“Mondschein-Dampfer”

This week’s weird fiction is a strange and frothy story that I’m not sure I completely understand after just one reading, so I’ll keep it short.

Review: “Mondschein-Dampfer”, Jean Ray, 1925.Mondschein Dampfer

Our narrator loves Berlin in all its “motley, discordant gaiety”. He also has a thing for Hellen Kranert, a woman who brings to mind, in her movements, a whip, riding crop, and a tropical creeper.

It’s Hellen who initiates sex between the two.

And so we’re off on a tale of whimsy which gets somber.

Hellen says the narrator likes Paris better than Berlin. Ah, but it’s Berlin air that Hellen breathes, the “cruel and clever hothouse” she has emerged from. He likes Berlin best now.

One day Hellen gets the idea for an excursion, a trip on a Mondschein-Dampfer, a steamer that appears moonlight (at least according to my understanding of the translation). It will take them to a midnight party on an island in Lake Müggelsee on the outskirts of Berlin. Continue reading ““Mondschein-Dampfer””

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“Kerfol”

This week’s bit of weird fiction.

Review: “Kerfol”, Edith Wharton, 1916.51rE8bWYihL

Wharton’s story isn’t scary or suspenseful, and it has few surprises.

It is, however, still interesting.

And it’s got ghost dogs.

The story opens with our narrator, evidently a wealthy sort, going to visit the old manse Kerfol, “the most romantic house in Brittany”. His friend says it’s not only for sale at a cheap price but “just the place for a solitary-minded devil like you”. Loneliness and solitude will be themes in this story right from the first paragraph.

One afternoon, the narrator heads off to Kerfol. The guardian of the house and his daughter are unexpectedly gone, so he can’t go inside, and he just wanders the grounds. It’s there he meets five dogs of various types. They are not menacing – or particularly cheerful. They seem grave and not interested in play.

Back at his friend’s house, his friend’s wife, is very surprised that he saw the dogs. She’s heard of them, of course. They are the ghost dogs of Kerfol. Continue reading ““Kerfol””

“August Heat”

This week’s bit of weird fiction . . .

Review: “August Heat”, W. F. Harvey, 1910.

This story is short enough and has a twisty – if still ambiguous – ending that it’s easy to see why it was adopted it for radio and made its way into Alfred Hitchcock’s Fatal Attractions.

It’s August 20th. Our narrator, one James Clarence Withencroft, is going to tell us about the most remarkable day in his life. Continue reading ““August Heat””

“The Man in the Bottle”

This week’s piece of weird fiction we’re going to be talking about over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Man in the Bottle”, Gustav Meyrink, 1912.The Weird

This is only a weird story if you include contes cruel in that category.

As soon as the story opens at a masque put on by Persian Prince Mohammed Darasche-Koh and we hear that the Princess is having an affair with Count Faast, we know things aren’t going to turn out well. (Do they ever in weird stories where there’s a masque?)

When we hear of a play that will be performed with Faast cast as the Man in the Bottle and the part of Lady in the Sedan Chair is uncast, we can see what’s coming. Indeed, the Prince has his revenge on the lovers. The Princess watches Faast die of asphyxiation in a giant, airtight bottle.

The story is short enough not to overstay its welcome, and it has the Oriental elements of cruelty and spectacle that show up in some of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam conte cruels. It’s not that impressive as even a conte cruel though.

 

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

“The Undying Thing”

This week’s bit of weird fiction was one of H. P. Lovecraft’s favorites.

Review: “The Undying Thing”, Barry Pain, 1901.

I’m not sure why Lovecraft liked this story (and he didn’t mention it in his Supernatural Horror in Literature).

It’s an odd story in its combination of reticence and predictability. No, the word “werewolf” is never mentioned though you will find the story in theme anthologies devoted to that creature. There is no gore. Yet, it doesn’t take all that long to figure out what the strange offspring of Sir Edric, five generations back, was. Continue reading ““The Undying Thing””

“The Parasite”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing was Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Parasite”. It’s a somewhat unsatisfactory tale – Doyle omitted it from later editions of his collected works, but it sounded interesting after reading Paul M. Chapman’s “The Dark and Decadent Dreams of Doctor Doyle” in issue 31 of Wormwood magazine. So I nominated it for discussion.

Review: “The Parasite”, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1894.

This is a story told through the journal entries of Austin Gilroy, a self-described “materialist”, even a “rank one” according to his fiancé Agatha Marsden. He lectures on blood and circulation at a medical university.

Chapman speculates that one reason Doyle came to dislike this story was because he regarded it as too erotic and decadent. It’s pretty tame by modern standards, but there is an element of sexual desire in the opening entry from March 24 where springtime and its “work of reproduction” is implicitly linked to Gilroy’s eagerness to marry Agatha and have sex with her. Continue reading ““The Parasite””

“A Descent Into the Maelström”

Last week’s piece of weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing was . . .

Review: “A Descent Into the Maelström“, Edgar Allan Poe, 1841.Annotated Edgar Allan Poe

Because this is Poe and you might know the story already, I’m going to spend less time discussing the plot and more time summarizing the criticism around the tale and its relevance as a scientific metaphor.

The tale is pretty simple in outline. The narrator has climbed to the top of a 1500 foot peak overlooking the sea. With him is an old, white-haired man who still seems spry despite his aged look. And he’s definitely not as nervous as the narrator as he overlooks the crashing waves and is buffeted by blasting wind.

Moskstraumen
Moskstraumen — Site of the Tale

On Mount Helseggen, they look at a gigantic whirlpool that’s been known to take down entire ships. The old man tells how he once was trapped in that whirlpool, but, unlike his two brothers who were also aboard, he escaped to tell the tale, an event which aged him and turned his hair white in a day. (The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Poe is the only known example in English of putting an umlaut in Maleström.)

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Harry Clarke Illustration for the Tale

The Sources

Stephen Peithman’s notes in his The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Poe’s reworking of various sources. The immediate inspiration was Edward Wilson Landor’s “The Maelstrom: a Fragment” from 1834. (Sam Moskowitz, in the “Prophetic Edgar Allan Poe” chapter of his Explorers of the Infinite says a manuscript of Poe’s story exists from 1833. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore says no original manuscript is extant. I know which version I’ll believe.) Both stories have a ship trapped in the whirlpool with a hero escaping alive. But, whereas Landor’s hero faints after he escapes and can’t remember how he did it, Poe’s story is very much concerned with the how of the escape, the epitome of Poe’s applied ratiocination — though it’s not quite that simple as we’ll see.

Poe then seems to have gone to the Encyclopedia Britannica – anywhere from the third to sixth editions – and the 1834 Mariner’s Chronicle (which seems to have copied a lot from the Encyclopedia Britannica entry). The Mariner’s Chronicle added the supposedly true account of an American sea captain who went into the Maelstrom and lived. The Encyclopedia Britannica article also used material from the 1755 The Natural History of Norway by Erik Potoppidan, Bishop of Bergen, and Poe references his name.

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Ian Miller Illustration for the Tale

The Style

Peithman notes that Poe is frequently criticized for obscure, vague, and convoluted language. That, however, is usually used by him when describing a character whose mental state is unbalanced by terror or insanity. The old sailor’s account is quite lucid in its details and straightforward. Continue reading ““A Descent Into the Maelström””