25 May 2020

Covering Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine

I've been receiving compliments about the cover of the new Ricochet Books reissue of Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine. Praise properly belongs to J.W. Stewart and an unknown artist.

The Ricochet series has always featured artwork from vintage covers. With The Ravine, there were several to chose from. The earliest, W.H. Allen's 1962 first edition, bought sight unseen from an Australian bookseller, was the worst. This surprised me because the cover of Young's Undine (1964), also published by W.H. Allen, ranks as an all-time favourite.

Well before the decision about the cover was made, I invited Amy Lavender Harris to write the introduction. By chance, she mentioned that she had a copy of the 1962 Longmans first Canadian edition. I'd never seen a copy. Amy has kindly shared this image:

Like the W.H. Allen, I never considered Longmans Canada's cover a contender, though I was tempted by Mein Mörder kommt um 8, the 1966 German translation.

The cover of Assault, the tie-in to the 1971 screen adaptation, was not considered.

The cover I most favoured was the first paperback edition, published in 1964 by Pan. The problem was that we had no copy and not one was listed for sale online (which is still the case). All we had to go by was a small image of a faded, battered, and stained copy.

J.W. Stewart not only restored the image, he replaced "Kendal Young" with the author's real name; something we and the estate preferred.

The question remains as to the identity of the original artist. My money is on Pat Owens. I think that's his signature in the bottom right hand corner.

The Ravine is certainly similar in style to some of the covers Owen is known to have done for for Pan, most strikingly Charity Blackstock's The Woman in the Woods (1961) and Morris West's Daughter of Silence (1963).

Sadly, they don't make 'em like that anymore.

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20 May 2020

Phyllis Brett Young's Ricochet

Copies of Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine, the latest Ricochet Book, were delivered yesterday. I see their arrival as another sign of spring.

Number fifteen in the series, The Ravine has had an unusual history. It was first published by W.H. Allen in 1962 under the name "Kendal Young," and yet the author's true identity was exposed in an advert on the rear dust jacket.

Sadly, Psyche never made it to celluloid. The Ravine did appear on the screen – adapted bowdlerized and bastardized as Assault (1971) – but it isn't worth your time.

The Ravine is.

I knew nothing of Phyllis Brett Young until 2007, when McGill-Queen's University Press revived her 1960 novel The Torontonians. The next year, it brought back, Young's Psyche (1959).

This new edition of The Ravine joins MQUP's reissues in shining light on a writer to be celebrated.

As Ricochet Books' Series Editor, my thanks go out to Valerie Argue, Phyllis Brett Young's daughter, who granted permission for its reissue. I thank Amy Lavender Harris for providing a very fine introduction.

The first new edition in forty-nine years, it's long overdue.

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07 May 2020

Not to Be Confused with Jesus of Montreal

Josie of Montreal
Florian Delorme
Montreal: Bodero Editions, [1969?]
126 pages

Porn seemed to be everywhere when I was a child. It was sold at the bookstore in the Beaconsfield Shopping Centre and at Gerard's, the local bakery at which my mother bought our pumpernickel. The United Cigar Store in the Fairview Mall displayed Beeline paperbacks right next to the latest issues of MAD, Cracked, and Crazy. As a nine-year-old, I couldn't help but notice.

Published by Beeline in 1972, Back-Door Swappers had appeared previously under the title Once Upon an Orgy. It would later be repackaged as Best Laid Friends and Thrills with Lil. The history of Josie of Montreal isn't nearly so well documented. I'm afraid I won't be able to add much, though I can ward off a misconception that might arise from its cover.

Florian Delorme had nothing to do with Après-ski, which was published in 1966 by Montreal's Éditions du Belier and was written by Philippe Blanchont. It's back cover provides this bold description:
Un roman basé sur les faits authentiques de la liberté sexuelle qui se déroufe sous prétexte dans nos centres de villéglalure canadiens. Pour la prémiere fois un écrivain à la courage de donner a la littérature canadienne française un exposé, qui, sans doute, consternera les derniers vestiges de notre société purîtane.

Because I haven't read Après-ski, I can't speak to the veracity of the publisher's claims. And yet even before reading Josie of Montreal, I knew its cover copy to be a lie:

Josie of Montreal was not a runaway best seller. My copy, in which this claim is made, is the first and only edition. An uncommon book, it's held by Library and Archives Canada, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the University of Alberta, and Simon Fraser University. All of two copies are currently listed for sale online.

It took some time to get through Josie of Montreal. The novel is a difficult read, not because it challenges – as, say, Nabokov's The Gift or Tull's Untitled – but because incest and paedophilia feature. I won't argue with anyone who suggests necrophilia plays a part.

You may not wish to read further.

The titular character is a fifteen-year-old orphan who lives with Joseph, her sexagenarian grandfather, in Plateau-Mont-Royal. Joseph lusts after Josie, and keeps a poster-size photograph of her, in bikini, on his bedroom wall. Josie teases by trying to slip him the tongue with each goodnight kiss, and asking questions about sex:
"Grandpa, what does it mean, sixty-nine? The other girls talk about it and they laugh. I don't know what is it but I laugh. I'd like to know, just in case. Suppose they ask me to explain what it is... I feel stupid."
Joseph believes his granddaughter an innocent, when in fact she's been sexually active since the age of twelve. The novel's first sex scene involves Jeanne, a classmate who misses the genitive pleasures she once received from her mother. Laurent, Robert, and Pierrot get together with Josie on a daily basis, each taking his turn as Jacques pleasures himself with her discarded panties.

Of course, there's much more sex, as one might expect in a 126-page novel. In this scene, Josie throws herself – quite literally – at Jean, a plasterer working in Joseph's home:
The bold maneuver turned the trick and blew away the man's fears. Panting, breathing hard, he wildly plunged his hand inside the dress which fell slowly to the floor. Jean lifted Josie and he threw her on the bed.
     — Hey, get up! Josie said, giving the plasterer a feeble slap on the cheek. You'll fall asleep.
     Everything had occurred according to plan, completely, rapidly, vehemently and Jean was still dazed.
Jean is dazed. The reader is dazed. What just happened?

This later scene, in which Joseph and his friend Albert hire two teenage prostitutes during a trip to New York, is similarly vague:
Joseph and Albert undress. The girls wash them. They find it odd because they're not used to prostitutes. Funny, the girls don't act like whores. They are outspoken, gay. Alfred says he has no money, Joseph carries the dough. How much? How much do you have? Thirty dollars! That'll do. Give. Joseph gives. Tomorrow, come again? No. We're leaving town. Too bad.
     They leave the house smiling like two college boys having copulated for the first time. 
The week that Joseph spends in New York, leaving his granddaughter alone is the house, is described as the most marvellous of Josie's life. "Never had she been so free, never had she enjoyed such a sustained thrilling sex life." The adolescent love of the cover copy does not feature in the novel. Josie loves no one, and comes to hate her grandfather for being the one man she cannot seduce. After he returns, she enlists Laurent, Robert, Pierrot and Jacques in plotting his murder.

"There have been few heroines more fascinating than Josie, nor heroes more compelling than her incredibly virile 68-year old [sic] grandfather."

Sadly, this is just another publisher's lie.

A mystery: Josie of Montreal appears to be a translation of Les deniers émois, which was published in 1968 by Éditions du Belier. Or is it that Les deniers émois is a translation of Josie of Montreal? The latter has no date of publication, but it does feature this copyright notice:

Les deniers émois provides a 1968 copyright listing Éditions du Belier as its holder. While Library and Archives Canada makes no link between the two novels, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec not only records Josie of Montreal as a translation of Les deniers émois, it lists its publication date as 1969, and has it that Florian Delorme is a pseudonym.

I'm not sure I care enough to dig deeper.

Fun fact: Josie of Montreal was never adapted to the screen, but Après-ski was! I was surprised to see it included a who's who of vedettes québécoises, including the late René Angélil. Released in 1971, the film is also known as Sex on Skis, Winter Games, and Snowballin'.

Object and Access: A slim mass market paperback. The cover, every bit as accomplished as that of Après ski, is credited to Robert Hennen. The cover of Les deniers émois is credited to R. Henen. The cover illustration is signed Hénen. Take your pick.

As mentioned, two online booksellers offer copies. The cheapest, "very good plus," can be had for US$6.00. The other, "a near to perfect copy," is listed at US$85.00. You know which to buy.

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20 April 2020

A Fine Cure for Brain Fag: Earlier Opinions of Hopkins Moorhouse's Every Man for Himself

Further thoughts on Every Man for Himself, the subject of last week's post.

I first learned of Every Man for Himself through "Canadian Crime Writing in English" by David Skene-Melvin, one of thirteen essays on Canadian crime fiction, television, and film included in the anthology Detecting Canada (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2014), edited by Jeannette Sloniowski and Marilyn Rose. Skene-Melvin says little about Every Man for Himself other than it is "set along the North Shore of Lake Superior." In fact, the better part (and best part) of the novel takes place in Toronto.*

Bookseller & Stationer, April 1920
Never mind, it's mere existence as a 1920 mystery with a Canadian setting was enough to get me interested. Was there even another?

Further investigation found that Every Man for Himself had received heaps of praise in its day, much of it having to do with the author having set the novel in his home and native land:
Many Canadian writers like to tell a story of any country but Canada. They seem to forget that nothing better can be offered than a background of our own country. Not so Hopkins Moorhouse, author of "Every Man for Himself." It is a yarn punctuated with some rapid-fire detective work and a real romance — the whole thing is put together with a skill of a Victor Hugo.
Bookseller & Stationer, August 1920 
This book is not intended for the school library but is a wonderfully good story, full of action — a fine cure for teacher's "brain fag."
The School, September 1920 
A bully of a Canadian novel of mystery, romance and political intrigue, with a smashing climax ... The local color of this novel, so thoroughly Canadian in its setting and tone is one of the most fascinating features.
The Grain Growers' Guide, 8 December 1920 
The book is a sit-up-till-you-get-to-the-last-word work, fresh as a new pin with a characterization wholly Canadian. 
The Canadian Railroader, 5 February 1921
The most greatest praise is found in the 10 August 1920 edition of Windsor's Border Cities Star. A remarkable review, it's worth quoting in full:
"Every Man for Himself." It might mean something serious. You might open the cover. The story starts in Toronto. It is 4 a.m. with the wee sma' hours dying around you but you have read the last word not noticing the time pass. How does an author manage to accomplish this with a reader? Hopkins Moorhouse, who wrote "Every Man for Himself," accomplish it with overwhelming plot with a dash of style as keen as a rapier in action, It is a plot as distinctive as any written by Conan Doyle. It is entertainment fashioned for all people. The college girl, the farm hand, the business man, the sport enthusiast, and Sir George Foster or Premier Drury would find in it equal pleasure. It is so unusual that a big motion picture company in Los Angeles, Cal., has offered Mr. Moorhouse five thousand dollars for the motion picture rights. He is holding out for just two thousand five hundred more than that, and will get it. This Canadian author knows what he is worth.
     This novel, his second, is a scenario of action worthy of Dumas, with a French nearness to life, a Gallic skill of intrigue. As a matter of fact Mr. Moorhouse has French blood in his veins, and he rivals in his writing the cleverest of the race. But while the skill displayed in the book is worthy of the masters of entertainment, its setting is entirely Canadian and its types. Tom Edison would leave aside his next invention, to read it. It is this quality that will make Hopkins Moorhouse with his next two or three books Canada's most popular novelist. "Every Man for Himself" is not "ought-to read" stuff; it's the kind you cannot help reading whether you ought to or not. It carries the charm of the outdoors, the intimacy of Canadian politics and extraordinary type of Canadian heroine, the matched wits of big business men, the young man learning the game of life – a constant interweaving of different elements, situations and flashing change.
     Jot down the name Hopkins Moorhouse in your notebook. It will be the most prominent name among Canadian novelists within five years. To get read evidence of this and enjoy the most enthralling book of the season, read "Every Man for Himself," which has just been published and is Mr. Moorhouse's second book to date.
     "Deep Furrows," was his first, a story of facts picturing the struggles of the Western farmer – a wonderful book and serious reading. "Every Man for Himself," is entertainment, a story for story's sake. a book you cannot put down, a tale of plot, action and speed, a keenness and piquant knowledge as distinct as is found in the works of Arnold Bennett. One taste of the first chapter and you consume to the end. It's as irresistable [sic] as possum to a darky; a concoction inspiringly pleasureable [sic] for the multitude.
     There is no story you have read that is like it. In his descent Mr. Moorhouse carries a liberal dash of courtly French blood. French authors have combined plot and unusual writings as those of no other race in the world, and this is exactly what Mr. Moorhouse has done in "Every Man for Himself," – staging it in Canada with Canadian types.
Rambling, repetitive, drunken... but ignoring the bit about the book being "as irresistable as possum to a darky," who wouldn't like to receive such a review? As sufferer of brain fag myself, can you blame me for splurging on an old copy of Every Man for Himself?

Can you imagine my disappointment?

I'm banking on Every Man for Himself ending up as my most disappointing novel of the year.

Here's hoping.

* Curiously, Skene-Melvin makes similar mistakes with other novels I've covered: "In 1946, Margery Bonner (Mrs. Malcolm Lowry) set her The Shapes That Creep in Vancouver, and Jane Layhew chose Montreal as the scene for her Rx for Murder." In fact, The Shapes That Creep takes place entirely in Deep Cove, BC ("Deep Water" in the novel). Jane Layhew's Rx for Murder is set in Vancouver and its surroundings. Skene-Melvin goes on to write that E. Louise Cushing's 1953 mystery Murder's No Picnic features "Inspector MacKay of the Toronto Police Department." It does not. What's more, the novel takes place in Montreal and the Laurentians.

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14 April 2020

A Foggy Night in Hogtown

Every Man for Himself
Hopkins Moorhouse [Arthur Herbert Moorhouse]
Toronto: Musson, 1920
342 pages

Before we get into the action, the author's foreword dismisses any suggestion that this is a roman à clef. "The present pages are purely fictitious," writes Moorhouse, "and the characters therein not even composite portraits of living personages."

It's the sort of notice typically appended to romans à clef. Sadly, this student of Canadian history didn't recognize any of the novel's characters as having been based on actual people; it wouldn't have saved the novel, but would've made it a hell of a lot more interesting.

The first we encounter is Phil Kendrick, the novel's protagonist. A likeable lad, he's newly graduated from U of T, at which he was both an honours student and a Varsity rugby star. Phil lives with his beloved aunt and uncle, Dolly and Milton Waring, on Toronto's Centre Island. In fact, Every Man for Himself opens with the young man returning home after having wasted a day and more palling around town with an old college buddy. Phil's mode of transportation – a canoe retrieved from the Canoe Club boathouse – is surrounded by fog, but he's confident that he can find his way across he harbour. Just as Phil touches shore, a woman jumps in and tells him to keep quiet. Men's voices are heard. A launch speeds past. It soon becomes clear that she's mistaken Phil for someone else. When the woman realizes the mistake, she demands he take her back to the city. She says she has a gun pointed in his direction. Phil can't make her out, and doesn't believe her, but is good enough to do as instructed.

Toronto Harbour and islands in 1923
It isn't until three 'o'clock (and the book's thirty-second page) when Phil finally arrives home. He's surprised to find the library in disarray and his uncle slumped over a desk. Milton Waring isn't dead, or even roughed up, rather he's exhausted.

Every Man for Himself is no murder mystery. Intrigue revolves around Uncle Milton's role as a member of the provincial government and a $50,000 campaign contribution made by a shady construction company. The money goes missing and all sorts of people take to its trail.

This reader wasn't at all interested in joining the chase, yet I stuck with it as the action moved from Toronto along the tracks of the Canadian Lake Shores Railroad to Algoma. Phil captures a thief, does battle with bootleggers, rescues a plucky newspaperwoman, and befriends an Icelandic couple named Thorkalson.

(The plucky newspaperwoman and Mrs Thorkelson are the novel's lone female characters. No points for guessing which of the two jumped into Phil's canoe that foggy night.)

A sophomoric effort,  there's much to dislike about Every Man for Himself – the plot is nonsensical, characters are forever explaining things to themselves and each other – but what bothered this reader most is that Phil and the newspaperwoman aren't its heroes. After all their hardships and struggles  the crook behind the questionable campaign contribution is brought down between cigars and scotch enjoyed by Toronto's captains of industry, transportation, and finance in the cozy warmth of Milton Waring's Centre Island home. They are: Benjamin Wade, President of the Canadian Lake Shores Railroad; Timothy Drexel, Director of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company; Nathaniel Lawson, founder of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company; and, of course, the Honorable Milton Waring himself. Each an upstanding and generous businessman, I list them because they are as unfamilar today as in 1920s Canada.

No, Every Man for Himself is not a roman à clef.

Favourite passage:
She was the first girl he had ever fancied he might like to go and talk to once in a while, just for the pleasure of — well, chumming with her. It wasn't a good thing for a fellow who had no sister not to have a girl chum. She was— oh, what a peacherino of a girl she was!
Trivia: According to the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator, $50,000 is equal to roughly $636,000 today.

Object and Access: A solid hardcover with dark brown boards, lacking dust jacket. I purchased my copy late last December from an Ontario bookseller. Price: C$20.00.

Print on demand vultures are all over this one, demanding prices that rage from US$13.72 to US$43.99. Hidden within their online offerings is one – and only one – listing for the Musson edition. At US$18.00, it's described by the bookseller as "First (No Additional printings)," but the image provided (right) suggests otherwise. It's boards are a much lighter brown than my copy.

Anyway, it's a bargain.

Held by Library and Archives Canada and twenty-three of our academic libraries. The ever reliable Toronto Public Library has two copies.

The novel is available online – here – thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

Note: Inspiration to read Every Man for Himself came from The 1920 Club.

By far the finest Canadian novel I've read from that year is Basil King's The Thread of Flame.


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12 April 2020

Atypical Easter Verse by Agnes Maule Machar

For this Easter Sunday, 'In Memoriam—H.W.L., A Noble Teacher' by  Agnes Maule Machar, "first of Dominion poetesses." It is a celebration of a holy day, a celebration of faith, and a memorial to a beloved teacher. The version below is taken from Lays of the 'True North' and Other Canadian Poems (Toronto: Copp, Clark, 1899), in which the poet provides a note identifying "H.W.L." as "Hannah W. Lyman, first Principal of Vassar College, New York State, and previously an esteemed teacher in Montreal, Canada."

I admit to having being confused when I first came upon this poem; it was my understanding that Agnes Maule Machar's father, Presbyterian clergyman John Machar, had been solely responsible for her education. Further investigation revealed that daughter Agnes had spent one – and only one – year at Ipswich Seminary, a Montreal boarding school run by Miss Lyman.

Though a Montrealer – born, bred, and educated – it wasn't until recently that I'd so much as heard the name Hannah W. Lyman. Henry James Morgan's wonderful two-volume Types of Canadian Women and of Women Who Are or Have Been Connected with Canada (Toronto: William Briggs, 1903) – source of the images used in this post – speaks to her importance and influence on the city:
Miss Hannah Willard Lyman, a successful and inspiring teacher of youth, was born at Old Northampton, Mass., in 1816, and died at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where she was vice- principal of Vassar College, February 21st, 1871. She commenced to teach at Gotham Academy, Maine, and she subsequently taught in Mrs. Gray's Seminary for Young Ladies at Petersburg, Virginia. For the next twenty-two years she conducted a seminary for young ladies, in Montreal, which took the lead of all similar institutions in the Canadas. Her natural gifts, amounting almost to a genius for her profession, were enriched by an education of no ordinary range. She was a sister of Rev. Henry Lyman, a missionary, who was murdered by the natives in Sumatra in 1832, and whose life she has written {New York: 1857); also of the late Lieut.-Colonel Theodore Lyman, and the late Colonel S.J. Lyman, of Montreal. The Rev. Dr. Campbell, in his "History of the St. Gabriel Street Church, Montreal," says that "the name of Miss Lyman is yet as ointment poured forth in many hearts and homes, not only in Montreal, but all through Canada, for the blessed influences which she exerted as an instructor of young ladies." A memorial of her is preserved in McGill University by the "Hannah Willard Lyman Fund," raised by subscriptions from her former pupils, and invested as a permanent endowment to furnish annually a scholarship or prizes in a college for women affiliated to the university, or in classes for the higher education of women. Her remains were brought to Montreal and laid in Mount Royal Cemetery.
Sadly, it seems the memorial preserved in McGill University is no more.

A remarkable woman. Would that I could've visited her gravesite this Easter, but in this time of crisis it's closed for all but essential services.


      'Tis once again the Eastertide,
            So bright, so full of summer calm;
      So fair the quiet waters glide,
            The air so full of fragrant balm,
      That earth and sky and crystal tide
            Seem chanting sweet an Easter psalm;
      So, to her risen Saviour-King,
      Methinks—a ransomed earth might sing. 
      How brightly in the sacred chain
            Of thoughts that with the season blend,
      Thy well-known image shines again
            In memory's light, beloved friend!
      Though now we seek thy smile in vain,
            Our converse hath not here its end;
      So linked art thou with this blest day
      Thou scarcely seemest passed away! 
      Thine Easter song shall sweetly flow,
            Unmingled now with loss or pain,
      And we in shadow here below
            Can almost hear the joyous strain;
      For 'Worthy is the Lamb,' we know,
            Is evermore the glad refrain;
      How, in the sunshine of His grace,
      Must thou rejoice to see His face! 
      We still must keep the feast below,
            Partake the sacramental wine;
      Thou needest no memorials now
            In presence of the Living Vine.
      Yet, though our tears will have their flow
            We would not at thy gain repine;
      For our communion still shall be
      With thee—through Christ in Him with Thee! 
      We know not what new realms of thought
            Have opened to thine eager gaze;
      We know not how thy soul is taught
            The knowledge of God's hidden ways;
      How problems once with mystery fraught
            Now fill thy heart with grateful praise,
      While we must wander still and wait
      In the dim light without the gate! 
      But well we know thy longing heart
            Hath seen fulfilled its sweetest dreams;
      Hath found its ever-blessed part
            In that deep love whose gladsome beams
      It sought afar—as seeks the hart,
            Athirst, the crystal-flowing streams,
      Now, bathing in that glorious tide,
      At last, at last is—satisfied!
      Well—though we cannot grasp the bliss
            That fills thy cup of gladness there,
      Nor know what we shall gain or miss
            In life that tends—we know not where,
      We may go forward, knowing this—
            Who cared for thee for us will care—
      And, in the 'many mansions,' we
      At last shall share thy rest with thee. 
      But while on earth shall lie our lot,
            We cherish still the thought of thee;
      The living lesson thou hast taught
      Of faith and hope and charity.
      The life with patient labour fraught,
            From self and selfish aims set free;
      A power our slower hearts to move,
      To follow in thy path of love! 
      We thank God for thy life below,
            We thank Him for the quiet rest
      Of which such toilers only know
            The sweetness, when at length possessed.
      The words that here thou lovedst so,
            In whose fulfilment thou art blest,
      Those words of comfort, still and deep,
      We softly murmur while we weep:
      'He giveth His beloved sleep!'
Wishing all a Happy Easter.

Stay healthy.

Stay safe.

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06 April 2020

The Queer Queen Kong

Queen Kong
James Moffatt
London: Everest, 1977
172 pages

James Moffatt ranks as one of Canada's most prolific novelists – second only to romance writer W.E.D. Ross – but where Ross is pretty much forgotten, even amongst aficionados of the nurse novel (his speciality), Moffatt has developed a remarkably strong cult following. His greatest achievement – and biggest sellers – were commissioned works designed to exploit skinhead culture. The first, Skinhead (1970), written in his late forties, was followed by Suedehead (1971), Boot Boys (1972), Skinhead Escapades (1972), Skinhead Girls (1972), Top Gear Skin (1973), Trouble for Skinhead (1973), Skinhead Farewell (1974), and Dragon Skin (1975); while churning out dozens of other novels, my favourite being 1973's Glam.

All were published under the name "Richard Allen," one of Moffatt's forty-six pseudonyms. It's likely that there were others.

A paperback writer, Moffatt is thought to have written close to three hundred published novels. He shared the secret to his prolificity in a 1972 interview with the BBC:
JM: I like to sit down in front of a typewriter - start writing from the title. Play it by that. The title gives me the idea, it gives me the whole germ of the story, and I continue it right through.
BBC: How many words a day do you get through?
JM: On an average, I get through about ten thousand words a day, when I'm meeting a deadline. If I have a month to write a book in, I may get through five hundred, a thousand words a day, until the last week - then I shot up to the ten thousand.
BBC: Do you ever go back and rewrite stuff?
JM: I never go back and rewrite. I don't believe in editing. I don't believe in rereading more than two pages on the following day. I believe a professional writer should have the story in his head, even if he's doing two, three stories at the one time. He should keep all story threads in his head.
In the lengthy James Moffatt bibliography, Queen Kong stands out as an oddity. His lone movie novelization, it challenged the author's method. Here Moffatt was obliged to follow a plot laid down by screenwriters Frank Agrama and Ronald Dobrin.

Queen Kong was meant to exploit King Kong, the 1976 blockbuster starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lang. RKO and producer Dino De Laurentiis were not amused. Arguing before Justice Goulding, Their solicitor, Nicholas Brown-Wilkinson, the future Baron Brown-Wilkinson, expressed their distaste:"Our view is that it is an appalling script. It is a script which the plaintiffs feel cannot do anything but repercuss poorly on their reputation if it is thought that King Kong is associated with that."

The lawyer for Dexter Films, which had sunk US$635,000 into Queen Kong, countered that the film was a "light-hearted satire." In this, I think, they encountered an unexpected response from Justice Goulding: "I do not think that in any real sense the relationship of Queen Kong to King Kong can be saids to be that of La belle Hélène to The Iliad. King Kong was not a serious work. It was a film of pure, light-hearted entertainment spiced with horror."

And there you have it, Queen Kong cannot be considered a light-hearted satire of King Kong because King Kong itself is light-hearted; the two are just too similar.

I can't argue.

Queen Kong owes more to the Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack 1933 original, than the 1976 remake. As the title suggests, much of the humour derives from role reversal. It stars Rula Lenska as Luce Habit, a tough-as-nails director in search of a leading man for her next motion picture. She finds one in Ray Fay (Robin Askwith), a petty thief with no acting experience, whom she spots in a London market. Luce drugs Ray, carries him to an awaiting ship, The Liberated Lady, and sets sail for the African nation of Lazanga, Where They Do The Conga. Once there, its native population – primarily women, primarily white, almost invariably blonde – kidnap Ray as a human sacrifice to a gigantic female gorilla they call Kong.

However, Kong falls in love with the would-be actor, keeping him safe and healthy while Luce and her all-female crew plan a rescue. In the ensuing scenes, Kong is captured, is transported to London, and is put on display in chains, bra, and panties. At the event, Luce and Ray do the dance of Lazanga, Where They Do The Conga, upsetting the creature. Kong breaks her bonds and goes on a rampage through the city, destroying buildings and one low-flying 747. She manages to find Ray, and saves him from being molested by Luce in an upscale hotel room. Kong climbs Big Ben, and sets Ray down. He uses a helicopters loudspeaker to call off the attack:
"You cannot destroy her, for she represents all women everywhere; women forced into a mould to satisfy the images of male chauvinism. If you destroy this beautiful beast, you're destroying a lifetime of female struggle. Yes, she represents woman; woman struggling to find her identity in a society viewing her as a kitchen slave and sex object."
Ray's speech is lengthy, but effective. The women of London take to the streets, saving Kong, and transforming society forever. Kong is returned to Lazanga, Where They Do The Conga, with Ray, leaving sad, cast-off Luce tearily hoping that Ray would be interested in a threesome.

For the most part, Moffatt follows Agrama and Dobrin's script, making use of nearly all their dialogue, no matter how bad. These lines, from the novel, are virtually identical to those delivered by Lenska, as Luce, in the film:
"Through the genius of the Kodak laboratories I am able to make home movies that look like the professional films one sees during the second half of the bill in any local cinema. However, the fault with the majority of home movies is that people just smile and wave into the camera lens. In my award-winning pics nobody waves at the camera. That's what I'm famous for – not one wave!"
     Even as she finished speaking a gigantic wave hit the small boat, whooshed over the decks and drenched Luce.
     "Well," the Habit ruefully admitted, "maybe one wave!"

As might  be expected, there is padding, the most obvious being the inclusion of "SOHO", a 48-line prose poem by someone named Tomi Zauner. But the most interesting – and jarring –  difference between the film and the novelization concerns the depiction of Ray Fay. Where the film has him as as an asexual pot-head, who looks like a member of The Sweet...

...Moffatt portrays him as a homosexual hippie.

The Ray Fay of the film has no backstory. Moffatt adds a fumbled tumble with a teenage girl, which leaves him with a preference to men. Gay Ray Fay is a "fag" – the word appears dozens of times in the novel – and he's not the only one. The men of Lazanga, Where They Do The Conga are gay, and as Luce laments, "half the blokes you met in London are also queens."

Luce Habit pursues her leading man, dressing Ray in robes and feathered boas, while she wears pant-suits and tuxedos. This passage from the novel, which follows a spanking administered by the director, does not feature in the film:
Ray, unable to keep up his lung-torturing scream, felt himself go all limp – \wrists, too. Like a sad sack he tilted forward into Luce's welcoming arms.
     I'll protect you Ray, Luce whispered, hugging him to her gorgeous bosom.
     "Oh, God!" the star-in making moaned, feeling queer all over.
This scene does:
A man with the nicest, cleanest bone through his nose rushed from a hut – and called in a bush-telegram voice" "Oh, Mr Tarzan... Mr Tarzan – your wife Jane is on the vine!"
     Ray declined to accept the call although he trembled in an anticipation off a Tarzan-Fay link-up. What a Western Union that would be!
     He roamed deep into the village complex. The hits with bamboo supports fascinated him. Thatched roofs a la Dorset village cuteness appealed. Weren't they quaint! What looked to be a village queen's hut loomed large in his sights. He had a feeling about these things. He peered inside, found a villager scrubbing a toilet bowl. The old male "dear" swung, faced him, black teeth in an otherwise normal white set glistening.
     "Make your toilet as clean as your mouth," the native fag smiled, thrusting an Ajax bottle at Ray.
Moffatt's ending is different to that of the film in that suggestions of bisexuality and beastialty do not figure. The final chapter ends with Luce Habit going to bed with her female talent agent.

The agent's name is Ima Goodbody.

A thoroughly dislikable novelization to a terrible movie, it's not redeemed by a happy ending.

Trivia: Frank Agrama and Ronald Dobrin collaborated on just one other film: Dawn of the Mummy (1981). It concerns scantily dressed fashion models who disturb an ancient Egyptian tomb.

Dedication and Acknowledgement: 

Object: A mass market paperback featuring eight glossy pages of film stills. The author's name is misspelled on both the front cover and spine. The back cover gives indication that the book was sold in Canada, though I've yet to come across a copy. I purchased mine last year from a UK bookseller. Price: £4 (with a further £9 for shipping).

Access: WorldCat lists five libraries with copies, none of which are in Canada. The closest to me is held in the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library of Gustavus Adolphus College in St Paul, Minnesota.

Beware the British bookseller who entices by offering a Fair copy at one American dollar – and then charges US$24.95 for shipping.

Queen Kong – the Sensational Film – can be seen here on YouTube.

Related post:

01 April 2020

"April Night" by Archibald Lampman

Not as our home looks today, but as it did late last April.

It will again.

For now, this from Archibald Lampman's Poems (Toronto: William Briggs, 1915):

How deep the April night is in its noon,
The hopeful, solemn, many-murmured night!
The earth lies hushed with expectation; bright
Above the world's dark border burns the moon,
Yellow and large; from forest floorways, strewn
With flowers, and fields that tingle with new birth,
The moist smell of the unimprisoned earth
Come up, a sigh, a haunting promise. Soon 
Ah, soon, the teeming triumph! At my feet
The river with its stately sweep and wheel
Moves on slow-motioned, luminous, gray like steel.
From fields far off whose watery hollows gleam,
Aye with blown throats that make the long hours sweet,
The sleepless toads are murmuring in their dreams.

Related posts:

27 March 2020

Reluctantly Revisiting Canada's Great Virus Novel

Nobody told me there'd be days like these. The Nazis in the bathroom just below the stairs are the least of my worries.

I've been spending this time of self-isolation out and about in my role as an essential worker. On days off, I wander about the woods of our secluded home gathering firewood for next fall and winter. I sometimes fear I'm turning into the Michael Caine character in The Children of Men.

The Children of Men is not be the thing to watch just now. I managed to make it through the first episode of HBO's The Plot Against America, but could take no more. Since then, it's been SCTV and old episodes of 30 Rock.

I'm in need of a good laugh these days, though I well understand the curiosity of those who've asked me to recommend Canadian novels dealing with pandemics.

The craziest by far is May Agnes Fleming's The Midnight Queen (1863), which is set in London during the Great Plague. In Tom Ardies' Pandemic (1973), part-time secret agent Charlie Sparrow combats a millionaire who looks to unleash a killer virus upon the world.

But my greatest recommendation is The Last Canadian (1974) by William C. Heine, which just happens to be the first Canadian novel I ever read. Ten years ago, I shared my thoughts about the work in a blog post, which was subsequently taken down and reworked for inclusion in The Dusty Bookcase — the book.

I'm bringing it back for the curious. Enjoy... then look for something funny.


The Last Canadian
William C. Heine
Markham, ON: Pocket Books, 1974
253 pages

In the opening chapter of The Last Canadian, protagonist Gene Arnprior leaves his suburban home and speeds along the Trans-Canada toward Montreal. A to B, it's not much of a scene, but the image has remained with me since I read this book at age twelve. The novel was the first in which I encountered a familiar landscape. Of the rest, I remembered nothing... nothing of the sexism, the crazed politics or the absurdity.

Penned by the editor-in-chief of the London Free Press, it begins with late night news bulletins about mysterious deaths in Colorado. Gene recognizes what others don't and takes to the air, flying his wife and two sons to a remote fishing camp near James Bay. As a virus sweeps through the Americas, killing nearly everyone, the Arnprior family live untouched for three idyllic years, before coming into contact with a carrier. As it turns out, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... Gene lives on, but must bury his wife and children.

The Last Canadian is a favourite of survivalists everywhere. Someone calling himself Wolverine writes on the Survivalist Blog:
The immediate response reaction is instructive. Second there are the North country survival techniques. Third there are psychological factors of being a survivor in a situation where most others die. And there is more, dealing with post-disaster situations, though I won't go into that because it would spoil the book for you.
I won't be as courteous. Spoilers will follow, but first this complaint: the title is a cheat. Gene is not "The Last Canadian" – there are plenty of others – rather he considers himself such because his citizenship papers came through the day before the plague struck. Gene is an American who came north for work. He'd enjoyed his time in Canada, had made many friends and "had come to understand the Canadian parliamentary system, and agreed that it was far more flexible and effective than the rigidity of the American system of divided constitutional responsibility."

Reason before passion.

Is it then surprising that, there being no parliament, he's drawn back to the United States? Heading south, Gene resists all invitations of the Canadians he meets, whom he considers "eccentric" because they've chosen to stay put, supporting themselves through farming and whatever might be found in local shops. There's much more excitement to be found south of the border.

First, he stumbles into a Manhattan turf war – but that's hardly worth mentioning. As a carrier, Gene inadvertently kills a number of Soviet military types who have set up a base in Florida. In doing so, he becomes Enemy #1 of the USSR. They send frogmen assassins, set off bombs, plant land mines, and lob nuclear missiles in his general direction, but still Gene beetles on. When a Soviet submarine destroys his Chesapeake Bay home, killing the woman he considers his new wife, Gene seeks revenge.

Though he has no evidence, Gene comes to blame the Soviets for the plague (in fact, it's a rogue Russian scientist), and dedicates himself to infecting the USSR. He begins with a short wave radio broadcast directed at the Kremlin: "If the Russian people were half as smart as your literature says they are, they'd have tossed you out long ago. Because they haven't, I have to assume they're as stupid as you are."

You see, because they are stupid, Gene has decided that all citizens of the Soviet Union should die. He cares not one bit that the plague will spread beyond the borders of the country, killing the rest of Asia and Europe, never mind Africa.

It's all crazy, but the reader is not surprised. Though Heine spills an awful lot of primary colours in an effort to paint the man as a hero, concern has been growing for quite some time. Remember when he hit his wife, just so she'd understand the gravity of their situation? How about when he'd threatened to tie his young son to a tree and whip him until he couldn't stand – all because he'd fallen asleep while tending a fire? Then there's that little glimpse of Gene's psyche provided when his new love, Leila, tells him a horrific story of being kidnapped, beaten and raped repeatedly by a psychopath:
"You can't imagine the things he made me do. And he killed a man to get one of his girls."
Gene felt another chuckle welling up. In the few years he'd spent in Korea and Japan, he'd read about most of the sex things there were to do, and tried a few himself. He stifled it, however, recognizing her revulsion.
Yep, pretty funny stuff... and don't forget to add that boys will be boys.

Intent on killing billions, Gene makes his way up the Pacific Coast, dodging Soviet and American forces, before crossing the Bering Strait into the USSR. Hundreds of Americans and an untold number of Russians die as a result. His journey and life are finally ended by a clusterfuck of nuclear strikes – Soviet, Chinese, American and British – which obliterate the Anadyr basin.

Lest the reader agree with the Soviets that Gene had become a madman, Heine is at the ready to set things right. You see, Gene's actions were perfectly understandable; the British prime minister tells us so.

We're left with the image of radioactive clouds composed of the people and terrain of Anadyr. They drift across Canada, sprinkling poisoned dust over the land. Some settles on the graves of Gene's wife and children:
In time the rains washed the radioactive dust down among the rocks and deep into the soil.
Something of Eugene Arnprior, who had suffered much and had done more to serve mankind than he could ever have imagined, had come home to be with those he loved.
Thus ends what I believe to be the stupidest Canadian novel.

Trivia: Published in the US under the snicker-inducing title Death Wind, and later as – go figure – The Last American

Terrifying, either way.

In 1998, the novel was transformed into a Steven Seagal vehicle titled The Patriot. Here the action hero plays Dr Wesley McClaren, a small town immunologist doing battle with Montana militiamen and the lethal virus they've released. Sure sounds like Gene Arnprior could help out, but he's nowhere to be found. Maybe he's up on Parliament Hill taking in the House of Commons. Who knows. The Dominion to the north is never mentioned, nor is the Soviet Union, for that matter. Truth be told, The Patriot has as much to do with the novel as it does good cinema.

It can be seen, in its entirety, on YouTube:


Object: A typical mass market paperback. The cover photo is by Jock Carroll, who also served as editor of this and other paperback originals published by the Pocket Books imprint. The final pages advertise more desirable titles in the series, including:
FESTIVAL by Bryan Hay. A modern novel which reveals the rip-off of drug-crazy kids by music festival promoters.
THE QUEERS OF NEW YORK by Leo Orenstein. A novel of the homosexual underground.
THE HAPPY HAIRDRESSER by Nicholas Loupos. A rollicking revelation of what Canadian women do and say when they let their hair down.
Access: As far as I've been able to determine, The Last Canadian went through at least seven printings, making its scarcity in the used book market something of a mystery. Just two copies are currently listed online. At US$99.95 and US$133.53, both are described as being in crummy condition.

Where do these survivalists get their money?

Take heart, April is less than four days away. The President of the United States has assured us that the virus will be gone by then. Something to do with the heat, he says.

Strange days indeed.