Dark Tales Sleuth is Still On the Case!

Remember my other blog, The Dark Tales Sleuth? That’s where I’m tracking down the sources of the unattributed stories in the 1856 anthology, Evening Tales for the Winter, edited by Henry St. Clair. I’m still working on it!

MadelynMack books

After wrapping up Volume One, I started on Volume Two with what seemed like a straightforward case, which quickly turned super interesting. I began with what I thought was a plagiarism of one of the seven “horrid novels” from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and found what I think is an alternative (and earlier!) translation of the first section of the German source novel. Pretty cool!

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Better than B: A Short and Idiosyncratic List of Films

I’m more of a reader than a movie buff, but there are times (especially this past year, and—whoo-boy!— this past week) when my mind is too unquiet to focus on a book. At times like that, or times when I’m just too tired to attend to a text, I reach for an easy-watch movie. By this I mean a movie that’s not too heavy or weighty or intellectual, that’s fun and light and easy to follow, and preferably one that doesn’t overstimulate the senses: not too much gore or violence, no dizzying action (unless it’s silly), no cacophonic soundscape. A movie I can watch with a bowl of popcorn and my brain turned to “low.”

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I think everyone has a set of movies or TV shows that they turn to in times of stress; different people find comfort in different genres. I often find that B-movies or “programmers” from the 1950s and 1960s do the trick nicely.

Every so often, though, I’ll turn on a movie that I think is of that type, only to realize — Hey! This movie is actually good! Yes, I have to turn my brain back on, but that’s probably a good thing anyway. These discoveries are always a pleasant surprise.

So here’s a short list of some movies I’ve stumbled on this way. I’m sure film buffs will read the list and say, “Duh!”, but hey—they were delights to discover for me.

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Die and You’ll See

My first translation of the new year! Actually, I did this last year (before Winter Tale season started), but I put it aside for my Christmas ghost stories, and only just finished reviewing and polishing it now. This odd little tale from 1875 is by the relatively obscure Spanish author Pedro Escamilla. I’ve just put it up on my Ephemera blog.

MuereteYVeras illustration

As I’ve written before, I personally find Escamilla a bit uneven. Some of his stories are well-executed but unexceptional treatments of familiar ghost story tropes; others, while supernatural, are not so much spooky and macabre, but more like Catholic fairy tales, full of intercessions by the Virgin Mary, and the like. I don’t actually mind this latter type of story, but I admit they might not have a general broad appeal.

Every so often, though. I find something quirky and unusual from his pen, and I think this one unquestionably falls in that category. So many questions: is the narrator reliable, or not? What exactly is going on? I really liked this one, and I hope you do, too.

Enjoy!


Illustration for “Muérete y verás,” from El Periódico para Todos, No. 16, 1875. Illustrator unknown.

Featured image: The great funeral, Félix Vallotton. Source: Old Book Illustrations

The Dance of the Dead

I’m closing out this year’s Winter Tales season with a dark and delightful German gothic tale, as filtered through the pen of British author Dick Donovan. “The Dance of the Dead” is apparently based on one of the German folk legends about the mountain spirit Rübezahl, which means either “turnip counter” or “turnip tale.” He was originally a weather spirit who sent mountain storms, but evolved into a guardian of the poor who lived on his mountain. Like many a good fairy, he can appear to a person as an old man or old woman in need, to test if that person has a kind heart or not. If so, the person is rewarded. This is closer to his role in this story:

Dancing skeletons, Dance of Death

A young artist falls in love with Brunhelda, the lovely daughter of the hateful mayor of Neisse. The mayor has big marriage ambitions for Brunhelda; she’s too good for a penniless painter. But Robert’s “foster father,” the strange old Willibald, is a bagpiper of such amazing abilities that he can make anyone dance—even the dead. Can he help the young lovers out?

Yes, this is a ghost story. Since one could make the (admittedly tenuous) argument that the main action takes place around January, I judge it a fitting tale to finish this season’s Winter Tales series, and kick off the new year.

You can read “The Dance of the Dead” here.

Dick Donovan was the pen name of J. E. Preston Muddock, a British journalist and author who wrote in a number of genres, including non-fiction. He was particularly well known for mystery and detective fiction; most of his stories featured a Glasgow detective named Dick Donovan, who was so popular that Muddock began publishing under that name. He produced two collections of macabre fiction: Stories Weird and Wonderful (1889), and Tales of Terror (1899), from which “The Dance of Death” is taken.

I had originally gone to Tales of Terror for another story that is genuinely a ghost story set at Christmas, but I like this story better. Not just because its folkloric nature appeals to me, but also because the contrast between Robert’s kindhearted (but naive) model of human nature when compared to Willibald’s cynical (but realistic) perspective resonates with me right now.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this round of Winter Tales. Best wishes to all of us for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2021!


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

Featured Image: Dance of Death, Henri Charles Guérard (c. 1888). Source: Wikimedia

Dance of Death from Folio CCLXIIII of Liber chronicarum, aka Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1493). Source: Wikimedia

Fladda Light

As we head into the twelve days of Christmas, here’s another winter tale to usher in the New Year. “Fladda Light” actually takes place in late November, but it’s a stormy and wintry and spooky tale that feels appropriate to the season.

Hudson Burke is the new keeper of Fladda Light, a lighthouse with a dark reputation.

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‘It was not a good place for men to be in,’ the informant would say; and then he would lean over to his hearer in an infectious ecstasy of fear. ‘There were things that came out of the sea that it was not good for men to be with.’

Will Burke survive with body and mind intact?

“Fladda Light” appeared in Cornhill Magazine in 1924. I came across it a few years ago, and loved the story, but it did not go into the US public domain until 2020, and so I had to hold on to it. I hope you agree with me that it was worth it.

You can read “Fladda Light” here.

The story’s author, Hilton Brown, was a Scottish poet, biographer, and novelist who wrote extensively about both Scotland and South India, where he served in the Indian Civil Service during the British Colonial period. Though he apparently didn’t write often in Scots, there is a touch of dialect in this story, which adds nicely to the atmosphere.

Brown wrote at least one other ghost story that I know of: “The Fourth Man,” an excellent, darkly humorous tale set in South India and published in 1930. You can find it in The Penguin Book of Indian Ghost Stories, which is a collection of tales in the “Classic English Ghost Story” tradition, some penned by Indian authors and others by British authors, but set in India. Both stories are great, but “Fladda Light” (in addition to being US public domain) is a better tale for this time of year.

And speaking of the season: have a Happy New Year, and enjoy this winter tale!


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

Images

Neapolitan Lighthouse, Ivan Aivazovsky (1842). Source: WikiArt

Longship Lighthouse, Lands End, J.M.W. Turner (c. 1834-1835). Source: WikiArt

Oberon Road

Happy Christmas Eve! It’s become a custom for me to share lighter winter tales on Christmas Eve, to match the festive spirit. Today, I’m sharing a story by A. M. Burrage.

Burrage’s best known Christmas tale is, of course, “Smee,” which is as dark a winter tale as you could want. Last year I shared Burrage’s “The Fourth Wall,” which is not quite as dark, but still has a grim undertone.

Opera rainy day 1909 jpg Blog

But today’s tale, “Oberon Road,” is more like a fairy tale, or a gentler version of A Christmas Carol. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Michael Cubitt is a bit of miser, a man neither good nor bad.

He had no friends and no enemies, because so far as could be discovered, he had never done anybody a bad or a good turn. … He had no apparent vices and no apparent virtues. Nobody but himself knew exactly what he got out of life.

But then one rainy evening just before Christmas, Cubitt meets an odd little man who (literally) sets Mr. Cubitt on a new path.

You can read “Oberon Road” here.

Whether it’s sunny or rainy or snowy where you are, I hope you enjoy this sweet little tale. Here’s wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a joyous day to all who don’t.


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

Images

Featured Image: Columbus Avenue, Rainy Day, Childe Hassan (1885). Source: WikiArt

Opera, Rainy Day, Pierre Dubreuil (1909). Source: WikiArt

The Ghosts at Grantley

As Christmas week rolls around I’m switching to a couple of gentler, humorous ghost stories. This may or may not be in keeping with the traditional customs of winter tales, but it’s been my custom. This is my regular story for the week, and I’ll present another one on Christmas Eve.

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This week’s tale is “The Ghosts of Grantley,” by Leonard Kip. Grantley Grange boasts not one, but two remarkably similar ghosts: one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs. They show up regularly every Christmas, and they don’t seem to know that they’re dead! Can our hero convince them of this unpleasant reality so that they can move on?

You can read “The Ghosts at Grantley” here.

Given the setting of the tale, I was surprised to discover that the author, Leonard Kip, is an American. He seems to be chiefly remembered today for his memoirs of his experiences in the California Gold Rush. This is a bit ironic, since he disliked California and returned to his native New York, settling in Albany for a career in law. He did, however, continue to write, and “The Ghosts at Grantley” was originally written for one of the Christmas numbers of The Argus, an Albany, NY periodical. I couldn’t figure out the exact first publication date of the story, but four of Kip’s Argus Christmas contributions, along with two other stories, were collected into the volume Hannibal’s Man and Other Tales in 1878.

As I mentioned, this story is played for humor, but it is a real ghost story, with a fairly grim story behind the haunting. I hope you enjoy reading it as you get ready for Christmas week.


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

Images

Portrait of Sir John Sherard, John Riley (c. 1675) Source: WikiArt

Featured image: Locksley Hall, illustration by William Goodrich Beal for Tennyson Gems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (c. 1889). Source: Old Book Illustrations

The Earth Draws

This week’s winter tale is a dark folkloric story from Norwegian writer Jonas Lie (1833-1908). “The Earth Draws” comes from Lie’s 1891 collection Trold, which draws heavily on the folk beliefs of the fishermen and other residents of Northern Norway (he published a second collection with the same name the following year). Several of Lie’s short stories, mostly from Trold, were translated to English by Robert Nisbet Bain and published as Weird Tales from Northern Seas (1893)—and that of course is where this translation comes from.

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A young shopkeeper’s assistant accidentally stumbles upon the shipping docks (and supplies) of “the underground folk,” invisible beings who live within the mountainside. No, it’s not what you think–he’s an honest young man, and doesn’t steal the goods. But meeting the underground folk has consequences, as he discovers come Christmastime….

You can read “The Earth Draws” here.

The translation only refers to these invisible beings as “the underground folk,” but I’m guessing that they are the huldrefolk (literally, “hidden-folk”), aka tusser, or underjordiske (underground), supernatural beings who live within mountains or under the ground, and who can make themselves visible at will. Female tusser are sometimes said to be beautiful, and sometimes to be hairy, and both traits come into play in this story.

If you like this winter tale (and I think you will), then I also highly recommend all of Tales from Northern Seas. It’s freely available at Project Gutenberg. Enjoy!


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

Images

“The Earth Draws” Illustration by Laurence Houseman for Weird Tales from Northern Seas (1893).

Featured image: Detail from Grunnarbeide (Groundwork), Theodor Severin Kittelsen (1907). Source: Wikimedia

The Blue Room

This week’s Winter Tale is “The Blue Room“, the last known published fiction by the writer known as Lettice Galbraith. It appeared uncredited in Macmillan’s Magazine October 1897, and if it was indeed Ms. Galbraith’s last published short story (for she may also have been writing under other names), then it was a great way to wind up her writing career.

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Something is wrong with the Blue Room at Mertoun House. No one will say quite what, and several people have safely spent the night there. And yet the Mertouns keep the room unoccupied. Until one ill-fated Christmas evening….

You can read “The Blue Room” here.

I like this story for several reasons. First, it’s an interesting and well-written variation on the haunted room and occult investigation genres. Second, the “principal investigator” is a strong female character! Edith Erristoun attends Cambridge University, something still unusual for women at the time (in fact Cambridge didn’t actually grant degrees to women until 1948). She’s curious and brave, and her relationship with her fellow occult investigator is purely one of common intellectual interests, not romance. I can’t exactly say she doesn’t need rescuing, but her rescuer is also a woman: the narrator, Mrs. Marris, the housekeeper at Mertoun House.

And of course, like all of Lettice Galbraith’s stories, it’s a great read. I’ve noted before that Ms. Galbraith seems to touch more directly on sex-related topics than one might expect for her era; that’s kind of true for this story too, in a subtle way. So subtle that it took me two reads to notice.

But even it you don’t catch the allusion, it doesn’t diminish the pleasure of the tale. So grab a warm drink, curl up under your blanket, and enjoy!


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

I featured Lettice Galbraith in my Women of Folklore and the Fantastic series in September. You can read that post (with a link to her collection New Ghost Stories) here.

Images

Featured Image: A bed, Mikhail Vrubel (c. 1904). Source: WikiArt

Misty Outline of a Human Figure, Odilon Redon (1896). Illustration intended for La maison hantée by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Not included in final publication. Source: Old Book Illustrations

Winter Tales 2020! House of Strange Stories

It’s that time of year again! In the tradition of the season, I’ll be sharing spooky winter-themed tales from now until Epiphany, ghost stories for you to read with a hot drink and a warm blanket. My favorite Christmastime ritual!

Old family mansion 768

This year I’ll begin with “House of Strange Stories,” by Andrew Lang, from the collection In the Wrong Paradise, and Other Stories (1886). Yes, that Andrew Lang, famous for his series of colored fairy tales books. But he was also interested in anthropology, history, and psychical research, even serving as the president of the Society for Psychical Research in 1911. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he sometimes wrote ghost stories, too.

“House of Strange Stories” is a perfect tale to start winter tales season, as it epitomizes the yuletide tradition of ghost story telling around the fire:

…all of us, men and women, were sitting at afternoon tea in the firelit study, drowsily watching the flicker of the flame on the black panelling…

Naturally, in such an environment, they eventually begin to swap eerie, “true” experiences. Of special interest is the anecdote from the Bachelor of Arts, which is strikingly similar to–and possibly an inspiration for?–a famous 1906 story by E.F. Benson.

You can read “House of Strange Stories” here.

Enjoy, and I look forward to sharing more tales with you for the rest of the season.


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

Images

Engraving by James D. Cooper, for Old Christmas, by Washington Irving (1886). Source: Old Book Illustrations

Featured Image: Telling Christmas stories by the fire, circa 1903. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collection