Best-Selling Victorian Author’s Werewolf Novel Fascinating

Until recently and only thanks to a blog by Interesting Literature, I had never heard of George W.M. Reynolds (1814-1879), and even Anne Rice in her novel The Wolf Gift (2012), where she mentions several early Werewolf novels and short stories, does not mention him, yet in his day, Reynolds outsold Charles Dickens as well as all the other well-known Victorian novelists, including the Brontes, Thackeray, Eliot, and Trollope.

Reynolds - a page from Reynolds' Miscellany - the beginning of Wagner the Wehr-Wolf can be seen at the bottom.

Reynolds – a page from Reynolds’ Miscellany – the beginning of Wagner the Wehr-Wolf can be seen at the bottom.

Why didn’t Reynolds’ fame endure down to the twenty-first century with his contemporaries? I suspect it’s because of the types of books he wrote. His books were Gothic and often serialized in the penny dreadful format. They also were derivative of other writers. He was clearly a reader of the great French novelist Eugene Sue, best known for his novel The Wandering Jew (1846) and also The Mysteries of Paris (1842-1843). Reynolds capitalized on Sue’s popularity by writing The Mysteries of London (1844-1848). He also capitalized on the popularity of the penny dreadful installments of Varney the Vampyre (1845-1847) by writing the similarly titled Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1846-1847). I have read both Varney the Vampyre and Sue’s The Wandering Jew and can clearly see the influence of these works on Wagner the Wehr-Wolf in terms of its style, complicated plot, and moral themes. The book is also very derivative of the early Gothic novels of a half-century before; in fact, it reads like it could have been written by a male counterpart to Eleanor Sleath, author of The Orphan on the Rhine (1798), although its plot and style is too far-fetched and simplistic to raise it to the level of Mrs. Radcliffe’s works. That said, there is much that is interesting and even remarkable about Wagner the Wehr-Wolf that makes the work deserve more attention.

To summarize Wagner the Wehr-Wolf’s plot would be tedious and it would be hard to follow. It’s enough to say it is full of twists and turns, remarkable coincidences, family secrets, a mysterious manuscript, bloody deeds, and supernatural events. The setting, other than the brief prologue that takes place in Germany, is primarily Florence, Italy in the 1520s, with some scenes on a deserted island and in Constantinople. There are a handful of main characters, but only two—Wagner and Nisida—really stand out. I will focus upon them and the main plot that involves them, while including a few additional comments about minor characters and the subplots to highlight their Gothic elements that add to the novel’s fascination.

Wagner is the true main character. When the novel opens, he is a ninety-five-year-old grandfather who fears he has been abandoned by his granddaughter and left alone in their forest home. He is visited by a mysterious stranger who gives him the gift of youth in exchange for traveling with him for a year and a half. Wagner agrees to the conditions—that in exchange for youth, he will become a werewolf for twenty-four hours once a month. He drinks from a vial to make the transformation to occur. I find this detail remarkable because most werewolf stories today show the werewolf transformation happening from being bitten by the werewolf. However, the vial seems more significantly to be an elixir of life that restores youth and gives extended life—this is noteworthy because the Rosicrucians, a mysterious and allegedly medieval secret brotherhood, were said to have two primary secrets—the elixir of life and the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold. While the stranger who gives this gift to Wagner is not a Rosicrucian, we encounter Rosicrucians later in the novel.

Actually, the stranger turns out to be none other than Faust, well-known for selling his soul to the devil in works by Christopher Marlowe and Johann Goethe. Following the prologue, he does not appear again in the book and the narrative jumps ahead several years until we learn that after Wagner completed the prescribed eighteen months of traveling with Faust, Faust passed away.

That Wagner is changed by Faust is significant because Satan then appears after Faust’s death to tempt Wagner to seal a pact with him as well. Wagner is tormented by his werewolfism and longs to be freed from it, but Satan says he must sell his soul to him in exchange for freedom and additional power, something Wagner refuses to do, and at the moments when he is most tempted, he manages to send off Satan with a crucifix. (Reynolds would return to the subject of Faust in soon after in 1847 in his novel Faust: A Romance of the Secret Tribunals.

Some of the novel’s best passages are the descriptions of Wagner as a werewolf. Here is the depiction of his transformation and the resulting violence that results in Chapter 12:

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In the midst of a wood of evergreens on the banks of the Arno, a man—young, handsome, and splendidly attired—has thrown himself upon the ground, where he writhes like a stricken serpent, in horrible convulsions.

He is the prey of a demoniac excitement: an appalling consternation is on him—madness is in his brain—his mind is on fire.

Lightnings appear to gleam from his eyes, as if his soul were dismayed, and withering within his breast.

“Oh! no—no!” he cries with a piercing shriek, as if wrestling madly, furiously, but vainly against some unseen fiend that holds him in his grasp.

And the wood echoes to that terrible wail; and the startled bird flies fluttering from its bough.

But, lo! what awful change is taking place in the form of that doomed being? His handsome countenance elongates into one of savage and brute-like shape; the rich garments which he wears become a rough, shaggy, and wiry skin; his body loses its human contours, his arms and limbs take another form; and, with a frantic howl of misery, to which the woods give horribly faithful reverberations, and, with a rush like a hurling wind, the wretch starts wildly away, no longer a man, but a monstrous wolf!

On, on he goes: the wood is cleared—the open country is gained. Tree, hedge, and isolated cottage appear but dim points in the landscape—a moment seen, the next left behind; the very hills appear to leap after each other.

A cemetery stands in the monster’s way, but he turns not aside—through the sacred inclosure—on, on he goes. There are situated many tombs, stretching up the slope of a gentle acclivity, from the dark soil of which the white monuments stand forth with white and ghastly gleaming, and on the summit of the hill is the church of St. Benedict the Blessed.

From the summit of the ivy-grown tower the very rooks, in the midst of their cawing, are scared away by the furious rush and the wild howl with which the Wehr-Wolf thunders over the hallowed ground.

An illustration from Wagner the Wehr-Wolf depicting his disruption of the funeral procession.

An illustration from Wagner the Wehr-Wolf depicting his disruption of the funeral procession.

At the same instant a train of monks appear round the angle of the church—for there is a funeral at that hour; and their torches flaring with the breeze that is now springing up, cast an awful and almost magical light on the dark gray walls of the edifice, the strange effect being enhanced by the prismatic reflection of the lurid blaze from the stained glass of the oriel window.

The solemn spectacle seemed to madden the Wehr-Wolf. His speed increased—he dashed through the funeral train—appalling cries of terror and alarm burst from the lips of the holy fathers—and the solemn procession was thrown into confusion. The coffin-bearers dropped their burden, and the corpse rolled out upon the ground, its decomposing countenance seeming horrible by the glare of the torch-light.

The monk who walked nearest the head of the coffin was thrown down by the violence with which the ferocious monster cleared its passage; and the venerable father—on whose brow sat the snow of eighty winters—fell with his head against a monument, and his brains were dashed out.

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Wagner continually commits manslaughter (it’s not exactly intentional murder) in his werewolf state, although the novel only shows us his transformation on a few occasions. Nevertheless, his situation is not hopeless and neither is he unredeemable.

But before mentioning Wagner’s redemption, I will turn to the other remarkable character in this novel—perhaps one of the most remarkable female characters in literature, Nisida.

If ever there was a villainess in a Gothic novel, it is Nisida. When we are first introduced to her, it is believed she is deaf and dumb, but it is soon revealed that she fakes these disabilities as a way to spy upon others. She’s also not above cross-dressing. And certainly not above committing murder to get her way. Early in the novel, this “noble” woman meets Wagner and they fall in love. But when she suspects Wagner is unfaithful to her by having an affair with Agnes (a young woman who had an affair with Nisida’s father and is now living with Wagner because she is the granddaughter he thought had deserted him in the forest), Nisida murders Agnes. When Wagner is arrested for the murder, he is unable to explain his true relationship with Agnes (his granddaughter barely believed he was her grandfather since he looks as young as her, so how will the court believe it?), so he is imprisoned. Nisida is not above cross-dressing as a man so she can visit him in prison. (He doesn’t yet know she murdered his granddaughter.)

Eventually, Wagner escapes from prison, and after a series of events, he and Nisida end up shipwrecked on a deserted island (interestingly, there is an island of Nisida off the coast of Italy, and it’s volcanic—perhaps a source for Nisida’s temper in the novel). Here Nisida reveals to him that she actually can speak and hear. She and Wagner experience a sort of island paradise experience—one that recalls Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and also the island scenes between Immalee and Melmoth in Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) only it is not the female but the male who is more innocent here while the female is the tempter. During this time, Nisida feels overcome by Wagner’s beauty “so joyful, too, was she in the possession of one whose masculine beauty was almost superhumanly great” (Chapter 53), a hint at the eventual evolution of the Gothic Wanderer figure into the twentieth century superhero. But soon Nisida grows bored on the island. She also doesn’t like that Wagner every month leaves her without explanation (because he doesn’t want her to know of his werewolf transformation). She also longs to return to Italy to look after her brother whom she knows is in love with Flora, her maid, a marriage she is not happy about. Consequently, when Satan appears on the island to tempt Wagner again and he refuses to give into temptation, Satan next turns to Nisida to tempt her—not unlike the serpent tempting Eve in the garden of Eden. He tells Nisida that Wagner has the power to leave the island but refuses to share it with her. (The truth is that Wagner doesn’t have this power, but he will if he sells his soul to Satan.) Satan tells Nisida to demand Wagner transport them from the island, and if Wagner refuses, to question why he leaves her each month. Despite Nisida’s efforts and questioning, however, Wagner refuses to give in.

Eventually, a boat comes and takes Nisida back to the mainland, but Wagner stays behind, not wanting to live among humans because he knows he might hurt them as a werewolf. Nisida promises to return to him once she takes care of her brother, but meanwhile, Wagner despairs of ever being freed from his werewolfism. Then he has a dream in which an angel appears to him and tells him he has done much already to atone for his sins by resisting Nisida and Satan’s temptations. Consequently, he finds a boat and is told by the angel to take it to Sicily where he will meet a man who is 162 years old who can help him.

Wagner cannot imagine how a man can be 162 years old, but he arrives in Sicily and questions an innkeeper about such a man. The man consequently tells him he has heard lies about the Rosicrucians, including their legendary founder, Christianus Rosencrux, who would be 162 years old if the legends were true. The Roscrucians feature in many other Gothic novels, most notably Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni (1842) but also Percy Shelley’s St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian (1811) and the theme influences William Godwin’s St. Leon (1799). (For more on the Rosicrucian novel, see my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.) However, I was stunned to find that Christianus Rosencrux (an Italian spelling of the German name Christian Rosenkreuz, which means Christian Rosy Cross—a reference to the blood on the cross of Christ) should be a character in this novel. Wagner soon realizes it must be Rosencrux whom he seeks, and that night, a mysterious stranger comes to him and leads him to Rosencrux.

I find this part of the story very interesting. The angel appearing to Wagner after he repents and prays for the werewolf curse to be lifted reminds me of the conversion of St. Paul when Christ himself speaks to St. Paul, telling him to go to a man who will heal his blindness. Here Wagner must go to a man who can help to heal his werewolfism. The scene also reminds me of the Ancient Mariner who goes to the hermit to have his sins forgiven in Coleridge’s famous poem.

Gustave Dore's illustration of "Shrieve me, Holy Man" - the scene in Coleridge's Ancient Mariner when the mariner seeks atonement from the hermit.

Gustave Dore’s illustration of “Shrieve me, Holy Man” – the scene in Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner when the mariner seeks atonement from the hermit.

Wagner is surprised that the mysterious stranger knows he seeks Christian Rosencrux, but the stranger explains that the Rosicrucians are the servants of the angels who show them in visions what they must do to fulfill God’s will, and so he has come to bring Wagner to Rosencrux.

Rosencrux, however, doesn’t really do much for Wagner except point him toward the next part of his journey. He’s told to go to Florence to meet Nisida and that a circumstance connected with his destiny will occur there, including that he will be released from his werewolf curse when he sees two innocent people’s skeletons hanging from the same beam.

I don’t want to give away how the novel gets us to its conclusion—it’s convoluted to say the least—but after a series of events, Wagner does see the skeletons and instantly falls dead upon the sight of them. We now learn the skeletons are tied to a secret that has been the primary motivation behind Nisida’s actions, as she now explains everything to her brother and his new bride Flora before she becomes ill. Christian Rosencrux now appears and acts as her confessor. After Nisida dies, Roxencrux tells Flora and Francesco that Nisida is forgiven and can rest in peace.

The idea of redemption here is strange indeed. Typically in the earlier Gothic novels, a transgression results in damnation, but Varney the Vampyre was one of the first novels to depict a repentant and redeemed Gothic transgressor and Reynolds is following that format, although not quite as convincingly. Neither Wagner nor Nisida do anything to gain forgiveness—no acts of kindness required—just repentance, but while Wagner committed murder as a werewolf, it might be argued he cannot be blamed for what happens to him during his transformed moments. However, Nisida has cruelly murdered and her justifications for it make her sound more like she is psychotic than deserving of forgiveness; she even states in the case of killing a woman named Margaretha that the woman got what she deserved. Still repentance is enough, even if you are a liar and murderer.

The role of religion is interesting in the novel in terms of this redemption. Both Nisida and Wagner seek redemption and consequently die as Christians. But Reynolds is not as kind to non-Christians. One other main character in the novel faces serious temptation—Alessandro, Flora’s brother. Early in the novel, he goes to Constantinople to serve in Florence’s embassy there. In Constantinople, he finds a beautiful woman, Aisca, who tempts him to convert to Islam in exchange for enjoying her company. He does so and soon finds himself promoted until he is grand vizier to Solyman the Magnificent, who turns out to be Aisca’s brother. Aisca’s tempting of Alessandro is reminiscent of Eve tempting Adam—it is a woman who turns a man to sin, as earlier Nisida tempted Wagner. Today, we would be less inclined to see converting to another religion as a serious transgression, but Reynolds surely did.

The other temptation and the only real “sin” Alessandro (who becomes Ibrahim upon conversion) commits is that he falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Calanthe, and commits adultery with her. Aisca’s mother, however, finds out about his betrayal and has Calanthe drowned. Then Alessandro is warned that any woman he seeks to be with other than Aisca will meet the same fate. At the end of the novel, Calanthe’s brother, Demetrius, murders Alessandro in revenge for his sister’s death. It’s not clear whether Demetrius thinks Alessandro is the murderer, or just one who stole her virtue. In any case, Alessandro’s crimes are minor compared to the multiple murders Nisida commits, yet Alessandro does not receive redemption.

Surprisingly, while I think the novel is anti-Muslim because of how it treats Alessandro, it is not anti-Semitic. Another minor character, Isaachar, is a Jew who finds himself imprisoned by the Inquisition but is defended by a Marquis (himself an adulterer) and is ultimately rescued. Isaachar only survives two years after the torture he experiences in the Inquisition’s prison before he dies and leaves all his fortune to the Marquis (the Christian male adulterer gets off, but not the Muslim adulterer). Before his death, Isaachar gives some fine speeches defending the Jewish people as does the Marquis. Reynolds is clearly not against the Jews and saves his narrator comments for pointing out the Inquisition’s cruelty—if anything, he is anti-Catholic more than anti-Jewish, as is typical of Gothic novels.

One final interesting aspect of this novel is the treatment of the Inquisition in it, and more specifically, that female torture is included. Earlier novels that depicted the Inquisition, notably Melmoth the Wanderer, depict male torture and come off being masochistic in their tone, but Wagner the Wehr-Wolf includes a convent where the women are forced to become nuns and those who attempt to escape are whipped. While Flora manages to avoid punishment when she is imprisoned in the convent, Giulia (the Marquis’s lover who is unfaithful to her husband), is not so fortunate, and later when she is tried before the Inquisition, her husband, the Count of Arestino arranges for her torture and takes great delight in watching her suffer and die (fortunately, the Marquis then kills him). In any case, women adulterers are punished while male adulterers are rewarded, provided they are Christian.

In the end, Wagner the Wehr-Wolf is one of the most violent and disturbing, yet completely entertaining Gothic novels ever written. The pacing and plotting never lags. If there is any reason for disappointment in it, it can only be because the werewolf scenes are minimal. Even while the novel feels like it belongs more to the 1790s than the 1840s, Reynolds was so popular in his day that it is surprising its popularity was not retained longer and its style makes it far more accessible to modern readers than many better known novels of the time.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and The Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Dracula Untold: A Near-Perfect Gothic Retelling

This weekend Dracula Untold premiered. Of course, being the Gothic novel and film fan that I am, I had to see it in the theatre. I was highly impressed by the film and would give it 9 out of 10 stars. This film is very much the Dracula movie I have long been waiting for. In my opinion, it is the best Dracula film since Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

Luke Evans stars as Vlad Tepes in Dracula Untold.

Luke Evans stars as Vlad Tepes in Dracula Untold.

Why am I so enthusiastic about this film? Because as much as I love the Bram Stoker novel, the story has never adequately been placed in its historical context in a film—at least not with the vampire aspect included. The only other film I have seen that depicts Vlad Tepes’ story in detail (there may be others I haven’t seen) is Dracula: The Dark Prince (2000) starring Christopher Brand, but that was purely about the historical Vlad Tepes. Dracula Untold goes back to the historical roots of the story while cleverly weaving in the legendary and supernatural aspects of the tale. The result is a superb film with a few historical liberties that I’m willing to overlook for the sake of creating a great fictional story.

What is great about the film? First of all, the film is visually a treat for anyone interested in the historical Vlad Tepes. I loved seeing the clothing of the fifteenth century—the colors, the Eastern European and Turkish styles. I loved the castles. I loved not only the monastery but the paintings inside it. I felt like the film was visually very convincing and historical in these respects. The scenery and location were also convincing. I was surprised in the credits to see the film was made in Northern Ireland since it looked like Transylvania to me—I have not been there, but it had the right feel to it.

Historically, I loved that Mehmet II and the Turks were part of the story. The historical Vlad Tepes was kept as a boy at Mehmet II’s father’s court as a prisoner, given over by his own father as a hostage. He grew up with Mehmet II, as did Vlad’s brother Radu the Handsome. In fact, I wish the film had given us a scene or two of those years so we could better understand the relationship between Vlad and Mehmet II. For anyone who wants more information on this aspect of the story, I recommend reading Dracula: Prince of Many Faces by Radu R. Florescue and Raymond T. McNally. Of course, everything depicted in the film is not completely historical, but Vlad Tepes had plenty of reason for animosity against Mehmet II. I felt the film did a good job of showing how tyrannical Mehmet could be in trying to control the people of Eastern Europe at the time. While mention of it was not made in the film, Mehmet II is known historically as “The Conqueror” because he defeated Constantinople in 1453, which sent shockwaves to the rest of Europe with the threat that the Muslims might end up wiping out Christendom.

Best of all, Dracula Untold depicted how Vlad Tepes became Dracula—the whole purpose of the film, and it does so in a convincing way very much in keeping with the Gothic tradition of committing a transgression deeply tied to a hope for redemption. Previous films have brushed over the backstory of Dracula. Two of the best films with minor backstories for Dracula are Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), in which Dracula curses the church because his wife dies while he is fighting the Turks; the curse results in his being punished by being turned into Dracula. Dracula 2000 (2000) depicted Dracula as actually Judas, betrayer of Christ, another fabulous connection that sets up Dracula as an equivalent almost of Satan or as an Antichrist.

Dracula Untold owes a bit of a debt to Bram Stoker’s Dracula because of its similar death for Dracula’s wife, which is pivotal to Vlad becoming Dracula, though the events leading to his becoming Dracula, the vampire, occur earlier in the film. When Mehmet II wants 1,000 boys from Vlad’s people to serve in his army, Vlad refuses and goes to a mountain where he understands there is a Master Vampire whose help he seeks to defeat the Turks. This Master Vampire himself has been cursed to be a vampire and reside in a cave in the mountain. He can only be freed if another takes his place. He warns Dracula that if he makes this choice, he will have three days of supernatural powers and then be restored to his regular human form, but if during those three days, he gives into his thirst for blood, he will remain a vampire for all eternity. Dracula, believing he can resist the thirst and wanting to save his people, agrees to this Satanic pact and drinks the Master Vampire’s blood.

These Satanic or Faustian pacts in the Gothic are nothing new. The Gothic Wanderer frequently transgresses to obtain forbidden knowledge—as does Dr. Faustus. In this case, though, Dracula does it for a higher cause—he is not seeking the philosopher’s stone to give him fabulous wealth; he is not seeking power for its own sake. He is seeking to be his people’s savior, which makes him a sort of superhero and a Christ figure, an inversion of one who sides with evil to bring about good—a sort of “happy fault” in keeping with Milton’s idea that Adam and Eve’s sin paved the way to bring about Christ’s redemption of mankind to show God’s great love. Dracula becomes a hero because he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his people. Let us not forget here that most of our modern day superheroes—Batman and Superman among them—have their origins largely in the great supernatural Gothic figures of the nineteenth century, Dracula included. (For more on superheroes’ origins in the Gothic, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.) As the Master Vampire tells Vlad, sometimes it is not a hero but a monster who is needed by people. (And this filmgoer wants more monsters and less superheroes on the big screen.) It is a grand sacrifice Vlad makes, and he has the viewer’s sympathy in making this choice, especially since it is clear in the film that his own people are largely too weak and cowardly to fight the Turks. I completely enjoyed the consequences of Vlad’s decision and watching how and why he ultimately does give into the thirst for blood despite his efforts.

What faults does the film have? If we see it solely as a complete film in itself, very few, but if we look at it in relation to the larger historical background as well as the great canon of Dracula literature, we can find a few things that might have been done better or differently. I am willing to overlook the historical flaws for the most part. For example, in reality, Vlad never had a son named Inegras as in the film. Nor did he have a wife named Mirena. Both are fictional characters. Mirena is clearly a play on Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s novel and adapted from the wife who falls to her death in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, although the cause of her falling to her death is slightly different in this film. For information on the historical Vlad Tepes’ marriages and children, again I refer you to Dracula: Prince of Many Faces.

The biggest historical inaccuracy is that Vlad kills Mehmet II. Of course, Mehmet II is the film’s villain so viewers want to see him killed by the film’s hero in the end. In truth, Vlad died in 1476 or 1477 while Mehmet II died in 1481, probably of poisoning. Vlad’s actual death is obscure, but he was killed probably in battle by the Turks. His decapitated body was discovered by the monks of Snagov Monastery near the shore and buried at the monastery. Later, his grave was found open and his body was gone, giving rise to the legend that he resurrected as a vampire. I was a bit disappointed also that the mystery of his death and missing body at Snagov were not brought into the film; instead, another monastery is named in the film, but only as a fortress retreat.

My disappointments in the film really aren’t so much disappointments but rather commentary on how I would have made the film differently—I am in the process of finishing my own novel that retells Vlad Tepes’ story, linking it to the Arthurian legend, for my upcoming novel Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, intended to be published in 2017. For more information on my novel series, visit my website www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

One complaint by the critics is that the film is to be the first in a series of Monster films—a reboot of the classic Universal Monsters films from the 1930s and 1940s that starred Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman—films I have grown to love by watching reruns of them on Svengooli on Saturday nights. Critics are complaining that Universal is trying to capitalize on Marvel’s superhero film franchise. I say let them! There isn’t a Marvel superhero out there who doesn’t pale in comparison to the great Gothic figures.

A hint of this upcoming movie series to which Dracula is apparently the prologue is seen in the film when the Master Vampire tells Dracula that some day he will come for him when he needs him. The film ends in the modern day when Dracula meets Mina (clearly Mina Harker from the novel) who resembles his deceased wife Mirena. As they walk off together, the Master Vampire is shown following them and saying “Let the games begin.” I admit I was a bit disappointed here by the modern-day setting and how they meet—it looks like Bram Stoker’s novel will not be recreated for a future film with all its Victorian Gothic grandeur, but skipped over for a modern day story.

Dracula Untold leaves us wondering just who is this Master Vampire. The film is very obscure about his origins, but when I looked online at the cast lists, I found references to Caligula, and at one site, http://collider.com/dracula-untold-set-visit/ this information:

“In the movie, Vlad willingly becomes a vampire by drinking blood from a chalice in Caligula’s cave. Yes, Caligula. Caligula was a Roman emperor who ruled from 37 AD to 41 AD. Sazama and Sharpless decided to play with the mystery surrounding Caligula’s death and where he was buried. Because Caligula would have made his way into what Bram Stoker dubbed the Transylvania territory at some point during his exploits, they wondered, what if he’s still there and what if there’s a reason he’s still alive?”

I don’t think the film was at all clear that the Master Vampire was Caligula—unless I didn’t catch the reference. But I find it fascinating that they will tie in this historical person to the series. I am skeptical about Caligula’s mysterious death, however. I always thought, as most historical sources confirm, that he was slain in Italy by his own guardsmen, and it’s believed he was cremated, so I don’t know where this idea comes from. That said, Caligula is certainly one of the most monstrous humans in history and he works perfectly as a sort of Wandering Jew, a cursed figure who could live for centuries. I’ll be interested in seeing how he is depicted in future films in the series.

Go see Dracula Untold. I can’t imagine why anyone would be disappointed. I have read some of the more negative reviews of the film and can tell you those critics know next to nothing about the Gothic tradition. Dracula Untold is not a horror film and it is not an adventure film—it has those elements, but first and foremost, it is a superb and classic Gothic film, and it’s about time a Gothic story is told as it should be with a true transgressive Gothic Wanderer. And better yet, I welcome this recreating of our monsters to be more complex beings. A true Gothic Wanderer is never wholly a villain, but has his sympathetic attributes that allow us to resonate and understand and even cheer him on. Dracula Untold creates such a character superbly.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and The Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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My New King Arthur Historical Fantasy Series Is Launched!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Historical Fantasy Series Debuts with Twist on King Arthur Legend

“Arthur’s Legacy,” first in a groundbreaking new historical fantasy series by award-winning author Tyler R. Tichelaar, suggests Camelot’s story was distorted by its enemies and reveals the role of King Arthur’s descendants throughout history.

Arthur's Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One - the first in a five book historical fantasy series.

Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One – the first in a five book historical fantasy series.

Marquette, MI, June 1, 2014—What if everything we ever thought we knew about King Arthur were false? What if Mordred were one of Camelot’s greatest heroes rather than Arthur’s enemy, but someone purposely distorted the story? What if King Arthur’s descendants live among us today and are ready to set the record straight? Award-winning novelist and Arthurian scholar Tyler R. Tichelaar offers entertaining and visionary answers to those questions in his new novel “Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One” (ISBN 9780979179082, Marquette Fiction, 2014).

The Arthurian legend says King Arthur and Mordred, his illegitimate son, born of incest, slew each other at the Battle of Camlann. But early in Tyler R. Tichelaar’s new novel, “Arthur’s Legacy,” that belief is called into question by a modern day man who claims to have been an eyewitness of events at Camelot. Disrupting a lecture, the mysterious man declares, “I will not be silent; Mordred has been falsely accused for nearly fifteen hundred years. It is time the truth be known.”

Soon, a series of strange events are set in motion, and at their center is Adam Delaney, a young man who never knew his parents. When Adam learns his father’s identity, he travels to England to find him, never suspecting he will also find ancient family secrets, including the true cause of Camelot’s fall.

In “Arthur’s Legacy,” Tichelaar draws on many often overlooked sources, including the involvement of Guinevere’s sister Gwenhwyvach in Camelot’s downfall, Mordred’s magnanimous character, Arthur’s other forgotten children, the legend that Jesus’ lost years were spent in Britain, and the possibility that Arthur’s descendants live among us today.

When asked about his inspiration for writing The Children of Arthur series, Tichelaar said, “For centuries the British royal family has claimed descent from King Arthur, but DNA and mathematical calculations would suggest that if King Arthur lived, nearly everyone alive today would be his descendant. The five novels in this series ask, ‘What if the myths and legends of King Arthur, Charlemagne, Dracula, Ancient Troy, Adam and Eve, and so many others were true? How would that knowledge change who we are today?’”

Arthurian scholars and novelists are raving about “Arthur’s Legacy.” John Matthews, author of “King Arthur: Dark Age Warrior and Mythic Hero,” says “‘Arthur’s Legacy’ is a fresh new take on the ancient and wondrous myth of Arthur.” Sophie Masson, editor of “The Road to Camelot,” calls “Arthur’s Legacy,” “an intriguing blend of action-packed time-slip fantasy adventure, moving love story, multi-layered mystery, and unusual spiritual exploration.” Debra Kemp, author of “The House of Pendragon” series, states, “Tichelaar has performed impeccable research into the Arthurian legend, finding neglected details in early sources and reigniting their significance.” And Steven Maines, author of “The Merlin Factor” series, concludes “Arthur’s Legacy” “will surely take its rightful place among the canon of great Arthurian literature.”

About the Author

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of numerous historical fiction novels, including “The Best Place,” and the scholarly books “The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption” and “King Arthur’s Children.” In writing “The Children of Arthur” series, Tichelaar drew upon Arthurian and Gothic literature and biblical and mythic stories to reimagine human history. “Melusine’s Gift,” the second novel in the series, will be published in 2015.

“Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One” (ISBN 9780979179082, Marquette Fiction, 2014) can be purchased through local and online bookstores. Ebook editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. For more information, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com. Review copies available upon request.

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Author of New Book “The Third Mary” Channels Mary Magdalene’s Mother

Roslyn Elena McGrath, author of "The Third Mary"

Roslyn Elena McGrath, author of “The Third Mary”

Today I’ve invited Roslyn McGrath, author of The Third Mary, to be my guest to discuss her book with her. I think this book will interest readers of my Arthurian and Gothic blog posts because of how it reimagines or rewrites (or perhaps more accurately tells the true version) of the gospel stories, which themselves influence Arthurian and Gothic literature, besides the fact that Christianity has influenced all of Western culture and literature for the last two centuries.

Roslyn is an intuitive, artist, healer and workshop facilitator living in Marquette, Michigan. She is the author and illustrator of Creative Wisdom Cards for Personal Growth, the creator and narrator of Creative Wisdom Meditations and meditation CD A New Radiance: Chakra Blessings from the Divine Feminine, and the publisher of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.

Her focus is on self-actualization—continuing to unfold her own, and inspiring and supporting that of others.

Tyler: Welcome, Roslyn. I have to admit I was blown away by your book so I’m sure my readers will be interested in what you have to say. To begin, will you tell us just who was “the Third Mary”?

Roslyn: “The Third Mary” is the mother of Mary Magdalene, a spiritual teacher from biblical times who continues to remain available to support humanity.

Tyler: How did you come across the information for her?

Roslyn: From the time I read I Remember Union, a retelling of Mary Magdalene’s role as an integral partner in the fulfillment of Jesus’s mission, I felt a very strong, deep connection with her mother, although very little is actually written about her in the book. The connection felt overwhelming to me, so I didn’t explore it. Eventually, a friend in whom I confided this strongly suggested I dialogue with her spirit. Although I had great resistance to the idea, as soon as I heard it I also began to hear Mary Magdalene’s mother speak to me internally. About a week later, I committed to writing down the messages she wished to share, and did so nearly every day for a little over two months, until the 55 messages were complete.

Tyler: Why do you think you were the one able to channel this information? Why you and not someone else?

Roslyn: I’m sure others will in time, or perhaps someone unknown to me already has. I feel such a deep resonance with her, and channeling comes quite naturally to me. I have the gift of having received very little formal religious training, so I have no installed belief system working against my ability to neutrally receive these messages. And the Third Mary tells me we agreed long ago that I would do this as part of my life’s work.

Tyler: Of course, many people will be skeptical from the start about someone who channels a message from someone long dead. How would you answer those critics?

Roslyn: Again, for me channeling is simple and natural, but I realize there are others who see it differently. Ultimately, there is no death, as energy can take different forms, but its essence is eternal. So potentially, all of us can connect with anything from any time. I understand that from the human perspective, it may not appear this way. What really matters to me is whether the messages have value, are helpful to, connect with the readers, more than whether all readers agree with where they came from. And of course, I’d prefer that people understand I share these words from integrity with who I am. Although I’m honored to be able to share this information, my life would actually be simpler without writing and publishing this book.

Tyler: Well said, Roslyn, and having known you for many years, I can vouch for your integrity. Naysayers aside, I think most readers will be interested in the book because of how it depicts Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ relationship. That said, so many theories exist that they were married, a theory especially popularized in The Da Vinci Code in recent years, but a theory that goes back into antiquity. Therefore, some readers might suspect you have simply adapted such theories and made them your own, so tell us why you think the information about their relationship in this book is important and how it differs from standard views of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, or even these more “unorthodox theories” of their being married?

The Third Mary 55 Messages for Empowering Truth, Peace & Grace from the Mother of Mary Magdalene available at http://www.TheThirdMary.com

The Third Mary
55 Messages for Empowering Truth, Peace & Grace from the Mother of Mary Magdalene
available at http://www.TheThirdMary.com

Roslyn: I think it’s coded into all of us who are influenced by Judeo-Christian religions, and maybe even those who aren’t as well, to care about the nature of this relationship, to be deeply affected by it. Maybe this is because Mary Magdalene and Jesus took on such larger-than-life roles. I don’t know; it’s just my personal theory.

Be that as it may, I made a point of not reading or listening to anything on this topic, to lessen the potential for conflict between ideas in my mind and what I heard from Mary Magdalene’s mother. Though certainly I had already heard some of the basic concepts you mention, I did my best at each moment to take down this dictation as clearly as I could, word by word, and was often surprised by the direction the Third Mary would take, or particular words she would use that I hadn’t anticipated.

She describes Jesus and Mary Magdalene as having a spiritual marriage, rather than a traditional one, though formal vows were taken with those closest to them present. Information about biblical, as well as present and future times, unfolds gradually throughout the book quite deliberately, so I think it’s important that readers discover for themselves the specifics of what she means by this.

Tyler: What about the Third Mary delighted you, by which I mean what about her personality do you think is unique and special, or the words she chooses to use?

Roslyn: Wow, I guess I would say it’s the fact that she’s so clear and specific, so grounded and to-the-point, yet so loving at the same time. How much she cares about each one of us is huge, and in channeling her, I get to feel that, as well as the depth of her love, appreciation and admiration for Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and Mother Mary. And there’s a certain kind of rhythm and way of using words that she has; I don’t know how to describe it, but it has particular way about it.

Tyler: I’m trying to remember now whether Joseph of Arimathea was mentioned in the book. I believe he was at least briefly. As a scholar and lover of Arthurian legend, I know Joseph of Arimathea plays a key role in the legends. He is often claimed to be Jesus’ uncle, to have brought Jesus to England during the lost years of his childhood, perhaps so he could study or teach the druids, and later, Joseph returned, bringing the Holy Grail to England with him. I don’t think you in any way referred to these legends, but can you tell us anything more about Joseph of Arimathea and what the Third Mary said of him?

Roslyn: I also sense Joseph of Arimathea played a key role in biblical times, and I look forward to learning more about it myself. The Third Mary mentions him as one of the five who witnessed Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s wedding, so he must have been very close to them.

Tyler: The other aspect of the book that fascinated me was what the Third Mary said about Judas. Judas has had his own legends grow up around him, especially legends that influence Gothic literature. Despite the biblical account that he hung himself, he is sometimes surmised to be the Wandering Jew, cursed to wander the earth until Jesus’ Second Coming. More recently in the film Dracula 2000, it was suggested that Judas actually became Dracula. Yet you offer a very surprising and far less negative view of Judas in your book and one that I think really makes eminent sense to me. Will you tell us a little of what the Third Mary says about Judas and what his role really was in Christ’s story?

Roslyn: The Third Mary says when great spiritual energies/teachers looked for a relatively gentle way to help humanity evolve, the first being to speak up and choose a very challenging role in this process was the one who would become Judas. The Third Mary describes some rather unusual forms this took, as well as a particular perspective on the better known parts of his story. I will say that she had a very high regard for him.

I believe in time there are those who’ll come forward to share more specifics about his experience, and I look forward to this. He was a very strong and courageous soul.

Tyler: I was really blown away by what you say about him in the book and I appreciate you not giving it all away. I would really encourage any reader interested in Judas to read the book because of how surprising it is, but what for you was the most surprising information for you that you received in channeling this book?

Roslyn: I would say it’sthe lineage of Mary Magdalene’s children, which is revealed toward the end of the book.

Tyler: Ultimately, what do you feel is the reason why the Third Mary wanted to share this message and what do you hope readers will come away with from it?

Roslyn: More than anything, the Third Mary wants people to knowthat despite appearances to the contrary,timesare changing for the better, that much is going on beyond our conscious knowing to assist with this, and that each one of us has an important role to play in this shift. And that we are each so very, very loved, honored and cherished.

I hope readers will come away feeling more connected with their own truth and essence, and more capable of living in a way that honors and fulfills their souls.

Tyler: At the end of the book, I was left with the impression that you would receive future messages from The Third Mary. Have you, and will there be a follow-up book?

Roslyn: You’re the third person within a week who’s mentioned the idea to me, so perhaps it’s a sign! I do continue to communicate with the Third Mary, in making decisions about the book, and in group and individual channeled guidance sessions. And I’ll be sharing brief messages from her on my new website, www.TheThirdMary.com. So it’s possible there will be another book of her messages down the road, but I have no plans for this as yet. And I do have a few other books I’d like to publish.

Tyler: I understand you’ve recently written another book. Will you briefly tell us about it?

Goddess Heart Rising by Roslyn Elena McGrath

Goddess Heart Rising by Roslyn Elena McGrath

Roslyn: Yes, it’s called Goddess Heart Rising: Paintings, Poems & Meditations for Activating Your Divine Potential. It shares fifteen of my Goddess paintings, along with brief messages, poems, guided meditations, my personal commentary, and questions for reflection. It comes out of a ten-year process of art-making, workshops and private sessions. And it includes the full image of the Third Mary’s color portrait, a detail of which is on the cover of The Third Mary.

Tyler: I know you describe yourself as an intuitive and you help others. Can you explain a little about the types of coaching services you offer? And can you help others learn to channel if they so desire?

Roslyn: I’ve learned a number of ways to help people deeply relax, see things from a new, more constructive and clear perspective, and express their natural gifts more fully. Some of these take the form of intuitive counseling, energetic healing, channeled readings and life purpose drawings. Although so far I don’t teach people specifically how to channel, I can help people get to the place where they can better recognize and use their natural guidance system, which may include channeling.

In some cases, I’ve been able to assist clients to channel their own Higher Selves, which is very empowering for them!

Tyler: Thank you again for the opportunity to interview you today, Roslyn. Before we go, will you tell our readers where they can go to find more information about The Third Mary or to purchase a copy?

Roslyn: Yes, there’s more information at www.TheThirdMary.com. You can purchase a copy through there or starting May 23rd, on Amazon.com.

Tyler: Thank you again, Roslyn. I wish you much success with The Third Mary.

Roslyn: Thanks so much, Tyler! I really appreciate the opportunity to discuss the book with you and your readers.

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George du Maurier’s The Martian: A Gothic Science-Fiction Novel Ahead of Its Time

It is difficult to say which of George du Maurier’s three novels, Peter Ibbetson (1891), Trilby (1894), or The Martian (1897), is the most intriguing and surprising. No one reads any of them any longer, and their author lives in his granddaughter Daphne du Maurier’s shadow, but all three novels are fascinating and really “mind-blowing” especially because they are all about the power of the mind. Peter Ibbetson was made into a 1935 film starring Jackie Cooper (well worth watching) and an opera, and Trilby became a famous play and introduced the trilby hat and the term “Svengali” into the language as well as influencing countless other works including The Phantom of the Opera. But The Martian never received any such fame. The title suggests it’s a science fiction novel, and given its publication date, one expects it to be along the lines of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but it is much closer to the themes of du Maurier’s earlier novels, with its depiction of the bohemian lifestyle and English-French culture (in fact, there is far too much French in it, at least for me, who has forgotten most of my French) and its issues of mind-control, while the science fiction elements are fairly minor, even though the story revolves around them.

"The Martian" was published posthumously, within the same year that George du Maurier died.

“The Martian” was published posthumously, within the same year that George du Maurier died.

I hesitate to describe The Martian as even being science fiction. It feels more like it is Gothic to me because of its supernatural theme. Yes, there is a Martian, but overall, it’s a realistic novel with a little Gothic burst of energy to it—not Gothic in the sense of it being at all scary—but simply having a supernatural bent to it. Of course, it is also a novel masquerading as a biography.

The Martian is narrated by Robert Maurice, who is the lifelong friend of the late Barty Josselin, presumed to be the greatest literary genius of the nineteenth century, and Maurice is going to reveal to us “the strange secret of that genius.” Literary critics have complained that the novel wanders about, is full of digressions, and is only valuable for its depiction of “la vie de bohême.” Little critical attention has been paid to the novel’s supernatural elements, and when it is, it is often misinterpreted. For example, Wikipedia quotes a passage from the novel saying that it refers to Swedenborg, but there is no reference in the entire book to Swedenborg, and the passage quoted actually refers to Barty. Whether or not Swedenborg’s theories had any influence on the novel, I do not know, although it seems possible, but such broad comments should not be made out of context.

The novel traces the friendship of Maurice and Barty throughout their years at a boy’s school in France and into their early adulthood as Barty tries to become a painter. Barty is remarkable throughout his youth for a certain charisma he has, as well as enhanced senses of sight, smell, etc. and a strange ability always to know in which direction north lies. At one point in their youth, Maurice asks Barty whether he has a “special friend above” but Barty only tells him that if he asks no questions, he will hear no lies. It is not until nearly halfway through the novel that these strange abilities of Barty’s are explained. I refer to the novel as Gothic largely because these enhanced senses are typically those that characters such as vampires or other supernatural characters would have, but how Barty acquired these abilities is where the novel crosses genre lines.

When Barty begins to lose his eyesight, he contemplates suicide, but then he wakes one day to find a letter beside his bed that he physically wrote while sleeping but which claims to be from a being named Martia. Martia says she (her sex isn’t clear at first) has inhabited many human and animal life forms before deciding that Barty was her favorite and she would inhabit him, which she has done since his childhood. She can do little to help him but is devoted to him and gives him his advanced sensory powers. As time goes on, Barty learns Martia’s entire story. Martia has gone through countless incarnations on Mars from the lowest to highest forms of life, but she only remembers her last incarnation as a woman. Barty has often remembered having dreams of being around mermaid-like people, and now he understands that is because Martians are amphibious. In time, Martia came to earth in a shower of shooting stars and after spending a century inhabiting various people and animals, she decided to remain in Barty.

In time, Martia’s spirit inhabiting him allows Barty to become a famous writer. He basically channels her spirit and writes while he’s in a sleeping state, which his wife observes. For me, the most disturbing part of the book is what he writes about. Why he is such a popular writer is fairly obscure in the novel, but at one point, Maurice tells us that Barty’s books were at first condemned by religions, but now are preached from pulpits because they confirm the “indestructible gem of immortality” in us and are the “golden bridge in the middle of which science and faith can shake hands.” They also are in favor of suicide as a normal way out of our troubles, and Maurice, while he won’t discuss the morality of this statement, does say that the cruelties of the world are ending because of Barty’s books. What is most disturbing is that because of the information in Barty’s books, which seem to advocate eugenics (although du Maurier doesn’t use the term), the human race is now four to six inches taller and its strength and beauty are increasing; however, his theories also advocate a sort of survival of the fittest to the point where those who are not beautiful or strong see the wisdom of not marrying and passing on bad genes to future generations. The narrator himself has decided not to have children so he doesn’t pass on his long upper lip and the kink in his noise.

Barty’s literary abilities clearly result from Martia’s influence, but they make Barty feel like a fraud. However, Maurice states that Martia simply gave him ideas that are the “mere skeleton of his work” while all the beauty and grace of the works are his own. In this passage, Martia is also describes as “his demon,” which seems an odd word choice since Martia is clearly benevolent, but “demon” at times refers simply to a wise supernatural being, as is the case in Bulwer-Lytton’s Gothic Rosicrucian novel Zanoni (1842).

As time goes by, Martia decides no longer to reside in Barty but to reincarnate herself as his child. The novel then treats of her childhood before she falls out of a tree and ends up dying at age seventeen, and Barty dies when she dies. It’s a rather anticlimactic ending, actually.

George du Maurier was the grandfather of authors Angela du Maurier, Daphne du Maurier, and the five Davies boys who inspired J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan

George du Maurier was the grandfather of authors Angela du Maurier, Daphne du Maurier, and the five Davies boys who inspired J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan

The Martian is really lacking in a plot, and du Maurier seemed aware of this deficiency since he has Maurice continually remind us it’s an autobiography and even show concern that he is boring the reader with all the details he’s including. That said, the idea of a supernatural being, in this case a Martian, channeling one’s writing is really fascinating to me, although it wasn’t revolutionary as a plot theme. Mediums were popular throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, and Martia herself remarks that all the knocking on tables (at séances) is fake. Novels were also reputably being channeled during this period, including a continuation of Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 1873 by Thomas James, a Vermont printer who claimed he had channeled Dickens to complete the novel. What feels more revolutionary to me is that it is not a ghost or spirit but a martian who is the source of the channeling; today, the idea of alien implants is common enough in science fiction, but it wasn’t in 1896. Where did du Maurier come up with such an idea, I wonder.

Martia is also a sort of protector or counselor to Barty—at one point she is upset with him for not marrying the woman he tells her too. This idea of a supernatural counselor is common in Gothic Rosicrucian novels such as Zanoni, as well as in the Duchess of Devonshire’s The Sylph (1779). I also wonder whether du Maurier is giving a nod to William Morris’ utopian science fiction novel News from Nowhere (1890) when Barty refers to himself as “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere,” a name he adopts because he is the illegitimate child of a lord, a position that does not allow him to take his father’s rightful name. Interestingly, this is a similar situation that Juliet in Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer (1814) experiences, and Burney continually used terms like “Nobody” in her novels. The “sylph” as a Rosicrucian guide is also used in Burney’s novel.) More research would need to be done on all these possible literary sources, but it is clear du Maurier is writing within the Gothic literary tradition.

One last interesting aspect of the novel is that du Maurier writes himself into the novel as a character, frequently dropping his name as one of Barty’s artist friends, and Maurice even includes in his narrative a letter from du Maurier, in which he arranges for du Maurier to illustrate The Martian. This is also quite a revolutionary, playful postmodern move and while it is common today for authors to write themselves into their books, I don’t know of any authors prior to du Maurier who did so.

Of course, du Maurier did illustrate the novel, and the illustrations for it can be found in various places on the Internet, including at: http://www.erbzine.com/mag27/2726a.html, a site devoted to Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan and Mars novels. The website owner raises the possibility, unconfirmed, that Burroughs may have read The Martian and it may have influenced his own Mars series. Considering Burroughs’ Mars novels are often concerned with the power of the mind and even brain transplants, I think it’s likely, and Burroughs was definitely interested in evolutionary theories, if not eugenics itself. More research would need to be done to confirm the connection, however, so perhaps people who know more about the history of science fiction than I do will enlighten me further.

The Martian is far deserving of more attention than it has received. It is a pleasant, leisurely read and worthwhile just for its depictions of nineteenth century France, but its supernatural elements truly make it a novel ahead of its time, just like du Maurier’s two better known novels.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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The Sylph: The Duchess of Devonshire’s pre-Gothic and pre-Romantic Novel

In recent years, Georgiana Cavendish, nee Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, has enjoyed renewed interest due to the 2008 film The Duchess starring Keira Knightley, as well as her being an ancestral aunt to the late Princess Diana. But it was not until my friend and fellow literary scholar, Ellen Moody, author of Trollope on the Net, told me that it was believed the Duchess had also written a novel that I really became interested in learning more about her.

The Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) had many portraits painted of her including this one by Sir Joshua Reynolds. She was celebrated as a great beauty in her day.

The Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) had many portraits painted of her including this one by Sir Joshua Reynolds. She was celebrated as a great beauty in her day.

The Duchess is the alleged author of the epistolary novel The Sylph (1779), which was published anonymously because of her social position and also because of its subject matter, presenting the unhappy marriage of a woman whose husband is a rake, adulterer, and gambler, which in many ways paralleled her own marriage. Speculation exists that the novel was actually written by Sophia Briscoe, a contemporary novelist, but the Duchess in private is said to have acknowledged she was its author. To this day, her family denies her writing the book. I am not surprised, however, by the possibility that she is the author considering she was also the aunt to Lady Caroline Lamb, author of the fabulously interesting Gothic novel Glenarvon about her own love affair with Lord Byron. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamb learned a few things from her aunt, although I think the Duchess’ novel superior in many ways.

The Sylph’s title is a reference to the sylphs that appear in Alexander Pope’s poem The Rape of the Lock, in which they are depicted as fairy-like creatures who look after the female protagonist. The Duchess quotes from The Rape of the Lock as the frontispiece to the novel, describing sylphs’ roles:

“Ye Sylphs and Sylphids, to your chief give ear,
Fays, Fairies, Genii, Elves, and Demons, hear!
Ye know the spheres, and various tasks assign’d
By laws eternal to th’aërial kind:
Some in the fields of purest æther play,
And bask, and whiten, in the blaze of day;
Some guide the course of wand’ring orbs on high,
Or roll the planets thro’ the boundless sky:
Our humbler province is to tend the Fair,
Not a less pleasing, nor less glorious care.”

In the Duchess’ novel, the Sylph also takes on the role of protector to a young lady. Because it is difficult to find information about the novel online, I will briefly summarize the plot. The book is available at Project Gutenberg and in print copies, but little has been written about it in terms of literary criticism.

The novel begins with a letter by Sir William Stanley describing an accident he has that requires him to recuperate in the country where he becomes acquainted with the Grenville daughters. Of course, he quickly falls in love with one sister, Julia, who is our protagonist and whose letters make up the bulk of the novel. Julia agrees to marry Sir William, and he takes her off to London to live. Her adventures are then revealed through her letters to her sister Louisa, with letters included from Louisa, as well as from several of Sir William’s male friends and acquaintances describing the adventures in further detail, as well as their plots against Julia.

The novel in many ways can be compared to Fanny Burney’s novel, Evelina, or a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778). Julia, like Evelina, finds herself in London learning about the wickedness of that city and trying to maintain her morals. Many difficulties ensue for Julia, including attending a masquerade ball and returning with a masked man she believes is her husband but turns out to be Lord Biddulph; he seeks to have his way with her in her bedroom, but fortunately, she escapes his wiles. Julia then tells Sir William what has happened, but he is under the thumb of Biddulph because he is a terrible gambler and deeply in debt. His debt is so bad that when Julia offers her jewels to Sir William to pay his debts, she learns he has already sold them and replaced them with glass and paste jewels, which she is too naive to have realized.

Early in her entrance into wicked London life, Julia begins to receive letters from an anonymous writer who describes himself as the Sylph. This character is fascinating because he keeps his identity secret, but he tells Julia he can see what she does and even know the thoughts of her mind. It is worth quoting this passage at length to understand his supernatural claims:

“I am a Rosicrusian by principle; I need hardly tell you, they are a sect of philosophers, who by a life of virtue and self-denial have obtained an heavenly intercourse with aërial beings;—as my internal knowledge of you (to use the expression) is in consequence of my connexion with the Sylphiad tribe, I have assumed the title of my familiar counsellor. This, however, is but as a preface to what I mean to say to you;—I have hinted, I knew you well;—when I thus expressed myself, it should be understood, I spoke in the person of the Sylph, which I shall occasionally do, as it will be writing with more perspicuity in the first instance; and, as he is employed by me, I may, without the appearance of robbery, safely appropriate to myself the knowledge he gains.

“Every human being has a guardian angel; my skill has discovered your’s; my power has made him obedient to my will; I have a right to avail myself of the intelligences he gains; and by him I have learnt every thing that has passed since your birth;—what your future fortune is to be, even he cannot tell; his view is circumscribed to a small point of time; he only can tell what will be the consequence of taking this or that step, but your free-agency prevents his impelling you to act otherwise than as you see fit. I move upon a more enlarged sphere; he tells me what will happen; and as I see the remote, as well as immediate consequence, I shall, from time to time, give you my advice.—Advice, however, when asked, is seldom adhered to; but when given voluntarily, the receiver has no obligation to follow it.—I shall in a moment discover how this is received by you; and your deviation from the rules I shall prescribe will be a hint for me to withdraw my counsel where it is not acceptable. All that then will remain for me, will be to deplore your too early initiation in a vicious world, where to escape unhurt or uncontaminated is next to a miracle.

“I said, I should soon discover whether my advice would be taken in the friendly part it is offered: I shall perceive it the next time I have the happiness of beholding you, and I see you every day; I am never one moment absent from you in idea, and in my mind’s eye I see you each moment; only while I conceal myself from you, can I be of service to you;—press not then to discover who I am; but be convinced—nay, I shall take every opportunity to convince you, that I am the most sincere and disinterested of your friends; I am a friend to your soul, my Julia, and I flatter myself mine is congenial with your’s.”

The reader, however, realizes the Sylph is not really a supernatural being but a human who must be close enough to Julia to see her and know what she is doing. He writes several letters of advice to her and she responds, and although he cannot always rescue her from evil, he is a wise counselor to her.

In the end, Sir William’s debt gets the better of him and a truly horrid situation results. Lord Biddulph agrees to rescue him from debt in exchange that he divorce Julia so Lord Biddulph can marry her. Sir William refuses to sell his wife in this manner and ends up committing suicide. Julia writes to her sister, asking that she and her father receive “your poor wanderer” and she returns to them in the country. The Sylph now writes to tell her she no longer needs his services since she is returning to the “peaceful vale of innocence.”

But the Sylph returns in a new appearance soon after. Early in the novel is a letter from Woodley, a childhood friend of Julia’s who moved away but has now grown up and returned, hoping to marry her, but he arrives just after she has married Sir William. Realizing the mistake in choosing a husband that Julia has made, Woodley has bided his time and is the Sylph who has sought her welfare through all her trials. Now it is revealed to her that he has been disguised as the Baron Ton-hausen, a friend of hers in London whom she thought a foreigner and whom she admired and almost wished she had chosen over Sir William as a husband. Woodley has had smallpox and changed over the years since childhood so she did not recognize him, but her friendship with the baron allowed him to be close enough to observe and advise her.

When Woodley’s identity as the Sylph is revealed, Julia calls him “Proteus,” and “three in one” and a “variable being.” Proteus, from Homer’s Iliad, was able to change or metamorphose his form. She also compares herself and Woodley to Henry and Emma, the title characters of a poem by Matthew Prior. (Today, the poem is best known for being alluded to in Jane Austen’s Persuasion).

Of course, once she gets over her surprise, Julia agrees to marry Woodley and we can assume they live happily ever after.

I find The Sylph to be a remarkable novel for many reasons. The novel reminds me of Burney’s novels, including Evelina as I already mentioned, but also Burney’s later novels. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it influenced Burney to some degree. The horrible results of debt in the novel remind me of Cecilia (1782), in which Cecilia tries to pay the debts of a man who threatens suicide if she does not. More importantly, I think the magical depiction of the Sylph, though a male in this novel, is very similar to the more extensive idea of a supernatural being who can metamorphose herself in Fanny Burney’s The Wanderer (1814). In that novel, Burney draws upon the wanderer theme of Gothic and Romantic literature (note above that I quoted Julia as describing herself as a “wanderer”), and especially the Wandering Jew. Burney’s heroine, Juliet is known through most of the novel as Ellis; she hides her identity from others, and plays so many different roles that she might have been seen as a female “Proteus,” although instead, Burney refers to her as a “wandering Jewess,” and one of the characters in the novel remarks of Juliet:

“You have been bruised and beaten; and dirty and clean; and ragged and whole; and wounded and healed; and a European and a Creole, in less than a week. I suppose, next, you will dwindle into a dwarf; and then perhaps, find some surprising contrivance to shoot up into a giantess. There is nothing that can be too much to expect from so great an adept in metamorphoses.”

A more in-depth discussion of Juliet’s metamorphoses and Burney’s use of the Gothic Wandering Jew theme can be found in my book The Gothic Wanderer.

I really don’t know what kind of influence The Sylph had upon its contemporaries, but it certainly is a remarkable novel of the period, and many of the themes in it became significant ones for the Gothic novel, including gambling, the idea of metamorphosed identities, Rosicrucianism, and depictions of Jews. There is only one reference to Jews in the novel when Julia writes that her husband is surrounded by “Jew-brokers” who are “such wretches” and “infernal agents,” but it’s interesting that they are included as being responsible for Sir William’s downfall. Biddulph is also an interesting Gothic wanderer type villain; he is largely the cause of Sir William’s death. At first, he feels haunted by Sir William’s suicide, and recalling Milton’s Satan who has “hell within him,” Biddulph remarks, “my mind is a hell,” but Biddulph is also partially in denial of his responsibility in Sir William’s death, saying how thankful he is that he didn’t seduce Julia (regardless, he still caused Sir William’s death).

Also interesting about the novel is how it builds on the Romantic Myth of Consciousness, where someone begins in stage of innocence, moves into experience, and then seeks to escape the miseries of being experienced about life by entering into wise innocence. When Julia finally returns home, Woodley as the Sylph, remarks that she is returning to a “vale of innocence,” but really it is wise innocence she seeks. The use of the word “vale” is interesting here too, not only because of its religious implications, but because Woodley’s family originally owned the land where Julia’s family lives, so the area is known as “Woodley-vale.” So in marrying Woodley, Julia is able to enter into the vale—Woodley becomes her vale, her refuge of wise innocence. Woodley’s name also recalls the role of Nature in Romantic poetry since she finds her refuge in a wooded vale or forest, far from the wickedness of city life.

The Sylph is a remarkable novel that deserves far more attention than it has received over the years. The Duchess of Devonshire is truly a foremother of the Gothic and Romantic traditions as well as a fascinating novelist in her own right. I highly recommend the novel to readers.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly, and the American Gothic Forest

Charles Brockden Brown is often cited as America’s first Gothic novelist, but frequently, James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne are credited with taking the Gothic out of European castles and placing it in the American forest. The truth is that Brown deserves that credit as well in his finest Gothic novel, Edgar Huntly, or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker, published in 1799.

I recently read Edgar Huntly for the first time and was surprised to find that I thought it was the best of Brown’s novels. I had read Ormond years ago and found it very dull, but being a fan of the Gothic and literary history, I went on to read Arthur Mervyn, which had some fabulously suspenseful scenes, and Wieland, which is known for its use of ventriloquism, though I found it a bit slow. But I think Brown truly wrote his masterpiece in Edgar Huntly for several reasons, most importantly, that it maintains the level of suspense throughout.

Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810) wrote all seven of his novels in the short period of 1798-1801.

Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810) wrote all seven of his novels in the short period of 1798-1801.

I won’t give a full plot outline, but just hit on a few high points. The novel begins with the title character grieving the death of his friend Waldegrave, who was murdered, but the murderer remains unknown. Brown uses the manuscript technique, in this case in the form of a letter, to have Huntly describe the events of the novel to Waldegrave’s sister, Mary, who is also Huntly’s love interest. A collection of papers belonging to Waldegrave is also in Huntly’s possession, which eventually go missing, hence more manuscript usages.

Huntly soon observes a servant who lives nearby, Clithero, sleepwalking and digging in the ground to hide something, making him suspect Clithero is Waldegrave’s murderer and sleepwalking due to a guilty conscience. Huntly learns from Clithero’s fellow servant and bedfellow that he has overheard Clithero uttering guilt-ridden speeches in his sleep. Finally, Huntly confronts Clithero and from him hears his full story of despair and guilt and crime and how he fled Ireland to come to America. The story is part of the stories within stories Gothic technique and provides plenty of Gothic themes, including social mobility that suggests transgression, gambling, and illegitimate children, not all Clithero’s crimes but those of his mistress’ brother, whom he eventually kills, thus staining his hands with blood. I’ll leave all the details for interested readers to discover, but it turns out Clithero is not the murderer of Waldegrave. What Clithero is, however, is a Gothic Wanderer figure, one who believes he has also killed his mistress, and who feels incredible guilt and is in exile for it. Huntly refers to Clithero as a “wanderer” and Brown does an amazing thing in showing Huntly willing to forgive Clithero when he still thinks him Waldegrave’s murderer, saying he will befriend and help heal him once he hears his confession. This desire to redeem the Gothic wanderer is rare in early Gothic works and more of a Victorian theme. Whether or not Clithero is worthy of redemption will be seen at the novel’s end.

After telling Huntly his story, Clithero flees into the woods in despair. Huntly searches for him and finds him perched high up on a rock but Huntly cannot reach the summit and returns home. Soon after, Huntly finds himself in a strange cave and believes himself to have been abducted. The novel’s suspense really skyrockets at this point as Huntly makes his way out of the cave and has to get past savages as well as rescue a white girl who is their captive. From that point, Huntly goes through a series of adventures in the forest that result in some truly suspenseful scenes as he constantly fears death at the Indians’ hands. The novel, of course, is racist in its attitude toward Native Americans, but that doesn’t eliminate the very real fear that a white man would have felt in this situation, and it does make the forest truly Gothic in atmosphere.

I’ll leave it up to readers to discover how the plot turns out and who murdered Waldegrave. There are several twists and turns, though Huntly’s time in the forest fleeing from the Indians takes up a good half of the novel, and at times, I thought perhaps Brown had almost forgotten about the plot concerning Clithero and Waldegrave, but they are brought back in the end and all explanations made.

The book is not perfect, but it is probably the best Gothic work before Poe and Hawthorne. (I don’t think Cooper, despite the suspense of his stories, really qualifies as Gothic since he doesn’t rely on typical Gothic themes like manuscripts, the supernatural, transgression, etc.) Brown writes more realistic Gothic fiction, not using the supernatural, but all the other elements are present in his work. The novel’s faults include the sleepwalking—both Clithero and Huntly turn out to be sleepwalkers, which seems unbelievable to me; I have yet to know anyone who actually sleepwalks in my life. The other fault that makes Brown tiresome at times is the sheer wordiness of his writing. He continually repeats himself and lets Huntly think through the same matters multiple times. One phrase that I found completely laughable was when Huntly said, “by a common apparatus, that lay beside my bed, I could instantly produce a light. The light was produced.” Why couldn’t Huntly have just said, “I lit a candle”? Despite these faults, there is suspense up to the last moment, even when the wordiness gets in the way.

Anyone who loves Gothic fiction and loves Poe and Hawthorne would find Edgar Huntly the best novel to read as an introduction to Charles Brockden Brown. The American Gothic tradition owes a huge debt to him.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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