“The Great American Hack” – a title to aspire to. Credited as one of the original creators of the Penny Dreadful, pulp fiction, shock tales and gory horror, Poe now holds a highly respected place in the literary canon.
He has a wide-ranging influence over contemporary fiction and popular culture alike. Just look at how often The Simpsons reference him – The depiction of The Raven (1845) in the original Treehouse of Horror Hallowe’en special (1990) is genuinely brilliant. And as a collection of genre stories, his stamp on Beaten to a Pulp! is self-evident.
However, he has a very direct influence on the lead story of my collection, MS Found on a Recovered Hard Drive (excerpt below).
The title itself is a play on Poe’s MS. Found in a Bottle (1833) and is a pastiche of realism in gothic horrors – many of the genre’s defining texts are written as faux diary entries, including Dracula (1897) and Frankenstein (1818). You’re not reading a work of fiction but a “true” tale compiled of evidence such as diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, maps and tables. In this way the author persuades the reader to accept the fantastic details within.
Anyone familiar with Poe’s stories who has read mine (a rare few I’d imagine!) will have spotted that MS Found on a Recovered Hard Drive is partly a parody of The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), Poe’s first Dupin short story. In this tale French sleuth Dupin uses his powers of deduction to solve the gruesome (even by today’s standards) locked room murders of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter. [Spoiler alert] It amazingly turns out to be the work of an escaped Ourang-Outang (sic) brought to Paris by a sailor.
In my story we are transported to Victorian Glasgow and follow two young high society toffs on a trip through the city’s underbelly, out on the lash on Christmas Day, where they meet a sailor in a brothel who tries to sell them an Ourang-Outang he brought home from Borneo – to be used, of course, as a butler.
My intention wasn’t to make fun of the amusing and bizarre turn of events Poe uses to solve his mystery but simply to pay homage. I attempted to temper the light-hearted teasing of Poe with the darker subtext of power relationships – rich over poor, men over women, owners over slaves.
Read Beaten to a Pulp! here.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
MS Found on a Recovered Hard Drive
[I discovered the following manuscript after buying a second-hand laptop from a Cash Creators last winter (2015). As expected from purchasing technology from such an establishment (it cost me £49.99), I discovered to my annoyance that the laptop wouldn’t function because the hard drive was corrupted. I took the machine to a specialist in the hope of salvaging the device but the guy said it was beyond repair. However, he was able to recover a small amount of data from the faulty drive. Among the files, which consisted mostly of spreadsheets I couldn’t understand, were JPEGs of the following manuscript, apparently photocopied. The images showed yellowed paper, singed at the edges and ringed with coffee mug stains, Blue Peter style. (Funnily enough, coffee was the reason I had to retire my original computer.) It appeared to be handwritten and dated in the nineteenth century. Below is the manuscript which I retyped verbatim as far as damage and blurriness would allow. All redactions by the original author. – CM]
26 December 18—
It was afternoon on Boxing Day when my American friend once again came back around to the topic of the Ourang-Outang. I remember clearly we were sitting in the lounge of his chambers with the heavy, velveteen curtains drawn against the pale afternoon light. Where there were gaps in the folds of the thick drapes the light penetrated through in glimmering blades.
The reason, I should explain, for us having shut out the daylight was that we both seemed to be feeling rather ill and even the half-hearted light of the winter sun produced such terrible aches in our skulls. Perchance it was a bad fowl at the Christmas feast the night before. I do in fact remember hearing my American friend describe the goose as “a rare bird indeed”. He was prone to such witticisms. However, this would have to be an unfortunate coincidence as we had not dined together but had attended very separate suppers. I had lunch at my father’s residence while my American friend, having no other blood relatives in the country, was invited to spend Christmas at the s’, that is to say, with the family of Miss Elizabeth , to whom he is betrothed. That he was to wed into such a renowned household was part of the reason he was in the country in the first place. The other part had to do with his father, a shipping magnate, and the family business of which he seemed to take little part or interest in.
“It was a rare bird indeed,” he had said when I asked him about his Christmas lunch when we met that night. “And so too is Miss Elizabeth.”
“I know quite what you mean,” I said.
“Careful, Teddy, that’s my bride-to-be,” he rebuked with a smile.
“I’m dreadfully sorry, I should know better than to kid around with one who is in love.”
“Indeed, you should not, sir. Now, as for this evening goes, I hope you are well-fed and ready for the night ahead. I daresay it will be a long one!”