Tag Archives: 1900s

The Dare: a Review of The Toll House

The Toll House by W.W. Jacobs book cover. Image on cover is drawing of a man wearing a top hat standing in the doorway of a house. His body is in silhoulette against the moonlight. The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. This will be the last book in this series that I review unless my local library decides to buy more of them. Thank you for reading my reviews of them in 2020, 2021, and 2022. 

Title: The Toll House – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: W. W. Jacobs

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1907 and October 31, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 42 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

The Toll-House has a long and terrible history as a place of death. But Jack Barnes doesn’t believe in spirits. His travelling companions, Messrs. Meagle, Lester, and White, wager that he might be convinced otherwise if they all spend a night together in the house. Four men go in, but will four come out?

Review:

Are ghosts real? Is that your final answer?

The beauty of this story is that how little the initial reactions of the reader to the existence (or non-existence) of the spirits of dead people make a difference. Whether you’re convinced one way, the other, or in no particular way at all, there is food for thought here for every reader. It takes creativity to write for so many different audiences simultaneously, and I commend the author for doing so.

What lead me to go with a three star rating had to do with the lack of character development. Barnes, Meagle, Lester, and White were scarcely described at all, and what little I learned about them in the beginning honestly didn’t seem to matter at all by the end. They could have been replaced by four other characters from any corner of the globe and the plot would have played out exactly the same. While I certainly wouldn’t expect something so plot-driven to dive deeply into characterization or character development, it was disappointing to have such forgettable protagonists in an otherwise thought-provoking adventure.

The plot itself was a clever one, however. I found myself changing my opinion of what was really happening to the characters during the course of the evening as new information was revealed and the stakes of the dare the characters agreed to grew even higher. There were so many different ways to interpret each clue that I could have used most of them to argue for and against just about any perspective.

Anyone who loves open-ended stories should give The Toll House a read.

Memories of Evil: a Review of The Empty House

The Empty House by Algernon Blackwood book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a farmhouse after dark. Only one room in the house has any light coming from it, and it's a room on the second story. The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did in 2020 and 2021, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series. 

Title: The Empty House – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1906 and October 31, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 58 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Aunt Julia, an elderly spinster with a mania for psychical research, has the keys to the haunted house on the square. She invites her nephew to accompany her on a midnight investigation into what really happened a hundred years ago when a servant girl fell to her death. But the house may not be as empty as it seems . . .

Review:

Content warning: murder. I will be discussing this in in my review.

As one of the earliest paragraphs in this story says, “certain houses, like certain people, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.”

Jim and his Aunt Julia were the kinds of characters that make me shake my head. Their courage often crossed the line into foolhardiness, especially when it came to their reactions to a few frightening encounters with what was lurking in this haunted house so late at night. Sensible people would have run away shrieking the first time they encountered something that couldn’t be explained, and yet I did come to admire their stubborn insistence on finding out the truth about why no one could bear to live at this residence longterm. This investigation wouldn’t have discovered anything at all if they’d been quicker to run at the first sign of trouble.

The ending was disappointing to me because of how many unanswered questions it left with the readers. Without going into spoilers here, there was foreshadowing in the beginning and middle of this tale that was ignored in the last scene to the detriment of the plot. It was just starting to get really good when it suddenly ended! I wish the author had wrapped up those subplots the way he so strongly hinted at earlier. If he’d done this, I would have gone with a much higher rating.

With that being said, I did enjoy gleaning the few facts that were shared about the sudden death of a servant girl a century beforehand. This was a part of the storyline that didn’t need to be embellished upon much at all. Violent deaths like these often take on a life of their own – no pun intended – as future generations reimagine what must have happened, so it made sense to me to leave room here for the audience to participate in the retelling of the events of that terrible night.

The Empty House was one of those ghost stories that deserves to be read and discussed in detail with a small group of likeminded fans of these genres. If that’s the sort of analysis you love doing, this might be right up your alley.

Stay Home, Stay Safe: A Review of The Machine Stops

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 


Title
: The Machine Stops

Author: E.M. Forster

Publisher: The Oxford and Cambridge Review

Publication Date: November 1909

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 25 pages

Source: I read it for free on the UC Davis site 

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

“The Machine Stops”” is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster’s The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928. After being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965, it was included that same year in the populist anthology Modern Short Stories.[1] In 1973 it was also included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.The story, set in a world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to provide its needs, predicted technologies such as instant messaging and the Internet.”

Review:

Book cover for The Machine Stops Here by E.M. Forster. Image on cover shows a big, red bow on an analogue clock. Who needs in-person contact when you have virtual gatherings?

There were some fascinating parallels between how Vashti had lived her entire life and what the Covid-19 pandemic was like for those of us who were lucky enough to work from home and order many necessities online. Vashti could summon anything with the touch of a button, from food to a warm bath, to an assortment of friends who wanted to hear a lecture on human history. She virtually never had reason to leave her home at all, and neither did the rest of humanity. It was supposed to keep everyone safe and content, and yet not everyone Vashti met was necessarily happy to live this way for reasons I’ll leave up to other readers to explore. What I can say is that staying home to reduce the spread of a pandemic is quite different from spending your entire lifetime in one room no matter how nice that room is. The various human reactions to them are similar, though!

The ending was confusing to me. I needed to google it to make sure that my understanding of what happened in that scene matched what the author was trying to convey. While I did find my answer, I do wish the author had been more forthcoming about what was going on there. He had several thought-provoking ideas he was working with throughout the course of this tale. All he needed to do was develop them a little more fully and I would have given this a much higher rating.

With that being said, I did think the conclusion was much more realistic than what typically happens with dystopian tales published in modern day. I appreciated the fact that the themes and hints embedded in earlier scenes were allowed to play out so naturally. While I did wonder if this twist was coming in advance, that was a good thing. It was nice to have a consistent experience even if it wasn’t something that most contemporary authors would do.

The Machine Stops was ahead of its time. Anyone who likes dystopias should check it out.

Following the Old Ways: A Review of The White People

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 


Title
: The White People

Author: Arthur Machen

Publisher: Horlick’s Magazine

Publication Date: 1904

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Historical

Length: 56 pages

Source: It’s free to read here

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

A discussion between two men on the nature of evil leads one of them to reveal a mysterious Green Book he possesses. It is a young girl’s diary, in which she describes in ingenuous, evocative prose her strange impressions of the countryside in which she lives as well as conversations with her nurse, who initiates her into a secret world of folklore and black magic.

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Be careful what you wish for.

One of the things I liked the most about this short story was the scientific and methodical manner in which the two main characters went about trying to determine what the Green Book truly was and what happened to the young girl whose diary entries lead them to discover the existence of this book. They were truly interested in getting to the truth. While some portions of the storyline definitely veered further into horror and fantasy than they did pure science fiction, the fact that the protagonists believed everything should have a logical explanation kept me reading until I’d reached the final sentence. That urge to discover the truth is one of the reasons why I love science fiction so much!

This was set at a time when scientific explanations for all sorts of natural phenomena were rapidly beginning to replace the fairy and folk tales that had once explained any number of things that wouldn’t have made sense to the average person. There are some things that lay beyond the purview of science, however, and other ones like psychology or what could be interpreted as certain mental or physical illnesses by modern day readers that weren’t well understood at all in this era.

The epilogue was my favourite part of this tale due to how much effort Ambrose and Cotgrave put into deciphering the unnamed young girl’s diary. She was so purposefully vague about certain details that they could be interpreted in a wide variety of ways as I mentioned earlier. This was also a nice addendum to the conversation Cotgrave and Ambrose had earlier about what the definition of sin should actually be and why many people’s understanding of this topic might not be as well-rounded or accurate as they assume. I can’t go into any more detail about that, but I do encourage anyone who is intrigued to read this for themselves.

If you love the fuzzy area between facts and flights of fancy, The White People might be right up your alley.

Vintage Science Fiction Month: A Trip to the Moon

Vintage SciFi Month was created by Little Red Reviewer and is moderated by Red Star Reviews. Any science fiction film, short story, play, or book released before 1979 is eligible for this celebration of classic science fiction. 

A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans la Lun) was a short silent film released in 1902 by French film maker Georges Méliès who was assisted by his brother Gaston. In other words, don’t turn up your volume when watching it! There is no sound. This was the first science fiction tale ever filmed to the best knowledge of modern film historians. A Trip to the Moon influenced generations of storytellers in this genre.

if you’d like to watch this film before reading my thoughts about it, click on the link below or hit play. It’s just under 13 minutes long.

A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans la Lun)

Everything after this sentence will contain spoilers.

As you have probably surmised from the title, A Trip to the Moon told the story of a group of men who built a space ship and visited the moon.

One of the things that first grabbed my attention about their adventures were the roles women played in them. Women appeared to be part of the planning and construction committees but did not travel with the main characters to the moon. I would have loved to sit in on the meetings that decided who would play what role in this film.

Screenshot from Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902) in which a rocket ship has wedged itself into the eye of the moon.I’d seen this image floating around online for years but never knew the context of it.

It came as a delightful surprise to finally discover why the moon had a face and, more importantly, why that face had a gigantic space ship sticking out of it.

There was also something interesting about seeing what the film makers thought were important things to bring to the moon.

Granted, this was pretty soft science fiction even for the era in which it was created, but I’d never think to prioritize packing pillows of all things. I suppose that everyone needs to feel comfortable when they fall asleep on the surface of the moon!

This pattern continued throughout the thirteen minutes of lighthearted lunar adventures. While this is thought of as science fiction, I saw so many fantasy influences as well. It made me wonder if those two genres were much more tightly entwined in 1902. I’d bet they were given how many scientific advances humanity had yet to make as well as the fact that this appears to be the first speculative fiction film ever made like I mentioned above!

All of you should absolutely watch this short film. It was a whimsical glimpse into how some people thought 119 years ago. Since we can’t sit down with them and pick their minds, seeing what they created is the next best thing.