Thursday, October 30, 2014


So, a small turnout Sunday for Mithlond -- Gyda, Ramon, Jason, Chris and Andy not being able to make it left us with  just four people:  Yvette our host, Allen, Janice and myself. Despite that, we had a good meeting, having all read at least some of the stories, and had a good discussion. One thing we'd already become aware of is that the order in which you read the stories can have a big effect.

For example, I was reading a hardcover (the 'Mycroft and Moran' Arkham House edition), in which the first story is "The Thing Invisible", the one about the haunted knife, while Janice (and Yvette) were reading it on the Kindle, in which the first story is "The Gateway of the Monster/Whistling Room".

The two sequences are as follows:

BOOK: "The Thing Invisible", "The Gateway of the Monster", "The House Among the Laurels", "The Whistling Room", "The Searcher of the End House", "The Horse of the Invisible", plus the three added stories: "The Haunted Jarvee", "The Find", and (last and among the least) "The Hog".

e-Book: "The Gateway of the Monster", "The House Among the Laurels", "The Whistling Room", "The Horse of the Invisible", "The Searcher of the End House", "The Thing Invisible", "The Hog", "The Haunted Jarvee", and "The Find"

This matters because Hodgson carefully manipulates the reader's expectations in the Carnaki stories. In some stories, there's no ghost: the haunting was faked (though the danger may still be real). In others, the ghost is all too real and, more often than not, deadly. And in one story there's both a faked haunting and, as revealed in the climax, a real horror as well. In the arrangement of stories in the book, Hodgson carefully gives a sequence that keeps the reader guessing; in the Kindle arrangement the reader is thrown into the deed end from the get-go.  That Hodgson was wise to keep his readers guessing is amply shown by the Ash-Tree Press volume of Carnacki pastiches, NO. 472 CHEYNE WALK [2002] by A. F. Kidd and Rick Kennett. I tend to enjoy a good pastiche (such as Cannon's SCREAM FOR JEEVES, Harrison's EXPLOITS OF THE CHEVALIER DUPIN, or even Sheila Hodgson's THE FELLOW TRAVELLERS), but in the Kidd-Kennett collection every story follows the same pattern, all the ghosts are real, all are thwarted in much the same manner, and the reader is never left in any doubt that Carnacki will win through.

By contrast, there's much more ingenuity and variety in the original Carnacki stories (six in the original book published in Hodgson's lifetime, nine in the Arkham House and subsequent editions)*: the fact that Carnacki confesses to having been terrified at times during his investigations, only to sometimes later discover he'd worked himself up and the horror was of his own imagining; there's an honesty to that that's appealing. And the mix of real and faked hauntings has a verisimilitude: it stands to reason that not every case a ghost-hunter undertakes will uncover a genuine ghost.  Perhaps the thing that most makes them stand out is Carnacki's use of cutting edge technology, like his Electric Pentagram and later his Prismatic Circle. In this he resembles Bram Stoker. Reading DRACULA today it's easy to miss how tech-savvy his heroes are, employing such then-modern devices as the telegraph, shorthand, and especially Dr. Steward's Dictaphone to solve the case. Stoker even uses an airplane in a daring rescue as the climax in another of his novels, THE LADY OF THE SHROUD, published just six years after the Wright Brothers' first flight.

*of these, three additional stories, "The Hog" is an inept re-write of THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLANDS, "The Haunted Jarvee" is a so-so reuse of the plot-line from THE GHOST PIRATES, and "The Find", the best of the lot, a non-horror tale of ratinocination, perhaps hinting at a direction the series might have taken had the War not intervened.  For years there were doubts about the authenticy of all three, given Derleth's history as a forger.

Probably the biggest revelation to me was Yvette's pointing out that Dodgson, the narrator, was probably a play on Hodgson, the writer; I'd always assumed it was some sort of tribute to Lewis Carroll. That's one of the reasons I love book groups: those times when someone else read the same book I did and got something out of it I didn't which enhances my own reading.

As for the gathering itself, Yvette and James (our co-host) topped off their hospitality with hot cider and most excellent go-off-the-diet-worthy little bite-sized fruit tarts. Better yet, Max (Maximillius) the cat was disposed to be agreeable, not just showing a good deal of interest in the string game but completely eviscerating the little furry mouse tied to one end of the string; later he discovered the cat-nip tea-bag in my satchel and gave himself up to uninhibited indulgence. More surprising, we got to see shy Maya, who came out and took care of what spilled catnip Max had missed, so mellowed out that she actually let me pet her a little. Add to that a friendly encounter with the neighborhood cat when we arrived, and it was a three-cat visit.

Next month our book is something entirely different:  THE SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinett Kowal, which seems to be another of those works that blends Jane Austen style character-interaction romance with fantasy. Wrede and Stevermer pulled it off with SORCERY AND CECELIA (perhaps because they refrained from too closely coping Austen, simply using her as inspiration rather than a template), while Galen Beckett failed with his MRS QUENT (which came across as an unblended pastiche of Austen, Bronte, and early Dickens --in sequence, not blended into a coherent whole). Here's hoping Kowal has better luck.

--John R.
just finished: FOREIGN DEVILS (a DOCTOR WHO novel featuring Thomas Carnacki)
just started: THE SHADOW OF REICHENBACH FALLS by John R. King (a Holmes/Carnacki crossover)
yesterday's song: RED RUBBER BALL by The Cyrkle
today's song: '65 LOVE AFFAIR by Paul Davis

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