The Festival

w h pugmire esq

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#1
"The Festival" has long been one of my favorite Lovecraft tales because of its evocation of Lovecraft's beloved Marblehead, which I finally had the great pleasure of visiting in October of 2007. I have used various items from the story, over and again (I fear), in my own weird fiction. The town of Kingsport enchants me, because it contains a singular aspect of age, of the spectral past, that appeals to me more than any other invented region of Lovecraft's imagination-towns.

As S. T. Joshi has pointed out in his notes for the story in the amazing Penguin Classics edition, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, this story initiates imagery which Lovecraft would repeat in perfected form in latter tales: specifically, in this tale, we have the image of a mask or waxen false face and disturbing hands of a mysterious figure:

"Finally I was sure it was not a face at all, but a fiendishly cunning mask. But the flabby hands, curiously gloved, wrote genially on the tablet and told me I must wait a while before I could be led to the place of festival."

When I read portions like that, strangely, I am reminded of Thomas Ligotti's weird fiction. I have just discovered and listened to an excellent audio reading of "The Festival," where even the opening line in Latin is expertly uttered by the British gentleman who reads; and the reading has emphasized, for me, the hypnotic nature of much of Lovecraft's writing, the way the cadences catch us and carry us along, mesmerized. In this tale, too, we find what will become a favorite habit of Lovecraft's -- the mentioning of strange forbidden tomes of dark and fabulous magick and lore. Here Lovecraft mentions real books that actually exist with invented books, most famously his Necronomicon (first mention'd in "The Hound").

I love the very simple touch of an old woman at her spinning wheel--an image that I have used in my story in S. T. Joshi's Black Wings -- because it captures, eerily, a sense of the hoary past still existent in dull modern time, like a disease of haunting. I confess to always having found the ending of the story, the revelation of "a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things" extremely silly, causing a ruination of the wonderful mood that had, up until their appearance and their function, been superb.

I hope to visit Marblehead again, and when I do I shall carry the Penguin edition in my hand. I delight in the way Lovecraftians ache to trace the very path trod by the tale's narrator:

"The route taken by the narrator probably led, in the actual town of Marblehead, along Elm Street to its junction at Green Street (Lovecraft's probable 'Circle Court'), down Mugford Street (the extension of Green) to Washington Street and the heart of the old part of town. The Market House presumably refers to the Old Town House (1727) on Washington Street." [Note 9 of Joshi's annotations, page 386.]

How many scores of obsess'd Lovecraftians, editions in hand, have closely followed the path of the narrator in "The Festival," so as to determine exactly his route? What queer beasts we are, and how I ache to follow that route myself, Penguin edition in hand. I remember the thrill I had posing in front of the church that is rumor'd to be the one mentioned in the tale, St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Frog Lane.

"The Festival" is a wonderful and effective tale, Lovecraftian to its core, and one to which I shall always return.:cool:
 

Tinsel

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#2
I'm going to read "The Festival" in just a day or two from now, probably not tonight, but maybe. It is the next story on the list. If it is any good than that will be a nice treat because some of them contain surprises, although often they are a little bit shocking. Here where I live, a couple nights ago there was baying and howling of many animals (mostly coyotes) just outside the fence like in the movie "Dracula", and that adds to the whole atmosphere of horror. Real life is not that scary anymore, these days, but when you read Lovecraft it can seem odd, because it is actual horror not just horror/porn.
 
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w h pugmire esq

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#3
I'm going to read "The Festival" in just a day or two from now, probably not tonight, but maybe. It is the next story on the list. If it is any good than that will be a nice treat because some of them contain surprises, although often they are a little bit shocking. Here where I live, a couple nights ago there was baying and howling of many animals (mostly coyotes) just outside the fence like in the movie "Dracula", and that adds to the whole atmosphere of horror. Real life is not that scary anymore, these days, but when you read Lovecraft it can seem odd, because it is actual horror not just horror/porn.
I hope you enjoy your reading of it, and I will be very interested in your opinion, especially of the ending. I always feel like I've "betrayed" Lovecraft when I have to confess dissatisfaction with some aspect of a story. It's been years since I've read "The Moon Bog," and I doubt that I shall ever read "The Horror in Red Hook" again. I've just bought an MP3 audio thing that has many of the lesser stories superbly read by a British gent, and the opening tale read was "The Ancestor," which never really interested me -- but listening to it was nice, it completely held my attention. They have an audio reading of "The Moon Bog," and I am tempted to download it...just to give the wee thing one more chance...
 
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#4
When I read portions like that, strangely, I am reminded of Thomas Ligotti's weird fiction.
Hee yes. In fact as you may have already noticed the story Last Feast of The Harlequin is Ligotti's spin-off of The Festival and possibly his most direct tribute to Lovecraft.
 

Tinsel

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#5
I hope you enjoy your reading of it, and I will be very interested in your opinion, especially of the ending. I always feel like I've "betrayed" Lovecraft when I have to confess dissatisfaction with some aspect of a story. It's been years since I've read "The Moon Bog," and I doubt that I shall ever read "The Horror in Red Hook" again. I've just bought an MP3 audio thing that has many of the lesser stories superbly read by a British gent, and the opening tale read was "The Ancestor," which never really interested me -- but listening to it was nice, it completely held my attention. They have an audio reading of "The Moon Bog," and I am tempted to download it...just to give the wee thing one more chance...
I have a number of recordings from iTunes. The best ones are the ones that the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company (ARTC) did because they are dramatic (containing sound effects and a cast of actors) and are true to the story. The ones done on "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" were exceptionally good.

I will comment on "The Festival" soon. Just finishing "The Rats in the Walls" now. I have not read "The Horror in Red Hook" yet, but that was one that I did want to read for sure. I was surprised by "The Picture in the House". In fact after reading that story you have to wonder what exactly is going on here.
 
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#6
Yes, that horde of "tame, hybrid winged things" comes as more than a bit of a jolt, though when I first read the tale at age 14, the -- actually rather confused -- description and the scene gave me a chill. I do think the way this was handled was a flaw in the tale, though the concept itself is a good one -- sort of a cross between his night-gaunts and the traditional steeds and/or familiars of witches as depicted by some of the older illustrators and artists.

However, the story's real strengths lie in that marvelous text, with its prose-poetic structure and rhythms and phrasing, and that superb quotation from the Necronomicon at the end... a passage which is quite eerie and effective on its own; but taken in context carries a powerful frisson of terror to it.

On a personal note, I used to read ghost/horror tales to my nieces and nephews at Christmastime, and one year this was the choice of material; reading this one aloud is enormous fun, and it is a prime example of just how aware Lovecraft was of rhetorical effect in the writing of his tales. Despite the stumble of those mounts for the celebrants', this one remains one of my favorite stories as well, and still evokes a complex set of emotional responses when I read it to this day... and I've lost count of the number of times I've read it over the past 38 years. I, too, wish to trace the narrator's walk, preferably at the same time of year, under a starry sky full of mysterious possibilities....
 

w h pugmire esq

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#7
Hee yes. In fact as you may have already noticed the story Last Feast of The Harlequin is Ligotti's spin-off of The Festival and possibly his most direct tribute to Lovecraft.
Yes, I have noticed -- and that is my favorite Ligotti weird tale!

Yes, J. D., I really want to return to Marblehead and soak in the Lovecraftian ambiance. Mollie and Don Burleson used to spend every Yule there -- such a romantic idea!
 
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#8
Yes, J. D., I really want to return to Marblehead and soak in the Lovecraftian ambiance. Mollie and Don Burleson used to spend every Yule there -- such a romantic idea!
Indeed it is. I wonder how the Old Gent would react to the idea that he has actually been -- both living and dead -- something of a match-maker betimes....?:D
 

Wolf873

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#9
I guess this tale is next on my list. I recently received my copy of complete Lovecraft Fiction from B & N, and have been reading it for 2 days now. Sadly, I don't have enough time to allocate for the book reading that will be most satisfying for me, mostly due to finals. However, I am surprised at Lovecraft's writing skills in Beast in the Cave, especially since he was only 15 when he wrote it. The tale is very effective, though not much of a shocker since the ending is quite predictable. I guess some people are just gifted at such things, and taking into account that it was nearly a century ago, reading and writing must have been the only dominant form of entertainment.
 

Tinsel

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#10
"The Festival" has long been one of my favorite Lovecraft tales because of its evocation of Lovecraft's beloved Marblehead, which I finally had the great pleasure of visiting in October of 2007. I have used various items from the story, over and again (I fear), in my own weird fiction. The town of Kingsport enchants me, because it contains a singular aspect of age, of the spectral past, that appeals to me more than any other invented region of Lovecraft's imagination-towns.

As S. T. Joshi has pointed out in his notes for the story in the amazing Penguin Classics edition, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, this story initiates imagery which Lovecraft would repeat in perfected form in latter tales: specifically, in this tale, we have the image of a mask or waxen false face and disturbing hands of a mysterious figure:

"Finally I was sure it was not a face at all, but a fiendishly cunning mask. But the flabby hands, curiously gloved, wrote genially on the tablet and told me I must wait a while before I could be led to the place of festival."

When I read portions like that, strangely, I am reminded of Thomas Ligotti's weird fiction. I have just discovered and listened to an excellent audio reading of "The Festival," where even the opening line in Latin is expertly uttered by the British gentleman who reads; and the reading has emphasized, for me, the hypnotic nature of much of Lovecraft's writing, the way the cadences catch us and carry us along, mesmerized. In this tale, too, we find what will become a favorite habit of Lovecraft's -- the mentioning of strange forbidden tomes of dark and fabulous magick and lore. Here Lovecraft mentions real books that actually exist with invented books, most famously his Necronomicon (first mention'd in "The Hound").

I love the very simple touch of an old woman at her spinning wheel--an image that I have used in my story in S. T. Joshi's Black Wings -- because it captures, eerily, a sense of the hoary past still existent in dull modern time, like a disease of haunting. I confess to always having found the ending of the story, the revelation of "a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things" extremely silly, causing a ruination of the wonderful mood that had, up until their appearance and their function, been superb.

I hope to visit Marblehead again, and when I do I shall carry the Penguin edition in my hand. I delight in the way Lovecraftians ache to trace the very path trod by the tale's narrator:

"The route taken by the narrator probably led, in the actual town of Marblehead, along Elm Street to its junction at Green Street (Lovecraft's probable 'Circle Court'), down Mugford Street (the extension of Green) to Washington Street and the heart of the old part of town. The Market House presumably refers to the Old Town House (1727) on Washington Street." [Note 9 of Joshi's annotations, page 386.]

How many scores of obsess'd Lovecraftians, editions in hand, have closely followed the path of the narrator in "The Festival," so as to determine exactly his route? What queer beasts we are, and how I ache to follow that route myself, Penguin edition in hand. I remember the thrill I had posing in front of the church that is rumor'd to be the one mentioned in the tale, St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Frog Lane.

"The Festival" is a wonderful and effective tale, Lovecraftian to its core, and one to which I shall always return.:cool:
I did read it over now, and it was talking about the area called Kingsport. The festival had something to do with the pagan winter festival of Yuletide. The town appeared to be abandoned, but it was a town full of people. At it's center was the white church. It seems that a lot of these pagan sites are held underground in subterranean caverns. One area of note is that the narrators father was involved in the festival and the narrator was returning to uphold whatever was documented in the Necronomicon, but it ended up being more like an initiation rather than an indoctrination into the cult and he seemed to have failed.

I think that the story was written alright. In a way, as I was reading, I thought that it might be better if Lovecraft had created a setting in which these different towns crossed paths. Than a book could be written or a history, but Lovecraft sort of buries the past all of the time in these stories.
 

Wolf873

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#11
I think that the story was written alright. In a way, as I was reading, I thought that it might be better if Lovecraft had created a setting in which these different towns crossed paths. Than a book could be written or a history, but Lovecraft sort of buries the past all of the time in these stories.
Furthermore, he either should have removed that part about the winged-creatures entirely or perhaps come up with some thing more sinister for that ritual, 'cause it did get rather silly. The story had a solid and very atmospheric beginning, but once that part shows up, it just spoils the mood. For some strange reason, that scene popped up in my head from that movie Avatar, when they are teaching the main character how to ride those winged-creatures. It just did :rolleyes:. Anyways, another one of his solid works, but not the best, at least in my opinion.
 

Tinsel

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#12
I'm not sure how the Imps in the story are different than other creatures in the rest of his works centered around physical transformation and paganism. I will likely read this story again in order to gain a greater sense of the atmosphere and the characters. A few more words can also be said about the festival itself, such as what it represented.
 

Wolf873

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#13
I guess it's the way he wrote them into the story, maybe it wasn't as effective as the other creatures he worked into his tales. There didn't seem to be anything menacing about them at all, except for the fact that that these were some new species, though finding new life form is hardly menacing unless it's trying to kill you. I mean, when I read At the Mountains of Madness or even Call of Cthulhu, there's this sense of apprehension about the unseen evil that is sure to bring about trouble later down the road. I didn't get that same effect reading this. I guess I should do the same thing and read it over again to fully appreciate it.
 

Tinsel

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#14
One ancillary piece of information is the detail that there were no foot prints in the snow, and that is similar to there being no rats found in the sprung traps in "The Rats in the Walls". There may even be some similarity in the end result for the narrators of both stories in which they suffered a fall.
 

Tinsel

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#15
I guess it's the way he wrote them into the story, maybe it wasn't as effective as the other creatures he worked into his tales. There didn't seem to be anything menacing about them at all, except for the fact that that these were some new species, though finding new life form is hardly menacing unless it's trying to kill you. I mean, when I read At the Mountains of Madness or even Call of Cthulhu, there's this sense of apprehension about the unseen evil that is sure to bring about trouble later down the road. I didn't get that same effect reading this. I guess I should do the same thing and read it over again to fully appreciate it.
Yes, let's focus on the winged creatures after re reading. I relate more to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" or "The Rats in the Walls" than your selection, but it all centers on Paganism.
 

Wolf873

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#16
One ancillary piece of information is the detail that there were no foot prints in the snow, and that is similar to there being no rats found in the sprung traps in "The Rats in the Walls". There may even be some similarity in the end result for the narrators of both stories in which they suffered a fall.
O yes, that part about leaving no prints in the snow. That baffled me greatly, what was that about? Was that suppose to mean something about the town itself :confused: From what I gather, it meant that the town itself was not real to begin with, some thing incorporeal, as if the narrator had stepped into a different world altogether at the forking road, cause in the end they did say his prints lead off toward the edge of the cliffs. Am I wrong here? Either way, this is the part I love the most about Lovecraft, this feeling of unease he creates for his characters pertaining to the events they suffer through, and the question of what's real and what's only in their minds.
 

Tinsel

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#17
It is basically confirming the Necronomicon, but it was as if the way opened and than closed again behind them. I suppose that it can be described as an event, but if it was a supernatural event, than we did not learn much other than that the narrator for some reason was involved without fully describing why he was lead there, and when he escaped he appears as a victim rather than someone who triumphed over evil.
 
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#18
I am almost reluctant to get into a discussion on this one at this point, but here goes:

On the last point first: He is a victim rather than "someone who triumphed over evil". He didn't triumph. (Very few of Lovecraft's protagonists ever do, really... even Armitage's "victory" in "The Dunwich Horror", it is indicated, is at best a temporary victory and ultimately doomed to failure, as analogous phenomena will happen over and over again, and the Old Ones will eventually succeed.) He ran (or swam) away. But, as with so many of Lovecraft's characters, his escape is also only temporary, for the same reason that he was "led" there... his tainted heritage. His "fathers" (i.e., forefathers) have celebrated the Yule rite since time immemorial, as the text states, and he himself comes from a culture which honors traditions heavily (though he does note that "only the poor and the lonely remember").

As to the other points raised:

I did read it over now, and it was talking about the area called Kingsport. The festival had something to do with the pagan winter festival of Yuletide. The town appeared to be abandoned, but it was a town full of people. At it's center was the white church. It seems that a lot of these pagan sites are held underground in subterranean caverns. One area of note is that the narrators father was involved in the festival and the narrator was returning to uphold whatever was documented in the Necronomicon, but it ended up being more like an initiation rather than an indoctrination into the cult and he seemed to have failed.
Kingsport (based on Marblehead, Massachusetts, a favorite spot of Lovecraft's, and one which had an enormous imaginative impact on him) also features in other tales he wrote, such as "The Strange High House in the Mist". As for the festival's connection with the Yuletide... as the narrator notes, its origins lie far, far back, long before the pagan celebrations, even before the advent of humanity to the planet (another instance of Lovecraft's theme that there is no hard-and-fast distinction between humanity and the other orders, and that "certain traits in many lower animals suggest, to the mind whose imagination is not dulled by scientific literalism, the beginnings of actiities horrible to contemplate in evolved mankind")

As for the "people" in the town... the quote from the Necronomicon which serves as the final revelation of the tale answers that one: these most certainly weren't people.... At any rate, as noted, it wasn't the narrator's father (at least specifically), but his ancestors in general who celebrated the rite, and the connection they bore to that rite, and the hold of the past on the present (as represented by the non-human inhabitants of Kingsport) would inevitably draw anyone with such blood back. It is, in a sense, an initiation, though not to the rite itself, but to his own heritage.

I think that the story was written alright. In a way, as I was reading, I thought that it might be better if Lovecraft had created a setting in which these different towns crossed paths. Than a book could be written or a history, but Lovecraft sort of buries the past all of the time in these stories.
First, I must disagree with the idea that Lovecraft "buries the past" in these stories. One of his major themes throughout his work is how the past reaches out to engulf hapless individuals in the present; that the lapse of time provides no shelter from the awesome burden of antiquity and the things which so often lie hidden in the past, yet so often in his tales irrupt into modern life. As for your idea of these different towns crossing paths... a question: are you referring to the two versions of Kingsport? Or did you have something else in mind? If the former, then, in a sense, they do... though only for the narrator, who (in dream or waking, we are given clues which point both ways) found himself in a Kingsport which does not exist for the rest of the world, and only after his frightful experience did he end up in the rather more modernized Kingsport that most people know.

This, by the way, also has much to do with the lack of footprints, for this is an indication that the town he is in at that time is not of the waking world, but somewhere else... whether dream (or nightmare) or in one of those realms where the unreal impinges on or even overtakes the real for a time (or at times), is left unresolved. The hint is that either he or the Kingsport of his experience, is not real -- yet, to his terror, this somewhat comforting idea is belied by the actual existence of the passage from the Necronomicon when he is given access to a copy to "get any harassing obsessions off [his] mind" -- which serves the purpose of isolating him from all others and vulnerable to the incursions of whatever world he encountered there.


Furthermore, he either should have removed that part about the winged-creatures entirely or perhaps come up with some thing more sinister for that ritual, 'cause it did get rather silly. The story had a solid and very atmospheric beginning, but once that part shows up, it just spoils the mood.
I don't think -- at least for me -- it quite "spoils" the mood... but it does jar a bit. As I said earlier, I like the concept, but I think that, as you note later, it is the way in which these things are introduced which doesn't quite work. It comes close -- they are, like the Outsider, a compound of all that is unnatural (which is the essence of the "menace" they pose, their very existence is a violation of the laws of Nature) -- but it doesn't quite succeed. A pity... but there it is.

I'm not sure how the Imps in the story are different than other creatures in the rest of his works centered around physical transformation and paganism.[...]A few more words can also be said about the festival itself, such as what it represented.
This theme of "physical transformation and paganism" you continue to refer to... it's an interesting take on things, and I think deserves some further exploration. I don't know if I agree about the concentration on paganism, in a way... but such would fit in with Lovecraft's own stated regard for paganism as opposed to Christianity... though for him, paganism was by no means a sinister thing, but a celebration of all the mysteries and wonders of nature.

One ancillary piece of information is the detail that there were no foot prints in the snow, and that is similar to there being no rats found in the sprung traps in "The Rats in the Walls". There may even be some similarity in the end result for the narrators of both stories in which they suffered a fall.
Once again, I question the idea that De la Poer "suffered a fall" -- at least, in the physical sense. (Psychologically and evolutionarily, I would say you are right.) But a connection between the lack of footprints in "The Festival" and there being no rats in the traps in "The Rats in the Walls" is something I'd like to see further developed. That's an interesting line of investigation, and might bring some quite new ideas to the discussion of each tale.


As for what the festival represented:

It was the Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him; the primal rite of the solstice and of spring's promise beyond the snows; the rite of fire and evergreen, light and music.
This is, of course, a comforting illusion which the protagonist holds onto even in the face of evidence that the rite is actually something much darker and more disturbing. At the same time, there is a certain ironic truth to it, as it is indeed a rite of life springing from death; or, as the passage in the Necronomicon has it: "out of corruption horrid life springs"... and we see, if you will, yet another example of Poe's "Conqueror Worm".

As for this bit:

It is basically confirming the Necronomicon, but it was as if the way opened and than closed again behind them.
That's a rather nifty way of phrasing it, really. I would add that it is both confirming the passage from the Necronomicon, but also that passage from the Necronomicon confirms the reality of his experience, despite the evidence in the waking world to the contrary. For a brief time (a special hour of the Yuletide?) a door opened, then shut again... but obviously it is a door which does open periodically, and one never knows when such a time will come again....
 

Tinsel

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#19
One of the things that I do remember from looking into Mythology was that the hero would enter the underworld and achieve a form of victory over the forces of death, that lead to the return of life. It was a continuous cycle of the seasons. If the Yule Tide represented Christmas for Christians, than this older rite is pagan, but it is actually mythology. I do have a book on the different myth legends but I'd have to search for the specific reference. I will leave it unspecified unless this is challenged.

In some of Lovecraft's stories you have this supernatural side and things are allowed to occur in the background, or be ignored.

Yes, in "The Rats in the Walls" the notes suggest regression of some kind, but what happened is that his mutterings contained a number of old dialects and also expressed rage. I think that it is logical to believe that they fell into a pit, otherwise this suggests that the narrator had time to eat (if I remember correctly) his victim right in front of the group. Why did he mutter these strange tongues at all though except that the environment was somehow related. Than there was the murder that occurred there by one of his ancestors. Were they both taken over by some form of evil inclination?
 

Ningauble

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#20
Yes, in "The Rats in the Walls" the notes suggest regression of some kind, but what happened is that his mutterings contained a number of old dialects and also expressed rage. I think that it is logical to believe that they fell into a pit, otherwise this suggests that the narrator had time to eat (if I remember correctly) his victim right in front of the group.
No, there is no reference to any fall. De la Poer ran away from the group and when he was finally located he was nibbling on Norrys.

Why did he mutter these strange tongues at all though except that the environment was somehow related.
Because he was regressing.

Than there was the murder that occurred there by one of his ancestors. Were they both taken over by some form of evil inclination?
Heredity.
 

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