How the Crowd Gathered

In conjunction with the recent American release of the Terrifying Ghosts anthology, Flame Tree Press has published a special post on its blog today. Eighteen of the contributors (myself included) discuss the inspiration for their respective stories (other authors from the ToC such as Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edith Wharton have yet to respond to the prompt, but based on the theme of the anthology, I’m still holding out hope!).

So check out the post here to find out which classic story was a formative influence on my piece “Theater Crowd.” And be sure to head back to the Flame Tree blog next Wednesday, for a post in which the contributors discuss our favorite titles in the ghost story genre. [Update, 7/7: the second post is now up on the website]



Mob Scene: Nosferatu

The “angry villagers” scene is closely associated with the Universal horror cycle; indeed, the very concept traces back to the Frankenstein films. But a cinematic effort that predates Universal’s Dracula by nearly a decade also forms one of the earliest instances of a monster-movie mob scene.

I refer to the 1922 German Expressionist classic Nosferatu (an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel). In the film’s closing minutes, the natives of the town of Wisborg are restless with dread, as a sudden outbreak of strange death plagues the area. Seeking a scapegoat, the townspeople mark the estate-agent-turned-lunatic Knock (a knock-off of Stoker’s Renfield and Hawkins characters) as a vampire. Such an identification is not hard to imagine, considering that the shock-haired, rotten-toothed Knock forms a just-as-grotesque double of the frightful Count Orlok.

Knock, who has recently escaped from madhouse confinement, is chased through the streets by a fast-amassing, co-ed contingent of Wisborgians. While the people don’t wield torches and pitchforks, they do toss stones at the gleefully grinning fugitive as he straddles a rooftop. For all his obvious insanity, though, Knock does demonstrate a degree of craftiness. He throws his pursuers off course by hanging his coat on a scarecrow in a field. Belatedly recognizing the ruse, the townspeople pummel the effigy in frustration (one wonders if Knock–whose eventual apprehension occurs offscreen–suffers a similar thrashing when the irate locals finally catch up to him).

This somewhat-whimsical (as emphasized by the accompanying orchestra music) mob scene is a curious one, especially considering its placement towards the end of the film. Perhaps it is designed by director F.W. Murnau to accentuate the horror of Nosferatu‘s climax. Because while the populace is out giving madcap chase of Knock, the heroine Ellen is alone indoors and vulnerable to home-invasion by Count Orlok, who has targeted her for some serious harm.


Lore Report: “Darkness and Light” (Episode 173)

Their task might seem simple to us today–to keep the light burning all the time–but it was a job filled with countless dangers. And by taking a closer look at the lives of a few lighthouse keepers throughout history, one lesson seems to shine brighter than all the rest: the closer one stood to the light, the darker the shadows became.

Episode 173 of the Lore podcast focuses on the chiaroscuro, as host Aaron Mahnke explores some of the dark lore surrounding lighthouses. A brief survey of these seaside structures establishes the plentiful pitfalls of the lighthouse-keeping profession. As isolated sites that frequently bore witness to the savagery of nature, island lighthouses formed the scene of fatal mishap time and again. Such death and destruction in turn has furnished the fuel for many a haunted narrative. Accordingly, Mahnke centers the episode on Eilean Mor in Scotland’s Flannan Isles, a place of inhospitable geography and otherworldly reputation–which was greatly enhanced in 1900, when three lighthouse keepers were seemingly ghosted away while on duty. The mystery remains unsolved to this day, but the various theories (from the meteorological to the supernatural) of the cause of disappearance are fascinating. I wish that Mahnke had gone on to note the incident’s inspiration of works of fiction (Robert W. Sneddon’s “On the Isle of Blue Men”) and film (The Vanishing), and drawn connection with Robert Eggers’s sublime effort The Lighthouse, but that is the only shortcoming to be remarked upon here. For aficionados of the dark, this is a delightful episode, one that effectively illustrates how an icon of the romantic shades off into the Gothic.


Terrifying Ghosts Release

I am thrilled to announce my latest publication (in the Flame Tree Press Anthology Terrifying Ghosts), and truly honored to join such a terrific lineup of (contemporary and classic) writers.


Foreword by Clare Frances Elliot

“A Dead Finger” by S. Baring-Gould

“Out of the Sea” by A.C. Benson

“The Face” by E.F. Benson

“The Step” by E.F. Benson

“The Secret of Macarger’s Gulch” by Ambrose Bierce

“Of Water” by Die Booth

“Eveline’s Visitant” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

“The Rebus” by Nancy Brewka-Clark

“Passing Through Peacehaven” by Ramsey Campbell

“William Tyrwhitt’s ‘Copy'” by Bernard Capes

“Ones and Zeroes” by Dan Coxon

“In Kropfsberg Keep” by Ralph Adams Cram

“The Corpse Light” by Dick Donovan

“The Captain of the Polestar” by Arthur Conan Doyle

“The Phantom Coach” by Amelia B. Edwards

“Flannery House” by Felix Flynn

“Georgie” by Robert Ford

“A Ghost’s Revenge” by Lettice Galbraith

“I Exist” by Lyndsay E. Gilbert

“Consorting with Filth” by Lisa L. Hannett

“The Cold Earth” by Sarah Hans

“The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi” by Lafcadio Hearn

“Yuki-Onna” by Lafcadio Hearn

“My True Love Gave to Me” by Sean Hogan

“Jerry Bundler” by W.W. Jacobs

“The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James

“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M.R. James

“The Ash Tree” by M.R. James

“A Soap Opera for One” by O.R. Kennett

“”An Inverted Haunting”  by John Kiste

“On Bricks and Bronze” by Spencer Koelle

“Floating Ghosts” by Jessica Landry

“Schalken the Painter” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

“Green Branches” by Fiona Macleod

“We Were Supposed to Be Happy” by J.A.W. McCarthy

“Fudakeishi” by Marshall J. Moore

“Theater Crowd” by Joe Nazare

“The Portent of the Shadow” by Edith Nesbit

“They Walk and Weep” by Michael Nethercott

“Enlivened” by Adam L.G. Nevill

“What Was It? A Mystery” by Fitz-James O’Brien

“Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German” by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Victim” by May Sinclair

“The Sounds of a Bamboo Forest” by Michelle Tang

“Praying That You Feel Better Soon” by Jeffrey Thomas

“Mrs. Lunt” by Hugh Walpole

“The Moth” by H.G. Wells

“Pomegranate Seed” by Edith Wharton

Biographies & Sources


Terrifying Ghosts is now available in the U.S. Keep cool this summer with some chilling reads!


Dracula Extrapolated: “The Lady of the House of Love”

The second installment of a new feature here at Dispatches from the Macabre Republic, exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text. Tonight, I take a look at Angela Carter’s Gothic/erotic fairy tale, “The Lady of the House of Love” (first published in 1975; collected in The Bloody Chamber).

What if Dracula’s daughter were a reluctant vampire, bloodthirsty but love-craving?

The eponymous vampiress of Carter’s lush tale is “the last bud of the poison tree that sprang from the loins of Vlad the Impaler, who picnicked on corpses in the forests of Transylvania” (“The Lady of the House of Love” first appeared only three years after Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu’s In Search of Dracula mistakenly conflated the historical Wallachian ruler with Stoker’s fictional character). Her “habitual tormented somnambulism, her life or imitation of life” recalls the nocturnal and postmortem ventures of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. But the Countess Nosferatu (as Carter later titles her protagonist), with her unnatural beauty and her entrapment in a rotting, cobwebbed chateau, links most closely with the kept vampire women (the Count’s wife and daughters?) at Castle Dracula. The very “voluptuousness” with which the Countess feasts echoes Jonathan Harker’s diaristic depiction of the female vampires.

But Carter arguably establishes such a parallel to signal a deviation. When the vampire women speak of love to Dracula, perversion of the notion is easily discerned. Likewise, their sexually-charged advances on Jonathan point to nothing more than a wicked toying with their food. Dracula’s women revel evilly in their vampiric condition, whereas Carter’s Countess bears a “horrible reluctance for the role” of bloodsucking seductress. Harrowing as her dietary needs might be, the Countess is presented as more of a heroine. She’s “haunted” by her own uncanny kin, her “demented and atrocious ancestors” who form portraits of grim circumscription: “The beastly forebears [pictured] on the wall condemned her to a perpetual repetition of their passions.” The Countess genuinely yearns to be human, to be cured “of her disorder, of her soulnessness.” She hopes that love can one day free her from her frightful fate, from “the timeless Gothic eternity” of her vampirism.

Opportunity appears to knock in the person of a young British soldier who wanders into the nearby village and is ushered into the castle by the Countess’s human governess/procurer. Could he be more than the Countess’s next meal, and instead the incarnation of the Lover prophesied by her Tarot cards? The climax of the story is no doubt ambiguous (in no small part because the events on the night of the Countess’s and the soldier’s encounter are never fully related). Perhaps the soldier rescues the Countess by virtue of his gentle attentiveness to her: “in himself, by his presence, he is an exorcism.” The “Sleeping Beauty” (as the Countess repeatedly fashions herself) might at last awaken from her darkly enchanted state. Yet when the soldier arises the next morning, he seems closer to a Professor Van Helsing than a Prince Charming:

Then he padded into the boudoir, his mind busy with plans. We shall take her to Zurich, to a clinic; she will be treated for nervous hysteria. Then to an an eye specialist, for her photophobia, and to a dentist, to put her teeth into better shape. Any competent manicurist will deal with her claws. We shall turn her into the lovely girl she is; I shall cure her of all these nightmares.

Ultimately, the soldier doesn’t seem to recognize the Countess for who/what she really is, and instead seeks to mold her to his vision of feminine beauty and well-being. His paternalistic plans sound like a fate worse than undeath. The soldier soon discovers, though, that the Countess has since perished (after she deliberately drew the curtains and let the sunlight beam into her boudoir). He has been left with a “souvenir,”  a withered rose that serves as a highly symbolic stand-in for the Countess herself. The soldier subsequently rejoins his regiment, and attempts to “resurrect” the rose by placing it in his water-filled “tooth glass.” That evening, he witnesses an amazing revival: “a glowing, velvet, monstrous flower whose petals had regained all their former bloom and elasticity, their corrupt, brilliant, baleful splendour.”

At first, this ending might be read negatively: the Countess is (figuratively) reborn only to be reinscribed, to reprise her vampiric existence and resume the cycle of predation she loathes. Liberation, however, could be at hand at last. Stoker’s vampire women are abandoned/imprisoned at Castle Dracula (at least until Van Helsing destroys them), but Countess Nosferatu gets to move beyond her lonely chateau and the “huge, spiked wall” of corpse-fed roses that “incarcerate[d] her in the castle of her inheritance.” If the solider falls short as the lover the Countess envisioned, he nevertheless succeeds in carrying her a long way from her decadent Romanian home. Carter’s story abruptly concludes with the single-sentence paragraph “Next day, his regiment embarked for France.” The line suggests more than the soldier’s march to his likely death in the trenches of World War I. France is also a romantically-renowned country, and thus furnishes promising soil for the transplanted Countess. While Stoker’s narrative is driven by the terror of homeland invasion (by an emigrating king vampire), Carter’s answer to Dracula strikes a much less ominous note as it hints at the founding of a new, truer House of Love in the Western world.


Lore Report: “Under the Influence” (Episode 172)

And while history is filled with examples of bad leaders, one man from a century ago set the bar incredibly low. Lives were destroyed, families were torn apart, and an entire community was imprisoned by fear–all because of dark magic.

The latest episode of the Lore podcast opens with a revealing anecdote about George Washington, and then sets up a captivating topic (as can be gleaned from the excerpt quoted above). From there, host Aaron Mahnke proceeds to trace the machinations of one Edward Arthur Wilson (a.k.a. “Brother XII”), an early-20th Century cult leader of a community known as the Aquarian Foundation. Like many an evangelist who would come after him, Wilson proved a charismatic figure of dubious moral character. He was even taken to court by his own followers, and at this point the narrative grows quite interesting, as a series of inexplicable courtroom incidents stymie Wilson’s would-be prosecutors. This outburst of the strange and possibly supernatural, though, represents a fleeting foray into true Lore territory, and Wilson’s story fails to justify such an extensive focus. Ultimately, “Under the Influence” presents a sobering prospect: that after 172 episodes, the podcast’s well of entertaining folklore is at last beginning to run dry.