Daphne deals with the nature of gods in chapter 17 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt

Bastet statue in British Museum
(Credit: Wikipedia/Einsamer Schütze

What do you do when an eight-foot tall alien prostrates herself in front of you and grabs your foot with her hand? This is not a question Daphne Vane had ever expected to be asked, let alone have it become an actual issue in her life. Especially while she’s still held in a prison cell, with an arm and leg chained to the floor.

Turns out Daphne’s going to get some answers as to just what’s been happening to her. These are answers she’s going to need, and soon, like within hours. Read “. . . comes the thunder,” chapter 17 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt, my weekly serial about a young American woman with a very strange heritage which might prove her salvation or her doom.

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Oh You Sexy Monster, You! (NSFW)

It’s time for the “Oh You Sexy Monster, You!” awards, Sillyverse edition. This award post is the result of a conversation over at the Sci-Fi & Scary blog, in which I casually challenged its two authors to come up with a list of five monsters that they found inappropriately sexy. They took me at my word, and wrote a post which took my challenge in a, eh, um, very phallic direction (NSFW). Also a very humorous one, if you like that sort of humor. (I do.)

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. There is no way I can equal the humor, to say nothing of the visuals, of Lilyn’s and GracieKat’s choices. Indeed, I was going to offer, shall we say, a limp response. But their post convinced me to do it right, do it the hard way. So here we go.

Monster #1: The Thing, from “Who Goes There?” the 1938 novella by John W. Campbell (writing as Don A. Stuart), most memorably made into the movie The Thing (1982) by John Carpenter. If you don’t know this movie, take a look at the trailer. The Thing is an alien creature hostile to all other life forms. It kills and consumes them, and then is capable of perfectly imitating them . . . in every way. If it turns itself into a cow, it gives perfectly good milk. If it turns itself into a sexy woman, well, you can guess. Of course, if it gets the opportunity, it will kill you instead. Might be the best argument for having sex with other people watching.

Hi, want a hot date? I’m hot enough to die for.

I pick the Thing over many other creatures that can appear to be sexy women, such as the creature from the very first broadcast Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap” (1966), because the Thing actually becomes an exact physical copy of the woman, whereas so many others just cast an illusion of looking like one (as does the Star Trek creature in the photo to left).

Monster #2: The unnamed angel/demon played by Kate Bush in her video for the song “Experiment IV.” Rumor would have it that in her early days Kate Bush could shatter glass and drive dogs crazy with her high notes; see the original recording of “Wuthering Heights,” her first hit in 1978. I’ve been a fan of hers since seeing the video of 1985’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” “Experiment IV” involves a classified military experiment that goes wrong. Just watch the video. You’ll understand.

Ancient worshipers of Dionysus, the maenads, ripped people to pieces. Fun, eh?

Monster #3: The supernatural maenad Maryann Forrester in season 2 of the television series True Blood (who is radically different from the book version). She will reach into your emotions and encourage you to wilder and wilder fits of emotional abandon. You’ll experience orgiastic frenzies, unleash your anger by beating up people and being beaten up by them, and even turn cannibal, enjoying all these experiences to their sensual fullness. You’ll end up dying one way or another, but, as with The Thing, you’ll have had a lot of fun in the meantime. Oh, and I have a sentimental fondness for the actress who played the maenad, Michelle Forbes, because she was the endearing Ensign Ro Laren in several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Monster #4: Many a young lad, as he hits puberty, is attracted to some sexy character in literature, television, or film. The YouTube channel Screen Junkies even makes a joke about how many boys of the right age fell in lust with Emma Watson playing Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. Well, one of the characters a young Brian was attracted to was the young miss on this American paperback book cover circa 1965, and the charming description Daphne du Maurier gives of the young lady in the 1952 short story of the same name. She’s fully human, but she’s a monster, mad and deadly. However, I don’t meet her criterion for killing, so I’d be safe.


This is NOT how Lady Sylvia looks in the movie. It’s one of the book’s original illustrations of Lady Arabella, created by Pamela Coleman Smith, who did the illustrations for the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

Monster #5: Lady Arabella/Sylvia Marsh from “The Lair of the White Worm,” originally a Bram Stoker novel (1911) (where her name is Arabella), very loosely adapted into a movie (where her name is Sylvia) by Ken Russell in 1988. I go with the movie version on this one. As played by Amanda Donohoe, Lady Sylvia is exotically hot. But she is a very, very bad date, since she’s the double of the title character, and will violate you with everything from fangs to a strap-on dildo (my one concession to Lilyn and GracieKat). And, to return to the book for a moment, the ending scene is often described as the symbolic destruction of a vagina. I have to caution you: many people will find both the original book and the movie to be offensive and/or bad entertainment. The book demonstrates that the author of Dracula did not know how to reproduce his success in later novels, and unexpurgated versions contain a number of offensive racial terms. The movie features scenes of sexuality and images that might be considered blasphemous. YouTube won’t let me link to the original trailer, but here’s a link to the trailer for the Blu-ray release, which will give you the flavor of the movie.

And there you have it. I hope this list has entertained, maybe even intrigued you to check out some of these creatures. And I also hope that no one’s going to call the padded cell boys to come pick me up.

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Daphne is beastly in chapter 16 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt

Daphne Vane literally had something happen to her for which there were no words. But even what could not be described still has devastating consequences. Daphne faces not just the ruin of her mission, but possibly the permanent loss of her freedom, as she confronts her jailer over the meaning of her traumatic experience. It all goes down in “After the lightning strikes . . .” chapter 16 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt, my weekly serial about a young American woman who is far, far different from what she appears to be.

A woman in chains, as Daphne is in this chapter, is often a subject for paintings and sculptures with an erotic content. I saw this sculpture of Andromeda, chained as a sacrifice to a sea monster, in the studio of Daniel Chester French (1850 – 1931). It so much impressed me with its power at the time that I bought a poster of it that looked similar to this photo, and hung it in my office at work.

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Dwarf hospitality in chapter 15 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt


Daphne Vane’s just escaped from being attacked by a panther, only to fall into the hands of the dwarves of legend and myth. She may be half-dwarf herself, but she knows next to nothing about these people. And it turns out they aren’t sure what they know about her! See Daphne get caught in a truly unspeakable situation in “Prisoner of fate,” chapter 15 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt, my weekly serial about a young American woman’s quest to assert her identity. If you haven’t been reading it before, you can start at the beginning. All the chapters are hyperlinked to the previous and succeeding chapters.

In preparing this post, I ran across mention of the delightful dwarf statues in Wrocław, Poland. There are now several hundred of these scattered around the city. So I’ve posted pictures of two of them here. (Picture credit to Wikipedia/Pnapora for both; sculptors’ names not given, unfortunately.)


And like last week, this chapter is up ahead of schedule. I’ll spare you the details of my busy life, except to say I’m having great fun teaching a course on “American Political Scandals.” I hope next week I get back to my regular schedule.


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Exiled and confused in chapter 14 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt

A forest at twilight can be quite ominous.
(“Landscape in the Forest at Compiègne” by Paul Huet (1803-69))

Daphne Vane has three and a half days to find her father in the very strange land the dwarves of legend now inhabit. Pity she only had one hour to be briefed on conditions and prepare any gear. But given a choice between braving the unknown dangers of an alien forest, and marrying one of the pathetic demigods the Council has chosen as her suitors, she’ll take Exile, thank you! Still, Daphne can’t escape unwanted attention while in the woods, as she finds out in “A night in Exile,” chapter 14 of To Ride the Lightning Bolt, my weekly serial about a young woman whose life is definitely not the cat’s pajamas right now.

I expect that due to weather and other circumstances, I won’t be on the Internet for a few days. That’s why I’m posting this chapter two days early. So I might be a bit slow in approving and replying to your comments. Please be patient.

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In memoriam: Robin St. John Conover (1944 – 2008)

It’s her birthday today, so I thought I would say a few words about my first Internet friend, Robin St. John Conover. We met in an online Brontë forum. I was the amateur, just reading my way through all the sisters’ novels, not just the famous ones, and contemplating graduate school. She was the pro, working on her Ph.D., an analysis of Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia. Turned out she was also on the other side of the continent, studying at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

We hit it off, so our conversations gradually expanded to cover other topics in our lives. I was trying to cope with beginning graduate school in New York City. She was hunting for a son she’d given up for adoption years before. (She found him, which made her very happy.) We talked about politics, literature, and life. It was fun, the way I’ve always hoped the Internet could be.

I met her only once. Robin had been an “Ada” at Smith College, recipient of a special scholarship for “nontraditional” undergraduates, and wanted to attend her class reunion. But she had been cruelly felled by a stroke just after completing her dissertation. Managing such a trip would strain her resources in many ways. I was living in Amherst, only a few miles from Smith College, and offered to let her stay in our apartment while she attended the reunion. We didn’t get much chance to talk, but that was understood from the start: Robin needed to conserve her energies for the reunion. All I could really do, then, was to offer her a place to rest. And that she got.

Not long after, we somehow fell out of touch on the Internet. So it wasn’t until several years afterward that I discovered Robin had died, appropriately through an Internet search turning up her obituary. And I learned there was a lot about Robin I didn’t know but would like to have known. We hadn’t exhausted all the things we could have talked about. Isn’t that true for every friendship?

So here’s to the memory of my first Internet friend. I have no picture of you, Robin, so I’m going to post a picture of the person at the heart of your dissertation, instead.

Charlotte is usually identified as the sister on the right. (Anne to the left, Emily in the middle.)

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Review: uncertain narrators in horror: novels by Hogg and Tryon

Live head cast of James Hogg (1770-1835)

We tend to think of the unreliable narrator as a 20th century development. The unreliable narrator rejects the apparent objectivity of the omniscient narrator so beloved by the Victorians, warning us that all knowledge is subjective, all stories told from a viewpoint. So it’s a bit of a shock to run into the unreliable narrator in a pre-Victorian novel, 1824’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1770-1835).

Confessions is a horror story of man who takes the Presbyterian doctrine of predestination to its logical, or perhaps illogical, extreme: because God has determined from the beginning of time who will be saved and who will be damned, and because no man can be save by his own efforts, it follows that no man can be damned by his own efforts. Convinced he is among those who will be saved, our protagonist lies, steals, and kills in the name of God. And he does so at the suggestion of an individual who or may not be the Devil.

Confessions offers us two narrators, the first by a man supplying what is commonly known about the events involving the protagonist, and the second, a memoir composed by the protagonist himself. The contrast is an effective way of signaling the unreliability of both narratives, the first for not necessarily being correct, the second for not necessarily being honest.

The unreliability of the narrators serves two purposes. Hogg portrays the protagonist’s hypocrisy effectively. And he leaves us in doubt as to the reality of the supernatural elements.

Before he became a writer, Tryon (1926-1991) was a Hollywood actor

Jump a century and a half, and we reach The Other, Thomas Tryon’s 1971 novel that helped kick off the horror craze of the 1970s. In many ways, The Other resembles Confessions. There are, in effect, two narrators, and we have strong reasons for doubting the accuracy of what either of them says.

Yet The Other is clearly a story of madness, although that madness is only slowly revealed as we turn the pages. Niles Perry becomes increasingly worried as his twin brother Holland shows signs of reckless and criminal behavior. The question of what Niles can do to stop Holland gets tangled up in the issue of how complicit Niles is in his brother’s behavior. The unreliable narrators keep us confused while setting up the problem, and ultimately they also provide a definitive horrific resolution.

Tryon is more subtle than Hogg. Hogg aims to expose hypocrisy, Tryon to undermine our certainty with madness. Hogg’s two narrators have completely different perspectives; Tryon’s are intimately related. Paradoxically, by the end we can be certain of what happened in The Other, while uncertainty lingers when one puts down Confessions.

Overall, both novels use their unreliable narrators to portray self-delusion. Whether hypocrisy or madness is the source (and are they so different?), the result is a protagonist who cannot admit the reality of who he is and what he has done. Curiously, the conclusion is both heartening and disturbing. It would seem that people wish to be good, and do not wish to be bad, yet are fully capable or rationalizing or irrationalizing their bad behavior.

Much of Confessions is set in old Edinburgh

It’s worth reading these two novels back to back, as I did, to get a broad idea of how the unreliable narrator can be used effectively in horror. If you have time for only one? Hogg will give you a supernatural story set in old Scotland with a depiction of moral depravity. Tryon will give you a sentimental account of an American childhood from several decades ago that has gone very, very wrong. Let your tastes be your guide.

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