“Johanna” — Short Story by Jane Yolen

“Johanna” — Plot Summary, EASTER EGGS, AND ANALYSIS

By: Shane Lambert

Jane Yolen’s short story “Johanna” tells a short ‘tail’ of a young sixteen-year-old North American aboriginal woman. Set in the past, possibly in the 19th century, Johanna and her dying mother live in a village in a forest known as Hartwood.

Although the aboriginal village can support many more residents than its current population, Johanna and her mother are the last of their family. The others, it is said in the story, have all disappeared into the night or died.

Near the start of the story, we learn that it may soon be Johanna’s mother’s turn to pass away. To prevent this, Johanna makes a decision that is a catalyst for the story’s plot.

READ “THE SUIT IN THE BACKPACK” ON AMAZON KINDLE!!!

Believing that her mother’s death is imminent, Johanna decides to fetch a nearby doctor. While this may seem to be a straight-forward decision, the drama involved is that Johanna’s motivation is so strong that she feels compelled to fetch the doctor immediately, in the quiet of night. As a result, she decides to face the terrors of running through Hartwood Forest at night — despite the fact that her other family members have previously disappeared for doing just that.

There is a surreal aspect to this story. As Johanna runs through the forest, she turns into a deer. We learn this, with clarity, at the end of the story when she enters the doctor’s yard.

The doctor looks at her, claims that he wants deer meat for the winter, and then shoots her — not really knowing that he is killing Johanna. We may assume, that in killing her, the mother’s death will follow back at the aboriginal village. As they were the last two members of their family, themes of genocide and/or cultural destruction can be looked at in this short story.

There is a suggestion that the aboriginal ‘village’ is not officially considered to be one. Perhaps the best of view of them is “unincorporated.” However, the white-people’s village is considered a village, despite identical size. There is a theme of ostracism that can be expanded on from that. Understanding this story involves looking at what is being ostracized.

But first, on a simpler level, this story is one with a lot of so-called “Easter Eggs” for readers to pick up on. Before we learn that Johanna has changed form, there are many clues that she is about to do so. Finding these clues seems to be a challenge that the author issues.

If you read the story twice, then the second time around you can spot these clues easily. Firstly, there is a reference to Johanna gaining “new senses” and she can see clearly in the darkness of night. That’s not really human but suggests that something extraordinary is happening to her.

Also, she doesn’t feel cold despite the winter-time setting and nor does running burden her from a cardiovascular perspective. Gaining new senses, seeing clearly in the darkness of the forest night, not getting cold in frigid temperatures, and having the wherewithal to run great distances without facing fatigue could all be viewed as inhuman.

At one point, she and her family are described as “strong as beasts.” At another point, when Johanna gets close to her goal, it is said that she “ranged,” a verb to describe movement that’s more common to animal movements than human ones.

There are other clues as to Johanna’s impending change still. For instance, Johanna is apprehensive to enter a meadow — perhaps an instinct common to deer more than humans. This aspect of the story reminded me of a scene in the Disney movie Bambi where Bambi’s mother won’t enter the meadow quickly for fear of hunters.

Picking the story over for these Easter Eggs is perhaps a challenge for the high-school student. A more challenging look at the story requires looking at “Johanna” as an allegory for the historical relationships between aboriginal people and Europeans. From this point of view, the topics of stereotyping, cultural extinction, genocide, and environmental destruction can be explored.

Themes in “johanna”

Yolen, the author of the story, makes it clear that Johanna is to be understood as aboriginal. Yolen doesn’t wait to do this as the opening line strongly implies it when Johanna is described as having “moccasined feet.” Moccasins are the footwear that aboriginal people in North America were first known for. As a modern fashion, anyone of any culture can wear them. However, in the historical context of this story, it’s clear that Johanna is aboriginal. This is something that should be considered important for understanding this short story.

Johanna starts the story as an alive human and ends up as a dead deer. Her death is one matter to be looked at. But, firstly, let’s look at what her change of species means.

A literary character that starts as a human and ends up as an animal could be viewed as a literary character that is at one with nature. There could be other views to take. For instance, an aboriginal person that starts human and ends up an animal might be taken to be an argument that aboriginals are less than human. However, the former position is the one that I think is better for understanding this story. There is plenty of precedent when it comes to stereotyping aboriginal people as stewards of the environment.

For some, this will provoke retorts of the “noble savage” myth. However, such comments are not too relevant when it comes to short-story analysis. Fictional representations of aboriginal people have been used as a symbol of being at peace with the environment before.

Perhaps a strong example is Iron Eyes Cody. He was actually an Italian-American but he portrayed Native Americans in acting roles. In this fictional capacity, he was featured in a famous, or infamous, 1971 advertisement that advocated fighting pollution.

Seen crying in the advertisement, one can ask if his portrayed identity as a North American aboriginal juxtaposed with an environmental cause somehow lent credibility to the environmental stance. If you answer “no” to this then an additional question remains relevant. Did the environmental agency think it would? In my mind, the only answer to that question is “yes.”

What appears to be clear is that the organization that ran the advertisement, Keep America Beautiful Inc., thought that Iron Eyes Cody’s in-character endorsement would add credibility to their institution somehow. This must be because they had an instinct that a percentage of the public would see an aboriginal person as a metaphor for environmental protection or stability. We don’t have to have a serious discussion about which cultures were better for environmental stability but, instead, we can just talk about public perception.

The advertisement below, depicting Iron Eyes Cody, is an example of a fictional aboriginal character being used metaphorically as a symbol of the environment. His crying eyes and sad face are the embodiment of environmental destruction, specifically, the spread of pollution.

Source: Keep American Beautiful Inc.,used here for the purpose of critical commentary.

Another fictional character that is both at one with the environment and aboriginal to North America is Pocahontas as represented in the Disney animated film of that name. In that film, she sings “Colors of the Wind,” a song that implores the profit-oriented European invaders of her homeland not to be so greedy when it comes to exploiting natural resources.

An excerpt from Disney’s Pocahontas (1995). Used her for the purpose of critical commentary.

Johanna has something in common with both Iron Eyes Cody and Disney’s Pocahontas. “Johanna,” the short story, could be viewed in the context of positive evaluations that have been made of aboriginal cultures in North America. They are, in fact, regarded as being more harmonious with nature in the world of fiction. Johanna, the literary character, is effectively a metaphor for a culture that can co-exist with nature. That’s what it could be held to mean when she turns into a deer.

Along those lines, that a prominent member of the nearby European community, a doctor, kills Johanna in her deer form shouldn’t be taken as a reference to genocide. That’s definitely a related topic but the story should be taken more as an opinion that European cultures aren’t grounded in an environmentally sound philosophy.

That Johanna and her kin are dying out makes genocide a related topic. However, in the short story the doctor’s killing of Johanna, as an aboriginal person, is actually completely inadvertent. Also, that her mother will die is inadvertent too. The doctor is not depicted as genocidal, rather he is merely killing a deer from his point of view.

There could be an implication here of two cultures colliding — and one largely losing. Perhaps this kind of inadvertent destruction could be viewed as having taken place in North America alongside other forms of deliberate destruction.

But, in conclusion, I think a fair interpretation of “Johanna” mainly has to do with a positive evaluation of aboriginal cultures in terms of environmental sustainability. As shown, the story is not unique in this regard when a broader look at fiction is undertaken. Iron Eyes Cody was actually a fictional character and Pocahontas was, at least as far as Disney’s representation of her goes.

On a related matter, one could debate which cultures are better or worse for the environment. My opinion would be that the current environmental crisis facing humanity has a lot more to do with both industrialization and deforestation than anything the pre-contact aboriginal cultures did.

Johanna could be read here as of September 23rd, 2020.

Whooops!! My Misadventures in eBook Cover Design….

By: Shane Lambert

I completed a short story in early 2018. At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. When I started writing the short story, it was more like I was scratching an itch than thinking about a final product. However, when I finished it I definitely wanted it to be read by others. I self-published it at Amazon and part of this process involved creating an eBook cover.

I don’t know much about art, at least not the kind involving painting or drawing. All the marketing tips I read said that I should have a nice eBook cover to represent the book, something I agreed with wholeheartedly. So, I went to the freelancers online to try and create something that might ‘draw’ in some readers.

But, before I did this, I had to think of a cover design that I wanted to be drawn. I didn’t want an artist to have to read the short story and then think of a cover by himself or herself. That would be time-consuming and, I assumed, it would then cost more money to get the job done.

While I’ve made a lot of extra money over the years writing, as of yet self-published eBooks haven’t really brought me in that much. My writing-related income comes mainly from writing for websites. Since my first attempts at self-publishing back in 2012, I’ve only sold about 1500 eBooks. That doesn’t mean that the effort, for some of them, hasn’t been worth it but you can see how it has not really been a clearly successful venture for me.

Due to this, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on an eBook cover. Instead, I decided that I would try to find a talented artist who needed to establish himself or herself, someone who would be willing to work for an hour on this project for something very affordable.

My short story, which can now be found on short-stories-online.com, is about a well-meaning man who decides to pick up a hitchhiker. Subsequently, he wonders if the hitchhiker, who is female, is suspicious of his intentions. That manifests into a concern that the man has that others, people the hitchhiker talks to at a rest stop, might actually think that the man is a serial killer.

In the end, the man develops what could be viewed as a paranoia over his image. Others might see the man’s concern as reasonable and not the result of paranoia. That’s a question posed in the story.

My question was how do I represent the short story in an eBook cover in a way that might intrigue people?

At one point, I thought that I could put anything on the cover and just let the reader run wild with metaphorical interpretation. However, I abandoned this idea when I found an artist that had some significant ability and was willing to work cheap. I described the scene to her that should be on the cover as follows.

Three people were to be illustrated as pushing a car off of a cliff. The vehicle was to have a terrified male driver sitting at the wheel. The three people doing the pushing were to be depicted as a female hitchhiker, a member of the public, and a police officer. In the background, I instructed that a Ted-Bundy-like serial-killer character is supposed to be engaged in sardonic laughter as the driver of the vehicle suffers for something he, the actual serial killer, did.

It was all was supposed to show, metaphorically, how four people were involved in stifling congenial behavior in society. The driver of the car stopped to help a stranded traveler as an act of kindness but this act was instead distorted. You may have to read the story to understand the point in view. But as for the eBook cover, to make sure we were on the same page I offered this juvenile sketch to my hired help:

The setting of the story is in the Canadian Rockies, as depicted by the rocky ‘waves’ in the background. The sign in the sketch is a common one that highway users see when they travel. That sign is a part of the story but I won’t get into that here too much. I just wanted to point out that everything in the sketch is relevant to the plot — nothing is arbitrary.

The next step in the cover design was getting some work back before the artist did too much on her own. She sent a first draft after both getting my instructions and seeing the simple sketch above. Importantly, the sketch below, while not completed, is far better artwork than I could draw myself.

What you are looking at is a man being pushed over the edge of a cliff in a car. However, my opinion was that the car looked more like a small pick-up truck and that was taken up with the artist.

The driver is the protagonist, someone I call “Fictional Me” because I often write fiction in the first person. The woman with the backpack on (pictured on the right) is the hitchhiker and she’s giving an ironic thumbs-up as she aids in pushing Fictional Me and my car over a cliff.

The man in the middle is a guy she speaks to at a gas station, ‘alerting’ him to the fact that Fictional Me is an individual who picks up female hitchhikers. He’s pushing the car with one hand and scrutinizing Fictional Me with a magnifying glass with the other.

The police officer is both finger-wagging and helping to kill Fictional Me. In the background, you can see the actual serial killer who is enjoying the mess that he created. The serial killer finds twisted humor in the fact that someone else is being tormented for what he, the serial killer, did.

The next draft looked like this:

Was this the final draft? At this point, I had some opinions — all of which were entirely irrelevant.

Part of me didn’t think the three ‘pushers’ looked active enough in pushing. I also didn’t think that it made sense that they could push so hard as to get a car through the rail on the side of the highway.

On another matter, I thought the outline of the car was a little wonky as it looks like the front is the back and the back is the front to me. Lastly, the mountains seemed red and arid while the setting of the story was in an area where the mountains were tree-covered and dark or silver.

The reason my opinions were irrelevant was because I’m a reasonable person and I knew that I couldn’t push someone too hard at revisions when I was only paying $25US. Unwilling to spend more, I was happy with what I got for what I paid, I left the artist a great review, and I put the eBook cover up as a better cover than the site-generated ugly ones. Even if I end up -$25US on the project, it definitely made me smile to work on it.

If you want to read the short story, it won’t cost you anything. It’s called “On Being Indistinguishable” and it’s on this website.

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” – The Not-So-Omniscient Narrator

By: Shane Lambert

Ambrose Bierce (1842 to ~1914) was an American writer. One of his enduring literary works is called “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a short story that was published in 1890. This story will be looked at in this article so be warned now that the following sections CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS. If you want to read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with the ending preserved, then use this exit link here. The point that I want to make about the short story will follow.

One thing that readers should note is that I am going off of the version of the story that first appeared in the July 13th, 1890 edition of The San Francisco Examiner. This published version is different than later versions in some small ways.

July 13th, 1890. San Francisco Examiner. Page 11-12. Note the “Once upon a time” variation of the first sentence.
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“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” – Plot Summary, narrative Criticism, theme, and Bierce’s method for creating a twist ending

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is a short story with a twist ending. That means that the ending takes the reader in a different route that the one that seemed to already be established.

How Bierce accomplished this is actually pretty simple when you break it down into a procedure, something I will do at the end of this article. However, this goal is little more than just a motivator to look at the story in some depth. A complete look at the twist ending involves summarizing the plot, examining the narration, and exploring the theme. All of this will be done en route to understanding how to use Bierce’s simple procedure to set up a twist ending.

Public domain. Original publication in July 13th, 1890 San Francisco Examiner. The original publication was different.

A front-to-back summary of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” can either tell you where the twist is when the first seeds are planted or leave that until the end. Since I’ve already warned you of plot spoilers, I’ll take the former path in this article.

Bierce’s story, broken into three short parts, is set in northern Alabama during the American Civil War in the 1860s. Bierce, in real life, was a veteran of this war, a war which was between Abraham Lincoln’s North and the Confederate States of the South in the United States of America.

In Part I of the story, we are in the present. At this point, we quickly learn that we’re about to read of a man who is about to be hanged. He is standing on the titular bridge, awaiting his fate.

In Part II of the story, we go the recent past. At this point, we learn what it was that lead to this man’s fate: Farquhar, the man who is about to be hanged, had claimed to someone who he thought was a Confederate soldier that he, Farquhar, wanted to sabotage the North’s advance into the South. However, this soldier ended up being a spy for the North and it is implied in the story that this is what lead to Farquhar’s arrest.

In Part III of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” we, the readers, are taken back to the present. It’s at this point where we are presented with Farquhar’s escape, at least before the twist ending reverses that understanding of events. In the final statement of the story, we learn that Farquhar only imagined his escape in the moments before his neck was snapped.

There is some jumping around as the presentation of the story is not linear. However, while the plot is simple enough, the narration in the story is a little more difficult to grasp. It has been referred to as “Stream of consciousness” narration which, in my opinion, seems to be little more than the tool of a writer who can’t really grasp on to a steady narrative perspective.

The narrator in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” in fact, could called a third-person narrator that lacks omniscience or, perhaps better, a third-person narrator that toggles in and out of omniscience. That’s a little different than the conventional third-person narrator for the day and so this story is significant to look at.

The following narrative excerpt comes from Part I of the story. The “platform” mentioned should be understood as being on the bridge that Farquhar is on, one that he will be thrown off of with a noose around his neck. The first usage of the word “him” applies to Farquhar. The statements below are not from the protagonist but from the narrator.

Ask yourself: what perspective does this narrator have? I would submit that the perspective is inconsistent within this short passage.

From one point of view, the narrator seems omniscient as he knows the rank of an officer to be “a captain.” From this point of view, the narrator might seem all-knowing because he knows details of peripheral characters, even details that don’t seem that important.

However, in this same passage there’s uncertainty about the roles of the sentinels. The narrator claims that it “did not appear to be the duty of these two men” to know about the hanging. Furthermore, there is some question as to the “civil life” of the sergeant. Importantly, a truly omniscient narrator, a literary entity that knows everything about the fiction he’s presiding over, wouldn’t have doubts about anything. Doubts are reflected in the passivity of the narrator’s claim when he said “did not appear” (my emphasis). Normal people talk like this when they aren’t sure of something so, at first glance, it’s a bit odd for a narrator that already seemed to know some trifling details to be un-authoritative on others.

In contrast, the final sentence of the quoted passage would best have been written: “These two men did not have a duty to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge,” if, in fact, that was true. An omniscient narrator that has doubts is absurd and this passage is part of the reason I see the third-person narrator as toggling in and out of the all-knowing state. You can call that “Stream of consciousness” narration if you want but I see it as contradictory and that type of narrating style simply legitimizing writings where an author may not be good enough to stay in mode.

That the third-person narrator in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” isn’t all knowing is clearer if more passages are looked at. But first, I want to show that the narrator has omniscience in some contexts. In the following passage, the narrator has access to the main character’s thoughts. It occurs near the end of Part I, where Farquhar is thinking about how to escape. The pronoun that starts the excerpt refers to Farquhar.

Having access to someone’s mind is either due to a first-person perspective (ie. access to your own mind) or an omniscient one. In this case, it must be the latter or else “he thought” would be written as “I thought.” From this excerpt, the narrator is clearly omniscient.

But then sticking with Part I, the narrator previously had described Farquhar as “apparently about thirty-five years of age.” The use of the word “apparently” is strange here. It’s as though the narrator is looking at Farquhar and offering an opinion on his age based on how he looks. Yet, if the narrator is omniscient, then Farquhar’s age could be stated with certainty.

If we imagine some kind of third-person narrator that’s not omniscient then the statement kind of makes sense but then how does this person know what Farquhar’s thinking so much? If the narrator is Farquhar then we’re into the Twilight Zone because it would mean a character in a story has overtaken the omniscient narration. But even then, you’d think an uppity man like Farquhar would know his own age. All that really follows is that the narrator is a little bit weird. Maybe Bierce wants to establish a narrator that doesn’t tell the whole story and/or isn’t immaculately credible.

Farquhar (Robert Enrico; also directed) as depicted in the short film based on the short story. This became a Twilight Zone episode. Check it out at IMDB.

Clearly, Bierce is using a narrator that, at least, holds back on the readers. That’s done most clearly in Part III where the narrator doesn’t divulge that Farquhar started to fantasize about an escape but simply allows us to believe he has genuinely escaped. Thus, the twist ending is dependent on the reader trusting the narrator to be comprehensive yet, as we’ve seen with some details, the narrator in this story is not.

If Bierce’s toggling in and out of omniscience is not deliberate then he could be viewed as a writer who isn’t of literary quality. It could mean that he doesn’t know how to employ an omniscient narrator properly or that he didn’t refine his work. If the toggling in and out of omniscience is to be viewed as deliberate, then we can look at why. Doing that, I submit, requires looking at Farquhar’s fantasy.

In the moments before he is executed, Farquhar, as presented by the not-so-omniscient narrator, escapes from the claws of death. The narrator allows us to believe that the rope broke when he was dropped from the bridge. A truthful narrator might instead state that Farquhar couldn’t face the stress of being executed via hanging so he fell into the world of illusion, which is actually what happens.

That the narrator isn’t square with the reader creates a bit of an Easter Egg hunt: we can look for clues that we’re watching something that sets up the twist ending. One big clue to the fact that there is deception going on is perhaps the mentioning of a snake.

When Farquhar seems to escape from his executioners, he falls into Owl Creek and a snake passes him in the water. Snakes are often a symbol of deception in literature, maybe because of their forked tongues or maybe because of the Garden of Eden as presented in the bible. A fox on the shore would have worked just as well as they, don’t ask me how, have a reputation as being tricky.

The snake isn’t the only clue that suggests that readers shouldn’t trust what’s going on. The title itself says “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (emphasis added). “An Occurrence” would be to focus on a single event and one that occurs at the single location, that being the bridge. This isn’t a short story that traverses the country side — it is bound to what happens on the bridge. It’s a tiny clue that anyone that buys into the story of escape of from that bridge is going outside the scope of the actual story.

Another Easter Egg just has to do with the head-scratching part of the fantasy-line plot where Farquhar manages to escape. In the fantasy line, Farquhar is actually dropped from the bridge to be hung. However, luck intervenes in his favor and the rope breaks.

If you actually know something of hangings, then you know this kind of luck is not actually incredibly fantastic. There are botched hangings in history so a breaking rope is not difficult to accept.

What’s hard to believe is that Farquhar got out of his predicament after he fell into the water below. He has a tightened rope around his neck, his hands are bound, and he is near the bottom of a shallow creek. Even if he avoids drowning, he would still have to avoid strangulation from the tight rope around his neck.

With this predicament, Bierce faces a challenge at this point. If Farquhar magically escapes from the bonds then the realism of the situation might not remain intact from the readers’ points of view. Yet, borderline magic is actually what is needed for Farquhar to live.

In order to save himself, for starters, he needs to free his hands. Mr. Bierce doesn’t make things difficult on himself at this point as author of this story. Instead, the following passage explains how Farquhar freed his bound hands while at the bottom of creek with a tight noose around his neck:

“What splendid effort!–what magnificent, what superhuman strength! Ah, that was a fine endeavor! Bravo! The cord fell away; his arms parted and floated upward, the hands dimly seen on each side in the growing light.”

If you ever write a short story and paint your protagonist into a corner then just write the crap in the first sentence to get him out of his spot: “What splendid effort!–what magnificent, what superhuman strength! Ah, that was a fine endeavor! Bravo!”

That Bierce might be a little bit weak here is one possibility. From another point of view, that Farquhar has done something so completely fake could be viewed as a clue that we’re reading something that is likewise fake. After all, “superhuman strength” could be something that belongs to the fantasist.

As the story carries on, we’re taken through Farquhar’s imaginary escape. This fantasy ends with a reunion with his wife.

Then, right at the very end of the story, Farquhar is back on the bridge and his neck breaks from being hung. It’s at this point that we learn that his escape didn’t actually occur in the story line and we’re left to conclude that we were party plot events that were nothing except the fantasy of the protagonist.

I don’t like the narration in this story. I think the so-called “Stream of consciousness” narration is for the weaker writer that can’t surmount the challenges that come with sticking to the conventions of either a first-person or third-person narration.

Yet, the inconsistencies in the story’s narration are probably best viewed as contributory to the story as opposed to goof-ups. For the thinking reader, catching the ‘omniscient’ narrator (remember — the narrator has access to the main character’s thoughts) not knowing stuff is a hint that that we can’t trust it, the narrator. Thus, Bierce has created a backdrop of quasi-narrative-goofs that allows us to accept the part where the narrator doesn’t let us into the know when it comes to revealing that Farquhar is a fantasist as opposed to a realist. This lines up well with a theme of the story: deception.

A more particular theme for the story could definitely be self-deception. From this point of view, Farquhar is facing something that’s too harsh to face — his imminent death. Anyone that is faced with something that one can’t confront might go a little bit crazy. The entire section of the story involving his escape can thus be viewed as the imaginations of someone who goes temporarily insane in order to avoid the mental anguish of reality.

There is definitely a lesson to be learned from this story, in fact, I think it’s one that’s very pertinent and for me it rescues the short story. Consider that Farquhar is able to live vicariously in a dream world, one where he is free and one where he is back at home with his wife. This dream ends when his neck breaks in the real world.

Mr. Ambrose to humanity: Don’t live in a bubble!

The lesson, then, is that you can live in a dream world only so long as the real world allows it. When Farquhar’s neck breaks, then fantasy time is over.

Thus, there is a good point to be made about not living in a bubble just because you find it more comfortable. It’s something that we might all note as we’re probably all a little guilty of comforting self-deception from time to time, whether in regard to trifles or important matters.

I would say that this short story is therefore on the didactic side. It’s certainly not as didactic as the literary writings of George Orwell but a point can be taken away from the reading, one that is valuable to life. I would also state that the point that can be extracted from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is relevant to all human cultures.

Don’t pretend a volcano won’t erupt just because you don’t want it to.

For a real-life example from history, we can imagine that some people who lived in Pompeii before the eruption of Vesuvius might have been happy where they lived and, because of this and only this, they ignored the warnings of the impending volcanic eruption. However, the dream world can’t be lived in when the real world kills you. Dreams of Vesuvius not erupting end when you get covered in lava because then Cather’s the picture-making mechanism stops working.

Scarlett O’Hara as depicted in film by Vivien Leigh in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind”

As for a literary comparison, let’s stick with the Civil War fiction. Scarlett O’Hara was a naive rich kid of the South who paid no attention to the news of the advancing army from the North. That ignorance kind of ran into a brick wall when she almost starved to death. Her character didn’t die but the boundaries of self-deception can still be explored: she could pretend all she wanted to but a lack of food in your stomach is such a strong dose of reality that it can only be bubble bursting.

Additionally, I think there is a real-life point for those that deny human-caused global warming to take note of. The dream world, the one where we can pollute the atmosphere and deforest the world with no side effects, could end if your section of the real world becomes uninhabitable. Better smarten up.

That Bierce has made a good point about the potential futility of living in a dream world can be taken away from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” I would say that a writer that creates work with a point that transcends his life by several generations is definitely worthwhile. However, I do think his narrative style is that of a lesser writer. The writer that feels as though he can toggle in and out of omniscience as needed is not as talented as the one’s that work within the confines of more rigid conventions.

What Bierce did

One writing technique that you can note from this story is that a tongue-in-cheek narrator can set up a twist ending.

  • Step one: use a narrator that appears to be authoritative, if not omniscient.
  • Step two: lie to the reader with it.
  • Step three: make a statement that emphatically contradicts the ‘omniscient’ narration when you want the twist employed.

What will result is a reader who is turned right around and that’s basically what the twist-ending is supposed to do.

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“Jack the Ripper” — Identity Conjecture Involving Literature Analysis

By: Shane Lambert

Students of the unsolved Whitechapel murders in London in 1888, murders that are commonly attributed to an unknown assailant named Jack the Ripper, will recognize the name Charles Lechmere. Now long dead, he was an individual who lived in the area of the murders at the time when the murders were committed. This he has in common with some thousands of people.

But he is considered a leading suspect in the murders by many in modern times because of circumstances that he does not have in common with any of his fellow Londoners. Lechmere’s incontrovertible connection to the Jack the Ripper mystery is that he was seen hovering over the body of one of the recently-murdered victims. This much has been ascertained about him.

Charles Lechmere. This photo was uncovered by Christer Holmgrem but the photographer is unknown.

Whether he was hovering over the body to have a look at it as an innocent passerby or whether he was admiring his work after killing the victim has been debated in modern times. In fact, Lechmere’s culpability in the Jack the Ripper murders was the subject of a documentary not too many years ago, a documentary that’s still on Youtube as of December 3rd, 2019. The documentary prominently features Swedish journalist Christer Holmgrem making his case that Lechmere was the infamous serial killer. The documentary was titled “Jack the Ripper – The Missing Evidence” (directors: Martin Pupp, Sam Taplin).

This link exits to IMDB’s page for the show.

Public domain photo. Mary Ann Nichols was found dead near this location, known as Buck’s Row.

Lechmere, back in 1888, was associated with the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, otherwise known as Polly Nichols. Lechmere’s own words on his relationship to her death is that he found the body. Certainly, this could be an on-the-spot lie and whether or not this is true is central to the Lechmere debate. It could be that Lechmere did find the body and then decided to hover over it. But it could also be that he didn’t really discover the dead body but created it himself, meaning he would be Jack the Ripper.

On this matter, one thing I will state is that if you discover a dead body in contemporary times, you’ll often need to be cleared of killing the person. This is something I’ve gleaned from reading literally hundreds of missing person’s reports and the affiliated articles over the years (I am an “Active Member” of websleuths.com and I have my own missing person’s blog). If the same kind of circumstances occurred in modern times then modern police would be very interested in Lechmere — this is something I am very confident in.

I don’t remember the documentary on Lechmere making this exact point, that modern police would be very interested in Lechmere because he discovered the body. However, “Jack the Ripper – The Missing Evidence” makes the following points:

  • Lechmere was seen hovering over a the dead body of a person that Jack the Ripper killed;
  • Lechmere gave a misleading name to police when he had to confront them;
  • His path to work would have brought him near many of the murders;
  • Other murders not on Lechmere’s route to work were located near the homes of his family members (and may have been committed on his days off);
  • There were logical holes in his story regarding the timing of finding the body;
  • Lechmere had a troubled upbringing like many serial killers.
A hot-air balloon.

None of the above individual points are all that enthralling. But so many Ripper suspects have ‘evidence’ against them that is complete hot air when looked at critically. The case against Lechmere is not full of hot air at all. It is conjecture but the conjecture is reasonable and intriguing.

For me, the elephant in the room with Lechmere is that he was seen hovering over the dead body of a known Ripper victim that was dead for a very short time. That’s more than just eyebrow raising, it does, in my opinion, make Lechmere the leading suspect. While we are only talking about an individual murder, once you figure out who committed one Ripper murder then you do figure out who committed them all.

Lechmere’s Short story connection

Chuck Lechmere? Or is it Charley Lechmere? Oh wait…that’s the late, maybe not-so-great, Charles Lechmere, otherwise known as a Jack The Ripper suspect.

At this point, I will remind you that this isn’t an unsolved mysteries website. It’s one that publishes short stories and offers commentary about historical ones. For the balance of this article, I’m going to look at a short work of fiction that just might pertain to Jack the Ripper, a short story that was written in the first person.

Back in February of 2018, I decided to plug Lechmere’s name into a historical newspaper database that I have a membership for (newspapers.com). I searched for “Charles Lechmere” to see how his name showed up in reporting from the 1880’s or just in general. 

My searches for Lechmere’s name were actually quite disappointing until I came across a short story with a protagonist named “Charley Lechmere.” “Charley,” as a variant of Charles, had largely evaded my keyword searching but I did find it at last, mainly because of another user’s tag.

What I’ve wondered is if the short story was written by someone who knew or suspected that Charles Lechmere committed the White Chapel Murders. Perhaps this writer, for fear of blow-back, chose to reveal his suspicions in an opaque way. Literature does allow you to imply things because, quite frankly, literature doesn’t have to be true.

Certainly, literature is full of indirect references as the events or characters that authors describe are so often metaphors for something else. The Big Bad Wolf, for example, is more like a pedophile lurking in the forest looking for a virgin to rape rather than an actual wolf. The story describes the dangers of the society it was written in but without the author explicitly treading onto topics that might cause him blow-back. Using metaphor, fiction writers can actually cloak what they are talking about while still talking about it.

Somewhat along these lines, I will argue that the short story I read, called “The Story of a Perversion,” represents the point of view of a man who feels a rage towards prostitutes. I believe this interpretation to be correct independent of any connection to Charles Lechmere or the Whitechapel murders of prostitutes in the summer/fall of 1888.

As far as the connection goes, readers should not expect a deductive and conclusive naming of Jack The Ripper in this publication: this is a site that analyzes and publishes short stories — and that’s not going to yield a smoking gun or bloody knife that can be tied to someone’s 130-year old DNA. I make no apologies for not being able to prove what I think, however, I do feel as though my analysis of “The Story of a Perversion” should be a part of Ripperology.

From June 15th, 1894’s The Westminster Budget

The story appears below and it is from Page 14 of June 15th, 1894’s The Westminster Budget, a publication from the Greater London Area. The readers of this article must read the short story before reading further. I uploaded it in five parts so that the font size made the words legible.

Fri, Jun 15, 1894 – Page 14 · The Westminster Budget (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com. No author mentioned.

Analysis of the story

Firstly, let’s look at the title: “The Story of a Perversion.” Perversion, with a Google search, is defined as “the alteration of something from its original course… of what was first intended.” So then the question then is what course is changed in this story? I will argue that the protagonist’s intentions towards women, or at least a singular woman, has altered in this work of short fiction.

The story tells of a man named Charley Lechmere. He is a man who is travelling within England when he meets a woman in a hotel, a woman that he finds agreeable. He wonders if his current trip might be a life-changing one because of this meeting: “Why,” the narrator asks, “should not my visit to Beachside begin a new era in my life? Who was this handsome girl?” 

With those statements, we see that the first intended course that Lechmere had for this woman was to fall for her charms and pursue a romantic relationship with her. However, the narrator then begins to reference something that he hates: advertisements. While enjoying the romantic atmosphere of the evening, the moon lights an advertisement outside and it bothers him while, conversely, the advertisement delights the woman. 

When this story is taken literally, then it’s one many of us might relate to. Advertisements might be something that a lot of us hate.

Do you want a billboard in front of this?

Who among us hasn’t felt that a cluster of billboards simply blocked some scenery and that it would be better if the billboards came down because of that? Who among us has not been annoyed by a television program that was loaded with just a few too many commercials?

In “The Story of a Perversion” the advertisements, which are for horseradish, are a major point of contention between Charley Lechmere and the woman. His hatred for the advertisements is such that he claims to have lobbied against them in a political forum. Meanwhile, the woman, who is named Hilda Horribell (sounds like “Hilda Horrible”) not only admires the advertisements but, in fact, she is actually the beneficiary of them. Her father owns the horseradish company whose product is featured. 

If you are sticking with a literal interpretation, then the short story has a twist ending. The man’s perversion is that he started with wanting to marry Hilda but then learned something about her he didn’t like. The title leads us to conclude that its his feelings for the woman that have changed route or become perverted.

The story could also be analyzed from another perspective, one that I will review quickly starting with a simple statement: newspapers sell ads. Accordingly, from a business perspective, it would be in The Westminster Budget’s interests to publish something that critiques the emergence of competing forms of advertisements.

Things like billboards and advertisements on the sides of buildings can certainly be viewed as an eye sore to many. But from a newspaper’s point of view, they are also a threat. Newspapers want those that would like to purchase advertising to use the columns along their articles — not public spaces. From this point of view, the publication of “The Story of a Perversion” is a tacit attack against non-print advertising.

However, a metaphorical interpretation could see advertising as a metaphor for prostitution. Before scoffing at that and dismissing it as an arbitrary connection, consider the following points.

We’ve all heard the saying “Sex sells” and certainly there are prostitutes on streets that try to be eye catching, just as advertisements are. This commonality between how prostitutes have to operate and how advertisements have to operate is significant in my opinion. Both prostitutes and advertisements need to stand out on the street in order to be effective.

Furthermore, both the hotel and the night-time setting do hint at prostitution in some ways to me. Prostitutes have been called “Ladies of the night” and hotels, if you’ll take the opinion of a former hotel manager (me), do have some clandestine activities in them from time to time (even the nice hotels).

From the point of view that advertising is actually a metaphor for prostitution, the man starts out interested in pursuing a relationship with Hilda. Their conversation could then be viewed as the man learning about her being a prostitute — something that changes him.

The man’s literal claim to be against advertisements would then metaphorically be taken to mean he is against prostitution. His political actions against the advertising industry could be taken to mean he has politically lobbied against the practice of prostitution.

In my view, the way advertisements are described in the story could be a description of prostitution in a major city or area where it was rampant. Consider the following statements which literally describe the advertisements in the story; however, instead try to understand “the thing” to be prostitution and not a billboard or sign. The following two paragraphs then read as though the man has bumped into a fair number of prostitutes as a traveler. He is politically opposed to prostitution and yet finds that he can’t escape it – and he blames prostitution (….or prostitutes) for ruining his vacation. 

From “The Story of a Perversion.”

The last statement, about the woman’s affinity for “the thing” reveals the changed course for the man. He loses his feelings for her and instead starts to hate her. That’s the “perversion” or changed course: he started out as a man who was interested in true romance with Hilda Horribell (also sounds like Whory Belle) but ended up a man who hated her.

In the final paragraphs, the narrator changes the wording of the slogan in the advertisement from “What is Life without Hope” to “What is Life without Love.” The last line of the short story, “And I am in the business,” is ambiguous but can’t really be read to mean that he’s in the horseradish business. It could be read to mean that he’s in the advertising business but it could conversely be read to mean that he’s in the business of “Life without Love.” That could be his lament at not finding romantic love in his life and the effect that it had on his soul. It is a very grim statement for him to make.

Getting back to Jack the Ripper

So who is a man that hated prostitutes in England at about the time of this story’s publication? Jack the Ripper is the best answer and real-life Charles Lechmere is a strong suspect for being Jack. It could be that the author of “The Story of a Perversion” believed Charles Lechmere to be a suspect and named him Charley Lechmere in this story as a reference. Maybe this short story is an Easter Egg that Ripperologists were supposed to find.

For those that think that Charles Lechmere was Jack the Ripper, “A Story of Perversion” should be intriguing. That’s because it’s a story that tells the tale of one Charley Lechmere, a man who changes from an adoring suitor to someone much more bitter. What causes that bitterness? Something as trivial as advertisements if you take the plot literally. But, in this case, I think a literal translation might be shallow.

I think prostitution is between the lines in the story based on the setting at a night-time hotel and based on the fact that prostitution ran rampant in England at this period in history — as rampant as the advertisements so described in the story. I think that the content of the short story reveals growing animosity within the protagonist toward Hilda, who could be viewed as a representation of all prostitutes. Could be that’s got something to do with one Charles Lechmere, a historical figure with a strong circumstantial case against him for killing prostitutes.

It’s a weird coincidence to say the least.

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“We So Seldom Look on Love” – Barbara Gowdy Kept it Weird

Author: Shane Lambert

Necrophilia is a mental disorder characterized by sexual attraction that is felt toward the dead. It has a little bit of a tradition in literature, perhaps most famously represented in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” a poem where acts of necrophilia are implied. As far as clear representation goes, it was a major part of Barbara Gowdy’s short fiction, a Canadian author who often wrote about characters that were unusual to say the least.

Gowdy’s characters in her fiction included a mutant who had an extra pair of legs coming out of her torso. She also told a story of a set of Siamese twins, only one of which was born with control of ‘their’ limbs. He eventually attempts to use this advantage to kill the other.

If that strikes you as a bit odd, then note that bizarre characters were the flavor of the day with Gowdy — and why not? It doesn’t make her any less of a writer to use the bizarre to capture people’s attention. Her work might be called disturbing for some but then whose to blame for that? If the market is attracted to tales of twisted and strange people, then authors will have to bend that. It’s not surprising that her best known work of fiction focuses on a necrophiliac — a necro that had a bit of twist if we look into the history of necrophilia.

Necrophiliacs are usually, if not always, males, which kind of makes sense when you think about the nature of sex. An aroused male could penetrate a dead corpse but it’s hard to picture a woman giving a dead man an erection.

Returning to “Annabel Lee,” Poe’s poem, the necrophiliac was a male. The poem tells of a man and woman who are in love before the woman dies. Her high-class kinsmen then entomb her in a “sepulchre,” an old word meaning a small room where a dead body is laid to rest. That the male in the poem is a necrophiliac is suggested in the final stanza.

“For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea —
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”

Read the full poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe

He says he lies “down by the side” of Annabel Lee which isn’t exactly mounting her. However, “(feeling) the bright eyes” does suggest a mounting position, I think. In general, this poem has been taken to describe necrophilia.

Does that make Poe a weirdo? One “Princess George” of Greece actually argued that Poe himself was a necrophiliac after performing a psychoanalysis of his work. That’s according to a short article I found in the August 6th, 1933 edition of The Birmingham News (page 24; no author of the article listed).

I’m not sure I would put much faith in psychoanalysis to be honest, especially when the analysis involves reading fiction which often needs characters that add shock value in order to be of interest to the public. However, if you want to digress for a moment, you can read the article below for whatever you think its worth. Personally, I think it’s good for nothing but a laugh.

Ted Bundy.

Real-life and known necrophiliacs are less poetic. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the deeds of Ted Bundy that he was a necrophiliac. Other American serial killers also committed the act, including Edmund Kemper, Earle Nelson, and Gary Ridgway — all male necrophiliacs, of course, for the obvious reason already stated.

In “We So Seldom Look on Love,” Gowdy’s best known work, the protagonist necrophiliac is a woman. Perhaps that could only happen in a work of fiction.

In doing research for this blog post, I did find one possible female necrophiliac in history. Alleged murderer Louise Vermilya is listed among the necrophiliacs at Wikipedia.

However, her description there says she liked washing dead bodies which might be sexual but that’s not quite the same as the weirdo in “We So Seldom Look on Love,” a woman who devises a way to give dead men erections and then mounts them. In the newspaper articles I read of Vermilya, I found no reference to her being a necrophiliac. If anything, she may have been a murderer but the last article I read on her states that she was let go, perhaps for lack of evidence.

Quad-City Times, April 18th, 1915. Page 1.

In “We So Seldom Look on Love,” the fictional female-necrophiliac works in a funeral home, one where she has concocted a way to give dead men erections using a fluid in a syringe. Whether that’s creative writing or whether it would actually work isn’t a matter I know of. However, a character that is weird enough to be a necrophiliac is going to grab some attention, even if the character is a male. That the protagonist in “We So Seldom Look on Love” is unique among necrophiliacs due to her female sex makes the story doubly-intriguing.

How she commits her acts, I’ve spoiled. But why she does it, when she’s so pretty and could score easily, is a different matter. I won’t spoil this but, for me, the short story was a memorable one. I would say that “We So Seldom Look on Love” is not to be missed.

Are hitchhikers weird? What about the people that pick them up? Check out another short story where a hitchhiker and driver seem to be in a battle of wits.