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July 15, 2006

Knowing vs. showing
Posted by Patrick at 10:33 AM *

I missed China Mi�ville’s guest-of-honor interview at Readercon, but these comments reported by Matt Cheney seem to me dead on, as are Matt’s own remarks:

At Readercon this weekend, China Mi�ville said, in his guest of honor interview, that one of the things he notices in both the audience for his work and in himself is a tension between a desire for otherworldly mystery and a desire for detail, detail, detail. He noted RPGs as an expression of this tension, a sublimation of geekiness within the rules and tables and worldbooks of the game that was often at odds with the fantastic potential of the material, and sometimes of the source material itself—he noted that the game of Call of Cthulhu seemed to utterly miss Lovecraft’s point: Cthulhu goes from being a creature so great and terrible that it can’t possibly be described or comprehended to being a creature with 100 hit points. (I may be mangling China’s argument, since it’s based on memory, so please blame me if you disagree, not him.)

This tension between the desire for that-which-is-so-amazing-it’s-incomprehensible and that-which-can-be-quantified is one most of us who are readers of SF probably share to some extent or another, and it can be a productive tension, perhaps even one of the foundational tensions in fantastic literature, the tension that propels much good fantasy writing into a realm that borrows from traditions of allegory, surrealism, and slice-of-life realism but doesn’t comfortably fit into any one camp, and, at its best, is therefore richer than each.

Comments on Knowing vs. showing:
#1 ::: Stargeezer ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 11:22 AM:

I didn't understand a bit of this post but Mr. Mieville is still the best writer in this place between fantasy and science fiction that I have ever been exposed to.

#2 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 12:03 PM:

So...we want strange new things. But things that fall into the pre-defined categories of Fantasy or Science Fiction (I'm summarizing) are neither strange, nor new.

And when an author is telling us about these strange new things, the author must take care to keep it sufficiently strange and new, satisfying both our requirement that we see this cool thing, and that we actively also do not wholly see it, so we can continue thinking it was as cool as it was before we saw it.

Neat. I like Mr. Mieville, too.

#3 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 12:11 PM:

The bit about Gods and RPGs goes back to the original Deities and Demigods supplement to D&D. Not just Cthulhu, but any God.

At east the Call of Cthulhu game managed to introduce the Sanity mechanism, so that anyone who did face Cthulhu would emerge as a gibbering wreck of a man. It wasn't just hit points that mattered. Still, there's a thread running through gaming which focusing on excessigve firepower, handled in exquisitely tedious detail.

Back when I was active in the hobby, I preferred to use the rules as a guide. Perhaps it came from somebody wanting to play a baby Golden Dragon in the first game I DMed. Inflicting a paionful nasal blowback wasn't in the rules, but it seemed to work.

There are, alas, gamers who just don't believe in the sanity clause.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 12:29 PM:

I think the issue here is a simple one. We want the strange, new, edritch, und so weiter. We want the shock of difference to amaze our minds. But we also want it grounded in the familiar. Cthulhu may be a nameless horror, but he's also a gigantic octopus.

This is a normal human trait, I believe. We want to envision powers on a scale that our minds can barely encompass. We want to read about amazing, magical things. We also want to have them fit into a scale that we can manage, to be bounded in a nutshell while simultaneously being king of infinite space.

#5 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 12:39 PM:

I've played my share of RPGs, though I'm a fan of the more nebulous and/or numinous styles of fantasy. So I can see just what he means. The most interesting parts of the characters never lived in the statistics, the whole sensawunda of standing in a real honest-to-god different plane rarely survives reading the description from the book. Thankfully I always played with DMs willing to break the rules if common sense intervened (If the rules prevent a character from doing something that an ordinary person could do in real life -- get a license and buy a gun, for instance -- some GMs will hold that the rules count more than the realism.)

I've also dealt with GMs who include extras -- letters from family (if/where the characters can read), folk stories that don't actually have plot relevance, visions for events we may never actually get to -- in an earnest attempt to bring back that feeling of the world beyond numbers. It's not always sensawunda -- it stretches in both that direction and in the merely grounded. I still tend to find RPGs limited in what can and can't happen, ("Don't split the party!") but I am glad when I find someone aware that the limits can be pushed; it makes it fun enough to be worth joining in the first place.

#6 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 12:44 PM:

I remember China Mieville using the example of Cthulhu having a strength of 100. But, otherwise, it's his argument at least as I remember it. Someone in the audience had asked how having played RPGs in his youth had affected his work. That was his answer and delivered, BTW, with impeccable timing. He so completely nailed the laugh.

#7 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 12:47 PM:

There is a structural difference between novels and role-playing games which China Miéville (and/or Matt Cheney) is glossing over: RPGs are meant to be played collaboratively and extemporaneously by several people at once, and the detailed rules are meant to set up a common framework so that there's no time wasted by pointless disputation about what happens when someone fires a gun at you, or at a dragon. Ideally, anyway.

Call of Cthulhu (the role-playing game) is not the best example of what Miéville is talking about, since by design it tries to keep the power balance of Lovecraft's stories: if Cthulhu actually shows up in a game, the player characters get squashed, consumed, or (as Dave Bell pointed out) driven stark raving mad. He's not just a monster. The point of the game is not to go mano-a-mano against Cthulhu, but to (for example) try to stop the lunatic human cultists from completing the ritual that will summon him.

(I should mention that I haven't played the game myself, but I've read numerous articles and rulebooks over the years, and talked with several friends who play it regularly.)

Of course, nothing stops players from altering the rules and working their own variations, so that if they enjoy the idea of being able to nuke Cthulhu from orbit -- and having that actually work -- they can play that kind of game...

#8 ::: Jack Ruttan ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 01:05 PM:

It's important to be able to picture it in our minds, so we ground it in things we know. Like outerspace creatures having aspects of crabs or squids (hello, Cthulu!). Then creating a splashy and exciting mindpicture is a combination of this kind of description, and extrapolation.

#9 ::: Jack Ruttan ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 01:07 PM:

And I didn't read Fragano's comment, which essentially said the same thing, before I said it.

#10 ::: odaiwai (formerly dave) ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 01:31 PM:
Jack Ruttan ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 01:05 PM:

...(hello, Cthulu!)...

Hello Cthulhu

#11 ::: Michael Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 01:41 PM:

I think Peter is dead on with the reason there's an abstraction to numbers in RPGs; it allows multiple creators in a shared imaginative space to continue with the interesting bits without stopping to negotiate every detail. It's also something of an evolutionary appendage from the counter-and-map strategy games that the RPG industry is an offshot of.

However, saying "RPGs are like 'X'" is like saying "Music is like 'X'". There is some commonality, but there's a wide field including quite a bit that doesn't match Miéville’s description. Certainly, the currently popular ones (which are likely similar to the one's Miéville played as a youth) can have that tension, but just as not all music is Top 40, not all RPGs are D&D.

#12 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 01:48 PM:

This is the flip side of something I've been reading about in a book about C.S. Lewis and Narnia. The author says that one of Lewis' greatest skills was to take ordinary things-a wardrobe, a cup of tea-and make them part of something larger and more wonderful, so that they in turn become infused with magic.

#13 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 02:35 PM:

Well the neat thing about Cthulhu, as I remember the rules from the *original* game -- they may have changed it -- is that those hit points don't really mean anything, because there's a note at the end that even if it *were* possible to "kill" Cthulhu, he'd just regenerate.

And in the Cthulhu modern times supplement there was a section that dealt with the use of nukes against the Elder Gods, that went something like this:

Q: If you nuked Cthulhu, would he die?

A: Yes. And when he regenerated he would be radioactive.

In other words, the stats in question were just placed there in order to give your heroes something to futilely chip away against for a few seconds before they lose. :)

#14 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 03:02 PM:

I recognise the tension from my classes on sf and fantasy - many students like to explore the combination of identification with a character (which is often the realistic and detailed part) with the utterly strange and new (often the setting).
Of course, what is strange and new varies: I had two students in one class, one of whom expressed his inability to identify with the old woman who is the main character of Moon's Remnant Population (due to gender and age difference), and the other, also a young man, expressed his delight in finding that same character such a perfect object of identification. I think this is why I teach sf...

#15 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 03:13 PM:

Yep. It looks like China Miéville managed to critique an RPG that he never *read*. Roleplaying is *not* fiction. It's more akin to a melding structures improv and tabletop wargaming. It may well draw from literature, but it's not *prentending* to be literature. It's just using literary worlds as a venue.

If Miéville has a problem with that, I'm nto sure what it is.

The whole critique is actually pretty lame, and dismissive of game designers, and gamers. It's not "Missing lovecraft's point", because that (a) asusmes Miéville is the one true authority on Lovecraft's point, which he's not. and (b) assumes that gamers are *aiming* at the same point in Lovecraft's books, which they're not.

If you want to argue about maps and fiction, go ahead, but leave gamers and gaming out of it.

#16 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 03:34 PM:

Josh, I don't know for sure, but I suspect that Miéville not only read the Call of Cthulhu RPG, but played it. Perhaps even ran it. He played a lot of D&D growing up (just like most of his age cohort of fantasy authors).

I think you're missing his point, which isn't about gaming but about the tensions inherent in his work.

#17 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 03:42 PM:

I don't think I'm missing that there's an obvious insult towards gamers an gaming going on here.

Tensions are fine, but what's up with talking about gaming as if it were aiming at some sort of point that only Matt Cheney and China Miéville get to define?

This is a strawman argument, and it's insulting. It may not be intentional, but that's not much of excuse for poor manners that could have been avoided.

Of course, Matt Cheney is only representing a possibly misremembered version what Miéville said, so unless I get confirmation that this is really what Miéville was talking about, the insult is more from Cheney.

#18 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 03:52 PM:

Clearly, Miéville rolled a 20 on his Persuasion roll for the speech.

That, or he used a Friends spell to temporarily boost his Charisma score. Or he cast Mass Charm on the audience, thereby rendering them tractable to his wily words. You'd think at least one of the con-goers would have thought to bring a Helmet of Mind Shielding, but no...

#19 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 03:54 PM:

Any good role playing game will be designed for playability. Playability is not necessarily in line with what makes a good story or reality.

I recall reading in some RPG book, Shadowrun I believe, where they explicitely explain that defensive powers are cheap and easy to get and offensive powers are expensive and hard to get. And that this was done specifically so characters could beat the ever loving crap out of one another and not die.

real life is so the opposite way. The human body, as compared to a shadowrun character, is fragile as an eggshell. You can easily kill a man with your bare hands, and for the next advancement, knives and firearms are cheap and easy to come by. But no one wants to play a game where your character takes on the bad guy by himself and has a 50=50 chance of dying every time.

This really isn't showing the difference between 'telling' and 'mystery', I suppose, but it is pointing to an oft occuring difference between 'telling' and 'reality'.

#20 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 04:05 PM:

The whole critique is actually pretty lame, and dismissive of game designers, and gamers. It's not "Missing lovecraft's point", because that (a) asusmes Miéville is the one true authority on Lovecraft's point, which he's not. and (b) assumes that gamers are *aiming* at the same point in Lovecraft's books, which they're not.

There have been examples of RPG books treating Lovecraftian Elder Gods in the manner Miéville describes: as Dave Bell pointed out, the first edition of Deities and Demigods had D&D stats for Cthulhu and several other Mythos entities (as well as Zeus, Osiris, etc.), as if they were just really powerful monsters, describable in exactly the same way as you would an orc or a rat, so that if your characters were sufficiently powerful -- say, 25th or 30th level, armed with Staves of the Magi and Amulets of Awesomeness and so forth[*] -- they could kick his/its/their squamous, rugose, indescribably horrible asses.

But the actual Call of Cthulhu game didn't take that approach.

I recently read an essay by game designer/writer Kenneth Hite, who argued that CoC, as a role-playing game, embodies a theme inherent in Lovecraft's stories which is analogous to that of the classic Western movie. As he sees it, the classic Western articulates a central conflict: in order to fight barbarism and defend civilization, you must pick up a gun; but those who pick up guns are barbarians. The Lovecraftian theme is: in order to defend the world from "the Outside", you must acquire (and even use) knowledge of the Outside; but in acquiring that knowledge, you move closer to being part of the Outside. (The game mechanic is your character's Sanity decreasing as his or her Mythos Knowledge increases.)

[*] Though probably not something like the Head of Vecna.

#21 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 04:19 PM:

Stephen King (a lifelong Lovecraft fan) wrote in DANSE MACABRE about the tension between showing the monster/ghost/bogeyman to the reader, and only having it lurk behind a door, hinted but never explicitly shown.

"Lovecraft would open the door... but only a crack."

King compared this technique with how Robert Wise's film THE HAUNTING has the door bulge, but never open to reveal the Thing On The Other Side:

"I think both Wise and Lovecraft before him understood that to open the door, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, is to destroy the unified, dreamlike effect of the best horror."

But King also argues that, hard as it may be to actually show the Lurking Thing (and risk a pratfall), the writer should still try.

#22 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 05:47 PM:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that I'm the person with most experience in the rolegaming market in this thread - about 1.3 million words sold since 1997, and some awards won along the way for some of them. I read the description of Mieville's comments and nodded and thought "right on". The tension he talks about is one that good gaming creators think about, too, and with less freedom to explore unusual options than the authors of fiction have. A friend of mine once said, "Our audience wants marvels, and then wants us to make them mundane but still marvelous."

Sometimes I think that we're doing pretty well if we simply acknowledge outright that this tension exists and (in gaming) discuss what kinds of consequences follow from effing the ineffable versus leaving it alone. Which, comes to think of it, that the tension may be the sort of thing there's the tension about....

#23 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 05:53 PM:

(I don't mean to pull a "I'm not insulted and so nobody else can possibly have a beef" trick, by the way. I just did want to note that someone who's been up to his earlobes in rolegaming for a while now was the opposite of insulted by way of balance.)

#24 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 05:58 PM:

Note that it shouldn't really be called "missing Lovecraft's point" for the characters to win a temporary victory against Great Cthulhu since that's what happened near the end of Lovecraft's short story. Ship rams Cthulhu, Cthulhu goes back into dormancy after briefly awakening.

#25 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 06:03 PM:

There's durable victory in "The Dunwich Horror", too, and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", and (as far as people at large are concerned) "The Rats in the Walls" and like that. There's a certain kind of Lovecraft fan that's so enamored of the nihilism they can't see the existential heroics part.

#26 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 06:22 PM:

When I heard China's answer, I thought that one of the things he was says was precisely what those who are critiquing China's answer are saying. That is, roleplaying is not literature and it doesn't pretend to be. How the Cthulhu of literature is this great unknowable while the Cthulhu of the RPG, by definition, can not be is a very good example of this.

In the context of his answer, China was not talking about gaming. He made it very clear that he was talking about conflicting impulses within himself as reflected in his writing. That is, on one hand, he loves reading RPG books because he loves the amount of detail they go into. However, he knows that he can not do the same in his own work. So he was using the question about how RPGs have affected his work to illustrate the tension between mystery and having it all explained in detail.

I don't know that he scored a critical success with this answer though. He was pretty much on all weekend. Some of his panel responses caused spontaneous mass audience applause.

#27 ::: MatGB ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 07:01 PM:

Josh? Please explain to me, as a longstanding gamer, fan of China's writing, opponent of his politics and liker of his persona, especially his many comments on gaming in interviews on various BBC shows I've listened to, where's the insult?

I think there is a straw man in this thread, but it's really not in the "insult" to gaming.

We, as gamers or as readers of fantasy and sci-fi, do have a problem in the desire for detail within the otherworldly. From Dilithium Crystals, Somebody Else's Problem fields, mages casting time stop spells on runaway trains and other PSB, you can't explain the unexplainable, but you have to for it to work.

Well, that's my take, anyway.

#28 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 07:05 PM:

I'm not sure this whole demystification process is necessarily any more integral to RPGs than superheroes are to comics. Some of my earliest and most fun experiences with things that I would identify as "RPGs" involved simply making up stories with my cousins, no rules or mechanics implied. Of course the advantage of going the rule-bound, stat-heavy route is that it can make it easier for people to latch onto the game and provide fodder for endless expansions, but this is more a matter of what is convenient and profitable than what is inherent in the form. Even so, I always admired the old AD&D Planescape setting, because it insisted on leaving so many fundamental truths about the world almost completely mysterious (e.g. the history of Sigil, the nature of the Lady of Pain, the genesis and ultimate end of the Blood War). The writers would even tease readers with obviously spurious explanation, for example suggesting that the Lady of Pain, the mysterious and near omnipotent ruler of Sigil, was in fact seven giant squirrels with a ring of levitation and an elaborate costume.

#29 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 07:29 PM:

The Apollo program was the ultimate demystification and detailed examination of that hoary old SF trope, the first man on the Moon.

It's still so-amazing-that-it's-incomprehensible. Even though we know the stats for a Saturn V in mind-numbing detail (if we want to). And it doesn't stop us writing two-fisted tales of thrilling space exploration, does it?

(Although, now I think about it, I don't think I've ever seen "Apollo 13: The RPG" ...)

And I will note that many authors who engage in writing a fantasy or SF series eventually end up generating a "world book" for themselves -- no dice, perhaps,but more than enough guidelines to let them play the game against themselves.

#30 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 08:34 PM:

1. Mr. Stross -- glad to see the world's leading expert on shoggoth bombing here. I think many of us would be curious on your take as to exactly precisely how many hit points a shoggoth has and how that translates into megatons?

2. A. R. Yngve wrote:

But King also argues that, hard as it may be to actually show the Lurking Thing (and risk a pratfall), the writer should still try.

Yeah, well quoted.

(............SPOILER ALERT............)

I'm a big King fan, but I'd suggest that perhaps this philosophy is why King's endings frequently are not the strongest component of his work. Recall the Hand 'o God putting in a cameo at the end of The Stand? It wasn't terrible, but (IMHO) it wasn't especially satisfactory either. Even worse was the Dark Tower's blow-by-blow dtaeh of Rnaldal Fgalg.

OTOH, to give King his props, I'd cite as excellent work the (MORE SPOILERS) last couple pages of The Dark Tower. After--what, 4500+ pages? a million words or so?--it would be impossible to construct an ending that would satisfy everybody. Or even one that would satisfy anybody. Instead he has Rlonad og bcak ot the bnniegig. Yeah, it was a bit gimmicky, but honestly, hats off. Some of his best work, IMHO.

/SPOILERS

I think there's a corollary to the effect of "the more the written work relies on the imagination of the reader, the harder it will be to film." E.g. the short story "Crouch End" vs. the filmed version or any of Lovecraft's written work vs. any of the filmed adaptations. I mean, I like Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft-flavored work (Re-Animator, Rats in the Walls, and especially the yummy, yummy Dagon) as much as the next geek but I don't think he and Lovecraft were in touch with the same Muse.*

*OR WERE THEY???!???Somebody should write a short story where it turns out that Barabara Crampton and Sonia H. Greene were the same person.

#31 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 09:42 PM:

Bruce,

"effing the ineffable" may well become a permanent addition to my working vocabulary. Thanks.

#32 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 10:20 PM:

Showing off my ignorance, in which work does Cthulhu first make its appearance? If I were to try to get "up to speed" on the Elder Gods, where do I start?

#33 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 10:38 PM:

I Useta Be a RPG author. I suspect I burned out on the whole deal way before Bruce even started writing.

Lenora notes:

"The most interesting parts of the characters never lived in the statistics."

You're lucky; I never seemed to be able to find a group that was into more than . . . ummm, pickled wonder. I always seemed to end up with folks who wanted to know the physics of magic and biology of dragons and the most efficient method of deriving rents from the enchanted item trade. (Seriously: I once got cornered by a guy who felt compelled to tell me his character's plans to get rich . . . not by following a map to a treasure or marching with the king to battle or some other high adventure, but by somehow manipulating the Magic Steed market. It sounded as thrilling as guys in suits going over hedge fund strategies.)

I once read an interview with Warren Spector, in which he described Bruce Sterling's D&D campaign. He ditched the RPG whole scene the moment he got published, but apparently in the day Bruce was a kick-ass "DM" who didn't see much of a need for the rule books. Man, that would have been something.

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 10:52 PM:

I GM'd a GURPS campaign for 18+ years. (Yeah, one campaign. With pretty much the same characters, too. They got pretty moosey by the end.)

I eventually realized that when I meticulously planned an adventure, with all the details and stats of the opposition &c, it was generally no fun. Not for the players, anyway.

No, the most fun was when I was winging it. I have the ability to improvise characters with multiple NPCs and play them in real time, quite vividly I might add.

A couple of times I was able to map out a whole sequence of events that would happen "offstage" at various times, so that what the PCs saw or found depended on when they got there (Day 1: they find the stolen seal. Day 2: they find the document made with the stolen seal, and shards of jet that used to be the seal. Day 3: they find nothing.) And that way if they're wasting their time I could still have the NPCs doing their thing, and only tell the PCs about it later.

I was able to make prophesies and have them come true too. I would just tell them something weird, and figure out how to make it fit later. One time, for example, they'd killed a shriggar (37 geek points to anyone who can name the source of THAT monster), and a green cloud came from it, formed a face, and said "This round to you. But we will meet again: among the dogs of the night I will be waiting." Then dissipated.

Almost a year later, real time, the players were "helping out a town with a problem," the problem in this case being some particularly vicious wolf attacks...and then one of the townies referred to them as "dogs." "Oh, I'm sorry, did I make a mistake in my [common language name]? We don't have a separate word for wolf in our language; we call them the Night's Dogs." Ruh-roh. They'd forgotten all about the prophecy, but suddenly they realized they were in deeeeeeeeeep shiiiiiiiit.

That was fun.

If I could do this in my writing...well, but I can't, so no use crying about it.

#35 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 11:22 PM:

MatGB

The argument goes more against what Matt Cheney had to say, which I also mentioned, and which you seem to have skipped.

He noted RPGs as an expression of this tension, a sublimation of geekiness within the rules and tables and worldbooks of the game that was often at odds with the fantastic potential of the material, and sometimes of the source material itself—he noted that the game of Call of Cthulhu seemed to utterly miss Lovecraft’s point: Cthulhu goes from being a creature so great and terrible that it can’t possibly be described or comprehended to being a creature with 100 hit points.

I think this totally misses the mark for roleplaying, which is not story writing, but as I said, more like improv group storytelling combined with some strategic elements.

Again, roleplaying is not aiming at the same mark, and Cheney and Miéville (to a lesser exetnt because this is second hand) imply that they should be or pretend to be (it's not clear which) aiming at that mark.

I don't know if I can make it any more clear than that.

#36 ::: Sol Gursky ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 11:32 PM:

I think that the core of what China and Patrick are getting at here could actually be seen as our culture's characteristic lust for authenticity. Not only do we crave the awful (in the original sense of the word) in our constructed realms, but we also desperately seek it in our lives. There is a general understanding that equates the essential with the true, and with worth as well. But we also feel that if an experience is too easily quantifiable, then it isn't raw enough to be essential. Beaudrillard (and Kant, Descartes, Plato, etc) aside, maybe we can approach something like unmediated experience in our actual lives. Games, however, and writing, are neccessarily limited by their medium. No world whose substance is words (or statistics) can give us that immediacy. They must be defined by their limits, and what lies beyond as much as anything. The only instances in which they can convey that sense of awe that Lovecraft excelled at is by leaving those limits of language untraced. And in truth it's this same dynamic that has helped stymie our everyday awe. Knowledge is a glass well smudged with nose prints, and flyspecks, and maybe a little pride, and it can be damn hard to see through.
Also, even thinking about Cthulhu is kind of giving me the willies right now.

#37 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 11:38 PM:

Lila, glad to help. I didn't invent the phrase but I love it.

#38 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 12:21 AM:

"lust for authenticity"

Ahhhh . . . . this sloshes over to another phenomena:

The Miracle Explainers.

Several years back, NBC (?) ran a summer replacement series in which scholars explained Biblical miracles, e.g., unusual tides parted the Red Sea; Samson yanked on a crucial load-bearing pillar; Shadrach, Meschach, and Ibednego hid in a cool spot.

They specials had hokey computer graphics to lend high-tech authenticity to what seemed like really strained explanations.

But what really got me was the rationalization for the exercise: If people could see that miracles could really happen, they might take the Bible more seriously.

Huh? They want to start a religious revival in an age of doubt by removing the supernatural, divine-intervention aspect from miracles?

#39 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 01:04 AM:

I was at that panel at Readercon. I mentioned in the Readercon thread that quoting China does not often convey the context in which he was speaking, or his quotes are often misconstrued. I went fully expecting to be annoyed by him based on things I'd read, but found him quite articulate and interesting.

I think, in this case, Matt Cheney's summary misfires a bit. The "missing the point" part (which I don't recall China saying) is Matt's summation of the joke (again, in my opinion). Someone asked how gaming influenced his writing. That prompted an interesting point about the conflict an author has between knowing what he's writing and writing what the reader needs to know to feel what the author is trying to convey. As a gamer, he was pointing out that it's is at once grand---the mystery of what is---and minute---how it gets that way. As readers, we want the grand, but we want it to hang together in some kind of logic. He wasn't knocking gamers--in fact, I thought he was making a world-building analogy between gamers and authors. I don't think he was saying one was better than the other.

#40 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:27 AM:

I think the discussion of the nature of RPGs distracts from point Melville was making. Let's try another analogy - realistic or quasi-realistic figure painting. If the painting is to look realistic, the painter can't show every detail. Unless there is an artfully arranged mirror in the painting, for example you can't realistically show the front and the back of a figure at the same time. Both prose and painting have styles other than realism of course - but most of them rely even less on accumulations of detail than relistic ones. Not just in horror, but in any type of writing, the author better not tell everything she knows.

#41 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 03:05 AM:

Xopher: One time, for example, they'd killed a shriggar (37 geek points to anyone who can name the source of THAT monster)

Oh dear, I fear I am a geek: Frank Herbert's The Godmakers.

#42 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 04:54 AM:

Charlie Stross pointed out that "many authors who engage in writing a fantasy or SF series eventually end up generating a "world book" for themselves -- no dice, perhaps,but more than enough guidelines to let them play the game against themselves."

Shhh! We're not supposed to TALK about the Worldbook in front of readers! The profit lies in doling out bits and pieces of our secret Worldbooks in series of novels and accompanying moychandise...

What are writers supposed to do, just give away the Worldbook to the readers? That would of course eliminate those reader comments and criticisms I always get:
"But you didn't explain the..."
"Why didn't you give more space for Character X..."
"In the next book, I expect an explanation of why..."
;-)

#43 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 05:02 AM:

I didn't invent the phrase but I love it.

As it happens, I invented it, and used it in a song (semi-rhyming with "screw the inscrutable"), but I doubt that I'm the only one who did.

#44 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 08:27 AM:

Linkmeister asked:
Showing off my ignorance, in which work does Cthulhu first make its appearance? If I were to try to get "up to speed" on the Elder Gods, where do I start?

I'm pretty sure that the only one of Lovecraft's original stories in Cthulhu appears onstage, as it were, is "The Call of Cthulhu".

The Mythos stories aren't a chronological sequence, by any means; more a set of stories which happen to share more or less similar backgrounds (as well as similar themes). The other Mythos stories by Lovecraft, in addition to "The Call of Cthulhu", would probably include "The Dunwich Horror", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Shadow out of Time", "The Whisperer in Darkness", "The Haunter of the Dark", "The Lurking Fear", "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", and the short novel At the Mountains of Madness.

There are several collections of Lovecraft's stories in press; any one of them which has some or all of the stories listed above would probably be a good place to go.

#45 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 09:03 AM:

The Library of America Lovecraft collection has all the short stories mentioned (not Mountains of Madness). Peter Straub edited it. S. T. Joshi did a Penguin collection, which has corrected texts (I do not believe the differences are major, which is not meant as an insult to Joshi's work). There's a Del Rey Lovecraft collection that has the mentioned stories except for Charles Dexter Ward. Mountains of Madness is available in several editions. Indeed, you could always haunt a used bookstore and find perfectly readable paperbacks.

The Del Rey Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos collection has only two stories by Lovecraft; the rest are Mythos yarns by others of the era and later -- Clark Ashton Smith, Bob Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Karl Wagner, Steve King, Joanna Russ. Ah, you ask, does the Crypt-Keeper pull your leg? No, but . . . something is . . . *evil laughter interrupted by phlegmy coughing*

Try Ingles with Eldritch Vapour, for the partly squamous, partly rugose cough.

#46 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 09:40 AM:

A little poking around on amazon.co.uk reveals that there's actually an edition of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness with an introduction by ... (wait for it) ... China Miéville.

John M. Ford said:
The Library of America Lovecraft collection has all the short stories mentioned (not Mountains of Madness).

Are you sure about the last bit? The Table of Contents page from Amazon's "Search Inside" viewer does list At the Mountains of Madness. (Since the whole book is something like 850 pages long, one would hope it could include that story, which I think is one of the two best that Lovecraft wrote.)

#47 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 09:54 AM:

I've eBayed a chunk of my RPG stuff, but I remember several games, mostly not very successful, which tried for a hard-SF approach to space. Maybe more Star Cops than Apollo XIII, but trying for the slow travel, hostile environment feel. But nobody bothered with the idea of having hundreds of ingenious engineers on the other end of a radio link.

The least fantastic attempts I can recall were a couple of supplements for the Cyberpunk games, entitled Near Orbit and Deep Space. There was a related anime-inspired game called Mekton, with the obvious difference being different damage from the weapons, and you could combine them to do Gundam with explosive decompression.

But three men in a cramped capsule, depending on those hundreds of engineers: that's something that would be a difficult RPG. Who do the characters play? What do they do that can be done by the players, and what needs a game mechanism? What are they risking?

The astronauts follow instructions. They're effectively NPCs. The engineers? How do you roleplay what they do? Is it just rolling dice using some system for inventing things? It might work as a game at MIT...

I think the idea can illustrate the difference between a story and a game. It's not just that it really happened. You can, without any conceptual awkwardness, reveal the problems and solutions, and describe how the astronauts, or the engineers, feel, and you have a novel.

But I don't think it's a story that works as a game.

For a game, there needs to be a combination of problems and solutions which is within the grasp of the players, who are not, usually, engineers or astronauts. And an Apollo XIII game seems to have too many killer choices; too many points where the wrong choice kills the astronauts.

That last problem often comes up in games based on fictional settings. There was a James Bond game. How does a game cope with the Lone Agent? On the other hand, when they remade The Mummy there was so much that gamers could, and did, recognise. Films, and even novels, can take up some of the gaming cliches.

Firefly is almost standard Traveller; it drips the game cliches like some movies drip blood.

#48 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 10:01 AM:

Dave Langford, not only are you a geek, but you've entered a competition below your class. You're in the Übergeek (or Gicque Grande) category. But 37 points doesn't raise your total by more than .00001%, so I don't suppose it matters.

Seriously, I thought I was the only one who read that book. Like many of Herbert's pre-Dune books—The Green Brain, anyone?—I wished the count had been one lower.

#49 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 10:18 AM:

The point isn't that one is good and one is bad, the point is the tension between them is productive. So you have the princess with hair that's never been cut, and you show her taking an hour every morning to comb that hair with help and special tools. So then when she pulls out one hair and rapidly strings a bow with it, and shoots an arrow from that bow that flies seven miles and... kills the dragon/splits the mountain open/knocks the apple from the head... you're ready for the wonder because you believed the comb, and you want to see the fading scales of the dead dragon/shadows of the chasm leading into the mountain/chunks of apple and looks of horrified bemusement in the same detail you saw the hair being pulled through the bristles with only the faintest wince, and you can.

You need both. You need the tension.

The thing I learned from gaming was quite different, it was how to see the shape of stories from on top and how a long story is a set of small events that don't all seem to be going in the same direction but are. I learned that if I set the parameters up right I could have the characters do whatever they wanted to and that would come around with the inevitability of wyrd to where the story was going. If I can do this with a group of real people playing the characters in real time, when I can't go back and change anything, I thought, I really ought to be able to do it in a novel, and it turned out I was right.

#50 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 11:01 AM:

I always thought of this as the difference between magic realism and fantasy; there isn't that tension in magical realism, it seemed to me. Magical things happen and there is no attempt to understand or explain it, and it's not useful, couldn't possibly be expressed in a number. Whereas in fantasy there can be Academies of Magic where people study and can understand, to some degree, how it works, and how to use it.

This is just my superficial idea formed by reading a little bit of magical realism and a little bit of fantasy.

Charlie Stross's comment about going to the moon, which I really liked, reminded me of something Thomas Carlyle said. Of course I don't agree with everything he thought (like slavery being awesome), but somewhere in Sartor Resartus he said it doesn't stop being a miracle just because we understand how it works. I like to think so too.

#51 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 11:05 AM:

Beautiful example, Jo. That's exactly right.

-l.

#52 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 11:51 AM:

Xopher: [..] I thought I was the only one who read that book. Like many of Herbert's pre-Dune books—The Green Brain, anyone?

Hadn't read that one, but re-reading Hellstrom's Hive through an X-Files filter added something to that book.

I read an interview with Herbert (forgotten where), describing how that book came to be published. There had been a popular theatrically released insect documentary film (how many of those have we seen) in the 70's titled The Hellstrom Chronicle. Herbert was approached by a publisher who had bought print rights related to the film, who was interested in putting out a “Hellstrom” anything, and wanted to commission Herbert to do a quickie novel.

Herbert said his side of the conversation went something like, “That's awful, that's immoral, I won't d...uh, wait a minute, I've got something here, all I need to do is change some of the names...”, and pulled a previously unsold story of an insect inspired cult out of his desk drawer.

If it seems like I'm making fun of the book, I'm not. I read and enjoyed the original serialization in Galaxy shortly after it had come out (I think these may have been the first issues of Galaxy magazine that I had picked up).

I'm serious in my retro-recommendation: Fans of the X-Files should also enjoy Hellstrom's Hive, by Frank Herbert.

#53 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 12:24 PM:

This relates to something that I've tried to express a few times, generally not very well, which is why fantasy written by horror writers often seems to feel so much more fantastical than fantasy written by fantasy writers. It's like they don't feel the need to justify themselves. Some fantasy reads as if people are going "See! See! Look how solid this world is, and how realistic and how completely internally consistent! Now you HAVE to take it seriously!" And solidity and internal consistency are good things, obviously, and I'm hardly going to advocate against them, but too often it seems we go overboard and cut wonder out along with it.

Maybe it's the difference between having a foot in fairy tales and a foot in RPGs. (And I am an avid lover of the RPG, mind you, so this isn't a slam by any stretch.)

The best example I can think of this is Santa Claus. We all know Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and has flying reindeer and elves. And small geek amusements with working out the airspeed of a laden reindeer aside, we generally don't worry much about Santa's immortality or anything else, because hey, it's Santa Claus, and that's the way it WORKS. He is a singular, wonderous, and fantastical thing, and that's fine.

If Santa appeared in a lot of fantasy novels, he'd be the latest member of the dynastic ruling House of Klaus, in a society where young elves are telepathically bonded to flying reindeer at puberty, and sent out on dangerous missions to deliver the sacred Gifts, and by the third book in the series, Santa would have been assassinated by someone and the succession would be thrown into jeopardy when the young Claus Jr bonded to a reindeer against all tradition and reason, but it'd work out okay because the evil armies of Thanksgiving would be marching towards the pole, and only the plucky Claus and associated reindeer could smite the forces of the Turkey Berserkers and save the day.

Ah...you know, I had a point in there, but damnit, now I kinda want to go write about turkey berserkers...

#54 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 12:50 PM:

Your point is valid, UrsulaV.

SANTA CLAUS AND THE RADIANT REINDEER: Book Three of the Giftgiver Saga
;)

#55 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 12:58 PM:

That's hilarious, UrsulaV!

I think your point in the first paragraph is dead on.

I've come to dislike fantasy that tries too hard to be hard SF. For me -- your mileage may vary -- it is the quality of the writing that allows me to suspend disbelief and accept the sub-creation.

This may explain why I've never* written material for fantasy RPGs, because what thrills me in fantasy lit is hard to express in RPG terms. (Such as: A trio of buskers. Humble, scruffy, bumbling, seemingly foolish but possessed of immense wisdom and power. Perhaps a bit like the core Marx Brothers. They are the avatars of beings from mythology, effectively immortal and with a limited set of powers which are utterly irresistable . . . the power of the plot point. To have to give these guys hit points and a list of Advantages and Disadvantages is demeaning besides the point. They are "singular, wonderous, and fantastical," and why shouldn't that be good enough?)

* That I can remember . . .

#56 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 01:11 PM:

I'm reminded of the distinction in DC Comics' horror titles between the mysteries in the House of Mysteries and the secrets in the House of Secrets. Mysteries raise questions that their keeper won't answer; secrets raise questsions where the answer is very much the point. I like that there's a place for both - it's not any better to make mysteries out of secrets than vice versa.

#57 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:00 PM:

UrsulaV: IMO what you're talking about is just plain bad; I can't argue that horror isn't just as bad, because I generally don't read horror, but I suspect the same defect can show up in bad horror.

Erwin et al: IMO Ward doesn't belong in the Cthulhu mythos; he and his predecessor were resurrectionists, working with human remains, not summoners of eldritch beings. This could just me being too mechanical/geekRPGish/....

#58 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:32 PM:

Erwin et al: IMO Ward doesn't belong in the Cthulhu mythos; he and his predecessor were resurrectionists, working with human remains, not summoners of eldritch beings. This could just me being too mechanical/geekRPGish/....

No, I'd be perfectly happy to accept your description. The truth is that I conjured that list half out of my memory and half from a list of "essential Lovecraft stories" in a Call of Cthulhu rulebook (in which "Ward" was second in the list, right after "The Call of Cthulhu" itself, so go figure...). It's been too long since I read "Ward", so I don't have a good memory of it.

(I left "The Colour out of Space" off my list because I do remember it, and didn't think it was really a "Cthulhu mythos" story -- even though I think that and At the Mountains of Madness are the two best of his stories.)

And now I really will have to go order a collection or two from Amazon, since my existing Lovecraft books are, unfortunately, entombed in the stygian, arctic wastes of southern Wisconsin.

#59 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 02:56 PM:

The Fields We Know have become awesomely large; that makes setting things outside them, or at the edges of them, rather more of a challenge than once it was.

Understanding where that edge is has become much, much more of a challenge, too; are the very ylf to be found in in a Riemann state transposition manifold somewhere in some quantum juxtaposition?

If they are, there are few who will believe it.

#60 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 03:13 PM:

UrsulaV - that was brilliant.

#61 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 03:41 PM:

Thanks, folks. Here's the LoA edition mentioned above. It looks like it does include Mountains of Madness, though.

I'll have to go check the local used bookstore first; I've given Amazon enough of my money this summer.

#62 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Linkmeister: There's also an SFBC Lovecraft compendium called Black Seas of Infinity which claims to collect more of Lovecraft's work than any edition since the original Arkham House edition of The Outsider in the '30s. I haven't tried to compare the table of contents between the two. I bought it to try to consolidate, but I haven't had the heart to try to compare it with any of my other Lovecraft collections and weed anything out.

P.S. My youngest - never exposed to Lovecraft - recently went through a period of running around the house shouting "Te-ke-li-li!" I think he must have been consorting with shoggoths in dreamland.

#63 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 05:40 PM:

Dave Langford: You aren't just the Übergeek, you're the Umbo Stetson of Übergeekdom.

#64 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 09:31 PM:

Xopher: [..] I thought I was the only one who read that book. Like many of Herbert's pre-Dune books—The Green Brain, anyone?

Actually, now that I've had more time to think about it, I think I have read this. I don't recall alot about the novel, but I'd read the first part in a pulp (purchased at a fortunately placed second hand book shop, before a long bus ride).

If it is the story I'm thinking of: there is an ongoing global attempt to eradicate insects (they eat our food, they spread disease). Like the WHO eradicating polio, insects are being wiped out, and the survivors are contained within shrinking boundaries. One of the last insect sanctuaries is the Amazon. Under intense evolutionary pressures, an insect hive is able to mimic a human being (one of the Brazilians enlisted to work on the Amazonian insect eradication project) and pass through the cordon.

I liked this idea (the insect hive as an entity), and thought (a few years later) it could lend itself to Dr Who. I imagined a story in which the comeuppance of The Master (and his apparant death) was being consumed by army ants. In a later episode, we discover that his consciousness has “infected” the insect colony, and his body is now a morphable insect mass.

[ I offer the idea free and clear; if they were planning to do this, don't not on my account. If it never occurred, feel free. ].

The novel was an ecological parable. Even in the first chapter, there were hints that the Chinese (and other participants in this global project) were re-introducing insects into areas they had been cleared from.


#65 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:20 AM:

I'm reminded of the distinction in DC Comics' horror titles between the mysteries in the House of Mysteries and the secrets in the House of Secrets.

Unless I'm greatly mistaken, that distinction was introduced much, much later by Neil Gaiman.

#66 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 08:12 AM:

whether or not the distinction between house of mysteries and house of secrets was introduced by Gaiman there is a self-evident distinction between the meanings of the words themselves.

#67 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 08:29 AM:

"Also, even thinking about Cthulhu is kind of giving me the willies right now."

www.cthul.hu shows as "under construction." Don't say you weren't warned.

#68 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 09:41 AM:

To me what Mieville is talking about is the tension between the ineffable and the umm, effable.

I remember when I first read the Lovecraft canon and found it deliciously creepy, but read the ersatz-Lovecraft produced by Derleth and generally found it ho-hum. Part of the reason was that Derleth opened the door too far, and revealed such hum-drum conventionality as a pantheon of elemental gods. Zzzz.

(Stross is really the creepiest of the heirs of Lovecraft. I've read "A Colder War" all too often, and it weirds me out every time. Of course, Stross is combining the Lovecraftian Thing with the Explanation of the Conspiracy of Everything Thing, which is [to me] always an attraction.)

I remember when Pohl invented the mysterious Heechee and then ultimately revealed them to be Just Like Us (well, aside from being otters with huge asses, anyway). They were more interesting when they were mysterious.

The problem is we always want to know more, want that door open just another inch. (The other obvious analogy is the strip-tease. We want more to come off, but once it's all off, it's over.)

ps: I read "The Godmakers," too, and rather liked it, partly because it was an Explanation of the Conspiracy of Everything. Non-Dune Herbert has its attractions. What was the short story where some guy figures out how to prevent any explosion, and thinks he's abolished war..?

#69 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 09:49 AM:

Rob Rusick: I don't know if that's The Green Brain, but I'm pretty sure I've read the story you're describing.

--Mary Aileen

#70 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 09:56 AM:

CHip: Ward doesn't belong in the Cthulhu mythos; he and his predecessor were resurrectionists, working with human remains, not summoners of eldritch beings. This could just me being too mechanical/geekRPGish/...

I think what it actually is, is you getting Charles Dexter Ward confused with Herbert West. Ward's story definitely involves the summoning of an eldritch being (followed shortly thereafter, as is traditional, by the departure of Mr Ward).

#71 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 10:01 AM:

Rob Rusick, Mary Aileen Buss: Yes, that's The Green Brain.

It may not have been brilliant, but I liked it considerably more than some of Frank Herbert's post-Dune novels. (If nothing else, it was shorter...)

#72 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 10:18 AM:

I read Lovecraft by way of the Illuminatus! trilogy, which, honestly, I found much more exciting.

Of course, it was the seventies and I was hormonal at the time.

#73 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 10:38 AM:

Cthulhu = giant octopus = Kraken?

Captain Jack Sparrow may be in more danger than he thinks...

#74 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 11:08 AM:

Bryan: If you tell someone a secret, they know it. If you tell someone a mystery, they only know OF it. They can then COME to know it only by approaching it and trying to touch it. And the rest of their lives may be spent trying to really know it.

My friend Judy Harrow says that the Mysteries (she means of Wicca) have been out in paperback since the 1960s. I think she's primarily referring to Stranger in a Strange Land, where the central mystery is "Thou art God."

I have an interesting history with that Mystery (oo, a Mystery History).

When I first heard it, I thought its meaning was obvious, and that it was obviously false. After all, if I had been God, Bruce James would have been consumed by hellfire right there in the hallway of Kinawa Middle School. (All I have to say is, if I'd had pyrokinesis in Junior High, I would have made Carrie look like a piker. Good thing, because Bruce James grew up into a perfectly decent human being.)

When I learned a little more (a Secret, in fact, though it's pretty well known these days) I thought its meaning was obvious, and that it was obviously true, a tautology, in fact, since 'thou' means the divine self of a person...and that is what I believe Crowley meant when he said (or channelled) "Do as Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."

As I touched the Mystery a little more, I came to the conclusion that the meaning of that little three-word sentence was not at all obvious, and that the best I could figure out was that it probably wasn't true, since I was beginning to directly sense the Presence...something much bigger than myself, and therefore (I thought) not ME.

Now, after decades, I've come to the conclusion that the meaning of 'Thou art God' is not at all obvious, but it's definitely true, and as with all true Mysteries I can't explain why. It's something I only fully understand while touching the Mystery, and when I'm doing that I can't verbalize much of anything about it. I prophesy, but I can't theologize!

(Isn't that a nice neat mathematical progression? It's a literary device for mapping the progress of my understanding, not the actual territory of that growth.)

One more example. If I tell you that the Secret Names of the God and Goddess in my tradition are Fred and Ethel, you then know those names (and in some traditions I would be issued a Writ of Banishment and cast out, with the candles and everything). If instead I tell you what I really think, which is that when the Goddess decided to speak Her Name, the universe began in fire and force, and we can hear the echo of that beginning to this day, but when She finishes pronouncing Her Name, the Universe will be over—I've told you a Mystery. On one level it's obvious what I'm referring to, but the deeper truth will be hidden from you until you touch it for yourself.

An unlit candle across the room from a burning one is bathed in the light; yet it cannot burn for itself until they touch.

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 11:23 AM:

Speaking of At The Mountains of Madness... It's probably the only Lovecraft story I was never able to finish. I think I dropped the book after the scene where modern-day explorers come across the corpse of a lovecraftian creature that the narrator then proceeds to describe in minute details. Did Lovecraft forget the lessons of his whole life? Or is this one of the stories that were 'improved' by August Derleth?

#76 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 11:46 AM:

On the one hand, I find myself firmly in camp of preferring the ineffable side of the equation. On the other hand, I'm not so sure that Lovecraft is a very good example of it. When I first encountered Lovecraft some thirty years ago, I found him extremely disappointing, because it seemed to me that so many stories boiled down to "and then I saw something so indescribably horrible that I cannot describe how horrible it was, so I won't even try. Also, squamous." (I feel obliged to point out that my attitude toward Lovecraft has mellowed over the years -- although I still defy convention and maintain that Herbert West was his best work.)

As an alternative, consider Charles Ashmore's Trail, by Ambrose Bierce. Bierce's prose is the opposite of Lovecraft's. It's pure, journalistic style documents events that simply cannot be. Bierce shows you everything -- and everything isn't enough. (Bierce's fictional tales of vanishings -- see also The Difficulty of Crossing a Field -- have proven so powerful over time that, half-remembered or deliberately distorted, they have entered the realm of urban legend and "strange-but-true" Forteana.)

Now, call me a cynic, but I can't imagine a story like this appearing today without including some description of wherever young Charles has disappeared to, probably with references to alternate universes, quantum mechanics, and the like. I could see someone stretching this one-page story out to a novella-length dissertation about the Shadow World to which people vanish, and how they survive there. I have no desire to read that story.

One of the big problems I have with these elaborately crafted alternate realities populated by sexy-sexy vampires and demons-among-us and "real" wizards is that, by abandoning the conceit that these stories take place in the real world, you remove the power of these stories to disturb and frighten. But then I think a lot of genre fans really don't enjoy being disturbed.

#77 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 12:04 PM:

Serge:
Some comments on At the Mountains of Madness, partly because, upstream, I described it as one of my two favorite Lovecraft stories.

The analysis of the corpse that you mention is basically part of the low, slow build-up; it isn't supposed to be a scary scene in and of itself. (There are scary scenes later, to be sure; on the other hand, one of the reasons I like the novel is that its primary horror is intellectual/cosmological.)

Also, the modern-day explorers (including the narrator) in the story are scientists, so describing the corpse in minute details is what they would do. It helps maintain the illusion that they are epistomologically still on top of things, that this is just an extremely fruitful scientific expedition, and that they're not in the least bit of danger from exploring the unknown. Of course, it's in no small part this desire to investigate all the details which dooms them.

(For what it's worth, the Call of Cthulhu adventure Beyond the Mountains of Madness, conceived of as a sequel to Lovecraft's novel -- "What went wrong with last year's Miskatonic University Antarctic expedition? Let's mount a new one and find out!" -- is one of the most genuinely disturbing and scary RPG scenarios I've ever read.)

#78 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 12:20 PM:

Drat, Peter. That'll teach me. By the way, would you agree that Lovecraft hasn't fared too well on the silver screen? The closest to a successful Lovecraftian visual tale, if not an outright adaptation, was probably Quatermass and the Pit.

#79 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 12:22 PM:

HP said:
One of the big problems I have with these elaborately crafted alternate realities populated by sexy-sexy vampires and demons-among-us and "real" wizards is that, by abandoning the conceit that these stories take place in the real world, you remove the power of these stories to disturb and frighten. But then I think a lot of genre fans really don't enjoy being disturbed.

Except... I would argue that a sufficiently well-crafted world, and sufficiently well-limned and sympathetic characters, set things up so that you can be disturbed and frightened for the sake of that world and those characters.

That, at least, is how I interpret my reactions to, for example, scenes in some of Barbara Hambly's Darwath books. (I mention her partly because she's a fantasy writer who uses elements of horror.)

Thanks for the Ambrose Bierce links, by the way -- something new to read!

#80 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 12:43 PM:

Serge said:
Drat, Peter. That'll teach me. By the way, would you agree that Lovecraft hasn't fared too well on the silver screen? The closest to a successful Lovecraftian visual tale, if not an outright adaptation, was probably Quatermass and the Pit.

Hmm... you've got me there, since I've seen almost nothing in the way of filmed Lovecraft adaptations. What I've read suggests you're almost certainly right. (I have long-ago, dim memories of seeing Quatermass and the Pit on TV and being kind of spooked, but that was before I'd ever heard of Lovecraft.)

Babylon 5 occasionally tried for a sort of Lovecraftian deep time, cosmic horror affect: more successfully in a few episodes in the first three seasons, more directly (and perhaps less successfully) in one of the 2-hour "movies" (Thirdspace).

I have a soft spot for the tongue-in-cheek TV movie Cast a Deadly Spell, featuring Fred Ward as tough-talking, two-fisted private eye Phil Lovecraft... but I don't think that really counts.

#81 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 12:55 PM:

Ah, yes, Cast A Deadly Spell... Doesn't count, Peter? Maybe. But it was a fun movie.

I think Roger Corman adapted The Color from Out of Space with Vincent Price in it. Was more cheesy than spooky.

#82 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 01:20 PM:

Peter,

Six degrees of Cthluhlu: Although Bierce is probably best known today for The Devil's Dictionary and Incident at Owl Creek Bridge, he actually has a connection to the Cthlulhu Mythos. His story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1886) invents the ancient city of Carcosa, and his Haita the Shepherd (1893) introduces the god Hastur, both of which were later borrowed by Robert Chambers for The King in Yellow. Lovecraft read Chambers, and name-checked Hastur in "The Whisperer in the Darkness." Derleth ran with it, completing the tranformation of Bierce's simple "god of the shepherds" into Hastur the Unspeakable, one of the Great Old Ones.

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 01:24 PM:

The title is "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," in case someone wants to Google it up.

#84 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 01:28 PM:

Serge wrote:

By the way, would you agree that Lovecraft hasn't fared too well on the silver screen?

OK, yes, no argument. But there have been some exceptions that were at least watchable and, in a couple of cases, quite good.

He's not universally loved, but I credit director Stuart Gordon with having his heart in the right place. Those not thrilled by his earier splatterfests (Re-Animator, From Beyond) may still enjoy some of his later work: In 2001ish he did a relatively restrainted* adaptation of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" called Dagon that was, IMHO, the bee's knees. I was less fond of his 2005 offering for the Showtime Masters of Horror series Dreams in the Witch House, but many folks liked it better than I did.

If you're OK with branching out into stuff that isn't directly descended from Lovecraft titles but still retains some of his flavor, I would strongly encourage you to check out John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. It's my favorite horror movie of all time, and I watch a lot of horror movies. Almost as good and even more overtly Lovcrafty was In the Mouth of Madness.

I also heartily recommend the book Lord of a Visible World. It's an edited collection of Lovecraft's correspondance to various folks that provides an absolutely fascinating insight into the way his mind worked.

Last but not least, Guillermo del Toro is working on an adaptation of "At the Mountains of Madness."

*"restrained" for Stuart Gordon anyway

#85 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 01:34 PM:

These days there's so much ghost-hunting on TV, with terribly earnest researchers sitting around in empty houses, surrounded by scientific instrumentation, and scaring themselves sill with the stories they're "investigating".

It's not the same territory as HPL, not quite, but MR James can be pretty effective. And the events are not really explained. There's no attempt to make the supernatural into something scientific.

George Lucas forgot that and tried to make The Force scientific. Obi-wan didn't need to count Luke's mitochlorians to know the Force was strong within him. You can go and read a quantum theory of ghosts in A Random Walk Through Science, but that is not a ghost story.

As for Quatermass and the Pit, one aspect we forget is that there was a whole different style in the days of black-and-white TV. They could use shadows as part of the scenery, and shoot scenes without a set. Even in the most mundane drama, the art of suggestion was a key part of the craft of making the programme.

It occurs to me that Sin City uses a lot of the same visual approach.

#86 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 01:50 PM:

Serge, the Corman film you're thinking of is Die, Monster, Die!, starring Boris Karloff (and not Price). This one was produced by Corman but directed by ... someone else whose name escapes me. The special effects are pretty lame, but it's a bit more Lovecraftian than the Corman-produced, psychedelic-sixties version of The Dunwich Horror. (I actually enjoy both movies, but as great AIP cheesefests, not as Lovecraftian adaptations.)

Corman did direct a much better Lovecraft adaptation, but you wouldn't know it from the title: Edgar Allan Poe's The Haunted Palace is actually a fairly decent adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, with a few stray bits from Shadow Over Innsmouth tossed in for good measure. This one does star Vincent Price. The supporting cast is very good, too (Debra Paget, Elisha Cook, Lon Chaney, Jr.).

By the way, Stuart Gordon's adaptation of Dreams in the Witch House for Showtime's Masters of Horror series is really quite good -- I thought it was better than Dagon. The DVD's out now, and I highly recommend it.

Xopher: D'oh! The one title I didn't double-check before posting, and I got it wrong.

#87 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 02:03 PM:

Once upon a time I got to be the guy who wrote the "The Protodimension Sourcebook" for Game Designer's Workshop's "Dark Conspiracy". If you've never heard of it, think cyberpunk universe, light on the cyber with a side of Cthluoid horrors seeking entry into our universe via various and sundry minions and you've pretty much got it. Your mission is to shoot the minions, of course.

Rather than bash what Mr. Miéville is saying, I'd like be the guy who screams, "Amen" from the choir. The book I wrote didn't need to exist. Defining rules for spooky weird physics did not make them more spooky or weird.

When the game first came out the idea was that there were a handful of people out there who knew what was really going on and you were one of them. Everyone else was supposed to be oblivious to what was happening; rationalizing away the little bits of weirdness they saw.

By the time GDW went out of business, the general sense of the material they were publishing was that everyone knew exactly what was going on and had done things to cope with the issue in much the same way people in earthquake zones strap their hot water tanks to the basement wall.

#88 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 02:12 PM:

I wholeheartedly agree, Dave, about B&W films and TV. That's probably why I thought the new version of Outer Limits was inferior to the original, in spite of the latter's dinky SFX. As for Quatermass and the Pit, it was filmed in color, but it still managed to work. How could it not with a cast that included Andrew Keir, James Donald and Barbara Shelley? The latter could really convey an expression of horror without having to scream.

#89 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 02:40 PM:

Xopher,

I tend to say that a Secret is a Fact, and a Mystery is a Process.

The mysteries that I have approached (most of them are around sacraments, because of who and what I am) have been important not for the endpoint, but for the journey there.

The classic example in the circles I have run with is St Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle. It's a book, and therefore can be read. Were there a secret buried in the last chapter, a reader could read the book, find the secret, and know the fact. But the book is about a mystery, and the process of reading it can be the process of approaching the mystery. Many people (including me) don't finish the book, because they don't finish the journey.

One other thing: knowing a fact may or may not change you. Journeying toward a mystery certainly will.

#90 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 02:55 PM:

There are two different Quatermass and the Pits: There's the feature-length film shot in color (aka Five Million Years to Earth), which more Americans are familiar with from endless Creature Feature and Sunday Matinee reruns, and there's the BBC series which was shot in B&W and featured a different cast, which is practically unknown outside Britain and the commonwealth but is more fondly remembered by those who've seen it.

I think Dave is talking about the series and Serge is talking about the movie.

I'm sure Nigel Kneale was familiar with HPL, but I think his stuff is sui generis.

I haven't seen the movie since I was a kid, and would love to see it restored and uncut. I'd also give my left *** to see the BBC version, but I'm not holding my breath for a Region 0 NTSC version.

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 02:56 PM:

abi...do you have, like, an official fan club?

*touches forehead to the floor in your general direction*

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 03:05 PM:

Of course, HP. About your wish to see the movie restored and uncut... How different is the British original from the American release? I have the latter on DVD and the picture is so crisp that, in the scene where Quatermass goes inside an abandonned house and finds mysterious claw marks on walls, I was able to see that some of the graffiti in the background say "Killroy was here".

#93 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 03:26 PM:

There have been some recent good Lovecraft films. The 2005 Call of Cthulhu is very good. The story of that name is not one I thought aged well, but the movie, done as an old b&w silent, helps because of the visuals. It didn't scare me, but I found it aesthetically pleasing. Return to Innsmouth did not impress me as much -- but the director did nail the most interesting part of the story, which is, oddly, perhaps, a moral choice.

Rats in the Walls is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. I knew nearly everything about it going in, and it still worked for me. It may walk an interesting line between showing and not showing. No squamous beasties that I recall, just human horrors. Does it show or not-show?

Color out of Space did scare me. Brr.

I could probably go on far too long about the rpg Call of Cthulhu. It is a lousy example to use if you really want to make the point about putting numbers on the indescribable because, as was already pointed out, the text says outright that the numbers aren't meaningful. Cthulhu will reform. Nyarlathotep will switch forms. Okay, you can duke it out with Deep Ones, but at that point, we're not talking horror beyond description, even in the original story.

Folks who've got more chops than I -- am I correct in thinking that part of the appeal of the game was that it was something new, where player characters could actually lose. Oh, and the Sanity rules. They've got their problems, and other games have made improvements on the concept (Unknown Armies comes to mind), but, for the time, it was a new stride in something akin to realism or genre emulation.

For me, I like the loving detail of the unfolding mystery. Mysteries are hard to do right in rpgs. Players just don't want their characters to pace themselves like folks from the source material -- they want to solve the plot quickly, and generally without allowing scripted deaths. That's part of the rpg tension -- we want to play stories like the source material. But, we want our characters to cut through the usual obstacles from the source material. At midnight on Sunday, I played in a classic CoC scenario, and we all knew that a specific NPC would vanish and the characters would have to find her. There was definitely a tension between wanting to circumvent that and recognizing that, in order to have the adventure, she had to vanish. I don't know what the GM would have done if we really had insisted on keeping an eye on the character every second.

It was fun overall, not least because we all did our best to act like 1920s college students about to go on spring break from Columbia University in NYC. Realism -- you really need that to ground the blatantly unrealistic bits. Not that this worked all the time. The gm did occasionally ask our indulgence when we nitpicked (which we did not do often): "You can accept monsters in the sewers, right?"

I also like the scenarios that get the horror just right. "Within You Without You" did it for me. Most things by John Tynes do.

But, wandering vaguely back to some kind of point, when I gm, I notice all the time the same tension. Players, including me, want our sense of wonder stimulated. But, start trying to do that, and we'll all start trying to game the system.

This is not universal. The two times I have played Pendragon, and most of the times I play Everway, it's sense of wonder, not number crunching. Everway has the advantage of having few numbers to crunch -- though I have gamed the story end on occasion. Pendragon has the advantage of a system that does a surprisingly good job of simulating the genre.

And, we're not even getting into the indie game movement. Well, maybe a little -- indie games tend to favor minimal rules and heavy emphasis on the story.

Oh, there's a game called a|State that, on a flip through, struck me as the closest thing to a Perdido Street Station rpg.

-Lisa Padol

#94 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 03:37 PM:

Serge, the only version I've seen is the old pan-and-scan, edited-for-television version with endless commercial interruptions. As I recall from watching it on Sammy Terry back in the '70s, it I don't know if there's a NTSC DVD available, but considwas so dark and murky and oversaturated that it was painful to watch. Mostly reddish blobs with blue highlights moving around a black background. And at the age of 14 I was hardly a cinephile. There may have been differences in the original edits for the British and American markets, but I'd imagine that any contemporary DVD would offer the complete film. I'd like to see a nice restored uncut DVD version (which it sounds like you have), but I just haven't run across it yet in my DVD-purchasing adventures. I suppose I could order it online, but that's not as much fun as finding a long-anticipated disc misfiled in a chain store somewhere.

I believe that the BBC series is only available on an OOP PAL videotape.

#95 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 03:39 PM:

Ooh that was weird: strike out "I don't know if there's a NTSC DVD available, but consid" -- something burped up from my clipboard, no doubt.

#96 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 03:40 PM:

I guess one could add the movie Hellboy to the list of those inspired by the Lovecraft Mythos. By the way, did the comic-book that inspired the movie ever explain why Hellboy will protect kittens even while some monstrosity in the New York subway is beating the crap out of him?

#97 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 03:48 PM:

Apologies for being late to the game but Chico Marx put it best: "There ain't no sanity clause."
sanity clause =

#98 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 03:58 PM:

While we're on the subject of modern Lovecraft films, let me just warn the curious away from the new "Beyond the Wall of Sleep." I'm more sympathetic than most to low-budget indie horror films, but I can't for the life of me figure out how this mess picked up a major distributor (Lion's Gate). It's a classic example of first-time filmmakers who get in way over their heads, and then scramble to meet contractual obligations somehow.

In twenty years or so it might acquire some camp value, a la Herschell Gordon Lewis, but it's just a badly acted, badly directed mess, that no amount of quick edits and flash cuts can save.

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:24 PM:

Xopher,

I don't know this stuff; I'm just the idiot brother. I'm glad the formulation was of use.

I saw the colour version of Quatermass years ago, at Berkeley, in a series of lectures based on science fiction films. They showed Them and discussed the square-cube law, Five Million Years to Earth and the issues in there, The Black Hole and black holes, and 2001: A Space Odyssey and extraterrestrial life. I was fifteen, and marked for life as a result of it.

#100 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:30 PM:

I was fifteen, and marked for life as a result of it.

Yes, abi, watching The Black Hole will do that to any human being.

#101 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:37 PM:

Watching it, then watching it picked apart, was wonderful. I knew it sucked, but I hadn't thought about what it sucked. (film reference, not sexual reference)

#102 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:38 PM:

Serge: No.

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 04:43 PM:

"No? What do you mean, no?"
(Donald Moffat as Lyndon Johnson in The Right Stuff)

#104 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 05:09 PM:

HP said:
I believe that the BBC series is only available on an OOP PAL videotape.

Poking around on amazon.co.uk reveals that the BBC "Quatermass" series is available on DVD (3-disk set). It's Region 2, so you'd need a region-free player to watch it in the US.

(Oh, and thanks for the details on the Bierce-Chambers-Lovecraft connection. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that "Hastur" did go back to Bierce, but I didn't know where.)

#105 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 05:59 PM:

HP wrote: and then I saw something so indescribably horrible that I cannot describe how horrible it was, so I won't even try. Also, squamous.

That's the 2nd best summary of Lovecraft I've ever heard (the best being a line by my nephew: "Even as I write, it devours the lower half of my body!")

#106 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 06:33 PM:

The Quatermass Experiment was remade by the BBC last year, as a live broadcast. They've since done a remake of A For Andromeda.

I have no special knowledge, but a remake of Quatermass and the Pit would not surprise me.

#107 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 06:37 PM:

Hm. Well, I posted this, but it didn't. Anyway:

I've seen the original Quatermass and the Bloody Northern Line Does it Again in the UK, and have the Penguin edition of the script. The outline of the story is the same, but there are differences of detail.

One large difference is that, as part of the military attempt to take control of the Rocket Group away from Professor Q, they want to build a Lunar base with doomsday missiles -- if Our Side loses the big war, everybody gets irradiated. Quatermass is, if anything, more outraged by this than the takeover itself. And it will come back when we learn about the Martian influence on humanity.

Dr. Roney (played by Cec Linder, who was Felix Leiter* in Goldfinger is not as absent-minded as in the film. He's digging up the artifacts before Quatermass gets involved, and attempts to prevent London Underground from prematurely closing the dig by going for some ill-advised publicity. (His announcement about what's in the hole does indeed turn out to be wrong, or at least incomplete, but that's forgivable.) His attempt to get support brings him in contact with Quatermass.

Captain Potter, the officer leading the sappers digging up the bones, is a more significant character, who's present at the finale. There's also a tabloid reporter, James Fullalove, who's been deleted. The finale uses the same method as the film (earthing/grounding), but the film's bigger-budgeted method is probably an improvement.

There's a scene at the beginning where Quatermass encounters a "psychic," with results you can probably expect. And there's a moment near the end, where a passenger aircraft trying to land first loses contact with the ground and then sees London burning, which is quite effective.

*A character who, by the end of the year, will have been in nine films, played by eight actors (one of them black). Obviously he is the CIA's Master of Disguise. Rumor has it that he trained under Rollin Hand at the Actors Studio West, where he amused his classmates by dressing as James Lipton and conducting ambush interviews on the street. I look forward to his being played by Ashley Judd, Gina Gershon, or Bender ("Man, I get really drunk, put on a rubber nose, and shoot people until I'm out of people or bullets. God, I love the CIA.")

#108 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 07:09 PM:

Dammit, I had a big long post will all sorts of links to great Lovecrafty crap, but it got held up for approval and by now most of it has already been said.

To summarize:

Stuart Gordon (director of Re-Animator, From Beyond) is getting less gory in his old age. HP mentioned both Dagon (adapted from "The Shadow Over Innsmouth") and Dreams in the Witch House. Personally, I'd reverse HP's rankings. I *loved* Dagon but thought Dreams was just pretty good.

If you're up for some ersatz Lovecraft, you simply cannot do better than John Carpenter's woefully underappreciated Prince of Darkness. It remains my all-time number one favorite horror movie, and I've seen a whole lot of horror movies.

HP is also right about Beyond the Wall of Sleep. Don't be seduced by the pretty decent cover art; it's so bad it'll subtract points from the director's next movie. It would take substantial improvements to make it merely unwatchable.

Last Wednesday TNT aired an adaptation of Stephen King's Lovecraft pastiche "Crouch End". It was way better than most King adaptations but nothing to write home about.

HP, however, did not mention that Guillermo del Toro has an adaptation of "At the Mountains of Madness" in development, but it's probably because (s)he has more sense than to quote random internet rumors.

#109 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 07:32 PM:

Let me be the first to say Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!

5,000,000 years to Earth scared the boogers out of me when I was a kid. I didn't read Mountains of Madness until years later, but the sense of bleak helpless despair it engendered may have been similar.

#110 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 07:56 PM:

HP, however, did not mention that Guillermo del Toro has an adaptation of "At the Mountains of Madness" in development, but it's probably because (s)he has more sense than to quote random internet rumors.

Ah, no, he* has less sense than you think; he was not aware. The last del Toro rumor I heard was that he was to do the remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon, but apparently that didn't happen. I thought of del Toro upthread but didn't post: In his Spanish-language masterpiece "The Devil's Backbone," he actually does a full reveal of the ghost behind the door, and the ghost remains scary as all get out. If anyone can reveal a Lovecraftian creature without an anticlimax, it's del Toro. (That is, if del Toro can overcome the fluffiness of his Hollywood efforts, and realize the promise of Cronos and The Devil's Backbone.)

It's been awhile since I watched Dagon. As a rule, I tend to prefer films with a modest scope to big, apocalyptic scenarios, and I found the Galician setting of Dagon distracting. (I was more into picking up bits of Gallego from the background dialog than following the story.) Whereas Dreams, being confined to a single house, and the real-world nature of infanticide as a backdrop, seemed more modest and intimately horrific. But I may just pop it in tonight and reconsider.

* I am a he, although there's an "hp" (lowercase) who occasionally posts here and on some other blogs I visit, who is a she. If I switch to posting as "Howard Peirce," would anyone get confused?

#111 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 08:41 PM:

The original Japanese version of Black Waters a few years ago is one of the movies that scares you out of your seat with just hints and implications... and then does the "reveal" and makes it scarier and more disturbing than ever. That movie scared the dickens out of me; I slept badly for a couple nights. The very ending is also extremely poignant - it's not a movie that hits just one emotional note.

I really liked the movie of Dagon in a lot of ways - but given the scene with the knives, and a bit near the end, I think it would be a mistake to imply it's not gory. In a way it's more gory because it's not the over-the-top tongue-in-cheek gore of 'Reanimator'. Unfortunately the more cartoonish CGI bits lost me - totally broke the "suspension of disbelief".

#112 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 08:48 PM:

I'll be damned. I had no memory of Leiter and the CIA being characters in Goldfinger, but my memory is flawed (again).

#113 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 08:56 PM:

HP: Technical point, in Galician the name for the language is 'galego' not 'gallego'.

#114 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 10:05 PM:

BTW, in my last post, the movie referred to should have been Dark Water. Brain blip.

Oddly, I see most Netflix reviewers panned the Japanese movie. Maybe that's the big-screen vs. small-screen difference, or maybe it's a matter of attention span (nothing blew up all movie!) or maybe it's just my persional taste.

#115 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 10:18 PM:

I really liked the movie of Dagon in a lot of ways - but given the scene with the knives, and a bit near the end, I think it would be a mistake to imply it's not gory.

Good point. I forgot about that. OK, yeah, it's gory. Not quite Re-Animator gory, but far from Merchant Ivory.


#116 ::: HP (Howard Peirce) ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 10:26 PM:

Fragano, could I persuade you that it was an honest slip of the finger? No? Mea culpa. Galego, galego, galego. It won't happen again.

I just finished watching Dagon again. It's better than I remember it. Purely from a filmmaking standpoint, it establishes a pace and then snowballs from there. Sometimes it helps to time your viewing/reading of a thing to a receptive state of mind. Anyway, I really enjoyed Dagon, and thanks to all here for planting the seed for watching it again.

Clifton, any movie that gives you an excuse to use the word "flensing" in describing it cannot reasonably be filed under "not gory."

That said, I think it's a matter of taste as to whether one prefers grand horrors or more intimate ones. I still recommend Gordon's Dreams in the Witch House. It has the intimacy of a teleplay, but without the self-censorship you usually get in TV. (And yes, it has a bit of gore, too, if that's an issue.)

On preview: Clifton, I enjoyed Dark Water, too. I also felt the movie played with certain horror conventions -- as a viewer, you're shouting "It's in the [redacted]!," long after any reasonable character would've figured it out, and then you realize that the [redacted] is not really what the movie is about. BTW, Koji Suzuki's book Dark Water is available in English translation. The book is actually an anthology of many stories and novellas around the theme of water. The original story for Dark Water is a novella, rather smaller in scope than the movie. I'm working through the book in bits and pieces. The stories are quite good, but the translation is awful. I get the impression that the publisher told the translator that American horror readers read at a ninth grade level and know nothing about Japan, and could you please dumb it down a bit more?

(BTW, can you all tell that I'm tickled to death that there's a Making Light thread where I actually feel I have something to contribute?)

#117 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 11:14 PM:

Paul A: you are incorrect. I don't know Herbert West, but the denouement of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward makes the following clear:
- Wbfrcu Phejra jnf bar bs n ahzore bs crbcyr jub qvq abg fvzcyl envfr qrnq fcvevgf, ohg tnir gurz culfvpny sbez sebz gurve nfurf. Phejra nccrnef gb unir qvrq abg guebhtu n cbffr bs bhgentrq ivyyntref ohg guebhtu orvat vafhssvpvragyl ernql sbe jung ur zvtug oevat hc, rira nsgre cerivbhf hafhpprffshy gevrf naq n jneavat gung zbfg tenirfgbarf unir orra zbirq.
- Phejra unq pnfg n fcryy gb pnhfr n yvxr-nccrnevat naq yvxr-zvaqrq qrfpraqnag gb erfheerpg uvz nf ur unq erfheerpgrq znal bguref. Guvf fcryy pnhtug Puneyrf Qrkgre Jneq.
- Gur erfheerpgrq Phejra, nsgre cerfragvat uvzfrys va qvfthvfr nf n ivfvgbe, fgenatyrq Jneq, naq uvq gur erznvaf, naq cbfrq nf Jneq. Ubjrire, ur jnf sebz n fhssvpvragyl qvssrerag ntr gung ur pbhyqa'g vzvgngr n fnar Jneq (naq unq oebhtug jvgu uvz n ivyr grzcre (gung znqr uvz xvyy Jneq jvgubhg rabhtu cenpgvpr ng vzcbfgher) naq npdhverq n irel fgenatr culfvbybtl) naq jnf gurersber pbzzvggrq.
- Znevahf Jvyyrgg naq Jneq'f sngure qvfpbirerq Phejra'f pbeerfcbaqrapr. Jvyyrgg qvfpbirerq naq ohevrq Jneq'f erznvaf, gura pnzr gb Phejra va gur nflyhz naq cresbezrq gur pbhagrefcryy gb gur erfheerpgvba, yrnivat bayl "n guva pbngvat bs oyhvfu-terl qhfg".
- Fvapr Jvyyrgg qvqa'g jnag gb jvaq hc va na nflyhz uvzfrys, ur arire qvfphffrq nal bs guvf jvgu nalbar ryfr; gur erfg bs gur jbeyq nffhzrq gung Jneq unq qvfnccrnerq sebz gur nflyhz.
- Vg gheaf bhg gurer vf n pbaarpgvba gb gur Pguhyuh zlgubf: obgu gur pbzcyrzragnel pybfrf gb gur yrggref erprvirq ol Phejra naq gur qvffbyhgvba fcryy zragvba Lbtt-Fbgubgu. (Gur qvffbyhgvba fcryy ybbxf gb or va Ybirpensg'f znqr-hc ynathntr, ohg V'z abg snzvyvne rabhtu gb fnl sbe fher.) Ohg gur fgbel qbrfa'g fhttrfg gung gurfr fcryyf pbzr sebz gur Ryqre Tbqf; gur pybfrfg vg pbzrf vf fubjvat gung gur fcryyf ner zber cbjreshy guna Wrjvfu be Puevfgvna zntvp.

(rot13 for the many spoilers; all info from Belmont B60-1069 -- not the most savory publishing house, but I doubt they'd change the story radically; the prose certainly hasn't been "updated" a la Flint.)

#118 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2006, 11:57 PM:

Clifton Royston wrote:

> BTW, in my last post, the movie referred to should have been Dark Water. Brain blip.

Thanks for the correction - I spent an amusing few minutes on IMDB finding out how many movies are called something like "Black Water".

There are two candidates for "Dark Water" with Japanese writing credits. Is the 2005 version with anglo actors a remake of the 2002 version?


Steve

#119 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:09 AM:

Yes, they're exactly following in the footsteps of Ringu/The Ring. Because it's Hollywood, and if translating a hit Japanese horror movie into US-centric terms made money once, better do it 1,000 more times!

#120 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:14 AM:

CHip: Yes, I remember most of that. I consider Wbfrcu Phejra to be an eldritch being.

#121 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:21 AM:

Incidentally, has everyone here seen The LiveJournal of Zachary Marsh already?

#122 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 01:49 AM:

By the way, At The Mountains of Madness is supposed to be a sequel to Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym, right? How does it work, on that level? It'd be interesting to compare it to Jules Verne's own sequel to Poe's story, The Sphynx of The Ice.

#123 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 03:33 AM:

[in passing--I think this fits the original topic]

Goro Miyazake (the eldest son of the famous Hayao) on magic in Earthsea.

#124 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:28 AM:

HP said:
* I am a he, although there's an "hp" (lowercase) who occasionally posts here and on some other blogs I visit, who is a she. If I switch to posting as "Howard Peirce," would anyone get confused?

No; and it would probably save me the occasional mental double-take when someone else mentions your name in the midst of a discussion of Lovecraft ;-)

#125 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:33 AM:

I started reading this thread being irritated, and ended with just being interested, and eager to speak.

I like and understand the point. However, I also think that, if China and Matt have been playing Call of Cthulu, they "haven't been doing it right"

I associate the point they're making more with D&D, where pixies are reduced from playful, possibly immortal beings of pure magic to "1D4 hit points, 3 cantrips a day, polymorph at will, invisible at will." But hey, this gives me a chance to rant about my great Call of Cthulu experiences.

One day we were discussing television, short stories, and roleplaying campaigns. Everyone in the room was a lit or history nerd of some sort. Somehow we got into the idea of Lovecraft being recruited as part of a secret organization of writers, fighting the "weird". At first Coleridge, Poe, and Emily Dickenson were thrown about as potential operatives, but when we had our time periods sorted out we realized they had to be earlier members, now gone away.

Eventually, reducing the pool to the appropriate era and branching out from Genre, we decided that awkward, insecure Lovecraft would be teamed up in this with Edna St. Vincent Millay as the sultry, sensitive one and Dorthy Parker as the trim, incredibly put together, skeptical "Scully". We got this far, but realized we were heavy on premise and backstory, but light on actual adventure. Which to me just shouts "roleplay setting!" Maybe we'd each take characters... a Lovecraft, a Parker, a Millay.

Unfortunately, the GM we found wouldn't run Lovecraft as a character in a Lovecraft universe. Too meta for him. He liked the author idea, though.

We went on to run a series of Call of Cthulu campaigns. All had an average of ten players, most characters involved were authors from various times, and in each campaign the number of survivors was between zero and two. Call of Cthulu wasn't about "let's get our +7 machine gun and take out Cthulu." It was shorthand for "surreal horror in a context of history" or "brutally hopeless scenarios where you cannot win, but may survive". It led to a lot of intersting theories about life, literature, and the awful things people are capable of. It also led to a situation where Ernest Hemmingway was beaten to death by an Orangutang, and another where Ted Hughes tried to convince Shel Silverstein to help him murder Anne Rice. Usually we found that other humans can be more dangerous that zombies.

Also, when you know you're likely not to live 'til morning you're a lot freer with your actions than you might be if your choices were going to reflect your "numbers" for the next battle.

To me ideally RPGs are about putting an odd assemblage of characters in a situation, and seeing how they react. This may actually frustrate some GMs, as I spend more time trying to get to know the NPCs than I do trying to figure out what rifle to use to take them out. But in a good group where everyone has a quick wit and a decent idea of character (an ear for dialogue and a touch of dramatic training help too) a roleplaying session can turn into an improvisational play, where the audience is the other players. And that is one of my favorite things. After a while you forget about numbers.


#126 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:40 AM:

John M. Ford mentions Felix Leiter:
*A character who, by the end of the year, will have been in nine films, played by eight actors (one of them black). Obviously he is the CIA's Master of Disguise. [...]

Not only that, hasn't he been killed off at least once (Licence to Kill) and shown up again in later movies perfectly healthy, if different-looking?

Hmm... given the Lovecraftian/horror theme of the thread, that suggests something rather disturbing about Felix Leiter. Or else about the CIA (oh, that's probably redundant, isn't it).

#127 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:19 AM:

Leah Miller said:
To me ideally RPGs are about putting an odd assemblage of characters in a situation, and seeing how they react. This may actually frustrate some GMs, as I spend more time trying to get to know the NPCs than I do trying to figure out what rifle to use to take them out. But in a good group where everyone has a quick wit and a decent idea of character (an ear for dialogue and a touch of dramatic training help too) a roleplaying session can turn into an improvisational play, where the audience is the other players. And that is one of my favorite things. After a while you forget about numbers.

Actually, as a sometime GM, those are the players I prefer: I put a lot of effort into NPCs and setting, and really appreciate it when players try to get to know the NPCs, or get interested in minor details that aren't critical to efficient solving of the current adventure.


There's a sense in which China Miéville's (or Matt Cheney's) complaint about the ineffable being downplayed or lost in the geekiness of RPGs is best seen in novels based on roleplaying games. At least, that's part of the problem for me with things like D&D novels, where the whole realm of magic and fantasy is expected to fit into the well-worn, predefined framework of spells, character classes, and known monsters. ("She's casting a spell... OK, that's a fireball, so we know she's a wizard... oh, and that monster must be some kind of beholder, yes...")

#128 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 07:28 AM:

Ah yes, Felix Leiter in License to Kill... He didn't get killed in that movie though. But he had his legs chewed up by a shark, which shouldn't have come as a surprise considering the actor who played him (in his second outing, by the way). David Hedison has never done too well in roles that involve the sea. At least, this time around, he didn't turn into a radiation-induced werewolf.

#129 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 08:34 AM:

Call of Cthulu...was shorthand for "surreal horror in a context of history" or "brutally hopeless scenarios where you cannot win, but may survive".

Thank you for encapsulating so neatly the reason that I dislike CoC. It has nothing to do with effing the ineffable or how many HP Thor has (note, BTW, that the "gods" in the latest version of Deities and Demigods are actually avatars, and that while you can "kill" them, they'll be back in a few weeks).

I don't roleplay because I like being the plaything of forces I cannot influence or even really perceive. I get quite enough of that in real life...

#130 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 09:50 AM:

HP: Non toudo é chegar e encher. ;)

#131 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:37 AM:

Is the Dagon movie being mentioned here the one the SciFi Channel runs every once in a while, or is that a different one? It is definitely based on Lovecraft's work, but I won't attest to the quality of the movie itself.

#132 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:06 PM:

1. John wrote:

I won't attest to the quality of the movie [Dagon] itself.

Hmmmph.

When I'm declared fuhrer, I'm going to send the FBI to kick down the door of every man, woman and child in America who hasn't watched Dagon and force them to enjoy it under pain of death. Rest assured that when that day comes your heresy will be remembered and accounted for.

2. Anybody seen The Resurrected? Amazon kicked it up as a recommendation after all my recent Lovecraft searches.

#133 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:33 PM:

Joshi's textual restorations are more obvious on some stories than others. "The Shadow Out of Time" was heavily edited for its original magazine publication, mostly in breaking up long sentences. These restored texts are used for the Library of America edition.

And the distinction between Abel's House of Mysteries and Cain's House of Secrets was originally made by Alan Moore in Swamp Thing #33, which reprints the original proto-Swamp Thing story from House of Secrets #92 with a long framing sequence.

When it comes to "wholey inadequate effers of the ineffable" (a phrase I originally got from Bruce Sterling), it would be hard to top Gary Gygax, but probably the best distillation of the failure of imagination embodied in the first-generation RPGs was Bill Seligman's "Gandalf Was Only A Fifth Level Magic-User" from a very early issue of The Dragon.

#134 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:34 PM:

Scott, I have seen The Resurrected. Pretty good, though I dislike one bit of idiot plotting. (Characters going into a dark place -- knowing it's a dark place plus another factor they are well aware of -- with only one flashlight and no extra batteries?)

#135 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:40 PM:

Scott,

Oh, I liked the SciFi Dagon movie well enough; it certainly captured the flavor of the Lovecraft mythos well enough, and the inevitability of the lead male character's fate was in keeping with Lovecraft's writing too. In fact it's probably one of the better SciFi movies out there, not to mention sufficiently creepy. I just wasn't sure that was the movie everyone was talking about.

#136 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 12:46 PM:

I loved Seligman's article. It's a good way of getting the difference in feel between a high fantasy novel and a numbers-crunching fantasy game.

And, anyway, as we later learned from TSR, when combining spells, you add the levels, and then add one to get the final spell level, so, if Gandalf's casting combined 2nd and 3rd level spells, he's got to be capable of casting 6th level spells, and is clearly more than just a 5th level MU. (Of course, 3.5 may have changed all that.)

#137 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 01:29 PM:

And, anyway, as we later learned from TSR, when combining spells, you add the levels, and then add one to get the final spell level, so, if Gandalf's casting combined 2nd and 3rd level spells, he's got to be capable of casting 6th level spells, and is clearly more than just a 5th level MU. (Of course, 3.5 may have changed all that.)

Nope, for wizards and clerics it's still 2x spell level-1; he'd have to be 11th to cast 6th-level spells.

#138 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 02:02 PM:

Peter, perhaps Felix Leiter is a designation not a name like 007. All agents assigned to that department will be named Felix. ;)

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 02:15 PM:

Maybe Felix Leiter is a Time Lord. That would explain the changing physical appearance that nobody ever seems to notice. And Bond himself has gone thru a few changes.

#140 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 02:35 PM:

To me, complaining about the mechanics of RPGs getting in the way of the experience is a lot like complaining that the mechanics of driving a car get in the way of experiencing a road trip. You know, all that depressing the clutch and wiggling the stick-shift in arcane patterns and letting the clutch back in just slow enough for the plates not to bounce; keeping track of your fuel; constantly checking your speed with reference to the driving conditions; keeping an eye on surrounding and oncoming cars... how does anyone enjoy driving, having to manage all these complex processes? How can anyone enjoy an RPG with all these numbers?

#141 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 02:48 PM:

The problem comes in when the numbers and rules become the point of it all.

To use your analogy: When the person you are sharing the road trip with won't shut up about how you are shifting, wants to stop to check fluids every ten miles and then argues about the proper levels with the other gearhead in the back seat, and insists on plugging a diagnostic reader into the car's computer and watches the read-out constantly, and wonders if the trip might not be more fun in another vehicle.

#142 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 03:49 PM:

Leah Miller, you GO!

I think that you have an instinctive understanding of the concept of the tension between the need to know and the need to never-be-able-to-understand. Using an historical figure as a character, but playing that character through the filter of the player's own personality seems an attempt to let the player understand the unknowable but only up to a point . Placing the historical persona between the player and the story acts as a barrier to complete knowledge. I love the concept, and have used it by placing fictional historical NPCs (i.e. Prince Yyrkoon) in many campaigns. The players know that the historical figure (fictional or real, PC or NPC), will always bring some unknowable mystery where game rules will be bent/broken/recreated. This is exactly the tension China was alluding to. Several people have pointed out the differences between fantasy writing and RPG gaming, but I disagree. The two are different facets of the same gem.

Leah, someday try having one player run five or six characters at once. Not NPCs, but characters they play. That can accomplish the same thing as using the historical figures as the player divides his/her self up between them. That helps keep up the barrier that allows the tension to survive.

#143 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 03:54 PM:

Whoops, OK, Felix Leiter wasn't actually killed in Licence to Kill, just mutilated by a shark or something. So the new Felix Leiter must be a brain transplant... no, that doesn't explain all the other changes. Maybe he is a Time Lord after all.

(Re T.W.'s suggestion of "Felix Leiter" as a designation, not a name -- I think he gets married in Licence to Kill, and I'm pretty sure his bride must have called him Felix at some point... that seems like carrying the job title a bit too far ;-)

There have been three different versions of Miss Moneypenny, so something strange is going on there as well.

#144 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:11 PM:

Serge: Maybe Felix Leiter is a Time Lord [..] Bond himself has gone thru a few changes.

In Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, by John Tulloch, the writer describes the characterization of the Doctor in the Jon Pertwee era as deliberately looking towards James Bond (the Sean Connery movies being very popular at the time). Coming off of Patrick Troughton's “Cosmic Hobo” approach, Pertwee played the Doctor as debonair and dapper, practised in exotic martial arts, and allied with the world's governments through the United Nation Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT). Some of the shows of the Pertwee period had some “action” sequences untypical of earlier (or later) eras. Tulloch describes a helicopter explosion in one of the Bond films which was used directly in an episode of Dr Who.

So its not suprising that James Bond would borrow back in return. It's too bad we never got a chance to see the regeneration sequence from Sean Connery to Roger Moore (actually, that should be “to George Lazenby”).

#145 ::: Sugar ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 04:20 PM:

I agree that answering a mystery doesn't make it less miraculous in real life; often the opposite. But that needn't work in fiction, and often doesn't, because few writers are as good at world-creation as God.

Leah Miller: I've never played CoC but I love that idea. Though I can't help imagining Emily Dickinson as an NPC. Going out and investiagting inhuman cults doesn't seem her style to me. Philip K. Dick would be cool, though. He could team up with the young John Constantine - not an author, of course, but hey.

#146 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 05:16 PM:

At least Felix Leiter is always Felix Leiter. Donald Westlake's two characters, Parker and Dortmunder, never got that. In fact, in seven films, Parker has never been called Parker. He's been black, he's been a woman, he's been a lot of different people with different names: Anna Karina ("Paula Nelson") in Made in the USA, Lee Marvin ("Walker") in Point Blank, Michael Constantin ("Georges") in Mise a Sec, Jim Brown ("McClain") in The Split, Robert Duvall ("Earl Macklin") in The Outfit, Peter Coyote ("Stone") in Slayground, and Mel Gibson ("Porter") in Payback.

Dortmunder has been Dortmunder a few times, but has also had a wide variety of actors portraying him (in mostly bad movies): Robert Redford in The Hot Rock, George C. Scott ("Ballentine") in Bank Shot, Paul Le Mat in Jimmy the Kid, Christopher Lambert ("Gus Cardinale") in Why Me?, Herbert Knaup in the German Jimmy the Kid, and Martin Lawrence ("Kevin Caffrey") in What's the Worst That Could Happen?.

Never has an actor appeared as one of these guys more than once.

#147 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 05:39 PM:

Hmm. I didn't realize there were so many Parker movies. The only one I recall seeing is Payback. Were the others any good?

#148 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 05:39 PM:

Make Lovecraft, Not Warcraft!

#149 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 05:52 PM:

actually, that should be “to George Lazenby”

No, it shouldn't. On Her Majesty's Secret Service has been expunged from the historical record, all prints and negatives burned, and everyone who knew about it killed or memory-wiped. The Bond Descent goes from Sean to Roger. George Lazenby was never Bond. No, no.

Anyway, if I had a TARDIS, that's how it'd be.

#150 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 05:54 PM:

He wasn't much of a Bond, but I otherwise liked the movie.

#151 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:00 PM:

George Lazenby was never Bond...

And did the same fate befall David Niven, Xopher? And Woody Allen?

#152 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:07 PM:

He got married, for Ghu's sake! You can call the guy "James Bond," you can dress him up all dapper, you can give him the fancy weapons and everything else, but some things are just beyond the pale.

Also, I oppose any movie in which a character played by Diana Rigg is killed. It's uncomfortably close to the blasphemy of the Riggmortalists. Diana Rigg must live forever.

#153 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:08 PM:

Serge...Woody Allen will be admitted to the Bond Succession the day Arnold Schwarznegger becomes the next Slayer.

#154 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:16 PM:

Lazenby was a fine Bond. The movie betrayed him, though. If you're introducing a new actor in a charismatic role, you don't want to include a scene where he bores a party full of gorgeous women. That makes as much sense as introducing the new Doctor by having him lie in bed for 3/4's of his first episode.

Lazenby was terrific. It was Moore who was a disaster.

#155 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:25 PM:

Scott H, THE RESURRECTED is pretty good.

#156 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 06:30 PM:
The problem comes in when the numbers and rules become the point of it all.

True enough, but it's not the numbers' fault if the players would rather be driving Formula One than driving to California. Similarly, if CoC has numbers for Cthulhu, that's not a problem, let alone the problem of the game's writer. It's a problem of the players' (and the GM's) invention, if they're all about the numbers and not about the bleak hopelessness of the setting.

Unless, of course, they're all having fun with just the numbers.

#157 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 07:58 PM:

That makes as much sense as introducing the new Doctor by having him lie in bed for 3/4's of his first episode.

I'm sure there's a Mary Sue fanfic out there with exactly that premise. Probably one per Doctor, not to mention one* with all the Doctors at once.

*I'm a cockeyed optimist. If there is more than one, kindly don't tell me.

#158 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 09:28 PM:

Paul A: the fhzzbarq eriranag bs n uhzna might be considered an eldritch visitor -- but not automatically a product of or relation to the Elder Gods. IMO your definition would suck into the Cthulhu mythos a great many stories whose authors had no such thing in mind.

#159 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:13 PM:

CHip: I've been rather poor at expressing myself in this conversation, I think. I've been considering the points "Ward doesn't belong in the Cthulhu mythos" and "Ward was not a summoner of eldritch beings" separately, and I didn't intend to for them to become entangled, but on re-reading I see that a lot of what was in my head didn't come out right, or indeed at all.

In particular, I don't seem to have explained that my classification of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as a Mythos story was based not so much on the eldritch-creature-summoning as on the story containing certain specific references marking it as such. I thought I remembered them being more conclusive than your point-by-point account above suggests, but since you've read the story more recently than I have, I won't argue further.

#160 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:20 PM:

He got married, for Ghu's sake! You can call the guy "James Bond," you can dress him up all dapper, you can give him the fancy weapons and everything else, but some things are just beyond the pale.

You are aware that the film's ending is taken, in detail, from Fleming's novel?

Okay, just wanted to be sure on that.

I'm not going to argue that the film Bond, at least after "Dr. No," is the same character as the print version (a different issue from the plot changes). I've got an incomplete essay around here on the film image, and how in a lot of ways having to deal with the different versions has kneecapped the writers. Maybe I'll go see the Daniel Craig movie (I've seen them all, thanks to cable, but haven't been to one in a theater for a long time), which does look like it's going to try and reset a bunch of things,* and then finish it and try to put it somewhere visible.

*"Now listen carefully, 007. This is a Mark Three microplanar GPS-enabled Tabula Rasa. These are the control knobs, here for horizontal axis, here for vertical. When you need to wipe the slate, you turn it over and shake it firmly, like so. And whatever you do, don't break the glass until the last reel. May we consider the plea to return it intact to have already fallen on dysfunctional tympanic membranes? Very well then."

#161 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:24 PM:

Is this the thread for getting all boingy about exciting GeekTV News? Because The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. was released on DVD today.

*happy dance*

#162 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:24 PM:

It's too bad we never got a chance to see the regeneration sequence from Sean Connery to Roger Moore (actually, that should be “to George Lazenby”).

Or, if you choose to take the release order at face value, both, one after the other, with a regeneration from Lazenby back to Connery in between.

#163 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:26 PM:

Actually once Sean Connery got too old to play Bond, the whole thing went down the tubes fast.

#164 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2006, 11:28 PM:

That makes as much sense as introducing the new Doctor by having him lie in bed for 3/4's of his first episode.

Speaking of the Jon Pertwee Doctor...

#165 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 01:19 AM:

I love the novel Casino Royale; I've read it half a dozen times or more. The card game is really thrilling. The movie of course will be very different. (As were the first two versions of it, in their completely distinctive ways.)

#166 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 02:26 AM:

Kevin Maroney: the distinction between Abel's House of Mysteries and Cain's House of Secrets was originally made by Alan Moore in Swamp Thing #33

Quite right. Thanks for the correction.

#167 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 03:43 AM:

James Bond was my great-uncle. And when he died, his estate was mostly blown on lawyers' fees over the awkward detail of his hospital marriage to his housekeeper.

#168 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 04:19 AM:

. . . the awkward detail of his hospital marriage to his housekeeper.

She shook the bloke's Martinis
The way those ladies do;
How were they to know
She was sluicing SPECTRE, too?

Now he's off in the Hereafter,
But that is not the worst:
Send Playmates, guns, and Q Branch,
Seems Blofeld got there first.

Neither innocent nor bystander,
It's a right royal fix;
Picking over the leavings
Of 00s 1 through 6.

It was one licentious living,
No regretting when you go;
Send Playmates, guns, and Q Branch,
'Cause Heaven's wired to blow.

#169 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:18 AM:

'Actually once Sean Connery got too old to play Bond, the whole thing went down the tubes fast.'

the internet is full of tubes.


actually if Connery was still playing Bond, think how cool that would be.

#170 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 08:38 AM:

Actually, once Sean Connery got too old to play Bond, the whole thing went down the tubes fast

@heresy(My favorite Bond is Pierce Brosnan.)

If only because he had Michelle Yeoh as a Bond Girl, and she kicks serious ass.

#171 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 12:55 PM:

Yes, she kicks serious ass all the way through the movie, and then falls into Bond's arms for no very clearly explained reason at the last minute.

I don't consider this a point in favour of either the movie or the movie's version of Bond.

#172 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 01:15 PM:

You are aware that the film's ending is taken, in detail, from Fleming's novel?

But Fleming is merely the channel. And a channel can be clear or noisy (this is confusing, because Clear Channel is a noisy channel).

I'm busting anyway. And OHMSS was the first Bond movie I saw...took me years to figure out what all the fuss was about.

#173 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 01:23 PM:

"Yes, she kicks serious ass all the way through the movie, and then falls into Bond's arms for no very clearly explained reason at the last minute."

actually I figured she was going for some cool trampoline effect on his tummy and his arms got in the way. There was something of the Jackie Chan blooper reel going on there.

#174 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 01:41 PM:

Yes, she kicks serious ass all the way through the movie, and then falls into Bond's arms for no very clearly explained reason at the last minute.

Dunno, I thought it was built up subtly through the latter half of the film. Perhaps too subtly, I guess.

I don't consider this a point in favour of either the movie or the movie's version of Bond.

I could've lived without it, too, but it was a Bond flick. Last scene is always him in bed with the babe du film. That it was not a great idea for Wai Lin specifically must fall to the general rule that Bond Ends Up In Bed. Which is one of the things I dislike in Bond films generally, so it didn't bother me any more with that particular film than any other. :)

I mean, at least Wai Lin was a competent and interesting character, someone I didn't cringe at every time she was on screen. As opposed to, say, Christmas Whats-her-name--which was also a Brosnan film, now that I think about it, but Brosnan's been luckier in his Bond Girls than most.

I have a friend who has a button reading "Bisexual Polyamorous Switch--I'm not Indiscriminate, I'm Greedy!" Movie Bond, by contrast, is indiscriminate, alas.

#175 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 02:07 PM:

I saw the transition from Cthulhu mythos discussion to Bond mythos discussion, and then went back and read it again, and I still don't see quite how this happened. Flock of starlings, vooom!

If Charlie's been paying attention though, I am looking forward to an undead American code-named 'Felix' in the next "Laundry" novel.

#176 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 03:21 PM:

From the quotation in the original post: "Cthulhu goes from being a creature so great and terrible that it can’t possibly be described or comprehended"

Ladies and germs, Mr. Cthulhu Head.

#177 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:24 PM:

Clifton: I'd say the thread was raveling rather than toggling; they do, around here.

JMF: have you seen A New Settlement of Old Scores? Brunner's lyrics are variable, but there's a clever one with a (partial) refrain "007/Will you kindly stop dispatching girls to heaven?" (This was >20 years ago -- and Brunner may have been thinking of books more than films.)

#178 ::: Paul of Cthulhu ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:16 PM:

I find these comments a very entertaining read.
Thank you.

I don't think there is a "right way" to play Call of Cthulhu. If you're having fun with friends, that's the aim.

Do check out Yog Radio #7 where we interview Sandy Petersen about the game. It may be of some interest?
--------
"Sans a bright, brief moment, we are forever dead."

#179 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 03:30 PM:

Connery is still playing Bond at an advanced age. Haven't you seen The Rock?

#180 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 07:18 PM:

Having stumbled into a mention of Ringu before the US remake was made, I got curious enough to do a bit of reading up on the concept. No spoilers here, I promise, but I can see why the Japanese film caught on instead of, say, the Korean version which came out first, and which I will pontificate on here.

From the synopsis I've seen of Ring III, the author (who, I gather, originally did SF) does his best to set up a semi-detailed logical explanation as to how the whole sinister process works. It's silly. I mean, I kept expecting David Langford to pop up and say that it had been written by S.P Meek. From what I can tell, the director of the Japanese film used the Mary Poppins rule instead: "Never Explain Anything." Instead it was established if you did X and Y, Z would happen: no screen time was spent dwelling on detailed explanations of why X and Y resulted in Z. With the right script and the right director this works like a charm--witness most of the McGuffins in Hitchcock's films. Or the whistle, the scruffy black cat, and the bulldog in The Black Cat by Tex Avery.

#181 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 07:53 PM:

Minor point: that would be "Bad Luck Blackie" by Tex Avery.

Of course, in the best-remembered Avery 'toons, if you need a solid explanation of where the falling ocean liner came from, you have obviously wandered into the wrong picture, and should definitely not talk to any squirrels you meet on the way back to Stanley Kauffman's house.

#182 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 08:17 PM:

Speaking of Tex Avery, et al, how would Wile E Coyote do in a fight against Cthulhu?

Wile E, after all, also has the power to keep on being regenerated no matter how many times you destroy him.

Also judging by the paint-a-tunnel-entrance-on-the-rock scene, he might have interesting powers with gateways to alternate worlds.

#183 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 11:37 PM:

John M. Ford: you're right. I will clutch at the tattered excuse that it's been over 90 degrees most of the weekend and I spent midnight to 5:20 this morning passing a kidney stone in the University Hospital Emergency Room. If I felt less lousy I would be forced to go down to the basement and beat myself over the head with my first edition of "Tex Avery: King of Cartoons." (The one with all the out-of-focus shots taken from 16mm prints.)

Erik Nelson: that's a tough call. I don't think Wile E. has conscious control of the demensions/gateways thing (it also might be a fringe effect from the Road Runner), but his fanaticism might be strong enough to insulate him from the manditory loss of sanity caused by the presence of one of the Elder Gods. (I suspect you may be right about the regeneration question, however.) I'd be more inclined to bet on the Mynah Bird. (Yes, I know it was eaten by a Werewolf in a "Tiny Toons Adventures" episode, but ever since the TTA episode where they tried to retcon "Honey" I've decided that series takes place in its own squalid little universe.) It depends on how much Cthulhu can be affected by physical elements of our world. I wouldn't go up against that little bird with anything short of a beam weapon in orbit--with another beam weapon ready to pick off the wandering asteroids that suddenly found themselves aimed at the first weapon...

#184 ::: HP (Howard Peirce) ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:06 AM:

Since this thread has awakened from its dreamless sleep...

I've been working through the Showtime Masters of Horror on DVD, and I just watched John Landis's Deer Woman. The genesis of the film is that Landis offered the screenplay to his 19-year-old son, provided that his son write a monster movie. They went back and forth on what kind of monster, and Landis showed his son a brief description of Deer Woman, a Native American legend about a woman with deer legs who seduces young men, leads them off into the forest and stomps them to death. For no reason. Max Landis says, "This is stupid. It's completely unbelievable. There's no point to it. There's no motive, no resolution." And poppa John says, "Write a screenplay about that."

Max Landis then turned in a remarkable screenplay, in which the protagonists, confronted by something simultaneously repulsively horrifying and completely stupid, don't respond with the earnestness you usually associate with this kind of film. Instead, they react as Max Landis did: "This is stupid. It makes no sense." There's no attempt to explain it. The story then becomes less about the monster, and more about what happens to people when they are confronted with something truly horrific, and not only irrational, but ludicrous on its face.

(When I was a small child, I had a recurring nightmare in which a cartoon moon-man, looking like a cross between Quisp and Gidney & Cloyd, showed up at my house. He calmly pointed his ray gun at my dog, and killed it. Then he pointed the gun at me. Still creeps me out. "Deer Woman" is like that.)

In the film, when they do the obligatory scene with the wise old Indian, the wise old Indian turns out to be cheerful young floor manager at a reservation casino. They ask him about the Deer Woman: "What's her motive? How do we stop her?" And the guy says, "What motive? It's just a stupid misogynistic story that the elders tell to frighten young men out of fooling around." And indeed it is.

Usually Landis's films are a bit too slick for my taste, but I really enjoyed this, and I thought it was a unique approach to the problem we've been discussing. Talented kid, that Max Landis. I want to introduce him to my neice.

(This would've been a shorter comment if I could include spoilers. But I restrained myself.)

#185 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:10 AM:

Ah, cartoon nostalgia! Kind of makes me wish the genuine roadrunners in my neighborhood went "meep! meep!" (or however it's transcribed). And the local coyotes are nocturnal, so the two species may never meet ... or only in our dreams.

#186 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 12:25 PM:

"Let us prepare to do battle with the ineffable, and see if we may not eff it after all" - Dirk Gently.

Wile E. Coyote would lose, of course. He always loses. And, arguably, he's mad already.

I have said that Wile refused to tell me what final horror made him scream out so insanely - a horror which, I feel sadly sure, is mainly responsible for his present breakdown... his shrieks were confined to the repetition of a single, mad word of all too obvious source: "Meep-meep! Meep-meep!"

-- from "The Acme of Insanity", an unpublished story by the young HP Lovecraft

#187 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 12:31 PM:

There's a competition idea: rewrite classic cartoons in the style of well-known horror writers.

"Ayuh," said old Red Mitchell thoughtfully. "Nope, you don't go out there after dark. You won't come back. They call him the One Who Runs The Roads."
Red paused to spit a glutinous blob of mucus into the snow at his feet, and shuffled one of his cracked Timberland boots around to smear it away.
"And he's coming this way - passed up through Bangor this afternoon slicker than shit off a shovel."

-- from "Coyote" by Stephen King


#188 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 12:51 PM:

Gidney & Cloyd

I remember this song from a Rocky & Bullwinkle record I had as a child:

We're Cloyd and Gidney, that's us!
We don't want to cause a fuss!
We're peaceful and quiet,
So there's no need to riot,
Just sit down and listen to our little song,
So that Earthmen and Moonmen...can get along.

Ah! Ah! Ah! Scrooch chick a-doobie doobie doo!
Ah! Ah! Ah! Scrooch chick a-doobie doobie dohhh!
Ah! Ah! Ah! Scrooch chick a-doodle dee dohhh!
Swing your partner from planet to planet
As you dooooo...the Moonmen Mambo!
Cloyd (or Gidney): Arriba! Arriba!
Gidney (or Cloyd): What's that mean?
Cloyd (or Gidney): It means we'd better sing the song again.
Ah! Ah! Ah! (etc.)
It has to be at least 30 years since I heard that. Now why can't I remember who I lent my sandalwood mala to?
#189 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 12:55 PM:

The dead have stopping-trains.

They run down tracks of uncertain gauge and irrational curvature, past deserted stations and signal-boxes that show spook-lights at high midnight. They have their own schedules, precise as the edge of a knife except when there is a points failure at Crewe. And somehow there always is.

All of them are smiling, at the man in the black high hat. They smile as they pass him, standing on his platform with his gold watch perpetually out, smiling around the next bend, smiling and rolling their eyes. Those eyes, always wide and white, widen further just for a moment as they meet on the crossing diamond, as if they are aware that here the Brunels have no dominion, that here a Beeching is somewhere always grinding an axe, that if you turn away you can see a Frank Pick poster bearing the marks of talons, that the whistle's shriek is not lonesome, because Hell is other locomotives, and a long black train, seven coaches long.

-- from "Sodor and Gomorrah" by Clive Barker, who one rather hopes is not reading this. (And yes, I know, it's object animation, not cels. You really don't want to hear what I had in mind for Postman Pat's cat.)

#190 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 01:07 PM:

"I am aged now, and the Old Hunt of the Bayou - may its memory be expunged! - is long behind me. My skin is wrinkled as the boards of my house on the Setoutacatchee shore, where I rock the days away under the care of my daughters; my hair is silvered by age and my hands gnarled by use. But still I feel, when the moon is high, the drag of the chase on my heartstrings; my fingers curl about the imagined stock of my gun; and my breath clogs my throat when I relive the terrible moment when my infernal quarry vanished from before my eyes, and disbelieving I turned to see it standing at my very side, its teeth gleaming from the stygian shadows, and its voice cackled forth its grating, acerbic challenge:
What's up, Doc?"

--from "The Narrative of Elmer Randolph Fudd" by E.A. Poe

#191 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:10 PM:

Usually Landis's films are a bit too slick for my taste...

Landis, slick, HP? Anyway, you just reminded me that I have to go buy the DVD of The Kentucky Fried Movie. Oh, and of Schlock.

#192 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:24 PM:

"Sylvester? Sylvester! Now where can that cat have gotten to? I only stepped out for a moment and now he's run off without saying goodbye. One would think he had seen a ghost."

"Oh, Gwanny," said the yellow bird calmly. "He did! He did! I expect it was a mouse. He told me he had a horror of mice. It seems he was once trapped in a wooden packing crate with an enormous mouse. He had to spend the whole night with the beast kicking and punching terribly. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve."

--"The Open Birdcage," by Saki (H.H. Munro)

#193 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:28 PM:

Landis, slick, HP?

I'm more of a Jess Franco kind of a guy.

#194 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:53 PM:

Actually, the aim of any session of Call of Cthulhu is to go insane. I never thought of it as a sort of penalty or even a secondary hitpoint system; those little sanity boxes you could tick off were like power-ups you could collect, and when you Caught 'Em All [tm], you could have your character do about anything you wanted to and not have to explain things to your fellow players! Okay, technically you also did lose control over your character and shouldn't be able to do anything at all anymore, but that's the boring way of playing it. Naked characters smearing mustard all over their bodies and then trying to murder each other with raw sausages is what Call of Cthulhu should be all about!

(and for the record, the whole "too terrible to be described" thing in Lovecraft's stories always felt to me like a cheap cop-out... "man, how can I make this monster really, really horrible... damn, that sounds like a lot of work... hey, I've got it! Let's just say it's so terrible it CAN'T be described and take the afternoon off! I should have mustard and sausages somewhere!")

#195 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:53 PM:

Jess Franco? I've never seen anything of his oeuvre, but it is quite impressive, according to IMDb. I mean, how could one not be impressed by titles such as Killer Barbies VS Dracula or The Erotic Exploits of Maciste in Atlantis?

#196 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 03:00 PM:

Naked characters smearing mustard all over their bodies and then trying to murder each other with raw sausages is what Call of Cthulhu should be all about!

Hm, Call of Cthulhu wasn't a very popular game in my college. Never played it. But had I known there would be sausages involved, I probably would have made a point of either finding a GM or starting my own game.

#197 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 03:38 PM:

Serge, I should mention that Franco's later titles (post-1980 or so) track his descent in shoddy, shot-on-video hardcore. There's really not much interesting there except to completists. IMO, his best films span the decade 1962-1972. "Vampyros Lesbos" is probably his best-known work, but oddly enough, I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment.

I'd recommend starting with his debut feature, Gritos en la noche, aka "The Awful Dr. Orloff." Also the follow-up, "Dr. Orloff's Monster." (There's an Orloff box set on Image. Dr. Orloff was quite popular in European grindhouses, and even spawned imitators.) "The Diabolical Dr. Z" is in a similar vein, and just as enjoyable. I recently watched "Venus in Furs," from 1970, one of his "supernatural erotic thrillers." Nothing to do with Sacher-Masoch; it's a kind of a Socialist ghost story with jazz and nudity and Manfred Mann. Highly recommended.

I don't know why Americans are so intimidated by European cinema.

#198 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 04:03 PM:

Oh, I'm not intimidated by European movies, Howard. Heck, I grew up in Quebec City, which means I had access to the best (and the worst) of Europe and America. Heck (bis), I cut my fantasy teeth on those Hercules movies from Italy.

#199 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 05:43 PM:

Oh, I assumed as much, Serge. That last line was a bit too dry for the Internet, I'm afraid.

(I just got off a 90-minute conference call to Montreal, coincidentally enough, so I have Quebec on my mind at the moment. I imagine the jazz fest finished up this weekend.)

#200 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 06:21 PM:

No problem, Howard. I do miss watching non-American movies - and by that I don't mean Mexican-wrestler movies translated into French. Turner Classic Movies sometimes shows foreign movies late on Fridays, but so seldom. Still, I finally got to see The Grand Illusion and Quai des Brumes...

#201 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 07:54 PM:

Gritos en la noche, aka "The Awful Dr. Orloff."

Just to clarify, the original title does not translate as "Grits in the Night," though it's not hard to imagine an American drive-in remake under that title.

Mike Weldon at Psychotronic describes one of Jesus Franco's* movies as "not too bad for a Jesse Franco film," which offers a useful perspective. It's "Kiss and Kill," the fourth of unindicted co-conspirator** Harry Alan Towers's Fu Manchu films, with Christopher Lee*** in the title role. Franco did the fifth and last as well, "Castle of Fu Manchu," which even MST3K couldn't find anything nice to say about.

Franco also made "Cartes sur Table" (faithfully translated for American TV release as "Attack of the Robots"), one of the Lemmy Caution secret agent films with Eddie Constantine. They were big in Europe. No, really, they were. "Alphaville" it ain't. But back in the days of local TV's weekend Creature Features, a surprising number of Franco's early pictures got aired, though they were usually cut to the point that they had lost whatever sense they'd originally made.

*Born Jesús Franco Manera, but the list of screen names you can see at imdb is longer than a lot of better-known directors' entire output.

**He was peripherally involved in Profumo/Keeler, and testified at Stephen Ward's trial. The world gets weirdly complex sometimes.

***Actor's Agent Found Unpleasantly Murdered: Few Clues, but Police Question Local Vampires.

#202 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:17 PM:

In some fairness to Maestro Franco, part of the reason he has such a long list of pseudonyms is that he often served in several capacities on his films -- director, screenwriter, music director (he's a decent jazz pianist), principal photography, etc. It's a tradition (union rule?) in European cinema to use a different name for each job you perform. Also, when movies were repackaged for the American market, names were often haphazardly anglicized without the knowledge or approval of the filmmakers.

[soapbox]Like a lot of people, my introduction to offbeat films came through MST3K. But after a while I got tired of the growing mean-spiritedness of it all. Even the worst films require a level of energy, dedication, and coordination I certainly can't muster. And eventually, the snark becomes self-justifying. I mean, apparently the last film to get the MST3K treatment was Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik, widely regarded as perhaps the finest comic-book adaptation ever filmed. Bava! Ask any modern filmmaker just who wrote the book on the use of color in film. And it features what is arguably Ennio Morricone's finest score.

Now, Jess Franco's post-Franco (no relation) films do grow increasingly crappy, but I don't think even the man himself would deny that. (I think that it gave Jess Franco some satisfaction as a Spaniard under Francisco Franco to make raw, crude exploitation films.) The opening sequence in Gritos en la noche is brilliant -- a drunken prostitute staggering and singing off-key through the alleys of fin de siècle Paris, accompanied on the soundtrack by high-energy avant-garde jazz percussion. It's jarring, astonishing, effective filmmaking, and in adopting an ironic hipster stance toward films like this, viewers do themselves a grave disservice.[/soapbox]

I'll grant you that Franco's films are often a Sturgeon's Law unto themselves. Part of this is because he approached filmmaking like a jazz musician, and improvised constantly. Sometimes he noodles; sometimes he falls back on his repertoire of well-worn riffs, but when it works, it's amazing.

#203 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 01:09 AM:

Ajay: Good one!

I'd never thought about Wile E. vs. Cthulhu, but I've thought about Bugs vs. Cthulhu and come to the conclusion that it's like the fight John W. Campbell used to like to use as an example: Bengal tiger vs. great white shark. It's impossible to have a fair contest because each side is crippled on the other's home ground. Another good example is the irresistable force versus the immovable object: neither can exist in a universe that contains the other.

(You could do a cartoon with Bugs Bunny versus a cartoon character inspired by Cthulhu, something along the lines of Hello Cthulhu. Obviously Bugs would win there.)

#204 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 02:50 AM:

David:
"Naaaaaaahhhh, what's up, Ock?"

#205 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 05:18 AM:

I'm certainly not going to argue that Mystery Science didn't decline toward the end (and my membership card has a number in the low three digits -- I am a Card-Carrying Geek). Partly it was that it became hard to get films; either the rights owners didn't want the movies sent up, or they wanted too much money to allow it. But the joke was getting old, and for it to work in the first place required a specific kind of junky film, preferably one that took itself entirely seriously while absurd situations and bizarre dialogue (often dubbed, by people who went on to write 419 text) were going on. There was "The Starfighters," which was just stone dull and had no hooks for humor, and a German production of Hamlet with Maximilian Schell that was entirely acceptable, leaving Not Much to Say.

"Castle of Fu Manchu" is an awful movie, with a dull plot padded out with travelogue shots of Istanbul and a good deal of stock footage. But it isn't a picture you can make fun of easily, because it's just tiresome; nothing jokeworthy happens. (And they had to cut the stock film of open-heart surgery, causing the scene to make no sense at all.)

As for Diabollik, I like that picture a lot (and I know the source material, which most Americans don't); it's colorful and a great deal of fun. But it hasn't dated well; it's a very Sixties picture, and if it's a truly great comics adaptation -- which I'm not disputing -- it's because it had little competition at the time.

A problem for Franco (and yes, I think a number of Franco films are stylish and interesting, as giallo pictures often are) is that of the European director who makes a whole lot of films, often with on scratch budgets with scratch casts*, and then has them Cuisinarted for American release. Mario Bava made some astounding pictures, but he also made "Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs," (uh, "Spie Vengono dal Semifreddo").

*Often with one recognizable genre name -- Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Jayne Mansfield (now, there's a cast) -- to sell the foreign audience.

#206 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 06:53 AM:

Got to agree with you about MST3K, Mike. When they moved to the Skiffy Channel, the sense of fun was lost. It got nastier all over, and not just the interaction with evil Pearl Forrester. And frankly, Mike (Nelson, not Ford) never was very amusing - to me anyway.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for them to release the DVD of The Day The Earth Froze. I dread the moment when age finally takes its toll on my tape of the movie and I find myself sitting in horror as the VCR barfs it out.

#207 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 10:06 AM:

1. HP & other cinephiles:

As it happens, I saw a low-budget horror movie last night that I just about loved: Subject Two. Almost zero gore but quite creepy, good production values (considering the $8.50 USD budget), excellent performances, and a script that snuck up on me. It just hit DVD. Highly recommended.

2. ajay:

I'm too busy (day-job) to enter the contest at the moment, but I'd like to stake a claim to the title "At the Mountains of Steamboat Willy."

#208 ::: Jack Ruttan ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 10:31 AM:

Eight Dollars Fifty American? That is a low budget! Must have called in a lot of favours.

#209 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 03:12 PM:

As a long-ago friend said, "Mike is kind of amusing, but Joel and the bots are family." I just don't bother with the Mike shows.

Weird recollection: I was thinking that this whole cartoons-vs-horror theme seemed vaguely familiar, and then I remembered that the Illuminatus trilogy had a bit in it somewhere on how "You wascally wabbit!" was inspired by chief-Illuminatus-and-secret-double-of-George-Washington Adam Weishaupt reading the Necronomicon while tripping his brains out and deciding that the illustrations of shoggoths looked just like bunnies.

#210 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 04:01 PM:

Does Peter Cannon's novel scream for Jeeves work, or does the joke of Bertie & Jeeves batlling Cthulhu get old fast?

#211 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 04:09 PM:

Clifton wrote that Mike is kind of amusing, but Joel and the bots are family.

No argument there. Also, the Mike shows, especially after the move to the Skiffy Channel, tended towards crappy Seventies movies. I prefer my crap to be older.

#212 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 08:13 PM:

Does Peter Cannon's novel scream for Jeeves work, or does the joke of Bertie & Jeeves batlling Cthulhu get old fast?

I gave up about a page in, when there was a telegram which went on for a third of a page. Wodehouse telegrams are the acme of enigmatic one-liners. ("Lay off the sausages." "Come at once. Ruin stares face.")

I figured someone who didn't get that right wasn't going to be Wodehousian enough for my tastes, however clever their plot. YMMV, and probably rightly so.

Still like the idea, though. I suspect Jeeves and Wooster would have a degree of immunity from SAN loss - Jeeves because, as an educated gentleman's personal gentleman he knows to carry an Eldersign at all times, and Wooster because of his incomparable ability to fail to recognise imminent danger.

#213 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 09:08 PM:

"I say, Jeeves, who's that eating Dilly Chipworth's gray matter?"
"It is very dark, sir, but from the faint phosphorescence I would say it is a shoggoth."
"One of the Grinstead Shoggoths?"
"Those are the Shagworths, sir."
"Serves them right for having such a music-hall name. Anyway, tell the fellow he's not going to get a scrap of nutritive value from what he's dining on."
"Grmph. Teke-li-li! Fhta*belch*gn."
"Look, you there! That sort of bolshie rot may go down a pip at Hyde Park Corner, but the Fourth Earl of Ponsonby-Britt is slumbering, and it'll go deuced poorly for the lot of us if he's disturbed!"
"I believe the Earl is already disturbed, sir."
"Some nights nothing whatever goes your way! Are you absolutely certain, Jeeves?"
"He is slithering up behind you on a carpet of gelatinous pseudopoda, sir."
"Oh well, after that business with Miss Mossrose and the fudge, the weekend was a wash anyway."

#214 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 09:32 PM:

John,

You are a fine figure of a man. Have my children. On toast.

#215 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 05:08 AM:

Damn. I can't believe it's been staring me in the face for this long - Gussie Fink-Nottle is obviously one of the Innsmouth Fink-Nottles. He has, as we are incessantly told, a face like a fish. Every time he appears in the story there is an exchange like:

"Gussie? Are you sure, Jeeves?"
"Yes, sir."
"Short chap? Face like a fish?"
"Possibly there was a suggestion of the piscine, sir."

Plus, he keeps newts (ha!), and lives away down in the country miles from anywhere. No wonder Madeleine Bassett is so keen to marry Bertie, against her father's advice - she (unlike her father) has found out that, though Bertie is "mentally negligible" (thank you, Jeeves), he is at least pure-blooded human rather than part-Dagon-worshipping fish-being.

Mind you, I have my suspicions about Madeleine Bassett, too. She is given to wandering about mysteriously at night and making cryptic remarks about the stars and supernatural beings. I mean to say, it's a small step from "I sometimes think that the stars are the tears of little wood fairies" to "When the planets align themselves, the gate to the Domain of Azathoth will be open again", don't you know.

And don't get me started on Roderick Spode's links to the Thule Gesellschaft... (well, come on. You didn't think he'd be so desperate to cover up Eulalie Soeurs if it were just a lingerie shop? No, the truth is much darker...)

#216 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 07:56 AM:

"YOU FEEBLE HUMANS CANNOT STAND AGAINST ME!"

"We're doomed, all doomed!"

"Don't worry, Sir, they have to know our names first."

"But I can hear this eldritch wailing in my mind, forcing me to speak my name."

"Don't tell him, Pike!"

"AAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!"

#217 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 09:21 AM:

Like it... though "don't worry, Sir" s/b "don't panic" of course.

Our next candidate collects very old and rare books, often in foreign languages; he has a history of traumatic experiences, including burial alive, that left him in a mental breakdown for two years; he comes from an ancient family; he mixes in all strata of society; death and mayhem follow him around, and he has recurring strange and worrying dreams.

Sounds like Lord Peter Wimsey, too, is set for an encounter with the Old Ones. ("The Unpleasantness at the Dagon Club"?)

#218 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 09:33 AM:

Sounds like Lord Peter Wimsey, too, is set for an encounter with the Old Ones.

If they can be defeated with wine knowledge or cricket skill, England has nothing to fear. :)

I tried to write a Wimsey-vs-the-Old-Ones bit, I really did, but my creativity has buggered off to Brighton this morning.

#219 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 09:42 AM:

Coming soon, the Marx Brothers in At the Margaret Dumontains of Madness...

#220 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 10:08 AM:

What the slartibartfast are you people talking about?

#221 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 10:54 AM:

Other HP ("Harpo") Lovecraft titles:

Duck Ichor (originally released as "Duck! Ichor!")
A Day at the Elder Races
Horse Tentacles
A Cold Uncaring Night at the Opera
At the Mountains of Animal Crackers

#222 ::: Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 12:42 PM:

*applause*

#223 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 12:49 PM:

People call me Cthorra . . .

#224 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 01:06 PM:

Cthorra? Don't you mean Cthorro?

Cthorro! In Spanish California, oppressive landlords and rapacious mine owners fear one thing - Cthorro! Summoned from his aeons-old sleep by the desperate Indian population, the Elder God Cthorro fights for justice for the downtrodden. He wears a mask - for they say the mere sight of his eldritch and unholy features will drive men mad - and carries a sword of weird and terrible design. Many a brutal overseer or murderous slavetrader has been found dead, a look of horror on his face and the Voorish Sign slashed into his chest - the Mark of Cthorro!

#225 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 01:32 PM:

Have you ever wondered just why Simon Templar kept changing, over the years. Just why do we stop hearing about Inspector Teal? For what reason was the man who arrived in New York soi different from the modern-0day Robin Hood who had so plagued the Metropolitan Police?

And whatever happened to Hoppy Uniatz?

#226 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 01:35 PM:

"¿Hey, Alcalde boss hombre, you got a minute?"
"Perhapth a fraction of one, Thergeant Baba Looie. My minuteth are prethiouth. And thtop thpeaking with thothe inverted quethtion markth. Thith ith no thpaghetti Wethtern."
"I'll stop if you'll quit with the Cathtilian thing."
"Deal. What's your question?"
"I was thinking, have you ever seen Don D'Iego Santa Maria Cthulhu and the notorious Cthorro in the same place at the same time?"
"I had not supposed that they would be amigos."
"No, I mean, I think he's the same guy. Guys. Or, you know, guyish thing."
"Nombre de indecible, are off your frijoles? Don D'Iego is of the aristocracy. His family is ancient, and I mean that in a big way. Also, he is gay as an eldritch snake."
"I know all that, boss, but every time this Cthorro strikes, CSI Old California finds these puddles of ichor. Also, the Robinshoods of the old legends, he does not give to the poor and then devour them in a big mess."
"Hmm. Well, you are wrong, but I will make a visit to his picturesque mansion under the full moon and ask a few pointy questions."
"I been there. Wear big boots."

#227 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 01:37 PM:

No, "Cthorra," the Antarctic explorer.

Hoooray?

#228 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 02:22 PM:

Dave, there have been various discussions of the changes in Templar, particularly that he starts out with a variety of colorful companions -- and, of course, is a crook, though a scrupulous one -- and finishes up alone, pulling cons on swindlers.

The TV series may have been part of the change; it wouldn't have done, at least for American television, to have the Saint actually, you know, steal from people, so he becomes a freelance wrong-righter. But Claud Eustace's character is still there, and still pursuing Simon, though we never have a clue why.

I suspect (though I may be dead wrong) that Charteris started out writing a Good Bad Guy pulp character much like others that were out there,* but gradually moved away from the stereotyped thriller plots. The Last Hero, which is only the second novel, has a certain element of "times are irrevocably changing." And, to show off my prejudices, Charteris was a better writer than most of the pulp horde,** and was naturally going to look for different directions, even as the market wanted, well, what the market usually wants from series work. Though on the other hand, the man's own introductions to later books sometimes apologize for their seeming dated. (And on the third hand, Thirties pulp often seems to us "timeless" now, while Sixties culture is kind of embarrassing, even if we never personally owned any elephant bells.)

Then there's my theory that Patricia Holm and Patricia Savage are the same person, but my official Phil Farmer adventurer's jacket is put away for the season.

*There's a book-length study of these characters, many of whom (Blackshirt, Norman Conquest) aren't at all familiar to non-geek Americans: William Vivian Butler's The Durable Desperadoes.

**Can you say "H. C. McNeile"? Knew you could.

#229 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 02:23 PM:

Do any of you clever people have to hand the dates of original publication of poems by Robert Graves? I'm looking for:

A Phoenix Flame
The Hearth
Vanity
Mermaid, Dragon, Fiend
Total length in lines would be helpful too.

Thanks --

#230 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 02:24 PM:

Blast. I meant to post that in the current open thread.

#231 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2006, 05:41 AM:

No, "Cthorra," the Antarctic explorer.

Oh, I see. Cthorry about that.


#232 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2006, 04:55 AM:

He wears a mask - for they say the mere sight of his eldritch and unholy features will drive men mad

You know, there is actually a comic-book hero who uses almost that excuse for never taking his mask off. And his costumed persona is based on the statue of a forgotten god found in an unexplored corner of darkest Africa. Hmm...

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