Archive for robert w chambers

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”

Posted in Bram Stoker, Carmilla, Christopher Lee, Collinson twins, David Henry Friston (illustrator), Dracula, Emily Gerard, Hammer Horror, Ingrid Pitt, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Juan López Moctezuma, Karnstein Trilogy, LGBT vampires, Lust for a Vampire, Madeline Smith, Michael Fitzgerald (illustrator), Morbidezza, Peter Cushing, Robert W. Chambers, Roy Ward Baker, Shout! Factory, Thalía, The Dark Blue (magazine), The King in Yellow (1895), Transylvania Superstitions (1885), Twins of Evil, Vampire Fiction, vampire novellas, Yutte Stensgaard with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

At some point in my life I became fascinated with the Victorian Vampire tale and sought out every extant instance of it that I could find. I haunted my local bookstores and purchased from mail order catalogues specializing in Dark Fantasy and Horror (obviously this was in the days before the Internet) but after a while I began to see the same stories and after reading them, there were only a select few which I ever felt compelled to return to. Such a one is Carmilla, the infamous novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. It is largely known nowadays as the story that spawned the genre of sexually ambiguous  vampires, but it is so much more than that and deserves to be acknowledged as one of the greatest Gothic Horror stories ever written.

“…I saw a female figure standing at the foot of the bed, a little at the right side. It was in a dark loose dress, and its hair was down and covered its shoulders. A block of stone could not have been more still.” (David Henry Friston, 1872)

It was originally serialized in the short-lived literary magazine, The Dark Blue, from 1871-1872, with illustrations by Michael Fitzgerald and David Henry Friston (respectively). It is presented as an account written by the protagonist, Laura, 10 years after her encounter with the eponymous vampire. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Basically, Carmilla is an aristocratic teenage vampire who plays on social etiquette to wheedle her way into the homes of the gentry where she woos and feeds on the young women of the household. To keep herself fettle during her protracted courtships she creeps out at night and drains the village daughters. It is this emphasis on same sex seduction that has given the tale its notoriety. Hammer studios exploited this in their 1970 film, Vampire Lovers, which alternately boosted and doomed the career of the curvaceous Polish born actress Ingrid Pitt. Although in her 30s at the time, her mesmerizing portrayal of the predatory countess is so iconic that it guaranteed her an esteemed place through posterity in the Horror film annals alongside her male counterparts, like Christopher Lee.

The movie was basically Hammer’s attempt to spice up their brand with a saucy new franchise, which came to be known as the Karnstein Trilogy, named after the family of vampires from which Carmilla was one of the lone survivors. Surprisingly enough, the film follows Le Fanu’s story fairly closely, although they do play up the erotic aspects of the tale and even have Ms. Pitt frolicking naked with co-star Madeline Smith (who plays Emma, the film’s equivalent to Laura) and seducing anyone and everyone (male or female) who has the arguable misfortune to come within her path. She is very charismatic and has a sensual allure that is very like her literary counterpart and, like her, when it comes time to vamp out, she is genuinely terrifying.

The film did well enough to spawn two sequels, however Ms. Pitt declined to renew her role for fear of being typecast, and subsequently the follow-up film, 1971’s Lust for a Vampire, was a weak link in the series. The story had some good plot ideas but was marred by the cardboard acting of Danish model turned actress Yutte Stensgaard and an emphasis on lurid, puerile softcore scenes. The 3rd installment, Twins of Evil (also 1971), had a better script, the delectable Collinson twins, and a grave performance by the recently widowed Peter Cushing, to recommend it.

Magazine promo featuring the ladies from Vampire Lovers. Ingrid Pitt is in the top row, dressed in blue.

Oddly enough, in the  featurette on the Blu-ray release of Vampire Lovers, from Shout Factory, the director, Roy Ward Baker, as well as many of the others involved with the movie claimed they never saw the Sapphic subtext in the Le Fanu story. I find that hard to believe; either they’re being coy or they are willfully ignoring the obvious. That said, I don’t think Le Fanu intended for his tale to be salacious, as he never stoops to tawdry titillations in his descriptions of Carmilla’s heated declarations and osculatory embraces. A modern reader must understand that in the Victorian mind, homosexuality was considered an unnatural transgression and a damning affront to God; this can be seen in Laura’s adverse reaction to Carmilla’s advances, which she initially tries to dismiss as “mysterious moods”. They trouble her greatly, but Carmilla’s glamour of preternatural beauty and persuasive powers have a way of softening her aversion.

There is great Gothic atmosphere in the story as well as some genuinely creepy moments that are brilliantly written, like when Laura describes her spectral visitations; the first visit from Carmilla as a young child is particularly vivid and disturbing. I was also blindsided by the implication that Laura is distantly related to the Karnsteins. It made me wonder, is Carmilla trying to bring another family member into the depleted Karnstein family vampire coven? Laura’s mother died young and I believe she may have been taken or at least an attempt was made to take her, although this isn’t fully explored in the tale. Carmilla hints at such a thing, and more, in this telling passage from chapter 4 wherein I believe she hints at her vampiric nature, which she claims even she cannot control, and that, once initiated, Laura will bring others into the fold as well:

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die—die, sweetly die—into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”

Although not the first literary vampire, Carmilla did help establish many of the tropes we expect nowadays from our vampires, like returning to their place of burial each night, their mesmeric power, pointy teeth, the ability to shapeshift (Carmilla turns into a great shadowy cat), and even the ability to breach locked doors without effort.

Bram Stoker appears to have been familiar with the story, as there are some analogous scenes and details in Dracula (1897). In fact, before he discovered Emily Gerard‘s treasure trove travel essay Transylvania Superstitions (1885), he was going to have the novel take place in Styria, the Austrian state where Le Fanu’s tale takes place. I also suspect that perhaps the Baron Vordenburg, who is the vampire authority in the tale, could have been an inspiration for Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing.

I wonder as well whether the tomes Le Fanu mentions as coming from his library which, after an unfruitful precursory search, I assume are fictitious, might not also be considered precursors to the imaginary grimoires of the Lovecraft mythos, predating even Robert W ChambersKing in Yellow.

Nowadays, any time someone writes an erotic vampire tale, especially if it hints at lesbianism, the character of Carmilla is bound the make an appearance at some point. The Karnstein name has been bandied about in many Horror and exploitation films over the years, and Carmilla has appeared in countless comic books, cartoons, video games, you name it. In fact, despite never having  quite become household name, she is probably the most famous literary vampire after Dracula.

Both stories are heavily plundered in the exploitation film Alucarda, by Mexican director Juan López Moctezuma. A few scenes are taken directly from Carmilla, like the scene with the hunchback who tries to sell the girls charms, and the bit where they enter the crypt and find Alucarda’s friend reposing in a coffin overbrimming in blood.

Lastly, I have been smitten with Carmilla for decades. Her story has definitely had an influence on the development of my own vampire women, Thalía & Morbidezza, and I reckon I’ll continue to be in her thrall until the day I stretch out for a dolce far niente in my own narrow house, to dream of bats, blood, and fair fey women amidst the crumbling tombs of the Karnstein family crypt.




New story accepted for King in Yellow Tribute Anthology

Posted in Duane Pesice, Nightmares in Yellow, Oxygen Man Books, Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow (1895), Yellow Tale with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

It seems my latest story, Yellow Tale has been accepted for inclusion in the upcoming anthology by Duane Pesice for Oxygen Man Books, Nightmares in Yellow. It is a collection of tribute fiction in the style of The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers. Mr. Pesice said he liked it and that it was “worth the wait.”

Galad Elflandsson’s “Tales of Carcosa” (2018)

Posted in Ace Books, Copper Toadstool (magazine), Cyäegha Press, Dragonbane (fanzine), Galad Elflandsson, Graeme Phillips (editor), H.P. Lovecraft, How Darkness Came to Carcosa, Robert W. Chambers, Steve Lines, Supernatural Horror in Literature (essay), Tales of Carcosa, The Black Wolf, The King in Yellow (1895) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Tales of Carcosa by Galad Elflandsson (2018, Cyäegha Press).

A while back I did a review on the dark fantasy novel The Black Wolf (1979), by Galad Elflandsson. Mr. Elflandsson saw my review and contacted me starting a correspondence which has been both genial and edifying. Although he has been out of circulation in recent decades, he has continued writing albeit for the most part he has abandoned his Fantasy roots. Even so, he was recently contacted by someone (presumably editor Graeme Phillips) over at Cyäegha Press about some stories he had written which appeared in various fantasy and horror themed journals back in the late 70s and early 80s, like Dark Fantasy, Dragonbane, and Copper Toadstool.

Dragonbane #1 (1978) in which first appeared the story How Darkness Came to Carcosa.

The stories in question were of a specific ilk, focusing on the themes and characters that originated in the book The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers, later incorporated by H.P. Lovecraft into his mythos and augmented upon by subsequent mythos authors. Galad Elflandsson was one such author. According to his afterword, he picked up a copy of the 1965 Ace paperback edition after reading Lovecraft’s rhapsodic endorsement in his benchmark essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. Apparently it left an impression on him because he eventually wrote his own cycle of tales set within the purlieu of Carcosa.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers (1965, Ace Books).

The tales as I found them, are entertaining although not as fast paced as his novel, The Black Wolf. Knowing his personal writing, I could recognize his penchant for focusing on the human experience. The Exile in particular has a focus on social/class issues and the inner world of the protagonist, Henri. In fact, many of the tales herein seem almost like a mixture of existential literature, and Fin de siècle decadence with a soupçon of horror thrown in on occasion to remind one that these are dark fantasy tales after all. As with The Black Wolf, I would have liked a bit more of a macabre atmosphere maintained throughout, but that is just a personal quirk of mine. I think my favorite story was the opening tale, How Darkness Came to Carcosa, which apparently delineates the origin of the King in the Pallid Mask, and I especially liked the few poems which are scattered throughout the book alongside fitting illustrations by Steve Lines.  Over all, it is a highly enjoyable read, and one does not necessarily need to be familiar with the extended mythos built around Carcosa or The King in Yellow to enjoy these tales, but it wouldn’t hurt going in knowing the reputation behind the forbidden play and the significance of the Yellow Sign.

The book appears to be a limited run, my copy being #8/50 numbered copies, so if you see it, grab it!


Update 01/16/2019: Black Hymeneal and Galad’s new book

Posted in Black Hymeneal, Cyäegha (publication), Denisse Montoya, Galad Elflandsson, Michele Bledsoe, robert w chambers, Tales of Carcosa with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Yesterday I had a few pleasant surprises when I went online at the library. For starters, I got an email from my friend Denisse in which she sent me a draft of the layout for Black Hymeneal. I didn’t even think she was still working on it, but what she sent me looked very nice and the font was gorgeous! I still would like to make some edits in the text since some of the information in the old introductions are outdated. I may also put a gallery in the back of the back featuring the illustrations and cover art my friend Michele Bledsoe did for the original conception of the book.

I also got a message from my friend, author Galad Elflandsson, informing me that his long awaited collection of Yellow Sign tales from Cyäegha is finally coming out and even sent me a scan of the cover art. It is to be called Tales of Carcosa and he said he might be able to procure me a signed copy, and I told him if he could then I would promise not only to read it, but review it on here as well.

Update: Rosaire influences

Posted in Cyäegha (publication), Galad Elflandsson, Graeme Phillips (editor), Jean Grenier (lycanthrope), Montague Summers, Randy Broecker, robert w chambers, Rosaire, The Black Wolf, The Werewolf in Lore and Legend (1933) with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

While brainstorming for my prose-poem, Rosaire I envisioned an epic denouement which I thought was entirely of my own invention. It wasn’t until I began to picture it in my mind’s eye when I realized there was a whiff of familiarity in it. Although my idea isn’t identical to it, I believe the inspiration for my epic ending may be partially inspired by the 3rd act in the Dark Fantasy novel “The Black Wolf” by Galad Elflandsson, which I have reviewed on here before. Mr. Elflandsson stumbled upon my review and agreed with my assessment of his novel and we ended up becoming pen-pals. When I told him about my recent epiphany he was amicably dismissive and said, in reference to my post which included a shot of the cover art from his novel, “you poor thing…nevertheless…you’re more than welcome to whatever comes to you from the above…”.

Trade paperback copy of The Black Wolf by Galad Elflandsson. [1980, Centaur Books]. Cover art by Randy Broecker.

I also have some as yet unpublished stories he sent me in the Robert W. Chambers “King in Yellow” vein. I have not read them yet, but shall be doing so once the dust has settled from the holidays, as I would like to review them here. I believe he is currently in negotiations with editor Graeme Phillips to get them published by a British publisher, that specializes in Mythos fiction, called Cyäegha. If and when they do come out in print I will definitely review them here.

Cyäegha, Summer 2016

I also based some of the werewolf attribute details in Rosaire on historical accounts from Montague Summers’ 1933 treatise on lycanthropy, The Werewolf in Lore and Legend. In particular I was thinking of the 17th century teenage lycanthrope Jean Grenier. I am almost done with the story, but not quite. I felt I needed to add something to it before it is ready, and I want to give it some serious thought before I write anything else. Of course, I’ll keep you all posted on any developments.

The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers [2003, Dover Publications]

In Honor of Emperor Norton the 1st of San Francisco (01-08-12)

Posted in emperor norton, hp lovecraft, robert w cambersh, Trunk Space with tags , , , , , , on January 17, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

In Honor of Emperor Norton the 1st of San Francisco
Sunday, January 8th 2012, I participated in a tribute to the 19th Century San Franciscan eccentric, Emperor Norton at the Trunk Space in downtown Phoenix. This was the description on the Facebook event page:

A night of absurdity with the Cult of the Yellow Sign, Male Pattern Radness, Hi My Name Is Ryan, TK Campo and poetry by Manny Arenas! Emperor Norton is the mentally unstable “Rice King” who claimed dominion over all California, and “Protector of Mexico”. We honor this Genius in Exile.”
What made this show special for me was the fact that I got an extended set. I was allowed to do my thing (i.e. read my poetry, deliver my bon mots and even sing a song) for the space of 20-30 minutes. I am sure that I didn’t quite use up all of my time, especially once I realized that I forgot to read one of my prepared poems, but it was nice to have the breathing room to stretch out between pieces and communicate with the audience.
The evening started with the Cult of the Yellow Sign members #138 and #808, Space 55 regulars (my buddies) Kevin Flanagan and Ash Naftule, respectively, introducing the show and imparting a little of information on who exactly this esteemed personage Emperor Norton really was. Of course, they also sprinkled in their usual quips about the Cult and made the usual references to the fictional pantheons of Robert W Chambers and HP Lovecraft.

Kevin Flanagan and Ash Naftule, members #138 and #808 of the Cult of the Yellow Sign

I was the first one up from the guests and opened with an a capella rendition of the song “The Boat of Millions of Years” by Van der Graaf Generator. I was initially concerned that my voice would give when I sang this because I had been suffering from a persistent dry cough, but it went off without a hitch. I then proceeded to recite the poems I had selected for the evening, which dealt mostly with the subject of death. I told the audience that this was not a conscious choice, but rather and intuitive one. I offered that since my set would be so morbid, I would sprinkle in a few “buffer pieces” as the “sugar to help the medicine go down”. Over all the response was positive and folks seemed to enjoy the pieces and laugh in the right spots during my preambles between the poems.
A few of my friends took photos and I understand one even took video, which I haven’t seen yet, but hope to maybe post a clip sometime if it turned out well.

Me, reciting fromone of my little journals where I keep my dark ditties.

The other acts were amusing, particularly the band Male Pattern Radness, who sang songs about disgruntled waiters, getting high, and taking rufies (!).

Male Pattern Radness

Hi, My Name is Ryan, one half of the duo Drunk and Horny, did his usual shtick of standing on chairs, yelling through a megaphone and stirring up the crowd to follow him in a song. This time his set had a “New” New Year theme and he dispensed party hats and noisemakers for everyone to celebrate after a countdown. It was fun, but went on a little longer than it needed to.
Next up was the Cult who summoned up a demon…hand puppet! They then called up folks from the audience to ask the demon questions about joining the Cult of the Yellow Sign, and this was truly an inspired segment of the show. The best moments being when audience member (Space 55 alumnus) Shawna Franks allowed her young sons to participate in the question/answer forum, which ended in the demon taking the brothers into not only joining the Cult, but dueling one another to curry favor with the Cult. Chaos reigned!

Cult member #138 finds a handy host for the demon they channeled.

Just as things seemed to be wrapping up, TK Campo showed up to finish off the show. Unfortunately, even though his songs (played alternately on mandolin and piano) were mostly tuneful, his delivery was soporific and cleared the room save a few die-hards and friends.
Over all, it was fun night and I am anxious to see what the Cult does next. The text of the poems I read follows here:
(Note on text: I just changed the title of the first poem from “Altagracia” to “Altagracia’s Lament”.)
Altagracia’s Lament
Amidst the Arizona Red Rocks within her cavern lair
Altagracia plays a tune into the midnight air
Tapping doleful melodies that echo through the night
With velvet mallets on an organ made from stalagmites

Woefully, she keens her sorrow into the desert night
As the victor scorpion-mouse peeps his kettle-cry rite
Night-blooming flowers unfurl buds in welcoming fashion
For the Lesser Long-nosed Bats to lap their nectar with passion

Ruefully she dreams of times before the bloodlust came
The family curse which took her tía, and drove Lupe insane
Forcing her monthly, to transform and shed her human skin
For animal pelts and raven’s wings, steeped in blood and sin

Altagracia could not allow this curse to carry on
And so she chose to kill her aunt, nescient of what would come
By taking the life of her aunt, she hoped more lives to save
But with the best of intentions the road to Hell is paved

The tlahuelpuchi can’t be slain by one who shares her line
The curse just passes to the kin whom perpetrate the crime
By killing Lupe, Grace took on her sanguinary bane
As well as her occult powers, and transfiguring frame

A vegetarian at heart, she cannot brook the thirst
For the blood of innocents, with which she has been cursed
And fight the craving as she might she cannot shirk her fate
But rather acquiesce and drink until the thirst abates

And so she bays unto the moon, coyotes take her cue
Joining in her lamentation, with guilt and gore imbrued
Knowing that her isolation will no way stay the curse
From finding another victim with which to slake her thirst

Wiping up tears with livid hands her ululations spent
She feels the change about to break as she catches a scent
Her body writhes, her structure pops the fur begins to spread
She is now crib death incarnate which newborn mothers dread

You say that you do not know me; fear not, we shall come to know one another better soon enough—when the time is right.
All come to know me at some time or another: kings and paupers, sinners and saints, the youthful and the decrepit.
All men fear and loathe me; the only ones whom come to me willingly are the wretched, the disfigured and the sickly.
They welcome me with open arms; they constitute my flock.
The generals are my acolytes, my altar the battlefield; my host is mankind and my wine, his blood.
I also provide a service.
Like a blackbird I herald change.
I weed out the old and make way for the new.
I bring an end to suffering and provide a bridge to the next station.
But with all of these responsibilities at hand, I have no time for rest.
Daily, I beg for the hour when I might be suffered to reap my own stalk from this field of perpetual darkness.
Until that day, I shall continue to sheave the souls of the fortunate ones…you favored children of God.
Azraelle, my moribund bride
Gowned in ebon lace
Down the funest aisle you stride
With an exequial pace

Niveous hands let fingers slip
With sharpened ruby nails
Like little bloodied arrow tips
Which have my heart impaled

Your fine fair bosom does not heave
with movements to respire
Yet moves my will, in twain, to cleave
As my heart would to expire

Trailing from your muddy feet
A somber bridal train
Sullied in your brief retreat
Through graveyards in the rain

Tangled in its filigree
Are tokens from the grave
Supported by (with impish glee)
A grotesque lilim babe

Behind a veil of spider’s web
Sable tresses flow
In rivulets, about you, ebb
Away from your dark brow

Peeling back gossamer mesh
Your eyes aglow like gleeds
Burning into my weak flesh
To my wan heart, which bleeds

Your crimson labia do stretch
Into a hungry smile
Enticing me, a poor fey wretch
With lewd and baneful wiles

Eagerly I give to you
My last remaining breath
And as my lips avow, “I do”
Receive your kiss of Death

Ode to Stout
Stout is like a chocolate drink
Semi-sweet and well nigh black
Delectable amaritude
In creamy bitter draught
Sweet unmalted barley wort
Cordial cocoa quaff
Heavy, almost viscous
Seen darkly through the glass
Liquid velvet, hazy curtain
Obfuscates the eyes
Tawny lips, the foamy kiss
A bittersweet goodbye

Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
Is what she said to me that day
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
Is all she had, for me, to say
“I do not like you, not one bit
Your very presence makes me shit
And so I leave you with this phrase to think upon in future days
“Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
A phrase so plain, so pure, so true
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
An offering, from me to you
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
It leaves no doubt per what to do
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
And eat my shorts while your down there to”