The Unexpected Stan Lee

One tip towards owning a collection.

Despite the title above this story doesn’t start with Stan Lee. Well get get to him in due course don’t worry, Stan Lee is inevitable after all, but first there needs to be some scene setting.

Like any profession the folk who deal in the buying and selling of second-hand books can recite a litany of peeves and dislikes in regards to their work. Not surprisingly most of these complaints revolve around the behaviour of the general public. Not you, I hasten to add, I’ve no doubt that if you’re reading this then you are the thoughtful and discerning type who wouldn’t dream of adding to a book dealer’s woes. Even so it’s possible for the average collector to miss a few tricks, some of which may surprise you. Consider for example the following complaint lifted from a private mailing list:

You need to add to that list the frustration of being offered a recently inherited collection only to discover that before calling the seller has thrown away everything they assumed was irrelevant rubbish. Why somebody not familiar with a collection and who usually has little or no interest in the subject the collection is built around assumes they are the best qualified person to decided what is valuable and what is not is beyond me. People don’t understand about ephemera!

This is not the most common complaint from book dealers (that belongs to members of the public with an unrealistic belief as to the value of what they’re offering for sale) but I’ve seen the matter of ephemera brought up more than once.

So what is ephemera? To put it simply ephemera is the term used for any written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved. Usually this refers to material such as posters, handbills, sales catalogues, invoices, and the like. When it comes to book collecting the term is generally taken to also include anything relating to an author or the book trade in general. Manuscripts, letters, newspaper clippings, photographs etc are all generally considered to be ephemera.

Unfortunately for those of us who like ephemera (and also those libraries and other institutions that collect such material) the general public assumes ephemeral material has no value. So when such people encounter, for example, promotional material produced by publishers or book stores they throw this ‘rubbish’ away without realising that these unassuming scraps of paper are frequently both rare and the repositories of useful historical data.

Of course not everything that finds its way into a collection is worth preserving. Some years ago I discovered in a book I’d borrowed from the local public library the printout of an email a previous borrower had left there, presumably as a bookmark. As the email contained sufficient detail about the sender I posted the printout to their address along with a polite note suggesting they be more careful in the future.

Sometimes though what comes unannounced is interesting in it’s own right. Some years ago I purchased Jon White’s copy of The Eighth Stage Of Fandom by Robert Bloch. What I wasn’t told by the seller was that between it’s pages was a note from Bloch himself. Jon White was a noted New York dealer is science fiction books and magazines for many years so I don’t suppose you will be entirely surprised to see the note from Bloch was a request to purchase copies of two magazines. A quick search on the Internet Science Fiction Database revealed that the two magazines requested were issues in which stories by Bloch had appeared.

Bloch - Eighth Stage Of Fandom

I won’t try to convince you, gentle reader, that this note is in any way valuable but I think it adds to the book I found it in. It’s not just another copy of The Eighth Stage Of Fandom, because this copy comes with the mystery of why Robert Bloch would be searching for those magazines nearly twenty years after they had been published. Well I enjoy speculating on such matters anyway.

A note from a author in a book of their writings isn’t all that unlikely, especially if the author was, like Robert Bloch, a prolific writer of notes and letters. There was another time though that I found something truly unexpected. It was in 2013, not long after I had received a package from a UK dealer which contained various British fanzines published back in the fifties and sixties. Inside an issue of The Eye #3, a fanzine published in December 1954 by Tedd Tubb and other members of the London Circle, I discovered some folded and very flimsy scraps of paper. They don’t look like much but none-the-less I looked at them closely. Somebody had saved these scraps for a reason and being the sort of person I am I assumed I would find that reason interesting.

The outer layer was a sheet of notepaper which had belonged to somebody called Ray Fawcett. That much was obvious because printed at the top of the sheet was:

RAY FAWCETT
EDITOR

Below that was an address in Addiscombe, an area of South London. So far so boring. On the other side though very faintly scrawled was gold:

Lee 1

To save your eyes from strain what’s written above is as follows:

Anybody who finds this

The typing & questions are by a youthful Ray Fawcett

The scrawl is by Stan Lee

So, Stan Lee at last, because on the other two thin and flimsy scraps are a series of typed questions to which very brief answers have indeed been scrawled. Before we get to the questions and answers though, let me point out that just because these papers were tucked inside a fanzine from the fifties that doesn’t mean the papers were from that era. A quick search on eBay, revealed that the seller I bought my fanzines from also auctioned off a copy of Sanctuary 2.1, a fanzine published by Ray Fawcett. Mostly likely then this seller had acquired part of Ray Fawcett’s collection and that the fanzines I bought were obtained by Fawcett second-hand. However why he later put these papers, which judging by the references made to comic books (Tom Servo. “They’re not comic books! They’re graphic novels!”) can’t date from earlier than the mid-sixties within the pages of something published more than a decade before is anybody’s guess.

So now that I’ve made that clear just what did the youthful Ray Fawcett ask Mr Lee?

Lee 2

Is it just me or is it strange (no Tom Servo, not Doctor Strange) that Ray Fawcett refers to Stan Lee in the third person? I don’t know how old Fawcett was at the time but I’m guessing in his early teens to judge by his own description of ‘youthful’ and some of the spelling mistakes in the typing. Perhaps he felt a bit overawed by the thought of addressing somebody who even back in the sixties was considered a god among men by many Marvel fans.

Lee 3

Lee 4

It’s a pity that Stan Lee’s scrawl is so very scrawly if only because I’d really like to know who the author is that Stan admires the most. If anybody can decipher those barely formed letters and provide me with an answer I will be most grateful.

As for Ray Fawcett’s place in the scheme of things the earliest mention of him I’m aware of is in Skyrack #93 (published by Ron Bennett in November 1966) in which ‘fanzine editors Ray Fawcett and Bram Stokes’ are mentioned as having attended the Horror Film Club of Great Britain’s First Annual Convention. I then used a bit of triangulation by searching on Ray Fawcett and Bram Stokes simultaneously. You want to find somebody in my experience look for their friends too, it eliminates so much chaff. Anyway this search turned up several mentions of a fantasy/horror fanzine called Gothique. Apparently Derek ‘Bram’ Stokes had been one of the editors and Ray Fawcett one of the writers.

I mentioned my discovery to various people and as usual it turned out that Mark Plummer was able to add to the story for me. Searching through a copy of Gothique #6 in his possession he discovered mention of various Ray Fawcett fanzines.To quote Mark quoting from Gothique:

The reviews aren’t all that positive. Dave Griffiths doesn’t seem impressed with Fawcett’s ‘ramble [in Ash] on how great his magazine is and how much it’s improved’. He agrees it has improved but feels it’s down to Fawcett’s readers to say that. Griffiths also reviews Hero, an heroic fantasy fanzine. This is mostly given over to to denouncing Fawcett for spelling Elric ‘Erlic’ but apparently the issue also included ‘an article on Stan Lee, comic strip writer, something I’ve never seen before’.

It seems pretty clear to me then that the papers I have here were used by Ray Fawcett to write that article about Stan Lee mentioned as being included in Hero #1. Again, like the Bloch note, I wouldn’t try to convince you that these sheets of paper have any significant value, Stan Lee didn’t even add his signature after all. On the other hand what this discover lacks in cash value it makes up with an interesting story.

And that’s why collections should not be approached as carcasses to be stripped and the prime cuts sold to the highest bidder. Instead they should be approached with care lest you trample right over the best stories they contain.

Remember, always tread carefully and carry a big search.

Author Vs Art

Can mere words catch and pin art?

As anybody who has read much of Doctor Strangemind has probably noticed I’m not exactly cutting edge. None-the-less I’m not entirely unaware of the cutting edge of controversy (especially if said edge cutting is happening on File 770). And so it is that I’m aware of how Terry Goodkind recently described his latest novel, Shroud of Eternity, as ‘…a great book with a very bad cover. Laughably bad…’ and later on claimed he disliked Bastien Lecouffe Deharme’s cover because it was ‘sexist’.

I’ve seen the cover in question and while it doesn’t wow me it doesn’t strike me as ‘Laughably bad…’ In fact my only complaint is that I’m not keen on the colour scheme which is a bit too grey and brown for my taste. As to whether the complaint of sexism holds up I’ve no idea given I’ve not read this or any other of Terry Goodkind’s novels. As such I’ll leave that question to those of you better equipped to make a case one way or the other.

What I can do is point out that author discontent with output of those artists contracted to illustrate their work is nothing new. As it so happens I recently discovered some interesting comments in regards to this very topic in Mithril #4, published by Dennis Stocks sometime in 1973. (You knew I was going to dive back into the dear, distant past at some point, didn’t you?) As a starting point for a convention panel titled SF Illustration… A Dying Art? Stocks asked various professionals for their opinions. Unfortunately while it’s clear from the responses that Dennis Stocks posed two, or perhaps three, questions I can’t find any mention in Mithril #4 as to what he asked exactly so I can’t put these comments in exact context for you. Oh well, not that it matter in regards to the first respondent, Isaac Asimov:

Heaven knows I have no views whatever on art, science fiction or otherwise.

Really? No views whatever? Okay, so I’m pretty sure this is just Asimov’s way of politely declining to be involved but none-the-less I find his wording in this sentence absolutely fascinating. This is because he didn’t make what is to me the more obvious excuse of not being qualified to comment. No, instead he stated he had no views whatever, a rather myopic claim if you ask me. Not that it clashes with my general impression of Asimov, the sheer amount of popular science writing he produced always did make it seem to me that he didn’t have much time for anything besides science. But even so I did expect Asimov to at least imply that while he didn’t know much about art he certainly knew what he liked. Is it actually possible Asimov was that indifferent to art, or was this an ill-considered statement made in haste? I’d suggest the latter except I’m reminded of the fact that the first few issues of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine featured photos of Asimov on the cover rather than any artwork. Hmmm…

Asimov Covers

Enough about Asimov, let’s see how L. Sprague de Camp responded:

I have no special ideas on sf illustration; it seems to me to putter along pretty much the same regardless of the New Wave. I think the New Wave is already becoming Old Wave, as such things do. Experiments are fine, but only a small minority of those in the arts have permanent effect; most don’t work and are soon forgotten.

This is the way I expected Asimov to respond, by appearing to tackle the issue but actually dodging it. I assume from the way de Camp mentioned the New Wave that Dennis Stocks asked about what effect the New Wave movement had on science fiction art. I imagine Stocks had in mind the sort of eccentric graphics the British science fiction magazine, New Worlds, became well known for after Michael Moorcock took over as editor. Unfortunately de Camp confines himself to generalities of the sort I can imagine a first year art student mouthing. Which is not entirely surprising given that by the sixties de Camp wasn’t writing or editing anything which called for any but the most obvious graphics. His non-fiction wasn’t art orientated and the Conan paperbacks didn’t need covers showing anything other than barbarians bashing each other with swords before they were good to go.

Perhaps we’ll have more luck with Robert Bloch:

About science fiction illustration being a dying art – I’d be more inclined to regard the patient as not dying but merely partially crippled. My diagnosis is as follows:

His skin – that is to say, cover illustrations in both magazines and paperbacks – has a good, healthy tone and radiates a high degree of vitality,

His insides – i.e. interior illustrations in the magazines are ailing. And have been for many a long year. Much black-and-white is crude, hastily-executed and poorly reproduced, and necessarily limited as to size by the digest format of the pages on which it appears.

Bloch then went on to suggest the latter was not due to a lack of talent among artists but a mechanical problem. I’m in agreement with Bloch in this matter, interior artwork was always going to suffer once the science fiction magazines went from pulp size (25cmx17cm) to digest (19cmx13cm). However while this change shrank spot illustrations and reduced the amount of visible detail I suspect the real problem was one of budget. The vast majority of fiction magazines were discontinued during the 50s leaving only a handful of survivors, mostly science fiction and mystery titles. Not surprisingly magazine publishers had little reason to consider these few survivors important to the company bottom line. Consequently budgets didn’t keep up with inflation and soon enough there just wasn’t enough money to spare for b&w interior illustrations of the highest quality.

I have to wonder why editors didn’t use the opportunity afforded by by the move from pulp to digest size to begin phasing interior art out entirely. They surely knew it was possible because the editors of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction had always used interior art very sparingly ever since that magazine began in 1949. However this is an easy decision for me to make in hindsight. At the time I imagine editors felt that the average reader would be disappointed if a longstanding feature like interior art disappeared. It’s also possible magazine editors felt that the interior art was a point of difference between their publications and the ever increasing number of paperbacks and thus saw the b&w illustrations as a selling point. For all anybody knew then or knows now keeping interior art did indeed help keep at least some of the magazine readership loyal.

None-the-less evolution is a thing and art has to evolve along with the rest of the world. In this case it has to asked if there is even a place for b&w science fiction art any more. If we assume that online publishing is where it’s at in regards to anything other than novels (a bit of an exaggeration I know but let’s roll with it) then why accept the budget limitations of the pulps and use anything less than full colour? While a website can afford the space to display large b&w pieces to best advantage is this a thing which people would still be interested in? This is certainly a question I would hope websites publishing science fiction have already asked themselves (perhaps they have, I don’t know enough about the modern scene to know) because I’m sure at least some artists would still like to produce b&w art on SF themes.

Bloch also wrote:

My opinions as to art used to illustrate my stories? I still admire what Virgil Finlay did on some of my yarns in the old Weird Tales – and what two friends and proteges, Albert & Flo Magarian, did in the Ziff-Davis pulps of the mid-forties, very much in the Finlay manner.

Finlay on Bloch
Fane Of the Black Pharaoh by Robert Bloch & illustrated by Virgil Finlay

My gripes are reserved for artists who obviously do not read the stories and who make their own decisions as to how the characters should look, without bothering to follow descriptions. I am not fond of abstract squiggles, nor do I care for ‘comix’ techniques which result in slapdash sketches of heroes with beetling brows and oversize jaws.

Bloch’s gripe about artists not reading his stories reminds me of a complaint made by I don’t remember who in which they claimed “Artists never read the story while blurb writers read the wrong story.” Such assumptions were often unfair to the artists though as books and magazines are produced by rigid schedule and artists weren’t always granted the time necessary to do justice to the story they were being paid to illustrate. (This is also why minimalist graphics have replaced cover art on an increasingly large percentage of books these days.)

Let’s move on to James Blish. We’ve already seen he’s the opinionated sort:

Unfortunately, I’m a poor person to ask any sort of question about art, a subject of which I have little knowledge or appreciation.

Don’t know about you but I’m sensing a theme developing here. I wonder why nobody seems game to take the ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like’ route?

Anyway, Blish goes on:

I’m inclined to agree with your suspicion that many New Wave stories don’t supply enough visual images to give the artist something concrete to draw. But the artists who attached themselves to the New Wave couldn’t seem to have cared less. In New Worlds many of the graphics didn’t seem to have anything at all to do with the text.

As for cover art – I get many hardcover books for review and all too often their jackets show nothing but that the artist was utterly baffled by the task. (My favourite example of this is a collection of Avram Davidson stories, the jacket for which depicted an ice-bag floating in mid-ocean – a dead giveaway of how the artist felt, but nothing to do with anything in the book). Paperback covers have generally been much better as illustrations, and I hope they last a long time.

Strange Seas & Shores
I wondered if James Blish wasn’t being a little harsh but ghad, this is uninspiring!

Ah, so Blish decided to take the ‘I don’t know art but I know what I don’t like’ route. Still, I do think he makes an interesting point in there among the general grumpiness. I think it’s fair to say that the fiction being written by most authors identified with the New Wave didn’t lend itself to striking imagery. Authors such as Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, Philip Dick, the later Robert Silverberg weren’t writing material that lent itself to visual interpretation given that scenes more often than not involved groups of relatively ordinary people talking together. This actually takes me back to my earlier question about whether there is even a place for b&w science fiction art any more. In this case however it’s not a question of whether b&w art is desired when colour is so easy but if any art is desirable at all if science fiction is no longer focused on visually exotic topics.

The thing about science fiction art is that it has rarely existed as an end in itself. Most of the time SF art has been produced as an adjunct to SF stories and novels. Even when a piece wasn’t intended to illustrate a specific story it usually features objects and ideas we’re familiar with from reading those afore mentioned stories and novels.

There was a time when the art served to visualise these new concepts and add depth to them. That time is long past, so long past that what once exited us now bores. How many of us really want to see new visual iterations of the robot, the spaceship, the time machine, the alien landscape?

Okay, so the problem for visual SF seems to be that the old concepts are passe while many of the new ones are less visceral and don’t lend themselves to interesting visual representation.

I think I should end this piece with Ursula le Guin because of all the authors asked she seems to be the only one capable of being both grumpy and graceful about the art associated with her books. Other authors might like to read the following and take notes:

I know absolutely nothing about SF illustration, and yet find I have opinions about it – predjudices even – which go so far as asking, is it a dying art, or was it even born?

SF illustration. What comes to mind? Some subtle and handsome paperback book covers by the Dillons and Kelly Freas? The line drawings Gaughan did for the Jack Vance story The Dragon Masters. Tolkien’s own drawings for The Hobbit, and the beautiful dustjacket, which I think he did himself.

Then what? The illustrations to my own books, you ask about? Oh Lord. Well. You know, I trust that unless you are Harriet Beecher Stow you do not get consulted about illustrations, or book covers – or even shown them before publication, unless your publisher is uncommonly courteous? You DO know that? (I keep getting asked Why did you let them put that cover on etc, etc. Let them! Hah!)

I have been given two covers I unqualifiedly like. One is the French edition of Left Hand Of Darkness (La Main Gauche de la Nuit), which is heavy silver paper with an embossed pattern of what might be snowflakes. No picture at all. The other is the British (Hardcover – Gollancz) edition of Wizard of Earthsea, a neat Durer-like drawing in black on ochre. The original (Parnassus) and the Ace editions of the Wizard are also very handsome covers, and Ruth Robbins’ interior illustrations are elegant. The wizard on the Puffin paperback is either anaemic, or stayed too long at Oxford – I am arriving at something. I am arriving at the fact that I know what my people look like, and what their landscapes look like, and that nobody else (naturally) knows it quite the way I do – they know it their way – which is fine, so long as they keep it to themselves. But when they draw it, it looks wrong. To me. I don’t tell them that. I only tell you that. They are all talented people and they worked very hard.

But the plain silver cover with a suggestion of snowflakes still leaves the imagination free to work – which is, perhaps, the best of all?

le Guin
I strongly suspect none of the images I can find online do justice to the original French cover but hopefully this gives you some idea of why it appealed to the author.

Psycho Birds Bloch Hitchcock!

Robert Bloch & Alfred Hitchcock were plotting against us.

Typist Inside

Horror Bloch & Mystery Bloch Tag Teaming On Psycho

Last year a cinema local to me devoted Sunday afternoons to showing classic films. Among these hits of yesteryear were the Alfred Hitchcock films Psycho and The Birds. I made sure to attend both those showings because I’d never seen Psycho on the big screen and The Birds not at all. Much as I enjoyed re-watching Psycho and picking up on details not obvious on the small screen it was Hitchcock’s version of The Birds which most piqued my interest most. While I’d read the Daphne du Maurier novelette the film is based upon several times the only part of the film I was familiar with was the scene in which Tippi Hedren is trapped in a phone booth by attacking seagulls. Despite how dramatic this scene is it helped convince me that Hitchcock’s film would be lacking the brooding menace of the story was based upon and thus a bit of a let-down.

Having at last seen the film version of The Birds I find I was right to assume that a 1963 Hollywood production, even with Hitchcock at the helm, could not match the power of du Maurier’s original. Overall I thought The Birds was okay, certainly better than I had assumed it would be, but still not great. I can see why Hitchcock made so many changes as I doubt that in 1963 a more faithful translation of the story would sell tickets, but I can also see why Daphne du Maurier hated what he did to her story. I didn’t hate it myself but I did think it was the least impressive Hitchcock film I’ve ever seen.

None the less I was fascinated the way Hitchcock started off the film with a light romance that had nothing to do with du Maurier’s story and didn’t begin to introduce anything by du Maurier until the romance plot was well advanced. Why did he take such an unexpected approach I wondered as I watched this story unfold? Afterwards however it occurred to me that Hitchcock began The Birds the way he did in order to replicate the success of Psycho.

This theory of mine starts with not with Hitchcock but Robert Bloch for it was he who wrote the 1959 novel Hitchcock turned into his famous film. One of the interesting things about Bloch as an author is that while he wrote a large number of short stories he produced relatively few novels. Part of this is probably because while the majority of his pulp contemporaries shifted to writing novels during the 50’s as the fiction magazines were steadily replaced by paperbacks Bloch moved into script-writing instead. Possibly Bloch never felt as comfortable with the novel length and had no great need to overcome this due to his script-writing income.

Perhaps this is why Psycho is not a lengthy novel. The copy I have here is a mere 98 pages long which was short for a paperback even in 1959 (though to be fair comparable in length with many of the ‘novels’ that appeared in the fiction magazines back then). Moreover Psycho reads to me like two short stories linked together by that famous shower scene. Why the novel should have this rather unusual structure I can’t say for certain. Perhaps Bloch was using this as a deliberate ploy to ease himself into an story length he wasn’t entirely confident in. Perhaps Bloch decided to link two story fragments together because he couldn’t make a satisfactory stand-alone story out of either. Whatever the reason the fact is Psycho is greater than the sum of its parts because of the way those parts are fused together.

The first part of the novel is classic example of what I like to call the morality tale of horror. Such morality horror tales begin with the the protagonist transgressing in some manner. Sometimes the protagonist commits a crime, sometimes they knowingly or inadvertently cause some offence. However they have transgressed the protagonist then attempts to escape punishment by taking a series of actions. However in the morality tale of horror every attempt to avoid retribution leads the protagonist a step closer to their ultimate, ironic, fate. Classically these stories end by making it clear that the only reason the protagonist met their gruesome end was due to their efforts to avoid punishment for the initial transgression.

In Psycho, Robert Bloch’s morality tale, after a little scene setting and misdirection at the Bates Motel we are introduced to the person we assume is to be the main protagonist, Mary Crane, secretary for the real estate agent Mr Lowery. The plot proper begins when she is tempted into committing the crime of theft when Tom Cassidy presents Mr Lowery with a large sum of money and Mr Lowery asks her to bank it for him. Instead she packs her bags and flees town with the money, heading to Fairvale where her boyfriend lives. With the stolen money she then begins to sell and buy cars as she travels in the hopes of covering her tracks. However Fairvale is a long way away, eighteen hours on unfamiliar roads and not surprisingly she takes a wrong turn. After having realised her mistake Mary Crane decides to stay the night in a hotel somewhere and find the right road in the morning so she can arrive at her boyfriend’s hardware store in a more composed state.

That’s when she spots the secluded Bates Motel and sets off the sequence of events that leads to the shower scene.

Now if this had been a typical Bloch morality horror short story appearing in Weird Tales I imagine that the final scene (not necessarily in the shower) would reveal the hotel was a base for cultists willing to use Mary Crane as a sacrifice, a home for werewolves willing to have her as a meal, or some other horrible fate that she could only suffer by arriving at such an unlikely location.

However such an immediate conclusion was clearly not possible given Bloch was writing a novel, albeit a rather slender one. So instead Bloch simply leaves the abrupt end of his horror story up in the air. Who murdered the secretary and why? We have no idea though perhaps some suspicions. Anyway, upon the death of Mary Crane, the original protagonist, Bloch the horror writer retires to his corner and Bloch the writer of mystery stories takes control and brings her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, and her younger sister Lila to the fore. From this point on the story becomes a fairly straight forward problem solving plot as Sam and Lila attempt to discover the whereabouts of Mary Crane. Even the final reveal isn’t an especially uncommon plot twist. It does have some added impact when the killer’s thoughts are revealed to the reader but even that isn’t much of a surprise to the average reader of Weird Tales.

Now clearly Alfred Hitchcock grasped that it was the abrupt twist in the middle of the story which made this book so worth turning into a movie. Consider how much he built up the initial misdirection by having Marion Crane (no, I’ve no idea why her first name was changed) briefly encounter Tom Cassidy as she flees town and then by having her arouse the suspicions of sheriff Al Chambers. By the time Marion Crane arrived at the hotel anybody not familiar with the book would be primed to assume the rest of the film would revolve around a cat and mouse game between Crane and sheriff Al Chambers. For anybody not familiar with the book and who didn’t recall the hints dropped in the trailer (in other words the majority of the initial film audience) the shower scene must of been a devastating revelation.

This leads me to my theory that Hitchcock liked this misdirection so much that he decided to reuse the idea in The Birds. I would recommend that anybody who hasn’t read the Daphne du Maurier novelette should go and do so because it’s an excellent story. Just be warned though, it’s every bit as bleak a story as I suggested earlier. Indeed, so dark is it that Hitchcock had to change a lot of the detail to make the story palatable to the average film goer (that is apart from the traditional shifting the story to the US as would of happened regardless). He decreased the feeling of isolation by including a cast of bit-players, he reduced the threat level by having the avian aggression intermittent rather than constant, he removed the sense of hopelessness by having it made clear that the bird attacks were only localised.

Of course the danger with all this downplaying of the danger is that the threat might not feel big enough to properly scare the audience. So why not repeat the success of Psycho by starting the plot in one direction and then twisting it in another. In the case of The Birds the change in direction from the sunny uplands of a light romance to the darker and considerable more fraught survival story was less abrupt (well most things are less abrupt than Psycho’s shower scene) but effective none-the-less. By, hopefully, getting the audience invested in the light romance plot and resulting domestic drama I suspect Hitchcock hoped to make the introduction of the bird attacks feel like more of a tonal shift and thus more alarming. It also had the advantage of helping to stretch out the plot. For all the power of Daphne du Maurier’s novelette there isn’t a lot of plot to it so Hitchcock was was rather neatly killing two birds with a single stone.

Killing two birds with a single stone. That’s certainly one way to describe such plotting.