This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing’s group, The Weird Tradition.

Review: “Bethmoora”, Lord Dunsany, 1910. 

While I’m not a big fan of Lord Dunsany, I actually liked this story, and it definitely reminded me of H. P. Lovecraft in his Dunsanian mode. 

The story opens with the narrator walking during the early morning hours in London and commenting on the various sights he sees: dancers going home, a man with a cane tapping through the deserted night streets, untidy guards with antique muskets, and street washers. 

His thoughts turn to the desert city of Bethmoora which he wishes he could return to. Travelers have told him it is desolate now. 

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“The King That Was Not”

Well, the work of weird fiction we’re discussing over at LibraryThing this week is a short one. You can use the link to read it, and it will probably take you all of five minutes.

Review: “The King That Was Not”, Lord Dunsany, 1906. 

As I said it’s short, and, for me, that’s a plus when it comes to Dunsany, an author I don’t like as well as many. I’m not sure why that is. The King James Bible cadence and phraseology don’t bother me. I think I’m annoyed by the quality others like in Dunsany, his tendency to put snags in his story which stop you and cause you to reconsider or reread what went before.

Anyway, I did enjoy this wry Dunsany tale explaining why there is no king in the land of Runazar. 

Once upon a time, King Althazar decided to honor the gods with statues to them.

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“Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean”

Other obligations have slowed my blogging down lately and will do it even more in the future.

So I’m behind in reviewing last week’s subject of weird fiction discussion at LibraryThing.

I’m not a Lord Dunsany fan, but I was warming to him.

Until I read this.

Review: “Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean”, Lord Dunsany, 1910. 

This story reads even more like a fairy tale than previous Dunsany works I’ve read. In particular, there is the repetition of events in threes. And, of course, Dunsany’s prose is cadenced like the King James Bible. That certainly creates a certain effect, but this story seems padded even by Dunsany standards.

There is not actually a lot of plot in it. 

In the Inner Lands of Dunsany’s dreamworld, we first hear of Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean, a peak which overlooks the ocean to the west. To its its east are various cities of the Inner Lands.

When young men from the Inner Lands climb up to the top of Poltarnees and see something, they never return to their homes. 

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“The Hoard of the Gibbelins”

This week’s weird fiction is from Lord Dunsany, a writer who I haven’t warmed to yet, but this story made some progress in that direction.

Review: “The Hoard of the Gibbelins”, Lord Dunsany, 1911.

Like most of the Lord Dunsany I’ve read, there is a sardonic edge here. Dunsany seems to be putting his own witty spin on fables that seem like fairy tales and, possibly, mocking the modern world.

The Gibbelins are never described physically, but they like to eat people. Their “evil tower is joined to Terra Cognita” by a bridge. Their castle is stocked with gold and jewels to lure thieves there to be eaten.

Alderic, “a Knight of the Order of the City and the Assault, hereditary Guard of the King’s Peace of Mind” – a subtly mocking title, decides to go for the treasure because, like those more common thieves, he also suffers from avarice. He decides he is not going through the Gibbelins’ castle door but is going to tunnel through its walls, flood the castle by letting a river in it, and then dive for the emeralds in a store room.

He wittily forces a dragon to aid him by going to the dragon and asking

’Hath foul dragon ever slain true knight?’ And well the dragon knew that this had never been, and he hung his head and was silent, for he was glutted with blood.

The dragon agrees to help him fly to the castle.

There’s an amusing bit where Alderic rains his gold down on the crowds beneath him as he sets off. He figures that, if he succeeds in getting the Gibbelin treasure, he won’t need it. If he dies trying, he also won’t need it. There is a brief aside about everyone – almost – excited about the possibility of Alderic getting the Gibbelin treasure and the riches it will bring the kingdom. The moneylenders are less happy about having debts repaid.

However, while Alderic gets into the castle as planned, the Gibbelins are waiting for him. The story concludes:

And, without saying a word, or even smiling, they neatly hanged him on the outer wall—and the tale is one of those that have not a happy ending.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West

The Lovecraft series continues with a long look at a title S. T. Joshi still considers one of his most important works on Lovecraft.

For those who want something else of mine touching on some of the themes of this book, check out my review of Lovecraft’s Letters to James Morton.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West, S. T. Joshi, 1990.H P Lovecraft

This was a fascinating, illuminating book.

It is not that Lovecraft’s individual ethics, philosophical notions of materialism, politics, and notions of aesthetics were that unique. It is the combination that was somewhat unique and, most importantly — as Joshi convincingly shows — how those views consistently show up in his fiction.

In the first half of the book, Joshi documents (mostly through Lovecraft’s voluminous correspondence) the development of Lovecraft’s philosophy and how it was influenced by others — philosophers ancient and modern and science.

Lovecraft, descendant of a wealthy New England family that, in his childhood, fell on hard times, was a lifelong aristocrat. Always suspicious of democracy, Joshi shows how he moved from notions of an aristocracy of birth to (with relapses expressed in his letters and often involving race) an aristocracy of intellect. Thus he moved from a sentimental “royalist” (of course America has no official royalty but Anglophiliac Lovecraft earlier expressed, in his associated love for 18th Century England and Colonial America, a love of English royalty — or, at least, Queen Anne) and Republican to an advocate of “fascistic socialism” and voter for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Continue reading

Supernatural Horror in Literature

The Lovecraft series continues with a famous critical essay he wrote.

Raw Feed (2005): Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I’d heard for decades that this is a classic essay of criticism in the horror field, and I can see why.

Lovecraft cast a far net and in many languages for stories containing an element, a sensation (even if only a passing one in the rationalistic Gothics of Ann Radcliffe), of supernatural horror.

He read a lot of authors like Oliver Wendall Holmes, Henry James, and E. M. Forester not normally associated with the supernatural but who produced a few such works.

Most important, though, is what all this reading reveals about Lovecraft.

I don’t know when he read these various works — the essay’s publication goes back to 1927 — so it’s hard to state what works inspired his works, but a lot of images and motifs from Lovecraft’s work are mentioned, particularly in regards to Gothics: lurkers in the cellar (“The Alchemist“), evil portraits (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), and family curses. Continue reading

The Fantasy Hall of Fame

An unproductive day new writing-wise, so you get a retro review from June 12, 2009.

Review: The Fantasy Hall of Fame, eds. Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg, 1983.Fantasy Hall of Fame

The reputations of some of these stories and that of their authors may have waned in the 26 years since this anthology was published. None of the stories are bad though a few aren’t that special. The stories were selected in a manner similar to the Silverberg edited The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. Attendees of the World Fantasy Convention chose stories to honor that were published before the convention begin doing their annual awards.

The stories are arranged chronologically, and the first is Edgar Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842). This classic tale of a plague, mysterious colors, and death coming to a cloister of aristocrats is the grandfather of all those far future tales of decadents on a dying Earth. Poe influenced the prose and poems of Clark Ashton Smith, but the influence isn’t very evident in the latter’s “The Weird of Avoosl Withoqquan” (1932). It’s a story of an avaricious man who hears an ominous prophecy from a beggar he snubs. Smith’s Zothique series, very definitely a series of far future decadence, is not represented here directly, but it’s certainly echoed in Jack Vance’s “Mazirian the Magician” (1950), part of Vance’s Dying Earth series. In a story full of Vance’s exuberant palette of colors and exquisitely named magic, a sorcerer determines to possess a woman who has avoided him.

Of course, Poe was not just an inspiration but an idol to Smith’s friend, H. P. Lovecraft. He is represented here by “The Silver Key” (1937). It’s an odd choice, perhaps dictated by its length. There is nothing wrong with the story. Featuring Lovecraft’s alter ego Randolph Carter, it’s Lovecraft’s most autobiographical work. Carter, a man in his thirties, goes on a quest to find his way back to the world of dreams – and its innocence – that he knew as a child. There are many better Lovecraft stories though. Lord Dunsany was an influence on Lovecraft’s dream tales, and he’s represented here by “The Sword of Welleran” (1908). A wry tale of a city no longer defended by its legends and full of humor and despair and perverse emotion. Dunsany’s oddly syntaxed voice is probably still unique in fantasy. A lesser influence on Lovecraft was Ambrose Bierce. He shows up here with “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” (1886), a short, eerie tale of life after death in a far future land. Continue reading