By Ben Arzate
On December 29th of 2020, British author, artist, and editor David Britton passed away. Along with fellow author Michael Butterworth, he was one of the founders of the controversial publisher Savoy Books in 1976. Both authors and the publishing house were heavily steeped in the British New Wave of science fiction. The New Wave was a movement that emphasized introspection, literary experimentation, and a rejection of the perceived conservatism of pulp science fiction. It can be seen as a precursor to later speculative fiction movements like cyberpunk and even bizarro.
Savoy earned the eternal scorn of the local police for publishing books that the establishment of Britain labeled as obscene, resulting in multiple raids on the publisher and earning Britton a short prison sentence. This came to a head in 1989 when Savoy published Britton’s first novel, Lord Horror. The novel was almost immediately seized, banned, and Britton sent to prison yet again. The ban was eventually lifted in 1992, making it the final book to be banned under law in the UK. However, the damage was done and many copies were destroyed by the police, making the book very rare. Savoy has chosen not to reprint it since.
It’s easy to see why Lord Horror was a shocking read in 1989. It remains a shocking work today, possibly more so than when it was published. However, the gruesome violence in the book likely wasn’t all that got on the nerves of the British establishment.
Lord Horror is difficult to summarize due to its form. The book can be said to be divided into three separate novelettes, all exploring similar themes and images. In each one, the titular character Lord Horror and his underlings Meng and Ecker are searching for the still-living Hitler in an alternate post-WWII world. Hitler, meanwhile, has dedicated himself to studying philosophy and the history of modern art in Europe while going increasingly more mad and dealing with his giant mutated penis, which has become a living creature he’s dubbed Old Shatterhand. It’s implied, though not explicitly stated, that sections two and three take place in a fictional work which exists in the one prior to each. A novel with the same name as the second section is mentioned in the first, and fictional stories about Hitler being on the Moon, as he actually is in the third section, are mentioned in the second.
Each of the sections is also a sort of parody of different pulp genres. The first, “On the Isle of Lord Horror,” parodies adventure stories; the second, “Lord Horror, Jewkiller,” Victorian penny dreadfuls; and the third, “(Lord) Horror on the Moon,” science fiction.
This makes the concerns of the novel very clear. This is less an examination on the fascism of Nazi Germany than of the fascism that both almost and actually existed in Britain. The Lord Horror character is based on William Joyce AKA Lord Haw-Haw, a British fascist who broadcasted Nazi propaganda from Germany with the aim of demoralizing Allied forces. He had been a leading member of the British Union of Fascists before WWII.
Despite its opposition to Nazi Germany and eventually hanging Lord Haw-Haw for treason, it’s important to remember that the fascist movement gained a lot of ground in the UK before WWII. The BUF had initially been very popular. The fascist movement had support among the landed gentry of England and even had sympathy going all the way up to the royal family. Britton, however, doesn’t stop at the direct connections to the fascism that arose in the 30s and 40s.
“On the Isle of Lord Horror” is a scathing, though irreverent, condemnation of British colonialism and explores the ideology of it as expressed in many early pulp adventure novels. Despite the vehement and murderous antisemitism of the Lord Horror character, he inflicts far more violence here on Asian and African people. This is even after a particularly disturbing section where Lord Horror brags of using different parts of murdered Jews as resources, including hollowing out a Jewish woman’s foot to make a codpiece. The bodies of the residents of the island where Horror is staying as well as other imported minorities are used as conductors for electricity. A French military officer in a dirigible arriving at Lord Horror’s island to search for Hitler also has several androids made from the bodies of murdered Africans. This section ends on the incredibly bizarre note of introducing the mutated Hitler who monologues about things such as the philosophy of Schopenhauer and memories of Friedrich Nietzsche boxing with a kangaroo.
“Lord Horror, Jewkiller” opens with a stomach-churning scene of Lord Horror slaughtering several Jewish people on the streets of London in a manner reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. Besides the connection to the theories of a possible link with Jack the Ripper to antisemitic graffiti, it also riffs on the negative portrayals of Jews in Victorian literature. Even more directly, there’s a part where a police chief gives an antisemitic speech that is, word for word, the exact same as the one the chief constable of Manchester, where Savoy Books is located, made about homosexuals except with the word “Jew” replacing “homosexuals.” A direct poke in the eye at the police who had been harassing Savoy for years.
“(Lord) Horror on the Moon” is the strangest and most abstract portion of the book. The majority of this part is dedicated to Hitler’s insanity reaching a fever pitch and his mutant penis separating itself from him. Lord Horror is least present here. However, he receives comeuppance in the form of a possibly real, possibly a dream sequence where he’s forced to confront his own degenerate hatred while laying in a bed of his own shit. The influence of authors like Burroughs is very strong here.
Despite the book being banned, Britton continued to soldier on with the character of Lord Horror and the universe he inhabits. While Savoy has not reprinted Lord Horror, this may be more due to Britton’s dissatisfaction with the work than the machinations of the British courts. He developed Lord Horror more in sequel comics, novels, albums, and audiobooks, all of which are far easier to obtain than the original novel. A CD audiobook version of the novel is apparently much easier to find than the print version. I myself stumbled on a scanned version by accident.
While being incredibly rare, I believe this book is well worth tracking down to experience in one way or another. The racism of the characters and the violence is very disturbing, but it can be very funny at times. It’s also one of the most thoughtful indictments of fascism that I’ve read in fiction as well as an intelligent examination of Western art and philosophy.
I would also encourage everyone reading to head over to the Savoy Books website (http://www.savoy.abel.co.uk/) and see some of the work they have to offer. Shipping outside the UK is somewhat expensive, but worth the price.
Ben Arzate lives in Des Moines, IA. His articles, reviews, short stories, and poetry have appeared in various places online and in print. He is a regular contributor to Cultured Vultures and is the author of two poetry books (the sky is black and blue like a battered child and dr. sodom and mrs. gomorrah, feel bad all the time), one book of short stories (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, NihilismRevised), and two novels (The Story of the Y, Cabal Books and Elaine, Atlatl Press). Find him online at dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com.