Friday, November 17, 2006

Wrapping Up Ghosts and Gothic Tales

Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings suggested that if participants did a wrap-up post on the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) 2006 Autumn Challenge , he would add it to his Newsletter of the event. Well, I entered his challenge about a week after he'd announced it and so I suppose it's characteristic to respond to that blog entry more than a week late as well.

First of all, this was the first time I had participated in a reading challenge on the Web; I had no idea how it would work and I wasn't sure I would actually sustain the effort. I do an enormous amount of reading for a variety of roles (day job, local library work, personal book group, etc.) and unless I enjoyed what I picked, it was going to be a crap shoot as to whether or not I would continue with it. Blogging takes time as well and I hadn't been able to sustain the activity for any length of time before. But my youngest had just left for college when I first saw Carl's posting, so I thought a new reading approach would at least distract me from worrying about "freshman follies".

I plunged in. H.G. Wells didn't write lengthy works so I buzzed through two of his novels fairly quickly. The Island of Doctor Moreau and The War of the Worlds both held my interest as entertainment and, given some of the philosophical discussions, gave me a certain low-level of anxiety well in keeping with the spirit of the autumn challenge. As a largely scientific society, we still haven't ironed out the ethics supporting our scientific endeavors and explorations. The human failings of those who faced the Martians seem still to be around a century later. (I wonder if any of this influenced my voting in the midterm elections...I hadn't thought about that until just this minute.)

Elizabeth Gaskell's Gothic Tales weren't really very spooky, but she captured beautifully the way in which bad behavior carries down the generations. The misunderstandings between parent and child, and the impact of a parent's emotional maturity and personal behavior on their children played throughout her stories. Those themes came up again in Grange House by Sarah Blake. There was the romanticism of thwarted loves, ruins and ghosts, but the point made by both of these authors seemed to be that we are allowed to make choices in life, those choices in turn have consequences, some of which won't always be happy.

All of this was lightened by the happy discovery of Montgomery Rhodes James, a nineteenth-century antiquarian scholar and teller of literary ghost stories, whom I had never encountered prior to Carl's early reference to Edward Gorey's The Haunted Looking Glass. His short stories were quite enjoyable, particularly Casting the Runes and The Mezzotint. I found one collection of his short stories at a Borders in Center City Philadelphia, and happened upon the other volume in Coliseum Books in New York. As the clerk finalized my sale, we chatted about horror movies inspired by James!

I tripped over ghost stories by all sorts of Victorian writers because of the Gaslight etexts and the content made available at I ended up reading ghost stories by Rudyard Kipling , Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other Victorian types. I didn't blog about all of them, but I certainly encountered and enjoyed more than I had anticipated.

I was writing as well on my blog about all of this. My formal entries for the challenge came across as a little too formal and a little too long, perhaps, but I am still working out the best way of thinking out loud about books and life. (I haven't yet figured out how to make Blogger let me do one of those (more) below-the-fold links.)

The last weekend of the challenge was tough, trying to finish The Unburied , a mid-stream substitution for Dracula. The college freshman had come home for birthday presents, extra sleep and mom's meals; I was glad to get a better handle on his life and his new experiences, but somewhat selfishly also wanted to finish my book for the challenge!

I think this was a great experience. I'm participating in other challenges like Michelle's From the Stacks challenge, but the RIP challenge was a fun first foray!