Tuesday, 5 October 2010

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year


As I have already mentioned, I thought of the stories in the Tales of Terror books as occupying spaces left vacant in the short stories and novels of Victorian and Edwardian authors. I was borrowing their sets and costumes and hopefully some of the uncanny atmosphere they created. I wanted my stories to be taking place next door or in a house nearby.

The Dead of Winter followed a similar course. It is another response to the Gothic chillers I read and watched when I was younger. I say 'watched' because I came to many of the horror classics via film and television. I discovered M R James through the wonderful BBC adaptations and I came to the novel Frankenstein via the James Whale movie. So it was with Edgar Allan Poe.

I can't remember when I first saw those weird and wonderful Roger Corman adaptations of Poe. I was in my teens. They are often preposterously over the top, but they do have great deal of style. They look like nothing else. And they often have the extraordinary presence of Vincent Price.

I had become acquainted the name Edgar Allan Poe at an early age, when The Raven was read to us at school. I'm not sure when I first decided to actually read the stories. I think I would have been in my late teens. It was then that I discovered that the hallucinatory and slightly hysterical tone of Corman's movies was an attempt to reflect Poe's writing style. Here is the first sentence of The Fall of the House of Usher (filmed by Corman as House of Usher):

During the whole of a dull, dark and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the House of Usher.

This sentence shows a lot of what is both compelling and frustrating about Poe - the wonderful ear he had for the poetry of prose - During the whole of a dull, dark day in the autumn of the year - combined with at least one too many sub clauses. But what a way to open a story!

I said a few posts back, madness is often a theme in Poe and his writing often seems as crazed as the people and events he described. But it works somehow. Like H P Lovecraft, Poe's writing style seems add another layer of anxiety to the stories he tells.

The Fall of the House of Usher was a big inspiration for The Dead of Winter - perhaps the biggest. Poe said that when he wrote it, he wanted the Houseof Usher to be a character in the story. I too wanted Hawton Mere to be a character in The Dead of Winter.

Poe uses the word 'House' both to mean the building and in its old-fashioned sense, to mean the family line of Usher. The house has a great crack running down in a physical manifestation of the sickness of the Ushers and of its present inhabitant, Roderick Usher.

I wanted Hawton Mere in The Dead of Winter to similarly be placed in a 'singularly dreary tract of country' - in my case the fen country near Ely. I also wanted my house to share the sickness of its owner - to be an extension of Sir Stephen's unstable mind. I wanted a house in which the secrets and traumas of its occupants would walk the corridors and passageways at night. I wanted a house in which a man is haunted by himself.

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