Saturday, December 4, 2010

Inspirational Reading: Charles Fort

So, by the damned, I mean the excluded.
But by the excluded I mean that which will some day be the excluding.
Or everything that is, won't be.
And everything that isn't, will be --
But, of course, will be that which won't be --
It is our expression that the flux between that which isn't and that which won't be, or the state that is commonly and absurdly called "existence," is a rhythm of heavens and hells: that the damned won't stay damned; that salvation only precedes perdition. The inference is that some day our accursed tatterdemalions will be sleek angels. Then the sub-inference is that some later day, back they'll go whence they came.
By Charles Fort
Charles Hoy Fort (6 August 1874 – 3 May 1932)
An original skeptic and daring researcher into things that most polite people would just as well ignore, avoid or never bother with beyond casual dinner conversation regarding curiosities or vague, unexplained marvels. Fort dared to go where few before him had tread, and he blazed a trail that remains an impressive and influential monument to his (sometimes questioned) talent, ambition and persistence in his pursuit of Damned Things and More Damned Things.

A contemporary of Ripley (the Believe It Or Not guy), Fort was a serious, studious diligent collector of facts. His interest in the outre and bizarre was driven by his desire to correlate all the known facts and then apply the scientific method to them to find some answers. He wasn't out collecting specimens for his own personal freak show. Fort wasn't a showman like Barnum, Ripley or Symmes. He was one of the very first anti-establishment independent scholar-investigators who delved into the paranormal before it was even called the paranormal.  To this day anomalous and bizarre phenomena are named after Fort as being Fortean in nature, not Barnumean or Ripleyean.

Fort wrote 10 novels in his early days. Only one got published and it was rather lackluster in terms of overall sales, so his fiction writing went into a steep decline—he almost had a pair of novels published in the early 1900s thanks to Theodore Dreiser, but when the deal fell through, Fort burned the manuscripts. The first one was the Novel X, in which Fort formulated what has since become called the Zoo Hypothesis in his unpublished manuscript novel X.  He described how Martians actually controlled all  life on Earth. There is only one surviving quote from this lost manuscript and it  is: "The Earth is a farm. We are someone else's property."  Remember, this was in 1915.  Before such a sentiment was widely adopted and mangled by various hack pulp authors.

The second burned manuscript, Novel Y, dealt with a malevolent lost civilization at the South Pole.  Hmmm...where have we heard about something like that before?  It would have been very interesting to have had a chance to see just what Fort wrote on these two weird and outrageous concepts.  It could very well have changed the history of the pulps if he had only submitted them to Scithers, Gernsback or Campbell...but Fort really and truly was a man ahead of his time.  Oh, but Fort's Lo! was serialized in Astounding Stories in 1934 by Campbell's predecessor F. Orlin Tremane.  It really stirred-up the science fiction community.  You can read more about that here in an excellent article that I can't recommend highly enough.

Charles Fort is one of my personal heroes.  He was, in many respects the Clark Ashton Smith of the Paranormal.  Below are a few links to help you discover more about this incredible pioneer and dauntless explorer into the weird, the uncanny, the damned (or rather scientifically excluded).

 A Thoroughly Unscientific Selection of Charles Fort Online Biographies

Some Charles Fort Links

Some of Charles Fort's Books Online
You can also find a nice set of Charles Fort's works at the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, which would have amused him to no end, no doubt.

Sailing the Super Sargasso Sea
Aside from the Zoo Hypothesis, Fort also wrote about his theory of a "Super Sargasso Sea" that was an extradimensional catch-bin for all of the things that spontaneously disappear from our world.  One really well done analysis of Fort's Super Sargasso Sea hypothesis is an entry at the Blather site titles Super Sargasso Surfing.  The Blather site in general is well worth exploring as well.  Another site that explains the Super Sargasso Sea fairly well is this entry at Paranormal Web, another good Fort-related online resource.

Some Food For Thought From Mister Fort
  • "If any spiritualistic medium can do stunts, there is no more need for special conditions than there is for a chemist to turn down lights, start operations with a hymn, and ask whether there's any chemical present that has affinity with something named Hydrogen."  From: Lo!
This quote from Fort demands to be adapted to some sort of RPG setting--either some quasi-Victorian steampunk science-conjurer or perhaps as the modus operandi of the cultic remnants of scientific mumbo-jumbo priesthood in some post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Chemical seances--now that'd be something weird to encounter in some alchemist's lab...especially if the intruders disrupted the alchemedium's wards and unleashed unpleasant spirits of ammonia or whatever...

  • "Do you want power over something? Be more nearly real than it."
Here lies the pulsing heart of Warren Ellis-style Fictomancy in a nutshell.  By becoming more real than others, you gain power over them.  Elementals need not be literally real, in fact it is probably far more effective if they are distinctly unreal, for a sorcerer to gain control over them.  That essentially subverts the cherished notions of a lot of gamers, authors and the like, but it also opens the doorway to a lot of far more interesting options than the tired old rehashing of Aristotlean theories of elemental planes, etc.  Of course, if those notions are not real, then they would become fodder for an enterprising sorcerer to make use of...which both eliminates and integrates these ideas simultaneously.  Very surreal.  The use of fictional constructs as part of a sorcerer's repertoire really appeals to me and it definitely has a place in both Riskail and Zalchis...just differently is all.
  • Witchcraft always has a hard time, until it becomes established and changes its name. We hear much of the conflict between science and religion, but our conflict is with both of these. Science and religion always have agreed in opposing and suppressing the various witchcrafts. Now that religion is inglorious, one of the most fantastic of transferences of worships is that of glorifying science, as a beneficent being. It is the attributing of all that is of development, or of possible betterment to science. But no scientist has ever upheld a new idea, without bringing upon himself abuse from other scientists. Science has done its utmost to prevent whatever science has done. From Lo!
Take a typical Cleric from whichever RPG you like that has this particular class available as a player character option.  Change the name to something more scientific-sounding, like say Dogmatist, perhaps.  Then convert the names of all available spells (now Formulas and Experiments) to more scientific-sounding names such as Spontaneous Hydrologic Precipitation (Create Water), Manufacture Nutriment (Create Food), Establish a Field of Disharmonious Interaction (Curse), etc.  Not too terribly difficult at all.  A little tweaking might be in order, replacing the (un)Holy Symbol with a Recognized Degree in some suitably obscure esoteric field of study (Chaotic Shiny has an excellent Random Academic Field of Study Generator that'd be ideal for this).  We might just have to write this up, if there's any interest in such a thing.  I can definitely see Dogmatists being a Class Option for Zalchis...

  • "The monks of science dwell in smuggeries that are walled away from event-jungles."  From Wild Talents
Scientific monks. It's a nice departure from the more Eastern martial-artist monks, and the phrase 'event-jungles' simply reeks of Riskail-ism.  There are most assuredly ging to be Event Jungles in Riskail, once we figure out just what they are like.  Ascetic and withdrawn scientist-monks have a lot in common with wizards who likewise withdraw from society and take up residence in towers, ruins, and such.  Smuggeries, when taken out of context and literalized a touch could mean some sort of illusion or field of avoidance.  Such a defense would lead to a bit of smugness, over time, and thus it has a distinct disadvantage that could eventually be exploited against these monks.  Do they dismantle, deconstruct and reverse-engineer magical devices?  Do they hunt down, persecute and eliminate all traces of magic, possibly as a sort of Inquisition-style Order on a mission unto the world?  Are they instead dedicated to the study and pursuit of mastery overall forms of magic?  Loads of options there.

We'll cut things off here for now.  But there will be more Charles Fort inspired stuff coming shortly.

Some Bonus Anomalous Links


  1. Absolutely incredible post. Well done!

  2. Thanks! Wait until you see the Charles Fort Spell-List and the Damned Things Tables that'll be coming out for Zalchis in a few weeks...unless we do a preview here at Old School Heretic...hmmm...that just might be a good idea...

  3. Masterful. An inspiring read at any time, but with real, weighty material to last. I'm sure many of us will be back again to borrow from it.

  4. Great post. I'm a Fort fan myself.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...