Friday, December 28, 2018

The Dialogue of TERROR IN THE AISLES (1984)

I have loved horror movies ever since I was a young child. My appreciation for horror literature however, would come later. While most horror movie documentaries concern the making of the film and the challenges in bringing the monster to life, Terror in the Aisles, from 1984, was the first movie that I remember that addressed the nature of horror itself. It has stuck with me for over thirty years.


No wonder these films give us nightmares. Or, is it our nightmares that give us these films?

An excerpt from the dialogue


T.E.M. Programs International presents a Kaleidoscope Films, Ltd. Production Terror in the Aisles. Terror in the Aisles was released in theaters in late 1984 by Universal Pictures with an 84 minute runtime. Building on the massive success of the Halloween and Friday the 13th movie franchises, this program is hosted and narrated by Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen. Nancy’s voice is gentle and sweet. While Donald’s, on the other hand, is creepy all by itself.


Terror in the Aisles is exclusively concerned with the genre of horror in films; though it does explore various subgenres of horror as well. In addition to the hosts’ dialogue, the documentary is made up of numerous movie clips. No dialogue from these clips will be included in this post. Only the words spoken by the two hosts will be documented here, with one exception. A sizeable excerpt from The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973) is included. It presents Hitchcock’s thoughts on the nature of horror and suspense in his own words and is thus worthy of inclusion.


Presented below is the complete dialogue, as described above, from the documentary. All screen captures from the film were executed by me. As a disclaimer, I should state that the presentation of the dialogue and screen captures is for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended.



Host: Donald Pleasance

Hostess: Nancy Allen


DONALD – 0:56

As you watch the screen, you heart begins to beat faster. There’s a fluttering in the pit of your stomach. Your throat is dry; your palms damp. Suddenly, a chill runs down your spine. You clutch the person next to you. You tell yourself, “It’s only a movie.”

It’s only a movie.


But sooner or later, it’s time to go home.


DONALD – 4:22

There’s no question about it. Some terror films go too far. But so do the audiences. First, they start grabbing each other; which is all very well, if you have a date. And before long, people are yelling at the character on the screen.


Get him!

NANCY – 5:24

It’s strange, isn’t it? In real life, nobody likes to think about violence, pain, blood and death. But project these experiences on a screen, and people form lines in the street.


That’s because a terror film is a lot like a roller-coaster ride. Only, you’re sitting in a theater, which is relatively safe

DONALD – 6:27

Maybe, deep down, we have a need to be scared. Why else do we go to these movies? Perhaps we’re taking a dare, proving to ourselves that we’re not afraid. Besides, there’s something delicious about fear; especially somebody else’s.

Scary movies tap into your childhood fears of the dark, and of being alone.

NANCY – 8:15

Young or old, we go to the movies to see out dreams and fantasies come to life.


But not all of our fantasies are wholesome and dignified.

DONALD – 8:26

In the privacy of our thoughts, we can be as childish as we like. And the little scenarios of power and revenge we conjure up can be quite satisfying. Resorting to violence to get back at someone might not be your cup of tea. But I’ll bet you’ve thought about it. We all carry around a certain amount of resentment and rage because we can’t let it out. In the movies, we can.

The question is why make up horrible things when there is so much real terror in the world? Perhaps we invent artificial horrors to help us cope with the real ones.


In 1974, a picture came out that was inspired by a true story. It was called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and in it, the character of Leatherface was based on Ed Gein, a mass murderer and grave robber who lived in a small, isolated town. Gein was a cannibal, a necrophile, and a transvestite. But he didn’t dress up in women’s clothes. He dressed up in their skin.

No wonder these films give us nightmares. Or, is it our nightmares that give us these films? That’s the trick isn’t it? Once the lights go down, whatever you see, whatever you can’t see, whatever you think you see, is out of your control. You’re at the mercy of the filmmakers.

DONALD – 15:15

When the camera takes on the point of view of the killer, we see what they see, not who they are.

NANCY – 16:05

Of course, you can always close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.

DONALD – 16:47

And yet, keeping your eyes open is a good idea, especially if you’re out on a night with a full moon, because you never know what’s in store for you. Years ago, when filmmakers wanted to transform someone into a werewolf, the actor just sat still and trick photography did all the work.

Today, people are more sophisticated. And becoming a werewolf can take a lot out of you. Combining skill, ingenuity, and a strong stomach, artists and technicians continue to defy logic, stagger the imagination, and astound our senses; all the time raising the stakes.

NANCY – 18:48

But special effects are not essential to a good movie. It’s the filmmaker’s technique that matters most. And the unquestioned master was Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock – 19:40

When I say that I’m not interested in content, it would be the same as a painter worrying about whether the apples that he’s paining, whether they’re sweet or sour. Who cares?


It’s his style, his manner of painting them. That’s where the emotion comes from.


This scene is forty-five seconds long, but was made up out of seventy-eight pieces of film coming onto the screen in great rapidity. But the overall impression given the audience is one of an alarming, devastation murder scene.

NANCY – 22:08

The fact is, from the moment you buy that ticket, you know you’re gonna get it. It’s just a question of how, where, and when. The name of the game is suspense.

DONALD – 23:22

In effect, the filmmaker says to the audience, “Now, get ready. You’re going to see something that’s going to scare you. But I’m not going to tell you when.”


You’re being programmed to go nuts.

Alfred Hitchcock – 25:33

The essential fact is, to get real suspense; you must let the audience have information. Now let’s take the old fashioned “bomb theory.”


You and I are sitting, talking, we’ll say about baseball. We’re talking for five minutes. Suddenly, a bomb goes off, and the audience have [sic] a ten second terrible shock.

Now, let’s take the same situation, tell the audience at the beginning that under the table, and show it to them, there’s a bomb, and it’s gonna go off in five minutes. And we talk baseball. What are [sic] the audience doing? They’re saying, “Don’t talk about baseball, there‘s a bomb under there. Get rid of it.”


But they’re helpless. They can’t jump out of their seats up onto the screen and grab hold of the bomb and throw it out.

DONALD – 27:10

Shock and surprise are very different from suspense. If you want to shock people, you just have to catch them off guard, and then clobber them.

That was shocking, wasn’t it?


But suspense can be equally brutal.

Terror owes its very existence to the one group of characters devoted to its cause—the villains. From the dangerously disturbed to the thoroughly demented, they run the gamut in age, appearance, even occupation. And yet, they can be encouraging. They can be disarming. They can be reassuring. You may even be married to one. So that even when you’re certain of who they really are, there’s still no guarantee that you’re safe. At times we can’t help but marvel at their cleverness. Slick and calculating, when it comes to cruelty, they seem so self assured. The most compelling villains are often the most confident. For each villain brings a style and method to his madness. Untroubled by conscience, their capacity for evil has no limit. Some are capable of doing anything. In the end, they simply don’t distinguish between right and wrong. Perhaps they don’t know the difference. Perhaps they just don’t care. Whether they are ruthless, desperate or totally deranged, however unstable the villains, they are the ultimate figures in power. So no matter how much they make us hate them, they know how to make us watch them.

NANCY – 40:41

We are all born helpless. As infants, we’re dependant on others for food, shelter, for life itself. We’re totally vulnerable. Slowly but surely, we learn to be afraid. We’re taught the difference between right and wrong. And yet, we’re only human, and we sometimes take foolish risks. Even when we know it’s dangerous. By the time we regret what we’ve done, it may already be too late. But what’s most frightening of all is that for reasons beyond our control, for reasons beyond our comprehension, or worst of all, for no reason whatsoever at anytime, at anyplace, we may find ourselves a victim.

Since vulnerability is the key, the victim is usually alone.


And unfortunately, in these movies, the victim is almost always a woman. To make thing worse, she maybe fully aware of the danger, but helpless to do anything about it, giving the villains an edge they’re only too willing to exploit. On the other hand, she may be totally unaware that se is in any danger at all.

DONALD – 51:18

You don’t have to be looking for trouble to find it. Evil can come from anywhere. Arriving mysteriously from outer space, or appearing suddenly here on Earth, on land or at sea. Environments once familiar, even pleasurable, become bewildering and ominous, concealing and protecting the enemy, while leaving us exposed. But of course, nature is not always to blame.

Malevolent life forms from other worlds may jeopardize our position as the supreme beings on this planet. How do we fight what we don’t understand? How can we triumph over the unknown? Evil doesn’t have to come from another world to control life here on Earth.

Our oldest fear, the devil himself, can take on any form; even that of a child.


More frightening still, are those who worship the power of evil.

The potential for evil may be hidden within all of us. Most of us never discover it. Some of us do. Who are we? What is inside us? And what if that which we held back suddenly were let go? In a world where evil plays without rules, no one is beyond reach. It’s no longer a question of what’s to become of us. But rather, what we are to become.

NANCY – 62:23

Now what’s the one thing these films have in common? People in trouble. And what’s the easiest way to get into trouble? Sex. And it always has been.


Even in real life, sex has its dangers. Because it makes people take chances. But usually, they survive. In a terror film, you don’t even have to take a chance. Just take a walk alone at night, and that may be the last we see of you. A moonlight swim in the nude is definitely a bad idea. In the bedroom, anything can happen. Heaven help you if sex is your profession. These films will put an end to your career, permanently.

In terror films, sex rarely ends with pleasure.


It ends in violence.

And since you’re never more vulnerable than when you’re naked, the bathroom is the most dangerous place of all.

DONALD – 71:35

In the beginning, horror films were dominated by the classic figures: Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man. But as the years passed they began to lose their shock value and found themselves being used to create the opposite effect. As horror and comedy became more intertwined, it was hard to know how to react.

Or, how to feel.


It’s only a movie…It’s only a movie.

But sooner or later, you must leave the theater…and go home.


Perhaps, alone.




While Terror in the Aisles is presented in a clip-show format (meaning that it is primarily comprised of numerous clips from movies), what makes this film a valuable example of an early documentary of horror movies are the hosts’ dialogue. Their words, in my opinion, offer superb comments on the philosophy and psychology behind horror films, as well as an early attempt to place the horror movie in a larger societal context.

Though not necessarily Academy Award material, Terror in the Aisles performed surprisingly well. According to its entry in IMDB, the film grossed over $10 million at the box office! This might not seem any great amount, but remember, this was for a horror movie documentary released in theaters in 1984. Pretty damn impressive, I say. And yet, despite this more-than-decent box office showing, most critics back then (and indeed now) gave the film negative reviews. (Being completely honest, I don’t put much stock in movie critics.)


“No wonder these films give us nightmares. Or, is it our nightmares that give us these films?” For me, this one statement of two sentences is probably one of the most profound expressions concerning the nature of horror that I have ever encountered. More than any one thing, this statement reinvigorated my love of horror as an adult and set me upon that road which I am still happily exploring. Terror in the Aisles, via the hosts’ spoken words, seeks to not only express the shared joy of the horror genre in film and print, but far more importantly, strives to understand why there IS a horror genre in the first place.



Print Resources

Digital Resources

Terror in the Aisles. Dir. Andrew J. Kuehn. Hosts Donald Pleasance & Nancy Allen. Universal Pictures. Oct. 1984. Online. 20 November 2017.

Online Resources

Fure, Robert. “31 Days of Horror: Terror in the Aisles.” Film School Rejects. Reject Media 2018. 01 November 2011. Web. 21 December 2018.

Gallman, Brett. “Terror in the Aisles (1984).” Oh, the Horror! 18 September 2011. Web. 21 December 2018.

Horrorpedia contributors. “Terror in the Aisles – USA, 1984.” Horrorpedia. 10 September 2016. Web. 19 December 2018.

Roscoe, J.P. “Terror in the Aisles (1984).” Basement Rejects. 15 October 2017. Web. 22 December 2018.

“Terror in the Aisles (1984).” The Internet Movie Database., Inc. Web. 23 December 2018.

“Terror in the Aisles (1984) Movie Script.” Springfield! Springfield! Web. 21 December 2018.

The Horror Club contributors. “Blu-ray Review: Terror in the Aisles (1984).” The Horror Club. 04 May 2016. Web. 20 December 2018.

“The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973).” Cinephilia & Beyond. Web. 22 December 2018.

“The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973).” The Internet Movie Database., Inc. Web. 23 December 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Terror in the Aisles.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 07 December 2018. Web. 20 December 2018.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


This collection of Henry Whitehead’s short stories expanded my interest in the subgenre of occult detective. I must say that I enjoyed these tales very much. Whether Simon Iff, Flaxman Low, Aylmer Vance, or any of the other works in this subgenre, occult detective fiction is very quickly becoming a favorite of mine.


‘Maker of Heaven and earth,’ quoted Carruth, musingly, ‘and of all things – visible and invisible.’ I started forward in my seat. He had given a peculiar emphasis to the last word, ‘invisible’.

‘A fact,’ I ejaculated, ‘constantly forgotten by the critics of religion! The Church has always recognized the existence of the invisible creation.’

‘Right, Mr. Canevin. And – this invisible creation; it doesn’t mean merely angels!’

‘No one who has lived in the West Indies can doubt that,’ I replied.

An excerpt from "The Shut Room"


Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead collects Henry Whitehead’s St. Croix-based voodoo tales, along with several of his other supernatural horror tales, into this one volume. This edition, published in 2012 by Wordsworth Editions, is part of the Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series.[i] The General Editor of this series is David Stuart Davies, a noted expert on Sherlock Holmes. Davies also wrote the Introduction to this collection.


Born on 5 March 1882 in New Jersey, Henry St. Clair Whitehead would attend Harvard University and by 1912 be ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. From 1921-1929, residing in St. Croix, Whitehead served as Archdeacon of the Virgin Islands. And, beginning in 1924, while there, he began to publish his short tales in pulp magazines, especially Weird Tales. This is also the time that he began his friendship with H. P. Lovecraft.


Following his time in the Virgin Islands, Whitehead settled in Florida as rector of a church. By this time, he and Lovecraft had become close friends. So much so, that the reclusive Lovecraft actually visited Whitehead for several weeks in 1931. Their friendship led to Whitehead collaborating with HPL on the story “The Trap” (1932). There also exists a great deal of mystery and question surrounding the tale “Bothon” (1946) and its authorship. Some sources claim that “Bothon” was another collaboration between the two gentlemen. Others, however, take a different view. For the purposes of this blog post, we shall not delve into that.

Henry S. Whitehead died on 23 November 1932. Sadly, the majority of his works were published some time after his passing. Yet it was not until the March 1933 issue of Weird Tales, that Lovecraft wrote an announcement of it. Most of Whitehead’s readers were made aware of his death in that piece. I have provided a complete transcription of the piece below.

In Memoriam


Readers of Weird Tales will be grieved to hear of the death of that distinguished author, the Reverend Henry S. Whitehead, Ph. D., who was a regular contributor to this magazine. His death was caused by a painful gastric illness of more than two years’ duration.

Doctor Whitehead, descended paternally from an old Virginian family and maternally from a noted line of Scottish West Indian planters, was born in 1882 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As a boy he attended the Berkeley School in New York City, and in 1904 was graduated from Harvard University, a classmate of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. Studying under men like Santayana and Münsterberg, he later took his degree as Doctor of Philosophy. His first literary work was published in 1905, and from that time forward he was an increasingly well-known writer in many fields.

In 1912, having graduated from the Berkeley Divinity School, Doctor Whitehead was ordained a deacon of the Episcopal Church; and was advanced to the priesthood in 1913. From 1913 to 1917 he was rector of Christ Church in Middletown, Connecticut, and was later children’s pastor at St. Mary the Virgin’s in New York City. During 1919-23 he was senior assistant at the Church of the Advent in Boston, and in 1923-5 was rector of Trinity Church at Bridgeport, Connecticut. Subsequently Doctor Whitehead served as acting archdeacon in the Virgin Islands, where he had previously served several winters in a similar capacity.

As an author Doctor Whitehead specialized in fiction, though writing much on ecclesiastical and other subjects. Beginning in 1923, when his story, The Intarsia Box (in Adventure), received a first-class rating as a story of distinction from the O. Henry Memorial Committee, many similar honors were accorded his work. In 1927 he contributed to the Free Lance Writers’ Handbook an article on the technique of weird fiction which is still a standard text on the subject.

It is for weird fiction of a subtle, realistic and quietly potent sort that he will be best remembered by readers of this magazine, in which twenty-five of his greatest tales have been published. Deeply versed in the somber folklore of the West Indies, and of the Virgin Islands in particular, he caught the inmost spirit of the native superstitions and wrote them into tales whose accurate local background created an astonishing illusion of genuineness. His “jumbee” stories—popularly so-called because of their frequent inclusion of a typical Virgin Island belief—form a permanent contribution to spectral literature, while his recurrent central character and narrator, “Gerald Canevin” (embodying much of his own personality), will always be recalled as a life-like and lovable figure.

Prominent among Doctor Whitehead’s tales are Sea Change, Jumbee, The Tree Man, Black Tancrede, Hill Drums, and Passing of a God—the latter perhaps representing the peak of his creative genius.


While still residing on St. Croix, Whitehead published many of his St. Croix–based voodoo tales featuring Canevin and the several townships thereon. Since they played significant roles in many of Whitehead’s voodoo– and Canevin–based stories, I believe a brief bit of geography aided with maps could only improve our appreciation for Whitehead’s writing.


This map of the Virgin Islands dates from 1920. While living in St. Croix, Whitehead might have gazed upon something similar. To provide some perspective, on the 1903 map below, the Virgin Islands are located off the southeast corner of the island of Puerto Rico.



Below is the list of tales as they appear in the table of contents of this volume. In addition, whether the tale is part of the Canevin corpus is indicated. Lastly, brief and pertinent comments are provided as well.


Note: this collection is not the totality of Whitehead’s literary corpus. Rather, it contains just those tales that are voodoo-based. Though, to be honest, no list is ever really complete.


The subgenre of occult detective fiction combines the detective story with supernatural horror. With the spread of evolutionary science and the rapid growth of technological advances in the nineteenth century, the central, stabilizing place of God in society was threatened. The development of the occult detective subgenre is a direct result of this societal tension arising in particular in the late Victorian era.

Occult detective tales melded this new science, supernatural horror, and the popular genre of detective fiction. These tales’ strength lay in the fact that it shows individuals facing scary supernatural forces using science, occult knowledge and their own wits.

Someone whom I consider an expert on the history and development of the occult detective subgenre today is Tim Prasil whose writings appear on his website Brom Bones Books. Prasil penned a superb article, “A Key to the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives,” in which he detailed four types of occult detective—the doctor, the diviner, the specialist and the novice or some combination thereof. Aylmer Vance (whom I discussed in a previous blog post) would most likely fit into the specialist category. Vance used his special knowledge of the occult and his associate’s skill with clairvoyance to aid in his investigations. In addition, there is certainly no doubt that Vance, as a detective, was a novice.

Now with regards to Whitehead’s Canevin, based on my reading and interpretation, I place Canevin most squarely in the novice detective category. Aside from being a writer with a friendly disposition, Canevin possesses no special skills or knowledge. To be clear, Canevin, as a character, is not in anyway filling the role of law enforcement. As in most occult detective or paranormal investigator stories, a mystery is presented in which the police cannot solve or be involved in. Hence, the need arises for a more informal approach. The degree of informality is variable. Canevin is the most basic—the novice category.


While researching Whitehead and his tales, I stumbled over a short piece from 1928, “Dark Magic of the Caribbean Peoples.” Initially, I thought this was a voodoo tale that this book’s editors had missed considering its source.


Then I realized this was something much more. This was Whitehead’s statement concerning his understanding of the mechanics of voodoo and Caribbean magic. This article described the folk beliefs of the local peoples—both the protective and the horrific. I believe this piece also revealed a “better–than–passing” knowledge of the occult sciences by Whitehead

Of all the subjects touched upon, I found the most curious account to concern itself with lycanthropy. According to Whitehead’s telling of local belief, a werewolf was always and only ever a white man—never a person of another race. I think this is very telling.


I find the occult detective subgenre growing on me, having encountered several examples previously. However, not having read any of Whitehead’s works before, I was apprehensive about taking on such a large collection of tales in one volume. I am so happy that I did so! I loved these tales, especially the Canevin ones! I cannot recommend them enough!



Print Resources

Whitehead, Henry S. Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural). Wordsworth Editions Ltd. Wordsworth Editions: Hertfordshire, 2012.

Digital Resources

Whitehead, Henry. “Dark Magic of the Caribbean Peoples” (Mystery Stories, October 1928, Vol. XVI, no. 1, pp. 77-84

Online Resources

Charles, KJ. “Victorian Occult Detectives: A Warning to the Curious.” KJ Charles. 19 June 2015. Web. 07 December 2018.

Eaton, Sean. “Gerald Canevin and the Lorriquer Case.” The R’lyeh Tribune. 22 October 2014. Web. 10 December 2018

Grant, John Linwood. “Vodun Child.” Greydogtales: Weird fiction, weird art and even weirder lurchers. 09 August 2015. Web. 10 December 2018.

Hade, David. “Henry S. Whitehead.” TENTACLII: H.P. Lovecraft blog ~ News and scholarship on H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) and his works. 27 August 2013. Web. 12 December 2018.

Hade, David. “Henry S. Whitehead obituary.” TENTACLII: H.P. Lovecraft blog ~ News and scholarship on H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) and his works. 04 September 2013. Web. 12 December 2018.

Prasil, Tim. “A Key to the Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives.” Brom Bones Books: The Publishing Cottage of Tim Prasil. Web. 07 December 2018.

Prasil, Tim. “Enough to Unnerve the Most Hardened Investigator of the Unearthly: Henry S. Whitehead’s Gerald Canevin (and Lord Carruth).” Brom Bones Books: The Publishing Cottage of Tim Prasil. Web. 07 December 2018.

[i] A fine series of reprints and collections which, as I have stated in previous posts, I wholeheartedly endorse.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Contemplations on THE ADVENTURES OF AYLMER VANCE by Alice & Claude Askew.

These tales first made their appearance immediately following the start of the First World War. The Aylmer Vance stories were first published in The Weekly Tale-Teller magazine in the 4 July through 22 August 1914 issues. They appeared as “Aylmer Vance: Investigator.” The stories are in line with traditional occult detective works from the decade previous.

Not quite Victorian or Edwardian, but really close.


I was unable to locate any cover images of the relevant issues of The Weekly Tale-Teller to show what they looked like. However, I was able to discover an image of a cover from sometime before (1912) and an image from sometime after (1915). Obviously, there was a major redesign at some point in between.

clip_image00303 February 1912

clip_image00504 September 1915

The first time all of the Aylmer Vance stories appeared together in a collection (to the best of my knowledge) was Aylmer Vance: Ghost Seer, edited by Jack Adrian, published in 1998 by Ash-Tree Press.


The edition under consideration here was published by Black Heath Editions in 2018. Black Heath Editions republishes lesser known works from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for incredibly reasonable prices. I would not have even heard of many of these authors (and their works) had it not been for Black Heath Editions. Thank you.


The eight short tales in this collection are summarized below:

“The Invader”

‘—for it does not do to meddle with the burial places of the primitive dead. It’s an unwise proceeding to have anything to do with an earth-bound soul—a soul whose desires are all of the earth, earthy. And Annie knew this, mark you, and felt it. She was wiser in her generation than George, but just because she was sweet and gentle——’

Vance and an acquaintance of his, the barrister Dexter, meet by chance. Both are staying at the Magpie Inn. They get to talking and upon discovering a mutual interest, Vance agrees to share with Dexter several of his experiences investigating spiritual phenomena. To start, Vance relates an episode from six years prior that convinced Vance to become interested in psychical research. The episode involves Vance’s best friend, George Sinclair and his bride, Annie. In delving into dark and ancient occult secrets, George’s foolishness lead to his devoted wife becoming possessed by a brutal sprit. Vance’s inexperience could not help them, resulting in murder-suicide and Vance is still deeply upset at failing his dear friends.

Later, Vance agrees to share with Dexter another of his psychical experiences if Dexter is still at the inn the following night.

“The Stranger”

‘The great elemental forces, Dexter—why do we no longer believe in them—the old gods and goddesses—the lost faiths? Either we are much wiser than our forefathers, or our forefathers were much wiser than us.’

Of course, Dexter stayed. Dexter’s imagination was captured by Vance’s narration from the night before. So, that evening–a dark and stormy night, no less–they met agreeably. Over a bottle of port, Vance told the tale of Daphne Darrell.

Due to the untimely deaths of her parents, Daphne was raised by her aunt to who adored her. Vance was her guardian. Indulged in almost everything, Daphne grew up wild, unrefined and as beautiful as a woodland nymph. As a child she told Vance that in the nearby woods she had a friend; a tall young man. Years later, engaged to a suitable groom, she confessed to Vance that she loved the strange friend who she still saw, as if in a dream.

On Daphne’s wedding eve, she again confided to Vance that she did not want to get married. She wanted her strange woodland friend. That night, Vance saw her rush off into the forest. Following her, Vance observed her call out. Then the strange woodland friend appeared before Daphne in a bolt of lightning. The next morning Daphne’s body was found.

“Lady Green-Sleeves”

‘“The grave—what have I to do with the grave? I said farewell to my mortal body over a hundred years ago; I have merely clothed myself in my old semblance to come here. I am a spirit—an immortal spirit—and it is not to the grave I am returning, but life—life!”

The next morning, Vance tells Dexter the romantic tale of the ghost, Lady Green-Sleeves. As he tells it, Vance met the Lady at a dress ball in December twelve years past, and thought she was one of the revelers. Later in the evening, Vance catches up to Lady Green-Sleeves and they chat. Uncomfortable with the strange music and dances, Lady Green-sleeves invites Vance visit her parlour in the house. When they arrive a few minutes later, Lady Green-Sleeves’ is delighted with how little it has changed. Again, Vance is confused. Laughingly, he asks if she is a ghost. She replies that she thought he knew!

Vance confesses his love for her. Lady Green-Sleeves is delighted, but she tells him that her “time for love is over.” She makes to leave but Vance begs her to stay, not to return to the grave. She promises that they will meet again, but not in this world. Vance admits to Dexter that is it foolish fancy. Dexter reassures him that they will meet again. Vance holds on to that hope.

“The Fire Unquenchable”

‘I don’t know if you are like me,’ Vance remarked, ‘and care to read when you are in bed. Anyhow, I’d like you to glance through these poems—for I think you will allow they are poems in the strict sense of the word—and let me know in the morning what sort of impression you get from them.’

Still lodging at the Magpie Inn, Vance and Dexter spend the day fishing. As they bade each other good night, Vance handed Dexter a book of poetry written in a woman’s hand. Dexter sensed there was more to this than mere interest in poetry; perhaps this is some kind of test. While reading in bed, Dexter is impressed with the quality of the writing. After some time, he notices that his bedroom is becoming hotter and hotter. Then, he has a vision of a similar room with a woman writing something as if she were in a trance.

The next morning, Dexter finds Vance at breakfast and relates to Vance his visions and experiences from the previous night. Vance is certain that it was not merely a dream, but rather a true vision. Vance tells Dexter how he came to be in possession of the book of poetry and the book’s back-story. And so, they begin to investigate the significance of Dexter’s vision and how it connects with the book. This leads them to uncover a life’s purpose unachieved and the haunting that results. Until at last, with the task completed, love is reunited.

“The Vampire”

Whatever the opinion of the doctors may have been, Aylmer was obviously deeply interested. And yet there was very little to show. The skin was quite intact, and there was no sign of inflammation. There were two red marks, about an inch apart, each of which was inclined to be crescent in shape.

Sometime later, Dexter decides to follow Vance into psychic and occult investigations. As a consequence of this, they now both reside together in Vance’s home, ala Holmes and Watson. Vance teaches Dexter to improve his clairvoyance. And, Dexter acts as a recorder of their experiences; again, ala Holmes and Watson.

They are called to investigate the case of a husband’s serious and mysterious blood loss. The husband, Paul Davenant, bears two scars upon his throat; he is more aware of them on certain mornings when he feels especially lethargic. The greater part the mystery surrounds his wife, Jessica, and her family’s heritage. She believed her family was cursed. This curse would lead to Davenant’s death; a curse that also would be passed on to her children.

The curse of vampirism…

“The Boy of Blackstock”

And I—for a brief moment I was able to see through the open door into the haunted room. And I was dimly conscious of a figure—that of a young man clad in garments of a bygone day, who stood smiling and bowing towards Lord Rystone, his hand upon his heart.

The ‘Mischievous Boy of Blackstock’ had fulfilled his destiny.

Vance and Dexter are called to investigate a “poultergeist” referred to as “The Ghost of Blackstock priory” or “The Mischievous Boy of Blackstock.” The haunting brings back old animosities between the Earl and the local populace, with the Earl crudely believing the people are conspiring to get him to leave.

After spending a single night in the supposedly haunted room, Vance informs Dexter that he has solved the mystery and it does not concern them or require their special talents. However, when the climactic moment arrives, nothing is as it seems.

“The Indissoluble Bond”

He caught her hands in his, those gaunt bony hands, and I saw her tremble at his touch.

‘Our souls belong to each other, Beryl,’ he said. ‘They have belonged to each other through the long dark ages of the past, they will be in harmony through the infinite aeons of futurity. You are mine—shall I prove it to you?’

As he spoke his hands left hers and once more began to press the notes of the organ. Again that strange, weird harmony sprang into being—a call of spirit to spirit—and I could see that Beryl’s eyes were closing dreamingly; then suddenly, with a violent struggle, she seemed to recover herself. In her turn she seized the man’s hands and dragged them from the keyboard.

Then, panting, she closed the lid.

Vance and Dexter are asked to visit the country home of friends who are concerned over their daughter, Beryl—a no nonsense, athletic girl full of life. She seems to be under some form of psychic influence. Thus, Vance turns to Dexter’s clairvoyant skill to investigate. In a vision, Dexter sees Beryl approach a wasted man. The man, the town cathedral’s organist, gave his soul over to his music. The man states to Beryl that their souls are bound together forever.

When this wasted man dies, most believe his hold over Beryl died with him.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

“The Fear”

“And that’s the worst of this hobby of ours,” he added, with a suggestion of sadness in his voice; “for people come to us, as Mr Belliston did, begging for our assistance, and thinking that by some strange mysterious power we can lay the ghosts, or what they are pleased to call the ghosts. But that’s just what we can’t do; we can only prove what has been proved hundreds of times before, that there are more things in heaven and earth than the human philosophy of the present day can understand.

“And again and again I find the same advice recurring—the advice which Somers has given us—the advice of one who has not had the experience of years such as I have had, but which is quite as good as any that I can give—destroy. And that, too, is the advice that applies to Camplin Castle.”

Vance and Dexter look into the reason behind why a wealthy man and his family quit their castle-home (upon which they spent a great deal to make livable) after only a month in residence. It was no ghost or spectral apparition but an overwhelming feeling of fear and dread that drove the family out.

After going there the next day and experiencing “the Fear” for themselves that night, Vance and Dexter realize the background to the castle would reveal the answer. A few days later, they uncover the dark past of the great house.


The authors, Alice and Claude Askew were married in 1900. Their first jointly authored novel was published in 1904. Throughout the years left to them, they would go on to publish over ninety novels, mostly via serials.

clip_image009Alice Askew

clip_image011Claude Askew

By 1915, and as special correspondents for the Daily Express, the couple found themselves attached to a British field hospital supporting allied Serbian military forces. In 1916, they would publish an account of their time as The Stricken Land: Serbia As We Saw It. Having spent lot of time in Serbia, their account was very sympathetic to the Serbian people.

The Askews story ended on the night of October 5-6, 1917.[i] They were both traveling on the Italian passenger steamer Città di Bari, traveling to Corfu, one of the Greek islands.

clip_image013Italian passenger steamer Città di Bari.

During the night, the vessel was struck by a torpedo from the German submarine, UB-48 and sank. Claude’s body was never found. Alice’s body was found three weeks later.


In striving to understand the evolution of Vance and Dexter through the tales, I found that central to each of the stories in this collection is love. Whether it is true love or a corrupted version, love provided the motivating energy in these psychic investigations. The first four tales were narrated by Aylmer Vance to Dexter. Since these tales occurred before Vance’s partnership with Dexter, more in-depth explanation was necessary. These tales were concerned more with melancholy and lost love. The second (and final) four tales were narrated (or recorded) by Dexter as part of being Vance’s recorder of investigations. The fifth and sixth stories in this collection result in somewhat happy endings with evil forces overcome; while the seventh and eighth tales detail Vance’s failures. Personally, I think these final two are the best of the collection.

To carrying the above discussion a little further, one of the traits of the tales I particularly favor is that sometimes Vance could not help all of those who sought his aid. Sometimes he fails and the failure results in tragic death or great misfortune. I am thinking in particular:

  • In the second tale “The Stranger,” Vance could not even save his own ward from a tragic death on the eve of her marriage.
  • In the seventh tale, “The Indissoluble Bond,” Vance was unable to prevent the pitiful death of a friend’s daughter. She died at her own wedding by the hands of an evil man turning into an evil spirit.
  • In the eighth and final tale, The Fear,” Vance and Dexter uncover the mystery of this terror-inducing manor; though it does no good. Vance recommends that it be razed to the ground.


In conclusion, for me, the first story was a slow start leaving me dreading what was in store for me. Therefore, it was quite a surprise to me just how much I enjoyed this collection once I got into it.

It is interesting how I find myself more and more interested in the horror-fiction sub-genre of occult detective stories, particularly stories from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. Based upon what I have read, I am nowhere near finished with this sub-genre as future posts of this blog will reveal.



Print Resources

Digital Resources

Askew, Alice & Claude. The Adventures of Aylmer Vance. Black Heath Editions. 2018. Kindle Edition.

Online Resources

Contendo, William G., Phil Stephenson-Payne, eds. “Series List: Vance, Aylmer.” The FictionMags Index. 03 August 2018. Web. 17 November 2018.

Reynolds, Josh. “The Nightmare Men: ‘The Ghost Seer.’” Black Gate: Adventures in Fantasy Literature. New Epoch Press. 01 October 2011. Web. 21 November 2018.

Verni, Nico. “4.10.1917, il triste epilogo del piroscafo Città di Bari.” La Voce Del Marinaio. 04 October 2016. Web. 14 November 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. "Alice and Claude Askew." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 September 2018. Web. 21 November 2018.

[i] Some sources say that it was the night of October 4-5, 1917.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


At the conclusion of Order of the Phoenix, Voldemort and his Death Eaters openly attack the Ministry of Magic. There is now no doubt that Voldemort had returned and the Wizarding world was in open war.

The Ministry of Magic finally understands . . . everything Harry and Dumbledore have been saying, regarding the return of Voldemort, is true. Harry and Dumbledore are vindicated.

In Half-Blood Prince, Harry returns to Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, normalcy dominates despite the fact that war rages; beneath this surface of calm, appearances can be deceiving. Moves and counter-moves by forces for Voldemort and by those who oppose him threaten to reduce Hogwarts into a bloody battlefield. Although supernatural elements pervade Half-Blood Prince, it is the terror and horror of war that is most commonly felt and experienced


“We’ve got a problem, Snape,” said the lumpy Amycus, whose eyes and wand were fixed alike upon Dumbledore, “the boy doesn’t seem able —”

But somebody else had spoken Snape’s name, quite softly.

“Severus . . .”

The sound frightened Harry beyond anything he had experienced all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading.

Snape said nothing, but walked forward and pushed Malfoy roughly out of the way. The three Death Eaters fell back without a word. Even the werewolf seemed cowed.

Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.

“Severus . . . please . . .”

Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.

Avada Kedavra!”

A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape’s wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest. Harry’s scream of horror never left him; silent and unmoving, he was forced to watch as Dumbledore was blasted into the air. For a split second, he seemed to hang suspended beneath the shining skull, and then he fell slowly backward, like a great rag doll, over the battlements and out of sight.

An excerpt from page 595/596


J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published in 2005 by Scholastic Press and was the sixth book in the Harry Potter series. Half-Blood Prince was also the third of the large novels and the penultimate volume of the series—only one more to go.

The Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1), 1997. Page count 309.

The Chamber of Secrets (Book 2), 1999. Page count 341.

The Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3), 1999. Page count 435.

The Goblet of Fire (Book 4), 2000. Page count 734.

The Order of the Phoenix (Book 5), 2003. Page count 870.

The Half-Blood Prince (Book 6), 2005. Page count 652.

The Deathly Hallows (Book 7), 2007. Page count 759.

The increasing complexity of the multiple plotlines in this book makes the following chronological extract from The Harry Potter Lexicon website a highly useful aid to comprehension and to provide context to the reader.



The Expanded World

Half-Blood Prince opens with two scenes absolutely necessary to further the storyline and explore aspects of the Potterverse we have not seen before. The first scene explored the relationship between the Minister of Magic and the muggle Prime Minister during the previous six Harry Potter books. How the Wizarding community relates to the wider world and the muggle government is very interesting and not something the reader has really seen before. Further, now that fighting has broken out, the impact of the wizard war on the muggle world is described in detail.

The second scene brings the reader into Snape’s home outside of Hogwarts. It was very interesting to see the living space of a Hogwarts’ professor outside of the school environment. His home reflects a solitary life dedicated to scholarship. And, as Snape becomes more and more a crucial character in the storyline, his back-story becomes vital and has to be explored.

Finally in Chapter 2, and as an interesting aside, is Bellatrix’s comment while visiting Snape’s home. She and her sister, Narcissa Malfoy (Draco’s mother), discuss Voldemort’s plan and Draco’s part in it. Narcissa is afraid that Draco has little chance of surviving. Bellatrix has had enough and erupts:

“You should be proud!” said Bellatrix ruthlessly. “If I had sons, I would be glad to give them up to the service of the Dark Lord!”[i]

It is significant to note that Bellatrix states “If I had sons,” and not “If I had children.” The subtle implication here is that Bellatrix did have children, just not sons; daughters, perhaps? The quote above not only presages, but is the entire basis for the plotline for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In this work set almost twenty years later, the daughter of Bellatrix and Voldemort, Delphini, returns to avenge her parents and torment Harry Potter and his children.


Well, well.

The Past Instructs

The primary concept lurking behind this section is concerned with the power that Voldemort knows not. Voldemort cannot comprehend love and just how powerful a force it can be. Furthermore, Voldemort’s arrogance leads to his inability to even conceive of his followers betraying him.

Snape’s depth as a character is further explored and even enhanced. Snape’s love for Lily and Voldemort’s role in her death leads to Snape’s becoming Dumbledore’s man. Until the very end of the series, the reader is unsure whether Snape is repentant or not. Is Snape really Dumbledore’s man or as Draco mockingly states: is Dumbledore just a stupid old man who is losing his grip?

In Half-Blood Prince, the readers are introduced to Professor Slughorn, the new potions master. Dumbledore uses him and his hire as a means to enhance understanding of the past. Slughorn’s unique knowledge concerning the historic past is what makes him (in particular his knowledge) vital to the plotline. Only much later is the true reason for his hire revealed.

A major plot driving force throughout Half-Blood Prince is Dumbledore’s reliance upon the magic of the pensieve. It reveals to Harry Voldemort’s origins and background as Tom Riddle. In addition, the pensieve is used to explore the role of the horcrux as an obscene tool of evil. Riddle’s origins, as seen via the pensieve, bear more than a passing resemblance to Harry’s background and origins. The reader is meant to draw parallels between Harry and Riddle/Voldemort. This leads to the philosophical question of whether evil is born or made. Is it nature or nurture?

By the conclusion of Chapter 17, it is strongly suggested that having an understanding of the past goes a long way to making the present very clear. And, this can be used as a powerful weapon to fight evil. Finally (and as a little historic side-note that is alluded to in the special memory provided by Slughorn), Dumbledore and Harry witness Riddle’s and Slughorn’s discussion concerning horcruxes and the magic number. Though never explicitly mentioned in the text, it is highly probable that if Dumbledore had concealed and restricted access to the knowledge of horcruxes, the logical corollary to this is that he knew enough of them to be wary. How did Dumbledore come across such dark knowledge? The implications of this are unsettling.


Hormones are A-Ragin’ — (formerly Hormonal Challenges)

While there were a few hints in the previous novels, it is really in Goblet of Fire that young love makes it first awkward and most disruptive appearance. By the time of Half-Blood Prince, our trio’s love-life has become ferociously complicated.

Leading the chaos is amortentia. At the first day of Slughorn’s potions class, the trio is exposed to the amortentia love potion, which should smell differently depending on what attracts the inhaler. Though little is know of Ron’s olfactory experience, Hermione states:

“and it’s supposed to smell differently to each of us, according to what attracts us, and I can smell freshly mown grass and new parchment and —”

But she turned slightly pink and did not complete the sentence.[ii]

Nor would she ever complete that sentence. However, in a 2007 Bloomsbury Live Chat shortly after the Release of Deathly Hallows, Rowling was asked about that incomplete sentence. Rowling confirmed that it was Ron. She replied: “I think it was his hair. Every individual has very distinctive-smelling hair, don’t you find?”[iii]

Ron and Hermione find themselves caught in a cycle of unreasonable animosity, with no end in sight. Sending each other mixed signals, they hurt each other over and over. Ron’s . . . involvement with Lavendar and Hermione’s harsh words, innuendo and “date” with the foul McCluggen, leave the reader questioning how, or perhaps even if, they will find their way back to each other.

Only with a Deus—ex—machina event is that cycle broken. Thus Ron and Hermione are provided the opportunity to re-discover what they had lost. After all, with a little “luck,” anything is possible.

Now turning to Harry, when he first inhales amortentia, Harry, as usual, is clueless:

. . . a gold-colored cauldron that was emitting one of the most seductive scents Harry had ever inhaled: Somehow it reminded him simultaneously of treacle tart, the woody smell of a broomstick handle, and something flowery he thought he might have smelled at the Burrow.[iv]

Treacle Tart is Harry’s favorite dessert. The smell of broomstick handle is obvious for a quidditch player. But a flowery scent that he smelled at the Burrow? A few pages later, Harry gets his answer. Though naturally he doesn’t recognize it:

. . . he caught a sudden waft of that flowery smell he had picked up in Slughorn’s dungeon. He looked around and saw that Ginny had joined them.[v]

Harry, almost as clueless as Ron but much more oblivious, is torn between his growing attraction and feelings for Ginny and his worry over how this would impact his friendship with Ron. Ron has made very clear how he regards anyone who tries to get together with his little sister.

Harry and Ginny eventually find happiness for a short time before fear compels Harry to push her away for her own good. Tellingly, immediately following Dumbledore’s death, ignoring Hagrid’s urging for Harry to leave Dumbledore’s body, Harry will not. It is only the gentle touch and soft words of Ginny who is able to reach Harry through his grief over Dumbledore’s killing.


Resentment & Anger Issues

Carrying on from a previous post is the theme of resentment and anger Harry feels towards others; mainly Dumbledore and Snape. Harry voices his suspicions concerning Snape to others. No one takes his concerns seriously, even dismissing them. And to make matters worse, Harry is actually correct; as later events will reveal.

Harry’s animosity and suspicion toward Snape, combined with the fact that no one takes his concerns seriously, leads him to behave like a true 16-year-old shit:

“Do you remember me telling you we are practicing nonverbal spells, Potter?”

“Yes,” said Harry stiffly.

“Yes, sir.”

“There’s no need to call me ‘sir,’ Professor.”

The words had escaped him before he knew what he was saying. Several people gasped, including Hermione. Behind Snape, however, Ron, Dean, and Seamus grinned appreciatively.[vi]

When I first read this, I actually laughed out loud.

Later, still fixated on Snape, Harry reiterates to Lupin his strong resolve that Snape, and to a lesser extent Draco Malfoy, is plotting something evil. Lupin cuts through Harry’s attitude to the real crux of his problem. From the book, Lupin says:

“You are determined to hate him, Harry,” said Lupin with a faint smile. “And I understand; with James as your father, with Sirius as your godfather, you have inherited an old prejudice. . .”[vii]

Discovering that it was Snape who overheard the prophecy in part and thus leading directly to the death of his parents, Harry rages against Dumbledore. Especially Dumbledore’s efforts to reconcile Harry to the idea that Snape can be trusted. At the novel’s conclusion, when Snape kills Dumbledore, Harry’s worst fears were made real.


Once again I also listened to the unabridged audiobook narration of Harry Potter

and the Half-Blood Prince. This narration was once again superbly voiced by Jim Dale. And, once again, this greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the novel.



In the opening paragraphs to this essay, I touched upon that nature of horror seen and experienced by the reader in these novels is not of the supernatural variety. After all, the entire wizarding world is supernatural. However, what is experienced by the characters and, by extension, felt by the reader is the anxiety and apprehension of war. War is a kind of horror unto itself.

Keep in mind, the trio are only 16 years old! For them, they may intellectually understand that they could die in pursuit of some goal. This is far different from the real stink of war. Among many other things, war is:

•the death of goodness and innocence.

•those willing to die for a cause they believe in.

•treachery of the presumably loyal.

•blood and the callous disregard for its spilling.


In my previous Harry Potter post covering Order of the Phoenix, I wrote that it was “the last bit of normalcy before the upheaval of war really hits.” It turns out this was not entirely true on the surface. Unfortunately, by the conclusion of Half-Blood Prince, there is no more doubt that war has come. The trio will spend, what should have been their final year at Hogwarts, instead, running for their lives.

Good Evening.




Print Resources

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Press, 2005. Print

Digital Resources

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Narrated by Jim Dale, Listening Library (Audio). 2005. Audiobook. CD.

Online Resources

“Audio Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” PWxyz, LLC.Web. 06 November 2018.

Contributors. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Harry Potter Wiki. FANDOM Books Community. 26 September 2018. Web. 02 November 2018.

Haber, David. “The power The Dark Lord knows not.” Beyond Hogwarts. Beyond March 2007. Web. 16 September 2018.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” The Harry Potter Lexicon. Web. 02 November 2018.

“Interviews – Bloomsbury Live Chat.” The Harry Potter Lexicon. Web. 30 October 2018.

“Jim Dale Talks Recording Half-Blood Prince Audiobook.” The Leaky Cauldron. 23 July 2015. Web. 05 November 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. " Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 October 2018. Web. 30 October 2018.

[i] Page 35.

[ii] Page 185.

[iii] Lexicon

[iv] Page 183.

[v] Page 192.

[vi] Page 180.

[vii] Page 333.