Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Sucking Pit

Despite the crappy state of the world, it can't be all bad when a special edition of Guy N. Smith's The Sucking Pit sees publication.

As usual, it's art to the rescue. It's art that reminds us that life should not be measured by the poor quality of our political leaders and their selfish decisions. It's art that reminds us that there is more to life than bank accounts, bills, and smarmy bean counters who possess not an atom of creativity and make no contribution whatsoever to the betterment of our souls. It's art, thank Christ!, that makes bearable our ascent from darkness, brief tango with the light, and inevitable return to darkness. It's the in-betweeners that count.

For mine, The Sucking Pit, courtesy of Britain's unofficial national treasure, Guy N. Smith, is one of the greatest pulp titles ever dreamed; since it first publication in '75, few have evoked as much wonder, dread, debauchery, and Cimmerian mystery as this.

During my weekly visit to Melbourne's The Bookshop of Charles Dickens, Guy's little horror classic spied me through the heavily laden shelves. It drew me to a corner of the store where a smattering of NEL (New English Library) paperbacks were gathering in greater numbers. I'd noted their increase over the preceding months and was encouraged. It always made me happy to see darkness baking in fluorescent flight.

There's a lot of sucking going on in The Sucking Pit. The deep, dark bog of Hopwas Woods sucks. It pulls its victims down into its bubbling clutches and buries them forever. Jenny Lawson, the niece of the local woodsman, does some sucking, too, and various men fall into her carnal clutches. The thirteen year old me fell instantly in love with Jenny, the quiet girl turned sexually carnivorous by something deep in the bottomless pit.

The stunning Jenny Lawson, so brilliantly realized by artist Rick Melton you 
can practically smell her heavenly scent.

Mr. Smith does the British countryside like no other author.   He feels it, breathes it, ruts in it, and conveys it like few wordsmiths can. The sense of place in The Sucking Pit is potent, dangerous, exciting, and his mingling of place with people -- people whose lives he smells! -- is masterful.

To be honest, I've spent a great deal of my life defending Mr. Smith to horror high-brows. When I was younger, I gave too much a of a shit, and I'd attempt quite feebly, I recall, to sing his praises as one of the finest pulp writers to ever hammer a typewriter. Now it matters not whether these folks opt to discount my opinion of Guy for their loss is their own personal tragedy, and probably indicative of other adventures denied. There is room in this world for many voices, and few are as unique as that of Mr. Smith. His canon of work is extraordinary.

As a young schoolboy, merely owning The Sucking Pit put a spring in my step. Even the school bully (S. Beach), who'd turn his eyeballs inside out to get a rise from terrified underlings, sat in reverent silence one Winter lunchtime with his uneaten sandwiches as I read him several passages from the book. He, too, succumbed to the carnal charms of Jenny Lawson and the dark pleasures of the pit, and never punched me in the shoulder again. Several months later, I spotted him reading a copy of Mr. Smith's Night of the Crabs. That dear bully had made good.

My mother had noticed me reading and re-reading The Sucking Pit. It was a type of bible for me, validating that which was deemed invalid by parents and educators. I guess she never concentrated on the title until I found her holding the book one night. She'd just been washing the dishes, so I feared soap smears.

"What is this?" she said.

"A book."

"I know it's a book." Her tone was ultra-terse. "What type of book exactly?"

"A horror book."

She was unconvinced. "With a title like that? It doesn't sound like horror to me. Sounds more like--"


I loved hearing her say it.

She looked at the book again. The screaming face of a fanged monster looked back.

"Well, I don't think it's something you should be reading." Now I panicked because she made as if to walk off with the book. My Sucking Pit!

"It's a horror book. It's about people being sucked into the ground."

She hesitated, sprinkling a little hope my way.

"Come on, mum. It's not about that other type of sucking."

"EXCUSE ME?" Her face reddened.

"I said it's just a horror book."

She looked at it once more, looked at me (what did I know about that OTHER type of sucking?!), then read out loud: "The dark bog that hid a thousand evil secrets..."

I nodded.

"This had better be just a horror book." She put the book back on my bedhead. "Now go to bed. No reading."

The new edition, from Hard Gore Press (Mansion House Books), is a compact beast of beauty, a celebration of a fine pulp apostle and his signature work. The presentation, quality, and choice of art is superb.  

For me, Rick Melton's cover illustration perfectly captures the raw horror and carnality of Mr. Smith's humble opus; it is images like these (brilliantly realized) that have remained with me since my first discovery of The Sucking Pit at the age of thirteen.

Inside the covers you will find three black and white renderings that justify the cover price alone. This is spun gold!

Collector's Editions are limited to 400. Mine is #22.

Guy N. Smith lives!, and may he live long, prosper, and plunder our imaginations.


As a filmmaker, the one book I would love to make and would do justice to is The Sucking Pit
I feel that I have always understood it -- perhaps even before I was born.


  1. jervaise brooke hamsterAugust 30, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    The picture of the bird is perfection, like a bird celebrating her 18th birthday, at the absolute pinnacle and peak of her physical attractiveness and desirability.

  2. jervaise brooke hamsterAugust 30, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Phantom, once again i have to say that your mother's reaction to the book is just more evidence of how hideously sexually repressed the 1970`s really were.

  3. "darkness baking in fluorescent light" - Sir, you have outdone yourself. I know you were trying to sound lurid, but that is a phrase worthy of nabakov or Joyce. The contrast, the juxtapositioning, the simple participle verb to connect the subject and object - home run.

  4. Mac -- Thank you, Mac. I'm doubly humbled by your comments (considering you're a very decent writer yourself).


    hamster -- yes, and yes.

  5. This will be the fourth book I've purchased because of your recommendations. You're 3 for 3 so far. :) Thanks, Pulp.

  6. Milkman -- 3 out of 3 ain't bad. What were the books you've liked? I'm curious.

  7. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 1, 2011 at 8:03 PM

    The screaming bird looks a bit like a cross between Angelina Jolie and Linda Hamilton.

  8. Phantom, it was Hautala's Moon Death, Ekeroth's Swedish Cinema book, and the stunning Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky.

  9. Milky -- Three XLNT choices. So happy that I could recommend something (or 3) that resonated with you. Yes, the "Atlas" is stunning; one of the most evocative books I've ever read. Unique.

  10. Hell, I just hope you don't get sick of me thanking you.

    I'm with you entirely. I actually had this show-cased on my coffee-table for a while. That is, until a friend used it as a coaster. She was damn lucky there wasn't a ring stain. Damn, damn lucky. :)

  11. Diary -- never tire of being thanked. A "friend" used the atlas as a coaster? That's disrespect to the power of 50. I'm sure she would have ended up as a stain on the floor had there been a stain. Talk about dodging a bullet!

  12. Hahaa...that near fatal folly of hers actually raised me out of my sitting position to boot! Nothing good is gained from when a man is unnecessarily forced from his leisure...well, maybe a couple things.

  13. Diary -- few things are gained...few.