Archive for April, 2017

Tales of Blood: Origins of Mannymärchen

Posted in Angela Carter, Fairy Tales, Gothic Fairy Tales, Märchen, Red as Blood (book), Tanith Lee, The Bloody Chamber (book), The Company of Wolves 1984 with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

By now most of you have some inkling of my love for Gothic Horror, but what you may not be as aware of is my love for Fairy Tales and old school Fantasy. As a grown man, I still thrill to find an old edition of the Grimm Brother’s Hausmärchen, especially if it’s illustrated, or a faithful rendition of the tales of Charles Perrault. I even read essays on them by such scholars as Jack Zipes, and Iona & Peter Opie. I love fairy tales, I love their weirdness, and I love their romance.

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Jack Zipes ed. (2014 Princeton University Press)

I also love the Victorian authors whose stories for children drew heavily from the genre, like Lewis Carroll or George MacDonald. I always saw potential in there to tell darker tales and looked for stories with the magic of these tales but with more grown up themes. Unfortunately, most adaptations are nothing more than an excuse to sex them up or to throw some unrelated tale together and name-drop some fairy tale character for name recognition.

Then one day I found a book that caught my eye and gave me hope. It was a massmarket paperback of Tanith Lee’s “Red as Blood”. These drew from the fairy tales of my childhood, but reinvented them as quality fantasy tales. The only problem is that Lee, like my other Fantasy fave, Clark Ashton Smith, has a tendency to go full on Fantasy, setting stories in totally made up worlds with exotic names and fanciful creatures. I like my fantasy and horror to have some basis in reality for me to identify with and balance the fantastic element.

“Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer” by Tanith Lee (1983, Daw)

I was intrigued by the idea, but still hadn’t quite gotten there myself. Then I saw the movie “The Company of Wolves”, which mixed the story of Little Red Riding Hood with werewolves. An obvious conceit at first glance, but the script was smart, with humor and the werewolf theme was explored fully as a folkloric creature not a Hollywood trope.

Poster for “The Company of Wolves” (1984).

I was enthralled. It explored some of the latent themes in the original fairy tale of a girl’s coming of age and exploring her burgeoning emotions and desires as she tries to navigate the world around her which is beginning to take notice. All this was there along with the deep folklore surrounding these themes as well as the werewolf legends. In my enthusiasm for the movie I eventually I found out that it was based a couple of stories from the book “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. In fact, she had written the script for the film. I went on a hunt for this book and I believe I found a copy at the Watersons bookstore on Newberry Street in Boston, which was shut down shortly thereafter when a fire wreaked havoc and destroyed the place in the late 90’s.

“The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories” by Angela Carter (1987, Penguin Books)

I recall jumping to the related stories first: “The Company of Wolves”, “The Werewolf”, and “Wolf Alice”, but it was when I started reading some of the other tales that I began to fall under the spell of Ms Carter and her intoxicating, baroque prose. Every line is carefully crafted. She drops references to history, literature, fashion, cuisine, art, dance, music, she referenced things that I liked and knew about, like obscure decadent authors, but then she hinted at other things that I had yet to discover then wanted to seek out. She was sensual, sometimes explicit, and even vulgar at times, but one forgave her because of the clever or beautiful way she expressed herself. She never shied from Horror and she knew her Gothic tropes. Best of all these were less full on fantasy and more like magical realism, most of the tales took place in an identifiable setting and referenced real things that I could relate to. This also made the fantastic element stand out more and seem all the more marvelous when they appeared.

The clincher however, for me, was “The Lady of the House of Love”, a tale about a female vampire who falls prey to the whims of love. The description of this vampire woman in her lonely abode broke my heart. I wanted to write like this. I have yet to attain her greatness and most likely never will, but I shall try every time I put my pen to paper.

This what I had in mind over 15 years ago when I began writing my own fairytales. I completed 3 tales and began a 4th which is, as of today, still incomplete. I hope to wrap it up someday, but the desert is not much inspiration for such tales. Since my poetry book “Black Hymeneal” is in limbo at present, I am working on a chapbook of these Gothic Fairy Tales, which I plan to call “Mannymärchen” It shall feature the aforementioned tales: “Gothilocks”, “Belladonna”, and “Felo-de-se”, along with an introduction explaining their genesis. I shall attempt to do the cover art, and if that goes well I may try some interior artwork. More on that as things develop.

As a parting thought, I understand Carter wrote an adaptation of “Lady of the House of Love” which she called “Vampirella”. Apparently Neal Jordan had intended to film it but backed out when she passed away. Hopefully someone while pick it up someday and film it. I would love to see it come to life(?).


“The Eyes of My Mother” (2016)

Posted in American Mary (2012), Art-house film, Audition (1999), Deranged (1974), Ed Gein, Independent Horror films, movie review, Takashi Miike, The Eyes of My Mother 2016, The Soska Sisters with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Poster for “The Eyes of My Mother” (2016).

Last night, I saw a little film which really made an impression on me. It is an independent art-house effort called “The Eyes of My Mother” (2016). This movie was beautifully shot, in black & white, and very well acted. The dialog is minimal, but enough to keep one informed of what is going on and to give brief insight into the mind of the main character: a lovely, lonely sociopath named Francisca. It takes place in America (somewhere in rural New York) but much of the dialog is in Portuguese with English subtitles. I cannot say a lot without giving away the plot, but suffice it to say it is very disturbing, but it is neither explicit nor tasteless. Horrible things happen, but mostly off-screen. Even so, some scenes are a bit hard to watch and there are some scenes depicting taboo topics which I understand have made some critics accuse the film of pandering to exploitation. I disagree, however, because the camera never lingers on such things. There are elements of Takashi Miike’s “Audition” (1999), the Ed Gein-inspired “Deranged” (1974) and the Soska sister’s modern body horror classic “American Mary” (2012), but it also has a pathos and a subtlety which is unique unto itself. I recommend it if you are not squeamish or easily offended.

Peter S Beagle’s “In Calabria”

Posted in In Calabria, Peter S Beagle, unicorns with tags , , on April 14, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A few months ago, I was browsing in a Barnes & Noble when a book on a display caught my eye. It was a smallish book, octavo size (my favorite), a lovely deep green color  (hunter green?) and it had what looked to be an image from a mediaeval tapestry of a unicorn in a pen.

“In Calabria” by Peter S Beagle [2017, Tachyon].

Upon closer inspection I found it to be the latest book by Peter S Beagle, the fantasy author whose most famous book, “The Last Unicorn” was made into an animated feature which is a favorite of many young lovers of fantasy. Although I own a copy of the book, as well as some of his other works, I have never read any of it because I always considered it to be a children’s book. I have read other children’s books in my adult years, but I guess the cartoon actually turned me off rather than made me want to read it. Still, I was intrigued by this beautiful book. Wary of paying full price for anything unless I am 100% certain that I want it in my collection, I held off on purchasing it, but put in a hold request for it at my local library.

The other day I received a message that it had arrived, so I checked it out. Since I tend to vegetate in front of the TV when I return from work at night, I brought it with me to work thinking that I would read it  throughout the week on my coffee breaks. Once I cracked open the book I could barely stand to put it down for the phone calls I must translate. It began a bit naively and a little too picturesque, a foreigner’s vision of life in a Southern Italian village, but it grew on me. The protagonist, Bianchi, is a short, middle-aged, grumpy farmer who lives alone with his animals, shunning society and writing poetry by night who reminded me a bit of myself. Although I am probably too lazy in my ways to run a farm, I would love to retire to the countryside to commune with nature and write.

His only point of regular contact with the rest of the village is his mailman, Romano, who suspects there is more to him than meets the eye. He is aware of Bianchi’s poetic endeavors and teases him about it, but the farmer is unyielding in his recalcitrance. Romano informs Bianchi that he is training his 23 year-old sister, Giovanna, to share his duties and that he should expect to see her soon. Bianchi is dismissive and goes back to his business.

Bianchi’s business is interrupted when he discovers a unicorn on his property. At first, he only sees it briefly before it vanishes, but eventually he is permitted to see it regularly and even approach it. He finds that it is a female and it is pregnant. He vows to protect it and keep it’s presence a secret. With the advent of this magical creature, he becomes inspired to write a lot more poetry and of a superior quality to his previous output. His life begins to revolve around his farm work and taking care of the unicorn.

One day Giovanna shows up at the farm. Wanting to see Bianchi who doesn’t greet her at the roadside to pick up his mail, she ventures onto the farm and finds him tending to the unicorn. She is overwhelmed. The unicorn however, has allowed herself to be seen, which says something. Giovanna swears to keep Bianchi’s secret and she gets him to agree to keep her in the loop and to talk to her every night on the phone to check in on the unicorn’s progress, since she only delivers the mail once a week.

Eventually, love blossoms between the unlikely pair and all seems wonderful until the secret of the unicorn gets out and the farm is swarmed by nosy villagers, media, animal rights groups, and eventually the ‘Ndrangheta (Calabrian Mafia).  Bianchi must step up and protect his animals, his mythical guest and his new love, but is he up for the task?

This is a magical book. I had a hard time keep my composure while reading some of the more emotional portions of the story. The love affair is touching albeit unlikely. It hit a bit close to home since I have been in similar May-December romances which weren’t as successful as depicted here. I find the unicorn more believable than that part of the tale. The text is peppered with Italian word and phrases, but most times one can surmise their import through context. The tale is a bit gritty in spots and comes off more as a tale of magical realism that straight fantasy. Bianchi lives a hermit’s life in a remote location, but is still living in the 21st century. The only fantastic element is the unicorn. The language is at times frank and realistic, and some situations are not the sort one might expect to find in a tale about magical creatures. There is some violence which gets a bit graphic in spots, but it is not gratuitous and Beagle does not linger on it.

I read this book in one day and loved it. It is a lot different than what I expected and I am glad I listened to my intuition and looked into it. There is much here for lovers of fantasy, as well as a well-told tale. The prose is poetic without being too self-conscious and the story is heartwarming but not cloying. I highly recommend it.