Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Songs of Valdemar!

Growing up, one of my all-time fantasy series was Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald-Mage trilogy. I re-read it several years ago, and it help up admirably well -- easily the best work Lackey's done, in my view, as I've never cared much for her other works. (This was also my first literary exposure to a non-heterosexual character.)

Anyway, there were a number of songs at the end of the trilogy's final book. Randomly surfing around, I discovered that all these songs are on youtube. The lyrics, I've always found, are competent -- but Lackey has a fantastic voice, and that just tickles me pink. Nice and soothing instrumentals, too. Awesome stuff. Check it out here.**

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***The link opens to "Shadow Lover," but you can click the other Valdemar songs on the upper-right column.

Monday, April 22, 2019

"Hanging with Howie" (Lovecraft, that is)

One of the least appealing things about modern Progressivism is its demand for absolute purity: one must always have had absolute moral and ideological perfection,** and any deviation, no matter how minor or long ago, are almost an instant grounds of attack.*** That observation has come back to me again during my recent crash-course self-study on H. P. Lovecraft.

I'm not really talking about the recent controversy over the World Fantasy Awards, whose organization has now -- due to HPL's racism -- discontinued the award trophy featuring HLP's bust . Instead, I've come to realize how much Howie in his teens and 20s reminds me of my younger self.

Oh, there's nothing about me as drastic as HPL's priggish & intolerant racism, nor his aggravating class snobbishness, although I certainly flirted with some wince-inducing views. Still, after HPL failed to get into Brown University due to ill health (I myself dropped out of Lycoming College due to finances), he spent several years basically being a waste of space. He was quite conscious of this uselessness, too. In his failed attempt to enlist in the U.S. Army (same here), he once despondently observed that, although he'd probably die quickly, at least that death would have been more meaningful than his current existence.

Lovecraft didn't actually emerge from his deep funk until he began his association with amateur journalism, where he actually started doing something with other people. Had Lovecraft been a contemporary, I imagine he'd have been a modern reclusive fanboy who becomes extremely active on internet discussion boards. Anyway, that's the sort of despondency I can understand. Between the time I dropped out of Lycoming and, four years later, enrolled at Kent State, my life was remarkably similar to Lovecraft's.

I'm also sympathetic to the following quote from HPL reflecting on his former youthful self:
There was no getting out of it -- I really had thrown all that haughty, complacent, snobbish, self-centered, intolerant bull, & at a maturer age than anybody but a perfect damned fool would have known better! That earlier illness had kept me in seclusion, limited my knowledge of the world, & given me something of the fatuous effusiveness of a belated adolescent when I finally was able to get about more . . . is hardly much of an excuse . . . It's hard to have done all one's growing up since 33 -- but that's a damn sight better than not growing up at all. (Selected Letters V, 407-08).
Again, while I never held anything as extreme as Lovecraft's own racial/class views, and my funk ended much earlier than his did, that basic situation is something not unknown. As he grew older, Lovecraft really did change quite a bit, although he unfortunately never truly dismissed his racialist views. Re-reading Michael T. Saler's excellent As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality, Saler writes that Lovecraft's “readers should recognize, however, how far he developed when he left the confines of his imagination and recognize also how those confines stretched to incorporate his more vigorous interchanges with others" (154). To me, that statement seems just.


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** Strangely enough, one exception seems (& I realize that this is either selection or sample bias, I forget which) to have been formerly active white supremacists who've later renounced their views -- it just plays too well to a reformist feel-good narrative, especially if the reformed person is just an average person without any currently contentious views.

***Of course, this has always been a general truth of political life, regardless of left/right orientation . . . remember the example of Robert J. Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb during the Manhatten Project, who had his later career in government destroyed because he once attended a party with Communist Party organizers. And one also remembers the conservative conspiracy theories surrounding Barack Obama because he once served on a panel that coincidentally also held a former member of the Weatherman on it -- a tangential association that Sarah Palin once crazily characterized as, "He's pal-ling around with terrorists!"

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Lovecraft Extravaganza

Between fantasy, science fiction, and horror, the last genre has always been my least favorite. Granted, I love books that include elements of horror. But books that are horrific throughout and usually marketed as horror? Not so much. Some Stephen King, some Dean Koontz**, but that's about it. Various short stories, but I've rarely found horror all that sustainable in the longer form.

Anyway, the last 6 weeks or so have given me a brutal crash course in H. P. Lovecraft. Back in my college dropout days, maybe around the year 2000 or so, I did read The Dreamscapes of H. P. Lovecraft, a collection of his Dunsanyian dreamland fiction and, despite really liking "The Quest of Iranon," just couldn't get into him. The horrors were all rather lame, I had no idea that this collection didn't include any of HPL's best stuff, and damn the prose was lush but dense -- and extremely light on dialogue. Even now, HPL's more streamlined stuff isn't calculated to win my affection.

But that collection was my only exposure to Lovecraft for almost two decades, until I read another collection of his stuff last summer in preparation for my Nonhuman Subjects: Monsters, Ghosts, Aliens, and Others class. I had decided to teach "The Rats in the Walls" and "The Call of Cthulhu," so wanted to give myself some greater background. Read all of M. R. James and a whole lot of other related stuff, too. And when I learned that HPL's entire fictional output only totaled about 60 short stories and novellas, well, I decided that at some point it would be worth doing an in-depth study.

My actual catalyst, though, was teaching "The Rats in the Walls" for that Monsters class of mine. Just doing normal prep work for the story, trying to break it down to make it teachable, I came up with an entirely novel reading of the short story. Of course, I didn't realize that at the time -- only realized it, in fact, once I started browsing the secondary literature to see what others have said about it. It has since occurred to me that, despite the burgeoning field of Lovecraft Studies, which took off about the time Tolkien Studies did (i.e., the year 2000), no one has really done a first-rate close reading of the text. My background research on the subject, though, has given me quite the heady dose of HPL: all day, all the time.

This research has been awesome, intellectually engaging, and extraordinarily fun . . . but how much do I actually love Lovecraft's fiction now? Well . . . meh. Finally just finished his last major short story, "The Color Out of Time," and it was still too much of a slog to raise that love it love it feeling you get with the best literature. Still a good piece -- but not love at first second. Overall, I've liked best "The Colour Out of Space" and At the Mountains of Madness, which truly lives up to its premises. Of course, I still really like "The Quest of Iranon," although I gather I'm not quite supposed to. 

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** Watchers and Lightning are both top notch. Intriguing, Lightning is the only book my mother has ever re-read again immediately upon finishing it . . . and Watchers is the only book my wife has ever done that for.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Adventures in academic editing

Two days ago we had our big Fafnir editorial meeting: setting goals, discussing issues, and whatnot. It went swimmingly, and it's a good deal of fun to work on an up-and-coming academic journal. Among my own contributions, I worked on a new layout format, composed a journal style sheet, and formalized our book reviewer guidelines. Some of my future tasks include getting us listed on the Directory of Open Access Journals and updating the language on our website. The editors in chief are working on a whole host of new things such as social media advertising, streamlining our peer review process, and more. Great meeting, all told. The future holds a lot of promise.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Open Graves, Open Minds

Apparently, tomorrow in London there is a symposium dedicated to John Polidori, the physician to Lord Byron and the author of a gothic tale, The Vampyre (1819). The title of this symposium is "Open Graves, Open Minds." All, apparently, are invited.

I work in an odd profession.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The LARB and Tolkien's THE FALL OF GONDOLIN

Looks like the Los Angeles Review of Books has a new article on the recently published The Fall of Gondolin, which can be found here: "The Final Treasure from the Tolkien Hoard," by Nick Owchar.

Decent enough review, although a bit gushing -- I"m surprised that he didn't mention that the story's been previously published, but anyway.