Sunday, 20 January 2013

Abraham Merritt, Metal Master

She stood before us, shielding us. One golden call she sent.
I looked back into the darkness. Something like an enormous, dimly shimmering rod was raising itself. Higher it rose and higher. Now it stood, upright, a slender towering pillar, a gigantic slim figure whose tip pointed a full hundred feet in the air.
Then slowly it inclined itself toward us; drew closer, closer to the ground; touched and lay there for an instant inert. Abruptly it vanished.
But well I knew what I had seen. The span over which we had passed had raised itself even as had the baby bridge of the fortress; had lifted itself across the chasm and dropping itself upon the hither verge had disintegrated into its units; was following us.
A bridge of metal that could build itself - and break itself. A thinking, conscious metal bridge! A metal bridge with volition - with mind - that was following us.
There sighed from behind a soft, sustained wailing; rapidly it neared us. A wanly glimmering shape drew by; halted. It was like a rigid serpent cut from a gigantic square bar of cold blue steel.
Its head was a pyramid, a tetrahedron; its length vanished in the further darkness. The head raised itself, the blocks that formed its neck separating into open wedges like a Brobdignagian replica of those jointed, fantastic, little painted reptiles the Japanese toy-makers cut from wood.
It seemed to regard us - mockingly. The pointed head dropped - past us streamed the body. Upon it other pyramids clustered - like the spikes that guarded the back of the nightmare Brontosaurus. Its end came swiftly into sight - its tail another pyramid twin to its head. 
 - A. Merritt, "The Metal Monster" (Illustration by the incomparable Jim Cawthorn)

Today is Abraham Merritt's 128th birthday. Every time someone's anniversary comes along, I feel rather inadequate for rarely coming up with a good tribute. Usually the heavyweights, the Lovecrafts, Tolkiens, Poes, Conan Doyles et al are well represented on the blogosphere: even the criminally neglected Smith had some great tributes. But the vastly under-represented A. Merritt could do with more love, beyond some glib quips about how "The Metal Monster" would make for the most Metal concept album ever. So, I've made a roundup of some of my favourite Merritt tributes and discussions around the web, and have a short look at one of the greats of 20th Century speculative fiction.

Pages on A. Merritt at Antiquarian Weird Tales, Fantastic Fiction, G.W. Thomas' site, Hairy Green Eyeball, Wilson & Alroy, and Wikipedia.

Google Books regarding A. Merritt include The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Horror Fiction, and Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers.

Forum discussions at The Robert E. Howard Forum, SFF Chronicles, and the dedicated Yahoo Group AbeMerrittFans.

Tributes from Deuce Richardson, James Maliszewski's Grognardia, Ron Breznay, and yours truly.

Reviews for "The Ship of Ishtar" at Battered Tattered Yellowed & Creased, Black Gate, The Cimmerian, Fire and Sword, Grognardia, Paizo, REHupa, Skulls in the Stars, Yesterday's Papers,
Reviews for "The Moon Pool" at Fire and Sword, Grognardia, SF Site, Skulls in the Stars,
Reviews for "The Face in the Abyss" at Grognardia, Realm of Ryan, Skulls in the Stars,
Reviews for "Dwellers in the Mirage" at Grognardia, Rough Edges, Skulls in the Stars,
Reviews for "The Metal Monster" at AV Club, Grognardia, The Land of Nod, SF Site, Skulls in the Stars,
Reviews for "Seven Steps to Satan" at Grognardia, Skulls in the Stars,
Reviews for "The Fox-Woman and Other Stories" at Black Gate,
Reviews for "The Woman of the Woods" at Reading Children's Books (1, 2, 3)

LibriVox audiobooks for "The Metal Monster," "The Moon Pool," and "The People of the Pit"
Ibiblio audiobook for "The Moon Pool,"
Gallery of Virgil Finlay's superlative illustrations for "The Ship of Ishtar"

And, of course, some online sources for his now public domain stories:
"The Metal Monster"
"The Moon Pool"
"The Dwellers in the Mirage"
"The Face in the Abyss"
"Through the Dragon Glass"
"The Ship Of Ishtar"
"Seven Footprints to Satan"
"Three Lines Of Old French"
"The Drone"
"Woman of the Wood"
"The People of the Pit"
"The Fox Woman"
"The Pool of the Stone God"
"Burn, Witch, Burn!"
"Creep, Shadow!"

Tyranny of Steel

I had spoken before about how Merritt had a way of words that just enraptures me, in the way Clark Ashton Smith did: his command of language may be deemed purple or overwrought by some, but I feel their sincerity and enthusiasm more than justify their vigour. "The Ship of Ishtar" is imbued with the grandeur and majesty of Mesopotamian myth, "The Moon Pool" permeated with the mystique of lost worlds and civilisations, and "The Metal Monster" practically anticipates the lyrical content of Heavy Metal as a genre. Every chapter title in this book could make for a shredding metal track (well, after the first, though it could if you squint):

Valley of the Blue Poppies
The Sigil on the Rocks
Ruth Ventnor
Metal With A Brain
The Smiting Thing
Norhala of the Lightnings
The Shapes in the Mist
The Drums of Thunder
The Portal of Flame
"Witch! Give Back My Sister"
The Metal Emperor
"I Will Give You Peace"
"Voice from the Void"
"Free! But A Monster!"
The House of Norhala
Conscious Metal!
Into the Pit
The City That Was Alive
Vampires of the Sun
Phantasmagoria Metallique
The Ensorcelled Chamber
The Treachery of Yuruk
The Vengeance of Norhala
"The Drums of Destiny"
The Frenzy of Ruth
The Passing of Norhala
Burned Out


And that's just chapter titles! Metal permeates this text: Metal Things, the Metal Emperor, People of Metal, Domain of the Metal Monster, the Metal Hordes, uncountable gorgeous metal metaphors (metalphors?) - you have lines of dialogue like this:

"Metal," I said - it was the only word to which my whirling mind could cling - "metal -"
"Metal!" he echoed. "These things metal? Metal - ALIVE AND THINKING!"
"The Keeper of the Cones and the Metal Emperor!"

And bits of prose like this:

They were metal things with - MINDS!
That - that was the incredible, the terrifying thing. That - and their power.
Thor compressed within Hop-o'-my-thumb - and thinking. The lightnings incarnate in metal minacules - and thinking.
The inert, the immobile, given volition, movement, cognoscence - thinking.
Metal with a brain!

Come on, I can't be the only one imagining that as song lyrics being screamed by Rob Halford. METAL WITH A BRAAAAAIN!

Score upon score of them there were - huge and enigmatic. Their flaming levins threaded the shimmering veils, patterned them, as though they were the flying robes of the very spirit of fire.
And the tumult was as ten thousand Thors, smiting with hammers against the enemies of Odin. As a forge upon whose shouting anvils was being shaped a new world.
A new world? A metal world!
There is literally nothing I could say that would make this more metal. If you asked a metal fan if this was an excerpt from a novel written in 1920, or lyrics from a Manowar or Piledriver track, what do you think they'd say?

The story is full of this kind of thing:

Goddess of the Inexplicable! Madonna of the Metal Babes!
The Nursery of the Metal People!
The little points of living light that were the eyes of the Metal People!

Built of the animate bodies of countless millions! Tons upon countless tons of them shaping a gigantic pile of which every atom was sentient, mobile - intelligent!
A Metal Monster!
Now I knew why it was that its frowning facade had seemed to watch us Argus-eyed as the Things had tossed us toward it. It HAD watched us!
That flood of watchfulness pulsing about us had been actual concentration of regard of untold billions of tiny eyes of the living block which formed the City's cliff.
A City that Saw! A City that was Alive!
And now I saw - realizing with a clutch of indescribable awe, with a sense of inexplicable profanation the secret of this ensorcelled chamber.
Within every pulsing rose of irised fire that was the heart of a disk, from every rubrous, clipped rose of a cross, and from every rayed purple petaling of a star there nestled a tiny disk, a tiny cross, a tiny star, luminous and symboled even as those that cradled them.
The Metal Babes building like crystals from hearts of radiance beneath the play of jocund orbs!
Incredible blossomings of crystal and of metal whose lullabies and cradle songs were singing symphonies of flame.
It was the birth chamber of the City!
The womb of the Metal Monster!
And was this punishment - a sentence meted out for profaning with our eyes a forbidden place; a penalty for touching with our gaze the ark of the Metal Tribes - their holy of holies - the budding place of the Metal Babes?

Again, this was published in 1920, and you wouldn't even need to change the words much to work them into a metal song.

So I'm fairly confident in saying that "The Metal Monster" not only predicated many of the more intellectual themes of Transformers, but is also the most metal novella ever written, literally and figuratively. And for a book published in 1920, that's pretty impressive.

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