Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In the Jolly-Boat

There is a moment when you've got to get off the big boat and start paddling to shore and fucked if I have any understanding of how that particular process goes. The mystery that is on the shore is unfathomable. I'm not there but am paddling still.

I have been trawling through early Weird fiction of late and can say that Hodgson would be masterful with a little restraint. Haggard is proto-Weird and suffers from the same hokey bullshit characterisations as Burroughs and Merritt (which I guess is a pulp thing, or an old-timey thing). Merritt can't stop going on about light and colour and has the whole virtuosic inventiveness meets mediocre storytelling thing going on, I can see simultaneously why he was so popular and influential and is now relatively forgotten. Burroughs name-drops contemporary scientists like Lovecraft though perhaps not quite so embarrassingly. Blackwood is my favourite so far. Blackwood has the rather commendable quality of having not been impressed by Lovecraft (though Lovecraft was very impressed by old Algernon). The Willows is a ferocious thing of fiendish inscrutableness, it does not give anything away unnecessarily but what it gives is good.

Ho, chitchat, Xenia, generous Flailsnails referees, the lubricants by which social intercourse is made to run smoothly. Here are things which are not the heart of the matter but peripheral fripperies you'll have to traipse through to achieve the thing. More jolly-boats and dwindling shorelines, prevaricating headwinds. Game is not art but social-bonding ritual masquerading as communal aesthetic experience or vice-versa, wandering up and down the play-art-religion spectrum, daring itself to take itself seriously, taking too large bites, paddling. Don't go burrowing.

Gnome stew gives me nothing.

Requisite paragraphs achieved, content ensues;

1. A wind carries with it the sharpish tang and chill of storm and from the seaward horizon rises a hail-green malevolence of roiling thunderhead. The squall breaks flinging ice-shards and biting rain and whips the ocean to a seething and a waterspout roars out of the depths hurling piranha-fish a-gnashing on the ravenous wind.

2. The balmy air is fragrant with a curious perfume of long-lost land that fills the mind with visions as of another life long ago and far away. In the mind's eye a verdant furnace-realm of topless towers and a vastly upward yearning unto green skies where leathery grey things fly that croak and bellow in the burning air. Something abominably too-like lust stirs and with it a terrible loathing.

3. In the ocean's shallow azure brilliance writhe the impossibly vibrant forms of sea-snakes in superb and meticulous traceries of virulence unparalleled, that merely looking upon them too long causes the eyes of the watcher to split and bleed. The very waves that wash over their display hiss with the venom.

4. Among the dappled light and shadow of gently undulating kelp fronds is glimpsed a dappled curvaceousness. Closer inspection reveals a wallowing sirenian in playful mood that wakens unaccountable vistas of forbidden carnality. All else recedes before the tide of urgent longing and the drowning brine all-too eagerly engulfs.

5. Skin swells and seethes and from within come chitinous nodules that burst into barnacled masses that crust over the faces of sufferers with hideous rapidity. They can't stop laughing wild and shrill.

6. Out on the hazy grey distant shore a weird ululation as of something vast and fell and dreadfully eager fills the heart with a primal dread. Waddling ponderously onto the beach afar is a thing like a grey penguin bigger than a windmill, great yellow eyes agleam with a fiendish curiosity. It hurls its sleek enormousness into the surf and approaches with terrible speed, warbling as it breaches.

7. Close to the shore, beyond the reef, a warm lagoon, shallow, filled with stony protuberances like giant petrified toadstools lapped by the tide. Wrongness sings silent in the stillness of the stone. Intruders twitch and yammer and bloom with a fecund stench as internal alchemies recalibrate themselves in obedience to the thing that thrums in this place.

8. There are bodies on the beach, drownlings tangled in the wrack. Turn one over. It is you. Falling into the sky.

9. Maundy Jill or Skittlebridge throws something up into the bottom of the boat. Black and piteous little manling, half-a-fish and mewling in the scum. Red mouth gaping. Other black shapes are in the water, calling it home.

10. A shadow athwart the sun presages the approach of a teratorn like unto a black vulture-heron grown vast through aeons uncountable. It comes a-flapping out of an elder age, trumpeting its mournful cry.

11. Turbulences drag and suck and thrust the jolly-boat against a reef that seems to rise too violently to crack and splinter the feeble craft,tumbling its passengers into the surge. The riptide rages. There is seeming malice in the currents that endeavour to drag to drowning depth or tear against the jagged coral. Hungry little sharks watch the struggle.

12. The cannon fire seems at first incongruous and the initial shot falls short. Away back at the Gomorrah even at four-hundred yards can be heard the laughter of the drunken damned and seen the capering on the poop-deck. They reload quickly as the hulk sets ragged sail.

So, yeah, approaching something vast and ancient and unknowable. Numerical parameters of the aforementioned misfortunes do not exist yet because the thing is but an embryo or a furtive paddling ashore. I am one of those ducklings that doesn't want to be pushed out of the tree. Besides, d100 tables are in vogue now so I'd like to do one of those for the jolly-boat chapter. It is admittedly unlikely.


  1. "The Willows" is a great story. It's no wonder Lovecraft ranked it among the best of Weird fiction.

    1. I also liked The Wendigo. Both of those stories have something of the desolate otherworldly atmosphere I am most interested in at the moment.

      Have you read "The Man Who Found Out"? It is slightly twee by modern standards but I found it satisfyingly archetypal.

  2. When I read Hodgson's The Night Land last year I thought it was one of the best fantasy settings I'd ever seen in one of the least readable books, thanks to extreme affectations of style. Still, there's nothing else like it.

    1. I haven't read The Night Land yet but House on the Borderland was very atmospheric and strange and quite gripping for the first half and then the protagonist gets to witness the entire history of the universe according to Hodgson which I tired of fairly quickly. It reminded me a bit of Dunsany but much more of George McDonald's Lilith, a very strange piece of impenetrable Christian allegory apparently.

      I have only really been seriously investigating these turn-of-the-last-century authors in the last couple of years and have been surprised at how alien that early fantasy was -I think there are some connections to Orientalist and Symbolist art and thought that bear further investigation.

    2. I liked House a lot too. If you haven't read A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, you may find it rewarding --- for me it was as atmospheric, strange, and gripping as anything I've read, if not exactly enjoyable. It actually made me deeply uneasy, which no other book has really done.