Early September Wrap-Up

So, I’d like to get to a more regular blogging schedule. We’ll see if that holds.

  • NecronomiCon was great, as always. I had two enjoyable panels, one on Delta Green, and the other on horror in games, featuring Sandy Peterson (creator of Call of Cthulhu), Ken Hite (creator of Trail of Cthulhu), Shane Ivey (author of the Delta Green RPG), and a couple of other up and coming creators.

 

 

  • My work continues on The Book of Three Wizards. I’m double-checking the text and creating transcripts of the various diagrams for James. We hit a slow portion, due to the first author’s decision to incorporate some incredibly complex astrological charts, the import of which we’re still debating. There were over nine thousand separate elements I had to check for accuracy, but that’s past.

 

  • Did you know that Golden Hoard is releasing Daniel Clark and Stephen Skinner’s Ars Notoria soon?

 

 

  • Pam Grossman and William Kiesel of Ouroboros Press are presenting a seminar on “Collecting Grimoires, Spell Books, and Witchcraft Tomes” at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair this Saturday at 2 PM.

 

More to come soon, I hope!

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Published in: on September 3, 2019 at 3:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Swedish Black Books and NecronomiCon Appearances

This announcement from Revelore Press appeared this morning:

Svartkonstböker: A Compendium of the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition

by Dr Tom K Johnson
Folk Necromancy in Transmission Volume 4

ISBN: 978-1-947544-22-2; Sept 2019; ~650pp.

Svartkonstböker is a fully revised edition of Dr Johnson’s 2010 PhD Thesis Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition, featuring a thorough, path-breaking study of the black arts book tradition in Sweden, as well as English translations of 35 Swedish black art books ranging from the 1690s to the 1940s, including over 1900 spells and a robust index.

The late Dr Johnson always wished that his work would see print publication in its entirety. Other publishers have offered to produce this work in two volumes, prioritizing the spells in the black art books over the scholarly apparatus that contextualizes them. Here Revelore presents the work in full, comprising over 650 pages of material. Minor errors from the PhD manuscript have been rectified, and archival images of the characters, sigils, and illustrations have been restored in high fidelity. This is the definitive source work for the Swedish magical corpus of black art books.

If this fulfills this mandate – and it should – it will be amazing. Both paperback and collector’s editions will be available. The paperback is priced at $50, but 650 pages makes it well worth it.

I will also be returning to NecronomiCon this year, and I’ll be on two panels. One is Delta Green based, Sunday at 9 AM. The other is a panel I’m moderating “On Gaming the Weird,” with Sandy Petersen, Kenneth Hite, Fiona Maeve Geist, Shane Ivey, and Badger McInnes. You can see the full schedule here.

Published in: on August 5, 2019 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  

On the World Fantasy Awards and HPL

I wasn’t even going to write about the controversy about the World Fantasy Award no longer being represented by a Lovecraft bust, but I seem to keep doing it anyway on Facebook.  I might as well do it properly.

Lovecraft was a racist.  You can argue that other authors were racist (and they often were).  You can argue that Lovecraft was reflecting the attitudes of many people of his time (and you’d be right, despite how enlightened we think the past was – check out this Gallup poll on interracial marriage).  You can argue that attitudes change, and that modern perspectives may one day be considered offensive (quite right).  You can argue that most of his work isn’t that racist (you can certainly make a case for it).  And after you argue all this, guess what?  Lovecraft was still a racist.

As more people encounter Lovecraft’s writing, they also encounter his racism.  I think there are three responses to it.  The first is, “He was racist?  Great!”  We can and should ignore those people.  The second is, “Even though Lovecraft is racist, I think there’s enough here to make him worth reading, or even inspiring my own creations.”  The third is, “Lovecraft is racist, and I’d rather not have anything to do with him.”

Now, I clearly fall into the second category, but I get the third.  Life is short, and if you want to not read an author due to their political views, I can’t really tell you not to.  I can say that it’s not the criteria I hope you’d use, but I once stopped reading a book because it used the phrase “Abramelin yoga,” so I can understand not wanting to participate in some activity due to a visceral response to one issue or another.  And I don’t mind you trying to convince other people not to read that author.  It’s only when the option of doing so is taken away that we have a serious situation.

So, people in the third category, including winners of the World Fantasy Award, expressed their concern – and outrage, in some cases – that they were being awarded for their writing in the shape of the head of a guy whose views are highly distasteful at this time.  They certainly had a right to do so.  The committee no doubt balanced the idea that this was an award for writers against the fact that it was an award in the shape of some guy’s head, and decided in favor of making an award any writer would be proud to get.   They also had a right to do so.

Now we have people in the Lovecraft community who are incensed that this change was made.  They also have a right to make their voices known, to protest, and to spend their money as they see fit, but…

There’s one aspect of my life I don’t speak about on this blog:  my involvement in what people might call “social justice” issues, and what I call “trying to make the lives of the people around me better.”  This picked up a few years ago, and I’ve been involved in educating others, trying to help people with problems, participating in protests, and just listening to the stories of others.

I’ve found that there’s a disjunction between this activity and the various fandom controversies that we’ve been seeing lately.   As I’ve said, we can debate issues such as the WFA award, and advocate, and spend our money and time as we see fit… but damned if it doesn’t make us look entitled sometimes.

There is no fundamental right for someone to have an award shaped like his or her head.  There is no fundamental right to be allowed to speak in a particular place, or to have a particular store sell your product, or to have a library purchase your book, or to have a piece of art appear in the Louvre.  You may be given a particular venue, or you may not.  People may have all sorts of reasons for making that choice, and they may change their minds.  As long as you still have venues open – and today, they exist in abundance – everything is working as it should.

Thus, this decision is not “censorship.”  Censorship is the suppression of a creative work, not a decision to not use a particular creative work in a particular way.  Using it in this sense trivializes the work of many writers who have indeed seen their works destroyed or kept from the public, and who have even endured imprisonment or death for seeking to share their ideas.

No one is being made to pack up their Awards and mail them back.  You can still view pictures of them online.  I’m sure that one consequence of this decision will be attempts to actually market the sculpture in question to people.  And I’m just talking about the Gahan Wilson sculpture – not the works of Lovecraft, which can be found in many different formats and in many different languages and adaptations across the globe.  Lovecraft’s popularity has escalated over the years, and even if that is temporary, he is in no danger of being censored.  In fact, this whole controversy is based on the fact that HPL wasn’t censored, and that people can find even the minor and occasionally highly offensive verse he wrote.

I know there’s people talking about decisions being “p. c.” or being made by “SJWs,” and I think we should prize free expression over imposing or silencing particular views.  Nonetheless, I also see some of the same people insisting that the award should have simply been turned down by those who didn’t agree with HPL’s depiction.  As I’ve said, it’s a writing award, people.  Stating that a decision was made for ideological purity doesn’t mean you also can demand ideological purity from others.

I’ve also heard complaints that this change is an insult to Lovecraft fans, and that it tars all of them with the brush of racism.  To help understand why this itself is a problem, I’ll insert a quick comparison:

Problems for people of color:  Enduring centuries of slavery, violence, injustice, segregation, and discrimination.

Problems for Lovecraft fans:  Being denied award sculpture in shape of author’s head.  Some people might think they’re racist.   Bad movies.

Do these arguments make people want to read Lovecraft, or interact with their fans?  Certainly people can advocate on behalf of a Lovecraft-shaped award, but portraying fans as victims in this situation is going to play very badly.  It doesn’t make us look racist, but it sure as hell comes across as insensitive and trivial.

Let me end on this note:  If what makes you hopping mad, or compels you to write angry letters to all sorts of people, is anything having to do with a writing award, you need to seriously rethink your priorities.  There’s a number of ways to do that, one of which might be to put aside Lovecraft and read something along the lines of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for a little while.  After that, maybe we can start more of a dialogue about how we read and discuss Lovecraft and other authors who might not always have been the people we wish they were.

UPDATE:  … and in the morning, it looks even less relevant.  My deep sympathies to the people of Paris.

Published in: on November 13, 2015 at 5:37 pm  Comments (3)  

What’s Going On

I’ve got a few posts in the works, but I also wanted to talk about what’s going on at this end.

Right now, I’m doing some intensive work on Frederick Hockley’s associate George Graham (1784-1867), in preparation for a book that’s a few years down the road at least.  Graham is probably the best-known of the people in Hockley’s circle, but that’s because he and his wife were amateur balloonists who made a career out of flying up into the air and having disastrous adventures.

I’d love to see more evidence for Graham as an alchemist or astrologer or ritual magician – there’s a bit out there, such as his ownership for a short time of the Book of Oberon.  Still, there’s scads more on him as an aeronaut, especially newspaper stories from the Times of London and other sources.   It’s quite compelling, although it is quite distracting from blogging, answering comments and emails, etc.

I also did a small local workshop on witch bottles, based upon my upcoming article on the topic in my publication of Liverpool cunning man William Dawson Bellhouse’s manual.  While prepping, I found a good number of other articles that I’d have loved to have found about two years ago.  I’m documenting them and writing them up for my compendia of notes that I keep for a large number of published projects, in case I ever decide to return and expand them.

I haven’t written much for Call of Cthulhu lately, although I’ve got a good amount of material still waiting to come out.  I can give a few reasons for this:

1)  My reluctance to continue to engage what has become a Kickstarter-obsessed culture among gamers and companies.  KS can give those who work with established companies or names great opportunities to finance projects.  Nonetheless, it also trades excitement and drama for predictable results, and it makes it more difficult to publish small-scale material that isn’t a huge spectacular campaign.

2)  My ambivalence about 7th edition.  This is a shame, because there are many aspects of the new game that I like.  Most of it comes down to my seething hatred of the new stat block.  From what I’ve read, this was adopted simply to allow easier comparisons between stats and skills – in short, situations that very rarely rear their heads in any game that I’ve run or scenario that I’ve read.  And I’ve read most of the non-monograph output from the game’s creation until very recently.

Some will say, “All you have to do is multiply the old numbers by five!”  There’s a lot of people who can’t do math in their head, and that creates a barrier to people using the older books.  That’s especially true as it creates situations where some numbers have to be multiplied by five and then divided by five.   I can do that, but I still find it annoying.

Also, it makes life more difficult for me and other authors.  Huge amounts of material, written by me and other people who have genuine love for the game, is now going to need to go through a great deal of work before it can ever be published so that someone can occasionally compare – what?  Strength and Martial Arts?  Spot Hidden and Dexterity?

It’s also problematic for editors.  I spent five minutes a few months ago trying to figure out the implications of an item that added 10 POW to a character’s stats.  Once I recognized that this would be 2 POW in the old system, things clicked into place, but I was bothered that I actually had to figure it out.

On top of all of this, there’s a reluctance to put in the time and effort to master a 400+ page system in all of its intricacies.  For players and Keepers, that’s not so bad, because you can just keep the parts you want and ignore the rest.  When you’re writing for the game, you don’t have that option.  I’ll probably do it eventually, but I won’t be happy about it.

3)  A general malaise regarding the Mythos and its use.  Example:  I picked up a recent product (which shall remain nameless), and I immediately encountered one of those cults that’s apparently been playing cards in a back room somewhere while languages changed, empires fell, and major faiths arose, doing nothing but awaiting the day when someone could steal an artifact and they could come forth to slay infidels in a white-hot rage.

After so many excellent scenarios with plausible, well-written villains, some authors still see cultists as simply being fanatical murderers.  It’s even sadder when you realize that these writers are only getting away with this because those cultists are people of color from Third World countries.  No one would believe that crowds of people from Islington or Sheboygan would run headlong at gun-toting investigators while waving knives, but plenty of readers accept it if those people are from Africa or India.   Those are the parts of Lovecraft’s legacy that we’re supposed to be ashamed of, remember?

I’m also feeling less of a desire to be a consultant on Mythos projects.  Keeping up with the gaming material alone is hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours each year, let alone fiction.  When you’re got enthusiasm, it’s fine, but it starts to become a chore otherwise.   After comparing that with the amount I usually get offered for consulting ($0), I’ve concluded that it’s much more fun reading newspaper articles about 19th century balloonists and writing something I hope to be paid for.

(Edit:  to be fair, I don’t ask for a fee for doing such work, but I also think a fair fee would be hardly enough to purchase any CoC materials.  I’d rather do something I really want to do at this stage.)

4)  The overall feeling that I want to be doing something different.   Don’t ask me what that means.  I just know I want to write creatively on topics other than the Mythos, but that relies on that blend of folklore and history and otherworldliness that Lovecraft carried off so well.  I’ve been exploring the genre of folk horror, and I’m finding much that appeals to me there, although at its worst it tends to recreate patterns similar to those I just discussed regarding marginalized peoples.

Wow.  I feel better now.

I hope you’re all having a great day.  If you have any opinions on the above, please leave them in the comments.

 

 

Published in: on August 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm  Comments (9)  

The Esoteric Book Conference 2015 and NecronomiCon

I will, at long last, be attending the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle.  This year, it will be held on September 26 and 27, 2015.  I’ll be signing and speaking about The Book of Oberon in particular, but if you want to dip into The Long-Lost Friend as well, that’s fine by me.  There’s also a lot of great writers and artists on the docket for it.

Also, to set to rest some conflicting information, I will not be at NecronomiCon due to a family commitment.  Mom says that she’ll cut me out of the will if I don’t go.  (She doesn’t mean it, but she thought saying it would convince people to stop bugging me about NecronomiCon.)   Mom’s great.  Anyway, NecronomiCon was great fun last time, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s on the fence about going.

Published in: on May 23, 2015 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Books Forthcoming and Just Arrived

I’ve been working slowly on my review of Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic by Stephen Skinner, a book dealing in some detail with the Greek and Demotic magical papyri.  I’m over half done, and I’m quite positively impressed with it, and I should have a review up soon.

Hippocampus Press is advertising The Variorum Lovecraft, a three-volume set of Lovecraft’s stories with all of the variant texts noted therein.  I’m on the fence about purchasing it myself; after all, I own all of Lovecraft’s fiction at least three times over scattered about my shelves.  Nonetheless, others might be interested therein, or in commenter Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Also, I just saw that Rankine and Barron’s edition of The Complete Grimoire of Pope Honorius is now available on Kindle for the price of a Simon Necronomicon.  (Yes, I’m linking to Amazon.  I’m trying not to link to them when I don’t have to, but they’re far too convenient for many readers, not to mention me.)

Avalonia, which was responsible for that book, has placed the following announcement on their “forthcoming” page:

THE BOOK OF SPIRITS (Le Livre des Esperitz) by David Rankine & Paul Harry Barron. This 16th century French work introduces many demons for the first known time and is seen to be an earlier root to the spirits of the Goetia. More information soon

If you’d like to read the original medieval French text, it’s appended to the end of this article discussing the list.  Nonetheless, this work should have additional commentary on the topic which will make it a welcome addition.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 7:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Upcoming Radio Appearance

I’ll be appearing on the show “Where Did the Road Go?” this coming Saturday the 9th from 11-12 on WVBR, 93.5 out of Ithaca, New York.    I’ll be talking about Lovecraft, and likely whatever else people might ask.  You can listen online if you’re not local to Ithaca, so check it out.

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm  Comments (1)  

An Open Letter to Dan O’Brien

Dear Mr. O’Brien,

I have recently been informed about your DMCA takedown notice against the Prospero’s Price Kickstarter on the grounds that it infringes your right to market a book bringing together “The Tempest” and H. P. Lovecraft.  It is time to alert you to a serious breach of intellectual property.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a graphic novel series by the acclaimed author Alan Moore.  I could mention the number of Google hits, the coverage in prominent magazines, the reviews on Goodreads, and the movie adaptation in 2003 that featured Tom Sawyer so that U. S. audiences might be convinced to watch it (unsuccessfully), but really, you have a computer.

Beginning in Volume 2 (published 2002-3), Alan Moore incorporated a number of characters from “The Tempest” and Lovecraft into his series, and he continues to do so.   Out of all the thousands of characters, stories, and plays available from your sources, it can be no coincidence that you have picked characters from Mr. Moore’s work such as Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, Cthulhu, and the Deep Ones.   You must agree that the latter is especially damning, given the lack of fiction written about Cthulhu or the Deep Ones.

Having brought this to your attention, I have no doubt that you will remove your book from circulation in accord with international copyright law.

Sincerely,

Daniel Harms

P. S.  I do have to thank you for bringing this to my attention.  I am preparing for publication a book from 1580 featuring Oberion, King of the Fairies.  Upon researching your case, it has come to my attention that this “Shakespeare” character later published a play that incorporates one Oberon as King of the Fairies.  Rest assured that I will not rest until this scoundrel is forced to remove all of his infringing work from the Internet.

Published in: on March 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Double Kickstarters

Somehow I’ve managed to get myself entangled in not one but two Kickstarters at once.  Both have already reached the initial funding goal, so if you jump on board, you’ll be getting something neat and adding to everyone else’s neat stuff.

First, the Call of Cthulhu book Tales from the Crescent City features my adventure “Needles,” in which your investigators take on a New Orleans legend and uncover the terrifying truth behind them.  At the Algiers level, you’ll get that scenario, plus another five by some great authors, including a rewritten version of Kevin Ross’ classic “Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?” and his all-new sequel, in both print and PDF.  Tales also has  a New Orleans neighborhood guide written by locals, a two-page Roaring Twenties map of the city,  and a writeup of HPL’s mystic Etienne-Laurent de Marigny, in both print and PDF.  The next stretch goal is the book’s seventh scenario.

On top of that, you’ll get a Mythos scenario in PDF format, another four scenarios based upon New Orleans folklore (and more with more stretch goals) in PDF, and a set of Mardi Gras beads.  I told Oscar Rios of Golden Goblin Press to charge you more than $35 for all this, but he didn’t listen.

Second is the fiction anthology Delta Green:  Tales from Failed Anatomies, a collection of stories of paranormal investigation and creeping horror by Dennis Detwiller.   More stories are being written as stretch goals by Kenneth Hite, Adam Scott Glancy, Cody Goodfellow, and Greg Stolze.  When the campaign reaches $10,000 (it’s at $8700 right now), I’ll write a Delta Green short story called “Dark,” set during the NYC blackout of 1977.   Maybe I’ll weave in something else that was going on in the Big Apple at that time.

For $15, you’ll get the e-book, plus all of the stretch goal stories, plus a coupon to buy a paperback of Detwiller’s book for about $10 or hardback for $25, plus a coupon to buy my story and the others in a book for another $10 if we reach enough goals to fill it.  (They’re giving out the coupons for purchase later in order to speed up delivery.)  For another $15, you can be an alpha tester for the new Delta Green RPG as well.

In either case, you’re getting a lot of quality material for not too much from companies with good track records.  Donate a little so you can read something great.

Published in: on February 15, 2014 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

Short Story Publication, London Book Talk, and Starwood Appearance

My first piece of fiction to be published is now out in the anthology Shotguns vs. Cthulhu, along with works by Nick Mamatas, Dennis Detwiller, and Kenneth Hite.

On Friday, May 17, I’ll be at Treadwell’s Bookstore in London for a talk on the curious aspects of the Folger manuscript.  We’ll be talking about fairies, gods, demons, and the death of Christopher Marlowe.  Seats are reserved, so make sure to contact them in advance.
Finally, I’ll be at the Starwood Festival in Ohio from July 9-15, giving talks on Lovecraft and The Long-Lost Friend.

I’m happy to sign books and be available t talk at either of these events.

Published in: on April 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment