The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 12

February 17, 2021

Previous post: The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 11.

“The Music on the Hill” by Saki

I think this is the first work by Saki I’ve read, and I’m not particularly compelled to seek out more. The brooding sylvan ambiance is well-rendered, especially given the brevity of the piece, but it doesn’t quite compare to what Arthur Machen accomplished in fewer pages in “The Ceremony”.

And the ending feels a bit clumsy. The brutality of the protagonist’s death isn’t out of place, per se, but maybe it’s rendered too concretely for my taste? I dunno.

It’s certainly not a bad story, but I don’t care to linger on it any longer.

“Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched” by May Sinclair

This is a standout story in the collection, one of my favorites. It is also one of the longer pieces, and absolutely earns its length. The narration has a dreamlike quality to begin with, which perfectly suits its eventual descent into twilit surreality, and horror. The story feels utterly modern, almost like a cross between Virginia Woolf and Charlie Kaufman.

This is a passage near the end:

“In the last hell we shall not run away any longer; we shall find no more roads, no more passages, no more open doors. We shall have no need to look for each other.

“In the last death we shall be shut up in this room, behind that locked door, together. We shall lie here together, for ever and ever, joined so fast that even God can’t put us asunder We shall be one flesh and one spirit, one sin repeated for ever, and ever; spirit loathing flesh, flesh loathing spirit; you and I loathing each other.”

“Why? Why?” she cried.

“Because that’s all that’s left us. That’s what you made of love.”

I won’t spoil the end for you, since that’s where it really gets dark.

The author, May Sinclair, is credited with first using the term “stream of consciousness” in a literary context, which is pretty baller.

“The Cloth which Weaves Itself” by W. W. Skeat

The story, in full:

Among the sacred objects belonging to a sultan of Menangcabow named Gaggar Allum was the cloth sansistah kallah, which weaves itself, and adds one thread yearly of fine pearls, and when that cloth shall be finished the world will be no more.

Pretty much what it says on the tin.

“Universal History” by William Olaf Stapledon

The story, in full:

In one inconceivably complex cosmos, whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct temporal dimensions and distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were very many creatures, and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combinations of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.

This is a remarkably lucid articulation of the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics, which is especially neat given that this piece was written in 1937 and MWI was first proposed in 1957 by Hugh Everett.

The theme of “Universal History” is taken up by Borges himself in one of his most famous stories, “The Garden of Forking Paths”. And, hey, here’s a quote from that Wikipedia article:

[“The Garden of Forking Paths”]’s theme has been said to foreshadow the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. It may have been inspired by work of the philosopher and science fiction author Olaf Stapledon.

Borges, quantum mechanics, and Olaf Stapledon: Wikipedia concurs with me! Never have I felt so vindicated.

“A Theologian in Death” by Emmanuel Swedenborg

I remembered not caring much for this story upon first reading it, but after a reread I think that determination was a bit unfair. It’s basically the story of a theologian who dies and refuses to admit that he has been owned, while slowly shrinking into a corn cob.

"im not owned! im not owned!!", i continue to insist as i slowly shrink and transform into a corn cob

— wint (@dril) November 11, 2011

There are some quote-worthy lines in here, for instance:

One evening, Melancthon felt cold. He began examining the house, and soon discovered that the other rooms no longer matched those of his old house in the natural world. One was cluttered with instruments whose use he did not understand; another had shrunk so small that entrance was impossible; a third had not changed, but its doors and windows opened onto vast sandbanks. One of the rooms at the back of the house was full of people who worshipped him and who kept telling him that no theologian was ever as wise as he. These praises pleased him, but since some of the visitors were faceless and others seemed dead he ended up hating and distrusting them.

Continued at The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 13.

The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 12 - February 17, 2021 - Greg Poulos