March 29, 2020

Just as you enter, over the door
There’s a sign that you can see
Though it’s written in German
It means ‘Work Makes You Free’
When we were small kids
We were told all about hell
But the inmates of this place
Knew it only too well
The starvation and torture
That was carried on here
The hangings and shootings
And the beatings so severe
When you had to strip naked
There was absolutely no hope
Your hands tied behind your back
As you faced the hanging rope
After hanging for a while
You were then taken down
Hosed with freezing water
Till you thought you would drown
While you were still alive
You were put up against the wall
The Gestapo called the order
‘Shoot them dead, one and all’
After more than one and a half years
They couldn’t kill them fast enough
So they built some gas chambers
With the Zyklon B deadly stuff
No matter how hard they worked
Or how hard they tried
Only about four or five hundred!
Poor innocent people, everyday died
So they built more gas chambers
About six kilometers away
And then they were killing
Four to five thousand every day
The commander in charge
Was a man named Rudolf Hoss
When he finally got hanged
Himself, he was a small loss

Kommadant Rudolf Hoss (sometimes spelt Hoess) was a mild-mannered family man, married with 5 children (2 sons & 3 daughters). He lived with his wife and children within the confines of Auschwitz where he could see the crematoria chimney stacks from his bedroom window.
He was the greatest mass-murderer in human history, by his own irrefutable admissions, during his trial in April 1947.

He denied murdering 3 million people, but admitted killing only 2.5 million! and said the rest died of starvation.

Under his command Auschwitz had the capacity to exterminate 10,000 people each 24 hours!
He was hanged in Auschwitz on 16th April 1947 only a few short metres from where he lived with his family, while he was the architect of evil and madness all around, the likes of which mankind had never seen before.

Up to 12 people used to be hanged naked simultaneously on each iron gallows (like the goalposts in a soccer field) close to the entrance gates. The adjoining forest at the edge of Birkenau or Auschwitz 2, which is a much larger camp than Auschwitz 1 is inhabited by snakes but no birds are to be seen here, over this vast area, where millions died.

Daniel Sammon

The novelist Robert Holdstock died in November 2009 aged 61, leaving behind a series of science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery novels (the latter under the pseudonym Ken Blake). The cycle he is best known for is the Mythago Cycle/Ryhope Wood (the terms are used interchangeably by the novelist and his publishers: here I will opt for “Mythago Wood Cycle”; and use Holdstock’s plural “mythagos”) series of novels, six in total running from 1984-2009. John Clute, co-editor of the The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, summarizes the cycle thus:

The sequence as a whole is a central contribution to late-20th-Century fantasy, and is almost embarrassingly dense with fantasy tropes.

The first novel to be published in the series, Mythago Wood (1984), starts with the disappearance of the scholar-father, George Huxley, which leads to his two sons (Christian, and his younger brother, Steven) returning in 1947 to the family home, a lodge on the edge of Ryhope: a small section of ancient woodland situated in Herefordshire, on the Borders between England and Wales. They are shocked to discover the woodland’s boundaries seem to have moved, and it has overwhelmed the lodge. The father’s journal is unearthed and it relates an increasing obsession with the woodland and various “mythagos”, the core concept of Holdstock’s cycle.

The author provides several definitions of this slippery term. The first is offered in Mythago Wood by Christian Huxley to his brother, Steven – explaining how in ancient woodland the “aura” around all living things, creates “a sort of creative field that can interact with our consciousness”. Paraphrasing their father, Christian says:

And it’s in the unconscious that we carry what he calls the pre-mythago – that’s unconscious that we carry what he calls the pre-mythago – that’s myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature. The image takes on substance in a natural environment, solid flesh, blood, clothing, and – as you saw – weaponry. 

The sons venture in the various “zones” (ash, oak, thorn, et cetera) of Ryhope asynchronously, resulting in dramatically different consequences. They find themselves sucked into the mythic landscape of Ryhope, which is an extended portal or “Time Abyss” (Clute 1999: 946-947): the further in you go, the bigger (or older) it gets. This trope appears throughout Fantasy fiction, it is “common to fantasy, uncommon anywhere else” (ibid.: 586). It crops up in Jorge Luis Borges’ The Aleph (1945) as an object that contains the whole universe, in the year the first atomic bombs were used in warfare and, as such, is not surprisingly a lingering device of the Atomic Age. However, the sense of expansive interiority and dilatory disjuncture are common descriptors in tales of “hollow hills” and other portals to the “Otherworld”.

Kevan Manwaring
Ways Through the Wood: The Rogue Cartographies of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood Cycle as a Cognitive Map for Creative Process in Fiction


March 25, 2020

Will swords rise up
from the mists of time?
Swords, knives, helms
tossed into
watery depths —
at the end of the world
will they be reforged?

Mist rising in wisps, forming
hilt and blade
Swords of fire and earth
rusted away, ages ago
in lakes long vanished,
pools of myth.

Forged anew of
water and air,
on the last day
will weed-draped
ladies of the lake
rise to hand them forth,
girding the worthy?

J.R. Sparlin

the little gods

March 25, 2020

I am living in Devon, England at the moment, in a medieval barn on the edge of the Dartmoor. In the small hours of the night, in such a house, the mind rambles backwards and forwards in time, imagining the daily routines, the days and nights, the bread and butter, of the people that have lived here and used this place over the last six hundred years. A barn is a building of necessary things, of basics, life’s staples about which much custom, curiosity and belief have formed; a place where a bowl of milk or a bit of bread is justly left for the little gods who watch over the farm and its immediate vicinity, but nowhere much farther than that. In the lore of offerings and sacrifice, the high rites of the gods and common custom of house fairies share a wide frontier. In studying such beliefs, we may discern that the humblest of offerings is indeed a sacred thing.

Ari Berk
On Simple Things

For the love of heroes

March 19, 2020

First they fought with heart-devouring hatred
then they parted, bound by pacts of friendship.

Trans. Robert Fables

(Hence Hector reflects on his fight with Ajax)

Romantic opium binges and fainting couches are all well and good but kids these days just don’t appreciate the late 19th century occultism aesthetic. Get some ceremonial robes, take up pipe-smoking and radical political views, wave some hyssop branches around and claim to have received revelation from mysterious higher beings. Transliterate your name into a Semitic language or sign all your letters with a mysterious Latin abbreviations; schism from your secret society to form a new, even more secret society! Paint a circle on your wealthy parent’s library floor and summon up spirits of indeterminate origin!

Sarah Taylor Gibson

When I was a boy, I read all the pulp magazines, which were still around in those days. You’ve no doubt seen collector editions, but in those days you could buy a pulp for 10 or 15 cents. One of my favourites was Famous Fantastic Mysteries, which reprinted good stuff from the turn of the century. Once, they did Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau [1896] as an entire issue. And I read it, and I absolutely loved it, and when I had read the last page I went back to the first page, and I started again. And when I started my fourth reading I thought, “Well, I know everything that’s going to happen now and I’ll just put it aside for a while until I’ve kind of forgotten it, and then I’ll read it again.” And I never looked at it again until I was about 50. And when I was that age, somebody wrote to me and said he was putting together one of those books that honour the hundred best science fiction novels. It would have essays from writers like me, and this person wanted me to do The Island of Dr. Moreau. I thought, “Gee, I remember that fondly. I will take him up on that. But first, obviously, I have to get a copy of it and read it, since I haven’t read it since I was a kid.” And I did …

Wonderful cover on that book, by the way — wonderful! The man was bare-chested — not quite muscular enough to be a hero, but muscular and good-looking — and behind him is this enormous, shaggy monster. And the monster has one hand on the man’s shoulder. In a most buddy-looking sort of way, you know. [Chuckles merrily.] I thought that was a lovely cover; I still do …

Anyhow, I read the book and immediately saw there were things in there that had completely sailed over me that were now hitting me like a brick. The book starts when the narrator gets on a ship from some city in South America. On the third day out, they ram a derelict and their ship sinks. He spends three days in a lifeboat with two men, a fellow passenger and a sailor, and he mentions, just in passing, that he never learned the name of the sailor in the boat with him. And another thing: the sailor and the passenger fall overboard in a struggle, and the narrator is picked up by a boat carrying Dr. Moreau’s doctor, who gives him “a dose of some scarlet stuff, iced. It tasted like blood, and made me feel stronger.” That one, too, just whizzed by me. All this stuff, and I was too dumb to appreciate it as a boy!

Gene Wolfe
Interviewed by Jason Pontin
MIT Technology Review 25th July 2014

Essential reading –

Scouts in Bondage and Other Violations of Literary Propriety by Michael Bell 

Bell an antiquarian book dealer from Lewes, presents fifty vintage books whose titles and content will puzzle and amuse the contemporary reader.

Of particular interest is ‘Girls’ Interests’, and ‘Single-Handed Cruising’ not to mention, ‘The Resistance of Piles to Penetration’.

There were once women in Denmark who dressed themselves to look like men and spent almost every minute cultivating soldier’s skills; they did not want the sinews of their valour to lose tautness and be infected by self-indulgence.

Loathing a dainty style of living, they would harden body and mind with toil and endurance, rejecting the fickle pliancy of girls and compelling their womanish spirits to act with a virile ruthlessness. They courted military celebrity so earnestly that you would have guessed they had unsexed themselves.

Those especially who had forceful personalities or were tall and elegant, embarked on this way of life. As if they were forgetful of their true selves they put toughness before allure, aimed at conflicts instead of kisses, tasted blood, not lips, sought the clash of arms rather than the arm’s embrace, fitted to weapons hands which should have been weaving, desired not the couch but the kill, and those they could have appeased with looks they attacked with lances.

Saxo Grammaticus
History of the Danes
From: MCLAUGHLIN, M., (1990), The Woman Warrior – Gender, Warfare And Society In Medieval Europe. Women’s Studies – an Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol.17(3-4), pp.193-209.

the first werewolves

March 8, 2020


There is a certain irony here, because many of the first werewolves to be outed in society from the 16th through the 18th centuries were actually women. Just as our American ancestors had their Salem Witch Trials, Europe had its Werewolf Trials, and a large number of the so-called “werewolves” tortured and burned at the stake were female…In the 17th-century werewolf trials of Estonia, women were about 150 percent more likely to be accused of lycanthropy; however, they were about 100 percent less likely to be remembered for it.

There’s also a pronounced lack of female werewolves in popular culture. Their near absence in literature and film is explained away by various fancies: they’re sterile, an aberration, or — most galling of all — they don’t even exist. Their omission from popular culture does one thing very effectively: It prevents us, and men especially, from being confronted by hairy, ugly, uncontrollable women. Shapeshifting women in fantasy stories tend to transform into animals that we consider feminine, such as cats or birds, which are pretty and dainty, and occasionally slick and wicked serpents. But because the werewolf represents traits that are accepted as masculine — strength, large size, violence, and hirsutism — we tend to think of the werewolf as being naturally male. The female werewolf is disturbing because she entirely breaks the rules of femininity.

Julia Oldham
Why Are There No Great Female Werewolves?