Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jack O'Lantern's Top Seven Favorite US Ghost Stories.

Hello, one and all!  Jack O’Lantern here again!  You know, just the other day I was talking to my friend Franz, you may know him as The Headless Horseman, about how awesome it is that the ghost story is the USA’s go-to form of folklore.  Oh, sure, there are a few legends and tall tales and some transplanted fairy tales.  However, what is it that the Yanks always seem to tell around the campfire?  Ghost stories!  So, I thought I’d make use of another of this blog’s features and present you with my Top 7 Favorite US Ghost Stories.

7) Bloody Mary (Pennsylvania/ Montana/ Indiana)- We might as well start with a classic.  Everyone knows the Bloody Mary ritual.  Say her name into a mirror three times in the dark and she will come for you.  However, there are many different versions of this story across the USA (click each state to get to a different version).  One version states that she was an old witch that stole the lives of young girls to make herself younger.  Others claim she was the murdered daughter of a cruel man.  Either way, say her name into the mirror if you dare and see what happens.

6) Henry Hudson and the Catskill Gnomes (New York)- No list of ghost stories would be complete without at least one historically inspired tale.  This one takes us to the Catskill Mountains.  The explorer Henry Hudson and his crew went into the mountains following some strange music.  What they found was a group of unusual dwarfish individuals drinking beer and playing ninepins.  They say that to this day that the gnomes still gather to play and drink and that they’re always joined by a crew of ghosts: Henry Hudson and his men.  This particular tale also served as inspiration for Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle”.

5) Invisible Hands or The Tommy Knockers (Nevada)- This is a great example of a ghost story tradition that has been carried over from the Old World.  In many countries across Europe there are accounts of miners hearing the sound of people working in the mine even though no one was there.  This is attributed to spirits or fairies.  In Scotland, they’re called knockers (from the sound of pickaxes knocking against the mine wall).  In England they’re called the bucca.  And in Germany they’re called kobolds.  Miners from Nevada also report encountering such creatures.  However, their versions seem more ghostly, seeing as they reportedly took the form of drills, hammers and pickaxes working all by themselves as if wielded by invisible hands.  This story has spread and in the US, such creatures have come to be known as Tommy-Knockers.

4) The Sobbing Ghost (New Jersey)- Every list of ghost stories needs a sea story.  However, this one’s a little different.  This story concerns pirates who never leave dry land.  Stories tell of wreckers, gruesome pirates who draw ships too close to shore so that they wreck.  Then they strip everything that comes ashore of anything valuable.  Another story that the wreckers appear in is “The Wreck of the Palatine”.  This particular story concerns a young lady who was the daughter of a leader of a band of wreckers living on Long Beach Island.  A lovely young lady with a beau living overseas.  She went out one day with her father’s crew to strip a wrecked ship.  However, she was unprepared for what she saw.  Among all the dead, drowned bodies that washed ashore, there was one that she recognized.  That of her lover!  The grief was too much for her and she died.  Yet, her ghost still wanders the beaches of Long Beach Island sobbing for her lost love.

3) Death Waltz (New Mexico)- This one’s a real spooker!  A tale of love turned bad.  A young soldier named Johnny at Fort Union falls for a coquettish beauty.  She promises to be true to him forever (though, for some, promises are easily forgotten).  The soldier goes out to fight the Apaches and doesn’t return, his body disappearing in the chaos.  Some time passes, but not much, and his girlfriend finds a new man, a handsome lieutenant.  Before long it’s their wedding day.  And that’s the day Johnny decides to return!  I’m not going to say anymore.  Click the title to read the story and get the full effect.

2) Burnt Church (Georgia)- Stories of witches are almost as common as stories about ghosts and this one’s a great witchy tale!  A sophisticated new teacher comes to teach at a little school in a small town in Georgia.  The parents are thrilled at first.   However a local man named Smith, known as a drunk and a troublemaker regards her with suspicion.  Pretty soon, the children start to act strangely.  They start to lie to their parents, have secret meetings in the woods and sometimes can be heard chanting in a strange language.  It turns out Smith might be right, and he plans to take action with the use of a lit torch.  But will that rely end the teacher’s sorcerous power?

1) Black Aggie (Maryland)- Now this one will give anyone the creeps.  That’s why it’s number one.  A man named Felix Agnus puts up the statue of a grieving angel in the local cemetery.  The statue is a strange, unsettling sight.  It’s likeness is caught in a moment of intense pain and grief.  Pretty soon, stories start to spread about the statue nicknamed “Black Aggie”.  They said she was haunted by the spirit of a mistreated wife whose body lay beneath her feet.  They also said that the statue’s eyes glowed red at midnight and anyone who returned the gaze would be struck blind.  Others said that if you sat on the statue’s lap at night, it would crush you in a dark embrace.  Still others claimed that the spirits of the dead gathered around the statue at night.  However, these were all just rumors. Nothing truly bad happened until the day a few fraternity brothers snuck into the cemetery for an initiation test.  That’s when her true dark power was revealed.

Now how’s that for a list?  No one knows ghost stories like me.  I have every one of them etched into the ectoplasm of my mind.

Adam: Who are you kidding?  I caught you looking at American Folklore’s A to Z Ghost Story list.  Bet you didn’t even get halfway through.

Jack: I don’t know what you’re yapping about.

Adam: Oh, well.  I will say that your posts haven’t been too bad.  I even have a gift to thank you for spicing up my blog for the month.

Jack: Really?  What is it?

Adam: A new trick-or-treat bag! [presents bag to Jack]

Jack: Huh.  Well, it just looks like an old sack to me.

Adam: Well then, Whickety Whack!  Into my sack!
Jack: AAAAGGGGHHH! [gets drawn into the sack]

Adam: Well, now maybe things can get back to normal around here.

This ends Jack O’Lantern’s Halloween haunting, but if you’d like to see Jack come back next year, post in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ghoul Aid

Jack: Y’know, as this time of year comes around and people start talking about ghosts and monsters, I can’t help but get upset by how you human types have made some self-respecting monsters into generic terms.  You forget all about the real roots of your folklore.

Adam: Now that’s something I can agree with!  Like how people Europeanize certain creatures!  Some book adaptations of “Momotaro” call the oni ogres.  Ogres are monsters of French origin, not Japanese.  What’s wrong with using the Japanese name for a Japanese monster?  Also, let’s not forget about how people forget the Scandanavian origins of trolls, or that they have a sort of lore all their own!  Like how they turn to stone in sunlight!  And then there’s the way that people lump all faeries together . . .

Jack: Yeah, yeah.  That’s all well and good.  But I’m here to talk about GHOULS!

Adam: Um, pardon me.

Jack: Ghouls!  You know, ghouls!  Everyone this time of year talks about ghosts, goblins and ghouls but most of those people probably don’t even know what a ghoul is.

Adam: Yeah, but . . .

Jack: A ghoul, or ghul, comes from Arabain folklore.  A ghoul is a type of evil djinni.  You may have heard people say “genie”, but it’s actually “djinni”.  The djinn are the otherworldly spirits in Arabian cultures, like the faeries are in many European cultures.  They’re said to be beings made of smokeless fire.  Belief in the djinn predates Islam but that belief was so strong and popular that the djinn are actually mentioned in the Koran as creations of Allah.  Ghouls in particular are said to be djinn that are sired by Ibliss, the Muslim version of the Devil.

Adam: I know, but . . .

Jack: The word “ghul” likely stems from “al-ghul” which stems from the Arabic “ghala” or “to sieze”.  It’s also related to Gallu, which is the name of a Mesopotamian demon.  Now, in folklore (and among all the ones I know personally), ghouls dwell in graveyards, ruins, desert wildernesses and other uninhabited places.  They’ve been known to rob graves, lead travelers astray and abduct children all in the name of getting their favorite food: human flesh.

Adam: Yeah, but . . .

Jack: But, did you also know that ghouls have a tendency of stealing coins and drinking blood?  Or, did you know that they can change their form?  Usually into hyenas.  They can also take the form of the last human whose flesh they’ve eaten!  Also, ghouls are one of the go-to monsters of Arabic folklore.  They appear in a whole bunch of the Arabian Nights as well as a number of other sources.

Adam: I know all that, but . . .

Jack: The word “ghoul” can also just mean “demon”.  The star Algol is actually short for Ra's al ghul, which means “the demon’s head”.  It’s called that because it’s part of Medusa’s head in the constellation Perseus.  Also, bet you know this, being a colossal geek like you are.  Ra's al ghul is also the name of a Batman villain.

Adam: Well, yeah, but . . .

Jack: Oh, and George Romero used the word “ghoul” to describe the monsters in his movie Night of the Living Dead.

Adam: Enough!  The reason people probably don’t talk about that stuff is because they probably don’t want to play up stuff as morbid and disgusting as grave robbing and eating human flesh for a holiday usually marketed to children!

Jack: Oh.  Well, what’s that about?

Next time: The conclusion of Jack O’Lantern’s Halloween takeover.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fantasy Literature Rewind: The Halloween Tree.

Jack: Alright, it seems to me that the next thing this guy has on deck is something called “Fantasy Literature Rewind”.  Now, let’s see.  Where was that list of books again?

[looks at list]

Screamin’ skulls, kid!  You actually read books this old?  I died over two hundred years ago and even I hit up the bestseller list every once in a while.  Okay, I have a better idea.  Let’s try something just a little more modern.  Or would 1972 be too new for you? 

Adam: Actually, that one might be more of a “Fairy Tale Fandom Book Report” book. 

Jack: Yeah, yeah.  Whatever.  Anyway, in the spirit of this most chilling season, I thought we might take a look at a children’s book by one of the great science fiction and horror writers of the twentieth century.  It’s a book that embraces Halloween and all its history like an undead brother.  That’s right, I’m talking about The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. 

Adam: Actually, Heidi over at SurLaLune just posted about this one.
Jack: Like I care.  This book may not be as famous as some of the hoary old texts you read, but it has had an impact.  It was made into a television special and they put up a tribute to it at Disneyland every year.  The story starts on a dark and eerie Halloween night.  It’s the kind of night where anything can happen.  Eight trick-or-treaters gather for an epic night of trick-or-treating.  Among their number are a skeleton, a witch, a gargoyle, a mummy, a ghost, a beggar, an ape-man and a grim reaper.  One trick-or-treater is missing, though.  A young boy named Joe Pipkin isn’t there.  Pip is a good friend and a boy who embraces childhood to the utmost.  So, naturally, our friends go to get him.  They go to his house and find Pip, but he doesn’t seem to be himself.  He’s also noticeably clutching his side like he’s got a stomachache.  Pipkin tells them to go on ahead.  Eventually, the boys make their way to a creepy old house.  There, they meet a man named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud and see the amazing Halloween Tree.  It’s a tree that glows with thousands of Jack O’Lanterns (the pumpkins, not yours truly) hanging from its branches.  Moundshroud offers to teach the boys about the origins of Halloween.  They want to do it, but suddenly Pipkin shows up to join them.  Just as suddenly though, Pip gets stolen away by a dark something.  From that point, the race is on.  Moundshroud and the boys chase Pipkin through time and space and visit the festival of the dead for all sorts of other cultures.  They witness the tombs of Egypt, they see ancient Greeks making offerings to ghosts, help build Notre Dame with its gargoyles and see Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos.  But can they save Pip from the dark force.

Adam: Interesting.  And I do like Ray Bradbury.  I’m assuming this book has his usual descriptive language and poetic-sounding prose in it.  So, is that dark force what I think it is?

Jack: Probably.  We all meet that dark force eventually, though.  Trust me, I know it  personally.

Adam: Well, it sounds like a good book, but it’s not really the kind of book we review here.

Jack: Oh really?  Well, if it may please the jury, I’ll state my case.  This column is called “Fantasy Literature Rewind”.  And this book is fantasy, is it not?

Adam: Yes it is.

Jack: And the other kinds of books you review are books that draw from some kind of folklore, right?  Well, folklore isn’t just tales, now is it?  It’s also songs, oral history, superstitions and traditions, right?  Superstitions and traditions like the ones in this story.

Adam: Okay, okay!  You made your point.  One point for the moldy, old ghost.

Jack: Thank you!  Hey . . . wait a minute.  Remember, what I’m doing here is for the benefit of you and this rinky-dink blog of yours!

Next Time: Jack O’Lantern’s Halloween Takeover continues.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kickstarting "Cindy"

Okay, Jack O’Lantern’s gone right now.  Probably off getting more candy apples and caramel corn (who knew ghosts ate so much junk food).  So, I thought this might be a good opportunity to tell you folks about something that really is fairy tale-related.

A few days ago, I was e-mailed by Larry Wilson, the co-writer of Beetlejuice.  Now, why would a major Hollywood screenwriter be e-mailing me?  Well, it seems he wanted to let me and all my awesome readers out there know that he’s working on a web series entitled Cindy that’s going to be a darkly comic, 21st century take on “Cinderella” told in the style of a reality show.  Though, it appears he needs a little help, so there’s also a Kickstarter.

Here’s a link to the YouTube page for Cindy.

And here’s a link to the Cindy Kickstarter.

I’m not sure if I’m going to contribute to the Kickstarter or not.  While I appreciate the interest in fairy tales in general, I kind of wish it was a different story being used.  I mean, “Cinderella” already has hundreds of different variants worldwide.  It’s also been adapted into plays, musicals, a ballet, an opera, television shows, movies and even commercials.  And I’m pretty sure modern takes on the story have already been done.  However, maybe it’s the popularity of the tale that draws some people to it.  I don’t know.  Anyway, I thought I should let you all know.

Jack: I’m back!  I’ve stolen some more . . . I mean bought some more candy!

Uh, gotta go!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Folk Tale Secret Stash: Jack O'Lantern.

Jack: Hello, hello, one and all!  Jack O’Lantern here!  For now and the foreseeable future I’ve taken over this pathetic blog to give it a dose of ghostly goodness.  Also, you may have noticed that I’ve redecorated a bit.

Adam: I’ve noticed.  Couldn’t you have at least kept my banner so that people know that they’re on the right website?

Jack: Yes, yes, I’ve kept the original author around too.  I can’t seem to get rid of him.

Adam: Kept me around?  You’re the one haunting my condo!  Please, anyone out there, call an exorcist!  Call the Ghostbusters!  Call Danny Phantom!  Heck, I’ll even settle for Scooby-Doo!

Jack: Oh, pipe down.  I saw you had something called “Folk Tale Secret Stash” coming up next, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to tell my life story.

Adam: Oh, this should be good.

Jack: This story starts during my days in Ireland where I was a kind, good, upstanding citizen.

Adam: AHEM!

Jack: Okay, so maybe I did drink a little too much.  And gamble a little too much.  And fight too much.  And maybe I sought a little too much pleasurable company with women who were not my wife.  And maybe, on occasion, I did nick a few shillings from the collection plate at church.  But other than that, I was a good soul.  Better?

Adam: Yes.  The story doesn’t really work unless you’re kind of a jerk.

Jack: Anyway, so I’m sitting at the pub one night enjoying a little hair of the dog.  So, a man I don’t know comes up to me.  He tells me that he’s the Devil and that since I’m going to Hell anyway, he’s come to get me himself.

Adam: Well, that’s some service.

Jack: Now, naturally I don’t want to go.  So, I come up with a plan.  I get the Devil to sit down and have a mug of cider with me.  Then, I tell him that I’m short of cash.  So, I convince that old Devil to pull a trick on the bartender.  He turns into a coin, I pay the barkeep with the Devil-turned-coin then when the bartender’s back is turned the Devil turns back into himself and comes to get me.  The Devil agrees and turns into a coin.  That’s when I take the Devil-coin and drop into my pocket next to a silver cross I just happen to have on hand.

Adam: Probably taking it to the pawn shop.

Jack: Anyway, so the Devil is stuck.  So, I strike a bargain with him.  If I let him go, then he can’t come back for me for an entire year.  The deal is made, I pull the Devil from my pocket and we both go on our merry way.  Now, I figure this is enough time to turn my act around so that the Devil doesn’t want to make a return visit.

Adam: It’s never that easy.

Jack: No, guess it’s not.  Anyway, a year later, I’m walking along minding my own business and who should show up?  That old Devil again.  He says my time is up and wants me to come with him.  Now, we’re right near an apple tree so I get an idea.  I ask the Devil to leap up into that tree and snatch me a couple of apples for the long trip to Hell.  He agrees and leaps up into the tree.  That’s when I take out my knife and quickly scratch a cross into the bark of the tree.  The Devil is stuck in that tree and boy does he ever howl and curse once he notices it.  Anyway, I tell him I’ll scratch out that cross if we make another deal.

Adam: And here’s where things really start to blow up in your face.

Jack: I tell him I’ll only let him down if he never comes back for me at all.  The Devil warns me that I should think about what I’m asking, but I tell him that’s the only way I’ll do it.  The Devil agrees a little too happily, I scratch out that cross, and he goes on his way.

Adam: Now maybe you should tell the folks why this was a bad idea.

Jack: [grumble, grumble].  Well, it seems that just because the Devil won’t come for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t die.  One day after a rather monumental night on the town I wake up but my body doesn’t.  I figure this can’t be right, so I walk and walk until I find my way to Heaven.  I try to get in but Saint Peter tells me that there is absolutely, positively no way he can let me in.  That’s gratitude for you.  And after all I did to make life on Earth so much fun.

Adam: Riiiiight.

Jack: So, where can I go now except for Hell.  I get there and the Devil reminds me that we had a deal and that there’s no way he’s going squelch on it.  I beg and plead but for nothing.  Though, the Devil has a little pity for me and sees it’s getting dark and gives me one fiery coal from Hell to light my way.  I have a little trouble carrying it, so here’s what I do.  I find a big old turnip and hollow it out and carve a grinning face like my own on it.  Then I drop the coal inside and I’ve got a homemade lantern.

Adam: A turnip?

Jack: I switched to a pumpkin later.  Easier to hollow out.

Adam: Ah.  Well, after all that fussing about not going with the Devil you end up beating at his door.

Jack: Hey, being a ghost’s no fun!  Can’t eat!  Can’t drink!  Women are no use!  All you can really do is scare people or play tricks on them.  Like leading wanderers astray at night.

Adam: Oh yeah.  That’s what you spend most of your time doing these days, isn’t it?  Though, I heard another story that says it’s the ghost of a blacksmith named Will.

Jack: Oh, that whole Will O The Wisp thing.  Well, my story’s the real deal.  After all, if it wasn’t, why would people light lanterns like mine every All Hallows Eve?

Adam: I have no idea.  But now that you’ve told your story, can you leave me in peace?

Jack: Fat chance!  We’re just getting started!

Adam: Just great!  Well folks, there are other versions of the Jack O’Lantern story out there if you don’t trust this old liar.  Just search “Jack O’Lantern, story” and you should find them.

Next Time: Jack O’Lantern’s Halloween Takeover continues.