Please welcome our our guest, Moody Moppet! She’s got a wonderful book to share with us today!
“The Castle of Otranto” – The father of Gothic Romances.
Before you decide to grab Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, give this history shaping creepy tale a shot. Start from the beginning.
I’ve been paying our local library a visit after a long while. Too long. The reason is I was stuck on George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream novel which I couldn’t bring myself to finish, and I will, surely, but as English isn’t my native language, some sentences/pages/chapters baffle me. So, I’d rather turn to books in my own language where I can at least enjoy continuous reading.
I scouted The Castle of Otranto on a shelf, all sad and hidden just waiting for someone to pick it up. The 1974 novel tells of Lord Manfred, a tyrant patriarch and ruler of the Castle of Otranto. The novel begins with Manfred’s only son and heir Conrad who’s about to be wed to Princess Isabella. As Conrad meets his sudden death when crushed by a giant black feathered helmet moments before the event, the wedding never takes place. Among the crowd is a young peasant Theodore who suggests that the giant helmet that killed Conrad looks just like the one from the statue of Otranto’s founder, Alfonso. For no reason at all, Theodore is accused of Conrad’s death and is imprisoned by Manfred’s guards under the helmet. With his only son dead, Manfred dreads the family curse is arising and so to assure his legacy, he plots to divorce his wife Hippolita and marry young Princess Isabella himself. Horrified Isabella flees the castle to a hidden underground passage leading to a church. At the same time, strange things occur in the castle with servants claiming to have seen things beyond their comprehension.
As I thought, I read the book in a day.
I’m a sucker for Gothic Romances! 🤘 Never heard of The Castle of Otranto before but the cover and preface lured me in, saying that, and I quote “The novel you’re holding is regarded as the first Gothic novel to ever be written and thus mentored a fancy legacy of great Gothic novelists such as Ann Radcliffe, the Marquis de Sade, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, the Bronte sisters, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and more.” This list of authors guaranteed a quality read and was enough to get me to read it and I couldn’t wait to get home, plunge into bed and into the book. The relatively long preface (1st and 2nd edition) also said that in the older days, the book was looked upon as uncommon among Europe’s educated and stories of fire-spitting dragons, damsels in distress and rescuing knights were perceived as naive and old-fashioned. But Walpole took upon himself a great challenge of dawning a new genre and combining two types of romances – the old and the modern. As short as it is (125 pages), the novel successfully incorporates symbolic motifs in Gothic literature such as dark secret passages, moving paintings, squeaking doors, and spine-tingling noises which after served as role models to Walpole’s successors. Walpole manifests the right portion of fantasy, tragedy and tension with his diverse bunch of characters, very typical to Gothic literature – In the decaying castle rules a villain that forces himself upon a damsel in distress who’s rescued by the hero and there are intense emotions in strange and troubling events on a dark and stormy night. Manfred’s is our capricious protagonist (antagonist?) with tendencies completely opposite his family’s caring and tender disposition. He’s a domineering husband to Hiplotta and an obsessive father to Matilda and Conrad and plots to have everything his way. But to every bad, there’s a good. The right balance I need to appreciate a good romance.
Movie adaptation? Nothing interesting that I’ve noticed apart from a 1977 Czechoslovak short animation directed by Jan Svankmajer which resembles Terry Gilliam’s Mocumentary animation style and I couldn’t find it anywhere so better luck for you. Be warned, though. This might ruin the book as you’d probably wouldn’t take it as seriously after watching the animation. And the book is worth your while.
Light a candle, dim the lights and dig in.
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About our Guest
“Well, there’s me and there’s the TV, and we’ve always been such good friends. I love writing, mainly thoughts about movies and TV shows I watch, music, concerts, food, weird events and boring ones too. Somehow I can’t seem to write a simple post without doing some crazy editing and I always end up sounding a lot more formal than I really am.”