Sonntag, 26. Februar 2012

John the Balladeer


John the Balladeer

By Manly Wade Wellman.

Baen Books 1988


Hi Folks, it’s going to be a shorter post this week. The sun is shining, it’s pushing 50° and I have some garden work to do!

I had a hard time on deciding whether a paperback from 1988 qualifies as “vintage” or not. In my  eyes since I was already married for a year back then and close to being 30 than 20 it isn’t really all so “vintage” to me. But then I decided,  ”what the hell”. If you’re under 40 then I guess that you would consider this a vintage paperback.

I’ve been in love with the ManlyWade Wellman’s “Silver John” stories since I first read “The Desrick on Yandro” in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum” back in the late 1960s. Of course I didn’t know back then that this was part a series of short stories and (much later on) and novels. When I was small we would drive down from Ohio to North Carolina to visit my maternal Grand Parents. The road over the Mountains was still 2 lanes back then between the West Virginian Turn Pike and Mt. Airy North Carolina (Andy and Barney country.). You didn’t have Interstate 77 back then. You had to take the old Rt. 52. It was an amazing drive that took more than 5 hours to cross over the Blue Ridge Mts. There were forest covered mountains as far as the eye could see and to a 10 year old “Buckeye” it was amazing and a little bit frightening since you never new what was out there. I know now though. It was the world of “John the Balladeer”. My Dad, being a joker” claimed that there was a little lost Indian boy who we needed to keep an eye out for. This he explained, was why we constantly saw road signs which said “Watch for Falling Rocks”.  Back then, you were a real cut up Dad! :-)

To keep it short, “Silver John” aka “John the Balladeer” is a Korean War veteran from the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina who wanders the back roads and forgotten places of the Appalachian Mountain chain running from Virginia down to northern Georgia. Armed with only his silver strung guitar, wits, courage, a small book of bible inspired counter charms and a very strong faith in God and Jesus, John does battle with the forces of evil haunting the eastern mountains and her peoples.

Wellman settled in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina and feel in love with her people and folkways. This shows in the entire series of Silver John stories which were mostly published in “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction back in the 1950s. The stories take place in an Appalachia that never was but should have been. His mountains are populated with proud God fearing people who are often besieged by supernatural forces that exist only in Appalachian folk lore. These stories are a love song to the mountains and her people. Even if these people are living simple lives in a simpler world, they are treated with the utmost respect. This is just is one of the things that make these stories work so well. These stories also receive a timeless quality by all taking place in the forgotten/hidden places of the mountains. John being a humble mover and shaker makes him a sympathetic narrator who never comes off as boastful. An lastly the huge list of supernatural entities and “monsters” that exist only in this mountain world gives the stories a flavour that is found no where else. This book is still in print and available by Amazon or you can read it online here at Baen Books!





Table of Contents

O Ugly Bird!
The Desrick on Yandro
Vandy, Vandy
One Other
Call Me From the Valley
The Little Black Train
Shiver in the Pines
Walk Like a Mountain
On the Hills and Everywhere
Old Devlins Was A-Waiting
Nine Yards of Other Cloth
Wonder as I Wander:
Farther Down the Trail
Trill Coster's Burden
The Spring
Owls Hoot in the Daytime
Can These Bones Live?
Nobody Ever Goes There
Where Did She Wander?

And lastly, here are two clips from the awful, but well meaning film versuion "The Legend of Hill Billy John" The clip says 1974 but I swear i saw in in north Carolina back in October 1973.

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.

Sonntag, 12. Februar 2012

The Macabre Reader

  The Macabre Reader.
Edited by Donald A. Wollheim.
Ace Books. 1959. 35Cents.

“The Ultimate in Terrifying Tales”
Thomas Lovell Beddoes - "The Phantom-Wooer"
Thorp McClusky - "The Crawling Horror"
Robert Bloch - "The Opener of the Way"
H. P. Lovecraft - "Night-Gaunts"
John Martin Leahy - "In Amundsen's Tent"
H. P. Lovecraft - "The Thing on the Door-step"
Thomas Burke - "The Hollow Man"
Donald Wandrei - "It Will Grow On You"
Clark Ashton Smith - "The Hunters from Beyond"
Zealia Brown Bishop - "The Curse of Yig" (with HPL)
Ray H. Zorn - "The Greegree"
Robert E. Howard - "The Cairn on the Headland"
Henry S. Whitehead - "The Trap"
H. P. Lovecraft - "The Dweller"

This is a nice little collection put out by Ace books back in 1959. I love the cover on this one. Can’t find out who did it though. This was put together by Mr.” DAW Books” himself, Donald A. Wollheim.

This paperback offers a pretty good selection of stories. Several of which have been repeatedly anthologized these past 53 years. All of these stories are either reprints from “Weird Tales” or from WT’s short lived competitor “ Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror ”. Ok, and one from Esquire.

McClusky’s “The Crawling Horror” is a pretty good “blob” story that Brian Lumley did a good take one in “David’s Worm”. At least the endings are pretty much the same.

“It will grow on you”  by Donald Wandrei is a pretty niftly cautionary tale about a very disturbing boil that refuses to be lanced! So don’t go pissing of those South Seas Island girls!

I’m a huge “Henry S. Whitehead“   fan and he’s represented here with “The Trap”. This was co-written by H.P. Lovecraft.  It’s an odd one about a boy at a Boarding School who gets sucked into mirror once owned by an evil sorcerer. It’s up to one of his instructors to mount a rescue.
I think the creepiest thing about this story is how much time the narrator spends with young boys in his quarters during the holiday recess.  This one isn’t nearly as good a many of Whitehead’s Caribbean Voodoo stories though.

“The Thing on the Doorstep” is an excellent “Mythos” story from HPL with some veeeery disturbing sexual connotations. Guy marries a slutty little bohemian black magic dabbling hottie from Innsmouth  who, SPOILER, just happens to just be the vessel for her fathers soul! That must have been a wild wedding night! Phew!

“The Curse of Yig” written by  Zealia Brown Bishop was actually ghosted by HPl. This gives us 1x pure HPl, 1x Co-written HPl and 1x pure HPl! Plus two HPl Poems. I guess Wollheim knew a good thing when he saw it. Any ways “The Curse of Yig” isn’t all that great. Guy gets cursed by Native American snake God. Been there, done that. It’s like they always told us in the Army, “Don’t fuck with the locals”. After a couple of stories in this book I can see how that can be sound advice.

“Clark Ashton Smith” is represented here in “The Hunters from Beyond”. This is doubly odd in that it is set in modern times, which smith didn’t do much of, and it is basically Smith’s version of HPL’s “Pickman’s Model”. It’s one of those “Weird, arrogant, bohemian artist sculpture guy who does sculptures of girls getting abused by other worldly monster thingies and no one has any idea from where he gets his ideas and his best friend finds out much to his chagrin and dismay”. I guess that you know what I mean.

“The Opener of the Way” is a pretty good Robert Bloch story about an ill fated Egyptian Archaeological dig that goes very very wrong. What I found as a real plus in this story is that there is no of the typical humour or pun ending that marked a lot of Mr. Bloch’s later stories.

"The Cairn on the Headland" by Robert E. Howard is on of his Gaelic tales and warns us to let sleeping Gods lie.

Well that’s it for this week. Even though several of these stories have been anthologized over and over, this is still a very entertaining anthology ,that for it’s time, offered the reader a lot of “new” stories and helped to (re)introduce some lesser know writers.

Thanks for stopping by!

Night Gaunts:
Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,
But every night I see the rubbery things,
Black, horned, and slender, with membranous wings,
They come in legions on the north wind's swell
With obscene clutch that titillates and stings,
Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings
To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare's well.
Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,
Heedless of all the cries I try to make,
And down the nether pits to that foul
Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.
But ho! If only they would make some sound,
Or wear a face where faces should be found!
H.P. Lovecraft

Montag, 6. Februar 2012

Night Chills

 Hey Folks, it’s that time again!

This weeks book come to us from the long ago, but not forgotten year of (November) 1975! When a fat paperback only cost you $1.50! I was working after school back then at “Newark Bargain Shoes” down on the Square. We were the cheapest shoe store in Newark that still offered full service to the customer. “No Ma’am, we don’t have those in size 8, but have you seen these Pumps that just came in?”  It wasn’t a bad job and an hour's wages bought 2 books back then. Anyways, I digress. 

Night Chills
“A Treasury of Horror Masterworks never before in Paperback!
Edited by Kirby McCauley (He of “Dark Forces” fame and Stephen King’s Agent.)

This sure sounds promising! But did it live up to my expectations?
It sure as hell did!!!!

Check this list out!

"Introduction" by Kirby McCauley
"At Midnight, in the Month of June" by Ray Bradbury
"A: B: O." by Walter de la Mare
"Minnesota Gothic" by Thomas M. Disch
"The Jugular Man" by Joseph Payne Brennan
"Alice and the Allergy" by Fritz Leiber
"The Island" by L. P. Hartley
"Yesterday’s Witch" by Gahan Wilson
"Wet Season" by Dennis Etchison
"Innsmouth Clay" by H. P. Lovecraft & August Derleth
"People of the Black Coast " by Robert E. Howard
"Call First" by Ramsey Campbell
"From Beyond the Stars" by Richard L. Tierney
"The Funny Farm" by Robert Bloch
"The Face in the Wind" by Carl Jacobi
"Goodman’s Place" by Manly Wade Wellman
"Kellerman’s Eyepiece" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman
"Sticks" by Karl Edward Wagner
"The Sign-Painter and the Crystal Fishes"
by Marjorie Bowen

This is a true power house collection.

Every story here is a winner. I’m not exaggerating on this.

The volume starts out with one of those treacly slices of Ray Bradbury small town Americana called “At midnight in the month of June” which turns quickly into a wicked cat and mouse serial killer story.
“At midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim…”
E.A. Poe
The list goes on and on.
Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks” is included here for the first time. It has since become
 Wagner’s most anthologized story. And this is for a good reason.
It’s a nice Lovecraftian Mythos type of tale which was inspired by a
 true story. You can read it here… 
I even have a copy of “Worse Things Waiting” which has lots of those “Lee Coye Brown” 
Stick drawings in it!

Now lets guess which film ripped off this idea of "Sticks" in the woods? 
The Story behind "Sticks", Wagner, Brown and the "Blair witch"! 
And even more about this! 
Another goody is “Call First” by Ramsey Campbell. I remember reading this later in one of
 Wagner’s “Year’s Best Horror Stories” anthologies. It’s a nice cautionary tale for potential
 home invaders. At least don’t break into the homes of people who borrow lots of black magic
 tomes from the library!
The Robert E. Howard story “People of the Black Coast is more or less a throw away story.
 It’s still chock full of that REH over the top insanity that we’ve all come to love and respect! 
Two Castaways and giant intelligent Crabs! Mix them all together and hilarity ensues!
 It’s a wonderfully wonky “AVENGE ME!!” kind of tale.
“Yesterdays Witch” by Gahan Wilson” is one of my all time favourite Halloween stories.
 And all I’ll say is that maybe you’ll get more trick than treat on Halloween. 
As Warren Zevon once said, “and it aint that pretty at all!”. This is a fun and creepy story.
Just look at all the names listed in the contents! This is a regular “Arkham House” 
or “Weird Tales” who’s who. 
You should definitely buy this if you can find a copy of it somewhere.
I want to mention the cover.
To me this looks like an “Osama bin Laden” zombie. 
And while I’m speaking of “Osama bin Laden” zombies, I’ll leave you with this……
Thanks for stopping by!