Author Topic: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian  (Read 9572 times)

ElectricPaladin

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #20 on: July 24, 2013, 11:19:44 AM »
You have perfectly captured HALF of Michel Houellebecq's brilliant essay "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life"... 

...but only the first half - and Houellebecq doesn't deal in "might have been's"

I want to read this essay. Google-Fu, don't fail me now...
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EckInBlack

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #21 on: July 25, 2013, 09:36:26 AM »
I rarely pop into the forums but man-love for Conan stories has brought me back again.........horses for courses and I know some people don't like these but me and my strong right sword-arm love them, keep them coming please.....

Devoted135

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #22 on: July 25, 2013, 09:59:15 PM »
This thread has been a fascinating read! For my part, I enjoyed this Conan story much more than the last one. I also really appreciate that the Pods run classic stories every once in a while. I'd rather hear and discuss the stories that make genre fiction's "roots" than remain ignorant (and boy am I woefully ignorant in this regard).  So, thank you PodCastle staff!


2) In a weird way, the Conan stories really are the pre-history of Lovecraft's mythos. The strange and primordial creatures from beyond space and time that can never be permanently defeated, only temporarily repelled. Civilization as a thin veneer, a pleasant lie that preserves us from sanity-blasting realities. Of course, Conan deals with these things very differently from a Lovecraft protagonist. Where Lovecraft's heroes tend to shriek and faint and go mad, Conan just punches Cthulhu in the face.

I heart this paragraph so much! Can someone please write some fanfic that involves Conan punching Cthulhu in the face? Do Cthulhu even have faces?

kibitzer

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #23 on: July 25, 2013, 10:01:53 PM »
I heart this paragraph so much! Can someone please write some fanfic that involves Conan punching Cthulhu in the face? Do Cthulhu even have faces?

Sure he does!


Devoted135

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #24 on: July 25, 2013, 10:43:36 PM »
I heart this paragraph so much! Can someone please write some fanfic that involves Conan punching Cthulhu in the face? Do Cthulhu even have faces?

Sure he does!



Ha! That's awesome! :)

ElectricPaladin

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #25 on: July 26, 2013, 03:40:42 PM »
I heart this paragraph so much! Can someone please write some fanfic that involves Conan punching Cthulhu in the face? Do Cthulhu even have faces?

Sure he does!



This is exactly the kind of Cthulhu that Conan would love to punch in the face. Smarmy bastard...
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Sgarre1

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #26 on: July 26, 2013, 04:15:03 PM »
I always preferred Matt Howarth's Cthulhu myself...


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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #27 on: July 26, 2013, 08:09:09 PM »
Damn do I miss Savage Henry and Those Annoying Post Brothers.

Scott R

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #28 on: July 29, 2013, 11:48:38 AM »
I surprised myself by enjoying this, even with all the purple prose. (Though I was not fond of the ending.)

I haven't read much Conan. I'm afraid my exposure is pretty much limited to the Schwartzenegger films from the 80s. I was kind of gratified to find Conan, the Literary Barbarian, to be very different from the cinematic one.

LaShawn

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #29 on: September 26, 2013, 10:33:25 AM »
Have to agree that I liked this Conan story better than the first one ran. I never knew Conan was a king. Could definitely see the Lovecraftian influences in it.
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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #30 on: October 14, 2013, 09:30:16 AM »
Catching up on Podcastle, resurrect this thread to inform you all that, while I'm not a huge Conan fan, this is now my favorite Conan story. Loved it.

And a quick correction to ElectricPaladin, Howard killed himself the day before his mother died, although she was in a coma and very near death.

Fenrix

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #31 on: January 09, 2014, 12:26:06 AM »
Conan stories are awesome. Thanks for making this happen, y'all.

I suspect there were a couple digs at his regular correspondents, Smith and Lovecraft. In the story they were aimed at poets, but would paint his friends nicely, particularly Clark Ashton Smith.  "No good can come of poets."

"Poets always hate those in power." works quite nicely with Smith and his nihilist political viewpoints. My favorite eloquent rant of his: “in the days when the world begins to bleach and shrivel, and the sun is blotched with death. Socialist and Individualist, they'll all be a little dirt lodged deep in the granite wrinkles of the globe's countenance.”


Lovecraft? He was definitely a bigot. I'm willing to forgive him a little because he was also magnificently neurotic. He was afraid of dark skinned people, sure, but the man was also afraid of crowds, cities, and shrimp. In the context of being a terrified and anxious little man who's scared of everything, a little racially-themed fear seems more like part of the package. I'm also willing to forgive him more because he's dead. It's a lot easier to enjoy someone's work, despite the uncomfortable parts, when that person isn't around dropping stink bombs into social media. Seriously - the best thing Card could do for his legacy is drop dead so we can all enjoy Ender's Game without having to remember the last douchey thing to fall out of his mouth.


I promised myself that I wouldn't roll around in the racism dustbath, but dammit, it annoys me when people (multiple people in his thread and others all across the internet whenever Lovecraft's name is brought up) attribute a single viewpoint, a toggle switch, a black-and-white judgement. Like all Irishmen are drunk and/or cops (look at how prevalent that stereotype is in fiction of this same time period). It's really easy to paint individuals and groups as unchanging, static, and a exhibiting a limited pack of attributes always.

For a portion of his life, Lovecraft held racist viewpoints. He was raised in a sheltered environment filled with racist viewpoints. This spiked during his time in New York City, which he loathed. However, after moving back to Providence he mellowed out a lot, and as he aged his views were a lot more temperate. Take the "Shadow Over Innsmouth" which at its core is all about the fear of the Other, but ends with the protagonist learning that he is also part of that Other, and comes to grips with it. He's so cool with being Other that he springs his Other cousin from a loony bin and they head off to swim in the ocean together with the rest of the Other.

"I shall plan my cousin's escape from that Canton mad-house, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y'ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever."

Hitting Lovecraft with the charge of "more racist than other people of the time" or "wildly out of the mainstream" is also bogus. I've recently read a story mentioned in Supernatural Horror in Literature that was published in Cosmopolitan magazine while Lovecraft lived in New York. The entire second of three acts is a two person discussion about blacks as lesser creatures that boils down to an argument as to whether blacks are bad or whether they are terrible. And someone was paid a good chunk of money for this story. By an editor. Who then published it in Cosmopolitan.

40 years before Lovecraft lived in New York and 5 years before he was born, it was cool for white union organizers to kill Chinese laborers because they were taking jobs away from decent hardworking folks. No one was convicted. "We have diligently inquired into the occurrence at Rock Springs.... [T]hough we have examined a large number of witnesses, no one has been able to testify to a single criminal act committed by any known white person that day." 45 years before right now MLK was assassinated. Society moves slowly, and people are terrible to each other.
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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #32 on: January 09, 2014, 02:33:09 AM »
I don't think you're supposed to empathize with the protagonist of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."  I mean, you certainly can, just like you can read "The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars" and be "Yeah kickass tomboy, you go girl!"  But that's probably not what they were aimed at or how their contemporary readers would have taken them.

More to the point "He got slightly less racist and might eventually have become not very racist at all if he hadn't died young" isn't much of a defense, any more than "Well, other people were amazing assholes, too."  And even more so, criminy, stop trying to defend him.  He was racist, and it's beside the point.  He still wrote amazing stories and had a lot of interesting ideas.  He can be both.  Just because we like his writing doesn't mean we have to impute him with our views. 
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Fenrix

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #33 on: January 09, 2014, 08:27:08 AM »

I don't think you're supposed to empathize with the protagonist of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." 


In general or just the closing portion of the story? I would love to hear your feelings on the second, but I can't agree on the first. The protagonist is a pretty destitute guy traveling New England and wanders into a dark place due to decisions on bus fare based entirely on price. He's the antiquarian explorer common to Lovecraft and M. R. James and so many others. But more Lovecraft than James since he's broke.


He was racist, and it's beside the point.  He still wrote amazing stories and had a lot of interesting ideas.  He can be both.  Just because we like his writing doesn't mean we have to impute him with our views. 


I agree we should see it as a whole, and not feel the need to either demonize writers of an earlier time in order to mitigate our modern guilt at enjoying their stories.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 08:37:20 AM by Fenrix »
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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #34 on: January 09, 2014, 11:02:26 AM »
The end of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" reads to me very much like the traditional horror story ending in which the protagonist succumbs and becomes the monster.  All of the language and the pacing suggests to me that we're supposed to read it with dawning horror and realization that the narrator is, in fact, one of them, and that far from being destroyed, they are surviving, even thriving in their deep places, one day to emerge onto land again.  I much prefer the reading of, "Hey, fish-people aren't that bad.  Just different," but I can't see that as the originally intended reading, even if I squint really hard.  The whole structure of the tale would be different if that were the case. 

I could probably think of better examples, but in Charles Stross' "The Jennifer Morgue," the fish-person character, blatantly meant to be one of Lovecraft's Deep Ones, is initially presented as terrifyingly other and creepy, and by the end we have a more complete and complex view of her as a person.  Still not entirely good, but not Other either.  Yes, it's a novel, but still, the arc for such things requires different pacing to work properly.  Lovecraft goes, "And he was actually A FISH PERSON ALL ALONG DUN DUN DUNNN" and then ends, which is what you do when you want the shocking revelation to be your story's climax, which in turn is more in line with horror than understanding as a central purpose.  Compare the ending of any number of standard-issue zombie stories where a main character turns undead at the end with something like, I don't know, "Fido."  Stories about bringing the Other into the In-Group don't tend to end with the shocking revelation of its Otherness. 

(And also, given that Lovecraft also wrote stories like "Arthur Jermyn," wherein the tainted blood of the racially impure results in horrific consequences, that seems like a much more likely frame for the narrator's lapse into fishpersonhood.  Yes, the narrator is apparently pleased with it, but that's because he's been tainted, which is the whole point.)
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Sgarre1

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #35 on: January 09, 2014, 01:33:41 PM »
That Lovecraft wrote "Innsmouth" as a horror story in which the final twist is that the narrator is one of the monsters is undeniable.  But that last sentence or two does seem calculated to unnerve readers who pay more attention OR was an uncalculated upwelling from Lovecraft's unconscious that reconfigures his feelings on miscegenation.  If intended, he probably didn't intend it it to be read as wholly transformative of the readers' view of the Deep Ones so much as another, deeper level of disturbing - the realization that just about anyone out there who isn't extremely wealthy or from a Mayflower family really has NO IDEA what lurks in their past - which thus undermines his own miscegenationist views - and that these worlds and people we condemn just *might* not be so bad after all (or at least, have their up sides).

I view those last lines (not specifically the Innsmouthian "reveal", which I've said is just part of the mechanics of a horror story, although well-deployed for the time) as a wondrous darkly shining light in Lovecraft, a crack in the text through which a whole other world of oddness (perhaps, in some sense, the future) can be seen and which leaks through for only a second -a real and important kicking up of "cosmic horror" in which it might be viewed as eventually becoming something else.  Was Lovecraft himself aware of this or merely "inspired" - who can say?  Not me.

Arguments that X writer was 'racist/fill in the blank with oppression' and thus their work is dismissible" are as easy to ignore as X writer "wasn't really 'racist/oppressor of the moment' and thus their work is totally laudable" - but while such reductions are easily thrown around in genre circles I don't see anyone here really doing that.  "Arthur Jermyn" was an extremely early in Lovecraft's career and we can easily see "Innsmouth" as an attempt by him to contend/wrestle with these issues of his work in his own later work.  One can argue that he made changes in his personal life and statements late in life but another can always counter that his works are frozen in time and thus perfect examples of the perniciousness of racism when used in art to amplify attitudes into the present and future that should have died over time - but that opens up a pretty big box of worms as to Art and the Artist and their commitments to Truth and themselves (not to mention the intellectual responsibility of modern readers that Art creates, as depressed as we may feel about the reality of the random/general reader's intellect)

The cannier "Lovecraft Was A Racist" critiquer can usually fall back on the "he wasn't just as racist as his time, he argued theories for his racism and so it wasn't just knee-jerk ignorance" and that's a pretty good stance to take - if one ignores the fact that people of Lovecraft's erudition and social class would have generally subscribed to these pseudoscientific theories of the time as ameliorations of their own ignorant feelings - it's still wide-spread ignorance, just ignorance of the edjumacated classes as opposed to the knee-jerkedness of the un-educated.  Many famous writers of the 1800s argued the side of slavery but they're not seen as racists because they didn't include such arguments in their works because their works didn't touch on these issues - Lovecraft's most decidedly did because, being a horror writer, he was interested in what was wrong in the world and what bothered him and why - and he honestly engaged with these topics with his knowledge and persona of his historical period (and we should ask no less of writers).  A counter to *this* would be a simplistic reduction of "so then nobody was actually racist?" (which might also be voiced as "so I don't get to call anyone/look down on anyone/dismiss anyone as a racist?  How can that be?") and the canny response would be "no, of course not, he and these theories *were* racist - as probably were most of your ancestors - by our current modern standards - but racism is a complicated issue stretching back eons and incorporating many other strands of culture and applying simplistic labels to how one deals with it in the art of whatever period is better dealt with on a personal subjective level instead of applying grand formulas that allow one to make dismissive pronouncements and guide how others should feel.  I have no problem with "on a personal level, Lovecraft is too racist for me to read" (although if the speaker was a writer, and even more specifically a writer of horror fiction, I'd probably be a bit surprised) but have all kinds of problems with "Lovecraft was a racist and therefore should not be read" - as I imagine everyone here would have the same problem.

In other words, talk wisely amongst yourselves.

(I would, as I often have, really suggest a reading of "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life", the longform essay by Michel Houellebecq (paired with "Whisperer In The Darkness" in book form to pad it out) that makes an argument that should leave both sides of the Reductionist Race And Lovecraft Circle (heh, see what I did there?) uneasy, but which seems honest and mature to me (although overly dark for those whose thoughts don't skew that way)

Re: cosmic horror - one must never forget "The Horla"... but one must also never forget that, in story, the Horla came from South America....
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 02:13:01 PM by Sgarre1 »

Fenrix

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #36 on: January 09, 2014, 02:47:33 PM »
Even the folks who came off the Mayflower were not free from being monstrous. From "The Picture in the House" (which I love more every time I read it):

"In such houses have dwelt generations of strange people, whose like the world has never seen. Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them from their kind, their ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scions of a conquering race indeed flourished free from the restrictions of their fellows, but cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of their own minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilisation, the strength of these Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolation, morbid self-repression, and struggle for life with relentless Nature, there came to them dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage. By necessity practical and by philosophy stern, these folk were not beautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed. Only the silent, sleepy, staring houses in the backwoods can tell all that has lain hidden since the early days; and they are not communicative, being loath to shake off the drowsiness which helps them forget. Sometimes one feels that it would be merciful to tear down these houses, for they must often dream."


Re: cosmic horror - one must never forget "The Horla"... but one must also never forget that, in story, the Horla came from South America....


Listen to The Horla read by David Tennant here: http://tennantnews.blogspot.com/2013/10/happy-halloween-listen-to-david-tennant.html
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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #37 on: January 09, 2014, 06:06:18 PM »
I feel like that these conversations tend to veer toward attempts to quantify an author's participation in any sort of oppression. It's like we can come up with a scale of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc of 1-10, and for a given author, we look at the time period s/he lived in and try to decide at what level we can still, as a community, enjoy or not enjoy their works.

I don't find this nearly as interesting as the problem of how much a given story requires me to participate in my own dehumanization, or that of others, in order to enjoy it. Some stories absolutely require you to buy into dehumanization as central elements of their plots. Other stories are a bit more gray, and include jarring and problematic elements that aren't necessarily central to the plot, but are dehumanizing nonetheless. For these stories, I cannot emphasize enough how important (and appreciated) it is to acknowledge, loudly and publicly, that these elements are there and that we all know they're problematic. I know it gets old to hear people bring up the word "racism" every time Lovecraft comes up, or "sexism" when Conan does, but it needs to be said every time. It's the only way those of us who get the dehumanization forced on us can move beyond it and enjoy the value that is there.

To bring up a more recent example, I think PP handled the bit of racist language in "To Build a Fire" beautifully. Bravo.

And while I am certainly not dismissing any of your extremely intelligent and well-considered opinions, I think it's important to point out that as white guys, at the end of the day you have the privilege of walking away from a conversation about racism and not having it be relevant to your lives until the next time someone brings it up. While I'm similarly privileged on the "white" metric, I know when the topic of misogyny comes up, I'm often bothered when people rush to defend an important sexist work and expect me to just move past the problematic elements when those same elements are part of the crap-sandwich people ask me to choke down every day of my life. So if there are writers and readers who find that reading Lovecraft demands that they participate in more dehumanization than they're comfortable with, as great as Lovecraft is, it's really not the end of the world if you give him a pass.
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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #38 on: January 09, 2014, 07:02:10 PM »
I have no problem with it being said every time. I have every problem with it being lazily (or snarkily) used as a reason to dismiss or not engage.  In the hands of many (and yes, in my ageist, doddering way, I'll admit my bias, especially - but not only - the younger) it's a way of pulling the "old stuff is too boring so I don't read it" argument, but since racism is real and the racism in the work is real, it seems to give more validity to the laziness or snarkiness.

Quote
at the end of the day you have the privilege of walking away from a conversation about racism and not having it be relevant to your lives until the next time someone brings it up.

which is why I said

Quote
is better dealt with on a personal subjective level instead of applying grand formulas that allow one to make dismissive pronouncements and guide how others should feel.

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Re: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian
« Reply #39 on: January 09, 2014, 07:06:30 PM »
Thanks, Shawn. I caught that last bit, but I was also surprised when you qualified it with this:

Quote
although if the speaker was a writer, and even more specifically a writer of horror fiction, I'd probably be a bit surprised

I feel like writers, and writers of horror, get to opt out, too, if they want, and that we don't get to make that decision for them, even considering Lovecraft's influence on the genre.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 07:09:28 PM by Varda »
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