Saturday, September 30, 2006

Randomly Read

Randomly Read: Short Stories
An entry in the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Autumn Challenge


Note that each link above takes you to the full text of the stories at a variety of sites, some of which have ads.

Copyright: Each of the ten short stories listed above has fallen into the public domain. Of the stories listed above, all but one is available in a print edition of the much famed anthology The Haunted Looking Glass, illustrated by Edward Gorey (link to work in LibraryThing). The story, The Mezzotint, is the work not included in that book.

Length: Each of these qualifies as a short or short, short story. Readable in very short time-spans, such as a lunch-hour or 20-minute train commute. And some of them qualify as scary even in those daylight settings! All of them qualify as being relatively creepy.

Genre: Victorian gothic/ghost stories.

Summary: Reading Elizabeth Gaskell and then also reading what Stainless Steel Carl V had to say about The Haunted Looking Glass led me to track down some of the above stories. Something about the nineteenth century fosters elegant horror and ghost stories. I had, of course, read other works by E. Nesbit, Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker but I hadn't read any of these stories before. Each has something to recommend it - whether due to atmospheric tone (The Empty House), the sheer creepiness of the characters (Casting The Runes, The Dream Woman) or the novelty of the idea (August Heat, The Mezzotint, and The Thirteenth Tree).

Eerie/Creepy Quotient:
On a scale of 1-5, with five being the most effectively scary and/or horrific score possible, top honors would go to Harvey's August Heat and Collins' The Dream Woman. I don't think I'll readily shake those stories off this autumn. They're quite memorable. Close behind would be The Judge's House by Bram Stoker. Don't read that one if you live alone in a house old enough to have mice in the walls. You'll not sleep well again for quite some time. The remaining stories were all approximately ranked 3 or 3.5. Scary enough that I wouldn't hand them to a child under the age of 9, but quite satisfying to readers able to enjoy a little suspense and able to handle the sentence structure characteristic of the nineteenth century. Actually, now that I think of it, the stories are each short enough that the sentence structure shouldn't really be that intimidating to the reader. Most young-adult readers would get the general gist (and that sense of delicious horror that accompanies scaring oneself) even if they didn't read each line closely.

Also Relevant: Hard on the heels of reading The Monkey's Paw, it occurred to me that these stories are closely related to the folklore and fairy tales that I had been reading. The Monkey's Paw is just a scary version of the story of The Old Fisherman and His Wife . In gratitude to the fisherman throwing a magic fish back into the ocean after ensnaring him in his net, the fish agrees to grant the man several wishes. The fisherman's wife starts out with small requests (a decent cottage to live in), graduates to much more outrageous wishes (she becomes Pope in the version that I read as a child - see link above) and finally she wishes to be control the rising of the sun and the mood (ie., be God). When the fish hears that demand, he sends the Fisherman back to his wife where he finds her sitting in the hovel that was theirs at the beginning of the story. The ending in Paw is very different and not nearly as didactic in tone, but the motif was certainly present.

Scanning the Landscape

Scanning the landscape:

Other participants in the RIP Reading Challenge:

I happened to notice these two entries by others in the RIP Reading Challenge this week. The first is from Random Jottings of an Opera and Book Lover who recommends The Woman in Black by Susan Hill on the basis of its atmospheric writing. Sometimes that really is all that is required to make you jittery enough that you won't creep down the stairs into a dark kitchen!

And this one from Bookworm! Entirely appropriate!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Reference Point

Useful Resources

What constitutes a Gothic Tale? Or even a scary ghost story? I'm pretty sure it's not just the weather.

For the purposes of the R.I.P. Reading Challenge , I thought it would be useful to have a reference point as to what constitutes a gothic tale, or what characterizes the Gothic Tale.

  • Elements of the Gothic - basically good basic rendition. However, most of the elements specified here don't really emerge as characteristics of the books and short stories I've already read. For example, the basic rendition here doesn't mention the curse or the "doom" that gets pronounced upon the ultimate victim (as in Poor Clare and Doom of the Griffiths in Gaskell's tales).
  • The Gothic Experience - Actually I like this site, most particularly for its booklist and syllabus as well as the definition of keyterms provided.
  • The Literary Gothic offers a number of useful tools including study aids for some titles. For example, they offer an annotated version of Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Tale" but many of the PDFs on this site can't be printed out.
  • This site entitled simply Gothic Literature offers a really wonderful powerpoint presentation that outlines a number of elements found in the Gothic tale. I think this one is wonderfully useful.

That last bulleted site above - the one w/ the powerpoint - references the following as Elements of the Gothic

(a) Second self or alternate identity

- opposing forces in hman nature; our own dual natures

(b) Monster/Satanic Hero/Fallen Man

- fallen hero becomes a monster or confronts a monster who is his double

- Like Satan, defies the rules of God's Universe

(c) Spirits, demons, devils, witches, angels

- representing conflicting forces in the human soul

(d) Magic Talismans sympolize supernatural forces or forces in the hero's personality

(e) Dreams, visions, reveal hidden truths of the unconscious mind

(f) Graveyards, churches, ruins suggest human confrontation w/ the infinite

(g) Haunted castle, house reflects hero's psychological character

(h) Multiple narratives (secret ms, letters, narrative spirals inwardly to the truth)

(i) Madness reflects realities beyond normal comprehension; speaks truths we deny

(j) Blood reflects the paradox of human condition (guilt/innocence)

Note that I'm paraphrasing the original source above and therefore may not be entirely correct in taking the instructor's meaning.

With regard to the previous titles in the RIP challenge, Gaskell's Gothic Tales encompasses the dual identities, haunted castles/homes, fallen man (as in The Doom of the Griffiths) and although it doesn't appear in the listing above, the curses that ring down the years and impact on subsequent generations. In Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, he focuses on the idea of the monster/fallen man idea and the idea of blood and its taste. That was one of the things Moreau had forbidden his creatures - the taste of blood.

Put that way, everything's very dark and Gothic in tone.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Gothic Tales

Gothic Tales
An Entry for the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Reading Challenge

Gothic Tales

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell (link to bio at Wikipedia)

Copyright: The nine short stories and novellas in this collection were published over the course of ten years, 1851 - 1861. The stories themselves are in public domain and available on the Web (see The Gaskell Web and Project Gutenberg); for the purposes of R.I.P., I used the Penguin edition of Gothic Tales (ISBN:0-140-43741-X -- link to Library Thing for this work).

Length: The Penguin edition (including Introduction and Notes by Laura Kranzler) is 367 pages.

Genre: Short stories, novellas

Summary: This collection ranges in scope between light and humorous works of the fantastic to somber, deeply Gothic tales of hauntings and misery. At the light end of the spectrum are tales such as Disappearances and Curious, if True while the darker end of the spectrum includes The Poor Clare and The Doom of the Gryffiths. As might be expected from a nineteenth-century novelist, the pacing is a bit slow in some of the stories but as her craft matured, Gaskell used both language and pacing to build excellent moods of suspense in these stories. Other stories appearing in this collection include: The Old Nurse's Story, Lois the Witch, The Squire's Story, The Crooked Branch and The Grey Woman.

Eerie/Creepy Quotient: The author of Cranford and North and South gets a 2.5 or a 3.0 (out of a total of 5.0) on the Eerie/Creepy Quotient. If you've read any of Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, you might agree with me that she seems far too reliable an observer of her time period to indulge in melodrama and melancholy to the extent required in a terrifying ghost story. Her stories are still compelling (I found Doom of the Griffiths to be particularly readable) but not particularly spooky. One could read this collection in a house alone at midnight and not be fearful of going up the dark stairs to bed.

Extract: (From The Doom of the Griffiths )

It was the time of day when a change in the aspect of the weather so frequently takes place, and the little pool was no longer the reflection of a blue and sunny sky; it sent back the dark and slaty clouds above; and, every now and then, a rough gust shook the painted autumn leaves from their branches, and all other music was lost in the sound of the wild winds piping down from the moorlands, which lay up and beyond the clefts in the mountain-side. Presently the rain came on and beat down in torrents.

But Owen heeded it not. He sat on the dank ground, his face buried in his hands, and his whole strength, physical and mental, employed in quelling the rush of blood which rose and boiled and gurgled in his brain, as if it would madden him.

The phantom of his dead child rose ever before him, and seemed to cry aloud for vengeance. And, when the poor young man thought upon the victim whom he required in his wild longing for revenge, he shuddered, for it was his father!

Also Relevant: Phantom children, spectres, death, revenge and anguish are all present in these stories. The extract above is exemplary of the Gothic tone of most of the stories. As mentioned above, two of the stories have humorous overtones. I could easily see use of Curious if True in a classroom unit on fairy tales and the fantastic. Specifically, the style in that story reminded me very much of the tone of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell even as I tried to pick out notable fictional characters like Puss in Boots and Cinderella. Just as a caveat, it really did help to have the footnotes to explain many of the French-language phrases and references in that particular story. Disappearances comes close to mocking its own small set of anecdotal incidents as it evinces relief at the inception of London's detective force. In retrospect, I would suggest that is is Gaskell's gift at expressing describing the end results of human cruelty and the vagaries of circumstance that makes all of the stories in this collection memorable. At the same time, it is not plot that is key in this collection -- it is the melancholy tone that she uses in telling of human behavior that makes the collection less melodramatic than sad.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Links for Didi, Pat, and Pat

Links for Didi, Pat, and Pat

The text of Tennyson's poem, Lady Clare, (the one *without* dreadful illustrations) is here. The link to the text with the incredibly anachronistic illustrations can be found here.

The two poems that are retellings of Little Red Riding Hood and her subsequent adventure involving the three little pigs are respectively here and here.

The text for the poem King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid which we didn't discuss at last night's session, but which was also on my stored list of "cool stuff" is found here .

Finally, that blog I mentioned was Pocket Gardens. Turns out (now that I look) that the site is the work of a student in Evanston, IL. But you can see why I thought her book entries were well-structured.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Quick Update

Quick post with regard to the RIP Reading Challenge. I'm in the middle of Gothic Tales by nineteenth-century author, Elizabeth Gaskell. Just finished the spooky and redemptive short story, The Poor Clare. Very victorian in its approach but with such nice elements of the Gothic in it. More later....

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau

An Entry for the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Reading Challenge

Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau (Project Gutenberg link)

Author: H.G. Wells (biography of H.G. Wells in Wikipedia)

Copyright: Originally published in 1896 (ie. this work is in the public domain); I read the text using the Bantam Classic Reissue Edition 2005 (link to LibraryThing entry for this work)

Length: 140 pages

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Summary: An Englishman by the name of Edward Prendick is shipwrecked and subsequently rescued by a passing freighter at the behest of another Englishman, Montgomery. At that point in the voyage where Montgomery is leaving the freighter with crates of wild animals to return home, Prendick is also thrown off the ship by the drunkard captain of the vessel. Thus thrown again upon the mercy of Montgomery and his companion, Dr. Moreau, Prendick comes ashore with them on a remote island inhabited by creatures that Prendick cannot quite identify. Reckless behavior draws him and the two other human inhabitants into horrific confrontations with these creatures, culminating in disaster.

Eerie/Creepy Quotient: The nineteenth century pacing, language and sentence structure may have boosted the score on this title. After I'd finished reading it, elements of the story appeared in my nightmare later when I slept. I give it a 5 out of 5 on the Eerie/Creepy scale -- not appropriate reading for small children or those prone to bad dreams. I found it to be very effective story-telling.

Extract (Chapter 9, occurring in the first third of the book):

...Then I thought that the man I had just seen had been clothed in bluish cloth, had not been naked as a savage would have been; and I tried to persuade myself from that fact that he was after all probably a peaceful character, that the dull ferocity of his countenance belied him.

Yet I was greatly disturbed at the apparition. I walked to the left along the slope, turning my head about and peering this way and that among the straight stems of the trees. Why should a man go on all-fours and drink with his lips? Presently I heard an animal wailing again, and taking it to be the puma, I turned about and walked in a direction diametrically opposite to the sound. This led me down to the stream, across which I stepped and pushed my way up through the undergrowth beyond...

...The vague dread that had been in my mind since I had seen the inhuman face of the man at the stream grew distincter as I stood there. I began to realise the hardihood of my expedition among these unknown people. The thicket about me became altered to my imagination. Every shadow became something more than a shadow,--became an ambush; every rustle became a threat. Invisible things seemed watching me. I resolved to go back to the enclosure on the beach. I suddenly turned away and thrust myself violently, possibly even frantically, through the bushes, anxious to get a clear space about me again...

Also Relevant:

I couldn't help but think of Frankenstein as I read this book. It wasn't due to the theme of science-gone-awry found in both, however. The trigger was the fondness movie makers have for the two titles. Search IMDB for either Frankenstein or Island of Dr. Moreau and there are multiple versions. But they generally focus on the science-gone-awry element and the action sequences; the films are scripted and produced for an audience of science fiction and horror fans. Consequently you get a rather shallow treatment of the book's thrust.

For me, science-gone-awry was the least important element of Moreau. In fact, the book left me in a bit of a blue funk. Wells seemed to me to be struggling to present his fears and hesitations about the likelihood of man's developmental progress, even in the face of increased scientific understanding. I am quite sure that he wasn't warning us against the wickedness of vivisection but of the tendency to forget that we humans are animals as well and may well have instincts that we will never be able to entirely shed. The Island of Dr. Moreau is a study of the tension that exists between our biological nature and the mental constructs that we've gradually adopted over the course of time. We give ourselves great pats on the back for those constructs as indicative of man's development and superiority. But Wells pauses to ask, "How advanced are we?. Won't there always be some part of our animal nature that holds us back from being truly civilized? Won't there always be a danger that we under provocation break out of our civilized indoctrinated behaviors?". Wells is something of a pessimist.

I'm wonder how successful the use of this title in a classroom might be. I can see using the text as a point of departure for discussions of ethics, religious thought and/or philosophy. It also has the virtue of being a very short book. But I suspect that the science in the text is so very dated and the pacing of the storytelling so much slower than today's youth are accustomed to, that the use of the work may decline despite the validity of Wells' point.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Official RIP Autumn Participant

I think I'll participate in the "Readers Imbibing Peril" reading challenge, launched by Carl V. of StainlessSteelDroppings. The titles I've chosen are as follows:

  1. The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells. Short (perhaps a novella in length). I've never read this particular work of 19th century science fiction. So far, it's intriguing and a mite painful to read, just on the basis of the brutish behavior witnessed in the first nine chapters.
  2. Gothic Tales - Elizabeth Gaskell. I chose this because it was made up of a variety of short stories which will help during the busy times of the month. I also tend to think she's under-rated. I loved her novel, North and South.
  3. Grange House - Sarah Blake. This is a reread for me. It was one of those works that I learned of by word-of-mouth through the library community. But it met the criteria for the R.I.P. challenge on the basis of melancholy and gothic elements.
  4. War of the Worlds - Another by H.G. Wells. I've never read this but browsing through it, it became clear to me that it would probably be one of those books that for me are better in the prose version than in the movie version.
  5. Dracula - Bram Stoker. I scared myself silly one night reading this book during the late autumn period. Do not read this while home alone. But it's been at least twenty years since then so I expect to enjoy it throughout the month of October.

But, okay, Carl V. -- this is the official posting to the blog as requested. If I was more familiar with categories on blogspot, I'd try to put this under books!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

This entry is to test out blog posting from the Writely site.