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A Light Unto the Nations:
Reflections on Olaf Stapledon’s The Flames

olaf-stapledon4,967 words

Olaf Stapledon
The Flames—A Fantasy
London: Secker and Warburg, 1947

“At various points in our lives we all feel like the one who’s watching the flames; at other times, we feel like the one burning.”—Clive Barker[1]

Sometimes, when you finally get around to reading a long-recommended author, you are rewarded by finding something quite unexpected. This recently happened to me with Olaf Stapledon, one of those “grand old men” of pre-’50s science fiction.

In fact, with chronological convenience, Stapledon died right there in 1950, which has also eventually put all his books in the public domain; thus, they’ve been endlessly reprinted by one publisher after another, in multiple editions, themselves making for nice history of sci-fi covers, from the vaguely Victorian creepiness of Dover, to various Penguin examples of ’60s surrealism, to the ’80s “New Age” tackiness of one or another California publishers.[2] The more recent ones usually came with “Introductions” by sci-fi gurus like Brian Aldiss or literary fiction big-shots like Doris Lessing or some human potential luminary, depending on the target market, claiming his enormous influence and suggesting you take and read. Needless to say, I, with typical mulishness, failed to take the bait.

Well, actually, I did eventually push myself through Last and First Men (1930), his first but not last novel, about which more anon, but more to our present purpose, just recently some enterprising Kindle publisher put the whole kit and caboodle together and, for $3.80 and no space at all, I just had to snap it up.[3]

Stapledon’s prose could best be described as “workmanlike”; if you like that sort of thing, it’s “reminiscent of H. G. Wells” or some such, if not, it’s “sludgy” and “pedestrian.” I would call him the C. P. Snow of sci-fi, with F. R. Leavis’ devastating dismissal of his fiction in mind.[4]

You might say that he is the anti-Lovecraft, whose prose was certainly non-pedestrian, only to go to the opposite extreme of purple prolixity, to equal critical disdain.[5]

Which is interesting, since I think one reads Stapledon, like Lovecraft, not for their “deathless prose” (Stapledon’s is still-born, Lovecraft’s glows with a luminous putrescence) but for imparting the impression that has come to be called “cosmicism.” As Robert Anton Wilson described it:

Basically, I like Lovecraft and Olaf Stapledon better than any other writers in the areas of fantasy, sci­ence-fiction and “speculative fiction.” This is because I think HPL and Sta­pledon succeeded more thoroughly than anyone else in creating truly “inhuman” perspectives, artistically sustained and emotionally convinc­ing. That HPL makes the “inhuman” or the “cosmic” a frightening and depressing thing to encounter, while Stapledon makes it a source of mys­tic awe and artfully combined trage­dy-and-triumph, registers merely that they had different temperaments.[6]

Actually, the early Lovecraft was not ashamed to write about ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night; this “cosmicism” is the position he eventually evolved into, in the process of becoming more of what we would now call a sci-fi writer than a writer of horror. This move, around the late ’20s and early ’30s, was coincident with his move to the longer novella format, to his publishers’ indignation.

With that in mind, Last and First Men, Stapledon’s first novel, put me in mind of Lovecraft’s last major work, his “single greatest achievement,”[7] “The Shadow out of Time.”[8] Both works labor to convey a sense of what Lovecraft called cosmic awe, a kind of celestial terror that took the place of the old machinery of ghosts and tombs.[9] In each tale, an alien but in some sense terrestrial intelligence takes over the mind of a contemporary human, revealing in the process the unfathomable extent of time and space—either awesome or terrifying, in each case—and the infinitesimal place of man therein. While both men seem to have been hard-core materialists, Lovecraft was rather more pessimistic and antiquarian than Stapledon,[10] characteristically setting his “advanced” race in the distant past, while Stapledon writes more in the H. G. Wells mode of rugged but inevitable “progress”—at least, until The Flames.

Stapledon’s last work reminds me more of a slightly earlier work of Lovecraft’s, his penultimate masterpiece, “The Whisperer in Darkness.”[11] In this novella, Wilmarth, a Professor of Folklore at Miskatonic University (of course) is a typical Lovecraftian smug wise-ass.[12] After pooh-poohing newspaper accounts of sensationalistic tales of alien bodies found after a Vermont flood, he receives a letter from one Henry Aiken, taciturn Vermonter, disputing him, and hinting at unspeakable facts he has witnessed. After an extensive correspondence, he invites Wilmarth to visit, bringing all the evidence with him, so as to learn Aiken’s ultimate verdict on these Fortean occurrences. Upon arrival, Wilmarth is disturbed not only by Aiken’s weird appearance—the chair-bound, heavily bundled-up “whisperer” of the title—but his tale: the aliens are real, but he has now learned they are friendly and only want to help us. Needless to say, the climax reveals this to be a horrible—and horrifying—deception.

In “The Flames” we find a very similar plot. The action, such as it is, is easily summarized. A couple pages of “Introductory Note” gives us our frame: what follows will be one of those long letters people (like Lovecraft) used to write all the time, instead of blogging or Face Booking, which conveniently provided Victorian authors just enough material for a two or three part magazine story or one of what James called “the dear, the blessed nouvelle.” And we know right away that the genre is the weird tale, (“a strange document”) since our narrator winds things up with, “The head of the following bulky letter bears the address of a well-known mental home.”

Which bulky letter immediately follows, with the point driven home by this opening: “My present address is bound to prejudice you against me, but do please reserve judgment until you have read this letter.”

We also learn that the writer is known as “Cass,” for Cassandra, among his friends from the old Oxbridge days, before the Great War, doncha know, one of whom is our narrator, who modestly goes by the corresponding nickname of “Thos” signifying “Doubting Thomas.”[13] So we are eavesdropping on the correspondence of some of those literal Old School Boys that used to run the largest empire the world has ever known, while never quite leaving the nursery—calling each other silly nicknames, eating bland, comfortingly over-cooked swill, and perhaps carrying teddy bears. Think Charles and Sebastian, if you take them seriously,[14] or perhaps Jeeves and Bertie, if not so much.[15]

Anywho, we plunge ahead into Cass’s crazy letter. This has been nicely summarized for us by David Auerbach:

[T]he sensitive narrator [that is, a clairvoyant with an interest in psychical research, like Stapledon himself] talks to a “flame” in a burning stone who tells of life on the sun and subsequent exile when the planets were formed, with a polite dispassion not so far from that of Hal Clement. [It is then revealed] that the flames are hell-bent on manipulating humanity to help them thrive and pursue their spiritual aims, through mind control if necessary. To this end the flame reveals that he and his comrades caused the narrator’s wife to commit suicide, so the narrator could devote himself fully to his studies and establish contact with the flames.

[Later] Stapledon plays down the mind-control aspect and the particulars of the flames’ existence to focus on their religious history, which is a rewrite of the tail end of Star Maker: advanced beings, including the flames, join into a single cosmic mind that then searches the total vision of reality. This time, though, the revelation of the total indifference of the Maker (who, while not quite absent, is not as personified as it is in Star Maker) is catastrophic and the cosmic mind collapses. Star Maker ended with a little homily on the significance of humanity’s efforts; “The Flames” ends with the flames deciding that a Loving God is such a great idea that He must exist, and stupidly start the whole process up again, killing the narrator in the process for questioning them.

The novellas seem quite similar.[16] The lengthy correspondence between the skeptic and the reluctant believer, the alien beings—far more indescribably strange than any Lovecraftian entity—living among us, their plans for us, at first benevolent but then revealed as malevolent, the increasing control over the hapless believer who is first taken over (in the process, a loved one is killed), then after delivering his “I welcome our new alien overlords” message is ruthlessly eliminated, etc.

Reading this brief work, an odd feeling gradually came over me; no, not “cosmic awe” but the feeling something was going on here beneath the surface. It didn’t read like the usual run of post-War literature.

The first clue was the curiously even-handed noting of German suffering during and after the War. “I had recently done a job in Germany, writing up conditions, and things had got on my nerves; both the physical misery and also certain terrifying psychical reverberations which will sooner or later react on us all.”

And a bit later:

I had felt the same terrifying presence in Germany too, but in a different mood. There, it was the presence not of the outer cold and darkness but of the inner spirit of madness and meanness that is always lying in wait to make nonsense of all our actions. Everything that any of the Allies did in that partitioned and tragic country seemed fated to go awry. And then, the food shortage. The children wizened and pinched; and fighting over our refuse bins! And in England one finds people grumbling about their quite adequate rations, and calmly saying that the fate of Germans doesn’t matter.

Rather unusual for someone who had spent the War in Britain; unlike the expected “filthy Jerry got just what he deserved.” Notice that even the “madness and meanness” doesn’t seem to refer to the tired old “Nazi madness” but rather the cruelty of the occupying Allies. Was this simply the “cosmic” or “inhuman” perspective? Since Stapledon seems to have been a typical British academic parlour pink,[17] perhaps a holdover from the days of the Hitler-Stalin pact, or even the post-War Trotskyite anti-Stalinism that eventually became neo-conservatism, which in a non-Jew like Stapledon could take the form of sympathy for the German struggle?

But there was more going on here, and as I used Kindle’s handy highlight feature to bring together one passage after another, a pattern began to emerge.

The flames originated in the photosphere of the sun. Ironically, the cosmic processes that created the planets had a cataclysmic effect on them, resulting in their dispersal throughout the solar system in various stages of sleep or hibernation, due to their need for enormously high temperatures to live.[18]

“For you, the golden age is in the future; for us, in the past. It is impossible to exaggerate the difference that this makes to all our thought and feeling. . . . With us, save for the few young, the golden age is a circumstantial personal memory of an incomparably fuller life in the glorious sun.”

Wherever they live, the flames have overcome all ethnic or racial differences, and compose a single mind.

[S]eparate peoples evolved, or perhaps I should say “species.” These distinct populations were physically isolated from each other, and each developed its characteristic way of life according to its location. But from a very early time all the solar peoples were to some extent in telepathic communication. Always, so far as our elders can remember, the members of each people were in telepathic contact at least with members of their own nation, or rather race; but international, or inter-racial communication was at first hindered by the psychological differences of the peoples. There came at last a time when the whole sun was occupied by a vast motley of peoples in geographical contact with one another, and indeed interpenetrating one another.

Consequently, “We all lived a curiously double life, an individual life and a racial life.”

Frozen into a coma on our frigid world, the recent war was a great boon to them:

He paused, and seemed to sigh. “Those days of the great air-raids,” he said, “those were the great days; great at least in comparison with our present reduced circumstances. Thousands upon thousands of us, nay many millions, now lie frozen in sleep among the charred remains of your buildings, particularly in Germany, where the fires were most extensive and most lasting. The concentration of our spore in the atmosphere must now be many times greater than it was in pre-war days.”

At the risk of showing my hand, I must point out: their spore were concentrated in Germany, due to the fires.

Having achieved some degree (ha!) of re-awakening, the flames offer a deal. While acknowledging a vast difference in physiology and history, and thus totally alien mentalities, perhaps we and they can work together,

“We shall also be so diverse in our racial idiosyncrasies that each partner will be thoroughly remolded and revitalized by intercourse with the other”and achieve “a true symbiotic organism.”

“What we offer you is permanent spiritual guidance and fortification, so that, as individuals and as a race, you may at last overcome your inveterate short-sightedness and meanness. With our help, but not without it, you will wake to a new level of awareness; and in the light of that experience you will be able to organize our common world for the happiness of our two kinds, and for the glory of the spirit.”

“You, on your side of the partnership, will use all your astounding intellectual and practical powers (which we so envy and admire) to transform the whole planet.”

“Your gift is for practical thought and action…Together, with your practical cunning, married to our ancient wisdom and spiritual insight, we should indeed become a creative world organism”

“There will be neither wars nor class-wars, but only generous rivalry in the common venture of our two races, in equal partnership.”

“The whole human race will become a race of aristocrats . . . no longer guilt-ridden by living on the labour of enslaved classes . . . those aristocrats will not be idle…”

“. . . with us you can become . . . true vessels of the spirit.”

“What a glorious world-community we shall together form!”

Or, cutting right to the chase:

“What we intend is that you shall use some of your new power and your practical ingenuity to provide us with a permanent and reasonably large area of very high temperature, say in Central Africa or South America.”

How about Madagascar?

Again, faced with this inspiring vision of hard-working, practical “aristocrats” laboring away without dissent to improve the world, under the wise guidance of the flames, I can’t help but feel like giving out an exultant shout: “Tikkun olam!

Cass, however, feels a vague disquiet. Sensing, perhaps, “where have I heard this before?” he asks: “They will regard co-operation with you as sheer slavery. . . . If they are forced to reconcile your superiority in some ways they will regard you as brilliant perverts, in fact, as satanic.”

But the flames have already thought of that, smart little buggers that they are: “In order to make your free acceptance of our plan easier for you, we may have to use our special psychic powers to incline your minds toward it.”

In fact, they’ve already started work on Cass, who is “A human being of quite exceptional detachment from the prejudices of your kind [and able] to look at this whole matter without human prejudice and simply out of love for the spirit.”

The method of mind control seems similar to a well-known pseudo-science: “If I had no respect for your individuality I could break in forcibly and lay bare your most secret feelings in spite of all your resistance.”

And like many victims of this pseudo-science, the first casualty was Cass’s marriage. But then, free from human prejudice as he is, “I think you yourself will agree that our need for you was more important even than your marriage.”

With humanity at large, the technique is slightly different: “We might, for instance, undertake the very easy task of stirring up war-scares and forcing your research workers to produce even more destructive atomic weapons.”

Alas, the flame seems to have talked too much, perhaps due to its long hibernation.[19] Cass bethinks himself thus:

How could I be sure that my affection for the flame and my admiration for his race were spontaneous acts of my own personality? Might they not have been cunningly implanted in me by the flame himself? The more I thought about it the more likely this seemed. And did not the flame race intend to exercise this hypnotic power over the whole race of men, so as to compel them, yes, compel them, to subject themselves for ever to the will of the flames? Men would believe they were acting freely, but, in fact, they would be mere robots acting under an inner compulsion. Mankind, hitherto master of its own destiny, would henceforth be a subject race exploited by a subtler kind, a new Herrenvolk. Of course I agreed that the only final consideration must be “the glory of the spirit,” not the triumph of any one race, human or non-human; but how did I know that these cunning flames would really work for the spirit and not for racial power and aggrandisement? How did I know that they were not at heart, diabolic? Yes, diabolic! Under a cloak of friendliness and generosity the creature in the fire was scheming to capture my very soul for an inhuman end. Was he not subtly tempting me to commit treason against my own kind? But even, as I thought thus, I was torn by conflict. The behaviour of the flame had throughout been so civilized, so considerate and friendly. How could I reject these amiable advances? Yet, as my feelings warmed toward him, I reminded myself that my very feelings were perhaps not my own, but the outcome of his prompting. Anger and fear seized me again. No! A thousand times better that man should retain his sovereign independence, and go down with colours flying, than that he should surrender his human dignity, his human self-sufficiency, his human freedom.

So, an alien race, possessed of group consciousness, abstractly brilliant but incapable of practical physical work, dispersed against its will throughout the universe, lives in secret, and influences mankind to abandon all racial, national or even species loyalty, so as to unite with the alien race, or rather, submit to its wise leadership, so as to perfect a peaceful, class-less, world society devoted to The Spirit. Oh, and some real estate near Miami Beach.

Stapledon has done something truly remarkable. He has taken the very symbol of the Judaic post-War propaganda—the so-called Holocaust, the Shoah, the fires, the furnaces, blah blah blah—and turned it around, into a powerful new symbol of Judaic conspiracy.

It is they who are the flames—an alien race, dedicated to an abstract, inhuman religion, living among us, in our factories, our very homes, seeking increasing control over our minds, to further their literally alien agenda.

Presently a surge of remorse and shame and compassion flooded in on me. But I told myself that this was not my feeling; it was being forced on me by the outraged race of flames in all the hearthfires and furnaces of the world.

Needless to say, none of this was anywhere near Stapledon’s intentions, parlour pink and conventional academic Bolshie that he was. I think, that for whatever reason—the War, age, disease—Stapledon here lays aside his “progressive” ideology and relaxes into the imagination, like his narrator, lost in contemplation of a paltry post-War British fireplace. As a result, he has composed a true, as the subtitle has it, fantasy. And fantasy, the imagination, is controlled by a different kind of “inhumanism.”

As Jonathan Bowden said about Sarban’s fascist-fascinated fantasy novella The Sound of his Horn:

Yet what this novella really exemplifies is a fascination with the dark side, with everything “politically incorrect” long before this terminology entered common usage. Without the thrill of transgression or “inhumanism,” much of liberal fiction and art would be completely flaccid and without any depth of characterization. It is the presence of the right/wrong side which makes it all worthwhile in the long-term. For, as Wall/Sarban gets more and more excited, amid a world of female birds and predatory cats, rampaging boar-hounds, and human prey, under the flood-lights and next to the barbed wire—as the forces of the Reichs forester gets closer . . . one realizes a salient truth. And this is the fact that in a liberal order, the Right appears to be everywhere powerless—except in one’s dreams. For the societies created out of Enlightenment nostrums have surrendered their entire unconscious to the other side.[20]

And that of course is the rationale for the mind-control technique known as PC. You can’t let people just relax and let their thoughts meander. Who knows where they might stray? They might even start to see the flames.


1. “Private Legends: An Introduction” in The Essential Clive Barker: Selected Fiction (HarperCollins, 1999).


Stapledon’s 1930 Last and First Men was, weirdly, the third title in Penguin’s Pelican series in 1937; “Why the book was not published as a Penguin is a mystery, made curiouser by the almost palindromic fact that Last and First Men was the first and last novel to be published as a Pelican.” You can view a chronological collection of Penguin’s Stapledon covers here, whence the quote as well.

3. Olaf Stapledon: Anthology (Last And First Men, Odd John, The Flames, Sirius, Last Men in London, Death into Life, Darkness and the Light, A Man Divided, Star Maker and Collected Stories); no publisher given, October 24, 2013.

4. “Snow is, of course, a—no, I can’t say that; he isn’t; Snow thinks of himself as a novelist. . . . as a novelist he doesn’t exist; he doesn’t begin to exist. He can’t be said to know what a novel is.” See “Leavis vs. Snow: The Two-Cultures Bust-Up 50 Years On” by Stefan Collini in The Guardian, Friday 16 August 2013, here and “The Two Cultures Today” by Roger Kimball, The New Criterion, February 1994, here.

5. Most famously, Edmund Wilson’s “the only horror is the horror of bad taste and bad art.” See “Edmund Wilson, H. P. Lovecraft’s Best and Worst Critic” in Grim Reviews, Nov. 30, 2007, here.

6. See “My Debt to H. P. Lovecraft.” Wilson’s conclusion deserves note as well: “Ultimately, I think the value of a writer can be measured by how much he is merely expressing his own id­iosyncratic moods of joy or misery and how much he is expressing some­thing that is common to all humanity. I feel that HPL and Stapledon ex­pressed very powerfully a species-wide problem—our disorientation in space and time, consequent upon the Copernican and post-Copernican discoveries which revealed that the hu­man race is not the center of the universe and not the special darling of the gods. Few “mainstream” writers have tackled that intellectual and emotional shock as unflinchingly as did HPL and Stapledon. For that reason, I think many, perhaps most, ‘mainstream’ writers are not ulti­mately serious. HPL, in his terrified way, and Stapledon, in his (guard­edly) optimistic way, were serious.”

7. Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos (1972), p. 106.

8. First published in Astounding Stories in 1936; the definitive “restored” text is in S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, eds., The Shadow Out of Time: The Corrected Text, 2nd ed. (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2003).

9. See the Wikipedia on “Cosmicism” here.

10. Although Wikipedia, op. cit., says “H. P. Lovecraft thought of himself as neither a pessimist nor an optimist but rather an ‘indifferentist,’” but without any cited proof.

11. First published in 1931, the definitive text appears in S. T. Joshi, ed. The Dunwich Horror and Others, 9th corrected ed. (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House). Graham Harmon, in his Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (John Hunt, 2012), disagrees with my designation “masterpiece,” finding it an interestingly flawed work. See my review here, to be reprinted in my forthcoming The Eldritch Evola and Others (Counter-Currents, 2013).

12. See my review of Harmon, loc. cit., for my disagreement with Harmon over whether the supposed “racism” of Lovecraft’s narrators is a function of their being “ignorant” or rather, all-too-smart.

13. “Thos” of course is the common abbreviation of Thomas, at least on tea box labels and shop signs in Old Blighty, but we are not given any clue as to whether it is pronounced “those” or “thoz” or indeed just rather pointlessly “Thomas.” If we had to read it more than a few times this would be quite irritating to those of us that enjoy listening to our own inner voice.

14. “Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence.”—Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, Evelyn Waugh (1945). See “It’s all on account of the War” by Christopher Hitchens (The Guardian, Friday 26 September 2008, here), whose reminiscent itself reminds us nostalgically of viewing the Granada TV series on PBS in the ’80s, where William F. Buckley, their tame “conservative” was pressed into service to explain why normal people didn’t just punch affected twats like Sebastian, to say nothing of Anthony B-b-blanche. Today, of course, Buckley would have some ’splaining to do himself; looking back on his famous dust-up with Gore Vidal, over a decade before, it’s remarkable how Buckley has so absorbed the Anglophile as to look like he has his own teddy bear under the chair, while the home-grown, proudly American Vidal seems to affect the same taciturn amusement John Wayne might greet an assault by Wally Cox. Buckley’s “I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered” is straight out of the boy-manliness world of Stalky & Co. On the non-Negroid manliness of the real Right, see my The Homo and the Negro (Counter-Currents, 2012).

15. One thing that keeps amusing me about Bertie is his umbrage-taking when, as frequently happens, some more conventional character, an aunt or fiancée’s father, starts spreading around their opinion that he’s balmy. See, for instance, Thank You, Jeeves (1934), which also includes some wonderful references throughout to “nigger minstrels” and blackface—which Bertie of course winds up sporting—for outrage at which on Amazon I am still awaiting. Anyway, 1934 is an interesting date for this kind of foolishness, as it has been said that Hitler underestimated the Brits due to having formed his impression of them from Wodehouse books. No wonder the Nazis thought Wodehouse would make an excellent propagandist. Stephen Fry, himself a big old poofter, deals with the Wodehouse “collaborationist” nonsense in his introduction to What Ho!: The Best of P. G. Wodehouse (Penguin, 1981); Fry of course played Jeeves on the BBC series, with Bertie essayed by Hugh Laurie, best known to Americans as quite balmy Dr. House—viz, Holmes, as in Sherlock, another Victorian bachelor living with a nanny and an old chum, Dr. Watson, who has old school friends with names like “Stinky.”

16. I can find no evidence that Stapledon had ever read or even heard of Lovecraft; he even claimed that he had never read any of Wells other than The Time Machine. As for Lovecraft, according toWikipedia, “H. P. Lovecraft held the book in very high regard (though he did not say whether it influenced any of his own stories), saying in a 1936 letter to Fritz Leiber “no one ought to miss reading W. Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men. . . . Probably you have read it. If not, make a bee line for library or bookstall!,” and in another 1936 letter to Leiber “I’m glad to hear of your perusal of Last and First Men—a volume which to my mind forms the greatest of all achievements in the field that Master Ackerman would denominate ‘scientifiction.’ Its scope is dizzying—and despite a somewhat disproportionate acceleration of the tempo toward the end, and a few scientific inferences which might legitimately be challenged, it remains a thing of unparalleled power. As you say, it has the truly basic quality of a myth, and some of the episodes are of matchless poignancy and dramatic intensity.” Finally, in a 1937 letter to Arthur Widner he said “I don’t care for science fiction of the sort published in cheap magazines. There’s no vitality in it—merely dry theories tacked on to shallow, unreal, insincere juvenile adventure stories. But I do like the few real masterpieces in the field—certain of H. G. Wells’s novels, S. Fowler Wright’s The World Below, & that marvelous piece of imagination by W. Olaf Stapledon, Last & First Men.”

17. Reviewing Leslie A. Fiedler’s Olaf Stapledon: A Man Divided (Oxford, 1983), Robert Philmus says that “As Fiedler demonstrates, Stapledon was very much a product of the 1930s, embracing a set of leftist attitudes that were common to many other “Oxbridge-educated sons of the English upper classes.” Again, “His Marxism, which remained his only irrational faith throughout his life, told him that surely the United States could never be a positive influence.” Gregory Benford in Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men (London: Gollancz Books, 1999), p. x.

18. Stapledon’s description of the flames awakening in the bitter cold of some planet reminds one of Lovecraft’s sympathy for the members of the Ancient Race awakening in the howling Arctic winds when thawed out in “At the Mountains of Madness.”

19. Kasper Gutman: “Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously, unless you keep in practice.”—The Maltese Falcon.

20. “Sarban’s The Sound of his Horn,” here, reprinted in his Pulp Fascism (Counter-Currents, 2013).


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  1. Jaego
    Posted November 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Stapledon was a very great mind verging on mysticism, but without contact with Tradition. Mysticism and Materialism make very strange bedfellows and his God is unworthy of the name. Immortality becomes just a vision of this fickle Being with the consolation prize of living a very long time. Somehow God is Spirit but people are not. Wilson also shares this anti-metaphysical Metaphysic and comes to bizarre conclusions of his own – many taken whole cloth from his guru Leary.

    An enjoyable essay but the wink wink nudge nudge factor approached cardive dyskinesia. But applying it to the Jews? Genius. Might disagree about Lovecraft. Yes, a better writer but very, very narrow, only excelling in the realm of the alien and outré. Stapledon is a great Humanist with broad sympathy into the human condition and personality. This juxtaposes nicely with the cosmic encounters his characters encounter. This is particularly strong in Odd John and even more so in Sirius which I actually found moving. An unusual experience with science fiction or fantasy.

    • Posted November 12, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Lovecraft definitely lacks the ‘human touch’. He almost reminds me of Baron Corvo in that people seem to be just surfaces to him, beautiful or ugly, but just surfaces. Surprisingly, it doesn’t show up in his correspondence; I wonder if it was an act or pose he thought more suited to ‘fine writing’?

      Actually, I’ve started to read Odd John, choosing at random from the Kindle set, and I agree, it’s very different than LFM or Flames, much more involving one in the character’s lives, almost picaresque.

  2. Posted November 14, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    This is a delightfully brilliant interpretation of “The Flames”, which I had read some years ago and completely missed. As such, it forms a tremendous parable of the astonished malaise that has overtaken and captivated the world’s population, revealing that political correctness is really a fear of thinking for oneself, which in our confusion, we adopt to our own detriment. I’ve always regarded Stapledon’s “Star Maker” as the best sci-fi book I ever read, but my hat’s off to the author who has analyzed “The Flames” in such a meaningful and relevant way.

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    Though We Be Dead, Yet Our Day Will Come

    White Like You

    The Homo and the Negro, Second Edition

    Numinous Machines

    Venus and Her Thugs


    North American New Right, vol. 2

    You Asked For It

    More Artists of the Right

    Extremists: Studies in Metapolitics


    The Importance of James Bond

    In Defense of Prejudice

    Confessions of a Reluctant Hater (2nd ed.)

    The Hypocrisies of Heaven

    Waking Up from the American Dream

    Green Nazis in Space!

    Truth, Justice, and a Nice White Country

    Heidegger in Chicago

    The End of an Era

    Sexual Utopia in Power

    What is a Rune? & Other Essays

    Son of Trevor Lynch's White Nationalist Guide to the Movies

    The Lightning & the Sun

    The Eldritch Evola

    Western Civilization Bites Back

    New Right vs. Old Right

    Lost Violent Souls

    Journey Late at Night: Poems and Translations

    The Non-Hindu Indians & Indian Unity

    Baader Meinhof ceramic pistol, Charles Kraaft 2013

    Jonathan Bowden as Dirty Harry

    The Lost Philosopher, Second Expanded Edition

    Trevor Lynch's A White Nationalist Guide to the Movies

    And Time Rolls On

    The Homo & the Negro

    Artists of the Right

    North American New Right, Vol. 1

    Some Thoughts on Hitler

    Tikkun Olam and Other Poems

    Under the Nihil

    Summoning the Gods

    Hold Back This Day

    The Columbine Pilgrim

    Confessions of a Reluctant Hater

    Taking Our Own Side

    Toward the White Republic

    Distributed Titles


    The Node

    The New Austerities

    Morning Crafts

    The Passing of a Profit & Other Forgotten Stories

    Gold in the Furnace