by James Goodridge
I’m on a journey as a writer of Speculative Fiction’s sub-genre, Occult Detectives. So, I’ve made it my business to make a study of authors to bolster my knowledge.
Venturing deeper into the occult literary traditions, led me to the work of Seabury Quinn (1889-1969), creator of his character Dr. De Grandin. A reading of Quinn’s short story “Pledged to the Dead”—which was published in the October issue of Weird Tales — gave me immense interest in Quinn’s depiction of “Maman Dragonne.”
Dragonne would be considered in fiction a “flat character” because she really doesn’t appear in the first quarter of the story (at least in human form), but becomes increasingly important to the plot even though she has little in the way of dialogue. The story begins with a frantic young lady’s urgent need to see Dr. De Grandin, barging into his just-concluded dinner party. A guest, Dr. Trowbridge, is a somewhat of a Dr. Watson type sidekick. Dr. Trowbridge’s other job is to move the narrative along. It seems the lady’s fiancé, Ned Minton, has got himself into paranormal intrigue during a visit to New Orleans. One moonlit night as Minton walked pass St. Denis Cemetery, then onto Bienville St a japonica is dropped from a balcony, in front of his feet. Julie d’ Ayen is guilty of the aerial flirt. Her searching for an eternal love takes a bizarre turn, with Minton being stalked by a three-foot cottonmouth snake “Grand ‘tante” as Quinn wrote,
“Protector of Julie d’ Ayena mulatress aged black magic ‘conjon’ woman in turban and cambric apron, Maman Dragonne is not to be trifled with. Practitioner of Obeah from the Congo. Julie should have many loves but her body should not know corruption nor her spirit rest until she could find one to keep his promise and return to her with word of love upon his lips. Those who failed her should die horribly, but he who kept his pledge would bring her rest and peace spoke Maman Dragonne.”
Julie d’ Ayen and Maman Dragonne aka Grand ‘tante roam St. Denis Cemetery. Now, I don’t want to give the rest of the story away for “Pledged to The Dead” can be found in the public domain. 1937 was not an exactly a time in any medium for positive depictions of people of color as characters (in the story you’ll find the use of the word “darkie”) and I don’t know in depth about what Quinn’s views on race were during his lifetime but in a roundabout way, Quinn transforms Dragonne from a flat to round character and gives her strength as a person of color. Evil? Yes, but strong none the less. She is splendid in her silence which elevates the horror in the story.
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York James is new to writing speculative fiction. After ten years as an artist representative and paralegal, James decided in 2013 to make a better commitment to writing. Currently writing a series of short Twilight Zone-inspired stories from the world of art (An occult detective short story, The E.E. Just Affair) with the goal of producing compelling stories. His work has appeared in BlackSciencefictionSociety.com, Genesis Winter 2015 Issue, AfroPhantoms.com, Horroraddicts.net, and a non-fiction essay in Apairy Magazine #8 2016 a Metro Philadelphia arts and literature magazine. You can also hear an interview with Mr. Goodridge on Genesis Science Fiction Radio air date 12/2/16 on YouTube.