The Strain Trilogy
I love vampires and in the past few years I have indulged in the guilty pleasure of reading the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris: yes the ones about True Blood and Sookie Stackhouse. Before them I loved reading the Vampires Chronicles by Anne Rice until I got to Memnoch the Devil, which lost it for me, though I will say that I very much enjoyed Pandora, which is not quite part of the Vampire Chronicles. In the very beginning I read Dracula by Bram Stoker. The book took two efforts to get into it since the language is older and the way the book is presented, a compilation of diary entries and newspaper articles, is something for a 20th and 21st century mind to get used to. Once I found my rhythm, the 500 plus pages melted away as the pages seemed to be turned by the characters themselves.
It seems that in the beginning vampires were cruel and vicious as you can read about in “Carmila” and the “Vampyre,” then somewhere around Interview with a Vampire they became nicer drawing from us sympathy and even admiration. BUt throughout all earlier vampire stories there was a romance atmosphere, same as with most early gothic fiction, which I would say could be called gothic romance for multiple reasons. Then Twilight and True Blood happened and vampires became the hottest undead on the block, like rock stars even. I have some friends who say no they are monsters as we should either run away or destroy them. I understand what they are saying and I agree, but I also believe that vampires and romance go hand in undead hand.
Like so many of the book I read I found this book in mass-market form at a library book sale back in 2010. The cover caught my eye and the description said that I should read this before the other books I bought that day. Two days late I finished the book and was quickly trying to find the second book, The Fall.
Yesterday I finished the third book of the trilogy, The Night Eternal, and though the first book is by far the best, the whole trilogy is terrifying. This is horror in vampires, and these are not your traditional vampires. They are more like zombies controlled like drones through their original maker, their master.
Since Guillermo del Toro is one of the co-authors all signs point to this being a movie one day, but I think it would make a better TV series then a movie. As I was reading the first book it felt like reading a script for a series, which worked well for the story. Throughout the trilogy, but mostly in the first book, are these side scenes where we see the simultaneous impact of these horrible creatures. We see that they are merciless and are nothing to be desired.
Over all I found these books to be creative, fun and entertaining. I am a huge fan of del Toro’s films and now I am a fan of his books. There are several book trailers that are fun to watch which you can see here and here.
Before I end I need to give an ‘I’m Sorry’ to Chuck Hogan whom I had never heard of before I read these books. He is the author of The Town, which was made into a great film with Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner. Sometimes writers slip by and we do not hear about them.
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.
We all know the story of Frankenstein and many of us have seen the different films with the stiff arm monster with bolts in his next. I first read the fantastic tale by Mary Shelley when I was in college and was surprised by how much this 19th century novel felt like a modern thriller. And in many respects it is a modern story showing how much humans have accomplished in the world of medicine and science, while also asking the question of how much is too much. Can humans accomplish too much through science? It is hard to believe that Shelley wrote it when she was only in her early 20’s in 1818.
When I was young and I first saw the 1931 film with Boris Karloff, who also did the voice of the narrator and the Grinch in the original cartoon of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as the monster I always thought that the monster was named Frankenstein. As I have grown older and have reread Frankenstein as well as other additions to the legend, I come to understand that the monster is named Frankenstein. What is so great about this story is there are two monsters and there are two victims. Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation are villains in the story as they explore the new limits of human understanding of life and death.
Like vampires and Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster have been recreated in dozens of films (Son of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, Lady Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. There have also been numerous books written about the monster and his maker.
First, there is The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Achroyd. This was my first Peter Ackroyd novel and from I have heard from others I need to read more, but first things first. This was a great book I read for Halloween two years ago and I have never forgotten it. He has taken the wondrous tale and transplanted it with modern day knowledge in the world of science from the 19th century. With the power of hindsight he has remade, though loyally as you can see, this story with the background of history during one of the most amazing times of scientific discovery, which you can read about in The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes. To list some of his historical characters you will find Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and my personal favorite, Humphrey Davy.
I know that many people will think that this book sounds like the remake of the film Cape Fear, and though I admit I felt the same when I read about this book, I will tell you that this book respects Mary Shelley as it builds on what she has done in such a way that makes this book special in its own respect. For more about this book here is a review from the New York Times.
Second, there is This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel. This is a fun story that follows the life of Victor Frankenstein when he was only in his 16th year. I admit that I have often wondered what kind of life Frankenstein lived before we first meet him in Shelley’s story. What type of childhood did this mad genius have? Who were his parents and who were friends? Did he have any siblings? Oppel took on the challenge to create the young adult life of Victor in the form of a young adult story. Like Achroyd, Oppel respected what Shelley created. When you read his story you can see the hints of the future as you know how this young man will die. For more about this story, click here.
I have no problem with authors using their imagination and telling the story of how a remarkable literary character came to be, as long as it is done well. My first experience with such a story came not that long ago when I read Finn by Jon Clinch, which tells the story of Huckleberry Finn’s father. (Another story I highly recommend.) To me this is why we have imagination and why authors write. It is the very best stories that stay with us and make us think, thereby inspiring others into imagining the story expanded into an entire world. Why are Frankenstein and Dracula remade and retold into hundreds of different stories in both books and films? Because they are the two best gothic novels ever written.
Frankenstein is one of the most iconic Halloween characters that has no doubt inspired other horror stories. Please tell me about what you like to read for Halloween.
I confess, I saw the film for ‘The Shining’ a long time ago and many time before I read the book. And guess what, the book is still better. As great as Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd are, their characters are only the shells of what you find in the book. Since both the book and the movie are great I would say that they are two different stories with the main different being in the book the hotel is the main character.
In The Shining King brings to live the essential part of gothic literature, the setting inside the haunt house. The Overlook Hotel is where the story draws most of its power and like I said before is the stories main character. For the reader the hotel creates many imaginary horrors both from the spiritual world and the physical world. In the physical world the hotel is in the middle of a world that is uninhabitable with out proper preparations, cut off from the rest of the world. Deep in the Rocky Mountains there is no civilization when the winter brings powerful winds and deadly snow. Yes, inside the hotel you are safe, but there is always the threat that something could go horribly wrong and there would be no help on the way. In reading this book you see that this idea is always in the back of your head and in the back of the characters minds since their lives are balance on a delicate string.
With this physical danger comes an spiritual horror creating an environment where you are in danger is you stay in the hotel and in danger if you leave it to take your chance in the wild weather. For a more in-depth overview of the book click here.
When I watched the movie I was always left with many questions that movies cannot answer. Movies are notorious for not explaining the entire story even if they are a great classic by Stanley Kubric. In reading the book I can tell you that all of my questions from the movie were appropriately answered.
Stephen King does a great job in setting the stage for this story. His words are well chosen and the pace of the story is careful in that it walks you through the halls of the hotel and the inside of the mind of each of the family members, father, wife and son. The story is told in the third person in a way that gives the read a chance to see inside the minds of the characters and see not only their mental progression, but what they do not know or cannot understand. We see how they are all affected by the hotel and what ever lives inside of it and in each of them. This is another place where the movie falls short, because movies rely on dialogue and physical action. The genius of this book happens internally.
We understand why Danny knows what is happening with his parents even if they do not know what is happening inside and between themselves. We also discover what the hotel is and why it wants Jack and Danny. I won’t tell you anymore other than you should pay attention to the clock.
Overall the book is not as much about horror, violence, or a creepy hotel. It is about what happens to people, what makes people different, what makes them change, what makes them love, and what makes them do violent acts even against those they love. The strongest parts of this book are the characters. In this story we see that a character become the villain, hero, and pragmatists all in one. No one is entirely god and no one is inherently evil. What is the difference, our strengths and weaknesses. These weakness are augmented by the supernatural ways that remind me of Ray Bradbury.
If you have never before read a Stephen King book this is a great place to start, but I warn you be careful or what is found in room 213.