Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: At the Earths Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Well, it’s been a while since I managed to get any Appendix N reading done. Part of this is down to life and a piece of particularly bad news, but that’s a story for another day. The other part is a desire to write some of my own material while the muse is singing her siren song. There’s also the outstanding ‘Moon Pool’ reading that I need to get done, and yeah, I have to admit I’m struggling with that one.
So, because I needed a change of scenery I picked up At the Earths Core by ERB. It was either that of Pheonix in the Sword by REH and it came down to a coin toss. I nearly ignored said coin toss at the thought of reading yet another Hollow Earth story, but rather than annoy the Gods of Fate™ I decided to stick with it.
Warning Spoilers Ahead!!!

I remember as a kid watching the excellent Journey to the Center of the Earth starring the wonderful James Mason and Pat Boone with my Grandma while playing poker on a rainy day in Western Australia. Before the film was a half hour in I was completely caught up in the tale and Nana had all of my pocket money for a year safely tied up in IOU’s. I didn’t care because the film was completely and totally awesome! I’d been to see Star Wars for the first time the previous weekend and I’d enjoyed it, but it had nothing on JttCotE. Dinosaurs. Science. Lost Civilisations. Evil Scientists. DINOSAURS!
This was well before the era of VHS let alone TiVo and I don’t think I saw the film again for well over a decade. It had aged, and I had too, but it still charmed me, the spell of the storytelling bringing me in once more.
Which brings me to At the Earths Core by ERB. Once again we have science. Dinosaurs. Evil beings. We also have beautiful cavewomen, brave and noble savages, and a hero who is unashamedly a hero. The hierarchy of evil is well thought out, the evolved dinosaur-descended Mahars an interesting if under-utilised big bad. There was a lot to like yet little to love about the tale truth be told.
Oh, I loved the fact that ERB used one man’s love for another to force him to go back into slavery when everything was telling him to go after the woman he loved. I love seeing loyalty used like that, especially as I know that it will be rewarded and not punished ultimately. These guys knew that you didn’t mess around with ideas as big as loyalty, that when it was brought into play it was shown to be a strength, not a weakness. I loved that the hero didn’t understand the woman he had fallen in love with at all. We like to think that the game of love is universal while failing to acknowledge that it really isn’t; that every culture will have its own rules that an outsider is more likely to run afoul of than spontaneously understand.
Liking comes easy with ERB. The pace is great, the story(fairly) solid and the plotting, if not as labyrinthine as others is at least regularly surprising. His characters are all fun and the scrapes they find themselves in are packed full of action that always reveals more about the hero than a dozen pages of telling could be.
I’d like, seeing as how this is my blog, to spend a little time talking about something that’s caught my attention. It’s a beat that I’ve picked up on in so many of the novels from this period. For want of a better phrase, I’m just going to go with ‘Hero gets captured’. Sword of Rhiannon used it, as did The Ship of Ishtar, The Moon Pool (novel, not short story) Earth’s Core and Earths Crater and even Almuric. It’s a fantastic way to show us, the reader, the world that they, the hero, have found themselves in. The hero, David Innes, spends most of the story in captivity, away from the woman he loves. His desire to get to her drives the last part of the story.
There are niggles though. Time, because of the lack of a day-night cycle becomes meaningless. We are expected to believe that the hero has spent ten years in the hollow earth and not been aware of the passing of time. Sorry, but I just don’t buy that. I know that I should just shrug my shoulders and get on with it, but whenever ERB mentioned time passing it jarred me straight out of the story. It just didn’t pass the smell test if you catch my drift. Walking out of the city in Mahar suits, yeah that bugged me, as did not destroying the secret formula first chance they got.
Minor stuff.
What did strike me was that anyone writing such a story today could find themselves with an easy avenue to explore a steampunk setting. Man from our age goes down to Pellucidar and discovers that the cavemen have advanced to the steampunk age due to technology taking a divergent branch? I’d read that book!

That’s it, for now, guys, thanks for reading once again

take care

Dean

PS You can find a free copy of the story here.

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challange: The Moon Pool (Part One) by A Merritt.

Sometimes there are points in your life when you want to relax into the known and comforting. Then there are the times when you’re keen to try something new and exciting. When my life is more challenging I prefer the first option while the second is perfect for when everything is calmer. Rarely do the two overlap; that is until I started reading Merritt.

I fancied a quick read back on Saturday as the Boss and I headed to the seaside to visit her Dad and so I settled back to read ‘Through the Dragon Glass’. By the time we’d gotten halfway there I’d finished it and gone on to ‘The People of the Pit’ just because it’s the second story in my Collected Works. I finished it just as we pulled into the Old Mans driveway, feeling more relaxed and satisfied than I had in quite a while. I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about these stories while The Boss and Boss Daughter chatted to their family. Luckily I’m known for being a tad quiet so no-one really noticed any difference.

On the way back I fired up the old Kindle and began ‘The Moon Pool’ and found a story that seems to be an amalgam of the previous two, in the best possible way. I’ve only managed to read the first part so far, which has been excellent. It makes sense, therefore, to look at all three parts separately, giving my thoughts accordingly.

You are hereby warned that spoilers follow!

What motivates a hero? For Merritt the answers easy; loyalty and curiosity. In ‘Dragon Glass’ Herdon is motivated by curiosity to enter the mirror. The narrator stands guard due to loyalty. The focal character in The people of the Pit was motivated by curiosity. Then we come to The Moon Pool. We start off with Throckmorton and party, motivated by curiosity. Then along comes Goodwin and we have loyalty to a friend as well as a very natural curiosity. Both of these virtues are worthy motivators and both are getting rarer.

Before I go any further, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed the framing device at the start. I’ve always been a sucker for a well-framed narrative and the gentle but intriguing one used by Merritt pulled me right in. So much information was put into that first couple of pages in a clear manner, a complete info-dump but perfectly done. Before the story had even got underway I knew everything that I needed to.

The story moves along at a fair old clip as I’ve come to expect. Before too long Throckmorton has laid the entire situation out to Goodwin and described the entity to us, shown the reader some strong, and very competent female characters and drawn us into the mystery. When Throckmorton disappears Goodwin investigates out of loyalty.

It’s pure narrative genius.

The description is just about perfect. I can see the entity, the slabs that protect its habitat, the markings on the stones. I can see the islands and the men that assist them, it’s all in there for the skull cinema to enjoy. What really stands out though is the structure. Information is doled out as the story needs it and not just because the writer wants to sell us his story. Things happen when they need to and after you’ve mulled it over you realize that it couldn’t have happened in any other way. There are callbacks aplenty, Merritt never shows us something without it having a purpose.

And he does all that with a brevity that others purveyors of fantasy could do well from copying.

I’m a third of the way in and I’m loving the story. I’ll be continuing my thoughts on the Moon Pool in Part Two on Thursday.

Until then take care

Dean

 

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challange: The People of the Crater by Andre Norton.

Wow, busy week here. Lil Buddy got to check out the school she’ll be going to come September and if you think a four-year-old couldn’t get stressed I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. In between putting gemstones on sponges to make a pirate treasure, two trips to the library for more books and getting my ass handed to me on Dark Souls I managed to get the above read.

As well as Quag Keep.

I was planning on looking at Quag Keep for this post but decided against it. I enjoyed it, quite a lot as it happens, but decided at the last moment that it wasn’t the one I wanted to write about. My problem was that over the last twenty years I’ve read a lot of Gaming novelisations. Dragonlance, Shadowrun hell I’ve even read Warcraft. Oh, and Warhammer, so much Warhammer! I know that Norton did it first with Quag Keep, but all those books queered that particular pitch. It didn’t feel as fresh as I hoped it would, and that’s without a doubt due to those that came after.

So I decided to check out the earliest piece I could find which lead me The People of the Crater. This, this was what I was looking for. Once again I picked up elements that had been used by others which was quite thrilling if I’m honest. It’s a great feeling when you make that connection and realize that your education is progressing apace.

The first thing that hits you after you put the book down is just how tightly it’s plotted. You’d have to be an idiot to claim that the pulp writers bloated their works, the reality is just the opposite. There isn’t a wasted word paragraph or scene in the whole story and it clips along. It read like a blend of Merritt and Burroughs but with enough of an individual voice that it never felt like a pastiche or homage.

Then there was the romance. Obvious from the start how it would end up and even what the problem was, but no worse for that. The story needed that romance to give the story some real meaning and the hero some serious motivation. Again, some serious shades of The Ship of Ishtar, but more as a guiding hand than a glaring light. I know I intend to use it to guide an element of my latest WIP.

Lastly, there’s the hero. Have I ever mentioned that I hate the term ‘protagonist’? There’s just no need for it and it dilutes what I as a reader want from the character who’s front and centre. Norton gives us a hero, a proper one who does the right thing even though all he wants to do is wrong. He rises above it and by doing so is justly rewarded. Ah, that’s the way you want a story to end, no false notes, just a well earned reward. The sad thing is the first time we see the hero he’s essentially a down and out, despite being a veteran. It’s sad because 70 years on you could still start a story the same way and it would be equally as believable.

You can, if you so desire, read it for free here.

That’s all for now, take care guys

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challange: A Martian Odyssey by Stanley Weinbaum.

Okay, it’s been a busy weekend here at Chez Dean, what with Lil Buddies birthday, Dark Souls 3 and finally getting around to playing the latest MTG release Amonkehet. The birthday went well, Dark Souls is ridiculously hard and I’m quite liking the graveyard recursion in Amonkehet. Which brings me around quite nicely to the above tale. Weinbaum is yet another writer that I’d never heard of. He was apparently Quite A Big Deal© back when he was working that has since disappeared into obscurity. It shouldn’t feel like I’m resurrecting the dead when you read a writer as good as he is.

Everything about A Martian Odyssey is good. A solid plot, a likeable hero with an interesting companion. Clear motivations and vivid descriptions. The dialogue clips along and although Weinbaum indulges a penchant for accents it’s not so frequent that it’s annoying. Where Weinbaum stands out is in the pure imagination stakes. There are aliens on Mars and they are exactly that. Alien. They do not think like us, they do not act like us and they are not motivated as we are. They can be described, but they cannot be understood.

It wasn’t until I was in bed last night, mulling the story over in my minds-eye that I realised just how groundbreaking this must have been. Hell, let’s be honest here, still is. I watched and enjoyed Star Trek Beyond not too long ago. Great entertainment, but the aliens are us with funny coloured skin. Same goes for Star Wars Rogue One. They could rock up tomorrow and the only problem politicians would have is how to tax them. They could all be easily understood.

You can’t say that about Weinbaums’ aliens. They are different because they think differently, are made differently and see the universe differently. His creations are solid and consistent but not us. It’s been preying on my mind all day, wondering where I’d come across anything like that before.

Cthulhu anyone?

So why is a writer, able to bring us such an amazing concept and write so fluently, on the Misplaced list? If his writing sucked I’d get it, but it doesn’t. If his ideas stunk I’d get that too. Maybe it’s because:

Think not what you can do for Mars, think only what Mars can do for you. (Sigh!) Yes, this is colonialist, imperialist and racist in equal measure, yet it’s probably not fair to condemn it for that since it was Written in 1934 and is of its time.

or

oh, my God. This story was disgusting. And I don’t mean gross. I mean an abomination of a tale. I know, I know…it was written in the 1930s. But I don’t feel inclined to give Weinbaum any slack for that. This story wasn’t only poorly written, cocky, highly- and offensively-racist, it was an imperial and colonial orgasm in the worst pornographic way.

Where to begin with all this stupid. Well, firstly if you insist on reading everything through the lens of the idiots teaching Cultural Studies you’re never going to enjoy another damned book in your life. You’re also unqualified to pass judgement on the writing quality as you’re not judging it on the ability to write a decent sentence, paragraph, scene or story but on how true to some idiotic concepts the same teachers had.

Want to broaden your mind? Then read Weinbaum, allow yourself to be immersed in an imagination that was truly groundbreaking. We all should be talking about this mans’ work, and it shouldn’t feel like we’re bringing him back from the dead.

Thanks for reading this guys.

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Back in the day when I’d spend my hard earned wages on Spheres Conan reprints there would be the occasional week when I was out of luck and had to choose something else to read. On one such week, we’d read a short story in class by Leiber that I’d enjoyed and so I picked up Swords and Deviltry expecting more of the same.

Instead, I got a collection of short stories that acted as an introduction to his characters Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser. Well, that taught me to at least open a book before parting with my money. I read it though and enjoyed it well enough but it didn’t grab me enough to search out the rest of his work. Bear in mind that I can’t have been more than 14 at the time and just beginning to get into RPGs.

Coming back to the stories as a much older and I hope slightly more discerning reader I can see now what I missed then.

Rich language. Okay dialogue. Fantastic ideas. That’s how I’d sum up Leiber briefly. It’s a pleasure to read him as the words slide down but it does seem a tad dated now, not as much as Anderson, but certainly getting there. Compared to the last book I read, The Sign of the Labrys, it certainly seems to be stuck a little too far in the past.

But…

He really knows how to tell a story. His descriptive powers are amazing and if you give them the time they need transfer you to the destination he intended. The imagery is clear and beautifully drawn, whether it’s the snow covered land you encounter in the first of the stories, the dungeons of the Duke in the second or the foully intoxicating city of Lankhmar in the last. It pulls you in and fills your mind and before too long you’re ignoring the tin-eared dialogue and revelling in the clarity of Leibers’ imagination. You feel what he wants you to feel because of the clarity of his prose, no word is wasted.

Unless it’s in the dialogue.

Right at the core of the stories is the heartbeat that I think drives these tales. It’s loyalty; to each other, to the women they love and the life they’ve chosen. It’s a concept that seems to have fallen out of favour in a lot of fiction recently and yet the best stories demand it. Without it, well I reckon the story has to fail. Without a sense of loyalty you can’t have heroes, a tad simplistic view I’ll grant you, but it’s one I’m happy with. I missed the loyalty aspect as a kid, but the older me, the one that’s a little more thoughtful and introspective latched onto it and embraced it.

That’s all for now, it’s Lil buddies bathtime and I’ve got to wash her hair. The Snow womens’ snowballs have nothing on the toys she’s going to be throwing at me when she realises that.

Thanks for reading guys

take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St Clair.

Well, that took longer than I thought it would.
My wife, lovely woman that she is, gave me a year long subscription to Scribd for my birthday, which is where I found Sign of the Labrys hiding. Yay for electronic books! They’ve also got several of the Fafyrd and Grey Mouser stories, so I know what I’ll be reading next.

I struggled at the start of reading this one, it took me at least until the first quarter mark for me to really start to become involved with the characters, world, and ideas. It didn’t have that zip that Brackett and Moore had. I guess subconsciously I’d been hoping for more of the same, maybe I wasn’t quite ready yet for something so different. Not persevering wasn’t an option and so I plowed through, and now that I’m out the other side I’m glad I did.

Sometimes you read a book and you just know that it’s not meant for everyone. Sometimes it’s not even meant for anyone, just the writer herself. The Sign of the Labrys falls into the first category, but I get the feeling that St Clair would have been just as happy if it had fallen into the second. It’s full of allusions that few outside the realm of Wicca could ever hope to understand. Yay for the internets I guess.

Yay for the internets I guess. You know the drill, spoilers ahead.

I found myself slowly getting drawn into this strange claustrophobic tale, though at no point did I find myself caring about the main character. About any of the characters actually. I did want to see where the author was taking the story though, and how she would get to the inevitable conclusion. You put someone in a subterranean world and at some point, he has to venture to the surface to begin society again, it’s just common sense.

For that to happen there must be a mate, which was duly provided by the red-haired Despoina, as well as a way for society to succeed among the ruins of the old world. What I wasn’t expecting were puzzles that needed solving video game style (reminded of resident evil, can’t think why) anti-grav tubes, psionics, and inner-earth environments. At times the story was as mad as a box of frogs, as hallucinogenic as one of Ditkos’ Dr Strange panels.

It was hard work.

That’s not a bad thing, I feel like I needed the mental workout that the book gave me. By the end, I was well and truly into it, despite it taking me three days to finish. That’s not to say that I’d read it again, once was enough. I’ve got no hesitation in recommending it either, the story is definitely worth the effort.

That’s all for today, thanks as always for reading

Takes care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague De Camp.

The first time travel tale I remember reading was Mark Twains’ ‘A Connecticut Yankee at the court of King Arthur. I’d just finished reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and honestly thought I was getting more of the same. Yeah, I was wrong. My grandparents were keen on the classics, at least the ones that they thought were, and so Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, and John Wyndham quickly followed. There’s always something special about your first though isn’t there?

There’s a lot to like about a good time-travel story. At school, we had to read Bradburys’ A Sound of Thunder’ with the recommendation that we search out Moorcocks ‘Behold the Man’. Both are, at the heart, quite bleak, though in very different ways and both leave you pondering. Pondering is a good thing. I haven’t bothered reading either since Mr. Andersons English class. Preferable to either, at least as far as I was concerned however was the excellent Flesh, providing a very alternative reason for the dinosaurs dying out. Man, I loved 2000AD.

Which, via a circuitous route brings me to L. Sprague de Camp. Now I’d read de Camp before, there’s only so much Conan you can read before you’re reading him and you don’t even know it. Lest Darkness Fall was new to me though, which is weird when you consider its reputation as a classic. I guess it just goes to show that such status is rarely given quickly, and often taken away even faster.

*SPOILERS!!!*

The idea is simple enough, ‘man is sent back in time courtesy of handwavium, changes things’ Well, there were bits in this that I really enjoyed, and others…well not so much. The history, both of the time and the heroes pre-inventions, was cracking. The dialogue, well, not so much. Overall though, I would recommend the book to anyone as nothing in here is so painfully bad that it’s unreadable.

De Camp is possibly the weakest writer in Appendix N that I’ve come across so far. When you consider his competition is Lovecraft, Brackett, Merritt and Howard there’s no shame in that. Lest Darkness Fall just isn’t as tight, plotwise, as the others would have made it. The battle scenes could have come directly from an academic journal, there’s no real passion there, no real feel for the hell of a war fought between men with the most basic of weapons. The social disruption of inventions placed centuries before their time is left completely unexplored.

He doesn’t get back either.

De Camps characterisation was a joy though, each of the major, and most minor characters were drawn wonderfully. Simple tricks, repeating of key phrases or turns of phrase were used to wonderful effect and I have no doubt that I’ll be able to remember them for years to come. His romantic entanglements are amusing, mainly because of his attempts to get out of them! There are lots of neat little bits dotted throughout the story, moments that make you smile as you read them. Like when someone takes an arrow to the…kidney.

I liked it. I think it could have been better, but what do I know?

That’s all for now though, lil buddy wants to watch her new Power Puff movie. That’s right, I’m corrupting a three-year-old. Sue me.

Take care guys.

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft.

I had no idea that Lovecraft had an impact on AD&D, but on reflection, it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise. How could his tales of men versus monsters, gods, and their own sanity not have played their part in its creation? Looking back, it makes perfect sense.

Now, I came across Call of Cthulu before I’d even heard of Howard Philips Lovecraft and his Mythos. One of my few friends was keen to run an investigation and as the alternative was Chivalry and Sorcery I decided to give it a go. C&S was a goodish game, but it ain’t no AD&D, know what I’m saying.

To cut a long story short I hated CoC.

You play a game where you always end up insane? Are you kidding me? My character, a former soldier lost the plot the very first time he encountered the mythos. Committed suicide. Bummer, amirite? Out of spite, I decided to start reading the stories, just to see if this was common. Turns out that it was. Who knew?

I liked those stories. I was a lonely, awkward nerd with very few friends so of course, I liked those stories. They spoke to me, in a language that was dense, sinuous and oblique. I got it though, and that made me feel special. Believe me, at the time I took anything I could get. The very first story I ever read was The Dunwich Horror, and so it was an obvious choice to have a second look at for the challenge. You know the drill guys: Spoilers ahead!

You know the drill guys: Spoilers ahead!

The story is a simple one that’s as old as time itself. Girl meets Outer God, Outer God gets her pregnant, she delivers twins. One is normal-ish, except for the rapid aging, increased intellect, and extreme body hair issues. Oh, and his desire to learn all he can of the Mythos’s forbidden lore. Well, you would wouldn’t you when your pops is an Outer God. The other is a foul abomination that puts all life on earth at risk.

The story luxuriates in its descriptions and Lovecraft never uses one word when three will do, and I like that. Not everything needs to be fast and to the point, not if you can carry it off and Lovecraft could. His imagery left images in my mind that have been there since I was a young man, etched indelibly it would seem. By rereading, I realized that the imagery in my mind from all those years ago, whether it was of the major or minor characters was still true after all this time, there was no disconnect at all.

The story is unusual for one of Lovecrafts’. The heroes defeat the abomination for a start, and only one of them goes insane. That’s right, it has a happy ending. And you thought Lovecraft was all doom and gloom! The good guys’ win and the bad guys die and it’s the intellectuals that pull it off. There’s magic aplenty, more mystic lore than you can shake a stick at and rereading has made me determined to read the stories that I’ve missed.

I might even give Call of Cthulhu another go, but only if I can give it an R.E.Howard twist. There’s only so many times you can go mad.

That’s it, for now, guys, thanks for reading

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Almuric by Robert E Howard

Okay, let’s deal with the obvious first. Nope, I’m not doing Conan. Why? Because I’ve read Howards Conan continuously since I was 14 years old, and it’s more than fair to say that I’m a fanboy. Conan is my go-to place when I need the equivalent of comfort food and can lift my mood whenever I need it to.

So I want to look elsewhere, at other pieces of Howards’ work, where I might be able to be a tad more critical, which is how I came to Almuric. Let’s face it, I had a lot to choose from, Howard put the Pro into prolific. You name a genre he had a go at writing in it, and if he wasn’t the best, he was certainly always right up there.

Like I said, I’m a fanboy.

Okay, as always, from this point on there will be spoilers.Almuric is another man-transported tale.

Almuric is another man-transported tale. The hero, a man born out of his time has to escape from the authorities here on earth. He’s sent to another planet using an excellent piece of handwavium. Once there he not only survives but thrives, beating the elements first and the natives next. The fight to survive, to continue existing improves him physically, making him more than he could ever have hoped to be on Earth while knocking the rough edges of civilization off him, returning him to an almost primordial state.

And yet he remains a hero. The story gets a lot more interesting once he reencounters humanity. Imprisoned, he fights, then gains the chance to win his freedom and more by fighting again. The skills he’s learned on Earth stand him in good stead,

The story gets a lot more interesting once he reencounters humanity. Imprisoned, he fights, then gains the chance to win his freedom and more by fighting again. The skills he’s learned on Earth stand him in good stead,

The story gets a lot more interesting once he reencounters humanity. Imprisoned, he fights, then gains the chance to win his freedom and more by fighting again. Given the opportunity to fight dirty he sticks to the rules, fights as a hero should. Honour is everything, once again – and I really can’t emphasize this enough as it seems to be the overarching truth about the greats from this period – there are no shades of gray. There is nothing that makes you feel bad about rooting for the hero because you know, you know hes on the side of the Gods.

An element that I found interesting, especially as it ties in with a lot of what is going on in the world today, is the idea that membership of a nation is to be earned. It’s a truism that something given for free will be treated as though it had no value, and by the time Esau is made a Kothian you know that he really values being a part of the tribe. Food for thought.

The story is straightforward. Boy meets girl, girl gets captured, boy has to save her. Along the way, we meet enemies of a diverse nature. All succumb to our hero. Some of the enemies are more fantastical than others, none of them Dunsany fantastical, but plenty weird enough thank you! A fight against a giant spider is worthy of special mention, nightmare inducing as it was. There’s an unending succession of foes until he finally achieves victory, each one tougher than the rest, and as always it’s a satisfying meal to be had. By the end, you can’t help but feel pride in the earthman who overcomes and wins. Go home team.

Almuric isn’t as good as the Conan stories. I don’t think Howard loved him as much if I’m honest. There is a sadness to the tale, an undercurrent of loneliness that is pervasive, colouring all it touches. The following lines touched me deeply, words perhaps straight from Howards’ heart.

“Life is too hard for me. I do not fit, somehow, as the others do. I bruise myself on its rough edges. I look for something that is not and never was.”

Or maybe I’m just a sentimental silly old sod.

That’s all for now, as always thanks for reading.

Take care

Dean

Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: John the Balladeer by Manly Wade Wellman.

I wasn’t originally going to write about Wellman today. My initial plan had been to write about Almeric by R.E Howard, but after reading a great post over at Castalia House by HP (You can find it here) I changed my mind. There probably isn’t another author who has affected me on as deep a level as Wellman, almost down to the DNA if I’m honest. What really got to me was a weird synchronicity in our lives; the repercussions of an accident. HP writes “Where Did She Wander? by the way, was the last story Wellman ever wrote.  After writing it, he fell and broke his shoulder and elbow to shit.”

Back in 2008, I was working in a school, part teacher, part mentor, part enforcer. There was a fight on the school fields so I went running. A kid got in my way and rather than trample him underfoot I swerved. Lost my footing, went flying and went shoulder first into a metal gate. Broke my collar bone, shoulder, and upper left arm into so many pieces they couldn’t put it back together again. The outcome was almost amputation, and there have been times when I wish it had been truth be told. Instead, I got cold steel put into my arm and shoulder and constant pain ever since. I’m still alive though and believe me, an inch the other way and I wouldn’t be. So I guess I have an inkling just what Wellman went through. Just an inkling though, the guy was much older than I am now. In a strange way, this inspires me though. If he can go through that and still carry on writing then I’m damn sure I can.

 

I don’t remember the title of the Manly Wade Wellman book I read under the blankets of my bed in the winter of 1978. For the longest time, I couldn’t even remember the names of the stories. The memory of John, Silver John never faded though, and, unbeknownst to my waking rational mind became the yardstick against which all further heroes were judged. Random lines would return unbidden, always at appropriate times such as when I met Mark Calloway:

“Genesis giant blood,” I repeated him, remembering the Book, sixth chapter of Genesis. “‘There were giants in the earth in those days.'”

Yeah, that guy is pure Genesis blood!

I was in love with the elements that make John’s Tales before I was able to understand what they were. The biblical references for a start obviously. Then the elements of lore that reference both American and American Indian mythology. The lyrical use of dialect that never feels intrusive (anyone who thinks that Wellman had a tin ear needs their head examining!) and is a joy to read.

Good versus evil. Every single story revolves around this, the most basic dichotomy, as all honest stories must. There’s no space for shades of gray, no moral relativism here, bad is punished, good is rewarded and darkness is always pulled out into the light. Wellman does it without preaching, without forcing anything down your throat, it just underscores every word he writes. It’s refreshing, like a shower after wallowing in too much mud.

Take this next part, from The Desrick on Yandro. One paragraph long and so much horror in there. It reaches in and nestles itself in the gray matter and sets up home in your mind, ready to come out when you least want it to. I’ve bitched about this before, but too many writers think that the correct way to do this is page after page of set up. They’re wrong. Take a lesson from a master and learn the art of brevity. Wedded to the sentence structure that’s as sweet as beautifully written music, this is writing at a level that few seem capable of now.

There were mountain night noises, like you never get used to, not even if you’re born and raised there, and live and die there. Noises too soft and sneaky to be real murmuring voices. Noises like big flapping wings far off and then near. And, above and below the trail, noises like heavy soft paws keeping pace with you, sometimes two paws, sometimes four, sometimes many. They stay with you, noises like that all the hours you grope along the night trail, all the way down to the valley so low, till you bless God for the little crumb of light that means a human home, and you ache and pray to get to that home, be it ever so humble, so you’ll be safe in the light.

My last choice is from Who Fears the Devil, just a quick piece that really underscores everything I like about Wellman. The projector in my skull cinema has everything that it needs to create a Triple A blockbuster. In short, the writer isn’t treating me like an idiot, is letting me fill in whatever gaps he’s left.

Genius.

But I didn’t run. To run nair had helped me much in such a case. I’d stand my ground, fight. If I lost the fight, maybe Hallcott could get away and tell the tale. I bent my knees and made my legs springly, I hoped I could move faster and surer than those big, lumbering bones.

If the only thing you take away from anything I write on Appendix N, then let this be it. Read Wellman. Read his Silver John stories; here, I’ll even provide a link where you can read them for free. Once you’ve read those, search out his other stuff, it’s all good.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this. If you’d like to leave a comment feel free to do so, all (reasonable) opinions are welcome here.

Take care

Dean