Romanticism and Fantasy: A Closer Look at William Blake

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

William BlakeA few months ago, I started an irregular series of posts about Romanticism and fantasy. I wanted to talk about the significance of Romanticism, the literary movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, to the development of fantasy fiction. For a variety of reasons, I’d been distracted from continuing those posts for a while; I want to return to them now. The original inspiration for this series of posts came when I tried writing a piece on William Blake, and realised there was more to be said about Blake’s time and contemporaries than fit into the one post. I’ve since realised that there’s more to be said about Blake himself than I put into the post I wrote, so I’ve decided to return to Romanticism with a longer look at Blake.

I want to begin by acknowledging a tremendously helpful comment I got on that first Blake post. I spent a fair amount of time in that post considering whether and how Blake should be regarded as a fantasist, and commenter RadiantAbyss pointed out that Blake fit naturally into early fantasy due to his concern with metaphysics. I think that’s a strong point, and something that applies (to a greater or lesser degree) to many of the other Romantic poets. I think it particularly applies to Blake, as I hope much of this post will show.

Before launching into another look at Blake, I want to quickly recap my posts in this series so far, and where I hope to be going with the whole thing. It’s my general contention that modern fantasy (along with science fiction and horror) are deeply linked with Romanticism. I think the writers of that time pioneered approaches and techniques to fantasy still in use today. I wrote an introduction to the series, then talked about the 18th-century background that gave rise to English Romanticism. Then I wrote about the emergence of the Romantic spirit in the late 18th century, starting with the poems of Ossian. I went on to talk about Romanticism and fantasy in France and in Germany before returning to England to discuss Gothic fiction. In those last two posts, I found myself talking about writers consciously trying to mix fantastic elements into a prose form that had been experimenting with greater realism; in other words, trying to find a balance between the real and the fantastic, trying to find a way to present fantasy with verisimilitude. That’s fairly directly relevant to modern prose fantasy, I think. But for this post, and the next two, I’ll be changing my tack slightly, and writing about major poets whose work seems to me to be particularly relevant not only to the genesis of fantasy fiction, but to the themes of fantasy as it is and has been written. And I’ll be starting with William Blake.

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Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars, Part 8: Swords of Mars

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

j-allen-st-john-swords-of-mars-1st-edition“But my memories of that great tragedy are not all sad. There was high adventure, there was noble fighting; and in the end there was — but perhaps you would like to hear about it.”

Guess who’s back? John Carter, who for the twenty years of real time since The Warlord of Mars has only served the role of a cameo character, is once again the hero and narrator of a Martian novel. And for the first time, he goes off-planet — although only as far as one of Mars’ two miniature moons.

Our Saga: The adventures of Earthman John Carter, his progeny, and sundry other natives and visitors, on the planet Mars, known to its inhabitants as Barsoom. A dry and slowly dying world, Barsoom contains four different human civilizations; one non-human one; a scattering of science among swashbuckling; and a plethora of religions, mystery cities, and strange beasts. The series spans 1912 to 1964 with nine novels, one volume of linked novellas, and two unrelated novellas.

Today’s Installment: Swords of Mars (1934–35)

Previous Installments: A Princess of Mars (1912), The Gods of Mars (1913), The Warlord of Mars (1913–14), Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1916), The Chessmen of Mars (1922), The Master Mind of Mars (1927), A Fighting Man of Mars (1930)

The Backstory

Why did Edgar Rice Burroughs return to John Carter as the hero after exploring other protagonists for so long? My guess: the Great Depression. The Tarzan merchandising empire was just taking off with the huge success of the first Johnny Weissmuller film, Tarzan the Ape Man, but Burroughs received only a flat $75,000 payment for the first two films while MGM raked in millions from them. Concurrently, Burroughs’s independent investment adventures outside of writing were failing. Even with the apparent outward success from Tarzan, times looked uncertain. Adding to the stress, Burroughs’s marriage was collapsing and he and his wife Emma were living separately by the end of 1934. ERB made serious efforts to expand his other franchises (this was the time in which he wrote the first two Venus novels, Pirates of Venus and Lost on Venus), and getting back to John Carter must have felt reassuring, mentally and financially. And indeed, the “Return of John Carter” novel Swords of Mars sold immediately. Burroughs wrote the book rapidly during November and December of 1933, and it appeared serially a year later in the top-tier pulp adventure magazine Blue Book. Read More »


The Return of Brak the Barbarian

Monday, July 30th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

witch-of-the-four-winds2E-book publisher Open Road Media has announced the publication of two omnibus editions of John Jakes’ fondly-remembered Sword & Sorcery hero Brak the Barbarian.

Witch of the Four Winds and Brak the Barbarian will be available in digital format at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com on July 31 for $4.99 each (before discounting).

Brak the Barbarian first appeared in Fantastic magazine in the short story “The Devils in the Walls” (1963). Over the next few years, Jakes produced over a dozen short stories and novellas featuring Brak, that he gradually collected and expanded into five books, published between 1968 and 1980.

Brak the Barbarian contains the 1968 short story collection Brak the Barbarian and the novel Mark of the Demons (1969), plus additional Brak stories and an illustrated biography of Jakes with rare images from the author’s personal collection.

Witch of the Four Winds contains two more early novels: Witch of the Four Winds — originally published under that title in Fantastic magazine in 1963, and then revised and expanded in novel format as Brak the Barbarian Versus the Sorceress (1969) — and When the Idols Walked (Fantastic 1964, expanded and released under the same title in 1978), plus more bonus stories and an illustrated biography.

Jakes’ Brak the Barbarian stories were strongly influenced by Robert E. Howard’s Conan. In the YouTube video Open Road created to promote the launch of the digital editions, Jakes says:

I was directly influenced by Robert Howard, by the fact that there weren’t enough Conan stories to go around… I wanted to create a character much like Conan, put him in similar circumstances, and have a good time writing them.

For science fiction fans, Open Road has also collected two early SF novels by Jakes in a third omnibus collection: On Wheels (1973) and Six-Gun Planet (1970). It’s also available July 31.


Genre Prejudice

Monday, July 30th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

genreIt’s a lot easier for me to be generous about other genres than it used to be. I’m trying to decide if that has something to do with me mellowing with age, or if it’s because there’s a whole lot more sword-and-sorcery available than there was ten years ago … or if it’s simply that I don’t feel shut out anymore now that I’m writing sword-and-sorcery stories for a living.

Fantasy seems a lot more popular even among the mainstream readers than it used to be, although the dividing line between fantasy and sword-and-sorcery still seems pretty blurry. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to define the difference, but I often feel like I’m shouting in the wind. The common conception remains that if it’s got swords and magic, it must be sword-and-sorcery, regardless of pacing or the focus of the plot. But let’s set another discussion of sword-and-sorcery aside for the nonce and focus instead on genre prejudice.

I think a lot of science fiction and fantasy writers and readers feel like low faces on the totem pole because their favorite fiction is sneered at by people in the know. A while ago, I started to realize that MOST writers felt like their genre was being kicked to the curb. Horror writers have been going through a hard time now for a good long while. YA writers, well, they “only write YA,” and God help the urban fantasy people, whom are in fashion to be hated. As writers and readers, we all turn up our noses at all the things we find wrong with some one else’s genre. Really, that’s all that’s happening with the literary criticism of genre work. It’s easy for us genre people to detail the things we find annoying about literary fiction, but it turns out lit fic writers feel harried themselves.

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Byzantine and Early Modern Greek Magic

Sunday, July 29th, 2012 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Every society has magic. In some, it’s kept underground. In others, it’s incorporated into the fabric of accepted religion. The Byzantine Empire had both.

Of the forbidden magic, time and Church censors have erased all but a trace. The accepted or at least tolerated magic, however, gives us a fascinating glimpse into the minds of a society that considered itself a continuation of the Roman Empire.

Late last year I was sent on assignment to write a series about travel in Greece. One of the highlights was a visit to the Byzantine Museum in Athens, which had a display on Byzantine and early modern Greek magic.

byzantine1

Apotropaic magic, which protects the user from evil influences, was very popular in the Byzantine era. It’s unclear what particular evil these charms protected their wearers from.

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Interzone 241

Saturday, July 28th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

482The July-August issue of Interzone features new stories by Sean McMullen (”Steamgothic”), Aliette de Bodard (”Ship’s Brother”), David Ira Cleary (”One Day in Time City”), Gareth L. Powell (“Railroad Angel”), and the 2011 James White Award-winning story “Invocation of the Lurker” by C.J. Paget; cover artwork by Ben Baldwin; an interview with Juliet E. Mckenna by Elaine Gallagher;  “Ansible Link” genre news and miscellanea by David Langford; “Mutant Popcorn” film reviews by Nick Lowe; “Laser Fodder” DVD/Blu-Ray reviews by Tony Lee; and book reviews by various contributors.

Interzone alternates monthly publication with sister dark horror-focused Black Static, published by the fine folks at TTA Press.

Here’s the opening of the lead novelette:

There is something special about things that change the world. I cannot say what it is, but I can feel it. I have stood before the Vostok capsule that carried the first man into space. Influence glowed from it, I knew where it was even with my eyes closed. In the Spurlock Museum I saw the strange, twisted, lumpy thing that was the first transistor. The significance that it radiated was like the heat from a fire. The Babbage Analytical Engine of 1871 had no such aura, yet the whole of Bletchley Park did. There was no doubt in my mind about which of them had really launched the age of computers.

The Wright Brothers’ Flyer had no feeling of significance for me. This made no sense. It was the first heavier than air machine to fly, it proved the principle, it changed the world, yet my strange intuition said otherwise. Then I saw the Aeronaute, and everything should have become clear to me.

484

New Treasures: Philip Jose Farmer’s Up the Bright River

Saturday, July 28th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

up-the-bright-river2

There’s no truth to the vicious rumor that I select candidates for my New Treasures column based solely on awesome cover art.

I also have to be able to get my hands on a copy. That’s two criteria, which I figure gives me a balanced approach.

Which brings us to today’s special guest, Up the Bright River by Philip Jose Farmer, a short story collection edited by Gary K. Wolfe. And its awesome wraparound cover, courtesy of Bob Eggleton (click for even awesomer high-res version).

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Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector’s Sword Collection

Friday, July 27th, 2012 | Posted by Barbara Barrett

From Damon Sasser’s twogunraconteur.com website 3/5/2012

From Damon Sasser’s twogunraconteur.com website 3/5/2012

When I wrote “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry” in August 2010, it was to highlight REH’s interest in swords. The article listed each type of sword mentioned in his poems along with a definition, a photo and a snippet showing REH’s usage of it in verse.

At that time, the photograph at right was not available. In fact, it is one of three that were discovered earlier this year by Howard scholar Patrice Louinet, showing Robert E. Howard (r) and his two neighbors, Leroy Butler and Leroy’s sister, Faustine, dressed as pirates.

According to Patrice, this photo was taken sometime between 1923 and 1925. That would make Howard between 17 and 19 years old. It was during this period, in November 1924, that REH received a letter from Farnsworth Wright that Weird Tales was accepting his story “Spear and Fang,” which was eventually published in July 1925.

Whether the story had been written, sold, and published by the time this photo was taken is unknown. But REH’s love of swords and the adventure they brought were definitely a part of his life even at an early age.

The other piece of information not available in August 2010 regarded the sword collection itself. The article “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry” began with a quote from a letter REH wrote to HPL:

…Long ago I started collecting them [swords], but found it a taste far too expensive for my means. I still have the things I did manage to get hold of—a few sabers, swords, bayonets and the like.

While REH mentions collecting swords, at that time there was no further information regarding its contents. That has changed. Recently I received an email from Howard sleuth Patrice that sheds more light on what swords REH owned. Patrice’s sources are the notes that L. Sprague de Camp took to document his telephone conversations with Earl Baker. Earl was one of REH’s early Cross Cut friends and someone REH kept in touch with throughout the years.

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Return to the Golden Age with Tales from the Hanging Monkey

Friday, July 27th, 2012 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

hanging-monkey4Tales of the Gold Monkey only lasted one season in the early 1980s, but the series has developed a steady cult following in the years since its brief network run. Dismissed as nothing more than an inferior small screen knockoff of the contemporaneous Raiders of the Lost Ark, the series has finally started to earn the recognition denied it at the time. While it took a Hollywood blockbuster to convince network executives to green-light the series, the proposal had been around since the 1970s and the show was conceived, like Raiders, in homage to the serials and classic adventure stories of the past.

As much as Republic Pictures cliffhangers were an inspiration and the tall shadow cast by Humphrey Bogart in the classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre undeniably fell upon both properties, the longstanding tradition of South Seas adventures from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific to the fondly-remembered Adventures in Paradise series from the Golden Age of Television left an even more indelible mark on Tales of the Gold Monkey.

The concept of a bar in an exotic location which serves as a literal and moral crossroads for travelers, expatriates, and fugitives had its roots in Casablanca and Old Time Radio’s nearly forgotten Rocky Jordan series. Tales of the Gold Monkey’s pedigree and neo-pulp credentials establish it as far more than just another Indiana Jones clone as the short-sighted and uninformed wags of the day insisted.

Similarly 30 years later, the newly published South Seas adventures anthology, Tales from the Hanging Monkey is more than just an imitation of the 1980s cult series whose title it recalls.

The exotic South Seas bar serving as the nexus for the adventures of strangers whose paths would never otherwise cross is present here as much as it was in numerous Golden Age scripts, but Bill Craig has created something enchanting that is at once familiar and pleasingly fresh. The delights of New Pulp works such as this one are similar to discovering an OTR series you’ve never heard of and wondering why it isn’t better known.

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Goth Chick News: Going for a Ride with Ichabod Crane

Thursday, July 26th, 2012 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image0061Until recently, we here at Goth Chick News have taken a long hiatus from commercial television. Although we readily agree there is nothing quite as frightening as reality TV, shows aimed at our particular genre were largely absent; that is until the viewing public fell in love with the likes of Walking Dead and American Horror Story, to name a few.

Lately, this tiny spark of cautious optimism has started looking like it just may catch. I mean, you can only watch so many reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone before you give up hoping that anything made for the small screen will ever be worth staying awake for again.

Then this week comes word that the Headless Horseman may be cutting a bloody swath through not one but two television networks in the near future.

Insert tentative happy dance here…

First up is an adaptation from the gents over at Fringe, which itself has become a cult hit for Fox.  The network has given a pilot commitment to an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow from Fringe creators and idea wonderboys, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

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