“The Monkey’s Paw”

This week’s subject of discussion over at the Deep Ones weird fiction group on LibraryThing.

Review: “The Monkey’s Paw“, W. W. Jacobs, 1902.

This story has been adopted so many times in so many media as well as parodied that’s there’s no point in discussing it in detail. You probably know the story and can guess the ending. (For some reason, the Deep Ones group has never discussed it. We just assumed we had given its such a well known story.)

It’s the three-wishes story, the three wishes being fulfilled in ways you really don’t want.

It’s a nicely done tale. Jacobs has a deft touch with how the idea of the monkey’s paw and its wishes are treated by the Whites who are given the paw by a family friend returned from army service in India. (He suggests they burn the thing. He got his wishes already.)

At first the Whites are skeptical about the idea and then, understandably, decide to test to see if it works. They even start by wishing for a smart and modest thing – enough money to pay off the mortgage on their home. But that money comes as an indemnity for their son’s death. The idea that the wishes would be granted in a way that could be interpreted as non-miraculous is a nice touch.

Of course, the climax – where the knocking of the dead son is suddenly stopped – shows that there really was something supernatural at work. Jacobs nicely conveys Mrs. White’s desperation to have her son back and Mr. White’s equal determination not to have whatever came up from the cemetary in the house.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

 

 

 

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“No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”

This was last week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Ralph Adams Cram, incidentally, was a very noted American architect who dabbled in fiction. I frequently pass by one of his churches in the Gothic Revival style.

Review: “No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”, Ralph Adams Cram, 1895.

I get the impression that there were many American “ghost stories” in the late 19th century that involved rich Americans in France, and this is one of them.

It’s also one of those weird fiction stories where a great deal is left unexplained. Sometimes, that can seem the writer failing to transmit an affecting vision. Other times, though, it works to create a memorable account of an odd incident. After all, what is weirder than us brushing against forces and events we cannot explain? Continue reading ““No. 252 Rue M. le Prince””

“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 ““The Murders in the Rue Morgue””

“To Kiss Your Canvas”

This week’s bit of weird fiction . . .

Review: “To Kiss Your Canvas”, W. H. Pugmire, 2015.

This story works in its eeriness and menacing weirdness. It’s a good example of how style can overcome plot clichés.

In this story we’ve got a notorious painting, a painted mirror, a library of occult tomes, a mysterious suicide, and rumors of dark rites.

To further add to the familiar air of the story are the names. Our hero is Blake which brings to mind not only the poet William Blake but the Robert Blake of H. P. Lovecraft’s “Haunter of the Dark”. There’s a landlady named Dupin which, of course, brings to mind Edgar Allan Poe’s famous detective Auguste Dupin.

The artist at the center of all this is Honoré Dupin. Before he slung a hangman’s noose over a beam in a Paris garrett in 1848 and gave his final sacrifice to his god Thanatos, Dupin completed the painting “The Grim Reaper”.

Blake has scraped his money together to visit Dupin’s room, still preserved as he left it except for a replica of “The Grim Reaper” replacing the original. Inspired by a Hollywood biopic he’s watched countless times, Blake wants to get a feeling of the man and his room to do a novel about Dupin.

And, of course, he finds more than he – though probably not the reader – expects in the room. Still, Pugmire carries his short story off well despite the rather standard plot.

 

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

“The Beak Doctor”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Beak Doctor”, Eric Basso, 1977.The Weird

I came to this story with trepidation. Basso is a poet. This story was first published in the literary magazine Chicago Review, and the introduction compared it to surrealist Alfred Kubin’s work.

I was right to expect little.

This is an interminable story of meandering, overly detailed description. (It’s 31 pages long, and The Weird does not have small pages.) There is lot of tedious descriptions of, among other things, lights and the pattern of lights, I suppose as contrast to the story being set in some fogbound, unnamed port city of the mid-20th century.

The story, such as it is, involves a beak doctor who is called to examine a naked, raped woman. He is wearing, it seems, mask and goggles something like the black plague beak doctors with their bird like snouts full of herbs, spices, and dried flowers. (Not actually invented until 1619.) Continue reading ““The Beak Doctor””

“Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass”

The piece of weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing last week . . .

Review: “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass”, Bruno Schulz, trans. Celina Wieniewska, 1937.The Weird

Besides Lovecraftian fiction and cosmic horror, the 20th century’s saw another new variety of weird fiction. The monsters and dangers and eeriness weren’t from beyond mortal ken. They were the deformation of human institutions. The men and women who faced them were trapped in bureaucratic institutions, hospitals, and courtrooms. They faced not dark sorcerers with grimoires but implacable functionaries following some arcane procedure with unseen and inhuman logic which, of course, really wasn’t inhuman. It was a manifestation of the increasingly prevalent and effective mechanisms of central control that human societies developed.

Franz Kafka, of course, worked in this vein, and the VanderMeers’ introduction puts Schulz in that same camp. Continue reading ““Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass””

In Alien Flesh

Another day of not having thing new to post. Since Gregory Benford was mentioned awhile ago, I thought I’d give this, sort of Raw Feed though a bit skimpy on a couple of stories.

Raw Feed (1991): In Alien Flesh, ed. Gregory Benford, 1986.

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Cover by Joe Bergeron

Doing Lennon” — A famous story about an obsessed fan getting his ultimate wish to become his idol, John Lennon, via impersonating Lennon after being cryonically revived. The pathological nature of the fan, the thrill of pretending (without anyone to deny it) to be Lennon, “doing Lennon” as a drug-like experience, is well-depicted. The surprise ending, where Henry Fielding is confronted by a revived Paul McCartney, was truly surprising as was Fielding turning out to be a computer simulation, a simulation designed to help “Fielding Real” to better carry off his scam, a simulation that will betray Fielding Real because he has known the joy of “doing Lennon” (that phrase has not only a connotation of drugs but also of violence and sex — Benford uses language well and has a knack for titles) and plans on impersonating someone else if he can get his computer construct mind transferred to a human body.

In Alien Flesh” — A strange story of alien contact. The title contains the connotations of the story. Our protagonist Reginri is hired to put an electrical tap into the neural nexus of the alien, whalelike Drongheda — the problem is this involves crawling in a blowhole like opening. The word “flesh” is literally evoked in this operation. But “flesh” also has a sexual connotation, and this implication is realized when one of the expedition is crushed to death when — for the first time ever recorded — another Drongheda puts a tentacle in the “blowhole” (not a term used in the story, “pinhole” is) to mate and communicate and our hapless scientist is in the middle. It’s a disturbing image, being crushed to death in an alien, vagina-like structure by a penis-like tentacle. The image of sex and communication is odd, disturbing and memorable. The people who listen to the electrical output from the neural nexus find themselves oddly attracted to the aliens’ thoughts though Reginri suspects each person “hears” what he seeks. I didn’t find that element of the story as intriguing as the intimate blend of sex and communication which goes on, at some level, amongst humans of course. Continue reading “In Alien Flesh”