Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, September 28, 2021


 Directed by Jean Epstein and writen by Epstein and Luis Brunel, this silent movie strays far from Edgar Allan Poe's original story.  In fact, Brunel -- who also served as assistant direcctor -- walked away from the film because of Epstein's decision to leave Poe in the dust.  None the less the film is eerie and atmospheric, bringing Poe's sense of decay into reality.

Jean Debucourt plays Roderick Usher and Mabel Gance is his doomed sister Madeleine.  Charles Lamy is Allan, Usher's friend and guest.   Margaret Gance's husband, the famed director and screenwriter Abel Gance, has a small role as a bar customer.

Worth seeing.  Enjoy.

Saturday, September 25, 2021


 Buck Ryan was a young British private detective who fought crime on the pages of The Daily Mirror from March 22, 1937 to July 1962 and was revived on August 3, 2015.  Crooks, kidnappers and German spies were his meat.  One antagonist, the lady crime boss Twilight, eventually reformed and became an ally and (perhaps) romantic partner of Ryan.  The strip was created by artist Jack Monk and writer Don Ffeeman

The stories were told in long arcs, about four a year.  Many of these adventures (140 of them) have been reprinted on the Comic Book Plus website.  I don't have the date for the original strips for "Shadow Castle," but it appears ti be a later adventure because Twilight is an ally and not an antagonist.


Friday, September 24, 2021


 Those Who Can:  A Science Fiction Reader, edited by Robin Scott Wilson  (1973)

Sometimes it seems as if science fiction is the Rodney Dangerfield of literature.  It gets no respect.  That's not true except to some myopic mainstream reviewers and critics, those who, when they find something they like, declare it's not science fiction -- really.  SF has long been out of the ghetto and a good reason is the twelve authors collected in this anthology -- talented, respected writers who also have strong credentials as teachers in the field, whether it be in an academic setting, in lecturs, or as leaders in various writing workshops.

The editor, Robin Scott Wilson (1928-2013), a former military intelligence officer and CIA employee, who decided on a career change to become a writer and teacher.  His first story was published in F&SF in 1970.  He taught at Tulane and Michigan State before he was appointed president of Californis State Univerisity, Chico -- a position he held from 1980 to 1993.  A strong supporter of science fiction he was onne of the founders of the annual Clarion Science Fiction Writer's Workshop in 1968.  Clarion is an intense six-week workshop that continues to today and is now held on both the East Coast and the West Coast.  Among its alumni are Alan Brennert, Edward Bryant, Olivia Butler, Ted Chiang, Robert Crais, Cory Doctorow, Geroge Alec Effinger, Nalo Hopkinson, Robert Kadrey, James Patrick Kelly, Kathy Koja, Kelly Link, Marjorie Liu, Vonda McIntyre, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Al Sarrantonio, Darryl Schweitzer. Dean Wesley Smith, Bruce Sterling, Lisa Tuttle, and William F. Wu.  The instructors at the workshop over the past 53 years incude a Who's Who of science fiction writers nad editors.  Wilson editd the first three anthologies of stories from the workshop (1971-73).

Wilson asked each of the contributor to Those Who Can to submit a story they had written that would have certain qualities (Plot, Character, Settinng, Theme, Point of View, and Style) and to provide brief essays that would that would put these qualities into context related to their stories.  The result is thirteen thoroughly entertaining stories (Frederik Pohl submitted two) and eleven essays ranging from the theoretical to the personal.  The twelfth essay was submitted as annotations to Damon Knight's story "Masks" -- perhaps the most effective "essay" in the book.

This is a volume that is a godsend to those who wish to explore the writing process and the various ways a writeer might approach a story.  For those who are just casual readers of SF, Those Who Can remains an excellent anthology.

The stories and essays:


  • Jack Williamson, "Jamboree" (from Galaxy Magazine, December 1969)
  •      "     , "Plotting 'Jamboree' "
  • Samuel R. Delaney, "We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rgiprous Line" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1968, under the title "Lines of Power")
  •      "     , "Thickening the Plot"
  • Daniel Keyes, "Crazy Maro" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1960))
  •      "     , "How Much Does a Character Cost?"
  • Harlan Ellison, "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" (from Knight, May 1967)
  •      "     , "Whore with a Heart of Iron Pyrites:  or, Where Does A Writer Go to Find a Maggie?"
  • Joanna Russ, "The Man Who Could Not See Devils" (from Alchemy & Academe, edited by Anne McCaffrey, 1970)
  •      [Russ]     , "On Setting"
  • Robert Silverberg, "Sundance" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1969)
  •      "     , "Introduction to 'Sundance' "
  • Ursula Le Guin, "Nine Lives" (from Playboy, November 1969, under the name "U, K. Le Guin;" Le Guin was the first female to have a story published in Playboy and the editors evidently tried to hide the fact)
  •      [Le Guin]     , "On Theme"
  • Damon Knight, "An Annotated 'Masks' " (original story from Playboy, July 1968)
  • Kate Wilhelm, "The Planners" (from Orbit 3, edited by Damon Knight, 1968)
  •      "     . "On Point of View"
  • Robin Scott Wilson, "For a While There, Herbert Marcuse, I Thought You were Maybe Right About Alienation and Eros"  (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1972)
  •      [Wilson]     , "Point of View:  The Quick-Change Artist in the Typewriter"
  • James E. Gunn, "The Listeners"  (from Galaxy Magazine, September 1968)
  •      "     , "On Style"
  • Frederik Pohl, "Grandy Devil"  (from Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1955)
  •      "     , "Day Million" (from Rogue, February/March 1966)
  •      "     , "On Velocity Exercises"

Wilson produced a similar anthology in 1996 with Paragons:  Twelve Master Science Fiction Writers Ply Their Craft.  The contributors to this anthology were some of the leading writers of the day -- Nancy Kress, James Patrick Kelly, Greg Bear, Pat Murphy, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard. Karen Joy Fowler. Bruce Sterling. Joe Haldeman, John Kessel, Pat Cardigan, and Howard Waldrop.  Interestingly, all of the contributors (with the exceptions of Greg Bear and Pat Cardigan) have been students and/or staff of various Clarion workshops.  I have not read this one, but I feel very comfortable in recommending it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021


 "An Oak Coffin" by L. T. Meade & Clifford Halifax, M.D. (from The Strand Magazine, March 1894; reprinted in Stories from the Diary of a Doctor, 1894)

Louisa Thomasina Meade Toulmin Smith (1844-1914) wrote over 250 books in her life, including also 150 volumes written for young readers, mostly girls.  She was also a popular mystery writer who authored the classic The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1899) and, in collaberation, The Sorceress of the Stand (with "Robert Eustace," 1903) and two volumes of Stories from the Diary of a Doctor (with "Clifford Halifax").  "Halifax" was a pseudonym for an author who true identity was for a long time unknown.  It turned out the man behind the name was Dr. Edgar Beaumont (1860-1921), who used the pen name only for collaborations with Meade.  Beaumont and '\"Eustace" (real name Dr. Eustice Robert Barton, 1854-1943) both provided medical, scientific, and technical details for Meade in the stories, many of which were published in The Strand, which had declared Meade to be one of their most popular authors.

Stories from the Diary of a Doctor was number 17 in the Queen's Quorum, a chronological listing to the 125 most significant volumes of detective fiction 1854 to 1957.  The "Doctor" whose diaries are referred to happened to have the name Clifford Halifax, which gave added verisilimilitude to the tales.  "An Oak Coffin" was the ninth in the first series; the complete series (two books) ran to 24 stories.

The story starts off when a widow and her 14-year-old daughter visited Dr. Halifax.  The widow, Mtrs. Heathcote, is seeking help for her daughter, Gabrielle, who "is not well."  Gabrielle was weaak and depressed, would not eat, slept badly, and took no interest in anything.  Gabrielle had a "very sad" expression on her face for such a young girl.  Her symptoms appeared to begin with the death of her father, six months before.  An examination showed no disease although her condition was below par.  Halifax recommended a tonic.  Mrs. Heathcote said they had tried tonics to no effect.  She also mentioned that neither she nor her daughter had seen their family physician since her husband died.  Puzzled, Halifax wrote a prescription and send the pair on their way.

The next day Gabrielle showed uip at Halifax's office alone.  The doctor sensed that she was harboring a secret that could explain her case.  He was right.  The girl told him the her father was not dead.  She had seen him on several occasions at night when looking out her bedroom window, butu when she rushed outside the figure was no where to be seen.  Halifax suggested that these appearances might be dreams, or perhaps imagination -- something that could be possible from losing her beloved father.  Her mother also dismissed the girl's claims.  Mrs. Heathcote, according to the young girl, also has been suffering greatly after her husband's death.  She is sleeping poorly, cries out at night, and sometimes looks at Gabrielle in fear; she also moved her bedroom to the other side of the house -- away from Gabrielle's room.  Gabrielle insists that Halifax prove that her father still lived.  The girl then leaves, saying she knows Halifax is wise and very clever, and thus will aid her.

Gabrielle's visit had unsettled the doctor.  He still believed the girl was suffering from delusions, but...  He decided to call on Dr. Mackenzie, the Heathcote family physician.  

Heathcote was a moderately successful solicitor, of comfortable means, and, at just past forty, was a severe consumptive.  Mackenzie had examined the man just three months before his death:  "Phthisis was present but not to an advanced degree."  Mackenzie did not think the patient would die as soon as he did.  On the day of his death, the doctor was summoned to the Heathcote residence and was told that the solicitor was dying.  Heathcote "was a ghastly sight.  His face wore the sick hue of death itself; the sheet, his hair. and even his face was all covered with blood...Hemoptysis had set in, and I felt that his hours were numbered."  His pulse was week.  Mackenzie packed the man in ice and gave him some ergotine.  This seemed to ease the man's suffering a bit and Mackenzie left, promising to return in a couple of hours.

About an hour later the doctor recieved a note from Mrs. Heathcotte that her husband had just had a fresh and very violent hemorrhage and had died.  Mackenzie felt no need to view Heathcote's body after death -- the man had been very close to death when Mackenzie had left him and had died a very short time later.  Mackennzie did attend the funeral.  There was no doubt in his mind that the man was dead.  Gabrielle, he said, was an excitable girl of highly strung nerves.  She is evidently a victim of delusion caused by the grief of her father's passing.  Halifax thanked Dr. Mackenzie and was about to leve when there was an urgent ring at Mackenzie's door.  It was Gabrielle, saying her mother was very sick and probably out of her mind.  She had come at her daughter with a carving knife.  Two servants had restrained the woman.  Mackenzie and Halifax and the girl rushed back to Ivy Hall, the Heathcote home, to find the woman in a state of violent delirium, talking to an imaginary Gabrielle and insisting that Heathcote was dead, "No one was ever more dead.  I tell you I saw him die."  The woman also said such things as, "I tell you it isn't safe.  Gabrielle suspects,"  and, "The coffin is made of oak,  That is right.  Oak lasts.  I can't bear coffins that crumble away very quickly."  In her ravings, she told the undertaker's men to place the body in the coffin very carefully.  Then she said something about the dishonour and told the undertaker's men to screw the coffin lid on and then to leave her alone with her dead.  Soon the poor woman began to sleep.

Mackenzie left to arrange for a nurse to watch over the woman, leaving Halifax there until then.  While alone with the sleeping woman, Halifax looked out the window and saw a man in the garden who matched Gabrielle's description of her father.  Gabrielle also showed Halifax a picture of her faather.  It was the same face...

The solution to "An Oak Casket" was fairly evident, especially after Heathcote's coffin was exhumed and discovered to contain nothing but sacks of flour.  But it was, I feel, unique enough for its time to suit The Strand's readers.  The magazine devoted a full year's of monthly stories to Stories from the Diary of a Doctor, and later, another full year to the second series of stories.

I made a quick search of the internet and have found no copies of either book available to be read online, although the books are available for purchase.  The twenty-four stories, however, are available to read online in individual issues of The Strand.  Here is a list of the stories and the dates each appeared in that magazine:

Stories from the Diary of a Doctor

  • 1) "My First Patient" (July 1893)
  • 2) "My Hypnotic Patient" (August 1893)
  • 3) "Very Far West" (September 1893)
  • 4) "The Heir of Chartelpool" (October 1893)
  • 5) "A Death Ceritifcate" (November 1893)
  • 6) "The Wrong Prescription" (December 1893)
  • 7) "The Horror of Studley Grange" (January 1894)
  • 8) " 'Ten Year's Oblivion' " (February 1894)
  • 9) "An Oak Coffin" (March 1894)
  • 10) "Without Witness" (April 1894)
  • 11) "Trapped" (May 1894)
  • 12) "The Ponsonby Diamond" (June 1894)
Stories from the Diary of a Doctor; Second Series
  • 13) "Creating a Mind" (January 1895)
  • 14) "The Seventh Step" (February 1895)
  • 15) "The Silent Tongue" (March 1895)
  • 16) "The Hooded Deaath" (April 1895)
  • 17) "The Red Bracelet" (May 1895)
  • 18) "Little Sir Noel" (June 1895)
  • 19) "A Doctor's Dilemma" (July 1895)
  • 20) "On a Charge of Forgery" (August 1895)
  • 21) "The Strange Cse of Captain Gascoigne" (September 1895)
  • 22) "With the Eternal Fires" (October 1895)
  • 23) "The Small House on Steven's Heath" (November 1895)
  • 24) " 'To Every One His Own Fear' " (December 1895)
The stories, admittedly some better than others, are entertaining and well written.  Some include perplexing mysteries; a few contain a bit of fantasy, and some contain a bit of sang froid, while others may be a bit nerve-wracking.  Check them out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021


 From 1971, Alan Price and Georgie Fame.


Poor Kay Downey (Ellen Drew).  She did not realize that the man she married (Steve Downey, played by Regis Toomy) was a gangster.  When is implicated in a murder he committed, Kay turns to park ranger and former boyfriend Don Bradley (Robert Lowery) for help.  Also featuring Eddie Quillan and Elisha Cook, Jr.

A standard B-movie programmer.  Steve Lewis at said, "The film still needs some comedy mixed in with the suspense, which is minor to begin with" and that "the movie isn't as bad as I've probably made it sound."

Directed by William Berke, with a script by Maxwell Shane and story by Paul Franklin and Charles F. Royal.

Enjoy.  (I hope.)


 From the musical.


 Openers:  In one of the vallies of the great mountain Dalanger reigned a king who was a widower, very poor, and very old; he had three sons, whom he one day addressed in these words:  My ancestors call upon me to join them in the land of spirits; but before I die I must reveal to you a secret of importance.  A short time before my marriage, being fatigued in pursuit of a bear, I passed the night inn a cavern of the Yellow Mountain.  A very handsome young man unexpectedly appeared to me in the morning, and said, Aboucaf, train up thy children in the paths of virtue, and send them here when thou shall be on the point of quitting the world.  I could not return my thanks to this young man, because he suddenly disappeared, but I have never forgotten his words.  Go to the Yellow Mountain, my children, perhaps you will find there an inheritance more worthy of you than that which I shall be able to leave you.  -- The three princes immediately set out, and having arrived at the Yellow Mountain, and advanced pretty far into the cavern described, they perceived the foot of a ladder, which till that time had been concealed.  They ascended more than a thousand steps, and at last arrived at a square apartment, cut into the rock, where they nothing but a small basket made of rushes.  This basket contained a purse of raw leather, a horn similar to those which the shepherds use to collect their scattered flocks, and a gidle of very coarse goats' hair.  Truly, said Hairkan, the eldest of the brothers, our father had no reason to be in haste to discover to us this treasure.  Let us not, however, fail to divide it among us; I shall take the girdle -- And I the horn, said Xamor, who was next to him in age -- The purse then will belong to me, said the youngest brother, who was called Tangut.  -- Hairkan, in unrolling the girdle, saw a paper fall from it, on which he read these words:  "In what place do you wish to be?"  The two others, curious to know if they should similar billets. looked, the one into the wide end of his horn, the other into his purse.  Xamor found in his horn a paper, on which was written, "How many troops do you desire?"  The youngest also drew from his purse a billet, which bore these words:  "What sum of money do you wish for?"  -- If we only have to wish in oder to be obeyed, cried they all three together, we are happy indeed.  -- It is easy to make the trial of these prodigies, said Tangut, and I shall begin.  -- He closed his purse and said, I wish for a thousand pieces of gold.  -- At that instance the purse was stretched out, and became so heavy that it fell from his hands.  He opened it upon the ground, turned it up, and a thousand pieces of gold dropt from it and were scattered about the place.  Judge of the raptures of the brothers at this sight.  They made no further experiment, but set out on their return; but their father, Aboucaf, could take no part n their joy; he expired just as they got home.  After giving this good prince a magnificant funeral, they agreed to prserve their secrets, and to leave their barren country, to go in quest of happier climates.  Hiarkan and Xamor departed first; but I shall not relate to you their adventures; though I am acquainted with them.  It is sufficient at present to inform you, that they founded in the same year two cities and two kingdoms, which bear their names even until today.  I confine myself to what relates to Tangut.

-- "The History of the Prince Tangut, and of the Princess with a Nose of a Foot Long" (from The History of Abdalla, The Son of Hanif by Jean Paul Bignon under the pseudonym "de Sandisson" from 1712-1714 and translated into English by William Hatchett in 1729; reprinted in the third volume of Tales of the East, edited by Henry William Weber, 1812)

Just from the title of the story you know that things are about to get nteresting for Tangut.  Tanbut settles in the city of Kemmerouf, where the constant riches from his purse place him in good stead with the citizens and nobles of that city.  Women, of all sorts, throw themselves at him to no avail because Tangut has eyes only for the beautiful daughter of the sultan, Dogandar.  Dogandar, however, suspects tht Tangut is harboring a secret and spurns his advances.  Eventually she discovers that his purse is the secret of Tangut's wealth and, using her feminine wiles, takes it from him and scurries off.  (Yes, Tangut is a noob.)  With no source of income, Tangut leaves the city and travels to Xamor, the city his brother founded, and asks that he be given his brother's magic horn.  Arriving back at Kemmerouf, Tangut blows on the horn six times and 300,000 invincible soldiers magically appear, complete with battle supplies.  Tangut lays seige to the city, forcing the sultan and his family to come out to surrender.  Once Tangut sees Dogander, he again becomes a noob and loses his heart to her.   The sultan and sultana agree to have Tangut marry Dogandar.  Once again, Dogandar plies her wiles and, taking the magic horn from Tangut, blows on it.  Instantly, 100,000 soldiers appear for her.  Just as instantly, Tangut's 300,000 soldier disappear.  Tangut flees the city, going to his elder brother to request Hairken's woven girdle. which will transport him anywhere he wants.  Tangut, ever the noob, is instantly transported to Dogandar's bed chamber where she lays in a rather flimsy nightgown (ahem).  Once again, Dogander gets the magical item from Tangut and he must flee the city to avoid the sultan's guards.

Depressed and exhausted, Tangut wanders about until,he decides to end it all by jumping off a cliff.  Before he can do so, his clothing gets stuck on the branches of a fig tree -- the only vegetation to be seen in the area.  Tangut falls asleep and awakens quite hungry.  But there on the tree were the most beautiful figs he had ever seen.  Deciding he might as well commit suidcide on a full stomach, he manages to free his clothing from the branches and pulled down a fig.  He eats it and his nose grows a full foot.  As he eats more and more figs, his nose keeps growing.  He just can't stop eating the figs.  Finally, he wraps his nose around his arm and leaves.  After wandering some more, the depressed Tangut comes across another fig tree.  Hungry again, he decides that eating thee figs cannot do more harm than had already been dome to him.  As he eats each fig, his nose shrinks until it is his normal size.  He gathers up the figs from the second tree, then goes to the first and gathers figs from it.  Then he travels once more to Kemmerouf.

Disguise, Tangut sells the nose-growing figs to the royal procurer, who brings them to the sultana and Dogandar.  They eat the figs and their noses grow to extraordinary length.  Physicians far and wide were called to treat the royal pair without success.  Finally, Tangut, again disguised, approached the palace and states the fells he could cure the unfortunates.  After eight days of feeding them phony elixars, he gives the sultana the curative figs and her nose grows to normal size.  He tells Dogandar that, because she is of a different temperment than her mother, the cure may not work for her.  Hopefully she gives Tangut all three magical artifacts.  He gives her the figs -- all but one.  Her nose then shrinks to only a foot in length.  He then gives her a regular fig and her nose stays the same size.  Tangut reviews himself to Dagandar and, using the magic girdle, transports imself away.  Dogandar lived to an extreme old age, while Tangut -- no longer a noob -- founded a prosperous kingdom far away.

The full title of the book is The Adventures of Abdulla, Son of Hanif; Sent by the Sultan of the Indies, To Make a Discovery of the Ifland of BORICO.  Intermix'd with Feveral Curious and Inftructive Histories.  Translated in FRENCH from an Arabick Manuscript found at Batavia, with NOTES explaing fuch paffages as relate to the Religion, Cuftoms, &tc. of the Indians and the  Mahomatans, By Mr. De SANDISSON, Done in English by William Hatchett, Gent.  Abdulla is sent by the Sultan to discover the secret of immortal youth.  Along the way he meets a number of people including a Persain woman, Roushen, and her young daughter, Lou-lou.   The three entertain themselves by telling stories; the tale of Tangut is related by Abdulla himself.

It should noted that there was no "Arabick Manuscript"; the book was written in whole by Bignon.  Abbe Bignon (1662- 1743) was a French cleric, statesman, writer, and librarian who was a patron of Antoine Galland, the first translator of  A Thousand and One Nights.  Bignon's book, while not as well-known as Galland's monumental work,  had a profound effect on fantasy literture, ,most especially with William Beckford's Vathek.

Regarding Tales of the East, William Henry Weber (1783-1818) was an editor of plys and romances and the literary assistant to Sir Walter Scott, who aided Weber in many of his anthologies.  Supposedly, Weber edited Tales of the East  in honor of Scott.  He allegedly wend suddenly mad in late December 1813, produced a pair of pistols and challenged Scott to a duel.  Weber was then soothed without  having any shots fired.  The next day he was restrained.  Comitted to an asylum as hopelessly insane, Scott and others supported Weber until he died in the asylum in 1818.

Woot!:  Today (er.. yesterday now, since this has been posted a day late) is National Pepperoni Pizza Day!  (I knew there was a reason I got out of bed this morning.)  To add to the joyous celebrations it is also National String Cheese Day and National Rum Punch Day!  Since this yesterday was the third Monday in September, it is also National Respect for the Aged Day.  You can best respect me by bringing pepperoni pizza, string cheese, and some rum punch.  You can also bring along some fried rice since it's also (again, yesterday) National Fried Rice Day -- I prefer pork fried rice.

This is was also a day when we honor our most recent former president:  National Gibberish .  Hobbit Day falls on Wednesday, this is also Tolkien Week.  Don't celebrate with an orc.

This is was also the date when Joe Louis won the heavyweight boxing championship in 1939 against Bob Pastor in 11 rounds.  And when, in 1969, John Lennon left the Beatles but did not make an official announcement of the split.

Arsenical Wallpapers:  Here's a handy little book for those who wish toplot their next mystery novel or story:  Shadows from the Walls of Death:  Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wallpapers  by R. C. (Robert Clark) Kenzie, 1874.  There's only about eight pages of text and the type is so small that it is virtually impossible to read.  No matter.  There then follows color pictures of over seventy examples of arsenical wallpaper -- the arsenic had been added as a coloring agent.  If you ever see anyone boiling some 19th century wallpaper, be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Dangerous Toys:  Christmas is coming on us fast.  I can tell because Christmas items are pushing Halloween and Thanksgiving items off the store shelves.  If you are considering buying a toy for some little one you know, beware of these Top 10 Most Dangerous toys of 2021, as determined by World against Toys Causing Harm, Inc (WATCH):  

  • 10 -  Star Wars Mandalorian Darksaber -- potential for blunt force and eye injuries
  • 9 -  My Sweet Love Lots of Love Babies Minis -- potential choking hazard
  • 8 -  Boom City Racers -- potential for eye and facial injuries
  • 7 -  Boomerang Interactive Stunt UFO -- potential for propellor-related injury
  • 6 -  Sci-Fi Slime -- potential for chemical-related injuries
  • 5 -  WWE Jumbo Superstar Fists -- potential for blunt force and impact injuries
  • 4 -  Gloria Owl -- potential for ingestion
  • 3 - Marvel Avengers Vibranium Power FX Claw -- potential for eye and facial kinjuries
  • 2 - Missile Launcher -- potential for eye and facial injuries
And the Number 1 Most Dangerous Toy is (drum roll, please)...
  • 1 - Calico Critters Nursery Friends -- potentiaal choking hazard
We've come a long way from lawn darts and Saturday Night Live's "Johnny Flame-On" costume, but still exercis caution when purchasing toys for children.

The First Antipope:  Robert of Geneva (1342-1394) was elected to the papacy as Pope Clement VII by cardinals opposed to Pope Urban VI in in 1378.  Robert had been named a cardinal in 1371.   As Clement VII, he established his papacy in Avignon, France.  Meanwhile Urban VI had assumed leadership of the Roman Church and was elected outside the College of Cardinals.  The dueling popes, as it were, led to the Western Schism of the Catholic Church.  Urban (c. 1318-1389), born Bartolomeo Prognano, who was never a cardinal, was elected to the papacy as a sop to angry Romans who demanded a Roman pope and not a French one as the previous pope, Gregory XI, was.  (Gregory was the seventh and last Avignon pope.)  The innocuous Urban was at the least moderately appealing to French cardinals, who later left Rome and supported Robert of Genva for the papacy.  What was not realized at the time was that the little-known Prognano was not a Roman, but a Neopolitan.

Pope Clement VII had the support of most of Europe, incuding the king of France, Charles V, but Urban's coronation was carried "with scrupulous detail, leaving no doubt as the the legitimacy of the new pontiff."  Urban insisted that the Curia do its work withour gratuity or gifts, that the cardinals were not accept annuties from governments or private persons, that they eschew their luxuries and retinues, and he insisted he would  not move the papacy to Avignon.  This madden Charles V, who granted Louis I, Duke of Anjou, a phantom kingdom is he could unseat Urban VI.  The French cardinals voted to declare Urban's papacy illegitimate and elected Robert of Geneva as pope.  The previous year, Robert had distingushed hemself by ordering the massacre of 2000-8000 civilians at Cesena.

There followed years of battle and struggle.  Clement, died in 1394, perhaps realizing that his dreams of a united Catholic church under him would never be realized.  Urban died in 1389, following a fall from a horse; rumors, perhaps unfounded, circulated that he had been poisoned.

Dancing on the Moon:  Here's a 1935 animated cartoon from the Fleischer Studios.

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man Richard Wolfe, 57, of Crystal River, was stopped for using the grass median to pass other cars.   Wolfe got out of the car and began twerking at the Orange County Sheriff's officer who stopped him.  He then pulled a knife out of his belt, tossed on the ground, and said, "What are you afraid of?  I've got a knife and you've got a gun."  Wolfe then twerked his way into the traffic lanes of State Road 44.  He was arrested for resisting an officer without violence, fleeing, and dangerous driving.
  • In a related story from November 2017, a number of Florida Men (and Women, presumably) began twerking on Interstate 95 during a 35-minute traffic jam caused by Donald Trump making his way to Mar-a-Lago during the Thanksgiving holidays.  Traffic-goers were not amused by the delay although the twerking (allegedly) was outstanding.
  • In disgusting Florida Man news, Florida Man Brian Riley stopped a man who was mowing his lawn to tell him that God had told him to talk to Amber because she was about to commit suicide.  The man, Justice Gleason, told Riley tht there was no Amber at that address and told  him to leave or he would call the police.  "No need to call the cops, I'm the cops for God," Riley allegedly told Gleason.  Riley left nd leter got a second "message" from God, telling him to kill everyone and rescue Amber, who  was a victim of sex trafficking.  Riley returned to the Gleason house shortly before 4:30 in the morning and shot Gleason's 62-year-old mother-in-law, emptying an entire magazine into her.  He then entered the main house and shot the family dog.  The family was hiding in the bathroom and Riley shot the locked door, then killed Gleason, his wife, and their 3-month-old son.  Elsewhere in the house, he found Gleason's 11-year-old daughter and tortured her in an effort to find out where the imaginary Amber was.  Riley told the girl that he had killed her parents because they were sex traffickers.  Prior to these incidents Riley had had no contact with, or knowledge of, the victims.
  • Florida Man Stephen Dariff of Daytona Beach used his riding lawn mower to scare off a six-foot alligator.  When the alligator eventually came back to the water's bank, Dariff headed toward the animal with his lawn mower, lowering the moving blades directly on the alligator, injuring the gator's head and severing several limbs, as well as destroying  the eggs in the alligator's nest.  If Dariff did not know what he did was a crime under Florida law, he does now.
  • Florida Woman Ashley Ruffin, 31, of Palm Coast, was arrested for allegedly helping her son and his friend beat another boy.   Ruffin was charged with felony child abuse for holding the victim while the two other boys assaulted him,  Evidently parenting in florida has a lower standard than elsewhere.

Good News:
  • 12-yer-old Polish girl with Down Syndrome sends painting to Queen elizabeth and is "over the moon" when she replies
  • Man gives bone marrow to help with his depression -- not only does recipient go into remission for leukemia, but also for the MS she had been battling for 20 years
  • Premature baby born so small she was kept alive in a sandwich bag has defied odds and now is starting school
  • New study indicates that oxygen therapy may slow the progress of Alzheimer's
  • Astronaut bringss ashes and photo of 9/11 victim to space to fulfill his lifelong dream of orbiting for NASA
  • 100-year-old grandma set Guiness record for power

Today's Poem:
Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd

And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad heart thicken, 
And did the mourners cry?

No; such was not the fate of
Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
'Twas not from sickness' shots.

No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

Despised love struck not with woe
That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

O no.  Then list with tearful eye,
While I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly,
By falling down a well.

They got him out nd emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
In the ralms of the good and great.

-- Mark Twain

Sunday, September 19, 2021


 It's that time of year again, folks, the time when we are inundated by pumkin spice everything.  Why? you ask.  Yours is not to question why; just accept this as the natural order of things.

So, to celebrate pumpkin spice in all its various formulations, join me as I make my justly famous Pumpkin Spice SpaghettiO soup.

First the ingredients:

  • One can of SpaghettiOs, preferably not with meatballs
  • One small pumpkin (seeds, peel, and stem removed), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Various spices to your taste
  • One fifth of Jack Daniels

First, pour yourself a shot of Jack Danuels.

Then pour contents of SpaghettiO can into a blender.

What the heck?  Have another shot of Jack Daniels.

Add a handful of the cubed pumpkin to the blender, saving the rest for when a salesman, or a religious prosellytizer, or your mother-in-law comes to the door

Have another drunk of the whishkey

It's time ta add the shpises.  Whadeva you wan -- parshlee. saje. closemaree, and tim...whaever.  Hek, yu can even addd a fue clobes o' garsnip iv ya wan.

Wher's da Jock Danyels?  Oh, heretis.

Turn in da blenner, makin a pastie glop tha mit be kalld zoup.

Hab lother  shut ob da gud stuf

Poor da zoup doun da zink, wher he belonks

Trye nother drunk o Zack Flannels.  Phapps mor dan won.

Sho mush fun koocin. rite?


 "Miserere Mei, Deus" by Gregario Allegri, performed by the Tenebrae Choir under the direction of Nigel Short.

Saturday, September 18, 2021


From Pete Seeger's Folkways Recording American Ballads, a little bit of a cheat because it was originally a traditional English ballad. from the Seventeenth century.


 Here's a blast from the past that may take a bit of effort on your part because of the overabundance of type in the panels, but try not to let that deter you.

The newspaper comic strip ran from 1915-1916 in Randolph Hearst's Evening Sun and was created by Myer Marcus under the name "Billy Liverpool."  If the artwork looks familiar it's because Marcus was a ghost artist on Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff strip for more than fifteen years ( source says that Marcus drew Mutt and Jeff up to 1934; another source says that Marcus died in 1923 at age 36.  Marcus probably actually worked on Mutt and Jeff 1914 and part of 1915 and possib;y part of 1916).

No matter.  Enjoy the 102 daily strips of Asthma Simpson and the inhabitants of the village of Cheezburg.

Thursday, September 16, 2021


 A haunting song of growing up from Tom Rush.


 Gosh!  Wow!  (Sense of Wonder) Science Fiction, ddited by Forrest J Ackerman (1982)

Forrest J (no period after the initial, thank you; an affectation he developed in the 1930s) Ackerman (or 4SJ, as he often referred to himself) (1916-2008) was an editor, writer, anthologist, literary agent, promoter of Esperanto, and -- above all -- a science fiction fan.  For over seven decades the main focus of his life was the promotion of science fiction, a field he fell in love with in beginning in 1922 when he saw his first science fiction movie.  His appreciation of the field solidified when he purchased the first science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926.  At that time the field was known as scientifiction, a term coined by Amazing editor Hugo Gernsback.  Scientifiction was abbreviated as stf (pronounced "stef") and Ackerman was the first person to use the abbreviation in print, although he was quick to point out that the term did not originate with him, but with a friend.  A few years later, Gernsback  changed the term to the less wieldy "science fiction."  Ackerman who loved puns, invented the word sci-fi (to rhyme with 'hi-fi") in the 1950s.  In the third issue of the fanzinne Science Fiction, Ackerman's name was used for a reporter of a character in the very first Superman story written by Joseph Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

Known as "Mr. Science Fiction," Ackerman was active in the field professionally and otherwise for most of his entire life.  His collection of books, magazines, and memorabilia was reputed to be the largest inn the world.  He hosted some 50,000 fans and professionals at his home, the "Ackermansion," from 1951 to 2002.  Over the years, he was the literary agent for some 200 writers, as well as representing a nukber of literary estates.He founded the magazine Famous Monster of Filmland in 1958, which joyfully (and punningly) celebrated science fiction, fantasy, and horror films for generations of younger readers.  His many connections in Hollywood led to Ackerman appearing in bit parts or cameo roles in over 210 science fiction films.  He created the comic strip character Vampirella.  In the 1960s he arranged for the English publication of the weekly German juvenile science fiction series Perry Rhodan, which ran for 118 issues from Ace Books, and then for another 19 issues under his own inprint.  The Rhodan series was translated by his wife "Wendayne."  (As of 2019 the original German series reached 3000 books -- booklets really; they were kind of short  -- as well as 850 volumes in a spin-off series.)  For the American publication, Ackerman added original and reprint science fiction, film reviews, and a letter column; the additional stories tended to either creaky or gimmicky with a few exceptions.

In 1969 the Brazilian government hosted a ten-day international science fiction symposium which Ackerman, along with many of the biggest names in the field, attended.  There he was approached by a Brazilian publisher to edit a series of five science fiction anthologies, each covering a decade.  The proposal, however, fell through.  Then, in the early 80s, science fiction writer and editor Fredrik Pohl was placed in charge of the science fiction line at Bantam Books.  Remembering the original Brazilian propposal, Pohl approached Ackerman to come up with an anthology of stories he remembered fondly from SF's first decade, from 1926 to 1935.  Ackerman would introduce the stories with rambling autobiographical pieces about his life in science fiction.  Ackerman had previously edited The Best Science Fiction for 1973, taking over Ace Books' Year's-Best slot from Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, both of who left Ace to embark on their own careers, as well as a Year's-Best series from each.  (Ace's 1974 Best Science Fiction was edited by Pohl, followed by five annuals edited by Lester del Rey.)  Ackerman's next science fiction anthology was The Gernsback Awards 1926:  Volume 1 (1982), which gave Ackerman's choices for the best science fiction stories of 1926; there was no Volume 2.  These books, along with Ackerman's reputation was enough for Pohl to propose that Ackerman edit a book of tales from 1926 to 1935.

We met Ackerman once -- some fifty years ago -- when we shared a banquet table at a World Science Fiction Convention in Boston.  He was charminng, affable, and funny.  Although he stated firmly that his life's major interest was in science fiction of every stripe. he did join my wife in a rendition of the song "42nd Street."  Ackerman's interest in promoting science fiction to younger readers was evident, as was his interest in the stories that fascinated him when he was young -- a time when much of the field was unpolished and crude, but a time when the "sense of wonder" reigned.  

Reading this book was infectious and brought back my own sense of wonder.  Of the nineteen stories in the book, I had previously read about nine.  Most of those stories I had already read brought back fond memories.  Pohl imposed one rule on Ackerman:  He was to pick the stories he best remembered but he was not to re-read them!  Pohl wanted the sense of wonder that struck the young boy and teenager that Ackerman was at the time; re-reading the stories before publication could impact a selection by a more mature mind.

Here are the stories:

  • Robert H. Wilson, "Out from Rigel" (from Astounding Stories, December 1931)  The story of a fated voyage to another star system.The author had only one other story published and committed suicide at a young age.
  • Jack Williamson, "Born of the Sun"  (from Astounding Stories, March 1934)  Aliens are destroying the moon.  Can Earth take its place among the stars or will humanity be destroyed?  Williamson lasted from 1928 until,his death in 2006, going from clunky "world-ending" stories to producing a number of classic science fiction stories and helping to bring science fiction into the mainstream.
  • Edmond Hamilton, "The Eternal Cycle" (from Wonder Stories, March 1935)  A story about an alternate universe.  Hamilton's career began in 1926 and continued until his death in 1977.  He was best known for writing space opera, which belies his range of writing for he was capable of truly mature work.  Hamilton created the pulp hero Captain Future and wrote almost all of that hero's adventures.  He was married to the talented writer Leigh Brackett.
  • "Irvin Lester" and Fletcher Pratt, "The Roger Bacon Formula" (from Amazing Stories, January 1929)  After drinking a strange formula concocted by Roger Bacon, a man's essence travels to Venus.  The story was selected by Groff Conklin for inclusion in one of the early, seminal science fiction anthologies.  "Lester" was a pseudonym used by Pratt; why he credited this tale to both himself and an alter ego still eludes me.
  • Miles J. Breuer, M.D. & Clare Winger Harris, "A Baby on Neptune" (from Amazing Stories, December 1929)  On a voyage to Neptune, two humans save a Neptunian baby from an inhuman monster.  Breuer was a popular writer in the field through the 1930s, penning such classics as "Gostak and the Doshes" and "The Appendix and the Spectacles;"  Harris was one of the first popular female science fiction authors; her career last until the early thirties.
  • "Clyde Crane Campbell"  (H. L. Gold), "Inflexure"  Time is turned at a "right angle" when all thngs that ever lived appear at the same time.  Disaster follows,  This was Gold's first published story, written when he was only 20.  After a solid career as a short story author, Gold found fame from editing the seminal science fiction magazine Galaxy.
  • Captain S. P. Meek, ""Futility"  (from Amazing Stories, July 1929)  Two scientists devise a machine that can mathematically determine one's exact moment of death, as well as the exact cause and the place of death.  Meek was a career Army chemist who attained the rank of Colonel by the time he retired in 1947.  He wrote most of his science fiction during the 1930s and was considered one of the most popular at the time.  In the science fiction field he is probably best know for his series about Doctor Bird and Operative Carnes -- 14 stories tht appeared in Astounding Stories from 1930 to 1932.  During the 30s he also wrote nine juvenile novels about dogs and horses, continuing these books through 1956 -- 21 in all, plus a handbook on raising a puppy.
  • Lousie Taylor Hanson. "The Prince of Liars" (from Amazing Stories, October 1930)  An interesting tale of near "immortality" frmed within a rather boring discussion of Newtonian theory versus relativism.  Another popular early female science fiction writer, maybe.  Little was known about her, but she did say on at least one occasion that the stories were actually written by her brother and she "just mailed them."  This could be true, but the name of the brother has never been revealed.
  • Louis Tucker, "The Cubic City"  (from Science Wonder Stories, September 1929)  Griswald Lee, a man born in 1895, is mysteriously propelled to a time in the far future where the world is run by the League of Cities.  This was Tucker's only acknowledged story.  He was evidently a Doctor of Divinity.
  • "G. Peyton Wertenbaker" (Green Peyton), "The Shp that Turned Aside" (from Amazing Stories, March 1930)  Caught in a violent storm, a ship finds itself on a strange sea in a world whose sky showed no known constellations.  Wertenbaker had a few stories published in the 1920s, beginning with "The Man from the Atom," written when he was 15.  His "The Coming of the Ice" (Amazing Stories, June 1926) was included in Ackerman's The Gernsback Awards.  He moved to regional noels in the 1930s published under his given name of Green Peyton, then  to editorial positions for Fortune and Time magazines.  After service in World War II, he joined the aerospace industry, writing a book on the possibilty of life on mar, as well as a series of video scripts about the human problems of space flight.  He joined NASA in 1958, eventually rising to becoming the chief historian of the Aerospace Medical Division.
  • W. Varick Nevins, III, "The Emotion Meter"  (from Wonder Stories, January 1935)  A college professor devises a machine that indicates a person's romantic preference -- a story with a twist at the end.  I know nothing about the author, who published four stories in 1934-5.  He defended this story against Donald a. Wollheim in the Letters column of Wonder Stories.
  • A. Merritt, "The Face in the Abyss"  (from Argosy All-Story Weekly, September 8, 1923; reprinted in Amazing Stories Annual, Vol. 1, 1927)  The classic lost race fantasy, complete with strange monsters and high adventure.  This story, combined with the author's novella "The Snake Mother" was published as The Face in the Abyss (1931).   Merritt (1884-1943) was the editor of The American Weekly whose sideline was as a pulp fantasy writer.  He wrote eight complete novels -- all classics of their kind -- including The Moon Pool and The Ship of Ishtar.  He was inducted into The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1999. 
  • Stanley G. Weinbaum, "The Red Peri"  (from Astounding Stories, November 1935)  Written just five years after the discovery of Pluto, Weinbaum set this story on that planet/planetoid, investing it with crystaline creatures.  The Red Peri turns out to be a 19-year-old red-headed female space pirate who has a secret lair on Pluto.  Weinbaum was one of the brightest lights in science fiction in the mid-1930s, beginning with his first story, "A Martian Odyssey" in 1934.  He died a year and half later of lung cancer at age 33.  Had he lives, he may well have become on of the greatest science fiction writers of the Twentieth century.
  • D. D. Sharp. "The Eternal Man"  (from Science Wonder Stories, August 1929)   A scientist discovers an immortaity elixir but discovers it leaves whoever takes it immobile while remaining conscious.  Sharp was a farmer turned writer whose science fiction showed some imagination but little writing skill.  "The Eternal Man" was his one-hit wonder and a poor sequel published the following year is best forgotten.  H published 24 science fiction stories before transitioning to the western field.
  • Raymond Z. Gallun, "Old Faithful"  (from Astounding Stories, December 1934)  Probably Gallun's most successful short story, it features a totally sympathetic Martian, and opposed to the monstrous aliens usually depicted in stories of that time.  It inspired two sequels.  Gallun was a talented writer who was popular in the 30s and published some 120 stories and six novels during his career.  His popularity waned during the 1950s and, although he was recognized as a talented author, he never achieved the reputation of some of his peers.
  • Catherine L. Moore & Forrest J Ackerman, "Nymph of Darkness" (from Fantasy Magazine [a fanzine], April 1935)  Moore's popular character Northwest Smith encounters a totally nude, totally invisible girl who is fleeing from danger.  Ackerman helped plot this minor tale, which ws revised for publication in Weird Tales in 1939.  For years Moore refused to have this story reprinted and was not included in her collection of Northwest Smith stories.  Read it and you'll see why.
  • "Don A. Stuart" (John W. Campbell, Jr.), "Twilight"  (from Astounding Stories, November 1934)  A far future tale, written in a more literary style that Campbell's earlier far-ranging superscience tales.  This marked a turning point in Campbell's career as he began writing more "serious" tles under the Stuart pen-name (which came from the name of his then-wife, Dona Stewart).  Campbell effectively stopped writing science fiction when he became editor of Astounding Stories.  As editor, he is credited with advancing science fiction into the modern age.
  • Amelia Reynold Long,"Omega"  (from Amazing Stories, July 1932)  A story about the end of the world.  Long was another early female science fiction writer best known for her story "The Thought-Monster" (1930), which was filmed as 1958's Fiend without a Face.  She was a prolific writer of rather poor detective novels for the lending library market and is little remembered today.
  • Harry Bates & D. W. Hall, "A Scientist Rises"  (from Astounding Stories, November 1932, published under Hall's name alone)  A scientist (and his clothing) begins to grow larger and larger, until...  Bates was the editor of Astounding and Hsll was the magazine's assistant editor.  As "Anthony Gilmore," the pair wrote the popular Hawk Carse sequence of five stories.  Btes also wrote the classic stories "Alas, All Thinking!" and "Farewell to the Master" (the basis of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Hall's sjort story output, with the exception of for stories, was all published in with Bates as the co-author.

There you have it.  Some stories rated from good to very good and some pure schlock.  All, however, have that undefinable "sense of wonder" that has captivated yung readers for almost a century.

Plus, as a bonus, you have Ackerman's comments and reflections, along with sometimes defensive words about various disagreements he has had with others in the field.  Ackerman also included a number of letters to the editor from various magazines (written by himself and others), a few poems (by Mort Weisinger and Ralph Milne Farley), and some pieces about unsung heroes of the science fiction movement.  All in all, a very scattered and extremely interesting editorializations.

If you are like me and like Ackerman -- kids who never really grew up -- this one is for you.


 Jeannie Redpath, circa 1962, with a traditional Scottish song.


 Jack, Doc, and Reggie are back in this Mutual Broadcasting System version of I Love a Mystery, airing from October 3, 1949 to December 26, 1952, and utilizing scripts from the original series that aired from January 16, 1939 to December 29, 1944.  The stories were aired in serial form.  "Temple of Vampires" ran for 20 episodes.  The original version of this serial ran for 20 episodes from January 22-February 16, 1940.  All 20 episodes from the 1950 version are linked below -- four-and-a-half hours of danger, adventure, and mystery!

Concerned parents wrote to the netowrk complaining about the posible negative effects this serial may have on children.  Let me know if you experience any negative effects when you listen to this tale.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021


 Jackie Lomax.  (With a backup band consisting of Geroge Harrison, Eric Clapton, Nicky Hopkins, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr!)


 I saw an advertisement for a 56" color television for just $1.99.  The ad said the very low price was because the volume was stuck on full.  I thought, "I can't turn that down."


 "Legend of the Dropping Well" by Hugh Miller (1802-1856) (from Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; or The Traditional History of Cromarty, Chapter XXIII,  revised second edition, circa 1851.  [Note: the first edition of the book was published in 1834; the second edition was expanded by about one-third; according to the author's note, the extra material was written at the same time as the original material -- about 20 years previously, between 1829 and 1834.  This would put the second edition being published in the mid-Nineteenth Century.  The earliest second edition I could find on the internet was the 1851 edition from the Boston publisher Gould and Lincoln, which was taken from the London second edition.  I could not find an exact date for the second London edition.]

Hugh Miller was a self-taught Scottish geologist and writer, folklorist, and evangelical Christian.  He became one of Scotland's most influential palaeontologists and was adept at popularizing science to a large audience,  In later life he became the victim of severe headaches, depression, and delusions -- most likely what we would call today psychotic depression, perhaps brought by the stress of overwork.  Fearful that one day he may harm his wife and children, he opted for suicide, shooting himself on December 24, 1856.  The day before his death he was checking the proofs on his book on geology and Christianity, The Testimony of the Rocks.  Miller's widow arranged the posthumous publication of many collections of his essays and religious works, keeping Miller in the public eye for another half century. 

As a youth, Miller was rather wild and rambuncious -- he left school after punching his teacher.  He was fascinated by the Scottish coast around Cromarty, and would often take hikes with his uncle, exploring the shoreline and caves.  His uncle was of a scientific bent and would describe the rocks and flora and fauna in a manner that fascinated Miller.  As a young man, Miller went to sea and one experience, where he viewed hundreds of dead bodies along the shore, stayed with him.  Despite his family's wishes for him to go into the ministry (and despite his own Christian zeal), Miller eventually became a stonemason, gaining a reputation for hard work and honesty.  In his spare time, Miller would write poetry and sketches about the life and lore of Cromarty.  He was also appointed accountant for a newly-opened bank in Cromarty, thus he was balancing three jobs at once.  From 1840 until his death, Miller served as editor of a Christian newspaper based in Edinburgh, The Witness.

Miller was a man of many interests and passions.  His Scenes and Legends in the North of Scotland remains an important book of Scottish life and folklore and a tribute to the imaginnation of the Highlands.

As to "The Dropping Well," it is "a small cavern termed the Dropping Cave, famous for its stalactites and its petrifying springs."  Located a few feet above the beach, there is "from a crag which overhangs the opening there falls a a perpetual drizzle, which, settling on the mos and llichens beneaths, converts them into stone."  Once a popular location, the accrued stone from the moss and lichen had made it a place of mystery and its dark recesses are not entered.  There is a story of a mermaid being spotted at the cave opening, and another of a strange old bearded man who sat before the cave unmoving for three days and who vanished following a storm which left many bodies on the beach.  There is also a tradition that a townsman once entered the cave and heard from above the ringing of a pair of tongs from the hearth of a farmhouse in  Navity, some three miles away.

A certain wastel and neer-do-well named Willie Millar, who was given to inventing tall tales, supposedly decided to check the aforesaid tradition.  Armed with sprigs of rowan and wych-elm sewn into the the hem of his waistcoat and with a bible in one pocket and a bottle of gin in the other, he bravely entered the cave.  It was dark and there were a number of natural cisterns filled with sparking water along the way.  Alas, Willie tripped by the ninth cistern and falling against the cave wall, broke his bottle of gin, the contents of which ran into a small hollow in the marble floor.  Such a valuable porperty being destroyed di not phase Willie.  He lay down and beginning lapping the gin from the cavern floor.  Then he stopped for a moment and began drinking again.  Feeling refreshed, Willie went on deeper and deeper into the recesses.  Eventually he came to an immense chamber light by burning firs trees.  The floors of the chamber were scattered with  half-eaten body parts and a bloody axe was hanging on the wall.  There was a bugle of gold hanging from a large man(?)-made column.  Willie took the bugel and blew into it.  The walls of the cavern shook and a corner of the large room was exposed, revealing a large. bloodied hand reaching for the weapon on the wall.  Willie ran, petrified beyond belief.  When he finally came to his senses, he was lying by the ninth cistern with the broken bottle of gin bedside him.  He had been in the cavern for nearly a full day.

Years later, a young boy of twelve (who had a character even worse that Willie Millar's) decided to test Willie's story and entered the cave himself.  Yes, there was a large cavern with an overturned marble table but nothing else of Willie's story seemed true.  Some time later, he heard a voice behind him which he recognixed as that of a dead friend, telling him to meet the voice at "the Stormy," which he took to mean a large rock by the sea.  There he waited but his dead friend did not appear.  Instead a large bee buzzed his head and could not be shooed away.  Nearing his ear the bee told him to dig and so the boy did, revealing a large spring of clear, pure water.  The spring, known known as Fiddler's Spring, has magical properties that can cure illness -- a belief that remained current as the author wrote this tale.

So, not a story really, but an interesting take on a local legend.  I first came across the tale in an anthology titled Weird Tales Scottish published by William Patterson of London in 1884.  At the time Patterson issued a number of anthologies titled Nuggets for Travellers, five volumes of which (#5-9) were in his Weird Tales series, one each representing stories from England, Scotland (#6 in the series), Ireland, Germany, and America.  When reprinted by another publisher later that year, the series was called Tit-Bits for Travellers.

For those interested, here are the contents of Weird Tales Scottish:

  • Sir James Dick Hardy*, "The Vision of Campbell of Invarawe"
  • Sir Walter Scott, "The Tapestried Chamber"
  • John Wilson, "Highland Snowstorm"
  • Hugh Miller, "Legend of the Dropping Well"
  • Sir Walter Scott, "Wandering Willie's Tale"
  • Allan Cunningham, "The Haunted ships"
  • John Mackay Wilson, "The Unknown"
  • uncredited (actually Robert Dale Owen), "The Rescue"
  • W. Grant Stewart, "The Witch of Laggan"
  • Mrs. Gordon (Margaret Maria Brewter Gordon), "Allan Mactavish's Fishing"

Both Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland (both editions)and Weird Tales Scottish are availble to read on the innternet.

*  Interestingly, Miller dedicated Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland to Hardy.

Saturday, September 11, 2021