Short Story Review – The Raven

Image result for raven poeWho wrote it?
As I mentioned back in August, I’m a huge fan of Edgar AllanPoe.  I used his ‘Philosophy on Composition’ when I was writing the thesis for my PhD; and I suspect I was strongly influenced by his poem ‘The Raven’ when I wrote my own novel Raven and Skull; and I admire Poe and the tremendous amount he managed to achieve in his short and troubled life. Poe is rightly regarded as the master of the horror story, the author of the prototypical amateur detective story, and a man whose life was as tragic and mysterious as the darkest of his narratives. I wanted to write about Poe again this week because tomorrow, October 7th, marks the 170th anniversary of his death.
What’s it about?
A very unhappy man, grieving for a lost love, is alone at home, late at night, pouring over his books. A raven appears at his window and, after he has invited the bird into his home, the man begins to fear it is a dark representative from the supernatural realm.
Why is it worth reading?
It’s Edgar Allan Poe. Most of Poe’s writing is essential reading for people who own eyes. This story is worth reading because it’s presented in poetic form and it’s a piece that’s been parodied and reinterpreted again and again and again. Each of the reinventions of Poe is an homage to his brilliance.
What’s so special about it?
These are the opening verses:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”
    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.
    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”
    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.
If you want to hear this being read by the dulcet tones of the late Christopher Lee, then you’ll want to follow this link:
And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:

Short Story Review – The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Who Wrote it?
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Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 –1935), was an American humanist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist and served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.
What’s it About?
According to Wikipedia: “The Yellow Wallpaper” (original title: “The Yellow Wall-paper. A Story”) is a short story by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, due to its illustration of the attitudes towards mental and physical health of women in the 19th century.
Narrated in the first person, the story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband (John) has rented an old mansion for the summer. Forgoing other rooms in the house, the couple moves into the upstairs nursery. As a form of treatment, the unnamed woman is forbidden from working, and is encouraged to eat well and get plenty of air, so she can recuperate from what he calls a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”, a diagnosis common to women during that period. (
Why is it worth reading?
This is an exercise in tension building that is very effective. The story is used now in many classes an introduction to feminist studies, and I’m not trying to suggest it doesn’t deserve to be used in such a context. But it’s also a beautiful illustration of how well narrative tension can be built from the simplicity of good storytelling using a potentially unreliable narrator.
What’s so special about it?
These are the opening lines from the story:
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity—but that would be asking too much of fate!
Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.
Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.
John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see, he does not believe I am sick!
This is a delightful introduction which, even though the story is more than 125 years old, is still readable and accessible. It sets us up with the friendliness of the narrator’s voice, and we get the suggestion that something is askew. The property is too cheap, it might be haunted, it’s been abandoned too long, and what’s with the creepy relationship between the narrator and her husband?
This is a link to the Project Gutenberg free copy of the story:

And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:

Short Story Review – The Monkey’s Paw

The Monkey’s Paw

Who wrote it?
W W Jacobs, (William Wymark Jacobs) was a writer best known for his farcical comedies, involving dockside and rural Essex characters. He occasionally wrote horror stories and today is most famous for ‘The Monkey’s Paw’.
What’s it about?
At its heart, this story epitomises the idea that we should all be careful what we wish for. Sergeant-Major Morris is visiting his friends, Mr and Mrs White.  He shows them a mummified monkey’s paw and explains it has been cursed to grant three wishes: but always with hellish consequences. He goes to throw the paw into the fireplace but Mr White retrieves it. Sergeant-Major Morris tells Mr White, if he does intend to use the paw, the consequences will be on his own head.

And, from there, everything starts to go a little bit Pete Burns.
Why is it worth reading?
This is a story that was published in 1902, making more than a century old, and yet still it works in our modern society. Jacobs’s writing is clear and uncluttered. His style is accessible and, since we live in a capitalist society where everyone is constantly wishing for the next meaningless acquisition, it seems we might be overdue a reminder that sometimes, we need to be careful what we wish for.
What’s so special about it?
This story has been copied, parodied, spoofed, filmed and presented to us repeatedly in hundreds of different guises. The curse on the paw means that there will always be repercussions, regardless of how innocent, altruistic or philanthropic the person making the wish. And it puts the reader in the insidious position of thinking, “What would I wish for?”
The typical three things that top our usual wish lists are health, wealth and happiness. And not necessarily in that order. Some people might argue that you don’t need money to be happy but, if you’ve got three wishes, and you’ve asked for health and happiness, I think it makes sense to get enough in the bank so you can continue to maintain your levels of health and happiness.
In the story, even though Mr and Mrs White are in a comfortable position, Mr White wishes for money. He doesn’t want or need the money but he wants to see if there’s any truth in the idea that the paw can grant wishes. He doesn’t ask for an excessive amount. The £200 he requests is equivalent to roughly £24,000 in today’s money and he wants to use it to pay off the remainder of his mortgage.
This is possibly what makes the story so upsetting for readers. Mr White isn’t asking for hoards of naked women to fettle with his cheeky bits. He doesn’t want fame, celebrity and global adoration. He doesn’t even want wealth beyond imagination. He wants a lousy £200 which he plans to throw at the mortgage. And the consequences which befall him are atrocious and terrible.
As always, I won’t spoil this story by revealing anything further. The chances are that most people reading this blog will be familiar with the story’s later developments. But, I will say, if you’ve not read it and you like your horror to be intense and relatable: this story is definitely for you.
If you want to buy your own copy, this is the Amazon Link to a book where you’ll find it:

And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:

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