With Halloween just past and Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day) on the horizon, here’s a nice segueway – a novel featuring a witch and other supernatural figures during World War One.
LIVING ALONE (1919) – Written by Stella Benson. This novel is like a World War One forerunner of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. In 1918, during what was then called The Great War, a London woman named Sarah Brown busies herself with War Savings Committee Work.
One day a witch invites her to move into a home called the House of Living Alone, which turns out to be a boardinghouse for practitioners of magic as well as assorted supernatural figures like faeries, imps, etc. Sarah accepts the invitation, taking her dog David Blessing with her.
This house is located on Mitten Island in the Thames River. Sarah becomes involved in the adventures of Peony, who is plagued by an Imp wanting to be born. She also meets Richard Higgins, a practicing warlock who runs – not a dairy farm – but a Faerie Farm, which is supervised by a dragon.
At one point a German bombing raid strikes a cemetery, waking up all of the dead. They rise from their graves, convinced that it is the Final Judgment, until Sarah and her new friends set things right.
Whimsically enough, circumstances later lead the witch who runs the House of Living Alone into mounting her flying broomstick and having a magical dogfight over England with a German witch. Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog celebrates Halloween all month long. For today here’s a look at an 1899 mummy tale.
PHAROS THE EGYPTIAN (1899) – Written by Guy Boothby, who was better known for his Doctor Nikola stories about an evil genius in the mold of Dr Mabuse and Fu Manchu.
Cyril Forrester, a successful British artist, is approached by an enigmatic and sinister-seeming old Egyptian named Pharos. This figure tells Cyril that a mummy he (Cyril) inherited from his Egyptologist father is the dead body of Pharos’ ancestor from over 3,000 years ago.
That ancestor was Ptahmes, whom we’re told served as a magician for the Pharaoh Ramses during the mythical Exodus. Pharos is angry over the desecration of his ancestor’s remains so Forrester obligingly returns the mummy to the old man.
And so begins a danger-filled supernatural adventure to return the mummy of Ptahmes to his tomb. Cyril is suckered along into following Pharos because he is attracted to – or as we’re supposed to pretend in fiction, he is “in love with” Valerie, a beautiful Hungarian violinist who is in thrall to the old Egyptian. Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween skedaddles along! Here’s a look at my favorite horror tales of the neglected American writer Irvin S Cobb.
THE GALLOWSMITH (1918) – A traveling hangman really loves his work and has executed countless figures with no care regarding their guilt or innocence. If the court condemned them, he does his job.
An evil gunslinger called the Lone-Hand Kid has been condemned to death for a killing he didn’t actually commit. He berates the Gallowsmith so thoroughly while being hanged that our title character screws up, killing the Kid slowly and painfully instead of with one clean, neck-breaking drop.
As he dies the Kid curses the hangman, bringing on a ghastly finale. Continue reading
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.
THE 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
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 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
ALL HALLOWS (1926) – Written by Walter de la Mare. In recent decades Walter de la Mare’s horror stories have begun to get as much attention as his poetry. This particular tale is about a haunted cathedral but there is also a blatant subtext.
Our narrator has walked for several miles to reach remote All Hallows Cathedral. The once-prominent place has fallen into disrepair and has become so rarely used for religious services that it has become more of a curious tourist attraction than “holy” site.
Appropriately for a horror story our protagonist has arrived as the sun is going down. The odd, perhaps half-crazed Verger (Anglican Church Caretaker) impatiently leads the new arrival on a tour of the degenerating interior. Almost like a Halloween Funhouse host the Verger emphasizes the creepy lore about All Hallows.
Nightfall is well along by the time he tells the narrator about the temporary disappearance of the previous chief clergyman, who was later found in a dark corner. The Holy Man was weeping and crazed and never recovered his sanity. Continue reading
THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1869) – Written by Victor Hugo.
I always commit the literary blasphemy of saying that I don’t consider Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to be very much of a horror story. I will forever maintain that Hugo’s overlooked novel The Man Who Laughs features all the virtues of Quasimodo’s tale AND presents them all in a superior fashion.
In addition The Man Who Laughs contains many more elements that lend themselves to pure horror than does The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In the past I’ve examined elements of the film adaptations of The Man Who Laughs (including the fact that the physical appearance of Batman’s foe the Joker was inspired by Conrad Veidt’s 1928 portrayal of the title figure.)
Here’s a breakdown of why I prefer TMWL, with Hugo’s tragic monster Gwynplaine to THOND, with his tragic hunchback Quasimodo:
TIME PERIOD: The Man Who Laughs has the action set mostly in England in 1705. For Gothic Horror I prefer that time period to the late 1400s, when The Hunchback of Notre Dame takes place.
ORIGIN OF THE TITLE CHARACTER: Quasimodo the hunchback was simply born in a deformed state.
Gwynplaine on the other hand, was born looking normal, but was stolen away and sold by villains to the Comprachicos, evil anatomists who distorted the bodies of children in very painful ways. Continue reading