Gothick Dreams

An 1835 illustration for Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

“I waked one morning [in 1764] from a dream, of which, all I could recover, was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head like mine filled with Gothic story), and that on the uppermost banister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour. In the evening I sat down, and began to write…”
— Horace Walpole, in a letter

At the heart of early Gothick literature — I use the spelling ‘Gothick’ to differentiate it from historical or architectural meanings of Gothic — broods The Castle.

And when I say ‘Castle’ I mean those edifices, usually ancient abbeys or mansions, with a clutch of qualities which we immediately recognise, namely antique origins, some of which may be ruinous, harbouring histories of romance, the supernatural, even horror, and — at its heart — mysteries in the form of eldritch scandals or objects, accessed via secret passages, tunnels, caves, crumbling staircases and hidden doors.

The attraction of stories that include these edifices is twofold: first, the intellectual satisfaction that comes from following a confusing trail that may or may not lead to answers; and second, the curiosity that has its roots in psychology, dreams, even nightmares, with an inkling that the skull may itself be the castle and that, within it, the brain’s convolutions hide the ultimate mystery. Let’s have a look at these two aspects.

Continue reading “Gothick Dreams”

#WitchWeek2020: The end is nigh!

If you’re reading this, you’ve lived to tell the tale of Witch Week 2020. When you do, make sure it’s a tale with dark corners, collapsed towers, and horrifying specters. Not to mention lots and lots of shadows. Chris and Lizzie are grateful for the help of everyone who participated: e-Tinkerbell of eTinkerbell, who, in typical English-teacher […]

#WitchWeek2020: The end is nigh!

#WitchWeek2020 Day 6: MEXICAN GOTHIC and the Classic Gothic Tale

And, with this overview of what must surely become an instant classic, we sight journey’s end in this year’s Witch Week event celebrating all things Gothick. But, like all things, it ain’t over till it’s over…

Wrangling the specters today is guest blogger Kristen M, who has been blogging at WeBeReading.com for most of twelve years and is the creator of March Magics (which annually celebrates Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett). She lives in Seattle, loves baking, tolerates yard work, and hates laundry. In this post, Kristen’s review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2020 […]

#WitchWeek2020 Day 6: MEXICAN GOTHIC and the Classic Gothic Tale

#WitchWeek2020 Day 5: Gothic fantasy, with puppets

Puppets! Orphans! Victorian London! Lizzie Ross’s review of Laura Amy Schlitz’s novel has everything we desire for a Gothick novel in this latest post for Witch Week 2020

Puppet shows! Fun times for all, right? Not in this chilling Newbery Honor book. In 2007, Laura Amy Schlitz had won the Newbery Award for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village. This 2012 gothic fantasy by the same author takes place a few centuries later, in an England those medieval villagers could […]

#WitchWeek2020 Day 5: Gothic fantasy, with puppets

#WitchWeek2020 Day 4: M R James and the Gothic Tradition

We have entered the season when the telling of ghost stories comes into its element. This latest entry for Witch Week 2020 focuses on a key exponent of the classic tale of horror and the supernatural.

In this post, guest blogger Jean takes us to the world of M. R. James, famous for his creepy gothic tales, which have inspired several 20th and 21st century authors. Jean is a librarian blogging at Howling Frog Books who loves history, world literature, and anything involving textiles or embroidery. M R James, 1900 Montague […]

#WitchWeek2020 Day 4: M R James and the Gothic Tradition

#WitchWeek2020 Day 3: The Graveyard Book

St Edmunds, Crickhowell graveyard © C A Lovegrove

Today, All Souls Day, reveals this consideration, of Neil Gaiman’s celebrated bildungsroman set in a cemetery, for this year’s Witch Week with the theme of Gothick.


2012 US paperback edition, cover by Dave McKean “It takes a graveyard to raise a child.” (back cover of The Graveyard Book, US edition) Appropriately for today, the Day of the Dead, we present you with a discussion of this year’s read-along book, a novel set in a cemetery. Four of us–Lory* from The Emerald City Book Review, Chris […]

#WitchWeek2020 Day 3: The Graveyard Book

#WitchWeek2020 Day 2: A Gothic Reading of The Betrothed

Day 2 of #WitchWeek2020 sees an excellent synopsis and analysis of the classic Italian Gothick novel ‘The Betrothed’ — don’t miss it!

Today’s guest blogger, e-Tinkerbell, lives in Italy, so it’s no surprise that she brings this classic Italian novel from the 19th century to our attention. e-Tinkerbell is a high school English teacher who loves literature, history… and shoes. She blogs at e-Tinkerbell. All translations from the Italian are hers. Buona lettura! The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi*) is […]

#WitchWeek2020 Day 2: A Gothic Reading of The Betrothed

#WitchWeek2020 Day 1: Gothick Dreams

The first post in 2020’s Witch Week event is by yours truly over on Lizzie Ross’s blog, where this year’s event will be unfolding for the next seven days.


Happy Halloween to all! My first guest blogger is my co-host, Chris, who blogs as Calmgrove on WordPress, where for eight years he’s been exploring the world of ideas through books by way of reviews and discussions. Today Chris has taken on the challenge of setting the mood, so to speak, for our week of dark […]

#WitchWeek2020 Day 1: Gothick Dreams

Witch Week 2020

Wotcher, would-be witches, warlocks, wizards and wonder-workers! Witch Week 2020 begins today with a line-up of what’s in store between Halloween and Bonfire Night on Lizzie Ross‘s blog (here) where all this year’s offerings are being hosted.

What exactly is Witch Week? It’s an event inaugurated by Lory Hess at The Emerald City Book Review inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s fantasy Witch Week (which I reviewed here). It covers the period formerly known as Hallowmas and leads up to the day marking the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot; this would have seen Parliament and all in it, including King James I, blown to smithereens in 1605, until Guy Fawkes was revealed ready to light the fuse.

2020’s theme is Gothick, and the event is bookended by posts very much focused on that ever-popular literary genre.

So, along with ‘Gothick Dreams’ there’s an analysis of an Italian Gothick classic, a discussion of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a piece on ghost writer M R James, plus reviews (including one of a recently acclaimed Latin American title). The event finishes on the day after Bonfire Night with news of next year’s theme, to be hosted by yours truly here on Calmgrove.

So what are you waiting for? All the details, including who’s contributing what and when, are now up on https://lizzierosswriter.com — prepare to be bespelled.

And if you can’t wait to be spooked, here’s a link to my review of Joan Aiken’s The Haunting of Lamb House

Further reading

Artwork by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com.

Approaching the last two months of this extraordinary year — one which I’m sure is seared into our collective consciousness — I thought I’d briefly, with your gracious acquiescence, take stock.

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 70 titles so far in 2020, surpassing my modest target of 60 for the whole year. Bar one or two I’ve reviewed them all too, on Goodreads as well as here. As the year progressed (even as conditions globally regressed) I determined to be less constrained by goals and targets and challenges and go mainly for comfort reading, even if some titles weren’t necessarily comfortable reading.

So, as November and December beckon, what am I likely to have piled up by my elbow?

Continue reading “Further reading”

Witching hour

We’re just over a week away from All Saints or All Hallows Eve, in case it had somehow slipped your mind in our modern commercialised world.

In the pagan Celtic period it was the start of Samhain in Ireland and Scotland, and in Wales Hallowe’en is Noson Galan Gaeaf, ‘the eve of the first day of winter’. When the start of winter was christianised in the 8th century the feast of All Saints was transferred here from the Pentecost period; no doubt this was due to ancestor worship traditionally being marked on the cusp of winter — with guising and offerings of food and drink at the graveside by the descendants of the deceased to appease their spirits — and therefore an apt time to honour all the saints and other souls who had gone before.

Myself, I don’t go for the partying or the trick-or-treating or the churchgoing, but I’m happy to mark the occasion online by offering a few words about Hallowmas on this post.

Continue reading “Witching hour”

Going Gothick

A quick reminder that Witch Week begins in roughly three weeks time. This runs from Hallowe’en to Bonfire Night, an event first begun by Lory Hess on The Emerald City Book Review, and is an annual series of guest posts.

Inspired by a fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones (called, naturally, Witch Week) this year’s event features Gothick as a theme, the perfect choice for this season.

This year my co-curator Lizzie Ross is hosting (I hosted last year) and I will be pointing you to her blog LizzieRossWriter.com for the posts: here’s her advance notice of what’s to come. Offerings lined up cover a range of literary areas, including a group read of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, but there’s much, much more!


In other news, this arrived in the post this morning, a Certificate of Higher Education in Creative Writing Studies from Aberystwyth University

Summer reading

I’m coming to the end of one reading focus, the Wyrd and Wonder fantasy blogging event (cohosted by Lisa, Imyril and Jorie) and have been pleased with the material I’ve got through. And so the next focus which I fancy subscribing to is Cathy Brown‘s 20 Books of Summer.

Actually, for this event one is free to go with any number of options and so it is that I’ve aimed to be sensible by choosing just ten titles (though, as Cathy says, one can up this number, change titles, or even admit defeat).

Also, next month is Jazz Age June, a new event set up by Laurie @ Relevant Obscurity and Fanda at ClassicLit. This reading event runs from June 1st to 30th, aiming to explore the 1920s through literature and other arts.

So as we approach the cusp between one month and the next here is my catalogue raisonné of books read and to-be-read, which I offer for your possible delectation and deliberation.

Continue reading “Summer reading”

#WitchWeek2019: When shall we all meet again?

Well, the world has survived another Witch Week. Lizzie and Chris couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone who participated:

  • Laurie of Relevant Obscurity, for her terrific post about that ice-hearted Narnian witch, Jadis, not to mention her perceptive contributions to our discussion of DWJ’s Cart & Cwidder
  • Sari of The View from Sari’s World, whose survey of Shakespearean villains dripped with bloody images
  • Jean of Jean Lee’s World, who introduced us to one of the scariest aunts in fantasy literature
  • people, too numerous to mention, who added comments and questions; Tweeted/Facebooked links to our posts; and included pingbacks, links, and reviews on their own blogs
  • our readers across the globe
  • and, finally, a nod of appreciation to Lory of Emerald City Book Review, who 5 years ago started this annual celebration of Diana Wynne Jones and fantasy fiction, yet willingly relinquished the chains so that Lizzie and Chris could have a turn — MANY THANKS, LORY!

For anyone who just can’t get enough, here are the links for the Witch Week Master Posts from earlier years.

Thanks again to all of you for sharing this event with us, and we hope you’ll join us next year, at Lizzie’s blog, when our theme will be …

* GOTHICK *