strange fire

books. poetry. paganism. feminism. queerness. blog.

The Turn of the Screw ~ Henry James October 31, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 8:21 am

I can see Douglas there before the fire, to which he had got up to present his back, looking down at his interlocutor with his hands in his pockets. “Nobody but me, till now, has ever heard. It’s quite too horrible.” This, naturally, was declared by several voices to give the thing the utmost price, and our friend, with quiet art, prepared his triumph by turning his eyes over the rest of us and going on: “It’s beyond everything. Nothing at all that I know touches it.”

“For sheer terror?” I remember asking.

He seemed to say it was not so simple as that; to be really at a loss how to qualify it. He passed his hand over his eyes, made a little wincing grimace. “For dreadful — dreadfulness!”

“Oh, how delicious!” cried one of the women.

He took no notice of her; he looked at me, but as if, instead of me, he saw what he spoke of. “For general uncanny ugliness and horror and pain.”

It’s amazing how much James does with so little. Even though The Turn of the Screw is more straightforward and more active than most of his other work (stuff actually happens in this story) it’s still full of his characteristic psychological subtlety. You can imagine how a tale of besieged governesses, menacing ghosts and posessed children would work out in the hands of another writer, but James sticks you inside the head of this harassed young woman and you don’t know if she’s extraordinarily insightful and courageous or completely crazy. That’s where the horror is. I love how James takes the Victorian ideal of children as angelic innocents and turns them into terrifying monsters. And I always forget how much I love his prose. It’s difficult but it’s worth the effort. He’ll have pages of complex, rambling paragraphs, and then finish with a short, sharp sentence that’s like a punch in the gut. The whole thing’s like that really, a slow build-up of foreboding and paranoia that just stops, suddenly, with a jolt. One of those books that should be read in the dead of winter before a roaring fire.


The Raven October 30, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 9:42 am

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

the rest of the poem

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a little Poe. In high school my friends and I made a video of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” complete with heart-beat sound effects. I got to play the murderer, slicked my hair back and really chewed the scenery, pounding on the floor and shrieking:”Villains! Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!” Great fun.

*Edited to add: Check out this book trailer for Coraline, made by some Italian film students.


The Indigestion of the Vampire October 29, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 7:54 am

Look at this red pear

Hanging from a good family

Where the butcher hung the rag on the tree.

The bat’s bloated again,

Hooked on his dark nimbus

Getting over it.

Here is the cure of pity

Upside down.

Elsewhere the laundry

Is buried,

The deer tracks left by his teeth

Look for the cross-roads,

The veins that are still good

Hold out their hands.

Here’s his story.

His bridges are not burned only folded.

In a while the swollen life

He calls his own

Will shrink back till it fits the mirrors,

No worse for no wear;

The eyes will come

To conceal movement again;

He will find his voice to fly by.

That’s how he does it: rock-a-bye,

Hanging there with his silence all wool

And others at heart,

Two pounds in his pound bag,

Shaped like a tear but

Not falling for anyone.

–W.S. Merwin

There’s a whole page of bat poetry here, everything from Roethke and Dickinson and Tennyson and Plath to poems sent in by grade school kids. Link found via Choriamb, a kick-ass poetry blog that I shall be linking to forthwith.


creepy folklore October 28, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 6:07 am

From ghoulies and ghosties

and long leggety beasties,

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us—Cornish prayer

Under earth I go,

On the oak-leaf I stand,

I ride on the filly that never was foaled,

And I carry the dead in my hand.—Scots traditional

For the moon’s shining high

And the dew is wet;

And on the mossy moor,

they’re dancing yet.—Cornish rhyme

–as found in Charles DeLint’s The Little Country


Coraline October 27, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 8:23 am

The old black key felt colder than any of the others. She pushed it into the keyhole. It turned smoothly, with a satisfying clunk.

Coraline stopped and listened. She knew she was doing something wrong, and she was trying to listen for her mother coming back, but she heard nothing. Then Coraline put her hand on the doorknob and turned it; and, finally, she opened the door.

It opened on to a dark hallway. The bricks had gone as if they’d never been there. There was a cold, musty smell coming through the open doorway: it smelled like something very old and very slow.

Coraline went through the door.

She wondered what the empty flat would be like–if that was where the corridor led. Coraline walked down the corridor uneasily. There was something very familiar about it.

The carpet beneath her feet was the same carpet they had in her flat. The wallpaper was the same wallpaper they had. The picture hanging in the hall was the same that they had hanging in their hallway at home.

She knew where she was: she was in her own home. She hadn’t left.

She shook her head, confused.

She stared at the picture hanging on the wall: no, it wasn’t exactly the same. The picture they had in their own hallway showed a boy in old-fashioned clothes staring at some bubbles. But now the expression on his face was different–he was looking at the bubbles as if he was planning to do something very nasty indeed to them. And there was something peculiar about his eyes.

Coraline stared at his eyes, trying to figure out what exactly was different.

She almost had it when somebody said, “Coraline?”

It sounded like her mother. Coraline went into the kitchen, where the voice had come from. A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline’s mother. Only…

Only her skin was white as paper.

Only she was taller and thinner.

Only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp.

“Coraline?” the woman said. “Is that you?”

And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons.

“Lunchtime, Coraline,” said the woman.

“Who are you?” asked Coraline.

“I’m your other mother,” said the woman. “Go and tell your other father that lunch is ready.”

The moral of the story: unlocking doors that usually open onto brick walls is always a bad idea. Don’t miss this MPR interview with Gaiman where he reads this excerpt and others. I mean, if you like getting the heebie-jeebies, that is.


Macbeth October 26, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 8:11 am

A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron. Thunder.

Enter the three Witches.

FIRST WITCH: Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.

SECOND WITCH: Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

THIRD WITCH: Harpier cries, “‘Tis time, ’tis time.”

FIRST WITCH: Round about the cauldron go;

In the poison’d entrails throw.

Toad, that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

ALL: Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

SECOND WITCH: Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL: Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

THIRD WITCH: Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,

Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf

Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,

Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,

Liver of blaspheming Jew,

Gall of goat and slips of yew

Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse,

Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,

Finger of birth-strangled babe

Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,

Make the gruel thick and slab.

Add thereto a tiger’s chawdron,

For the ingredients of our cauldron.

ALL: Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

SECOND WITCH: Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

Enter Hecate to the other three Witches.

HECATE: O, well done! I commend your pains,

And everyone shall share i’ the gains.

And now about the cauldron sing,

Like elves and fairies in a ring,

Enchanting all that you put in.

Music and a song, “Black spirits.”

Hecate retires.

SECOND WITCH: By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes.

–Act IV, Scene I.

Hope I haven’t just cursed my blog…


countdown to Halloween October 25, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 9:22 am

Halloween. My most favorite night in all the year, to paraphrase Ray Bradbury (I’m kicking myself for leaving From the Dust Returned at home). So I’m posting spooky bits and whatnot all week. Just finished Beowulf for class:

A few miles from here

a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch

above a mere; the overhanging bank

is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.

At night there, something uncanny happens:

the water burns. And the mere bottom

has never been sounded by the sons of men.

On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:

the hart in flight from pursuing hounds

will turn to face them with firm-set horns

and die in the wood rather than dive

beneath its surface. That is no good place.


On a height they kindled the hugest of all

funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke

billowed darkly up, the blaze roared

and drowned out their weeping, wind died down

and flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,

burning it to the core. They were disconsolate

and wailed aloud for their lord’s decease.

A Geat woman too sang out in grief;

with hair bound up, she unburdened herself

of her worst fears, a wild litany

of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,

enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,

slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.

Seamus Heaney’s translation, of course!