Monday, October 31, 2011

Remembering Edgar A. Poe on Halloween

Edgar Allan Poe - He was an orphan, an alcoholic, a temperamental and often highly emotional man, and gifted with an imagination that served him well as a writer. Today I’m saluting Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Poe’s literary output needs no introduction from me. Stories such as “The Black Cat,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “Morella” are among the finest tales of mystery and horror ever created. Such poetry as “The Raven” and “The Bells” are hauntingly beautiful.
(Photo on left, early image of Poe -
Photo on right last image of Poe the year he died)

I recommend Kenneth Silverman’s 1991 biography as the definitive bio of Poe and the Doubleday Complete Stories and Poems as the definitive companion volume.

The photographs reproduced here are the best known of Poe. To the best of my knowledge, there are perhaps only one or two other known photographs, but these are the best, including the last one taken the year he died.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness – for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee – and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.

Spirits of the Dead, stanza 2

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween Weekend!

Yes, this is where I live. Rather quaint don’t you agree? But you don’t have to worry that much because everything here is dead. Sorry about the smell. I guarantee that over time you’ll come to love the smell of pulp paper, dying willow trees, autumn mist and the cool unyielding surface of a marble headstone. Would you like to begin with the books? Naturally Lovecraft is pre-eminent amongst the authors whose shadows pace back and forth so restlessly in a room lit only by candles. That little fellow in the corner is Poe. He casts a long, withering shadow that often strangles other shadows. It’s one of his many unpleasant habits but I can’t fault him for it. I rather enjoy the sound of bickering spirits.
Clark Ashton Smith, Joseph Payne Brennan, August Derleth and Robert E. Howard have come to stay. If you don’t enjoy their company then you’re not welcome here. What’s that you say? Yes, that’s blood on the floor. Why should I bother mopping up the blood when it adds such intricate Rorschach speculation to your consideration of the tiled floor? I knew a fellow once who insisted that I mop up the blood. That’s his shrunken head nestled between Norman Partridge and Joe R. Lansdale. I stitched his lips together using fishing tackle. I think Hemingway would have approved. All of the world’s dark places are collected here along with a few dark places of my own creation. I don’t expect you to approve. After all, bloody popcorn is the diet of vampires and ghouls. The dead feed on dreams of the living. You can count on that. When you entered this room you forfeited your right to sunny days and grandmother’s delicious apple pie. I serve platters of blazing six-shooters, galloping horses, strange winged creatures and memories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.
Forry Ackerman and Chaney and Karloff and Lugosi all visit every year at this time. They’re quite a pleasant bunch. But I’m not sure who or what that is living in the corner. It’s eyes change color every hour and it smells like offal thrown into the brine. Sometimes when I’m sleeping I can sense that it’s watching me.
Thank you for visiting my digital home. I hope you don’t mind a little blood on your hands. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled addictions after Halloween. Meanwhile I have some experiments to conduct. Ygor has just brought me a fresh corpse. It’s a young and tender thing who died of apoplexy. I have plans for its spleen and liver. Its retinas will read stanzas from the Book of the Dead; its fingers will seek a fresh throat to crush... Something inhabits the darkness. It’s ancient and cold and thrives on fear. It knows what you’re thinking. It whispers arcane secrets using the books as a conduit. It’s funny, you see, because you thought Halloween was all about the candy and the plastic masks. How very naive of you. Now you’re about to click off this webpage when a shadow falls across your shoulder. You the smell fathomless sea and images swirl in your mind like bloody milk. You’re about to laugh self-righteously, smugly, when a paralysis grips your body. Then you see what it is that pursues you and you can’t move. Membranous wings beat slowly against your flesh and tendrils wrap themselves about you. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Scary Books

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
            - H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

It’s nearing Halloween and time once again to curl up with a scary book. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those special books that struck a macabre chord with you. The ones you keep for yourself and never loan to friends.
The books that remind you of graveyards. The ones that whisper to you in the dark.
Here there are demons and monsters and strange spirits. You covet them. The ghosts are like family. You share an affinity with the monsters, those poor misguided brutes with malevolent souls.
It’s all here: the putrid scent of death, the presence of pure evil, the phantasms of the mind that infest your dreams like maggots on a slice of decaying meat.
The paperbacks and comic books and limited editions and chapbooks and short stories. Vampires, werewolves, monsters, witches and ghouls all parading before you, a regiment of Satanic relatives arriving unannounced for a long visit. Aren’t you lucky?
Can you name the fallen angels? Their names are written in these forbidden tomes and when you speak their names they may answer you. Make no mistake about what I am telling you. They are listening. And they dwell in those place just beyond the shadows.
The lonesome places that August Derleth wrote about. Places that are darker than dark. Places where the evil sucks the breath from your lungs without warning. Suddenly you’re on your knees gasping for breath, a spinning cyclone of black stars bursting under your eyelids.
And you say to yourself: This is fine. This is what I wanted. Something oozing with primordial, ancient evil whispering obscenities into my Calvinistic ear. I promise not to tell! And the darkness engulfs you.
Pray tell, traveler in cyberspace. Have your wanderings along the digital highway always taken you to cemeteries? Do you sometimes lie down among the headstones when the sun is still sending its golden shafts through the treetops only to fall asleep and awaken when the shadows have begun to lengthen? Of course.
Now find a scary book and turn the page. Smell the musty scent of pulp paper – and something else. Something that’s neither alive nor dead. It thrives there in the gloom, watching, listening, and waiting to take you someplace else. Someplace dark, someplace that isn’t so easy to return from....

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Frankenstein’s Monster

“His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.”
            - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Chapter 5
You know him well.
When you look at him you instantly recall those frightful childhood nights watching him on Television shambling along some dank cavernous hellhole. You remember his slow gait, the outstretched arms, the powerful grip of his undead hands. He lurked in every shadow, every dark secret place in town; he was under your bed and in your closet. You remember the malevolence in his eyes.
He wanted to send you straight to hell.
That was the part that really chilled your soul. For he had emerged from hell itself, this Titan of darkness, and he had no more sympathy for you than a reptile that knows it must feed. And no matter that Hollywood put him in oversized boots because you could never out run him. He would always emerge again from the gloom somewhere else, an eternal undying creature of evil.
Fear tingled in your scrotum and crawled up your spine.
You’re a coward! The words spit like venom through your fevered dream. You couldn’t escape him. A creaking door swings open and there he stands, calm, dark and incredibly patient. He would wait forever just for an opportunity to get his green, clammy hands around your throat and begin slowly squeezing the life out of you.
And which evil incarnation frightened you more?
Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Christopher Lee and dozens more have donned the graveyard pallor and stalked the celluloid shadows. Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus of 1817 has endured beyond her expectations. Today there are even those misguided souls in the academic community who have mistakenly promoted her work as a feminist manifesto. Don’t let the pantywaist crowd fool you. This is a Horror story – Horror in its primal form; vengeful, calculating and incredibly powerful.
“I too can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.”
            - words spoken by the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chapter 16
He dreams of electricity.
These galvanized shadows jerk in his mind like dark puppets on a string; all phantoms struggling to get free. When he wakes up he’s become a pop culture maestro – a comic book, a toy, a pulp story, a screen treatment. He can’t escape his destiny.
Here is the lesson of Prometheus.
Steal fire from Heaven and suffer then eternal torments as daily the great winged creature comes to feed on your liver. And each morning the act begins anew; it’s an existential punishment of unrelenting agony. The monster and his maker understand this torment very well.
Something evil lurks in the darkness.
The tall figure of a man in his grave clothes; an unholy fire smolders in his yellow eyes. An outcast deprived of love, self-educated, constantly hungry and constantly hunted, he waits forever in those dark places where dwell the ghouls. And very soon – when he finds you – the cold kiss of the grave will be your epitaph. 
“I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.”
            - words spoken by the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chapter 24
Frankenstein’s monster is all too human and that’s what makes him so scary.
He’s just like you and I.