Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chapter 63: In Which the Sound of Footsteps is "Dab, Dab, Dab"

Previously: Marchdale is evil, apparently. If you missed it, don't worry; JMR includes a helpful recap at the beginning of Chapter 63 (The Guests at the Inn, and the Story of the Dead Uncle).

After we're reminded what happened in the last chapter, we flash back to the inn Marchdale mentioned earlier, where he heard a man say he was going to the ruins at midnight. The innkeeper has decided that a bunch of townspeople looking to get drunk before and/or after vampire hunting is good for business, which amuses me. So does this:
"It's shocking," said one of the guests; "it's shocking to think of. Only last night, I am quite sure I had such a fright that it added at least ten years to my age."

"A fright!" said several.

"I believe I speak English -- I said a fright."
JMR, are you lampshading your tendency towards repetitive and awkwardly expository dialogue, or are you just finding better ways to pad your word count?

One man tells the story of hearing a frightening intruder at midnight. Any suspense is spoiled by the fact that the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs is "Dab, dab, dab." That's right up there with "GRONGGGG!" and "KRR—RR—AAAAAAANG!" in the Glove of Darth Vader series. (That would be the sound of a docking bay door closing and the sound of a submarine leaving the dock, respectively, in case you've blocked those books out of your memory.)

He ends by revealing that it was just the maid knocking something over and waking him, and he was frightened over nothing.
There was a general look of disappointment when this explanation was given, and one said, --

"Then it was not the vampire?"

"Certainly not."

"And, after all, only a clock weight."

"That's about it."

"Why didn't you tell us about that at first?"

"Because that would have spoilt the story."
Well, I can't argue with that.

Soon someone pipes up with:
"Well, although our friend's vampyre has turned out, after all, to be nothing but a confounded clock-weight, there's no disputing the fact about Sir Francis Varney being a vampyre, and not a clock-weight."
And it suddenly occurs to me that JMR's style of dialogue actually works when he's writing people who are drunk and slightly confused.

Tom Eccles, who doesn't believe the vampire exists, makes a bet that he can go to the ruins at night and leave a handkerchief to prove he was there. He leaves, and the rest of the group launch into a conversation about what to do about illegitimate children, and -- wait, what? But the story told does twist back to the subject of the dead rising from the grave, so I guess it works.

I don't have much bad to say about this chapter. The use of dialogue is effective, and the chapter is built around humorous conversation, which provides a nice breather after the Shocking Revelations. The fact that some guy was coming to the ruins was already established by Marchdale and didn't require a flashback to explain, but if JMR needed to use some tangential ghostly tales to pad things out, this is at least better grounded in the story of Varney the Vampire than his previous efforts were.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Digression: The Vampire: His Kith and Kin by Montague Summers

Apparently there's a new critical edition of The Vampire: His Kith and Kin that came out this year. Want!

Montague Summers is a bit batty (for one, he thinks Varney the Vampire has more literary value than Dracula), but the book is definitely worth reading, particularly the last chapter on the vampire in literature. It was great help to me when I was researching the vampire in opera.

I've got a copy up on The Vampyre Site in which I painstakingly fixed the issues I saw in several other online copies (particularly footnotes not matching up and problems with foreign language text), so you can go check it out there if you're not sure you want to put out $22 for the critical edition.

I'm also working on some more Montague Summers for The Vampyre Site, so stay tuned.

Varney post up later today!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chapter 62: In Which There is a Surprising Reveal (Other Than the Fact That The Blogger Updated)

Hey, I exist! I know, it surprises me too, sometimes.

It's fitting that this chapter returns to something raised way back in Chapter 29, which I sorely wished to see developed: the prisoner in the ruins. Chapter 62 (The Mysterious Meeting in the Ruin Again. -- The Vampyre's Attack Upon the Constable.) The chapter begins with Varney waiting for someone at the ruins. I like this line because it's such a typical vampire image, and it's cool to picture:
His form was enveloped in a large cloak, which was of such ample material that he seemed well able to wrap it several times around him, and then leave a considerable portion of it floating idly in the gentle wind.
I also like the next little bit about him impatiently checking a pocket watch because it reminds me of the last scene where he was impatiently checking the clock, in which the author Varney got so nervous and flustered that he lost track of time and had to insert more padding read a book until midnight.

The Other Guy shows up and delivers a brief recap of the Dangers of the Mob Hunting the Vampyre, and says that a (possibly slightly drunk) guy vowed to go to the ruins and watch for the vampire. "Let us retire further into the recesses of the ruin," Varney suggests, which just makes me picture this scene as part of a low-budget movie with really awkward blocking.

The Other Guy helpfully fills in the audience on who he's talking to:
"I am annoyed, although the feeling reaches no farther than annoyance, for I have a natural love of mischief, to think that my reputation has spread so widely, and made so much noise."

"Your reputation as a vampyre, Sir Francis Varney, you mean?"

"Yes; but there is no occasion for you to utter my name aloud, even here where we are alone together."

"It came out unawares."

"Unawares! Can it be possible that you have so little command over yourself as to allow a name to come from your lips unawares?"


"I am surprised."

"Well, it cannot be helped."
I can't actually complain about this exchange, because although saying the name comes across as pretty silly, the dialogue afterwards made me laugh.

Varney declares that once he's done taking over Bannerworth Hall, the prisoner must die. The Other Guy objects to this with more random awkward blurting of names:
"Listen. I will not have the life of Charles Holland taken."

Okay, yeah, that was a little obvious.

They start to head out because the guy who's watching for the vampire might be there. (Don't worry; he stars in the next chapter!) But the final reveal is:
Varney, the vampyre, who had been holding this conversation with no other than Marchdale...

That twist legitimately surprised me. I'll have to review all the previous chapters to see if I've just forgotten the foreshadowing in the months since I've worked on this blog, or if it was pulled out of an ass. But either way, JMR, you didn't think to continue the accidental running gag of Marchdale randomly blurting out people's names to surprise the reader? For shame. Ending the chapter with "...if my name isn't Marchdale!" or the like would have been hilarious.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chapter 61: In Which the Blogger Is Reminded of Why She Keeps Reading and Why She Wants to Stop, All in the Same Chapter

I know it was far too long ago, but remember my complaint about Chapter 59? How JMR had set up something quite interesting in Chapter 58, and then knocked it down with a quick "sorry, just Jack being stupid again"?

In Chapter 61 (Chapter LXI. THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER. -- THE PARTICULARS OF THE SUICIDE AT BANNERWORTH HALL.), it's clear that JMR is getting frightfully lazy about even that. The previous chapter ends with Varney disappearing. Chapter 61 begins with this:
"Hilloa where the deuce is he?" said the admiral. "Was there ever such a confounded take-in?"

"Well, I really don't know," said Mr. Chillingworth; "but it seems to me that he must have gone out of that door that was behind him."
It's probably stupid for me to get pissed off about this. Varney clearly doesn't just disappear into midair at the end of Chapter 60; he causes a distraction and disappears when Chillingworth and the admiral aren't looking. That scene would certainly not get put on the list of evidence that Varney is actually a real vampire and not just trying to freak everyone out.

But it annoys me that JMR can't just leave it at that, where even if Varney does just escape through sleight-of-hand it's still a cool trick. He has to get all blasé about it. "Ho hum, I suppose he just ran out the door," with the sense of, "well, anyone could do that!"

I don't know; maybe Chillingworth's just jealous.

Moving on: a Mr. Mortimer comes to see Varney, presumably just so Henry (who conveniently rushes in moments later) can recap the plot to him. Chillingworth, Henry, and the admiral head back to Bannerworth Hall. "I perceive that, naturally, we are all three walking towards Bannerworth Hall," says Chillingworth in the middle of the walk, because that's a perfectly normal thing to say when you're a character in Varney the Vampire.

Eventually they reach the garden and sit down in the summer-house.
Henry was silent for some few moments, and then he said, with a deep sigh, as he looked mournfully around him, --

"It was on this spot that my father breathed his last..."

"Oh?" said the admiral; "he died here, did he?"
Okay, this made me laugh. Is it repeating dialogue for padding purposes? Is it purposely characterizing the admiral as lacking tact or social graces? Why can't it be both?

So they drone on a bit about Henry's father and exactly what he could see from this spot on the day that he died, as if the admiral and Chillingworth failed a spot check and now need Henry to describe all of the scenery to them in excruciating detail.
"You see," added Henry, "that from here the fullest view you have of any of the windows of the house is of that of Flora's room, as we have always called it, because for years she had had it as her chamber..."
Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

Henry tells the long and sad story about how his father was a noble man who meant well, but his friends corrupted him and got him addicted to gambling so that he fell into debt. He spends a great deal of time by the portrait of Varney, receives a letter that throws him into a fright, and commits suicide. His last words are, "The money is hidden!"

He finishes the story, and then suddenly, out of f---ing nowhere: Jack Pringle! I don't even know what he's doing here, and neither do the characters. The three end up deciding that Bannerworth Hall should not be left unattended, so Henry and the admiral stay while Chillingworth goes to town.

This was an ass of a chapter to get through, but ultimately it made me realize that the whole mystery of what Henry's father did with his money and how that has to do with Varney is what I really want to be reading about. Why do we need all these ridiculous filler chapters?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Chapter 60: In Which Another (More Bizarre) Duel is Proposed

I really cannot believe how close I am to the end of Part I. I bet I can finish this by next month if I try!

When we left off last, people were being stupid (and by "people," I mean Jack and also JMR). Chapter 60 (THE INTERRUPTED BREAKFAST AT SIR FRANCIS VARNEY'S.) starts off with a sentence I really like:
Notwithstanding all Mr. Chillingworth could say to the contrary, the admiral really meant to breakfast with Sir Francis Varney.
It sets the scene succinctly, and in its succinctness it's kind of funny. As usual, JMR has to go and ruin it by stating the exact same thing in the next paragraph, except longer and more annoying.

The next bit of dialogue is some pretty typical "but is he a vampire or not?" discussion, followed by the Admiral and Chillingworth meeting Varney at his temporary new home. Which is then followed by the Admiral accusing Varney of being a vampire, some general squabbling, and the arrangement of a duel...

Wait a minute, didn't this all happen before?

Except this time the duel is supposed to be with two scythes, and
"...with these scythes we be both of us placed in the darkened room, and the door closed, and doubly locked upon us for one hour, and that then and there we do our best each to cut the other in two. If you succeed in dismembering me, you will have won the day; but I hope, from my superior agility" -- here Sir Francis jumped upon his chair, and sat upon the back of it -- "to get the better of you."

It's like someone started writing a parody of the first two-thirds of the chapters in Part I. But come to think of it, I might rather read that book.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapter 59: In Which There Was Never Such a Stupid; The Admiral Said So Himself

The previous chapter was awesome. The descriptions worked well to build suspense and emotion, and we finally got to explore another facet of the story's supernatural element. It made me feel that, however slowly it moves, the story has direction once again.

Chapter 59 (THE WARNING. -- THE NEW PLAN OF OPERATION. -- THE INSULTING MESSAGE FROM VARNEY.) does start off slowly. Jack vascillates between being legitimately funny and being written into that really annoying forced humor where you just want to laugh so the author will be satisfied and stop. He probably would have ruined Chapter 58 if it hadn't been so good to begin with, and I could really do without him here.

Chillingworth tells the Admiral that they've made a mistake: they should have let Varney enter the house, then tried to catch him on the way out. There have been so many instances of the characters behaving in really stupid ways around the vampire, so it's nice to see them learning from it.

But back to Jack. Someone commented a while back arguing an alternate interpretation of Varney the Vampire: Varney is not a real vampire, and all the supernatural elements are just smoke and mirrors. While that theory doesn't convince me based on the text itself, sometimes I find it plausible that it's what JMR was going for -- but if it was, I think he executed it ineptly.

Because that awesome suspenseful scene at the end of Chapter 58? Was just Jack being a complete idiot.

I mean, this could be an interesting plot device if JMR didn't just consistently have stuff happen and have characters immediately retcon it in the next chapter. I don't think "it's all smoke and mirrors" would make Varney a bad story. But there's got to be more suspense, more mystery, something more involved than this f***ery.

I must give JMR some credit for the end of the chapter, however, because he brings back that Varney I know and love. The smug, manipulative a**hole who breaks into someone's house at night and then invites them to breakfast the next morning.
"That's about the coolest piece of business," said Mr. Chillingworth, "that ever I heard of."
Indeed it is.

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.