Top Ten Tuesday – favorite “Kick-Ass” Heroines

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the creative bloggers over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week should be a fun one. I decided that “kick ass” heroines need not be physically kick ass (although it doesn’t hurt). Here’s my stab at a top ten list, ranked in order.

10. Meg Merrilies – from Sir Walter Scott’s “Guy Mannering”

OK, more of a minor character than a true heroine, but this matriarch of the Gypsies put fear into the hearts of all the men of Galloway. (below: Merrilies heaping curses)

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9. Ellen – from Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth”

De facto wife of Tom Builder and protective mother of Jack, she is both fearless and fearsome.

8. Electra – from Sophocles’s “Electra” and Aeschylus’s “Electra”

She was so badass two of the big three tragedians wrote plays about her.

7. Eowyn – from J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy

Admittedly, I’m swayed by the winsome Miranda Otto’s portrayal in the movie adaptation (who wouldn’t be??) but there’s no heroine better if you find yourself in a sword fight.

6. Hermione Granger – from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Sure, she’s just a kid, but you don’t want to mess with her if her wand is handy. She just might treat you like you’re in the house of Slytherin.

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5. Elizabeth Bennett – from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

Anyone who can face down the withering condescension of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and not blink makes my list. SHE is the one not to be trifled with, Lady C! (below: Judi Densch as Lady Catherine. Still no match for Miss Bennett)

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4. Katniss Everdeen – from Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” series.

For her work with the bow (even Legolas would be impressed) AND with a nest of angry tracker jackers! (or whatever those wasp-thingys were called)

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3. Scarlett O’Hara – from Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind”

Yeah, I may not have liked her, but she knew how to get what she wanted, sometimes with great ruthlessness. She’ll never go hungry again.

2. Eustacia Vye – from Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native”

No man on Egdon Heath was immune from being under her spell. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ bewitching portrayal in the Hallmark Movie may be influencing me. Yes, that’s possibly true. Yeah, definitely. 🙂  (below: Eustacia and her chosen man, Clym Yeobright)

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1. Lisbeth Salander – from Stieg Larsson’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series.

It was a close decision between my final three or four, but – when in doubt – I go to my trusty tie-breaker. Does she have a tattoo?

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Well, that’s it for me. What about you? Do you know any kick-ass heroines you’d like to introduce me to…?

Deux par Guy de Maupassant

How profound that mystery of the Invisible is! We cannot fathom it with our miserable senses, with our eyes which are unable to perceive what is either too small or too great, too near to us, or too far from us – neither the inhabitants of a star nor of a drop of water.”

Over the last few days I’ve had the pleasure of reading a couple short stories by the french master, Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893). The first was in one of my “go to” anthologies – my 1941 edition of 1937’s “Great Ghost Stories of the World: The Haunted Omnibus” edited by Alexander Laing, with eerie yet beautiful illustrations by Lynd Ward. (title page pictured below)

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The first story, “The Horla,” was my favorite of the two. Having just been reminded of it from reading another blog (and I’ll be darned if I can remember which one now – if it was you, let me know so I can link and give you credit), I thought I would read it again as part of my seasonal reading for October.

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It is a story in the form of journal/diary entries of a man who is either losing his sanity, or being dogged by a supernatural entity (the titular “Horla”). At first, he is describing a “classic case” of the phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis” but over time it becomes more than that. Much more. The man’s struggles to free himself from, or even just understand the nature of, this entity lead him further down the path toward madness. The story can be read for free online here:

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Horl.shtml

The other story was more pedestrian. **Spoiler Alert** Promisingly titled “Ghosts,” it sounded perfect for another seasonal read. Despite its title, it turned out to NOT include supernatural elements at all, but instead a scheming clergyman, taking advantage of the superstitions of one of the locals. I found this story via my iPhone app “Short Stories.” It may turn out to be memorable to me just because I learned a new word from it: “Latitudinarian” – from my Merriam Webster app – “not insisting on strict conformity to a particular doctrine or standard: tolerant; specifically, tolerant of variations in religious opinions or doctrine.” Actually, I think I may have a bit of Latitudinarian in me…

What are your experiences with Guy de Maupassant? Favorites? Recommendations?

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(above: Guy de Maupassant)

“History Lesson” a short story by Arthur C. Clarke

The established routine for my short story reading project includes randomly selecting one story from my list each Saturday. I do this by drawing a card from my ever dwindling deck of cards (fifty-two weeks, fifty-two Saturdays, see?) Before the year began, I picked some stories to read and assigned them to the cards, with suits based loosely on categories. The stories for this year’s project are listed on my 2012 Short story selections page. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2012-1-short-story-a-week-selections/

A brief explanation of how my annual project works is here https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/the-2012-deck-is-stacked/
Today, with only ten cards left, I drew the two of spades, leading me to Arthur C. Clarke’s story “History Lesson.”

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I haven’t read much by Arthur C. Clarke. Certainly not as much as I should have at my age. Most famous for 2001: A Space Odyssey (seen the movie, haven’t read the book), I’ve only read a short story here and there, and I have a vague memory of reading the novel, “Childhood’s End” – or at least reading most of it. Before today, my favorite story of his would be “The Star.” I won’t discuss that story in detail now, but it is very short and could be found online here (http://www.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/TheStar.pdf) if you’re interested in reading it. Enough talking. On to “History Lesson…”

(Arthur C. Clarke; picture from his obituary in The Telegraph)

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How well do we know what the future holds? I’m not talking about the feeble “immediate” future we individuals fret over, but a more far-reaching future. Astronomers are in reasonable agreement that, billions of years from now, our sun will expand and die as it’s “fuel” runs out. This will certainly spell the end for our planet, if indeed it hasn’t fallen victim to any other fate by then. The future of Earth envisioned in this story, though, can be counted in just thousands of years, not billions or even millions.

We don’t know exactly how far in the future from now, but we do know that, due to a vaguely referred to “change in the sun’s radiation,” Earth is in the throes of a new, global ice age. The remnants of civilization are migrating southward, fleeing the relentless onslaught of advancing glaciers, finding a last, fertile plain near the equator only to see with dismay the advance of the southern glaciers. Their days are numbered. But that’s not what the story is about.

These remnants of the human species (they have lost the know-how of their former technological society, but how this came to pass is not clearly divulged) retain enough of a “sense of history” that one of their final acts is burying a kind of “time capsule” which includes in its contents some of the devices of the former technological society that they hold sacred, though don’t even understand what they are. One of these items is a still-functioning, radiation powered beacon. It attracts an extra-terrestrial attention.

What is bad for one planet could very well be good for another, and this is what happens here. Venus goes from its blast furnacey climate to a tropical and “evolutionarily friendly” one. Intelligent life takes hold and eventually hears the beacon.

The examination of the time capsule’s contents by an alien intelligence is thought-provoking. How many – and what type – of artifacts left behind by one civilization are sufficient for another to gain a good understanding of it? Naturally, this is a problem that “terrestrial” archaeologists have faced since the birth of that field. This story suggests that misinterpretations could be very likely given a small sample size…

Originally published in the May, 1949 edition of Startling Stories, it has since been republished and anthologized many times. My copy is in my collection, The Omnibus of Science Fiction, a reprint of a 1952 anthology.

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I did enjoy browsing the internet this morning (it was quite awhile before I found the original publication) looking at all these old, fantastic cover art of that era. This edition’s cover was attributed to Earle Bergey (1900-1951), who specialized in covers for the pulp magazines of the day.

Read “History Lesson” online here: http://hermiene.net/short-stories/history_lesson.html
And tell me what you think of it. Have you read other Arthur C.Clarke works? Which are your favorites,or which would you recommend for future reading?

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Another Horror Story for the Season

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Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Folding Man”

You know that old story about the black car?”
William shook his head
“My grandmother used to tell me about a black car that roams the highways and the back roads of the South. It isn’t in one area all the time, but it’s out there somewhere all the time. Halloween is its peak night. It’s always after somebody for whatever reason.”
“Bullshit.”
“… Grandma said before it was a black car, it was a black buggy, and before that a figure dressed in black on a black horse, and that before that, it was just a shadow that clicked and clacked and squeaked. There’s people that go missing, she said, and it’s the black car, the black buggy, the thing on the horse, or the walkin’ shadow that gets them…”

Horror author Joe R. Lansdale, who won a 2010 Bram Stoker award for this story, explains in a brief afterward that, growing up in the sixties, he heard this legend of the black car from his grandmother and other people (perhaps it is one of that type of stories that Truman Capote was referencing in his short story “A Tree of Night”). As Lansdale pondered, “All right, let’s say there is something bad in that car. What is it? The imagination took over.

**Spoiler Alert!**
This was a great horror story, perhaps one of my favorites of the ones I’ve read this season. It starts with some partygoers driving home ’mooning’ a carload of nuns – in a black car, naturally. Surely no good can come of this. None does. The “nuns” respond by making an obscene gesture back at Harold, Jim, and William. (Harold’s the drunk one, who actually perpetrated the mooning.) The nun’s car speeds up along side them and one of the nuns produces a two-by-four, brandishing it menacingly. Their near approach allows the boys a closer look at one of them:

“She looked like something dead, and the nun’s outfit she wore was not actually black and white, but purple and white, or so it appeared in the light from the highbeams and moonlight. The nun’s lips pulled back from her teeth and the teeth were long and brown, as if tobacco-stained. One of her eyes looked like a spoiled meatball, and her nostrils flared like a pig’s”

The nun gives Harold a lethal whack with her two-by-four, but the boys’ troubles are only beginning.

The nuns force them off the road and their car careens down into a ravine. The “nuns” themselves are apparently above the menial task of a foot pursuit, though, and this is when they unpack “The Folding Man” from the trunk of their car…

Literally a goose-bump inducing story for me! I found it in my story collection “Haunted Legends.” Many of the online reviews of that collection cite this story as one of the best in the volume. I haven’t explored the other stories in this volume yet, but if this one is indicative of their quality, I would have no qualms in recommending it. It’s e-versions are “only” $9.99. The amazon link is http://www.amazon.com/Haunted-Legends-Ellen-Datlow/dp/0765323001

Are you familiar with the work of Lansdale? This was my first encounter with him. What are your favorite horror stories? Are you including some in your October reading?

(below: Horror author Joe R. Lansdale (from Wikipedia))

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“To Read, or Not to Read…”

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“NOT to read.”**

When I first heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger had written an autobiography I thought, “That might be… interesting.” After all, I was always a big fan of The Terminator movies and several of his others. He was even a bit of a hero to my weight training friends and me back in the 80’s. Then I saw him interviewed recently on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Of course, this book is of interest to the general public because of the ‘scandal’ of his divorce from Maria Shriver and the revelation that he had fathered a child with their live-in housekeeper. I guess a book like this should sell itself, but still I wondered though why he wrote it. Surely not for the money, he must have more than enough. Could it be ’damage control’ recommended by his publicity people? Could it be his ego – his just wanting to tell “his side” of the story? I don’t know. I know that, after watching him wither pathetically under the tough questions from 60 minutes, I felt mostly pity for him.

Has anyone out there read this? Should I give it a try anyway? (There aren’t many ratings yet on Goodreads, and the average is pretty low)

**It’s been almost twenty years ago since Arnold’s movie “The Last Action Hero” famously bombed at the box office, I will always remember, though, the hilarious spoof of a movie trailer for “Hamlet” featuring his character. “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark… And Hamlet’s takin’ out the trash.” It ends with a very abbreviated version of Hamlet’s well-known soliloquoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCVc5TaPpe8

Top Ten Tuesday: favorite nonfiction authors

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful book blog, The Broke And the Bookish. Our directions this week state: “This week’s Top Ten Tuesday lets you choose your favorite authors in a specific genre, be it sci-fi, romance, nonfiction….anything that strikes your fancy!” I chose nonfiction authors. I’ll also admit that at first I thought top ten nonfiction authors WAS the theme for everybody, since I saw that topic pop up on my Twitter feed this morning from The Avid Reader’s Musings blog. “there’s one I could do,” I thought. So here goes – and for once these actually ARE in ranking order, with #1 being my favorite.

10. Sam Kean (author of The Disappearing Spoon)

I still haven’t posted about this great book I read last year. Now he has a newer book out that I’ve also heard great things about, “The Violinist’s Thumb – and Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by our Genetic Code.”‘ The book I read, The Disappearing Spoon is about tales related to the discovery and refinement of the Period Table of Elements. Fascinating Stuff!

9. Isaac Asimov (for his Guide to Shakespeare)

More known for his prowess in the sci-fi genre, Asimov was a tremendously prolific writer of non-fiction as well. I also own a book of his on astronomy and his autobiography, “I, Asimov.” It was his guide to Shakespeare, though, which influenced me the most, helping me through my “Project: Shakespeare” in 2008, where I was able to work my way through two-thirds of The Bard’s plays. Thank you, Mr. Asimov.

8. Timothy Ferris (for his “Coming of Age in The Milky Way)

One of several books that opened me up to the vast wonders and especially the history of scientific exploration. “Coming of Age…” deals for the most part with astronomy, and is now somewhat dated, but also recounts the early, stumbling growth of scientific knowledge.

7. Jonathan Rowson (primarily for “The Seven Deadly Chess Sins”)

I spent twenty-five years on “the circuit” playing chess tournaments, and Rowson’s books were the ones that I identified with the most. Rowson, though a talented grandmaster, is not the stereotypical, monomaniacal chess genius who thinks of nothing else. Though I was a serious player, I always tried to stay well-rounded too.

6. Bill Bryson (for several books)

Consistently witty, Bryson’s writing always serves as a great pick-me-up if I get into a reading rut and am bogged down with heavier material. Probably his “A Walk in the Woods” is my favorite since I’m a chronic walker and woods-wanderer too.

5. Plutarch (for his “Parallel Lives”)

A great influence on my love of history (I even became a history major in college) Plutarch’s “Lives” of the Noble Romans and Greeks have also been great influences to other historians up to the present time. (And yes, I had to get a classical author in here 🙂 Herodotus was the runner-up)

4. Benjamin Franklin (for his Autobiography)

I’ve read through this book so many times. It’s almost a manual for self-improvement. Maybe this could be considered the first “self-help” book, but it’s so much more that that classification feels insulting. Everyone should read it. This includes you. 🙂

3. Ray Kurzweil (for several different books)

My friends in the skeptical community will be rolling their eyes at this one. A famous “futurist,” Kurzweil’s books are nothing if not fascinating. His “Fantastic Voyage” explores the possibilities of technology-aided life extension while his books “The Age of Spiritual Machines” and “The Singularity is Near” deal with artificial intelligence. Irresistibly compelling topics for this reader.

(below: Ray Kurzweil, appropriately pictured with a rack of TomSwift books)

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2. Carl Sagan (for ALL his books)

Sagan was a great “populizer” of science, as evidenced by his frequent appearances on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and his landmark PBS series, Cosmos. I’ve read almost all of his (mainstream anyway) books. Some favorites are Pale Blue Dot, Broca’s Brain, and The Demon Haunted World. His transparent love of learning and knowledge is highly contagious.

(below: Carl Sagan)

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1. Daniel Boorstin (primarily for “The Creators” and “The Discoverers”)

It was a tough decision on who would be my #1, and Boorstin wins by a hair. His “joy of the amateur” that guided his inquiry into the history and stories that fill his books was a tremendous influence on me, allowing me to realize that one doesn’t necessarily need to channel all his focus in one direction but can pursue many interests and fields of study. “The Creators” is perhaps my favorite nonfiction book of all time.

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That’s my list. Anyone else do non-fiction? I’ll be checking the roster at The Broke and The Bookish to find out…

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

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I just recently finished reading “Ashfall” by Mike Mullin. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale with a great premise: the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano in the present time. Oddly enough, I think my fondness with post-apocalyptic literature might stem from an early reading (likely of the “Classics Illustrated” version pictured below) of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – probably the first time I was self-aware enough to ponder the question of “what would I do if there were no civilization to support me?”

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The first book of a trilogy, “Ashfall” follows the post-eruption survival struggles of sixteen-year-old Alex – a typical teenager in many ways – he likes video games, has an annoying “brat” sister, and two “nagging” or “interfering” parents. Or so he thinks of them before all hell breaks loose. Oh, he’s also a black belt in Tae Kwan Do (he started taking his lessons seriously after what he mentions in passing as “the year of the bully”). And yes, proficiency in a martial art can certainly come in handy in a post-apocalyptic world…

(below: the Yellowstone Supervolcano has had three major eruptions in the last 2.1 million years. If the timing remains consistent we’re due for another one soon (that’s “soon” in geologic time, thankfully). The map below shows the supposed ashfalls)

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Alex’s family lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, but as this story begins, his parents and sister have just left to visit his Uncle Paul in Warren, Illinois. This leaves Alex alone when the disaster occurs, and his house is the unlucky impact site for a huge chunk of rock ejected from the eruption almost a thousand miles away. After the initial carnage of the disaster’s fallout eases, Alex decides he must try to reach his family, hoping that, being further east, conditions will be better where they are. Armed with as much food and water that his backpack will hold, he sets off (on skis, to make traveling over the ash easier) and quickly learns how quickly civilization deteriorates in the face of a major disaster. Indeed, Chapter One is introduced with a great quotation from historian and philosopher Will Durant:

Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

How true, as Alex finds out first hand, encountering the worst – but also sometimes the best – in humanity during his quest east. In one narrow escape from the villainous, tattooed “Target,” he is seriously injured, barely managing to stumble upon a farmhouse, where he is taken in and cared for by a mother and daughter. The daughter, Darla, though a couple years older becomes his companion and love interest as he continues his journey east.

This book was written for a younger audience than me, but I still liked it a lot. It’s a page turner, too, and – the best part – the second book of the trilogy comes out today. I’ve already purchased and downloaded it, and will likely be reading it soon as well. I should mention also that I appreciated the fact that the author gave some bibliographical information at the end of the book, with suggested future reading for those interested in the geologic side of things in the book.

I first learned of this book through my the blog of my young colleague, Jade. Her take on Ashfall maybe found here: http://www.chasingemptypavements.com/2011/09/its-monday-what-are-you-reading-5-and_19.html. She’s also already read the second book and blogged about it here:
http://www.chasingemptypavements.com/2012/09/ashen-winter-by-mike-mullin-review.html. (yeah, she got an ARC I guess – someday I must look into that. 🙂 ) I also recently learned that the author, Mike Mullin, is an Indiana writer. Since I’m trying to make reading local authors more of a focus for this blog, this book was a natural choice for me.

Have you read Ashfall – or Ashen Winter? What did you think of them?

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“Grandfather’s Teeth and Grandmother’s Slippers”

You’d probably think “Grandfather’s Teeth and Grandmother’s Slippers” sounds like a strange title for a ghost story. You’d be right. It is actually two titles of ghost stories found in the same collection, “Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead,” which I have been working my way through since last year (it’s taken me awhile because I usually only read “horror stories” in October when, after all, they are most appropriate…).

I’ve written often about how I enjoy coincidences and the little connections that seem (spontaneously) to form among the books and short stories that I read. So, naturally my radar “went off” when I got to the short story, “Grandfather’s Teeth” by Lisa Tuttle, in the collection mentioned above. “Haven’t I read another ’grandparent’ story lately?” I thought. Sure enough, last November I also read Sarah Pinborough’s “Grandmother’s Slippers,” and it was in the same collection. I thought the editor (Stephen Jones) of the anthology must’ve had a chuckle over that – two “grandparent stories” in one book!?

(Below: author Lisa Tuttle)

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(Below: author Sarah Pinborough)

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Each tale explores the premise that inanimate objects can be imbued with some remnant (revenant?) of one’s spirit after death. Though I enjoyed both stories, neither would make my favorites list for the year. “Grandfather’s Teeth” is the darker story of the two, but was, I thought, weakened by the lack of clarity regarding WHY the set of false teeth would be so malevolent. I even went back and re-read the early parts of the story, and there is only a vague reference that the grandfather was anything other than a victim of dementia.

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“Dougie could remember when his grandfather had been a kind, gentle man who seemed to know everything there was to know about birds and animals, and who had taught him how to make a kite, but that soft-spoken, intelligent man had gone, replaced by a big, bad-tempered baby who wouldn’t even put his teeth in at mealtimes…”

Maybe it was not the ghost of the grandfather that possessed the set of false teeth; maybe they were evil in themselves, and that’s why he sometimes refused to wear them. Hmmm… I like that. Yeah, I think I’m going to go with that interpretation. 🙂 Grandson Dougie certainly found out they were evil, though, whatever the cause.

The other story, Grandmother’s Slippers, started out scarier but ended up with a much less gruesome touch.

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Jason’s grandmother had been “dying for a long time” when she finally passed away. His mother is having more trouble accepting “Gran’s” passing, though. This is when Jason finds an old pair of Gran’s slippers in a downstairs cupboard. Not even her “latest” pair either, but one of thirty years ago. He takes them out and examines them, reminiscing. Later, he replaces the slippers and closes the cupboard door. Only to subsequently find it open and the position of the slippers changed. His efforts to dispose of them are unsuccessful, as they continually reappear. Jason realizes, or so he thinks, that they are somehow after his mother (for now, they are both staying in Gran’s house) and he senses there is some unknown, unfinished business between them that she is reticent to discuss. The climax occurs when he returns home one night to find muddy, “slipper”y (ha ha) footprints going up the stairs and leading into his mother’s room…

These stories are both worth a read, but not by themselves reason enough to buy this collection. There are however, other stronger stories that provide sufficient cause. Here is a link to where you may find it at Amazon if you enjoy a good ghost story. http://www.amazon.com/Haunts-Reliquaries-Dead-Stephen-Jones/dp/1569759847

What about you? How is your October reading going? What ghost stories have you read this month (or recently)?

“The Horror… The (Dunwich) Horror…”

(Post title brought to you with apologies to Marlon Brando…)

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I recently bought yet another new collection of “scary stories” after reading Nina’s “Town of Cats” post at Multo (Ghost)

The book is titled “The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Scary Stories.”  (I couldn’t resist, as I really wanted to read the “Cats” story that was so similar in title to a Haruki Murakami story I read last year.) Of course, when I began looking through the table of contents, I first alighted on a different story, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.”

I’ve read my share of Lovecraft over the years, and it seems I like him best in small servings. Reading this particular story, I think I have decided why. His stories, though among the best in setting a totally creepy, eerie, phantasmagoric atmosphere, rarely seem to get you very deeply sympathetic to the characters in them. This story is like that too.

***Spoilers Follow***

In rural Massachusetts, an old family, the Whateleys, living in a “partially inhabited” farmhouse set against a hillside, have an addition (or two?) to their family. “Wilbur” Whateley’s parentage is vaguely questioned, and he matures at a much faster rate than a true human child would. His grandfather is a known “wizard” and Wilbur is clearly headed toward going into that “family business.” As Wilbur grew (at four and a half, he “looked like a lad of fifteen”), he became hated and dreaded in Dunwich “because of certain youthful disappearances that suspicion laid at his door.” Later, we learn more about how truly inhuman Wilbur was.

As he gets older, it seems clear that Wilbur is “working on something” – apparently having to do with opening a gateway for creatures of an older world to enter and conquer this world. Whatever his task, it involves frequent ‘renovations’ to their farmhouse – renovations whose purpose seems to be to make room for something, something that is… growing… He is aided by ancient spell books of his grandfather and libraries(!) with which he is in regular correspondence concerning even older, profane texts, such as the fabled “Necromicon,” which appears in many of Lovecraft’s writings.

Wilbur is able to nurture/summon/create a harbinger creature (the “Dunwich Horror” is the name which local legend has given to this creature) as a prelude to bringing a host of other “old ones” into this world. Lovecraft’s descriptions of The Horror are consistent with monsters in his other works. A patched-together, likely “tentacled” abomination that can also make itself invisible, it walks in the night destroying livestock and farmhouses, and apparently people. A team of “scholars” who understand from whence the Horror came are able to “save the world” though, partly by using spells, etc. from some of the same unclean sources Wilbur used to summon it.

The story is also remarkable by the presence of whip-poor-will’s throughout. These birds apparently have some link to the “old ones” and can also be harbingers of death, as evidenced by their singing vigil as Wilbur’s grandfather’s life force ebbs away and death approaches. Quite creepy.  I should mention that I’m an amateur ornithologist myself and often go for long, birdwatching walks carrying my trusty binoculars.  Sadly, there are no whip-poor-will’s in the areas I frequent.  I do remember hearing them on summer camping trips my family took when I was growing up, though.  After reading this story, I googled them and listened to their sound for the first time in years, and it is somewhat haunting…

Although I liked this story, it kind of ran out of steam for me, and The Horror didn’t put up enough of a fight when confronted with our heroes. What I liked best was Lovecraft’s setting the stage and describing the locale and it’s supernatural characteristics and history. I think locations that are kind of in the frontier, or “gray area” between civilization and wilderness are fertile ground for legends and stories and Lovecraft takes full advantage of this.

Are you a Lovecraft fan?  What stories of his do you recommend?

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A Ghost Story: “Is There Anybody There”

I’ve read, just this morning, a “ghost story” by an author I’d never heard of before, England’s Kim Newman (below).

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The story was part of a collection titled “Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead.” It’s a book I started last October but have pretty much left alone since then, waiting patiently for another October to roll around.

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***Spoiler Alert***
If you’d like to read the story yourself, the book may be found on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Haunts-Reliquaries-Dead-Stephen-Jones/dp/1569759847 (the kindle version is “only” $9.99)

The premise of the story “Is There Anybody There?” was unique to me and, I thought, brilliant. It is set in the early 1920s, where we meet “Madame Irena,” a spiritualist/medium who is involved in a Ouija board “session” with one of her sitters. One might think this story would be headed toward a “fraudulent medium getting her just rewards from beyond” theme, but that is not the case here for, you see, Madame Irena (aka Irene Dobson) does have the power to communicate with spirits and “presences.” As Newman explains:

“She was no fraud, relying on conjuring tricks, but her understanding of the world beyond the veil was very different from that which she wished her sitters to have. All spirits could be made to do what she wished them to do. If they thought themselves grown beyond hurt, they were sorely in error.”

Make no mistake about it, though, she is in this line of business for the money and for personal gain. The presence she encounters in this session, however, is somehow different from all those other spirits of the departed she has contacted. Identifying himself only as “MSTRMND,” he uses a slightly different method to spell out strange answers on the Ouija board, eschewing moving the pointer toward the “Yes” or “No” on the board, he instead compels them to move it to simply the letter “Y” or “N” as if he were using some abbreviated form of communication, YKWIM?? No, it’s not that he’s “texting” either, but he is clearly using some shorthand form of communication of a more modern time…

You can probably guess where this is leading. MSTRMND is really “Boyd,” a 21st-century internet hacker and predator (though the latter may be too strong of a word), trolling for “victims.” Somehow, his chat room messages are ending up being transmitted across time to the ouija board in Madame Irena’s parlor! Who will be “reeled in” by the other, though, and what methods will be used? The duel between these two animates the second half of this great story.

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(above: a Ouija Board complete with pointer. The pointer is called a “planchette.”)

What about you? Are you familiar with this author? Have you ever “played” with a Ouija board? You can tell me…

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