Tag Archives: Paranormal fiction

The Adventures of Jules de Grandin

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Adventures of Jules de Grandin [Amazon, Local Library] by Seabury Quinn, introduction by Lin Carter. (See instead: The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin series.)

Quinn Carter The Adventures of Jules de Grandin

This first volume of the 1970s paperback series reprints seven out of the ninety-three Jules de Grandin stories by Seabury Quinn, including several of the earliest. These began in the 1920s and quickly became a staple of Weird Tales, where they appeared nearly every other month. They were not a serial, however. There is no overarching plot nor development over time of the central characters, who are stock types of an occult investigator and his medical doctor amanuensis. In general, the stories rely on broadly-drawn characters and stereotypes in order to maintain a high tempo and to create a quotidian background for shocking crimes and supernatural menaces.

The sleuth de Grandin himself is an amusingly exaggerated, sword-cane-wielding, mustachioed, gallic scientist of diminutive stature. Most of his adventures take place in the hometown of his host and colleague Doctor Trowbridge, Harrisonville, New Jersey. Being a European in America allows de Grandin to make amusing asides castigating Prohibition, religious bigotry, and other forms of American provincialism. “Today your American courts convict high school-teachers for heresy far less grave than that charged against our Jeanne [d’Arc]. We may yet see the bones of your so estimable Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin exhumed from their graves and publicly burned by your heretic-baiters of this today” (53, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!).

The narrator Trowbridge maintains a naïve skepticism in the face of exotic events that grows less believable with each passing tale. One of the strengths of the stories is their use of menaces drawn from folk traditions and popular culture (vampires and werewolves, for instance) while allowing that the common lore may be inaccurate in its details. Thus the reader can see where de Grandin’s hypotheses are leading him–while Trowbridge refuses even to consider such fanciful notions–but the tension of the unknown is maintained, along with a sense of the “scientific.”

In those points where de Grandin explains or employs occultism as such, the details tend to be fairly flawed. For example, Trowbridge describes a hexagram (and the book even supplies a diagram) but de Grandin calls it a “pentagram” (182). In another adventure, de Grandin calls elemental spirits “Neutrarians,” a term I hadn’t previously encountered, but which appears to have been coined by Elliot O’Donnell in his Twenty Years Experiences as a Ghost Hunter.

These stories are not great works of literature, and it doesn’t seem that anyone has ever mistaken them for such. They are pulp paragons, and one of their attractions is their great variety, from the piracy-and-cannibalism yarn of “The Isle of Missing Ships” to the parapsychological crime mystery of “The Dead Hand.” Quinn’s de Grandin stories frequently served as the basis for the cover illustrations of the numbers of Weird Tales in which they appeared. Even reading them in this mass market paperback reprint, it is easy to spot the moments in the stories that would be chosen for this honor. They usually featured a naked woman in peril. “The Tenants of Broussac” (scene on page 67) and “The Man Who Cast No Shadow” (153-4) are the two stories in this collection that were realized as cover art in their magazine appearances, and it is easy to note Quinn offering similarly “graphic” climaxes in every tale.

All Hallow’s Eve

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews All Hallow’s Eve [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Williams, introduction by T S Eliot.

Williams All Halllows' Eve

All Hallow’s Eve was the last of Charles Williams’ completed novels, first published in the year of his death, 1945. It begins just after the deaths of two young women, and follows their persisting consciousnesses through “the City” (which is London only as a phantom skin of a mystical heavenly Jerusalem) throughout the book. At the same time as the novel elaborates this perspective of the deceased, it supplies a parallel narrative among their survivors: one’s husband who is a diplomatic functionary, his friend an art painter, and the painter’s fiancee–a former schoolmate of the two dead characters.

The central plot tension of the book is constructed around Simon the Clerk, an aspiring antichrist of impressive talents and no sympathy whatsoever. The villain’s “Jewishness” is emphasized in ways that gave me a wince or two, but were doubtless theologically important to Williams. Like the other “Aspects of Power” novels, this one is an urban fantasy that predates the genre, and it features the kind of fell sorcery that crops up in the earlier books. It clothes supernatural events in the sort of finely-crafted impressionistic prose the author had deployed in Descent Into Hell.

The Eerdmans edition I read had a testimonial introduction by T.S. Eliot, in which he extolled Williams’ personal virtues, and briefly discussed the mystical doctrine and psychological insight in Williams’ works. There is enough reference to the contents of the novel as if the reader were familiar with it that the Eliot intro might be better enjoyed after reading the book–not for any worry of spoilers, but just for its own appreciation.

By curious chance (?) I read All Hallow’s Eve just a few weeks after The Third Policeman. Now I may need to go re-read UBIK. It seems like somebody is trying to tell me something. Did I actually not survive my recent bicycle crash? Maybe it’s just that time of year. After all, everybody’s going to die, and we’re all of us just stories anyway.

Len Deighton was not an author of spy thrillers but of horror, because all Cold War–era spy thrillers rely on the existential horror of nuclear annihilation to supply a frisson of terror that raises the stakes of the games their otherwise mundane characters play. And in contrast, H. P. Lovecraft was not an author of horror stories—or not entirely—for many of his preoccupations, from the obsessive collection of secret information to the infiltration and mapping of territories controlled by the alien, are at heart the obsessions of the thriller writer.

Charles Stross, The Atrocity Archives [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Stross The Atrocity Archives spy trillers existential horror nuclear annihilation frisson terror secret information mapping territories alien heart writer

“I’ve prepared a PowerPoint presentation that will cover the basics of what I wish to discuss with you,” Lucifer begins, opening up the ThinkPad. “Stop,” Billy says. “PowerPoint?” “It’s my preferred medium,” says Lucifer. “No,” Billy says. “Just no. You want to talk? We can talk. But I’m hungover, I’m annoyed, I’m still kind of losing my shit, I’m not watching a freaking PowerPoint presentation.” “PowerPoint is actually quite unfairly maligned,” Lucifer says.

Jeremy P Bushnell, The Weirdness: A Novel [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Bushnell The Weirdness not watching a freaking powerpoint presentation