Ghosts of the Chit-Chat

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My latest cover for Swan River Press is very suitable for the season, It’s also a good example of the “window” type of cover design, where you show a view into a scene rather than a flat design. Window covers are common in fantasy and science fiction, less so in the horror genre where you often want to avoid giving too much away. The “Chit-Chat” of the title was The Chit-Chat Club, a group of students and tutors at King’s College, Cambridge:

On the evening of Saturday, 28 October 1893, Cambridge University’s Chit-Chat Club convened its 601st meeting. Ten members and one guest gathered in the rooms of Montague Rhodes James, the Junior Dean of King’s College, and listened — with increasing absorption one suspects — as their host read “Two Ghost Stories”.

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat celebrates this momentous event in the history of supernatural literature, the earliest dated record we have of M. R. James reading his ghost stories out loud. And it revives the contributions that other members made to the genre; men of imagination who invoked the ghostly in their work, and who are now themselves shades. In a series of essays, stories, and poems Robert Lloyd Parry looks at the history and culture of the Club.

In addition to tales and poems never before reprinted, Ghosts of the Chit-Chat features earlier, slightly different versions of two of M. R. James’s best-known ghost stories; Robert Lloyd Parry’s profiles and commentaries on each featured Chit-Chat member sheds new light on this supernatural tradition, making Ghosts of the Chit-Chat a valuable resource for casual readers and long-time Jamesians alike. (more)

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The full picture which will be a little cropped on the print version. Here you get to see more aspidistra.

The brief for the cover was to show a view of an empty room in a manner similar to the covers drawn by “Ionicus” (Joshua Charles Armitage) in the 1970s and 80s for a series of supernatural story collections. After looking at a number of these covers I took Tune in for Fear as a template; I liked the angle of the picture which offered a view of a welcoming fireplace to contrast with the night sky seen on the back of the book, and the two-point perspective makes a change from my tendency to create symmetrical pictures. The inhabitants of the Ionicus room seem to have either fled or been abducted whereas mine have either just left or are soon to arrive. The clock on the mantelpiece is almost at midnight, and there’s a Chit-Chat invitation next to it so I’d suggest the latter. The picture contains a number of references to the stories and poems in the book, although not as many as I’d originally intended when several of the pieces proved resistant to having their contents reduced to a single detail. I won’t list everything here since I’d prefer readers to try and match the details themselves.

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat will be published in December, and is available for pre-order here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Far Tower: Stories for WB Yeats
The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray

The Cthulhu Mythos in the pulps

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The Nameless City: First published in The Wolverine, November 1921. Reprinted in Weird Tales, November 1928. Illustration by Joseph Doolin.

This would have been “The Cthulhu Mythos in Weird Tales” if some of HP Lovecraft’s more substantial stories hadn’t been published elsewhere. To prevent sprawl I’ve limited the list to Lovecraft’s own stories even though the Mythos takes in the work of contemporaries such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Zealia Bishop, August Derleth and others. I like seeing the first appearance in print of familiar tales, and I like seeing their accompanying illustrations even if the drawings are inferior pieces, which they often were for the first decade of Weird Tales. These are the short-story equivalent of first editions, and in the case of The Call of Cthulhu you get to see the first printing anywhere of that mysterious name.

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The Hound: Weird Tales, February 1924. Illustration by William Fred Heitman.

This issue is also notable for a story by Burton Peter Thom which shares a title with a Mythos-derived song by Metallica, The Thing That Should Not Be.

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The Festival: Weird Tales, January 1925. Illustration by Andrew Brosnatch.

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The Colour Out of Space: Amazing Stories, September 1927. Illustration by JM de Aragon.

Lovecraft didn’t think that Weird Tales would appreciate this one even though it’s more horror than science fiction so he sent it to Amazing Stories instead.

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The Call of Cthulhu: Weird Tales, February 1928. Illustration by Hugh Rankin.

It’s doubtful that Rankin, Senf and co. would have been up to the task of depicting Great Cthulhu or the non-Euclidean nightmare of R’lyeh, but this hardly excuses editor Farnsworth Wright’s decision to give the cover to Elliott O’Donnell’s ridiculous ghost table.

Continue reading “The Cthulhu Mythos in the pulps”

Drone month

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October is drone month. July is often drone month as well, if the heat rises to a degree that I can’t bear to listen to anything more taxing than Main, On Land, or the Paul Schütze recordings that feature thunderstorms. But October owns the drone because it also owns Halloween, as I noted in this Halloween playlist. The first entry there, Zeit by Tangerine Dream, is such a perennial favourite that it’s one of the few albums I can imagine writing about for the 33 1/3 books. But this year Zeit has been competing for haunted airtime with the Cthulhu album from Cryo Chamber, a label devoted to the darker end of the ambient spectrum, where choral throngs in colossal chambers are scoured by the katabatic winds that howl through vast subterranean chasms while Thrones of Darkness brood with Amorphous Abominations in the Illimitable Void etc etc. The Cthulhu album is the first in a series of Lovecraft-themed collaborations by Cryo Chamber artists, with each release taking a Cthulhu Mythos god as its subject. I still find this one to be the best of the series so far, not least because the character of Lovecraft’s tentacled monstrosity is more clearly defined than the other gods which lends more definition to the musical illustration. There are no separate tracks on these albums, all the pieces are mixes that cover the sides of one or more compact discs, blending the contributions of the different artists into a single work. The Cthulhu drones are suitably sub-oceanic, like Eric Holm’s Barotrauma with added cosmic horror, a suite of restless stirrings from the Thing that lies dreaming at Point Nemo. Towards the end the Thing awakens to wreak havoc upon the upstart human world, but not before we’ve heard a mutant voice daring to speak aloud the invocation from The Call of Cthulhu.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hodgsonian vibrations

Weekend links 540

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A century before William Burroughs: The Wild Boys of London (1866). No author credited.

• “Acid, nudity and sci-fi nightmares: why Hawkwind were the radicals of 1970s rock.” I like a headline guaranteed to upset old punks, even though many old punks had been Hawkwind fans. As noted last week, Joe Banks’ Hawkwind: Days of the Underground is now officially in print, hence this substantial Guardian feature in which the author reprises his core thesis. Mathew Lyons reviewed the book for The Quietus.

• “Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti each explored Pan-Africanism and diasporic solidarity their own way before their meeting in 1979.” John Morrison on the Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti collaboration, Music Of Many Colours.

• “In 1938, Joan Harrison read a galley of Daphne Du Maurier’s masterpiece. She wouldn’t rest until she had the rights to adapt it.” Christina Lane on Rebecca at 80, and the women behind the Hitchcock classic.

Each page features a distinct moment, seen from one perspective on the front, and from a diametrically opposed angle on the back, occasionally pivoting, for instance, between interior and exterior spaces. This organizing principle is complicated by the fact that a given image might be a depiction of the physical environment surrounding the camera or, at other times, a photograph of a photograph. Midway through, the scene is inverted such that the volume must be turned upside-down to be looked at right-side up. The result is an elegant, disorienting study in simultaneity that allows the viewer to enter the work from either end.

Cover to Cover (1975), a book by Michael Snow, has been republished by Light Industry and Primary Information

• At Public Domain Review: The Uncertain Heavens—Christiaan Huygens’ Ideas of Extraterrestrial Life by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.

• Penny Dreadfuls and Murder Broadsides: John Boardley explores the early days of pulp fiction and what he calls “murder fonts”.

• The lesbian partnership that changed literature: Emma Garman on Jane Heap, Margaret C. Anderson and The Little Review.

The 10th Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition is now open to entries. (Titter ye not.)

• Death Barge Life: Colin Fleming on Gericault’s grim masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…The Grand Grimoire: The Red Dragon (1702).

Music To Be Murdered By (1958) Jeff Alexander With Alfred Hitchcock | Murder Boy (1991) by Rain Parade | Murder In The Red Barn (1992) by Tom Waits

The écorché saint

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An addendum to the previous post after Daniel in the comments reminded me of Saint Bartholomew who is often depicted in paintings and sculptures carrying his flayed skin. Having suffered considerable torture, Bartholomew spends eternity as the patron saint of tanners and leatherworkers. This sounds like a cruel joke on the part of medieval martyrologists but the history of the Christian church contains many such ironies, along with some equally surprising imagery. The luckier saints, like Lucy and Agatha of Sicily, are shown in paintings with their gouged eyes and lopped breasts restored in Heaven, the original (miraculously unbloody) articles being proffered to the viewer on plates; Peter of Verona, meanwhile, offers benedictions to the faithful with the hatchet that killed him still protruding from his head. The sculpture of Bartholomew by Marco d’Agrate in Milan Cathedral dates from 1562, and is more écorché than saint, a marvellous exercise in anatomical fidelity that just happens to double as a religious icon.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Écorché
Cephalophores