Beksinski at Mnémos

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More book covers. Mnémos is a French publisher of horror, fantasy and science fiction some of whose recent titles have their covers filled with paintings by the great Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. The pairings of book and picture aren’t always ideal but I appreciate the impulse to choose art from other sources than genre artists. Omni magazine adopted a similar approach in its early issues, matching stories and science features with paintings by artists who are often grouped together as Fantastic Realists: Mati Klarwein, Ernst Fuchs, HR Giger, Bob Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others. Beksinski’s work was less visible in the late 1970s than that of his contemporaries but one of his (always untitled) paintings did appear in a 1993 issue of the magazine.

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Of the Mnémos covers the one for the collection of Averoigne stories by Clark Ashton Smith is the most immediately fitting, Averoigne being an invented region of France that suits a painting of a Gothic cathedral turned fibrous and fungal. The painting for Zothique, on the other hand, could easily be used for HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, while the dog-like creature on the cover of the Frank Belknap Long collection is nothing like the author’s trans-dimensional hounds. Mnémos have given Lovecraft his own Beksinski covers in a seven-volume collection of translated fiction, Lovecraft, l’intégrale prestige, but there doesn’t seem to be a page anywhere that shows the individual books.

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What the artist would have made of all this attention may be gauged by comments like this one from The Fantastic Art of Beksinski (1998): “Meaning is meaningless to me. I do not care for symbolism, and I paint what I paint without meditating on a story.”

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For more about the anti-symbolist, see The Cursed Paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski by Marek Kepa. (As before, my apology to Polish readers for the unaccented names. The blog coding only works with a limited range of accents.)

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The fantastic art archive

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Cosmic music and cosmic horror

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”

More trip texts

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More psychedelia of a sort. Anthologist Michel Parry, who died last year, was a familiar name to British readers of fantasy, horror and science fiction for his themed collections: Beware of the Cat (1972; horror stories about cats), The Devil’s Children (1974; horror stories about children), The Hounds of Hell (1974; horror stories about dogs), Jack the Knife (1975; Jack the Ripper stories), The Supernatural Solution (1976; occult investigators), Sex in the 21st Century (1979), and so on.

Parry also compiled multi-volume anthologies throughout the 1970s, two of which have always stood out for me: the Mayflower Books of Black Magic Stories ran to six volumes presenting a wide range of occult fiction that included a number of obscure tales from Victorian and Edwardian writers; for Panther Books he compiled three collections of drug-related fantasy and SF stories that are just as varied, and may even be unique for the way they place authors as such as Lord Dunsany and Norman Spinrad together in the same volume. Both series are very much of their time—occult psychedelia!—and are worth seeking out, if you can find them. I emphasise the last point because it’s taken me a while to find a copy of Strange Ecstasies that wasn’t being offered for bizarrely inflated prices; my paperback habit has its limits… None of these anthologies have been reprinted so they’ll become increasingly scarce. For more invented drugs, there’s a good list at Wikipedia.

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Cover art by Bob Haberfield.

Strange Ecstasies (1973)
The Plutonian Drug (1934) by Clark Ashton Smith
The Dream Pills (1920) by FH Davis
The White Powder (1895) by Arthur Machen
The New Accelerator (1901) by HG Wells
The Big Fix (1956) by Richard Wilson
The Secret Songs (1962) by Fritz Leiber
The Hounds of Tindalos (1929) by Frank Belknap Long
Subjectivity (1964) by Norman Spinrad
What to Do Until the Analyst Comes (1956) by Frederik Pohl
Pipe Dream (1972) by Chris Miller

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Cover art by Bob Haberfield.

Dream Trips (1974)
The Hashish Man (1910) by Lord Dunsany
As Dreams Are Made On (1973) by Joseph F. Pumilia
The Adventure of the Pipe (1898) by Richard Marsh
Dream-Dust from Mars (1938) by Manly Wade Wellman
The Life Serum (1926) by Paul S. Powers
Morning After (1957) by Robert Sheckley
Under the Knife (1896) by HG Wells
The Good Trip (1970) by Ursula K. Le Guin
No Direction Home (1971) by Norman Spinrad
The Phantom Drug (1926) by AW Kapfer

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Cover art by Brian Froud.

Spaced Out (1977)
The Deep Fix (1964) by Michael Moorcock
All the Weed in the World (1961) by Fritz Leiber
The Roger Bacon Formula (1929) by Fletcher Pratt
Smoke of the Snake (1934) by Carl Jacobi
Melodramine (1965) by Henry Slesar
My Head’s in a Different Place, Now (1972) by Grania Davis
Sky (1971) by RA Lafferty
All of Them Were Empty— (1972) by David Gerrold

Previously on { feuilleton }
Trip texts
Acid albums
Acid covers
Lyrical Substance Deliberated
The Art of Tripping, a documentary by Storm Thorgerson
Enter the Void
In the Land of Retinal Delights
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
The art of LSD
Hep cats

Seward/Howard

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William Burroughs, New York, 1953. Photo by Allen Ginsberg.

Lonely lemur calls whispered in the walls of silent obsidian temples in a land of black lagoons, the ancient rotting kingdom of Jupiter – smelling the black berry smoke drifting through huge spiderwebs in ruined courtyards under eternal moonlight – ghost hands at the paneless windows weaving memories of blood and war in stone shapes – A host of dead warriors stand at petrified statues in vast charred black plains – Silent ebony eyes turned toward a horizon of always, waiting with a patience born of a million years, for the dawn that never rises – Thousands of voices muttered the beating of his heart – gurgling sounds from soaring lungs trailing the neon ghost writing – Lykin lay gasping in the embrace can only be reached through channels running to naked photographic process – molded by absent memory, by vibrating focus scalpel of the fishboy gently in a series of positions running delicious cold fingers “Stand here – Turn around – Bend”

The Ticket that Exploded (1962)

William Burroughs always talked favourably of Ernest Hemingway, and the famously spare style of Hemingway’s prose is evidently a style he sought himself, especially in the later works where there’s less of an emphasis on linguistic pyrotechnics. Something that always strikes me when I return to Burroughs’s earlier novels is the quality of passages like the one above which is a long way from the Hemingway style. What’s even more noticeable—and this is something which attracted me to Burroughs’s work from the outset—is the degree to which some of these passages are reminiscent of HP Lovecraft. In the case of the example above, taken from The Black Meat chapter of The Ticket that Exploded, some of this may be the work of Michael Portman who Burroughs credits as co-writer. What Portman contributed to The Black Meat and another chapter of that novel I’ve never discovered but there are plenty of other examples by Burroughs alone to show that he wasn’t incapable of this himself. The Ticket that Exploded was the first Burroughs book I read, and part of the shock and fascination came from encountering a recognisable Weird Tales-style atmosphere wrenched into inexplicable and thoroughly alien territory.

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Frank Belknap Long and HP Lovecraft, New York, 1931. Photo by WB Talman.

There are others connections beyond literary style. When the Simon Necronomicon was published in 1977 Burroughs was asked to provide a blurb for the book. He wasn’t as effusive as the publishers might have hoped but the dubious volume was still advertised with his recommendation:

Let the secrets of the ages be revealed. The publication of the Necronomicon may well be a landmark in the liberation of the human spirit.

If it wasn’t for this then the extraordinary Invocation which opens Cities of the Red Night (1981) would have been diminished. Among the other “gods of dispersal and emptiness” whose names are called, Burroughs mentions “Kutulu, the Sleeping Serpent who cannot be summoned”, and “the Great Old One”, among a number of the usual Mayan gods, and several Sumerian deities whose descriptions (as with Kutulu) are taken from the pages of the Simon Necronomicon. It’s impossible to imagine Saul Bellow or John Updike opening a novel this way, just as it’s impossible to imagine many genre writers wandering into the areas that Burroughs explores elsewhere in that novel. This is one reason why Burroughs (and JG Ballard) were included in DM Mitchell’s The Starry Wisdom anthology in 1994, an attempt to expand the acceptable boundaries of Lovecraftian fiction, and also wilfully trample the fences that separate the genre and literary camps. I campaigned at the time for The Black Meat chapter to be included but Dave was set on Wind Die, You Die, We Die from Exterminator! (1973), a lesser piece although in the end it didn’t seem out of place in the book as a whole.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Thot-Fal’N, a film by Stan Brakhage
Mr Bradly Mr Martin Hear Us Through The Hole In Thin Air
The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, a film by Gerrit van Dijk
Burroughs at 100
Nova Express, a film by Andre Perkowski
Decoder, a film by Jürgen Muschalek
The Burroughs Century
Interzone: A William Burroughs Mix
Sine Fiction
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
Burroughs: The Movie revisited
Zimbu Xolotl Time
Ah Pook Is Here
Jarek Piotrowski’s Soft Machine
Looking for the Wild Boys
Wroblewski covers Burroughs
Mugwump jism
Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire