Masque of the Red Death and Today’s Ebola Crisis

In case you missed it, check out my post (just one post above) of the Full Text of Edgar Allen Poe’s 1842 short story, The Masque of the Red Death.

Go on.  Read it.  It isn’t that long.  Seriously, what are you going to miss if you turn off the TV for a minute?  The Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo?

SUMMARY

The population of a fictional country has been decimated by a plague called, “The Red Death,” so-named because it causes its victims to bleed out of their pores and all over their faces before they bite the big one.  The aptly named Prince Prospero (Poe’s subtle hint to let you know the dude is lousy with cash, i.e. he’s very “prosperous”) could use his resources to help his countrymen, but instead, decides to protect himself and his friends by walling off his castle so as to keep out the infected riff-raff.  Inside, the wealthy aristocrats spend half-a-year having fun and being entertained by various performers.

Prince Prospero throws a masquerade party.  He holds it in an area of his home that has a winding pathway that takes visitors through several rooms, each decorated in various shades of colors, starting with lighter tones until the end, which is all black with scarlet red windows.  Notice that like the passing of a day, lighter colors are found in the beginning, while the colors get darker as the end of the path through the rooms approaches, all the way till black at the end, and like the eternal night that comes with death, everyone is afraid of the black room.

During the festivities, a spooky clock in the black room is so loud every time it causes all of the guests to cease their amusement every time it chimes the hour.

All are having a grand ole time until an uninvited guest arrives.  This individual costume’s is that of a sufferer of the Red Death.  He wears a funeral shroud for his clothing and a mask that appears to be a dead man’s face covered with blood, similar to the deceased victims of the disease.

Prospero and guests are outraged that someone would ruin their good time by providing a ghastly reminder of the Red Death that they are trying to avoid thinking about.  In the black room, Prospero confronts the individual but dies from the disease.  The party goers, once too scared to go into the black room, become resolute upon the death of their leader and charge into the black room.  They unmask the party crasher only to find that there’s no one underneath the mask.  They then all contract the Red Death and die immediately.

ANALYSIS

So, in other words, a group of rich people have fun and are punished for their neglect of the disease ridden masses by contracting the disease they thought they could avoid by walling themselves off in a castle under the assumption that doing so would immunize them from harm.  Poe, the author, if you’ve read his other works, has a death fixation.  Whether it is this story or The Raven’s chirp to the narrator of “Nevermore!” his works serve as a reminder that try as they might, everyone sooner or later faces death.  Prospero and his band of aristocrats were foolish to think they could avoid a plague in their backyard.  At the end of the day, they’re still human and their money and power was not enough to save them.  Had they thought of their countrymen, perhaps they could have slowed the disease and perhaps saved the day.  Instead, they were selfish and died.

Well, given today’s news headlines, kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?  Ebola is tearing through West Africa with thousands of deaths already.  Occasionally, there is a case or two in America and it causes a mass panic and fear that a plague might be headed this way.

The average American is far removed from this mess – sitting in an easy chair and watching TV, enjoying all the comforts of life, taking for granted medical care and sanitation services (i.e. indoor plumbing, clean water and trash pickup – things that are lacking in third world countries that often lead to rampant disease).  I can’t really argue that Americans are as obtuse to the situation as Prospero’s compatriots were.  Like Cicero, who played his violin while Rome burned, Prospero’s aristocrats party hard while completely ignoring the situation.  Meanwhile, today Americans are constantly bombarded with reminders of the Ebola problem by the media.  Many of us feel bad for the people of West Africa though there is not a lot we can do as individuals.  And the occasional outbreak within America causes much panic, so it cannot be said that our society is completely oblivious to the situation.

That being said, I’ve always been a critic of the UN.  The UN is an organization that was built in the wake of World War II, founded on the principle that like minded countries were going to get together and say ‘Never Again!” in the face of atrocities such as those that occurred thanks to the Nazis.  Yet, the UN does nothing about ISIS, Boko Haram, they did nothing about Rwanda, etc.  Understandably, no one wants to go to war, especially a war weary America that has just spent the last ten years fighting, so the result is many world atrocities are ignored.

But here is a chance for the civilized world to help the third world that does not require involvement in a war.  America has sent troops to help West Africa contain the Ebola outbreak.  Other countries have pitched in.   World organizations like the UN need to help third world nations build up their health care and sanitation infrastructures.  A few people in America get Ebola and it is contained due to our modern hospitals.  A few people in the third world get Ebola and it spreads like wild fire because they lack the basic facilities required to combat the disease.

And the leaders of those countries are not completely blameless.  Schools, roads, hospitals, sanitation – these are the basic services that any government should provide and if they are not providing them then they aren’t doing their jobs.

We could throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders, and say “Not our problem” but then we’d be like Prospero because, sure, Ebola is one of those problems that is “over there” and we don’t need to worry about things that happen “over there” but left unchecked and allowed to spread throughout the third world, a virus like Ebola could eventually grow so out of control that it could make its way to the civilized world with a vengeance and be impossible to stop.

So let’s not be a bunch of Prosperos, locking ourselves up in our castle while fools entertain us while there is a problem “for those people” that could one day become a problem for us.

Thanks for stopping by, fellow book enthusiasts.  Remember bookshelfbattle.com ‘s celebration of Halloween Literature is a month long event, with daily posts, so check back tomorrow.  And I’m always tweeting away on Twitter, mostly about literature, but often about pop culture in general.  Follow me @bookshelfbattle and check out my hashtag – #tweettheraven where I prove my nerdyness to the world by tweeting Poe’s infamous poem throughout the month.

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Full Text of “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

Bookshelfbattle.com ‘s Halloween Literature Extravaganza continues with the Full Text of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 short story – “The Masque of the Red Death” below.

When I have more time, I hope to provide some analysis of this, The Tell-Tale Heart and of course, The Raven.  Seeing that West Africa is currently suffering from an Ebola crisis that has the rest of the world experiencing anxiety, the story below is chillingly apropos.

Bonus points for using “apropos” in a sentence.

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

BY: EDGAR ALLAN POE

FIRST PUBLISHED – 1842

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal –the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven –an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue –and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange –the fifth with white –the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet –a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm –much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these –the dreams –writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away –they have endured but an instant –and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise –then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood –and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him –“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him –that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly –for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple –through the purple to the green –through the green to the orange –through this again to the white –and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry –and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

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Text of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Not to make this a Poe-fest, but he was the Father of American Gothic Horror, after all.  Bookshelfbattle.com ‘s Halloween festivities continue with the full text of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe in its entirety:

THE TELL-TALE HEART

BY: EDGAR ALLAN POE

1843 

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself –“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney –it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel –although he neither saw nor heard –to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once –once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye –not even his –could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock –still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, –for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath –and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

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Hydra Leaks Avengers 2 Trailer

Sometimes I think all these “leaked” trailers are just a way for studios to beta test their films – get the audience’s reactions and make tweaks accordingly.  I just have a hard time believing there’s such lax security around such a massive movie.

But oh well – it looks awesome.  Ultron is no Pinocchio.

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Public Domain Horror Fiction – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Continuing with bookshelfbattle.com ‘s month long series, “Public Domain Horror Fiction”  (a list of classic works of horror with copyrights as dead as the works’ fictional victims), here is a link to Project Gutenberg’s copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Obsessed with his own vanity, a man manages to make it so that he remains youthful in appearance forever, while a portrait of him grows old in his stead.  Shenanigans ensue.  Enjoy!

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/174

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”   – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Canadian Poetry

Some very bad business that transpired in Canada today, fellow book bloggers.  Let’s take a moment to remember our Neighbors to the North.

This is a literary blog and I wanted to pay tribute by posting a Canadian poem.  The problem?  I have zero knowledge of what is considered good Canadian poetry and or literature.

So I googled away and I came up with The Wind Our Enemy, a 1937 by Canadian poet Anne Marriott.  After a brief read, it seems to discuss survival in a harsh world.  But I’m being up front on this one – I know nothing of Canadian lit so I have no idea what Canadians would consider to be a good poem.

That’s why if you’re a Canadian, you should educate me on what your favorite Canadian poet and/or other literary work is in the comment section.

Take care, Canadians.

THE WIND OUR ENEMY

BY: Anne Marriott

FIRST PUBLISHED: 1937

I

Wind
flattening its gaunt furious self against
the naked siding, knifing in the wounds
of time, pausing to tear aside the last
old scab of paint.

Wind
surging down the cocoa-coloured seams
of summer-fallow, darting in about
white hoofs and brown, snatching the sweaty cap
shielding red eyes.

Wind
filling the dry mouth with bitter dust
whipping the shoulders worry-bowed too soon,
soiling the water pail, and in grim prophecy
greying the hair.

II

The wheat in spring was like a giant’s bolt of silk
Unrolled over the earth.
When the wind sprang
It rippled as if a great broad snake
Moved under the green sheet
Seeking its outward way to light.
In autumn it was an ocean of flecked gold
Sweet as a biscuit, breaking in crisp waves
That never shattered, never blurred in foam.
That was the last good year. ….

III

The wheat was embroidering
All the spring morning,
Frail threads needled by sunshine like thin gold.
A man’s heart could love his land,
Smoothly self-yielding,
Its broad spread promising all his granaries might hold.
A woman’s eyes could kiss the soil
From her kitchen window,
Turning its black depths to unchipped cups—a silk crepe dress—
(Two-ninety-eight, Sale Catalogue)
Pray sun’s touch be gentleness,
Not a hot hand scorching flesh it would caress.
But sky like a new tin pan
Hot from the oven
Seemed soldered to the earth by horizons of glare. ….

The third day he left the fields. ….

Heavy scraping footsteps
Spoke before his words, “Crops dried out—everywhere—”

IV

They said, “Sure, it’ll rain next year!”
When that was dry, “Well, next year anyway.”
Then, “Next—”
But still the metal hardness of the sky
Softened only in mockery.
When lightning slashed and twanged
And thunder made the hot head surge with pain
Never a drop fell;
Always hard yellow sun conquered the storm.
So the soon sickly-familiar saying grew,
(Watching the futile clouds sneak down the north)
“Just empties goin’ back!”
(Cold laughter bending parched lips in a smile
Bleak eyes denied.)

V

Horses were strong so strong men might love them,
Sides groomed to copper burning the sun,
Wind tangling wild manes, dust circling wild hoofs,
Turn the colts loose! Watch the two-year-olds run!
Then heart thrilled fast and the veins filled with glory
The feel of hard leather a fortune more sweet
Than a girl’s silky lips. He was one with the thunder,
The flying, the rhythm, of untamed, unshod feet!

But now—

It makes a man white-sick to see them now,
Dull—heads sagging—crowding to the trough—
No more spirit than a barren cow.
The well’s pumped dry to wash poor fodder down,
Straw and salt—and endless salt and straw—
(Thank God the winter’s mild so far)
Dry Russian thistle crackling in the jaw—
The old mare found the thistle pile, ate till she bulged,
Then, crazily, she wandered in the yard,
Saw a water-drum, and staggering to its rim,
Plodded around it—on and on in hard,
Madly relentless circle. Weaker—stumbling—
She fell quite suddenly, heaved once and lay.
(Nellie the kids’ pet’s gone, boys.
Hitch up the strongest team. Haul her away.
Maybe we should have mortgaged all we had
Though it wasn’t much, even in good years, and draw
Ploughs with a jolting tractor.
Still—you can’t make gas of thistles or oat-straw.)

VI

Relief.
“God, we tried so hard to stand alone!”

Relief.
“Well, we can’t let the kids go cold.”
They trudge away to school swinging half-empty lard-pails,
to shiver in the schoolhouse (unpainted seven years),
learning from a blue-lipped girl
almost as starved as they.

Relief cars.
“Apples, they say, and clothes!”
The folks in town get their pick first,
Then their friends—
“Eight miles for us to go so likely we
won’t get much—”
“Maybe we’ll get the batteries charged up and have
the radio to kind of brighten things—”

Insurgents march in Spain

Japs bomb Chinese

Airliner lost

“Maybe we’re not as badly off as some—”
“Maybe there’ll be a war and we’ll get paid to fight—”
“Maybe—”
“See if Eddie Cantor’s on to-night!”

VII

People grew bored
Well-fed in the east and west
By stale, drought-area tales,
Bored by relief whinings,
Preferred their own troubles.
So those who still had stayed
On the scorched prairie,
Found even sympathy
Seeming to fail them
Like their own rainfall.
“Well—let’s forget politics,
Forget the wind, our enemy!
Let’s forget farming, boys,
Let’s put on a dance to-night!
Mrs. Smith’ll bring a cake.
Mrs. Olsen’s coffee’s swell!”

The small uneven schoolhouse floor
Scraped under big work-boots
Cleaned for the evening’s fun,
Gasoline lamps whistled.
One Hungarian boy
Snapped at a shrill guitar,
A Swede from out north of town
Squeezed an accordion dry,
And a Scotchwoman from Ontario
Made the piano dance
In time to “The Mocking-Bird”
And “When I grow too Old to Dream,”
Only taking time off
To swing in a square dance,
Between ten and half-past three.

Yet in the morning
Air peppered thick with dust,
All the night’s happiness
Seemed far away, unreal
Like a lying mirage,
Or the icy-white glare
Of the alkali slough.

VIII

Presently the dark dust seemed to build a wall
That cut them off from east and west and north,
Kindness and honesty, things they used to know,
Seemed blown away and lost
In frantic soil.
At last they thought
Even God and Christ were hidden
By the false clouds.
—Dust-blinded to the staring parable,
Each wind-splintered timber like a pain-bent Cross.
Calloused, groping fingers, trembling
With overwork and fear,
Ceased trying to clutch at some faith in the dark,
Thin sick courage fainted, lacking hope.
But tightened, tangled nerves scream to the brain
If there is no hope, give them forgetfulness!
The cheap light of the beer-parlour grins out,
Promising shoddy security for an hour.
The Finn who makes bad liquor in his barn
Grows fat on groaning emptiness of souls.

IX

The sun goes down. Earth like a thick black coin
Leans its round rim against the yellowed sky.
The air cools. Kerosene lamps are filled and lit
In dusty windows. Tired bodies crave to lie
In bed forever. Chores are done at last.
A thin horse neighs drearily. The chickens drowse,
Replete with grasshoppers that have gnawed and scraped
Shrivelled garden-leaves. No sound from the gaunt cows.
Poverty, hand in hand with fear, two great
Shrill-jointed skeletons stride loudly out
Across the pitiful fields, none to oppose.
Courage is roped with hunger, chained with doubt.
Only against the yellow sky, a part
Of the jetty silhoutte of barn and house
Two figures stand, heads close, arms locked,
And suddenly some spirit seems to rouse
And gleam, like a thin sword, tarnished, bent,
But still shining in the spared beauty of moon,
As his strained voice says to her, “We’re not licked yet!
It must rain again—it will! Maybe—soon—”

X

Wind
in a lonely laughterless shrill game
with broken wash-boiler, bucket without
a handle, Russian thistle, throwing up
sections of soil.

God, will it never rain again? What about
those clouds out west? No, that’s just dust, as thick
and stifling now as winter underwear.
No rain, no crop, no feed, no faith, only
wind.

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Magic – The Movie, the Novel, and Creepy Killer Dolls in Fiction/Films

Happy Tuesday, Bookshelf Battlers!

This post is a tough one for me because in honor of this site’s month-long celebration of Halloween Horror Fiction, I’m tackling a subject that gives me the heebiest of jeebies – creepy killer dolls.

Earlier this month, I went to my local theater a bit late hoping to catch Gone Girl.  Alas, it was all sold out.  Being already there and not wanting to waste the evening, I saw *Gasp* Annabelle instead.  I did not want to.  Why?

Because I really hate friggin’ creepy killer doll movies.

There I said it.  Don’t judge me.  You know you hate them too.  You know you watch one of those movies and for at least a week later, no matter how educated and worldly you might be, you look at every doll you pass by as if it is harboring secret evil desires.

Annabelle turned out to be a decent movie but the subject still freaks me out.  Don’t even get me started on Chucky from Child’s Play.

Oddly though, like watching a car wreck, I inevitably end up watching these movies and today I’m here to tell you about a rather spooktacular one from long ago.

The novel?  Magic by William Goldman.  If you’ve never heard of him, many of his novels have been turned into films.  He wrote The Marathon Man in which an evil Nazi dentist violently tortures a man while uttering the iconic line, “Is it safe?”  Yet, surprisingly he also is the author of the much beloved and adored fantasy tale, The Princess Bride.  He is an example of an author who managed to move amongst different genres and do so effectively.

Yet, the man who gave us Inigo Montoya also gave the world a Chucky precursor known as “Fats” – a rude and obnoxious ventriloquist dummy.

Here’s the plot:

Believe it or not, but in the 1978, venerable Sir Anthony Hopkins, a virtual Sir Laurence Olivier, arguably one of the most accomplished thespians of our day, appeared in this wacky movie sporting a bowl cut.  Hopkins played Corky, a down and out magician.  Corky revitalizes his act by adding Fats to it, and the duo are a it.  His agent, Ben Greene, played by Burgess Meredith (you may know him as the Penguin from the 1960’s campy version of Batman) is prepared to take Corky to big time celebrity status.  But the idea of being in the spotlight frightens Corky, so he retreats to his childhood home town.

There, he is reunited with his former girlfriend, Donna played by Ann-Margaret.  She’s with Duke, who treats her terribly.  Fats, who is basically a result of Corky’s split personality run amuck, gets jealous and starts ordering Corky to kill people he feels threatened by.  That’s about it.

Here’s a creepy clip.  Don’t watch it if you a) are adverse to bad language b) are adverse to creepy killer doll movies or c) want to get to sleep tonight without having creepy killer dolls on the brain or d) are adverse to seeing a legendary actor with a bowl hair cut:

In the end, this is one of those “so bad that it’s good movies” and if you’re looking for scary movies to watch this Halloween, you can’t go wrong with this one.  Also, I mainly wanted to celebrate the author.  Some people can write about a creepy killer doll.  Some people can write about the brute squad.  Few people are able to do both effectively.

Tune in tomorrow, where I hope to have yet another spooky tribute to scary fiction.  I’m challenging myself to write one post a day until Halloween.  And as always, I’ll be tweeting away at @bookshelfbattle so feel free to follow.

In the meantime, what creepy killer doll movie and/or book creeps you out the most?  Feel free to discuss in the comments below.

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A Partial List of Steven King’s Scariest Works

Needless to say, bookshelfbattle.com ‘s month long celebration of Halloweenish Literature would not be complete without adding Steven King, the Master of Modern Horror Fiction, into the mix.  In no particular order, here are five of what I believe to be the prolific author’s scariest works:

1)  The Shining - Am I wrong or can everyone agree that this is King’s central masterpiece?  The movie version, in which a stir-crazy Jack Nicholson shouts, “Here’s Johnny!” as he puts his face up to a hole in a door he just wacked open with an axe has to be one of the scariest scenes Hollywood has ever produced.  King recently came out with a sequel, Doctor Sleep.  I haven’t read it but reviews have been positive.  In conclusion – all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  Redrum!  Redrum!

2)  Misery – I put this one high up on the list for a reason.  Most of King’s works have a supernatural element.  Danny Torrance, the little boy from The Shining, for example, had special powers that saved the day when his father lost his marbles.  The plot of Misery on the other hand, has no otherworldly occurrences and though unlikely, could possibly happen.  A famous author drives has a car accident due to snowy road conditions.  “His number one fan,”  Annie the Nurse, finds him, drags him home, and nurses him back to health.  Sounds nice, right?  Wrong.  Turns out Annie’s psychotic and she holds the writer hostage, doing everything she can to keep him from leaving.  She drugs him, and at one point even hobbles him.  Forget every CGI fake special effects laden movie monster you have ever seen.  One of the scariest moments of movie history is when Kathy Bates (who plays Annie in the film version opposite James Caan who plays the writer) hobbles her “guest” by putting a wooden block between his ankles and striking his feet with a sledge hammer.  “Cock-a-doody-poopy!”

3) Carrie – Awkward girl abused by crazy mother gets made fun of one too many times.  When the cool kids dump a bucket of pigs’ blood on her at the prom, she loses all control of her eerie superpowers and unleashes them.  Yeah, I suppose everyone has experienced abuse at the hand of a bully at one point or another while growing up, but maybe Carrie could have just let them off easy and used her powers to give them all wedgies?  There have been two remakes as far as I recall but none beats the original film version starring Sissy Spacek.

4) Christine – Car gets possessed by a ghost.  Teenage car owner goes crazy.  Disturbing shenanigans ensue.  Moral of the story- always check the Carfax.

5) Cujo – Again, like Misery, I put this in King’s “scarier because it could potentially happen” column.  As scary as Christine may be, it is highly unlikely that your used car is possessed by a ghost.  It may be possessed by a million petrified french fries under the back seat, but not a malevolent spirit.  The plot of Cujo, on the other hand, is entirely possible – actually, more possible than Misery.  The whole story centers around a mechanic’s rabid dog, Cujo.  Donna Trenton and her son, Tad, go to the home of local mechanic Joe looking for some car repairs.  Cujo, once a mild-mannered St. Bernard, has developed a nasty case of rabies from a bat bite, and much to the Trentons’ chagrin, has killed Joe.  Cujo traps Donna and Tad in their car, which fails to start (it was there for repairs, after all!) and the majority of the novel centers around Donna protecting Tad while they are trapped in the car and essentially held hostage by a ravenous canine.  Say what you want, but rabid dogs do exist and to me, they’re a hundred times scarier than say, non-existent zombies that drag their feet and go, “Ergh!” and “Argh!”

Did I miss one of your favorite Steven King novels?  Feel free to post it below:

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The Walking Dead and Best Zombie Books

I love The Walking Dead.  If anything else, the show is a weekly one-hour series that gives us the mental challenge to consider how we could live in a world of nothing, scavenging up the basics of survival from the lost, forgotten world all around us.  If you think life sucks when your iPhone dies and there’s not a charger in sight, then you won’t last long in Sherriff Rick’s group.

I did worry that maybe it showed signs of “jumping the shark” last week when Carol covered herself with Zombie guts and walked amongst the zombies undetected.  I mean, honestly, if outfoxing the zombies is that easy then why hasn’t everyone just been walking around wearing zombie guts all the time?  (Besides the obvious hygienic reasons, of course).

The Zombie Genre has rivaled the Vampire Genre in recent years, and yet it has always been a bit problematic.  The main crticism of every zombie movie?  They are all pretty much the same.  Zombie outbreak occurs.  Group of survivors ban together.  Zombies walk around slowly and sluggishly, grunting “Errgh!” and “Argh!”  Survivors must brave their way to some location where they believe they will be safe.  Along the way, some member of the group is bitten by a zombie.  The bite victim’s close friend and/or relative faces the painful choice of either shooting the zombie bite victim, thus putting him out of his misery and saving the group from the bites that will be forthcoming if he turns, or letting the bite victim stay as is, in hopes that some type of cure is around the corner.

Thus, in a genre where it is all pretty much the same thing, it is impressive that a comic book series and a subsequent TV show has been able to catch the public’s interest for so long.  Yes, there is a lot of the “Erghs!” and “Arghs!” but there is also an attempt to look at what the world would become during a zombie outbreak:

1)  People Building Communities – There probably would be a lot of people like the Governor who would go from being an avergage schlump to starting his own civilization.  And undoubtedly, they would probably become power hungry and mad.

2)  Scavenging – Searching through abandoned homes and stores for leftovers would become the modern equivalent of foraging.  Only problem is once all the processed food runs out, people would have to do something crazy like – build a farm, raise crops, tend to farm animals, etc.

3) Bad People Would Take Advantage – Free from the constraints of the law and impending jail time for their misdeeds, there would be a lot of bad people to deal with, as the show illustrates sometimes in too graphic detail.

4)  People Will Become Shadows of their Former Selves – Just ask former domesticated Mom turned Samurai Warrior Michonne.

5)  Your Family Unit Becomes the People You Randomly Meet – You’ll meet people in need of assistance.  If they seem trustworthy, they’re yours.  You know have to drag those people around with you until the end of time.

In honor of The Walking Dead, here is a list, in no particular order, of Zombie Books:

1)  World War Z by Max Brooks – Probably the preminent zombie novel in recent years, it was turned into a pretty decent horror/action flick starring Brad Pitt.  It basically follows one man’s quest to stop a zombie outbreak.  Plenty of “Erghs!” and “Arghs!”

2) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith – Never read it, but my understanding is that it basically takes Austen’s original text and then adds in something like – “And then after Mr. Darcy drank his cup of tea, he was attacked by a ravenous zombie!!!”  You may know Seth Grahame-Smith from such works as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  My hat goes off to him as he has really managed to make a decent living off of taking historical figures and pitting them against supernatural forces.

3) The Zombie Survival Guide – by Max Brooks -Hilarious parody in which the author takes a fun and twisted look at the various ways one can prepare for a zombie apocalypse and use just about anything as a survival tool.

4)  I am Legend – by Richard Matheson – Published in 1954, this classic tale tells of one man’s fight against a world of bloodthirsty creatures.  Some may call it a vampire book, others might call it a zombie book.  However, Matheson deserves some credit for getting the whole “survive in a world of horrible creatures” genre of the ground.

5) Cell – by Steven King – Ok, so this is not a traditional zombie book, but reviewers rave about it.  It was published in 2006.  You remember the 2000’s right?  For those who have forgot, it was a time when society when from viewing cell phones as luxuries to necessities.  (Believe it or not, there was once an age when people would say, “Why the hell would I want to carry a phone with me when I’m out of the house?   I’m busy!  Whoever wants to talk to me can call me when I get home!)  So in other words, King took peoples’ newfound interest in phones and weaved a tale around it.  Basically, a computer virus infects cell phones and turns their users into zombie-eqsue rage monsters, not unlike what was seen in 28 Days Later.  Kind of a silly plot but the Master of Horror Fiction makes it work.

Did I miss any of your favorite zombie books?  Feel free to post them below.

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PC vs. Apple/Word vs. Pages – Which is the best for writers?

I’m a longtime PC guy thinking about switching it up to Mac.  Macs look nice and sleek but whenever I take a peak at one in the store and see all the ways its operating system is different from Windows I feel like I’m about to get dumped into the middle of downtown Mumbai without knowing anything about the local language or customs and being expected to find my way home.

On the other hand, there is something about Microsoft Word that bugs me.  It tries too hard to anticipate what it thinks I want to do that sometimes it keeps me from doing what I actually want to do.  Change a margin for effect on one paragraph on page 1 and it still wants to change it on page 50.  Do a numbered list and it tries to do a number list everytime you subsequently write a number.  Can Pages be any better?  But – doesn’t most of the civilized world already use Word and therefore my writing most be Word formatted to receive any kind of consideration?

THE QUESTION OF THE DAY:

Is an Apple or a PC a better computer for writers (and also -Word or Pages – which is better for writing?)

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