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New Fairytale-Type Story Blends Vampire Lore with Arthurian Legend

Picus the Thief, translated by Robin Bennett, is an original book that takes several traditional storytelling motifs and gives them new life through multiple reimaginings of legends and traditions.

Think of it as fairyland meets Camelot meets Dracula. It’s a little of all of those, and yet not strictly tied to any of them.

PicustheThiefThe title character, Picus, is a vampire, but he’s not your typical vampire—although there is a reference to Dracula as a sort of vampire ancestor—but that’s rather anachronistic—in fact a lot of things about this book are anachronistic. In any case, Picus is not only a vampire but he has fairy-like or, more properly, dragonfly-like wings. He is about the size of your forefinger, and as one of the human characters says when he meets Picus, to Picus’ displeasure, he’s kind of like a mosquito—he can fly and he sucks blood.

Picus is far from a scary vampire. One of his bites probably doesn’t hurt much more than that of a mosquito, so he’s not a bad guy. That said, vampires do think well of themselves; there’s plenty of vampire superiority in this book—a tone that vampires are better than humans—although I’m not sure that that isn’t all vampire propaganda.

To understand why it might be termed propaganda, we have to look at the book’s authorship. It is actually the first book in the Small Vampires series, which will provide a history of the vampires. The book was allegedly discovered in manuscript form in a curious way by Robin Bennett, who explains in the introduction how the strange book in an unfamiliar language eventually came into his hands. After some difficulty he managed to translate it. In short, he learned it was written by vampires, so obviously they will portray themselves in the best light. He also learned that there were people in the world who might be willing to harm him to get their hands on the book, and so he decided to publish it so there would be no one copy that could be stolen from him. All of this is explained in a very engaging way that made me realize that here was the typical eighteenth century Gothic novel technique of the mysterious discovered manuscript, but at the same time, it was written in a fun way that made me feel more like I was entering a playful and mysterious world akin to Narnia or Neverland.

And then the story starts and we are introduced to Picus. It is the year 266 A.D. we are told, which is rather odd and why I say the book is anachronistic since Dracula (if he was first the historical Vlad Tepes) lived in the fifteenth century, and eventually, Picus goes to Angleland at the time soon after the Romans have left—they wouldn’t leave in reality until about 410 A.D. and there were certainly no Angles in England at that time (but this is Angleland not really England). In short, Bennett, whom I suspect is the author despite his claims to being the translator, is writing pseudo-history and consequently everything in this book is “pseudo”—pseudo-vampires and pseudo-Arthurian legend especially.

Despite the vampires’ belief that they are superior to their cousins the Faies (fairies) and to the humans (who may have some distant relationship to both of these more supernatural beings, though the humans are magic-less), the vampires have some issues of their own. At least Picus does. He grew up in a dysfunctional home in which he was asked to murder his Sanguine—a wingless being the vampires have bred as servants and to feed upon. Picus’ refusal to kill his Sanguine led to his flight from home and his mother’s anger. Talk about dysfunction. Before the book ends, this mixed up family turns out to be more like Hamlet’s family than that from any happy fairy tale—come to think of it, most fairy tales do feature dysfunctional families—think of all those evil stepmothers.

Anyway, Picus makes his living as a thief, and we follow him from one theft to another until he finds himself being commissioned to enter the human world and steal the sword Exkylipr, which was forged in the belly of the Chalice and is one of the seven treasures. (Think Excalibur and Merlin collecting the Thirteen Treasures of Britain.) The humans were given the sword many years before, but now the vampires want it back, so Picus is sent to retrieve it. He ends up going to Camelon Castle, but he doesn’t meet any Arthur there. (There is an Art in the book, but he’s a vampire and runs a pawn shop—nothing kingly about him.) Instead, Picus meets an Ambrosias (no uncle to King Arthur but an old lady and the court physician). She is wise enough to know his purpose and eventually befriends him.

I won’t say more because I don’t want to give away the whole plot, but don’t look for an Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle in this book, and don’t look for your typical vampires, even though these vampires do have roots in Transylvania and the Carpathians.

Rather, expect a highly original take on old legends that is playful yet not lacking in adventure or even violence. There’s a feel of almost Irish leprechaun trickery here, a dash of Shakespearean revenge tragedy, and some beautiful prose worthy of Hans Christian Andersen. There’s plenty of whimsical creatures, complete with a glossary of them, an essay explaining magic in the vampires’ world, and even plenty of humor. For example, one of the funniest passages for me was “Gargoyles were also generally accepted to be the most nosey, pernickety, prissy and prying species on the planet after cleaning ladies….”

This is not a book for the die-hard Arthurian fan who likes depictions of the historical King Arthur. It’s more for fans who enjoyed the BBC’s Merlin. It’s also not for lovers of dark Gothic lore with all its angst or even the Twilight crowd—I think you’d be more likely a fan of The Addams Family or Young Frankenstein if you like this book—or maybe The Princess Bride. If you love fairies, I also think you’ll love these vampires, but perhaps not the fairies in the book—Queen Mab is about as awful as they come with her necklace made out of male vampire teeth, which has led to her nickname “The Tooth Fairy.” Actually, I loved hating her.

So it’s a little of everything—a little grotesque, a little funny, a little magical, and a little traditional. Plus, it’s a beautifully-designed book—the cover looks like a true lost manuscript or the kinds of books produced at the turn of the last century, and there are illustrations for each chapter, not of the characters, but of flowers and dragonflies that give it the feel of Victorian fairy tale books. I imagine many young adult readers will enjoy it, but adults may also feel here is some of the magic of childhood they knew that hasn’t been lost but only needs to be found again.

You can find out more about the “translator” Robin Bennett and the future books in this series at www.SmallVampires.com

______________________________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

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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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“The Master of Ballantrae”—RLS’ Great Gothic Novel

Years ago after my grandfather died, I discovered a complete set of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson in his garage, published in 1911. They were beautiful red books with gold engravings, and although I had previously read Kidnapped and Treasure Island as a boy and found them dull, I decided I would keep this set of books and maybe I would find I liked them because I was now older. And so I committed to read one of the twenty-six volumes every year until I finished. That was twenty years ago, but I have only made my way through nine of the volumes because I still find them fairly boring.

The Master of Ballantrae - published 1889

The Master of Ballantrae – published 1889

But this week that changed when I read The Master of Ballantrae. I knew there had to be a reason why people liked Robert Louis Stevenson and this fascinating novel makes up for all the others I had previously read, and I am writing about it because its wonderful Gothic tone and storyline totally captivated my attention.

The novel is set in the eighteenth century and tells of a father and his two sons, James “the Master” and Henry, and a young heiress, Alison, who is to wed the oldest son, but this is the time when Bonnie Prince Charlie is seeking to reclaim his throne and the Master decides to join him. What happens after to the Master is never completely clear. The family believes he has died, and in time the young lady weds the younger brother, Henry. And then the Master returns, a fugitive from the law since Prince Charlie’s campaign has failed. He has been wandering about the world and now come home, mostly because he wants money. The family cannot acknowledge him so he resides with them under an assumed name, and he soon sets about making all their lives miserable, constantly taunting his brother, bleeding the family of its wealth, and ultimately, insulting Alison by saying she is still in love with him.

What I find so fascinating about the storyline at this point is the tone of it and how much it resembles Wuthering Heights in that respect, including being told from the viewpoint of the steward, MacKellar, as Wuthering Heights was told from the servant Ellen Dean’s viewpoint. The Master of Ballantrae is not heavy in Gothic atmosphere and descriptions, but the tension among the family members reminds me of how Heathcliff leaves and returns after traveling in foreign parts, intent on his revenge.

In my constant quest to identify Gothic Wanderers, the Master fits the category nicely. Not only is he a villain, but Stevenson likens him to Milton’s Satan; he enjoys reading Richardson’s Clarissa, an implication that he is similar to that book’s villain Lovelace, who has frequently been compared to Satan as an attractive villain, and at one point, Stevenson tells us the Master is like a “magician who controlled the elements”—a reference to power that is typical of supernatural Gothic wanderers, especially the vampire, although The Master of Ballantrae, published in 1889, predates Dracula, published in 1897. Dracula is really the first vampire figure to have control over the elements, while earlier vampires and Wandering Jew figures are usually at odds with the elements, seeking to have Nature destroy them only to have it refuse to let them end their extended, miserable lives.

The Master is nothing if not a wanderer. Although he returns to Scotland to torment the family, he also goes off to foreign lands, including North America and India. In India, he finds a friend and companion, Secundra Dass, a native who travels with him, a man who will teach him the secret of rising from the dead, so to speak. And in New York, the Master supposedly buries a treasure in the wilderness. These two connections lead to the novel’s stunning end.

Of course, this is a novel of realism so there is no supernatural rising from the dead, yet the Master is depicted as if he almost has supernatural powers. After taunting his brother to an extreme, the Master and Henry fight a duel and it is believed the Master is slain, yet when Henry and MacKellar leave him to see to Henry’s welfare, when they return, the Master’s body has disappeared. He has managed to escape death and be rescued by smugglers off the coast of Scotland.

And finally (spoiler alert), at the end of the book, the Master journeys through the wilderness of New York to find his treasure but does not return. His brother, Henry, determined to have proof of his brother’s death so he can be sure his tormentor is finally dead, is led to the Master’s grave. Secundra Dass then digs up the Master, saying once before in India the Master faked death and was buried and regained life. For a moment, it appears that in New York he will also rise from the dead. The moment is gripping and sends the younger brother, Henry, to his death. MacKellar recounts the moment as follows:

“Secundra uttered a small cry of satisfaction; and, leaning swiftly forth, I thought I could myself perceive a change upon that icy countenance of the unburied. The next moment I beheld his eyelids flutter; the next they rose entirely, and the week-old corpse looked me for a moment in the face.

“So much display of life I can myself swear to. I have heard from others that he visibly strove to speak, that his teeth showed in his beard, and that his brow was contorted as with an agony of pain and effort. And this may have been; I know not, I was otherwise engaged. For at that first disclosure of the dead man’s eyes, my Lord Durrisdeer fell to the ground, and when I raised him up, he was a corpse.”

It is as if the Master has enacted a curse from the grave to kill his younger brother. But then the Master is unable to bring life back into his body, and Secundra Dass admits that while the trick worked in India, the ground is too cold in New York. And so the Master is also dead.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

These scenes of nearly rising from the dead recall tales of Resurrection Men, body snatchers who dig the dead from the grave. Dickens uses the term Resurrection Man in A Tale of Two Cities, and Stevenson himself had written a tale “The Body Snatcher” in 1884. I cannot doubt the idea remained of bodies being resurrected, and so he elaborated upon it in The Master of Ballantrae.

Altogether I found the novel fascinating. The first time I was convinced the Master had died, and yet he kept coming back and surprising me, so that I did not want to put the book down until I found out how it all would end. I was in fact disappointed that the story did not go on.

Stevenson’s reputation has declined since his lifetime, and there is good reason, for even his best known works, including Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, have been unable to retain my interest, but The Master of Ballantrae is an exception. It deserves a place among the great Gothic novels of the period, perhaps just a shelf below Wuthering Heights.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of numerous books including The Gothic Wanderer. For more information, visit him at www.GothicWanderer.com

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Lady Caroline Lamb’s “Glenarvon” and the Byronic Vampire

The following article is an excerpt from my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption:

Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon (1816) is the first novel to make notable use of the vampire figure. The novel contains no actual vampire characters but suggests that its title character has vampiric characteristics. Glenarvon is usually passingly referred to as a source for Polidori’s The Vampyre, considered to be the first vampire tale in English prose fiction, but its own rich use of the vampire metaphor and the novel’s overall position within the Gothic wanderer tradition make Glenarvon a work that deserves more attention than it has hitherto received. While the work is poorly written and the plot is confusing, Lamb provides a remarkable treatment of the Gothic by blending the supernatural with the realistic. The novel never explicitly creates supernatural events until the final dramatic chapter, but it continually suggests how the supernatural is born of the psychological terror an individual experiences as the result of transgression and guilt. The novel focuses upon two distinctive Gothic wanderers: Glenarvon, who is based on Lord Byron, and the female heroine, Calantha, based upon Caroline Lamb. Glenarvon and Calantha’s romantic relationship is consequently Lamb’s rewriting of her tumultuous affair with Lord Byron. Lamb wrote the novel to avenge herself against Lord Byron for abandoning her. She depicts Glenarvon as a type of vampire damned beyond hope while Calantha is redeemed and forgiven her transgressions. Calantha’s redemption is surprising in a pre-Victorian novel, making the novel a notable exception in the early Gothic wanderer tradition; Calantha’s redemption results from Lamb’s identification with the heroine and a desire to vindicate herself from any wrong. Consequently, Lamb creates a remarkable double standard for the Gothic wanderer by allowing the female wanderer to be redeemed while the male wanderer must face damnation. The use of the vampire metaphor for Glenarvon furthers the legitimacy of his damnation while preparing the way for the vampire’s popularity throughout nineteenth century Gothic fiction.

Lady Caroline Lamb, author of Glenarvon

Lady Caroline Lamb, author of Glenarvon

From his first appearance in the novel, Glenarvon is considered a dangerous man and is described in terms suggestive of supernatural Gothic wanderers, particularly that of Satan, the Wandering Jew, and the vampire. Calantha first sees Glenarvon in the moonlight, making her feel she is in the presence of a “fallen angel” (121). She is told of Glenarvon’s melancholy and depressed state and that “it would surprise you how he howls and barks, whenever the moon shines bright” (122). The howling at the moon is suggestive of a werewolf to modern readers, but more specifically it relates Glenarvon to the vampire who is traditionally restrengthened by moonlight, only implied here in Glenarvon but expanded upon in later vampire tales. Calantha also learns that Glenarvon’s ancestor, John de Ruthven “drank hot blood from the skull of his enemy” (123), suggestive that Glenarvon’s vampiric characteristics are inherited. Lamb bases this anecdote on the actual occurrence of Lord Byron drinking wine from a skull in Newstead Abbey (Wilson, “Notes” 371). Glenarvon’s vampirism is also implied in rumors of his death, and in the novel’s description of how he keeps nocturnal hours.

“Glenarvon wandered forth every evening by the pale moon, and no one knew whither he went….And when the rain fell heavy and chill, he would bare his forehead to the storm; and faint and weary wander forth, and often he smiled on others and appeared calm, whilst the burning fever of his blood continued to rage within.” (178)

Like the vampire, Glenarvon is a nocturnal wanderer, and like Milton’s Satan, who feels Hell within, Glenarvon feels the “burning fever of his blood…rage within” (178). Glenarvon’s preference for the fiercest of nature’s elements is self-destructive and recalls the Wandering Jew who seeks death but is unable to achieve it. Furthermore, like the Jew, Glenarvon appears to realize that he is cursed so neither man nor Nature can harm him.

“That which was disgusting or terrific to man’s nature, had no power over Glenarvon. He had looked upon the dying and the dead; had seen the tear of agony without emotion; had heard the shriek of despair, and felt the hot blood as it flowed from the heart of a murdered enemy, nor turned from the sickening sight—Even storms of nature could not move Glenarvon. In the dark night, when the tempest raged around and the stormy ocean beat against the high impending cliffs, he would venture forth, would listen to the roaring thunder without fear, and watch the forked lightning as it flashed along the sky.” (141-2)

While Glenarvon is not actually supernatural, such descriptions suggest that he, and by extension, Lord Byron, are unnatural in their actions.

An edition of Glenarvon with a portrait of Lord Byron on the cover

An edition of Glenarvon with a portrait of Lord Byron on the cover

The most supernatural aspect of Glenarvon’s nature is his metaphorical vampiric ability to drain life from his female victims. While he does not literally drink his victims’ blood, he nevertheless drains energy from them, as Byron drained the women he loved and then abandoned them. As Glenarvon and Calantha’s relationship progresses, he becomes stronger and more dominant, while she becomes physically and emotionally weak and subservient. Frances Wilson remarks that Glenarvon seems to be draining “the living daylights out of her in order to maintain his own nocturnal existence” (Introduction xx). Glenarvon is not completely monstrous, however, for he warns Calantha of the dangers of loving him, saying “My love is death” (229). He states he is concerned about her fate, while he is “indifferent” (229) regarding his own. Calantha remains constant in her love for Glenarvon, although his warning makes her fear the future. Her friend, Gondimar, warns her to “look to his [Glenarvon’s] hand, there is blood on it!” (203), suggesting that, like the Wandering Jew, Glenarvon is marked with a curse. Following this warning, Calantha dreams of a monk, who like an Inquisitor, questions and warns her about Glenarvon. The monk tells her she must ask to see Glenarvon’s right hand because “there is a stain of blood on it” but “he [Glenarvon] will not give it you; there is a mark upon it: he dare not give it you” (204). When Calantha relates this dream to Glenarvon, he gives her a “demoniac smile” (204), and holds forth an unblemished hand. Nevertheless, Calantha feels frightened for, “His eyes glared upon her with fierce malignity; his livid cheeks became pale; and over his forehead, an air of deep distress struggled with the violence of passion, till all again was calm, cold, and solemn as before” (204). Glenarvon’s metaphorically marked hand and the fierce glare of his eyes are both trademarks of the Wandering Jew, while his paleness again suggests his vampiric nature. Calantha is stunned by his emotional behavior, but she is also irresistibly fascinated by him. In another of Calantha’s dreams, Glenarvon appears “pale, deadly, and cold: his hand was ice, and as he placed it upon hers, she shrunk from the grasp of death, and awoke oppressed with terror” (172). Nevertheless, she allows him to manipulate her, feeling sympathy for him when he tells her there is a “horrid secret, which weighed upon his mind” (175). Calantha’s concern for Glenarvon makes her think the guilt from this secret has driven him mad.

“He would start at times, and gaze on vacancy; then turn to Calantha, and ask her what she had heard and seen. His gestures, his menaces were terrific. He would talk to the air; then laugh with convulsive horror; and gazing wildly around, enquire of her, if there were not blood upon the earth, and if the ghosts of departed men had not been seen by some.” (175-6)

Despite Glenarvon’s strange behavior, Calantha continues to love and befriend him even when she feels her love places her on the border of sin. Like Melmoth the Wanderer, Glenarvon seeks a mate to lighten his curse, yet he regrets the afflictions she will receive by sharing his fate. He warns Calantha that he is the Hell she should shun because her association with him will forbid her entering Heaven, but she replies that the hopes and promises of religion and virtue are nothing to her without him (202).

Although Calantha is married, Glenarvon then convinces her to swear an oath of love to him, an oath that will bind their souls together as Christians are bound by their marriage vows. At first, Calantha’s inner soul revolts, but then she agrees, feeling one hour with Glenarvon is worth all calamities. She tells Glenarvon she will take the oath because his “words are like the joys of Heaven: Thy presence is the light of life” (218). Calantha has spoken blasphemy, making Glenarvon the light of life, thus comparing him to Lucifer before the fall, and setting him up as a type of Antichrist. She has committed a transgression against God by taking a sacrilegious oath that violates her marriage vow. She has also transgressed against the family by committing adultery. Now she has committed further sin by declaring Glenarvon is “the light of life” as if he were God, thus making her an idolater. Although she feels the impiety of her words, Calantha tells Glenarvon that their souls are now linked and he is her only master (220-1).

The impious marriage ceremony occurs during the moon’s half crescent, suggestive of Satan’s horns. The moon is also commonly depicted in vampire fiction as providing a source of life for vampires. During the ceremony, the moon casts fearful shadows (219-20), providing an ill omen for the couple’s future. Glenarvon gives Calantha a ring, saying that if there is a God, He will be the witness to the marriage vows. Calantha’s forehead begins to burn, suggestive of the guilt she feels, as if by the marriage ceremony she has a cursed mark on her forehead like that of the Wandering Jew. This burning suggests her connection now to Glenarvon, because on “his pale forehead…the light of the moonbeam fell” (220), suggesting he is himself cursed.

Once Calantha is damned with Glenarvon, the Narrator explains the moral of the tale, foreshadowing the novel’s denouement.

“When man, reposing upon himself, disdains the humility of acknowledging his offences and his weakness before his Creator, on the sudden that angry God sees fit to punish him in his wrath, and he who has appeared invulnerable till that hour, falls prostrate at once before the blow: perhaps then, for the first time, he relents; and, whilst he sinks himself, feels for the sinner whom, in the pride and presumption of his happier day, he had mocked at and despised. There are trials, which human frailty cannot resist—there are passions implanted in the heart’s core, which reason cannot subdue; and God himself compassionates, when a fellow-creature refuses to extend to us his mercy or forgiveness.” (253)

The moral is that no one is beyond salvation if he or she asks for forgiveness, for God is merciful even when humanity is not. This philosophy, however, Lamb only applies to Calantha while Glenarvon is condemned to damnation because Lamb chooses to depict him as unwilling to repent.

Soon after the sacrilegious marriage ceremony, Glenarvon abandons Calantha, leaving her heartbroken. Similarly, Lamb felt destitute when Byron deserted her, so she depicts Byron metaphorically as a vampire who leaves women feeling lifeless and longing for death after he deserts them (Wilson, Introduction xx). Calantha now repents for her transgressions committed with Glenarvon. She becomes ill and dies, but first she gains her husband’s forgiveness, and she feels that God has forgiven her for her sins.

After Calantha’s death, Glenarvon has a vision of her as an angel surrounded by celestial light. She tells him to live and be his nation’s pride, but when he asks whether she is happy or she still loves him, she becomes pale and ghastly and fades from sight (362-3). Glenarvon’s dream occurs on the eve of a battle for Irish freedom, equating it with typical dreams of ill omen that legendary heroes experience before their defeat and death in battle.

Glenarvon distinguishes himself in the following battle, but becomes ill immediately after. He now has a horrendous vision, which provides the climactic and powerful supernatural ending of the novel.

“‘Visions of death and horror persecute me,’ cried Glenarvon. ‘What now do I behold—a ship astern!….Is it that famed Dutch merchantman, condemned through all eternity to sail before the wind, which seamen view with terror, whose existence until this hour I discredited?’” (364-5)

The legendary Flying Dutchman

The legendary Flying Dutchman

Glenarvon has seen the legendary Flying Dutchman, a ship composed of murderous sailors, who are forced for all eternity to sail the seas, much as the Wandering Jew is continually forced to wander the earth until Judgment Day. The scene is also suggestive of the Ancient Mariner who travels aimlessly about the sea as punishment for his transgression of killing the albatross. Glenarvon sees spectral images on the vessel, including a friar who drowns a woman who loves him. Following this deed,

“the monk drew slowly from his bosom the black covering that enshrouded his form. Horrible to behold!—that bosom was gored with deadly wounds, and the black spouting streams of blood, fresh from the heart, uncoloured by the air, gushed into the wave. ‘Cursed be the murderer in his last hour!—Hell waits its victim.’….Well was it understood by Glenarvon.” (365)

Glenarvon orders his men to follow the phantom ship and they travel from coast to coast after it until Glenarvon, now mad, jumps into the sea. He feels himself sinking into darkness, even when his companions rescue him. Oblivious to those around him, Glenarvon hears a voice condemn him, “you did not bow the knee for mercy whilst time was given you: now mercy shall not be shown” (366) and Glenarvon is condemned to the lowest pits. The novel concludes with the statement, “God is just; and the spirit of evil infatuates before he destroys” (366). This stunning conclusion declares there is no redemption for the Gothic wanderer who shows no mercy to his victims and who does not repent until the last hour. Unlike Calantha, Glenarvon completely fails to gain the reader’s sympathy. His failure to repent makes him more typical of the Byronic hero who celebrates his rebellion and transgression than was Byron’s own depiction of a vampire in The Giaour.

Glenarvon’s condemnation is dramatic and stunning even beside the many other Gothic novels of the period. Lamb felt the novel tended to be too intense, so she made several major revisions in the second edition. Despite her obvious disgust with Lord Byron, Lamb toned down the characterization of Glenarvon as satanic (Clubbe 210), and she made Calantha and Glenarvon’s relationship intimate, but not suggestively sexual as in the first edition (Clubbe 211). Most strikingly, the second edition is more respectful of religion, all references to “God” being either omitted or replaced by “Father” (Clubbe 212). Lamb also surprisingly predates other Gothic novelists in her use of Catholicism, when its adherents were still politically oppressed and the Gothic continually depicted the Catholic Church as corrupt. In the second edition, Calantha converts to Catholicism before her death, which Lamb felt was explainable by the novel’s being set in Catholic Ireland (Wilson, Introduction xxiv). Lamb also adds a paragraph full of pious morality to describe how God forgives Calantha upon her death (Clubbe 212).

Glenarvon’s importance in the Gothic tradition and its influence upon the vampire figure cannot be overestimated. While Glenarvon is not a vampire, his vampiric characteristics would influence John Polidori, whose famous story would make the vampire a popular figure in English fiction. Glenarvon was also the first novel to redeem a transgressive Gothic wanderer figure, two decades before the Victorian period when such redemptions became common. Notably, the redeemed wanderer is a female, thus linking Calantha to the feminine Gothic tradition that seeks to vindicate Eve, and by extension all women, from being transgressors. Lamb’s use of Catholicism in the second edition as a means to redemption may have influenced Dracula’s use of Catholic religious objects to destroy Dracula, thus vindicating Catholicism from its derogatory image in earlier Gothic novels. Lamb’s depiction of a Gothic wanderer as redeemable would allow the vampire to become the most popular Gothic wanderer figure used by novelists to explore the psychological transformation of a person who passes from transgression to redemption as best demonstrated in the later works, Varney the Vampyre and Dracula.

Glenarvon was largely condemned by the critics, but notably, two Gothic novelists appreciated it. The painter, Northcote, recommended the novel to William Godwin as being a work of great talent. Because Godwin later became good friends with Lamb, he must have agreed (Wilson, “Lamb” 377). Edward Bulwer-Lytton remarked that when he was a schoolboy, Glenarvon:

“made a deeper impression than any romance I remember, and, had its literary execution equalled the intense imagination which conceived it, I believe it would have ranked among the few fictions which produce a permanent effect upon youth in every period of the world” (Wilson, “Caroline” 377).

The novel made such an intense impression upon Bulwer-Lytton because he admired Byron and in youth wished to model his life after him. Later when Bulwer-Lytton met Lamb in 1824, the novel contributed to his infatuation with her, and he hoped he could replace Lord Byron in her affections, although she was clearly not interested in such a relationship (Campbell 5-6). Lord Byron’s reaction is perhaps the most interesting though predictable. In a verse he wrote, he stated, “I read Glenarvon, too, by Caro Lamb— / God damn!” (Maurois 353). He further remarked that if Lamb had written the truth, the book would have been far better, and “As for the likeness, the picture can’t be good—I did not sit long enough” (Maurois 353).

Brocket Hall, said to be haunted today by Lady Caroline Lamb

Brocket Hall, said to be haunted today by Lady Caroline Lamb

While Glenarvon was the first novel to redeem the Gothic wanderer, the redemption of Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb is more questionable. The novel ironically foreshadows in Glenarvon’s death while fighting for Irish independence, Byron’s own death in 1824, during which time he was assisting in the Greek cause for independence, and died in Greece from an illness. Lamb’s own dramatic and often immoral life appears to have prevented her soul from achieving rest. Today, Lamb’s former home of Brocket Hall is said to be haunted by her ghost, which walks the halls and can be heard playing the piano (Bextor). Perhaps Lamb’s decision to damn Glenarvon/Byron resulted in her own soul’s damnation and eternal wandering.

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“American Ghoul” Full of Gothic Twists and Teenage Angst

ImageHoward Pickman is a lot like most teenage boys—a little nerdy, not exactly popular, very smart and just trying to make his way through high school—with one added problem. His family has a secret, and when that secret is discovered when the book opens, it results in Howard’s parents being torched to death and Howard fleeing in search of a safe place to begin his life over.

Howard’s secret is that he comes from a family of ghouls—not ghosts—for the Pickmans are flesh and blood people and not unlike anyone else except that they must eat human flesh to survive. They don’t even need to eat it frequently—Howard’s grandmother goes for years without it—but it results in her becoming weak and sickly. The Pickmans are not evil—they do no harm to humans. They simply rob graves and consume the newly dead to provide themselves with their needed sustenance—and that is how Howard’s parents were caught.

Being a ghoul is tough. Even after Howard escapes death and makes his way to his grandmother’s home in New Jersey, where he starts life and high school over, trying to fit in, he still has to rob graves for himself and his grandmother so they can live. He’s pretty good at grave robbing, but there’s always a risk.

What I most appreciated about “American Ghoul” was not necessarily its ghoulish context but how effortlessly Walt Morton works the Gothic elements into the story of what would otherwise be that of a typical teenage boy. I say Gothic because the novel is not really horror. The ghoul is the main character and the reader cheers for him—there is no supernatural force or creature for the reader or main characters to fear. The most evil things in the book are humans and a society that doesn’t understand ghouls, and especially a group of teenage boys who like to bully Howard and his nerdy friends who are starting up a punk band—it’s the early 1970s when punk was still taking off. The book’s real moments of horror all derive from being in high school and dealing with the bullies.

I also appreciated Morton’s use in the novel of the Gothic manuscript tradition. Howard’s grandmother gives him his grandfather’s letters from World War II, which reveal some interesting information about being a ghoul; Howard ponders this information and later it adds to the novel’s dramatic conclusion. Morton knows his Gothic tradition, using family secrets discovered in manuscripts to bring about a form of salvation—literal salvation in this case.

Finally, “American Ghoul” has plenty of humor enclosed in Howard’s interesting ghoulish perspective. He loves to watch old monster movies, but he feels sorry for the monsters, especially Godzilla, whom humans first waken and then decide to destroy when all Godzilla wants are answers for why they’re exploding an atomic bomb in his ocean lair. Howard also has interesting perspectives on writing—not being able to make much sense or find much value in William Faulkner’s inability to tell a story—and on religion, wondering whether Jesus might have been a ghoul also, considering he encouraged cannibalism among his disciples in the Eucharist, a ceremony Howard doesn’t really understand and which he mentally inverts in ways not too unlike Bram Stoker’s treatment of the Eucharist in “Dracula.”

Anyone wanting a refreshing story with a young voice full of humor and teenage angst, yet with all the Gothic trappings that have kept the genre popular for over two centuries would do well to give “American Ghoul” a try. It’s Morton’s first in an intended sextet of books in the supernatural horror genre, so don’t miss out and get left behind.

For more information on Walt Morton and “American Ghoul,” visit www.WaltMorton.com

— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and author of “The Gothic Wanderer”

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