The death of Joel Lane last November was a considerable shock to many lovers of horror/weird fiction. He was only fifty years old. Spectral Press has an online archive and it will soon include several of his stories. One is already up. You can read Joel's story 'Black Country' here.
Joel Lane was very encouraging in the early days of ST when I wondered if the game was worth the candle. He even contributed stories and a memorable essay ('This Spectacular Darkness'), for which I was very grateful. I have nothing brilliant or insightful to say about him, except that he left us all a legacy of fine, intelligent writing.
Monday, 25 August 2014
|Art by Paul Lowe|
Chatting recently (via trend social media) with celebrated ghost story author Steve Duffy, we touched upon the various adaptations of M.R. James stories. 'Count Magnus' was mentioned, as a story that has not been filmed despite being very popular. Most admirers of MRJ would put it in their top ten, if not top five.
One possibility is that the framing narrative causes problems. As you may recall, the papers of Mr. Wraxall fall into the nameless narrator's hands after a house he inherits is torn down. Thus we know from the the start that the story is happening at two removes - it's a story on the page for a person in a story on the page. As a framing device it's fine, but it might be a bit tricky on screen.
Or would it? Because the essence of the story is the excessive and arbitrary nature of the Count's violence. We know that, when he was alive, he dealt out brutal punishments to fractious peasants 'with no sparing hand'. We discover that in death he exacts an appalling toll upon two poachers in his woods. One is driven mad by witnessing he fate of the man who is killed by having... Well, if you haven't read the story I won't spoil it. Heh heh heh.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the only reasonable view is that Mr. Wraxall falls foul of the Count simply because - like the poachers - he shows insufficient respect for an old-school aristocrat. The English tourist is rather flippant about Magnus, calling him a rascal and so forth. This is enough to trigger what is essentially a kind of wild hunt across northern Europe, with Wraxall as the prey.
Getting back to our putative adaptation, what might work is simply this. Narrator chappie is presented with MS found in demolished house. Produces it in front of friend(s) and reads it to him/them. Asks 'What do you think?' A sensible chap remarks that it's a load of nonsense - of course a long-dead Swedish count couldn't do such things. 'Count Magnus is at best a heap of old bones, dear fellow - and has been for centuries!'
Woops. Cue closing shot of sceptical chap exiting onto night-bound street, at the end of which we see the profiles of a tall, cloaked figure and a much smaller companion. Perhaps a quick flash of tentacle, give the punters what they want.
Well, that's my take on it. If anyone called Spielberg wants me, I'll be in the bath.
I've decided to close ST for submissions a bit early because I have received a great many stories. There is another reason that I'm not at liberty to reveal at the moment. Yes, a big mysterious secret, but such is the glamorous world of tiny magazine editing. Sorry to disappoint anyone planning to submit this week, but I'm snowed under and I've got to take the time and do justice to everyone.
The World Fantasy Award is a little statuette of H.P. Lovecraft, who was intensely racist. Some people think this a bad thing and want to change the award. Others claim Lovecraft's racism was no big deal at the time and that we shouldn't just a writer of the inter-war years by modern standards anyway. I disagree with this - to me, as an admirer of Lovecraft, racism is obviously central to his artistic world-view. If they don't change the award now, they'll only have to repeat this debate in few years when a sufficiently high-profile writer rejects it, or refuses to be nominated in the first place. But someone says it far better than me here. Well done David Nickle (an author new to me) for summing things up so well.
The legacy of racists like Lovecraft is still very much in play in contemporary society, from the Obama birthers to the Ferguson cops and most points between... and the discussion as to how to contain that legacy is far from over. In a perverse way, Lovecraft's retrograde views on race may be his most socially relevant contribution to 20th century weird literature... not as an advocate of his views, not by any means, but as an example of where we've been and what too many of us still share, an opportunity to critique those views through the lens of cosmic horror and alien gods.
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
I've amended my Guidelines page to place less emphasis on very short stories, simply because during the current round of submissions I'm being bombarded by tales under 2,000 words long. I think I owe it to readers to offer a broad range of stories, and that means a range of styles, themes, and lengths. So if you have a story that's, say, 6,000 words long and might be termed a supernatural tale, why not send it to me? Variety is the spice of life.