Painting by Jan Matejko Stańczyk.
The trickster is an archetype that appeared in the myths of many different cultures and is still popular with writers today. These characters are rule-breakers and agents of chaos; they are often animals (e.g. foxes, crows, coyotes), travellers, or even shapeshifters able to cross boundaries between worlds. For this reason they sometimes function as a guide or messenger, like the Greek god Hermes. Characteristically, the trickster is clever and creative. They generally lie to obtain sex, food, or just to get out of something they don’t want to do, using their wit to outsmart of the Man/the Establishment/the gods/what have you.
Since they are so unpredictable and paradoxical, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what the perfect definition of a trickster is. As Lewis Hyde puts it in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art:
[The] best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found – sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.
I have set three ground rules for this list:
a. The horror is either supernatural or its precise nature is left open to interpretation – nothing clearly caused by people and their madness alone. This rules out works like A Rose for Emily, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Great Expectations, and The Yellow Wallpaper.
b. The story has to take place in an actual house; no Castle of Otranto or The Shining.
c. The house is the main setting of the story and/or the horror in question is tied to the house in some way.
There is something about mazes and labyrinths that fascinates me – the sense of mystery while you’re solving a carefully constructed puzzle, the darkness enveloping you more and more as you wander its paths… And I am not alone in this. Many authors have used labyrinths as the setting for their stories, and some have taken it even one step further, creating abstract labyrinths that only exist in the mind.
Are you ready to get lost?
We all love our Dickensian tales about evil stepmothers and adorable orphans who have to make their own way in a dark world – but sometimes they get lucky. Fiction has given us some of the most loving and supportive adoptive parents you will ever see, and these ten foster families particularly warm my heart.
Much like Fragile Things before it (review here), Gaiman’s third short-story collection, Trigger Warning, is a collection of bits and pieces, scraps of stories that he has collected over the years and has now thrown together into a single volume. In the introduction, Gaiman admits that this book does not play by the rules:
I firmly believe that short story collections should be the same sort of thing all the way through. They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers. They should not, in short, contain horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry, all in the same place. They should be respectable.
This collection fails that test.
The good news is that the quality of Trigger Warning‘s material does not vary quite as wildly as the entries in Fragile Things did. Some tales are still significantly better than others, but overall, the bar has undoubtedly been raised; it seems that Gaiman is still growing as a writer and getting better all the time, making world domination a likely prediction for, say, 2020. There are still some duds in here though, ranging from generally “meh” to deeply silly, which is why I decided this collection only three stars, like Fragile Things before it.
“Histoires Naturelles” by Juliette Bates.
In the second installment of the Halloween reading lists (the first: monster literature), we are going to tackle a different form of fiction: the short story. There is a wide selection of monsters, curses, mysterious forces, and existential horror on this list, and all of them bite-sized for a quick fix of creepiness.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
I find it difficult to describe how The Ocean at the End of the Lane affected me, but I think it comes down to a two key elements: childhood and mythology.
“Cabinet of Curiosities” (1690s, Domenico Remps).
Reviewing a short story collection is always tricky; in most cases, the quality of the material vastly differs every couple of pages, ranging from absolute genius to “why did you even bother including this.” Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges excepted, of course. Borges is forever and always the exception to every rule ever.