Archive for the Ghost Stories Category

Update 10/18/2019: Performance Poetry, chapbooks and formatting issues

Posted in David M. Hoenig (artist), Duane Pesice, Frank Coffman, Ghost Stories, Lucy Alvarado (illustrator), M.R. James, Mind's Eye Publications, Morbidezza & Other Denizens of the Dark, Mutartis Boswell, My Bantam Black Fay, Performance Poetry, Planet X Publications, S.T. Joshi, Scott J. Couturier, Spectral Realms, Speculations: Poetry from the Weird Poets Society, Speculative Poetry, The Phantasmagorical Promenade, Twin Temple with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

It has been a while since my last update and so much has happened, and yet nothing has happened. For starters, I finally got my contributor copies of both Speculations and The Phantasmagorical Promenade.

Requisite author pic with my contributor copy of The Phantasmagorical Promenade.

The latter is a sweet collection of ghostly poems and stories edited by Duane Pesice for Planet X Publications. The sublime front cover and interior art is by Mutartis Boswell, the back cover is by Lucy Alvarado. I immediately read the pieces by my friends and acquaintances, which were great, then I moved on to the other offerings. Everything I read was entertaining and I even enjoyed the few bits I have read so far from the authors and poets who were unknown to me. Granted, nothing here is going to give M.R. James a run for his money, but it was all interesting if not straight up spooky fun. I was pleased to find that my personal anecdote, Night Hag, was accompanied by one of Mr. Boswell’s striking skull face illustrations.

Me and my contributor copy Speculations 2018.

Speculations, edited by Frank Coffman for Mind’s Eye Publications, is a slimmer book than The Phantasmagorical Promenade, although it has about as many contributors, most likely the difference in size owing to the difference in content, the former featuring short stories which take up more pages. The cover art as well as the interior artwork are by David M. Hoenig. This collection features work by some of the members of the Weird Poets Society, of which I am a member. I read poems by Frank Coffman and Scott J. Couturier, both of which I enjoyed. Mr. Couturier had shared his poem The Lich-Queen with me some time ago, and it was a pleasure to reacquaint myself with it.

The few other poems I read didn’t move me much and overall the calibre of the remaining work did not seem to be on par with what I am used to in Spectral Realms. I was also upset that despite having gone over it online with the person in charge of the visual aspect of the book, whose name escapes me, my poem My Bantam Black Fay, which opens the book, has formatting issues that messed up the line breaks of about half of the poem. I have since decided to clean it up and submit it to S.T. Joshi at Spectral Realms to see if I can get it printed properly.

In other news, Morbidezza & Other Denizens of the Dark is just about ready for the printers. I am only waiting for Denisse to set up the Table of Contents and complete the cover art. It may take some time to scrape up the money for the printer, but hopefully it will be finished before the end of 2019. I also have been thinking a lot about  the recital I was hoping to do for promoting the book. I really want it to be a performance. I have been thinking a lot about this lately and after seeing some live videos of the band Twin Temple doing their Satanic rock & roll show, I really have been chomping at the bit to go out there and give the poetry crowd a dark spectacle like they’ve never seen before. I wouldn’t do anything as overtly Satanic as Twin Temple, but I think our prop table would look very similar. By the way, if you haven’t heard or seen them, I suggest going online and checking out some of their live clips, they are what my friend Sali Z would call amaze-balls.

Twin Temple “Satan’s A Woman” 45 rpm

Elliott O’Donnell’s “The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts”

Posted in black shucks, Elliott O'Donnell, Felo-de-se, Ghost Stories, kirkgrims, M.R. James, Nativity in Black, The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado, The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts with tags , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I just recently moved to a new apartment and have been spending most of my free time unpacking boxes. As I was rummaging through a box of mass-market genre paperbacks I came across a selection I acquired during my tenure at Half Price Books. It was a collection of ghostly legends from the UK by author Elliot O’Donnell (1872-1965), entitled The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts. It seems to be a posthumous collection, for the earliest version of it I can find is from 1965, the year of his death. It’s written in anecdotal style, recounting local legends from England, Ireland and Wales. I haven’t come across anything from Scotland so far.

The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts by Elliot O’Donnell (1965, W. Foulsham & Co., Ltd.) [The cover art depicts a scene from the title story.]

His writing style is fairly straightforward and unadorned, although he occasionally throws in a colorful word for atmosphere. I enjoyed what I read, but none of it was particularly new to me or exciting. In fact, most of the ideas that caught my eye, I had already covered in my stories.  For example, there were suicide pools and kirkgrims, both of which I covered in Felo-de-se; black shucks, which I mentioned in Nativity in Black; and spectral monks, which I featured in The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado. The best story of the lot was The Black Monk of Newstead, which read like highlights from an M.R. James story. Supposedly it’s based on a legend concerning the Byron family (the clan which gave the world poet Lord George Gordon Byron) but I cannot find any mention of it online from any reputable sources.

The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts by Elliott O’Donnell (1971, Paperback Library) [This is the edition I have in my collection.]

All in all, it was an amusing read, but nothing I haven’t seen before and it didn’t inspire me with any nightmare visions for my writing.

 

August Derleth’s “Mr. George”

Posted in Arkham House, August Derleth, Boris Dolgov, Boris Karloff, Ghost Stories, Mr. George and Other Odd Persons, Stephen Grendon, The Mask of Cthulhu, Thriller TV Series, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I recently discovered that the Internet Archive has scans of many classic issues of Weird Tales magazine which you can download for free…which I did. Most of the stuff I like from that era has become available through specialty publishers like Hippocampus Press or Chaosium books and over the years I have been able to find collections of stories by Weird Tales luminaries such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, etc. but the one great omission has been the work of August Derleth, especially his non-mythos tales. The only collection which I’ve seen around, and then only in cheap no-thrill paperback editions, is The Mask of Cthulhu.

The Mask of Cthulhu by August Derleth [1958, Arkham House]

Most of his non-Lovecraftian tales are out of print, if not all. Occasionally something like The Drifting Snow will appear in an anthology, but that’s it. So imagine my surprise when I found the original runs of stories Like Colonel Markesan or Mr. George. Prior to finding this I had considered investing in a collectible copy of one of his Arkham House collections, but had held off because they’re so expensive. The first story I read was Mr. George, which was adapted in 1961 for Boris Karloff’s Thriller. For fun, I re-watched the episode (I own the complete series box set) and read the story for comparison. Here are my thoughts…

March 1947 issue of Weird Tales

Mr. George was first published in the March 1947 issue of Weird Tales under the pseudonym Stephen Grendon. Oddly enough, the story is advertised as being by Derleth on the front cover, but inside it is attributed to Stephen Grendon, with an asterisk leading to a note explaining…

“Through a regrettable error, this story is announced on our cover as by August Derleth. Mr. Derleth acted as agent for Mr. Grendon’s story, and someone in our office confused the agent’s name for the author’s. The error was discovered too late to stop printing of the cover.”

I am not sure why Derleth used pseudonyms for the same market, and have not seen an official explanation anywhere that I can recall. Anyway, Mr. George is the story of little Priscilla, an orphaned 5 year old living with her sanguinary adult cousins whom wish to do her in so they can collect on her sizeable inheritance. She is, however, protected by the spirit of the kindly Mr. George whom her cousins speculate may not only have been her late mother’s lover, but could possibly even be the girl’s father.

Priscilla seems to be a very sweet and very independent little girl, but even within the framework of the story it seems a bit unrealistic that a 5 year old girl would be aware enough to ride a trolley by herself to the other side of town, which she does in order to visit the grave of Mr. George. She talks to him there and leaves a note requesting he come back home to help her handle the cousins, who are always plotting her demise. He complies and the bulk of the story features the little girl barely escaping from the clutches of death as the unseen Mr. George turns the murderous siblings traps against them, thus taking out the prospective killers one by one.

Boris Dolgov illustration for Mr. George depicting the scene where cousin Laban (named Jared in the Thriller adaptation) lures Priscilla to the attic. [Weird Tales, March 1947]

Thriller’s adaptation of this tale, as with the other Derleth tales they adapted, seems to make some minor changes which streamline and vastly improve the flow of the stories. In Derleth’s tale there is a woman, Laura Craig, a friend of the Mr. George’s family who acts as an intermediary between Priscilla’s cousins and the brother of Mr. George. She keeps tabs on the well-being of the little girl, and seems to genuinely care for her; a sentiment which is reciprocated by Priscilla. This brother is never actually seen in the story and really superfluous. In the Thriller adaptation, she is Mr. George’s sister, and there are no extraneous siblings. Derleth also had a tendency to use obscure names, but Thriller changed a few of the more distracting ones especially when they don’t come to play in the story. Also, Priscilla as portrayed by 10 year old actress Gina Gillespie, was a few years older and more credible than the way she was delineated in Derleth’s story.

Priscilla (child actress Gina Gillespie) addresses the spirit of her late friend in the 1961 Thriller adaptation of August Derleth’s Mr. George. [image retrieved from http://athrilleraday.blogspot.com/2010/10/mr-george-season-1-episode-32.html%5D

Thriller went on to adapt several of Derleth’s tales including A Wig for Miss DeVore, The Extra Passenger (as part of director Ida Lupino’s Trio of Terror), The Return of Andrew Bentley, and Colonel Markesan (filmed as the Incredible Doktor Markesan), all of which were arguably improvements on their source material. Mr. Derleth was a prolific but journeyman author who wrote in many genres, Horror only being one of them. He lacked H.P. Lovecraft’s dark vision, or C.A. Smith’s poetic flair, but his tales were interesting and simple enough in their concepts and construction to be easily adapted to television, and that is most likely why Thriller used them so often for their show and not the tales of his more celebrated compeers.

The titular story for this episode can also be found in the Arkham House collection Mr. George and Other Odd Persons (1963) under the pen name of Stephen Grendon.

Mr. George and Other Odd Persons_1963_Arkham House_Stephen Grendon

Mr. George and Other Odd Persons by Stephen Grendon (a/k/a August Derleth) [1963, Arkham House].

J.S. Le Fanu’s “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter”

Posted in Brinsley Le Fanu, Ghost Stories, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Schalcken the Painter (1979), Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 6, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I have been on a bit of a Le Fanu kick these days. J. Sheridan Le Fanu was a master of the Victorian Ghost story. I believe I have mentioned him here before. His most celebrated work is “Carmilla”, which was the inspiration for much of the moodiness and homoeroticism in modern vampire literature and is the indirect impetus behind Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. (A fact which I intend to explain further in another post sometime in the near future).
Even so, Le Fanu has many more great ghost tales to offer and was also an inspiration to M.R. James, the recognized master of the classic ghost tale. One of Le Fanu’s most famous works is “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” (1839), which I had been aware of for decades but had never actually read.

Illustration for “Strange Event in the Life of Schalcken the Painter” by Brinsley Le Fanu from “The Watcher and Other Weird Stories” [1894, Downey & Co., London]

I have no excuse however, as I had it in my Dover edition of “Best Stories of J.S. Le Fanu”, and could have read it any time over the last 25 years or so. I finally decided to read it the other day however and was not disappointed. It is the tale of a painter (Schalcken) who while under the apprenticeship of the “immortal Gerard Douw”, secretly falls in love with his niece, Rose. Although Douw suspects this, he decides his ward would have a better life being married to a rich man and reluctantly gives/sells her to a mysterious and insistent older suitor, Mynher Vanderhausen, for an extravagant sum of money. After the marriage contract is signed, Vanderhausen spirits her off and she isn’t seen or heard from for months. The painter and his master try in vain to find the suitor, whom no one seems to have heard of in his alleged home town, and they despair of ever learning the fate of their beloved Rose until one night she arrives unexpectedly at her guardian’s house in a tizzy making wild claims about her husband, repeatedly exclaiming “The dead and the living cannot be one–God has forbidden it!”. What transpires next is a classic example of subtlety and terror. As an aperitif, there is a hint of Rose’s fate in a dream that Schalcken has wherein he receives a visit from his long lost love. Very chilling stuff. It wasn’t as gruesome as some of his tales can be, but it was definitely creepy, and the fact that the nature of the antagonist or the threat he imposes is never really explained makes it as enigmatic as it is disturbing. This would probably not sit well with some modern readers, who might need more explicit or neatly tied up explanations, but I found the ambiguity very intriguing.

Apparently there is a 1979 BBC adaptation of this story, with an abbreviated title, which is available on DVD. I shall have to try to find a copy of it online and see what they did with it. I have seen some images from it online though and the uncanny look of Mynher Vanderhausen is reproduced exactly as he was described in the story, which is promising.

DVD for BBC adaptation of Le Fanu’s “Schalken the Painter”.

I have also just found a nice copy of the Folio Society’s 1988 hardbound edition of  Le Fanu’s classic Gothic novel “Uncle Silas” illustrated by Charles Stewart, which I intend to review here when I get around to reading it. Look here for more on that in the coming months.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The White Old Maid”

Posted in Ghost Stories, Nathaniel Hawthorne, story translations, The White Old Maid (1835), Twice-Told Tales with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

While looking up book covers on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database I came across this collection of Hawthorne stories in French. I couldn’t figure out what the title was in English, so I checked the contents which usually has the original titles next to the translations. Once I did I realized it was a title I’d never heard of before called “The White Old Maid” (1835). Apparently it has been included in a few ghost story anthologies, as well as in the expanded edition of Hawthorne’s “Twice-Told Tales”, so I looked it up and found it on the Wikisource page for “Twice-Told Tales”. It actually was rather good, but not on par with his more celebrated tales.

It starts with a sort of MacGuffin: two young women, one haughty and the other gentle, tearfully hovering over the cadaver of a young man in state. There is some transgression which the proud one has made, but it is never divulged. She asks if the other will betray her, but the gentle one, who is named Edith, says,

‘”Till the dead bid me speak I will be silent,” answered Edith. “Leave us alone together. Go and live many years, and then return and tell me of thy life. He too will be here. Then, if thou tellest of sufferings more than death, we will both forgive thee.”

“And what shall be the token?” asked the proud girl, as if her heart acknowledged a meaning in these wild words.

“This lock of hair,” said Edith, lifting one of the dark clustering curls that lay heavily on the dead man’s brow.’ [Nathaniel Hawthorne “The White Old Maid” 1837, retrieved from Wikisource 02/22/17]

The proud woman goes off and lives her entire life wearing the same white dress and trailing behind every local funeral cortege, presumably in penance for her unnamed transgression. She eventually becomes a town fixture and any funeral she doesn’t attend is seen as being ill-favored. Then, one day she is seen walking the main street by herself when there is no funeral. People crowd the street to see what is amiss…but you have to read the story to find out what happens next.

In truth, it isn’t really a ghost story per se, although there is some question at the end as to the status of an old servant of the house of the young man from the beginning of the tale. I’m surprised it has never been filmed. I could picture it as a Val Lewton movie, not too explicit, but with class and atmosphere to spare. The French title, La vieille fille blanche et autres contes fantastiques, which roughly translates to “The White Old Maid and other Fantastic Tales” features a depiction of the maid in question. The only discrepancy is that the woman in the story always wore the same white dress, and the woman in the artwork is wearing black.

A French collection of stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, featuring "The White Old Maid" ((1973, Marabout).

A French collection of stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, featuring “The White Old Maid” ((1973, Marabout).

Gillian Flynn’s “The Grown Up” (2015)

Posted in "The Grown Up" 2015, "The Turn of the Screw" 1898, George R.R. Martin's Rogues Anthology, Ghost Stories, Gillian Flynn, Henry James, M.R. James, Susan Hill with tags , , , , , , , on December 16, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
"The Grown Up", by Gillian Flynn, 2015, Crown Publishers, New York.

“The Grown Up”, by Gillian Flynn, 2015, Crown Publishers, New York.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a cardboard display for a bantam book with an eye-catching dust jacket image. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was the latest effort by author, Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”, 2012). I read the blurb on the inner flap which read (in all-caps) “GILLIAN FLYNN’S EDGAR AWARD-WINNING HOMAGE TO THE CLASSIC GHOST STORY, PUBLISHED FOR THE FIRST TIME AS A STAND-ALONE”. I was intrigued. I hadn’t read her other books, nor had I seen the film based on “Gone Girl”, although I had heard good things about both, so I figured I’d keep an eye out for it at work and give it a whirl, if I ever saw it used.

"Rogues" 2014 Bantam Books

“Rogues” 2014 Bantam Books

Apparently, this was a re-packaging of an earlier effort, which originally appeared under the title “What Do You Do?”, in George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology. I had no idea what to expect, honestly, not being familiar with Ms. Flynn’s output, but I had fantasies of maybe having found someone like Susan Hill (“The Woman in Black”), another modern writer with a love of the traditional English ghost stories of M.R. James, who writes brilliantly crafted tales, which would be right at home alongside the masters of the genre in some obscure Edwardian supernatural collection.

A week ago, my co-worker and good friend Denise R pointed out that a used copy had indeed arrived at our store, so I checked it out to read and see what all the fuss was about. Okay, before I continue, I must say that there may be some SPOILERS in the following review, so YOU  HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed the story, for the most part, and found the main character amusing. I can see why the general public likes Ms. Flynn’s writing, her characters are interesting and at least this one was likable, despite her many personal faults. That being said, just because one mentions Wilkie Collins, and Henry James in a tale, does not put it in the same league or even the same genre as their respective works. The only connection this tale had with “The Turn of the Screw” or even “The Haunting of Hill House”, was when she name-dropped them within the text of the story.

Not only did she spend several pages of this slender book talking about the protagonists hand-job skills, which although amusing, did not really come into play later on in the story (M.R. James would turn in his grave for this violation of good taste. He saw the inclusion of sexual themes in literature as “…a fatal mistake; sex is tiresome enough in the novels; in a ghost story, or as the backbone of a ghost story, I have no patience with it.”), there was no build up, no atmosphere, and (here it comes, the big reveal)…NO GHOST! What??? There was just a feeling of unease in the “haunted” house, and a creepy boy who seemed modeled after Miles, from “The Turn of the Screw”. What’s worse, is Ms. Flynn pulled the cheap trick of a double-whammy twist ending, à la M. Night Shyamalan! Just when the story seemed to be getting interesting, she pulled an Anne Radcliffe and explained away the terrors that we never really got to see. Boo!

I believe Gillian Flynn should stick with her thrillers, which seem to do nicely, for she does not seem to have a firm grasp of the “Classic Ghost Story” she is supposed to be celebrating here.

M.R. James’ “Lost Hearts”

Posted in BBC, Douglas Walters, Ghost Stories, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, Lost Hearts, M.R. James, Paul Lowe, Walt Sturrock with tags , , , , , , on December 17, 2014 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I just re-read the M.R. James story “Lost Hearts” about an orphaned boy named Stephen who is sent to live with his uncle, Mr. Abney, who has ulterior motives. Apparently, he is an alchemist and intends to use Stephen for a ritual sacrifice, but the ghosts of his uncle’s previous young tenants intervene to spare the lad from their gruesome fates. A very dark tale, but one with a happy (?) ending.

Mr Abney gets his comeuppance in an illustration by Douglas Walters; note the spirit in the brazier.

Mr Abney gets his comeuppance in an illustration by Douglas Walters; note the spirit in the brazier.

I first read this back in the 90’s in a collection of ghost stories illustrated by Walt Sturrock, which my cousin Jason used to own. It made an impression on me then, but for some reason I didn’t really pursue James’ work like I should have, maybe because I was just starting to collect Lovecraft and was singularly focused at the time.

“Ghosts: A Classic Collection” illustrated by Walt Sturrock.

However, reading it again, some twenty plus years later, I am impressed with it’s power and subtlety. It is a little gory in spots and it is also one of the few stories where James goes against his famous maxim that “…amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._R._James#Ghost_stories, retrieved 12/16/2014]

The ghosts as they appear in the 1973 BBC adaptation; note the log fingernails, which they later put to good use.

The ghosts as they appear in the 1973 BBC adaptation; note the long fingernails, which they later put to good use.

There have been two adaptations of the story to date, one which appeared in the TV series “Mystery and Imagination” in March of 1966, of which no archival print is known to have survived, then again for the BBC series “A Ghost Story for Christmas”, in 1973. This version is notable for the emphasis on the music of the hurdy gurdy which the the Italian boy, one of the spirits looking out for young Stephen, used to to play before he “disappeared”. Both his ghost as well as the young gypsy girl, are sad and frightening figures in the story, with gaunt features, long pointy fingernails and cavernous holes in their chests, where their hearts had once been.

An illustration featuring the ghosts of the alchemist's previous victims for the Ghosts & Scholars publication by Paul Lowe.

An illustration featuring the ghosts of the alchemist’s previous victims for the Ghosts & Scholars publication by Paul Lowe.

“Whilst the girl stood still, half smiling, with her hands clasped over her heart, the boy, a thin shape, with black hair and ragged clothing, raised his arms in the air with an appearance of menace and of unappeasable  hunger and longing. The moon shone upon his almost transparent hands, and Stephen saw that the nails were fearfully long and that the light shone through them. As he stood with his arms thus raised, he disclosed a terrifying spectacle. On the left side of his chest there opened a black and gaping rent; and there fell upon Stephen’s brain, rather than upon his ear, the impression of one of those hungry and desolate cries that he had heard resounding over the woods of Aswarby all that evening. In another moment this dreadful pair had moved swiftly and noiselessly over the dry gravel, and he saw them no more.” [James, M.R. 2008. Lost Hearts. The Haunted Dolls’ House. pg 82. London: Penguin Books]

“Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” (1953, Pan Books).

The tale was originally collected in James’ “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary”, but has been anthologized many times since and reprinted in various modern collections of James’ stories including “Lost Hearts and Other Chilling Tales” [2009, Penguin].

“Lost Hearts and Other Chilling Tales” (2009, Penguin Books).