Friday, October 9, 2009

Diana Gates' Halloween recommendations

Another week closer to Halloween!

I notice that our display tables have seen quite a bit of traffic, which is always nice! One thing I've been wishing I could do was put up the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, but, of course, all four books have spent less than an hour total in the Library since February. They're checked out pretty much constantly, which helps our circulation figures but is inconvenient when you want to use them to draw people over.

Still, things are looking good and, of course, our librarians have been thinking hard about their favorite scary movies and books. Today, we'll be hearing from Diana Gates.

Anything by Edgar Allan Poe
One of the best-known poets and writers of the macabre in American history, Poe is strongly associated with Virginia and Maryland. After being born in Boston, he grew up in Richmond and spent most of his adult life in Baltimore, where he died under mysterious circumstances and was buried.

Actually, his death was almost as strange as the stories he wrote; he was found wandering through Baltimore early one morning in October, delirious and wearing someone else's clothes. He died on October 7 -- 160 years ago this past week -- and nearly all the information on the medical investigation into his death was lost. Nobody's really sure what exactly it was he died from, why he was wearing another person's clothing, or what could have led to his wandering on that morning. Interestingly enough, one possibility that emerged soon after he died was "cooping": the practice of forcing someone to vote multiple times by drugging them into submission in order to rig an election. It sounds strange now, but was a popular theory for a long time after his death.

Whatever the cause of his death might have been, it remains unknown, which is fitting for the man who wrote stories like:

The Cask of Amontillado

A classic revenge short story in which our main character, having been insulted by his friend (how, we don't know -- the insult is never clarified), now plots his friend's death during Carnival, a time of celebration. The means by which he takes his revenge are truly horrifying: He lures his now-drunk friend into the catacombs below his house, chains him to the wall in an alcove, and slowly bricks up the opening.

The Tell-Tale Heart
This is the story that many people point to when they say that Poe invented detective fiction. In this story, the narrator kills an old man because he doesn't like the look in his eye. Really; the old man has a large blue eye that reminds the narrator of a vulture, slowly driving him mad until he finally kills the old man. After stashing the body under his floorboards and cleaning up the evidence, he gets a visit from the police, who say the neighbors reported some odd sounds. While the narrator is busy lying to the police, he discovers that he can still hear the old man's heartbeat under the floor. It grows louder and louder, making him crazier and crazier, until he finally confesses.

The Pit and the Pendulum -- Video by Patrick Graybill
A man who is captured by the Spanish Inquisition wakes up in a pitch-black room, where he discovers a pit in the middle of the floor while measuring out the perimeter of the room. What's in the pit? The story doesn't say, other than that water is involved. Still, he's so frightened that he blacks out and wakes up again, this time strapped to the floor so that only his head is capable of motion. He realizes that there is a very large and sharp pendulum swinging above him, coming closer and closer to cutting through his chest with each swing. He breaks free, but discovers that the walls have become red-hot and are moving inwards, pushing him closer and closer to the pit ...

The Black Cat --
Video by Patrick Graybill
This is the heartwarming tale of a man and his cat. He loves his cat very much. The cat is black. The man is an alcoholic. One night, unfortunately, this results in some truly horrible animal abuse, which leaves the cat without an eye. This changes their relationship; so much so, in fact, that the man, suffering in his guilt over what he's done to his cat, perversely kills it. That night, his house burns down, leaving the silhouette of a black cat on the one wall still standing. After the narrator moves his family into a new house, he discovers another cat very like his own, and brings it home. However, what he did to the previous cat only ends up poisoning his fondness for the new one, and, one day, the cat gets underfoot when he and his wife are going down to the cellar. He attempts to kill it (again), but his wife intercedes -- and he ends up killing her. He hides the body by bricking it up in the cellar, and discovers that the cat has gone missing. The police come investigating, and he nearly gets off scot-free, until, on the last day of the investigation, the police check the cellar and hear strange sounds behind one wall. They open it up to discover the wife's body -- and the cat, sitting on top of the corpse's head.

Still, all of his stories are tremendously creepy, and use all of the senses and all of the available details to set up a very finely-wrought universe of the strange and morbid. You can find all four stories (and many others, all equally terrific) in either Tales of Suspense or Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Incidentally, Baltimore is celebrating Poe's two-hundredth birthday all year, including the 160th anniversary of his death this month; you can find more information about the events being held here.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Another famous American writer Diana enjoys is Washington Irving, the guy who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. You might think you know the story, but here's what really happened, according to Irving: Ichabod Crane was a schoolmaster who came to Sleepy Hollow from Connecticut and fell in love with Katrina Van Tassel. Unfortunately, this put him in conflict with Brom Bones, who was also vying for Katrina's affections. Now, it was well-known that Ichabod was an extremely superstitious man, and there was a legend in the region that the woods were haunted by a Hessian soldier who had his head cut off during the American Revolution. One night, as Ichabod was on his way home from a party at the Van Tassels, he found himself pursued by a headless man on horseback. When the next morning came, he had vanished utterly from Sleepy Hollow, never to be heard from again, and Brom Bones ended up marrying Katrina Van Tassel. Although nobody knew what really happened to Ichabod, Irving noted that whenever someone was telling the story of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman, Brom Bones invariably looked very knowing.

Last of all is ... Deafula.

Yes. Deafula. The poignant tale of a human-vampire hybrid who must satisfy his lust for blood while seeking out his destiny, Deafula stands out as one of the very few (if not the only) deaf-produced vampire films created before the era of YouTube. Of course, it's also a hilariously cheesy movie, but who can resist the drawing power of a horror movie ... in ASL? We only have a tape available in our Deaf Copy 1 room, which means it can only be checked out for up to 2 hours and can't leave the Library -- but really, the Library's the best place to watch it; who has a VCR at home nowadays?

That wraps it up for this week. Many thanks to Diana, and we'll see you next week with some recommendations from the only local alien who could make a Xenomorph run for its life: Laura Jacobi!

Question of the Week
I'm a member of the faculty, and I'm looking for a place to give a test to my students. Does the Library offer any special testing areas where I can do this, and maybe a proctor, too?
The short answer is no. The only service we provide for testing is space -- you're welcome to bring your students here for a test (the study carrels by the big window on Kendall Green in the basement are especially good for this purpose), but we don't have a specific location in the Library for it, nor do we provide any proctoring services.

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