Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Squelch in the Case of M. Valdemar

'I presume that no member of the party then present had been unaccustomed to death-bed horrors; but so hideous beyond conception was the appearance of M. Valdemar at this moment, that there was a general shrinking back from the region of the bed.'

ST14 is sort of with the printer, now. Communication lines are open, the price seems fair (this printer is much cheaper than local ones I've used before) and I'm reasonably happy with the magazine. I spend so much time reading and re-reading stories that I forget why I liked them in the first place. Editor Syndrome - I know everything about fiction but I don't know what I like (with apologies to Thurber). 

Anyway, let's consider a mildly interesting point. Why did I choose the online name Valdemar Squelch? Well, it's a rather feeble joke, which is one point in its favour. But I've always found 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' one of Poe's most interesting stories. If you don't know it, you should probably go off and read some Poe. Otherwise there's not a lot of point in hanging around a blog about supernatural fiction. 

Anyway, in the story the narrator describes various experiments in mesmerism, which lead to a horrible (and messy) conclusion. This had been largely discredited in Europe, and James Braid had yet to demonstrate the reality and usefulness of suggestion. So Poe was venturing into what we could term pseudoscience. He wouldn't have seen it that way, though. Judging by his long cosmic essay 'Eureka', he considered science and mysticism to be two sides of the coin of wisdom. 

But to return to 'Valdemar' - the final experiment involves putting the hapless Frenchman under the influence while on the verge of death. What effect does this have when he expires? Suffice to say that Poe offers no great revelations of the life to come. On the one hand, he seems to subscribe to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. On the other, he doesn't suggest that postmortem survival is a lot of fun. No hint of heaven or hell is offered, only a kind of grim certainty that death is not the end. I suppose Poe could be criticised for putting effect before intellect, here. But the central premise of the story is undeniably powerful. 

The story is rather static and doesn't lend itself to dramatisation. But I distinctly recall a rather naff mini-series entitled 'Dickens of London' in which the eponymous author visited Poe. Dickens did of course tour America, but somehow I doubt the version of events on the telly were accurate. This is because the scriptwriter - Wolf Mankowitz, an old hand - decided to simply include the Valdemar story as if had really happened. I remember thinking at the time that it was quite naff, and yet at the same time oddly compelling.

And what if Poe, master of the hoax, had in fact experienced a real incident and published it as a story? Such behaviour could have serious repercussions. There's a story in that, perhaps. I make a gift of it to any writer who wants to use it. 


Unknown said...

While I agree with you on your points I've got to say at least you get radio dramas. Here in the USA we don't get that luxury.

Would it kill someone to create a radio drama in the states every now and then?

Unknown said...

Sorry, I replied to the wrong post. I meant for it to be in the Oh, just leave it alone post.

valdemar said...

Thanks, Solis. I think the problem is lack of state control! Radio drama in the UK is almost exclusively the province of the BBC, which was set up as a state agency to control broadcasting in 1922. Commercial broadcasting of any kind was banned for decades. BBC Radio puts out lots of radio dramas. I listen to hours and hours of them and am perhaps a little spoiled. You can listen online to BBC 7 at:

Note there's a Listen Again feature using RealPlayer, so you can hear stuff from the preceding seven days.

Todd T said...

You are right that "...Valdemar" wouldn't seem to lend itself to dramatization, and the first person you would name to try it might not be John Astin, he of farcical ADDAMS FAMILY fame. And yet, I saw Astin give a very effective one-man dramatization of it some years ago. He also did "The Masque of the Red Death".

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Todd T said...

Well David, you were hoping for more comments....the printer industry is showing a sudden interest in supernatural literature.

Gad, is there no cranny private enough to avoid this kind of crap?