Rainbringer: The Symphonic Heavy Metal of Weird Fiction
Edward M. Erdelac has been writing entertaining weird fiction for over a decade. He pushes boundaries. One of his first spotlights on Black Gate was in 2014 regarding his Merkabah Rider (concerning the 19th-century Hasidic Jewish mystic turned gunslinger). Erdelac also wrote an entry in Tales of Cthulhu Invictus mentioned in my recent 2022 review of Richard L. Tierney’s Simon of Gitta tales (this connection resonates since both Tierney and Erdelac extended the mythos of Robert E. Howard’s magical Ring of Set… more on that below). The author clearly has a knack for extending the landscapes (dreamscapes?) of modern fiction.
With Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian Mythos, Erdelac invites us to follow a fictionalized version of Zora Neale Hurston throughout the North American Twentieth Century. On the face of that description, you may not be hooked. Like most people, I presume, I had no idea of who she was…. or why she may present a wonderful lens into cosmic horrors. Read on! She’s a strong, witty survivor who is uniquely qualified.
Rainbringer reminds me of splendid, symphonic (or operatic) Heavy Metal music. It combines the literary foundation of solid historic fiction (arguably Classical music) with the wild experiences of intense adventure (“\m/”…. that’s the emoticon for “rock on” BTW). Cozy mystery readers may be lured into reading Rainbringer for its historic influences, but they will have their minds blown when cosmic demons are revealed to be meddling with humankind. Likewise, readers of classic weird fiction (i.e., Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Robert Howard, etc.) will be treated to an extremely fresh take: a heroine in charge, and African American woman to boot! This review covers the Contents, Zora, Excerpts, and more.
Back Cover Blurb
“The oaths of secrecy she [Zora Neale Hurston] swore, and the terrifying physical and emotional ordeals she endured…left their mark on her, and there were certain parts of her material which she never dared to reveal, even in scientific publications.” – Alan Lomax
ZORA! She traveled the 1930’s south alone with a loaded forty four and an unmatched desire to see and to know. She was at home in the supper clubs of New York City, back road juke joints, under ropes of Spanish moss, and dancing around the Vodoun peristyle. Her experiences brought us Their Eyes Were Watching God, Mules And Men, Tell My Horse, and Jonah’s Gourd Vine. But between the lines she wrote lie the words unwritten, truths too fantastic to divulge….until now.
LEAVES FLOATING IN A DREAM’S WAKE, BEYOND THE BLACK ARCADE. EKWENSU’S LULLABY. KING YELLER. GODS OF THE GRIM NATION. THE SHADOW IN THE CHAPEL OF EASE. BLACK WOMAN, WHITE CITY. THE DEATHLESS SNAKE. Eight weird and fantastic stories spanning the breadth of her amazing life. Eight times when she faced the nameless alien denizens of the outer darkness and didn’t blink.
ZORA! Celebrated writer, groundbreaking anthropologist, Hoodoo initiate, footloose queen of the Harlem Renaissance, Mythos detective.
So, Who Was Zora?
Paraphrasing from the author’s introduction best explains:
The Zora Neale Hurston depicted in this book is not the real person, of course. The real Zora Neale Hurston was born in Eatonville, Florida on January 15th, in (according to her, at various times in her life) either 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1910.
Except she wasn’t. She was actually born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 7, 1891. Her birth year changed as it suited her purposes. She needed to apply for school, wanted to impress a younger man, whatever. She was somehow always vivacious and gregarious enough to sell her claims.
As to her hometown, you can’t blame Zora for claiming Eatonville. It was among the first all-black incorporated towns in the United States, and her father was once elected its mayor, helped write its laws, and was pastor of its largest Baptist church. Combined, these elements surely instilled in her a fierce sense of independence and pride that caught a number of her contemporaries later in life, black and white, by complete surprise…
In New Orleans, gathering material on Hoodoo for a book, she was inducted into the mysteries of the magical folk practice by Luke Turner following a grueling three day ritual. She wrote Langston Hughes; “I am getting in with the top of the profession. I know 18 tasks, including how to crown the spirit of death, and kill.”
Zora was many things in the course of her life; anthropologist, author, teacher…she was probably never a Mythos detective.
Historic & Weird Ingredients
Rainbringer‘s realistic milieu hosts characters such as Zora Neale Hurston, her white benefactress Charlotte Osgood Mason, the musician Asadata Dafora, and even Orson Welles. They roam New Orleans, Harlem during its Renaissance, and even a trip to Honduras’s famed Monkey Temple. Both Voodoo (the religion) and Hoodoo (the associated spiritual practices) are prominent, in addition to the timely governmental program Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Voodoo Macbeth focus in the “King Yeller” chapter was outstanding as it fictionalized the 1936 production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth led by Orson Welles. Plenty of references to slavery abound, as well as classic literature references (i.e., Lysistrata, the story of a woman who led a movement to deny men sex to end the Peloponnesian War) ground us in reality.
Fantasy is firmly rooted in weird fiction (which also flourished in the 1930’s). Author Robert W. Chambers’s The King in Yellow (1895) mythos is integrated firmly here, especially interwoven with the Voo Macbeth production. From Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan), the Serpent Ring of Set is treated with an extended mythos (originally appearing in the 1932 “The Phoenix on the Sword”); Akaan creatures (echoing those from Solomon Kane’s battles in “Wings in the Night” published in 1932); also from REH, we experience elements from his King Kull (i.e., the serpent men from Valusia). And then there are the ever-present Howard Phillips Lovecraft cosmic deities, such as Yig, Nyarlathotep, Tsathoggua; Erdelac almost made me believe that the Dreamland of Kadath was reachable via Zora’s touring.
Chronicles of Zora’s life in Chapters
A concise introduction reveals the protagonist’s history. Then the chapters chronicle her bizarre experiences from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. The last chapter “The Deathless Snake” is unexpectedly emotive and wild.
- Zora: A Brief, Inadequate, and Likely Inaccurate Summation of A Life
- 1925: Leaves Floating In A Dream’s Wake
- 1928: Beyond The Black Arcade (published first in Heroes Of Red Hook, Golden Goblin Press, 2016.)
- 1935: Ekwensu’s Lullaby (published first in Beyond Red Hook, Golden Goblin Press, 2016)
- 1936: King Yeller
- 1937: Gods of The Grim Nation (published first in Dread Shadows In Paradise, Golden Goblin Press, 2016)
- 1940: The Shadow In The Chapel of Ease
- 1947: Black Woman, White City
- 1960-1975: The Deathless Snake
Crazy Melee Excerpt
This woman anthropologist could give Indiana Jones a run for his money. She handles a 0.44 Magnum just fine. And wrestles with elder gods!
There was a flood of light then, and silhouettes peered down at me in the hold. The shrill cacophony of that indescribable call flooded my numb limbs with nervous strength, and I sprang from the stinking bowels of that boat like something vomited up. I latched onto one of those peering figures, digging my nails into the flesh beneath the long, greasy hair, stifling the shriek of surprise with my own mouth, locking onto the face of my oppressor in a ravenous kiss, biting, chewing through the hairy lips, tearing the tongue from between the desperately locking teeth, driving that white man to the wet deck and pushing my thumbs through his neck so blood bubbled and coursed up over my hands like the birth of a virgin spring. I was not alone. All around me my people tore through our captors, twisting their heads off with the chains that bound them, seizing hatchets and knives and returning them to their hated owners edge first, going over the side with them into the marsh and resurfacing alone if at all.
Trippy Dreamscapes Excerpt
Twentieth Century history is breached by dreams and violent entities.
I was standing in some colorless, gray place, in a field of dead grass on which the gray, heavy clouds seemed to roll, slowly dying, pierced now and again by bare, twisted trees and broken stones. There was no sound of wind or rustle of beast, but there was an incessant lapping, as of water, which my dream-self then navigated by.
Far across that water, which seemed to be a vast lake, the suns slipped from sight, and I saw the strange yellow limned spires of a gray, quiet city, the architecture unknown to me. I knew somehow that these tall, alien skyscrapers were the tombstones I had been expecting all along, markers of a population long dead if it had ever been at all. No watercraft moved to or from its unseen harbor. No bleat of traffic or noise of any passersby came to me across the water, only the incessant, dull lap of the black lake on the gray shore. But then I heard a flapping sound, as of many banners streaming, and I saw the first flash of color; mustard yellow streams of ribbons tied to every inch of a nearby dead tree. They fluttered madly in every direction, flaring like stagecraft fire, though no wind blew and they had not been there before…
Rocking from the topmost skeletal branch, pierced through its eyelet, there hung a queer, inexpressive, whey-faced mask, the appearance of which filled me with such loathing I retched.
Paraphrasing from the Afterward, we learn the context for Erdelac’s muse and genuine passion.
Zora was one of a kind, and as I worked my way through her other folklore book Mules and Men, her short stories, her essays, through Moses, Man Of The Mountain and her personal letters, I came to love her ardently. I was enraptured by her biographies, knocked silly by her quotations and the bold and brassy way she came at life.
Well, the how came with Oscar Rios’ Golden Goblin Press putting out a call for Caribbean-themed Lovecraftian horror.
I flipped through Wade Davis and my Tell My Horse, and found a quote by Zora that kicked it all in motion; “Research….is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.” Writers of Lovecraftiana hone in on the word ‘cosmic’ like bees to pollen…
So I started thinking of Zora as the type of woman who wouldn’t flinch at the Old Ones; an occult scholar more in the Robert E. Howard mode, and one who could be honor bound to keep secrets…
What made me, a white man, think I could write one of the most beloved and important African American women of the Harlem Renaissance? I’m afraid any drawn out, carefully mulled-over answer I can concoct will end up sounding like a stereotypical display of white privilege at best, so I’ll just keep it to this; Simply and truthfully, I love Zora Neale Hurston.
Edward M. Erdelac
Edward M. Erdelac is the author of the acclaimed Judeocentic/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider, Conquer, Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against The Lovecraftian Mythos, Andersonville, Monstrumfuhrer, The Knight With Two Swords, and the compiler of Abraham Van Helsing’s papers (in Terovolas).
In addition to short story appearances in dozens of anthologies and periodicals, he is an independent filmmaker, an award-winning screenwriter, and sometime Star Wars contributor.
Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he now lives in the Los Angeles area with his family.
S.E. Lindberg is a Managing Editor at Black Gate, regularly reviewing books and interviewing authors on the topic of “Beauty & Art in Weird-Fantasy Fiction.” He is also the lead moderator of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group and an intern for Tales from the Magician’s Skull magazine. As for crafting stories, he has contributed five entries across Perseid Press’s Heroes in Hell and Heroika series and has an entry in Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies. He independently publishes novels under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction; short stories of Dyscrasia Fiction have appeared in Whetstone and Swords & Sorcery online magazines.