By: Madeline Usher
As you might expect, my friends, my little island of peace that I had when Roderick was taken away to the asylum, was eventually invaded by his inevitable return. My brother is, if nothing else, a marvelous actor, who can make himself into whatever a person wishes to see. After barely a month at the asylum, he had thoroughly convinced the doctors there that he was in perfect health�both mentally as well as physically.
He returned about two weeks ago and, at first, he really did seem a changed man. However, I have learned over the years to never trust my brother�s moods. In this distrust I was justified as he attacked me three evenings ago and succeeded in landing a most cruel blow to my side with a pocket knife he had concealed in his hand.
The wound bled frightfully�especially considering it was given by a rather small weapon. My maid, dear Agatha, did what she could to bind it up, but she is no doctor. We dare not send for Mr. Hernsby, though, as Roderick will only become further enraged. And so, we are at a stalemate, Roderick and I. He rages to finish the job and I hold him at bay with the little strength I have left.
He has put on an appearance of civility at the arrival of an old school fellow of his. I have caught glimpses of the young man, who seems quite refined and gentlemanly. How he came to befriend Roderick is beyond me. I dare not ask this young man for help, however, not knowing him at all or if his character is on par with Roderick�s.
For my part, I have not stirred from my library since I was wounded. Indeed, I do not believe I shall ever leave this room again. During this time, Agatha has sat with me and read throughout this dark time. The two books I would like to tell you about are The Outlander by Gil Adamson and King Arthur�s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition by Tyler R. Tichelaar.
The Outlander is, quite simply, a remarkable book about a newly widowed woman � widowed by her own hand no less � making her way through the Canadian wilderness with little more than an unconquerable will to survive. The story opens with young Mary Boulton, referred to throughout the book as �the widow,� fleeing in the early morning as a set of behemoth red-headed twins and a pack of hounds pursues her. She manages to elude them and thus begins a frightening, illuminating, and often strange journey.
It becomes apparent within the first pages of The Outlander, that there is something very wrong with Mary. Her lovely face and youthful naivet� conceal a confused, disturbed woman who sees people that do not exist, hears voices, and views the world through very distorted perceptions. Adamson uses Mary�s mental fragmentation to build and maintain tension throughout her headlong flight. The reader constantly wonders, �When will Mary finally go all the way round the bend?� In this way, Adamson presents not only a thrilling adventure tale about survival in the wild, but she also creates a frightening parable of mental illness.
During Mary�s race from those who wish to bring her to justice, she meets and is changed by a cavalcade of eccentric characters including the pugilistic minister Bonnycastle � who also happens to deal in stolen horses � a gruff but affectionate dwarf, and the commitment shy Ridgerunner. Indeed, the variety of human follies and peculiarities that Adamson investigates in this one novel is incredible and each character seems to reflect something in Mary that calls her out of her mental turmoil.
Adamson, a poet as well as novel writer, brings all her lyrical skill and poetic intuition to this novel. Her uncommon descriptions of the lush, though dangerous, Canadian wilderness and the deft way she isolates her main character draws the reader into the fractured state of Mary�s mind and the terrible loneliness that is relieved at intervals and, eventually, disappears altogether as the whole of Mary�s broken life is laid bare.
Agatha and I were both riveted by this novel that was part high adventure, part drama, part historical narrative. I can recommend it without reservation.
As you may have guessed from the title, my next offering is a nonfiction text covering the fascinating, but obscure, existence of King Arthur�s children. You might be surprised to discover that King Arthur�s Children does not immediately begin with a discourse on Mordred, perhaps the most famous prodigal son in literary history. Instead, Tichelaar goes back further into historical records and sifts out fragmentary mention of three earlier sons: Gwydre, Amr, and, Llacheu.
All of these sons are mentioned in old Welsh tales of Arthur. The first two, however, are barely a footnote in Arthur�s life. The amount of hunting and digging that was involved to gain as much information about these two sons must have been exhausting. Tichelaar shows no signs of strain in his writing, though, and provides the reader with the fruits of his labors through clear and engaging writing. Indeed, Tichelaar does not shy from making connections and hypotheses about the development of these early tales into what is most accepted as Arthurian legend today.
For those who might be wondering, the book does get to Mordred in the second part and spends the next eight chapters delineating Mordred�s origins � both the well known versions and also the more murky � his attack on Arthur�s throne, the subsequent battles and their connections to Queen Guinevere, Mordred�s place in Scottish history as a rightful king, and Mordred�s sons.
The many books, poems, oral tellings, and other formats in which King Arthur has appeared has, perhaps, conditioned the general populace as to the correct reckoning of events in regards to Arthur and his relatives. Tichelaar presents his research to challenge and, at least partly, overturn many of those long-held �truths.� He openly acknowledges, though, that the �truth� is far from certain�even in light of his research. Lost or destroyed records, historical biases, and simple lack of information make it nearly impossible to put full faith in any one version of the tale of Arthur and the people around him. That being said, Tichelaar does open up some very interesting possibilities as to what really happened in Britain all those centuries ago. Perhaps Mordred really was a tragic hero that did not play the part of traitor but, instead, sought to regain his rightful place in the world. Perhaps Arthur was not the gallant hero, nor Guinevere the valiant, but tempted, damsel in distress.
The third and fourth parts of King Arthur�s Children is perhaps the most fascinating as they follow the lines of Arthur�s blood into future generations from the royal family of Britain and Clan Campbell in Scotland to the many fictionalized children that Renaissance and modern authors have created.
King Arthur is probably the most popular figure in English literature. He has been romanticized, transfigured from young to old, depicted as a David-like hero and even vilified as a usurper. Tichelaar has made a solid and scholarly effort to untangle the many threads in Arthur�s tapestry so that readers can come to their own conclusions and perhaps create further tales that enrich the Arthurian legend.
Though neither Agatha nor I are in any way serious scholars, we both enjoyed King Arthur�s Children with its earnest historian�s voice and fascinating subject matter.
I shall close for now as I am quite tired and my wound has begun to bleed again. But I hope to have more delectable, devilish, and downright wonderful recommendations for you. Be well, my friends.
PostScript to the above letter:
Madeline Usher, affectionately known as �lady Madeline� to the residents of the lands surrounding the House of Usher, was found in a presumably lifeless state by her maid just a few hours after penning the above. The cause of death was, at first not published or known by officials, though public opinion had it that her brother, Roderick Usher, certainly had a hand in it. By order of her brother, she was laid out in a family vault adjoining the house for two weeks. During those two weeks, Roderick Usher was seen to behave even more erratically than usual, often exclaiming that his sister was haunting him.
Finally, it was revealed that Roderick Usher, in some demented belief of his sister being possessed of an evil spirit, had previously stabbed her with a pocket knife. She had languished without sufficient medical attention, in a locked library for several days before her maid left her unattended for some minutes in which time, Roderick snuck into the library and forced a sleeping drug down her throat, compelling her into the deathlike state in which her maid found her. She was hurriedly buried in a vault but, upon waking from the drug�s effects, attempted to escape her tomb. She succeeded in freeing herself but, in the effort, spent what precious blood and strength she still retained. With her final strength, she confronted her brother and, in his demented state, the shock of seeing her�covered in blood and hideous bruises � stopped his heart instantaneously and he died in her arms.