Friday, August 8, 2014

The First Female Pharaoh Nitocris, H. P. Lovecraft, and the Tennessee Williams Connection

If you like strong women, you have come to the right place. 

The Father of History, Herodotus wrote of a female pharaoh called Nitocris in his histories (which he finished circa 440 BCE) and the story was picked up by Lovecraft and Tennessee Williams four thousand years after her death.  That’s some staying power and some story: murder, revenge, mass killings, and suicide.  Her closest rival in that scenario would be Cleopatra VII and that is two thousand years later.  The pharaoh Nitocris was supposed to have ruled from 2148 to 2144 BCE, the last ruler of the 6th Dynasty and ended up on a barbeque. 

Herodotus says of the Pharaoh Nitocris:  (Book II, 100)  
" ... the name of the woman who reigned was the same as that of the Babylonian queen, namely Nitocris*. Of her [the Egyptian one] they said that, desiring to take vengeance for her brother, whom the Egyptians had slain when he was their king and then, after having slain him, had given his kingdom to her, desiring I say, to take vengeance for him, she destroyed by craft many of the Egyptians.  For she caused to be constructed a very large chamber under ground, and making as though she would  [make a] handsel [of] it, but in her mind devising other things, she invited those of the Egyptians whom she knew to have had most part in the murder, and gave a great banquet.  Then while they were feasting, she let in the river upon them by a secret conduit of large size.  Of her they told no more than this, except that, when this had been accomplished, she threw herself into a room full of [burning] embers, in order that she might escape vengeance."

Now Nitocris may have been the first female Pharaoh, but certainly not the last, click the links to find out more.

The 3rd century BCE Ptolemaic era Egyptian historian, Manetho says of her in his history of Egyptian rulers, Aegyptiaca, “There was a queen Nitôcris, the noblest and loveliest of the women of her time; she had a fair complexion, and is said to have built the third pyramid.”   The Greek version by Eusebius is a bit more expansive, “There was a queen Nitôcris, braver than all the men of her time, the most beautiful of all the women, fair-skinned with red cheeks.  By her, it is said, the third pyramid was reared, with the aspect of a mountain.”  Other versions, such as a Latin Armenian version says about the same, but if they were copying from each other and from the same text, you would expect it.  By those accounts, she was a looker.  There is a  possibility that she appears under other names or honorifics, which is common enough in Egyptian royalty.  Additionally, the Turin Egyptian King List also mentions her as pharaoh on a papyrus fragment, but that is now under question.+  Real or not, Nitocris has survived the centuries to be written about and we’ll just have to wait until the academic heavyweights thrash it out.  In the mean time we have some excellent fiction written in the early 20th century.

Now that we have established a basis for Nitocris by historians, let’s jump forward a few thousand years and on the other side of the planet.  When only 16, budding southern author Tennessee Williams (but born in Columbus, Mississippi, go figure) wrote a historical fiction short story, The Vengeance of Nitocris and it was published in the magazine Weird Tales in August of 1928.  This was his first published story, but not his last.  Tennessee Williams didn’t do much more with his weird fiction writing experience, but instead began writing his own weird tales of the 20th century about his view of America, families, and the south.  
As an aside, Robert E. Howard's story Red Shadows, the story that introduced Solomon Kane, which is the cover story of Weird Tales of the same edition that also had Tennessee William’s The Vengeance of Nitocris story inside.  As you may know, Howard also wrote Lovecraftian types tales.  See my previous blog entry:  The Sixtystone – A Web of Deceit and Illusion. 

H. P. Lovecraft ghostwrote a short story for Harry Houdini, which mentions Nitrocris.   It was originally published under Houdini’s name in Weird Tales in February 1924, as Under the Pyramids (AKA Entombed with the Pharaohs, Imprisoned with the Pharaohs).  But even before that, Lovecraft  had written a short story, The Outsider in 1921, (but published in 1926) with a reference to Nitocris in the story.   This early date shows he was aware of Nitocris  (maybe from Herodotus and possibly even Manetho) and had written about her rather early on and before he wrote Under the Pyramids. 

Part of this story has some synchronicity, with Propnomicon having recently published a blog post based on the story, Entombed with the Pharaohs and me just reading a short bio of Tennessee Williams, which mentions his Nitocris story.  Of course I quickly remembered the Lovecraft story and the Propnomicon blog entry, so it all began to fall together along with a bit remembered bits from Herodotus about Nitocris.  Well the entry just pretty much wrote itself with all the connections and coincidences jelling at once. 

Clearly there is something enticing about the Egyptian Nitocris story, which has kept it in circulation for centuries.  I have to wonder if there is any link between H. Rider Haggard’s novel about another strong beautiful ruler, She A History of Adventure (1886) and the two Nitocris mentioned in Herodotus?  Maybe, but I haven’t found proof of it yet.  Haggard’s first novel, King Soloman’s Mines was an instant hit and created the new fiction genre of the Lost World, but that’s another story for another time.

Bram Stoker (you know Dracula and all that) wrote a story called, The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), about an attempt to revive an ancient Egyptian female ruler’s mummy (fictional Queen Tera), which makes me wonder if Lovecraft had read it and if the story had had any connection to Stoker possibly reading Herodotus.  I’m sure a Lovecraft scholar out there might know the answer. 

Well we can see that a four thousand year old queen, who may or may not be mythical, can still generate some classic weird fiction stories.  I hope that this blog entry wasn’t too long or too serious, but I felt that the information was far too interesting to leave out of the article.  There are probably some that feel it was too much and other too little information.  But I sincerely hope that it has piqued your interest and you will download some of the cited stories.  Additionally, you prop makers out there ought to be interested in the two historical rulers named Nitocris, the weird fiction stories spawned, and the possible earlier association with H. Rider Haggard’s She, who gained her immortality in flames, rather than killed  For you writers and prop makers, there should be some good ideas in all this.  Good reading to you all.

* There is another queen called Nitocris (6th century BCE, daughter of Nebuchadnezzer II, who made the Hanging Gardens) and also mentioned by Herodotus, but this other one is Babylonian and 1,500 years later, but just as crafty.  She also had a flair for architecture, especially her tomb.  Go to the bottom of the article to find out about her according to Herodotus (Book II, 185), if you have any interest.  Nebuchadnezzer is also mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, during the period of the Babylonian Captivity, but you'll have to look that one up yourself.

+ See Kim Ryholt’s article, The Late Old Kingdom in the Turin King-list and the Identity of Nitocris, ZAS 127 (2000) pgs 87-100.  It’s a little involved, but also sheds light on the difficulties in reconstruction of damaged ancient records.


Download Herodotus’ history in English:
A smaller 1464k text-only version is available for download

Download Mantho’s book of Egypt’s history, Aegyptiaca in English*.html

Article on the Lovecraft/Howard axis

Blog article about archeology in H. P. Lovecraft

Download Tennessee Williams’ story, The Vengeance of Nitocris

Download H. P. Lovecraft’s story, The Outsider  and Imprisoned with the Pharaohs

Download Bram Stoker’s story, Jewel of Seven Stars

Now for a bit of lagniappe, some information on the Babylonian queen Nitocris:   An absolutely outstanding article about the Babylonian Queen Nitocris by Robert Lebling on his blog, A Strange Manuscript  and some obligatory Herodotus.
What Herodotus says this about the Babylonian Queen Nitocris (Book II, 187):  
 "This same queen [Nitocris] also contrived a snare of the following kind: - Over that gate of the city through which the greatest number of people passed she set up for herself a tomb above the very gate itself.  And on the tomb she engraved writing which said thus: "If any of the kings of Babylon who come after me shall be in want of wealth, let him open my tomb and take as much as he desires; but let him not open it for any other cause, if he be not in want; for that will not be well."  This tomb was undisturbed until the kingdom came to Dareios [Darius]; but to Dareios it seemed that it was a monstrous thing not to make any use of this gate, and also, when there was money lying there^, not to take it, considering that the money itself invited him to do so.  Now the reason why he would not make any use of this gate was because the corpse would have been above his head as he drove through.  He then, I say, opened the tomb and found not indeed money but the corpse, with writing which said thus: ‘If thou hadst not been insatiable of wealth and basely covetous, thou wouldest not have opened the resting-places of the dead."
^I’m guessing she was not actually buried with her treasure or that it was pilfered long before Darius shows up.  Her impressive architectural exploits start at 185, but the above concerns the tomb alone.
If you are interested, you can download Herodotus in English:   or

Monday, July 28, 2014

Centenary of WWI – But Not Many Lessons Learned

This first of August 2014 is the centennial of the start of the Great War.  

 The road to The War to End All Wars was a long one and although not compeletly inevitable, but became more certain as the military and political lines hardened.  I am going to take a different track in looking at this misunderstood conflict and use the perspective of the timetable, (which is how the general staffs of the belligerents looked at it) and less at the classic timeline and battle approach.  But a timeline is also important to get the facts in their correct order. 

As every school child knows, the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand by a terrorist group on 28 June 1914, one month before the start of the war, (see the July Crisis) began the final (and probably inevitable) sequence leading to a world war.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on little Serbia and the whole series of patched-up relations and entangling treaties between European powers began to unravel.   I won’t go deeply into the causes, because it’s pretty involved, but I am sure that the TV entertainment powers will jump onto bandwagon and we’ll have endless rehashes and revisions and finger pointing, all with commercial interruption galore.  One thing I will talk about is timing, but more on that a bit later. 
The regional war that started in the Balkans on the 28th of July 1914 became a world war by the 1st of August, when some of the world powers declared war on each other.  Note the world war starts when the big power war declarations fall on and just after 1 August.   America manages to hold off from joining in the war until 6 April 1917. 

On a personal note, for those of us folks who can remember the centennial of the Civil War, the bicentennial of the American Revolution, the Centennial of WWI is a sobering thought if nothing else, due to the passage of time and how few lessons have been learned.  Years back I had met a small number of WWI vets from different of countries and they are all gone now.  It’s made me to reflect and I have to wonder about what the world will look like by the time of the Centennial of the Gulf War.  If I don’t miss my bet, it won’t look any better and people won’t be any smarter.  See also, “A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” with the coda that “the rich get richer”.  Sounds kind of jaded, doesn’t it, but it rings true regardless of your political affiliations. 

OK, back to timing.  One thing that most modern people fail to realize in this age of large standing armies, is that previously, a military mobilization was generally felt to be an act of war.  Mobilization was a key part of warfare in a time of small standing armies.  Europe, while keeping small but professional armies, had wide-spread conscription and a complex and in-depth system of reservists and national service.  In the US the system was a bit different.  They augmented their very small standing army with state militias (later national guard units) along side conscription of raw recruits.  In this way, countries could have both a large and small army at the same time.  In times of national emergency, you mobilized your reservists, who then went to their local depots, drew their war fighting gear and then under a war plan, were either set in a defensive stance or as a combat reserve in pre selected locations or went to marshalling areas to be sent on the offensive and meet the enemy in battle.

Here’s how the dominoes fall:  On 28 July, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia (Russian ally) and the Russians begin mobilization on 1 August, the French order a general mobilization, and the Germans mobilize also on 1 August.  The world war has started.  The actual declarations of war follow swiftly with Germany declaring war on Russia (and its allies by way of interlocking treaties), on 4 August the UK officially declares war on Germany (and its allies), and France declares war on Germany somewhat belatedly on 11 August.  Note that it is the mobilizations that start the war and the declarations are somewhat beside the point. 

So you see how this works?  It’s like launching missiles in this day and age, they may be armed or they may not, they may have nukes and they might be filled with flowers.  You launch we launch.  You mobilize, we mobilize.  Guess what, a war has just broken out.  To follow the analogy, a country calling a mobilization in 1914 equals launching rockets in the Cold War or today.    In the next few days in the summer of 1914, things get uglier as the great powers unlimber for war and declarations fly fast and furious and it all goes downhill from there.

As a quick aside, one myth about WWI is that it was a war completely tied up in trench warfare.  The truth of the matter is that it was only the portion of the world war, located in Western Europe that eventually devolved into defensive trench warfare. The war in Eastern European theater was one of classic maneuver as was the war in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.  It’s a world war remember, not the war of Western Europe. 

Let's return to the timetable.  The clock was ticking for a war by the fall of 1914:  Military theorists of the time held that seizing the offensive was extremely important. Timetables were paramount and starting your war by the end of the fall harvest had been part of war ever since there were agricultural civilizations.  This theory encouraged  belligerents to start their was as early as possible after harvest and strike first to gain the advantage.  If you mobilize when the harvest is over, releasing your agricultural workers to fight, who at this time are over half the population, you then have at least 150 days of decent weather to fight.  Once you get northern European snows, wars bog down and movement is pretty much over in this period, so you have a limited time to get your work done, mobilize and fight your war before winter sets in.  If you get caught, then you have to wait for the spring thaw and the inevitable mud bogging your down your spring offensive.  So the fall timetable works best if you want a quick war.  See how the timetable works?  The ultimate application would be the blitzkrieg (a later term, but quite succinct), whose roots were in the Franco Prussian War, was the prime ideal for rapid employment and a quick war, but not drawn into full fruition until WWII by the Germans.  Practice makes perfect.

So if you could field your army first while the other countries were still trying to muster, you would have the field and the initiative.  If the other guy fails miserably in mustering their army, they probably will lose or at the very least, be dangerously on the defensive as they flounder.  The French found that out in the Franco Prussian War.  To misquote Confederate General Forrest of American Civil War fame, you will “Git there fustest with the mostest”.* 

The actual conduct of the battles in the World War is not within the purview of this brief blog post so I’ll fast-forward a few years and a few million casualties later to 1918.  After years of fighting and with casualties in the millions, the fatigued belligerents signed an armistice on 11 Nov 1918 at 11 a.m., the famed 11, 11, 11.  It put the war on hold, stopped the fighting, but did not actually end the state of war.  That happened on 28 June 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was hammered out.  But military actions continued, such as on the Russian front with an allied invasion of the Bolshevik held portions of Russia, but that’s another story for another time.  There was plenty of unfinished business and lots of new bad business created by the Treaty of Versailles.

The general reaction once the war was over, was to try forget as much as possible for some, to marginalize the event for others, and a movement towards pacificism (and even pacifism)+ and isolation for the US.  Victorious allies heaped indemnities upon Germany through the Treaty of Versailles, which also dismantled the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and carved up Asian, African, Pacific, and Middle Eastern colonies of the losing side for the victor’s own benefit.  In general setting up the world for more problems in the following decades, not the least of which was another world war.

Here are some “didja knows” for your next cocktail party’s awkward moment:  Italy and Japan were on the side of the Allies in WWI, with Japan declaring war on 23 August 1914.  The Dutch were neutral.  Mexico was supposed to be neutral, but that didn’t stop them from being part of casus belli for getting the USA into the war, see also the Zimmerman Telegram.  Brazil declared war on Germany on 28 October 1917.  China declared war on Germany 17 October 1917 – it might be of note that Germany had colonies in China, something previously noted by Japan, who wanted Port Arthur and other German areas.  They ended up with a number of German owned Pacific islands as war booty.  See my previous post about early Japanese aircraft.  That those factoids should get you disinvited to the next soiree.   

For those of you who come to my blog for reasons other than an interest in history, e.g. H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and movies, there is indeed some link to this post and horror writings (other than the obvious).  In a previous post I wrote about Arthur Machen Angels of Mons becoming folklore and in a post about author William Hope Hodgson, that was killed in WWI, who was a major influence on the writings of  H. P. Lovecraft.  Further you might check out the movie horror series Hellraiser and the origin of Pinhead, Capt Elliot Spencer, who turns out to be a disillusioned WWI vet in his own private hell.  Along with rank and file, WWI ate up company grade officers at a phenomenal rate as they were expected to lead their men personally.  If kings, dictators, generals, and presidents were obligated to lead charges, there might be less wars. 

WWI even had literary repercussions in such innocuous works as Herge’s Tintin books in the person of war profiteer and all around badguy, Bazil Zarahoff, AKA Basil Bazarov in the Tintin adventure, The Broken Ear.  Herge even drew the fictitious Bazarov exactly as Zarahoff to make the point clearly.  Another pop culture post WWI reference to war profiteering was in the person of  Little Orphan Annie’s adopted father, Sir Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, a steel industrialist.  Sadly, despite eventually inheriting a fortune, Annie never got eyeballs.^

In ending, I hope that some of you out there, up-time from us won’t be observing the Centennial of a future WWIII.  If you are, swill your grog from the skull cups made from your enemies and enjoy the Dark Ages, if the lord of the castle allows.

If you are actually interested, but don’t know much about WWI – read a book or two, there are quite a number of good ones around.  I don’t mean that facetiously because this is far too complex and involved for a short treatment on television or on a blog. If the subject is too big to eat whole (and it is), take it a bite at a time, starting with what you think you know and try to expand your knowledge base from there.  Good reading to you.

*This misquote first appeared in the New York Tribune (a Northern publication, mind you) “written to provide colorful comments in reaction to European interest in Civil War generals” (no date to the NYT article provided) from a Wikipedia article about Gen Forrest.  I would appreciate somebody finding the date of the NYT misquote, if they would and possibly a scan. 

^She died Sunday 13 June 2010 at the age of 97, unrepentant and in the hands of a Guatemalan kidnapper. 

+For the distinction  between the two, see this article

Links of interest:
Newspapers of the era:  declarations of war 

WWI timeline of causes

Detailed timeline for WWI 

On the lighter side, a blog post about Turkish delight, WWI and the Crimean War

A Quotable quote not used in this blog article:
“Violence” came the retort, “is the last refuge of the incompetent.”  Isaac Asimov, from The Encyclopedists as originally published in Astounding magazine in May of 1942.  The story was published as a whole as the novel, Foundation the first of the Foundation Trilogy in 195.  The quote was just too good not to use somewhere.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Sixtystone: A Web of Deceit and Illusion – Arthur Machen, the Black Seal, and the Nesting Story of The Three Imposters

The background of the short story, The Novel of the Black Seal is a lot older, a lot weirder, and a lot more fun than I expected.
Arthur Machen is not as well known now as he was originally, but he was a highly influential author of the Weird Fiction genre.  His important short story, The Novel of the Black Seal is a portion of an elaborate overstory or nesting novel, The Three Imposters, published in 1895.  I’d like to leave the rest of the book alone and focus on just one story, The Novel of the Black Stone in this blog article.  

My first exposure to the Machen’s book, The Three Imposters was from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of books when it released an affordable reprint in 1972.  The series was a real boost to average fans that wanted above average fantasy books but couldn’t afford or find costly, rare editions.

Arthur Machen’s works have had a powerful influence on many writers and quite strongly on H. P. Lovecraft, who cites Machen in his Notes on Writing Weird Fiction as a great author along with Lord Dunsany, Edgar Allan Poe, Montague R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare.   

As you will note in HPL’s Notes on Weird Fiction, he states:
One cannot, … present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel.”

The careful placement of the “single marvel” in this particular story (which is part of a larger story) is a small black stone, which cannot to be taken casually by any means.  One way to do this is to embed your single marvel, in this case a seal stone of great antiquity and evil, into the fabric of reality and history by having it written about by previous authors, preferably real, but they can be fictional as well.  In some cases, the reference book itself is the marvel, such as the Necronomicon.

The Sixtystone or Black Seal in the story is very masterfully borrowed from the 2nd century Roman writer Solinus, who refers to a stone called the Hexecontalithon in his writings.  Machen carefully misquotes the original work, Caii Julii Solini de Mirabilibus Mundi to add depth and to move locality of the story from Libya to England.  This embeds the historical cited Sixtystone with accompanying text and author into Machen’s universe quite deftly.  Machen makes no secrecy about the lifting, giving the original author’s name and the source.  It’s all in good fun anyway.*

Machen’s rework of Solinus is quoted from The Novel of the Black Seal:
 "This folk," I translated to myself, "dwells in remote and secret places, and celebrates foul mysteries on savage hills. Nothing have they in common with men save the face, and the customs of humanity are wholly strange to them; and they hate the sun. They hiss rather than speak; their voices are harsh, and not to be heard without fear. They boast of a certain stone, which they call Sixtystone; for they say that it displays sixty characters. And this stone has a secret unspeakable name; which is Ixaxar."

Along with the Sixtystone being taken from ancient writings, the title of the main book itself, The Three Imposters, may be a direct reference to another book of great age, the Treatise of the Three Imposters, itself a hoax book, which (in many modified forms) has been circulation for centuries.   Both Solini de Marabilibus Mundi and The Treatise of The Three Imposters had been in circulation for centuries and available in a number of print editions in England.  I have to wonder if anybody sees the possible connection between the two books called The Three Imposters, one published in 1895 and the other circulating in manuscript form since at least the 1200s. 

Did Machen use the title The Three Imposters as a nod to the earlier esoteric book of the same name?  It certainly looks likely, although I have not downloaded or read the medieval version of The Three Imposters.  Like the Necronomicon, The Treatise of the Three Imposters is considered an imaginary or spurious book in a blog post at

While considering all the in jokes, the transparent borrowings, and the scholarship required to spot them, consider that the Sixtystone is referred to as a black stone by Machen, but not Solinus – which may be an oblique reference to another black stone, which is real and located in the Middle East.  But also consider it may be a play on the name of a contemporary writer of weird fiction with Machen (and also cited by HPL in Notes on Weird Fiction) Algernon Blackwood.  It’s hard to say for sure, but it is interesting to note the multiple use of layers in Machen’s The Three Imposters, especially looking at the stories within The Novel of the Black Seal.  It’ll certainly take a some scholarship to unravel the puzzle. 

Consider also that IXAXAR, may be a play on ΙΧΘΥΣ (fish in Greek) which was a secret symbol from early Christianity, dating to the first century, the same period as Solinus wrote.  But I don’t want to jump too deeply into religious waters for concern about offending and a lack of serious scholarship on my part in this matter.  Machen would appear to be both serious and playful at the same time.  Another idea that may just be coincidental is that there are sixty stones at Stonehenge.  Once you start the association game, it’s hard to stop.

Another anchor into history for the story and the Sixtystone is the Sumerian’s and later the Babylonian’s use of a sexagesimal, (base 60) numeral system.  This works well linking the Sixtystone into another culture and body of researchable data.  Interestingly, we still use many of the Babylonian’s base 60 concepts like the 60 minutes in an hour & etc.  Solinus would have been quite familiar with the system himself.  The great thing is that with a well-imbedded artifact is that the more you dig, the more associations or coincidences you find.  The accidental associations weave themselves automatically into the body of works, supporting the whole, even though the author may not have been aware of the association.  Coincidence can be an author’s friend, as long as it doesn’t become a forced literary cliché.+

As a side note, Robert E. Howard did a short story called the Black Stone (pub Nov 1931), which is supposedly set in the Lovecraftian universe.  So everybody has had a shot at the title.   For Howard fans, here’s a nice article about Howard’s debt to Lovecraft.

Certainly Machen’s association with mysticism, theosophy, and neo-romanticism and it’s associated interest in pagan and pre Christian beliefs lends some credence to these theories of literary association.  Eventually, Machen purposeful mistranslantion of Solinus’ work made its way into texts of modern esoteric teachings, bringing the farce full circle.  It’s much like Lovecraft’s imaginary Necronomicon becoming esoteric canon.  See the article by Christopher Josiffe in the links section at the end of this post for more information.

One more quick aside:  If you are still following this, you prop making fans might check into the Cyrus Cylinder, as fodder for thought, although that is clay not stone.  

The power of Machen’s mythmaking power is quite evident in his creation of The Angels of Mons from a 1914 story, The Bowmen, later released as a book of short stories, The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War.  Machen explained the story was fictional, but the more he protested, the more people believed it was real.  I have to wonder if there is a link between this WWI story of ghostly protectors and the raised dead protecting Britain from invasion in WWII in the movie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks of 1971.  But that’s for someone else to ferret out.  Additionally, see this article on about Machen’s mythmaking and the Angels of Mons:  

What really got this whole thing rolling was a Sixtystone prop posted on Propnomicon’s outstanding Cthulhu Mythos prop making site a good while back.  It got me interested again in Machen and rekindled my old interest in cylinder seals.  I did a little digging and as usual, things got wonderfully out of hand.  The result is this blog article.      

Arthur Machen’s writing prowess continues to influence readers, writers, makers of props, and esoteric authors.  His works influenced writers from Lovecraft to Steven King, as well as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, and James Branch Cabell.  By the way, most of these authors had stories and books appear in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series.  Machen also influenced other authors outside of the genre such as Jorge Luis Borges with his magic realism and even writers of mysticism Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Grant owes a debt of gratitude to the writings of Machen. 

Machen was also an originator in what would be later called psychogeography,^ due to his writing about the interconnectivity between landscape and imagination.  Along that line, you might also check out my previous post on William Hope Hodgson who was another influence on Lovecraft and his Dreamlands.  The problem with imaginary lands is that you introduce the great possibility of unreliable narrators, in which The Three Imposters is rife at multiple levels.  But that's part of the fun.

Hopefully this information dump will make you want to follow the links and enjoy the ride or do some follow-up work in places I have only touched.  Many of these referenced authors were contemporaries and friends so cross pollenization is inevitable.  They certainly influenced each other and molded our ideas about fantasy and horror today.  I hope you will be intrigued to enough read a few of the different cited authors’ works.  The great thing is that many of them are available for download for free.  See the links below.

*More contemporarily, take a page from NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ Rulebook:  Rule 7, "Always be specific when you lie.”  
+(Op Cit) Keep in mind Gibb's Rule 39 and of course, while writing Weird Fiction, remember his Rule 45 also applies.  Good detective work has much the same rules as being a good writer. 
^Psychogeography has strong links to ley lines, earth mysteries, and chaos magic.  It also is linked to magic realism and other techniques used in fiction writing. 

          Additional links of interest
Download these books for free from Project Gutenberg by Arthur Machen
The Three Imposters, (1895) which contains the story The Novel of the Black Seal
The Great God Pan (1894)
The House of Souls (1906)
The Hill of Dreams (1895, pub 1907) 
The White People (1899, pub 1904) by Machen
Also Famous Modern Ghost Stories (1921) with Machen stories inside 

An article about Machen in the Spanish language

A link to a good article by Christopher Josiffe is just below, about the Sixtystone and Machien’s use of Solinus’ writings.  Josiffe’s makes use of Arthur Golding’s English translation of Solinus from the late 1500s makes for really good reading, but also note in this article, tracing of the Machen of Solinus mistranslation making its way into modern esoteric writing.   Fun stuff.  or 

A Latin language downloadable copy of the 1847 edition of Solinus’ Caii Julii Solini de Mirabilibus Mundi  The part you want is XXXI for the Sixtystone hexecontalithon reference used by Machen.  Prop makers, this would be a great source for text for your prop books and documents.  Alas I could not find the Arthur Golding late 1500’s English translation quoted so colorfully by Christopher Josiffe in the above article.  

For those interested in a 1904 English translation of the 1716 French edition of De Tribus Impostoribus, (1230), AKA The Three Imposters, a download is available here:

Robert E. Howard's The Black Stone, available for free download:  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Vampire Hunting Kits Debunked - Props, Fantasies, Hoaxes, and Fakes

Vampire hunting kits get staked and it’s about time.

I’m sick a tired of these absurd “vampyre hunting killing kits” that have now become so prevalent and going for a fortune to the credulous.  They are fake, fake, fake and if you buy one believing they are real, you are a in good company because recently a British museum purchased one for a lot of money.  For fun Google that.  The museum has now backtrack and say they knew what they were doing.  In light of the explanation, I am reminded of the kid who tried a stupid trick on his bicycle and crashed:  his explanation was, “I meant to do that”.  Yeah.

I have been a follower of the excellent prop making site Propnomicon and a consistent commenter on some of the enjoyable works that Propnomicon showcases on his blog every day.  His efforts to tear away the mask of prop making and share helpful how-tos and tutorials is a real help to prop makers everywhere.  Over the years he featured a number of “vampire hunting kits” some of which have a fair amount of work in them and others are examples to avoid.  I heartily suggest if you like props, the works of H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, you really need to visit Propnomicon’s web site.  

After a few years of seeing these kits showing up on Propnomicon (and in many, many other places too such as eBay and auction catalogs), I finally decided to quit grousing about the miserable assemblages and do a post on my own about the subject.  Interestingly enough I found that others had already beat me to the punch several years before and had done so quite well.  My hat is off to these conscientious researchers.  So rather than rehash a lot of text, see the below links to get the truth about when, why, where and what vampire hunting kits are truly. 

Most interestingly is the last link, but save it for last, as the first links really set things up quite nicely.  You need only Google CoastConFan to find my comments on vampire kits, mostly on Propnomicon, so I won’t bore you with a rehash.  But frankly, you really only need to follow the below links to get at the truth quickly and easily.

So my research began in earnest and I hit gold in researching the who-what-where-whens and whys on these kits when I ran across a blog called  Diary of an Amateur Varmpirologist and he had a excellent entry about vampire hunting kits.  Click the link:

His blog entry gave me a good overview and leads to these three important blog entries, which appear to lead the source of vampire hunting kits:

Three Spooky Land posts, which are well worth reading on the subject of vampire kits.
Finally the core of the mystery is revealed by a reposting of the explanation of the original prop and mythmaker himself on with the pay dirt blog entry.  The mystery is revealed when you click on the below link.   

The Professor Blomberg Vampire Killing Kit
Author - Michael de Winter
Originally posted to April 2005

So the truth is out and it has been out there since 2005 on the web, just not exactly in the place I would have expected.  So to get to the punch line:  All-these-kits-are-fake.  Can I make it any plainer?   None of these are real and none of these are really very old and few of them are worth much more than the combined value of the components.  If sold as modern prop assemblages of a fantasy vampire kit, then there is no foul.  But if sold as “real” then watch out.

By the way, as long as we are detoxing clichés, the whole silver bullet kills lycanthrope trope proves to be a 1930s creation of the book and movie industry, but that’s another irritating story.  See my blog entry The Werewolf Paradigm – Fun vs. Rationality, March 27, 2011
UPDATE 22 Jun 2014:  in the comments section, Graham1973 gives an excellent link to a discussion about silver in reference to lycanthrophy in folklore.  Clearly there are indeed pre 1930 references to killing werewolves with silver.  The upshot of the article is that silver as an evil magic dissipator as used in these folklore stories that date back some 300 years.  The main theme is that the silver item is a common thing like a silver button or coin most often and it is fired at or above the evil being.

Oddly, there is not a great lot of literature cited about using non-projectile silver weapons such as maces, daggers or swords against such creatures.  The additional interesting link is that generally the silver object in question is a personal object and a sort of ad hoc lightening rod against evil.  The other thing is that the silver projectile is not grounded, in the sense of being connecting a kind of grounding circuit, which would be the case with a wielded silver mace or other silver appliance.
The other reference is about an assassination attempt against a non lycanthrope in the hope that the would given by a silver bullet would not heal.   In this case it would convey a sort of curse of non-healing. 

 I’d like to thank Graham1973 for this excellent listing about the general of silver in dissipating evil.  I was unaware of the link and feel it is important enough to put into the body of the post so it won’t be overlooked. 

I’ll also post this on a previous blog entry, where it actually belongs, The Werewolf Paradigm.

A few other links of mine in the same vein:

The Logical Vampire – A brief overview on removing these pests, Feb 9, 3013

Hourglass Vampire Hunting Kit, Jan 12 2013, a rather clever take by one prop maker on the vampire kit

A Youtube video I made a couple of years ago:  Starless Nosferatu, combining King Crimson’s song Starless and clips from the silent film Nosferatu (1922) the video.  Click the link to view.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Charlie Chan by way of Indiana Jones – the real man, Chang Apana of the Honolulu Police

Charlie Chan was a fictional character created by Earl DerrBigger based on real-life Honolulu detective Chang Apana, who was a larger than life person.  His story truly needs to be told and what better time than in May, which is Asian-Pacific Month. 

The Charlie Chan stories were written by author Earl Bigger to offset the terrible Yellow Peril stories denigrating Asians.  Biggers wanted to showcase a non-European detective who was more than a match for criminals.  Although to our modern eyes, the Charlie Chan character seems to be a shuffling stereotype, such is not the case when viewed nearly 90 years ago when the first Charlie Chan story was published.  But let me get back to the inspiration first.

Chang Apana really broke all the expectations of  late Victorians and Edwardians about Chinese immigrants in Hawaii.  First of all he didn’t dress or act like an ethic Chinese transplant from Guangzhou.  Actually, he was born in Hawaii either in 1864 or 1871, (sources disagree) and went to China with his parents soon after his birth.  He later returned to Hawaii when he was 10 years old.  But Chang Apana (Chang Ah Ping) wasn’t going to be like any other Chinese person Victorians would have expected and just placed into a niche. 

He wore his hair short, eschewing the traditional queue and wore a cowboy hat.  In fact he was a Hawaiian cowboy and his first job was with the Hawaiian Humane Society in 1897, working with the maltreatment of horses.  He was actually a Hawaiian cowboy, an expert horseman and carried a bullwhip, but more on that later.  His wiry 5’3” frame was agile and tough.  While with the Humane Society he rescued many horses from maltreatment, primarily in the Honolulu area.

Chang spoke Chinese as well as Hawaiian along with English* (although not perfectly), which made him an outstanding prospect for the Honolulu Police Department.  Hawaii was a crossroads for the Pacific trade and many diverse cultures and people passed through or settled down in Hawaii.  Many visitors however were not of the best character, but his didn’t deter Chang.  According to biographical evidence he was almost acrobatic in physical feats and was never afraid to tackle armed opponent(s) even when grossly outnumbered.    He often went undercover and dressed as a coolie to infiltrate dangerous gangs and gambling dens.  Chang was shot at a number of times as well as being beaten and knifed.  He had a scar over his right eye from a scythe wielding attacker that slashed his face.   His was not a face that could be ignored.

Author Earl Biggers was visiting Honolulu, Hawaii in 1924 when he ran across a newspaper article about Chang of the Honolulu police and immediately was intrigued.  Biggers wrote the story The House Without a Key, which was published in 1925 and the fictional Honolulu police detective Charlie Chan was born.  Several more stories followed with great success (see below for a list).  The first Charlie Chan film was released in 1926 as a serial and many more full-length features followed (see below for list).  Chang took it all in stride. 

Physically, he was not much like the slightly chubby, proverb quoting fictional detective of book and film, but the thing that most modern readers (or viewers) forget was that he was accepted as on par with European born detectives and was considered absolutely trustworthy.  In Charlie Chan, the old stereotype was broken.  We don’t really understand in this day and age, how far up Charlie Chan was from the poor expectations of that previous society he was born into, but both Charlie Chan and Chang were fully equals to westerners. 

The films may be out of step with present modern practices, but at the time, Bigger’s portrayal was very modern, even revolutionary.  The fictional character Charlie Chan was considered a thorough professional equal to everybody he encountered and often showed himself superior in patience, observation, and just plain brain work.  His understated character allowed him to be underestimated by crooks or overlooked by spies and enemy agents.

Moreover, consider Chang never carried a gun, he just had his cowboy bullwhip and with consummate skill, employed it on Hawaii’s bad guys.  He was so personally feared, that he captured 40 illegal gamblers single-handed – just him and his bullwhip.  So much like the latter day Indiana Jones, he used this whip with authority. 

Chang was injured in an accident in 1932, badly mauling his legs.  Eventually one leg became infected and had to be amputated.  He retired from the Honolulu Police with 34 years of service, long than anybody else.   The Honolulu Police Department has a museum section entirely dedicated to Chang Apana with a number of mementos along with his famous bullwhip.

I can’t begin to say how impressed I am with Chang Apana’s story when I ran across it recently and just wanted to share with you a truly impressive person who lived a remarkable life.  I would really would have liked to see a period 20s movie about Chang.  

I wish that George Taki (known to some of you as Sulu) was young enough to portray Sergeant Apana in a period film set in Hawaii.  It would love to see him swinging a bullwhip and backing down Honolulu criminals in the Roaring 20s.  He would really put a spin on “book ‘em Dano, murder one”.   Charlie Chan was not the last fictional Honolulu detective by a long shot.

Let’s take a look at the varied actors who played Charlie Chan over the decades on the screen: 

First, there was in a 10 part serialization of House Without a Key in 1926 which starred George Kuwa a Japanese.  Oddly, the viewers did not connect with an Asian playing an Asian character and the move toward western Charlie Chans began, but there would a few more attempts to have an Asian Charlie Chan.

Japanese actor Kamiyama Sojin (whose career spanned from Thief of Baghdad 1924, to Seven Samurai 1954) in the Chan film, The Chinese Parrot in 1927.  

Edward. L. Park who was Korean, portrayed Chan in Behind that Curtain, in 1929, the first feature length Charlie Chan movie.  Actor Boris Karloff had a small part in this film. 

Warner Oland, one of the best known of Chan actors, who was a Swedish actor who played Chan in 16 movies from 1931 to 1937.  Oland also played Dr. Fu Manchu in film – what a contrast. 

Sidney Toler is another of the better known actors who played Chan in 22 movies from 1938 to 1946. 

Roland Winters, is less known than the previous two actors, but still racked up 6 movies from 1947 to 1949. 

An odd inclusion is Charlie Chan at the Ringside, which was filmed but not released under that name.  Because Warner Oland became ill during the filming, Peter Lorre was sent in to play Charlie Chan.  To avoid viewer confusion as Lorre played Mr. Moto instead, so the film was renamed Mr. Moto’s Gamble and it was no longer a Charlie Chan film in the end.  So I guess that makes Lorre as an almost Chan.  Click for a list of  Mr Moto films.  As an aside, there was also a Mr. Moto radio series (see below). 

On television J. Carroll Naish starred in The New AdventuresCharlie Chan on the small screen for 39 episodes in 1957-1958.      

Ross Martin (better known as Artemus Gordon of The Wild Wild West) was Chan in a TV movie in 1971 with The Return of Charlie Chan.  

Keye Luke (finally an actual Chinese, but better know to you TV viewers as Master Po of Kung Fu) voiced Charlie Chan in Charlie Chan and the Chan Gang cartoon series of 1972.  The less said of that cartoon series, the better.  Luke played Number One Son in some Chan films, so I guess it was fitting that he had his shot.  

There was also a popular Charlie Chan Radio Show (1932 to 1948).  See down below for some surviving radio episodes. 

I’ve really run on about Chang Apana and Charlie Chan, probably because Chang was so important to the development of Charlie Chan and the slow removal of stereotypes.  Again, understand how far we have all come in the past 90 years and take some understanding about the context in which these films were made.  Chang Apana was an original American hero who served his community well and Charlie Chan fought crooks and stereotypes.  

In role playing games, you see characters played rather to type, so kick it up a bit and consider the history of Chang Apana as a new spin on the detective character for Call of Cthulhu and other RPGs.  I would certainly like to have him at my side while playing Masks of Nyarlathotep or exploring some ruins.

     *A little note:  Pigeon English is often seen as a degenerate sub-language of illiterates, but in fact it was an important bridge language, with economic aims, agreed upon limited, delineated meanings between two complex and often highly nuanced languages.  In essence it is a trade language between two cultures that are so differentiated socially and culturally, that there is initially little common ground in customs or in common use words.  By avoiding confusing abstract and conditional language, simple concrete terms can be mutually communicated with agreed upon meanings understood by both.  We have forgotten how important a bridge these created languages were in communications between strangers.  Languages such as Swahili, Pigeon English, Lingua Franca, and Pidgin Hawaiian would be in this language grouping.    

Other Links:

The Films of Charlie Chan
Or get a book on the subject:  The Charlie Chan Film Encyclopedia by Howard M. Berlin

Charlie Chan had a big family and that figures into the films.  Find out Who’s Who in the Charlie Chan film family:

Project Gutenberg Australia has some of Bigger’s Charlie Chan stories that are downloadable but not on the US Project Gutenberg:
The Chinese Parrot (1926)