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November Night Tales: Stories of the Supernatural
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message 1: by Randolph, Randy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Randolph (us227381) | 164 comments Here is a thread for the December 2015 read: November Night Tales: Stories of the Supernatural by Henry C. Mercer. A short, but I'm told, forgotten classic of short stories that should be perfect for a busy December.

Latasha (latasha513) I'm in, I might have to wait til next week to start but I'm here.

message 3: by Randolph, Randy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Randolph (us227381) | 164 comments I haven't even purchased the e-book yet, but then that's a matter of mere moments.

Latasha (latasha513) yeah, I haven't either.

message 5: by Canavan (last edited Dec 07, 2015 08:07AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Canavan I've read the first couple of stories in the collection. I'll post more later, but my initial reaction is that while these aren't terrible stories, nor are they great ones. The publisher's blurb describes the tales as being "in the mode of" M. R. James. This is a misleading comparison.

message 6: by Randolph, Randy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Randolph (us227381) | 164 comments Uh oh ...

Canavan Some initial impressions on the Henry C. Mercer collection, November Night Tales.

A couple of general points. First, as I mentioned before, the publisher’s blurb for this collection refers to the stories as being “in the mode of” M. R. James. Perhaps because I’m so thoroughly familiar with James, I tend to focus more on differences than similarities, but this comparison strikes me as just plain wrong. When considering the evolutionary timeline of the ghost story, I see James as more of an early modern writer. In contrast, Mercer seems to be looking backward; although published in the first part of the 20th century, the tales in his collection could (to my eye, at least) have easily been written in the mid-1800s. Specifically, they seem much more rooted in the Gothic and Romantic traditions of the ghost tale. (Mercer even has this fixation on castles that I would guess has as much to do with its iconic status as Gothic trope as with the author’s general architectural interests.) Second point — check out the introduction. It’s by Cory Amsler, the vice-president of the Mercer Museum. Mercer was an archeologist with rather wide-ranging interests that encompassed both architecture (specifically including tile-making) and writing. Amsler’s descriptions of the contents are pretty clear-eyed. He identifies some of the main themes that were of interest to Mercer. And while he doesn’t exactly characterize the work as amateurish, he doesn’t overpraise either. (At one point, Amsler notes that the publication of this book seemed to have been an item on Mercer’s “bucket list”.) Personally, I don’t find Mercer to be a terrible writer, but neither is he a great one. He does have his share of stylistic quirks. (For example, he seemed not to distinguish between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, using commas in either case. On the other hand, this is a practice I see more frequently in early 19th and 18th century texts.)

“Castle Valley” ✭½

(view spoiler)

“The North Ferry Bridge” ✭½

(view spoiler)

Latasha (latasha513) ok I'm buying mine today and should start on it sometime this weekend.

Latasha (latasha513) I'm only 5% in but I like the story so far. Pryor seems to know a thing or 2 about scrying and crystals and stuff. I think I'd like to be his friend.

Latasha (latasha513) 6% (view spoiler)

Latasha (latasha513) I finished Castle Valley. I give it 3.5 stars. I'll read your spoilers later Canavan. I wish GR's would fix the app so we could read them on our phones & tablets. I liked the story and I can see the m.r. James reference. Hopefully you will like the others more.

Latasha (latasha513) the north ferry bridge- I give 3 stars. it was kinda predictable but (view spoiler)

message 13: by Randolph, Randy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Randolph (us227381) | 164 comments I still haven't really started this, but will this week. I started the first story and was drawn into other things.

message 14: by Canavan (last edited Dec 15, 2015 02:02PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Canavan Latasha, writing about “Castle Valley”, noted:

they have a powwow doctor?! how awesome is that!!!

I admit that I pretty much bleeped over the term when I read the story, never having heard it before. I suppose I took it as some sort of slang word that was in vogue when Mercer wrote the story, but a look on Wikipedia shows that it has an older etymology and a much more specific meaning than the ambiguous one that I had ascribed to it. The name (as expected) has a Native American origin, but the folk magic that it describes is a curious amalgam that has roots in a number of European religions that were all present in the Pennsylvania area during the early 1800s. Mercer, who spent most of his life in Pennsylvania, would no doubt have been familiar with the term.

Canavan Latasha wrote:

the north ferry bridge- I give 3 stars. it was kinda predictable but (view spoiler)

This idea returns in a slightly different form in “The Blackbirds”.

message 16: by Canavan (last edited Dec 15, 2015 02:01PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Canavan Some thoughts on “The Blackbirds”.

Wow, this story is all over the place. Like “The North Ferry Bridge” it’s jam-packed with odd coincidences, strange goings-on, storms, appearances and disappearances, etc., etc. Some brief, spoilery notes:

(view spoiler)

Latasha (latasha513) lol yeah, I agree with that 4th point.

Canavan A few brief comments on “The Wolf Book”.

Probably the best story encountered to this point, although a bit on the ordinary side. (view spoiler)

Disconnected thoughts:

1. More castles, this time the ruined fortress at Golubacz.

2. As with previous stories, one gets the strong sense that the author is making use of personal experiences in his detailed descriptions of the environs. (Mercer first traveled to Europe in 1870.) I’m not sure about all of the places used in the story, but Golubacz actually exists. (One source describes it as the focal point of numerous military contests between the Ottomans and Hungarians, hence Mercer’s comment on “race hatred”.) And there really was a Baron Franz von der Trenck. The followed is lifted from his Wikipedia article:

Trenck earned most of his fame during the War of the Austrian Succession, as the leader and commander of a unit of pandurs, or paramilitary troops in the Austrian army which specialized in frontier warfare, guerrilla tactics and surprise hit-and-run actions, into which he recruited mostly Croatian mercenaries, experienced fighters from the Austro-Ottoman border. The Pandur soon became infamous for the atrocities they committed on the civilian population, some actions deemed brutal even by the standards of the day.

3. Mercer goes to some trouble to (view spoiler)

4. Mercer inconsistently employs a literary device I tend to see more often in 18th century works — redacting the names of persons and places. The way Mercer uses the device makes me think he didn’t really understand the reason why authors originally employed it.

5. As with earlier stories, the author shows a preoccupation with the role of coincidence.


Canavan I'm going to be traveling this week, so hopefully I'll have time to finish the last few stories in this month's selection and post something to the group. I hope the negative views that I posted to date haven't dissuaded others from participating.

Latasha (latasha513) The wolf book
I loved the start of the story. I recently tried to read cold heart canyon and the beginning in the monastery was the best part. So when this started out like that I was like yay! The story wasn't bad I just thought the protagonist made horrible decisions. Maybe it's where I'm more cautious, idk, but I do heed people's warnings & no one in books (or movies) ever does. Ugh people really!!

The dolls castle
I liked this story. I liked that we still had questions unanswered at the end. 3.5 stars.

message 21: by Randolph, Randy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Randolph (us227381) | 164 comments After reading the first few stories I have a few comments. Authors become obscure and forgotten for all sorts of reasons. In reality most of these reasons are pretty good. The majority of written material is, well, deservedly forgotten. Remember that 50% of all writing is below average and fashion changes constantly as well. Just finding the output of an obscure author does not merit its resurrection, and such is the case here. If Henry Chapman Mercer had not been notable for his other achievements these amateurish stories would not have even the little notabiltiy they have here in this Valancourt tpb. They would sit moldering in some drawer to be "discovered" by great great grandchildren as a family oddity and novelty. That said the writing is not bad, certainly readable but mostly interesting for their insight into Mercer's other avoctions.

Several times Mercer whips up a compelling bit of suspense only to totally abandon it as if it were never part of the story to begin with. Almost as if the author had forgotten it and never gotten around to editing the piece. Mercer has to resort instead to a formulaic and incredible series of coincidences to finish each story out.

So, the book and author are little more than curiosities. Some things are best forgotten.

Latasha (latasha513) lol.

message 23: by Randolph, Randy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Randolph (us227381) | 164 comments I'm almost finished and I've probably been a bit harsh. I still don't see anything above average though.

Latasha (latasha513) I didn't either.

Canavan Quick thoughts on the last three stories in the Mercer collection.

I thought “The Dolls’ House” (which features the same James Carrington from “The Blackbirds”) was one of the better stories written by Mercer. It may be the best story from a pure plot standpoint. If it had been a bit more focused and Mercer had been able to bring to bear a bit more skill it might have managed to be very good tale. I rather liked the bleak ending, somewhat uncharacteristic of Mercer. Unfortunately, like other Mercer stories, this one is far too long and is cluttered with irrelevant and pointless sidetracks that seem designed to irritate the reader.

After a somewhat promising start, “The Sunken City” proved to be very hard to wade through. Again, far too long for a rather desultory pay-off. A fair amount of Gothic atmosphere, but not much supernatural going on in this story. Ditto for “The Well of Monte Corbo”, another story having to do with archeological discovery.

“The Dolls’ House” ✭✭✭
“The Sunken City” ✭½
“The Well of Monte Corbo” ✭✭

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