Saturday, 31 October 2015

Chapter 21 - Happy Halloween from Crimson Peak

Happy Halloween everyone.

To celebrate I'm bending the rules of the blog a little bit to talk about a film that while set in the Victorian period doesn't feature any real life personalities or art but is still an excellent example of the tropes of the Gothic; Crimosn Peak.

As I mentioned in my post about Hellboy 2Guillermo del Toro is my favourite director and this, his ninth feature, is one of his best films. There may be some light spoliers in this review but I will try to keep them as vague as possible. 

The story concerns Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young American writer who falls in love with Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleson), an English baronet who is seeking the investment of her industrialist father. After her father is murdered, Edith moves with Thomas, and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to Allerdale Hall, also known as Crimson Peak, the Sharpe's ancestral home in Cumbria, England. But the house is haunted and Edith has to investigate exactly what has happened there, 

Photo from playbuzz
To call this a ghost story is a misnomer though. It is not a Gothic Horror story but a Gothic Romance that harks back to the original Gothic traditions of  the Romantic and Victorian periods. The ghosts exist to aide Edith in her investigations not serve as menace. It draws on the works of writers like Ann RadcliffeSheridan Le Fanu, Henry James & Bram Stoker (the interest in new technology contrasting with old world mysteries reminds me a lot of Dracula) along with echos of Bluebeard and creates a story that would have not been out of place in 19th Century fiction. 

The acting is excellent. Jessica Chastain and  Mia Wasikowska in particular shine as the two female leads (It is a very feminine movie, suiting the Gothic traditions  it is drawing upon.)  Tom Hiddleson, one of my favourite actors, also impresses in his role as Thomas. 

Photo from digital trends
The costumes and sets are beautiful, It being a del Toro film means that a lot of care and attention has gone into everything from the elegance of the dresses worn by the ladies in the parties in America to the house itself which has to be one of the most amazing sets you will ever see in film.  The ghosts are for the most part practical effects rather than computer generated. As someone who grew up in the period before CGI, I appreciate this. 

del Toro on set with Jessica Chastain (photo from Los Angeles Magazine)

All in all this is an easy film to recommend and sits just behind Pan's Labyrinth as my favourite of the directors work. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Chapter 20 - Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries is a Canadian crime drama currently in it's 9th season. Based on a series of novels written by Maureen Jennings it follows the adventures of late 19th Century (early 20th Century in later seasons) Toronto Detective William Murdoch (played by Yannick Bisson). 

While most of the crimes Murdoch solves involve ordinary criminals, several of his cases have involved teaming up with notable personalities of the era, including: Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. WellsEmma Goldman, Jack LondonAlexander Graham Bell, Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and, of course, a host of Canadian personalities. He has saved the life of Queen Victoria and captured Jack The Ripper. The show doesn't take itself too seriously with some Steampunk elements creeping into the show, including death rays and killer German robots but it is well written and it's fun to see all the historical characters mix it up with Bisson's Murdoch who is a likable and charismatic lead.  

I have to admit I haven't seen the show since the end of series 5 (The end of the 19th Century) so I can't comment on how well it covers the Edwardian period but for the early seasons are an easy recommendation for fans of Victorian Detectives.  

Buy Murdoch Mysteries Box sets:

Amazon US  | Amazon UK

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Chapter 19 - Virginia Clemm

I have a confession to make: I totally adore the Norwegian band Katzenjammer.  

Marianne Sveen, Solveig Heilo, Anne Marit Bregheim, and Turid Jørgensen (photo from Universal Germany)
It is hard to describe their style as the group consisting of Marianne Sveen, Solveig Heilo, Anne Marit Bregheim, and Turid Jørgensen play everything from folk and country to more punky and pop sounds with a multitude of different instruments. I love all three of their studio albums and the concert I went to earlier this  year was the best I've attended bar none. I am really looking forward to seeing them again next month.  

Today I just want to spotlight a song of theirs that has a connection to Victorian era literature from their first album: Virginia Clemm (Music by Helio with lyrics by Mats Rybø)

Virginia Clemm was the wife of Edgar Allan Poe who he married when she was 13 and he was 26. Their marriage was an unhappy one with Poe being involved in scandals with other women. She died of tuberculosis aged 24, leaving Poe to a number of poems involving a man outliving his wife, including The Raven.

Virginia Clemm (photo from wikipedia) 
The song, written from perceptive of the dead Clemm, is a haunting examination of the relationship between her and her husband and a message to Poe that she is his inspiration. A beautiful song from an excellent album.

Buy Le Pop by Katzenjammer

Monday, 19 October 2015

Chapter 18: The Ghost of a Murderer

Last week the new British crime drama River staring Stellan Skarsgård started on BBC One. The main character, D.I. River, solves crimes while being haunted by ghosts (real or imagined) of his dead partner, victims of the crimes he is solving and a villain who died because of him. I enjoyed the first episode for the acting and the Scandinavian style mood but I wasn't as sold on the story as much. I'm still looking forward to the rest of the series though.]

Along with the modern ghosts that haunt him, River is also visited by the manifestation of Victorian murderer Dr Thomas Neill Cream, otherwise known the Lambeth Poisoner (Played by Eddie Marsan, recently seen in the Napoleonic set, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell), whom he is reading a book about in the show. 

Marsen as Cream in the show (photo from The Guardian)
The real life Cream, a Canadian, is known to have killed five people  in both England and the United States. In 1881 he was imprisoned by the United States authorities for the murder of Daniel Stott in Chicago and released in 1891. He then moved to England where he killed four women before being captured and hanged for his crimes the following year. 

The Real Dr Cream (Photo from Wikipedia)
While I was not familiar with Cream's name initially, while looking over articles in preparation of this blog I did realize I had come across him before in this panel from From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell:

From Hell
Despite this confession Cream could have not possibly been the Ripper as he was a. not in the country when the Whitechapel killings took place and b. was in prison anyway. 

More information on Cream:
New York Daily News article

River continues on BBC One Tuesdays 9:00pm BST/GMT (First epsiode on iplayer for UK residents)

Buy From Hell

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Friday, 16 October 2015

Chapter 17: Tennyson in Hell(boy)

Gullermo del Toro is perhaps my favourite movie director and his new film, the Victorian based Gothic Horror Crimson Peak is out in cinemas today. 

I'm not going to be able to see the film until tomorrow but I did want to celebrate the release by showcasing his use of Tennyson's Im Memoriam in his 2008 film Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Here Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who has escaped the clutches of her brother, the main villain of the movie, discovers a volume of Tennyson in the Library of the B.P.R.D while being looked after by Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). (0:16 - 0:44 for the Tennyson bits. video by youtube user Laura McGillicuddy)

Despite being a comic book based movie I think Hellboy II is well worth a watch for del Toro's amazing imagination and beautiful moments like this one. 

Buy Hellboy 2

DVD: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Blu-Ray: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Chapter 16: Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day early.

Ada Lovelace (Photo from wikipedia)
Tuesday is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual event celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It is named for Ada Lovelace, the daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron and the person who is recognized as the world's first computer programmer. I think this day is extremely important as women are marginalized in these areas in the 21st Century and we need reminding that that historically women have made extremely important contributions to STEM. Sadly I will be away on Tuesday but I wanted to post something in honor of this important date so you get it two days early. 

Picture from the official website. 
I first became aware of Sydney Padua's webcomic The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage through it being mentioned in Jeff Vandermeer and S.J.Chambers' the Steampunk Bible. It is the (mostly) true story of the first computer programmer and Charles Babbage, the man who invented the Difference Engine, the world's first computer who use science to fight crime in Victorian London, even though those crimes are mostly street music and poetry*. The strip is simply wonderful and while it is a "what if", it is extremely well researched and Padua's notes that accompany each installment are really good for people wanting to know more about the period. 

The two main characters are really well written and drawn. The pipe smoking, poetry-hating Ada has to be one of the best female characters in comics right now.  Other personalities of the time appear include, Victoria (natutally), The Duke of Wellington (with his horse, Copenhagen) and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (portrayed as a Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque, cigar chomping super engineer). One of my personal favourite moments is a poetry slam performed by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (complete with someone who looks a lot like Tennyson in attendance). I mean who wouldn't want to see that? :)

All-in-all this is an excellent webcomic (Perhaps my favourite along with Hark! A Vagrant and Nimona) and an excellent introduction to the world of science and technology of the day and of course the amazing personality that is Ada Lovelace. (Jump in here!) 

There is a book of the webcomic but I haven't read it yet... (Hoping I might find it under the Christmas tree this year) but you can buy it from Amazon US & Amazon UK.

*As a student of poetry, does that make me an accessory to crime? 

Friday, 9 October 2015

Chapter 15 - Nuclear Powered Victorians

I was 11 in 1993 and two things kick-started my interest in Steampunk. The first was a showing on British television of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky and the second was seeing the cover and reading the description for Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter. I sadly didn't get to read the book until many years later but when I did I enjoyed the alternative 19th Century it presented (I also didn't get to see Castle in the Sky again till many years later, but that is not a story for here) 

I love alternative histories, it is always so much fun seeing what could have happened if things had gone differently. Anti-Ice asks what if the 19th Century British discovered a substance (the "Anti-Ice") that generates energy analogous to nuclear power. The answers are obvious: not only do they have technology far beyond the same period in our reality, including space travel, but also the Crimean War is ended by the atomic bombing of Sevastopol. Many real world personalities appear throughout novel: most notably William Gladstone and Otto Von Bismarck. Victoria herself is absent from this world as she chose to abdicate after Prince Albert's death, instead Edward VII has become king much earlier than in reality. The Franco-Prussian War is also featured in the novel,of course with a much different outcome. 

If people are looking for a good introduction to Steampunk fiction, this is a excellent book to pick up. I enjoyed Baxter's alternative history and the characters that fill it. Yes it has all the weird science that we expect of the genre but it seeing how the world is effected by this science is the main draw for me. 

The Book is OOP but you should be able to pick it up for a reasonable price on amazon (US | UK) or ebay.

There is also a short story anthology ebook entitled Newton's Aliens: Tales From the Anti-Ice Universe. (US | UK). I have yet to read this but when I do I will review it on the blog. 

PS: I now have a like page on facebook. Don't have facebook? Alternatively can follow me on twitter to keep up-to-date with all entries on the blog. :)

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Chapter 14: Quoth the Raven

On October 7th 1849, the American master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe died. As with many people of my generation I first encountered Poe not in books but through the medium of television. Yes, today I'm spotlighting The Simpsons version of The Raven from the 1990 episode Treehouse of Horror.

The wonderful thing about this version is while it retains much of the horror of the original poem it adds a commentary on the changing face of horror with Bart's comments. What terrified people in the 1840s, isn't as scary in the 1990s. I also adore James Earl Jones as the narrator and Dan Castellaneta's over the top performance as the terrified Homer. 

Buy The Simpsons Season 2

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Chapter 13: Crossing the Bar

On this day in 1892, Alfred, Lord Tennyson left this world aged 83. I feel that it is only appropriate to post this song version of Crossing the Bar (the poem he wanted to close all his collections) by British folk band False Lights 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Chapter 12: Mr Browning's Vertigo Days

To me Vertigo Comics has produced some the best comic books that I have read. From Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, through The Books of Magic and Sandman Mystery Theatre to The House of Secrets, the imprint of DC Comics fills my bookshelves. Which is part of the reason I have chosen to look at a use of Robert Browning in a 1994 "crossover series" published by the imprint entitled The Children's Crusade

The story, which unites The Sandman, Swamp Thing, Black Orchid, Doom Patrol, Animal Man and The Books of Magic, utilizes what I like to call the "story behind the story" trope. This is where a fictionalized version of an established writer or artist' work is inspired by a event that happened to them in the fictionalized world of the story they appear in, abet with a twist in this case. 

Here, Neil Gaiman as lead writer of the project uses Robert Browning's version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (and the real life Children's Crusade of 1212) as a jumping on point to tell a story of children being stolen away to a magical land by nefarious forces. Browning himself is shown being told the "true version" of the tale several years after he has already written his poem. While the poet is not directly shown being inspired, it still presents the subject of his work as being based on a truth. 

Art by Chris Bachalo

The  "story behind the story" trope is one that we shall return to both in the work of Gaiman and others in the future. 

As an extra nod to Browning one of the sub-chapters is entitled 'Charles Rowland to the Dark Tower Came'. Combining the name of a character from the story and  Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.

The series was recently collected, abet in a altered form, as a hardcover and comes recommended to anyone who loves fantasy.

Art by Mark Buckingham
Get it from:

Friday, 2 October 2015

Chapter 11: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Even before I knew who Tennyson was I knew the line ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all'. After all who hasn't heard it? Originating in stanza 27 of In Memoriam A.H.H. it has become a cliché in modern speech. Today I want to spotlight two uses of the line in two of my favourite things ever.

The first is in episode 51 of the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale. The podcast is about the community radio station of a fictional town somewhere in the United States where Government Conspiracies are common, Lovecraftian monsters are worshiped and whose citizens include an intelligent Glow Cloud (all hail), several angels and a literal five headed dragon. Narrated by the amazing voice of Cecil Baldwin  Night Vale has become a must listen series for me and was really excited to hear a line by Tennyson used in the show. Skip to 14:27 for the line.

Alternatively there is a transcript here.

The second use of the line is from the 2013 video game The Cave developed by Double Fine Productions. Since childhood I have been a big adventure game fan and in particular I loved the work of Ron Gilbert at Lucasarts games (Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island 1 & 2) so again it was really cool to hear a quotation of Tennyson in one of his games. The Cave is the story of a sentient cave and the people who enter it in search of the thing their heart  most desires. The line appears in the story of a Hillbilly and must count as the oddest use of Tennyson in history. Skip to 6:17 for the line. (Video by youtube user FluffyNinjaLlama)

Buy The Cave for PC from:
Steam | Humble