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

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.

Weird tales plate 005

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

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Zen Cho

Another contemporary addition to my Women Writers of Folklore and Fantasy series: England-based Malaysian-born author Zen Cho. She writes science fiction and fantasy, and as she puts it herself, “stories positing that what the ordinary Malaysian believes about the world is true. This can sometimes lapse into the supernatural.” What a great quote!

Zen Cho, photo by Jim C. Hines
Zen Cho
Photo by Jim C. Hines

I had been planning (and still am) to pick up Cho’s latest work, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, which sounds awesome, but then I discovered an ebook copy of her 2014 short story collection Spirits Abroad in my virtual To Read pile, so I started with that. I loved it! Why did it take me so long to get to it?

I saw Ms. Cho refer to this collection on Twitter as being “10 out of 10 on the Malaysian scale” (when compared to her other writings), and it certainly feels like a collection of stories aimed at Malaysian readers. The characters speak Manglish (Malaysian-English), and generally the Malaysian vocabulary and references to clothing or food go unexplained. I personally prefer this (as I’ve written before); the meanings and connotations are clear from context, and if you are really curious about some particular article of clothing or whatnot, well there’s always the internet.

Spirits Abroad, by Zen Cho

What drew me to the collection is that the stories in Spirits Abroad are full of the creatures of Malaysian folklore (or its “lower mythology,” as Filipino folklorist Maximo D. Ramos called it), as well as figures from Chinese mythology: hantu, pontianaks, orang bunian, hungry ghosts, and so on. I didn’t recognize all the creatures, at least not under their Malaysian names, but Filipino lower mythology is sufficiently similar to Malaysian lower mythology that several of the creatures and their habits felt familiar. And of course some aspects of Malaysian culture and food and so on feel a bit “Filipino-adjacent” as well, which was nice.

I really like the humor in Cho’s writing, as her characters confront the ordinary travails of life — family relationships, friendships, love and dating, school — all complicated by various, often unwelcome supernatural twists. The dialogue crackles naturalistically, the characters are quirky, well-drawn and endearing (when they’re supposed to be), the relationships feel authentic. In fact, I was surprised how familiar the families in the stories felt to me, especially the feisty aunties and grandmas.

The ebook version of Spirits Abroad contains additional stories and other bonus material not included in the print version, so I recommend you get that. I enjoyed all the stories, but here are a few that stood out for me:

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Superstition or Supernatural?

Two stories exploring the border between skepticism and belief. Part of my Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction series.

Two more translations! One by Juana Manuela Gorriti, and one by Emilia Pardo Bazán. This is a kind of matched pair: two stories about the tension between rational explanations and the desire to believe in the supernatural.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes The sleep of reason produces monsters No 43 from Los Caprichos Google Art Project
The sleep of reason produces monsters, Francisco Goya (1799). Source: Wikimedia

Many marvelous-seeming phenomena in the world are really quite natural; Sir Walter Scott dedicated an entire letter from his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft to debunking ghost stories of this type. One such example is the tale of the dead club president’s ghost, which has a perfectly rational explanation.

As a story, though, the supernatural explanation is far more satisfying. And that may be the case with Gorriti’s and Pardo Bazán’s stories as well.

Enjoy!


Featured Image: Mandrake. Folio 90 Folio 90 from the Naples Dioscurides (7th century). Source: Wikimedia