Sonntag, 19. Februar 2012

Our Lady of Darkness

 Fritz Leiber’s „Our Lady of Darkness“ .
Originally serialized in the January and February 1977 issues of  “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction”.
First paperback edition published by Berkley books in February 1978.
Cover art by Richard Powers.

This week’s blog’ll be a little different. I’m going to discuss a novel and not an Anthology.
I first came across Mr. Leiber’s “Our Lady of Darkness” in the January 1977 issue of “Fantasy & SF” under the title of “Pales Brown Thing”. It was serialized in two parts. January and February 1977. This was the first novel of Fritz Leiber’s that I had ever read. Up to this time I had only read a few of his short stories. This was also the first work of “Horror/Dark Fantasy” that I had read which was set in the modern world. Lastly this was the very first issue(s) of F&SF that I had ever read. We had had a terrible snow storm in Ohio and I was so crazy to get out of the house (I had just turned 16 a few months earlier.) to get a book that I walked all the way down town  through fairly deep snow and single digit temperatures just to GET SOMETHING TO READ!. This show how much of a reading junkie I was. I can still remember going into O’Coons Drug Store on the Square and going over the paperback selection. The kept the SF mags with the paperbacks. I saw the amazing cover of the January 77 issue of F&SF and thought that I’d give it a try. I was so impressed with Part One of Leiber’s novel that I couldn’t wait for the next issue to come out.

“Our Lady of Darkness” is a wonderful Dark/Urban Fantasy.  Can’t honestly call it a horror novel, but that makes no difference. Fritz Leiber was a man who could write amazingly well in the genres of SF, Fantasy and oddball horror. That is a very rare talent. His works have also aged amazingly well. He was one of those few artists (yes artist) who could do social criticism/commentary without getting preachy or ham handed about it. He entertained and challenged at the same time. I wish more writers would learn how to do this.

Here’s the descriptive text on the back cover………..

“On the bright San Francisco morning that Westen saw the gray, shadow-boned horror peering out at him from his own apartment window, the city became a realm of terror with no escape. For this evil-spawn lurked in every airshaft and alleyway, feeding on the despair and screams of the modern city as the daemons of old fed on the fears of their dark age. It had choosen him, and it had choosen well…As terrifying as THE EXORCIST, as chilling as SALEMS LOT, OUR LADY OF DARKNESS explores the nightmare forms of the supernatural in the modern age.”

Damn! That sound like a good book.
This is one of those cases where the description is simultaneously 100% correct and false.
This comes of as a very “Lovecraftian” story. It is and it isn’t. It is much more of a “Jamesian” story than “Lovecraftian”. I think this is the only way they thought they could market the book since H.P. Lovecraft is more well know in American than M. R.James.
I want to talk more about marketing later on though.

The story on the surface sounds extremely simple. A writer of horror paperbacks who is also a recovering alcoholic buys an old journal in a used bookstore. It turns out this is the journal kept by “Clark Ashton Smith” while he was living in San Francisco around the time of WWI where he became involved in a sort of estoteric cult. The leader of this cult espoused a theory called “megapolisomancy“. As far as my limited intelligence understands it, Megapolisomancy deals with how large citys become generators and attractors of psychic energies and para-natural beings and how these beings and energies can be manipulated. The writer “Jack London” was also a member of this group. Sounds kind of “Lovecraftian” to me.
The journal describes how many members met terrible ends after breaking away from the cult.
 Weston, the narrator of “Our Lady,”is actually Fritz Leiber himself. All of the locations described in the story are real. Leiber was living in the “Tenderloin” district of SF during the time he wrote the book. This comes through in all of the descriptions in the book. The building Weston lives in, the neighbourhood, the surrounding area and even the main focal point of the story “Corona Heights”.  Weston becomes haunted by the forces described in smith’s journal and the novel describes how Weston tries to understand why he is pursued and  how he attempts to defeat these forces. The book is fairly short but dense. He throws out so many quotes and references that there is even a site online annotating all of this. It doesn’t detract from the novel if you don’t follow up the quote and references. These add more depth and almost come across as insider jokes for fans of old pulp fiction and esoterica, but aren’t necessary to enjoying the story.The book is a lot of fun while it provides a supernatural mystery straight out of an M.R. James story and acts (now) as a time capsule of mid 1970s San Francisco. All in all, it is an extremely satisfying work and a quick read. It’s still available at Amazon.

Let’s talk about marketing now. The original cover of the book fit the story perfectly. The cover doesn’t say anything about the story, but is very evocative of “weirdness” and believe me, this story just reeks of “weirdnes”. Now if you look at the newest incarnation of this novle you’ll immediately get a sense of “what the hell are they trying to pull here?”
It’s obvious that instead of trying to sell the novel on its own merits they are trying to rope in the “Twilight/paranormal romance/goth chick lit” crowd. The new cover just screams “Twilight” you. This is extremely dishonest of the publisher.  I think that the true audience for this novel would walk right by and the folks buying this based on the new cover will probably be seriously pissed off.

Before we go on, here are a few wonderful sites covering "Our Lady of Darkness".

To show how the market/readership/fandom has changed over the years and how all pervasive the “Twilight” novels have become (or at least how much power and influence retailers have give them.) is shown here.
I was looking at DVDs last year when I ran across these. At first I passed them on with barely a glimpse, but then the alarm bell went off. Part of the film titles seemed familiar. I looked again and thought “They have to be kidding!!!. I’ve been waiting for ages for these films to come out on DVD over here and this is how they market them???”

In Germany the films are rated by viewer age.  For example:
“Care Bears”: No restriction.
“Disney’s Snow White”. 6 years and up.
“Lord of the Rings”. 12 years and up.
“Halloween II (the original 1981 version.): 18 years and up and heavily censored too!
The laws were changed last year stating that the rating can’t be on the back cover anymore. It has to be on the front DVD cover in huge print. Now this (for some of us.) ruins otherwise possibly attractive poster/cover art. Thankfully many of the companies bring out the newer DVDs with reversible covers. They are back printed with out the rating on the art.
Now these DVDs also came with reversible covers.
This is unbelievable how dishonest these bastards are. Those who want these films walk right by while those who buy them aren’t getting what the think they are.
The scans below are of the front and reverse sides of the DVD covers.

Front Covers for the teen aged sissy vampire crowd!

          Back covers using original Film Posters!

 Thats a huge difference. 2000teens Girl spooky or 1980s ORIGINAL lowbudget Vamopire horror!

Well that it for this week. Thanks once again for stopping by. If any of you have any suggestions or complaint just leave a comment. I’m doing this for you and me, but without any readers it becomes kind of pointless to share my obsession with an empty room.

Take care.


  1. I hear you on the whole thing about the covers of those SUBSPECIES movies being changed to attract the "Twilight" crowd. But let's be honest here: those original covers look horribly dated and unappealing now. There's a better than average chance most wouldn't pick them up and give them a try. That new OUR LADY OF DARKNESS doesn't necessarily say "Twilight" to me either. It looks like an extremely generic, all-purpose cover that could be horror or romance or whatever. It doesn't give me any idea at all of what the book is actually about.

  2. I like the original covers. They say "enterntaining trash" and i think that that pretty much sums up the "Subspecies" films. The new oLoD cover doesn't necessarily say "Twilight" but to me it has the whole Twilight/ Modern vampires aimed at young women genre. Now weither this is on purpose or just laziness I can't say for sure. I think that it's on purpose though.
    Take care.

  3. What really irks me about the new OUR LADY cover is that Booklist quote, "one of the best books of the year," without mentioning the year! I totally agree that people who would like the book ignore it, while the kids into teenage vampires would hate it. The publisher only cares that somebody buys the book, not continuing Leiber's legacy with new generations.

  4. @Will,
    I don't have much of a problem with generic covers. Almost every Paul Lehr or Richard Powers cover was generic. They were classy as hell and helped set the mood though. This "lady vampire/possesed/undead" crap is either intentionaly misleading or just plain lazy. And to be honest I don't truly know what lots of younger people read these days. There's so much wonderful stuff that's not in print anymore. And as far as I'm concerned Harry Potter and co. are not the same as Harlan Ellison, Robert E. Howard,H P Lovecraft or Larry Niven, all of whom were some of my favorites when I was 15
    I'm 50, and sadly, read very little new stuff. I was back in Ohio last September and went to a Barnes&Noble Mega store and didn't find a single thing that interested me. and as far as younger folks go,I recently had a very educated younger guy tell me that he doesn't need to read any Phil Dick since he's seen most of the movies based on his stories! To be fair though, I new plenty of folks like that 30 years ago. My gripe these days is that books have become so ugly. they all look the same. At lest most of the UK paperbacks over here do. Look at all the scans posted at your place. Those covers at least made people stop and take a look at the book. i'm a huge fan of the "Special Agent Pendergast" novels by Preston & Child. These stories are pure throw back pulp. You'd never know that by looking at them though. They look like every other thriller, police procedural ect.

    So eneough already with my the disjointed/rambling bitching. That new edition of "our Lady" really does suck though.

  5. *sigh* Those F&SFs came out 35+ years ago? That would seem to indicate that I'm getting genuinely old.

    I'd been subbing to the mag for about 3 1/2 years by then, & the 2 halves of Pale Brown Thing (I still have difficulty thinking of the novel as "Our Lady of Darkness"!) were certainly among the highlights of that run ... even when said run is extended to the remaining 7 or 8 years my sub remained unbroken. As it happens, they would've arrived during the first half of my senior year of high school, during which time I was really ill with what turned out to be (as diagnosed some 11 years later) Crohn's disease, when I could use all the well-wrought escapism I could find. Thanks, Fritz & F&SF.