Oct 8 2009

The Castle of Otranto

Horace WalpoleFirst things first… Before today, I was completely unaware of  Horace Walpole‘s 1764 novel “The Castle of Otranto“. I encountered the title by chance on LibraryThing and proceeded to download a copy from the Gutenberg repository. I was intrigued (that word keeps popping up!) about a story described as the first Gothic novel (i.e., a story containing horror and romance). I was also interested to see how an 18th century author dealt with fantasy elements, e.g., apparitions, damsels in distress, knights in shining armor, hereditary curses, superstition, etc. The book does not disappoint (though it is very “over the top”).

“The Castle of Otranto” was originally published under a pseudonym, and marketed as a translation of a 15th century Italian manuscript of a Crusades-era (11th to 13th centuries) tale. *deep breath* The “translation” was well-received originally, until Walpole finally admitted that it was a work of pure fiction… at which point the praises turned sour. Think: 18th century “Blair Witch Project“. The movie was MUCH better if you believed the uncredited early screenings were real, than it was after you’d seen the “doomed” actors final hurrah on the MTV Awards.

So did I like this chance find? Yes, I did! The story rolled along quickly and kept my interest throughout. It is packed with turns and twists and intrigues (hmmm…) and a healthy dose of the supernatural. Maybe it’s just me, but my only advice is to keep your dictionary handy, the book is a vocabulist’s wet-dream.

“The fellow made no answer, but continued pointing towards the courtyard; and at last, after repeated questions put to him, cried out, ‘Oh! the helmet! the helmet!'”

3.5 out of 5