R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (R.I.P)

The R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Halloween blog hop is here again!  While the rest of the world is preparing to sleep, I have kicked off my coffin lid and have crawled through cobwebs to make it to my book shelf.

Last year I read some Gothic Horror, and this year my peril is fairy tales.  I want to remember how scary then can be.

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill – maybe stretching the theme already, but the big bad is a vampiric pied pipe/Santa Claus.  Plus his henchman gasses the victims with gingerbread flavoured smoke, so that has to be a fairy tale, right?

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi –  A Snow White Murder Mystery

Tinder by Sally Gardner – A retelling of the Tinderbox with a werewolf on the front cover.  Yay, werewolf!

 

 

 

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A Castle of one’s own – The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Date published: 1764

In essence: The true heir of Otranto must be found before the castle kills them all.

The reason I love Gothic Horror so much is the space it creates.  Crimson Peak came in for some bashing when it was first released but I will watch it over and over again just for the house.* The house beats all with its cobwebbed corners and shadowed staircases, its loft ceilings and lancet windows.dsc_0255

Who would live in a house like this?

Only a family in disintegration. A family with secrets and passions that simply can’t fit into the real world.  Otranto’s patriarch, Manfred, thinks it’s a good idea to divorce his wife and marry his dead son’s fiancée.  The current Mrs Otranto does not object as much as you would expect.  The fiancée does object and flees to a monastery while Miss Otranto finds it all very disturbing, but she’s a good girl who obeys her father and is far more concerned with the random, yet handsome stranger outside her bedroom window.

The castle itself has very strong opinions on the fact that Manfred should not be in charge at all. It is the grand sire of Crimson Peak’s house, and yet it behaves like a teenager throwing fits of giant-sized armour and terrorising its inhabitants with prophetic ghosts.

“I want the true heir of Otranto back!” Door slams and plate metal rattles. “Now!”

The family remain puzzled, but carry on with their own agendas. The servants seem more inclined to pay attention, and like Hamlet’s Gravedigger offer some light relief.

Tragical-comical?

I found in The Monk that the funny moments sort of made the scary stuff less scary.  To find it happening again in The Castle of Otranto was not as odd.

It made more sense that in The Castle of Otranto because the gothic space was more clearly defined.  The Monk roves about over a whole city while in the claustrophobic confines of the Gothic Castle there is enhanced pressure on a group of people who cannot escape each other. In that setting the comedy did enhance the horror.

Here is a good article that explains it better than me.

More than just scenery

Of all the characters, the castle was my favourite. It wasn’t just window dressing, but had an agency of its own that drove the plot almost as much as Manfred’s desire for unconventional marriage arrangements.  Plus the castle was a lot easier to sympathise with.

This is also a good read if you’re a writer who wants to learn how to use setting to enhance atmosphere.  It’s a brisk read too.

So, I still really love a haunted building, but I think now I am more aware to the responsibility of owning one. Especially if it doesn’t want me to.

This post is part of the Reader’s Imbibing Peril blog hop. There is still time to get your socks scared off. Click here to find out more. The amazing artwork is by Abigail LarsonRIP XI

If you’d like to learn more about Gothic Houses and what they mean, I really recommend this podcast.

*Yes, the house. Not Tom Hiddleston removing his trousers.

Frightfully Funny? -The Monk, by Matthew Lewis

 

RIP XI

 In essence: Ambrosio is very holy monk until he gives into lust, greed and pride. He descends into vice and pretty much screws life up for everyone else. Except Matilda, whose evil plan it may have been all along.

Have you ever finished a book and not known quite what you think of it, or yourself?

I still don’t know what I think of The Monk.

A shopping list of Gothic Horrors.

There was not just rape, but incestuous rape.  Not just one virgin locked in a crypt, but two.  And mere demons weren’t sufficient so Satan himself appeared. Not just once, dear readers, but a multitude of times.

The book was a one stop shop for evil nuns, bloated corpses, skeletons (in crypts and family closets), ineffectual heroes, devils, mob violence, witches and swooning maidens.

Bizarrely, what I really liked were the moments of comedy.  There were, unexpectedly, several.

The old woman convincing herself that the two gallant knights are flirting with her and not her sixteen-year-old charge was expertly done.  Lewis had a great eye for picking out the ridiculousness in people and situations. This is brilliantly demonstrated in his opening scene.

Although enjoyable, those farcical moments also made the excessive horror feel burlesque in some places.  It may have been the eighteenth century language, but it often felt like the characters were deliberately enjoying their own wickedness too much to be taken completely seriously. Or maybe Lewis was.

I kind of enjoyed it too. Mostly.

When ‘n0’ means ‘yes’ and ‘leave me alone’ means ‘drug me and lock me in a crypt.’

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I was conflicted about Ambrosio, the monk of the title.  He’s an abandoned orphan who has known love or society except that found in the monastery. This was all promising start for my tender heart, although Ambrosio’s history makes him easy pickings for the devilish Matilda.

‘Oh look, a woman’s breast. Ok, I’ll sleep with you. Once wont hurt, right?’  

It’s not quite that simple, but once Ambrosio fell he fell fast and hard (*coughs*) and kept declining at a steady pace.

There were moments when Lewis captured Ambrosio’s inner moral wrangling beautifully.  There were other moments when, partly due to cultural differences but mostly because he was a toad, I wanted to beat Ambrosio to death with his own crucifix.

He repulsed me, and what made him truly horrific was his willingness to take advantage of his position of power. Kind of like a religious Littlefinger, but with less charisma.

I hated Ambrosio. Yet, as he launched his lecherous pursuit of Antonia, I turned another page.  And another.

*thunder rolls*

Just as I need to see the credits at the end of a particularly disturbing horror movie, I had to see if this character got his come-uppance.  (No spoilers here. Don’t look at the woodcut.)

Ambrosio’s descent from holier-than-thou to criminal sex fiend and murderer made me think about the gulf that sometimes emerges between who we hope everybody thinks we are, and the person we are capable of becoming given the right pressures. Ambrosio’s one true fear was not that God would find out what he’d done, but that society would.

I can almost sympathise with that. I want to be the person who can read this classic text with appreciation for its context and the moral issues it displays.  It’d also be cool if I could make some witty observations and you would all applaud and leave lots of comments.

Alas, I actually gobbled it up like Catherine Morland, squealing with horrified delight every time Ambrosio crept an inch closer to satisfying his demonic desires.

*lightning strikes*

I would highly recommend this book. I think.If you do choose to read it, I advise wrapping it in a brown paper bag between sittings.

This is a Readers Imbibing Peril post, and there’s still time to get in on the spookiness (until October 31st). It covers books, films and games in the horror (and associated) genres.  The very cool and kooky picture is by Abigail Larson.

 

 

Dracula Review (Readers Imbibing Peril)

RIP XI Review SiteIn preparation for Hallowe’en I’m tanking myself with Gothic Horror as part of R.I.P.  Head over to Stainless Steel Droppings to join in and get your spine tingled.

The first part of the novel has always been my favorite.  It’s a study in slow burning terror.  The following scenes in Whitby do not compare to Dracula’s Castle and the sinister behavior of its master.

Re-reading I also found a new respect fro Johnathon Harker.  He was firmly stuck in my head as an impotent Keanu Reeves, losing his vivacious wife to a charismatic blood sucker.  Not so. The man scales a wall (twice!) and  keeps up his hope and spirits throughout the whole book, despite being submitted to the worse kinds of mental torture.

First Date Etiquette.

In fact if you do ship Mina and Dracula (#Mracula? #Dracuina?) reading this book will put you off. His attack  of her is erotic, but the mere fact that it is erotic makes it all the more flesh-crawling. I’ve also been reading The Monk and a similar scene occurs when Ambrosio breaks into the heroine’s room while she is asleep, only without the metaphorical blood sucking  to hide his intentions behind.

That complicated juxtaposition of desire and disgust is irrefutable evidence that sneaking into a woman’s bedroom when she is unconscious is not sexy. Take note, Mr Cullen. It’s been done. It was creepy and wrong then; it is creepy and wrong now.

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Dracula himself, is sadly off page for most of the later part of the book.  The way he is described is the same mix of attraction and repulsion used above.  Even off page, his presence looms large over the action. And the way Van Helsing talks about him gave me a new found respect for what the Count is trying to accomplish and how much effort has gone towards him leaving his own superstitious Romania in order to make a better/safer  life for himself in London.

Of course, that isn’t quite how Van Helsing tells it. I’m reading between the lines, but Dracula is a pioneer of vampire-kind, seeking to over come his (super)natural restrictions and improve both himself and his quality of life.

Van Helsing was the only character I found myself frustrated by.  Lucy is turning into a vampire! Just tell them already! My modern sensibilities did not appreciate the good hearted reasons behind the old boy’s coyness.  It made that part of the book drag a tiny bit, but not so much to ever make me want to stop.

The Buffy of the 1890s?

The Scooby Gang of Victorian Gentleman rallying to take on the Count was a great race against time. Especially when they got over their noble sentiments and actually let Mina (who had previously pulled out her typewriter and organised their flaky, love sick arses into some course of action) be involved in the proceedings.

I have plans for my own fanfiction focusing on the Lucy Westenra Memorial Foundation for the Eradication of the Undead.  Young Quincey Harker spends his summer holidays travelling Europe with his parents hunting vampires. Lord Goldaming stumps up the money and Dr Seward provides medical expertise on locating vital organs.

Stoker’s characters were all real and distinct. They made a strong impression on me, as did their friendship forged under fire.

Modern sensibilities firmly locked in a trunk under my bed; I also really wanted Harker and Mina to make their marriage work (#Hina? #Marker?) There is real strength in their love and devotion to each other.  No, please, don’t vomit.  You don’t go to the trouble of memorizing a train time table for a man if you don’t love him.

In conclusion, if you have any interest in vampires at all, you need to read this book. It has so much to offer in terms of both horror writing, character and the origins (sorry Polydori) of a genre. You’d be mad to leave it languishing in it’s crypt a moment longer.

 

Halloween is Coming (Readers Imbibing Peril)

RIP XI

If, like me, you have Anne Radcliffe’s back catalogue gathering dust on your reading list it’s time to take action.

Join the R.I.P linky list and read one (or two, or three, or four) books from the perilous genres.  Watch a film, or play a game and get in the mood for Jack-o-Lantern season.

In an ideal world I’d read;

  1. 1. Dracula – because I need to make peace with Mina Harker
  2. 2. The Castle of Otranto – because I have yet to make it past the giant helmet
  3. 3.The Monk and (yes, one Anne Radcliffe) the Mysteries of Uldolpho – because I want to know what the all the fuss in Northanger Abbey was all about.

Ambitious of me, but tis the season to rediscover my inner Gothic Landscape.  I’ll put some Jill Tracy on to motivate me.

The awesome artwork was provided by Abigail Larson.