Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, February 22, 2021


 Openers:  It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, saying:  In the old days lived a pawnbroker named Jurgen; but what his wife called him was very often much worse than that.  She was a high-spirited woman, with no especial gift for silence.  Her name, they say, was Adelais, but people by ordinary called her Dame Lisa.

They tell, also, that in the old days, after putting up the shop-windows for the night, Jurgen was passing the Cistercian Abbey, on his way home; and one of the monks had tripped over a stone in the roadway.  He was cursing the devil who had placed it there.

"Fie, brother!" says Jurgen, "and not have the devils enough to bear as it is?"

"I never held with Origen," replied the monk; "and besides, it hurt my great-toe confoundedly."

-- James Branch Cabell, Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice (1919)

From Wikipedia:  "It is a humorous romp through a medieval cosmos, including a send-up of Arthurian legend, and excusions to Heaven and Hell as in The Divine Comedy...The eponymous hero, who considers himself a "monstrous clever fellow," embarks on a journey through ever more fantastic realms in search of a parodized version of courtly love, in an acerbic satire of contemporary America.  Jurgen gains the attention of The Lady of the Lake, Anaitis, Helen of Troy, Chloris, and even the Devil's wife.  his wanderings take him from Poictesme to Glathion, Cocaigne, Leuke, Hell, and Heaven."

Jurgen is a masterpiece of fantasy but the book may well have sank with little trace had it not been attacked by the New York Scloiety for the Supression of Vice for obscenity.  The obscenity purportedly arose from a number of double entendres in the book, although it is suspected that it was, in part, for a joke about papal infallibility.  The novel became a cause celebre, with many literary figires defending the book.  The obscenity case lasted for two years, with the verdict in favor of the novel.  The publicity heklped Cabell become a household name and increased the sale of his books.  Cabell published a revised version of Jurgen in 1923, which included a scene in which Jurgen is placed on trial by the Philistines, with the prosecutor being a large dung beetle.

In his lifetime James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) published fifty-two books, twenty-five of them part of his Biography of the Life of Manuel, which follows Dom Manuel and his descendants over the course of generations.  The books within the Biography were not written insequential order and seven of them were later revised.  The Biography contained not only novels, but short stories, poetry, and essays.  Jurgen was the tenth book to be published in the series, but the seventh sequentially.

Cabell fell out of favor during World War II.  The world had moved on, leaving Cabell's brand of fantasy behind.  "Cabell and Hitler did not inabbit the same universe," literary critic Alfred Kazan explained.  Popular interest in Cabell began to climb again in the 1970s when editor Lin Carter released seven books from the Biography in his Adult Fantasy line for Ballentine Books (but not, alas, Jurgen).  Among those who have been influenced by James Branch Cabell are James Blish, Jack Vance, Robert a. Heinlein, Clark Ashton Smith, Charles G, Finney, and Neil Gaiman.

The masterful vision, sardonic humor, and sly word games of James Branch Cabell ensures that he will be read for many years to come.


  • Kurt Busiek & Len Wein, Conan:  The Book of Thoth.  Graphic novel with art by Kelley Jones.  "For the first time in the history of the Conan saga, learn the secret origin of the Cimmerian's most dreaded for -- Thoth-Amon!  In the dank alleys of a decaying city, a beggar child conjures visions of a future where, insteading of spitting on him in the strrets, the rich and privileged cower in fear of his terrible powers.  Through cunning and murderous deceit, he ingratiates himself into the priesthood of the benevolent god Ibis, only to turn the church, and ultimately the Stygian nation, over to the terrible serpent-god, Set."  One of the better Conan graphic novels.
  • William Campbell Gault, The Dead Seed.  A Brock "the Rock" Callahan mystery.  "He's Brock Callahan.  Brock 'the Rock,' ex-L.A. Rams guard turned private eye.  And he just can't leave well ebough alone.  Callahan can smell trouble.  And this time the stench is reight next door.  It starts with a rich widow, a washed-upo actor and a dead Hollywood agent.  Now all Callahan has to do is turn over a few stones and see what crawls out from under them.  Soon Callahan's on to a crooked cop, a crazed California cult, and a clan of violent hillbillies...and that's when things turn interesting."   Gault's Callahan novels are always fast-paced and interesting;
  • James Patterson & Brendan DuBois, The First Lady.  Political thriller.  The publishing juggernaut that is James Patterson keeps speeding along with the help of a gazillion co-writers, this time with Shamus Award- and Sidewise Award-winning writer DuBois.  As Patterson explains, "I have always been fascinated by the idea that one secret can bring down a government.  What if that secret is a US President's affair to remember becomes a nightmare he wishes he could forget?  Stepping into this diabolic scenario is Sally Grissom, leader of the Presidential Protection team, who learns of the disappearance of the First Lady, which comes in the wake of the scandalouos revelation of the Prsident's affair.  The First Lady seems to have merely escaped to get away from the media storm, but you know there's a big twist coming.  Like the white House receiving a ransom note along with what could be the First Lady's finger.  Now Sally is in a race against the clock, and she cannot trust anyone.  Could the kidnappers be from within the Whote House?"
  • Russell Punter, The Adventures of King Arthur.  Graphic novel retelling the Arthurian legend, with artwork by Andrea da Rold.  "With the kingdom of Britain facing chaos, the mysterious Merlin tkes the infant Arthur into hiding.  Many years later, the young boy is shocked to discover that he is the country's rightful ruler.  Alongside the brave knoghts of the Round Table, the newly crowned King Arthur must fight many battls to keep his kingdom intact.  Swords, sorecery and epic quests come together in this action-packed grphic legend."  Targeted to the YA audience.

A Question of Priorities:   When you have 3000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to give away, what should you do?  Florida governor Ron DeSantis chose to give them to the whitest and richest zip codes in Manatee County, specifically Lakewood Ranch,  DeSantis said this was because there was a high concentration of seniors there but behind his statements lay heavy suspicions of racial discrimination and political favoritism.

Here's how it happened:  DeSantis called Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Johnson about a week and a half ago and asked him to pick two communities in Manatee County to receive the vaccine in one of the state's "pop-up clinics."  Johnson, in turn, contacted Vanessa Baugh, the county commission, who helped choose zip codes 34211 and 34202, which happens to be where her district is.  The total number of Covid cases in the zip codes was slightly more than 2500.  Other areas in the county have Covis numbers nearly four times that.  The Lakewood Ranch zip codes are over 90% white, with an annual medium income of over $100,000.  The second choice for the vaccines were areas with at least 15% black residents, with median incomes of under $60,000.

While other county commissioners complained, chairman Baugh held fim on her choice.  "I realize y'all   don't like the way it happened.  I am sorry...But I jumped onit and I'd do it again," she said.  Commissioner Misty Serva said, "We ask why we think there is a racism problem perceived in Manatee County?  This adds to that argument.  You're taking the whitest and richest demographic in Manatee County and putting them ahead of everyone else."  State Agricultural Commission Nikki Fried, who has criticized DeSantis' response to the pandemic, said DeSantis is rationing vaccines based on political influence.  "This is troubling and potentially illegal.  Vaccines should be distributed to counties based on need, capacity, and science."

For his part, DeSantis said that, if Manatee County doesn't want the vaccine, he'll ship it elsewhere.  I wouldn't be complaining.  I'd be thankful.  We don't need to do this at all."

Corruption can be classic in the Sunshine State.

What do you think?

Pictorial Proof:  Lest you think Florida is not a train wreck, check out these photos from the State Library and Archives of Florida:

Dark Shadows:  Every generation has its own fondly remembered classic cult television show.  For my generation is was The Twilight Zone, then Batman, then The Man from U.N.C.L.E. , and, finally, Dark Shadows,   The last was very popular when Kitty was in college (and especialy popular with Kitty because I evidently looked like David Selby, the actor who played Quentin Collins (let's just say that Selby aged well and I morphed into a Newt Gingrinch look-alike; **sigh**).   Dark Shadows was a weekday soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971, with 1225 episodes.  In April of 1967, Barnabas Collins, a centuries-old vampire was introduced to the show; later came Quentin, a werewolf.  A much later television reboot was unsuccessful; it is hard to recreate something whose time had passed.

The series soon spawned a series of paperback tie-in novels written by W. E. D. Ross. using his wife's name, "Marilyn Ross," as a pseudonym.  Ross wrote 34 books in the series for Paperback Library, one of which remains unpublished, from 1968 to 1972.  Understand that these are not good books no matter how popular they were at the time. Characterization, plotting, and realizing the potential of the situation were not Ross' long suit.  Most of his more than 345 novels written under some 21 pseudonyms are completely forgettable.  The Dark Shadows books are short, fast (and sometimes torturous) reads. 

To give you a flavor of them, follow the link to twenty-five novels in the series:

It should be noted that Paperback Library also published some ephemeral books about the series, although none by Ross.  I belileve there was a cookbook, a joke book, and an anthology of vampire and werewolf stories "edited" by Banabas Collins, among others.  In 1998, Lara Parker (the actress who played Angelique in the series wrote the first of four tie-in novels; two other novels were written by Stephen Mark Rainey (one in collaboration with Eizabeth Massie). 

Two Dark Shadows movies were released during the program's heyday. In 2006, a series of original audio dramas feturing many of the original cast began.  In 2012, Tim Burton directed a film based on the series.  A full cast audio serial began running two days a week in 2015.

There have also been Dark Shadows comic books, board games, coloring books, jigsaw puzzles, and a View-Master reel. 

It's obvious Dark Shadows will remain with us into the future. 

[A little bit of salcious gossip:  Alexandra Moltke (later Alexandra Isles) played Victoria Winters in the series.  She later gained notoriety as the mistress of Claus van Bulow who was accused of trying to murder his socialite wife, Sunny, so that he could be with the "raven-haired soap opera actress."  Isles testified that she had told von Bulow that she would end the affair if von Bulow did not leave his wife.  Von Bulow was found guilting of placing his wife in an irreversable coma; he was found innocent after a second trial.  Sunny von Bulow remained in coma for nearly 28 years before she died in 2008.  Isles and von Bulow never had the happy ever-after both seemed to want.]

Wasn't That a Mighty Day:  Today is the 370th anniversary of the St. Peter's Flood, when the Frisian coast of Germany was inundated, killing 15,000.

Florida Man:  I think I covered Florida enough earlier in this post.  Florida Man will return in all his inglorious glory next week.

Cancun Man:  He's handing out water, hoping people will forget.  They won't.

Good News:
  • Strangers shelter stranded delivery driver for five days during Texas cold snap
  • Mercy Chefs serves its 10 millionth meal. then heads to Texas to feed "bodies and souls" in cold
  • Man raises $25,000 for 70-year-old woman who has been working at KFC with a smile for nearlyn 50 years
  • Alex Trebek's "Jeopardy" is going on job interviews, dressing the people who need it most
  • Archaeologists in Egypt discover the world's oldest beer factory, dating back 5000 years (foe me, any beer news is good news)
  • 110-year-old has become a singing sensation on social media (video at the link)
  • Today is National Walking the Dog Day and National Margarita Day.  Celebrate one or both!

Today's Poem:
Love Is Not All

Love is not all:  it is not meat nor drink

 Nor slumber not a roof against the rain;

Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink

And rise and sink and rise and sink again;

Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,

Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;

Yet many a man is making friends with death

Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

It may well be that in a difficult hour,

Pinned down by painand moaning for release,

Or nagged by want past resolution's power,

I might be driven to sell your love for peace,

Or trade the memory of this night for food,

It may well be.  I do not think I would.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay

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