It’s not uncommon to know someone in our circle of friends that many people would class as a little on the unusual side. In fact that person may be a member of your own family, or even the person currently reading this post (although, whether they would admit it is another matter).
I’m talking about the sort of person who avoids the easy to digest trappings of popular entertainment (mainstream television, popular music, glossy magazines) and prefers to follow their own more obscure interests. They seek out the forgotten or maligned, rather than be told what to see, hear or read via mass media.
I am one of those people, so I know that it can be a very, very lonely road. It is a road littered with conversational dead-ends, misunderstandings and the blank stares of incredulity. If you are at all inclined to the obscure, then this is what you have to expect. The majority of people are simply not so lucky…
Anyway, the reason for this post is the simple suggestion of a Christmas gift for the aforementioned afflicted. There are few things in this world quite as obscure and neglected as the little book of extremely short stories I wrote and published earlier this year.
‘The Cenotaph of Dreams’ is the ideal gift for anyone who would like something a bit on the quirky side. It’s full of great stories bursting with strange ideas and bizarre situations and is definitely a gift that nobody else will have.
‘The Cenotaph of Dreams’ by Prince Cavallo can be easily bought through Amazon as either an ebook or a slim but elegant paperback – Here for the UK, and Here for the USA, I believe it is also available on the majority of other Amazon Stores. Your Christmas conundrum has been solved!
Before I move on to the main point of this article I must state how utterly astounding this novel is.
For start it was originally published during the reign of Queen Victoria as a serial in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897. Magazines were extremely popular at the time and many novels were originally published as serials before becoming hardback novels. In the case of ‘War of The Worlds’, the book form was published in 1898.
If a marker of the start of the modern world was the production line that produced the Ford Model T (the worlds first ‘affordable’ car), then the modern world was at least another ten years away – and yet here is a story about interplanetary travel!
Apart from the era it was written in, many of the ideas and concepts expressed directly or indirectly in the story touch on subjects that are still discussed or written about in the twenty-first century (with varying levels of seriousness). It certainly laid the bedrock for science fiction throughout the twentieth century and all of this began with an alien cylinder landing on Horsell Common, just outside Woking – 32 mile south of London.
War of the Worlds introduced the idea of an alien invasion (alien in terms of interplanetary rather than merely foreign). It also established the concept that Martians were aggressive, and that Mars was an ancient and highly advanced civilisation, but probably in decay. It can be read as a comment on Victorian society, imperialism and exploitation, advanced warfare and the mechanisation of war. There is also the influence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the whole science-verses-religion debate (‘On The Origin of Species‘ was only published in 1859).
There have been a number of significant adaptations for radio and film over the years and I will briefly touch on the most significant versions.
In terms of radio, the version that is most remembered is the 1938 adaptation directed and performed by Orson Welles, and which essentially made his name. The production, which went out on Halloween of that year, was startlingly innovative – it was broadcast in the form of a News Flash which appeared to interrupt another radio programme, and announced the invasion as though it was happening in real time at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Apparently the story that thousands fled their homes in a blind panic, believing it was a real news report, was largely exaggerated by the newspapers.
There have been other adaptations, but these have by far been the most significant versions to date.
Although the British release date has yet to be announced (it has already aired in a few other countries), there is a new three part BBC television series of War of The Worlds which is due to be broadcast in the UK sometime before Christmas. Surprisingly, it is the first time that the novel has been adapted by a British broadcaster. I am hoping that this new version will be good enough to be considered as one of the classics and there are a couple of reasons for this.
For a start it will be the first screen version to be based close to the era of the original novel – although not set in Victorian times, it is based in the Edwardian era, so not far off. Also, it will be set geographically where the the novel was set, namely London and Surrey – not America for a change! On the whole, this appears to be the most faithful adaptation so far – I just hope it’s going to be good enough – apparently it was originally due to be broadcast last year but was delayed due to technical problems with the special effects in post production (well, I’m hoping that was the only reason!)
What I will be interested in seeing is it’s portrayal of the Curate (if he appears at all) in the BBC adaptation. In the original novel, he is more than a little unhinged by what’s going on – he believes that the Martians have been sent by God to punish us for our sins. This could be seen as a comment about the fragility of religious dogma in the face of indisputable circumstances, or, in other words, in the face of rational and scientific observation (in contrast to the curate, the narrator of the novel is portrayed as the voice of reason). When the curate looses it completely the narrator effectively kills him with a shovel for fear of being discovered by the Martians.
It is interesting to note that in the 1953 film version of the novel the religious representative, a Pastor, believes that the Martians must be essentially good beings because they too were made by God and that they will see the righteousness of God’s word. This belief is maintained even after having seen them kill other humans. He walks towards them reading from the Bible and swiftly gets blasted out of existence. Is this the way the world saw religion in the middle of the twentieth century, essentially powerless in the face of modernity and mechanisation, or was the Pastor a martyr standing up for religious belief no matter what. Interestingly, the film also has a scene in a church at the end when the Martians are dying, which suggests mankind was saved by the work of God.
In the 2005 Spielberg version the Curate does not make an appearance, but aspects of him are amalgamated with the artilleryman from the novel, in the form of Tim Robbins’ character – a crazed individual who wants to hunker down with the hope of planning a Guerrilla attack at some point in the future. He is killed with a shovel (like the Curate in the book) by Tom Cruise’s character through fear of discovery (apparently in this version the invaders were not from Mars, but some distant unnamed planet, largely because the idea of intelligent life on Mars has unfortunately been discredited). So, where is religion in this version (and for that matter, in the twenty-first century?) and will it feature at all in the new BBC adaptation?
The interesting point about War of The Worlds and it’s relation to religion is that it suggests that Science and Technology cannot save man, anymore than the belief in a Deity can. It is Nature which defeats the invading force – or the human race is saved, as Wells puts it in the opening paragraph, of the novel, by “the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water”.
Ultimately Wells may have been suggesting that it is not a good idea to sell your soul to any one belief system, but to be more widely aware of the world and it’s multitude of ideas and perspectives, because no single theory has all the answers…
Every era, decade, period or movement has writers, artists, filmmakers, songwriters, actors (etc.) who are lucky enough to get a passing mention in a popular magazine, or maybe even appear on TV. Then there are the ones who, through a combination of hard work and a huge amount of luck, coincidence and networking, actually become famous. Beyond these select few people are the odd one or two who become so associated with their time or movement that they transcend their era and become household names, even icons.
The artists who do not become icons are the sort of people that we may occasionally come across in our media-centric viewing. Or, if exploring the creativity of previous generations we may find the odd work in the corner of an exhibition, or if extremely lucky a whole retrospective or a republished collection. These are the lucky ones.
Then there are the swathes of creators who do not get recognition and have become unknown and forgotten; more often than not they weren’t even noticed in their own time, let alone remembered after it. For whatever reason, when they offered the result of their creative powers to the world, they were completely ignored. The majority of the ‘forgotten’ are probably better left that way (every generation produces a staggering amount of rubbish), but occasionally some of those that languish in oblivion do not deserve it.
In terms of literature, this is where the small press comes to the fore. They hunt out interesting works of the lost and forgotten from any strata of the creative pantheon and re-publish it so that it can at last be appreciated. There are quite a number of small press imprints which do this risky yet highly laudable job and Rixdorf Editions is one of the newer ones. By the way, if you’d like to find out where they got their name from there is an explanation on their blog, here. Their blog actually has many interesting articles related to their publications and other curiosities and can be found here.
It is one thing to be forgotten as a writer if your language is English, but quite another for a writer in a language which does not have the benefit of such a staggeringly vast readership. Rixdorf Editions aims to highlight the work of writers in Germany around the turn of the 19th/20th century (writers of fact and fiction). It does seem to be a forgotten corner of the literary world, submerged between the 18th/19th century greats of Goethe, Hoffmann, Chekhov, etc., and the explosion of creativity associated with the Weimar Republic.
This is what Rixdorf Editions say about themselves:-
RIXDORF EDITIONS is a Berlin-based press formed in 2017 which is committed to bringing unfairly neglected texts of the German Empire to a contemporary English-language readership. While the Germany of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was distinguished by censorship and a reactionary official culture, it also sustained a remarkable number of progressive writers. Essays, reportage and other non-fiction titles often foretold a world surprisingly similar to our own. Advocates for female emancipation, sexual minorities, lifestyle reform and utopian visions pursued their ideals with an energy and rigour to rival anything in the country’s fabled 1920s. Meanwhile, fiction writers expanded the boundaries of form, style and subject matter in ways that can still appear radical to us now. The Rixdorf Editions list aims to reflect this innovation and diversity with original English translations of publications from the era paired with thoughtful commentary which puts the works and their creators in context.
I thought I’d highlight the work of this small press for two reasons. One is simply because I firmly believe that it is not only famous writers who write well, and finding fantastic lost work is far more exciting than simply following what is popular or already known to be good. Secondly, I bought their first book – ‘The Guesthouse at the Sign of The Teetering Globe‘ and thought it absolutely brilliant!
The first two stories in this little collection are by far the best and come across as almost proto-surrealist or could be related to the early weird. These two stories are well worth a read and worth the price of the book, the others all have interesting premises and are at least worth a look.
I think I preferred ‘The Polished Little Man’ over the titular story, largely because of the underlying humour in the absurdity of the situation.
The stories were all written by Countess Franziska Zu Reventlow, a German aristocrat, who appears to have been rather debauched and no stranger to scandal. She lived her life very much on her own terms, relying on a combination of writing, translation and prostitution, which did little to save her from recurring illness and poverty for much of her short life (she died in a bicycle accident at the age of 47).
This is the first English translation of her work and if this is an indication of the quality of work that has been unearthed by this small press then this has been a wonderful introduction to the potential of the era. In terms of the publication itself, it is evidently a high quality book. It is a small paperback but it feels weighty, the art work perfectly suits the stories (there is a very interesting article about their cover art on the website, here) and there is a wealth of additional information (three additional stories and an extensive Afterword).
I look forward to reading the other Rixdorf Editions books – at the moment I seem to be drawn to ‘Death‘ by Anna Croissant-Rust (what a name!), another first translation into English and sounds enticingly macabre….
Libraries and bookstores are, or should be, temples to books and the art of reading and in that role they should be places that people want to visit. As mentioned in part 1 of this article, there have been a surprising number of fantastic looking bookstores and libraries that have sprung up over the last few years which I would imagine have become architectural and retail destinations.
I explored a number of reasons for this return to the book in the previous article (The New Architecture of Libraries and Bookshops, Pt. 1), so I will move straight on to the buildings themselves. Most of these images come from the ever-interesting design website ‘designboom‘ and if you click on the titles you’ll link through to the original articles if you’d like to find out more information.
So who is Hanns Heinz Ewers? I had certainly never heard of him until a few years ago and, reading about his life, he sounds as though he was quite a complex character.
Hanns Heinz Ewers (3 November 1871 – 12 June 1943) was, and still is, a controversial figure and until relatively recently his work has been extremely difficult to find (so that possibly the reason I’d not previously heard of him!).
The controversy is not necessarily related to his writings, which due to their content could be seen as controversial, but largely due to his association with the Nazi party. Apparently he was attracted by it’s nationalism but disagreed with it’s antisemitism. His differences of opinion with element of the party line, combined with his homosexuality and other ‘issues’, got him banned from the Nazi Party at one point, although he managed to successfully petition to be re-accepted!
Obviously, some people find it difficult to separate a writer from the written word and I understand why they it might be difficult to read his work knowing about his affiliations. That, of course, is a matter of opinion. Personally, if the work is of a high enough standard and does not preach or promote extreme political or racial points of view without challenging them, then I have no problem with reading it. ‘The Hearts of Kings’ is a case in point – it is extreme in terms of it’s subject matter, but not extremist in terms of ideology.
His most famous work is a novel called ‘Alraune‘, which is essentially a re-working of the Frankenstein story. It concerns a woman without morals, born of an unholy union, who some critics of the horror genre have called the ultimate Femme Fatale. It has been filmed a couple of times, most recently in a 1952 German version. Interestingly Ewers wrote the screenplay to 1913 film called ‘The Student of Prague‘ (partly based on ‘Faust’ and partly on Poe’s short story ‘William Wilson’). It was hugely popular on it’s release, but it is extremely difficult to find a decent print of now, which is a shame as I’d love to see it. It has been recognised as the first German art film and a significant influence on the Expressionist films that came out of Weimar cinema during the silent era (probably the most famous example being the astounding ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari‘)
Published in 1922, ‘The Hearts of Kings’ fits perfectly with post first world war Germany and the decadence which came to define the Weimar Republic. It is a very short story (a mere 44 pages) and is suffused with a decadent, almost voluptuous atmosphere, far from the more visceral nature of modern horror – and all the better for it! Essentially it is about a crazed artist who invites the Prince Royal Ferdinand Philippe d’Orléans to view and buy a series of paintings about his ancestors. When he visit the artist he discovers his family’s horrific legacy.
I do not want to give too much of the story away (well it is a very short story), but suffice to say, if you like the works of Edgar Allan Poe, then this would definitely be your sort of thing. Ewers has, by the way, been described as the German Poe (he also published a critical essay on Poe in 1916).
The copy I have of ‘The Hearts of Kings’ is a limited edition book published by ‘The Ajna Offensive‘ and is available through their website in the US (or from the UK based ‘Side Real Press‘, being the sole distributor in Europe).
It is quite expensive for such a short work, but there are a number of reasons why it is worth getting. Not only is it a cloth-bound limited edition hardback publication, it is also a rare taste of the rare talent that was Hanns Heinz Ewers. In terms of a monetary investment (as opposed to a literary, cultural or aesthetic one) it is interesting to note that copies of the book are already available on Abebooks for nearly four times their initial price, even though it has not yet sold out at the publishers! To add to the quality of the publication, replete with marbled end-papers, the original illustrations by Stefan Eggeler have been lovingly reproduced in all their gruesome detail. Here’s some information about them from the ‘Side Real Press’ site and some examples below:-
Originally published as a limited edition in 1922 as ‘Die Herzen der Könige’ this macabre tale by Ewers (newly translated by Markus Wolff) was complimented by the equally disturbing and wonderful etchings of Stefan Eggeler (1894-1969). Both were created by artists at the height of their powers. Further information on both Ewers and Eggeler can be found HERE and HERE. The original edition (now quite rare) was printed on very poor paper and much trouble has been taken (in collaboration with the Eggeler estate) to render the tonalities of the illustrations accurately.
Having just looked at the Side Real Press website I found that Hanns Heinz Ewers ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice‘ (first published in 1910) is currently at the printers and will be available for sale later this year. This book was Ewers first novel and the first of three about a character called Frank Braun (a thinly veiled Ewers). The second novel, published in 1911, was the aforementioned ‘Alraune‘, which has already been published by Side Real Press and demands significant amounts of money on the second hand sites (I wish I’d known about it when it came out in 2010). By the way they also published a collection of his short stories (in 2009) which also commands high prices (if you can find it!).
This is quite exciting – I’ve recently answered a series of questions about being an author and the subject of my first book ‘The Cenotaph of Dreams‘ (click on the title to link to the Amazon.co.uk author’s page and this one for the Amazon.com site).
If you’d like to read the interview and find out a bit about the book, it’s genesis and inspiration, or a little more about me for that matter, please follow this link. If you like what you read, or know someone who might be interested, please share it on any social media you can think of – there’s nothing like a bit of free publicity, is there! Thank-you!
We live in crazy times (haven’t we always!). Wars rumbling on in the background of the West’s consciousness (Yemen), or wars that the world looks at but does nothing about (Syria), politicians who promote division to bolster and their own egos, gun crime, knife attacks, cars used as weapons…I could go on. The end of the world could come in many forms, but societal breakdown and the end of civilisation is probably more likely than being struck by a giant meteorite (I hope I’m not tempting fate there!). Amongst all this doom and gloom it is important to remember that for the majority of people living on this planet, life is much better than that.
Our perception of the state of the world is seriously eroded largely by negative press – camera crews and news reporters try to find the most appalling incidents to make the public tune in. That is essentially their job. Of course, it’s human nature to seek out bad news, but it’s important to remember that positive things are happening all the time that are never reported.
Just like the news reports, fiction often visits the darker side of the human condition (or not-so-human, depending on your genre). It is essential for the development of a plot for ‘something’ to happen. That ‘something’, or ‘trigger’, is necessary for events to take place and a story to unfold, and rarely is it something pleasant.
To write a story it can be quite difficult to actually begin, or ‘put pen to paper’ as the cliche goes. Sometimes it can be good to start with a dramatic event to draw people in, or at least a line or two to pique their interest or create bemusement. Something, anything to grab the reader and make them want to read on.
Another way to start is to imagine the ‘trigger’ event and work backwards. Think about what would lead up to the event taking place, or how and why the main character is involved or affected by it.
This is all well and good, but how to come up with the ‘trigger’ in the first place? Some people use random words, or suggested opening lines, or they look in the newspapers and magazines then extrapolate their own variations on the stories they read. Another way is to find an arresting image and to create a story that leads up to, or runs away from, what is pictured. That’s where this post comes in – hopefully.
The end of the world is a pretty dramatic event and has been illustrated numerous times throughout history – in art, literature and on film. The images below are interesting because they fuse photography and painting to create believable scenes (they digitally fuse the two media to create impossible ‘photos’). Created by Michal Karcz (an artist form Warsaw, Poland), his images appear to encompass post-apocalyptic, alien or parallel worlds and alternative futures/pasts. They could be a good starting point for a story/
What would you write inspired by these pictures? Or what do you use as a trigger for your stories?