Tag Archives: Halloween reading

1899 MUMMY STORY: PHAROS THE EGYPTIAN

Balladeer’s Blog celebrates Halloween all month long. For today here’s a look at an 1899 mummy tale.

Pharos the EgyptianPHAROS 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. 

Pharos 2That 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

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HALLOWEEN TALES OF IRVIN S COBB

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.

GallowsmithTHE 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

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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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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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ALL HALLOWS (1926): HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

All Hallows CathedralALL 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.

All Hallows Cathedral 2Appropriately 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

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1869)

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1869) – Written by Victor Hugo. 

Man who laughs book coverI 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:

GwynplaineTIME 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

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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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