Sunday, August 13, 2017

Alan Dean Foster and John Carpenter's The Thing: celebtating 35 years of the 1982 novelization







In the period 1981-1983 I read more novels by Alan Dean Foster than any other writer.

I read:

Splinter of the Mind's Eye
Star Trek Log 1-?
The Black Hole
Alien
The Thing
Outland




I can still remember practically verbatim the first few paragraphs of his novelization of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982):

The worst desert on Earth never gets hot. It boasts no towering sand dunes like the Sahara, no miles and miles of barren gravel as does the Gobi. The winds that torment this empty land make those that sweep over the Rub al Khali seem like spring breezes.

There are no venomous snakes or lizards here because there is nothing for them to poison. A bachelor wolf couldn't make a living on the slopes of its Vinson Massif. Even the insects shun the place. The birds who eke out a precarious life along its shores prefer to swim rather than fly, seeking sustenance from the sea rather than a hostile land. Here live seals that feed on other seals, microscopic krill that support the world's largest mammals. Yet it takes acres to support a single bug.

A mountain named Erebus stands cloaked in permanent ice, but burns with the fires of hell. Elsewhere the land itself lies crushed beneath the solid ice up to three miles thick. In this frozen waste, this gutted skeleton of a continent unlike any other, only one creature stands a chance of surviving through the winters. His name is Man, and like the diving spider he's forced to carry his sustenance on his back.

Sometimes Man imports other things to Antarctica along with his heat and food and shelter that would not have an immediate impact on an impartial observer. Some are benign, such as the desire to study and learn, which drives him down to this empty wasteland in the first place. Others can be more personal and dangerous. Paranoia, fear of open places, extreme loneliness; all can hitch free and unwelcome rides in the minds of the most stable of scientists and technicians.

Usually these feelings stay hidden, locked away behind the need to concentrate on surviving hundred-mile-an-hour winds and eighty-below-zero temperatures.

It takes an extraordinary set of circumstances to transform paranoia into a necessary instrument for survival.

When the wind blows hard across the surface of Antarctica, the universe is reduced to simpler elements. Sky, land, horizon all cease to exist. Differences die as the world melts into blustery, homogeneous cream....





At which point a helicopter and a dog enter the narrative and we are off to the races.

I found this P.R. fluttering in my paperback. Old-fashioned and charming:

ALAN DEAN FOSTER, a Scorpio, was born in California where he completed his schooling. After serving a hitch in the U.S. Army, he worked as a copywriter in a public relations-advertising firm. Since then he has taught Motion Picture History and Writing at Los Angeles City College, as well as Literature at U.C.L.A.

A prolific writer, Foster has written very successful novelizations of Alien, Dark Star, The Black Hole, Outland and Clash of the Titans. He has also had ten novels published including the five Humanx Commonwealth volumes, Midworld, Cachalot, Icerigger, Mission to Moulokin and his most recent one, Spellsinger.

A red belt in Tang Soo Do (a form of Korean Karate), Foster's hobbies are backpacking, body surfing and basketball. He and his wife recently deserted the Pacific Coast to live in the Arizona desert.




Sounds like a pretty nice life.

Macready and Childs don't end up so nicely situated:

.... [Macready] leaned against the handmade bar and lit a cigar from the pub's undamaged stock. His hands were heavily wrapped. No gloves were lying conveniently about, but there'd been plenty of insulated tape in the ruins of the infirmary. What was left of his hands benefited from the bandaging anyway. He puffed on the cigar and poured a double, no soda please, into a glass that was only slightly chipped.

Something grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. He was too exhausted to scream.

A face stared back into his own: Childs. White-and-black blotches mottled the exposed skin and icicles decorated the mechanic's woolly beard.

"Did . . . did you kill it? I heard an explosion." Childs's mouth wasn't working too well. His lips were cracked and stained with dried blood. A weak gust of wind caused the powerful frame to stagger. Lack of food and exposure to the elements had severely depleted the mechanic's strength.

"I think so," Macready told him

"What do you mean, 'you think so'?" Childs stumbled backward a few steps.

They eyed each other suspiciously, the voices guarded. Macready was suddenly alert.

"Yeah, I got it." He gestured with a mummified finger at the mechanic's face. "Pretty mean frostbite."

Childs kept his distance and exhibited a puffy, pale hand.

"It'll turn again soon enough. Then I guess I'll be losing the whole thing." He kicked out first his right foot, then the left. The movements were feeble, shaky. "Think my toes are already gone."

Macready had salvaged one of the card tables and set it up nearby. Carrying bottle and glass he limped over and sat down in the single chair. The back was cracked but the legs were still intact.

A chess set rested on the table, its power wire hanging loosely over the side. By some miracle the box of pieces that had been buried beneath it had survived the cataclysm. Several piles of cards lay nearby. Macready was in the process of combining them to form a single, complete deck.

The two men continued to eye each other warily. "So you're the only one who made it," said Childs.

Macready was setting up the chessboard. Tiny magnets held each piece to the metal board despite the steady wind.

"Not the only one, it looks like."

Childs found a couple of blankets and gratefully wrapped them around his upper body. "The fire's got the temperature way up all over camp. Won't last long, though." He nodded toward the pub's missing wall.

"Neither will we."

"Maybe we should try and fix one of the radios. Try and get some help."

"Maybe we shouldn't."

"Then we'll never make it," the mechanic said calmly.

Macready puffed on the cigar until the tip glowed red, then reached down into the bundle of supplies he'd gathered. From the middle of the pile he pulled a small, cylindrical metal shape.

"Lookee what I found. This one works." He carefully put the blowtorch on the table next to him.

"Maybe we shouldn't make it," he added speculatively.

Childs eyed the blowtorch. "If you're worried about anything, let's take that blood test of yours."

"If we've got any surprises for each other," the pilot replied, "we wouldn't be in any condition to do anything about it. Any testing can wait." He paused, then ask cheerfully, "You don't play chess?"

Childs studied the pilot, then hunted through the wreckage outside the pub. He returned carrying a second chair in reasonably good condition and placed it across the table from Macready.

"I guess I'll be learning."

The pilot grinned and handed the mechanic the bottle. Childs leaned back and drained half of what was left. When he put the bottle down he was smiling.

Around them the persistent fires smoldered on, riding a sea of frozen water. Bright embers levitated by the wind rose lazily into the night sky The ghostly ribbon of the southern aurora pirouetted overhead, masking many of the stars that had come out in the wake of the storm.

Macready nudged a pawn two squares forward







And that's how Foster ends it. Magnificent.



Jay
13 August 2017






Tales of the marvellous and the ridiculous: Don't Dream - The Collected Horror and Fantasy of Donald Wandrei


Painting by Clem Haupers



In addition to Dead Titans, Waken! and The Web of Easter Island, I read a third book of weird stories in the last 2 weeks:

Don't Dream: The Collected Horror and Fantasy Fiction of Donald Wandrei

Wandrei, like Derleth, is an important historical figure in the Lovecraft literary sub-genre not because he was a great writer. Wandrei and Derleth were the field's pioneers in publishing and canon formation. They also served as a guide in business to all the guerilla publishers, vanity publishers, and self-publishers to come.

But enough griping about the post-Lovecraft-industrial publishing-complex. You will be here all afternoon clawing at the doors if I spread myself on that topic.

*

Does Wandrei in Don't Dream give us meaningful work to be read and enjoyed? Yes, provided you persevere. I've highlighted my own favorites.

I will begin with acknowledging the misfired tales which comprise the first 118 pages of Don't Dream. These are tyro works full of rhetorical bombast and stylistic flourishes that drown the reader in esoteric leagues of purple.


A Fragment of a Dream • (1926)

....And the tower of flame which had hung still for a moment leaped upward toward the eternal was blackness overhead. But the wanderer stood motionless. And the thundering, madly rushing gales vengefully swept downward and about him. He felt torn by a million waters fighting, smashing, and the noise of all enormous washing seas filled his ears. And he stumbled, battered by angry pounding winds.

“Loma! Loma!”


The Shadow of a Nightmare • (1929)

....The more tales of terror you read, the more inured you become. There is always the thrill of the first few horror stories, of course, but indifference comes quickly. Life is so comprehensive that little can be new; but the unknown, the utterly unknown, is the essence of terror.

....One of the first things he did was to show me some recent additions to his queer library. He had acquired some Latin works on demonology, among them a rather gruesome Sixteenth Century volume that contained several of Brueghel the Elder’s nightmare-compositions, engraved, I think, by Cock. There was also a manuscript of great age which evidently fascinated him. He handled it with a mixture of like and dislike for some minutes while we were looking at his new volumes, and seemed half reluctant, half glad, to leave it....


The Green Flame • (1930)

....the emerald was aflame, and its heart was aflame, and its surface was aflame, and inside it was all fire, and from it poured that dreadful wave of glory And in the core of the jewel, a great burning stream arose, and with its rise and fall, the hellish fire shone forth and the sinister blaze burst out as if long pent up, to swell the ebb and flow of flame across the table. And the fire blazed from one emerald!


The Tree-Men of M'Bwa • (1932)

[Here We have the first story with an inkling of narrative juice. The final line is a corker, and deserved a better tale.]

....“We made our way up the Congo all right, and a devilish trip it was. I’ve always hated jungles—everything unhealthy seems to grow in them—snakes that strike without warning, flesh-eating plants, and more poisonous insects and deadly vegetation than science yet knows about...."


When the Fire Creatures Came (n.d.)
[A series of coincidences that beggar narrative belief.]

....“You probably have read something about recent investigations into electrical energy, cosmic rays, and potential origins of life. According to the latest discoveries, what we call life is a kind of electro-genetic flow or current, somewhat like that in a mechanical battery but vastly superior to anything that man himself has devised. We die just as a battery does when our cells wear out, or are smashed, or develop flaws, or are not replaced...."


The Lives of Alfred Kramer (1932)

“From early childhood,” he commenced, “I was inquisitive into the world around me. I seem to have been born with a scientific and inventive bent. At the same time I was a dreamy child. My nights were vivid with a constant stream of images. Sometimes these were pleasant, often they were terrifying. I saw scenes and had strange experiences that I could not explain on the basis of anything I had read, or witnessed, or heard...."

"....the average human being requires the services of only a few thousand cells during his lifetime. The remaining cells apparently are capable of storing up facts but simply are not called on except by individuals who pursue knowledge inexhaustibly. It was my belief that this enormous number of unused cells retained, but ever so slightly, impressions of the dominant incidents which had affected the lives of all one’s forebears...."


The Fire Vampires • (1933)

....prevailing chaos in which lawlessness, disorder, crime, and vice of every sort were universal. Scientists, it is true, worked feverishly in efforts to devise new weapons of destruction, to break down the atom, to control the laws of stellar mechanics, to invent space transports which in a last resort might convey the population of Earth to another planet. But the time was too short. Throughout the period, a tremendous exodus from America was under way, resulting in serious overpopulation of the nearest countries, and causing almost continual riots, struggles, and intermittent warfare.


Spawn of the Sea • (1933)

“‘Shut it! Shut it!’ Bill screamed, and we hurled ourselves against the door, fastening it securely. Down in the hold we had seen a vast, shapeless mass of undulating greenish-white stuff, thick as skin, with a beating motion like a pulse. The revolting odor came from that mass, but what terrified us most was the way that pulpy substance leaped up at us when we opened the hatch! Leaped, like an unknown animal after prey, with a furious beating of the pulse, its surface writhing into tentacles that flung at us, and a hiss like an inarticulate cry.


The Lady in Gray • (1933)

I have been, I repeat, subject since early childhood to hideous dreams. Disembodied heads that rolled after me; cities of colossal and alien statuary; fire that burned and beasts that leaped; falls downward from titanic precipices; falls skyward up from pits of ancient evil; the old ones, waiting and waiting; flights through eternal blackness from nothing or something I only sensed; the grind of infernal torture machines against my flesh; monsters all of flowers and animals, fish and birds and stones, wood and metal and gas united incredibly; the pale avengers; descent into necrophilic regions; the leering of a bodiless eye in the midst of vast and forlorn plains; a corpse that rose and turned upon me the visage of a friend, with tentacles and ribbons of tattered black flesh writhing outward as though blown by gusts of wind; the little ones who pattered toward me with strange supplications; sunlight upon an oak-covered hill, sunlight whose malignance, nameless color, pulse, and odor instilled in me the unreasoning hate that is allied with madness; orchids lifting blooms like children’s faces, and sipping blood; the dead ones who came, and came again; that awful moment when I drowned, and a fat thing swam out of the sea-depths to nibble; mewing blades of grass which purred avidly as my feet trod upon them; these and countless other such nightmares, inflicted through slumber as far back as I can remember, bred in me a deep and rooted aversion to sleep.


The Man Who Never Lived (1934)

“We recall what we have learned of the past, and it lives forever in the mind of the race. But the author of Revelations looked into the future and foretold some of the realities of today. Today, there are those who peer into the future and forecast the realities of tomorrow.”

....“Paul, I cannot stop. I infringed on the supreme mind, and I am lost. Can you hear me? I will tell what I see for as long as I can. Everything happens in an instant. I can only give you the highlights. Swifter than I can speak, entire lives and events flow backward, tracing the completed parts of the mind. I am fighting it, but I cannot win. I am only a fragment, and it is all.”

***

Wandrei's style and content coalesced in 1934-1935. The next sequence of works, granted occasional slips and regressions, were more assured and relaxed in tone, often leveraging a Twin Cities milieu.


The Nerveless Man • (1934)

[n.b. A superb weird medical horror story. Strongest story in the collection so far.]

....Diochloresthane is revealed as one of the most potentially powerful and efficient agencies ever known in offensive warfare. Shall I turn my discovery’ over to the government? Shall I release it for use on those suffering from incurable afflictions? Or shall I adhere to my recent decision and destroy the formula because of its disastrous, antipreventive effects as in the case of Leeds?

....April 3—To date, twenty-three intravenous injections of diochloresthane in rats, dogs, and cats have been completely successful. No loss of awareness evident, no sense of pain detectable in any of the experiments, in spite of incisions, excisions, vivisections, et cetera. New anaesthetic appears to paralyze all nerves. Wonder if human beings would give similar reaction? Complete anaesthesia without loss of consciousness has never occurred in medical history so far as I know, excepting of course, cases where hypnosis, dementia, shock, or other abnormal conditions were present.

....new anaesthetic not only paralyzes nerves but also causes intense molecular cohesion of blood on exposure to air, or else expedites coagulation. Further research necessary on this point Proceeded with vivisection of animal. Finished in two hours, when animal died, with no indication of pain, after removal of heart.

....Nature has always used pain as a warning that some part of the body is not functioning properly. You will no longer have that warning.

....Through swollen, seared lips, it gibbered: “You don’t need to tell me; I can see it in your face! I’m dying, and I don’t know it! I can’t feel; I can’t feel pain! But you’re going to feel all the pain that I can’t, and I’ll watch you writhe and roast yourself, damn you!”
It bounded toward me through the evil smoke like a thing of nightmare horror. I crashed the table against it. It leaped around, covering the door so that I could not escape.


The Chuckler • (1934)

“The grave robber’s at it again,” he muttered to himself, “but he won’t get away this time.” He suddenly caught his breath. “Lord, if it isn’t the Walton crypt! I’ll bet he’s after the emerald they say Walton liked so well that he had it buried with him!”


A Scientist Divides • (1934)

....Perhaps one might take cells and subject them to enzymatic, metabolistic, biochemical, or other changes that would convert them into what might be called homoplasm.”

“Homoplasm?” I queried.

“To distinguish it from protoplasm. And here it is.”

....A butcher in Chillicothe left his store one noon to deliver an order around the corner. When he returned, he saw a strange little naked boy climbing out a window. He ran shouting toward his store and asserted that a gang of the brats swarmed from every opening. His narrative would also have been met with disbelief except for the fact that not an ounce of meat remained in his shop, with one exception. Cuts, loins, quarters, whole carcasses, liver, even suet, were stolen. Only sausage in the new, permanently protective casings was left. He thought he had recently seen a picture of the first youth, but he could not remember where....


The Destroying Horde • (1935)

[n.b.  This is an utterly charming weird science thriller of the 'monster on campus' variety. Wandrei is clearly fascinated by the horror possibilities inherent is large, self-dividing blobs of ravenous protoplasm.]

....From an open window on the second floor, a great, roundish, jelly-like thing, the size of a bushel basket, had emerged and was clinging to the sill As the policeman stared at it in consternation, it slid over the edge of the sill and half dropped, half crawled to the ground down the side of the building.

....He didn’t have long to wait before obtaining an altogether too clear idea of what the curious beast was going to do. For barely an instant he was able to survey it while it lay supine a dozen yards away from him on the grass next to the animal biology building. It had a kind of iridescent shimmer, and seemed semi-liquid, or like a jelly-fish in consistency, thick and viscid. It was approximately spherical, seemed to possess no limbs or appendages, and looked a kind of pale, dirty gray in color, with a faint tinge of rose suffusing its mass.

....But the policeman’s eyes were fixed on the co-ed who had stepped around the corner of the animal biology building, unwittingly into the path of the spheroid mass at the moment when he had fired. A blank look transformed her features and she fainted. The object rolled toward her, and upon her. There was a curious contraction and quivering of the heap. Visibly, before the policeman’s eyes, the limp body was absorbed, consumed, digested, by the creature.


The Monster from Nowhere  (1935)

[n.b. The plot here is very close to that classic of Cold War UFO lore which usually goes by the name "The Flatwoods Monster."]

....I thought momentarily that Kurt Jensen had somehow met his death accidentally from the explosive force that checked the torpedo’s descent. But he had phoned me after the craft landed. Again, there was no sign of any opening large enough for even a snake to pass. If anyone had been inside the torpedo, he could not get out. And if he had gotten out, I was faced with the mystery of how. Anything small enough to emerge through the aft or tail orifices certainly could not have made the heavy crashing I heard in the woods. As I reconstructed events, Kurt had seen the torpedo land, or had stumbled across it. He had then telephoned me, and while he awaited my arrival, something had distracted him.

....I have called the thing a monster. I said that it frightened and revolted me. But when I tried to comprehend it, to put myself in its place, another disagreeable thought occurred to me. The thing, if it possessed intelligence of an advanced order, probably regarded our life as something horrible, incomprehensible, and enigmatic. Our appearance and our characteristics probably astonished it, or scared it, just as much as its presence affected us. In its view, we were the monsters.

....“I watched the papers for a week in the vague hope that I might hear of peculiar happenings elsewhere that would signify the return of the invader. I felt a sense of guilt over not having prevented the thing from taking its captives along. I still do not see how I could have acted effectively, but I was the only person with opportunity to intercede. But I have seen and heard nothing further. The projectile is gone. I will never view it again.

“Somewhere out in the great black voids of space, the astroplane is rocketting onward to an unknown goal, or returning to whatever part of the cosmos spawned it. Perhaps it is already there. Perhaps the entity had knowledge of forces and powers that enabled it to warp through space or curve across time. I do not know. But I visualize it travelling down the nights and down the months and down the years upon its colossal Odyssey across the universe. And secretly I respect it, for its fearless courage, its resources, its titanic initiative, its thirst for knowledge, the magnitude of its voyage, and the sufficiency that urged it on, alone for an incalculable period on a journey that must have been beset by perils of unimaginable scope....


The Witch-Makers • (1936)

[A Yankee trader steals a cursed idol while in darkest Africa. The curse is fulfilled in the form of experimentation by two fugitive scientists.]

"....For weeks and months, Travers, we’ve torn spirit and flesh asunder. Here in fifty square miles that contain almost every kind of the climate and life of Africa, we’ve learned more about animal behavior during our three months than all mankind learned in three thousand years. We’ve stolen a march on evolution. We’ve knocked the natural selection of species into a cocked hat.

“Why can’t we do the same with the spirit of man? Maybe we can’t, but we won’t know till we’ve tried. And if we try and succeed, would you even attempt to estimate how much we’ll enrich man’s imagination and add to his knowledge? Think of what it would mean if we enabled man to look at the world through the eyes of his pets, a dog, or a cat, or a horse! Wouldn’t he have a more tender feeling toward them and a more profound appreciation of his capacities? Isn’t it possible that, in course of time, his pets would acquire a new intelligence of the order of humanity?

....“Do not be alarmed. Whatever seems incredible to you is really very simple. We have discovered how to separate the life-stream or consciousness or whatever you want to call it from the body to which it belongs, and to effect an exchange with some other body. Thus far we have worked only with the lower vertebrates. In your case, your chances for survival as Leif Abbot were so small that we operated upon the six layers of your cerebral cortex and transferred your identity to the body of a strong and healthy black panther. The panther’s identity now occupies your own sick and weakened body. By this interchange we hope to strengthen your body sufficiently so that your identity can later be restored to it, with better chances for your recovery and survival.

“In the meantime the door to your cage is open behind you. Go into the jungle, if you like. You probably will be better off there. You have all the intelligence of man and all the senses and instincts of the big cats. You should be able to avoid any danger and survive any attack.”


The Eye and the Finger • (1936)

....The mirror, stripped of the coating of black paint, disclosed a flat desert, a wilderness unbroken by stone, dune, bush, stream, or creature, a void that stretched endlessly in all directions. Upon that desolation stood only the cave, a horseshoe in shape, tunneling to the far distance. And from the cavern emerged a figure, dimly outlined save for its face which reflected the lumino....


The Painted Mirror (1937)

….Nicholas patiently dragged the screens and windows aside in order to get at the mirror. It must be a very special mirror or it would not have been so well concealed.

With the last of the frames removed, he felt a pang of disappointment.

A coat of black paint covered the entire face of the mirror.

Nicholas remembered that a can of black paint, partly used, and a brush caked with black paint lay in another part of the attic. Some previous occupant, then, had taken pains to render the mirror useless. Why? It would have been much simpler to shatter the glass. Why had someone avoided breaking the mirror, but at the same time destroyed its value?

Here was mystery, adventure, beckoning him. He went back to the workbench and picked out a chisel. The chisel had an almost blunt edge, but it served well enough for scraping the paint off the mirror.

The black coating cracked away in tiny flakes. At the end of an hour’s hard work, he had cleaned an area somewhat larger than his two hands. He toiled for another hour before his arms grew tired.

A feeling of excitement had come over him, for this was, indeed, a magic mirror. He knew that already by the surface he had exposed, now as big around as a plate.

The mirror, as all mirrors should, reflected an image. But that image was not Nicholas, nor any object in the attic, nor any part of the attic! He could not make out more. He could not determine the true nature of the image. He had only a tantalizing glimpse of a portion of that imprisoned reflection….


Uneasy Lie The Drowned (1937)

....The water itself, leaf-green at mid-afternoon, darkened as the sun disappeared. The green turned to a sodden blue, and went down to a dull black. And far under that black, four hundred feet and more, lay the solid rock that formed the deep-gouged bed of all these northern lakes. Rock, and the sediment of centuries, saturated logs, perhaps the wrecks of sunken boats and bodies of the drowned for the pike and the muskel-lunge to forget.

Even the stillness had given way to disturbing sound. The constant, quiet slur of waters divided by the canoe became a slap, at irregular intervals, and with mounting force. The canoe, no longer gliding at even balance, began to rise a little, dip a little, and the lake smacked the fore keel. From the far distance came the advance echo of a mighty rushing howl. The dark mass of pine and spruce that lined the shore, now less than two miles ahead, stirred with a mournful unrest. The air grew colder.


Giant-Plasm (1939)

....The sea boiled and stewed in huge bulges of waves. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I didn’t notice any wind, and yet by the dim light of the waning crescent moon the Pacific looked as if somebody down below had lighted a whopping big fire and the whole damned ocean was beginning to boil. But the water didn’t feel any too warm when I got dunked. I came up beside the Hall woman, and somebody hauled both of us into the dory after we yelled awhile.

So that’s all I’ll ever know about it, except the stink—phooey, what a stink! Enormous bubbles kept floating up to the surface and going plop! Then we’d get a whiff of what smelled like a mixture of sulphur fumes and rotten eggs.

I suppose Glenk’s guess is as good as anybody’s. He thinks a submarine explosion of some sort created a tidal wave or a series of conflicting tidal waves that caught the Reva in the heart of the disturbance. The first push was the one that tossed me out of my bunk. Then the others rocked the ship, stood her on end so that the cargo shifted, and started her down. Probably the boilers blew at that stage and finished her.

Don’t Dream (1939)

“Killed his wife.” Henty mopped his streaming face. “Guess the heat got him. First he chokes her to death. Then he drills her twice in the head and once in the heart. Funny thing is, we didn’t find a gun or any slugs. Then he heaves her off a fifth-floor fire escape.

“God, how he must’ve hated her,” he said, marveling. “He wasn’t satisfied with all that. He goes tearing down the fire escape, hauls the body all the way up again, and heaves it over a second time. He must’re run down and up like a monkey. Leastwise, nobody saw it happen.” Fosterbrow looked dubious. “It doesn’t seem possible, for such a little man.”


It Will Grow On You (1942)

....He unwound the last of the tape. A pillow case lay underneath, twisted around the thigh. His breathing had a hoarser sound, a rasp and a catch. He loosed the corners of the pillow case and flung it aside with a jerky but practised motion that left both hands cupped, veins bulging up.

There was a great purplish splotch on the skin. The ankles were rooted in its center, tiny ankles that flowed into the rudiments of feet that merged with the flesh. She could not have been more than a foot tall, a miniature and sinuous Venus, a perfect figurine, exquisitely formed in each minute detail, like a doll, but perilously alive with a vitality all her own. In the light of late afternoon her body seemed at moments nut-brown, then changing to a sort of metallic sheen, the color of old bronze overlain with a patina of verdigris. Her eyes were closed. Her face had the vacant repose of an idiot child.

She opened her eyes and looked at the doctor.

He got up and walked over to the window. There came a foolish little twittering from behind. Some force stronger than his will turned him around. The small horror was talking in a language that he did not know. She was cooing upward at her host with mindless adoration, and straining tautly upon her rooted feet as though attempting to leap into his arms.

“What is she—what is it—saying?” he asked in a faraway tone.

“I do not hear anything.”


"Strange Harvest" is Wandrei's supreme work of Minnesota horror, and deserves to be quoted at full mirthful length. It is a masterpiece of weird folklorish summer horror. Anyone who ever worked on a farm will delight in its topping of one madcap absurdity with another.

Strange Harvest • (1953)

….Old Emily Tawber fussed with her darning until mid-morning before laying it aside. “Jed can wait for his socks,” she muttered crossly. “I can’t cook and sew and tend to the crops all at once, and them watermelons ripe for market.”

She put her mending back in the big wicker basket, pulled a vast-brimmed straw hat over her head, and went out in an old rag dress that she used for chores.

She stomped across the yard and through her flower garden to the melon patch. There were about fifty big melons ready for picking. She would pile them up alongside the path for Jed to load and take to market in the morning.

“Land’s sakes, I never see such melons in all my born days.” Old Emily stuck her arms on her hips and surveyed the green ovals. These were giant watermelons, three and four feet long, weighing a hundred pounds or more. She had been surprised throughout the summer by their growth.

“Well, the bigger they be, the more they’ll fetch,” she decided and went after the first one.

It must have been on a slope for it rolled away as she approached.

“Well, I swan!” said old Emily. “Things is gettin’ to a pretty pass when you can’t get at your own seedin’s.”

She walked after the watermelon. It rolled farther. Old Emily became flustered. She increased her stride. The melon bumped unevenly in a wide circle around the vine-root. Old Emily panted after it and it wobbled crazily always just ahead of her.

Old Emily began to feel dizzy. She guessed the sun was too much for her. She wasn’t as spry as she used to be. The world reeled around. The melon kept going, while she paused for breath, then it rolled all the way around, came toward her, and crashed into her ankles. The blow sent her sprawling. This was when peril first entered her thoughts. She staggered to her feet and from the patch.

“Watermelon won’t get me,” she crooned. “Watermelon run along but he won’t get me. Don’t let old watermelon get me.” This was all that anyone heard her say during the rest of her earthly existence.

....Shawtuck Center grew more and more restless as the afternoon waned and farmers arrived with newer and wilder accounts of the pranks that nature was playing. Andy’s general store buzzed with anxious and angry voices. The population of Shawtuck County was made up almost exclusively of hard-headed Dutchmen, Scandinavians, and Germans who had settled through the Midwest during the great immigration waves of the late nineteenth century. They were a conservative, strong-working, sturdy lot. They clung to past customs, and some of the superstitions learned in the Old Country. The town simmered with tales of witchcraft and hauntings, of the Little People, of goblins and evil spirits.

What caused this strange revolt of the plant kingdom at Shawtuck Center? Nothing of the sort seemed to be afflicting the outside world. And what possible action could he take? He could at least make a field inspection for a special crop report....


Nightmare • (1965)
[n.b. A regression to the "pastels in prose" gout-inspiring rich style of juvenile prose poetry.]

The Crater • (1967)
....While he watched the entrance to the room, a head rolled out and spun to the middle of the floor. It regarded him intently, with deliberate malice. The head gave him a shock of fright. However, it also gave him a faint suggestion of memory, of pseudo-recognition. He stared back at it while his mnemonic faculties surged, and subsided. The features looked familiar, but he could not think of a name.

Delirium of the Dead
....There were dead eyes on the bed, and darker night though all the room was ghastly in the pale moonlight.




After "Strange Harvest” and a few late minor stories briefly noted above, the collection Don't Dream begins over again with Wandrei's  adolescent and adult prose poems and poetry. Wandrei clearly thought a poem required steadiness and flights of abstractly high-flown and esoteric vocabulary, which means most of his verses are unreadable today.

The Messengers • (1926)

....Perhaps they were the offering of some ultra-stellar king, richer than the richest dream, who wooed the stately, marmoreal queen of Polaris; or the spoils of an interplanetary war raging unquenchable among the Titans of star and star; or the tribute of a captive world sent to the conqueror across the deep. Illumined by the rays of the westering sun, the envoys and their burthen passed-—richly figured tapestries, gold, and green, and purple, stuffs woven by the velvet-fingered artisans of Aura; great jewels—emeralds, and rubies, and opals, and precious gems never known to man; rare perfumes gathered from the flower that blooms only in the inaccessible vales of Aldebaran; strangely carven ebony; slaves, and queer beasts, and indescribable priceless things from emperors and planets of the remoter infinite.

The Pursuers • (1926)

....Prophetic was the portent of that silent passing in the dull, burning sky, a portent of cosmic evil sent abroad. In the fascination of fear, I watched the monsters rush by, monsters the tongue affords no terms to describe, beasts whose name would sicken horror, loathsome, loathly entities that tore adown the dim-felt trail in fury. And there were some I could not see, that could not be seen, but the air thickened where they travelled, and the shapes were indescribable.

The Woman at the Window • (1938)

....And when the window began to glow at twilight, and the scarlet rays swept across its surface and turned it into a sheet of blazing red, a strange transparency crept into it, and the window dripping intangible blood limned with a hellish indistinctness the face of a woman peering out. Her eyes were fixed on the motionless sun; in the minute at dusk when it halted, and all the strange land was a study in reds and shades of red, and the sky itself the color of liver and the realm livid with blood red rot in its length and breadth, the face became visible at the window while curious and exceptional rays left the sun and turned the window into fire. But no illumination ever reached the face of the woman who stared, and at the end of the twiligit moment, when the crimson fire duskened on the pane, her countenance slowly disappeared into the mysterious and phantasmal gloom that filled the interior. For, even as the sun sent livid waves across the window, her face became visible, motionless and gazing into the west; but eternally dark and indistinguishable though the scarlet rays made efforts to illumine and outline it; and when the baffled sun retreated, the face of the woman at the window was reclaimed again by the guardian shadows that came from the remote recesses of the castle.

The Purple Land • poem by Donald Wandrei
....And lo, a stream flows by murmuring like forgetful Acheron. And when I came, the gloom was thick upon the valley, and all was still. But a faint wind had begun to lull the flowers with an eldritch whisper, and from the slow waters rose a low, lone chant. And the flowers in a voiceless antiphony swayed rhythmic: the eldritch wind played upon the flowers of death a dirge, and the dirge was like the cry of a damned thing lost or a lost thing damned, damned and lost through all eternity.


Black Flame • poem by Donald Wandrei

....after stupendous toil through epochs and epochs of time returning in recurrent cycles to her of the immortal loveliness and the terrible beauty in the shifting chorus and response of flame and blackness. But the radiance wherein she stood enshrined and untouched withered like a furious blast from furnaces infernal at my approach, and all my huge labor was in vain; and the gulfs in unison resolved together, flame to ebony and ebony to flame, flowing as one inseparable back to the choral cosmic harmony of dust and dreams.

The Shrieking House • poem by Donald Wandrei

....And ever the shriek swelled to the dead sky, pouring from the house in one incessant sound that coursed through my brain with a horrible, torturing monotony. And I turned in despair to the street, but there were no passersby, and the street, and the house, and the sky were black, all black, and dead.


The Phantom City • poem by Donald Wandrei

....if you like the wretched buildings of downtown St. Paul, and the wretched buildings and still more miserable streets of Minneapolis, enjoy them; if you like the hideous noises of automobiles, streetcars, factories, trains, school children, and numerous other things, the constant smells of smoke, gas, and gasoline, the sight of too many unpleasant objects to enumerate, and the beautiful Mississippi with a great variety of detestable things above it, on it, in it, and along it, take as much pleasure as you wish. To me, the Twin Cities are a pestilence on the weekdays, an abomination on Sundays, a limbo in summer and a nuisance in winter, during the day. But I shall always have for St. Paul the highest respect, for if it had been beautiful in my eyes, I might have been content with my lot; if it had offered me pleasure, I should not have created worlds of my own, and I should not have known St. Paul by night.

There are many, many more poems in the book.

***

By far the strangest and most compelling story in Don't Dream is non-fiction. It is D.H. Olson's essay “Of Donald Wandrei, August Derleth and H. P. Lovecraft.”

The article details year-by-year the quixotic lawsuit brought by Wandrei against the Estate of August Derleth. Nothing in Dickens’ Bleak House can compare with it.

There are three or four outstanding stories in Don't Dream. As stated above, I particularly prize the weird and mirthful “Strange Harvest.” It depicts a part of the upper midwest Wandrei knew well.




Jay
12 August 2017