Monday, May 3, 2010

Conjure Wife (1943) and Our Lady of Darkness (1977) by Fritz Leiber: Under Her Black Wings

Two good novels from classic fantasy writer Fritz Leiber: Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness. The former is a tale of witchcraft set at a New England college university, while the latter explores the occult theory of Thibaud de Castries known as "megapolisomancy" (invented solely by Leiber himself in a Lovecraft-inspired bit of mythmaking) and posits the city of San Francisco itself as a haunted - and haunting - entity. It also weaves authors like Jack London and Clark Ashton Smith into its storyline, as well as the pulp fiction background of Leiber himself, and won the 1978 World Fantasy Award. Both novels feature modern men, thoughtful and literate, modern men of skepticism and rationality, who find that the dark superstitions of the past have a horrifying way of wending their way into the light of the contemporary world. Count me in!

I don't think either of these covers captures the feel of the books themselves: Conjure Wife is another example of an older book republished during the height of the Gothic romance fad (this edition is from '68, art by Jeff Jones). Its current edition has a pretty foxy Goth chick on its cover, reminiscent of the loverly Eva Green. Berkley's Our Lady of Darkness has an odd psychedelic tinge to it, dated even by 1977 standards; fortunately Amazon has it listed as being back in print this fall.

...sometimes it wasn't clear whether it was a real woman, or a goddess, or some sort of metaphorical entity that de Castries was talking about. "She is all merciless night animal," he would say... "She knows the cities' secrets and their secret weaknesses, their ponderous rhythms and dark songs. And she herself is secret as their shadows. She is my Queen of Night, Our Lady of Darkness."


Joe Monster said...

I read Conjure Wife a few months ago. It really affected me in a powerful way. Half the time I felt like the main character myself, totally disoriented and confused as to the goings-on. Leiber was a master at writing urban horror stories. Have yet to red Our Lady of Darkness.

Will Errickson said...

I think you will have pretty much the same reaction! I much preferred it myself, lots of in-jokes about old pulp writers.

bill r. said...

What a fantastic blog this is. This is, like, everything that I love in the world. I've poked around here a bit before, but never realized the full scope of it.

Keep up the good work, Will!

Anonymous said...

Too much horror fiction ? No! But there is not enouch good horror.

Will Errickson said...

Thanks, Bill. I know you've covered horror literature plenty on your blog, so it's cool you stopped by. And it's true there is not enough good horror fiction; I often don't like a lot of the books/stories I read. Oh well, as long as they gots cool covers I'll post 'em here!

Donald Pulker said...

OUR LADY is even better -- an allusive feast for fans of horror fiction.

lazlo azavaar said...

Me again. While I haven't read Leiber's "Our Lady of Darkness", (I'm more of a short horror fiction guy myself), there's an absolutely creepy short story by Leiber that I think works as a thematic preface to Our Lady. It's called "Smoke Ghost".

Karl Straub said...

I'm also a fan of "Smoke Ghost."
Leiber has a bunch of good horror short stories,
but that side of him tends to get overlooked
due to the deserved popularity of his sf and fantasy work.

If I recall correctly, Leiber was among the first
to regularly put horror fiction in a modern urban setting, paving the way even for Matheson. He's also a great example of how
genre prose can be literate without being pretentious
or dull

Will Errickson said...

Karl, you're right; Leiber is recognized - perhaps not widely though - as being a very early practitioner of supernatural horror in our modern world. I've only read his horror stuff, though.