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THE DEEP ONES: "The Hashish Man" by Lord Dunsany

The Weird Tradition

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Jan 13, 2012, 12:13pm Top

Also in http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8129 in both Kindle and Epub formats.

Jan 18, 2012, 9:55am Top

Along with the pure hypnotic pull of Dunsany's prose, there is often an undercurrent of darkness that keeps his short stories from becoming too... faerie-light, I guess you could say. The Hashish Man is aces, from the brief-yet-compelling description of hashish-travel to the horrifying fate of the sailor with the black scar ( a black scar, no less!). I'm a sucker for late 19th/early 20th century tales of hashish-eaters and opium dens - I'm pleased to have come across this story!

This is pretty strong stuff even for Dunsany. Only Robert E. Howard could have written it nearly as well.

Jan 18, 2012, 10:47am Top

The Hashish Man, was a compelling story, though I feel Dunsany kind of rushed things at the end there. I really wanted to know how the stranger managed to escape those thugs at the Mountains of Madness. And why did Thub Mleen want Bethmoora cleared out anyway? It has the elements of being a much larger story maybe even the potential to be a serial.

Psychadelic induced Astral travels are awesome! ;)

Edited: Jan 18, 2012, 11:30am Top

This story was a (pleasant) surprise, after my recent Dunsany diet of "The Sword of Welleran" and assorted Pegana stories! It sort of starts out like a Machen piece, actually: "I was at a dinner in London the other day." Dunsany is writing as himself the author. The idea of the fantasist being challenged on the accuracy of his fantasies is just too sweet. Likewise, the thugs being juiced up on hash in order to confront the astral interloper is a scene that puts me in mind of old Steve Ditko Doctor Strange comics.

I was telling my Other Reader about this piece, and she suggested that the hashish man himself might have been based in part on Aleister Crowley. Dunsany and Crowley were acquainted: Dunsany contributed stories to Crowley's periodical The Equinox prior to the 1910 publication of "The Hashish Man" in A Dreamer's Tales. She recalled an anecdote in which Crowley commended Dunsany as writer, but told him that it was obvious he had never taken drugs, because of the way he wrote about them. We did a quick search for a reference to support the anecdote, but couldn't find one.

ETA: Of course, it's possible that "The Hashish Man" itself was the story that provoked Crowley's objection.

Jan 18, 2012, 11:29am Top

> 5 Only Robert E. Howard could have written it nearly as well.

A good segue into next week's story, then!

Jan 18, 2012, 11:51am Top

>4 lammassu:

Good questions, although in this period, Dunsany tended to write within this short-short format quite often, which naturally leaves room for the reader to fill in the blanks. That last paragraph may seem a bit rushed, but there is an underlying enigma there that makes me think it was done quite deliberately. And mentioning "the Mountains of Madness" is just too delectable a morsel for an HPL fan!

>5 paradoxosalpha:

I'm well into a book of Pegana stories right now, so I know what you mean! It's like when C.A. Smith would occasionally return to earth. Crowley seems to keep casting his shadow over these discussions of the weird tale. Maybe he should be credited more often as being a strong influence on its development...

Jan 18, 2012, 12:38pm Top

>5 paradoxosalpha:

Yeah, Crowley's comment of Dunsany's (lack of) drug use is accurate based on Dunsany's description of the thugs being more powerful than the stranger in the Astral realm because they took a larger dose of hashish. Didn't know hasish had popeye spinach qualities.

>7 KentonSem:

Wow, I've heard of Crowley and Lovecraft sharing an acquaintence from the Abby in Cefalu, just not sure who, and now I learn Dunsany knew Crowley as well. Personally, I suspect Crowley was the muse to inspire the birth of Weird fiction, but that's the romantic in me. ;)

Edited: Jan 18, 2012, 12:59pm Top

> 8 Wow, I've heard of Crowley and Lovecraft sharing an acquaintence from the Abby in Cefalu

Absolutely false. The most extensive allegations regarding a HPL-AC connection are in the Simon Necronomicon, I think. But it's all bunk. HPL was aware of AC's existence (in no particularly urgent way), but not vice versa.

has it right.

ETA: This recent blog post has "arguably the most significant, and to date, earliest find" of evidence regarding HPL's cognizance of AC.

"What a queer duck!" writes HPL.

Jan 18, 2012, 1:27pm Top

>9 paradoxosalpha:

Yeah, I figured it was bunk. Particularly that HPL created the Necronomicon as a satirical commentary of the Book of the Law. But I can see no basis of comparison. I wonder if Dunsany was a student of Thelema or just a literary acquaintance to Crowley.

Jan 18, 2012, 1:52pm Top

> 10

The Deep Ones pondered Dunsany's likely religious orientation (or lack of same) in our "Sword of Welleran" discussion.

Edited: Jan 18, 2012, 2:43pm Top

I liked the intriguing line near the beginning, "And in the end he had to face Thuba Mleen, whose weak ferocity he had not imagined.". It was actually hard for me to imagine "weak ferocity" as having earned the foreboding quality that it seemed to possess in this instance, but all was truly hideous when finally revealed. Dunsany delivers!

Edited: Jan 18, 2012, 3:46pm Top


The term 'weak ferocity' implied a sense of a 'bored' or lethargic intensity to me. As if Thub Mleen was growing weary of conquest. Kinda like the guy who forced 'Den' to capture the Locnar in the Heavy Metal movie.

"If you refuse you die, she dies, everybody dies."

Jan 18, 2012, 3:46pm Top

>13 lammassu:

I found that by stating "And in the end he had to face ...whose weak ferocity he had not imagined" implies by its ambiguous finality that something far more sinister is in store that just another bored despot.

Jan 18, 2012, 3:56pm Top

> 14

he had not imagined is then echoed in "regions I had never imagined ... and I could not imagine my way back." Imagination is the substance of the astral world.

Jan 18, 2012, 4:01pm Top

>15 paradoxosalpha:

Perhaps if the black-scarred sailor had partaken of more hashish he might have been better able to foresee (imagine) the dire threat posed by Thuba Mleen (which I keep hearing this in my mind as "Thulsa Doom")?

Jan 18, 2012, 4:05pm Top

It didn't strike me as one of his stronger pieces. I'm not sure why the distancing frame is so common in this era of fantasy.

#9: Has anyone verified that postcard, or at least can speak for the author as a trustworthy source?

Jan 18, 2012, 4:09pm Top

>16 KentonSem:

I thought the black scarred sailor was physically tortured/captured by Thub Mleen's men, and it was the English stranger who took the hashish to find his strange friend via astral travel.

>14 KentonSem:

I don't know, a bored despot can come up with some pretty fucked up shit. Notice how the author 'omits' the more graphic forms of torture done to the scarred sailor due to it's apparent gruesomeness.

Edited: Jan 18, 2012, 4:27pm Top

>18 lammassu:

You may be right, although the sailor was seen drinking rum, but hashish-travel obviously beats rum-travel in the astral world.

Thub Mleen is very definitely not bored here. Also, I think that "I saw the sailor lying on the floor, alive but hideously rent, and the royal torturers were at work all round him. They had torn long strips from him, but had not detached them, and they were torturing the ends of them far away from the sailor" is still pretty damn graphic. What was even more so that might have been omitted?

Another great, practically throwaway, line: "...the bowls were large enough for heads to have floated in had they been filled with blood". Now that's how I would describe large bowls!

Jan 18, 2012, 4:28pm Top

>19 KentonSem:

Yeah, Thub seems to have found a suitable distraction to help him overcome his boredom. As for the omission, the author states: "The man that I met at dinner told me many things which I must omit." This is around the whole torture part of the story.

That throwaway line screams Robert E. Howard. :)

Jan 18, 2012, 5:46pm Top

>19 KentonSem: >20 lammassu:

"By the hoary bowls of Dunsany!!!"

(couldn't resist)

Jan 18, 2012, 6:33pm Top

> 18

Yes, I prefer our current despot because he seems not as easily bored as his predecessor.

> 21

The "bloody bowls" you mean?

Edited: Jan 18, 2012, 7:07pm Top

>22 paradoxosalpha:

Nope. I mean Dunsany's hoary bowls!

Not that a bad pun bears repeating. Yikes! Where is Art, before this thread goes off the rails?


Jan 18, 2012, 10:56pm Top


5> I also liked how he was being challenged on his fantasy/hallucination by the other dinner guest

Edited: Jan 19, 2012, 8:37am Top

>17 prosfilaes:

I might have to agree with you that this tale is lesser Dunsany to the extent that I'm glad my own introduction to his work came through the novel The King of Elfland's Daughter, along with "The Sword of Welleran"and stories in Time and the Gods. Still, I find "The Hashish Man" to be wonderful dark fantasy.

Jan 19, 2012, 9:04am Top

> 17 Has anyone verified that postcard...?

Yes, it appears so.

Jan 19, 2012, 9:33am Top

>9 paradoxosalpha:

Thanks for posting those ETA links. I'd really like to read what's on that postcard in full. And what a find! The guy says that it was just stuck in with some old fanzines and a few Arkham House books purchased at an estate sale. That's the stuff that dreams are made of...

Jan 19, 2012, 9:46am Top

> 27 I'd really like to read what's on that postcard in full.

There seems to be a pretty full transcription here.

Jan 19, 2012, 9:56am Top

>28 paradoxosalpha:

Thanks! There are also some interesting comments/clarifications from LT member Leigh Blackmore following the postcard's transcription.

Edited: Jan 19, 2012, 10:24am Top

> 29

I had noticed that.

Hm. Leigh is a member of this group, too! It sure would be nice to see him around here.

Jan 19, 2012, 3:26pm Top

>28 paradoxosalpha:

Thanks for the link to the full transcription, really kewl. Now, HPL further comments on Crowley by saying: He is the original of Clinton in Wakefield’s “They Return at Evening.”
I tried looking for a hard copy of this collection of ghost stories, but alas I don't have several hundred dollars laying around in my apt. Does anybody know where I might find an 'affordable' copy?

Jan 19, 2012, 4:02pm Top

> 31

Although the relevant story "He cometh and he passeth by" is apparently one of Wakefield's most reprinted, I couldn't find the full text anywhere online. It is in The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield, which also contains "The Black Solitude," featuring another character based on Crowley. That volume is a little more affordable, and also present in the lending collections of many public libraries. If yours doesn't have it (bet they do, though), inter-library loan should fix you right up, unless you're really set on owning it.

Jan 19, 2012, 10:59pm Top

>23 KentonSem:

I'm here, Kenton! Sorry I'm late, folks - the last couple of days have been kinda crazy. (BTW, why do you assume that I could save the thread from going of the rails? I'm the one that drives 'em off more often than not. ;) )


This story was... odd. Just when I felt like the story was getting really interesting, the whole thing just kind of takes a crap and dies. I actually read this a couple of times (two or three weeks ago and then again this evening) to make sure I hadn't initially assessed it incorrectly. Nope - far too whimsical and inchoate for me, and all the more frustrating by the fact that there are some really piquant ideas and images here. Lord, Dunsany!

>13 lammassu:

Totally, totally. I wonder if this story was weird fic fan Richard Corben's inspiration for that character (or is the character original to the movie)?

>18 lammassu:

I don't know, a bored despot can come up with some pretty fucked up shit.

Yes, indeed; our history books and newspapers are filled with examples.

Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 12:23pm Top

>33 artturnerjr:

Well, errr, you were a last resort! ;)

Don't know that I'd call this story whimsical, what with the unusually ghastly torture method as described, getting directions from a 100-year-old fatal overdose victim, and the bowls of blood imagery... I actually found this to be rather overtly horrifying for a Dunsany piece. I just read the ending paragraph again. It's abrupt, but I like it! Overall, I wouldn't call this great Dunsany, but I had fun with it.

Jan 20, 2012, 10:29am Top

I can see how "The Hashish Man" could be disappointing for someone eagerly anticipating more in the vein of "The Sword of Welleran." But I really liked it for what it did offer. Like I said earlier, I could picture the whole thing illustrated in the style of Steve Ditko's old Doctor Strange visionary episodes. And I've never been much bothered by unanswered questions in a narrative, so the indefinite ending was fine for me.

Feb 10, 2012, 7:32pm Top

I read "He cometh and he passeth by" today, and Oscar Clinton is quite an impressive character. He is obviously based very squarely on Crowley, making him into a sorcerous murderer, but otherwise according him mostly grudging admiration mixed with revulsion.

(Crowley never murdered anyone by magical means, or we would certainly know it from his public bragging on his vices, and the posthumous circulation of his private diaries.)

Feb 19, 2012, 10:57am Top

I've finished and reviewed the Wakefield; it was definitely worth the attention.

Feb 19, 2012, 11:18am Top

>37 paradoxosalpha:

Good stuff, paradoxosalpha. I see I have Wakefield's "Old Man's Beard" in The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories; I'll have to give that a go soon.

Feb 19, 2012, 11:33am Top

It's been ages since I read it, but I loved Imagine a Man in a Box. I should re-read it, except for the growing tbr pile.

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