Cullen Reads? (I) – John Charrington’s Wedding By Edith Nesbit

This is a series of indeterminate length talking about various things I’ve read.  Novels, short stories, what have you, all are potential subjects for me to talk about.

Today’s subject is the short story John Charrington’s Wedding by Edith Nesbit.  The provided link will take you to the work in question.  From here on out expect dread SPOILERS!  You have been warned!

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I picked this particular tale for two reasons.  The first that it was relatively short (I suspected this would be a late post).  The second was that I’d thought I’d read it before and was after a fashion familiar with it.  Not sure if I have or not, but it is still familiar.

Seee, John Charrington’s Wedding follows the oft told tale of a soul entirely too determined for his own good.  John’s going to marry May Forster, dead or alive.  And it’s no real surprise which it is.

This is true with a lot of Ghost Stories.  Lots of familiar trails being trod.  So I knew what would happen well before Nesbit reached her points.

Not a mark against the story mind.  It’s still a well told, creepy little thing.

Take the opening line:

No one ever thought that May Forster would marry John Charrington; but he thought differently, and things which John Charrington intended had a queer way of coming to pass.

 Boom.  Right there she’s setting the ground work for the supernatural happenings to come.  Far more efficient, I think, than John’s repeated declarations about getting married “dead or alive.”

Another thing I liked is that at no point is there a reason for the haunting beyond that first explanation.  There are no bad people involved, no vengeance from beyond the grave.  For whatever reason John always gets what he wants, and does so one last time.  Much to May’s detriment.

Nesbit has a nice, simple writing style that’s easy to read and gets the point across.  After reading this story, I’m rather curious about some of her other Ghost Stories.  Maybe after reading it, you might be too.

KBRS (IV) – Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Only four misfits stand against a newly awakened dragon.

I like Terry Pratchett’s stuff.  Maybe not everything is a hit with me, but for the most part I find walking away from a book I don’t regret reading it.

This particular one, an early novel, had the deck slightly stacked against it.  I’m more of a Rincewind/Granny Weatherwax sort of Discworld fan, and neither character is in evidence here.  However I laughed where I was supposed to and had it been my first exposure to the series I would have come back for more.

I know.  This is a lousy review.  Comedy books like this, though, are hard to describe without risking some of its charms.  If you like, say, Douglas Adams, or the other Discworld books, this will be a fun read.

KBRS (III) – Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

A washed up detective with unusual luck finds himself on the trail of the Constitution of the United States.  The real one.

Four posts later and not the book I hinted at.  Didn’t even own it at the time.

My site in a nutshell.

A very vulgar, very funny detective yarn that I don’t think is quite as good as it thinks it is, but makes up for it in sheer weirdness.  I was comparing it to John Dies at the End, and while it doesn’t stack up (I’ve read JDatE at least six times already and still feel the need to read it again, while I don’t have the same compulsion here) I’m rather glad I got it.

Kind of envious of the writing, in fact.

Again, very vulgar in places.  If that’s a turn off, be warned.

Also.  Not sure if I appreciate having seen the words Godzilla and bukkake next to one another.

KBRS (II) – The Rubber Band by Rex Stout

A decades old debt might get a young woman killed if Nero Wolfe can’t figure the matter out.

Nero Wolfe Rubber Band 000This little bit took entirely too long to write, and for no more reason than laziness.  Or perhaps I stopped to sniff the orchids.

As a rule, Nero Wolfe isn’t really under the purview of this site.  Nothing preternatural goes bump in the night, no elves hang around muttering about dwarves, and robots aren’t even hinted at.  However, this is the most recent book I read on the Kindle after The Snake, thus it goes up next.

Simple how that works.

I’m a big Nero Wolfe fan, and this is a Nero Wolfe novel.  I enjoyed it.  It doesn’t rate with the better ones (such as The Doorbell Rang, to throw out a name) but then again it is the third novel in the series.  The best, as it was, was yet to come.

Next time, should there be no further sloth (ha. ha. ha.) I’ll touch upon a classic of Horror.  Or blather pointlessly about one topic or another.  Who can say.

Kindle Book Review Series (KBRS) (I) – The Snake by John Godey

 

A dangerous snake runs loose in New York’s Central Park

Snake 000This one I was deeply, deeply excited to get.  I first ran into it back in my youth as a Reader’s Digest Condensed book.  Never read it, except for the end.  Looking back, I figure this was probably for the best.

I was expecting something like a Horror story, but it isn’t.  It’s more of a procedural, detailing the snake’s time in Central Park and the effects it has on the city.  There’s no real protagonist, unless you count the snake, which, I suppose, you could.

Godey does an excellent job with the tale, I think.  The characters are compelling and believable.  And, because it’s a Seventies tale, it has a suitably downbeat ending.  You can guess what it is long before it gets here, despite Godey’s hiding of pronouns.

Ultimately, I sort of thought this was the kind of novel Peter Benchely might have written had he a second chance with Jaws.  Godey treats the snake as an animal and not some sort of monster and its final fate is most pitiable.

Good book to start the series off in.  Let’s see how much more I can do.

Kindling (III): Dracula

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.  One of the great thing about getting a Kindle is that I’ve had an opportunity to read books I never could hanging out at the late, lamented Borders or Barnes and Nobles.  This ranges from reading the unjustly obscure classic The Ghost Pirates (well worth hunting down) to the adventurers of Fu Manchu (which probably should be more obscure, despite being a decent enough read.)  I’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to reread stuff I’d never thought I’d see again.  And stuff I’d never thought I’d finish.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912)
The man himself

For the next couple of days or so I intend to talk a little about three of such works.  All three stem from the oeuvre of Bram Stoker and thus roughly a hundred years old.  So a spoiler warning might be, shall we say, a little out of date.  However, if you haven’t read Dracula (today’s subject), Lair of the White Worm, or The Jewel of the Seven Stars yet, I’m hereby giving notice of Spoilers. Not in-depth, just grazing, but so you have been warned.

Don’t care?  Well let’s go. Continue reading “Kindling (III): Dracula”

Kindling (I): The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu

My mother, trying to make up for a few bum birthdays in recent years (her words, not mine), bought me a Kindle last July.  Since, it’s rarely left my side.  I’ve been a reader since birth it seems, and having tons of books at a button push is wonderful.  Especially since the Kindle screen is so much easier to read than the Devil Box’s monitor.

Equally wonderful is the fact I now have access to a huge library of out of copyright books.  Stuff I’ve heard of and never been able to lay hands on.   Like The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson.

The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu
Image via Wikipedia (Same book, different title) Oh, and they got the eyes wrong here. They're supposed to be green...

And, of course, The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

Which is what I’m reading now.

For those not in the know, Fu Manchu was one of the many evil Chinese characters  inspired by the “Yellow Peril“, a growing fear of those in the Western Hemisphere of those in the Eastern Hemisphere take over during the early 1900s (and, sadly, well beyond).  Created by Sax Rohmer, the character is a criminal mastermind out to take over the “white” world.  Which, judging by the protagonists, should have taken about one quick weekend.

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu itself is a series of short stories fashioned into a novel, one where the seams show quite clearly.  Fu Machu acts in an insidious manner, our protagonists struggle to figure out what’s going on, then fail to stop the evil master mind (or only slightly stop him).  Rinse and repeat.  I haven’t finished the novel quite yet, but I assume by the end Fu Manchu gets stopped and Whitey can breathe a little easier.

Until the sequel, that is.

As I’ve noted in the previous paragraphs, the protagonists Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie, are perhaps luckier than they deserve, though Rohmer is a careful enough writer not to let it slip too much into deus ex machina territory. And Rohmer is by no means a bad writer.

Just a product of his times.

Which were sadly very racist.

While Rohmer will later state that “not the whole Chinese population of Limehouse was criminal” (see here for the full quote), I don’t think the reader meets a single Chinese person in the story that isn’t tied in with Fu Manchu.  It’s sort of like Live and Let Die in that regard, where it seemed like every single black character was in league with the villain.  The only difference is that you don’t get the joys of watching great actors like Yaphet Kotto.  Or, I suppose, Roger Moore.

I will finish The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, but I rather doubt I’ll continue further down the line.  My curiosity about the series has been satisfied.  I might see which of the series is considered the best then see about reading that, but beyond that I’ve too many other things to read.

Choice Quotes

Bear in mind these aren’t necessarily prime examples of the writer’s work.  Just ones I found interesting.  Or amusing.  Or both.


[Character describing a multiple murder scene] “It was dark inside, but enough light came from the study—it’s really a drawing-room, by the way—as [the man who discovered the first body] turned all the lamps on, to give him another glimpse of this green, crawling mist. There are three steps to go down. On the steps lay a dead Chinaman.”

“A dead Chinaman!”

“A dead CHINAMAN.”


You know, I believe that a man of Chinese descent might well have expired in that locality.  (Really, Rohmer?  Only two times?  You sure that’s enough?)


[Nayland Smith on another character’s survival] It seems incredible that he can have survived for three days without food. Yet I have known a fakir to go for a week.”


I’m not impressed.  I went four or five days without eating, and I wasn’t even trying.  (I’m sure Smith/Rohmer means three days without water.)


“Mr. Commissioner Nayland Smith?” said the captain interrogatively,


And with a question mark the captain does this with.  Does the blighter know who he’s messing with?  (Said?  Not asked?)

The Howling (Novel) – Review

Let me start out with the following comment:  I’m not a great fan of the movie The Howling.  Based on my memories, I’d put it up on my review site as being an excellent film (2 points) that I don’t care for (0.5 point) but think it worth hunting up (RECOMMENDED, or +).  If we need to know a bit more, I really more of an American Werewolf in London kind of guy (4 points and a plus).

However, when I found Gary Brandner‘s source novel at the Half Price book store, I picked it up in a heart beat.  I’d been looking for that sucker for ages.  No way I was going to pass up a chance at reading it.

In essence, both stories follow the same plot: A woman recovering from a horrible attack goes to the country side to recuperate, only to find something worse waiting for her there.  However, there are major changes through out between page and screen, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why.  With massive books like, say, Dracula, a little pruning  goes down unnoticed.  With The Howling there is absolutely no fat to cut.   The novel is so well tuned it practically hums.  Like the best of Edgar Allen Poe, everything part is geared to increasing unease.

That it didn’t work as well as it should have on me stems from me watching the movie before reading the novel.  A lot of the suspense hinges on one particular aspect of the plot and, knowing what that aspect is, it lost some of its suspense for me.  That said, I think that if you enjoyed the movie, you may well enjoy the book, too.

I’m not going to tell you the book is perfect, a lost gem, but I do wonder why it’s not easier to find.

The Black Cat (IV) – The Black Cat

Spoiler Warning

Bet you thought I’d never finish.  But here it is!  The last part of my “The Black Cat” Review!

For those who need a refresher on what I was talking about, here are a few links to the previous portions of this thing:  Part One, Two, and Three

Do I need to mention spoilers at this point? Well, let’s considered them mentioned.


Mrs. B

Readers learn very little about Mrs. B during the course of the story. This isn’t that surprising, considering the source. Poe’s women tend to be ethereal presences more than actual entities (when they weren’t avenging angels, or course.). A better student of his work will find exceptions here and there, but in truth, even if she had been a he, her part would be no bigger. She serves two purposes in The Black Cat and the major one is as victim.

Let’s compare her briefly to the old man of The Tell Tale Heart. (You haven’t forgotten about that story already, have you?) The narrator claims he had nothing against his benefactor, even to go as far as to say he loved the man. But that’s about all that is said. No comments on whether the old man was kind, just, or the like. In many ways he is a shallower character. Not a knock against the story, mind you. Just the way things are.

Mrs. B, on the other hand, is a saint as far as her husband is concerned. He might suggest that she was was “not a little tinctured with superstition”, but for the most part it’s praise. Uncomplaining, he calls her, despite his offenses. It is clear he loved her very much.

But for the purpose of this review, one particular bit of praise should be pointed out (with a bit of added emphasis):

my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.

This then is Mrs. B’s second purpose: She is Mr. B’s mirror images. She is who he was, who he admires, who he perhaps wished he could be like again. Poe may have intended this or he may not have. It is there, though, all the same.

All of this is underscored by her murder. With Pluto, the brute beast, he goes on and on about the maiming and the death. Mrs. B’s suffering is mentioned almost in passing, as is her death. A huge paragraph for the cat, two sentences for the wife:

Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp, and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.

But then again, isn’t what this whole story is about? Mr. B’s guilt? His confession? While he does brag and preen towards the end about how clever he had hidden his deed, he doesn’t do so with the pure joy the narrator of The Tell Tale Heart does. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that, even if he had succeeded, he would already be damned.

End Game

None of this points to a supernatural agent, of course. One could be rational about it and say the only cause behind this tragedy is Mr. B’s own demons. However, there are a few coincidences dealing with the murder that suggest otherwise.

First note that the only time Mr. B can overcome his dread of the cat enough to lash out at it is after it “nearly throwing [him] headlong” down a flight of steps. A clear thinking man would have dark thoughts about this. One as muddled as him might well have seen this as a murder attempt. Which it might have been, come to that.

Then there’s the timing. The cat just happened to pick the exact moment his wife was with him. Interesting, that.  More so that it reveals itself at the exact moment of Mr. B’s triumph, while he’s showing the police his fine wall.   Add that to the final image – that of the hated animal dining on the beloved wife’s remains – and it seems a bit more than coincidence.

But what points to the supernatural is the cat’s behavior from the murder on, and it stems from more than a few things noticed as a cat owner.  If the cat wants nothing to do with a person, it goes as far away from the person as possible.  It doesn’t hide right in front of them.

On this, a cat is very vocal about its misery.  Being cooped up in a tight space, it would have made some noise, something Mr. B does not notice.  One could point to the fact the cat’s behind a brick wall…  but, as it can be heard at the climax it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it should have been heard at some point during the various searches performed towards.

Some might try to find a “rational” explination behind these things, but to my mind it spells out a ghostly presence and a horrific vengence.

 

The Black Cat (III) – Spirits of the Dead

Spoiler Warning

Longtime readers know that I do this things by whim here. No outline, no notes, just me rattling off things from the top of my head. Sometimes this means that essays do not get finished.

Other times it means that they run longer than intended.

I swear, I thought this one would be the last installment.

Once more, I remind the reader that there be spoilers ahead.


The Tisiphone of the Feline Set

One more tangent. In Roman and Greek myth, there was a set of Gods that even the Olympians themselves could not stop. That would be the Erinyes, the Furies.1

The Furies were the righters of dire wrongs, and they were never kind about it (despite their other name, Eumenides). They hounded their prey into the ground. None could escape them. Even in Tartarus they brought their judgment, over and over again.

Which dire wrongs offended them the most? Murders that offended the “natural” order.

Perverse acts.

As was said before, naming the black cat Pluto works towards Poe’s advantage. It suggests the myths in general. Fury or not, the Gods always avenged crimes against themselves. The problem comes in what is a “fair” punishment for the offending, living mortals.

So what does all of this no doubt fascinating blathering have to do with ghosts? Again, consider Ghost Stories. More often than not, the ghost is there to right a wrong. To punish a transgressor. They have become the Furies of modern fiction, doling out judgment as they seem fit. Harsh, sometimes cruel, almost always implacable.


Errors in Judgment

That Mr. B would seek out a replacement cat is about as surprising as him hitting his “vile taverns” again. He speaks of regret with a conviction, and, of course it’s this regret that damns him almost as much as his own acts. His remorse let’s a Fury into his home.

Let’s recall this fateful moment:

One night as I sat, half stupefied, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of gin, or of rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat—a very large one—fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite, splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.

Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it—knew nothing of it—had never seen it before.

I continued my caresses, and when I prepared to go home, the animal evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.

These three paragraphs have several interesting points of note.

First, the description of the cat comes close to shattering the theory that this is a Ghost Story. But, again, this is Poe giving a rational possibility for what is coming. Besides, not all ghost simply avenge their own deaths. Some linger even after their “last task” is completed.

Also, Ghost Stories aren’t always about proper ghosts. (Which is no doubt a discussion for a later date.)

Next, take a gander at that middle paragraph of Poe’s and consider the following things:

  • Adding the word “appeared” to “appeared delighted” shifts the meaning somewhat, suggesting that the cat wasn’t pleased at all during this encounter. Purring is a form of communication, but not always denoting happiness.

  • It’s very interesting that a landlord of a “den of more than infamy” is honorable enough to not take free money. Shouldn’t it be more likely that he would claim the cat, even if it wasn’t his? Maybe that’s nothing.

  • What isn’t nothing is that Poe repeats himself in the paragraphs last line. He underscores that the cat hadn’t been there until Mr. B wanted to find one.

Finally, we must note that the new cat is loved by Mrs. B on sight. Obviously someone else had been missing the lost Pluto. Which, as we shall see, is a longing most tragic


Discontent

It doesn’t take long for Mr. B to regret his actions. The companionship he so longed for soured at dawn. Now that the beer goggles are off, he sees his acquisitions differently. Amusingly (or perhaps disturbingly) he failed to notice before that the cat, too, was missing an eye. Of all the things to miss, too. Very odd, that.

His growing fear and loathing of the cat is, again, laid out to a natural cause. He feels guilt about what he has done to Pluto. Transferring that emotion to the new arrival, while unjust, is understandable. It is a reasonable explanation.

The cat, being a cat, won’t leave him alone. Rubbing against him, hopping up on him, all sorts of attention seeking. One of the animal’s quirks is that it seems drawn to the ones that like it least. As if it knows of this dislike and wishes to change it, by force if need be.

But is that all it is? Most cats learn not to walk in front of people, or, rather, will do so seldom rather than every time a person walks across the room. It’s almost as if it wants Mr. B to stumble, to fall.

Be it natural cat behavior or the act of a vengeful spirit, the results are the same. Mr. B begins to lose it. His fear and hatred for the creature grows, but, unable to strike it out of remorse for Pluto, he has no direct outlet for his rage. He begins to take it out on his wife, who, being a woman of a by-gone age, takes it without complaint.

He even starts seeing things. That white blotch on the cat’s chest takes a shape. That of a gallows. He points out that it is th ultimate fate of the criminal, but it is also, indirectly, a reminder of what he had done. More guilt, more hatred, more self loathing.

But, more importantly, a feeling of dread. Of something being wrong with the creature. Of it being “evil”. Mr. B will dismiss this notion, but it is one that he can find no other name for.

As it turns out, he has every reason to dread.


Next comes the fourth and final part. For real. No fooling. It’s almost over.


1 As far as I know, the Furies were stopped only once, and by no less a personage than Athena herself. All though it wasn’t quite as simple as all that. But, then again, with the Olympians it was rarely simple.