Tentacle-porn

by Henry on February 6, 2008

There are some books that mankind was never supposed to read. From a review by Pete Rawlik in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Science-Fiction.

Over the years, H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos has been melded with a multitude of other genres by a bevy [sic, even though the article then goes on to list eight writers] of authors … Marion Zimmer Bradley and Esther Friesner have adeptly created Cthulhu romances …

The mind squirbles. But not as much as it does at the revelation (which I saw somewhere on the Internets in the last few weeks, meant to blog, and forgot about) that Henry James and H.G. Wells once seriously discussed collaborating on a novel set on the Red Planet. “A Princess Casamassima of Mars” or somesuch. There is that famous James story about the popular author and the literary one who swap places, which I’ve always presumed (without ever bothering to look it up) is based on the James-Wells relationship. Finally, changing the subject back to Lovecraft, Ross Douthat argues that it’s a good thing that Guillermo del Toro is being signed up to do The Hobbit, as he, like Peter Jackson, understands how to make digital special effects seem tactile and organic. I’m not entirely sure that this is true of Jackson – while Gollum was awesome, some other bits of digital wizardry in the LOTR trilogy seemed pretty lame; the movie’s Balrog was yer standard roaring demon, instead of Tolkien’s own evocative if difficult-to-film shadow among flames, and the skeleton-ghosts in the Paths of the Dead looked as though they had staggered off the leftovers shelf of Pirates of the Caribbean. However, it’s certainly true of del Toro – Hellboy, in addition to being a criminally underrated popcorn movie has the best pastiche-Lovecraft sfx that I’ve seen to date – the squamousness of the tentacle-things is sans-pareil.

{ 53 comments }

1

seth edenbaum 02.06.08 at 3:52 pm

2

Mrs Tilton 02.06.08 at 4:32 pm

some other bits of digital wizardry in the LOTR trilogy seemed pretty lame

Yes. I had really been looking forward to Shelob, only to see, jaw appalledly agape, that Jackson and his minions had given her two pairs of chelicerae — and a stinger!

Hah!, I say; hah!

3

Cheryl 02.06.08 at 4:34 pm

And Del Toro is also doing a film of “At the Mountains of Madness”. Tentacled goodness abounds.

4

Paul 02.06.08 at 4:57 pm

When I heard Del Toro was going to direct the Hobbit films, I was excited for the reason Henry mentions. Namely, he knows how to depict monsters, and depict them well.

I have high hopes for the depiction of Smaug, Beorn (not a monster, of course, but he is a skin changer) and the spiders of Mirkwood. The goblins of the Misty Mountains. Oh, and the three trolls.

5

ajay 02.06.08 at 4:57 pm

No tentacles at the Mountains of Madness, IIRC. Formless horrors, yes. Also aliens shaped like (SPOILER) seven-foot carrots with wings. And giant, hostile, blind albino cave penguins.

It’s a lot scarier in the book, really.

6

PL 02.06.08 at 5:05 pm

Not carrots so much as star fruit. Winged, tentacled star fruit. Be afraid….

7

richard 02.06.08 at 5:14 pm

I’m still convinced that if I were to actually draw out the description of the giant starry root vegetable things I’d eventually come up with some real-world invertebrate sea creature. Maybe sans the wings, though, which seem like an afterthought in the text.

8

Mathew Wilder 02.06.08 at 5:20 pm

I thought the balrog in the movie was quite excellent. I could have done without the cave troll shortly before that, but the balrog was quite impressive, I thought. It looked real, even if not quite as mysterious as in the book!

9

Adam Roberts 02.06.08 at 5:21 pm

“The mind squirbles.” I’m not sure how to respond to that sentence except by, you know, saying ‘hurrah!’

10

Adam Roberts 02.06.08 at 5:24 pm

There is that famous James story about the popular author and the literary one who swap places, which I’ve always presumed (without ever bothering to look it up) is based on the James-Wells relationship.

D’you mean ‘The Private Life’? If so, it’s based upon Robert Browning.

11

paul kerschen 02.06.08 at 5:36 pm

We may have been forever denied Henry James on Mars, but we do at least have The Inheritors by Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford:

“You really wish to know where I come from?”

I expressed light-hearted acquiescence.

“Listen,” she said, and uttered some sounds. I felt a kind of unholy
emotion. It had come like a sudden, suddenly hushed, intense gust of
wind through a breathless day. “What–what!” I cried.

“I said I inhabit the Fourth Dimension.”

(It was mostly by Ford; he would bring drafts to Conrad and Conrad would tell him to go rewrite them.)

12

Saul Edengarten 02.06.08 at 5:43 pm

Again, I see unbridled geekery on this site, and I reach for my gun (or should I say, lightsaber?)

The fear of tentacles is the fear of connectivity and discussion. Lovecraft is a disenchanted theologian at heart who ranted about “mad Arabs”. Academic exceptionalism is like Western theosophy, trying to fill the mind with ideal conceptions. Overbearing rationalism justified with “good intentions”. But it is through the careful observation of the undercurrents of obligation and community that politics are made. I dance lambada with my hijab-wearing neighbours, I am a man of the people. I got drunk on the Trans-Siberian. Lovecraft’s silliness is at work in the individualistic monsters, like monadic horrors without networks of interaction and incapable of self-reflection. The Deep Ones worship Dagon, but have no lawyers. The Yuggoth don’t give a rat’s ass about history, but lug around brains in vats. Cartesian dualism in action. The Lovecraft “mythos” is a mess of addled prose, but it is sprawling and self-contained, and is thus passed off as convincing fiction. The confusion of internal consistency with reality: the original sin of all high modernists. That the –mostly academic– characters of Lovecraft’s stories find this maddening says a lot. The banality is a joke –knowledge in, sanity out– but it is a typical case of the repressed intruding upon orderly, brittle rationality. They are shocked, shocked.

Great Cthlhu embodies this neurosis. A tentacled mass of primeval gelatine; a good fit to the technocratic blubber of Brad DeLong. The two of them should get down to some hot mud wrasslin’ action on YouTube. And Idiot Holbo would pun on obscure Stan Lee comics. Jesus fucking Christ.

13

novakant 02.06.08 at 6:21 pm

A terminological quibble: “digital special effects” is a bit garbled.

Generally speaking, “special effects” (SFX) refers to anything shot on set, e.g. stuff getting blown up, prosthetics and animatronics, while anything done digitally in post production is referred to as “visual effects” (VFX). While there are areas of overlap, SFX and VFX people have rather different qualifications and work largely in different realms.

14

smaug 02.06.08 at 6:29 pm

So how many more does it take to constitute a “bevy”?

15

Mrs Tilton 02.06.08 at 7:09 pm

Seth @12,

Lovecraft … ranted about “mad Arabs”

Well, about one mad Arab anyway.

16

Watson Aname 02.06.08 at 7:14 pm

So how many more does it take to constitute a “bevy”?

More that you can easily list, anyway.

17

lemuel pitkin 02.06.08 at 7:43 pm

Elbowing in on Holbo’s terriotry are we?

Anyway, I’m just glad Saul/Seth writes in such long paragraphs; it makes not reading his comments much easier.

18

Danielle Day 02.06.08 at 7:52 pm

No. 12: Come, come– there was only one Arab, the “mad” Abdul Al-hazared. Infamous author (or custodian) of the Necronomicon, eaten alive in mid-air in the marketplace in Medina.

19

seth edenbaum 02.06.08 at 7:54 pm

“saul edengarten”
It’s “Sol” Mr Berube, not “Saul.”
But since you ask:
Hokusai, unlike Lovecraft, is more than a camp icon, Guillermo del Toro made the one recent movie (El Laberinto del fauno/Pan’s Labyrinth) that engages childhood fantasy without asking its adult audience to revert entirely to childhood, and the reason some of the effects in LOTR [sic] sucked is that the people in LA finally gave up and hung up the phone: You can only say “No, it’s wrong, do it again!” so many times before exhaustion sets in.

Any more questions, just let me know. I’m here to help.

20

seth edenbaum 02.06.08 at 8:00 pm

“…the people in LA finally gave up and hung up the phone”

on the phone: to New Zealand

21

lemuel pitkin 02.06.08 at 8:21 pm

But it is through the careful observation of the undercurrents of obligation and community that politics are made. I dance lambada with my hijab-wearing neighbours, I am a man of the people. I got drunk on the Trans-Siberian.

Oh, I see I missed the joke. Heh heh. That’s pretty good.

22

shtove 02.06.08 at 8:28 pm

Squirble?

The Urban Dictionary definition is not “on all fours” with this usage.

23

Matthew Kuzma 02.06.08 at 8:37 pm

I think Guillermo Del Toro is easily the best non-Peter Jackson director to work on The Hobbit, and possibly the unqualified best choice, but if this stupid Hobbit movie interferes with the timetable for At the Mountains of Madness then the choice to use Del Toro goes from ‘good’ to ‘ruining everything’.

Honestly, after the terrible additions of completely out-of-the-blue nonsense to the Return of the King Extended Edition (Or, as I like to call it, Skullvalanche) I don’t care if I never see another Jackson-made adaptation of Tolkien ever again.

24

Righteous Bubba 02.06.08 at 8:44 pm

(Or, as I like to call it, Skullvalanche)

Ooo. Sounds as good as Bloodrocuted.

I’m sold.

25

Paul Ding 02.06.08 at 9:53 pm

bevy

noun
1. a large gathering of people of a particular type; “he was surrounded by a bevy of beauties in bathing attire”; “a bevy of young beach boys swarmed around him”
2. a flock of birds (especially when gathered close together on the ground); “we were visited at breakfast by a bevy of excited ducks”

WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.

Bevy does NOT mean “innumerable”. If you see a bevy of mallards swimming in the farm pond, a bevy of white ducks waddling around the barnyard, or a bevy of Canadian Honkers in flight, it will typically be 5 to 7 of them.

26

Bob Calder 02.06.08 at 10:13 pm

Del Toro is indeed a brilliant designer. However he is also a brilliant director and it has little to do with special effects.

Del Toro’s genius is dealing with the evil of humanity and moving bits of story into the hands of a monster. Usually the monster becomes a sympathetic character. Can you imagine how he will personalize the bad guy who owns the floating eyeball thing?

I honestly don’t know how he will deal with Tolkein. He will do a great job because he is a pro. But will it depend on his ability to decorate the set with rubber scaries? lol

27

Walt 02.06.08 at 10:16 pm

I agree very strongly with your assessment of Hellboy, Henry. A very underrated movie.

28

MR. Bill 02.06.08 at 10:18 pm

Glad to hear you liked Hellboy.

29

Henry 02.06.08 at 11:22 pm

I had actually thought that bevy meant two of something. Hoist by my own persnickety petard, I suppose.

30

Righteous Bubba 02.06.08 at 11:58 pm

How can one get through life without a bevy of bathing beauties now and again?

31

novakant 02.07.08 at 12:56 am

Hellboy is good fun and has moments which are both poetic as well as visually stunning. That said, I think del Toro is terribly overrated: Blade 2 was rubbish and neither Devil’s Backbone, nor Pan’s Labyrinth really worked structurally. If you want to like these movies, and there are a lot of fanboys out there who do, there’s a lot to like, but they just aren’t working as a whole. But he’s a really smart and talented guy, so there’s hope.

32

PK 02.07.08 at 1:05 am

“I had actually thought that bevy meant two of something.”

Maybe confusion with ‘brace’ due to slight phonological overlap, and not enough time in your life spent upland bird hunting to make the semantics really important.

33

SG 02.07.08 at 1:29 am

I think the balrog may have looked lamer if it was “shadows in flame”. Some things work in imagination but not in film, as we will surely see as soon as someone makes a decent cthulhu movie. There were lots of things in LoTR which the makers changed subtly so they wouldn’t look or be lame.

I still don’t understand why Peter Jackson is wasting his time on movies like this (and King Kong etc.) when there is yet to be a decent version of A wizard of Earthsea. If ever a movie cried out for Peter Jackson…

34

Zora 02.07.08 at 3:42 am

Sneer at Esther Friesner? Unjustified. She’s FUNNY. I haven’t read the story (“Love’s Eldritch Ichor”} but it’s gotten some rave reviews.

Esther invented cheeblemancy, or hamster divination.

35

sidereal 02.07.08 at 6:48 am

If Bill Nighy doesn’t play Nyarlathotep I’m boycotting.

36

David 02.07.08 at 8:44 am

“as soon as someone makes a decent cthulhu movie”.

Cast A Deadly Spell, perhaps? Greil Marcus used it as a stick with which to beat City Of Quartz.

37

Doug 02.07.08 at 9:29 am

“Pardon me boy,
Is this the Lair of Great Cthulhu?
In the city of slime,
Where it is night all the time.

Bob Hope never went
Along the road to Great Cthulhu,
And Triple-A has no maps,
And all the Tcho Tcho’s lay traps. …”

The tune is Chattanooga Choo-Choo, and the rest is here, if your sanity allows.

38

nnyhav 02.07.08 at 12:58 pm

H.P. Lovecraft walks into a bar. The bartender says “What’ll it be?”. “A beer and a chaser,” says H.P., and the bartender runs screaming from the bar, his shadow close on his heels.

39

PL 02.07.08 at 1:44 pm

H.P. Lovecraft was a teetotaller; what was he doing in a bar?

40

Doug 02.07.08 at 1:47 pm

39: We could tell you, but you might be reduced to gibbering madness…

41

ScentOfViolets 02.07.08 at 3:26 pm

It seems that a lot of gods have been diffusing past and through each other into popular culture recently – I of course blame the intertubes. In my office I have pair of plush dolls, the images of Cthulu and Ganesh. Above them are the labels Goofus and Gallant, and to the side the legend “There’s one in every family”.

Hmmm … some combinations are worse than others. “Hercules vs Azathoth” might be campy, but “My Dinner with Nyarlathotep” (with Wallace Shawn, of course), well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

42

Lionel Trilling 02.07.08 at 3:46 pm

Why wasn’t Cthulhu on the primary ballots?

http://catalog.chaosium.com/product_info.php?products_id=575

43

Lionel Trilling 02.07.08 at 3:47 pm

“I still don’t understand why Peter Jackson is wasting his time on movies like this (and King Kong etc.) when there is yet to be a decent version of A wizard of Earthsea. If ever a movie cried out for Peter Jackson…”

Wasn’t his co-author on the script workin gon a version? Perhaps Sci-Fi channel ungodly fuck-up of novel screwed that deal.

44

Lionel Trilling 02.07.08 at 3:50 pm

Oh, Miyazaki’s version of Wizard of Earthsea should be released in the U.S. round 2009, after sci-fi channels U.S. right expire.

45

roac 02.07.08 at 4:10 pm

43: Yes, the late Michael Powell was interested in filming Earthsea, and had gotten Philippa Boyens to do a script. Information is on LeGuin’s website somewhere; the project is also mentioned in Powell’s autobiography. (I seem to recall that, like the SciFi Channel atrocity, the film was to cover both the first two books.)

Speaking of Boyens, and speaking of The Hobbit, I am much more interested in knowing whether she is still on board than in who the director will be. She was the Tolkienist on the LotR project, which I believe she kept on track at important junctures.

46

Henry 02.07.08 at 7:49 pm

I wasn’t sneering at Esther Friesner, I don’t think, more just having my mind blown by the thought of Elder Thing romance novels …

47

SG 02.08.08 at 1:43 am

Boyens dropped off the sci-fi channel script, which is probably why Ged ended up being white. Unfortunately Miyazaki’s version is Goro Miyazaki, not his illustrious (and oh! so wonderful!) father Hayao, so the movie didn’t live up to the hype. I only watched it in Japanese and didn’t understand a word, but Ms. le Guin has seen a translated version and was rather critical (see her webpage for more details). Though the dragon was excellent.

The sad thing is that Miyazaki Hayao asked Ms. le Guin years ago for the rights to WoE, and she said no because she wasn’t familiar with his work and thought “cartoon” meant disney. Ah, sometimes cultural ignorance is a terrible thing. Had he made Wizard of Earthsea in his prime (at the time of Nausicaa or even Spirited Away) we would finally have what the world needs.

But since it’s too late for that, I think Peter Jackson should drop all his other projects, suck in all the spare capital in the whole world, and finally make a perfect movie version of a perfect book.

And while we’re at it, maybe Ang Lee should make “The Left Hand of Darkness”, and that chap who did “Children of Men” could make “The Dispossessed”. Governments should mandate this sort of thing…

48

lemuel pitkin 02.08.08 at 4:08 pm

And while we’re at it, maybe Ang Lee should make “The Left Hand of Darkness”, and that chap who did “Children of Men” could make “The Dispossessed”.

Don’t forget the surprisingly good TV adaptation of The Lathe of Heaven….

49

lemuel pitkin 02.08.08 at 4:19 pm

(I mean the 1980 one, not the later one, which I haven’t seen.)

50

richard 02.08.08 at 6:49 pm

I agree with Jackson on the Balrog: the heat shimmer from the mouth sells it. Everything else is dressing.

Also, if you scratch the demon then it’s hard to do that whole gotterdammerung Dore-meets Wagner sequence of falling out of the bottom of the world, which reminds your audience of the other Ring, and Tolkein’s affinity for a rather late 19th century Teutonic romantic sensibility. Personally, I find Tolkein’s position vis a vis this theatrical tradition of Germanic mythmaking one of the most interesting things about him. You can see him trying to excavate all these ideas for himself, trying to de-Grimm the folklore of his adoptive nation without merely recasting it in the image of his own age, but you can also see how those elves and dwarves resist his efforts, how the shreds of operatic costume cling to them. Jackson faces another iteration of the same problem, trying to wrest Tolkein away from the images of D&D and Boris Vallejo. I think the Balrog’s quite a smart response to all of that: it first appears as a D&D cliche, then Falls, evoking this older tradition, all in dreamy post-hoc narration, and is finally dismissed by Gandalf with a firm ‘to business.’

51

roac 02.08.08 at 7:41 pm

“adoptive nation”? Is that about the fact that Tolkien was born in South Africa? His parents were both English and he returned to England as a small boy. He considered himself to be as as English as anyone could be, and would have looked on anybody who described him as an immigrant as a raving lunatic. (I don’t know, but I doubt very much whether being born in what was then a colony affected his status as a British subject in the slightest.)

52

SG 02.09.08 at 1:39 am

lemuel, I really want to see that tv adaptation, I heard it was good. Maybe I’ll do a bittorrent check…

richard, I think the majority of images attached to tolkien are by alan lee (dale?) who was also involved with the movie sets. They’re very far from vallejo and D&D – D&D images are more aimed at the Dragonlance style of novels (which, incidentally, I would love to see as movies) and Vallejo at the Swords and Sorcery thing. I think that Alan Lee’s images suit most people’s vision of Tolkien quite well. I also don’t think that a sensitive reading of Tolkien’s dwarves and elves leads to a very “operatic” or D&D interpretation. If you read the old Middle Earth Role-playing books they have some beautiful pictures of elves in them, and they really do look like strange and alien creatures, not just short pretty girls like in D&D. To his credit, Peter Jackson tried to stick to this.

53

richard 02.10.08 at 5:14 pm

51: by “adoptive nation” I actually mean the sort of mythic anglo-germany he invented for himself.
52: exactly.

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