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.

Dark Tales Sleuth Wrapped Up; The Contentious Life of Rosina Bulwer Lytton

I’ve wrapped up my current Dark Tales Sleuth case by posting the Table of Contents and Attributions for Volume Three of Evening Tales for the Winter. For this last volume, I mostly relied on the attribution information from ISFDB, and limited my research to tracking down original publication information, and more readable versions of the stories. However, one story earned a little more attention: “Nina Dalgarooki.”

Rosina Anne Doyle Bulwer Lytton née Wheeler Lady Lytton cropped
Rosina Bulwer Lytton (1802-1882).
Source: Wikimedia.

Unlike the other stories in this volume, “Nina Dalgarooki” is in fact supernatural; it’s a sort of satirical adult fairy tale about a beautiful Russian countess who wants to turn her beauty on and off: to “ration” it, for when good looks are truly needed. She finds a wizard to help her accomplish exactly that, and takes this power to Siberia, Paris, and London, with amusing results. It’s rather a fun piece!

ISFDB did not credit the story, but I found a snippet from The London Morning Post that attributed the tale to “Mrs. Lytton Bulwer,” the wife of the novelist known at the time as Edward Lytton Bulwer, and now known to us as Edward Bulwer-Lytton. You know: “It was a dark and stormy night” Bulwer-Lytton. The Post snippet said favorable things about “Nina Dalgarooki,” which is significant, in light of what happened afterwards… .

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Dark Tales Sleuth: Two-Thirds Done!

Somewhat over a year ago, I started the Dark Tales Sleuth blog to record my progress tracking down the sources of unattributed stories in the 1856 three volume anthology, Evening Tales for the Winter. I’ve been working on the project on and off since then, and yesterday I wrapped up what I could discover about Volume Two!

MadelynMack books
Image from Miss Madelyn Mack, Detective, by Hugh C. Weir (1914). Source: Internet Archive.

Of the last four stories in Volume Two, two were non-supernatural crime or adventure tales, one was arguably a ghost story, and the last a gothic demon tale. I’ve already featured Charles Macfarlane’s “Hungarian Robbers” in my Classic Crime series, so no more needs to be said about that.

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Two More Fantasies by Pardo Bazán

I’ve just posted two more translated fantasy short stories to Ephemera, both by Emilia Pardo Bazán.

It had been a little while since I’d done any translations; it was fun to pick it up again. I hope you enjoy the results!

Ghost Stories from the Classics

Work has been quite busy lately, and likely to stay that way. I haven’t had much chance to blog. So a quick note to introduce a little set of stories that I collected a few months back, to share with you, my readers: ghost stories from classical literature.

None of these supernatural tales are at all spooky to the modern reader. What’s fun about them is that you can see in these usually brief anecdotes the germination of some well-known folktales and urban legends. Often, these excerpts from early writers of the classical Greek or Roman eras are the earliest examples of well-known tales. I’ve posted some examples to Ephemera, and I’ll post a few more as time permits.

Athenodorus The Greek Stoic Philosopher Athenodorus Rents a Haunted House

Some Ghost Stories by Pliny The Younger

The first of Pliny’s tales is a well-known haunted house story, and probably the origin of that stereotype of spectres in chains. Come to think of it, this is probably the only ghost story I’ve read where the ghost was actually in chains. The story is also an early example of the Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) folktale motif 326A (“Soul released from Torment”). One could argue that it’s an early example of the occult detective genre, as well, since Athenodorus rented the house in question specifically to investigate the rumors about the spectre.

The second anecdote could be considered a poltergeist tale, where again the poltergeist seemed to have a message to send.

Lucian’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

This is probably the original Sorcerer’s Apprentice story (ATU 325), with all the tale’s recognizable elements (except Mickey Mouse).

Tales of Mysterious Dreams

The first dream story, from Cicero, is an example of the Grateful Dead motif. In a Grateful Dead tale, the protagonist buries the remains of dead person at the protagonist’s own expense. The grateful ghost of the dead person then does a favor for the protagonist in gratitude. Cicero’s tale is quite basic, but the Grateful Dead motif eventually evolved into something a bit more elaborate. You can read my retelling of a Slavic Grateful Dead variant here.

The next two tales, one from Cicero and one from Aelian, seem to be two variations of the same story, about a murdered man who appears in another’s dream to expose the murderer. As Cicero points out, this story was already well known when he wrote it down, so I think we can call this one an urban legend.

Hope you enjoy these little excursions into the classics. I have at least two more, that I will post as time permits.


Featured image: Illustration by George Scharf for A History of Greece, by Leonhard Schmitz (based on the work of Connop Thirlwall) (1863). Source: Picryl.

“Athenodorus confronts the Spectre”: illustration by Henry Justice Ford for The Strange Story Book by Leonora Blanche Land and Andrew Lang (1913). Source: Wikimedia.

Dark Tales Sleuth is Still On the Case!

Remember my other blog, The Dark Tales Sleuth? That’s where I’m tracking down the sources of the unattributed stories in the 1856 anthology, Evening Tales for the Winter, edited by Henry St. Clair. I’m still working on it!

MadelynMack books

After wrapping up Volume One, I started on Volume Two with what seemed like a straightforward case, which quickly turned super interesting. I began with what I thought was a plagiarism of one of the seven “horrid novels” from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and found what I think is an alternative (and earlier!) translation of the first section of the German source novel. Pretty cool!

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Die and You’ll See

My first translation of the new year! Actually, I did this last year (before Winter Tale season started), but I put it aside for my Christmas ghost stories, and only just finished reviewing and polishing it now. This odd little tale from 1875 is by the relatively obscure Spanish author Pedro Escamilla. I’ve just put it up on my Ephemera blog.

MuereteYVeras illustration

As I’ve written before, I personally find Escamilla a bit uneven. Some of his stories are well-executed but unexceptional treatments of familiar ghost story tropes; others, while supernatural, are not so much spooky and macabre, but more like Catholic fairy tales, full of intercessions by the Virgin Mary, and the like. I don’t actually mind this latter type of story, but I admit they might not have a general broad appeal.

Every so often, though. I find something quirky and unusual from his pen, and I think this one unquestionably falls in that category. So many questions: is the narrator reliable, or not? What exactly is going on? I really liked this one, and I hope you do, too.

Enjoy!


Illustration for “Muérete y verás,” from El Periódico para Todos, No. 16, 1875. Illustrator unknown.

Featured image: The great funeral, Félix Vallotton. Source: Old Book Illustrations

Introducing The Dark Tales Sleuth!

As if I didn’t have enough to do, I’ve started another blog. Introducing The Dark Tales Sleuth!!

MadelynMack books
Image: From Miss Madelyn Mack, Detective, by Hugh C. Weir (1914).
Source: Internet Archive

It started when I came across an old anthology called Evening Tales for the Winter (1856). The first few stories included some interesting gothic tales, some implied to be translated from German; the book looked to be a potential source for good stories to share for Winter Tales season. So I started reading.

I noticed, though, that nothing was attributed: no authors, no translators, no information at all. This annoys me.

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The Stories of Pedro Escamilla

Although he was one of the most prolific Spanish authors of the 19th century, Pedro Escamilla seems little known today, even (as far as I can tell) in Spain. Not even the dates or circumstances of his birth and death are certain; the website Ganso y Pulpo estimates that he was born around 1840 and died around 1890.

Retrato Escamilla
Pedro Escamilla
Source: Ganso y Pulpo

And yet he is said to have published something like 400 stories, 35 or 40 plays, and at least 34 novels. some of them under the pen name Félix X. He was also rumored to have ghost-written works for other authors.

Today, he is probably best remembered (if at all) for his short stories in the fantastic and horror genres, which have been compared to the work of Poe and of Erckmann-Chatrian.

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The Booth at the End

What will you do to get what you want? What will you do, for you?

 

I found the short-lived TV series The Booth at the End on Amazon Prime some time back, and finally got around to watching. I’m so glad I did. I clicked on the first episode on a foggy Friday afternoon, meaning just to watch one, and then move on with my day. Instead, I sat curled up on the couch and binged the entire first season (5 episodes, 25 minutes each), enthralled.

A mysterious man (played by Xander Berkeley) sits at the corner booth of an all-night diner, with his notebook. Desperate people come to him with desperate desires: for their son to be cured of cancer, for their husband to be cured of Alzheimers. The Man can grant them anything they ask of him, if they strike a bargain with him. No, not anything so obvious as their soul (well, not exactly). The deal is that they must execute the task that he finds for them in his notebook, and they must come to him regularly to report on their progress, which The Man writes down in the notebook. Once the task is done, the wish is granted.

Sometimes the task is somewhat related to the wish: to see his son cured of cancer, James must kill someone else’s child. Sometimes, it seems arbitrary: in order to become prettier, Jenny must rob a bank of $101,043. And while some of the tasks are horrific, others are difficult but relatively benign.

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