Erin Palmer – Skeletal Prayer (16 April 2020)
Hey folks, what’s up? It’s been a little while since we’ve done this! Around four months since the last time I wrote about anything on this website, and almost four YEARS since I shared a book recommendation with you all.
If you’re thinking that this is chiefly a place to talk about music, you are correct. Usually my purpose here is to let you know about something I’ve heard that I thought was worth sharing. And yeah, I do have a to-do list of hundreds of albums dating back nearly the entire lifetime of this site — not to mention the dozens of new emails coming in every single day.
But sometimes it’s tough to fit in some quality listening time throughout the day, especially critical listening and then writing about what I’m listening to. There are conference call meetings at work, tv shows and movies to watch after work, just so many different things vying for attention…
Ok, yeah, you’ve caught me. These are all just lame excuses. The truth is, a few months back my company hooked us all up with free access to an online learning service, and I have become absolutely addicted. So far, I think I’ve watched about 400 hours worth of productivity and time management videos. Things haven’t really improved much yet, but I’ll keep watching them until I find one that helps!
But having said that, one of my goals for myself in 2021 has been to spend more time reading. And while much of that has been some pretty weighty material — about scientific studies and social theories and various other subjects relevant to my interests — occasionally it’s also nice to break things up with some less-serious stuff…
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…Which brings me to Skeletal Prayer, a collection of suspense/horror/occult tales that came to my attention through somebody in my little circle of metal music acquaintances online. I picked up a copy back in the early spring, and found the short narrative structure to be ideal for filling in little spaces of time throughout the months that followed.
In any description of this book, it’s hard to escape mentions of H.P. Lovecraft: Amazon recommends it “for fans of” Mr. Howard Phillips, while most customer reviews and comments will also make that comparison at some point. I guess it’s not unexpected when you’re dealing with fiction of the dark and supernatural sort — and in particular, there are a few spots clearly intended as a bit of tribute to the early 20th century author, like the trope where the protagonist finally comes face to face with the scary thing after the suspense has been building up to this encounter for many pages, but instead of providing a detailed description for the reader, it turns out that the scary thing is so scary that the character is instantly driven insane.
Surely an aspect of Ms. Palmer’s compilation that will also appeal to those who follow the “Cthulhu Mythos” would be its varied historical settings. These include a medieval monastery, a torture chamber during the Inquisition, the author’s home state of Kentucky as white colonizers first began populating the area, and the battlefields of the American Civil War. But some of these sketches inhabit our modern world: one opens on a troubled college student passing the time by watching Netflix, while another includes a family calling a neighbor’s cell phone for help when their house turns out to be haunted.
However, one chief distinction between these stories and those of Lovecraft (as well as many other widely-beloved writers, unfortunately) is that here we have an utter lack of xenophobia or ethnocentrism. Perhaps this could be a byproduct of the work of a gay, trans author, but it seems more likely due to the writer just being a decent human being who doesn’t support or agree with Nazi philosophies, which becomes evident in some of the morality displayed here. Although some of the characters simply find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as the just-mentioned family who had the misfortune of moving into a place with such deep-rooted evil that even the ghosts are afraid, as well as a few other cases where there’s some force at work so ancient and so powerful that it predates and surpasses any entity or deity from the more familiar human religions. More often, though, there are karmic elements to the outcomes — people who attempt to control powers beyond their understanding winding up with the consequences of tampering in God’s domain, for example.
And quite memorably, one of the tales focuses on the early American settlers’ ill treatment of the land’s original occupants, and their enslavement of African people. Whereas many stories have tragic endings, or at least an uneasy Jedi-like balance where the evil entity cannot be destroyed but can be held at bay “for now,” well … let’s just say that in this particular instance the contrast between the denouement for the narrator who firmly believed the concept “that all men are created equal” should be taken as literal truth, versus that of his contemporaries who thought nothing of regarding fellow men as subhuman, makes for quite a pleasant conclusion indeed.
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Download your own copy of Skeletal Prayer (for a very reasonable price!) right here.
Follow Erin on Twitter, and while you’re at it, check out some of her various musical projects; each one its own flavor of raw and unadulterated black metal, and each sounding every bit as terrifying as any of the stories collected here!
Dread Maw (Bandcamp)
Rage of Devils (Bandcamp)
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