H.P. Lovecraft’s Christmas Writing Podcast

Let’s listen to all of HP Lovecraft’s Christmas poetry and his one story set at Christmas time, “The Festival.” I got help from YOU, the good people of Weird Christmas Town!

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HPL and Felis, his friend Frank Belmont’s cat.

Thanks in particular to my friend Lisa who read most of the Christmas notes and Kris Rhodes who read the scary one. Kris is also a poet in his own right (better than Lovecraft), and you can buy his book Brroop at Amazon here.

And thanks to the following followers for following and for reading on the podcast:

You can read Lovecraft’s poetry here and here if you really want to dwell on the stuff. And here’s a link to the full text of “The Festival.”

The carol at the beginning, “The World in Terror and Madness Lies,” was made by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, and all of their great tunes are on youtube and available for sale at the HPLHS site.

I shamelessly stole a bit of “The Call of Cthulhu” from Garrick Hagon on youtube. But his is my favorite version that costs less than money.

The cheery music at the end is by the Supraphonics, and you’ll hear more from them soon. Great surf-music Christmas stuff.

Listen! Subscribe! And please dear god love a review for chrissakes because what else do you have to do!?!?

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Feline Fright

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Oh, I avoid them all right.

I’m repeating myself, but it can’t be said enough: I don’t like cats. I’ve explained why before because people really like the cat cards. And I don’t.

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Look at that smug bastard. Taking advantage of little kids! Nice! Asshole…

That’s a natural problem at Halloween because of ye old ubiquitous black cat. Let me say, though, if any of you actually think black cats are naturally evil, don’t be an idiot who makes life awful for animal shelters around Halloween. Attempts to adopt black cats specifically to torture them actually go up around this time of year. People suck, even more than cats.

But even cat lovers have to agree that some of these things are just plain wrong.

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This cat aids and abets evil.

It’s not always that they’re doing weird or creepy things. Sometimes, it’s just that sense that they’re planning something bad for you.

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We would like to eat you while you sleep.

And I can’t decide if it’s worse when you actually see them in the process of gathering an army to carry out your destruction.

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No! Do not sing! You sing of our doom!

Sometimes, though, there’s just this sense of feline insanity that comes through a few of the images.

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Our destiny is to scratch and kill!

Sometimes it’s the feline killer instinct that doesn’t even fear the otherworldly horrific supernatural.

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“I’ll cut you, demon-spawn animate pumpkin thing!”

Sometimes it’s simple murderous rage.

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Those pumpkin people are about to see their own seedy insides.

And sometimes, it’s the sheer terror of the unknown happening inside their tiny, furry bodies that makes me fear the darkness.

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Even the drum knows this is wrong.

You know what…it’s just too much. Here. Just…here. Look upon your end.

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Let’s end on a high note, though. One less cat…

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“Over the Garden Wall” and Vintage Postcards

[First, please, if you haven’t seen Over the Garden Wall and you like my site, make it a point to watch it before October 31. It’s my favorite Halloween special, even more than It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! It’s also one of my favorite animations of any kind — simply wonderful in every way.]

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Over the Garden Wall earns its charm from a mix of nostalgia, mystery, and humor. Those are the same things I love about vintage postcards. I didn’t make that connection the first time I saw the miniseries.

But the next year when I was browsing through my old Halloween cards, it hit me how similar a lot of the images used in OTGW were to the things I share.

Then I finally watched “Tome of the Unknown,” the first pilot made by Patrick McHale (creator) and Nick Cross (art director). I saw old John Crops and his vegetable/fruit car, and I knew it couldn’t just be a coincidence.

 

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The shape of the cut in the watermelon, the multiple layers for seats, the cucumber wheels, the gourds/headlight/mirror-things, even the way they turned the stem into a crank, I mean even the camera/viewpoint angle: it was a plain match. And that’s a pretty popular card, too — so much that people have even made actual models of it — so it’s no stretch that McHale had seen it.

Then The Art of Over the Garden Wall came out, and it confirmed what was pretty obvious by this point: McHale had used a lot of these old cards even back when he was pitching the show.

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Christ Tsirgiotis called them weird! He knows my name!

Some episodes show a stronger influence than others. And that makes sense since each one is supposed to be a different mini-adventure in a different part of the Unknown. But now I had a project: I went through my collection to find examples of the kinds of things McHale might have had in mind for different parts of the show. And I was thrilled by how much I found.

Please know that I’m not at all suggesting they somehow “stole” these ideas. The show is intentionally borrowing from all kinds of old styles and moods and reproducing them in this new world. Plus, as Art of… makes plain, by the time anything actually made it onto the screen, it had been through a host of concept artists, storyboarders, animators, and freelancers, so to suggest than any one idea came specifically from one source is ludicrous.

But to it. I don’t have cards relating to every episode, but I’m still looking. And if anyone else has good finds, please let me know (weirdxmas@gmail.com).

 

“The Tome of the Unkown” (Pilot)

I already mentioned the car, but John Crops himself is a throwback to a really popular trope of vegetable people that you can find all over old postcards and turn of the century advertisements.

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The folk in the “big city” and the band entertaining them also fit the bill.

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There are hundreds if not thousands of these vegetable and fruit people out there.

And, of course, John Crops’ new love is a pretty dead ringer for these folk, too.

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Series Intro/Outro

The montages at the beginning and end of the series have a few nods to the old cards. The one that hits closest, though, is the turkey wagon:

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I swear there’s a card out there showing two turkeys pulling a wagon of pumpkins, but for the life of me I can’t find it.

Now (spoiler, I guess), in the final outro, we find out that Enoch, the pumpkin leader guy from the second episode, is actually a black cat, probably the one driving the pumpkins up above. But he pops up out of the Enoch pumpkin.

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Whatever else we think that means in terms of fan theories, it’s an idea that’s all over the cards. And, granted, black cats and pumpkins are pretty standard Halloween images, so it’s no surprise they’re matched up. But just take a look at a few of these:

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Something about cats being in charge of pumpkins or having some kind of dominance over them is definitely a trend. And, for some reason, this one just makes me think of Enoch:

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Something about the sense of control is very Enoch.

 

“The Old Grist Mill” (Episode 1)

The first episode doesn’t have much to do with the old cards, but I think it’s odd how similar Wirt’s hat is to this card that’s always bugged me. Plus, with the whole anthropomorphized black cat thing with Enoch…who knows?

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Otherwise, I feel the first episode pretty much has its own vibe.

 

“Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” (Episode 2)

McHale says that this is one of the first episodes that they produced, despite airing second, so it makes sense that it probably owes most to the postcards for its mood.

First, many of the older Halloween cards (and often the Thanksgiving ones) try to create a nostalgic sense of early rural American autumn. The cornfield, the barn, and even the empty field where Wirt has to dig at the end all have a generally similar feel to the mood that many of the cards are going for.

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Background from “Hard Times…” (Art of OTGW)

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Granted, it’s a bit generic. But, still, the general pastoral feel of the whole thing fits.

But the strongest connection is of course the pumpkin people of Pottsfield. And Nick Cross says that many of them were straight from the cards:

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Enoch’s pumpkin is definitely a “painted-on” pumpkin instead of a carved jack-o-lantern, and the citizens are a mix of paint and carved. But the one guy that just smacks me in the face as so close to one of the cards is this one:

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Lots of pictures of people carving pumpkins, but the pose and placement of this is too perfect.

For the others, “pumpkin people” were all over the Halloween cards. The thing that makes the connection to the Pottsfield people closer than just a pumpkin head, though, are the arms and legs that seem sometimes like wrapped limbs of hay.

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The faces in these are more painted on than carved.

There’s also this fun similarity with the pumpkin/cat dance:

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There’s also a moment that goes by so fast, it easy to miss: two pumpkins are peeling apples, and then they throw the peels over their shoulders. But they’re not just throwing the peels on the ground. There was an old Halloween party game where you could find out the identity of your future lover by peeling apples and throwing them on the ground. It was a big theme of many of the old cards, and I wrote about it here. But these two pumpkin-lovers are obviously playing this game with each other:

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“Listen, Little One! On Hallowe’en, throw an Apple Peeling over your shoulder and if it spells ‘kiss’ go to it. Its bound to work, girls. Any old thing looks like kiss to the right fellow if the time, place, and the girl are there.”

Enoch in his full costume also looks a bit like a few cards that put a pumpkin head on top of big stalk of, I assume, corn:

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On top of that, there are just a bunch of old, weird cards out there that seem Pottsfield-esque.

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“Heaven and How to Get There.” This one I can’t help but find connections with…

 

“Schooltown Follies” (Episode 3)

According to Art of…, “Schooltown Follies” draws inspiration from a lot of different sources: “There was a lot of talk about Our Gang, Anne of Green Gables, and Shirley Temple while making this episode” (101). McHale also mentions Dogville Comedies, old shorts made with real dogs in human clothes. And Richard Scarry’s childrens’ books are also pretty clear analogues.

That said, there are still a few old cards that show similar things:

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The compliments of the Season. Victorian Christmas card

I would love to find a card with potatoes and molasses on it, tho…

“Songs of the Dark Lantern” (Episode 4)

This episode is another that’s doing something quite different from the vibe of most of the old cards. But I did come across one thing that I couldn’t help but compare the Highwayman.

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Probably not. But, still, the weird angles and dancing oddness of the card…

 

“Mad Love” (Episode 5)

On this one, I have to admit that I’ve come up blank. McHale says that it began as a dream he’d had, and I’ll leave it at that.

 

“Lullaby in Frogland” (Episode 6)

McHale mentions an odd stop-motion video called Frogland as one of the main inspirations for this episode. But anthropomorphic frogs were a huge part of the old postcards, something I’ve talked about before. I also know that he posted an image from the McLoughlin Brothers company on his twitter awhile back, saying that their style was a big influence on this episode.

But there are so many cards showing frogs in fancy dress and/or playing instruments that it can’t hurt to share a few here.

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“The Ringing of the Bell” (Episode 7)

Auntie Whispers is my favorite character of the series. I actually think she’s a nod to Studio Ghibli and Spirited Away in particular (Yubaba), something that this video brings up as well.

But there are a couple of cards that just seem like Auntie to me, whether or not they had anything to do with her.

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There are also a few “hearth” cards that seem a bit like Whispers’ house.

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If only I could find old cards with small, black turtles…

“Babes in the Wood” (Episode 8)

Most of this episode was a nod to an old sentimental opera about children lost in the woods. It came back in animation as Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy and the Silly Symphony short Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

But one small detail is straight from the old postcards: the disembodied angel heads.

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And there are indeed a ton of cherubs that are depicted on these cards as completely disembodied heads with wings.

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“Into the Unknown” (Episode 9)

Since this episode is a flashback to the “real” world, there’s not much nostalgia for early Americana going on (or at least pre-70s/80s). However, on the DVD commentary, McHale says that they modeled a bunch of the kids’ Halloween costumes on images of old costumes they found online (and I’ve posted my share here). He mentions the egg girl’s costume in particular, and I’m pretty sure this is the one he means:

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“The Unknown” (Episode 10)

Dare I say it? I don’t have anything for this one. This episode is its own beast…

 

Wrap Up

Were the postcards’ influence necessary to the mood of the show? As much as I’d love to say yes, I don’t think so. The throwback nods are even more about old cartoons and animation styles, but the mood and oddities in the cards were certainly part of the atmosphere that McHale was trying to create from the beginning. Personally, I was thrilled to find two things that grab me match up so well. And, one day, if McHale or Cross ever read this, I’d love to know if they still have those cards and which ones they actually looked at during production.

Until then, though, if anyone else finds something simliar, please let me know. Comment or email me at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

 

 

Fine. Tons of Cats. You win.

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It’s just some cats with holly.

I’ll fill this with cat cards so you’ll keep reading. But I hate cats.

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It’s just a cat in a boot.

That’s no surprise to people who tell me I need to stop being so mean about cards that have cats. But I have my reasons. A few points:

First, be grateful I post them at all. You’re sick, and I harbor guilt and shame for enabling you.

Second, cats have no souls or inner goodness and don’t deserve respect, so your outrage is fundamentally misplaced.

Third…ok, maybe I should just explain where all this ire comes from. It’s a good story, so settle in.

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This one’s been shared on Tumblr over 500 times. I don’t get it.

After college, I “babysat” an ex-girlfriend’s cat for a weekend. The cat and I had never been on the best of terms to start. It was one of those semi-house cats that would disappear for days because she always let it out in the morning. She never worried if it stayed out for a night and showed up again sometime the next day. Once, it was gone for over a week, and only showed up once we’d gotten around to printing up flyers for the apartment complex (and this was before everyone had their own color printer, so it was an expensive and time-consuming ordeal).

To me, that’s just selfish ingratitude, and I always thought the thing was stuck-up.

But even when it was around, it would jump on me and hang on for no good reason, and it’s claws were sharper than other cats’ claws, or at least that’s how it felt when it was cramming its toe-razors into my thigh.

It also smelled like a cat. And by “cat” I mean urine. I blame the ex-girlfriend for that, more than the cat, I guess.

But any of that is ultimately forgiveable and no reason for hate. I accept that. But then…oh, then. Let me change tenses for no good reason:

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The kittens did not write that poem. If you like cats, you might need that spelled out.

It’s the weekend I’m supposed to watch the cat, and I bring Cuddles (not its name) to my small one bedroom apartment, not really knowing what to expect. It seems a bit peeved at first, but we stay out of each other’s way. I feed it extra treats to make sure it knows I want a truce, and it pays me back by sleeping all day while I write. Things seem to settle into mutual, quiet disdain.

Around bedtime, I realize I hadn’t quite thought this through. At my girlfriend’s apartment, it would sleep on the bed with her. But it never liked it when I stayed over and would always paw at me in the middle of the night. (That was one reason I didn’t stay over that often, which is probably one extra nail in the relationship coffin.) But it’s my apartment, and I don’t share my bed with creatures. I make sure it has a very cozy pile of blankets in the corner it’s been hanging out in all day in the front room, and close the bedroom door.

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I don’t get this. No one gets this.

That lasts maybe five minutes. Then the scratching begins. And the mewing. This cat had wanted nothing to do with me all day long when I could have given it attention, and now, when I shut the door, it’s lonely. But it’s a creature, right, and it will get bored…right? No. I last maybe 15 minutes before I open the door and resign myself to a night of bad sleep.

Of course it hops on the bed and waits for me to nod off before it starts pawing at my leg, using just enough claw to cut through the blankets and sheet.

We wage a battle of silent wills until it finally curls up and leaves me alone. I’ve won, I think. So I sleep.

…for maybe three hours. And then it happens.

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This is literally just a picture of a cat with some Christmas-y words.

Around 2 in the morning, I hear a cat sound. Not a regular meow, although it’s obviously coming from a cat. But this meow is something deeper, something angry. And I’m groggy, the room is dark but hazy because of moonglow shining in off the snow. I hear the sound again, this time quieter, and I can’t see the damn cat. It’s not on the bed. I roll over to look over the bed and underneath…no cat. But I hear it once more, this time with a hiss.

I lay back down, sleepy and pissed, and look up…and see two yellow spots with black dagger-slits, things that careless people who can’t recognize windows to a true soul might call “eyes,” suspended some three or feet above my face, hanging in mid air.

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At least they slapped a festive collar on this one.

Understand that I was in grad school with no spare cash. The only things I had to decorate my apartment were left over posters from dorm rooms, books, and this one huge printed wall hanging that was basically a sheet with some cheap, trippy bad-head-shop fractal crap I’d picked up for next to nothing. That’s what hung behind my bed in lieu of a bedstand.

And right in the middle, somewhere above my head and below the ceiling, is the cat, hanging on that sheet. Upside down. Head looking straight down at me, teeth barred, and angry like Krampus on a humid April day.

How long had that goblin been hanging there, looking at me? What made it want to climb the goddam wall in the first place? Why right above my sleeping, defenseless head? The only conceivable reason was to create precisely this reaction in me, to bring about this panic, to crawl inside my comfort zone and blast it to pieces like a pipebomb. The only reason for what I’m staring at is hateful, spiteful evil.

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It’s a cat. What?

I scramble up, throw a pillow at the thing, and panic because it had jumped off, and now I can’t see it. But I can hear it. The sound of hissing moves around the room in irrational ways. And the moonlight off the snow upsets my vision, so I can’t focus. I stumble around, finally turning on the lights, and I see it sprint into the other room.

I only have one option. I open the front door and wait for it to leave. I wasn’t staying in the same walls with that creature. Hell, I wasn’t gonna breathe in the same room as that thing. It would find its way back to the girlfriend eventually, and any lie I had to tell about how it had gotten out would be a small price to pay to escape the evil demon hovering above my head while I slept. I finally see it sprint out into the moonlight, not even glancing back.

Although I finally got back to sleep, I woke up once thinking I heard a scratching outside my window. I didn’t bother to check because I was afraid it would be spelling something out like “Tuna fish or die!” or “REDRUM!” in the snow.

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Cats kill Krampus. Is that what you want? Pets killing beloved Christmas icons?

But that sealed it. Cats torment humans. It’s their purpose. All the cuteness is a show, and you’ve all been fooled and suckered. So I’ll keep posting these cards in the hopes that one day you’ll see through the facade and face the truth. And I’ll keep posting them for myself because, to me, they’re scarier than any image of Krampus ever will be, and, I admit, I’m a horror fan. So please realize that when I post cards with cute little cats on them, I’m posting that which is the spawn of all evil as far as I know it. When I post a cat, I’m posting a reflection of Satan’s soul. If you think it’s cute, that’s your problem.

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This is not cute. It’s evil waiting to pounce.