Beyond Frankenstein—Mary Shelley’s Literary Successes

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Women in Horror

The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.

The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.

The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.

Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!

The Last Man (1826)

Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.

The Last Man

In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.

Mathilda (1959)

Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.

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The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.

Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.

Index of Sources

Interview with Female Horror Author Kat Howard

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Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Indie horror writers Women in Horror
End of the Sentence Cover
The End of the Sentence

How would you feel if you suddenly started receiving letters from someone you didn’t know? Personal letters, from someone who seemed to know more about you than you ever wanted to admit to yourself? The End of the Sentence (2014) delivers–it’s not only difficult to put down, (or stop listening to, if you opt to experience it as an audiobook) but it is also easily digestible and instantly gives the reader that desirable feeling of unease and fear.

With every turn of the page, we find ourselves more and more deeply immersed in the life of Malcolm Mays, a man whose life is falling apart as he moves into a foreclosed home in Ione, Oregon–what he doesn’t realize is that the original owner never left and doesn’t intend to. The end of his 117-year sentence is almost over…

Interview with Kat Howard

We found out that you’re not just a horror writer, but you have also explored the science fiction and fantasy genres, so what initially drew you to horror fiction?

I’ve always loved horror. Some of the first “grown up” books I read were by Stephen King, but even before that I loved stories that scared me. I like to write horror because sometimes that’s the genre that works best for what I have to say. Plus, it’s fun writing stories that might give people the shivers.

Can you tell me about how you and Maria Dahvana Headley decided to come together to co-write The End of the Sentence?

Maria’s a dear friend. We were guests at an annual convention (ConFusion) and made a comment about wanting to write something together in front of Bill Schafer, the head of Subterranean Press. He said he’d buy it, and we wrote a contract on his arm. (There was a much more official contract later.) It was honestly a joy of a project to write with her.

How did you come up with the idea of The End of the Sentence?

Maria had recently moved, and had been getting mistaken letters delivered to her address. Things kind of went from there.

Kat, we understand that this was your debut novella, how did it feel being named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014?

I literally fell out of my chair when I found out. I’m really proud of the work we did on this novella. It remains one of my favorite things that I’ve written, and so I’m always extremely happy to see it find readers. Seeing it recognized like that meant so much.

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

Is there anything new that you’ve published or are working on that you’d like to talk to us about?

As this is a horror venue, I have to say I was extremely pleased when my recent collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, was long-listed for the [Bram Stoker Award]. It didn’t make the final ballot, but just to see it recognized was a delight. I’m currently working on A Sleight of Shadows, the sequel to my novel An Unkindness of Magicians.

A lot of our fans are actually aspiring writers and artists, do you have any advice for them?

I always feel a little weird about giving advice, because I feel like I’m still figuring things out myself. But I think that one of the great (and yes, sometimes terrifying!) things about writing or art is that there are so many ways to come into the field. Don’t cut yourself off because you think you’re too old, or you should have gone to a different school, or that people have already done what you’re interested in. No one else can make what you will.

Inuit Spirit of Death: The Keelut

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

What is the Keelut?

Aggressive Keelut, Inuit Spirit of Death
Photography by Nick Bolton

This creature is an Inuit legend, one who hunts people during the winter, but it’s not actually a predator in the strictest sense–it’s a spirit of the Netherworld. The Keelut (key-loot), also known as the Qiqirn (key-kern) is sometimes referenced as a spirit of death or an evil earth spirit. While it is actually a spirit, it takes the form of what some believe to be a true cryptid. To be honest, it’s hard to say which is a more frightening aspect of this creature, that it’s an immense, malevolent, black, hairless dog with the sole purpose of preying upon humans, or that it’s also a spirit so it doesn’t necessarily abide by the laws of physics. The Keelut’s mythological cousin is the Church Grim or Barguest of Great Britain, who stalks those traveling in the night which results in an untimely death.

The major difference between the Church Grim and the Keelut is the fact that the Keelut doesn’t have any hair, except for on its feet. They say that this makes their tracks in the snow disappear easily, which gives the advantage of stalking prey without being noticed. Aside from their predatory nature, these creatures have other similarities that transcend the separation of culture—both are known to act as a harbinger of death, and otherwise feast upon the dead. In Inuit folklore, the Keelut is known to attack lone travelers, the sight of one would cause disorientation, then eventually hypothermia and death.

Hold the Dark (2018): Bringing Alaskan Horror Legends to Life in a New Way

Hold the Dark Horror book featuring Keelut

This Alaskan creature of terror was made to take the sidelines in William Giraldi’s book Hold the Dark: A Novel (2014) and now a Netflix original film Hold the Dark (2018) when the residents of Keelut, a remote (fictional) Alaskan village, have been the unfortunate targets for a dangerous pack of wolves. These wolves have successfully taken three children before the main story takes place.  It’s certainly a spin to the original tale of the Keelut, but it pays special homage to the Inuit folklore wherein it was born.

While it certainly didn’t get rave reviews from this critic, I have a personal bias when it comes to films that include Alaska and the surrounding culture, even if it’s not terribly accurate.

Novels, Television, and Film Adaptations of Robert Bloch

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

From the past articles in which we have discussed Robert Bloch and his creative works within the horror genre, we decided to talk a little bit about his most famous novels, especially Psycho, the film that almost overnight made Bloch a writing sensation.

The Scarf (1947)

The Scarf (1947) by Robert Bloch
The Scarf (1947) by Robert Bloch

This novel was originally published twelve years before Bloch’s most famous work, Psycho (1960) and while it was originally published without much publicity and was largely ignored for years, it along with Bloch’s other older works started to receive more notice after Hitchcock adapted Psycho to the big screen. Once Bloch’s work received such critical acclaim, his other less popular works began to gain some popularity as well. These other works tend to still be less popular and while they were all well-written, most were unfortunately as forgettable as they come. The Scarf, despite being one of Bloch’s best novels is somehow still one of his forgotten novels.

When we look at The Scarf we see a story about Daniel Morley, a man who admits to having a fetish for a certain scar he wears all the time. According to our strange narrator, Morley received this scarf as a gift from his high school English teacher; in a strange turn of events, this teacher attempted to rape Morley and whom Morley killed in alleged self-defense.

We eventually see Morley as somewhat of a wandering vagrant, one who commits small crimes to get by—and then also there’s the women he murders with.. the scarf.

Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch
Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch

Psycho (1959)

For those who have been, somehow, untouched by Bloch’s infamous novel Psycho (1959) this synopsis might be somewhat of a spoiler—but that doesn’t mean you can get away with not reading the book, watching the movie, or checking out the television series inspired by the original novel!

Within the story proposed by Bloch in this psychological thriller, we meet Norman Bates, a middle-aged bachelor who is mentally dominated by his mother—a puritanical, mean-spirited woman who prevents Norman from having any kind of normal life outside of taking care of her and the motel they run together in the small town of Fairville. Unfortunately, since the state relocated the highway, Norman and his mother have been struggling to maintain their business which at one point had been a fairly busy highway adjacent place for people to stop for the night.

Enter Mary Crane, an impulsive woman who, after stealing $40,000 from one of her real estate clients, is on the run from the law. Mary arrives just when Norman and his mother are in a heated argument and as the situation progresses, Mary is under the impression that Norman’s mother would benefit from a mental hospital. Norman denies that there is anything wrong with her, suggesting that, “we all go a little mad sometimes.” After finishing her dinner with Norman, Mary returns to her room having decided to return the money she stole and face the consequences so she doesn’t end up like Norman and his mother, but in an unforeseen change in circumstance, while Mary is taking a shower, a figure that looks like an old woman ambushes Mary and beheads her for her offenses.

Norman, who had passed out drunk after dinner finds Mary’s bloody corpse and is instantly convinced his mother murdered their customer—briefly considering letting his mother go to prison, he instead decides to get rid of the body and dispose of Mary’s belongings in a swamp before returning to life as usual. Mary’s fiance catches wind of her disappearance through Mary’s sister, who with the help of a private investigator hired by Mary’s employer, begin the search for her together. Arbogast, the private investigator, is eventually led to the Bates Motel where he questions Norman about Mary—Norman of course lies, telling Arbogast that Mary had only stayed for one night and left. Wanting to cover his bases, Arbogast asks to speak with Norman’s mother, but Norman refuses and by doing so, rouses Arbogast’s suspicion. The mystery continues and what awaits those searching for Mary Crane turns into a psychological thriller that goes beyond the standard criminal mind—who could have known that Norman Bates was such a pscyho?

Psycho (1960) Adaptation into Film

Immediately after publishing, Bloch was made an offer for the film rights to the book that put him on the map, it wasn’t until well after the rights were purchased that Bloch found out the person who purchased them was actually Alfred Hitchcock. We discuss more of the surrounding details in our article Robert Bloch: The Man Who Brought Us Psycho.

Psycho (1998) Remake

Bates Motel (2013-2017)

A disturbing and driving force of psychological horror, Carlton Cuse and A&E provided a reimagined version of Bloch’s original creation, having a more in-depth backstory and an interesting narrative and twist on dissociative personality disorder and how the extremes of such could result in such a violent psychological break even from someone who was at first depicted as being so docile and sweet.

Works Cited

Bloch, Robert. Psycho. Blackstone Audio, Inc., 1959.

Bloch, Robert. The Scarf. Dial Press, 1947.

Cuse, Carlton. Bates Motel, A&E, 2013.

Sergio. “THE SCARF (1947 / 1966) by Robert Bloch.” Tipping My Fedora, 13 May 2012, bloodymurder.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/the-scarf-1947-by-robert-bloch/.

Van Sant, Gus, director. Psycho, Universal Pictures, 1998.

Shirley Jackson: Novels, Short Stories, and Other Works

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

The Lottery (1948)

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The Lottery is a short story that Shirley Jackson wrote in 1948—it was written within the month of its first publication. It appeared within the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and describes a fictional account of a small town that participates in a lottery of sorts. This particular short story has often been described as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.”

Conceptually, two creative stories come to mind immediately after reading this story–no doubt the authors of which were inspired greatly by the Jackson original. The cult classic film The Wicker Man (1973), then later the novelization and The Hunger Games franchise both echo the idea of a ritual where the town comes together and holds what they call a lottery.

This lottery is, unfortunately, not the type that anyone hopes to win, but mirrors the dystopian attitude where the losers rejoice in the winner’s predicament. Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, let’s just say it’s most definitely worth the read (or simply listen below). What is truly interesting with this story–one that leaves the reader with a feeling of utmost terror and despair–is that Jackson apparently wrote within the confines of a single morning. The agreed-upon account of its creation is that Jackson came up with the idea for the story while she was shopping for groceries in the morning, came home, set her two-year-old daughter in her playpen to play, and had it finished before her son came home from kindergarten for lunch.

Talk about a whirlwind turn-around for something so utterly and terribly fantastic. Along with other myths that surround the creation of The Lottery, there was a time when people actually believed that the story was a factual report–this is in part due to the fact that at the time The New Yorker didn’t distinguish between fact and fiction when it came to the stories within its publications. As a result of the misunderstanding, much to the chagrin of Jackson, subscribers sent her several hundred letters that in her words could be summed up to, “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.” It was especially alarming to her that some of the letters were from people who wanted to know where such lotteries were being held and whether they would be allowed to watch.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

This gothic horror novel stands in the same class as those by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Bram Stoker—to the point of even being a finalist for the National Book Award in the category for best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century. While Shirley adhered more to the thrilling psychological aspects, which successfully elicited stronger emotions in her readers. It has since been adapted into two feature films, a play, radio theater, as well as a Netflix series which premiered in 2018, although considerable liberties were taken with Shirley’s original story.

Shirley’s initial idea for this particular novel came to her after she read about a real-life group of researchers from the nineteenth century who had spent time in a reportedly haunted house and then published their experiences while investigating the site. She spent quite a bit of time researching and studying floor plans of large, potentially haunted houses around the country, and also spent time reading several volumes on hauntings and ghost stories before she sketched out the grounds of Hill House, as well as the floor plan for the house itself. Suffice it to say, she took her time considering how the characters might move about the house and made sure she had a clear vision of how a haunting would play out in such a house.

Check out this trailer of the Netflix series of The Haunting of Hill House and see how this novel translated to a television series.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962—just a few years before the radical social movement of the 1960s and 1970s—and served as her reaction to the movement of traditionalism that followed the Second World War. The fifties was an exceptional decade when women were transitioning from having jobs that supported the war effort while the men were overseas, to being expected to stay at home in order to support their husbands by cooking, cleaning, and rearing children.

This novel takes place in a small New England town where the remaining members of the Blackwood family stay in their ancestral home—they seem to live a peaceful, if not removed life from the rest of the town and its oppressive atmosphere. The initial perception of the people in town is one of apprehension when the main character Mary Katherine admits the anxiety she feels when having to pass the general store when the men are sitting out front. The mood of the novel changes to reflect what many literary scholars believe might have been Jackson’s own response to the changing social climate of the fifties and how stifling it would have been to be a housewife with a job. It also bears mentioning that it brings attention to the ways women had been oppressed in the past, referencing witch hunts where women would be killed for even the slightest misstep.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle echoed a lot of the same themes that were found in her profoundly popular short story The Lottery, with special emphasis on the strange and hostile townspeople who take on the type of mob mentality that allows otherwise sensible people to commit horrible acts with little to no impact on their conscience. It is said that this particular novel served as inspiration to many writers—including authors like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates—who, after reading Shirley’s work, felt liberated in taking leaps with horror, speculative fiction, and just enough realism to create creepy atmospheres within their own novels.

Take a look at the trailer for We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019) and let us know what you think between the differences you’ve found between it and the original novel.

Looking back on a career like Shirley’s it’s widely believed that despite the fact that raising four children is an extremely difficult task, Shirley couldn’t have been such a literary success without them—after all, her first success, The Lottery came only a few months before Shirley was set to deliver her third child. A cringe-worthy moment came when the clerk asked Shirley her occupation, when she responded that she was a writer, the clerk responded that he was going to put down the occupation of housewife instead. While it was true that being a mother was one of her jobs, Shirley was more than just a mere housewife—in fact, she was the breadwinner of the family.

Shirley Jackson happened to be both a housewife and a “talented, determined, ambitious writer in an era when it was still unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession.” The appearance of a conventional American household generated material for this sassy mother of four—who thrived on the tensions that it created between both roles. The expectations of herself, her husband, family, publishers, and readers gave life to her writing since what was normal for her was unspeakably abnormal for the time. She made this clear during the early years of her career, when she drew, “a muscular woman, looking disgruntled, [dragging] her husband off by his hair as another couple [looked] on worriedly. ‘I understand she’s trying to have both a marriage and a career,’ one says to the other.” The truth of the matter was, that Shirley’s career only really took off after she became a mother, having gained an empathetic view of developing minds and the well of imagination that she drew therein. In this respect, Shirley was not only a sensational author, she was an admirable role model for any woman who may have wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Index of Sources