Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fragile Things -- Week 2

A Bluebeardesque picture from my Alma Mater (late 1800s).

I really enjoyed all of the stories in this week's Fragile Things read along.  Click here to see what everyone else thought about this week's reading. 

"The Hidden Chamber"

This is a Bluebeard poem and I simply couldn't help myself from comparing it to Angela Carter's short story "The Bloody Chamber."  I've always been fascinated by Bluebeard (I even wrote my own Bluebeard poem for my college thesis*).  On one hand Bluebeard is a nefarious man, luring women and keeping one secret room locked away and then virtually taunting them to open it so he has an opportunity to punish (i.e. slaughter) his brides.  But if the story isn't tangible, it there isn't a literal room and if there isn't actually murder committed the story shifts.  As a deeply introverted person, I understand the need for something that is a haven for oneself, be that a room, a journal, an hour in the day.  And I can't stand that some people feel the need to grope and pry one's entire life, space, thoughts. 

What I'm trying to convey is that one can interpret Bluebeard tales on a spectrum.  The grisly murder of one's bride is obviously a Bad Thing, but what if you're simply pissed off and emotionally distant because your bride read your diary (or in Sam's case that would be like me going through his Spawn action figures in the man cave).  In Gaiman's poem I feel as if this is an emotional locked room and the Bluebeard has an inability to emotionally connect.  Try as she might, the bride will never be able to figure out his secret, his self locked away in his own loneliness.  I thought the last lines particularly beautiful:  "The world flutters like insects.  I think this / is how I shall remember you, / my head between the white swell of your breasts, / listening to the chambers of your heart."

"Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire"

It took me a bit to orient myself to this story.  Filled with the typically Gothic tropes of lighting, creatures, fleeing maidens, talking ravens, family secrets, and curses, this story is one that would laughingly frighten someone like Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey.   This story is about a writer trying to write literary fiction and to do so taking his cue from his reality (which just happens to be a reality of Gothic horror).  A raven suggests he writes fantasy and the author writes a novel from our rather boring, rational world.  It is an interesting take.  To tell the truth, I've often wondered how things would be if my world was fantastical imagination and someone simply made me up.  But then again, I'm completely nuts.

"The Flints of Memory Lane"

My least favorite of this week's read, "The Flints of Memory Lane" sounds closest to a real ghost story.  By real, I mean those creepy things that happen that one cannot easily explain.  It is only my least favorite because it is so brief.  It concerns a teenager who has an encounter with what very well could have been a ghost.  The best part of this brief tale is the writing; I love the phrase "I like things to be story-shaped."

"Closing Time"

In his introduction, Gaiman says that this story is styled like an MR James story.  I LOVE MR JAMES (in fact, I read one of his collections a few years ago for RIP).  This story scared the living shit out of me.  A little boy hangs out with some older boys.  Pranks and jokes are played and then they find a creepy playhouse and the boys taunt the little boy into going in.  The little boy doesn't go in and instead dares the older boys to go in.  They older boys go in the terrifying playhouse and ....... never come out.  But then we learn that the boys did survive, at least to adulthood.  The terrifying part is that my stupid brain fills in the blanks.  Either this was all an elaborate ruse to scare the little boy or there is something evil and supernatural going on or there is (even scarier to me) an evil sexually abusive dad torturing the older boys.

This story really emphasized my own sense of "what is horror."  Vampires, ghosts, ghouls, and supernatural evil are creepy and thrilling.  I'll read a book or watch a movie filled with spookiness.  Human horror and horribleness is the stuff of nightmares for me.  I don't watch movies like The Accused or watch shows like Criminal Minds because to me the stuff that humans do to hurt each other is far more frightening and ghoulish then the creepiest MR James story one could conjure.

Excellent reading this week and I can't wait to continue on with the collection.

(*it was a three-part poem of pretentious drivel.  It sucked.) 


Anonymous said...

I was also rather creeped out by Closing Time! I like your take on the story where you assume that the boys did go on to become adults and that they survived their ordeal in the playhouse, because in my mind, I couldn't decide if they were ghosts or what. If they did survive, what really happened in the playhouse? How did the narrator stay so long and not see anything? It raises a lot more questions, and I love that about Gaiman's writing. :)

Carl V. said...

Interesting thoughts on the Bluebeard poem. I think it is great that you mention The Bloody Chamber as I have been doing the same thing all over as I visit participant's sites. That story almost needs to be read in conjunction with this one. I do agree that the locked room is about emotion, in my case I said it is about the heart, but I am not as willing to believe that he still won't be murdering his beloved. I see his closing lines being his own chillingly poetic thoughts about what he will miss when he brings about her demise.

And that is one creepy picture you found! Yikes! Super fun that it is from your Alma Mater.

As for Forbidden Brides, if you are nuts then you are among friends! LOL! Love the thoughts about Catherine from Northanger Abbey. It would really get to her, wouldn't it? :)

I LOVE that quote about things being "story-shaped". It is the ability to put words together in that way, brevity filled with infinite meaning, that is one of the things I think Gaiman does so well.

Closing Time: "This story scared the living shit out of me"

Me too, and I love that about it. I've read it several times now and it never fails to give me the creeps. It is the potential of it being human horribleness that makes me chilled by the story too. It might or might not be that, but the idea of whatever happened is so unsettling.

I go back and forth between thinking the kids mentioned at the end are the same kids and whether they might must be children of the father of that house from a time before. Remember that the house is supposed to be not lived in, and there is no mention of the boy going back to school and some big search for these missing boys ensuing. It is a story that leaves me with a lot of questions, but not in a dissatisfied way, and that is why I like the story so much.

Anonymous said...

I was glad that the boy kept to his instincts and didn't go in. It was so much creepier not knowing what exactly happened in the house, especially paired with what the old man said at the end about the cages. Something seriously wrong was going on there.

Emily Barton said...

I think I need to read Closing Time a third time. I wasn't at all sure the boys grew up or even what they were (humans or ghosts). I'm like you: human horror is far more frightening to me than supernatural horror (unless I'm in an unfamiliar cemetery by myself, at night. Then again, I'm usually still more afraid of what sort of whacked out human might be lurking in the shadows rather than anything like a vampire).

Carl V. said...

I've probably read or listened to closing times 4 or 5 times now and each time I learn something different, see things differently, etc.

Anonymous said...

"I don't watch movies like The Accused or watch shows like Criminal Minds because to me the stuff that humans do to hurt each other is far more frightening and ghoulish then the creepiest MR James story one could conjure." - I TOTALLY know what you mean! In fact, it's one of the reasons I loved "Closing Time" as much as I did (I mentioned a similar reason in my own post). I also loved reading what you had to say about emotion, privacy, and "The Hidden Chamber", especially given that this was definitely not one of my favorite reads this week. When one thinks about the chambers of the heart in tandem with an actual, physical chamber, the poem begins to deepen in a way it wasn't for me before.

I loved that you mentioned Catherine Morland - I totally forgot to even draw this comparison as I was reading "Brides"! How could I?! hehe. It's almost as if Gaiman and Austen pulled a one-two punch on those Gothic themes, and now I'm not sure I'll be able to read any ACTUAL Gothic without thinking of these two stories. Can't wait for next week's reading, and to hear your thoughts!

-- Chelsea

Amanda said...

I think I really need to read the story again. I was so confused, but I think I was supposed to feel confused. Obviously the story is a success since we're all on an emotional hook!