Horror Lit: Gerald’s Game

Book review
Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game

One of the reasons why I decided to run a horror fan blog was to encourage myself to be more immersed in the horror genre, especially in horror writing. One of my favourite activities is to write horror stories, so seeing how other horror writers develop a narrative with scary moments, and where those scary moments appear, interests me.

I admit that I have not read much Stephen King, although he has been a presence in my household my whole life. Both of my parents are fans, so we always had at least one King book in a bed stand or on a shelf. The few King books I read growing up, I liked. But, I was never pulled into the excitement of exploring more into his catalogue.

There is no time like the present. King is a master at horror story-telling, so I only have much to learn from him.

On the recommendation a few months back by Satan’s Niece, who is an avid King reader, I picked up a copy of Gerald’s Game. Going into the novel, I had a basic idea of the plot, which tells the story of a woman’s ordeal after she is handcuffed to her bedpost by her husband during an excursion to their remote cabin, and he dies. I was curious to see how King could write a 400-plus page novel based on this, to me, slim premise.

Again, King is a master. As he tells the story of the main character hung up by her arms and vulnerable—facing thirst, starvation and madness—he tells the story of her psychological vulnerability, weaving in and out of her sexual, social and emotional vulnerabilities throughout her life, particularly in her adolescence.

While I enjoyed many aspects of Gerald’s Game, including the empathetic, first-person female viewpoint and the explicit visuals of body gore, I especially liked that the story was about two things: the personal life of this one person struggling to survive thirst and starvation, and the universal experience of any person having to go through such a horrific ordeal. My favourite section of the book was about two thirds in when the character was preparing to face her second night tied up to the bed. She was victim to the madness of her thirst and starvation and, here, when she was shifting between memories, dreams and reality, King shows us what dying like this would feel like. Of course, the whole time I am thinking, “What if it were me?”

Netflix has recently released a film version of Gerald’s Game. The viewer’s reviews looked positive, and I started watching it, hoping to do a review of both the book and movie. But, as the husband locked the main character to the bedpost, I realized it was “too soon.” I had just closed the book, and I couldn’t bear to relive the horror that I encountered in the book. Give me a few more weeks, at least.

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King, Stephen. Gerald’s Game. Penguin Group, 1992.

Horror Lit: The Dunwich Horror

Story review
H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”

For my last birthday, my brother gifted me a copy of the complete fiction of pulp-horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. I had never read any stories by Lovecraft, so I was glad to receive this thoughtful present.

Before opening the collection, I did some online research on Lovecraft’s top scariest stories, and I happened upon this list of six best Lovecraft stories for the Halloween season written by an avid fan. The descriptions were well-written and made me intrigued to dive into my book.

The first story I chose was “The Dunwich Horror.” It was a good choice because it centred around the “ancient ones” mythology that Lovecraft created in his fiction. It introduced me to the Necronomicon and its power to usher in the end of human kind. I particularly liked the treatment of the Necronomicon as a key that had to be protected and hidden from those who would use it for evil. I liked that a librarian was thrust into the heart of the action, acting as guardian of the key and as detective responsible for stopping the end of human kind.

I liked the many narrative tools that Lovecraft used to set the stage for supernatural activity from the beginning of the story, mostly in his description of the setting and its people. As the story went on, it was told largely by the evidence left behind by the monstrous Whateley family , from local rumours to physical debris to the first-person experiences of villagers who had the opportunity to encounter or see any of the other-worldly monsters.

Lovecraft’s descriptions of the monsters were bizarre and strange, and told well enough to give me an immediate visualization. I had never imagined any creatures like how he described: a mix of underwater-creature tentacles and Pan-like furry features cobbled grotesquely onto giants.

My favourite literary tool Lovecraft used was how nature responded to the unnatural creatures from the otherworld: barking dogs, and chattering birds that appeared outside of their migration pattern and increased in activity when the Whateleys were dying. Even the stench left behind by the monsters years after the horror took place in the village invoked their imprint on the natural surroundings, showing these monsters as not only enemies to humans, but to nature as well.

Rich descriptions, fast-paced action and engaging characters are what I found in my first taste of Lovecraft. I look forward to reading more!

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– Image from RTVE: Los cómics recuerdan el 75 aniversario de la muerte de H. P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft, H.P. “The Dunwich Horror,” 1929. The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Race Point Publishing, 2014, pp.674-712.

HALLOWE’EN TIME!

Woo hoo — it’s finally Hallowe’en season, my favourite time of year! The smell of autumn leaves on cool mornings with ghosts, witches and skeletons hanging off porches and fences in the neighbourhood. Sigh. Couldn’t get better.

My favourite magazine Rue Morgue is celebrating its 20th Hallowe’en issue and published a great collection of essays on witches, horror books and films, and more. So, I guess, yeah, it could get better. I have been reading Rue Morgue for about a year or two now, and the newest issue features many more articles and reviews on horror books, fiction and non-fiction. I love it! It’s also got its regular meat of horror gore and film, which only makes it more enjoyable.

If you haven’t yet, definitely check it out! Happy Hallowe’en!

Rue Morgue #178 Sep/Oct Halloween Special Issue 2017

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Horror Lit: The Bad Seed

Book review
William March’s The Bad Seed

A horror movie that my Mom recommended to me when I was a teenager was The Bad Seed. She recalled how scary it was when it came out, which would have been probably scarier since she was just a little girl herself when it did. Recently, I came across the novel that the movie was based on. When I read on its back cover that the book was an instant bestseller and National Book Award finalist, I knew that I had to give it a try.

Granted, I haven’t seen the movie in over 20 years myself, but I liked the book better. I remember that the movie wasn’t as suspenseful as I had hoped, especially since I was used to watching Hitchcock films at the time. In contrast, the novel was both suspenseful and frightening. The slow build of the main character’s discovery of her daughter’s crimes followed by the deeper discovery of her own identity was gripping. The author, William March, created a  cast of interesting and believable characters, making the book a delight to read.

It wasn’t a perfect narrative—but being a horror genre novel, I could forgive its clumsiness, and it was an overall memorable read, which is something I like when I find one.

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Book
March, William. The Bad Seed. W.E. Campbell LLC, 1954; Vintage Books Edition, 2015.

Film
LeRoy, Mervin. The Bad Seed, Warner Bros., 1956.

Horror Lit: Paradise Lost

My favourite literary monster is Sin in Book II of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Satan meets her at the gates of Hell, where she sits with their son Death. She mediates a fight between the father and son, and then sends Satan off to Chaos, where he will find Paradise on the other side.

When I first read Milton’s description of Sin, it felt illicit. I couldn’t believe something so grotesque was sitting in an old English literature textbook:

The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold
Voluminous and vast, a serpent armed

With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of hell-hounds never ceasing barked
With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung
A hideous peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb,
And kennel there, yet there still barked and howled,
Within unseen.

– Book II, lines 650-659

Hell-hounds nesting in her womb? Nowhere else in my life had I ever been given such a horrific visual.

SparkNotes summarizes the creation story she tells Satan:

She explains to Satan who she and her companion are and how they came to be, claiming that they are in fact Satan’s own offspring. While Satan was still an angel, she sprang forth from his head, and was named Sin. Satan then incestuously impregnated her, and she gave birth to a ghostly son named Death. Death in turn raped his mother Sin, begetting the dogs that now torment her. Sin and Death were then assigned to guard the gate of Hell and hold its keys.

Gag me with a spoon! I remember first reading this section of Book II and reading faster because I couldn’t believe how gross it was getting, and it kept getting grosser. My kind of horror story.

In addition to gore, I’m a fan of the Unholy Trinity, as you might tell from my Rosemary’s Baby post. I love that Milton made Mary’s demonic form an allegory for sin, and then dreamt up this nauseating background story of how she came to be and would suffer, in a perverted mirror-opposite of Mary, as the bride of the child made by her creator — yeah, I know, Christianity is twisted.

satan sin and death - milton

Milton, John. Paradise Lost, 1667.