Wow, it has been a while since I last wrote on this blog. Nearly 3 months, 25% of a year. I think I got burnt out after writing so much when I first started to blog. Add to that the fact that I didn’t feel as gothic-fiction-like around Christmas and New Years. But, I love the weird and wonderful and I can’t stop reading or writing about it.
I want to start this year off with a book that I read in a day and have read twice. It is a book about a girl living in a new and strange house with other strange people in the apartments above and below. The house is the setting of the gothic imagery and in the house lies secrets and evils. The book is Coraline by Neil Gaiman and if you have never before read a Neil Gaiman story this one is a great place to start.
Yes, her name is Coraline, not Caroline spell check. She and her family just moved to this new house, which is an old Victorian home that has been divided up into three apartments: basement, ground and 3rd floor. Coraline and her parents live on the ground floor and the story does not waste as much time as I do getting to the good part. The first sentence of the book reads,
“Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.”
That is all I shall tell you about the book. Inside the pages are some terrific illustrations by Dave McKean, which you can read more about here. I personally love it when authors add some, not too many, but some clever illustrations to YA stories. There are a total of fifteen illustrations, but they do not take anything away from the stories imagination. What I mean by that is the story still allowed me to use my own imagination.
This book was first published in 2002 and in 2009 director Henry Selick, whom most people know for The Nightmare Before Christmas, help bring Coraline to the big screen. I have to admit that the movie is great, though of course not as good as the book, and there were two scenes that were my favorite in the book that are completely left out in the movie. The transition worked well since the book is fairly short and came with some great imagery. Read the book and then watch the movie. I did.
Neil Gaiman was recently on the radio show Wait Wait Don’t Tell me, interview here, and he talked about where he came up with the idea for the book. Basically he wrote about what he had experienced and what he knows. He mentions in the interview, “When I was a kid, we actually lived in a house that had been divided in two at one point, which meant that one room in our house opened up onto a brick wall. And I was convinced all I had to do was just open it the right way and it wouldn’t be a brick wall. So I’d sidle over to the door and I’d pull it open.” Sadly it was always a brick wall, but not for Coraline.
To learn more about the wonder that is Neil Gaiman you can visit his website here, at mouse circus here or just google him and see what you find. If you are on facebook or twitter Neil is always blogging and post his thoughts and ideas.
“Now focus your mind’s eye on what I say,”
he said, “and you will clearly understand
the error of the blind who lead the blind.”
“It should be clear to you by now how blind
to truth those people are who make the claims
the every love is, in itself, good love.”
I do not know what is more sad, that people in this world see a need to ban books or that it happens so often we have a Banned Books Week, which happens to be this week. Check it out here. It really exists. Now I can think of some books that I would never allow into my personal library or if I owned a bookstore I would never carry, unless a customer asked me to order a copy of said book. But this is my own personal opinion which allows me to have what ever books I want to fill up the shelves in my library. I cannot understand why people would want to go through the trouble to ban books from public libraries and school libraries.
When I first heard that books were being banned I was young and thought that it was an isolated incident. Sadly it is not as this map will show you what parts of the country are banning what books. Some of these books, Slaughter House Five, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, are some of the first books I have ever read and loved. Other, Brave New World and the Twilight Series, are not as well received, but that should not matter.
My biggest fear in this world is when a group of people starts something, where does it end? You ban one book because you say it contradicts the bible, as is what happened here. Does that not give the same rights of other people to ban the bible? I do not want either banned. I would like people to read for themselves and decided what is right and wrong.
This brings me to my gothic twist. There is a great book entitled The Monk by Matthew Lewis. The story is about a devout monk named Ambrosio living in Madrid, Spain sometime in the 17th century, The people of the church and of the community say that he is without sin and has never broken a single rule of his order. He is extremely popular thanks to his sermons and his dedication to the church and the Holy Bible.
He came to the church as a baby, abandoned on the steps of the abbey. His entire life is spent living in the church and being educated by the words and lessons of the faith. The book follows his down fall as his life both outside and inside becomes complicated with emotions of love and lust. He is first tempted by a fellow monk who reveals himself to be a woman in disguise. Later he falls in love with an innocent girl. I shall not spoil the rest of his fall into villainy, but I shall say that book makes it clear that the only reason why he lived 30 years with out sin was due to the fact that he was cut off from the real world outside the abbey. He had no exposure to people outside the church.
He was in fact censored and grew up not knowing any aspects of the real world.
The book, The Monk was itself banned upon its original publication in 1796. This is due to the fact that the book is an attack on the brutality of the Catholic Church in Spain during the Inquisition.
Books teach us valuable lessons from the world that we would normally not experience in our everyday lives. We learn about different characters from different lands with different languages and customs. There is nothing to be gained by banning books. It does not make those parts of the world go away. It deepens our ignorance and proves the adage that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he does not exist.
Join me in reading a banned book. My book of choice: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In this world, books are not just banned, they are burned because the contradict the existence of the society.
“Surely,” said, I, “surely that is something
at my window lattice; Let me see, then
what thereat is, and this mystery explore.”
Baltimore,: Or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire
Such a great story deserves a great header. This book literally fell right into my lap. A close friend of mine, who knows how much I love vampire stories and graphic novels, found it in the recently published section of our local library. I nearly did not believe them, thinking that no library would voluntarily purchase this book for the general public. I also thought that such a cool idea for a graphic novel would never find its way to me by chance. It was not the first time I was proved wrong and I am sure it will not be the last time.
First I love the title and not just I because I live in Maryland. The name Baltimore is old, older than the United States and the City of Baltimore, obviously. The name comes from a title held by the Calvert family whom were the Baron Baltimores that founded and governed the city of Baltimore before the American Revolution. (For those of you living outside of Maryland the state flag, which many think is a bit strange, is a combination of the Calvert and the Crossland family shields.) Sorry, enough about the name.
The authors are Mike Mignola, who also does the creepy and wonderful illustrations and is best known as the creator of Hellboy, and Christopher Golden, the bestselling author of The Myth Hunters, Ferryman and Strangewood. This book is a must read for anyone who loves the horror of vampire tales and the supernatural gothic tale.
The story goes, the world has been overrun by vampires, and not the nice vampires of the Twilight series, the Sookie Stackhouse series or even Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. These are monsters that humans do not fall in love with. They are villains that kill for food with out emotions. They more resemble the vampires in the new trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, which I highly recommend.
Baltimore is the hero of this story. A soldier from World War I who both creates and witnesses the awakening of the vampire plaque on the hellish fields of battle. What makes this story so powerful, and in my book what makes it gothic, is the fact that it is set in the aftermath of World War I. A war that more cruel and kill more people than most people today will ever understand. In tradition gothic tales it was always the setting that gave the story it troublingly scary punch. World War I was like a plague in western Europe that killed more than 15 million people, not just soldiers.
Not only is the story hauntingly amazing, but the illustrations adds wonder to the imagination that this story induces. The skulls, the shadows and the fact that they are in black and white bring the story alive in visions that get stuck in your head and stay there long after you have finished the story. Mike Mignola has a unique tale for injecting the emotions of the macabre into his art. He also worked on the Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
After the release of the Graphic Novel the story of Baltimore expanded to a comic series, which I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing. You can trust that I shall when my reading list allows me. I have also heard rumors for sometime that there are plans for this story to become a film following the success of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. If anyone knows anymore than I do, please share. I loved this story.
In my imagination there took shape
the impious deed committed by that being
transformed into the bird that lives to sing:
my mind became, at this point, so withdrawn
into itself that the reality
of things outside could not have entered there.
Then poured into my soaring fantasy,
a figure crucified, whose face revealed
contempt and fury even as he died.
“On this home by Horror haunted . . .”
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; . . .
It is fun how we can live our entire lives and not know that there is an artist, author or some creator that will blow our minds away with their work. It seems that as I get older, to my delight, I find more and more of these people in the world. Several years ago it was the writer Neil Gaiman. I know, it was not until I finished school that I learned of the awesome works of Neil Gaiman and now I have read just about everything of his there is to read including all four volumes of the Sandman series. This summer I found the etchings of John Taylor Arms at the National Gallery of Art. Now I wish to share with you another artist, Paul Gustave Dore.
I found him this summer, while researching Dante Aligheri as I was reading the Inferno. In researching I found this illustration of a lost pilgrim (Dante) in a dark and lonely forest and thought it to be wondrous and perfect imagery for the text of the Inferno. Little did I know that there would be more illustrations such as this to compliment not only the first volume of the Divine Comedy, but for all three volumes, Purgatory and Paradise. Again, as in the case of the work of John Taylor Arms, the attention is in the details of his work. When you look at one of his illustrations you can see the amount of time, energy and patience he put into it as you can feel that energy pervade out of it. The work is like magic like the words are poetry.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love using my imagination when every I can in reading poetry, prose, short stories or novels, but there is a different experience when you have images such as these from an artist such as Dore. There is a quality that comes with them and an experience that follows. It is art and poetry combined into one symphony that any person whom appreciates the macabre will enjoy. The gothic appeal is strong in his work as he shows the beauty in the tragedy.
Here is a brief biography on Dore.
Born in Strasbourg, France on January 6, 1832, Dore made a name for himself as a prolific artist, illustrator, engraver and sculptor, but he worked primarily with wood and steel engravings. His artistic talent was recognized at an early age by his parents and friends. When he was 14 his parents moved to Paris. While out walking he saw in the window of a publishing company engravings to match different works of literature. Knowing he could do a better job he brought his work to the shop the next day and showed them to the publisher, Charles Philipon. Philipon was amazed by what the young Dore had to show him, but thought the work to be was too good for the hand of a teenager. After Dore proved the illustrations to be his own he was given a job.
Early in his career he was commissioned to illustrate the works of Lord Byron, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and the The Old Testament of the Bible (1866), which made him famous not only in France, but around the world. What he is most known for, however, are his illustrations for Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Poe’s poem, The Raven. In his life, he illustrated more than 200 books and thousands of illustrations.
He was a workaholic and managed to produce a lifetime of work in a short life. He died after a brief illness at the age of 51 in 1883. He grave can be found in the Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris.
His work is unequally in talent and imagination as he brings to life the very wonders of the classical works we still love and read today. As soon as I discovered that there is for sale as book of his illustrations to the entire Divine Comedy, I knew I could not finish the 100 cantos without his art. I find it difficult to understand how one person could produce so much work and have each one be excellent and amazing.
Recently I bought his work on Poe’s The Raven, which is one of my single favorite pieces of writing. His work is deep and thoughtful, complete and emotional. He seems to be able to draw out with an illustration the same passion and imagination that the author wrote in with words. The many collections he created are a testament to his talent, dedication and respect to his craft and the works of others. He was born with a unique talent that few have ever had. We are luck that at an early age he recognized that talent and was able to pursue it until the day he died.
Please share with me your thoughts on Dore’s work and any artists you think share his abilities and passion.
“But who are you, so eager to inquire
about us here — you with your eyes unsewn,
so I would guess, and breathing out your words?”
“Be proud, then! Onward, haughty heads held high,
you sons of Eve! Yes, never bow your head
to see how evil is the road you tread!”
“The more one learns,
The more one comes to hate the waste of time.”
How do paintings feel so strange and alive?
Out-living their creators as they strive to survive.
We – stare and wonder with hearts corrupt
Almost expecting a change with movements abrupt.
Expecting smoke from a chimney
A foot out the door
Movement through a window
Or steps on the floor
A lonely house in the distance
Covered in rain as it softly begins to pour.
I’ve nearly scene a person adjust themselves in a chair
Witnessed a woman brush back her forever, falling, hair.
I swear I’ve seen a man blink his eyes to see
And heard them both whisper and plea, “please rescue me.”
Strange thought to beget in a fragile human mind,
Trapped in its own frame away from the answers it tries to find.
How can an artist create such a Thing?
A photograph in this world created from a dream,
The memory of a bird and the song it is meant to sing,
Or is it the recording of a voice, fragile in its scream.
There is the absence of the creator in the image of their art.
Mixed with the feeling of power come bleeding from their heart.
It use to be that I was too embarrassed to admit that I had never before heard of a famous individual and this embarrassment at times hindered my interests since I would be too scared to ask the questions that I needed to ask. That question that would inevitably lead to more questions.
It was only this past July that I learned the name John Taylor Arms and I discovered the name by accident. While touring the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I saw on a sign one of my favorite words, ‘Gothic.’ It is typical that when ever I see that word it is connected to some subject that will interest me. This situation was no different. I walked into a room at the very back and to the left of the basement level of the gallery. It was a place that was being ignored by most of the patrons who where more focus on the impressionist and expressionists art that hung in the main corridor. At the time the quiet atmosphere was great since it gave me the room all to myself. For more on the exhibit, click here.
Upon closer inspection I saw the name John Taylor Arms, and I was happy that I found him, ending my ignorance in private. For those of you who like me had never before heard of this great architect and print maker he is an unique person. Born in Washington D.C. in 1887, he began his academic career by studying law at Princeton, but that did not last and he would transfer to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. After he graduated in 1912 he went on to become the most renown artist working in etchings and aquatints. Because he had an architects trained eye for detail he was able, with constant devotion to the almost painful details, to create images with such superb detail that they seemed to poses more craft and precision than any one person could create.
Though his work is not entirely tied to gothic architecture, he did specialize in strictly representational etchings of medieval cathedrals and gargoyles. His work has been said to be denser than photographs, and it was because of his fine eye for detail that he was able to make etchings of gothic cathedrals so beautiful.It is, after all, these details of gothic structures that give them their power over the eye. Think about it. Next time you see a gothic style building, look closer at it and you will notice the tiny details that add up to its grand presence in an almost out of this world beauty. In his work and in the actual structures you can see the amount of time, talent, skill and care the was poured into the facades, towers, and the entirety of each project. Through his dedication and focus he was able to successfully transfer that marvel onto copper plates and then to paper.
From reading about Arms I learned that he was drawn to gothic architecture not only for its detailed splendor, but for the fact that it survived through the centuries to become living relics. Such survivors deserve respect for the fact that they endured when most perished in time. It is amazing to think that what people can create can long outlive their creators far into the future to the point were they almost seem alien to the modern world. Throughout Arms life and career as an artist the world of modern art change to more abstract art, progressives and independents. Still he dedicated himself to his craft and did not stray and for that we have his work today. Arms died in 1953 in Fairfield, Connecticut. He worked until the day he died and his creations have survived these fifty-eight years for us to see and tell others about.
For a review of the exhibit, click here.
Though there are many old cathedrals in the United States that can be considered as being of gothic architecture, there are few castles. Sadly for those of us who live in the United States and love gothic architecture, there are few places to visit to see the beauty of that medieval style. There may be some of similar style, but few of historic craft and artifact. Perhaps the most well known gothic castle in American is the Smithsonian Institution Building, which is appropriately nicknamed the ‘Castle.’
In terms of size and aesthetics, the ‘Castle’ is an impressive structure. With its red sandstone it appears bold in its splendor on the Washington Mall and stands out from even amongst the Capitol Building, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery of Art and the Supreme Court, all of which are more classical in their style. I have had the chance to visit Washington D.C. many times and I have always been impressed with the layout of the mall with the Washington Monument on one end and the Capitol on the other. I have always been aware of the out of place red gothic castle, but never have I looked into why it is there or who designed it. I did know that it was the headquarters for the Smithsonian, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I am a little sad that it took me so long to learn more about this beautiful building that has stood for over 100 years.
Completed in 1855, the ‘Castle’ was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. James Renwick was born in 1818, in New York City. His was part of an affluent family that was well educated. His mother came from a prominent New York family, and his father was an engineer, architect and professor of natural philosophy at Columbia, where later James would study engineering. James did not, however, study architecture. The only education he received in that field was from his father who taught him the trade. Indeed, he did grow up with early exposure to the craft and was nurtured in architecture throughout his life.
He received his first major commission at the age of 25 for designing the the Grace Church in New York in 1843. The church is modeled in the English Gothic Style. Even though the church received other bids from well established architects it took a chance on the young engineer believing that his background and family provided a guarantee that the church would rise without fault. The finished product was very different from what could be found in the city at the time. It was the first of its kind, gothic, to be seen in New York and one reason why the style was chosen can be linked to the churches rector, Thomas House Taylor.
Prior to his arrival in New York, Taylor had spent a year traveling throughout Europe for possible the purpose of searching for ideas as to what the future church should resemble. It is without doubt that he would have seen many gothic style churches, but we also know that Renwick had never seen one, outside of what he could find in books, thus adding to his talent, skill and vision.
Of all of his designs Renwick is perhaps most renown for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, also in New York City. This project came later in his career after he had completed Grace Church and the Smithsonian Castle. It is a marvel to see in the atmosphere of Manhattan as it was built long before midtown became what we can see today. Once upon a time this was not the populace part of the city. Construction began in 1858, but the project was placed on hold during the Civil War. It would take another thirteen years before the cathedral would be completed in 1878.
Today, like the rest of Renwick’s monuments to the gothic style, the cathedral is a National Historic Landmark. These structures are worth seeing even though they may be hard to photograph. Pictures do not capture their full majesty.
“When our mind, far straying from the flesh,
less tangled in the network of its thoughts,
becomes somehow prophetic in its dream.”
~ Canto IX; Purgatory