Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror

When I came across this book at a local bookstore, it seemed just the thing to read before visiting Scotland.

Review: Scottish Stories of Fantasy and Horror, ed. Peter Haining, 1971, 1988.

Scottish Tales of Fantasy and Horror
Cover by Hector Garrido

Besides including some good stories, this is a nice primer on the Scottish tradition of supernatural stories. In 288 pages, in manages to pack in a fair survey on the subject from several centuries ao to 1971. (And it also has a glossary for the Scottish dialect.) It was first issued under the title Clans of Darkness. Haining includes not only stories set in Scotland but work from authors of a Scottish background. Angus Wilson’s “Foreword” notes that faerie stories are a prime element and that the borderlands between England and Scotland and the Orkney Islands contributed more tales than the more well-known Highlands.

Thomas the Rhymer” is a legendary figure in Scottish history. Not only is he credited with the first poetry we have written in English but also with the gift of prophecy. This anonymous tale has him encountering a beautiful woman who may be the Virgin Mary but her accoutrements of expensive saddle, dress, bow and arrow, and three greyhounds suggests Diana. Thomas is smitten with her and proposes marriage. But she tells him he has to be her slave first. And she changes into a hideous woman. But Thomas is faithful and goes on a quest that will include a tree of forbidden fruit and a trip to Elfland. It’s an interesting mix of Christianity, faerie legends, and an historical figure.

Robert Kirk’s “The Secret Commonwealth” is an excerpt from his famed book of the same title. That 17th century work was a book of faerie lore, and this excerpt tells us about the nature and deeds of the Sith or Good People. Continue reading

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

No, I haven’t given up blogging. I’ve been on a rare vacation and am catching up on the weird fiction readings over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1841.Annotated Edgar Allan Poe

Yes, it’s the story with the razor-wielding orangutan. As I did with my review of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, I’m not going to bother summarizing or reviewing such a well-known story. Rather, I’ll summarize some observations on the tale made by others and talk about some of its oddities.

I’d forgotten that it takes awhile for Poe to get to his story. The first two pages of a 26 page story in the Stephen Peithman annotated version are taken up by Poe discussing the superiority of analysis (its original etymology deriving from disentangling elements) to mere calculation (which derives from combining elements). Analysis, which Dupin is the epitome of, requires reason, imagination, and observation.

This leads to Poe arguing that checkers and whist are games requiring the successful player to have greater intellect than chess. Whist, in particular, he argues, requires skills more applicable to general application in life – observation of players to know when they are bluffing, deducing what they are concealing, and memory – than life. I’m half convinced by this argument. I’m sure there have been some men (and, yes, virtually all the top players are men) who are expert chess players and who have been, as they say, well-integrated socially, but, having recently read a biography of Bobby Fisher, I know that’s not always the case. In any case, I’m, at best, a mediocre player of all three games, so I can’t claim any great personal insight. Continue reading

Dreams of Fear

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing a book of poetry.

If it’s well-done poetry with elegant and compressed language, the reviewer will either leach the power of the language out by wordy restatements of actual verse or devolve into a technical discussion of interest to poets, maybe, but not necessarily poetry readers.

But I’ve violated that principle already.

Review: Dreams of Fear: Poetry of Terror and the Supernatural, eds. S. T. Joshi and Steven J. Mariconda, 2013.Dreams of Fear

First off, some of these poems are about the subject of horror and not horrifying or terrifying

Second, some are little more than memento mori. Well done memento mori but not necessarily terrifying or involving the supernatural.

Third, all the languages represented are, understandably but unfortunately, European. Specifically, Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.

Arranged chronologically by date of the poet’s birth, the collection goes back all the way back in the Western literary tradition to Homer, and we get expected excerpts from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, Dante’s Inferno, and one of the classic bits of supernatural verse – Satan in Hell from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

As you would expect, supernatural verse really took off with the Gothic and Romantic Movements with their love of the frission of terror and the sublime and weird ballads. Continue reading