Tuesday, June 25, 2019

James Branch Cabell's Precious Balms

In 1924, Arthur Machen published a small volume entitled Precious Balms, collecting bad reviews his works had received over his publishing career.  The title came from Psalm 141: 
Let the righteous rather smite me friendly, and reprove me. But let not their precious balms break my head
Machen was not the first to be entertained by disseminating his own bad reviews. James Branch Cabell did it, in a bunch of pages at the back of his book Beyond Life (1919), where the pages look just like advertisements for Cabell's other works, until you start reading the copy.  And in various printings of the book Cabell added to the pages, and changed some of the reviews. When he compiled the Storisende edition of his works, he put the reviews within a different title, Straws and Prayer-Books (1930).  I copy a some examples below, including the early version of the Jurgen page, and the final version.  At that end of this post, I post the details for the bibliographically inclined.  Thanks to Bill Lloyd of The Silver Stallion website for helping me with details on the various printings. 
Gallantry (1907) 
In Gallantry the characters, their costumes, manners, ideas and actions have about the naturalness of a modern costume ball. The author tries hard to maintain a stilted style, but frequently loses patience with it and relieves himself with the most modern of slang. --New York Sun
 The Cords of Vanity (1909)
 About as poor stuff as one can find in a book put out by a reputable publisher. The whole thing is slushy and disgusting. --Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio
The Certain Hour (1916)
A collection of "romantic" tales about poets dead and gone, prefaced by a fatuous essay on literature. Two poems, far from poetic, are included in the book. --The Independent
From the Hidden Way (1916) 
From the Hidden Way was published by Robert M. McBride & Company, in 1916. The rest was silence. --Louis Untermeyer, in the Literary Review
Beyond Life (1919)
Theses as devoid of interest as they have been, these last hundred years, of mportance. --Floyd Dell, in The Liberator 
Straws and Prayer-Books (1924)
Oh! are we never to hear the last of Jurgen--must this stupid, stilted, silly book be forever flaunted in our reluctant face? Mr. Cabell goes on descanting about his experiences with the vice squad in New York, or wherever it was, as if he were a decadent small boy, proud of being haled into the police court for chalking dirty words on a wall. The Jurgen episode seems to have gone to Mr. Cabell's head, it would seem to have developed in him a sort of megalomania. He writes with a fatuous self-exploitation which arouses, in a sensitive reader, something akin to the curious personal sense of shame felt when a speaker or singer or player makes an absurd display before an audience. --Hartford Courant, Connecticut
Domnei (1913)

Jurgen (1919)
Jurgen (1919)
Beyond Life
New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, 1919
“Published January, 1919”
“Second Printing, March, 1919”
“Third Printing, August 1920”
“Fourth Printing, May, 1921”
“Fifth Edition” 1924 [year on title page]
“Sixth Printing, December, 1930”
In Storisende edition, the reviews are moved to Straws and Prayer-Books (1930), pp. 279-297

Beyond Life

In the first printing, the rear pages are numbered as follows:

p. 359. “Some Other Books by Mr. Cabell (With Tributes of the Press)”
p. 360. The Cream of the Jest
p. 361. The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
p. 362. The Certain Hour
p. 363. The Cords of Vanity
p. 364. The Soul of Melicent
p. 365. Chivalry, Gallantry, The Line of Love
p. 366. The Eagle's Shadow

The second printing retains the same text, but the page numbers have been removed.

The third printing has twelve (unnumbered) pages of such reviews:

[1] “Some Other Books by Mr. Cabell (With Tributes of the Press)”
[2] The Cream of the Jest
[3] The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
[4] The Certain Hour
[5] The Cords of Vanity
[6] Domnei
[7] Beyond Life
[8] The Line of Love
[9] Gallantry
[10] Chivalry
[11] Jurgen
[12] The Eagle's Shadow

The fourth printing has fourteen pages of such reviews, adding these two after Jurgen and before The Eagle's Shadow:

[11+1] Figures of Earth
[11+2] From the Hidden Way

The Fifth Edition and Sixth Printing match the fourth.

The catalog was reordered and expanded (by the last four titles) in Straws and Prayer-Books (1930), pp. 279-297

p. 279 “Books by Mr Cabell in the Order of Their Publication, with Tributes of the Press”
p. 281 The Eagle's Shadow
p. 282 The Line of Love
p. 283 Gallantry
p. 284 The Cords of Vanity
p. 285 Chivalry
p. 286 Domnei
p. 287 The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
p. 288 The Certain Hour
p. 289 From the Hidden Way
p. 290 The Cream of the Jest
p. 291 Beyond Life
p. 292 Jurgen
p. 293 Figures of Earth
p. 294 The High Place
p. 295 Straws and Prayer-Books
p. 296 The Silver Stallion
p. 297 Something About Eve

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A C.S. Lewis Mystery

In September 1966, a previously unpublished short story "Forms of Things Unknown" by C.S. Lewis appeared posthumously in his collection Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, edited by Walter Hooper.  It was later collected in The Dark Tower and Other Stories (1977), also edited by Hooper

The story is not among Lewis's best, but it poses some conundrums with regard to its composition. It is not known when Lewis wrote the story, but the plots bears a striking resemblance to a short story from one magazine and to some artwork on the cover of another magazine, both from 1958*. Basically (spoiler alert) "Forms of Things Unknown" tells of an astronaut on the moon who encounters a unnamed gorgon, presumably Medusa, and who, meeting her gaze in the final line of the story, is turned to stone.

The short story is "Island of Fear" by William Sambrot, and it first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post for 18 January 1958.  This story is not set on the moon but in a contemporary Greek island, where one man encounters a gorgon and meets her gaze in the final line of the story.

Next, the artwork.  It is a cover by Virgil Finlay to the October 1958 issue of Fantastic Universe, a science fiction magazine then under the editorship of Hans Stefan Santesson.  (Fantastic Universe was published from June 1953 through March 1960.)  The cover art, which is not associated with any story in the magazine, shows two astronauts in front of their spaceship having been turned to stone after encounter with a gorgon, again presumably Medusa.

How does one explain these similarities?  Really, one can't.  But it is interesting to note that Lewis did read American science fiction magazines in the 1950s, and even contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  And he also contributed to The Saturday Evening Post ("Screwtape Proposes a Toast" appeared in the issue for 19 December 1959).  So it's not outside the realms of possibility that Lewis saw the story or the magazine cover or both.

I had intended to include some account of this curious situation, and to reprint Sambrot's tale in my anthology Tales Before Narnia (2008), but my query letter to Sambrot went unanswered, and later I learned he had passed away just before my letter would have arrived.

*Credit for discovering (back in the 1970s) the story goes to Dale Nelson and the cover art to Richard Hodgens.