There is a thriving literary scene in Jacksonville, FL, as exemplified by the annual Jax by Jax Literary Arts Festival and various readings and events at the San Marco Bookstore, Chamblin’s Uptown, and other venues. Bill is happy to be a part of it. He has been published in Jacksonville’s arts and entertainment newspaper Folio Weekly.
Have you ever found something in an old book that took you by surprise? It’s not unusual to find a name or maybe even a phone number. Sometimes you’ll find evidence that the book once belonged to a library. But extensive notes and criticism of an author as well-known as Edgar Allan Poe and his biographer? Maybe in a textbook. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I recently found.
One of my goals is to write a good “locked room” mystery with an original solution. You know, a murder that takes place under seemingly impossible conditions. I refuse to believe all the ideas have been used up. In the meantime, here is a mammoth 7 part review of a locked room anthology that appears on a blog called Beneath the Stairs of Time
The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries was compiled by an award-winning editor, Otto Penzler, who, judging by the content page, took great care in avoiding the pitfalls of such previous anthologies as The Locked Room Reader (1968) and Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries (1982) – covering too many over anthologized stories. There are some of those familiar stories collected here, but they’re, by and large, contained in the first portion of the book.
Familiar As the Rose In Spring deals with “the most popular and frequently reprinted impossible-stories of all-time” and serves as a 1920s-era drawing room to gather all of the usual suspects in: Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” Jacques Futrelle‘s “The Problem of Cell 13,” Wilkie Collins‘ “A Terribly Strange Bed,” Melville Davisson Post‘s “The Doomdorf Mystery” and G.K. Chesterton‘s “The Invisible Man.” I have skipped these stories, but there was one I hadn’t read before.
See more hidden room images at A Pretty Book.
Moving right along with my Wadsworth Camp research, I just found out that Camp’s The Abandoned Room was originally as The Secret Room Murders under the pseudonym Tory Hageman. I don’t think Amazon.com will mind if I quote them directly:
Tory Hageman was a house pseudonym used by the Grates River Printing Company for mysteries printed between 1899 and 1921. The publishing house specialized in producing books that were meant primarily to be entertaining and pioneered the technique of producing long-running, consistent series of books using a team of freelance writers to write the books, which were published under various pen names. Many of the writers later became famous under their real names.
‘The Secret Room Murders’ was originally written by acclaimed mystery author Wadsworth Camp in 1917. It was also released as ‘The Abandoned Room: A Mystery Story.’
By no means a classic, The Secret Room Murders is fairly entertaining, and the fact that Charles Wadsworth Camp wrote it under a pseudonym is definitely an interesting addition to the growing body of Camp trivia. Keep in mind that not all books by Tory Hageman were written by Wadsworth Camp. It was a name used by a publisher for several different authors, to give a series of books a sheen of continuity. This was not an unusual practice – it was also used in the Ellery Queen novels.
Thanks to Braineater, here’s a better-than-average made-for-TV movie that seems almost like a forerunner of The Night Stalker, but in some ways is actually better than the Night Stalker (in my humble opinion). Webmaster Will Laughlin says:
Intended as the pilot for a TV series called “The Black Cloak”, Dark Intruder is one of the earliest movies to reference H.P. Lovecraft and his pantheon directly — the movie generally credited as the first real Lovecraft adaptation, Roger Corman’sThe Haunted Palace (based on “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”) came out in 1963. Dark Intruder is not based on any of Lovecraft’s stories, but it bears a strong resemblance to “Charles Dexter Ward”, and its thematic concern with the loss of identity aligns it strongly with other examples of Lovecraft’s writing, including “The Thing on the Doorstep”, “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Evil Clergyman”.
By the early 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock was riding an enormous wave of popularity. His television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955 – 1962), had made the director a household name. 1960 saw the release of his highest grossing and arguably most famous film, Psycho, followed sensationally in 1963 by The Birds. I’m a “baby boomer.” Watching and discussing Hitchcock with my parents helped us to relate, to bridge the generation gap. I suspect it was this way in many homes.
Hitchcock lent his name to two book series marketed by Random House as “books for young people.” One series, The Three Investigators, was similar to the Hardy Boys adventures, but with three young sleuths instead of two. Created by Robert Arthur, Jr., who also wrote some of the books and suggested story lines for others, always featured a final chapter in which the three boys conferred with Alfred Hitchcock, going over the clues that helped them solve the mystery. The other series was a succession of theme-based anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful (1961), Ghostly Gallery (1962), Solve-Them-Them-Yourself Mysteries (1963), Monster Museum (1965), Sinister Spies (1966), and Spellbinders in Suspense (1967). My cool Uncle Bob gave me one of these books for Christmas every year. They were large books with eye-catching colorful covers and dust jackets, and at least one illustration per story. I decided to revisit these mementos of my youth on a recent trip to my mother’s house.
Upon pulling these volumes down from my childhood bookshelf and perusing the tables of contents, I noticed that many of the stories were interchangeable with those found in any anthology, not necessarily intended for children only. This is either because kids had higher reading levels back in those days, or because many of the stories originally appeared in pulp magazines, which generally aimed for a wide variety of readers.
At the risk of over-simplifying, I’ve separated the authors into three groups:
- The usual suspects from the pantheon of “weird Fiction” writers, such as Algernon Blackwood, Henry Kuttner, and Lord Dunsany
- The venerable classic writers, including Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Arthur Conan Doyle
- Popular contemporary writers like Ray Bradbury, Jerome Bixby, and Robert Bloch
Special mention must be made of Robert Arthur, Jr., the real star behind these books. Hitchcock did little more than license his name and likeness to the book series. Arthur edited the books and wrote the introductions and liner notes in that famous droll deadpan Hitchcock delivery. Anyone familiar with the Alfred Hitchcock TV show can almost hear the director’s voice when reading the introductions. This is because Robert Arthur also wrote most, if not all, of the scripts Hitchcock used when speaking to the audience at the beginning and end of each show, and leading up to commercial breaks.
In the 1930s, Arthur wrote for the pulp magazines, including Unknown Worlds, Amazing Stories, Detective Fiction Weekly, Collier’s, Argosy, and others. He created and edited Pocket Detective Magazine for Street and Smith, the first pocket-sized all-fiction magazine.
In 1940, he studied writing for radio at Columbia University and eventually teamed up with David Kogan to write and produce a radio show called The Mysterious Traveler for the Mutual Broadcasting System. The Mysterious Traveler ran from 1944 until 1953. They received the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Mystery Radio Show from the Mystery Writers of America.
Arthur moved to Hollywood in 1959, where he wrote scripts for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so he was the natural choice to edit and write additional material for the Hitchcock books.
A more thorough biography of Robert Arthur can be found here, at the web site of his daughter, writer Elizabeth Arthur.
Since I’ve already mentioned that some of the stories in these books transcend the genre of “children’s books,” I also remember that a few of the tales disappointed me even at age eleven or twelve, due to their generic, fairy tale nature. Case in point, Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum includes a story written in 1950 called The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles, written by Margaret St. Clair (1911 – 1995) writing under the pseudonym Idris Seabright. I should add that Margaret St. Clair is a very intriguing author who deserves further discussion, sometime in the near future, here at Bill Ectric’s Place, as her interests included witchcraft, nudism, and feminism, and her novel, Sign of the Labrys (1963) is notable for its Wicca theme. Maybe by the time I read her Gnoles story, I was already jaded by movies like Psycho, Revenge of Frankenstein, and 2000 Maniacs. I recently found out that the same story appears in The Fantasy Hall of Fame, Edited by Robert Silverberg (Harper Prism, 1998) chosen by a vote of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association. This made me curious, so I clicked through a series of links, trying to understand why the Fantasy Hall-of-Famer’s have such high regard for the story.
The classic role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, includes gnolls (notice the alternate spelling from gnole) among its many denizens. Gary Gargax, who co-created Dungeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson, credits the idea to Lords Dunsany. He describes the gnoll as part gnome, part troll, even though Dunsany doesn’t specifically state this in his story. Perhaps Dunsany assumed we would get it.
The term was first used by Lord Dunsany in a short story called How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles, one of fourteen stories by Dunsany in his The Book of Wonder (1912). Writers who have named Lord Dunsany as an influence include J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Moorcock. I think now I see the reason for my disappointment. I was looking for stories that would scare me; whereas, the “Gnole” stories were an extension of the fantasy tradition, which can sometimes be scary, but mainly strives to elicit the sensation of wonder.
Margaret St. Clair’s The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles can be seen as an homage to the earlier story by Dunsany. In both stories, someone tries to “get over” on the Gnoles and it backfires on them. Dunsany’s character, Nuth, is a skillful burglar. Stealing valuables from ordinary houses has become so effortless, he decides to practice his “art” on the Gnoles, who dwell in a dark forest and are known to keep large emeralds in their premises. In St. Clair’s updated tale, the interloper is a salesman, a rope merchant, well-versed in all the sales techniques that were proliferating in countless business manuals in the booming American economy after World War II. In this light, I see how the relationship between these two stories would have appealed to the Fantasy Hall of Fame crowd.
I came away from day two of the UNF Writer’s Workshop with a better understanding of the craft of writing. I feel exhilarated, but also a little tired. Tonight, in lieu of a lenthy blog entry, please allow me to share this link to the website of Glynn Marsh Alam, whose topic at the Conference was How to Keep Your Mystery Moving.
Claudia Moscovici, via Literary Kicks, says, “As a native Romanian who is also a novelist, I’m very intrigued and, frankly, somewhat baffled by America’s obsession with vampires and the Dracula legend.”
G. W. M. Reynolds (July 23, 1814 – June 19, 1879) is not as famous today as Dickens or Thackery, but during his lifetime, he was arguably more popular. His serial The Mysteries of London (1844), sold 40,000 copies a week in installments known as “penny dreadfuls” before it was issued in bound volumes.
Wikipedia tells us, “The Mysteries of London and its sequel The Mysteries of the Court of London are among the seminal works of the Victorian ‘urban mysteries’ genre, a style of sensational fiction which adapted elements of the Gothic novel – with its haunted castles, innocent noble damsels in distress and nefarious villains – to produce stories which instead focussed on the shocks of life after the Industrial Revolution: the poverty, crime, and violence of a great metropolis, complete with detailed and often sympathetic descriptions of the lives of lower-class lawbreakers and extensive glossaries of thieves’ cant, all interwoven with a frank sexuality not usually found in popular fiction of the time. Although Reynolds was unusual in his religious skepticism (one of the main characters in The Mysteries of London was a clergyman turned libertine) and political radicalism, his tales were aimed squarely at the tastes of his mostly middle- and lower-class audience; they featured hump-backed dwarves, harridans and grave-robbers who groped past against a background of workhouses, jails, execution yards, thieves’ kitchens and cemeteries.”
Click on the picture
When newly married Alice finally arrives at Carwell Grange, the sprawling country mansion that will be her new home in The Wyvern Mystery, she’s greeted at the front steps by a cluster of glum-looking servants.
“I’m sure I will like such an old, quiet place,” Alice exclaims, eagerly striding past the gloomy servants into the spacious entry hall.
If we all could tell her something right then, no doubt it would be, “Sure, you will, Alice. At least until the sun goes down.”
However, we can’t fault her innocence about “old dark houses.” In 1869, when J. Sheridan Le Fanu first published The Wyvern Mystery, people like Alice hadn’t read many thrillers like his — and there weren’t any movies or radio and television shows at all, let alone ones set in spooky old houses.
The tradition of the spooky old house goes back even further than Le Fanu. You can find it in Edgar Allan Poe, father of the modern mystery. In 1839, he wrote: “I know not how it was, but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.”
That would be The House of Usher. Poe was one of the first authors to give a house a physical persona, telling us it had “eye-like windows” that looked down upon the visitor, filling him with dread.