Crom Your Enthusiasm (1)

By: Erik Davis
August 3, 2015

Williamson-Darker

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite fantasy novels from the Thirties (1934–43). Enjoy!

DARKER THAN YOU THINK | JACK WILLIAMSON | 1940 (expanded, 1948)

Jack Williamson may not have been the first classic pulp SF writer to receive psychoanalytic treatment at the Menninger Clinic, which he did in 1933, but he was certainly the first to thematize the experience into a first-rate work of werewolf noir. Published as a novella in Unknown in 1940, and expanded into a novel eight years later, Darker Than You Think tracks the journalist Will Barbee’s embroilment with the confident and charismatic red-head April Bell, an unforgettable genre babe who binds together the chthonic powers of the witch, the cruel ambivalence of the femme fatale, and the liberated magnetism of a proto-feminist top.

Barbee meets Bell at a press conference: an ethnological expedition has returned from Mongolia with news of an ancient race of quasi-humans capable of animal metamorphosis, and possibly living alongside us. Bell’s own “lithe free grace,” it turns out, depends on her actually being a werewolf bitch, a shape-shifter who slowly seduces Barbee into her ancient witch cult through the Lovecraftian device of dreams whose import is far more transparent to the reader than to the protagonist. In one night vision, Barbee transforms into a saber-tooth “were-tiger” while Bell remains in her human form: “Nude and white and beautiful, her red hair streaming in the wind”, she mounts him. The psychoanalytic process represented by Barbee’s seduction by this aggressive and sexually amoral woman is a threatening but ultimately positive vanquishing of repression, whereas the scientific rationality that banishes werewolves and witches to the waste-basket of myth is revealed to be an intellectual smokescreen promulgated over centuries by these very same enemies of humanity.

The last line of the novel describes Barbee, back in wolf form, as he picks up Bell’s “exciting scent” before following her “into the shadows.” In the words of the psycho-biographer Alan Elms, the ultimate fate of “Will” in Williamson’s story represents the triumph of id over superego, but it also represents a prophetic liberation of male subjectivity through submission to an aggressive, wickedly erotic, and supernaturally gifted woman with far too much chutzpah to merely symbolize some abstract anima figure.

UKNOWN (December 1940), cover detail
UKNOWN (December 1940), cover detail

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CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): Erik Davis on Jack Williamson’s DARKER THAN YOU THINK | Sara Ryan on T.H. White’s THE SWORD IN THE STONE | Mark Kingwell on C.S. Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | David Smay on Fritz Leiber’s THIEVES’ HOUSE | Natalie Zutter on Robert E. Howard’s QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | James Parker on J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | Adrienne Crew on Dion Fortune’s THE SEA PRIESTESS | Gabriel Boyer on Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE stories | John Hilgart on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD | Barbara Bogaev on William Sloane’s TO WALK THE NIGHT | Rob Wringham on Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN | Dan Fox on Hergé’s THE SEVEN CRYSTAL BALLS | Flourish Klink on C.S. Lewis’s PERELANDRA | Tor Aarestad on L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s THE ROARING TRUMPET | Anthony Miller on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH | Suzanne Fischer on E.R. Eddison’s MISTRESS OF MISTRESSES | Molly Sauter on Herbert Read’s THE GREEN CHILD | Diana Leto on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s TARZAN AND THE LION MAN | Joshua Glenn on Robert E. Howard’s THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON | Andrew Hultkrans on H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS | Lynn Peril on Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE | Gordon Dahlquist on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME | Adam McGovern on C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | Tom Nealon on Fritz Leiber’s TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE | John Holbo on Robert E. Howard’s CONAN MYTHOS.

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KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | GILL SANS | AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | SHE’S NOT THERE | FAUX DEVANAGARI | FUTURA | JENSON’S ROMAN | SAVANNAH SIGN | TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | KUMON WORKSHEET | ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | DIPLOMA REGULAR | SCREAM QUEEN | CHICAGO | CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | SHATTER | COMIC SANS | WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | GOTHAM.

HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | “That’s the Joint” | “Freedom” | “Rapture” | “The New Rap Language” | “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | “Making Cash Money” | “The Message” | “Pak Jam” | “Buffalo Gals” | “Ya Mama” | “No Sell Out” | “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | “Rockit” | “The Coldest Rap” | “The Dream Team is in the House” | The Lockers.

KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| The joke is on Kirk | Kirk vs. Decker | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Captain Camelot | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | Federation exceptionalism | Wizard fight | A million things you can’t have | Debating in a vacuum | Klingon diplomacy | “We… the PEOPLE” | Brinksmanship on the brink | Captain Smirk | Sisko meets Kirk | Noninterference policy | Kirk’s countdown | Kirk’s ghost | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | How Spock wins

KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | KAMANDI | MACHINE MAN | SANDMAN | THE X-MEN | THE FANTASTIC FOUR | TALES TO ASTONISH | YOUNG LOVE | STRANGE TALES | MISTER MIRACLE | BLACK PANTHER | THOR | JIMMY OLSEN | DEVIL DINOSAUR | THE AVENGERS | TALES OF SUSPENSE | THE NEW GODS | REAL CLUE | THE FOREVER PEOPLE | JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

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What do you think?

  1. Excellent start to the series, Erik! Sciencefictia Sexualis always seemed most fascinated with alien/fantasy half-cat women, so it’s intriguing to get such a ripe werewolf book.

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