Thursday, October 11, 2012
The Kind of Face You Slash - Day 11: You Only Lived Once
However, Wilson -- and I do wonder how many people know this -- writes short stories as well, the kind of stories that might be suitably illustrated by one of his cartoons, as if that's going to surprise anybody. Yet all anyone ever wants to talk about are his cartoons, and fair enough, I suppose. It's just that now that I've read a good handful of his short fiction, I can't help but note the fact that Gahan Wilson has published a couple of mystery novels and a couple of story collections and nobody cares, and maybe if they had, we'd have more stories and novels. Maybe not, though. I'm just looking for someone to blame.
As stated, I read more than my customary two stories for today's post, part of that being due to the fact that Wilson doesn't exclusively write horror stories, and two that I read, "The Cleft" and "The Frog Prince," don't belong to that genre. The other four I read were, though, and I kept reading because I honestly didn't care to stop. I only did finally because I had to -- other stories needed to be read. Each of the four horror stories I read, "Come One, Come All," "Mister Ice Cold," "It Twineth Round Thee in Thy Joy," and a story whose title has no alphabetical or numerical equivalent, and apparently doesn't even have a "We'll just have to refer to it as this" kind of title that people use just so they can call it something, so I'll just go ahead and call it "The Spot," are all terrific, represent a variety of types and subgenres and tones, while all being very clearly written by the same guy who drew this:
Also interesting is "It Twineth Round Thee in Thy Joy," which I think turns up in anthologies from time to time. It's a truly odd story -- imaginatively, conceptually, even "visually," in terms of physical description, and structurally as well. It's no kind of experimental tour de force, but it is a bit off-kilter in all of these ways. It's sort of a horror story told twice, one of those times embedded within the other by way of a diary, three hundred years apart. It opens with a large tentacled alien named Ehnk Nahk S'Tak'n following his Martian guide Soonsoon on the path of a deserted village, and the mysterious, legendary pleasures found within, pleasures which, I hardly need to tell you, come with a price. Those pleasures were witnessed and experienced by the man, probably an Earthling, who three hundred years before Ehnk Nahk S'Tak'n came along, died on the trail and left behind the diary, which S'Tak'n is now reading for information and to tantalize himself. With the diary, Wilson is, in effect, telling the same story that, in the beginning and ending of "It Twineth Round Thee in Thy Joy" he's telling about S'Tak'n. The way the diarist story ends is more or less how S'Tak'n's story is going to end -- this could not be more clear. Or more to the point, since if Wilson has a theme here it's that anything that is sentient is going to be a slave to its desires, and that's going to bite you in the ass eventually. But it's interesting to me how casually Wilson twins two beings that are completely physically different, and two different centuries, to make his "point" (a word I use for economy's sake) so swiftly and easily.
"Good evening, sir...I observe you possess the percipiency to have been attracted by the sounds and sights of our outstanding exhibition. May I be so bold as to congratulate you on your good taste and encourage you to step a little closer?
Miss La Frenza Hoo Pah Loo Hah...I am sure, my dear sir, that a man of your obvious sophistication and, if I may say it, je ne sais quoi, is well aware of the extraordinary sensual jollies which may be produced by the skilled locomotion of swaying hhips and other anatomical accessories on the part of a well-trained and imaginative practitioner of the art of hula dancing..."
Marvello heard a faint, choking meep and turned to see a tiny shape crawling into the gory light of the midway. It was the corpse of a baby dressed in a long lacy dress which trailed along behind it as it hauled itself determinedly through the Kansas dust with what was left of its tiny, rotting fingers.
"Not much, but you're a start," said Marvello, observing the little creature with interest as it struggled toward the entrance. "If I'd have known the likes of you was out there I'd have lured you in during the preamble with Wally Mysto and his Edible Animal Puppets. Land's sake, I do declare this little nipper must have drowned in its baptismal font..."
Also keeping this story moving is the knowledge that once the zombies enter the various tents to...see?...the various attractions, something is happening. Are they being fed? Well, we'll find out at the end. I would have to say that "Come One, Come All" is the least interesting of all the Gahan Wilson stories I've read so far, and this is telling, I think. It's the only one I know of that Wilson wrote as an assignment, that is, with a certain specific element that needed to be included due to the anthology being pitched to. I wonder if Wilson would have ever written a zombie story if Skipp and Spector had never come calling. Every other Gahan story I've read is wholly unique; even if it's part of a tradition, like "The Spot," Wilson turns it into something that only he could have produced.
Which is not to say I would have expected just anybody to have turned out "Come One, Come All." It's still a story that somehow reads like his cartoons look.