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general question to ED members...
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 11:51AM
When considering any given author, do you find that you are more interested in that person's life experiences and/or stated beliefs (as perhaps derived from reading his/her correspondence), or are you more interested in the varied effects that author produces in his/her works, and the techniques s/he tends to employ, or the themes explored?

Of course it's not likely to be simply one or the other, but an admixture, with one aspect more important than the other.

On reflection, I find myself much less interested in *why* an author writes as s/he does, as informed by his/her experiences, but more interested in the techniques used to create the chosen effect. To a degree I'm also interested in possible influences on his/her work, and how his/her work has influenced others. I prefer to do this by analysis and comparison, rather than by authoritative reference, or even statements by the author, him/herself.

When you think about it, what aspects of any given writer's work seem most interesting to you: personal life/experiences, or stylistic/thematic influences and techniques?

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 02:26PM
We are talking about "authors" right? Given the context of the forum, are we not assuming authors whose fame primarily depends on literary material (e.g. fiction) that is not explicitly autobiographical? Given those premises, does not the question answer itself?

If the author is my dad or my sister, that of course changes things.

And of course, if I have already read the author's primary literary output, then that leaves more room for me to become interested in other aspects of his life, including private letters. But surely the latter interest will be derivative of my appreciation of the author's fiction or (less likely) his poetry.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 02:45PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> We are talking about "authors" right? Given the
> context of the forum, are we not assuming authors
> whose fame primarily depends on literary material
> (e.g. fiction) that is not explicitly
> autobiographical? Given those premises, does not
> the question answer itself?
>
> If the author is my dad or my sister, that of
> course changes things.
>
> And of course, if I have already read the author's
> primary literary output, then that leaves more
> room for me to become interested in other aspects
> of his life, including private letters. But
> surely the latter interest will be derivative of
> my appreciation of the author's fiction or (less
> likely) his poetry.


Ah, I see the response stated in the final paragraph.

You seem to be saying that you favor familiarizing yourself with the principal examples of an author's output, then considering the author's life experiences and any private letters.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 03:12PM
Sawfish Wrote:
> Ah, I see the response stated in the final
> paragraph.
>
> You seem to be saying that you favor familiarizing
> yourself with the principal examples of an
> author's output, then considering the author's
> life experiences and any private letters.

Essentially, yes (given the premises I stated), though I was also checking to make sure I did not misunderstand the question. Of course, in the context of reading for entertainment, both steps are always purely optional. One is not obliged to read a horror writer's works at all, and one certainly need not progress to his private letters.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 22 Aug 20 | 03:16PM by Platypus.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 06:39PM
I think maybe it depends on the author? I read and re-read CAS in my teens and twenties, and re-read a lot of his stories again around ten years ago. Increasingly - with authors like him, Howard & Lovecraft - I'm interested in the context; the kind of lives these men led, how (as I think Hespire conjectured) living in Auburn must have influenced CAS, as I reckon environment is a big influence on any author's imagination. What was it about the place that inspired CAS to write the kind of stories he wrote? Or were his stories a retreat from that same environment? And so on and so forth.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 06:53PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think maybe it depends on the author? I read and
> re-read CAS in my teens and twenties, and re-read
> a lot of his stories again around ten years ago.
> Increasingly - with authors like him, Howard &
> Lovecraft - I'm interested in the context; the
> kind of lives these men led, how (as I think
> Hespire conjectured) living in Auburn must have
> influenced CAS, as I reckon environment is a big
> influence on any author's imagination. What was it
> about the place that inspired CAS to write the
> kind of stories he wrote? Or were his stories a
> retreat from that same environment? And so on and
> so forth.

I think there's always that facet--e.g., I've become increasingly interested in a point brought up here over the last few months: in what sense does HPL's materialism inform his writings?

But for the most part I spend a lot more time on the particular work, itself--how various effects were achieved (or conversely, how they failed). What's the central idea of the piece and where/how does it fit into a larger philosophical framework of thought?

There is, also, the effectiveness of any attempt at inducing an emotional response in the reader.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 07:26PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think maybe it depends on the author? I read and
> re-read CAS in my teens and twenties, and re-read
> a lot of his stories again around ten years ago.
> Increasingly - with authors like him, Howard &
> Lovecraft - I'm interested in the context; the
> kind of lives these men led, how (as I think
> Hespire conjectured) living in Auburn must have
> influenced CAS, as I reckon environment is a big
> influence on any author's imagination. What was it
> about the place that inspired CAS to write the
> kind of stories he wrote? Or were his stories a
> retreat from that same environment? And so on and
> so forth.


Seems like a natural progression. But it also seems like your interest in his more private aspects are derivative of and secondary to your interest in his public output. And I don't see how it could be otherwise, given that none of us are his close family.

I'm sure that, in the eyes of Almighty God, CAS's simple value as a unique human being is worth infinitely more than any of his works, public or private. But to a puny mortal like me, he is just one man, out of billions who lived on this planet during the last century. If not for the horror stories he wrote, I would and could not be interested in him, whether he deserves it or not.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 07:46PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Cathbad Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > I think maybe it depends on the author? I read
> and
> > re-read CAS in my teens and twenties, and
> re-read
> > a lot of his stories again around ten years
> ago.
> > Increasingly - with authors like him, Howard &
> > Lovecraft - I'm interested in the context; the
> > kind of lives these men led, how (as I think
> > Hespire conjectured) living in Auburn must have
> > influenced CAS, as I reckon environment is a
> big
> > influence on any author's imagination. What was
> it
> > about the place that inspired CAS to write the
> > kind of stories he wrote? Or were his stories a
> > retreat from that same environment? And so on
> and
> > so forth.
>
>
> Seems like a natural progression. But it also
> seems like your interest in his more private
> aspects are derivative of and secondary to your
> interest in his public output. And I don't see
> how it could be otherwise, given that none of us
> are his close family.
>
> I'm sure that, in the eyes of Almighty God, CAS's
> simple value as a unique human being is worth
> infinitely more than any of his works, public or
> private. But to a puny mortal like me, he is just
> one man, out of billions who lived on this planet
> during the last century. If not for the horror
> stories he wrote, I would and could not be
> interested in him, whether he deserves it or not.


Against all odds I think that we agree on this important point: that there are concentric circles of those whom we value as persons, and their independent value diminishes the further removed they are from our inter-relationships.

I don't wish to define your views on this point, Platypus, so please feel free to correct/expand.

The reason I first initiated this topic was to broach the subject of what amounts to hero worship as it relates to public figures, including literary figures. My gut feeling is that there are some who near-idolize literary figures (Cult of Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, etc.) and hence may be attracted to aspects of their lives--and this tends to influence their evaluation of that figure's works.

I try very hard indeed to separate the message from the messenger. For the most par I don't much care about the messenger--am interested in the message. That s/he may have created the message is of some interest, but not a lot.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 08:51PM
Sawfish Wrote:
> I think there's always that facet--e.g., I've
> become increasingly interested in a point brought
> up here over the last few months: in what sense
> does HPL's materialism inform his writings?


On the latter question, I can only recall expressing my own opinion, and I don't recall much push-back.

But certainly, if two fans were to argue about to what extent HPL's fiction could be characterized as "materialist"; it would not be entirely irrelevant that HPL was in fact a materialist, and this could be proven by appealing to external evidence -- for instance by quoting HPL's letters. I don't think that would necessarily end the argument (and in this case I think it does not), but it would certainly be a fair and relevant thing to bring up.

But, of course, the only reason the two fans care about this question is because they care about HPL's fiction in the first place.

I happen to own some volumes of HPL's letters in the Arkham House editions. I have also read some of his letters in their original form as scanned on the Brown University website. But of course, I never would have been sufficiently interested in HPL to do this, if I did not enjoy his fiction.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 09:35PM
Sawfish Wrote:
> Against all odds I think that we agree on this
> important point: that there are concentric circles
> of those whom we value as persons, and their
> independent value diminishes the further removed
> they are from our inter-relationships.
>
> I don't wish to define your views on this point,
> Platypus, so please feel free to correct/expand.

Well, I tried to distinguish his value as a person from his value TO ME as a person. But apart from that, yes, that is more or less what I was trying to say.

I need a specific reason to be interested in the private life of one of the billions of people on the planet who died before I was born, and cases like this, it is because I like horror stories, and CAS and HPL happened to write some stories that I like. It is not that I am necessarily uninterested in their private life, but that is entirely secondary to my interest in their fiction, and my desire to understand their fiction.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2020 11:12PM
I myself don't have a very good reason for my interest in CAS' personal life. I generally don't peek into the private lives of authors, and I don't worship any human being (not even CAS, who has written many stinkers I complain about elsewhere, and has expressed sentiments I partially or wholly disagree with). I simply found his stories and poems so special to me compared to any other writer, and when I discovered this website I was interested in te articles about him and letters written by him, finding the man interesting and closer in spirit to my lonely soul compared to most people I've met. But I've long since given up this period of studying his life, especially when I came to understand CAS' distaste for biographers, who he compared to vultures.

I still find the man's life very interesting, but it is indeed secondary to his work, which is the real draw for me. His stories speak a lot for him, anyway, and a lot beyond him too, which is the great appeal of stories above their creators.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 22 Aug 20 | 11:22PM by Hespire.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 23 August, 2020 11:42AM
Hespire Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I myself don't have a very good reason for my
> interest in CAS' personal life. I generally don't
> peek into the private lives of authors, and I
> don't worship any human being

Yes, same here, and perhaps I overstated the attachment that enthusiastic readers have to an admired author as "worship". It's closer to a fan club, or a level of personal admiration, maybe.

> (not even CAS, who
> has written many stinkers I complain about
> elsewhere, and has expressed sentiments I
> partially

This part really intrigues me, Hespire. I see it that way, too; CAS seemed to clearly have written both very inspired stuff, and also almost painfully uninspired stuff--both for commercial publication. Now, when I consider HPL, I see a whole lot more consistency. None of the HPL stuff I've read (I've read most of the popular press collections multiple times), I don't consider any of it to be uninspired like some of the CAS stuff is.

[NOTE: I keep saying that about CAS, and maybe right after I finish this, and maybe some more coffee, I'll try to look at the Stories list here on ED and find an example of a stinker. Maybe I'm exaggerating this; it'll be a good way to find out.]


> or wholly disagree with).

I'm not sure tat I've seen any attitude or conveyed belief that I really don't like in CAS--or in most authors, now that I think of it. So I guess in my case this proves nothing.

> I simply found
> his stories and poems so special to me compared to
> any other writer,

I agree that he's a sort of "lightning-in-a-bottle" kinda guy. Some of the stuff seems *so* personally invested, in terms of the author (CAS) *personally* occupying his narrative as he creates it--and this conveys verisimilitude and gravitas, even in his fantastical settings--that it was instantly magnetic to my sensibilities.

Too, he has that little twist of fatalistic irony, often off-set by wry and ironic humor, and I always found that immediately appealing.

So right off the top of my head, the stories "The Double Shadow", "The Dark Eidolon", "The Isle of the Torturers", and "The Coming of the White Worm", were of the type that *immediately* grabbed my attention, and hold it still.

> and when I discovered this
> website I was interested in te articles about him
> and letters written by him, finding the man
> interesting and closer in spirit to my lonely soul
> compared to most people I've met.

I started on the letters/article but they never hooked me.

But it's certainly true that I've always tended to be a loner by choice. For the first 6 years of my life I lived 'way the hell out in the country, in rural CA, and just wandered around with a slingshot, and later a BB gun. There were no playmates, no houses all that close. My folks bought an encyclopedia set from a traveling salesman, and I liked that really well.

Now that I'm thinking of it, that's an area of commonality with CAS, I suspect.

> But I've long
> since given up this period of studying his life,
> especially when I came to understand CAS' distaste
> for biographers, who he compared to vultures.

Hah!

*That's* the spirit!

That's actually very funny to consider, and in a sense dead-center in his zone of humor.

>
> I still find the man's life very interesting, but
> it is indeed secondary to his work, which is the
> real draw for me. His stories speak a lot for him,
> anyway, and a lot beyond him too, which is the
> great appeal of stories above their creators.


Thanks for your views! Very interesting!

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 23 August, 2020 12:31PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish Wrote:
> > I think there's always that facet--e.g., I've
> > become increasingly interested in a point
> brought
> > up here over the last few months: in what sense
> > does HPL's materialism inform his writings?
>
> On the latter question, I can only recall
> expressing my own opinion, and I don't recall much
> push-back.
>
> But certainly, if two fans were to argue about to
> what extent HPL's fiction could be characterized
> as "materialist"; it would not be entirely
> irrelevant that HPL was in fact a materialist, and
> this could be proven by appealing to external
> evidence -- for instance by quoting HPL's letters.
> I don't think that would necessarily end the
> argument (and in this case I think it does not),
> but it would certainly be a fair and relevant
> thing to bring up.

The part that resonates with me is a sort of perceived contradiction that is admittedly based on my subjective assessment of HPL's attachment to the worldview portrayed in most, if not all, of his fiction. In short, he portrays a very threatening physical cosmos, of which mankind, his small portion of the known universe is painfully, creepily insignificant.

To the modern mind, it kinda slaps "exceptionalism" upside the head...so to speak.

So this all appears consistent with an unexplored physical (material) cosmos, and to my mind supports the idea that he's a materialist at heart--as I am, so this resonates with my own sensibilities.

But he so consistently injects his idea of the expanded cosmos, the one that we have no information of, with an almost subjective malevolence, that the entities that might appear to humans as both powerful and threatening, and that they do *indeed* wish us ill. It's not exactly like stepping on ants inadvertently; there seems to be a sort of delight in doing so, and *this* is an injection of Judeo-Christian or gnostic malevolence.

Cthulu, in a sense, comes off as a mean kid with a magnifying glass on a sunny day, by an anthill.

This attribution of *intent* seems at odds with materialism, and when I combine this with my perceived--again, subjective--assessment that HPL is in some sense emotionally attached to his subject matter (he writes with a restrained conviction that comes across as consistent within the body of his main works) that it makes me wonder if he has rationally adopted materialism, but is deeply agnostic in his convictions.

That to him, there just *might* be cosmic, subjective evil out there...and he give voice to this doubt in his works.

Does this make any sense to you, Platypus? I'm just playing around with this idea because I'm retired, bored, and this is interesting, in an odd way.


>
> But, of course, the only reason the two fans care
> about this question is because they care about
> HPL's fiction in the first place.

Yes, this makes sense to me. No one (or hardly anyone) would be introduced to an author of fiction as a historic figure, then read exhaustively about his/her life without reading his/her works. There are exceptions, I suppose. The Marquis de Sade is probably someone of whom more is read than their works are actually read.

I suppose I was trying to explore when a reader becomes a fan, to the degree that their admiration begins to distort their objective judgement.

>
> I happen to own some volumes of HPL's letters in
> the Arkham House editions. I have also read some
> of his letters in their original form as scanned
> on the Brown University website. But of course, I
> never would have been sufficiently interested in
> HPL to do this, if I did not enjoy his fiction.

Again, makes sense.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 23 August, 2020 01:13PM
Quote:
Sawfish
> (not even CAS, who
> has written many stinkers I complain about
> elsewhere, and has expressed sentiments I
> partially

This part really intrigues me, Hespire. I see it that way, too; CAS seemed to clearly have written both very inspired stuff, and also almost painfully uninspired stuff--both for commercial publication. Now, when I consider HPL, I see a whole lot more consistency. None of the HPL stuff I've read (I've read most of the popular press collections multiple times), I don't consider any of it to be uninspired like some of the CAS stuff is.

I absolutely agree regarding consistency in Lovecraft's work. It was a satisfying journey when I began reading him in my youth, as it was rather rare for him to write a story I did not enjoy in some way. It felt like returning to a service whose quality you could always count on. He never entered a story without any painstaking care, devotion, or enthusiasm. (Unless he did so in some of his ghost writings, which I haven't read in a long while.)

Quote:
Sawfish
[NOTE: I keep saying that about CAS, and maybe right after I finish this, and maybe some more coffee, I'll try to look at the Stories list here on ED and find an example of a stinker. Maybe I'm exaggerating this; it'll be a good way to find out.]

My idea of a "stinker" might differ from others and I'm always open to reconsidering my opinions, but I consider his "Captivity in Serpens" a bit of a stinker. It wasn't poorly written (in my memory, at least) but it was a long ramble of sci-fi action cliches which felt underwhelming and pointless. Some of the alien descriptions were wonderful, especially the faery-like city and its vampiric inhabitants, but it was mostly a playground for the usual space-explorer tropes.

Quote:
Sawfish
> or wholly disagree with).
I'm not sure tat I've seen any attitude or conveyed belief that I really don't like in CAS--or in most authors, now that I think of it. So I guess in my case this proves nothing.

That might have sounded stronger than I intended! And now that I think about it, the only thing I know of CAS that I strongly disagree with are his views on sex and romance, or what we know of them at least, but this is a personal lifestyle choice rather than any fault of his own. Otherwise, any disagreements I've had with him were partial. His dismissal of psychology, for instance, is a bit too strong for my worldview, but I mostly agree that people who obsessively analyze everything through psychology (or worse, pseudo-psychology, which a lot of young people today are into) often miss the point of the thing, especially when it's some form of art.

Quote:
Sawfish
I agree that he's a sort of "lightning-in-a-bottle" kinda guy. Some of the stuff seems *so* personally invested, in terms of the author (CAS) *personally* occupying his narrative as he creates it--and this conveys verisimilitude and gravitas, even in his fantastical settings--that it was instantly magnetic to my sensibilities.
Too, he has that little twist of fatalistic irony, often off-set by wry and ironic humor, and I always found that immediately appealing.

Indeed! CAS was the first fantasy/sci-fi author who made me realize that one can transcend genre, opening a door to a rich experience (to Saturn?) rather than amusing readers for a half-hour or so. His ancient and alien settings, his phantasmic creatures, and his almost folkloric sense of sorcery feel real no matter how strange they are. His characters have nuanced personalities which I can connect with more easily than Lovecraft's scholarly narrators (though I recognize the personal strength in them for Lovecraft's uniquely realistic style). And on top of that, his rich use of irony adds a memorably emotional, intellectual, and ambiguous touch to his stories often missing in the usual fantasy and sci-fi fare. There are other writers like this, such as Jack Vance, but they are quite rare, and I only began reading Vance in the last few years.

Quote:
Sawfish
I started on the letters/article but they never hooked me.
But it's certainly true that I've always tended to be a loner by choice. For the first 6 years of my life I lived 'way the hell out in the country, in rural CA, and just wandered around with a slingshot, and later a BB gun. There were no playmates, no houses all that close. My folks bought an encyclopedia set from a traveling salesman, and I liked that really well.

I was born in California too, and unfortunately it was in the highly urbanized part of it, which never appealed to my spirits since early childhood, not aesthetically and not culturally, so I was never popular with people. I was meant to be a country boy, and fortunately am one now! I almost envy the sort of childhood you described, but I suppose the grass is greener as they say. Certainly sounds like a lot of idle adventuring. One thing you and I share in common is the use of encyclopedias our parents bought, which I also used to delight in. Gave me a great escape into history, prehistory, other cultures, sciences, mythology, religion, etc. Perhaps for this reason I found interest in CAS' life, a fellow Californian, with tastes similar to my own, but from a different world I always yearned for. I don't delude myself into thinking he's some excellent example of humanity, but it made for a nice escape from my urban existence.

Quote:
Sawfish
Hah!
*That's* the spirit!

That's actually very funny to consider, and in a sense dead-center in his zone of humor.

I'm no necromancer, except in a uniquely personal sense, so I'd rather let the dead rest! My ex-wife once joked about a story idea, about a long-dead author's corpse resurrected through sorcery by his fans, who force him to write more stories! Like the dead from "The Empire of the Necromancers", I can't imagine a worse fate!



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 23 Aug 20 | 01:43PM by Hespire.

Re: general question to ED members...
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 23 August, 2020 03:32PM
Hespire Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> My idea of a "stinker" might differ from others
> and I'm always open to reconsidering my opinions,
> but I consider his "Captivity in Serpens" a bit of
> a stinker. It wasn't poorly written (in my memory,
> at least) but it was a long ramble of sci-fi
> action cliches which felt underwhelming and
> pointless. Some of the alien descriptions were
> wonderful, especially the faery-like city and its
> vampiric inhabitants, but it was mostly a
> playground for the usual space-explorer tropes.
>

CAS was pissed off with the pulp publishers who demanded this kind of stuff from him. He wrote to Lovecraft along the lines of "I'll give them their eck-shun this time!!"

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