The Quiet Halloween Mind-Feast

While my teenage sister was out on the town rocking a Wednesday Addams get-up (her ‘bff’ went as Morticia so they stalked the small island nightlife scene with old-school-goth panache), I had no Halloween party to go to.

That’s a lie, actually: I could have very easily – and very lazily – donned my stock Dracula cape and multi-purpose 18th century broach, waxed my moustache and tagged along with my younger sibling, to revisit the local rock club for some Halloween fun, as well as a healthy dollop of nostalgia.

But in what is probably another sign that I’m getting old before my time, I opted to stay in to read instead. Fridays are hard work for me anyway – so that there’s a distinctly non-Halloweeny sense of dread looming over every Thursday evening.

The reading was as ritualistic as I could make it though, so some sense of commemoration was kept. I indulged in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death‘ for umpteenth time; it’s a story that I keep returning to for its visceral and visual impact, but would you believe that I have yet to fully conjure up an image of Prospero’s castle in my head? Maybe that’s why I keep returning to it.

The fact that Gabriel Byrne did a brilliant reading of it some years back helps too, of course:

After I was done, I got the urge to revisit what is probably one of my favourite literary tributes of all time: Laird Barron‘s ‘Strappado’, published in the Ellen Datlow anthology Poe, released in commemoration of the macabre master’s 200th anniversary. It’s a glorious mash-up of both ‘Masque’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado‘ – probably my second-favourite of Poe’s stories, and updates their most horrifying elements in a way that makes my skin crawl.

Though Lovecraft – my second choice for the evening’s reading – is perhaps more vulnerable to this than Poe due to his stylistic excesses, the visual furniture and 19th century narration that fuels Poe’s tales can sometimes soften their impact (if not all that substantially). Barron’s story doesn’t have this problem. I don’t want to write a detailed crit of it – I like it too much anyway – but do check out the anthology if you can, it’s got a few other gems in store.

My reading of HP Lovecraft’s ‘He‘ was cut short by my drooping eyelids. However, I returned to it after a ranging storm woke me from my slumber… which I appreciated for providing some holiday-appropriate mood, if nothing else. But the story is truly one of Lovecraft’s lesser works, any terror undermined by its ridiculous antagonist and the logorrithic miasma that works much better in the Cthulhu stories than it does here.

Re-reading can be far more pleasurable and rewarding than reading something for the first time. It has the ability to etch stories in you like incantations, like prayers that remind you of who you are. If the stories and the storm congeal into something meaningful for my writing, that would be truly great.

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