Weekend links 410

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William Hope Hodgson’s final Carnacki mystery, The Hog, received its first magazine publication in January 1947. The cover art by AR Tilburne may not have been originally created for Hodgson’s tale but it complements the story’s atmosphere of febrile dread.

• It’s still April so that means it’s still the month that saw the 100th anniversary of the death of William Hope Hodgson, bodybuilder, manacler of Harry Houdini, and the author of several novels of weird fiction that continue to entrance new generations of readers. The edition of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland that I illustrated for Swan River Press would have been on sale this month but print problems have caused delays with the run as a whole; anyone interested is advised to contact the publisher for news. • Meanwhile, Jon Mueller (composer of the book’s accompanying soundtrack CD) and myself talked to Swan River Press about the attractions of Hodgson’s novel. • More Hodgsoniana: Greydogtales acknowledged the Hodgson centenary via a discussion with Hodgson scholar Sam Gafford, while Michael Dirda reviewed the new edition of The House on the Borderland and another SRP title, The Scarlet Soul (whose cover I also designed), for The Washington Post.

• “From the ashes of countless decayed Modernities comes Neo-Decadence, a profaned cathedral whose broken stained glass windows still glitter irregularly in the harsh light of a Symbolist sun. Behind this marvellously vandalised edifice, a motley band of revellers picnic in the graveyard of the Real, leaving behind all manner of rotting delicacies and toxic baubles in their wake.” Drowning in Beauty: The Neo-Decadent Anthology edited by Daniel Corrick & Justin Isis is published this month by Snuggly Books, an imprint whose catalogue of new books and first-time translations will be of interest to anyone who comes here for Decadence, Symbolism or anything related. Related to the above: A Neo-Decadence Day at Dennis Cooper’s.

• “Witches are change-makers. They’re transgressive beings who dwell on the fringes of society, and so they’re the perfect icon for rebels, outsiders, and rabble-rousers, especially those of the female persuasion.” Pam Grossman talks to Grimoire about witchcraft and related arts.

• Mixes of the week: Resident Advisor Podcast 621 by Grouper, and Bacchus Beltane 5: The Owl Service by The Ephemeral Man.

• Back in black: Publisher/translator James Conway and designer Cara Schwartz on the cover designs of Rixdorf Editions.

• I was talking again this week at The Writer’s Corner where JKA Short asked me about working as an illustrator.

All Gates Open: The Story of Can by Rob Young is published next week. The Wire has an extract.

• Delusional Albion: Brad Stevens on how foreign directors saw Britain in the Swinging Sixties.

• “There’s no book I love more than Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature,” says Olivia Laing.

Eden Tizard on Soliloquy For Lilith, the drone album by Nurse With Wound.

Owls (1969) by Ruth White | Decadent & Symmetrical (1995) by ELpH vs Coil | The Owls (2013) by Félicia Atkinson

Weekend links 252

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Waiting by Liz Brizzi.

• “Music, politics, sex, and art were also widely represented by Evergreen. Gerald Ford famously maligned the magazine on the floor of Congress for printing the likeness of Richard Nixon next to a nude photo.” Jonathon Sturgeon on the return of an avant-garde institution.

• “The hallucinogenic properties of language are widely recognized by all repressive societies…which treat words like other tightly controlled substances.” Askold Melnyczuk reviews Where the Bird Sings Best, a novel by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

• Mixes of the week: A Mix For Thomas Carnacki by Jon Brooks whose Music for Thomas Carnacki has been reissued on vinyl; Solid Steel Radio Show 27/3/2015 by DJ Food.

One of the few vice-friendly cities left in the US, New Orleans remains his spiritual home, or whatever the atheist equivalent is. Waters’ supposed favourite bar in the world is here in the historic French Quarter. The Corner Pocket is a gay dive bar with tattooed strippers—filthy in exactly the way Waters likes.

“Trash and camp just don’t cut it any more,” he told a rapt audience at his interview panel on Friday. “Filth still has a punch to it. The right kind of people understand it and it frightens away the timid.”

John Waters growing older disgracefully

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti are being republished in a single edition by Penguin. Jeff VanderMeer wrote the foreword.

• “The film is brimming with Bacchanalian revelry, arcane mystery and mortal dread.” Robert Bright on The Saragossa Manuscript by Wojciech Has.

Alistair Livingston has posted page scans from When Darkness Dawns, volume two of his zine from the early 80s, The Encyclopedia of Ecstasy.

• “Without first understanding the flâneur we cannot understand the development of arcades,” says Aaron Coté.

• At A Journey Round My Skull: Jo Daemen cover designs; at 50 Watts: the art of Manuel Bujados.

• Vast spacecraft and megastructures: Jeff Love on the science-fiction art of Chris Foss.

• At Dangerous Minds: RE/Search’s Vale on JG Ballard and William Burroughs.

• RIP John Renbourn

Pentangling (1968) by Pentangle | Lyke-Wake Dirge (1969) by Pentangle | Lord Franklin (1970) by Pentangle

Haunted Corridors: The Temporal Enigmas of Sapphire and Steel

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All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel.

Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Voiceover at the beginning of each episode

Having revisited a fair amount of old television in the past few years I thought I was past being surprised, but this came as a revelation. Sapphire and Steel appeared at exactly the wrong moment for me to fully appreciate it the first time round. The six storylines ran on the ITV network from 1979 to 1982, a period when my home and personal life was so chaotic that I saw little television at all. At any other time a series featuring a pair of cosmic investigators immersed in mysteries involving haunted railway stations and people escaping from photographs would have been essential viewing. Sapphire and Steel was never repeated after those original screenings so watching the entire run recently has been like seeing it for the first time. In recent years the series has been included in discussion of the weirder British television of past decades; China Miéville in his interview in The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale describes Sapphire and Steel as the strangest thing ever screened on British TV. After reading that, and a couple of other appraisals, I felt obliged to refresh my vague memories.

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Assignment One: Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum).

Superficially, Sapphire and Steel belongs to the occult-detective subgenre, a minor category of weird fiction that in its early days included characters such as Sheridan Le Fanu’s Dr Martin Hesselius, Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki and others. But several factors set Sapphire and Steel apart from their more staid predecessors: occult detectives are generally solitary figures whereas Sapphire and Steel operate as a pair; Sapphire is a woman in a field more commonly occupied by middle-aged men; and most striking of all, both Sapphire and Steel are supernatural beings themselves, dispatched to Earth by agencies we never see and learn nothing about, in order to mend ruptures in the flow of Time. Supernatural detectives had appeared in comic books before this but there’s no evidence that series creator PJ Hammond was considering such antecedents when he wrote The Time-Menders (as Sapphire and Steel was originally known). A few years earlier Hammond had been writing for Ace of Wands (1970–72), a mildly hippyish children’s TV series whose hero, Tarot, was a youthful stage magician with genuine occult powers. Between stage shows, Tarot and friends investigated supernatural events. Sapphire and Steel had originally been planned as a series for children but before the first script was finished it was moved to an early evening slot, thus allowing for darker and more adult-oriented material.

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Assignment Two: the haunted railway station. The clothing worn by the pair changes with each assignment; on this occasion they’re in evening dress.

One of the attractions of Sapphire and Steel in a genre replete with origins and canonical histories is how little is explained about the two main characters, the source of their assignments, or even the true nature of the malevolent forces they have to face. Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) embody the materials after which they’re named, the pair being part of a team of elemental operatives some of whose names are listed in the voiceover that introduces each episode. We only encounter two others: Lead (Val Pringle), a huge African-American man with superior strength; and Silver (David Collings), an effete and dandyish Englishman with abilities to mould metals, fix machines and replicate objects. Sapphire’s abilities are mainly psychometric—she reads the history and condition of people and places—but she can also rewind time for short periods; Steel is as cold and unyielding as his name; he’s fiercely analytical, often bad-tempered and also strong enough to tie a knot in a lift cable.

Continue reading “Haunted Corridors: The Temporal Enigmas of Sapphire and Steel”

Hodgsonian vibrations

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Illustration by Frank Utpatel from the 1947 Arkham House edition of Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder.

“Presently I got hold of myself a bit, and marked out a pentacle hurriedly with chalk on the polished floor; and there I sat in it almost until dawn. And all the time, away up the corridor, the door of the Grey Room thudded at solemn and horrid intervals. It was a miserable, brutal night.”

The Gateway of the Monster (1913) by William Hope Hodgson

“Word falling – Photo falling – Time falling – Break through in Grey Room”

The Ticket That Exploded (1962) by William S. Burroughs

Among other things, 2013 is the centenary of the first book publication of William Hope Hodgson’s collection of weird tales, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, and while I don’t believe that William Burroughs was referring to the supernatural eruption that occurs in Hodgson’s Grey Room it would be remiss of me to ignore the connection. Listening this week to Music for Thomas Carnacki by Jon Brooks (he of The Advisory Circle) had me wondering whether there’s any other Hodgson-derived music of note. Lovecraft has inspired hours of musical endeavour while Hodgson’s weird contemporaries, Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, are referenced on some of the Ghost Box releases. Hodgson is the poor relation in these celebrations, often passed over despite the sonic potential of Carnacki stories such as The Whistling Room, The Horse of the Invisible, and especially The Hog, a tale whose manifestations are almost wholly perceived through the medium of sound. Searching around turned up the following examples.

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Borderlands (1999) by Tactile.

The House on the Borderland is the big favourite in this list, this album being a series of tracks by John Everall based on Hodgson’s novel. John Balance of Coil appears on the first track, Grief, reading the poem which opens the book.

Continue reading “Hodgsonian vibrations”

The Horse of the Invisible

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Can Carnacki make any claim to be taken seriously as a detective? If he solves anything it is by force of will, rather than the application of deductive powers. He is no Sherlockian ironist, no high-domed mental traveller. He stands as close to Holmes as Mike Hammer does to Philip Marlowe. His methods are enthusiastic but basic: good old-fashioned head-in-the-door stuff. He is not so much a “ghostbuster” as a self-starting lightning rod for psychic phenomena that has not yet been housebroken.

Thus Iain Sinclair in a typically acerbic afterword to the 1991 Grafton paperback of Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder by William Hope Hodgson. Holmes would indeed look askance at Carnacki’s methods but that didn’t prevent the occult investigator being drafted as one of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes in the first television series of that name in 1971. I was reminded of this dramatisation following last week’s discussion of Hodgsonian cinema; I’ve known about the episode for years—notable for having Donald Pleasence in the role of Thomas Carnacki—but hadn’t watched it until this week courtesy of YouTube.

Philip Mackie wrote the script for The Horse of the Invisible, and Alan Cooke was the director. Their adaptation is interesting mostly for seeing a Hodgson story dramatised; as a piece of television the presentation is serious and well-acted but looks rather creaky today, suffering from the over-lit artificiality that always blighted studio-shot productions attempting to create any kind of atmosphere. Donald Pleasence is his typical lugubrious self which doesn’t really suit Carnacki’s bull-headed enthusiasm but I don’t mind that, Pleasence was a good actor so it’s a treat to see him play the part. And we do get to see Carnacki’s “electric pentacle” in action (Carnacki enjoys his Edwardian gadgets) in the midst of which the beleagured Michele Dotrice is forced to spend the night. The most successful Carnacki stories are those that play to Hodgson’s strengths as a writer of supernatural dread, stories such as The Gateway of the Monster or The Hog. The Horse of the Invisible doesn’t attain the heights of those tales but then it would be a doomed venture trying to conjure Hodgson’s cosmic horrors on a limited budget. With this story you get a taste of the supernatural, which no doubt sets it apart from the other “Rivals”, whilst staying within the bounds of credibility.

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There’s one curious detail worth mentioning: in both the story and the dramatisation the character of the fiancé is named “Charles Beaumont”. There was a real Charles Beaumont, a screenwriter responsible for many scripts for The Twilight Zone TV series, as well as for some of the superior American horror films of the 1960s, including Night of the Eagle, The Haunted Palace (Roger Corman’s adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) and The Masque of the Red Death. In last week’s discussion I mentioned John Carpenter’s The Fog as a good example of Hodgsonian cinema on account of its ghost pirates. My memory may be playing tricks but I’m sure that Carpenter has a reference to a “Charlie Beaumont” in either The Fog or Halloween, both films being littered with significant character names. (There’s a “Mr Machen” in The Fog). Donald Pleasence was in Halloween, of course, playing a doctor with a name lifted from Psycho. I’ve searched in vain for the Beaumont reference; does this ring a bell for any Carpenter-philes?

Both series of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes are available from Network DVD.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tentacles #2: The Lost Continent
Tentacles #1: The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’
Hodgson versus Houdini
Weekend links: Hodgson edition
“The game is afoot!”
Druillet meets Hodgson