Tentacles #2: The Lost Continent

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If William Hope Hodgson’s The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ represents the Sublime of tentacular sea fiction then The Lost Continent, a 1968 Hammer film based on Dennis Wheatley’s 1938 novel Uncharted Seas, is the correspondingly Ridiculous end of the subgenre. The Lost Continent is an irritating film for Hodgson enthusiasts since it’s still the most Hodgsonian film out there, at least where the Sargasso side of things is concerned.

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Illustration by SR Boldero (1960).

Despite its Wheatley origins the similarities to Hodgson’s sea stories are no coincidence: Wheatley chose two Hodgson titles—Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder and The Ghost Pirates—for the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult series that Sphere Books published in the 1970s. In the introductions Wheatley notes that Hodgson was a favourite writer whose work he discovered in the 1920s; he also mentions having collected a set of Hodgson first editions. Wheatley could have justifiably claimed that the “Weed-World” as a location wasn’t unique to Hodgson but Uncharted Seas also features the giant crabs, marauding octopuses and besieged castaways familiar from The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ and the short stories.

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S. Latitude 47°9′, W. Longitude 126°43′

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Then, driven ahead by curiosity in their captured yacht under Johansen’s command, the men sight a great stone pillar sticking out of the sea, and in S. Latitude 47°9′, W. Longitude 126°43′, come upon a coastline of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror—the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults and sending out at last, after cycles incalculable, the thoughts that spread fear to the dreams of the sensitive and called imperiously to the faithful to come on a pilgrimage of liberation and restoration.

HP Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1928)

“Great Cthulhu and his hordes…” People never mention the hordes, do they? I’m pleased to say that the loathsome horde gathered in my forthcoming Cthulhu Calendar are in situ at last, since I’ve found the time this week to get everything finished. I still need to write a couple of new web pages then upload all the images to CafePress. I’ll be doing that over the weekend so Monday will be the launch day.

For the final piece I decided against doing another portrait in favour of a picture of an attack at sea as it might have appeared in a 19th-century newspaper. This kind of imagery will now make many people think of the Kraken scenes in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film but it predates cinema, of course, as it also predates Lovecraft. Despite Lovecraft’s indelible association with monstrous tentacles there are a lot more incidents of this nature in William Hope Hodgson’s stories and novels than in the Cthulhu Mythos. In which case this scene, which will be the page for December, can be regarded as a tip of the hat to William as much as to Howard.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Le Poulpe Colossal
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
Cubist Cthulhu
Druillet meets Hodgson

Gustave Doré’s Ancient Mariner

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A final Coleridge post, also the oldest illustrated edition featured this week. Gustave Doré’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was first published in 1870, and the poet’s sombre, doom-laden tale was more suited to Doré’s Gothic proclivities than many of the lighter books he illustrated. Despite their age, these engravings have proved memorable enough to keep turning up whenever an illustration of the poem is required. The ship among the icebergs above is close enough to a scene in the third Pirates of the Caribbean film to have maybe been an influence, while the ice-bound section of the poem inspired one of Doré’s few paintings.

Art Passions has a complete set of these engravings together with many more of the artist’s works. And while we’re on the subject, two of Harry Clarke’s surviving Ancient Mariner drawings appeared in a post last year. A third drawing from the series can be seen here.

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The art of Robert Lawson, 1892–1957

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Sargasso Sea (no date).

Did I say Sargasso Sea? Blame William Hope Hodgson some of whose sea stories I was re-reading over the weekend. An idle search for Sargasso images turned up this tremendous etching by American author and illustrator Robert Lawson, part of a collection of equally fine work at the Florida State University. There’s little information about this picture, unfortunately, it’s a numbered print so it’s most likely a one-off piece but it would make an ideal cover illustration for a Hodgson collection. It hadn’t occurred to me before but the rambling third film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series might have been improved if they’d made use of the old Sargasso-as-oceanic-graveyard legend, it’s just the place you’d expect to find Davy Jones and his piscine crew.

Bud Plant has more about Robert Lawson’s career and examples of his book illustrations.

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Untitled (CityShip) – Manhattan (no date).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Coming soon: Sea Monsters and Cannibals!
Druillet meets Hodgson
Davy Jones

Buccaneers #1

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“For all the world I was led like a dancing bear” by NC Wyeth (1911).

This year’s reading began with a desire to explore some of the Robert Louis Stevenson volumes in my collection which I’ve so far neglected. At the moment I’m thinking of maybe reading everything I have by RLS, having begun with a return journey to Treasure Island, a book which seems to improve every time I revisit it. Setting out with Stevenson’s pirate tale was partly a result of having watched all three Pirates of the Caribbean films over Christmas, a series I’m probably in the minority in enjoying wholeheartedly, flaws, preposterousness and all. Much as I’d like to see a fourth film (there’s a hint of a sequel at the end), I’d prefer the makers to leave things be. The three films taken together can be watched as a single nine-hour ramble across the high seas and the tidy conclusion would be better left as it is.

My pocket-sized copy of Treasure Island from the Tusitala edition of Stevenson’s collected works is fine apart from the very small and poorly-printed map, something to which the reader is compelled to refer as we follow Jim Hawkins on his journey around the island. Happily the web provides many examples which can be printed out for viewing while reading. The web is also a resource for some of the numerous illustrated editions of the novel. The version by American illustrator NC Wyeth is one of the more well-known and more successful and his Long John Silver is a suitably powerful figure. Wyeth’s depiction of Billy Bones waiting on the cliff top was featured in a set of US stamps in 2001. The Internet Archive has scans of the Wyeth book (and a version with illustrations by Louis Rhead) although one of these, with better scans of Wyeth’s paintings, has some of the plates missing.

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Long John Silver by Mervyn Peake (1949).

Far stranger—weirder, even—is Mervyn Peake’s Long John Silver, seen here on the cover of a more recent edition. Peake’s illustrations are probably my favourites but then I’m biased towards Peake as an author and illustrator so the preference is unavoidable. Even so, his depiction of Israel Hands brings to the fore the malevolent duplicity of that character in a way I’ve not seen any other illustrator attempt. It’s a shame the Peake site doesn’t have another of the artist’s renderings of Silver showing the sea cook posed on his single leg in an attitude more like a ballet dancer than a pirate. That drawing and his ogre-like Blind Pew show how original Peake could be as an illustrator. And lets not forget his own pirate creation, also his first book, Captain Slaughterboard.

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It’s asking too much but it’s a shame that Walt Disney couldn’t have taken a look at Peake’s drawings instead of diluting Stevenson’s cunning buccaneer into the gurning caricature portrayed by Robert Newton in 1950. The less said about Byron Haskin’s film (and its sequels), the better. It has its moments visually but Newton’s portrayal has blighted all those that follow (Geoffrey Rush tips the hat in the Pirates films) and is single-handedly responsible for all subsequent pirate clichés.

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Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, on the other hand, could almost have been designed specifically to please me alone, looking like the offspring of some unwholesome ménage between Long John Silver and the Great God Cthulhu. For the time being Davy Jones is probably my favourite screen villain, his tentacled face—and the fishy caste of his crew—is a wonder to behold. God knows what Stevenson would have made of this transfiguring of his creation but it suits me fine.

More buccaneers tomorrow.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput
Stevenson and the dynamiters
Howard Pyle’s pirates
Druillet meets Hodgson
Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys
Davy Jones