Friday 13 June 2014

Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber - the rest!

For Angela Carter Week I've been reading my way through her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber.

I've already reviewed the title story, The Bloody Chamber and the three cat stories. This post is dedicated to the remaining stories in the collection.

The Erl-King was an unusual story based on a German folk story that I was totally unfamiliar with.

Traditionally, the erlking is the king of the fairies or elves, a mischievous, possibly dangerous being responsible for trapping humans to satisfy his desire, jealousy or lust for revenge.

It is also the title of a well-known poem by Goethe that ends with these chilling lines...

                           "Dear father, oh father, he seizes my arm!
The Erlking, father, has done me harm.

The father shudders, he darts through the wild;
With agony fill him the groans of his child.
He reached his farm with fear and dread;
The infant son in his arms was dead.

The Erl-King by Chloe North
I'm not quite sure what I made of Carter's version though!

There are references to Little Red Riding Hood,

"There are some eyes can eat you."

but this young woman is not an innocent child setting off into the woods, like Little Red Riding Hood.

This is a young woman battling with her competing impulses for independence and domesticity. This is a search for identity,

"It is easy to lose yourself in these woods."

"The two notes of the song of a bird rose on the still air, as if my girlish and delicious loneliness had been made into a sound."

"I know it is only because he is kind to me that I do not fall further."

"His touch both consoles and devastates me."

And in this case, her identity and quest for independence is strongest, and the Erl-King is murdered so she can be free.

The Snow Child is the shortest story in the collection and probably the darkest and most disturbing.

The original tale is also a dark one about wish fulfillment, trust, fidelity, jealousy and revenge.

Carter does all this, but also adds a Sleeping Beauty element

"So the girl picks a rose; pricks her finger on the thorns; bleeds; screams; falls."

& an unpleasant incest scene. This Snow-Child is nothing but a figment of the male imagination.
From Stranger Than Kindness

The Lady of the House of Love completes the three odd, disturbing, unrelated stories in the middle of the collection.

This time Carter has combined aspects of Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk with vampire mythology to create another heroine trapped by her destiny,

"Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?"

Our hero is rational behaviour personified. 
She is compelled to destroy the man who can save her; he is saved by his innocence and untapped sexuality...only to head off to the trenches of WW1 France.

The final three stories are wolf stories that reference Little Red Riding Hood.

The Werewolf is short and too the point. A tale of competing females; this Little Red Riding Hood is strong and knowing, 

"The child had a scabby coat of sheepskin to keep out the cold, she knew the forest too well to fear it but she must always be on her guard."

And, once again, murder is the only way to secure her independent future,

"Now the child lived in her grandmother's house; she prospered."

The Company of Wolves follows a similar line to The Tiger's Bride where we see the young girl bare all; shed her clothes, to become one with the werewolf,

"The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody's meat."

It would seem that by accepting and embracing our 'beastly' natures, we can find true love and live out our true-to-self lives.

Gina Litherland

Finally, Wolf-Alice falls into the child raised in the wild scenario. 

Carter explores what it means to be human - frailty, flaws and all. 

Alice is raised by a pack of wolves, 

"Nothing about her is human except that she is not a wolf; it is as if the fur she thought she wore had melted into her skin and become part of it, although it does not exist. Like the wild beasts, she lives without a future."

The Duke is "damned" - half man, half beast, he

 "haunts the graveyard; he believes himself to be both less and more than a man, as if his obscene difference were a sign of grace. During the day, he sleeps. His mirror faithfully reflects his bed but never the meagre shape within the disordered covers."

Wolf-Alice becomes more human, but retains enough beastliness to save the Duke so that

"at last as vivid as real life itself, as if brought into being by her soft, moist, gentle tongue, finally, the face of the Duke."

Thank you for coming on this epic, bloody journey with me. 
Angela Carter gets under your skin; she disturbs your senses and she oozes semi-colons like blood on the snow!

Thank goodness I found an old forgotten copy of Burning Your Boats on the bottom of a TBR pile concealed behind a cheval mirror (I kid you not! How Carteresque!)
Hopefully I will fit in a few more short stories before the 15th.

In the meantime...

This post counts as one of my TBR Pile Reading Challenge and Eclectic Reader (Gothic) books.

Happy Black Friday!
Happy Full Moon!

Superstitions collide as three independent variables - moon phase, weekday & day of the month - come together. 
The next full moon, black Friday wont occur again until 2049.

Howl, hibernate and stay safe!


  1. I love these dates Friday the 13th and a full moon.

    Another great post and so many really stunning pictures to go with it.
    I can't believe where you found that book. Behind a mirror! I'll revisist this collection. It's seems everyone found the same stories disturbing.

  2. Anonymous15/6/14

    Hello Brona! I've enjoyed both your Bloody Chamber posts, and I agree with the others, the pictures are so well chosen!

    I like the way that Carter circled round tales and wrote them in different ways. I reread The Bloody Chamber this week and you've given me lots to think about (I missed the Jack and the Beanstalk element of The Lady of the House of Love). And that final sentence of 'The Werewolf' is amazing, isn't it - changes how you see the whole story.

  3. I was not familiar with Goethe's poem so when I read The Erl King I knew there was probably some reference that I missed. That was an odd story.
    The Snow Child started well but the end was not so great.

    I believe we are meant to read certain book at a certain time and this one was waiting for the right moment to be discovered. :)
    Beautiful pictures, I enjoyed them all.

  4. I feel I have no choice now but to read all of the collected short stories of Carter. I will probably prefer the Tales over the stories. I greatly profited from your posts.


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