Images most horrifying

The Bat-winged Hamburger Snatcher at the Magic Cookie Bush, Dan O’Neill (courtesy

Day 2 of Witch Week, and I’m honored that my review of villains in graphic novels is featured today over at Calmgrove.

And someday I may explain all about the Bat-winged Hamburger Snatcher, who is, alas, NOT included in my Witch Week list of graphic novel villains. There just wasn’t enough room.

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Witchy art cards, from the NYPL

On Hallowe’en, 1908, NYPL collection, Image ID: 1587792

Thanks to the bloggers at the NYPL, you can find images of a few great Halloween-themed art cards from the Library’s collection here.

Hallowe’en Greeting, 1917, NYPL collection, Image ID: 1587794

Happy Haunting!

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Ghoulish image

Because there can never be too much Poe available on this spooky day, here’s a little something I spotted at a recent art show (IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair) in NYC:


“Edgar Allen Poe”, Horst Janssen (1929 – 1995), color etching, 1988

It was for sale, but I reluctantly left it there. Too much art, too little money.


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A frosty queen

First up for Witch Week, Laurie from Relevant Obscurity explores Narnia’s arch villain, Jadis. Read what Laurie has to say about this infamous evil queen at Calmgrove.

And as a little Halloween treat, this oldie from Sesame Street:

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Witch Week 2019 Begins

Witch Week — 7 days inspired by the writings of Diana Wynne Jones and dedicated to the appreciation of fantastical books — is here at last.

This is the second year that Chris at Calmgrove and I have co-hosted the event. Head on over to Chris’s on-line home to find out what villainous creatures we’ll be letting loose over the next few days. And we hope you’ll join us for a discussion of Diana Wynne Jones’ Cart & Cwidder.

Sign outside Sugar Hill Cafe, Harlem

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The dark sea beckons

The Blue Whale of Catoosa, Route 66, Oklahoma. Please note that Moby-Dick never smiled.

Chris at Calmgrove has announced this on his blog, so I guess I can’t back out now: He and I are going to spend the November days after the end of Witch Week reading and blogging about Melville’s monster-book, Moby-Dick, appropriate for this year of Herman Melville’s 200th birthday.

My faithful readers will know that I’ve spent a good part of the year reading around Melville, letting others take on the task of writing their thoughts on the big book itself. But those other bloggers have tempted me with their posts, and when Chris hinted this might be his year to read all of Moby-Dick, I decided to join him.

We haven’t made any plans yet about how this will happen as a joint project, but I know we’ll come up with something to keep our readers hoping for more. So, as the year moves deeper into autumn, let me give you this quote from Andrew Delbanco’s 2001 essay, on why “Melville has never looked better”:

In our own moment of horror and heroism, it is a book more salient than ever — unflinchingly honest about the human capacity for hate and brutality, yet filled with an undiscourageable love of humanity.

Yep, I could use a bit of that right now.

Posted in Am reading, Seafaring | Tagged | 4 Comments

Fortean doings

A bonus post for R.I.P. XIV (Readers Imbibing Peril) — what more could anyone ask of this week before Halloween?

Today, a YA trilogy drawn from Edison’s and Tesla’s rivalry that raises important questions about morality, mixed in with some scientific paradoxes:

The Accelerati Trilogy (Tesla’s Attic, 2014; Edison’s Alley, 2015; Hawking’s Hallway, 2016), Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman).

Nick Slate, haunted by his mother’s death, discovers some odd items in the attic of his new home in Colorado Springs. Nick gets rid of most of them at a garage sale, but then realizes they’re Nicola Tesla’s inventions and tries to reclaim them — blender, fan, globe, bat, mitt, floor lamp, tape recorder, and so on — each seemingly harmless, until you hit the ON button. Nick’s efforts pit him against The Accelerati, a group of ruthless scientists who want to put Tesla’s inventions to “better” use (i.e., making money for them). Through the three books, Nick and his friends are involved in increasingly complicated and life-threatening scientific puzzles, barely managing to stay one step ahead of the scientists.

No spoilers here, so I will only say that Shusterman and Elfman have created a funny, frightening world full of imminent disasters, set in motion by a floor lamp. How does this series qualify as an entry for RIP? Well, for one thing, innocent adults and children meet some gruesome ends, but even more critical is the rising tension as Nick and his middle-school buddies search for and reclaim each “Teslanoid Object”. In Edison’s Alley, one chapter, involving the rescue of a musical instrument, left me shaking (yes, I succumb to suspenseful writing all the time, even when I know it’s “just a story”; that’s why I try to avoid certain books and films — I can’t take the racing heart and fear — yes, FEAR — that something bad will happen — and I’m NEVER WRONG — something bad ALWAYS HAPPENS).

These books are hilarious. The fates awaiting certain characters (good and bad) are perfect, and I couldn’t get enough of one student’s strangely apt malapropisms (“Every clown has a silver lining” and “Jealousy is a green-eyed mobster”, for instance).

Shusterman and Elfman often drop into a philosophical mood while Nick and the other students wrestle with seemingly random facts or deep moral issues. When one student starts to put two and two together in Edison’s Alley, the authors pull away from the story a moment to give us something to consider:

Humans have the uncanny ability to distance themselves from anything real. Sometimes, for their own protection, they create stories that pass for history because creating meaning is so much easier than searching for it.

In Hawking’s Hallway, a servant argues that she doesn’t work for an “evil genius” — she says that he’s “morally ambiguous”. This moral ambiguity is critical to the story, forcing us to decide how we would behave under similar circumstances. Does working for the enemy make you like that enemy? What if you’re blackmailed into doing it? Can we live with moral ambiguity? Or do we always expect clear demarcations between good and bad?

But some evil is unquestionably 100% evil, which the authors make clear in this aside:

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but, sadly, she is often a mother who dies in childbirth. Instead, invention is usually raised by its wicked stepmother: greed.

And, later in the same chapter: “Human nature is a dance between self-interest and generosity of spirit.”

Greedy self-interest vs generosity: Where do your dancing shoes take you?

“Fortean” = full of paranormal phenomena, from Charles Fort, who collected news reports of paranormal events (raining frogs, disappearances, etc) and who is briefly mentioned in Edison’s Alley. Shusterman and Elfman cram these books with all kinds of paranormal phenomena, none of which involve beings from other planets.

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