Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A September Night at the Phantom Concert Hall

We're kicking off the fall season, and thumbing our nose at the dreary, rainy weather, by heading out to the concert hall again. Tonight's performance...Rheinberger's roiling, romantic piano concerto!



Isn't it great? One of those lovely pieces that flies under the radar. I love finding these obscure little gems.

Sorry to be late with this and not posting for a while. My elderly mother took a fall and broke both her shoulder and hip, and my sister and her husband have moved cross-country to Seattle. I had to be on hand when Mom underwent surgery and helping arrange for assistance while she's in a rehab facility. And then Mom decided she couldn't take care of her cat any longer so she had him surrendered to a local shelter, which upset me quite a bit as he's 10 years old and shelters have problems adopting out older cats. And I haven't talked about this on the blog, but over the summer I was hit by an unexpected depression and I went into therapy. I'm slowly coming out of it but it's taking a while, as it usually does.

So, the past couple months have been difficult, to say the least, and while I slowly get my groove back, bit by bit,I hope to get back to regular posting.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

THE HORROR CHAMBERS OF JULES DE GRANDIN by Seabury Quinn

Finally, the last volume of Popular Library's reprint series! And just in time as the complete ebook reprints are now available....making these books pretty much obsolete. I spent years and tons of money hunting these down, and now...well, at least I enjoyed the chase, I guess.

Seabury Quinn apparently was a bit of a progressive in some ways, as you may have seen from my previous reviews of his works. He's sympathetic to minorities (sometimes) and some of his stories have centered on sexuality. And that continues here...

"The Gods of East and West" concerns a woman under the influence of an idol of Kali, and de Grandin, not able to help her out himself....so he brings in a Native American shaman to exorcise the spirit. The story leaves one with an odd feeling; Quinn may have been trying to be pro-Indian but at the same time it comes across as a sort of fetishization of the Noble Savage sort of thing. A strange story.

"The Poltergeist" has another young woman be the center of poltergeist activity. It turns out to be the work of a ghost, namely that of another woman who was plainly a lesbian and in love with the living woman, and who is now jealous of her upcoming marriage. OK, kinda homophobic, to be sure, but that's pretty much to be expected from a story written in 1927.

The story after that, "The House of Golden Masks," is a non-supernatural tale of white slavery. But after that is an eyebrow-raiser, "The Jest of Warburg Tantavul." A young couple are being tormented by the vengeful ghost of the husband's guardian, an eerie phantom whose malice is palpable and who is handled memorably...and even dispatched in a rather modern way. But the thrust of the story, that the man in life had sought revenge on someone else through the couple, is made clear when the reader realizes (and is finally revealed) that the couple are unknowingly brother and sister. And at the end, de Grandin remains silent, seeing that they are happy together. A weird way of ending a tale, and definitely not something that would work today, but oddly compassionate.

"Stealthy Death" is another non-supernatural tale, but with a weird element. A series of people are murdered, and a strangely beautiful but robotic woman keeps cropping up. Who is responsible and why? It turns out the murderer is a Hindu man avenging his sister, who was seduced, robbed, and sold into prostitution by an American missionary. The man's deeds are heinous but it's clear that he has a legitimate gripe.

The final story, "A Gamble in Souls," is a weird sort of tale in which the soul of a man being unjustly executed is put into the body of his evil twin brother. Again, we have some exoticism here as a Middle Eastern "philosopher" is brought in to effect the changeover. It's progressive in a tiny way, but also dripping with pulp-fiction nonsense.

So...are these good? Well, they're fun, to be honest. I'm probably being a little unfair as my modern eyes and modern sensibilities aren't the target audience. It's important to remember the times in which something was written, and the audience it was intended for, when reading older works. We don't live in an eternal present. And while the exaggerated exoticism that goes on in these tales may seem cheap and offensive to many readers today, at the time this was exciting and novel to many American readers. And also, Quinn introduces elements that rouse the reader's sympathy, in taking a brief look into the evils of imperialism in "Stealthy Death" or introducing powerful minority sorcerers in "The Gods of East and West" and "A Gamble in Souls." Even the homicidal lesbian spirit in "The Poltergeist" would at least introduce the concept to people who might not have even been aware such people existed. (And let's be honest...we're in an age now where we can acknowledge that LGBTQ people are just as capable of being dark and twisted as anyone else...) So, really, the fun is in the chills, and there are chills to be had, especially in "The Jest of Warburg Tantavul" which is one of the more dark and twisted pulp tales outside of the exploitative "weird menace" genre. This is pulpy fun and recommended if you can get into the mindset.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Steamy August Night at the Phantom Concert Hall

We're out at the symphony tonight! And as it's a hot night, we're going to listen to some pretty hot music...de Falla's remarkable "The Three Cornered Hat"!



"The Three-Cornered Hat"is actually a ballet, a rarity for its time for working mainly with traditional Spanish styles of dance, rather than classical ballet. But there days, it's mostly known as a concert piece. I love the use of castanets and all the ways in which the music disdains the conventions of the normal Western classical tradition, while at the same time being an exceptionally lovely piece on its own.

Let's have a drink after, shall we?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN, GENTLEMAN-BURGLAR by Maurice Leblanc

This is it. A landmark work, not only in crime fiction but also in the Dust & Corruption pantheon. Arsene Lupin's first published adventures. It doesn't get any better than this.

First published in 1905 (and now public domain) this sets the standard. Sure, other sympathetic crooks were around before. most notably A. J. Raffles, but Lupin was much better written and simply more fun. The stories were originally published in the magazine "Je sais tout," starting in July of 1905 (113 years ago!) and grew to encompass 24 novels and short-story collections. I want to read as many as I can.

I mean, how can I resist a burglar who leaves a note in a noble's home, reading, "Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar, will return when the furniture is genuine"? On one hand, it's almost a parody of the snobbish criminal who won't stain his hands with reproductions....but it's also a blast at the vulgar wealthy who try to maintain an appearance of taste and culture. I get a sense that Lupin wouldn't have mocked him if the noble had been more honest about himself.

So, to run down...

The first three stories make a trilogy. "The Arrest of Arsene Lupin" introduces the character and has him sneaking aboard a cruise ship from France to America, and also makes it clear that he's got a weakness for beautiful women. (But of course....) "Arsene Lupin in Prison" has him announcing a daring burglary while in prison, and actually pulling it off despite everyone's doubts. "The Escape of Arsene Lupin" has one of the more amusing, and more complicated, prison-escape plots I've ever seen, and makes for zesty reading.

"The Mysterious Traveler" is a first-person story from Lupin's viewpoint, in which he captures a murderer on a train. "The Queen's Necklace" is intriguing as it gives us a potential origin story for Lupin, and has him committing dashing thefts even as a child.

"The Seven of Hearts" is one of my favorites, as it introduces us to a narrator (presumably Leblanc himself) who tells of how he first met Lupin, and also gives us a bizarre and intriguing mystery with Gothic overtones. Who's breaking into the journalist's apartment? What are they seeking? What's the meaning of the playing card poked full of holes?

In "Madame Imbert's Safe," Lupin meets his match in a pair of con artists. "The Black Pearl" has him starting on a daring jewel robbery....only to find himself in the middle of a murder. And the last story, "Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late" is perhaps one of the more interesting of the bunch, in that it's good and early example of the literary crossover, in having Lupin go toe-to-toe with the Great Detective himself. There were copyright issues, though, and in future appearances he showed up as Herlock Sholmes, fooling nobody but appeasing the law. Imagine...all that crossover fanfic on the web has a legit source...

This is an excellent read, and on the Required Reading shelf. This is available in cheap editions, and can be downloaded for free from the 'net. There are also good audio versions available. "The Classic Tales" podcast did a version a while back that may still be available. You owe it to yourself to become acquainted with Arsene Lupin. Go do it now.




Tuesday, July 17, 2018

THE MANSION IN THE MIST by John Bellairs

I'm back!

Ah, that wonderful Edward Gorey artwork! A Gorey cover, and the Bellairs name, are almost a guarantee of a good time.

At the beginning of The Mansion in the Mist, Anthony Monday, Miss Eels, and her brother Emerson are vacationing on an island in a lake in northern Canada. One night, Anthony finds a wooden chest in a back room of the house they're staying in, and feels a strange urge to get in. The lids snaps shut, and when he opens it again he's in a misty, twilight world of moving plants and a huge, menacing mansion. He makes his way back, and at first his friends don't believe him, as the chest is now gone from the room. But after a while it shows up again, and other sinister things start to happen....

This is late Bellairs, and has some of his strengths and some of his failings. It's got atmosphere to spare, and some quirky humor, and the Canadian lake setting is reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood. But it's got too-convenient coincidences, a ghost showing up where the person is alive and with no explanation, and a plot that needs more background. As it is, the villains of the piece are great. They're a group of wizards who call themselves the Autarchs, who inhabit a vast mansion in a parallel pocket dimension, who plot to draw our world into it so they can rule it. One weakness they have is that the Autarchs are powerless in our world, which makes for some interesting intrigue.

I have to admit...while I found the story wanting in some ways, the ideas behind it are interesting and linger in my mind. The misty, shadowy pocket dimension is a great setting and could be expanded. This would be good for someone doing a role-playing game or something.

This is the last Anthony Monday book; unlike his other two series, this was not extended after Bellairs' death. Soon, I plan to start on his third series, about New England adventurer Johnny Dixon.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I'm back! A Phantom Serenade for July


Sorry to have been away for the last month. Some work-related anxiety issues, and some on-and-off health issues, and gay pride, and a few other things, kept me from concentrating on blogging. But here I am!

It's a lazy summer evening; we've had a lovely light dinner at a friend's house and lingering in the back yard, chatting and catching up while the sun slowly sets. And from nearby, we hear someone playing the piano with their window open, as if serenading us. We all pause in the conversation to listen...



Lovely piece, eh? And just the thing for a quiet summer evening....

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June at the Phantom Concert Hall!

So, it's a June night, and there's a new program at the concert hall, with some interesting modern music.

Here's a great part of the program; this was composed by Angelo Badalamenti as part of the soundtrack for the David Lynch film "Wild at Heart," and it deserves notice on its own.



Perfect for a summer evening, eh? Lots more to come!