Today I’m back with a few more gothic tales that inspired Nevermore. I think the previous one of these was my most popular post, and I hope you enjoy this one just as much. As I did the last time, I’ll give a brief summary of the story in question and then explore some thoughts on how it could be used in Nevermore.

A warning before reading further. The short summary of each of the stories mentioned could spoil the mystery for future reading. Continue at your own peril.

The Romance of Certain Old Clothes

By Henry James

This story begins with two beautiful sisters, Perdita and Rosalind, vying for the attention of the wealthy and dashing Arthur Lloyd. It is Perdita who wins the contest, and the two of them are soon wed. Rosalind vows to support the two no matter what and keeps her jealousy well hidden.

Some months later, Mr. Lloyd leaves his now pregnant bride behind and goes off to attend a wedding. There, he and Rosalind meet once more. (I’ll leave it to your imagination how this goes, dear reader.) Arthur then receives a message that Perdita has given birth to a daughter but her health is failing and so he rushes home to be with his wife.

Perdita is angered that Arthur was with her sister on the day she gave birth. Fearing that the two of them will marry once she has passed she makes him promise to preserve the expensive gowns that she had set aside in a chest for her daughter. Arthur swears to do just that and Perdita dies.

Some time after Perdita’s death, Rosalind and Arthur do marry, but a series of misfortunes follow, leaving them broke and Rosalind unable to bear children. Rosalind insists they open the chest that her sister set aside, knowing that the dresses would be of value. Arthur resists at first but finally gives in and gives her the key to the lock.

That evening when Rosalind does not come to dinner, Arthur climbs up to the attic where the trunk is stored to look for her. (Nothing good ever happens in attics in gothic horror stories). There he finds Rosalind dead. She is still on her knees, with tend hideous wounds from ghostly hands on her body.

Even if you haven’t read the story, you might recognize some of this from the TV limited series The Haunting of Bly Manor by Mike Flanagan. The series combines this story and another story by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (which I’ll certainly be discussing in a later post).

Tales of gothic horror are rife with jealousy and vengeance. In a Nevermore story, this could take the form of anything of value or perceived value. In fact, those who have played in Nevermore playtests might recognize this theme. It was especially prevalent in The Hound of Litchfield. Angry ghosts might return to exact vengeance on anyone perceived to be involved with the theft of a cherished item, especially if the theft involved murder. Or a witch or warlock might perform a ritual to punish the thieves. Such a ritual might go awry and maybe others start dying as a result. The possibilities here are nearly endless.


By Edith Wharton

Although this story takes place in England, the author is American, so I include it here. In this gothic tale, a nouveau riche couple, Mary and Ned Boyne, purchase a country manor called Lyng to live out their life of leisure. One of the requirements of their purchase was that it be haunted. And indeed, Lyng was said to be haunted, although legend had it that the inhabitants of Lyng don’t know they’ve encountered a ghost until long afterwards.

Not long after moving in, Mary discovers a hidden stairway that leads to a balcony on the roof. One evening while she and Ned stood on the ledge, admiring the beautiful landscape, a stranger appeared on the lane to their home. Mary notices that Ned seems confused and suddenly flees. She gave it no mind assuming it was a tradesman Ned was doing business with.

Later that year, in December, Mary again sees a man on the lane, which she believes at first to be a ghost. It turns out only to be her husband. That evening, with ghosts on her mind, she asks Ned if he has seen a ghost, and he says he has not. When opening her mail, she finds a letter that contains a news clipping about a lawsuit that has been brought against Ned’s businesses. Ned dismisses it, claiming that the suit had been withdrawn.

The next day Mary finds Ned in good cheer, which invigorates her as well. While puttering in her garden, a stranger approaches and asks for her husband, and she directs him to the library where he is working. Later that evening she learns that Ned left with the stranger without saying goodbye. She feels a sense of dread at his absence and begins looking for clues as to why he may have so suddenly departed. She finds a strange note to a man named Parvis that speaks of the death of a man named Elwell, but nothing else.

The police search for Ned but to no avail. She begins to believe that the house itself is an accomplice in her husband’s disappearance. Parvis and Mary meet, and he tells her of unfortunate events at Ned’s mining operation. She sees a picture of Elwell, whose life had been destroyed by a bad business deal and puts events together. The legend had come to pass, and the ghost of Lyng had taken Ned.

There’s certainly a lot to unpack here: an old, dilapidated house, hidden stairwells, a brooding businessman, murder or suicide, and of course… a ghost. So how would this be used for the inspiration of a Nevermore tale? After all, there isn’t a lot of action. Well, first, not every Nevermore story needs be full of action. In fact, it is likely that the larger part of most stories will involve a lot of investigation and social interaction. Often, the action comes at the end, during a final confrontation with an aethyric horror.

So, how to use this story? The setting itself is an excellent start. Old, dilapidated houses in the middle of nowhere are a mainstay of gothic fiction. In a Nevermore tale, perhaps the house itself is the horror. Maybe Mary was right in that the house was an accomplice. Perhaps there are other hidden corridors that lead to secret rooms where unspeakable acts were committed long ago. The ghosts of those wronged may linger still, and it might be that they perceive any who live there as those who harmed them in the past. Or perhaps they are jealous of the living and seek to do them harm. Ghosts or spirits could lead those who follow them into precarious situations such as through an open window that appears as a door. Or perhaps out into the wildness where they become lost in a blizzard or led to a dangerous cliff….

I went on at quite a length for both of these, so I will leave it at two this time. Have no fear, I’ll return soon with a few more tales of gothic horror to discuss. Until next time….

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