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Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - The Tale of Sir John Maundeville
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 10 September, 2020 02:33PM
Indeed! It's strangely active around here! Too active for me to engage deeply, with my current schedule, but I'm reading these discussions eagerly.

I'll just add something on top of my thoughts on the Worm's immortal biology. I always felt the Worm was more or less the figurehead, spirit, avatar, metaphor, etc. of Death itself, so when it said it conquered and devoured the entire kingdom, it was metaphorically saying that death, pestilence, famine, or whatever made the kingdom unlivable. Of course, knowing these stories, it also could have literally eaten everyone! But the great thing about vague suggestions is they allow all kinds of speculation.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10 Sep 20 | 02:33PM by Hespire.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - The Tale of Sir John Maundeville
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 September, 2020 09:50AM
That's another thing that's great about ED, Hespire: a reader can gain much ancillary or introductory knowledge.

I'd never heard of Sir John Maundeville prior to your quick background on him. He as a sort of earlier version of Von Munchausen, seems like...thanks for this!

To me, the story took the form of an extended, dry joke, using suitably creepy imagery to ramp up the suspense and anticipation.

You have a repeated structure, as in 7 Geases (which is about four too many, if you ask me), with each subsequent warning becoming more and more dire, with those steadfast Armenians, exercising much common sense, much more so than Sir John.

Now, Sir John is portrayed as a worthy knight, not pompous, nor filled with prideful arrogance: not a conqueror, but rather a seeker of knowledge such as can be gained thru exploration.

Nevertheless, after using some significant willpower to stay the course after having heard warnings from a talking jackal, and later a snake, he persists until his horse will go no further--which is too far, since almost immediately he is snagged by two enormous beings, somewhat reminiscent of the "escorts" in The Dark Eidolon.

Then he's dragged before the talking cadaver worm, who is very stern, but merciful, apparently recognizing the potential for...ah..."rehabilitation" in Sir John, and instead of killing him outright, or eating him, the worm sentences him to a limited stay that will be for his own good...

Quote:
The Worm

Yea, still alive, it shall be thine to descend and remain in the very midst of death and putrefaction, for such length of time as seemeth meet to correct thy folly and punish thy presumption."

BTW, does the worm seem to remind you of the white worm, in The Coming of the White Worm?

Now CAS does a great thing in letting our imaginations fill in the blanks. Unlike HPL, who spelled out every possible detail of Whately's grotesque appearance in The Dunwich Horror, as Dale and I were discussing earlier, CAS merely ***suggests*** what the entity was like that Sir John roomed with for a while..

Quote:
Sir John was aware of a sullen clangor, and knew that the brazen door had been opened. And now, for the first time, by the dimness of twilight that had entered the tomb, he saw in all its piteousness and repulsion the thing with which he had abode so long. In the sickness that fell upon him at this sight, he was haled forth from the sepulcher by those who had thrust him therein;

So the punchline comes at the end, when mention is made of Sir John's collected travel tales--but with the visit to Antechar notably missing.

...and we know *why*... :^)

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

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 12 September, 2020 11:16AM
Maundeville finds a lot of fortune throughout his travels, and insists on increasingly bizarre discoveries, like a desert where six-legged monsters dwell and an ocean that touches the sky. He is indeed the medieval Munchausen! With that in mind, I also find this story subtly and darkly humorous for how it humbles this spinner of tall tales. And you're right that the story feels like an extended joke, in a similar vein as some old moralistic folk stories, adding to its archaic charm.

"The Coming of the White Worm" was also on my mind when that Worm appeared. The idea was clever and almost obvious, yet because I had already read one CAS story about a giant worm claiming an entire land, I didn't at all expect it again! Clearly CAS was impressed by this imagery to use it twice. It feels to me like a more literal illustration of the Poe poem "The Conqueror Worm."

And I couldn't agree more about this website. Through my years of testing different forums, message boards, etc. I've found that most places, even various Lovecraft fan sites, don't really expand your mind with new ideas, new texts, or new perspectives. ED is among the few I gained a lot from, along with a few other sites dedicated to literature with an older crowd. I always look forward to what someone has to say here.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12 Sep 20 | 11:17AM by Hespire.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 12 September, 2020 01:45PM
Btw, I'm open to more discussions on "Maundeville", but since a few days have passed, shall I suggest the next story? Something more sci-fi than these last three fantasies, "The Invisible City."

[www.eldritchdark.com]

I'm not very fond of this one, but I enjoy parts of it, and I'd like to see what others think.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 12 September, 2020 02:14PM
Sounds fine to me, Hespire.

Invisible City it is...

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

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 12 September, 2020 03:34PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sounds fine to me, Hespire.
>
> Invisible City it is...


Ha, I understand this type of story, especially with this type of dialogue, isn't your thing. It isn't mine either, and I'd never put this in a "best of CAS" collection, but perhaps it could be interesting to discuss one of CAS' less impressive things, for now anyway!

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 13 September, 2020 02:50PM
This isn't CAS at his best, but it's interesting to see him operating outside his comfort zone. I actually thought the dialogue was OK. I think the key problem was that having established a contemporary tone with the dialogue, CAS felt obliged to do something similar with the prose, and that this produced mixed results. As for the story itself - I came across something Chandler said about writing detective fiction recently -

'As I look back on my stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published. If the formula had been a little less rigid, more of the writing of that time might have survived. Some of us tried pretty hard to break out of the formula, but we usually got caught and sent back. To exceed the limits of a formula without destroying it is the dream of every magazine writer who is not a hopeless hack.'

I guess maybe something similar held true for magazines like 'Weird Tales'? How else to explain the plethora of stories dealing with explorers stumbling upon some lost civilisation only to end up destroying it?

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 13 September, 2020 03:58PM
"The Invisible City" is one of several science-fiction adventures CAS wrote for the paycheck more than anything, explaining the great ideas conveyed through somewhat dry exposition and less than poetic prose. It disappointed me yet held my attention with its mysterious first half, so I was curious to learn more of its development. I wondered if CAS intended it to be a more atmospheric piece, and only added that whole segment with the alien villains and suspenseful gunplay for the sake of pleasing his editors, and according to The Collected Fantasies this is at least somewhat true, though it was conceived even in its earliest stage to be sold to a magazine known for its "cowboys and indians" in space. It seems CAS' notes and synopses emphasized only the dead city and its haunting mysteries, and never mentioned living inhabitants or an action-packed climax, which would also explain why that part of the story felt so rushed.

Thanks for that quote. Knowing CAS' difficult artist-editor relationship with Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories, etc. and his need to sell stories for the sake of his parents, I can see its wistful relevance here.

I enjoyed this story somewhat, at least the first half had some suspenseful pacing and some sense of anxiety and disorientation. But it's true that contemporary dialogue and prose weren't CAS' strengths here. If he were allowed to be more atmospheric and indulge in his poetic sensibilities this could have been as impressive as his famous fantasy stories, but it turns out even CAS wasn't so interested in this, feeling it didn't have enough atmosphere to suit his own taste or enough consistent action to appease the magazine's audience. In the end it was a collection some fine ideas that fell short.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 13 Sep 20 | 04:01PM by Hespire.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 13 September, 2020 04:12PM
That's a valid point, Hespire - the story is strongest at the start. Your mention of 'Cowboys and Indians in space' made me suddenly wonder why the story didn't involve two explorers on a strange planet rather than on earth, as this would have been a lot more credible.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - INVISIBLE CITY
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 14 September, 2020 12:11PM
OK, I finally got around to reading it. I had thought that maybe I had read it before, but...


THe first thing I'd note is that as compared to CAS's better stories--and this would include almost all of his thematic works (Zothique, Averoign, etc.) it comes off as uninspired and undistinguished. Narratively, it is "tight" enough, but it's sorta like by the end, "Who cares?"

Then it dawned on me--if I didn't already know, before reading, that CAS wrote it, would I tend to attribute the story to him? I mean, it lacks a lot of his best-known trademarks--the ornate and archaic language, sometimes women, the subtle humor that often comes into the longer stories in multiple places, etc.

If you are familiar enough with his lesser works--those adventure-like stories, and this is sure one--yeah, you *might*. But if all you ever read were the main thematic collections (and this is mostly *me*) you might not even guess it was him. Standard "no-name" pulp writing.

Second thing is that in some ways this story is influenced by HPL's ideas of secret, hidden alien races who have some ability to threaten our existence here on earth. These particular aliens are none too potent, nor are they overly motivated to kick Earthing butt, but still--not friendly, by any stretch.

Very much in the mold of the subterranean culture in HPL's ghost-written (for Zealia Bishop) tale, "The Mound"...

"OK, so now you've found us. It's true that we don't much like you or your ilk, but we're at this point content to just live isolated from humanity.

"Oh, and by the way: you can never go home again..."

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



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 14 Sep 20 | 12:54PM by Sawfish.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - INVISIBLE CITY
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 15 September, 2020 11:08AM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> THe first thing I'd note is that as compared to
> CAS's better stories--and this would include
> almost all of his thematic works (Zothique,
> Averoign, etc.) it comes off as uninspired and
> undistinguished. Narratively, it is "tight"
> enough, but it's sorta like by the end, "Who
> cares?"

Indeed, by its end neither the protagonists nor the readers can take much from the story. This grand alien civilization is discovered, their beyond-ancient city is destroyed, and it's all brushed away by a cheap and cheeky little joke as the men return to a seemingly normal life. HPL's lesser efforts leave a bigger impact with their haunting discoveries, how the sheer existence of those reptiles from the Nameless City could create an uncomfortable chill when considering human history.

> Then it dawned on me--if I didn't already know,
> before reading, that CAS wrote it, would I tend to
> attribute the story to him? I mean, it lacks a lot
> of his best-known trademarks--the ornate and
> archaic language, sometimes women, the subtle
> humor that often comes into the longer stories in
> multiple places, etc.

I thought about that myself while reliving my disappointment. If I never knew who wrote it, I don't think I would have guessed it was CAS, unless, perhaps, if I were more familiar with his Volmar stories rather than his thematic fantasies. Only a few passages, like the description of the city in the moonlight, allow his mastery of descriptive prose to bleed in. Even his other stories of discoveries in foreign countries, like "The Seed From the Sepulcher" and "The Uncharted Isle", have more imaginative prose, vivid atmospheres, and characters more psychologically engaged with the weirdness.

> Second thing is that in some ways this story is
> influenced by HPL's ideas of secret, hidden alien
> races who have some ability to threaten our
> existence here on earth. These particular aliens
> are none too potent, nor are they overly motivated
> to kick Earthing butt, but still--not friendly, by
> any stretch.
>
> Very much in the mold of the subterranean culture
> in HPL's ghost-written (for Zealia Bishop) tale,
> "The Mound"...

This is making me want to read that HPL collaboration or ghost-story (I forget which it was) about an invisible labyrinth and a legion of lizard people. I forget the name, but surely it must be more engaging given his experience in describing alien civilizations.

> "OK, so now you've found us. It's true that we
> don't much like you or your ilk, but we're at this
> point content to just live isolated from
> humanity.
>
> "Oh, and by the way: you can never go home
> again..."


All those tedious paragraphs of exposition! CAS' alien races are a mixed bag, but this was one of his least impressive, in spite of the fascinating ideas behind them. Another sign he was not enthusiastic for this story.

Btw, it's been a few days. If you have nothing else to say about "The Invisible City", I think it's safe for you to choose the next story!

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - INVISIBLE CITY
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 15 September, 2020 12:08PM
Terrific exchanges, Hespire! I'm really enjoying these explorations of CAS's work.

Would you be OK with one of my favorite "small stories" by CAS, "A Vintage from Atlantis"?

Very simple and straightforward, conceptually. I'm mostly interest in the characters of "Red Barnaby" Dwale and the narrator, "a staunch Rechabite", and the descriptive color CAS brought to bear.

In many ways this is a trivial story, but a very "tasty" one, like an after-dinner truffle. Lots of little fun stuff in it, humor, etc.

...or at least it appeals to me, for whatever that's worth.

Sound all right to you?

[www.eldritchdark.com]

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

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - Vintage from Atlantis
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 15 September, 2020 01:35PM
After a dreary trudge through the desert, I'd love to follow up with a good vintage by the sea. Since no one else is suggesting their own stories, "Vintage" it is!

Though it's short and simple enough, this story stands out strongly among CAS' work, not only for its awe-inspiring visions at the climax, but for its unusual choice of characters and narration. Who expected him to make a Dunsanian tale of pirates? It could have been in the same world as Dunsany's "Poor Old Bill"!

My knowledge of pirate history and pirate literature is scant, so I have no clue how genuine or masterful this portrayal is, but the narrator is such a colorful and lively fellow, even when describing the dark and sober moments of his account. I like him! And I can't help but snicker a little, in my head, knowing he's both a devoted Christian and a pirate by trade. I like that weirdly believable nuance in character personalities. Even violent gang members can believe in Jesus.

Red Barnaby is also a fun character. Rough and thuggish, yet unexpectedly erudite. Because of my lack of historical knowledge, I have no clue how realistic this is, so I don't know if CAS is either portraying a realistic pirate captain or if he's purposefully subverting expectations, but I get a kick out of it. Perhaps it makes sense for a pirate to know some things about valuables and their histories, though.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 15 Sep 20 | 01:38PM by Hespire.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - Vintage from Atlantis
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 15 September, 2020 04:42PM
I really enjoyed this. It's pretty slight, as Sawfish pointed out, but - as with CAS at his best - there are enough embellishments to make this unimportant: Red Barnaby's erudition, the amphora being encrusted with unfamiliar sea flowers, how the crew dine on turtoises(?) and their eggs. So much so, I'm not sure if the degree of accuracy matters.

Re: Discussion Thread for the stories of CAS - Vintage from Atlantis
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 15 September, 2020 09:41PM
Like Cathbad, I really enjoyed this story.

It's a lot like an overdrawn, overacted 1940s/50s Hollywood B film that is short, simple, and nothing more than enjoyable entertainment.

I think many of CAS's works are often very "visual"--in this regard they might be thought of as "cinematic"--and this is one of them. He makes an attempt to inject a few colorful, overdrawn characters (Dwale, whom I see as a sort of brawling cross between Sterling Haden and Wallace Beery; the mate, Roger Aglone, who has "a gloomy turn of mind"; and the narrator, Stephen Magbane, the "one Puritan amid that Christless crew"...and a tea-totaler to boot!).

First, I found it very amusing to think that there is a religious tea-totaler who, other than finding the rest of his shipmates to be drunken and ribald, apparently has nothing bad to say about the fact that they rob, steal, and likely are very violent, if "Red" Barnaby deserves his nickname.

The story starts as Magbane apparently is refusing a drink, using the refusal as a lead in to the moral tale. He makes reference to Solomon.

The dialog is 'way, 'way overdrawn, probably (it's like a Hollywood Scottish or German accent--no Scot or Geran actually has an accent like that, but it's what we've been conditioned to accept as "normal"), but adds to my enjoyment by rendering the tale in Techincolor, with all the stereotypes we expect and love.

We've got the captain, who give us a lecture not only on Roman and Spanish wines, but on Plato's thoughts on Atlantis, and who uses the most exaggerated nautical blasphemies and curses imaginable.

And when they find the amphora, *OF COURSE* the very first thing they're going to do is get plastered, being pirates, and all.

They we get the preparations for the beach party/barbeque and they drew me in; they felt right in terms of a film.

The effect of the wine is drawn out just a bit for suspense, and the climax and resolution, such as they are, seems appropriate to the nature of the tale--which for us is a simple and entertaining little diversion. It was completely satisfying and pleasing.

Reading this story, and some others, he seems to me like if he was sufficiently motivated ad channeled, he'd have been a very good screenwriter of adventure tales.

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

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