Saturday, October 18, 2014

R.I.P. Deal Me In Lite: Stories by Oscar Wilde and Robert Philips

It's Week 7 of the R.I.P. version of Deal Me In Lite, and this week the synchronicity machine broke down -- I couldn't find a single similarity between the two stories I read.  Except: they're both good.

I drew the three and Queen of spades from my "Tragic Royalty" deck:

The Queen looks pretty evil, doesn't she?  That's because she IS.

(In the background you can see part of my short story collection shelf.  So many stories to read!  I'm already gearing up for next year's Deal Me In.)

The first story this week is "The Canterville Ghost," by Oscar Wilde.  I was familiar with Wilde's works such as "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray," but not so much with anything else.  This is a longish short story, but highly entertaining and pretty humorous as well. 

The story opens as the Otis family, an American family with typical American brashness (in the eyes of Wilde, at least), buys Canterville Chase, an old English estate complete with furnishings, land, and a resident ghost.  The family, being a modern American family, pooh-poohs the idea of a ghost, despite all the warnings to the contrary.  Their first encounter with the supernatural consists of a mysterious blood stain on the floor of the sitting-room which has never been able to be removed.  One of the family members whips out a tube of Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent, and promptly makes the stain disappear, to the consternation of the housekeeper.  And this sort of becomes the theme to the story.  There IS a ghost, and he tries his best to scare the family and make them believe in him -- and they DO eventually believe in him, but after a fashion: they begin to play tricks on him and try to thwart his every effort at haunting.  It's a truly amusing story (although I think Wilde goes on a little too long with the gag), and it eventually winds up to an interesting and satisfying conclusion.

The second story this week was "A Teacher's Rewards" by Robert Philips.  Old Miss Scofield, a retired schoolteacher, gets a visit from a former student, Raybe Simpson.  She doesn't remember him at first, although he certainly remembers her.  And unfortunately, she remembers him too... at the end, when it's too late.  This story is an interesting game of cat and mouse on the part of the author, where he leaks out one little detail after another, all of the details adding up to a more and more unsettling story.  As it turns out, Raybe is fresh out of prison, and while he was locked up, he got to wondering how he ended up there.  He decided it was his mistreatment as a child in Miss Scofield's class, from her and his classmates, so he has come to visit her and settle up some old scores.  This is an excellent story with a type of horror that gradually creeps up on the reader and produces a good old-fashioned shudder at the end.

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