You know, I used to think I hated Conan stories. That was before I realized that what I had read were in fact imperfect pastiches written by other wriYou know, I used to think I hated Conan stories. That was before I realized that what I had read were in fact imperfect pastiches written by other writers in the 60's and 70's who hoped to cash in on the iconic popularity of the character.
This volume presents the stories of Conan the Cimmerian as they were written by his creator, Robert E. Howard, and a better group of dashing, creepy, brooding sword & sorcery tales couldn't be wished for. The stories are presented in the order they were written by Howard, which give us glimpses into various parts of his career: from King to freebooter, from thief to warrior, we see Conan forging his way through the Hyborian Age after Atlantis fell.
There are a load of classics in this volume from "The Phoenix on the Sword", a tale of King Conan fighting against rebellion; "The Tower of the Elephant" where Conan, a young thief, meets an otherworldy prisoner when trying to steal a fabled treasure; and "Queen of the Black Coast" a rousing pirate tale in which Conan meets his match (and more besides) in the female captain Bêlit.
It's great stuff. Howard's talent proves to be much greater than many of his pulp contemporaries, and while these stories may not win the pulitzer prize any day soon, they give an excellent dose of adventure and fantasy when you're in the mood. Conan might even surprise you with a few philosophical words of wisdom, by Crom!...more
Ah, Clark Ashton Smith. For those of you unfamiliar with this writer imagine someone with the fevered imagination of Lovecraft and the lyrical stylistAh, Clark Ashton Smith. For those of you unfamiliar with this writer imagine someone with the fevered imagination of Lovecraft and the lyrical stylistic chops of Lord Dunsany and you'll get an idea of what you're in for. For my money Smith is perhaps the best of the "Weird Tales Triumvirate" of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Ashton Smith. I would probably place Howard as a close second on that list...heresy I know, but for all of the coolness of Lovecraft's ideas he really was just a god-awful writer. Take a dip into this tome and visit one of Smith's created worlds: medieval Averoigne, antediluvian Poseidonis, far future Zothique, or ancient Hyperborea, all tinged with the dark fantasy Cthulhoid elements borrowed from his friend Lovecraft and embellished with his delicious prose. I'd heartily recommend the tales "The Double Shadow", "The Beast of Averoigne", "Mother of Toads", and the 'Malygris tales' "The Last Incantation" & "The Death of Malygris" as good starting points, though there are few places to go wrong here.
A near perfect shorty story. I remember reading this, and seeing a television adaptation in class, while I was in junior high and being blown away. IA near perfect shorty story. I remember reading this, and seeing a television adaptation in class, while I was in junior high and being blown away. I wasn't used to being blown away by books we were supposed to read for school and this was one of the first times where I got an inkling of what fiction could do...though at the time I didn't really understand that; all I knew was that it was very cool....more
Well, what can I say? It's Sherlock Holmes. Even if you've never read any of Conan Doyle's stories (and shame on you!) you probably still know quite aWell, what can I say? It's Sherlock Holmes. Even if you've never read any of Conan Doyle's stories (and shame on you!) you probably still know quite a bit about this figure that is one of the most iconic in literature and even know details of many of his cases. Prior to this more systematic read-through I had only actually read a few of the stories and much of my knowledge came from the (admittedly excellent) BBC TV series starring the late great Jeremy Brett (the best of all Holmes').
These twelve stories represent the first of his continuing adventures published after the initial novels _A Study in Scarlet_ and _The Sign of Four_ (which I have yet to read). They are all uniformly entertaining and well-written, though some stood out to me, most notably "A Scandal in Bohemia" where Holmes is actually beaten, and not by a criminal nemesis like Moriarty, but by the brilliant Irene Adler; "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" which encompases unrequited love, outlaws on the frontier, and treacherous blackmailing; "The Five Orange Pips" which pits Holmes against the nefarious machinations of the KKK; "The Man with the Twisted Lip" one of the many cases which makes use of mistaken identity, and "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" which portrays the also common theme of familial dysfunction and paternal greed.
I was a little surprised to note a few things in my reading, one of which was the number of strong female characters Doyle made use of. From Irene Adler and Violet Hunter, who both impress Holmes with their intellignece, courage and ability, to the no nonsense Hatty Doran and Mrs. Toller. Next, I think Doyle may not have had much of a fondness for dogs given their characterisation in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" and (from what I gather at least) _The Hound of the Baskervilles_...maybe he was a cat guy? It was curious to see several references also made to Holmes' great physical strength...something I wasn't particularly aware of. I had mistakenly thought him to be primarily an intellectual hero. Finally it was a bit surprising to see the number of times that Holmes does not "get his man" and the criminals escape, perhaps to be punished by Fate, but this is not always the case. Somewhat tied in with this last point: Holmes seems content to let his fair share of criminals escape 'justice' so long as he sees the validity of their actions or believes in the sincerity of their contrition. He's simply interested in the puzzle (and crime merely gives it more zest), not really in meting out justice per se.
Many plot elements seem to recur in these stories, but I don't know that this is a major detraction since the main draw of all of these tales is, of course, the unparalleled character of Holmes himself and the incredible deductive method he uses. Yes it's true, Holmes is a bit of a prick and he always likes to show off (though he'd never admit it). He is, however, nearly always right, so can you blame him for having a somewhat cool disdain for us mere mortals? He also has enough failings to make him interesting (whether it's his monomania when it comes to solving puzzles, his drug addiction, or his passive-aggressive need to be praised by his somewhat dim compatriot Dr. Watson). He was also made somewhat more sympathetic (to me at least) in his ironic disdain for many of the upper class people that become his clients (most notably the King of Bohemia and Lord Robert St. Simon who are at the receiving end a few choice bon mots) and his very real sympathy for the weak victims preyed upon by the strong and unscrupulous in his cases.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes' adventures provide very enjoyable reading and one almost feels they are walking through the foggy streets of London, or across the blustery English countryside with him in these reminiscences of the good doctor. I should note here that I was listening to the free Librivox audio recording for this "read" as performed by Ruth Golding. She was an excellent narrator with good pace and excellent dramatic feeling. Her character of Holmes was quite good, but I must admit that I found Watson's 'voice' a little bit odd (I think this may have contributed above and beyond anything in the actual text to making him appear a bit of a simpleton), and some of the secondary characters followed suit. Overall though, a very enjoyable listen....more
What do you get if you take Flashman, remove the streak of yellow from his back and make at least some of the adventures ones entered into knowingly bWhat do you get if you take Flashman, remove the streak of yellow from his back and make at least some of the adventures ones entered into knowingly by the participant? Why, you get Brigadier Etienne Gerard, of course! Gerard is a creation of Arthur Conan Doyle, sadly languishing in the shadows with all of his other characters not called "Sherlock Holmes". He is a dashing hussar in Napoleon's Grande Armée who, in his old age, is recalling to the reader the adventures of his youth. The comparison to Flashman is an instructive one, especially in that while Flashman is committed to strictly telling the truth he ultimately becomes more and more a bounder and cad in our eyes, while Gerard (well I certainly won’t call him a liar, but let’s just say he has a spotty memory at best and isn’t the most observant fellow) is a somewhat less than objective reporter, and yet each tale shows him to be a goodhearted man of high ideals.
These are tales filled with derring-do, close escapes and not a few romantic entanglements...I think I see where George MacDonald Fraser got at least part of his inspiration from. Gerard is a very likeable character and narrator for all that he is so full of himself that it's a wonder the hot air doesn't make him float away. His voice is urbane and charming and all of his adventures are rousing good tales. At the beginning of each adventure one almost sees the sunlit café table at which we sit and can almost taste the cognac in our coffee as we listen to the Brigadier reminisce. He really is a charming old campaigner, though not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. Still, for loyalty and sheer bravado one could do worse than having a Brigadier Gerard in one’s army, for while he “has the thickest head he has also the stoutest heart” of all of Napoleon’s men.
I was actually a bit surprised at the very real violence and horror of war hinted at occasionally in these stories. Despite being adventure stories of the Victorian era they don't necessarily shy away from some of the less palatable aspects of their subject matter, even if Gerard tells of them with a very wry nonchalance. I was, for example, a bit surprised by the horrific death of one of Gerard's soldiers, buried alive, as related to him by a bandit chieftain, or the recounting by Gerard of a military tribunal of French POWs who punish a traitor in their midst such that "In the morning, when [the English] came for their man with papers for his release, there was not as much of him left as you could put upon your thumb-nail."
When I started this book in tandem with Doyle’s _The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes_ I was asked which I liked better. I had immediately given the nod to Sherlock Holmes, if only for his iconic and fascinating character, but now I’m not so sure. Holmes is great, but Gerard is very charming indeed and there is not a dud amongst his tales. Doyle has really impressed me with his range in these two creations alone and I look forward to the further adventures of both characters, not to mention a look at some of Doyle’s other fiction. I highly recommend the Gerard stories to anyone interested in historical fiction and adventure, especially when it is tinged with good humour.
At Waterloo, although, in a sense, I was present, I was unable to fight, and the enemy was victorious. It is not for me to say that there is a connect
At Waterloo, although, in a sense, I was present, I was unable to fight, and the enemy was victorious. It is not for me to say that there is a connection between these two things. You know me too well, my friends, to imagine that I would make such a claim. But it gives matter for thought, and some have drawn flattering conclusions from it.
Thus does our old friend Etienne Gerard begin his penultimate tale of adventure, reminiscing convivially about that horrible day at Waterloo. His characteristic reserve and modesty are obviously on full display, for is not humility one of the greatest traits of this very great man? Not on your life…and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I was once again struck by the ways in which Gerard is so similar in character to Harry Paget Flashman, and yet also so diametrically opposed to him. Where Flashy blunders treacherously from misadventure to misadventure in a cowardly attempt to escape danger while still managing to cover himself in glory and praise, Gerard nobly blunders from misadventure to misadventure in a valiant attempt to singlehandedly win every battle in the Napoleonic wars and manages to escape with his life despite his foolhardiness and obtuseness. Some glory adheres to him, but it’s unclear how much is truly universal in its acclaim and how much is only in his own mind. Of course, there’s usually a woman involved as well. And she is always smitten to the core by our brave and dashing hussar. Who wouldn’t be?
Conan Doyle certainly seems to have had a knack for creating memorable, even great, characters. Sherlock Holmes is of course an icon, a literary giant that has stood the test of time. I hope that Gerard does as well, for while he is certainly less well-known than his consulting detective confrere, he is no less intriguing a character. As with Holmes it is due mostly to his faults that Gerard ought to win a place in your hearts and minds. A bigger braggart and narcissist could little be imagined (Harry Paget Flashman notwithstanding), and yet he is a lovable egoist for all of that. Gerard’s heart is always in the right place and if he happens to believe that everyone (even his enemies) truly love him, is he really, perhaps, all that wrong? He is, certainly, an eminently likable old fellow.
This is sadly the last volume of Gerard’s adventures and it runs the gamut of chivalrous exploits undertaken in the name of a lady, to affairs of honour (in the name of a lady), and let’s not forget the martial exploits in the name of the Emperor which of course override all other concerns (though sometimes a lady *is* involved). It’s a pleasure to listen as the Brigadier recalls his days of glory and for all of their inherent humour (usually indiscernable to Gerard) there is also some pathos evoked by them, for it is apparent that this jovial old grognard living on half-pay and memories alone has nothing else save the planting of cabbages with which to while away his final days, for he remained loyal to his beloved emperor and his own prospects and standing faded away as the star of Napoleon itself dimmed and disappeared. This last was certainly not without some attempts by Gerard to undo the wrong done to his master, but that’s a tale you will have to hear for yourself. I urge you to do so, the Brigadier is always a genial companion. Ah, by the bye you don’t mind springing for a bottle of burgundy, do you? There’s a good fellow.
Geek that I am I actually read this to prepare for the Tolkien Professor’s Faerie & Fantasy podcast seminar that covers the book. I am rather conGeek that I am I actually read this to prepare for the Tolkien Professor’s Faerie & Fantasy podcast seminar that covers the book. I am rather conflicted about Dunsany in general and this book in particular. After finishing the first half I found that _The Book of Wonder_ more or less confirmed for me my initial impressions of Dunsany gathered when I first read _The Hashish Man and Other Stories_ many years ago. Namely that while Dunsany is an excellent prose stylist and creator of many arresting images in his short tales there is still something missing. The missing elements are pretty major: plot and character. Of the first few stories only “The Bride of the Man-Horse” and “Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance” struck me with their images and ideas in a meaningful way, the others came across more as fragments that may have presented some interesting imagery, but they were not enough to really maintain my interest. As I continued on with the second half of the book, however, I started to feel that maybe these arresting images were enough and the stories seemed to gather more steam.
In many ways Dunsany, in his short tales at least, has always been for me less a writer and more a painter of prose pictures. Many of his tales from _The Book of Wonder_ are probably best taken in conjunction with the lush and beautiful drawings of them made by Sydney Sime since it often felt to me like they didn’t really have a beginning or an end, though they generally gave me a vivid picture of some arresting image or idea. Whether this was the gloomy house of the doomed Sphinx, the majestic and exhilarating ride of the centaur Shepperalk, or the final hopeless venture of the thief Thangobrid we are given by Dunsany what amounts to a painting in words, but it isn’t a story (or it is only part of one). When a writer like Tolkien makes an offhand reference to some other place or person in his tales it carries with it the weight of a true tale and the depth of history, we know that it isn’t merely a colourful name inserted for flavour…with Dunsany I do not always get this impression.
The comparison to pictures is instructive in that it points out both Dunsany’s strengths and his weaknesses. He is a vivid writer of poetic prose, able to evoke emotions and an almost painful nostalgia for the magical and the dreamlike, a yearning for what has been, or soon will be, lost. On the other hand he can be, at his worst, two dimensional. I think this is why I have always preferred Dunsany’s longer works such as _The Charwoman’s Shadow_ or _The King of Elfland’s Daughter_ to his shorter ones. In these longer works he is constrained by the demands of his form to have at least the semblance of plot and character and even the minimal skeleton he builds in this regard is enough to carry his lush prose and beautiful images beyond being mere pictures. They now have context that makes the heartsick longing meaningful.
And yet…and yet. As I finished this volume I kept coming back to the ability of Dunsany as a prose stylist. At first I was content with the thought that I should simply treat my visits to his work as a trip to a fantastic museum where I would be treated to some startling paintings; or better yet a sampling from the amuses bouches of a master confectioner that may give me food for thought and a sip from an inexplicable draught, but for real nourishment I would have to look elsewhere. As I finished the volume, however, I felt that I had to perhaps re-evaluate this position. Tales like “The Hoard of the Gibbelins”, “How Nuth would have Practiced his Art upon the Gnoles”, “How One Came, as was Foretold, to the City of Never”, and especially the somewhat thematically twinned tales “The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap“ and “The Wonderful Window” either seemed to come together more coherently as stories or had such well expressed ideas and images of wonder that I had to admit that Dunsany had achieved something meaningful here.
I still think that if I want lush prose and vivid, weird imagery I am more likely to go to Clark Ashton Smith, who married these strengths to more elements of plot and character than I am likely to find in Dunsany, but I am starting to see that perhaps I am merely expecting something from Dunsany’s tales that he never intended to deliver, and that his contribution to the genre as a founder and necessary first step can’t be denied. ...more
I must first off state that I am generally not an avid lover of the short story. There are a few writers that I think really excel in the genre and whI must first off state that I am generally not an avid lover of the short story. There are a few writers that I think really excel in the genre and whose stuff I will read without hesitation (Poe, Ashton Smith, Howard, Doyle, Leiber), but in general I am often underwhelmed by the format. Keep that in mind when I say that Swanwick’s collection _The Dog Said Bow-Wow_ was quite good, but didn’t blow me away or make me into a believer.
The various “Darger & Surplus” tales (“The Dog Said Bow-Wow”, “The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Fun”, and “Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play”), relating the adventures of a pair of con-men in a world suffering the effects of a computer apocalypse and subsequent love-affair with bio-engineering, were all very enjoyable and entertaining, though perhaps sometimes a bit light on substance. “The Skysailor’s Tale” was an enjoyable reminiscence from the titular sailor that had equal parts melancholy, adventure, romance and fun and seemed to occur in a pan-dimensional steampunk setting. “The Bordello in Faerie” read something like a Neil Gaiman tale, if that author had any real edge to him, and was able to fulfil the majority of the possible male sexual fantasies involved with the fae while managing to invert them at the same time; it also had an ending that I totally did not see coming. “Urdumheim” rounds out my set of favourites with a very well done mythic tale of the rise of humanity and its first confrontation with the chthonic demons and monsters from whom they thought they had escaped. Tied in with this is a consideration of language and its power and an ultimate turning on its head of the story of the Tower of Babel.
The remaining stories more or less struck me as fairly “ho-hum” and didn’t strike my fancy, either as exciting stories in and of themselves, or exemplars of outstanding technique. They filled out the collection, but a few of them could easily have been dropped without the whole suffering much of a loss. Happily, there weren’t any glaring examples of my most hated kind of ‘modern’ short stories, namely literary wanking, where the sole point seems to be for the author to dazzle with his literary technique or twist endings with nothing else to show for it (though the first story “’Hello,’ Said the Stick” came close.) ...more
I have to admit that I found the first four stories in this collection only fair-to-middling, though the title tale had some nice moments of3.5 stars
I have to admit that I found the first four stories in this collection only fair-to-middling, though the title tale had some nice moments of understated menace. From the point of "Mr. Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower" on, however, I was fully on-board and greatly enjoyed the rest of the collection.
Simonelli is a great character, equal parts self-aggrandizing rogue (for, we learn, obvious cultural reasons) and concerned pastor of his flock. I'd love to see more of his reminiscences in a longer format from Clarke. He's quite a resourceful and entertaining character.
Tom Brightwind shows us that while fairys are generally unpleasant in their interactions with others (both of the human and fae persuasion), they are somehow capable at times of maintaining the friendship of those that are their betters (morally, if not socially). I'm surprised that David Montefiore hasn't met a sad fate due to his constant remonstrances to his self-satisfied Fairy Friend, but I imagine his equanimous and generally pleasant character helps to protect him. This tale was, in some ways, most like _Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell_, at least in the inclusion of copious notes giving amusing and enlightening details on the fairy culture which the tale displays.
"John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" was great for several reasons: first it is the first tale in which we get a first-hand look, however erroneous, at the mythical Raven King; second it had some of the best, laugh-out-loud moments in the whole collection.
Overall an entertaining set of stories, though I wish Clarke would get around to writing another, more substantial tome in the vein of Strange & Norrell. (Perhaps Mr. Simonelli is available?)...more
_Casanova’s Alibi & Other Stories_ is an enjoyable collection of shortish tales from the master of swashbucklers who gave us Scaramouche and Capta_Casanova’s Alibi & Other Stories_ is an enjoyable collection of shortish tales from the master of swashbucklers who gave us Scaramouche and Captain Blood. Drawing from what is perhaps the most rich vein he could find for his métier in history we follow that arch-scoundrel and Prince of Adventurers himself, Giacomo Casanova. The nine tales collected herein follow Casanova from his earliest transgressions in Venice to the somewhat more seasoned (though no less audacious) exploits of his later years.
We see Casanova pulling the wool over the eyes of various dupes, whether it be as an aggrieved brother, an ostensible alchemist or spirit medium, or the apparent champion of a slighted dancer. As is to be expected he is always looking for the angle; the best way in which to advance his position or get some cash (though he would never, of course, be so gauche as to put it that way). Sabatini walks a nice line with his character: on the one hand he obviously admires his audacity and plethora of talents, on the other he is quick to use his narrative intrusions to regretfully point out some of the moral failings of his hero (with the occasional stance of disbelief that such calumny as is reported of him could really be true). In connection with this I also found it surprising (or perhaps given the era in which these stories were written “intriguing” would be the correct word) that there is nary a reference to Casanova’s preeminent role as debaucher and deflowerer of young women. Aside from a casual reference to “intrigues” or the fact that “a handsome face in either a man or woman was ever an irresistible recommendation to Casanova” little enough is said about it until the very last story in the collection. Even here, in “Casanova in Madrid”, we see the relationship we might expect reversed and it is Casanova who falls for the mysterious woman he only glimpses from his window and on whose account much trouble ensues (though Sabatini does admit that his hero is something of a “hard-bitten, flamboyant adventurer of ripe experience and jaded appetites” with an “excessive appetite for philandering”).
While Casanova is certainly an active hero, and a man inordinately aware of his own self-professed honour, he’s no D’Artagnan willing to face down a half dozen swordsmen in the name of it. He is much more calculating than that and will cut-and-run when he has to. He’s a smart gamester and knows that his reputation can be restored later, but his life can’t be regained once it’s lost. His sardonic wit also shares a lot with his scribe’s equally famous creation Scaramouche. You can tell, by reading about either of these characters from the pen of Sabatini, that he got a real kick out of portraying their clever wit. Indeed, it is generally Casanova’s tongue and not his sword that is sharpest and against which his opponents would be wise to take guard.
To the best of my knowledge (a reading some years ago of the abridged The Story of My Life) all of the tales in this volume are based on reality (at least reality as it was reported by Casanova himself) and it really does show what an amazing character this man was. Even if Sabatini is simply taking the bones of a “true” event and fabricating his own story and character around it, the bones are pretty amazing and unbelievable in themselves. Sabatini does a good job with nearly all of these tales and the collection is well-worth reading, though I have to admit that he does not reach the heights achieved by Scaramouche. ...more
This volume contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or evenThis volume contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or even third hand by a genial narrator whose acquaintances, who are themselves of a decidedly scholarly bent, have been the victims of supernatural intrusion into our world. Often the stories revolve around an ancient artifact able to invoke the otherworldly that is discovered by these particularly luckless individuals (though they often feel themselves lucky indeed when they first make their discoveries). The tales are all good, but my favourites were “Canon Alberic's Scrap-book”, “Lost Hearts”, “”The Mezzotint”, and “Count Magnus”. I found myself thinking of both Lovecraft (in James’ use of made-up manuscripts and a reliance on protagonists of a learned bent whose curiosity proves to be their bane) and Clark Ashton-Smith (though with prose that was a little less flowery) though I think James is a much better stylist than the former and a little less given to the more extreme flights of fancy of the latter.
“Canon Alberic's Scrap-book” – An antiquary discovers a scrap-book of ancient manuscripts compiled by the titular Canon Alberic in the 17th century that is in the keeping of the sacristan of a church in France that he is studying. One picture, “The dispute of Solomon with a demon of the night”, proves to be particularly compelling…and why is the sacristan so eager to get rid of a book so obviously of great value? Great evocation of mood and the way in which the supernatural creature manifests itself was suitably creepy.
"Lost Hearts" – A rather moving tale of revenge from beyond the grave and the perils of devoting oneself to the arcane teachings of the ancients in the hopes of gaining eternal life. I knew where this one was going pretty much after the first paragraph, but I heartily enjoyed the ride.
"The Mezzotint" – I really liked the interesting way in which the artifact in question here, the mezzotint of the title, manifested the supernatural and the foreboding sense of a quiet yet unstoppable horror that was the result.
"The Ash-tree" – A nobleman and his descendants find that being the star witness in a witch trial probably isn’t a good idea. Good creepy/gross factor with the creatures invoked for vengeance.
"Number 13" – What happens when you book a room in an inn that used to belong to a man accused of having been an alchemist and magician several generations ago? Nothing good, especially if you rent the room right next to the one in which he mysteriously died. Space and time have a funny way of bending and twisting when the undead get involved.
"Count Magnus" – The titular Count reminded me a bit of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghost Busters 2: he was a mean-spirited son of a bitch who liked to torture people in his spare time and go on fun little trips with names like “the Black Pilgrimage”. Perhaps it’s wisest if you’re a travel writer getting good copy from his native village to leave the crypt where he’s entombed alone. Just sayin’.
"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" – Ah skeptics…they always learn their lesson in the end, don’t they? Well, they do in these kind of stories anyway. If you’re kind of a priggish and pedantic professor going on a holiday to sharpen up your golf game (golf is a re-occurring motif in these stories and I don’t think James was a fan) don’t promise to do some investigating of the local Templar preceptory for a colleague, and if you do for God’s sake don’t muck around with anything you find there. If you’re lucky you’ll run into an old military type who doesn’t trust papists.
"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" – When the Abbot of a 16th century monastery basically dares you, though the enciphered clues he left behind in some striking stained glass windows, to uncover his hidden treasure don’t do it. Trust me on this.
I like the way in which James gives us enough of a glimpse at the ghosts and undead horrors he unleashes in his stories to avoid Lovecraft’s almost laughable (to me at least) approach of “oh, it was so horrible I can’t even begin to describe it, just trust me it was really, really, really, mind-crushingly horrible!” and yet was sufficiently vague to leave enough of the horror to the imagination of the reader. The charming, almost homely, voice of the narrator was also a nice contrast to the ultimate invocation of otherworldly menace in the tales. All in all a really solid collection of old-school ghost stories that may not leave you cringing in terror, but you may end up looking over your shoulder from time to time. And you’ll definitely take greater care the next time that weird old manuscript seems to fortuitously land in your lap.
Another series of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes as reported by his faithful biographer Dr. Watson and it becomes clearer than ever that the real dAnother series of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes as reported by his faithful biographer Dr. Watson and it becomes clearer than ever that the real draw of these stories is the fascinating character of Holmes himself. The mysteries are secondary to the enjoyment, though many of them do prove to have distinct elements of interest (otherwise why would the great detective have bothered himself about them?), but it really is in observing the fascinating character of Holmes himself that the reader is immersed in them. Indeed, this collection provides a rare treat for the reader in that we learn more about the detective and his early life and connections than has previously been the case. Thus it was that some of the most interesting stories here, for me at least, were those that hearkened back to Holmes’ youth and showed us the man he was and in which we can see the seeds of the man he would come to be.
The first of these in this book is “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” – The primary interest in this tale comes from the glimpse it gives us to Holmes’ first ‘case’ (though the following tale, “The Musgrave Ritual” is really better classified as his first actual case, since the Gloria Scott comes across more as an intriguing mystery to which Holmes is largely a spectator) and the impetus for his decision to become a detective. We also get a glimpse at Holmes’ college days and of the only friend he made there (and thus far in the stories the only friend at all that he seems to have ever had aside from Watson). Finally this tale gives us a glimpse of a young Holmes still capable of emotion and surprise to the point that he cries out in horror at certain circumstances that, in later tales, would have left little other than a wry smile and remark of interest on his lips.
As noted above “The Musgrave Ritual” provides us with a look at what could probably be considered Holmes’ first real case in which another University acquaintance of Holmes’ comes to him, based on his youthful reputation, with an apparently insoluble puzzle that revolves around the man’s lothario butler and a bizarre family tradition. Holmes of course breaks the case and takes no small relish in recounting the strange tale of an event “done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me” to his friend Watson.
“The Greek Interpreter” continues in our discovery of the details of the mysterious past of Sherlock Holmes as we discover he actually does have a family and did not, as might seem more likely, spring from the brow of Zeus full grown. We in fact meet his older brother Mycroft, a man even more withdrawn from normal human society than his brother, but who also seems to possess even greater observational powers (a fact that leaves both Watson and the reader shocked to say the least). It was indeed quite amusing to see the two siblings spar with each other, each vying to outdo the other’s seemingly gnomic observations upon two strangers viewed from a window, and each gently chiding and correcting the other. This scene, nothing more a game of one-upmanship between brothers, does an excellent job at both making Sherlock seem more human at the same time that it exemplifies the peculiarity of his abilities and his subsequent estrangement from other ‘normal’ people. I also wondered in passing whether the germ for Nero Wolfe was planted in the mind of Rex Stout upon reading Sherlock’s comment about his brother: “If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived.” All that is needed is Archie Goodwin to do the foot work, a brownstone in New York and we’re off to the races.
The Memoirs even show a bizarrely puckish aspect to Holmes’ personality when, in the second to last tale “The Naval Treaty”, Holmes plays a practical joke for his own amusement at the expense of the nerves of his already rattled client…something strange indeed (though perhaps not altogether out of character given Holmes’ obvious desire to showboat and his distinct streak of misanthropy).
Other tales in the volume that were of interest: “The Crooked Man” which I found to be a rather affecting tale of retribution in the face of personal tragedy and “The Yellow Face” which, at the same time that it displayed some squicky elements of racism and abandonment, still managed to rise above them and display a story of ultimate familial devotion and personal love.
Of course one can’t leave off discussion of this volume without making mention of “The Final Problem” the story in which Holmes’ greatest adversary Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, is born. Doyle had grown weary of the public clamour for more tales of his peerless sleuth and decided it was time to end it so that he could concentrate on other characters and stories. Well, as it turns out this was not to be, but what resulted was an exciting tale in which Holmes finds himself pitted against the greatest adversary of his voluminous career. After months of playing cat-and-mouse with Moriarty and his insidious league of crime Holmes finally has gathered the pieces he needs to crush the vast criminal organization and its most dangerous leader. Moriarty, of course, is not likely to take such a possibility lying down and thus we have a final chase across London and Switzerland that ends in (view spoiler)[an off-screen (and thus retcon-able) death for both Holmes and his adversary. (hide spoiler)] Watson’s final realization of what has happened to his friend is moving, as is the typically dry (though sincere) letter which Holmes leaves for him on the edge of Reichenbach Falls.
All in all, while some of the tales may have been weaker than others, I can’t do anything other than give this collection a five-star rating due to the great interest of the many tales of Holmes’ early life, as well as the singular event of (view spoiler)[his “death”. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Rudyard Kipling’s _The Jungle Book_ is an enjoyable read. A collection of short stories, all of which revolve around the lives and troubles of differeRudyard Kipling’s _The Jungle Book_ is an enjoyable read. A collection of short stories, all of which revolve around the lives and troubles of different animals and the people who interact with them, it has a surprising amount of depth coupled with rather pleasant prose. The most famous of these stories are probably those that revolve around Mowgli, the jungle boy raised by wolves in India whose adventures with Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther against the machinations of Shere Khan the tiger are fairly well-known (even resulting in a typically watered-down Disney movie from many years ago).
All of the stories are notable for their fairly even handed treatment of the interactions between animals and men. The tragedy and pathos of the tribulations and abuse animals often have to suffer at the hands of man are not glossed over, but neither is it implied that all interactions between mankind and the animal kingdom are destructive or unwarranted. The animals are presented as having languages and customs of their own and Kipling generally does a pretty neat trick of managing to straddle the line between having his animal characters behave too much like humans and having them fall into unrelatability by being purely ‘animals’. The most significant contravention of this occurs, I think, in the story “Her Majesty’s Servants” in which, in my opinion, a group of animals serving various roles in a British regiment shade a bit more towards taking on the roles of their all-too human handlers. That quibble aside I enjoyed these morality fables and adventure stories, with those centring on Mowgli and his lessons in the Laws of the Jungle topping the list. Good clean fun with enough meat to the bone to give you something to think about. ...more