“The Man in the Bottle”

This week’s piece of weird fiction we’re going to be talking about over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Man in the Bottle”, Gustav Meyrink, 1912.The Weird

This is only a weird story if you include contes cruel in that category.

As soon as the story opens at a masque put on by Persian Prince Mohammed Darasche-Koh and we hear that the Princess is having an affair with Count Faast, we know things aren’t going to turn out well. (Do they ever in weird stories where there’s a masque?)

When we hear of a play that will be performed with Faast cast as the Man in the Bottle and the part of Lady in the Sedan Chair is uncast, we can see what’s coming. Indeed, the Prince has his revenge on the lovers. The Princess watches Faast die of asphyxiation in a giant, airtight bottle.

The story is short enough not to overstay its welcome, and it has the Oriental elements of cruelty and spectacle that show up in some of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam conte cruels. It’s not that impressive as even a conte cruel though.

 

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“The Horror in the Museum”

The Lovecraft series continues with another primary revision.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Horror in the Museum”, Hazel Heald [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1932.hm

In paging through his biography of Lovecraft, I see that S. T. Joshi regards this story as so bad that it has to be a parody of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

I’m not sure I agree it’s a parody.

It certainly does have an overwrought flavor in parts, mostly because the artist and Shub-Niggurath worshiper (the actual form of the god is retrieved from Alaska) is just plain vicious and insane sounding. Most Lovecraft “villains”, like Herbert West are after power or immortality or knowledge. Rogers just gets mad when Stephen Jones doubts his stories or that the odd, macabre figures in the “adult” section of his wax museum are preserved bodies and not sculptures.

Because of his less than convincing lack of motivation, I found him a weak villain. Mostly this story reminded me of other Lovecraft works and other authors and other types of stories.

Orabona, Rogers assistant, is reminiscent of Surama in the Lovecraft-de Castro collaboration of “The Last Test”.  The whole setup of Jones spending a night in the museum and becoming unhinged even before he sees gods walking about reminded me of “Monsieur Redoux’s Phantasms” by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (though, given Villiers’ spotty history of English translations, I’m not sure Lovecraft read this particular story though he mentions Villiers in his 1927 Supernatural Horror in Literature) with its protagonist finding horror after hours (albeit psychological horror) in a wax museum.

Then, of course, there’s the whole idea of wax statutes being preserved bodies and not creations from scratch. I don’t know how far that idea goes back in horror fiction.

This is the first place I’ve heard of the glass plant models of Blatschka (as Lovecraft spells it) aka Leopold Blaschka. I looked them up online. They look quite remarkable.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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The Vampire Soul and Other Sardonic Tales

Since I’m working on a review of another Black Coat Press release, I thought I’d post something on the first of their offerings I read.

Vampire Soul

Raw Feed (2004): The Vampire Soul and Other Sardonic Tales, Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, translated Brian Stableford, 2004.

Introduction“, Brian Stableford — Stableford, translator of these Villiers’ tales, talks about Villiers’ dubious family history. Contrary to what he claimed, his family may not have been related to the illustrious Villier de l’Isle-Adams that included a Marshall of France and a Grand Master of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (and the founder of the Knights of Malta after the order relocated). Villiers’ father constantly dug for hordes of money buried by aristocrats during the French Revolution — without any success and, thereby, accomplishing penury. Villiers seemed to have been something of a poseur in that he talked a lot about future products that were never finished or even started. Stableford even describes him as more being in love with the idea of writing rather than writing. However, Stableford also points out that being a poseur and entertaining conversationalist (Villiers was evidently something of an accomplished pianist and boxer) was rather common in the French literary world of the time — a world full of writers not making much money from their sales. And Stableford also points out that many famous French writers thought the man talented and promising. Stableford then talks about the influences on Villiers — he may not have always read the philosophical works he alluded to — which included the occult, German philosophy, and Catholic Revivalism. Stableford says Villiers has been ill translated into English making his tales — a mixture of terror, irony, and satire (including self-parody) even harder to understand.

The Vampire Soul (Claire Lenoir)” — This was an odd story, hardly terrifying. It reminded me of one of those soft-core French porn movies where naked people sit around philosophizing for long periods of time before they get to the sex. Only here the philosophizing was before the “horrifying” conclusion. Doctor Bonhomet is funny as an unreliable narrator who unwittingly drops all sorts of hints as to his boorishness and unsophistication. (Stableford’s annotation helps a lot in explaining what works of art and what authors and musicians and political and scientific figures are being mentioned. He also explains the somewhat opaque underpinnings of the plot with Claire Lenoir having committed adultery with a naval man and repented. Her husband’s spirit (Stableford’s exact phrase is a “demonized fragment”) survives death and inhabits the body of a savage Ottysor islander. When the naval officer lands on the island, he is killed. Stableford seems to interpret the text in a rather Freudian (I don’t think he uses the term) manner with a savage part of the husband making up the part of the posessing spirit. I interpreted, in light of a chilling chapter epigraph “That which sees, in our eyes, watches from hiding on this side of the depths of our fleshy pupils.”, the story as involving a sort of savage, alien entity haunting part of the husband and the Ottysor. (Though you would have to explain his sexual jealousy, sublimated by the husband while alive.) Villiers really doesn’t do much with the vampiric notion. I think you can also interpret Claire’s remark about “There are other beings who know the roads of life and are curious about the paths of death.” (A dramatic enough quote that it’s featured on the book’s cover.) as backing up my interpretation though you could say she’s speaking about herself. According to Stableford’s introduction to the anthology, Claire and Césaire represent two modes of Villiers’ thoughts: Claire his Catholicism and Césaire his fondness for the philosopher Hegel. Evidently the philosophical themes of the story varied in each of the two versions. This later one (1887, the first from 1867) shows more of Villiers revived Catholicism. I wasn’t sensitive enough to get much out of this story, but I did like the bombastic bragging of Bonhomet who excuses his inability to engage either of the Lenoir’s philosophically by claiming he could — but he just doesn’t want to upset them. Continue reading