All posts by PhiFic Podcast

Phi Fic #25 “At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. –H.P. Lovecraft

In this episode, we discuss At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. Considered one of the greatest writers of horror and creator the science fiction horror genre, Lovecraft was primarily a short story writer during the early twentieth century. Most of his stories were published in Amazing Stories, a pulp, horror magazine and At the Mountains of Madness is his only novella.

The story is narrated by William Dyer, a geologist who, along with his associates from Miskatonic University, has embarked upon an expedition to the Antarctic. Dyer’s goal in writing this account is to prevent others who would wish to undertake a similar journey to the Antarctic, in light of what he and his colleagues discovered there.

It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests. –At the Mountains of Madness

What is this discovery? Join Nathan and Laura, along with Jennifer Tejada, Dan Johnson, and PEL’s Mark Linsenmayer, in this animated discussion, as we dig into the dark, nameless world discovered by these Miskatonic scientists—and the fear within all of us that animates this world.

Check out H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast’s incredible discussion of At the Mountain of Madness (and everything Lovecraft):

Here are some sketches by Academy Award–winning director Guillermo de Toro of his interpretation of At the Mountain of Madness. Del Toro is hoping to make a movie of Lovecraft’s masterpiece.

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via
Thanks to Christopher Nolen for the music.

Phi Fic #24 “Ulysses” by James Joyce

If Socrates leaves his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend. Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves. –Ulysses

As Nathan notes, Ulysses is “the historically difficult read,” and Daniel agrees, following with his finding of this formative novel, “a great puzzle, that is exhausting but incredibly rewarding.”

Follow us on this brief journey as we dig through some of the themes within the Ulysses universe: Cyclical history. Epic of return. Absent figure. Impotence. Failed Love. The Self and the Not Self. Universal Love. One Step forward, One step back. Identity in flux. No inner sanctum.

Based on The Odyssey by Homer, Ulysses takes place in Dublin and follows three characters: Stephen Daedalus, Leopold Bloom, and Molly Bloom. The events in the novel take place over 24 hours and parallels the journey home by Odysseus after the Trojan war, as well as delving into Irish history through a day of life in Dublin. Even more profound, Ulysses is considered the seminal stream-of-consciousness work—making it known as the great arduous read, but changing the course of literature as it was known at the time, and since.

She would follow, her dream of love, the dictates of her heart that told her he was her all in all, the only man in all the world for her for love was the master guide. Come what might she would be wild, untrammeled, free.” –Ulysses

This recording is an archived episode from our Not School group, long before we became a podcast, so please excuse any audio problems. In this discussion, Nathan, Laura, and Daniel are joined by Phillip Cherny. Many thanks to Phillip for his wonderful thoughts!

There have been many visual interpretations of Ulysses, but try a look at Bloom (2003) directed by Sean Walsh, or Ulysses (1967) directed by Stephen Strick, loosely based on the novel.

And check out the Great Courses Study:  Literary Modernism: The Struggle for Modern History.

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via
Thanks to Chrisopher Nolen for our music.

Phi Fic #23 “To The Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf

It was a house full of unrelated passions.
–To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

In the incredible novel To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf takes us to Hebrides on the Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland, where the Ramsey family retreats during the summer. The novel is not driven by plot but rather through the consciousnesses of many of the characters. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey and their eight children are at the house where we hear much from their son James, who is anxious to visit the lighthouse, but is curtly denied by his father due to the weather. A number of guests arrive to spend the summer with them, including Lily Briscoe, who is planning to paint a portrait of Mr. Ramsey and James.

There he sat with his hand on the tiller in the sun, staring at the Lighthouse, powerless to move, powerless to flick off these grains of misery which settled on his mind one after another. A rope seemed to bind him there, and his father had knotted it and he could only escape by taking a knife and plunging it…

The novel is in three sections—The WindowsTime Passes, and The Lighthouse. The story covers ten years, through the death of Mrs. Ramsey and two of the children, finally ending with the long-awaited trip to the lighthouse. Meanwhile, Lily Briscoe, one of the few guests who have returned to the summer house, remains there while the rest of them sail off, finally finishing her long-labored painting.

Considered one of the top 100 English-language novels, To the Lighthouse is seen as an autobiographical exploration by Virginia Woolf of her summers with her family, in St. Ives in Cornwall, until the death of her mother. Her sister Vanessa said she was “Transfixed by the portrait of their mother, [that] ‘It is almost painful to have her so raised from the dead.’”

This discussion first appeared in our Not School Group and the readers at the time were Nathan, Laura, Daniel, and Dan Johnson. As an early recording, please bear with the sound quality—many thanks!

A film based on the novel was released in 1983, and is described as a faithful rendition of the novel. It stars  Rosemary HarrisMichael GoughSuzanne Bertish, and Kenneth Branagh.

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via
Thanks to Chrisopher Nolen for our music.


Phi Fic #22 “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

She would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxicabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.
Mrs. Dalloway

Listen as Dylan Casey from The Partially Examined Life Podcast joins us to discuss this remarkable novel, in which many scholars believe Woolf found her voice. Written in a stream of consciousness, the plot of the book is written inside the souls, struggles. and angst of the characters.

In the novel, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, we follow Clarissa Dalloway for a single day, as she prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. At the start of her journey, she picks up flowers for the party and as the day proceeds, she finds herself reconsidering her husband, Richard Dalloway, and her choice in marrying the very stable, conservative member of Parliament. Her thoughts are starkly contrasted by her youthful memories of a competing suitor of Richard’s, Peter Walsh, who was more passionate, unconventional, yet capricious. As the day proceeds we also come across Septimus Smith, a WWI veteran who suffers from hallucinations, many involving the death of his close friend Evan during the war. He is ultimately committed to a hospital and commits suicide by jumping out a window.

At the party later attended by the Prime Minister, Clarissa learns of the unknown war veteran’s suicide and is impressed by his choice, as she wanders into a room to talk to Peter, who has shown up at the party.

But she feared time itself, and read on Lady Bruton’s face, as if it had been a dial cut in impassive stone, the dwindling of life; how year by year her share was sliced; how little the margin that remained was capable any longer of stretching, of absorbing, as in the youthful years, the colours, salts, tones of existence…
Mrs. Dalloway

Also check out the movie Mrs. Dalloway from 1997, starring Vanessa Redgrave:

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via
Thanks to Chrisopher Nolen for our music.

Phi Fic #21 “Foe” by J. M. Coetzee

We discuss the novel about an origin story of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe. Coetzee writes about Susan Barton, a woman cast away at sea who discovers an island inhabited by two men, Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Once rescued, Crusoe dies and Barton goes on a journey with Friday to tell her story. She seeks the renowned author Daniel Defoe but struggles with telling her story through the author.

“We therefore have five parts in all: the loss of the daughter; the quest for the daughter in Brazil; abandonment of the quest, and the adventure of the island; assumption of the quest by the daughter; and the union of the daughter with her mother. It is thus that we make up a book: loss, then quest, then recovery; beggining, then middle, then end. As to novelty, this is lent by the island episode- which is properly the second part of the middle – and by the reversal in which the daughter takes up the quest abandoned by the mother.”

‘All the joy I had felt in finding my way to Foe fled me.’

Reality also becomes blurry for Barton and the narrative builds to a metaphysical break in the structure which explores Authorship. What do stories matter? What gets left out? Who gets to speak? We also mention a work of non-fiction from a favorite thought-provoking author, ‘The Kekul Problem’ by Cormac McCarthy.

‘But this is not a place of words. Each syllable, as it comes out, is caught and filled with water and diffused. This is a place where bodies are their own signs. It is the home of Friday.

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