THE DEEP ONES: "The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" by Fritz Leiber

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THE DEEP ONES: "The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" by Fritz Leiber

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feb. 22, 2013, 11:15am

Hm. I wonder which of the dozen or so anthologies that include this one I'll be checking out from the public library.

feb. 22, 2013, 2:11pm

Blood Is Not Enough for me.

And that is one fun cover for its original appearance.

feb. 22, 2013, 4:37pm

>1 KentonSem:

No legal online versions found.


If it doesn't load up correctly at first, try refreshing the page.


I read this last night (ahead of schedule! (wonders will never cease)) in Blood Thirst: 100 Years of Vampire Fiction. Should make for an interesting discussion. 8)

feb. 23, 2013, 1:37am

Penguin Book of Vampire Stories for me. Looking forward to another Leiber.

Editat: feb. 23, 2013, 12:43pm

>3 RandyStafford:

That is a nice cover, isn't it? And since it also contains stories by Frank Belknap Long and Manly Wade Wellman, I think I'll have to track down a copy.


A bookseller pal o'mine has it. It's mine! I'll still be reading "Girl" out of Horrible Imaginings, however.

Editat: feb. 27, 2013, 8:35am

Suppose the identical desires of millions of people focused on one telepathic person. Say a girl. Shaped her in their image.

As usual, Leiber comes up with a plausible, modern idea for a supernatural being rather than just going with the traditional evil monster trope. I wonder, though, is the girl really a human being who became a template for such a focus, or is she actually the personification of the same, and so created?

Could this be the first instance of a "vampire" not being of the fangs-and-blood variety?

feb. 27, 2013, 9:29am

> 7 the first instance...?

It's later than "Shambleau."

feb. 27, 2013, 9:41am

>8 paradoxosalpha:

How could I forget?! Sold!

Editat: feb. 27, 2013, 10:24am

Leiber's narrator disavows any antagonism for the advertising industry. But the fact is: our mass media have been a cascading uncontrolled experiment in mind control since the early 20th century. My own father, who studied "advertising" for his business degree, buys the meta-hype and confuses advertising with publicity. The latter is about making things known, the former about making them desired. The manipulation of appetites has become a (the ?) defining attribute of our "consumer" society. "In capitalist America, fast food eats you!"

Some interesting texts to read in connection with this story include the final section of Couliano's Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, and that hoary paranoid classic, Key's Subliminal Seduction. The latter opines that in its own time (1973) the hidden priests of our mass idolatries had already started to discuss the eventuality of the "sell" going out of sex, so that death would need to supplement or replace sex as a method of arresting attention and cathecting desire.

The vampire is the traditional figure that most conveniently synthesizes thanatos and eros--to the advantage of the former, of course. What better incubator for such monsters than the world of ads?

Editat: feb. 27, 2013, 10:08am

Hey, this rant wants to keep going:

"Hungry Eyes," eh? In our glossy, visually-confected world, our eyes are always "bigger than our stomachs" (as I would be told as a child when I took a portion of food that I couldn't finish), no matter how the famously bloated American bellies strive to keep up. The idea of a consuming gaze is illustrated and inverted in this story, when the reader is shown that the object of the gaze seeks to devour the observers.

Indeed, our eyeballs are all constantly for sale by whoever can succeed in attracting them. Commercial interests use this route to drain our pockets, but that's only one way of keeping score. Religions, political parties, and other enterprises have their own ways of reckoning the acquisition of people's wanting them, of people's very lives.

feb. 27, 2013, 10:21am

>10 paradoxosalpha:/11

I agree with your "rant" (sounds more like a coherent observation to me), especially the line of demarcation between advertising and publicity

The Girl is the ultimate consumer. I wonder if Leiber knew how prescient he was being? For more on the subject extreme advertising, I highly recommend The Space Merchants, which I am in the middle of at the moment.

feb. 27, 2013, 10:42am

>10 paradoxosalpha:/11

Of course, as things now stand, it's more like we have become the vampires, sucking the essence out of everything from the environment to the media constructs we call "celebrities" and then casually throwing the dessicated remains aside in our ravenous search for more more more.

Editat: feb. 27, 2013, 10:55am

>10 paradoxosalpha: & 11

Thank you, PA. The scholarship on this tale that I've read (Leonard Wolf's and S.T. Joshi's) characterize "Hungry Eyes" as being primarily about sex/gender, whereas I, like you, read it primarily as a anti-capitalist rant (and a well-deserved one, I might add), or at least one about the malefic interface between the objectification of women and/or the commodification of sex and the venality of capitalism. Couldn't help while I was reading but to be reminded of these lines from Bob Dylan's monolithic "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)":

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

Leiber's protagonist has escaped from the vampiric relationship between himself and this phantasmal object of desire and back into the "life outside". The pernicious effect of speculative fiction media (and horror fiction media in particular) on the impressionable minds of the young has often been discussed; here's a widely-anthologized horror tale that I would like to think has opened the eyes of more than one young person in a positive way.

ETA: Fixing touchstones, correcting spelling errors

feb. 27, 2013, 11:05am

I would have slapped her face off, except it was photographic capital.
I think one of the things that may mislead critics of this story is an assumption that the photographer narrator is supposed to be entirely sympathetic to the reader. But the sentence above (it gets its own paragraph) puts that into question.
When I'm watchin' my TV
And a man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke
The same cigarettes as me

feb. 27, 2013, 11:12am

>15 paradoxosalpha:

When I'm watchin' my TV
And a man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke
The same cigarettes as me


Gee, remember when it actually wasn't cool for musicians to involve themselves in advertising? I kinda miss that. :'(

feb. 27, 2013, 12:45pm

Leiber's remarks on the story:

I originally wrote "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" for the first issue of a magazine Donald Wollheim was trying to publish. That project didn't work out but instead, the story was published in Avon's original anthology called The Girl with the Hungry Eyes (1949), edited by Wollheim. Marshall McLuhan quoted from the story in his early (and negatively reviewed) book on advertising, The Mechanical Bride. I later wrote a story called "The Mechanical Bride" as a kind of joke, in response.

feb. 27, 2013, 12:47pm

McLuhan is fun. Maybe I'll read that one.

feb. 27, 2013, 12:49pm

While I lean toward the PA view, I can see the "objectification of women" reading of this story - the Girl certainly becomes an object to fear. Leiber even hints that the Girl might be not be human, "telepathic" or otherwise, when the narrator states, "I think it was because I saw her first in the flesh, if that's the right word". If not flesh, then what?

Did anyone watch the Night Gallery adaptation? Link is up in #1.

feb. 27, 2013, 12:56pm

>19 KentonSem:

Did anyone watch the Night Gallery adaptation? Link is up in #1.

No, not yet. Will have to make it a point to do so later.

feb. 27, 2013, 1:01pm

> 19 If not flesh, then what?

There is a hint of speculation that she might be a sort of malevolent spirit that becomes more concrete as it is made the object of human desires, and as it absorbs human lives. I'm not sure how that fits with the "objectification of women" if she's not really a woman in the first place.

feb. 27, 2013, 1:16pm

>21 paradoxosalpha:

She's not a woman regardless, she's "The Girl". If not totally human, the creature still uses sex as bait, allowing for commentary on how women in general are looked at- from a 1948 point of view at least.

Editat: feb. 27, 2013, 2:13pm

The last paragraph is exceedingly well written:

And this is what she said, "I want you. I want your high spots. I want everything that's made you happy, and everything that's hurt you bad. I want your first girl. I want that shiny bicycle. I want that licking. I want Betty's legs. I want the blue sky filled with stars. I want your mother's death. i want blood on the cobblestones. I want Mildred's mouth. I want the first picture you sold. I want the lights of Chicago. I want the gin. I want Gwen's hands. I want your wanting me. Feed me, baby, feed me."

The fearsome, ravenous need displayed there is absolutely chilling. It's beyond hunger. You'd be getting off easy with a mere Dracula-type who was only after a sip of your blood.

I've read this tale a couple of times before, and I enjoyed it more than ever on this reading.

feb. 27, 2013, 2:26pm

>23 KentonSem:

Speaking of the stylistic excellence of the story, I wanted to point out before I forgot that Leiber's control of the tone of the narrator's voice is just amazing. Before I finished the second paragraph of the story (which I was reading for the first time, btw), I said to myself, "He's talking to somebody in a bar." Then I flip the page and read down a little and come to the line, "Nothing like what that other photographer must be making, but enough so it still bought this whiskey." That, my friends, is when you know you're in the hands of a master. 8)

Editat: feb. 27, 2013, 3:50pm

The Girl could just victimize the narrator and move on, but she needs him to act as her conduit to the outside world via his photos and connections to the world of advertising. If you'd care to link vampiric modus operandi, this is somewhat analogous to Dracula choosing Renfield* to act as his agent in England in order to leave Transylvania.

And, lest we forget that the "world" of advertising is not limited to the West, Leiber reminds us with, "Yesterday I read something in Time about the Girl's picture turning up on billboards in Egypt".


* Make that Jonathan Harker

Editat: feb. 27, 2013, 3:44pm

> 25 Dracula choosing Renfield

More like Dracula choosing Jonathan Harker, I think.

feb. 27, 2013, 3:49pm

>26 paradoxosalpha:

My mistake - thinking movie instead of novel for some reason.

Editat: feb. 28, 2013, 8:35am

Okay, here's one for you guys. We were talking before about how this story has strong anti-capitalist themes - do you think if this had been written as a mainstream/mimetic piece rather than a horror one, Leiber would have gotten into a lot of trouble for it? Granted, 1949 is before McCarthyism got rolling, but not long before, and pro-capitalist/anti-communist sentiment was running very high, iirc. I think this is yet another case of a piece in a speculative fiction genre getting away with presenting a fairly radical theme for its time because said pieces fly under the radar of most people (i.e., the "mundanes" that folks in SF fandom sometimes refer to), like Gene Roddenberry getting his leftist/liberal arguments across on Star Trek in a way that would have been much more difficult (if not impossible) to do on a more mainstream show. What do you think?

Editat: feb. 28, 2013, 10:12am

>28 artturnerjr:

Considering all my Leiber books, a biography is sadly lacking amongst them. I don't know much more about his politics than can be ascertained from overviews of his career - and he had some pretty interesting occupations besides "writer" - and the introductions to some of his collections. The following brief bio mentions early anti-fascism and pacifist trends, and I think it can safely be assumed that he would classify as a liberal.

I don't think Leiber is attacking capitalism in"Girl" as much as he is going after rampant consumerism-gone-amok. This was still practically attacking the American way of life at this point in history however, so I can see your point. As far as getting into trouble, in 1948 SF was pretty much universally dismissed as kid's stuff and as far as that goes, comic books were seen as the big threat around this time. I think Fritz was pretty safe from McCarthy-ites. Even the aforementioned The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl, which is a dystopian tale about a world government run by all-powerful advertising agencies (some stretch, huh?), didn't raise a fuss when it was published in 1953. And Pohl belonged to the Communist party before Stalin came to power.

Here is another good article on Leiber:

Editat: feb. 28, 2013, 10:37am

>29 KentonSem:

Considering all my Leiber books, a biography is sadly lacking amongst them.

There do not appear to be a great deal of book-length studies of Leiber's life and/or work. The Wikipedia article on him lists only the following:

Fritz Leiber by Jeff Frane
Fritz Leiber by Tom Staicar (no touchstone)
Witches of the Mind by Bruce Byfield

I don't think Leiber is attacking capitalism in"Girl" as much as he is going after rampant consumerism-gone amok.

Well, I'm willing to at least partially acknowledge the anti-capitalist thing as an idée fixe of mine and leave it at that. :)

Even the aforementioned The Space Merchants, by Frederic Pohl, which is a dystopian tale about a world government run by all-powerful advertising agencies (some stretch, huh?), didn't raise a fuss when it was published in 1953.

Those crazy SF guys! Where do they come up with this stuff? :D

And Pohl belonged to the Communist party before Stalin came to power.

No shit! That's fascinating - I did not know that. Let's hope that he and his infamously right-wing fellow SF writer Robert Heinlein were never left in the same room together for an extended period of time. :O

ETA: All three of the above-mentioned books on Leiber appear to be out of print.

feb. 28, 2013, 11:05am

But still avail. from Amazon. Although the last one is expensive.

Editat: feb. 28, 2013, 11:42am

>30 artturnerjr:/31

Witches of the Mind can be found elsewhere at a more reasonable price, but the other two are not bad price-wise on Amazon. Thanks for the titles. These appear to be fairly thin pamphlets. That's fine for collectibles, but it seems kind of odd that no one over the years has done a full-fledged Leiber bio.


feb. 28, 2013, 12:55pm

>32 KentonSem:

Thanks for the link, Kenton. Fritz Leiber: Critical Essays (which Byfield mentions in his blog post), is still in print, as is Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark, a title that I have no doubt makes for some absolutely fascinating reading. 8)

feb. 28, 2013, 1:05pm

>33 artturnerjr:

I have Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark. An excellent work with, of course, a lot of detail on Leiber's early days.

feb. 28, 2013, 3:44pm

There’s a lot to comment on here, so I’ll just respond without noting previous comments.

Like most people here, I’ve read this story. The first time was about 20 years ago. This story doesn’t age much at all. Through in a few references to social media and drop the 1940s, noirish slang “baby”, and it would seem totally fresh.

Speaking of social media, Google and Facebook want the record of your life too, your blogged memories and photos. And, as noted, the Girl is becoming a global phenomenon. A peculiarly unfleshed Girl would be even easier to imagine in today’s media world. Heck, the Japanese have completely made up pop stars.

I also don’t really see the story as a comment on gender. I suppose you could see the last paragraph as a caricature of the all devouring female. She wants your emotional substance, your intimate memories and your paycheck (assuming you are a man and, of course, there is something of an assumption that the Girl mainly influences men). To me, there’s more Veblen than Freud here. The Girl is there to motivate consumption. Her hunger is the hunger of companies selling the unneeded.

I suspect, at least given the time, Leiber thought himself something of a feminist. I base this on the notes he wrote for his story “The Night He Cried” which was written in fear that Mickey Spillane was going to introduce his “self-satisfied violence and loveless sex and anti-feminism” into science fiction.
I think of this story as part – the best part – of a group of stories he wrote critical of American society. The others were “Coming Attraction” and “America the Beautiful”. We might actually consider “Coming Attraction” for a future Deep Ones though it’s not really a weird tale.

I don’t think Pohl was a Communist. (And, yes, The Space Merchants is a great read as is another sinister advertising piece of his, “The Tunnel Under the World”.) I haven’t read his autobiography, but I think Jerry Pournelle said that, while Pohl was definitely a man of the left, he was never a communist. The specific incidence which disgusted him with communism was Communists celebrating the conquest of Paris back when Stalin and Hitler were allied.

To me the scariest, most masterful line in the story was: “Her arms are pretty skinny, you know, or can you see things like that any more?” It brings to mind the change, the corruption, the enthrallment the Girl has brought forth (or, maybe, just revealed). Now that I think about it, it also brings to mind the increasing gauntness of supermodels that some have noted.

feb. 28, 2013, 4:21pm

>35 RandyStafford:

I suspect, at least given the time, Leiber thought himself something of a feminist.

I haven't read as much of him as some of you guys have, but in the Leiber I have read his female characters seem to be much more three-dimensional than is typical for genre fiction writers at the time. Hell, a lot of them (e.g., Lovecraft) never even bother to include female characters in their work.

To me the scariest, most masterful line in the story was: “Her arms are pretty skinny, you know, or can you see things like that any more?”

Yeah, I liked that one, too, although my favorite was "There are vampires and vampires, and the ones that suck blood aren't the worst." A home truth, that one.

Editat: feb. 28, 2013, 8:59pm

>35 RandyStafford:

The notes on Pohl in the new Library of America volume containing The Space Merchants state that he was a member of the communist party in its early days. I lot of American liberal types were, and this is light years away from what was meant later on by using "communist" as a derogatory term. So, he was a member of the communist party at one point, but not a full-fledged commie (by mid-20th century standards) by any means.

Her arms are pretty skinny, you know, or can you see things like that any more?

You're right - that is one scary line. You know, now that you mention it, I did go back over it a couple of times right after I read it - a kind of reader's double-take. It is a brief description which somehow makes me really uncomfortable.

Editat: feb. 28, 2013, 5:30pm

>35 RandyStafford:

Not to belabor the point, but to clarify, the LOA volume states that "Beginning in 1936 {Pohl} was active in the Young Communist League , co-organizing a Committee for the Political Advancement of Science Fiction, but grew disillusioned after the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact". He would have only been around 17-18 years old, so we're talking a very young Pohl here. I'm sure this experience would have been one of many formative influences on his later career, though.

And - how could I forget - Leiber himself wrote the lengthy "Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex: An Autobiographical Essay", which can be found in the 1984 ACE collection The Ghost Light.

feb. 28, 2013, 5:38pm

> 38

An essay recently reprinted in the Centipede Press edition of Conjure Wife.

feb. 28, 2013, 8:55pm

>38 KentonSem: Thanks for the clarification. I really do need to read The Way the Future Was.

Editat: març 5, 2013, 2:31pm

>35 RandyStafford:

We might actually consider “Coming Attraction” for a future Deep Ones though it’s not really a weird tale.

I see I actually have that in a couple of different collections (unsurprisingly, as it's been anthologizied about half a billion times). Go ahead and nominate it next time, Randy - I'll vote for it.

abr. 13, 2016, 8:10pm

Another Leiber-lampoons-consumer-culture tale; more than worth the time it takes to read, I assure you: