When the world feels like it’s falling apart around you, it feels good to solve little problems that are completely under your control. And that’s what I’ve been doing this past week. I migrated ninazumel.com away from WordPress to a more appropriate host (Github Pages); I merged the old Win-Vector sites (there were two of them, self-hosted) into a single sleek new site — ironically, now WordPress hosted. And I reconstructed a very old and neglected site, mzlabs.com, and set it up here (The address mzlabs.com should still reach it).
All this virtual housekeeping turned up some old writing of mine, and of John’s, that I think is worth revisiting again. So here’s a little (non ghost-related) reading list for you, if you are in the mood:
Browsing through JSTOR the other day, a paper caught my eye: “Vengeance with a Stickpin: Barreto, Quiroga, And García Calderón,” by Daniel C. Scroggins. A stickpin, you say? Oh, that must be “El solitario” (The Solitare)! I love that story; it’s my favorite of the Quiroga pieces that I’ve translated. So of course, I had to read the paper.
Scroggins posits that “El solitario” (probably first published in 1913, collected in 1917), as well as the 1925 short story “El alfiler” by Peruvian author Ventura García Calderón, were both influenced by an earlier story, also titled “El alfiler” (The Stickpin), by Peruvian José María Barreto. Barreto published his story in the Uruguayan periodical Revista Nacional de Literatura y Ciencias Sociales in 1897; Quiroga, remember, was Uruguayan.
If you read Spanish, you can download the August 10, 1897 issue of Revista Nacionalhere; the story is on page 74. It’s quite short: about two columns of a three column layout. I also translated the story and put it up on Ephemera:
In the introduction to their fantastic (and huge) anthology The Weird: A Compedium of Strange and Dark Stories (2011), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer talk about “unease and the temporary abolition of the rational” as components of the Weird. With respect to modern (twentieth and twenty-first century) fiction, they write:
The Weird, in a modern vernacular, has also come to mean fiction in which some other element, like weird ritual or the science fictional, replaces the supernatural while providing the same dark recognition of the unknown and the visionary.
There is a particular feeling, they go on to say, that a certain piece of fiction gives to aficionados of the Weird, a feeling that makes us go “yes, that piece, it’s Weird.” When I read “Las rayas,” by Horacio Quiroga, I definitely got that feeling.
Quiroga isn’t represented in The Weird anthology, but perhaps he ought to have been. He wasn’t in Jorge Luis Borges’ anthology The Book of Fantasy, either, and Borges must certainly have been familiar with his work. Though obviously the fantastic and the weird aren’t (always) the same thing. Quiroga’s work is mostly non-supernatural–also true of Poe, who Quiroga greatly admired–but much of it (like Poe) is extremely unsettling, with illness or madness, or the brutality of jungle life contributing to that sense that here, in this story, you have indeed relinquished the rational.
“Las rayas” struck me as particularly weird. It’s a story about an inexplicable graphomania and its tragic outcome. So of course, I wanted to translate and share it. It seemed straighforward enough, but turned out to be challenging for a reason I hadn’t anticipated.
It amuses and bemuses me, sometimes, to watch the titles of books and films move from language to language. I imagine most titles get translated pretty closely, but sometimes there is the odd exception.
For example, if I look at the IMDb page for the international titles of the Akira Kurosawa film Tengoku to Jigoku, I see that for most languages where I can readily work out the meaning, the titles have stuck pretty close to the original Heaven and Hell. France seems to have also used Between Heaven and Hell, which is almost the same idea. A common English language title is High and Low: similar, but it loses the feeling of unbearable heat that was so much a motif of the film (down there in the slums of Tokyo was “hell” for a reason).
Though my translations are amateur attempts, I’m really enjoying the challenge. Other than The Feather Pillow, these are the first literary stories that I’ve attempted without a previous translation to reference. I’ve translated other things without reference, like this and this, but in those cases I was concerned mostly with meaning. With a literary work, one wants to convey not just meaning, but something of the work’s voice and tone.
I watched Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires the other night. I’ve been exploring Bava’s early giallos and proto-giallos, and my husband is an enthusiast of schlock 50’s style sci-fi and horror (“quantity cinema” is what he calls it). Planet of the Vampires was in his collection, but neither of us had noticed it was a Bava. Until now.
It’s not as groundbreaking as Bava’s giallos; it really is a schlock B movie. But it’s a fun movie. Terrible title, though.
The set design was mimimal, and very much of the genre, but it was well done, considering the teeny tiny budget Bava had: something like $200,000. Yes, it showed. My husband pointed out the thermofax machine that was doubling as a piece of instrumentation. The “captain’s log” (some years before Star Trek) also looked to be a copier or blueprint printer or something, and the periscope-style viewer on the bridge looked like it was cobbled together from a salon hairdryer. But it was endearing. And the elevator hatch thing to bring the astronauts down to the planet’s surface was clever.
I loved the costumes.
Considering Bava’s budget, the effects and production values were impressive. Supposedly the set for the planet’s surface was literally two styrofoam rocks, smoke and mirrors, along with some well done in-camera effects. But on screen, it looks pretty good.
Exploring the dark tales of this Uruguayan author.
I recently found Horacio Quiroga’s short story “The Dead Man” in Clifton Fadiman’s 1986 collection The World of the Short Story, and it’s given me a new hobby: tracking down all of his short stories that I can find.
I’ve seen Quiroga’s stories compared variously to Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, William Faulkner, and Rudyard Kipling; he himself acknowledged the influences of Poe, Kipling and de Maupassant on his work. Like Poe, he had a theory of the perfect short story (one he often contradicted in his own work). Also like Poe, and he was incredibly obsessed with death, and fascinated with madness as well.
This morbid viewpoint is not surprising, given Quiroga’s own life history. His father accidentally shot himself on a hunting trip and later his stepfather deliberately shot himself (apparently, Quiroga witnessed it). In 1900, when Quiroga would have been about twenty-one, his two brothers died of typhoid fever. The following year, one of Quiroga’s best friends, Federico Ferrando, was challenged to a duel. Since Ferrando knew nothing about guns, Quiroga offered to check Ferrando’s gun for him — and accidentally shot and killed Ferrando in the process. Though Quiroga was found innocent of any crime, his own feelings of guilt led him to leave his native Uruguay for Argentina.
Near Byland Abbey, Yorkshire, ghosts walked. If only someone would pray for their sins.
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.
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.
I stumbled upon The Chronicles of Solar Pons—the original 1972 Mycroft & Moran edition, in nearly new condition—on one of the “Used Books” shelves of Borderland’s Books. Not even in the Mystery section of the store, but in the Horror section, which tells you which section of August Derleth’s wide range of works may be most remembered today. I knew who Solar Pons was, but I wasn’t familiar with the stories. Still, I knew that true Holmes aficionados considered the Pons stories to be the best pastiches of the Canon out there, and the book was quite reasonably priced. So I bought it.
According to the front leaf of the book’s dust jacket, Derleth passed away not too long after finishing the final draft of the manuscript. So Chronicles is the last volume of the Derleth-authored Pons stories, and I began my journey at the end, so to speak. I had vague memories of running into a Pons story before, in some anthology or other, a long time ago; I think it was one of the stories Basil Copper wrote. I was not so into Sherlock Holmes back then, so the story made little impression.