Solar Pons, Sherlock Holmes, and Me

The Chronicles of Solar Pons

I stumbled upon The Chronicles of Solar Pons—the original 1972 Mycroft & Moran edition, in nearly new condition—on one of the “Used Books” shelves of Borderland’s Books. Not even in the Mystery section of the store, but in the Horror section, which tells you which section of August Derleth’s wide range of works may be most remembered today. I knew who Solar Pons was, but I wasn’t familiar with the stories. Still, I knew that true Holmes aficionados considered the Pons stories to be the best pastiches of the Canon out there, and the book was quite reasonably priced. So I bought it.

According to the front leaf of the book’s dust jacket, Derleth passed away not too long after finishing the final draft of the manuscript. So Chronicles is the last volume of the Derleth-authored Pons stories, and I began my journey at the end, so to speak. I had vague memories of running into a Pons story before, in some anthology or other, a long time ago; I think it was one of the stories Basil Copper wrote. I was not so into Sherlock Holmes back then, so the story made little impression.

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Annie Cargill

Another ghost story by Scottish poet Violet Jacob, from her 1922 short story collection, Tales of my Own Country.

A young man reluctantly goes to spend a fortnight with his gruff and forbidding godfather. While indulging his love of heraldry amongst the ancient tombstones in an old kirkyard (churchyard) near his godfather’s property, he comes across something he doesn’t expect, and learns something about his godfather, too.

Wc churchyard gate by friedrich jpg Large

Plotwise, this is a fairly standard ghost story, but I found it quite charming. The protagonist, in particular, was really well delineated. I got a definite sense of his personality: easygoing, perhaps a bit feckless, but a genuinely enthusiastic amateur of history and heraldry, and just a nice, kind, guy. I even got a pretty clear idea of his relationship with his father — and his father’s personality — even though his father wasn’t even really in the story. The scene where he first encounters the ghost gave me a mild but pleasant shivery feeling up the back of the neck. It wasn’t a terribly scary story, but I don’t think that was the point.

Several of the secondary characters speak in the Scottish dialect, as is appropriate, since Ms. Jacob is best known as a poet of the vernacular. I had to read a few things twice over, but overall the Scottish wasn’t a stumbling block.

You can read or download “Annie Cargill” here.

This and “The Wade Monument” are the only two ghost stories by Violet Jacob that I know of (as yet), but I’ve put the rest of Tales of my Own Country on my “To Read” list. Perhaps there’s another one there.

Enjoy.


Images

Featured image: Protestant Cemetery, Walter Crane. Source: WikiArt

Churchyard Gate, Caspar David Friedrich (1826-1827). Source: WikiArt

Mementos

I wrote this piece around three years ago, on another social media site that I no longer use. I was thinking about it this morning for some reason, and it took me forever to find it, so I’m moving it here.

My neighbor Anita passed away this past year; her son still lives in the house. The neighborhood is still pretty much as I described it, and I still like living here.

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When we first moved into our house, there was an elderly woman named Elna living across the street. She rarely came outside, and when she did, she seemed uncertain and unstable. My husband suspected that she was drinking, but I wasn’t so sure.

I was home all day at the time, finishing up my dissertation. I remember looking out the window one afternoon, and seeing Elna in her own driveway, stumble and fall. She hit her head on something, and was bleeding. I rushed outside, of course, and so did Anita. I asked if there was anything I could do, but Anita hurried Elna back in the house, and clearly didn’t want me following. She seemed mistrustful, and maybe that’s not so surprising; we were new in the neighborhood, younger than most everyone else on the block, and I got the clear impression that we’d been labelled “dot-commers,” whom nobody had much use for. A not entirely unfair characterization, I suppose.

I paid more attention after that; that’s why I’m sure Elna had no visitors except Anita and my other across the street neighbor, another elderly lady named Xenia. I only remember seeing Elna outside once or twice after her falling incident. And then one night an ambulance came.

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The Wade Monument

I came across this story not too long ago, and really liked it. It’s not wintery enough to share for my annual Winter Tales series, but I thought I’d pass it along anyway.

It’s certainly a story of occult investigation, though I’m not sure the protagonist quite meets the definition of “occult detective,” at least by Tim Prasil’s definition.  The story probably does meet Sage Leslie-McCarthy’s definition of “psychic detective fiction” — going by her definition as quoted by Tim in his essays. I didn’t read all of Leslie-McCarthy’s dissertation. Yet. I will.

Gerum Church, Gotland, Sweden

A young man is on holiday in the town of Mintern Brevil, and notices a mysterious entry on a monument in the local church. He notices that someone else takes an interest in the monument, too. Someone only he can see.

[The Prayer-book] fell against her knees, but, instead of sliding down the slope of her skirt, passed straight through it to the floor, as a stone might fall through transparent water. I could see it lying upon the boards, although the grey folds of her dress and the outline of her limbs were between me and it.

The ghost sends him on a mission. Will he succeed?

The story first appeared in The Cornhill Magazine in 1921. Its author, Violet Jacob, was a Scottish writer best known for her historical novel Flemington, and for her poetry written in the Scottish vernacular. According to her Wikipedia entry, the influential poet and Scottish nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid called her “the most considerable of contemporary vernacular poets”.

Though she also wrote short stories, she wasn’t particularly a ghost story writer — I’ve found two so far, including this one, both of which I like. I plan to investigate her non-genre short fiction, too.

The story at heart is really about family: maternal love, or the lack of it, and about the depth of sacrifice some people will go to for its sake. For that reason I mentally group it with the ghost stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman, and perhaps of Margaret Oliphant. That’s just me, though. I won’t insist on the classification. And of course, I have to mention Dorothy Macardle’s wonderful novel The Uninvited (aka Uneasy Freehold), another (quite different) ghost story of maternal love and the lack of it. Great movie, too.

You can read or download “The Wade Monument” here.

Enjoy,


Images

Featured Image: Wallpaper design, Jules-Edmond-Charles Lachaise, Eugène-Pierre Gourdet (1830-97). Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Imagined medieval interior, Gerum Church, Gotland, Sweden, A.T. Gellerstedt (1867). Photographer Lars Kennerstedt, 2013. Source: Swedish National Heritage Board.

Watching Tales from the Hood

I love old horror anthology films. Dead of Night, from 1945; the Amicus anthologies from the late 1960s and ’70s; Creepshow; Tales from the Darkside. So I’d been meaning to watch Tales from the Hood (1995) for a while.

Tales from the Hood

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. At best, I thought, it would be the same fun but cheesy, EC Comics-like fare as all the other movies above (except Dead of Night), only with more black actors. Not that cheesy is bad, mind you. I like cheesy horror. But at worst, and what I actually feared, the movie would be an In Living Color style parody of a classic horror anthology.

Thankfully, it was the real thing.

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Reading Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts

The subtitle of this comic is “Tales of Fear and Food from Around the World,” but the stories are all from Japan.

I didn’t know this, but apparently Anthony Bourdain was really into Japanese yokai and yurei lore. He and his Get Jiro! collaborator, novelist Joel Rose, along with several acclaimed comics artists (Sebastian Cabrol, Alberto Ponticelli, Vanesa Del Rey, Mateus Santolouco, Leonardo Manco, Irene Koh, Paul Pope, and Francesco Francavilla) got together to create this collection of yokai and food-themed tales, adaptations of some popular Japanese folk stories. This seems to have been one of Bourdain’s last projects before his passing.

Anthony Bourdain's Hungry Ghosts

The framing story of the collection is that an obscenely wealthy Russian businessman has “won” the services of eight famous international chefs in some sort of charity auction. After a lavish banquet, the oligarch invites the chefs to join him and his guests in a game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (A Gathering of 100 Weird Tales). To play the game, the participants sit in a room lit only by 100 candles. Everyone takes turns telling a spooky tale, then blowing out a candle. As the room slowly darkens, the game is said to summon spirits and ghosts. When the final candle is extinguished — look out! Something horrible may be waiting in the dark.

The pieces in Hungry Ghosts relate the stories told by each of the eight chefs.

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Invasion of the Grey Ones

I recently saw the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the first time. It’s much better than I thought it would be. My husband loves cheesy 1950’s sci-fi B-movies, and that was what I expected Body Snatchers to be. But it’s really not that cheesy at all. It’s fairly suspenseful, and its moody cinematography makes the film feel more noir than sci-fi. The inevitable romantic relationship between the male and female leads felt refreshingly adult, and quite relevant to the story. Drop the “happy ending” frame story (which both the producer and director objected to), and make the alien pods look a bit less like giant Belgian endive, and the film would be even closer to perfect.

Pod vs Endive
Left: A pod. Right: A Belgian Endive. I rest my case. Screenshot: moviescreenshots.blogspot.com. Endive: Wikimedia

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On the Obligations of the Reader

Adapted from some ramblings of mine on Twitter.

I recently came across the essay “Let Me Tell You,” by author Cecilia Tan. It’s a response to the old writing dictum “show, don’t tell,” and in the process of arguing against it (specifically in the SF/Fantasy genres), the essay also takes a shot at the myth of “universality” that underlies the dictums of writing “quality” (read: literary) fiction.

I highly recommend the essay to you. But in addition to what it says to writers/readers of SF/Fantasy, it crystallized some other thoughts of my own – a reader, not a writer, and not generally an SF/Fantasy reader either – about the obligations of the reader.

NewImage

Clumsy exposition (“as you know…”) is one of my pet peeves. And I’ve noticed that I sometimes prefer reading works from an X writer to those of an X-American or otherwise hyphenated writer (X-British, X-Canadian, etc.), and this is kinda why: X-Americans often feel an obligation to write to “Americans”. That is, they feel the need to explain bits of X culture or history to the mainstream “American” reader.  X writers write only to X-ians.

A Filipinx author can leave the fraught relationship/history between the Philippines and US unsaid, even when that relationship is central to their themes or to their characters, because readers in the Philippines know. But not all Americans do, so a Fil-American author might feel the need to somehow work a little history lesson into their narrative.

But is it always necessary?

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Something

“I’m going to be something!” said the eldest of five brothers. “I’m going to be useful in the world, however humble a position I hold; if that which I’m doing is useful, that will be Something. I’ll make bricks; people can’t do without bricks, so at least I’ll do Something.”

— “Something” by Hans Christian Andersen. Translator Jean Hersholt

They say Hans Christian Andersen wrote fairy tales, but so many of them are really more like parables. And not necessarily for kids, either.  I like “Something,” because it speaks to an urge so many of us have: to make some sort of difference in the world.

Bricklayers, Childe Hassam

In the story, the brickmaker’s brothers laughed at him, because his ambition was so humble. Better to be a bricklayer, who makes houses; or an architect, who designs them. Better yet to be a “genius,” who breaks new ground and creates original things — or a critic, who tells everyone else what they could have done better.

The brickmaker didn’t become as rich or as respected and admired as his more ambitious brothers, but in the end, he accomplished Something. On the way, he did a good deed by giving his broken bricks (and a few whole ones) to a poor woman so she could build herself a house. She in turn eventually sacrificed her life to save a group of merrymakers from a terrible disaster. And so the brickmaker and the old woman got into heaven, because they did Something.

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Birthmarks and Invisible Clothes

In which I search out the folktale inspirations for Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Swineherd”.

HansAndersen40Stories

I’ve been reading M.R. James’ 1930 translation of Hans Christian Andersen, Forty-two Stories, which is a delight. I’ve realized that, while I’m familiar with Andersen’s most famous tales, I’ve mostly only read retellings of them, rather than reading them in Andersen’s own (translated) words. It makes such a difference! Andersen’s prose (as channeled through James, at least) is so beautifully clean and unadorned; more modern than I would have expected.

Many (though not all) of Andersen’s tales are direct retellings of folktales, albeit with his own unique voice and special details. Other tales borrow from traditional stories to a greater or lesser degree. In the preface to his translation, James gives a bit of information about the folk origins of several tales, based both on what Andersen himself said, and on James’ personal research.

Let’s explore “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Swineherd.”

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