Wednesday, October 3, 2012

James-A-Day: The Ash Tree

This is a much longer, more substantial story than we had yesterday!  What did you think?

We have a curse from the past that lasts for three generations, and which turns out to have a very physical cause, though that cause has an occult origin.  There are still questions at the end: how did Mrs. Mothersole get to her final resting place?  What exactly did she do?

Ash tree

Another example of MRJ's use of hair as to invoke disgust is found in this story.  Here I'm going to quote from my Penguin book again, this time from H. P. Lovecraft in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (which you can read all of here):
In inventing a new type of ghost, he has departed considerably from the conventional Gothic tradition; for where the older stock ghosts were pale and stately, and apprehended chiefly through the sense of sight, the average James ghost is lean, dwarfish, and hairy -- a sluggish, hellish night -- abomination midway betwixt beast and man -- and usually touched before it is seen.  Sometimes the spectre is of still more eccentric composition...

Joshi then takes it further: "[The ghosts] are "lean, dwarfish, and hairy" because they thus embody the primitivism that stands in stark contrast to the learned, rational, skeptical antiquarians who, for James, represented the pinnacle of human achievement."

I'd say that Mrs. Mothersole's witchcraft and the swollen, hairy spiders (ack!) are an example of primitivism, though in this story we don't see much of a learned, rational figure to contrast with her.  At least, I don't think of the old superstition of getting advice from the Bible with a pin to be very rational--though it was used here to interesting effect.


Cat said...

This one is my favourite so far probably because I'm more familiar with subjects like witch trials and tree lore. A story I'll read again .

I read that MRJ loved cats and loathed spiders so these hairy creatures are likely his worst nightmare. Certainly more horror than ghostly.

Nancy Leek said...

Isn't it interesting that the witch trial happens in 1690, rather than back in the bad old Middle Ages? The fear of witches seems to have been more of a Reformation phenomenon than a Medieval one.

Jean said...

Yeah, I think you might be right about that.

missy said...

In America, the witch trials in Salem were in 1692. They say they were stimulated by voodoo tales from slaves from the West Indies. Very curious!

I thought this was very spooky! Also the information about the graves on unhallowed ground (on a certain side of the church) is something I never thought about.

Guillaume said...

One of my favourite of James, with Oh Whistle... and Canon Alberich's Scrapbook.

Interestingly enough, and maybe important to the story, witchcraft in England was considered a common crime, not a blasphemy. Thus they were killed like common thieves, by hanging, instead of being burned like in Catholic Europe. This is why this one survives I think.