Readlist: Harry Vincent, you had ONE JOB

85dca8303aefc105db3c1a3eb158a084A sinister force holds New York City’s elite in terror! A mysterious madman known as….The Black Falcon!….is kidnapping and holding millionaires for ransom across the city. He strikes at will, contemptuous of the hunches of NYPD ace, Detective Cardona, and the personal direction of Police Commissioner Weston. Even the chance intervention of celebrated world traveler and big-game hunter, Lamont Cranston, barely disrupts and does not even foil his dastardly abductions!

In fact, the menacing mind of the supercriminal is quick to grasp that Lamont Cranston is The Shadow! And thus, plans his most daring and most astounding coup yet–the kidnapping for ransom of…Lamont Cranston!

Caught, threatened by gunfire and with his guests’ lives at stake, the eccentric millionaire has no choice other than to go quietly! He is taken, like the other victims, to a remote hideaway. Of course, instant news of the capture is communicated to Burbank, but with their chief gone, who will direct his agents? All hope lies on the one man placed in readiness, the one man with the record of faithful service, the one free agent of The Shadow standing by: Harry Vincent! We, the readers, know of the dedication and prowess of men who serve The Shadow’s cause of justice! We know their selflessness, their expertise, their….

….Harry Vincent gets spotlighted and whacked with a sap within half a chapter of his appearance. Great job, Harry. Why does he even keep you around?

Rated: That Lamont Cranston’s a quiet sort of chap, isn’t he?

The Shadow Always Knows readlist

e6609d6c80ab74e5671a297a4c357b70-800 I’m still reading The Shadow pulp novels by Maxwell Grant (i.e., Walter B. Gibson). In fact, I just finished #35, The Silver Scourge, sometime last night. Tip about formatting .pdf files for Kindle–if they are simple .pdfs without illustrations or odd formatting, use Calibre or your program of choice to convert them to .txt. Kindles can handle .txt and the OCR seems to work quite well. 

Anyhow, in the absence of taking detailed notes, these books blend together. They’re fast-moving, simple, lightweight,  fairly standardized at this point, and thoroughly enjoyable. The casts in the initial books, as Gibson worked out his formula, were a little bit more varied–sometimes he would have guest stars dip in to serve as narrator–but he seems to mostly abandon this once he has the core crew of Burbank, Rutledge Mann, Clyde Burke, and Cliff Marsden. And (sigh) Harry Vincent. There’s also the dogged but marginally competent Inspector Cardona, his sidekicks Detective Klein and Sergeant Markham; there’s the bulldogged and marginally less competent Police Commissioner (Weston? Watson? Something like that.) Gibson did experiment with a couple of female characters, but without exception they have been extremely minor and (in the case of Cliff Marsland’s actual wife) quickly forgotten. Apparently, this didn’t actually hurt The Shadow Magazine’s sales with female readers, which may have reached about 30% of total audience. Impressive, and also: DUH, women read books for the hot guys, too.

There are a few set locations: the office door of B. Jonas (where chubby-faced Rutledge Mann, the intel guy, drops off envelops of newspaper clippings and notes written in vanishing bright blue ink). There’s The Shadow’s sanctum, which has gotten slightly filled out beyond the black void room it was originally. Lamont Cranston’s New Jersey mansion has also gone on display a few times. 

Of the cast, Burbank is the “quiet voiced” Mission Control who alone has the ability to directly contact The Shadow. Burbank is rather interestingly similar to his employer in that he has a remarkable, single-minded dedication to his job–sometimes staying on duty for days at a stretch–something which the author notes is going to be in some ways harder for a man who is literally locked inside a dark room, than for the men out in the field. Clyde Burke is a newspaper tabloid reporter who, fittingly, is introduced in one of the more over-the-top stories (The Death Tower), featuring a mad scientist and the threat of vivisection plus slow brain removal without anesthesia. Which, frankly, nobody these days would quibble about but….nevertheless The Shadow rescues him and (sigh) Harry Vincent anyway.

Slightly less incompetent purely because he’s supposed to have a reputation in gangland as a tough customer and a gat for hire, is square-jawed Cliff Marsland. Marsland served in France in WW1 (and possibly met The Shadow there, not that he knows it), and has done a stint in Sing Sing for another man’s crime (the wastrel brother of the girl he supposedly marries at the end of the book.) No one ever connects the dots with Cliff Marsland turning up for jobs and everyone he works with turning up dead, because, well, they all end up dead. 

And then there’s (sigh) Harry Vincent. Harry Vincent has a special place in the mythos, as he’s the most common point of view character and first agent we see The Shadow recruit: he’s pulled back from the brink of suicide and given a chance at life–life with honor, danger, adventure, courage, and also money. Thing is, this dude is so utterly useless it’s both laughable and infuriating. Yes, The Shadow’s agents are far less skilled, intelligent, capable, and cool than he is. But frankly, having Harry Vincent tail someone means that Harry Vincent is going to be spotted and whacked with a blackjack. Having Harry Vincent guard someone? That someone is as good as dead. Having Harry Vincent attempt to contact or pump someone for information? Generally means that Harry Vincent is going to get blackjacked, again, because DUDE. And, granted, the author isn’t on his side and is deliberately making him look less cool. But still. Sigh.

And then there’s the master of darkness who does ceaseless and fearless battle with the forces of evil: The Shadow himself. One of the cleverest parts of the pulps is that The Shadow genuinely is a mystery to the readers. He is not his main social identity, Lamont Cranston. Neither is he Henry Arnaud. His face is anything he wishes it to be–in early books it’s hinted he may be disfigured to the point of having no face. This is somewhat reinforced by future descriptions’ emphasis on the weirdly “masklike” and immobile cast of his features, and a scene of him donning a full-face prosthetic disguise. Small snippets of his backstory have trickled out–he served in Europe in World War One and knew Cliff Marsden; he was once a stowaway on board a German zeppelin with orders to destroy it (the zeppelin’s former captain gasps in horror at finding his ultra-secret craft was compromised); and his girasol ring was given him personally by one of the Romanoffs (but somehow also has a secret Chinese inscription underneath the gem, shrug.) He speaks multiple languages. He knows “jujutsu.”

The other part of what makes The Shadow is that he’s never less knowledgeable than the audience (although much more so than his agents.) He knows just about as much as the audience does, generally, because he’s secretly in the room when the crooks discuss things, or has Burbank listening in on a wire, or (sigh) Harry Vincent in the next diner booth over, eavesdropping. Admittedly, it sometimes does take some sort of logical contortion for him to deduce information that couldn’t otherwise have obtained–but the audience is more likely to forgive characters suddenly figuring things out which they, the readers, have known all along and which allows said characters to reach Point X in time for the climactic fight. So: good trick to make use of in, authors take note. 

The novels are fairly dramatic, but not entirely devoid of humor:

There’s a bit where The Shadow deduces that the crooks of the novel are going to need to kidnap some easy money to bankroll their fiendish experiments….which leads to Lamont Cranston throwing a lavish party and virtually waving fistfuls of money at the contact man while talking loudly about how rich and careless he is with his money and the control thereof, which, haha, is okay after all because he’s soooo rich. While standing in front of a conspicuous, open, man-sized crate. PST DID I MENTION I’M RICH?

And, there’s a bit where The Shadow has to dive into his car and make an ultra-quick change from “unkempt dockside bum” to “I own this car, officer, what seems to be the trouble?” The narrative notes that he was wearing the “immaculate” evening wear underneath the overalls (uh-huh, sure), and he’s in the process of kicking off the pants when the bobby comes over to investigate. The sequence is doubtless informed by Gibson’s background as a stage illusionist, but I still had to giggle when the pop-up top hat came on.

Anyhow, I’m out of time.

Rated: look, I’m in the process of converting books 37-57 to txt for my Kindle, what do you think?

Poetry Corner – He Bids His Beloved be at Peace

I HEAR the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake,	 
Their hoofs heavy with tumult, their eyes glimmering white;	 
The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,	 
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,	 
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:	 
O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,	 
The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay:	 
Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat	 
Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,
Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,	 
And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.

- William Butler Yeats

Poetry Corner – The (Other) Raven

RAVEN, from the dim dominions 
    On the Night's Plutonian shore, 
Oft I hear thy dusky pinions 
    Wave and flutter round my door- 
See the shadow of the pinions 
    Float along the moon-lit floor; 

Often, from the oak-woods glooming 
    Round some dim ancestral tower, 
In the lurid distance looming- 
    Some high solitary tower- 
I can hear thy storm-cry booming 
    Through the lonely midnight hour. 

When the moon is at the zenith, 
    Thou dost haunt the moated hall, 
Where the marish flower greeneth 
    O'er the waters, like a pall- 
where the House of Usher leaneth, 
    Darly nooding to its fall: 

There I see thee, dimly gliding,- 
    See thy black plumes waving slow,- 
In its hollow casements hiding, 
    When there shadow yawns below, 
To the sullen tarn confiding 
    The dark secrets of their woe:- 

See thee, when the stars are burning 
    In their cressets, silver clear,- 
When Ligeia's spirit yearning 
    For the earth-life, wanders near,- 
When Morella's soul returning, 
    Weirdly whispers "I am here." 

Once, within a realm enchanted, 
    On a far isle of the seas, 
By unearthly visions haunted, 
    By unearthly melodies, 
Where the evening sunlight slanted 
    Golden through the garden trees,- 

Where the dreamy moonlight dozes, 
    Where the early violets dwell, 
Listening to the silver closes 
    Of a lyric loved too well, 
Suddenly, among the roses, 
    Like a cloud, thy shadow fell. 

Once, where Ulalume lies sleeping, 
    Hard by Auber's haunted mere, 
With the ghouls a vigil keeping, 
    On that night of all the year, 
Came thy sounding pinions, sweeping 
    Through the leafless woods of Weir! 

Oft, with Proserpine I wander 
    On the Night's Plutonian shore, 
Hoping, fearing, while I ponder 
    On thy loved and lost Lenore- 
On the demon doubts that sunder 
    Soul from soul for evermore; 

Trusting, though with sorrow laden, 
    That when life's dark dream is o'er, 
By whatever name the maiden 
    Lives within thy mystic lore, 
Eiros, in that distant Aidenn, 
    Shall his Charmion meet once more.

- Sarah Helen Whitman, something of an interesting character in and of herself.

Frazetta Friday: Fire Women

Poetry Corner – The Gates of Damascus

    FOUR great gates has the city of Damascus
       And four Great Wardens, on their spears reclining,
    All day long stand like tall stone men
       And sleep on the towers when the moon is shining.

This is the song of the East Gate Warden 
When he locks the great gate and smokes in his garden. 

Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster's Cavern, Fort of Fear, 
The Portal of Bagdad am I, and Doorway of Diarbekir. 

The Persian Dawn with new desires may net the flushing mountain spires: 
But my gaunt buttress still rejects the suppliance of those mellow fires. 

Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard 
That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird? 

Pass not beneath! Men say there blows in stony deserts still a rose 
But with no scarlet to her leaf--and from whose heart no perfume flows. 

Wilt thou bloom red where she buds pale, thy sister rose? Wilt thou not fail 
When noonday flashes like a flail? Leave nightingale the caravan! 

Pass then, pass all! "Bagdad!" ye cry, and down the billows of blue sky 
Ye beat the bell that beats to hell, and who shall thrust you back? Not I. 

The Sun who flashes through the head and paints the shadows green and red,-- 
The Sun shall eat thy fleshless dead, O Caravan, O Caravan! 

And one who licks his lips for thirst with fevered eyes shall face in fear 
The palms that wave, the streams that burst, his last mirage, O Caravan! 

And one--the bird-voiced Singing-man--shall fall behind thee, Caravan! 
And God shall meet him in the night, and he shall sing as best he can. 

And one the Bedouin shall slay, and one, sand-stricken on the way 
Go dark and blind; and one shall say--"How lonely is the Caravan!" 

Pass out beneath, O Caravan, Doom's Caravan, Death's Caravan! 
I had not told ye, fools, so much, save that I heard your Singing-man. 

This was sung by the West Gate's keeper 
When heaven's hollow dome grew deeper. 

I am the gate toward the sea: O sailor men, pass out from me! 
I hear you high in Lebanon, singing the marvels of the sea. 

The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the serpent-haunted sea, 
The snow-besprinkled wine of earth, the white-and-blue-flower foaming sea. 

Beyond the sea are towns with towers, carved with lions and lily flowers, 
And not a soul in all those lonely streets to while away the hours. 

Beyond the towns, an isle where, bound, a naked giant bites the ground: 
The shadow of a monstrous wing looms on his back: and still no sound. 

Beyond the isle a rock that screams like madmen shouting in their dreams, 
From whose dark issues night and day blood crashes in a thousand streams. 

Beyond the rock is Restful Bay, where no wind breathes or ripple stirs, 
And there on Roman ships, they say, stand rows of metal mariners. 

Beyond the bay in utmost West old Solomon the Jewish King 
Sits with his beard upon his breast, and grips and guards his magic ring: 

And when that ring is stolen, he will rise in outraged majesty, 
And take the World upon his back, and fling the World beyond the sea. 

This is the song of the North Gate's master, 
Who singeth fast, but drinketh faster. 

I am the gay Aleppo Gate: a dawn, a dawn and thou art there: 
Eat not thy heart with fear and care, O brother of the beast we hate! 

Thou hast not many miles to tread, nor other foes than fleas to dread; 
Homs shall behold thy morning meal and Hama see thee safe in bed. 

Take to Aleppo filigrane, and take them paste of apricots, 
And coffee tables botched with pearl, and little beaten brassware pots: 

And thou shalt sell thy wares for thrice the Damascene retailers' price, 
And buy a fat Armenian slave who smelleth odorous and nice. 

Some men of noble stock were made: some glory in the murder-blade; 
Some praise a Science or an Art, but I like honorable Trade! 

Sell them the rotten, buy the ripe! Their heads are weak; their pockets burn. 
Aleppo men are mighty fools. Salaam Aleikum! Safe return! 

This is the song of the South Gate Holder, 
A silver man, but his song is older. 

I am the Gate that fears no fall: the Mihrab of Damascus wall, 
The bridge of booming Sinai: the Arch of Allah all in all. 

O spiritual pilgrim rise: the night has grown her single horn: 
The voices of the souls unborn are half adream with Paradise. 

To Meccah thou hast turned in prayer with aching heart and eyes that burn: 
Ah Hajji, wither wilt thou turn when thou art there, when thou art there? 

God be thy guide from camp to camp: God be thy shade from well to well; 
God grant beneath the desert stars thou hear the Prophet's camel bell. 

And God shall make thy body pure, and give thee knowlede to endure 
This ghost-life's piercing phantom-pain, and bring thee out to Life again. 

And God shall make thy soul a Glass where eighteen thousand Æons pass. 
And thou shalt see the gleaming Worlds as men see dew upon the grass. 

And sons of Islam, it may be that thou shalt learn at journey's end 
Who walks thy garden eve on eve, and bows his head, and calls thee Friend.

- James Elroy Flecker

Ride Lonesome (1959) – Movies With My Mother (repost review)

“He’s a bounty hunter?–I got no use for bounty hunters. He’s like a mercenary!”

“What are all these other saddles?”

“What! What is he doing!?”
“He’s dead.”

“But Indians don’t come out at night.”
“They should leave now!”
“No, if they leave now, the Indians will get them when they’re out in the open at night.”
“But Indians don’t come out at night! Or is it in the day that Indians don’t come out…”
“They can’t leave now.”
“Why not?”

“Who’s he? This guy.”
“That’s James Coburn.”
“What! He! He is very young! What is he in the movie?”
“He’s the dumb sidekick.”
“….he was very young.”

“Why is this fool going out at night! There could be Indians! Yes! It could be them making that noise and you can’t tell! They do, you know!”

“Still, she could have held it together.”

“Who are they? Mescaleros again? They don’t want to talk this time?…they might not even give a horse this time.”

“Ooof, that guy looked like the horse came down on him.”

“They went away? Too many of them dead?”

“To get a what?”
“A woman.”
“No, he said something else. To–”
“Get a woman.”
“No, he said something else before that.”
“To get his hands on a woman.”
“There no Indian women?”
“She’s blonde.”
“If there was dye, back then, people could dye their hair!”

“Why don’t they build a fire?”
“They could build a smokeless fire.” [The Mother of Skaith has also read her Louis L’Amour.]

“Amnesty? They had amnesty for killers?…haha, maybe he got the wrong word it’s some other word.”

“What’s with the feather in his hat? What kind of foolishness is this? Is this to tell us something about his character? I’ve never seen anybody like that. Psssht!”

“What! If the leg is broken, I thought you can’t do nothing for the horse!”
“It’s not broken, it’s just hurt. He doesn’t want to stand up, because it’s hurt, so he just wants to lie there and he thinks he’s dying.”

“Maybe they just need to rub the leg. And put comfrey on it.”
“They don’t have comfrey, Mom.”
“They can find comfrey!”

“What’s he doing? He’s fixing to do something. What’s he doing?”
“He’s moving to go get that gun over there.”
“Oh. Why?”

“He should not have done that! Even if he lied, he should not have proven that he lied! Now no one will believe him, even when he’s not talking about guns! What did he prove!?”
“Billy is a coward, though. That’s why it worked.”
“It doesn’t matter that the boy is a coward! You should not lie to him!”

“That’s Lee van Cleef!”

“What’s she doing?”
“She’s doing her hair.”

“What’s that?”
“A tree.”
“Yes, but what–oh, it’s a hanging tree? What is the point of a hanging tree? I didn’t hear what he just said, what did he say?”
“He said, Brigade used to hang people from it.”

Shoot ‘im!”

“There are very few platinum blondes like her, you know.”
“Probably not natural.”
“That’s what I said, they’re rare.”

“So he gon’ tell her, fool, and she’s gon’ tell him! Not very bright!”

“…Oh, you mean she’s not a natural blonde. Probably.”

“Why would he hang her!”
“He was young and getting revenge.”
“But why would he hang the man’s wife! That’s not revenge, she’s not the man!”
“He wanted to hurt him, that’s why he went after her.”
“But he didn’t need to do that!”
“But he did it because he was bad.”
“Oh, he is a bad man.”
“Yes, Mom.”

“Is he joshing him?”
“He’s gon’ make him a partner and he’s a half-wit?”
“He’s a good guy!”
“–and a half-wit!”

“Does Coburn get killed?”
“Oh. I’d be sorry to have that.”

“Is that a threat? Not a threat…a…what’d you call that?”

“What are they looking at?”
“What is the smoke for?”

“Oh, he’s burning the tree? Why?”

“See, I told you it was a good movie!”
“And you didn’t even want to watch it!”
“It was five out of ten.”
“You are mistaken, it was nine out of ten.”

Poetry Corner – Recompense

I have not heard lutes beckon me, nor the brazen bugles call,
But once in the dim of a haunted lea I heard the silence fall.
I have not heard the regal drum, nor seen the flags unfurled,
But I have watched the dragons come, fire-eyed, across the world.

I have not seen the horsemen fall before the hurtling host,
But I have paced a silent hall where each step waked a ghost.
I have not kissed the tiger-feet of a strange-eyed golden god,
But I have walked a city's street where no man else had trod.

I have not raised the canopies that shelter revelling kings,
But I have fled from crimson eyes and black unearthly wings.
I have not knelt outside the door to kiss a pallid queen,
But I have seen a ghostly shore that no man else has seen.

I have not seen the standards sweep from keep and castle wall,
But I have seen a woman leap from a dragon's crimson stall,
And I have heard strange surges boom that no man heard before,
And seen a strange black city loom on a mystic night-black shore.

And I have felt the sudden blow of a nameless wind's cold breath,
And watched the grisly pilgrims go that walk the roads of Death,
And I have seen black valleys gape, abysses in the gloom,
And I have fought the deathless Ape that guards the Doors of Doom.

I have not seen the face of Pan, nor mocked the Dryad's haste,
But I have trailed a dark-eyed Man across a windy waste.
I have not died as men may die, nor sin as men have sinned,
But I have reached a misty sky upon a granite wind.

- Robert E. Howard

This misses out being my favorite Howard piece because, evocative and strong as it is, but it ends weak without pulling the strands together. Who speaks? Where–beyond the realms of imagination–is he? I, too, wish to know of the road to this far, fantastic place…

Poetry Corner – Bugle Song

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying, 
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying. dying, dying.

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O, sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson