It's not just Dracula, you know. Bram Stoker was quite a prolific writer—good stuff, too. Hopefully with Project
Gutenberg and their affiliates, more and more of his works will be readily available for all to read. This story collection from Dover is superb. I am
really picky when it comes to ghost/horror stories. Most of them strike me as silly or corny, but not these. There is something very unique about them,
perhaps just Stoker's manner of presenting the story that builds the tension, and within this collection, there is quite a variance of style. A few are the
epitome of Gothic, while others are more "modern." Most contain a romance. Some are gory, and a couple are humorously grotesque. Many are straightforward, but
a few are a bit ambiguous, or perhaps open to interpretation. (What I'm saying is that I'm not sure I "got it" at the conclusion!) Some end tragically and
others end with relief. Fourteen stories in all appear in this easy-to-read collection and the reading goes fast.
Because there are so many stories here, I will not mention each, but choose a few which represent some of the different styles Stoker has employed.
The Crystal Cup is written to sound ancient, even the language, full of thee and thou and hadst. It is one of the ambiguous ones that gradually unveils the true nature or the situation. It is not "scary" but more spiritual. A certain King has made it his practice to seek—actually to kidnap the greatest artists in the land and hold them prisoner until they create the perfect work, in whatever area of artistry is their specialty, to be exhibited at the Feast of Beauty. However, at this particular time, the artist who creates the Crystal Cup is so dejected from being separated from his true love he creates the cup, then dies before the "celebration." What he doesn't know is that his love, a singer, has also been held captive.
The Chain of Destiny is quite "Gothic," about a young man who has no parents, but loves an older couple who had no children. Frank is like a son to Mr. and Mrs. Trevor, and he has come to spend some time at their new home, Scarp. Mrs. Trevor announces to him that other guests will arrive, and she believes a certain young lady will become Frank's wife. When he temporarily sleeps in the room where Di will be staying, he has a terrible vision. He speaks to Mrs. Trevor in the morning, and begins to ask questions. He also finds that the mysterious portrait in that room looks just like the young lady whom he will soon meet. He inquires about any legends associated with the home, since it is so old, and he and Mrs. Trevor find information in the old library concerning a feud involving a marriage, and a curse. It involved the Kirks, who owned the home and a young man named Fothering, who married a Kirk against the family's will. Di's last name is Fothering, and Frank fears that she will be the recipient of this ancient curse.
The Dualitists; or, the Death Doom of the Double-Born is one of those darkly humorous stories that is quite disgusting. Ephraim and Sophonisba Bubb have waited and waited but still no child has arrived. Then, finally, twins are born. On each side of their house live boys who are inseparable, and who use the Bubb's residence secretly as their meeting place. These two boys, Harry and Tommy are vicious little monsters that discover the joys of cutting things up. After they have done considerable damage in their homes, of course blaming the servants, they decide to move up a peg to living creatures. Imagine their delight one day, when the little Bubb twins are outside playing in their yard where Harry and Tommy are hiding out. . . But it is the ending that makes this story so satirical:
Tommy and Harry shrieked aloud in glee, and after playing catch with the bodies for some time, seen only by the agonized eyes of the infanticide and his wife, flung them high in the air. Ephraim leaped forward to catch what had once been Zachariah, and Sophonisba grabbed wildly for the loved remains of her Zerubbabel.
But the weight of the bodies and the height from which they fell were not reckoned by either parent, and from being ignorant of a simple dynamical formula each tried to effect an object which calm, common sense, united with scientific knowledge, would have told them was impossible. The masses fell, and Ephraim and Sophonisba were stricken dead by the falling twins, who were thus posthumously guilty of the crime of parricide.
Upon Harry and Tommy's sworn evidence, the coroner finds the dead parents guilty of infanticide and suicide. Harry and
Tommy are eventually knighted.
The Judge's House is probably the scariest one in the entire collection. It is about a young man, studying for exams who wishes to be completely in solitude, even to the point where no one he knows will be around to disturb him. He randomly buys a ticket to the first place on the local time-table that is not familiar. When he arrives, he asks to rent a certain house that was formerly owned by a cruel and wicked judge who delighted in torture. The landlady at the inn fears for him, but he assures her he will be fine. And he keeps believing that, even when the rats parade through the house, and a certain one begins to sit in a chair by the fireplace and stare at him.
The Squaw is another darkly humorous story, and one of the most clever I've ever read. The characters are speaking but there is this underlying conversation between the lines that is opposite of the spoken dialog. At least that's how it stuck me. Perhaps the reason is that the husband and wife are incredibly stupid, and the American guy is incredibly wicked (and stupid, too, complete with a cowboy accent!) The couple are honeymooning in Nurnberg.
My wife and I being in the second week of our honeymoon, naturally wanted someone else to join our party, so that when the cheery stranger, Elias P. Hutcheson, hailing from Isthmian City, Bleeding Gulch, Maple Tree County, Neb., turned up at the station at Frankfort and casually remarked that he was going on to see the most all-fired Methusaleh of a town in Yurrup, and that he guessed that so much traveling alone was enough to send an intelligent, active citizen into the melancholy ward of a daft house, we took the pretty broad hint and suggested that we should join forces.
The trouble begins when they are all watching a mother cat play with her kitten and Hutcheson drops a rock on it and
accidentally kills it. Ooops. But the mother cat gets revenge in the most delightful way. This one is really gory.
If you like horror stories and are looking for something very unusual, this is a first rate collection to get you started. They are anything but conventional and are immensely creative, some of the best tales of horror I've ever read. Highly recommended.
All material on this site copyright © 2015 by Laughing Crow.
This site designed and written by Laughing Crow.