Tag Archives: book reviews

THE SOUL OF KOL NIKON (1913): NEGLECTED HORROR

Soul of Kol NikonTHE SOUL OF KOL NIKON (1913) – Written by author, poet and librettist Eleanor Farjeon as a serial in 1913. Later novelized. Halloween Month rolls along with another look at a neglected tale of horror.

In Denmark a baby named Kol Nikon is born to a hysterical woman whose husband has just died. The terrified mother is convinced that Elves caused her husband’s death and replaced her real son with a Changeling.

Kol Nikon thus grows up unloved by his fearful, possibly insane mother. Plus the young man is shunned by the equally superstitious villagers of his mother’s hometown. Kol is comforted by a pagan nature goddess and grows up with all manner of supernatural creatures as his playmates.

As the Changeling matures he longs for a soul of his own since – as the offspring of Elves who exchanged him for the human infant they stole from his mother – he is soulless. Kol Nikon’s quest for a soul to steal would make a good (but dark) companion musical to Pippin, which was also based on a work by Eleanor Farjeon.  Continue reading

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THE GALLOWS MAN: NEGLECTED HORROR LEGEND

Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this slice of pure Americana.

gallows-manTHE GALLOWS MAN – This is another neglected American horror legend which has been presented in many different versions over the years. Ralph Sutherland was born in 1702 in either New York City or a town near the Catskills, depending on the version.

Sutherland was born into the New York gentry but in his adult years his drinking and gambling eventually embarrassed the family enough that they stopped associating with him. After boozing, whoring and gambling away a large part of his money Ralph was left with just one reasonably-sized home surrounded by a stone wall. He had enough funds left to maintain that house and took in an indentured servant – a beautiful teen girl from Scotland.

Sutherland’s foul and obnoxious nature soon led the girl to flee. In a rage Ralph mounted a horse and tracked her down before she got far. The black-hearted man tied the terrified girl to his horse and rode back to his home, but was either so furious or so drunk that he inadvertently dragged the poor female to her death. Continue reading

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THE CENTENARIAN (1822): GOTHIC HORROR

CentenarianTHE CENTENARIAN (1822) – Written by THE Honore de Balzac. Thirty-one days of Halloween continue here at Balladeer’s Blog! The Centenarian or The Two Beringhelds was one of the “quickie” novels that Balzac wrote in his early career, this one under the pseudonym Horace de Saint-Aubin.  

Balzac himself looked down on The Centenarian and other early works that he churned out for quick money like the Pulp writers of a century later. Still, this work has value, just like the early Pulp stories from writers like Tennessee Williams, Dashiell Hammett and others. Plus I’m a Napoleon geek so I love immersing myself in the time period in which the novel is set.

The title character is really Count Maxime Beringheld Sculdans. The Centenarian was born in 1470 and led an adventurous life, supposedly even serving as a ship’s doctor when Columbus visited the New World. During his wanderings across the globe Count Maxime studied all the medicine and related sciences that he could.

Under the Rosicrucians the Centenarian learned various secrets of alchemy, including universal healing powers and immortality. Those last two secrets often worked hand in hand: Maxime would use his powers to mystically withdraw the illness or injury out of a sufferer but his “fee” was the draining of the life essence of another person in return. 

Honore de BalzacThe Centenarian leeches out the vitality of his victims but NOT by sucking out blood like a vampire. He drains their life force via alchemical means with his “medical” equipment. By the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Count Maxime has grown a bit weary of his eternal life in typical Gothic style.  

In recent centuries our title character has devoted himself to secretly watching over his family line, mysteriously saving their lives or killing off their enemies at crucial periods. The Centenarian has most recently intervened in Spain during the Wars of the French Revolution, saving the life of his descendant General Tullius Beringheld.

Intrigued, Tullius seeks out information on his enigmatic savior and eventually learns the Centenarian’s true identity and about his supernatural nature. By this point (the 1790s) Maxime’s body is misshapen. His arms are emaciated but his torso and legs are thick and muscular.

He is unusually tall but the skin on his head is so thin that his  scalp and facial features resemble a living skull. He smells of the grave but his powers of healing make others treat him with fear and respect despite the awful fee he demands.  

The Centenarian’s additional powers include immunity to hanging and other forms of mortal injury. He has superhuman strength and his fiery eyes can induce fear, paralysis or death. He can read minds and teleport as well.   Continue reading

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TOP SEVEN ROBERT LUDLUM NOVELS: NUMBER TWO

FOR BALLADEER’S BLOG’S SEVENTH PLACE LUDLUM NOVEL CLICK HERE 

Bourne Identity2. THE BOURNE IDENTITY (1980)

TIME PERIOD: Vietnam War era to the late 1970s.

Robert Ludlum’s most popular fictional creation – Jason Bourne (Real name David Webb) – has become as thoroughly overused, distorted and bastardized as James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. Ludlum himself already watered down the character’s original impact with two additional novels putting the amnesiac figure in increasingly ridiculous situations.

Since then other writers have churned out so many silly Bourne stories (ten at last count) to the point where Jason Bourne In Spaaaaace is the only avenue left unexplored. Or maybe a crossover with All My Sins Remembered. The Matt Damon movies use virtually nothing but the Jason Bourne name.

To me the bulk of the appeal of the original novel The Bourne Identity was that a reader only had to suspend disbelief just enough to accept an amnesiac figure surviving the unique set of circumstances presented in that story.  

Bourne Identity 2At the end it was accepted by all characters that David Webb/ Jason Bourne was in no condition to continue his intelligence work. Not only because of his amnesia but because he had found happiness with Marie, which made him lose the near-suicidal edge he had needed to succeed as Bourne.  

In my opinion Ludlum should have done PREQUEL stories of David Webb as Delta in the Vietnam War’s Medusa Project or his days pursuing Carlos as Cain/ Jason Bourne PRIOR to his amnesia.    

HERO: Since there are virtually no spoilers left about this character who has had everything but his own comic book series I will go ahead and lay out all the details of the ORIGINAL figure. This is for potential Bourne fans who associate him purely with the silly super-soldier nonsense of the movies and have avoided him because of that.

I think transferring Jason Bourne to more recent time periods robbed the story of a great deal of its unique appeal. Movies CAN work as period pieces. Studios still churn out spy flicks set during World War Two for crying out loud. There’s no reason why they can’t keep the period setting for stories dependent on the Vietnam War or late Cold War events for their full impact. 

So again … HERO: DAVID WEBB, an American scholar who specialized in ancient Vietnamese culture and spoke multiple regional languages. Webb had been serving in various diplomatic posts throughout Indochina and had a Vietnamese wife and children.

Bourne Identity 3When his wife and children were killed during a fly-by strafing from a plane of unknown national origin Webb left diplomatic work and volunteered for the top secret Medusa Project. (Ludlum’s fictional version of the real-life Phoenix Project.)

Under the codename Delta (later refined to Delta One), David Webb thrived in that Black Ops program. Delta proved ruthless and bloodthirsty, with his command of local languages and culture making him an irreplaceable asset against the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese regulars and international mercenaries in the region. 

The Medusa Project’s operatives served as assassins, guerillas and saboteurs, often locating POW camps and facilitating escapes for UN participants in the war. On one particular mission Jason Bourne, a treacherous Medusan from Australia, betrayed Delta and his team. In response Webb killed Bourne on the spot.   Continue reading

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WILD AND WEIRD (1889) – NEGLECTED HORROR

Wild and WeirdHalloween is celebrated for all 31 days of October here at Balladeer’s Blog. Here’s another neglected gem. As Johnny Carson would have said “That izh some weird, wild shtuff.” 

WILD AND WEIRD (1889) – By Gilbert Edward Campbell. This compilation of three of Campbell’s short story collections presents some of the author’s best works. He often based his tales of terror on pre-existing folklore from around Russia, England and Italy but made them come alive in more polished form.

Here are some of the stories:  

THE MIDNIGHT SKATER – This tale gets extra points from me for presenting a reasonably unique monster: a female were-bear. That’s not really a spoiler since this is one of those stories in which modern readers will guess the twist just a few pages in. Olga, a beautiful gypsy girl, is wooed by plenty of men but most of them end up getting killed by a bear-like creature. It turns out Olga herself is the were-bear, who preys on her suitors when she gets them alone in the woods.

WHAT WAS IT? – I’m often surprised at how many horror stories from the 1800s and earlier were edgy enough to kill off children. This is another one of them. Playful, mischievous children are repeatedly warned not to enter a room called “the Infernal Room.” Kids being kids, they eventually enter it anyway and face death in the form of a child-hating ghost.

THE GREEN STAIRCASE – An eerie green staircase – think David Lynch meets Arthur Machen – leads to a portrait gallery. (But no, this strange room is NOT above a convenience store.) The art is hypnotically beautiful but if you stay too long or visit too many times the figures in the pictures come to life and reveal their malevolent nature.   Continue reading

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THE BLACK REAPER (1899): GOTHIC HORROR

Black ReaperTHE BLACK REAPER (1899) – By Bernard Capes. Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this neglected horror tale. The story takes place in 1665 in a secluded British farming town called Anathoth.

The Black Reaper of the title is an interesting humanoid monster. Religious superstition and human evil mingle in this tale, just like in so many other great horror stories. And it seems Stephen King must have been, uh … “inspired” by The Black Reaper.

The citizens of Anathoth are described in the narrative as the kind of religious people who merely pay lip service to their beliefs but don’t live by them. They even treated their previous Vicar like a joke.

Now the plague is once more at large in the land and a new fire-and- brimstone preacher has replaced the disrespected man in Anathoth. The new “holy” man  frequently rails at the citizens, telling them that they are all horrible sinners and that God will one day mow them down like ripe corn.

All of them, that is, except the children. Continue reading

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CITY OF VAMPIRES (1867)

Vampire city 2Halloween Month moved another notch today, leaving us with just 20 days left. Balladeer’s Blog continues its month-long celebration with a look at another neglected gem of horror fiction.

LA VILLE-VAMPIRE (City of Vampires) 1867 – Written by the accomplished and prolific Paul Feval, it’s City of Vampires or, if you prefer, Vampire City (Wham, bam, thank you ma’am! Va- va- va- Vampire CIT-EEE! … Had to be said.)

Paul Feval’s heroine in this story is the young Ann Ward, who went on to be Ann Radcliffe, pioneer of Gothic Horror through such works as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Ann’s friends Cornelia de Witt and Ned Barton depart for the continent with their new acquaintance Otto Goetzi.

Vampire CityGoetzi turns out to be a vampire who lures Cornelia and Ned deeper and deeper into a trap. Back in England, Ann Ward deduces all this from odd letters that she receives from her friends and from horrific premonitions which come to her in nightmares.

Ann and a much older family servant called Grey Jack cross the English Channel to come to the rescue of Ann’s friends. Soon the trail leads to Belgrade and then to a dismal city called Selene by outsiders but known as the Sepulchre to its inhabitants, all of whom are vampires.    Continue reading

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