Stories 16 – 22

I fell behind in writing, not in reading, and so, just because I’m anal about such things, I’m going to catch up with my ratings, but not my summaries and comments.

Story 16: “The Dead Sexton” by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Writing: 6/10

Personal Fright: 4/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Story 17: “The Transfer” by: Algernon Blackwood

Writing: 8/10

Personal Fright: 1/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 2/10

Story 18: “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft

Writing: 9/10

Personal Fright: 6/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 10/10

Story 19: “The Jar” by Ray Bradbury

Writing:  6/10

Personal Fright:  3/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Story 20: “The Tutor” by John Langan

Writing: 4/10

Personal Fright: 2/10

General Horror Oppressiveness: 2/10

Story 21: “Rest Stop” by Stephen King

Writing: 10/10

Personal Fright: 3/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 5/10

Story 22: “A Warning to the Curious” by M.R. James

Writing: 10/10

Personal Fright: 6/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 8/10

And that does it, wraps up my October short story reading marathon.  By the end I was getting more and more familiar with the tropes and styles or each author, which, while it contributed to my overall enjoyment, reduced the level of fear and terror.  It was a heck of a lot of fun though and I am thrilled I found authors the likes of M.R. James – who write about things that actually frighten me and aren’t afraid to invoke Christianity and its tenets in their writing.  That idea has fallen away in more modern times and what is it they say about that, “the greatest trick Satan ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Story 10: “The Other Wing” by Algernon Blackwood

This story was rather a departure from what I’m used to reading from Blackwood for several reasons – it was set in a mansion, the protagonist was a child, it wasn’t all that scary nor was it meant to be, and it involved a friendly ghost.  Therefore, on the one-to-ten scales below, it will rate very low on the horror and personal fright categories, but that’s fine because it wasn’t meant to frighten!  This was a very entertaining well written story about that most elusive of spirits in the horror genre: the friendly, helpful ghost.

 

Summary:  A young boy who lives in an extraordinarily large English mansion is convinced he sees something watching him just as he is about to drift off to sleep.  But when his eyelids struggle open, said something is gone, whisked away.  He has developed a whole milieu of ideas about this ghost, where it comes from, why it is there, and where it goes when it disappears.  Where it comes from and where it goes are the same place, he is convinced – the other wing of the mansion, which is closed off and not used.  So, one day, when his parents are away and his governess is on holiday (and he can easily avoid the “second-rate supervision” – loved that line! – of his nurse and the cook) he resolves to explore the Other Wing.  In it he discovers much to his childish delight a whole realm of spirits, with the harmful ones trapped behind the closed doors and all presided over by the benevolent spirit of his grandfather.  He returns an item of his grandfather’s to him and departs, but years later that act of kindness will be repaid, many, many times over.

 

Writing:  10/10  (I always think it is harder to write from a child’s perspective, but Blackwood pulls it off with aplomb here.)

 

Personal Fright:  1/10

 

General Horror Oppressiveness: 1/10

Story 4: “The Glamour of the Snow” by Algernon Blackwood

I read a few stories by Blackwood a couple of months ago (and really, is there a cooler name out there?  I mean, come on, Algernon Blackwood!!) and enjoyed them.  One of the first things I noticed that made him different was his focus on nature, his more nature oriented settings and the way in which he used the natural world to create his atmosphere of fear and oppression.  In this story, he does the same and it was really something.  Who among us has never done something stupid in the pursuit of that which is just beyond our grasp, particularly when that thing is a person to whom we are attracted?  Who among us has never over extended ourselves to obtain it, a glimpse, a word, a touch?  In many ways, for me, this story was about the power we allow others to have over us and once we have granted that permission, our inability to seize it back.  I loved how in the end, it is the sounds of the church and of worship that bring our hero, Hibbert, back to his senses and call him back from the beyond place he went to in his own mind.  It is the church that becomes his destination for safety and sanctuary.  And it is the church of which the demon is most afraid.  Too often these days the stories we see or hear portray the church – correctly or incorrectly – as the source of fear and abuse rather than its vanquisher.  I like reading about the church doing what it ought to be doing.

 

Summary:  A man in totally taken by the snow and the winter wonderland world of a ski resort.  He finds himself ensorcelled by a mysterious woman who skates with him alone one night on a frozen pond and he always is looking for her over the next ten days but she does not appear.  He draws into himself, becoming a dullard at parties and a bore in conversation.  But then he see her again and she beckons to him to join her in the snow, the cold, the ice, and the chill air.  He dons his winter clothes, his skis, and heads out of doors, always following her with her just beyond his reach up and up the mountain all through the night.   It is near dawn when he realizes he has reached the summit and then she reveals herself to be some kind of fell demon who has entrapped him.  When she cries outs, “This is our home!” you know it is over.  But the sound of the church bells and the priest chanting as he takes Communion to a sick parishioner carries to him up the mountain born on a holy wind and it revives him.  He manages, only barely to escape, as she chases him down the mountain on demonic skis of her own.  He reaches the church and is saved, and later, when men inspired by his mad midnight descent, go up to the mountain to photograph his path, they return having seen only one set of ski tracks.

 

Writing: 9/10

 

Personal Fright:  4/10

 

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Finshed 2 out of 3 of Chronicles of The Raven

After finishing up Noonshade, the Chronicles of the Raven are still pretty good, but only just this side of mediocre.  I also thought of another Gripe:  Don’t have characters say things like, “By the gods!”, or “The gods won’t like that…” if those are the only references whatsoever to divine beings.  If you want a deity or a pantheon in your story, do the work and create one.  Weave it/them into your tale.  Have them interact with characters or have characters pray to them but don’t just throw a god line in there because it sounds good.

I think part of the reason I have so many pet peeves about Barclay’s trilogy so far, yet still enjoy reading it, is that there is just so much potential here!  The characters are interesting, but a bit one dimensional sometimes.  The world is fascinating, but underdeveloped.  The writing is ok, but sometimes a bit flat.  It’s like I keep waiting for something really cool to happen or a particularly good line to come up and when I think I’ve waited all I can, it happens!  And I keep reading!  Only to start to get disappointed again.  And then it happens again!  Incidentally, this is also how I play golf.

Anyway, I am not moving on to the final book of the trilogy just yet – in part because the story was resolved at the end of the second and I have no idea what the third will be about.  But the main reason is we are now in the month of October and I find myself in the mood for horror once again.  So, remember all those old horror authors I picked up a while back?  Now I’m going to read them.  One story from one author at a time as I cycle through the various books I have until Halloween.  On tap is:

  • M.R. James
  • J. Sheridan LeFanu
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Algernon Blackwood
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Stephen King

Deja Vu

Whoa.  So, yesterday and today I was reading in the Algernon Blackwood collection that I bought one of his apparently more famous stories called “The Wendigo.”  The name sounded familiar to me, but I didn’t remember where I had heard it before.  As I read it, I had the strangest sense of deja vu, that I had read this story before, but I knew I had never read any Blackwood stories before getting this book.  I heard in my mind a haunting voice, crying out, “Da-Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay-go!”  The name of the Indian guide in the story.  Then, when the Wendigo came around and took DeFago away, DeFago cried out, “Oh, my fiery feet, my burning feet of fire…”

Then it hit me.  I knew this story most definitely.  It had appeared in a severely edited and truncated version in Alvin Schwartz’s kids book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark!  By far, one of my favorite books when I was a kid!  I loved these stories!  I even had an audio tape of some.  It was the book that accompanied me on sleepovers, campouts, and any Halloween event I went to.  I was thrilled when he came out with a second volume, but it was not as good as the first.  I am now impressed that Schwartz took this very literary tale by Blackwood and made it into a kids scary story.  Genius!  It was a weird story then and it is even weirder now that I read the original story, based on an Canadian Indian legend.  In the legend, the Wendigo, a malevolent spirit, calls your name and comes to get you.  When it takes you, it runs with you so fast that your feet burn off and your eyes bleed blood from the rush on the cold Canadian wind.  You run farther an faster, covering huge distances and eventually you become the Wendigo.  Not your traditional ghost story to be sure, but frightening nonetheless.

“Oh my fiery feet, my burning feet of fire…”

A Temporary Solution

Unable to make a decision about what book I wanted to be reading when I leave for vacation on Thursday, I have found a temporary solution to delay deciding: the short story.  I know which books I am going to be taking, just not which one I want to read first.

But in the meantime, at least I have something to read.  A few weeks ago I was reading a post on sffworld.com about a collection of horror stories someone had found.  While that particular collection didn’t interest me much, one of the commentors talked about several authors of whom I had never heard.  Older horror authors, and when I looked them up, the giants of the genre upon whose shoulders folks like Stephen King now stand.  Men with names like:  M.R. James, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, and others.  I was fascinated by this discovery because I’ve always enjoyed a good ghost story and I’ve wondered forever how they got to be popular and did anyone of letters actually write any or were they all just campfire tales for kids.  I had no idea that in the early 20th century (Lovecraft’s time) there were others out there writing about the supernatural and paranormal.  So, I did some digging and found out some more about these authors and the kinds of stories they had written – stories that sounded exactly like what I have been wanting.  Half.com is my friend and for the low, low price of like $23 I ordered a whole bunch of these old books.  Several have arrived now, one by accident and as a bonus!

I ordered a collection by Le Fanu and when it arrived it turned out to be a collection by Blackwood that I had not ordered.  I alerted the seller who apologized, refunded my money, and told me to keep the book!  It was the first and only one that had arrived by the time I needed something to read, so last night I picked it up and read the first story in it, apparently a very famous one of which Lovecraft himself said that it might be the finest ghost story ever written in the English language.  It was called, “The Willows,” and may I just say, wow!  Very suspenseful, excellent command of English diction and syntax, great sense of awe and terror, and he doesn’t commit the sin of showing the “scary thing”!  I have read that he is known for his writing about nature and the outdoors, of which “The Willows” definitely was an example, but I look forward to some of the James’ stories that take place in libraries and giant houses and such places.  As well as I look forward to the others!  Plus, I remembered King came out with a new short story collection not too long ago, Just After Sunset, so I ordered it too in hardback on half.com for $0.75  Love that site!  So, these fellas outta hold me over til Thursday when I can begin my next novel on the plane.