Tag Archives: book reviews

THE ENSOULED VIOLIN (1880): GOTHIC HORROR

Halloween Month continues as Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at another tale of Gothic Horror which, like The Lost Stradivarius, centers around a violin player.

ensouled violinTHE ENSOULED VIOLIN (1880) Written by Helena Blavatsky, aka Madame Blavatsky, famous for the Theosophy Movement and its premier work Isis Unveiled. Later she wrote The Secret Doctrine, another milestone theosophical opus.

This tale of Gothic Horror is set in the 1820s. The main character is a young violin virtuoso named Franz Stenio from Styria in Austria. Though studying the occult arts and alchemy while away at college his central passion had remained music.

Franz’s skill was extraordinary but eventually his widowed mother ran short of money, ending his studies. He left university and moved back home. Franz devoted his every waking moment to his violin and he refused even to go to church with his mother when she begged him.

The youth’s occult studies had filled him with contempt for Christianity and he preferred to think of himself as a pagan. Franz’s mother worried herself sick over the potential fate of her son’s soul and eventually she put such a strain on herself that she died. Some dark whispers hinted that her son had killed her. Continue reading

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THE LOST STRADIVARIUS: HALLOWEEN READING

lost-stradivarius-2

Jeremy Brett in The Lost Stradivarius

THE LOST STRADIVARIUS (1895) by John Meade Falkner – More than a century before Anne Rice’s violin-oriented ghost story Violin came The Lost Stradivarius. Halloween month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with a look at this neglected gem of horror fiction.

The main story is set in the 1840s. John Maltravers, a young man from the British gentry, is attending Magdalen College at Oxford University. Stumbling across an anonymous piece of lost music the talented Maltravers plays the piece on a violin.

This spontaneous recital summons up – among other horrors – the ghost of Adrian Temple, the violinist who composed the eerie piece of music when he was a student at Oxford in the 1750s. That ghost leads John to the hidden location of his (Temple’s) Stradivarius violin. Continue reading

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HORROR STORY: THE TOP BEST MAN (1832)

Mascot FOUR original pics

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THE TOP BEST MAN (1832) – Halloween Month continues! Published anonymously in 1832 this long-ish short story centers around a man found on a long-lost ship called the Top Best. This vessel was a ship out of Maine that is found trapped in ice in far northern waters.

The ship that has found it, the Dartmouth Lady, has likewise become trapped in ice and its crew has spotted another ice-bound craft off in the distance when it finally stops snowing. An away team travels to the other craft hoping to find survivors or at least equipment which can help cut a way out of the ice for both ships.

Despite the size of the vessel only one man is found on board and he seems to be frozen to death. The away team manage to get a fire started from some of the Top Best‘s own wood and resolve to warm up just a bit before heading back to the Dartmouth Lady with the equipment taken from the derelict.

The fire has warmed the surroundings sufficiently for the sole survivor’s cold body to be taken along as well, including the ship’s log he apparently died clutching to his chest. The crew of the Dartmouth Lady succeed in cutting their way through the ice and return to Maine. By the time they reach their home port it turns out the body has thawed and the Top Best man is miraculously still alive. Continue reading

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JOHN SILENCE: OCCULT DOCTOR (1908) – HALLOWEEN READING

Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog. This time around I take a look at Algernon Blackwood’s occult physician Doctor John Silence.

John SilenceJOHN SILENCE, PHYSICIAN EXTRAORDINARY (1908) – A selection of short stories about Blackwood’s fictional neurologist Doctor Silence and his encounters with the supernatural. 

THE PSYCHICAL INVASION – A professional writer who specializes in humorous stories becomes a patient of Doctor Silence when he suddenly finds himself unable to write anything except grotesque horror tales. Silence discovers that on an occasion when the author’s psychic defenses were neutralized during a hashish jag the spirit of a 19th Century sorceress possessed him. The vile entity ended its life being hanged at Newgate. Doctor Silence must do psychic battle with the spirit to save his patient. Continue reading

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HALLOWEEN BOOK: ISABELLA OF EGYPT (1812)

Isabella of Egypt Alraune and the GolemHalloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog! In addition to covering all of my usual topics I spend each October sprinkling in neglected horror movies, stories and novels.

Isabella of Egypt is a very obscure 1812 Gothic Horror novella by Ludwig Achim Von Arnim. Under the more evocative title Alraune and the Golem it was to be filmed as a silent movie in 1919 but unfortunately it was never completed or is one of the countless silent films that have not survived to the present day (sources vary). 

The story is set in the 16th Century and features the real-life Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but in his teen years, right before he assumed the throne first of Spain and later of the H.R. Empire. The novella is not a horror classic per se, but is very eerie and features an odd variety of horrific supernatural figures in Monster Rally fashion.  The story takes a variety of twists and turns too detailed for a quick synopsis but here is a look at the main characters:

ISABELLA – The main character, a teenage Gypsy girl whose father was Gypsy royalty and after he is hanged she becomes Queen of all the Gypsies. (This novel adheres to the version of Gypsy mythology which states that they were descendants of the ancient Egyptians, hence the title Isabella of Egypt even though the story takes place in various German locations.)

Isabella’s beauty spellbinds various men including the youthful Charles. The monstrous Mandragore lusts after her as well and plans to force her into an unholy union.  Continue reading

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THE BLACK ABBOT (1897): GOTHIC HORROR

messenger-or-black-priestTHE BLACK ABBOT (1897) – Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with another neglected work of horror – this one penned by Robert W Chambers, author of The King in Yellow, which I reviewed HERE 

The story – also known as The Black Priest or The Messenger – is set in 1896 in the mysterious Brittany region of northwest France. Richard Darrel, a wealthy American knickerbocker (upstate New York gentry) has bought a Breton estate with assorted household staff. He lives there with his beautiful (of course) wife Lys, a native of Brittany.  

Landscaping work near Richard’s estate has uncovered thirty-eight skeletons: men killed in a battle between English invaders and Breton defenders back in 1760. A bronze cylinder in the mass grave holds a delicate parchment with a message written in human blood at the time of the burial. The writing is in the ancient language of Brittany, which only the clergy of the 1760 time period were literate in.  

Our American hero senses that the local authorities are withholding vital information from him. He is also intrigued by the revelation that there were thirty-nine men buried in the pit but only thirty-eight skeletons have been found.

The story gets even more intriguing from there, in typical R.W. Chambers style. The skull of the missing dead man is found. It belonged to Abbe Sorgue, a Breton priest who supposedly betrayed the nearby fort to the British attackers. Legend held that for his treachery the priest was branded on the forehead all the way through to his skull. A skull has been found with an arrow-shaped burn on the forehead, obviously the dead traitor.  

That skull keeps mysteriously showing up, no matter how many times it seems to have been disposed of. Eventually the Mayor of Saint Gildas confides in Richard that part of the scroll made reference to a link between the Black Abbot and the American’s wife.

Very soon the workmen involved in disturbing the Black Abbot’s remains start turning up dead and Richard finds a superabundance of coincidences tying his wife’s Breton family to the Black Abbot. When that undead villain begins terrorizing the American’s now-pregnant wife he researches what history can be learned about Abbe Sorgue, the Black Abbot himself. Continue reading

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ANTEIA- ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Hetaera 3Anteia was written by the comic poet Philyllius. This comic poet’s career seems to have spanned approximately from the 410s BCE to 390 BCE. One of his comedies won 1st prize at a Lenaea festival in the 390s and he won 1st prize at an unknown Dionysia. His fellow comedian Strattis credited him with being the first Attic Old Comic to use real torches on stage.

My favorite random line from Philyllius’ fragments: “The most important element of health is to breathe clean and unsullied air.”

THE PLAY  

ANTEIA – This comedy was an example of the sub-genre of Attic Old Comedy called Hetaera Plays. The term hetaera is often lazily translated as “prostitute” but the reality was a bit more complex. I’ve always felt that “kept woman” would be a better way to capture the concept. Hetaerae (plural) did NOT walk the streets and were not just for quickies like the lower-level prostitutes. They had their own luxurious digs with the expenses being footed by whichever wealthy man was enjoying bedroom privileges at the moment. Continue reading

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