Big fish

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Illustration by Lawrence for The Undying Monster (1946) by Jessie Kerruish.

Another of those collisions between fine art and pulp fiction that I like to note now and then. The drawing above by Lawrence Sterne Stevens (from this page) I immediately recognised as borrowing its fish from the painting below by Néstor Martín-Fernández de la Torre (1887–1938), or Néstor as he’s usually known. Stevens was also usually credited by the single name Lawrence, and this is one of his many first-rate contributions to Famous Fantastic Mysteries. I’ve already noted a similar borrowing by his contemporary, Virgil Finlay, so this example isn’t too surprising. It’s unlikely that many of the readers eagerly devouring Jessie Kerruish’s tale would have been familiar with Néstor’s paintings. On the same Lawrence page there’s his illustration for Arthur Machen’s The Novel of the Black Seal which ran in the same issue.

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Poema del Mar: Noche (1913–1924).

Néstor is distinguished by a predilection for aquarian scenes and writhing figures, all of which are presented in a very distinctive and recognisable style. He also happens to be one of the few major artists to come from the Canary Islands which no doubt explains his interest in the sea. The Poema del Mar series, and other works such as this satyr head, often find him numbered among the Spanish Symbolists although he’s rather late for that movement, and this assumes that every artist has to be placed in one box or another whether they belong there or not. These giant fish could just as well make him another precursor of the Surrealists, and they do occasionally receive a mention for their similarity to (and possible influence upon) Dalí’s enormous Tuna Fishing (Homage to Meissonier) (1966–67). There’s more of Néstor’s work over at Bajo el Signo de Libra (Spanish language).

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Poema del Mar: Tarde (1913–1924).

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Poema del Mar: Reposo (1913–1924).

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The Island of Doctor Moreau

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Painting by Paul Lehr for the Berkley Highland paperback (1970).

The Island of Doctor Moreau is one of those Victorian novels everyone thinks they know well enough from various film or television adaptations, even when those adaptations have accreted a layer of misconception around the story. In the case of HG Wells’ novel we have The Island of Lost Souls (1932), which the author loathed for its vulgarisations, and which he helped get banned in Britain for many years; the 1977 film directed by Don Taylor which nobody seems to have a good word for; and Richard Stanley’s 1996 adaptation which might have been worthwhile if he hadn’t been kicked off his own film shortly after shooting began. These films may not distort Wells’ novel as much as the numerous adaptations of Dracula, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but they still present a skewed impression of a book which is stranger and more disturbing than any screen version.

Wells’ story purports to be the written account of one Edward Prendick who finds himself on Moreau’s remote island after a shipwreck. The bare bones of the story are familiar: Prendick is rescued by Moreau’s alcoholic assistant, Montgomery, and ends up on the island against the doctor’s wishes. The story deviates from the films very quickly by introducing a setting that’s commonplace in Victorian literature but which Hollywood abhors: the all-male enclave. The Island of Lost Souls put “Edward Parker” on the island with his fiancée but went further (to the outrage of Wells and the British censors) by adding a sexy Panther Woman to the menagerie with whom Moreau encourages Parker to mate. There are women among the “Beast People” in Wells’ novel but we’re assured that they’re as grotesque as their male counterparts.

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Illustration by Lawrence Sterne Stevens (aka Lawrence) for Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1946.

And here we have the second major difference between novel and films: given the limitations of makeup effects—not to say the limitations of the human body—it’s no surprise that the Beast People in the films tend to be like Star Trek aliens, mostly humanoid with a variety of different facial features. Stan Winston’s effects in the 1996 film were the most successful, and were aided considerably by casting a range of actors of different sizes and shapes. All the films tend to present single types, however: wolf-man, cat-woman, bear-man, etc. Wells was writing in 1896 yet his imagination had already brought him this far:

The two most formidable Animal Men were my Leopard-man and a creature made of hyena and swine. Larger than these were the three bull-creatures who pulled in the boat. Then came the silvery-hairy-man, who was also the Sayer of the Law, M’ling, and a satyr-like creature of ape and goat. There were three Swine-men and a Swine-woman, a mare-rhinoceros-creature, and several other females whose sources I did not ascertain. There were several wolf-creatures, a bear-bull, and a Saint-Bernard-man. I have already described the Ape-man, and there was a particularly hateful (and evil-smelling) old woman made of vixen and bear, whom I hated from the beginning. She was said to be a passionate votary of the Law. Smaller creatures were certain dappled youths and my little sloth-creature. But enough of this catalogue.

Later on Moreau has this to say:

“The fact is, after I had made a number of human creatures I made a Thing—” He hesitated.

“Yes?” said I.

“It was killed.”

“I don’t understand,” said I; “do you mean to say—”

“It killed the Kanaka—yes. It killed several other things that it caught. We chased it for a couple of days. It only got loose by accident—I never meant it to get away. It wasn’t finished. It was purely an experiment. It was a limbless thing, with a horrible face, that writhed along the ground in a serpentine fashion. It was immensely strong, and in infuriating pain. It lurked in the woods for some days, until we hunted it; and then it wriggled into the northern part of the island, and we divided the party to close in upon it. Montgomery insisted upon coming with me. The man had a rifle; and when his body was found, one of the barrels was curved into the shape of an S and very nearly bitten through. Montgomery shot the thing. After that I stuck to the ideal of humanity—except for little things.”

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Tentacles #1: The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’

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Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1945. Illustration by Lawrence (Sterne Stevens).

Following last week’s revelation of Lovecraftian horror, I thought it might be worth demonstrating just how much the tentacle-menacing-a-ship scenario is owned by William Hope Hodgson. The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ (1907) is one of Hodgson’s lesser novels, overshadowed by the cosmic horrors of The House on the Borderland and The Night Land, but it’s a memorable work all the same. The narrative fits into his cycle of Sargasso Sea stories: a small band of 18th-century sailors, survivors of the wreck of the ‘Glen Carrig’, drift across the Atlantic into the weed-strewn “cemetery of the oceans” where they have to fight off giant octopuses and the predations of “weed men”, humanoid creatures with tentacular hands. As will be seen below, it’s the attack on a wrecked ship trapped in the weed that many of the illustrators have chosen to focus on.

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Illustration by Lawson Wood (1911).

This was something I hadn’t seen before: an illustration for a story with a scenario very similar to ‘Glen Carrig’ where the sailors journey under canvas in their lifeboats. Another tale of the sinister Sargasso:

This is the fifth message that I have sent abroad over the loathsome surface of this vast Weed-World, praying that it may come to the open sea ere the lifting power of my fire-balloon be gone, and yet, if it come there, how shall I be the better for it? Yet write I must, or go mad, and so I choose to write, though feeling as I write that no living creature, save it be some giant octopus that lives in the weed about me, will ever see the thing I write. (more)

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Les Canots du “Glen Carrig” / La Maison au bord du monde / Les pirates fantômes (1971). Illustration by Philippe Druillet.

A French Hodgson collection, the octopoid cover of which can be seen here. These were the endpapers; the rest of Druillet’s illustrations can be seen here.

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