Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dracula in Love by John Shirley

Bram Stoker never intended for his famous vampire to become an industry, but he has, and there’s no end in sight. Dracula is here to stay. Dracula in Love was John Shirley’s first book, published in 1979 by Kensington Publishing. As usual there is no resemblance to Bram Stoker’s original vision of Dracula, and that’s the way it should be. Most fictional reincarnations of the famous Count probably owe more to the Bela Lugosi film version than anything else. Shirley’s Dracula is one wacky dude; this is an over-the-top nutcase Dracula. When Vladimir Horescu receive a letter signed by Vladislav Draco II, Son of the Dragon, AKA Dracula, he knows his life is about to change dramatically. After all, Dracula states: “My Son! Know me: I am your father.” Uncertain how to proceed, Vladimir does some soul searching, but eventually decides to meet the man that he does indeed believe is his father. This takes 100 pages, but when Dracula finally makes his appearance the book gets even weirder. This is a Dracula who resembles a good looking talk show host. Dracula can blow figure eight smoke rings and chastises Vladimir for speaking with Lucifer who now goes by the name of Bill. Yeah, really. He also tells his son “We’re going to fish for mermaids and keep the beast of Loch Ness as our pet.” As you might expect, this is no traditional father-son bonding story. You see Dracula is in love with Margaret Holland, Vladimir’s friend. Not to forget, Dracula is one ruthless bastard. He is merciless and willing to kill at a moment’s notice. His extraordinary powers make him seem god-like. The ensuing conflict is weird, violent and disturbing. Spoiler alert! - The conclusion, wherein Dracula is consumed by a vagina, is the number one wackiest horror story ending in history, and perhaps one of several reasons why this book has a cult following. John Shirley is an excellent writer, and still produces great stories like this one. I think his latest story can be found in Paula Guran’s anthology, Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Zolar’s Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge

This 1970 publication by Zolar is probably the best of its kind; a complete and logical survey of occult topics, theorems and philosophies. Zolar is a rather mysterious figure himself, author of over a dozen occult histories, but I know little else. He is prolific, and he handles his topics with expertise. No matter who he is, that’s all that counts. This book covers much of the same ground as Richard Cavendish’s The Black Arts, but there is also a great deal more. Zolar takes a refreshing, personal tone and thus avoids the staid academic syntax that slows readers down. The first of two sections covers the Kabbalah, the realm of spirit, physical life, mysteries of sex, the soul, immortality, the dark satellite, the astral world, mind power, and mediums. Each narrative offers  a concise overview of its topic. The remaining section covers an equally wide-range of topics: prophets, psychic power, the stars, numerology, the tarot, and more. Certain topics get more attention than others, and the general feeling here is that Zolar knows his material. There is no bibliography but comparison to other reference works is easy enough. Whatever research Zolar conducted appears to have been handled efficiently. This book remains in print but with a different cover. Zolar is quite popular among occultists and this easy to comprehend and useful book is among his best-sellers. I recommend Zolar’s Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge for anyone taking the next step in their own philosophical quest.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Riding High by Gil Elvgren

Perhaps one of the best known images associated with Halloween was painted by the legendary pin-up artist Gil Elvgren (1914-1980). His iconic witch on a broomstick was titled “Riding High” which was a title he had used before, and would in fact use again. Those other pin-ups titled “Riding High” bear no resemblance to this 1958 painting. “Riding High” was a 30 x 24 oil on canvas commissioned advertising piece. His model was Marilyn Hanold (also known as Marilyn Neilson) best known as the June 1959 Playboy Playmate of the Month. Marilyn is still alive last I heard and bless her heart. She had a brief career in films such as Space Ship Sappy (1957) a Three Stooges short, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962), and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) among others. This is one gal I would love to interview. Shown here are two of Elvgren’s photographic studies that eventually became the classic we know as “Riding High.”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish

Here’s a flashback some of you have been waiting for a long, long time. 1967, the Summer of Love, as they called it, when the counter-culture movement was in full swing; when Bobby and Martin were still alive; when we listened to the Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones; when we turned on, tripped out, and broke on through to the other side. This was the era of experimentation, for better or worse; when it was un-cool to make fun of people that practiced a religion other than the one your grandparents knew. Hari Krisha, Dali Lama, Alan Watts were all the rage. Although Gerald Gardner is credited with writing the first Wiccan history, Witchcraft Today (1954) it was really Gavin and Yvonne Frost who popularized the movement in the late 60s and early 70s. More about Gavin and Yvonne in a separate post. The cultural rebellion of the 60s opened the floodgates and thus made The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish a legitimate purchase at your local bookstore. Gone were the days when such literature could only be purchased in specialty shops. Isaac Bashevis Singer reviewed  The Black Arts for Book Week and stated in his praise: “Works such as Cavendish’s are a reminder that we are living in an era of amnesia. We have forgotten those vital truths that man once knew and by whose strength he lived.” The Black Arts is among the best concise and readable histories of the occult sciences that I have encountered. The sections include overviews on Numerology, Alchemy, the Cabala and the Names of Power, Astrology, rituals, Satanic worship, the origins of witchcraft, grimoires, and the Black Mass. Here you’ll learn about the Lords of Darkness, Tarot divination and much more. The Black Arts was a bestseller for years and went through at least ten printings. I don’t know if it’s still in print, and it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that it is. Recommended for the non-judgmental reader, The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish is a treasure chest of ancient history.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dracula Returns by Robert Lory

This 1973 paperback original published by Pinnacle Books is now widely considered the best of the Dracula novels that soon flooded the market. The brainchild of publisher Lyle Kenyon Engel, Dracula Returns was the first in the “Dracula Horror Series.” Written by Robert Lory, who would write eight additional books in the series, this moody pulp paperback fuses the gothic plot elements created by Bram Stoker with pulp science fiction. As was the case with most of Lyle Kenyon Engel’s paperback series, the initial sales were strong but declined dramatically by the ninth book. In the first tale Dracula is resurrected by Dr. Damien Harmon and his assistant Cameron. Author Lory never strays from the singular fact that film actor Bela Lugosi had come to embody the vampire image, and a such Lory’s description of Dracula are no more than vivid recreations of Lugosi’s countenance: black hair combed back, a Roman nose and black-tie formal attire. In order to control Dracula they implant a small device into Dracula’s body which can implant a sliver of a wooden stake in the vampire’s heart. With this device they can disable Dracula at any moment. This ingenious plot device provides the series a crucial level of suspense as it becomes obvious that Dracula is looking for a way to control his controllers. Dr. Harmon’s goal is to use Dracula in a war against crime. The arrangement provides Dracula with ample victims to satisfy his hunger while fulfilling Dr. Harmon’s ideological wishes. Lory’s Dracula never resembles the Bram Stoker original save in the story’s mood, and that’s just as well. Lory is a fine writer and the pacing is energetic, the scenes sufficiently creepy and the dialogue campy. Somehow it all works, and it worked equally as well in the subsequent eight books. Dracula Returns is a must-have paperback for those cold, dark nights leading up to Halloween.