Here’s another exercise for the Halloween season from the Classics Club: Gothic Book Tag. The assignment is to post answers to 13 questions.
(1) Which classic book has scared you the most?
This has to be Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (continued in #2)
(2) Scariest moment in a book?
That moment in “The Pit and the Pendulum” when that slowly descending, polished-edged pendulum finally makes its initial blood-producing trail across my body …
(3) Classic villain that you love to hate?
Probably Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper in Rebecca (see #7)
(4) Creepiest setting in a book?
Manderley as described by the unnamed narrator in her dream near the end of the novel. The previously beautiful estate becomes, in her dream, a place of death and decay threatening to devour and consume her.
(5) Best scary cover ever?
I am always taken aback at avid discussions of book covers. I pay almost no attention to them. I guess that’s probably because I know from reading about a book whether I’m going to read it or not. If I am, then I take it off the shelf with almost no regard for the cover.
(6) Book you’re too scared to read?
I don’t think “too scared” is quite the right description, but there are two books that I refuse to read because I’m pretty sure some of the content will curdle my stomach:
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
(7) Spookiest creature in a book?
Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I admit that this vision, for me, comes from the film rather than from the book itself. But that crazy-eyed Mrs. Danvers standing happily amidst the flames is the most haunting thing I’ve ever seen.
(8) Classic book that haunts you to this day?
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s so haunting not because of its fantasy, but because of its reality: that’s how women really were treated at that time.
(9) Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?
Nothing comes to mind here. I wonder if that’s because all good gothic literature makes us expect—or at least not be surprised by—any of the devious twists.
(10) Classic book you really, really disliked?
This has nothing to do with gothic literature or Halloween, but I have always disliked The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I’ve read it three times now, and, as much as I try to see it as a seminal feminist tract, all I ever see is a selfish woman who wants to avoid any responsibilities.
(11) Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?
I guess that would have to be poor Fortunato from Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Cask of Amontillado.” In this story the first-person narrator entices his neighbor Fortunato to his wine cellar with the promise of sampling a rare vintage of an exotic wine, Amontillado. The narrator gets Fortunato drunk as they navigate their way to the wine cellar, then chains him to the wall and taunts him while using a trowel to finish building a wall to entomb Fortunato forever.
What makes this story so disturbing is that the narrator is very vague about his motivation for walling up Fortunato; he refers only to numerous insults but gives no details. It’s hard to believe that even repeated insults call for such a gruesome death. And 50 years later the narrator is still bragging about what he did to Fortunato, who still hangs in chains under the narrator’s villa.
Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime…
(12) List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.
In no particular order:
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
- “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken
- “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
(13) Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
—Edgar Allan Poe
I did a Halloween edition of Last Week’s Links . Here are some items I found afterwards.
Reviewer Parul Sehgal calls this newly released novel a “Gothic novel … to its core, from its filigreed sentences to its twisty, supernatural plot.”
Horror gets to the heart of it (sometimes quite bloodily) and I wouldn’t trade its dark lessons learned for those of any other genre. In these days of national and international turmoil and too much terrible mortal trauma, horror seems more important than ever for punching through to the deep what’s and possible why’s of all these calamities.
From the flat-vowelled, low-pitched voices of the characters who tell the stories, to the turbulent windswept landscapes in which the mysteries play out, novels set in the north of England have an atmosphere of brooding menace all of their own.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown