"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

An unalloyed materpiece: The Black Fox: A Novel of the 'Seventies

Bleiler, in his The Guide to Supernatural Fiction, does signal disservice to H. F. Heard's 1950 novel The Black Fox: A Novel of the 'Seventies:


Cassell; London 1950 

Ambition, pride, ecclesiastical politics, and magic in a Trollope-like setting in Victorian England. * Canon Charles Throcton, an Anglican clergyman whose specialty is Islamic studies, is slightingly passed over in a matter of preferment. While he really has been treated shabbily, his pride and ambition do not permit him to accept the injury in the spirit of obedience, and he half-seriously uses a magical recipe given by Ibn Barnuna, a (mythicaical) Moslem traveller. His enemy is soon tormented by a disease much like erisypelas and dies, leaving his position open to Throcton. But now Throcton notices all about him evidences of foulness and corruption, symbolized by a dead, mangy black fox that he finds in his garden. His sister, who is close to 

him, witnesses his gradual breakdown and sees some of the rottenness. A Sufi master, who is attending a local Islamic conference, explains the situation to her and provides her with vision to see what is really happening: Throcton is haunted by the evil he evoked. It is in the form of Anubis, a leprous jackal, since Throcton had sinned twice: murdering by magic and then denying it. The sister, with the psychic aid of the Sufi, agrees to take the evil to herself to save her brother's soul. Her death provides him with enough liberty that he can decide to make reparation. He goes to Egypt to study with the Sufi. * Basically GREEN TEA in modern form. Some interesting detail on ecclesiastical operations, but very slow, with mountains of turgid detail and pretentious reflection. It might have made a good nouvelle. I should add, however, that competent critics like Anthony Boucher have rated it highly.

The February 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, then under Boucher's coeditorship, carried this judgment on The Black Fox on their Recommended Reading page: "Literarily and spiritually, the outstanding supernatural novel of at least the past decade."

Having just read The Black Fox: A Novel of the 'Seventies, I can assure you Boucher is the accurate reporter, and that The Black Fox is essential reading for anyone interested in literary excellence in general, and in supernatural fiction in particular. It is a novel worthy of comparison to any on Karl Edward Wagner's list. It is as good or better than The Boke of the Devil, Doctors Wear Scarlet, or Machen's strange novellas. 


21 December 2021

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