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Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 November, 2019 08:00AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I thought I knew my Conan stories, Knygatin, but I
> don't know them all -- it must be decades since I
> read "The Hour of the Dragon." Is that the one
> you are referring to when you mention Conan
> reflecting that his children were not suited to
> the Aquilonian throne? ...

In the afterword of the book I read, Howard is cited having said this. But its source is not mentioned. I imagine he perhaps said it in a letter to someone. Conan had a goodly number of sons of concubines, but, at the time of "The Hour of the Dragon" at least, he had no male heir, because he had never bothered to formally make some woman his queen.

Conan possessed a primordial form of chivalry and reverence for women. He never forced himself onto women, and only had sexual intercourse with someone he found attractive if she were in on it on equal terms.

The Hyborian Age was a very rough time, several races struggled hard for dominance. Brutal or egoistic actions could have terrible consequences of social upheaval and sudden war. After Conan left his homeland he was a freelancer, and grabbed what opportunities he could find for his own benefit. He had many enemies, and was often on the run. I wouldn't say this was adolescent, it was a rough, struggling life, in a very rough time. Of course, an identical behavior today, transposed onto a more civilized world, is considered very immature and maladaptive. But we must also consider that Conan was no mediocre person, he was an exceptional individual; and those often have to walk lonely paths.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 November, 2019 10:34AM
I hope my comments clearly distinguish two things: (1) the character and meaning of the Conan stories as works of fiction, and (2) the character of Conan's world postulated as a real time and place.

So far I've been focusing on (1) -- or anyway have intended to do so. I've mean to say something about the character and meaning of the stories as works of fiction by Robert E. Howard. My main point has been that they are indeed works of fiction, intended to give readers a brief excitement. Howard's "formula" for doing that was to write from a kind of adolescent male viewpoint. (I haven't really gone into biographical speculations about Howard the man.)

Now I'll comment on (2) a little. Knygatin, your comment indirectly reminds me that, along with "The Hour of the Dragon," I haven't read Howard's "Hyborian Age" essay in many years. I thought about your comment that the age was a "very rough time."

From my memory of the stories, I'd say: it was and it wasn't. A fair bit of organized crime was common in the major, richest cities, but I don't have the sense that ordinary people lived terribly anxious lives. It was a rough time in the sense that it was a time, if not of long-lasting wars (as in the European "Thirty Years War"), of frequent raids, skirmishes, battles. I don't have the sense that "national" boundaries are thought of as having changed much in Conan's lifetime.

On the other hand.... I don't have the sense, from my memories of the stories, that Conan's time was a rough one in other senses. The climate was stable. Harvests do not seem to have failed. It doesn't appear to have been a time of famines or epidemics. The characters we meet are usually healthy, strong men and women. (Some of the women who have been living in palaces may not seem strong at first, but they are healthy and quickly adjust to more demanding conditions.) Civilization was advanced and settled enough that the value of currency evidently was stable, and trade between nations was well developed, though caravans of trade goods, and shipping, were always in danger of brigands and pirates. No one kingdom or dynasty seems to have dominated vast territories of subject people. Mental illness seems to have been almost unknown, although certain perversions were liable to develop among the most powerful; but nobody seems to have suffered from deep depression or paranoia; if people were afraid of things, these were usually real things that should be feared. I recall no alcoholism in the stories although occasional bout drinking occurred. In general people seem to have been occupied with work and vocation that they found interesting; I recall little or no suggestion that "alienation" was a problem. It doesn't seem to have been the case that people had to wear themselves out just to scratch a subsistence. People seem to have found life interesting, as suggested, for example, by their arts. Music and sculpture, at least, could be impressive, although oil painting wasn't practiced. The Hyborians may have feared "the gods," but in general they seem to have felt that "the gods" were not very hard to satisfy through whatever the local cults were. Human sacrifice was not characteristic of Hyborian societies; it was unusual enough to be regarded with abhorrence when it was known to occur; it was then seen either as evidence of a primitive, sub-civilized culture, or as evidence of chronic decadence. Religious wars were unknown.

So I'd say the Hyborian Age, or anyway Conan's time, was and wasn't rough.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 November, 2019 12:16PM
Ok. That is a hefty amount of argument for your viewpoint. Although I have not read the book [A Means to Freedom] myself, I would recommend you, Dale, to look into Howard's and Lovecraft's correspondence. They have extensive arguments over the qualities of barbarism and civilization.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 26 Nov 19 | 12:28PM by Knygatin.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 November, 2019 01:18PM
I think that, before I'd read those two volumes of Howard-Lovecraft letters, I would want to read historian Richard Overy's The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilization, 1919-1939. I read a fair bit of it a few years ago & recall being struck by how mainstream some of Lovecraft's preoccupations were vis-à-vis his own time, e.g. Chapter 3 "A Sickness in the Racial Body." Of course, the book is focused on Britain rather than the United States.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 November, 2019 03:03PM
kojootti Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> As my experience with Tolkien is limited to his
> "Fellowship of the Ring" and his short stories
> (some of which may appeal to admirers of Smith's
> fantasies), I cannot contribute so much to the
> comparing of Howard and Tolkien, except that I
> think it is very much worth comparing the two,
> both being progenitors of very different yet also
> weirdly similar sub-genres of heroic fantasy.
>

Sadly I cannot comment or do much evaluation on Tolkien other than in the most intuitive sweeping sense, it was such a long time ago I read The Lord of the Rings, and I have only read it once as a teenager. The latest I read by Tolkien, a few years ago, was the short "Smith of Wootton Mayor", which I liked a lot.

I think it is a truth that a book cannot be fully appreciated upon its first reading. Because then our senses are at the start a blank, beginning from where we are at present in the mundane world, and then preoccupied with discovering the story, the characters, of which we know nothing before. We hurry forth to see what happens next. It is only on subsequent readings, when we are familiar with the story, the overall pattern is clear, understand who the characters are and the reasons for their actions and reactions, that we can start exploring the terrain more fully and deeply. We don't need to hurry because we already know the continuation, and no worry about the future hinders us from enjoying the present and lingering around especially meaningful and favorite sections.

I am continuing my reading of Dracula, after a break, and it is truly enjoyable. Those descriptions of the female vampires in chapter III, must be the archetype above every other. Masterful.
Also, I am reading it on my screen, a digital pdf of an old book, and this is very special. Since the screen glows it is less straining for the eyes than a real book. I have only read one book digitally before (The Sound of His Horn, by Sarban. A very bizarre book which I recommend.). There is only the story, the words, the sentences; but no paper, no weight of a book, not material object associated. Only the story that goes into you head ethereally, without any form of slag residue left to steal your attention. It is a most satisfying sensation.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 26 November, 2019 03:38PM
"I think it is a truth that a book cannot be fully appreciated upon its first reading. Because then our senses are at the start a blank, beginning from where we are at present in the mundane world, and then preoccupied with discovering the story, the characters, of which we know nothing before. We hurry forth to see what happens next. It is only on subsequent readings, when we are familiar with the story, the overall pattern is clear, understand who the characters are and the reasons for their actions and reactions, that we can start exploring the terrain more fully and deeply."

Bravo, Knygatin!

That's such a good point. We often first read a story with a strong appetite for narrative -- what's going to happen next? Other elements of the literary experience may be just a blur on that first reading.

It's also true, though, that rereadings will sometimes reveal flaws in a work that had strong narrative appeal. The textbook example is Connell's "Most Dangerous Game." On a first reading you may be the plaything of the author as he deals out his hero's adventures. But if you read it again and actually pay attention -- ! The same is true of a better story, Doyle's "Speckled Band." I don't know how many times I have read it, and I always enjoy it, but rereadings reveal some pretty remarkable examples of unbelievableness.

My favorite quick example might be "The Red-Headed League," another Sherlock Holmes story. I used to have my freshman comp students read it along with some other short stories. Now it is a delightful story. But the thing is that they -- like me, like me! -- hardly ever noticed the chronological howler that stares you in the face . . . . once you have seen it. When exactly does Jabez Wilson come to see Holmes?

But the best stories reward attentive reading and rereading. Still, there is room in this world for entertaining stories that are fun to read once.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 26 Nov 19 | 03:39PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 November, 2019 03:06AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ... That's such a good point. We often first read a
> story with a strong appetite for narrative --
> what's going to happen next? Other elements of
> the literary experience may be just a blur on that
> first reading.
>

I got this from someone else, don't remember exactly who.

When young, many a voracious reader don't consider rereading a book. In the rich landscape of books are thousands of untried roads. A fool who walks them twice!
There is a vital difference between the first and second reading. The first reading corresponds to our normal non-reading life; we don't know what gifts will come, what is around the corner, and not what is on the next page. So we hurry on to find out. We have no idea what meetings and episodes will be vital to our life, and to the invented characters in the book. Not until we are near death, and on the last page; then we know.
On the second reading everything is in clear and meaningful order. It is like reading a dead man's self-biography (such a book was of course never written) or looking back on our own life briefly on the brink of death. In the book we are able to revisit our favorite central moments.
The first reading brings almost unbearable excitement. The second, third, and so on, brings both excitement and the comfort of knowing the outcome.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Ashurabani (IP Logged)
Date: 1 December, 2019 02:07PM
I would highly recommend James Elroy Flecker's "The Last Generation", a bizarre, tour de force about a future where child bearing is punishable by death.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 2 December, 2019 10:51AM
Given the season, I decided to re-read "In Amundsen's Tent." The first two-thirds are still as beautiful and immersive as ever, painting such vivid pictures of the Antarctic otherworld... While the last third was an unintentionally hilarious romp. If it weren't for the publication date, I'd almost think it was a subtle satire on Lovecraft's tendency to pile on the melodrama. I ended up chuckling at the main characters as they suddenly turned into cartoons, begging on their knees and -insisting- that -whatever- is in that tent is TOO HORRIBOBBLE to see! Take their word for it! Ah!!!!

All in all, a beautiful story, up until the end, then it becomes unintentionally(?) hilarious for this reader.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2 Dec 19 | 10:56AM by kojootti.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 2 December, 2019 04:05PM
A lot of horror stories are funny, and one never knows if the humour involved in them is intentional, or not. For example, "Horla" splits my sides whenever I read it. "The Strange Adventures Of A Private Secretary In New York" by Algernon Blackwood, "The Hound" by H.P.Lovecraft, "Tcheriapin" by Sax Rohmer or "The Supernumerary Corpse" by C.A.Smith are also very hilarious, so are a lot of Weird Tales.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 2 December, 2019 07:14PM
That is very true. Smith certainly had a prominent sense of humor in even his most gruesome tales. "Necromancy in Naat" was a very grim and hopeless story with the pulse of a stone-cold corpse, yet that climax was so over-the-top I wondered if he meant for it to be a sudden jolt of black humor and cartoon antics. I'll have to re-read "The Hound" very soon, but I remember that having such a wild, wild, wild ending. I don't remember any other story where Lovecraft's characters break off into mad laughter while running away! And one of the strengths of "Horla" is certainly that it wasn't just a solid block of one tone, which can hinder the longer horror stories for me.

I have a few Blackwood books I haven't finished, so I'll check that one soon. Blackwood used several different tones in his stories, so I can easily believe that. I never even heard of Sax Rohmer, so I'll investigate that immediately!

As for "In Amundsen's Tent", I think the thing which brought me to a little fit of chuckles was just how sudden the tone shifted. It began with this feeling of overwhelming awe and majesty, of deep impressions of the gigantic, monolithic ice-world, and then when we get to that one tiny tent, the characters suddenly start pleading like desperate Looney Tunes characters, begging the main character, and by extension the reader, to leave! flee! go! In the name of God! Please! Ahh!!! The world is not prepared!!! Humanity is doomed! Doomed!!!



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 2 Dec 19 | 07:19PM by kojootti.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 3 December, 2019 04:47AM
Sax Rohmer was a popular author of his day. His stories often take place in exotic locations (Egypt, Chinatown). He is the creator of Fu-Manchu, an insidious and evil Chinese criminal. Rohmer also wrote "the Witch-Queen" Lovecraft mentiones in his "Supernatural horror in Literature". Many of his short stories are a piece of crap but some are really good. ("Tchériapin", "The Master of Hollow Grange" or "The Valley of the Just")
[gutenberg.net.au]
[www.gutenberg.org]



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 3 Dec 19 | 04:49AM by Minicthulhu.

Re: A good weird/horror/sci-fi book to recommend
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 3 December, 2019 12:22PM
Thank you very much for this. Winter for me has always been a prime time for horror and dark fantasy literature, so I'm eager to read these, especially the best of his work that you mentioned, which I can see in that collection.

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