Classic Horror

Discussion in 'Horror' started by j d worthington, Mar 26, 2007.

  1.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Well, I looked around, and while some of the classics in the horror field are mentioned in other threads, I didn't see one for discussing classic horror literature per se. So, I decided to stick my neck out here (again)....

    Who here has read much of the classics of the genre? I'm not referring to the more recent writers (though some of them may indeed be classics), but the works that established the horror (or supernatural, or weird, or whatever label you wish to use) field in the first place. Writers like Le Fanu, Shelley, Radcliffe, Dickens, Blackwood, Machen, O'Brien, Maupassant, Ewers, Shiel, James, Hichens, Morrow, Hodgson, Wakefield, Wilkins-Freeman, Mrs. Oliphant, Vernon Lee, etc.

    How many have read HPL's treatise on the subject, Supernatural Horror in Literature (which remains perhaps the best single historical overview of the genre to date)? How many have looked into some of the more obscure writers in the field? And what are your opinions on any of the above?

    In general, I'd like to see if we can get a discussion going on this topic, in part just because I'd enjoy chatting with people about it, and in part to put these titles and authors out there for those who may not have encountered them but might be curious about them if they knew of their existence, and (with luck) might find a new favorite gem as a result.

    To kick this off, here's a link from a rather obscure verse by Thomas Moore, "The Ring: A Tale". You'll probably have to scroll down a bit to get to it, but it's a nicely effective little ghostly tale, and not at all long (about 3 pp.). Some here have already seen this, but I'd welcome comments on this or other classics of the genre. This is going to be rather a broad topic, so please feel free to throw out any names you feel fit, and I look forward to hearing people's thoughts....:)
  2.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    *Ahem* Let's try this again....:eek:

    The Complete Poems of Sir Thomas Moore eBook
  3.  
    Sathai

    Sathai Here, but not all there.

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    Thanks for the link, I enjoyed reading the poem. I wonder if that is what Tim Burton based his Corpse Bride on?

    As for classic horror, I haven't read very many. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Bram Stoker, various editions of Lovecraft, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Also some anthologies of older horror/ghost stories, can't remember the titles though.
  4.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I'll be darned!:eek: Someone bumped this thread... and here I'd thought it had gone out into the cybervoid forever...:p

    Thanks for the feedback....
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    I've read most of the authors on your list. I may have read more of them than I think, since I have a penchant for anthologies of ghost stories and gothic tales, and I don't always remember who wrote what unless it's a favorite story or a favorite writer.

    Of those you mention, Blackwood, Lee, and O'Brien are probably my favorites. To come across a story that I haven't read yet by either Lee or O'Brien would be, for me, the height of bliss. I've read quite a bit of LeFanu and Shiel. With Machen, I always feel like I should love what I'm reading more than I do -- it's as if his stories just miss hitting the mark on some personal level. I've slogged through some of Mary Shelley's short fiction -- none of it rises to anywhere near the level of Frankenstein. I'd like to read more Hodgson. And Dickens is one of my favorite writers, but I'm not a big fan of his ghost stories except for A Christmas Carol and The Haunted Man, which I consider masterpieces. I'm not sure which James you mean, but I've read both of them. Also Wilkens-Freeman.

    I'd like to add Gaskell, Hawthorne, Nesbit, Braddon, Broughton, Collins, and Crawford to your list, but I expect they are already there under your "etc." Undoubtedly there are others that will occur to me the moment I step away from the computer.
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    And, for those who find it hard to find the stories listed, there are a couple of good online sites for quite a few of them. The first is an index to the essay, with links to various of the pieces (though by no means all):

    Works Referenced in Supernatural Horror In Literature by H. P. Lovecraft

    The other is The Literary Gothic site, which includes, among other things, full texts of several of the original Gothic novels, and is constantly expanding to include new material:

    The Literary Gothic - the premier webguide to pre-1950 Gothic-tradition literature

    Enjoy!

    LATE EDIT: Don't like to do this normally, but as the link to "Works Referenced" is no longer a working link (see post #49), thought I'd save people the time and frustration by mentioning that. I'll be looking for other sites to help with this, but it may take a while....
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2009
  8.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Teresa: I don't know how I didn't see this posted before tonight... but yes, I think these would be fine additions indeed. Mrs. Gaskell did some wonderful stories, while Hawthorne is one of my personal favorites, and Crawford's Wandering Ghosts has recently been reissued in an edition that includes all his ghostly tales of less than novel length -- highly recommended. Nesbit, Braddon, Broughton, Collins also are high on the list... and, fortunately, seeing a renewed interest of late it seems, through the Wordsworth Classics line of supernatural fiction, while Mary Wilkins-Freeman's stories are not quite as easy to access, unfortunately, but Arkham House's edition of her Collected Ghost Stories isn't too difficult to find, still.

    On Mary Shelley's shorter fiction... hmmm. I'm not sure I quite agree in some ways. I think they were often more polished, and a small handful of them are quite potent, if having less of that "raw vigor" that her first novel had. Machen does seem to be a hit-or-miss proposition; he's an odd one. But for those interested, Chaosium has brought out a 3-volume edition of nearly all his supernatural works, edited by S. T. Joshi. O'Brien remains less well-known than he should be, and I'll never forget my first reading of his "The Wondersmith" in an old issue of Weird Tales that I picked up (which couldn't help but add to the charm, I think). Again, Dickens' ghost stories are somewhat peculiar -- something I had to acquire a taste for, I'll admit (though I've always been fond of "No. 1 Branch Line: The Signalman", since I first read it in an old children's book put out by Whitman, Tales to Tremble By... quite a nice anthology, actually:

    Recycled Fairytales - Tales to Tremble By

    As for Hodgson -- Night Shade Books have been putting out a 5-volume set of his supernatural fiction; 4 volumes have been released so far, the fifth has been delayed for a while, but they are very nice books, and chock-full of great reading. My main complaint about Hodgson is that faux archaic style he uses at times... makes one cringe, I'm afraid. But, if you can get past the ridiculousness of that diction-that-never-was, the stories themselves are mightily impressive... and only a few of his stories are marred by that particular flaw.

    The James I was thinking of there was M. R. James, but there have been a couple of collections of Henry James' ghostly tales as well... a bit more diffuse than Monty's, but nonetheless well worth reading I think.

    Have you read Laing's The Haunted Omnibus? If not, I would imagine it's one you'd enjoy:

    WorldCat: The Haunted omnibus

    At any rate, sorry I didn't see this earlier, and thanks for the response; always good to hear from someone else who has a love for these wonderful old tales....
  9.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Well, this isn't a classic in itself, but it has had a major impact on some classic horror; to wit: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and John William Polidori's "The Vampyre".

    The book is Fantasmagoriana: Tales of the Dead, and it is a recent edition/translation of the original Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d'Histoires d'Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes, etc.; traduit de l'allemand, par un Amateur -- with some interesting differences. The original source for several of these stories was a series of books titled Die Gespensterbuch; but, when translated into the French (anonymously, apparently by Jean Baptiste Benoit Eyries), an extra tale was added, "La Chambre grise". To complicate things further, the first English translation, by Sarah Elizabeth Utterson, dropped the final three tales from the French edition ("Der Geist des Verstorbenen", Fr. title "Le Revenant"; "La Chambre grise"; and "Die schwartze Kammer", Fr. title "La Chambre noire"), while abridging yet another ("La Tête de Mort"; orig. "Der Todtenkopf"), and adding one of her own, "The Storm". This was titled Tales of the Dead, and was published in 1813. The present edition has gone back to the contents of the French Fantasmagoriana, but has -- according to the article linked below -- reproduced the abridged Utterson version of "The Death's Head". The intent, however, was to reproduce, as nearly as possible, the collection read by that famous gathering at the Villa Diodati in 1816, made up of Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont, and which prompted their contest to each write "a ghost story"; and to provide, for the first time, an English translation for all of the tales of that volume. According to A. J. Day's afterword, this is the first ever English translation for three of the stories in the book. Unfortunately, the result is something of a mixed blessing.

    To begin with, the stories themselves have not always worn well. Not only do they suffer from the rather naïve and primitive style of storytelling of much of the lesser literature of the early nineteenth century, but they also frequently suffer from what Lovecraft called (when speaking of Mrs. Radcliffe) "the provoking custom of destroying [their] own phantoms at the last through laboured mechanical explanations" so much a part of the Gothic school; and they are marred by the fact that much of their material -- apparently drawn from traditionary ghost stories of the region -- lacks either genuine literary development or polish, and suffers from occasional lapses in logic beyond the norm even for such tales. The translation itself is often given to awkward syntax (as of a transliteration, rather than a translation) and nonsensical sentences, such as "Cousin Tobias looked around, making the point that he did not actually believe in the ghost any more, no longer seemed to make much sense" (p. 129); which, from the context, can be construed into either that he looked around the room, remembering that he no longer believed in the ghost, the story about which no longer made sense, or that he looked around the room and realized that his recently expressed disbelief in the ghost no longer made sense. Either way, it is awkward, clumsy, and confusing; and neither construction is either particularly apt or attractive.

    Furthermore, the typography of the volume is an utter mess. Not only are letters (and sometimes entire words) dropped from sentences, sometimes making the sense rather difficult to understand, but the appearance of the text on the page vacillates between a "fully justified" text block and "flush left, ragged right" style text -- sometimes so extreme that a sentence will break off in the middle of a line, to be picked up on the next line ... leaving the rest of the line white space. On the whole, the book would have benefited immeasurably from a painstaking copy editor.

    Nonetheless, the stories do sometimes achieve a surprising degree of power, especially those by "Friedrich Laun" (Friedrich August Schulze): "The Fated Hour", "The Death Head", "The Death-Bride", and "Ghost of the Departed". Even where a "laboured mechanical explanation" is provided, the ghostly passages in these tales is sometimes quite atmospheric and can provide the same sort of chill that such passages in Mrs. Radcliffe's novels may; and several of the stories may be read with pleasure by those who enjoy the traditional "ghost story" -- especially the type told around a campfire.

    While this is certainly not something I'd recommend for the majority of readers, for those interested in literary history, the Gothics, the Romantic movement, the Schauerroman/Schauergeschichte, the development of the terror tale, or traditional ghostly lore of the region, the book does offer considerable rewards.

    In addition, A. J. Day has provided a brief but very interesting afterword on the relationship between the original Fantasmagoriana and Frankenstein, as well as discussing other historical and biographical (and a possible folkloric) influences which may have helped to form one of the most important of the English novels of nightmare.

    (Incidentally, for those who have seen the Ken Russell film Gothic, there is an added fillip, showing how scenarist Stephen Volk did his homework, as not only various odd incidents in the film are based on factual accounts of that little party, but even the basis for some of the imagery from the ghost stories read by them come straight from "The Family Portraits", the second story here.)

    For those interested in more historically on Fantasmagoriana:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasmagoriana

    And, if your interest inclines toward that, I'd suggest looking at some of the "Further Reading" given at the end of the article as well.
  10.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Sheesh! Make that "Das Gespensterbuch".....
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Hey JD, you're slipping..;)

    That's a fascinating article on Wiki and as usual your comments are both interesting and insightful.

    I'm going to have to pore over that when I have a bit more time but I wouldn't mind knowing where you can purchase that book translation from?
  12.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    You should be able to get it through Amazon, or other such services. Over here, it's costing $19.95 (which seems a bit steep to me), but it may be different in your neck o' the woods....
  13.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks mate!

    Just finished I Am Legend, awesome read, will post thoughts tommorow, good night now...
  14.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    And, again, for those so inclined, here's an early (and rather odd) translation of Bürger's "Lenore":

    the germanic invasion

    And a more polished version (from Dante Gabriel Rossetti):

    Gottfried Burger - Lenore

    And also this, which leads to yet another translation, by Alfred Ayres:

    The Dead Ride Quick

    I will admit to a liking for "the dead can ride apace / Dost fear to ride with me?" (without the "archaic" spelling).... Scott also did a rendition of this, along with "Der wilde Jäger" (The Wild Huntsman), which can be found below:

    the germanic invasion
  15.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Well, I've posted part of this in the July reading thread, but not all:

    Have finished The Supernatural Short Stories of Charles Dickens. While many of these are of the humorous or whimsical kind, there are a few that are really quite powerful, even grim: "A Madman's Manuscript", "A Confession Found in a Prison in the Time of Charles the Second", "To Be Read at Dusk", "The Ghost in the Bride's Chamber" (a chapter from The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices), "To Be Taken with Grain of Salt", and "No. 1 Branch Line: The Signalman" are all quite notable.

    Oddly, "The Ghost in the Bride's Chamber" is made especially effective by use of the symbolic figures here, much as they are in A Christmas Carol; while "To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt" and "The Signalman" are effective by the exact opposite: a minute, particular, matter-of-fact account with an extreme air of verisimilitude which gives them an air of actual incidents from life (not without a hint of humor, for instance, in the title of the former). One line in particular in "The Signalman" strikes me as especially fine: when the narrator descends into the cutting, he describes it as "So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world" -- especially ironic, given that it applies to the artificial work of the railroad, where the mechanical, industrialized Victorian everyday suffers an incursion from another world... in a sense, he has left the natural world, but for one created (in part) by the works of man, yet it is here that the unnatural world of spirits enters the natural world of everyday.

    I've read a few of these before elsewhere, but by no means all of them, so it was interesting to see his progression in storytelling -- which is quite noticeable, as they're arranged chronologically. Also, as this thread hasn't garnered a lot of responses (perhaps due to the obscurity of some of the things mentioned), I'm hoping that perhaps this being Dickens, there may be some input from others on this one; I'd like to hear others' thoughts where his ghostly tales are concerned -- whimsical or otherwise.
  16.  
    ravenus

    ravenus Heretic

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    Some of those Dickens stories are excerpts from the Pickwick Papers, I believe.
  17.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes, some of the stories in the collection were (including "The Goblins that Stole a Sexon"), as well as one from Nicholas Nickleby and another (the "Confession" story) from a serial, Master Humphrey's Clock. They were included as tales told, and remain somewhat controversial for that reason (as to his reason for including them) --though I'm not sure why, as many novels throughout literary history have such inserted tales, from the sentimental and picaresque novels on...

    Have you read these and, if so, what are your thoughts?
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    ravenus

    ravenus Heretic

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    Don't recall all the stuff but...

    I really loved the Madman's diary excerpt and the story about the talking chair was cute. I remember liking the Signalman story a lot, although I can't fully recall it now. Must have read some of the others as well.

    On the whole, damn good old-school stuff and Dickens could write as good a ghost story as the best of that lot.
  19.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Not classic horror per se, but about one of the true classics of the genre: M. R. James:

    Warnings to the Curious: Criticism on MR James - Hippocampus Press

    This is the first such book, I believe, devoted exclusively to his ghostly tales, and thus long overdue. There is also a link to a very interesting review, for those who would like more information... and a lot of the scholars represented here are both very good as scholars, and often very entertaining and fascinating to read....
  20.  
    HardScienceFan

    HardScienceFan 'what to eat' fan

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    JD, I am going to thrill you with the following:D

    Everybody who wants to be scared out of his wits,read House by Richard Matheson

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