Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Sunday, July 29, 2012
, a dismal romana clef about life in Greenwich Village featuring characters based on EW's friend John Dos Passos, the love of his life Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wilson himself, and an idealized flapper who is the girl of his dreams. In one scene the point-of-view Wilsonian narrator finds himself in an unfamiliar flat and, characteristically, checks out the bookshelves:
". . . on the shallow mantlepiece, a plaster cast of the Winged Victory; and between two narrow windows, which looked down on the Thirty-fourth Street car tracks, a book case containing, I noted, volumes of D. H. Lawrence, Cabell, Dunsany, and Shaw; George Moore's Memoirs of My Dead Life; Freud's Interpretation of Dreams; Frank Harris's Oscar Wilde; several volumes of Levy's Nietzsche and a whole shelf's array of Dostoevsky."
[1995 paperback edition, page 103]
[1995 paperback edition, page 103]
It's not entirely clear (to me, at any rate) what Wilson means by this assemblage, who seem merely to be popular authors of the time, representing what was fashionable to read in the previous decade. It may be intended as characterization of the apartment owners, the Micklers', but this seems somewhat unlikely: we never do meet Mrs. Mick, who's locked herself in the bathroom, while her husband Larry turns out to be drunken lout, given to waving a pistol around and taking pot-shots at things (like the aforesaid Winged Victory).
More likely, it's simply local color: these are the sort of books you'd find on the shelves of a typical apartment belonging to the sort of folks Wilson hung out with back in the day, a detail transcribed from his notebooks for verisimilitude (of which his 'novel' is full).
Of the nine authors mentioned, Lawrence, Shaw, and Wilde are now firmly ensconced in the canon --which was not necessarily the case when Wilson wrote this passage. Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Freud had already come into their own as major thinkers. George Moore is lesser know today but secure in the second tier (authors you hear about when studying for a degree but probably never actually read).
That just leaves Cabell, whose vogue peaked in 1917 with the banning of JURGEN but whose stock remained high throughout the twenties, and Dunsany, who became famous during the war years as a playwright and who reached the height of his renown around 1919-1920 at the time of his U. S. tour. Interestingly enough, a latter-day sign of their lingering cachet can be found in the fact that the volumes of Cabell and Dunsany in C. S. Lewis's library, the remnants of which are now at the Wade, are American editions formerly belonging to Joy Gresham, who was a native-born New Yorker of the next generation (she wd have been in her early teens about the time Wilson's book on Greenwich Village appeared).
Next up: Dunsany and Fitzgerald.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Saturday, July 21, 2012
Friday, July 20, 2012
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
So, the NEWS OF THE WEIRD (by Chuck Shepherd) that gets included in each month's FUNNY TIMES collects together weird news from all over, ranging from the risible to the way out there. Perhaps the strangest of all are those which follow their own logic through to a surreal conclusion. Case in point: for years it's been the custom in China to burn paper money for the use of those who have passed on.* Sometimes other items are burned too -- the film MR. VAMPIRE III has a scene in which two friendly ghosts are given new outfits by their priest-partner burning some paper clothes for them.
But now the dead are getting wired, or so it seems. NEWS OF THE WEIRD** reports that recently paper iPads have become a popular items (selling in Hong Kong for about $3 apiece) to be offered up to the dead at the yearly Qingming (tomb-sweeping) festival. Does this mean the dead will soon be online? All sorts of story ideas there -- though to be fair SERIAL EXPERIMENT LAIN*** already touched on this a decade ago. Still, don't think a novel about e-mails from the dead can be far off; just hope it's given more of a fantasy than a horror treatment (e.g., along the lines of Terry Pratchett's JOHNNY & THE DEAD.
*note that the theory is exactly the same as that followed by the pharaohic Egyptians, who buried items with the dead so that the departed cd use their spirit-analogues in the spirit-world.
**THE FUNNY TIMES, July 2012 issue, page 15, 1st column.
***the show opens with a girl jumping to her death from atop a building; a few scenes later, several of her schoolmates (including the title character, Lain) start getting emails from her. The most memorable: when asked what dying felt like, she writes it really hurts!
Monday, July 16, 2012
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Sunday, July 8, 2012
(continued from last post)
The other item was completely different, and represents one of my rare purchases from e-bay. Lately I've been trying to find a copy of the issue of LOCUS (November 1987, I think) in which they reported the results of a poll of the all-time Best Fantasy novels. I had this at one time (twenty-five years ago) but it's long since been lost or buried. The list itself is available online
but I recall that the original also had some information and interesting remarks about the results -- as in, the top book on the Fantasy poll (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) vastly outstripped the winner of the Science Fiction list (DUNE), being the only Fantasy book some science-fiction respondents voted for. The second-place Fantasy winner (and here's where my interest comes in) was THE HOBBIT -- which got more #1 votes for the best fantasy book ever than any other book except LotR, establishing again that Bilbo's story has fans of its own, independently of LotR. Also, that among fantasy writers Tolkien stands in a league of his own: LeGuin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA came in what was described as a distant third. I know they redid the poll about a decade later (1998) but haven't seen that verison of the results. I'm sure if they did it again now a number of the books ranked highly in 1987 wd have dropped a good deal or dropped off the list altogether. Which wdn't bother me that much: only three of the books I'd rank as the top ten even made it on their list, and two of those were the Tolkien).
What I did come across, in searching for that elusive 1987 issue, was the J. R. R. Tolkien memorial issue of LOCUS, dated September 14, 1973. In those days, it turns out LOCUS was not the slick magazine we know today but several sheets of greenish paper stapled together in one corner. The first three and a half of its seven pages are filled with memorial tributes by Charlie Brown (LOCUS's editor), Lester del Ray ("Something of joy and delight has gone from us"), L. Sprague de Camp (who briefly describes his meeting with Tolkien), Sterling Lanier (who mentions his dozen or so letter correspondence with Tolkien -- now that wd be interesting to see), Fritz Leiber, Frederick Pohl (who's surprised to like Tolkien as much as he did), and Roger Zelazny. Quite an unusual array to go on record in praise of Tolkien;***** hence my deciding to try to get a copy once I learned of its existence. Here are a few snips:
CHARLIE BROWN: "The world Tolkien created has always seemed too complete and real to me to actually be the work of any ordinary author. I wish I could communicate to you the feeling of wonder I had when I read the first volume in 1954 or the feelings of frustration in the eighteen months between American publication of the first and second volumes. (I couldn't go through it again and ordered the English edition of RETURN OF THE KING direct after that.) . . . I'm looking forward to reading [the forthcoming SILMARILLION], but I don't think it, or any other book can have the impact that LORD OF THE RINGS had on that teen-age introvert nearly twenty years ago."
STERLING LANIER: "His last great legacy to the world, the SILMARILLION, has been saved. He wrote me years ago, that it was done in verse! He seemed puzzled in a mild way, that at the time, no publisher seemed interested in it. I recall asking what he was doing for a comic or light element, since no Hobbits existed this early. He agreed this was a problem, but felt it could be solved. I can't wait."
FRITZ LEIBER: "Tolkien is unsurpassed in his descriptions of subtly eerie solitudes and in his delineations of a manifold variety of true loyalties and comradeships, and of reactions to evil. He gives thoughtful consideration to the reality of villainy in the sword-and-sorcery story, as Charles Williams does in the tale of supernatural terror. Creatures of his imagination such as the ents are marvellous. He casts a long, brightly-edged shadow."
FREDERICK POHL: "I rejoice that my life has been enriched by writers capable of inventing whole worlds for me to explore, and I mourn the passing of one of the greatest of them."
ROGER ZELAZNY: "I came to J. R. R. Tolkien's books at a very unusual time in my life. But then I guess that everyone who has read them and been moved by them has felt the same way. Perhaps it is because they helped to make it an unusual time. He enriched the entire field of fantastic literature with his great story. He changed many of us who passed through his world. And this is the mark of true power -- to make oneself felt so intensely, so pervasively and with such affection. While I was saddened to hear of his passing, it is good to know that his life was long, long enough for him to feel our appreciation of his work and long enough to realize that so many of us are grateful."
The other interesting news in this brief issue is an announcement about the folding of Lancer Books, who did to Rbt. E. Howard's CONAN what Ace and Ballantine together did for J. R. R. Tolkien. That, and a full-page add from T-K Graphics, including a wide array of interesting stuff: Post's ATLAS OF FANTASY and Kocher's MASTER OF MIDDLE-EARTH, Bradley's MEN, HALFLINGS, & HERO WORSHIP and Foster's GUIDE TO MIDDLE-EARTH; Le Guin's FROM ELFLAND TO POUGHKEEPSIE and Rickard's THE FANTASTIC ART OF CLARK ASHTON SMITH (which I had a copy of the latter), and more. I wonder: is there actually anyone out there who has a complete set of their little run of Tolkien monographs? I came along a little too late for that, but know others collected them avidly.
In short: an interesting snap-shot from a vanished era. Well worth the price. Now to put it in a Safe Place where I can find it again, someday when I need it . . .
*****but then Doug Anderson did note, in his contribution to the Blackwelder volume, that it was the science fiction fans who 'got it' when Tolkien was first published and made up a solid, enthusiastic core of his earliest admirers in the U.S..
Saturday, July 7, 2012
So, got back from the trip to Pennsylvania* to find three new items had arrived in two packages while we were gone.
The two that came together were two of Steve Winter's little Old School adventures he's written for the North Texas PRG Con held in the Dallas/Fort Worth area each year. I found out about last year's too late to get copies (they're released in v. small print runs and apparently sold only on RPG Marketplace, where I didn't have an account**), but thanks to a head's up from Steve was luckier this time around.
The first, THE TOMB OF AMEMNES (a D&D Basic/Expert adventure) we'd played through a few months back, an Egyptian-themed adventure where the characters explore a pyramid complex (Nithian I think in Steve's original, though we pretty much ignored all that Hollow World stuff). It was a good one; when he ran it, Steve had us jumping at shadows and second-guessing ourselves into assuming the things we faced there were much more powerful than they really were, with no doubt amusing (to him) results when we wound up being caught flat-footed by the real menace. I enjoyed it thoroughly, as might have been guessed, given my love for all things Egyptian (did I mention that we swung by the Carnegie while in Pittsburgh in order to see the Egypt exhibit there? Or that we're hoping later this month to see the King Tut travelling exhibit that's here in Seattle? Or to take in the Egyptology rooms in the British Museum and, I hope, Flinders Petrie's collection in Oxford when we're in England this fall?)***
The second, THE DEATH OF TLANGESHAN, is that rarest of rpg things, an EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE adventure. Such are rare indeed: I can only think of one offhand, published by Judges' Guild; company after company keeps re-releasing the setting books for Barker's strange world,**** but adventures to play in it are vanishingly scarce. I have the original boxed set from The Dawn of Time (1975), though I only got a chance to play it a year or two ago -- where we died in droves; we were lucky that one character (mine) was a minor noble, and hence brought along so many minions that we had enough to keep replacing player characters with. Steve has told me it's inspired by a Clark Ashton Smith story (always a good thing); obviously I haven't read through this adventure yet, since I hope to play it first -- though it might be a while, given the D&D Next playtest and ongoing Cthulhu campaigns.
(continued in next post)
*which went fine for us, but seemed cursed for various of our friends we'd gone to see, in that mechanical malfunctions kept befalling them: an airplane that cdn't take off because of a flaw in the cabin door's lock, the so-called 'land hurricane that brought on a total power failure in the DC area (bad news to those on breathing machines with a four-hour battery), and (most dramatic of all) a car catching on fire. While being driven. Makes our oven catching on fire, calling 911, and my using an extinguisher in earnest for the first time seems fairly mild in context.
**which is probably just as well, given the amazing rarities they have up for sale. Things I've only ever read about on acanum.com you can actually buy here, if you (a) have the money and (b) don't have other things you need to spend it on, like rent or a mortgage.
***"one of the greatest collections of Egyptian . . . archaeology in the world", according to their own website.
****which is odd, when you think about it, since players for the setting are practically non-existent.
****I'd hoped we might be able to make it to Lord Carnarven's house (the place where they film DOWNTON ABBEY), to see the goodies he stole from Tutankhamen's tomb that were quietly salted away for decades (as I hear the story, his secret gallery was rediscovered in the 1970s or 80s), but apparently that country estate is hard to reach via public transportation (which makes sense, being a country house).