Frankenstein’s 200th Birthday

shelley frankenstein 1818Frankenstein (1818) – Mary Shelley

Not really sure where to start or what to say with this one. Published 200 years ago today, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is one of the most important horror novels ever written. It’s also one of my favourite books. I first read it years ago, but that edition was the more widely published 1831 version of the text. After finishing the book, I read that the original 1818 text was in some ways better or more authentic or something. I ordered a copy, but it remained on my bookshelf for so long that when I finally picked it up and read it, I couldn’t tell how it was any different. You can find the differences discussed elsewhere online, but I can only say that I enjoyed both versions immensely.

I recently reviewed and complimented Percy Byssche Shelley’s Zastrozzi for it’s eponymous villain. Mary’s monster is, in ways, just as diabolical a fiend as her husband’s, but he is a hundred times more tragic. He’s simultaneously more and less human than Zastrozzi; he may not have been created in God’s image like the rest of us, but his plight is nonetheless relatable. Who amoungst us has not, at some stage in their  hateful lives, looked towards the heavens with dismay in their hearts and cursed God for creating man only to abandon him immediately thereafter? Is this tale not a parable for all human existence? Victor Frankenstein, the creator, is very much the villain in the 1818 text. He’s the idiot that brought the monster to life and then failed to take responsibility for his actions.

This is a great story and an exciting read, but it’s also one that makes you think. What do Frankenstein and his monster represent? Is the book an existential metaphor? As it is perhaps the first science fiction novel, what can Frankenstein tell us about its era’s feelings about scientific advancements? What messages should modern scientists developing A.I. take from this tale? Let’s also remember that Mary Shelley’s mother was one of the most important feminist thinkers in history. Can we reasonably avoid analyzing this text through a feminist lens? Could Frankenstein’s monster represent the corrupted femininity created and enforced by Georgian males? It’s rare that a horror story will raise as many interesting questions,but fortunately for you, I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions here; I’ll leave that to the high school students fortunate enough to read this book in English class.

I have finally reviewed all of the books from Paul Murray’s list of the greatest Gothic novels. I don’t think it was a very accurate list at all. Anyways, have a good new year.

IMG_20171225_103836.jpg(I didn’t have my copy of the book handy when this post was first published, so I drew this little picture of Frankenstein’s monster for the post image.)

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

conspiracy human race ligotti
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race – Thomas Ligotti

2010

I saw this book recommended on a forum a few years ago and put it on my to-read list. A while later, I saw articles online about how the writer of the first season of True Detective had ripped it off. I loved that show, particularly the parts that were supposed to have been taken from this book, so this made me want to read it even more. It only took about 4 years for me to work up the courage to pick it up. I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to contain, but it wasn’t its infamous negativity that was putting me off, it was the fact that it is a book of philosophy.

I don’t like reading philosophy anymore. I occasionally pick up some Plato just for the fun of it, and I have been known to giggle at Schopenhauer and Neitzsche’s aphorisms, but I’m not really interested in their fiddle-faddle arguments about the will and all that crap. I don’t mind a philosophical novel, but books of pure philosophy often seem to require more effort than they’re worth.

That being said, there were a few things about this book that made it seem more appealing than other works of philosophy. It was written by a writer of horror fiction, and the philosophy it propounds is one of extreme pessimism, so it’s basically doom metal in the form of a book. For some reason, probably December’s festive cheer, I decided to inflict it upon myself last week.

Alright, so the main idea here is that consciousness makes life so unpleasant that it would be better not to live. I followed the author’s arguments, but they haven’t really changed my outlook on life. Maybe it’s the fact that I knew this guy is a horror writer and all of the references to Lovecraft in the text, but I couldn’t help but feel that the reality that he was writing about was a slightly different reality to the one I live in. As interesting as his arguments are, I was able to forget about them immediately after putting the book down in much the same way that I forget about the slime creatures from Stephen King stories when I go grocery shopping. In fairness to Ligotti though,  he does reference this as an inevitability of the horror of existence. If we were not able to distract ourselves and stop thinking about these issues, we’d probably all kill ourselves very quickly. Ligotti’s arguments are convincing; yes, we are fucked, but they’re not particularly effective; we’re fucked, but who cares?

The world is a generally shitty place, and human beings are making it much worse. I, for one, solemnly believe that we are living in end times. The atmosphere is heating up, the seas are turning into chemical cesspools, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re all wiped out by nuclear war, biological weapons, aggressive technology or something else that’s really unpleasant (I’m personally hoping for an Independence Day style alien invasion). Human beings are disgusting, selfish, idiotic creatures with barely any self respect or intelligence, and there’s far too many of us for things to turn out well.

Life in the near future will become insufferable, but as long as I can listen to rock’n’roll, troll the internet and drink tea, I’ll be grand. While I didn’t find the arguments hugely effective (probably because I already accepted most of them), I did actually enjoy reading this book. Unfortunately, as with the last book I reviewed, it’s the people that most need to read this that are least likely to bother with it.

Perhaps the greatest feature of this book is it’s quotability. It is absolutely filled with zingers. I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites:

“We can stomach our own kind, or just enough of them who either prove useful to us or are not handily destructible, only by the terms of the following contract: we will eat some of the other fellow’s excrement if he will eat someof ours.”

On why humans reproduce: “People  get  the  biggest  kick  out  of  seeing  the features  of  their  faces  plastered  together  onto  one  head.”

“Child-bearers, then, should not feel unfairly culled as the worst offenders in the conspiracy against the human race.”

“Let  it  be  said—human  beings  are the  most  retarded  organisms  on  earth.”

noctuary - ligottiThomas Ligotti – Noctuary
Carroll and Graf – 1994

I guess I can throw this in here too. I read this collection of Ligotti’s short stories a long time ago. I had an office job back then, and I would spend most of the work day reading. I’d download pdfs of books and rename them “factory standards.pdf” and upload them to google drive so that my employer wouldn’t know what I was up to if he checked my history. I also got reckless and read a few at openlibrary.org, including this one. Over the course of three days on the job, I managed to finish Noctuary, the Satanic Bible, Mount Analogue by Damaul and Look Back in Anger by John Osborn. This frenzied bout of reading was fueled by spite for my employer rather than enjoyment, and I can honestly remember more about the headaches that it resulted in than the texts themselves.  I rated Noctuary 4 out 5 stars on goodreads though, so it must have been pretty good.

I’d imagine this won’t be the last time Ligotti’s works are featured on this blog.

The Atlantean High Priest Klarkash-ton

klarkash-ton cycle clark ashton smith.jpgThe Klarkash-Ton Cycle – Clark Ashton Smith
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

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.

Year in Review: 2016

2016 is very nearly over, and although it was a tremendously shit year in a lot of ways, it was a pretty good year for this blog. Not only did the site’s traffic increase to 4 times what it was in 2015, I also believe that my content has improved in quality. For much of the first year of the blog, I was reviewing books that I had read a long time ago. At this stage, I’m reviewing books right after reading them, and the more I read on these topics, the more links I have been able to draw. Not every post on here is groundbreaking, but there have been a few this year that I am quite proud of. Here’s my top-10 list for 2016:

bulwer-green-skull


10. The Haunters and the Haunted

A look at the different versions of Bulwer Lytton’s classic ghost story. This post features Colin Wilson getting pwned.

2016-05-19 22.01.48

9. The Books of Whitley Strieber
(Communion, Transformation)
I want to bully this guy so much.

witchcraft


8. Seabrook’s Witchcraft

Willie Seabrook: explorer, sceptic, sorceror and sex-pervert. My hero.

buk


7. Matthew Hopkins’ Discovery of Witches

The coolest physical book in my collection

dictionaries-of-witchcraft-and-demonology

6. Dictionary of Demonology/Dictionary of Witchcraft
The biggest disappointment of 2016

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5. The Fiery Angel
A curious, Russian occult novel that turned out to be based on a true story.

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4. Black Magic Grimoires
An in-depth look at some of the most infamous works of black magic.

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3. Ludovico Maria Sinistrari (Part 1, Part 2)
A weird Friar who believed in randy fairies and gander-neck appendages that grew from between the legs of horny women.

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2. Varney the Vampire
You won’t find many reviews of this book that are as thorough as this one.

bookwith angel

and finally… 1. Michelle Remembers
My post of the year without doubt. An on-site investigation into the diabolic, incestuous rape fantasies of a masochistic idiot and sex fiend.

I want to stress that this is a list of the best posts from this blog in 2016. (It most certainly does not reflect the 10 best books that I read in 2016!) I hope that Nocturnal Revelries has been insightful and entertaining to the people who have found themselves reading through it over the last year. I have really enjoyed reading and writing for this blog, and I intend to keep the content coming during 2017. That being said, my wife and I are expecting our first baby in March, and I imagine that she’s going to leave me with significantly less time to spend reading.

Thanks for all of the support. Read books, drink tea, skip mass and have a good new year!

(Oh, and just in case you didn’t know, I have facebook, twitter and tumblr pages set up so that you can keep track of what’s happening on the blog even if you don’t have a wordpress account.)

Dracula vs Hitler

thebargainfrontcoverThe Bargain – Jon Ruddy
Knightsbridge – 1990
Although it’s disguised as a novel, Jon Ruddy’s The Bargain is likely the most historically accurate account of the sinister proceedings that brought an end to the second world war that has ever been published. This is the true story of how Count Dracula used an army of vampire whores to bring and end to Third Reich.

It took me approximately one minute to order a copy of this book after seeing an image of its cover online. I don’t regret my purchase. The cover is phenomenal, and the book itself is actually fairly enjoyable. There’s lots of sex, swearing and gore, and it really wouldn’t be fair to expect anything more from a book with that cover. To use Ann Radcliffe‘s distinction, this book is very much a horror novel rather than a tale of terror, and sometimes some straight forward horror is just what I need.
thebargainbackcover
Dracula never died, but he got really annoyed when Hitler invaded Romania, so he  made a bunch of vampire prostitutes and got them to fuck/infect/kill German soldiers. This is very much a Dracula versus Hitler story, and while that is obviously super cool, I was hoping that it would be more of a Dracula and Hitler (up a tree) story. I feel like that these boys would probably like each other, and instead of reading about their rivalry, I’d prefer to see them going out for a beer together. Holy shit, imagine how entertaining it would be if Dracula and Hitler had a weekly podcast where they just shared their stories and opinions. I mean, it would be evil as fuck, but I would definitely listen to it.

I had a fairly similar complaint when I read Dennis Wheatley’s They Used Dark Forces.  That book is about Hitler and black magic, but the dark forces in question are largely being used against Hitler. If I’m reading a novel about Hitler, I want him to be the main bad guy. I want to read allegations of him being a vampire or a black magician. I want a book that explains how Adolf Hitler would drink the blood of a virgin, then sprout wings and fly into the night sky to pay homage to Lucifer, his lord and master. If anyone knows if such a book exists, please let me know!

This book was still pretty sweet though. Read it.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Gothic Tales of Mystery and the Macabre

elizabethgaskell
Tales of Mystery and the Macabre – Elizabeth Gaskell
Wordsworth Books – 2008
Long ago, I got a goodreads recommendation for Elizabeth Gaskell’s Gothic Tales collection published by Penguin. In April 2013, I ordered a copy. It never arrived. Later that year, when I went home for Christmas, I found a short story collection by Gaskell in the Wordsworth Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series. This collection was called Tales of Mystery and the Macabre. It was nice and cheap, and I presumed it would be the same as the book that I had previously ordered, so I bought it. It lay on the shelf for nearly 3 years.

I started reading Gaskell in September. I checked to see if this edition contained the same stories as the Penguin edition. The Ghost in the Garden Room goes by a different title; it’s The Crooked Branch in the Penguin edition, but they’re the same story. Apart from that, these texts are the same. The Penguin edition may well have notes and a better introduction, but I doubt those would make this book any more enjoyable.

The stories are not mysterious, and only a few of them are remotely spooky. They’re mostly about innocent young women and mistaken cases of identity. Within a week, I had read all but two of the tales, but then I started working in a factory and binging on Stephen King, and I lost all interest in Gaskell. I forced myself to go back and finish it last week, and I’m glad I did. The last story I read, The Ghost in the Garden Room, is surprisingly miserable; it was great, especially the ending. The rest of the stories range from decent (Lois the Witch and The Old Nurse’s Story) to stupidly shit (Curious, if True). I started on Gaskell right after I finished reading Varney the Vampire, another book in the Wordsworth series, and that may have had something to do with how little I enjoyed this one. My patience threshold for Victorian fiction seems to be about 1000 pages.

Overall, Gaskell’s Gothic tales are not absolutely horrible to read, but this was not a book that I ever looked forward to opening. Also, the cover is fucking stupid. I’ve given out about the covers for this series several times before, but dear Christ this one is ridiculous. There’s no mention of planets or standing stones in any of these stories, and that cover makes this book look better than it is. The image needs to be replaced for the next edition, and out of the goodness of my heart,  I have designed for a cover that far better suits the content of his book:

better-coverIf anyone working for Wordsworth sees this, please spare the niceties and just send a cheque. Thanks.