05 February 2009

The Castle of Otranto (Horace Walpole)

I've been perusing the brick 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Some of the titles seem bizarre to say the least. I mean, we're on this earth for a very short time. Surely one should steer clear of such books as Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (John Lyly)?

I noticed with some amusement that The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole made it onto the list. We studied this book in school and after reading the first chapter aloud my English Lit teacher was faced with a classroom of stony-faced students.
"We're studying this as a bad example of the gothic." she assured us.
Considering the good example was Wuthering Heights (and it is well-documented how we feel about that), I have been left with a relatively healthy disregard for the entire genre.

I doubt there is another book that begins as ridiculously as Otranto does: the villain Manfred's son is killed when a giant helmet falls from the sky and crushes him.
Then we of course have the token virgin, the lusty pursuer who clearly mutes his television during the advertisements ('No' means 'No' Manfred), a blood-red moon, baying wolves, water-logged dungeons and breathless chases at midnight. A smorgasbord of gratuitous ludicracy that should leave all lovers of the gothic satiated, if not stuffed.
Is it ridiculous?
But, I suspect that, given half a chance, I would derive great pleasure from reading this again, sufficiently sloshed of course. I might even spill some red on the carpet and pretend the moon is bleeding, to REALLY get me in the mood.
Rating: 6/10.
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