Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Treasury of Modern Fantasy (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCL

Our next two authors are husband and wife team Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore.  This serves as a reminder that the American Fantasy Market did not stay a boys club for long.  Exactly how hard women had to work to bust up "the smoke filled room," I don't know, but the fact is that they did and its been a co-ed party ever since.

Call Him Demon by Henry Kuttner

We continue our trek through the history of American fantasy with yet another piece in the horror genre laced with Sci-Fi and Fantasy elements.  Kuttner, unlike Boucher, takes up Henry James' cue in A Turn of the Screw that horror is always worse when encountered by children.  James gave us two children in his classic as a way of "uping the ante."  Kuttner gives us four.  While I don't know that that increases the horror, it does allow him to play with the line between children's games and their experience of reality.  Throughout the work, we are always free to doubt the nature of the children's experiences and that filter is what creates the tension in Call Him Demon.  Even at the end, we cannot be entirely sure what has happened.  As with They Bite, this uncertainty is what produces the horrific effect.  The monster is always scariest when you can't quite see him.

Daemon by C.L. Moore

Daemon, by C.L. Moore brings us firmly back into the realm of fantasy.  It also returns us to the first person which we haven't seen employed since The Rats in the Walls.  Like The Rats in the Walls, Daemon taps into the world of Victorian occult pseudo-history (again, an element that has been missing since the Lovecraft piece).  Here, however, the effect of the pseudo-historical element is not to produce terror, but a sense of wonder and loss.  Adding to the sense of wonder is another feature we've seen in Lovecraft and Kuttner: the unreliable narrator.  Luiz o bobo, the character through whose eyes we experience Daemon, is a simpleton and may therefore be a holy fool or simply the victim of hallucinations.

Moving from storytelling technique into message, this is the first piece to introduce the tired Romantic/Victorian trope that Christianity destroyed the artistic beauty of the Classical World: "thou hast triumphed, O pale Galilean, and the world has grown grey with thy breath."  A brief acquaintance with Medieval literature (may I recommend Chaucer's The Knight's Tale and Dante's Divine Comedy) should be enough to blow that out of the water.  The mainstream of Christian thought embraced the Classical World with tact and energy and wove it into Medieval Europe and the Renaissance.  If anything, it is Modernity that has breathed upon the World and religion and made them grey with its breath.  Still, this is an important trope in Fantasy Literature and I'm sure it's not the last time it will come up in this collection.  There is a distinct anti-Christian bias in American Science Fiction and Fantasy that continues (for many reasons) right down to this day.  To clarify: I wouldn't call C.L. Moore's Daemon anti-Christian, but it is peddling traditionally anti-Christian ideas -and she has a right to do that- I simply observe them and dispute their accuracy.  It's one more piece of the puzzle that is 20th century American Fantasy.   

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