Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Century of ROBERT BLOCH, born 5 April 1917

From left, Arthur C. Clarke, Evelyn Gold, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch in 1952
Gold's husband was writer and Galaxy magazine editor H. L. Gold; she often served as "public face"
for him and the magazine in those years, as Mr. Gold suffered from crippling, WW2-induced agoraphobia.
I've been beating a drum all week in recognition of the life and work of Robert Bloch, a writer who's been a favorite of mine all my literate life, and whose screenplay work I was seeing, as my parents and I watched (for example) Star Trek episodes when the series and I were new. (Bloch wrote the episode that introduced Chekhov, along with two others; that one was one of the sequels of sorts to his early short story, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" [first published in Weird Tales, in 1943], where Bloch was almost certainly the first to suggest  Red Jack had found a means for literal immortality through his murders...this story has been plagiarized more than nearly any other story in the 20th Century, I continue to suspect, of course after Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" which has to be the larceny-survivor champ from the last very least among suspense stories. Patti Abbott, in recognizing the Bloch Century, after Stephen Haffner was kind enough to email us both about the anniversary--I knew, but hadn't remembered, that Bloch was born in 1917--was moved to seek out two other of Bloch's own sequels to his most famous short story.) 

The Ripper story would haunt Bloch's career, in a sense, though it'd be hard to call it his best story even at that point, early in his development as one of the most influential of horror-fiction writers in the past century; he was already becoming one of the most influential suspense-fiction writers when the first reports of the crimes of a newly uncovered local psychopath, Ed Gein, coalesced in his mind with a rather unflattering portrait of a character who looked, as Bloch would describe him, and shared some other characteristics with film scholar and eventual Scream Queens author Calvin Thomas Beck...Bloch called his protagonist Norman Bates. There was soon a new primary haunt of Bloch's career. 

September 1958. First appearance of "That Hell-Bound Train"
by Bloch. Also features stories by Wright Morris, Jane Roberts,
  and "first story" "Casey Agonistes" by Richard McKenna,

perhaps best remembered for that or The Sand Pebbles
As I've mentioned, in materials I've reprinted in the blog the other day and elsewhere, Bloch and Fritz Leiber were two acolytes, at the beginning of their literary careers, of H. P. Lovecraft, who took a great interest in both, introduced both into the "Lovecraft Circle" of corresponding writers and fans (which also included Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long and others) and had a longer direct correspondence with young Bloch...they became such close friends that they both wrote stories for publication in Weird Tales in which the other was murdered, though Lovecraft chose to dub his victim "Robert Blake" in "The Haunter of the Dark" (pity that another "Blake" should eventually be so thoroughly tied up with his own criminality).  For a brief period, Bloch emulated the fustian Lovecraft effected in too much of his prose (it was one of HPL's conceits that he was a man who might've better lived in England a century or so earlier), but soon Bloch was paring down his prose, if anything going further than such other models as Ambrose Bierce and such notable Edwardian Britons as the Benson brothers, W. W. Jacobs and William Fryer Harvey, and nearer contemporaries Algernon
Blackwood and M. R. James, toward writing a lean, contemporary prose. I've suggested that Bloch and Robert Heinlein in this wise were comparable in the horror and sf writing communities in their influence thus to what Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, with no little assist from such other modernists as the fellow hardboiled crime-fiction writers and Fitzgerald and Saroyan and Millay and company; Leiber and Manly Wade Wellman and Henry Kuttner and Margaret St. Clair also helped this along in fantastic fiction, as did John Collier and Shirley Jackson and Thorne Smith. And Bloch took no secondary position in relation to these others, in exploring new territory, not least in dealing with problems not being in our stars nor the monsters of the outer darkness, but very much within ourselves. And, as well, noting how Time wounds all heels, and how innocuous the clown at the circus might be, but how so much more disturbing is the clown at midnight, standing on the streetcorner and looking up at your window. 

But here are some of the new materials, or newly re-offered, in recognition that this has been Bloch's century, and we merely haunt it:

The gatefold sleeve for the recording of Bloch and Ellison reading their stories for Alternate World Records.

The first publication of Black Magic Holiday, in the UK edition of the magazine.
Elfin woman in pasties flipping the bird to Satan...toward the end of the pulp era.

First publication of "A Most Unusual Murder"


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great to see all these celebration brought together. That photo of Bloch and Ellison is hilarious!

Todd Mason said...

Not too atypical an image of Bloch, but not how Ellison was likely to present himself too often in later years...

Stephen Haffner said...

Kudos to you and Patti Abbot for your excellent work in bringing together an astounding amount of scholarship and appreciation on the Man of the Hour, and on such short notice.
I'd hoped to add something substantial of my own on this day-of-days, but such things will have to wait a wee bit longer.
Again, congratulations, and thanks!


Todd Mason said...

Thank you, I mention, I knew he was born in 1917, but I hadn't kept it at the forefront of my sieve memory, by any means...thanks again for the reminder.

Kelly Robinson said...

Wonderful—I'll try to read everything. I listened to my LP of "A Toy for Juliette," but didn't have time to write up anything. (I was doing good to manage a Facebook post.)

Todd Mason said...

Ha! You have a copy of BLOOD!? If it's in good shape, you can sell it for enough for an good sized restaurant meal, at least, if you were ever inclined to...

If you write it up by Tuesday, or some Tuesday, I'll be happy to Overlooked A/V it...

Anonymous said...

Robert Bloch was famous for his response to the comment, after writing "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," "Psycho," and many other frightening and/or grisly stories, that he must have a grim and bloody nature. He replied that he was not at all a violent or sadistic person. "In fact," he said, "I have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk." Bloch was not only a master of suspense and mystery. (I'm especially fond of an often overlooked Bloch novel,"Firebug.") He was also a longtime member of the science fiction fan community (viz. "The Eighth Stage of Fandom"--if you can scout up a copy). And he was a talented humorist )viz "Lefty Feep").

Todd Mason said...

You look around on this blog, you'll see all these at very least touched upon. Bloch isn't briefly dealt with when he can be dealt with at length...