The Moral Opiate

More winter tales as we head into 2020! I came across “The Moral Opiate” a few years ago, in a collection of supernatural tales from Cornhill Magazine, and it struck me then as an unusual “ghost” story. The story is set in January, and seemed like a great winter tale. Unfortunately, as it was published in 1923, it wasn’t in the public domain when I found it. This finally changed in 2019. The story fits this year’s theme of a “different sort of haunting” quite well, and I’m delighted to share it with you.

La temptation

Birchington Priory isn’t haunted, per se; in fact, the Blue Bedroom of Sir Darcy’s annexe is a cheerful, pleasant room–the very opposite of spooky. But it’s a sinister place nonetheless, and the downfall of several guests at Birchington Priory. The room’s potential next victim: Eric Weir, amateur Egyptologist.

To feel yourself above mankind with their foolish conventions, designed to keep the bolder spirits to their own dead level—to feel that you are infinitely wiser than these sheep who voluntarily follow a moral code that leads through toil and trouble to the grave, and that can, at no time on the journey, offer any real recompense—these are feelings that intoxicate a man and sweep him off his feet.

“The Moral Opiate” is a fable disguised as a ghost story, an allegory about how easily a person can let go of their principles and slide into amorality and unethical behavior if they aren’t careful. In the story the bad influence is supernatural and dramatic; in real life, it can be slow and insidious, and hence, so much more dangerous…

You can read The Moral Opiate here.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about the author, William Bradley. The name is a fairly common one, and though there are several William Bradleys in Wikipedia, none of them seem likely. There are also several Will or William Bradleys in the FictionMags Index, but the folks there have decided that the author of “The Moral Opiate” is distinct from the others, and glancing at the titles of the pieces written by the other W. Bradleys, they’re probably correct. So this seems to be the only story published by this author, at least under this name.


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

Images

Featured Image: Source: pxhere

La Temptation, Copyright by Wm. Lee. Lith. F. Heppenheimer & Co (1869) Source: Library of Congress via Picryl

Sir Hugo’s Prayer

Over the years, I’ve fallen into a habit of sharing a lighter winter tale right before Christmas, usually as my Christmas Eve story. I suppose I find that it matches the more festive mood that preceeds the gift-giving and the celebrations. This story is a bit early, but I won’t get a chance to post right on Christmas Eve, so here’s my Christmas gift to you: “Sir Hugo’s Prayer” (1897), by G.B. Burgin.

Hamlet sees the ghost of his father 1843 1 jpg Large

Purgatory for the late Sir Hugo Follett and his wife Lady Follett entails haunting their family estate, which they’ve done for centuries. Apparently they were quite the rowdy ones, in their time. But times have changed, and life, er, death, just isn’t what it used to be. As they walk the battlements of Dulverton Castle on Christmas Eve, they run into their late-nineteenth century descendant, the young Clare Follett, in a bit of a pickle.

“There’s something up, my dear,” Sir Hugo remarked to Lady Follett. “It looks to me as if these fellows are in love with the girl, and that there’s going to be a row over it. I mean—ahem—that they will settle their differences with the sword.”

Well, maybe not. But Clare could use a little help. Can Sir Hugo and Lady Follett lend a ghostly hand? They’re certainly going to try.

You can read Sir Hugo’s Prayer here.

George Brown Burgin (1856-1944) was a novelist, editor, and journalist. He sub-edited the humorous monthly magazine The Idler (founded and originally edited by Jerome K Jerome and Robert Barr) from 1895 to 1899. He also wrote some 90 novels — 90 “forgettable novels” according to Stenley Wertheim, author of A Stephen Crane Encyclopedia. Ouch. The poor man doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. He seems best known today for a single quote:

I suppose it is much more comfortable to be mad and not know than to be sane and have one’s doubts.

Well, it shows he had a sense of humor. And “Sir Hugo’s Prayer” shows off his humor, too. It’s a fun, comedic ghost story, perfect for reading in front of the Yule Log on Christmas Eve, or while relaxing after a big Christmas dinner. Enjoy!!

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: Image from A Clerical Courtship [a novel]. (1893) Source: British Library on Flickr

Hamlet Sees the Ghost of his Father, Eugene Delacroix (1843) Source: WikiArt

The Fourth Wall

After last post’s Lovecraft tale, I’ve decided on a kind of “theme” for this year’s series of Winter Tales: Something a little different.

I’m going to try to share stories where the haunting is some way atypical. Not just the usual suspiciously cheap rentals full of restless spirits, and dusty haunted manors rife with dark family secrets. Well, maybe there will be a few of those, but with a twist.

This time, I have an early story (1915) from A. M. Burrage. who was an extremely profilic writer of short stories in many genres, including romance. He’s best known today for his supernatural tales, including the spooky Christmas ghost story, “Smee,” written under the pen name Ex-Private X.

The story I’m sharing today, “The Fourth Wall,” is quite a bit different from “Smee,” but I think it’s fun, and the haunting is different and clever.

Drama 312318 640

Five people take a cottage in the country for a couple of months starting in December. No, it wasn’t absurdly cheap; it fact it’s perfectly delightful. Almost too delightful.

‘It’s a ripping old place,’ he said; ‘but do you know it seems to me rather self-conscious of being a cottage.’

‘What do you mean?’ Mrs Forran laughed.

‘I mean that everything about it—the furniture and all that—is so very “cottagey”. It seems to keep on shouting at you: “I am a cottage. Everything in me is just right for a cottage.” I don’t express myself very well.’

Helen laughed.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘You mean this room is, somehow, just a little stagey.’

“A perfect stage cottage,” is what they call it, but if that’s the only complaint they have, it’s not a bad thing. Is it?

You can read The Fourth Wall here.

Enjoy.


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

Images

Featured image: Set Design for staging Diary of Satan (by L. Andreev), Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin (1922). Source: WikiArt

Comedy/Tragedy Masks Source: Pixabay

Winter Tales Time! The Festival

Winter Tales time already! I’ve had a tradition on the blog for several years now: from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I share some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around.

327px The Shadow over Innsmouth by Mushstone

It snuck up on me this year, and I’m starting a little late and a bit unprepared, but there’s a silver lining. While rummaging amongst the files and lists on my computer for a good story to open with, I found a cache of tales that I’d forgotten about. So I can start this year’s round off strong, with a story a bit different from what I usually present: The Festival, a tale of Yuletide horror from H. P. Lovecraft.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden…

The narrator journeys to spooky New England, in accordance with family tradition, to participate in a once-every-century winter festival. What he experiences is ancient, eldritch, and adjective-laden.

I poke fun at Lovecraft’s style, but this story has moments of evocative atmosphere and genuine creepiness. I don’t think I’ll look at Midnight Mass in quite the same way this year.

So find a hot beverage and a warm blanket, and kick off this year’s Winter Tale season with a Cthulu Christmas story.

You can download “The Festival” here.

Enjoy!


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

Images

Featured image: The Nameless City, leothefox (2013). Source: Wikimedia

The Shadow over Innsmouth, TY Kim (Mushstone), (2012). Source: Wikimedia

Agatha Christie’s Supernatural(ish) Writings

Covering two supernatural-inflected Agatha Christie collections, The Last Seance and The Mysterious Mr. Quin.

Long before I was into ghost stories, I was into detective and crime fiction. I grew up reading old paperback anthologies from Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, and I read a lot of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers: everything my local library had. But it’s been years since I’ve read anything by either Christie or Sayers, or that style of “body in the library” detective fiction, in general.

The Last Seance - Agatha Christie

Christie and Sayers began their writing careers in the period between the two World Wars, a period when the English ghost story also proliferated. It’s not surprising that both authors tried their hand at supernatural tales. While I’d come across a few of Christie’s ghost stories amongst her short story collections, it was before I was as widely read in the supernatural literature of the period as I am now. So it was interesting to read the recent Christie collection, The Last Seance: Tales of the Supernatural, now that I’m more familiar with the landscape of ghost stories written about the same time.

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Horacio Quiroga and Edgar Allan Poe

Earlier this year I got quite interested in the short stories of the Uruguyan author Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937), and I started translating and posting some of his stories. One of Quiroga’s literary influences was Edgar Allan Poe, with whom he shares a morbid fascination with death and madness. I’m sure Quiroga’s frequent themes of addiction and illness are also partially influenced by Poe, as well.

Horacio Quiroga 1900
Horacio Quiroga, circa 1900. Source: Wikimedia

Quiroga published his breakout collection Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte (Tales of Love, Madness and Death) in 1917. By then, his voice was coming into its own, merging Quiroga’s love for Poe with other literary interests, in particular de Maupassant and Kipling, along with Quiroga’s own life experiences living in the jungle province Misiones, in Argentina. But his earlier work shows Quiroga’s love for Poe much more strongly. Several of the stories in his 1904 collection, El crimen del otro (The Crime of Another) are direct homages to Poe’s short stories.

I translated one of Quiroga’s earliest stories back in July, but never posted it here. You can read it at the Ephemera blog:

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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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Revisiting Wilbur Daniel Steele

It is always hazardous to prophesy the future course of an admirable writer, but it is safe to say that the rich, human embodiment of the stories collected in this volume assure them a permanence in our literature for their imaginative reality, their warm color, and their finality of artistic execution. Almost without exception they represent the best that is being accomplished in America today by a literary artist.

— Edward J. O’Brien, Introduction to Land’s End and Other Stories (1918)

When I first read Wilbur Daniel Steele’s 1919 short story, “Out of Exile,” it struck me right away. The language was beautiful, the imagery evocative. I loved it. I felt immediately drawn into this New England fishing community, on the fictional Urkey Island, as the love triangle at the heart of the story unfolded through the filter of the narrator’s growing up and coming-of-age. And although the story was not in any way supernatural, somehow it felt like a ghost story. And that, of course, is a plus, as far as I’m concerned. I wondered: who is this Wilbur Daniel Steele? Did he write any actual ghost stories? What are they like?

Wilbur Daniel Steele
Wilbur Daniel Steele, circa 1918. Source: Wikimedia

He’s quite forgotten today (sorry, Mr. O’Brien!), but Wilbur Daniel Steele was one of the most popular American short story writers of the early twentieth century. He wrote both for prestigious fiction magazines and for women’s magazines. Between 1915 and 1933, at least ten of Steele’s stories appeared in Edward J. O’Brien’s annual Best [American] Short Stories of the Year. Over the same period, eleven of his stories were O. Henry prize selections: one more than John Cheever, one fewer than Alice Munro and William Faulkner.

After about 1933, he seems to have published fewer short stories, and these largely in women’s magazines. He had a revival of sorts around the 1950s, when some of his earlier work was republished in crime fiction magazines like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. After that, he dropped off the radar. Steele passed away in 1970, at the age of 84.

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Friday Video: Return to Glennascaul

“A story that is told in Dublin”

Return to Glennascaul is a lovely short 1953 film written and directed by Hilton Edwards, one of the major figures of Irish theater. Orson Welles appears as himself, narrating this nice variation on the Woman in White urban legend.

On his way to Dublin during a break from filming Othello, Welles picks up a stranded motorist, who in turn tells him this spooky little story. I like the harp that accompanies the main section of the film. It sets the mood nicely.

Here’s Peter Bogdanovich introducing the film (length 4:08):

And here’s the film itself (length 22:21):

Enjoy.