Monday, 27 April 2015

Revisiting Another Master of Horror: Mary Shelley

Boris Karloff as the Monster
Amazingly, Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus when she was nineteen years old, and it was published anonymously when she was twenty-one. The novel was influenced by the themes of the day, including experiments in galvanization: the use of electricity to re-animate the dead. John Milton's poem “Paradise Lost”, quoted by Shelley in the epigraph, also provides an important context in terms of the religious overtones of the novel and man's struggle to come to terms with his Creator. The sub-title “The Modern Prometheus” is also significant in terms of the Greek myth of Prometheus, whose attempt to enlighten mankind through the introduction of fire, often associated with scientific enlightenment, results in his punishment by the gods and his perpetual agony. In fact, the depth of background knowledge and reading that the original novel implies is quite astounding for someone so young.
 
We commonly associate Frankenstein's creation—who has no name in the novel—with repugnancy and horror. In the original novel, however, there are many other themes at play, including over-reaching ambition, moral ambiguity, guilt, responsibility, and abandonment. One is struck by the sorrow and regret in its tone as the narration unfolds. Victor Frankenstein is ambitious beyond reason, striving to be God-like in recreating life. It is the central irony of the novel that his monster destroys everyone Frankenstein loves, leaving him as empty, lifeless, and abandoned as his creation.
 
The Legacy of Frankenstein
 
Stephen King in his examination of horror fiction entitled Danse Macabre talks of the pervasive influence of the novel on the horror genre. There have been countless derivatives in various forms. An early stage version was produced as early as 1826, and theatric productions continue to this day. There have been innumerable film versions, perhaps the most memorable of monsters being portrayed by Boris Karloff, whose performance captured the creature's sorrow and alienation. The modern horror novelist Dean Koontz has written a series of novels based on the Frankenstein theme.
 
There have also been numerous comic tributes from Mel Brooks' classic, Young Frankenstein, to Tim Burton's Frankenweenie.   
 
Internet Resources
 
The novel is now in the public domain and is offered as a free download on many internet sites for new generations of readers to discover. For a list of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein sites, please see http://www.marywshelley.com/sources/mary-shelley-and-frankenstein-sites/.
 
 
(Adapted from an original post dated March 12, 2013)

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Ultimate Haunted House?

Winchester Mystery House
Haunted houses are a popular feature of horror novels and films, and the stories behind the Winchester Mystery House are especially intriguing. The house was built without a master plan by its owner, Sara Winchester, who was the heir to the Winchester Repeating Rifle Company fortune. 
According to popular belief, Sara Winchester consulted a medium after the early deaths of her child and husband and was advised that she needed to move West and build a house for herself and the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. The construction had to be non-stop: otherwise she would die. Another version of this story is that the medium advised her to build the house in order to thwart the evil spirits that killed her husband and child. This version of the story might account for the maze-like construction of the house and its many dead ends to trick the spirits and keep them from finding her.

Mrs. Winchester moved to California from Connecticut and purchased an unfinished farmhouse in northern California. Work began immediately on the house by 13 workers, who labored night and day for almost 38 years. Construction only stopped upon her death at the age of 83.

Today the house is a major tourist attraction. Among its features are the following:

  • 160 rooms
  • 47 fireplaces
  • 10,0000 windows
  • 17 chimneys

There are stairs and windows opening onto walls, as well as a staircase leading to a ceiling, and doors and staircases leading nowhere. The number “13” (perhaps intended to ward off spirits) is prominent in the design of the house. (The newsletter for the mystery house is called The Thirteenth Hour.) As well, there is a s√©ance room with one entrance, three exits, and an eight-foot drop through a secret door to a kitchen below. Visitors are warned to stay with the tour group or risk getting lost for hours in the labyrinth of the house.

Visitors have reported cold spots, and one of the long-time restoration workers reported seeing an apparition inside the house. One psychic stated that he could hear ongoing sawing and hammering by the 13 dead laborers in the other world as they continued to build the house.

For the website of the Winchester Mystery House, see www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/, which provides a detailed history of the house, as well as an explanation of the “13” numerology in its design.‎ 
For a YouTube video by the Travel Channel on the world's creepiest destinations, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dy0TnZ_vpk. (Both sites, as well as Wikipedia, were used as sources for this post.) There are numerous photographs and other YouTube videos online for you to explore.

Happy touring, but don't get lost!
(Reprinted from the Behind the Walls of Nightmare blog post of June 11, 2013)

Monday, 13 April 2015

Horror Poetry for National Poetry Month

In celebration of National Poetry Month, the Horror Writers Association is hosting its second horror poetry contest known as the HWA Horror Poetry Showcase. It's open to everyone, and the last day for submissions is April 30, 2015.

For submission guidelines, please click here.

A panel of judges will select four poems to be published on the HWA website. At the judges' discretion, the HWA may also publish an electronic chapbook of qualifying poems.

To read last year's winning poems on the HWA website (under April: Poetry), please click here.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Revisiting the Works of Edgar Allan Poe

From time to time, we like to re-print posts that have been extremely popular in this blog. At one point, we ran a "masters of horror" series which included such names as Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. By far, the most popular of these posts was the one on Edgar Allan Poe. So if you missed it the first time, here you go.

Poe's Writing

Although Poe was much maligned during his  lifetime and immediately following his death at age forty, he is now known for his profound influence on horror, science fiction, and detective fiction. Poe's short stories and poems are in the Gothic tradition, but he goes far beyond Gothic themes and conventions to focus on the psychology of fear: what Poe refers to as “the terror … of the soul”.

Poe is also a master of dramatic irony and first person narrative, which leads to a form of “dawning” horror as the reader uncovers the protagonist's intent prior to the victim. In his short story “The Cask of Amontillado,” the reader discovers with horror, as the story unfolds, that the narrator Montresor actually intends to "bury" Fortunato alive inside the wall in his cellar. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the unreliable narrator tries to convince us of his innocence and sanity while recounting his murder of an old man.

Poe's use of atmosphere and symbolism is also a hallmark of his writing. In his masterpiece “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the house itself becomes alive as a character in the short story, and its decay and destruction go hand in hand with the spiritual dissolution of its owner, Roderick Usher. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the heart which the narrator hears beating beneath the floorboards is a manifestation of his own guilt. In his poem “The Raven”—which many readers may now, for better or for worse, identify with The Simpsons parody in the Halloween special—the bird becomes a personification of loss, sorrow, and premature death, which are recurrent themes in Poe's work, frequently associated by critics with the early loss of his own wife to tuberculosis.

Poe's Legacy

Poe's influence on modern horror in literature and films is extensive. In literature, think of such novels as Peter Straub's Ghost Story and Stephen King's The Shining and Pet Sematary, and in films think of the works of Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Corman.

In popular music, Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination were the inspiration for the first concept album of the same name by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson joining forces as the Alan Parsons Project. Released in 1976, the album features terrific vocals by Arthur Brown ("The Tell-Tale Heart") and John Miles ("The Cask of Amontillado"), among others.

Poe is also regarded as the father of modern detective fiction through such short stories as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” which influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and laid the groundwork for subsequent generations of fictional sleuths. In fact, the annual award to mystery writers of excellence is the Edgar award.

Poe's detective Dupin uses a technique he refers to as "ratiocination," in which he applies his considerable powers of reason and analysis to the solution of the mysteries. (Dare we say that Sherlock Holmes follows in Dupin's footsteps?)

Poe also had a strong influence on science fiction, including the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells.

Why We Admire Poe's Work

We admire Poe's story-telling skills and the psychology of his stories: the theme of terror as a projection of one's inner fears and turmoil.  "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Cask of Amontillado" are two of the greatest horror stories ever written. As allegories that explore the fear of death, the futility of denying our mortality, and the terror that waits for us in the dark, they cannot be matched.
  
Internet Resources

If you're interested in [re]acquainting yourself with the works of Poe, there are many Internet sources available. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore at http://www.eapoe.org/ has an extensive list of his works, writings on Poe, and related websites. You can also visit http://poestories.com/stories.php to access his short stories and other works.