Four star Amazon review

“Some books are fantasy and other books are novels placed in a fantasy setting. This first novel by Kathryn Ramage is indeed set in a wondrous, rich and beautiful fantasy setting.”

~&~

“The characters are realistic and well done, with deep and well crafted emotions and conflicts. There’s romance, loss, love, reconciliation, anger, and much more.”

~&~

“And yes, the Father is a great and powerful wizard (he reminds me a bit of Elric), and Orlan, his son (the protagonist) has great magical potential. We see part of Orlans magical training, and a few instances where his father wields his magical power.

“But- there’s no dragons slain, no princess rescued, no epic battle scenes, no worlds saved from a Dark Lord. Thus, this may be a very good book for those tired of the ‘same-old, same-old’ and who would like a good novel that has a fantasy setting.”
A novel about a boy growing up- in a fantasy setting, by Wulfstan, April 18, 2011

The Cat and the Canary

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve taken a recent interest in recreations of old-style film genres. A Dark and Stormy Night, which is a spoof and loving recreation of the Old Dark House movies of the 1920s and 30s, has led me to seek out as many of these movies as I can find.

I’ve started out with the 1928 silent version of The Cat and the Canary. On viewing, it’s immediately apparent that this is the movie that A Dark and Stormy Night follows most closely. The Cat and the Canary begins with an old man dying and leaving his will to be read twenty years after his death. His surviving potential heirs–one elderly aunt and five cousins, most of whom must’ve been children at the time of their uncle’s death–show up at his spooky-looking house in the middle of the night for this reading of the will, and are greeted by a dour housekeeper who could give Mrs. Danvers some hints on how to be creepy. Everything is left to one niece, Annabella, but the family lawyer has a second document in a sealed envelope containing the name of an alternate heir if Annabella is deemed insane by a doctor’s examination. Before this second envelope can be opened, however, the lawyer is murdered and the envelope disappears with him. There are secret panels all over the place, and a mysterious hand emerges from the draperies over the heiress’s bed. Oh, and there’s a murderous lunatic escaped from a nearby asylum running around either outside or inside the house.

As the above description suggests, The Cat and the Canary‘s plotting and stage elements introduce several haunted house and murder mystery tropes that would be reused by everyone from Agatha Christie to Scooby Doo until they became standard genre cliches. I’d never seen this film before, but it felt like I’d seen parts of it a dozen times.

In spite of being recycled to death, The Cat and the Canary remains extremely entertaining for a film over 80 years old. It’s a fast-moving story, and features some imaginative and interesting imagery: The opening scene shows the old man sitting in his wheelchair before the silhouette of his multi-towered house, which then dissolves into a collection of enormous medicine bottles, then a group of bad-tempered cats surround this ill and elderly “canary.” A clock’s inner workings striking the chimes at midnight are superimposed over the reading of the will. When a painting of the old man falls suddenly off the wall, the reactions of the family are shown from the falling painting’s point of view.

The movie also seems surprisingly “talky” for a silent film. Title cards are not overused, and the actors appear to be speaking their actual lines so that the viewer can often follow what they’re saying without seeing an accompanying text. When Annabella describes how her diamond necklace–part of her inheritance–was snatched from her by the aforementioned hand emerging from the bed draperies, her agitated gestures and her family’s dubious looks tell us all we need to know about the situation. The mystery and spooky-house elements of the story are balanced by comic relief, mostly provided by the fussy aunt and one nebbishy cousin who is sweet on Annabella. While not all the comedy still works well, the filmmakers also have a little fun with the title cards they do use. When someone speaks of GHOSTS, the word appears in a large and wavy font. When the aunt swears at her nephew, the screen fills with the sort of expletive-deleted characters ones sees in comic strips.

Why are Laurel and her family so overfair? (Maiden In Light version)

While the family’s overly fair appearance is a literary device to make them instantly recognizable as related, in Maiden in Light, it also gives them an aura of being truly strange and exotic people.

Lord Ambris’s encounter with Laurel in the first chapter of this story not only foreshadows his introduction to the rest of her family, but also suggests that the staid and dutiful nobleman has touched upon a magical experience, with just a hint of romance. While he lives in a world where magicians exist, they aren’t the sort of people one encounters in ordinary circumstances. But here is this extraordinary girl. When Ambris meets Laurel’s aunt Kaiese and young cousins later that same day, their fair coloring tells him that the four are related. While the lady and her daughters are not overtly magical themselves, their relationship to the wizard Redmantyl, whom Ambris knows slightly, makes them all the more intriguing to him.

When he leaves New York, the experience stays with Ambris. Although many years pass before he sees Laurel again after this first, brief encounter, he does not forget her.

Why are Lord Redmantyl’s family so overfair? (Wizard’s Son version)

It began as a literary short-hand. When I wrote my first draft of this book’s opening scene many years ago, both Orlan and Redmantyl had ordinary skin and hair color. But that immediately presented me with a problem: A wizard might be able to recognize his previously unseen child at first meeting, but how would the little boy know that this was his father? And how would anyone else know? DNA testing doesn’t exist in a medieval-type world, and it seemed unlikely that a man could show up and simply claim custody of a child without providing some undeniable proof of his right to do so. There needed to be some way to make the true relationship between the wizard and little boy plain right away to both readers and the characters in the story without bogging the plot down.

After playing with some ideas about birthmarks or distinctive patterns to the eyes, I decided to give them a sort of ultra-albino coloring, with very pale skin and silvery-fair hair.The wizard Redmantyl, his son, and other relatives are not true albinos, however; their eyes are pale blue or gray instead of pink. This appearance made them easily recognizable as members of the same family, and marked them as something rare and remarkable even among the magicians of their world.

Although this series is only at its very beginning, there may also eventually be an explanation for the odd appearance of my main characters later on.

Another excerpt from “Maiden In Light”

Laurel has a dream about a fire:
____________________________

A shower of sparks burst from her. Fire caught wherever they fell, feeding on the stone,  the dead trees, the rags and flesh of the crowd, and grew rapidly, intertwined, rose together in one tower of flame that spurted heavenward. As this raging spire of red-gold surrounded her, the scene melted and changed—no longer a night valley, but the farms
and homes of a little village caught afire. She watched, horrified, as thatched roofs went up and walls crashed inward. Chimneys toppled. The tall grass about a well on the common green withered and crumbled to ashes. Yet the screams of the crowd continued unceasing
in her ears. And the living darkness spread and spread relentlessly, consuming devastated land and sobbing victims at a touch, smoothing ruin and terror into the peace of oblivion. It would swallow the flame eventually.

Laurel woke. She shrieked and swatted blindly at the bedclothes before she realized that they were not burning. There was no fire.  But her pulse pounded. Her heart blazed. Her nerves thrilled with released energies and magic glowed bright on her skin. A warning keen of immediate danger rang through her head, yet the night was undisturbed by any menace. No smoke. No sparks. The bed linen was not scorched…

Continue reading “Another excerpt from “Maiden In Light””

Film Review: The Call of Cthulhu

HPLHS Logo I’d heard about this film some time ago, but only saw it for the first time recently. It’s a silent movie, made in 2005 but filmed as if it were the 1920s.

I’ve seen a number of Lovecraft-based movies over the years–a few pretty good, others passable, and some dreadful–and this is the most faithful adaptation of one of his stories I’ve seen yet.

The story follows the novella of the same name with only minor changes. The main protagonist reads the notes, newspaper articles, and other information gathered by his late granduncle about certain gruesome cults around the world that worship idols of a crouching figure, with “cuttlefish head, dragon body, scaly wings”. Strange events that culminate in March of 1925 suggest that the creature represented, called “Cthulhu” by its cultists, isn’t mythic but lies dreaming in a sunken city in the Pacific.

Cthulhu statue These events are shown in flashback scenes as the protagonist reads about them: his uncle’s conversation with a young local artist who had fantastic dreams of the sunken city and sculpted his own bas relief of Cthulhu; a police raid on a cult in Louisiana swamps; an attack by another cult group in the Arctic on an explorer; and finally the account of the lone survivor of a Norwegian boat lost in the South Pacific about the island risen from the sea that he and his crewmates discovered… and what they accidentally awakened there.

After years of modernized Lovecraft, sexed-up Lovecraft, and Lovecraft dressed up to look like Poe, this is a welcome relief, and a delight to watch.

The film is obviously a labor of love by its makers. I especially liked the care taken with the look of the film:

  • The fonts on the title cards and even the copyright warnings.
  • The scratches and other artifacts on the film to make it look like a long-lost movie from the 1920s.
  • The twisted Cabinet-of-Dr.-Caligari-esque sets for the dream sequences and the city of R’yleh.
  • The shadowed eye make-up on the actors.
  • The stop-motion model of the dread Cthulhu, which reminds me of the work of Willis O’Brien.

For the moMatt Foyerst part, it looks like the 1920s. Some of the actors don’t look quite “period,” however, which makes me ponder exactly what it is that makes some people appear too modern and out-of-place in period pieces. Is it their hair? Their expressions? It’s not always an obvious quality.

But Matt Foyer, who plays the central protagonist, definitively has a face for silent pictures.

I’ve been taking an interest in this type of film, where the filmmakers–usually a small and independent production–use the techniques, sets, and acting styles of an earlier time. Larry Blamire’s spoof and loving recreation of the Old Dark House movies of the 1930s is another example I’ve recently become enamored with.

Dream sceneA friend has suggested that I get some actors to perform a scene from one of my novels and film it for YouTube; my publisher and I have discussed it and decided it’s far beyond our abilities to put together the sets, costumes, and other aspects of production necessary even to film a short fantasy scene competently. I’m therefore all the more impressed when I consider the amount of work and dedication that must go into making an entire independent film.

 

Excerpts from “The Wizard’s Son”

Orlan’s first night at his father’s castle:
______________________________________

That night, Orlan was put to bed in a small chamber near his father’s apartment. He woke later in strange darkness. Nothing was as it ought to be. The bed was too large and when he reached out he found nothing but cold sheets around him. He was used to sleeping at someone’s side. Where was Ellan? Where was Mama? Tonight, for the first time, he was alone. “Mama?”

With a sudden throb of renewed grief, he realized that his mother was gone. She was not here; he had left her at Lammouthe, a hundred miles away, and he would never see her again. Vividly, he saw her face again, eyes shut, blonde curls limp on the pillow, lips faintly blue.

Dead. His mother was dead.
Continue reading “Excerpts from “The Wizard’s Son””

This book is dedicated to Jane Austen and H.P. Lovecraft

Both are authors I discovered in my late teens and who have had an influence on my writing, but it’s an odd match-up. The two are radically different in tone as well as scope.

Austen focused her literary attention on personal and domestic scenes–what she called her “two inches of ivory,” portraits in miniature of families and social circles in country villages. Lovecraft’s vision, on the other hand, was of the incomprehensibly vast gulfs of time and space and things that lurked beyond the perceptions of the limited human sphere. So how does one reflect the influence of both at once?

In Maiden in Light, I’ve tried to do it via the experiences of my heroine Laurel. As a budding magician, Laurel has perceptions beyond the human norm and in the course of her apprenticeship with her wizard-uncle, gains a terrible knowledge of dark cosmic forces outside the cozy little world she has grown up in. When she returns to her old home in the city of New York* burdened by the responsibilities attendant on her knowledge, she lives among ordinary people who remain ignorant: her young cousins, her match-making aunt and Mr. Bennet-like uncle. The juxtaposition between Laurel’s duties as a magician and the petty social concerns of her family make up the second half of the novel.

New York is a medieval merchants’ city rather than a country village, but it does have gambrel-roofed houses with eaves nearly meeting across narrow and twisted streets, which Lovecraft so admired in Providence, RI.

_________

*Not to be confused with any reality-based New Yorks the reader may be familiar with.

 

 

Excerpts from “Maiden In Light” (continued)

One of the wizard’s apprentices shows Laurel how to cast a spell:
____________________________

“Olyr, will you show me a spell?”

“Very well.” Olyr felt at his pockets for a bit of charcoal, then knelt on the chalk-scarred wooden floor, which was regularly used by the apprentices for such exercises.

Laurel watched as he drew a great circle about himself. “Is that a pentacle or pentagram?” She had discovered both in her readings, but had not yet learned to distinguish between them.

“Pentacle,” he answered, proud to display his education. “A pentacle is a star within a circle. A pentagram is a pentagon. Either can be used to fix the elements of a spell. The five-pointed star represents the history of Mankind. God creates the earth.” He drew a
line down from the top of the circle to the bottom. “We rise from the dust to our mortal state.” An upward stroke, to a point midway on the circle’s rim. “We live our mortal lives.” A third line crossed the circle. “We die and descend to dust.” The next line went down. “But
we are redeemed and the immortal soul rises again into Heaven.” A final stroke joined the starting point at the top.

“I thought that the pentacle was diabolical.”

The apprentice laughed. “Laurel, I know no such crafts! My Lord says that necromancy is the corruption of a right magician and `tis a danger to study such evil. The black arts destroy and pervert. A sorcerer of such arts would draw his star upside-down, pointing
hellward. `Tis all the difference in the world! As we are God’s creation, we are protected within this sign. No evil may pass.” He pulled Laurel into the circle with him, wrote about the rim and placed a gyre—“to set motion”—at the top. In tones which rang loud in Laurel’s ears, he pronounced the words he had written.

Continue reading “Excerpts from “Maiden In Light” (continued)”