Four Horsemen of the What Now?

 As we round the corner of the first month and head into the second month of the Hammertales podcast, I thought that this would be a good time to talk about the reasons behind my selections of authors and stories. If you disagree, well hell, no one’s making you read this blog.

The first criteria for selection was very simple: what’s free? There are so, so many stories that I would love to read, but I don’t want to infringe on copyright restrictions. In Canada, the copyright period is date of author’s death plus fifty years. However, at the risk of cliché, I decided to take this limit as an opportunity to go back to some of my old favourites.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have loved, loved, the Sherlock Holmes stories for as long as I can remember, and a much lesser known work, The White Company, was one of my earliest and most favourite works of historical fiction (it covers an English military company in the Hundred Years War). Obviously I’m not alone in my love of Holmes – the interpretations and re-imaginings of the character continue. For the record, although I thoroughly enjoy the new BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch, for me, Jeremy Brett will always be the “real” Sherlock Holmes.

Unfortunately, based on the download numbers, poor old Holmes appears to be the least favourite, at least so far! Part of that may be the medium, part of that may be my reading…it may be that I haven’t figured out how to bring Holmes to life. I’m not giving up on him just yet.

H.P. Lovecraft

Based on preliminary download numbers, the runaway favourite. Oh, Howard, you weirdo. I don’t want to go into a full biography of this remarkably odd man – the internet has lots of information on the subject – but he continues to exercise a strange fascination on readers, despite the odds against his doing so. Hell, I enjoy his writing in spite of myself. Sometimes his constructions are so cumbersome, his foreshadowing so obvious…and then there is the issue of his race obsession. There is no getting away from it, Lovecraft was a huge racist. In fairness to him, most English-speaking writers were at that time, but this guy actually wrote a poem in 1912 called “On the Creation of N*ggers.” C’mon, now.

So should we throw him down the memory hole and burn him away? Well, you can guess my choice, since I read and record his stories. I am of the deeply unpopular school that suggests that we take people warts and all – nobody gets a free pass, and no one gets disqualified. Lovecraft’s imagination was a dark, feverish, and terrifying place, that produced monsters and images and concepts that have held a grip on the imagination of readers ever since. Interwoven with that was his fear and disgust with anything that was not White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, along with a fair amount of self-loathing. This whole psychological hellbrew makes him more interesting, if less laudable.

Edgar Allan Poe (Premium Podcast, on Patreon)

Moody bastard. Mind you, that’s what I love about Poe. I do not think you can find a more moody bastard in prose, although there are a few poets who could give him a run for his money. (Looking at you, Percy Shelley!) As someone who loves language and literature, some of his constructions are awe-inspiring and worthy of the same appreciation one might give a Gothic cathedral – so intricate, and sometimes so difficult and ornate just for the sake of being difficult and ornate. His character of M. Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is like a Sherlock Holmes with even less humanity and relatability. Which is an impressive act of sheer bloody-mindedness, in my opinion. But the mood Poe can evoke in a story like “The Fall of the House of Usher?” Wow. Unbelievable. The whole story is like a long and elaborate glamour cast upon the reader, from which you emerge slowly, blinking, and return to the world with a sense of unease. Now that’s a gift.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (Premium Podcast, on Patreon)

The only pulp fiction writer I have used so far, with no discredit to that title – I think that pulp fiction is cool, and I grew up reading Burroughs’ Tarzan series. Even though Tarzan is Burroughs’ most famous and iconic character, I wanted to go with a different series, so the first novel that I have broken up into nine parts (two per week) is A Princess of Mars, the debut novel of Burroughs’ Barsoom series, featuring the redoubtable John Carter.

In the Barsoom novels, Burroughs creates a fantastic Martian world, populated by Tharks, Warhoons, thoats, zitidars, white apes, red humans, and thoroughly unlikely science from an age of wonder. His incredible flights of fancy then crash to the ground with some of the most wooden dialogue that I have ever encountered outside of the Twilight series. (Yes, I read the first one.) The juxtaposition is simply awesome, and for me, repays the time spent reading the stories all by itself.

So there we have them, the first four authors I have selected for my podcast. If you have any suggestions for other authors or titles that you would like to hear, please let me know! If you have criticisms or points regarding these authors that you would like me to consider, I will be interested to read them and perhaps open a discussion. But I’m not really interested in fights, arguments, rants or screeds. You can have the rest of the internet for that. Honi soit qui mal y pense.


Author: hammertales

Honi soit qui mal y pense.

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