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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A real critic for real readersJune 5 2001
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In The Weird Tale, Joshi analyses the work of half a dozen writers whose influence on the modern supernatural horror story is either incalculable (Lovecraft, James and possibly Bierce) or else not nearly large enough (Blackwood, Machen, Dunsany). Joshi's central theoretical tenet is that weird fiction is an inherently philosophical mode, since it offers writers the chance to remake the world according to their own rules. H P Lovecraft is the prime example, possessing a coherent and thoroughly worked out philosophy which colours and powers all his best work. Much the same applies to Blackwood, though his mystical and sometimes sentimental author's personality was the polar opposite of Lovecraft's. Similarly, Machen's mysticism (whenever he could keep off his Anglo-Catholic hobbyhorse for long enough), Bierce's misanthropy and Dunsany's unique and complex blend of anti-modernism and ultra-Olympian cynicism all provide Joshi with a lens through which to see their work in its most rewarding light. The only writer for whom Joshi displays little enthusiasm is M R James, primarily because his work never goes beyond the ghastly-revenant plot - however inventively James may manage it at times. Joshi is miraculously well-read, has a sharp eye for the best among frequently voluminous works, and is even honest enough to say when he's talking from prejudice rather than analysis. The Weird Tale brings genuine literary criticism to bear on a genre where literary and critical standards have been debased to a condition rather worse than that of science fiction, and is of vast help in pointing out the works to whose quality writers (and readers) of supernatural fiction could aspire.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The Weird Tale.Oct. 30 2005
New Age of Barbarism
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_The Weird Tale: Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, Ambrose Bierce, and H. P. Lovecraft_ is an account of various writers of the weird tale by S. T. Joshi. These authors wrote stories which may be regarded as "weird tales", a phrase used by Lovecraft especially in his famous essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature". The weird tale may be distinguished from the ghost story, science fiction, and psychological horror. This book consists of an introduction followed by accounts of each of the various writers and ending with important bibliographical information. Joshi's viewpoint is clearly sympathetic to scientific rationalism and atheism, which is problematic, though he does provide a good if somewhat biased overview of each of these major writers.
The first chapter of this book is "Arthur Machen: The Mystery of the Universe". Machen, born in Wales, was an antiquarian who developed a unique worldview opposed to Protestantism, rationalism, materialism, progress, and puritanism which emphasized his Anglo-Catholicism. Though Joshi chooses to regard this as a fault, I believe Machen's worldview remains particularly interesting. Machen wrote several weird stories which were based in his worldview including such tales as "The White People" and "The Great God Pan".
The second chapter of this book is "Lord Dunsany: The Career of a Fantaisiste". Dunsany was an Irish writer and fantaisiste who wrote plays and later stories. Dunsany's writings emphasized outer gods, though he himself may have been an atheist. Indeed, Joshi describes Dunsany's writings as "Nietzsche in a fairy tale". Dunsany's famous works include _The Gods of Pegana_ and _The King of Elfland's Daughter_.
The third chapter of this book is "Algernon Blackwood: The Expansion of Consciousness". Algernon Blackwood was a mystical writer who rebelled against an Evangelical upbringing to embrace the wisdom of the East including the _Bhagavad Gita_ and the doctrines of Buddhism. Blackwood's writings reveal a love for nature and an enthrallment with mysticism and the expansion of consciousness. Blackwood was also involved to some extent in the secret mystical society, the Golden Dawn. Joshi traces out the development of Blackwood's philosophy and his stories in terms of "awe", "horror", and "childhood". Blackwood's famous tales include "The Wendigo", "The Willows", and _The Centaur_.
The fourth chapter of this book is "M. R. James: The Limitations of the Ghost Story". M. R. James was the son of an Anglican priest who wrote ghost stories in the genre of the weird tale. While James never developed fully a worldview, something which Joshi believes to be problematic, his stories nevertheless provide an encounter with the supernatural.
The fifth chapter of this book is "Ambrose Bierce: Horror and Satire". Ambrose Bierce was a caustic wit, a cynic, and an atheist who served in the Union army during the Civil War and later was to disappear heading south towards Mexico (presumably having been caught up in the Mexican Civil War). Bierce's stories feature elements of his extreme cynicism and misanthropy. Bierce also wrote ghost stories featuring encounters involving the Civil War. In addition, Bierce compiled the infamous _Devil's Dictionary_ revealing his cynicism about politics and religion.
The sixth chapter of this book is "H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West". Lovecraft was a unique writer of the weird tale, who wrote for pulp magazines and engaged in amateur journalism. Lovecraft's writings reveal his worldview which is materialistic and rationalist (though he would later come to reject his earlier dogmatic materialism under the influence of developments in theoretical physics including relativity theory and quantum mechanics). In addition, Lovecraft's political beliefs prove enigmatic, though he began as an aristocratic ultra-conservative and a racialist who expressed abhorrence at immigrants and other races in his stories, he came to embrace a form of "fascistic socialism" and to marry a Jew. Lovecraft was particularly influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche and Spengler and his stories reveal his belief in the decline of the West thesis. Lovecraft's stories emphasize cosmicism in which man is shown to be utterly without hope in a cosmos empty of meaning and in which both science and religion fail him. Lovecraft was influenced by Dunsany's outer gods and wrote much on elder beings from other dimensions, though he was later to "demythologize" his gods making them into extraterrestrials. Lovecraft also was influenced by the folklore of New England. Lovecraft's famous works include "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" and _At the Mountains of Madness_.
This book offers an excellent introduction to various writers who composed weird fiction. Joshi's biases are apparent, but his extensive research into the writings of these individuals is tremendous. In particular, it is interesting to note how each of these writers formed a unique philosophical worldview which came to influence their stories to such a great extent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
More than a bit biased and uneven, but still the only game in townNov. 2 2014
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You can tell a fair amount about Joshi's opinions and preferences just by the number of pages dedicated to each of the six authors covered in his work The Weird Tale. Lovecraft, of whom Joshi is an unabashed fan, rates 62 pages; Blackwood, 46; Dunsany, 45; Machen, 30; Bierce, 25; and James, 10. The painfully short shrift Joshi gives M.R. James is somewhat hysterical in light of the author's later being asked to edit and annotate the Penguin Classics editions of James' collected stories - deep within the notes of which he comments that he came to find his chapter on James here "somewhat uncharitable." Machen, on the other hand, only rates the extra five pages over Bierce to allow for the extra vitriol Joshi directs at his philosophies and his writings.
There's a long tradition of authorial bias in literary criticism, however, and it's not so much Joshi's tendency to play favorites that undermines The Weird Tale as his repeated assertion that "good" work simply can't be criticized. (Ex. pg 85: "On Dunsany, many critics - and I will include myself in this number - find his early work so flawless as to be virtually uncriticizable.") Academic literary criticism is not simply nit-picking at flaws; it's intended to contextualize and elucidate an author's works for the reader's better understanding. Joshi's inability - or possibly simple unwillingness - to offer much more than biographies, story summaries, and praise of those authors he most prefers leaves the reader intrigued but unfulfilled, and wondering if perhaps they hadn't better look for a more "critical" opinion elsewhere.