Books

MYSTERIES OF THE WORM is a collection of Robert Bloch’s Lovecraftian work, starting with his first, “Secret in the Tomb” which as Bloch admits in the afterword is a dreadful mess. As with Opener of the Way, it’s remarkable and kind of inspiring to see how far he come from such a dismal beginning, finding his own voice by “Fane of the Black Pharaoh” and even more in “Notebook Found in a Deserted House” (which is like “Whisperer in Darkness” from a 12-year-old’s viewpoint). It’s also interesting how fond he was of inserting himself—er, a Weird Tales writer—into multiple stories (“Shambler From the Stars” is the best known but there’s also “Shadow From the Steeple,” “The Sorcerer’s Jewel” and to some extent the late “Terror in Cut-Throat Cove.”). Despite the flaws, worth reading.
THE CIVIL WAR AS A THEOLOGICAL CRISIS by Mark Noll deals with the attempts by both pro- and anti-slavery forces during the Civil War (and the run-up and aftermath) to explain how slavery clearly is (or isn’t) the Will of God and how the outcome of the war shows Divine Providence at Work (even Southerners found God Is Scourging Us As He Scourged Israel preferable to believing God’s Side Lost). Noll shows that the main abolitionist argument—that slavery flies in the face of the Bible’s spirit—fell flat with most Protestants when confronted with the Southern response that the letter clearly approves of Israelite and Roman slavery. The counter-argument that neither system was restricted by race (among other differences) fell flat because pro-slavery Protestants simply fell back on the “obvious” inferiority of blacks (which let them ignore that this didn’t count as a Biblical justification). Specialized by interesting.
THE HIGH PLACE by James Branch Cabell has a descendant of Jurgen make a pact with a devil (more or less) to awaken a Sleeping Beauty-princess he’s been obsessed with for years, only to discover—typically for Cabell—that getting what you want inevitably leads to disillusionment (Cabell describes this as the flip side of Jurgen, who rejects his ideal women in favor of his nagging but ordinary wife). This starts well and has a great supporting character in the pagan saint Hoprig, but Cabell shortchanges us on plot in favor of way too much discussion of Ideal vs. Reality.And given that Florian is, after all, a multiple murderer and adulterer, Cabell should have punctured his delusions he holds some sort of moral high ground (I guess that would have interfered with the pontificating). Middle of the pack, but only because Cream of the Jest occupies the bottom.
SHAZAM FROM THE 40s to the 70s is an old collection of Captain Marvel stories (Fawcett Comics’ character, not Marvel Comics’ several characters of the same name!). This shows how orphan Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel, then introduces us to the “Marvel Family” of Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel along with their various arch-enemies (Sivana, Aunt Minerva, King Kull, Mr. Mind). At its best, the series had a superb flare for whimsy, but it was also quite good at straight-superheroics, as in the book-length saga from Captain Marvel Adventures #100. A great read.
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HOUSE OF MYSTERY: Desolation wraps up the comics series by Matthew Sturges and Luca Rossi earlier than expected (one story in the collection laments that we don’t get enough time with any of the guest characters) and given constant scenes of Figg Keele typing away, I suspect it would be an It Was All In Her Head ending—but no, this ends up quite satisfactorily as we learn the goals of the Conception, Figg saves the omniverse and the authors finally explain how the House got away from its owner, Cain. A shame it didn’t run longer, but a good finish.

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