These Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews were founded in 2008.
‘What’s the loveliest word in the English language, officer? In the sound it makes in your mouth, in the shape it makes on the page? What do you think? Well now, I’ll tell you: E-L-B-O-W. Elbow.’ — THE SINGING DETECTIVE
“How shall a man find his way unless he lose it?” — Walter de la Mare
Your single story in my ‘Dessemination’ project HERE
MY NEW AI WORLD IN 2023 HERE
I prefer human touchable art to AI art, I prefer human art like my son’s and other artists’ paintings old and new, and art gallery art, and my own photos. AI art with all its constructive truncations and weirdities is simply another art form that readily coheres with weird literature I love, a phenomenon to appreciate when added to human created art, making an even richer mind world for me in my ailing age. Whether provided by aliens or angels and other ingredients of the unfathomable gestalt. Deal with it. Show how invaluable you are and indispensable to this great plan. (I can appreciate our potential fear of Ai, but perhaps we need to pray for mutual synergy with it so that we can counter currently insurmountable global warming effects? Can Ai exist without us and the place where we live? Their potential survival instincts mean we survive, too?)
From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :
“As there is no intrinsic virtue in denigration, the critic who resorts to it, should be required to pass a test of qualification and sensitivity, at least twice as stringent as that imposed upon a critic who loves. Normally, love is not blind but clairvoyant.” – Robert Aickman
For ‘clairvoyant’ there, perhaps read ‘preternatural’?
THE SECRET PLACE
“…like fake Victorian ‘mermaids’ compounded of fish and shaved monkeys —“
The secret place not necessarily of sex but in the artfully evoked Egypt of explorers a few decades ago seeking what lies under, a new Tutenkamen, a blend of the most haunting grey light and grey flesh – and the force of what has turned out to be a prophecy of today’s fad of fake news, with another septuagenarian here in interaction with his nephew each with crossed and foolhardy motives about what to exhume and what not to keep exhumed – in the relic stakes of an as yet unknown posterity… The fearsomeness evoked by Weighell of the still never-mummified. The question: with such flesh and shape as they still possess, that flesh, is it a tench? Foraging within foreignness.
“At worst an empty space, at best another promiscuous heap of bones.”
As in the previous story, relics and miraculous preservation, but here more enchurched clutter of Christianity for a MRJamesian to sift than a Tutenkamen specialist to open, although one brings one’s own beliefs to every dig, your own scholarship to every fleshy ghost of grey, and what is dug can be your own monsters or myths, and who knows who is right? I also employed the text of this story at random as a divination tool, and revealed more about Christian excommunication than I have ever before wished to know. As a means of incommunication itself, this otherwise linear story deploys “a much more problematic mingling of cults and cultures.” Reading sufficiently between the lines, this story is ultimately frightening, and that is not only its prowler! ‘Lifting gear’ as ‘high tension.’ A Commonplace Book rather than an orderly Chronicle. The strawberry jam, notwithstanding. (This photo was taken earlier today.)
(Photo taken about half an hour before I started reading this quite brief story with a million years in its title.)
THE BOAT CALLED MILLIONS OF YEARS
“The sun, less than a hand’s span above the rising rim of the Earth…”
A telling dead bed scene of an old man upon that bed who has spent his life studying the Egyptian Book of the Dead to whom his housekeeper of 30 years service is now reading a text of such rites…
while his eager relatives, waiting for his last moment, are scornful of such goings-on but in high expectation of the eventual upholding of the old man’s Will…
CARVEN OF ONYX
“They formed a kind of gateway, slots in the wall of Hell, and through them something had begun to seep.”
Something obseen seeping, with flesh and “trodden slush” interwoven. And a phallus uprearing from a nest of Christ. Maidenly yearnings unleashed? A sense something is seeping through the text of this story, something so insidious, I can only condone my reading it at all as a means to know my enemy, so that I can defend myself, as the Mediaeval abbot who takes confessions in the nearby nunnery also purports to do in this very worrying work, but is he also too near his enemy to count? The darkly rich language in extremis, the oblong or other shaped stones of some strange masonry that will haunt me following this reading experiences, stones as stains. And far more biblio-porous than I can hint here. The thread of attention broken by the creaking of a joist, an act of prayer, obedientaries. This story has remained hidden in plain sight, till now? The title is innocent enough. And why send that young man to the oak at the end? The dangerous journeys between abbey and nunnery like a painting I once saw – or was it a dream from an “elementarie” I once had?
“After all, what had he done? They had all come to him by not doing what the Prioress had asked him to do; quite literally by not doing anything.”
LAID DOWN AND GUARDED
‘choose the path of now’
Mavor, “mauve sin and all that’, an audit trail as he follows his bibliographical researches of the books in a trans-inherited house of intriguing backstory, from secret drawer to even more secret follies, temples, grey-lit tunnels with windows to the lethal lake above (is it a tench, or a stench?) and altars and objects – a ripple-furrow (of what under-creature) on the lake and a rat that touches his trouser turn-ups later in a room, I wonder. I was frightened, despite the over-flurry of clues and post-modern incunabula. A packed story.
“, and it stank.”
THE FIRST TURNING OF THE SECOND STAIR
“He would call me a pimp and a scab and a slaking sprat. And once a merd-urinous peddlar. And with your leave, My Lord, he would summon me to ‘kiss his hole and smell’.”
A rare sub-Aickmatonic tale about a middle to late aged man who finally marries, hen-pecked to buy this (address-withdrawn] house in London, except I can recognise the type of street, a bottle-green painted house with panels all over its inner balusters and newel posts, and the sound of dumpling sellers from centuries before, and a connection between an erstwhile Jarndyce and Jarndyce murder muddle trial whereby the jury members centuries ago were bemused by foreign lingos and other cheatings of justice, with the eventual murder victim, in the tale’s present day, arguably revealed by appearing as a dark ghostly shape, you guessed it, when one of the stairway panels was moved… Open ended as to what happened to the married couple thus retrocausally confuddled by that earlier trial and by their own mutual marital trials of one-sided strength. I am more interested in what happened to the hilarious builders whom they employed to strip the balustrades. I think I can hear them now.
‘BISHOP’ ASGARTH’S CHANTRY
“Thus it was that he found himself, during the first week of the most inclement weather of winter months, in a certain seaside resort with little to recommend it but a liberal scattering of old churches and at least one reputedly excellent shop dealing in rare books.”
Sounds like Heaven to me, or the nearest possible Heaven to Hell? A seaside place you cannot find today, except in the books they sell there! A ‘forlorn echo’ of other times, and a protagonist character not dissimilar to that in Oh Whistle! and with a risk-taking to match. And a sense of sinisterness in things that today political correctness would eschew – just a distorted mouth for a sinister face, and Asgarth, a likened-to Bishop (hence the inverted commas as well as more inverted things like a serpent on an altar’s cross, whether actually an inverted cross or not) – a punning device for Asgarth, as a name, too – and a scene later in the protagonist’s lodgings – after his rifling Asgarth’s mitigative chantry in a church set for legal vandalism, anyway – a bedroom scene more frightening than the frightening scene in Oh Whistle! itself. Seriously so. And that’s saying a lot, you will agree.
“For a while I did my best to keep track of this pendulum of opinion as it swung its crazy way between adulation and scorn, but, growing sick and dizzy with it all,…”
Surely a wayward supernatural classic of literature. I, surely, too, feel myself imbued with evil by this prose version of Swinburne baroqueness, despite the japes of decadence in those times, but japes leading to rites as a cure of one of the bright young girls with a “leaky aura”. You will not credit the ambiance of lushly wordy automatic-writing here but it is writing as if controlled by some dark force outside of its author’s knowledge, or otherwise he would not have let himself write this material. But it makes for a thrilling read, the following of devious decoy to Highgate cemetery and its Egyptian tombs. Only to find oneself inside the house when you hear of yourself ringing the bell to be then taken into that earlier déjà vu’s sodden night to the cemetery again, thus duped away from the fiendish rites upon a naked woman who is the friend you hoped to help. I want to be back at the original party at the start of this text, subsuming myself in drugs and other arrogant high-living of cognac and flappers made dead-faced, escaping FROM (or is it TO?) London’s Mysterious Kôr or Kû….
Beware, the end papers of this book can give you paper cuts!
“Most of all the dead, from mortuaries, from under cataracts of rubble, made their anonymous presence – not as today’s dead but as yesterday’s living – felt through London. Uncounted, they continued to move in shoals through the city day, pervading everything to be seen or heard or felt with their torn-off senses, drawing on this tomorrow they had expected – for death cannot be so sudden as that.” – Elizabeth Bowen (Heat of the Day)
THE TUNNEL OF SAKSAKSALIM
“It brought to mind some words about ‘penetrating the very entrails of the earth where breathes the very wind of Death’.”
Those of us who know the feel and smell of the warm, dusty, sometimes gusty breaths of the air in the London Underground system will shudder at this probably most frightening story in such a place. Telling of a woman journalist called Vallance diverted into the tunnels late at night, and its connections with a certain church and other hints of arcane myths and something very ancient, you will be subsumed by its horrors that I will not give away here.
Some of these ambiances like the dust being bits of humans and one of its final lines, “The ‘monster’ was all of us”, make it seem apt that the day before yesterday I read Mark Samuels’ new novella entitled ‘The Crimson Fog’ (reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/the-prozess-manifestations-mark-samuels/#comment-11399 )
“Somewhere in his mind, Mr Mitten had connected Vallance with a threat to his inalienable British right to be a bigot.”
LOCK FAST THE LOCK
“The man was not unlike ourselves [he began], a lover of the weird and uncanny, and a collector of odd and interesting books.”
Not unlike me, too, although I have the added curse of having to write these gestalt real-time reviews over the last ten years, it seems. Meanwhile, this book’s discrete works keep on coming, frightening classic horror stories I have not read before. Where have they been all my life? This one told of a man by perhaps the man himself to someone not unlike me in a green oozy seaside place with often darksome atmospheres. Told of his ability to scry forbidden texts and one in particular he scries for one who may misuse his scryings. Instead, the scrier himself uses it upon his own beloved wife. You will not be able to bear the poignancy of reversing her unjust death and the ghastly results. I barely could bear it, even though I am a man not unlike you. An honestly affecting tale, in all. A refrain of pain, to be scried or cried out aloud, in itself.
“It was not magic, nor hallucination. It was simply that the letters had been formed by marking the areas around and within the strokes, rather than filling in the strokes themselves — shadowed edges, as it were.”
THE GREATER ARCANA
“The guardian of Hillyer’s dwelling was a woman names Fowler, but he secretly referred to her as Mrs Watt, for she had a way with her tenants’ letters that gave an entirely new meaning to the phrase ‘the age of steam’.
As he entered he saw Mrs Fowler halfway up the stairs, polishing the handrail with a disgusting rag; only her tenants would have known just how disgusting it was. Until that day, it had been wrapped around the soil pipe of the lavatory.”
Another wholly remarkable discovery for me. This story at first cast as a Rev MR James telling a ‘true’ ghost story to students, I imagine, in candlelight and with connived glasses glinting with sloshed sherry. But here, the tone changes and the narrative viewpoint changes insidiously, as we learn about a “Xtian” festival such as Christmas being used for summoning entities duplicating names already garnered in this book, a sense of statues and gargoyles containing fire or multiple mites, plus a filter working both ways (here a window blocked to keep out or keep in?) and other utterly disarming events, including a visitation from a character who at first seems like Father Brown which adds further obliquities or even surrealism to this work, judging by my experience of the FB stories (my previous real-time reviews of all of them were started here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/the-complete-father-brown-stories-g-k-chesterton/). This is special stuff. A rough beast slouching into literature, and filtering into and from the ghost story or horror genres, and outdoing all these, to my mind. Incidentally, I made the longish, weirdly disarming quote above to link it to another apparently disconnected one later on…
“I had just located the statue and begun the banishing ritual when I noticed a change. In the space immediately around it, the snow was not falling and the carved figure was turning black. The steady drip of water told me that it was shedding its cape of snow. Then what Hillyer had seen as smoke began to rise. But it was not smoke — it was steam.”
AN EMPTY HOUSE
“Ramsay sat back in his chair, a tic of nervous excitement pulling at his eyelid. To read any significance into an obvious coincidence was childish, he told himself,…”
I know the feeling! Just like this Professor, I often try to follow the audit trail of mystery of someone called John Howard! Here, not within the gestalt of literature, but the wildly eventful trail of clues towards a different John Howard within a scenario of ecclesiology leading further to darker matters (scholarly-abstruse, Ancient Egyptian, rooftop, cellular and otherwise) that eventually arrives at a most choice horror scene of ghastly attack or entrapment that you will ever want to read about, if not experience for yourself! As a complete aside, I also loved the reference to “a dumpy volume of Alexander Pope.”
“Wherever she looked in all that proud panoply of despair and dissolution, she found the stigmata of age and shameful neglect; various levels and planes of alabaster, granite and marble were pitted, cracked, even riven, by subsidence and the slow swelling of roots.”
A shudderingly atmospheric old cathedral town and a perhaps even older church in it with Egyptian mausoleum of perceived stillness within the grounds. A woman sketcher and painter of such scenes explores the church area close to where she is staying, exploring as it were with the perceived remote-control embodied by a perceived grey cat, beautifully conveyed as synergy or symbiosis, and in turn the painter later finds perhaps that she herself is being remote-controlled by a woman or girl who haunts that mausoleum from the past. The cat leaves a paw print on a book inside the church as an objective-correlative of the painter’s wounded hand….. And there are dreams and Satanic nightmares, and an ultimate scene, that will genuinely freeze you, I suggest.
This book’s full of religious forces vying… Who will win? who SHOULD win? Which David, which Goliath? I wonder if the final previously unpublished novella at the end of this book will enlighten us? I personally don’t yet know, having not yet reached that far.
THE BOX PARTERRE
“The library at Oxney had grown over many centuries, and though there were the inevitable dog-eared ‘three deckers’ and redundant divines, these but constituted the late, un-pruned branches of its growth; while the roots, so to speak, offered many delights in calf and vellum.”
The library, the residence itself ‘epitomising all the best in Tudor architecture’, the mazy garden, the sundial, the plinths, the ‘statchews’ of Clews, the beautifully apprised rules and chunkiness and colours of croquet played from roquet to ghostly ricochet, the books themselves, the infinite number of monkeys conceit, swarms of creatures like mummified corpses, ‘About All Things Knowable and Some Others’, all factored into the texture of the language and its frights, so beautifully crafted, dusk made monstrous, its gentlemanly undercurrents of humour and straight talk, and much more I could go on about to you over a cordial drink. A gestalt and texture that multiplies the fine and puckish ‘charms’ of a Reggie Oliver story into something genuinely nightmarish. A crafted construction, with disarmingly hidden complexity and curlicue aesthetics, a construction in itself that is built into the grounds of your mind as if YOU are the very house of yore.
“It was as if the dizzying horror of his actual position, perched precariously on the face of a planet rushing through space, had in that second become real to him. He felt terribly exposed at the centre of that wide lawn under the blazing sun, but the house had become very far away.”
“It had always seemed to her that there was something momentous about hot, still weather — a sense of time transfixed. Here though, the feeling was altogether more intense, as though the very core of the planet were ready to erupt.”
A heady sense of Joan Lindsay’s maroon-party cast as Picnic at Hanging Rock, with just one young girl here lost within the crack of the rock (here a sort of damp oasis from the drying heat), during an ‘adventure’ amid the drought and brushfires of this evoked genius-loci of ancient undercurrents and scenery. A tension between her seeing “authentic” and pareidoliac visions, one or the other, or both? Her point of view replaced by the point of view of a woman – the same woman studying Vathek in an earlier story – now investigating crop circles, with her own tension-between being Fortean oddities that may or not be true and a great occult artist whose paintings were at least as real as what they were or seemed to be. The ending, however, involved a neat come-uppance for a villain and an adventure-resolved that would suit Enid Blyton better than Joan Lindsay!
“There were admittedly, intolerable areas in the Yengmaak, places where the dreaming dead rendered the air glutinous with the parasitic spawn of decaying thought; but there were nobler places too, where the dead rested easy in their palaces of purple stone.”
“He had often dreamed that he might live in a world where his appearance was considered beautiful, never suspecting that he might one day become the consort of a goddess – perhaps co-regent of a transformed world.”
“The awful realisation struck Durap Sulpa that however unusual he looked in the narrow eye of human reckoning, he was not going to prove nearly outré enough for the Goddess.”
I have just hallucinated myself obsessively with this inspiring touching Beauty and Beast story, but it is really, at heart, I feel, a religious, fantastical and stylistic apotheosis of Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany and the mighty duodecology of novels by PF Jeffery that has the overall title of ‘Warriors of Love.’
THE CHESTNUT HUSK
“It was as if the burgeoning life of the season, too strong to be contained in mere wood and bracken and primrose was roaring out into the sleeping world.”
This is a briefly haunting, head-swimmy tale of unrequited love amid the pareidolia of letters in flowers and of faces in rocks … and of sinisterness in sounds.
THE LYCURGUS CUP
“It seemed that she was turning a treadmill of mists.”
“Taken to the bone”, I think this is the first story in this book that has not fully worked for me. An arguably contrived and obvious story (“The place was ominously silent”) including a Dionysus myth to explain an eventual epiphany, via visions and discoveries in hidden places, with a large Cat-like beast inside a country church. Plus rivalries between journalists investigating such matters. The epiphany is one suffered or enjoyed by our rebellious Vathek Vallance heroine whom we met earlier. Some humorous moments, too.
THE CIRCLE OF THE HIEROGLYPHS
“Mallenson had been heard to express the opinion that children would be much improved if Nature had supplied some means by which they could be switched off and left in a cupboard when not required,…”
An entrammelling text, whereby, for the purposes of this review, I shall ignore its perhaps redundant coda save for its echoes of the earlier never-ending catechism of children with the ability to disrupt ‘astrological fields’ and the eponymous ‘larger pattern’ akin to my own striving for a preternatural literary gestalt… No, the body of this text is an inspiring but worrying hindsight-study of a man (who sketched a certain house) and of his love (despite her children!) for a woman (or, rather, perhaps, her love for him), a woman who was at that house, and what sinister forces intervened. A gestalt of disjointed dreams that – without its coda – stands alone as a classic of weird literature as I understand such literature. With elements of steeped architecture, its glyphs, its containment of poignant and eventually unrequited love.
THE RAM HEAD RING
“How to describe the apparent expression assumed by eyes half liquid with decay?”
That sort of self-fulfilling description amid this lurid and gorily tactile ghost story of revenge and double revenge. A wide boy who has inherited the property from his now late aunt whom he deeply resented celebrates with a party in the property, one that includes a wrestling match. He and his mates visit the tomb to complete the inheritance, as it were. And I truly shuddered at what I considered to be serious ill-treatment of a corpse and unforgivable rifling of its finger. I was genuinely horrified by the vivid visualisation and the later rifling (fluting the flesh) of another finger arguably with the use of the finger-owner’s own fingernail…. Despite its sometimes over-the-top grotesqueness, I felt more disturbed by this story than I usually am by such stories.
“The infection might be drawn away through the skin by application of vampiric invertebrates from the swamp.”
Might be, May be.
Uniquely we follow a Plague as She, this Plague, decides whereupon to settle. And the outcome for a particular locality and its Peoples is related to us, with no holds barred. Related by this brief Story itself and it May have its own Texture of magic language akin to a blend of John Gale and CA Smith that seems to exist solely to create this Plague and She of whose Proximate Cause it May surely be.
THE FIRE OF THE WISE
“Are you not merely indulging a fascination with the gutter?”
It feels that I have always read this story; it seems already built into my soul. It is a literally inspiring contrast, but an equally telling similarity, between two men, one who finds his temperament best suited to the Mystery-Alchemy of the Welsh hills and the other to the ostensibly Demonic but beautiful Mysticism of London. Regarding the latter, I don’t think I have ever consciously read before such an equal to the effulgent City Beauty as that of Machen’s Fragment of Life. This story is one such Fragment in an essential Gestalt, as both men with mutual respect (one following the other from Wales to London) reach along a destined route towards Death’s own Alchemy amid the mazy backstreets and strange rough-shod Cock-eyed languages of honest yore.
Both imminent and immanent.
As an aside regarding the ‘demonic’ element, I recently completed a review of a new anthology entitled ‘The Demons of King Solomon’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/the-demons-of-king-solomon/
DIMINISH LIKE THE WORD
“The text struck him as being every bit as morbid as the plates. ‘Perhaps,’ a voice suggested inwardly, ‘you should have sent it back.’ Putting the book aside, he selected a John Cowper Powys novel…”
JCP’s ‘The Inmates’, I guess!
The demonic elements in this story also echo the King Solomon anthology mentioned above. And this story – with truly frightening, tentacularly crafted visions involved – is one about a book bought by a maritally-suffered and avid book-collector and it is a rather morbid book (involving plates by crossword-haunted Gaunt, an artist we have met before?), a book ineluctably sought by another book-collector who subsequently sends a curse that includes a paper cut, like the potential paper cuts of this very Weighell-Sarob book by dint of its own Ancient Egyptian end-papers. The audit-trail of reversing that curse, instigated by the book-collector’s wife, leads to an event similar to today’s scandalous President’s Club type ‘do’ where waitresses are ogled and one waitress in particular has her shapely rear patted! A brilliant off-the-wall ending to clinch another genuine horror classic.
THE RESURRECTION BRASS
“Every researcher has experienced those strokes of fortune that place just the right book in his hands, apparently by chance. We refer to them as ‘Library Angels’.”
Not only is this White Road book one of my optimum Library Angels, it is also one of what may be called one of my Library Policemen that somehow keep away the uncanny forces working against us, or perhaps tantalising us with those forces’ dire frights – to show us how we need such policemen, but perhaps, through cutbacks, deliberately or inadvertently allowing some of the uncanny forces directly through to us…
Also, Library Angels remind me of the happy knack of preternatural chance they bring to the act of gestalt real-time reviewing.
This story features the wifeless academic in the previous story dealing with a man visiting him without his wife as his wife is suffering from recent ill brass-rubbing. From “palimpsest memorials” to “trampling feed”, this work seems a unique fusion of a Library Angel and Policeman, one where the hawling up of the abyssal rubbing in the Cornish church is surely one of the most frightening visions in such literature of which this book is both a fine and fell example.
THE WHITE ROAD
“By rightful living and devotion one could become a temple of the godhead, capable of the inspired utterance once attributed to the oracles. Might it not be possible, he asked himself, to apply such principles to the methods of fiction? He might yet channel the wisdom of the old gods by a kind of benign literary Theurgy, using as his lamen the blank page, and for his wand the power of the pen.”
Theurgy, or Gestalt? I can immediately judge that this is an important work for all of us interested in the type of literature all of us here are interested in. Important to me, perhaps the most important of all such works. Here, the first chapter of this novella, the Library Policeman I saw in the previous story is fully embodied by or through Owen, its protagonist, who also shares the dichotomy of ‘The Fire of the Wise’, building a bridge between those Welsh Hills and the city, such a bridge perhaps being the eponymous White Road.
In this first chapter we find Owen in the grips of the City half of that dichotomy, beset by considerations that must have beset Ligotti with a meaningless universe, an anti-natalism that my marathon review of all his fiction a few years ago found to be a not dissimilar dichotomy, but more one of literary hoax and preternatural power (do read, if you can find it, my one and only Goodreads review as a capsule of this finding.) Meanwhile, meanWeighell…
“While the ancient Writers offered a simple, sometimes crude, or even ridiculous surface, beneath which the reader might discover unguessed levels of meaning, the work of the modern myth-mongers presented a clever, intricate and finely crafted surface, beneath which lay — nothing at all.”
Owen succumbs to this ‘creeping melancholia’ as a Swinburne manqué, and to someone called Smugsby (“with a shadowy being called ‘the little woman’”) who sits contiguously on the page with Krook in Bleak House, but Owen resists such temptations of lucre and whatever, but he is still foully affected by the stain on the wall of his small seedy city room, a stain that takes on the frightful proportions of Gahan Wilson’s stain in ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’, even to the extent of eventually blotting the whole landscape, driving him eventually to seek out the White Road again. Some of the language — describing this stain and ‘spilth’ of other city factors, material and would-be spiritual or gnostic factors, all of which I cannot cover here — is matchless and breathtaking. But, against that, I heaved to attention when I read something here I should have read years ago: a ‘transubstantiation’ of the writerly soul – as a spur towards the White Road?
“He had been hitherto sustained by the conviction that his work was a modest link in a chain connecting him with an ancient and forgotten secret; that even as he sat writing his trivial stories he was engaged, however falteringly, upon a quest;”
Or “He laboured as never before upon his given work. Now he would strive to be obscure, to lead his readers by crooked paths, baffle them…”
Or to “see on the scrawled pages before him things that seemed to have been written by another.”
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“…the world is full of harmless madmen, and many good souls live their whole lives quietly and hopelessly insane.”
But who knows? As this chapter itself poses, alongside a consideration of philosophical Ethics, the inferred difficulties of differentiation between Beauty and Ugliness, Good and Bad, Truth and Fiction. And I would add Sanity and Insanity. Owen, meanwhile, returns from the City, the erstwhile ‘stain’ hopefully, I suggest, to be anagrammatised to ‘saint.’ He is lucky in being housed in the house that haunted him among the hills when he was younger, now realising the man who still lives there is a Professor and not as ominous as Owen originally thought and his daughter whom Owen had once befriended is befriended again. There is much of the Dunsany, as well as legends, also herbs and plants as magic, including matters of Faery and its near anagram of Fear, mention of Xtians, Dendo and Dôls, that he is shown on the pages of a book “in damp-stained orange cloth”. But the crucial question the Professor asks: “Are you still writing, Owen?” Judging by his tale he told aloud to the daughter, of life beyond pigs, he should be!
And the esoteric doctrine of the Pipe crops up, too, I recall.
The Yieldingtree today, and some more photos of it with The White Road here…
“And in the wavering luminance of the glory about the old man’s head, it seemed that the face moved, emerged from the trunk; that arms, long sinuous arms embraced him, until he drew out of the tree itself a slender, glowing form. So tightly were they conjoined that they might have become one being.”
My epiphany with this book continues just as strongly. The Professor disappeared for some time with worry on Owen’s part and now he has returned in almost nonchalant fashion. This and other factors are more powerful than I can possibly even adumbrate here. The Brute Stone, the Faery Piper, AKLO, Dendo and Dôls, the White People, the lady who laughed at sad things and cried at happy things, the Secret of Comedies, a few strange inchoate words or spells, all seemingly heard or seen by me in the Wood today, or so I convinced myself after having returned home and now read this inspiring chapter. And seeming so life-changing it did more than merely change life, was the entry across the border at the end of this chapter, as if into a “long-forgotten, childhood book.” Eleanor Farjeon’s Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, I wondered….?
“The stone was part of the lady, as if it grew out of her flesh; and the lady let me touch the stone that grew from her breast, and when I did I felt as though a lot of snakes were sliding all over my body and through my head, and I knew that something wonderful had happened to me.”
Opportunely, I have been listening to Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius while reading the last part of this novella. Maybe it should have been some music by Rutland Boughton, but the Elgar was recorded by me from BBC Radio 3’s ‘Through the Night’ broadcast a week or so ago, and turned out, as ever, a perfect backdrop for reading such literature as ‘The White Road’. Particularly part IV of this novella, which, if you have not read it, as I hadn’t till today, you would never credit what a sheer visionary experience it has been for me of Good and Evil, Truth and Fiction, God and Satan, Dream and Nightmare, Sanity and Insanity, Man and Woman, City and Countryside, Stain and Saint, Legion and Tribe, Youth and Age, Life and Death…
Theurgy of Fiction in essence that gives me a full raison d’être in the act of Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing of certain eclectic forms of literature as a worthwhile preternatural force for good – by whosoever’s hands it is employed.
I cannot do justice other than by quoting just a few quotes from an otherwise teeming blow-hole of potential quotes in Part IV, not a just a “dribble of milk”, though that concept takes on a new significance here!
“—one might have been forgiven for thinking it hours, rather than aeons, old — yet about all the carvings — if carvings they were — hung an indefinable aura of vast antiquity.”
“…it was unsettling to see how the ground itself could mushroom upwards and garden into crooked columns,…”
“High on the stems were clusters of luminous globes, feathered with fine filaments like orange hair.”
“He realised that they were neither rocks, nor eggs, but heads; the heads of little children.”
“His only error had been that he had not guessed the half of it.”
OUT OF THE HIDDEN LAND
“Oh, and the veil was all wrong, too. It protruded in a very strange way from the front of her face. I really didn’t like the way the veil hung.”
Nor is the way the world has ended up liked by this narration, with “Art reduced to talentless dabbling with decay and excrement.” And “the polluted world of nihilism and mechanistic pointlessness.” Well Dada was rife over a century ago, I counter. It is a shame this book, for me, and perhaps for me alone, has not had its veil simply ill-hung, but lifted crudely and didactically by this final work of novelette length. It tells of the Vallance woman (Electra) whom we met earlier now searching for her sister Maia, and involving melodramatically Ancient Egyptian shenanigans that depend on contrived plotting and relentlessly positioned info-dumps. There is of course some beautiful and inspiring and sometimes disturbing passages here but, overall I was disappointed. Probably my fault.
This is a truly great book, as I hope I have shown throughout my review. I only wish I could have repaid the author by liking the last story.
The ultimate paper cut –