Forum Posts

Karanthir
Nov 08, 2021
In Elder Sign
I've just started digging into the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, so this episode was really well-timed for me. This is the fourth of the stories I've read, but to be honest I have yet to be wowed by any of them, although Ill-Met in Lankhmar was by far the best. I can see the potential of the character work in the two protagonists, though, so I'm certainly keen to try more. I found Brandon's comparison of this story to an episode of Stargate SG-1 interesting. There's something to that, although I feel like the SG-1 team have a bit more agency in the average episode than either Fafhrd or the Gray Mouser get here. The comparison that was running through my mind while I was reading the story, and even more so after I finished it, was with Lovecraft's Dagon. I'm not sure how widely known that story was when Leiber wrote The Sunken Land (a quick search suggests it had been published and re-published a few times before 1942), but it definitely feels like he was riffing on the same idea, if not outright writing his own Sword and Sorcery version of the story. I think Leiber's attempt ultimately suffers from the same problems as Lovecraft's - nothing really happens, and we don't get a proper look at the weirdness from below the depths. You can get away with that in a cosmic horror story (although Lovecraft barely did in Dagon), but in S&S you really need more action and a confrontation with a god-like being or sorcerer, especially if it's been hinted that the land was once ruled by some kind of malevolent cabal of magicians. The suggestion of re-writing the story to have Mouser come in rescue Fafhrd would go a long way to overcoming that issue. All that said, I enjoyed the story well enough for what it is. Looking forward to reading more of these and getting more S&S on the podcast!
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Karanthir
Nov 01, 2021
In Atoz
Really enjoyed Glenn's great overview of Robert E. Howard's only Conan novel. I pretty much agree with the good and bad points raised. The discussion of the Grail/Fisher King/Wasteland inspirations was really interesting - not something I'd ever considered from Howard's work before. On the subject of Howard's hasty writing of the story, not only is the first part a re-write of The Scarlet Citadel, but once you've read a lot of the Conan stories, you notice that most of the material in the second part is, if not actually re-written, then very derivative of stuff from elsewhere. That's not really a criticism as such, but I'd say Hour of the Dragon is a bit harder to enjoy as a veteran Conan reader than as a relative newcomer. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think this would be a really good introduction to Conan for someone who has never read any of the stories before. It's a lot longer than the average, but it has pretty much everything in it, so you can read it an get an idea of whether Conan is for you or not. In terms of sub-genre, can we say it's "epic sword and sorcery"? Is that a thing? I feel like based on your criteria, it would fit more into epic fantasy than strict sword and sorcery. But at the same time, the focus remains (largely) on Conan and the threat(s) to him from the antagonists (especially Xaltotun), rather than on the world-ending, epic threat. Admittedly, this is mainly thanks to the more narrowly focussed second part, which as you said, is more traditional sword and sorcery. Actually, I feel like one weakness you didn't cover is that Howard too often relies on an omniscient narrator to explain what's happening outside Conan's POV, especially in the transition from part two to part three (probably another result of his writing in a hurry). Personally, that dragged it more out of the genre of sword and sorcery than the epic threat of Xaltotun. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Xaltotun isn't unusual for a sword and sorcery antagonist. What's unusual is that he makes progress with his plan before being stopped, whereas in a more traditional sword and sorcery tale, the protagonist would have stopped Xaltotun (or whoever) not long after the resurrection, maybe even after witnessing it. This probably comes from the story being a novel rather than a short story or novella, so the stakes need to be higher to keep things going. And my experience with sword and sorcery is limited to mainly Howard and a few short stories by other authors, so I don't have a particularly wide perspective and could be wrong.
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Karanthir
Sep 16, 2021
In Elder Sign
Really enjoyed this episode, maybe even more than the story. I think you covered all the good and bad about it, so I won't say too much. I agree that it's kind of weird and doesn't make much sense, but that it's also an excellent example of Smith's abilities as a wordsmith. I know I've been a bit down on CAS in the past, but I feel like the Averoigne stories might just be what turn me round on him. Anyway, the main reason I wanted to post is because, like Glenn getting the Omen soundtrack on shuffle before recording the episode, I've also had a weird coincidence when listening to the episode. I don't normally listen to two podcasts in one day, but today, right before listening to this episode I listened to another podcast episode on medieval and early modern magic that goes into more detail about some of the things you touched on, especially the link between Christianity and magic and the idea of acceptable vs unacceptable magic. It's here for anyone who's interested, and it also has a short reading list for people who want to delve even further: https://anchor.fm/thenaturepod/episodes/Magic-e14mmbq Also, since Glenn wanted to know if Iron Maiden have any songs set in medieval southern France: yes, they absolutely do. It's about the last stand of the Cathars, so it fits very well with the story and what you were saying about how it would have been better if CAS had tied it to the rise of the Inquisition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaYyJhLB4Qw And for my money, one of the best Iron Maiden songs about magic is their song about John Dee (since you mentioned him too): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH8nCYZSlIc
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Karanthir
Mar 12, 2020
In Elder Sign
I know I was a bit harsh on Hodgson in the discussion of 2019 in review, so I thought I'd comment on this story, which I did enjoy more than the others that have been covered so far. I think apart from a few clunky sections and odd story-telling decisions (plus the major plot hole discussed in the other thread), this was a good example of an adventure story. I really liked the point raised in the episode that the protagonist and his friend are apparently wandering the British countryside laden with pistols looking for problems to solve! More than a whiff of the RPG about that situation! I also enjoyed the discussion of imperialism/colonialism and class consciousness. I think Hodgson here is definitely more critical of British imperialism than "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (despite writing eighty years earlier!), although I'm not convinced he was being intentionally critical. I think that comes back to the point made in the episode about how he went out of his way to make the Thug cultist the obvious villain of the piece. I also feel that, while the story itself raises some interesting class issues, this again was not necessarily Hodgson's intent. Whether or not Whigman was from an aristocratic background or a gentry background (and I did like Glenn's ideas about this issue), he wasn't very good at what he supposed to be doing. But because the Thug cultist is the villain, we don't get a convincing critique of Whigman. The villagers (Hodgson refers to the setting as a "little town", but I think it's more likely a village) are described as superstitious and ignorant, even though what they're afraid is more or less real (if not quite in the form they thought), and these descriptions implicitly apply to the Thug cultist as well. The only characters we're supposed to sympathise with are the protagonist and his friend, and even though the heroes are middle class, there's a kind of conservative "everyone in their right place" undercurrent to the story (which to be fair, was not only typical in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but is still depressingly widespread today). I suppose I should say that of all the problematic tropes in weird/speculative fiction, I find imperialism/colonialism one of the biggest hurdles to my enjoyment of a story. I grew up endlessly re-watching the Beatles' film "Help!", so I have a soft spot for Kali and stories involving her - it would just be nice to find something written from a more post-colonial perspective. This Thug cultist may or may not be justified in killing Whigman (depending on how you feel about the whole justice/revenge thing), but once he's done that his duty is done. But because he has to be the villain of the story (because he's a foreigner worshipping a bloodthirsty alien deity of death), rather than trying to find a way home, he just carries on killing people (and note that they're white people, and that one of them is the belle of the village to elicit maximum sympathy) for reasons that aren't explained (unless I missed something). I don't know how to conclude here. There were things to enjoy about this story, but ultimately I think the obstacles were too many for me to actually say I enjoyed it. I know I've said it before, but I feel like I take some of these stories a bit too seriously. Oh well.
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Karanthir
Feb 13, 2020
In Elder Sign
I loved this story! But then I am a tragic goth at heart, so it was just my sort of thing. I can't even promise I wouldn't have done exactly what Devigne did! I agree, though, that we're not supposed to read Devigne as a sympathetic character at all (unlike when, say, Lovecraft writes this sort of protagonist as an author-self-insert). That said, I feel like the critique of white male privilege could have been a bit more explicit. That's one of my only criticisms of the story really (and I think you raised it in the episode too) - Nesbit brings up a lot of issues, but we never really get a sense of how she feels about them. Maybe that's being a twenty-first-century reader reading a nineteenth-century story though. For what it's worth, on the subject of class, I think through the story there's a critique of both the 'ignorant' lower classes who burn what they don't understand and the 'indolent' upper classes who waste their potential. And Glenn, on the historical accuracy of the witch burning, I feel like we just have to accept it for the sake of the story - it still kind of fits with the popular perception of the witch craze (the Devil painting a pre-Raphaelite portrait in the seventeenth century is oddly anachronistic too). There's a great weird prequel to be written about the learned seventeenth-century woman who delves deeper and deeper into occult knowledge and then sells her soul to the Devil. Although there's something almost anti-feminist about a such a strong female character selling her soul and giving up everything for the sake of love. Or maybe there isn't - that's how it seemed to me though. On the metaphysics of re-incarnation, I didn't see this as a muddled issue actually. If we assume a basis in Christian theology, as the story seems to have (albeit inspired by Indian belief systems), it doesn't follow that belief in re-incarnation means belief that everyone gets re-incarnated. Re-incarnation (in the sense of coming back to Earth to live another life) isn't really part of Christian theology after all. So maybe in seventeenth-century England you have to make a satanic pact to be able to re-incarnate, and this is something the woman has discovered in her increasingly occult studies. I know I sometimes complain about the abrupt and unsatisfying endings of some of these stories, but I'm going to defend this one. Devigne not having to make the choice of whether to sell his soul is the crux of the gothic tragedy. He now has to live a wholly mundane and unsatisfying life with a woman he doesn't really love love or appreciate instead of having Heaven on Earth with his soulmate - and he didn't even get a say in the matter, which makes it all even worse for someone of his self-importance. I do think he would have gone through with it though - it's easy to sell your soul when you don't believe in those sorts of things (even after being confronted by a woman emerging from a painting claiming to be your re-incarnated soulmate). Finally, good timing for this episode to air during Women in Horror Month: https://www.womeninhorrormonth.com/
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Karanthir
Jan 16, 2020
In Elder Sign
I breathed a massive sigh of relief listening to this episode. I had a lot concerns while reading the story and you raised pretty much all of them either in the recap or the discussion. Like Glenn, I was excited to read this because it sounded like exactly my sort of thing, but it fell completely flat in the delivery. I was worried that I was just taking a comic story way too seriously (and I'm willing to concede that there's an element of that), but you're right that the world has moved on a lot since this was published (and again like Glenn I would have lapped it up at the time). That said, I think (and hope) there's still room in the world for alternate history stories, albeit they need to be constructed more carefully now, in a way that respects the reality of events. As Brandon pointed out, more ridiculous concepts and obviously "not real history" stories are probably going to work better. "Ancient Aliens" is a concept I have a lot of issues with as a historian, but fiction seems like an acceptable place to explore the idea. Maybe that's just a youth spent watching Stargate SG-1 talking though. For me, that's the root of the problem with this story. Not just that it trivializes genuine historical tragedies (both personal and large-scale), but that the alternative "facts" presented are themselved fairly trivial for the most part. Again, this is something you brought up in the episode: where are all the aliens? Where are the medical conditions that need to be covered up because the truth would be too horrific for people to accept? Conditions caused by bugs we've never heard of are, to be frank, kind of lame. To take the point a little further: there's absolutely no reason this guide (if it was real) wouldn't be accepted and used by every medical professional and organization in the world, and no reason these "facts" wouldn't be publicized. I guess you could argue that there's an implied undercurrent of some kind of conspiracy to cover up these events, but why? This "obscure medical history of the twentieth century" is nowhere near weird enough to justify its supposed obscurity. Not much else to say really. I'm just about intrigued enough to read some of the other entries in the collection, but with far lower expectations than I had going into this one.
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Karanthir
Dec 19, 2019
In Elder Sign
First of all, I just want to say a massive thank you to Glenn and Brandon for an excellent year of weird fiction stories! I've been trying to listen along as much as possible (I think I've only missed a couple of stories/episodes so far), and your discussions have always given me lots to think about and things to appreciate, even about stories that I didn't necessarily enjoy. Next, the good. My favourite discoveries as a result of the podcast are definitely Thomas Ligotti and Caitlin R. Kiernan, neither of whom I had even heard of, let alone read before (actually, I might have heard of Kiernan, I'm not sure). In fact, I'm going to say that Kiernan's "The Ammonite Violin" is probably my favourite story of the year (though already not my favourite of her stories having read a few more since). And I have to say that, of the two Ligotti stories, I preferred "The Frolic" to "Purity". It's a close call, but even though the word-smithing in "Purity" is better, it had too many elements I thought weren't explored thoroughly enough, and I felt the ending kind of fell flat. "The Frolic" is probably more my sort of story anyway, but I thought it worked a bit better as a self-contained episode, whereas "Purity" could have done with a bit more room to breath, or with being part of a wider mythos. There were some unexpected gems by authors I already knew, for example "The Insanity of Jones" by Algernon Blackwood. I had Blackwood pegged as a wilderness/nature weird fiction author, so it was really interesting to read a story by him with an urban setting, and such a seemingly mundane subject matter (I don't mean mundane in a bad way either). And of course, having an excuse to re-read stories I've read before is great. Reading Chambers's King in Yellow stories is always a treat, and I'm glad to see "The Mask" finally got the votes it needed! Also, Lovecraft's "The Festival", which I knew I'd read but had no memory of - now it will always stick in my mind as a really evocative mid-winter tale. Then, unfortunately, the bad. I must say that I have yet to be convinced by either William Hope Hodgson or Clark Ashton Smith. These authors are both new to me (although obviously I'd heard of CAS before), but I haven't enjoyed their stories so far - especially disappointing for a titan of the genre like CAS. I trust that you're on to something with these two, though, so I'll keep reading in the hopes that we get to some stories more to my taste. I was also a bit disappointed by the Machen stories, which just didn't do as much for me as the other stories of his I've read in the past. I'm not going to dwell on the negative, though, and I think I've probably said my piece about various themes in my posts here. Overall it's been a great year, and even the stories I didn't enjoy I don't regret having read. Here's to a great 2020 - I'm really excited for what's coming up! Oh, and one last thing. Glenn, I'm not just saying this as your friend, but I've read quite a few of your stories, and none of them have prose anywhere near as bad as Smith's in "The Door to Saturn", so you don't have anything to worry about on that front!
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Karanthir
Dec 05, 2019
In Elder Sign
Great pick for a festive tale! I have a feeling I didn't vote for this in the poll, but I'm glad it made it through anyway. We've all been there, right: angsty teenager fed up with stupid family Christmas goes in search of something darker, ends up in way over their head, dives into a river and has to recover in hospital the next day? Ahem. On a more serious note. To me this definitely read like a "first draft" of "The Shadow over Innsmouth", but not necessarily in a bad way. A man travels to an old New England seaside town in search of something related to his family history. It turns out that his family history is even darker than he thought (though if I'm remembering "Shadow" correctly, that narrator didn't know as much about a dark secret - certainly didn't have ancestors who were hung as witches). It even turns out that his ancestors aren't even human (incidentally, the mask-like face made me think of a trope Lovecraft re-used in "The Whisperer in Darkness). Maybe I'm just being too influenced by the later story, but I do think that non-human is what Lovecraft was going for here, even if it's not as explicit as in "Shadow" and they may or may not be Deep Ones (or proto-Deep Ones). You could read the comment about them coming from the sea either way: they came out of the sea, or they came across the sea from another land. I'd even say that Lovecraft himself was intentionally vague and didn't necessarily know himself what was going on. I thought the descriptive language throughout was excellent, especially in the opening paragraph and in the cave scene (although as with many Lovecraft stories, there was a bit too much flapping and flopping for my taste...). I even enjoyed the idea of the narrator just sitting down to read the Necronomicon to fill time. The only things that really pulled me out of the story were: the weird description of the creatures the townsfolk were riding to get to the festival - I know Lovecraft was going for something Boschian here, but it was too much for me; and the ease with which the narrator acquired a copy of the Necronomicon again at the end. Again, maybe I'm being too influenced by Lovecraft's later stories, but that just didn't ring true at all. It was basically an excuse to have the narrator read that key passage. A better way to do it, in my opinion, would have been to have him remember having read that passage earlier. Oh, and this definitely happened by the way. Another way to read the epigraph and connect it to the story is that the townsfolk have put an illusion in place to make Kingsport seem like a regular town and hide what lies beneath the surface. Just because we normal people see the illusion doesn't mean its true.
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Karanthir
Nov 07, 2019
In Elder Sign
What an odd story! As with a few before it, I didn't enjoy this one much when reading it, but the discussion in the episode really helped put a better perspective on it. In particular I really liked the framing of it as a plague story with the spectre of cholera hanging over everything (for some reason it hadn't occurred to me that the omen of death was an omen of them getting cholera), and the idea of it as a reaction to the science of the Enlightenment. Thanks also for making the weird political digression make sense! It completely boggled my mind what it had to do with anything else in the story. I'm still not completely convinced, but I guess it worked for Poe. Overall I thought this story had a lot of great set-up; the evocative description of the cholera epidemic and the tantalizing hints of the tomes in the library would make an excellent introduction to a different weird story. As it stands, though, the description of the beast and the revelation about it didn't do anything for me. Maybe that's a problem of perspective as a modern reader, which at least would fit with the theme of the story in a roundabout sort of way.
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Karanthir
Oct 07, 2019
In Elder Sign
I've read this story a couple of times now and to be honest I don't like it much. But I'm going to try and find some positive things to say. The Bad My main problem is that this story hasn't really aged very well. Maybe in 1905/1918 the idea of a man getting lost in a cave and becoming beast-like would have been shocking, but in 2019 it just feels a bit mundane or predictable. That said, I agree that Lovecraft has done a good job telling the story he has decided to tell - and for all my criticisms, it's far superior to anything I could write now, let alone when I was 14! And actually, having read a lot of Lovecraft before this, the fact that the "beast" was actually a man was surprising, if not shocking. I suppose I was expecting a Mi-Go or a Shoggoth (not that Lovecraft had worked out those sorts of things at this stage), although in the context of the story as it is only the revelation of it being a man would really work. Additionally, the narrator is just way too ideal to be compelling: "look how amazing and intelligent and unemotional this guy is - he's not scared of anything!". I guess every author has been guilty of this at some point, and to be fair, Lovecraft at least had the decency to have his intellectually superior human give in to fear at the climax. But the story suffers from the early description of the protagonist. I like the comparison with the protagonist in "The Statement of Randolph Carter" being a corrective to this sort of thing. The Good I think the other Lovecraft story that this one called most to my mind was "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" (according to criticisms I've read, one of Lovecraft's most racist stories - surely an accolade of some sort, if not a positive one), which has the "white ape" trope played out the opposite way to this story (I won't say any more, so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it). For me, this comparison makes "Beast" seem a lot more nuanced - even if perhaps unintentionally, and only in the context of Lovecraft's later works. Rather than the revelation being of cosmic horror, strange alien creatures or impure bloodlines, or the people involved being "degenerates" (whether through breeding with non-humans, or just being races Lovecraft didn't like), the horrible, fear-inducing beast turns out just to be a man - a strange man, marked by his time in the cave, but a man nonetheless. The fear of the unknown that pervades Lovecraft's work is there, but is proven to be unfounded (we don't know whether the beast-man was intending to attack the narrator, but we're given no reason to think so). So actually, the true horror of the story is how a man reacts to his fear of the unknown with violence. Even today, this is an important commentary on human nature, but sadly it seems almost ironic when written by someone with Lovecraft's (deserved) reputation. And in the end I could have done with just a bit more sense of regret for his actions on the part of the narrator to fully convince me that Lovecraft was completely sincere in making this point.
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Karanthir
Oct 04, 2019
In Elder Sign
I have to say, I absolutely loved this story. It completely exceeded any expectations I may have had going in, and I'm really looking forward to reading more or Kiernan's work. The story-crafting was excellent, especially with the way the two threads came together at the end, and the surprises just kept coming (I admit it didn't occur to me that the violin had been made from the remains of the collector's victims). As a former paleontology enthusiast I really appreciated the digression on ammonites, which, turned out to be one of many Lovecraftian references/homages. This is weird fiction exactly as it should be! I think my one criticism is that I would have liked to get more about the connection both characters (and especially the collector) had to the sea. The violinist's description of the black-eyed things lurking in the depths was maybe my favourite part of the story, and I was hoping for more. But perhaps that would have made it too Lovecraftian, and Kiernan certainly did a great job of forging her own story while evoking the classics of the genre. I suppose I don't have much to say about the details of the story, which mostly seemed self-explanatory (dare I say disappointingly so?) - apart from Captain Kangaroo, who as a Brit I had to google, and the musical elements (ballad in the title and the choice of song to play), which I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on. The podcast episode covered things very well! I did have a different interpretation of the evidence of the collector's murders though. I didn't read it as he had purposefully left the evidence for the police to find: I understood the "evidence" as part of the collection of strangulations. Not speaking from personal experience, but I suppose once you have strangled someone you don't have anything to keep (apart from the memories). So the body parts are to the murder collection as the fossils are to the ammonite collection - the physical element that can be held onto and (possibly) displayed. The journals detailing the murders are the documentation of the collection. Even though the collector says that he can remember the details of each and every murder, a true collector would have this kind of record-keeping. He probably has something similar for the ammonites (for which he says he can't remember the specific details of each). If there was supposed to be this kind of parallel, it would have helped cement it to know more about how/where everything relating to the murders was kept. But perhaps that means the author didn't intend this parallel. I also thought the collector had intended to murder the violinist, shooting her somewhere non-fatal to weaken her before the strangling. but then shot himself when he realised he had "created" something so "perfect" that he would never top it. He had nothing left to achieve in his life. Well, I'm talking in a disturbingly dispassionate way about murder and suicide (albeit hypothetical), so I'll stop now before I get reported for being some sort of sociopath myself.
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Karanthir
May 08, 2019
In Elder Sign
I think the biggest shock in this story was how short it was (even by short story standards), compounded by the rather abrupt ending. That said, I really enjoyed it. I think Howard accomplished a lot with very little. The language was wonderfully evocative, especially when describing Gordon's reaction to the titular song. Hearing is (in my limited experience) an underutilised sense in weird fiction, where we tend to get wonderful descriptions of what the protagonists see - or occasionally feel - while hearing is usually limited to drips in damp caves or chanting cultists. If nothing else Howard made an excellent case here for exploring weird experiences through other senses (and now I'm wondering what could be done with taste...). In terms of the actual story itself, again I thought Howard did a lot with very little. My immediate response to the introduction is that this feels like an epilogue or sequel to a more classic sort of weird story; that of the protagonists plumbing the depths of the earth and discovering unspeakable terrors therein. This is even a style of story Howard wrote quite a few examples of himself, with Conan, Solomon Kane and others. So maybe this was him taking a break from that and writing a 'what happens next' story. I think Howard provides just enough here that I didn't feel like I was missing out by not having that first part of the story, but you were right to point out in the episode that there are some serious unanswered questions here, not least the nature of the relationship between Gordon and Casonetto. I read Casonetto's use of "friend" as not quite literal, but certainly suggestive of the idea that they knew each other well before the incident. I feel like they probably weren't as close as Gordon being Casonetto's manager as you suggested in the episode (but that's just a feeling): maybe they were associates or rivals on the opera scene? I think the idea of Gordon stumbling across Casonetto's secret lair at random would be too ridiculous - he'd have to have some reason to suspect Casonetto was hiding a dark secret, with the revelation of what that is being the climax in the Satanic ritual scene. I think if I did anything with this I'd be tempted to make the "black nameless winged being" some sort of entity other than Satan too, just to ramp up the 'weird' angle (with Gordon not really understanding what he's seeing and misinterpreting it as Satanism, a reasonable thing to do in the 1920s or 30s). Not that there's anything wrong with Satanism as a plot device of course, but it can sometimes feel a bit mundane. Although Howard showed here that he absolutely had the writing chops to make whatever was happening seem anything but mundane! To be honest, the idea of a sequel or continuation to this story didn't even occur to me (despite the abrupt ending) before I listened to the episode, but you did a great job of convincing me that someone could make a great longer story out of this incident.
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Karanthir
Apr 25, 2019
In Elder Sign
Wow, what a great double episode about a fantastic story! (And I'm very happy about the hints that your planning to do more of the King in Yellow stories.) I have a lot of thoughts, so I'll try to gather some of them all here. First of all, Hildred Castaigne: what an interesting protagonist. My first reaction is that he fits well into the types of characters we already discussed with relation to The Frolic and The Insanity of Jones. Has he really had some kind of world-shattering revelation, or is he actually insane? Once again, we have the ambiguity that allows for us to read the story either way. On the surface, I think we're supposed to read it that Hildred is insane: he's already had some problems following his accident and now is relapsing under the influence of The King in Yellow and Mr Wilde. The main clue here is the way Louis dismisses Hildred's tiara and safe. The reader is more inclined to take Louis's dismissal at face value than to accept that Hildred has some kind of secret crown gifted to him by a mysterious entity, and it's a shame we don't get an external opinion on the robes he's wearing at the end to bolster this. If, on the other hand, we want to argue that Hildred has had some kind of revelation, we could point to the fact that the King in Yellow is also described as a king in tatters/tattered king, in which case a trinket kept in a biscuit box would be an appropriate symbol of authority for his chosen representative. The other clue here is in Hawberk's reaction to Hildred's suggestion that he is the exiled Marquis of Avonshire, which absolutely might hint that he knows more than he's letting on. But ultimately I think the way the story is written suggests that we are supposed to read Hildred as insane and not take his perspective at face value (though how much of the story that extends to is an open question). Based on him being the titular 'repairer of reputations', I actually think Mr Wilde is the central character and crucial to understanding what's going on. We get so little about him that it's hard to say anything for certain (even if this adds to the ambiguous nature of the story): we don't even get a proper explanation of what a 'repairer of reputations' is! Based on Hawberk's reaction to the sign that Wilde puts up, the 'real-world' explanation is that it's just something nonsensical made up by a madman (if Hawberk is just a normal person and not actually the Marquis of Avonshire). The implication is that, as you pointed out in the recap episode, it's some kind of anti-blackmailer, which still doesn't make a whole lot of sense. What I think is actually going on here is that Hildred and Mr Wilde are not only involved in some kind of revelation/delusion that they share with each other, but that Wilde has drawn a whole bunch of other people into it too (presumably by facilitating their reading of the play The King in Yellow). His clients (the people whose reputations he is supposed to be repairing) aren't who he claims they are. Like Hildred, Wilde has given these people new, important identities in order to give the revelation/delusion a grander scope beyond the mundanity of the lives they all lead. Wilde has convinced Hildred that he is vital to Hildred's mission to take what is rightfully his; with the others, Wilde has convinced them he is the only one who can repair their reputations and made them terrified of the consequences (not just financial) of crossing him. They are all completely cowed to Wilde as the dominant personality within the shared revelation/delusion, except Hildred, who retains some autonomy/authority as the Wilde's chosen heir of the imperial title. So, it is a shared revelation or a shared delusion? It depends what we make of the other central element: the play The King in Yellow. Is it just a play that drives people insane, or is it the tool of some sort of malign entity that reveals something of the true nature of the universe to those who read it? This and the nature of the documents concerning the Imperial Dynasty of America are part of the ambiguity of the story. It's possible that Wilde is just using these to manipulate people because he has some kind of extreme god complex. But then again, Louis reads the Imperial documents and, even though he dismisses them, there is an implication he sees something there that disturbs him beyond just the ramblings of a madman. Glenn made a good case for there being something fundamentally wrong with Mr Wilde, physically as well as mentally. The cat could be another clue here. Lovecraft uses cats to suggest paranormal/supernatural goings on in his writings, and Chambers could be doing something similar here: is the cat's hatred of Wilde not just a result of his teasing it, but that it knows who/what he really is? It does kill him at the crux of the conspiracy coming to fruition after all. But then why was he keeping the cat in the first place? Nevertheless, we have the possibility that Mr Wilde is some kind of prophet of the King in Yellow (the entity rather than the play). I already said that I think we are supposed to read Hildred as insane, and I feel like that's the case for Wilde as well: he's insane himself but also manipulating other insane people into sharing some kind of delusion. There are definitely enough clues and ambiguities to suggest the opposite reading though, and I really like the idea that the King in Yellow uses lowly people and things (the 'insane' Mr Wilde, worthless trinkets) to achieve his goals. What those goals are is kind of the big hole in the story if we want argue for the revelation reading though. Beyond just driving people insane, what is the King really trying to achieve? Was this actually an attempt to overthrow the American government and establish the Imperial Dynasty on its throne (eventually leading to the conquest of the world)? If so, it seems a bit feeble to have been stopped so easily. Or is the King just an inter-dimensional anarchist? If so, why target Hildred? Right, last thing (for now): the world building. I actually really liked this element of the story. I mean, I didn't like the world that Chambers built as such, but I appreciate the effort of setting the scene. (Maybe like Glenn I just have too much of a fondness for world-building RPG books.) I admit that when I read the story I took this straightforwardly as a reflection of what Chambers himself thought would make America a better country (with all that that's a damning indictment of his own political beliefs, from a modern perspective). But I think you made some really convincing arguments that he might actually be parodying that kind of nationalism. I'm not sure about the joke names - I thought they were just an Anglophone author trying to make up some generic sounding foreign names to be honest: the brandy link is intriguing though (and Hawberk is just way too on the nose). Going beyond just this story, it's clear from the others in the series that Chambers had a real fondness for French artistic culture (although there's probably an element of parody there too), so I'm sure he's not trying to claim that getting rid of all foreign influence in America would be a good thing. I also haven't read anything else by Chambers, though, so I can't say anything conclusive. Actual last thing. On the subject of names, I just want to touch on Avonshire, since Glenn was so dismissive of it. It's absolutely not a nonsense name, and I don't think Chambers was using it as such. The Avon is a real river in England (yes, it's one of our many geographical features that has a name that just means the same thing in two languages), so there are three possibilities for Avonshire. 1) Hildred has a very poor knowledge of English geography. 2) England has had a reorganisation of the counties in this fictional version of 1920 (not impossible, reorganisations happened in 1888, 1972 and 1997), and Avonshire is now a county (presumably) in the West Midlands. 3) Avonshire is part of a secret hidden world, like the Imperial Dynasty of America, and the Marquis of Avonshire is somehow involved in whatever's going on (whether the current holder of the title wants to be or not). The fact that neither Louis nor Hildred can marry the daughter of the Marquis is also intriguing: the ostensible goal is to conquer the world, so why not marry a foreigner? There must be even more layers to this than what the story tells us. As usual, more ambiguities and questions than answers, but that's the way we like it!
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Karanthir
Mar 25, 2019
In Elder Sign
First of all, thanks so much for an(other) excellent podcast! What a great opportunity to read some weird fiction (almost all of which has been new to me so far) and then listen to some really intriguing and thought-provoking discussion! I had some thoughts on what I think is an interesting point of comparison between The Frolic and The Insanity of Jones. In both stories we are dealing with a character who appears, from our external perspective, to be 'insane', and in both cases this 'insanity' leads to murder. In both stories the character in question believes they have access to or come from a realm outside/beyond our own which either gives them a higher moral vantage point (ability to dispense justice/forgiveness in The Insanity of Jones) or a completely different set of morals entirely (humans as inferior 'playthings' in The Frolic). In both cases, the characters come across as pretty much entirely unsympathetic. But there is one major difference between the stories, which affects both how they are told and how we perceive them: The Insanity of Jones is told from the perspective of the 'insane' (or 'enlightened'?), while The Frolic is told from the perspective of the 'sane' (or 'ignorant'). The effect of this is not what I would have expected going in though. With The Frolic, we only ever see the 'other world' as what Dr Munck tells his wife of his conversations with John Doe, so we have no clue as to what's really going on in Doe's mind. Is he really a creature from beyond, or is he just crazy? With The Insanity of Jones, we are allowed to perceive the world as Jones himself perceives it. Reality is a boring sham, while the world beyond is wondrous (reflecting more the dreamscapes of Lovecraft and Howard than the 'underworld' Doe claims to have come from). We can ask a similar question though: has Jones really been granted some kind of cosmic enlightenment, or is he delusional? My own answer to these questions is surprising. I think Doe potentially is a creature from beyond, while Jones is probably delusional. There are enough clues scattered through The Frolic to just that there is something outre about Doe: he appears as if from nowhere and certainly seems to know things he shouldn't (although there are ways he could have learned these things if we read beyond just Dr Munck's account in the text). On the other hand, despite seeing things from Jones's perspective, his 'enlightenment' is more easily dismissed. We are the people noticing him talking to himself in the restaurant. We are the office workers terrified that our colleague has killed our manager. The way in which he himself dismisses those who believe in clairvoyance and other supernatural activities appears as supreme arrogance (even if we share his opinion about these things). Personally, I think this is exactly what the authors intended (though I might be wrong about Jones here). We are supposed to believe there is something not quite right about Doe, whether or not we fully buy in to what he claims. We are also supposed to believe that Jones is insane, even if his insanity is founded on ideas that not all sane people would dismiss out of hand (reincarnation, cosmic justice). But this is partly based on the way the authors write the stories. Ligotti is obviously inspired by earlier weird tales, and the informed reader can make the connection to Lovecraft's or Howard's dreamscapes. Because this kind of story has been told before (set mostly or entirely within the 'other world') and fleshed out by previous authors, Ligotti himself only needs to provide us with the barest details, and we don't need to see the 'other world' from the perspective of the 'dreamer' to believe it. I'm not accusing Ligotti of laziness here - I think it's a great metatextual storytelling technique that actually adds another dark layer to those earlier stories. Blackwood, on the other hand, does not really flesh out Jones's enlightenment enough for it be believable in comparison to the 'real world' perspective - we as the reader can still too easily see Jones's ideas about reincarnation and cosmic justice as a result of the (petty) injustices he has suffered in the real world. He hates his boss, so his boss becomes a sixteenth-century torturer, with Jones as the sixteenth-century tortured; his dead colleague becomes a guide in his 'enlightenment' (did Jones really have a good relationship with him five years ago, or is he creating that post facto?). Maybe I'm being too generous to Blackwood here, because as I said, this is what I think he intended. If he meant for Jones's situation to be more ambiguous then he didn't do that great a job, at least for me. Anyway, I don't really have any conclusions about all this, but I'd be interested to know what other people think.
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Karanthir
Oct 05, 2017
In Star Trek
Just wanted to get some random thoughts and observations out there, mostly responding to points made in the podcast: First off, thanks for pointing out that this episode was set 6 months after the first two. If that was mentioned I completely missed it! With how people are treating Burnham, I definitely understood it as people wanting a scapegoat and looking for someone to blame, because that's how people react to these sorts of situations. Whether the writers intend for them to be right or not is harder to say. Based on what we saw in the first two episodes, Burnham obviously isn't to blame for starting the war. T'Kuvma wanted a war and was going to start one no matter what. But maybe the writers were trying to set Burnham up as being the instigator. I'm still not sure about that one. I spotted Ginny Weasley (sorry, don't remember the character's actual name) and her weird technological enhancements. Originally I just saw them as part of the treatment for whatever wounds she sustained at the Battle of the Binary Stars, given that we're pre-TNG magic technology here. But now I'm not so sure, maybe it is part of one of Lorca's experiments. Also, her and Saru have both been transferred to the Discovery. Is it normal to have two (or more) members of a crew who survived something like that battle transferred to the same new ship (from a military/Starfleet perspective)? Is it just to give us some familiar faces? Is it part of some scheme by Lorca? Is he gathering Shenzhou veterans? I didn't catch that the weird blue dots from the start of the episode weren't the same ones they're experimenting with on the Discovery, so thanks for clearing that up too. Unless that's just what we're supposed to think?! I have no good explanation for what happened to Burnham in the chamber, and I'd really like one. Speaking as a non-scientist, the science in this episode felt dodgy, even for Star Trek. Lorca totally tricked Burnham at the end and he's actually developing a weapon after all right? (Also, as soon as she walked into his ready room the first time I yelled at the TV for her to check his forearm for tattoos...) Overall I think they set up some interesting plots in this episode and I'm intrigued to see where they're going. But I'm not completely sold on this yet.
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Karanthir
Sep 29, 2017
In Star Trek
Thanks for the excellent reviews of the first two episodes. I already had so many thoughts and now I have even more! But I just wanted to pick up a minor point from the first episode review about Worf. He's genetically Klingon but raised by humans, so in what sense is he a Klingon culturally? This is a really interesting contrast with Burnham, who's a human raised by Vulcans, and tries to be culturally Vulcan despite being a human. Worf has gone the other way. He's been raised by humans, but that has made him a 'hyper-Klingon' (for lack of a better term). He tries super hard to prove how much of a Klingon he is; he fully buys into the whole 'honour, glory, combat, death in battle' thing. But as we learn from TNG and even more so from DS9, that's a massive over-simplification of Klingon culture. They're actually astute politicians and just as inclined towards plotting and backstabbing as the Romulans are (though of course you get ostracized if you get caught engaging in such behaviour, so they do have cultural taboos about it). There are even Klingon lawyers and chefs, because of course there are, society needs such people. There just wouldn't be any room for them in Worf's version of Klingon culture, which is all about being honorable warriors. As we learn from the Klingon storylines in TNG and DS9, though, Worf's understanding of Klingon culture is way out of touch with what Klingon culture is actually like. I always read that as being because Worf learned about Klingon culture from books, not from growing up as a Klingon. He was an outsider on Earth and didn't feel like he fitted in. He wanted to know more about 'his people', so he read about them and found out about honour etc. And then every time he meets a real Klingon he's disappointed that they don't fit his stereotype of what a Klingon (warrior) should be. So I suppose in one sense he is a Klingon, in that represents an idealized version of Klingon culture that only exists in Klingon operas and in Worf's imagination. But ultimately it turns out he's a human who's desperate to be a Klingon because he thinks that's what he's supposed to be. I'd love to know how this fits in with the comparison to Samurai culture and ideal vs reality there, because it's not something I know much about.
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Karanthir
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