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Old 12-24-2015   #1
James
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Sarban

This Christmas Eve I have read Ringstones by Sarban for the first time, as I heard he was influenced by Walter de la Mare and Arthur Machen, which struck me as my sort of thing given my passion for these authors, who at their best are among the select few unbeatable 'weird fiction' writers for their mystery-oriented style of supernatural fiction.

While at first I was somewhat suspicious of its strong imitation of Arthur Machen's ingenious Novel of the Black Seal, the story took its own turn and I found myself becoming increasingly unnerved. Sarban managed to make a walk in the country where nothing happened other than a character getting a bit dirty a deeply unnerving read.

Most Machen imitators remove his peerless when on form, reality-bending sense of numinous mystery and go for a more lurid retread of his ideas (even the great Lovecraft was arguably guilty of this with The Dunwich Horror), whereas Sarban nailed the subtle awe of Machen whilst at the same time achieving in the dialogue and characterisation a psychological story reminiscent of the ghostly fiction of Henry James or Walter de la Mare.

Needless to say, I have finished this story feeling hugely impressed and wouldn't mind either hearing other people's thoughts about this tale or whether Sarban's other fiction stacks up, as from this example he is my kind of weird fiction writer and it is a shame I can find next to nothing written about him or his work online.
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Old 12-25-2015   #2
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Re: Sarban

- Glad to hear that you enjoyed Ringstones, which I've long believed to be an unqualified masterpiece of weird fiction; although it does owe something of a debt to Machen, I would go so far to say that Sarban here surpasses the master due incredibly subtle depiction of the supernatural and incorporation of mythological elements. Personally, I think Ringstones is easily the finest of Sarban's works; his most well-known, the debut 'if the nazis won the war' novel The Sound of His Horn is my opinion his weakest, although the offbeat fetishistic elements and weird undertones it contains makes it well worth reading as well, but The Doll Maker is the stronger follow-up to Ringstones, with a serious de la Mare/proto-Aickman sort of atmosphere. Really, everything Sarban wrote should be zealously sought out by admirers of weird fiction; it's just a shame that he retired from the field at the height of his powers.

"When a man is born. . .there are nets flung at (his being) to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets." - James Joyce
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Old 12-25-2015   #3
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Re: Sarban

James, thanks for starting this Sarban thread. He's a massively under appreciated writer and if I thought asking people if they read Ligotti got crickets, Sarban is equally silent if not more. His ability to create mood, atmosphere, character, etc is incredible. Stylistically he has few peers. To me his closest literary relative is Robert Aickman. I actually consider the logical progression of Sarban to be Michael Cisco. Don't know if anyone will go with me on that. Just seems Cisco is the only one doing anything in the neighborhood of where Sarban seemed to live. I agree with ChildofOldLeech that although The Sound of His Horn is where I (and almost everyone else who is introduced to Sarban) first encounter him, it is his weakest tale. That's not a knock, it's still a solid tale. But he becomes more Sarban (if that makes sense) in other works. My favorite may be The Doll Maker. I also agree that he retired at the height of his power as a writer. I was glad Tartarus published some of his "lost" works but think many of those books are now out of print
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Old 12-25-2015   #4
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Re: Sarban

I like stumbling on authors such as this. Him and M.P. Shiel have been the final 'traditional' noted weird writers from the 19th century to the mid-20th whom I believe I have had left to discover. If there are others, then they're even more obscure than Sarban and Vernon Lee.

I have been thinking about Ringstones all day. As with Henry James' The Turn of the Screw (surely a large influence?), the narrative itself seems like a suffocating trap, yet at the end it goes a step further and the framework of the story seems to shift in an unsettling Lynchian manner. I was left unsure what had truly occurred (a reread is in order), but I know it was unsettling. Comparisons with Aickman are fair, and as many here know that is my highest compliment.

I am deciding what to purchase next as I am terribly poor. How are the other tales in Ringstones and Other Curious Tales? Do they share the compelling depths and mystique of the title story, or is it uncharacteristic of that collection's overall style and I'm best going for The Doll Maker?
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Old 08-15-2016   #5
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Re: Sarban

Sarban's King of the Lake novella explores many of his themes from Ringstones (and contains the same final reveal) in a far less subtle manner, but is comparably terrifying. It follows two women on a journey through the Sahara. They are conquered by a mysterious storm and are taken in by the natives. The head honcho then decides to tell them a cute story...

Oh, and you should read The Sound of His Horn. The weird element is profound, and the book is a typically Sarban bizarre nightmare rather than a normal sci-fi book.

Last edited by James; 08-17-2016 at 06:49 AM..
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Old 08-15-2016   #6
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Re: Sarban

Sarban's Number 14 is absolutely horrifying. I feel physically shaken. It is much like Walter de la Mare's Seaton's Aunt, but so much more diabolical.

Everybody needs to read this story. The epitome of a forgotten masterpiece. If this isn't Sarban's best story, it must be his most frightening. I can't see how he would top this for disturbing content. I feel tainted by that ending.
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Old 08-15-2016   #7
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Re: Sarban

James is gonna make me go back and read Number 14. That was a great one.
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Old 08-21-2016   #8
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Re: Sarban

I've just read Number Fourteen this afternoon and was wondering if anyone could help clear up a bit of the murkiness I have pertaining to the ending.

SPOILERS!

It seems Ellen's hollow shell was found beneath the floorboards, but does this mean she hatched like a butterfly from a cocoon, into a beautiful healthy spry young woman? And if so, what happened to Shirley? Or did Ellen somehow abandon her old crippled body and seep into Shirley's? If this is the case, then wouldn't the detective have recognized Shirley's face when he saw her lying in bed, feigning illness? It's mentioned earlier that the police were given photos, so he had to have known what she looked like.

Anyway, the story was incredibly captivating and I enjoyed every bit of it. Perhaps the bit of mystery at the end is for the best.
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Old 08-31-2016   #9
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Re: Sarban

The slight ambiguity at the end is so thrilling. Do we even want to know the full story?

I have finished The Sacrifice and Other Stories. I would say it is Tartarus' most consistent Sarban collection as each story is damn fine. Worth the wait. I long to discover more weird writers akin to Sarban, Aickman, de la Mare, Hartley and Metcalfe.

Last edited by James; 08-31-2016 at 06:45 PM..
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Old 12-08-2016   #10
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Re: Sarban

Nice article about "The Sound of his Horn" as well as about that work's frightening relevance today.
Blowing His Horn: The Twisted Fiction of Sarban - Los Angeles Review of Books

Quote
...one unexpected and horribly appealing aspect of this new edition of The Sound of His Horn is how topical and timely it is. At the end of the story, von Hackelnberg lets Querdilion go, but with the farewell warning, “Go free this night. Hans von Hackelnberg spares thee now to hunt thee again under another moon!” Sarban doesn’t provide any consoling resolution to prove that our own timeline is the primary, authentic one, and the First German Millennium just an extended dream. Querdilion is haunted by the fear that he could be snatched back into that nightmare realm at any time.
It’s not the truth of physics that Querdilion’s experience calls into question, but the truth of democracy, civic morals, equality, reason, and all the other enduring Western values perennially threatened by brutal, demagogic, charismatic figures like Hans von Hackelnberg — or like certain current political figures. European and American hustings are resounding to the same obscene atavistic dehumanizing impulses given free rein in von Hackelnberg’s demesne, the essential impulses of fascism, which may have already triumphed in Brexit and the Trump campaign. There may be “a madness in the scheme of things,” but there definitely is a madness in the human heart, especially the heart that schemes to dominate others. Sarban penned a warning that the dark passions unleashed in von Hackelnberg’s forests never go away, and may be lying in wait for us in our future — or be running free and unchecked right now in our present. Von Hackelnberg’s fellow creatures may yet hunt us again under other moons.
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