Tag Archives: Victorian horror

283 – Call Of The Wild: Jack London And The Paranormal

When you think of turn of the Twentieth Century writer Jack London, you immediately think about of the Yukon and his most famous works like White Fang or Call Of The Wild. And in fact, Harrison Ford returns to the screen next week with the latest version of the classic novel (written from the dog’s perspective, there are few works like it!)

When the mushrooms wear off and you realize you’re not an intergalactic smuggler with a Wookiee…

Jack London led a tumultous and adventurous life, just like his characters. And he didn’t just write stories about the Gold Rush to Alaska, but also wrote plenty of ghost stories and science fiction. And even though he was an avowed atheist, that didn’t mean that the rest of his family was. And that doesn’t mean that the people around him didn’t experience paranormal activity like:

So whether it was the rejection of his real father or the fact that his mother famously attempted suicide twice after she found out she was pregnant, Jack London wasted little time in his life. In fact, two months before he died he said this quote to his friends that would later be known as his credo:

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

Jack London

And that’s the theme of this week’s song, “I’d Rather Be Ashes Than Dust”.

‘fore I was born my mother did her best to die 
but the bottle and the bullet didn’t kill her 
So I came out a little stronger, stronger than the average guy 
Gonna write my bio as a thriller 

Ohh ohh 
I got to hit the road 
ohh ohh 
Don’t you hear the call 
I’m gonna go out shooting ‘fore my body turns to rust 
cuz I’d rather be ashes than dust 

Half a world away is where I will find my passion 
Someone told me that there’s mountains full of gold 
Headfirst into the fray looking for some action 
I’ve got to see this world before I’m old 

Ohh ohh 
I got to hit the road 
ohh ohh 
Don’t you hear the call 
I’m gonna go out shooting ‘fore my body turns to rust 
cuz I’d rather be ashes than dust

280 – The Turn Of The Screw: Henry James And The History Of Parapsychology

The latest adaptation of Henry James’ classic 1898 ghost story The Turn Of The Screw is called The Turning starring red hot teenage actor Finn Wolfhard but it’s not the only adaptation being released this year. Mike Flanagan’s sequel to his Netflix smash The Haunting of Hill House is going to be called The Haunting of Bly House and will rework James’ novella into a modern story as well.

One-hundred and twenty years after the initial publication why does James’ work still resonate? After all, in our current society, we’re about as far removed from the Victorian age as you can be. We laugh when we think of their “uptight” sexuality, their treatment of women as the “fairer sex”, and of course, the superior attitude that came along with “the empire on which the sun never sets“.

The Turn Of The Screw is a story about a governess who is hired to take care of a girl and boy whose uncle is a busy gentleman that can’t be bothered with raising them himself. While originally enjoying the job, the governess starts seeing ghosts surrounding the children and her thoughts are eventually consumed by the spirits which raises tensions to an untenable level in the house. Part of the story that makes it the most interesting is that no one else ever sees the ghosts besides the governess, so is it real or is it all in her imagination?

The original illustration from the first page of the 1898 serialization in The Atlantic Monthly

Now, Henry James’ inspiration for The Turn Of The Screw came from a supposedly true story he was told Archbishop of Canterbury, whose wife was involved with the Society for Psychical Research. And James’ equally famous brother, William, was also a member of that English organization and returned to the United States to form the American branch.

William James was not only one of the founders of parapsychology, he was also one of the founders of modern psychology. He was as interested in the study of spiritual pheneomena as he was in the workings of the mind and his psi research help set the template for modern experimental psychology still practiced today.

So Henry James was interested in ghost stories from a narrative standpoint while his brother was investigating them from a scientific standpoint! How might the reality of research into spirit communication have leaked over into the fiction?

We discuss the real-life paranormal influences behind The Turn Of The Screw as well as William and Henry James’ views on the paranormal and its effect on the world of parapsychology. Some of the topics include:

  • Henry James’ father’s own strange “vastation”, a spiritual crisis which lasted two years
  • Just what or who did Henry James call “The Others”?
  • William James’ work on religious experiences and how they might be a result of mental illness (a foreshadowing of using therapy instead of exorcism to help the victims)
  • What did Henry James really think about the afterlife according to his article “Is There Life After Death”?
  • Did William James return to talk to the dead after he passed away in 1910?

For this week’s song, we expound upon one of the themes from The Turn Of The Screw. One of the first lines introducing the character of the governess mentions that she’s in love, but that she’d only seen her love twice. That’s because it was the uncle that hired her to take care of the kids and she was constantly thinking of ways to prove her worth to him, because he was a gentleman and she was a commoner. The overwhelming desire to be worthy of your heart’s desire is the inspiration behind the song for this episode, “Mine Without a Holiday.”

Tell me nothing of your life, 
I painted you as an angel, 
These lines, these curves don’t do you justice, 
But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll draw them just as well. 

I can’t believe you’re not on paper, 
I can’t believe you’re made for me to touch, 
I will accept that you are mine without a holiday, 
But not that I deserve as much. 

Tell me nothing of yourself, 
I sculpted you as a goddess, 
This lifeless clay don’t hold a candle to your visage, 
But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll shape it in your image 

I can’t believe that you’re not fiction 
I can’t believe you’re made for me to hold. 
I will accept that you are mine without a holiday 
But not that I should be so bold. 

I will accept that you are mine without a holiday. 
But not that I deserve as much.

36 – Paranormal Lit 101: Victorian Horror with Brian J. Showers

Joining Mike and Wendy today is Swan River Press publisher and author, Brian J. Showers. Brian is a college friend of both of them and left to live Dublin, Ireland in 2001.  Since leaving, Brian has written several books and become a publisher of all kinds of Gothic ghost stories as well as an expert in Victorian Horror.

They begin the conversation by discussing Brian’s interest in weird stuff, which began with Haunted Wisconsinwhich showed him that you could have legends and haunted history right in your backyard and it didn’t have to be in a Transylvanian castle. The conversation turns to other great Wisconsin connections to the weird like Arkham House in Sauk City, Wisconsin which published Lovecraft, to The Ridgeway Phantom.

When Brian moved to Ireland and found out that influential Victorian Horror writer, J. Sheridan Le Fanu was buried right up the street, he was influenced to learn more about his neighborhood, the Rathmines, in Dublin. In addition to writing a book on a walking tour of his new city,  he edited a book of short stories inspired by Le Fanu, and then wrote a collection of ghost stories inspired by the Rathmines – becoming more connected to Dublin by creating more weird and the wonderful tales of the Irish capital.

Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu


The conversation then turns into more of how the Victorian Horror story has influenced so much of modern culture and how in that era, Spiritualism (with mediums, séances, and the like) became a gigantic cultural phenomena, and its fiercest proponent was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We talk about the friendship between Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini (another Wisconsin connection, he was raised in Appleton and lived in Milwaukee for three years), who was a great Spiritualist debunker.

That brings us to Wendy’s story of getting a private tour of Swiss home as a foreign exchange student and Mike brings up his favorite episode of the show, Voyagers!

Victorian Horror and Paranormal Literature Links

Swan River Press

The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories

More details on the friendship between Conan Doyle and Houdini

Announcement for new Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini TV Show 

 Featured Song: Carmilla by Sunspot

Proper little misses sharing,
little bloody kisses,
and every fire starts from just a spark.
Our secret experiments,
on your angel innocence,
don’t matter what you look like in the dark.Just you wait until the sun goes down, down, down.
when she whispers you’re hers forever now.Carmilla,
desire comes at you sideways,
Would you dare to speak her name?

Pretty porcelain cheeks,
tender sweet little tweaks,
I’m getting sick of always pretending.
Just a few more sleepless nights,
I know you’ll hold our secrets tight,
I’ll miss our visits more than anything.

Just you wait until the sun goes down, down, down.
when she whispers you’re hers forever now.

desire comes at you sideways,
Would you dare to speak her name?