Recently, I’ve been enjoying a series of books sent to me that feature the artwork and, namely, the extensive research of my friend Wm Michael Mott. The particular titles I’ve been plowing through include Caverns Cauldrons and Concealed Creatures and This Tragic Earth: The Art and World of Richard Sharpe Shaver, as well as two of Mike’s fiction offerings, Pulp Winds: Pulse Pounding Adventures in Fiction and Verse and The Pulsifer Saga: Omnibus Edition, all of which are available for sale at Mike’s Website.
Mike’s imagination and intellect extend beyond just the realms of scholarly research, and the mysteries of this world only seem to have provoked musings in his own mind that have resulted in the fanciful tales he spins in the latter of these four books. However, I first came to know Mike as a researcher of Hollow Earth mysteries–namely the stories told by Richard Shaver and later published by editor Ray Palmer in Amazing Stories in the 1940s and ’50s–which dealt with a race of beings that exist in hollow caverns under the Earth. This represents a sort of folkloric element that taps in to devils, demons, and a host of anti-humans that dwell in dark recesses of this planet where minds have wandered (if not also the occasional explorer) for centuries in search of their greatest fears.
Far too often, the study of anomalous subterranean mysteries are overlooked in the research that seeks to clarify the unexplained and occult mysteries of this “Tragic Earth” (to borrow Shaver’s term). In Caverns, Cauldrons, and Concealed Creatures, Mott takes a Fortean look at folklore throughout history and weaves it together with factual reports of others ranging from diminutive human-like dwarfs and hair-covered creatures, to serpentine monsters that are commonplace in both Arthurian and legends of classical swashbuckling and romance, as well deep freshwater lakes the world over. Stranger reports of amphibian-like Earth-dwellers and “faceless” aliens from underground bases pick at the mind, evoking images the likes of those that appear in classics like Etidorpha. Mott writes, “Cryptid critters, UFO phenomena, and other creepy varmints seem to have a definite connection with the underworld, as do unusual human beings of “outlandish” or “foreign” appearance. The very nature of the rapid appearance and disappearance of such beings would indicate that not only caverns, but land-locked bodies of water, oceans, old cellars, mineshafts, train tunnels, bridges (over hidden water or land entrances?), sewer systems (particularly older ones) may have a definite connection to such things.”
And indeed, when considering reports of “high strangeness” the likes of Bigfoot encounters, as well as real life reports of gnomes, trolls, and smallish monsters the likes of a Tolkien novel, perhaps no better theory could be offered. As strange as this world is, it is also riddled with hints of things that exist in the periphery of human consciousness. This Tragic Earth: The Art and World of Richard Sharpe Shaver takes a look at the “art” of the man credited with first bringing knowledge to the public of an underground domain inhabited by what he called “detrimental (emphasis on the mental) robots” and proto-human mutants that sought enjoyment by torturing slaves kidnapped from the world above. Aside from his fantastic revelations of the subterranean kind, Shaver was also frequently associated with his “rock art.” Mott explains, “The material in this book, for the most part, was sent to Ray Palmer. There was the book itself, This Tragic Earth, along with a packet of photos of sliced pieces of rock, through which Shaver had exposed light onto photographic paper.” In essence, Shaver had claimed that this unique process he had created revealed secret messages contained within rocks he dug from the Earth which indicated ancient feats of wisdom and technology by ancient civilizations that once inhabited the planet. Though most of the imagery Shaver included in his “rock books” only vaguely resembled the sorts of pictographs he was able to discern from them, Shaver nonetheless is revered today in fringe art and occult knowledge circles for his unique practices, masterfully compiled in Mott’s re-issue of the author’s masterpiece.
Arguably (though it may come as a surprise to those who know my scholarly pursuits), the two books I’ve recently read by Mott for review here have been his fantasy works. Pulp Winds: Pulse Pounding Adventures in Fiction and Verse is a collection of stories (and even a bit of occasional poetry that ties together the realms of Shaver’s underworld with Lovecraft’s occult mythos; altogether peppered with inflections of Jules Verne and Robert E. Howard where characters like the semi-human Adlans and the familiar Shuggoths creep their way through the haunting “Cask of Ages,” co-authored with Gerald W. Page who notes in the introduction that, “Mike has brought not only his considerable talent to bear on this story, but his insight into the fiction of both Shaver and Lovecraft. It is a much better story than it would have been had I written it alone.” Page’s glowing acknowledgments aren’t the only endorsements he recevies; the well known and acclaimed author of all things esoteric, Brad Steiger, also contributed an introduction segment. Steiger, also a fan of classic pulp-fiction, says that Mott is “making reading short stories fun once again,” describing the colorful wording in Mott’s stories as a cauldron of time and space that allows “the days of fast-paced adventure fiction to be restored to the exalted pillars of imagination on which they deserve to reside.” This is true; and the choice wording that often entails “color” so often used by those who read an enjoy Mott’s unique brand of fiction are correct in more ways than once, since the Pulp Winds anthology is also peppered with Mike’s exotic, sometimes even avant garde depictions of strange, far-away lands inhabited by creatures nearly unimaginable.
And yet, amidst all the fantastic meanderings of Mott’s mind present within his fiction, perhaps the most enduring (and at times endearing) character featured throughout his “Mottimorphic mythos” is none other than Calim Pulsifer, the roguish vagabond traveler featured throughout the two-novel edition of The Pulsifer Saga: Omnibus Edition. Short sword at his side and hunger in his belly, the outlandish traveler and master thief manages to find his way into the most terrifying and involved encounters with mages, monsters and demiurges (extra-dimensional beings which even the smartest thieves shouldn’t smart off at). Whether it be devouring the pig-like young of monstrous devils and lying about the deed, feeding aphrodisiacs to wizards and tossing them to cannibalistic sub-humans in heat, or setting rampaging wood-ogres ablaze while escaping into the cavernous underneaths of Zev Grotto and Lunkin Karst, Pulsifer “The Velvet Knife” still manages to endear himself to the reader, all the while shooting himself repeatedly in the foot. Such unconventional characterization of a leading character brings Mott to the forefront of a unique brand of fantasy and science fiction that appeals to the inkling Tolkien or Lewis or Salvatore in any of us, appreciated just as well as the given Burroughs, Lovecraft, or Verne fans would do.
The final word: These books come highly-recommended to both Fortean scholars and fantasy readers alike, and by spinning the intricacies of both these paths to insight, William Michael Mott manages to capture something so few have done before or since–appeal to both fiction and non-fiction readers. Enjoy his work, but above all, learn from his studies in supernatural lore, and if anything, don’t end up like his anti-hero Pulsifer so often does!
To purchase books by Wm Michael Mott and learn about his many published works, visit his website.by