Édifices Anciens: Fragments et Détails, Anvers

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Édifices Anciens: Fragments et Détails, Anvers is a surprise for being an example of early book by the Belgian artist and author, Jean de Bosschère, which is devoid of the idiosyncratic features of the artist’s later style, a style whose curious figures, human or otherwise, make de Bosschère a Belgian equivalent of Sidney Sime. Édifices Anciens was published in 1907, and if the illustrations lack the artist’s invention the architectural details that the drawings depict are inventive in their own way, being examples of the baroque style common to the old buildings of Belgium and the Netherlands.

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Anvers is the French name for Antwerp, a city with many facades that peak into those wonderful ogee flourishes, corner finials and crow-step gables that look (to English eyes) typically Belgian and very un-English. One of the few places you’ll see facades like these in England is the city of Hull whose status as a port meant traffic with the Low Countries in architectural styles as well as in goods. (Crow-step gables are a common feature of buildings in Scotland, however, a nation whose architectural idioms are the first signal to a visitor from the south that you’re in a different country.)

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Édifices Anciens may be browsed here or downloaded here. For more typical examples of Jean de Bosschère’s drawing style see the links below.

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Weekend links 499

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Wild Things – Hachilympic, a poster by Tomoko Konoike for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

• Hidden Jewels in ‘The Garden of Orchids’: Steve Toase on Der Orchideengarten (1919–1921), the German magazine of fantastic art and literature. Since the article doesn’t mention it, I’ll note again that the first Anglophone appraisal of the magazine (and also the place where it was drawn to the attention of myself and 50 Watts) was in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (Thames & Hudson/Collier, 1978).

• “In its furtive, sotto-voce way, Gorey’s work is in conversation with gay history, gay literary influences, and, now and then, the gay-straight tensions of his time.” Mark Dery on the attempts by Edward Gorey’s readers and critics to ignore the obvious signs of a personal sexuality in his work.

• The Apotheosis of the Grotesque: illustrator Sidney Sime interviewed by Arthur H. Lawrence in The Idler, January 1898.

Goff would experiment with form, material, structure and ornament to almost absurd degrees. Materials he used in his buildings included aviation parts, goose feathers, oil rig equipment, orange artificial turf (on the roof), lumps of coal, and any kind of glass he could get his hands on. His 1948 Ledbetter House, also in Oklahoma, features a recurring motif of vertical lines of diamond-shaped glass studs set into doors and columns. In fact they are dime-store glass ashtrays.

Steve Rose on the restoration of “outsider architect” Bruce Goff

• At the BFI: Adam Scovell on where to begin with Delphine Seyrig; Kat Ellinger on giving Fellini’s later films their due; and Matthew Thrift on 10 great Acid Westerns.

• RIP Ivan Passer and Neil Peart. A reminder that John Patterson described Passer’s Cutter’s Way as a cinematic masterpiece. So it is.

Geeta Dayal on musician/composer Arthur Russell and yet another posthumous release.

Haunted And Known, a new recording by Six Organs Of Admittance.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hidden.

2112 (1976) by Rush | Xanadu (1977) by Rush | La Villa Strangiato (1978) by Rush

William Heath Robinson’s Rabelais

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Ending the year with some Heath Robinson illustrations I’d not seen before, probably because their grotesque qualities set them apart from the rest of his whimsical drawings and fairy tale illustrations. Illustrated editions of Rabelais are rare owing to the coarse and scatological nature of the novels. Gustave Doré‘s robust and bloodthirsty character made him a good match for the material but it’s a surprise to find a generally light-hearted illustrator like Heath Robinson tackling the same stories.

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Robinson’s illustrations were for a two-volume set published in 1904 (see here and here), and are suitably dark with plenty of solid blacks and heavy cross-hatching. Some of the drawings are so different to the artist’s usual work they could be taken at first glance for pieces by Sidney Sime or Mervyn Peake. More typical are the numerous vignettes that appear at the ends of chapters. The examples here are from Google scans at the Internet Archive but some of the original drawings may be seen in better quality (and purchased if you have the money) at the Chris Beetles gallery.

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The White People by Arthur Machen

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Aklo: A Journal of the Fantastic, Spring 1988 edition, edited by Mark Valentine & Roger Dobson. Illustration by Alan Hunter.

1: The White People

The White People by Arthur Machen was written in 1899 but not published until it appeared in Horlick’s Magazine, January 1904. The magazine, which ran for just over a year, was edited by Machen’s Golden Dawn colleague AE Waite which no doubt explains the unlikely venue. HP Lovecraft enthused about the story in Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927):

Less famous and less complex in plot than The Great God Pan, but definitely finer in atmosphere and general artistic value, is the curious and dimly disquieting chronicle called The White People, whose central portion purports to be the diary or notes of a little girl whose nurse has introduced her to some of the forbidden magic and soul-blasting traditions of the noxious witch-cult — the cult whose whispered lore was handed down long lines of peasantry throughout Western Europe, and whose members sometimes stole forth at night, one by one, to meet in black woods and lonely places for the revolting orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath. Mr. Machen’s narrative, a triumph of skilful selectiveness and restraint, accumulates enormous power as it flows on in a stream of innocent childish prattle, introducing allusions to strange “nymphs,” “Dols,” “voolas,” “white, green, and scarlet ceremonies,” “Aklo letters,” “Chian language,” “Mao games,” and the like. The rites learned by the nurse from her witch grandmother are taught to the child by the time she is three years old, and her artless accounts of the dangerous secret revelations possess a lurking terror generously mixed with pathos. Evil charms well known to anthropologists are described with juvenile naiveté, and finally there comes a winter afternoon journey into the old Welsh hills, performed under an imaginative spell which lends to the wild scenery an added weirdness, strangeness, and suggestion of grotesque sentience. The details of this journey are given with marvellous vividness, and form to the keen critic a masterpiece of fantastic writing, with almost unlimited power in the intimation of potent hideousness and cosmic aberration.

Lovecraft borrowed Machen’s naive narrator a year later for The Dunwich Horror: Wilbur Whateley’s diary is written “by a child of three-and-a-half who looked like a lad of twelve or thirteen”, and makes reference to “Aklo”, “the Dho formula” and “the Voorish sign”. (The journal in The White People refers to “a wicked voorish dome”.)

Lovecraft wasn’t alone in being impressed by the story, it’s long been regarded as Machen’s greatest piece of short fiction with good reason:

…it remains the purest and most powerful expression of what Jack Sullivan has called the “transcendental” or “visionary” supernatural tradition. Most other tales in that tradition, Blackwood’s The Wendigo, EF Benson’s The Man Who Went Too Far, and Machen’s own The Great God Pan, merely describe encounters with the dark primeval forces that reign beyond the edge of civilisation; The White People seems an actual product of such an encounter, an authentic pagan artefact…

TED Klein, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986)


2: The House of Souls

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The House of Souls (1906). Cover illustrations by Sidney Sime.

The story was first collected in The House of Souls in 1906, a book that features a splendidly weird cover illustration by Sidney Sime. Inside there’s some of Machen’s finest supernatural writing including The Great God Pan, The Inmost Light and The Three Imposters. Also included is A Fragment of Life, a visionary piece that begins as a domestic drama but by the end has almost intersected with The White People.

And by coincidence (or is it?), I’ve just noticed that Tartarus Press are publishing a facsimile edition of the 1906 volume later this month.


3: The Ceremonies

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The Ceremonies (1984). Illustration by David Palladini.

TED Klein’s debut novel is also his only novel to date. Klein was editor of The Twilight Zone Magazine at this time, and he used the publication’s popularity to promote the weird fiction of the past; writers like Machen and Algernon Blackwood weren’t as visible in the mid-80s as they are today. The Ceremonies was expanded from a 1972 novella, The Events at Poroth Farm, and borrows much from The White People: the ceremonies of the title refers to those in the story, and the story itself—which a character is instructed to read by moonlight—is described as a key to occult mysteries. There’s a lot about the novel to recommend—Klein’s prose for a start—but I felt it could have been much weirder than it was. The book reads like a typical King/Straub narrative that’s aiming for more without quite getting there, and placing something as unique as Machen’s story at its heart only makes its eventual shortcomings all the more apparent.


4: A drawing

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The White People (1990) by John Coulthart.

And speaking of aiming for more without quite getting there, my drawing from 1990. This was going to be one of a series based on Machen’s story but I ran out of steam, feeling that the usual approach of drawing separate scenes wasn’t going to deliver the essence of the piece. If I tried this today I’d probably go for a more surreal approach the way Sätty did with Poe.


5: Roses

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The Singing Roses (1987) by Jeffrey Salmon. From Dagon magazine no. 18/19, July–October, 1987.

“And what is sin?” said Cotgrave.

“I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?

The White People

*

Sweet tortures fly on mystery wings / Pure evil is when flowers sing / My heart / My heart is a rose

Love’s Secret Domain (1991) by Coil


6: Ghost Box

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Ouroborindra (2005) by Eric Zann. Design by Julian House.

Track 4: Dôls
Track 6: Voolas

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The Owl’s Map (2006) by Belbury Poly. Design by Julian House.

Track 11: Scarlet Ceremony

Among the sleeve notes there’s this:

And the noise and the singing would go on and on for a long time, and the people who were in a ring swayed a little to and fro; and the song was in an old, old language that nobody knows now, and the tune was queer.

Arthur Machen, The White People


7: The White People by Ibrahim R. Ineke

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A very impressive comic-strip adaptation, the first of its kind, as far as I’m aware. See the full run of pages here. (And thanks to Ibrahim for getting in touch!)

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For those who can’t afford a limited edition from Tartarus Press, Machen’s story may currently be found in Penguin’s The White People and Other Weird Stories. The perfect thing now the nights are drawing in.

Update: See also The Forbidden Forest, a short animation based on the story. (Thanks, Richard!)

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Lovecraft archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Bowmen by Arthur Machen
Rex Ingram’s The Magician
The Great God Pan

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