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Literary Essays on Gothic Horror, Ghost Stories, & Weird Fiction

from  Mary  Shelley  to  M.  R.  James —

by M. Grant Kellermeyer

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Reviewing: "The Lost Son" Audio-Drama

I seem to keep running into delightful firsts this year when it comes to my reviews. Today’s first – just in time for Hallowe’en – is an audio-drama miniseries. I have reviewed poetry, short stories, novels, nonfiction, and even merch stores, but today we enter into the world of radio and podcasts with a three part series following a tale of curses, mystery, horror, and decadence – the sort that I would have recorded as a youngster and waited to listen to when it was late and my family was in bed, while I watched the shadows shifting on the ceiling. The series in question, capably directed by Cole Burgett, is called “The Lost Son,” and it can be heard starting tomorrow, October 25 on Buzzsprout.

There is perhaps no historical era that has proved itself a better setting for a thrilling blend of horror and adventure and the years between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and Archduke Ferdinand. In France this contains the Belle Epoque and the Fin de Siècle, in Britain the Late Victorian and Edwardian periods, and in the United States the Gilded Age, the Gay Nineties, and the Progressive Era.

It was a period of great development and great disappointment, with art, music, literature, science, medicine, and technology at all time highs, while recessions, corruption, robber barons, colonialism, and crime ran rampant alongside it. It is the era of Sherlock Holmes, Toulouse Lautrec, Jack London, and Louis Pasteur, but it is also the era of Jekyll and Hyde, Jack the Ripper, H. H. Holmes, and the Ku Klux Klan. This setting is where our audio-drama takes place, and it is a fitting setting indeed: listeners can expect the same elegant charm and ghastly decadence that they might find in such turn of the century horror masterpieces as The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The King in Yellow, The Great God Pan, Carnacki the Ghost-finder, and Dracula.

Set in 1899, the story follows Dr. Emily Goodwin, a cutting-edge, female physician in the Gilded Age’s New York City. Just before leaving for a high society party, her fiancé, Charles, brings her a cryptic letter which shakes her out of her busy life. Written by an old flame, Andrew Ballard, it vaguely hints at some frightening, personal trouble and – a la Poe's “Fall of the House of Usher” – requests that she visit him at Ballard Hall, his Gothic manor. Ignoring the warnings of her coachman, she enters the mansion to find her handsome but haunted friend mourning his father’s recent death and troubled by its mysterious and violent circumstances.

His brutal demise is latest of many which seem to have been caused by a huge animal. During his last days, Andrew’s father seemed to be overwhelmed with wild forebodings of approaching evils, bad memories of his wife’s suicide, and sinister reveries which caused him to expect a “reckoning” with his past sins, something, so he said, related to a family curse that Andrew has never heard of.

Andrew is overshadowed with melancholy and sickened by the same forebodings as his father when Emily arrives. He is disappointed to learn that she is engaged, but still asks her to stay with and council him as he tries to uncover the cause of his father’s death – and possibly prevent his own. Accompanied by their mutual friend, Arthur Darrow, an insightful country doctor, they join forces to probe the mysteries.

Andrew leaves the two physicians alone on the first night, and Darrow shares what he knows with her: he did the autopsy on Andrew’s father and was horrified by the gruesome mutilations, and explains that the superstitious locals blame Andrew himself for the death.

Although Darrow is a man of science, he is also a student of mysticism, and he explains that the Ballards were said to be haunted by an ancient curse of lycanthropy. Whether this is true or possible or not, Darrow warns her that it is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that Andrew is allowing his fears to shape his destiny. She rebuffs his seriousness and insists that the solution is simply to remove him from Ballard Hall and the persecution of the small-minded villagers, but Darrow doesn’t think it will be that easy.

As they retire to their beds, Darrow remarks that he hasn’t seen Andrew that alive in a long time and hints that he is still in love with her. But is his comment a sweet observation or a concerned word of warning? The next day unfolds to even more mysteries, darkness, horror, and death – but to learn the details, you will have to listen to the whole miniseries!

This is a tremendously engaging series and one which is delightfully indulgent in all the right ways. It took me back to the radio dramas I used to listen to as a kid in the 90s, or the acted-out audio adaptations of classic horror stories that I’d listen to on cassette or CD at night. It has an atmospheric score – quite spooky and alluring – sharp sound effects, and some truly beautiful voices.

It riffs playfully – and with self-awareness – off of The Hound of the Baskervilles and Dracula in particular, along with other horror classics such as “The House of Usher,” Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and H. P. Lovecraft, giving fans of classic horror and exciting opportunity to pay attention for Easter eggs (I caught my first one – a famous Sherlock Holmes paraphrase – within the first six minutes).

This is an old-school story done in the style of the masters, so lovers of elegant horror set in a Gothic manor will find it utterly thrilling. I love a good modern tale, but this spooky escapism is desperately needed in a day in age when the horrors of our own world are far too close at hand.

If you want to listen to a wildly fun pastiche on the classic werewolf story, if you are a fan of Poe, Stoker, Stevenson, Lovecraft, and Conan Doyle, if you delight in dimming the lights and listening to a chilling audio-drama while you sip wine and close your eyes, and if you simply need something decadent, exciting, and escapist to give you a thrill this Halloween, give “The Lost Son” a listen, starting on October 25, here on Buzzsprout!

And I hope to see more from these producers in the future.

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