Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Tale of the Supernatural fit for a Campfire

I've always thought that a fun way of relaxing during the summer months was to read spooky ghost stories. This could be because I'd rather picture cool, autumn days than the summer heat we're being hit with. Or maybe reading ghost stories makes me think of telling spooky tales around a fire at summer camp. It's not like I have a personal camp fire memory from my youth, but I still somehow have the nostalgia. I think I watched enough episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? to get campfire ghost story moments engrained in my memories.

Whatever the reason for my summer attraction to these kinds of stories, it recently seemed the perfect time to start reading The Body Snatcher and Other Classic Ghost Stories. I mentioned this collection of supernatural stories a few posts ago. So far I've read the first two stories in the book, and both were new to me. I'm going to skip describing the first story, because it was written in such a long-winded, old fashioned style, that I could barely understand it. Even after I did piece it together, I didn't particularly like the plot.

The second story was much better! It's titled The Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter and it was written by J Sheridan Le Fanu. Although, I wasn't familiar with Le Fanu, he is listed as "the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century" on Wikipedia. It turns out he was also the man who wrote Carmilla, that saucy female vampire story you're probably familiar with.

The illustration above depicts pretty much what I pictured in my mind while reading Schalken the Painter. If anyone else has read this ghost story, I'd like to discuss it with you. In a way, it's not entirely a ghost story. It could also be seen as a monster story or a story about Satan. I even ran across some reviews online that suggest this story is about a vampire. It all depends on how you interpret the villain.

I don't want to spoil the story by giving too much away, or influence your thoughts on the villain. I'll just give you a quick summary. In this story, Godfrey Schalken is an artist who is more or less apprenticing under a master artist named Gerard Douw. The characters are based upon Godfried Schalcken and Gerrit Dou who were actual seventeenth century artists. In fact, Dou was a pupil of Rembrandt's. Aside from the characters being based upon actual artists, the rest of the story is fiction. Let's hope.

The above painting was painted by the real Schalcken. It's titled Girl with a Candle and it hangs in the Pitti Gallery in Florence. Some people believe that this painting inspired Le Fanu in writing the Schalken tale.

In the story, Schalken falls in love with his boss Douw's niece, who is named Rose. Let's pretend that's Rose above. Douw is completely clueless about his apprentice's attraction.

One night, a strange cloaked figure appears at Douw's door asking for his niece's hand in marriage. Douw knows nothing of the strange man except that he is very wealthy. The man does not show his face, or reveal anything about himself. He more or less pressures Douw into giving his niece away in marriage. At the time this story takes place, it was common for a marriage to be arranged based on money. Still, this is a rather extreme situation, as the mysterious man wishes to remain mysterious.

I'll leave the rest of the story for you to read and interpret.

If you don't already own the book, you can read the story here:  

The Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter
I also found a BBC special of this ghost story, which was very nicely narrated. I was going to post all of it here, but I wasn't completely impressed with it. I'm afraid that the villain my mind cooked up was a heck of a lot scarier than the bad guy in the BBC special.

What was in my mind as I read the story:

What was in the BBC Special:
Still, if you'd like to get a feel for the special, here's a link to it: BBC telling of Schalken the Painter

It just goes to show how reading a ghost story is always scarier than seeing someone else's interpretation of it on film! The exception for me being The Shining, which I found equally scary in book and movie form.

It's obviously not the most convenient for us to meet around a campfire to share ghost stories. How about the next best thing? Let's have a virtual night around the campfire! I've already got us started with the Shalken story, and here are some virtual marshmallows for you to roast:

If you'd leave me a comment with link to a story or a YouTube clip of your favorite ghost story/urban legend, it would be much appreciated. Let's see what you've got!


  1. I love that top picture with the kids and the skeletal spectre, and that painting of the "mysterious man" in silhouette, with the red eyes, is awesome! :) (In fact, I think I'll pin them both!)

    I'm going to pick 'Bloody Mary' for my contribution to your virtual campfire. I think I've mentioned to you before that I had never heard this urban legend before seeing an episode about her on 'Supernatural'. She immediately intrigued me and I think she's über creepy! Here's part of a description on the 'Supernatural' Wiki:

    "An urban legend that says that anyone who chants the words Bloody Mary three times in front of a mirror will summon a vengeful spirit. This spirit has been reported to do a variety of things to the person who summons her, including killing the person, scratching their eyes out, driving them mad or pulling them into the mirror with the spirit – generally referred to as the spirit of a woman or even a witch."

    If you're interested in reading more, here's a link to the Bloody Mary Urban Legend page:

    There's also a link to mirror folklore on the same site:

  2. I haven't read the book but I need to thanks for sharing!
    I have an urban legend that is about a teen who grew up across from the lake from where I live. He killed his family and then hide under the boats ( mostly row boats). He then took other victims at night and early in the morning. I was told he dragged them into the lake. He was caught and died in jail. As a child I thought this was a true tale. Rumor has it that people still encounter a ghostly hand that reaches out from under the boats. He will always be called the boat man in these parts. I am careful when I walk by or take boats out. This tale will always stay with me.

  3. We are experiencing bizarre monsoon weather and these stories would be perfect for the rainy, dusty craziness going on outside this time of year.

  4. Little Gothic Horrors ~ I love those pictures too! That skeletal ghost man is a good symbol of the campfire ghost story. Can you imagine if something like that showed up at the fire?

    Oh, yes. I remember Bloody Mary! You're actually the one who finally described the story in detail to me. I say finally, because I'd heard about her for years. I just didn't really understand the "rules" that went with that urban legend.

    Thanks for sending those links! I'll be sure to check them out. I'm sure there's plenty of mirror folklore to read up on. There's something creepy about old mirrors, like the ones you can find in antique shops. They're sometimes so dingy and the reflection is kind of distorted. So you can almost imagine that they're haunted!

    Magikalseasons ~ That book is filled with classic ghost stories, and you'll recognize some of the authors' names. It's on sale at Barnes and Noble, so now would be a good time to find it! :)

    Wow! I can see why "The Boat Man" tale would stick with you. That's a scary story for a kid to hear. It doesn't help that most lakes are filled with dark water and nasty old plant life. It already looks like something wants to pull you in! Then you add a crazy killer legend to the mix. I bet you were scared to go near the water!

    Are you sure the tale isn't true? It might be based on something. I could believe that a guy could kill his family and hide under some boats. Why not? I'm not sure about the second part of the story, though. But, hey I've heard some really weird true crime stories!

    Thanks for sharing your local urban legend with us. :)

    Adsila ~ I agree! A stormy night is an awesome time to curl up with a scary book or movie. It just sets the mood. Monsoons are certainly not something I associate with Arizona, but I have heard that you guys get them!

  5. Hi I am Dea..and what a great blog you have! Will visit often!

  6. Pumpkin Cottage ~ Nice to meet you Dea. :) It's always fun to connect with a new Halloween person. Thanks so much! I just followed you back.

  7. Love the pics, and now I'm going to have to read that story. Also I wanted to let you know I have an award for you over at

  8. Halloweenman666 ~ Thanks! The story is worth reading when you have a little time. I'll be interested in hearing your interpretation of the villain and ending.

    I'll take a look at your award post tomorrow when I'm more awake. :) I've been answering these questions in email form, so I'll send you an email sometime soon.

  9. Great idea for a post! I've not started reading the book yet as I have Game of Thrones and Ghosthunting Maryland on the go at the moment but I'm glad you didn't give anything away! That picture of the guy in makeup is quite disgusting, all those puss filled boils and spots.. yuck!!

    I have a story which you may have never heard of, one which used to creep me out when I was younger but nowadays not as much, it is a peculiar tale of a 'poltergeist' with a difference!

    Gef the Talking Mongoose! Here's a link to mostly everything you need to know about the story ...

    Don't forget to check all the evidence and stuff down the side!

    It sounds a bit far fetched but still an interesting read, some of the facts still don't make sense though, like how Gef would tell them things he had overheard from neighbours, things that the little girl couldn't have overheard herself as the nearest neighbour was over a mile away!

    I'd like to know what you think of this 'ghost' story! xxx

  10. A great way to get in "The Spirit" for Halloween - to tell ghost stories around the campfire! Must find a copy of the book - sounds interesting....

  11. Bella Morte ~ Wow, it's weird to not be typing Vain Glory Sinner! I nearly typed it even though I'm looking right at your new name. :)

    Thanks! Glad you liked this one. Well, to be fair there weren't any boils mentioned in the story. I have a tendency to add a few things with my own imagination, just like that TV special decided to take a few things away! I'm not sure why they wanted to make him less scary. The villain is plenty gross, as you'll see when you read the story!

    The Talking Mongoose? Hmm... I'm curious about this one! I have the story up now and I'll give it a read. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done reading. Thanks for adding your story to the campfire get together. :)

    Jeanne ~ Yeah, we're counting down the days now! It's nearly August, so just a few more months...

    If you do find the book, let me know what you think of it! I know it's available on the Barnes and Noble web site.

  12. Oooo . . . I'm familiar with the author, but not this story. This is one I'll have to look for.

  13. Halloween Spirit ~ I'm somewhat surprised that I wasn't familiar with this author. I guess he had a reputation as THE ghost story writer back in the day. The Schalken story is worth a read. I'm sure it will be different from any ghost story you've read before! I'm still not entirely sure what to make of the ending.

  14. * Update *

    Little Gothic Horrors ~ I just got a chance to read the mirror folklore. I learned a few new things! I'm going to think of the theory about seeing your soul in the mirror, the next time I look into one. I'm not sure if that's cool or creepy. :)

    Bella Morte ~ I just read through all the sections on the Gef the Talking Mongoose site. I don't know what to make of this, but it's sure a creepy story. Assuming the family made this up, they sure created a frightening creature. It sounds completely wicked. I found it very interesting that the next home owner trapped a mysterious animal in the house.

    The creepiest part of this is when the family friend comes to visit and Gef takes a disliking to him. I'm reminded of The Amityville Horror. That book terrified me, the movies not so much. Anyway, in the book the children end up interacting with a demonic pig. It sounds silly, but it's scary. I had been thinking that maybe something evil took possession of a mongoose? It's all so bizarre.

    Did you check out the part about Gef's hair sample? That either debunks the story or makes it even more demonic.

  15. I keep meaning to read The Shining. My daughter, who's 25 now, used to love Are You Afraid of the Dark, along with R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps".


  16. Mrs Grumblebug ~ Hey Ali! This is my first time seeing your Mrs Grumblebug name. That's a cute one. :)

    Watching "Are you Afraid of the Dark?" and reading the "Goosebumps" books are some of my favorite childhood memories! Next time you talk to your daughter, ask her which "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" episode is her favorite. I'm always curious to know the answer to that question!

  17. I thought the part about certain cultures not allowing children to look in a mirror until they were at least a year old was fascinating too. I think mirrors lend themselves to interesting folklore because it's kind of weird seeing another world, only reversed, being reflected back at you. I always find it interesting when actors are filmed looking into mirrors because no one has a perfectly symmetrical face and all the little reversed quirks can make quite a difference in reflection. We all see our own faces slightly differently to the way others see them.

  18. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Yeah, that was new to me too! I can imagine that it would be pretty hard to keep all the mirrors away from a baby. I guess you'd just have to cover the mirrors. Otherwise, you'd have to think about it every time you carried the baby into another room!

    It is interesting to see a person's face in the reflection of a mirror or photograph. I appreciate those kinds of scenes in movies. It often seems like some introspection is going on or there's a quiet moment. Although, an example of quite the opposite is coming to mind. I learned from the extras on a Twin Peaks DVD set that the man who played "Killer BOB" got his role in part because of a mirror. If you'd like to read the interesting story of how this came about, scan down this page:

    You have to hand it to David Lynch, because he's always open to inspiration.

    I'm sure we all see ourselves a little differently than others see us. How you feel about a person effects how they look to you sometimes. It's so complicated!

  19. OMG these images are fabulous!!!

    I would rather be spending my summer reading but my Halloween goodies have been calling my name! Eeeeeeeeeeeeek!

    So glad to be back to Blogging!

    Thank you so much for popping by my Blog for a let's bring on our favorite season!


  20. LuLu ~ Hey there! It's nice to have you back. :) Yeah, that first illustration just says it all! That skeletal apparition is like the ghost story come to life.

    I'll be happy for Halloween, although I'm enjoying summer now too. It's been even more fun anticipating our favorite holiday this year, because of the constant reminders on Pinterest! I'm going to be super prepared as far as decorating and desserts go!

  21. I love campfire stories. My son went to camp this summer and brought back terrifying tales of ghostly monks and children that haunted the camp he was staying at.

  22. Ok, this is called: Falling in Love with the Vampire. A lady meets a guy and falls in love. They do lots of fun stuff together. They go to the mountains, they go skiing, they celebrate the holidays, they even buy a dog together. But something happens, she wakes up with little marks on her neck. She feels faint, she goes to the doctor, but no one can figure it out. A neighbor suggests that it could be a vampire, she starts to suspect her boyfriend. After all he had a key to her apartment. The mystery is solved when the boyfriend rushes into her apartment after hearing her scream only to find the dog sucking on her neck! As it turns out, the dog was a dog vampire!

  23. Jessica ~ Me too! Although, as I said before, I've never actually experienced story telling around a campfire. I guess I just love the idea of it. :) I have sat around a campfire while people just talked. I guess I was never camping with other Halloween people!

    Sounds like your son got to have the spooky stories around the campfire experience I always imagined! Lucky him! Ghostly monks? Was the campfire near a church or something? I'd be curious to hear some of his stories.

    Count Matt ~ Thanks for the story! A dog vampire? Who knew! I would have suspected the dog of being a werewolf before a vampire. :) Well, they do have those pointy teeth... At least the boyfriend was cleared! So long as he doesn't care about his girlfriend and dog being vampires, I guess they can continue their relationship!

  24. Justine - haha! Yes, the victims in these vampire movies do seem to enjoy being bite, so I guess they could live happily ever after!

  25. Count Matt ~ Good point! Just look at the Twilight franchise. :)

  26. Justine - interestingly, The Dogpire was a book idea I had, but I decided that it was to corny for the horror crowd! But horror romance does seem like a logical place to take "Halloween"

  27. Justine, you always know how to get us all in the mood with these ghost stories! I never heard of Schalken the Painter but it does very creepy just the way I like it! Im going to read the story! And it's perfect timing since it's so late where I am!

    I was going to say Bloody Mary but Emma beat me to it!

    Anyhow, the only ghost story I can think of is the story on the Winchester House. This house is one of the most famous haunted houses. The house is in located in San Jose California. The house was built in 1883 and didn't finish until Sarah Winchester's death 38 years later in 1922.

    Sarah was the heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune. She had a husband an a daughter but they both died, I'm not too sure how. And because Sarah was so desperate she decided to go to a medium.
    She was told by a medium that her that her husband was present and that there was a curse on the family which took his life and their daughter's because of the many people who died from the Winchester gun. The medium then told her that the only way to prevent her own death was to move west and build a house for the spirits. But of course, there was a catch to this plan. Ịf she stopped working on the house, the curse would take her life. So Sarah did exactly that. She left her home in New Haven, CT and headed to California. She bought a large parcel of land and started construction on her Victorian home. While she lived in the ever growing behemoth, she continued her seances to her husband and other spirits. She had a bell tower added and would ring it to summon the spirits at night, and ring it again to dismiss them. It was said that she built a seance room in the middle of the house and would enter it alone to conduct her communications.

    Of course, the mental stability of Sarah was in question because of the very odd design of the house. There were doors that were joined to windows, numerous staircases with 13 steps each that often led no where but the ceiling, doors opened to brick walls, double-layered skylights, double-back hallways, doors that dropped off to the landscaping below, upside-down stair posts and so on. Sarah claimed that these oddities were to confuse the bad spirits that had used the Winchester gun to kill. No one ever figured out her fascination with the number 13. The steps totaling 13, the 13th bathroom having 13 windows, 13 drain holes in the kitchen sink, most windows had 13 panes of glass...etc!

    Some of the haunting that happens at that location pages turning on their own, organs playing by themselves, banging doors, voices, cold spots and actual sightings of "foggy" people.

    Anyhow! They have a movie I think on this but I always thought this was a cool ghost stories. Plus I know that they give tours and I'd soooo want to check it out!

  28. I love those short ghost stories, although I prefer to read them around Halloween. Great choice of pictures too.

  29. Count Matt ~ Horror Romance appears to be one of the hotter trends lately - in books, TV shows, and movies! I wouldn't say that "Dogpire" is too over the top corny next to a lot of other things I've seen. :)

    Real Queen of Horror ~ Aww! Thanks. :) I'm happy if I got anyone into a spooky frame of mind with this post. I doubt most people have heard the Schalken story; I certainly hadn't before picking up my ghost story book. I hope you got a chance to read the story. I know it's kind of long as short stories go. I'd love to hear your opinion on what was going on in that plot once you finish reading the story.

    Haha! Yeah, Bloody Mary is a real classic. I actually have a favorite urban legend that I'm surprised no one has mentioned yet. Maybe someone will...

    I saw a video about The Winchester house recently on YouTube! It was really informative and gave more or less a virtual tour of the house. I'm sure you'll like it too! Here it is:

    Ghosts of California video

    I do love those spiderweb glass windows she had! There are some neat design features in the house, but what a sad story behind its construction! By the way, there are six parts to that Ghosts of California video and they're all entertaining!

    I remember hearing about those doors that lead down to the ground and thinking how it would be dangerous for a sleepwalker to stay in the house! Didn't someone die from walking out one of those doors? I want to say that one of the men building the house died in the process of all this crazy construction.

    I can believe that this place is haunted. That poor woman was probably so confused by the time she died, that she didn't know what was real! So I can imagine her spirit trapped in her own weird maze of a home.

    Oh, I didn't know about the movie. Is that out already? I'd be interested in seeing that. I would very much like to take a tour there too! I think I remember hearing that they have special events for Halloween, although I might be confusing this with another haunted house. I watch so many paranormal videos online, that there are all kinds of events stored in my brain. If they aren't doing something for Halloween, they should. :) How cool would it be to attend a dinner party there?

    Vanessa ~ Oh, I could make a case for reading ghost stories in the spring, summer, autumn, and winter! I'm often in the mood for curling up with a good, scary book when it's cold out. I'm a Halloween year round kinda girl, but I guess you knew that. :) I can see why some people wouldn't be in the mood for this stuff all the time, though. I love Christmas stuff when it's December, but I'd get annoyed at the mention of it now. That being said, I know there are Christmas people who would be happy to shop for ornaments and make Christmas crafts during the summer! We all have our own little obsessions. :)

    Glad you liked the pictures. I had fun picking those out, especially the one showing what was in my mind as I read about the villain!

  30. Thanks for that 'Twin Peaks' link. I finally got a chance to check it out. Obviously Frank Silva was destined to get that role of Killer Bob! I love the fact that it wasn't planned and that the whole idea grew organically out of a series of random moments. Very appropriate for that show!

    I really liked the whole malevolent inhabiting spirit concept. It was pretty thought provoking and unsettling from the point of view of mental illness and multiple personality disorders. In a strange way, personifying mental illness like that, actually highlighted that sufferers are victims too.

    I was obsessed with that show back in the day. Makes me feel like seeing it again... Oh, for more time! :)

  31. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Yeah! I like the story of how he was selected. I haven't often heard of someone getting a part from an instant artistic vision like that. You're right, that was very appropriate for the show. That moment sounds almost like one of Agent Cooper's dream sequences.

    Yes, the Leland character is nothing if not unsettling! I remember seeing an interview with the actor who played Leland, and he said that he felt really uncomfortable with what his character did. He was a father himself and couldn't imagine hurting his children like that. He said that the only thing that helped him was being able to show the agony and remorse for those things his character was forced to do. I think that moment near the end of the show where Leland really breaks down (not that he wasn't breaking down off and on throughout the series) really showed that separation between Leland and Killer BOB. It helped to show that Leland was only being used for the possession or whatever you'd like to call it. It could be arguable that Leland was the most victimized person on the show. That is an interesting debate, because a lot of people on Twin Peaks were victims in one way or another.

    Many people were and still are obsessed with Twin Peaks! Not many shows have that element of mystery and just strangeness. Hey, season two is out on DVD now! Hopefully, it's a little easier to find at this point. I really had to search for the series years back. It was worth it, though!