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Cabal/Innovation

I love Barker.  He's got to be one of the best horror writers who ever lived.  Okay, got that out of the way, now I can say that I love this book but there were some problems with it. 

Here's what worked:

Setting- the setting was amazing.  It was evocative and other-worldly.  There were many times when I felt like I could see exactly what he described.  Total-awesomeness

Pacing - was tightly paced and tension filled.  It was a real page turner.

Characterization- Everyone exept the Dr. is well-drawn, 3D. 

Dialogue- worked most of the time- some of the love scenes were a little over the top but still good

What didn't work:

Plot:  Very predicable and thin, especially the Doc's sub-plot.  Also, his knowledge of Cabal/Boone's connection with Midian seems more than a little convenient

Doc's characterization- He was a typical villain, very cliche. 

Oh, and can I say that this is The Graveyard Book  for adults?  I guess I just did :)


Innovation

I like her  advice and I found her contrasting examples of the same scene to be especially useful.  I guess, for me, the main thing that I took away from this is that we need to read the classics in the genre and then branch out from there contemporary genre work and also lit outside the genre.  That way, there's a better chance of recognizing a cliched scenario/character/etc.  and there's a better chance of finding a "fix" for a problem in one's own work.

The Shining


"(The Red Death held sway over all!)
(Unmask!  Unmask!)  

And behind each glittering, lovely mask, the as-yet unseen face of the shape that chased him down these dark hallways, its red eyes widening, blank and homicidal." (King, 464)
 

Part of King's new, 2001 introduction to The Shining, fueled my thoughts about the duality of horror as a genre - horror writers write in double entendre, describing one thing while most of the time intending for the audience to visualize/imagine something else entirely.  He introduces his novel with a short essay about how he approached characterization, and how he took risks while writing this book that helped him grow as a writer.  Later on, he realizes that, "I believe these stories exist because we sometimes need to create unreal monsters and bogies to stand in for all the things we fear in our lives: the parent who punches instead of kissing, the auto accident that takes a loved one, the cancer we one day discover living in our own bodies.  If such terrible occurrences were acts of darkness, they might actually be easier to cope with.  But instead of being dark, they have their own terrible brilliance, it seems to me, and none shine so bright as the acts of cruelty we sometimes perpetuate in own families.  To look directly at such brilliance is to be blinded, and so we create a number of filters.  The ghost story, the horror story, the uncanny tale--all of these are such filters. . . . " 

And that got me thinking about what Mike says in an essay I just read:
"One of the most brilliant statements ever made about the horror genre was a passing remark Robert Bloch once said in an interview.  I quote it often, as it has become my mantra as horror writer.  'Horror is the removal of masks.'" (Arnzen, 101)

So, what does that have to do with The Shining?  I think this idea works in the book on many levels; throughout it, there are numerous references and allusions to masks and what they cover.  It is about the legacy we pass on to children, whether we know it or not, when we interact with them.  It is about conformity and its consequences.  Isolation and abuse.  Addiction, art, and love.  And all of those abstactions lurk behind masks.  They have to - it's almost impossible to "see" them without  the form that masks give them. 

The  main story is about a man named Jack, who  finds himself struggling with his mask, struggling to pull off an air of normalcy.  
        
"Ullman had asked a question he hadn't caught.  That was bad; Ullman was the type of man who file such lapses away in a mental Rolodex for later consideration.
   'I'm sorry?'
   'I asked if your wife fully understood what you would be taking on here.  and there's your son, of course."  He glanced down at the application in front of him.  "Daniel.  Your wife isn't a bit intimidated by the idea?'
'Wendy is an extraordinary woman.'
'And your son is also extraordinary?'
Jack smiled, a big wide PR smile.  (King, 3-4)

Later on he is still struggling:

"And suddenly he found that he didn't like the Overlook so well anymore, as if it wasn't wasps that had stung his son, wasps that had miraculously lived through the bug bomb assault, but the hotel itself.  His last thought before going upstairs to his wife and son
     (from now on you will hold your temper.  No Matter What.)
          was firm and hard and sure. 
          As he went down the hall to them he wiped his lips with the back of his hand.  (King, 203)


The lure of the Overlook to him, I think, is the promise of existing without the bother of putting on the mask.  The ghosts know who he really is; they like him just fine.  "Unmask!" they scream.  And wouldn't it be nice?  Wouldn't it be easier to take the mask off for a while and be relieved of the burden of family, writing, living and abandon himself in his addiction?  Become one with his drunk self, to hell with his mistrustful (and rightfully so) wife?  No, because the part of him that saved Danny, that was the real Jack.   The Jack that could love his child fully and sacrifice himself - without the mask of alcohol.  

I could go on and on.... hmm, maybe this should be my paper?   

Works Cited
Knost, Michael Ed.  Writers Workshop of Horror.  Woodland Press, 2009 (Stripping Away the Mask: Scene and Structure in Horror Fiction)Michael Arnzen, pgs.  101-108. 

King, Stephen.  The Shining  Pocket Books, NY  1977.

The Dreams in the Witch-House

It is always really fun to me to be able to "see" traces of literary influences on a writer while reading that writer's work.  I like this because it is like getting a glimpse into that writer's mind.  I get to find out some what he or she reads and how she/he responded to it.  I also like it because it sometimes gives clues about why a writer has a certain style or chooses certain themes to write about.   

This story was so reminicent of Verne's work, particularly 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,  that I had to check out an online Lovecraft biography to see if he was one of H.P.'s influences.  He was. The similarities are everywhere, but particularly noticeable in the sections where both writers attempt to describe the technologies and sciences in their respective stories.

Here is a section from 20,000 Thousand Leagues

"'Sir,'" said Captain Nemo, showing me the instruments hanging on the walls of his room, "' here are the contrivances required for the navigation of the Nautilus.  Here, as in the drawing-room, I have them always under my eyes, and they indicate my position and exact direction in the middle of the ocean.  Some are known to you, such as the thermometer, which gives the internal temperature of the Nautilus; the barometer, indicates the weight of the air and foretells the changes of the weather; the hygrometer, which marks the dryness of the atmosphere; the storm-glass, the contents of which, by decomposing,  announce the approach of tempests; the compass, which guides my course; the sextant, which shows the latitude by altitude of the sun; chronometers, by which I calculate the longitude; and glasses for day and night, which I use to examine the points of the horizone, when the Nautilus rises to the surface of the waves.'" (Verne, 67)

"'There is a powerful agent, obediant, rapid, easy, which conforms to every use, and reigns supreme on board my vessel.  Everything is done by means of it.  It lights it, warms it, and is the soul of my mechanical apparatus.  This agent is electricity.'" (Verne, 67)

And here is a passage from The Dreams in the Witch-House:

"One afternoon there was discussion of possible freakish curvatures in space, and of the Theoretical points of approach or even contact between our part of the cosmos and various other regions as distant as the fartherest stars or the the trans-galactic gulfs themselves-or even as fabulously remote as the tentatively conceivable cosmic units beyond the whole Einsteinian space-time continuum."  (Lovecraft, 363)

"What made students shake their heads was his sober theory that a man might-given mathematical knowledge admittably beyond all likelihood of human acquirement-step deliberately from the earth to any other celestial body which might lie at one of an infinity of specific points in the cosmic pattern." (Lovecraft, 363-364)


Because of this knowledge, I now appreciate Lovecraft's work whole lot more.  I now "get" a lot more of what he was trying to do and I can understand his development as a writer.  


Rosemary's Baby


This story was a great read.  It has an easy, telegraphic style, a fairly steady pace, and great dialogue.  The descriptions were well done and the plot was fair.  The only draw-back, at least me, were Rosemary's characterization and the ending.  

I thought that her complacence throughout the story and at the end were far-fetched given all that we know about Rosemary.  She is at once gullible and forgiving, and then racist and small-minded. 

While dichotomy exists in everyone, here it doesn't fit.  She accepts all blame for her husband's behavior toward her until the end, where her only real reaction was a "shut up" and a spit in the face- no indication that she'd really leave him. But her thoughts and observations about others are ungenerous.  All the terrible things she has been through doesn't temper her attitude toward others.    
 
From the beginning of the story, the reader knows that Rosemary is a former Catholic and still fairly religious, if no longer practicing.  She is also pretty judgmental, as evidenced by her passing comments and the narrator's observations, (it is a very close third-person singular POV which at times is more like a first-person POV) which can be said to be really her observations.

The narrator makes numerous references to racial groups that both infuriated me and drove me to distraction.  Negros in the laundry room, a white-hating Negro Mate that wouldn't listen, (Levin, p.  114)  and the Japanese at the end, who I don't think ever gets a name. All of these comments show that she is bigoted and small-minded. 

Her judgementalness can also be seen in her comments such as:

" And the neighbors certainly don't seem abnormal," she said.  "Except normal abnormal like homosexuals; there are two of them, and across the hall from us there's a nice old couple named Gould with a place in Pennsylvania where they breed cats. . . . " (Levin, 48)

"...Roman has pierced ears.  I just noticed it for the first time."  (Levin, 162)

With such a predisposition to condemn what is out of the "ordinary" and any threat to the status quo, I find it very difficult to believe that she would just accept that Guy and the others would be involved in her son's life- that she'd have any dealings with them at all.  It is almost as though the moment she realizes that she is the mother of the new boss, all is forgiven. Pretty unrealistic. 

And, given that she is still pretty religious, wouldn't she have visited a church after she became convinced that they were witches?  Or, at least afterwards, when they told her that the baby was dead?  Wouldn't she have realized that she wouldn't have the spiritual strength to influence her son, the Anti-Christ, toward good?  Isn't it a sin of arrogance to even think about it?

Anyway, that's what took away from the story for me. 

Shadow over Innsmouths

This post is more of a question than analysis.  I'm wondering how much of this story is informed by the historical events of his time.  His poverty and inability to find work while in New York ,and the resurrgance of the KKK in the 1920s seemed to harden him against the working poor.  And about ten years before the Depression, farmers across the country were struggling to make ends meet.  Prohibition and massive civil unrest after WWI.  I'm not sure but I believe that this was also the time when Eugenics was big and there were blocks against certain types of immigrants (namely Eastern European).  

I'm sure that this is covered somewhere in all of the Lovecraft scholarship so I apologize to hard-core Lovecraft fans.

A lot of the descriptions are reminicent of the kind of propaganda and sensationalized stories that the KKK often churned out, like this one that implies that "comingaling of the races" had much to do with the trouble in Innsmouth. 

     But the real thing behind the way folks feel is simply race prejudice - and I don't say I blame them for it.  I hate those Innsmouth folks myself, and I wouldn't want care to go to their town.  I s'pose you know - though I can see you're a Westerner by your talk-what a lot our New England ships used to have to do with queer ports in Africa, Asia, and the South Seas, and everywhere else, and what queer kinds of people they sometimes brought back with 'em.  You've probably heard about the Salem man that come home with a Chinese wife, and maybe you know there's still a bunch of Fiji Islanders somewhere around Cape Cod.
     Well, there must be something like that back of the Innsmouth people. . . . (Lovecraft, 507)

And the cult "The Esoteric Order of Dagon " sounds very Klanish as do so of their rituals and garb. 

Lovecraft also shows his contempt for them [others] and their "civic degeneration" (Lovecraft, 509)   He makes mention of their industry as having sunk to a "single"  refinery after the Civil War, while highlighting the class-concousness of the time by continously commenting on Marsh's wealth - and first insinuating and then later revealing that the town's riches weren't won by hard work but rather, connections and dealings with evil entities.     

The Thing On the Doorstep - Lovecraft


Despite some slow/weak spots here and there, this is a good story.  Most of my fellow bloggers have already mentioned that they like it because it is different and better than his usual stories.  On reflection I think that it's better because it was a contemporary ( to him) piece - a break from his usual turn-of-the-century stuff.   

He wrote in the past so much that most of the time when I think of him, I have to remind myself that he was not a contemporary of Poe's. In fact, as I read, I was initially thrown at the first mention of a car and telephone, but after that first shock, it was refreshing.  That got me thinking about why this story works while some of his others don't, despite their similar styles and structures.  I am convinced that was simply better able to relate to it because he told it in "real  time".   

He was in his element and his prose reflected that.  Almost every part of this story is relaxed, less self-conscious.  The narrator isn't as high-strung and fussy: 

"Then, as I read the paper, I felt my knees give under me and my vision go black.  I was lying on the floor when I came to, that accursed sheet still clutched in my fear-rigid hand." (Lovecraft, 646)     Pretty low-key for Lovecraft.

The dialogue (never one of his strong points) is better than usual though still a little awkward: 

"-Again, again - she's trying- I might have known - nothing can stop that force; not distance nor magic, nor death - it comes and comes, mostly in the night - I can't leave - it's horrible -  oh, God, Dan, if you only knew as I do just how how horrible it is ... ." (Lovecraft, 642)

He didn't spend nearly as much time world-building in this piece as he normally does.  The only parts he really took time with are the details particular to the place and story he was writing:

"Her home-in that town- was a rather disgusting place, but certain objects in it had taught him some surprising things." (Lovecraft, 632)  He is amazingly sparse in his descriptions compared to his other stories.  I think he trusted everyone to look around them, recognizing the world as the same.  
 
His ease seems to have come about because he wasn't as preoccupied with creating verisimilitude and historical accuracy.  I'll have to review/ re-read some of his other stories to be sure that this idea plays out, but it should be fun.  Here's to happy reading! 



Image-Chagall Fiddler.jpg Marc Chagall-Fiddler 1912-1913


This story is one of Lovecraft’s best and it really spoke to me- probably because I love music so much. There is a wistful longing in the unnamed protagonist’s descriptions of Zann’s playing. He goes to great lengths to hear Zann's work. 

Thereafter I heard Zann every night, and although he kept me awake, I was haunted by the weirdness of his music. Knowing little of the art myself, I was yet certain that none of his harmonies had any relation to music I had heard before; and concluded that he was a composer of highly original genius. The longer I listened, the more I was fascinated, until after a week I resolved to make the old man’s acquaintance (Lovecraft, 59).

Like him, I can only listen in awe, and wish that I could create it the way Zann and other musicians do.  

But what is interesting about this story to me is how much of it isn’t actually told; it is alluded to in the way that the protagonist searches in vain for the place. 

I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d’Auseil. These maps have not been modern maps alone, for I know that names change. ... but despite all I have done, it remains a humiliating fact that I cannot find the house, street, or even the locality, where, during the last months of my impoverished life as a student of metaphysics at the university, I heard the music of Erich Zann. (58)  

Why does he feel the need to find the place again?

 A widespread Hasidic teaching that is often attributed to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi goes,   “Music is the quill of the soul.”   I interpreted this story with that teaching in mind. As I read, I felt that Lovecraft was examining the effects of the music that was written on one man’s soul and that The Music of Erich Zann cleverly addressed the profound and frequently unnoticed effects of music. Music transcends this world. It penetrates our souls and consciousnesses and lingers long after we’ve stopped listening. Music subtly changes us and our surroundings. And though our understanding how and why those changes come about are often tenuous, we still recognize them in our moods and in the atmosphere.  

As the protagonist listens, he is transformed.  “Evidently Erich Zann’s world of beauty lay in the far cosmos of the imagination.” (Lovecraft, 60) As the story progresses, we see that the music has somehow bewitched him and he can longer do without it.

 “There in the narrow hall, outside the bolted door with covered keyhole, I often heard sounds which filled me with an indefinable dread-the dread of vague wonder and brooding mystery.” ( 61) Yet, he continues to listen.

By the end of the story, he no longer cares about Zann’s reluctance to play for him or even his warnings and his help in keeping the music from being heard. It is too late, he’s so hooked he even forces himself into Zann’s apartment.  

So why does he keep searching for the place although he asserts that, “Despite my most careful searches and investigations, I have never since been able to find the Rue d’Auseil. But I am not wholly sorry; either for this or for the loss in undreamable abysses of the closely-written sheets which alone could have explained the music of Erich Zann.”? Because the music was written on his soul and there might be a whisper of it to be heard, if he listens hard enough.

Phantom of the Opera- Gaston Leroux


 




I really, really wanted to like this novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t. 

Before I get started, I will admit that I prefer character driven stories to plot driven. So there’s my bias, out in the open.

One of the biggest issues I had with the story is of course, the characterization. The jealousy between Erik and Raoul rang false. It seemed to be a plot device. Christine seemed, most of the time, to nothing more than a trophy to be won. The two men cry and beg over her but as a reader I am left with a feeling of disgust for them both-they simply have no reason for this exaggerated insincere behavior. Nothing in the prose suggests that either man truly knew or loved her as an individual. 

Even though the plot has a lot of twists and the characters engage in a lot of activity, none of it seems to be motivated by any real need or desire. Raoul suddenly falls in love with Christine even though knew her as a child and on page 21 states, “Mademoiselle, I shall never forget you!’ And he went away regretting his words, for he knew Christine could not be the wife of the Vicomte de Chagny.” Just a short time later, he “suffered, for she was very beautiful and he was shy and dared not confess his love, even to himself.” (Leroux p 71-72) How convenient.    

Erik, in a twisted way, understood her better but I felt cheated by his actions in the end. He helped her develop into a better singer and while helping her, he was presumably grooming her and asserting control for his own purposes. But when she kisses him, he sees the error of his ways and dies an honest man.

His sudden turn-around, or revelation was very contrived and Christine’s pity for him made me feel manipulated into feeling sympathy for him. That Leroux did not go into detail about Christine’s captivity, at first,  did not bother me because I thought that to do so would violate the polite conventions of the time and I understood that some of his other descriptions of Erik’s actions were a signal to the audience that he would surely violate Christine. That understanding, made it very difficult for me to accept Christine’s sympathy for him and Erik’s sudden change of heart toward her.  The total effect for me was one of disorientation and disbelief. 

Beyond that, there are passages where the description is lovely, but they bordered on the ridiculously melodramatic.

With a lack-luster eye, he stared down that cold, desolate road and into the pale dead night. Nothing was colder than his than his heart, nothing half so dead: he had loved an angel and now he despised a woman!     (Leroux, 117).


Pickman's Model H.P. Lovecraft


This is a great premise for a story but the execution left a lot to be desired. The problem, I think, is the structure of the story. I believe that Lovecraft attempted to create verisimilitude by constructing the frame of the narrator recounting the tale to Eliot. But whatever gains in plot plausibility Lovecraft won are out weighed by the fact that the structure of the story as whole ultimately undermined the power and potential resonance of this piece. 

First, the frame puts a lot of distance between the reader and the actual story events and characters. The events are first filtered through the narrator, then through Eliot, and finally to the reader. These filters force the audience to passively receive the story instead of experiencing it as it unfolds.  As a result, the reader can’t get a feeling for the characters, or invest in them, which brings me to the second problem with the structure. 

The story is told almost entirely in an expository style, with just a few interruptions here and there, which are addressed to the fictional Eliot. This set-up is an immediate tension drainer because while the descriptions are evocative, they aren’t energized by an occasional action scene or dialogue/characterization sequence. Though Lovecraft still pulls it off, from a less talented writer, this style would quickly become tedious.   It is the literary equivalent giving away a punch line and relying on a drum roll to cue the audience to laugh. “And then this happened . . .  Drum roll, please.”  Yawn.

The third problem with the story is that its frame construction necessitated that it be told in retrospect. None of the wonderful details and descriptions Lovecraft used created that sense of excitement, dread and fear in the audience that they should have done. The story has a static, one-dimensionality. Consequently, the characters are also flat and one-dimensional.   In fact, there is very little characterization, as mentioned above. 

In addition, a lot of information is given upfront. By the second page we know that he is no longer acquainted with Pickman and that Pickman was involved with the occult. Right after that, we also know that Pickman is very gifted and that his style of painting is very realistic. So when the occult is mentioned, the ending is given away.   

That said I suspect that Lovecraft was more concerned with plot and premise than with characters and he wrote accordingly. He certainly knew his strengths. It seems that reader curiosity about the premise and outcome of his stories, rather than characterization is what propels the audience through his tales--he had a gift for plot and one hell of a big imagination.    



 

     In Jewish Mystical philosophy, the soul has separate components.   Some Hasidic Masters or Rebbes (Rabbis specializing in and adhering to the teachings of Jewish Mysticism) took this idea and expanded it: They taught that the soul is comprised of the Nefesh Behaima, or animal soul and the Nefesh Elohit, our Godly soul. Our godly souls long to return to their source, while our animal souls drive us toward vice. 

Our struggle then, is to remain fully immersed in the world while not giving in to our more base desires. It is a careful balance; a slight tilt either way is harmful. Too far toward the Divine and one lives a life of austerity and depravation; opposite the joyous devotion that is required. And too far the other way, one devolves into a selfish, animalistic brut.  Just an aside: Judaism takes for granted that God is neither man nor woman, instead God is simultaneously both or either, as It chooses to manifest Itself.  

     In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson is exploring the dual nature of the soul. 

I for my part, from the nature of my life, advanced infallibly in one direction and one direction only. It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both (Stevenson p. 49)

 

Dr. Jekyll discovers a potion that allows his more primitive side (animal soul) to manifest itself, morally unfettered. The result is a man not fully human, someone not easily described because he defies our understanding of what it means to be human- in the form of Mr. Hyde, he is without a soul. “… or is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent? The last, I think; for O my poor old Harry Jekyll, if ever I read Satan’s signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend.” (Stevenson p. 17) “It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.”(Stevenson p.9)

Not only is Mr. Hyde near impossible to describe, but he also universally engenders immediate feelings of fear, disgust and hate in those with whom he comes in contact. “I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight.” (Stevenson p. 9) “God bless me, the man seems hardly human!”(Stevenson p. 17)

     For a time, Dr. Jekyll believes he has discovered a way to engage in immorality without the bothersome feelings of remorse and culpability that plague most sinners; he believes he has created chemical amorality. But, Mr. Hyde has gone too far. When Utterson confronts Dr. Jekyll about the will, he is admonishing the doctor. Unstated is the question, “Why would you leave your wealth to someone of such low moral character?” 

     Jekyll is already beginning to see that one cannot escape responsibility and guilt, though he is still in denial about the full extent of his culpability and the level of depravity he is capable of while he is Mr. Hyde. He still believes that his godly soul will take over before he goes too far. “‘It can make no change. You do not understand my position,’ returned the doctor, with a certain incoherency of manner. ‘I am painfully situated, Utterson; my position is very strange- . . .” (Stevenson p.20) “’ . . . the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde. I give you my hand upon that’” (Stevenson p. 20)

     Jekyll is under the false belief that his prior good deeds offer him protection against his consciousness falling completely under the control of his lesser persona. 

The evil side of my nature, to which I had now transferred the stamping efficacy, was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed. Again, in the course of my life, which had been, after all, nine tenths a life of effort, virtue and control, it had been much less exercised and much less exhausted. And hence, as I think, it came about that Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll. (Stevenson p.51)

 

After Hyde murdered Carew, Jekyll finally realizes that he cannot control himself any longer. He tries to make amends by ceasing his transformation into Hyde and renewing his charitable activities. More importantly, he tries to repent by becoming religious. “. . . he was now no less distinguished for religion.” (Stevenson p. 29) But he is too late. He indulged himself too many times, his animal soul has become much stronger than his godly soul. 

     Upon this discovery, Jekyll attempts to protect others by withdrawing from society while searching for a way to rid himself of Mr. Hyde. Ultimately he can find no cure; his animal soul has almost overtaken his godly one. In a final act of humanity, Jekyll chooses suicide over a animal existence as Hyde.