful years of trying to find a publisher for this massively complex and confusing masterpiece, Wilson seems to have been unable to contain himself. He took some of the characters and plot elements from the unpublished manuscript of Illuminatus! and worked them into The Sex Magicians, a work of hardcore pornography.

I was actually suprised by how much porn this book contains. At first, I thought it would be more of a novel with some porny bits than a porno with some novelly bits. I was wrong. I think every chapter has a sex scene, and they get fairly juicy. We’re talking incest, anal and gorilla cocks here. There’s also a scene that features a woman begging to be fucked by Frodo Baggins. If that doesn’t get your motor running, I don’t know what will.

Now, a cynic might assume that RAW chose to use pornography as the medium to express his ideas because he had lost hope of ever getting Illuminatus! published. Perhaps he believed that diluting his outlandish ideas with hardcore sex scenes was the only way to make them accessible to the general public. Had he become convinced that only publishers of pornography would ever accept a novel whose plot revolves around a trouble-making dwarf and the Illuminati?

While the above reasoning is fairly sensible, it doesn’t take into account the genius of Robert Anton Wilson. Personally, I refuse to believe that the publishing of The Sex Magicians represents RAW’s giving up on getting Illuminatus! published. On the contrary, I believe that the publishing of the Sex Magicians represents an attempt (that was hugely successful) to get Illuminatus! published. Fnord

Sex Magic as far as I understand it, is the harnessing of sexual energy for using in magical rituals. Grant Morrison, who incidentally is a big RAW fan, describes a very basic act of sex magic: Fnord 

  1. In sentence form, write down the goal that you want to achieve.
  2. Cross out the vowels and repeating letters from the goal. Fnord
  3. Take the remaining letters and turn them into a cool looking sigil.
  4. Masturbate and as you orgasm, focus on or visualise the sigil you have created.

Focusing on the sigil during climax charges it with sexual energy and sets the magic in motion. Like I said, this is a very simplistic ritual (one which Grant Morrison claims is effective), but it gives a basic idea of how sex magic works.

With this rudimentary understanding of sex magic, let’s re-examine Robert Anton Wilson’s decision to publish a book of hardcore pornography in 1973. Yes, pornography afficionadoes may not be primarily concerned with the plot and characters and themes of the smut that they are reading, but these elements certainly enter into their consciousness. As the reader makes their way through The Sex Magicians, their arousal and awareness of RAW’s conspiracy theories are simultaneous. This arousal charges the ideas and concepts in the background of this novel, and just like Grant Morrison’s sigil wanking, the sexual energy becomes a driving force in achieving the author’s aims. By writing a book of hardcore porn and interspersing it with characters and concepts from the unpublished manuscript of Illuminatus!, Robert Anton Wilson instigated a wide-scale act of sex magic.  Through the orgasms achieved by readers of the Sex Magicians, the characters and ideas originally from Illuminatus! became charged with enough power to drive that novel into publication. The Sex Magicians is not just a smutty novel; it is a grimoire, a veritable sexual spellbook!  Fucking genius! Fnord

Now, I don’t know if RAW ever admitted as much; he wrote quite a lot, and I haven’t read all of his books (yet), but I am quite sure that he would at least enjoy my theory. That being said, there are some pretty flagrant clues within the book itself that support my hypothesis. I mean, for the love of god, the book is called The Sex Magicians. Perhaps the most important character in the book, the mischievous Markoff Chaney, is also the most direct link to the Illuminatus! trilogy. Not only that, but the events described in the Sex Magicians end up having been set into action by Markoff committing an act of sex magic. I won’t describe what that act is in case you want to read the book, but I will say that it bears some rather striking similarities with the act (or acts) that RAW set out to instigate. Also, we’re talking about Robert Anton Wilson here. That he believed in the efficacy of magic is not up for debate, and if anyone ever had the ingenuity and sense of humour to do something like this, it would be him. (Grant Morrison did hold a wankathon to try to boost sales of the Invisibles, and while that is obviously a hilarious idea, it seems crude in comparison to what RAW “pulled off”. Plus, it’s common knowledge that Grant Morrison is a huge RAW fan, so maybe this is where he got the idea.)
Fnord
So if this book is just a magical tool that RAW used to get Illuminatus published, is it worth reading? Yeah, sure it is. I mean, it’s nowhere near as mental as Illuminatus!, but it’s got fairly similar vibes going through it, and both books share characters. I don’t know how many of my readers are James Joyce fans, but I know RAW loved him, so I’ll say that if Illuminatus! was Ulysses, The Sex Magicians has the same kind of relationship to the author’s masterpiece as Portrait of an Artist, only with the readability of Dubliners. If it sounds like your kind of thing, you should give it a go. The book has been out of print for a very long time, and copies are usually fairly pricy ($300+), but somebody put the whole thing online (apparently with RAW’s permission) and a quick google search for the books title, the author’s name and .pdf will doubtlessly sort you out.

I wonder what happens if you wank off to this book now that RAW’s will has been done and Illuminatus! has been published. At what are the Illuminated King-Kong Sex Magic vibes now directed? Fnord

Trapped in a Dream of the Necronomicon

dead names necronomicon simon
Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon – Simon

Avon – 2006

Before reading the Simon Necronomicon, I had never entertained the idea that it might be an authentic text, and I was quite surprised when I discovered that many individuals believe that it is truly an ancient spellbook. I gave the matter some consideration, and the only real evidence that I could see for the book’s authenticity was “how much it sucks”. Despite the title and the framing story, there’s very little Lovecraftian material in here. Sure, it’s really only a few oul’ sigils and a muddle of Babylonian mythology. If somebody was going to hoax out a Necronomicon, literature’s most infamous book of twisted black magic, you’d think that they’d make it a bit nastier. As it turns out, Simon, the chap who edited the Necronomicon feels the same way.

Dead Names begins with the expanded story of how the Necronomicon was discovered and published. This tale involves the Kennedy assassinations, the Son of Sam murders, warring covens of witches, mysterious suicides and a bizarre gang of questionably consecrated priests. We’re lashing conspiracies onto conspiracies here, but A) Simon provides evidence for some of his claims, and B) I love conspiracies. This part was pretty good; it felt like reading a more sinister version of the Da Vinci Code. Really, the most disappointing part of the story was getting to the end and realizing that I was only halfway through the book.

You see, unfortunately for everyone, Simon is not just expanding the mythos of the Necronomicon in Dead Names, he is also trying to prove its authenticity. Approximately half of this book is taken up with Simon’s arguing that the Necronomicon is a legitimate ancient text. I could go into explaining his reasoning, but ughh, who fucking cares? (If you do care and you want to witness Simon getting pwned, I strongly suggest checking out the blog of Simon’s arch-nemesis.)

The story of an ancient Babylonian manuscript showing up in New York is unlikely, but it’s totally possible. The story of an ancient manuscript with the same name as a fictional book invented by a horror writer, a text that has clearly been written by a “Mad Arab” who perfectly fits the description of the author in the horror writer’s stories, is far less likely, especially when said writer repeatedly claimed that the manuscript was entirely fictional. Simon says that Lovecraft had read the Necronomicon; Lovecraft said the Necronomicon was “fakery”, “fictitious”, “100% fiction” and “merely a figment of my own imagination”.

Simon has tried to keep his identity secret for the past 40 years because he supposedly came by the book illegally and doesn’t want to deal with the consequences. Why would Lovecraft have repeatedly denied the existence of the same book? Had he come across it illegally too? Why did he write so much about it if he didn’t want people to associate it with him?

Unfortunately, there are no good reasons to believe that the Necronomicon is real. Simon’s arguments are lame, selective and unconvincing, and reading the latter half of this book felt like Chariots of the Gods or some other wishy-washy work of pseudo-academia. I mean, to prove his points, Simon repeatedly references a book by one of the author’s of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, perhaps the most infamously debunked book of conspiracies ever written. Come on Simon, you’re fooling no-one.

Much like the book that its about, Dead Names would have been far better if the author had gone all out horror show. The origin story of the Necronomicon given here features all the shady ingredients necessary to make a truly entertaining weird tale, but Simon constrains himself with a set of unconvincing arguments that do nothing but make him look like a fool. By the end of the book, you start to feel embarrassed for the lad. I mean, nobody over the age of 15 believes the book is real, and Simon himself knows better than anyone that it’s not real, yet he gets into petty squabbles with people over its authenticity. At a certain point it seems to become more important for him to appear smarter than his critics than it does for him to provide evidence that the Necronomicon is real. It’s like watching an internet troll forget that they’re trolling.

Up the Pole

arktos joscelyn godwinArktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival – Joscelyn Godwin
Adventures Unlimited Press – 1996 (Originally published in 1993)

I haven’t enjoyed a non-fiction book this much for quite a while. This is a scholarly, objective and insightful look at some of the most insane conspiracy theories and occult beliefs of the last few centuries. Any book that discusses the writings of Poe, Lovecraft, Robert Charroux, Helena Blavatksy, Edgar Cayce, Otto Rahn, Bulwer Lytton, Julius Evola, Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Grant, Charles Fort, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier is either going to be absolutely fascinating or absolutely idiotic, and I am happy to report that this book is the former. The overall scope of this work is enormous, but it’s essentially about several of the proposed causes and effects of the Earth’s polar axis shifting at some stage in the past.

The story begins with an Earth that is spinning on an axis that is perpendicular with its orbit around the sun. This state of planetary perfection ensures that there are no seasons, and days and nights are the exact same length in the same places all year round. This Earth is peopled by a race of god-like supermen that came from and mostly still live in the Arctic. After a little while, something catastrophic happens and the Earth goes wobbly. The Arctic freezes up, and the lads are forced to migrate southwards, although some of them stay put and live in the underground part of the Arctic, through which they are able to access the inner realms of the planet. (Oh yeah, I forgot the mention that this Earth is hollow!) The lads that have gone southward meet other races on their travels, but they’re not impressed by these lowly beings and often have to kill a lot of them. The boys who have stayed behind and retreated into the Earth manage to create airships that look a bit like saucers, and they occasionally use these bizarre contraptions to scope out the the outer realms of the planet. Some day these subterranean supermen will emerge to join their relatives, and together they will rule the world.

Just some of the Hollow Earth models as described in this glorious book.

Sound a bit off the wall? Well, this story, or a story very similar to it, is partly to blame for the ideology of the Nazis; the super race from the North are none other than the Aryans. The Nazis are a magnetic target for conspiracy theories, and it would be silly to presume that every Nazi believed in every part of the above story, but it is possible to trace the origins of the notion of Aryan supremacy to some very nutty characters. This book concerns itself with more with where these ideas came from than it does explaining how they were adapted by the Nazis (Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s Occult Roots of Nazism is a better book for that topic.), and Godwin does a really good job of objectively discussing some fairly ludicrous ideas. I never got the sense that he was bullshitting or stretching the truth for his own agenda.

Writing this blog post is a bit slower than usual because I don’t have many bad things to say about this book. There are a couple of chapters in the middle where Godwin discusses his interpretations of the metaphysical and spiritual significance of the poles and pole-lore that are a bit airy-fairy, but they don’t detract from the good stuff. I think the only other part that I wasn’t impressed with was when Godwin refers to Dennis Wheatley, one of my favourite authors, as “a purveyor of rollicking adventure for teenage boys and adults of arrested development”. Other than that, this book is delightful. I mean, it’s heavy going; you have to pay close attention to what’s being discussed if you want to understand it, but I found it hard to put down once I had opened it. It’s 200+ pages of dense text and denser ideas, and it only took me a few days to finish (quite a feat when you’re also responsible for a 3 month old baby).

I’m not going to go any further into the theories contained in this book. I don’t like summarizing books. When I have done so in the past, I have only done so to show how silly the writer has been. This book basically does a far more elegant job of what I try to do with this blog, and so the ideas presented herein have already been broken down and explained very clearly. If you’re interested enough in this blog to have made it this far through this post, you’re almost definitely going to enjoy reading this book. It is, without doubt, one of the best sensible books about crackpot conspiracy theories that I have ever read.

Is Donald Trump in league with eternal Hitler’s subterranean, spaceship-flying Aryan super troops?

The poles do actually shift, and we now know that global warming is currently contributing a few centimeters per year to this tilt. Recently, the international community was ashamed, embarrassed, and appalled by Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Climate Agreement. (Seriously America, put down the hamburgers and guns and get your act together.) Despite the glaringly obvious proof that the world is over-heating, Trump and his posse have claimed that they don’t believe in global warming. Now we all know that Donald Trump is a walking, talking piece of solidified diarrhea, but a fool he is not.

How can a man, smart enough to wrangle himself into the most powerful office in the world, possibly think that global warming isn’t happening when everyone can see that temperatures are going up? Let’s not be naive people; Donald knows full well that global warming is occurring.

Donald Trump is not ignoring climate change, he is purposely encouraging it. Why? Because he knows that as the temperature rises, the Earth will readjust its surface to make up for the melted ice-caps and rising water levels. This should draw both the Arctic and Antarctic closer to the equator/ecliptic, thus further speeding up the melting of the ice-locks above the once polar openings to Agartha and Shambala. As soon as these portals are cleared, fleets of Vril powered UFOs filled with the troops of Aryan demigods that the Christ-Hitler has been training shall fly out and take their rightful control over the rest of the planet. After this, Trump can sit at the right hand of der Führer and enjoy the commencement of Kali Yuga.

The Mothman Cometh

the mothman prophecies keelThe Mothman Prophecies – John Keel
Tor – 2002 (Originally published in 1975)

When I picked this book up, I expected it to be fairly similar to McCloy and Millet’s The Jersey Devil, a book describing how a strange cryptid briefly terrorized a small town; however, The Mothman Prophecies is more a descriptive synthesis of 4-5 paranormal beings and events, and it doesn’t contain a huge amount of information specifically about the Mothman apparition. The Mothman, you see, at least according to John Keel, is quite probably from another dimension, and its mothy form is likely only one of its possible manifestations.

The book describes several strange events:

  1. The Mothman appeared to several people in Point Pleasant, a small town in West Virginia.
  2. Several other people in this town saw UFOs.
  3. Strange men, dressed in black, showed up in Point Pleasant, asking strange questions to these witnesses.
  4. A few of these witnesses also received bizarre phone calls during which they would hear static, beeping, or a foreign man speaking quickly.

This stuff went on for a while, but when a bridge leading into the town collapsed, killing 48 people, the strange events seemed to stop happening.

The loss of 48 souls to a town that housed fewer than 6000 people would have been devastating, and one can sensibly attribute the cessation of paranormal activity in Point Pleasant after 1967 to its residents going into a period of mourning and spending less time looking for lights in the sky and weirdos in the streets. John Keel however, postulates that Mothman disappeared after the collapse of the bridge because his work as an ill omen was complete. Yes, Mothman has more in common with a guardian angel than he does with Bigfoot.

Most of the book is taken up with descriptions of strange lights seen in the sky. When I reviewed Whitley Strieber’s Transformation, I noted that he had given up the idea that aliens are extraterrestrial and that he now believes that “the visitors are likely trans-dimensional inhabitants of Earth”.  It is quite possible that Strieber got this idea directly from Keel. (Strieber was a member or at least attended the meetings of Keel’s New York Fortean Society.) Keel reckons that UFOs are manifestations of something that exists outside of the dimensions that constrain our reality. Whatever it is that is causing the UFO phenomenon is probably the same thing that made people believe in fairies and religious events. If you think about it, a Mothman, as imagined by Keel, is basically the same thing as a Banshee.

Strange lights in the sky and cryptids sightings are cool and all, but the really interesting parts of this book are the bits about the peculiar men who dress in black and spend their time pestering UFO witnesses. Keel wasn’t the first person to write about the Men in Black; that honour, along with the honour of being the first to write a book about Mothman, goes to Keel’s friend, Gray Barker. Originally, the MIB were assumed to be government agents trying to keep witnesses quiet about their UFO encounters, but by the time this book was published, Barker and Keel agreed that the MIB were themselves aliens. Their descriptions in this book are actually pretty cool. They’re always dark skinned (although Keel repeats several times that they’re not black), they have pointy faces and unsettling smiles, their clothes are ill fitting, they don’t understand what common household items are for, and they speak like characters from a Samuel Beckett play.

Overall, the book isn’t very convincing. I had been looking forward to reading it, and it took me quite a bit longer to get through than I had expected. Keel didn’t have enough material to write a more focused book, so he seems to have crammed in any old crap he could find. He starts to contradict himself in the latter half of the book, but he realizes that he’s doing so and attempts to make these contradictions part of his argument. (See the Paranoiacs Are Made, Not Born chapter.) The Men in Black have been so successful in their attempts to obfuscate the public’s understanding of what happened in Point Pleasant that Mothman researchers can’t really know what they know about the topic. I read a review somewhere that described the book as John Keel’s descent into paranoid madness, and if you were to accept all of its claims, I’m sure that reading this book would drive you quite mad.too.

I’m not calling John Keel a liar, but many of the links he propounds are rather tenuous, some of his descriptions are vague, and much of his reasoning is plain shoddy. He was also admittedly very selective with the material he chose to use for this book. I’m not complaining about this (I’m all for that kind of writing!); I mention it only in response to the claim that Keel was paranoid. This is sensational, speculative non-fiction filled with what-ifs; it’s use your imagination stuff. Keel wasn’t mad at all; like he rest of us, he just enjoyed a good conspiracy.

I was fairly disappointed with the cover of my copy of this book. It’s a shitty, ugly version that came out to coincide with the movie version of 2002. (Earlier editions have really cool covers.) I watched the movie there too. I’m still not sure what to think of it. It’s set in the 90s or early 2000s instead of the 60s, and it doesn’t strictly adhere to the events in the book. It also cuts out all of the MIB and UFO stuff, so it’s not quite as all over the place. It looks pretty good, and there’s definitely an atmosphere to it, but I can’t imagine it making much sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book. It’s a little more cohesive without the MIB and flying saucers, but these omissions also render it a little dull, and while it’s not tough to sit through, there’s so little explanation given that you finish the film wondering why they bothered making it.

Well, that’s that. Another Fortean classic for the archives. Some of my long time followers may have noticed that I’ve upgraded this blog with a fancy .com address. My url is now https://nocturnalrevelries.com/. Any old links to the site should still work, but due to an irritating fuck-up, I managed to delete all post likes and cut my traffic in half. Still though, the blog must go on, and I have ordered some seriously atrocious sounding books for my summer reading. Expect to see posts about perverted werewolves, Lovecraftian magick, Satanic Nazis and rock’n’roll themed horror showing up here very soon.

Hail to the King!

Towards the end of last year, I wrote a long post about the work of Stephen King. I had read nothing but King for a few weeks prior to writing that, and so I decided to give him a break for a while. He has been showing up in the news recently due to his hilarious behaviour on twitter and for the record breaking new trailer for It, and so I decided to indulge myself with a smattering of his marvelous brand of trashy horror fiction.

it stephen kingIt – 1986

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I remember being thoroughly creeped out by the video box of the 1990 movie version when I was a kid but being a little disappointed when I actually got to sit down and watch It. With the new movie coming out in September, I decided that I had better read the book now so that I can act cool and knowledgeable to anyone who mentions it to me in the coming months.

In some ways, It is a brilliant novel. The characters are great, the scary bits are very scary, and the transitions between past and present are really well executed. I also have personal reasons for enjoying the story of a gang of losers getting into rock fights with bullies, building hideouts in the woods, and breaking into abandoned houses. I was a little older than the characters in the book when I went a very similar, although significantly less supernatural, set of adventures myself.

Several scenes in the book involve the kids breaking into an abandoned house only to meet It in different ghoulish forms. When I was 18, my friends and I broke into an abandoned house and went rummaging through the cellar. When we were down there, we saw a strange light glimmering on the wall by the stairs. This was rather frightening as it was well after dark, and that set of stairs was our only escape route. We grabbed what we could from the debris on the ground (a stick, a rope, a rusty grill…) and prepared to do battle with whatever it was that was coming down the stairs.

We waited in silence for several minutes, but nothing moved and the light eventually went away. Afterwards, as we sat on some chairs that we had fashioned from old breezeblocks, we came up with a story to explain the peculiar glare. It had been the ghost of the former resident of the house, an old woman who was none too pleased with our presence in her home. We wrote a song about it that began:

In the hoose (sic), the times we had.
Our antiques (sic) made the Granny mad.
Her toilet, it was brown and crappy;
in the bin, her vaginal nappy.

shitty toilet
Her toilet was indeed both brown and crappy.

Anyways, there are several genuinely creepy scenes and ideas in here, but It is a very long book, and in truth, it’s a little incohesive. By 1986, Stephen King was the most popular novelist in the world. He could have written complete rubbish, had it published and sold a million copies. I’m not saying that this is rubbish, but I reckon it could have done with a bit of editing. Some bits aren’t really unnecessary to the lengthy plot, and some crucial plot elements (It‘s origin, the Turtle, how some adults can see Pennywise) are given scant explanation. This doesn’t detract too much from the book however; when a novel’s opening scene depicts a clown dragging a small child into a sewer to eat him, one aught to adjust their expectations accordingly. Don’t question the plot’s coherence; just turn your brain off and enjoy the trashy horror goodness.

When reviewing an extremely popular work, I try not to repeat information or ideas that will be available from thousands of other blogs and websites, but I will say that the infamous sex scene towards the end of this novel was damn weird.

I tried to rewatch the old movie version right after finishing the novel, but it’s very long and aside from Tim Curry, the acting is awful. I lasted about 20 minutes before watching a best-bits compilation on youtube. I will definitely be going to see the new version when it comes out.

 

cycle of the werewolf stephen kingCycle of the Werewolf – 1983

This story is packaged as an illustrated novel, but in reality, it’s shorter than some of King’s short stories. It’s about a werewolf on the loose in a small town. There’s nothing in here that you wouldn’t expect from the title and cover of the book. It’s not an unpleasant read, but I don’t think anyone would say that this is King at his finest. I read it on my commute to work one day.

 

carrie stephen kingCarrie – 1974

 King’s first novel, Carrie, is also one of his best. I started it one morning last week and had finished it by that afternoon. Obviously, this is a very popular work, one that has spawned 3-4 movie versions, and I was familiar with the plot before reading it, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.

This is nowhere near as ambitious as a novel like It, but I reckon Carrie is actually the better book. The reader quickly comes to understand Carrie’s plight and to lust for her revenge, but this book also encourages its readers to consider how they treat the Carries in their own lives. It’s a simple formula, but it’s entertaining and effective.

 

I love Stephen King, but I’ll probably leave him alone for another few months. He’ll doubtlessly appear on this blog again. Oh, and sorry for the recent lack of posts; there should be a few new ones popping up fairly soon.

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond

tarry thou till i come crolyTarry Thou till I Come or Salathiel, the Wandering Jew – George Croly
Funk and Wagnalls – 1902 (Originally Published in 1828)

A long time ago, I read Paul Murray’s article on the greatest Gothic novels ever written. At that stage I had already read most of the books on the list*, and out of the ones I had not yet read, there was only one that I had never heard of: Salathiel The Immortal by George Croly. Murray’s description of the book reads:
Now almost forgotten, the Reverend George Croly was a friend of the Stoker family. In Salathiel the Immortal (1829), there are similarities of predicament between Salathiel and Dracula (as well as with that of Melmoth the Wanderer). Salathiel led the mob which promoted the death of Jesus, in return for which he was condemned to the misery of the undead state. A reshaping of the Wandering Jew legend which underlies so much of the gothic genre, including Melmoth the Wanderer. Like Maturin, Croly was a Church of Ireland clergyman.”
I have emboldened all the parts of this description that convinced me that I would have to read this book. I looked it up to research further, but could not find a single review. Ohhh, the alluring mystique! I quickly ordered a copy online, and when it arrived, I was thouroughly impressed with the physical book. It was printed in 1901, includes several full page colour illustrations, and ends with a bunch of notes and critical essays. It’s about 700 pages of small text though, so it sat on the shelf for four years before I found the time to read it.

tarry thou frontispiece
So, the Wandering Jew is a legendary character who was supposedly doomed to immortality after insulting Christ during the events leading up to his death. In this version of the tale, he is Salathiel, a priest of the Temple who had been gravely insulted by Christ’s heresy against traditional Judaism. Salathiel is the man who led the crowd demanding the blood of Christ. The book begins right at the moment of his exultation. As Jesus is lead to the cross, Salathiel hears a voice whisper “Tarry thou till I come” and understands that this is the voice of God telling him that he is going to have to wait around on Earth until Jesus returns on judgement day.

Ok, so we’re off to a good start: a cursed priest doomed to walk the earth until the end of time. Now this tale was originally published in 1828, so you would imagine that its 500+ pages cover a time period of almost two millennia. However, the protagonist’s most striking feature, his ability to survive for thousands of years, barely comes into play in the events of the story. The book ends with the destruction of the Second Temple, roughly 35 years after Jesus was crucified. Yes, Salathiel shows impressive endurance and manages to escape from some very tricky situations, but aside from the book’s title, first chapter and final chapter, there is very little in here that suggests anything preternatural about the title character; by the end of the book, he might be as young as 60.

tarry thou sorcerorSalathiel meets a sorceror and spirit (That’s him in the back.)

This book includes virginal maidens, gloomy dungeons, heros, tyrants, curses, bandits, miraculous survivals, clergy, secret passageways, night journeys, and strange spectres: in short all the things that one might expect to find in a Gothic novel. But these elements are strewn (rather sparsely I will add) amoungst 500 pages of historical fiction about the siege of Jerusalem. Realistically, this is a fairly dry adventure novel about a warrior who has little fear of death. The main character has to rescue his family from captivity about 5 times, he escapes from captivity himself about 10 times, and finds himself doing battle (both physical and mental) with countless foes. He becomes stranded on a desert island, he briefly takes command of a pirate ship, he plans devastating attacks against the Roman forces, and he does it all for the love of his wife and children. There are a few spooky parts; he meets a ghost, a magician and some strange spirits, but these events only make up a few paragraphs in this tome. Referring to this book as a Gothic novel is a bit of a stretch.

 

 

 

Just some of the adventures on which our hero finds himself

So maybe it’s not Gothic, but is it any good? Well, it took me well over a month to finish it. I found the first 300 pages or so to be very, very boring. In fact, when I was reading it, I started wondering if this was not a precursor to the modernist novel. I wondered if Croly had deliberately avoided mentioning the legend of the wandering Jew and instead focused on extremely boring details. The horrendously wordy prose inflicts a sense of brutal tedium on his reader, and this technique gives that reader a sense of what life would be like for an individual who was doomed to live forever. Is this a stroke of absolute genius, or is it just poor writing? It’s hard to say.

The characterization is quite awful. Aside from their names, Salathiel’s associates are mostly interchangeable; they’re either completely good or completely bad. Also, some characters reappear after hundreds of pages of absence, and the reader is expected to remember exactly who they are. The biggest problem is with the title character though. Aside from a few hasty moments when he is contemplating his daughters being courted by a goy, Salathiel, the hero of this novel, is a very sensible, rational, empathetic individual. The idea that he was the man that led the mob against Christ (the proverbial ‘Jew that broke the camel’s back’) is very strange indeed. I would not be surprised to find out that Croly had written the novel and tacked on the few Wandering Jew parts afterwards because he realized that nobody would be interested if he didn’t lure them in with a familiar legend.

tarry thou jesus crolyLOL, keep walking, lil bitch!

Of course, the legend of the Wandering Jew is in itself quite bizarre. The idea is that Jesus put a curse on the lad for being mean to him. Let’s just recall that the fundamental belief of Christianity is that Jesus Christ died so that the sins of man could be forgiven. Isn’t it a bit odd then that he would personally inflict immense suffering on any individual for wronging him? Also, the nature of Salathiel’s trangression isn’t even that severe when you consider the context in which it occurred. He, a holy man, genuinely believed that Christ was a heretic trying to pervert his religion. Sure, it was a shitty thing to do to try to get him killed, but Salathiel seems genuinely remorseful afterwards. If Jesus had only cursed him with a bad dose of verrucas, Salathiel probably would have had to sit down for a while to contemplate his bad behaviour, and I reckon he’d quickly realize that he had been a bit harsh. He would have asked God for forgiveness, and if God had truly meant all the stuff that he had just had Jesus tell everyone, he’d have to forgive Salathiel immediately. As things currently stand, Salathiel is doomed to suffer regardless of how remorseful he is. Jesus is a hypocrite.

To today’s socially conscious reader, the title of this book might set off alarm bells. After all, the Nazis once made a propaganda film titled Der Ewige Jude (the German name for the Eternal/Wandering Jew). The legend of the Wandering Jew is doubtlessly anti-Semitic in its origins, but in fairness to Croly, I think it is safe to say that this book was not anti-Semitic by the standards of the time in which it was written; he’s definitely not attempting to demonize the Jews. He is however, more than happy to malign black people at every given opportunity. At one point he refers to Ethiopians as “Barbarians, with a tongue and physiognomy worthy only of their kindred baboons”.

In fairness, this book does pick up quite a bit towards the end, but overall, it’s really not that great. Tarry Thou till I Come will be a real treat for anyone with an interest in historical, religious fiction, but it’s likely to bore the pants off everyone else. If you want to go ahead and check it out, the text is available online at archive.org. Make sure that you read this version though, as some of the other versions online only contain the first two out of its three volumes.

melmoth wanderer penguinMelmoth the Wanderer – Charles Maturin
Penguin – 2012 (Originally published in 1820)

Like I said earlier on, I bought my copy of Salathiel quite a while ago. I had originally planned to make this a comparative post weighing Croly’s book against Charles Stuart Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, a book that I had read long before hearing of Croly’s. Unfortunately, so much time has passed since reading Melmoth that I can’t remember it terribly well. I do recall it being similar to Salathiel in the following ways:

  • It is also excessively long.
  • It is also about a cursed immortal.
  • It was also written by a protestant clergyman from Dublin.

Unlike Salathiel however, Melmoth the Wanderer is very definitely a Gothic novel. Its title character is immortal due to his dealings with Satan, not Jesus Christ. I know that I enjoyed Melmoth, but I recall it getting a bit boring in places. Regardless, all book-goths are obliged to read this one. The cover of the edition of this book that I own is one of the reasons that I try not to buy modern reprints of old books. Luminous pink, turquoise and orange for the cover of one of the classics of Gothic literature? No fucking thank you Mr. Penguin!

 

*The following is the list of Paul Murray’s 10 favourite Gothic novels from the article that set me on the track of Salathiel.

  1. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  2. History of the Caliph Vathek by William Beckford
  3. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  4. The Monk by Matthew Lewis
  5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  6. Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
  7. Salathiel the Immortal by George Croly
  8. Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Pecket Prest
  9. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Dracula by Bram Stoker

Now that this post has been published, I have managed to review all of these books except Frankenstein. I’ll have to reread it and get it up here soon!