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…Home of the red, black, and blue; where there’s a darkness not just on the edge of town, but all along Main Street; and where the heartland lies deep within October Country.

This site is an outgrowth of the blog Macabre Republic (constituted in 2010), which was devoted to the celebration and appreciation of the Gothic in American literature and culture. My goal here is not merely to construct a platform for my own written work, but to build a community of fellow aficionados–all those who feel right at home on the nightside.

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Lore Report: “Predictable” (Episode 148)

But if history is any indication, that pursuit of future knowledge hasn’t always been acceptable. In fact, it’s been seen by many over the centuries as a dark art with dangerous pitfalls. To play with the future is to play with fire, and the consequences could be tragic. Fortune telling, it seems, might just get you killed.

Sometimes the introductory teases to Lore podcast episodes seem misleading, as host Aaron Mahnke’s dramatic rhetoric raises expectations that the subsequent narrative doesn’t quite fulfill. That’s certainly not the case here, though; the lines cited above make for a perfect set-up to Episode 148. Mahnke delves into the curious world of astrology, and its entanglement in the lives of English royalty. While the practice of fortune telling was generally tolerated, there was one type of prediction that was forbidden: a 1351 English law deemed it treason for anyone to even imagine the death of a king. Such stern prohibition comes into play in a scandalous way when a social-climbing duchess asks her astrologer how long young King Henry VI will live, and is told that the king will become sick with a fatal illness. After news of the dire forecast spreads, several figures are arrested and subjected to spectacular punishment, including burning at the stake and drawing and quartering (a barbarous administering of justice that Mahnke describes in grim detail). Outre beliefs and practices might typically be considered the province of the common folk, but this Lore episode points listeners toward higher ground. “Wherever there has been power of the few over the many,” our narrator asserts, “fear and superstition have been wielded like weapons to defend it.”

English history and court affairs, magic and witchcraft: these seem to rank among Mahnke’s favorite topics (judging by their recurrence on the podcast). Mahnke never fails to do them justice, so it’s no surprise that “Predictable” proves to be a strong episode.

 

A.G. Exemplary? Ellen Glasgow’s “The Past”

In this recurring feature, I explore the contents of anthologies of American Gothic literature (as explicitly identified by book title), considering the extent to which the selections exemplify the genre. Today, I continue my exploration of Flame Tree Publishing’s 2019 volume American Gothic Short Stories: Anthology of New & Classic Tales.

 

“The Past” by Ellen Glasgow

Glasgow’s 1920 tale establishes its Gothic mood and setting from the get-go: “I had no sooner entered the house,” the narrative begins, “than I knew something was wrong. Though I had never been in so splendid a place before–it was one of those big houses just off Fifth Avenue–I had a suspicion from the first that the magnificence covered a secret disturbance.” There is “a tragic mystery in the house”; “a nameless dread, fear, or apprehension” seems to divide the married couple, the Vanderbridges, residing there.The “horror” permeating the house is eventually revealed to be the ghost of Mr. Vanderbridge’s first wife, fifteen years deceased but still vibrant with “jealous rage.” As if all this wasn’t Gothic enough, the plot of “The Past” turns on the discovery of a secret compartment in a desk containing hidden letters.

The story reads like a miniaturized/Americanized version of Henry James’s classic novel, The Turn of the Screw. The not-quite-reliable (yet not necessarily crazy) narrator, Miss Wrenn, isn’t a governess in this case, but rather “the new secretary.” While she confides with the maid (cf. the governess’s interactions with Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw), it is ultimately up to Miss Wren to “stand between [the current Mrs. Vanderbridge] and harm.” Much of the tale (much like James’s novel) hinges on the question of who actually sees the ghost.

Perhaps the strongest Gothic element, though, is signaled by the story’s title: the past that is not dead and buried, but an unquiet and overbearing influence on the present. The narrator writes of Mr. Vanderbridge (whose guilt over his first wife’s death apparently animates her vengeful spirit): “The past was with him so constantly–he was so steeped in the memories of it–that the present was scarcely more than a dream to him.” Miss Wrenn makes the point even more definitively when she later states that the Vanderbridges’ is “a haunted house–a house pervaded by an unforgettable past.”

At this point, I am only about a third of the way through the table of contents, but I believe I will hard-pressed to find a more representative piece in this anthology of American Gothic Short Stories.

 

Lore Report: “Contained” (Episode 147)

Walls might protect, or divide, or even just serve as a reminder. But at the end of the day they’re a simple design meant to do one thing: to contain us. The trouble is, whenever you bring people into the picture, you get more than you bargained for. Because humans have an almost supernatural ability to leave a trail of pain and suffering behind them. Yes, walls can hold cities, or kingdoms, or objects we want to protect, but they can also hold something darker: the shadows of the past.

 

The latest installment of the Lore podcast goes heavy on historical (the Norman incursion into Ireland) and architectural (castles and tower-houses) detail, which weighs down the first half of the episode. “Contained” doesn’t really hit its stride until host Aaron Mahnke leads listeners on a tour of Loftus Hall in Ireland, a house with enough strange and unnerving incidents to stock a Gothic novel. Mahnke shares gripping tales involving a satanic visitor, madness and seclusion, a hidden skeleton, a female specter, and even a growling, invisible monster.

There is such a great body of lore that has built up around Loftus Hall that one wishes that the episode had focused in its entirety on this famously haunted residence (instead of spending fifteen tedious minutes establishing context). The “walls” conceit structuring the episode seemed a bit facile (every haunted house inevitably has them!), and a large blockage to the narrative’s progression. Unfortunately, “Contained” enabled me to do just that with my excitement.

 

The Future is Dark…

…And has me shaking with anticipation.

Yesterday on LibraryJournal.com, Becky Spratford posted a lengthy essay (“Rise of the Monsters: Top Horror Titles and Trends Coming This Season”) that gives an excellent overview of the current state of the genre. There are so many noteworthy releases forthcoming in the second half of 2020 that I get the feeling that horror is heading towards a new golden age. Reading Spratford’s piece put me on the lookout for a slew of genre titles; I can’t wait to get my hands on these books and bury my nose in them.

Quot libros, quam breve tempus, as one mildly successful horror author once reminded readers.