books

It’s Alive

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One of Nino Carbe’s excellent FRANKENSTEIN illustrations.

Sometime between 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM* on June 16, 1816, a teenager had a vision which continues to speak to us. Well, let’s let her tell it in her own words:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

That teenager was, of course, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later to find literary immortality as Mary Shelley. The vision was the genesis of FRANKENSTEIN, one of horror’s greatest works as well as being my favorite novel. Without that novel, this site wouldn’t exist.

Rather than repeat myself at length, I will say, “thank you for everything, Mary Shelley.”

* Astronomer Donald Olson calculated this in September 2011. Science!

 

Reflections on INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE

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I love vampires and I make no apologies about it. I don’t love everything that comes out with vampires in it, but I’m also OK with saying, “that’s just not for me” and moving on. I refuse to buy into the idea that the subgenre is somehow “ruined” because of teen romance… or adult romance, for that matter. “That’s just not for me.” Easy.

What is for me are Anne Rice’s early books in THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES. Full disclosure, like many readers I disembarked after MEMNOCH THE DEVIL. I can’t fault an artist for following their muse, but that doesn’t mean I have to tag along. Maybe one day I’ll pick back up. But those first four novels are stone cold classics.

Chances are that if you regularly keep up with this blog, you’re a fan of at least some of Rice’s books. And if not, you are probably a fan of something directly influenced by her work.

As far as vampire fiction goes, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is the most important novel of the 20th century. Some would argue that Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is, but its impact seems to be more on “general” horror and zombie fiction. When it comes to vampire-focused fiction, the influence of THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES looms larger than any other book.

INTERVIEW wasn’t the first story to feature a sympathetic vampire, but it certainly popularized that trope as a literary subject. When I was on the young side of my teenage years, I was resistant to her books because of their reputation for being about “whiny” vampires. I wasn’t immediately blown away by INTERVIEW when I finally read it (THE VAMPIRE LESTAT was where I got hooked), but I appreciate it more and more as I get older .

Let’s get something straight about the idea that Rice’s books are about whiny vampires. I don’t know about most people, but if I was transformed into a supernatural being that had to murder people to survive, I’d probably have an existential crisis as well. And the excessive “woe is me” outlook is primarily Louis, anyway; Lestat is a much more fun-loving, proactive protagonist.

Neil Jordan directed a pretty good adaptation of INTERVIEW that was released in 1994. I give props to Cruise for committing himself so fully to portraying Lestat, but his appearance still looked off to me. Of course, that movie was light years better than its quasi-follow-up, QUEEN OF THE DAMNED. The rights to THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES were optioned again a couple of years ago, but I haven’t heard anything about that project in awhile. Personally, I would rather see a cable television series than films.

Of course, this was all a long-winded way preamble to me mentioning that INTERVIEW turns 40 today. I keep trying to ease up on the anniversary announcements, but INTERVIEW is such an iconic work that I couldn’t let the day pass without saying a few words.

Murders in the Rue Morgue Turns 175

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SPOILER ALERT: An orangutan did it. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley.

I don’t mean to make a bunch of birthday and anniversary posts, but this one’s pretty important: Edgar Allan Poe’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE turns 175 years old this month. The story appeared in the April 1841 issue of GRAHAM’S MAGAZINE. Some sources have cited April 1 as the “official” anniversary date, so we’ll go with that.

There have been several films that are supposedly “based” on it, but the ones I’ve seen bear little resemblance to what Poe wrote. MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE’s greatest impact has been on the mystery genre, as it is generally held to be the first detective story. In fact, the word “detective” wasn’t even in use when this story first appeared.

Happy Birthday, Arthur Machen

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“We are standing on the brink of a strange world, Raymond, if what you say is true. I suppose the knife is absolutely necessary?” — from THE GREAT GOD PAN

Arthur Llewelyn Jones, better known to literary circles as Arthur Machen, entered our plain of existence on March 3, 1963. Machen is a bit of a cult figure among horror fans; despite his influence on modern horror, he doesn’t currently have the mainstream recognition that his literary followers do. But without Machen’s impact on cosmic horror especially, it’s a pretty safe bet that we wouldn’t have Cthulhu. Because of that, an entire industry of RPG writers and t-shirt manufacturers should be grateful to him.

Machen’s best-known (and likely most anthologized) work in the horror field is THE GREAT GOD PAN, which you should check out if you haven’t read. If you’re a fan of brain surgery stories gone awry fused with cosmic terror, I think you’ll like it. Both H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King have praised this particular novella, with the latter describing it as one of the greatest horror stories ever written.

Another of his works, THE BOWMEN, inspired the legend of “the Angels of Mons.” THE BOWMEN isn’t horror,  but its effect on the public was pretty damn hilarious and more than worthy of mention. In the story, phantom archers intervened to assist British soldiers during World War I. While Machen steadfastly said that his story was purely fictional, its premise spread as a “true” event. You’ll even find modern books on “the unexplained” uncritically recounting the incident as something that actually happened.

“Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell”: Holmes vs. Cenobites

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Pardon the phrase, but oh hell yes. Coming in July 2016 from Solaris Books, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell introduces the Great Detective into the warped mythos popularized by the film Hellraiser. The novel, written by Paul Kane but authorized by Clive Barker, will be the third long form prose fiction centered on the iconic Cenobites. In addition to being a novelist himself, Kane is an expert on Pinhead’s crew, having written the non-fiction book The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy. I’m glad that this is on my radar, especially since it gives me an excuse to mention Hellraiser on Dreadpunk.com.

DESCRIPTION: Sherlock Holmes and the Servants Of Hell

Late 1895, and Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Dr John Watson are called upon to investigate a missing persons case. On the face of it, this seems like a mystery that Holmes might relish – as the person in question vanished from a locked room – and something to occupy him other than testing the limits of his mind and body.

But this is just the start of an investigation that will draw the pair into contact with a shadowy organisation talked about in whispers and known only as ‘The Order of the Gash’. As more and more people go missing in a similar fashion, the clues point to a sinister asylum in France and to the underworld of London. However, it is an altogether different underworld that Holmes will soon discover – as he finds himself face to face not only with those followers who do the Order’s bidding on Earth, but those who serve it in Hell: the Cenobites…

Source: Solaris Damns Its Soul With Acquisition of Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

Happy Birthday, Mary Shelley!

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I didn’t mean for this blog to be dominated by birthday announcements as of late, but this is one I cannot fail to mention: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born August 30, 1797. While she wrote many things, her best known work is, of course, Frankenstein. Frankenstein is my favorite novel, with the Monster being my favorite fictional being of all time.

While Frankenstein is a novel of ideas, I must admit that my love of it would probably be seen as superficial by many scholarly (and wannabe scholarly) types. I love the novel because it perfectly depicts the emotions of alienation; even its melodramatic aspects enhance that. Frankenstein is my The Catcher in the Rye.

Possibly because I love the story on a visceral rather than intellectual level, I’m not snooty about it. Like many people, my first exposure to the Monster was through the imagery spawned by Boris Karloff’s version. While Mary Shelley’s original, eloquent version of the Monster is my favorite incarnation, I love a lot of the “pop culture Frankenstein” depictions. James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein rank high in my mind, with Bride possibly being my favorite movie of all time — proof that terrible adaptations do not necessarily equal terrible films. I’m one of the few who will cop to liking Kenneth Branagh’s version with Robert De Niro.

But the best adaptation of the character I love is Rory Kinnear’s Caliban on Penny Dreadful. The show modified the Monster’s back story, but emotionally, Kinnear nails it every time he is on screen. I like to think he’s doing Shelley proud.

There’s been debate over whether Frankenstein is horror or science fiction. I think that the novel’s status as science fiction is overstated since Victor Frankenstein was a student of the occult, and the Monster’s actual creation is vague. While depicting the creation makes for some great movie imagery, the specifics are beside the point of the novel.

Oh, and it doesn’t bother me that people mistakenly call the Monster “Frankenstein.” I take the approach that children often take their father’s surnames. Besides, there are much more important things in the world to get agitated about.

At any rate… thank you, Mary Shelley.