Reading Apparitions

Tsundoku: Japanese, from tsun (to pile up) and doku (reading). The act of acquiring books faster than one reads them.

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo, Miyuke Miyabe

I have a serious, and probably uncurable, case of tsundoku. The ever-growing “to-read” stack on my bedside table is continually on the verge of falling over and injuring me. Periodically, for my own survival, I demote part of of the stack to some nearby bookshelf, where the books can languish for years, waiting for me to rediscover them. Finally, in a moment of boredom with whatever I’m reading at the moment, I’ll pick up one of these poor waifs instead. And sometimes, I kick myself for having waited so long. This is one of those times.

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo (2013) is a wonderful collection of short supernatural tales, based on the folklore and ghost story traditions of Japan. They are set in Old Edo (Tokyo), during what’s known as the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). Each story is a fascinating look at the lives of ordinary people in urban old Edo: shopkeepers and their families, servants, workers, apprentices, landlords and employment agents.

Ghost stories set in this era tend to revolve around the lives of the upper class: the nobility and their retainers; samurai or scholars. So it’s refreshing to get a view of Japanese lives from another milieu. These people aren’t always in control of the ship of their lives; often, they must deal with whatever the winds and tides of fate sail them into. At times, the supernatural serves as a metaphor for the “mundane” issues that the characters struggle with; in other stories, it’s the instrument of karma, or of hope for the future.

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The Devil’s Rosebush

Here’s an interesting combination: a pastiche of an eighteenth century German gothic “deal with the devil” story, written by a nineteenth century Spanish author, featuring a protagonist with the not-terribly-Germanic name, “Dick.” How could I resist translating that?

Rosal Del Diablo

This is another odd little tale from Pedro Escamilla, courtesy of that treasure trove of forgotten nineteenth century Spanish periodical literature, Ganso y Pulpo. I’ve just put it up on Ephemera.

  • The Devil’s Rosebush (El rosal del diablo): Our hero Dick is in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Federica. He’s so desperate to win her hand that he even ventures into the Black Forest on St. John’s Eve, a night when they say the devil is out, looking for souls, and willing to bargain for them. Will Dick gain his heart’s desire?

Unlike, say, Poe’s “Metzengerstein” (“A Tale in Imitation of the German”), or even L.A. Wilmer’s “Spukenswald,” “The Devil’s Rosebush” doesn’t feel in the least like a German story. One gets the impression that Escamilla was only familiar with German gothic to a limited degree, but it’s still a fun piece. I hope you enjoy it.


Illustration for “El rosal del diablo” from El Periódico para Todos, No. 26, 1875. Illustrator unknown. Source: Hemerotica Digital (Digital Periodical Archive), Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Featured image: Vintage rose illustration, artist unknown. Source: Rawpixel Ltd.

Classic Crime: A Ripper of Yesteryear

To be fair, this isn’t really a “crime story,” it’s a narrative that leads up to a crime. But it’s an excellent read, with some striking imagery, and I like it. That’s all the reason I need….

Santiago de Compostela desde atrio Hospital Real acuarela por Mariano Pedrero (detail)

Originally published in 1890, Emilia Pardo Bazán’s “Un destripador de antaño” (“A Ripper of Yesteryear“) tells of the tragic intersection between the lives of a young orphaned peasant girl and a mysterious apothecary. It’s set in the author’s native Galicia, in and around the historic city of Santiago de Compostela, the ending point of the famous pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. The story’s introduction implies that it may be inspired by an old Galician folktale:

The legend of “The Ripper,” the half-sage, half-sorcerer assassin, is a very old one in my homeland. I heard it at a tender age, whispered or chanted in frightful refrains,… I will tell it to you. Enter valiantly with me into the shadowy regions of the soul.

It’s also seems related to a certain Andean folklegend, which I won’t mention here, for fear of spoilers. But if you’re interested, you’ll find a pointer in the footnotes of my translation.
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Classic Crime: The Murder Hole

A lonely road runs through a desolate stretch of Scottish moor. This part of the country has a bad reputation for murder and highway robbery; almost everyone who used to live here has fled. There’s only one family left, an old lady and her two sons. When night falls, travelers caught on the moor take shelter at their cottage, because it’s much safer there than to sleep out in the open, all things considered. Right?

Your Money or Your Life

The Murder Hole is a gruesome little tale of the “scary stories around the campfire” variety: somewhat predictable, but fun to read or to hear. You can find it various places around the web, usually unattributed and subtitled something like “A Scottish Legend.”

The tale itself may well be a local legend, but this specific version has an author, and she should be credited: Catherine Sinclair (1800-1864), a philanthropist and author of children’s literature. She also wrote a few volumes of legends and folktales, and apparently was the first to identify Sir Walter Scott as the author of the previously anonymous Waverly novels.

“The Murder Hole” first appeared in the February 1829 issue of Blackwood’s Magazine. Sinclair later republished it as part of her 1853 collection London Homes.

You can read “The Murder Hole” here.

I thought it was a delightful piece of mildly gory folklore when I found it; I hope you like it, too.

Enjoy!


Part of the Classic Crime series.

Illustrations

Featured image: The Murder by Paul Cezanne (c. 1868). Source: WikiArt

Your Money or Your Life! by Charles-Joseph Traviès de Villers, for Les mystères de Paris, vol. 1 by Eugène Süe, 1843. Source: Old Book Illustrations

The Inn at the Spessart

Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827) was a German poet and writer of the Romantic school, best known today for his märchen, a word usually translated as “fairy tales” — generally implied to be for children. In Hauff’s case the description “folkloric tales” might be more appropriate, since some of his stories seem too dark for children’s literature. Perhaps that’s why his name and works are less well known to Anglophone readers today than, say, the work of the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault. This is a shame; the tales I’ve read are delightful, and like the work of Hans Christian Andersen, are as readable–or even more readable–for adults as for children.

Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827)
Source: Wikimedia

Hauff published his Märchen over the period of 1825-1827 as three Märchen-Almanach (yearly keepsake volumes): Die Karawane (The Caravan) (1825), Der Scheik von Alessandria und seine Sklaven (The Sheik of Alexandria and his Slaves) (1826) and Das Wirtshaus im Spessart (The Inn in the Spessart) (1827). Each collection is in the form of a story-cycle, with a framing narrative whose characters tell the individual tales, either to pass the time or to relate a part of their personal history. As you might guess from the titles, the first two collections are Orientalist fantasies patterned after the Arabian Nights. That’s well and good, but I wasn’t really in the mood for it, so instead I read The Inn in the Spessart, a tale of intrigue, impersonation, and highway robbers set in the forest of the Spessart region of Bavaria and Hesse.

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Vincent Price and Hands of Glory

Over on Dark Tales Sleuth, I’ve revisited a tale from one of the Vincent Price’s Caedmon spoken word recordings that I did an attribution search on way back when.

Hand of Glory

One of the pieces that Vincent Price reads on his 1974 spooky tales album, A Graveyard of Ghost Tales, is a story called “The Ghostly Hand of Spital House,” by Dorothy Gladys Spicer. This is a fun and engaging tale about some bandits who try to rob an inn with the help of a hand of glory : a candle (or candle-holder) made from the hand of a hanged man. Lighting the hand of glory puts all the sleeping occupants of the house into an even deeper sleep, from which they don’t awaken until the hand is extinguished. You can see how this would be a (cough) handy tool for robbers and catburglars to have.

In the post, I also talk about a supposed pre-Colonial Mexican analog to the hand of glory as a housebreaker’s tool: the left arm and hand of a woman who died in first childbirth. While the source for that piece of folklore was not exactly disinterested (it was written by a 17th century Spanish friar), the story does in a way tie in with how Aztecs regarded women who died in childbirth, as equivalent to warriors who die in battle.

Have I intrigued you yet? If you’d like to read some earlier versions of the Spital House legend, give another listen to Vincent Price’s spooky reading, and learn how this relates to aspects of Aztec mythology, then head on over to Dark Tales Sleuth, and check out The Legend of Old Spital Inn.

Enjoy!


Featured Image: Detail of Jacob meets magician Hermogenes, Pieter van der Hayden, after Breughel (1565). Source: Wikimedia.

Illustration of Hand of Glory, annotated as from The Grimoire of Pope Honorius Grimorium Verum Petit Albert by Albertus Parvus Lucius. Source: Wikimedia.

A Ghost Story and a Fairy Tale

There’s no real theme to this post; I’m just tying up some loose ends I’d forgotten about. Specifically, a couple of posts to Ephemera that I never boosted here.

866px Horla Apparition

First is a translation that I posted last October of a ghost story, of sorts, by Emilia Pardo Bazán. This is an interesting and ambiguous tale: is the protagonist mad, or possessed? It reminds me a little bit of The Horla, and also a little bit of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” See what you think.

Second is a version of the Snow White fairy tale, in verse, by Aleksandr Pushkin, called (in this version) “The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights” (1833). It’s a mix of the traditional Snow White narrative (Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type 709), with a little bit of “East O’the Sun, West O’the Moon” (Aarne-Thompson-Uther 425 I think? — only in reverse).

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The Dream House: From Fireside Tale to Fiction

Augustus John Cuthbert Hare (1834-1903) was an English writer who wrote mostly, it seems, about his travels and his family. Why he thought anyone would be interested in his six volume autobiography (The Story of my Life), I don’t know; but from it, we do learn that he had a lot of friends who liked to tell ghost stories. And Hare wrote them down.

John Augustus Cuthbert Hare
Augustus Hare (1834-1903). Source: Wikimedia

In that roundabout way that happens while doing research for a potential post, I found myself browsing the last three volumes of The Story of my Life. And I came upon an oddly familiar story, one that Hare records from a “Miss Broke,” the niece of the Gurdons, a family that Hare is staying with in Suffolk.

A woman living in Ireland begins having frequent dreams of “the most enchanting house I ever saw”—detailed dreams, about walking through all the rooms of the house, its garden and conservatory. Eventually the family decides to leave Ireland and move to England, and they proceed to search for a house in the vicinity of London. During their search, they learn of a house near Hampshire.
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Eastern Vampires and Other Things

Someone said to me the other day, “It’s too bad ghost story (Winter Tales) season is over.” It’s always great to hear that someone enjoys what I post! So here’s another story (and a mini film review). Arjan, this post is for you.

In case any other readers are feeling ghost story withdrawal, here’s where I remind you that all my Dark Tales Sleuth posts also link to a copy of the (usually supernatural) story/stories that I’m discussing, either at the Internet Archive or to a PDF I’ve transcribed myself. And most of my posts to Ephemera are ghost stories, too. Whenever I post to one of those blogs, I eventually post about it here, too, so if you follow Multo, you’ll be up to date on all my blogs.

Anyway, today’s post involves vampires, of sorts. First, the vetala, a ghoul-like Indian revenant that haunts cemeteries and can possess dead bodies. And secondly the jiangshi, or Chinese hopping vampire, which consumes the qi, or life force of their victims, rather than their blood.

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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.

[UPDATE June 29, 2021 — Purely by chance, I’ve discovered the original of this story: it’s “Der Todtentanz” (The Dance of Death) by Johann August Apel, from Gespensterbuch Vol 3 (c. 1812).]

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