Tag Archives: Gothic horror

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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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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SIX RARE HALLOWEEN MONSTERS

HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM BALLADEER’S BLOG! Here’s a look at some of the neglected monsters I’ve covered over the years. These horrific figures deserve as much love as the better known characters like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Crying Woman and many others.

Squaw Hollow SensationSETHOS

First Appearance: The Squaw Hollow Sensation (1879)

Cryptid Category: Aztec mummy

Lore: Around the year 800 AD an Aztec scholar named Sethos drank the Draught of the Everlasting Covenant and went into a state of suspended animation. In 1879 mining operations uncovered the tomb where he was hidden away.

A scientist of the era mastered the technique of reviving Sethos and successfully restored him to full life. Sethos’ body was hideously mummified but intact except for a gaping hole in his skull in the middle of his forehead from the experiment to revive him. Continue reading

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THE GREEN HUNTSMAN: CHRISTMAS HORROR FOLKLORE

green-flamesTHE GREEN HUNTSMAN – The Green Huntsman is an interesting example of the many figures who started out as folklore before being committed to the printed page in horror stories.

Long before the short stories featuring the Green Huntsman began to appear around the 1830s the figure was already being conflated with the Wicked Huntsman of Basque folk tales. Joseph Holt Ingraham’s 1841 story titled simply The Green Huntsman is arguably the best known of the short stories.

The figure eventually known as the Green Huntsman has its origins centuries ago. Originally a mortal man, this huntsman was a Castilian nobleman who had a perfect body but a very ugly face. As the tale was inevitably embellished it got to the point where the man freakishly had just one large green eye above the nose of his otherwise handsome face. 

green-flames-2The nobleman was obsessed with tracking down and marrying a mythical woman called the Christmas Bride who could only be found on Christmas Eve. This woman was incredibly beautiful but blind. The Green Huntsman wanted her as his bride not only because she would not be able to see how hideous he was, but, more importantly, she was destined to give birth to a son who would become the New Charlemagne, who would unite all Europe under one ruler. 

Clad in his all-green hunting outfit the Green Huntsman would ride forth every Christmas Eve accompanied by his hunting dogs. One year the whip he used to urge his horse onward contained a hair from the head of the Virgin Mary herself. (Remember, there was a lucrative business long ago in selling fake relics like pieces of wood from the “true” cross, plus the bones or other items from various saints.)

That hair from Christian mythology’s Blessed Mother supposedly would act as a divining rod, and the bristles on the whip would point the way to the Christmas Bride. The Green Huntsman had paid an enormous amount of money to the Pope himself to obtain the hair. Continue reading

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THE WEREWOLF (1896): FEMALE WEREWOLF

WerewolfTHE WEREWOLF (1896) – By Clemence Annie Housman. Halloween month continues at Balladeer’s Blog! This neglected story features a female author writing about a FEMALE WEREWOLF so that makes it a bit special right there.

The Werewolf is set in 1890s Denmark. Amidst werewolf attacks plaguing the countryside a Danish family finds itself being charmed by a sultry, seductive woman who calls herself White Fell. The woman travels alone by night so is obviously the werewolf at large. Unfortunately her potent beauty allays suspicion and even pits brothers Sweyn and Christian against each other.   Continue reading

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CARMILLA (1871) BY SHERIDAN LE FANU

carmillaCARMILLA (1871) – By Sheridan Le Fanu. Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues. I would have thought that the classic vampire story Carmilla would be too well known for me to have to cover it. I’m surprised at how many people I encounter who are not familiar with the original story, however, just some of the adaptations.  SPOILERS AHEAD!

The vampire Carmilla is really the presumably long-dead Countess Mircalla Karnstein. She fell in love with Laura, the heroine of the story, when Laura was six, so she spared her. As the story begins Laura has turned eighteen, so Carmilla considers her ripe for seduction. The vampire plans to spend eternity with our teenage heroine, in the now-routine element of vampire tales.

A nice novelty is that Carmilla turns into a cat instead of a bat, but otherwise the 200 year-old vampress’ pursuit of Laura followed the usual pattern: “Sickness” strikes dead several girls in the Austrian town near the castle where Laura lives with her father. Eventually she herself begins to show lesser versions of the mysterious illness’ symptoms. Continue reading

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