Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Dunsany's Famous Story Ledger

In the 1919 "new and revised edition" of Edward Hale Bierstadt's Dunsany the Dramatist (originally published in 1917), Bierstadt printed a sample year from Dunsany's record book of what he wrote and when.  Dunsany had sent this sample year, 1912, to Bierstadt in the autumn of 1917, noting "I send you a sample year from the record I have kept of all the tales I have written since the end of 1906." Dunsany readers have been salivating over this record ever since. Here is the transcription, from pages 212-213 of Bierstadt's book (click on the illustration to make it larger). 

Especially intriguing are the tales marked "unpublished." And of course the hints of publication entice the bibliographer, like the entry for "The Food of Death":  "Saturday Review? Some chatty book about the stage; name forgotten and immaterial."  ("The Food of Death" did appear in the Saturday Review of  30 August 1913, and the "chatty book about the stage" was The Era Almanack and Annual for 1913.) One really, really wants to see the whole of this record!  

Oddly, I recently happened upon a reproduction of the handwritten version of this year that Dunsany sent to Bierstadt, reproduced in a periodical just prior to the publication of the new edition of Bierstadt's book. Bierstadt's transcription of Dunsany's handwritten copy of the record is pretty accurate. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Dunsany's Wax Seals

I have previously written about Dunsany's clay caricatures at Wormwoodiana.  Recently I discovered some photographs of Dunsany's sealing wax stamps. I've long known of one example, which appears on the Sunwise Turn edition of A Night at an Inn (1916). In fact it appears there twice, in color (stamped in red wax) on the upper cover:

and as a line drawing on the title page (of the first printing only):

A note on the copyright page states the design is from "a silver seal cut by Lord Dunsany."  Elsewhere, in making an example in wax of a similar seal for a friend, Dunsany noted that the scarlet color of the wax "is too strong and might blind the eyes of men so I will make a less glaring dawn," pouring a violet blue over the scarlet and making a blend of the violet red which shows just before the sun appears. "And now you will see my horse riding along the dawn ..." 

Here are a few other of Dunsany's seals, with his descriptive captions. 

The Epistolary God: taking care of Letters to Friends. To whom the Atlantic is but a running stream and all the Plains but a Garden.
A God of the Mountain

A holy man; as some believe, a God, this being a heresy wherefore men are damned

Here is a slightly different version of the first seal given above (note the positioning of the forelegs of Pegasus, and the differing number of sun-rays), with a caption:

Pegasus taking a gallop above Sunrise

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Truly a Strange Creation Myth

Here follows the strangest creation tale I think I've ever encountered.  Authorship at bottom.

Let Us Make Gods

There was once upon a time a god who, at the beginning of things, merely existed and had nothing to do. He hung on empti­ness and looked out on space, and, except those parts of himself that he could see, nothing ever moved in his whole horizon, and nothing ever came into sight. He was a worm-like deity, and his movements were quite methodical and regular, a mere pendu­lum-like swing of the tail to and fro: it never occurred to him to do anything else; he did not, in fact, know that he was doing it.

One day, however, something happened—­something wonderful and astonishing—which had never happened to him before. Inside his tail, which he had never before known to have an inside, he felt a pain, and with a sharp twitch, in order to avoid and get away from it, he swung it up and round and hit himself sharply in the mouth. And the evening and morning—if one may speak in parables of things that did not exist—were the first day.

When I say that he hit himself in the mouth, I merely mean that he hit two parts of himself together that had never come together before, and had not had a notion that they could come together or even that they existed. It was only on contact that they began to realize themselves, and to wish, in a vague sort of way, for a repetition of the experience—to get back on each other, so to speak, though so high and exalted an idea as revenge or retribution had not yet occurred to them. So from that time on, for a few centuries, or æons, or whatever the time was under conditions where time could not be measured, the god continued to dis­locate his tail with vague plungings in the direction whither he wished it to go, much as a child plunges its spoon toward the mouth which it cannot yet find. And very gradually, as a result of these plunges, his tail became, not wiser or more experienced, but more muscular. And so every now and again, by a sheer fluke, mouth and tail came together again; and every time that his tail smacked his mouth, the god smacked his lips. Life was becoming sweet to him.

And then one day—if day it may be called—the great thing happened; just as the god’s tail struck, the mouth, responsive, made a sudden grab at it, caught hold of it, and clung. And there they were: the god had joined them together, and marriage in heaven had begun.

Slowly, softly but firmly, the god began chewing his own tail, and the evening and morning were the second day.

At first the tail liked it, and then it didn’t; and the more it disliked it, the more it wriggled to escape. So there was war in heaven: but the mouth still held its own. Peacefully, from its own point of view—if a matter of taste may be so called—it determined to investigate, to its own satis­faction, what its tail really was, or what it was capable of becoming. And so it chewed and chewed.

The tail was now in great pain, and was beginning to communicate its feelings to the brain. But the brain did not understand, or did not know how to deal with the matter; and so when it told the tail to pull it told the mouth to pull also, and the suction and the pain increased greatly, and the mouth, believing that it was enjoying itself greatly, continued to absorb the tail.

In course of time—for at last time was really beginning to shape itself—there came results. The god began to find nourishment in the eating of his own tail; and his body began to put out queer little fins, with feelers and suckers attached to them—some taking after the head and some taking after the tail, as is the way with all things born of double parentage; and the strife, or mutual benefit scheme, according as we view it, which had started between the primordial pair of opposites, was taken up and repro­duced all over the god’s body by a thousand flattering imitators. And whatever the evening and the morning were at this pre­cise stage of affairs, nobody could say that the god was not now alive.

Presently the creative eruption which had broken out over the god’s body extended in the direction of his head; and round the great parent mouth small and very animated heads and tails—fins, feelers and suckers, or whatever you like to call them—­sprang up and began disputing in their own way which should be first. Now and then, turning from each other, they made excited grabs at the parental orifice, disturbing its adjustment, and distracting its attention from its own solid and immemorial feed on the now disappearing tail. “Making them­selves to be as one of us!” ruminated the slow-mouthing deity; and, turning from his own proper employ to take a snap at them, he loosed hold of the tail of things, and, letting, it slip away, recovered it no more.

The tail was now master of the situation; though bruised, flayed and corrupted by the digestive processes, it at last found ground to go upon; and, conceiving the altogether fallacious notion that by mere retrogression it could recover its primitive form, it began to drag its body backwards, and, if ever the head made any sign of resistance or of thinking otherwise, to bash it violently against the obstacles which lay in its path.

Following upon this came a change in the composition of the deity. The synthetic process of creation or self-realization having, come to an end, disintegration took its place: gradually all the fins, feelers and suckers began to separate and fall away from the parent body and start life on their own account. They passed out of view; the deity lost cognizance of them; what became of them he did not know.

Presently, deprived of these excrescences born of earlier conflict, he settled back into peace: head and tail contended no more; pace slackened and became imperceptible; finally it ceased.

The pendulum swing was not resumed; in the course of his changes the deity had found ground; bedrock was under him. Very slowly and slidingly he curled himself round in many coils, close and comfortable; head rested on tail, he dozed. As he did so, merely from old habit and absence of mind, he took his tail once more into his mouth and began chewing it. The tail resisted no more; it seemed unaware of the process which was going on. Gradually it coalesced and was absorbed; the coils of its spiral became fewer; the rate of absorption diminished, but never entirely ceased; back from tail to head it chewed its way; and, unity achieved, rested from its labour, closed eyes, and slept fast. When, many æons later, those separated entities, having found for themselves other forms, came upon him lying asleep, they did not recognize him as a god at all; but they came and hung about his sides, climbed on him, fattened on him, and told stories to themselves of an altogether different god—­one whom they themselves had made.

From Gods and Their Makers and Other Stories (1920), by Laurence Housman, brother of fantasist Clemence Housman and poet A.E. Housman.  The bulk of this volume was originally published in 1897 (though written in 1889). I suspect the above story probably dates from the same time period, but presently I know of no appearance in print before 1920. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Man vs. Nature, as of 1932

Every time one re-reads a worthy book, one finds new resonances within it. I believe this is my fifth time with this volume, and its ecological view would have found agreement back then with J.R.R. Tolkien, as it finds resonance today:

He wondered how all this cultivated part of Dartmoor would have looked, say, in Tertiary times, before the advent of man on the planet; before that uglifying master-brute had put a hand to his congenial and self-honoured labour of clearing lands of their established life. Savage and lovely beyond thought, no doubt. So what had been gained by the substitution? Additional sources of food supply for man himself and some dozen kinds of degenerated animals, his servants. For this, fair trees had been uprooted, strange, beautiful beasts and snakes of the wild exterminated, exquisite birds made rare or extinct, the inhabitants of the streams slaughtered and poisoned. Verily, a ruthless campaign!

And the effective result? Why, this foul trail of earth-viscera and metamorphosis wheresoever man passed. All over England and Europe, and gradually all over the world, the houses, pavements, factories, mines, quarries, cuttings, bridges, railways, cars, engines and machinery, slag-heaps, gas-works, roads, stagnant canals, the grime of unreckonable chimneys, the grit and dust of a hell-maze of thoroughfares; and the slums, and backyards, and hidden corners of filth and shame. Or the cabbage-rows, and manure-heaps, sties, stables and pens—to demonstrate the superlative vulgarity of this scrambler for easy food, the human biped, whose stomach was paramount in the existence of a mystic universe.

The source?  This comes from  Chapter VI of Devil's Tor (1932) by David Lindsay.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Hell's Cartographers

This book passed under my radar for a long time, but I'm glad to have finally discovered it. I guess I never made a connection with what is referenced in the title, and thought the book was merely another anthology of stories. But the title references one of the first books on science fiction, New Maps of Hell (1960) by Kingsley Amis. By 1975, when Hell's Cartographers, edited by Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison, came out, Amis's book was receding from memory.

Yet the subtitle of the book (in small typeface on the cover) is more descriptive:  "Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers."  And that's what the book is: personal histories by Robert Silverberg, Alfred Bester, Harry Harrison, Damon Knight, Frederik Pohl, and Brian Aldiss. Each writer also contributed a short piece to an appendix entitled "How We Work" covering their own writing habits.

I've read books by all six writers before reading this volume, and even had some (small) associations with two of them. Of the six, only Robert Silverberg is still alive, forty-five years later, and he was the youngest contributor when the book originally came out. Silverberg's essay is arguably the most interesting in the book, for his writing career, in the period covered, changed and evolved more than that of most of the other writers. Yet each author has worthwhile things to say, and it is quite interesting to encounter autobiographical reflections by a writer like Bester--from whom I don't think I've previously read anything but fiction. Aldiss, Harrison, Knight and Pohl have each written autobiographies of one sort or another.

There are some good moments throughout the book, and I'll share a few here.

Robert Silverberg noted: "I wrote my strangest, most individual book, Son of Man, a dream-fantasy of the far future, with overtones of Stapledon and Lindsay's Voyage of [sic] Arcturus and a dollop of psychedelia that was altogether my own contribution." (p. 39).

Alfred Bester recalled attending meetings of science fiction authors in a London pub in the mid-1950s.  This would have been at the White Horse or the Globe.  Bester recalled:  "John Wyndham and Arthur Clarke came to those gatherings. I thought Arthur rather strange, very much like John Campbell, utterly devoid of a sense of humour and I'm always ill-at-ease with humourless people" (p. 68).

Brian Aldiss's comments on the state of science fiction writing forty-five years ago are still applicable today though there has been a good deal of books on "new and darker ages" in the decades since: 
“Most of the science fiction being written is disappointing and not merely on literary grounds; so many of its basic assumptions are fossils of thought. The philosophy and politics behind the average sf novel are naive; the writer takes for granted that technology is unqualifiedly good, that the Western way of life is unqualifiedly good, that both can sustain themselves forever, out into galaxy beyond galaxy. This is mere power-fantasy. As I have often argued, we are at the end of the Renaissance period. New and darker ages are coming. We have used up most of our resources and most of our time, Now nemesis must overtake hubris” (p. 201). 
There's much to reflect upon in this book. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Violet Apple by David Lindsay

In sorting some large piles of research notes there emerged an advertisement for the first publication of David Lindsay's The Violet Apple and The Witch, forthcoming from the Chicago Review Press (then distributed by the Swallow Press) on their Fall/Winter 1975 list. Here is the advertisement from Publishers Weekly, 25 August 1975. (Click on any scan to make it larger.)
It is interesting that the price of the book is given as $10 (for comparison I note that in 1977 Tolkien's The Silmarillion was priced at $10.95). But The Violet Apple and The Witch wasn't published at that price, nor did it come out in 1975. When it finally appeared in April 1976, the price was upped to $15. Here are scans of the front and rear covers, with flaps, of the dust-wrapper (scanning with the mylar still on the wrapper has resulted in some unfortunate glare streaks).
Note the quotes from reviews, on the rear cover, of A Voyage to Arcturus, and Devil's Tor. The new book apparently did not sell well. The trade paperback edition came out in June 1977. Every page--including the copyright page--is identical to that in the hardcover edition, so it looks as though the trade paperback edition came out in 1976, but of course that wasn't the case. In fact, the trade paperback gives the impression of having been made up of repurposed pages from unsold copies of the hardcover edition. In any case, neither edition sold well, and copies are pricey today (though the hardcover is by far the rarer of the two editions). Here are the front and rear covers of the trade paperback.
Some of the flap copy on the dust-wrapper has been reworked on the rear cover of the paperback, and of the quotations from reviews only one concerning A Voyage to Arcturus remains.

A British edition of The Violet Apple (omitting the severely edited version of The Witch) was published in hardcover by Sidgwick & Jackson on 29 June 1978. Priced £5.50, it restores Lindsay's chapter titles that were omitted from the earlier edition, and corrects some transpositional errors in the text. Here is the simple and elegant front cover along with the front and rear flaps.

This edition, too, sold poorly, and a sticker was later added to the front flap dropping the price to only £1.50.  Here is the flap of another copy, with the sticker affixed.
Even that drastic a reduction in price was not enough to get rid of unsold copies, and in 1981 the publisher rebound the unsold sheets together with another book (A Double Shadow, by Frederick Turner) as a Science Fiction SPECIAL 33, issued without a dust-wrapper. Here is the cover.
 To date, these are the only published editions of both of Lindsay's posthumous books.