Archive for November, 2015

“Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was.  All I know is that he did it beautifully.”-  Neil Gaiman

Recently, I came across a mention of Robert Aickman again.  He was  a horror writer I’d hear about every once in awhile, certainly not as famous as many of his contemporaries.  A writer’s writer, it would seem.  The twentieth century’s “most profound writer of what we call horror stories”- according to Peter Straub.

Yet, he certainly has his critics as well, his stories being described as too obscure.

Curious to finally read him and form my own opinion, I picked up a copy of Dark Entries.

The first story within, “The School Friend” begins, “It would be false modesty to deny that Sally Tessler and I were the bright girls in school.” And so, an older Mel reflects upon how she met one of her oldest girlfriends.  Only a few pages in, I was hit by this doozy of a line.  “I was able to construe Latin fairly well for a girl, but the italics and long s’s daunted me.” Really? I recalled how once another woman mentioned she’d been reading a work with a female main character which happened to have  been written by a man.  Everything was fine and believable until the writer had the character make reference to her period by calling it, “my menstruation.”  Because no woman talks like that.  I had a similar feeling here because I doubt there is any female who thinks to herself, “wow! I can do this pretty well, you know, even though, I’m like, only a girl.”

Okay, so Mr. Aickman wasn’t going to win any POV awards for this, but I tried to put that aside and concentrate on the rest of the story.

Forty-one year old Mel comes into contact with her old friend after decades apart when Sally returns to their hometown after the death of her father.  A man who “never went out”, and who received a doctorate for an unknown subject.   Sally, herself, was always odd- living to work and revealing very little about her private life.

Now Sally has moved back in her father’s old house.  One that Mel describes as, “entirely commonplace, and in the most unpleasing fashion.”  After her friend suffers an accident, Mel is asked to look after the place.  To her surprise, she discovers every room is kept locked; there is one chain with numerous keys to open each one.

What Mel discovers inside the house is difficult to say even after one has finished the story, and my initial reaction was one of disappointment.  Some ambiguity is fine.  Were Miles and Flora really haunted in The Turn of the Screw, or was their governess mad?  What exactly did Eleanor and Theodora see in The Haunting of Hill House?

But here, it felt like full pages had been ripped out.  As though the author was being lazy, here you do the work.  I’ll just sit back and appear clever.

Yet, the story stayed with me, and I recalled hearing how Aickman’s stories begged to be reread.  In doing so, I did notice more things- said and unsaid- that had escaped my initial notice.

I’m not yet settled on how I feel about this particular little strange story, but it continues to gnaw.

Fritz Leiber: “Robert Aickman has a gift for depicting the eerie areas of inner space, the churning storms and silent overcasts that engulf the minds of lonely and alienated people. He is a weatherman of the subconscious.”

dark entries cover

BG_Kn_wnds180

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “A charming, energetic but somewhat feckless man (or boyish woman).  A man or woman of immense charisma, but who lacks commitment.   Emigration, making a major domestic or job move.”

darker or more hidden meaning: “Someone who loves them and leaves them.  A charming manipulator, particularly of the emotions of the opposite sex.”

Lord-Byron-2-226x300

She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”- from Lord Byron’s, She Walks in Beauty

BG_KnCups180

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot:  “A creative, sensitive person.  An ‘arty’ type who can be quite impractical.  A great lover who tends to idealize the object of his (or her) affections.  An enthusiastic advocate for all creative and artistic endeavors.”

darker or more hidden meaning:  “A creative person whose energy is sometimes wasted in conflict and fighting.  A tendency to rush into things based on emotion rather than rationale.”

beatrix –  Gabriel Rossetti’s, Beata Beatrix.  Painting of the character of Beatrice from Dante’s Inferno, with the memories of his deceased wife, Elisabeth Siddal, serving as the model.

BG_KnSw180

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “A fighter, who can be a great friend but an implacable enemy. An impetuous person who tends to leap right into things.  A leader with great energy and intelligence.”

darker or more shadow meaning: “A person who has to get his own way.  A person who abuses others.  Using intelligence to dominate and take control.”

“When you see a river, you must follow it to its source, no matter the perils, no matter those comrades that fall along the way. You must know how things work. You must unlock.”Sir Malcom from Penny Dreadful

BG_Kn_pent180

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Following a routine dutifully.  Reliable and trustworthy, but lacking in imagination.”

darker or more hidden meaning: “Obsessive compulsive disorder.  Feeling stuck, unable to move on.   Never losing your head, always being predictable and rather dull.”

 “Whatever happened to Lestat I do not know. I go on, night after night. I feed on those who cross my path. But all my passion went with her golden hair. I’m a spirit of preternatural flesh. Detached. Unchangeable. Empty.”- Louis from Anne Rice’s, Interview With the Vampire

page of wands

From the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “energy and enthusiasm.  Innovations, experiments.  Messages, letters, news.”

darker or more hidden meanings: ” Hidden passions, especially in a young person.  Energies put into negative activities. Nature in a form that is uncontrollable and frightening.”

page of cups

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Naive, but full of passion and goodwill.  A young idealist, particularly when it comes to the arts- and to matters of love.”

darker or more hidden meanings: “Enthusiasm cut short.  Over-emotional young person, maybe a little hysterical.  A reluctance to grow up and leave childhood dreams behind.”

page of swords

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Alert and on guard. Loyalty to a person or cause.  Defending something that’s important to you.”

darker or more hidden meaning: “not being guarded enough; there’s danger about. Acting alone, not asking for help.  Paranoia, seeing enemies all around.”

page of pentacles

from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Study, particularly of practical skills.  A time to learn more about basic, everyday matters such as money and running a household.  Someone a little old and serious for their age.”

Darker or more hidden meanings: “Getting too obsessed with practicalities, taking no time out to dream.  Getting drawn into repetitive, compulsive behavior.  A young person who tends to hoard and save.”

“A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!
“- by Emily Dickinson