Saturday, 9 March 2013

#shortanalysis 'Carmilla' by Sheridan Le Fanu

AUTHOR: Sheridan Le Fanu
This short story penned during the Victorian era by Sheridan Le Fanu is sort of a prelude to all other vampire based stories that are written after it, especially the novel ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker. The story uses many themes of vampirism which were new during the time when it was written which eventually makes the narrative a novel piece of literature at the time when it was published. Needless to say that ‘Carmilla’ is a Gothic horror story; the author has used many Gothic elements in his narrative like ancient castles, ruined chapels etc. The story itself is captivating & remarkable. The lucid descriptions in first person are quite conventional as well as the dialogues which are remarkable for a person living in the latter half of the 19th century. Sheridan Le Fanu surely has produced one of the legendary masterpieces of Vampire fiction. It seems a pity that many readers are unaware of this work of art by Le Fanu, the master of gothic horror.
The story is female centric where both of the main characters in the story are young ladies, one whose name is Laura who is narrating her experience in first person & the other whose name is Carmilla who happens to be a vampire.
The character of Carmilla itself is sort of a mystery & the author has used his literary powers to keep it that way. He reveals nothing about her which adds a lot to the suspense in the narrative. It is not to be misunderstood however that Carmilla has no personality at all…….she certainly does have one which intrigues & shocks the reader as well. She is a vampire who looks like she is only 20 years old. She is sensual like most vampires are but gets emotionally attached to only a few of her victims. She is diabolical but she does not seem so at all & can be a wonderful conversationalist. She indulges in harmless gossip but has certain eccentricities that shock the rustic people with whom she associates with… turn to plague them. As a historical character in this work of fiction, Carmilla the seductive vampire is actually the Countess of Karnstein whose real name is Mircalla. She was the victim of a vampire in her life & thus turned into one herself, endangering all who lived in the area. She speaks very little of herself to Laura who she grows emotionally attached to & the eager young girl Laura can simply only gain a few hints from Carmilla:
‘What she did tell me amounted, in my unconscionable estimation—to nothing.
It was all summed up in three very vague disclosures:
First—her name was Carmilla.
Second—her family was very ancient and noble.
Third—her home lay in the direction of the west.
She would not tell me the name of her family, nor their armorial bearings, nor the name of their estate, nor even that of the country they lived in.’
However towards the end of the text, we realize who Carmilla really is but it simply adds to the horror & mystery behind this strange woman created by Le Fanu. Indeed, the less we know of Carmilla, the more she seems to grow upon the mind of the reader.
Taking a cue from Le Fanu’s Irish descent, we can also suppose that Carmilla was some sort of a banshee (a female spirit in Irish mythology, usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld) who not only heralded the death but also was the cause of the death of the members of her family as well as of the people she associated with. Le Fanu however took one step further & turned Carmilla into a horrid but graceful killer.
Being written during the Victorian age, it is obvious to the reader that the author has tried to curb the extent to which he describes Carmilla’s sensuality. However, all readers are well aware that vampires are definitely sensual creatures & seduce their victims to perfection. In this short story, there are many hidden undertones of Lesbian love which if brought out in the open would have greatly shocked the reader of its day. The author has taken precautions to dilute his vampire’s seductive nature to a great degree yet in some cases, the obvious train of thought that is wished to be produced by the author is quite visible:
‘Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.” Then she has thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.’
Carmilla shows great affection towards the young & vulnerable Laura who finds her new friend’s embraces& kisses rather disturbing. Laura is at once appalled & disgusted by Carmilla’s advances but at the same time, also feels the same sort of ecstasy that her companion feels. Le Fanu brings also to the focus the great fear on the part of many people of his day & age about homosexual relationships. Carmilla seems however only to plague female victims. She kills many in a few days’ time, but serenades the ones who she falls in love with like Laura:
‘In these mysterious moods I did not like her. I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust.’
Although Laura tries to make some sense out her friend’s passionate actions, she ultimately is drained of most of her blood by Carmilla in the form of a giant black cat during the night. It is only with timely action by certain individuals in the story like General Spielsdorf, Laura’s father & Baron Vordenburg that Laura is saved from a fate worse than death.
Although Carmilla’s remains are burned & thrown into the waters of a nearby flowing river, Laura even nine to ten years after her last meeting with Carmilla seems to still be haunted by her. This psychological aspect to the narrative adds a vague tinge of terror towards the end of the text.
For an ardent reader of the Gothic horror literature, Le Fanu’s story immediately brings to mind a lot of scenes & incidences from the classic horror novel ‘Dracula’. Many themes & ideas from ‘Carmilla’ seem to have influenced the writer of ‘Dracula’. For instance both works are set in first person intending the reader to come to a logical conclusion about events that follow in both narratives. In both the stories the main vampire is able to either transform into a gigantic hound (Dracula) or a gigantic black cat (Carmilla). Both stories end in the ultimate defeat of the vampire by persons who delve into folklore like Van Helsing (Dracula) & Baron Vordenburg (Carmilla). There are other many such instances to prove that the author of ‘Dracula’ was definitely influenced by Le Fanu’s work.
Rapt in bold intense love scenes, Carmilla the female vampire seems to surpass her successors in evil & even in pathos. One simply at times finds Carmilla to be but a pathetic piece of fine feminine grace who is more a victim than her own blood drained young victims. Her sleep walking at nights & languid disposition adds to our thinking that Carmilla is but a sad woman in need of love.

#shortstory 'It was a dark, stormy, moonless night' by Fiza Pathan

It was a dark, stormy, moonless night. The man stepped out of the Church which stood at the end of the forest path. The Church stood behind the man …….dark and silent; it was an old Franciscan Church built in 1320 and deserted by the end of World War One. The man walked into the graveyard, his hands in his jean pockets. The rain fell across the full forest landscape drenching the ground as well as the man’s cycle which was standing within the graveyard. The man’s name was Jerome. He had never seen a night like this before. As he passed a few lonely tombstones he neared his bike parked to an old mossy gate. He was drenched from head to toe; the night air was nippy and darkness was working up his mind. He got upon his cycle and rode out of the graveyard. But, the moment he started to ride across the forest path…….he had that unearthly feeling that he was being followed. His trainers
pumped the cycle to a fast pace. His breathing got heavier…..his body felt tight and his wet clothes were chilling his bones. Suddenly, he stopped and looked up……there stood a pale looking creature upon the old oak tree.

“Who is that?” gasped Jerome, terrified….but there was no answer and all of a sudden the pale creature vanished and……..his ears caught  the ascending sound of a woman’s wail. He gripped his bike…..a chilling silence followed another ascending wail. Jerome picked up courage and got onto his bike and started to race himself out of the forest. The wail grew wilder and the sound started to ring in his ears like a gong. As he rode out of the mossy forest, he heaved a sigh of relief. He looked around, there up
ahead stood his mother’s bike and his mother looking on at him.

Jerome leapt for joy as he pedalled towards his mother. “Where were you?” inquired his chubby mother calmly. ‘Never mind’ retorted Jerome. ‘Let’s just get out of here’. And they both rode down the highway.  His mother was an overweight middle aged woman, but could ride a cycle like a professional. Jerome was still ill at ease; the sound of the woman’s wail was still ringing in his ears. The rain suddenly ceased. Jerome’s mother sighed with relief, “At last that is over.” “Yeah that’s for sure”, piped in Jerome gleefully as if to say he had a new lease of life-when suddenly his ‘pager’ beeped.  He brought his bike to a halt to take a look at the message------he was horrified: “WHERE ARE YOU SON?” And the message was from his Mother. ‘Then…..then who is ‘this’ with me’, thought the pale looking Jerome, clutching his bike handle. But his ‘mother’ sped on and suddenly a wail leapt from her…….a morbid stench of the dead filled the atmosphere. Jerome’s nostrils were filled with the horrible stench and a tear rolled down the scared man’s cheek. ‘No-no’, he moaned in pain, getting on his bike and speeding off in the opposite direction back to the forest. His muscles were tense…..his whole chest heaved heavily. But the wail did not cease, as he drove faster the wail became shriller. Jerome pedalled himself back to the forest where he rode all the way to the church and dropping his bike ducked into the mossy structure.

The wailing had stopped, and Jerome was kneeling near the statue of the Holy Mother. His breathing was heavier and his manly structure was reduced to a trembling wreck.  His pale blue eyes darted around the full church from the altar to the dusty chairs….no one, he was safe …he was okay.  But the incident was lingering and the empty church was playing tricks with his mind.  The scuttle of a lizard or the rustle of dried up leaves within the old abandoned church was making him apprehensive. ‘Who’s that?’ he would suddenly yell clutching his throbbing heart.  ‘What was that there’, he would cry aloud thus bringing a little life into the old structure.  His lips were trembling and the dampness was making him insane.  He was reduced to a mere animal in a trap, and all he wanted was to get out of this mess, but what could he do?  If he didn't stay here well then – neither could he go back on the highway, where that – that  ‘thing’ was.  Jerome gripped his wet shirt and moaned in pain.

Suddenly….there was another sound… clanking sound. Jerome alerted himself like a mole rat, he burst out of the church and moved closer to his bike.  The clanking sound was getting louder, and so was the sound of his breathing. The rain started to fall again, sending chills up and down his spine.  Cupping his ears he strained to hear the sound against the pouring rain. He heard it….it was coming from the graveyard.  He choked down the lump in his throat and motioned himself towards the graveyard.   Jerome was freezing but the weather was not showing any mercy. His trainers trotted along the marble slab as he moved ahead.  Tears were rolling down his heavy laden eyes profusely – tears of desolate terror.  The agony that he felt at that moment was unmentionable…he was for a moment nothing more than a bundle of nerves. He got closer – closer to the sound…closer to the clanking noise… closer to his worst nightmare.  When he turned the corner… Jerome was freaked right out of his wits.

In front of him stood the person who he thought was his mother… with an unholy expression on her white face…clanking bones of a skeleton at a rhythmic pace.  Her eyes were bloodshot and her arms and limbs were covered with the mud of the forest.  Her smile was fiendish as well as her body language.  A maleficent force was surrounding her and that evil power was being felt by Jerome.  He was nearly going to faint from fright, when a wail from the creature in front of him stirred him up.  Her voice was ghastly and her behaviour was demonic.  Jerome knew his end was near.

The rain patted down the earth and Jerome fell down upon the murky ground.  His body was soaked and his face was yellow due to the loss of blood.  He clutched the mud of the ground as he begged for mercy, but other than an agonizing howl…he got nothing. Jerome stopped trembling at last, his heavy breathing ceased and his eyelids closed in exhaustion.  Before he fainted, Jerome only heard one last sound…the sound of his bike…moving away. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

#Review 'The Hound' by H.P.Lovecraft

AUTHOR: H.P.Lovecraft
This short horror story penned by H.P.Lovecraft, one of the best writers of the ‘fantastic’, is quite similar to the general writings of Edgar Allan Poe. The story is par excellence teaming suspense with a bit of an indirect moral which makes this story a fantastic read. The main theme however of this story is about man’s eternal search for truth & how this search often ends not to the expectation of the seeker.

Dabbling’s with ‘truth’ as we know often leads an inquirer to take up many different fields of study. The two main characters in this story too were in search of truth. They were as the text states:

‘Wearied with a world where even the joys of romance & adventure soon grow stale.’

They were definitely not of any normal disposition although they were young & full of life. Lovecraft often uses scholarly people as characters in his texts to bring out his thoughts. These characters often are recluses who devote themselves to their study away from the daily happenings of society. St. John & the narrator in this story are also in search of a new field of study to aid them in their quest for the truth. They try every known & possible intellectual movement but, all these fields of study fail to whet their appetite or its newness or novelty was soon exhausted by them, which led them to look for another & yet another field of theory & research. Ultimately, they somehow get interested in grave robbing which was sort of the ‘philosophy of the decadents’ which was in practice at the time when this short story was penned.

They create a museum of all their grave robbing treasures which they keep away from prying eyes for obvious reasons. They jointly dwell together alone without servants in a great stone house near a barren & creepy looking moor. In that mansion of stone, they house all their repellent treasures like mummies, headstones snatched from old churches, skulls of all shapes, heads preserved in various stages of dissolution, grotesque statues, paintings, a portfolio made from tanned human skin containing as the author puts it :

‘Unknown & Unnameable drawings’

Certainly by this description itself, the author of the macabre sets the tone for even more gruesome happenings using suspense filled sentences as tools to aid the reader along this path of terror.

The two characters in this short story namely the author himself & his companion St. John then go out on a journey to Holland to dig up the grave of a certain ‘ghoul’ who had been lying in the grave itself for five centuries. The author’s use of the term ‘ghoul’ here gives us an idea of what to expect throughout the remainder of the story. A ghoul as we know is a monster associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh, often classified as undead which signifies ‘the vampire’……yet the title of the story is ‘the Hound’…..again an ardent fan & reader of horror fiction would be aware that the legendary vampire is also able to leave its eternal tomb & change into the form of certain animals, a huge hound being one among them.
The author mentions in this story that the ghoul himself was a grave robber & also a person who had robbed something rather marvelous from an ancient sepulcher. The two characters while digging for the body find around the dead skeleton’s neck an amulet made of green jade which is the stone often used in China. The amulet consisted of the figure of a sphinx with canine features or a dog like appearance. The author & St. John take away this amulet from its grave but their lives after this undergoes a dramatic change.

It is also well enough to note that this is the first story of H.P.Lovecraft where the mention is made of the fictional & forbidden book called ‘Necronomicon’ penned as Lovecraft put it, by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. It is in this book that the author & his companion come to know about the strange properties of the amulet which disturbs them quite a bit. Yet they continue to preserve the amulet & even light a scented candle infront of it.
The story then goes on to tell us about how the author & his companion are haunted by the sound of the evil baying of an unusual hound, which they are unable to see. Unlike other vampire stories, Lovecraft has used the invisible to channelize our thoughts towards the most impossible, thus succeeding in getting the reader totally involved in the text. They at first enjoy the idea of being pursued by evil which gives us a morbid glimpse into their most peculiar psychological makeup. Later however, they are shaken into the belief that the amulet is the cause of all their woe. St. John ultimately becomes the first victim of this ‘hound’. According to the author’s description, St. John was literally torn to ribbons by a carnivorous animal. As the companion lay dying however, he signals the author finally to the actual cause of his sad ending:
‘The amulet – that damned thing’

The author tries at first to ignore the link between all the events from Holland uptill St. John’s death & tries to get away from the mansion. A circumstance in London however makes him realize that what was to become of his companion would be his ultimate doom as well. He tries in vain to save himself by returning the amulet back to its owner in Holland but to his misery, he is robbed of the amulet by thieves. When he returns to the grave however, he finds the amulet back with its owner who has been somehow nourished in the grave the way a vampire is nourished by drinking blood. The skeleton in the grave now has grown some flesh & is caked with blood. When it gave a deep sardonic bay like a hound, the author runs away from the wretched place like a madman.

It is towards the end of the narrative that we realize that the story was a sort of suicide note of the author who wishes to end his life after the end of this tale. He at the end of the story seems to be plagued by the memory of all that had taken place which had affected him psychologically for the worse.

The underlying ideology in this story is of course the never ending fight between good & evil & where must one finally draw the line. To get a little excitement in one’s life, most individuals some way or another delve into the tempting depths of evil just as the author & St. John did, but the climax finally made the reader realize which is the more safer path to choose.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

#Review The Monk of Horror by Anonymous

SHORT STORY: The Monk of Horror
AUTHOR: Anonymous

This short story should not be confused with the famous Gothic horror novel ‘The Monk’ written by M.G.Lewis. Infact, this is a different horror story written I believe around the same time when Lewis’ book became popular.

This short story has yet another name – ‘The Conclave of Corpses’. It is an intriguing fact to note that the short story has two titles while the author himself is unknown. However, considering the controversial nature of his work of literature during his day & age, it may have ultimately been a rather wise decision to let ones identity be as mysterious as the subject matter of the creation. The story is written in a simple style but with a few hidden messages which at first are not easy to analyse. Many Latin phrases are used which is common to the present day Catholic Church teachings as well as the Canon Law of the Catholic church, especially with regard to a monk’s way of life. These laws & phrases also existed before the Renaissance as well as the Reformation. The tone of the story is that of a warning which if not heeded will ultimately lead to an unmentionable dreadful afterlife. It is a horror story which reflects a sort of spiritual redefinition that began long before the Renaissance (the story is set 300 years before the year 1798) & by the quality of the sentences chosen by the author, is still taking place even to this day.

The basic idea that one derives from the narrative is that one must do ones duty with all ones heart & not oppress another person but to alleviate their suffering. This is true holy obedience which according to the author stands as a testament after our death…….whether we have done our duty on the basis of truth & righteousness with all our heart, or we have adulterated our duties like the way the corrupt milkman adulterates pure cow’s milk with water ? The question asked by the author is, whether a religious or any person for that matter should be obedient in doing good out of his own free will…….or will being forced to do ones duty & to obey even if ones heart is not in sync with ones actions be 'obedience?'.......are we good because we genuinely want to be good or, do we hide our true feelings behind a thick curtain of false eyewash of good actions?

The protagonist in this story is a curious monk, who just like all of us wishes to ascertain or deduce what happens to a human being after he or she dies. He represents not only the common man but also a religious in search of truth. The only way he can find out, being a monk, is by investigating the convent vaults & its dead occupant monks in their coffins. The protagonist belongs to the fictional convent of Kreutzberg suggesting a German atmosphere. He visits the vaults with the sacristan very often. He knows the vaults well including the faces of the dead monks in their coffins. One night he enters the vault at the dead of night & is shocked to see that everything in the vault is altered. There is an unearthly glow in the vault & all the dead corpses of the monks seem a bit ‘alive’ & they sit erect in their coffins. The protagonist’s attention however is taken up by three of the oldest corpses in the vault who are seated at a sort of ‘coffin table’ & they are engrossed in a book which has been kept open in front of them.

Now, the book here plays a very important role in helping us to understand what the unknown author is trying to convey. If we lose this vital clue, the story seems meaningless. The protagonist it seems does not get a really good look at the book…….but from the title inscribed on the top of each page, he comes to know the title of the book:
‘Liber Obedientiae’
Obvious to the reader, it is in Latin. The translation would either indicate ‘free obedience’ or ‘book of obedience’. For those of us who are well aware of certain Christian (& today Catholic preferably) rules & doctrines, obedience holds a very prominent place in the life of every Christian especially every Christian religious. In the case of the Christian religious, it is imperative that he or she should adopt willingly the sacred vows of holy chastity, holy poverty & HOLY OBEDIENCE; the person who adopts these vows cannot have any intimate relationship with anyone, the person cannot possess any private wealth or property & most importantly……such a person must be obedient to the elders of the church & their wishes.
The above stated obedience however does not go as deep as ‘Liber Obedientiae’. ‘FREE OBEDIENCE’ means according to church Canon law to be an obedience which one accepts with one’s whole heart & soul……NOT BY COMPULSION OR FOR SELF GLORY OR TO OPPRESS ANOTHER BUT TO DO GOOD.

Mentioning that the oldest corpses were reading the book indicates that maybe they failed to obey such a standard of moral living. Furthermore, the narrative conveys to us that because of their behaviour in life (most probably against holy free obedience) they were to have no peace in their afterlife:
‘Hic non pax’ (Here is no peace)
They were also unaware of who they were. Their whole sense of being as a living soul was taken away from them. They were with fear & apprehension simply awaiting the Last Judgement, which for Christians indicates the re-appearance of the Christ to administer justice to the righteous as well as on the wicked, at the end of time.

The horrific climax to the story comes in the form of graves from under the vault’s ground simply yawning out skeletons. The oldest corpse with the book states that those skeletons were their victims whom they persecuted. Now this was a sort of a riddle which can be interpreted in many ways. After all, the author did not seem to wait to explain to us the role of the multitudes of gory skeletons literally coming out of the earth, except for writing that they were victims of the monks. 
Technically speaking, all these people were victims of the false & corrupt monks of that age. However, people learn from their mistakes…………. & so does the protagonist learn from the mistakes of his elders. He lives the rest of his life as the narrative shows bringing true glory to the church & witnessing to the truth.
Whoever the anonymous author of this work may be, he surely taught an indirect moral which can be accepted today, but perhaps in his day & age, it would not have gone down well. May his work always continue to shine forth his true personality, a seeker of truth.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

#shortanalysis The Ensouled Violin by Madame Blavatsky

SHORT STORY: The Ensouled Violin

AUTHOR: Madame Blavatsky

This story by revered Madame Blavatsky is certainly a masterpiece in all aspects be it philosophy, literature, history, psychology, mysticism, religion & above all, music. It seems that this short story stemmed from one of the Madame’s nightmares. There are many themes, personalities & topics that consist of this masterpiece of literature which does not in the least stagnate the horror story, but only accentuates it to a crescendo, quite in keeping with the musical theme of the narrative. More than anything else however, the main theme of this story is ‘passion’….passion that makes a person either rise to the summits of the highest mountains of heaven, or sink into the cauldron of hell itself. It is passion that makes Franz Stenio the young violinist to rival with the great musician Paganini ; it is passion for the beauty of the sound of the violin that makes Franz play to the imaginary onlookers he terms as the very gods & goddesses of Greece ; it is passion that makes Franz believe that he can rival the music of Orpheus’ lyre (Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth) ; it is passion for fame & brilliance that makes Franz challenge Paganini to a sort of violin duel ; it is the passion for mortal acclaim that Franz in desperation uses the intestines of his beloved adopted father Samuel Klaus to string up his violin BUT most of all, it is the passion for music itself that leads Franz Stenio to his ultimate doom for as the story rightfully shows, love always comes before perfection & adulation. Indeed it was strangely the holy & righteous love of Samuel Klaus which lead to the ultimate end of Franz Stenio, the main character of this story.

The story by Madame begins with the arrival of Franz & his adopted father & teacher Samuel Klaus to the city of Paris. They start living in humble quarters & Samuel tries to bring up the career of his adopted son. Unknown to the devoted father of course is the past history & psychology of his pupil. The pupil, Franz Stenio is of a disposition most rare. He was brought up the narrative shows as a typical Styrian of those days (alluding to the years before 1828) surrounded with superstitious lore concerning ghouls, vampires etc. as well as being a dabbler in ceremonial magic, sorcery, occult arts & alchemy. The student however has little to do with these practices, his time, energy & soul being totally devoted to music, especially his violin.

The ‘violin’ itself to me seems like a real life character in this story. There have been many demonic stories & legends concerning the violin in general which are also mentioned in the story. Madame has mentioned rightly, the legend of the famous Tartini & his famous ‘Sonate du Diable’ which according to folklore was actually played on the violin by the devil himself to Tartini while the latter was asleep. The composition till date as Madame mentions remains a most unusual one which people consider to be the consequence of Tartini’s bargain with the devil. Paganini who is also a main character in this short story of horror is also mentioned to have strung his violin with the intestines of a very dear friend who loved him very much, thus his playing drove people into a sort of musical ecstasy or frenzy. Black magic plays a very important role here in this narrative indicating how through the black arts, human organs are used as powerful magical agents.

Franz Stenio however is unawares of this aspect of the black art & continues to play his violin. When his money runs short, he returns to his mother who is a firm Christian & is appalled with the knowledge that her son does not go to church. She unfortunately as the story goes dies in bed of a chill while trying to supplicate heaven to bring back her son to the church. After this, Franz lives a Bohemian lifestyle only playing to the Greek gods until his tutor finds him. This tutor is none other than Samuel Klaus who beseeches his pupil to give up his current state of life & become his son.

It is at this point of time something very important takes place. For a long period of time, Franz was not really interested in worldly glory for his playing………it is Samuel Klaus his teacher who reawakened in his pupil this desire which ultimately leads to his doom, just the way the love for fame & glory without humility always leads to one’s doom.

Note that though during Franz’s three month lifestyle after his mother’s death he spent his life like a bohemian, he was genuinely happy. He infact as the narrative states was leading a life full of bliss……until the greed of fame entered into his mind. The evil of greed therefore is highlighted in this most extraordinary story.

The story goes on to show how adopted father & adopted son travel through several German cities & earned praise but when they reached Paris, they were hindered in their course of work by a musician of unparalleled excellence, Niccolo Paganini.

The arrival of this rival sets the tone of despair in the hearts & minds of Samuel & Franz who were the worshippers of fame. They realize for themselves at a concert after pawning their watches to buy tickets that it was true…….Paganini was a much better player than Franz Stenio. However, Samuel Klaus makes his fatal mistake by stating that Paganini’s talent was not of this world & that he had made a pact with the devil to play so well. Furthermore, Samuel also informed Franz of the theory of human intestines being used as strings for Paganini’s violin. Possibly, the tutor was only trying to make Franz feel better & not to let his wounded pride fester indicating to him indirectly that at least Franz was not a devil worshipper. However, instead of making Franz feel better…… literally drove Franz insane. A sinister look immediately came upon his face as it does on someone who is desperate. Franz immediately declares to his adopted father that to gain human adulation, he too would be willing to sell himself, body & soul to the evil one.

Here, Madame shows us how the craving for human glory can derange a person’s mind & indirectly recalls to our mind how only humility & simple day to day living can only make us true free citizens away from devilish & evil bondage.

Franz immediately goes into a sort of brain fever & is cared for by his loving tutor Samuel Klaus. During this time, Franz starts to rave aloud, indicating that he would only become a great musician if he managed to string his violin with the intestines of his beloved tutor for human intestines was not all that was important as legend goes…….it is important also that those intestines should have belonged to someone who had loved the violinist with an unselfish & holy love. We do however realize that Franz does not want to kill Samuel that’s why he feels like a prisoner. In the narrative, Franz describes himself as Prometheus (the Titan god of forethought and crafty counsel who was entrusted with the task of moulding mankind out of clay) whose arms & legs are bound with the four strings of the violin…made of intestines. All this & much more is heard by Samuel which brings out two other aspects of this story that surpasses pride, self-glory & fame……these are love & sacrifice.

Samuel Klaus being the person he was devoted as a mother to his adopted son & self-sacrificing as a Christian martyr….kills himself for the sake of Franz, so that the young man could use his intestines to string his violin. It is Samuel’s holy & perfect love for Franz that makes him do this. I quote here from the narrative itself which forms part of the last letter which Samuel hands over to Franz:

“Take your instrument with you & dog the steps of him (Paganini) who filled our lives with bitterness & despair…………then only wilt thou hear with what a magic power the full notes of unselfish love will issue forth from thy violin. Perchance, with a last caressing touch of its chords, thou wilt remember that they once formed a portion of thine old teacher.”

Madame shows here how unselfish true love can be & one cannot ignore the choke in ones throat after reading the above immortal line. Yet, fooling with the devil is not wise & this leads to the untimely & horrific death of Franz.

Indeed Franz strings his instrument with the intestines of his beloved teacher & even challenges Paganini to a violin duel. However, before the duel, Franz grows restless & queer. The devil seems to be acting up & tries to force Franz in the voice of his teacher FROM THE VIOLIN BOX to unstring the intestines. Franz refuses to do so forgetting the legend of Tartini who apparently according to his teacher died one fine Sabbath night, strangled by his familiar demon who had taught him how to endow his violin with a human voice (Tartini died on February 26, 1770 after a long illness it is officially recorded).

During the duel, it is true….Franz seems to be out beating Paganini but at the last moment….from the sounding board of the violin comes out squeaking, jarring tones which ruins the whole performance & makes Franz a laughing stock. To add to this….a voice is actually heard from the sounding board saying:

“Art thou satisfied, Franz, my boy?......Have not Gloriously kept my promise, eh?”

Whether it is really the sarcastic voice of Samuel’s spirit or a devil, no one would know for immediately Franz is killed on stage after being surrounded by a grey mist.
This story is full of meaning & has a lot of moral depth. It shows us how one simply can lose oneself in one’s own ambition. It also shows us how great literature can really be written. I salute Madame.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

#Review Mama Gone by Jane Yolen


AUTHOR: Jane Yolen

This short story according to me can stand as a testimonial that, not all vampire stories are the same. This story by Jane Yolen has brought out emotions & feelings that are beyond the life in the grave or the life of the walking dead. The story has infact spoken about the everlasting relationship between a mother & a child…… well as the everlasting tale of the vampire. The narrative tries to ask the reader of vampire fiction a question, whether a mother who has changed into a vampire can forget about everything? Including her children? The author also tries to question the idea of whether being a vampire is more powerful than being a loving mother. In the end however, it is certainly proven that a mother’s feelings for her children always triumphs in the end.

Emotions are a main ingredient in this story, each & every character in this story emotes. However, the emotions that are prevailing in the story are not that of hate, fear, horror, terror etc. that one would normally associate with vampire stories. Infact the emotions expressed in the narrative are that of grief, pity, sorrow & of course love. In the story on the death of ‘mama’ the mother of the narrator, the only emotions that are expressed are the emotions of grief & sorrow typical & normal of anyone who loses their wife or their mother……..however, these emotions were expressed even though it was known that the woman who died was from a family lineage of vampires.

After the mother dies during child birth, the second child Bubba cries out his emotions in his simple babble ‘Mama Gone’ while the husband is in the depths of sorrow on seeing the blood stained bed.

Although the husband of the woman is advised to take the necessary precautions in the grave by cutting off the woman’s hands & feet & filling her mouth with garlic, the husband flatly refuses. However, superstition turns to reality when the woman leaves her grave & tries to get into her own home first to prey upon her own family. She is however prevented from doing so by the narrator who has already smeared the window panes with garlic & who holds up a Christian cross infront of her mother. The woman later kills an infant in the crib after which the husband realizes his mistake.

The narrator of the story was the eldest of the mother’s children called Mandy Jane. She seems also to be not only more in control of her emotions than her father but also is the only person who has complete faith & trust in the love her mother had for her. It is she who risks the night to remind her vampire mother about all the good times they have had as a family. Mandy Jane’s recalling of old memories aloud to the mother makes the mother remember the goodness in her that cleanses away the stigma of the walking dead.

This story reeks not with the stench of blood but with the fragrance of love which as Jane Yolen has put it, has conquered even the impenetrable barrier of the vampire. One cannot help but get a choke in ones throat when the poor Mandy Jane tries to sing a lullaby to her vampire mother while she lies face down on her grave of red clay so that the vampire may not arise & terrorize the surrounding area. The love of Mandy Jane overpowered her fear of the evil forces present in her undead mother.

Many references to the Bible are made in the narrative speaking about what the ‘Good Book’ feels about death. One important line which the father narrates to Mandy Jane from the Bible after he realizes that he needs to drive a stake into his undead wife is a quotation from Ecclesiastes 9:5 : ‘For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything’. However, this is not the complete line of Ecclesiastes 9:5, the full quotation is:

‘For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten'

This line was proven by Mandy Jane to be false as in the end, she made her mother REMEMBER LOVE & therefore saved her mother from eternal damnation just the way, the love of the Messiah Jesus Christ saves all the living & the ‘dead’ who believe in him. In the bargain, Jane Yolen gives the reader a moral to comprehend in her narrative ‘Mama Gone’.

In the last part of the short story, the mother who is now free from her slavery to blood tells her daughter that she is ‘here & gone’ which can be interpreted as that she has now come to her senses but will soon leave her child & this world & enter her heavenly realm.

Jane Yolen with this Vampire story in a simple narrative style has brought out a wonderful moral.

#Review The Horror At Chilton Castle by Joseph Payne Brennan

The author of this short story has really understood the meaning & the technique of how to create a really terrifying story. What is marvellous about the author is that, he comes straight to the point without using any unwanted descriptions, psychological rigmarole theories or anything that distracts the reader from the main core of the story. That is why Joseph Payne Brennan is successful in creating a horrifying story which can be marked of as a real classic.

Anticipation & fear of the unknown are the main ingredients of his plot which is accentuated with fine narration. In this story, one can actually try to delve into the mind of a person so evil…..that she made a pact with the devil, just so that she may not die. The story does not therefore only terrify the reader but also makes the reader contemplate indirectly about what exactly separates one from being evil & good……& exactly how evil can a human being really become if given an opportunity to do so ?

The title of the short story is apt, for it is only ‘horror’ that a person encounters inside the worn down walls of Chilton castle. This horror is however far from a usual ‘scare’ as one might put it to a lay man. Infact, it is a horror right from the abyss of all evil & hate…….we sometimes refer to it as hell while certain psychologists refer to it as……the human mind.

The story begins with the author himself out on a leisurely vacation in Europe concentrating on his studies on his family’s genealogy. His father’s roots are well accounted for whereas his mother’s show a few gaps. He decides then to go suddenly north towards the vicinity of the Chilton Castle. He states at the beginning of the narrative itself that he is a sort of ‘distant relative’ of the Chilton’s. The frightful part of the story is when I noticed that the author’s middle name (Payne) coincides with the Earls of Chilton castle as well, making me wonder for a minute whether I was reading a story or a real persons account of what happened to him at a place called ‘Chilton Castle’. While the author resides at the inn of the Red Goose, he meets the actual factor of Chilton castle who looks 70 years of age & who is restless. This factor apparently states that a week ago the 12th Earl of Chilton Castle was laid to rest & that night was the night for the 13th Earl to take his father’s place…..& to begin with, the young man had to be shown a secret room in the depths of the castle. The factor implores the author to accompany him with the 13th weak & wan Earl to the secret room as the author was the only somewhat ‘near’ relation in the vicinity & the act had to be carried out on that dreadful night itself.

The atmosphere during the whole narrative plays a great role in what happens at Chilton castle. The incessant rain, the lightening & thunder adds to the restlessness of all three men namely the factor William Cowath, the 13th Earl Frederick & the author himself. However, as it is noted in the short story, no one is left without blemish after they observe what lies within the secret room in Chilton Castle. All three men dive in deeper & deeper into the bowels of the castle until they come across a rather modern brick wall which is immediately broken down by the factor to reveal……….the room that had such a terrible impact on the weak & frail 13th Earl that he lost his mind that very night. The nerve of the factor was shaken on seeing what was in the room while the author himself the very next day literally runs away from the castle & Europe to get back to America. All three men were shaken by what they saw…..but what indeed did they see ???

The author himself before he meets the factor was contemplating in the inn of the Red Goose about what exactly was contained in the secret room of the Chilton’s.  On the basis of his research, he narrows down the following possibilities:
1.       In the room there exists the skeletal remains of the Gowers who were left to starve to death by the Chilton’s & who in desperation resorted finally to cannibalism
2.       The medieval torture tools were present in that secret room with the last of their victims’ bodies still attached to them in a grotesque fashion
3.       A female ancestor of the Chilton’s, a Lady Susan Glanville who was supposedly a witch & was saved from the stake had something to do with the secret room.

The author keeps us in the dark till the very end…..when however the truth is known, it seems most horrible & absolutely demonic in every term of the word which makes the story a wonderful piece of literature. The author has remarkably enchanted us with the truth & yet has frightened us to the extreme.

The short story is a fantastic work of art which must be read with due reverence to its creator. I shall not divulge the ending for obvious reasons.