Science or Sorcery?

Note: I was surprised when I re-read this article on CAS from 2004, because I didn’t find its prose particularly painful or embarrassing. I’ve made only one big change, restoring the comparison that I originally began the essay with but which I suppressed for publication at the Eldritch Dark for fear of seeming gratuitously offensive. Everything in the essay, including the comparison, is of course intended to be taken with complete seriousness. Tolkien is one of the authors I have most often read, but, as I’ve said before, I wish that someone would translate Lord of the Rings into English.


Science or Sorcery? Interrogating the Supratextual Interface of Klarkash-Ton and the Hobbitual Offender, Simon Whitechapel

The scientific spirit, which cannot leave anything alone and aspires to draw the whole universe of objects, people, ideas and even feelings into its own dull, inhuman empire, was certain, sooner or later, to cast its screwed-up, calculating eyes on the splendour in the grass and the glory in the flower. — Peter Simple, The Stretchford Chronicles (1980).1

Où sont les neiges d’antan? (Where are the snows of yesteryear?) — François Villon, Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis (1461).

If the Earth were a human body, the United States of America might well be identified as a cancer. There are three strong parallels: growth, greed, and influence. Cancers grow explosively, gobble energy, and spread in their worst forms to every part of the body. Mutatis mutandis, the United States has done the same, growing in a couple of centuries from a tiny colony to a continental superpower that now consumes perhaps a fifth of the world’s resources with only a twentieth of the world’s population,2 and that exports its culture and language to every corner of the world. More and more people outside its borders are growing up to think, act, and talk like Americans, discarding their own histories and cultures as they do so. This American triumph has coincided with, and in part been built on, the triumph of modern science, and like science the United States is based on a rejection of tradition and a belief in the possibility, and even the necessity, of progress.

But as Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), one of the founders of modern science, pointed out, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. He was talking about physics, but actions have reactions in the mistier world of culture too and simultaneous with the rise of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came the rise of the literary genre of fantasy. Like its coeval science fiction, fantasy represents a flight from the present, but where science fiction flies more or less optimistically into the future, fantasy flees more or less pessimistically into the past: it could be defined as an attempt to write as though America did not exist. America offers democracy, science, and rationalism; fantasy rejects them in favor of monarchy, magic, and mystery.

And understandably so: like America itself, democracy, science, and rationalism are profoundly unnatural things, appearing very late in human existence and truly accepted and appreciated by very few of us, for they do not appeal to the irrational and numinous aspects of our nature. America is unnatural because it is deracinated, a conscious, rational experiment in nation-building whose immigrant citizens are cut off from their roots in ancestral history and homeland. The popularity of fantasy in America and the societies its rootless culture has most heavily influenced proves that millions of us feel the loss. Fantasy’s rejection of science and flight from the scientific American present can be summed up by these lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954-5) in which the wizard Gandalf describes his confrontation with the wizard Saruman, who has recently exchanged his white robes for robes of many colors:


“I liked white better,” I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it no longer white,” said I. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”3


Isaac Newton broke white light in precisely that way with a prism, gaining knowledge as he discarded wisdom. But there was more to Tolkien’s rejection of Newtonian reductionism than simply science: Newton was also a Protestant, and America is a Protestant nation. Like science, Protestantism is based on a rejection of tradition, and because, like America, it is deracinated, it withers very readily: where its offspring rationalist secularism leads, Protestantism sooner or later follows.4 Tolkien (1892-1973) was Catholic, belonging to a church with deep roots, and though his books are early symptoms of her present decadence, they contain all the anti-rational, loss-assuaging ingredients listed above: monarchy, magic, and mystery. One of those books is, after all, called The Return of the King, and the pessimistic, future-fleeing aspects of fantasy are clearly symbolized by the way Tolkien sets his evil empire of Mordor in the east, where the sun rises, and his haven of peace in the west, where the sun sets.

But beside being Catholic and anti-rationalist, Tolkien was, more importantly, a bad writer. His most famous book, The Lord of the Rings, epitomizes what Europeans would see as the worst failings of American popular culture: it is sentimental, shallow, and clumsy.5 His attempt to flee the American present in some ways carries America with it. And that is one of the great ironies of fantasy literature: its most popular, and least subtle, exponent is European, while one of its greatest and most subtle is not merely American but Californian, living and dying in the most “future-crazed”6 state of all: Clark Ashton Smith was born in 1893 in Long Valley, near Sacramento, and died in 1961 a few miles north in Auburn.

But CAS had an English father and did not grow up in any of California’s cities, which may be much more important than it appears. California is one of the youngest states of one of the world’s youngest nations, but its landscape is ancient and its landscape is what CAS was most familiar with: he grew up on his father’s “forty acres” of homestead.7 Straight lines and right angles are rare in nature, ubiquitous in modern cities, and they may have much stronger effects on our psychology than we realize.8 In the old worlds of Europe and Asia, where cities are thousands of years old, streets wind and twist, because the cities of Europe and Asia have grown rather like plants; in the new world of America, streets run in straight lines intersecting at right angles. American cities are planned, rational attempts to conquer and control unplanned, irrational geography, and perhaps the reputation of New Englanders for subtlety and guile rises from their surroundings. Cities like Boston are old enough to have grown in the winding, twisting old world fashion, and perhaps they train their modern inhabitants in the oblique and indirect. CAS’s friend and mentor H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an urban New Englander: could he have developed his subtle, allusive fiction had he grown up in a city like Chicago or New York, where the streets may train the mind in linearity and directness?9 Could the rural CAS have developed his subtle, allusive fiction had he grown up in a city like San Francisco or Los Angeles?

I would suggest not, but that there is more to an artist’s growth than his physical surroundings is clearly proved by Tolkien, who lived in ancient, alinear England and wrote his crude fantasy amid the winding, twisting streets of Oxford. However, human beings inhabit societies too, and though Lovecraft and CAS may have escaped the stultifying effects of American town-planning, perhaps they benefited from the liberating effects of American politics. The races of Tolkien’s world are clearly based on the English class system: the hobbits, for example, are the rural proletariat and minor bourgeoisie, the orcs are the industrial proletariat, and the elves are the aristocracy whose well-nourished scions Tolkien encountered at Oxford. Compare these passages, the first from Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), the second from Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937):


About six of them came into my room, the rest stood mouthing outside. My dear, they looked too extraordinary. They had been having one of their ridiculous club dinners, and they were all wearing coloured tail-coats – a sort of livery. ‘My dears,’ I said to them, ‘you look like a lot of most disorderly footmen.’ Then one of them, rather a juicy little piece, accused me of unnatural vices. ‘My dear,’ I said, ‘I may be inverted but I am not insatiable. Come back when you are alone.’10


‘Well, well!’ said a[n Elvish] voice. ‘Just look! Bilbo the hobbit on a pony, my dear! Isn’t it delicious!’ ‘Most astonishing wonderful!’ Then off they went into another song as ridiculous as the one I have written down in full. At last one, a tall young fellow, came out from the trees and bowed to Gandalf and to Thorin.11

Tolkien and Waugh were both snobs and both, as it happens, of below average height. Tall Lovecraft’s and tall CAS’s fiction does not suffer from this snobbery, and although the stories of their friend Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) – who grew up in rural Texas – continually pluck the chords of monarchy, magic, and mystery, his hero Conan becomes a king by brawn and brain, not by birth. But Howard, although a far better writer than Tolkien, is the least interesting of the Weird Tales triumvirate, and CAS’s fiction is aristocratic in more than its mention of kings and emperors. He did not write for the canaille, which is why he used words like canaille:


Yes, indeed, one could write numerous reams on the subject of style. The style – or lack of it – required by nearly all magazine editors, [sic] would require a separate treatise. The idea seems to be that everything should be phrased in a manner that will obviate mental effort on the part of the lowest grade moron. I was told the other day that my “Door to Saturn” could only be read with a dictionary.12

One of the reasons popular American culture has been so successfully exported is that it has evolved to appeal to the lowest common denominator: it is “phrased” so to “obviate mental effort”, and ideally to bypass the intellect altogether. The simplicity and directness of an American export like rock’n’roll, whose appeal is based on strong rhythms and high volume, are mirrored in the simplicity and directness of American exports like hamburgers and Coca-Cola, whose appeal is based on fat, salt, and sugar. In short, American culture is democratic and inclusive, not aristocratic and exclusive like European culture. And so a second great irony of fantasy literature is that the European Tolkien is far more democratic and far more successfully exported than the Californian Clark Ashton Smith: Tolkien’s writing is crude and strongly flavored, the literary equivalent of hamburger and coke, while the haute cuisine of CAS remains unknown to many of the millions who read and re-read Lord of the Rings – or watch and re-watch its recent translation into film.

And perhaps that is another part of the key to CAS: fiction that can be translated readily and successfully into film, as Tolkien’s has been, tends to be superficial and direct. CAS’s greatest stories could not be successfully translated into film without being transformed in fundamental ways; that is, without being mutilated. This is another way in which CAS is profoundly un-American. America’s most successful and most characteristic export, advertising its culture to the world, has been film, and film, because it is the most powerful of media, is also the most destructive, killing imagination and feeding passivity and voyeurism.13 Cinema’s inbred cousin, television, exaggerates cinema’s failings and commits the additional crimes of trivialization and superficiality: watching a film at the cinema at least has a sense of ritual and occasion, and lasts about as long as a religious service; watching the same film using a television has no sense of ritual or occasion and can be interrupted and postponed at will.

CAS, born blessedly long before television and no movie-goer, was defiantly logophilic and logocentric, and in that sense is far more modern than artists who work in or are influenced by film: vision has existed for many millions of years among animals and the art based on it, appealing to universal simplicities, crosses boundaries of culture and even species with relative ease: recall the Greek tale of Zeuxis’s trompe l’oeil grapes pecked by birds. True language, on the other hand, appeared only with human beings and the art based on it, being far richer and far more subtle, does not cross barriers of culture with ease and without transformation and distortion. And here is a third great irony of CAS’s relation to JRRT. Tolkien, the professional scholar of language in the homeland of English, wrote with far less sensitivity and richness, beating drums and blasting trumpets where CAS played flutes and citheræ. But if fantasy is an attempt to write as though America did not exist, perhaps it took an American to know precisely how best to perform the nullification.


Notes

1. The Stretchford Chronicles: 25 Years of Peter Simple, The Daily Telegraph, Purnell & Sons, Bristol, 1980, “A graded land”, pg. 165.


2. A factoid often dragged out (with varying figures – sometimes consumption goes as high as two-thirds) by whining liberals and eco-puritans. The precise ratio is impossible to know, but America certainly out-consumes Europe, just as Europe out-consumes the Third World.

3. The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, ch. II, “The Council of Elrond”.

4. “Mark 4:5 And some [seed] fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.” Because they have deep roots, Catholic and Orthodox Christianity resist the scorching sun of secularism much more effectively.

5. The Hobbit, with much less ambition, achieves much more.

6. Peter Simple, The Stretchford Chronicles: 25 Years of Peter Simple, The Daily Telegraph, Purnell & Sons, Bristol, 1980, “Let them be left”, pg. 173: “Environmentalists, conservationists, anti-pollutionists: the dull, pseudo-scientific words, endlessly repeated – imports, like so much else, from future-crazed America – can arouse in certain moods a perverse rage to build oil-refineries all over Dartmoor.”

7. “As I Remember Klarkash-Ton”, George F. Haas, from The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith, Arkham House (see online copy).

8. In one famous psychological experiment, Zulus who lived in round huts and ploughed in curves were found to be much less susceptible to certain optical illusions (e.g. the Müller-Lyer arrow illusion). See, for example, the discussion in R.L. Gregory’s Eye and Brain: the Psychology of Seeing.

9. See Lovecraft’s short story “Haunter of the Dark” (1936), set in the New England city of Providence but with a protagonist from the straight-lined, right-angled Wisconsin city of Milwaukee: “As Blake climbed higher, the region seemed stranger and stranger, with bewildering mazes of brooding brown alleys leading eternally off to the south. … Twice he lost his way …”

10. Op. cit., Book One, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 2

11. Op. cit., Chapter 3, “A Short Rest”.

12. Clark Ashton Smith: Letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Necronomicon Press, West Warwick (Rhode Island), 1987, pg. 23, “c. mid-December 1930” (see online copy).

13. In fantasy’s sister genre, horror, England and America again provide the most successful writer and one of the greatest, but this time England wins: the American Stephen King (1947-     ), the most successful writer of horror, is a cinematic writer weaned on film and has nothing of the subtlety and depth of the English M.R. James (1862-1936) (see CAS’s appreciation “The Weird Works of M.R. James”).

© 2004 Simon Whitechapel

Sime Time

I came across the writings of Simon Whitechapel a year ago after picking up the first twenty or so issues of Headpress, a 1990s ’zine that dealt with the relentlessly grim, the esoteric and prurient. His style was fascinating, coming across as intelligent and well-read and — at least from first reading — subtly ironic.

In fact he must have impressed some other people during this time too as Headpress’ Critical Vision imprint spun his collected articles together for publication under the title Intense Device: A Journey Through Lust, Murder and the Fires of Hell — they have all the typical interests that run through Whitechapel’s work — there is an obsession with numerology, with Whitehouse-style distortion music, with Hitler and de Sade. There are also articles on farting, on Jack Chick and novelisations of TV shows. They are fascinating, written in a scholarly way with footnotes aplenty but never difficult to understand. He also wrote two non-fiction works during the late 1990s and early 2000s that centred around sadism and the murder of women in South America. They are dark.

There are also the works of fiction. To say that Whitechapel is transgressive is an understatement. His writing bleeds. The ‘official’ work The Slaughter King is filled with the detailed descriptions of sadistic murder, beginning with a serial killer murdering a gay prostitute whilst listening to distortion-atrocity music. The plot is schlocky but serviceable, jumping around inconsistently but the images it creates are terrifying. A bourgeois dinner party straight out of Buñuel and Pasolini’s nightmares where guests are served poisons as if they were the finest consommés: they eat bees until their faces swell, dropping dead at the table, finishing with a trifle “made from the berries of the several varieties of belladonna, of cuckoo-pint, and of the flowers of monkshood”. It’s a sinister book, but nothing compared to his second work.

Whitechapel wrote The Eyes. This is clear just from a simple comparison between his texts, the fascination with language, with sadism, with de Sade. The thing is, The Eyes is supposedly written by some guy called Aldapuerta, Spanish apparently. ‘Aldapuerta’ can be written Alda Puerta — ‘at the gate’, a telling description of these short stories, which go past this point many, many times. The tale of ‘Aldapuerta’ himself is too exact to be believed: a young boy with an interest in de Sade, corrupted by the local pornographer, medical-school training that honed his knowledge, then a mysterious death (echoing shades of Pasolini’s own) and finishing with the “and he might be baaaack” closer. But this point isn’t really an issue and it’s understandable that Whitechapel would want to keep his name away from this work. It is also surrealistically brilliant at times: amongst the brutality, the images it creates are unforgettable.

Of course, Whitechapel is a fake name, redolent of Jack the Ripper, and even Simon was taken from elsewhere — a colleague perhaps? He disappeared during the 2000s, no longer writing for Headpress, a few self-published chapbooks pastiching Clark Ashton Smith… where did he go? There are the rumours of prison time — they are convincing to my mind, as they too revolve around different identities, around extremity and anonymity. I wonder though, if true, just how much this individual actually believed in them. His most recent writings, at his tricksy blog, hint at this, as well as make his ‘relationship’ with Aldapuerta clearer but it’s not in my ability to directly connect the personas.

If you want to be fascinated and repulsed, then the non-author Simon Whitechapel is for you.

Lancashire


Elsewhere other-posted:

It’s The Gweel Thing…Gweel & Other Alterities, Simon Whitechapel (Ideophasis Books, 2011)

Keeping It Gweel

Gweel & Other Alterities, Simon Whitechapel (Ideophasis Press, 2011)

This review is a useless waste of time. I can tell you very little about Gweel. It’s a book, if that helps. It’s made of paper. It has pages. Lots of little words on the pages.

What I can’t do is classify Gweel into a genre, not because none of them fit, but because the concept of a genre doesn’t seem to apply to Gweel. It stands alone, without classification. Calling Gweel “experimental” or “avant garde” would be like stamping a barcode on a moon rock.

It may have been written for an audience of one: author Simon Whitechapel. If we make the very reasonable assumption that he owns a copy of his own book, he may have attained 100% market saturation. However, there could be a valuable peripheral market: people who want to read a book that is very different from anything they’ve read before.

It is a collection of short pieces of writing, similar in tone but not in form, exploring “dread, death, and doom.” “Kopfwurmkundalini” and “Beating the Meat” resemble horror stories, and manage to be frightening yet strangely fantastic. The first one is about a man – paralysed in a motorbike accident, able to communicate only by eye-blinks – and his induction into a strange new reality. It contains a rather thrilling story-within-a-story called “MS Found in a Steel Bottle”, about two men journeying to the bottom of the ocean in a bathysphere. “Kopfwurmkundalini”’s final pages are written in a made-up language, but the author has encluded a glossary so that you can finish the story.

Those two/three stories make up about half of Gweel’s length. The remainder mostly consists of shorter work that seems to be more about creating an atmosphere or evoking an emotion. “Night Shift” is about a prison for planets (Venus, we learn, is serving a 10^3.2 year sentence for sex-trafficking), and a theme of prisons and planets runs through a fair few of the other stories here, although usually in a less surreal context. “Acariasis” is a vignette about a convict who sees a dust-mite crawling on his cell wall, and imagines it’s a grain of sand from Mars. The image is vivid and the piece has a powerful effect. “Primessence” is The Shawshank Redemption on peyote (and math). A prisoner believes that because his cell is a prime number, he will soon be snatched from it by some mathematical daemon (the story ends with the prisoner’s fate unknown). “The Whisper” is a ghost story of sorts, short and achingly sad.

No doubt my impression of Gweel differs from the one the author intended. But maybe his intention was that I have that different impression than him. Maybe Gweel reveals different secrets to each reader.

I can’t analyse it much, but Gweel struck me as an experience like Fellini’s Amarcord… lots of little story-threads, none of them terribly meaningful on their own. Experienced together, however, those threads will weave themselves into a tapestry in the hall of your mind, a tapestry that’s entirely unique… and your own.

Original review


Jesús say: I… S….. R… U… B… B… I… S…. H…. B… O… O… K…. | W… H… A…. N… K… C…. H… A… P… L…. E…. I… S…. H… I… J… O…. D… E…. P… U…. T… A…..

Previously pre-posted:

It’s The Gweel Thing…

Ear Will An Thee

(This is a guest-review by Norman Foreman, B.A.)

Yr Wylan Ddu, Simon Whitechapel (Papyrocentric Press, ?)

If, like me, you froth at the mouth and roll on the floor biting the carpet when you hear the phrase “Pre-order now”, then relief is at hand. You might have thought that “pre-ordering now” was as logical as “ordering pre-now”. You were wrong. Here is a book that really can be pre-ordered now, because it doesn’t exist yet. If it ever does exist, it will cease to be pre-orderable now. In the meantime, you’re pre-ordering it whether you know it or not. In fact, the less you know, the more you’re pre-ordering it. All life-forms in the Universe, actual and otherwise, are pre-ordering it at this very moment, from the humblest virus to the mightiest hive-mind.

Front cover of yr wylan ddu by slow exploding gulls

Yr Wylan Ddu (2003) by Slow Exploding Gulls

There’s no escape, in other words. And no more review, you might think, given that the book doesn’t exist yet. True, but I can review the title. It’s Welsh, it means “The Black Gull”, and it’s pronounced something like “Ear Will An Thee”. It was also originally the title of an album in 2003 by the Exeter electronistas Slow Exploding Gulls. Whether S.E.G. will object to the appropriation remains to be seen. If they do, it can be pointed out that Dirgelwch Yr Wylan Ddu, or Secret of the Black Gull, was the title of a children’s book by Idwal Jones (1890-1964) published in 1978.

Front cover of Dirgelwch Yr Wylan Ddu by Idwal Jones

Idwal Jones’ Secret of the Black Gull (1978)

There is nothing corresponding to “of” in the original title of that book, but then Welsh grammar doesn’t work like that. Yr Wylan Ddu contains some good examples of how it does work. It’s an active, almost clockwork or organic, phrase compared to its static English equivalent. In isolation, the Welsh words for “the”, “black” and “gull” would be y, du, and gwylan, pronounced something like “ee”, “dee” and “goo-ill-an” in southern Welsh. But put them together and they mutate in more ways than one: Yr Wylan Ddu (adjectives generally follow the noun in Welsh). The similarity between gwylan and “gull” isn’t a coincidence: the English word is borrowed from Celtic.

However, it is unlikely that Yr Wylan Ddu will actually be written in Welsh or any other Celtic language. First, Whitechapel doubtless feels that this would reduce his already small audience. Second, he doesn’t speak Welsh. Or write it. So the book will probably follow past trends and be written in English. It’s also safe to predict that it will refer to at least one black gull. So: pre-order now. And please carry on doing so until further notice.

Puro Lojo

Los Ojos

He was haunted by eyes. It had begun quite slowly, quite simply: a feeling that he was being watched whenever he went out, that hostile eyes were staring out at him, down on him, from the windows of the town, tracking his progress, feeding the nectar of data to the honeycombs of brains, for savouring later, when he had passed. He started to find quieter, gloomier streets, to stay indoors on sunny days, to keep his curtains drawn. He felt calmer when he knew he wasn’t overlooked, wasn’t being watched, couldn’t be. But then the calm began to evaporate, for he realized that there were eyes even in his house, even here, where he was cocooned in privacy.

The eyes of his books – indeed, the eyes of “books”, the two o’s, the two little eyes staring out between the “b” and the “k”. There were hundreds of eyes, thousands of them, in every book, ready to stare out at him, to watch him, whenever he opened a book and tried to read. Even “eyes” itself, with the twin e’s, seemed to peer at him, if not to stare. It had half-closed lids, ready to open on him, to glare its full. In Spanish, the word opened fully: ojo. The word reminded him of two eyes with a nose between them, with a bindi over the nose, the mystic dot of Hinduism, symbolizing the third eye. In Hindi, though, the word didn’t threaten him: आँख, ānkh. When he’d first started to worry about his books, about the eyes in his books, he’d gone to the public library and spent an hour searching through the dictionaries, making a list of the eye-words he did find threatening, as though he could trap them, confine them, on a single piece of paper.

The “oog” of Dutch. The “öga” of Swedish. The “øje” and “øye” of Danish and Norwegian, which reminded him of the razor-blade slicing the eye in Un Chien Andalou. The “oko” of Czech, Polish, and Russian. The “ojo” of Spanish, the “olho” of Portuguese, the “occhio” of Italian, all from the “oculus” of Latin (“oculo” in the ablative and dative). Then there was the “göz” of Turkish, entirely unrelated, but staring out at him like a cyclops. And what about the “ojú” of Yoruba? It was unrelated to Spanish, but disturbingly similar. Disturbing in a different way was the οφθαλμος, the “ophthalmos”, of ancient Greek. It was such a juicy, gelatinous word, like the juice and jelly of an eye itself, like a mechanism of chemicals and flesh from which the two o’s stared out at him, watching him, judging him, storing data about him for use in his trial, the secret trial that was being prepared for him.

He felt relieved, at first, that modern Greek had a less threatening μάτι, “mati”. But then he discovered that Malay had a word that was very similar, “mata”, though he knew that Malay and Greek were entirely unrelated. He felt his skin prickle as the first hint of a conspiracy trickled into his brain. The lower-case a’s of “matia”, the Greek plural, like the lower-case e’s of “eyes”, were like peering eyes, as though the words were beginning to take on the same form as “ojo” and “oko”, as though they would open fully one day too. He wondered if, one day, all the world’s languages would have eyes in their words for “eye”, would have twin o’s gazing out, glaring out at the reader. The biter bit. The reader read. Or what about a script, a font, a language, that was entirely ocular, entirely based on o’s, that read its readers as they read it? You could do that, could create one. There were enough forms of “o” in the alphabet, or the alphabets, the Latin and French and Czech and Yoruba and Vietnamese.

It was then he realized that he hadn’t looked at the Vietnamese dictionary, having missed it near the end of the shelf. He went to look at it, carrying his eye-list with him. He took the dictionary off the shelf and flicked to the right page. He nearly dropped the book when he saw the word staring up at him: mắt. Like Greek, like Malay. He would discover later, after more research, that the Vietnamese and Malay words probably had a common origin, something he’d half-suspected, after that moment of shock. The language families were spoken in neighbouring regions, after all. But for that moment of shock it had seemed a confirmation of something at work, something beneath the surface, or beneath the lid, peering out, ready to be fully exposed, fully opened, ready to stare its full, to drink his soul.

After his visit to the library, he found it more and more difficult to read English and Spanish, both with eye-like eye-words, both full of o’s. He was haunted by a line from Lovecraft, from “The Shadow over Innsmouth”: “I could not escape the sensation of being watched from ambush on every hand by sly, staring eyes that never shut.” But in English, in Spanish, they were not in ambush. They were there openly, eagerly, greedily. He sought refuge in French and German, whose eye-words were asymmetric, un-eye-like, and where “o” was blessedly far down the list of letter-frequencies. English ran e-t-a-o. All those to’s and of’s and not’s. Spanish was even worse: e-a-o. All those masculine endings, those past tenses, those no’s and lo’s. But French ran e-a-s-i-t-n-r-u-l-o. German was even better: e-n-i-s-t-r-a-d-h-u-g-m-c-l-b-o. He began to sellotape his English and Spanish books shut, as though each were an eye that he was closing by force, blinding so that its myriad inner eyes could not watch him. He felt much calmer reading French and German, much better able to cope when he came across a reference to eyes, and he even laughed aloud when, returning to À Rebours, he read of how the ancestral portraits of des Esseintes alarmaient avec leurs yeux fixes, “startled one with their fixed gaze”.

The disaster, when it came, came without warning. He picked up a French guide to butterflies one afternoon, meaning to browse through it before lunch, and almost at once came across a slip of paper handwritten on both sides. The writing was neat but small and he had to concentrate to read it. It was all part of the trap, he realized too late, to make him focus, to bite more deeply on the poison bait that had been dangled before him. Ice began to form around his viscera as he read, but he could not stop himself until he had finished:

Die einzelnen Worte schwammen um mich; sie gerannen zu Augen die mich anstarrten und in die ich wieder hineinstarren muß: Wirbel sind sie, in die hinabzusehen mich schwindelt, die sich unaufhaltsam drehen und durch die hindurch man ins Leere kommt.

With sick horror, he noted that the passage contained exactly two o’s, near the beginning and near the end, like the grotesque eyes of a distorted, teratomorphic face. Then he turned the slip over and found that the other side contained a translation in English, full of o’s, full of eyes, staring at him, eager to drink the emotion in his face, the realization that he had been trapped. Again, he could not prevent himself from reading to the end:

Single words floated round me; they congealed into eyes that stared at me and that I was forced to stare back into – whirlpools that gave me vertigo and, reeling ceaselessly, led into the void.

He let out an involuntary cry. Where had the slip come from? Who was the author of the German? Who had translated it? Who had written the two languages down, hidden the slip in the book? He looked again and realized that it was his own writing, slow, careful, half-disguised, but unmistakable, now that he looked. There was a conspiracy, yes, there was, and he was the author of it, spinning a web for himself, plotting his own destruction, with hidden motives, hidden hatred. He moaned. Things were moving in his head. The slip was a linguistic key, turning a lock in his subconscious, releasing a phrase that he himself had hidden there. Esse Est Percipi. Berkeley’s great dictum. “To Be Is To Be Perceived”. He knew the truth now. He could not escape, could find no refuge, draw no curtain, close no door, find no darkness to hide in. The universe itself was an eye all around him and he was its eternal focus, naked always, visible always, pierced through and through by a torturer’s gaze that created its own object of torture.

A Swirl of Shadows

I tell of the planet of Gdarrujh, far, very far, in space and time. There is a spot there, by a vanished sea, whereon, at certain times of the year, a swirl of shadows will appear on a broken floor of ancient marble. And these shadows are very strange, seeming those of living creatures, yet with likeness to none ever known on that world. Travellers who return from the spot compare the shadows to those of autumn leaves able to hover and flutter at will between sun and earth, shading the latter with their shape. Yet these shadows have heads and limbs, after a fashion, and certainly pertain to the animal, not the vegetable, and even to the human, as though the arms of Gdarrujh-folk were broad-bladed oars and men could row the very insubstantiality of air, ride there at will, though they remained solid flesh and sturdy bone.

And this shadow-swirl has nourished several schools of speculation on Gdarrujh. Some philosophoi say it is nothing real, being a mirage or trick of some long-dead, high-cunning’d mage, whose magick works on down the millennia, tempting the foolish to belief in nonsense and chimæras. But others say, nay, nay, the shadows are those of real creatures, past or to come, and are shown by design of the gods, that men might throw down their walls of dogma, topple their towers of certitude, and know that the Universe holds more than man sees or woman dreams. And a smaller school of the realitarians holds that the shadows are not of the past or future, but rather of the present, being cast somehow through a chink that separates known Gdarrujh from another Gdarrujh that exists in hidden parallel, where creatures dwell not only the land and sea, but also the air, being able to take to it, delight in it, partake there of the lightness of leaves and the grace of fish.

And the creatures of the shadow-swirl have mouths like knives, which gape as though they call, but, in repudiation of whose claims, in confirmation of whose, in relevation of what mysteries, no sound reaches the speculators of Gdarrujh.

Palace in Numberland

The Palace of Primes

“Cur ad uvas per Zeusim depictas accursabant volucres?” – Iordani Bruni Ars Memoriæ (1582).

“Why did birds flock to the grapes painted by Zeuxis?” – Giordano Bruno’s Art of Memory.

“To mnemonicize the primes is to partake of the mind of God, as though one dipped a shell into plumbless nectar and drank thereof.” So runs the saying in the Cult of Primes, wherein prodigious feats of memory are demanded even of the neophytes, who must enthrone in a memory-palace the initial 931 primes (from 2 to 7,307) ere they can begin climbing, rung by jaden rung, the ladder of the Hierarchy. The Cult has a number-system based on thirty: which is to say, where we, with a base of ten, have nine number-symbols and the cipher, they have twenty-nine ditto and ditto. To each symbol, in their mnemonics, they assign a beast, bird, and flower; a metal, gem, and wood; a fur, cloth, and silk; a food, drink, and condiment; a colour, scent, and sound. Thus, a hummingbird hovering above an emerald amid scent of vanilla symbolizes the prime 1,667; an eye upon a silver harp the prime 5,059; and a porphyry scarab upon a cheetah’s fur the prime 11,173.

When once the neophytes have mastered the system of mnemonics, each sets to constructing his Palatium Primorum, his Palace of Primes. Herein, each Prime has Its Room, wherein It sits on a Throne studded with symbols of its attributes, whilst courtiers feast and musicians play before It. And in the Left Wall of the Room are many doors symbolizing numbers from 1 to 31. If one is in the Throne-Room of 137, for example, and one steps through the Door of 13, one finds oneself in the Throne-Room of 199, the Prime 13 places higher in the List of Primes; and similarly, mutatis mutandis, for other numbers and other doors. And in the Right Wall are an increasing number of doors leading to Primes lower in the list. Thus, the Throne-Room of 2 has no doors on the right; and of 3 has one door; and of 5 two doors; and so till 131, the 32nd prime, whereat the Right Doors reach their maximum. And each priest of the Cult, from his neophycy on, will toil a lifetime bedecking, manning, and extending the Palace, till it seems to him more real than the World, vaster than the Universe, and dearer to him than his heart-beat.

Nor, if earthly misfortune overtakes him, does the Palace fail of consolation, for a priest can resort thither for surcease of pain, if upon the rack; for oblivion of want, if destitute or starving; and for foretaste of Paradise, if dying. Yea, Paradise is a Palace, in the teaching of the Cult, a Palatium Omnium Primorum, of All Primes, primes numberless as beats of a deathless heart, as sands of an endless shore, as stars of a boundless heaven. And Herein the Doors of the Left Wall are infinite and the Doors of the Right increase for ever.

Lulu Lunatic Luz

It’s disturbing what you can find online…

Tales of Silence & Sortilege, Simon Whitechapel, Paperback, 111 Pages

May 28, 2012

If you love weird fantasy, if you love the English language, even if you don’t love Clark Ashton Smith, you should read this book. The back cover describes it as “the darkest and most disturbing fantasy” of this millennium, but that’s either sarcastic or tragically optimistic, because what these stories really are is beautiful. The breath of snow-wolves is described as “harsh-spiced.” A mysterious gargoyle leaning from the heights of a great cathedral has “wings still glistening with the rime of interplanetary flight.” Hummingbirds are “gem-feathered… their glittering breasts dusted with the gold of a hundred pollens.” If you cannot appreciate such imagery, then perhaps you are dead to beauty, or simply dead. These tales are very short, but some of them have stayed with me for years, such as “The Treasure of the Temple,” in which a thief seems to lose the greatest fortune he could ever have found by stealing a king’s ransom in actual treasure. Most of the stories are brilliant, one or two is only good, but the masterpieces are “Master of the Pyramid” and “The Return of the Cryomancer.” The sense of loss and mystery evoked by these two companion stories is almost physically painful, it is so haunting. There is nothing like these stories being published today. Reading them, I feel the excitement and wonder that fans of Weird Tales magazine must have known long ago when new stories would appear by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. Simon Whitechapel doesn’t imitate these authors so much as apply their greatest lessons to new forms of fantasy. This is one of the cheapest books I own, but I accord it one of my most valuable. It is easily the best work of art you will find in any form on Lulu. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Roses of Hsūlag-Beiolă, Simon Whitechapel, Paperback, 154 Pages

Jun 8, 2012

This collection of weird fantasy is filled with mystery, wonder and a sense of the ineffable. Not every story is a mind-blowing masterpiece, but the best of them are absolutely spectacular. Even the worst are good and all are haunting in one way or another. My two favorites were: 1. “The Mercy of the Osmomancer,” wherein a knight on a mission to investigate the tower of a scent-wizard encounters demons made of smells and even learns the language of odors… 2. “The Swans,” in which a pawnbroker tracks down all the known paintings of a seemingly insane artist who paints his canvases entirely black, nothing but black, for reasons best and most poetically left to Simon Whitechapel to explain… Any fan of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Edgar Allan Poe, Comte de Lautréamont, Charles Baudelaire or William S. Burroughs will find something wonderful to love in here. I sure did.


Even more disturbing is the thought that this individual may be able to pass themself off as normal in real life: there are no spelling mistakes or solecisms. (Then again, perhaps I’m reviewing my own books in my sleep. (But I wouldn’t compare myself to B*rr**ghs, surely? (Unless it’s a bluff or double-bluff. (Disturbing, as I said. (I agree.)))))

Ink For Your Elf

The Majikalph Script

Majikalph was created by Simon Whitechapel in 2012 to combine his interests in artificial alphabets and recreational mathematics. It is based on the patterns created when lines are drawn between numbers of various 4×4 magic squares. In a magic square, every row, column, and diagonal of numbers adds to the same total. In the 4×4 magic square below, the most interesting patterns are created when each number is connected to the number 2 or 4 places higher than it (e.g. 2 goes to 4 or 6; 13 goes to 15 or 1).

Majikalph is used for writing English and is written from right to left. There is no distinction between upper and lower case. No character of the script is invented: each is based on one or another of the 880 possible 4×4 magic squares (for further information, please see MagicSquares.net).

The sample text is an extract from Tennyson’s The Princess (1847):

Oh, hark, oh, hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
Oh, sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).

Sample Text