Odds and Dead Ends: The danger of the future in ‘A Warning to the Curious’ by M. R. James

“May I ask what you intend to do with it next?”

“I’m going to put it back.”

The 1972 Christmas adaptation of the classic M. R. James ghost story, A Warning to the Curious, perfectly captured the unique terror of the story, a terror that was at the heart of most of James’ classics. In the tale, an amateur archaeologist finds himself on the trail of an ancient Anglian crown said to protect the ancient kingdom from invasion, but is pursued by its ghostly protector intent on keeping it hidden. What drives the story is that the past should remain in the past, admired from a distance but never defiled for personal gain, lest destruction be wrought on more than just the individual.

For note, I’m going to discuss the story in detail, so, spoilers ahead. Just a little warning to the curious.

The idea of a ghostly companion isn’t something new; for one such example, Sheridan Le Fanu used a disturbing rendition of a demonic presence in Green Tea, about a man who had his third eye opened to a demon, which takes the shape of a monkey with glowing red eyes that haunts his every waking moment. As James was a great admirer of Le Fanu’s work, and helped compile several volumes of his stories, he would have obviously been aware of this story, and the ghostly companion idea.

For James, however, he uses this device for more than just scaring people. James in his personal life was most at home in the old libraries of Cambridge and Eton, as a medievalist and scholar. He was, for all intents and purposes, very much afraid of radical changes of life, especially through technology and social upheaval. The First World War is said to have affected him tremendously, to hear and know of his students, and friends, dying in the trenches abroad. All of this helps us understand where James comes from when his story puts so much emphasis on maintenance of a status quo, of letting the past lie.

It’s interesting to me that in both the original short story and the BBC adaptation, the main character, Paxton, is going through a period of personal lifestyle change. In the short story he is in the process of moving to Sweden, and spending a last few weeks in England before he follows his belongings abroad. In the BBC version, Paxton has been a clerk for twelve years before his company folded the week before, and he decided to follow up on the story of the Anglian crown as a result of nothing else to do, and nothing left to lose; a chance of making a name for himself. The curiosity in finding an ancient relic, and using it to begin a new life (economically and socially on the screen, as a metaphorical omen of good luck for a new beginning in the original), morphs into Paxton’s eventual undoing.

Even the title spells out the intended meaning of the text; don’t let your curiosity get the better of you. And that in both versions of the text, the re-burial of the crown doesn’t deter the spirit from pursuing Paxton, is further proof that the uncovering of the artifact is not simply a physical defiling of the past, but an endangerment on a larger scale. By removing the crown, there is danger of the shores being invaded, bringing about that social upheaval and radical change that James feared so much. To deter others from doing likewise, and having knock-on effects which negatively influences the wider world, the guardian of the crown must end Paxton’s life. This punishment for curiosity is famously central to H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft would have had the protagonist end up insane, or gods breaking through into our dimension in some way. Lovecraft himself wrote of M R James in many letters and articles, praising him as a master of weird fiction, so the connection between the two writers is certainly there.

In our own days of great social change, with the world going through unprecedented times, the antiquated verse of James’ ghost stories might seem a little stilted. Yet he seemed to express that fear in all of us with the best, that the change overcoming the world might contain some ghosts to be feared. How we choose to take his warning for the world, is up to us, but it seems chilling nonetheless that James was putting into fiction exactly what many people fear will happen if one kicks the hornet’s nest of the past. For an old-fashioned Victorian like James, he wanted the comfort of his history. For any change to happen, we must be prepared to face whatever consequences we unleash.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-If you want more M. R. James, here’s a link to an article I did a few years ago, comparing the device of very literal ‘deadlines’ in James’ Casting The Runes and Koji Suzuki’s novel, Ring: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/odds-and-dead-ends-analysis-of-casting-the-runes-and-ring/

Odds and Dead Ends : Scaring Ourselves Silly | Monsters and the Uncanny Valley

We all love a good monster. Be it Godzilla or King Kong, werewolves or cenobites, we can’t get enough of them. Guillermo Del Toro has made a living out of them, and nobody in their right mind would begrudge him that. But when we think of being scared, perhaps what touches the nerves more than anything else are not the big, lumbering beasts towering above us. It’s those fiends that come close to being human, just one step away from actually being us.

This concept is known in the field of robotics as the ‘uncanny valley’. Coined initially by Masahiro Mori, the basic idea of it is that there is a distinct, graph-able curve in people’s emotional responses to the verisimilitude of a robot to people. Essentially, when you start to make a robot look like a person, people view it more favourably. Then, suddenly, as you keep going, there’s a point where it’s not completely robotic, but not completely human, and it’s in this stage when we have a strong feeling of revulsion or disgust. When it gets close to being indistinguishable from us, it becomes so lifelike that we view it favourably again. This dip into disgust is the uncanny valley.

The theory of the uncanny itself was used by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay The Uncanny as a way to explain why we’re so creeped out by dolls and waxwork figures and the likes. He goes back to the original German for uncanny, unheimlich, and its roots in the word heimlich which roughly means to conceal or hide. He proposes that we find something uncanny because it is a revealing of social taboos and ideas which we try to hide in everyday life. This eventually gets linked on to concepts of the id and the subconscious, which is really the subject for another article altogether.

But what does all of this mean for our monsters? How can we link these concepts together in a way that impacts our understanding of our favourite horror villains?

Well perhaps this doesn’t apply for the big Kaiju as such, but maybe it helps explain why we’re still chilled by vampires, ghosts, and ghouls. The brain sees their general shape and recognises them as human, or at least, very human-like. Yet there’s always something just a little bit off, be it the pallor of their skin, or the sharp claws or teeth, which sets them apart and makes them disturbing to us. Going back to Del Toro, think of The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s got a recognisably human shape (based off Saturn in the painting Saturn Devouring His Sun by Francisco Goya), but with the skin stretched over the frame, the nostrils flared with no bridge, claw-like talons, and eyes in his hands. He’s started off human but been warped.

Even cursed or possessed dolls have something off about them; the animation of a human avatar is almost the very concept of the uncanny valley, with the robot being substituted for a doll, but the basic principle remaining. Toys are essentially us, preserved in miniature, and when they rise up against us, the human part of their design strikes a chord with us.

This is perhaps why we find masked killers a distressing concept. The shape is human, and the mask is human-like, but it doesn’t change, and as humans learn to see the face as the main projector of emotion when it doesn’t alter during extreme acts of violence, we slip down the slope of the valley. Masks such as those belonging to Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, fairly blank and devoid of emotion, would, therefore, represent something uncanny. Also very often the mask represents a demon or spirit (thinking of films such as Onibaba or Scream) which conjures up concepts of possession by an unseen force. This might explain why we’re so focused on the killer’s mask in these films, because they are themselves imbued with that uncanny quality which makes them memorable beyond the killer behind them.

Think of the Scream franchise, where the mask comes to represent something much deeper, a force of evil in itself. When you see someone without the mask, they’re normal, but as soon as the face is obscured, they become terrifying, a body for the murderous will of the mask. And the mask and the murderous intent has the power to transfer its ownership from one person to another, like a spirit darting in and out of its possessed victims. Even think of the numerous killers that take on Jigsaw’s role in the Saw films. As soon as you come into possession of Billy, leading the charge of the traps, you become Jigsaw, the embodiment of John Kramer and his will to put people to the test of their drive to survive. We dip from being too human to being something slightly removed.

The idea of the uncanny valley even feeds into ghosts. Think of Kayako and Toshio from the Ju-on films. Though it sounds funny, how many of us were deeply disturbed when Toshio, a pale little boy, opened his mouth and meowed? When Kayako came crawling down the stairs, her throat croaking like a door very slowly opening? This concept of uncanniness transfers over to the sounds we make, affecting us when someone’s voice is not what it should be. This is something obviously well known to anyone who has watched The Exorcist in their time.

And so whilst the big monsters from The Ritual and Cloverfield might scare us, they don’t get anywhere close to instilling that distinct feeling of unease which those humanoid villains which nestle in the uncanny valley have the ability to do. When vampires flash their fangs, with blood in their eyes, we see something hiding inside the human form. When we see Schwarzenegger doing his own repairs in The Terminator, we find lines between humanity and inhumanity blurred. From now on, he looks just like us, but we know he isn’t.

And when we transfer over to imitation narratives such as The Thing or The Body Snatchers, suddenly we’re even more scared, because any one of us could be them. Now the uncanny transfers into paranoia, and we have to rely on looking out for the uncanny to alert us to danger. We have to fall back on something terrifying to keep us calm. In a way, we hope for something uncanny to confirm our fears. And that, more than anything, is scary.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Cloverfield. 2007. [Film] Directed by Matt Reeves. USA: Bad Robot.

Finney, J., 2010. The Body Snatchers. Great Britain: Orion Publishing.

Freud, S., McLintock, D. & Haughton, H., 2003. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin Books.

Friday the 13th. 1980. [Film] Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Unites States of America: Georgetown Productions Inc.

Godzilla. 1954. [Film] Directed by Ishiro Honda. Japan: Toho.

Goya, F., 1819 – 1823. Saturn Devouring His Son. [Art] (Museo del Prado).

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

Ju-On: The Grudge. 2002. [Film] Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Japan: Pioneer LDC.

King Kong. 1933. [Film] Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. USA: RKO Pictures Inc..

Onibaba. 1964. [Film] Directed by Kaneto Shindo. Japan: Kindai Eiga Kyokai.

Pan’s Labyrinth. 2006. [Film] Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Spain: Telecinco Cinema.

Saw. 2004. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: Twisted Pictures.

Scream. 1996. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States: Dimension Films.

The Exorcist. 1973. [Film] Directed by William Friedkin. USA: Hoya Productions.

The Ritual. 2017. [Film] Directed by David Bruckner. UK: The Imaginarium.

The Terminator. 1984. [Film] Directed by James Cameron. United States of America: Hemdale.

 

Book Review: Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen

Book Review: Quoth the Raven edited by Lyn Worthen

When I was around ten years old, I came across the story The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe.  That was my introduction to his work, and I loved it.  Over the years, I read more of his stories and eventually his poetry and enjoyed it all.  He’s in my top ten list of favorite authors, and more than one of his stories would be in my list of favorite short fiction.  When I was offered the chance to read and review Quoth the Raven, an anthology of retellings of Poe’s stories by contemporary authors, I responded with a resounding yes.

Quoth the Raven by [Fallon, Amber, Azariah-Kribbs, A.A, Worthen, Lyn, Gorman, Amelia, Bollinger, Aryan, Ellis, Brian, Weaver, Donea, Abela, Chris, Ahern, Edward, Rich, Emerian, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Vicki Weisfeld, Gregory J. Wolos, Sidney Williams, R.C. Scandalis, Karen Robiscoe, Tonia Kalouria, John Kiste , Melanie Cossey, Matthew M. Montelione, Kenneth C. Goldman, Steven R. Southard, Kara Race-Moore, Stephanie L. Harper, Susan McCauley, Sonora Taylor, Lauryn Christopher, Sarah Murtagh, Lawrence Berry, Frank Coffman]This anthology features prose and poetry, mostly modern day reworkings of his stories, but some stand out as original ideas written following his style.  “The Cellphone,” by R.C. Scandalis, for example.  That one is a poem patterned after Poe’s The Raven.  While the new poem is a humorous exploration of someone who has become a slave to his smart phone, it follows the rhythm, meter, and rhyming pattern of The Raven.  It was inventive and it often made me laugh.

Other works by Poe were heavily mined for this anthology.  The Cask of Amontillado, which is my favorite of his stories, is given a contemporary voice in four different tales.  My favorite of the retellings of Cask is “The Montresor Method,” by Hugh J. O’Donnell.  It was a clever take on the classic tale of revenge that uses a physical copy of Poe’s story as a plot device.  O’Donnell did a good job of capturing the feel and essence of Edgar Allen’s voice and I enjoyed reading his story.

My favorite poem by Poe is The Bells, and I was pleased to see that one of the selections used that as a basis for a new work.  “The Tones,” by Amber Fallon follows the pattern of The Bells in an exploration of alarms, ringtones, sirens, and other similar sounds heard frequently in today’s world.  I liked it almost as much as the original it’s patterned after.

Several other of Poe’s more famous works are retold, including The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Purloined Letter; some appearing more than once.  Aside from the works I mentioned already, one that stood out for me is “My Annabel” by Emerian Rich.  “My Annabel” is a retelling in prose form of the poem Annabel Lee.  I really liked it.  Like O’Donnell, Rich did a great job of capturing the feel of Poe’s voice and style, and it read like something he might write today, were he still alive and (spoiler) a fan of George Romero’s work.

I enjoyed reading Quoth the Raven.  There were definitely selections that stood out more than others, but for me, there wasn’t a single dud in the book.  I would recommend the anthology to anyone who enjoys dark-themed stories.  Those who love the work of Edgar Allen Poe will enjoy seeing how the authors translate his tales into contemporary society.  However, one doesn’t need to be a fan of Poe to like these stories and poems.  Quoth the Raven is a fine collection that any fan of horror fiction should enjoy.  It’s available on Amazon both in paperback and for the Kindle.  Give it a read; you won’t be disappointed.

Disclaimer:  I was provided an electronic copy of the book so that I could read and review it.  I received no money for the review, and the opinions stated therein are my own.

Odds and DEAD Ends: Resurrecting The Queen

Resurrecting The Queen: Queen Tera in Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars,

When people think of Bram Stoker, they invariably think of Dracula. His novel, The Jewel of Seven Stars, is perhaps overshadowed simply by the importance of the vampire, but it is by no means an inferior novel. Detailing the attempt to resurrect an ancient Egyptian Queen, the novel went on to inspire movies such as Hammer’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, and in some ways the Universal adaptation of The Mummy with Tom Cruise. In this article, I will discuss Queen Tera, and the way she is portrayed as a constant threat to patriarchal society.

To note, I’m using a copy of the novel which includes the original ending and the second, revised ending. I’m basing my discussion on the original ending because it’s darker and, presumably, the direction Stoker originally intended. Also, selfishly, because I much prefer it.

Let us first note that, aside from Margaret Trelawny (and a brief mention of her mother), Queen Tera is the only female character in the novel, and she never utters a word. Her characterization is presented through the male characters of the novel; the documentation of Van Huyn’s book, or the recounting of Corbeck and Trelawny. The power that she exhumes, therefore, may or may not be interpreted to be being played up by the male characters to increase the sense of a threat that she poses. Note that before we are given a name, we have the warning that “‘The “Nameless One” has insulted them and is forever alone. Go not nigh, lest their vengeance wither you away.’” (P.84)

With all that in mind, what is initially deciphered from the sarcophagus reveals Tera to have challenged the male-dominated society of the priests, “‘who had by then achieved immense power’” (p.87). “‘In the statement, it was plainly set forth that the hatred of the priests was, she knew, stored up for her, and that they would after her death try to suppress her name.’” (p.88). Their motivation is her strength in being able to combat their overthrowing of the monarchy, “‘They were then secretly ready to make an effort… that of transferring the governing power from a Kingship to a Hierarchy.’” (p.87) The priests, to their own gain, attempt to get rid of her, “‘make out that the real Princess Tera had died in the experiment, and that another girl had been substituted, but she conclusively proved their error.’” (P.88)

Tera, however, shows incredible resilience thanks to her own determination and learning from her father, “‘He had also had her taught statecraft, and had even made her learned in the lore of the very priests themselves.’” (p.87). She even breaks the tradition of a male ruler, though others try to align her to it. “‘In the following picture she was in female dress, but still wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, while the discarded male raiment lay at her feet.’” (P.88). She is very much her own woman, not afraid to show her sex, going against the patriarchy set up for the Kingship, and against the priesthood. “‘She seems to have seen through the weakness of her own religion.’” (p.113)

Her intelligence is noted by the present-day protagonists, who even say that the mummy’s gender may affect their knowledge of the situation, that “Men may find that what seemed empiric deductions were, in reality, the results of a loftier intelligence and a learning greater than our own.” (P.164) Mr. Trelawny also states that:

“We might have known that the maker of such a tomb – a woman, who had shown in other ways such a sense of beauty and completeness, and who had finished every detail with such a feminine richness of elaboration – would not have neglected such an architectural feature.” (P.95)

However, Queen Tera possesses a knowledge which the others do not, which ensures their eventual demise and her assumed resurrection. As is noted by Carol A. Senf, “What makes Tera so overwhelming is her violence and ability to over-power the assembled experts.” (p.107). The science and understanding of all the men in the room cannot save them from Tera’s avenging evil, just as the priests could not stop her eventual revival.

It is this knowledge of another world, knowledge beyond that of the priests and the protagonists, that they fear. Women’s rights movements are slowly gaining momentum at the time, and just a few years before the novel’s publication, in 1898, Stoker’s native Ireland had the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association arise from the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association. Gender politics is on the rise, and the female threats to patriarchal power could not have been far from Stoker’s mind.

This fear of female invasion to the modern patriarchal society is what makes Tera so terrifying. Killing dozens of people throughout the recorded events, based on a combination of ambition and supernatural power, fuelled by a wrath based on gender politics very closely linked to the rising gender politics of Stoker’s time, Queen Tera is an overshadowed classic villain of gothic horror. With gender politics still very much in the public consciousness in today’s world, perhaps revisiting this pushed-aside novel by one of modern horror’s founding fathers, is worth the time for all of us.

Article by Kieran Judge

Bibliography

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. 1971. [Film] Directed by Seth Holt. United Kingdom: Hammer.

Senf, C. A., 2010. Bram Stoker. Wales: University of Wales Press.

Stoker, B., 2009. The Jewel of Seven Stars. United States of America: Seven Treasures Publications.

The Mummy. 2017. [Film] Directed by Alex Kurtzman. United States of America: Universal.

 

 

Odds and DEAD Ends: Analysis of Casting the Runes and Ring.

M. R. James’ classic ghost story, Casting the Runes, is perhaps one of the most beloved of all time. It follows Mr. Dunning, uncovering a plot by Dr. Karswell to kill him via a series of ancient runic symbols. Similarly, for the modern age, Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring, (thanks largely to Hideo Nakata’s film adaptation), changed the face of Japanese horror films, much in the way that Scream did for the slasher genre. Examined in this article is the concept of infecting a victim with a deadline, by which, if the deadline isn’t passed on, the victim will die. This concept is, in both texts, a product of history and the past, which can infiltrate the modern day to scare the reader.

CASTING THE RUNES

James’ story is rooted in folklore of witches and magic. James himself was a noted historian of folklore and mythology, writing many papers on medieval manuscripts and other texts. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this interest seeps through in Casting the Runes, his uncovering of ancient texts mirroring the discovery of the slip of paper with the runes.

The main conflict I perceive in the text is the tension between the modernity presented by Dunning and Harrington, and the history and past presented by Karswell, fighting for power. Karswell, a man who has “…invented a new religion for himself, and practiced no one could tell what appalling rites” (p.238), has cast a hex on Dunning for shunning his new book. The past, in its runes and legends, is here the antagonistic force presented through Karswell, his book described simply as ‘an evil book’ (p.242), the mythic past’s main point of origin. Karswell’s magic lantern show presents the darker side of children’s myths and fairy tales, such as Red Riding Hood, which bleed through into the modern world:

“At last he produced a series which represented a little boy passing through his own park – Lufford, I mean – in the evening. Every child in the room could recognize the place from the pictures. And this poor boy was followed, and at last pursued and overtaken, and either torn into horrible pieces or somehow made away with, by a horrible hopping creature in white, which you saw first dodging about among the trees, and gradually it appeared more and more plainly.” (p.239)

Not only do we see the past colliding with the modern present through this passage, but after this, showing slimy creatures on the slides, “…somehow or other he made it seem as if they were climbing out of the picture and getting in amongst the audience” (p.240). Dunning and Harrington, on the other hand, are modernity’s flag-bearers. Dunning investigates the noise in the night, “…for he knew he had shut the door that evening after putting his papers away in his desk” (p.252), proving a logical, empirical mind, later reinforced here: “It was a difficult concession for a scientific man, but it could eased by the phrase “hypnotic suggestion” (p.255). Dunning even suggests that Karswell was “…mixing up classical myths, and stories out of the Golden Legend with reports of savage customs of to-day…” (p.258), showing a scholarly knowledge of the subject matter.

Therefore, the strange atmosphere about Dunning, the mysterious death of Harrington’s brother, the strange wind, “I supposed the door blew open, though I didn’t notice it: at any rate a gust – a warm gust it was – came quite suddenly between us, took the paper and blew it into the fire” (p.258), only increases our fear and trepidation, especially with the three month deadline hanging over our heads before Dunning’s eventual demise, for they can only be supernatural, against Dunning’s core beliefs. We try to decipher it rationally, following our protagonist’s example, but are unable to. Modern science cannot fight back against the curse of the runes. When Dunning and Harrington resort to deception and return the slip to Karswell, we slip into the past, so to speak, presented with the evil past that the characters have tried to deny for so long. We want to see evil banished back to where it belongs, away from Dunning’s modern day, back into the history books.

This brings us to the final moral dilemma. We are asked at the tale’s conclusion, “Had they been justified in sending a man to his death, as they believed they had? Ought they not to warn him, at least?” (p.266). They have become like Karswell, dispensing an ancient, malevolent death upon those they deem a threat. Though they justify this by claiming Karswell deserved it, and that Dunning would be dead otherwise, it is an unnerving note to end with, asking if they should have asked the darkness of history to prove itself, or descended to the old ways as they do, dispensing justice in, what is for them, a “new rite”, much like Karswell created for himself.

RING

Suzuki’s novel, Ring, adopts a similar structure in terms of its narrative. A malevolent force (the spirit of Sadako Yamamura) has given a victim (Asakawa) a time limit (seven days) to find what mysterious instructions he needs to follow in order to save his life (copying the cursed tape and passing it on). The runes have been replaced by the video tape, and it is here that we see one of the key, fundamental differences to James’ story. Sadako is built upon the myths and folklore of Japan, but her embodiment of ‘the past’ is intertwined with modern technology. The distinct opposition inherent in James’ tale is no longer as easy to see in Suzuki’s novel.

The female ghost with long hair avenging their death is a well-established trait in Japanese folklore. These stories are called kaidan; the vengeful ghost termed an onryō. Theatre Group Soaring, in the novel, would no doubt have practiced traditional Japanese kabuki theatre, itself one of the main vehicles through which kaidan tales were passed throughout the centuries. Even in the film adaptation, the strange, contorted movements of Sadako (as played by Rie Inō) is directly inspired by stereotypical movements of onryō from kabuki theatre, and Rie Inō herself was apparently trained in kabuki. The story of the spirit in the well has also been around for centuries, the story of Okiku and the plates, being a potent example.

Sadako is therefore very much rooted in Japan’s past, in more ways than just being dead. Asakawa, on the other hand, is very much the modern man, constantly carrying around a word processor, saving files to floppy disks, phoning Yoshino from the island to help his investigation. Ryuji is a professor of philosophy, a discipline which “…as a field of inquiry had drawn ever closer to science,” (p.88). These two men are built of the modern world. They even live in Tokyo, one of the largest cities in the world. When arriving at Pacific Land, Asakawa notes that “Faced with this proof that the modern power of science functioned here, too, he felt somewhat reassured, strengthened.” (p.61).

Suzuki uses technology, the statement of the future and urbanity, to steer his antagonistic force, striking at civilisation’s heart. Sadako’s wrath and anger takes over the videotape, itself situated in a cabin complete with “A hundred-watt bulb lit a spacious living room. Papered walls, carpet, four-person sofa, television, dinette set: everything was new, everything was functionally arranged.” (p.63). Asakawa, despite his hesitations and fear of what the tape might show him, ‘No matter what sort of horrific images he might be shown, he felt confident he wouldn’t regret watching” (p.73). Why would his regret watching? It wouldn’t be as if anything could happen to him, constrained as it were by the (very much Western) technology before him.

Just like Karswell’s magic lantern show, however, the images on the tape have their own weight and reality, “Startled, he pulled back his hands. He had felt something. Something warm and wet – like amniotic fluid, or blood – and the weight of flesh.” (p.77). When Asakawa answers the phone, it is described that:

“There was no reply. Something was swirling around in a dark, cramped place. There was a deep rumble, as if the earth were resounding, and the damp smell of soil. There was a chill at his ear, and the hairs on the nape of his neck stood up. The pressure on his chest increased, and bugs from the bowls of the earth were crawling on his ankles and his spine, clinging to him. Unspeakable thoughts and long-ripened hatred almost reached to him through the receiver. Asakawa slammed down the receiver.” (p.81).

That silence from the other end of a telephone gives this impression, this startlingly sensory imagery, showcases Sadako’s reach and wrath, without her saying a word.

In the finale, Asakawa, realising why he survived and Ryuji did not, agrees to wager the entirety of humanity by spreading the virus to his parents-in-law. Whereas James simply had the characters return the curse to Karswell, he the price for Dunning’s survival, here, Suzuki has entire the world be the price for saving Asakawa’s family. Whereas Casting the Runes ends with a definite confirmation of Karswell’s demise, Ring ends with the ominous passage, “Black clouds moved eerily across the skies. They slithered like serpents, hinting at the unleashing of some apocalyptic evil.” (p.284). Asakawa has become accomplice to Sadako’s malice, the past in control of modern technology and, through that, the modern man. “In order to protect my family, I am about to let loose on the world a plague which could destroy all mankind.” (p.283).

CONCLUSION

Both James’ short story and Suzuki’s novel present characters eagerly, desperately trying to beat the deadlines they are faced with, wished upon them by people that want them dead. Through their representations of an evil, malevolent past, embodied by Karswell and Sadako, both authors present us with a moral choice of who we save, and who we kill in exchange. What is different about their endings is the level of intimacy and scope we are presented with. Casting the Runes is a story of personal vengeance, where the battle is between Karswell on one side and Dunning and Harrington on the other, with the evil-doer getting their just desserts, like a boxing match. Ring’s evil is much more impersonal, and the apocalyptic ending shows the sheer magnitude of what must happen for someone to live. You don’t end the curse; you just pass the buck and hope someone else will do it for you. The ending’s bleak tone implies that there is no hope, that nobody will sacrifice themselves to stop the bleeding, and that the virus will move from one soul to another, runes forever being cast.

Written by Kieran Judge

Bibliography

James, M. R., 1994. Casting the Runes. In: Collected Ghost Stories. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, pp. 235 – 267.

Ringu. 1998. [Film] Directed by Hideo Nakata. Japan: Ringu/Rasen Production Company.

Scream. 1996. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States: Dimension Films.

Suzuki, K., 2004. Ring. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.