Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Human Sacrifice and Execution in the 1930s and Beyond

There was more human sacrifice and execution in the 1930s in Weird Tales. The pattern was pretty well the same as before: a helpless woman, usually bound and recumbent, is about to be knifed, usually by a man. The pattern is a little different in two pictures here. One shows a man as the victim. The other shows a woman as the perpetrator. Once again, there is only one scene of execution, this one with a rope. In the last picture, there is no weapon at all, but I assume this is an image of human sacrifice.

Weird Tales, February 1930. Cover story: "Thirsty Blades" by Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by Hugh Rankin.

Weird Tales, October 1930. Cover story: "The Druid's Shadow" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Hugh Rankin. A nicely done cover by Hugh Rankin in complementary blue and orange.

Weird Tales, March 1932. Cover story: "The Vengeance of Ixmal" by Kirk Mashburn. Cover art by C. C. Senf.

Weird Tales, July 1933. Cover story: "The Hand of Glory" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, July 1936. Cover story: "Red Nails" by Robert E. Howard. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, September 1938. Cover story: "As 'Twas Told to Me" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, Summer 1974. Cover story: None. Cover art by Jack L. Thurston, a reworked version of an earlier paperback cover by the artist.

Next: Scientific Experimentation.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Human Sacrifice and Execution in the 1920s

There is more fiendishness and murderousness in this series on human sacrifice and execution in Weird Tales. In the previous series, the fiend or murderer attacked a woman who might somehow resist. Here, she is helpless. You can interpret this situation sexually, just as in the previous series. There is even a name for the desire to have sex with a sleeping or helpless person. It's called somnophilia. Bill Cosby, whom we loved so much when we were kids, has been accused of raping women after having drugged them. Some people think that he is a somnophiliac. Not long ago, I watched Mother, Jugs & Speed from 1976. There are scenes of drug use and of somnophilia in that movie, and you just can't watch it in the same way now as you might have then. I suppose this desire to put women into situations where they are helpless has to do with the viewer's (or participant's) feelings of inferiority or a lack of confidence, sexual ability, or sexual experience, or his attempts to avoid rejection or humiliation. Anyway, here they are, the covers of the 1920s showing human sacrifice and execution. In this first installment, all of the victims are women.

Weird Tales, September 1925. Cover story: "The Gargoyle" by Greye La Spina. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch.

Weird Tales, November 1926. Cover story: "The Peacock's Shadow" by E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by E. M. Stevenson.

Weird Tales, February 1927. Cover story: "The Man Who Cast No Shadow" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C. Barker Petrie, Jr. I assume this is an image of sacrifice: the woman is helpless and tied down, while the man holds a knife. That makes three knives in a row.

Weird Tales, Ocober 1929. Cover story: The Woman with the Velvet Collar" by Gaston Leroux. Cover art by Hugh Rankin. Here the weapon of choice is not a knife but a guillotine blade. I remember in the movie The Da Vinci Code that the blade is supposed to be a masculine symbol and the cup a feminine symbol. So far in this series (and in the previous one), that seems to be true, at least for the male symbol.

To be concluded . . . 

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rogue One and "Escape"

I have been thinking about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and of a few more things that bother me about the movie. I have a friend who is a big fan of Star Wars movies. I asked her what she thought of Rogue One. She said it bothered her that there are so few female characters. It's true, there are few, but I pointed out that the lead character is female. That didn't do much for her (my friend), though. But is the female lead, Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, really female? Or is she just a male character cast as a female, as is so common in movies, television, comic books, and fiction these days? Worse yet, is she not even a character but just a plot device disguised as a character?

Forest Whitaker plays a character (or plot device) called Saw Gerrera in Rogue One. (His name is an obvious pun on the theme of war.) In the movie, he is referred to as an extremist and is looked down on by the Rebellion. I thought that was odd. Is that the intrusion of contemporary politics into a movie about a time long ago and a galaxy far, far away? There seem to be parallels in the movie between Gerrera's group and Muslims on Earth and between the attack on the convoy and a terrorist attack in the Middle East of today. Just what are the moviemakers getting at? Wouldn't it be better just to leave out things like that?

Speaking of the attack, why didn't the Empire just fly their shipment out of the city? Why did they have to transport their kyber crystals in overland vehicles? In too many science fiction movies, science and technology are used in the same way magic is used in fantasy: what the wielder of magic (or technology) can do with his abilities is essentially arbitrary. Gandalf can do all kinds of things, but he can't levitate himself out of the pit when he falls in with the Balrog? The Empire can fly a moon-sized space station between galaxies, but it can't lift off from the surface of a planet with a shipment of kyber crystals?

The way the Rebellion makes important decisions is downright laughable. Everybody gets together in a big room, they all get to put in their two cents worth, and there isn't any order or organization to their meeting. It's just a bunch of people shouting at each other. It's like a bunch of students sitting around in a lounge or a dorm room and talking about a problem. I suppose these scenes (there's one in The Force Awakens, too) are supposed to let us know that the Rebellion is democratic and inclusive, unlike that nasty, oppressive Empire. I'm skeptical, though. I doubt that a democratic structure, which tends to become no structure at all and very quickly a mob, has ever led to victory in war. I'm pretty sure only a hierarchical structure is capable of that.

The Rebellion seems to be pretty timid and tentative before being forced into the final battle. Keep in mind that Rogue One takes place very shortly before Star Wars. However, the rebels in Star Wars are not the same rebels as in Rogue One, and they didn't get that way because of the events in Rogue One. They were hard, tough, determined, and courageous long before the opening scene of Star Wars.

Finally, it's pretty obvious that women and minorities are the good guys in Rogue One and that white men are the bad guys. Well, whatever. It's their movie, and I can't say that really bothered me. What bothered me more is that Darth Vader seems smaller. Yeah, David Prowse no longer plays the character, but they could have at least found someone with shoulders to (literally) fill the role.

* * *

There is a good commercial playing on television right now. It's for PlaySation Vue, and it's called "Escape." You can watch it by clicking here. I don't know how aware the makers of the commercial are of science fiction and dystopian literature. I wonder if these images and ideas are actually a part of the collective unconscious or of the zeitgeist of today's world. But the commercial begins like The Matrix and ends like THX 1138 or Logan's Run. "Escape" depicts a corporate dystopia, the great fear of at least one-half of the political spectrum in this country. I'm skeptical of the prospects for a corporate dystopia. I even have doubts about the plausibility of the conventional political dystopia. But this is a good commercial, and if there is anything like a corporate dystopia in America today, it surely has to do with cable television. (Just ask my sister, who has encountered men like Spoor and Dowser lately in her dealings with the cable company.)

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fiends and Murderers of the 1940s and '50s

There was less murder and fiendishness on the cover of Weird Tales in the 1940s and '50s. That might be because the editor was a woman. Maybe she didn't want any more of that menacing and threatening of women. As you can see, none of the following four covers fits easily into this category, at least at first glance. I have read The Damp Man series, though, and I can tell you that the title character is the very definition of a fiend.

Weird Tales, January 1942. Cover story: None. Cover art by Gretta. This cover, by Joseph C. Gretter, is kind of a throwback to the 1920s or '30s. This was a time of transition in Weird Tales. Gretter, an artist of those decades (though he later assisted on Riley's Believe It or Not!), seems to have been a fill-in artist, and this was his only cover for "The Unique Magazine."

Weird Tales, March 1944, Canadian edition. Cover story [?]: "The Valley of the Assassins" by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by an unknown artist. I'm not so sure about putting this cover in the category of fiends and murderers. The man on the right kind of looks like one of the undead. Or maybe he's a sorcerer of some kind. Anyway, here it is. You'll see this cover again.

Weird Tales, May 1949. Cover story: "The Damp Man Again" by Allison V. Harding. Cover art by John Giunta. That's the Damp Man himself, a real creep and a fiend.

Weird Tales, March 1950. Cover story: "Home to Mother" by Manly Wade Wellman. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. The figure on this cover looks like he could be a murderer or fiend, but he could be just another one of Coye's decrepit souls.

Now it's on to Human Sacrifice and Executions.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fiends and Murderers of the 1930s

The fiendishness and murderous continued into the 1930s in Weird Tales. I count five covers with this theme from that decade. Fiends and murderers seem to prefer knives, but there is hypodermic needle in the first picture and a snake, seemingly from a bottle, in the fourth.

Weird Tales, May 1930. Cover story: "The Brain-Thief" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf.

Weird Tales, October 1932. Cover story: "The Heart of Siva" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, March 1932. Cover story: "The Black Gargoyle" by Hugh B. Cave. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, February 1936. Cover story: "Coils of the Silver Serpent" by Forbes Parkhill. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, May 1937. Cover story: "The Mark of the Monster" by Jack Williamson. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

To be concluded . . . 

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fiends and Murderers of the 1920s

I have started this year writing about the undead and the dead. The dark tone will continue for a while, beginning today with the first of a three-part series on fiends and murderers on the cover of Weird Tales. I'll try to find a way to brighten things up in the next few weeks, although I still want to find out and write about the origins of zombies in American popular culture.

When I was in South Korea, I was a member of the 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron. We were called the Flying Fiends. Our unit patch showed a creature wearing an old-fashioned aviator's helmet. Some of the guys called him "the slobberin' dog." I thought then that a fiend is simply a monster of some kind. Then my friend Joe told me that he looked it up and that a fiend is a sexual deviant. I just looked it up again. My dictionary says that a fiend is "a diabolically cruel or wicked person" or "an evil spirit." That doesn't get away from the depiction of fiends on the cover of pulp magazines, including the seven covers on display here. Each shows a man attacking, threatening, or abducting a woman. The sexual connotations are unavoidable. I tend to think that my friend Joe was right and that a fiend is sexual deviant or a sexual predator on women.

Showing or telling about women in peril is as old as storytelling, of course. It gives men and boys a chance to imagine themselves as rescuers of women. Pulp magazines, however, emphasized the sexual aspect of women in peril. (Maybe that gave men and boys a bit of a thrill or even a chance to imagine themselves as the tormenters of women.) They also emphasized sexual deviancy and sexual violence, including bondage, sadism, torture, and sexual mutilation. That was the hallmark of the weird menace pulps of the 1930s. But as the covers below show, there was fiendishness and murderousness in pulps before that. I count seven such covers of Weird Tales from the 1920s. Four are obviously in this category. Three are less certain. Unfortunately, I haven't read any of these cover stories, so I can't say for sure.

Weird Tales, April 1926. Cover story: "Wolfshead" by Robert E. Howard. Cover art by E.M. Stevenson. You have seen this cover before--pretty recently in fact. Here it is again. Robert E. Howard was all of twenty years old when this cover was new.

Weird Tales, May 1926. Cover story: "The Ghosts of Steamboat Coulee" by Arthur J. Burke. Cover art by Andrew Bensen. Here the tables are turned and the fiend or murderer has the knife.

Weird Tales, September 1926. Cover story: "The Bird of Space" by Everil Worrell. Cover art by E.M. Stevenson. I included this cover with vampires and bats, but I don't know that the fiend here is a vampire. Maybe he just looks like one.

Weird Tales, July 1927. Cover story: "The Return of the Master" by H. Warner Munn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. I think that's a man scaring the woman. I'm not sure. And he may or may not be a fiend. I have included this cover here just to be sure.

Weird Tales, January 1929. Cover story: "The Black Master" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. Here again, I'm not sure that the man is an actual threat to the woman. He may be rescuing her. Here it is, though, just to be on the safe side.

Weird Tales, July 1929. Cover story: "The Corpse-Master" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. Where is the fiend? Sneaking into the picture on the left. I'll have to add this cover to my list of dwarf covers. And he's green. Note that there are three "masters" in a row.

Weird Tales, December 1929. Cover story: "The Mystery of the Four Husbands" by Gaston Leroux. Cover art by Hugh Rankin. This is the third ambiguous cover. I'm not sure that the man is a bad guy. The woman may just think that he is. Of course his bringing a knife to her bed might have something to do with it. Anyway, I just want to say that Hugh Rankin could really draw women. In their stature and allure, they remind me of Roy Crane's women in Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy.

To be continued . . . 

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pavane pour une infante défunte

Before I let go of 2016, I have to remember a princess. Carrie Fisher died on December 27, bringing to an end a dream of life. I first saw her in Star Wars in 1977. Like boys everywhere, I fell in love with her. She was very beautiful, and though she was young, she was also tough. She could handle her words and, when needed, a blaster. She was a princess but you could also very easily imagine her as a senator and someone high up in an organization devoted to freedom in the galaxy. Girls loved her, too, my youngest sister among them. I drew a picture of Princess Leia for her on her school folder. There were two more movies in the series. There should have been more and they should have come earlier. Too many years passed before Carrie Fisher was once again in Star Wars, and by then there was a new cast and a new spirit. She will be in Star Wars again but I can't help but think she will haunt the movie rather than star in it. There have been and will be attempts to digitize her, but you can't digitize life, or beauty, or romance, or dreams.

I saw Carrie Fisher in life, once, in 2015 at a comic book convention in Indianapolis. I saw her from a distance, but I can say at least that I saw her. On the night before she died, we went to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at the theater. If you don't want to know something about the movie, stop reading now, but her likeness is in it, a likeness lacking in life and spirit to be sure. Hers is the last character to appear on screen. The next morning, Carrie Fisher, the real person, was gone. A strange valediction.

The subtitle of the movie is accurate, I think: it is a Star Wars story, told in the same universe of course but also in the same spirit, though somewhat darker in tone than the original. There are problems with it. Most can be overlooked. An obvious one that can't be is this: If you can cast a shield around a planet, why can't you cast a shield around your shield generator? A more subtle problem: More and more movies are being made by people who seem to have grown up playing computer games rather than reading literature or watching movies. The computer game aesthetic is more and more in film. There are contrived complications, objects to procure, puzzles to solve, obstacles to jump over or through, mazes to traverse. (One of the obstacles in Rogue One reminds me of the "choppy, crushy things" in Galaxy Quest. When your movie evokes memories of a science fiction parody, you could have a problem with your screenplay.) In Rogue One, there are even digitized human characters, just as in a computer game. They are creepy and lifeless and distracting. I stopped listening to the dialogue when they were on screen. There is also a problem that has plagued science fiction since its beginnings, namely, the use of characters as mere plot devices rather than as representations of genuine human personalities. There is no one in the movie with the personality or allure of Carrie Fisher or Harrison Ford or even Billy Dee Williams or puppet master Frank Oz as Yoda. The exception might be the robot K-2SO, a kind of cross between Mr. Spock, R2-D2, and Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Finally, as in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the lead character--in fact the strongest character and the driver of the action--is a woman. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It only shows what has happened in our culture since 1977 (forty years ago!). Then it was a boy who lived on a backwater planet, worked as a farmer, drank blue milk, watched his parental units die at the hands of the empire, and set off on a quest to avenge them, learn about the force, have a great adventure, and destroy the Death Star. Times change.

* * *

On New Year's Eve, we saw Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. From watching the preview, I thought it would be some kind of conspiracy movie. It's not. (I told you to stop reading if you don't want to know about the movie.) Instead it relies on two science fiction tropes: flight from an overpopulated planet and a meteor strike in deep space. The first is ridiculous. Unless something really changes, we're going to be rushing towards each other on an underpopulated planet rather than rushing away from each other on an overpopulated one. The second one is ridiculous, too. Both tropes, however, are used to set up a situation of "what if?", which is what science fiction is about, and in that, and in the intriguing situation, the gorgeous design, the fine special effects, and the perfectly fine performances by the four main actors, Passengers is worth a couple of hours of your life.

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley