Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: The Music of Erich Zann by H.P. Lovecraft

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories:
by H. P. Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (2001), Paperback, 464 pages

The Music of Erich Zann was written December 1921.
An university student rents an apartment in an almost empty building. Another tenant of the building is an old German man named Erich Zann.
Erich is mute and plays melodies ‘never heard before.’ Erich tells to the student that he has discovered sounds of an otherworldly nature. But Erich’s main reason to play these melodies is to keep back from his window unknown creatures looking ‘illimitable blackness.’

‘Then I remembered my old wish to gaze from this window … It was very dark, but the city’s lights always burned, and I expected to see them there amidst the rain and wind. Yet when I looked from the highest of all gable windows, looked while the candles sputtered and the insane viol howled with the night-wind, I saw no city spread below, and no friendly lights, gleaming from remembered streets, but only the blackness of space illimitable; unimagined space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance to anything on earth.’ (page 51)

Lovecraft can hear from the space without end the planet’s motion: a music indescribable with words.

Review: A School Story and The Rose Garden by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories:
by M.R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

A School Story

‘Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te’
(If you don’t come to me, I’ll come to you) (page 13)

Two men were talking of their school days, especially concerning ghost stories.
During Latin grammar lessons, Mc Leod stops thinking, maybe feeling something strange coming from the teacher, Mr. Sampson.
One night Mc Leod is watching at the professor’s window: ‘there was a man sitting or kneeling on Sampson’s window-sill … beastly thin … looking around and whispering as if he hardly liked to hear himself.’ (page 15)
The next day Mr. Sampson was gone.

The Rose Garden

Quieta non movere
or Are ghosts noisy?

Mr. Anstruther and his wife are talking about their rose garden, he disagrees with his wife because the spot is not very nice: there are shrubs, and it is not sunny. Eventually Mrs. Anstruther makes sure that her husband starts the job.
A previous owner of the estate, Miss Wilkins, visits Mrs. Anstruther; they talk about the rose garden. But when Mrs Anstruther is telling to Miss Wilkins her project, the latter thoughts ‘were evidently elsewhere.’ When Miss Wilkins and his brother Frank were children, he disappeared for a while and reappeared on the bench of the rose garden. Frank had been asleep and he had had ‘a very odd disjointed sort of dream.’ Frank was in a court for a trial, and after he was walking towards the gallow. ‘He never saw much of what was around him, but he felt the scenes most vividly.’ (page 30)

The same night, Mr. Anstruther had had the same dream.

‘Mrs. Anstruther … was sure some rough had got into the plantation during the night.
- And another thing, George: the moment that Collins is about again, you must tell him to do something about the owls.’ (page 35)

Are ghosts among us? or are they just owls?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: The Anvil Stone by Kathleen Cunnigham Guler

The Anvil Stone (Macsen's Treasure, Book 3)
by Kathleen Cunningham Guler
Bardsong Press (2006), Hardcover, 416 pages

‘Death to you. Two sons of the North or two of the White Dragon. Your choice. Beware … Excalibur.’ (page 373)

Marcus ap Iorwerth follows his dream to unite Britain and fights Saxon’s threat. Marcus is helped by his wife Claerwen, who foresees the future with what is called ‘fire in the head’.

‘The light burst inside Claerwen, firing magnificent and hot and raging, and from its center she saw a hand ran up through the water’s surface. It was the woman of the lake’s hand, and her graceful, slender fingers clutched a sword’s hilt as sure as strong as any warrior’s. The blade, long and slightly tapered, was forged of fine steel; the hilt, pommel and cross-guard of brilliant, chased gold. Light radiated from it …’ (page 92)

Rival fractions fight each other to impose a new king on Britain, they are also searching another piece of Macsen’s Treasure: the sword Excalibur. Uther, present king, already holds parts of Macsen’s Treasure: the crown, the spearhead, and the torque; but Excalibur is waiting for the new king: Arthur.

Marcus gets injured, so follows a long exile and separation from Claerwen.
Eventually many mysteries are revealed, but Arthur is still a boy …

The Anvil Stone also fights against an enemy: Arthur’s legends and hundreds of books already written about his adventures (legend or truth).
Arthur and Excalibur are the winners.
King Arthur lived in the early sixth century, according to legends he defended Britain from the invaders Saxons. Legends and history tells a story where magic is important and necessary.
The Anvil Stone lacks of magic, fantastic scenery, supernatural events.
Myrddin (or Merlin the Enchanter) spreads a bit of fantastic on Marcus’s life, but insufficient to bear an entire book (it comes at the end of the story): ‘He will be the light that comes out of the darkness. You (Marcus) are a blacksmith. You know of dark and light, fire and iron.’ (page 401)

Marcus and Claerwen’s story is a thoughtful passage of their life. They clarify each other of previous fears, nightmares, dreams.
Marcus’ dark side (Iron Hawk) is unveiled when his past is narrated to Claerwen.
Claerwen: ‘Is this your true nature? Is the disdain for killing just a mask to hide it, a nature you won’t admit to himself except through the Iron Hawk?’ (page 369)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Number 13 and Count Magnus and The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by Montague Rhodes James
Ayer Co Pub (1977), Hardcover, 270 pages


‘His back was now to the door. In that moment the door opened, and an arm came out and clawed at his shoulder.’ (page 143)

Mr. Anderson, narrator’s cousin, went to Denmark engaged upon some researches into the history of Danish church. He stays in an inn where the room number 13 is missing. Returning to his room, Mr. Anderson notices that the door refuses to open, he hears some noises in the room: ‘He had tried the wrong door, of course. … He glanced at the number: it was 13.’ (page 120) Finally, entering in his room number 12, it ‘seemed to have contracted in length …’ (page 121)
The landlord confirms to Mr. Anderson that the number 13 room had never existed, but a contract concerning these extraordinary phenomena is discovered: a professor sold himself to ...


Mr. Wraxall wants to write a book about Scandinavia. He learns about an important collection of family papers belonging to the proprietors of an ancient manor-house in Vestergothland.
The earliest owner of the manor was Magnus de la Gardie, buried in the church’s mausoleum. Mr. Wraxall becomes interested in Count Magnus, especially because he had been on the Black Pilgrimage and had brought ‘something or someone back with him.’
‘Just at that instant … I (Mr. Wraxall) felt a blow on my foot. Hastily enough I drew it back, and something fell on the pavement with a clash. It was the third, the last of the three padlocks which had fastened the sarcophagus (Count Magnus’). I stooped to pick it up, and - Heaven is my witness that I am writing only the bare truth - before I had raised myself there was a sound of metal hinges creaking, and I distinctly saw the lid shifting upwards. … I was outside that dreadful building in less time than I can write.’ (page 175)


‘it’s perfectly safe in the daytime.’ (page 243)

The story tells about a hidden treasure of Abbot Thomas. Mr. Somerton is interested in Abbot Thomas’ treasure and discovers that the secret has to be found somewhere in the window. Abbot Thomas himself had placed the window illustrating Job Patriarcha, Johannes Evangelista, and Zacharias Propheta.
Mr. Somerton deciphers the meaning of the series of letters written on the window. But there is also a warning: Gare a qui la touche.
‘Then I heard him call softly: All right, sir; and went on pulling out the great bag, in complete darkness. It hung for an instant on the edge of the hole, then slipped forward on to my chest, and put his arms round my neck.’ (page 264)

M.R. James’ character are always quiet teachers who become actors in supernatural events. James usually doesn’t tells who is the ghost, and he doesn’t explain the causes of the events.
James accompanies the readers by hand towards these irrational phenomenons.
It’s worth reading M.R. James for his excellent style and grammar, maybe coming from his Latin’s study (he was a medieval scholar).

‘I found myself at Steinfeld as soon as the resources of civilizations could put me there.’ (pages 254-5)

The best story is The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, followed by Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad; The Mezzotint.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: The Ash-Tree by M.R. James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by Montague Rhodes James
Ayer Co Pub (1977), Hardcover, 270 pages

‘It will be long, I think, before we arrive at a just estimate of the amount of solid reason - if there was any - which lay at the root of the universal fear of witches in old times.’ (p.85)

The Ash-Tree (1904) tells of Sir Richard Castringham who has just inherited a house, and an ash-tree.
Richard’s ancestors Sir Matthew condemned a woman to death for witchcraft. After that, the house has been cursed, but the real problem is the ash-tree.

James writes a ghost story about an ash-tree for many reasons, mainly connected with legends, superstitions, that tells of ash-trees.
Upon ash branches witches could fly; venomous animals don’t take shelter under an ash-tree; ash seedpods are used in divination; people don’t cut ash-trees for construction lumber: the houses could catch fire.

Review: The Hound by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

‘Madness rides the star-wind …
claws and teeth sharpened on centuries of corpses …
dripping death astride a Bacchanale of bats from night-black ruins of buried temples of Belial.’ (p.88)

The Hound was written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1922.
This short story has been influenced by many important books: A Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans; Vathek by William Beckford; and Edgar Allan Poe.

The narrator and his friend St.John are interested in robbing graves. They have set up a museum in their basement: headstones, skulls, a portfolio bound in tanned human skin.
One day the narrator and his friend learn about a cemetery in Holland where a former grave robber has been buried, several centuries before.
Reaching the cemetery they notice a barking giant hound. Both start digging finding a coffin, inside the coffin they are surprised to find a corpse still intact. Hanging from the corpse’s neck there is a jade amulet: it is one mentioned in the forbidden book Necronomicon.
‘Necronomicon … the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Teng, in Central Asia.’ (p.84)
They return home and strange sounds (the hound?) can be heard in their house.
St.John is killed by an unknown creature.
The narrator wants to stop the curse and return to the Holland cemetery, discovering … the amulet is hanging from the neck of the former grave robber.

Review: The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin

The Rest is Illusion
by Eric Arvin
Port Jervis, NY : Young Offenders Media, 2010.

‘The moon’s brightness made the creek below resemble a forgotten cobbled road leading to some ancient and terribly important place. A place out of which myths are born. A place where the feeling of new experiences never dies, never exhausts or extinguishes, where the passion for truth is enmeshed in the very notion of life.’ (page 99)

The Rest is Illusion tells the story of a tree, watching a river and witnessing the story of Dashel.
Dashel is grabbing the last days of his life, and his friends Sarah, Ashley, Tony, and ‘Wilder’ are jumping the last obstacles so to reach adulthood.
The ancient Celts venerated trees as font of wisdom, hope, and imagine of the cycle of life / seasons. So The Rest is Illusion tells the relation between Nature, also as weather, physical universe, life, and people wanting to hear about magic, helped by Nature.

Eric Arvin could have written the usual coming of age tale, but he has preferred magic’s help. The characters find comfort close to the tree and its surroundings, and Nature give them advises through magic.

I didn’t like: the end of the story, kind of life goes on; Wilder’s character is depicted too many times; some dialogs say more than once the same concept.

A note, page 127: Giacomo Puccini’s title opera is Gianni Schicchi, and not Scacchi (chess). An aria from this opera is quoted ‘O mio bambino caro’ (Oh my dear child), instead of ‘O mio babbino caro’ (Oh my dear daddy). Maybe the correct quoted aria is coherent with the character of Sarah Coheen and her father’s relation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe:
by Edgar Allan Poe
Doubleday (1966), Hardcover, 832 pages

Hop-Frog (1849) was originally published with the title Hop-Frog: Or, the Eight Chained Ourangoutangs.
The story tells about the court jester Hop-Frog, a dwarf. Both Hop-Frog and his best friend Trippetta are slaves of an unnamed king. The king decides to hold a masquerade, Hop-Frog suggests realistic costumes of orangutans, and they have to be chained together implying a massive escape from the zoo.
Hop-Frog is seeking revenge because the king has mistreated Trippetta.
During the masquerade Hop-Frog attaches a chain from the ceiling that is linked to the chain around the men in costume. Trippetta pulls the chain so all the men are hanging above the hall. Hop-Frog wants to identify the men so he climbs up and holds a torch, but soon the costumes catch fire.
Hop-Frog and Trippetta escape to their home country.

A first analysis: Poe writing Hop-Frog seeks revenge on a personal enemy.
A second point of view: the idea of a crime without guilty, the criminal is a dwarf or in The Cask of Amontillado a man with a costume, and the orangutans: fears, monstrosities, deformities. Evil is bond with ugly, so we can separates crime from honest, just watching at.
But Poe could indicates a path towards a different idea: those associations are easy, too easy. Why not?
But all stopped on a sidewalk of Baltimore.

Review: The Cries of Vampira by Sean H. Robertson

The Cries Of Vampira: The Horror Of Gaad Grey, The Evil Alpha Werewolf - Volume 1
by Sean H. Robertson
CreateSpace (2010), Paperback, 82 pages

The Cries of Vampira is a fantasy story set in Scotland in the twelfth century, and concerns two clans fighting each other: the Robertsons, who lived at the Dunalastair Castle, Royal vampire homeland Vampira and a secret werewolf horde: the Grey Wolves.

The narration’s style is simple, for instance in each dialog the name of the character is always recalled. This kind of narration reminds of fairy tales for children.

The title could get confusion in the readers because The Cries of Vampira is not a vampire story, where usually vampires bite humans.
In this story many roles are inverted: vampires are good people living among humans and sometimes they have saved humans.

The Cries of Vampira improves through the narration, so hopefully book two could earn more than three stars.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Herbert West - Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

‘They knew, indeed, that West had been connected with activities beyond the credence of ordinary men.‘ (p.76)

Herbert West - Reanimator contains six short stories narrated by West’s friend from the years of medical school until West’s disappearing.
Lovecraft wrote these short stories between October 1921 and June 1922. He tells for the first time of zombies.

From the Dark
West and his friend / narrator met in medical school, and the last one is fascinated by West’s theories about dead bodies that could be restarted. ‘Holding … that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth …” (p.51)
After several attempts to restart a dead body, they manage with a fresh corpse. Hearing an inhuman scream West and his friend have to flee: ‘vaulting madly into the starred abyss of the rural night.’ (p.54) ‘... burst the most appalling and daemoniac succession of cries that either of us had ever heard. Not more unutterable could have been the chaos of hellish sound if the pit itself had opened to release the agony of the damned’ (p.54)
The Plague-Demon
A typhus epidemic breaks out and although West and the unnamed narrator are not allowed to dissect human cadavers, they are called to help the dying victims. West injects his serum in each body, but without appreciable results. Dean Halsey, chief of the university dissection lab succumbs to typhoid; so West steals his corpse. After the injection, Halsey reanimates but becomes violent.
West: ‘Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!’ (p.60)
Six Shots by Midnight
West and the narrator purchase a house near the town’s cemetery (of course!). They also buy a corpse of a black boxing champion. West injects the serum but nothing happens, so he and the narrator bury the corpse.
A child is missing and parts of his body reappears at the West’s door house: the courier is the black boxing champion (Ups?).
The Scream of the Dead
The narrator after a visit to his parents, returns to the house who shares with Herbert West. The latter shows to his friend a corpse perfectly preserves. West explains that he has invented an embalming fluid and he has waited the narrator’s return to reanimate the corpse. They manage to reanimate the corpse but before dying again, the corpse screams revealing an horrible truth.
The Horror from the Shadows
Five years after the last reanimation, West has joined the army in the WWI. West means to procure bodies for his experiments. West befriends another medic sharing with him his theories about reanimation. After a while West’s new friend is killed: the body is decapitated. West injects the serum in the trunk and in the head, so the head begins to speak, telling the last moment of his life.
The Tomb-Legions
Herbert West-Reanimator’s last story tells about zombies as we know from movies.
West and his friend return from WWI and move into a house which is directly connected to an ancient system of catacombs. West reads in a newspaper an article telling a series of strange events involving a man with a wax head. This man is West’s friend from WWI, he seeks revenge helped by other zombies.
Zombies come out from the catacombs and take West with them. ‘Detectives have questioned me (the narrator), but what can I say?’ (p. 80)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Nebador: Journey by J.Z. Colby

NEBADOR Book Two: Journey
by J. Z. Colby
Nebador Archives (2010), Paperback, 312 pages

‘What are your lessons about?
The students looked at each other, they all said at once, Everything!’ (p. 74)

The adventures of Ilika and his nine students continue: after escaping the city where the students were tested, the countryside awaits them.
The countryside challenges them: trust, happy and sad discoveries, love affairs, and they become aware that the journey is one way.
At the end of the book, coming to a mountain pass the group faces their past: from this high point of view, like a rite of passage, a step towards adulthood has been conquered.
‘Ilika was very proud of all his students. Each had, in his or her way, wrestled dragons to help solve their first serious trigonometry problem.’ (p. 269)

Colby chose trigonometry instead of dragons, vampires, etc. to talk to young adult. Is it a good choice? In part I think so, maybe the first book, The Test, narrated with an atmosphere of mystery (medieval city, monasteries, bracelet) grip the reader to the book better than Journey. Journey needs a bit of ‘taste’ of dragons.

‘- I wonder if I’ll have stories someday - Misa pondered out loud.
- Someday, you’ll be able to tell the story of the fire. … Sometimes they’re a little painful at first, but at time passes, they get easier to tell. Stories are like that.’ (p. 243)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: The Big Splash by Kit Marlowe

The Big Splash
by Kit Marlowe
Noble Romance Publishing, LLC (2010), Kindle Edition

The Big Splash (2010) is a short story written by Kit Marlowe, an English professor who writes historical romances.
London 1929, Jazz Age and people who like living superficially, or, better, immersed in a glass of Martini.
Constance Wynne Hare, walking on velvet carpet (meaning that the word ‘concerns’ does not belong to her vocabulary), has men eager to throw themselves at her feet. After an afternoon of dancing, in the last pages of the story, similarly an act in a play (Commedia dell’arte), and acting the love triangle: he (Mr. Wood), she (Constance), and the other (Mr. Granville), Constance has finally a chance of wonderful news for her mother.

The story is funny, vibrant, but sometimes lacks of Jazz.

Review: Lost Hearts and The Mezzotint by Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by Montague Rhodes James
Ayer Co Pub (1977), Hardcover, 270 pages

‘it’s a funny thing to me how them marks and scratches can ‘a’ come there -
too high up for any cat or dog to have made them,
much less a rat … ‘ (p.42)

Lost Hearts (1904) by Montague Rhodes James.
The orphaned Stephen moves to the house of his uncle Abney.
Stephen soon discovers that the house is haunted by two ghostly children: a gypsy boy and an orphaned girl.
Stephen also discovers that his uncle is obsessed with the idea of immortality.
Is there a connection between the two ghosts and uncle Abney?

The Mezzotint (1904) is a classic ghost story.
Mr. Williams is employed in a museum, and his attention is to enlarge its collection of English topographical drawings. Mr.Britnell is a publisher of art’s catalogue, he asks Mr. Williams to buy an ‘Interesting mezzotint’. Mr.Williams, although interested, wonders why the mezzotint is so expensive.
Watching the mezzotint:
‘- But there’s just one other thing.
- What?
- Why, one of the windows on the ground floor, left of the door is open.
- Is it really so? My goodness! he must have got in.’ (p.69)

Ghosts wandering between the yard and the house in a picture, jumping on a window.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review: The World Above the Sky by Kent Stetson

The World Above the Sky
by Kent Stetson
McArthur & Company Publishing, Ltd. (2010), Paperback, 400 pages

I received this free e-book from NetGalley.

‘And the soul of the world was the sea.’ (p.ix)

Six Worlds and three parts / acts:
First part: Eugainia St Clare Delacroix, living Holy Grail, is escaping to the New World from her old husband, Lord Ard. Fleet commander is Prince Henry Sinclair, Eugainia’s protector, who has a objective: the Templar dream of establish a new Arcadia. The party reaches the Atlantic coast of Canada but soon a battle starts against the Skrelings (indigenous people of North America and Greenland).
Second part: the party becomes friend of two indigenouses: Mimkitawo’qu’sk, a young man and chief; and his aunt Keswalqw. Most of the second part tells of the love story, terrestrial and celestial, between Eugainia and Mimkitawo’qu’sk.
Third part: Eugainia and Mimtikawo’qu’sk, after living alone for a while, come back to the village. The party, reunited, starts the search for the Holy Grail, but a fleet is coming from the sea …

The World above the Sky is bonded to a legendary Venetian document published in 1558. Nicolo` and Antonio Zeno, Venetian navigators, wrote a series of letters and maps, called the Zeno’s maps. The Zeno’s describe a voyage of exploration, throughout the North Atlantic, under the command of a Prince named Zichmni (associated to Henry Sinclair). Henry Sinclair was a Scotland’s Earl of Orkney in the late 1300. The legend says he made land in the Canadian Maritime one century before Columbus, although Zeno brothers’ document tells that he landed in Greenland and not in Canada.
Zeno’s legend is the background of The World above the Sky.
Accordingly to Stetson: ‘no one owns tales, nephew. Only the Creator. Maybe we taught them, long ago. Maybe they taught us, long ago. No matter. So long as we learn we live. I should say their tale is similar to our tale. Not exactly the same. Similar.’ (p. 65)

I liked the first and last part of the book.
The second part, unfortunately the longest, suggests an idea of inaction. Maybe Stetson’s idea was to give the impression of Humans bond to action and Gods to inaction. Or maybe an unhappy reconsideration of a play in a novel.
The Sturm und Drang of the first part is fascinating for the high style of narration, like epic stories, and reminding, of course, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.
In the last part when other Europeans are coming to land in the New World, Stetson ‘invents’ to stop the world, so to prevent the landing. The solution comes from Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth; but apart from the connection between the books, I found
this part enjoyable.

I don’t recommend this book for a general audience, it is enjoyable for readers of epic story and literature written in high style.

Useful the last pages of the book with the Pronunciation Guide and Mi’kmaq Dictionary.

‘It will comfort you to know we’re all subject to folly. No one truth shapes and re-revises every mote and twitch of the living cosmos: nothing, small or large, is set in stone. Chaos rules. Order emerges, brief and impermanent. Revision is endless; certainty breeds contradictions; peace depends upon war; night exists not to counter the day alone, but to reveal the stars, which mimic the working of the waking mind.’ (p. 144)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book by Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by Montague Rhodes James
Ayer Co Pub (1977), Hardcover, 270 pages

‘They were in the sitting-room of the house, a small, high chamber with a stone floor,
full of moving shadows cast by a wood-fire that flickered on a great heart.’ (p.13)

Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book was first published in 1904, although it was written in 1894.
The story is set in southern France.
An English tourist is photographing the interior of the cathedral of Saint-Bernard-de-Comminges at the foot of Pyrenees, when the cathedral’s sacristan tries to sell him a strange book. The Englishman is impressed by a drawing in the book. After buying it, he returns to his room, and …
‘his attention was caught by an object lying on the red cloth just by his left elbow. …
A pen wiper? No, no such thing in the house.
A rat? No, too black.
A large spider? I trust to goodness not - no. …
God! a hand like the hand in that picture!’ (p. 23-4)

Review: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe:
by Edgar Allan Poe
Doubleday (1966), Hardcover, 832 pages

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar was first published in 1845.
The narrator is interested in hypnotism, and he is curious to know what effects hypnotism would have on a dying person. The narrator thinks of experimenting his idea with his friend Ernest Valdemar. Valdemar, who is dying of tuberculosis, accepts.
Valdemar is hypnotized and while in trance he tells to the narrator that he is dying and then that he is dead.
Finally the narrator decides to awaken Valdemar from hypnosis (?), but during the process Valdemar’s body decays into a liquid mass.

More than a story Poe is narrating an experiment, so it seems not one of the Poe’s best stories. Point of advice: instead of reading the story, watch the movie Tales of Terror with Vincent Price.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: Beyond the Wall of Sleep and The White Ship

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories:
by H. P. Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (2001), Paperback, 464 pages

‘There is probably a tremendous but invisible stellar orbit in which our very different ways and goals may be included as small parts of this path — let us rise up to this thought! But our life is too short and our power of vision too small for us to be more than friends in the sense of this sublime possibility.
Let us then believe in our star friendship even if we should be compelled to be earth enemies.’
Friedrich Nietzsche

Beyond the Wall of Sleep was written in 1919. Joe Slater is a murderer confined in a mental hospital. He dreams of otherworld with fantastic visions.
An intern of the hospital has built a device for two-way telepathic communication. To test the device the intern attaches himself with Slater. The intern starts to receive a message from a being of light, who explains that all men are light beings. Beyond the wall of sleep, humans are light beings and they experience visions of other world.
Is Slater a star in the sky?

The best parts:
‘I am your brother of light, and have floated with you in the effulgent valleys. … we are all roamers of vast spaces and travellers in many ages. Next year I may be dwelling in the dark Egypt which you call ancient, or in the cruel empire of Tsan-Chan which isto come three thousand years hence.’
‘We shall meet again - perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia. Perhaps in unremembered dreams tonight; perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away.’ (p. 19)


The White Ship was first published in 1919.
Dream or imagination?
Basil Elton is a lighthouse keeper when a bearded man piloting a white ship and sailing upon a bridge of moonlight, takes Basil on board. They start a voyage towards mystical islands. Basil learns about Cathuria, the land of Hope. This land is ‘beyond the basalt pillars of the West. … but who can tell what lies beyond the basalt pillars of the West?’ (p.24)

Beyond some symbolical connections between The White Ship and desire of the unknown …
Beyond some connection between The White Ship and Plato’s lost realm of Atlantis situated beyond, again, the Pillars of Hercules …
The White Ship is the calling / imagination / evocation of fantastic worlds beyond and inside the Pillars of Hercules.

A quotation:
‘for ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time.’ (p. 21)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Olalla

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: And Other Tales of Terror:
BY Robert Louis Stevenson
Penguin Classics (2003), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 224 pages

Olalla was first published in 1887 and is set in Spain during a war. The narrator is an English soldier recovering from his wounds in an hospital. After a while the soldier takes residence with a local family. The family consists of a mother, a son, Felipe, and a daughter, Olalla; they are an old Spanish family living in a residencia.

‘It was a rich house, on which Time had breathed his tarnish and dust had scattered disillusion.’ (p. 112)

The soldier cuts his wrist and asks Olalla’s mother for help. Seeing the blood the woman starts screaming and bites the soldier’s arm.

In Olalla Stevenson retrieves from the Gothic genre the themes of old and decayed families, vampires, buildings resembling castles, and, of course, the atmosphere of angst. Although the soldier’s infatuation with Olalla takes most of the story and Stevenson keeps the Gothic themes in the background, Olalla suggests an idea of passage between the Gothic genre tout court and its themes transferred inside the individuals (for instance Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: And Other Tales of Terror
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Penguin Classics (2003), Paperback, 224 pages

‘I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.’ (p.10)

Robert Mighall, editor of this edition of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, writes that the statement of Dr Jekyll (last chapter of the book) is the best known part of the story written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Mighall advises to read the book completely: “They would find there something different from what they imagined: a more complex, rewarding and disturbing story than the version that has been handed down in popular culture form.’ (p.ix)

As Mighall writes in the introduction, following the path of Gothic novelist Stevenson changes the set of his stories: abandoned ruined castles and woods, Stevenson set the horror in the mind of individuals. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe is the past, the good and the evil are inside the mind.

‘I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; … I had learned to dwell with pleasure, … on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each … could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the injust might go his way … and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path.’ (p.56)
This edition contains a brief dissertation of Robert Mighall: Diagnosing Jekyll: the Scientific Context to Dr Jekyll’s Experiment and Mr Hyde’s Embodiment; although very useful, I prefer a different point of view ‘diagnosing’ Stevenson and his book.
Cesare Lombroso’ s idea about the connection between head’s shape and criminality (drawn from physiognomy): ugly means crime, handsome means honest person; is only an easy and popular connection. In my opinion, on the other hand, Stevenson writes about the dichotomy between good and evil. Good or just has always tried to keep a distance from evil or unjust, but Stevenson wants to find another solution: both just and unjust living in the same person. But morality liked, from biblical times, dichotomy; so Stevenson doesn’t solve the problem with Dr Jekyll: his friend ‘can’t describe him’ (p.10)

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was first published in 1885; the next year, 1886, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche wrote Beyond Good and Evil (Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future). Nietzsche ‘screaming’ his ‘Affirmative Philosophy’ or ‘Philosophy of Yes’ preludes how to build a bridge towards / beyond just and unjust.
Stevenson and Nietzsche: same times, same ideas, different solutions.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe:
Edgar Allan Poe
Doubleday (1966), Hardcover, 832 pages

The Black Cat was first published in 1843.
The narrator tells about his black cat Pluto (Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld).
Pluto is especially fond of the narrator, but, one night, he comes home drunk and when he tries to seize the cat, it bites the man.
The narrator is angry with the cat, and later he hangs the cat from a tree.
Some time later the narrator finds another black cat and takes it home.
One day the narrator and his wife are visiting the house’s cellar while the cat nearly trips the man. He is infuriated and grabs an axe trying to kill the cat. The narrator’s wife stops him but she is killed instead of the black cat.
The man buries the woman, but when the police start to search her, the man breaks down and tells to the police where he has buried his wife.
/////////////////// /////////////////// ///////////////////////
The Cask of Amontillado was first published in November 1846.
The story is set in a nameless Italian city.
The narrator, Montresor invites his friend Fortunato to drink a special wine called Amontillado.
Montresor thinking about ‘The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne …’ (p.191), chains Fortunato in a wine cellar’s niche and builds a wall to bury him alive.

At the end of The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat, the narrator, feeling guilty, confesses his murderers.
This time the murderer is unrepentant: the idea of ‘The thousand injuries’ to bury behind a brick’s wall sometimes works.
The feeling of guilt is suppressed: the new idea is dichotomy, such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Stevenson (1886), The Double by Dostoevsky (1846), etc.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: The Fall of the House Usher

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe:
by Edgar Allan Poe
Doubleday (1966), Hardcover, 832 pages

‘During the whole of a dull dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, …’ (p.177)

The Fall of the House of Usher was first published in 1839.
The unnamed narrator arrives at his friend’s house, Roderick Usher’s, because he is complaining an illness and he is asking for help to his friend.
Roderick’s twin sister, Madeline is also ill, and during the stay of the narrator at the Usher’s house, she dies.
Roderick asks his friend to bury his sister’s corpse in a provisional coffin.
Roderick feels fear, guilt, and he seeks comfort with his friend; but during the conversation a loud scream pierces the air: Roderick’s sister?
The narrator fled away from Usher’s house with terror in his eyes.

A man wants to know his double soul and riding an unstable horse is watching Usher’s house.
One side of his soul asks for help because the other side shows to him illness and feeling of guilt.
As twin souls they can not be separated, actually the reunification becomes the biggest scream of the loudest storm.
The man prefers to fled away from the falling of the Usher’s house, or from his soul.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: The Pit and the Pendulum

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe:
by Edgar Allan Poe
Doubleday (1966), Hardcover, 832 pages

The Pit and the Pendulum is a short story published in 1842.
The main character is a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition. The story tells about the prisoner’s experience of being tortured.
At the center of the cell there is a pit, and on the ceiling there is a picture with a painted Father Time, and hanging from the picture there is a pendulum sliding downward.

Poe’s idea is to describe an atmosphere of fear. The narration, despite the brevity of the story, is slow so to suggest in the reader the angst of ‘tempus fugit’ (time flies).

At the end the rats free the prisoner ...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review: Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad

Ghost Stories (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets):
Peter Washington (editor)
Everyman's Library (2008), Hardcover, 416 pages

Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You my Lad was written in 1904 and it’s a ghost story from the stories collected in Ghost Stories from an Antiquary by Montague Rhodes James (M.R. James).

‘... there must be rats …’ (p. 142)

One man, two beds, and one ghost, or ...

A professor takes a vacation, unfortunately he can rent only a double-bedded room.
Nearby the inn there is a Templars’ Preceptory, where the professor finds an old whistle with some inscriptions on it.

In the evening the professor blows in the whistle …

Although the professor sleeps only in one of the two beds, the other one is always unmade.

Ghosts, rats, or ‘he should be … careful about using a thing that had belonged to a set of Papists.’ (p.137)