Romanticism and Fantasy: The Gothic

Monday, October 31st, 2011 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Mary Shelley's FrankensteinThis is the fifth in an ongoing series of posts about Romanticism and the development of fantasy fiction; you can find previous installments here, here, here, and here. To recap so far: I’ve looked at the emergence of the fantastic in English literature in the 18th century up to about 1789, noting that it was connected to a strain of antiquarianism. Then I looked at developments in French literature, which included the creation of a tradition of literary fairy tales as well as stories based on the Arabian Nights; last week I looked at German writing, and noted that the 1789 publication of Friedrich Schiller’s popular Der Geist-Sehrer, The Ghost-Seer, helped foster a tradition of popular horror writing in German which had a complex relationship of mutual influence with another horror tradition in England. That English tradition is what I aim to write about this week: the Gothic novel.

Today, the adjective ‘gothic’ implies a certain aesthetic, deriving from the word’s use to describe a certain kind of horror writing that had its height in the 1790s. That usage is a largely modern phenomenon. At the time, writers of books we now call ‘gothic’ mostly described their works as ‘romances.’ (Certain critics, incidentally, have argued that gothic writing is distinct from Romanticism proper; my definition of Romanticism is broad, and certainly includes works self-consciously written in the romance tradition.)

Why ‘gothic’? Before about the middle of the 18th century, ‘gothic’ referred to the Germanic peoples who sacked Rome, and by extension to the Middle Ages that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire. ‘Gothic’ therefore also meant things that were outdated or obsolete, and particuarly all that was crude or tasteless. It tended to imply superstition, and the marvellous. It was implicitly opposed to the classical. As an adjective, it could mean English or German, Druidical, Norman, Tudor, even, in some contexts, ‘Oriental’.

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Fantasy TV Weekly Update – Oct. 31

Monday, October 31st, 2011 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

grimmNow that there’s actually more than one good fantasy show on network television, I’ve decided to step back from the detailed Supernatural post mortem (so to speak) and instead to provide a weekly update on the happenings of these fantasy television series all at once. So, here we go with the breakdown for last week’s shows:

Supernatural – “Slash Fiction” (aired: Friday, Oct. 28) – Sam and Dean are up against … Sam and Dean. The Leviathans take a different tactic in an effort to take down the boys, by shapeshifting into them and going on a killing spree (and making sure they get caught on video doing so). Meanwhile, Bobby tries to find a way to kill the Leviathan they took captive at the end of the previous episode. Turns out that decapitation and the chemical borax make for a potent combination. We also learn that when Leviathans touch the person’s body (or, apparently, hair from a shower drain) to shapeshift into their physical form, they also absorb the feelings and thoughts of the target. The two Leviathans are pretty disgusted by the dysfunction of the boys, and the faux Dean reveals to Sam that he killed Amy. The episode will soon be available for online streaming at the Supernatural website.

Grimm – “Pilot” (aired: Friday, Oct. 28) – Check out the review here, including links to places where the episodes are streamed online.

Once Upon a Time – “The Thing You Love Most” (aired: Sunday, October 30) – In my review of the pilot, I said that the show really needed to make the present-day plotline more compelling. The second episode does a much better job of balancing the fairy tale plotline and the real world one, in a way that is reminiscent of the excellent way that Lost handled their flashback structure. The flashbacks of this episode focus on what the Evil Queen had to do in order to enact the dark curse that trapped them all in this world … which included a deal with Rumpelstiltskin and a powerful sacrifice. The present day storyline begins to draw out some better characterization than in the pilot, especially among the local sheriff (not sure who he was in fairy tale world), Mr. Hopper (i.e. Jiminy Cricket), Regina (the Evil Queen), and Emma Swan herself, as Regina’s attempts to force Emma out of town begin to draw in more participants on both sides. It also becomes a lot more clear what sort of person Emma is and that she isn’t going to take attacks lying down. This episode is available for online streaming through the official website and on Hulu.


Fairy Tale Television, Part 2: NBC’s Grimm Pilot

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

grimmAs I mentioned last week, there are two major series starting this fall that are based on fairy tales coming to our world. The second of those series is NBC’s Grimm, which comes across as an attempt to wed fairy tales to a police procedural, sort of like Supernatural merged with Criminal Minds.

The result is a particularly brutal program, leaning strongly toward the horror end of the spectrum. I’m not sure if something this dark will really make it as a success on NBC. Supernatural is a cult success, which is fine for the sort of ratings that the CW is aiming for, but NBC would consider the same ratings level a failure.

The concept: Nick Burckhardt is a police detective who begins to see strange visions, only to learn that it’s because he is descended from a family line of Grimms – those with the power to see supernatural creatures for what they really are. It’s his destiny to hunt down these creatures. Read More »

Still Not Ready for Prime Time

Saturday, October 29th, 2011 | Posted by Soyka

6276241335_53830189a1_o1Well, just as everyone is remarking on how the new conversant iPhone is making science fiction true to life, one pretty big part of the science fiction imagination remains just that; while the 21st century has not only arrived, we’re a decade into it, but we won’t be taking any sight seeing trips to Mars in the near future.  Even a suborbital cruise will have to wait until 2013. The overly ambitiously and to-date technically impossibly named Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company founded by British billionaire and all-around let’s do something fun and make some money at it guy Sir Richard Branson, has announced that commercial flights have been delayed for another two years.  But don’t start buying any tickets, as this is something like the fourth time the schedule has been bumped forward since flights were supposed to begin back in 2008.

If you did want to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, tickets cost $200,000, with a deposit of$20,000 required.  Not sure if that includes complimentary drinks.

A Halloween Treat: The New Death and Others by James Hutchings

Friday, October 28th, 2011 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

240px-robert_e_howard_suitnnew-death3The New Death and Others is James Hutchings’ newly-published collection of gothic poetry and short fiction. The title found its way to me through my appreciation of Robert E. Howard’s “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” for it is one of four fantasy stories that the author adapts in verse form. I admit to being skeptical that the quality would not come even close to doing justice to the works that provided inspiration. When I read Hutchings’ poem, I found myself recalling Tolkien’s use of poetry throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Here was a similar approach that uses the beauty of words sparingly to convey complex stories or histories in minimalist form. Hutchings’ work immediately captured my imaginations and left me hungry to sample more of his work.

I humbly admit to struggling with technology. Many are the times I require my kids’ assistance to navigate through the DVD’s remote in order to access special features or skip chapters or fast forward properly. The idea of owning an eBook is something that appeals to me as much as owning an iPod or iPhone. That said Amazon has made it hard for me to resist the technology with their free PC for Kindle download. As a reviewer, there are an increasing number of publishers who prefer to send their works as an eBook. The freeware allows readers to enjoy numerous free classics as well as sample other works for literally a fraction of their printed cost and without having to buy an expensive Kindle or Nook. All of this is actually relevant since Mr. Hutchings’ excellent offering is available at Amazon as an eBook or direct from Smashwords’ website for download. Quite honestly, I cannot think of a more perfect Halloween gift than this collection of poems. One could easily see the book becoming a seasonal tradition.

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Swords from the East, Swords from the Sea by Harold Lamb, a Review

Thursday, October 27th, 2011 | Posted by Brian Murphy

swords-from-the-eastSwords from the Sea
Harold Lamb
Howard Andrew Jones, ed.
Bison Books (552 pp, $24.95, 2010)

Swords from the East
Harold Lamb
Howard Andrew Jones, ed.
Bison Books (476 pp, $24.95, 2010)

It must have been something, the pre-television age when pulp magazines were a widely consumed form of entertainment. I can only imagine the anticipation of opening up one’s mailbox, finding inside the latest copy of Adventure magazine, and settling in to an evening of rousing tales by the likes of Talbot Mundy, H. Rider Haggard, and Harold Lamb. It was a time of pulse-pounding action and tales of distant historic epochs on the printed page.

Those days are now gone, and for many years the contents of those now-yellowed pulps were largely inaccessible, save through the efforts of patient and often deep-pocketed enthusiasts. But fortunately some of these works are now being collected in anthologies. Editor Howard Andrew Jones has done the Herculean task of assembling Lamb’s stories in the eight volume “Harold Lamb Library” series by Bison Books. These include Swords from the Desert and Swords from the West, and recently concluded with Swords from the Sea and Swords from the East.

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World Fantasy Awards to be Presented this Weekend

Thursday, October 27th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

worldfantasyWell, here it is Thursday, so I must be Goth Chick. Except I’m not.

Apologies to all those who tuned in today for their regular dose of 80’s sci-fi movie nostalgia and penetrating interviews with the luminaries of modern horror. Goth Chick is unavailable for her regular Thursday slot this week.

Monday is Halloween, the most important night of the year, and she apparently has more important things to do than be here with us today. Things that likely involve the sacrifice of small farm animals, midnight Sabbaths, and ancient voodoo rites. But I shall say no more, on the advice of counsel and due to the sticky consequences of federal libel law. We wish her well, whatever she’s doing, and we hope there are no witnesses.

Instead, let’s turn our attention to the World Fantasy Convention, happening this weekend in San Diego. WFC is hands-down my favorite convention, and I’ve been attending since 1984, when it came to my home town of Ottawa.

What’s so cool about WFC? For one thing, it’s a professional convention, attended chiefly by established writers, editors, agents, and artists. You can’t sling a dead cat in the dealer’s room without hitting half a dozen well-known names. And unlike other cons (I’m looking at you, Dragon*Con), slinging a dead cat won’t instantly win you half a dozen new friends, either. At WFC, that sort of thing isn’t done.

For another thing, the WFC is where the World Fantasy Awards are presented — the highest honor our field can bestow. That’s one above on the left. Yes, they’re in the shape of our beloved patriarch, H.P. Lovecraft. And just like the man’s work, the statue both fills you with a sense of wonder, and kinda gives you the creeps at the same time.

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Art of the Genre: Why do they all want our women?

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Maybe they want her because she's got huge... tracts of land!

Maybe they want her because she's got huge... tracts of land!

I’m a fan of Dragon Magazine, or at least I was back in the 80s. That’s not to say that the now fully online version doesn’t have its good points, but when it comes to what I remember fondly from my youth, Dragon certainly ranks up there with the greats.

One of the most memorable things about the magazine were the advertisements, almost all for games that I couldn’t readily find in a gaming store. I loved looking at these and dreaming of owning games like Aftermath, Talisman, or my personal favorite Bug-Eyed Monsters: They Want Our Women.

As a child of the late 70s and early 80s I missed the creature feature glory days of the 50s and 60s, so this game was my first real indoctrination to the world of female exploitation by powers beyond the scope of simple men.

This campy style of art was so over the top, so ludicrous, that I was drawn to it like a moth to flame. I’m certain marketing departments knew this as they’d been advising great artists to show such evocative scenes on movie posters and pulp magazines for a half century before I came into the picture.

No matter my desire, both for the game and the women represented, I didn’t acquire Bug-Eyed Monsters: They Want Our Women until 2002, but by that point I’d passed the simple acceptance of the awesomeness of it all and started to question the why…

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Here’s That Other Thing … The One From Another World

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

thing-from-another-world-51The Thing from Another World (1951)

Directed by Christian Nyby and (uncredited) Howard Hawks. Starring Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Young, Dewey Martin, Robert Nichols, William Self, James Arness.

John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?” has now produced three film adaptations: two classics and a footnote. After recovering from reviewing the footnote, it occurred to me that The Thing 2011 has two positives I failed to mention: it makes viewers appreciate how great John Carpenter’s 1982 version is, and how great Howard Hawks’s 1951 version is.

More than enough ink and bandwidth has covered The Thing ’82, and as much as I adore that movie, I have nothing new to contribute to the discussion of it beyond the comparisons I made in last week’s review. (Edit: Unless I choose to survey John Carpenter’s career.) However, the 1951 film, The Thing from Another World, hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves in the current collective bashing of the new movie. If I’m going to point out how poor The Thing ’11 is, it’s only fair that I smash it with the Howard Hawks film as well. Why should John Carpenter have all the fun?

The Thing from Another World is a great film in its own way. When John Carpenter set out to re-make it, he made the intelligent decision not to duplicate its style and instead return to the source material and create something new. The result was two Things that can stand side-by-side, each adding to the other.

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Romanticism and Fantasy: Storm and Stress and More

Monday, October 24th, 2011 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Goethe Faust, Part OneThis is the latest in a series of posts about Romanticism and the development of fantasy. You can find prior posts here, here, here, and here. I intend in this series to focus primarily on Romanticism in British literature, but last week I looked at the French experience and the French Revolution, and this week I want to look at German literature, which at this period is closely linked to British writing. The caveats I mentioned last week should be borne in mind; I am not a professional historian or academic, and I do not speak or read German — I’m familiar with a fair amount of this writing, but only in translation.

The German Romantic experience through to the 1830s is of an order of richness and genius at least equivalent to English Romanticism, and in order to be clear about how it all fits together, it’s probably worthwhile explaining some of the historical background. To begin with, in the middle of the 18th century, Germany wasn’t Germany. There was a vague sense of identity among German-language speakers, but their territory was divided up into 300 different polities of various sizes loosely linked together as the Holy Roman Empire (the obligatory historical joke is: The Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor really much of an Empire). Certain noble and ecclesiastical positions among these states inherited the right to vote for the Imperial succession.

By the 18th century, this arrangement was running out of steam. Many of the states involved were finding their interests lay outside of the Empire — the House of Hanover, for example, had become the ruling family of Britain in 1714, while Austria was ruled by the powerful House of Hapsburg, who not only had effectively taken over the Imperial title but controlled a number of other states across Europe. The Holy Roman Empire in any event had suffered particularly badly in the 30 Years’ War, and arguably never fully recovered. Economically it was behind France and Britain. Three quarters of the population were poorly-educated peasantry. And because of the political division, no one German city had the central signficance of London or Paris — each state tended to be focused around its own capital; Vienna, the capital of Austria, one of the largest and most powerful states, was the closest thing to a central German metropolis. Whereas British and French literatures of the time seem dominated by writers and publishers clustered in their respective imperial capitals, the equivalent German movements developed through networks in many different places. The literary culture of Germany was overall somewhat underdeveloped, though strong traditions of popular drama had emerged, particularly in the form of stories about kings and bandits, and also in puppet-shows based on such tales as Faust (all versions of these Faust stories, incidentally, seem to be ultimately derived from Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).

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