The gorgeous-looking new edition of Lovecraft’s stories from The Folio Society, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, has this really effective (and kind of gorgeous in its own right) promotional video to go with it. Sadly, I don’t have $120 to spare. But with illustrations by Dan Hillier — who comes off quite well in the video, and whose work for this project looks amazing — and an introduction by Alan Moore, the book sure is tempting. Here’s the publisher’s description:
This edition, based on its sister limited edition [at $575!] marries Lovecraft’s best-known fiction with two modern masters of the macabre, the acclaimed artist Dan Hillier and author Alan Moore. In his beautifully crafted new preface, Moore finds Lovecraft at once at odds with and integral to the time in which he lived: ‘the improbable embodiment of an estranged world in transition’. Yet, despite his prejudices and parochialisms, he ‘possessed a voice and a perspective both unique in modern literature’.
Hillier’s six mesmerising, portal-like illustrations embrace the alien realities that lurk among the gambrel roofs of Lovecraft’s landscapes. By splicing Victorian portraits and lithographs with cosmic and Lovecraftian symbolism, each piece – like the stories themselves – pulls apart the familiar to reveal what lies beneath.
The edition itself shimmers with Lovecraft’s ‘unknown colours’, bound in purple and greens akin to both the ocean depths and mysteries from outer space. The cover is embossed with a mystical design by Hillier, while a monstrous eye stares blankly from the slipcase.
I find this all quite winning, personally, for the way it underscores Lovecraft’s growing prevalence and relevance in contemporary culture. For more about the new edition, see the write-ups at Tor (where several of the Hillier illustrations are shown), Wired (where the writer amusingly frames his encounter with the book as a harrowing Lovecraftian brush with forbidden knowledge and eldritch monstrosities), and The Verge. The latter presents an interview with Hillier. It also bears the best title of any of these articles, notwithstanding the slight misspelling of Great Cthulhu’s name: “A new collection of Lovecraft stories looks like an artifact from the Cthulu universe.”
From an excellent new profile of Alan Moore in The Observer, focusing mainly on his rejection of Hollywood but spinning out into various and sundry areas of deep fascinatingness (as befitting his fascinatingly deep and varied person), a statement regarding the deep intertwinement of magic, consciousness, creativity, and writing:
This business of being a practising magician, which he first announced in the 1990s (about the time his beard started to grey, and he got the snake-shaped stick). Is it for real, or is he playing? “It’s a major part of how I see the world. Looking like I do, halfway to Gandalf before I’ve put a foot out the door, you’ve got to diffuse… ” And for once, Moore fails to find an eloquent end to his sentence. He tries again: “There is an element of playing. But what’s behind it is very serious.”
Pick a card, any card? No, says Moore, it’s not about tricks. To him it’s about consciousness — and quickly he gets away on a tangent about the limits of the mind, flitting through Freud, Alan Turing, Paracelsus and Twelfth Night before arriving at an explanation that makes reasonable sense. Moore sees magic as a form of meditation, an outlet for his seriously vivid imagination.
“Do I believe, for example, that by using magic I could fly? No. How would you get around gravity? Impossible. Do I believe that I might be able to project my consciousness into a very, very vivid simulation of flying? Yeah. Yes, I’ve done that. Yes, that works.”
Does it require that you take… “Sometimes you have to take drugs, yes. Sometimes you can do it with dreaming. Sometimes you can do it with a creative act. Writing is a very focused form of meditation. Just as good as sitting in a lotus position.”
— Tom Lamont, “Alan Moore: why I turned my back on Hollywood,” The Observer, December 15, 2012
For more on the same or a similar theme, see my A Course in Demonic Creativity, especially chapter three, “A Writer’s Guide to the Psyche” and chapter eight, “The Discipline of the Demon Muse.” For more on Moore, see my long essay “In Search of Higher Intelligence,” which is mainly about the deeply entangled experiences of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson with these matters, but which also mentions Moore’s experiences and contributions (as well as those of his fellow author/magician/comics auteur, Grant Morrison). You can also find the same essay in slightly revised form, sans the Moore and Morrison references, in the October 2012 issue of Paranthropology.
Image by Matt Biddulph (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbiddulph/3590341986/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
If you haven’t heard of Austin Osman Spare — or even if you have — the video below makes for fascinating and revelatory viewing. It features author and magician Alan Moore, as well as other knowledgeable figures, discussing “the virtually unknown but enormously talented Edwardian artist and magician Austin Osman Spare on The Culture Show from the BBC.”
If you’re keen to learn more about AOS, I recommend the really excellent profile of him that appeared last year in The Guardian (“Austin Osman Spare: Cockney Visionary“) in tandem with the detailed article about him at Wikipedia. The former tells the least you need to know in its teaser: “Austin Osman Spare was hailed as the next Aubrey Beardsley, but died in obscurity. Since then, he has had a cult following, but his art is finally gaining wider popularity.” The latter fills in the other crucial aspect of Spare’s significance at the end of its first paragraph: “In an occult capacity, he developed idiosyncratic magical techniques including automatic writing, automatic drawing and sigilization based on his theories of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious self.”
Beyond this, a pungent paragraph from theGuardian piece condenses everything that’s really and enduringly fascinating about him:
However notable some of Spare’s art might be, his memory has been kept alive for many years more by cultists than art lovers. He was influenced by the supernatural currents of his early youth, including theosophy and spiritualism, and he was briefly an associate of Aleister Crowley, the self-styled Beast 666, before they fell out. Spare’s innovative approach to magic was a brilliantly self-educated attempt to manipulate his own unconscious, giving his wishes the demonic power of complexes and neuroses and nurturing them into psychic entities, like the old-style idea of familiar spirits.
As for his recent surge in popularity, the BBC program preserved in the video above is actually implicated in it:
Spare has been taken up by graphic novelists and experimental musicians, and it looks as if his art is finally gaining wider recognition outside the occult ghetto. A Spare exhibition late last year at the Cuming Museum in south London was so popular — helped by a piece on the BBC’s Culture Show — that timed admission had to be introduced, and there is a further documentary in the offing later this year. The serious recognition that largely eluded him in life seems to be coming at last. At the very least, he deserves to be recognised as part of what Peter Ackroyd has described as the “Cockney visionary tradition”. In the words of one of his obituaries (“Strange and Gentle Genius Dies” in the Evening News), “You have probably never heard of Austin Osman Spare. But his should have been a famous name.”
Against all odds, it appears that Spare’s star is really and finally rising.