The House of Eddas: Loki and Sindri in Journey into Mystery #108

RCO001Marvel-Loki’s been the topic of discussion lately because of a series on a streaming service I don’t subscribe to, so now seems an appropriate time to take a trip back to the sixties and see another one of his four-colour battles against Thor. This time, I’ve dug up Journey into Mystery #108…

The main story “At the Mercy of Loki, Prince of Evil!” opens with bystanders panicking as Thor prepares to smash up a chunk of the city with his hammer, but he turns out to have legitimate reasons: the vibrations from his destruction lead to a traffic accident being averted. “I shall reimburse the city for the damage I’ve done by using the emergency fund which the Avengers keep for such a purpose”, he reassures the reader.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” by Frederick Marryat (1839)

The Phantom Ship, Captain Frederick Marryat’s meandering 1839 novel about the Flying Dutchman, touches upon the werewolf theme in an example of the story-within-a-story technique popular in novels of the period. The chapter in question has aged better than the rest of the novel: it was included in Montague Summers’ 1931 Supernatural Omnibus as a self-contained short story under the title “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mounters” and has been reprinted many times since then.

During the chapter, the character of Hermann Krantz tells the story of his father, a Transylvanian serf (note that this was before Bram Stoker had rendered Transylvania indelibly associated with vampires). The account starts off with the elder Krantz murdering both his wife and his master after catching them having an affair:

The evidence of my mother’s shame was positive; he surprised her in the company of her seducer! Carried away by the impetuosity of his feelings, he watched the opportunity of a meeting taking place between them, and murdered both his wife and her seducer. Conscious that, as a serf, not even the provocation which he had received would be allowed as a justification of his conduct, he hastily collected together what money he could lay his hands upon, and, as we were then in the depth of winter, he put his horses to the sleigh, and taking his children with him, he set off in the middle of the night, and was far away before the tragical circumstance had transpired.

Krantz and his three children relocate to a remote cabin in the Harz Mountains. In the snowy wilderness he catches sight of a rare white wolf and chases after it. His pursuit takes him to one of the “peculiar spots on those mountains which are supposed… to be inhabited by the evil influences” and he loses sight of the wolf, but encounters a pair of mysterious travellers: a huntsman and his beautiful daughter.

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Divided we Fall Part 4: Ending the National Nightmare

DividedWeFallI’ve finished Divided we Fall: One Possible Future, an anthology that was published shortly before the 2020 US election and depicts a dystopian future arising from Biden becoming president (see also the firstsecond and third parts of this series). My honest verdict? It was pretty boring, really. Its spiritual predecessor MAGA 2020 & Beyond had crazy stuff like the border wall being attacked by a giant mutant Kim Jong-un and General Mattis turning into a werewolf to fight ISIS vampires, but Divided we Fall is more down-to-earth and thus rather duller. Well, except for the story where Biden-appointed government agents murder an elderly librarian for refusing to take Rudyard Kipling off the shelves, that was a laugh.

In many ways, Divided we Fall’s comparatively grounded treatment of politics makes it the less credible of the two books. At least MAGA 2020 & Beyond wasn’t written with the aim of convincing the reader that ISIS vampires were an actual threat. Divided we Fall, on the other hand, is meant to be a chillingly believable prediction of the blue nightmare just around the corner.

Well, we’re now an eighth of the way through Biden’s first (and possibly only) term as president. Scant days ago, the Florida State Board of Education approved the following amendment to education requirements:

Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and must not suppress or distort significant historical events […] Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include […] the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

This is Joe Biden’s politically correct dystopia? Somehow, I doubt we’ll be seeing Kipling purged from Amazon any time soon.

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Bella’s Boys: A Tale of Cosmic Horror by Thomas R. Clark (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

BellasBoysIn March 1993 metal singer Corey Collins meets the girl of his dreams at a karaoke bar in the small New York town of Fenton. Named Sandy “Btella” Bellavia, she captures Corey’s attention not only with her physical beauty but also her badges honouring sundry metal bands: “she had sworn the blood oath at the altar of the Gods of Metal, making her hard as tempered steel.”

Bella takes Corey home with her, and he is initially eager for a night of sex and metal. It soon turns out that Bella is not all she appears to be, however, and Corey’s new beau is none other than an ancient demoness of ice and snow. Furthermore, with Fenton hit by a heavy blizzard, Bella is in her element – and Corey’s chances of escape are drastically reduced…

Bella’s Boys is based partly upon author Thomas R. Clark’s experience of being an early-nineties metalhead who found himself caught up in the vast blizzard that his the eastern US in 1993, with a twist of cosmic horror. In creating his eldritch villainess, Clark draws upon the mythology of multiple cultures. Bella originated as as Sbli’rldlnisa-aea, the Great Old Goddess of the Ice and Snow, but to the Norsemen who came across her she became Angraboda, the daughter of Hel and the Fenris Wolf. Native American beliefs also play a part, with Fenton located near an Onondaga reservation. In the folklore of this people, Bella is known as Ne-On-Yar-He (or “Neon Harry”, as Corey corrupts the term). We see Bella’s history unfold via sequences written from her point of view as she preys upon humanity through the ages.

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The Night Silver River Run Red by Christine Morgan (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

SilverRiverRedThe Death’s Head Press Splatter Western series is something that will be turning up rather a lot in this review series. Many of the books deal with grim-faced gunslingers, as would be expected from horror-western hybrids, but with The Night Silver River Run Red Christine Morgan bucks the general trend: the story is less Clint Eastwood and more Tom Sawyer, albeit with a greater degree of disembowelment than Mark Twain included in his novel.

The story begins with four children – Emmett, Cody, Albert and Mina – sneaking out of their beds at night to visit a freak show. Along the way, they encounter two boys and a girl who belong to the Truthers. This community, presumably a religious sect, generally remain silent around outsiders, although the girl breaks this tradition by giving her name as Saleel. Not all the people the roving children meet on their nocturnal jaunt are as benevolent, however, as becomes clear when they un into what appears to be a pack of human-animal hybrids:

Emmett had the briefest impression of a looming, lunging, shaggy-hair mass, some nightmare bear-buffalo thing coming at them, not slowing even as Cody let fly another pebble with Deadeye, and he lobbed the lantern at it with every bit of his strength […] the fiery missile struck dead-center, splashing burning kerosene, igniting that hairy-woolly-shaggy hide in a genuine conflagration. Oh, and the shrieks the thing made were unlike any Emmett had ever heard in his life, awful rising catamount cries mixed with the metallic screech of train-wheels when the engineer laid in hard on the brakes, while somehow terribly human too.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” by Sutherland Menzies (1838)

“Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” was published in 1838 and attributed to Sutherland Menzies; ISFDB mentions a theory that the true author was Elizabeth Stone, and I notice a few documents on Google Books indicating that a woman by that name did indeed use the pseudonym Sutherland Menzies. Whoever wrote it, the story is an early literary treatment of the werewolf theme – one that lacks a bona fide werewolf.

The story takes place during the reign of Henry II and deals with a Norman family residing in the Kentish countryside. Although the family name is Hugues, their Anglo-Saxon neighbours know them as the Wulfrics, believing them to be werewolves – “so thoroughly was accredited the descent of the original lycanthropic stain transmitted from father to son through several generations.” While the story depicts belief in werewolves as merely a superstition, Menzies does offer some colourful descriptions of lycanthropic activity:

The churchyard at Ashford, and the stone cross, from whence diverged the several roads to London, Canterbury, and Ashford, situated midway between the two latter places, served, so tradition avouched, as nocturnal theatres for the unhallowed deeds of the Wulfrics, who thither prowled by moonlight, it was said, to batten on the freshly-buried dead, or drain the blood of any living wight who might be rash enough to venture among those solitary spots.

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Starting Next Month: Monster Hunters, Dinosaur Lovers

Back in 2017 I announced that I’d started work on a book called Monster Hunters, Dinosaur Lovers: Speculative Fiction in the Culture Wars, the topic being the fiction caught up in the Sad/Rabid Puppies controversies of 2013-6. This project turned out to be a lot more time-consuming than I first imagined: I’ve been working on it off-and-on for four years now, and it’s still a long way from completion.

Even so, I think it’s high past time that I put effort into getting the book off my hard drive and out into the public. So, beginning next month, I’m going to make individual chapters available to my Patreon subscribers; my current aim is to have one chapter per month uploaded over the rest of the year. If that interests you, then sign up for my Patreon and bag your subscription to Monster Hunters, Dinosaur Lovers!

Juniper by Ross Jeffrey (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

RossJeffreyJuniperJuniper is a small and obscure town in America’s deep south: “You wouldn’t find it on any map, try a you might, because it seemed to evade those looking for it, hidden within a crease or untraceable like floaters in the eye.” Those who live near the town despise it; those who live within merely survive it – something that has grown increasingly hard. A flood wiped out Juniper’s main industry of farming, and after this came an intense heatwave that plunged the town into outright famine. In desperation, the residents begin breeding cats for food, referring to their feline food-source simply as “livestock”.

Ross Jeffrey’s novella is in large part the story of two women. One is Betty Davis, an ambiguously-aged recluse who lives on the edge of town and has been forced to survive on roadkill scraped from the cracked tarmac. Her latest discovery, a large ginger tomcat, turns out to be – despite a serious amount of injury and mangling – still alive, and so it becomes her companion rather than her next meal.

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How Much 2 by Matt Shaw (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

HowMuch2This is the sequel to a Splatterpunk Award finalist of the previous year, How Much To…?, the plot of which was based around a gruelling (and very much illegal) online game show. The premise was that the contestants were offered a series of increasingly repulsive tasks and asked how much money they would accept for undertaking them; the winner was promised their chosen sum as a prize – but only if they performed each and every task on the list, no matter how appalling or obscene. As a premise for a splatterpunk novella, this was quite clever: readers were forced to run each gruelling scenario through their heads even before the unlucky winner had to undertake them at the end. But is there really room for a sequel to repeat the trick?

As it happens, How Much 2 finds a neat way of retooling the original novella’s formula: by having the producers of the game show retool their formula. The story introduces us to Sharon Devlin and Nate Stephenson, each of whom have behind-the-scenes roles; but while Sharon is a traditionalist, Nate is a young rebel who wants to take the show in new directions – much to the distaste of Sharon, who associates new approaches with smaller audiences.

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