Come on over to MORE RETRO-SCANS!

Well, it's happened. I seem to have used up all the space available on this journal. (Gosh, how could that have happened?) So when I try to post, I get a cold clinical warning to knock it off. ("What are you trying to do, crash the Internet itself?") But since I still have so much more to say, I have opened the new site DR HERMES' MORE RETRO-SCANS. (I think you see how much anguish I suffered coming up with that title.) Remember, our motto is "What the heck, give it a shot."

Come on over, everyone! I have come to really enjoy your comments and corrections and the game of picking a Mystery Guest has been habit-forming. Just click here:

Hope to see you all.

UPDATE October 12, 2013. I am tickled to check and find that folks are still finding their way here. Thanks for dropping by. I will be back more often to answer comments.

"The Bride of Dewer" (ick!)

From the July 1930 issue of WEIRD TALES, it's Jules de Grandin dragging Dr Trowbridge along again to tackle another loathsome manifestion of sheer "Ewwww". (Let's see, just eighty more of Seabury Quinn's de Grandin stories to go....)

This is a story that frankly would go over with many readers today about as well as strolling into Newark Airport with a rifle over one shoulder. A sweet innocent young bride (this was 1930, remember) suffers a Fate Worse Than Death. Yep, and not only isn't she spared at the last second, the offender is no ordinary brutish cad but a particularly gross froglike monster. Ick and more ick.

Jules de Grandin and his crony Dr Trowbridge attend a marriage of an especially nice young couple, Walter and Rosemary, wishing them all the best, but, well, this IS Harrisonville New Jersey and you can expect things to go dreadfully wrong. That very night, the dazed and brutalized bride is dumped at her family's house while the equally shell-shocked groom drives aimlessly around and eventually winds up in the pycho ward of the city hospital. This is more of a disaster than most wedding nights, that`s for sure.

It turns out that the groom was in fact warned in his youth by his family never to get married because of the family curse. "Scoff and folderol", he smirks and goes after his sweetie anyway. Little does he know what happened way back in the Eleventh Century. An ancestor of his named Sir Guy de Quimper was losing the crucial battle of Ascalon and, orthodox prayers not seeming to help much, he made a desperate pact with an ancient Saxon god named Dewer. (I know many perfectly decent pagan gods and goddesses were unfairly demoted to demonhood after Christianity muscled in... but in Dewer`s case, it`s appropriate.) Swinging his big ol` sword, the unatttractive being slaughters the enemy. saves the field for Sir Guy and then names his price.

Dewer has a craving for warm human loving, and he forces Sir Guy to accept him as his liege. So when any of the Quimper marry, there will be a nasty intruder in the bridal suite as Dewer claims his droit de signeur, the traditional feudal right of a noble to pluck the rose, so to speak.

Did I mention what Dewer looks like? "Not more than four feet tall, very stooped and bandylegged, with no covering except a thick, horny hide the color of toadskin and absolutely no hair of any kind upon its body anywhere. Above the great, wide grinning mouth there hung a fringe of drooping, wart-like tentacles and another fringe of similar protuberances dangled from its chin..." Not a handsome guy in the conventional sense, and when he rushes into the bedroom of young Rosemary back in the present (well, 1930) to claim his desserts, it`s no wonder she goes into hysterical shock. And when her new husband Walter comes to her rescue and is easily clouted senseless by the monster, he understandably goes to pieces as well.

Dewer promises to come back for more, and things look fairly hopeless but fortunately there is this French ghostbuster named Jules de Grandin living in the very town. De Grandin is at his most insufferable here, calling everyone stupid to their faces and praising himself, but you have to admit he gets the job done. A little research with an antiquarian friend of his reveals that, sure enough, there is an escape clause in this curse (most family curses have a loophole somewhere). It only remains to be seen if poor Rosemary is up to the deed...

Seabury Quinn got away with an awful lot in his WEIRD TALES stories that less popular writers might have found edited out. Many of the de Gandin tales have a strong sexual element that`s still startling today. In "Bride of Dewer", young Rosemary`s ordeal isn`t prevented in the nick of time and Dewer goes away satisfied ("Her nightclothes were ripped to tatters... the trousers almost ripped away, and there were stains of blood upon them"). For that matter, Dewer isn`t destroyed or even punished, just sent away never to bother the couple again.

As much as Jules de Grandin vexes me with his ludicrous dialect and cockiness, every now and then he has a moment that suddenly shows a real human being behind all that posturing. Congratulating the young couple, the middle-aged detective suddenly has tears in his eyes as he wishes them "...may you and Monsieur Whitney be always as happy as I should have been, had not 'le bon Dieu' willed otherwise!" I don`t know why but a sudden vulnerability like this in such a smug character seems very touching.

Steed and Mrs Peel vs adrenalin-junkie military officers

"The Danger Makers" Dec 12, 1966

Adrenalin junkies in the military. Great. just what we need, thanks ever so much. A secret society of thrill-seekers has gathered in Her Majesty's Army and the RAF. Middle-aged officers (who should know better) play chicken on motorcycles against trucks, try climbing St Paul's, pull reckless stunts in new jets and generally carry on like hormone-crazed teenagers. It's just bad form, you're only supposed to place yourself in dangerous spots in the Army when you're ordered to do.

John Steed and Emma Peel are called in to investigate, and seem to do so in a rather half-hearted way at first, as though they're not taking this assignment all that seriously. Things heat up though, and by the close of the case we find Emma negotiating a very tense initiation ritual while Steed faces a murderous opponent counting to three across a table on which a pistol lies.

The basic premise of the plot is fine. Most of us enjoy a mild scare, if we're assured it won't get out of hand; rollercoaster rides, rappelling, entering the freeway at rush hour. Some folks do get hooked on the adrenalin and go in for extreme sports which frankly seem idiotic to those who don't share their thirst for danger. And like most addictions, thrillseekers get diminishing returns after awhile and have to look for stronger doses. The idea in this story is that a small percentage of men exposed to combat get to like the nerve-wracking fear and anxiety, and find they want more, which in peacetime is not as easy to find. ("Today, Mrs Peel, there just isn't enough war to go around.")

(This idea has been used before in thrillers. Many of the great pulp heroes like Bulldog Drummond, Richard Wentworth, Doc Savage and his gang were all hooked on excitement and action during the Great War. Simon Templar couldn't go more than a week or so without stirring up some peril for himself.)

As our two heroes infiltrate the Danger Makers (headed by someone known only as Apollo), they meet fewer than usual of the unconventional characters which populate the landscape of the Avengers universe. There's Colonel Adams, an elderly ex-WREN (if I've got the terminology correct) who tends a military museum. She's an appealing and slightly lost old woman who seems unaware that the Danger Makers are using the museum to hold their meetings. The other touch of eccentricity is that the sinister Major Robertson has another hobby besides the occasional game of solo Russian roulette; he's interested in phrenology. This leads to a quasi-innocent remark from Steed that Mrs Peel should show the Major her bumps.

As her initiation into the Danger Makers, Emma undergoes a ritual rather more challenging than she had expected. It's the highlight of the episode and a well-done bit of suspense. She has to walk up and then down two succeeding planks on fulcrums (like teeter-totters) while sliding a long hoop on a handle along an overhead wire, one in each hand. But she must not let the hoops make contact or she will suffer fifty thousand volts through her supple little form. Diana Rigg is (as almost always) excellent in these scene. She looks as if she's taking it all with deadly seriousness and is completely convincing.

One thing that I love about her portrayal of the character is that Mrs Peel is brave but not foolhardy; she shows a reasonable amount of alarm and concern when facing risky business but takes a breath and goes ahead anyway. Of course, since she is voluntarily getting herself into Steed's missions, it's clear she has a large dose of thrillseeking herself. In fact, when she gives the Major her spiel about how life is too safe and boring these days, I think Emma's just expressing what she really feels.

Steed himself has two outstanding scenes. One involves his facing the Major across a table on which a pistol lies (Steed solves the situation with more prudence than gallantry) The best moment is a wonderful little bit where he reacts to Emma receiving a box of chocolates as if they might contain a nuclear warhead. Directing her to stand clear, he gingerly unfastens the package and solemnly inspects one of the chocolates. "I thought so. I've seen them before... Whatever you do, don't touch the wrapped ones." Mrs Peel asks why not, and Steed pops one in his mouth. "Cause I like 'em," he replies. It's cheeky moments like these, not necessary to the plot but always a delight, that give THE AVENGERS much of its charm for me.

As an American of the baby boomer generation, I found most of the details shown of British military lore fascinating. The black rose of courage and the four feathers of cowardice I had read about, and it's pleasant to see them appear. Steed rather casually hurling a grenade to strike right on the target others had trouble getting near is a nice touch. It's also interesting how many times our heroes end up battling the bad guys with old-style weapons, in this case swords. As in "Murdersville", Emma provides a startling moment, this time when she literally leaps lengthwise over a table like Daredevil and tackles two men. (Once she decides to fight, she goes for it.) She also has a wonderful expression of mild annoyance when she scrambles out from under that table at one point to find her opponents have run for it.

My one misgiving about this episode is that, when the mastermind calling himself Apollo is revealed, his ultimate scheme is a letdown. Yes, Collapse ) is a big enough caper for straightforward criminals (it was worth Moriarty's attention in a Basil Rathbone's Holmes flick), but it's not quite what I would expect would appeal to these characters. A raid on a summit meeting of gangsters or some sort of landmine obstacle course would be more their style but then, of course we can take this as Apollo just using their psychological problems for his own purposes. Apollo is just the sort of urbane, polished gentleman villain that I remember about THE AVENGERS.