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Ichneumon on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 00:56 on 11-03-2017 - link
See, I'm not so sure given the implied nature of the magic that the narrator learns. Many of the rituals that she describes have resonances with folk traditions regarding curses, particularly the bit with the clay effigy. It's power through supernatural violence. Machen draws heavily on old Welsh tradition rather than straight Catholicism: The cultural context of a group which converted to Christianity very early but, as illustrated in the Mabinogion, retained a healthy appreciation of the supernatural as something multifaceted and not necessarily about God or the Devil so much as something inherent in reality that could heal or hurt the body, mind and soul. To curse is evil because it wounds; to wield black magic is to wound the world. It's taking without asking, presuming divinity without paying one's spiritual dues. There are alien forces in the world which, by their nature, have power humans are not supposed to have, and with whom humans ought not make stupid deals. Unfortunately, the author of the Green Book is not old enough to have the emotional maturity to recognise any of this, and already has some very scary friends...
I suppose I just find it interesting because I like the idea of the difference between mundane and metaphysical evil being the difference between maiming something on a mere physical level and fucking it up on some weird Platonic ideal one, and how it squares with my very Ligottian paranoia about the fragility of reality. The way Ambrose talks about roses singing, in particular, nails something of that moment that nobody wants to have when the worm turns and all you can do is go, "Am I crazy or is the world crazy? Is it both? Was this always the case?" Which is to say, I feel like Machen's cosmicism carries an interesting flavour precisely because it has an intelligent, neurotic religious man's terror of either being proven horribly wrong or horribly right.
Arthur B on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 08:24 on 10-03-2017 - link
N is not included, I'm afraid.
Likewise, you seem to miss the nuance of how Ambrose distinguishes what we might call white magic from black by suggesting that the former seeks to reinstate that ancient, fluid and unified nature of reality, while the latter seeks to grant mankind powers which were never theirs to begin with, even before the Fall; and that a "genius" may inadvertently combine aspects of both the saint and the sinner in their methods
Not really, that's just a restatement of the whole "white magic is attaining to higher realms in an approved way, black in a disapproved way" thing - the distinction between awful powers humans should never have had and awesome powers over the universe that are ours by right seems arbitrary and loops back to "It's that way because God says so," which even if it is satisfying for the purposes of real world religion makes for a lousy story feature.
Ichneumon on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 20:19 on 09-03-2017 - link
Was "N" not in any of these? Because there is a passage in that one relating to the Fall which puts Ambrose's theory of evil in "The White People" in a far more interesting, almost Gnostic context: "'When man yielded,' he would say, 'to the mysterious temptation intimated by the figurative language of the Holy Writ, the universe, the universe, originally fluid and the servant of his spirit, became solid, and crashed down upon him, overwhelming him beneath its weight and its dead mass.'" Likewise, you seem to miss the nuance of how Ambrose distinguishes what we might call white magic from black by suggesting that the former seeks to reinstate that ancient, fluid and unified nature of reality, while the latter seeks to grant mankind powers which were never theirs to begin with, even before the Fall; and that a "genius" may inadvertently combine aspects of both the saint and the sinner in their methods. Of course, what Machen considers to be the natural order of things is defined by his devout Catholicism and opposition to positivism, but like Lovecraft, there's this undercurrent of the frustrated mystic in Machen, albeit less so given his embrace of the miraculous.
It's probably worth noting, too, that Machen's introduction to The House of Souls suggests that the scrapped novel which you allude to from which "The White People" was pared would have been far more like a novel-length version of the Green Book itself than "A Fragment of Life".
(Machen is a really important influence on my writing and I love his work to death despite his occasional flaws, so I apologise if I seem defensive.)
Robinson L on Derleth Forsake Me Oh My Darling
at 20:00 on 03-03-2017 - link
Between this and the basic introduction to the Mythos, it’d almost make sense if this novel were serialised in a magazine
You know, just a couple of sentences before I read this, I was thinking to myself, ‘This sounds like a scenario originally written for serialized format like a Dickens or Collins novel.’ You can imagine how simultaneously jarred and vindicated I felt to hit this passage.
- Arthur B on Lumley's Little Bites at 08:39 on 02-03-2017 - link I have it too but if you're keen to review it then I say go for it.
Ichneumon on Lumley's Little Bites
at 23:45 on 01-03-2017 - link
Possibly it is a nod to the fact that one of Lumley’s stories - The Night Sea-Maid Went Down - appeared in The Starry Wisdom, an infamously hyper-surreal collection of Lovecraftian tales which showed a joyous disregard for the stodgy old Mythos “canon”.
I actually own a copy of this one. Should I find it, I would gladly give it a review. It's very, very odd.
Arthur B on Dermore I See Of Him, Derleth I Like
at 21:09 on 01-03-2017 - link
It'd take a really, really big stretch to imagine that Hastur is especially important to even a tiny fraction of Lovecraft's own work. Lovecraft only really namedrops Hastur in The Whisperer In Darkness, and in context it's entirely possible that the reference is a load of bullshit thrown out by the Mi-Go and their human allies to throw Wilmarth off the trail.
Robinson L on Dermore I See Of Him, Derleth I Like
at 18:00 on 01-03-2017 - link
Lovecraft didn’t especially mind the term “Cthulhu Mythos”, but he vetoed Derleth’s original suggestion, “The Mythology of Hastur”, for the very simple reason that Hastur didn’t feature in any of Lovecraft’s stories beyond some very occasional name-dropping. Derleth, conversely, had used Hastur very prominently in his own Mythos writings (most prominently in The Return of Hastur), so pushing that tag for the overall body of work by various hands kind of feels like a self-aggrandising move on the part of Derleth.
I suppose if one were inclined to making the most generous possible interpretation of Derleth’s motives here—which for the sake of funsies I suppose I am—one could speculate that the relationship between Derleth pushing “The Mythology of Hastur” for the shared universe Lovecraft created and Hastur’s prominence in Derleth’s own works was correlational rather than causational. I could see Derleth reading about Hastur in one of Lovecraft’s stories and developing a fanboy fixation, going, ‘Oh, man, this Hastur guy must be super important to Lovecraft’s fictional universe.’ This would explain Derleth’s reasoning that the mythology should be named after Hastur, and what’s more natural for someone with a fanboy fixation on a cool mysterious character than wanting to write stories about him? Just a thought.
Derleth described this as “posthumous collaboration”, and as well as this being impossible - at best, you can have “posthumous completion” of an unfinished tale - the end result contains far too much Derleth and far too little Lovecraft
Amusingly enough, I recently read a review of the new James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro which describes the film as a “posthumous collaboration” between Baldwin and director Raoul Peck. (Although, despite the rave reviews, the people I know who have seen the movie found it pretty underwhelming. My stepmother thought that basic everything that was brilliant in the movie was the stuff taken from Baldwin, and Peck’s contribution added nothing.)/tangent
at least by spoiling an otherwise good story with racism Derleth can claim to have written a truly Lovecraftian tale.
Oh man, this was *priceless*.
Arthur B on Matthew Reilly Hits the Exclamation Mark. Bam!
at 20:54 on 28-02-2017 - link
Tackled Six Sacred Stones and gave up about halfway through. I almost hesitate to say it, but it kind of took Reilly's wild overescalation a bit too far; there's just too much stuff going on, and each thing going on is just a little too similar to all the other things going on, and it's just a big confused mess.
He also goes all out with the diagrams and has a really messy chapter structure, to the point where it almost feels like a pile of first draft notes rather than a finished product.
Arthur B on Lumley's Little Bites
at 10:58 on 22-02-2017 - link
No need - I don't feel like I'm missing out horrendously from not having read it.
Looking at The Taint, it's a collection of Lumley's longer Mythos stories, which I think helps a bit since he's able to develop his ideas more convincingly.
Shim on Lumley's Little Bites
at 22:38 on 21-02-2017 - link
The Horror at Oakdeene, a rarely-reprinted Lumley story that, based on what I am able to discover about it, seems to be a fairly simple “asylum inmates attempt to summon a Great Old One” deal
I actually have this one - it's in The Taint. Happy to pass it along if you'd like.
Happily it also contains The House of the Temple, which I agree was one of the strongest stories and is a good implementation of the trope. My take from that very small selection of 7 stories is that Lumley works best when he shakes off the Derleth/Lovecraft style and writes something a bit looser and more natural.
- Arthur B on Lumley's Little Bites at 13:59 on 19-02-2017 - link I think it was a combination of the Necroscope series losing my interest and the Titus Crow novels being rage-inducingly bad.
Helter Shelter on Lumley's Little Bites
at 11:18 on 19-02-2017 - link
Excellent review as always.
May I ask what it was that put you off Lumley in when you were younger?
Jubal on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 18:59 on 27-01-2017 - link
Oh yeah, agreed. I should have mentioned the fact that it completely wimps out of the Alfred subplot. Understandable for a cartoonish film, but certainly not for the tone the subplot was aiming for. Perhaps if they'd made it "Alfred's sick and Batman must find a cure before it's too late" from the start, it might have fit better.
The genuinely tender moments between Bruce and Alfred have stuck with me though, as much as Arnie and Uma chewing the day-glo scnenery.
Arthur B on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 17:00 on 27-01-2017 - link
Bruce Wayne having to deal with the fact that Alfred is mortal and, even assuming the best possible outcomes, is near-certain to predecease him is, I agree, a good idea for a subplot... but it would work a lot better shifted to a different Batman movie. Not an outright un-cartoony one, but a less cartoony one - if there was just a bit less of a gulf between the "woo wow cartoon badassery" sections and the "Um, this is something our badassery can't fix" sections you wouldn't lose the audience when swinging over the chasm between them.
It doesn't help that, as it turns out, this is actually a problem which Bruce totally can punch and superscience his way out of: Alfred's sick with an earlier stage of the same disease Mr. Freeze's wife has, and after defeating Mr. Freeze (with punching) and proving to him that it was Poison Ivy that tried to defrost Mrs. Freeze (using superscience - well, a tablet screen, but that was superscience in 1997), he's able to convince Freeze to hand over the cure (which is also superscience).
So fighting baddies and using whizzy gadgets turned out to be the solution after all, which rather chickens out of the "This is actually a problem that there is no neat solution to" angle. That's the other reason I think it should have been saved for a less cartoonish Batman movie - if you are going to do that confronting mortality thing, you need it to be in a setting where mortality is actually a problem, otherwise what you get is hollow, insincere, and unsatisfying. Woo, yay, Batman can defeat mortality by punching the right person. That's certainly an approach to the universal dilemma of entropy that we audience members can relate to!
The writing for Robin here was just a bit odd and I honestly don't entirely blame O'Donnell for struggling with it - you're right that it seems to assume he's much younger than he actually is, which is odd because he was a returning cast member from Batman Forever so it's not like Goldsman didn't know who he was writing for. (Also, wasn't he an adult in the previous film?) Plus the whole "Batman isn't sure he can keep Robin safe" subplot seems really off. It seems like something that should really have been part of Robin's origin story, rather than something that's handled later, and it relies on Batman showing a Very Specific Level of concern - namely, he's worried enough to be paternalistic and overprotective, but he's not worried enough to leave Dick at home.
I just checked the Razzie results for the 1998 ceremony and it turns out Uma lost the Worst Supporting Actress Razzie she was nominated for to... Alicia Silverstone, for her Batgirl role. That, I think, is entirely fair: aside from the fact that I honestly think Uma's performance was actually pretty good by the standards of the sort of movie this was trying to be, Alicia is outright awful in this. She somehow manages to be too cheesy in the serious bits whilst at the same time not convincingly embracing the cheese in the cartoonish bits, so she ends up being in the worst of all possible worlds.
O'Donnell also got a worst supporting actor nomination (along with Arnie as Freeze), but lost out in favour of slamming Dennis Rodman, whose Double Team performance meant that movie got 3 wins to Batman & Robin's 1. Also The Postman got 5 awards during the year, and this was the same year that Speed 2 beat Batman & Robin for worst sequel/remake.
Man, what was with Hollywood in 1997? That's like an incredible year for awful movies.
Jubal on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 16:33 on 27-01-2017 - link
I think part of the trouble with the Alfred subplot is not simply that it exists at all in a film that should have stuck to neon-hued BIFF POW KERTHWACK campery, but that taken purely on its own terms it works quite well. As a tale of a young man forced to confront mortality in his father figure in a way he can't just thump or use gadgets against, contrasting with Alfred's calmly stoic acceptance, those scenes really do come off. Clooney seems much happier working with those parts than the campery, and of course a veteran thesp like Gough has no trouble with it, and the effect is to throw the awkward inconsistencies into even sharper relief than if it was something that could just be glossed over.
And, of course, there's Chris O'Donnell. Quite why anyone decided to cast him in the role is beyond me. Not only is he generally not very good, but an awful lot of his lines and scenes in here seem to assume he's about fifteen or so, which O'Donnell is very evidently not. Burt Ward was also in his twenties when he played the TV Robin, but looked young enough to get away with it.
Arthur B on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 21:23 on 26-01-2017 - link
Batman and Robin certainly didn't make a loss, but it was the least profitable of that run of Batman films to the tune of about $100 million - and crucially, it only made a profit because it had decent overseas box office returns. As I understand it, the big studios tend to regard films as a failure if they don't get a profit on the domestic box office alone; that may be less true these days, but it was probably more true in the 1990s.
Plus it made a lot of its money in the first week or so; once the word of mouth got out its returns tanked.
Ibmiller on The Self-Hating Pantomime
at 18:24 on 26-01-2017 - link
Kind of amusingly, I just watched Batman Forever for the first time (I actually watched Batman and Robin a few years ago), and I felt similarly about that film to what you're articulating here - that there was a vision that the filmmakers had, that they sometimes clashed (I think the biggest disconnect is clearly between Goldman and Schumacher, since the scripts consistently try to approach more serious questions about the Batman character and world, while the visual design and actor's performances generally go for the most effective sight gag), and that ultimately, they failed to convince anyone that they were worth taking seriously. However, I think both films succeeded in getting money from the public, even though they also succeeded in murdering the franchise and the idea of Batman's sidekicks in live action.
Of course, I hate the Burton Batman films with a deep loathing as well, so I guess I'm just a child of the Nolan films in terms of the way I approach Batman, even though I think their hyper-realistic approach is unsustainable and falls apart really quickly if you actually think about any of the three films carefully. But the way Nolan presents Batman, as competent and intelligent, in addition to his deep trauma etc etc, is much more enjoyable to someone who thinks Batman should be cool than Michael Keaton getting beaten up by thugs.
- Bill on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 18:48 on 24-01-2017 - link The Ballantine series introduced me to Cabell, Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, so I will always have a certain fondness for Carter.
- Ichneumon on People are Insects at 00:56 on 21-01-2017 - link I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Sören! It certainly is a curious tale, yet one which pulled at my heartstrings in a way that I can't easily describe. There is something melancholy and ominous yet fragile and tender in it, particularly the odd fragmentary memories of the mysterious intended recipient of the letters and the closing implication of the narrator undergoing their own metamorphosis akin to Longhorn's.
- Arthur B on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 21:23 on 20-01-2017 - link True enough; you just have to look at the Ballantine Adult Fantasy lineup to see that Carter had great taste when it came to other people's work.
- Ichneumon on It Looks Xothic, But Is Really So Thin... at 19:09 on 20-01-2017 - link For all of his various glaring faults as a writer of fiction, of which sources suggest he was actually well aware, I have a lot of respect for Lin Carter as someone with a great eye for talents which he did not himself possess. In particular, I recall a rather extensive anecdote, I think by Robert Price, about how towards the end of his life Carter became a very avid fan of the young Thomas Ligotti, saying outright that not only did his own output utterly pale in comparison, but that even at that early stage Ligotti was well on his way to surpassing Lovecraft as a master of the form. Indeed, the Silver Scarab edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer may have been the last book that he ever read.
Arthur B on Dermore I See Of Him, Derleth I Like
at 14:56 on 17-01-2017 - link
A little addendum: in poking about the excellent Eldritch Dark website - more or less the only online source on Clark Ashton Smith you'll ever need - I notice they've posted a bunch of letters Smith wrote to Derleth in the immediate wake of Lovecraft's death.
Notably, Smith gives Derleth some sound advice on interpreting the Mythos that Derleth seems to have stubbornly ignored - specifically, he points out that each story should probably be taken on its own merits and that Lovecraft wasn't really striving for consistency from story to story - "HPL wished to indicate the natural growth of a myth-pattern through dim ages, in which the same deity or demon might present changing aspects", and "As to the Lovecraft mythos, probably he had no intention or desire of reducing it to a consistent and fully worked out system, but used it according to varying impulse and inspiration. The best way, it seems to me, is to enjoy each tale separately and without trying to link it closely with all the others. This is the way I have always read them: a rather non-analytic and non-critical way, perhaps; but possibly they were written in a similar spirit." I'm amused that Smith here is advancing a position which Derleth's critics (including me) have kept going to this day; he does seem to have some passing sympathy for Derleth's bid to find some broad underlying canon to the whole thing, but in attempting the exercise himself soon stumbles across contradictions (like the "Old Ones" sometimes denoting Cthulhu and his allies, and sometimes denoting their enemies).
The real gem, though is in this letter, where he goes off on one about a draft of The Return of Hastur. It's evident that a cross-section of Smith's ideas ended up working their way into the story, especially when it comes to the deformation and mutation of Tuttle's corpse - no coincidence that those are easily the best and most memorable bits of the tale - but it's also clear that Smith's hit on some of the basic problems of Derleth's Mythos writing, in the sense that a) it's too rushed and b) Derleth tries to cram in too many Mythos lore details irrelevant to the story. (Also, Derleth seems to have retained the involvement of Cthulhu, which I agree with Smith confuses the story needlessly.)
Moral of the story: if Clark Ashton Smith gives you feedback on your fantasy/horror story, pay attention.
- Sören Heim on People are Insects at 09:16 on 11-01-2017 - link It's interesting but maybe really just free word-association... but it would be nice to find out if there is a connection between greek Tainaron and the russian word for secret... with russia heavily influenced by greek orthodoxy...