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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In which I search out the folktale inspirations for Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Swineherd”.
I’ve been reading M.R. James’ 1930 translation of Hans Christian Andersen, Forty-two Stories, which is a delight. I’ve realized that, while I’m familiar with Andersen’s most famous tales, I’ve mostly only read retellings of them, rather than reading them in Andersen’s own (translated) words. It makes such a difference! Andersen’s prose (as channeled through James, at least) is so beautifully clean and unadorned; more modern than I would have expected.
Many (though not all) of Andersen’s tales are direct retellings of folktales, albeit with his own unique voice and special details. Other tales borrow from traditional stories to a greater or lesser degree. In the preface to his translation, James gives a bit of information about the folk origins of several tales, based both on what Andersen himself said, and on James’ personal research.
Let’s explore “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Swineherd.”
In which Giulla and Feristemo find each other, and take a little revenge. From the Peregrinaggio.
When last we saw them, Feristemo and Giassamen had finally learned Giulla’s whereabouts, and were making plans to rescue her.
Giassamen happened to know that quite near Giullistano, where Giulla was held, there was a grand palace whose owner was greatly in debt to the king (ah, back taxes). So the palace was up for public auction. With Feristemo’s approval, Giassamen took a large sum from the money that Feristemo’s father had given to them, and, while posing as a foreign merchant, bought the palace. He and Feristemo furnished the palace luxuriously, then set up residence there.
Once upon a time in the land of Serger, in the city of Letzer, there ruled a wise and just king. He was good to his subjects and welcoming of foreigners. When the king died, his eldest son inherited the throne.
Sadly, the new king was the exact opposite of the old king. He was malicious and greedy, and sowed discord and suspicion where before there was none. In fact, after the old king died, the new king had his own younger brother executed, and threw his brother’s son — and his own daughter — into prison. Because of the new king and his corruption, Letzer became such an unhappy place that people left, in droves.
Among the people who stayed were two old men, lifelong friends, wealthy and respectable. One had a daughter named Giulla, the other a son named Feristemo, both about the same age. The two fathers’ dearest wish was that their children would fall in love and get married.