“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””

“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””

“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””

“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””