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Old 04-18-2013   #11
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

"A:B:O" is incredible and unprecendented in the narrator's feverish voice. "The Moon's Miracle" is also quite beautiful. "The Giant" is well written, and fairly interesting, with a good psychological or spiritual message, I guess. These early stories may perhaps not be so mature as his later work, but they have a clean innocent energy. Are these three pretty much the best of the crop in Eight Tales? -- Knygathin


I bought the AH volume mainly for “A Mote.” (I already had “A:B:O”, which you describe perfectly as feverish. It reads almost like a collaboration between Poe and M. R. James!) “A Mote” is a story of a man afflicted with unearthly visions; supernatural or psychological, they force him to witness a strange drama that unfolds in some unspecified time and place. It’s a subtle work of ocular terror, (I just had to write that!) and I regard it rather highly.
“Kismet” is similar in effect to a conte cruel, a realistic nightmare with a wicked ending, though you’ll guess that ending before it arrives. It's a minor work. (Yes, as you correctly point out, Knygathin, these are early tales...though I confess I found them quite enjoyable.)
Some years ago, Ramsey Campbell included “A Mote” in an excellent anthology titled Uncanny Banquet (an anthology that also contains Adrian Ross’ The Hole of the Pit, a fine Hodgson-like novel that was fabulously rare until Campbell excavated it.)
So, along with "A Mote", the stories you mention are pretty much the cream of the crop in Eight Tales.
And Strangers and Pilgrims is indeed a beautiful book. I just have to keep that dust jacket clean LOL.

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Old 04-18-2013   #12
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Quote Originally Posted by Druidic View Post
ďA MoteĒ is a story of a man afflicted with unearthly visions; supernatural or psychological, they force him to witness a strange drama that unfolds in some unspecified time and place. Itís a subtle work of ocular terror, (I just had to write that!) and I regard it rather highly.

And Strangers and Pilgrims is indeed a beautiful book. I just have to keep that dust jacket clean LOL.
"A Mote" sounds very interesting. Like a man whose worldly mental defense has collapsed, and the cosmic forces come pouring in.

"The Village of Old Age" could be something quaint and hoary. Sounds almost like a Dunsany title. But they are very different writers.

That dust jacket will get a patina with age! As long as book is handled with care and love, the little signs of age may increase its attraction. If it really bothers you, you could get a clear mylar plastic jacket for it. I have it for several of my books.
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Old 04-18-2013   #13
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

“The Village of Old Age” is a story that could just as easily be considered a longish prose poem. This is true of so many of de la Mare’s works, like “The Vats,” or “The Creatures”, where the writer’s poetic sensibility infuses the prose with such a great natural beauty.
“A:B:O” and “A Mote” are the only truly major pieces in Eight Tales, though even the slightest works have an undeniable charm. I certainly wish de la Mare had written more like”A:B:O”. One almost never uses the phrase ‘horror stories’ to describe de la Mare’s tales; His style is too subtle and his touch too delicate. But I think that particular work can honestly be described as a horror story…if one understands by ‘horror’ one means a complex of emotions, mystery, awe, wonder, beauty and, yes, horror.

Assuming they know of his existence at all, the one major problem I’ve found in trying to turn friends on to his fiction is a general confusion. Didn’t he write ‘highbrow’ literary fiction like Henry James, wasn’t he primarily a poet, didn’t he write children’s stories, but aren’t his ghost stories traditional ones (i.e., boring), that kind of thing, a confusion, in part at least, caused by his multifaceted talents and the lack of a clear and convenient label. (One may argue over the crudeness of the “Cthulhu Mythos” label but August Derleth knew just how important it was to market a writer successfully if you want his works to be read; it’s clear most readers feel the need for something to hang a hat upon.)
Although de la Mare was never a genre writer in any ordinary sense, I believe a small but significant number of his darker tales, clearly marked as tales of supernatural or psychological terror, in a slim volume not unlike the original M. R. James collections, might have the potential to connect with more readers.
After all, readers who have the skills to appreciate writers as challenging and diverse as, say, a Lovecraft or a Robert Aickman shouldn’t be too intimidated by the fiction of de la Mare!

(BTW, Knygathin, you're right; I should use mylar jackets. I handle my books gently...but I handle them often.)

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Old 04-22-2013   #14
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Have you solved "The Riddle"?
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Old 04-22-2013   #15
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Have you solved "The Riddle"? -- Kyngathin


No, I can’t claim that.
It always felt like there was more than one allegory in this tale! I think this story swallows interpretations the way a certain old oak chest swallowed children..
I’ve heard the traditional readings—the depiction of the journey through life to old age. Maybe. There’s certainly a shivery quality to the tale! It also has a very strong feeling of a religious allegory...

What about yourself? Do you have an interpretation or a favorite reading?

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Old 04-23-2013   #16
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Quote Originally Posted by Druidic View Post
What about yourself? Do you have an interpretation or a favorite reading?
Yes, I do! But it's not a very intellectual interpretation, more an intuitive impression.

To me, the tale seems very clear. The children are separated from their parents, and must live with their grandmother. If you live surrounded by old things and hear tellings of the distant past, rather than grow in an immediate modern presence of materiality, you will get stringed to that past. That's what happens to the children. Furthermore, inside the old chest, there is the soft touch of pretty rose silk, and the lingering sweet smell of flowers that were alive perhaps a hundred years ago, . . . a very strong line directly into the past.

The story as whole, gives a subtle feeling of de la Mare having transcended the illusion of material linear time dimension, having lifted the veil to reveal that everything is one and existing.
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Old 04-23-2013   #17
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

I love de la Mare and agree that a more dark-inspired collection would go down very well with me. I'm not much of a poetry buff, but ever since I read The Listeners as a child it's been the high-water mark of poems for me due to its supreme atmosphere. It really is more like a distilled short story. Anyway, that's my t'uppence worth.
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Old 04-23-2013   #18
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Hey, Damo, welcome to the club! "The Listeners" is a fantastic poem!

Knygathin,

I really like your interpretation of "The Riddle" for two, three reasons. One, there is a simplicity to it that gives it a certain elegance. Two, it isn’t contradicted by anything in the text. And Three, it feels true to the general spirit of the story. Certainly a legitimate interpretation.

Mine is a bit more problematic...but maybe not. The beginning of “The Riddle” reminds me of the Bibical story of the Garden. Adam and Eve were innocent of knowledge of Good and Evil…I see the children as the innocents here. The old Lady’s warning is similar to the warning given in the Garden:You are free to do this and that, but not this one thing. When Adam and Eve partake of the fruit they are driven out of the Garden; When the children ‘disobey’ they disappear, and in a sense they too have been driven out of Paradise. The Heaven of Childhood. They fall asleep in the chest…while the Old Lady passes her days as one in a dream. Youth inevitably disappears as old age diminishes.

Of course, there is no One correct interpretation and I like that. Even the title itself is ambiguous: Does The Riddle refer to the entire story? Or is it the oak chest? Or the Old Lady who seems to be the key to everything? The mystery is just too subtle and sinister…too good to be fully resolved.

In the second post of this thread, Mark Valentine (who wrote the fine intro to Strangers and Pilgrims) suggested a reading of “Seaton’s Aunt” I had never considered. It’s his own take, and I found it a quite enjoyable experience to reread the tale with that interpretation in mine.


BTW, you can read one of Ligotti's stories at this very site: there's a posting of "Nethescurial" and maybe another story or two. They will give you a chance to decide if you enjoy his fiction and want to make the plunge into buying one of his collections.

Personally, I prefer Ligotti’s early stuff (Dead Dreamer, Grimscribe) to the later “Tales of Corporate Horror”. A matter of taste, I suppose, though he’s certainly become a better stylist over the years. If you read that sample and find it to your liking, the reissues of the early books may give you the best of both worlds, having been revised significantly. But I haven’t read them yet.
I don't find his works typical of Modern Horror save for their bleak worldview . I like Ligotti because he's a traditionalist at heart. Like myself...

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Old 04-24-2013   #19
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Druidic,

I would think your interpretation of "The Riddle" is, at the very least, as legitimate as my own! You also have sound open thoughts about the ambigious nature of the riddle.

I have sort of left Christianity behind me, so I generally don't think along those symbols. But the story does have the element of sin in giving into temptation, that is the destructive path down the road of illusions. And the diminish of age is a consequence of having stepped out of Paradise.

As you say, "The Riddle" can be interpreted in different ways. From different perspectives. I think your interpretation is true.

Your interpretation gives the story a certain dark mood. I didn't find the story dark at all, but rather "jolly"! (That's funny, because I tend to detect misery in most human interactions.) Almost like Alice i Wonderland, the children step into another dimension. There is only a brief sense of loss, when one of the children has gone missing. But grandmother also consolingly says, that they may come back. A passing brief thought while reading, was that she is either benevolent, or insidiously evil in tricking the children into the chest, and I set my mind on the former.

Your interpretation is probably closer to the truth, or more significant . . . that grandmother warns the children of the painful mistakes and lessons every person must make, warns them as futilely as anyone can warn. It is sad really.

I guess my interpretation is a pagan one, from a person who will not have a family, does not want to take responsibilty, and only desires to be enveloped and dissolved into Nature.
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Old 04-24-2013   #20
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

The Riddle is a Rorschach like any classic fairy tale. Fairy tales can take on different shades over time. A fairy tale that seemed humorous or delightfully absurd when you first read it as a young reader, might, many years later, seem to be quite dark. The adult mind sees more potentialities for evil. The first time I read “The Riddle”, it felt “jolly”, too...only in the last few years did I begin to perceive a slightly sinister quality to it! So I think you’re right to link interpretation and effect…Your interpretation has a certain charm to it (Lovecraft would have loved it!), mine is a bit grim…so the story fine tunes itself to the reader. Like all great art, what you bring to it determines what you take away. Most people bring Nothing to the table and for them a world full of bad TV, hack movies and Best Sellers is clearly enough. No effort needed there.
Regarding Christianity: I, too, have left it behind me, at least in terms of belief. I’m not a militant atheist because I’ve seen too much suffering and I know some people need the consolations of religion… I’m not going to be the one attempting to cut their lifeline. At the same time, I’d be among the first to protest teaching Creationism in a Science class. (Sunday school is the proper setting for such indoctrination.) But in reading writers like de la Mare, and even Lovecraft, I try to think in terms of their time and what symbols might have meant most to them. I don’t think de la Mare was a believer but I suspect he would have liked to be. There’s a story if I can remember it correctly…de la Mare was asked if he believed the Resurrection story was literally true. He replied to the effect that it was such a beautiful story it could most likely be true. I read that as a sly way of saying, “No, not really, but I wish it were.” And regarding Lovecraft, have you ever noticed “The Colour out of Space” seems to be a modern day reworking of the Book of Job? A reworking for a materialistic age no longer capable of the naive beliefs of their forefathers. (In Job God speaks from the Storm, the heart of the Whirlwind, and reveals Himself: Lovecraft ends “The Colour” with a Whirlwind of his own…but only a blind indifferent force reveals itself and it’s “…going home…") I’m convinced “The Picture in the House” has a ‘secret’ along these lines that a careful reading will reveal.

I, too, see my destiny as nothing more than being enveloped by Nature, turned into ‘mulch’ (Michael Shea’s phrase) for this great starry void of a universe. Can’t say I completely look forward to it. Not that my future prospects are terribly encouraging. They seem to involve pain, and more pain. But still there will be the ‘small victories’ that for me at least, make the whole game bearable. Life can be a losing deal, but I’ve fought too hard too many times just to stay alive. By now, good or bad, it’s become a habit. Ah, but maybe it’s just the stubbornness that runs in my blood. Yeah, that could be it.

If you decide to sample Ligotti’s works, I’d enjoy knowing your thoughts!

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