Tag Archives: gothic

Symbolism in “The Hollow of the Three Hills” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This is a very short tale, but rich in symbolism. In the opening paragraph, which is a little long, Hawthorne manages to lay the foundation for all the symbols that manifest in the story.

In those strange old times, when fantastic dreams and madmen’s reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life, two persons met together at an appointed hour and place. One was a lady, graceful in form and fair of feature, though pale and troubled, and smitten with an untimely blight in what should have been the fullest bloom of her years; the other was an ancient and meanly-dressed woman, of ill-favored aspect, and so withered, shrunken, and decrepit, that even the space since she began to decay must have exceeded the ordinary term of human existence. In the spot where they encountered, no mortal could observe them. Three little hills stood near each other, and down in the midst of them sunk a hollow basin, almost mathematically circular, two or three hundred feet in breadth, and of such depth that a stately cedar might but just be visible above the sides. Dwarf pines were numerous upon the hills, and partly fringed the outer verge of the intermediate hollow, within which there was nothing but the brown grass of October, and here and there a tree trunk that had fallen long ago, and lay mouldering with no green successor from its roots. One of these masses of decaying wood, formerly a majestic oak, rested close beside a pool of green and sluggish water at the bottom of the basin. Such scenes as this (so gray tradition tells) were once the resort of the Power of Evil and his plighted subjects; and here, at midnight or on the dim verge of evening, they were said to stand round the mantling pool, disturbing its putrid waters in the performance of an impious baptismal rite. The chill beauty of an autumnal sunset was now gilding the three hill-tops, whence a paler tint stole down their sides into the hollow.

So let’s go through the paragraph and look at the various symbols that will come into play during this story.

First are the two women, one young and one old. They represent the maid and crone aspects of the triple goddess. But also, they represent the past and present for the older woman. The younger woman symbolizes the memories of the older. The choices that were made when the woman was young led her to her place now. So when the crone conjures dark memories of the young woman’s past, she is essentially reliving her own memories, which will lead to her liberation from the bonds of guilt and shame.

The next symbol we encounter is the three hills. The three hills represent the three memories which the crone conjures for the young woman. Each of the hills is a painful memory and represents separation, symbolic death (think grave mound). The young woman severed connections with parents, then with husband, and finally with child. In Hawthorne’s time, the only way a woman could be free was to shake off all bonds to family.

Next, we see that the setting of the story is in October. This represents the time of reaping. We all must reap what we sow, and the young woman must face up to the decisions that she made.

Finally, we have the symbol of the fallen tree. This represents the woman’s lineage, or family tree. When Hawthorne writes that there is “no green successor from its roots,” it is a metaphor for the fact that the woman no longer has any family or children to carry on her bloodline. Like the tree, she will just get old and decay.

While this is not a horror story, per se, it is certainly dark and eerie, and a great short read for an October evening.

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Thoughts on “The Valley of Unrest” by Edgar Allan Poe

Gustave Dore

Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sun-light lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless—
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye—
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:—from out their fragrant tops
External dews come down in drops.
They weep:—from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.

As I read this poem, I felt like I was in a graveyard, where restless spirits were moving amid the leafless trees, gliding between gravestones. This is classic American gothic romanticism. It’s impossible to read this and not sense the “rustle through the unquiet Heaven.”

One of the first things that struck me about this poem is its connection to Psalm 23:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Considering this, the speaker of the poem may be experiencing fear and dread at the thought of his mortality. He feels that, like the people buried in the cemetery, that he may die any day, unexpectedly, and become nothing more than a nameless stone, completely forgotten by later generations.

In addition to a fear of death, I also get a sense that the speaker is mourning a personal loss. There is some memory that is tormenting the person. The restless spirits represent memories that refuse to sleep quietly in his psyche. While the speaker does not provide any tangible clues as to who it is that is troubling his mind, I suspect that it is the loss of a loved one, probably a lover.

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Thoughts on “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorn

My friend Sonia recommended this short story to me as something I might want to consider as part of my Halloween reading list. I love Hawthorn and it has been a while since I read any of his works, so I took her suggestion.

The story is a somewhat eerie tale about a young man who falls in love with a young woman who has a strange attachment to her father’s garden, and in particular one plant that is highly poisonous. It is discovered that the father, a scientist, had been giving her doses of the plant’s poison to make her immune and also instill her with a kind of built in defense against unwanted male advances.

Having read this right after finishing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I was very aware of Hawthorn’s criticism of the tendency of scientific men to want to usurp the power that was traditionally assigned to the divine. And it almost seems like Hawthorn predicted the age of genetically modified organisms that have become the norm in our world of factory farming.

The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several, also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of experiment, which, in one or two cases, had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden.

What I respect about Hawthorn is that he is critical in all areas. Often, people who are critical of science embrace religion, but Hawthorn is just as critical in this tale about religion as he is science. When Baglioni points out that Rappaccini offered his daughter as a sacrifice to science, it also symbolically parallels Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac to God. Hawthorn is equally appalled at the sacrifice of humanity for any of our gods, whether they be religion or science.

“Her father,” continued Baglioni, “was not restrained by natural affection from offering up his child, in this horrible manner, as the victim of his insane zeal for science. For — let us do him justice — he is as true a man of science as ever distilled his own heart in an alembic. What, then, will be your fate? Beyond a doubt, you are selected as the material of some new experiment. Perhaps the result is to be death — perhaps a fate more awful still! Rappaccini, with what he calls the interest of science before his eyes, will hesitate at nothing.”

There is a lot of other cool symbolism woven into this tale, and I encourage you to read it if you have not yet done so. It’s a great tale with a nice twist at the end. Creepy enough for an evening Halloween season read, but also a thought-provoking parable that forces us to examine our human tendencies toward fanaticism and the desire to manipulate and control Nature.

Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy your reading!

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Creepy: Issue 23

Creepy_23

On a recent trip to the comic store, I opted to discontinue a couple arcs that I had been following. I had just lost interest and it felt like they were dragging out the stories. So, I perused the racks looking for something different and then an issue of Creepy caught my eye. The cover—dark, gothic, and spectral—enticed me. I have loved horror since I was a kid, and I used to read early versions of Creepy growing up (much to the dismay of my parents). I had read a couple of the “new” Creepy publications put out by Dark Horse,so I decided to pick this one up and give it a read. I have to say, I really liked it.

The stories in the issue were reminiscent of the old graphic horror tales I remember from my childhood. Even the black-and-white artwork captured the shadowy essence of early graphic horror. And rather than being serialized, where you have to commit to issue after issue following a labyrinthine arc, Creepy is composed of several short vignettes, each one a stand-alone tale steeped in folklore and the macabre. I particularly liked one story entitled “The Picture of Death,” which was about an 18th century traveler who stays in a boardinghouse room that has a cursed painting. The painting, populated with grotesquely surreal creatures right out of an Hieronymus Bosch painting, comes to life and draws the unsuspecting man into a nightmarish realm. It was an amazing depiction of how art can also unlock darker regions of the psyche which can lead a person into insanity.

The inside of the back cover is a single-page one-panel tale depicting a mythological demon who creates a play so dark that reading it drive a person insane. I thought it would be worth sharing  the accompanying quote.

Hastur, ruling from the lost, mythical city of Carcosa, revels in chaos and madness. None dare read the play written by this malicious entity, for fear of going insane, crying for salvation while Hastur’s soul-shattering stories give none.

Beware, precious reader, for you too will end up as the pitiful wretch seen here—one whose mind has traveled too far into the realm of the King in Yellow, only to be trapped with countless other lost souls!

If you have an interest in the macabre, then this is something for you. But be warned, these tales are not for the timid.

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Alice Cooper: Issue #3

AliceCooperComic_03

Last night I watched “Good to See You Again, Alice Cooper” at a friend’s house. The film documents the infamous 1973 Billion Dollar Babies tour and is interspersed with comedic shorts. Since I had issue 3 in my stack of things to be read, I couldn’t resist bumping it to the top of the pile.

The comic opens with scenes from a concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1975, which stirred memories of going to concerts in the 70’s, a much more Dionysian era.

In times past, this was your scene, your church, your glory. You drove a crowd into a frenzy, nightly. Then called them back to do it again and again. All carefully designed and planned, a delicate mix of the macabre and the theatrical… the dark, and the delightful… all while walking a line between what was real, and what was show… and what was both to a delicate, deliberate degree.

For me, this perfectly captures the experience of an Alice Cooper performance and what defines stage performance as art. It is the blending of the real and the imagined. You have actual individuals on a stage, and we then project our hopes and fears onto them based upon their actions (act being the root of the word). The fact that real people are before us allows us to suspend belief in a way that film can never quite accomplish. It’s why a Shakespeare play is always better than a film adaptation.

So far, I am enjoying this series. The Alice Cooper persona lends itself well to the graphic novel genre. As a bonus, here’s a clip from the film I watched last night. If you’re an Alice Cooper fan, you should check out the film. Rock on!

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Halloween Hamlet Quote

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Since today is Halloween, I figured it would be appropriate to quote the original goth-emo dude – Hamlet.

Tis now the very witching time of night,

When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,

And do such bitter business as the day

Would quake to look on.

Enjoy your Halloween, and read something appropriate.

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Alice Cooper: Issue #2

AliceCooperComic_02

Since I was a kid, Alice Cooper has been the soundtrack to my October nights, filling the air with the dark sounds of the macabre and the gothic. Tomorrow night, I will see him once again in concert, and to say I’m excited is quite the understatement. So to get myself in the proper state of mind, I decided to read the latest installment in the Alice Cooper graphic series.

The truth be told, I’m such a huge Alice fan that even if this series sucked I would still read it and like it, and while this new comic is not on par with Neil Gaiman’s Alice Cooper comic series, it is still good.

In this issue, Alice, the Nightmare Lord, strikes a deal with the bullied kid Robbie. Robbie, who had inadvertently bound the dark lord, promises to release Alice if he assists in getting back at the bully who torments him. While all this is transpiring, Lucius Black’s brother, Andronicus, is scheming to recapture the Nightmare Lord. Near the end of the issue, the threads of the tale begin to entwine together and we are left with a nice cliffhanger.

My favorite part of this issue is when Alice manifests to the bully. The surprised teen asks who Alice is, and Alice responds with the following.

Once upon a time, I could live rent free in that mind of yours, stealing your potential… rotting your brain with my special, signature raison d’etat… I stuck a stick of dynamite up rock n’ roll’s ass and pushed the art of the stage show out of the juke joints and the back rooms with morbid theatricality… along with macabre panache! I made the nightmares happen, and I thought it’d last forever.

Tomorrow night, I will once again experience the morbid theatricality and macabre panache which is an Alice Cooper concert. Thanks for stopping by, and may your Halloween be filled with thrills and chills!

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