August Heat

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Richard Powers (no date) in Cavalier magazine.

Here in The North we may not be sweltering as much as they are in the infernal South but the temperature today is still reaching 28C. Anything higher than this and work becomes impossible when my brain starts to malfunction.

William F. Harvey (1885–1937) wrote two stories that have been anthologised many times: The Beast with Five Fingers is a tale of a disembodied hand; August Heat concerns a fateful encounter at the end of a day like today. Read it here.

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Lynd Ward (1937).

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Edward Gorey (1959).

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Lee Brown Coye (1976).

Illustrating Zothique

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Cover art by George Barr, 1970.

A few years ago I wrote a short piece about Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for a Zothique story by Clark Ashton Smith, The Garden of Adompha, so this post may be regarded as a more substantial sequel. If Smith remains something of a cult author then Zothique is the pre-eminent cult creation from his career as a writer of weird fiction. Most of Smith’s stories can be grouped together according to their location: Atlantis, Hyperborea, Averoigne in medieval France, the planet Mars, and so on. Zothique was a more original conception than his other worlds, being the last continent on Earth in the final years of the planet, an idea which had precedents in earlier novels such as William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land but which hadn’t been used before as a setting for a cycle of stories. The distant future suggests science fiction but, as with the Zothique-influenced Dying Earth of Jack Vance, science and technology is long-forgotten and sorcery rules the day. The poetry that Smith wrote before he took to writing short stories had a distinctly Decadent quality—”like a verbal Gustave Moreau painting“—and Zothique is a richly Decadent world, with the entire planet in a state of decay along with its barbarous, demon-worshipping peoples.

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Weird Tales, September 1932. Art by T. Wyatt Nelson.

All the Zothique stories had their first printings in Weird Tales, a magazine that ran illustrations with most contributions, but unless you’re a pulp collector many of the illustrations have been difficult to see until very recently. One of the pleasures of looking through fiction magazines is seeing how their stories might have been illustrated when they were first published. Popular tales eventually find their way into book collections but their illustrations tend to be marooned in the titles where they first appeared unless the artist is of sufficient merit to warrant a collection of their own.

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Weird Tales, March 1933. Art by Jayem Wilcox.

The examples here are all from recent uploads at the Internet Archive which now has a complete run of Weird Tales from 1923 to 1954. The illustrations also run in order of publication with links to the relevant issues, although I agree with Lin Carter’s ordering of the stories. Smith never organised them himself, and the later reprints from Arkham House and others tend to scatter them through separate volumes. When Lin Carter edited the Zothique collection in 1970 he put the stories into an order that follows the very loose chronology running through the cycle.

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Weird Tales, January 1934. Art by Clark Ashton Smith.

One surprise of this search was discovering that Smith himself had provided illustrations for several of the stories. Some Smith enthusiasts like his drawings and paintings but I’m afraid I’m not among them, his sculpture work is better. It’s doubtful that these would have been printed at all if they weren’t the work of the author.

Continue reading “Illustrating Zothique”

Weekend links 167

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Poster by Luke Insect & Kenn Goodall.

In recent years I’ve had little patience for British cinema: too much dour “realism” with little of Alan Clarke’s vitality, too many comedies that aren’t funny, too many Hollywood calling cards, too much Colin Firth… So it’s been a pleasure to see Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio followed this month by Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England, a pair of films that stand out by daring to be different in a medium which seems to grow more creatively conservative with each passing year. A Field In England adds to the micro-genre of weird British films set around the time of the English Civil War. In place of witchfinders and devil worshippers we have magic, murder, madness, and a field of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Wheatley, like Strickland, takes risks that wouldn’t be allowed with a bigger budget which makes me excited to see what they’ll be doing next. A Field In England is already out on DVD & Blu-ray. The trailer is here. The director talked to Mat Colegate about the genesis of the film (spoiler alert). There’s more big hats and cloaks in this list of ten 17th century films.

• “I like to look at men…the way they look at women,” photographer Ingrid Berthon-Moine says about her pictures of sculpted testicles.

Roger Dean has finally sued James Cameron over the designs for Avatar. Will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

• Google has taken its Street View cameras to Battleship Island, “the most desolate city on earth“.

• The strange fantasy novels of Edward Whittemore are available again in digital editions.

Julia Holter talks about her forthcoming Gigi-inspired album Loud City Song.

• At Pinterest: Maneki-neko, the beckoning cat of good fortune.

Beautiful Books: Decorative Publishers’ Cloth Bindings.

• The abstract paintings of Hilma af Klint (1862–1944).

Lee Brown Coye illustrates August Derleth in 1945.

Bill Laswell’s discography intimidates the collector.

• Mix of the week: Kit Mix #23 by Joseph Burnett.

• The Soundcarriers: Last Broadcast (2010) | Signals (2010) | This Is Normal (2012)

Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space

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Die Farbe (2010).

The colour, which resembled some of the bands in the meteor’s strange spectrum, was almost impossible to describe; and it was only by analogy that they called it colour at all. Its texture was glossy, and upon tapping it appeared to promise both brittleness and hollowness.

The Colour Out of Space (1927).

Die Farbe (The Colour) is a German feature film by Huan Vu based on HP Lovecraft’s tremendous short story The Colour Out of Space. Vu’s film was completed last year, and has been well-received at film festivals and by Lovecraft aficionados but I’ve been rather tardy in hearing about it. Better late than never.

Having adapted two-and-a-half stories, I tend to take a more than cursory interest in works based on Lovecraft’s fiction. One of the reasons I tackled his works in the first place was out of frustration at the apparent inability of film producers and comic artists to treat the stories as they’d been written. The Colour Out of Space is one of the masterpieces of Lovecraft’s mature period, and was the favourite of his own stories, a skilful blending of horror and science fiction in the tale of a fallen meteorite infecting a farm with an inexplicable process of decay and physical mutation. The mysterious colour is the product of some unearthly substance inside the meteorite which corresponds to no known part of the visible spectrum. This wasn’t the first story of Lovecraft’s that I read—I’d earlier found The Moon-Bog in a ghost story anthology—but it was the first that made a serious impression when I came across it in another anthology at age 12 or 13. Since then, whenever people ask me which Lovecraft stories to read first The Colour Out of Space is always one I recommend.

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Continue reading “Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space”