Anne Lisbeth

Next on Winter Tales: Folklore Edition — a fairy tale that is also a great ghost story.

I have to confess, when I was a child I was never super fond of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. So many of his tales that I knew—The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, The Steadfast Tin Soldier,— are, well, pretty depressing. Even The Emperor’s New Clothes isn’t exactly cheerful (though I always did like The Ugly Duckling). I liked happy endings.

I revisited several of his stories recently, via M.R. James’s charming translations, Forty-Two Stories (1930). As an adult, I appreciate the melancholy beauty of his writing much more. And I appreciate Andersen’s wit, too. Though I still prefer happy endings.

Many of the stories borrow freely from Andersen’s native Danish folklore, including the story that I’m sharing today: Anne Lisbeth.

Anne Lisbeth on the beach

A proud woman abandons her own child, leaving him with another family, to become the nursemaid to the son of a Count. Mother’s and son’s lives take different directions: she becomes affluent and respectable; he goes out to sea. Their fates eventually collide again — in quite a spooky way.

As M.R. James says of Anne Lisbeth (and several other tales): “popular beliefs or anecdotes are… conspicuously drawn upon”; specifically the legend of the strandvarsel, which Jean Hersholt rendered as “sea ghost” in his definitive translation (circa 1949):

As she continued on her way she remembered many stories she had heard as a child about the old superstitious belief in the “sea ghost” – the ghost of a drowned body that lay still unburied, washed by the tides on the wild seashore. The lifeless body itself could harm no one, but the “sea ghost” would follow a solitary wanderer, clinging fast to him and demanding to be carried to the churchyard and buried in consecrated ground.

James rendered strandvarsel as “shore-crier”— a transliteration, I suspect.

Andersen had a pronounced religious and moral center that shows strongly in his work; as I’ve said before, these aren’t just fairy tales, but parables. And Anne Lisbeth, with its nightmares and apparitions and unhallowed dead, with the moody calls of the ravens that echo throughout the second half of the tale, is very much a ghost story as well.

You can read Anne Lisbeth here. (Link to The Hans Christian Andersen Centre; translation by Jean Hersholt.)

It doesn’t happen in winter, and it’s got nothing to do with Christmas, but I think it’s still a great winter tale. And it seems appropriate for the Christmas season, too.

Enjoy.


Reference

Preface by M.R. James to Hans Andersen: Forty-two Stories, Hans Christian Andersen, M.R. James, translator. First published 1930. Faber and Faber Edition, 1971.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Other posts I’ve written about Hans Christian Andersen here and here.

Two more short anecdotes about the strandvarsel can be found here, from Benjamin Thorpe’s Northern Mythology, Vol. 2 (1851).

Images

Featured Image: Anne Lisbeth’s Boy, A.W. Bayes, Illustration from Stories for the Household, Hans Christian Andersen, translation by H.W. Dulken (1889). Source: Flickr/Internet Archive

Ann Lisbeth Found on the Sea Shore, A.W. Bayes, Illustration from Stories for the Household, Hans Christian Andersen, translation by H.W. Dulken (1889). Source: Flickr/Internet Archive

Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning

Next up in Winter Tales: Folklore Edition is a story by one of my favorite 19th century ghost story authors: Irish writer Charlotte Riddell. Mrs. Riddell wrote a great haunted house story, and I featured one of them as a previous winter tale. This time, I give you “Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning” (1873), about a dashing Irish doctor whose family has their very own banshee.

…and then with a start and a shiver, and a blanched face, he turned sharply round, whilst a low, sobbing, wailing cry echoed mournfully though the room. No form of words could give an idea of the sound. The plaintiveness of the Eolian harp — that plaintiveness which so soon affects and lowers the highest spirits — would have seemed wildly gay in comparison to the sadness of the cry which seemed floating in the air. As the summer wind comes and goes amongst the trees, so that mournful wail came and went — came and went.

Banshee

The banshee is a female spirit from Irish mythology, generally attached to a specific family. She heralds the death of a family member by wailing and moaning just before the death occurs. She’s usually portrayed as an old woman (as she is in this story), although sometimes she can be young and beautiful. There’s a nice passage in the story where Mrs. Riddell details several banshee anecdotes in succession; she also slips in some pointed commentary about British upper-class society, which I imagine was heartfelt, as she spent most of her life in poverty, despite having been for a time a popular and well-regarded author.

In “Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning,” the titular protagonist lives in London, having been estranged from his family in Ireland for twelve years. He begins to hear a mysterious wailing that no one but himself and his dog can hear. He knows it’s the family banshee. But is she wailing for him, or someone else in the family? Things come to a head on Christmas Eve.

Rather than “once upon a time,” the story takes place “before cholroform was thought of.” Wikipedia tells me that the obstetrician James Y. Simpson first demonstrated the use of chloroform on humans to induce sleep in 1847. So that would place this story in the first half of the nineteenth century, or perhaps even in the late eighteenth century. This fact about chloroform serves mostly to help describe O’Donnell’s strength of nerve, since as a surgeon he would have to operate on conscious patients. Rather clever, I thought.

You can read “Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning” here.

Enjoy.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Illustration: Illustration of a banshee, from Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker (1825). Source: Wikipedia

Glámr

Welcome to Winter Tales: The Folklore Edition!

I’m starting off with Sabine Baring-Gould’s version of a story from the Grettis saga (or as Baring-Gould refers to it, the Gretla), a thirteenth century Icelandic saga about the outlaw hero Grettir Ásmundarson. It details Grettir’s fight with the draugr (a vengeful revenant of Norse mythology), Glámr. The bulk of story occurs during the winter months, and the key events on the eve and day of Christmas, making this a perfect way to kick off this winter tales season.

Grettir

The story first appeared, in a slightly different form, in Baring-Gould’s Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas (1863), under the title “The Valley of Shadows,” then again in his Book of Ghosts (1904) under its present title. In his earlier work, Baring-Gould prefaced the story with this quaint footnote:

Gretla, chaps. 82–85. I give this story as a specimen of a very remarkable form of Icelandic superstition. It is so horrible, that I forewarn all those who have weak nerves, to skip it.

The reading public’s nerves have hardened a bit in the intervening century and a half, but it’s still a great story.

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2018 Winter Tales! The Folklore Edition

It’s almost Winter Tales time! Every year for several years now, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I’ve shared some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around.

462px Florence Fuller Inseparables Google Art Project

I try to focus on stories set on or around Christmas, or at least in winter. Sometimes, I’ll feature ghost stories that were originally published as contributions to the Christmas edition of a literary magazine. And often I’ll feature something that feels “winter tale-ish” to me, regardless of when it takes place.

This year, I’ve got a special theme: folklore-related winter tales. I’ll feature stories that (to my mind, at least) have some relationship to folklore, whether that be old legends, old songs, or creatures from the folklore bestiary. We still have a few days before this year’s series officially begins, but I’d like to preview this year’s round with a couple of stories that I’ve shared previously that fit the theme:

The Haunted Dragoon, by Arthur Quiller-Couch (link to story)

A handsome dragoon (cavalry or mounted infantryman), searching for a fugitive smuggler, billets himself and his men at the home of a miserly farmer and his much younger, love-starved wife. The inevitable happens, with dark, dark consequences….

The story itself isn’t folkloric, but there are a few cool little bits of local folklore sprinkled throughout:

Within the archway bubbles a well, the water of which was once used for all baptisms in the parish, for no child sprinkled with it could ever be hanged with hemp.

As I recall, the little bits of folklore were part of why I picked this story. Though the haunting is pretty good, too.

Christmas Eve, by Nikolai Gogol (PDF) (Epub)

A pious blacksmith colludes with the devil to impress the woman he loves.

This is a longer novella, and not a traditional Christmas ghost story, but I love it. The story is rich in details of Ukrainian folkore and folklife, with lots of farcical supernatural hijinks. Not scary at all, but a lot of fun.

In a few days, I’ll start my 2018 winter tale season. I’m really looking forward to sharing a new round of stories with you, and I hope you enjoy them, too. In the meantime – enjoy!


Featured Image: hurry up, we’re dreaming! Dennis’ Photography. Source: Flickr.

Inseperarables, Florence Fuller (circa 1900). Source: Wikimedia.

A Budget of Book Reviews: H.G. Wells and Frank Baker

A rundown on my Thanksgiving reading.

We spent a few extra days with my parents for Thanksgiving this year, as much to escape the choking smoke of the Northern California Camp Fire as anything else. In between cooking, eating, sleeping off all the yummy food, and teaching my mother how to use the Kindle that I bought her for her birthday, I found time for some reading, too. Two quite different books, as you will see.

The Croquet Player, H.G. Wells.
University of Nebraska Press. With afterword by John Huntington.

CroquetPlayer Wells

I picked this one up in the used section of Green Apple Books a while ago, but didn’t get to it until now. It’s a short novella—less than 100 pages—originally published in 1936, on the cusp of World War II.

The book opens with the narrator, the titular Croquet Player, introducing himself. He is an idly rich man who doesn’t have to work, but instead has spent his life becoming “one of the best croquet players alive.” He’s also pretty good at archery and bridge. He’s a bit of a Mamma’s boy (it’s his aunt, rather than his mother); and he’s just a bit too young to have served in World War I. Generally, his life is trouble-free and easy. I wondered why Wells spent so much time setting up this person as the narrator, but it makes more sense as the novel progresses.

The narrator and his aunt go to a resort in Normandy to “recuperate” from an exhausting conference of the Woman’s World Humanity Movement (an organization the narrator’s aunt is heavily involved in). There, the narrator meets a fellow Englishman, Dr. Finchatton, who tells the narrator the main story.

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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.

P1010975

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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