For Halloween-If there is one classic that terrifies me the most, it is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Ever since I was a child my worst nightmares have been of the monster pursuing me while my running gets slower and slower. Call it a psychological hang up, I call it terrifying. It is yet another Victorian commentary on the Industrial Revolution or science gone wrong like Jekyll and Hyde. Neverthelss the idea does not seem so outrageous anymore, not in a world that is developing cloning.
All in all, I thought Frankenstein was an excellent book until the end when Shelley puts the monster up in the Arctic or was it down in Antarctica? It seemed so random and unnecessary, like she was filling space. Am I missing something? Anyhow, if you want to complete the tour of classic horror, don't miss it.
Oscar Wilde-The Portrait of Dorian Grey
I am glad that the general public is noticing Wilde again, but I must confess, it annoys me. Wilde is all the rage right now, like Austin was a few years ago, but I believe many of these people are not sincerely interested in the works of Wilde and that they are simply name-dropping in an effort to look cutting edge. They act like someone just unearthed an old manuscript of his and published it. I've got news for them, some of us have been reading his works all along. Next week, Wilde will be long forgotten for someone new and ever so trendy.
Now onto The Portrait of Dorian Grey. It is dark and immensely preachy but in a GREAT way! I know very little about Wilde, but I find it ironic that he was imprisoned for his "morality" yet the Victorians could not see what high standards he had for human behavior...such were the times. The book is about one man's descent into evil and depravity, and how in spite of his sins, he retained a beautiful outward appearance. Such is the glamour of evil (now I am being preachy). This is a short novel with a terrific impact.
Robert Louis Stevenson-Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde
When I was in Edinburgh, I went to Brodie's Close, the home of a man who was a respectable cabinet maker by day, violent criminal by night. It is said Deacon Brodie along with Jack the Ripper were templates for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This short novel is based on the Jack the Ripper killings and like Frankenstein is a commentary on man dabbling in science, sometimes with disastrous results. All heady analysis aside, the book was scary. Sometimes it is hard to put aside a story that you have heard about your whole life and read it as if it was the first time, but I tried. Yes, it was frightening and not at all far-fetched. We see this sort of violence in the news all the time. Like Dr. Jekyll, the killer was the "quiet neighbor" next door, a hideous monster by night. Even though it was written over a century ago, Stevenson really nailed it. It is a timeless story of the nature of some "humans".
Edgar Allen Poe-His works
Since I was a teenager, Poe's poem, From Childhood's Hour has resonated for me in a way I am sure it resonates for many artists. It is about being different and thinking differently. I have always loved his melancholy verse and, of course, his down right terrifying Gothic short stories. I was so inspired by his work that I wove a scene into my novel, The Pride of the King from The Fall of the House of Usher and The Premature Burials. (A woman in a coma was buried alive, woke up, pulled the bell cord from the coffin before she suffocated just in time to be "saved by the bell.")
I also took inspiration from his rich description of the rooms in The Masque of the Red Death as well. To this day I can still see the brilliantly colored rooms. I know this story is loaded with symbolism, but for me, it reminds me of the M. Night Shyamalan's movie, The Village. No matter how hard you try to physically protect yourself from evil, it will find a way into our lives.
Back in 2009, I toured Poe's home in Philadelphia where he and his wife rented rooms. It was empty and soooo much better than going to a museum fully renovated and furnished with period pieces. The structure was undergoing its first renovation to become a museum after being a private dwelling since the time Poe had live there. It was run down and the museum staff had stripped out the modern fixtures revealing the original flooring and wallpaper. The best part of the tour was when the guide pulled up a floor board in one of the rooms Poe and his wife had rented. She showed us the hairpins that had been dropped down accidentally between wood flooring by some woman that has lived there years and years earlier. Perhaps it had been Poe's wife. It was almost as if they had just moved out. The guide said that Poe's wife had died there. It was such a personal and intimate glimpse into their lives, all because of a few hair pins. I have never forgotten it.
This post is in honor of Halloween. Sleepy Hollow terrifies me this time of year. When I lived in the woods in Northern MN., and I would walk to the shed or down the dirt driveway in Oct. I was on edge. The leaves were gone from the trees and the branches were like sharp gray spikes thrashing in the wind. It was easy to get goosebumps thinking "The Horseman" could burst out of the woods at any moment. During the day, or in the city this seems silly, but at night in the seclusion of woods, you would believe too. I took this illusion and ran with it at some "killer" Halloween trail of terror parties for my teenage kids. Irving took a legend, or created one, put it in words and succeeded in speaking to something primal in all of us. I love this short novel with it's fireside dance in the colonial home, the dork Ichabod and the bully Brom Bones.
I read this novel so many years ago that I sometimes confuse the plot line with the hundreds of movies made about the Count and his minions. I have decided not expound on any passages or scenes in case I am yet again confused. Confusion and all, the book is nevertheless chilling. When I read the novel at about the age of twenty, it dawned on me that maybe Dracula was having sex with his victims while he was drinking their blood. Knowing everything when you are twenty,(wink) I told my mother this revelation and she said sarcastically, "You really think so?" I think these themes of rape and exploitation of the vulnerable are why this book continues to repulse and seduce readers and is why it is the best horror classic ever written.
Whitby in the north of England was the inspiration for Stoker's setting and I traveled there on two occasions in my twenties. The town is Gothically gorgeous. It is a fishing village nestled between two bluffs along a rocky coastline where it always seems to be raining. The beautiful ruins of an ancient abbey stand vigil on one of the cliffs overlooking the town. I was so taken with the landscape that I used it as the template for Kilkerry in my first novel Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry. It is not hard to imagine Mina seated on one of the benches by the abbey in a trance waiting for the Count. Believe me, my imagination raced when I walked along cliffs. Bram Stoker's Dracula will continue to hypnotize and seduce readers too for centuries to come. Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook
Amanda Hughes, author of Historical Adventures blogs about her reading, her writing, her appearances and even a few recipes!