Friday, November 27, 2015

FFB: CONJURE WIFE by Fritz Leiber (Street and Smith 1943)

While I've hardly been ignoring Fritz Leiber or even his first published novel (apparently his third long fiction to be completed, after the long-lost [in the author's files] novella "The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich" [published posthumously in 1986] and the novella "Adept's Gambit," which would not see publication till Leiber's first collection, Night's Black Agents, 1947), I have not yet formally entered Conjure Wife into the FFB mix (one or two others have, as I recall), and it's high time.  One of the most influential and brilliant of horror novels I've read, and unlike most horror novels (particularly since the influence of Stephen King and Anne Rice and their sustained commercial success have helped make bloated, maundering kitchen-sink approaches once again the default mode in the novels in the field), the Leiber is lean and tightly constructed, remarkably so for a still just-beginning professional writer (albeit one who was no kid, and perhaps crucially had already been a student of both classic drama, and a professional actor, and the writing of essays and sermons).  Even one who'd already published perhaps the single most game-changing short story in horror of the 1940s, "Smoke Ghost." There are relatively few novels that have their first film adaptation released years before their first publication in boards or even paperback, and Conjure Wife is one of them; the relatively minor (and unfaithful) adaptation Weird Woman was released in 1944, a year after the publication of the novel in a late issue of the fantasy-fiction magazine Unknown Worlds; remarkably, the novel wouldn't be reprinted in book form until 1952, and first in an omnibus edited by Fletcher Pratt for Twayne Publishers, Witches Three, which was created in part to provide a home for Pratt's own short novel The Blue Star. The next year, paperback house Lion Books and Twayne would publish the first standalone editions of Conjure Wife, though not the last by any means...and it would be serialized in a 1970s prose horror-fiction magazine published by Marvel Comics, The Haunt of Horror, edited by then comics-script and later screenplay-writer/television producer Gerry Conway.  Given that Leiber's next novel, Gather, Darkness! (serialized in Unknown Worlds's companion magazine Astounding Science Fiction in 1943) was published in book 
form in 1950, one has to wonder why the masterful horror novel had to wait a bit longer, and longer yet for its own boards (but, then, there was a bit of a gold rush, on this "science fiction" thing Doubleday was so het up about, among other larger and medium-sized houses at the turn of the '50s, which was less true of convention-challenging horror fiction...perhaps its notable that even Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House wasn't published by her first consistent publisher, Farrar, Strauss, but by Viking...and even Farrar, Strauss had taken a tremulous baby step toward this wild Buck Rogers stuff with Theodore Sturgeon's More than Human [1953]...not, on balance, the worst choice they could've made, but the Ballantines had to hold their hands to steady them in a co-publication deal). And, a little more digging around in the ISFDB suggests the probable reason for the book-publication delay...Arkham House apparently had struck a deal to publish the novel, but managed not to do so as the years ground onward...not a unique situation.

It's the story of surprisingly successful, brash, full of himself youngish anthropology professor Norman Saylor, and his wife Tansy, and what happens when Norman discovers that Tansy has been practicing the nearly universal feminine art of actual, supernatural and effective witchcraft, for their protection as well as a manner of helping Norman along in his career.  Saylor's condescension and paternalist concern knows little boundary as he half-convinces Tansy that her fear of the consequences if she gives up her practice, as he demands and cajoles her to do, is simply neurotic, encouraged by her false assumption of the widespread nature of the practice among women. And then things start to go wrong...very wrong. Norman is stripped of his smug misapprehension bit by bit as the other women, of longer standing in the college town where the Saylors have only relatively recently arrived, increasingly clearly to him conspire to take advantage of Tansy's new defenselessness, and as a result his own. Things grown even worse, presented in such a way that provides one of the great frissons in horror fiction, as Norman desperately, clumsily tries to learn as much as possible to take up the magical slack to protect and save them both. The first time I read the novel, I was reading it too quickly...rather easy to do, as Leiber's prose is as lucid and elegant as it is suspenseful...and flew right past the most shocking development...only to find myself halfway down the next page suddenly registering--What Just Happened? So, don't speedread this one. The rest of the novel from there is not quite denouement to the climax that provides, but is the logical (and paralogical) development from that. 

Leiber is fully in control of his materials here, having great fun with turning the sexist presumption of his premise on its head and using it, not least in the nature of Norman's reaction to Tansy's admissions, to instead satirize sexism and patriarchal pomposity. Norman's mansplaining is shown pretty quickly to be the cheerful self-importance of the unencumbered (rather than privileged, I'd suggest) reasonably well-off educated white male in U.S. society of the time, and the liberal-arts college subculture, rather than, as Norman was quite sure, the full measure of reality well-understood. The resentment so many women felt, particularly at that time and in those places, in having to live through their husbands (and at the mercy of what their husbands might achieve) is keenly demonstrated, even as filtered through the metaphor of witchcraft, itself historically in part the expression of "underground" women's work and passage of too often necessary but officially forbidden knowledge from one generation of women and some sympathetic men to the next, at very least in many European Christian contexts. His protagonist, based on a satirical self-portrait, is at first a blinkered Norman sailor on a sea of ignorance, who quickly learns better (while Leiber's father was an important though ambiguous figure in his life, he was largely raised by women in his extended family, as his parents were touring with various dramatic troupes including their own, where Fritz, Jr. would eventually begin his acting career). His wife Jonquil (note the oddness of the name Tansy) was instrumental in getting him to finally get serious about his writing career; among other things, she was the one who first wrote to H. P. Lovecraft on her husband's behalf, leading him to receive some epistolary advice and mentorship in the last months of Lovecraft's life.  And, as I like to note, among the younger members of the "Lovecraft Circle"
of corresponding friends, Leiber and longer-term protege Robert Bloch were the most notable immediate heirs to the innovations Lovecraft helped introduce in the literature, and both managed to do more and better than their mentor with what he helped them find.

There have been, along with the many editions of the novel (including two omnibi featuring Leiber's third horror novel, in its final form Our Lady of Darkness), two more film adaptations, in 1962 the good and faithful if slightly stiff Night of the Eagle (released in the U.S. with the A. Merritt title variation Burn, Witch, Burn)--the script adapted by Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson and George Baxt, which along with the faithfulness might've helped the modest production be as it is easily the best film of the three--and the loosely adapted 1980 horror comedy Witches' Brew, with Teri Garr, Richard Benjamin and Lana Turner (her last film). 

I was also going to consider one of the too obscure literary children of this novel, A Personal Demon by David Bischoff, Rich Brown and Linda Richardson (indeed, three writers on one fixed-up novel; NAL Signet 1985, revised from a series of stories published in the latter 1970s in the magazine Fantastic), but I'll hold off on that for today, as I'm already late for Patti Abbott's round-up, listed at her blog as usually.

It's a Gothic Because We Say It's a Gothic...a rather overtly
feminist one, if so...

The Ultimate Violation being in this case Ace packaging.

Another, if less dire, swing and a miss from Ace.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

November's Underappreciated Music: the links

The monthly assembly of undervalued and often nearly "lost" music, or simply music the blogger in question wants to remind you reader/listeners of...

Patti Abbott: Music; Thanksgiving parody

Brian Arnold: Simple Gifts

Jayme Lynn Blaschke: Friday Night Videos

Paul Brazill: A Song for Saturday

Julie London and the Hi-Los: Medley

Jim C.: The Philly Joe Jones Sextet: "Blues for Dracula"

Sean Coleman: Joseph Bridge: "Winter Blues"; Wings Over Australia; Phil Taylor; XTC: Oranges and Lemons

Bill Crider: Song of the Day; Forgotten Hits, Local Charts

Elizabeth Foxwell: Dominik Scherrer: An Inspector Calls

Jeff Gemill: Natalie Merchant: Paradise is Here; Top 5s

John Grant: Vienna Teng: The Fourth Messenger

Jerry House: Daily Music+; Hymn Time

Darol Anger, Sharon Gilchrist and Emy Phelps: "Cherokee Shuffle"

Sam Juliano: Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra: Finlandia, The Moldau, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony  

Evan Lewis: Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken (Composer: Hans Erdmann): NosferatuCathy Barton, Dave Para, Bob Dyer: "The Call to Quantrill"

Steve Lewis, Jonathan Lewis, Mike Doran and Michael Shonk: Music I'm Listening To

Todd Mason: Saturday Music Club: some Beatling (covers); reBeatling

Lawrence Person: Shoegazer Sunday

Monk Quartet (Thelonious Monk, Charlie Rouse, Larry Gates, Ben Riley): "Hackensack"

Nathan Rabin: Casablanca Records (courtesy Bill Crider)

Charlie Ricci: Soft Cell: "Tainted Love"/"Where Did Our Love Go?"; J Burn: Burnt Blue; Diana Krall: Wallflower

The Pleasure Seekers, later Cradle, reunion: "What a Way to Go"; "Brain Confusion"; "Ted"

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: the links to reviews, interviews, etc.

Kansas City Bomber
This week's adventures in audio/visual materials that the reviewers think need at least another look (or, occasionally, actually deserve obscurity); thanks as always to everyone, and please let me know if I've missed your or someone else's notable posts.  

--Todd Mason, 
who notes that the Criterion Blogathon is responsible for a few more Criterion DVD and BluRay reviews this week...see Kristina Dijan, Ruth Kerr and Aaron West's citations for guides to the participants and their essays, and hear them on Criterion Close Up; also, Stacia Jones and Rod Lott on the National Lampoon documentary...I was able to non-virtually meet, along with his wife Pamela Scoville and old friend Ray Ridenour, contributor Paul "John Grant" Barnett at what I could attend of the annual convention in the area, the PhilCon, over this past weekend, and it was a very pleasant evening...wish him a happy birthday if you see him soon...he notes his daughter provided him with his most proud-making gift, the token of her Oxfam contribution in his honor...

A. J. Wright: The Fighting Kentuckian

Aaron West: Criterion Blogathon: Day 5

Alien: Resurrection
Anne Billson: Porky's II: The Next Day and other films better than she expected

Anonymous: Easy Living; 5 Fingers; Crazy, Stupid, Love; Noah Beery, Jr.; The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Bhob Stewart: Giger Museum; Liberace Museum; 1968 Comic Art Convention (NYC), etc.

The Big Broadcast: 22 November 2015
Tony Rome

Bill Crider: Kansas City Bomber [trailer]

Brian Arnold: Simple Gifts: Introduction and "The Great Frost"

B.V. Lawson: Media Murder

Colin: Tony Rome
The Girl Can't Help It

Comedy Film Nerds: CFN vs. Keith and the Girl on The Martian; Rock 'n' Roll Movies with Lord Carrett

Criterion Close Up: Criterion Blogathon, New Releases for February, etc.

Cullen Gallagher: Barquero

Cynthia Fuchs: Democrats; Mimi and Dona; Secret in Their Eyes
June Havoc

David Vineyard: Midnight (1934 film)

Dorian and Vinnie Bartolucci: Lady in the Lake; Trancers

Elgin Bleecker: The Prowler

Elizabeth Foxwell: Black Friday (1940 film); about Anatomy of a Murder

Evan Lewis: Dick Tracy (1950s tv series): "Dick Tracy and FlatTop"

Gary Deane: June Havoc

George Kelley: Spotlight

Gilligan Newton-John:  Mad scientist film bondage (some mildly NSFW imagery)

How Did This Get Made? (featuring guest Lennon Parham): Lifeforce

Iba Dawson: some of the worst...

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.: The Strange One; The Garment Jungle

Jackie Kashian: Chez Amanda on The X-Files; The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Deadly Mantis

Jacqueline T. Lynch: Jerome Cowan

James Reasoner: The Deadly Mantis; The Bold Caballero 

Janet Varney: Colin Hanks

Jerry House: Roy Rogers and his peers; X Minus 1: "Nightmare"

John Grant: Curtain at Eight; Crime Unlimited; Flat Two

Jonathan Lewis: Treasure Island (1972 film)
Top 25: Shield for Murder

Juri Nummelin: Morons from Outer Space

Karen Hannsberry: William Conrad; Top 25 Noir Films 

Kate Laity: The Hudsucker Proxy

Kelly Robinson: Criterion and Lynch (and Kelly)

Ken Levine: On Roseanne; further on Roseanne; Undateable; Wish I Was Here and Kickstarter abuse

Kevin Pollack's Chat Show: Vince Gilligan

Kristina Dijan: Criterion Blogathon: Day 4

Laura G:  3 Bad Men; Murder in the Fleet; The 33Pocahontas (1995 Disney animation); 42nd Street (stage)

Lucy Brown: River; Once Upon a Time (current US tv)

Marty McKee: The Final Terror

Mildred Perkins: The Mummy (1959 film)

Mystery Dave: "Captain EO"
the book

Patricia Nolan-Hall: Harry Carey and the Carey family

Patti Abbott: Reflections in a Golden Eye

Rick: 1960s TV series on the road...

Rod Lott: Rattlers; Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

Ronna and Beverly: Jessica St. Clair

"Rupert Pupkin": Broken Lance

Ruth Kerr: Criterion Blogathon Day 6

Sam Juliano: A Room with a View; Carol

Scott A. Cupp: The Mad Miss Manton

Sergio Angelini: Molle Mystery Theater (radio); Thriller (US tv); et al.: "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" and its extensions by Robert Bloch
(...and...A Thriller a Day on that adaptation)
The Mad Miss Manton

Stacia Kissick Jones: Manos, the Hands of Fate; The Night of the Generals; Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

Stephen Bowie: Sunday Showcase (1959 US tv): "What Makes Sammy Run?"

Stephen Gallagher: Stan Lee's Lucky Man

Danger Theater presents: "The Voice"

North by Northwest

TV Obscurities: The Tammy Grimes Show

Victoria Loomes: Louise Beavers

Vienna: North by Northwest (stage); Leslie Howard; Bad Day at Black Rock

Yvette Banek: La belle et la bete
Beauty and the Beast

Saturday, November 21, 2015

2 Fritz Leiber horror novels in online PDF reproductions of their "natural" habitats (CONJURE WIFE in UNKNOWN WORLDS, 1943; YOU'RE ALL ALONE in FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, 1950)

The links below take you to the highlighted titles as they have been scanned online from their original magazine appearances.


  • , pp. 9-78 - PDF

  • Novelette 

  • , pp. 105-132 - PDF

  • Readers' Departments 

  • , pp. 6-8 - PDF

  • Short Stories 

  • , pp. 79-93 - PDF
  • , pp. 94-102 - PDF

  • [+] Book Reviews (Anthony Boucher and Langley Searles)
     (2 Reviews) 
    , p. 103 - PDF

  • All Stories Complete 

  • , pp. 8-81 - PDF
  • , pp. 84-89 - PDF
  • , pp. 92-99 - PDF
  • , pp. 102-108 - PDF
  • , pp. 110-123 - PDF
  • , pp. 126-127 - PDF
  • , pp. 130-149 - PDF
  •  - PDF
    Illustrating a scene from "You're All Alone"

  • Three "bonus" issue covers (texts not obviously online that I could find...go find the hardcopies/books!):

    The third Leiber horror novel, in its original shorter form, later expanded for book publication as Our Lady of Darkness (and Edward Ferman might be the most underrated editor in the field's history, if his one-time assistant, later Fantastic and Heavy Metal editor Ted White, isn't):

    And another Jones cover...the Virgil Finlay interior illustrations were Much better--
    the Bloch story is an excellent zombie metafiction(!), adapted for television with moderate success (and a good cast save the star) in the early 1970s; the Sturgeon and Simak stories were good, and the McGivern, Sheldon and Phillips stories not too shabby, either...from the intermittently impressive Fantastic Adventures issues in the several years running up to the launch of Fantastic in 1952):