Archive for July, 2015

In honor of the gifted science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer, Ms. Lee, who passed away on May 24, 2015, here are some lines from her collection of retold fairytales, Red As Blood.

from “Wolfland”:

“She must have slept, dazed by the continuous rocking of the carriage, but all at once she was wide awake, clutching in alarm at the upholstery.  What had awoken her was a unique and awful choir.  The cries of wolves.”

“Having run the gamut of her own premonition, Lisel sank back on the seat and yearned for a pistol or at least a knife.  A malicious streak in her lent her the extraordinary bravery of desiring to inflict as many hurts on her killers as she was able  before they finished her.  She also took time to curse Anna the Matriach.  How wretched the old woman would grieve and complain when the story reached her.  The clean-picked bones of her granddaughter had been found a mere mile or so from her chateau in the rags of a blood-red cloak; by the body a golden clasp,rejected as inedible.”

from “When the Clock Strikes” :

“The duke’s funeral cortege passed slowly across the snow, the broad open chariots draped with black and silver, the black-pumed horses, the chanting priests with their glittering robes, their jeweled crucifixes and golden censers.  Crowds lined the roadways to watch the spectacle.  Among the beggar women stood a girl.  No one noticed her.  She gazed at the bier pitilessly.  As the young prince rode by in his sables, the seal ring on his hand, the eyes of the girl burned through her ashy hair, like a red fox through grasses.”

from “The Golden Rope”:

“All around the house,the dead trees, a palisade out-stared the moon.  They were a constant reminder of her youth which she had given up her vitality which had been drained.  And yet, tonight it seemed to her there was a strange stirring in the trees and in her blood.”

red as blood

Mary Shelley

 

Originally published in my former blog: Gypsyscarlett Weblog on February 9, 2009

In the summer of 1816, a cold spell swept across Europe and North America.   The unusual chill caused snowfall in July and unparalleled thunderstorms.   Pamphlets were passed around predicting the end of the world.

During June of that year,  five of the most famous persons in the world gathered together in a summerhouse in Villa Diodati, on the southern shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.  “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know”- Lord Byron, Dr. John Polidori, ethereal Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont (eighteen years-old and pregnant with Byron’s child), and her stepsister, Mary Godwin (mistress to the married Shelley).

Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born on August 30, 1797 to the radical political philosopher William Godwin, and  founding feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (authoress of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”).   Mr. Godwin never got over the death of  his wife who died due to complications during childbirth.  He taught young Mary to spell her name by tracing the letters on her mother’s tombstone.

Although both Godwin and Wollstonecraft had been disciples of the free love movement, he was outraged when his own daughter began a love affair with the married poet and refused to speak with her. Mary had spent her childhood haunted by the idea that she’d murdered her mother and  was determined to prove her consequent life worthy.   It had not been easy growing up the child of famed revolutionaries.   Now,  practically disowned by the father she adored, and in the company of  the poetic geniuses, Byron and Percy, Mary felt an even greater need to prove herself.

On June 16, 1816, as candles flickered and lightning illuminated the room, Byron read from Fantasmagoriana,  a volume of German shudder stories translated into French.  Upon finishing, he challenged everyone in the room to write a ghost story.  This was just the incitement Mary needed. She later explained, “I busied myself to think of a story,- a story to rival those which had excited us to this task.  One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror.”

However, she was unable to think of an idea until June 22nd.   On that evening, the conversation turned to, “the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated.”  They discussed the experiments of Erasmus Darwin who had, “preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion.”

Past midnight, she found herself unable to sleep- imagining a corpse reanimated.  “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.”   Her eyes closed, she saw, “a pale student of unhallowed arts….kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”

After opening her eyes, she was still not able to dismiss the “hideous phantom”.  She later recalled thinking, “O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night.”  A few moments later she realized,  “I have found it!”

The next morning, she announced having thought of a story.  And along with the dream, she brought with her  a lifetime spent devouring the works of Goethe, Dante, Schiller, Shakespeare, Milton, and Matthew “Monk” Lewis.

In writing, Frankenstein ; or, The Modern  Prometheus, she would further utilize the theory of vitalism which held that a life force separated living things from  non-living things.  Some believed in a connection between vitalism (or elan vital) and electricity.  In 1803,  Giovanni Aldini had claimed to make dead bodies sit up and raise their arms by applying electricity.

Mary began, “It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.” ( This opening spoken by Dr. Victor Frankenstein would later become the opening of chapter 4 in the 1818 edition and chapter 5 in the revised 1831 version).

Dr. Frankenstein discovers the secrets of creating life.  After gathering human parts from charnel houses, he infuses the spark of life into the being.  However, Frankenstein is immediately horrified at the ugliness of his own creation.    He casts the Monster out into the unfeeling world.  This Monster- sensitive and tender- seeks understanding from Man but is constantly spurned until he chooses suicide. ”I shall die.   I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched.”

As Mary began penning what at first was only intended to be a short story, she could have no idea that she was creating one of the most enduring characters ever invented.   The  unnamed Monster, rejected by his own father, (as Mary had been rejected by hers) would outlive all of the five men and women gathered together in that villa on the shores of lake Geneva.

*quote by Lady Caroline Lamb- lover to Lord Byron

7-of-cups-bohemian-gothic-tarot

Dreams, hopes, wishes, mania,  daring to bring castles in the air down to earth, the need to be able to decipher good choices from bad, being kissed by moonlight, debauchery,  emotional drunkiness, Venus in Scorpio

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Daydreams- both realistic and fantastical, delusions, choices, hopes, ambitions: some plausible, others not. dangerous delusions, lunacy”

venus in furs

Seven of Pentacles: questioning our material needs. What is necessary to reach our goals?  What must we strip away?  Taking a rest from our work to reevaluate.  Are we happy with the fruits of our labor?  Was the toil worth it?

bohemian gothic tarot seven of pentacles

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Reviewing what you’ve achieved.  A time to contemplate and to consider.  Making plans at other people’s expense.”

Seven of Swords:

seven of swords

The perceptive qualities of the rational-minded number seven meet the airy aspect of Swords.  The pursuit of knowledge.  A need and desire to work on one’s own.  Eccentricity.  Stubborness and willfullness.  Evasiveness.  Keeping secrets.

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “A small piece of dishonesty or deception.  Mixing with things you don’t fully understand.”

seven of wands

Seven of Wands:      Fiery challenges and fights.  Destroying obstacles.  Strength in the face of adversity.  Staying true to one’s self.  The ego.

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: ” A battle that you know you can win.  A fight against the odds.  Getting a buzz out of winning through a difficult situation.”

emily bronte

“Riches I hold in light esteem
And Love I laugh to scorn
And lust of Fame was but a dream
That vanished with the morn–
And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is–’Leave the heart that now I bear
And give me liberty.’

Yes, as my swift days near their goal
‘Tis all that I implore
Through life and death, a chainless soul
With courage to endure!”- Emily Bronte

the monk

reblogged from my older blog, Gypsyscarlett: Writing the Victorian Gothic.  originally posted on May 20, 2012

Into the Gothic World of the Monk

One of my maxims for writing stories that take place in past eras is that people have always been the same.  What goes on inside hearts, and behind closed doors has never changed.   It is only the outer society that differs in clothes and manner.
     A fantastic example of this is the 1796 novel by Matthew G. Lewis.   It is difficult to imagine this being published in the staid Victorian period.  But go back one century to the much more bawdy 18th, and this book was not only published, it was a smashing hit.  The fact that some critics deemed it obscene and dangerous, of course, only helped to sell more copies.
      Matthew Lewis, born on July 9. 1775, to a prominant English family, wrote the novel in a span of ten weeks.  Inspired by the novel, Mysteries of Udolpho, he aimed to write his own Gothic masterpiece.   Evidently putting aside any care or worry what anyone would think of him or his novel, he went full out, no-holds barred. The title character, Ambrosio is the ultimate man of two faces.  To his congregation he is the embodiment of purity and moral excellence.  Inside, he is an ego-ist who feeds on their adoration.
       The novel becomes a Matryoshka doll of stories within stories.  Romance,  sex, magic, murder,  and ghosts  fill the pages. While the confessions he hears indicate that most of the characters are decent enough folk caught up in an unjust world,  Ambrosio, himself, spirals into one of the most loathesome characters in all of literature.  A hypocrite to the extreme who blames everyone  and everyone but himself for anything and everything he does,  his arrogance and utter disregard for others leads him to rape and murder.
     The novel also boasts one of the most fascinating, unapologetic characters in Matilda.  As Ambrosio’s lover and nemesis,  she is his perfect foil, and the reader will be quite curious whose side she is really on.
     Story-wise, the novel is a marvel and it is easy to see why it had such great influence on such later literary figures as Emily Bronte and Poe.  On the negative side, the novel is unfortunately filled with the racism and sexism of its day.  Reading the treatment of the women is not easy.  Their constant punishment will raise the hair of anyone with modern sensibility.   While the men happily go along their merry ways, you can bet any of the female characters who engages in physical intercourse- whether it be consensual sex or  rape, will either die or lose her beauty and retire into a convent.  Only one female character in the book who has had pre-marital sex is “allowed” by the author to marry the man she loves at the end.   But not until after she has suffered one of  the cruelest, most heartbreaking tragedies one can imagine.
     Accepting the book for the era it was written, I was able to greatly enjoy the story while glaring at times and being grateful that authors no longer need to punish their ladies as some sort of horrible, hypocritical “moral”.
     Recommended as a highly engaging, spellbinding, and at times, surprisingly humorous tale with a fantasic, witty end.

Six of Cups

Bohemian Gothic Tarot Six of Cups

Nostalgia.  Fond memories of childhood.  Connecting the past to the present.

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot:  “Innocence.  Happy memories, especially of childhood.   Indulging in simple, childlike pleasures.  Losing yourself in nostalgia and regrets.  Hiding some ulterior motive under an apparently sweet and naive act.”

the-curse-of-the-cat-people

Simone Simon and Amy Reed in Curse of the Cat People

six of swords

Six of Swords:  Remaining serene through troubled waters.  Changes and travel.  Nightmares of the dream and physical realm.   Not being able to escape your problems.  Trying to run away.

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Getting through a hard time calmly and quietly.  Making a profound change in your life, one that will take some time.  Feeling ‘dead’ to the world.  A period of mourning for a loss.”

let's scare jessica to death

Scene from Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

BG_6wnds180

Pride in achievements.  Self-confidence.  Valor and bravery through tasks.

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “A hard-won and worthy victory.  Taking a moment to bask in the glory.  A sense of personal achievement.  A victory won at the expense of others.  Letting a triumph go to your head, becoming dictatorial and over-confident.”

musical-wicked-die-hexen-von-oz-10

Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba in Wicked: Die Hexen von Oz

BG_6pent180

Six of Pentacles:  Charity.  Helping others in need.  Receiving aid. Financial difficulties.  Monetary and material loss. Making a bargain you may not want to keep.  Making a dangerous pact. 

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot:  “Charity.  Helping someone in a practical way.  Generosity.  ‘Charity’ with strings attached.  Getting control over someone with your financial support.  A caring act that is in fact hypocritical and self serving.”

der müde tod

Scene from Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod