Cats and Dogs by H. P. Lovecraft

I thought I’d share one of Lovecraft’s essays with you today. They don’t get published as much as his fiction but I find them so interesting!

Lovecraft in 1934
Lovecraft in 1934
Cats and Dogs
By H. P. Lovecraft
Being told of the cat-and-dog fight about to occur in the Blue Pencil Club—a new thing for your circle, perhaps, though not unfamiliar to amateurdom as a whole—I cannot resist contributing a few Thomasic yowls and sibilants upon my side of the dispute, though conscious that the word of a venerable ex-member can scarcely have much weight against the brilliancy of such still active adherents as may bark upon the other side. Aware of my ineptitude at argument, my valued correspondent Curator James Ferdinand Morton of Paterson has sent me the records of a similar controversy in the New York Tribune, in which Mr. Carl Van Doren is on my side and Mr. Albert Payson Terhune on that of the canine tribe. From this I would be glad to plagiarise such data as I need; but Mr. Morton, with genuinely Machiavellian subtlety, has furnished me with only a part of the feline section whilst submitting the doggish brief in full. No doubt he imagines that this arrangement, in view of my own emphatic bias, makes for something like ultimate fairness; but for me it is exceedingly inconvenient, since it will force me to be more or less original in several parts of the ensuing remarks.
     Between dogs and cats my degree of choice is so great that it would never occur to me to compare the two. I have no active dislike for dogs, any more than I have for monkeys, human beings, negroes, cows, sheep, or pterodactyls; but for the cat I have entertained a particular respect and affection ever since the earliest days of my infancy. In its flawless grace and superior self-sufficiency I have seen a symbol of the perfect beauty and bland impersonality of the universe itself, objectively considered; and in its air of silent mystery there resides for me all the wonder and fascination of the unknown. The dog appeals to cheap and facile emotions; the cat to the deepest founts of imagination and cosmic perception in the human mind. It is no accident that the contemplative Egyptians, together with such later poetic spirits as Poe, Gautier, Baudelaire, and Swinburne, were all sincere worshippers of the supple grimalkin.
     Naturally, one’s preference in the matter of cats and dogs depends wholly upon one’s temperament and point of view. The dog would appear to me to be the favourite of superficial, sentimental, emotional, and democratic people—people who feel rather than think, who attach importance to mankind and the popular conventional emotions of the simple, and who find their greatest consolation in the fawning and dependent attachments of a gregarious society. Such people live in a limited world of imagination; accepting uncritically the values of common folklore, and always preferring to have their naive beliefs, feelings, and prejudices tickled, rather than to enjoy a purely aesthetic and philosophic pleasure arising from discrimination, contemplation, and the recognition of austere absolute beauty. This is not to say that the cheaper emotions do not also reside in the average cat-lover’s love of cats, but merely to point out that in ailurophily there exists a basis of true aestheticism which kynophily does not possess. The real lover of cats is one who demands a clearer adjustment to the universe than ordinary household platitudes provide; one who refuses to swallow the sentimental notion that all good people love dogs, children, and horses while all bad people dislike and are disliked by such. He is unwilling to set up himself and his cruder feelings as a measure of universal values, or to allow shallow ethical notions to warp his judgment. In a word, he had rather admire and respect than effuse and dote; and does not fall into the fallacy that pointless sociability and friendliness, or slavering devotion and obedience, constitute anything intrinsically admirable or exalted. Dog-lovers base their whole case on these commonplace, servile, and plebeian qualities, and amusingly judge the intelligence of a pet by its degree of conformity to their own wishes. Catlovers escape this delusion, repudiate the idea that cringing subservience and sidling companionship to man are supreme merits, and stand free to worship aristocratic independence, self-respect, and individual personality joined to extreme grace and beauty as typified by the cool, lithe, cynical, and unconquered lord of the housetops.
     Persons of commonplace ideas—unimaginative worthy burghers who are satisfied with the daily round of things and who subscribe to the popular credo of sentimental values—will always be dog-lovers. To them nothing will ever be more important than themselves and their own more primitive feelings, and they will never cease to esteem and glorify the fellow-animal who best typifies these. Such persons are submerged in the vortex of Oriental idealism and abasement which ruined classic civilisation in the Dark Ages, and live in a bleak world of abstract sentimental values wherein the mawkish illusions of meekness, devotion, gentleness, brotherhood, and whining humility are magnified into supreme virtues, and a whole false ethic and philosophy erected on the timid reactions of the flexor system of muscles. This heritage, ironically foisted on us when Roman politics raised the faith of a whipped and broken people to supremacy in the later empire, has naturally kept a strong hold over the weak and the sentimentally thoughtless; and perhaps reached its culmination in the insipid nineteenth century, when people were wont to praise dogs “because they are so human” (as if humanity were any valid standard of merit!), and honest Edwin Landseer painted hundreds of smug Fidoes and Carlos and Rovers with all the anthropoid triviality, pettiness, and “cuteness” of eminent Victorians.
     But amidst this chaos of intellectual and emotional grovelling a few free souls have always stood out for the old civilised realities which mediaevalism eclipsed—the stern classic loyalty to truth, strength, and beauty given by a clear mind and uncowed spirit to the full-living Western Aryan confronted by Nature’s majesty, loveliness, and aloofness. This is the virile aesthetic and ethic of the extensor muscles—the bold, buoyant, assertive beliefs and preferences of proud, dominant, unbroken, and unterrified conquerors, hunters, and warriors—and it has small use for the shams and whimperings of the brotherly, affection-slobbering peacemaker and cringer and sentimentalist. Beauty and sufficiency—twin qualities of the cosmos itself—are the gods of this aristocratic and pagan type; to the worshipper of such eternal things the supreme virtue will not be found in lowliness, attachment, obedience, and emotional messiness. This sort of worshipper will look for that which best embodies the loveliness of the stars and the worlds and the forests and the seas and the sunsets, and which best acts out the blandness, lordliness, accuracy, self-sufficiency, cruelty, independence, and contemptuous and capricious impersonality of all-governing Nature. Beauty—coolness—aloofness—philosophic repose—self-sufficiency—untamed mastery—where else can we find these things incarnated with even half the perfection and completeness that mark their incarnation in the peerless and softly gliding cat, which performs its mysterious orbit with the relentless and unobtrusive certainty of a planet in infinity?
     That dogs are dear to the unimaginative peasant-burgher whilst cats appeal to the sensitive poet-aristocrat-philosopher will be clear in a moment when we reflect on the matter of biological association. Practical plebeian folk judge a thing only by its immediate touch, taste, and smell; while more delicate types form their estimates from the linked images and ideas which the object calls up in their minds. Now when dogs and cats are considered, the stolid churl sees only the two animals before him, and bases his favour on their relative capacity to pander to his sloppy, unformed ideas of ethics and friendship and flattering subservience. On the other hand the gentleman and thinker sees each in all its natural affiliations, and cannot fail to notice that in the great symmetries of organic life dogs fall in with slovenly wolves and foxes and jackals and coyotes and dingoes and painted hyaenas, whilst cats walk proudly with the jungle’s lords, and own the haughty lion, the sinuous leopard, the regal tiger, and the shapely panther and jaguar as their kin. Dogs are the hieroglyphs of blind emotion, inferiority, servile attachment, and gregariousness—the attributes of commonplace, stupidly passionate, and intellectually and imaginatively undeveloped men. Cats are the runes of beauty, invincibility, wonder, pride, freedom, coldness, self-sufficiency, and dainty individuality—the qualities of sensitive, enlightened, mentally developed, pagan, cynical, poetic, philosophic, dispassionate, reserved, independent, Nietzschean, unbroken, civilised, master-class men. The dog is a peasant and the cat is a gentleman.
     We may, indeed, judge the tone and bias of a civilisation by its relative attitude toward dogs and cats. The proud Egypt wherein Pharaoh was Pharaoh and pyramids rose in beauty at the wish of him who dreamed them bowed down to the cat, and temples were builded to its goddess at Bubastis. In imperial Rome the graceful leopard adorned most homes of quality, lounging in insolent beauty in the atrium with golden collar and chain; while after the age of the Antonines the actual cat was imported from Egypt and cherished as a rare and costly luxury. So much for dominant and enlightened peoples. When, however, we come to the grovelling Middle Ages with their superstitions and ecstasies and monasticisms and maunderings over saints and their relics, we find the cool and impersonal loveliness of the felidae in very low esteem; and behold a sorry spectacle of hatred and cruelty shewn toward the beautiful little creature whose mousing virtues alone gained it sufferance amongst the ignorant churls who resented its self-respecting coolness and feared its cryptical and elusive independence as something akin to the dark powers of witchcraft. These boorish slaves of eastern darkness could not tolerate what did not serve their own cheap emotions and flimsy purposes. They wished a dog to fawn and hunt and fetch and carry, and had no use for the cat’s gift of eternal and disinterested beauty to feed the spirit. One can imagine how they must have resented Pussy’s magnificent reposefulness, unhurriedness, relaxation, and scorn for trivial human aims and concernments. Throw a stick, and the servile dog wheezes and pants and shambles to bring it to you. Do the same before a cat, and he will eye you with coolly polite and somewhat bored amusement. And just as inferior people prefer the inferior animal which scampers excitedly because somebody else wants something, so do superior people respect the superior animal which lives its own life and knows that the puerile stick-throwings of alien bipeds are none of its business and beneath its notice. The dog barks and begs and tumbles to amuse you when you crack the whip. That pleases a meekness-loving peasant who relishes a stimulus to his sense of importance. The cat, on the other hand, charms you into playing for its benefit when it wishes to be amused; making you rush about the room with a paper on a string when it feels like exercise, but refusing all your attempts to make it play when it is not in the humour. That is personality and individuality and self-respect—the calm mastery of a being whose life is its own and not yours—and the superior person recognises and appreciates this because he too is a free soul whose position is assured, and whose only law is his own heritage and aesthetic sense. Altogether, we may see that the dog appeals to those primitive emotional souls whose chief demands on the universe are for meaningless affection, aimless companionship, and flattering attention and subservience; whilst the cat reigns among those more contemplative and imaginative spirits who ask of the universe only the objective sight of poignant, ethereal beauty and the animate symbolisation of Nature’s bland, relentless, reposeful, unhurried, and impersonal order and sufficiency. The dog gives, but the cat is.
     Simple folk always overstress the ethical element in life, and it is quite natural that they should extend it to the realm of their pets. Accordingly we hear many inane dicta in favour of dogs on the ground that they are faithful, whilst cats are treacherous. Now just what does this really mean? Where are the points of reference? Certainly, the dog has so little imagination and individuality that it knows no motives but its master’s; but what sophisticated mind can descry a positive virtue in this stupid abnegation of a birthright? Discrimination must surely award the palm to the superior cat, which has too much natural dignity to accept any scheme of things but its own, and which consequently cares not one whit what any clumsy human thinks or wishes or expects of it. It is not treacherous, because it has never acknowledged any allegiance to anything outside its own leisurely wishes; and treachery basically implies a departure from some covenant explicitly recognised. The cat is a realist, and no hypocrite. He takes what pleases him when he wants it, and makes no promises. He never leads you to expect more from him than he gives, and if you choose to be stupidly Victorian enough to mistake his purrs and rubbings of self-satisfaction for marks of transient affection toward you, that is no fault of his. He would not for a moment have you believe that he wants more of you than food and warmth and shelter and amusement—and he is certainly justified in criticising your aesthetic and imaginative development if you fail to find his grace, beauty, and cheerful decorative influence an aboundingly sufficient repayment for all that you give him. The cat-lover need not be amazed at another’s love for dogs—indeed, he may also possess this quality himself; for dogs are often very comely, and as lovable in a condescending way as a faithful old servant or tenant in the eyes of a master—but he cannot help feeling astonishment at those who do not share his love for cats. The cat is such a perfect symbol of beauty and superiority that it seems scarcely possible for any true aesthete and civilised cynic to do other than worship it. We call ourselves a dog’s “master”—but who ever dared to call himself the “master” of a cat? We own a dog—he is with us as a slave and inferior because we wish him to be. But we entertain a cat—he adorns our hearth as a guest, fellow-lodger, and equal because he wishes to be there. It is no compliment to be the stupidly idolised master of a dog whose instinct it is to idolise, but it is a very distinct tribute to be chosen as the friend and confidant of a philosophic cat who is wholly his own master and could easily choose another companion if he found such an one more agreeable and interesting. A trace, I think, of this great truth regarding the higher dignity of the cat has crept into folklore in the use of the names “cat” and “dog” as terms of opprobrium. Whilst “cat” has never been applied to any sort of offender more serious than the mildly spiteful and innocuously sly female gossip and commentator, the words “dog” and “cur” have always been linked with vileness, dishonour, and degradation of the gravest type. In the crystallisation of this nomenclature there has undoubtedly been present in the popular mind some dim, half-unconscious realisation that there are depths of slinking, whining, fawning, and servile ignobility which no kith of the lion and the leopard could ever attain. The cat may fall low, but he is always unbroken. He is, like the Nordic among men, one of those who govern their own lives or die.
     We have but to glance analytically at the two animals to see the points pile up in favour of the cat. Beauty, which is probably the only thing of any basic significance in all the cosmos, ought to be our chief criterion; and here the cat excels so brilliantly that all comparisons collapse. Some dogs, it is true, have beauty in a very ample degree; but even the highest level of canine beauty falls far below the feline average. The cat is classic whilst the dog is Gothic—nowhere in the animal world can we discover such really Hellenic perfection of form, with anatomy adapted to function, as in the felidae. Puss is a Doric temple—an Ionic colonnade—in the utter classicism of its structural and decorative harmonies. And this is just as true kinetically as statically, for art has no parallel for the bewitching grace of the cat’s slightest motion. The sheer, perfect aestheticism of kitty’s lazy stretchings, industrious face-washings, playful rollings, and little involuntary shiftings in sleep is something as keen and vital as the best pastoral poetry or genre painting; whilst the unerring accuracy of his leaping and springing, running and hunting, has an art-value just as high in a more spirited way. But it is his capacity for leisure and repose which makes the cat preëminent. Mr. Carl Van Vechten, in “Peter Whiffle”, holds up the timeless restfulness of the cat as a model for a life’s philosophy, and Prof. William Lyon Phelps has very effectively captured the secret of felinity when he says that the cat does not merely lie down, but “pours his body out on the floor like a glass of water”. What other creature has thus merged the aestheticism of mechanics and hydraulics? Contrast with this the inept panting, wheezing, fumbling, drooling, scratching, and general clumsiness of the average dog with his myriad false and wasted motions. And in the detail of neatness the fastidious cat is of course immeasurably ahead. We always love to touch a cat, but only the insensitive can uniformly welcome the frantic and humid nuzzlings and pawings of a dusty and perhaps not inodorous canine which leaps and fusses and writhes about in awkward feverishness for no particular reason save that blind nerve-centres have been spurred by certain meaningless stimuli. There is a wearying excess of bad manners in all this doggish fury—well-bred people don’t paw and maul one, and surely enough we invariably find the cat gentle and reserved in his advances, and delicate even when he glides gracefully into your lap with cultivated purrs, or leaps whimsically on the table where you are writing to play with your pen in modulated, serio-comic pats. I do not wonder that Mahomet, that sheik of perfect manners, loved cats for their urbanity and disliked dogs for their boorishness; or that cats are the favourites in the polite Latin countries whilst dogs take the lead in heavy, practical, and beer-drinking Central Europe. Watch a cat eat, and then watch a dog. The one is held in check by an inherent and inescapable daintiness, and lends a kind of grace to one of the most ungraceful of all processes. The dog, on the other hand, is wholly repulsive in his bestial and insatiate greediness; living up to his forest kinship by “wolfing” most openly and unashamedly. Returning to beauty of line—is it not significant that while many normal breeds of dogs are conspicuously and admittedly ugly, no healthy and well-developed feline of any species whatsoever is other than beautiful? There are, of course, many ugly cats; but these are always individual cases of mongrelism, malnutrition, deformity, or injury. No breed of cats in its proper condition can by any stretch of the imagination be thought of as even slightly ungraceful—a record against which must be pitted the depressing spectacle of impossibly flattened bulldogs, grotesquely elongated dachshunds, hideously shapeless and shaggy Airedales, and the like. Of course, it may be said that no aesthetic standard is other than relative—but we always work with such standards as we empirically have, and in comparing cats and dogs under the Western European aesthetic we cannot be unfair to either. If any undiscovered tribe in Thibet finds Airedales beautiful and Persian cats ugly, we will not dispute them on their own territory—but just now we are dealing with ourselves and our territory, and here the verdict would not admit of much doubt even from the most ardent kynophile. Such an one usually passes the problem off in an epigrammatic paradox, and says ‘that Snookums is so homely, he’s pretty!’ This is the childish penchant for the grotesque and tawdrily ‘cute’, which we see likewise embodied in popular cartoons, freak dolls, and all the malformed decorative trumpery of the “Billiken” or “Krazy Kat” order found in the “dens” and “cosy corners” of the would-be sophisticated cultural yokelry.
     In the matter of intelligence we find the caninites making amusing claims—amusing because they so naively measure what they conceive to be an animal’s intelligence by its degree of subservience to the human will. A dog will retrieve, a cat will not; therefore (sic!) the dog is the more intelligent. Dogs can be more elaborately trained for circus and vaudeville acts than cats, therefore (O Zeus, O Royal Mount!) they are cerebrally superior. Now of course this is all the sheerest nonsense. We would not call a weak-spirited man more intelligent than an independent citizen because we can make him vote as we wish whereas we can’t influence the independent citizen, yet countless persons apply an exactly parallel argument in appraising the grey matter of dogs and cats. Competition in servility is something to which no self-respecting Thomas or Tabitha ever stooped, and it is plain that any really effective estimate of canine and feline intelligence must proceed from a careful observation of dogs and cats in a detached state—uninfluenced by human beings—as they formulate certain objectives of their own and use their own mental equipment in achieving them. When we do this, we arrive at a very wholesome respect for our purring hearthside friend who makes so little display and ado about his wishes and business methods; for in every conception and calculation he shews a steel-cold and deliberate union of intellect, will, and sense of proportion which puts utterly to shame the emotional sloppings-over and docilely acquired artificial tricks of the “clever” and “faithful” pointer or sheep-dog. Watch a cat decide to move through a door, and see how patiently he waits for his opportunity, never losing sight of his purpose even when he finds it expedient to feign other interests in the interim. Watch him in the thick of the chase, and compare his calculating patience and quiet study of his terrain with the noisy floundering and pawing of his canine rival. It is not often that he returns empty-handed. He knows what he wants, and means to get it in the most effective way, even at the sacrifice of time—which he philosophically recognises as unimportant in the aimless cosmos. There is no turning him aside or distracting his attention—and we know that among humans this very quality of mental tenacity, this ability to carry a single thread through complex distractions, is considered a pretty good sign of intellectual vigour and maturity. Children, old crones, peasants, and dogs ramble; cats and philosophers stick to their point. In resourcefulness, too, the cat attests his superiority. Dogs can be well trained to do a single thing, but psychologists tell us that these responses to an automatic memory instilled from outside are of little worth as indices of real intelligence. To judge the abstract development of a brain, confront it with new and unfamiliar conditions and see how well its own strength enables it to achieve its object by sheer reasoning without blazed trails. Here the cat can silently devise a dozen mysterious and successful alternatives whilst poor Fido is barking in bewilderment and wondering what it is all about. Granted that Rover the retriever may make a greater bid for popular sentimental regard by going into the burning house and saving the baby in traditional cinema fashion, it remains a fact that whiskered and purring Nig is a higher-grade biological organism—something physiologically and psychologically nearer a man because of his very freedom from man’s orders, and as such entitled to a higher respect from those who judge by purely philosophic and aesthetic standards. We can respect a cat as we cannot respect a dog, no matter which personally appeals the more to our mere doting fancy; and if we be aesthetes and analysts rather than commonplace- lovers and emotionalists, the scales must inevitably turn completely in kitty’s favour. It may be added, moreover, that even the aloof and sufficient cat is by no means devoid of sentimental appeal. Once we get rid of the uncivilised ethical bias—the ‘treacherous’ and ‘horrid bird-catcher’ prejudice—we find in the ‘harmless, necessary cat’ the very apex of happy domestic symbolism; whilst small kittens become objects to adore, idealise, and celebrate in the most rhapsodic of dactyls and anapaests, iambics and trochaics. I, in my own senescent mellowness, confess to an inordinate and wholly unphilosophic predilection for tiny coal-black kitties with large yellow eyes, and could no more pass one without petting him than Dr. Johnson could pass a sidewalk post without striking it. There is, likewise, in many cats something quite analogous to the reciprocal fondness so loudly extolled in dogs, human beings, horses, and the like. Cats come to associate certain persons with acts continuously contributing to their pleasure, and acquire for them a recognition and attachment which manifests itself in pleasant excitement at their approach—whether or not bearing food and drink—and a certain pensiveness at their protracted absence. The late “Tat” of Allston and Malden, grey companion of our fellow-amateur Mrs. Miniter, reached the point of accepting food from no other hand but hers, and would actually go hungry rather than touch the least morsel from a kindly Parker source. He also had distinct affections amongst the other cats of that idyllic household; voluntarily offering food to one of his whiskered friends, whilst disputing most savagely the least glance which his coal-black rival “Snowball” would bestow upon his plate. If it be argued that these feline fondnesses are essentially ‘selfish’ and ‘practical’ in their ultimate composition, let us inquire in return how many human fondnesses, apart from those springing directly upon primitive brute instinct, have any other basis. After the returning board has brought in the grand total of zero we shall be better able to refrain from ingenuous censure of the ‘selfish’ cat.
     The superior imaginative inner life of the cat, resulting in superior self-possession, is well known. A dog is a pitiful thing, depending wholly on companionship, and utterly lost except in packs or by the side of his master. Leave him alone and he does not know what to do except bark and howl and trot about till sheer exhaustion forces him to sleep. A cat, however, is never without the potentialities of contentment. Like a superior man, he knows how to be alone and happy. Once he looks about and finds no one to amuse him, he settles down to the task of amusing himself; and no one really knows cats without having occasionally peeked stealthily at some lively and well-balanced kitten which believes itself to be alone. Only after such a glimpse of unaffected tail-chasing grace and unstudied purring can one fully understand the charm of those lines which Coleridge wrote with reference to the human rather than the feline young

“. . . a limber elf,
Singing, dancing to itself.”

But whole volumes could be written on the playing of cats, since the varieties and aesthetic aspects of such sportiveness are infinite. Be it sufficient to say that in such pastimes many cats have exhibited traits and actions which psychologists authentically declare to be motivated by genuine humour and whimsicality in its purest sense; so that the task of ‘making a cat laugh’ may not be so impossible a thing even outside the borders of Cheshire. In short, a dog is an incomplete thing. Like an inferior man, he needs emotional stimuli from outside, and must set something artificial up as a god and motive. The cat, however, is perfect in himself. Like the human philosopher, he is a self-sufficient entity and microcosm. He is a real and integrated being because he thinks and feels himself to be such, whereas the dog can conceive of himself only in relation to something else. Whip a dog and he licks your hand—faugh! The beast has no idea of himself except as an inferior part of an organism whereof you are a superior part—he would no more think of striking back at you than you would think of pounding your own head when it punishes you with a headache. But whip a cat and watch it glare and move backward hissing in outraged dignity and self-respect! One more blow, and it strikes you in return; for it is a gentleman and your equal, and will accept no infringement on its personality and body of privileges. It is only in your house anyway because it wishes to be, or perhaps even as a condescending favour to yourself. It is the house, not you, it likes; for philosophers realise that human beings are at best only minor adjuncts to scenery. Go one step too far, and it leaves you altogether. You have mistaken your relationship to it and imagined you are its master, and no real cat can tolerate that breach of good manners. Henceforward it will seek companions of greater discrimination and clearer perspective. Let anaemic persons who believe in ‘turning the other cheek’ console themselves with cringing dogs—for the robust pagan with the blood of Nordic twilights in his veins there is no beast like the cat; intrepid steed of Freya, who can boldly look even Thor and Odin full in the face and stare contemplatively with great round eyes of undimmed yellow or green.
     And so, Sir (I employ the singular since I cannot imagine that you, O Jacobe Ferdinande, would have the truly feline cruelty to spring all these ten-plus pages on a deserving club which has never done you any harm), I believe I have outlined for you with some fulness the divers reasons why, in my opinion and in the smartly timed title-phrase of Mr. Van Doren, “gentlemen prefer cats”. The reply of Mr. Terhune in a subsequent issue of the Tribune appears to me beside the point; insomuch as it is less a refutation of facts than a mere personal affirmation of the author’s membership in that conventional “very human” majority who take affection and companionship seriously, enjoy being important to something alive, measure merit by devotion to human purposes, hate a “parasite” on mere ethical grounds without consulting the right of beauty to exist for its own sake, and therefore love man’s noblest and most faithful friend, the perennial dog. I suppose Mr. Terhune loves horses and babies also, for they go conventionally together in the great hundred-per-center’s credo as highly essential likings for every good and lovable heman of the Arrow Collar and Harold Bell Wright hero school, even though the motor car and dear Mrs. Sanger have done much to reduce the last two items.
     Dogs, then, are peasants and the pets of peasants; cats are gentlemen and the pets of gentlemen. The dog is for him who places crude feeling and outgrown ethics and humanocentricity above austere and disinterested beauty; who just loves ‘folks and folksiness’ and doesn’t mind sloppy clumsiness if only something will truly care for him. (Tableau of dog across master’s grave—cf. Landseer, “The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner”.) The guy who isn’t much for highbrow stuff, but is always on the square and don’t (sic) often find the Saddypost or the N.Y. World too deep for him; who hadn’t much use for Valentino, but thinks Doug Fairbanks is just about right for an evening’s entertainment. Wholesome—constructive—non-morbid—civic-minded—domestic—(I forgot to mention the radio) normal—that’s the sort of go-getter that had ought to go in for dogs.
     The cat is for the aristocrat—whether by birth or inclinations or both—who admires his fellow-aristocrats (even if Little Belknap isn’t especially fond of Felis). He is for the man who appreciates beauty as the one living force in a blind and purposeless universe, and who worships that beauty in all its forms without regard for the sentimental and ethical illusions of the moment. For the man who knows the hollowness of feeling and the emptiness of human objects and aspirations, and who therefore clings solely to what is real—as beauty is real because it pretends to no significance beyond the emotion which it excites and is. For the man who feels sufficient in the cosmos, and asks no false perspective of exaltation; who is moved by no mawkish scruples of conventional prejudice, but loves repose and strength and freedom and luxury and superiority and sufficiency and contemplation; who as a strong fearless soul wishes something to respect instead of something to lick his face and accept his alternate blows and strokings; who seeks a proud and beautiful equal in the peerage of individualism rather than a cowed and cringing satellite in the hierarchy of fear, subservience, and devotion. The cat is not for the brisk, selfimportant little worker with a “mission”, but for the enlightened dreaming poet who knows that the world contains nothing really worth doing. The dilettante—the connoisseur—the decadent, if you will, though in a healthier age than this there were things for such men to do, so that they were the planners and leaders of those glorious pagan times. The cat is for him who does things not for empty duty but for power, pleasure, splendour, romance, and glamour—for the harpist who sings alone in the night of old battles, or the warrior who goes out to fight such battles for beauty, glory, fame, and the splendour of a kingly court athwart which no shadow of weakness or democracy falls. For him who will be lulled by no sops of prose and usefulness, but demands for his effort the ease and beauty and ascendancy and cultivation which alone make effort worth while. For the man who knows that play, not work, and leisure, not bustle, are the great things of life; and that the round of striving merely in order to strive some more is a bitter irony of which the civilised soul accepts as little as it can.
     Beauty, sufficiency, ease, and good manners—what more can civilisation require? We have them all in the divine little monarch who lounges gloriously on his silken cushion before the hearth. Loveliness and joy for their own sake—pride and harmony and coördination—spirit, restfulness, and completeness—all here are present, and need but a sympathetic disillusionment for worship in full measure. What fully civilised soul but would eagerly serve as high-priest of Bast? The star of the cat, I think, is just now in the ascendant, as we emerge little by little from the dreams of ethics and democracy which clouded the nineteenth century and raised the grubbing and unlovely dog to the pinnacle of sentimental regard. Whether a renaissance of monarchy and beauty will restore our Western civilisation, or whether the forces of disintegration are already too powerful for even the fascist sentiment to check, none may yet say; but in the present moment of cynical world-unmasking between the pretence of the eighteenhundreds and the ominous mystery of the decades ahead we have at least a flash of the old pagan perspective and the old pagan clearness and honesty.
     And one idol lit up by that flash, seen fair and lovely on a dream-throne of silk and gold under a chryselephantine dome, is a shape of deathless grace not always given its due among groping mortals—the haughty, the unconquered, the mysterious, the luxurious, the Babylonian, the impersonal, the eternal companion of superiority and art—the type of perfect beauty and the brother of poetry—the bland, grave, competent, and patrician cat.

 

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5 Authors to Check Out in 2018

  1. Henry Lin. images Author of The 100-Pound Gangster.          4/5 on Goodreads.          Henry Lin spent most of his precocious youth involved with the international criminal underworld.
    Originally published: 20 September 2016.

    Genre: Autobiography.          This was a really interesting read. It’s fascinating to get an insight on how the author feels about various events which have taken place in his young life.
  2. Maria Luisa Lang.          Author of The Pharaoh’s Cat and The Eye of Nefertiti. 25651660 4/5 on Goodreads.       16 May 2015184 pages.    I absolutely loved both of these books. They made me laugh out loud and they made me cry. Read The Pharaoh’s Cat first.
  3. Mike Russell.          A British author best known for his books Nothing Is Strange, Strange Medicine and Strungballs.          Nothing Is Strange, was released in December 2014.          Strange Medicine was released in May 2016 and the novella Strungballs was released on Halloween the same year.          Expect to see a new book from Mike at the beginning of 2018! 25099252
  4. Lucille Turner32313477 British author of The Sultan, The Vampyr and The Soothsayer.          “A butterfly has landed on a patch of milk parsley. Wings held vertically so it’s not going anywhere – for the time being. Once he would have leant across and seized it. Now he’ll let it fly.”          I really enjoyed Lucille’s writing and I’m looking forward to future books!
  5. H.P. Lovecraft. MV5BOTU3OTU1MDkyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODEyNDk5OA@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_ American author of horror and weird fiction stories.          Similar to Poe, Chambers and Machen, but unique.          Best known for The Call of Cthulhu and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. 220px-Weird_Tales_May_1941 “The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind.”          He’s the only dead one on the list, but make sure you check out this author if he’s new to you!

5 Wonderful Weird Fiction Books

  1. Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti. songs of a dead dreamer uk paperback 1989 Songs of a Dreamer was Thomas Ligotti’s first collection of supernatural horror stories. When originally published in 1985 by Harry Morris’s Silver Scarab Press, the book was hardly noticed. In 1989, an expanded version appeared that garnered accolades from several quarters. Writing in the Washington Post, the celebrated science fiction and fantasy author Michael Swanwick extolled: ‘Put this volume on the shelf right between H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. Where it belongs.’ Amazon
  2. Strungballs by Mike Russell. 71WvzwrzA4L Disclaimer: Mike Russell is my other half 🙂 I was a fan before we were a couple. If you love Examining The Odd and want to show your support, please grab a copy of this amazing book. Oh, and don’t forget to leave a review! You won’t be disappointed.
  3. The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. house on the borderland william hope hodgson 1983 reprint carroll graft - Copy
  4. Railsea by China Miéville. tortoise
  5. The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

    “There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through. When that happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.”
    ― H.P. Lovecraft, The Thing on the Doorstep


    Which books would you add to the list? Which is your favourite? Please share if you love weird fiction!

10 Weird Fiction Quotes

  1. No other life forms know they are alive, and neither do they know they will die. This is our curse alone. Without this hex upon our heads, we would never have withdrawn as far as we have from the natural—so far and for such a time that it is a relief to say what we have been trying with our all not to say: We have long since been denizens of the natural world. Everywhere around us are natural habitats, but within us is the shiver of startling and dreadful things. Simply put: We are not from here. If we vanished tomorrow, no organism on this planet would miss us. Nothing in nature needs us. – Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

  2. Jeff Vandermeer

  3. The days hardened with cold and boredom like last year’s loaves of bread. One began to cut them with blunt knives without appetite, with a lazy indifference. – Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories (Penguin Classics)

    4. Storytelling is a way of turning the world inside out, which I believe it desperately needs. – Mike Russell


5. I always felt sorry for the sidekick as a kid. They never got their due and it left a very bad taste in the mouth – they are defined by a subordinate relationship to someone else. I always felt like a bit of sidekick when I was a kid and it didn’t feel fair. – China Mieville


6.

H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft

7. In one picture, the pool was half hidden by a fringe of mace- weeds, and the dead willow was leaning across it at a prone, despondent angle, as if mysteriously arrested in its fall towards the stagnant waters. Beyond, the alders seemed to strain away from the pool, exposing their knotted roots as if in eternal effort. In the other drawing, the pool formed the main portion of the foreground, with the skeleton tree looming drearily at one side. At the water’s farther end, the cat-tails seemed to wave and whisper among themselves in a dying wind; and the steeply barring slope of pine at the meadow’s terminus was indicated as a wall of gloomy green that closed in the picture, leaving only a pale of autumnal sky at the top. – Clark Ashton Smith, American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps


8.

Gerald Kersh
Gerald Kersh

9. The right to take a chance, the right to suffer. The right to be unwise, the right to die. These aims are hateful to the government, which values ever frightened mouse and falling sparrow as equal to a tiger burning bright. – Fritz Leiber, The Wanderer


10. But then, as she knew too well, the more fondly we imagine something will last forever, the more ephemeral it often proves to be. – Iain Banks


What’s your favourite Weird Fiction quote? Please share 🙂

Short Story Saturday – Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

This week’s Short Story is Edgar Allan Poe‘s Hop-Frog.

Hop-Frog

 

by Edgar Allan Poe
(published 1845)

  

    I NEVER knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the king was. He seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kind, and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people grow fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean joker is a rara avis in terris.

About the refinements, or, as he called them, the ‘ghost’ of wit, the king troubled himself very little. He had an especial admiration for breadth in a jest, and would often put up with length, for the sake of it. Over-niceties wearied him. He would have preferred Rabelais‘ ‘Gargantua’ to the ‘Zadig’ of Voltaire: and, upon the whole, practical jokes suited his taste far better than verbal ones.

At the date of my narrative, professing jesters had not altogether gone out of fashion at court. Several of the great continental ‘powers’ still retain their ‘fools,’ who wore motley, with caps and bells, and who were expected to be always ready with sharp witticisms, at a moment’s notice, in consideration of the crumbs that fell from the royal table.

Our king, as a matter of course, retained his ‘fool.’ The fact is, he required something in the way of folly — if only to counterbalance the heavy wisdom of the seven wise men who were his ministers — not to mention himself.

His fool, or professional jester, was not only a fool, however. His value was trebled in the eyes of the king, by the fact of his being also a dwarf and a cripple. Dwarfs were as common at court, in those days, as fools; and many monarchs would have found it difficult to get through their days (days are rather longer at court than elsewhere) without both a jester to laugh with, and a dwarf to laugh at. But, as I have already observed, your jesters, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, are fat, round, and unwieldy — so that it was no small source of self-gratulation with our king that, in Hop-Frog (this was the fool’s name), he possessed a triplicate treasure in one person.

I believe the name ‘Hop-Frog’ was not that given to the dwarf by his sponsors at baptism, but it was conferred upon him, by general consent of the several ministers, on account of his inability to walk as other men do. In fact, Hop-Frog could only get along by a sort of interjectional gait — something between a leap and a wriggle — a movement that afforded illimitable amusement, and of course consolation, to the king, for (notwithstanding the protuberance of his stomach and a constitutional swelling of the head) the king, by his whole court, was accounted a capital figure.

But although Hop-Frog, through the distortion of his legs, could move only with great pain and difficulty along a road or floor, the prodigious muscular power which nature seemed to have bestowed upon his arms, by way of compensation for deficiency in the lower limbs, enabled him to perform many feats of wonderful dexterity, where trees or ropes were in question, or any thing else to climb. At such exercises he certainly much more resembled a squirrel, or a small monkey, than a frog.

I am not able to say, with precision, from what country Hop-Frog originally came. It was from some barbarous region, however, that no person ever heard of — a vast distance from the court of our king. Hop-Frog, and a young girl very little less dwarfish than himself (although of exquisite proportions, and a marvellous dancer), had been forcibly carried off from their respective homes in adjoining provinces, and sent as presents to the king, by one of his ever-victorious generals.

Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that a close intimacy arose between the two little captives. Indeed, they soon became sworn friends. Hop-Frog, who, although he made a great deal of sport, was by no means popular, had it not in his power to render Trippetta many services; but she, on account of her grace and exquisite beauty (although a dwarf), was universally admired and petted; so she possessed much influence; and never failed to use it, whenever she could, for the benefit of Hop-Frog.

On some grand state occasion — I forgot what — the king determined to have a masquerade, and whenever a masquerade or any thing of that kind, occurred at our court, then the talents, both of Hop-Frog and Trippetta were sure to be called into play. Hop-Frog, in especial, was so inventive in the way of getting up pageants, suggesting novel characters, and arranging costumes, for masked balls, that nothing could be done, it seems, without his assistance.

The night appointed for the fete had arrived. A gorgeous hall had been fitted up, under Trippetta’s eye, with every kind of device which could possibly give eclat to a masquerade. The whole court was in a fever of expectation. As for costumes and characters, it might well be supposed that everybody had come to a decision on such points. Many had made up their minds (as to what roles they should assume) a week, or even a month, in advance; and, in fact, there was not a particle of indecision anywhere — except in the case of the king and his seven minsters. Why they hesitated I never could tell, unless they did it by way of a joke. More probably, they found it difficult, on account of being so fat, to make up their minds. At all events, time flew; and, as a last resort they sent for Trippetta and Hop-Frog.

When the two little friends obeyed the summons of the king they found him sitting at his wine with the seven members of his cabinet council; but the monarch appeared to be in a very ill humor. He knew that Hop-Frog was not fond of wine, for it excited the poor cripple almost to madness; and madness is no comfortable feeling. But the king loved his practical jokes, and took pleasure in forcing Hop-Frog to drink and (as the king called it) ‘to be merry.’

“Come here, Hop-Frog,” said he, as the jester and his friend entered the room; “swallow this bumper to the health of your absent friends, [here Hop-Frog sighed,] and then let us have the benefit of your invention. We want characters — characters, man — something novel — out of the way. We are wearied with this everlasting sameness. Come, drink! the wine will brighten your wits.”

Hop-Frog endeavored, as usual, to get up a jest in reply to these advances from the king; but the effort was too much. It happened to be the poor dwarf’s birthday, and the command to drink to his ‘absent friends’ forced the tears to his eyes. Many large, bitter drops fell into the goblet as he took it, humbly, from the hand of the tyrant.

“Ah! ha! ha!” roared the latter, as the dwarf reluctantly drained the beaker. — “See what a glass of good wine can do! Why, your eyes are shining already!”

Poor fellow! his large eyes gleamed, rather than shone; for the effect of wine on his excitable brain was not more powerful than instantaneous. He placed the goblet nervously on the table, and looked round upon the company with a half — insane stare. They all seemed highly amused at the success of the king’s ‘joke.’

“And now to business,” said the prime minister, a very fat man.

“Yes,” said the King; “Come lend us your assistance. Characters, my fine fellow; we stand in need of characters — all of us — ha! ha! ha!” and as this was seriously meant for a joke, his laugh was chorused by the seven.

Hop-Frog also laughed although feebly and somewhat vacantly.

“Come, come,” said the king, impatiently, “have you nothing to suggest?”

“I am endeavoring to think of something novel,” replied the dwarf, abstractedly, for he was quite bewildered by the wine.

“Endeavoring!” cried the tyrant, fiercely; “what do you mean by that? Ah, I perceive. You are Sulky, and want more wine. Here, drink this!” and he poured out another goblet full and offered it to the cripple, who merely gazed at it, gasping for breath.

“Drink, I say!” shouted the monster, “or by the fiends-”

The dwarf hesitated. The king grew purple with rage. The courtiers smirked. Trippetta, pale as a corpse, advanced to the monarch’s seat, and, falling on her knees before him, implored him to spare her friend.

The tyrant regarded her, for some moments, in evident wonder at her audacity. He seemed quite at a loss what to do or say — how most becomingly to express his indignation. At last, without uttering a syllable, he pushed her violently from him, and threw the contents of the brimming goblet in her face.

The poor girl got up the best she could, and, not daring even to sigh, resumed her position at the foot of the table.

There was a dead silence for about half a minute, during which the falling of a leaf, or of a feather, might have been heard. It was interrupted by a low, but harsh and protracted grating sound which seemed to come at once from every corner of the room.

“What — what — what are you making that noise for?” demanded the king, turning furiously to the dwarf.

The latter seemed to have recovered, in great measure, from his intoxication, and looking fixedly but quietly into the tyrant’s face, merely ejaculated:

“I — I? How could it have been me?”

“The sound appeared to come from without,” observed one of the courtiers. “I fancy it was the parrot at the window, whetting his bill upon his cage-wires.”

“True,” replied the monarch, as if much relieved by the suggestion; “but, on the honor of a knight, I could have sworn that it was the gritting of this vagabond’s teeth.”

Hereupon the dwarf laughed (the king was too confirmed a joker to object to any one’s laughing), and displayed a set of large, powerful, and very repulsive teeth. Moreover, he avowed his perfect willingness to swallow as much wine as desired. The monarch was pacified; and having drained another bumper with no very perceptible ill effect, Hop-Frog entered at once, and with spirit, into the plans for the masquerade.

“I cannot tell what was the association of idea,” observed he, very tranquilly, and as if he had never tasted wine in his life, “but just after your majesty, had struck the girl and thrown the wine in her face — just after your majesty had done this, and while the parrot was making that odd noise outside the window, there came into my mind a capital diversion — one of my own country frolics — often enacted among us, at our masquerades: but here it will be new altogether. Unfortunately, however, it requires a company of eight persons and-”

“Here we are!” cried the king, laughing at his acute discovery of the coincidence; “eight to a fraction — I and my seven ministers. Come! what is the diversion?”

“We call it,” replied the cripple, “the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs, and it really is excellent sport if well enacted.”

“We will enact it,” remarked the king, drawing himself up, and lowering his eyelids.

“The beauty of the game,” continued Hop-Frog, “lies in the fright it occasions among the women.”

“Capital!” roared in chorus the monarch and his ministry.

“I will equip you as ourang-outangs,” proceeded the dwarf; “leave all that to me. The resemblance shall be so striking, that the company of masqueraders will take you for real beasts — and of course, they will be as much terrified as astonished.”

“Oh, this is exquisite!” exclaimed the king. “Hop-Frog! I will make a man of you.”

“The chains are for the purpose of increasing the confusion by their jangling. You are supposed to have escaped, en masse, from your keepers. Your majesty cannot conceive the effect produced, at a masquerade, by eight chained ourang-outangs, imagined to be real ones by most of the company; and rushing in with savage cries, among the crowd of delicately and gorgeously habited men and women. The contrast is inimitable!”

“It must be,” said the king: and the council arose hurriedly (as it was growing late), to put in execution the scheme of Hop-Frog.

His mode of equipping the party as ourang-outangs was very simple, but effective enough for his purposes. The animals in question had, at the epoch of my story, very rarely been seen in any part of the civilized world; and as the imitations made by the dwarf were sufficiently beast-like and more than sufficiently hideous, their truthfulness to nature was thus thought to be secured.

The king and his ministers were first encased in tight-fitting stockinet shirts and drawers. They were then saturated with tar. At this stage of the process, some one of the party suggested feathers; but the suggestion was at once overruled by the dwarf, who soon convinced the eight, by ocular demonstration, that the hair of such a brute as the ourang-outang was much more efficiently represented by flax. A thick coating of the latter was accordingly plastered upon the coating of tar. A long chain was now procured. First, it was passed about the waist of the king, and tied, then about another of the party, and also tied; then about all successively, in the same manner. When this chaining arrangement was complete, and the party stood as far apart from each other as possible, they formed a circle; and to make all things appear natural, Hop-Frog passed the residue of the chain in two diameters, at right angles, across the circle, after the fashion adopted, at the present day, by those who capture Chimpanzees, or other large apes, in Borneo.

The grand saloon in which the masquerade was to take place, was a circular room, very lofty, and receiving the light of the sun only through a single window at top. At night (the season for which the apartment was especially designed) it was illuminated principally by a large chandelier, depending by a chain from the centre of the sky-light, and lowered, or elevated, by means of a counter-balance as usual; but (in order not to look unsightly) this latter passed outside the cupola and over the roof.

The arrangements of the room had been left to Trippetta’s superintendence; but, in some particulars, it seems, she had been guided by the calmer judgment of her friend the dwarf. At his suggestion it was that, on this occasion, the chandelier was removed. Its waxen drippings (which, in weather so warm, it was quite impossible to prevent) would have been seriously detrimental to the rich dresses of the guests, who, on account of the crowded state of the saloon, could not all be expected to keep from out its centre; that is to say, from under the chandelier. Additional sconces were set in various parts of the hall, out of the war, and aflambeau, emitting sweet odor, was placed in the right hand of each of the Caryatides that stood against the wall — some fifty or sixty altogether.

The eight ourang-outangs, taking Hop-Frog’s advice, waited patiently until midnight (when the room was thoroughly filled with masqueraders) before making their appearance. No sooner had the clock ceased striking, however, than they rushed, or rather rolled in, all together — for the impediments of their chains caused most of the party to fall, and all to stumble as they entered.

The excitement among the masqueraders was prodigious, and filled the heart of the king with glee. As had been anticipated, there were not a few of the guests who supposed the ferocious-looking creatures to be beasts of some kind in reality, if not precisely ourang-outangs. Many of the women swooned with affright; and had not the king taken the precaution to exclude all weapons from the saloon, his party might soon have expiated their frolic in their blood. As it was, a general rush was made for the doors; but the king had ordered them to be locked immediately upon his entrance; and, at the dwarf’s suggestion, the keys had been deposited with him.

While the tumult was at its height, and each masquerader attentive only to his own safety (for, in fact, there was much real danger from the pressure of the excited crowd), the chain by which the chandelier ordinarily hung, and which had been drawn up on its removal, might have been seen very gradually to descend, until its hooked extremity came within three feet of the floor.

Soon after this, the king and his seven friends having reeled about the hall in all directions, found themselves, at length, in its centre, and, of course, in immediate contact with the chain. While they were thus situated, the dwarf, who had followed noiselessly at their heels, inciting them to keep up the commotion, took hold of their own chain at the intersection of the two portions which crossed the circle diametrically and at right angles. Here, with the rapidity of thought, he inserted the hook from which the chandelier had been wont to depend; and, in an instant, by some unseen agency, the chandelier-chain was drawn so far upward as to take the hook out of reach, and, as an inevitable consequence, to drag the ourang-outangs together in close connection, and face to face.

The masqueraders, by this time, had recovered, in some measure, from their alarm; and, beginning to regard the whole matter as a well-contrived pleasantry, set up a loud shout of laughter at the predicament of the apes.

“Leave them to me!” now screamed Hop-Frog, his shrill voice making itself easily heard through all the din. “Leave them to me. I fancy I know them. If I can only get a good look at them, I can soon tell who they are.”

Here, scrambling over the heads of the crowd, he managed to get to the wall; when, seizing aflambeau from one of the Caryatides, he returned, as he went, to the centre of the room-leaping, with the agility of a monkey, upon the kings head, and thence clambered a few feet up the chain; holding down the torch to examine the group of ourang-outangs, and still screaming: “I shall soon find out who they are!”

And now, while the whole assembly (the apes included) were convulsed with laughter, the jester suddenly uttered a shrill whistle; when the chain flew violently up for about thirty feet — dragging with it the dismayed and struggling ourang-outangs, and leaving them suspended in mid-air between the sky-light and the floor. Hop-Frog, clinging to the chain as it rose, still maintained his relative position in respect to the eight maskers, and still (as if nothing were the matter) continued to thrust his torch down toward them, as though endeavoring to discover who they were.

So thoroughly astonished was the whole company at this ascent, that a dead silence, of about a minute’s duration, ensued. It was broken by just such a low, harsh, grating sound, as had before attracted the attention of the king and his councillors when the former threw the wine in the face of Trippetta. But, on the present occasion, there could be no question as to whence the sound issued. It came from the fang-like teeth of the dwarf, who ground them and gnashed them as he foamed at the mouth, and glared, with an expression of maniacal rage, into the upturned countenances of the king and his seven companions.

“Ah, ha!” said at length the infuriated jester. “Ah, ha! I begin to see who these people are now!” Here, pretending to scrutinize the king more closely, he held the flambeau to the flaxen coat which enveloped him, and which instantly burst into a sheet of vivid flame. In less than half a minute the whole eight ourang-outangs were blazing fiercely, amid the shrieks of the multitude who gazed at them from below, horror-stricken, and without the power to render them the slightest assistance.

At length the flames, suddenly increasing in virulence, forced the jester to climb higher up the chain, to be out of their reach; and, as he made this movement, the crowd again sank, for a brief instant, into silence. The dwarf seized his opportunity, and once more spoke:

“I now see distinctly.” he said, “what manner of people these maskers are. They are a great king and his seven privy-councillors, — a king who does not scruple to strike a defenceless girl and his seven councillors who abet him in the outrage. As for myself, I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester — and this is my last jest.”

Owing to the high combustibility of both the flax and the tar to which it adhered, the dwarf had scarcely made an end of his brief speech before the work of vengeance was complete. The eight corpses swung in their chains, a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass. The cripple hurled his torch at them, clambered leisurely to the ceiling, and disappeared through the sky-light.

It is supposed that Trippetta, stationed on the roof of the saloon, had been the accomplice of her friend in his fiery revenge, and that, together, they effected their escape to their own country: for neither was seen again.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers. It’s strange, it’s weird, it’s horror, sci-fi and romance all in one. The King in Yellow is a book of loosely connected short stories, full of fear and madness.

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Dare you read it? This collection has been called the most important book in American supernatural fiction between Poe and the moderns. H. P. Lovecraft, creator of the famed Cthulu mythos, whose own fiction was greatly influenced by this book stated that The King in Yellow ‘achieves notable heights of cosmic fear’.Moly

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“Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.”

—From Cassilda’s Song in The King in Yellow, Act i, Scene 2
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As well as being the title of the anthology, The King in Yellow is also the name of a play within the book, bringing madness to all who witness it. Although the play is never shown in full, it is referred to in a number of the stories.

 There is also a graphic novel by INJ Culbard. One of the UK’s most prolific cartoonists, his work always guarantees an intelligent and instantly recognizable graphic style. Clean lines, bold colors, and characters that wriggle right into the readers’ brain are Culbard’s trademark. In the realm of The King in Yellow, those skills are put to dastardly use as what begins in intrigue ends in poisonous insanity and palpable fright. Publishers Weekly

 Just as T.V. series True Detective borrowed the term Carcosa from Chambers more than a century after The King in Yellow was written, Chambers borrowed the term from Ambrose Bierce and H.P. Lovecraft later borrowed it from Chambers! This all just makes me want to watch series one of True Detective for a third time.

 You can download an audio version of Chambers’ The King in Yellow from Downpour.

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