Upcoming Changes Regarding This Blog

I’m officially launching my new website, The Merry Ghost Hunter, next Sunday — which happens to be Valentine’s Day, the spoooookiest of all holidays. At the top of each hour on that day, from midnight to midnight, a post will mysteriously appear. Some were culled from my Vera Van Slyke ~ Ghostly Mysteries site. Some were taken from this site, Tim Prasil: Inventor of Persons.

I’m consolidating, you see. Occult detective fiction, ghost hunter fiction, actual ghost reports, the history of debate about ghosts, and my Vera Van Slyke chronicles all in one place. It just makes sense. I’ve already moved the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives (along with its explanatory pages and posts). Even my Sherlock Holmes movie reviews have begun to show up there, under Miscellanea.

And all future additions to the Bibliography, the movie reviews, and so on will take place at The Merry Ghost Hunter.

Feel free to take a sneak peek. I’ve already provided samplings for each of the categories. Some will be familiar to my regular visitors, and some will be a bit new. (I’m really looking forward to discovering where the Ghostology 101 posts take me!)

Merry Ghost Hunter Blog

As of next weekend, then, most of my blogging will happen there. I’ll leave a “Forwarding Address” notice at the old Vera Van Slyke ~ Ghostly Mysteries site. I’ll convert this Inventor of Persons one into a low-maintenance site on the chance that someone reads or hears something I’ve created and then goes Googling to see what else I’ve done. It will become a fairly typical, largely static writer’s promotional site, in other words.

Again, the posts about my research into occult detective fiction, the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives, the reviews of old and new supernatural fiction, the Sherlock Holmes movie reviews, the Spectral Edition actual ghost reports — all being packed up and moved to The Merry Ghost Hunter.

I’d love to have you follow me there.

“This Thing Ought to Be Reported to the Psychic Research Society”: Henry C. Mercer’s Charles Carrington

One should come to expect the occasional uncanny coincidence when excavating supernatural fiction, I suppose. I was reading Henry C. Mercer’s November Night Tales (1928) because I knew that at least one character appeared in at least two of these spooky stories. I wanted to see if perhaps this Charles Carrington fellow might be an occult detective in some form.

Yes, it turns out that Carrington acts as a ghost-hunter in “The Dolls’ Castle,” though he’s more or less an astonished bystander in “The Blackbirds.” (He doesn’t appear in any of the other stories. Another character named Pryor, a painter, also appears twice. While Pryor faces the strange and even the supernatural, he’s much more a victim than a detective.) The uncanny coincidence? Lately, I’ve been developing a special interest in the ghost-hunter sub-genre of the occult-detective cross-genre. No doubt, I’ll have more to say about this in the coming months.

All right, big deal. So I ran into a ghost-hunter when searching for occult detectives. Well, maybe that’s more of a canny coincidence…

Girl and DollBut “The Dolls’ Castle” is a fairly interesting story, one worth hunting down. The whole collection is reviewed very nicely by G.R. Collia on her The Haunted Library site, where she concludes with information on finding reprints of the book. I’ll look more specifically at the only tale there that comes close to qualifying as occult detection.

How is it that dolls, intended to be adorable, can so easily become unsettling? Is it because they are and aren’t human? Because they refuse to fit neatly into our well-segregated categories of species, including and especially our own species? Regardless of the answer, Mercer recognized that dolls could be every bit as scary as ghosts. Once Carrington — a playwright who gives ghost-hunting a go — and his buddy arrive in the basement of a house alleged to be haunted, they stumble upon something disturbing.

There, propped close together against the dingy plaster, an unaccountable array of diminutive figures, — dolls, in various dresses and of many sizes and kinds, startling, repulsive, — seemed to gaze at them from the shadows. The slanting rays of evening . . . showed the havoc of moth and damp upon the tattered costumes, mouldy hair, and glassy-eyed faces rotted into paintless knobs.

Ghostly children also play a key role in the story, which ultimately features one of the greatest fears any parent can experience.

One weak spot in the tale, though, is its ending — and I also noticed this with the earlier stories in the collection. The first two tales, for example, end with accidental fires ignited very clearly by the writer’s hand more than anything intrinsic to the narrative. A later story employs a shipwreck to bring closure. Mercer handles the finale of “The Dolls’ Castle” a bit more adroitly: a subsequent investigation contradicts that Carrington and his friend ever saw those menacing, decaying dolls. A rational explanation for the playwright’s mistake is given, but by then, Carrington is too shaken by all he’s seen to ever play ghost-hunter again. This is a step or two away from the “was it all just a dream?” ending used by writers who’ve painted themselves into an inter-dimensional corner. Despite this unresolved resolution, “The Dolls’ Castle” stands as one of the stronger works in the book.

And so Charles Carrington’s career as an occult detective ends almost as soon as it began. That career is substantial enough, though, for the character to find a place on my ever-growing Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives.

In the Shadow of Rathbone: Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes

holmes-basil-rathbone“I told Watson, if I ever write a story myself, it will be to correct the million misconceptions created by his imaginative license.”

Sherlock Holmes, portrayed by Sir Ian McKellen, makes this statement in Mr. Holmes (2015), a film directed by Bill Condon and based on Mitch Cullen’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. On one level, that line says much about the film. Viewers learn “the truth” about Holmes as he, in his retirement, struggles to recall and recount his final case. He failed to conclude that mystery satisfactorily, a young woman died, and Holmes abandoned crime-solving in favor of bee-keeping. As the film opens, he’s hoping to revisit and finally close the file on that investigation — that is, while his failing mind allows him to do so. He deduces that telling the true tale on paper will help him accomplish this.

It’s a touching and visually beautiful film that humanizes Holmes. Despite a few red herrings — odd flourishes in the story, not just misdirects in the mystery — this stands as one of the better Holmes films emerging in the shadow of Rathbone.

McKellen as HolmesShining in Sherlock’s Shadow

It’s Ian McKellen, after all.

Not surprisingly, one of the main draws of Mr. Holmes is watching the renowned actor assume the role of the renowned character. Of course, he’s not just playing the great detective. He’s playing a brilliant man haunted by having goofed up. A man whose brilliance is rapidly dimming and who’s desperate to forestall that process, even if it means traveling to Japan for a particular root that is alleged to work. A man who, after leading a lonely life, is still frustrated by his inability to connect emotionally with those around him.

It’s a complicated role, and while Jerry Hatcher’s screen-adaptation of Cullin’s novel shares the spotlight, McKellen manages to convey all the complexities in this atypically deep depiction of Holmes.

The Hand of WatsonWatching Watson

Well, that’s just it, isn’t it?

You see, Watson has gone off to get married (again?), and he’s a fringe character in this adventure. This story is very much Holmes without Watson.

So there’s that.

 

Devotion to and Deviation from Doyle

I haven’t read the novel, and I wonder if it handles a key deviation from the canon any differently. Holmes did chronicle a couple of his cases, according to Arthur Conan Doyle. They are “The Adventure of the Blanched Solider” and “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” both well worth reading after watching Mr. Holmes.

Of course, some of the fun of the film is discovering how its fictional fictional Holmes is a product of Watson’s imaginative license along with the license taken by the illustrator and the film makers who followed. (Regarding the latter, keep an eye out for the all-grown-up Nicholas Rowe, who played the title role in Young Sherlock Holmes, this film’s “other bookend.”) The fictional real Holmes here smokes no pipe, wears no deerstalker, and doesn’t live at 221B.  Well . . . he does live near 221B.

In addition, this film’s central mystery doesn’t have the feel of those in the canon. It’s a heartfelt film, and the case is one that involves grief and emotional isolation. It must be so in order to affect Holmes so deeply. That fits, then.

What doesn’t quite fit are those narrative red herrings. What does post-WWII Hiroshima have to do with the major themes being explored? Was that simply an emotionally-packed historical marker, showing a world very different from Holmes’s customary Victorian period? Come to think of it, why the sub-plot with the Japanese characters at all? I suppose I could drone on about how, perhaps, the lesson here is something like this: the accuracy of the stories we tell isn’t what matters most — we just need believable stories to live with the tragedies of our past, be those tragedies personal or global. I’m not sure it entirely works, though.

Still, what’s wonderful is that the film stirs such “big” thoughts, something that’s unusual for a Sherlock Holmes movie.

For a list of — and links to — my reviews of Sherlock Holmes films, click here.

In Anticipation of Rathbone: Sherlock Holmes in Silent Film

John Barrymore in and as Sherlock Holmes (1922)
John Barrymore in and as Sherlock Holmes (1922)

Soon, I’ll be resuming my In the Shadow of Rathbone series of reviews that look at post-Basil Rathbone era Sherlock Holmes movies. Meanwhile, there’s an excellent introduction to silent Holmes films at the Movies Silently website. The article tallies voters’ choices in the categories of Best Cast, Best Moriarty, Best Watson, and Best Holmes. At the bottom, there are links to reviews of most of the films that appear in the contest.

These silent Holmes movies are curiously fun to watch. I even sneaked in my own review of Sherlock Holmes, starring John Barrymore, as a post-Rathbone film on the shaky premise that it was re-assembled in 2001. I happily recommend hunting down the titles mentioned over at Movies Silently.

Giving Up the Ghosts Gets Mentioned in the Washington Post!

Yesterday, I mentioned that Coachwhip Publications is giving away copies of Giving Up the Ghosts: Short-Lived Occult Detective Series by Six Renowned Authors, which I edited. This morning, I discovered that Michael Dirda of The Washington Post has surveyed several works of chilling fiction that are perfect for Halloween reading. Along the way, he says:

Fans of the supernatural sleuth — Mulder and Scully from “The X-Files,” are more recent instances — should also look for “Giving Up the Ghosts” (Coachwhip, $14.95). Editor Tim Prasil introduces several psychic investigators who feature in two or three stories apiece by the likes of Gelett Burgess and A.M. Burrage, among others. Included is Blackwood’s Jim Shorthouse, a precursor to the author’s more famous specialist in the outré, John Silence; don’t miss Shorthouse’s deliciously kitschy visit to a werewolf, “The Strange Adventures of a Private Secretary in New York.”

Look at that, would ya?

Read the entire article here.