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

Dreaming Out of Space: Kenneth Grant on HP Lovecraft

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Going through some of my loose copies of Man, Myth and Magic recently turned up this article by Kenneth Grant that I’d forgotten about. I have two separate sets of Man, Myth and Magic: a complete edition in binders, and a partial collection of loose copies of the weekly “illustrated encyclopedia of the supernatural”. The partial collection is worth keeping for the unique articles that ran across the last two pages of every issue, all of which are absent (along with the magazine covers) from the bound edition. These articles formed the Frontiers of Belief series, a collection of essays of the kind one might find in magazines today such as Fate or Fortean Times. An earlier essay about Wilfried Sätty, Artist of the Occult, was reproduced here a few years ago; none of these pieces have ever been reprinted so it seems worthwhile putting another of the more interesting pieces online.

Kenneth Grant was the only active occultist among Man, Myth and Magic‘s roster of very serious and well-regarded writers and experts. Grant wrote several of the encyclopedia entries although not the one about Aleister Crowley, as you might expect, that entry going to Crowley’s executor and biographer, John Symonds. Grant was also a lifelong champion of HP Lovecraft’s fiction which explains this article; many of Grant’s later occult texts have a distinctly Lovecraftian flavour, and they often refer to Lovecraft and Arthur Machen as being the unconscious recipients of actual occult emanations or presences. Grant’s belief that the authors channelled these emanations into their fiction is central to this piece, a belief that Lovecraft would have dismissed even though several of his stories (not least The Call of Cthulhu) concern exactly this process. Grant connects Lovecraft with another artist whose work he championed throughout his life, Austin Osman Spare. It was Grant’s involvement with Man, Myth and Magic that put one of Spare’s drawings on the cover of the first issue, and further drawings inside the magazine, introducing the artist’s work to a new, highly receptive audience. The drawing below (Were-Lynx) appears in the magazine behind Grant’s text so I’ve scanned a text-free copy from Grant’s Cults of the Shadow (1975).

DREAMING OUT OF SPACE by Kenneth Grant

Malevolent powers are lurking in wait to project themselves into the sleeping minds of men: this terrifying idea is a recurring theme in the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who claimed that they came to him in nightmares. But were they simply bad dreams, or was he in fact receiving communications from an unknown source, as Kenneth Grant here suggests?

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“I have watched for dryads and satyrs in the woods and fields at dusk”; illustration by Austin Osman Spare, who sensed the forces looming behind Lovecraft’s work, and was inspired to illustrate these presences.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft died in 1937; but the myth-cycle which he initiated in unrivalled tales of cosmic horror now raises the question whether it was a mere fiction engendered in the haunted mind of an obscure New England writer, or whether it foreshadowed a particularly sinister kind of occult invasion.

According to a well-known occult tradition, when Atlantis was submerged, not all perished. Some took refuge on other worlds, in other dimensions; others “slept” a willed and unnatural sleep through untold aeons of time. These awakened; they lurk now in unknown gulfs of space, the physical mechanism of human consciousness being unable to pick up their infinitely subtle vibrations. They lurk, waiting to return and rule the whole earth, as was their aim before the catastrophe that destroyed their corrupt civilization.

This tradition was a major theme in Lovecraft’s work. Until quite recently people read his stories and shuddered (if sufficiently honest and sensitive enough to admit their uncanny impact), not suspecting for a moment that such things could be.

Few know that Lovecraft dreamed most of his tales. And he sometimes thought that these dreams, or rather, nightmares, were caused by misdeeds in remotely distant incarnations when, perhaps, he had aimed at acquiring magical powers. These dreams were memories of the past and prophecies of the future, for he said that “nightmares are the punishment meted out to the soul for sins committed in previous incarnations—perhaps millions of years ago!”

In his life as Howard Phillips Lovecraft he tried again and again to bring himself to face squarely the ordeal through which he knew he would have to pass, if he were finally to resolve his spiritual difficulties. The issue is brought to the surface perhaps more clearly and urgently in his poems than in his stories. He is on the brink of making the critical discovery, of surprising the secret of his inner life, and he is forced back repeatedly by the dread, the stark soul-searing fear which he bottles up in his work and which he communicates so successfully—in neat doses—to his readers.

One of Lovecraft’s most vivid creations is the ancient book of hideous spells composed to facilitate traffic with creatures of unseen worlds. He ascribed its authorship to Abdul Alhazred, a mad Arab who flourished in Damascus about 700 AD. This grimoire, during the course of its mysterious career, is supposed to have been translated by the Elizabethan scholar Dr John Dee, into Greek, under the title of Necronomicon. It contains the Keys or Calls that unseal forbidden spaces of cosmic sleep, inhabited by elder forces that once infested the earth. The Keys are in a wild, unearthly tongue reminiscent of the Calls of Chanokh, or Enoch, which Dr Dee actually obtained through contact with non-terrestrial entities during his work with the magician, Sir Edward Kelley, whom Aleister Crowley claimed to have been in a previous life. It is possible that the “evil and abhorred Necronomicon” was suggested by the clavicles or Keys of Enoch, which Dee and Kelley discovered, and which Crowley later used to gain access to unknown dimensions.

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Dunsany’s highwaymen

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The Pledge.

As mentioned last week, the BFI’s DVD of Schalcken the Painter includes as extras two short films by other directors. Edward Abraham’s The Pit (1962) is an adaptation of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum which is creditable but lacks the sustained malevolence of Jan Svankmajer’s version. The second film is The Pledge (1981), a 21-minute adaptation by Digby Rumsey of The Highwaymen, a short story by Lord Dunsany. This is unusual for being one of the very few film adaptations of Dunsany, Rumsey being responsible for two others: Nature and Time (1976), and In the Twilight (1978). Since this is a low-budget work it’s no surprise that the story is a historical piece rather than one of the florid fantasies so beloved of HP Lovecraft. A trio of highwaymen decide to rescue the hanging body of their former comrade and inter it in a bishop’s tomb. (The bishop’s bones, they decide, can go in the earth.) The story is so slight it’s more of a curio than anything, and would probably be better seen along with with the other Dunsany adaptations. Of note is a typically jaunty score by Michael Nyman, while Nyman’s later collaborator, Peter Greenaway, assisted with the editing. If nothing else, Greenaway would have appreciated the film’s macabre nature.

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Illustration for The Highwaymen by Sidney Sime.

The original story appeared in Dunsany’s 1908 collection The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories. The Internet Archive has a scan of the entire book with illustrations from Sidney Sime’s prime period. The depiction of the scene at the gibbet is a lot more atmospheric than in the film but then that’s the advantage of the illustrator: there’s no need to worry about a budget.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Schalcken the Painter revisited
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Sidney Sime paintings
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Sidney Sime and Lord Dunsany

Schalcken the Painter revisited

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Illustration by Brinsley Sheridan Le Fanu from The Watcher and Other Weird Stories (1894) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

The stranger stopped at the door of the room, and displayed his form and face completely. He wore a dark-coloured cloth cloak, which was short and full, not falling quite to the knees; his legs were cased in dark purple silk stockings, and his shoes were adorned with roses of the same colour. The opening of the cloak in front showed the under-suit to consist of some very dark, perhaps sable material, and his hands were enclosed in a pair of heavy leather gloves which ran up considerably above the wrist, in the manner of a gauntlet. In one hand he carried his walking-stick and his hat, which he had removed, and the other hung heavily by his side. A quantity of grizzled hair descended in long tresses from his head, and its folds rested upon the plaits of a stiff ruff, which effectually concealed his neck.

So far all was well; but the face!

Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter (1839) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

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Compare this shot to the inferior YouTube version.

I enthused at some length about Leslie Megahey’s 1979 television film Schalcken the Painter last year so there’s no need to repeat myself. This post serves notice that the film is available at last in another marvellous dual-format release from the BFI, replete with extras, and the usual authoritative booklet notes. The Blu-ray transfer is a revelation after years spent watching an old VHS copy (the versions of YouTube are even worse). I noted before the astonishing lighting by cameraman John Hooper which successfully replicates not only the Dutch interiors so familiar from Vermeer, but also the candlelit chiaroscuro of Godfried Schalcken’s own paintings. (Le Fanu, incidentally, spelled the painter’s name “Schalken”.) Blu-ray quality might seem like overkill for a low-budget TV drama, however well-made, but this film in particular demands it, especially when the interiors begin to darken along with the story.

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Cheryl Kennedy and Jeremy Clyde.

Among the extras there’s a 39-minute interview with Leslie Megahey and John Hooper about the making of the film. The combination of scenes based on period paintings plus candlelit interiors always makes me think of Barry Lyndon so it’s a surprise to discover that Megahey didn’t have this in mind at all. The film owes more, he says, to Blanche (1972) by Walerian Borowczyk, a period feature film which utilises a similarly flat shooting style with scenes based on medieval art. I’ve only seen Borowczyk’s earlier animated films, some of which have featured in previous posts, so this is one to look for in future.

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In addition to the making-of piece there are two short films: The Pit (1962, 27 mins), directed by Edward Abraham, based on Poe’s Pit and the Pendulum, and The Pledge (1981, 21 mins) directed by Digby Rumsey, based on a short story by Lord Dunsany. I’ve not watched either of these yet, it seemed unfair to follow Megahey’s film with lesser fare.

After such unbridled enthusiasm it goes without saying that this is an essential purchase for anyone who enjoys the BBC’s ghost films of the 1970s. I’m biased towards Megahey’s productions but I find this a superior work to many of the MR James films. Megahey filmed another drama about a painter in 1987, Cariani and the Courtesans. It’s a non-supernatural piece but also has Charles Gray narrating and John Hooper behind the camera. I’ve not seen it for years so I’ll continue to hope it may also see a reissue soon.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Schalcken the Painter
Leslie Megahey’s Bluebeard
The Watcher and Other Weird Stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Chiaroscuro

Sidney Sime paintings

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Painting of Waves.

Most of the art for which Sidney Sime (1867–1941) is remembered is black-and-white or monochrome work, in part because he was engaged as a magazine illustrator at a time prior to widespread colour reproduction. All of the reproductions in Sidney Sime—Master of the Mysterious (1980) by Simon Heneage & Henry Ford are monochrome, so it’s good to find 188 of Sime’s paintings on the BBC’s British paintings website. Or it’s good up to a point… Most of the works are small oil sketches and landscape studies which would be of little interest if the artist’s name was unfamiliar. The examples here are some of the few which match the unique imagination which people still value today. Heneage & Ford refer to his painting throughout his career but it seems the best of that work must now be in private collections. All of the paintings on the BBC pages are from the collection at the Sidney H. Sime Memorial Gallery at Worplesdon near Guildford, Surrey, where there’s more of his art to be seen.

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Woods and Dark Animals.

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Illustrative.

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