Tag Archives: Robert Louis Stevenson

More Free Scary Stories

All these classic stories are in the public domain,
available in their entirety online or as free ebooks
(8-14 October 2018)

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Walking Around in Someone Else’s Skin: The Classic Film, To Kill A Mockingbird

#NoSpoilers

Usually considered to have originated with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), which was subtitled “A Gothic Story,” Gothic fiction is literature that attempts to combine elements of romance, mystery, and horror — without becoming either too fantastic or too realistic. Initially featuring decaying castles, curses, ghosts or other supernatural creatures and events, madness, murder, and “oft-fainting heroines,” Gothic fiction was hugely popular entertainment.

About a generation after Walpole, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding Gothic villain in her novel A Sicilian Romance: a tempestuous, moody, sometimes secretive, and extremely passionate male who usually encounters a heroine that completely upsets his life. Later this type of “villain” would be called the Romantic era’s “Byronic hero.” Radcliffe also introduced more independent heroines to Gothic fiction with her bestselling The Mysteries of Udolpho. Though Radcliffe’s heroines are still pretty helpless and faint far more than anyone I’ve ever encountered, they inspired “gothic feminism” which critics claim the author herself expressed as “female power through pretended and staged weakness.” Further, Radcliffe changed the infant genre of Gothic fiction by introducing the “explained supernatural,” where all the apparently supernatural events, from ghosts and moving furniture to strange knocks and cries in the dark, turn out, eventually, to have perfectly reasonable, natural explanations.

Gothic fiction and its various, evolving components spread into the literature of the Romantic era, appearing in the poetry of Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Poe. In the Victorian era, Gothic elements were more prominent in fiction, and are found in the work Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre).

Many of these Victorian authors added strong moral elements to their Gothic fiction, producing novels that questioned everything from man’s relationship with newly developing technologies and medical advances to man’s responsibility for feeding and educating the poor. Gothic literature became more than entertainment to pass the long hours of a dark and rainy night: it explored the meaning of life, morality, social responsibility, and man’s relationship to the Divine.

As Gothic fiction spread to authors in America, especially in the South, it became a sub-genre called Southern Gothic. Authors like Faulkner, Caldwell, McCullers, O’Connor, Capote, and Percy examined family relationships, sexuality, poverty, race, and the Southern myths of an idyllic antebellum past. Southern Gothic is filled with

deeply flawed, disturbing, or eccentric characters… ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

With its particular focus on the South’s history of slavery, Southern Gothic became a vehicle for fierce social critique.

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic of both American fiction and Southern Gothic. A coming-of-age story set in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama from 1933-1936, during the Great Depression, the novel examines everything from family relationships and mental health to societal responsibilities, poverty, violence, and crime. The 1962 film version, adapted from the novel by Horton Foote, eliminated some of the novel’s childhood adventures to concentrate on the aspects of its storyline that make To Kill a Mockingbird so important to American literature and film: the ugly and intractable racism between whites and blacks, a bigotry and intolerance that still exists over most of the country.

Mary Badham as Scout (forefront) with author Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

The film’s (unseen) narrator looks back on her six-year-old self and on the events that changed her from an innocent to a more mature child. In 1933, Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father Atticus (Gregory Peck).

Mary Badham as Scout, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and Phillip Alford as Jem, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Together with a visiting neighbor, Dill (John Megna, modeled after Harper Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote, who spent summers next door to the Lees with his aunts), Scout and Jem roam around the neighborhood and create their own adventures.

John Megna as Dill, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

One of their most exciting “games” is scaring each other with stories about the never-seen Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his film debut),

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

who lives just a few doors down and who is rumored to be a crazed, scissors-wielding psychopath, once locked up in the courthouse basement jail.

Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Late one night, Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) comes over to request that Atticus serve as the appointed defense counsel for Tom Robinson (Brock Peters),

Gregory Peck as Atticus, and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

a black man who has been accused of brutally beating and raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox).

Collin Wilcox as Mayella Ewell (foreground), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Atticus agrees, but despite his attempts to shield his children from the consequences of his decision to represent a black man in a racially charged crime, Scout and Jem soon become involved in the racial “war” brewing around them.

Collin Wilcox as Mayella, and James Anderson as Bob Ewell (both, foreground), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

In particular, the father of the ostensible rape victim, Bob Ewell (James Anderson) tries several times to intimidate Atticus into quitting the case. When that doesn’t work, Ewell threatens violence against Atticus and his children.

Phillip Alford as Jem, and Mary Badham as Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the children continue to find “gifts” in the hollow of a nearby tree, these gifts and their former adventures pale in significance to the events surrounding the crime concerning Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

By the time the trial starts, most of the town is divided and angry. Though Atticus warns his children to stay away from the courthouse completely, Jem refuses to be barred from the biggest event in the county, and Scout refuses to be left behind at home if Jem and Dill are going to the courthouse.

Phillip Alford as Jem, Mary Badham as Scout, and John Megna as Dill (L-R, foreground), with William Walker as Reverend Sykes (background, wearing suit and tie) To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Without Atticus’ knowledge or permission, Scout, Jem, and Dill sit in the gallery, in the “Negro section” of the court, and watch the entire trial.

William Windom as District Attorney (L), James Anderson as Bob Ewell (center), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background R), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Judge Taylor presides as the District Attorney (William Windom, in his film debut) badgers witnesses and makes his opinions about Tom Robinson’s guilt clear. Despite the fact that viewers can have no doubt whatsoever about the jury’s eventual verdict, the courtroom scenes are intensely riveting, especially when Atticus cross-examines Mayella herself.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the verdict is not in question, Mayella’s father, angry at the Atticus’ not-so-subtle accusations of incest and child abuse, provokes Atticus repeatedly in an attempt to draw him into a physical confrontation. Then, he decides to provoke Atticus by going after his children.

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars:
Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote, and Best Art Direction (set design, Black-and-White).

The film also won Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama (Gregory Peck), Best Original Score (Elmer Bernstein), and Best Film for Promoting International Understanding (to director Robert Mulligan).

When released, To Kill a Mockingbird was an overwhelming critical and popular success, earning more than 10 times its budget in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird has gone on to become a classic, with the film listed 25th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2007 list) [#34 on the 1998 list], and taking the top spot in AFI’s Top 10 Courtroom Dramas. Gregory Peck’s character Atticus Finch reigns as AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes.

Everyone should see this film, though children under 12 may need to be cautioned about the subject matter and the language as this film deals openly with rape, clearly suggests incest, and uses language appropriate to the time and place of its story.

Be sure to watch the black-and-white version of To Kill a Mockingbird, not the colorized one: those who colorized it obviously completely missed the symbolism behind the story’s being filmed in black-and-white instead of in color. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Behind the Masks: Penny Dreadful s3 e2, Review & Recap “Predators Far and Near”

Spoilers
Most Dreadful

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“Predators Far and Near,” the second episode of Showtime’s third season of its horror classic Penny Dreadful, created and written by John Logan, once again showed us that every character wears  a mask in order to get what he most desires. From Sir Malcolm’s Apache guide Kaetenay to Ethan Chandler, from Dorian Gray to Lily and Victor Frankenstein, from Vanessa to Dr. Steward and Dr. Sweet, everyone wears a mask to hide his evil and his secrets. And, as expected, it’s when the characters take off those masks that we viewers get the frights and the shudders.

Dorian & Lily

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In season 1, the storyline of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) was virtually completely separate from those of the other characters. Though Dorian and Vanessa (Eva Green) had some interactions, one of them sexual, Dorian existed at the fringes of the major story: that of Vanessa, Sir Malcolm, and Ethan Chandler hunting the Creatures that had kidnapped Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina. Dorian’s story, disconnected as it was — and unfamiliar to viewers who had not read Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray — was confusing, to say the least.

This confusion was eliminated in season 2 when Dorian began a relationship with the transgendered Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), then revealed his innate cruelty when he virtually abandoned his live-in love Angelique for Lily (Billie Piper). Dorian’s previous connection with Lily was when he hired the consumptive prostitute Brona — Lily’s identity before Victor Frankenstein killed her and re-animated her as a Bride for his Creature. When Lily revealed that she remembered her previous life, that she was filled with rage against men, and that she was attracted to Dorian because of his dark side, Dorian’s story became more integral to the other events in the show.

Now, with this episode, Dorian and Lily have moved to center stage, where they jointly commit atrocities. Last night, dressed in evening finery, the two of them went into a cellar, where the Bouncer informed them there would be some “butchery.” Dorian replied, with a smile, “I believe that’s what I paid for.” In the cellar, Dorian and Lily sat in a circle of  well-dressed, upper-class men, for a “show” which appeared to be a sort of “snuff film” in the flesh. A masked man brought in a naked, bound prostitute, who may have been slightly drugged. As the masked man picked up a whip to torture the girl, Dorian and Lily sprang into action, killing not only the masked man, but every one of the gentleman at the show. Dorian used a pistol and Lilly used a knife. It was gruesome but thrilling in a scary way. Then Lily walked up to the nude girl and said, “Now you are mine.”

Yowza!

What did these two have in mind?

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They took the girl — Justine — home to Dorian’s house, where Lily is living, and the young girl awoke in a magnificent bed, wearing a silk gown. When she went downstairs, she was a bit confused, wary, and overwhelmed by the beauty of her surroundings as well as by the cultured beauty and manners of Dorian and Lilly. It was Lily who told Justine (Jessica Barden) that they are going to seek revenge-retribution for all the men “with two bob” who made the girl “kneel” to them for sexual service.

Ah, Lily’s complaint from last season, in her tirade to Frankenstein’s Creature.

Lily has a lot of anger issues, there’s no doubt about that. Instead of talk-therapy, however, she plans to use violence to make herself — and the girl-prostitue Justine — feel better. That’s right up Dorian’s alley. I mean, this is a man who killed his transgender lover Angelique after she discovered his hidden portrait, which revealed that he is an aged, ugly “monster” inside, i.e., morally, and in the portrait, while he remains young and beautiful on the outside.

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Dorian rarely takes off his mask, but with Lily, he doesn’t have to: she seems to see beneath it. That makes him more comfortable with her than with any other woman he’s been with. And it makes him a perfect foil for the rage-filled, murderous Brona-turned-Lily.

I’m not sure why they need the girl to go on a killing spree, if that’s what they intend to do, but Lily told the girl that they will have a “monumental revenge” before kissing her like a lover.

Sir Malcolm, Kaetenay,
Ethan Chandler, and Inspector Rusk

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Continuing the plot line introduced in the premiere of season 3, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) has joined with an Apache named Kaetenay (Wes Studi), who claims that both he and Malcolm are surrogate fathers to Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett). As said fathers, they are morally obligated to rescue him from Inspector Rusk the Intrepid, who extradited Ethan to America,

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as well as to rescue Ethan from the brigands who, on Ethan’s father’s orders, kidnapped him in order to return him to his family home: The Talbot Range.

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Last week, viewers were left with the impression that Kaetenay had Ethan’s best interests at heart. In episode two, however, after Kaetenay has a vision — he actually summoned the vision — we learned that a fierce antipathy exists between Ethan and Kaetenay, at least on Ethan’s part. Kaetenay reached out to Ethan in the vision, found him in the New Mexico Territory desert, and Ethan attacked him.

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We know Ethan doesn’t like his biological father, whom we have never seen, but who is always sending Pinkertons after Ethan, but it was a surprise to learn that, even in the vision, Ethan reacted violently to Kaetenay’s presence and attacked him. Kaetenay never revealed this to Sir Malcolm. Instead, he continued wearing his “Wise Old Man” mask, and told Malcolm simply that Ethan was aware that they were coming.

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Considering the fact that, in the vision, Ethan fought with Kaetenay and threatened to kill him, we were left wondering what secrets Kaetanay is keeping from Sir Malcolm. And why Kaetenay needs Sir Malcolm’s help “rescuing” Ethan. After all, Kaetenay seems an adequate warrior, as demonstrated when he helped Sir Malcolm defeat the bandits who attacked him. Kaetenay has the further ability to not only see Ethan far away in New Mexico, but to communicate with Ethan.

Ethan did not welcome Kaetenay in his vision.

He threatened to kill Kaetenay if he shows up in person.

Kaetenay did not reveal that to Sir Malcolm.

More masks.

More secrets.

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Meanwhile, in the American Southwest, Ethan is simply biding his time, waiting for the moon to turn full, when he now realizes he will turn into a Wolf-Man, so that he can indiscriminately kill anyone around him. Since he’s made it clear since his capture that he knew it was only a matter of a few days or weeks until the full moon caused his transformation, Ethan hasn’t seemed unduly distressed by his captivity. Last night, the full moon came out, Ethan changed into the Wolf, and killed virtually everyone in the place where his captors were buying supplies.

Virtually everyone.

In a surprise move, the Witch Hecate helped Ethan.

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Hecate (Sarah Greene) was shown eavesdropping on Rusk the Intrepid as he told US Marshals that he was the one who was going to recapture Ethan Chandler, whom he calls by his biological name, Lawrence Ethan Talbot. (The name is an homage to the 1941 Wolfman film which starred Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot [below], as is the makeup designed for Ethan’s character in Penny Dreadful.)

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Though Ethan doesn’t appear to be able to control himself when he is on a rampage as the Wolf, he did not attack Hecate, who appeared in her Witch/NightComer guise as she helped him kill the people in the trading post. When the two of them came together at the end of the scene, Ethan-as-the-Wolf stopped before her. And she gazed up at him, mask-free, scarred and naked, and said she’d missed him.

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Very romantic.

But has she missed him because she’s drawn to Ethan’s dark side or because she wants to use him to get to Vanessa? After all, Ethan is the Lupus Dei — the Hound (or the Wolf) of God — who protects Vanessa. And Hecate is the daughter of the murdered NightComer Evelyn Poole, who was attempting to ensnare Vanessa for the Master, Lucifer.

Hecate and Ethan may seem to have faced each other without their masks, but Hecate seems to have more than a couple masks.

Watch out, Ethan

I’m guessing, considering Ethan’s curse, it should also be, Watch out, Hecate.

Frankenstien, Jekyll,
and company

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Poor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadawway, above R).

For a man who brings dead people back to life, he sure has crumbled emotionally after losing his lover Brona-turned-Lilly to Dorian Gray. Victor can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t get off the morphine. And now he’s working with Dr. Jekyll (Shazad Latif, above L) on a way to “tame” Lilly.

As if…

Snort.

In a super-cool plot complication, the casting directors of Penny Dreadful used a British-Indian actor, so he gets to rant and rage about whites viewing him only by his skin color — “once a Wog, always a Wog” — and about his being an unaccepted “half-breed,” as well as permitting his character to make other political comments about British Imperialism while appearing only to be railing about racism and his selfish, white, rich, British father (who abandoned his “exotic whore” Indian mother).

Jekyll revealed last night that he works at Bedlam, not being welcome at any other British medical institution. At Bedlam, home to the most violent, crazed, and forgotten mental patients, who are treated like prison inmates, he gets to perform experiments on them. I’ve read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde many times, and I was still creeped out by the fact that, in Penny Dreadful, Dr. Jekyll is experimenting on mental patients rather than only on himself.

Excellent writing, Mr. Logan.

Excellent socio-political commentary woven into Jekyll’s character.

Jekyll wants to put the mask of cultivated, tamed, controlled, civilized society on the most rabid and violently dangerous patients-criminals.

Victor, who helps him inject a violent, crazed criminal, and who witnesses the transformation from violent to civilized, wants to do that to Lilly.

Oh, if only he’d read the book…

Danger, Victor Frankenstein, Danger.

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To make matters worse, the love-sick Victor is stalking Lilly, sitting on a bench outside Dorian Gray’s house and watching her in her bedroom. She sees him and comes down to confront him.

Lilly warns Victor to go away, telling him that he will not like what she is becoming. We know Victor’s not going to listen to that: he wants to have Lilly-with-her-mask back in his arms and his bed again.

Despite the fact that Lilly took off her mask and told him that she is not the woman he thinks, that she is dangerous, that he would not like her, and that she is not in any way interested in him, Victor still did not get the message.

She’s taken off her mask several times.

But Victor is too blighted with unrequited love to see anything other than his unrealistic, romantic vision of her.

Much heartache and damage ahead for this fellow.

Vanessa Ives,
Dr Seward, and Dr. Sweet

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Poor, unlucky-in-love Vanessa (Eva Green, above, bottom).

The girl simply cannot win.

Despite the fact that she thinks she is filled with evil, she really tries to be a good person. Most of the time, anyway.

Like when she’s not seducing her best friend’s fiancé on the eve of the wedding.

And when she’s not setting Sir Geoffrey’s hounds on him to kill him as revenge for his burning the Cut-Wife at the stake.

This season, Vanessa has entered therapy: it’s a “new science,” and I’m not sure what name it’s called. In any event, Dr. Seward, who has already admitted to being related to the Joan Clayton (Cut-Wife) family, pushes Vanessa to discuss things “beyond murder.”

Like sin.

She’s recording all Vanessa’s sessions. Ostensibly, so she’ll save herself time taking notes. But really so that, behind her back and without her knowledge, her secretary Renfield can listen to the sessions and report back to his new Master, Dracula.

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Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone) did something beyond-strange in last night’s episode: at the end of the session, after Vanessa had her “homework” — to do something that gives her pleasure — and had left the office, Dr. Seward began to weep.

What on earth?

But perhaps that is, indeed, a mask Dr. Seward is wearing.

Perhaps she is more than “related” to Joan Clayton, the Cut-Wife who was burned at the stake for being a Witch.

Perhaps, at the last moment, as the flames engulfed her, the Cut-Wife learned that she did value life more than she’d realized.

Perhaps she finally made a bargain with the Devil.

To deliver Vanessa.

I can’t think of any other reason for a therapist to weep.

Something is going on behind that mask of hers.

I’m almost afeard to know exactly what it is.

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To find some pleasure, Vanessa (Eva Green) returned to the Natural History Museum, where she once again encountered the rather self-centered milquetoast Dr. Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo). Once again, he forgot her name.

How many times, I wondered, is this man going to forget the name of a woman who is startlingly unusual looking, given the standards of the time period, and who is clever, articulate, and intelligent?

Vanessa invited him out for a “show” about Captain Nemo, whom Sweet had revealed as one of his childhood heroes. He seemed to enjoy himself. When she asked him to join her for coffee afterward, he declined. Then he kissed her hand, vowing that he would never forget her name again.

Talk about mixed messages.

And Vanessa keeps coming back.

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I’ve known from his character’s introduction last week that Dr. Sweet had some secret. Creator-writer John Logan is far too talented and careful to introduce a character that is a throw-away. So, it was just a matter of time until we discovered Sweet’s secret.

Until he took off his mask.

In one of most astounding reveals ever, Sweet took off his mask at the conclusion of last night’s episode.

To the viewers, not to Vanessa.

When Renfield returned to Dracula’s lair with information about Vanessa, Dracula — also known as The Master by the Lost Boys, who are following Vanessa all around the city — rewarded Renfield with some of the Master’s blood. As Renfield greedily lapped up blood from Dracula’s proffered wrist, the camera pulled up and back, revealing Dracula, who let his head fall back.

Holy Wooden Stake, Batman!

Dracula is none other than Dr. Alexander Sweet.

Talk about dropping a mask.

This milquetoast who can’t remember Vanessa’s name is the Master of Darkness on earth: Dracula?

That means he can, in fact, remember her name, because he’s been hunting her.

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So, how did she just happen to end up at his museum?

Dr. Seward told Vanessa, at the end of their first session, to do something she’d never done before, and she went into the museum, where she met Dr. Sweet. Then, at the end of the next session, Seward told Vanessa to do something that would make her happy: she returned to the museum, reconnected with Dr. Sweet, asked him out for the evening, and asked him for coffee, though he declined the latter.

All this leads to many questions. Is Dr. Seward somehow connected to Dr. Sweet? He appears to be well-established at the musem, but viewers now know he is Dracula. If Dr. Seward is the Cut-Wife, Joan Clayton, did the Cut-Wife promise this Master the soul of Vanessa Ives in return for her own life? Wouldn’t the Cut-Wife have made a bargain with the Lucifer, who is the other Master in the show, reigning over Hell while his cast-out brother, Dracula, reigns on earth?

Much dropping of masks in “Predators Far and Near.”

Much shivery and shuddery happenings, my Lovelies.

Be afeard.

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All That Was Me Is Gone: The History of OUTLANDER’s Theme Song

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I absolutely adore the music of the  Outlander theme song, and, after a little research, discovered that it’s an old Scottish tune — sometimes a “rowing song,” sometimes a lullaby — with original lyrics by Sir Harold Boulton (first published in 1884) about Bonnie Prince Charlie after the failure to restore him to the Scottish throne.

The Skye Boat Song
(traditional Scottish melody,
lyrics by Sir Boulton, 1884 )

[Chorus] Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclouds rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.
[Chorus]
Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean’s a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.
[Chorus]
Many’s the lad fought on that day,
Well the Claymore could wield,
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Culloden’s field.
[Chorus]
Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.

Flora, in verse 3, is Flora MacDonald, who supposedly rescued Prince Charles Edward Stuart from the British troops, and helped him escape, disguised as a woman (though I don’t see that detail in the song), via Skye — also known as the Isle of Skye — the largest and most northerly island of the Scottish Inner Hebrides. The Claymore in verse 4 — for all you non-military experts, like me — is an Anglicization of the Scottish Gaelic claidheamh-mòr, the two-handed “great sword.”

Caitriona Balfe as Claire & Tobias Menzies as husband Frank (L), Sam Heughan as Jaime and Balfe as transported Claire (R)

In 1892, the original lyrics of The Skye Boat Song were adapted into a poem “Sing Me a Song of a Lad Who is Gone” by author Robert Louis Stevenson, with the “lad” being Bonnie Prince Charlie. I’m not sure why Stevenson felt he had to adapt the original lyrics, which I prefer to Stevenson’s poem, but for whatever reason, he rewrote them.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1892) Poem
“Sing Me a Song of a Lad that is Gone”
(adaptation of “The Skye Boat Song”)

[Chorus] Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul;
Where is that glory now?
[Chorus]
Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that’s gone!
[Chorus]
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

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Stevenson’s poetic adaptation was further adapted by Bear McCreary to serve as the theme for the Starz show (only the lyrics were slightly changed from Stevenson’s poem, not the melody itself).

As the original lyrics of The Skye Boat Song were written for a traditional Scottish melody to tell the story of how Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped in a small boat after the defeat of the Jacobite uprising of 1745, and as this is one of the major themes of Outlander, the original lyrics fit the show just as well as any of the adaptations.

The song — a traditional expression of the 1745 Jacobite uprising/rebellion — and its story has entered Scotland’s history as a national legend. The song itself is sometimes heard as a traditional waltz, a rowing song, or a lullaby. This version of The Skye Boat Song is done by The Corries.

Although, as the Theme Song for the show Outlander, Stevenson’s lyrics are hardly changed, the music, of course, is still lovely.

The only music in Outlander that I like better than “The Skye Song” is McCreary’s music for the Dance of the Druids, as it’s called, which is hauntingly beautiful. I haven’t been able to determine if that’s original or based on a traditional tune, but either way, I love it.

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PENNY DREADFUL: Be Not Afeard

Be not afeard.
The isle is full of noises.
Caliban (the monster)
The Tempest 3.2.148
William Shakespeare

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL, from L to R: Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein, Josh Harnett as Ethan Chandler

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL, from L to R: Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein, Josh Harnett as Ethan Chandler

Showtime’s new series Penny Dreadful has its origins in literature of the late 19th century, a time when men of all kinds were questioning the relationship of the supernatural to man, of God to man, and what was on the other side. Named after the contemporaneous tabloids, the Penny Dreadfuls, which listed all the gruesome details of crimes and atrocities, including those of Jack the Ripper, the show’s atmosphere is haunting and spooky.

Most of its characters seem to inhabit “The Demi-monde”: a half world of shadows and light. It is there that Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), with the help of his daughter’s childhood friend Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and an American gun-for-hire Ethan Chandler (Josh Harnett) search for Murray’s missing daughter Mina. In their search, they also encounter Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and other fictional characters. Despite its flaws so far, the show is fascinating.

Cast of PENNY DREADFUL, from L to R: Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein, Josh Harnett as Ethan Chandler

Penny Dreadful was created and is mostly written by John Logan, who, in the clip below, explains the literary origins of Penny Dreadful.

Despite the trailers, I found the first show a little slow, as did other viewers and reviewers. Till the end. So I watched the second. Then the third. The show does have some weaknesses, the most distracting of which is its disconnected storylines. I still haven’t figured out how Dr. Frankenstein is involved, though he was introduced in the first episode. His role in the “Searching for Mina” story seems mostly like a satellite, and his own story of his Creature, has been, at least temporarily, discarded.

How Dorian Gray fits in, I have no idea, I confess. And except for the fact that he has sex with a lot of people, I haven’t seen anything he’s done that he needs to hide. Unless he’s committing crimes we don’t know about. That’s the whole premise of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: that the portrait becomes as gruesome and ugly on the outside as Dorian himself is morally, while he remains physically beautiful. (I had to explain that to my boyfriend, who kept asking where Jekyll and Hyde were, and didn’t know anything about Dorian Gray). Penny Dreadful Right Behind You Trailer.

Weaknesses

  1. The stories of Dorian Gray and of Victor Frankenstein are not sufficiently integrated into the main story of Dracula (variously referred to as The Master and The Creature)
  2. In fact, Frankenstein and his creations are mostly shoved to the background, despite one entire episode devoted to him and them.
  3. Famous, or infamous, literary characters of the period, like Jekyll and Hyde, are missing, though I realize that they might show up later.

4. The most quirky flaw I’ve noticed so far is that every episode ends with a punch, a shock, an unexpected surprise. Now that could be considered a good thing, although it could end up making each episode seem like something from The Twilight Zone, where viewers just wait for the ending to get their fix, and make more sense of the story so far.

5. The most serious flaw in Penny Dreadful to date is that the story of Sir Malcolm Murray, his protegée Vanessa Ives, and their search for Sir Malcolm’s missing daughter Mina, who has been taken by Dracula (unnamed as yet) keeps getting interrupted by the vague appearances of Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein, and, frankly, Ethan Chandler, despite this final character’s being hired by Vanessa Ives to help in the search for Mina.

Still, the show is very intriguing. It has a lot of strengths.

Strengths

  1. Dalton & Green. The interconnected internet tubes and social media are a-buzz with predictions of Eva Green’s Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for her brilliantly nuanced and terrifying performance as Vanessa Ives. Her strong performance is matched by the great Timothy Dalton’s as Sir Malcolm Murray, who is beginning to appear more in the show. Their ambiguous relationship and the sexual tension between them could make an entire series itself, that’s how well they’re acting their intriguing and frightening roles.
  2. The rest of the Cast. Taken as an ensemble cast, the remaining actors are doing a fine job. None outshines either Dalton or Green, however, but as a group, an ensemble, they’re doing a good job around the two central figures played by Dalton and Green.
  3. The Characters. Whether literary or original to Penny Dreadful, the characters themselves are interesting, and I certainly want to know more about them. The twists the writers have added to the literary characters are great.
  4. Everybody has secrets. As those secrets are slowly being revealed, the show is improving. (The secrets we already know about the literary characters are not secrets to the audience, most of which has, no doubt, a passing familiarity with the books. Their secrets are only secrets to the other characters in Penny Dreadful.) Still, the writer(s) have managed a few surprises based on the original literary character of Frankenstein so far.
  5. Sexual tension abounds. Especially between Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm and Eva Green’s Vanessa (whether or not Dalton likes to dismiss it in interviews).
  6. Atmospheric Costumes, Sets, and Makeup. Just wait till you see the episode “Closer Than Sisters”, devoted entirely to Sir Malcolm, Mina, and Vanessa.

7. Finally, the greatest strength in Penny Dreadful is its writing. The audience is not treated like a bunch of buffoons who have to be hit over the head with every piece of symbolism that appears. The plot is often moved forward by what the characters don’t (or won’t) reveal rather than by what they reveal. The characters are interesting and the actors have good lines to say: that comes from the writer(s). Based on that alone, I’m going to keep watching. Penny Dreadful: Behold Terrible Wonders Trailer.

In fact, I’m starting to look forward to Penny Dreadful, which means the show seems to have found its stride and is firmly centering itself, letting the strengths outweigh the minor weaknesses. Metro Entertainment’s blog called Penny Dreadful “elegantly scripted, with a dangerously handsome cast, enchanting cinematography, and an enigmatic storyline.” While I don’t agree with everything Metro Entertainment said about the show, I agree with most of its points.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Penny Dreadful yet, you can watch Episode 1 free on its homepage on Showtime. You can catch up with the remaining episodes on ShowtimeAnytime. Then, at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, you’ll be ready to join the rest of us #Dreadfuls (from Twitter) and buzz about the show.

If you want to read the books that the literary characters are based on, Showtime is offering them for sale on its site, but you can get them free as ebooks: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. And I’ve thrown in Robert Louis Stevenson’s  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde simply because no exploration of that period would be complete without it, and I can’t believe he won’t show up, eventually, in Penny Dreadful.

And, note to the creator and writers: I want to be afeard. I want to be very afeard.

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Metro Entertainment Penny Dreadful blog

Independent‘s article: Penny Dreadful Fails to Make a Gripping Start

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7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World.

HBO’s neo-noir, intense, miniseries True Detective.

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