Friday, October 21, 2011

It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself

For my next Halloween-worthy read I decided to scan my own bookshelves in an attempt to save some money, and I stumbled on a packet I had for one of my college classes. Specifically for my Horror Fiction class. And if that doesn't indicate some good Halloweeny reads, I don't know what is.

The packet is a selection of short horror fiction stories pulled together by my professor and has an intro to horror fiction overall as well as brief information about each of the stories. I loved this class (and ended up taking 2 more of the professors courses: the modern bestseller and science fiction) but haven't revisited most of these stories since I first read them and figured now is a perfect opportunity.

The packet/book/whatever is split into 4 parts: Dark Roots; The Horror We Do; Belief and The Supernatural; and Avenging Angels and Faustian Devils. I feel like it's difficult to write about a collection of short stories*. Do you write about the collection overall? (If so, how cos I have no idea how to even go about that.) Do you write about all of the stories? Just a couple? How do you pick which ones? To solve this problem I decided to split up my posts based on the different sections and select one (or two if I can't help myself) of the stories from each parts. Excited? I bet you are. Here we go!

Part 1: Dark Roots
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs

The first part is clearly Poe heavy, but obviously Poe is one of the grandfather's of the genre, so expect to see the guy there. Personally out of these stories, my favorite is the Jacob's contribution with "The Monkey's Paw". Since I'm sure everyone is familiar with Poe (and if you aren't, fix that!) and also because this is my blog, I'm gonna talk about the ape appendage.

Simpson's covered the story so I'm going to assume that means there is no need for spoiler warnings. Or I guess this counts as your spoiler warning. Also if you haven't read it yet, go do that. Here's a link to make this easy for you.

"The Monkey's Paw" is a story I can read again and again. It's short (all of 9 pages), but it's full of such a creepy atmosphere.  And I love a creepy atmosphere. It starts out with such a sweet domestic scene, father and son playing chess next to the fire while mom sits nearby knitting. Doesn't get too much more Norman Rockwell-ier than that. And then things get all messed up by this "old friend" and his mysterious monkey paw. I put "old friend" in quotes because he may have warned them against using the paw but he certainly talked it up and made it sound like something you had to see. And of course in the end he did give it to them, after a half-hearted attempt to destroy it by throwing it into the fire. You know, after bringing it up in the first place. So this paw will grant you wishes, but it will make it just seem like it's a coincidence so you can never really be sure the paw did anything. And of course this wouldn't be a horror story if the coincidence/wish didn't mean something terrible for the family, which is all the more cruel because this is an innocent family. The father even says at one point he can't think of a thing he'd wish for because he already has everything he could ever want (Awwww). Then a simple wish of two hundred pounds brings the death of the son and so much misery. You can't help but feel heartbroken right along with the family.

No matter how many times I've read the story, no matter that I already know how it ends, I always wish things to be different while knowing they're going to end unhappily. It is a good reminder not to mess with fate.

*I ran into the problem of writing about a collection of short stories last October when I wrote about Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories. We'll see if this way works better.

Title quote from Poe's story "The Black Cat", page 11

Goshgarian, Gary ed. Horrorscape. Kendall Press, 1993.