Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Next Post is:– One Hundred Sketch Notes For Empty Planet

My next post, unusually for me, will have no images or maps so I expose the visual and melodious heart of the planet here. I am not an artist by any means but the image I made below is what I look at most often and in combination with this song from a Cassavetes movie I have concocted an incantatory fuel.

Quintessential MP3 for Empty Planet –– Rainy Fields of Frost and Magic
(from – The Killing of a Chinese Bookie)

Click To Enlarge

Monday, December 8, 2014

Phaa Discovers The Abode of Pri

Kings are under ice no more,
Their thrones kill frost,
High crowns ablaze.
Fools drum on their eyes to drown
The songs of worms-were-men.
In outer dark winds ghosts pray,
'Tombs are doors, we come and go.
Together and alone we find our god' 
Each spirit seeks a second funeral,
Embrace the sun, ... the sun, Amon!


Phaa surveys the half submerged Castle on the rock desert of Empty Planet looking for suggestions of a stair to Aione

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What D&D Magazine Did This Pic Come From

This is one of a handful of AD&D or gaming pictures I really like. I have used it to characterise the Fighter-Assassin type on many occasions. Does anyone recognize it? I assume it came from Dragon or White Dwarf or some other gaming magazine from the late 1980s.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Nine Fantasy Writers have Frequency of Exposure Graphed over Decades

I present a graph below which simply shows the relative frequency with which the nine fantasy writers I have chosen have been mentioned in the vast corpus of books google have examined. This is a result from the Google Books Ngram viewer, a tool which allows someone to investigate shifts in language usage over time but it can be used for simple headcounts too.

Gary Gygax's influence through D&D on the exposure of these writers is undeniable but notice also that D&D did not create a persistent awareness and interest in these writers. It looks to me that as the general wave of interest in old school D&D – OD&D AD&D1e – wanes that writer exposure returns towards the pre-Gygax influenced trend. It is not obvious that this should have happened, when great but neglected writers or composers are rediscovered their new level of exposure usually persists.

To see that these counts are not dominated by references solely within RPG books it should be enough to note that Jack Vance and Mervyn Peake have very similar presences and that Lovecraft is the most frequently mentioned.

To be careful, what is counted here is mentions of the writers names in books and not directly, but likely indirectly, a measure of the extent to which these writers were being read.

One cool thing about these Ngram graphs is that you can hover over an author to see his curve more clearly.

[Added to make a point in the comments:]


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

My First Podcast About My Fantasy Literature Forum

It's five minutes long and kinda dumb.

Fantasy Literature Forum Podcast #1

I hope to do a better podcast next week or maybe it will be exactly the same as it was fun to do.


[Edit: Have changed file storage to dropbox Thurs 25]


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Michel Houellebecq Article on Lovecraft

Michel Houellebecq's book HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (1991) was published in English in 2005. The Guardian in that year extracted a long article from the book which I recommend reading.

Those who love life do not read ... Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world. We need a supreme antidote against all forms of realism.
Lovecraft ... was more than a little fed up. In 1908 at the age of 18, he suffered what has been described as a "nervous breakdown" and plummeted into a lethargy that lasted about 10 years.
In a 1920 letter he revisits his childhood at length. The little railway set whose cars were made of packing-cases, the coach house where he had set up his puppet theatre. And later, the garden he had designed, laying out each of its paths. It was irrigated by a system of canals that were his own handiwork, its ledges enclosed a small lawn at the centre of which stood a sundial. It was, he said, "the paradise of my adolescent years". Then comes this passage that concludes the letter.

I perceived with horror that I was growing too old for pleasure. Ruthless Time had set its fell claw upon me, and I was 17. Big boys do not play in toy houses and mock gardens, so I was obliged to turn over my world in sorrow to another and younger boy who dwelt across the lot from me. And since that time I have not delved in the earth or laid out paths and roads. There is too much wistful memory in such procedure, for the fleeting joy of childhood may never be recaptured. Adulthood is hell.

The "Great Texts": The Call of Cthulhu (1926), The Colour Out of Space (1927), The Dunwich Horror (1928), The Whisperer in Darkness (1930), At the Mountains of Madness (1931), The Dreams in the Witch House (1932), The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1932), The Shadow Out of Time (1934).

"Islam is the stupidest religion."

You can read an excellent Paris Review interview with Michel Houellebecq, 2010. Of his novels I can recommend Atomised (1998) for his observations on the jadedness of lifeHe doesn't give a shit what people think of him in a way that reminds me of Doug Stanhope. If you are a man in your thirties or forties and don't know who Doug Stanhope is then fuck off.

From the beginning of the interview:
Who are your literary precursors?
Recently I’ve wondered. My answer has always been that I was very struck by Baudelaire, by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, by Dostoyevsky and, a little later, by Balzac. All of which is true. These are people I admire. I also love the other Romantic poets, Hugo, Vigny, Musset, Nerval, Verlaine, and Mallarmé, both for the beauty of their work and for its terrifying emotional intensity. But I’ve started to wonder whether what I read as a child wasn’t more important.
Like what?
In France, there are two classic authors for children, Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. I always preferred Jules Verne. With Dumas, the whole historical thing bored me. Jules Verne had this exhaustive vision of the world that I liked. Everything in the world seemed to interest him. I was also very struck by the tales of Hans Christian Andersen ... I was on a class trip to Germany, my first trip abroad, and strangely I had brought the Pensées of Pascal. I was terrified by this passage: “Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.” I think it affected me so deeply because I was raised by my grandparents. Suddenly I realized that they were going to die and probably soon. That’s when I discovered death.
What other authors affected you?
I read a lot of science fiction. H. P. Lovecraft and Clifford Simak. City is a masterpiece. Also Cyril Kornbluth and R. A. Lafferty.
What attracts you to science fiction?
I think sometimes I need a break from reality. In my own writing, I think of myself as a realist who exaggerates a little. But one thing definitely influenced me inThe Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft: his use of different points of view. Having a diary entry, then a scientist’s log, followed by the testimony of the local idiot. You can see that influence in Atomised where I go from discussions of animal biology, to realism, to sociology. If not for science fiction, my biggest influences would all belong to the nineteenth century.

Lovecraft's survey of the literature that interested him is well worth reading too. It is to be found in Volume 2 – Dagon of the Grafton/Granda paperback collection or you can read it online here: Supernatural Horror in Literature


Monday, September 8, 2014

A Forum for Fantastical and Irreal Literature – (part 3)


My idea is to have a forum up and running by the end of the year, so that over the Christmas holidays there should be something to read. Reading is a slow process, and commenting on a book can appear more daunting than commenting on a movie, therefore I think it is worthwhile to keep a proportion in your head that 30 pages of a novel is equivalent to two hours of a movie. If you read even 30 pages of a novel you have just a right to comment on that work as any movie critic hack, and should do so. That's my view. And if you write an engaging review of a two hundred page novel that is seven times more significant than any movie review ever writen. That is my view.

Here is a list of what I want to read before the end of the year, this is not the same as what I expect to read:

Beckett – Four Novellas
Homer – The Iliad; Lattimore
Keith Thomas – Religion and the Decline of Magic
Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange
Harold Lamb – Swords From the West
Wordsworth – The Prelude
Dante – Sinclair; The Inferno
Montaigne – some more of his Essays
Jack Vance – Cugel's Saga
William Morris et al. – Gettir the Strong
A. Geike – Geology
ER Eddison – Mistress of Mistresses
Dieter Arnold – The Monuments of Egypt
Stone & am Ende – Beyond the Deep
Beckett – The Trilogy
... and for real pleasure close to the birth date of the baby Jesus:
Peake – Gormenghast – Folio Society Ediion
Doughty – Travels in Arabia Deserta – Limited Editions Club Edition
Cervantes – Don Quixote – Limited Editions Club Edition

So, I recommend that anyone who stumbles on this blog read again your favourite author or authors so you can make a case for them towards the end of the year. The emphasis of this forum will be suggestion, recommendation, persuasion, insight. Potency and intensity are the watchwords. Can extreme fiction match drug induction?

If you think you have something to say then brush up on any fantasy author you admire so you can contribute a paragraph in December and get the ball rolling on a topic that interests you. That is the point of a forum as far as I can see. Unless you are a D&D gamer, if you are a D&D gamer I don't care much what you think about the fantasy literature.

Feel free to declare what you expect to read by the end of the year.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Forum for Fantastical and Irreal Literature – (part 2)


Focus – The forum is intended to provide a place for discussion and reviews and recommendations of the most potent works of the fantasy literature. Such a focus places hard chronological limits on which authors are to be admitted – from William Morris to Gene Wolfe – with specific discouragement if not exclusion of jaded praise for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit because there are too many people who have only read those works and the forum would not suit them.

Room must be found for classical literature with a heavy supernatural presence and modern literature of the profoundly unsettling kind – Homer, Dante, Kafka, Beckett for example. Further, it seems right to include the old Icelandic Sagas and tales of high adventure such as those of Harold Lamb.

Structure – I think each author should have his own thread. Individual works can have a thread if they are begun with a review. Themes or subjects such as lycanthropy, automatons, reincarnation, evil wizards, and so on could each have a thread devoted to them.

I don't believe there is any need for threads such as 'What are you reading?' or 'Recommendations'. In the first case it would collect pretty trivial pieces of information; if there are points to be made they should go in the author threads. In the second place recommendations should be implicit everywhere in the forum; there is no need to post a bad review unless it is an hilarious condemnation.

Members – I imagine membership would be tiny given the focus. Gamers would not be particularly welcome as they are generally poorly read and daft, however, I believe there are readers out there in the dark on the web who might be coaxed to contribute if they eventually stumble on the forum.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

William Morris – The Water of the Wondrous Isles

At a time when they were little appreciated William Morris, working with his teacher Eirikr Magnusson made translations of many of the Icelandic Sagas which fascinated him. Presumably Magnusson worked literally and Morris poetically. Of the great writers of fantasy Morris most closely rivals ER Eddison's skill with language. Eddison, who himself translated Egil's Saga recommended in that volume to read Morris's translations where possible. The map below first published in Morris's Grettir the Strong in 1869 is identical in design to those Eddison used in his novel Mistress of Mistresses of 1935.

Morris also wrote two novels of lasting magnificence, The Well at the World's End (1896) and The Water of the Wondrous Isles (1897). I discovered Morris for myself late, only after my interest the Icelandic tales took me beyond the central pillars Egil's Saga & Njal's Saga. I decided to try The Water of the Wondrous Isles on my Kindle free from gutenberg.org and frankly was stunned that I had dismissed or ignored such a powerful writer in my favourite genre for so long. I think I winced. I sought out a first edition because I wanted a decent hardback copy and I quickly noticed that these typically came with deteriorated spine and boards. By chance I stumbled on a copy someone had seen fit to rebind in such a fashion that it is the smartest looking book I possess.

The Water of the Wondrous Isles – 1897 – Longmans, Green, and Co. 1897
The Well at the World's End – 1896 – George Prior Publishers 1979
Grettir the Strong – tr. 1869 – George Prior Publishers 1980
The Story of the Volsungs – tr. 1888 – Walter Scott 1888

(It would be hard to name a single work which influenced both Wagner and Tolkien more than The Story of the Volsungs)


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