Jerusalem, Alan Moore, 2016 (Knockabout) or; the best presents are book-shaped: 2

As I’ve said before, I rarely purchase new books and, when I do, they tend to be old. How can I even make a start on the 21st Century publications when there are still books from the 19th and 20th Centuries which I still haven’t read? I have no idea how anyone manages to keep up to date with the new stuff so my very brief forays into modern literature usually come to me in the form of presents.

This Christmas I received Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem (a signed copy, no less!). Here’s the cover:

Alan Moore, Jerusalem, 2016, Knockabout

Obviously, having only had it for a couple of days and what with it being rather epic in scale (by the looks of it, coming in at around 3/4 million words?!), I haven’t read it yet, so this blog post is merely to serve as an introduction.

It seems that this novel is an experimental hymn to Alan Moore’s hometown of Northampton, so it’s a fascinating one for me. Like Moore, I was born, raised, and still live in the peculiar town of Northampton. Like Moore, I was born in a poor part of the town to a working class family. Like Moore, I’ve had a long-standing interest in the occult, folklore and local history. I even met Moore several times back in the early 1990s, we moved in the same circles and had mutual acquaintances.

So, this book should be right up my particular Northampton side-street.

As we open the cover to the front endpapers, we’re treated to a map of the area where the novel is set (and where Alan Moore was born).

Alan Moore, Jerusalem, 2016, Knockabout

As I’m sitting here writing this in my house I am just outside of this map, to the west, in an area of town called St. James End. Locally, it’s known as Jimmy’s End and, interestingly, Alan Moore wrote a short film called Jimmy’s End which was filmed at the local Working Man’s Club a stone’s throw from my house. A dark and Lynchian piece, you can see the trailer here:

Back to the novel, I’ve dipped into the first few pages and it is a strange thing indeed to follow the characters around streets that I know intimately and to hear them speaking in a broad Northamptonian dialect. With Moore being such a widely read author it’s odd to think that our small corner has been given an international audience.

So, when will I write a full post about this novel? That’s a difficult one. I really am very much looking forward to reading it but I have pile of other books I currently have on the go which I’m promising myself to finish first, leaving me clear to enjoy this one. I find that I have less time to read than I would like these days (self-employed bookbinder, it takes up the majority of my time) and, when I do get the time, I tend to be quite a slow reader. I take notes as I go; if there’s a particular passage I like I will read it several times (sometimes out loud); I indulge myself and luxuriate over the words. It purportedly took Moore ten years to write this novel and it might take me just as long to read it and write the blog post about it.

 

Doesn’t time fly when a life-size Victorian ventriloquist dummy becomes your lodger?

Typical, isn’t it? Everything’s rolling along nicely, you’re reading; writing about what you’re reading; you’re four books into a forty-five book blog series and it’s all going swimmingly and then you turn round and three months have disappeared. A quarter of a year, flown by without you even considering writing an entry on the blog.

In fairness, I have been extremely busy in the day job (which is, weirdly enough, making custom leather-bound books for other people to write in!).

But the main thing which has been keeping me busy is . . . errr, how do I put this?

Well, for my birthday last year my wife presented me with a large box with a head in it. This is what greeted me when I opened it:

ally-sloper-head-in-a-box

This is a life-sized, Victorian/Edwardian, fully working ventriloquist dummy head of a character called Ally Sloper. Naturally, we couldn’t let this old gent live out the rest of his days as a head so we set to building him a body.

And we now have a 6′ 6″ Whitechapel born, ne’er-do-well living in the house. He’s over there now, in the corner, watching me write this. Just look at him sitting there!

p1030574-a

The problem is that Sloper was hugely (in)famous in his day. Massively popular for fifty years or so, he even had his own top-selling weekly comic journal entitled Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday. Now though, he’s faded into obscurity and no one has heard of him. So, he’s set out to rectify that by starting his own blog  and the fact that I’ve been helping him out with that has meant that I’ve been neglecting my own work here at When Churchyards Yawn.

I do have a sneaky suspicion that, in the great tradition of Maxwell and Hugo from ‘Dead of Night’ and Corky and Fats from ‘Magic’, I’m sure the old sod Sloper is trying to take over.

This post is definitely going in the Oddities & Ephemera category!

Anyway, click on this link or the picture and it will take you to Sloper’s very own blog:

https://allysloper.wordpress.com/

ally-sloper-at-home

Studies in Occultism ~ H. P. Blavatsky (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 4 (Sphere, 1974))

As we move on from the third book in the series, in which Wheatley introduced us to one leading figure of Occult history with Crowley’s Moonchild, we move to another leading figure in that world for the fourth book, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

It seems from his introduction that Wheatley really wanted to include Blavatsky’s major work, Isis Unveiled, into his Library of the Occult series but as the series was a new venture it was deemed impractical to include such a massive two volume edition at this point; although, as Wheatley states, he did want to find a way to include it, along with other longer editions, at a later date. Sadly his Library of the Occult series ended earlier than anticipated at a total of 45 editions so this never happened.

What we have instead is Studies in Occultism; a collection of Blavatsky’s articles taken from her Theosophical magazine ‘Lucifer’.

blavatsky, studies in occultism, sphere, dennis wheatley library of the occult, volume 4

As we all know, Blavatsky was born in 1831 to an aristocratic Russian family. From a young age she travelled widely, both in the East and West, and supposedly learnt about mysticism from various personages along the way. This led her to co-founding the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. Her particular brand of pick and mix mysticism laid the foundations for much of the occult traditions of the 20th century leading to what popular thought now broadly categorises as the “New Age”.

The series of articles published in this volume are from a Blavatsky approaching the end of her life and there seems to be a bitterness underlying all of them. Let’s not forget that Blavatsky was very much a product of the 19th Century. With the rise of materialism and the glorification of the physical sciences during that period there were many, as is natural, who discarded these new-fangled ideas and returned to earlier beliefs; in the arts we saw the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement. People rejected the modern and resorted to Medievalism; and Blavatsky was no different.

In these articles Blavatsky calls out pretty much everyone who doesn’t follow her creed as Black Magicians, especially those within the scientific community. Perhaps she was tired of all of her detractors, she had been deemed as a fraud and a plagiarist many times, and these articles were a last ditch attempt at her defense of Theosophy.

To sum up the tone of the book let’s have an excerpt from the article entitled ‘The Dual Aspect of Wisdom’ which takes the form of a reply to a letter sent in to the magazine from a detractor suggesting that the movement is “. . . too fond of the dim yesterday, and as unjust to our glorious present-day, the bright noon-hour of the highest civilization and culture”. Blavatsky states in her eleven page reply (or, what we’d probably term now ‘rant’):

“No true Theosophist, in fact, would consent to become the fetish of a fashionable doctrine, any more than he would make himself the slave of a decaying dead-letter system, the spirit from which has disappeared for ever. Neither would he pander to anyone or anything, and therefore would always decline to show belief in that in which he does not, nor can he believe, which is lying to his own soul. Therefore there, where others see “the beauty and graces of modern culture”, the Theosophist sees only moral ugliness and the somersaults of the clowns of the so-called cultured centres. For him nothing applies better to modern fashionable society than Sydney Smith’s description of Popish ritualism: “Posture and imposture, flections and genuflections, bowing to the right, curtsying to the left, and an immense amount of male (and especially female) millinery”. There may be, no doubt, for some worldly minds, a great charm in modern civilization; but for the Theosophist all its bounties can hardly repay for the evils it has brought on the world. These are so many, that it is not within the limits of this article to enumerate these offspring of culture and of the progress of physical science, whose latest achievements begin with vivisection and end in improved murder by electricity. Our answer, we have no doubt, is not calculated to make us more friends than enemies, but this can be hardly helped. Our magazine may be looked upon as “pessimistic”, but no one can charge it with publishing slanders or lies, or, in fact, anything but that which we honestly believe to be true. Be it as it may, however, we hope never to lack moral courage in the expression of our opinions or in defense of Theosophy and its Society. Let then nine-tenths of every population arise in arms against the Theosophical Society wherever it appears — they will never be able to suppress the truths it utters. Let the masses of growing Materialism, the hosts of Spiritualism, all the Church-going congregations, bigots and iconoclasts, Grundy-worshippers, aping-followers and blind disciples, let them slander, abuse, lie, denounce, and publish every falsehood about us under the sun — they will not uproot Theosophy, nor even upset her Society, if only its members hold together.”

 But the most interesting thing about this book, for a collector such as myself, is not something the author intended, nor the publisher and not even Wheatley himself. Most collectors favour volumes in as pristine a condition as possible. Perfect little packages which look as though they’ve just come fresh from the printers, unread. For myself, I say, bring me your ragged, dog-eared editions. The books that have lived. The books that have been loved. The ones that have suffered from being stuffed into back-pockets or rucksacks to be read on journeys. I love the ones that have been scrawled in, where previous readers have been so impassioned that they’ve highlighted sections or added their own footnotes. Books that have been claimed by the owner writing their name on the flyleaf. Phone numbers written on the cover when that was the only paper they had on them at the time of a chance liaison. The makeshift bookmarks found in them, train tickets, theatre tickets, shopping lists, photographs! Even the marginal doodles.

This edition holds possibly my favourite reader addendum in my collection. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the volume; on the inside of the back cover we have a draft of a letter from a disgruntled Thelemite to his or her bank. Isn’t this just wonderful? I’ve included a typed version beneath for ease of reading.

blavatsky, studies in occultism, sphere, dennis wheatley library of the occult, volume 4

Dear Sirs,

Do What Thou Wilt . .

Thank you for confirmation of my

It is only by thro honesty and truth that men and women can achieve their full potential. It is the Law of Life, which is Love, Spirit and Light.

I believe in all truthfulness that this affair has not been closed and that certain employees of Barclays Bank will must face the forces in which they  you yourselves they themselves have invoked. So that all men may see the Light which is the (???) Intelligence.

Love is the Law, Love under Will.

How can you see this Great Love that sustains even the smallest particle of dust floating in Space when all you can think of is money?

May this Light lead you into correct action because character is the foundation, the base of the pyramid which reaches up to the stars.

Yours in Thelema,

Moonchild ~ Aleister Crowley (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 3 (Sphere, 1974))

And so we move onto the next book in the series with Crowley’s occult novel, here called Moonchild but also known as The Butterfly Net and, of course, Liber LXXXI.

In his brief foreword Crowley states that he wrote this book in 1917. It wasn’t published until the short-lived Mandrake Press put it into print in 1929 and, even then, it was only given a relatively short run. I can’t help wondering whether the book published in 1929 was the actual final draft from 1917 or whether there were additions made; it’s just that certain parts do seem quite prophetic (but then I suppose that was the author’s stock-in-trade). It wasn’t until 1970 that it was picked up and put into paperback by the famed New York occult bookshop-cum-publisher, Samuel Weiser. With the occult counter-culture boom of the 1970s Sphere reprinted it several times and included it as the third entry in our Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult series.

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, Volume 3

How do we talk about this novel? It’s such a curate’s egg of a thing that it’s difficult to know where to start. On the one hand we have an occult thriller yet, on the other hand, we have a primer on magical thinking. On yet another hand we have a biting satire on the major occult figures of the day and, on another hand still, we have an alternate(?) history of the early 20th Century.

Let’s start off by stating where I’m reading this book from. Obviously, I have a love of 20th century horror/occult fiction; that goes without saying. I would say that I have a grounding in what can be broadly categorised as Western Esotericism, including Crowley and Thelema, but I’m certainly no expert on the subject. I’ve read and studied the major Taoist texts, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and the I Ching but, again, I would not call myself an expert. I say this because, with a book such as this, any discussion is going to be coloured by the reader’s own preconceptions; a casual reader expecting a thriller about battling wizards is going to get a very different reading than, say, a dyed in the wool Thelemite.

So, what’s it about? The central plot concerns two factions of warring magicians. On one side, we have the ‘white’ magicians attempting to bring about a new age to humanity by bringing into being by magical means a homunculus. This homunculus would be the vehicle for a spirit possessing the astrological qualities of the moon and would become a Messianic figure, the Moonchild of the title. Of course, the ‘black’ magicians do all within their powers to bring an end to this working and there we have the premise of the novel, the interaction between the black and the white.

The world Crowley creates for Moonchild is not too distant from the one in which he inhabited, as such, it could be classed as a Roman à clef. All those we encounter in Moonchild are thinly veiled characterisations of Crowley’s own friends, acquaintances and enemies . . . and he certainly goes to town on them. Let’s have a look at some of the major players in the novel and their real-life counterparts:

1: Cyril Grey

young aleister crowley, cyril grey

A feisty young adventurer/magician, brave, handsome, connected, witty, charming, devastatingly intelligent and a powerful occultist. Yes . . . this is Aleister Crowley’s very own alter-ego (with the emphasis on ‘ego’). This being a character that is practically perfect in every way we cannot help but think there is an element of wish-fulfilment going on. Most people grow out of this sort of writing by their late-teens but old ‘Mary-Sue’ Crowley was a chap in his early forties when he wrote this.

2: Simon Iff

old aleister crowley, simon iff

A close friend, mentor and associate of Cyril Grey. A mysterious and exceptionally wise old Taoist and another powerful magician. Yes . . . this is another of Crowley’s alter-egos, himself as an older man – the man Grey wants to be.

3: Lisa la Giuffria

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, Mary 'd'Este Sturges, Lisa la Giuffria

Lover of Cyril Grey (Crowley) and intended mother of the Moonchild. She is based on Mary d’Este Sturges, one of Crowley’s ‘Scarlet Women’. The real Sturges was the wildly bohemian mother of film director Preston Sturges, she met Crowley through their mutual friend Isadora Duncan (who also briefly appears in Moonchild as ‘Lavinia King’) and went on to co-write some of Crowley’s most important work.

4: Douglas

samuel liddell macgregor mathers, Douglas, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

The chief antagonist of the piece, the head of The Black Lodge, is none other than the real life co-founder and head of the The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Douglas, also known as S.R.M.D., hates our young hero Cyril Grey with a passion and will stop at nothing to destroy his work. Being enemies in real life, Crowley writes a truly repulsive character for his one time associate, a vile and debauched magician who thinks nothing of pimping out his devoted wife to fund his own addictions.

5: Edwin Arthwait

A E Waite, Arthwait, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

The Black Lodge Magician who Douglas puts in charge of the mission to destroy the Moonchild project. Crowley barely even bothers to disguise the name of this one; it is, of course, the famed occultist, co-creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck and real life enemy of Crowley, Edward Arthur Waite. Crowley paints him as a tedious, pedantic, prolix buffoon whose bungled attempts at destroying the Moonchild project form a broad comedic relief in the middle of the book.

6: Gates

w b yeats, Gates, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

Arthwait’s second-in-command in the mission to destroy the Moonchild project. This is the poet W. B. Yeats and he doesn’t come across quite as badly as the others. Crowley portrays Yeats as a skilled magician with a keen intellect who only joined The Black Lodge as a romantic fantasy.

7: A.B.

annie besant, A.B., Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

This character doesn’t actually appear in the novel, they are only briefly mentioned as the mysterious ‘silent partner’ head of The Black Lodge; a woman of such evil depravity that even Douglas answers to her. Bizarrely, this is Crowley’s interpretation of the Victorian social reformer and leading light in Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, Annie Besant. Interestingly, the real Besant was famously involved with her own ‘Messiah’ project several years before Crowley wrote Moonchild.

These are just a handful of the main players in the novel. There are, of course, countless other important personages from the late 19th/early 20th centuries portrayed and if you don’t recognise them yourself then don’t worry, most editions have Crowley’s friend and secretary, Kenneth Grant, to guide us through with his copious footnotes.

So, that’s the background, we have an occult Roman à clef based around the characters revolving around the famed split, and ensuing fallout, of The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn. But how does it read as a novel? What if the reader has no prior knowledge of, or couldn’t care less about, the background of the novel?

Pretty poorly, I would imagine.

Crowley’s prose is flat and unimaginative for the most part with the occasional flourish of purple prose which only serves to highlight both failings. Even though the characters are mostly two dimensional Crowley has trouble controlling them, if there are ever more than three characters in a room Crowley completely loses control of them, thankfully larger group scenes are kept to a minimum. As a satire, Crowley’s venting of past grievances, although fascinating to those interested in the subject, can come across as back-bitingly juvenile. In fairness, the central plot does move along quite nicely, and we do encounter some genuine surprises within it, but the casual reader may find it an annoyance that the plot is being continuously derailed by the philosophical discourses which Crowley has Cyril Grey and Simon Iff expound upon.

Of course, these discourses are a major part of the novel which give it a second life as a primer on magical thinking. With Lisa la Giuffria being a newcomer to the group and an eager student it gives Crowley the opportunity, under the guise of Cyril Grey and Simon Iff, to guide the reader through the basics of his Thelemic tenets. This Crowley does exceptionally well, explaining in layman’s terms his philosophies in a Socratic dialogue sort of a way. Along with these magical dialogues we also have detailed descriptions of various magical rites, especially those within the realm of sympathetic magic, but there is one branch of mysticism that overrides all others in this novel.

Essentially, if we strip back Crowley’s book, if we silence the bells and whistles, it is a novel about Taoism. Crowley had a fascination for Taoism and wrote his own interpretation of the most important Taoist text, Lao Tsu’s ‘Tao Te Ching’. The appearance of Simon Iff as a Taoist mystic reinforces this theme. Within Taoism lies the concept of Dialectical Monism, understanding that the dualistic nature of reality only exists as part of a monistic whole; therefore, for example, good cannot exist without evil, and vice versa. Nothing actually exists, all is a result of the interaction between what we see as opposites. The entire plotline exemplifies this; imagine the Tai Chi Tu (more commonly known as the Yin/Yang symbol) and think of the interaction between those two forces, the Yin and the Yang, the black and the white, at once opposite and complementary; the novel dances along the invisible line that connects and divides them. Our hero, Cyril Grey (the young Crowley), is a man seeking The Way of The Tao and his friend, Simon Iff (the old Crowley), is a man who has attained it.

It’s difficult to say who Crowley was aiming this novel at. He wrote it at a particularly impecunious period of his life so, was it an attempt to make a bit of quick cash by writing a pot-boiler? Was it an attempt to give his philosophy a wider audience by disguising it as a mainstream thriller novel? Was it just a bit of a jape to annoy his detractors?

Who knows?

(Incidentally, if anyone does know then please feel free to comment!)

So, there we have it. Moonchild is at once a poorly written pot-boiler of an occult thriller and a possibly quite brilliant treatise on magical thinking with an emphasis on Taoist tenets. Either way, it’s a fascinating piece, synthesising the thoughts of one of the most important figures in 20th century occultism.

The Werewolf of Paris ~ Guy Endore (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 2 (Sphere, 1974))

So, Dennis Wheatley gave us Dracula as his opening gambit for the series; a bold move starting off with the most famous Vampire novel of all time. How could he follow that for the second book in his Library of the Occult, you may ask? By giving us the most famous Werewolf novel of all time, that’s how.

Endore’s 1933 novel is a fascinating thing; part Gothic romance; part horror; part historical fiction; it successfully intertwines factual events and people with the fictional protagonists to give us a bleak metaphorical discourse on the nature of humanity.

As you can see from the back cover blurb, this is being sold as a rather tawdry affair. It was very loosely adapted to film twice, by Hammer in 1961 and by Tyburn in 1975, both times being given the standard ‘creature feature’ treatment, which is a shame as this novel really is a long way from that.

The Werewolf of Paris, Guy Endore

Like all good Gothic novels Endore begins with a framing device to set the stage; this takes the form of a young American man living in contemporary Paris while diligently working towards his Ph.D. This unnamed young man is visited by Eliane, a friend from America, who convinces him to take her on a debauched tour of the Parisian nightlife. Here the central theme of duality which runs through the novel is introduced, he is reading Lucretius’ Epicurean text ‘De Rerum Natura’, she is reading the 1920’s sensational flapper novel ‘Flaming Youth’. He is sobre and serious, she is wild and intoxicated. He is guided by rationality, she is guided by instinct. He is decidedly human, she is rather wolfish.

It’s during this brief introductory chapter that our narrator discovers an old manuscript in a pile of litter. The manuscript turns out to be a report, written by Aymar Galliez, in defense of one Sergeant Bertrand Galliez for a court-martial dated 1871. Fascinated by this text, our narrator forms the body of our novel from his fleshed out investigations into the case.

The opening sequence of the main body of the novel gives us two castles, one on either side of a river, the great families of which are at constant war with each other. Now, there’s an image for the constant theme of duality. It’s about the battle between science and superstition, cruelty and kindness, savagery and civilisation, the rich and the poor. It’s to this violent world that is born Bertrand, the bastard son of an innocent 14 year old serving girl and the brutal priest who raped her during a thunderstorm. Of course, Endore has young Bertrand as the linch-pin of the novel; a character which, being both man and wolf, exists in a constant liminal state between these extremes.

We follow Bertrand and his adoptive uncle, Aymar, through that mid-19th century period of massive Gallic political turmoil. Beginning with Aymar’s injury in the brief 1848 revolution, through the Franco-Prussian war to the rise and fall of the Paris Commune, culminating in the terrors of the Bloody Week.

This is a true horror novel, in all senses. Endore appears to know his subjects well; the atrocities we become witness to during the battles for Paris, the battles between the new and old orders, are truly horrific and horrifically true. The wholesale slaughter, the executions, the paranoia led proletariat, the baying mobs, neighbours turning against neighbours, the wealthy corruptibles using the situation to their own advantage. The 20,000 or so people brutally killed during and following The Bloody Week. This is where the horror is and Endore, famously being a politically aware author, pulls no punches in depicting it.

Although this is a tale about a werewolf, the activites of the cursed Bertrand pale into insignificance when compared to the horrors surrounding him in a Paris at war with itself. In fact, the relationship between Bertrand and his lover Sophie, although marred by physicality, acts as a point of purity and sanity in an otherwise broken world. Bertrand’s wolfish behaviour is merely an instinctive need to feed, he becomes an innocent within the artifice of the political machinations surrounding him.

Ultimately, in the extraordinary bleakness of this novel, all pretence of duality is lost. Whether considered good or evil, a follower of science or superstition, rich or poor; we are all as one at heart. As soon as the thin veneer of civilisation has crumbled, we are all vicious beasts ready to rend and tear one another. We all have a vestigial beast within us.

We are all werewolves.

Dracula ~ Bram Stoker (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 1 (Sphere, 1974))

As I’ve said in previous posts, I started collecting these old horror paperbacks when I was a boy in the late 1970s. I was well aware of Dennis Wheatley at this time as I had his book ‘The Devil and All His Works’ on a semi-permanent loan from our local library (remember that wonderfully atmospheric Goya cover of the Devil in his guise as a Black Goat dancing in the middle of a witches’ Sabbath?). I also had several of Wheatley’s paperback novels as they were so plentiful at the jumble sales and junk shops I purchased my books from with my meagre pocket money.

Far more difficult to acquire at the time were the mysterious series of books under the title of Dennis Wheatley’s Library of the Occult, these were the ones that set my imagination racing. These were books I would only catch rare glimpses of, and I only managed to nab a few of them in my younger days, but they did always contain a list of other books in the series. All those wonderful titles and each with an introduction from Wheatley himself. I was convinced that if I managed to find and read the entire series I could indeed become a master of occult forces. However, knowing what I was like as a 10 year old, it was probably for the best that the whole series, and thus the mastery of Magick, eluded me.

Over the years I have continued to collect them and I thought it was about time I included the whole series of 45 books here in the Churchyard. One book at a time, of course.

As can be seen in the wonderful image below of the promotional pamphlet for the series, 400 books were in consideration for the ‘Library’ and it was intended to continue into the 1980s. Sadly, Wheatley passed away in 1977, so we have just the 45 books published between 1974 and 1976. Still a wonderful legacy though.

Many thanks to Charles Beck who runs the wonderful resource for all things Dennis Wheatley at www.denniswheatley.info for the loan of this image.

Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult

So, starting at Volume 1 in the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, we have that classic of vampire literature, Dracula. Do I need to say that it’s by Bram Stoker?

There’s really not much that I can say about this novel that hasn’t been said a hundred times before, which is why I’m conveniently using it for the introduction post to the series.

What does strike me about this novel is that I can’t think of a novel prior to this one which is built around a small band of adventurers, each with their own particular skill set. This is something we’re very used to today, it’s a staple of films and tv series (just look at that other great work of vampire fiction ‘Buffy’), but was there anything similar before Dracula? Obviously we have individuals or pairings, like Holmes and Watson for instance, but were there any other small bands of disparate characters coming together to battle the forces of evil before Stoker? Obviously we have older tales such as those of Robin Hood or the Arthurian cycle but I’m struggling to think of any ‘modern’ novels. I’m sure there must have been, but none spring to mind at the moment.

So, here it is . . . Dracula. If you’re reading this blog and there is any chance that you haven’t read it, perhaps you think you already know the story as it’s so famous so why bother, then just read it. It certainly wasn’t the first vampire tale ever written, it’s perhaps not even the best vampire tale ever written, but it was undoubtedly the most influential vampire tale ever written and a splendid piece of Victorian Gothic to boot!

dracula

Gods’ Man, 1929, Lynd Ward (pub. Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith)

This goes under my ‘best presents are book shaped’ posts as my wife really does buy the best presents and, more often than not, they are book shaped.

I’m happy to display my ignorance here, I was only vaguely aware of the name Lynd Ward; one of those names that hover around in the edgelands of your consciousness, one of those names that you’ve read somewhere but you’re not sure what it’s connected with. Yes, I was ignorant of Lynd Ward’s work and glad of it because it’s wonderful when, in the middle of middle-agedness, you can still find things to surprise, delight and excite you.

Along with my passion for books, particularly mid-20th century horror books, I also have an interest in early 20th century German Expressionist woodcuts (of which I own a small collection). Not surprising really, I suppose, as the Expressionist movement had such a massive influence on the development of the horror genre through the 20th century.

So, imagine how thrilled I was to unwrap this beautiful 1st edition / 4th printing. That gorgeous cover design, comfortably straddling the fine line between Expressionist and Deco. That enigmatically placed apostrophe. And that subtitle . . . ‘A Novel in Woodcuts’!

gods' man lynd ward cover

A Novel in Woodcuts – for those of you who are, as I was a few weeks back, unaware of this book, it is just that. There are no words other than the title and chapter headings, the story is purely, and very lucidly, driven by Ward’s prints. As such, it is considered to be the first American graphic novel (Ward was very much influenced by the slightly earlier works of the German, Otto Nückel and the Belgian, Frans Masereel, both of whom produced wordless woodcut novels).

The story itself is a Faustian tale concerning a down at heels artist who signs a contract with a sinister masked figure in return for a mysterious paintbrush which will guarantee him fame and fortune. We follow the artist’s misadventures through a magnificently decadent high-rise deco cityscape, where his new life of success spins wildly out of control. This harsh, rectilineal world is contrasted with the gentle curves of the pastoral landscape he finds happiness in during the latter part of the novel.

It’s very much a tale of duality, hence that apostrophe in the title.

This was Ward’s first novel and proved an instant success, despite the unfortunate timing of the launch coinciding with the Great Stockmarket Crash of 1929, and he went on to produce five more Novels in Woodcuts over the following few years.

Perhaps I will need to drop a few hints to my wife for my birthday next year.

The Venomous Serpent, 1974, N.E.L. (Brian Ball)

I thought I’d delve into the nether regions of the New English Library shelves today. I picked out this title quite by random; I think it was one of my wife’s childhood books and it’s been languishing unread for as long as I can remember.

the venomous serpent

I decided to flick through the first few pages this morning and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. It’s not great literature by any means (of course it isn’t, it’s from N.E.L.), but my interest was piqued as it follows on nicely from my last post about folk horror.

Let’s have a brief synopsis and see just how this book fits into the folk horror genre.

It’s set in the mid-1970s and centred around a young couple, a pair of art school drop-outs. Deciding that art-school is the last place an artist should practise they leave college, rent a barn from a farmer and set up a craft workshop/retail outlet to cash in on the folk art boom of that time. So, we have our innocent outsiders.

Of course, they need a steady supply of customers so a tourist trap would be the best bet, where best to set this business up? They decide on the Dark Peak, specifically between Chapel-en-le-Frith and Hathersage. The surrounding landscape is painted quite well by the author and becomes very much a character in itself. We have our isolated and isolating landscape.

The female half of the couple is adventurous and enjoys exploring abandoned buildings, ruined churches and ancient monuments. The plot revolves around one ruined church where she finds an old brass, which she takes a rubbing from, depicting the Lord and Lady of the area (strangely, the names on the back cover blurb do not match the names in the text). The Lady on the brass has a strange dog-like creature by her legs and her face has been obliterated. We have our hints of folklore and ancient evils.

The tiny village near to the ruined church is an empty and sombre place, the few locals we meet are surly and unwelcoming; the pub is named The Black Nigget. So, the isolation of the outsiders and the folklore element is reinforced.

I won’t go into too many details about the plot as I don’t like to spoil these things for those intending to read it, suffice to say the action takes place through the month of April and ends on May 1st!

Ball writes with a confident swagger (he even references and advertises two of his other novels within the storyline of this one, which shows magnificent temerity), his characterisations are solid and he builds the plot nicely. He even introduces a comic relief in the middle of the book as a liminal breathing space, this takes the form of a wonderfully eccentric vicar. What lets Ball down slightly as an author is that his descriptive passages can be a little on the flabby side and he has a tendency to verge towards cliché.

But, all in all, this is a very enjoyable romp through a ‘70s folk horror landscape. I may well even seek out some of those another novels which the author told me about in such a blatant manner!

Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies (Wyrd Harvest Press, 2015, ed. Andy Paciorek & Katherine Beem)

Back in 2010 I watched a series on tv, A History of Horror, hosted by Mark Gatiss. The second episode of this series was entitled ‘Home Counties Horror’ in which Gatiss focussed on British horror films of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. I remember this episode vividly because Gatiss discussed three films which I’ve long had a fascination with, The Wicker Man, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General. In discussing these films he put two words together to describe a sub-genre, Folk Horror.

Folk Horror! Such a simple phrase with such a depth of meaning. It ignited an indefinable something in me; it seemed that all the subjects I had long been interested in had suddenly been gathered together and given nomenclature.

And it seems I wasn’t the only one.

Illustrator and writer Andy Paciorek created, what was to become, a very popular Facebook page under the name Folk Horror. In time, Paciorek changed the Facebook page to a Facebook group called Folk Horror Revival, of which I became a member shortly after it formed. This group now has a 10,000+ (and growing) membership base and an outstanding team of administrators made up of artists, musicians, filmmakers and academics all associated with the field. You can find the group here:

Folk Horror Revival: Facebook

On the back of the Folk Horror Revival group Paciorek recently created Wyrd Harvest Press, a small press dedicated to the subject. Their first publication is Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies.

folk horror revival field studies

So, what exactly is Folk Horror? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer as, by its very nature, it’s a nebulous thing. Each individual element of it is often shrouded in obscurity and the connecting threads are often intuitive rather than concrete. The definition of the phrase is something the Facebook group has been grasping for and this book elucidates upon; Paciorek gives an excellent overview in his introduction to this book.

For me the key to the subject would perhaps be somewhat inadequately described as “works which explore the darker side of humanity’s instinctive interaction with the landscape they find themselves in”. I’ve been using this theme in my own writing for several years.

Field Studies is a collection of fifty or so essays and interviews covering many of the key elements of the subject. I’m not going to go through the contents in detail as I always think it’s best to come to a book such as this, with such a diverse array of subjects, cold and see what surprises it holds for the individual reader. Instead, let’s whet your appetite with a selection of titles:

  • Public Information Films: Play Safe ~ Grey Malkin
  • Hysteria and Curses in Nigel Kneale’s Baby (Beasts 1976) ~ Adam Scovell
  • Folklore and the River: A Reflection on David Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter ~ Stephen Canner
  • Kill Lists: The Occult, paganism and sacrifice in cinemas as an analogy for political upheaval in the 1970s and the 2010s ~ Aaron Jolly
  • Diabolical Landscapes and the Genii Locorum ~ Phil Legard
  • Darkness, Beauty, Fear and Wonder: Exploring the Grotesque and Fantastical World of Czech Folk Horror ~ Kat Ellinger

 

Now there’s some titles to get your imagination racing! And that’s really just skimming the surface, add to those other articles referencing folklore, film, literature, music, occultism, paganism, hauntology and psychogeography and you’ve got quite a collection.

We also have interviews with the likes of Philip Pullman, Thomas Ligotti, Robin Hardy and Alan Lee.

And to top it off, a rather touching dedication page:

folk horror revival field studies dedication

If you read this blog regularly, or if you’ve stumbled across it by accident and have got this far, then I would hazard a guess that you will find something in this book to interest you.

Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies is available to purchase at the link below. At 500 pages it’s quite a hefty tome for £15.00 and, even better, 100% of profits go to The Wildlife Trust (which is, incidentally, an organisation I worked for as a ranger many years ago).

Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies

See You Next Wednesday ~ 8

All of these old paperback books I keep harping on about have been a part of my life for the last thirty five years or so. The stories in them are so familiar to me that I sometimes forget that they might be fresh to others. So, each Wednesday I thought I’d share some of my favourites (at least, the out of copyright ones), illustrated with photographs from an even bigger part of my life, Samantha Webster.

This week we’re travelling to Japan in the company of a very peculiar author. Tarō Hirai was a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe and used a Japanese rendering of Poe’s name for his own pen-name, Edogawa Rampo. I wrote more about him on this blog post:

The Hell of Mirrors

The tale I’ve chosen is one of Rampo’s most famous and perhaps one of his more accessible works . . . in that it doesn’t quite make your skin crawl quite as much as some of his others. It’s still a delightfully unpleasant read though.

 

T h e   H u m a n   C h a i r

~

E d o g a w a   R a m p o

 

Oshiko saw her husband off to his work at the Foreign Office at a little past ten o’clock. Then, now that her time was once again her very own, she shut herself up in the study she shared with her husband to resume work on the story she was to submit for the special summer issue of K—magazine.

She was a versatile writer with high literary talent and a smooth-flowing style. Even her husband’s popularity as a diplomat was overshadowed by hers as an authoress.

Daily she was overwhelmed with letters from readers praising her works. In fact, this very morning, as soon as she sat down before her desk, she immediately proceeded to glance through the numerous letters which the morning mail had brought. Without exception, in content they all followed the same pattern, but prompted by her deep feminine sense of consideration, she always read through each piece of correspondence addressed to her, whether monotonous or interesting.

Taking the short and simple letters first, she quickly noted their contents. Finally she came to one which was a bulky, manuscript-like sheaf of pages. Although she had not received any advance notice that a manuscript was to be sent her, still it was not uncommon for her to receive the efforts of amateur writers seeking her valuable criticism. In most cases these were long-winded, pointless, and yawn-provoking attempts at writing. Nevertheless, she now opened the envelope in her hand and took out the numerous, closely written sheets.

As she had anticipated, it was a manuscript, carefully bound. But somehow, for some unknown reason, there was neither a title nor a by-line. The manuscript began abruptly:

“Dear Madam:. . .”

Momentarily she reflected. Maybe, after all, it was just a letter. Unconsciously her eyes hurried on to read two or three lines, and then gradually she became absorbed in a strangely gruesome narrative. Her curiosity aroused to the bursting point and spurred on by some unknown magnetic force, she continued to read:

C2

Dear Madam: I do hope you will forgive this presumptuous letter from a complete stranger. What I am about to write, Madam, may shock you no end. However, I am determined to lay bare before you a confession—my own —and to describe in detail the terrible crime I have committed.

For many months I have hidden myself away from the light of civilization, hidden, as it were, like the devil himself. In this whole wide world no one knows of my deeds. However, quite recently a queer change took place in my conscious mind, and I just couldn’t bear to keep my secret any longer. I simply had to confess!

All that I have written so far must certainly have awakened only perplexity in your mind. However, I beseech you to bear with me and kindly read my communication to the bitter end, because if you do, you will fully understand the strange workings of my mind and the reason why it is to you in particular that I make this confession.

I am really at a loss as to where to begin, for the facts which I am setting forth are all so grotesquely out of the ordinary. Frankly, words fail me, for human words seem utterly inadequate to sketch all the details. But, nevertheless, I will try to lay bare the events in chronological order, just as they happened.

First let me explain that I am ugly beyond description. Please bear this fact in mind; otherwise I fear that if and when you do grant my ultimate request and do see me, you may be shocked and horrified at the sight of my face—after so many months of unsanitary living. However, I implore you to believe me when I state that, despite the extreme ugliness of my face, within my heart there has always burned a pure and overwhelming passion!

Next, let me explain that I am a humble workman by trade. Had I been born in a well-to-do family, I might have found the power, with money, to ease the torture of my soul brought on by my ugliness. Or perhaps, if I had been endowed by nature with artistic talents, I might again have been able to forget my bestial countenance and seek consolation in music or poetry. But, unblessed with any such talents, and being the unfortunate creature that I am, I had no trade to turn to except that of a humble cabinet-maker. Eventually my specialty became that of making assorted types of chairs.

In this particular line I was fairly successful, to such a degree in fact that I gained the reputation of being able to satisfy any kind of order, no matter how complicated. For this reason, in woodworking circles I came to enjoy the special privilege of accepting only orders for luxury chairs, with complicated requests for unique carvings, new designs for the back-rest and arm-supports, fancy padding for the cushions and seat—all work of a nature which called for skilled hands and patient trial and study, work which an amateur craftsman could hardly undertake.

The reward for all my pains, however, lay in the sheer delight of creating. You may even consider me a braggart when you hear this, but it all seemed to me to be the same type of thrill which a true artist feels upon creating a masterpiece.

As soon as a chair was completed, it was my usual custom to sit on it to see how it felt, and despite the dismal life of one of my humble profession, at such moments I experienced an indescribable thrill. Giving my mind free rein, I used to imagine the types of people who would eventually curl up in the chair, certainly people of nobility, living in palatial residences, with exquisite, priceless paintings hanging on the walls, glittering crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, expensive rugs on the floor, etc.; and one particular chair, which I imagined standing before a mahogany table, gave me the vision of fragrant Western flowers scenting the air with sweet perfume. Enwrapped in these strange visions, I came to feel that I, too, belonged to such settings, and I derived no end of pleasure from imagining myself to be an influential figure in society.

Foolish thoughts such as these kept coming to me in rapid succession. Imagine, Madam, the pathetic figure I made, sitting comfortably in a luxurious chair of my own making and pretending that I was holding hands with the girl of my dreams. As was always the case, however, the noisy chattering of the uncouth women of the neighborhood and the hysterical shrieking, babbling, and wailing of their children quickly dispelled all my beautiful dreams; again grim reality reared its ugly head before my eyes.

Once back to earth I again found myself a miserable creature, a helpless crawling worm! And as for my beloved, that angelic woman, she too vanished like a mist. I cursed myself for my folly! Why, even the dirty women tending babies in the streets did not so much as bother to glance in my direction. Every time I completed a new chair I was haunted by feelings of utter despair. And with the passing of the months, my long-accumulated misery was enough to choke me.

One day I was charged with the task of making a huge, leather-covered armchair, of a type I had never before conceived, for a foreign hotel located in Yokohama. Actually, this particular type of chair was to have been imported from abroad, but through the persuasion of my employer, who admired my skill as a chair-maker, I received the order.

In order to live up to my reputation as a super-craftsman, I began to devote myself seriously to my new assignment. Steadily I became so engrossed in my labors that at times I even skipped food and sleep. Really, it would be no exaggeration to state that the job became my very life, every fiber of the wood I used seemingly linked to my heart and soul.

At last when the chair was completed, I experienced a satisfaction hitherto unknown, for I honestly believed I had achieved a piece of work which immeasurably surpassed all my other creations. As before, I rested the weight of my body on the four legs that supported the chair, first dragging it to a sunny spot on the porch of my workshop. What comfort! What supreme luxury! Not too hard or too soft, the springs seemed to match the cushion with uncanny precision. And as for the leather, what an alluring touch it possessed! This chair not only supported the person who sat in it, but it also seemed to embrace and to hug. Still further, I also noted the perfect reclining angle of the back-support, the delicate puffy swelling of the arm-rests, the perfect symmetry of each of the component parts. Surely, no product could have expressed with greater eloquence the definition of the word “comfort.”

I let my body sink deeply into the chair and, caressing the two arm-rests with my hands, gasped with genuine satisfaction and pleasure.

Again my imagination began to play its usual tricks, raising strange fancies in my mind. The scene which I imagined now rose before my eyes so vividly that, for a moment, I asked myself if I were not slowly going insane. While in this mental condition, a weird idea suddenly leaped to my mind. Assuredly, it was the whispering of the devil himself. Although it was a sinister idea, it attracted me with a powerful magnetism which I found impossible to resist.

At first, no doubt, the idea found its seed in my secret yearning to keep the chair for myself. Realizing, however, that this was totally out of the question, I next longed to accompany the chair wherever it went. Slowly but steadily, as I continued to nurse this fantastic notion, my mind fell into the grip of an almost terrifying temptation. Imagine, Madam, I really and actually made up my mind to carry out that awful scheme to the end, come what may!

C3Quickly I took the armchair apart, and then put it together again to suit my weird purposes. As it was a large armchair, with the seat covered right down to the level of the floor, and furthermore, as the back-rest and arm-supports were all large in dimensions, I soon contrived to make the cavity inside large enough to accommodate a man without any danger of exposure. Of course, my work was hampered by the large amount of wooden framework and the springs inside, but with my usual skill as a craftsman I remodeled the chair so that the knees could be placed below the seat, the torso and the head inside the back-rest. Seated thus in the cavity, one could remain perfectly concealed.

As this type of craftsmanship came as second nature to me, I also added a few finishing touches, such as improved acoustics to catch outside noises and of course a peep-hole cut out in the leather but absolutely unnoticeable. Furthermore, I also provided storage space for supplies, wherein I placed a few boxes of hardtack and a water bottle. For another of nature’s needs I also inserted a large rubber bag, and by the time I finished fitting the interior of the chair with these and other unique facilities, it had become quite a habitable place, but not for longer than two or three days at a stretch.

Completing my weird task, I stripped down to my waist and buried myself inside the chair. Just imagine the strange feeling I experienced, Madam! Really, I felt that I had buried myself in a lonely grave. Upon careful reflection I realized that it was indeed a grave. As soon as I entered the chair I was swallowed up by complete darkness, and to everyone else in the world I no longer existed!

Presently a messenger arrived from the dealer’s to take delivery of the armchair, bringing with him a large handcart. My apprentice, the only person with whom I lived, was utterly unaware of what had happened. I saw him talking to the messenger.

While my chair was being loaded onto the handcart, one of the cart-pullers exclaimed: “Good God! This chair certainly is heavy! It must weigh a ton!”

When I heard this, my heart leaped to my mouth. However, as the chair itself was obviously an extraordinarily heavy one, no suspicions were aroused, and before long I could feel the vibration of the rattling handcart being pulled along the streets. Of course, I worried incessantly, but at length, that same afternoon, the armchair in which I was concealed was placed with a thud on the floor of a room in the hotel. Later I discovered that it was not an ordinary room, but the lobby.

Now as you may already have guessed long ago, my key motive in this mad venture was to leave my hole in the chair when the coast was clear, loiter around the hotel, and start stealing. Who would dream that a man was concealed inside a chair? Like a fleeting shadow I could ransack every room at will, and by the time any alarm was sounded, I would be safe and sound inside my sanctuary, holding my breath and observing the ridiculous antics of the people outside looking for me.

Possibly you have heard of the hermit crab that is often found on coastal rocks. Shaped like a large spider, this crab crawls about stealthily and, as soon as it hears footsteps, quickly retreats into an empty shell, from which hiding place, with gruesome, hairy front legs partly exposed, it looks furtively about. I was just like this freak monster-crab. But instead of a shell, I had a better shield—a chair which would conceal me far more effectively.

As you can imagine, my plan was so unique and original, so utterly unexpected, that no one was ever the wiser. Consequently, my adventure was a complete success. On the third day after my arrival at the hotel I discovered that I had already taken in quite a haul.

Imagine the thrill and excitement of being able to rob to my heart’s content, not to mention the fun I derived from observing the people rushing hither and thither only a few inches away under my very nose, shouting: “The thief went this way!” and: “He went that way!” Unfortunately, I do not have the time to describe all my experiences in detail. Rather, allow me to proceed with my narrative and tell you of a far greater source of weird joy which I managed to discover—in fact, what I am about to relate now is the key point of this letter.

First, however, I must request you to turn your thoughts back to the moment when my chair—and I—were both placed in the lobby of the hotel. As soon as the chair was put on the floor all the various members of the staff took turns testing out the seat. After the novelty wore off they all left the room, and then silence reigned, absolute and complete. However, I could not find the courage to leave my sanctum, for I began to imagine a thousand dangers. For what seemed like ages I kept my ears alerted for the slightest sound. After a while I heard heavy footsteps drawing near, evidently from the direction of the corridor. The next moment the unknown feet must have started to tread on a heavy carpet, for the walking sound died out completely.

Some time later the sound of a man panting, all out of breath, assailed my ears. Before I could anticipate what the next development would be, a large, heavy body like that of a European fell on my knees and seemed to bounce two or three times before settling down. With just a thin layer of leather between the seat of his trousers and my knees, I could almost feel the warmth of his body. As for his broad, muscular shoulders, they rested flatly against my chest, while his two heavy arms were deposited squarely on mine. I could imagine this individual puffing away at his cigar, for the strong aroma came floating to my nostrils.

Just imagine yourself in my queer position, Madam, and reflect for a brief moment on the utterly unnatural state of affairs. As for myself, however, I was utterly frightened, so much so that I crouched in my dark hide-out as if petrified, cold sweat running down my armpits.

Beginning with this individual, several people “sat on my knees” that day, as if they had patiently awaited their turn. No one, however, suspected even for a fleeting moment that the soft “cushion” on which they were sitting was actually human flesh with blood circulating in its veins —confined in a strange world of darkness.

What was it about this mystic hole that fascinated me so? I somehow felt like an animal living in a totally new world. And as for the people who lived in the world outside, I could distinguish them only as people who made weird noises, breathed heavily, talked, rustled their clothes, and possessed soft, round bodies.

Gradually I could begin to distinguish the sitters just by the sense of touch rather than of sight. Those who were fat felt like large jellyfish, while those who were specially thin made me feel that I was supporting a skeleton. Other distinguishing factors consisted of the curve of the spine, the breadth of the shoulder blades, the length of the arms, and the thickness of their thighs as well as the contour of their bottoms. It may seem strange, but I speak nothing but the truth when I say that, although all people may seem alike, there are countless distinguishing traits among all men which can be “seen” merely by the feel of their bodies. In fact, there are just as many differences as in the case of fingerprints or facial contours. This theory, of course, also applies to female bodies.

Usually women are classified in two large categories— the plain and the beautiful. However, in my dark, confined world inside the chair, facial merits or demerits were of secondary importance, being overshadowed by the more meaningful qualities found in the feel of flesh, the sound of the voice, body odor. (Madam, I do hope you will not be offended by the boldness with which I sometimes speak.)

And so, to continue with my narration, there was one girl—the first who ever sat on me—who kindled in my heart a passionate love. Judging solely by her voice, she was European. At the moment, although there was no one else present in the room, her heart must have been filled with happiness, because she was singing with a sweet voice when she came tripping into the room.

Soon I heard her standing immediately in front of my chair, and without giving any warning she suddenly burst into laughter. The very next moment I could hear her flapping her arms like a fish struggling in a net, and then she sat down—on me! For a period of about thirty minutes she continued to sing, moving her body and feet in tempo with her melody.

For me this was quite an unexpected development, for I had always held aloof from all members of the opposite sex because of my ugly face. Now I realized that I was present in the same room with a European girl whom I had never seen, my skin virtually touching hers through a thin layer of leather.

Unaware of my presence, she continued to act with unreserved freedom, doing as she pleased. Inside the chair, I could visualize myself hugging her, kissing her snowy white neck—if only I could remove that layer of leather….

Following this somewhat unhallowed but nevertheless enjoyable experience, I forgot all about my original intentions of committing robbery. Instead, I seemed to be plunging headlong into a new whirlpool of maddening pleasure.

Long I pondered: “Maybe I was destined to enjoy this type of existence.” Gradually the truth seemed to dawn on me. For those who were as ugly and as shunned as myself, it was assuredly wiser to enjoy life inside a chair. For in this strange, dark world I could hear and touch all desirable creatures.

Love in a chair! This may seem altogether too fantastic. Only one who has actually experienced it will be able to vouch for the thrills and the joys it provides. Of course, it is a strange sort of love, limited to the senses of touch, hearing, and smell, a love burning in a world of darkness.

Believe it or not, many of the events that take place in this world are beyond full understanding. In the beginning I had intended only to perpetrate a series of robberies, and then flee. Now, however, I became so attached to my “quarters” that I adjusted them more and more to permanent living.

In my nocturnal prowlings I always took the greatest of precautions, watching each step I took, hardly making a sound. Hence there was little danger of being detected. When I recall, however, that I spent several months inside the chair without being discovered even once, it indeed surprises even me.

C4For the better part of each day I remained inside the chair, sitting like a contortionist with my arms folded and knees bent. As a consequence I felt as if my whole body was paralyzed. Furthermore, as I could never stand up straight, my muscles became taut and inflexible, and gradually I began to crawl instead of walk to the washroom. What a madman I was! Even in the face of all these sufferings I could not persuade myself to abandon my folly and leave that weird world of sensuous pleasure.

In the hotel, although there were several guests who stayed for a month or even two, making the place their home, there was always a constant inflow of new guests, and an equal exodus of the old. As a result I could never manage to enjoy a permanent love. Even now, as I bring back to mind all my “love affairs,” I can recall nothing but the touch of warm flesh.

Some of the women possessed the firm bodies of ponies; others seemed to have the slimy bodies of snakes; and still others had bodies composed of nothing but fat, giving them the bounce of a rubber ball. There were also the unusual exceptions who seemed to have bodies made only of sheer muscle, like artistic Greek statues. But notwithstanding the species or types, one and all had a special magnetic allure quite distinctive from the others, and I was perpetually shifting the object of my passions.

At one time, for example, an internationally famous dancer came to Japan and happened to stay at this same hotel. Although she sat in my chair only on one single occasion, the contact of her smooth, soft flesh against my own afforded me a hitherto unknown thrill. So divine was the touch of her body that I felt inspired to a state of positive exaltation. On this occasion, instead of my carnal instincts being aroused, I simply felt like a gifted artist being caressed by the magic wand of a fairy.

Strange, eerie episodes followed in rapid succession. However, as space prohibits, I shall refrain from giving a detailed description of each and every case. Instead, I shall continue to outline the general course of events.

One day, several months following my arrival at the hotel, there suddenly occurred an unexpected change in the shape of my destiny. For some reason the foreign proprietor of the hotel was forced to leave for his homeland, and as a result the management was transferred to Japanese hands.

Originating from this change in proprietorship, a new policy was adopted, calling for a drastic retrenchment in expenditures, abolishment of luxurious fittings, and other steps to increase profits through economy. One of the first results of this new policy was that the management put all the extravagant furnishings of the hotel up for auction. Included in the list of items for sale was my chair.

When I learned of this new development, I immediately felt the greatest of disappointments. Soon, however, a voice inside me advised that I should return to the natural world outside—and spend the tidy sum I had acquired by stealing. I of course realized that I would no longer have to return to my humble life as a craftsman, for actually I was comparatively wealthy. The thought of my new role in society seemed to overcome my disappointment in having to leave the hotel. Also, when I reflected deeply on all the pleasures which I had derived there, I was forced to admit that, although my “love affairs” had been many, they had all been with foreign women and that somehow something had always been lacking.

I then realized fully and deeply that as a Japanese I really craved a lover of my own kind. While I was turning these thoughts over in my kind, my chair—with me still in it—was sent to a furniture store to be sold at an auction. Maybe this time, I told myself, the chair will be purchased by a Japanese and kept in a Japanese home. With my fingers crossed, I decided to be patient and to continue with my existence in the chair a while longer.

Although I suffered for two or three days in my chair while it stood in front of the furniture store, eventually it came up for sale and was promptly purchased. This, fortunately, was because of the excellent workmanship which had gone into its making, and although it was no longer new, it still had a “dignified bearing.”

The purchaser was a high-ranking official who lived in Tokyo. When I was being transferred from the furniture store to the man’s palatial residence, the bouncing and vibrating of the vehicle almost killed me. I gritted my teeth and bore up bravely, however, comforted by the thought that at last I had been bought by a Japanese.

Inside his house I was placed in a spacious Western-style study. One thing about the room which gave me the greatest of satisfactions was the fact that my chair was meant more for the use of his young and attractive wife than for his own.

Within a month I had come to be with the wife constantly, united with her as one, so to speak. With the exception of the dining and sleeping hours, her soft body was always seated on my knees for the simple reason that she was engaged in a deep-thinking task.

You have no idea how much I loved this lady! She was the first Japanese woman with whom I had ever come into such close contact, and moreover she possessed a wonderfully appealing body. She seemed the answer to all my prayers! Compared with this, all my other “affairs” with the various women in the hotel seemed like childish flirtations, nothing more.

Proof of the mad love which I now cherished for this intellectual lady was found in the fact that I longed to hold her every moment of the time. When she was away, even for a fleeting moment, I waited for her return like a love-crazed Romeo yearning for his Juliet. Such feelings I had never hitherto experienced.

Gradually I came to want to convey my feelings to her . . . somehow. I tried vainly to carry out my purpose, but always encountered a blank wall, for I was absolutely helpless. Oh, how I longed to have her reciprocate my love! Yes, you may consider this the confession of a madman, for I was mad—madly in love with her!

But how could I signal to her? If I revealed myself, the shock of the discovery would immediately prompt her to call her husband and the servants. And that, of course, would be fatal to me, for exposure would not only mean disgrace, but severe punishment for the crimes I had committed.

I therefore decided on another course of action, namely, to add in every way to her comfort and thus awaken in her a natural love for—the chair! As she was a true artist, I somehow felt confident that her natural love of beauty would guide her in the direction I desired. And as for myself, I was willing to find pure contentment in her love even for a material object, for I could find solace in the belief that her delicate feelings of love for even a mere chair were powerful enough to penetrate to the creature that dwelt inside. . . which was myself!

In every way I endeavored to make her more comfortable every time she placed her weight on my chair. Whenever she became tired from sitting long in one position on my humble person, I would slowly move my knees and embrace her more warmly, making her more snug. And when she dozed off to sleep I would move my knees, ever so softly, to rock her into a deeper slumber.

Somehow, possibly by a miracle (or was it just my imagination?), this lady now seemed to love my chair deeply, for every time she sat down she acted like a baby falling into a mother’s embrace, or a girl surrendering herself into the arms of her lover. And when she moved herself about in the chair, I felt that she was feeling an almost amorous joy. In this way the fire of my love and passion rose into a leaping flame that could never be extinguished, and I finally reached a stage where I simply had to make a strange, bold plea.

Ultimately I began to feel that if she would just look at me, even for a brief passing moment, I could die with the deepest contentment.

No doubt, Madam, by this time, you must certainly have guessed who the object of my mad passion is. To put it explicitly, she happens to be none other than yourself, Madam! Ever since your husband brought the chair from that furniture store I have been suffering excruciating pains because of my mad love and longing for you. I am but a worm… a loathsome creature.

I have but one request. Could you meet me once, just once? I will ask nothing further of you. I of course do not deserve your sympathy, for I have always been nothing but a villain, unworthy even to touch the soles of your feet. But if you will grant me this one request, just out of compassion, my gratitude will be eternal.

Last night I stole out of your residence to write this confession because, even leaving aside the danger, I did not possess the courage to meet you suddenly face to face, without any warning or preparation.

While you are reading this letter, I will be roaming around your house with bated breath. If you will agree to my request, please place your handkerchief on the pot of flowers that stands outside your window. At this signal I will open your front door and enter as a humble visitor. . . .

Thus ended the letter.

Even before Yoshiko had read many pages, some premonition of evil had caused her to become deadly pale. Rising unconsciously, she had fled from the study, from that chair upon which she had been seated, and had sought sanctuary in one of the Japanese rooms of her house.

For a moment it had been her intention to stop reading and tear up the eerie message; but somehow, she had read on, with the closely-written sheets laid on a low desk.

Now that she had finished, her premonition was proved correct. That chair on which she had sat from day to day . . .had it really contained a man? If true, what a horrible experience she had unknowingly undergone! A sudden chill came over her, as if ice water had been poured down her back, and the shivers that followed seemed never to stop.

Like one in a trance, she gazed into space. Should she examine the chair? But how could she possibly steel herself for such a horrible ordeal? Even though the chair might now be empty, what about the filthy remains, such as the food and other necessary items which he must have used?

“Madam, a letter for you.”

With a start, she looked up and found her maid standing at the doorway with an envelope in her hand.

In a daze, Yoshiko took the envelope and stifled a scream. Horror of horrors!

It was another message from the same man! Again her name was written in that same familiar scrawl.

For a long while she hesitated, wondering whether she should open it. At last she mustered up enough courage to break the seal and shakingly took out the pages. This second communication was short and curt, and it contained another breath-taking surprise:

Forgive my boldness in addressing another message to you. To begin with, I merely happen to be one of your ardent admirers. The manuscript which I submitted to you under separate cover was based on pure imagination and my knowledge that you had recently bought that chair. It is a sample of my own humble attempts at fictional writing. If you would kindly comment on it, I shall know no greater satisfaction.

For personal reasons I submitted my MS prior to writing this letter of explanation, and I assume you have already read it. How did you find it? If, Madam, you have found it amusing or entertaining in some degree, I shall feel that my literary efforts have not been wasted.

Although I purposely refrained from telling you in the MS, I intend to give my story the title of “The Human Chair.”

With all my deepest respects and sincere wishes, I remain,

Cordially yours,

. . . .

C1