There was a great war, and the King had many soldiers, but gave them small pay, so small that they could not live upon it, so three of them agreed among themselves to desert. One of them said to the others, “If we are caught we shall be hanged on the gallows; how shall we manage it?”
Another said, “Look at that great cornfield, if we were to hide ourselves there, no one could find us; the troops are not allowed to enter it, and to-morrow they are to march away.”
They crept into the corn, only the troops did not march away, but remained lying all round about it. They stayed in the corn for two days and two nights, and were so hungry that they all but died, but if they had come out, their death would have been certain. Then said they, “What is the use of our deserting if we have to perish miserably here?”
But now a fiery dragon came flying through the air, and it came down to them, and asked why they had concealed themselves there? They answered, “We are three soldiers who have deserted because the pay was so bad, and now we shall have to die of hunger if we stay here, or to dangle on the gallows if we go out.”
“If you will serve me for seven years,” said the dragon, “I will convey you through the army so that no one shall seize you.”
“We have no choice and are compelled to accept,” they replied. Then the dragon caught hold of them with his claws, and carried them away through the air over the army, and put them down again on the earth far from it; but the dragon was no other than the Devil. He gave them a small whip and said, “Whip with it and crack it, and then as much gold will spring up round about as you can wish for; then you can live like great lords, keep horses, and drive your carriages, but when the seven years have come to an end, you are my property.”
Then he put before them a book which they were all three forced to sign. “I will, however, then set you a riddle,” said he, “and if you can guess that, you shall be free, and released from my power.”
Then the dragon flew away from them, and they went away with their whip, had gold in plenty, ordered themselves rich apparel, and travelled about the world. Wherever they were they lived in pleasure and magnificence, rode on horseback, drove in carriages, ate and drank, but did nothing wicked.
The time slipped quickly away, and when the seven years were coming to an end, two of them were terribly anxious and alarmed; but the third took the affair easily, and said, “Brothers, fear nothing, my head is sharp enough, I shall guess the riddle.”
They went out into the open country and sat down, and the two pulled sorrowful faces. Then an aged woman came up to them who inquired why they were so sad? “Alas!” said they, “how can that concern you? After all, you cannot help us.” “Who knows?” said she, “confide your trouble to me.”
So they told her that they had been the Devil’s servants for nearly seven years, and that he had provided them with gold as plentifully as if it had been blackberries, but that they had sold themselves to him, and were forfeited to him, if at the end of the seven years they could not guess a riddle.”
The old woman said, “If you are to be saved, one of you must go into the forest, there he will come to a fallen rock which looks like a little house, he must enter that, and then he will obtain help.”
The two melancholy ones thought to themselves, “That will still not save us,” and stayed where they were, but the third, the merry one, got up and walked on in the forest until he found the rock-house. In the little house, however, a very aged woman was sitting, who was the Devil’s grandmother, and asked the soldier where he came from, and what he wanted there?
He told her everything that had happened, and as he pleased her well, she had pity on him, and said she would help him. She lifted up a great stone which lay above a cellar, and said, “Conceal thyself there, thou canst hear everything that is said here; only sit still, and do not stir. When the dragon comes, I will question him about the riddle, he tells everything to me, so listen carefully to his answer.”
At twelve o’clock at night, the dragon came flying thither, and asked for his dinner. The grandmother laid the table, and served up food and drink, so that he was pleased, and they ate and drank together. In the course of conversation, she asked him what kind of a day he had had, and how many souls he had got?
“Nothing went very well to-day,” he answered, “but I have laid hold of three soldiers,—I have them safe.”
“Indeed! three soldiers, that’s something like, but they may escape you yet.”
The Devil said mockingly, “They are mine! I will set them a riddle, which they will never in this world be able to guess!”
“What riddle is that?” she inquired.
“I will tell you. In the great North Sea lies a dead dog-fish, that shall be your roast meat, and the rib of a whale shall be your silver spoon, and a hollow old horse’s hoof shall be your wine-glass.”
When the Devil had gone to bed, the old grandmother raised up the stone, and let out the soldier.
“Hast thou paid particular attention to everything?” “Yes,” said he, “I know enough, and will contrive to save myself.”
Then he had to go back another way, through the window, secretly and with all speed to his companions. He told them how the Devil had been overreached by the old grandmother, and how he had learned the answer to the riddle from him.
Then they were all joyous, and of good cheer, and took the whip and whipped so much gold for themselves that it ran all over the ground. When the seven years had fully gone by, the Devil came with the book, showed the signatures, and said, “I will take you with me to hell. There you shall have a meal! If you can guess what kind of roast meat you will have to eat, you shall be free and released from your bargain, and may keep the whip as well.”
Then the first soldier began and said, “In the great North Sea lies a dead dog-fish, that no doubt is the roast meat.”
The Devil was angry, and began to mutter “Hm! hm! hm!” and asked the second, “But what will your spoon be?”
“The rib of a whale, that is to be our silver spoon.”
The Devil made a wry face, again growled,”Hm! hm! hm!” and said to the third, “And do you also know what your wine-glass is to be?”
“An old horse’s hoof is to be our wine-glass.”
Then the Devil flew away with a loud cry, and had no more power over them, but the three kept the whip, whipped as much money for themselves with it as they wanted, and lived happily to their end.
The Brothers Grimm
“The Devil and his Grandmother” (or “The Dragon and His Grandmother”) is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, number 125. Andrew Lang included it in The Yellow Fairy Book. A version of this tale also appears in A Book of Dragons by Ruth Manning-Sanders. It is Aarne-Thompson type 812* ‘the devil’s riddle’. Read more here…
*The Aarne–Thompson classification systems are indices used to classify folktales: the Aarne–Thompson Motif-Index (catalogued by alphabetical letters followed by numerals), the Aarne–Thompson Tale Type Index (cataloged by AT or AaTh numbers), and the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system (developed in 2004 and cataloged by ATU numbers). The indices are used in folkloristics to organize, classify, and analyze folklore narratives and are essential tools for folklorists because, as Alan Dundes explained in 1997 about the first two indices, “the identification of folk narratives through motif and/or tale type numbers has become an international sine qua non among bona fide folklorists”. Read more here…
On This Day in 1816: John Polidori Finds a Book
The ‘On This Day’ series continues with a post by Fabio Camilletti* on Fantasmagoriana, celebrating exactly 200 years since the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori held their now infamous ghost story competition during a rainy summer by Lake Geneva.
On the 12th of June 1816, John Polidori ‘rode to town’, and ‘subscribed to a circulating library’; five days later, on June the 17th, he records in his journal that ‘the ghost-stories are begun by all but me’. Who knows when they started reading: on the evening of the 12th, Polidori slept in a hotel, and so he did on the 13th, when he ‘walked home in thunder and lightning’, lost his way, and the police drove him back to the inn; it may have been on the 14th (‘Shelley and I had a conversation about principles, – whether man was to be thought merely an instrument’: a nice appendix to a ghost story-telling night), or on the following days – the Shelleys, at any rate, were always around. The question, however, is in the end irrelevant – the ‘night at Villa Diodati’, as we imagine it, may well not have taken place at all. But the book was there, this is for sure: and, most plausibly, it came from the ‘circulating library in town’, to which Polidori had subscribed on the 12th. In the previous days, he had been reading Tasso and Lucian: from that day on, ghosts, fate, and the principles of life became an increasing concern for the company, until the moment when – as per the entry of 18, at ‘Twelve o’clock’– they ‘really began to talk ghostly’.
Fantasmagoriana had been published in Paris by the Alsatian bookseller Frédéric Schoell (or, more correctly, Friedrich Schöll), a philologist and historian who had entered the editorial business during the Revolution – first in Basel, and later in the French capital – and would later attend the Congress of Vienna as a member of the king of Prussia’s entourage. Schoell’s bookshop was located in the Rue des Fossés-Montmartre (nowadays a part of the Rue d’Aboukir, in the second arrondissment), namely a few metres away from the medieval ruins of the convent and church of the Capucines, which had been ravaged during the Terror and would later be dismantled in the course of Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. In 1798, part of the convent had been hired by the Belgian manager Étienne-Gaspard Robert, better known under the name of Robertson, who had exploited the properties of that quintessentially gothic setting for his show: a mixture of lights, images, and sounds which he sold under the name of Fantasmagorie. In the heart of old Paris, not far away from Place de la Révolution where the king and Robespierre had been guillotined, the book and the show echoed, therefore, each other, both promising an experience of terror behind which, in a sense, sounded as the afterimage of another, and more historical, Terror.
Phantasmagoria was not Robertson’s invention. In the 1770s, an ex-Hussar and freemason named Georg Schröpfer had held necromancy séances in his coffee-house in Leipzig, and his ability in summoning ghosts via a hidden magic lantern had awarded him the nickname of Genspenstermacher (‘Ghost-maker’): Schröpfer’s experiments played with the ambiguity between ‘real’ supernatural and artifice, and so did the shows performed in Paris, since 1792, by an otherwise unknown Philipstahl or Philidor, being the first ones to be advertised under the name fantasmagorie, and which exploited the audiences’ interest in occult subject by selling themselves as a way of debunking credulity towards superstition. The same ambiguity was preserved – and indeed brought to the extreme – by Robertson’s shows, a veritable multi-sensorial experience that aimed at catching the beholders’ imagination completely: audiences were welcomed in the dark vaults of the convent of the Capucines, where meticulous care was paid to generating a ‘Gothic’ atmosphere; among skulls and spectral sounds, lamplights and smoke, Robertson held a speech in which he mixed necromancy and occult sciences, electricity and Galvanism; then full dark ensued, while the lantern began projecting its horrors, including skeletons, ghosts, the ancient gods, but also the shadow of Voltaire or the guillotined head of Danton. Ancient superstition mixed with contemporary history: at some point, the show was forcibly closed by the police when rumour was spread that Robertson could bring King Louis XVI back to life.
Naming the book Fantasmagoriana meant, therefore, to assimilate the experience of reading to Robertson’s popular phantasmagoria shows, and to offer the reader a comparable hullabaloo of horrors within the three hundred and more pages that each of the two tomes was made of. On the one hand, the equation between literature and magic lantern performances invited readers to approach texts through the visual paradigm constructed by phantasmagoria shows. Let us see a passage from Friedrich August Schulze’s ‘L’Heure fatale’ (original ‘Die Verwandtschaft mit der Geisterwelt’), describing the apparition of a girl’s uncanny Doppelgänger:
Je m’approchai de l’armoire. Mais juge de ma frayeur mortelle, lorsque me préparant à l’ouvrir, les deux battans se déploient sans faire le moindre bruit; la lumière que je tenois à la main s’éteint; et comme si je me trouvois devant un miroir, mon image fidelle sort de l’armoire: l’éclat qu’elle répand éclaire une grande partie de l’appartement. Alors j’entends ces paroles: ‘Pourquoi trembler en voyant ton être propre s’avancer vers toi, pour te donner la connoissance de ta mort prochaine, et pour te révéler la destinée de ta maison?’
[I went towards the closet. But just imagine my mortal fear when, as I was about to open it, the two doors opened wide without a single sound; the lantern I was holding in my hand switched off, and, as if I was standing in front of a mirror, my faithful image came out of the closet; the shining she emanated enlightened a great part of the room. And then I heard these words: ‘Why are you trembling in beholding your very being, who is approaching you in order to bring you the knowledge of your coming death, and to reveal you the fate of your lineage?’]
The whole scene can be visualised and interpreted by making reference to phantasmagoria devices and visual codes: the alternation of dark and light, the closed doors opening, the image coming towards (and not walking, an effect that the magic lantern would not allow); and, finally, the words not being uttered by the apparition, but rather heard by the narrator (exactly in the same way as Robertson’s public did hear speeches coming from the backstage).
On the other hand, the association between visual and textual phantasmagorias also worked the other way round: indeed, the term itself fantasmagorie, plausibly devised by Philipstahl/Philidor, already possessed a strong link with textuality. Literally a coinage after the Greek terms phantasma (‘ghost’, but also ‘image’) and agoreuein (‘to speak’), fantasmagorie can be equally understood as a ‘dialogue with ghosts’ or a ‘summoning of ghosts’, but also (more audaciously, perhaps), as a ‘ghostly talk’. ‘Twelve o’clock, really began to talk ghostly’, would write Polidori in his journal, thereby cryptically making reference to the very title of the book that had given rise to it all.
Like Robertson’s phantasmagoria shows, Fantasmagoriana played with the ambiguity between supernatural and mental ghosts, illusion and reality, theatricality and disenchantment. The subtitle, in particular, was a little masterpiece of ambiguity, by announcing a ‘recueil d’histoires d’apparitions, de spectres, de revenans, fantômes, etc.’ (‘collection of stories of apparitions, spectres, revenants, ghosts, etc.’); indeed nowhere – with the exception of a winking epigraph from Horace, in which the book was said to ‘fill the heart with deceitful terrors’ (falsis terroribus implet) – did the paratext signal that it was actually a literary book. The editor declared himself to be just ‘un Amateur’, and the text to have been translated from the German – which, in France as much as in England, was a label indicating whatever could be uncannily foreign, and overall a synonym for Gothic. No indication was given about the authors of single tales, nor about their original sources.
The ‘Amateur’ was Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès, a geographer from Marseille who, at that time, was already forty-five years old. He spoke nine languages, and had an excellent knowledge of Germany and its culture (in 1804 Napoleon and Talleyrand had sent him to mobilise the French émigrés in that country); Fantasmagoriana was a sort of divertissement from his real activity, that is to say geography and travel writing, but surely it was a well-planned book, aimed at presenting a fashionable and up-to-date literary genre to the French public. Five tales out of ten had been published just one year before, within the first two volumes of the anthology Gespensterbuch (literally, ‘Book of Ghosts’) printed in Leipzig by the publisher Göschen; one of them, ‘La Chambre noire’ [(or. ‘Die schwarze Kammer. Anekdote’), had been conceived as a sequel to Heinrich Clauren’s ‘La Chambre grise’ (or. ‘Die graue Stube (Eine buchstäblisch wahre Geschichte’), which had appeared in 1810 in the Berliner newspaper Der Freimüthige, and was equally included in Eyriès’s anthology. The editors of Gespensterbuch, and the authors of the majority of tales selected by Eyriès, were two writers coming from Saxony, Johann August Apel and Friedrich August Schulze, the latter under the pseudonym of F. Laun. Fantasmagoriana also included a tale by Apel, originally appeared in the 1810 volume Cicaden, and by a long piece extrapolated from Johann Karl August Musäus’s Volksmärchen der Deutschen, an anthology of German fairytales published between 1782 and 1786. A varied, albeit consistent corpus (all authors came from Eastern Germany, besides the cradle of German Romantcism) crossed thus the Rhine, also crossing, immediately afterwards, the Channel: if the Diodati company would read the French text, as early as in 1813 the thirty-two year old Sarah Elizabeth Brown Utterson, the wife of the antiquarian and collector Edward Vernon Utterson, translated a huge part of Eyriès’s anthology, entitling it Tales of the Dead and publishing it with the Londoner bookseller White, Cochrane and Co.
Sarah Utterson too decided to remain anonymous: her translation, she would write in her brief ‘Advertisement’, had been ‘the amusement of an idle hour’. Utterson suppressed three tales, adding one on her own – entitled ‘The Storm’, and presented as ‘founded on an incident similar in its features, which was some years since communicated to me […] as having actually occurred in this country’; she significantly abridged Musäus’s ‘L’Amour muet’ (or. ‘Stumme Liebe’), translating it as ‘The Spectre-Barber’, and added to each tale epigraphs taken from the British literary tradition, especially from Shakespeare. The targeted use of quotations had become a customary practice in Gothic fiction since M.G. Lewis’s The Monk (1796), and indeed all Utterson’s choices seem to aim at captivating the British reader by connecting with that national tradition: although, she writes, ‘the multitude of contemptible imitations’ of Ann Radcliffe’s novels has ultimately nauseated readers, whose ‘want […] at length checked the inundation’ of this flood of books, perhaps stories such as these ‘may still afford gratification in the perusal’. By so doing, Utterson’s anthology marks the entrance of Fantasmagoriana into the more mature literary market of Georgian England, but at the same time it corresponds to the domestication of the French anthology into the more normative categories developed by that market in terms of genre: indeed, Tales of the Dead is a fully Gothic book, as the title makes explicit in avoiding every reference to phantasmagoria, and hence to the sphere of artifice and deception. While Utterson’s cuts transform ‘L’Amour muet’ into a veritable ghost story, by isolating within a much more complex tale the only supernatural element, she also suppresses precisely those stories – Schulze’s ‘Le revenant’ (or. ‘Der Geist der Gestorbenen’), ‘La Chambre grise’, and ‘La Chambre noire’ – in which the supernatural was explained with natural causes, thereby eroding the constitutive ambiguity between reality and deception that had formed the backbone of Eyriès’s anthology.
In France, Fantasmagoriana had instead been produced and received in a very different context, as testified by the publication, within the space of ten years, of at least three works that try to ride the crest of its popularity by echoing its title: J.P.R. Cuisin’s Spectriana, published anonymously in 1817; Gabrielle de Paban’s Démoniana, of 1820; and Charles Nodier’s Infernaliana, appeared in 1822. Tellingly, all these works explicitly refuse to be labelled as fictional books, and are rather collections of stories relating supernatural or uncanny events, mostly looted from such eighteenth-century repertories as the treatises on occult phenomena by Augustin Calmet or Nicolas Lenglet du Fresnoy, but also from Gothic or fantastic fiction (from M.G. Lewis to Jan Potocki). In particular, publishing his book, Cuisin is concerned about specifying how his work differs from the
foule de rapsodies connues sous le nom de manuel des sorciers, fantasmagoriana, etc., qui ne méritent pas plus de créance que d’estime. On nous pardonnera sans doute d’avoir pris un titre aussi futile que celui de spectriana; c’est un tribut que nous avons payé à la manie de l’époque où nous vivions.
[crowd of rhapsodies known under the names of The Wizard Handbook, Fantasmagoriana, etc., which do not deserve more credit than they deserve appreciation. It shall doubtlessly be pardoned to us if we have chosen such a frivolous title as Spectriana: it is the tribute we paid to the mania of the age we are living in]
This consideration is very interesting, as the ‘mania’ of the age Cuisin is referring to is not exactly what one might expect. Indeed, unlike Utterson, Cuisin is not complaining about the flood of Gothic and supernatural fiction, but rather about the vogue of scientific entertainment that had been proliferating in revolutionary France, and which had resulted in the massive publication of amateur works aimed at disseminating scientific and pseudoscientific knowledge to the broader public. Most of these works discussed issues that were very popular at the time – including electricity, ventriloquism, automata, animal magnetism/mesmerism, and occultism – and proposed entertaining ways to make experiments with science. Such is the case of the Manuel des sorciers Cuisin mentions, which is in fact a compilation of mathematical and arithmetic curiosities, enriched with a great number of magic tricks and parlour games involving numbers; in the subtitle, the anonymous author specifies how the book belongs to the genre inaugurated by Henri Decremps’s claimed La Magie blanche dévoilée (1783 and 1784), namely one of the most famous eighteenth-century handbooks of stage magic. In other words, Fantasmagoriana may be assimilated, on the one hand, to the many works dealing with supernatural beliefs that proliferate in post-revolutionary. On the other, it may be equated with books, such as Le Manuel des sorciers, dedicated to conjuring and illusionism, and to mixing popular science with entertainment.
From this angle, rather than a repertoire of images and themes nourishing – to a more or less extent – the literary outcomes of Diodati, it is interesting to read Fantasmagoriana as a veritable imagination-triggering engine, which, by moving on the edge between reason and credulity, illusion and reality, science and the supernatural, invites to explore a little bit further the limits of possibility, and turn a story-telling parlour game in a rainy summer into new patterns of invention.<
Read Tales from the Dead (1813 translation by Utterson):
*Fabio Camilletti is Associate Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick. In 2015 he completed a new edition of Fantasmagoriana, and since then he is working on a project on anthologies of the supernatural in Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Europe.
Smoke Glass Stained Bright Colors
Mick A. Quinn, 2017
I wanna touch the earth. I wanna take it in my hands. I wanna grow something wild and unruly. I wanna sleep on the hard ground, in the comfort of your arms, on a pillow of blue bonnets, under a blanket made of stars…It’s thundering. I’m a tad psychotic. The A/C is off. I hate this coffee. Nothing tastes good. My bird finger is blue. I think I lost five pounds. Having a hairy chest makes a cool day feel like Hell’s armpit. I started cataloging the books in my library. I have a lot of books. I miss my daughter. I miss my grandson. The house is haunted by a nasty ghost. I put licorice on my thumb. I need more friends closer to my age. I prayed for the world today. The haze from the wildfires has been slowly dissipating. When I think about Virginia Woolf I get depressed. I think too much about anodynes, and salves, and balms in Gilead. And Anne Sexton haunts me with her shock of black hair. I wanna sleep on the hard ground, in the comfort of your arms, on a pillow of blue bonnets, under a blanket made of stars, oh, it sounds good to me. Bipolar people can’t be alone. Yellow like fresh butter. It’s the only color I want, like the offstripe of a bumblebee, a little old lady’s tea room, or a Daisy button. The color of red wine is good, too. Burgundy or maroon, deeper than a bruise, but lighter than dead blood. I can’t relate to other humans. Bipolar people have to be alone. I got my love, and I took it down. Climbed a mountain and I turned around. And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills, then the landslide brought me down. Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Mmm, mmm, mmm. My new sheets are dove grey, like absolution; or city puddle water—they are a thousand thread count; they kept touching me at Dawn and wouldn’t let me get out of bed. The dawn sun was a fuzzy peach. Sail into tomorrow, living day to day, that’s all I can afford to do, and all I’ll ever pay…is a song to sing to thank you, for making me alive, and a prayer to bring you comfort, Lord, help us to survive. I feel closed in. What I don’t want I have. What I want I can’t find. I think I’ve been abducted by aliens. I miss my old wood-burning fireplace. I want to fuck that big hairy hunter in that Pam Houston story, right there astride his pleasure on that bear rug, burnt red in the firelight where we’d never run out of wood. I want a pair of Stevie Nicks’ velvet high-heeled boots. And her black, ribboned tambourine. Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, children get older. And I’m getting older too. I want electric. Like Walt Whitman electric. Wise and far-reaching, pale pink, eggshell, moody blues. I want a kiss from time. A long kiss, tongue included. Drink me and know me, I’ll say to time. And time will chuckle and float away like a gold cloud, blurred and dusty. I’ve looked at clouds from both sides, now, from up and down, and still, somehow, it’s cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all. I want love to take on flesh, like the Christ claims He did; put on flesh, and come and find me, deep in the evergreens; tethered to a mountain; nothing but stones to eat and river water to drink. Come and find me and let me eat of thy flesh, and drink of thy blood, love. Don’t be dark. Don’t be edgèd. Don’t be silent. Don’t swaddle me in expectation. But enter me, the same. When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know. No walls. Put me in a room with four sides of stacked books…they may not be as sturdy, but they are easier to stare down, blankly, and, if they come tumbling down and crush my five-foot-7-inch frame—well, at least I’ll die being smothered by something I love. Little boys are always trying to be grown men. I believe it was Cormac McCarthy who said that, three—no, four—times. Be good, little cowboy. God may not be listening anymore. All your teachers have blown away, like dust in the wind. The evening light still dies with the sun. But, Oz never did give nothing to the Tinman, that he didn’t, didn’t already have. And cause never was the reason for the evening. Or the tropic of Sir Galahad. So, please…It’s raining now, cold drops on my back and my bare butt, my pale feet; it’s wetting the hair on my arms and my chest—sweet, Rocky Mountain rain… Who needs salvation…when you can kiss the tip of every mountain? So, please…believe in me, when I…say I’m spinning round, round, round, round, smoke glass stained bright colors ooo image going down, down, down, down, soapsud green like bubbles oooo…
(C)2017 by Mick A. Quinn. All Rights Reserved.
[Acknowledgements: “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks; “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac; “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks; “Sail Into Tomorrow” by Olivia Newton-John; “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, “Tinman” by America.]
Urn and Willow
A Novel by Scott Thomas, 2012
Mr. Woodbridge’s Visit
All across Amesborough families huddled in dim parlors, owl-eyed by fires as autumn winds rushed and rasped and made windows tremble in their frames. The hour was late, and while most of the inhabitants should have been tucked under covers dreaming, this was not the case. Fathers, mothers, children, and hirelings waited, fidgeting, saying little or talking inexhaustibly for the sake of distraction. Such was the situation in the humble Browne house, in the eastern part of town where the trees were all but bare and the chill hand of the season held sway.
Abner Browne, lean, white-capped and weathered, was the oldest person in the house. He occupied the comfiest chair and sat with a blanket over his legs, his feet near the logs. His two grandchildren, a boy of ten and a girl of twelve, were close on low stools.
“Whereupon I said to Barrows, ‘It can’t be much farther beyond that hill –” the old man was telling a story that all the other Brownes in the room were familiar with, a tale which under other circumstances would have been welcomed like a comfortably worn piece of clothing. But tonight his words were little more than a drone in preoccupied minds.
Abner’s son, Tristam, who had proven successful as a joiner and owned the building the family occupied, was at the window with one of the curtains pulled slightly from the panes so that he could peer out. His body was pressed to the wall, off to the side, as if he expected a rhinoceros to come bursting through at any moment.
His wife Ann, who sat close to the blaze across from her father-in-law, watched Tristam intently, her face tight. Neglected knitting sat in her lap, the wrinkles in her bunched apron like black spoons. She observed her husband as he squinted and craned and as he let the curtain drop back in place before returning quietly to his own chair. He lighted, seeming to give ear to his father’s tale, but was up and back at the window after a moment.
Abner Browne broke off from his telling and scowled. “You’ll have a path worn in the floor afore the night is through, Tristam.”
“Would you have me sit and do nothing?” Tristam countered, not so respectful of his father as was usually the case.
“What more is there to do, son? If he comes, he comes.”
Olive, the girl, face awash in firelight, looked up, her voice a tremble. “Do you think he shall come here, Grandfather?”
The old man gave her a small, almost sad smile. “I can no more say if it should or should not rain, though my bones tell me that at times.”
“Do your bones tell anything of Mr. Woodbridge?”
Abner chuckled. “Nothing, alas.”
All hail the turtle…?
Sadly, not since 1986. But IT 2017 is still a very good film.
(In my opinion, there are no real spoilers here; that being said, please read at your own risk.)
I give IT, the new film version of Stephen King’s book, a solid B+. Had I been able to see both chapters in the “duology” at once, I might have been able to hump that score up a notch. I’ll admit to wanting to let that B+ inch its way toward A- on the merit of the acting from a few of the kid actors in it, and the digital monster effects on not just the clown but the other things that went bump in the Derry night. I do not like the new Well house concept. And I dislike some changes at the storm drain and in the homophobic hate crime at the canal in Ch 2 in the book, the concept of which was changed: and the terror of which was diluted in the new film.
Skarsgaard beats Curry at the storm drain and in many other places. Curry was just too Uncle Charlie the Molester for me in a literal interpretation of King’s Pennywise as a “Hi Georgie!”-weird-uncle-takes-you-to-Coney-Island-for-hot-dogs-then-fondles-you-on-the-ferris-wheel-while-listening-to-the-Dodgers-on-a-handheld-transistor-radio brogue that I absolutely loathe. Curry won though in places for his mockery of the kids and his zaniness that bordered on insanity. Think the ending of the 80s film Clue.
The 90s TV series like many series made in the 80s and 90s of King’s books, suffers from horrible corniness. The 90s series’ dialogue was truer to the book than that of the new film, which I like, but I’m not sure that matters much in the end (Kee-rect?). Some of the kid actors stole the show like Eddie and the “fuck this, fuck you, fuck that!” kid with the bottle-thick glasses. The absence of adult characters was a bit Hannah Montana…but the scares were real scares.
The performance at the storm drain by Skarsgaard will be hard to match by any scene in any horror movie anytime ever. Absolutely chilling.
I may go see the new film again just for that scene. Or maybe I’ll wait until after I finish my reread of the novel in which King uses many Lovecraftian tropes (that do not appear in either film) which elevate the book to a cosmic-horror piece of art neither film has been able to match to date.
And that’s a shame.
My advice: Do King a solid and read his novel for the masterpiece of horror that it is. Reading is good for your brain, Georgie.
All hail the turtle…
Table of Contents
- The Last Visitor by Stephen Henry
- The Docklands Murder by Dan Watters
- Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of Bodmin by Jonathan Green
- The Case of the Blind Man’s Spectacles by Marcia Wilson
- The Unfortunate Guest by Iain McLaughlin
- The Unexpected Death of the Martian Ambassador by Andrew Lane
- No Good Deed by David Marcum
- The Curious Case of Vanished Youth by Mark A. Latham
- The Curse of the Blue Diamond by Sam Stone
- The Pilot Fish by Stuart Douglas
- The Case of the Scented Lady by Nik Vincent
- Harlingdon’s Heir by Michelle Ruda
- The Noble Burglar by James Lovegrove
- The Second Mask by Philip Purser-Hallard