The Shadows on the Wall

Of “The Shadows on the Wall” by Mary E Wilkins (Freeman) Lovecraft says “we are shewn with consummate skill the response of a staid New England household to uncanny tragedy.” The story looks at this from the point of three sisters, two who live in the house and a third married and visiting in the wake of tragedy. One of their brothers has died and through the conversations of the women we start to get a notion that maybe he didn’t die naturally.

It’s not bad but I don’t quite understand the appeal of stories like this. It’s certainly better than “Seaton’s Aunt” but it’s probably better because it doesn’t try to heap up an atmosphere that it doesn’t deliver on. At the same time, similarly to “Seaton,” not much happens.  “Shadows” is creepy but never rises above that.

There’s an inexplicable shadow on the wall, a shadow like the silhouette of the dead brother. The other brother (strongly implied to have something to do with the death) is greatly disturbed by this, then he ends up dead too. Then there’s two shadows on the wall. The end.

I get more uncertainty than anything close to horror. If the first shadow implies that something untoward happened to the first brother then what does the second shadow mean?  The one brother has a reason to be hanging around to haunt his murderer but his shadow doesn’t do anything.  And if the other brother is a murderer, why would he become a shadow too?

“Oh, there is no accounting for shadows,” he said, and he laughed again. “A man is a fool to try to account for shadows.”

I guess I’ll never know.

“The Shadows on the Wall” on Gutenberg

An index of the stories I’ve been reading from Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”


The Lovecraft Literature Project

I am actually still working through my stated project of reading as many stories as I can out of Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”  I figured I’d make an index of sorts so as to better track what I’ve reviewed so far.

Lovecraft’s “Literature”
The Yellow Wallpaper
Negotium Perambulans
Seaton’s Aunt
Negotium Perambulans in Dunwich
Mrs. Lunt
The Green Wildebeest
The Death of Halpin Frayser
The Red Lodge
The Shadows on the Wall


If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, but if you don’t know what it is, shut up

As they say, everybody’s got a right to their own opinion and there’s no accounting for taste. If somebody reads or watches something and they don’t like it, there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes people get notions about a thing and decide they don’t like, won’t like, will never like, and refuse to touch it. Everybody’s probably got one thing like that. I will never read Twilight. I don’t need to read it to know I won’t like it.

But sometimes the reason for not liking something you haven’t consumed is a wrongheaded idea about what the thing is. And then the refusal to read or watch the thing becomes obnoxious.

Somebody thought it was funny to pick on me for having mentioned an anime series (because having watched anime means I must be autistic [*cough*projection*cough*]). I asked, however, if he had actually watched any Japanese movies, you know like Kurosawa. Of course not! He already knew that all Japanese entertainment, live action or not, of any time period, would be just like anime and stupid.

I totally get not liking anime. I’m not a huge fan, and I used to have a very negative idea of it based off the couple badly dubbed shows they used to have on Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid. I can even (sort of) imagine not liking Kurosawa. Japanese or any foreign entertainment for that matter is not going to be for everyone. But coming up with a completely inaccurate strawman version of it and mocking anyone who likes it based on that?

There’s no hope for people like this.

The Bad Sleep Well

The Bad Sleep Well (1960) is one of the most depressing movies I’ve watched in a long time–which is saying something because the previous three movies I’ve watched all had at least one main character die in them. One of Akira Kurosawa’s movie which has a contemporary setting, The Bad Sleep Well takes on the corruption in post-war Japan. Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) has married the daughter of Iwabuchi, an executive at Public Corporation, in a move to get close to the executive.  Iwabuchi is involved in rigging bidding on construction projects and getting kickbacks.

the bad sleep well 1960Right up until the end The Bad Sleep Well is a fun and intense movie. Nishi uses some rough methods and psychological tricks to get at the lower level conspirators, trying to turn them on Iwabuchi. The wearing down of Shirai is quite funny and very artistic in the use of dark streets and suddenly illuminated “ghosts.” Nishi, despite his initial brutality, is a noble character.  He repents of using Iwabuchi’s daughter against him and is willing to take whatever legal punishment might come for the crimes he’s committed trying to bring the corrupt to justice.

But it’s all for naught. The scheme fails miserably and the bad guy waltzes away unscathed and completely undisturbed by what has happened. The Bad Sleep Well is allegedly based on Hamlet and there’s some obvious parallels but in Hamlet while a fair number of main characters died so does Claudius. Iwabuchi proves to be impervious to any attack and he’s about as vile a villain as you can get, willing to kill anyone who gets in his way and heartlessly manipulate and use his own daughter.

As nihilistic seeming as Sorcerer was, I wasn’t that bothered by the deaths of various characters. The Bad Sleep Well, however, develops its protagonists better, making even the weaselly little bureaucrat likable, so their failure has a much more of an emotional impact. A modern movie might have shown in excessive detail one character’s death but this movie makes it worse by leaving the audience in suspense longer. You see the aftermath from another character’s perspective and are left with an awful hope that maybe what you think has happened didn’t, maybe he didn’t die…

The humor, likable characters, and beautiful cinematography only serve to make the ending more unpleasant. Even if the Hamlet reference leads you to believe certain characters are doomed, it’s hard not to hold out a hope that something will have been accomplished by their actions. But nothing is. Kurosawa certainly succeeds in highlighting the corruption of the day but there’s no solution to it. The bad don’t just sleep well, they triumph.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a disappointing game and I say that a) having bought the game on sale and b) knowing that it was a walking simulator going into it. Ethan Carter is a mystery with a Lovecraftian veneer. You’re a detective trying to find a kid named Ethan Carter. As you go along you keep finding strange things and the corpses of various members of the Carter family. At each “crime scene” you search for clues and then piece together what happened.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter 2This is a gorgeous game. It’s beautiful. You’re in no actual danger and can’t even throw yourself off a cliff, but the atmosphere is creepy and unnerving. The music is used quite effectively with certain sections having none (this is something that people need to understand: sometimes silence is scarier than creepy music). A couple of the puzzles are kind of cool, but unfortunately there’s too much of “find all the hidden clues in an undefined large area.”

In a puzzle game the biggest puzzle shouldn’t be where’s the next puzzle? All that beautiful landscape to get lost in. I have gotten decidedly more impatient with games in the past year; when you don’t have a lot of time, you’d rather it not be wasted. Because of the nature of the puzzles and the little tiny odds and ends you’re supposed to find, the player is going to have to zig zag over every inch of ground looking for things that aren’t there.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter 1Ultimately the story isn’t coherent either and it ends with what’s essentially an “it was all just a dream” style cop out. Is it actually about child abuse? A bizarre revenge fantasy? I don’t know. (The ending does make a lot more sense, however, when you hear that the designers were sort of inspired by “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce.)

Maybe the Astronauts next game will be better. It sure looks like it might be cool.


You might not be able to get a Corona no. 3 at its original price anymore but you can probably get one cheaper than the Freewrite.

I dusted off the ol’ Alphasmart the other night only to discover it didn’t want to turn on. So that led to me to looking for another one, then I got side tracked into looking at mods where people had built a mechanical keyboard for it and, anyway, after a significant amount of wasted time which would have been better spent unscrewing the battery compartment and wiggling stuff, I came across the Freewrite.

Alphasmarts haven’t been made since 2013 though there’s still tons floating around on ebay and plenty of people love them. Essentially they’re a keyboard with a little screen and enough of a brain to remember what you type and spit it back out when you plug it into a computer. It’s distraction free writing and very portable. Somebody got the idea to resurrect this type of thing. The Freewrite is a “smart typewriter.” It’s wifi enable, synced to the cloud. It’s got a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches. It’s got e-paper for the screen. It’s… ugly as heck.

It’s also currently at the special, low price of $499. I wish I had more money than sense but even if I had, there’s no way I’d buy one of these things. The Freewrite is missing a very simple, very important feature: arrow keys. The makers have a snotty little explanation for this in their FAQs.

The short answer is that there are no arrow keys. The Freewrite was designed from the ground up to fit into a routine that many writers find critical to their workflow: separate drafting and editing sessions. First, write a draft, going from start to finish. Then, review and make edits later. Editing is limited on the device because the intention is to keep the user moving forward. Yes, there is a backspace key but that is it. Maximum writing output is the defined goal.

Sorry, but if the machine I’m writing on as limitations, it should have them because of the technology not because some hipster out there thinks he knows better than I do how to write. There’s not a lot of rewriting that you can do with an Alphasmart, but you can back up and add a sentence or a word instead of not writing it down and forgetting it because your stupid “typewriter” doesn’t have arrow keys. Even a real typewriter or a notebook is better because you can write notes in the margins.

The Freewrite has some neat ideas behind it but it’s really just for people with no self control. You know, the people who spend $500 on something because they can’t stop themselves from browsing the internet when they should be writing.  The rest of us can spend the five bucks on a paper notebook which is the purest of distraction free writing and then get an Alphasmart for twenty bucks off ebay to type it up if you absolutely must.  Then you can spend the extra $475 and buy a new computer.