Doing the voice and monologue of Zadok Allen is the most fun I’ve had so far in podcasting. I hope that you enjoy it!
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.
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.
Unlocked from the Premium Feed. This might be my absolute favourite Lovecraft, topping even “The Call of Cthulhu.” Innsmouth is such a magnificently dreary place, and all of Lovecraft’s eugenic obsessions leak into his storytelling. Although people tend to look to Poe for American Gothic, it is their loss to ignore this degenerate New England town. Sooner or later, we are all meant for the sea.
My favourite Sherlock Holmes story from my childhood. Truly villainous villains and heroic heroes. Enjoy!
After “The Call of Cthulhu,” possibly Lovecraft’s most famous short story. Just don’t ask me what he calls the cat in the original story. Oh, Howard.
Ah, Lovecraft…what an odd, haunted, race-obsessed fellow he was. And yet he continues to fascinate readers. This story features the debut of Cthulhu, in all his tentacled glory. Enjoy!
Bear with me, dear listeners, as I work to use Blubrry hosting services for my free podcast. I have chosen one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” May we always remember Irene Adler!
“Called or not called, the god will be there.” So Carl Jung observed, and indeed had carved above the entrance to his house, although of course he did it in Latin where it looks and sounds even cooler. I don’t claim to be an expert in matters Jungian, so the best I can do is to explain what I have taken away from his writings, and how I have applied them to my spiritual life.
Carl Jung believed that the gods – these archetypal figures – lie within the human unconscious, perhaps rising up from the even deeper waters of the collective unconscious, a kind of deep group mind, even group experience and history, that humans share. For myself, I know that the figures of these archetypal gods do exist in my subconscious, and I suspect the existence of the collective unconscious, based on no more than my instincts and my (admittedly biased) experience.
What can I tell you? This view is not for everyone, but that’s fine. An old therapist used to joke that I was “a poster boy for Jungian dream interpretation,” and my goodness, is it true. My dreaming life proceeds along the geography of a thoroughly, vividly Jungian landscape. Even as I proceeded to think along these lines, I knew – intuitively, in that way that does not demand evidence – that the path of my journey of faith went inside my own head, and hopefully into those deeper, divine waters, the place where pantheism and the collective unconscious met.
I closed my eyes, and Odin was there. Called or not.
Well, there was no way I was going to be content with spiritual but not religious. I had been silently judging those people for years! Too vague, too soft, too lazy. There was no way I was going to allow things to stay in such a state. Time to step up my game, and move from theory to practice.
I knew that what I believed was very close to Hegelian pantheism, but I needed something beyond a theoretical structure. There was so much about First Nations spirituality that I found incredibly attractive, but it wasn’t my tradition and I didn’t want to be the guy who was one turquoise bolo tie from being a white New Mexican commune dweller.
So: pantheist, indigenous tradition appropriate for a white guy of European descent…fair enough. That left with me a couple of choices: pagan or heathen. If you don’t know the difference between the two, it means you’re cooler than me. Sigh. Or, I could put it like this: what paganism and heathenism share is that they are both “reconstructed” religions. They existed prior to the introduction of Christianity, which effectively wiped them out. The rise of Romanticism in the 19th century, with its emphasis on resurgent nationalism, saw the beginning of a renewed interest in traditional European, pre-Christian religions. These movements were given a huge infusion of energy with the rise of the counterculture and new age movements of the 1960s and 70s.
Paganism was largely a creation of British environmentalists and Celtic revivalists. Heathenism was an artifact of German and Scandinavian nationalism, which crashed messily into the Nazi movement before starting to untangle itself.
It’s heathenism that spoke to me. Bear with me, I promise I’m not a Nazi.
This is probably a good point for me to acknowledge the huge role that the fiction of Terry Pratchett has played in shaping my views about the world. For those who aren’t familiar, most of Pratchett’s novels center around his fantasy setting of the Discworld – a magical, late medieval/early renaissance setting in which the fantastic is everyday yet the characters are remarkably similar to us. I followed his works from the beginning, and watched them develop from a sort of fantasy parody to books that were penetrating skewers of human nature that were humanized by their warmth and sympathy. I know a lot of people who don’t like them, and still more who have never read them, but for me, they occupy a place at the center of both my morality and my world view.
In Pratchett’s universe, the gods exist, but they are jealous and petty and rather given to sending short, sharp, and quite electric messages to people who question their existence. They are to be acknowledged – if you don’t want to end up as a pair of smoking boots – but they are certainly nothing to be revered. They may operate on a higher scale of power, and possibly even knowledge, but in terms of their psychological makeup they are rather disappointingly just like us.
However, that’s not all there is. What matters far more than the gods is…well…everything. which is not the same thing as putting your faith in humanity. Ha! Pratchett would be the first to tell you that you’ll get your wallet nicked before you can even finish the sentence. But, nevertheless, that it is possible to live your life as if everything is a miracle. That putting your faith in anything might be sort of a fool’s errand, but that paradoxically enough it is still possible to live faithfully.
And so it was that the works of someone widely considered to be an atheist brought me out of atheism. It simply wasn’t good enough. There is something divine, something miraculous, about the world, about the universe, and there must be a way of living that could bring me closer in harmony with this.
Oh, NO! Was I spiritual but not religious?!?