Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?"


On Dec. 11th, Columbia Pictures announced that it will be making a new film featuring the most legendary pulp hero of all, the Shadow. The film will be produced by Sam Raimi and directed by Siavash Farahani, who also wrote the script. If the franchise takes off, word is that a Doc Savage film may not be far behind. This coincides with the recent re-printing, after decades of inactivity, of the original Street and Smith Shadow and Doc Savage pulp magazines:

http://www.nostalgiaventures.com/

I'll admit this all seems like good news for pulp fiction fans (unless the new Shadow movie is as flawed as the one released in 1994), but I feel more than apprehensive. Conde Nast currently retains the rights to all of the Street and Smith pulps and is a poster child for everything that is wrong with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. For years, Conde Nast refused to reprint any old pulps but has always been exceedingly diligent and eager to take legal action against anyone who attempted to make this material available on the Web. The most loathsome example of this is their recent legal dismantling of David Moynihan's Blackmask Online archive of etexts. It is appalling that such an irresponsible administration of copyright should be legally sanctioned, and it raises the question--If the original authors were only paid pennies per word by a publisher that no longer even exists, whose rights are actually being protected, here? I would prefer to avoid patronizing Conde Nast.

For Shadow fans, I would highly recommend the Shadow in Review site, which is still brilliant, despite having been gutted by a Conde Nast injunction. Another great site is The Shadow: Master of Darkness, and for those who prefer the radio serials, please visit The Old Time Radio Network.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"

On Saturday, I re-read what is possibly the greatest ghost story written by a man whom many consider to be the greatest writer of ghost stories: Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You My Lad by M.R. James (1862-1936). My attraction to it may, in part, lie in the fact that it provides one of those rare cases where my interest in classics and horror fiction intersect. The protagonist, a stereotypically skeptical academic, accidentally summons the malevolent spirit that plagues him, because he forgets the pejorative sense of the Latin demonstrative iste. That the story also manages to balance some very creepy and surreal scenes with sly humor (such as the irony of the title, which comes from a Robert Burns poem) also makes it particularly distinctive.

As S.T. Joshi points out in his introductions to the new Penguin editions of James’ stories, James’ Victorian predecessors, like Gaskell, Dickens, and Doyle (although his “Lot No. 249” may have had an influence on “Oh, Whistle”), mostly held to more traditional, passive conceptions of ghosts. James, however, made his spirits much more malevolent, sometimes even, in the case of “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book”, bestial and, in so doing, more effective. However, I would point out that some of J.S. LeFanu’s ghosts, like the judge in “An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street”, are also quite aggressively evil. It should be noted that James actually edited a collection of LeFanu’s stories.

Though rather tame by contemporary standards of horror, James’ influence extends to the present day, and stories influenced by his work can easily be found in All Hallows: The Journal of the Ghost Story Society. In fact, while re-reading “Oh, Whistle”, I became aware of its likely influence on another one of the all-time great ghost stories—F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth”.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Thomas Lovell Beddoes

SONG ("OLD ADAM...")

Old Adam, the carrion crow,
The old crow of Cairo;
He sat in the shower, and let it flow
Under his tail and over his crest;
And through every feather
Leaked the wet weather;
And the bough swung under his nest;
For his beak it was heavy with marrow.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It’s only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer’s bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts’ moonshine.




Ho! Eve, my grey carrion wife,
When we have supped on kings’ marrow,
Where shall we drink and make merry our life?
Our nest it is queen Cleopatra’s skull,
’Tis cloven and cracked,
And battered and hacked,
But with tears of blue eyes it is full:
Let us drink then, my raven of Cairo.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It’s only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer’s bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts’ moonshine.


Work and school have been placing increasing demands on my time, and the other day, I realized that I’m running the risk of completely neglecting one of my favorite times of the year. Luckily, Richard Geyer’s newly re-launched, Thomas Lovell Beddoes site, The Phantom Wooer, reminded me that Halloween is just around the corner.

Though Beddoes (1803-1849), referred to as “the most morbid poet in the English language,” wrote during the late Romantic period, the bulk of his output consists of poetic, Elizabethan/Jacobean style dramas in the manner of Webster and Tourneur. Consistent with such a style, these plays are sprinkled with many brilliant lyrics, such as the macabre poem above, which appears in Beddoes’ masterpiece, Death’s Jest Book (available at Geyer’s site). Though his lyrics are often anthologized apart from their respective plays, Ezra Pound (who refers to Beddoes as “prince of morticians” in Canto XXX) rightly warns in his essay, Beddoes and Chronology, that they are even more impressive when seen in context, and though it’s harder to anthologize, much of Beddoes best writing appears in his dramatic blank verse.

Though Beddoes is still a rather obscure poet, there is a society dedicated to him, which publishes an annual scholarly journal and is overseen by the poet’s distant relative John Lovell Beddoes.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Doctor Who

The second season (well, for Americans, anyway) of the new series premiers this Friday, Sept. 29th, at 8 p.m., on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Strange Suicides

What can I say? Actually, I just stumbled across this while working on another project, and since, between work and grad. school, I've been too swamped for a long entry, I thought I would mention it now. This is actually the second of two issues and contains the article: "Men Who Should Have Committed Suicide." Hard to believe it didn't last.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sherlock Holmes' Neighbor

Sherlock Holmes was not the only detective to reside in Baker St. He shared both that now famous street and even some of his own popularity with Sexton Blake, a private detective based in no small way upon the Master. Often referred to as "the office boy's Sherlock Holmes", Blake's career actually began in the penny dreadfuls of the late 19th century (specifically, the Halfpenny Marvel), continued with the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, and persisted in cheap paperback editions. Truly, Blake's trajectory from 1893 to 1970 spans almost the entire history of pulp fiction publishing.

Like Sherlock Holmes, Blake utilized his superior deductive abilities while solving his cases and was assisted by his sidekick, Tinker. Where he differs from Holmes is in his equal reliance upon his physical abilites. Though Holmes was no weakling (see The Speckled Band) and was an excellent boxer (The Solitary Cyclist), his cases are not nearly as action-packed as the average Sexton Blake thriller, which typically relies on the conventional pulp fiction cliff hangers and daring escapes. While Holmes has his Moriarty (in 3 stories), Blake grapples with a variety of Dick Tracy-style villians. My paricular favorite (and evidently the favorite of many others, as well) being Zenith, an elegant, opium smoking albino (trust me, he's more intimidating than that suggests), introduced in the Oct. 25th, 1919, issue of The Union Jack Library, which was Blake's home at the time.

Many of Sexton Blake's exploits can be found online, and the best place to begin is here:

http://www.sextonblake.co.uk/

Mark Hodder's Blakiana page contains a wealth of e-texts, information, and links and is beautifully designed, as well. It is a perfect tribute to one of England's most popular, fictional sleuths.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Just a Few Further Thoughts


In my last post, I mentioned August Derleth's, Place of Hawks, a collection of interwoven novellas, set in Wisconsin that have a dark and moody atmosphere similar to some of Faulkner's regional fiction but without the self-conscious experimentalism. However, I neglected to provide any bibliographic data. The collection was originally published by Loring and Mussey in 1935, but since the publisher has long ago closed shop and since this was Derleth's first published book, this edition is rather scarce and dear. It would probably be easier to obtain the anthology Wisconsin Earth (ISBN 837146968), which includes not only Place of Hawks but a novel and journal, as well. Cheaper still and in print is Jim Stephens' An August Derleth Reader (ISBN 1879483114), which includes one of the stories and a great cross-sampling of all Derleth's work. I didn't mention this information earlier, because I did not have these books at hand and was too lazy to retrieve them. There is an online resource, though, for this sort of information and much more. The August Derleth Society is comprised of scholars, fans, and even friends of the author who are dedicated to keeping green the memory of this writer. Membership is quite cheap and includes a subscription to the society's newsletter.

In the last post, I also mentioned Derleth's involvement with H.P. Lovecraft, but I forgot to mention the below web page:

http://geocities.com/sherlockiana/holmesian/pons_yop.html

It's a bit of fan fiction regarding Solar Pons' encounters with the "Cthulhu Mythos". Enjoy.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Addenda

Soon after I'd composed my post about Zeppelin Stories, I discovered what should prove to be a fantastic pulp reprint: Lester Dent's Zeppelin Tales (Heliograph 2006, ISBN 1930658206). Dent is famous for his contribution to the hero pulps--Doc Savage, Man of Bronze--who followed Street and Smith's first great pulp hero creation, the Shadow.

I would also like to point out that August Derleth wrote much more than Sherlock Holmes pastiches. He is also famous for writing pastiches based upon the work of H.P. Lovecraft and even started, with Donald Wandrei, his own press, Arkham House, to publish HPL's work between hardcovers for the first time. As Bill pointed out in his earlier comments, Derleth's pastiches are not estimated very highly by many Lovecraft fans, and Bill's Brian Lumley recommendation is spot-on, as usual. Derleth also wrote several works of regional fiction and nonfiction set in his native Wisconsin, the short story collection, Place of Hawks, being an excellent example.

Coming soon: Sexton Blake.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Imitation of Holmes

At long last, there is now a web site devoted entirely to the detective, Solar Pons (I’m not counting a previously existing page which contained nothing more than a bibliography and disappeared years ago), and for the first time since the Pontine Dossier ceased publication in 1978, there is also newsletter available. Bob Byrne is the one to thank for both of these gifts, and his brilliant, new Pons site can be found here:

http://www.solarpons.com

His newsletter, The Solar Pons Gazette, is also freely available as a PDF file from this site.

For the uninitiated, Solar Pons is a fictional character, created by August Derleth and based entirely upon the most famous detective of all, Sherlock Holmes. While still a freshman in college, Derleth wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle and asked if he intended to write any more Sherlock Holmes stories. When Doyle replied that he did not plan to pen any new adventures for Holmes, Derleth decided to take a crack at it himself, and it is at that point that he encountered a unique dilemma. Since Doyle’s death, many writers have created new mysteries for Holmes and Watson to solve. These are referred to as pastiches, and they greatly outnumber the 60 stories Doyle, himself, composed. However, when August Derleth sat down to write his first pastiche, Doyle was still very much alive and to write a mystery using Holmes would have been in very bad taste and quite likely illegal. He solved this problem by creating a detective who was almost exactly like Holmes, but still somewhat unique. Holmes has his Watson; Pons has Dr. Parker. Holmes lives on Baker St.; Pons on Praed St. We last see Holmes at the dawn of WWI; Pons’ adventures do not begin until after the Great War. Holmes often steeples his fingers while listening to clients; Pons tugs at his earlobe (ala Sax Rohmer’s Nayland Smith, sworn enemy of the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu). Holmes plays the violin; Pons plays it, but very badly. Finally, Pons admires Holmes and acknowledges his greatness. Though, like all pastiche writers, he is often pilloried by Holmes fans for not being clever enough or fully evoking the atmosphere of the original stories, Derleth’s ability to conjure the spirit of the original tales and yet provide the reader with something novel is truly amazing. Interestingly enough, after Derleth died in 1971, another writer, Basil Copper began producing even more Solar Pons stories, pastiches of a pastiche. But enough from me--please check out the above site for more background or buy some of the story collections. Regrettably, most are out of print but can readily be found on Ebay, Abebooks, and Alibris.

*The above woodcut was created by Frank Utpatel and can be found in Derleth’s A Praed Street Dossier. Sauk City, WI: Mycroft and Moran. 1968. 49.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Age of Airships


Despite the dog-in-the-manger attitude of some publishers, there has been a wonderful proliferation of freely available pulp fiction downloads. One of my personal favorites is the often overlooked Pulpgen site which provides PDF scans of hundreds of stories from dozens of pulp magazines:

http://pulpgen.com/pulp/downloads/

Unfortunately, there is one title that, and this is probably attributable to its rarity, seems to completely elude not only open access sites, such as the above, but also the publishers of pulp reprints. From April 1929 to July 1929, Ramer Reviews published the now almost mythical Zeppelin Stories.

Like Train Stories and Submarine Stories, Zeppelin Stories was the product of a trend toward narrowing the focus of pulp titles to the point of utter absurdity. Because of its scarcity, I have never actually read an issue, but evidently most of the stories involved air warfare, spies, and of course Zeppelins (and, given the above cover, the occasional gorilla). With only 4 published issues, this title has become the holy grail of pulp collecting.

The odd thing about this title is that, though it’s impossible to find reprints or downloads of any of the stories it contained, a couple of recent titles have harkened back to it. For many years, pulp fans used to joke that the ultimate in silly cross-genre pulps would be something like Spicy Zeppelin Stories. In 1989, Chicago’s Tattered Pages Press supplied a punch-line to this joke by actually publishing a collection of stories under that title (fortunately, no one has ever attempted a Spicy Submarine Stories). Even more recently, in 2004, Wheatland Press published the story anthology, All Star Zeppelin Stories (ISBN 0972054774). It’s still on my list, but I have yet to get around to purchasing it. One book I have purchased and love dearly is The Zeppelin Reader: Stories, Poems, and Songs from the Age of Airships, edited by Robert Hedin and published by U of Iowa P in 1994 (ISBN 0877456291).

Nevertheless, there is still a void that desperately needs to be filled. Surely there is a collector out there who could take out a digital camera and make some PDF’s of the original Zeppelin Stories available online. Perhaps Girasol, Adventure House, or Wildside Press could be compelled to attempt some reprints. Hell, if I had access to the stories, I would type them up in ASCII by hand. The time has surely come.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Say, Man, Back Again"

After a bit of reflection (i.e. drinking), I've decided to continue with posting to this blog. It began as an assignment for one of my MLIS courses, and I'm going to keep a few of these mandatory posts, not because I want to preserve some kind of historical record, but simply because I can't bring myself to delete any comments left by my friends: Megan, Justin, Bill, and Stefanie. From here on, although library and information science is a fascinating and stimulating subject over which I'm sure countless individuals pour with palm-sweating avidity, I'm going to risk alienating this audience in order to indulge some of my own oh-so-popular interests, such as classical studies, English and French lit., pulp fiction (please have a look at the del.icio.us tags to the left), and music (I'd love it someone could identify where the above title came from). I can't promise that I'll post to this page every day, but at least once a week I'll try to throw up something that may be mildly interesting or of some utility.

For instance, this week I'd like to highlight the efforts of my friend Chris Francese of Dickinson College. Recently Chris began putting together some Podcasts that feature him discussing a Latin poem and then reading it aloud, in hopes that it will help students with their pronunciation and scansion (or merely to indulge his own odd interests). Here's where these can be found:

http://itech.dickinson.edu/blog/index.php?cat=815

Hopefully, someone out there will appreciate this, and if anyone does, please let me know. Until next time.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Over and Out

I've posted my final discussions and, to the best of my knowledge, am done for the semester! Congratulations to the rest of you and best wishes!

I have no idea yet as to whether I'll continue to update this or not. Given my aversion to journal keeping, particularly in public, I doubt I'll follow through, and if I do, I will most certainly delete the majority of my past, purely obligatory postings. Either way, I'll still be in touch and will see all of you, at the latest, in October.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Winchester Story

I was going to start working on the final LIS 2600 project, but wound up reading that Simon Winchester story, "Never Knew He Had It in Him", that I stumbled across in an old issue of Ellery Queen's. Here's an added morsel of freaky synchonicity, it takes place in the Pittsburgh area! Not surprisingly, I rather liked it. It's about something odd found in a crematorium following a war hero's incineration.

Not quite as ghastly as the publishing history of the OED, but fun all the same.

"Arthur! I'm Doing Laundry!"

Very well. All comments are welcome, but I'm still only doing this grudgingly! By the way, can anyone identify the above quote?

I took my new washer and dryer for a spin last night. Well, they're new to me--I bought them from a friend in the math dept. Besides, I happen to like "harvest gold". It turns out the hoses were mismatched, and believe me, they don't reattach as cleanly after they've been recently used (my only real knowledge of plumbing comes from reading snippets of Vitruvius). In time, though, everything turned out clean and smelling like guest room soap.

The pictures are fantastic, Meg, and Justin, combos . . .

Johnnie, I'll post my entire aesthetic manifesto in the near future (to what I'm sure will be everyone's horror).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Comments

Comments?! (See, this is one of those cases where an interrobang would come in handy [sounds like something a sailor would look for on shore leave].) I wasn't expecting comments, but I'll get back to you all, especially Meg and Justin, as soon as I finish up this review.

Evidently, Bill Fee's boss actually came into the clothing store and met my dad . . . small world. More later.

Simon Winchester, When He's at Home

I was just moving a stack of old Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazines and noticed a rather interesting item. In the October 1993 issue (a special, double issue, no less), there's a short story by Simon Winchester, titled "Never Knew He Had It in Him." Who'd have thought that, by night, Winchester writes mysteries. I don't recall the story, but I'll be sure to read it and follow this up before week's end.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Warhol Museum

Another bonus that came along with this trip was my visit to the Warhol Museum last night. Amazing! To be able to see an artist's entire career by looking at all of his original work was a stunning experience. Of course, I also enjoyed the exhibits dealing with the cultural atmosphere of New York during his residence, particularly the concert fliers for bands like Television, Suicide, the Contortions, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and Patti Smith. The museum was definitely the high point of the trip, so far.

Going Live

It's been great meeting everyone here at Pittsburgh and actually attending real classes. The whole thing seems a good deal more like school. Another benefit has been the clarification of goals and assignments which only comes from person-to-person communications. It has been rather tiring, however, and I think I'm starting to fade a bit. I'm also losing patience with the inordinate amount of complaining that seems to still be going on. At this point, I think all of the technological confusion has been addressed as adequately as it can possible be.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Just for Fun

This website has absolutely nothing to do with my coursework, and is meant purely for the enjoyment of any fellow student (or a faculty member) who may be browsing the various blogs:

http://www.oddbooks.com/oddbooks/

It's called Odd Books I Like and contains cover scans and descriptions of some really great exotica, like Does the Earth Rotate? No! and Parables from Stamps. I'm actually thinking about submitting an entry: a book that I found in a Nashville Goodwill store, called, if I remember correctly, Communist America: Must It Be?. Classic.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Julian and Jane for the encouraging words. I really appreciate that!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Lacus Curtius

I was reading Lesk's Understanding Digital Libraries the other day and, when I came to the chapter where he discusses keystroking vs. scanning, was reminded of the Lacus Curtius site:

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/home.html

This classical studies page is host to many hard to find primary materials, all of which have been typed by hand (!) by the site's creator, Bill Thayer. His primary reason for doing it this way was accuracy, but he found that it enhanced his knowledge of Latin, too. Of course, it could also be that he's completely mad! In any event, if you want to look up Frontinus on the web, his site is the place to go.