Friday, August 29, 2014

Fear - Chapter 3, Part 1 - Point of Entry

So Lowry is heading out for a jolly malarial midnight stroll as he tries to remember that thing he couldn't remember that afternoon, when he wasn't feeling as shaky and spooked and miserable.  Again, if this doesn't seem sensible to us, it's because we aren't feverish with a foreign illness.

We're told that this is the sort of night that "makes a child want to run and run forever across the field, to feel the earth fly from beneath his feet, driven by the incomprehensible joy of just being alive."  I've had a few afternoons like that, but I can't say I can recall an evening that ever made me want to jump out of bed and run around in the dark.  At any rate, this observation leads Lowry to remember a time he and young Tommy did just that, and scared themselves silly after visiting a "haunted" cave and seeing a white horse in the moonlight.  And that's really Tommy in a nutshell, a guy who "loved to devil his slower and more practical friend" with talks of ghosts and magic, or shock people by pretending to believe in deviant myths.  Guess he's one of those friends you have trouble explaining to others why you're friends.

Now, in Chapter One we had a surprisingly neutral reference to psychology, but in this one we get a mention that's just as interesting.

How [Tommy] adored practically knocking students out of their seats by leaning over his desk and saying, in a mysterious voice, "To be polite, we call this psychology, but, in reality, you know and I know that we are studying the black goblins and fiendish ghouls which lie in pretend slumber just out of sight of our conscious minds."  How he loved such simile!  Of course, what he said was true, absolutely true, but Tommy had to choose that way of putting it; it was such a dull world, so drab; why not enliven it a little and stick pins into people's imaginations?  Indeed, dear Tommy, why not?

Bloody semicolons.  But yeah, psychology as another name for demonology.  Sure, it's not an inaccurate statement - in the Bad Old Days we blamed mental illness (not to mention physical illness) on witches' curses and demonic possession, and a lot of modern science has been about finding a less supernatural explanation for things.  But if psychology is another way of looking at black magic... well, what if someone could use it to bedevil and control others like the sorcerers of old?  Just a little notion that might explain what psychology gradually turned into in Hubbard's mind.

Lowry's head feels cold, and at this point he remembers that he'd lost his hat.  What an annoyance!  He has his name in it, so surely someone will find and return it, but he can't help but find its loss symbolic of his memory problems.

Part of him was gone; four hours had been snatched ruthlessly from his life and with them had gone a felt hat.  It struck him that if he could find the hat he could also find the four hours.  Strange indeed that anything should so perplex him, the man whom little had perplexed.

Four hours gone.

His hat gone.

I think the story might be transforming from Dude, Where's My Car? to I Want My Hat Back.

Lowry has the notion to check near Tommy's house for his missing hat/four hours of his life, and proceeds to do so, but in the page or so since this chapter has started, he actually hasn't made any progress beyond the front steps to his house.  He makes his way down them while admiring the night sky, and almost stumbles after hitting an extra step at the bottom.

And now things get weird.  Let's borrow some music from Akira Yamaoka to set the mood.

Lowry looks behind him in preparation of backtracking, but there's no steps behind him, only a flight extending down before him into some dark gulf that has appeared before his house.  The moon is still above him, and he's about level with his front yard, but when Lowry reaches toward the rim of this chasm it retreats from his fingers.  He climbs down two more steps in an attempt to get closer, but the yard recedes from him again, and the steps behind him have disappeared as well.  He hears tinkling laughter once or twice, but it must be wind chimes.  Lowry instinctively knows there's something awful at the bottom of this strange staircase, something he couldn't confront with his sanity intact.  But he does spy a door thirty steps or so below that might offer a way out of this predicament.  Nowhere to go but down.

He wonders what his wife might think of all this, but no sooner does Lowry think that than he hears Mary yelling that he's forgotten his hat.  He looks up and back to see her peering down at him from the porch, and when he tries to reassure her that he's fine and warn her not to come after him, she repeats the "Jim!  Oh, my God!  Jim!" scream from earlier and tries to follow.  But just before she can step into empty space, there's a thundercrash and the earth rolls over his head, cutting off the world he's familiar with.  Lowry can just hear one last "Jim!  Oh, my God!  Jim!" that fades first to a whisper, then a memory.

Alone in the dark, Lowry reassures himself that Mary will be fine, even though at the same time he feels the sick certainty that she's not up there any more.  Rather than stand still and worry until he falls to his doom, he decides to grope through the darkness for that door he remembered seeing.  It's tough going - the steps are spaced unevenly, and the wall he supports himself with feels smooth, cold and slimy beneath his hands.  He can hear water dripping drop by drop somewhere in the dark, "frighteningly loud in this corpse-quiet place."

And in the midst of all this weirdness, what's his reaction?

He'd been in worse, he told himself.  But it was funny, living in that house all those years without ever suspecting the existence of such a flight at the bottom of his front steps.

What was he doing here, anyhow?  He told himself that he had to find something--

Four hours in his life.

A felt hat.

Eyes on the prize, Lowry.  He keeps stumbling down, but gets worried when he counts thirty steps but still hasn't come across that door he saw, leading him to nearly panic at the thought that he might have to go all the way to the bottom to... whatever's down at the bottom of the stairs!  And what could be down there?  Maybe we'll find out next time.

Have to say, I can't offer much criticism with this section because there's not much wrong with it.  This is a pretty good fever dream sequence, where reality is warping around the protagonist, who goes along with it because that's how dreams work (or is this a dream?).  There's no awkward romantic dialogue, no forced scares like air spirits possibly lurking behind the door, nothing but the unease caused when the world stops working the way it should and the only way forward is into the dark heart of the unknown.

Sadly, this is probably the best part of the book, and it's all downhill from here.  But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it while we can, eh?

Back to Chapter 2, part 2

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fear - Chapter 2, Part 2 - Sanctuary

Fortunately for Lowry, his wife hasn't vanished when he returns from making a sandwich, and he commands her to "Just sit there and be beautiful" while he eats and relaxes.  Then he remembers that bloodcurdling scream of hers he heard upon coming home, which of course would be a very odd thing to hear if she came home after he did.  But Mary decides it "Must be the Allison radio.  Those kids can find the most awful programs and they haven't the least idea of turning them down.  The whole family must be deaf."  So it was nothing to worry about, just the neighbors listening to Mary Lowry Screaming in Terror with the volume cranked up.

Lowry continues gazing at his wife, reflecting on how "so young and so lovely" she is, and how odd it is that she settled down with someone ten years her senior... but we can't have a Hubbard protagonist be unappealing or anything, so we're reminded that Lowry spends so much time outdoors that he's in excellent condition and doesn't look much older than someone in his early 30s.  Still, Lowry worries that his time spent away and "usual lack of demonstrativeness" might cause her to reconsider.  Especially since, it is revealed, Mary was courted by none other than Tommy before she wound up with Lowry.


"Yes, Jim?"

"Mary, do you love me a little bit?"

"A lot more than a little bit, Jim Lowry."



I'm not sure about this section, specifically why there are dashes instead of question marks.  If Jim is supposed to be trailing off instead of fully asking the question, I think an ellipses would work better, and as it's written it sounds like Mary is instantly interrupting Jim's question every time he says her name, except there's no narration to support this.

"Tommy once asked you to marry him, didn't he?"

I'm not sure why he has to ask her that when he just remembered the fact.  Maybe he's still doubting his memory?

A slight displeasure crossed her face.  "Any man who could carry on an affair with a student and still ask me to marry him-- Jim, don't be jealous again; I thought we had put all that away long ago."

"But you married me instead."

I should hope so, or else Tommy is going to have questions about why his wife is out comforting another man.

"You're strong and powerful and everything a woman wants in a man, Jim. Women find beauty in men only when they find strength; there's something wrong with a woman, Jim, when she falls in love with a fellow because he is pretty."

Yeah, it doesn't matter if they're often absent, have buried jealous tendencies, act domineering mentally and physically, and still haven't said "I love you," women go gaga for strong, powerful men.

At any rate, Mary scolds Lowry for staying up late while "half on fire and half frozen," so he lets her march him upstairs to bed.  Lowry then gives her "a long kiss and a hug sufficient to break her ribs before he let her return to the living room," because I guess he felt the need to show her who's boss even after caving to her attempts to help him. 

When Lowry undresses for bed, he notices something strange about his clothes that he hadn't detected when he was stumbling home, or greeting his wife, or calming down with a sammich - there's tears and wrinkles all over them, as well as stiff patches of dried mud.  Then when he's in his pajamas and washing up he notices another aberration, a scarlet mark on his forearm like a brand or tattoo, four little marks like a rabbit's footprint.  "Strange," he thinks twice as he crawls under the covers.  Hey, if he'd been marked by Satanic forces or something he'd surely remember it, right?

Lowry goes to bed, and Hubbard builds mood.  The full moon is shining through the window, the wind is moaning under the door, and to Lowry's malaria'd mind it sounds almost like someone's voice.

The wind was whimpering and every few seconds it would weep, "Where?"  And then it would mutter out and grumble and come up again as though tiptoeing to his bedside to cry, "Why?"

Jim Lowry turned over and again pulled the covers down tight against his ear.


A whimpering complaint.


Having built mood, Hubbard decides that the best way to continue doing so is to repeat the "Where? Why?" lines two more times as Lowry continues to freak out at rattling windows and other night noises.  Then the door opens, he sees a white shape approaching soundlessly carrying a shining knife!  Lowry leaps to his feet, knocks the weapon away, and realizes he just disarmed Mary of a glass of milk, oopsie. 

Double oopsie, in fact - Lowry not only broke the glass, but cut Mary's hand while doing so, even if she tries to hide it.  He quickly extracts the sliver of glass from the cut and "applied his lips to it to make it bleed more freely," eww.  You know what he doesn't do?  Apologize.  Fixing the damage he caused ought to be enough, right?

It's at this point that Lowry decides to talk more about what happened that day.  He reveals that he's been fired over that stupid newspaper article and they'll have to move somewhere else, but Mary laughs off his concerns because she'll follow him anywhere, since she feels lonely when he's not around.  Lowry gives her a smooch and feels like "a priest might feel touching the foot of his goddess."  I'm glad the narration is here to help us see the affection he feels for his wife, since his action and dialogue doesn't always make this clear.

Then he elaborates on the whole "I don't know where I've been" thing he mentioned earlier that Mary wasn't interested in, and explains that four hours are missing from his memory.  Mary theorizes that he fell and hit his head, or is suffering from malaria, but Lowry doesn't have any bruises, and he knows that if malaria "blacks out a mind, then it is so serious that the patient isn't going to feel as well as I do now."  Y'know, teeth chattering, jumping at shadows, heart gripped with dread, nauseous with fear - he's fine!

Mary advises him to get some sleep and start on figuring out what happened tomorrow, but Lowry is in no mood for rest, so she can only watch in resignation as he dresses himself for a late night stroll.  He mentions that weird feeling that he had an appointment that afternoon, says he'll be back in an hour, and away he goes.  A man shaking from malaria, scared out of his wits, and unable to remember what he did that late afternoon, has decided to take a midnight walk and his wife can't gather the gumption to stop him.  All she can say is "Good night, Jim."  So ends Chapter Two.

Overall, I'd say the word for this part of the book is "informative."  We learn some important information about our principal character and his wife, and get a look at their relationship.  The trouble is that I'm not sure what we're supposed to take away from it - this book is seventy-five years old and predates the feminist movement, so while Lowry and Mary's marriage looks a bit off to us, is it meant to?  Is this glimpse of Lowry's domestic life supposed to lull us into a false sense of security, or clue us in to the darkness lurking beneath the surface of his cheery worldview?

If I had to choose, I'd go with the former, based on what we've seen in Hubbard's last two novels.  The guy's ideas of love and romance are a bit... well, from this we can see that they didn't change much in forty years.

Back to Chapter 2, part 1

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fear - Chapter 2, Part 1 - Awakening

Lowry realizes a few things: it's twilight, he's half a block away from Tommy's house, and according to his watch it's a quarter to seven.  Except just last chapter when he was leaving Tommy's house it was a quarter to three, and he has no recollection of what happened in the intervening time.  As foretold by the back of the book, Lowry has lost four hours of his life.

The impact of this is only slightly lessened when the author describes how Lowry's chattering teeth "castaneted" until he got them under control.  If you're trying to build a mood of creeping horror, I'd argue against evoking Spanish folk dance. 

Once his teeth are done doing the zambra, Lowry tries to figure out what went wrong.  He's never been drunk, and he only had that one drink at Tommy's, and that shouldn't have caused a blackout.  He also knows it's not that mildly inconvenient malaria - that might "knock a man out, but even in delirium a man knew where he was, and he certainly had no symptoms of being delirious."  And since it's not the beer or the malaria, it's certainly not the beer and the malaria, so Lowry is pretty stumped.

He began to walk rapidly toward his home.  He had a gnawing ache inside him which he could not define,


and he carried along that miserable sensation of near-memory which goes with words that refuse to come but halfway into consciousness; if he only tried a little harder he would know where he had been.

I'm glad Hubbard grew out of his semicolon phase by the time he was writing thousand-page literary tofurkeys, I have enough reasons to hate Mission Earth as it is.

The night was ominous to him and it was all that he could do to keep his pace sane; every tree and bush was a lurking shape which might at any moment materialize into--into-- in the name of God, what was wrong with him? 


Could it be that he was afraid of the dark?


So Lowry goes home.  Now, he just blacked out for four hours and has no idea why, and if it were me, I might consider paying an emergency visit to the doctor, or maybe even backtrack to the last place I remember being at so I could try to retrace my footsteps.  But Lowry's all shaken up and his mouth is full of Andalusian music, so I guess we can understand why he'd want to go home and make a pillow fort.  Plus he has malaria, which we can use to excuse any action he performs that might not at first glance make a lot of sense.

His house is dark, and just as he sets eyes upon it Lowry hears Mary shriek "Jim!  Oh, my God!  Jim!"  Lowry leaps into action, nearly battering down the door as he rushes inside, but finds nothing but "silence and memory."  Hubbard consistently breaks even here, working to build dread by mentioning the wind moaning around the old house and the furniture lurking like beasts in the darkness, then undermining himself by describing Lowry's fingers as "hungry" as he turns on lights.  Head pounding, sick to his stomach with terror, Jim sits down and concludes that Mary is gone.  He reflects on how much Mary means to him, how horrible he is to leave her alone in this boring college town while he's off in the Yucatán Desert, and reassures himself that nothing bad could happen to her because this is after all a boring college town.

There's a break in the story, and immediately in the next section, Mary walks in the front door.  Well, the unease was fun while it lasted, I guess.

Jim's arms are "almost crushing her" with the force of his relief, to say nothing of ruining her 'do and clothes.  But it's okay, we get some Hubbard Romantic Dialogue.

"You're beautiful," said Lowry.  "You're lovely and grand and if I didn't have you I would walk right out and step off a cliff."

"You better not."

"You're the only woman in the world.  You're sweet and loyal and good!"

I can't help but feel that three magic words in particular are missing from all this.  Oh well, must be the malaria.

Mary asks where he's been, Lowry admits that he doesn't know, but his wife is more worried about his shivering.  She was out looking for him, wondering why he's been taking walks and visiting people instead of in staying in bed to recover from his malaria.  Good question, Mary!

"I'm sorry I worried you."

She shrugged.  "Worry me a little now and then and I'll know how much I worship you.  But here we are gabbing and you haven't had anything to eat.  I'll get you something immediately."

"No!  I'll get it.  Look.  You just sit down there by the fire and I'll light it and-"


"You do as I tell you.  You sit there where I can look at you and be your most beautiful and I'll rustle up my chow.  Now don't argue with me."

She smiled at him as he forced her down into the chair and giggled at him when he dropped the sticks he had picked up from the basket.  "Clumsy old bear."

Well... it was 1940, alright?  Twilight would have been considered a progressive, feminist piece back then.

So this section ends with Lowry slapping together a sandwich, pouring himself a glass of milk instead of making coffee because he's worried that Mary will be gone again if he takes too long.  Nice of him to play caretaker/assert his dominance over his wife like that, but dude.  You've got malaria.  You don't know where you've been for the past four hours.  And nobody else is around to question your masculinity.  It might be okay to be babied a bit.

Next time we'll try to clear up that scream Lowry heard before entering his house.

Back to Chapter 1, part 3

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fear - Chapter 1, Part 3 - Ground Zero

Professor Tommy Williams lives alone in his family mansion, and since it's been a while since those air spirits and corpse-stuffed furniture, let's make the house scary.  For a moment, Lowry thinks that "The mansion seemed to repel him as he stared at it, for the two gable windows were uncommonly like a pince-nez sitting upon the nose of a moldering judge," and he nearly considers walking away.  But then he thinks about his old friend and realizes he's being silly.

And maybe I was wrong about Hubbard identifying more with Professor Lowry, given the glowing description of Professor Tommy that follows.

But if [Lowry] had come out of his boyhood with a shy reticence, Tommy had chosen another lane, for Tommy Williams was the joy of his students and the campus; he had traveled much in the old countries and therefore brought to this place an air of the cosmopolitan, a gay disregard for convention and frumpy thought.  Tommy Williams loved to dabble with the exotic and fringe the forbidden, to drink special teas with weird foreign names and read cabalistic books; he told fortunes out of crystal balls at the charity affairs and loved to eye his client afterward with a sly, sideways look as though outwardly this must all be in fun, but inwardly - inwardly, mightn't it be true?  Tommy was all laughter, froth and lightness, with London styles and Parisian wit, a man too clever to have any enemies - or very many friends.

Wait, no.  Hubbard got involved with sex magic and occultism around 1945-46, over a decade after dropping out of college, and several years after publishing Fear.  Hmm.  Is this an homage to someone Hubbard knew?  His idea of a cool college professor?  

At any rate, that's Tommy, acting borderline mystical to mess with the establishment.  And somehow Lowry's the one who gets fired for causing a scandal, from writing a single newspaper article, instead of spending years playing heathen parlor tricks on the university's patrons.  Ah, but that's right, Jebson had a jealous grudge or something.

After another attempt to inject a creepy mood into the story, involving dead leaves "making a dry and crackly music of their own" as they skitter into the shadows, Lowry knocks on the door, reminding himself that his chills are due to malaria and still trying to shake off the sensation that he's late for an appointment.  When there's no answer, he pushes the door open - nobody around here locks their doors, it's a sleepy college town - and Lowry goes inside.  He thinks he hears a rat upstairs, and proceeds to the living room, where he finds his friend Tommy, sprawled on the couch as if dead!

He's not, of course, but weren't you scared for a moment?

Tommy wakes up, greets his friend, invites him to warm himself by the fire since Lowry's already let himself inside, even offers him a drink.  Lowry takes a moment to admire his friend's artfully disarrayed black hair, slender build, and winsome features, concluding "with a sudden clarity" that Tommy is "pretty."  It's 1940, though, so we aren't allowed to read into this.

Instead he brings up the article, and Jebson's reaction to it.  Tommy complains that the board would never allow it, Lowry replies that Jebson controls the board, Tommy demands that Lowry go "straighten this thing out," but we're told after a brief page break that eventually the two trail off as the hopelessness of the situation settles on them.

Tommy finally announces that Lowry's article has caught up with him, and figures out his main problem - Lowry is under the delusion that the world is a good place, as "a sort of mechanical reaction by which you like to forget all the ghastly things the world has done to you," which is why he gets blindsided by people like Jebson.  Tommy, on the other hand, is wise enough to be cynical enough to be bored with evil, because he expects it, and therefore delighted with good, which always comes as a pleasant surprise.

"Phantoms or not, that man is the safest who knows that all is really evil and that the air and earth and water are peopled by fantastic demons and devils who lurk to grin at and increase the sad state of man."

"And so," said Lowry, "I am to bow low to superstition and reinherit all the gloomy thoughts of my benighted ancestors.  Devil take your devils, Tommy Williams, for I'll have nothing of them."

"But it would appear," said Tommy in a quiet, even ominous way, "that they will have something of you."

I'm confused.  I can kind of get the "shield of cynicism" angle Tommy is working from, but I can't work out the logic leading from "the world is a terrible place" and "people are bastards" to "and there are demons around making things even worse."  Nevertheless, Tommy insists that Lowry's article insulted malicious spirits by suggesting they don't exist, and Jebson's firing of him is no coincidence.  "It would appear that the devils and demons have won their first round."  And then he suggests that his friend go home and rest.  Devils are real and they hate you - sleep tight!

Lowry wryly notes that he came to his friend for solace, and Tommy replies that he gave him something even better: "wisdom."  Lowry goes back into the hall, his chill worse, and still feeling like he's late for an appointment.  He notes the time is a quarter to three, reaches for his hat, and... the chapter unceremoniously ends.

Hmm.  How strange...

Back to Chapter 1, part 2

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fear - Chapter 1, Part 2 - Terminus

Professor Lowry, not so much suffering from malaria as he is giving it a tour of his hometown, goes for a walk around sleepy, quiet Atworthy College.  It sure is a sight for sore eyes "so long tortured by the searing glare of the spinning sun on brassy sand..."  huh.  Didn't know they had a desert on the Yucatán.

It's college-y as all hell, with buildings that somehow look aged even before construction is finished, ivy and elms, students walking around in jackets, windows rattling from some idiot's car-mounted sub-woofer, a fistfight breaking out over a parking space, potheads yelling at each other from across the soccer field, freshmen looking soulfully at cafeteria food they can't afford due to remorseless tuition hikes, construction cones shutting off a road because god forbid they renovate the campus over the summer... uh.  Okay, only some of that was in the book.

Anyway, we get a bit more about our main character here, as he has a moment's disquiet upon remembering his own history.  He grew up in "a great tomb of a house where no word was less than three syllables long and where the main attention paid to him was 'Hush!'," where he lost himself in stories from Swift and Shakespeare and Khayyam.  Though the third generation of Lowry to walk these paths, he was the first to experience any wanderlust, which in his case was brought about by an unfortunate incident during his own time as a student.  "A theft in his dorm, accusation, expulsion and disgrace; and three years later - three years too late to completely remove the scar - they had finally reached him to tell him that the guilty one had been found within a week after his running away."  Yes, that's a semicolon and dashes in the same sentence, deal with it.

This explains the opening illustration for this chapter, a black-and-white image of a chap surrounded by rings of pointing fingers a la Cookie Clicker.  Can't find any images to link of it, sorry.  But where'd Lowry flee to?  Why did he run off crying rather than fight against the false accusation?  What was he even accused of stealing?  Couldn't tell you.  See, the whole theft thing is only really relevant in this chapter, for reasons we're about to see.  I can't find any mention of it later on in the story.

Lowry's happy stroll is interrupted by an "anemic book-delver" summoning him before the university president.  Now, that lovely walk outside wasn't very scary, so when the scene changes to Jebson's office, the author tries to make up for it by mentioning the dead men staring "icily" out of picture frames and that the chairs were so deep "they might have been suspected of holding many a corpse that they had drowned."   Ooooh, spooky chairs.

Jebson's... well, the guy's an ass.  He's "very thin and white and old, so stiff he looked more like plaster than flesh," and he's here to make our protagonist's life miserable.  He's kind of like the Evil Dean of college comedies, except he's supposed to be the place's president, and he's working against a professor.

See, Jebson doesn't approve of  paying for expeditions so Lowry can run off to strange places, "consorting with the ungodly and scratching for knickknacks like a dog looking for a bone he has buried and forgotten."  Jebson knows "man is wholly a product of his own environment," and thus he doesn't see the point in studying foreign cultures.  He's not against education, of course, he just can't find the educational value in ethnography or anthropology.

He would be willing to let all that slide, however, were it not for Lowry's article for the Newspaper Weekly, which he signed as an Atworthy professor.  Sending an article to such a lowly rag can only be interpreted as a desperate bid for attention and cash.  And if that wasn't enough, there's the content of Lowry's letter!  "'Mankind's mental ills might be in part due to the phantoms of the witch doctors of yesterday!'"  Why, suggesting that shamans invented demons to control people through fear can't be read as anything but the prelude to an attack on Christianity itself!

It's in the middle of this tirade that Jebson brings up Lowry's "highly irregular" past as evidence of his true character.

"That matter was all cleared!" cried Lowry, blushing scarlet and twisting with pain at the memory.

"Perhaps.  Perhaps."

You know what they say: once a falsely-accused thief, always an atheist.

In the end, the controversy over Lowry's article... well, we haven't seen any controversy, even though the paper with the article came out last Sunday and it's currently Saturday, and Jebson only heard about it when a student pointed it out, but surely it's controversial and damaging the university's image.  Between the article in a paper nobody is complaining about, a past expulsion over a mistake, and Jebson's problems with the field of ethnography, he has no choice but to let Lowry go once the current semester is over in two months.

I guess this is from before tenure was invented?  And when colleges were bastions of conservatism rather than the festering pits of godless communism and anti-Americanism that they are today?  Because boy is it difficult to imagine this happening on a contemporary campus.  I also can't help but wonder whether Hubbard is putting some of his own college experiences into this, and if he identifies with Lowry, a seeker of knowledge shut down by a narrow-minded institution.  Instead of a guy who flunked out of the single Nuclear Physics course he took and subsequently wrote a guide to surviving radiation.

Lowry can't get a word in for his defense and shuffles out of the office, barely remembering to put his hat back on, which will form a large part of the rest of the story.  The hat, I mean.  He finds himself experiencing chills, but it's not the malaria, it's concern for his wife Mary.  While Lowry can easily find employment at a college with less of an asshole for its president, Mary will miss this college-town "world of teas and respect" once they inevitably move out.  The narration also takes a paragraph to explain that Lowry is just too decent a person to work out Jebson's jealous motivations for firing a swell, respectable guy like Lowry - instead all the professor can focus on is "Poor Mary.  Poor beautiful, sweet Mary."

And then, while having the vague "recollection of having an appointment somewhere" that he can't remember, Professor Jim Lowry finds himself in front of the house of his good friend Professor Tommy Williams.  And this is where the plot really begins.

It's not bad, I guess.  Nothing about the writing really stands out one way or another, at least when it comes to dialogue.  We could ask why Lowry has decided to accept his dismissal without a fight, but I suppose the nice thing about giving your main character malaria is that it neatly explains any questionable decision they make.  Or maybe that's the purpose of bringing up that college theft that got him expelled?  Establish that Lowry has a habit (2 out of 2 examples, decades apart) of running from his problems?  Was young Hubbard that subtle?  An alarming thought.

Can you spot the vitally important bit in this segment of the chapter?  It's nothing to do with the hat.

Back to Chapter 1, part 1

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fear - Chapter 1, Part 1 - Point of Origin

The first chapter of Dracula reads like someone's travel diary, because it's presented as one.  It takes a few pages for anything creepy to happen, aside from Mr. Harker's sleep being disturbed by a howling dog (and the paprika he had with dinner), though we do get the great line "The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East" in the first paragraph.  It's only around page 5 that the peasants start crossing themselves at the mention of a certain count and warning the narrator not to be out and about on the eve of Saint George's Day, when all sorts of evil is afoot.

The first paragraph of "The Rats in the Walls" is fairly businesslike, though describing the priory being renovated as a "shell-like ruin" is a subtle way to set the tone, less so the mention that the place's previous owners were struck down by "a tragedy of intensely hideous, though largely unexplained, nature."  But then it goes on for a few pages about the narrator's lineage and history before getting on with the spooky.

The very first sentence of Fear is "Lurking, that lovely spring day, in the office of Dr. Chalmers, Atworthy College Medical Clinic, there might have been two small spirits of the air, pressed back into the dark shadows behind the door, avoiding as far as possible the warm sunlight which fell gently upon the floor."  Hubbard only has 182 pages to work with for this story, and he's not wasting any time in ramping up the terror, it seems.

Also, kicking off the book with such a cumbersome sentence isn't very auspicious.

Our main character is Professor James Lowry, an ethnologist who is currently wrapping up a visit to his doctor.  He picked up a bit of malaria during an expedition to darkest Mexico, but it's no big deal, assures Dr. Chalmers.  "A fellow with a rugged build like yours doesn't have to worry much about a thing like malaria.  Not even the best variety of bug Yucatan could offer [sic]."  At most he'd have to endure "a few chills," nothing worth taking a few days off for sick leave, much less canceling class.

After a brief mention of Lowry's lovely wife Mary and the doctor questioning what Lowry sees in such strange lands as America's immediate neighbor ("Facts."), Chalmers brings up the most important bit of background information for the story.  See, Professor Lowry wrote an article for last Sunday's Newspaper Weekly, not to be confused with its rival rag the Weekly Newspaper.  It was a dismissive piece about "primitive sacrifices and demons and devils," debunking such superstitions.

The door moved slightly, though it might have be caused by the cool breath of verdure which came in the window.

I had to go to Wiktionary for "verdure."  If you're trying to establish a creepy mood, I'd suggest using words that don't come from a word-a-day vocabulary-building calendar.  And "verdure" means "lush" or "healthy," so we're building mood with an invigorating breeze.  A spoooky invigorating breeze.

Now, while malaria might be a harmless tropical flu, Doc Chalmers does have more serious words of warning about unhealthy skepticism.  For one thing, Lowry's letter got his friend Tommy "frothing about such insolence" - we'll get to him in a bit.  For another, the university's president Jebson doesn't like it when professors get the university's name in the papers, and he once "nearly crucified a young mathematician for using Atworthy's name in a scientific magazine" - we'll get to him next post, and boggle at his bizarre behavior even more.

Lowry's response to this is an almighty "Oh," since he thought Chalmers was worried about the content of the letter, not so much others' reactions to it.  Except it turns out Chalmers was concerned about that too.

"I guess we're all superstitious savages at heart.  And when you come out in bold-face type and ridicule ancient belief that demons caused sickness and woe and when you throw dirt, so to speak, in the faces of luck and fate, you must be very, very sure of yourself."

"Why shouldn't I be sure of myself?" said Lowry, smiling.  "Did anyone meet a spirit of any sort face to face?  I mean, of course, that there aren't any authenticated cases on record anywhere."

And now you can guess the plot of the rest of the story.

Lowry pooh-poohs Chalmers' questions about saints' visions with "Anyone who starves himself long enough can see visions," and asks why Chalmers, as a Man of Science™, is making such talk.  Chalmers replies that he's been in a psychiatric ward enough... uh oh.

If you've kept up with this blog and my previous Hubbard sporking, you undoubtedly have noticed that by the end of Hubbard's career, psychology/psychiatry was the root of all evil, and any characters in his stories who dabbled with such false science were sinister villains, while mere contact with psychology's preachings turned men into animals.

Here we have if not a proper pre-Dianetics psychologist for comparison, then at least someone who's been up to his elbows in psychiatry, and he's... not too bad, actually.

See, Chalmers describes how he eventually began to wonder whether all of his patients' mental problems were self-inflicted, and mentions how his entire ward seemed to go insane(r) during a full moon, when demons are said to be out and about.  Lowry is unimpressed.



And while Chalmers is unwilling to say that evil spirits exist, it does strike him as strange that "man's lot could be so consistently unhappy without something somewhere aiding in that misery."  The doctor doesn't care whether that something is an electron or an air spirit, but he still will take comfort in knocking on wood.  Truth, after all, "is an abstract quantity that probably doesn't exist."

In short, Chalmers doesn't seem to be trying to turn Lowry into a gay child molester, or arguing that humans are soulless animals driven only by their reproductive impulses.  He seems to be trying to help people rather than kill them through lobotomies or corrupting them beyond reason.  His belief in the supernatural or spiritual has survived his contact with the field of Freud, and in fact Chalmers seems like the sort of person who would be receptive to the suggestion that disembodied alien souls are responsible for all sorts of maladies, both physical and mental. 

Guess 1940 Hubbard has a ways to go before he gets to the likes of the Catrists, Dr. Kutzbrain or Dr. Crobe.

"And so," said Lowry, slipping into his topcoat, "the goblins are gonna get me if I don't watch out."

Stop spoiling the rest of the book!

"They'll get you all right if Jebson saw that article," said Chalmers.

Stop spoiling the rest of the chapter!

The door moved ever so little--but then, perhaps, it was just the cool, sweet breath of spring whispering through the window.

Stop trying to make a lovely day scary!

So that's... the first section of the first chapter of Fear.  There's no rapid barrage of short chapters and arbirtarily divided Parts in this book, rather eight chapters that span the 180-page tale and contain multiple sections divided by spaces.  This was the first section of seven in Chapter One, for example.  These sections can vary widely in length, so instead of doing one section per post, I'm just going to wing it depending on how much I have to say about them.

At any rate, an interesting start for the story.  Compared to the writing style of Hubbard's last books I can't detect any great differences, and oddly enough we have the same references to a vaguely supernatural "luck" and "fate" that don't incorporate any specific deities, whether Christian or Classical.  But the rabid anti-psychology rants are absent, and our hero is a mere academic (albeit a robust one) rather than some sort of superhuman adventurer.  So I wouldn't call Fear better than Hubbard's later works so much as more restrained.

Next update we'll learn a little more about our hero, and what kind of college its president is running.

Back to the Introduction

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fear - Specifically Ophidiophobia?

Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth were created way late in Hubbard's career, and the latter wasn't even fully in print before he left the planet to share his genius with the rest of the universe.  They were written when he could type with his buttcheeks and produce a bestseller, as he had a horde of devoted customers who were literally willing to buy his books repeatedly in order to make them successful.  Hubbard may or may not have been aware of this, which could have contributed to the whole "I never make mistakes and don't need an editor" conceit he had going on by the end of his life.  At any rate, it's no great mystery why Hubbard's last works make such great sporking material - he had no incentive to write a decent book, assuming he even had the ability.

But what about earlier in his career, before Scientology?  Was there ever a time Hubbard produced good books?  And could a guy who eventually argued that the space opera genre represented the inherited memories of a pre-human civilization write something other than science fiction?  It was with these questions in mind that I picked up Fear.

Fear was written in 1940, eight years before the first draft of Dianetics, and according to the editors,  Robert Heinlein claimed that Hubbard wrote it over the course of a train ride from New York to Seattle.  By the end of the story I think you'll find this a reasonable claim.  The story's Foreword assures us that authors from Isaac Asimov ("Of all L. Ron Hubbard's stories, this is my favorite") to Ray Bradbury ("A true Scare!") have sung their praises of it, and Stephen King is quoted as calling it "a classic tale of creeping, surreal menace and horror."  Personally, I'm having problems elevating Hubbard to the ranks of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, but maybe I'm approaching this work from the wrong angle.

Luckily the editors are nice enough to explain what makes Fear so "powerful," and that's "because it really could happen.  And that is terrifying."

Scary stuff, right?  Well, I should probably mention the one-sentence synopsis on the back of the book:

The terrifying tale of a man who loses four hours of his life and begins to go mad as he tries to remember what happened.

Try not to make any hangover-related jokes, okay?

Also, check out that front cover, which would look better on the side of a van than the cover of a horror story.  The title barely legible in lurid yellow-green outline text.  A dude trying to keep his hat as he's gobbled up by a giant serpent-dragon, also outlined in yellow.  A full moon, because wolves howl at them and wolf howls are scary.

That hat at least is relevant to the plot, and I think there might be a moon in there, but the snake is definitely the product of artistic license.  Unless it's supposed to be symbolic of... well, we'll try to figure that out later.

Before we dig in, there's one last warning from our author:

There is one thing which I wish the reader could keep in mind throughout, and that is: this story is wholly logical, for all that will appear to the contrary. It is not a very nice story, nor should it be read alone at midnight - for it is true that any man might have the following happen to him. Even you, today, might lose four hours from your life and follow, then, in the course of James Lowry.
- L. Ron Hubbard

That's right, even if you read it and think to yourself, "none of that made a lick of sense," it was logical despite evidence to the contrary.  So there.

Let's see how many hours we can lose in this, shall we?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mission Update

As much as I'd love to announce the grand opening of a new website, the actual construction process is going so well I'm starting to wonder whether sticking with Blogger wasn't the better idea. 

Since my consolidated amateur literary criticism website isn't going to be finished in the immediate future, and the process of building it is so irritating I really need to give something a good sporking, I think I'm going to continue to post on this blog for the time being as a sort of stopgap measure.  I'm assured that there will be a way to transfer a Blogger site's contents to it, so the eventual transition should be easy.

At any rate, this next project will start sometime tomorrow.  The subject will be revealed then, but here's some hints: it's a Hubbard work, but a standalone novel, not a serial, and it predates Dianetics.  I saw it advertised in the back of several Mission Earth novels, and it's apparently Issac Asimov's favorite Hubbard story.

I've already read it, and while it feels astonishingly short compared to what I've worked with before, it has a winsome kind of stupid to it, as well as several moments where it almost succeeds at what it's trying to do.  Should be fun.