Michael Dirda on mummies in pulp fiction

Victorian_mummy_unwrapping

Wonderful to come across this new article from Michael Dirda at Barnes & Noble Review, which offers — in typical Dirda fashion — a thoroughly absorbing, insightful, and well-written treatment of a fun and fascinating subject:

Over the past few months I’ve read, or reread, some of the most famous stories about mummies, Egyptian curses, reincarnation and love that prevails over death and the passage of centuries. Unlike other monsters of the id, the mummy lacks a central master text—there is no equivalent to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Instead, these tales display a surprising variety. In 1827 Jane Loudon Webb’s The Mummy!, set in an imagined 22nd century future, employs a revived Cheops to comment on society, ethics and religion. Edgar Allan Poe’s “Some Words with a Mummy” is distinctly satirical and ends with the narrator, sick of his shrewish wife, planning to have himself embalmed for a couple of hundred years. A comparably light-hearted spirit pervades Grant Allen’s “My New Year’s Eve Among the Mummies” (1880). In this instance, a fortune-hunting cad discovers that on one evening every thousand years the mummies inside the pyramid of Abu Yilla return to life. He intrudes upon their millennial banquet, flirts with Pharaoh’s daughter, and decides to have himself embalmed so that he and the princess can be resurrected together in the future. Alas, the elaborate process is interrupted — Or was it all just a dream?

Even as mummies themselves exist in a kind of halfway-state between life and death, so tales about them frequently blur the line between reality and hallucination. . . .

While it might be tempting to shrug off tales of mummies and Egyptian magic as mere period pieces, in fact, they remain astonishingly contemporary. They deal with racial and religious hatred, the place of women in society, our desire for perennial youth, the relationship of modern science and ancient belief, and, surprisingly often, the question of sexual orientation. In his excellent study, The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy Roger Luckhurst further stresses that narratives about the mummy’s curse are the West’s guilt-ridden response to, or way of “acknowledging and negotiating,” its own imperialist violence in the Middle East.

FULL TEXT: “Lost in the Pyramids: Searching for Pulp Fiction’s Mummies

Click through to read Michael’s reflections on various mummy fictions, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Ring of Thoth,” Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars, Sax Rohmer’s Brood of the Witch-Queen, and Riccardo Stephens’s obscure 1912 novel The Mummy. He also mentions a couple of recent anthologies devoted to such things.

And of course, for more on everything to do with mummies in fiction and fact, you can consult my Mummies around the World: An Encyclopedia of Mummies in History, Religion, and Popular Culture.

 

Image by Unknown – Science & Avenir Hors Série n°157 – Janvier/février 2009. Page 66., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5864757

Sadness and Awe: A YouTube playlist

I assembled this a couple of months ago, near the end of the college semester, as background accompaniment for the mountain of papers and exams that I was then grading. It also works as an expressive playlist for greeting and fulfilling emotions of cosmic melancholy and infinite solitude, with a couple of palate-cleansing musical moments in a different direction. (Perhaps the fact that I originally made this as a soundtrack for grading student work says something about the emotions that I tend to attach to that particular endeavor.)

As with the previous playlist that I shared here (“Soundtrack for a Dark Enlightenment,” which duplicates a handful of the items on this new playlist), I have carefully arranged the order of things to provide effective transitions in mood and meaning from one piece of music to the next.

CONTENTS:

  1. “Untold Stories” by David Darling
  2. “Engravings II” by Ira Stein and Russel Walder
  3. “Abraham’s Theme” by Vangelis, from the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire
  4. “Escape (Piano Theme”) by Philip Glass, from the soundtrack to The Hours
  5. “Drowning in a Feeling” by Alexander Daf, featuring Maria Grigoryeva
  6. “Farewell No. 1” by Shigeru Umebayashi, from the soundtrack to House of Flying Daggers
  7. “The Great God Pan Is Dead” by Jóhann Jóhannsson
  8. “Blood for Dracula” by Claudio Gizzi, from the soundtrack to Blood for Dracula, a.k.a. Andy Warhol’s Dracula
  9. “The Last Man” by Clint Mansell, from the soundtrack to The Fountain
  10. “Into the Twilight” by Bill Douglas
  11. “How We Left Fordlandia” by Jóhann Jóhannsson
  12. “Stones Start Spinning” by David Darling
  13. “Mille Regretz” by Jordi Savall
  14. “Opium” by Dead Can Dance
  15. “Orphée’s Bedroom” by Philip Glass, Movement II from The Orphée Suite for Piano
  16. “Bibo No Aozora” by Ruichi Sakamoto
  17. “Death Is  Disease” by Clint Mansell, from the soundtrack to The Fountain
  18. “Sun and Water” by Danny Heines
  19. “Knocking on Forbidden Doors” by Enigma
  20. “Back to the Rivers of Belief” by Enigma
  21. “How Fortunate the Man with None” by Dead Can Dance

Jan Svankmajer: “A puppet is a magical object”

A puppet is a magical object. It is not a toy, is it? Here they see it as puppet theatre, as puppets for kids. But it’s just not like that. These native tribes — in Africa or Oceania, etc. — the shamans use puppets in communication not only with the upper world, with the gods, but even in relation when they treat a sick person. Those shamans, when they dress as some demon or some deity, they incarnate genuinely. They are either the totem animal or the demon.

 

Reviews of ‘Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics’

Ghosts_Spirits_and_Psychics_edited_by_Matt_Cardin

Today I was pleased to spot a new and positive assessment of my paranormal encyclopedia from a reviewer for the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association (RUSA):

Producing a reference book about the paranormal presents a unique challenge. Various aspects of the phenomenon — under the rubric of “the supernatural” — have been and remain common to virtually all religions. Furthermore, as this work’s “Introduction” notes, “the idea of the paranormal is ubiquitous and inescapable in American culture” and “is entrenched” (xix) throughout most of the rest of the world. Yet the actual existence of the paranormal is in very serious doubt, and authorities in most mainstream disciplines reject it as pseudoscience. As the “Introduction” suggests, however, a new paradigm that sidesteps this “skeptic/believer dichotomy” (xxiii) seems to be emerging.

To tackle this slippery topic, editor and college English instructor Matt Cardin has assembled 121 alphabetically arranged entries by 57 contributors, most of whom work in academia. Subjects range from individuals (Edgar Cayce, Carl Jung, and so on) to important institutions such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Rhine Research Center and from paranormal “powers” such as telepathy to treatments of the paranormal in the arts and the media. Most entries run from two to four pages, are objective in approach, and are clearly written without being simplistic. . . .

Given its currency and its thoughtful, even-handed approach to the field, Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics is highly recommended for undergraduate and larger public library reference collections.

More: Full review

This stands in nice contrast to the decidedly lukewarm review that appeared late last year in Magonia, where the upshot was: “All in all a good try that is greatly hampered by lack of a clear editorial direction and appreciation of what and who are important in the field.” (I was comforted by the fact that the reviewer misspelled my name.)

If you want to read the book and judge for yourself, consult your local public, college, or high school library, or get it straight from the publisher or from Amazon or anywhere else.

T. E. D. Klein’s second novel ‘Nighttown’ to become a reality after all?

Mirabile dictu, word has emerged that T. E. D. Klein’s second novel Nighttown, which has been delayed for the past 30 years, may actually see the light of day.

Remember back in the late 1980s when Nighttown was announced all over the place? Viking, who published Klein’s previous two books — the now classic Dark Gods and The Ceremonies — announced Nighttown for 1989 and even specified a page count. Hints of the plot were given: “A New York subway murderer hunts for the crime’s only witness in this horror novel.” Klein himself described the book as “a paranoid horror novel set entirely in New York.”

And then it never materialized. A few years later, a revised publication date of 1995 was issued. Both Amazon and Google Books actually have listings for it right now with that date, accompanied by an ISBN and the following plot description: “When Larry Tucker sees a woman pushed in front of an oncoming New York subway train, he is unable to go to the police since he is himself a fugitive, and he is soon stalked by the demented killer.” But again, this proved a false hope. The book never appeared.

For three decades people have been wondering what happened. Rumors have circulated that Klein pulled the plug on Nighttown because he was demoralized when he saw a movie whose plot too closely paralleled what he was writing. He was also said to be suffering from writer’s block. Some years ago I got a secondhand confirmation of this latter rumor when a mutual friend of Klein’s and mine told me that the novel is actually mostly written, but that Klein is blocked on the ending. In a 2008 interview for Cemetery Dance, Klein explained that he sold the book to Viking without having a very clear idea of how he was actually going to execute it.

The chatter continues today. Just last month David Schow, who counts Klein as one of his primary authorial mentors, told Lisa Morton that “I am one of the few people on the planet who has read the bones of Ted’s never-finished second novel, Nighttown. I read it while I was staying in his apartment in Manhattan.”

And now, as of two days ago (May 24), there’s this startling announcement from S. T. Joshi at his blog:

Mary and I spent a harried six days on the East Coast, first in Philadelphia, where my niece Anjeli Elkins was graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, then in New York City, where I met many members of the Lovecraft/weird fiction gang. Our time in Philadelphia was very brief, and we had no time to look up colleagues such as Darrell Schweitzer or Michael Aronovitz amidst the rush of graduation- and family-related activities. In New York we were delighted to meet Derrick Hussey, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Fred Phillips, Steven J. Mariconda, T. E. D. Klein (who, now that he is officially retired from Condé Nast, promises to finish his second novel, Nighttown, suspended about thirty years ago!), and many others. All great fun!

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this constitutes validly Momentous News.

The world’s misery, distress, and irony: Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, Movement 3

“It’s not every day a nursery rhyme gets hijacked by a funeral march and a klezmer band. But then not everyone has the slightly warped mindset of Gustav Mahler, who somehow thought that plunking the children’s round ‘Frère Jacques’ into the funereal third movement of his very first symphony would impress the public. The pulse of Mahler’s march is set by two soft, alternating notes on the kettledrum. The melody, contorted into a minor key, is handed first to a solo double bass. A bassoon picks it up, then a tuba and a flute. Quietly building momentum, the tune is passed around the orchestra, with occasional sardonic commentary from the oboe. Later, the melody is elbowed out of the way, as if Mahler, in a nod to his Jewish roots, ushers in a raucous klezmer band to sashay through the orchestra. And, for good measure, he inserts a quote from a morose song, ‘The Two Blue Eyes of My Darling.’ It’s all ingeniously creepy, but Mahler’s early audiences were baffled. Crafting a funeral march out of a children’s song was simply distasteful.” (Tom Huizenga, “Mahler’s Twisted Nursery Rhyme“)

“The third movement used to upset audiences, and even today it’s puzzling to those hearing it for the first time. What are we to make of this odd assortment: a sad and distorted version of ‘Frère Jacques’ (Mahler knew it as ‘Bruder Martin’); a lumbering funeral march; some cheap dance-band music remembered by pairs of oboes and trumpets over the beat of the bass drum; and the ethereal closing pages of the Wayfarer songs — heaven and earth all rolled into one? No wonder people didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Mahler’s only clue is ‘The Hunter’s Funeral Procession’ — a woodcut made earlier in the century by Moritz von Schwind, a friend of Schubert — which he claimed was the inspiration for this music. About the vulgar band music Mahler leaves no doubt: ‘With parody’ he writes at the top of the page, just as the drum and cymbal join in.” (Philip Huscher, program notes for a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

“The third movement acts as the slow movement of the symphony’s four movement structure. The extra-musical idea inspiring the movement is taken from The Hunter’s Funeral, an old Austrian folk story. Mahler described the movement in a conversation with Bauer-Lechner in November 1900: ‘On the surface one might imagine this scenario: A funeral procession passes by our hero, and the misery, the whole distress of the world, with its cutting contrasts and horrible irony, grasps him’ . . . . In 1901 Mahler wrote in a letter to Bernhard Schuster: ‘the third movement . . . is heart-rending, tragic irony and is to be understood as exposition and preparation for the sudden outburst in the final movement of despair of a deeply wounded and broken heart.’ ” (Funeral March Movement Analysis at GustavMahler.com)

Schwind_Begraebnis-The_Hunter's_Funeral_Procession-1850

Moritz von Schwind, “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession” (1850)

 

Announcing the birth of “Vastarien: A Literary Journal”

Birthday-Boy-by-Chris-Mars

“Birthday Boy” by Chris Mars

(The following announcement was first posted yesterday at Thomas Ligotti Online and has now begun to propagate via social media. In addition to the fact that a journal like Vastarien will undoubtedly interest many readers of The Teeming Brain, I’m posting the info about it here for the pointedly personal reason that I’m the project’s Editor-in-Chief.)

Vastarien. The forbidden tome — an entryway into “a place where everything was transfixed in the order of the unreal. . . . Each passage he entered in the book both enchanted and appalled him with images and incidents so freakish and chaotic that his usual sense of these terms disintegrated along with everything else. Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm; imperfection became the source of the miraculous — wonders of deformity and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or thwarted redemption; rather, it was a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal” (from “Vastarien” by Thomas Ligotti).

Editor-in-Chief Matt Cardin and Senior Editors Jon Padgett, Brian Poe, and Kevin Moquin are pleased to announce that Vastarien: A Literary Journal is now open for submissions. Vastarien aspires to be a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti, as well as associated authors and creative work. We plan to do this through the publication of scholarly and critical works of nonfiction, literary horror fiction, poetry, and artwork. Please visit our website for more information. And stay tuned for more news as we review submissions and head toward a launch date.

Huston Smith and H. P. Lovecraft on transcendent longing and humanity’s fundamental dis-ease

From Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief by Huston Smith:

The traditional worldview is preferable to the one that now encloses us because it allows for the fulfillment of the basic longing that lies in the depth of the human heart. . . .

There is within us — in even the blithest, most lighthearted among us — a fundamental dis-ease. It acts like an unquenchable fire that renders the vast majority of us incapable in this life of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies  in the marrow of our bones and the deep regions of our souls. All great literature, poetry, art, philosophy, psychology, and religion tries to name and analyze this longing. We are seldom in direct touch with it, and indeed the modern world seems set on preventing us from getting in touch with it by covering it with an unending phantasmagoria of entertainments, obsessions, addictions, and distractions of every sort. But the longing is there, built into us like a jack-in-the-box that presses for release. Two great paintings suggest this longing in their titles — Gauguin’s Who Are We? Where Did We Come From? Where Are We Going? and de Chirico’s Nostalgia for the Infinite — but I must work with words. Whether we realize it or not, simply to be human is to long for release from mundane existence, with its confining walls of finitude and mortality.

From a 1930 letter by H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith:

My most vivid experiences are efforts to recapture fleeting & tantalising mnemonic fragments expressed in unknown or half-known architectural or landscape vistas, especially in connexion with a sunset. Some instantaneous fragment of a picture will well up suddenly through some chain of subconscious association — the immediate excitant being usually half-irrelevant on the surface — & fill me with a sense of wistful memory & bafflement; with the impression that the scene in question represents something I have seen & visited before under circumstances of superhuman liberation & adventurous expectancy, yet which I have almost completely forgotten, & which is so bewilderingly uncorrelated & unoriented as to be forever inaccessible in the future.

From a 1930 letter by Lovecraft to James F. Morton:

It is never any definite experience which gives me pleasure, but always the quality of mystic adventurous expectancy itself — the indefiniteness which permits me to foster the momentary illusion that almost any vista of wonder and beauty might open up, or almost any law of time or space or matter or energy be marvellously defeated or reversed or modified or transcended . . . that sense of expansion, freedom, adventure, power, expectancy, symmetry, drama, beauty-absorption, surprise, and cosmic wonder (i.e. the illusory promise of a majestic revelation which shall gratify man’s ever-flaming, ever-tormenting curiosity about the outer voids and ultimate gulfs of entity) . . . the illusion of being poised on the edge of the infinite amidst a vast cosmic unfolding which might reveal almost anything.

From Smith, Why Religion Matters:

Release from those walls calls for space outside them, and the traditional world provides that space in abundance. It has about it the feel of long, open distances and limitless vistas for the human spirit to explore — distances and vistas that are quality-laden throughout. Some of its vistas . . . are terrifying; still, standing as it does as the qualitative counterpart to the quantitative universe that physics explores, all but the fainthearted would switch to it instantly if we believed it existed. . . . Our received wisdom denies its existence, but that wisdom cannot prevent us from having experiences that feel as if they come from a different world.

From Lovecraft, in his essay “Notes on the Writing of Weird Fiction”:

I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best-one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasize the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of Nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear.

ADDITIONAL READING:

Short Film: ‘2084’

Remember: You must conform.

Better yet: Doughnut thing. (Watch for explanation.)

David Lynch: “A wild pain and decay accompanies everything”

Film critic A. S. Hamrah on the life, mind, and work of David Lynch, including his pursuit of a fearsome disease and darkness lurking in the heart of everything, including America:

A nicotine fiend and a coffee addict who mixes existential dread with sadomasochism in all-American settings, Lynch is that rare director who makes subversive films without a chip on his shoulder, seemingly without any will to provocation. He is at home with his neuroses and obsessions. His secret is that he proceeds as though he is acting from the most impossible condition of all: normalcy. While directors like David Fincher and Lars von Trier explore similar terrain with grim determination, only Lynch enters nightmare worlds like the Eagle Scout he was, as inquisitive about the depths of human psychology as he is about bugs and twigs.

“There is goodness in blue skies and flowers, but another force—a wild pain and decay—also accompanies everything,” Lynch has said. “There’s this beautiful world and you just look a little bit closer, and it’s all red ants.” Like the ones on the severed ear in Blue Velvet. Lim connects Lynch to the dark forces that drive the American psyche, the same ones D. H. Lawrence analyzed in his Studies in Classic American Literature, and there is more than a touch of “Young Goodman Brown” in Lynch’s homespun American surrealism. Like the character in Hawthorne’s story, Lynch is drawn to the woods at night, where ordinary people confront the demonic. The Black Lodge in Twin Peaks houses America’s violent soul.

FULL TEXT: The Interpretation of Screams: A New Critical Biography of David Lynch