Zastrozzi

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

Spirit of the Centennial, Woman’s Building, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Is it finished?

The sky was unusually obscured, the sun had sunk beneath the western mountain, and its departing ray tinged the heavy clouds with a red glare.–The rising blast sighed through the towering pines, which rose loftily above Matilda’s head: the distant thunder, hoarse as the murmurs of the grove, in indistinct echoes mingled with the hollow breeze; the scintillating lightning flashed incessantly across her path, as Matilda, heeding not the storm, advanced along the trackless forest.

The crashing thunder now rattled madly above, the lightnings flashed a larger curve, and at intervals, through the surrounding gloom, showed a scathed larch, which, blasted by frequent storms, reared its bare head on a height above.

Matilda sat upon a fragment of jutting granite, and contemplated the storm which raged around her. The portentous calm, which at intervals occurred amid the reverberating thunder, portentous of a more violent tempest, resembled the serenity which spread itself over Matilda’s mind–a serenity only to be succeeded by a fiercer paroxysm of passion.
—-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Zastrozzi

Two down, ninety-eight to go.

A few days ago, while working on my goals for 2018 I decided to set a goal of reading a hundred books in the year. Thinking about it, I decided the only way to pull this off was to read short books. I made a list of 66 short novels and wrote about it. Thinking more about it, I was excited enough to jump the gun and start the 100 books immediately. The first one I read was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

How I chose this one, I have no idea. While I have nothing against real books, I knew that to read a hundred books I’ll have to put a lot of them onto my Kindle. So I started perusing the various sources of free ebooks online (especially Project Gutenberg) and downloaded Percy Bysshe Shelley’s first novel, Zastrozzi, from Project Gutenberg Australia.

It is a true Gothic Novel – a revenge tale of overwhelming lust and evil. There is nothing subtle here, but who is in the mood for that? I liked it a lot more than I expected. It is short – about a hundred pages or so, and a quick read.

A wood engraving by Cecil Keeling from the 1955 Golden Cockerel Press edition of Zastrozzi

It is interesting how many similar scenes there are in this book to Frankenstein – written by Shelley’s wife Mary. That reminded me of the terribly wonderful and extremely entertaining (if fatally flawed) over-the-top film of that fateful weekend where Mary Shelley wrote her tale The Modern Prometheus, basically on a dare – Gothic directed by the mad genius Ken Russell. I’d like to watch that thing again.

Looking around, I see that an updated Zastrozzi was also made into a British mimi-series (also from 1986) starring Tilda Swinton as Julia. I’d love to see that, but it’s pretty obscure. Have to keep my eyes out.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 26 – At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell

Here’s a closeup of the sculpture on the clock on the carriage house.

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 26 – At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell
Read it online here:

At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell

To its left, where he might have looked for a doorbell, a tarnished blotchy plaque said LORN HALL. The door displayed no bell or knocker, just a greenish plaque that bore the legend RESIDENCE OF CROWCROSS. “Lord Crowcross,” Randolph murmured as though it might gain some significance for him if not summon its owner to the door. As he tried to recall ever having previously heard the name he felt a chill touch as thin as a fingernail on the back of his neck. It was a raindrop, which sent him to push the heavy door wide.

—-Ramsey Campbell, At Lorn Hall

Ramsey Campbell is considered one of the masters of modern horror – and from what I’ve read, I’d have to agree. I particularly impressed by the evolution and breadth of his talent… from Lovecraftian tales, to jewels of erotic horror, to his increasingly complex novels.

Today’s story is a straightforward gothic frightfest… a haunted house full of ancient furniture, barely functioning lighting, and foreboding paintings of the master, Lord Crowcross looking down on every scene. There are these odd headphones that narrate the tours… and maybe more. There are even spiders that add their webbing to the lace patterns of doilies on the furniture.

Scary stuff. Game over.

Interview with Ramsey Campbell:

Starburst: What are your thoughts on horror fiction? Do you think one must experience horror in order to write it?

Ramsey Campbell: I think you have to experience horror in the imagination. That’s what you dream up onto the page. On a personal level, my childhood is a case of nightmares. Someone once said I was born to write horror; I’m not too sure about that. A fair number of horror writers have a strange background. It’s not specific to the field, and I’m not certain if it’s even special to it. That said, I grew up reading adult horror. It was a very small step from reading George MacDonald to fairy tales. Victorian fairy tales were a complete nightmare that have been cut out of the later versions. They use the same kind of suggestions. What is left out is then up to my imagination, for me, that’s how much of the best horror fiction works, even today.

Thoughts on your childhood?

I had a very strange childhood. I lived in a small house with my parents. They became estranged very shortly after I was born, and I didn’t know my father at all for about twenty years, even though he was in the same house. I never saw him, and he became this kind of monstrous figure. My mother suffered from schizophrenia, and at a very early age I had to figure out the difference between what she saw and reality. I had to work that out when I was three years old, you know. A useful perception, obviously. That’s defined a lot of what I write, this difference between what is perceived and what is real. That was a long answer. (laughs)

What type of influence did H.P. Lovecraft have on you, in particular your early work?

Oh huge. Huge! I read a number of anthologies from the library when I was young and teenage. You couldn’t get a book on Lovecraft, and it wasn’t until 1960, I believe, that the first ever paperback collection of Lovecraft stories came out called, Cry Horror. They contained Call of Cthulhu and Rats in the Wall. Some of his masterpieces. Also some of his lesser stuff like Moon Bog. But I read that through in a single day, and I was completely steeped in it. I knew that was what I wanted to write, basically. But I didn’t write short stories or a novel for at least three years. At eleven I completed a terrible work called, Ghostly Terrors, which was everything I read just stuffed together, but it gave me focus. I knew this was the kind of thing I wanted to do, and I wanted to imitate. But I hadn’t travelled, never gone further than Southport, and Lovecraft’s work was set in Massachusetts. I wrote five stories very much imitating Lovecraft. Lovecraft didn’t use dialogue, so nor did I. I unlearned a lot of stuff. I sent the works originally to Arkham House to see if they were any good. They wrote back two pages describing what was wrong with the pieces. Not the least of which, of course, was the lack of dialogue. It’s interesting how many writers start off imitating other writers.

—-From Starburst Magazine

(click to enlarge)
Magnolia Building
Dallas, Texas