Another week, another episode in our series of Octobrish delights… this time, we are returning to our bookshelves to pull some inspirational fiction for the more uncanny, eerie, and unsettling side of Changeling: the Dreaming. We’re going through 10(-ish) books and story collections that keep us up at night, and seeing how we can translate that into the themes and moods of the game. (This was also kind of an unexpected topic, so we had very little time to prepare, and it shows—apologies!)
Some links to our presences elsewhere in the digital realm:
the list (this time)
- Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber — One of the earlier collections that adapt and modernize fairy tales, Carter’s work takes a decidedly feminist approach. Her work was influential on many of the fantasy authors who followed her, and being a literary theorist, she knew what she was about when it came to crafting a darkly fantastic story.
- Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves — It’s a piecemeal text drawing on numerous traditions and formats and histories. It’s a retelling of the myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. It’s an experiment in surrealist writing. It’s a horror story about a house and the family whose children disappear within it. Danielewski’s work is always challenging, but the elegant precision of this novel is matched only by the madness lurking under the surface. There is a whole community of die-hard fans who discuss every little connection, hint, and reference (and there are thousands), if you feel like vanishing into an abyss of your own.
- Neil Gaiman, Coraline — We could have easily gone with The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Mr. Punch or any number of other Gaiman yarns, but this one seemed the Right One to talk about at the intersection of Changeling and creepy-style horror. It’s a bit more Lost than Dreaming, maybe, but a pitch-perfect dark faerie tale for modern times. Check out the publisher’s page for more information (or go watch the trailer for the film) (or find more about the musical, or the opera, or…)
- E.T.A. Hoffmann, “The Sandman” and other stories — Hoffmann is a landmark figure in the history of the German Romantic movement, known for his creepy and unsettling literary fairy tales. Freud discussed this tale at length in his essay on the “uncanny,” which opens our episode; the text of that essay is freely available here from MIT.
- Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf — The most recent entry on this list is also the most epic, perhaps. It’s set against the backdrop of African folklore, features a party of misfits in search of a missing boy, and has some of the most nightmarish tableaux ever set to paper in a fantasy novel. It’s delightfully queer, shamelessly vulgar, and occasionally shockingly gory… so it fits our brief perfectly for this episode. Read Gautam Bhatia’s excellent review in Strange Horizons for more.
- Stephen King, Misery — This novel fits more into the Autumn People and/or Ravaging and/or Autumn Sidhe Frailty realm of horror, since there are few overt supernatural elements in it. But it’s definitely a good example of how even the mundane can become horrific without warning. Again, we could have chosen any number of King writings… except that neither of us has read enough to really make a thorough study of his bibliography, so this one will have to do.
- China Miéville, King Rat — One part Neverwhere, one part American Gods (though before it was written); one part Changeling, one part Ratkin. Miéville’s debut novel explores the gritty underground of London and what one finds there, through the lens of a protagonist that discovers his connection to a pantheon of vermin-gods. It’s very 90s with its aesthetics, and centers on solving a murder, and what could be more classic White Wolf than that?
- Edgar Allen Poe, “The Telltale Heart” and other stories — Not long after Hoffmann’s heyday, Poe “invented” the American horror story with his elaborate Gothic treatments of madness, crimes of passion, guilt, and uncertain realities. His work is public domain at this point, so you can read any and all of it through Wikisource, if you’ve a mind to.
- William Shakespeare, Macbeth — Who doesn’t know a thing or two at this point about the Scottish play? Besides being an epic story that combines political intrigue, high drama, and classical tragedy, the supernatural lurks on the fringes of the narrative as a force of chaos. The tale’s mutability is demonstrated by the wide range of adaptations out there—including the recent one starring Denzel Washington—but Pooka would officially like to recommend the clunky madcap offering that is Scotland, PA, where the action is transposed to a suburban fast food joint in the 70s.
- Patrick Süskind, Perfume — A modern classic that doesn’t get much attention on this side of the Atlantic, this “story of a murderer” begins with a simple conceit: a protagonist with a superhuman sense of smell, yet no scent of his own. He becomes a master perfumer, and cultivates an obsession with creating the perfect perfume for himself out of the most beautiful aroma he’s encountered—that of teenage virgins. It’s a lurid and gruesome work, more clinical than gratuitous, set against the backdrop of pre-revolutionary France. Check out the trailer of the so-so film for an idea of that adaptation; apparently there was a Netflix adaptation recently too? Either way, it’s good material for a particularly nasty bogie.
Honorable mentions go to Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft, but we didn’t really have the space to get deeply into them. Another time, perhaps…!
Josh Hillerup (any pronoun) has never danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, but once patty-caked with a psychopomp in the murky dusk, which is almost the same thing?
Pooka G (any pronoun/they) doesn’t miss nightmares about velociraptors and whatnot, but by the same token could do without these anxiety dreams about being awkward at garden parties.
‘I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.” —Stephen King