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We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars – Oscar Wilde
Such ironic quips is what Oscar Wilde is famous for, bringing flare and flamboyance to an otherwise subdued and strict society. He was arguably the first celebrity writer, famous for being famous rather than for his actual writing.
But despite his obvious eccentricity and originality, Oscar Wilde firmly embedded himself into the bedrock of the western literary canon, having sparked both controversy and criticism for the then perceived liberal content and themes of his work.
Many people know of Oscar Wilde because of his “scandals”, much as celebrities are today. However, his works contain a wordy and descriptive richness that many have imitated but few can master.
Consider these two quotes in which the sharpness and brilliance of his mind are evident:
“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
When reading his better known The Picture of Dorian Gray, the reader is confronted with a dazzling glut of phrases such as the ones above, which are bespattered across every page. It is as brilliant as it is intimidating, and it is a book that can be read over and over again, with the same staggering effect.
But Oscar Wilde also wrote numerous short stories, many of which serve as fantastic introductions to his work for a younger audience. At iClassics Productions, we gathered a collection of such stories into one of our immersive reading apps, featuring the original and unabridged texts, enriched with artistic illustration, animation, interactivity and an original soundtrack.
And coming (very soon) The Canterville Ghost will have a modern light cast upon it in our all new immersive reading app.
We love great literature.
The power of storytelling, like all art, is a human universal. It’s something everyone, from all cultures and creeds, responds to, and it’s this resonance that makes us human.
We fall in love with stories as much as we do with the characters contained within them, be they fictional or historical.
Sadly, in today’s liquid and transient society, wherein we are unremittingly bombarded with content and information from all angles, great storytelling and reading has become a pastime in wane.
Life is fast, and so we don’t have time for things long-winded and useless.
But at iClassics, we’re far from defeatist, nor are we pessimistic.
Change, being inevitable, must be embraced.
We celebrate, revel, and delight in the rapidity, plurality and excitement of the modern world. And that’s because we view the modern world as a story in itself, one of change, of development, of advancement.
With this aim and mentality, we decided to marry our two loves – literature and technology.
Starting our life as a print-based publisher, upon the release of the iPad, we saw a powerful potential for storytelling. From tablet to tablet, one might say!
And thus was born the iClassics Collection, a child of which we’re the proud father.
Starting with the works of Edgar Allan Poe (that macabre maverick), our creation was an instant hit, striking a chord with audiences from countries the world over.
We were delighted, of course. The collective pangs of enthrallment in our team are what generated the energy that inspired us to go on creating what we later dubbed “Immersive Entertainment Apps.”
We utilized the power of mobile devices, with the wizardly of modern programming, to artistically enhance the works of E.A. Poe with artistic illustration, animation, interactivity, FX, OST and sound effects.
Pheww! A long list! But its combination, we think, is seamless. As do our users.
In fact, so did Apple.
The Immersive Entertainment concept we developed was so innovative that Apple promoted our creation (the iPoe Collection) on the iTunes App Store.
That’s because Apple saw that we did not seek to compete with traditional reading formats, but to provide something different, a new take on literature.
Our mission was to wed our two loves (tech and lit) to inspire younger, digital-native audiences with great literature by bringing it to a medium they use on an increasing basis.
We sought (and still seek) to cast a modern light on the timeless tales of yesteryear, illuminating their relevance with a modern glare they so deserve in our immersive entertainment apps.
We’ve created (so far) a total of nine Immersive Entertainment apps that have awed, inspired, and shocked readers of all ages, as our reviews so indicate.
We’ve been lucky enough to watch our audience rediscover their favorites. And we’ve also been thrilled to witness the site of users falling in love with classic literature they hadn’t read or heard of before they discovered the iClassics Collection.
It has been a true pleasure for us to share this experience with our audience, watching them realize that the classics, despite their age, are still as fresh and limber as the day they were first penned.
We’re still growing, and learning, but our mission with our immersive entertainment apps is the same –
-to join the hands of the new and the old to create experiences that inspire and move everyone.
With masters and giants like H.P. Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others in our creative and busy hands, we have built up a collection consisting of nine Immersive Reading apps.
This is immersive entertainment, this is the
Elusive, mysterious and dark, H.P. Lovecraft has become emblematic of all that is horrific and bleak. The deep shadow of his influence looms over generations of horror writers that have followed in his shadowy path. Indeed, having impacted the commercial giant that is Stephen King, and had a major influence on the terror genre’s literary virtuoso Ramsey Campbell, H.P. Lovecraft is arguably the most influential horror writer in the western literary canon. His existential dread and bloody terror has pimpled the skin, wracked the nerves, and sent shivers down the spines of even the most horror-hardened of readers.
H.P. Lovecraft was born in Providence at the beginning of the twentieth-century. His successes were rather slim, having only managed to publish stories in inconsequential pulp magazines such as Weird Tales and Astounding Stories. Tragically, and like many other great writers, H.P. Lovecraft’s literary gifts were recognised posthumously, which meant that he was to die destitute and penniless.
It seems a cruel and ironic joke on the part of the universe, whose caprice and callousness Lovecraft frequently wrote on, that it would rub him off its surface before he could bask in the sweet warmth of the literary recognition he so sought and deserved. But perhaps such an ending would be too sickly and sweet for the cynical and cold-eye style that Lovecraft embodies. It was as if his life was another one of his stories, his magnum opus, and he completed it by dying destitute. A man of his word, one might say.
His most famous work is undoubtedly The Call of Cthulhu, which was written in 1928. In it, Lovecraft wrote that –
“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far…”
“I have looked upon all the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.”
His writing is heavy and drips with an inky nihilism and dread that offers no hope of salvation. Indeed, some critics have pointed this feature out as demonstrating naïveté and amateurishness, given that he all too frequently exposits on the meaninglessness of existence, and the caprice and cruelty of the cosmos, be it directly or indirectly. However, it is such elaboration that arguably creates the brooding hum that echoes under his sentences, which, like paths to hellish realms, take us to corners of the mind and imagination that we would otherwise not seek out.
Whatever one thinks of Lovecraft, what is clear is that he was a vociferous reader, having gobbled up and absorbed the circulating ideas of his time. Influenced by Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Lovecraft saw an absurd and pitiless universe where mankind represents but a twig in the sprawling tree of evolution, over which the universe malevolently hangs, blank and numb to the tragicomedy unfurling beneath.
Indeed, as John Brownlee points out in Wired –
“What most people are fans of is not Lovecraft, but Lovecraft’s ideas, his vision of humanity being weak and helpless and surrounded by malevolent cosmic evil. Yes, there are gods. We are not alone in the universe. But our gods hate us.”
What’s interesting, here, is the distinction between Lovecraft and his actual ideas. For example, because of Lovecraft’s infamous racist slurs and spasms, many people have felt the need to recoil from his work. However, this need not be the case, given that we can be attracted to Lovecraft’s works and ideas, and not his character, with whatever flaws he may or may not have had. Moreover, to not like a writer, however good, because of his or her character, can lead to artistic deprivation. Evelyn Waugh, it is said, was a terrible human being, but a fantastic writer. Salvador Dalí, as George Orwell proclaimed, was a terrible person, but a great artist. This distinction is important.
The persisting relevance of H.P. Lovecraft raises an interesting question:
Given the dark, mysterious and bleak nature of Lovecraft’s work, why does it continue to be attractive to many readers?
Amy H. Sturgis, a scholar and author, notes that humans have ceaselessly questioned their place in the universe, looking for places onto which we can anchor meaning and significance. Religion, astronomy, social anthropology and sociology all attest to this truth. However, what solace does H.P. Lovecraft bring, given his bleakness? Perhaps readers find something refreshing in the blunt and unpromising picture Lovecraft paints with the black ash of coal. Perhaps there is something indulgent in pondering our insignificance, a philosophical and ponderous misanthropy that is simply delicious to consume as art.
If such is the case, then Lovecraft will go on being popular, for he provides such in spadefuls.
We have an all-consuming passion for H.P. Lovecraft at iClassics Productions.
The pages of human history are bespattered with blood, yellowed by time, and torn by turmoil. It’s no wonder, then, that humans have developed a hardwired curiosity for what can be defined as “horrific”, given that the frosty shadow of despair and dread has loomed upon and hounded human history since the first bipedal man.
Perhaps life has always been cruel, but humans make it all the crueler by brooding over it. Humans, alas, do not share the beast’s and brute’s bliss of innocence and ignorance.
With the heavens in interminable motion, and the ground beneath man’s feet forever a-stir, the world was obviously a terrifying place for early humanity, given the frailty of the human form in contrast to a world of swine and shadows.
Haunted by the ghouls shrieking within the human imagination, and tortured by the all too real specters without, storytelling became a fundamental way for humanity to make sense of the seemingly senseless.
Whether the horror genre sprung out of semi-morbid introspection, or else manifested itself as a tool to try and comprehend the incomprehensible, what’s clear is that it serves some sort of creatively clarifying purpose in the frenzy of confusion and chaos that defines human life.
Indeed, some of humanity’s oldest stories traceable to ancient times contain many of the elements that we’ve become accustomed to in modern horror.
However, it wasn’t until the Inquisition that horror as we understand it today truly emerged. Indeed, the religious geneses of horror are quite clearly documented in the obsession with witchcraft that persisted right through to the 17th century, and even beyond.
Even up to this day, Satanic and demonic horror is still hugely popular, with movies such as Possession and The Rite still fascinating people the world over, regardless of whether they’re strictly religious or not.
This religious element to horror is likely due to the fact that religion and mythology played a large part in informing people of the unspecified, the nameless, and the supernatural.
Religion thus had a claim of authority over the nebulous unknown, meaning that the evil specters that haunted the universe, such as devils and fallen angels, were tied up with notions of religion and divinity.
In the century following the Inquisition, Dante published Inferno, which was to be the first volume of his magnum opus, The Divine Comedy. His notion of Satan had a titanic influence on western conceptions of the Devil, and left an ineradicable smear on popular ideas surrounding Satan. His work, along with Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), still exerts influence right up to this very day.
The beginning of the 18th century saw the inception of a new literary form – the gothic novel. The first work of the Graveyard Poets was Thomas Parnell’s A Night-Piece on Death, which was published in 1714. His work, along with the other Graveyard Poets, such as Robert Blair and William Cowper, brooded over mortality, finiteness and, ultimately, death. All these works were seeded with the nascent germs that would effloresce into what we now call the gothic novel.
However, it wasn’t until 1765 when Horace Walpole published The Castle of Otranto that the first truly Gothic novel appeared. This work greatly influenced the horror genre at the time. Later works by Anne Radcliffe, Charles Brickden Brown, and Mathew Lewis would also weigh in heavily on the shaping of the gothic novel as a distinctly defined literary genre.
The gothic novel was then transformed in 1816 with the now famous incident of Percy Shelley, Dr. John Polidori, and Mary Wollenstonecraft sharing a villa on Lake Geneva where they conceived to have a writing contest. This subsequently resulted in Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley penning Frankenstein, which was published two years later. This work proved to be trailblazing, spurning the dawn of an entirely new genre we now know as science fiction.
Another major development in the evolution of the horror genre was Edgar Allan Poe’s work. Edgar Allan Poe (one of our favorites, of course) gave his own, unique slant on the gothic genre, with his first piece being MS Found in a Bottle, which he published in 1833. He then became famous for being the master of macabre and the forefather of detective storytelling.
Starting off with poetry, Poe subsequently refocused his attention on writing prose, with works published in various journals and periodicals. However, it wasn’t until he published The Raven in 1845 that he became truly famous as an established writer.
Poe’s sway on literature in the US and beyond is colossal. He has become the kind of household writer whose name is known by even those who haven’t read any of his works, with inestimable references to his character and works in popular culture, films, music, and television.
Poe’s most typical and recurrent theme is death. However, unlike the transcendentalist movement, which Poe invariably rubbished, Poe sought a more realistic reflection on its nature, such as decomposition, premature burial, and bereavement. With Poe, a more modern horror genre began to emerge, which saw a departure from the religious elements present during the initiation of a definable horror category.
With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, romanticism began its wane, and morality and individualism came to the forefront.
The Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era turned out to be a turbulent, disrupting, and choppy epoch, with many established conceptions set to dwindling. This is evidently mirrored in the literature it produced, including the horror genre.
The milieu of disarray and disorder was fertile ground for the now famous The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which was published in 1885. Stark, credible, and terribly human, this type of fiction became popular, and reflected the growing fear of one’s fellow neighbor due to the ironic result of human isolation among many.
Just a short while after, such fears were compounded when Jack the Ripper hacked his way through the shadows of a tremulous and skittish London.
At the beginning of the 20th century, America witnessed a significant upswing in the horror genre, thanks to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Bringing a bout of existential and cosmic trepidation to the genre, Lovecraft’s works sought to examine human alienation and the mercilessness of the universe, with his mythic creatures serving as powerful metaphors for the scale and spite of nature.
In 1927, H.P. Lovecraft published The Call of Cthulhu, which went on to become encrusted as a literary classic, complete with a cult following that stands firm to this day.
As a highly original horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft’s works were brushed with the black chalk of nihilism that would go on to billow about a society-shredding century that contained in its sullied hands The Great Depression and two world wars, no less.
Obviously, such war, privation and strife would have an enduring psychological toll on society, which resulted in the horror genre being made redundant.
With reality providing a superfluity of horrors, fictional ghouls were rendered needless.
However, in 1954, Richard Matheson published a revived and modern vampire classic, I Am Legend, which was recently adapted into a blockbuster movie starring Will Smith, sufficing to reveal the hold eschatology has over humanity. Shirley Jackson also captivated readers in the 1950s with The House on Haunted Hill (1959), which still remains famous to this very day, and was also adapted into a movie.
Following the hot wars, the Cold War brought with it new anxieties altogether, principal of which was the fear of invasion and the threat it posed on one’s way of life. A blatant exhibition of such fears was in Rosemary Baby by Ira Levin, which was published in 1967.
In the following decade, the now famous household writer, Stephen King, raged onto the horror genre scene with his publication of Carrie in 1974. In Europe, Clive Barker’s gruesome collection of short stories, The Book of Blood (1984), revived the horror genre in the UK and Europe, bringing with it a more distinguished and sophisticated caliber to a genre that previously drew criticism for being low-brow and shoddy, thanks to the 1970s and 1980s obsession with gore in cinema.
Many critics have argued that the horror genre has slumped into a literary nadir from which it’s struggling to escape, and in which it’s left languishing.
Ironically, then, is literary horror now resigned to the chilly shadows about which it once wrote?
Of course, there are many exceptions, with high-quality literary output from horror staples Stephen King and Clive Barker. And, indeed, Ramsey Campbell might well be described as the Nabokov of horror, or the literary writer’s preferred horror author. More subtle and psychological, Campbell’s works tend to fish out the real horrors that jaggedly swim through the swamp of the human soul.
However, what of other horror works?
In film, there has been an overreliance on shock elements and a plethora of sequels that have left both critics and audiences cold, but not in a good way.
As Stuart Kelly, writing in the Guardian, illustrates, there is a drought in quality modern horror writing, one which gallons of blood cannot quench. He cites but a handful of horror writers worthy of literary status, among which are the works of Robert Jackson Bennett and Will Elliot. Nevertheless, their writing tends to rely heavily on old and tarnished horror props and pyrotechnics that clash and batter against a wall of compassion fatigue among today’s demanding postmodern audiences.
Stuart Kelly goes on to argue that there’s a stack of material in the postmodern world ripe for adaptation into quality horror writing:
“Our postmodern, capitalism-in-crisis, media-saturated world is ripe to describe it anew. Our very language seems to demand it. A mortgage, literally, is a death grip. Negative equity means being haunted by your own house. Corporations have legal personhood: they can be held responsible for criminal actions and claim “human” rights, but ironically they have no body. PR and political spin are referred to as “dark arts”. Your computer can be a zombie, “possessed” by a Trojan virus. Charley Douglass started to make canned laughter in 1953 – and it’s still in use. Every episode of Friends is accompanied by the cachinnation of the dead.”
What is intriguing about his comments is that they allude to something that horror writing should remember about its evolution:
It has always tended to mirror the fears and anxieties that exist in the epoch in which the works are written, acutely distorting and analogizing, but in no way misrepresenting, the horrors of the day.
From the witchcraft during the Inquisition, to scientific exploitation with Shelley’s Frankenstein, horror has served the purpose of mirroring, albeit in a warped way, human woes and natural calamities. Arguably, such dramatization of real horror serves to appease our concerns about the time in which we live by carving entertainment from gravitas, thus externalizing our fears in a manner that’s creatively nourishing.
Alas, today, modern horror errs in attempting to shock for no apparent reason, and thus fails to shock at all. The horror genre has gone awry because the content contained within modern horror, both on page and on screen, is either irrelevant to modern audiences or else wholly silent on the crises through which we’re all living.
Existing and prospective horror writers can seize the opportunity to rework such terror in a way that’s consumable, making sense from the senseless, and relieving, in some way, the weight of our crushing postmodern fears through effective art worthy of the name.
Writers, after all, have always been vultures, and shamelessly so.
In Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, we encounter a horror tale like no other, one in which the tables are turned, and a British ghost is spooked and terrorized by an all too alien American expediency.
Oh, how very Wilde!
In this comedic horror classic, which has been countlessly readapted for both screen and stage, we witness the horrific hilarity of a complete culture clash. New World pragmatism is stretched to farcicality, and Old World clutter and superstition is portrayed as ludicrous and antiquated.
The plot is straightforward but compelling in its allegorical creativity. It revolves around the Otis family, who are American, moving in to a quintessentially English castle that’s haunted by the ghost of nobleman Sir Simon, who, many years ago, killed his wife, an act for which his wife’s brothers later starved him to death in hot-blooded retribution.
Sir Simon’s ghost plagues his old residence, Canterville Chase, to which Wilde attributes all the trappings of your archetypal haunted house, such as a begrimed and dim library, and creaking floors and dingy rooms.
However, such is the only convention in this playful macabre slash comedy fable, and even this clichéd mis-en-scene is playfully tongue-in-cheek. It’s the brainchild of Oscar Wilde, after all, a man who said, “life is too important to be taken seriously”.
After a few days, the ghost of Sir Simon begins his haunt on the Otis family, with the use of jangling chains, reappearing bloodstains, and terrifying screams. However, to his surprise, he blunders in his attempts to scare the family from Canterville Chase.
The Otis family is wholly rational in their attitude towards such proclaimed phenomena, and Mr. Otis discloses that he doesn’t believe in such credulous twaddle.
However, as time goes on, and more and more strange things continue to occur, it becomes irrefutable that the house is, indeed, haunted, and that the ghost is that of nobleman Sir Simon.
It’s at this point of acknowledgment when things get somewhat more interesting, for the family, with aloof rationality, accepts his presence with an unfazed, and even mocking, demeanor. This is when the culture clash truly comes to the fore.
A memorable moment of pragmatism from the Otis Family during Sir Simon’s attempts to scare them is when Mr. Otis offers him some Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to oil up his “terrifying” chains. Everyone must sleep, after all! Similarly, Mrs. Otis, with impeccable American domesticity, states that she “does not at all care for blood stains in the sitting room”. Things must be spick-and-span, after all.
Very handy domestic products quite easily and rapidly remedy all faults and frights, you see! And ghosts, well, they ought to be swept up, and tossed to the trash, of course. Ghosts are but a nuisance, and nothing more, as able to fright as garbage, and as easily disposed of.
The breaking point for the fissured ego of Sir Simon’s ghost is when the two Otis twins petrify him by dressing up as ghosts, serving as one of innumerable pranks they play on him, all of which prove to be successful, contrary to his own futile attempts.
Such stunts take their toll on the dignity of Sir Simon’s ghost, and so he returns to the shadows of oblivion, tricking the Otis family into thinking that he has, at long last, gone away.
Following his failure to frighten the Otis family, the debilitated ghost of Sir Simon resigns and recoils to defeat and depression.
And it’s at this moment in the narrative that the hinge of the story swings from mockery to a more moving motif.
Virginia, the daughter of the Otis family, is somewhat of an outcast in the story, and, unlike the rest of the family, she’s not so quick to dismiss and scorn Sir Simon’s ghost and its intentions.
Listening to his history and his current situation, Sir Simon’s ghost ultimately reveals to Virginia that:
When a golden girl can win
Prayer from out the lips of sin,
When the barren almond bears
And a little child gives away its tears,
Then shall all the house be still
And peace come to Canterville.
Baffled by the ghost’s words, Virginia shrieks:
“But I don’t know what they mean.”
To which he responds:
“They mean,” he said sadly, “that you must weep with me for
my sins, because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul,
because I have no faith, and then, if you have always been
sweet, and good, and gentle, the Angel of Death will have
mercy on me.
And thus it becomes apparent that Virginia, the outcast and the only member of the Otis family willing to receive his words, is Sir Simon’s only salvation and hope for peace in The Garden of Death.
And so the Canterville ghost takes Virginia “behind the veil”, as one might call it, during which time she learns many things, and becomes wise.
Finally, thanks to the innocence of Virginia’s childhood, Sir Simon’s ghost finds peace within itself and without, and is laid to rest in the Garden of Death.
Once back in the realm of the living, the rest of the Otis family are bewildered by the hiatus in Virginia’s presence, but, having been exposed to what cannot usually be witnessed by the living, she finally reveals to them the curious story of Sir Simon’s ghost, and shows them his skeleton:
Virginia knelt down beside the skeleton, and, folding her little hands together, began to pray silently, while the rest of the party looked on in wonder at the terrible tragedy whose secret was now disclosed to them.
“God has forgiven him,” said Virginia gravely, as she rose to her feet, and a beautiful light seemed to illumine her face.
Exposed to something truly profound and baffling and mysterious, Virginia appears as foreign to the rest of the family as the British and Old World customs that orbit about them.
But, ultimately, the realization dawns that some things are so complex, so inexplicable and so solemn that they cannot be resolved by New World pragmatism and light-heartedness.
Indeed, no amount of lubricant doused on the chains of Sir Simon’s ghost, and no quantity of stain remover sprayed on the bloodied carpet, would cleanse Canterville Chase of a spirit shackled to the domicile in which he murdered and was murdered.
The leaden weight of such complexity couldn’t be relieved by the remedies of simplistic pragmatism, but required the complex innocence of a child who lent her ears and her heart.
And so Virginia, Sir Simon’s salvation, discovered –
What Life is, what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both.
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, this marvelous, humorous and charming gem of a horror story has been adapted for screen and stage numerous times.
But now it’s being adapted to a wholly new format altogether – an Immersive Entertainment App.
Giving Canterville the same artistic and technological treatment as with our previous creations, the unabridged text is currently being elevated to a whole new level, complete with artistic illustration, animation, interactivity, FX, sound effects, and an original soundtrack recorded specifically for this classic story.