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Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 August, 2017 06:11PM
Knygatin's remarks about the Golden Age of Science Fiction inspire me to start a new discussion thread.

I'm going to contend that the Golden Age of (Modern) Fantasy was the 25-year period 1887-1912. "Fantasy" here is used broadly to include what we now call science fiction, as well as fantasy and what's often called "dark fantasy." "Fantasy" has come to suggest the kind of thing Ballantine emphasized in its Adult Fantasy Series (1969-1974), while "dark fantasy" seems to me more descriptive than "horror," since when people write about liking "horror" they generally seem to mean fantasy with pronounced horror elements. (If it were just "horror" that one wanted, I, at least, would think that plausible, realistic fiction or indeed nonfiction would be more likely to be truly horrifying. But I don't think many people read about the Armenian genocide, for example, for entertainment.)

The 1887-1912 period is bounded by Haggard's SHE at the beginning and Doyle's LOST WORLD at the end.

In between, you have outstanding work in fantasy of such as William Morris (The Well at the World's End, etc.), George MacDonald (Lilith), Dunsany (short fiction -- the Pegana-type stories), etc. You have the fantastic art of the late Pre-Raphaelites such as Edward Burne-Jones and J. W. Waterhouse, which remain influential today on how people imagine fantasy scenes, and Arthur Rackham. In music you have much of Sibelius's work with fantastic associations.

In the 1887-1912 period, science fiction is represented by the masterpieces of H. G. Wells (War of the Worlds, Time Machine, etc.) and W. H. Hodgson (House on the Borderland), etc. There's Stevenson's endlessly-recycled (by other auithors) Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One can squeak in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Under the Moons of Mars, as I recall -- the magazine version of A Princess of Mars.

And in this period you've got, for dark fantasy, the first volumes of M. R. James's ghost stories, Blackwood masterpieces like "The Wendigo," Stoker's Dracula, Arthur Machen's "White People" and other famous stories, etc. Henry James's superlative novella The Turn of the Screw belongs to this period.

It might be argued that quite a lot of what later authors in these genres did was mostly a matter of combining elements already deployed during the Golden Age. Lovecraft saw himself as working in a James-Machen-Blackwood vein: add some Wells and, especially, Hodgson, and you've got almost everything HPL worked with, not to say he's nothing but a pasticheur or something. But weird tales of cosmic horror are not his unique invention.

This is also the period in which Rudyard Kipling, who is, I think, often overlooked by genre fans, wrote outstanding stories of the uncanny and even, I believe, of science fiction -- I would have to look up his futuristic tales. Walter de la Mare wrote eerie verse in the period.

One could create quite a list of stories from this period that can be and are read for enjoyment still, not just by historians and obsessives of the genres.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 05:37AM
That era of writing followed after the Transcendentalism movement, and had an honest and serious (perhaps naive?) spiritual quality to it. It was like a cosmic window stood wide open during those years. Algernon Blackwood, for example, believed in what he wrote. No one today writes supernatural fiction like that; today the approach is more self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek, and shallow, written merely for artificial shocking effect, or deliberately constructed as psychological symbolism. We are now all slaves under a materialistic age.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 10:49AM
Your comment, Knygatin, will receive, I hope, patient and reflective responses. I'll try to advance the discussion a little. Here are some thoughts.

1.The idea you imply, that a writer will write better supernatural stories if he (=the male or female author) believes in the supernatural, seems, at first sight at least, likely to be true. I don't know if it could really be proven. First, we would need to establish what are the (qualitatively) best stories in the genre. There'd probably be agreement about some favorites -- I suppose almost everybody who reads a lot of supernatural horror and has read, say, "The White People," likes it (but some might find it lacking in the graphic visceral quality they like...) -- BUT there might be a lot of disagreement about which stories are good apart from a small canon of classics. Then we would have to try to find out what the authors of those stories believed. But a second problem is that we don't know what the authors really believed, at least in some cases. What I mean is that there are probably a few authors who are on record about what they believed -and- are writing accurately, with sufficient self-knowledge, about the matter. I expect that when Blackwood went on record as saying he believed in, and practiced, certain disciplines that (he believed) enabled him to achieve a greater state of awareness, which revealed the "supernatural," he was sincere. But I don't -really- know that, and perhaps Blackwood himself, "deep down," believed something different. I know no reason to doubt that he did know what he really believed and that he was telling the truth about the matter, but I don't know. But to hold that the writer of the best supernatural stories must believe in the supernatural would require me to know that sort of thing, wouldn't it? Perhaps I'm making too much of these things, but I do feel like there are a couple of ambiguous matters here.

2.Nevertheless, I think you have a good point -- up to a point. Machen seems to have grown up as an orthodox Christian who soon rebelled against "puritanism" (to use the term loosely). He became convinced of the reality of the paranormal at least. He was some kind of Christian most of his life. (See the discussion of the academic paper "Man Is Made a Mystery" on machen's thought: [www.sffchronicles.com]) Haggard seems to have believed in an eclectic set of beliefs including elements of Christianity and also reincarnation, etc. Blackwood did believe in the supernatural or the preternatural. M. R. James was, so far as I know, an orthodox Christian, and he also believed (which not all orthodox Christians do) in the possibility of "ghosts." I don't know a lot about de la Mare, but I think he did regard reality as something elusive, not just material, and not susceptible of being pinned down by empiricism. Hodgson (if my impression is correct) held to some kind of non-Christian spirituality. Wells may have believed in some kind of godlike potential for mankind if evolution wasn't defeated by us destroying ourselves, but I don't think he believed in the supernatural. Doyle, as everyone knows, became a public defender of occultism, the reality of fairies, etc. I don't know what Morris's beliefs were. As a socialist, he presumably thought largely in terms of the material conditions of life affecting or even determining society and the beliefs of individuals. George MacDonald was an ardent, but unorthodox, Christian. I have the impression that Dunsany didn't believe in the supernatural. So I think, Knygatin, that you could support your point about the Golden Age authors with quite a bit of biographical information.

3.It seems to me that the contemporary authors, whom I mostly don't read, don't have the sense of a transcendent or spiritual dimension. This helps to propel them towards more physical horror. Back in the 1980s I read several of Stephen King's novels, and was struck by how often the horror involved severe injury, gruesome death, etc. I suppose that this is what we find in the books of many other authors and in movies. The question may then be asked, as to whether being mutilated and bleeding out thanks to a bomb planted by a Mohammedan terrorist on a subway platform or being clawed to death by a zombie are all that different.

4.This brings me to Clark Ashton Smith. I'm curious about his beliefs, if it is possible to say much about them, but don't know a lot about his life. My sense is that he was probably close to the materialist Lovecraft, though more attracted to "decadence" than HPL. But I would guess that CAS didn't believe in the supernatural. His stories are replete with gruesome physical outrages, and very unlike the stories of Blackwood or Machen, say.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Martinus (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 11:37AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It might be argued that quite a lot of what later
> authors in these genres did was mostly a matter of
> combining elements already deployed during the
> Golden Age. Lovecraft saw himself as working in a
> James-Machen-Blackwood vein: add some Wells and,
> especially, Hodgson, and you've got almost
> everything HPL worked with, not to say he's
> nothing but a pasticheur or something.

Are you implying a Hodgson influence on Lovecraft?

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 12:19PM
Yes, I believe that Lovecraft was influenced by Hodgson. Certainly Lovecraft had read Hodgson (vide "Supernatural Horror in Literature"). Lovecraft is quoted on the Ace paperback reprint of The House on the Borderland and the Ballantine Adult Fantasy reprints of The Boats of the "Glen Carrig' and The Night Land. For details of HPL's interest in WHH I'd want to consult some biography of Lovecraft. But offhand I think there's every reason to believe that Lovecraft read Hodgson in plenty of time for the earlier writer's "cosmic" horror to influence Lovecraft. Whether Lovecraft ever -said- that he was influenced by Hodgson, I don't know.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 04:10PM
As I see it, the golden age of traditional fantasy (swords & sorcery, dragons, etc.) came later, with R. E. Howard, (Lovecraft and especially C. A. Smith touching upon it), Fritz Leiber, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jack Vance. That's when this kind of imagination really flowered. I have read a few of the precursors: Dunsany, MacDonald, Morris, but don't consider them golden age of fantasy. MacDonald I found too "Christian", and Morris I couldn't get into at all.

The golden age of science fiction, I think would be from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Anyway, those are my personal opinions. There are a lot of early authors I have not read, so I am open to altering my view.

The "1887-1912" period I consider mainly to be the golden age of supernatural fiction (Blackwood, Machen) and of fantastic visionary fiction (Hodgson's The Night Land, E. R. Burroughs's Mars and his iconic Tarzan). There was a spiritual, or mentally hightened quality, during these years, that exalted the fiction, and lifted it into other levels of reality.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 04:37PM
And of course, the golden age of weird fantasy, were the years with A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, and C. A. Smith. Golden years, indeed!

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Martinus (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 05:27PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Yes, I believe that Lovecraft was influenced by
> Hodgson. Certainly Lovecraft had read Hodgson
> (vide "Supernatural Horror in Literature").
> Lovecraft is quoted on the Ace paperback reprint
> of The House on the Borderland and the Ballantine
> Adult Fantasy reprints of The Boats of the "Glen
> Carrig' and The Night Land. For details of HPL's
> interest in WHH I'd want to consult some biography
> of Lovecraft. But offhand I think there's every
> reason to believe that Lovecraft read Hodgson in
> plenty of time for the earlier writer's "cosmic"
> horror to influence Lovecraft. Whether Lovecraft
> ever -said- that he was influenced by Hodgson, I
> don't know.

Lovecraft read Hodgson for the first time in 1934 -- the Hodgson passage in "Supernatural Horror in Literature" was inserted after the article appeared in The Recluse. Hence, only "The Shadow out of Time" and "The Haunter of the Dark" could show any Hodgson influence. So no, Hodgson's influence on Lovecraft was minimal.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 10 August, 2017 06:18PM
Very interesting, Martinus -- thank you. It's remarkable, since Hodgson's House on the Borderland anticipates so much that stands as characteristic of Lovecraft: the remote real-world setting (west of Ireland rather than backwoods New England), manuscript in old house, manuscript that terminates with something ghastly about to -get- the narrator, strange house, supernatural-scientific phenomena, prowling creatures, cosmic vistas, "littleness of humanity," and so on. But if he wasn't influenced, he wasn't influenced.

DN

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 11 August, 2017 05:11AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> And of course, the golden age of weird fantasy,
> were the years with A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft,
> and C. A. Smith. Golden years, indeed!


A. Merritt was a romantic and represented the essence of fantasy, but composed fiction only as a sideline from his regular work. The Metal Monster, The Moon Pool, The Conquest of the Moon Pool, original magazine versions of The Face in the Abyss and The Snake Mother. The pink spider-men in a hidden valley of South America, ... MY GOD!!! What a tremendous IMAGINATION!!!

Lovecraft and Smith came along, and did it better from a literary standpoint. Lovecraft's nephew Edward told him that The Metal Monster was dull (the damn'd fool!, to cite Lovecraft), so Lovecraft only read this novel very late finally. Otherwise it might have influenced his work.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Martinus (IP Logged)
Date: 11 August, 2017 07:51AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Very interesting, Martinus -- thank you. It's
> remarkable, since Hodgson's House on the
> Borderland anticipates so much that stands as
> characteristic of Lovecraft: the remote real-world
> setting (west of Ireland rather than backwoods New
> England), manuscript in old house, manuscript that
> terminates with something ghastly about to -get-
> the narrator, strange house,
> supernatural-scientific phenomena, prowling
> creatures, cosmic vistas, "littleness of
> humanity," and so on. But if he wasn't
> influenced, he wasn't influenced.

The similarity could also explain why Lovecraft was so enthusiastic when he did discover Hodgson -- there were other writers that he mentioned (at one time or another) that he wanted to include in an update of SHiL (such as A. Merritt), but in the case of Hodgson he actually did it.

Re: Golden Age of Modern Fantasy
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 12 August, 2017 02:52AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Knygatin,
>
> 1.The idea you imply, that a writer will write
> better supernatural stories if he (=the male or
> female author) believes in the supernatural,

There was a force behind that belief, and with the best authors's talent and intelligence of that era, the stories became very convincing. But it wasn't necessarily better fiction on the whole, aside from that specific point. Later writers became better at fleshing out stories with imaginitive details, color, form, and sophisticated idea structures.



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