Sunday, February 28, 2016

All the Wonders We Seek: Some Bibliographical Notes

Félix Martí-Ibáñez's collection All the Wonders We Seek: Thirteen Tales of Surprise and Prodigy was published by Clarkson N. Potter in November 1963.  It includes two stories published in the last years of the initial run of Weird Tales ("Between Two Dreams" May 1953; and "A Tomb at Malacor" in the final issue, September 1954).  The collection itself is excellent, and like many fantasy collections, best savored a few stories at a time rather than devoured in one sitting. 

For years I've had two copies, one on much thicker paper than the other, but otherwise identical, save for the the fact that on the upper front flap of the dust-wrapper of the thinner book, there is a statement denoting it is the second printing, a fact that is not indicated on the copyright page, where no statement of printing is present, as with the thicker version.
Second printing at right
The front flaps
What is less-known is that in 1964 Martí-Ibáñez published an large format edition in his native Spanish, with illustrations by Teodoro Miciano. Retitled Los Buscadores des Sueños: Trece cuentos de maravilla and prodigio  [The Seekers of Dreams: Thirteen Tales of Wonder and Prodigy], it stands tall next to its English counterparts. 

Martí-Ibáñez published another collection of his short stories in English in 1965, Waltz and Other Stories, but here the magic is mostly absent, and this volume is a complete and disappointing contrast to the earlier collection. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Best College Verse, with a dash of Lovecraftians

The beginning of the Depression was not the best time to launch a new series collecting the best verse by college students. Yet Harper & Brothers did that, with Best College Verse 1931, edited by Jessie Rehder, with a preface by Christopher Morley, clocking in at over 320 pages.  There were no subsequent volumes, and I don't know how well (or how poorly) this volume did sales-wise, but contents-wise, it is remarkable in a number of ways.  There are as expected a lot of unrecognizable contributors, but some poems are by writers later to be famous, like Loren Eiseley, or by the children of writers who were already famous, like Christopher Gerould (son of Katharine Fullerton Gerould). I found it interesting to count three poets who were (or were soon to be) associated with H.P. Lovecraft. 

Pre-eminently there is Donald Wandrei, of the University of Minnesota, who contributed "Lyric of Doubt," a poems of four stanzas.  The first and last stanzas reads:

 She walks with stately grace.
  Her grave, gray eyes with beauty hide
    That has no counterpart in lands of time
Of space;
  And in her movements, languid charms abide. . . .
She walks with dust and dreams.
   All else is still the realm around,
      And she alone has beauty, grave and gay,
She seems
   A phantom of a kingdom of no sound.
Richard Ely Morse, of Amherst College and a correspondent of Lovecraft's, contributed two verses,both with macabre touches, but I here give only one of the poems, complete:

Down in the Orchard

"Down in the orchard
the grasses creep,
covering a grave
dug fair and deep.

"Down in the orchard
where nobody goes,
earth is over him
heard and toes.

"And nobody cares,
and nobody weeps,
for that bitter secret
the orchard keeps.

"While I sit safe
in a fire-lit room,
outside the wind
is cold as doom.

"Once to bed early
two filled with hate;
now I alone sit
when the hour is late,

"He cannot hurt me
any more,
he can only stare
at the worms that bore.

"A step upstairs, right over my head!
Who walks so late
When all are abed?

"The stairs go creak,
and the door goes crack;
who is that standing 
at my back?

"I dare not move, 
nor turn to see,
lest he should be staring
there at me. 

"But I am drawn
in a close embrace
by arms as thin
and white as lace;

"Arms that are more
bone than flesh—
my hair is over me
like a mesh;

"Golden and silken,
a shining coat;
closely it tightens
round my throat! . . . "

Down in the orchard
the grasses creep,
covering two graves
dug fair and deep.
Morse published one collection of verse, Winter Garden (1931), but this collection does not include "Down in the Orchard." 

The final poet with a Lovecraft association is Winfield Scott, of Brown University, better knows as Winfield Townley Scott, who though he did not know Lovecraft himself penned a perceptive account of him "His Own Most Fantastic Creation" which appeared in Marginalia (1944), edited by August Derleth and published by Arkham House.  Scott contributed three somewhat cosmic and slightly macabre poems to Best College Verse 1931 Here is one:

The Last Man

Slowly and painfully and all alone
He climbs the hill to watch the setting sun;
Sickly and pale and cold as ancient stone
Its final light on this remaining one. 
He watches it; where clouds were thick with rain
A rainbow glimmers—God's last mockery;
He hears below the dim edge of the plain,
Far off, the gradual stilling of the sea. 

Standing there, bowed before the thin green light,
He looks down were so many million souls
Set banners flying and went beating drums
And tended fires and sped abroad to fight,
All—all for causes over which dust rolls. 
The sun goes out, and the great darkness comes.

Strangely, I had expected to find some contributions herein by the prolific writer and poet August Derleth, then at college, but nothing by Derleth appears in the volume.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Vincent Price Reads Lord Dunsany

The top half of the album (the whole is too big for my scanner)
I just pulled out an old Caedmon record to listen to Vincent Price reading four short stories by Lord Dunsany, two from The Book of Wonder ("Chu-Bu and Sheemish" and "The Hoard of the Gibbelins"), and two Jorkens tales ("The Club Secretary" from Jorkens Remembers Africa; and "Making Fine Weather" from The Fourth Book of Jorkens).  Price does a pretty good job, letting the stories themselves entertain, without any hamming it up by the performer. 

The LP was released in 1982, in that far-distant time before CDs and MP3s, etc. The liner notes are by L. Sprague de Camp, who when he isn't being too bombastic about himself, can be rather keen as an observer of others.  Yet while de Camp certainly met Lady Dunsany in 1963 and again in 1967, he didn't meet Dunsany himself. Still his capsule description of Dunsany in the liner notes, rings true, perhaps reflecting the views of Lady Dunsany:

He was six feet four inches tall and sometimes called the worst-dressed man in Ireland. He was a writer, poet, playwright, lecturer, soldier, sportsman, country squire and world traveler all rolled into one. When not roaming the world, hunting foxes in the British Isles or wild goats in the Sahara, serving as a British officer in the Boer and First World wars, being wounded in the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, and making an abortive entry into politics, Dunsany found time to write sixty-odd books of stories, plays, essays, verse, and autobiography, How he accomplished all this with a quill pen we shall never know; he never revised or rewrote. An enthusiast for games and sports, from chess to lion hunting, he was at various times the chess and pistol champion of Ireland. 

A man of fiery temperament and poetical sensitivity, Dunsany was torn by the conflict between his background and upbringing, that of a conventional hunting-shooting-fishing-and-soldiering Anglo-Irish peer, and his personal literary tastes and interests. A garrulous, fun-loving, sociable man, he was esteemed by those who liked him as genial, delightful, and fascinating. But no man of such strong personality is liked by all. Those who did not like Dunsany found him  arrogant, opinionated, self-centered, and sometimes testy and inconsiderate. He had strong opinions on many subjects. He denounced the turgid free verse of most contemporary poets and "bells of lead" and dismissed T.S. Eliot's work as "frightful nonsense."