The SFFaudio Podcast #409 – The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan, read by Mr Jim Moon. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (1 hour 5 minutes) followed by a discussion of it (by Jesse, Mr Jim Moon, and Paul)
Talked about on today’s show:
1910, obsession, kinda gross, fundamentally based on racism, Jewishness, troublesome, H.P. Lovecraft, a racist filter, horror as fear of the other, the same intellectual climate, racial theory, a sensitivity alarm bell, scare not offend, on the cusp, an off note, Sax Rohmer, yellow peril, Fu Manchu is the hero, the Escape audio drama adaptation, Harlan Ellison, Red Hook territory, uncomfortably of its time, its about race, his friend’s changing disposition, the Saxon Mother vs. the “strong wine of the east”, that logic is still in force, 1/64th Cherokee, if this was set in the highlands…, natural peace, a benevolent supernatural force, white hat vs. black hat, the theme of colonialism vs. race and heredity, imperialism, two-fisted adventure vs. poetry and philosophy and pathos, the landscape, the skyline, the love that Lawson has is reflected by Buchan himself
At midday it cleared, and the afternoon was a pageant of pure colour. The wind sank to a low breeze; the sun lit the infinite green spaces, and kindled the wet forest to a jewelled coronal. Lawson gaspingly admired it all, as he cantered bareheaded up a bracken-clad slope. ‘God’s country,’ he said twenty times. ‘I’ve found it.’ Take a piece of Sussex downland; put a stream in every hollow and a patch of wood; and at the edge, where the cliffs at home would fall to the sea, put a cloak of forest muffling the scarp and dropping thousands of feet to the blue plains. Take the diamond air of the Gornergrat, and the riot of colour which you get by a West Highland lochside in late September. Put flowers everywhere, the things we grow in hothouses, geraniums like sun-shades and arums like trumpets. That will give you a notion of the countryside we were in. I began to see that after all it was out of the common.
beautiful writing, the sensual description of Lawson,
Being a fair man, he was gloriously tanned, and there was a clear line at his shirt-collar to mark the limits of his sunburn. I had first known him years ago, when he was a broker’s clerk working on half-commission. Then he had gone to South Africa, and soon I heard he was a partner in a mining house which was doing wonders with some gold areas in the North. The next step was his return to London as the new millionaire — young, good-looking, wholesome in mind and body, and much sought after by the mothers of marriageable girls. We played polo together, and hunted a little in the season, but there were signs that he did not propose to become a conventional English gentleman. He refused to buy a place in the country, though half the Homes of England were at his disposal. He was a very busy man, he declared, and had not time to be a squire.
a bromance at the least, homoeroticism, nudity or flannels, naked on the veldt, the gorgeousness of the writing, T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, a miniseries on Cecil Rhodes, the empire builder, Rhodesia, like Rhodes Lawson made his money in mining, Buchan knew Rhodes, a giant country estate, Buchan is the name of the unnamed narrator in the audio drama adaptation, biographies, First World War Hidden History blog,, at the center of spying and propaganda, Lord Tweedsmuir, use in a role playing game, Kim Philby, the old boy network, the revolving door policy, no longer conspiracy, no longer tin-foil hat territory, rewarded with the Governorship of Canada, nobility by appointment, “gone to the wall”, with the riff-raff and the hoi-poloi, “gone to seed”, a pun, the fertile and lush garden, the flower of his youth, a railroad from South Africa to Egypt, nursemaided by Rhodes, illness,
Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a strange emotion.
It was as if some one were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not threatening, but pleading — something too fine for the sensual ear, but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and distant that I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It seemed a woman’s voice, some lost lady who had brought nothing but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me was, that I was destroying her last shelter.
That was the pathos of it — the voice was homeless. As the axes flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long sad wanderings, of hardly-won shelter, and a peace which was the little all she sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it. No thought of wrongdoing. The spell, which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil, was to me, of a different race, only delicate and rare and beautiful.
poor spirit, parallel to an extinction, running away from the destruction of man, reading the story from Lawson’s point of view, what is he doing there?, an alabaster moon, blood sacrifice, depleting life force, a lonely deity, The Call Of Cthulhu role playing game, a temple ruin, an abandoned mine, a tiki-fetish, some ancient horrible power, maybe we’ve done wrong here,
And then my heartache returned, and I knew that I had driven something lovely and adorable from its last refuge on earth.
the last doorway, the model for this tower, the Great Zimbabwe, where could I read up on that?, a country house with a mock temple: “the folly“, druid orders, cheese rolling, a week later, keeping a secret, dropsy or yellow fever, the revenge of the land, disease, looking down on the tropics, three years, scarfe, natural beauty, that library, the moon of alabaster, the bird statuettes, turtle doves, green doves, auk-like bird carvings, everything is going extinct, the sin at the story’s end, the two-fisted action, shotguns make short work, the birds on the pyre, salting the earth, the Punic wars, improve on Josiah, dynamiting a priceless ancient temple, a “land without history”, purpose of visit: colonialism, sad but true, ancient ruins of Africa, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, the character names all end in “son”: Lawson, Isaacson, Jobson (the factor), the Hudson’s Bay Company, the East India Company, wagons, more money than the Queen, Ming pots, a night watchman, the natives won’t go to the temple, local folk, indemnification, Adamson, half-English, Biblical naming, The Skids, Richard Jobson, Travers, Lowson, H.P. Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror In Literature, building or rebuilding an ancestral home, The Moon Bog, The Rats In The Walls, they have the exact same structure, illness, lifted up into the sky, Ashtaroth the Moon goddess, Captain Norris, Magna Mater, Exham Priory, “what on Earth is going on here man?”, Out Of The Earth by Christine Campbell Thomson (aka Flavia Richardson), standing stones, mummy fiction, atavism, reverting to ancestral type, seeing things backwards, the industries that allow you to work, an inversion, an environmental horror story, silver bark, a beautiful image, Ishtar -> Ashtaroth, male and female spelling, an interest in weird fiction, one of the big names, scant detail, The Golden Bough, To The Devil A Daughter (1976), Astarte, a punny title, if this is a true story…, the covenant, the “Call of Ashtaroth”, the blood ritual, body horror, a psychic impasse, a taste, is there more than one force at work?, Of Withered Apples by Philip K. Dick, an apple tree, a bad farm, eating a withered apple is a bad move, the call of nature, it wants you, its using you, the last portal through, not of this Earth, a moonbeam, She by H. Rider Haggard, elegiac and wistful, a pleasure to read, layers and layers, old school weird fiction, layers of questioning and ambiguity, homages and reinterpretations, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, no clear lines, ambiguity comes to the fore, vs. early 20th century polemic, it would be an amazing comic book, visually stunning, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the albatross of The Thirty-Nine Steps, literary highways and byways, The Moon Endureth, Christopher Hitchens essays,
“In a remarkable short story, ‘The Grove of Ashtaroth,’ the hero finds himself obliged to destroy the gorgeous little temple of a sensual cult, because he believes that by doing so he will salvage the health and sanity of a friend. But he simultaneously believes himself to be committing an unpardonable act of desecration, and the eerie voice that beseeches him to stay his hand is unmistakably feminine.”
-Christopher Hitchens (The Atlantic Monthly, March 2004)
Posted by Jesse Willis
Reading, Short And Deep #017
Eric S. Rabkin and Jesse Willis discuss The Wolf by Guy de Maupassant
The Wolf was first published in French in 1889.
Here’s a link to the PDF of the story.
Podcast feed https://sffaudio.herokuapp.com/rsd/rss
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
E.F. Benson, A.C. Benson, and R.H. Benson were three brothers, all writers. They wrote weird fiction, Science Fiction and ghost stories.
R.H. Benson, the youngest of the three, started off as a clergyman in the Church of England, but later switched to the Roman Catholic Church and became an assistant to the Pope. An interesting choice since his biological father had been the Archbishop of Canterbury.
This short story of his, The Watcher, is somewhat difficult to classify. Reading it, it sounds like it could almost have been a true story – but it’s from a collection of fifteen stories depicting a fictional priest’s supernatural experiences.
I think it’s an allegory.
But the question is … an allegory for what?
Find out for yourself with Peter Yearsley’s fun reading of it…
By R.H. Benson; Read by Peter Yearsley
1 |MP3| – Approx. 12 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: January 7, 2007
A face in a bush takes delight in the death of a thrush. First published in 1903.
And here’s a |PDF|.
Posted by Jesse Willis
I was surprised to learn this X-Minus One audio drama had never been posted to SFFaudio before. We’ve talked about L. Sprague de Camp’s A Gun For Dinosaur on the SFFaudio Podcast a couple of times (episodes #055 and #035), but for some reason it had never actually been posted on the website!
Now that I’ve got a copy of the original magazine where the short story was first published, and I’m looking at the fantastic illustrations by Ed Emshwiller, I think I’ve found the perfect time!
X-Minus One – A Gun For Dinosaur
Based on the short story by L. Sprague de Camp; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx.30 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcast: March 7, 1956
Provider: Internet Archive
In the bloodiest and most ferocious arena of all prehistoric Earth, hunting reptile heavyweights isn’t for human lightweights. First published in the March 1956 issue Galaxy magazine.
And here’s the cover and splash page for Marvel Comics’ Worlds Unknown, which featured a 14 page adaptation of the story:
Posted by Jesse Willis
A tempest tossed hunter crawls ashore on a mysterious island only to find his way to a creepy castle inhabited by a Russian Count named Zaroff.
After listening to this wonderful recording I heartily recommend you check out the 1932 RKO film version of The Most Dangerous Game. It has an excellent provenance having been produced by David O. Selznick and Merian C. Cooper. That’s the same team, with the same actors, with the same sets that was later used to make the original King Kong (1933)! The film version of Game adds a couple of characters (most notably a love interest), changes a few scenes, but really keeps the spirit of the piece and adds a haunting and beautiful visual motif. When the hero crawls ashore he meets the lovely Eve (played by Fay Wray) and her drunken brother Martin (Robert Armstrong), who were also shipwrecked. The film opens with a shot of a door with an ornate door knocker in the shape of a wounded centaur that’s carrying a subdued human woman. We see the door knocker once again and then later, inside the castle, the same iconic image is seen upon a mighty tapestry.
So, the wounded centaur is obviously a symbol. But for who or for what?
Now if you think about it, I’m sure you’ll see it, just as I did. Let’s break it down:
1. A centaur is, of course, half-man and half-beast.
2. The wound is from an arrow.
3. The woman in the centaur’s arms is either being rescued or abducted.
That’s almost enough. But it may help to know that, as I figure, the image was inspired by the myth of the centaur Chiron. In one part of the legend of Chiron, he is wounded by Hercules, with the wound’s cause being an arrow. An arrow dipped in the blood of a hydra. And hydra blood (of course) causes a wound that can never heal.
Now here’s the clincher, there’s a character in the film that has a wound that constantly bothers him. Get it?
As one of the reviewers on Archive.org’s page for The Most Dangerous Game put it: “[It’s a] film you can watch again and again.” Another reviewer put it this way:
“I think watching this movie has awakened my latent homicidal tendencies and right now I wanna fart around on an island with a cod Russian accent, wear a black polo neck sweater guzzle the best cognac smoke filterless cigarettes … and im gonna start right now.”
Watch the embeded video below or download the |AVI|.
Posted by Jesse Willis
So in following up on that terrific new dramatization of The Most Dangerous Game, you know the one I told you about the other day, I’ve come across a novel with a similar theme. Indeed, this is a novel with a similar legacy to that of Richard Connell’s short story. Consider this…
“One should always hunt an animal in its natural habitat; and the natural habitat of man is – in these days – a town. Chimney pots should be the cover, and the method, snapshots at two hundred yards. My plans are far advanced. I shall not get away alive, but I shall not miss; and that is all that matters to me any longer.” – Rogue Male
Similar to The Most Dangerous Game hey?
But as to the legacy – let me offer these…
First up we need to consider in reverse chronological order David Morrell‘s 1972 novel, First Blood, and the subsequent movie of the same name. Said Morrell: “When I started First Blood back in 1968, I was deeply influenced by Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male.”
That’s a very strong recommendation in itself.
Then there was a 1976 TV-movie version starring Peter O’Toole (I also recall seeing it advertised as airing on A&E television network back in the 1990s)….
And lastly, in the video department, there was a 1941 film version (directed by Fritz Lang) put out under the title Man Hunt…
As to the audio, I did a search of that handy dandy resource RadioArchive.cc and found there a lovely UNABRIDGED reading of Rogue Male, a novel that was commissioned (and recently re-aired) on BBC Radio 7. I’ve just finished listening to it and I highly recommend it!
SERIOUSLY, be sure give this one a try. It’s totally gripping from the first sentence on. It holds your attention with a combination of great narration (by Michael Jayston), excellent writing (by Geoffrey Household) and historical relevance. It has a feel of a historical novel – giving you a sense of the time and the culture – whilst also meditating on the human mind – especially decision making. It’s not unlike Ken Follett‘s Eye Of The Needle or The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins – it’s that good.
One thing that Rogue Male has, that those others lack, is a nice human-animal friendship. This is essentially a hunting story, rather than a spy story, so it is more singularly focused on those themes and less externalized. I’ve never read a story that depicts what it’s like to stalk an animal (be it human or otherwise) better than this novel does.
Here’s what one of the commenters on the torrent thread said about it:
“This simply has to be one of the best ‘reads’ I will have in 2008. The reader is brilliant and the story suspenseful beyond belief. I listened to it in bed and it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout every chapter. Thanks for upping it. This is already in my top 10 audio experiences of all time.”
By Geoffrey Household; Read by Michael Jayston
15 Broadcasts – Approx. 6 Hours 32 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 7
Told in first person by the protagonist, an un-named British sportsman, sets out to see whether he can successfully stalk and prepare to shoot a European dictator. Supposedly interested only in the hunt for its own sake, he convinces himself that he does not intend to actually pull the trigger. First published in paperbook form in 1939.
And, there was a BBC radio drama version too (also available at RadioArchive.cc)!
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Household; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 90 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Starring Simon Cadell and David Googe.
Other radio drama adaptations include:
Suspense – Rogue Male
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Household; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 30 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBS Radio
Broadcast: December 31st 1951
Stars Herbert Marshall and Ben Wright.
Everything For The Boys – Rogue Male
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Household; Adapted by Arch Oboler; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 30 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]*
Broadcaster: NBC Radio
Starring Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino.
*This is a lost broadcast, no known copies now exist.
And I should also mention, that a sequel, Rogue Justice, first published in 1982, was also broadcast on BBC Radio 7 earlier this year as a five-part abridged reading (also read by Jayston).
Posted by Jesse Willis