#97 = Volume 32, Part 3 = November
Conversations in an Imagined
Ursula K. Le Guin. The
Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the
Imagination. Boston: Shambhala, 2004. 304 pp. $16.95 pbk.
The nice thing about Ursula Le Guin is that she writes great fiction and she
really doesn’t care if it gets dismissed as "sci-fi" or fantasy. Instead of
hiding behind pusillanimous aliases for "science fiction and fantasy," Le Guin
makes it very clear that she thinks what she writes is indeed sf or fantasy. But
she also makes it very apparent that, for her, sf and fantasy are both fiction,
the same fiction written by Emily Brontë or Virginia Woolf or J.R.R. Tolkien or
James Tiptree Jr. or Jorge Luis Borges—all writers whom Le Guin mentions at some
point in the essays in her most recent collection, The Wave in the Mind.
The Wave in the Mind is, in fact, mostly about fiction, much of it
science fiction. It’s about words, books, genres, readers, writers, imagination,
and the world. Some of her most compelling entries have to do with trying to
understand how prose works, others with trying to understand social formations,
especially gender and race. In fact, the collection begins with a meditation on
gender, a performance piece called "Introducing Myself" which begins with the
words "I am a man" (3). Of course, it is partially a riff, albeit
unacknowledged, on Russ’s The Female Man (1975). But, like The Female
Man, it is also very funny. And, also like The Female Man, it is very
much to the point, scathingly so.
There are many interesting pieces in this collection, such as "A War Without
End," a series of connected thoughts about slavery, freedom, oppression, and
race relations. The title comes from a passage by Primo Levi, which Le Guin
quotes at the end of this essay: "It is the duty of righteous men to make war on
all undeserved privilege, but one must not forget that this is a war without
end" (220). This is, I think, the most pessimistic of these essays, as Le Guin
repeatedly attempts to think through the related questions of why so few
oppressions are successfully resisted by the oppressed and whether it is
possible to hold onto a belief in the spirit of rebellion without automatically
despising those who don’t, or are unable to, rebel. Like Spike Lee’s
Bamboozled (2000), Le Guin’s essay works through the problems of
co-optation, collusion, and what Marx would call "false consciousness,"
concluding that there are no clear answers beyond the general call to
From the point of view of the academic theorist, this essay makes clear both
the virtues and limitations of approaching such problems from a non-theoretical
perspective. On the one hand, it is easier for Le Guin both to ask basic
questions and to conclude that they are unanswerable, a powerful rhetorical
strategy in its own right. On the other hand, an awful lot of thinking has gone
on since Marx: it is precisely these questions of power relations that are
clarified by the work of theorists such as Foucault and his successors. That is
why, in many ways, an essay like this can only ever be a supplement to reading
Le Guin’s own fiction—these processes of power are much more potently explored
in The Dispossessed (1974) or Always Coming Home (1985) than they
are in the essays themselves. Still, it is interesting to see Le Guin’s
summation of those works as being "as much efforts to subvert as to display the
ideal of an attainable social plan which would end injustice and inequality once
and for all" (218).
If there are two concerns that tie together most of the essays in this
collection, they are pace and process. It should come as no surprise to any
reader of Le Guin that she is interested in both, or that they underlie many of
her aesthetic judgments. Indeed, it is the process of becoming—becoming a woman,
becoming old, becoming a reader or writer—that interests Le Guin more than the
ontological aspects of identity. Even the question of oppression and rebellion
is a question of process, not results, a reminder of one’s duty to engage, one
way or another, in the war without end.
Le Guin takes up the general theme of oppression again in "Unquestioned
Assumptions," which responds to a set of cultural assumptions about the thought
processes and identities of readers (she uses as epigram Baudelaire’s "hypocrite
lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère"). The four assumptions that Le Guin takes
to task are: we’re all men, we’re all white, we’re all straight, and we’re all
Christian. She also expends some thought on the cultural assumption that "we’re
all young" (244), eliminating it from the list because youth is an object of
worship, not a position of power. Le Guin’s premise and corollary ("everybody
is like me and we all think alike" and "people who don’t think
like me don’t count" ) are neatly demonstrated in the rhetoric of
contemporary debates in the US over the war in Iraq, same-sex marriage, and
changes to social security. Le Guin’s concern, however, is the way in which the
premise that "everybody is like me" shapes the reception of books that don’t
reflect these assumptions.
The title of the collection comes, appropriately enough, from a sentence in a
letter from someone who was definitely not a straight, white, Christian man:
Virginia Woolf. Writing to Vita Sackville-West, Woolf argues that good prose is
not about finding the mot juste, but about rhythm: "A sight, an emotion,
creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in
writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this
working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks
and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it" (vii). Critics are accustomed
to thinking of poetry in terms of rhythm, but Le Guin makes a compelling case,
particularly in the two essays "Stress-Rhythm in Poetry and Prose" and "Rhythmic
Pattern in The Lord of the Rings," that rhythm also applies to prose.
It is in the latter essay, however, that the reader can discern the extent to
which, for Le Guin, prose rhythm (and poetic rhythm, too) is part and parcel of
a more general concern with pace. Having demonstrated that the rhythm of the
films of The Lord of the Rings (2001-03) repeats the trope of "there and
back again" (the subtitle of The Hobbit , which is recalled in
Sam’s final words, "Well, I’m back" ), Le Guin notes that the main problem
with Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
is its break-neck pace, its inability to find a cinematic apparatus that can
adapt Tolkien’s prose rhythms.
The process, the way in which one takes the journey, is what should determine
its pace. Watching Tolkien in the cinema is like driving a Ferrari through
grid-locked city traffic. It will still get you where you’re going, but it’s not
the right vehicle for the job. And in the meantime, you’ll be so frustrated that
you’ll fail to notice more than odds and bobs of the journey itself. Comparing
The Lord of the Rings to Chushingura (the story of the forty-seven
Ronin ), Le Guin adds, "I wish a Tolkien movie could move at a pace like
this. If it was as beautiful and well-written and well acted as this one is, I’d
be perfectly happy if it went on for hours and hours..." (107).
Like Chushingura, The Wave in the Mind proceeds at a leisurely,
even meandering, pace, pausing now and then to contemplate a favorite island or
a favorite "Auntie" (the I Ching and the OED, to be precise).
While continuing to address many of the same topics as her previous collections
of essays, Le Guin’s work in this volume is neither ground-breaking, on the one
hand, nor repetitive, on the other. Instead, it offers a miscellany of
possibilities for contemplating the relations among writing, reading, and the
imagination; reading it is like sitting down for a discussion with an old
friend, stimulating at times, comfortable at others. One doesn’t mind at all if
the conversation goes on for hours and hours....
Pearson, University of Western Ontario
It Must Have Been Moonglow.
A. Merritt. The Moon
1919. Ed. Michael Levy. Early Classics of Science Fiction. Middletown,
CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004. xl + 309 pp. $24.95 pbk.
My recollection of this classic of fantasy had dimmed over the years, and
what I remembered turned out to be only a sketchy idea of the plot and an even
smaller memory of anything else about the novel. I remembered the Shining One,
the journey under the island, and something of the lush descriptions and
wide-ranging mythology, but that was pretty much it. This latest reading led me
to a deeper appreciation of Merritt’s considerable abilities as a writer, not
just of fantasy, but of an eminently readable and pleasurable tale. Michael
Levy’s Introduction (which I skipped until I had re-read the book) is a
scholarly essay that adds to the value of this addition to the Wesleyan series.
The story purports to be a report by a scientist about an unusual occurrence
in Polynesia. The narrator, Walter Goodwin, is approached by an old friend named
Throckmorton to help find his wife and two friends who have been taken by "The
Shining One," which lives in the Moon Pool at Nan-Madol in the Carolina Islands
(Nan-Matal, in the book). Goodwin is present when he sees "a gleaming pillar
racing along the moon path toward us. Through the window cascaded blinding
radiance. It gathered Throckmorton to it, clothed him in a robe of gleaming
opalescence. The cabin filled with murmurings— ... but of Throckmorton there was
no trace!" (37). When Goodwin continues his quest to carry out his promise to
Throckmorton, he encounters several others who have reason to help: Olaf
Huldrickson, whose wife and daughter have been taken in the same way; Larry
O’Keefe, an Irish-American Royal Flying Corps pilot whose plane has crashed; and
a mysterious Russian named Marinkoff who has preceded them in the search for an
entrance to the underworld from which the Shining One emerges in search of its
prey. When the full moon shines on the opening, they succeed in entering the
great subterranean cavern that resulted from the sudden ripping of the moon from
the earth. In this remnant of the lost continent of Muria they find both evil
and good, new races, strange species, and the answer to their search.
There is nothing special about the plot of this book; it is a fairly mundane
story that combines lost race, stock characters, escape from evil, exotic
setting, and mythological fantasy. We have read these stories by the dozen. And
yet there is something about it that holds interest and explains the high regard
in which Merritt was held during much of his lifetime. Post-Hemingway, we tend
to expect fiction to be straightforward, stripped of excess verbiage, and, above
all, straight to the point. If there is any kind of long description it is apt
to be internal discussion that explains the circumstances before a character
takes action or, perhaps, the character’s own consideration of what to do next.
(C.J. Cherryh is a current writer of sf who excels at this approach.) Most
contemporary writers, science fiction or otherwise, don’t bother: they tell a
story that stops the action just long enough to explain the cause of the
immediate situation—and move on.
Merritt is different. In his work, and especially in The Moon Pool,
there are very few short sentences. When they appear, the effect is startling,
usually signaling the opening of another long discussion of what is about to
happen. Typically, any kind of action is enclosed by long descriptions of the
scene, the characters, and the happening. One example should suffice: midway
through the book, the narrator and O’Keefe, the real hero of the book, are
rescued from Yolara, the beautiful, evil priestess, by Lakla, handmaiden to the
Silent Ones (the powers behind much of this underworld). She interrupts a
ceremony that includes a song emanating from a crystal globe: "What was that
song? I do not know—nor ever shall. Archaic, ancient beyond thought, it
seemed—not with the ancientness of things that for ages have been but
wind-driven dust. Rather was it the ancientness of the golden youth of the
world, love lilts of earth younglings, with light of new-born suns drenching
them, chorals of young stars mating in space; murmurings of April gods and
goddesses. A languor stole through me." Yolara draws O’Keefe to her, into a
dance. Around them "suddenly the pinnacles of moonfire bent, dipped, flowed to
the floor, crept in a shining circle around those two—and began to rise, a
gleaming, glistening, enchanted barrier—rising, ever rising—hiding them!"
(153-54). Lakla stops the enchantment, but it takes two pages to describe her
arrival and five more to complete the rescue.
Nevertheless, through all the wordiness, inverted word order, uncommon
spellings, superlatives, and run-on sentences, it is hard to stop reading. Even
though one easily guesses at the general pattern of what will happen next, the
otherworldliness pulls one on and on. We are all accustomed to contemporary
action-packed stories that turn into page-turners because we can’t wait to find
out what happens next. The same is true of this very different, more leisurely
book, The Moon Pool.
Merritt should be credited for a major attempt to make all this fantasy seem
plausible. He draws heavily on mythological lore: Norse, Irish, Buddhist,
Arabic, Egyptian, Polynesian, Rosicrucian, and a host of other beliefs about the
unknown worlds of the past. As Levy points out, he often follows Blavatsky and
her followers in Theosophy, and many of his explanations of what has led to the
strange world underground may well be based on this once-popular world-view.
Nevertheless, Merritt was a very learned man who also used the latest
scientific theories in support of his story. That since his time many of these
theories have proven mistaken does not detract from the feeling of
verisimilitude that they impart at appropriate points in the story.
In the past, reprints of Merritt’s books have left much to be desired. This
edition, like others in the Wesleyan series, is excellent. The printed format is
easily readable, the text is corrected without destroying Merritt’s intentions,
and the price is reasonable. Virgil Finlay’s illustrations beautifully support
the text. Above all, Mike Levy’s Introduction and Notes are both scholarly and
readable. His discussion of the rise and fall of Merritt’s reputation, based on
careful reading of the appropriate criticism, tells the story without bias, from
the "trash to begin with" of Blish to the "unique strengths" of Bleiler. The
footnotes are thorough and informative without claiming to be the last word in
explanation of some of Merritt’s way-out ideas. Levy even manages to make sense
of the tangled mess that later versions and editions of the story have created.
Early copies of The Moon Pool and other works by Merritt have long
since disappeared, are too fragile to be handled, or are simply textually
suspect. Would that someone could find the resources to republish them in so
excellent a format as this one. Maybe a volume of Collected Works?
O. Lewis, The Pennsylvania State University
Searching for Wonder Women.
Lillian S. Robinson.
Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes.
New York: Routledge, 2004. xiv + 148 pp. $17.95 pbk.
"Fears" (1984), a short story by Pamela Sargent, posits a world run and ruled
by men, in which women have nearly died out, a world in which the few remaining
women are valued only for their reproductive abilities or their positions as
icons of a semi-fondly remembered past. It is a watch-your-back world, rife with
violence and distrust. Schools have closed and crumbled; social institutions of
all kinds have declined, except for those designed to keep the savages (men)
entertained or at bay.
Clearly one of the ideas here—not new, but interestingly illustrated—is that
women provide a gentling, pacifying influence on society essential to the
survival of this world and its occupants; but another more disturbing idea is
that in order to be that influence, women need to be anointed into that
role and then protected by men. Lillian Robinson, in Wonder Women: Feminisms
and Superheroes, shares some of Sargent’s concerns. Robinson examines and
analyzes femaleness, social change, and the popular cultural images of the
comic-book hero; she proposes in her introductory section ("Flight Plan") to
examine "the comics from a feminist perspective" (7).
Robinson begins her second section ("The Book of Lilith") by reprinting,
presumably in its entirety, her 1989 critical essay, "Looking for Wonder Woman."
In this essay she describes herself, from childhood, as a true Wonder Woman fan,
gives us the genesis and history of Wonder Woman, and identifies her as "the
apotheosis of the female hero I ... sought" (13). This second section serves
also as a second introduction. While "Flight Plan" identifies what the book sets
out to do, "The Book of Lilith" uses Robinson’s earlier essay as a springboard.
This book differs from her 1989 article, she says, in that it "attempts a
reading of the comics themselves, looking first, of course, at Wonder Woman
and extending the interpretation to her early imitators and thence to later
generations of female superheroes" (22).
The remainder of Robinson’s book fulfills the promise of the two
introductions. In "Genesis," the third section, we are treated to an extremely
detailed history of Wonder Woman from her beginnings during World War II,
through what Robinson calls her "period of decline," and on to the Wonder
Woman—Wonder Women—of today.
Robinson discusses how William Moulton Marsten, creator of Wonder Woman,
appropriated Greek mythology in bringing Wonder Woman to life:
Hercules, leading the Greek foes of Amazonia, seduces Queen Hyppolyte
with wine and flattering love talk ("woman’s own weapon," we’re told) into
letting him hold the girdle. In the ensuing debacle, the Amazons are chained
and imprisoned, their city looted. But Hyppolyte prays to Aphrodite for
forgiveness of her "sin" and help in the women’s plight, and a second chance
is vouchsafed. The chains are broken, replaced by bracelet-reminders of "the
folly of submitting to man’s domination. (28)
And then Marsten put her to work fighting Nazis: "Throughout the rest of
World War II, Wonder Woman fights the good fight, combating espionage and
subversion, even threatened terrorism, and generally kicking Fascist butt. She
takes on the entire Axis, at one time or another" (38). Here, too, Robinson
delves into Marston’s vision of female qualities and their potential influence,
and examines the early Wonder Woman comics for the ways in which they
defied and/or accepted current notions and theories about romance, sexuality,
obedience, slavery and bondage, and the female body in its ideal form.
Robinson then turns (in "Chronicles") to an examination of what she describes
as Wonder Woman’s "decline from an inconsistent but unquestionably liberatory
icon into something quite different" (65). Postwar America, she suggests, needed
woman as homemaker rather than superhero, and the image of Wonder Woman as the
victorious Amazon did not fit this new need. Robinson looks at the "diluted
representations" that appeared between the late 1940s and the early 1970s with a
critical eye, but with a strange fondness, almost as if forgiving them for not
measuring up to the standards set by the Nazi-blasting Wonder Woman of wartime.
"The thing is ... there wasn’t a lot to Mary Marvel. She could fly,
was strong and agile, she fought crime; none of that is what you’d normally call
ho-hum, but, in this frame of reference at least, it was not sufficiently
special, either" (69). As for Supergirl, "her adventures lack epic scope, and
because of that, their civic side also falls flat" (75). Invisible Girl, one of
the Fantastic Four, "assumes a number of stereotyped feminine roles. It is she,
for example, who designs the group’s uniforms" (91). Along with this
consideration, and dismissal, of the female superhero of those years, Robinson
keeps pace with the tribulations of Wonder Woman herself, tracing her shifts in
appearance, powers, behavior, and attitude in concert with the values and fads
of the times: "She is, from the standpoint of physique and apparent capacity, no
The concluding section ("Revelation") takes on the task of reading the comics
from a postmodern, postfeminist perspective. Here Robinson expands her scope
enormously, giving very close attention to She-Hulk, the new Fantastic Four, The
Avengers, et al. Preceding these close readings (which seemed to this reader to
be shifting somewhat sideways in the direction of a new article or book),
however, Robinson does clearly enumerate some significant shifts in comics’
focus—the presence of adult themes and adult sexuality, the acceptance of the
inevitability and power of evil, the increased self-awareness of the characters
as comic book heroes, and their resultant self-referencing communication with
Robinson returns at the end to Wonder Woman—or, to the postfeminist Wonder
Woman, who, we are told, now "represent[s] her native island at the United
Nations" (132). She asks, at the end of the book, whether comic superhero women
can now move on to tackling different issues, different from those of women’s
power and influence, which she calls "less than revolutionary." If there is, in
this new century, "nothing left to prove or fight for" (134) as far as women’s
image and role is concerned, what are these Wonder Women freed to take up next?
Robinson’s analysis escapes dry formality by proceeding from her personal
relationship, over a lifetime, with these icons of female power and performance.
At the same time, her scholarship is sound, her references are clear and
relevant to the thesis, and her historical, political, and cultural maps of
these female superheroes and their worlds hold together without overshadowing
her primary topic—the nature of the connection between comic-book character and
comic-book reader. Robinson has made a study of the female superhero that is
both enjoyable and seriously relevant to contemporary concerns about power and
Parish, Nassau Community College
A Visionary Feminist.
The Two of Them.
1978. Foreword by Sarah LeFanu. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2005. xv +
150 pp. $14.95 pbk.
Joanna Russ. We Who Are About To…. 1976. Foreword by Samuel R. Delany.
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2005. xv +118 pp. $14.95 pbk.
Joanna Russ is a visionary. She may even be a prophet.
We Who Are About To… and The Two of Them (published 1976 and
1978 respectively) are two of the angriest books produced in the sound and fury
of the 1970s. That Russ produced one even angrier—The Female Man (1975)
—suggests anger as rocket fuel. Yet it is a mistake to assume—as some people who
have not read Russ have asserted in my hearing—that Russ is didactic. Instead,
as Delany points out in his introduction to We Who Are About To…, Russ
channels her anger through some of the most sophisticated, elegant, and
experimental writing in the field.
The Two of Them, the first of the two novels Wesleyan has chosen to
reprint, is an extension of Russ’s earlier Adventures of Alyx (1976),
although not a sequel. In The Adventures of Alyx, Russ’s protagonist was
a facsimile of the male adventurer—carefree, without family or context. In
The Two of Them Russ gives us Irenee Waskiewicz. The difference between
Irenee and Alyx is laid out by Russ in the argument of The Female Man.
Russ demands to know whether a woman can be successful as a woman, rather than
as a facsimile of a man. At the beginning of the novel Irenee thinks the answer
is "yes." In 1953 at the age of sixteen she has deserted her family, hooked up
with Ernst Neumann, a traveller from another (alternate) universe, and joined
The Gang, for whom she is now an agent. After ten years in 1950s America, a
boyfriend who thinks she should give up her career to marry him, and parents who
regard her intelligence with fear, Irenee feels free. Specifically, she feels
free to look upon another culture and judge their women as oppressed, feels free
to rescue a girl child from oppression and to insist on her own freedom of
Joanna Russ does not, however, search for motes in the eyes of others. As
Irenee explores the neo-Islamic culture of Ka’abah, an emulative Islamic
"utopia" more rigid even than Saudi Arabia, Zubeydeh (the twelve-year-old girl
she eventually kidnaps) explores hers. Through question and answer Zubeydeh
forces Irenee to reflect on her own context. What Irenee comes to realize is
that she is not a facsimile of a man, not equal or in control of her own life.
When she challenges Ernst she discovers that he has control of her computer
codes, while she does not have control of his. Irenee finds that when she
stretches her notional freedom, Ernst is not really listening. Irenee comes to
realize the degree to which she has relied on sex to manipulate Ernst; all too
often situations she had thought victories were small capitulations. She also
realizes that, like all the men on Ka’abah, Ernst thinks that when a woman
disagrees with him she has gone crazy.
What marks Russ out from among her liberal-feminist contemporaries, however,
is that she goes a step further. Russ’s Irenee does not fight to be recognised
as good-as-a-man, but as a woman, as something different-and-equal. When Ernst
questions whether Zubeydeh is a good poet, Irenee realizes that that
rules for a girl are different; to be is not enough, she must be good,
better perhaps than a man in order to earn what is a boy’s by right. Irenee
realises that she is the only female agent. When she points this out,
Ernst reacts with bafflement. It is coincidence; he can recognize difference and
diversity of color and race, but to mention gender is somehow rude. This
discourse Irenee recognizes from the America she grew up in, the America of the
1950s. She kills him.
Irenee isn’t the only killer in Russ’s pantheon. Elaine, the protagonist of
We Who Are About To…, disposes, or aids in the deaths of, her entire
party of travellers. We Who Are About To… is a novel which should have
disposed, once and for all, of the myth of the Robinsonade. When Russ’s party of
tourists crash land on a planet, there is no hope of rescue, the gene pool is
too small, most of them are screwed up, incompetent members of a society that
has not valued survival skills for several centuries, and all of them are in
love with their own myths of themselves. Our protagonist is as much in love with
her internal narrative as any of the others, but hers is a narrative of death; a
neo-Christian, she will sing an elegy to death and dying, to the good death
while the others each in their own way rage at the dying of the light.
In his introduction, Delany comments on Russ’s verbal pyrotechnics.
Specifically, he notes that her experimentalism is a much neglected aspect of
her work. Although neither of these novels manipulates the narrative world as
extremely as does The Female Man, both novels are insistent on the
primacy of oral storytelling. In each, Russ constructs novels which are told.
We Who Are About To…’s first-person narrative is precisely about
world-as-personalized-construction. Elaine’s challenge to her fellow survivors
is not only a challenge to the meta-narrative of science fiction but to the
narrative of American culture with its myth of economic and cultural autarchy on
the frontier. Because this is a story by Russ, Elaine seeks further. All the
characters in We Who Are About To… have narratives from their own worlds
of strength, self-sufficiency, meritocracy. Elaine’s jeers and challenges unpeel
these, revealing not integrity but strategies of cultural survival shaped by
race, class, cultural norms, and most of all, poverty. One can understand the
greater popularity of novels such as Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold (1964)
or Brin’s The Postman (1985), whose cultural machismo provides a cosy
comfort blanket. Russ has no patience with those who cannot see the world truly.
The narrative strategy that Russ adopts for The Two of Them grants her
even greater scope to explore her impatience. Whereas in We Who Are About To
... the reader is restricted to a participant’s view, is forced to
understand the world through a narrative that may be as deluded as those whom it
observes, in The Two of Them the authorial voice is channelled through an
active narrator. Irenee’s story is told as if it were history; it is observed,
queried, teased. Russ transforms anger into cold passion.
Each of the novels ends in elegy. As with The Female Man, these are
novels that look to find their meaning in the future. This is as true for the
dying Elaine, whose death is a testimony to her beliefs about the universe, as
it is for Irenee who is about to re-enter a changed America in which her
loneliness and powerlessness can become part of something greater, a movement of
the lone and powerless.
But they move.
And they rise. (150)
Zubeydeh, the child-poet, will live a life that does not creep behind
wallpaper or go mad in the loneliness of an upstairs room.
Mendlesohn, Middlesex University
David Sandner, ed.
Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader.
CT: Praeger, 2004. xii + 357 pp. $59.95 hc.
Few critical terms are more unwieldy and difficult to define than "fantastic
literature." Some, constructing the phrase narrowly, would associate it
primarily with the sort of self-conscious literary fantasy, largely British and
barely more than two centuries old at most, that is represented by the work of
such writers as George MacDonald, William Morris, David Lindsay, Lord Dunsany,
E.R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake, and—most decisively in our era—J.R.R. Tolkien.
Others would stretch the term so broadly as to make it practically coterminous
with literature itself, perhaps excepting the kind of strict mimetic realism
that dominated prose fiction during the nineteenth century. But then, since at
least 1970 when Roland Barthes published S/Z, it has been an extremely
open question as to whether even the strictest mimetic realism is quite so
strictly mimetic as all that. There may well be not only modernist but also
fantastic elements in Balzac himself, or in Tolstoy, or in Thomas Mann—think,
for example, of the role that the Devil plays in Mann’s ultimate masterpiece,
Doktor Faustus (1948).
The untidy capaciousness of Sandner’s central term is surely one reason why,
in compiling a "critical reader" on fantastic literature, he has produced such a
heterogeneous grab-bag of a book. Whatever else may be said of it, his anthology
certainly covers a lot of ground. Chronologically, the first item is a tiny
snippet from the Phaedrus, composed in the fourth-century B.C.E.; the
last is China Miéville’s important editorial introduction to the symposium on
"Marxism and Fantasy" published in Historical Materialism (10 );
and in between are 33 other pieces, with twentieth-century material
predominating. Most of the work is British or American, though there are
translations not only from ancient Greek but also from German, Russian, Italian,
and French. The contributors also vary widely by stature and vocation. Some are
among the major figures in the history of criticism: e.g., Aristotle, Sidney,
Coleridge, Mikhail Bakhtin, Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, and Fredric Jameson;
and three (Plato, Aristotle, and Freud) are among the major figures in the
history of Western thought generally. Others are more workaday literary critics,
a number of them (such as Eric Rabkin, Gary K. Wolfe, Brian Attebery, and John
Clute) known more widely for their work on science fiction than for their work
on fantasy or the fantastic. Still others (like MacDonald, Miéville, H.P.
Lovecraft, Ursula Le Guin, and Jane Yolen) are mainly fiction writers rather
than critics, and their contributions often seem to be secondary by-products of
their fiction workshops—though Le Guin’s well-known essay here on style and
fantasy ("From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" ) is surely one of the best
critical statements yet made on the subject, and Miéville’s relatively brief
effort suggests some genuinely new directions for Marxist cultural theory. Few
of Sandner’s contributors, however, are to be counted as primarily critics of
fantasy or the fantastic, and of these perhaps only one—Tzvetan Todorov—is of
So wide-ranging an anthology is bound to be pretty uneven in quality—but not
necessarily as uneven as this one actually is. The fault lies less with the
authors themselves than with Sandner’s frequently crude editorial work. For one
thing, he likes to cut, deeply and sometimes, it seems, almost wantonly. As a
result, some of the selections are so nugatory that Sandner practically appears
to be engaging in editorial self-parody. For example, he reprints, as an entire
item, exactly 84 forgettable words from a stray review by Damon Knight; and he
does the same with a two-page gobbet from Wolfe’s Critical Terms for Science
Fiction and Fantasy (1986) that itself consists mainly of one-sentence
quotations from others (a more substantial effort by Wolfe is found elsewhere in
the volume). More seriously, Plato and Aristotle are condensed so drastically as
to be made nearly unintelligible. One is reminded of Monty Python’s "All-England
Summarize Proust Competition," though the contestants on that mock game show,
which required them to sum up all of Proust’s immense novel in a few seconds,
actually did a better job of conveying what A la recherche du temps perdu
(1913-27) is about than the selections here do of conveying anything important
about Platonic or Aristotelian thought. The examples just cited are extreme but
not uncharacteristic of Sandner’s editorial procedures. Furthermore, Sandner
tends to be unforthcoming about all the slicing and dicing he performs on his
texts. Each selection is prefaced with a garrulous editorial note, in which
Sandner usually finds space for paraphrase of the essay that one is about to
read, but often little or none for the performance of his proper editorial
duties, that is, to tell us something of the history of each selection, to set
it in its original context, and to explain what has been omitted and why.
Sometimes, indeed, he doesn’t even bother to inform us that anything at all
has been cut, so that, for example, a perfectly intelligent but novice
reader (unless preternaturally alert to the meaning of a few rows of dots) might
be astonished to find that Aristotle’s famed Poetics is, evidently, less
than a page long!
One can also quarrel with some of Sandner’s omissions, though on this matter
the reviewer should tread more lightly, not only because space is always limited
but because, as every anthologist knows, all sorts of shadows, most of them
emanating from copyright law, tend to fall between the table of contents as
hopefully suggested in the editor’s original prospectus and the one that
actually appears in the published volume. Still, and wherever the fault may lie,
there are a number of missing items that one would like to find in a critical
reader about fantastic literature. Both of what I take to be the two most
interesting and substantial of recent contributions to fantasy theory are
omitted: Darko Suvin’s "Considering the Sense of ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Fantastic
Fiction’: An Effusion" (Extrapolation 41 ) and Mark Bould’s "The
Dreadful Credibility of Absurd Things: A Tendency in Fantasy Theory" (2002). The
omission of Bould’s piece is especially curious, because it was published in the
same "Marxism and Fantasy" symposium from which Miéville’s editorial
introduction is taken. Sandner is extremely fond of excerpting books—so why is
there nothing here from Rosemary Jackson’s highly influential Fantasy: The
Literature of Subversion (1981)? Going back a bit in time, it is surprising
not to find Tolkien’s virtually classic 1947 essay, "On Fairy-Stories" (to which
Sandner’s contributors refer more often, probably, than to any other particular
critical work) or anything at all by Tolkien’s sometime friend C.S. Lewis—whose
enthusiastic reviews of The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) together
constitute perhaps the best and most robust defense of Tolkienian fantasy yet
offered. Going a bit outside the field of literary theory and criticism proper,
why is there nothing here by Carl Jung? Though I myself happen to detest Jungian
psychology, it has undeniably had a big impact on the way in which many people
think about fantastic literature.
There are yet further complaints to be made about Sandner’s editorial
performance. It would have been useful, especially to younger readers, if he had
provided annotations to some of his earlier English selections, notably the
pieces by Sidney, Addison, Richard Hurd, and Ann Radcliffe. And it would have
been useful to everyone if he (or his editors) had done a better job of
proofreading. The number of typographical errors is astonishing in a
professionally produced book, especially one for which the customers are
expected to lay down nearly sixty dollars plus tax.
Still, though Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader is far from
being the volume that one would hope it to be, it certainly, and perhaps almost
inevitably, contains a number of things well worth reading. Leaving aside
Freud’s great essay, "The Uncanny" (1919), which is mainly a psychoanalytic
rather than a literary-critical work—even though its consideration of E.T.A.
Hoffman’s "The Sandman" (1816) is one of Freud’s best readings of a literary
text, and even though the essay as a whole can throw some indirect light on
literary issues—there are three selections here of serious, significant length
that seem to me pre-eminent in interest: an important extract on carnival and
its central generic mode, Menippean satire, from Bakhtin’s Problems of
Dostoevksy’s Poetics (1963); Jameson’s famous chapter on "magical
narratives" and genre criticism from The Political Unconscious (1981);
and a portion of Bloom’s Agon (1982) that is concerned mainly with
Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), Bloom’s favorite fantasy and the
admitted model for his own effort in fantastic fiction, The Flight to Lucifer
(1980). The Menippean, as Bakhtin describes it, often includes the fantastic,
but only as one element among many others, including what he nicely calls "slum
naturalism" (119); and Jameson’s chief concern is with the persistence of
romance patterns in more-or-less realistic novels by authors such as Stendhal,
Manzoni, and Emily Brontë. It is thus noteworthy that, in this anthology
entitled Fantastic Literature, fantastic literature in any minimally
specific sense is not a central concern for two of the volume’s three most
intellectually significant offerings, those by Bakhtin and Jameson. Indeed, to
read through the entire book is to appreciate anew that, as I began by
suggesting, fantasy and the fantastic are extremely elusive terms. Of course,
all literary forms are somewhat elusive. Debate rages over the true meaning of
even such classically established genres as epic, tragedy, and lyric, not to
mention the novel in general or the sf novel in particular. Yet, even as
literary modes in general go, fantastic literature remains extraordinarily
difficult to grasp. It is not so much that people disagree as to what fantasy or
the fantastic are, the way people disagree as to what science fiction is. It is
rather that many of the people who might seem to have something to say on the
matter don’t even appear to be much interested in it; and whether they are
interested in it or not, they often fail to share enough common ground even for
coherent disagreement. Sandner’s anthology, for all its faults, does succeed in
suggesting that the quest to understand the fantastic has so far itself been a
Freedman, Louisiana State University
A Ghost Story for the Atomic Age.
H.G. Wells. The Croquet
Afterword by John Huntington. Bison Frontiers of Imagination. Lincoln: U of
Nebraska P, 2004. 109 pp. $11.95 pbk.
A great ghost story is based on the unspoken, and even the unspeakable; it
takes place in the thin space between ordinary existence and the fully
supernatural or fantastic. A tale too outlandish is not a fine ghost story;
neither is one whose mysteries can be fully explained in the light of day. A
perfect ghost story, such as W.W. Jacobs’s "The Monkey’s Paw" (1902), contains
only elements of the real world—a son’s death, an insurance payout, and a
midnight knocking at the door—but the reader’s imagination is impelled to fill
in the blanks with the most gruesome possibilities. As the makers of scary
movies grasp quite nicely, the best ghost stories function as "The Monkey’s Paw"
does, depending for effect on hints and glimpses of things frustratingly and
momentarily perceived and suddenly no longer there. And as the best ghost story
writers know, evoking but refusing to represent is the crucial technique in the
creation of horror, a circumstance that, one might say, makes all great ghost
stories "postmodern" texts, filled with signifiers pointing the way to powerful
yet literally unrepresentable signifieds.
H.G. Wells’s 1936 novella, "The Croquet Player," aims at such effects and
often elicits them. All the basic elements of the first-rate ghost story are
fully in place: a seemingly calm setting—the isolated village of Cainsmarsh,
hints of unspeakable terror lurking beneath the surface, a "rational" solution
presented by a psychotherapist that might explain everything but probably does
not, even the idea of using multiple narrators as a way of making the truth that
much harder to reach. That this latter device was used so successfully in Henry
James’s "The Turn of the Screw" (1898) stresses the debt that "The Croquet
Player," like so many ghost tales, owes to the earlier work.
Yet, despite the debts of "The Croquet Player" to James and to a sturdy
tradition of Victorian ghost stories, there are, as always, subtle pleasures in
Wells’s writing. One of them here is characterization. There are three figures
in the novella and each has a distinctive personality and speaking voice. There
is the mainstay of ghost stories, the man who has undergone an experience so
strange and horrible that it has driven him slightly mad and forces him to
relate his tale obsessively to a complete stranger; there is the stranger
himself, that familiar "rational" and tidy narrator who finds, at the end of the
story, that despite his skepticism he too has been subtly "infected" by the tale
and is beginning to feel a nameless dread of his own; and there is what perhaps
might be seen as a Wellesian innovation to the ghost story, a psychiatrist who
is both more and less sane than the other two men. He provides a learned
"explanation" of the novella’s mysteries in its concluding section, but his
insight into human nature and human history is seriously undermined by his own
fanatical and tormented personality.
It is difficult to assess whether or not "The Croquet Player" is an effective
work of art; indeed, Wells’s purpose in writing it seems equally difficult to
grasp. Certainly the tale achieves some success as a ghost story; elements such
as the descriptions of mounting, inexplicable rage affecting a small community
and the notion (derived from the terrors of Darwinism) that the pre-history of
the human race is coming back with a vengeance to destroy mankind produce their
share of unease. The novella also offers several intriguing philosophical ideas,
including a brief exploration of the relationship between a newly "modernist"
human anxiety and the dramatically altered perception of the scale of human
history in the light of evolutionary science. Finally, this novella, like so
much of Wells’s fiction, is quite humorous in unanticipated ways. The
personality of the croquet player is particularly well-drawn (asked pointedly if
he does much thinking, he replies, "a fair amount. I solve the Times
crossword puzzle nearly every day" ) and Wells wisely holds himself back
from making his mockery of this figure too aggressive. The climax of the story,
when the apocalyptically-minded fanatic addresses the imperturbably
mild-mannered Victorian-era sportsman, is handled with the same, fine, dry wit
with which such encounters are so often rendered in British humor: "‘And that,
my friend, means you! I say it to you! You!’ And he pointed a lean
forefinger. As there was no one else present—for the waiter had gone
inside—there was no reason whatever for that ‘you’ and the pointing figure. Just
want of proportion" (95).
If there is a limitation to this intriguing tale, it may be that the work’s
"signified" lies too close to the surface (to use one of the story’s own key
metaphors) than is desirable in the ghost story. Written in 1936, the novella
clearly wishes to suggest that the "haunting fear" afflicting the village of
Cainsmarsh, the various narrators of the story, and even the stubbornly
unimaginative protagonist is the immanence of a second World War. Yet a
nightmare vision of people "swarming like ants ... clad in uniforms ... marching
and trotting towards the black shadows" (70) reduces the ghostly specter to very
comprehensible—if admittedly awesome—proportions, and hence reduces the power of
the uncanny upon which the ghost story depends. One has to admire Wells for
perhaps discovering, in the course of writing the tale, that the parameters of a
ghost story were simply insufficient to communicate the real-life horrors of
war; nonetheless something seems to be lost when a character bluntly proclaims
that the "nameless horror" affecting the village of Cainsmarsh can also be felt
"in Belfast and Liverpool and Spain" (55).
Despite what seems like a too-obvious subtext, there may yet be more than
meets the eye in this late Wells novella. For example, given that most ghost
stories and horror tales do explore some region of obscure sexual terror,
finding such a context for this story would greatly enrich its resonance; the
fact that Wells’s own father was a semi-professional cricket player and that the
croquet player’s name is itself "Georgie" might lead some bold and enterprising
scholar into this sort of exciting new reading of the text. Without a doubt, the
fine, readable edition recently issued from the University of Nebraska’s Bison
Frontiers of Imagination series (it has generous margins and a thoughtful,
useful afterward by John Huntington of the University of Illinois) is surely the
one to purchase and curl up with on a rainy night, as one prepares to encounter
yet another fascinating production from the prodigious mind of the founder of
Gleckman, Chinese University of Hong Kong
H.G. Wells: Traversing Time.
Early Classics of Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004.
xiii + 334 pp. $34.95 hc.
John Partington, ed.
The Wellsian: Selected Essays on H.G. Wells.
The Netherlands: Equilibris, 2003. 239 pp. 86.00 hc; 58.00 pbk.
John R. Hammond. H.G.
The Time Machine: A Reference Guide.
Westport, CT: Greenwood/Praeger, 2004. xi + 149 pp. $79.95/ 45.99 hc.
The three books under review here are all written or compiled by men who have
admirable records of involvement with the H.G. Wells Society. So one should not
be surprised if their work furthers the Society’s cause.
Wagar’s Traversing Time is the most ambitious and important of the
three books. Wagar, an historian whose H.G. Wells and the World State
(1961) heroically drew attention to the importance of Wells’s social thought,
has championed Wells as a social thinker for almost half a century. In treating
the works as political arguments and gestures, texts that try to influence
ideas, Wagar is true to Wells’s own aspirations. It is an attempt to get back to
the Wells who excited people throughout the first half of the twentieth century,
who inspired books on his thought as early as 1915, and who considered his
scientific romances as just a part—and perhaps a minor part—of his larger
As Wagar says early in his book, "There is not a single significant writer in
English whose bibliography looks anything like Wells’s" (14). Through his first
essays preaching a dark Darwinism, through his extraordinary success as a writer
of scientific romances, through his socialist, feminist, utopian phases, his
educational phase, and finally his late phase of journalistic wisdom and
parables, Wells sought with flair and energy to make the world understand his
dream of a reasonable society. Traditional modes of literary criticism can
hardly touch this dimension of Wells, and even biographies, memoirs, and
polemics that attempt to narrate the larger story of Wells’s diverse, evolving,
and sometimes inconsistent positions cannot do it justice. In Traversing Time,
published just before the author’s death, Wagar has made a final attempt to
reorient our attention, to depict a Wells who tried in every way he could to
move the world.
Although he is interested in Wells’s intellectual positions, Wagar is not
particularly good on the art of Wells’s fiction. In his analyses he tends to
fall back on plot summaries, and though he knows most of the criticism, he has
difficulty treating complexities and ambivalences. His discussion of Ostrog in
When the Sleeper Wakes, for instance, takes very seriously the
commonplace that Ostrog in a strange way echoes Wells. The discussion is
detailed and in that respect illuminating, but Wagar’s conclusion that "Wells by
no means shared Ostrog’s vision of the desirable terrestrial future" (74) misses
the point. Clearly, as all critics realize, Ostrog is a power-driven villain.
Wagar’s blunt separation of Ostrog from Wells eliminates the complexity, the
uneasy sense that Wells himself was attracted to some of his villain’s ideas,
that has caused so many critics to find some Wells in him and that, one
imagines, accounts for much of the excitement and energy of the novel.
What is new and important is Wagar’s take on a large and disparate body of
material familiar to most Wellsians. Thus, in the description of Wells’s
activity in the first year of the Second World War, Wagar articulates more
clearly than anyone I have read how, through his objections to fascism, Wells
ended up embracing left democratic positions that he would have rejected just a
few years earlier. The discussion of Wells’s involvement with the UN declaration
of the "Rights of Man" during this same period is the best I know. Wagar
analyzes Wells’s text of the declaration, pointing out how different articles of
the declaration fit or mark changes from Wells’s earlier positions. He performs
a subtle analysis of the difficulty that nationalism and even references to "the
interests of the community" presented for Wells, the long-time advocate of the
World State. Wagar has long taken Wells seriously as a thinker, and the book is
valuable as the culminating record of an important historian’s engagement with
The high point of the collection of essays from The Wellsian is
Patrick Parrinder’s 1981 essay, "The Time Machine: H.G. Wells’s Journey
Through Death." The essay combines biography and literary interpretation to get
at that mysterious quality of exuberant pessimism that so distinguishes Wells’s
early work and has so baffled Wellsians ever since Anthony West back in 1957
declared his father to be at heart a pessimist. At the end of his essay
Parrinder finds Wells taking strength and hope from the rigorous and sometimes
dark implications of Darwinism, and he concludes:
if mankind was to overcome the obstacles to its survival what it needed,
[Wells] constantly implied, was a favourable variation or mutation. His visions
of future wars and his projects for open conspiracies, world education and
rational government were all directed to this end. He believed it could happen
because it had happened to him personally, when from an unhealthy young science
teacher liable to brood on his own imminent death he became a prophet who saw
beyond his own death. (41)
Parts of this argument would show up in the first chapter of Parrinder’s
later book, Shadows of the Future: H.G. Wells, Science Fiction, and Prophecy
(1995), but in the later version the force of the argument is diluted by being
restricted to just The Time Machine, and by being combined with
elaborations about mythic significations (e.g., of Prometheus).
Like any journal devoted to a single writer, much of the material published
in The Wellsian has a narrow focus and speaks to details of interest
mainly to enthusiasts. If none of the other essays in this collection achieves
the synthetic and critical level of Parrinder’s, there are, nevertheless, some
essays in the anthology that rise above the parochial and deserve a wider
audience. David Lake’s essay, from the late 1980s, on the texts of the
scientific romances, is now dated, and thanks to a number of more recent
editions, including some edited by Lake himself, its complaints about the
textual situation may no longer apply; but its essential analysis of the stemma
of Wells’s early novels is crucial for future editorial work. Laura Scuriatti’s
1999 essay, "A Tale of Two Cities: H.G. Wells’s The Door in the Wall,
Illustrated by Alvin Langdon Coburn," is a well-researched and thoughtfully
argued reading of the special limited 1911 edition of a few Wells stories
published with Coburn’s very aesthetic photos. Scuriatti makes a good case for
seeing the photos as repeating a tension between the realistic and hallucinatory
that lies at the center of Wells’s "A Dream of Armageddon" and "The Door in the
Wall." She thereby solves the mystery of why a realist like Wells would
collaborate with an aesthete like Coburn. The essay is a good instance of how a
piece of quite narrow scholarship can open up an issue and an area. Three other
essays particularly stand out. Brett Davidson’s "Wells, The Artilleryman and the
Intersection on Putney Hill" (2003) situates the Artilleryman in The War of
the Worlds as part of a development moving from monsters (e.g. Moreau and
Griffin) to later radical utopianists. Bruce Sommerville’s "A Tissue of
Moonshine: the Mechanics of Deception in The Sea Lady" (2003) explores
the possibility that the novel allows for an alternate reading in which there is
actually no mermaid. And, finally, Michael Sherborne’s "Wells, Plato, and the
Ideal State" (1981) elegantly and with reference to a wide range of Wells’s
work, makes the case that Wells uses irony to escape the totalitarian
implications of Plato, who is the inspiration for Wells’s utopianism. It may say
something about The Wellsian that these essays all evade Wells’s
politics. Even Sherborne, though he begins from Orwell’s famous 1941 complaint
about Wells’s totalitarian sympathies, by solving the problem with "irony,"
leaves the real politics untouched.
John Hammond, a founder of the H.G. Wells Society and a former editor of
The Wellsian, knows a great deal about Wells. In his Reference Guide
he tells us remarkable details about the character of Wells’s father, and he
gives us an extremely useful paragraph on the formats of publishing in 1894 when
The Time Machine first appeared. Scattered through the book are apt
quotations from century-old magazines and from unpublished letters.
Despite its nuggets of erudite detail, however, this is not a book for
scholars. In fact, it is not at all clear who would find it useful. How should
one use this loose and chatty "reference guide" which is almost twice as long as
the novel it references? Skimming, one might find some conventional
explications, but what reader of The Time Machine needs a fourteen-page
plot summary? Finally, in light of the intellectual, social, and biographical
directions of Wagar and Parrinder, what is remarkable is how little time Hammond
devotes to the implicit social ideas of the novel. The H.G. Wells Society owes a
great debt to John Hammond but, like the Society itself, he is most concerned
with promoting his subject, and, not surprisingly, that goal distracts him from
harder, more challenging critical work that might risk raising controversial
University of Illinois at Chicago
The Horror Market: Always a Tough
Steffen Hantke, ed.
Horror Film: Creating
and Marketing Horror. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2004. xiii
+ 261 pp. $45 hc.
Like many books of essays on a single topic, Horror Film: Creating and
Marketing Fear is uneven. The essays collected here, however, range from
interesting to excellent; there is not a single terrible one in the book. That
is saying quite a lot given the number of very bad books published on the
subject of the horror film.
As suggested in the work’s subtitle, this volume focuses on the creation and,
perhaps more interestingly, on the selling of horror films. Marketing has always
played a huge role in selling any type of film, but since horror is
generally perceived by the public as an extremely narrow genre, horror films’
advertising campaigns have required some real creativity and a great deal of
savvy concerning the films’ potential audiences, so several of the essays in
this volume are particularly welcome.
Among this group is Philip L. Simpson’s perceptive "The Horror ‘Event’ Movie:
The Mummy, Hannibal, and Signs." This essay discusses how
current filmmakers have tried to give "cultish" horror films more mainstream
appeal by turning the films’ release into a high-concept "event" and, with luck,
into a franchise. The result is often, as Simpson states, a horror film for
"people who normally wouldn’t be caught dead going to horror movies" (85).
Perhaps the best essay in the book, James Kendrick’s "A Nasty Situation:
Social Panics, Transnationalism, and the Video Nasty," examines Great Britain’s
Video Recordings Act of 1985, a piece of legislation that resulted in British
video stores being raided by police, who removed from their shelves such films
as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1983) and pretty much the entire body of
work of Italian horror-meister Lucio Fulci. Kendrick gives interesting political
background and motivation to the Act, commenting that a similar move by the
government to go about "protecting children from moral contamination" occurred
during the 1930s. Kendrick also points out the hypocrisy of the Act, noting that
British graphic horror films such as Pete Walker’s House of Whipcord
(1975), which were also pushing the limits of sex and violence at the time, were
never placed on the British government’s list of "video nasties."
Two other essays are first-rate. Catherine Zimmer’s "The Camera’s Eye:
Peeping Tom and Technological Perversion" offers a well-written and thorough
examination of the role of the camera in Michael Powell’s once-controversial
Peeping Tom (1960). And Blair Davis’s "Horror Meets Noir: The Evolution of
Cinematic Style, 1931-1958" discusses the similarities of these two genres,
amusingly noting, "Slap a fedora and a gun on him and that monster easily
becomes a noir protagonist" (193).
Singling these essays out in no way is meant to slight the other essays in
the book, which range from incredibly comprehensive (David Scott Diffrient’s "A
Film Is Being Beaten: Notes on the Shock Cut and the Material Violence of
Horror") to very up-to-date (K.A. Laity’s "From SBIG’s to Mildred’s
Inverse Law of Trailers: Skewing the Narrative of Horror Fan Consumption").
Amazing for a volume of this size and scope, there is nary a factual error to be
found. One could argue, I suppose, that when Richard J. Hand states in his
"Proliferating Horrors: Survival Horror and the Resident Evil Franchise"
that "Arguably, Night of the Living Dead established the zombie topos in
contemporary horror film" (129), he is overlooking The Last Man on Earth
(1964), made a few years earlier, but since Night is better known and
certainly far more influential, one hesitates to argue. In short, the research
displayed within this volume is superlative.
Hantke’s book is a welcome and valuable addition not just to the horror
genre, but to film studies in general.
—Allen C. Kupfer, Nassau Community College
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