Nyogtha Volume II, Issue XXXVIII

Man it feels so different (and by different, I mean GOOD) to not be talking about video games anymore. I’m glad so many people enjoyed reading the countdown on both Inside Pulse and in my Livejournal, but I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to be done talking about video games. I’ve been writing on the industry for three and a half years now, and have also done 110 reviews. Street Fighter Alpha Anthology will be my 11th and final review for Inside Pulse Games, but I’ll be sticking around to give you food, folklore and fun just as I was before the countdown.

Now that everything old is new again, let’s get to it.

Let’s start off with a letter from a reader a few weeks back (Alas, most this year have been video game related for obvious reasons, so we’ll just ignore those)

Greetings Alex,

Really love the Nyogtha column, discovered it through Gamerankings almost a year ago and have been reading it ever since. I especially enjoy the recipes in each article (like the tuna steak. . .even though 6 minutes is a bit much).

But there are a few things I was wondering about. Because of your excessive gushing, and because of my fondness for turn-of-the-century horror (namely Ambrose Bierce’s), I’ve been wanting to look into Lovecraft’s works. But unlike Bierce I was not able to find a broad enough collection. I wanted to ask YOU to suggest a good starter collection/selection of Lovecraft’s work to whet my appetite.

While I’m sure to find that it’s worth investing in all the collections, I’m sure I’d benefit more from an enthusiast’s advice than I would from a blind plunge.

Also, I read Twain’s ‘Mysterious Stranger’ in High School. I don’t remember anything involving a Vampire. Not during the reading, and certainly not during the multiple class discussions afterward.Did I miss something? What exactly was it that implied vampirism from any of the characters?

But anyways. . .I should probably leave you to finish up the next installment of your horror countdown.

Thanks,
-John

Thanks for writing John. Let’s cover each bit for you.

1. There’s several excellent compilations I’d suggest for you. The first is The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. The ISBN is 0-345-35080-4. It contains sixteen of Lovecraft’s best known works including, “The Call of Cthulhu,” “Pickman’s Model,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” It’s cheap and has a hair under four hundred pages of fiction that shows why Lovecraft is so beloved by millions across the world.

The other selections I think everyone should read as a nice primer for the Cthulhu Mythos don’t feature just Lovecraft. Indeed, they might contain only one or two stories by him, but they are an excellent reference for the evolution of the ideas germinated by HPL. They’re all part of Chaosium’s “Cycle” line of Cthuluoid fiction. I recommend Hastur, Innsmouth, and Cthulhu.

2. Wrong “The Mysterious Stranger.” The one I referenced God only knows where was written anonymously back in 1860. It first appeared in a magazine of the time titled, Odds and Ends. You can easily see the influence it had on Stoker’s Dracula once you read it. It’s about 34 pages long and the easiest place to find it is in The Penguin Book of Vampires Stories, with an ISBN number of 0-14-012445-4. This is also by far the greatest anthology of vampire fiction I have ever seen, containing works by Polidori, Le Fanu, Stoker, F. Marion Crawford, Lord Byron, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Robert Bloch, R-Chetwynd Hayes, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Suzy McKee Charmas. No other anthology on the subject even comes close to the sheer perfection of this book. Oddly enough I own three versions of this book. One in hardcover simply titled Vampires, one in softcover by the name I have here, and another in softcover which I bought when I was touring the Princeton campus to see if I would be going there for graduate school or not.

3. Glad you enjoyed the countdown, and I can’t tell you how happy I converted one of my video game readers over to the folklore side.

And now that we’ve answered a letter and given you all a ton of books to go find and read, let’s move on to the heart of the column.

Folklore

Last week, a reader IM’d me and asked me to explain the blue flames of St. George’s Day that appear in Dracula.

In Dracula, on his way to the count’s castle, Jonathan Harker remarks at the very end of Chapter One,

Suddenly away on our left, I saw a faint flickering blue flame. The driver saw it at the same moment.; he at once checked the horses and, jumping to the ground, disappeared into the darkness. I did not know what to do, the less as the howling of the wolves grew closer; but while I wondered the driver suddenly appeared again, and without a word took his seat, and we resumed our journey. I think I must have fallen asleep and kept dreaming of the incident, for it seemed to be repeated endlessly, and now looking back, it is like a sort of awful nightmare. Once the flame appeared so near the road, that even in the darkness around us I could watch the driver’s motions. He went rapidly to where the blue flame arose— it must have been very faint, for it did not seem to illuminate the place around it at all— and gathering a few stones, formed them into some device. Once there appeared a strange optical effect; when he stood between me and the flame he did not obstruct it, for I could see its ghostly flicker all the same. That startled me, but the effect was only momentary, I took it that my eyes deceived me straining through the darkness. then for a time there were no blue flames, and we sped onwards through the gloom, with the howling of the wolves around us as though they were following in a moving circle. (p17-18)

Pretty weird huh? What was the driver of the carriage doing? Why did he keeping getting off. What was the optical effect Harker mentioned? What was Stoker smoking when he wrote this section?

Well in fact, like 99% of Dracula, the blue flames are draped in legends and lore and have a folkloric basis not only in regards to monsters, but the very night Harker witnesses the blue flames: St. George’s Eve.

For the most part Stoker actually explains the part of the blue flames in the next chapter when Stoker asks Dracula about them.

Then as time went on, and I had gotten somewhat bolder, I asked him of some of the strange things of the preceding night, as, for instance, why the coachman went to the places we had seen the blue flames. Was it indeed true that they showed where gold was hidden? He then explained to me that it was commonly believed that on a certain night of the year— last night, in fact, when all evil spirits are supposed to have unchecked away— a blue flame is seen over any place where treasure has been concealed.” (p. 29-30)

Later on in chapter four, Harker finds the treasure the coachman uncovered in one of Dracula’s rooms. This of course means the coachman was Count Dracula in the first place, but then if you’ve read the book I’m sure you knew that already. 😉 Dracula himself digging up the treasure also makes sense due to the commentary that no Transylvanian peasant would be out on St. George’s Eve on pains of their own death. Why Dracula need ancient treasure is better left for another time however.

The blue flames of St. George’s Eve are a common occurrence in Gothic literature. One can find them in the works of “Monk” Lewis and Ann Radcliff and Stoker, being meticulous (or anal if you prefer a more negative adjective) placed them in Dracula. Of course it helped that Stoker’s ‘bible’ for writing Dracula, a book entitled The Land Beyond the Forest by Emily Gerard mentions them as well…

The night of St. George, the 24th of April (corresponding to our 6th of May), is of all others the most favorable for the recovery of buried treasure. For in this night (so say the legends) all these treasures begin to burn or ‘to bloom,’ in the bosom of the earth, and the light they give forth, described as a bluish flame serves to guide favorable mortals to their place of concealment. There is hardly a ruin, mountain, or forest in Transylvania which has not got some legend of a hidden treasure attached to it.

There are several other books that also talk about the subject. In The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler, he writes, The Population [of Vienna in 1349] identified the plague as the Pest Jungfras who had only to raise her hand to infect a victim. She flew through the air in the form of a blue flame, and in this guise was often seen emerging from the mouths of the dead (p. 258)

In this latter case, the blue flame is more a Will o’ the Wisp than the version in Eastern European folklore. To learn more about the Will o’ the Wisp, you can just go back to Nyogtha Volume II, Issue XVII from back in December 2005.

Hopefully this answers the questions of the reader (who I only know by the LJ/IM handle of “Shinotenshi” with her questions about the blue flames and why they are such a memorable (if minor) part of Stoker’s novel. Not bad for a first week back at a more intellectual bent, eh?

Bibliography

Gerard, Emily. The Land Beyond the Forest. New York: Harper and Bros., 1888.
Lucard, Alexander. Behind the Scenes of Dracula Minneapolis-St Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 1999 (reprinted in Nyogtha Volume II, Issue XVIII, 2006).
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Constable and Co., 1897.
Ziegler, Phillip. The Black Death. New York: John Day Co., 1969.

Cooking

Sometimes I wonder how many people missed THIS part of Nyogtha. I know I did though. Cooking is such a stress relief for me, and considering I have no drawing, painting or sculpting ability, creativity in the kitchen is my art form.

Gloomchen, her husband, and I have been going with some frequency to an excellent Cajun restaurant here in Minneapolis known as “Antoine’s Creole Maison.” The food is excellent and it’s the only source of real Cajun food in the Twin Cities. It’s a little overpriced compared to other places along the main Hennepin drag, but it’s worth it for the level of authenticity.

Right now my favorite thing there is their gumbo. Shrimp, Sausage, and Chicken all mixed together with the usual gumbo goodness. It’s excellent. Especially on a cold and/or rainy day. I was thinking about gumbo all weekend and thus decided to put a recipe in here for one. Originally I was going to do a Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo, but that was too in line with what the restaurant served. Then I was going to give you my duck and mushroom gumbo, but thought that might be a little too out there for a lot of readers. So I decided to go halfway here.

We’re going to be talking a chicken and oyster gumbo this week. Oysters are such a wonderful and overlooked food by so many people who assume they are “icky” or “slimy” for some reason. I implore you to give this recipe a try and see for yourself while oysters are one of the most versatile shellfish.

Ingredients

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 quarts chicken broth
3 bay leaves
1 chicken, cut into eight pieces (about three lbs. You can use skinless boneless breasts too if you want, but it’s not as traditional.)
2 dozen oysters, shucked
1/4 cup of the oyster liquor
3 tablespoons file powder (File powder is powder made from the leaves of the sassafras tree. Just ask and any higher class grocery store should carry it.)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Combine the flour and oil in a large cast iron Dutch oven. You can also use an enameled cast-iron dutch oven. Cook over medium heat while stirring constantly for 20-25 minutes. The roux, (the Cajun term for any mixture of flour and fat. In this case it’s the flour and veggie oil.) will eventually turn dark brown, almost the color of chocolate. At this point you should take the onions, bell peppers and celery and put them in a bowl and mix them up. Then sprinkle the cayenne pepper and salt on the veggies. Add them to the roux and cook for about five minutes while stirring occasionally. You’ll know the veggies are done once they are turning soft. At this point you want to add the chicken, the chicken broth, and the bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture, uncovered, for 2 hours. As always, stir occasionally during this time period. Skim off any fat that will inevitably rise to the surface (Unless you want to eat fat) and once the 2 hours are up, allow the mixture to simmer for a half an hour longer.

2. Add the oysters and their liquor. Cook for only 2-3 minutes or until the edges of the oyster begin to curl up. Whichever comes first.

3. Remove the gumbo from the heat. Remove the bay leaves, as they are seasoning and not actually meant for digestion. Add the file powder and parsley. Stir.

4. Serve in soup bowls on top of rice.

13 Plugs

In Culture, Carla hits the convention circuit, while Kennedy trashes the Bible.

In Games? Ha ha ha. There hasn’t been any new content since May 30th because all the games writers are lazy slackers. Instead, read my review of Steambot Chronicle from three weeks ago, or go back over the last two entries of the Horror Countdown.

In Music, Gloomchen talks the mark of the beast, and Shawn Smith asked me to read his column. So I did. I learned that ZZ Top once covered Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” from that. Why does this revelation frighten me so?

In Wrestling, Mr. Michaels asked me to add my particular point of view on my predictions for the ECW One Night Stand 2 PPV. You can see my thoughts at the Wrestling Roundtable. Yes, I was asked to be the ECW recapper for their upcoming Sci-Fi channel show, but as I do not have cable (nor do I want it), I had to say no. Oh, also go enjoy The Rabblecast.

In Moves, Noyes had to sit through the Omen remake. Poor bastard. Josh Clinton reviews Like Mike 2. Dear god Josh, why? Why did you put yourself through that?

In Comics, Delloiacono talks about the Pittsburgh Comic Con, and Dark Horse celebrates twenty years in the business. Has it really been that small a time frame? Wow.

In Figures, PK gives us the next few batches of wrasslin’ guys to be turned into little plastic articulated men.

Closing

That’s it for this week. Nice to be back to the old format. As always, if there’s anything in the realms of myth, monsters, or legends you’d like me to talk about, feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to answer it in an upcoming edition of Nyogtha. Have a great week!