Doug Talks Weird about Ligotti

Last week Doug Bolden posted the third of his video blogs discussing Weird Fiction and in this instalment he talked about the Thomas Ligotti short story ‘The Frolic’ and the meaning of the term ‘Lovecraftian’.

‘The Frolic’ is one of Ligotti’s earliest published stories and, as good as it is, it is one of my least favourite Ligotti tales. The story centres around a psychiatrist who is dealing with a patient who is a notorious child murderer -he refers to his abuse and murder of children as ‘frolicking’- and who has become increasingly cynical and bitter about his career. To me the story seemed rather simplistic and, dare I say it, trite though that could well be to do with the stories age –Songs of a Dead Dreamer which features the story was Ligotti’s first collection released in 1986- or perhaps due to Ligotti trying to curtail his literary ambitions in order to appeal to the horror publications of the time.

Where I didn’t enjoy the story Doug manages to tease the Ligottian elements from within what is otherwise a by the numbers psycho-killer story.

There was a short, 24 minute, film made of ‘The Frolic’ a few years ago which is now available on Vimeo. I’ve not seen it and so can’t comment as to the quality but you can watch it below.

Joseph S Pulver Sr: The King in Yellow Tales, Volume One

This review should have been published yesterday on the day that this awesome collection of King in Yellow inspired stories was published. Unfortunately a poorly Little Ms. X was more important than the timely publishing of reviews. So sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday which, fittingly ,was also the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert W. Chambers.

tl;dr: This is amazing, buy this book.

Joseph S. Pulver is the King in Yellow –sorry True Detective fans; the Yellow King does not reside in Louisiana where he drives a power mower. No; this particular bEast resides in Berlin where he writes a form of Weird Fiction that seamlessly blends Noir, Beat, and Decadence with a cosmic kind of horror which can in turns wash over you with deliciously off kilter poetics before filling you with a dread that works its way into the darker, most hidden, reaches of your psyche.

The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories in the French Decadent tradition written by an American, Robert W. Chambers, in the 1890s. Pulver has been producing work which riffs off of the King in Yellow the_king_in_yellow_t_cover_for_kindlestories for decades and he is the person most responsible for keeping the yellow flame alive as a field of literary exploration in its own right for all that time. During the 20th Century Chambers’ work was brought into the mythology created by H.P. Lovecraft and the strange denizens that wreak havoc in Chambers’ work were turned into ancient and terrible alien gods by the acolytes of Lovecraft, even though he only made passing reference to them in his own work. Pulver has all but severed these ties to Lovecraft and instead seeks to explore the maddening influence of the more mysterious aspects of Chambers’ work: the titular play which drives mad any who witness or read the second act, and the Yellow Sign which casts a baleful influence over all who are unfortunate enough to encounter it.

That’s not to say that Pulver has abandoned all Lovecraftian elements; the first story proper in this collection, ‘Choosing’, is a post apocalyptic nightmare merging both mythologies into a bewildering scream of frustration and pain. Frustration at one’s powerlessness to resist horrors heaped down upon us by those protected by power and tradition; pain at the suffering inflicted upon those about whom we care by those stronger than us. To me this story seemed to speak of the way in which women, as a body of people, are abused and maltreated by society and the powerlessness of individuals to confront and challenge this maltreatment. Of course the story is also a brilliant horror tale and it’s testament to Pulver’s skill as a writer that his works can be read in different ways and to varying depths.

“To no particular where, just went. Stepped right into August like it was a voyage or a baptism. Stopped in his cheap room, grabbed his stuff and left. Somewhere down the road he’d find her. The wind would take him to her”

-‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’

Pulver’s hard-boiled, noir infected, prose in the ‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’ triptych of stories takes Chambers’ creations and places them firmly into America’s bourbon soaked underbelly of hustlers, hookers, lunacy and bloody murder. This dark sensibility and affinity for the broken refugees and cast-offs of society permeates much of Pulver’s work and his characters reflect this darkness. You will not like some, or many, of the characters in this book but then: you’re not supposed to. These are the stories, after all, that lurk in rain drenched alleyways waiting to seize an unsuspecting passerby and to turn their world upside down.

Joe Pulver is no a fearful writer and his prose in this collection illustrates this eagerly as he experiments with the form and function of the English language. Happily jumping from beat infused noir to decadent stage plays and poetic verse. His playing with form suggests to me that the printed page is going to give the reader the greatest appreciation for his work –though a regular e-reader may render the prose as it was initially meant to be read, I read this on my smartphone and the reflowing of some of his more poetic tales has guaranteed that I am also going to seek this collection out in paperback.

In ‘Saint Nicholas Hall’, dedicated to America’s Kafka –Michael Cisco, Pulver takes his creative muse and uses is as a scalpel to hone a beautifully realised modernist(?) prose poem that again plays with the form of the written word to fashion a phantasmagoric Carcosan cityscape through which the protagonist travels towards his confrontation with loss.

These are just a handful of the stories that make up this first volume of Jospeh Pulver Sr.’s collected King in Yellow tales. I highlighted these few as I feel they illustrate quite how deep a literary well Pulver is drawing from. This collection is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in the renaissance of weird fiction which has been underway these last few years. Pulver is a master of his art and you deserve to read him.

Info on where to buy the book in print or as an ebook can be found here(LINK).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Rick Lai
  • A Line of Questions
  • Choosing
  • Carl Lee & Cassilda
  • An American Tango Ending in Madness
  • Hello is a Yellow Kiss
  • The Last Few Nights in a Life of Frost
  • Chasing Shadows
  • Last Year in Carcosa
  • An Engagement of Hearts
  • Cordelia’s Song
  • Saint Nicholas Hall
  • A Spider in the Distance
  • Under the Mask Another Mask
  • Epilogue for Two Voices
  • Yvrain’s “Black Dancers”
  • The Songs Cassilda Shall Sing, Where Flap the Tatters of the King
  • The Sky Will Not Fall
  • Tark Left Santiago
  • Marks and Scars and Flags
  • Long-Stemmed Ghost Words
  • In This Desert Even the Air Burns
  • Perfect Grace
  • My Mirage
  • Mother Stands for Comfort
  • A Cold Yellow Moon (with Edward R. Morris Jr.)
  • Afterword by Pete Rawlik

She Walks in Shadows: ToC and Cover Reveal

Well this is a perfectly timed announcement isn’t it? The table of contents and absolutely stunning cover art, by Sara K. Diesel, for Innsmouth Free Press’ She Walks in Beauty anthology have been revealed. The book will be released in autumn -in time for Halloween. 🙂 Hopefully we’ll also see two other all women anthologies released by then: Cassilda’s Song, a collection of King in Yellow stories curated by Joe Pulver, and Dreams from the Witch House: Women of Lovecraft (which is still $500 short of reaching funding and $5000 short of having all interior illustrations in colour, so go fund it).

“Bitter Perfume” Laura Blackwell
“Violet is the Color of Your Energy” Nadia Bulkin
“Body to Body to Body” S. J. Chambers
De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae” Jilly Dreadful
“Hairwork” Gemma Files
“The Head of T’la-yub” Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia)
“Bring the Moon to Me” Amelia Gorman
“Chosen” Lyndsey Holder
“Eight Seconds” Pandora Hope
“Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” Inkeri Kontro
“Turn out the Lights” Penelope Love
“The Adventurer’s Wife” Premee Mohamed
“Notes Found in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961″ Sharon Mock
“The Eye of Jupiter” Eugenie Mora
“Ammutseba Rising” Ann K. Schwader
“Cypress God” Rodopi Sisamis
“Lavinia’s Wood” Angela Slatter
“The Opera Singer” Priya Sridhar
“Provenance” Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“The Thing in The Cheerleading Squad” Molly Tanzer
“Lockbox” Elise Tobler
“When She Quickens” Mary Turzillo
“Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” Valerie Valdes
“Queen of a New America” Wendy Wagner

 

Strange Fiction?

This is a really interesting article over at Nightmare Magazine by Simon Strantzas. I don’t particularly agree with it in his definition of what constitutes a weird tale (I prefer Mieville’s notion of the uncanny vs. the abcanny) and he seems to take cosmic horror as the defining feature of the weird tale rather than it being a facet of the weird.

“Weird fiction of this[the pulp adventure] sort seems to have had its birth in America, bursting onto the scene from Lovecraft’s pen. The exploration of the cosmic indifference (at best; malignance at worst) melded with the adventure story suits the mindset of the new world, whose mythology gravitates to philosopher-explorers.”

I don’t even think HPL would agree with this as he seemed to place himself into the wider cannon of the weird along with Machen, Blackwood, et al.

In the article Strantzas tries to delineate the ‘strange’ tale from the ‘weird’ tale. A distinction that I’m not sure is possible with the definitions that he gives.

“These are tales where the otherworld isn’t as much known as it is hinted at, and rather than explore the philosophies of our shared existence, the strange is more interested in the psychology of our individual lives. If the weird is cosmic, the strange is micro-cosmic, investigating the universe within our psychological existence.

[…]

It’s these feelings of disconnection that form the primary power of the strange tale, and from where it draws the bulk of its emotional power. Real life moments of loss, despair, and depression wreak a certain kind of havoc on us and can quite literally distort our comprehension of the world as we experience it. In many ways, this distortion and that of the strange’s dream-logic overlap, allowing the strange to become a proxy and providing readers the opportunity to directly confront their turmoils. That being said, it would be irresponsible to suggest the readers are then able to prevail against these forces, for with the strange no one really comes out ahead. Those that survive are ultimately scarred by the experience—which may be the most realistic and lifelike of all horror’s punishments. Existential wounds follow both the protagonists and the reader long afterward, which plays in stark relief to the weird and its sudden onset of temporary madness in the face of the impossible.”

Now to me this seems as though it would fit squarely within the realm of the weird tale as written by Schulz, Kafka, Cisco, and others. It sounds, to me, like Strantzas is describing weird fiction as influenced by the surrealist movement.

I don’t know, perhaps we do put too much emphasis on the cosmic horror aspect of the weird (which is no surprise being as HPL looms so large in the field) which may, or may not, be to the detriment of the wider weird. Personally I find the diversity of the weird to be extremely appealing. I love being able to slip from one tale of epic cosmic terror to a more subtle tale that teases at the frayed edges of what it is to be human.

Either that or I should, perhaps, not think about these sorts of thing before I’ve had my morning coffee…