Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

I’m switching gears for this post and highlighting a modern writer. I really wanted to include at least one Filipina writer in this series, but I can’t find any suitable ones in the public domain. Luckily, there are several Filipina writers currently active in speculative fiction who have examples of their work online, so I can still share their work with you. I plan to include a few of them in this series.

Rochita Loenen Ruiz
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. Source

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a speculative fiction writer from Banaue, Ifugao who currently resides in the Netherlands. She originally trained as a musician, and her first forays into writing were realist, as is the tradition in the Philippines–part of the reason I couldn’t find any suitable works from an earlier period. She began writing speculative fiction in 2005 and was an Octavia Butler Scholar at the Clarion West Writing Workshop. She was also the first Filipina writer to attend Clarion West.

I found a horror piece by her several years ago that struck me enough to write about it: “Of the Liwat’ang Yawa, the Litok-litok and their Prey.” It’s inspired by mythical creatures from Filipino folklore, although I think the specific creatures of the story may have been created by Loenen-Ruiz.

The piece, as are most the stories by Loenen-Ruiz that I’ve read, is told in a “collage” format: specific scenes strung together that don’t directly flow one into the other like a linear narrative, but jump back and forth between different facets of the tale, until all the threads come together at the end. Some people may not care for that style, but I’ve always liked it. I like the pleasure of piecing together what’s happening as I read; it’s like unwrapping a gift. I’ve also found that this structure works particularly well for weird fiction, since what the reader imagines between the lines can be more unsettling than anything that a writer might explicitly say.

Loenen-Ruiz’s work spans several different genres, from horror to fairy tale to science fiction; some of it is heavily infused with references to Filipino (particularly Ifugao) culture, and some of it is not. For this post, I’ve picked three pieces that I particularly like, and that are online.

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: George Sand

Today’s post features Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the pen name George Sand (1804-1876).

George Sand (1804-1876)
George Sand as painted by François Théodore Rochard, circa 1835. Source: Wikimedia

Sand was one of the most popular writers in the Europe of her time, and highly regarded by contemporary writers and cultural figures, many of whom were her close friends or lovers. Incredibly prolific and politically active, her writings advocated for the poor and working-class, and criticized the social norms that subordinated women to their husbands. She also lived a colorful and controversial life, openly wearing male attire and smoking in public at a time when women did neither of those things. After separating from her husband (at a time when divorce was illegal in France), she took a number of lovers, including Frederic Chopin.

There are people more qualified than I am to write about her overall standing and influence on literature, so I’ll just write about the fantastical and folkloric work that I’m highlighting today: Sand’s 1859 novella Les Dames vertes, translated into English as The Naiad: A Ghost Story; and her 1858 collection Légendes rustiques (Rustic Legends).

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Fernán Caballero

March is Women’s History Month, and this month I plan to post about women writers of folklore and the fantastic. Since I like to actually share stories by these authors whenever possible, I will be presenting mostly older writers who have work in the public domain. I will also try to highlight women writers who are perhaps less well known, at least to English language audiences. My goal is to cover some interesting women writers that you may not have read before. Hopefully, you’ll find new avenues of reading to explore!

Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber, aka Fernán Caballero (1796 - 1877)
Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber, aka Fernán Caballero (1796 – 1877). Source: Wikipedia

Today, I’m highlighting Fernán Caballero, the pen name of the Spanish novelist and folklorist Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber. Böhl de Faber was born in Switzerland in 1796 to a Swiss father and an Andalusian mother. Her father moved the family to Andalusia when she was about 17. Although I am highlighting her today for her collection of literary fairy tales, as a writer she is best known for her 1849 novel La gaviota (The Seagull). La gaviota is both an early example of the Spanish costumbrismo literary movement and a precursor to the Spanish realist novel. The novel was instantly successful at the time of its publication, and was translated into most European languages.

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Vincent Price reads Tales of Witches, Ghosts and Goblins

In my last post, I tracked down the probable literary sources for A Graveyard of Ghost Tales (Caedmon Records, 1974), an LP of ghost stories and other goodies read by Vincent Price. In this post, I do the same thing for Tales of Witches, Ghosts and Goblins (Caedmon Records, 1972), also read by Vincent Price.

Tales of Witches, Ghosts and Goblins, Vincent Price

As with Graveyard, the stories Price reads here are folktales, not horror. There are a couple of “recipes,” some verses, and a passage from an account of a witch trial. Three stories are again from Carl Carmer, just as lovely and romantic as the pieces on the other LP. “The Smoker” was delightful, and “Gobbleknoll” was fun, too.

In his readings, Price only gives the authorship of one piece, the first verse of “The Broomstick Train” by Oliver Wendell Holmes. So here’s my educated guess at the rest. Thanks again to Jenny Ashford from the Facebook group Alone with the Horrors: Horror Fiction for her research. Again, I haven’t read all of the texts mentioned below, so these attributions aren’t guaranteed. But I’m pretty sure they’re right.

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Vincent Price reads A Graveyard of Ghost Tales

Caedmon Records, founded in 1952, was the first company to sell spoken word recordings to the public; the predecessors of the audiobook, you might say. I spent most of this past Sunday afternoon listening to some wonderful Caedmon recordings from the 1970s, of ghost tales and fantasies read by Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. They were the perfect way to relieve the tedium of folding laundry and other chores.

A Graveyard of Ghost Tales, Vincent Price

The first one I listened to was A Graveyard of Ghost Tales (1974), read by Vincent Price. You can (at the moment, anyway) find the entire LP on YouTube; I’ve linked to it at the bottom of the post. Price’s smooth and expressive voice is always a pleasure to listen to, and the stories were engaging, more like ghostly folktales or urban legends than horror stories, but that suited me just fine. I especially liked “The Ghostly Hand of Spital House.” Price’s rendition of “The Leg of Gold” was fun to listen to, as well.

I was surprised, though, that neither this LP nor the second one I listened to (also read by Price) gave any credits for the readings. The listing for the album on Discogs gives editing and illustration credits, but very little information about who wrote the pieces that Price read. I couldn’t find any information on literary sources anywhere online. So I decided to do a little digging on my own.

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The Ghosts of Byland Abbey

Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories

Near Byland Abbey, Yorkshire, ghosts walked. If only someone would pray for their sins.

I

A traveller, carrying a load of beans, encountered a whirling haystack on the road. Inside the haystack, a strange light glowed. The traveller invoked the haystack; it became a man. This man insisted on carrying the traveller’s beans. When they reached the river, the man disappeared, leaving the traveller with the beans on his own back. The traveller had masses sung for the soul of the revenant, and the ghost was laid.

II

It looked like an injured crow; the tailor tried to help. The crow shot sparks from his sides; in fear, the tailor crossed himself. With a terrible screech, the crow attacked; injured, the tailor prayed for protection. The crow turned into a dog; the tailor invoked the creature to speak. In life, the dog had been a man; he had been excommunicated for a terrible crime (What crime? No one says). Now his ghost wanted absolution, and one hundred and eighty masses to be said for his soul. If the tailor helped him, the ghost would tell him how to heal his wounds; otherwise, the tailor’s flesh would rot, and his skin would waste away.

The tailor went to the priest who had excommunicated the man; the priest refused to give absolution. The tailor begged—who wants their own flesh to rot, or their skin to waste away? Finally the priest agreed. The tailor went to all the monasteries in York, and got one hundred and eighty masses for the man’s soul. The tailor went to meet the ghost; the ghost arrived as a goat, then turned into a flame. Satisfied, the ghost told the tailor to bathe in the river and scrub his body with a certain rock; then the tailor’s wounds would heal. The ghost then left on his journey to heaven; the tailor returned home, and fell ill.

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The Swaying Vision

Happy Boxing Day! My folklore-themed winter tales series continues until Epiphany, so I have at least one more story to share with you this round.

Admittedly, this one is a bit of a stretch, both in terms of its winteriness and its folklore connections, but I like it. It’s an occult detection/haunted house tale that touches on a certain infamous real-life incident. The sort of incident that is so notorious that it often finds itself moving into the realm of legend. I won’t spoil it for you.

Poor Mr. Chadwick buys a house as an investment upon his retirement. He’s a careful buyer who researches before purchasing: whether it’s a respectable, healthy neighborhood; whether the house is watertight, with good drainage and in good repair. But no matter how careful you are, you always forget something.

‘It was really nobody’s affair,’ the next-door neighbour protested. ‘How could anybody warn you? Of course you might,’ he added, as the aggrieved Chadwick breathed threats relating to the ex-landlord of his new demesne and the house agent. ‘Still, I must remind you it’s a penal offence to kill people, even if they have landed you with one of the most notorious haunted houses in England.’

But you guessed that already, because you read my blog.

600px Pentagram Levi

After a bit of investigation of his own, Chadwick turns to his old schoolfriend Lester Stukeley. Stukeley’s day job is Civil Servant, but on the side he’s a psychic investigator who seems to follow the Carnacki school of investigation (William Hope Hodgeson’s Carnacki stories were originally published over the period 1910-1912; Jessie Douglas Kerruish’s “The Swaying Vision” appeared in 1915, in the The Weekly Tale-Teller). What could possibly haunt this ordinary, and quite newly-built house? Chadwick and Stukeley mean to find out.

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The Ghost of the Cross-Roads

I have time for one more folklore-themed winter tale before Christmas Eve! But I plan to keep sharing until Epiphany, so never fear….

Night, and especially Christmas night, is the best time to listen to a ghost story. Throw on the logs! Draw the curtains! Move your chairs nearer the fire and hearken!

“The Ghost of the Cross-Roads,” by one Frederick Manley, is an especially Christmasy tale. It was published in the South London Press for December 23, 1893. I found it in The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volume 3. If you aren’t familiar with the series, I recommend it.

It’s a cold, blustery Christmas night, and jolly festivities are going on at the humble Sweeny household. Suddenly, a wealthy upper-class stranger stumbles, half frozen, to the house. He has a strange tale to tell about a mysterious dark man, and a card game at the crossroads.

“It’s all very strange, to be sure,” said the gentleman. Then he added, with a little forced laugh that would hardly come from a person whose nerves were in good condition, “I will tell you all that happened.”

At these words, which promised the glorious entertainment always to be had from a ghost story, more especially when you sit in the midst of friends before a roaring, crackling fire, with a sparkling punch in your hand, listening to the storm that rattles the windows and doors….

…No wonder the cottagers huddled round the fire! So Andy’s guests being Irishmen, and having adamantine faith in the existence of all manner of “uncanny” things, awaited the stranger’s story with breathless interest.

The story’s title refers to a ghost, but really, who do you meet at the crossroads? The events of this story aren’t a surprise, but I liked the way the devil got around to proposing the deal. It was a bit different. The notion of the crossroads as a place where mortals meet devils to make dark bargains is widespread in Western folklore. Selling your soul at the crossroads for amazing musical prowess is a rumor that’s told about many great musicians, like Blues guitarist Robert Johnson — and Paganini. Though Paganini’s deal might not have been at the crossroads, and it might have been his mother who struck the bargain. Anyway….

You can read “The Ghost of the Cross-Roads” here.

The story is a little long-winded getting to the point. Manley spends a lot of time describing the Sweenys’ party, especially all the food. It made me hungry, reading it. Once the gentleman starts his tale, though, the narrative moves at a good pace. The interjections by the listening partygoers are fun, too.

Find a warm fire and a sparkling punch, and savor the tale for Christmas Eve.

Enjoy! And a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a lovely 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.

Nice article about “The Devil’s Violinist,” Nicolo Paganini. Includes one brief version of the Robert Johnson story.

A post I wrote a while ago about the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” I don’t think the tale in the song explicitly happens at a crossroads, but it’s a fun song anyway. The post includes a different brief version of the Robert Johnson story.

Images

Featured image: Winter Landscape, Caspar David Friedrich (1811). Source: Wikimedia.

Playing Cards: Original by Alexas_Fotos, modified by Nina Zumel. Source: Pixabay

The Other Side: A Breton Legend

Next up on Winter Tales: Folklore Edition — a werewolf story from Decadent writer Eric, Count Stenbock.

This is an odd and interesting one. It’s not particularly Christmasy, though it does start with a scene of several old women warming themselves around a fire telling what sound like winter tales:

Oh, yes, then when they get to the top of the hill, there is an altar with six candles quite black and a sort of something in between, that nobody sees quite clearly, and the old black ram with the man’s face and long horns begins to say Mass in a sort of gibberish nobody understands, and two black strange things like monkeys glide about with the book and the cruets–and there’s music too, such music….

And that’s a good enough connection for me. The other reason I picked this one is that it reminded me a bit of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, in that it’s the story of a young boy who is seduced away from his home by a beautiful, sinister female supernatural being. In both tales, the young boy is saved in part because of a young girl who loves him. So the story’s fairy-tale aspect—plus the werewolves—seemed appropriate for this year’s theme.

Werewolves leaning against the wall of a cemetery

In The Other Side, a gentle and misfit young boy named Gabriel falls prey to a mysterious woman from “the other side” of the brook near his village. There, on the other side, live “the were-wolves and the wolf-men and the men-wolves, and those very wicked men who for nine days in every year are turned into wolves.” On this side of the brook is Gabriel’s dear friend Carmeille, who tries to keep Gabriel away from the evil influence that entices him. Who will win?

Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock (1860-1895) published relatively little in his lifetime (three volumes of poetry and one volume of short stories; two more collections of short stories were published in 1999 and 2002), but he was definitely known amongst the prominent creative figures of his time. He was a friend or acquaintance of the painter Simeon Solomon, the poet Arthur Symons, W. B. Yeats, and Aubrey Beardsley. He had a play rejected by The Yellow Book. And, at least according Ernest Rhys (the founding editor of Everyman’s Library), he was too emo even for Oscar Wilde.

While living, he was apparently better known for his persona than his creative output, and I have to say his life sounds like a stereotype of the Decadent movement: Dorian Gray come to life. He was a convert to Roman Catholicism, he dabbled in occultism and Buddhism and Paganism, he had exotic pets and wore flamboyant clothing. Supposedly, towards the end of Stenbock’s brief life, he traveled with a wooden doll that he dubbed “le petit comte,” and whom he believed to be his son. He died at the age of 35, of cirrhosis of the liver.

I get the impression that Stenbock’s poetry was pretty terrible, and it’s his short stories that have carried on his posthumous literary reputation. The two short stories that I’ve read by him are lush and heavily steeped in folklore and nature imagery. The other story, The True Story of a Vampire is a companion piece to The Other Side. It also features a young boy named Gabriel, who is unaccountably drawn to a mysterious stranger named Count Vardalek. Vardalek is a Slavic term (or a variation of one of the terms) for vampires/werewolves; that is, a creature that partakes of the aspects of both. It’s worth noting how the Count gains so much emotional influence over both Gabriel and his father, yet Gabriel’s sister Carmela and his governess remain relatively unaffected.

The theme of seducing the innocent obviously resonated with Stenbock. One wonders who Gabriel and Carmeille/Carmela represented in his life.

You can read The Other Side here.

It’s not a traditional Christmas ghost story, but it’s a dark and eerie little tale.

Enjoy.


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

I also recommend David Tibet’s essay on Stenbock and his writing, at the Public Domain Review.

Images

Featured image: Illustration from The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould (1865). Artist unknown. Source: Wikimedia

Werewolves leaning against the wall of a cemetery. Maurice Sand (1858) Illustration from Légendes rustiques by George Sand (1858). Source: Wikimedia

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