Posted by: Sally Ingraham | October 13, 2014

Of duck ponds and dollys

I’m sure you all saw that recent episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor told young Danny Pink about the huge benefits of being scared? Thusly:

Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you can fight harder. You can jump higher than ever in your life and you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time.

What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower! Your superpower! There is danger in this room. And guess what? It’s you.” – DW 8:04 ‘Listen’

Great stuff, am I right?

My friends can attest to the fact that after watching an episode of Supernatural, I often wish someone would accompany me to the bathroom. I had to watch Twin Peaks during the day, and preferably on sunny ones. My boyfriend tickled me in the midst of watching Manhunter the other night and I nearly bloodied his nose.

There’s a strange pleasure in being spooked though, in making it past the gaping dark entrance to the attic stairs without being caught by a pale white hand, in ignoring the shape behind the shower curtain, in leaping onto bed and getting the quilt pulled up to your chin just. in. time. Rocket fuel, like the Doctor said.

My autumnal reads haven’t scared me properly thus far, but I’ve enjoyed a bit of haunting via Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Susan Hill’s double feature The Small Hand & Dolly.

The ocean at the end of the lane is in fact a duck pond, but Lettie Hempstock saw further and deeper than others. The unnamed narrator of Gaiman’s short novel finds his way back to the pond as an adult, and remembers all in a rush a series of events that nearly swept him away as a child. It began when a man committed suicide in his father’s car, at the lane’s end in front of Lettie’s farm. Something was released into the world, something dangerous and strange. Lettie promised no harm would come to him, and the little boy trusted her – even when evil forces found their way into his home and everything he knew about how the world fit together was challenged.

I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.” – p. 143

The adult narrator loses himself in his childhood memories, which lends a mature tone to the voice of a serious, observant, but vulnerable little boy. The adult can’t hope to explain some of the things he saw then, and the boy didn’t fully comprehend other things he witnessed. Both sets of eyes present a straightforward story, therefore, and that adds to the horror and to the fay quality of it. It’s a dream-like tale, with magic and wonder and surreal landscapes, but also the very real confusion of a child trying to navigate a world full of adult whims and rules. He constantly finds safety or at least distraction in books, which I related to strongly, and those books help him to survive and tell his own story.

Bizarrely, I haven’t read many books by Gaimen – I believe just Coraline and Stardust, beside this one – but I have so much respect for the author and how, and to what purpose, he wields his pen. This wasn’t my most favorite book of the year, but it was certainly delightfully moody and devilish, and a good R. I. P. read.

Susan Hill’s two little books were a bit more spine-chilling. They are ghost stories, and both deal with the sort of haunting where the consequences of a childhood act must be paid for in the end. They have delicious, irresistible build ups, and the sort of creeping imagery that gets under your nails and bores into the back of your skull, until you have to look. They’re not BOO! in your face scary – Susan Hill is deftly subtle.

The Small Hand is kind of fun because aside from the ghost story, it is the tale of a Antiquarian bookseller, tracking down a Shakespeare first folio, and there’s a lovely bit of travel up into the mountains of the Vercors, France. Of course our hero, Adam, has an encounter with the small hand on that dark, rainy road – which is as atmospheric and unsettling as the derelict Edwardian house in the English Downs, where it all started.

Dolly is the worse of the two tales, if you find porcelain dolls and pretty little girls terrifying at the best of times… It’s set amid the fens, always a sinister and lonely place, and in a slowly rotting old house – perfect. The adult narrator recollecting his childhood experiences reminded me of Gaiman’s book a bit, but this haunting doesn’t remain tidily in the past. Dolly and her like stalk Edward and his horrible cousin Leonora into adulthood, and Leonora’s act of petulant rage will never be forgotten.

Honestly, I would have fared badly if these tales had been in movie form, which is why I enjoy reading ghost stories, but usually steer clear of the horror genre in films. Still…this autumn I may attempt The Woman in Black – although I haven’t read Susan Hill’s most (?) famous book. However, I’ve been enjoying Daniel Radcliffe a lot lately (A Young Doctor’s Notebook, anybody?) and I like to challenge my senses – get in touch with that superpower, scared.

With these books I completed “Peril the Second” for the R. I. P. IX challenge. I’m currently inhaling The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco, which is definitely a R. I. P. read (and, incidentally, a #Diversiverse recommendation!), so despite my late start I’m getting plenty of spooky reading in before Oct. 31st ticks by.

What’s scaring you this autumn?

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