#40 – The Witching Night, C.S. Cody BOOK REVIEW

March 24, 2018
krauserpua

In the USA of 1952, when this horror novel was written, it was actually illegal to write Satanic-themed fiction unless you used a pseudonym beginning with two initials. Thus we had writers like H.P. Lovecraft, C.A. Smith, A.A. Milne and of course this book’s author C.S. Cody.

I just made that up [1]

I have, however, been reading an awful lot of Howard Phillips Lovecraft recently. You may have read about him in The Guardian or Huffington Post a few years ago because the fat pedophiles of the World Fantasy Convention [2] were up in arms that their award trophy of all these years was a bust of HPL and they’d just realised that – shock, horror – he was racist [3]

racist

RACIST I tell you!

HPL is the guy who invented his own sub-genre, “creeping horror”. He was writing in the 1920s when the established sub-genres had been defined by Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the charismatic predatory vampire of high social class) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the mad scientist and tortured monster). HPL drew his influence more from Edgar Allan Poe, using the madness and mania of the human mind and allying it with the idea of secret societies and the hidden slumbering dark gods they were trying to awaken. His key contribution was The Call of Cthulhu in which HPL allied all that with “cosmic horror” and thus created an enduring Mythos.

Bloodborne, arguable the greatest action game of the PS4 generation, owes it’s entire lore to the Cthulhu Mythos.

bloodborne final boss

Cosmic horror, yesterday. I wasn’t scared. I killed the fuck out of it.

My brother is well into HPL so he’s always banging on at me to read more. I bought a yuuuge compendium edition of HPL short stories at the market for a fiver and left it on my shelf for two years. After writing 39 book reviews in the first two months of this year I thought to myself, “I think I’ll read something very long, that I shan’t finish, thus relieving myself of the pressure to review the bloody thing”. My eyes wandered to the shelf and there it was, almost 1,000 pages of small-font HPL work. I opened it.

I shall continue this review by adopting the HPL literary style……

Extract from the diary of N.N. Krauser, author and scholar, Gateshead, UK.

My hand trembles as I put pen to paper. The wind howls outside, an unspeakable wail carried across the dark skies like a whisper of ghosts in a forgotten cemetery. My time, I fear, is up as the clinging tendrils of madness entwine my scorched brain. I have seen things that cannot be unseen. I have read words, lost words in dusty tomes hidden in cobwebbed vaults of forbidden Sumerian archives, words that no man was ever meant to read. Who is that? Someone is coming. They are coming? Have they found me already? I know they suspect I read that lost chapter of Milton’s Arcane Rituals Of Haitian Voodoo.

Hahaha! I laugh manically, fearfully. I must set myself to outline my narrative, fool though I am to believe any other soul may read it. I am damned. Yet, I must struggle to organise my thoughts, make some sense of the unfathomable cosmic horror that will inevitably overtake me. Alas! So, with trembling hand I attempt to relay that strange twisted turn of events that perhaps no mortal man would dare believe.

It began, I see now, on a cool spring afternoon when I was due to visit my great-uncle Wilfred, the famous botanist who had recently returned from a scientific expedition to Uruguay. The Jarrow Amateur Botanist Society were hosting a speech where he’d deliver remarks on his findings in those dark jungles never before penetrated by the bright illumination of Science.

That’s all I can manage.

Perhaps you already see the big problem with HPL. Though blessed with a feverish and fertile imagination, HPL couldn’t write to save his life. His prose is downright awful. I don’t say this from a mere cursory glance. This month I read 19 of his short stories, coming to 250 pages, or a quarter of the compendium edition. That’s equivalent to over 500 pages of a normally-set paperback. I have a good idea of his style.

necronomicon-e1382286111645

Then how about YOU try reading the fucking thing?

And it’s awful. Sentences stagger along interminably with ever increasing complexity of sub-clauses. He never uses a simple word when his thesaurus suggests an obtuse alternative. Every sight seen is indescribable, every sound unspeakable, every occurrence unfathomable, and every source of knowledge forbidden. Worst of all, nothing ever happens.

I realise this is deliberate. HPL was attempting to develop an original way of writing. His stories are rarely in the usual format, where there’s a scene with characters who communicate with dialogue, and actions press the plot forwards. Rather, HPL is imitating an attempt by unreliable narrators to chronicle their own experiences after the fact, while driven half-mad. He likes to refer to news clippings of strange events around the world, to paraphrased accounts given in lost manuscripts, and to found letters and diaries of long-dead madmen. You could call him the originator of the “found footage” genre.

“What did you reckon of HPL?” asked my brother, hoping I’d caught the bug.
“Unfathomable. Unspeakable. I dare not relate what I learned.”
“No, really, what did you think?”
“There ought to be a secondary market of HPL stories re-written by proper novelists. Imagine how good a book Lee Child or Michael Crichton could write in the Cthulhu Mythos.”

He told me that’s precisely what has happened. Oh. [4] A week later he hands over a copy of The Witching Night. “It’s like HPL but without the slumbering demon” he said. That’s exactly what it is. It’s quite a good book.

It begins very HPL-like. The author is suffering incipient madness and fears imminent death after having meddled with forbidden knowledge. He resolves himself to write an account of his misfortune, in an attempt to stave off insanity. It all began when an old friend showed up at his medical practice with a splitting headache. No tests could identify the cause, and no treatment could alleviate the symptoms. His friend was evasive in explaining how he got the headache, claiming it’s better he didn’t know.

witching night front cover corgi books 1963

Frankly, I wouldn’t trust the bitch

After months of permanent migraines, the friend dies. He leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that the narrator curiously follows. This leads him to an enchantingly beautiful young lady and her oddball friends, including a pompous Romanian emigre who fled his university in Europe. It’s Cthulhu Mythos in all but name. The narrator is ensnared by a coven of witches who put a hex on him. He begins to notice a rising headache…..

Aaron Sorkin, in his Masterclass seminar on screenwriting, said a writer should always consider the correct medium for his tale. It’s not always a book. He said as follows:

  • If the primary expression is thoughts and interpretation, it’s a book
  • If the primary expression is dialogue, it’s a play
  • If it is expressed through actions, it’s a movie.

The Witching Night is all about nuance, second-guessing, uncertainty, and intention. Most of the scenes are superficially common-place and harmless, such as a dinner party of a local residents association, or a dinner in a five star hotel restaurant. Horror and tension is created by the seedy undercurrent of menace that things are not what they seem. In that sense, it reminded me of Len Deighton’s spy thrillers which are – at heart – just a series of routine conversations [5].

The central plot arc is about the narrator being led astray by the beautiful witch. Is she the unfortunate tool of dark forces, or is she a willing malevolent participant? The narrator is kept guessing until the end, though I dare say I wasn’t . In a spy thriller a clumsily foreshadowed twist would destroy the finale, but in a book all about creeping dread, it doesn’t really matter.

This book is indulgent and thick with atmosphere. It was like HPL written as real scenes with real characters. I quite liked it.

If you’d like to read a book that helps you chase after suspicious women without getting constant headaches nor led far stray, you ought to buy Daygame Infinite. It’s by far the best pick-up book ever written. Frankly, you’re lucky such forbidden knowledge is even on sale to the uninitiated such as yourself.

[1] If you believed such obvious bullshit, I suggest you stay away from PUA marketing literature.
[2] Who are not to be confused with the fat pedophiles of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association who give the Nebula awards to talentless diversity hacks.
[3] I remember the controversy at the time and checking it just now on Wikipedia I see those fat pedophiles have already airbrushed history, claiming it wasn’t just another SJW attack. That’s what the Left does – non-stop lying, as George Orwell liked to point out.
[4] Not Lee Child or Michael Crichton, but some actual proper novelists did write HPL homages.
[5] And yet they are excellent. I read the entire Game Set Match trilogy. It’s also a good TV show.

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