I’ll have to admit, the month’s been pretty good to me so far. Some of my projects are either finished off or nearing completion – I’ve had the final post in my book-length series on the work of Charlee Jacob published, to start with. I’ve also got some new work to get started on: in particular, I’ve finally reeled in a professional writing gig I’ve been angling after for a while now. I’m not in a position to go into detail publicly, but suffice to say that this time next year I should have a new book out.
I’m very happy with how Midnight Widows issue 2 is progressing, too. Marcel Hauptvogelova is finishing off the cover as I write these words. Right, I’d best get cracking on my projects for February. See you then, beloved readers…
One event this month that was generally filed in the science fiction category, but is nonetheless horror relevant, was the unveiling of a commemorative one-pound coin celebrating the work of H. G. Wells. The engraving by Chris Costello shows a Martian tripod from The War of the Worlds alongside the Invisible Man – although it has provoked a good deal of criticism on the grounds that the tripod has four legs and the Invisible Man is wearing the wrong clothes (there’s also the issue that Wells is misquoted on the side of the coin). Accuracy issues aside, I have to say it’s a pretty nice-looking coin – although not half as metal as the skull-and-rose coin that Shakespeare received a few years back.
A while ago I was thinking about the vast scale of H. Rider Haggard’s influence on fantasy and adventure fiction, and something occurred to me: did Wonder Woman originate as a feminist rewrite of Haggard’s Ayesha, She-who-must-be-obeyed? The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemd – so I decided to write an essay about it, clocking in at 5,400 words. You can read the whole thing by joining the WWAC Patreon; for now, here’s a sample:
Somewhere in a remote corner of the world is a land known to outsiders only in legend. It is a matriarchy, ruled for thousands of years by a queen who has obtained the gift of immortality. The modern West eventually makes contact with this hidden land, leading to a clash of cultures. The matriarchy and its immortal queen have their own attitudes towards the concepts of power and obedience, towards the roles of men and women – attitudes that strike visitors from the outside as strange and different, yet also enticing.
This is the premise behind two influential pieces of fantasy fiction. One is the comic saga of Wonder Woman, which began in 1941; the other is H. Rider Haggard’s novel She: A History of Adventure, originally serialised in the 1880s. Each story was extremely influential, yet the two used their shared premise to opposite ends. Wonder Woman is a superhero who uses her powers to thwart evil forces; in Haggard’s novel, meanwhile, the immortal queen Ayesha is a cold-hearted and brutal despot known to her subjects as “She-who-must-be-obeyed” (an epithet that launched a thousand sitcom jokes). Whereas Ayesha became the template for sundry villainesses, Wonder Woman remains one of the most enduring heroines of the popular imagination – but could the two seeming opposites be connected?
This is the second post in a series; the first can be read here.
In the penultimate passage of her TERF Wars essay, J. K. Rowling rejects the label of victim: “The last thing I want to say is this. I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me, not even a teeny-weeny one. I’m extraordinarily fortunate; I’m a survivor, certainly not a victim.” The distinction between the label of survivor and that of victim is the difference between activity and passivity, but each comes with the implied existence of an aggressor – a villain.
Narratives of aggressors and targets (a term I’ll generally be using here as a more neutral alternative to victim/survivor) run through the essay, the most prominent being the narrative of Rowling as target of online harassment. She identifies this harassment as beginning when she clicked “like” on a certain tweet:
All the time I’ve been researching and learning, accusations and threats from trans activists have been bubbling in my Twitter timeline. […] On one occasion, I absent-mindedly ‘liked’ instead of screenshotting. That single ‘like’ was deemed evidence of wrongthink, and a persistent low level of harassment began.
My weekly Killer Horror Critic column on werewolf cinema is back with a look at Fury of the Wolfman, the film in which Paul Naschy’s lycanthrope jumped aboard the seventies paranormal investigation bandwagon!
Back in December 2019 I began a monthly series on the work of horror writer Charlee Jacob, who had recently passed away. Today the concluding post in that series – looking at Jacob’s final novel, Containment: The Death of Earth – has gone live at WWAC. In all, the fourteen essays I’ve written comprise 45,400 words.
I mention this because, while working on the series, I found that there was very little writing about Charlee Jacob’s fiction. She had won awards and been praised by a number of her peers in the horror community, yet until recently the sum total of criticism, analysis and scholarship relating to her work seems to have comprised a smattering of Goodreads posts, Edward Lee’s introduction to Dread in the Beast and a few reviews published here and there.
So, my essay series on Jacob’s fiction – which is long enough to fill a slim book – must surely be the most comprehensive body of writing on the topic. I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back; in fact, I’d be very pleased indeed to find that I’m wrong and that there’s some even more in-depth scholarship to be found out there. I’m saying it to express how surprised I am that this fascinating writer, a unique voice in the horror genre, hasn’t received more critical attention.
I’m proud to have done my bit to help rectify this situation; my only regret is that I never did so while she was still with us.
Really? You’re joining me for another instalment of my journey through MAGA 2020 & Beyond, an anthology of Trump-themed science fiction and fantasy stories put out by a right-wing publisher in 2017? Even after the first, second and third posts in the series? You brave souls, you…
“The Magic of MAGA” by David Harr In a fantasy kingdom, a prophecy states that a certain princess shall grow to overthrow the villain and end a war. A wizard sends the chosen infant to an alternate world where she can be mentored in the magic arts without danger, but a traitorous wizard sabotages the spell and causes her to be sent to a world without magic. There’s absolutely no point in me continuing this summary as you’ve all figured out the twist ending by now. This clearly isn’t a story that anybody would read for a surprising plot, but you can content yourself with the finesse of its prose (“that slimy whispering voice whispered in his mind”).
I’m planning to launch a series of blog essays that I’ve been musing over for a while now. The topic will be a new Satanic Panic, one that’s receiving less widespread coverage than its 1980s predecessor but which – thanks to the rise of alternative media across the Web – has reached a substantial size. The new Panic exists at an intersection between three groups: first, the religious right; second, the movements built around the Pizzagate an QAnon conspiracy theories; and third, the various groups formed to drive out perceived “SJW” influence on popular culture (Gamergate, Comicsgate, Rabid Puppies).
That third circle of the Venn diagram is something that particularly interests me, as it marks a generational shift between the twentieth-century and twenty-first century Satanic Panics. The popular entertainment franchises that Phil Phillips derided as demonic and corrupting in his 1986 opus Turmoil in the Toy Box – Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, She-Ra and so forth – are now seen by many in the current Satanic Panic as products of the good old days, albeit ones that have been corrupted and distorted in more recent years by “SJWs”. Swap “occult” with “feminist” and a lot of the arguments begin to line up.
My working title for the series was “Alt-Right Satanic Panic”, but I had to reject that on the grounds that it would lead to interminable debates about whether or not a particular figure could be termed “alt-right”. In the end I decided to simply swipe a title I’d already used in an earlier blog post where I pulled together my thoughts on the topic – Satanic Panic: Back and Based. It’s something that sums up the role of subcultural coolness that the modern Satanic Panic has inherited from some of its overlapping groups, and which separates it from its relentlessly uncool ancestor of the 1980s.
I’ve already chosen topics for the first few posts in the series and splashed out on the relevant research material; over February I intend to get properly stuck into writing. I should have something ready to post within the next month or two.