Wednesday, October 24, 2018

RIP XIII: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Like any child on Halloween night, eight boys in this fantasy-horror story put their costumes and were ready to go for trick-or-treating. But when the little mummy, the ghost, the gargoyle, the skeleton, and the others had gathered at the appointed place: the Haunted House, they did not find Pipkin. Pipkin is sort of the chief of the gang; and without him Halloween would not be fun. Instead of their friend, they found, near the house, a huge tree with branches, laden with Jack-o-lanterns: The Halloween Tree! Inside the house they met a cadaverous looking man wrapped in black, who introduced himself as Mr. Moundshroud.

Pipkin finally showed up, but he was immediately snatched from the boys, and vanished into the air. To find and save Pipkin, Mr. Moundshroud led the eight boys to search through the past, to teach them the history and real meaning of Halloween they celebrate every year.

So, by magic they travelled across time and space to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Celtic, Medieval Paris, and Mexico. They went inside the Pyramid to find mummies, flew on brooms and met witches, walked inside the catacomb, and adored the Gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral. At each place they visited, they always saw glimpses of Pipkin, before he eluded right before they got chance to save him. Through these eerie adventures, the boys learned about the origins of Halloween; why death is scary, the fact about mummy, the origin of trick-or-treat, and whether witches have really existed.

At the end of their journey, the boys realized that the only way to save dear Pipkin was by agreeing to sacrifice one year each of their lives.

The Halloween Tree for Halloween, is what A Christmas Carol do for Christmas. You celebrate the holiday each year, get yourself surround by the atmosphere, the ornaments, foods, costumes, and rituals. You gather with friends and families to celebrate... what? What is that that you are celebrating—the day itself? As with A Christmas Carol, The Halloween Tree also reminds you of the real values behind ornaments and the celebration itself.

This was my first Ray Bradbury. I still had not the courage to read Fahrenheit, and so wanted to take a taste through this tale. It was a fun read; fast moving with beautiful prose, and a perfect read for Halloween mood. Bradbury wanted us to remember our dead relatives (the real purpose of Halloween), but also to realize the value of life. I loved how Bradbury made the eight boys giving up one year of their lives to save a friend. There is always love behind every holiday!

4 / 5

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Classics Club’s Gothic Book Tag (#CCdare)

Being an Indonesian, I have never celebrated Halloween. Here, the All Saints Day is not public holiday; the Christians only celebrated it in Mass. We are not familiar with costume parties, trick-or-treat, or jack-o-lanterns; not when we were kids, at least. October is for me just another month—busy month towards end of the year. Thus, this Gothic Book Tag by The Classics Club (thanks, moderators!) really spiced up my October a bit this year.

Which classic book has scared you the most?
Dante’s The Divine Comedy – I have read Inferno… and that’s all. Have tried to delve into Purgatory, but did not understand about 80% of it. Tried to jump to Paradiso, and… it’s like reading a book in foreign language—total failure. I have even tried an online course on youtube, but I guess I’m too lazy to begin.

Scariest moment in a book?
The torture in Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum.

Classic villain that you love to hate?
Got to be Erik (the phantom) in The Phantom of the Opera. He is sweet, kind, honorable; but for the society’s distrust, he would have been a great man.

Creepiest setting in a book?
I’m not sure. Maybe each place in Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, except the Halloween tree itself; I found it rather cheerful than grotesque (review still to come).

Best scary cover ever?

Maybe my copy of Morrison’s Beloved falls in this category. At first you’d think it’s a black woman wearing hat, but on close inspection you’d see that the red background goes through her face; and you realized that she has no face. Creepy, no?

Book you’re too scared to read?
Dracula! Laugh at me if you want, but I felt coldness in my soul while reading it. Like every cheerfulness and light was sucked out of me by it (like Dementor? Ugh!). Finally I must hide the book under my Bible to be able to get a peaceful sleep. Call me superstitious or crazy, but that actually worked well.

Spookiest creature in a book?
Count Fosco in The Woman in White. Nothing is spookier than a man without conscience.

Classic book that haunts you to this day?
L’Assommoir by Émile Zola. Seems that I can’t resist to put Zola in every list/tag, LOL. But really, L’Assommoir shocked the hell of me six years ago (and I haven’t got the guts to reread it to this day).

Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?

Classic book you really, really disliked?

Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?
Lily Bart from The House of Mirth

List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.
Seriously, only 5? :D
- The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)
- And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Charles Dickens)
- The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)

Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.
The nursery rhymes from And Then There Were None, originally written by an Irish songwriter Septimus Winner in 19th century. Some calls it Ten Little Injuns; but Christie used Ten Little Indians; or like in this picture: Ten Little Soldier Boys. Which one be it may, it’s still creepy (at least the fact that it was a nursery rhyme is really scary!)


Monday, October 15, 2018

RIP XIII: The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown is a petit priest with innocent look and black umbrella, whose long experience with men provided him a better understanding of human's passions and characters. That, and his special gift of analysis and observation, has molded Father Brown to a sharp detective. Yes, Father Brown is a pastor and a detective, and this is a detective stories collection.

I am certain that Father Brown detective stories were Agatha Christie's main inspiration for her Poirot’s. First of all, his method of combining human psychology with sharp analysis and deductive. Secondly, his sidekick's name, M. Hercule Flambeu, which was very similar to Christie's legendary Hercule Poirot.

The Innocence of Father Brown composed of twelve detective stories. In four earliest cases, Flambeau was the notorious and elusive criminal who has puzzled the police. It was Father Brown who solved those cases, and at the same time converted Flambeau. He retired from his criminal career, and eventually became private investigator, who sometimes assisted Father Brown as his sidekick.

I took notes of the twelve cases, each is unique and interesting.

The Blue Cross, the introduction story, is a jewel theft. Father Brown was the victim, Flambeau the thief. Chief Valentin of Paris police force was trailing Flambeau, though at the end became only a spectator when Father Brown unfolded the mystery.

The Secret Garden is the best plot twist of the twelve stories. It reminded me of Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd—you know...when the villain turned out to be the _____ [I must stop myself here before spoiling anything!]

The Queer Feet is a simple theft story which also criticized snob rich men who consider themselves center of universe, and at the same time treat their servants as their inferior. It also served as the turning point of Flambeau's criminal career.

The Flying Stars is Flambeau's last crime. It's a classic theft case which involved English dramatic pantomime, where people dressed as Harlequin, Columbine, and the Clown. Then, while the audience was having fun, three diamonds changed hands.

The Invisible Man is a murder without a corpse. It's my favorite. Not only that it's a perfect crime, but also because it involved an interesting social study of how we treat people.

The Honor of Israel Gow is the perfect Halloween reading in this stories collection. It's queer and gothic, taking place in old castle in Scotland, and involving grave digging and skull.

The Wrong Shape can be said the predecessor of Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The similarity is uncanny, especially the twist. And the way Father Brown solved the mystery by identifying the wrong shape of a sheet of paper was really Poirot-ish.

The Sins of Prince Saradine is cold blooded revenge-murder story. Another plot twist, and a double crime—the “killing two birds with one stone” stuff.

The Hammer of God served as warning for us to be humble, and not to act God. For common eyes, there was a touch of supernatural power in this death case. But Father Brown proved the opposite.

The Act of Apollo is another seemingly-supernatural case. This time involved a fanatic sect and its 'blind' worshipper. It's the most simple but ruthless-cold-blooded murder I have ever read.

The Sign of the Broken Sword is the most unique case. Actually it's not even a case, because Brown and Flambeau only analyzed the history of a legendary general who died in war, and was always identified with a broken sword. Why a broken sword? This question then led to a surprising conclusion.

The Three Tools of Death is murder case with too many weapons. And as usual, something out of place is what interest Father Brown, a starting point to solve the case.

This is my first Chesterton, and I would read more from him. The Man Who Was Thursday has been in my radar for some time. Father Brown might not be my favorite detective stories—at times the story is too queer for my taste—but it is quite entertaining if you feel like reading some fast-paced stories.

3,5 / 5

Monday, October 8, 2018

RIP XIII: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Someone has mentioned to me that The Turn of the Screw is 'interesting'. Normally a gothic-horror-ghost story is labeled as scary or dark, rarely interesting. But after finishing the book for R.I.P XIII challenge, I agree that this book is, indeed, interesting!

The Turn of the Screw is a novella (my copy contains 96 pages—excluding introduction and preface). And if you are familiar with Henry James' flowery writing style, believe me, other writers would have written it much shorter! However, the discussion that might follow the reading would be very long...

In short, the story is narrated by a man who was telling a story to his friends 'round the fire' on a Christmas Eve. It was a queer story he got from his friend, a young woman who was hired by a gentleman to be a governess. The gentleman is a bachelor who had been left guardian for his orphan niece and nephew in a country home called Bly in Essex. He specifically instructed the governess to never bother him for any trouble whatsoever. Arriving at Bly, our governess found a nice housekeeper, a sweet little girl called Flora, and a letter from the boy's school, announcing that Miles (the boy) was expelled from school; although Mrs. Grose the housekeeper said he is a sweet child who won't trouble anyone. Then series of queer things unrolled one after another that distressed the governess: supernatural apparitions of a man (not a gentleman) and a woman, who Mrs. Grose pointed as the late servant (Peter Quint) and governess (Miss Jessel). Then there were also the two sweet children, whom the governess knew have seen and communicated with the ghosts, but never told her anything.

Things got complicated when Mrs. Grose revealed that Peter Quint and Miss Jessel have made a scandalous love affair. Our heroine also realised that Mrs. Grose could not see the apparitions! The sweet children then started to behave cunningly, and our heroine suspected that it was the dead lovers who brought evil influence to them when they made contact with the poor children. Bad things turned to worse, and the story ended abruptly by a sudden death of someone in the house.

Many believe that the ghosts only existed in the governess' mind (because Mrs. Grose never saw it), and that the whole story was only the product of her hallucination. Is it so? Mrs. Grose did not see the apparition, and has never confirmed the governess' suspicion. One tangible proof is the letter from school. It could have proven that Miles had turned evil and done wicked things to his friends. However, Mrs. Grose could not read, so she could not confirm either.

The only subject she positively agreed with the governess is the bad character of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. But what would it prove? So, all in all, I think James purposely created an intricate condition, of which we could not find single evidence that: a) there were ghosts, and b) the children turned evil from the ghosts’ evil influences. James just wanted this story to be ambiguous, and to make the readers debating forever, perhaps? He succeeded if that’s what he wanted.

Anyway, it is a nice gothic ghost story, and certainly very interesting. However, James' writing style sometimes washed away the spookiness of the story, and left only the interesting bit.

3,5 / 5