The Three Rhysian Tartari of the Nineties and Noughties

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WORMING THE HARPY AND OTHER BITTER PILLS 1995
THE SMELL OF TELESCOPES MM
STORIES FROM A LOST ANTHOLOGY MMII

My previous reviews of Rhys Hughes HERE

My previous reviews of Tartarus Press HERE

When I finally dreamcatch these books via a re-reading of them, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

42 thoughts on “The Three Rhysian Tartari of the Nineties and Noughties

  1. WORMING THE HARPY AND OTHER BITTER PILLS
    To Jilly

    CAT O’ NINE TAILS

    “They are slimy scoundrels to a man and woman; swarthy, bristly, leering and jeering rogues, scourges of obscure compass-points, bright blue with lewd tattoos.”

    A cat called Herodotus tells of his nine lives to the narrator, while he washes, up, the narrator not the cat. But there seems to be a sort of washing up by both of them, the beginning of a writing career and its end. Beset by rogues.
    A tale that, in already perfect Rhysian style, excels some of the best of this author’s later work that is still ensuing nearer towards the end of his life. This story itself, as it turns out in retrospect, is the cat’s own tale of its ninth life and first death. Its combined recounting and cause, via a möbius absurdism. And all of us who will one day fall into our own soup from the top of the crockery we have stacked.

  2. WORMING THE HARPY

    There is a quality about this that seems more wild, more mosaical, than this author’s later work. It has the readerly quality of not understanding it all but knowing that one does understand it deep down. Maybe it has a vintage wine quality when decanted from this old book. I dread to think what an ebook reprint will do to it, other than dilute it, EVEN if the ebook text is completely unchanged from the old book, which naturally it will be/is. The Jazz player called Dizzy where constructive improvisation depends on entering an alternate world – and a father and toy-maker daughter – a place called UmberScone. The two villains on giblbets. It all SEEMS like real long-lasting literature. It has the bespoke hang of good style that only old books can have, in a time before we were politically correct. Books that are rare and hard to find.
    Reprinting destroys them.

    “You remember the outcry last year, after that spate of attacks on children. “

  3. Thanks Des! The story ‘Worming the Harpy’ in this hardback edition has a crucial scene missing that was reinstated in the paperback edition. The paperback edition also has an extra story that should have been in the original hardback. Plus some other mistakes have been corrected there too. It was so long ago (almost quarter of a century) that I wrote this story and the others in the book that it feels almost as if they are no longer mine…

    The signature and dedication is interesting. I had never signed books before. I didn’t have a proper signature. It was many years before I developed an ‘authorial’ signature. On this book I just wrote my name because I was taken by surprise. I never imagined I was supposed to sign books… 🙂

  4. THE FALLING STAR

    “Plodders with the pallor and ambitions of tadpoles attempted to outvomit pretentious book-reviewers and voluptuous editors from Sidcup.”

    Rhys Hughes was ridiculing me for my reviewing even before I became a reviewer. As to the voluptuous editors…?
    I am glad to see that Rhys was just as intent on wild conceits and madcap connections to the nth power even in those early days. He has ever been optimally consistent in writerly fictionatronic excellence if not evolutionary in it. A story of the narrator’s battle with the park keeper over the Star Pearls of a meteorite falling in the park. A battle of words. Well, that was unavoidable. But also of body-parts and paradox. Ending with the truth of the pearls’ ownership.
    As an aside, the park-keeper is called Mellors. Is this the same man as the one in Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Only clue is his “thrusting hips”.

    “There would be yoghurt and honey, moons and daffodils, chimes and rhymes.”

  5. Mellors is definitely the same Mellors as in the Lawrence novel… 🙂
    I loved intertextuality back then (as I still do).
    The tadpole was you (someone absurdly once compared you to a tadpole); the pretentious reviewer was me; and the editor from Sidcup was Pam Creais, I can’t remember why I put us in this particular story, other than because I have always liked Tuckerization…
    I missed the meteor shower last night because I live in Wales where it is always cloudy. I will try to view it tonight instead…

  6. QUASIMODULUS

    “The drone has resolved itself into a little boat with an outboard motor.”

    No wonder the boat could enter the Opera House’s attic, being a drone. Of course, drones did not exist when this was written.
    Quasi modulated like one of my favourite operas mentioned in this story: Moses and Aaron by Schoenberg. The first time I have seen it mentioned anywhere! Moses was borne on water. And this is a prophetic tale of global warming and flooding, where the Phantom of the Opera meets Quasimodo who is in post-alchemical beautification, as we can all be, given the transcendence of fiction, if not of Dr Dee. A nifty conceit that flooding does entail the world being left to only those who happened to be living in Ivory towers and other high places, when the flooding came. And there is a beautiful joke in its last sentence…

  7. THE GOOD NEWS GRIMOIRE

    “But I am digressing.”

    There are too many things I can tell you about what this substantive story contains, the story I can foresee this author having worked towards as the future end goal of all his writing. It has a madness that is smooth and raw at the same time, with apposite and conflicting similes galore teeming through your brain. Names taken from famous and not so famous Gothic Horror novels and long-chinned fiends and a grimoire with inbuilt flask and mixed methods of use, and a truth that shines out through all the fictional lies and various machinations and characters. How can I do justice to it? It seems to be a ready-made like one of Duchamp’s, a ready-made in the form of a complex moving dream that was meant to exist even before it existed. A rightness of expression filled with manifold wrongnesses, and vice versa, making you think you are dreaming the reading of it, a notch clicked into a new reading dimension that both makes you sleep and makes you wake at the same time. I felt all these things genuinely and I am trying to express what I felt in the best way. The thin man put in a wishing well, just as one example, escapes but then escapes back to it. But I am digressing. I’ll leave you to read it.

  8. Written in early 1995 when I was the poorest I have ever been. I literally had no money at all and no food. I knew I had to survive a week without eating. I decided to write a story and try extra-hard at making it better than my previous work. ‘The Good News Grimoire’ was the moment when I *consciously* decided to attempt to take my work to the next level. This doesn’t mean it actually turned out better than all my earlier stories, but the determination that generated it has stayed with me ever after. That’s why this story is a watershed for me. 🙂

  9. FLINTLOCK JAW

    “The true art of disguise, he maintains, is more a matter of poise than looks.”

    A telling tale of the highwayman Robin Darktree who keeps up a denial about all the increasingly modern things happening around him to change the braggadocio of the road and, thus, changing his job – things such as railways.
    Telling and poignant. A prophetic portrait of self? I would have said pathetic as well as prophetic, but the former word doesn’t seem to fit. Pathos, the root of ‘pathetic’, is paradoxically not so pathetic in itself.

    “: foolishly romantic, arrogant, profoundly sad and almost comic.”

    (Perhaps ‘sad’ has also changed its meaning since 1995?)

  10. I am sporadically breaking my reviewing sabbatical by dint of a brief nonce…

    VELOCITY ORANGES

    “My lusts are stubborn barges on a curry-sauce river: they pole their gondolas upstream, against variety’s spicy currents.”

    That perhaps should be ‘bargees’ not ‘barges’?
    A story that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as if the narrator, if not author, has plugged the reader onto the end of his penis and used the result to mount his bicycle from the rear. A Cheating-Box as tank-engine in word form; a Beckettian nightmare which Beckett would disown. Perhaps this author’s greatest story. Or his worst. The fact that I can’t decide which – and that I have discounted anything between those polarities – must mean something. It is strangely Rhysian and not-Rhysian all at once.

  11. A CARPET SELDOM FOUND

    “Please do not take my head. I work with my head.”

    A substantive, arguably important Rhysian work. Found art as a Turkish holiday and a handkerchief sized carpet taken back by Lawrence to England where his girl friend had left him and he and his co-workers in a boring job, a carpet taken back along with the carpetseller’s curse, a curse that cursed itself, it eventually seems, by the labyrinthine autism of limbs of the nightmarish loom rooms in Turkey, with the later expanding carpet and invoice and Lawrence’s own threatened limbs and dreams, including his head as another limb, all this turning out, for me, with the carpetseller’s own concomitant dream now today explicitly a then prophetic symbol of the IS state or Isis or Daesh…
    Spontaneous Deconstruction, with dreamcatcher and hawler built in.
    And one of the best Rhysian jokes ever, using the word ‘stumped’ … and the most telling Rhysian view of a relationship as an extension to his ego being denied planning permission! Gulp!

    “There scarcely seemed to be an area that was not a means of access to somewhere else.”

  12. THE CHIMNEY

    “But I was helpless, as weak as a fly in a web; as utterly doomed as a snowflake in a female undergraduate’s first toaster.”

    A sad man, seeking his first woman, mistakes a chimney on a Jersey beach for one. But not before kissing ‘her’ and falling down its flue or channel towards what he takes to be the sounds of Hell. Some theological quandaries …. as well as a few silly jokes in this work, even laugh out loud ones against my better judgement, except nobody laughed out loud when this story was first written, I guess. Now, twenty odd years later, we have to laugh out loud to dissipate the world’s misery. Joyce and Julie Andrews, too. And a chimney-brush to die for. A sort of throwaway happy ending when he becomes a “soot fairy.” Throwaway is not a million miles from what you should do with this story.

  13. ONE MAN’S MEAT

    “I can love you heart and soil. I’ll be your slave, your mother, your mistress. A real turnip for the books!”

    Another of this book’s stories that left a dirty taste in my mouth.

  14. THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE’S HAT FOR THE MAD HATTER’S WIFE

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    As variations on Oliver Sacks and Lewis Carroll, this is probably the author’s strangest ever story, under the influence of influence itself I guess, in tune with “Observing the observer of the observer.”
    I am not sure I remember whether I accepted the invitation to the banquet. I suppose I would I have remembered if I had. Or whether I indeed received an invitation before reading about the event in this story. I cannot indeed remember reading it before. I wonder if the influence of that volcano was what Lowry was under?

    “Alice is playing the harpsichord, to calm her nerves. Her fingers fly over the keys, building up a dress of notes which cling to her naked body.”

  15. CELLO I LOVE YOU

    “During the Schoenberg – played to appease the mob – I began to dismantle my adapted umbrella.”

    A most touching paean of love to the cello and not to the woman who exploits it with her bowing and scraping.
    This is one of Rhys Hughes’ greatest works and has stood the test of time and memory. The green hams, notwithstanding.

  16. WHAT TO DO WHEN THE DEVIL COMES ROUND TO TEA

    “There is a smörgasboard of suppositions; a veritable goulash of guesses.”

    The devil comes round if the plates are round, I guess.
    A very telling piece of advice that continues to resonate with meaning upon meaning – amid this beginning back in the early 1990s to this author’s now seasoned delight in an ever-teeming fictionatronic sandbox filled with literary ‘sand’ from even longer-seasoned legends, a menu of legendary creatures and fairy stories. Here the Devil who I suspect has gout.

  17. ARQUEBUS FOR HARLEQUIN

    “This was a terrible mistake, I know; the world requires no more fiction. Motion, the breath of engines, is more important than emotion, the mist of maturity. I have entered wordy swamps crowded with fools,”

    Crowded with fools, indeed: a telling prophecy of the more shallow swamps today. This nagging debate with self regarding choosing writing over engineering is couched in a beautiful, yet constructively resistant, texture of thesaurian prose. The tale of Diggory who admits he cannot write of relationships – until he wrote The Black Dog of Zero? Hah, that is my version of Harlequin’s spurring arquebus today, by saying that and thus retrocausating the handwritten dedication shown above!

    “Will the stories be sufficiently different from each other or will I be harping on the same theme? An interesting question.”

  18. ÉCLAIR DE LUNE

    “At once I picked myself up and became stoutly pragmatic — burning my poems and finding profitable employment selling life-insurance to the employees of the Kingdom Noisette Engineering Co.”

    Of course, I was fighting this battle with myself in 1995. Seeking the same insulating-cable that would take me from one to another. Still the rest of this story – that I have just meticulously re-read without previously remembering anything in it – has nothing to do with me. The tensions between the polarities of the soul, however, are also mine. But I already had my cakes and eating them, just like Brexit has become. And I also noticed the subtle reference to Stockhausen and the more obvious one to Satie. And that Éclair’s sponge in the bath had a filling! And that it was not a bath at all. The tensions between being a ghost (and thus dead) and being alive were also not lost on me. But the raisin d’Éclair of this long work was completely lost on me, otherwise. But I loved the killer pun at the end. And music as the rhythms of cell division. And, oh yes, the strict rules of duelling, not forgetting the real people in it like Mark Xeethra Samuels and Rosemary Gibbet-Pardoe.

  19. GRINDING THE GOBLIN

    “Women no longer wore undergarments? Then the gates of Heaven were always open!”

    Ending with the cat from Cat o’ Nine Tails, this Chaud-Mellé story (if a city’s mad, it can die, if it can die, it can become a ghost) seems a sort of sequel – Mark Xeethra in common – to the previous story, also with the Udolpho patisserie. But it’s more like the Paris of the King in Yellow, with communes and agents, except here it is in Austria. I do not pretend to have mastered this story, but luckily I am also mad can die or become a ghost, too, like this whole book that has instead become a cult classic. But how many readers make a cult? Eliza Pippins or Mary Poppins, notwithstanding. Her umbrella adapted like the one in Cello I Love You? And the sewers in this mad city rife with harpies. Turmeric as ground goblin for the Devil to take?

    “The anarchist himself was kneeling in front of the hearth, feeding papers into the grate. But there was no fire to receive them. The leaves were sucked up the chimney with great force. I rushed to his side. ‘But these pages are blank!’ I protested.”

  20. Book’s dedication: For Charlotte

    THE BANKER OF INGOLSTADT

    “I remember attempting to galvanise a dead horse when all my friends wanted to do was arrange flowers or tie ribbons in their hair–”

    A rolling conceit-to-conceit classic of this author, with a probably unique style for the year 2000 when it was published, and only this author has maintained such a supreme level of fictionatronic absurdity since then. My theory is that this author’s work is a living banker, a slightly flawed gestalt experiment still in 2017 on-going, one-off, but the flaws make it perfect, and not at all so that one can unscrew the works to see how they work. The tale of the would-be student (of colour and female gender) and the would-be racist and misogynistic banker of her grant has possibly become its own Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s monster, the actual monster being Frankenstein’s. This book of telescopes is the author’s own monster towards hopeful fiscal self-reliance – and telescopes, if not necessarily their smell, are central to another Shelley, Percy Bysshe’s PROMETHEUS UNBOUND, a major work that for me puts a new meaning on this book, for the second decade of the 21st century. Next decade, there will be yet another meaning to uncover, I’ll be bound.

    “My rooms are very secluded. They have never known a female presence. Even the fleas are exclusively male.”

  21. TEN GRIM BOTTLES

    A Rhys Hughes Welsh pub talk story, where a stranger tells locals, including the incognito village poet, that he is the egoectomist of poets. Collects their egos in bottles. If these bottles drunk then the poet’s ego mutantly affects the drinker by thinking they are a poet. To cut a short story short the last two sentences seem to indicate that this poet-fiction troubadour himself called Rhys Hughes, given time, may yet attain the status of creative genius. I reckon he already is, but you are not a creative genius until a quorum of the public believe so, too. And thus I now write stories, too, sometimes with horror trappings galore and other wormy tropes. Or was that something I used to do, before I met the egoectomist. Or the cannibal under the bridge, Billy goat gruff notwithstanding.

    • Thine eyes are like the deep, blue, boundless heaven
      Contracted to two circles underneath
      Their long, fine lashes; dark, far, measureless,
      Orb within orb, and line through line inwoven.
      — Shelley (Prometheus Unbound)

  22. SPERMACETI WHISKERS

    “The Italian republics did not like former pirates settling in their towns.”

    I say this a lot. One day it will be true. This is the story that moves into Rhysian overdrive that overdrives beyond my mind’s previous measure. An overdrive of simile and conceit and utter meaningful madness of meaninglessness, where an ex-pirate called ‘Ceti opens a barber-shop in an Italian town. No way I can do justice to it here. It sort of flows, leaving a story to simmer in a sump it has made for itself in your brain.

  23. THE BLUE DWARF

    “But, unfortunately, this is the real world; life is a sour cream poured on stones.”

    A told amoral fable where those told it join in with quick fire changes of their trousers and souls. I am beginning to think some of these stories in this TELESCOPES book are seen via orb on Shelley’s orb or through the wrong end or genuinely iconic. I seriously suspect, over time, since 2000, that they are becoming iconic like the stories of Grimm or Hans Anderson. Given a quorum of readers.

  24. THE PURLOINED LIVER

    “Instead of placing the glass to his lips, he held it under his cheek and lowered his prolapsed orbit into the murky depths.”

    Making the eye smell of real ale. At first, from the title, I thought this would be a skit on Poe, but instead it’s a Monty Python type journey into Shropshire with the names of beers and villages outrageously believable. A long-cut to the motorway around the theme of girl virgins being more easy to burn than other people.

  25. THE SQUONK LAUGHED

    “A constant stream of tears from two enormous eyes had worn deep furrows in his cheeks; his lower lip curled down to his feet, which protruded directly from his neck, as if the rest of his body had fled this source of misery.”

    And if you think this is sad, wait till you face the debate between two such sadnesses – with the ulterior motive, admittedly, of kidnapping a wife disguised as a blunderbuss. Edward Lear-like iconicity in the shape of something quite different. Guns can sometimes be like smelly telescopes, I guess.

  26. TELEGRAM MA’AM

    It seems more than just synchronous that this afternoon I took a rare trip to the cinema and saw ‘Victoria and Abdul.’ Dench was monumental. The film was both funny and moving. And now I happen to read this, where the traditional telegrams are sent by a Queen not a million miles from. Victoria to all THINGS as well as to all people that become hundred years old, even to the the tradition itself!
    It all seems to fit in. Gestalt real-time reviewing has come of age, too, with its own, if premature, hundred years telegram.

    THERE WILL NOW BE AN AS YET INDEFINITE SABBATICAL IN REVIEWING THESE THREE MIGHTY BOOKS. I HOPE THIS PARTICULAR SABBATICAL DOES NOT RECEIVE SUCH A CONGRATULATORY TELEGRAM FROM OUR CURRENT QUEEN.

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