Category Archives: Hawthorne

The Chilly and Darksome Vale of Years

Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne  (1837)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   July 2, 2013

Since it’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth date anniversary on July 4, I chose this week to feature one of his short stories.  Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment deals with aging, a dash of morality, and the tampering with nature.

Hawthorn HEADis

Do we shun the old? Do we fear our own old age and decline, or do we value the wisdom of experience? What horrors to find ourselves wrinkled, sagging, grey, stumbling through our end years with knotted joints and weakened muscles. What if you found the legendary fountain of youth? Would you drink the elixir? Then what?

Dr. Heidegger is an eccentric old man who lost his bride-to-be, Sylvia, the night before their wedding. It is some fifty years later since Sylvia gave him a rose to wear on their wedding day—a rose he kept inside a book all this time. We are in his study, a chamber with cobwebs and books, a skeleton in the closet, a bust of Hippocrates who is said to converse with the good doctor from time to time.

Such a chamber would not be complete without a magic mirror whose glass might reveal faces of the good doctor’s deceased patients. And of course, a black book of magic.

Dr. Heidegger has invited four of his oldest friends to his study: a politician, a merchant, a womanizer, and a once beautiful woman. Heidegger is conducting an experiment. On the table is Sylvia’s withered rose, a tall vase of water, four goblets. He pours from the vase, filling the goblets. Out comes a clear bubbling liquid that sparkles like diamonds. He places the withered dry rose into the water and the four friends watch the rose curl back into a moist bloom, fresh, green, with delicate bright red leaves.

A pretty deception? Or does that water have true healing powers?

“Drink!” says the good doctor.

With palsied and veined hands, the four friends raise the glasses to their lips.

If you know Hawthorne’s work, you know he wrote rather dark views of human nature; his uses of symbolism and allegory to communicate his messages are classic. So, what happens to these four friends? Watch for the dark chill of the butterfly as it flutters in the chamber. Do you think the good doctor knew the results of his experiment ahead of time?

For a full text read, go to  Online Literature:

http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne/130/

Also, I have two film adaptations of the short story that are quite good if you happen to enjoy vintage productions.

Heidegger369207.1010.AYouTube presents Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment (30 minutes) as part of Twice-Told Tales  (three tales including House of Seven Gables and  Rappaccini’s Daughter) starring Vincent Price, Richard Denning, and Sebastian Cabot. This adaptation is much altered, the story line different, and the ending has an interesting twist. I actually liked this film better than the original short story:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RULBBg6kP38

Short Story Showcase presents Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment on film at Encyclopedia Britannica.com, a precise classic adaptation of the story as Hawthorne wrote it:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/138928/Dr

I’d love to hear your comments about the Vincent Price film.

http://www.hellhorror.com/links/

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The Wintry Gloom of a Haunted Mind

The Haunted Mind  by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror, January 15, 2013

The NIghtmare HenryFuimages

Is there a state of mind, a supernatural zone, between the real and unreal? Examine the dream. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Haunted Mind, we enter a “midnight slumber.” If we were to dream of ghostly inhabitants, they would certainly be unreal yet we perceive these dream ghosts to be startlingly real, “wide awake in that realm of illusions,” as Hawthorne describes.

The Haunted Mind is probably one of the gloomiest stories Hawthorne’s ever written because he brings us into the subterranean psychodrama of sleep with pervasive phantoms and then blurs the wakefulness. A cunning device. And, to set his stage for deeper emotion, he uses of the second person you, “You think how the dead are lying in their cold shrouds and narrow coffins, through the drear winter of the grave ….”  This forces us to think we are feeling this dreadful experience with the narrator.

A most extraordinary story, the prose requires a slow read as each sentence, each chilling word holds a great deal of imagery, realism, and insight. We need to read it slowly as if every line is a delicious bite.

We are introduced to the single character alone in his bed on a winter night, frost patterns on the window glass, snow-covered roofs, streets frozen, perhaps like this dream we are in. Symbolisms abound. While the character slips in and out of dreaming and half-waking, Hawthorne gives us intense descriptions of funereal ghosts passing by—wrinkled, fiendish, evil. A train of regret and sorrow follows, disappointments, shame, despair. What a pervasive eerie mood. We begin to wonder… are we dreaming of the underworld? Are we awake? Are we in some psychological prison of the mind? I think it was Poe who compared sleep to death, calling sleep “little slices of death.”

Hawthorne holds us captive when his character believes he cannot be persuaded that the dead “… neither shrink nor shiver, when the snow is drifting over their little hillocks, and the bitter blast howls against the door of the tomb.” The deathly isolation in this story made me shiver, wishing for a warm fire to appear. And when the hearth’s embers do shed a bit of gleam, as the flames vanish, we are left to wonder what is real, the cold or the gloom.

“Yesterday has already vanished from the shadows of the past, to-morrow has not yet emerged from the future.” Where is this poor soul? Does he awake fully in his warm bed? Do we?

If we know Hawthorne at all, we know that the supernatural and self-discovery are common themes in his works. You must read The Haunted Mind (a quick read at only 1700 words) for an extraordinary experience into the wilderness of sleep between reality and dreams from a true master of literature.

Read it here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/9209/9209-h/9209-h.htm

Stories about dreaming and alternate realities (the inner world) are my favorite, so The Haunted Mind ranks very high for me. That is probably why I wrote Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural. I’m no Hawthorne, not near his talents, but my novel delves into the dreaming mind, into the fears that often emerge when we are immobile and frozen in our sleep. You’ll find that Hawthorne brings his story to a disturbing destiny, not just merely waking up to start a new day after unsettling dreams. In Night Sea Journey, my character, Kip Livingston, journeys in her dreams to find a new destiny—a reality that defies the expected and enters the supernatural realm of angels and demons.

Which brings me to the obvious question: Why do we dream? What are these secret nighttime journeys with strange faces and imaginary events? Is there some supernatural power going on here? If you’ve had a dream that has affected you or your life in some way (A ghostly one, maybe? Or a dream with the spirit of a dead loved one?) please post.

And stop by next Tuesday for another Tale of Terror.

Artwork  is The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781.

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