The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Halloween’

Ringing the Changes

October 30, 2015 | by

There’s always the temptation, when recommending anything, to go only for the deep cuts. It’s true that Robert Aickman wrote several volumes’ worth of “strange stories,” many of them very good. It’s also true that “Ringing the Changes,” from 1964’s Dark Entries: Curious and Macabre Ghost Stories, is probably the best known, or the “most anthologized,” or however people like to subtly dismiss anything with a certain profile. Read More »

Spooky Staff Picks: Bat Bombs, Phoney Phootey

October 30, 2015 | by

Dorothea Tanning, Guardian Angels, 1946, oil on canvas, 48 1/8" x 35".

Last Halloween we recommended some things that scared us. But there are many such things—we’re easily frightened—so this year we’re doing it again. Stay spooky.

In college, I took a seminar about female Surrealist artists—Remedios Varo, Unica Zürn, Claude Cahun, and Dorothea Tanning, et al. Many of these women’s life stories were harrowing, and their artwork, which often mines frightening psychological territory, is dark, humorous, visionary, and uncanny. It still creeps me out. Dorothea Tanning’s paintings, for instance, are full of tattered clothing and deserted hallways. They’re haunted by somnambulant young girls and oddly sentient sunflowers. Her painting Guardian Angels scares me whenever I look at it: strange, ragged, winged creatures that look like vicious, plucked chickens swirl and tear at each other, rippling with some obscene energy. Later in life, Tanning made forays into sculpture, fashioning soft, upholstered structures that ooze across the boundary between furniture and human figure. My favorite work of Tanning’s is The Birthday, a self-portrait in which she has painted herself stepping through an open door into a corridor that’s full of other doorways. A monster—sort of like one of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz—huddles, couchant, at her feet, and her expression is otherworldly. Is she letting this beast in or sending him across another threshold? —Hannah LeClair Read More »

Tuesday’s Child

October 29, 2015 | by

All art from Tuesday’s Child.

In early fall of 1989 my friends Craig, Mick, and I tried to summon a demon—Astaroth, the crowned prince of Hell, if I’m remembering right—to the driveway of Craig’s suburban home. Months earlier I’d found a book on summoning spells hidden in a box in my attic, underneath a bunch of Lovecraft anthologies and old Hanukkah decorations.

We’d planned the evening a few days before: once Craig’s parents left for dinner at the country club, I’d draw a magic circle beneath the basketball pole, Mick was on candle duty, and Craig would read, in Latin, the requisite incantations. The translated Latin was a series of threats and commands, invoking Jesus Christ and various angels, along with reminders that the magic circle was impenetrable, that as long as we were within its boundaries Astaroth held no sway. That we were all good Jewish boys didn’t seem to matter—we held Jesus in high regard, the way Pistons fans must have felt about Michael Jordan; even though he wasn’t one of ours, you still had to respect the guy’s game. Read More »

Seeking Soul Cakes

October 29, 2015 | by

Before there was trick-or-treating, there was souling. The UK version of the practice—in which beggars and children went door-to-door seeking alms and soul cakes in exchange for prayers—likely evolved from the pagan mumming rites of Samhain, the Gaelic festival marking the end of harvest season. The Celts believed that on this night—Hallowe’en—the souls of the dead walked the earth, and many of their rituals, such as those involving fire and ghost costumes, persisted in Christian form into the twentieth century. Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890) chronicles the regional variations in some detail, although even then the practice was archaic. When a folklorist transcribed the following traditional rhyme in 1891, it was in the knowledge that souling was headed for obsolescence. Read More »

Sympathy for the Devil

October 29, 2015 | by

Melmoth the Wanderer and the bizarre appeal of gothic horror.

From the Penguin Classics edition of Melmoth.

I have long been a rather reluctant fan of gothic horror. The reluctance comes from never quite knowing if it’s a genre worth caring about. How well, really, do any of my favorite works hold up? Is The Castle of Otranto actually good, or just campy? Is The Monk great literature? Probably not—but as genres go, there’s none quite so pleasingly ridiculous as this one.

Gothic horror usually revolves around the sinister absence of God inside some religious framework. These are stories that couldn’t exist outside a culture obsessed with sin and hellfire, and yet they’re not morality tales: the only lesson to be drawn from most gothic romances is that the supernatural can be easily substituted for the divine. Any benefits to leading a religious life seem to be completely erased in these stories, with paranoia and persecution complexes to take their place. There seems barely time to contemplate the afterlife when everyone’s so busy trying to escape the traps laid for them on earth—traps set by heredity and fate. The “good” characters are, for the most part, idiots: foolish clergyman, one-dimensional lovers doomed to die horrible (sometimes cannibalistic) deaths, and so on. The only character with any power of personality happens, more often than not, to be the devil himself.

This is especially true of Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, a shapeless tale of transformation, loneliness, and evil as shown in complete isolation from good. Maturin, an Irish clergyman and great-uncle to Oscar Wilde, wrote the book in 1820, at the height of the vogue for gothic romance. By the end of the nineteenth century, the book had taken on cult status. Baudelaire adored it. Balzac wrote a sequel to it. Wilde himself, after being released in disgrace from Reading Gaol, based his entire identity around his uncle’s story, renaming himself after its hero, Sebastian Melmoth. What was it in the story that spoke to them so deeply? Read More »

Donna Reed in the Old Scary House

October 28, 2015 | by

Donna Reed, being spooky.

Tom Disch’s poem “Donna Reed in the Old Scary House” appeared in our Fall 1995 issue. A prolific poet, novelist, science-fiction writer, and author of children’s books—including The Brave Little Toaster: A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances—Disch frequently published his work in the Review. He died in 2008. —D.P.

At first she is only mildly annoyed: the car
won’t start, it’s happened before. She’ll phone
her husband—what is his name?—at his office,
and he’ll come pick her up. Another cup of coffee,
meanwhile, in that funeral parlor of a living room
with old Mrs. Marbleheart, who haunts this old house. Read More »