{reading} the hammer of witches

‘Tis the season to begin thinking of the dark and scary! “Reader’s Imbibing Peril” (RIP) is all about the Autumnal mood of suspenseful tales and snuggling into the crackling, dank, and pumpkin spiced. I hate missing out on these kinds of community events because of coursework, so imagine my joy upon perusing my Dark Renaissance syllabus.

While what we are presently reading in class has at its center Witches, it feels just as much the subject of the nearing-event of Banned Books Week (Sept 22-28).

malleus maleficarumThe Hammer of Witches aka Malleus Maleficarum is easily one of the most dangerous texts ever written. Two German Dominican Inquisitors Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer (Institoris) approached Pope Innocent VIII to complain that local authorities were not aiding them in hunting and prosecuting heretical witchcraft. The Pope authors the bull Summis desiderantes affectibus in December of 1484, which essentially reminds the church of the present-day existence and consequence of witches—both male and female—and that they are to be punished, imprisoned, and corrected without any hindrance. He writes that the office of inquisition “shall have full and entire liberty to propound and preach to the faithful the word of God, as often as it shall seem to them fitting and proper, in each and all the parish churches in the said provinces, and to do all things necessary and suitable under the aforesaid circumstances, and likewise freely and fully to carry them out.”

Sprenger and Kramer (Insititoris) publish a handbook Malleus Maleficarum three years later upon which Catholic and Protestant alike reference with pious fervor. The evils behind the plagues and pestilence have been discovered. One can find arguments as to how witches are made and what makes them heretical, which is offense enough, but add a quality of malice and contamination and you’ve a clearer and present danger. You can, at length, marvel at how much attention is spent on copulation. They provide a profile of a witch under “Why it is that Women are chiefly addicted to Evil Superstitions” and “Why Superstition is chiefly found in Women.” The misogyny is unlike anything I’ve encountered before. The Pope’s letter allowed for male and female witches, but The Hammer focuses on woman as witch; and certainly all midwives. The list of “whys” is nauseating. The only reprieves are just how ridiculous/bizarre some of the content is (e.g. witch’s nests).

Of the scores of thousands killed, the execution of menopausal/postmenopausal women (aka crones) is disproportionate; ignorance and economics are good places to start trying to suss out explanations there. The execution of midwives is disproportionate. With a knowledge of and power over women’s bodies that men did not, not even the rising quarter of physicians (w/ the Renaissance). An infant mortality rate of 50% made them an even easier target. There were regions of Germany where only one or two women per village remained. Lynn White in “Death and the Devil” shares these numbers: “In a single year the bishop of Bamberg is said to have burned some 600; that of Wurzburg, 900. In 1514, in the tiny diocese of Como, 300 were executed. In Savoy a great festival was held at which about 800 were burned in a batch” (36). Yes, the logistics were questioned and the prof shared a story of how a man in Scotland took days to die for want of fuel (they burned them quick (alive) in Scotland). You fared a little better in England where the judicial system refused to bow to such proscriptions as could be found in Part III of The Hammer of Witches.

Of the 3 Parts of The Hammer of Witches, the 3rd is dedicated to the Civil Court’s responsibility after the Inquisitor’s job is done. Whom to admit as Witnesses, What kind of Defense for the Accused, How to appoint their Advocate, etc, How the Judge should protect Himself in a rhetorical turn that suggests anyone who acquits the accused has been bewitched. The executions, mind you, come after sanctioned torture. The torture devices were big business. Confession under torture is recommended as it also tended to produce names of other witches. [The English would not admit confession under torture.] A witch had to confess in court as well. Silence or denial was explained as an act of the devil. Shaving the body of all hair disallowed the aid of the devil to hold them silent (but shaving all the hair was problematic for some, so a beebalm was regarded as viable stand-in).

There is no room for mercy in Malleus Maleficarum, bidding authorities to execute on the side of error for the sake of their very own souls.

“But even the witches themselves, when in the court of conscience with humble and contrite spirit they weep for their sins and make clean confession asking forgiveness, are taken back to mercy. But when they are known, those whose duty it is must proceed against them, summoning, examining, and detaining them, and in all things proceeding in accordance with the nature of their crimes to a definitive and conclusive sentence, as has been shown, if they wish to avoid the snare of eternal damnation by reason of the excommunication pronounced upon them by the Church when they deliberately fail in their duty.” (Hammer of Witches)

The witches themselves, not the accused or person, but ever a witch (as has been explained earlier in the handbook); she is “known,” never un-known, never un-accused. The “accordance with the nature of their crime” is death. There should be no other “definitive and conclusive sentence” and if there is, guess who becomes suspect?

“The most spectacular and tragic Renaissance symptom of social psychosis was the witch mania,” White writes, “But once again the manifestation antedated the famines, pestilences, and wars of the fourteenth century.” The other symptoms involved necrophilia, masochism, sadism, and demonic possession.
RIP8main200If dark and horror are ingredients of a perilous read, the Melleus Maleficarum is of the most dark and horrifying sort. Not only does its contents strike terror in the reader, but its use is in the torture and execution of thousands.Our class is looking at the dark underbelly of the Renaissance with the belief that a body or group can be known by that which causes them fear and anxiety. We have been speaking of the scapegoat theory and the Roman bread and circus catharsis that is blood-letting viole
nce. We have been speaking of ignorance, control, monastic sexual fantasy, human bodies/health and economics.



{challenges} Readers Imbibing Peril–VIII


{banner art by  Jennifer Gordan}

It’s that most wonderful time of the year! no, not Christmas. It is that Nightmare before Christmas, okay: It is time for Readers Imbibing Peril–the Eighth!

“All these years later we are still going strong, welcoming September with a time of coming together to share our favorite mysteries, detective stories, horror stories, dark fantasies, and everything in between.”~Carl V.


From”Stainless Steel Droppings,” Carl V.’s (non)Challenges are always a lot of fun, but RIP is my fave. And while I have a doozy of a reading load for class this term, some will actually overlap (thank you Dark Renaissance).  RIP runs September 1 through October 31st. You can start now. What does this RIP reading involve?

 Mystery.  Suspense.  Thriller.  Dark Fantasy.  Gothic.  Horror.  Supernatural.  Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above. That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.

As time has wound on I’ve honed this event down to two simple rules:

1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

There are a number of different “Perils” from which to choose. See the site for details. I hear that the Group Reads are really good. I will tend towards Short Story and Screen–even Poems (read a few last night that would qualify: chilling). Not sure what Sean and Natalya will do, but they will be in on the fun. Natalya is discovering H.P. Lovecraft this month, so she will no doubt continue.

You do not have to have a blog to join. And it may interest you to find appropriately atmospheric reads on the Review Site, and/check out other participants lists of potential reads/viewings. Think about joining in some fashion, however much you can afford time-wise, I mentioned it was fun right?


Previous RIP wrap-ups that sum and link reviews/experiences: RIP VII and RIP VI and RIP V

book list · horror/scary

{challenge} & that’s a RIP

{The Evil Snowman by Zeeksie (aka Serj)}

Before we move onto Winter cheer, R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril VII has come to a close.

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings is an awesome host—thanks for putting it all together, friend—and I look forward to The Sci-Fi Experience coming up next. If you can only manage a few Challenges a year, keep Stainless Steel Droppings in mind because they are fun and attract the best people.

I hope next year to indulge myself much more than I managed this year. But I did enjoy myself and found many a great reading recommendation or screen suggestion these past two months. Plenty that will not wait for next year’s RIP.

So what did I manage this year?

books, noticeably all Juvenile or Young Adult. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (& Siobhan Dowd); Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley; Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrowwritten & illustrated by Katy Towell; Chime by Franny Billingsley;  Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough (review pending); I did read some Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but those would be less “review” than usual.

picture books Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide/Carson Ellis; Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex;  Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean

comics Young Lovecraft (vol. 2) by Jose Oliver  Bartolo Torres (review pending).

screen meant to watch more but we didn’t. It was enough to keep up w/ television—which does include Bones and some episodes of Grimm.  North by Northwest (1959), dir. Alfred Hitchcock;  Wallander, series 3 (2012), w/ Kenneth Branagh, BBC;  Prometheus (2012), dir. Ridley Scott, review pending but it was creepy even if it didn’t have that awesome soundtrack from the trailers.

participated in the “A Grave Tale” activity

Sean and Natalya watched and read. Natalya watched some Doctor Who as well as North by Northwest, and some Grimm. Sean watched Cabin in the Woods (2012) dir. Joss Whedon at least once along with all the afforementioned.

Sean read Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (a lot of hilarity, but mystery and distress as well). Natalya enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (which I started but it had to be returned), In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz, Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven”…not sure what else because she moves through things so quickly—even that massive tome Susanna Clarke wrote called Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with which she is nearly finished.

So that is it for this year’s RIP! Hope you experienced some good reads and found more than a few books to try.

"review" · fiction · horror/scary · juvenile lit · Lit · recommend · Tales · wondermous · young adult lit

{book} a monster calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Illustrated by Jim Kay

Candlewick Press, 2011.

hardcover, 206 pages (ages 12+)

I had been warned and still I read it before bed. I had been warned that hankies would come in handier than a well-lit room. That terror subsides for grief, and not just thematically.

While A Monster Calls is not what one would expect as a traditional R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read it is perfect for autumn into winter. It has the ingredients of a RIP read: a monster does call, more than one actually, and there are nightmares, death, murder, witches, bleeding, and creepy tales… and there is an unnamed terror that when it comes to light you understand its horror, how it tormented the hero, how that monster could be more terrifying than the one inhabiting the yew tree. It’s just not chilling in the usual way, nor thrilling in any way other than the kind we find in a really well-crafted story. But it is one you shouldn’t stay up with while everyone has long since fallen asleep and all the lights but yours are out.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.—publisher’s synopsis.

A Monster Calls is a thin volume and heavier than it looks, paper and pages weighted for gorgeous illustrations by Jim Kay. Patrick Ness doesn’t need any more words than he’s found the spin truly impressive tale of a boy dealing with his single mother’s illness. Conor’s father has a new family in the U.S., his maternal grandmother is hard, there are bullies at school, concerned teachers, an ex-close friend, and a monster who keeps showing up to have a talk with him—but then, of all the people who would “have a talk” this monster is the most relentless—nearly as relentless as the other monster.

The monster who walks, who comes to call is ancient and wild. He has many names (34) and can take many forms but he prefers the yew tree (a very complicated symbol). The monster finds stories to be powerful and as wild as he and he wants to hear Conor’s story. Conor is not keen on the idea, but he bides his time as the monster wants to share three tales of his own first. The tales are exquisite and their outcomes baffle Conor. As they find correlation with the things going on at home and school, Conor’s life adds further consideration to the tales—and deepen the mystery surrounding Conor’s repetitive nightmare.

There is an aspect to the story that brought to mind Adam Haslett’s short story “The Beginnings of Grief,” it is where Conor seeks out punishment, not actively per se, but he actually looks forward to blows from the school bullies. He wants to see justice mete out in the tales, the more destructive the better. But he seems immune from punishment from others (and eventually all), who always counter with: “What purpose could that possibly serve?” The question follows the Monster’s tales as well.   A Monster Calls and its tale(s) talks also about power, isolation, (in)visibility, belief and guilt—and to what end? That is what Conor wants to know and what he is not sure is possible or even deserved.

Much of the pleasure of the read is not only the clever weaving of this tale, but the characters who populate it–the Monster and Conor foremost. For all the weight they give the story, the characters drive the action that buoys the story pursuing it with mounting dread–and increasing relief. The more out of control things seem to spiral the greater the optimism that it will all soon be over, one way or another.

I know I have not done my best with this review as I really hope anyone and everyone would read it, at least once. It has the dark and the mischief and the raging that is so extraordinary to experience in Patrick Ness’ writing.


recommendations: 12 & up, boys and girls, and not necessarily only someone experienced with or experiencing grief, fans of David Almond as he came to mind with this one; those who love tales.

A RIP VII read

{those loverly dark images belong to Jim Kay}

"review" · fiction · horror/scary · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{book} mister creecher

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

Bloomsbury (2011).

The most successful read is to go in without synopsis or review; that said, it is still really good anticipating a few things as well.

Billy is a street urchin, a pickpocket, and a petty thief. Mister Creecher is a giant of a man whose appearance terrifies everyone he meets. Their relationship begins as a matter of convenience. But before long, a bond develops between these two misfits as they embark on a bloody journey that will take them from London northward on the trail of their target . . . Doctor Victor Frankenstein. It seems the good doctor had promised Mister Creecher a bride, and Mister Creecher will stop at nothing to get what he’s been promised. Nothing.

Perfect for fans of horror novels, this frightening new book from Chris Priestley reinvents a classic literary monster for a new generation of readers.—publisher’s comments

Mister Creecher is being pitched as a gateway drug to the classics—and it should be pitched as such.* Familiarity with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist deepens the impression of awe with what Priestley is doing here in Mister Creecher. He creates more than a mash-up of Dickens and Shelley, but an intersection; less a reinvention or re-imagination but acts more of an imaginer alongside these two great literary texts. He fills in some blanks in the creation of his own monster story.

Mister Creecher would have been a failure, however precious the attempt if not for Priestley’s caliber of writing. He is not new to the horror genre. He has had readers peeing their pants from horror and delight for a while now. He can keep up with Shelley and Dickens. I had only read his short stories with the heavy thread that he employs in his Tales of Terror series so I was curious how he did in sustaining character and atmosphere at length. He is painfully consistent, by the way.

Billy is a bit of a — difficult one. And while charming in the way rebellious boys on the streets can be in literature, nobility does not come easy, if at all; which we are unused to in our young people stories today. The bond that develops between Mister Creecher and Billy is hard-won even though their mutual need is fairly evident from the beginning. And note that absence of the word friendship in the publisher’s synopsis. Friendship is an uneasy word, and the search for an easier word to describe the two’s relationship is part of what makes the book so marvelous.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein there are spans of time where the creature is away, having run off and then waiting, waiting for the doctor to construct a bride so he won’t be alone. What was going on with the created while Shelley contemplated the creator? Priestley wonders, too, and so he writes. We spy on Frankenstein (with Henry Clerval) as he travels because Mister Creecher has made arrangements with Billy to watch and follow the doctor and his companion as they tour London and beyond, moving northward toward a final confrontation between–?–. Priestley minds the intersections and holds fast to his characterization of Frankenstein’s monster. Those familiar with Frankenstein know the inevitable and Priestley uses this to enhance that forboding, that sweet anticipation of collision. And for those unfamiliar with where Frankenstein’s dilemma culminates, the dilemma Billy gnaws on for the sake of the reader (and his own characterization)? They are hardly short-changed as Priestley manages horror of diverse types and multiple levels. There is also the part where the two’s company is ever being tested, moving toward a culminating decision that you can bet holds some heartbreak and some horrifying revelations (and results).

I believe this book is recommended 12 & up and that makes sense as Billy age 11/12 and streetwise to the world wonders about anatomy and sexuality and procreation, though hardly gratuitously (e.g. “He had no navel,” 298); the older audience will get how the wonderings play thematically/philosophically. Priestley also includes things Frankenstein thinks about, transporting its observations into Mister Creecher’s own, like Billy noting how Mister Creecher looked like he might have been made beautiful before animation took hold of his features.

Mister Creecher is a lovely lovely character whom Priestley does not rob of some pretty terrible aspects. But any compassion gifted adds to the reader’s torment, and Billy’s, and this works to illustrate the struggles Mister Creecher wrestles with, as well as its reference materials. Yet for all the references that add weight and texture, this really is Priestley’s creation and Mister Creecher sees it through to its own ends. Ends that should have reader’s looking for other endings—and other beginnings.

A benefit of even a passing familiarity with Oliver Twist is the dread it brings, that dawning horror as clues begin to shed subtlety nearing the end of the book. Confirmation is the cold bit of ice to the spine and that churn in the stomach you’d hoped to avoid. Then you realize that you’ve been mourning the boy Billy was throughout the book and not in these final pages alone. Those unfamiliar are in for an unsuspected horror as they crack the pages of Dickens’ classic, not that Priestley doesn’t offer a blood-soaked taste of him first.

There is a complexity to that which horrifies us and I like Priestley’s implementation and exploration of it. I like the focus on companionship and the relationships that shape us. I like how he could make me feel sad, and hopeful though I am a bit pissed he couldn’t change some endings there… Priestley does creepy really well, which involves knowing just when to relent and allow a peek of sunshine which serve a breather even if only to cast the deeper shadows to come. His pacing pulls the reader in deeper even as one really should look away. Christ Priestley in Mister Creecher creates dread and dreadful anticipation that is so very very beautiful.


*I adore the inclusion of the character, Bradbury whose stage name in the carnival of freaks is “The Illustrated Man.” It is a gorgeous use of Ray Bradbury’s story, too (p268)—very haunting actually (279). There are many references in keeping with the novel’s themes and its historical period with meetings of actual historical persons (to include Mr. and Mrs. Shelley packing for their move to Italy; a Mr. [Pen] Browning (the son of famous Browning parents (?), etc), also reading works available at the time, like Jane Austen novels and poems by Keats and Coleridge, as well as paintings/artists of that inclination.

of note: the author offers a note about Shelley and Dickens. It would be great for an accompanying glossary of reference, a bibliography. Must see if there is one.

a good R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read


"review" · juvenile lit · Picture book · Tales

{book} dillweed’s revenge

DAY 26

Dillweed’s Revenge: A Deadly Dose of Magic by Florence Parry Heide

Illustrated by Carson Ellis

Harcourt, 2010.

I found this in the children’s picture book section at the Tattered Cover Book store as I was browsing. I was drawn to Carson Ellis’ as illustrator, and after reading it ooked around the room at the grandmothers with their grandchildren and the plush characters and candy-coated book covers and wondered what Dillweed’s Revenge was doing here. Powell’s books lists it: from age 10; from grade 5.

The question is: once you’ve moved to the chapter book section of a library do you peruse the picture book section? I know in Libraries they put picture books with chapter books in the juvenile section—so maybe they can be read? Because Dillweed’s Revenge channels a darker Roald Dahl, the usual Edward Gorey, and The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowry, I know people who would we be interested in this particular picture book. And I know others who would shriek if their young readers brought this one to mommy or daddy to read. Maybe the shelver has a delicious sense of humor?

Dillweeds parents go on adventures and leave him behind with Umblud the butler and Perfidia the maid, who treat him like their slave. Neither Umblud or Perfidia or the parents appreciate Dillweeds cherished pet, a creature named Skorped. When they threaten Skorped’s life and well-being, Dillweed opens his black box and casts the runes, which releases smoky monsters, who do the dirty deeds. And then it’s Dillweed turn to go on adventures.

Filled with nasty characters, beautiful details, and subtle humor, this stylish book follows in the tradition of the deliciously dark work of Edward Gorey, so Dillweed’s happy ending undoubtedly means the end for someone else. –publisher’s comments.

I have to say that it wasn’t as “deliciously dark” as Edward Gorey, but the humor is “subtle,” even for those with a morbid sense of humor (like me). The subtlety of the humor may be less so for those who appreciate classic European children’s tales (which is why Lowry’s book came to mind). Umblud and Perfidia are evil and the menacing ghostly demons are as violent as they, and in a more tasteful turn, the parents’ demise is unseen. They really shouldn’t have tried to get rid of the creepy “cherished pet” of Dillweed’s. And it isn’t like he is being petulant or anything, the parents are neglectful and who else does he have, right?… Can’t say we aren’t warned by the title. And the cover is a good indicator as well that this is going to be for the darkling humored.

{adore the mirrored effect here, an allusion perhaps?}

{love the look of desperation on the boy’s face as he looks longingly at the plane, and as for the unwelcome guests: their attributes that are bound to repulse.}

Dillweed’s Revenge is also for fans of Carson Ellis who meets the Gorey-esque with her own brand of charm. She also adds to Heide’s story with her own brand of charm while fleshing out the text, providing details that help tell a cold story of revenge and creating an atmosphere of both a chilling fear and an ultimate shiver of triumph.

{images belong to Carson Ellis}

A good R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read for the 10 & up set…

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · series

{book} frankenstein takes the cake

DAY 25

Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex

Harcourt, 2008.

I saw Adam Rex’s name, so…I had to show it to Natalya every three minutes (and that was me being restrained). Finally, N set the Isabel Allende book she’d been reading in Spanish and humored me only to be completely sucked into the read herself. Mind you’ve the time to spend, because there is no mere scanning of this one.

“A fantastically weird collage of re-imagined horror tales: Frankenstein is about to marry the undead woman of his dreams, but his future mother-in-law won’t stop hassling him; Edgar Allen Poe works on a crossword puzzle when he knows he should be writing; and aliens finally make contact with earth… but only to send us spam. Rex’s humor appeals to both parents and kids, and all readers will be impressed by his use of unusual forms of storytelling, like angry blog posts from the Headless Horseman and a special advertising section featuring the water diet for witches — watch the pounds melt away!”–Recommended by Sheila A., Powells.com

Shelia nails it with the “fantastically weird collage;” Frankenstein Takes the Cake will appeal and will impress. Rex adopts different styles and media and it is really kind of disgusting how successful he is with each. The creativity is inspiring and inspired to say nothing of entertaining. The opening pages feature a fun interactive comic in which the reader is at first mistaken of identity, and after the confusion is cleared, they get the closer look they need and—I won’t spoil it for you. But it is a brilliant opening because it reminds fans and introduces the new readers to Rex’s excellent sense of humor and comedic timing—which he confirms, just in case, by following the comic with a letter from the author.


ghoul scouts

A story can be found amidst Headless Horseman’s blog posts, the advertising section, Edgar Allen Poe and his increasingly frustrated Raven, a Peanuts inspired comic strip…if one is interested. I haven’t read Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich the first book in this series, but I will. But then I learned of Adam Rex from a Guys Read anthology, and then the brilliant novel True Meaning of Smekday [N recommends Cold Cereal, too]. But if you’ve a 5-10 year old, go ahead and start them here and keep Adam Rex on their shelves from here on out.  Not that you’ll need the excuse to have him around as well. He is such a talented author and illustrator and should not be missed.

Headless Horseman

{images belong to Adam Rex}

7 Impossible Thingsreview and about the pumpkin head for the Headless Horseman (seen above)

A R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril to share with the youngest readers among us.