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Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories…
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Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories

by Ray Russell

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I decided to revisit some Gothic melodrama for Halloween.

Firstly, this is a delightful new hardcover edition from Penguin's new series, but having Del Toro's intro be the same in them all is a definite cheat and a big let down.

But as for the stories themselves, Sardonicus retains its power even all these years later and is the highlight of the book. Sagittarius is also rather wonderful, and a fine unreliable narrator tale. The others I found to be lesser work, although Comet Wine has a nice alternate take on the Faust story.

There is a streak of wicked humor throughout that is rarely seen these days, mixed equally with a cruel streak that some might find objectionable but which I thoroughly enjoyed.

It makes a nice addition to the shelves, sitting well alongside these other new Penguin additions. I hope there are more to come. ( )
  williemeikle | Dec 22, 2018 |
I bought this book for the story "Sardonicus," which is the basis of a horror movie I saw as a boy and loved. It did not disappoint. That said, if I had to pick a word to describe these stories it would be "quaint," Not to say there aren't some horrors afoot, but the prose style is so mannered it sometimes seems like a dirty joke being told by a very pious person. Each story ends with a surprise twist, and though I was able to guess what it was several times, it generally made for a satisfying ending. ( )
  unclebob53703 | Aug 5, 2018 |
Everything I have ever read by Ray Russell has a certain character that is hard to describe. The prose is old-fashioned and could have been written in the late 19th or early 20th centuries--but the horror is more than up-to-date. The germ of the idea behind each story is brilliant, the plotting is air tight, and the execution is usually faultless. Russell is simply one of the great horror writers in history, and if this collection doesn't please you (or disturb you), well, I just don't know what to say. There is a nice introduction by the film director Guillermo del Toro to set the stage. Unlike a lot of intros, it doesn't spoil the stories to come. del Toro's favorite differs from mine - but no matter. You must read this book.

Sardonicus *****
Perfect, a masterpiece. Doctor travels to Bohemia at the behest of a woman he had a strong affection for some years earlier. But it is her husband, the title character, whose face is frozen into a horrible grin, who dominates the tale. His story and his fate are not to be forgotten.

Sagittarius ****1/2
As well-written as Sardonicus, but a bit more far-fetched. This tale, which speculates on the existence of a real Mr. Hyde, is a joy to read.

Sanguinarius *****
More horrifying than the first two stories combined! A princess tells the story of her terrible fate. This is strong stuff, indeed, and not for younger readers. As in the first two stories, Russell's writing is simply stupendously good. He has as good an author's voice as any I have ever read.

Comet Wine *****
A wonderful story, especially for those with a bit of knowledge about Russian musical history, about an encounter with a great--but somehow unknown--composer and his opera based on the Brothers Karamazov. The story is told in letters from the poet Lord Henry Stanton to Sir Robert Hargraves (yes, the same person in Sardonicus).

The Runaway Lovers ****1/2
An older Duke marries a beautiful young woman, but after a time she strays. His punishment for her and her lover is about what you would expect after reading the other stories in this volume. Cynical to say the least!

The Vendetta ****1/2
Another story in the form of a letter from Lord Henry Stanton to Sir Robert Hargraves, it tells of a painstaking plot for revenge. Very gothic, very atmospheric (which is redundant), and very effective.

The Cage *****
Fittingly, this collection ends in a hidden dungeon of a towering castle and it involves a Count's punishment of his wife for an affair, but it is the twist ending that makes the story. ( )
  datrappert | May 27, 2018 |
Ray Russell wrote these modern Gothic tales in an entertaining literate style that gilded his sadism and perversity. I enjoyed them but I felt guilty about enjoying them. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Dec 27, 2017 |
The Basics

A collection of gothic-horror short stories as reissued by Penguin Books as part of their horror series. The most famous of which is “Sardonicus”, the tale of a man who cannot stop smiling. That sounds pleasant, but it’s a rictus smile, large and grotesque and frozen on his face. In the tradition of Dracula, our innocent narrator is brought in to deal with this man’s complaint and finds something much darker than he wagered.

My Thoughts

Ray Russell. Anyone else never heard of this guy? I hadn’t, and I want to personally thank Penguin right here and now for putting this collection in with their horror series. Every other book was one I was entirely too familiar with, and it seemed more an exercise in recollecting favorite books for horror aficionados. Except for this one, which stood out for that reason. I had to see why Penguin deigned this good enough to dwell among the ranks of Lovecraft and Jackson and Shelley. And good thing I did.

I’ve never seen anyone in contemporary writing sound so downright old-school gothic. It was seamless. I could’ve been reading Poe or Lovecraft, as mentioned above. Only with even more envelope pushing, more of a modern sensibility, but not enough to interrupt that perfectly period voice.

As for the stories, this volume contains a very loose trilogy (“Sardonicus”, “Sagittarius”, and “Sanguinarius”), all of which were well worth the time. I say loosely because other than their titles sharing a theme, they’re all dark gothic stories with little else to connect them. Well, an argument could be made that they all had a similar tone and they all sought to create monsters similar to Mr. Hyde or Count Dracula to haunt us. And the other stories are equally worthy, though shorter, quicker jabs.

One thing I will say: you should be able to appreciate classic horror in some way if you’re going to approach this. Good and evil are black and white here. Many of the old tropes apply, like someone’s looks being proof of their character. The bad guys here are punished sinners. There are damsels to be rescued. Things like that. Things that might rub some readers the wrong way, but I found it charming, Pulpy. I have a real weakness for pulp.

It saddens me that Russell has been lost in the shuffle when it comes to horror. So much of his other work is out of print, and I’m hoping that Penguin will turn their eye that way again the next time they decide to expand their horror series.

Final Rating

5/5 ( )
1 vote Nickidemus | Sep 18, 2014 |
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Epigraph
Behind the haunted castle lies the dungeon keep, the womb from whose darkness the ego first emerged, the tomb to which it knows it must return at last. Beneath the crumbling shell of paternal authority, lies the maternal blackess, imagined by the Gothic writer as a prison, a torture chamber - from which the cries of the kidnapped anima cannot even be heard. The upper and the lower levels of the ruined castle or abbey represent the contradictory fears at the heart of Gothic terror: the dread of the super-ego, whose splendid battlements have been battered but not quite cast down - and of the id, whose buried darkness abounds in dark visions no stormer of the castle had ever touched. - Leslie A. Fielder: "Love and Death in the American Novel"
Dedication
This one, finally, is just for MARC my firstborn.
First words
To learn what we fear is to learn who we are.
Quotations
...he had suffered a dire punishment which came upon him...not from God above or the Fiend below, but from within his own breast, his own brain, his own soul. - from "Sardonicus"
This - this is the Grandest Guignol of all. - Sebastien Sellig
Blood is red and blood is hot; blood may seem what blood is not. Blood most innocent, if shed, hatred on that blood is fed... - Count Carlo
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143124013, Hardcover)

Part of a new six-volume series of the best in classic horror, selected by award-winning director Guillermo del Toro

Filmmaker and longtime horror literature fan Guillermo del Toro serves as the curator for the Penguin Horror series, a new collection of classic tales and poems by masters of the genre. Included here are some of del Toro’s favorites, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ray Russell’s short story “Sardonicus,” considered by Stephen King to be “perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written,” to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and stories by Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oates, Ted Klein, and Robert E. Howard. Featuring original cover art by Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley, these stunningly creepy deluxe hardcovers will be perfect additions to the shelves of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal aficionados everywhere.


Haunted Castles

Haunted Castles is the definitve, complete collection of Ray Russell's masterful Gothic horror stories, including the famously terrifying novella trio of  "Sardonicus," "Sanguinarius," and "Sagittarius." The characters that sprawl through Haunted Castles are frightful to the core: the heartless monster holding two lovers in limbo; the beautiful dame journeying down a damned road toward depravity (with the help of an evil gypsy); the man who must wear his fatal crimes on his face in the form of an awful smile. Engrossing, grotesque, perverted, and completely entrancing, Russell's Gothic tales are the best kind of dreadful.
 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:30 -0400)

"Part of a new six-volume series of the best in classic horror, selected by award-winning director Guillermo del Toro. Filmmaker and longtime horror literature fan Guillermo del Toro serves as the curator for the Penguin Horror series, a new collection of classic tales and poems by masters of the genre. Included here are some of del Toro's favorites, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Ray Russell's short story 'Sardonicus,' considered by Stephen King to be 'perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written,' to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and stories by Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oates, Ted Klein, and Robert E. Howard. Featuring original cover art by Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley, these stunningly creepy deluxe hardcovers will be perfect additions to the shelves of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal aficionados everywhere. Haunted Castles Haunted Castles is the definitive, complete collection of Ray Russell's masterful Gothic horror stories, including the famously terrifying novella trio of 'Sardonicus,' 'Sanguinarius,' and 'Sagittarius.' The characters that sprawl through Haunted Castles are frightful to the core: the heartless monster holding two lovers in limbo; the beautiful dame journeying down a damned road toward depravity (with the help of an evil gypsy); the man who must wear his fatal crimes on his face in the form of an awful smile. Engrossing, grotesque, perverted, and completely entrancing, Russell's Gothic tales are the best kind of dreadful."--… (more)

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