Well, that’s the first month of 2023 over, bringing us just a little closer to a quarter of the way through the twenty-first century (feel old yet?)
For me, at least, it was pretty productive. I sold another short story, meaning that there’ll now be at least four fiction anthologies in the coming months featuring my work. I’ve also hit on my first big blogging project for the year, which should be fun. I’ve also got a few more chunks of A Long Year’s Dreaming done, and if all goes to plan, I’ll knuckle down on that particular project next month.
In last week’s post I talked about Laurent Bordelon’s 1710 novel L’histoire des imaginations extravagantes de monsieur Oufle (A History of the Ridiculous Extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle) and covered the first three chapters, which introduced the main character: a Don Quixote-like oaf who believes in all manner of supernatural phenomena. Now, it’s time to read on and see how Bordelon was responsible for one of literature’s earliest werewolf comedies…
Chapter four opens with Monsieur Oufle sharing some festivities with his family (“for tho’ he was very whimsical, and very superstitious, he yet lov’d Mirth”). During the course of the event he indulges in wine — “a much larger Dose than his Head cou’d bear” — and gets rather excited. Nobody seems to mind, however: even Madam Oufle takes his behaviour in her stride, unlike most other wives who, the author informs us, “never shew more Uneasiness, than when they see their Husbands gay.”
An often overlooked addition to the body of early werewolf literature is Laurent Bordelon’s 1710 novel L’histoire des imaginations extravagantes de monsieur Oufle, which was translated into English the following year as A History of the Ridiculous Extravagancies of Monsieur Oufle (this post is based specifically on the English version, so I can’t comment on liberties taken by the translator).
The book belongs to a vogue for satirical fiction that began with Don Quixote in the previous century, and was followed by such similarly-themed titles as Charles Sorel’s The Extravagant Shephard (1653) and the anonymous Mock-Clelia (1678). Indeed, all three of these books are specifically mentioned in the preface to Monsieur Oufle, which notes that “Several very Entertaining Fictions have been publish’d to expose those deprav’d by reading Poets, Romances, Books of Chivalry and other such Trifles, widely distant from Truth, and all Probability”.
The title character of Monsieur Oufle (an anagram of “le fou”) is another protagonist who, like Don Quixote, has been sent to a world of fantasy by his choice of reading matter. As opposed to chivalric romance, however, this novel sets out to skewer belief in the occult — and so Oufle believes himself to be not a knight in shining armour, but a werewolf.
Monsieur Oufle is introduced to us as a man wealthy enough to avoid finding any kind of work, instead whiling away his time reading books about magic and apparitions:
[H]e believ’d only those Histories, which affirm’d, for Instance, that such a Spectre appear’d; that such a wanton Daemon play’d his Pranks in the Night in a Garret, or a Stable; that such a Girl was bewitch’d by a Nosegay; such a Child by an Apple; that this Person could not avoid what was fortold by his Horoscope, and an infinite Number of the like Stories…
This collection lays out its ethos with its opening story, “Drive Me Home”. The main character here is a college student who hits a man while drunk-driving and takes drastic measures to dispose of the body. Throughout much of the plot, there is a predictable twist ending in sight; yet this ending is ultimately swapped in favour of a different, much bleaker twist. What this story achieves – taking a simple premise and playing to great effect with the reader’s expectations – is a trick that turns up repeatedly throughout May Cause Unexplained Ocular Bleeding.
“The Right Tool for the Job” demonstrates author Nikolas P. Robinson’s playful attitude towards structure and pacing. It begins with a woman opening her door to find a neighbour covered in blood; at this point, the story effectively pauses to zoom in on the oddness of the situation, largely because the two neighbours were not particularly close. Their limited biography together is deconstructed for much of the story’s first half, while the second half explores the reason for the excess blood in much the same tone of analytical curiosity until it eventually reaches another twist ending.
Alexander Nisbet’s 1722 System of Heraldry includes a reference to something that, until this week, I’d not come across: the werewolf (or warwolf) as heraldic charge. Here is the relevent passage:
…I shall therefore end here with Fourfooted Beasts, only mentioning one of a monstrous Form, carried with us; its Body is like a Wolf, having four Feet with long Toes, and a Tail; ’tis headed like a Man, called in our Books, a Warwolf, carried by Dickison of Winkelstoun, Azure, a Warwolf passant, and three Stars in Chief, Argent; so blazoned by Mr. Thomas Crawford, and illuminate in several Books; which are also to be seen cut upon a Stone above an old Entry of a House in the Cowgate in Edinburgh, above the Foot of Libberton’s Wynd, which belonged formerly to the Name of Dickison, which Name seems to be from the Dicksons, by the Stars which they carry.
Note that the heraldic warwolf described by Nisbet is a wolf with the head of a man: the opposite of how werewolves are typically depicted today, but no less legitimate an interpretation of the “man-wolf”.
Twisted: Tainted Tales kicks off with “Footsteps” which, aside from being one of last year’s Splatterpunk Award finalists, is about a group of women meeting a deadly monster in the wilderness. Heavily influenced by monster movies, the story turns out to be a good introduction to a collection that never strays far from horror convention, but nonetheless strives to give each familiar concept as punchy an execution as possible.
“I Want to Break Free”, written from the perspective of a woman who is being held captive but has no idea where or why, is a good example of this ethos. While it uses stock genre elements – namely, vampires and werewolves – its disorienting opening and consistent focus on its characters’ gut-level emotions mark it as a particularly visceral treatment of its themes.
My book A Long Year’s Dreaming: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in 2020 is yet another project that’s slipped out of my control a little. I had hoped to have it finished some time ago, but a change in my employment situation (the kind of change that leaves me with more money but less free time) had led to delays. I really want to get a move on, though, so I’ve decided to cut a few chapters that I was hoping to include. It should still be a hefty volume, mind. Continue reading “A Long Year’s Dreaming: January 2023 Progress Report”
The stories in Sinister Mix do not concern normal people thrown into strange situations. Instead, author Brian Bowyer shows a fondness for tales about strange people thrown into stranger situations. This is summed up by “Siren Song”, in which a pair of twin-brother serial killers run into a mythological siren. Granted, that particular story is something of an outlier, as Bowyer typically does not venture into the supernatural for his subject matter, instead preferring to take the familiar topics of sex and violence and adding novel twists.
A good example is the very first story in the book, “Losses and Gains”. This is a tale of date rape that turns into sexual torture, with the twist being that the conventional genders are swapped to create a female predator and a male victim (there is a second twist, with something very odd happening towards the end, but to say more would be to go into spoiler territory).
Among the twelve lais of twelfth-century Breton poet Marie de France is a werewolf narrative entitled “Bisclavret”, which has similarities to the later, anonymous Lai of Melion (c.1200). Another comparable work is the narrative of Arthur and Gorlagon, an obscure Arthurian text that survives on a fourteenth-century manuscript and possibly influenced the minor character of Sir Marrok in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, who was betrayed by his wife to become a werewolf for seven years.
English versions of Marie de France’s lai include a loose 1910 prose retelling by Jessie L. Weston, which explicitly connects the story to Malory’s Sir Marrok narrative by identifying the king (unnamed in the original) as Arthur; Eugene Mason’s rather more faithful prose rendition of 1911; Judith P. Shoaf’s annotated version from 1996; and A. S. Kline’s 2019 translation.
This collection opens with the titular “Black Tongue”, taking place in the North American frontier in 1869. A bounty hunter investigates a series of gruesome slayings at a logging camp and eventually finds that he is up against the living dead, in both human and animal form. The story achieves a tactile sense of reality: first the gruelling nature of the protagonist’s life, and then the macabre details of the various corpses. Onto this solid base is thrown an element of the supernatural, and the whole narrative is given straightforward emotional heft by the protagonist’s relationship with his dog. This is a good start, but is the rest of the book able to meet the same standard?
The main character in “Conflagration” is a firefighter who begins the story reminiscing about the traumatic sights that he has seen on the job, contrasting the heroic public image of firemen with the horrific reality in which fires are not always put out in time; his anecdotes lead to an incident in which he attacks a wildfire and sees a strange being, “Like a child’s primitive stick figure, blown up to a massive scale and comprised entirely of fire […] frolicking, the way you see a beautiful woman frolicking through a field of flowers in those cheesy commercials.” The trouble with this story is that it is front-loaded: the encounter with the fire elemental (implied to be a Native American deity named Johanna) is less disturbing than the realistic horrors described at the start.