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.”

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Story 15: “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James

Most of this story I read while riding the train to and from downtown and I don’t know what it was but that significantly added to my experience.  This is the title story of the collection of M.R. James that I have and I thought I should work that in to my cycle here.  I was not disappointed.

 

Summary:  A rather arrogant man is submitting a paper to be published by a whole host of journals and when it does not get published but rejected, the man takes matters into his own sorcerous hands.  People that somehow had something to do with the rejection end up dying, which understandably has our protagonist nervous – he is the latest person to reject the academic paper from publication.  But armed with the foreknowledge of what might happen to him, he goes on the offensive and gives the paper’s author a dose of his own medicine.  The remorse he feels at doing so, balanced by knowing other people are now safe, is part of what makes this story so emotionally real.

 

Writing:  9/10

Personal Fright: 4/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness:  7/10

Story 8: “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book” by M.R. James

The cycle of authors has come back around now and I’ve just finished my second M.R. James story.  This one was the first short story he ever wrote apparently, and you can sort of tell by the sometimes cumbersome sentences.  Still, though, he is such a masterful writer that even his cumbersome sentences are not that bad.  I have to say, this story was really, really good and quite personally scary.  While I’ve not had experiences totally the same as the one described by this tale, I have (once, for sure, maybe twice or even three times) experienced something akin to it – call it spiritual attack.  It’s devastatingly scary stuff.  So, what’s the moral?  Don’t go fooling around with things that “sound cool” that you have absolutely no idea about, nor how to deal with potential consequences.

Original Illustration for the Story

Summary:  A scholar travels to a small town for a kind of working vacation and there sees a wonderful looking church which he would like to explore.  Upon entering he meets with the sacristan who show him around.  Eventually they make their way to the church library where the sacristan shows him all sorts of old and antiquated books that peak the scholar’s interest.  One, in particular, the sacristan seems especially excited to show off.  The scholar gets very excited about this book, the personal scrap-book of one Canon Alberic, and offers to buy it.  The sacristan sells it to him for a pittance, and you get the sense the sacristan just wants to get rid of it.  On his way out, the scholar is given another gift, a crucifix, by the sacristan’s daughter, who insists he take it free of charge.  Later that same night as the scholar is studying his new found treasure, he encounters a page with a drawing of a demon that isn’t totally keen on staying in the book.

Writing:  7/10

Personal Fright:  9/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 7/10

Story 1: “O Whistle, and I’ll Come to You My Lad” by M.R. James

First off, what a creepy title for a story!  “O Whistle, and I’ll Come to You My Lad”  Ee gads! That actually just sends a few shivers down my spine by itself when I think of it in the context of horror writing.

So, M.R. James is a guru of this narrative form and this is one of his most celebrated stories, so it seems a fitting place for me to begin my odyssey into (mostly) 19th and early 20th century horror short fiction, with a few contemporary pieces from King thrown in.

I started the story last night and finished it this morning.  It was excellent!  However, it was not too frightening.  I enjoyed the story because I could identify with the horror of the principle character, but I did not experience that horror myself.  I think part of the reason was how it was written – in high 19th century Oxford English.  No fault of the author’s, in fact, no fault at all.  But it contributed to a more academic atmosphere rather than a frightening atmosphere – which, I gather, is the realm in which James’ tales will dwell.  He kind of invented the “antiquarian” genre of ghost stories, which Lovecraft picks up on.

Summary:  A professor is staying in a hotel room by a beach.  While walking on the beach he discovers a whistle, which he blows.  From them on he is haunted by visions of a thing or a person coming towards him slowly but steadily from the beach.  His sleep is disturbed in his hotel room and he discovers he is not alone.

Out of 10 stars –

Writing:  10/10

Personal Fright:  6/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 8/10

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

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.