The Devilish World of John Sinclair


Note: Some of you probably know that I have been studying German.  (a rather wise thing to do if one is living in Germany)    I wanted  to chronicle the books I was reading during this linguistic journey,  but since such posts would be somewhat OT for this blog, I resorted to making The German Book  List Page, that my friends and readers could click on if they desired.  Well, now it’s nearly June, and that page has become rather long with all the updates and comments.  So rather than have those interested wade through that bog, I decided it made more sense just to write normal posts.

My adventures in Deutsch began with Agatha Christie.    After learning terms for all things related to murder, death, suicide, poisonings, stabbings, and confessions, I segued into various authors ranging from Charles de Lint to Steinbeck.

For all the different genres I read- the authors had one thing in common:  their native language was English.

Being familiar with their work had been a great starting point.   At least I knew what the gist of the story entailed.  But this April, I decided it was time to discover all the native German language authors that I’d been missing out on.

Having decided to hold off on the luminous, classic German authors until I could more fully appreciate the beauty and power of their prose,  I began my venture with the popular horror pulps.

Thus, for two months I have been curled up, devouring the devilish world of John Sinclair.

Who?  Most of my fellow Americans are probably asking right now.

Ah, John Sinclair is the main protagonist (a Scotland Yard inspector of supernatural crimes) in a series of  best- selling novellas by Jason Dark.  The series which began in 1973 and continues to this day, are slightly creepy but without gore, and may be likened to the 19th century penny dreadful.   To date,   Mr. Dark has penned nearly 2,000 of these gruselromane featuring witches, vampires, demons, and werewolves.

Mr. Dark (pseudonym of Helmut Rellergerd)  writes three to four novellas per month on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, and has been quoted as saying as soon as he finishes one, he sticks in another sheet of paper and begins the next.

Needless to say, the stories contain little literary merit.   Oftentimes, they are even unintentionally hilarious, sprinkled with such lovelies as:  “Du verdammte Hexe wirst sterben.  Ich werde dich zu Tode quälen.”   (“You damn witch will die.  I will torture you to death.”) .  Lady Laduga war auch fast eine Katze.  Manchmal sanft, dann wieder leidenschaftlich, zügellos.  (Lady Laduga was also almost like a cat.  Sometimes soft, then again passionate, unbridled. )  Not to mention a penchant for exclamation points:  Ein Totenhemd! (a burial tomb!),  Er wandte den Kopf…und sah in das Gesicht seiner ersten Frau!  (He turned the head… and saw the face of his first wife!)

So what is Mr. Dark’s secret for such successful longevity?  Simple.   There’s no pretense.  There is a sense that the author is winking at his readers,  and that  he,  himself, accepts the stories for what they are:  a quick, easy, enjoyable read.  

*excerpts from, Das Leichenhaus der Lady L ( The Mortuary of Lady L)

The Emily Dickinson Museum

During my vacation back in the good ol’ USA, on May 10th, as a one day late Mother’s Day gift, I treated my sister by having her drive me to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. 

Located at 280 Main Street, the museum includes tours of both Emily’s house (The Homestead)

and her brother, Austin’s house (The Evergreens).

My sister acted quite delighted to go even though the only thing she knew of Dickinson was that, “she was a hermit who wrote strange poetry.”  Of course,  this might also have been her way of apologising for her demonic cat attacking me the night before.  I kid not.  Warning: if that cat purrs at you it is not a sign that it is a loving, warm animal who wishes for you to pet it.  It is a sign that it is about to leap into the air cartoon-style and  claw at your face if you don’t jump out of its way in the nick of time.

But I digress.

Our tour group (led by a vey lovely and informative woman) began inside the Homestead.   Emily’s grandfather built the Federal style home circa 1813.

After being shown Emily’s portrait, we were told that Emily’s family and Emily, herself, hated it because it didn’t resemble her at all.  Evidently, the artist had dressed her in a style similar to that of her mother, so that the two portraits could appear almost twin-like. 

Instead of the studious pose this picture suggests, Emily preferred wearing her hair loose and free.

Later in life, Emily preferred wearing all-white.  It is unknown whether this was due to spiritual convictions or if she had been influenced by one of her favorite novels, The Woman in White.   In the upstairs hallway, her white daydress is showcased behind glass.  Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside the museum.   The simple, elegant dress indicates that she stood about 5’4 or under, and was extremely slender.

Inside Emily’s bedroom is a 17 inch writing desk at which Emily penned her thousands of poems.  Our tour guide informed us that these tiny desks were designed so the writer wouldn’t have space to put things on it, and thus be distracted by them.   (yes, I did make a mental note to myself at that point)

Emily’s austere bedroom:

 (thanks to pbs. org)

On the walls, hang pictures of two of Emily’s favorite writers:  Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.  Our guide asked us if we could identify the two ladies.  She was surprised when I immediately recognized Mrs. Browning, as evidently most don’t.  I would have assumed Eliot would be more difficult.  (another woman in our group guessed her correctly)

After reading some of Emily’s poems, we walked along the path to The Evergeens.   Emily’s father built the Italianite style house for her brother Austin and his wife, Susan Gilbert.

The socially-inclined Susan Gilbert, entertained such notable figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Webster, and Thoreau.  Some speculate that these parties may have been part of the reason that the already private Emily withdrew herself completely from society.

After Emily’s death in 1886, her sister, Lavinia, brought a bunch of Emily’s poems to Mabel Loomis Todd and asked her help in getting them published.   Mrs. Todd (who had been conducting a quiet, yet very well-known love-affair with Austin) had never met Emily in person.  Instead, they had corresponded for a few years through letters.   Mabel spent several years organizing and editing Emily’s poems.  The resulting volumes were published in 1890, 1891, and 1896.

Mrs. Todd went on tours in which she played up Emily’s mystical, secluded nature and eventually sealed her reputation as the mysterious poet from Amherst.

In Emily’s own words:

“I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”