Friday, January 29, 2016

Forgotten Stories: Daughter of the Night - Richard S. Shaver


Despite being warned not to, I decided I really ought to read something by the notorious Richard S. Shaver. I happen to own a copy of the December 1948 issue of AMAZING STORIES, which features Shaver’s novelette, “Daughter of the Night”. So I sat down to read, and—

Wait . . . What?

That was my reaction to just about every paragraph in this story. It’s written in English, I recognize the words, but they’re put together in such odd ways that sometimes I had to back up and reread several times just to figure out what Shaver was trying to say. And this is prose that supposedly was heavily edited and rewritten by Ray Palmer, the editor of AMAZING.

It actually doesn’t start off that bad, with a sword-wielding, mighty-thewed barbarian hero lopping off the head of an evil sorceress. But then that head remains alive and winds up grafted onto the tail of a snake that also has mystical powers, and the hero’s girlfriend gets turned to stone, and he finds this other sorceress who’s the embodiment of female attractiveness, and they team up to fight the goddess Diana, who’s really a transgendered male god but didn’t realize it (to quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up), and there’s this mysterious being known as the Red Dwarf, who, like the Watcher in the comic books, is supposed to just observe and not take part in events, but he kinda does anyway. I got all that, but I’m still not sure what actually happens in the story.

You know I don’t often write bad reviews, and I have a tendency of finding something to like even in the most universally reviled books and movies, but Shaver seems to be in a class of his own. Remember that weird kid in seventh grade who filled up the fronts and backs of countless sheets of notebook paper scribbling out his crazy stories? Well, that was me, of course, but that’s what “Daughter of the Night” reminded me of, too, only Shaver never outgrew the sex and power fantasies and the paranoia of his adolescence. His brief rise to fame, if not fortune, is interesting, but in the future I think I’ll probably be content to read about it, rather than reading the actual stories.

15 comments:

Walker Martin said...

James, it sounds like you may have actually finished this story but I have to admit that I gave up on the Shaver story I read at about the half way point. I couldn't believe how bad it was and this was after Palmer rewrote it!

Howard Browne's first reaction was to throw the first Shaver manuscript into the wastepaper can. He was right. Too bad Palmer took it out and so began the infamous Shaver saga. I see this stuff as just about unreadable. I hope you recover from this horrifying experience...

Sean McLachlan said...

I wasn't able to get through a Shaver story either, although I find the phenomenon that his stories sparked equal parts hilarious and fascinating. Beware the Deros!!!!

Peter Brandvold said...

Sounds like what I used to write instead of doing my geometry.

Keith West said...

*sigh* You probably touched the stove when you were a child after being warned not to, didn't you?

I read and reviewed for Amazing Stories one of the two books on Ray Palmer that came out a couple of years ago. As you might expect, there was quite a bit devoted to Shaver in the book. The man was mentally ill. IIRC, and I try not to recall too hard, he spent some time in an institution. The fact that some people actually bought into his ravings and believed them boggles the mind.

Barry Traylor said...

Be careful James, I understand that reading Shaver can be hazardous to ones health.

George said...

I managed to read a Shaver story decades ago. It was a struggle to finish so I feel your pain. ARMCHAIR FICTION is reprinting Shaver for those who want to read him.

S. Craig Zahler said...

Reasoner,

Interesting review. Sounds like it's puzzling material for certain, though sparked by the comments on these boards, I did buy an Amazing issue with a Shaver story to check out this seemingly incomprehensible mania for myself. I expect it to be as bad as people claim--a Dutch Schultz fever dream of pseudo science---but sometimes bad different experiences are worth having for a frame of reference. Or maybe it'll just make the next issue I read of Adventure or The Spider or Jungle Stories that much better...

Keep up the good blogging!

Richard R. said...

Remind me again, what is a thew? As for Shaver, not with a ten foot pole.

Mathew Paust said...

Help...can't stop laughing...

Cap'n Bob said...

I have a feeling that if you gather some friends, popped a few beers, and took turns reading this aloud it might be worth the effort.

Todd Mason said...

Thew is like a thigh, only higher. Well, if Campbell could have ElRon, and PLANET insisted running Stanley Mullen stories (only Mullen never fostered a cult following, I believe...).

You and Bill hit rock bottom this week. Keeler reviewers, or me with teen writers, have had more fun.

Todd Mason said...

My colleagues at TV GUIDE in the early '90s would read aloud, in just such round-robin style, LONGARM novels at lunch.

Taunora Abrahams said...

My name is Taunora. My father was Roy Abrahams and he and my grandfather, Charles Marcoux were very into Richard Shaver. It is said my name comes from the Mantong alphabet. I have tried to figure out the meaning, but as you know Mr. Shaver was very difficult to understand. My father and grandfather are both gone now and so I have come to you all to see if you can help me.
I appreciate your help.
Thank you,
Taunora
Here is a blog about my grandfather http://charlesamarcoux.blogspot.com/
Please leave comments here or e mail me at ataunora@yahoo.com

Taunora Abrahams said...

I am no longer needing help with the above request. I googled my father's name and my grandfather and found this at writer's net:

Shaver
Glen.....I wasn't baiting you with that question about Shaver; just figured you knew of him. Here's some more info you might find interesting. I corresponded with both Shaver and Palmer on a regular basis during the 60s and still have the many handwritten letters from both. There is no similarity in the handwriting. Do you remember Richard's "Picture rocks?" They were slicings of agate, very thin, and, according to Richard, were pictographic recordings of the subterranean world of the Deros and Teros. I have two of them along with Richard's typed instructions for understanding them. He sent them to me not too long before he died.

Charlie Marcoux, the second name I mentioned, personally knew Ray Palmer and Richard Shaver and stated to me they were two distinct individuals. Charlie was my father-in-law. For most of his life, he was heavily involved in the Shaver Mystery. He had two complete sets of AMAZING MAGAZINE which contained all the Shaver stories. No one knows what ever happened to those priceless relics.

I used Shaver's MANTONG alphabet to compose my last daughter's name: Taunora. Translated, according to Shaver, it means "You are a creature with no negative aspects."

Yes, I read all his stories. The pictures of the Deros are burned into my gray matter...those hideous nightmares with noses that cascaded halfway down over their monstrous bellies. Tractor rays that pulled airliners out of the sky, giving us those unexplained crashes. They also were used to "kidnap" Shaver and many others needed for slaves in those caverns so deep within the earth. What a wondrous time the 40's were.




Charlie Marcoux knew both Ray Palmer and Richard Shaver.

James Reasoner said...

Thank you for your comments, Taunora. I found them interesting enough that I gave them a post of their own up at the top of the blog. I always enjoy it when my blog posts reach someone who has a personal connection to what I'm writing about.