Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe

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Berenice.

Narraciones extraordinarias was the first commission that arrived from Spanish publisher Editorial Alma earlier this year but it’s the second one to be revealed here. (Copies of the pictures at a larger size may be seen on the main website.) I confess I was rather dismayed when the request came through for this. I was pleased to have the opportunity to illustrate so many stories but Edgar Allan Poe is a tough brief when Harry Clarke has already created the definitive set of illustrations. The challenge, then, became one of trying to successfully illustrate the stories without repeating anything by Clarke or the many other illustrators who’ve tackled Poe, not least my favourite collagist, Wilfried Sätty.

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Morella.

One advantage of the collection was the inclusion of several pieces that you seldom find in the common English reprints of Poe, stories such as A Tale of the Ragged Mountains. The style is Sätty-esque, of course, although less surreal in approach thanks to the flexibility of digital tools. I’ve been developing this engraving collage style over the past year or so to create a hybrid that blends drawn and collaged material into a seamless whole. When this works, as with The Man in the Crowd (below), you shouldn’t be able to easily tell which elements are drawn and which collaged. (And more importantly, it shouldn’t really matter.) This technique has been developed further in the most recent work I’ve done for Editorial Alma but you’ll have to wait a while to see the results.

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Ligeia.

Despite my initial misgivings, this job worked out better than I expected, not least because the deadline was so tight. Several of these pictures were created in a day, a work-rate common to many comic artists but not one that I’m used to (or happy with) at all. I’m still unhappy with MS. Found in a Bottle which lazily swiped a chunk of a Gustave Doré illustration; if I’d had the time I would have changed it, and if this series of pictures is ever reprinted that’s one I’ll be reworking.

As before, this is a Spanish-language hardback, and the only purchase link I have is an Amazon one. My next contribution to this series should be out early next year.

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The Fall of the House of Usher.

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Metzengerstein

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Metzengerstein by Wilfried Sätty.

One of the horses in yesterday’s post seemed familiar until I realised it had been used by Wilfried Sätty for his final Metzengerstein illustration in The Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe (1976). This has been happening a lot since I started delving into the book scans at the Internet Archive, Sätty’s collage sources leaping abruptly from old engravings. The horse is a good example of Sätty’s evolved approach to collage which often reversed the printing of assembled artwork, or used a printing press (or PMT process) to duplicate and mirror his collage elements.

Not all Poe illustrators bother with this Gothic pastiche, and those that do don’t always provide an effective rendering of the climax when the clouds of smoke above a smouldering castle assume the form of a colossal horse. Byam Shaw’s illustration is typical, with the horse standing inertly above the flames. Sätty’s picture only occupies half a page but is much more successful, as are many of the other illustrations in a volume that remains one of the very best Poe collections, and the finest of Sätty’s books.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The original Gandharva
The Occult Explosion
Wilfried Sätty album covers
Nature Boy: Jesper Ryom and Wilfried Sätty
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Gandharva by Beaver & Krause

The original Gandharva

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Cover art by Wilfried Sätty. Lettering by David Singer.

Collage artist Wilfried Sätty has been in my thoughts this month, it being ten years ago that Jay Babcock, Richard Pleuger and I drove up to San Francisco and Petaluma to talk to Walter Medeiros and David Singer about Sätty’s life and work. Looking today at the Sätty cover art for Gandharva (1971) by Beaver & Krause reminded me that the original pressing of this album came with the sleeve in a predominantly pink colouration rather than the more familiar blue. I have three copies of the album—vinyl and two CDs, one of which pairs it with Beaver & Krause’s In A Wild Sanctuary (1970)—but I’ve never seen one of the pink variations, and didn’t even know they existed until they started appearing on the web. The CD reissues favour the blue version, as do I, although this may only be a result of familiarity. I’ve enthused about Sätty’s cover a couple of times already but the music is worth hearing for its connections backwards to Cammell & Roeg’s Performance (for which B&K provided the ominous synthesizer tones), and forwards to Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme. Fuest asked Gerry Mulligan to score his film after hearing the Gandharva suite (described in the sleeve notes as “a score from a non-existent film”) which occupies side two of the album.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Occult Explosion
Wilfried Sätty album covers
Nature Boy: Jesper Ryom and Wilfried Sätty
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Gandharva by Beaver & Krause

The World of Wonders

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This is the kind of Victorian book I enjoy a great deal, something that might be regarded as a Wunderkammer in paper form: not an encyclopedia, and not a science text-book but containing the kinds of articles you’d find in both. The chief attraction is the engraved illustrations, of course, although the articles themselves are often of interest. The World of Wonders dates from 1883, and is subtitled “A record of things wonderful in nature, science, and art”. This is very like a book I own entitled The Pictorial Cabinet of Marvels although The World of Wonders is the superior work, with a larger page count and a wider range of subjects. This is also only Volume 1, although I’ve not searched through the Internet Archive to see whether they have any further volumes. The illustrations are from a PDF, the page scans are much better quality. And I was pleased to find that two of the plates shown below—Barnacles and A Coal Forest—were combined by Wilfried Sätty for one of his Poe collages. (I’d scan the Sätty picture but I don’t want to spoil the book.) I’ve recently been commissioned to create some more engraving collages so volumes such as this may be useful source material.

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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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