Friday, June 19, 2020

Exploring THE STRAND MAGAZINE – “The Purple Terror” by Fred M. White

Horror fiction takes many forms – from the long, slow build-up to the short, sharp shock. I turn now, for the first time, to the pages of The Strand Magazine for a dose of the short, sharp shock.

This blog post continues my occasional (and limited) foray into the horror fiction sub-sub genre of plant horror. “The Purple Terror” is an excellent example of plant horror from the close of the Victorian Era.

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The blooms were immensely large, far larger than any flower of the kind known to Europe or America, of a deep pure purple, with a blood-red centre. As Scarlett gazed upon them he noticed a certain cruel expression on the flower. Most orchids have a kind of face of their own; the purple blooms had a positive expression of ferocity and cunning. They exhumed, too, a queer, sickly fragrance. Scarlett had smelt something like it before, after the Battle of Manila. The perfume was the perfume of a corpse.
(Page 244).
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“The Purple Terror” was written by Fred M. White, first appearing in print in the October 1899 issue of The Strand Magazine (vol. 18 no. 106).

The Strand Magazine, founded by George Newnes, was a monthly U. K. publication from January 1891 through March 1950. Typical of many magazines, called ‘illustrated periodicals’ of the Victorian Era, The Strand Magazine’s individual, highly illustrated issues were comprised of short fiction and general interest pieces. For those unfamiliar, The Strand Magazine is best known for the initial publication of many Sherlock Holmes tales from Arthur Conan Doyle.

The publication was outrageously successful from the start, averaging 400,000 copies per month up through the 1930s. The Strand Magazine was collected and bound in six-month volumes; typically from January through June and July through December. By the 1930s, the six-month period became more varied.

Though the original magazine ceased publication with the March 1950 issue, it was revived by a Michigan-based company as a quarterly in 1998.

The Pulp Magazine Archive at archive.org is a comprehensive source. It maintains a sizable percentage of The Strand Magazine print run in PDF format (in addition to countless other pulp magazines).

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Fred M. White was born in West Bromwich, England in 1859. An extremely prolific writer of science fiction, horror and early spy tales, White was particularly known for his six “Doom of London” tales from 1903-1904. In these six tales, he explores various disasters that befall London; from killer smog, disease, and ice, among others. 


During and following the First World War, White’s fiction turned to more social matters that concerned itself with the fallout of the war and its impact on society. White and his wife spent their final years in Barnstaple in Devon, England.

Fred M. White died in December 1935.

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Interestingly enough, though written and published in Late Victorian England, “The Purple Terror” was, nevertheless, set in Cuba very near to the Mayan lands and South America. This led me to an intriguing question. Did the discovery and increasing exploration of the wilds of the Caribbean as well as the jungles of Central and South America give rise to the horror sub-genre of plant horror?

This tale is set very soon after the end of Spanish-American War of 1898. One of the results of the war was that Spain gave up all claims to Cuba; the island being then placed under an American military governor for several years thereafter. Naturally, as a result of this situation, the locals bore some hostility toward the Yankee occupiers.

An American naval officer, Will Scarlett, is sent on a mission to deliver a vital letter across miles of unknown, and potentially hazardous, Cuban wilderness. With him initially, are three other sailors and a mastiff. The party’s first night on the journey was spent in a cantina. In catching sight of beautiful orchids around a lovely local lady’s neck, Scarlett also caught the ire of the lady’s male “companion.” When the officer asked after the flowers, the man told Scarlett that he would serve as their guide to the orchids as well as pathfinder through the jungle to fulfill his mission.

During the first day on their journey into the jungle, the guide explained that the orchid blossoms grew on tendrils high in the trees. These tendrils are poison to the touch. Scarlett was very eager to collect orchid samples.

After coming across definite signs that the orchids are lethal, the guide, nevertheless, reassured and encouraged the party to carry on. The guide led the group to a small plateau, the ground of which was utterly covered by bones—of animals, birds and humans. They ultimately rested there for the night, the soldiers bedding down in a circle after clearing the bones, the circle canopied by trees and vines and tendrils. The guide slept just outside of the circle. 

Scarlett lay uneasy. Even the big mastiff was restless. Hearing the dog bark in pain, he fully woke to the sight of the dog being somehow lifted high into the trees; and then, dropped. Dead, its throat looking sawed open, the dog’s corpse lay surrounded by purple orchids.

All at once it came to Scarlett that their local guide had led them into a trap! Scarlett saw a vine falling from the trees covered in purple orchids—all of the vines were covered in purple orchids.

The vine, like a tentacle, moved over a sleeping soldier, grasped him and lifted him up, finally spurring Scarlett into action. He attacked the vine, cutting the soldier free with his knife. On the ground, the soldier awoke confused. After seeing the soldier’s injuries, Scarlett ordered him to wake the others.

None of the others believed Scarlett, at first. Even so, they all assumed the guide was responsible. After the group had to rescue one of their number from the vines, they certainly believed him


Scarlett and his men confronted the guide as they knew he was a traitor to them. After a little psychological coercion, the guide confessed to all—how he came to want to hurt the Americans and how he knew how to use the purple orchid plants to realize his vengeance.

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My prior post concerning an academic approach to understanding plant horror provides useful background to what follows. Particularly in applying concepts considered in that study to the tale explored here; certain themes also occur in “The Purple Terror,” for example:

•The purple orchid plant is unknown to western civilization, found only in the wilds of Cuba.
•The protagonist gets into this situation because he seeks to gain fame for discovering such a unique and beautiful orchid. He views plants as mankind’s - to do with as they see fit. As curiosities to be shown off with the greater credit going to the finder rather than to the plant itself.
•The “civilization vs wilderness” trope is made clear in this tale. The protagonist has to leave an ordered military environment to cross an unknown wilderness. And, in this wildness, the enemy lurks.
•The idea that plants are “rooted” in place is made evident in this tale. The purple orchid plant employs tendrils in trees to overcome this. Even so, these tendrils are limited. They can only drop from the trees. Prey has to be directly beneath the tendrils in order to fall into their trap.
•The purple orchids are terrifying. In an inversion of nature, the orchids feed on humans. Though the reader does not “see” the plant feeding, there are enough indicators, including numerous human and animal bones and skeletons around, to remove any doubt.

Additionally, the guide acts as the driving agent of the story. He has knowledge of the orchid. He knows where the orchids are and how to use them to achieve his ends. However, I came away with a question based on my reading of other plant horror tales. Did the guide, who was a local (probably indigenous) alone possess the knowledge of the orchids? Or did he come about it from some older tradition?

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“The Purple Terror” (one of the earliest plant horror tales written) together with the academic study from my previous posting and another short [here], comprise the sum of my plant-horror investigation to date. I have at least several more tales to thrash out before I conclude my vegetal exploration.

However, in my next posting I will detour away from plants and return to a favorite subject matter—Time travel . . . sort of.
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Thinking about “The Jaunt” by Stephen King





References


Print Resources


Digital Resources

White, Fred M. “The Purple Terror.” The Strand Magazine. George Newnes, LTD. September 1899. Volume 18 Number 105. [PDF file].

Online Resources

Chadwick, Zoe. “Perilous Plants, Botanical Monsters, and (Reverse) Imperialism in Fin-De-Siecle Literature.” The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates. Wordpress.com. 30 October 2017. Web. 05 June 2020. https://victorianist.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/perilous-plants-botanical-monsters-and-reverse-imperialism-in-fin-de-siecle-literature/

Eschner, Kate. “Getting to the Roots of ‘Plant Horror.’” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institute. 30 October 2017. Web. 29 May 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/getting-roots-plant-horror-180965323/

Von Ruff, Al. “Summary Bibliography: Fred M. White.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 02 June 2020. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?15681

Von Ruff, Al. “Title: The Purple Terror.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 02 June 2020. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?71359

Wikipedia contributors. "Fred M. White." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 29 December 2019. Web. 04 June 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_M._White

Wikipedia contributors. "The Strand Magazine." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 05 June 2020. Web. 06 June 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Strand_Magazine




Saturday, May 30, 2020

Thinking about PLANT HORROR: APPROACHES TO THE MONSTROUS VEGETAL IN FICTION AND FILM edited by Dawn Keetley & Angela Tenga


I enjoy and benefit from non-fiction works on the horror genre; whether on film or in print. Every so often, I have subjected my readers to the “pleasures” of discussion on these commentaries.

Works of this kind– academic examinations of the horror genre – interest me greatly. I intend to create more posts concerning such in the near future. I believe that today’s post is the first I have done on a scholarly text. This work builds upon my most recent post.

In an insightful and moving essay that describes her near-fatal attack by a saltwater crocodile, Val Plumwood (1999) explores what it means to realize, as she puts it, “that I was prey,” uttering a visceral protest of this fact: “This can’t be happening to me. I’m a human being, not meat” (p. 78, p. 88). When Plumwood was attacked, her sense of the world changed, her sense of self becoming brutally wrenched from the familiar: “I glimpsed the world for the first time ‘from the outside,’ as a world no longer my own, an unrecognizably bleak landscape composed of raw necessity, that would go on without me, indifferent to my will and struggle, to my life or death” (p. 79). That humans are meat, part of a landscape that is not “ethical,” as Plumwood puts it, but “ecological” (p. 89), is most starkly visible in accounts (like hers) of human encounters with large animal predators. Plants, though, can also usher in the same terrifying realization. They don’t inhabit but are the “unrecognizably bleak landscape,” even more alien and inimical, even more thoroughly indifferent, than the animal predator. In some horror fiction, plants do become carnivorous predators, most famously John Wyndham’s triffids, but also, for example, the vines in Scott Smith’s The Ruins (2006). These man-eating plants only hyperbolize a mundane fact about our relationship with plants, however: in the end, we become their nourishment. Each of us is, finally, what Plumwood (2012) calls a “food-providing self as material body” (p. 11). And each of us becomes the landscape from which we spend our lives trying to distinguish ourselves.
[page 5-6]
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The above quotation is a little longer than I usually offer up, but it captures the complexity of striving to fathom just what constitutes plant horror.

Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film is a collection of 14 academic essays. Twelve from scholars and one each from Dawn Keetley and Angela Tenga, the editors. This text was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2017. 

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Palgrave Macmillan, founded in 1843, is an academic book publisher focusing on humanities and social sciences. Palgrave has offices in London, New York, and Shanghai.

Dawn Keetley is Professor of English at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She teaches classes in horror/gothic literature, film, and television. Keetley was born in Nottingham, England and earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994. She also writes regularly for a horror website that she co-runs with Elizabeth Erwin and Gwen Hofmann at www.horrorhomeroom.com.

Angela Tenga is an Assistant Professor at Florida Tech, where she teaches classes in literature, popular culture, and history.

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This collection is fourteen articles that all relate to plant horror. What follows are very brief comments covering each of the fourteen articles and the ideas put forward therein.

Article #1
The opening article, authored by book editor Dawn Keetley, served as an introduction to the entire work by presenting six theses. Simply put, these six theses revolve around several themes that reappear over and over in the many articles to follow:
a) plants represent the “other”
b) humans tend to view plant life as just part of the environment; as background to existence
c) uncontrolled plant growth (i.e. wilderness) is seen as the antithesis of civilization
Article #2
The next article highlights two major points. First, that the invasive nature of plants and wilderness are the opposite of civilization. And second, that a major motif of plant horror is the grasping tendril, coming to represent the invasive and destructive aspect of vegetal forces.

Article #3
In this article from the second editor Angela Tenga, the abundance and fertility of nature is associated with the idea of sacrifice. This reflects the tension between early Christianity and holdover pagan beliefs throughout the medieval period. In addition, the article presented examples from literature and film in which an inversion of a traditional power dynamic took place. Previously, it was man that controlled plants, now it is plants that control man.

Article #4
This article explores the power of the vegetal in the Harry Potter saga. At the same time, it reveals key factors underpinning the reality of plant horror—including animancy which is defined as “the state of being alive and animate.” Harry and friends are introduced to a mandrake root; a magical vegetable that bears a striking resemblance to a human being—even with arms and legs!

According to early western philosophers, a defining characteristic of animals vs plants is the ability to move about independent of environment. Animals can move at will while plants are “rooted” in place. In the Harry Potter story, the basilisk turns people into stone or paralyzes them, ending their animancy, and therefore reducing those individuals to the level of plants. The mandrake root is the antidote to the petrified. So, the plant that looks human restores animancy to the people petrified, or “rooted.”

Article #5
There is a perception that nature is a vengeful force against wrongs man has committed against it. This perception is common in regard to the Amazon and particularly in how it applies to rubber plants. The Amazon turns into a “green hell” for humans as payback for all that we have done to it.

Article #6
Throughout The Day of the Triffids, triffids challenge the belief that defines vegetal life as without locomotion or perception (page 113). Worse than having the ability to move about, triffids show the ability to learn, bringing them even closer to the definition of animals. People struggle to incorporate the triffids into their world view.

In contrast is The Death of Grass by Tom Christopher. A virus from China, targets all grasses but not animal life. Because grass forms the background of our civilization and is almost invisible to humanity, it is ironically the foundation upon which everything is built. Very quickly, the virus leads to global starvation and highlights humanity’s dependence on vegetation. The death of grass equals the end of mankind.

Article #7
Continuing with the reasoning of Article #6, this article challenges the idea that plant life exists for the manipulation, control and benefit of the human world (p131) by looking at two works of sci-fi / horror; one each from 1947 and 1965.

The first, by Ward Moore, is 1947’s Greener Than You Think. Attempting to control plant life and make plants more useful to humans, a fertilizer is created that causes simple grass to grow at undreamed of rates. Until, at the end, grass covers the entirety of the Earth. Man’s cities are overwhelmed. The last non-grass life is wiped out—consumed; the ultimate expression of the meek really inheriting the Earth.

In 1965, Thomas Disch published The Genocide. The tale opens in 1979, seven years after an alien invasion and colonization of Earth. These aliens farm colossal tree-like beings that consume water and take up huge tracts of land. The few surviving humans are viewed and treated as nothing more than garden pests.

Both works treat humanity as an inconvenience and overturn humanity’s dominant place on Earth.

Article #8
From the printed word the media format now shifts to film, specifically 1950s sci-fi films. These movies strengthened the idea of “the horror of the other” or, put a different way, us versus them. Three of the many movies mentioned in the article are most illustrative of this idea: The Thing from Another World (1951), The Navy vs the Night Monsters (1966), and Matango (1963).

The 1951 movie, The Thing from Another World, exemplifies “the other” fantastically. In contrast to the work on which the movie is based; John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? (1938), The Thing from Another World makes the creature into an alien plant intelligence. The novella treats the alien as truly alien—in no way connected to vegetal life on Earth. In the movie, the vegetal forces are used to reinforce fear of communism - (invading) alien lifestyle trying to take over.

The Navy vs the Night Monsters from 1966 is based upon the 1959 novel by Murray Leinster, The Monster from Earth’s End. The movie and the book share strong plot elements with the movie The Thing; with even a serious vegetal foe. Though, in the case of The Navy vs the Night Monsters, the vegetal enemy is an ancient plant indigenous to prehistoric Earth rather than an alien invader.

From Japan comes a 1963 movie, Matango. A ship-wrecked crew eats local mushrooms. Very soon they are turned into a kind of mushroom people. As such, their ability to move on their own becomes gradually reduced until they are finally rooted in place. Matango was based loosely upon an earlier story from 1907; “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson.

Article #9
This article views vegetal horror through the lens of the philosophy of Sartre. To be honest, I did not see the connection, or indeed the relevance, to the furtherance of an understanding of horror fiction. The only justification for this, I can even think of is that “…all horror stories can certainly be read as a discourse on existential anxiety” (page 169 bottom). Hence, Sartre.

Article #10
The central role of The Day of the Triffids, in the plant horror sub-genre, is explored. Indeed, the article states that “The Day of the Triffids is a canonical text of plant horror…” (page 180). Harkening back to my comments on the first three or four articles of this book, the author here emphasizes that the fact that triffids can communicate with each other, i.e. talk, is the triffids most human-like trait. And thus, it is the most horrifying thing about them.


Article #11
Like the earlier article on Sartre, I struggled with this one. This article featured a DC Comics character, Swamp Thing, in its various comic-book incarnations. In particular, the storyline created by Alan Moore and Steve Bissete from 1984.

The creators envisioned Swamp Thing as an evolution of life; first as a man, then becoming a monster (human-vegetal hybrid). Then, the plant-part, the non-human part becomes ascendant. Finally, a new fourth form was reached . . . a thing! But that is not what gave me difficulty. Moore and Bissete’s Swamp Thing comic explored a theme rarely encountered in vegetal horror—the particulars of a human/Swamp Thing sexual relationship.

Article #12
This article delves into a new, related sub-genre titled “ecoGothic,” an offshoot of ecohorror. To begin with, there is the traditional understanding that the natural world is passive. However, when this understanding is inverted, when the natural world becomes active, horror is revealed. Ecohorror is understood to be that unless humanity becomes more environmentally aware, nature will turn on humanity. Thus, ecoGothic tales are defined as “. . . Gothic stories in which the natural environment, or the elements within it, are eerily ambient and arouse our anxieties.” (p218-top)

Article #13
Interestingly in 2008, two movies were released with significant vegetal horror elements—The Ruins & The Happening. Both were “okay” movies with “barely” passable box office. These two films highlight the “plant is creature” vs “plant is environment/setting” dichotomy.

Regarding The Ruins (one of my favorites – both book and film), the article itself provides a superb commentary on the movie. The Ruins presents a more traditional interpretation of vegetal horror possessing several common plant horror tropes:
•True horror comes from the realization that the plants communicate and are intelligent enough to lure and entrap prey, i.e. humans. 
•The fact that the plants eat meat, i.e. again human, inverts the understanding of the natural world.
•While these plants are still “rooted” in place, their tendrils reach out far and fast to secure prey.
The Happening, by contrast, is a different kind of creature altogether. Shared between these two movies is the sense of dread/horror coming with the understanding that the vegetal world is communicating . . . and communicating to work against humanity.

Unique to The Happening, however, was the idea that it was not only a plant monster tormenting mankind. Rather, it was the entire vegetal ecosystem turning against man. Nature as a whole was the antagonist; the environment itself became threatening toward humanity. And, it was this knowledge that created the horror of the plot, not death and destruction. It was the realization the natural world, indeed the Earth itself, was turning against man.

Article #14
In this final article, the importance of The Day of the Triffids is again revisited as an ideal example of plant horror. This piece also explores the idea of the “carnivalistic life” and how it pertains to horror fiction. This implies that the established truth of the world had turned upside down. In Triffids, the “blinding of most of the human population of the earth has changed the rules of the game, and the old orders have broken down.” (page 245 bottom). The horror of the tale comes from the swapping of mankind’s and triffids’ place in the natural order (page 251). It was not the end of the world. But it was the end of man’s world.

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Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film is an excellent introduction to a “new” sub-genre of horror fiction. Through the very brief summaries of each of the articles seen above, several themes emerged as common throughout the collection. One of my goals in this commentary on Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film was to use it as a guide in aiding my (and, hopefully, your) understanding of future works in the plant horror sub-genre. Specifically, how these themes would affect consideration of future texts. And, more examples of plant horror are coming in future posts.


Good night.





References


Print Resources

Keetley, Dawn & Tenga, Angela (editors). Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Digital Resources

Meeker, Natania and Antónia Szabari. "From the Century of the Pods to the Century of the Plants: Plant Horror, Politics, and Vegetal Ontology." Discourse, vol. 34 no. 1, 2012, p. 32-58. Project MUSE https://muse.jhu.edu/article/503905.

Online Resources

~. “About: Dawn Keetley.” Horror Homeroom. Web. 28 April 2020. http://www.horrorhomeroom.com/about/

Keetley, Dawn. “Home.” Dawn Keetley. Wordpress.com. Web. 19 May 2020. https://wordpress.lehigh.edu/DawnKeetley/

Von Ruff, Al. “Title: Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 04 May 2020. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?2159703



Thursday, April 30, 2020

Exploring WEIRD TALES – “The Seed from the Sepulchre” by Clark Ashton Smith.



Horror fiction takes many forms – from the long, slow build-up to the short, sharp shock. Much of what I have commented on previously has been of the longer, more detailed variety. And, while I will continue to examine such works, I turn now to the pages of Weird Tales magazine for a dose or two (or more!) of the short, sharp shock.

This blog post begins an occasional (and limited) foray into the horror fiction sub-sub genre of . . . Plant Horror! And, once again, I was introduced to this tale via an audio narration of it; but, more on that later.

My love of “creature features” is well known, as previous posts have noted. But that grouping includes more than just giant prehistoric bears. It also includes weird and wild man-eating plants—hence, Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Seed from the Sepulchre.” 

“The Seed from the Sepulchre” serves as an ideal introduction to the topic of plant horror.
  
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At the same time, abruptly and mysteriously, Falmer opened his eyes and appeared to regain full consciousness. For a few minutes he was more his normal self than at any time since his return from the ruins. He began to talk, as if anxious to relieve his mind of some oppressing burden. His voice was peculiarly thick and toneless, but Thone was able to follow his mutterings and piece them together.

"The pit! The pit!" said Falmer—"the infernal thing that was in the pit, in the deep sepulcher! . . . I wouldn't go back there for the treasure of a dozen El Dorados. . . . I didn't tell you much about those ruins, Thone. Somehow it was hard—impossibly hard—to talk."

"I guess the Indian knew there was something wrong with the ruins. He led me to the place . . . but he wouldn't tell me anything about it; and he waited by the riverside while I searched for the treasure.

"Great grey walls there were, older than the jungle—old as death and time. They must have been quarried and reared by people from some lost planet. They loomed and leaned at mad, unnatural angles, threatening to crush the trees about them. And there were columns, too: thick, swollen columns of unholy form, whose abominable carvings the jungle had not wholly screened from view.

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“The Seed from the Sepulchre” was written by Clark Ashton Smith, first appearing in print in the October 1933 issue of Weird Tales (v22 n04).

Weird Tales is an American pulp magazine specializing in horror and fantasy. It was founded in late 1922 with its first issue dated March 1923. Weird Tales was known for printing works of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Seabury Quinn, Robert Bloch and many, many other notable genre authors. Plagued throughout its existence with financial woes, Weird Tales ended its initial publication run in 1954. There were several subsequent attempts to restart the magazine. The current incarnation’s latest issue was published August 2019.

The Pulp Magazine Archive at archive.org is a comprehensive source. It maintains a sizable percentage of the Weird Tales print run in PDF format (in addition to countless other pulp magazines).

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A great deal has been written about Clark Ashton Smith and his various artistic endeavors, especially literary. Clark Ashton Smith was a renowned author of weird and fantastic fiction as well as  being a highly respected artist, poet and sculptor. I will only mention a few pertinent facts regarding him leaving further exploration to the reader.

Born in 1893, Clark Ashton Smith began writing tales at a very young age. Later, in 1922, with the publication of a poetry collection, Ebony and Crystal, he received a fan letter from H. P. Lovecraft that began:

My dear Mr. Smith:—

I trust you will pardon the liberty taken by an absolute stranger in writing you, for I cannot refrain from expressing the appreciation aroused in me by your drawings & poetry, as shown me by my friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, whom I am now visiting in Cleveland. Your book, containing matter only chronologically classifiable as juvenilia, impresses me as a work of the most distinguished genius; & makes me anxious to see the new volume which I understand is in course of preparation.

Their friendship would last until Lovecraft’s death in 1937. It is due to this inclusion within the Lovecraft fandom, along with many others such as Robert E. Howard that Clark Aston Smith’s familiarity among modern audiences is, in large part, due.

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As is the case with many pulp tales, I was introduced to “The Seed from the Sepulchre” via an audio narration. Edward E. French’s Fiction Fantastique on YouTube is one of the best narration sites I have come across. His narrative skill, high production value and interesting selection of subject matter come together to mark him as top tier in audio narrators. I urge all my readers to give him a listen.


In his presentation of “The Seed from the Sepulchre,” French delivers the emotions manifested by Thone and, in particular, the terror felt by Falmer with masterful skill.

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In brief, this tale is set in Venezuela where two men, Thone and Falmer, professional orchid hunters, along with two Indian guides, decide to try their hand at treasure hunting and pursue a rumor of lost ruins and buried gold. While Thone recovers from a fever, Flamer continues on to explore the ruins, taking one of the guides with him.

Falmer returns to camp after three days. He found the ruins as well as the pit of so-called legendary treasure. Falmer seems preoccupied and reluctant to talk about his experience. As Thone recovers, Falmer becomes feverish. As if in a crazed delirium, Falmer relates to Thone what actually happened to him at the ruins.

The Indian guide refused to get anywhere near the ruins which Falmer remarked looked older than mankind, and were composed of weird angles. After locating the pit where the treasure was rumored to be, Falmer climbed down into it. Littered with human bones, a few skeletons had plants growing out of them. Falmer inadvertently brushed up against one of these, causing a pod on the plant to burst—engulfing his head in a fine gray-ish power.

At this point, Falmer breaks off his narration crying out that something is growing in his brain, that “ancient devil-plant.” Due to this suffering Thone heavily sedates Falmer. While examining him, Thone discovers a plant-bud growing out of the top of Falmer’s head. Still weak from his own fever, Thone notices that the Indian guides have deserted them.

Next morning, Thone sees his friend dead. It appeared the plant’s roots “were draining his blood, were devouring his very flesh . . .”


After a few more days, Thone realizes that he is under some sort of hypnotic trance with the Falmer/plant-thing drawing him closer and closer until his head rests against Falmer’s withered hands. Emerging from the tips of the fingers of those withered hands were tiny white rootlets twisting gently in the air. Helpless to resist, Thone feels the rootlets moving over his head, then sharp needle-like pricks. He could not even close his eyes as the rootlets pierce his eyeballs.

The plant lived on.

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Previously, I have mentioned other sub-genres of horror fiction—in particular, and most recently, “natural horror” also called “creature feature.” “Creature feature” can not only include flocks of birds, large sharks, creepy plants, and great bears, but also Bigfoot and even King Kong. Things such as Frankenstein’s monster, werewolves, vampires, monstrosities such as from H. G. Wells’ Food of the Gods, the triffid-plants from The Day of the Triffids, radioactive spawn such as giant ants, tarantulas and Godzilla’s ilk are also considered part of the “creature feature” sub-genre.

Following careful and considered thought, I believe that “natural horror” and “creature feature” are both, in fact, different but equal sub-genres of horror fiction. I would like to propose that “natural horror” should reflect elements of the natural world threatening humanity; i.e. birds, sharks, bears and even strange plants. Potentially, this also can include things of Nature unbeknownst to science at this time. While “creature features” reflect beasts, beings or things that are not from Nature; i.e. supernatural, extraterrestrial, or man-made —whether from a laboratory or otherwise.

Now, with “The Seed from the Sepulchre,” the definition of “natural horror” presents a bit of a challenge. Due to the various questions raised in the story concerning the plant-monster‘s origins, it is unclear whether the plant-monster is terrestrial flora or from another reality entirely. However, for the sake of mental stability, I will consider the plant-monster a thing of “natural horror.”

A more detailed discussion on what “plant horror” involves will be held for a subsequent post. However, I would like to call the readers’ attention to these plot-points from this story:

•indigenius locals seem to know something and to be smart enough to keep away from ruins

•ruins are of unknown origin, hints at ancient and weird beginnings

•pit in ruins is where monster is; lots of human bones.

•people are lured into the pit.

•monster infects/contaminates people

•monster drains blood and devours flesh.

•creature is like a sentient thing, maybe even from another world

•no one escapes

•It lives on

Fans of horror will recognize many of these plot elements as staples of the genre that will  reappear again in future tales of “plant horror.”

§

“Plant horror,” at its core (while not as common or as well-utilized a sub-genre as vampires or such) does follow certain horror tropes: in ancient ruins lurk bad things that hurt us. Despite being a short story from the pages of Weird Tales, “The Seed from the Sepulchre” was a surprisingly complex story, revolving around body-horror and lingering terror.




References


Print Resources


Digital Resources

Smith, Clark Ashton. “The Seed from the Sepulchre.” Weird Tales. Popular Fiction Publishing Company. October 1933. Volume 22 Number 4. [PDF file].  https://archive.org/details/Weird_Tales_v22n04_1933-10/mode/2up

Online Resources

Adcock, Bill. “’The Seed from the Sepulchre’ -- Clark Ashton Smith (WEIRD TALES, October 1933).” Big Palookas and Little Green Men. Blogger.com. 01 November 2013. Web. 16 April 2020. http://big-palookas-and-little-green-men.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-seed-from-sepulchre-clark-ashton.html

“Fiction Fantastique.” YouTube. 17 September 2009. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiFGL_KhRp0B-7qNGGi-hmQ

Lovecraft, H. P. “Letter to Clark Ashton Smith,” 12 August 1922. Eldrich Dark. com. 26 August 2006. Web. 16 April 2020. http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/correspondence/79/from-h.-p.-lovecraft-to-clark-ashton-smith-%281922-08-12%29

Von Ruff, Al. “Title: The Seed from the Sepulcher.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 23 April 2020. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?86791

Wikipedia contributors. "Clark Ashton Smith." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 December 2019. Web. 18 April 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark_Ashton_Smith