The Qalupalik: Monsters of the Deep

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

When you think of a mermaid, you may conjure images of a kind-hearted, beautiful half-fish, half-human or the dangerous siren that can lure sailors to their death—however, the Inuit legend of the Qalupalik is a little bit different. The Qalupalik is likewise a creature of the sea, but she is more often thought of as a water spirit, a sea monster, or a demon. In this respect, it is said to be more similar to the Japanese Kappa, a water demon who steals children and consumes them. Folklore recorded from Inuit sources are purposefully vague on whether or not the Qalupalik is the only one of her kind, or whether there are great numbers of these monsters living in the Arctic seas, but she is regularly referenced as being a single creature.

Legend of the Inuit Siren

Qalupalik, the Inuit Siren or Mermaid
Photography by Li Yang

In Alaskan and Canadian Inuit culture, there are Arctic ocean-dwelling creatures known as Qalupaliit (kah-loo-pah-leet)—unlike other mythical mermaids and sirens, there is absolutely nothing attractive about the Qalupalik. Despite the persistent popular mermaid princess culture that surrounds much of the lore of this aquatic creature’s cousins in lore, the Qalupalik (kah-loo-pah-leek) is not described as having any pleasant features, let alone an amenable demeanor. Wraith-like in appearance, her long black hair is perpetually plastered to her sallow, slimy, scaly skin—her ghastly despondent face is paired with her dark and hollow eyes. These creatures are often depicted as having fins that jut out of their heads, backs and arms, and their webbed feet and hands are topped with long sharp claws—all of this is enough to strike terror into the hearts of the children that the Qalupalik preys upon.

The Qalupalik is rumored to reek of sulfur—you know, the smell of rotting eggs? So it’s curious that she would ever get close enough to someone without them noticing, but adventurous children who don’t heed the warnings of their parents are the ones she seeks to claim; she hums beautiful melodies to lure them to the icy banks of the ocean’s shore where she snatches them up and stuffs them in her amauti, a duck-skin coat similar to a parka with a pouch for young children to be carried in. It’s quite normal for Inuit parents to caution their children about the dreadful Qalupalik and they would do so frequently, telling their children that if they hear the humming noise near the shore that the Qalupalik is near. Unfortunately for children, the humming is similar to that of a Siren’s song, as it is meant to entice children to come closer to the shore or out onto the dangerously thin ice.

Those who have sighted the Qalupalik report that these creatures can only be seen for an instant before they are gone, but the child victims of the Qalupalik would not be as lucky. She would leap out from under the water, sink her shark claws into their flesh and drag them forward into the water. It is said, once she seizes a child, she takes them down to the freezing depths of the ocean where she either eats them, or takes them away enchanting them with sleep and feeding off of their youth so that she may remain young forever; the child is never to be seen or heard from by their family again. Alternatively, the child would get a brief glimpse of the face of the Qalupalik, which might resemble a woman’s face that had turned green and bloated from rotting and under the sea—this child would experience their last few moments of life in pain as the freezing water rushed into their open, screaming throat, and feel the blood in their veins freeze as they heard the distant voices of their family, crying out their name.

So what purpose does the myth of the Qalupalik serve for the Inuit society? Well, the harsh arctic environment within which the Inuit people live is terrifying and dangerous; within a community that works so hard to survive, the parents and elders used storytelling as a way of aiding in the upbringing and survival of the children of the village. Essentially, the use of scare-tactics was a way for children to avoid the dangerous aspects of their environment when they were alone,. The story of the Qalupalik was created to encourage these children to fear to be alone near the dangerous shores of the sea, where they could easily fall prey to the natural elements by either drowning or dying from hypothermia.


Qalupalik, Inuit Siren, stalks the shores
Photography by Jana Sabeth

Tales & Traditions: Qallupilluit

The Central Eskimo (1888) recorded by Franz Boas

An old woman lived with her grandson in a small hut. As they had no kinsmen they were very poor. A. few Inuit only took pity on them and brought them seal’s meat and blubber for their lamp”. Once upon a time, they were very hungry and the boy cried. The grandmother told him to be quiet, but as he did not obey she became angry and called Qallupilluk to come and take him away. He entered at once and the woman put the boy into the large hood, in which he disappeared almost immediately.

Later on the Inuit were more successful in sealing and they had an abundance of meat. Then the grandmother was sorry that she had so rashly given the boy to Qallupilluk and wished to see him back again. She lamented about it to the Inuit, and at length a man and his wife promised to help her.

When the ice had consolidated and deep cracks were formed near the shore by the rise and fall of the tide, the boy used to rise and sit alongside the cracks, playing with a whip of seaweed, Qallupilluk, however, was afraid that somebody might carry the boy away and had fastened him to a string of seaweed, which he held in his hands. The Inuit who had seen the boy went toward him, but as soon as he saw them coming he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket” (Inung maqong tikitong, aipa mirqosailing. aipa kapiteling). Then Qallupilluk pulled on the rope and the boy disappeared. He did not want to return to his grandmother, who had abused him.

Some time afterward the Inuit saw him again sitting near a crack. They took the utmost caution that he should not hear them when approaching, tying pieces of deerskin under the soles of their boots. But when they could almost lay hold of the boy he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket.” Again Qallupilluk pulled on the seaweed rope and the boy disappeared.

The man and his wife, however, did not give up trying. They resolved to wait near the crack, and on one occasion when the boy had just come out of the water they jumped forward from a piece of ice behind which they had been hidden and before he could give the alarm they had cut the rope and away they went with him to their huts.

The boy lived with them and became a great hunter.


Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik

Nunavut Animation Lab created an animated version of one of the traditional tales about the Qalupalik, just like all of the folklore originating in Alaskan Native culture, there is always a moral to the story. This is an example of one told to children, to inform them of the dangers of not obeying their parents and wandering by the icy coastal waters on their own. Not to be mistaken with her more traditional lore, the video (linked below) describes a circumstance where the child who was kidnapped is rescued by his father, which of course is not what would typically happen if a child were kidnapped by this Inuit monster of the deep.


Mythical Monsters Podcast: Qalupalik

Another excellent resource for this particular mythical beast is Mythical Monsters Podcast who produced this podcast episode entitled “Qalupalik”. Check it out below!


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The Qalupalik by Elisha Kilabuk

The Qalupalik (2011)

An even less traditional take on the legend of the Qalupalik was fairly recently made into a children’s book, but it errs more on the side of child-friendly, where it suggests that despite her frightful appearance, she is rather easily tricked. It’s clear through all of the recent reimaginings of the legend of the Qalupalik that this story is still very widely told within Inuit communities, where the parents and teachers alike share this story with the children of the village in order to protect them from a curious and wandering nature.

The Qalupalik (2011) by Elisha Kilabuk is a mystical Inuit tale that has been reworked from its original well-known narrative. In the original folk tale, the children are always considered the victims and much like the grim nature of the folk tales told by the Brothers Grimm, the story ends without coming to the realization of a happy ending. In this version, we see the new tradition of vulnerable children, or the underdog, outsmarting the monster that happens to be bigger, older, and stronger than themselves; an orphan gets the better of the Qalupalik and survives an encounter with the monster.

This is the first book in the Inhabit Media’s Unikkakuluit Series, which features traditional native folklore being retold in new and interesting ways—while these stories pay homage to the original oral tradition of storytelling, they give the newest generation their own stories to identify with. Despite illustrator Joy Ang creating an incredibly frightening visage for these creatures, her illustrations are incredible and the story they sit alongside can give the meekest child reassurance that even the scariest of opponents will have a weakness that can be exploited.


Works Cited

Akulukjuk, Roselynn. “PUTUGUQ & KUBLU AND THE QALUPALIK.” Kirkus Reviews, Inhabit Media, 7 May 2019.

Houston, James. “Inuit Myth and Legend“. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 04 March 2015, Historica Canada. Accessed 17 December 2020.

Hrodvitnir, Yamuna. “Qalupalik: The Monstrous Inuit Mermaid.” Medium, Medium, 26 May 2020.

INUIT MYTHOLOGY.” Inuit Mythology.

Kilabuk, Elisha, and Sarah Sorensen. “The Qalupalik.” Quill and Quire, 30 June 2011.

National Film Board of Canada. “Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik.” National Film Board of Canada, 2 Dec. 2010.

Oliver, Mark. “11 Mythological Creatures That Reveal Humanity’s Deepest Fears.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 17 June 2020.

Pfeifle, Tess. Qalupalik. 8 Jan. 2019, www.astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2019/1/7/qalupalik.

“Qalupalik.” Mythpedia Wiki, mythpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Qalupalik.

“Tales and Traditions.” The Central Eskimo: Introd. by Henry B. Collins, by Franz Boas, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology, 1888, pp. 212–213.

Duology of the Damned: Part 02 – The Monster Inside of Me

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

To catch up on this two-part horror short fiction, read Duology of the Damned: Part 01 — When the Sickness Reached Alaska

Part 02 — The Monster Inside of Me

Such is the unnatural body of this god, which has no kinship with the dust of our world; indeed, it is not flesh as we know flesh, but as crystal or glass, and soft so that during his dreaming death it often breaks apart, but when it breaks it at once reforms itself, held in its pattern by the will of the great one. Such is the unnatural nature of this sleep, which has no kinship with those who were left standing…

It took an effort to open my eyes and when I finally did, I couldn’t see much of anything but a blur—someone was moving in the room I was in. I was feeling groggy and that unbearably painful hangover ache—except, I stopped drinking a long time ago. Didn’t I? Why did I feel so different? What’s wrong with me? My eyes blinked rapidly of their own volition, in an attempt to clear the blur, but my vision barely improved. It wasn’t until I tried to move that I realized I was strapped down and a panicked groan—I suppose that’s when the person realized I was awake.

“Do you know your name?” The pale white blur asked me with a muffled voice, what an odd question, I thought to myself.

“Of course, my name is—,” what the fuck is my name?

“Don’t worry, the memory loss is normal, it’ll come back to you soon,” a flash of white hit each of my eyes, it must have been a flashlight because the pain hit the back of my head. There were more questions, I had fewer answers—the more he probed me for information, the more I realized I didn’t know who I was, let alone where I was. He was talking about my vision and memory coming back as my brain regenerated.

“Wait, what do you mean? What happened to me? Where am I?”

“Easy answers first, I suppose. We’re in Whittier—,” how the hell did I get to Whittier? According to Dr. Blur, it was very nearly the end of the world. The next few weeks were a little more revealing; I slowly began remembering things from before it all happened. I remembered where I had grown up, a small almost-no-name town in the interior of Alaska. I was never used to an abundance of people being around during the early parts of my life. All the same, I would still wake up in a cell and not know where I was for a time. It was all incredibly jarring.

The medical staff weren’t very talkative, which was understandable. The few details I was able to pry out of them painted the picture clearly enough. The contagion had nearly converted all of the human population into mindless, soulless killers—small pockets of humanity were able to somehow hold on to hope long enough to stay alive throughout the last surge of the dead before the cure came. It’s not like they weren’t well prepared, Alaska is an open-carry state after all. A lot of people died. 

My first thought was Trudy, she was the closest thing I had to family, but I was hundreds of miles away from home; there was no way I would know. The beginning of the pandemic was all rumor, but then the major news stations started going off the air, permanently. I eventually remembered the day that our communications systems went down and that’s when I truly felt alone for the first time in my life. Now I remember that day like it was yesterday—the process of infection from the time it hit the United States until it reached Alaska took a week at most.

Cities and other largely populated areas were run through in a matter of a day or two; after the shit hit the fan, doctors and scientists became incredibly scarce throughout the world, not to mention in Alaska. Within the last year in no less than a miracle, they had somehow developed a serum, but I suppose since it wasn’t a matter of money, test subjects were widely available—albeit a touch aggressive—and there were no federal regulations anymore it was just a brassy and ballsy group of nerds who saw a problem and figured out how to tackle it. Without knowing any organized cure was being sought after, the last pockets of uninfected people had all but given up, or at least that was what I had been told. I missed a great deal of it while stuck in a dark cloud of calamitous hunger, the melodious satisfaction of hot copper—it felt like a lifetime ago, but they told me my treatment had started a month ago. I only remember the last week of scientists observing me in their dirty spacesuits, the look of fear in their eyes, and perspiration looming on their temples as they gave me my daily injections.

Although I hadn’t been told much about where I was being kept, I had to deduce based on the limited information I came across. As an example, the armed guards weren’t opposed to taking book requests—since there had been at least a few individuals who had hoarded books for fear of losing humanity completely. That meant that there had to be room for a library. There were obviously cells already present since I was in one. There were dedicated medical rooms and on my escorted journey from my cell to the hospital wing we passed what looked to be a dilapidated and rotting movie theatre. There was also evidence of covered graffiti on the walls, covered in white paint.

I had only been to Whittier a handful of times before, but it was the thick concrete that made up the walls, floors, and ceilings that ultimately gave it away. I was being kept in the Buckner Building. It was created to be a city under one roof, but the last time I remember seeing it, there had been a lot more degradation than this. They must have finally gotten the financing to refurbish the property before everything went to shit and it seemed as if the first steps they took to reclaim the property from the elements was to install all new windows and doors. Or maybe they just painted over the doors, but the ones I was shuttled in and out of looked new to me. I was curious, though, why it seemed as if the jail cells had been refurbished as well—but it was a pretty historic monument to the Cold War, so maybe they had been planning to turn part of this creepy fortress into a museum. Who knows, I just had a lot of time alone in my cell to think and still missing chunks of my memory, even the most boring topics were enough to keep me entertained during those long sleepless nights.

The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
Photography by Mary Farnstrom

After one such night, a metal hatch opened in the door of my cement cell, and I sat up in my cot. A smell wafted in, it was an odor that fell rancid upon my tongue and it caused my stomach to twist. I wasn’t used to this kind of hunger anymore, but being met with the smell of what I used to know as food was enough to make me nauseous. The tray was sparse, just powdered eggs, tomato soup, and no appetite for any of this; I could only assume they were still working with the supplies they could scavenge, but I wasn’t privy to the way things worked just yet. 

“When am I going to be let out of here?” I asked the man wearing protective gear on the other side of the cell door, but I got no response. “Please,” my voice was hoarse, my throat was still raw from the guttural language of ravenous growls and screams that had abused my vocal cords over the last year. Standing up was still a chore, but I blamed that largely on the black and purple swollen mass that used to look like my right foot.

The doctor had told me that it was healing, but it was still immensely painful so I would have to take their word on that. I was one of the lucky ones who hadn’t sustained many injuries. Other than the initial bite that turned me, I was intact, but through the course of traveling with a roaming horde of other revenants, I must have had a bad fall. I hobbled over to the tray of what my brain recognized as food, while my body’s reaction to it argued that it was anything but. “Is there anything else to eat, this smells rotten…” 

“I assure you it’s fresh,” the mousy whisper of the male voice inside the suit infuriated me, “but I heard them say your trial group will be out next week.” I found myself wondering how a meek young man had made it through an apocalypse unscathed when I hadn’t. Maybe he had been here all along. Whittier itself was a port town that was only accessible by boat or through a single-track train tunnel. If they had been desperate enough they could have collapsed the tunnel, but it had been much more effective to simply barricade the entrance and brave the outside world to hunt and scavenge during the summer months. To be honest they probably went the entire time with hardly a run-in or a disturbance until they began the medical trials here.

I took the tray and he snapped the hatch back up so quickly that it startled me; I ended up splashing the red soup down my white jumpsuit. I watched it trail down my front, the lurid clash as it stained the fresh white fabric brought me back to the present; then, a pang of hunger electrified my body. It reminded me of blood, one of the only pleasurable things I could remember in that vast nothingness and aggression that I had been lost in, but then I knew that my hunger being aroused by the thought of blood wasn’t exactly a normal thing. Their cure had restored my logical brain, the one that reminded me I was human, that gave me control over my body, and allowed me to make more than just knee-jerk choices. It had begun the process of healing that was much needed after what the last year of rot and walking death had brought upon my body. Surely if I had been found any later, I would have been amongst those who could not be brought back.

I hear a scream from down the way, it was followed by the sound of footsteps running down the hall and more yelling. I pressed my face against the bars to try to get a glimpse of what was happening. There was a blood curdling, inhuman screech and the commotion just became louder. I heard someone yell, “just shoot her!” and that’s when the gunshots rang through the jail. After that, I heard the head doctor curse loudly, something about what a waste of fucking time. Ten minutes later, they were dragging a body bag past my cell—another incident happened a couple of days later.  It was worrisome, to say the least, they had been here longer than I had. If they were reverting, what did that mean for me?

I only knew as much as I could pull from my brief interactions with the people bringing my meals and the medical staff that came with my daily injection; some of them had hardened severe expressions, but most seemed nervous or frightened that at any moment I might be another failed experiment. The constant feeling of being observed was unsettling, like being stalked on a dark street with predatory anticipation. We were experiments, now—lab rats that could communicate—living only to satisfy their need to control an uncontrollable pandemic that had reduced the world population to just an eighth of what it had been.

The diseased walked freely in more than doubled the numbers of the uninfected. It was easy to see why they approached with such trepidation, but feeling as if I were a rabid dog that would no doubt bite their hand was at best dehumanizing. Falling asleep was getting progressively more difficult as I got closer to having my condition “contained.” That night was no exception, the only difference was that the nightmares started sooner, but I was starting to believe they were memories.


Another week went by of feeling the cool indifference of those who were treating me—it was the day before I was going to be released into a controlled population where I would be observed for my interactions with the uninfected. The discharge process was a five-hour lecture on how I needed to complete my daily outpatient treatments for the following month. The clock on the wall ticked each second by languidly with each new presenter. Considering it had been almost two years since I had last had a joy, I didn’t expect it would be too difficult for me to adhere to their demands to keep the uninfected safe.

Then again, with the whole state of the world still being without much of the former technological triumphs, finding people was more of a chore than finding a cure for the rising dead. In the end, I resolved to keep up my end of the bargain and walk back to the clinic from the rehab facility to get my daily treatments. I was finally allowed to go outside into the fenced yard where I was able to see the other people in the trial treatment with me; according to their limited research, it was not possible to get reinfected, so they weren’t exactly worried about us. I sat in the yard in the shade of a large birch tree that day when a girl a bit younger than myself sat down next to me.

“Did they find your family?” Her voice sounded as ragged as my own, I shook my head and examined the dandelion fluff that I had plucked out of the grass at my side. There was a moment of clarity as I stared at the dandelion, I remembered sitting in an overgrown field during the summer as a child, making wishes and blowing the fluff into the wind. “I’m Elle.” The woman offered her hand to me and I didn’t recognize the urge to shake it, it felt like an alien tradition that was lost to me now.

“Um—Molly,” it didn’t feel like my name either. “Why didn’t they let us out here until today? Aren’t we getting released tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but only because they have to make room for the next batch of… well,” Elle gestured broadly to everyone in the gated yard, “what we used to be. What we still could be…”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’m not sure, I’ve heard other patients talking about something they call ‘the reversion’ but as far as I know, it’s just a rumor.” Her shoulders rose to her ears and the uncertainty in her voice was clear, “apparently some of the others they thought they cured, the treatments just… didn’t stick.

Oh is that all? No big deal, I guess.


The next day we were woken up early and there was such strange anxiety when they handed me clean street clothes and directions to the rehab house I would be staying in. The sunlight was exceptionally warm on my cold skin and burned my eyes as I stepped out of the lobby of the old fortress. The fresh air was a nice reprieve from the stale, sterile air they had managed to maintain within the makeshift labs. I shielded my eyes and glanced either way down the street; the pavement was devastated, broken, and overgrown. There seemed to be people living across from the Buckner Building when I finally walked out of the front. I turned and saw that the Buckner Building was similarly crumbled—so it was just the inside that they had improved. There were only a few signs of life on the streets outside it was an eerie sort of isolation that left me feeling as if the world were ending all over again.

Photography by Specna Arms
Photography by Specna Arms

I found myself wondering if Elle was going to be at the same facility as I was, it had been so long since I had seen a friendly face and she was the first person to talk to me like a human being since… I don’t know, I didn’t have any sense of time anymore. There were several people outside tending to a community garden as I turned a corner. They all stopped working when they saw me limping by them, I’m sure I was a sight to see—a pale, hobbling former dead girl, walking among them, reborn back into this shit show. I just kept my eyes on the ground in front of me, before I knew it was I standing in front of the house where I was going to be staying.

That’s when the screaming started. It instantly made my blood run cold. Glass shattered in the alley just around the side of the house which caused me to take a couple of steps back. Then suddenly my face met the pavement as I was knocked violently to the ground by the people who had been tending the garden. They had their guns raised and ready as they dashed toward the sounds of struggle, I rolled, dazed, and watched as this large man tore a woman apart in the alleyway—her screams were enough to draw a small crowd of people on the street behind me. Where the hell did they all come from?

One—Two—Three—and a head-shot for good measure. The people behind me were murmuring amongst themselves, “I thought they were cured!” I pushed myself up from the pavement onto my knees and watched the rest of the scene play out, “what if they all change back?”

There were no second chances here.

Duology of the Damned: Part 01 – When the Sickness Reached Alaska

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories
Snowed in Cabin
Photography by Laurent Perren

I woke up to the unsettling caw of a raven sitting in a tree near my window. I could feel the sweat that had built up on my forehead overnight and I was feeling greasy, but the prospect of what I had to do this morning grated on my nerves. I rolled over on my other side, having decided to give myself a few more hours to improve my mood. The moment I closed my eyes I fell back into the dreary embrace of blackness.

I was already pulling my boots on when I realized that it had snowed overnight. Again. A glance out of the back window of my cabin revealed the heavily snow-laden trees, they bowed in submission to the densely packed wet slush that persisted despite the climbing temperatures. The quiet stillness that came with a fresh blanket of snow provided an unflappable peace. There was a certain appeal to the idea that Mother Nature cared just as much about the affairs of men as I did. I wrapped the rough brown-dyed moose leather ties around my second mukluk and secured it, right before my annoyingly devoted husky pushed her face underneath into my armpit and flung my arm upward to tell me what time it was.

I set her kibble in front of her, she plopped down, wrapped her front paws around the silver bowl, and began to eat it daintily; it had taken me almost two years to teach her how to be a lady at chow time. Hash-browns and eggs hit the hot skillet with a loud sizzle, I was counting on those extra carbs to give me a bit of a boost of energy today, it was still frigid outdoors and I had a lot to do. A shovel full of the wet snow felt as heavy as lead and the next hour proved to exacerbate my sciatica, but it was the combination of painfully numb fingertips and the sweat running down my back that was the most unpleasant aspect of it all. Nevertheless, if I wanted to get out of my driveway, I needed to clear enough space to give myself a running start out onto the unplowed road.

My stark white pup, Scottie, had begun to run circles around me, her joyful frolic in the fresh snow had not quite come to an end. This was her favorite time of year, she was built for this weather, and then she disappeared into a large pile of snow and reemerged with a goofy, tongue-lolled-out smile.  I stuck the shovel upright into one of the snow berms I had built up and started up my Jeep to warm the engine—that was Scottie’s cue and she knew we were going to town before I could even make it back to the house for my wallet and coat. She was already sittin’ purdy in front of the door.

I stopped on the top step, kicked my mukluks together, and snow fell off in wet clumps. A chickadee caught my eye, as it flew past my head and landed on a nearby branch, then my line of sight was drawn to my neighbors’ cabins. They had been oddly quiet today, each of their cabins had their respective car or truck parked in front when they would normally have been gone by that point. I hadn’t seen them going in or out of their cabin all day either, and I couldn’t see tracks in the fresh snow around their houses and that was strange, to say the least. Then again, I guess it wasn’t any of my business.

I knew the drive out to the main road wasn’t going to be a picnic, but I just needed to get out of that cabin. So today, Scottie and I were going to indulge in our favorite pastime of watching The Price is Right whenever we could make it to the bar by the time they opened their doors in the morning—I had been told that today would be the last day it would be open for at least two months while the rest of the city slept in quarantine. I didn’t understand why they were closing all sit-in establishments, why couldn’t people just wash their damn hands and stay home if they were sick? One bad apple… or something like that. So, this was officially the last chance I would have where I could get out of the house for more than just some colas and toilet paper for a while. I was going to take full advantage of it if I could. 

Cabin fever was a bitch and sitting at home with nowhere to go would be fine for a while, but it was only tolerable if there were brief punctuations of exposure to the outside world. It was barely 10 in the morning, the bar had just opened its doors and somehow the same five regulars were already there for coffee and our morning ritual of the boob tube. Delicate white flakes of snow drifted down from the grey sky when I pulled into the parking lot of the dull red riverboat-turned-bar.

Scottie slipped through my legs into our favorite dive bar as soon as I opened the door and then she made her rounds to greet her favorite people. Her favorite people being the ones who offered her the dog biscuits that were kept behind the bar. When Scottie finally came back around, I had my coffee in front of me and the sound of Johnny Olson’s trademarked, “come on down!” was coming in clear over the cacophony of applause and theme song. Gary, to my left, passed me the local paper once he was done with it and there it was. The headline struck me abruptly; my heart inched further and further up my throat.

MANHATTAN OVERRUN

I swallowed down the lump in my throat and I set the paper aside, because ignorance is bliss, at least for now. A bubbly older woman on the television was bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet as she leaned in to spin the huge wheel for the Showcase Showdown; I threw back the rest of my now cold coffee and fended off the bartender’s attempt to refill my cup.

“I’ll be back later with Trudy,” I mentioned in passing before I pulled my Carhartt jacket on over my sweater, the bartender smiled and waved as Scottie and I opened the door to leave. I had a date with an old lady and a shopping cart, so I knew I would get an earful of the latest news on what was happening in the world from Trudy soon enough. Worrying too much about the headlines right now would just make my mood worse—no need to ruminate.

 I loaded Scottie into the back of my Jeep and in no time at all, we were cautiously pulling into Trudy’s driveway. I popped my head in through her front door to let her know I was there, then came the inevitable shoveling of snow to clear her driveway enough for her to get through to my Jeep without too much difficulty. Tiny Trudy appeared at her front door just as I finished creating a path for her and I held out a hand to her, so I could help her down the rickety stairs. Her frail form moved agonizingly slow over the slick black ice near her door. Her cleated boots made no difference in consideration of her near weightless state. The drive was quiet, except for her unceasing country music and her tar-coated lungs wheezing with each breath. The store was startlingly barren, the panic still hadn’t subsided it seemed—Trudy’s normal complaints had gone into overdrive.

“There’s no toilet paper, honey!” She wheezed indignantly, her creaky voice announced both her dissatisfaction and her disbelief. Once she saw the headlines of the scandal sheets, she broke into a brief political tangent. I could tell that she didn’t quite get the panic that had overtaken people—but then again, did any of us understand it? Trudy wasn’t incredibly worried about the pandemic, she was eighty-seven years old, a life-long smoker, and had lived through the pipeline days. If she hadn’t croaked yet, then she wasn’t going to start worrying about it now—she didn’t see the reason for being concerned about “a little fever and breathing problems,” she had told me, “—I’ve already gotten my flu shot!” I had to be careful not to let my eyeballs roll straight out of my head. Her logic always seemed to take me by surprise, but I wasn’t going to complain, after all, I was all she had during the winter.

By the time I sat down at the bar for the second time that day all of the regulars except for Gary had gone. Frail and wispy Trudy, surprisingly, could still get up into the tall squishy blue barstools that towered over her and she settled in. She ordered herself a Carolans and coffee, then paid for another coffee for me—the bartender was always happy to see Trudy, but the gloom over the patrons of the bar was palpably different than when I had been there earlier. I didn’t honestly think much of it until Eeyore incarnate began speaking to me. 

“The end is fucking nigh,” Gary muttered and leaned awkwardly to one side, he hadn’t moved seats from this morning, but it was clear he was already three sheets to the wind. I figured that he must have been mulling over that headline for the past few hours; I watched him sink into his third beer since Trudy and I had arrived. Gary was always a glass-half-empty kind of person so it was pointless to try to cheer him up, but considering I was already dealing with cranky little Trudy, it wasn’t high on my priority list, to begin with.

I must have been letting the alarm of the general population of this small city get to me—or was that sweat gathering on his greying brow? It was too chilly to be sweating. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Gary wasn’t being the normal whiny drunk he was known to be. My thoughts were disturbed by a violent outburst of coughing from Gary who was looking paler by the minute, I was sincerely glad Trudy and I had decided to sit on the opposite end of the bar from him. The last thing I needed was for 87-year-old Trudy to catch the virus that had just been announced on a national level.

“Gary, you might want to think about heading home,” I projected over the low buzz of the conversations of the other patrons. I cast a look at the bartender and then gestured to Trudy, at my side, with my eyes. The bartender nodded, you could see her anxiety even behind her practiced smile—the bartender walked off to use the phone to call a cab for Gary. There was no way anyone in this bar would want to drive Gary home; it’s not that they didn’t want him to get home safely they just didn’t want to do it themselves. Why was he even here in the first place? Was he trying to get people sick, or was he unaware of just how ill he was? 

It was probably too late by that time, Gary had probably already exposed us all to the virus—there were rumors that it was airborne, but the first cases only popped up within the last couple of days and so far all we knew is that some of them were already in the ICU. No one had recovered from it yet, but if it was anything like any other new virus, surely it would take at least a couple of weeks to see what recovery looked like. Regardless, I was worried about Trudy being exposed to whatever Gary was coughing up, so when his cab finally came and he bumbled drunkenly out of the bar the rest of us were able to breathe a little easier.

It took an hour, but I was finally able to convince Trudy to let me take her home. I must emphasize how relieving that was, mostly because I wanted to go home and Scottie was still waiting in the car. She made it down the slick, ice-patched stairs with a little help—but, something was wrong. I just realized that Scottie was barking at something on the other side of the car and that wasn’t like her at all. Scottie noticed us and her barks immediately turned to whines, but I couldn’t see through the dark tint of the back windows. I loaded Trudy into the car, she was so neatly tucked into her fluffy down winter coat. She reminded me of that scene with Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story, where the mom wraps Randy up in so many layers that he’s incapable of moving his body.

I rounded the back of the car, keys in hand; that’s when I realized Gary was slumped against the back driver’s side door of my Jeep, “Gary—what in the hell are you doing?” Gary sounded like his words were garbled—and he groaned, he looked even more pale and green than he had before if that was even possible. Gary lurched forward, swiped his arms as if reaching for me, and upon sidestepping out of his way, he landed firmly on the ground. Gary didn’t waste any time though, he crawled back toward me and tried to grab my ankles this time. That raspy growl would stay with me forever, turned into a half scream as Gary began to rise to his feet and come at me once again. I opened the driver’s side door, jumped in, and slammed it just in time to put a barrier between Gary and us. With a closer look, I could see that his eyes were red and completely vacant.

“What is it, honey?” Trudy was exasperated, her eyesight was fading, her hearing wasn’t what it used to be. I weighed the decision if I should tell her what just happened—better not for right now. 

Walking in a blizzard
Photography by Zac Durant

“Nothing Trudy, we’re just going to get you home.” I tried to sound nonchalant but what had just happened truly freaked me out, Trudy didn’t need to know. She didn’t leave the house without me anyway, so what good would it do her to worry? The news hadn’t reported on this though, it only talked about major panics in smaller towns. When we finally pulled into her driveway we had passed at least a half dozen wrecks on the side of the road and I could tell that they weren’t just due to slick and slushy roads.

Her neighborhood was quiet, I helped her to her front door and proceeded to unload the groceries for her. Once I joined her inside I saw that she was already sitting in her favorite rocking chair smoking a cigarette in the garage. I resigned to put the groceries away, took out her trash, and then said my goodbyes. I didn’t feel right leaving her there on her own, but she never opened the door for anyone else and I needed to find out what was going on. Scottie had hopped into the front seat and was waiting for me when I slid back into the driver’s seat and we were on our way back home. Maybe the local news would give me an idea of what was going on, the paper had been vague at best, what I had seen with Gary had to be newsworthy, but Manhattan was over four thousand miles away, how could whatever that was be happening here?

The road that led to my driveway was still unplowed when I drove back through and my brakes made an audible creak as I slowed to a stop in my driveway. There was a heaviness in my chest that couldn’t be alleviated by coming home, it didn’t feel like my usual home-coming, no relief from being in public, no, indeed the stress lingered. I turned my car off, gave my pup a gentle pat on her back, then began to climb out onto my hard-packed driveway. That’s when I heard the strange sirens coming down my dead-end road and a few strange military-looking vehicles stopped directly in front of my neighbor’s cabin. Soldiers with guns quickly made a perimeter and two people in Hazmat suits stood behind their line. I stood there, awestruck—Scottie, took me by surprise when she jumped down in front of me, her hackles were up.

“Miss, get inside now!” One of the soldiers shouted at me, that’s when my neighbor Rachel emerged from her cabin across the way, against my better judgment I took a step toward the soldiers and Rachel’s cabin—I couldn’t tell if her eyes looked like Gary’s but, her movements sure mimicked what I had seen in the parking lot at the bar. “MISS, I SAID GET INSIDE!” The soldier barked at me again, I hesitantly took a couple of steps back, then signaled for Scottie to go to the cabin. Except… I couldn’t look away, I needed to know what was going on.

Rachel had begun to scream and growl before she lunged at the closest soldier and took a chunk out of his neck—holy shit.

If you liked this installment of Duology of the Damned, then check out Part 02 — The Monster Inside of Me

Edgar Allan Poe, the Father of Gothic Horror

Categories
Featured Horror Books
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe

Dark and mysterious in life and in death, Edgar Allan Poe is most famous for the Gothic horror genre, was a master of macabre poetry and short stories that are the stuff of nightmares. As an American writer, he made a surprising number of enemies through his harsh literary critique of their work. His abundant well of imagination and creative abilities directly enabled him to create a new genre and he has long been considered the father of the modern detective story. While that alone is impressive enough, he is also often regarded in literary history as the architect of the modern short story. As a creative individual, he was also a principle forerunner of the Art for Art’s Sake movement within nineteenth-century European literature.

Edgar’s life, just like his profound short stories, is largely shrouded in mystery to this day. The substantial confusion between the facts and the falsehoods is a direct result of the blatant misrepresentation in a biographical piece written by one of his enemies—in an attempt to smear the dead author’s name. As a result of these widely distributed beliefs, Poe’s image has formed into one that is a morbid, macabre, and mysterious figure who dabbles and lurks in spooky cemeteries has contributed to his legend.

This horror icon grew to become such a renowned author due to his ingenious and profound stories, poems, and critical theories, which proved in time to be influential within their respective fields. He began to be the author everyone associated with tales of murderers and madmen, the prospect of being buried alive, and revenants returning from the dead. He is most widely known for poems like “The Raven,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but that’s not even close to the extent of his most famous works.

Poe managed to produce such compelling literature that he has remained in print since 1827. A man who led an incredibly dark and dreary life and somehow managed to produce these works of literary horror art that was consistently beautiful and haunting.

Early Life

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809; his parents were both traveling actors who Edgar was never able to truly get to know. His father was David Poe Jr. Who was originally from Baltimore, his mother Elizabeth Arnold Poe was British in descent. Both died before Poe was even three years old, while his father’s cause of death is unknown, we do know that his mother succumbed to tuberculosis which officially left Poe and his siblings as orphans. At that point, Poe was separated from his brother William and sister Rosalie and he alone was sent to live with John and Frances Allan—a successful tobacco merchant and his wife who lived in Richmond, Virginia. While Edgar seemed to develop a bond with Frances Valentine Allan, Poe’s relationship with John remained unsteady. Allan would never legally adopt his foster son Edgar, but he did send him to the best schools available where he was always a good student.

Despite butting heads, Allan raised Poe to be a Virginian gentleman, as well as a businessman; unfortunately for Allen, Poe was drawn to writing. By the time Poe was a mere thirteen years old, he was already a prolific poet, inspired by the British poet Lord Byron. Unfortunately for Poe, his efforts and literary talents were highly discouraged by his foster father and his headmaster at school. Since Allan raised Poe to be a businessman, he of course did not approve of the fact that Poe preferred to write poetry. He would also allegedly draft poetry on the back of some of Allan’s business papers—needless to say, this was frowned upon by Allan.

Adulthood

Education

Poe was admitted to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1825, where he once again demonstrated his scholarly abilities. Unfortunately, a miserly John Allan sent Poe to his university with less than a third of the funds he would have needed to finish and he quickly accumulated debt. As a result, Poe turned to gambling to raise the money he needed to pay his expenses. By the end of his first term, Poe was rumored to have been so poor, that he had to burn his furniture to keep himself warm. This left him humiliated for being impoverished and furious with Allan for putting him in that position.

Forced to drop out of school, Poe returned to Richmond, Virginia where things went from bad to worse. When he arrived in Richmond, he went to visit his fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster, to the shocking discovery that she had become engaged to another man. After hearing this dismal news, a heartbroken Poe returned to Boston,

Military Service

Poe decided to join the U.S. Army in 1827, the same year he had published his first book—after serving for two years, Poe received news that Frances Allan, his foster mother, was dying of tuberculosis. Sadly, Frances passed away before Poe was able to return home to say his goodbyes. Heartbroken once more, he moved a few hostile months spent living with Allan drove him back to Baltimore to follow his dreams of writing, but also because he was able to call upon relatives for assistance. One cousin ended up robbing him blind, but fortunately for Poe, he met Maria Clemm, another relative who welcomed him with open arms and became a surrogate mother to him. In 1929, Poe was honorably discharged from the army, after having attained the rank of regimental sergeant major.

West Point Military Academy

Two years after meeting Clemm, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point and continued to write and publish poetry. Poe once again demonstrated his ability to excel in any class but was thrown out after only eight months of attendance. It’s speculated that Poe intentionally got himself expelled to spite his foster father, by ignoring his duties and violating regulations.

In 1831, after moving to New York City, Poe published his third collection of poems, then to Baltimore to live with Clemm, before finally ending up back in Richmond, where the relationship between Poe and Allan had finally deteriorated.

Career

Poe began to follow his dream of being a writer when he published his first book Tamerlane (1927) at the age of eighteen. Later on, Poe was in Baltimore when his foster father passed away, leaving him completely out of the will and instead, witnessed an illegitimate child whom Allan had never met inherit everything. Poe was still living in poverty, but publishing his short stories when he could. One of these submissions won him a contest which was sponsored by the Saturday Visiter. Poe made valuable connections through winning this contest, which allowed him to publish more stories, and eventually, he grabbed an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. This would be the first of several journals that Poe would direct over the following decade, through which he would rise in prominence as a critical writer within America.

While his writing continued to gain attention in the late 1830s and the early 1840s, his income from this work remained minimal and he was only able to truly support himself through his work editing Burton’s Gentleman Magazine and Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia as well as the Broadway Journal in New York City.

Short Stories & Poetry

In 1935, Poe began to sell short stories to magazines—this was also when he began to establish himself as a poet—his best-known works and poems were made during these years, the years when he was happily married despite already being a depressed alcoholic.

Literary Critic

The Southern Literary Messenger was the magazine where he ultimately obtained his goal to become a magazine writer. Before a year had passed, Poe helped to make the Messenger the most popular magazine in the south—it was his sensational short stories and his absolutely ruthless book reviews. Poe ended up developing a reputation for being a ruthless critic who would not only attack an author’s work but also insult the author themselves as well as the northern literary establishment. This job led to Poe writing reviews that were meant to target some of the most famous authors in America—one of which was Rufus Griswold, the anthologist who would become Poe’s worst enemy in life and death!

Married to his Cousin

Clemm’s daughter, Virginia, began carrying letters to Poe’s love interest at the time, but soon after became the object of his desire. He began to devote his time and attention to her and when Poe finally moved back to Baltimore he brought both his aunt Clemm as well as his twelve-year-old cousin, Virginia. The couple was married in 1836 while she was still only thirteen and Poe was twenty-seven. The age difference, as well as the marrying of a cousin, was still considered a normal thing during this era, even though by modern standards, it would be inappropriate for a child to become a bride. The marriage proved to be a joyful one and it’s likely that it was one of the happiest times during his life, but finances were fairly tight throughout despite Poe’s gain in acclaim as a writer.

Taken by Tuberculosis

Virginia was tragically taken in 1947, at the young age of 24, which happened to be the age that Poe’s mother was when she also died of tuberculosis. Poe was devastated by Virginia’s death, so much so that he was unable to write for months—his critics assumed he would die soon after and they weren’t wrong. Yet, it’s also rumored that he became involved in a number of romantic affairs before he was engaged for the third time. This time to his original fiancée, Elmira Royster Shelton, who had recently become a widow just as Poe had become a widower.

Mysterious Death

While in preparation for his second marriage, Poe arrived in Baltimore in late September of 1849. He was discovered in a semi-conscious state on October 3 and was taken to a hospital. He ended up dying four days later of “acute congestion of the brain,” without regaining consciousness to explain what had happened to him during his last days on earth. Neither Poe’s mother-in-law Mrs. Clemm nor his fiancée Elmira knew what had become of him until they read about it in the papers. Medical practitioners later reopened his case and hypothesized that Poe could have been suffering from rabies at the time of his death, but the exact cause still remains a mystery.

Libelous Obituary

Only days after Poe’s death, one of his main literary rivals—he had several due to his moniker “The Tomahawk Man,” when he wrote his scathing literary reviews—Rufus Griswold, decided to write a libelous obituary about the dead author. This was done in a misguided attempt to get his revenge against Poe for some offensive things that Poe had written and said about him. Griswold attempted to smear Poe’s image by labeling him a drunken, womanizing, madman, who possessed neither morals nor friends; his hope was that these attacks on Poe would cause the public to dismiss his works and cause Poe to be forgotten completely. Unfortunately for Griswold, his libelous attack on Poe had the opposite effect on audiences and immediately caused the sales of Poe’s books to skyrocket, higher than they had ever been during his lifetime. The joke was truly on Griswold, however, who instead of being recognized as a writer is only recognized (if vaguely) as Poe’s first biographer, even if he intentionally botched the whole thing.

Work Cited

Edgar Allan Poe. (2020, September 03). Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/writer/edgar-allan-poe

“Edgar Allan Poe.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/edgar-allan-poe.

Poe’s Biography: Edgar Allan Poe Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.poemuseum.org/poes-biography

The Haunting of Hill House & The Haunting of Bly Manor: Why You Should Stop Comparing Them (Spoilers)

Categories
Featured Horror Books Reviews Scary Movies and Series

I feel as if, in general, I’m a pretty easy going person, I don’t like to cause a stir and I generally stay out of heated discussions. After all, I know where I stand on certain issues, so why stress out about a conflicting opinion from someone else? We’re all allowed to have an opinion, that’s our right in life as human beings; unfortunately, a lot of you horror buffs out there have been actively comparing The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), the two seasons Netflix original series The Haunting, but you need to stop and here’s why:

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Aren’t Hill House and Bly Manor Part of the Same Series?

While these two seasons of The Haunting series do have a lot in common, they’re from the same showrunner, they both have some of the same cast, and their names are awfully similar—but I would consider this series to be in the same vein as American Horror Story (2011- Present), Black Mirror (2011 – Present), or Two Sentence Horror Stories (2019 – Present) as they share the similarity of standalone storylines. American Horror Story features a new storyline with each new season, but we saw in one of the most recent seasons that they are intricately interwoven together in pretty incredible ways, but they feature the same cast and same creators—I can honestly say that I enjoy certain seasons of the show more than others, but I cannot in good conscience that I can compare them in any way. Just like Black Mirror has some episodes that have a more riveting storyline than others, as does Two Sentence Horror Stories.

It’s fair to argue that because these shows share a name or even some common elements that they are even remotely comparable. The truth of the matter though, is that these shows are simply the first two parts of an anthology series where Flanagan and his creative team are tackling one iconic horror novel at a time. So yes, while they have similarities, even Flanagan himself has asserted that they both serve as standalone storylines:

The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second installment in The Haunting anthology. We started with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and this follow-up season is a standalone adaptation based on the ghost stories of Henry James. Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is one of the most influential ghost stories ever written. What struck me as a really wonderful opportunity for this season was Henry James wrote other ghost stories as well, most of which have never been adaptation. The opportunity to go further into Henry James’ library, to look at some of his other ghost stories, to try to find a way to bring them all together, it was a challenge that we really couldn’t say no to.

Mike Flanagan in Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor

Since we’re seeing Flanagan return as a writer and a director for the opening episode, we’re also seeing the same setting where we get a lot of the same wide shots and creepy ghosts hiding in the background of a lot of otherwise normal scenes. A common question I have seen, in the horror communities within which I lurk, addresses the concept of why they made the second season of this show a completely new story, rather than continuing on with the storyline of The Haunting of Hill House. Flanagan had a great response in regards to this when he was quoted as having said:

It was important to me that we told that story to its conclusion in the first season. I didn’t want to cynically repeat ourselves, and the actors didn’t want to either … this frees us up because, in theory, in this anthology format, every season can be its own exploration of another classic piece of horror literature. Actors can stay or go depending on their preference and their availability. That opens it up to a new cast and new chances for existing actors. I love that format. It would be quite a disappointment to have to revisit the Crains. It would rob them of the closure they got at the end of that season.

Mike Flanagan in an interview with Gamesradar+ in 2019

So should you expect to see some of the same characters, or even related storylines in The Haunting of Bly Manor? No, no you should not, since they are standalone stories based on the stories of two different authors, they are unique in that sense. Should you compare whether one is scarier than the other? Also no. Again, these stories are unique from one another, which means the storyline and genres are different. With respect to The Haunting of Hill House, it was adapted from the original Shirley Jackson book of the same name whereas The Haunting of Bly Manor was adapted loosely based around the novella by Henry James entitled The Turn of the Screw, with elements of other short stories also written by James.

Is Bly Manor as Scary as Hill House?

Well, that really depends on how you define the word scary—are you the type of horror fan that likes jump scares or blood and guts kind of violence and gore? Or are you the type of horror fan that can appreciate a deeply twisted storyline that gives you that sickeningly painful feeling in your gut and with each revelation, pulls you deeper into an unsettlingly and delicious feeling of dread?

It seems like everyone with a Twitter account has turned into a TV critic these days and they have been flocking to their social media accounts in droves to talk about how The Haunting of Bly Manor is not only lacking the scares and thrilling moments, but that it’s straight boring compared to The Haunting of Hill House. I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think they’re missing the essential point that it’s not meant to be the same type of frightening as The Haunting of Hill House. I get it, there are few jump scares in the second season, so those who are more of a fan of slashers and violent torture porn, then they’re not going to appreciate it in the ways that it is scary.

There are fewer ghosts in Bly Manor, and they definitely don’t pursue victims in the same manner as those in Hill House. No, Bly Manor is a slow-burn kind of horror that continued to build over each episode—it fed off of a more intense and intellectual fear that leaves the audience with a feeling of being stripped bare to the unseen forces in the world and a feeling that we are so small and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Bly Manor is the type of cosmic gothic ghost story that Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft would have been proud to include in their genre of horror.

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

The Netflix series that debuted in 2018 began, unbeknownst to the fan base it would obtain, as an anthology series with the first season using the famous Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House as inspiration for a macabre and twisted tale of a close yet dysfunctional family. Flanagan of course takes quite a few creative liberties when adapting the book to script, as an example, when he completely abandons Jackson’s original plot surrounding a group of paranormal investigators who have come to investigate ghosts at Hill House. Even beyond that, however, Flanagan somehow takes the tale of a haunted house and turns it into a commentary on how grief and trauma manifest for each of us personally and haunt us the way a ghost might. These traumas that Flanagan addresses within his telling of Hill House come across as impenetrable walls, barriers that forever keep you trapped in eternal, yet self-inflicted pain—Hill House, therefore, becomes a metaphor for how some people escape from their past trauma, where others will be ceaselessly be victimized by it. The difference between the two is a strong support system and the will to overcome—this is illustrated perfectly by Flanagan who shows how the Crain family reacts when they begin losing their family one by one, finally realizing that they have some semblance of control over the final outcome. Their choice, in the end, is to save their family regardless of whether it puts themselves in danger.

The Crain family moves into the dilapidated Hill House; Hugh and Olivia, are the loving parents of five interesting and unique children—Steven, Shirley, Theodora, and the youngest—a pair of twins—Nell and Luke. The parents, set to repair and the flip the house, are less receptive to the baleful nature of Hill House, but as the children explore their new temporary home they become aware of things that they had never before experienced, but that children are uniquely equipped to encounter. The innocence of these children makes them vulnerable to dark spirits, hallucinatory experiences, and the discovery of rooms that simply shouldn’t exist within the house. Of course, the adults chalk this up to vivid imaginations and generalized anxieties, but when their mother Olivia begins to be affected by the house as well, things begin to turn dangerous—but the story is shrouded in mystery, the kind that never fails to pull you back in, and it all starts at the end of a tragedy the kind of non-linear timeline that not only keeps people guessing about what happened, but also how it happened in the first place.

The Haunting of Hill House (2018) Official Trailer

Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

Shirley Jackson’s original novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is actually based on four strangers—not a family—and they all come together at Hill House, a house that was long believed to be haunted. These strangers come under the guidance of Dr. Montague, a man who is hoping to scientifically prove the existence of spirits and specters. This horrifying tale takes the reader on a supernatural and psychological thrill-ride as we see the story progress over an incredibly haunted summer for these poor strangers who only wish to uncover the truth. It’s as if the house itself wishes to be left alone in its own misery.

While it’s true that the novel and the show are incredibly different beasts, there are some common elements that translated across the formats. These strangers share the same names as the Crain family, but it’s also true that Eleanor (Nell), the sensitive child in Hill House is also supernaturally inclined within the book. Her sense of the house being evil upon arriving at the house is also eerily similar between the book and the show.

This by no means makes the book and the show any more related, but it does show that Flanagan did take inspiration from the original novel in more ways than just the superficial elements, which is more than what most adaptations can boast.

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

The Haunting of Bly Manor is an American gothic romance, which means that it is steeped in mystery, the supernatural, the horrific, and a love story. As noted before, based loosely on the novella Turn of the Screw, but they also took elements from other horror short stories by the same author and essentially crafted their own story with all of the new puzzle pieces. What they created was a tragically beautiful and meaningful love story, that still pulled off the frightening elements that also made it a horror story.

Set in the 80s, Bly Manor houses its own share of ghosts and ghouls—and they’re far from boring, in fact, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that the ghosts are what elevate these shows from being simple dramas about family, love, loss, and grief. At the beginning of Bly Manor, we see Dani a young American woman being hired as an au pair by the wealthy uncle of two young orphans—Miles and Flora. By the time we introduced to these two adorably tragic children, there is already a sense of things being wrong… we just don’t know what.

The Burden of Our Own Emotional Limitations

We slowly get to know the household staff that are paid to take care of and effectively raise Miles and Flora, in place of their uncle, Henry Wingrave, who is now their only living relative. It’s clear that Wingrave loves the children, but it’s as if he doesn’t want to get stuck taking care of them when he still has his business to run, and Bly Manor has a history of trapping people within. It’s quite a commentary on how we each get stuck in our own lives—not necessarily within places, but in torturous memories, and the grievous emotions that mark the worst moments in our lives. We see that Wingrave is running away from the responsibility of the children in much of the same way that Dani is running from the death of her fiancé, for which she feels responsible, but we soon see that she is haunted by him as he follows her, reminding her of the sheer weight of her guilt. Wingrave too, is trapped by the guilt of his brother’s death, especially due to the fact that he had a lurid affair with his brother’s wife, which may also add to the obligation that he feels to care for his brother’s children.

Wingrave’s personal assistant, Peter Quint, is also stuck—he’s stuck with the trauma he endured from a negligent and abusive upbringing—and despite the fact that he isn’t a terrible person underneath all of that, he comes across as a villain throughout the show. Owen, the cook responsible for feeding the children and staff, finds himself in Bly taking care of his sick mother, who is suffering from dementia, and she proves to be a significant burden on him emotionally. His guilt lies within the fact that he not only resents his mother for her condition, but he also grieves her loss despite her still being present in his life—this is something that anyone who has ever dealt with a family member suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s can sympathize with. Owen too is trapped in Bly, at least for as long as his mother remains alive. The housekeeper at Bly Manor, Hannah Grose is revealed to have died at the beginning of the season when we begin to see all of the pieces of the puzzle realized together as the picture finally becomes whole. He torture in this circumstance is that her life was devoted to holding the family together in the face of wanting to follow her own pursuits, half-aware of her own fate and half-unaware as she is taunted with the fact that she can never leave and live the life with Owen that she so desires.

Regardless of whether or not these people are able to leave the manor, we see them trapped within their own circumstances, they struggle hard to prevail over them, but in the end realize that their fate is inevitable. This brings that hard-hitting, existential crisis to heart; that no matter what we do, we will never win, we will never get what we want, and there is no one who can save us from our inescapable ruin…

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

Flanagan touches upon grief in a hauntingly beautiful, by bringing you deeply into the lives of his characters and exposing their psychological trauma to the light of day. We’re not just seeing one person’s struggle as noted in the section above, we’re seeing them unfold for everyone involved. This is what makes the story so tragic.

What is a Gothic Romance?

A gothic romance stories have a strong emphasis on the mood that is conveyed to the audience, it should be suspenseful, mysterious, and thrilling—not something that you might expect with a traditional romantic storyline—but at the same time, it should focus strongly on the romance of the characters. This of course is achieved quite fluidly by Flanagan…

What sets Bly Manor apart is that at its heart it’s a love story. It’s a Gothic romance story. When you look at the word ‘romance’ it conjures up images in your mind. Gothic romance means something very, very different, steeped in mystery and doom, incredibly passionate emotions that swung into the darkness of human nature.

Mike Flanagan in Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor

If we take a second look at Bly Manor, we realize that this is set up as a romance from the very beginning, it’s not something that the story simply took upon itself later in the season—this was a deliberate setup that we see from the narrator at the start of the season. We realize only at the end that the narrator is actually an older version of Jamie, telling the story of Bly Manor to Flora Wingrave and company at her wedding reception. It seems strange that Jamie would be telling Flora about her own childhood, but as we find out shortly prior to this revelation, Flora nad her brother Miles had completely forgotten about what transpired at Bly Manor after moving with their uncle to America. Jamie’s relation of this story to her old piecemealed family from Bly is tragic in many ways—because of a forgotten history that to Jamie is ever-present and heartwrenching.

The theme of love in Bly Manor although not necessarily apparent to those who go in expecting cheap thrills in the generic horror fashion, is peppered generously throughout and is undeniable once the end of the story has been reached. Jamie’s own love story with the au pair Dani Clayton was something that she had previously considered something of a horror story, with all of the tragedy, loss, and subsequent grief from Dani’s self-sacrifice in taking the spirit of the faceless ghost into herself in order to save Flora from certain death.

We see Dani’s past, steeped in guilt from the recurrence of the specter with the yellow spectacles, who we find is the ghost of Dani’s fiancé Edmund. Upon facing their pending marriage she finally has the courage to stand up for what she wants for herself and that denying her own sexuality by marrying her childhood best friend will only lead to a lifetime of unhappiness for herself. Dani’s guilt lies in the fact that breaking off the engagement due to not being heterosexual, directly preceded Edmund’s flight from the parked car and directly into the path of a big rig. Despite not wanting to be married to Edmund, the last thing Dani wanted was for him to die and she takes upon herself the blame for his death. Edmund’s ghost shows up as having blindingly yellow glasses because, at the instant of his death, he saw the truck coming rendering the reflection of the headlights upon his spirit from then on.

There are many other love stories that take place within the context of Bly Manor; Peter Quint, and Rebecca Jessel which is another horror story in and of itself, as Peter is abusive to Rebecca. Translating even after his death by the hand of the Lady in the Lake, when he possesses Rebecca and walks her into the lake so they can be together again, which of course leads everyone to believe Rebecca had committed suicide. The housekeeper Hanna and the cook Owen who develop an obvious fondness for each other after Hannah had already passed away (thanks in no small part to Peter Quint, who upon possessing Miles, shoves her into the well), which leads to broken hearts for both of them.

If there’s one thing that I hope fans take away from this season of Bly Manor, I think it’s that wonderful connection between a great love story and a great ghost story. The two are really the same thing, how each of us when we fall in love is kind of giving birth to a new ghost, something that’s gonna follow us for the rest of our lives. I hope that that intermingling of a ghost story and a love story is really impactful for people, and I think by the end of this season the line between the two is pretty much obliterated entirely.

Mike Flanagan in Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor
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Adapted from Henry James The Turn of the Screw (1898)

Although Flanagan wasn’t the first creator to adapt Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898), he and his creative team did the best job so far. It was previously adapted for television when BBC produced Ghost Story: The Turn of the Screw (2009), which itself also took a few creative liberties. It’s worth mentioning that this infamous ghost story has also inspired live performances throughout Europe as well.

So while there are valid connections between the two seasons of The Haunting anthology, they are actually standalone presentations that merit a separate analysis, completely removed from the other. I think Mike Flanagan really said it best in this Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor:

From Hill House to Bly Manor – Behind the Scenes

Final Thoughts…

When we finally meet Viola Willoughby, in The Haunting of Bly Manor, the ghost with no face, she goes from being an evil spirit to being a sympathetic character in a way—a woman who in life was beautiful, a good mother, and very much loved by her husband, but stricken with sickness and too stubborn to die. Her sister, who coveted what Viola possessed eventually choked her to death in an effort to take over Viola’s duty as a mother and wife. Viola, still too stubborn to leave the life that she had desperately yearned for, remained as a spirit, locked in a trunk of her nicest possessions, which she had left for her daughter to inherit at the appropriate age. Her sister again covets what her sister only possesses in death, unlocks the trunk, and is, in turn, choked to death by Viola’s ghost. Viola ends up trapped within her own home and over time, her spirit forgets everything except for the one thing that drove her in the first place—the drive to see her daughter and once again be reunited with her keeps her ghost coming back, long after she has even forgotten what she looks like. As tragedy prevails throughout the ages, anyone that has passed within the house is too stuck there with her, forgetting themselves and their own faces as well. So in a sense, the ghosts of Bly Manor do not haunt the living, they are haunted by the living, knowing that they at least have the opportunity to escape from the prison that the manor has become.

I can say with confidence that having experienced trauma in my life, that living a life trapped with sorrow, grief, or a devouring sort of guilt is bad enough, but the concept presented in Bly Manor, where we see that grief breach the veil between life and death, bringing that unending tragedy into eternity. Twist that knife a bit more while you’re at it.

Sincerely, to compare these two masterpieces is to do neither of them justice, as to be appreciated fully they need to be appreciated separately. So when you watch them again, like I’m about to, remember that they were never meant to be compared to one another in the first place.

Works Cited

Chitwood, Adam. “’The Haunting of Hill House’ Creator Mike Flanagan Explains How ‘Bly Manor’ Is Different.” Collider, 28 Sept. 2020, collider.com/haunting-of-bly-manor-netflix-vs-haunting-of-hill-house-difference-explained/.

Flanagan, Mike, director. Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor. Youtube: Behind the Scenes: From Hill House to Bly Manor, Netflix, 28 Sept. 2020, youtu.be/LRE3PzK_vUE.

Hill, Libby. “You’re Right. ‘Bly Manor’ Isn’t as Scary as ‘Hill House.’ It’s Scarier. – Spoilers.” IndieWire, IndieWire, 14 Oct. 2020, www.indiewire.com/2020/10/bly-manor-scary-hill-house-scarier-netflix-1234592826/.

Romaine, Lindsey. “All of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Parallels in BLY MANOR.” Nerdist, 13 Oct. 2020, nerdist.com/article/all-the-haunting-of-hill-house-parallels-in-bly-manor/.

Shepherd, Jack. “How The Haunting of Bly Manor and Hill House Are Connected.” SFX Magazine, GamesRadar+, 9 Oct. 2020, www.gamesradar.com/how-the-haunting-of-bly-manor-and-hill-house-are-connected/.

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