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Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

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Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe!

edgar-allan-poe-portraitOnce upon a January dreary, while she labored, weak and weary, there came a gentle cry into the chill Boston air…

Born the second son of actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe, Jr. in 1809, Edgar Poe became an orphan by the time he was two when his father abandoned the family and his mother died. John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia took him in and kept him until he grew to adulthood. Although they never formally adopted Edgar, they gave him the name “Edgar Allan Poe” and had him baptized in the Episcopal Church. During Poe’s formative years, the family travelled to Scotland and England. Upon his return to the United States, he served as a lieutenant of the Richmond Youth Honor Guard when the Marquis de Lafayette visited. Poe attended the University of Virginia for one semester, majoring in ancient and modern languages, but left when he couldn’t pay for higher education. Using an alias, “Edgar A. Perry,” and lying about his age, Poe enlisted in the Army in 1827 and published a collection of poetry “Tamerlane and Other Poems” as an anonymous “Bostonian.” He obtained the highest rank for a non-commissioned officer, but he ended his enlistment early.

After his foster mother died, Poe moved in with his Baltimore relatives, the Clemm’s, published a second book, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems,” and entered West Point. His relationship with his foster father deteriorated, and Poe was disowned. He was court martialed in 1831 and pursued the life of a poet and writer. Fellow West Point Cadets helped finance his third book titled “Poems,” which was printed by Elam Bliss of New York. He placed prose in journals and won a prize for his short story “MS Found in a Bottle.”

27-year-old Poe married his 14-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm on 16 May, 1836. She died of tuberculosis in 1847, two years after the publication of his famous poem “The Raven.” Alcoholism plagued the Poe family. Edgar’s elder brother died because of alcohol in the early 1830’s, and Edgar himself lost positions due to drunkenness. He hoped to edit and produce a literary journal, but he died of unknown caused on 7 October, 1849 before he published.

Despite detractors such as Griswold and Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe left a legacy of writing, much of it gothic. Poe is credited with penning the first detective stories. To this day, Edgar Allan Poe’s iconic works influence popular culture in the United States and beyond. Several of his residences are preserved as museums, and The Mystery Writers of America present The Edgar, an annual award for distinguished writing established in his honor.

Halloween Forevermore remembers this amazing writer on his birthday.

“And so, being young and dipped in folly, I fell in love with melancholy.” Edgar Allan Poe

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A Witch for Epiphany

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

In Italy, presents are delivered to children on the eve of 5 January, Epiphany (also known as Three Kings Day) by a benevolent crone named La Befana. Children tidied up their rooms and hung socks from their bedposts, hoping to earn little gifts from the Christmas Witch. For the well-behaved, La Befana left figs, honey, dates, candy, and other small gifts, but for the naughty, she left onions, garlic, coal, or a switch. Although families left a glass of wine and a plate of food for the hag, any who dared spy on her work received a thump on the head from her ever-present broom. If feeling generous, La Befana sweeps the abodes, as though sweeping away the previous years’ troubles.

Some historians theorize La Befana derives from the Roman goddess Strenia. Strenia presided over the distribution of New Year’s gifts of fruits and sweets in ancient Roman households.

La BefanaAnother legend places her in Bethlehem when Mary bore Jesus. The magi stopped at her house to ask if she knew where to find the new-born king. She did not know of Jesus’ whereabouts, but she offered hospitality to the travelers. La Befana’s reputation for excellent housekeeping saw her rise early to begin chores. The grateful magi asked La Befana to join them in their quest. “Alas, I am too busy,” she replied, and they proceeded following the Star to find Jesus. Later in the day, La Befana reconsidered and sought the magi, but she could not find them or the King.

The tradition states that La Befana regretted missing meeting the holy family, and so on the night of the magi, Epiphany, she travels in search of him. She leaves presents for good children because in them she sees the spirit of God. She hope to warn the wicked from their bad courses with her messages.

Hanging stockings for La Befana

Old lady puppets resembling La Befana often are cast into fires on the night after the New Year in Italy, as though representing the old year’s leaving.

Though since WWII Santa delivers presents to the kids in Italy on Christmas Eve, the witch remains in favor. Throughout Italy and in places with dense Italian populations, parades and performances celebrate the crone. As far away as Toronto finds La Befana choirs singing the praises of the popular Christmas witch.

*First published at Halloween Forevermore

Submitted for Your Approval: A Tribute to Rod Serling

Submitted for Your Approval: A Tribute to Rod Serling

written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination—your next stop, ‘The Twilight Zone!’” With these iconic words, the rich-voiced Rod Serling introduced “The Twilight Zone.”

If he still lived, Rod Serling would be 93 years old this 25 December. Alas, this master of the anthology-style “Twilight Zone” (1959-1964) and “Night Gallery” (1969) television shows died in 1975.

An American screenwriter, play write, television producer, and narrator from New York took stood against censorship in his lifetime. In high school, he wrote for his high school newspaper and joined the military the day after graduation, serving in the Pacific during WWII. Private Serling received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal. His later writing reflected his realization of the unpredictability of life after serving. He said, “I was bitter about everything and at loose ends when I got out of the service. I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest.”

He earned a bachelor’s of arts degree from Antioch College in Ohio. He worked in radio, film, and, of course, television, accumulating numerous Emmys, Golden Globes, as well as the Edgar Allan Poe and Christopher Awards. His writing was often recognized the Writer’s Guild of America.

Rod Serling's Night Gallery

The popularity of “The Twilight Zone” found resurrection in a comic, a magazine, two later television series, and a film. Rod Serling’s image visited the television show, “The Medium,” and his likeness appeared on a US Postage stamp. His name graces the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

To celebrate his life, I plan to re-watch the seasonal “Twilight Zone” special “Night of the Meek” and recall my thrilling trips on the Tower of Terror in Walt Disney World.

“As long as they talk about you, you’re not really dead, as long as they speak your name, you continue. A legend doesn’t die, just because the man dies.” From “A Game Of Pool,” written by George Clayton Johnson, aired on The Twilight Zone, October 31, 1961.

*First published at Halloween Forevermore in 1994.

Happy Birthday, Shirley Jackson

Happy Birthday, Shirley Jackson

I wished to share my enthusiasm for an amazing, versatile author, Shirley Jackson.
Her amazing short story “The Lottery” provided my introduction to Ms. Jackson’s writing when I was but an enthusiastic junior high student. Setting a brutal ancient rite in small-town America haunts me to this day. “The Lottery” appeared in the “New Yorker” in 1948 and created an unprecedented stir. It was named the O. Henry Prize Story in 1949.
hill houseShirley Jackson’s body of written work is varied and plentiful. Her hundreds of short stories found homes in most of the magazines of the time. Subject matter varied from “real life housewife” stories to thrilling horror tales. “Louisa, Please Come Home” earned a nomination for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1961. In 1966, she won Best Short Story from Mystery Writers of America for “Possibility of Evil.”
She penned children’s literature including The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956), Nine Magic Wishes (1963), and The Bad Children, based on Hansel and Gretel, which was adapted as a play. She wrote what she called “disrespectful memoirs of her children” called Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.
Her novels include The Road Through the Wall, Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest (1954), and The Sundial. Her We Have Always Lived in the Castle garnered the accolade “One of ‘Time’ Magazine’s 10 Best Novels in 1962.” The story was successfully adapted for stage.the lottery
Stephen King and Neil Gaiman acknowledge her influence on their work. Mr. King calls her novel, The Haunting of Hill House (published in 1958 and adapted for the silver screen at least twice) “one of the best ghost stories.” It was nominated for the National Book Award.
On 14 December, 1916 Shirley Jackson was born in Burlingame, California. She attended school in Rochester, New York, where she met her husband, literary critic Stanley Edgar Hayman. The couple moved with their family to North Bennington, Vermont. She died on 8 August, 1965 of heart failure at the age of 48.

The Ghosts of Winter

VGS 2The Ghosts of Winter

written by Kerry E.B. Black

*First published at Halloween Forevermore

At this “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” such crooners as Andy Williams promise “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”. Certainly, Charles Dickens in the Victorian era put his pen to good use, writing fictions including his beloved “A Christmas Carol” peopled with ghosts and spirits, but he followed ancestral examples in so doing.

Washington Irving mentioned listening to tales of “popular superstitions and legends” in his 1819 “Sketchbook.” William Shakespeare incorporated the supernatural into his theatricals. In his “Winter’s Tale,” it is said, “…a sad tale’s best for winter; I have one of sprites and goblins…” (Winter’s tales are sometimes synonymous with ‘old wives’ tales.’) Christopher Marlow’s Barnabus in his “Jew of Malta” from 1589 said, “Now I remember those old women’s words, who in my wealth would tell me winter tales and speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night.”

Some scholars point to telling such supernatural stories as echoes from ancient times, when rituals and rites shaped the activities of the midwinter. Ancient Celts and Northmen set fires and scared one another with their mystical adventures.

Perhaps something in the deeper and longer periods of darkness of the season inspires writers toward Gothic sensibilities and Romantic inclinations. H.P. Lovecraft wrote an account of Yule horror called “The Festival.” In 1904, “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” was published by M.R. James. The impeccable “Turn of the Screw” by Henry James begins with a recollection at a holiday gathering. “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You,” “A School Story,” and “Number 13” all have aspects of the festive season involved as well.

Victorian ghost storiesI’ve recently heard of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, with its religious recitations and occult rituals. Richard Darby edited “Ghosts for Christmas” in 1988, Peter Haining “Christmas Spirits” in 1983, and Horrified Press just released “One Hell of a Christmas” in 2014.

“There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas, something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts…” rightly said Jerome K. Jerome in his preface to “Told After Supper.”

So perhaps is behooves us to pull a chair close to the hearth, snuggle together with a hot cuppa, and nod to our ancestors with a spooky remembrance. Thus I wish you Happy holidays to all, and to all a good fright!

The Bad Boys of Christmas

The Bad Boys of Christmas

written by Kerry E.B. Black

 

My daughter remains fearful of Santa Claus. Every year, she asks that the big man from the North leave the presents on the back porch instead of breaking in to sneak around the interior of our house. The Louis Armstrong tune “Is Dat You, Santa Claus?” makes me think she is not alone in this concern.

Santa is derived from St. Nicholas. This 4th century bishop possessed courage, strength, as well as supernatural powers. He freed slaves and prisoners, sympathetic to their plight after spending time incarcerated for his religious beliefs. Notably, he rescued a boy held by the Babylonian King. His fondness for children allowed him to hear the wrongs done to them. When a father felt inclined to send his dowry-less daughters to prostitution, St. Nicholas in secret and under cover of night sent bags of gold down the chimney to land in the girls’ stockings. They then possessed dowries, preserving their virtue. When walking through a market, he heard children crying out to him, but saw none. He tracked their calls to a barrel of pickling fish. Nicholas opened the lid and discovered their murdered, dismembered bodies. He kicked over the barrel and restored the children to life. Medieval iconography sometimes depicts St. Nicholas with a captured devil in chains.

After his canonization, his feast day became a celebration when the saint brought presents to reward good children and left switches or coal for the naughty. Some folk disliked the Saint’s stern stance and devised a teammate for his deliveries.

Knecht Ruprecht (translated loosely as Black Devil) in 17th century Nuremberg joined St. Nicholas. This staff-carrying, long-bearded gent handed out gingerbread, fruit, and nuts to well-behaved children, and beat the bad with bags of ashes.

Saint Nicholas and Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) generated controversy in recent years in the Netherlands, Aruba, Belgium, Luxenbourg, and Spain. This 19th century holiday character dressed in Renaissance clothes and sometimes a blackened face. He proceeded Sinter Klaas in parades, scattering cookies and amusing children, but he also brought birch switches called “roe” or lumps of coal in his burlap sack for the poorly-behaved. In Holland today, whole fleets of multicolored Petes, including females, are part of an updated imagining of holiday icons such as this freed slave or chimney sweep who assists with gift giving.

Krampus

One theory links modern images of Santa and his entourage with the Wild Men of Woden on their thrilling hunts. Woden, or Oden Allfather, with his long, white beard battled frost giants and sent his crows Hugen and Mugen to gather intelligence from around the world, including listening on rooftops around chimneys.

However, one of St. Nicholas’ companions generates such enthusiasm that the day of celebration no longer honors Myra’s bishop. Krampus Nacht many call the 5th of December, marking the day with parades, balls, plays, and frivolity. This terrifying, dark companion glories in punishing the naughty with blows from switches and rusty chains. Krampus carries a burlap sack to abduct the particularly bad and drag them to Hell. Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run, includes elaborately costumed, terrifying demonic Krampuses running amok with their punishments. Germany, Austria, Northern Italy, Finland, France, and other parts of Europe embrace the night of alcohol-consumption and nightmare generation. Krampus’ depictions vary from a sinister, black-clad gent to a horned devil or a hairy man-beast with a monstrous tongue. I’ve found Krampus celebrations here in the United States. Tonight is Krampus Gras in New Orleans. Dallas, TX, Honolulu, HI, Phoenix, AZ, and San Francisco, CA revel with the demon tonight, too. Tomorrow finds Krampus partying in Wellsboro, PA, Denver, CO, Kingston, NY, and Los Angeles, CA. He even makes a late-month appearance on the 13th in Philadelphia, PA and Los Angeles, CA.

Other dark companions for the saint include Certa, Perchten, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, and Klaubauf.

In all, though, remember, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows if you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So you better watch out!”

*First published by Halloween Forevermore in 1994,

Thriller Still Thrilling

ThrillerThriller

written by Kerry E.B. Black

2 December, 1983. American Teens curled on their couches, nestled beneath soft blankets, filled with anticipation the night MTV aired American recording artist Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Clocking in at 13:42 minutes, the mini-movie told a story wrapped around the song whose original title was “Starlight.”

The music video for the song from the album of the same name began with a disclaimer, lest its viewers think Mr. Jackson an occultist. “Any similarities between people living, dead, or undead are purely coincidental.” (Despite this warning, religious types criticized the performance for violence and occult influences.)

John Landis (Of “An American Werewolf in London” fame) directed. Rick Baker provided EFX, Elmer Bernstein the ‘scary music,’ and Rod Temperton wrote the story.

Ola Ray portrays Jackson’s love interest, first as a character in a 50’s style horror flick. “I’m not like other boys,” Jackson explained after she agreed to be his girl in the flick. The moon transformed him. Ola left the theater, disgusted. “It’s just a movie,” he teases with the song as they walk past a graveyard. Vincent Price “raps.” The dead arise, reminiscent of such horror classics as “Night of the Living Dead.”
Michael Jackson collaborated with Michael Peters to choreograph the distinctive, jerking dance numbers culminating with a group of zombies. MTV nominated “Thriller” for 6 MTV Video Awards. It won 3. In 2009, The Library of Congress chose “Thriller” as the first music video to add to National Film Registry.

Filmed in New York and Los Angeles, the video cost $500,000 to make, according the documentary “The Making of Thriller.” Vincent Price filmed his contribution in two takes. It earned a position on the Billboard hot 100 at its release, and “Thriller” with its disco-funk pop fusion of baseline, synthesizer, and sound effects remains one of the top 10 “Best Halloween Songs” according to Billboard and AOL Radio Blog. In 1999, it was appointed to the MTV 100 Greatest Videos.

“Thriller”
[Verse 1:]
It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark
Under the moonlight you see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes,
You’re paralyzed

[Chorus:]
‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night
And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike
You know it’s thriller, thriller night
You’re fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight

[Verse 2:]
You hear the door slam and realize there’s nowhere left to run
You feel the cold hand and wonder if you’ll ever see the sun
You close your eyes and hope that this is just imagination
But all the while you hear the creature creepin’up behind
You’re out of time

[Chorus:]
‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night
There ain’t no second chance against the thing with forty eyes
You know it’s thriller, thriller night
You’re fighting to survive inside a killer, thriller tonight

[Bridge:]
Night creatures call
And the dead start to walk in their masquerade
There’s no escapin’ the jaws of the alien this time (they’re open wide)
This is the end of your life

[Verse 3:]
They’re out to get you, there’s demons closing in on every side
They will possess you unless you change the number on your dial
Now is the time for you and I to cuddle close together
All thru the night I’ll save you from the terrors on the screen,
I’ll make you see

[Chorus:]
That it’s a thriller, thriller night
‘Cause I can thrill you more than any ghost would dare to try
Girl, this is thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a killer, Diller, chiller
Thriller here tonight

[Rap – by the incomparable Vincent Price:]
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize your neighborhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse’s shell.
The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller.

[Maniacal laugh]

Check out the THRILLER video:

Article: The Bad Boys of Christmas

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Krampus and Saint Nicholas art circa 1896

My daughter remains fearful of Santa Claus. Every year, she asks that the big man from the North leave the presents on the back porch instead of breaking in to sneak around the interior of our house. The Louis Armstrong tune “Is Dat You, Santa Claus?” makes me think she is not alone in this concern.

Santa is derived from St. Nicholas. This 4th century bishop possessed courage, strength, as well as supernatural powers. He freed slaves and prisoners, sympathetic to their plight after spending time incarcerated for his religious beliefs. Notably, he rescued a boy held by the Babylonian King. His fondness for children allowed him to hear the wrongs done to them. When a father felt inclined to send his dowry-less daughters to prostitution, St. Nicholas in secret and under cover of night sent bags of gold down the chimney to land in the girls’ stockings. They then possessed dowries, preserving their virtue. When walking through a market, he heard children crying out to him, but saw none. He tracked their calls to a barrel of pickling fish. Nicholas opened the lid and discovered their murdered, dismembered bodies. He kicked over the barrel and restored the children to life. Medieval iconography sometimes depicts St. Nicholas with a captured devil in chains.

After his canonization, his feast day became a celebration when the saint brought presents to reward good children and left switches or coal for the naughty. Some folk disliked the Saint’s stern stance and devised a teammate for his deliveries.

Knecht Ruprecht (translated loosely as Black Devil) in 17th century Nuremberg joined St. Nicholas. This staff-carrying, long-bearded gent handed out gingerbread, fruit, and nuts to well-behaved children, and beat the bad with bags of ashes.

Saint Nicholas and Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) generated controversy in recent years in the Netherlands, Aruba, Belgium, Luxenbourg, and Spain. This 19th century holiday character dressed in Renaissance clothes and sometimes a blackened face. He proceeded Sinter Klaas in parades, scattering cookies and amusing children, but he also brought birch switches called “roe” or lumps of coal in his burlap sack for the poorly-behaved. In Holland today, whole fleets of multicolored Petes, including females, are part of an updated imagining of holiday icons such as this freed slave or chimney sweep who assists with gift giving.

Krampus

One theory links modern images of Santa and his entourage with the Wild Men of Woden on their thrilling hunts. Woden, or Oden Allfather, with his long, white beard battled frost giants and sent his crows Hugen and Mugen to gather intelligence from around the world, including listening on rooftops around chimneys.

However, one of St. Nicholas’ companions generates such enthusiasm that the day of celebration no longer honors Myra’s bishop. Krampus Nacht many call the 5th of December, marking the day with parades, balls, plays, and frivolity. This terrifying, dark companion glories in punishing the naughty with blows from switches and rusty chains. Krampus carries a burlap sack to abduct the particularly bad and drag them to Hell. Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run, includes elaborately costumed, terrifying demonic Krampuses running amok with their punishments. Germany, Austria, Northern Italy, Finland, France, and other parts of Europe embrace the night of alcohol-consumption and nightmare generation. Krampus’ depictions vary from a sinister, black-clad gent to a horned devil or a hairy man-beast with a monstrous tongue. I’ve found Krampus celebrations here in the United States. Tonight is Krampus Gras in New Orleans. Dallas, TX, Honolulu, HI, Phoenix, AZ, and San Francisco, CA revel with the demon tonight, too. Tomorrow finds Krampus partying in Wellsboro, PA, Denver, CO, Kingston, NY, and Los Angeles, CA. He even makes a late-month appearance on the 13th in Philadelphia, PA and Los Angeles, CA.

Other dark companions for the saint include Certa, Perchten, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, and Klaubauf.

In all, though, remember, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows if you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So you better watch out!”

Happy Birthday, RL Stine!

RL SteinHappy Birthday, RL Stine

written by Kerry E.B. Black

October is a big month for American writer and producer RL Stine. October 8, 1943 was the birthday for this “Stephen King of children’s literature,” and 16 October, 2015 saw the release of his “Goosebumps” film starring Jack Black as a fictionalized Stine. Robert Lawrence (RL) himself cameos within the film as well.

Stine started writing at the age of nine in his Ohio home. In 1965, he graduated from Ohio State University where he wrote for and edited their humor magazine. He moved to New York to begin his writing career. His first written works were compilations of jokes, not the signature children’s thrills with which his name is associated. He wrote under the pen name Jovial Bob Stine. Another pseudonym is Eric Affabee. He wrote for and edited “Bananas,” a kids’ comedy magazine for ten years.

He published his first novel, “Blind Date,” in 1986. Three years later, he published his Fear Street series. Goosebumps, his best-known and award-winning series of kids’ horror, launched in 1992 with the release of “Welcome to Dead House.” Hollywood adapted several of his books for TV and film. Three video games feature Goosebumps themes, as do movie attractions at Sea World and Busch Gardens. The award-winning series was translated into 32 languages and earned acclaim for Stine. Over 200 novels later, RL Stine made the Forbes list of the 40 best-paid entertainers of 1996-1997. USA Today named him America’s #1 bestselling author, and People Weekly added him to their Most Intriguing list. In 2003, Guiness recorded him as the bestselling children’s author of all time. Over 400 million of his books sold as of 2008. He named his first adult novel “Superstitious,” and to his credit are numerous joke books, the Space Cadets trilogy, and game books.

Despite a busy appearance schedule and thriving film adaptations of his works, RL Stine continues to produce stories and work on projects peopled with murderous ventriloquist dummies, blood-thirsty pirates, and creepy clowns. Surprisingly, Stine claims his dreams are dull and provide no inspiration for his tales. Still, his prolific works continue to give his audiences nightmares of their own.

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