Thursday, October 31, 2013


Dracula by Bram Stoker. Originally published 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company. Signet Classic edition reviewed. 380 pages.

Tall, dark, handsome, and dressed to the nines, Count Dracula, courtesy of his many cinematic manifestations, has ruled for nearly a century as the godfather of all things Halloween. He has been at times cool, cruel, suave, terrifying, seductive, and distinguished (or any combination of those listed traits). But the lion's share of this iconic referencing is, as mentioned, associated with the thespians who have brought the un-dead count "to life". How much is known of the seminal work which started it all. I can count on one hand, amongst my reading friends, the number that have read Bram Stoker's book in its entirety when it hasn't been a class assignment. I myself am guilty as charged; a few attempts to finish it in the past remained unresolved, until now; until , fittingly, today.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is told in the epistolary format (the success of this attempt will be addressed later). It focuses not on the titular Count, but on those who become intertwined with him and his machinations to establish himself in England. Therefore, it is an assembly of diary and journal entries, news clippings, notes and memorandums.

The tale opens with young Jonathan Harker, a freshly minted solicitor, on a train to Transylvania to cement some real estate purchases with the reclusive, mysterious, Count Dracula. As he travels deeper and deeper into these mysterious Eastern European lands, he finds a pervading aura of fear and superstition. So many locals pray for his safety and adorn him with talismans and fetishes, much to his confusion. Upon arrival at Castle Dracula, he becomes increasingly aware that there is not only something amiss with the Count's intentions for his purchases, but he comes to experience what kind of creature this Dracula truly is.

Back in England, we meet Harker's fiancee, Mina, and her best friend, Lucy Westenra. While Mina awaits the return of her beloved, Lucy contemplates three separate proposals from young men enthralled with her; Dr. John Seward, steward at a local asylum, Arthur Holmwood (later Lord Godalming), a society gentleman already in courtship of Lucy, and Quincey Morris, a brave and adventurous Texan. Little do the members of this circle realize how closely the events about to transpire will bring them together as they rend their lives apart.

This occurs when Dracula, now in England, makes a wicked thrall out of Lucy. To assist in deciphering this unfamiliar malady, the aforementioned group enlists the esteemed Dutch doctor, Abraham Van Helsing. It is he who first ventures to guess the contribution of an unholy force in Lucy's suffering, and it is he who acts as the linchpin in ferreting out and trying to destroy Dracula. This proves to be a task much easier said than done, especially as the work must be done on the sly, since no one would be apt to believe the nature of this creature.

There are so many other details, which are best left to the reader to discover. Suffice to say that the events of the story differ greatly from Browning's picture, and go so far beyond Coppola's interpretation.

Dracula's supernatural powers in the book are pretty amazing, and all have some clearly drawn limits. He has his sharp intellect and cunning, as well as the strength of twenty mortal men. He can change the appearance of his 'human form', as well as transforming into a giant bat,or an ominous mist. He can impact the weather, and bring on fog and winds. And, not only can he makes thralls out of humans, but he holds mastery over the nastier animals of the world; wolves, rats, etc. However, he slumbers during the day, and needs the earth of his homeland for his vulgar rest. He cannot cross moving water, and if he cannot get back to his familiar earth, he will be trapped in his current form until the next sunup/down. Also, he cannot enter a home without being invited, or allowed in. Although once he gains access to an abode, he has free reign to come and go as he pleases.

Now that we have all the basics out of the way, what is there to say of the prose? Of the many works and shows that attempt to dissect Stoker's masterpiece, many nitpick on two main points: first, the lack of accuracy in the depiction of the Transylvania locale, and the fact that Stoker's writing is a tad on the dry side (I've seen some go so far as to argue that without cinematic fame, Dracula the book would have faded into obscurity). Let's address the latter first.

Dracula is not, suffice to say, a "rip-roaring" action romp. It doesn't need to be. And it might be a bit lean on the main villain, simply because for the most of the work, he is acting as a quarry that is stubbornly hard to root out. Therefore, after a great, and chilling opening portion (covering Harker's plight in Castle Dracula), things pretty much level out.

Where Dracula suffers is that there is precious little character development. While there are attempts to try and inject urgency into the text, most characters remain relatively stable despite the extraordinary events. There are many melodramatic outbursts and declarations, but the despair, frustration, elation, etc., it just doesn't show. This is especially true regarding the contributions of Van Helsing and Seward, who, as it just so happens, constitute the bulk of the narrative from the middle to the end. As a note, I will say that Jonathan Harker's character is the one best rendered throughout the novel, making the middle portion where he is absent noticeably lacking.

Another point I will make is this; there is a lot of dialogue. A lot. And most of it is done by Van Helsing, whose expositions go on and on for paragraphs. He serves as the moral compass for the group, and injects what little humor there is to be found. But quite honestly, I can see how his broken-English caricature can be grating at times. So, if you read this book, after a page or two of Van Helsing, if you find him annoying, just put the book down.

And this leads me to the next little gripe about Dracula. While the attempt was made to convey the story in the epistolary format, there are times when the prose unmistakably falls into a traditional narrative. Honestly, the book would have thrived more within the parameters of that format, with the diary entries and news clippings peppering the story throughout.

As for Stoker's efforts in fleshing-out the Eastern European locales that he had never himself visited, all I can say is that it is easy enough to be a Monday morning quarterback over a century after a book comes out. Working from whatever available resources on those lands, he creates a plausible, imaginary area that would gel with contemporary assumptions. What I find more mournful is how little description England itself gets. Street names are rattled out as if the reader has complete familiarity with them. Therefore, it is truly a work that was made for his English contemporaries.

All in all, Dracula is a classic in regards to what it has spawned, more than what it is. It is completely and utterly dated, where a true literary masterpiece is timeless. And yet, it is spectacularly imaginative, and even disturbing at times. It is a book that has truly earned its respect.

Here's what it is:
It's the book that introduces the world's most famous vampire. On that merit alone it deserves a look.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

This Signet Classic cover isn't too bad. A nice, evocative pic, which gives the impression of emerging from dark woods and happening upon the nightmarish Castle Dracula. Not bad at all.

Cover Final Score:


Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Thing On The Doorstep

The Thing on the Doorstep by H.P. Lovecraft. Originally published in Weird Tales, January 1937.

There is simply no way that a month of telling creepy Halloween tales would be complete without a little bit of Lovecraft. Now, I'll make a confession; I have not read as much Lovecraft in my years as I should have. My younger self did not properly appreciate the suggestive and cerebral pervasiveness of his work, opting for tales with more "in your face" shock. But I digress, as it is always better late than never.

Today's story comes courtesy of this amazing list of 25 chillers to read, absolutely free. What better source of quick Halloween scares than that?

The Thing on the Doorstep is told in the first person narrative of Daniel Upton, and it serves as an account to justify his actions in emptying the contents of a revolver into the face of his dear friend Edward Pickman Derby. The declaration of this actual deed constitutes the opening lines of the tale. The remainder of the story recounts the bizarre events that led to that tragic moment.

Upton tells us of how he befriended Derby, an odd, coddles, socially inept youth eight years his junior. Even though their career paths took different routes, the two became and remained fast friends. Upton always maintains a high regard for Derby's authorial talents, and penchant for dark themes, black magic, and the occult.

Derby, who, as already mentioned, was critically introverted, finds love with one Asenath Waite. She is some fifteen years younger than him; a student at Miskatonic University, and quite the phenom in regards to black magic and such. She is a very odd character, but pretty nonetheless, her looks marred only by what appears to be a tad of the old "Innsmouth Taint"....

Yeah, I can see that being a bit of a dealbreaker.

However, from the get-go, Asenath seems to have some kind of hold on Edward (HINT: foreshadowing), and, soon enough, they are wed, and things are free to take a Lovecraftian-manic turn.

Look, there is no spoilers involved in just saying outright that Asenath is vying to take control of Derby's body. This is hinted at in an extremely blatant fashion, numerous times throughout the work. The fun is in watching it happen, and feeling a sympathetic response to Upton's plight of frustrating impotence in salvaging his good friend's soul.

In fact, the narrative of the tale is terribly predictable, leaving all to rest on the money shot: the titular "thing" on the doorstep. In this, Lovecraft pulls out a win. The final payoff to this tale is suitably scary, creepy, and haunting.

The rest of the tale is Lovecraft by-the-numbers; and there is even mention of an Old One, just because the story wouldn't be complete without one.

In this story, Shub-Niggurath.

And that's really all we can say about it. Great opening, great ending, a lot of dragging out in the middle.

Here's what it is:
Not exactly a classic from Lovecraft, but a solid, quick, free read. Solid characters bring to horrid life the tragedy of love in Arkham.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

No real cover score here, as the story was read in the public domain from a free website. It has also been anthologized many times. So, I just posted the pic of the cover of the Weird Tales that it was originally printed in. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Night Winds

Night Winds by Karl Wagner. A collection of Kane short stories originally published by. Approx pages.

HachiSnax Note: Like some unearthed treasure, I have only just recently discovered the work of Karl Edward Wagner. This is a sad testimonial for one who grew up in the fantasy heyday of the 80's. Whatever the reasons may be, now I have heard of him, and how highly his work is regarded. The first Kane book that I was able to obtain was "Night Winds", which I believe runs fifth in the series. It is a collection of short stories, and it works fine as a standalone, although I don't know yet if any of the supporting cast appear in previous volumes. Each tale will get a grade with an overall score below. Cheers, Hach.

My first foray into Kane's world was everything that I had expected based on what I had heard of Wagner's writing. Undertow is dark, moody, atmospheric, dark, and even slightly chilling. Undertow tells the story of Marvsal and Dessylyn. Marvsal is the captain of a cargo ship, in Carsultyal to be patched up and manned. He meets the beautiful, yet obviously troubled Dessylyn as she is trying to escape the city via his ship. Her demeanor is vague and elusive, but there is one surety; she wants to escape the attentions of Kane, the dreaded wizard that she once loved and who loves her still. As she posits it, that "love" is a twisted mockery of the word; he treats her as a trophy, and dedicates his efforts of necromancy towards concocting foul potions to keep her as his thrall.

But Kane's reputation proceeds him, and therefore freeing Dessylyn from his tendrils will be no easy task. To stress this point, Dessylyn recounts the tale of Dragar, the young barbarian who she loved, and who would have been her erstwhile savior as well.

There are sufficient twists and turns, making the title of this story very appropriate.

Wagner's writing is haunting and ominous here. It takes a lot for a story to actually frighten me, but certain scenes in Undertow do so. Wagner writes with a precision that taps into your subconscious reservoir of fears and lets your inner five year old wonder what is under the bed. As for Kane, his depiction here is everything that I expected; a massive, formidable fighter that is also adept at profane sorcery.

My only question regards continuity; is Dessylyn a character from previous stories or is this her sole outing? It doesn't really matter; as Undertow works masterfully as a standalone piece. There are discussions, or spiritual dialogues, between Kane and Dessylyn that a poetic and brilliant. They have a flow akin to the ripples of the ocean, as heard by someone stranded in its ice depths.

Final Score: 93/100

Two Suns Setting:
This story appears second in the book, but is not a direct sequel. Two Suns Setting finds Kane on a (possibly) self-imposed exodus from Carsultyal. While traversing a vast desert in search of lands where he is not infamous, he happens upon the giant Dwassllir, one of the last of his ancient race. As they sit by a campfire and share a meal, they engage in discussions of their respective races. Kane agrees to accompany Dwassllir on his journey; a perilous venture to explore the nearby caverns and try to discover the legendary tomb of Brotemllain, the last great king of the giants.

Let me start off by saying that this story is masterfully written. There is the great metaphor of the "two setting suns"; the literal sense (although one of the 'suns' is actually the moon, brilliant in the sun's light), and also in reference to the two wanderers; a proud pair that are both licking their emotional wounds. The dialogue between them rings true since it reflects themes that have been relevant across time; the fading elder race scoffs at the soft beings that have usurped them; weak, mewling things that only survive due to the speed with which they breed. The voice of the younger race counters the merits of his kind; arts, literature, architecture, science, technology. Variations of this conversation pass from generation to generation; there is indignation regarding change as well as respect for the strengths of others.

The scenes down in the caverns have a great claustrophobic flair about them. The dusty darkness is palpable, and there is a true creepiness about the denizens of these depths, creatures that time and light forgot.

My big question mark regarding "Two Suns Setting" is: who is this Kane? The Kane in this tale is no different than a standard adventurer. He is still physically formidable, but where have his arcane skills gone? Am I missing something? Does he need tomes or potions to work his art? When he is pinned behind a rock, he is effectively useless, while in Undertow he was blowing doors and shutters off of hinges. Don't get me wrong, this is a great story. I am just guessing that Kane was chosen as the protagonist so as to help the audience feel more invested.

Two Suns Setting is a great parable about pride and former glory. There is some great action in it, and there is a sense of loss and sadness, as well as vindication, that permeates it throughout. What it does not seem to be, however, is a true "Kane" story. Don't miss this tale though!

Final Score: 88/100

This Day In History....Karl Edward Wagner

It was on this day, October 13th, in 1994, that Karl Edward Wagner lost his battle with his inner demons and succumbed to his alcoholism. As I mention in the "Night Winds" review, I am only just recently discovering his work, and am very happy for the discovery.

Now, Wagner is of course best known for his character Kane, a sword & sorcery heavyweight definitely in the vein of Howard pulp-fantasy. Wagner was also prolific in the horror genre as well; and integrated elements of horror into his fantasy works. If you ask me, horror-fantasy is a vastly under-served market, so it is a treat to get good stuff. The other great thing about Wagner was, well, his mind at work. It must be remembered that Wagner held a degree in psychiatry, and he injects a cerebral element into his prose.

I had hoped to get the full review for Night Winds up by today; but sadly it hasn't worked out that way. So I will be putting up a partial review (which I abhor the notion of doing), which covers the first two stories in the compilation, and then I'll revisit with updates as more tales are read. The first tale in the book, Undertow, has some definite horror elements and plays well into the October/Halloween theme.

So, if you can, track down some work by Wagner (it's getting harder and harder to find). You'll be happy that you did.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Born Of Man And Woman

Today's entry is less a review than a mention; a mention in keeping with the trend this month of spooky stories. This year, we have seen the passing of some real literary heavyweights, such as Elmore Leonard, and, more recently, Tom Clancy. But, of all those that passed this year, none had had the impact of Richard Matheson. Even the most casual reader/viewer of horror material has probably encountered one or more of his creations. He was that integral to the genre.

Looking back, you can how Matheson's star was shining in even his first sold work. Published in 1950, a 1,200 word masterpiece titled "Born of Man and Woman", was penned by a then 22 year old Matheson. It tells the tale of a creature; some kind of child abomination, that is kept chained in a basement by its 'normal' parents. As the story is told from a first-person POV, you see the entire landscape of its world through the mentality of an ashamed, uneducated, juvenile mind. And there's a lot of sorrow in that kind of concept.

In the span of what equates to be two pages, Matheson delivers three fully-realized characters. The parents have real emotions; they do not simply chain up and beat the child. There are palpable notes of love, sadness, and, most of all, shame and anger. These might be part of the whole gamut of emotions endured by parents of special needs children, elevated to an astronomical level. The child has a palette of feelings as well; inquisitiveness, need to explore, love, shame, and eventually, pride and anger.

Matheson lets the tale unfold with a true mastery; as the trio that is the central cast reach their individual breaking points, we can see more and more just how inhuman this child is. And yet, even as the last lines give you a glimpse at the abomination, the true horror, like all good horrors, remains implied:

For no explanation is given; as to why this creature was born. It is not attributable to aliens, the Devil, or the cruel humors of demons. It could be born to anyone, a true affront to the security of white picket fence suburbia,  it could be lurking in any basement, and, as it asserts its independence, it will not be bound by chains or man.

Born of Man and Woman can be read in .pdf format here, and, I cannot recommend highly enough that you do so. If you have never read works by Richard Matheson, or, if you do not know that he is the man behind many great horror works that you've probably enjoyed, then you are in for a treat. For those who already know, make sure you read it again this Halloween season.

Like I said earlier, I am not assigning this short a numerical grade, but trust me, it is five out of five star reading.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Squaw

The Squaw by Bram Stoker. A short story originally featured in the Dracula's Guest compilation. Originally published 1914.

Bram Stoker. The name must be spoken with a proper amount of reverence, for with one iconic book, he created an entire genre of horror fiction. How many branches, indeed, have grown from the root that was Dracula? Far too many to count. However, as we all know, Stoker was perfectly adept at writing short chillers as well. The Squaw is a great little gory tale to enjoy during the Halloween season, and luckily, it is available to read for free at this wonderful site, as well as many others. 

During a honeymoon vacation in Nurnberg (Nuremberg), a young newlywed couple (our narrator, who recalls the tale in a first-person POV, and his bride Amelia), join up with an American tourist named Elias P. Hutcheson. At the tail end of their tour of the city, they visit The Burg, a medieval castle with a very interesting tourist attraction: a fully-stocked torture chamber, replete with an Iron Virgin (Iron Maiden). Let me just come out and say that I fully endorse the notion of a honeymoon spent spooning in old castles and visiting torture chambers.

On the way along the tour, the intrepid trio spots a mother cat playing with her kitten in the moat-turned-garden below. At that point, a careless (and incredibly callous) action on the part of Hutcheson taps into a well of maternal rage that is quite fearsome. We won't go swimming into spoiler territory on such a short tale though.

There are a lot of great things going on in The Squaw. Stoker creates tension throughout an otherwise tame scenario (the early touring scenes) by having Hutcheson regale the couple with colorful tales of the rough and tumble American West. When Stoker describes the furnishings of the torture room, it serves as a testament to mankind's propensity to be cruel to our fellow man. Are there many things that we are better at? 

As for the characters, it's kind of hard to say. All three seem to be rock solid stereotypes; our narrator is a polite, accommodating Brit; his wife is timid, frail, and useless; and Hutcheson is a brash, arrogant, yee-hawing cowboy. Is this how cowboys actually spoke? Maybe. I am sure that Stoker met more real ones than I have. However, the cast sufficiently fills their roles and help the plot advance.

Another nice thing about The Squaw is the gore factor. This story is pretty gruesome, and fairly bloody. It's gorgeous. The whole shindig ends with a set-up that you absolutely know that no good can come out of, but the way it is executed (heh heh) is brilliant.

The Squaw is a great little Halloween chiller that stands the test of time. Do yourself a favor and read, re-read, or listen to a reading of it this season. Enjoy!

Here's what it is:
Bram Stoker's fierce little shocker about the lengths some will go to when they have nothing left to lose. A stark reminder that physical superiority is no match for pure, unadulterated hatred.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Again, no cover score for this one. I re-read this off of the link provided above. The image posted is the cover for Dracula's Guest, grabbed off of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs. A short story originally appearing in The Lady of the Barge, 1906. 

HachiSnax Note: Happy October everyone! With Halloween around the corner, we will try to focus on frightful tales this month. First up is a short story that scared the dickens out of me when I read it as a lad of 13. Every few years, I go back and revisit it, and it still gives me a chill. This is a very brief tale, so it will be a brief review. Plus I don't want to risk any spoilers. Ladies and gents, "The Monkey's Paw". -Hach

A very short tale with a very wicked punch, "The Monkey's Pale" is a true tale of terror from over a century ago. Set in a desolate area of England with dreadful weather (even by British standards), it tells the tale of the White family (Mr., Mrs., and grown son Herbert), and the strange simian fetish that permanently alters their lives.

One evening, the Whites are entertaining a guest, a friend of Mr. White and a former military man. After regaling them with tales of far-off places visited, the guest, Sergeant-Major Morris, introduces the titular paw, a mummified monkey hand that has been charmed by a fakir in India. The power of the paw? To grant three bearers three wishes. Sounds great, right? The twist is that the charm is more of a curse; meant to show that those who attempt to interrupt the natural path of fate will suffer for it.

Unable to resist the temptation, wishes are made. Wishes come true. And each wish comes with a price. Any more information would be a silly spoiler to a tale that can be read in 10 minutes (and enjoyed ever after).

The Monkey's Paw satisfies for reasons more than simply stellar subject matter. With a very small word count, Jacobs conjures vivid imagery (although he is wise enough to leave the 'best bits' to the reader's imagination). You can fully imagine the comfort of the parlour, with its crackling fire, where the fate of the White family is forever changed one dreary evening. The limited cast is rendered very well also, from Sergeant-Major Morris, whose own dealings with the Paw, and subsequent regrets, are succinctly implied, to the snarky, juvenile Herbert White. Mrs. White is an annoying hen, pecking away at her husband while lavishing favor upon her darling boy, and Mr. White serves as the moral compass that lacks moral fortitude.

But above all of this, what is the best part of The Monkey's Paw? How about the fact that you can read it for free here, and I am sure many other places. There are also numerous readings and film adaptations on Youtube.

Here's what it is:
One of the best horror shorts ever written. Bar none. If you haven't read it yet, follow the link and enjoy. If you haven't read it since middle school, enjoy it again.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

No cover for this one. It has appeared in and been anthologized in too many forms to count. Just put the pic up there since it looks nice.