Monday, December 13, 2010

Chapter 58: In Which The Book Can't Get Any Awesomer Than This

Man, over a year working on this blog (however intermittently) and I'm only just nearing the end of Book 1. If you haven't yet realized how ridiculous Varney the Vampire is, that should teach you something.

The previous chapter concerned the Admiral and Dr. Chillingworth trying to catch the vampire in a trap, ending just as they heard a mysterious noise. In Chapter 58 (THE ARRIVAL OF JACK PRINGLE -- MIDNIGHT AND THE VAMPYRE. -- THE MYSTERIOUS HAT.), we immediately learn that it was only Jack.

I hope y'all skipped ahead instead of waiting two months to find out how that cliffhanger resolved, because that's got to be a hell of a letdown.

Apparently Jack has gone out and gotten drunk, and the Admiral tells him off for ruining the plan to catch the vampire while Chillingworth keeps trying to break up the fight, with as little success as you might expect. The dialogue feels a bit forced, but works well enough to express the character dynamics. And actually the resolution of the problem is pretty funny, if as abrupt as I've come to generally expect from JMR:
Jack staggered after him, and they all reached the room where the admiral and Mr. Chillingworth had been sitting before the alarm.

"There!" said the admiral, putting the light upon the table, and pointing to the bottle; "what do yo think of that?"

"I never thinks under such circumstances," said Jack. "Here's to the wooden walls of old England!"

He seized the bottle, and, putting its neck into his mouth, for a few moments nothing was heard but a gurgling sound of the liquor passing down his throat; his head went further and further back, until, at last, over he went, chair and bottle and all, and lay in a helpless state of intoxication on the floor.

"So far, so good," said the admiral. "He's out of the way, at all events."
As soon as that's done, they hear something again, and we get this interesting exchange:
"Hist!" said the doctor. "Not a word. They come."

"What do you say they for?" said the admiral.

"Because something seems to whisper me that Mr. Marchdale knows more of Varney, the vampyre, than ever he has chosen to reveal. Put out the light."
The ensuing scene where Varney sneaks into the house feels needlessly padded, even for JMR. For example:
He turned his side to the apartment, and, as he did so, the bright moonlight fell upon his face, enabling Mr. Chillingworth to see, without the shadow of a doubt, that it was, indeed, Varney, the vampyre, who was thus stealthily making his entrance into Bannerworth Hall, according to the calculation which had been made by the admiral upon that subject.
Really? That's really how you're going to do the reveal of the vampire, with a rambling sentence repeating what we knew from the first half of the chapter? I suppose I should just be glad that my gut feeling was wrong and this wasn't just another red herring.

Anyway, they try to catch Varney, but end up only grabbing his boot. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Chillingworth suddenly grew a spine:
"Yes, you are done," said the doctor; "why didn't you lay hold of the leg while you were about it, instead of the boot? Admiral, are these your tactics?"
The chapter actually ends on a high note, so I'm just going to keep quoting passages I like.
"D -- n it!" he said, "this puts me in mind of old times. Blaze away, you thieves, while I load; broadside to broadside. It's your turn now; I scorn to take an advantage. What the devil's that?"

Something very large and very heavy came bang against the window, sending it all into the room, and nearly smothering the admiral with the fragments. Another shot was then fired, and in came something else, which hit the wall on the opposite side of the room, rebounding from thence on to the doctor, who gave a yell of despair.
I love this bit because JMR has suddenly hit upon the exact right amount of detail for the situation. Even though the second paragraph is worded so matter-of-factly, I got a strong sense of the characters' emotions -- particularly the confusion over what or who, exactly, has caused this.

Then we get a bit more of drunk!Jack antics before the Big Reveal:
At this instant there was a strange hissing sound heard below the window; then there was a sudden, loud report, as if a hand-grenade had gone off. A spectral sort of light gleamed into the room, and a tall, gaunt-looking figure rose slowly up in the balcony.

"Beware of the dead!" said a voice. "Let the living contend with the living, the dead with the dead. Beware!"

The figure disappeared, as did also the strange, spectral-looking light. A deathlike silence ensued, and the cold moonbeams streamed in upon the floor of the apartment, as if nothing had occurred to disturb the wrapped repose and serenity of the scene.
This. Is. F***ing. Awesome.

Seriously, these three paragraphs are probably the awesomest thing that has happened since Varney the Vampire began. Generally, waiting until Chapter 58 (a full quarter of the way through the book, although JMR wouldn't have known at the time) to really start exploring the supernatural mythos is a colossally stupid idea... and actually, that's not untrue here. But I've been waiting so long to see some kind of payoff, and I am incredibly happy that JMR can still manage to surprise me.

2 comments:

  1. Although it's nothing readers couldn't have pieced together before now, I'd have thought that Chillingworth's suggestion that Marchdale is in league with Varney would get more of a comment than "interesting," especially considering what it would mean for the entire plot so far.

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  2. Huh, I suppose I didn't get from that comment that Marchdale was in league with Varney, just that he was more of an Expert Vampire Hunter than he let on -- which would be nothing that hadn't occurred to me before. But now that you mentioned it, you've got me thinking.

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