Recently, I was interviewed for the excellent Weird Studies podcast. The episode, titled “On Speculative Fiction, with Matt Cardin,” dropped yesterday. You can listen to it with the player above or by clicking through to the site itself. Here’s the episode description:
Neil Gaiman wrote, If literature is the world, then fantasy and horror are twin cities, divided by a river of black water. Flame Tree Publishing underwrites this claim with their recent publication, The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy and Horror. The book is a veritable gazetteer of these two cities in the heartland of the imaginal world. Writer and scholar Matt Cardin, founding editor of the marvellous Teeming Brain, wrote a chapter for the book focusing on the books and films of the Sixties and Seventies. In this episode, he joins JF and Phil to discuss the kinship of horror and fantasy, the modern ghettoization of mythopoeic art, the prophetic reach of speculative fiction, and the cauldron of cultural transformation that was the Sixties and Seventies.
Be advised that Teeming Brain readers will likely find Weird Studies to be an essential addition to their listening schedule. It was launched in 2018 by hosts J. F. Martel and Phil Ford. J. F. is an author, screenwriter, and film & TV director from Ottawa, Canada. In 2015 I interviewed him here in connection with his truly wonderful book, Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice. Phil is an associate professor of musicology at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music whose books include Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture and a currently in-development project on music and occult styles of thought. The tagline of Weird Studies is “A filmmaker and a professor talk art and philosophy at the limits of the thinkable.” A browse through past episodes uncovers a rich feast.
I’m pleased to announce that The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy and Horror, just out from Britain’s Flame Tree Publishing, contains a chapter by me. S. T. Joshi served as consultant editor for the project. He also wrote the book’s introduction. Ramsey Campbell provided the foreword. Other chapter contributors include Roger Luckhurst, Mike Ashley, Michael Carrigan, Dave Golder, Russ Thorne, and Rosie Fletcher. The book is lavishly illustrated and fairly gorgeous; check out the preview at the publisher’s site.
My chapter focuses on fantasy and horror in the 1960s and 1970s. This means writing it felt a bit like conducting an archaeological excavation of my own most primal memories of the literature and cinema of fantasy and horror. A very enjoyable authorial experience indeed.
Here’s the full publisher’s description:
Companion title to The Astounding Illustrated History of Science Fiction, this new book reflects the same roots in Gothic literature but follows a complementary path through the 20th century, to the movies of Peter Jackson, the success of streaming TV series such as Grimm, and the fantasy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. From the wellspring of Frankenstein, Germanic fairy tales, and heroic, epic myths, a dark and fantastic path can be found to the fragmentation of the 1930s: the schlock horror of early modern movies, the invention of High Fantasy by Tolkien and fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis, and the pulp magazine powerhouse Weird Tales with Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery archetype Conan. A brilliant concoction of movie posters, stills, book covers, fantastic art and incredible timelines.
It’s available from Amazon and elsewhere.
Here are some powerful, moving, and beautiful words from Ursula K. Le Guin at the recent National Book Awards, where she received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and used the opportunity to talk about the value of visionary literature and the ugliness and danger of treating books as pure commodities:
I rejoice at accepting [this award] for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction — writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality.
Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)
Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.
I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.
Lest we forget, Ms. Le Guin spoke about this same “realism of a larger reality” back in 1973 at the very same venue, when she was accepting the National Book Award for The Farthest Shore:
Sophisticated readers are accepting the fact that an improbable and unmanageable world is going to produce an improbable and hypothetical art. At this point, realism is perhaps the least adequate means of understanding or portraying the incredible realities of our existence. A scientist who creates a monster in his laboratory; a librarian in the library of Babel; a wizard unable to cast a spell; a space ship having trouble in getting to Alpha Centauri: all these may be precise and profound metaphors of the human condition. The fantasist, whether he uses the ancient archetype of myth and legend or the younger ones of science and technology, may be talking as seriously as any sociologist — and a great deal more directly — about human life as it is lived, and as it might be lived, and as it ought to be lived.
For even more, see this recent (August 2014) interview with Le Guin in which she expounds on the same theme:
“The genres” were ignored altogether [from the 1940s to the turn of the century] and realistic fiction alone was left as literature, in the minds of the men who controlled criticism and teaching. Realism is of course a tremendous and wonderfully capacious literary genre, and it has dominated fiction since 1800 or before. But dominance isn’t the same thing as superiority. Fantasy is at least as immense as realism and much older — essentially coeval with literature itself. Yet fantasy was relegated for fifty years or sixty years to the nursery.
. . . . The thing to remember, however exotic or futuristic or alien the mirror [of a given type of literature] seems, is that you are in fact looking at your world and yourself. Serious science fiction is just as much about the real world and human beings as realistic novels are. (Sometimes more so, I think when faced with yet another dreary story about a dysfunctional upper middle class East Coast urban family.) After all, the imagination can only take apart reality and recombine it. We aren’t God, our word isn’t the world. But our minds can learn a lot about the world by playing with it, and the imagination finds an infinite playing field in fiction.
Finally, and perhaps in slight correction to Ms. Le Guin’s last two sentences above, here’s a key quote from Terence McKenna that rests and resonates well with the mix of ideas presented here:
The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish
If this isn’t impressive, then I don’t know what is. I never thought (or allowed myself to hope) that someone would end up pursuing a long-form project to make a feature film incorporating / adapting / celebrating Lovecraft’s Dreamland tales. Simply amazing.
Read more about it here.
Watch the crowdfunding campaign video here.
THE DREAMLANDS is a dark fantasy film based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle, destined to become one of the most ambitious and lavish independent films ever made.
. . . Roland, a troubled young orphan, is led by a mysterious old man into another world. This is a world that has been created over thousands of years by Earth’s greatest dreamers while they slept. In this world the old man reigns as king and hopes to train and guide Roland to be his successor.Unfortunately Roland cannot overcome the dark shadows that weigh upon him and he is forced to decide whether he will use his abilities to keep building the Dreamlands or to destroy what others have already created.
Screenplay is written by Huan Vu and based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories “Celephaïs”, “The White Ship”, “The Strange High House in the Mist” and “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” among others. It will build upon the world created by H.P. Lovecraft but also remain faithful to his core concepts of fantastic escapism and cosmic horror. THE DREAMLANDS is a film you are never likely to see produced by the established film industry.
Tangentially (or not), I have been deeply and enduringly inspired by these particular stories among HPL’s corpus. Here is my own two-minute musical meditation on them, titled simply “The Dreamlands” and composed amidst the same multi-year burst of inspiration that resulted in the creation of my Daemonyx album:
Last of the Titans: A Note on the Passing of Ray Harryhausen (and Forrest Ackerman and Ray Bradbury)
EDITOR’S NOTE: With this post we welcome award-winning writer, editor, filmmaker, composer, and artist Jason V. Brock to the Teem. Jason’s work has been published in Butcher Knives & Body Counts, Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities, Fungi, Fangoria, S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings series, and elsewhere. He was Art Director/Managing Editor for Dark Discoveries magazine for more than four years, and he edits the biannual pro digest [NAMEL3SS], dedicated to “the macabre, esoteric and intellectual,” which can be found on Twitter at @NamelessMag and on the Interwebs at www.NamelessMag.com. He and his wife, Sunni, also run Cycatrix Press.
As a filmmaker Jason’s work includes the documentaries Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, The Ackermonster Chronicles!, and Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic. He is the primary composer and instrumentalist/singer for his band, ChiaroscurO. Jason loves his wife, their family of reptiles/amphibians, travel, and vegan/vegetarianism. He is active on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter (@JaSunni_JasonVB) and at his and Sunni’s personal website/blog, www.JaSunni.com.
Jason will contribute an occasional column titled “Monstrous Singularities.” For this inaugural installment, he offers an elegiac reflection on the passing of three authentic titans of fantasy, horror, and science fiction whose work literally helped to define major aspects of popular culture and collective psychology during the twentieth century.
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They were present at the beginning… and we are witness to their end.
Endings, in many ways, are entrances into self-realization — whether a portal into some altered state of mind, a window into collective insight, or even a chance for some final and comforting acceptance. Endings signify not only change, but also, often, transcendence, either metaphorically or literally, and on occasion simultaneously. Be it a lonely struggle that reaches a sad (even tragic) conclusion, or perhaps the unexpected outcome of a traumatic situation, or the shared exhilaration of justice served, endings are always transitional, even transformational, in ways that beginnings cannot be. Endings are the true headstones by which we collectively measure and define history. They are markers of conclusiveness — more so than births or the start of a new venture, which can be shrouded in secrecy, obscured by the fog of antiquity, or both. Thus, they are uniquely able to serve as touchstones for what has been bequeathed to the past (what cannot be again) and what is yet to be accomplished (and is therefore allotted to the future).
In May of 2013, the 92-year-old stop-motion animation film pioneer and artistic genius Ray Harryhausen, perhaps best known for his creation of the special visual effects for Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, passed away. His ending completes, in a sense, a circle of loss for the world; with the transitioning of Harryhausen away from the realm of the living and into the annals of time, a triumvirate of giants has now vanished from the Earth, a troika destined to become even more powerful in voice, authority, and veneration over time. This amplification will undoubtedly be quite profound in the immediately foreseeable future, as people who are not yet aware of them, or who may have forgotten the seismic impact of their works and personalities, discover or rediscover their greatness and celebrate it even more, perchance, than those who instantly recognized it and mourned their loss to humanity and culture. Read the rest of this entry
In his new book The Shamanic Odyssey: Homer, Tolkien, and the Visionary Experience, English professor, writer, and classical guitarist Robert Tindall, writing with psychology professor and transpersonal psychotherapist Susana Bustos, “Weav[es] together the narrative traditions of the ancient Greeks and Celts, the mythopoetic work of J. R. R. Tolkien, and the voices of plant medicine healers in North and South America [in order to] explore the use of healing songs, psychoactive plants, and vision quests at the heart of the Odyssey, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Tolkien’s final novella, Smith of Wootton Major.”
The words “heady” and “fascinating” seem insufficient to describe such a book. They’re also insufficient to describe the interview with Tindall that was published in February at Reality Sandwich. In addition to telling interviewer J. P. Harpignies about the motivations and origins behind the book, Tindall ably articulates the fatal problem with our contemporary Western worldview that combines a quasi-Cartesian rationalism with a reductive scientific materialism. He also addresses the ontological question of the reality or unreality of the beings encountered in visionary states.
For these and other reasons, my wholehearted recommendation is: click. Read. Slowly. Attentively. The following extended excerpts are just a small part of the whole.
TINDALL: When I first sat down to write on the striking parallels between the mythology of the ancient Greeks and the cosmovision of contemporary Amazonian peoples I thought I was writing a short article. Sixty pages later I knew I had a hydra on my hands, and I wasn’t able to lop off heads fast enough.
In order to explain how it was possible for the Sirens in Homer’s epic and the sirenas of the Amazonian waterways to be so uncannily similar, I realized I needed to explore the consciousness underlying these experiences among traditional peoples. It turned out that there is a primal experience of “permeability,” of a transparency to the elements, animals, spirits, stars, which has allowed human beings over the millennia to experience the sentience of the cosmos and derive valuable information from that communion. I eventually realized that this “primal mind,” sometimes derided as “animism,” underlies not only Homer’s work, but is also markedly present in the works of other authors central to the Western European literary canon, such as Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Tolkien has been a great inspiration to me ever since I was a boy. The cosmovision of The Lord of the Rings made more sense to me than anything else in the barren Reagan-era culture I grew up in the 1980s, and during my studies of medieval literature in the university I found myself following in Tolkien’s footsteps academically as well. Tolkien’s express purpose was to re-inject the vitality of the pre-Christian oral tradition back into the enervated Western imagination. He termed his endeavor “mythopoeic,” and some of his earliest writings are clear evocations of the primal mind of our ancestors. Given that my purpose was to revitalize the cosmovision of the Odyssey, I found myself enlisting the old master’s support.
. . . I think Tolkien has been cast in the mold of a brilliant academic with a marvelous, far-ranging imagination, yet a man of essentially modern rationality. I disagree. I think there’s more to Tolkien’s creative experience than is recognized.
. . . We’ve ended up in a narrow corridor of perception, one that privileges Cartesian consciousness as “normal,” the standard by which the worldviews of other cultures are measured. Yet, in fact, viewed ethnographically, the modern style of perception is rather peculiar. Who in their right mind would believe in a dead, mechanical universe, and of themselves as the sole arbiters of the meaning of their existence?
. . . HARPIGNIES: You seem to accept fairly literally some of the “magical” experiences described by some shamans and other practitioners you interview — episodes of “animal becoming,” of astral travel, of seemingly miraculous healings, of abduction by spiritual entities such as water spirits in the Amazon, etc. Are you convinced that these are objective phenomena, i.e. that these spiritual entities or forces are fully autonomous of [sic] humans and “real” in some way, or do you consider these phenomena too mysterious to fully understand and categorize?
TINDALL: “Real” is an elusive concept, especially in the world of shamanism. I know I went through a painful shift of paradigm during my first year of apprenticeship in the shamanic traditions of the rainforest. As an educated Westerner, I had been open to Jung’s ideas of archetypes and had experienced meditative states during my training as a Zen Buddhist, but my default setting was essentially Cartesian: I think, therefore I am. I was the center of the show, the only real consciousness in charge, and the idea of “spirits” or “entities” was a bit distasteful, if not downright spooky.
It was therefore with a mixed sense of wonder — Oh, brave new world! — and profound existential disorientation that I began to discover my little consciousness was only one wavelength in a vast transmission of sentience that permeated everything. Ugh. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
Somehow, with the support of those around me, I weathered it. I think it’s the process of adaptation, of crossing frontiers into other states of consciousness, which is far more interesting than the question of the ontology of spirits.
Really, phenomenologically speaking, we have raw experience, and that’s it. What I found in my own apprenticeship is encountering “spirits” that inhabit a vital cosmovision is the same as running your hand over the bark of a tree, diving into a river, or talking with your child. Things that go bump in the shamanic night all fit the criteria for “objectively out there real stuff” — and have real consequences in the daylight world.
In this sense, asking whether one “believes” in the reality of spirits is rather like asking if one “believes” in the reality of the ocean. The answer could be yes, but it seems rather awkward to say so.
— J. P. Harpignies, “Embarking Upon the Shamanic Odyssey: A Talk with Robert Tindall,” Reality Sandwich, February 18, 2o13
Several years ago — almost seven, in fact (he said with a sense of temporal vertigo) — I published a series of posts here about what I then termed the “autumn longing,” that exquisite, fleeting, piercing experience of being tantalized by a vision of ultimate beauty and fulfillment that trembles just beyond the edge of our ability to attain or even fully imagine. The first post in the series was about C. S. Lewis, who gave what remains in my opinion the most complete and focused description of this experience in the English language. The second was about H. P. Lovecraft, who is far more well-known for writing about (and also for writing from) a vision of cosmic horror than a vision of beautiful longing, but whose life was centrally defined by an ongoing experience of this exquisite sehnsucht no less than Lewis’s was.
I went on to elaborate on these matters in a number of additional writings that have been published elsewhere, including “The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H. P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti,” published both at Thomas Ligotti Online and in Lovecraft Annual; my two-part essay “Lovecraft’s Longing” for the North Shore arts magazine Art Throb; and a column titled “Fantasy, Horror, and Infinite Longing” for SF Signal.
Over the years I haven’t seen anybody else writing about this psychological kinship between Lewis and Lovecraft via the experience of sehnsucht, so it was a real joy to stumble upon the following a couple of days ago:
Much has been said about Lewis and Sehnsucht, the German word for “longing” or “yearning.” Lewis thought that this species of longing was itself a precious possession, more precious than anything to be found in this world, because it directs us to another world, a “far off country” whence all the good things in our world derive their goodness. We feel it in those fleeting moments when we sense beautiful things beyond our grasp. It is, as Lewis famously said in his afterword to The Pilgrim’s Regress,
that unnamable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of “Kubla Khan”, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.
. . . Lovecraft was not an alien to this longing. He felt it, too, but without the satisfaction hope gives it. . . . Is this what becomes of Sehnsucht when it is disappointed? Does it become the phantasmagoria of Lovecraft? Must those who either cannot or will not believe in the promise implicit in our longing turn upon the reminders of another world and defile them? The prospect fills me with pity.
These paragraphs come from a highly absorbing essay by Presbyterian pastor, successful young adult fantasy author (under the pen name “Mortimus Clay“), and former philosophy professor C. R. Wiley about the deep philosophical disjunction between Lewis’s and Lovecraft’s respective explorations and presentations of the theme of alien worlds and alien life. The fact that Wiley clearly “sides” with Lewis — something that’s not surprising, given the fact of their shared orthodox Christian worldview — doesn’t make his insight into Lovecraft any less valid or penetrating, and in fact helps to deepen it.
Here’s are key excerpts that illustrate the point:
Both Lewis and Lovecraft were interested in other worlds, that is, in alien worlds. And using the tropes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, they explored the implications of alien worlds for human beings. But their respective visions are as alien to each other as the worlds they wrote about are alien to our own.
. . . Lewis believed that God is good — but his goodness is unleashed from human management. As he famously said: Aslan is not a tame lion. Nevertheless, even though Aslan disturbs characters in the Narnia stories, he does not disturb the reader. Lewis is too avuncular for that. He wrote the Narnia stories with children in mind, and his hands are warm and reassuring as he holds the hands of his readers. Even the Space Trilogy reassures us.
That is not what Lovecraft was after. He wanted to disturb us. At his best, we can detect in him a longing for the power that underlies all things. But for Lovecraft, it is an amoral power. Like people as wildly different as Mary Baker Eddy and Arthur Schopenhauer, Lovecraft believed morality to be a human attempt to tame and sublimate this power and to make it socially acceptable and useful.
Lewis did not think morality was a human artifice imposed on a primal life-force. Like the Apostle John, he proclaimed that life and light have the same source and occupy the same space. For Lewis, life is found in morality, and, like life, it is a gift we do not give ourselves.
It is this alien source of morality that modern people find disturbing. Reducing morality to human origins is a human attempt to tame it. For Lewis, that effort is the source of all our ills; the refusal to submit to our given limits is what alienates us from God. And that is where monsters really come from. Whoever they may be now — the White Witch or Weston — the monsters were once people. That is the frightening news Lewis has to share about human nature. It turns out that Lewis can scare people after all.
Lovecraft also believed that there is something monstrous at the bottom of human nature. Nearly all his stories have the feel of a confessional about them. They often narrate a process of discovery, creating within the reader a sense of dawning horror. Not infrequently, there is — at the zenith of the story — some dark revelation concerning the protagonist’s origins. . . . These stories end in suicide, madness, or, as in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, a disturbing acquiescence. Given the Darwinian undertones, what else could one do but acquiesce? You are what you are, and that’s the end of it.
But for Lewis, there is reason for hope. Reality comes with an “upper story,” and while we are embodied souls, we are souls above all. It is to our souls that Lewis makes his appeal. He wants us to look in horror upon our inner monster, but unlike Lovecraft, he does not want us to die. He wants us to turn to Aslan and live.
A Search for the Heroic in Lovecraftian Fiction, Part Two
NOTE: This article is the second in a series. It follows directly on from Part One, which sets the stage.
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Having established that Lovecraft’s stories can be at least vaguely cheerful and optimistic, and that they can also feature feats of heroism — not always at the same time, mind you — let’s take a look at some other writers who have played by this particular set of Lovecraftian rules. As we do so, please bear in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive study, but is instead just a quick rundown of the stories I’ve read in this area. There’s whole reams of stuff I haven’t got round to looking at yet.
And to repeat my warning from the last installment, you should STOP READING if you spot any titles you’re planning to peruse at some point in the future: here be SPOILERS.
Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard is best known for writing heroic fiction. But it is not always of an optimistic nature, and this links up with the fact that some of his stories show a distinct Lovecraftian influence and occasionally even take place within the Cthulhu Mythos.
Take, for example, his short story “The Worms of the Earth,” in which the king of the Picts, Bran Mak Morn, enlists the help of monstrous creatures that have long been banished beneath the earth to aid in his fight against Roman invaders. Bran finds his revenge against the Roman who sparked his vendetta is soured when the man is driven insane by the sight of the creatures, so that when Bran slays him, it’s not an act of vengeance but one of mercy. Bran ends up deciding the creatures are too foul to be used even against his hated enemies. This isn’t exactly heroic fiction at its most cheerful — but it is indeed still heroic fiction. Read the rest of this entry
Is it a fable or parable, perhaps? About ecology or religion, maybe? If it’s the latter, is it a symbolic statement about the means by which organized/institutional Christianity has historically been disseminated to, and often forced upon, “primitive” peoples?
Whatever it is, it’s a fascinating piece of work that has drawn a lot of attention, and it certainly arrested ours when it was recommended to us by Jesús Olmo. Two months ago the film even made it all the way to the finals in the animation category at the 2012 Vimeo Awards in New York.
The filmmaker is Fabian Grodde, and the film itself was his thesis project at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. There’s an official description, but it’s fairly skeletal:
Pictures of an elaborately designed miniature setting of a forest were filmed solitary and combined with 3D animations of firebugs and gardenspiders in post-production. Accompanied with sound effects and appropriate electronic music the bugs are taking action…
A helpful review at Short of the Week gives a more detailed idea of both the technical brilliance and the thematic depth of “Crossover”:
The landscapes Grodde and his team have created for his CGI bugs to inhabit manage to feel grand in scale, despite their restricted size. It is a sense of grandeur that is only multiplied by the cinematography as director of photography Raphael Köhler’s camera sweeps and circles the scenery in a Lord of the Rings fashion. The meticulous detailing isn’t restricted to the film’s surroundings, though, as Grodde’s bugs scuttle and crawl across the frame with a realism that sends shivers down your spine.
Crossover’s powerful imagery is perfectly matched with a fascinating narrative that pays homage to the cinematic great King Kong, whilst also managing to comment on the reach of Christianity across the globe. It’s a combination that results in an enthralling amalgamation of style and story, presenting us with a film that is truly rich in originality and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
We heartily concur. Enjoy.
It’s official: Realms of Fantasy magazine is now history, as announced by publisher Warren Lapine at the magazine’s website today (“A Farewell Note from the Publisher“) and repeated by Locus (“Realms of Fantasy Folds“).
We’ll all recall that ROF previously announced they were folding early last year. Some of you will also recall that I discussed this here at The Teeming Brain in post about the raft of economic troubles plaguing speculative fiction publishers these days (“Economic doom indeed: Fantasy, SF, and horror publishers and publications scaling back and shutting down“).
In that post I observed not only the troubles plaguing ROF but the ones plaguing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Mad Magazine, and I referenced the folding of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the economic troubles in Hollywood that were delaying the release of various films.
Looking at the wider causes and implications of the trend, I said:
[T]he drumbeat of doom for speculative fiction books, publishers, and magazines isn’t just a matter of our current economic disaster. The advent of the Internet began causing problems in the print publishing world — and not just the speculative fiction wing of it — well over a decade ago, and this has been the topic of much discussion. And even before that, the publishing industry in general was suffering something of an identity crisis, accompanied by problematic changes in sales patterns, as traditional business models came into conflict with the new realities of a globalized marketplace (and mindset) and a mass audience whose sensibilities are shaped more by visual media than the written word.
. . . . In light of all these things, I think I can say with confidence that while we’re not going to be seeing nearly as many movies as we used to, and while we’re certainly not going to see as much genre writing on bookstore shelves or newsstands as we’ve grown accustomed to having, one thing’s for certain: we can all see the writing on the wall.
Then, of course, Warren Lapine, veteran refashioner of failed publications that he is, swooped in and took over ROF, giving it an injection of new life. These 20 or so months later, he says in his farewell note that he had high hopes, and that he tried every trick in his considerable arsenal of publisher knowledge and skills to make ROF turn a profit.
But none of it worked. And now he says the following, which resonates in unpleasantly harmonious ways with what I was intuiting about the shape of things last year:
I invested more than $50,000.00 of my own money into reviving this magazine. I tried every traditional method I could think of to increase the circulation, but nothing worked. I also spent a great deal of money trying nontraditional methods. I advertised online with Google and Facebook, neither of which came close to covering their costs. And we created DRM-free electronic versions of the magazine to see if that would help increase our circulation. Sadly, the DRM-free versions never sold more than twenty five copies per issue, and the Kindle editions sold fewer still.
. . . . Ultimately, I believe Realms failed because of a terrible economic climate. When I purchased the magazine I did not believe that the worst economy since the Great Depression would actually get worse; that was a mistake.
So there you have it. For more in a similar economic-doom-for-entertainment vein, consider that movie-industry titan MGM has had its future publicly questioned in the last few months over economic troubles that seriously hindered its operations, as seen in the fact that, e.g., its production of a new James Bond movie has been indefinitely delayed. MGM’s entire movie production arm is pretty much shut down. And now, in just the past couple of weeks, they’ve begun working their way through a prepackaged bankruptcy pending debtholder approval. Oh, and their chairman and co-CEO just left.
Meanwhile, Borders shut down its U.K. division, and Barnes & Noble puts itself up for auction a few weeks ago.
So the closing of Realms of Fantasy occurs in this wider context. Note that Warren is also closing his other magazine, Dreams of Decadence. Both have been prominent fixtures in every major bookstore’s periodicals section. Now they’re gone. Douglas Cohen and Shawna McCarthy, the editor and fiction editor of ROF, have also offered their public farwells.
There’s no punchline here. There’s just the obvious observation that we’re all living in precarious and uncertain times. Personally, I continue to love the Kindle I got last year, and more and more of my reading — an increasing amount of which consists of free material gleaned from the Internet — is shifting to it. So I’m a participatory part of one trend that’s crucifying the publishing industry as we know it. At the moment I’m thinking there’s nothing to do about the digital publishing revolution but ride the inevitable wave — while bearing always, always, always in mind that the seismic shifts beneath the surface of our way of life continue, and that our globally networked and financialized economy really is a house of cards, or rather a gas bubble, or rather a crazy-tilting house built on a catastrophically cracked foundation. Of course, the same metaphors apply equally to our wider way of life at large here in Imperial McWorld.