The Time Machine

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The Time Machine (1960).

The turning over of the calendar from one year to the next makes this day the ideal moment to write something about HG Wells’ celebrated story. Having re-read The Magic Shop before Christmas I decided to refresh my reading habit—lapsed these past months due to pressure of work—by revisiting more of Wells’ short stories, many of which I haven’t looked at for years.

As I said in that earlier post, it was The Time Machine that led me to Wells’ written work after being excited at an early age by George Pal’s 1960 film adaptation. Reading the story again I’m still astonished by how advanced it is compared to everything else being published in 1895. Michael Moorcock’s excellent introductory essay, The Time of ‘The Time Machine’ (1993), notes that time travel per se wasn’t a new idea for Victorian readers, there were many novels and stories using the theme, most of them merely displacing a character from one age to the next in a very simple manner. Wells’ innovation was the idea of a machine which would give the user mastery of Time itself. Moorcock also notes that Wells considered this to be his one great idea which he always felt he never exploited as fully as he wished. The need to make a living forced him to set down the story in some haste when it was accepted for serialisation in WE Henley’s New Review. (Moorcock’s introduction can be found in a recent collection London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction).

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The other notable feature this time round—and this means more to me than it would to many other readers—was being struck by the way Wells’ story prefigures so much of the fiction William Hope Hodgson would be writing a decade or so later. It’s a commonplace among Hodgson scholars that The Night Land (1912) owes something to the scenes when the Time Traveller journeys beyond the age of the Eloi and Morlocks to a period when the Earth is dead and the Sun has swollen to a baleful giant. Some of the more cosmic moments of The House on the Borderland (1908) can also be traced back to these scenes. I’d argue that the Time Traveller’s earlier battles with the Morlocks prefigure and possibly influence similar battles in The Night Land, and the attacks of the Swine-Things in Borderland. There’s even a moment near the end of Wells’ story when the Time Traveller is menaced by giant crustaceans like those which infest Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea. This may not be a fresh observation but it’s not one I’ve seen elaborated before.

Regular readers will know it’s a habit here to seek out illustrations of favourite stories. In the case of The Time Machine there are hundreds to choose from so the following selection barely scratches the surface. Something I’d not noticed before when looking at comic strip adaptations is that none of the works derived from Wells’ story (George Pal’s film included) seem able to countenance the Time Traveller’s abandoning of Weena to the Morlocks when the pair become trapped outdoors at night; all show the Time Traveller doing his best to rescue her. William Hope Hodgson’s fiction is filled with rescues, sieges and the defence of the weak against marauding and inhuman forces; The Night Land concerns an epic and apparently suicidal rescue mission across the most inhospitable terrain imaginable. It may be stretching a point but it’s possible to see much of Hodgson’s fiction as being a riposte to this incident in Wells’ story.

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Illustration by George Saunders (August, 1950).

Recurrent points of interest in illustrations of Wells’ story are i) How is the Time Machine itself depicted? (The author’s descriptions are evasive), and ii) How are the Morlocks depicted? Wells describes them thus:

‘I turned with my heart in my mouth, and saw a queer little ape-like figure, its head held down in a peculiar manner, running across the sunlit space behind me. It blundered against a block of granite, staggered aside, and in a moment was hidden in a black shadow beneath another pile of ruined masonry.

‘My impression of it is, of course, imperfect; but I know it was a dull white, and had strange large greyish-red eyes; also that there was flaxen hair on its head and down its back. But, as I say, it went too fast for me to see distinctly. I cannot even say whether it ran on all-fours, or only with its forearms held very low.

George Saunders’ small Gollum-like creatures are closer to Wells’ conception than many later depictions. Saunders’ Weena, on the other hand, is far too tall for the equally diminutive Eloi.

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Virgil Finlay (1950).

This is still my favourite Time Machine illustration but then Finlay has a tendency to beat everyone when it comes to these assignments. His illustrations appeared inside the August, 1950 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Wells’ sphinx has wings which I imagine Finlay might have included if he wasn’t restricted by the space allowed for his illustration. He also provided the illustration of a Morlock below.

Continue reading “The Time Machine”

Weekend links 132

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La Hora del Fantasma (no date) by Joaquim Pla Janini.

• Many of the art links featured here are tips from Thom Ayres, so it’s only right to point to his new album project which he’s funding through Kickstarter and embellishing with his own nature photography.

• Anne Billson is another writer beguiled by Philippe Jullian’s masterwork, Dreamers of Decadence. And thanks to Ms Billson for drawing attention to the insane opening of Crime Without Passion (1934).

• Does this fake ad for The Necronomicon use one of my Cthulhu pictures? Possibly. Get the picture for yourself in this year’s Cthulhu calendar. (My thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy so far.)

To break the ice, I talk about books: he is delighted to discover that I have read his beloved Denton Welch, also J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment With Time. I have found them in my old school library, and know both have been a tremendous influence on him in different ways. Knowing of his interest I also mention that I have just read Colin Wilson’s The Quest For Wilhelm Reich, published the year before. He likes Wilson, he says, jokes that “the Colonel” with his cottage in Wales in Wilson’s Return of the Lloigor and his own Colonel Sutton-Smith from The Discipline of DE are one and the same. On something of a roll, I mention Real Magic by Isaac Bonewits, and he acknowledges that it has “some good information” – but is much more enthusiastic about Magic: An Occult Primer by David Conway [years later I would discover that Burroughs & Conway had in fact exchanged letters on various subjects pertaining to magic, occultism, and psychic phenomena – but that is decidedly another story!]

Matthew Levi Stevens recalls The Final Academy and an encounter with William Burroughs thirty years ago.

Locomotif: A short survey of trains, music & experiments: Gautam Pemmaraju on Kraftwerk, Pierre Schaeffer, Luigi Russolo and others.

A flip-through of The Graphic Canon, volume 2. Wait to the end and you’ll see a couple of my Dorian Gray pages. Imprint has a review of the book.

• Julian Bell reviews two new books about Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Alan Moore talks to The Occupied Times about art, education and anarchism.

• Colin Dickey reviews Vilém Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise.

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Las Parcas II (1930) by Joaquim Pla Janini.

• Michael Newton reviews A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke.

• Golden Age Comic Book Stories revisits the work of Sidney Sime.

Front Free Endpaper asks “What’s in an inscription…?”

Mormon Missionary Positions

Amateur Aesthete

Ghosts (1981) by Japan | Ghosts (2008) by Ladytron | Ghosts (2012) by Monolake.

The Garden of Adompha

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…the growths of that garden were such as no terrestrial sun could have fostered, and Dwerulas said that their seed was of like origin with the globe. There were pale, bifurcated trunks that strained upwards as if to disroot themselves from the ground, unfolding immense leaves like the dark and ribbed wings of dragons. There were amaranthine blossoms, broad as salvers, supported by arm-thick stems that trembled continually.

And there were many other weird plants, diverse as the seven hells, and having no common characteristics other than the scions which Dwerulas had grafted upon them here and there through his unnatural and necromantic art.

These scions were the various parts and members of human beings. Consummately, and with never failing success, the magician had joined them to the half-vegetable, half-animate stocks on which they lived and grew thereafter, drawing an ichor-like sap. Thus were preserved the carefully chosen souvenirs of a multitude of persons who had inspired Dwerulas and the king with distaste or ennui. On palmy boles, beneath feathery-tufted foliage, the heads of eunuchs hung in bunches, like enormous black drupes. A bare, leafless creeper was flowered with the ears of delinquent guardsmen. Misshapen cacti were fruited with the breasts of women, or foliated with their hair. Entire limbs or torsos had been united with monstrous trees. Some of the huge salver-like blossoms bore palpitating hearts, and certain smaller blooms were centered with eyes that still opened and closed amid their lashes. And there were other graftings, too obscene or repellent for narration.

Thus Clark Ashton Smith in The Garden of Adompha, one of the stories in the author’s Zothique cycle which was first published in Weird Tales in April, 1938. Zothique was Smith’s contribution to the Dying Earth subgenre, sixteen stories set on the last continent in the final days of the Earth, and a home to no end of sorcery and cruelty. I’ve always enjoyed this subgenre, especially in the hands of Jack Vance whose later Dying Earth stories show the influence of Zothique, so these are some of my favourites among Smith’s prodigious output. The Garden of Adompha is a particularly grotesque piece, concerning the sequestered garden of the title to which King Adompha has undesirables removed. Once there his wizard, Dwerulas, drugs the victims and grafts parts of their bodies to the garden’s hothouse plants. Virgil Finlay’s cover painting downplays the horror somewhat, and Dwerulas’s supine prey, Thuloneah, looks like a very typical American girl, but then for a story that reads like a pulp equivalent of Octave Mirbeau it’s surprising it made the cover at all.

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Re-reading some of Smith’s stories over the past week, The Garden of Adompha among them, there’s been the additional pleasure of searching for illustrations from their original publication. I knew that Virgil Finlay had painted this cover, one of the few cover features Smith received from Weird Tales, but Alistair Durie’s Weird Tales (1979) collection only has a monochrome reproduction. The always reliable Golden Age Comic Book Stories not only has a copy of Finlay’s original painting but also the interior illustration which looks like a litho drawing rather than the artist’s more usual scratchboard. The most recent book collection featuring the story was The Collected Fantasies Of Clark Ashton Smith Volume 5: The Last Hieroglyph (2010) from Night Shade Books. (I would have linked to the publisher’s page but their site seems to be broken.)

Update: Golden Age Comic Book Stories changed its name then vanished altogether. The picture links here have been updated.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Vathek illustrated
The Vengeance of Nitocris
The House of Orchids by George Sterling
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Odes and Sonnets by Clark Ashton Smith
The King in Yellow
Clark Ashton Smith book covers

Weekend links 121

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Title spread for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011) edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer.

I was surprised this week to find myself nominated as Best Artist in the World Fantasy Awards. The results will be announced at the World Fantasy Convention in November. Among the books nominated for Best Anthology is the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities for which I provided title page designs and some illustrations. Editors Ann & Jeff are well-represented (and ought to win for their landmark The Weird anthology), and I’m pleased to see Mark Valentine receive a nod for his excellent Wormwood magazine. Mark and Roger Dobson published my first Lovecraft adaptation, The Haunter of the Dark, in a large-format edition under their Caermaen imprint in 1988.

I remember having a conversation with my father about it. I told him what I’d really have liked to find, in my exhaustive search of the canon, was a gay superhero. You know: fucking dudes, saving the world. Never mind the fact that superheroes, with their notoriously contour-hugging apparel, are usually assumed gay by default. I wanted something that had existed, something from history. My father considered my criteria.

“I think what you want is Gore Vidal.”

Henry Giardina on Gore Vidal’s Bully Republic at the Paris Review.

• Appreciations and memorials for the late Gore Vidal continue to surface: “He was punk rock with a traditional, smooth exterior. But there was nothing traditional about him, not really. He defied singular category,” says Aaron Tilford at Lambda Literary. “Jokes course through Vidal’s entropy-heavy commentaries like a warm, reviving current. They, more than the barbs to which they form a counterpoint, are what make his essays a continuing pleasure to read,” says “J.C.” at the TLS.

• “Winterson’s opposition to strict realism is less an artistic critique than a cultural one. She uses the term ‘realism’ to describe an entrenched way of viewing the world, which it is the writer’s duty to challenge.” Hannah Tennant-Moore on Jeanette Winterson at n+1.

The Ghosts of Bush by Robin The Fog: “A final hauntological perambulation around the hidden corners of Bush House, Aldwych, London, June 2012”.

• “For everything that is not shown, the filmmaker counts on the power of imagination of his viewers.” Lebbeus Woods on Chris Marker and La Jetée.

Joseph Burnett on “Rainbow Ambiguity: Defying conservatism in mainstream LGBT culture”.

• Leigh Brackett book and magazine covers at Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

BLDGBLOG visited the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London.

Stilled Life: A collection of photography by Thom Ayres.

• Underground subversion: Stickers on the Central Line.

Andrei Codrescu on five favourite Fantastical Tales.

Vangelis performs an analogue synth freakout for Spanish TV in 1982 | Oro Opus Alter, a track from the forthcoming album by Ufomammut | New World, a track from the forthcoming album by The Irrepressibles. Can’t wait.

Byam Shaw’s Garden of Kama

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The post title sounds like a psychedelic album but the illustrations are from The Garden of Kama (1901), allegedly a collection of Indian love poems “translated by Laurence Hope”. The translator’s real name was Adela Florence Nicolson who no doubt wished to do for India what Edward Fitzgerald had done for Persia but rather than presenting new translations of unknown verse the poems were all her own work. The book survived this mild scandal to be republished several times, the illustrations here by Byam Shaw (1872–1919) being from a 1914 edition. I linked to a selection of these plates last year when they were posted at Golden Age Comic Book Stories but anyone wanting to see the complete book, poems and all, may do so at the Internet Archive.

The content may be Orientalist pastiche but Shaw paid great attention to the decorative details. This is also an adult work, with violence, death and some sexy females. So many illustrated books of this period are children’s stories it can be a surprise to find something where the characters don’t live happily ever after.

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Continue reading “Byam Shaw’s Garden of Kama”