Wednesday, July 5, 2017

An odd warning on Page 1 of "The Midwich Cuckoos"

The Midwich Cuckoos, published in 1957, is one of the best-known novels by English science-fiction writer John Wyndham.1 It stands quite well on its own as an Important Sci-Fi Novel, to be sure. But another of the reasons for its fame is the 1960 film adaptation of the novel, which was given a much more alarming title: Village of the Damned.

You can see why they gave the movie a different title. The Midwich Cuckoos sounds like it could be a wacky Disney comedy with Fred MacMurray or Barbara Harris. But Village of the Damned clearly does not sound like a movie you could take the kids to on Saturday night. It's a scary date movie for grownups — a Bruised Forearm Movie, as Roger Ebert would have written.

But Wyndham's original novel didn't have the luxury of a Damned title or literal images of terrifying little kids running around while wearing glowing white contact lenses. So, I reckon this Ballantine Books paperback — one of dozens of editions over the years — needed some way, beyond just the sci-fi version of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg's eyes in the cover illustration2, to warn off readers who might be too young, or too "unimaginative," for Wyndham's tale.

Thus, we have a long book-splaining note to teachers and parents on the first two pages. It was penned by Richard H. Tyre, chairman of the English Department at the Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, and here is how it starts:

"Very young children will not appreciate the catastrophe of every woman in a small English village suddenly becoming pregnant" is one of my new favorite lines.

Tyre is a fan of the book, though, and goes on to pose some "cosmic" discussion questions for readers, including:

  • Supposing that there were some vastly superior race in the universe who wished to take over the earth, might it not be much more efficient and possibly even "kinder" for them to do so by harnessing the maternal instinct in the human female (or some other equally powerful and basic force already extant), than by attacking the earth with superior military technology, destructive weaponry and all the devastation that that implies?
  • One of the great recurring themes in folklore is the "changeling," the baby who is actually alien but raised by parents who at first believe it to be theirs. But isn't there a way in which every child can be considered a changeling? After all, in one way Freudian psychology suggests that parents and children are mutual enemies.
  • Aside from the organic, what is the basic difference between men and women?
  • And finally, is it possible that we are a seriously flawed and inadequate race, that there are races morally and physically superior to ourselves in the universe? Granting this, do we still have the right, when put to the test, not to care about perfection, or morality, or even God's plan, but to pursue at any cost the continuation of our own puny race?

Essayist and book critic Evelyn C. Leeper has written an essay about The Midwich Cuckoos that folds some of Tyre's larger questions into the discussion. You can read it here.3

1. His full name: John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, which is still far shorter than Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein-n├╝rnburger-bratwustle-gerspurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-sh├Ânedanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm.
2. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database does not know the name of the artist who did the cover illustration for this edition of The Midwich Cuckoos, Ballantine Bal-Hi #U2840 of 1966.
3. Leeper, according to her own website, has been "nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer twelve times." She has her own entry on Wikipedia, which I hope means her works and criticism will be preserved and studied by future generations.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hotel postcards of the past: Summertime road trip nostalgia

On my endless list of projects, I really need to index all of the Papergreat posts on the topic of old hotels and motels. There are more than you could shake a stick at. You can't swing a dead cat around Papergreat without hitting a post about an old motel. You get the drift...1

Here are two more to add to that collection of posts. At some point, I'll probably accidentally blog about one of these hotels or motels for a second time, but today is not that day.

First up is this unused postcard — no year or publisher is indicated — for the Ocean Grove Motor Inn in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Ocean Grove is an unincorporated place a little bit south of Asbury Park.2

The back of the postcard touts the very-pastel Motor Inn as being New, Modern, Complete, and "Open All Year." The hotel was, at the time of this card, owned and operated by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The OGCMA was founded in 1869 and is still going strong today.

Here's an excerpt from an article in the September 14, 1975, issue of the Asbury Park Press with the headline "Summer's Twilight Falls on the Grove":
Ms. Victoria Davis, manager of the almost-always-full Ocean Grove Motor Inn came by and talked of the golden days, finally offering her definition of the community:

"Ocean Grove is not for subways. It's for strolling. And I like that."

Next up is this undated, unused postcard for the Mammoth Cave Hotel at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.3 The color photo is by W. Ray Scott4 and this postcard was published by National Park Concessions Inc. of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

This room really has it all — brick walls, faux-wood paneling, heavy drapes, reddish-orange vinyl chairs and what appears to be an autumn-themed bedspread that "ties" everything together in a way that I'm sure would have given Walter Gropius a seizure.

The text on the back of the postcard adds this description:
"The Mammoth Cave Hotel Rooms are furnished for comfort and convenience. There are Studio Rooms as well as double and single bedrooms. Each room has Patio or Balcony. Air Conditioned — Open all Year."

1. That whole paragraph would be a nightmare for ESL students. My apologies.
2. I once spent an hour in the newsroom of the Asbury Park Press, prior to covering the 1990 Atlantic 10 men's soccer championship game between Penn State and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, whose roster included Alexi Lalas, won the game, 3-1.
3. It was almost precisely one year ago that I wrote about Crystal Cave in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
4. According to this Flickr site maintained by Jeff Kubina, "W. Ray Scott (1913-1987) was National Park Concessions photographer and public relations director from 1946-1967. ... He was renowned for his skill at cave photography." That also tells us that his postcard is likely from no later than 1967.

Happy Fourth of July
(Post No. 2,200)

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans and hoping-to-become Americans! (Feel free to use me as a reference.) For Papergreat's milestone 2,200th post, here's a clip show featuring links to some of the blog's past content related to Independence Day and nostalgic summer-ish themes.

Enjoy your day safely and responsibly, and heed these wise words:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Tattered dust jacket: "The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest"

This colorful maritime-themed dust jacket, with a trio of guys who look like they need some Fisherman's Friend lozenges, was wrapped around The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest, which was first published in 1929 as the second book in the 10-book Mercer Boys series. This was the jacket for The World Publishing Company's edition of the book, which was published about two decades after the original A.L. Burt edition.

Here's an excerpt from the promotional text on the back of the dust jacket:
"The dangerous and unusual adventures of the Mercer boys with their friend Terry Mackson while exploring strange a strange island; cruising in their boat the "Lassie" and solving mysteries at Woodcrest Academy, yield many thrilling moments. The encounters of the three lads with smugglers and pirates, and their quest for a phantom treasure galleon, makes this an exceptionally entertaining new series of books for boys."
That blurb could have used a copy editor.

A Goodreads reviewer wrote this very short review of The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest: "Opa's book when he was a kid. Interesting adventure. I liked the game they played — hare and hounds."

Here are some facts about Albert Capwell Wyckoff (1903-1953), who penned The Mercer Boys Series:

  • His father died when he was young, and so he wrote to help support the family.
  • Early in his career, he had two stories published in Weird Tales magazine: "The Grappling Ghost" (July 1928) and "The Guillotine Club" (July 1929).
  • He followed The Mercer Boys Series with The Mystery Boys Series, which included four books. 1934's The Mystery Hunters at Old Frontier is described thusly: "The Mystery Hunters become students at Frontier College in New York and investigate a nearby abandoned hospital rumored to be haunted."
  • He used money from his books to help finance missionary work and became and ordained minister later in life.
  • There is a Capwell Wyckoff Fan Page on Facebook. The administrator notes that, when The Mercer Boys Series was revised and republished in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the books "were updated. For example, lanterns became flashlights, a horse-drawn wagon becomes a station wagon, etc. Search out the older A.L. Burt editions for the original words of the author."

Sources for the above include and Terence E. Hanley's Tellers of Weird Tales.

The Mercer Boys Series, as a mystery-focused set of books, was a predecessor to The Three Investigators series, which I last wrote about in October 2015. A good article about this genre of juvenile literature is "Series Books: Through the Lens of History," which was published in 2010 by by David M. Baumann

Note: No monies were paid to Papergreat by Lofthouse in exchange for the Fisherman's Friend mention in this post. No lozenges, either.