Monday, October 27, 2014

MMRM: "The Birds" and "The Oval Portrait"

#1: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
#2: "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe
#3: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "The Fall of the House of Usher"

This will be the last Mini Macabre Review Monday of the season, and I think I'll be reverting back to my old schedule come November. I'm not sure that I'll do this next year for the blog, but there are certainly many more scary stories out there to review, so maybe. These two stories have nothing in common except their spookiness and aptitude for the season.

"The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier

Available to read for free, online here. (Feel free to skip the homework section)
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Great)
Content: Weird animal violence (Ages 13+).
Page Count: 11 pages in the online edition
Year Published: 1952

If you're a lover of classic films, it would be very difficult not to know about "The Birds" as Alfred Hitchcock filmed it. I never knew this was a short story first, but have fond memories of watching the movie, so much so that I nicknamed my pre-owned Dorkie after the actress who starred in it- "Tippi" Hedren.

The Plot: Nat Hocken and his family find themselves under attack by birds.

It's kind of a bizarre story when you think about it- of all the animals to fear, who would say the birds? In Montana I lived in an area where there were urban deer, and even with them I kept my distance, because they aren't the most predictable animals- if they're feeling hormonal or protective, they might charge you (and your little dog too). But birds- I've never felt the need to look out for them or walk around them because they barely pay attention to humans, except when you're handing out birdfeed.

This story has a truly vintage feel to it- Nat and his family rely on the radio for their news, compare their situation in the house to the air raids, and the mother is a rather stereotypical (of the fifties) housewife. I think Hitchcock was right to make the main character in the Birds a female instead of the more competent husband figure of Nat Hocken- it's easier to sympathize with a girl running screaming from birds then a man.

Overall, it's a great little story with an unusual monster, if a bit unbelievable. I won't be hiding from the birds anytime soon.

"The Oval Portrait" by Edgar Allan Poe

Available to read for free, online here. 
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Great)
Content: Suggested macabre-ness (Ages 13+).
Page Count: About 2 pages
Year Published: 1845

The most interesting thing about this story to me is that it may have inspired the larger story of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite books which is also macabre, but decidedly not mini. The Oval Portrait is incredibly short- you barely have to scroll to read the entire story in the online version, but it packs a bit of a punch in its ending.

The Plot: A stranger enters an abandoned chateau, only to be captivated by an incredibly lifelike oval portrait of a woman.

This is another of Poe's story-within-a-story stories (say that three times fast). It explores the villainy of obsession, perhaps the evils of art, and is also somewhat more realistic than "The Birds". With this story, there was a certain plausibility that I couldn't quite accept with "The Birds"- it sounds like something that may have happened long ago in a faraway town.

I liked The Picture of Dorian Gray better, probably due to its length- it's hard to get involved in a story that's only two pages long with a mysterious narrator who has no name and no gender.

Until Wednesday,

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