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Sprites, spirits, spooks and slime
by Jan Sand
2006-11-01 09:59:19
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I cut my first literary teeth on the usual big bright colored books, but quickly zipped into the available fantastic adventures available in the local library. I swept through Andrew Lang’s Blue, Red, Crimson, Green, Yellow, Violet, Pink, Lilac, Orange, Brown, and Grey fairy books like a sneeze through a torn Kleenex.

After that it was the Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne and off into the Norse Myths with Loki and Thor and the rest of the gang. My nervous system jittered and jumped until I could grab a quick but temporary fix with the grim Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. After that I made do with Uncle Remus and The Arabian Nights with a few side sessions with GB Shaw’s prefaces and plays, which, for a nine year old had quite a few puzzling aspects.

Then I discovered H.G. Wells, who was very satisfying (and still is), and the John Carter of Mars series by E.R. Burroughs of Tarzan fame. As a side dish, I feasted on Poe and Algernon Blackwood, who kept me goggle-eyed and horrified late into the night. Dracula and Frankenstein struck me as a bit goofy at the time, but a CBS radio Columbia Workshop interpretation of de Maupassant’s Horla scared the bejesus out of me for months.

There was only one comic book in those very early days which merely republished the newspaper comics of Jiggs and Maggie, Lil Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, Blondie, Andy Gump, Boob McNutt, Alley Oop, and all the rest. A few years later Action Comics appeared featuring Superman in the front section and Slam Bradley and Shorty in the back. That opened the dike for the flood of superheroes like Batman, Mr America, Spiderman, Superwoman, Captain Marvel, etc.

It was EC (educational comics) that put out horror illustrations in their books done by Wally Wood that chilled. They also originated Mad Magazine, edited by Harvey Kurtzman, who put out a hilarious spoof of Superman and Captain Marvel (Superduperman and Captain Marbles). Mad Magazine humor these days is fairly routine, but in those early days it was very funny indeed.

The modern equivalent of fairy tales with giants and monsters and magic apparatus is obviously science fiction. Perhaps I am prejudiced but the fantasy end of things which is its most developed in Tolkien’s stories has less impact and less relevance to me. We live in a science fiction world. Occasionally, films like Poltergeist and The Exorcist can bestow a chill where rationality shatters, but John Carpenter’s version of John Campbell’s story Who Goes There?, The Thing from Outer Space, conveys something more to me of the possibility of actual horror.

John W. Campbell was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction and, in his years as editor, he nurtured the great writers in the field like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, A.E. Van Vogt, Jack Williamson, Henry Kuttner, Alfred Bester, Arthur C. Clarke, and a slew of others. I have heard rocket scientists and engineers who were inspired to develop their fields by their early introduction to science fiction.

We are living today in the dreams of these men. The star versions of sprites and spooks have yet to appear. Space ships have moved through the solar system and so far seen only forbidding landscapes, freezing cold and blasting hot, but nothing alive, no odd menaces with insuperable powers. But the universe is a very big and mysterious place and there are hints of multiple dimensions not only out there, but right down here where reality might split right under your bed tonight and a slimy tentacle with an inquisitive eye in its tip might arc over your sleeping face and drip an enslaving hormone into your open mouth.

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Asa2006-10-31 12:44:52
Thanks, Jan...back to the shrink I go...

winsum2006-11-03 16:52:44
lol what riches three from Sand in this days offerings. so now I'm a fan. . .

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