Friday, August 7, 2015

The Master of Rampling Gate Part 1

In some houses, the walls bleed. There is a miasma of doom.

Possibly due to the hellmouth in the oven.

Those who spend the night in such a house (only ever on a bet) flee screaming or are found dead the next morning.

Who wrote this, Watson Pritchard?

One wonders how such flashy and obstreperous houses avoid getting themselves burned to the ground by a mob of local citizens.

Especially when they are so TACKY. I mean, that blood dripping from the walls is so FLASHY. How gauche!

But here is an entirely different sort of house. This house is beautiful, serene. Here everyone is smiling.

In a better story, this would be the prelude to some kind of horrifying Stepford-like twist where the house is mind-controlling people. In this one... I think it's meant seriously.

So take off your coat and have a drink. Sit by the fire. Stay a while.

No, I think I'm going to go hang out at the Amityville house. At least it will be interesting.

Rampling Gate: It was so real to us in those old pictures, rising like a fairytale castle out of its own dark wood. a wilderness of gables and chimneys between those two immense towers, grey stone walls mantled in ivy, mullioned windows reflecting the drifting clouds.

Then my dad painted the whole thing pink, and it was ruined forever.

But why had Father never gone there? Why had he never taken us?

And did it have anything to do with the Curse of Bloody Headsplosions that he kept rambling about?

The heroine is some Victorian maiden named Julie, by the way. She infodumps us about herself and her brother Richard: he just graduated from Oxford (I assume - Rice just says he had just finished four years), and she's a shy nerd who loves writing poetry when she isn't attending London parties.

We were in awe of the task that lay before us, and painfully confused.

How WOULD we tie our shoes without help?

But now the carefree years were ended. We had to be careful and wise.

No more throwing out my candied okra casseroles! Time to be careful and wise!

So the two of them are sitting in their father's study, staring at pictures of Rampling Gate. I don't know why the pictures are there, since apparently their dad avoided everything to do with it and demanded that they destroy it once he as dead. We're told that he took the pictures down, but why didn't he destroy them if he was that upset?

And yes, he was pretty upset: "Destroy it, Richard, as soon as I am gone," Father had said. Which is pretty stupid of him, since Rampling Gate is supposed to be a primo piece of real estate that would get them ridiculous amounts of money. But he apparently thinks that they'll just happily burn the place to the ground with no reason other than, uh, daddy said so. If he's THAT desperate for them to destroy the house, maybe he could have been a LITTLE less cryptic. Or done it himself.

"I just don't understand it, Julie," Richard confessed, as he filled the little crystal glass in my hand with sherry. "It's the genuine article, that old place, a real fourteenth-century manor house in excellent repair. A Mrs. Blessington, born and reared in the village of Rampling, has apparently managed it all these years. She was there when Uncle Baxter died, and he was last Rampling to live under that roof."

"Why thank you, Richard my brother, for reminding me about the house which we now own because our father just died and left it to us! I would not have known about the housekeeper or the house unless you told me! Well, you or the Exposition Fairy!"

They then start talking about Daddy's weird behavior. Apparently some years ago, their dad saw some young man at Victoria Station and… well, exposition.

Through the window of a train Father saw a young man who startled and upset him. I could remember the face clearly to this day. Remarkably handsome, with a narrow nose and well-drawn eyebrows, and a mop of lustrous brown hair. The large black eyes had regarded Father with the saddest expression as Father had drawn us back and hurried us away.

Snark aside, when I first read this story, my first thought was, "Ah, so daddy has a secret boyfriend, and he doesn't want the family to know!"

So it turns out that their mom and dad had an argument the night they saw that guy… and even though both of them were eavesdropping TOGETHER, they explain to each other what their parents said. Thank you,Exposition Fairy!

"And the argument that night, between Father and Mother," Richard said thoughtfully. "I remember that we listened on the landing and we were so afraid."

"So let me tell you what you already know because you were there, right next to me, hearing the exact same discussion that I was."

"And Father said he wasn't content to be master of Rampling Gate anymore; he had come to London and revealed himself. An unspeakable horror, that is what he called it, that he should be so bold."

"I mean, who would have thought that Voldemort would ever come back?!"

"Yes, exactly, and when Mother tried to quiet him, when she suggested that he was imagining things, he went into a perfect rage."

You know, this entire scene would have been perfectly okay exposition if Richard had been the only one to eavesdrop, and he hadn't told his sister for some reason. And now that their father is dead, he feels he ought to tell her, and it comes as a surprise. Then we could have some real reaction from this character, as well as justifying the conversation.

We could also have the more conventional approach of having Richard mention it, and Julie reminiscing about what they saw. We could even have a flashback.

You see what I mean about this feeling like an early project that didn't really pan out? This is such a clumsy, amateurish mistake. Any creative writing teacher could point this out.

"And no, I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself."

So I guess she wasn't into creative writing classes, since they demand that you actually change your bad habits.

Then Julie comes up with a brilliant idea: they should go to the house and actually see it before they have it bulldozed. Yes, they care SO much about their daddy's wishes, they immediately find all the loopholes.

I'd pack my manuscripts, for who knew, maybe in that melancholy and exquisite setting I'd find exactly the inspiration I required.

"I would write a book about a sparkly Mormon vampire and the sad-sack loser he wants to eat or have conjugal relations with! SO ROMANTIC!"

It was almost a wicked exhilaration I felt, breaking the gloom that had hung over us since the day that Father was laid to rest.

"Screw my dead dad! We're going on a trip to the mysterious house he demanded we destroy! FUN TIME!"

"It is the right thing to do, isn't it, Richard?" I asked uncertainly,

Probably not, but it's understandable considering their dumbass dad didn't tell them WHY.

" 'Unspeakable horror,'" I repeated Father's words with a little grimace. What did it all mean?

It means that the plumbing is horrible, there's no insulation and the servants like to put cold soup in your bed.

You know, if the characters are worried about "unspeakable horror" that much... why are they going?

Then Julie thinks about the hot, hot man she saw, and feels a little guilty because she thinks he's so hot. We also get a rundown of why she thinks he's so hot - he's pale, he wears a cravat and he has long flowy hair... sort of like all of Rice's immortal hotties. And I realized now that, in those few remarkable moments, he had created for me an ideal of masculine beauty which I had never questioned since. Because she's kind of shallow that way.

So they go off to the country, and Julie practically gets all hot and bothered about how beautiful the house is.

"Oh, but it's too majestic," I whispered, "too like a great cathedral, and to think that it belongs to us."

  1. Rice? People don't talk this way.
  2. Ever.
  3. This is like a bunch of seven-year-olds imitating Masterpiece Theater.
  4. Also, people do not generally want to live in cathedrals.
  5. They are big and echoey and cold.
  6. And not a lot of Victorian manorhouses looked like cathedrals either.

Richard gave me the smallest kiss on the cheek. I felt mad suddenly and eager somehow to be laid waste by it, through fear or enchantment I could not say, perhaps a sublime mingling of both.

... um...

Is she saying she wants to make out with her brother? Because EEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWW.

I think Rice is trying to indicate that that's the effect the HOUSE is having on Julie, but the way this is written makes her sound very... Lannisterian. And since Rice wrote entire books about awesome witch dynasties that are built on many generations of incest... ugh...

So the Lannister twins go to the house, and Julie is so overexcited that I think she wants to hump the house.

letting those towers grow larger and larger above me,

Also, cathedrals don't have towers.

"It is an enchanted place," I cried, unable to contain myself. "Oh, Richard, we are home!"

"Because if you think a place is pretty, it is home! Listen to my twee dialogue with no contractions!"

And they meet Mrs. Blessington, who is the elderly blind housekeeper. Um.... I have nothing against the blind, and I have nothing but admiration for their ability to continue their lives normally despite their disabilities. But if I had a live-in housekeeper who was blind, I'd give her a nice pension and retire her. For one thing, the other servants could get away with negligence in their jobs, because she wouldn't know unless she not only had everything in the house memorized, but personally felt over every one of those things EVERY DAY.

"But if you spy a thing out of place in this house, you're to tell me at once, for it would be the exception, I assure you, and not the rule."

  1. ... how would you even know? For all she knows, the house is encrusted in dust and most of the furnishings have been sold.
  2. And how would THEY know if anything is out of place? They haven't been here for 20 years!
  3. Why is this character completely blind anyway? Wouldn't extreme nearsightedness be enough?

Anyway, the house is exactly the sort of place that you'd expect from someone who watched some adaptation ofJane Eyre, with lots of nice linen and fires and pretty windows with a pretty view.

That night, we laughed like children as we supped at the great oak table,

... why? Were they just laughing for no reason?

it was a fierce battle of pocket billiards in the game room which had been Uncle Baxter's last renovation,

  1. Did Victorian ladies play "fierce" anything?
  2. I'm pretty sure they were trained to be pretty, useless, and dumb... or at least, to act like it.
  3. Weren't billiards usually something men did?

and a little too much brandy, I fear.

I had a whole sip! It was too much for my delicate womanliness!

But before bedtime, Julia starts pumping Mrs. Blessington about the house and whether anyone had been there. Yes, she's determined to find out if there is a hot young man whom she can obsess on, cuddle with through a quilt, be constantly oppressed by... you know, someone who sparkles.

But Mrs. Blessington tells her in a very suspiciously imprecise way that her dad came there, and what a funny comment to make, haha.

How I loved the Spartan cleanliness of this bedchamber, the stone walls bare of paper or ornament, the high luster of the walnut-paneled bed.

Because it seems totally likely that a Victorian girl would be all about bare Spartan decor.

"No, my dear," she said quickly, fluffing the feather pillows. "Your father came that year as you know, but he stayed for no more than a month or two and then went on home."
"There was never a young man after that. . ." I pushed, but in truth I had little appetite for anything to disturb the happiness I felt.
"A young man?" She gave an easy, almost hearty laugh as with unerring certainty of her surroundings, she lifted the poker and stirred the fire. "What a strange thing for you to ask."

"What a funny comment that I'm going to carefully avoid actually answering. I'm not acting suspicious at all!"
"No, YOU'RE crazy!"

Then Mrs. Blessington decides to brush Julie's hair because... I don't know. Mainly it gives her a reason to hang around while Julie tells her about that young man she's been obsessing about ever since she was a kid.

"Handsome, was he?" she asked as she brushed out the tangles in my hair gently. It seemed she hung upon every word as I described him again.

"It's been decades since Mr. Blessington died. Granny needs her chimes rung!"

"There were no intruders in this house, then, Mrs. Blessington?" I asked. "No mysteries to be solved. . ."

"No cars that could wildly careen at me and endanger my life so a hot rich teenager would dash out of nowhere to save me?"

She gave the sweetest laugh.
"Oh, no, darling, this house is the safest place in the world," she said quickly. "It is a happy house. No intruder would dare to trouble Rampling Gate!"

  1. Why do I hear horror music when she says that?
  2. And how is it happy, really? Happy houses are.... usually houses with people in them.
  3. Safe, sure. But when people talk about happy houses, they usually mean houses with happy people living in them, usually with kids.

So the Lannister twins show no sign of actually demolishing the place. They decide to spend some months there and enjoy the place, while Richard spends a lot of time looking at old books and papers. Julie, having nothing better to do, keeps hopefully quizzing the locals about whether there's a hot yet dangerous man hanging around smoldering, driving too fast, attacking large predators, etc.

the villagers loved the house and carried no old or disquieting tales.Repeatedly, in fact, we were told that Rampling was the most contented hamlet in all England, that no one dared—Mrs. Blessington's very words—to make trouble here.

Because if there's one thing old houses with weird immortals attached to them have, it's a sense of happy contentment.

This part probably wouldn't bother me so much if I hadn't read some of Rice's later works, like the crappy werewolf books. Why? Because despite her making a big deal of being a Democrat and whatnot, she has a very old-world-aristocrat attitude towards the rich. Wealthy people are the natural stewards of poorer people, who should be happy and grateful... even if those wealthy people are gentrifying their town, which means they will shortly be pushed out of their homes by rising costs of living.

Remember: rich people = good!

"It's our guardian angel, that old house," said the old woman at the bookshop where Richard stopped for the London papers. "Was there ever the town of Rampling without the house called Rampling Gate?"

Well, maybe it was named after a person who wrote a pedophilic "romance" and a book about S&M?

The Lannisters are a bit worried about telling these people about that whole promise to demolish the house, so they decide to simply stick their heads in the sand and not worry about any of it for the time being. I don't even know why they're so worried about what their dad demanded. I mean, it's not like people don't break promises. When it comes to the idea of forfeiting some prime real estate for no discernible reason... I'd at LEAST seriously consider breaking that promise.

It seemed the atmosphere of Rampling Gate permeated my simplest written descriptions and wove its way richly into the plots and characters I created.The Monday after our arrival I had finished my first short story and went off to the village on foot to boldly post it to the editors of Blackwood's Magazine.

So now she's writing stories?

sniff sniff

I smell a self-insert!

So Julie starts wondering once again why their dad was so obsessed with burning this place to the ground or whatever he was too lazy to do himself. We also find out that she's been doing some very weird things in the house.

There were times here when I felt I was a disembodied intellect drifting through a fathomless silence, up and down garden paths and stone corridors that had witnessed too much to take cognizance of one small and fragile young woman who in random moments actually talked aloud to the suits of armour around her, to the broken statues in the garden, the fountain cherubs who had not had water to pour from their conches for years and years.

So... yeah, our heroine is actually talking to inanimate objects... for no reason. Like a crazy person. Who is crazy.

I think this is a futile attempt at being quirky or otherworldly or... something. Instead, between her talking to statues like actual people, and hunting a guy that NOBODY ELSE HAS SEEN... she comes across as a lunatic who will probably end up slaughtering the servants and arranging them like dolls.

But was there in this loveliness some malignant force that was eluding us still, some untold story to explain all?

No. There isn't. Because good = pretty in a story this shallow.

Of course, Julie starts thinking for the thousandth time about the young man she's somehow stalking despite not even knowing if he exists. And somehow she's now remembering him more clearly than before.

given a ruddy glow to his lips and his cheeks.

Which can only be given by Maybelline!

Perhaps in my re-creation for Mrs. Blessington, I had allowed him to raise his hand to that red cravat and had seen the fingers long and delicate and suggestive of a musician's hand.

Yes, because long delicate fingers can only belong to a superior kind of person. Forget what's inside: cliched aristocratic qualities are what matter!

When she gets home, Richard has apparently found something halfway interesting after several weeks. Apparently it's a diary belonging to their Uncle Baxter, who left diary entries from shortly before he died. Oh wow, I wonder if this has anything to do with that mysterious guy who totally exists.

"Well, do read them to me," I said, but I felt a little tug of fear. I didn't want to know anything terrible about this place. If we could have remained here forever. . . but that was out of the question, to be sure.

I'm not sure why, since their dad is dead and was too stupid to stipulate that they couldn't inherit anything unless they destroyed it. Or hell, why not make arrangements before his death?

"Now listen to this," Richard said, turning the page carefully. "'Fifth of May, 1838: He is here, I am sure of it. He is come back again.' And several days later: 'He thinks this is his house, he does, and he would drink my wine and smoke my cigars if only he could.'"

"He leaves my fridge open, kicks the dog and farts on all the furniture! Truly he is a fiend!"

"He reads my books and my papers and I will not stand for it."

"He read my novel-length Friendship is Magic fanfic! I will not stand for it!"

"And finally, the last entry written the morning before he died: 'Weary, weary, unto death and he is no small cause of my weariness. Last night I beheld him with my own eyes. He stood in this very room. He moves and speaks exactly as a mortal man, and dares tell me his secrets, and he a demon wretch with the face of a seraph and I a mere mortal, how am I to bear with him!'"

"He sparkles and broods and whines about how everybody is scared of him!"

We're also informed that Uncle Baxter had a sudden heart attack and died peacefully, because God forbid we wonder if this mysterious immortal killed him. That might be suspenseful, and so far we've had zero suspense. Gothic stuff only works when you actually have the sense of something mysterious also being DANGEROUS.

Just consider Jane Eyre.

The big gloomy house isn't what makes the story interesting. What makes it interesting is the sense of danger to the mystery, and the weird occurrences that take a long time to explain. This is the sort of thing Northanger Abbey was parodying; the whole "there's nothing actually scary about this" reveal is a sign of the metafictional parody of the story. When you play the "there's DEFINITELY nothing bad in the house and never has been!" card SERIOUSLY, you just gut the suspense.

Richard obviously asks if this is the same person who made their father shit a brick, because... well, it makes sense. But Julie totally scuppers that idea.

"And what could this mean, this talk of a supernatural being! Surely the man was mad! It was no spirit I saw in that railway carriage!"

Here's a thought: maybe you're crazy.

Seriously, we've been told that the heroine has been having conversations with the DECORATIONS. She has been prowling around the village searching for the identity of a man she saw ONCE when she was a kid, and whom she has obsessed on ever since. So yeah, she comes across as a bit nuts.

Also, this whole "the guy I saw totes can't be the mysterious immortal!" attitude makes even less sense when you consider that she expects the guy to STILL BE YOUNG after all those years.

"Mrs. Blessington has lived here contentedly for years. There are six servants asleep every night in the north wing. Surely there is nothing to all of this."

Please remind me again that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to be spooked by. It just makes this disappointment of a story even more tedious.

They talk about ghost stories and imaginary creatures, and Richard points out that in these stories, "almost invariably there is some mention of the house in question feeling haunted, of having an atmosphere to it that fills one with foreboding, some sense of menace or alarm. . ." Again, if there was going to be a twist that this house MADE you feel happy and at ease so it could control you.... that would be cool.

But this is all a way to assure us that the pretty, well-dressed immortal is also morally pure in every way.

"But I have, Julie," he said. "I asked her about it all this morning when I first made the discovery, and she only laughed. She swears she's never seen anything unusual here,"

  1. She's blind.
  2. Would she even know if a mysterious immortal who apparently can come and go without being observed was in the house?

"Never seen anything unusual?" I asked. "That is what she said? But what strange words for her to use, Richard, when she can not see at all."

Dammit, even the characters are pointing this out.

Richard finally brings up the promise to their dad, and that neither of them wants to destroy the house.

"I know this much, Julie," he said just as if we had been talking to each other all the while. "I swore to Father that I would do as he asked, and it is tearing me apart. Either way, it will be on my conscience forever, obliterating this house or going against my own father and the charge he laid down to me with his dying breath."

Again, if destroying the house meant SO MUCH to him, why didn't he put it in his will? Or arrange the demolition of it shortly before his death? Or have his solicitors do it? There better be a fucking brilliant explanation for this later in the story!

Julie points out the obvious: their dad had a fever before he died, so he might have been cray-cray. Of course, he made it obvious he hated Rampling Gate before, but it's certainly a possible loophole.

"We must seek help, Richard. The advice of our lawyers, the advice of Father's clergymen."

  1. ClergyMEN? How many did he have?
  2. So she wants to get advice on that from the lawyers... even though apparently this was not some kind of legal matter.
  3. I can understand asking for religious help, because of the moral issue of not honoring a promise to one's father. Honoring one's parents and all that.
  4. But in matters of family ethics and stuff... I don't think business lawyers would be any more useful than anyone else. Hell, just talk to some FRIENDS of his.
  5. Unless he didn't have any friends who weren't clergy or lawyers. That would be sad.

We will never find out what Richard thinks of this suggestion, because we immediately cut over to Julie waking up in bed in the middle of the night. I actually had to check to make sure there was a divide in the text, because otherwise it would imply that she and Richard were discussing this in bed, and despite my Lannister jokes, that would skeeve me hugely.

Even though we were told how completely bare her room was before, we get a description of The little arras that hung over the fireplace with its slim princes and princesses lost in fading fiber and thread and The portrait of an Elizabethan ancestor gazing with one almond-shaped eye from his small frame. Wow, I wonder if that guy in the picture frame is the vampire. It would actually be shocking if he WEREN'T.

She keeps asking unanswered questions before wandering off for a walk around the house. Why? No reason.

The moon fell full on the oak stairway, and on the deeply recessed door to Richard's room. On tiptoe I approached and, peering in, saw the bed was empty, the covers completely undisturbed.
So he was off on his own tonight the same as I. Oh, if only he had come to me, asked me to go with him.




That's... a weird thing to want when you were asleep in your bed just a few minutes ago. I want to go for a moonlit walk with him! On the beach! While drinking piƱa coladas!

So she wanders into the great hall, and... really, the descriptions of this house's interior don't really match the exterior. All the medieval weapons and stone walls and a giant central hall make it sound like it's almost like a castle, but the opening description of gables and chimneys makes it sound like a much more recent construction.

Then Julie hears a fire crackling, and decides to drag Richard away from whatever the hell he's doing to talk with her about absolutely nothing, or maybe go exploring like they're kids searching for a magic wardrobe.

You know, I don't know why Richard would WANT to talk to Julie. I'm sure we're expected to think she's smart and well-educated because....she writes poetry, and her brother discusses things with her instead of dismissing the weak-minded little Victorian woman. But she's said and done nothing to actually suggest that she IS smart. Mostly she just flutters around like a dimbulb sprite, talking to furniture, thinking about boys and squeeing about how great the house is. She has accomplished nothing, learned nothing, and produced nothing.

So far, if she were not in the story... nobody would notice.

Richard is asleep in there, with a fire blazing and the window open. I fail to see why this is happening.

But oh noes! There's ANOTHER person there! Looking at the papers! And OH WHAT A SHOCK it's the guy from fifteen years ago who looks exactly the same!

I knew that it could not be so. I knew that I must be dreaming, that nothing in this room, least of all this figure, could be real.

For he sparkled all over!

For it was the same young man I had seen fifteen years ago in the railway carriage and not a single aspect of that taut young face had been changed. There was the very same hair, thick and lustrous and only carelessly combed as it hung to the thick collar of his black coat, and the skin so pale it was almost luminous in the shadows, and those dark eyes looking up suddenly and fixing me with the most curious expression as I almost screamed.

OMG, the person heavily foreshadowed to be the "master" of this house who likes to go unnoticed through it and rifle through people's papers... has gone unnoticed through the house and is rifling through papers! I AM SO SHOCKED RIGHT NOW!

And the whole shocking reveal of him looking exactly the same would be more shocking if A) Julie hadn't spoken to Mrs. Butterworth (or whatever her name is) about a YOUNG man, and B) that we KNEW there was a supernatural immortal creature with the shape of a young man. This is like in Guilty Pleasures where the big reveal is that the murderer... is the guy we knew to be the murderer.

To be continued... because I need to do some shots.

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