Friday, October 9, 2015

Season of the Witch is here! The Bell Witch - Discussion Week I #witchseasoncm

It's officially October and Season of the Witch has arrived! We are reading along the book The Bell Witch by John F.D. Taff (in conjunction with my TuesBookTalk read-a-long group on Goodreads). There will also be some spooky guest posts this month and I'm hoping to share some interesting stuff and perhaps more Edgar Allan Poe (because his stuff never gets old, right?). I'd still like more guests so if you're game, just let me know. 

So, this is week one of our discussion of Part I of The Bell Witch and boy were we treated to a lot of information in this first part. Before we jump in, I would like to share a little bit of the story of the Bell Witch, as this is based on a legend surrounding a real Tennessee family from the 19th century. I live in Tennessee so it's really a story of interest in our neck of the woods.

The below information was found on Wikipedia so may not be completely accurate. For a more detailed and extensive account, visit The Bell Witch Website.

An artist's sketching of the Bell home, originally published in 1894
The Bell Witch or Bell Witch Haunting is a poltergeist legend from Southern folklore, centered on the 19th-century Bell family of Adams, Tennessee.

John Bell Sr., who made his living as a farmer, resided with his family in Adams, Tennessee in the early 1800s. In 1817, his family came under attack by a witch, who was believed to be a lady called Kate Batts. Various accounts written afterward, tell stories similar to other poltergeist legends. It began with noises in the walls and grew to include unusual sounds, people being slapped and pinched, objects being thrown, and animals being spooked without visible cause.

In the 1894 book An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, author Martin Van Buren Ingram claims that the poltergeist's name was Kate, and that she frequently cursed the Bell family out loud. The activity centered on the Bells' youngest daughter, Betsy, and worsened after she became engaged to one Joshua Gardner.

Several accounts report that during his military career, Andrew Jackson was intrigued with the story and was frightened away after traveling to investigate. Other stories relate that the family was haunted by scratching noises outside their door after Bell found a half-dog, half-rabbit creature. Some stories end up with Bell being poisoned by the witch. Accounts vary about the witch being someone who had been cheated by Bell or a male slave whom Bell had killed.

The only known account of the haunting prior to Ingram's publication was in 1886, more than 60 years after the events. This one paragraph in the Goodspeed Brothers book History of Tennessee does not mention Andrew Jackson or the death of Bell Sr.:

A remarkable occurrence, which attracted wide-spread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled near what is now Adams Station about 1804. So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the "Bell Witch." This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. The feats it performed were wonderful and seemingly designed to annoy the family. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfort of its victims. At first it was supposed to be a good spirit, but its subsequent acts, together with the curses with which it supplemented its remarks, proved the contrary.

Paranormal investigator Benjamin Radford, as well as Brian Dunning, conclude that there is no evidence that Andrew Jackson visited the Bell family home. During the years in question, Jackson's movements were well documented, and nowhere in history or his writings is there evidence of his knowledge of the Bell family. According to Dunning, "The 1824 Presidential election was notoriously malicious, and it seems hard to believe that his opponent would have overlooked the opportunity to drag him through the mud for having lost a fight to a witch."

All of the above accounts of the legend are drawn from two sources. In part, the Goodspeed article was a source, but newspaper publisher Martin Van Buren Ingram provided most of the material. Seventy-five years after the Bell Witch events, he wrote An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch. Ingram states that he based his book on the diary of Richard Bell, who was a son of John Bell Senior. The events happened when Richard Bell was 6–10 years old, but he didn't write the diary until he was 30. According to Brian Dunning no one has ever seen this diary, and there is no evidence that it ever existed: "Conveniently, every person with firsthand knowledge of the Bell Witch hauntings was already dead when Ingram started his book; in fact, every person with secondhand knowledge was even dead." Dunning also concluded that Ingram was guilty of falsifying another statement, that the Saturday Evening Post had published a story in 1849 accusing the Bells' daughter Elizabeth of creating the witch. That article does not exist either.

According to Radford, the Bell Witch story is an important one for all paranormal researchers: "It shows how easily legend and myth can be mistaken for fact and real events and how easily the lines are blurred" when sources are not checked. Dunning wrote that there was no need to discuss the supposed paranormal activity until there was evidence that the story was true. "Vague stories indicate that there was a witch in the area. All the significant facts of the story have been falsified, and the others come from a source of dubious credibility. Since no reliable documentation of any actual events exists, there is nothing worth looking into."

Dunning concludes, "I chalk up the Bell Witch as nothing more than one of many unsubstantiated folk legends, vastly embellished and popularized by an opportunistic author of historical fiction." Radford reminds readers that "the burden of proof is not on skeptics to disprove anything but rather for the proponents to prove... claims".

Joe Nickell has written that many of those who knew Betsy suspected her of fraud and the Bell Witch story "sounds suspiciously like an example of “the poltergeist-faking syndrome” in which someone, typically a child, causes the mischief."

Interesting stuff!

An artist's drawing of Betsy Bell, originally published in 1894
So, now that we have the history of the legend, we can delve in to the first part of the novel. In Part I, we get the set up. Betsy Bell has been tormented frequently by nightmares, but they're more like waking nightmares, as she feels like someone is literally lying atop her, holding her down, forcing themselves on her. Did anyone else hear alarm bells going off? Then we're treated to the next morning with Betsy's mom, Lucy, asking Betsy about her nightmares and then, when Betsy says she doesn't want to talk about it, this: "Part of Lucy, buried and ashamed, relaxed with Betsy's answer." Now what exactly is behind that reaction? 

The same night that Betsy experienced another dreadful waking nightmare, the chimney exploded. Another strange occurrence. And then, not too long after these events, Betsy falls ill and then falls under a coma-like state. 

I won't go into too much detail about the various events in Part I, as we all read it. But I will say that there were definitely some creepy moments. How about when the three young Bell brothers go into that cave and the voice speaks to Williams Bell? Terrifying. 

At the root of this story, there are definitely some family problems. Jack seems to be a tyrant-like family leader and possibly abusive, physically perhaps...definitely emotionally. He is also abusive toward his slaves. There is also the belief that he is having an affair with the Batts woman which is another betrayal of the family. Then we have various innuendos throughout, such as "Then he saw something in Lucy's face, something unfamiliar and alien, angry and knowing. He turned away, staring at the floor." This was Jack after he tried furiously to wake Betsy from her newfound coma state. It really makes me wonder what's really going on at the root of this story. 

More insight into the family trouble issue is seen when schoolmaster Richard Powell (who has a thing for Betsy) shares his thoughts with Lucy on the theory that the occurrences in the house and with Betsy could be from a form of hysteria experienced in young girls of Betsy's age. This immediately had me thinking of Stephen King's Carrie. Perhaps Betsy has experienced some type of abuse from a man in her social circle which could perhaps bring on a form of telekinesis...a way for her to vent her frustration and anger. Of course, this is all theory and speculation on my part as well. HaHa.

Oh, and let's not forget that mysterious horned and cloven hoofed figure Jack Bell keeps seeing. Another decidedly creepy aspect of this story. It seems the devil is at his door. What has Jack done to warrant such attentions, I wonder? 

All will be revealed (I hope)!

What were your thoughts on this first Part of The Bell Witch?

Note: "Cursed: The Bell Witch" an A&E series premiers October 26th. Details here.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe - The Fall of the House of Usher - Discussion

I'm quite behind with this final Gothic September read-a-long discussion. The month got away from me.

So, I finished reading last night and I was struck by how much I confused this story with some other story...I'm not even sure which. It's my pesky Vincent Price obsession again. I think he had starred in another movie that I thought was this, besides starring in the actual production of the Fall of the House of Usher film, which I watched last night as well.

I enjoyed this story, but I have to admit that I actually liked Ligeia best out of all three stories read for this event. Poe is a genius, as always, evoking a gloomy and Gothic atmosphere and a sense of something hidden beneath the surface of what shows in the daylight.

In the book version, the narrator is an old friend of Usher's from school and he visits to find his old friend in a not so healthy state, along with his twin sister. In the movie version, the narrator (or main character) is an acquaintance of Madeline, Usher's sister. He is intent on taking her from the house with the big crack in the facade (weird), saving her from her fate. It seems that the Ushers' health is directly tied to the health of the house, and as the house decays, so do they. At least, that was my observation.

***********Spoiler Alert**************

So, in both versions, things escalate and someone is buried alive (you can probably guess who). In the book version, entirely by accident. In the movie, not so much. In both cases, revenge ensues and at end, we are treated to the "Fall of the House of Usher"...hence the name. 

I have really enjoyed reading these Poe tales and I plan to continue sharing some of his works during Season of the Witch this month. I hope you will visit and perhaps join us for The Bell Witch read-a-long.

I'm also hosting a read-a-long of Stephen King's Salem's Lot at my Stephen King challenge blog. Feel free to join in.

And don't forget about the FrightFall Read-a-Thon coming up next week!

October is here!!!

Also read for (and movie watched for)...

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Announcing Season of the Witch - October 2015 #‎witchseasoncm‬

One of my most favorite times of year is just around the corner. The month of all things scary...October (and my birthday *wink)! This year, we're having a read-a-long with the normal festivities of Season of the Witch here at Castle Macabre. And don't forget about the FrightFall Read-a-Thon over at Seasons of Reading!

Our read-a-long is for the book The Bell Witch by John F.D. TAff...

The Bell Witch by John F.D. Taff is an historical horror novel/ghost story based on what is perhaps the most well-documented poltergeist case to occur in the United States. It tells the story of the Bells, an early 19th-century Tennessee farm family who begin to notice strange occurrences—odd noises, bangings, gurglings. Eventually, an entity reveals itself to the family, calling itself, simply, the Witch, and makes it clear from the outset that it was sent to kill the patriarch of the family, John Bell, for a reason it never makes quite clear.

The Witch’s antics, while not exactly endearing it to the Bells, make the spirit somewhat of a novelty. Word of its existence spreads, first through the Bell’s slaves, then through the rest of the community. It tells jokes, makes predictions, offers unwanted advice and even sings. It shows an intimate knowledge of The Bible and of history and politics.

It harasses those who annoy it most, saving its ire for John Bell and his teenage daughter, Betsy. These two people become the focus of the apparition’s attacks, both verbal and physical. Ultimately, the Witch fulfills its promise of killing John Bell, while also forcing Betsy and her mother, Lucy, into considering their own roles in what created the spirit.

The Bell Witch is, at once, a historical novel, a ghost story, a horror story and a love story all rolled into one. (from Goodreads)

The book is available on Kindle from Amazon for $2.99

We are also reading this book for my TuesBookTalk read-a-long group's October read on Goodreads. You can find the group here, if you care to join, and/or join us each week on Twitter at 8:30pm CST/9:30pm EST to discuss each week's reading section. Hashtag #TuesBookTalk

Here is the reading schedule we will follow at TuesBookTalk. I will post discussion posts here the day after our Tuesday Twitter chats. I will also post this in the sidebar when the event officially starts on October 6.

week of October 6 - Part I (discussion post October 7)
week of October 13 - Part II (discussion post October 14)
week of October 20 - Part III & IV (discussion post October 21)
week of October 27 - Part V (discussion post October 28)

I would really love to have some guests this year so if you have something scary you would like to write about, whether it's favorite horror books or movies, an original story or tale, or just a spooky experience you may have had, please contact me at truebookaddict AT gmail DOT com  I would love to have you as my guest!

The hashtag for Season of the Witch: #‎witchseasoncm

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hunter Shea's Tortures of the Damned - Review and {Giveaway}

It's safe to say that Tortures of the Damned is truly frightening. Not in the sense of the horrific things that happen after the apocalyptic event in the story (believe me, there are plenty of those), but in the sense of the true dread of just thinking about the implications of "What If This Really Happens?"...and it could. We really don't know exactly what would happen in a chemical warfare attack, but I'm pretty sure if it does, it's going to be an awful lot like what happens in this book.

This is only my second read by Hunter Shea and all I can say is..."What was I waiting for?" He has a true knack for writing a myriad of horror stories, whether it be this frightening post apocalyptic tale, or a haunted house/island in Island of the Forbidden. Next up is The Dover Demon and I have to say that I'm truly psyched for that.

On another note, not only does Shea have a knack for a horror story, he knows how to write characters that the reader will care about, especially in this book. I cared about what was happening to these people, almost living their fear and trials vicariously. Thank goodness I would emerge from my reading forays into my safe armchair at home. I don't want to be one of "The Damned."

About the book
· Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
· Publisher: Pinnacle (July 28, 2015)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0786034777
· ISBN-13: 978-0786034772

First, the electricity goes—plunging the east coast in darkness after a devastating nuclear attack. Millions panic. Millions die. They are the lucky ones. 

Next, the chemical weapons take effect—killing or contaminating everything alive. Except a handful of survivors in a bomb shelter. They are the damned.

Then, the real nightmare begins. Hordes of rats force two terrified families out of their shelter—and into the savage streets of an apocalytic wasteland. They are not alone. Vicious, chemical-crazed animals hunt in packs. Dogs tear flesh, cats draw blood, horses crush bone. Roaming gangs of the sick and dying are barely recognizable as human. These are the times that try men’s souls. These are the tortures that tear families apart. This is hell on earth. The rules are simple: Kill or die.

“A lot of splattery fun.”—Publishers Weekly

“Harrowing, bloodsoaked.” —Jonathan Janz, Author of The Nightmare Girl

“Frightening, gripping.”—Night Owl Reviews

“Old school horror.” —Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author

About the author
Hunter Shea is the author of the novels The Montauk Monster, Sinister Entity, Forest of Shadows, Swamp Monster Massacre, and Evil Eternal. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Morpheus Tales and the Cemetery Dance anthology, Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror.

His obsession with all things horrific has led him to real life exploration of the paranormal, interviews with exorcists and other things that would keep most people awake with the lights on. He lives in New York with his family and vindictive cat. He waits with Biblical patience for the Mets to win a World Series. You can read about his latest travails and communicate with him at

You can purchase Tortures of the Damned in mass market paperback at more retail stores nationwide, as well as bookstores, both independent and chain. 

You can also buy online at:

Barnes and Noble

One signed book from Hunter Shea of winner’s choice (or e-book) and a bookmark.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This was also read for...

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe - The Cask of Amontillado - Discussion

This is a short one, but really no less profound. Funny how Poe understood human nature. Obviously, as we learn very early in the story, Montresor has been wronged by Fortunado, but how was he wronged? Was it a wrong hearkened to being continually cut off in traffic, or was it more of a constant injury of pride? We shall never know. But, as I said, Poe knew human nature, and knew it wouldn't be hard for the reader to believe this revenge plot, which really is a brilliant one.

So, as usual, I did my Google searches and came across some tidbits. Of course, I must touch on the Vincent Price version of the story. This story is portrayed along with two other tales (Morella, one of my favorites, and The Case of M. Valdemar) in a 1962 film titled, Tales of Terror. Amontillado in this film is actually told as a kind of mash up with another story and is titled The Black Cat. I remember this one well and I kind of liked this variation on the story, although it's a bit more comical.

I then came across this YouTube video of the story, kind of a short film. It's pretty good and I swear I think that's John Heard portraying Montresor, but I'm not sure. The video is poor quality, but I embedded it below, in case your might want to watch. I enjoyed it nonetheless. (My goodness, the way Montresor mocks Fortunado by making those screaming sounds...quite made me shudder)

Shmoop had some interesting discussion questions. I'll paste them below and then attempt to answer them as to my own thoughts. Feel free to do so as well in the comments, if you like.
  1. What if Montresor is a woman? Most people assume Montresor is a man. Why? Would it change the way you think about the story if Montresor is a woman?
  2. What kind of clown is Fortunato? We see lots of scary clowns in the movies and in books. Is Fortunato a scary clown? If so, what is scary about him? If not, why?
  3. How do you feel when you read "The Cask"? Claustrophobic? Tired? Something else? What about the story makes you feel this way?
  4. Could Fortunato narrate this story? Why, or why not? Make an argument for both sides of this debate.
If Montresor was a woman, I think it would be pretty kick ass. I, for one, think a woman would be quite adept at devising this kind of plot. Men, even enemies, seem to revert to good ole boy buddies when they're drinking and seem to temporarily forget past wrongs. The only thing that Montresor being a woman would change my thinking about the story is I would believe that Fortunado had wronged her by corrupting her innocence, or something to that effect.

I think Fortunado is portrayed as dressed up as a clown as a symbolism of his clown-like nature. What I'm thinking of is the person who is always clowning around and insulting people, thinly disguised as joking around. You know the type of person I'm talking about. I don't find him scary at all (well, unless was dressed as a circus clown. Yes, I have a phobia of those kinds of clowns).

I feel a bit bothered because I don't know how someone could kill another human being. And then I wonder what could Fortunado have done to Montresor to make him kill him in this way. And claustrophobic...yes! Who would ever want to be walled up alive. Ack! 

I suppose it would be interesting for Fortunado to narrate since he really has no idea how much Montresor hates him and so it would be equally suspenseful, perhaps more. Feeling the horror of being walled up from his point of view would be pretty creepy. Also, we might get some insight into how Fortunado really feels about Montresor. He might say, in his narrative, "Montresor is such a prat. He knows nothing about good Amontillado." And so we would get a glimpse of why Montresor can't stand him. 

I hope you will share your thoughts in the comments, or leave a link to your blog post.

Looking forward to next week and The Fall of the House of Usher!

Another story under my belt for R.I.P. X!

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe - Ligeia - Discussion

So, who else envisions Vincent Price as the male protagonist and hears Price's voice as the narrator? I can't help it! Every time I read Poe stories, I picture and hear Vincent Price. I guess it's because my earliest exposure to Poe's works were indeed from Price's movies. And I still love them to this day.

This was an interesting story. I don't think I've read it previously. And I was thinking that it was never made into a film because I don't remember seeing it. Wrong! As I did my Google search, I came across The Tomb of Ligeia, starring (guess who?) Vincent Price. It was a 1964 film. The IMDB description: "A man's obsession with his dead wife drives a wedge between him and his new bride." Even better, here's what the movie poster said, "Even on her wedding night, she must share the man she loved with the 'female thing' that lived in the tomb of the cat." Sounds good! I'm going to see if my library has it, or maybe I'll just buy it. I've found that I like owning Vincent Price films. The House of Wax still creeps me out to this day. (Addendum: Turns out there is a more recent film based on this story that I have seen. It was pretty good, as horror films go. Now that I know it's based on this story, I will have to watch it again. I do remember, upon reading the synopsis, that it does veer off from the original story quite a bit. 2009 film, The Tomb)

I found some discussion questions online that I thought might help facilitate our discussion. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or if you feel like sharing your thoughts without answering the questions, be my guest.

1) "Ligeia" is an evocative name. What does it suggest?
2) What effect does the notion that the narrator does not know the paternal name of his wife
have on us?
3) Ligeia's eyes are so prominent, so compelling. Why?
4) What does the poem about the conqueror worm have to do with her character / the story?
5) What does the Lady Rowena have in common with Ligeia? How?

My thoughts on the questions, etc...

I wasn't sure of the name of Ligeia and what it suggests so I did a search of its meaning: Derived from Greek λιγυς (ligys) meaning "clear-voiced, shrill, whistling". This was the name of one of the Sirens in Greek legend. This gave me an interesting thought. Ligeia in the story is a siren and she has the narrator firmly under her spell, even after death. I believe that she used her powers to cause him to poison Rowena and he was so firmly under her spell (and high on opium) that he didn't realize that he indeed killed her. 

I'm not even sure why #2 is relevant. I did not find myself asking why we did not learn, nor does the narrator know, Ligeia's paternal name. What about you? Do you find that strange? I'm thinking perhaps, going back to the siren idea, that she is actually a daughter of a god (like the Greek gods, for instance).

When I came to this question, I went back and read about her eyes again. It seems to me that the narrator is most compelled by her eyes. Perhaps her eyes are where her siren powers actually derive, or perhaps it's the old adage for him, "The eyes are the window to the soul"? The issue with the eyes also makes me think of her as a divine being, such as an angel. Which would also tie into the poem in the story, The Conqueror Worm.

This question got me thinking. The audience watching the play in The Conqueror Worm are angels, and so are immortal beings, and the players (mimes) on stage represent the human race. The worm then is death, devouring the humans and the audience (angels) are forced to watch this play out over and over in their immortality. And yet she laments to God in the passage directly after the poem about mortality (at least that's what I got from it) so perhaps she decides then and there that she will not give into to death. She will resist it with her sheer will and so she decides to get rid of Rowena and take over her body and life. There really could be so many interpretations here!

One similarity I noticed is that the narrator does not know or remember where or how he met Ligeia and again the same with Rowena. He isn’t sure how it happened that the family of the bride allowed their daughter to marry him. Another similarity is that both Ligeia and Rowena take ill and die. So perhaps, in the long run, the narrator is psychotic and is, in fact, a wife murderer. Food for thought.

I really enjoyed this story. I'm going to watch some movies based on it, as I mentioned above. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it.

Next up we have The Cask of Amontillado. Watch for the discussion post next week.

I forgot to add that this counts for R.I.P. X

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Gothic September Is Here! #GothicSept

Today is the official kick-off of Gothic September here at Castle Macabre! This year, I'm featuring read-a-longs of three Edgar Allan Poe short stories.

Here are the stories and discussion schedule:

Week of Sept. 7 - 13 
The Cask of Amontillado 
Week of Sept. 14 - 20 
The Fall of the House of Usher 
Week of Sept. 21 - 27

*The schedule can also be found in the sidebar*

So, start reading Ligeia and next week, on Monday, I will put up a discussion post. Stop by at your leisure all week to discuss. I will follow this model for all three stories. (Each week's discussion post will be a sticky post.)

What else is going on this month? I'm hoping to post more about Edgar Allan Poe and his poems. If you're reading anything Gothic this month, I'd love for you to do a guest review. Just let me know if you'd like to share anything at all Gothic related this month. You can be my guest! 

The blogoversary giveaway is still going on at the announcement post so be sure to check it out. 

Happy (Gothic) September!

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