The following is Part Two of a five-part series of Jesse Teller’s reviews for the modern classic, Penny Dreadfuls. Each Monday we will spotlight a new installment of the series.
Sometimes it is not what you learn, but where you learn it that has the greatest effect. Learn to paint from a friend, you can make a picture. Learn to paint from a master, you can make a work of art.
Well, a lot of my friends are masters. A lot of the people in my life are fantastic writers. But I am trying, with my work, to create something different, so I have chosen a different teacher. I most often do not read my contemporaries. Most times I do not read modern fantasy because I do not wish to sound like others you will read. I could reach into so many modern novels and pull out quality, but I choose to seek knowledge in another place. I read classics, attempt to improve my work by reading the old masters. And this has brought me to the book Penny Dreadfuls.
There are five installments in this review series. This book is filled with so many great works of art that to try to fit the full picture in one review cannot really be done. So here I will look at the collection and focus on the second installment, a story called Sawney Beane: The Man Eater, by Charles Whitehead. I will rate this story four stars.
I had never heard of this one. It is about a man named Sawney Beane who murders travelers along a certain stretch of road. He attacks carriages and kills everyone in them. He then drags them back to his lair, a cave in a nearby cliff, and eats them.
Sawney has a wife and, soon, children. Those children breed with one another and have inbred children of their own.
Still the killing and still more inbreeding. This is all found out after a few generations have been born, and Sawney and his brood are brought to justice. It is a bloody and disturbing tale, and led to one cosmic coincidence I will never forget, one that may happen to another if they read classic literature and happen to read a novel I wrote years ago called Liefdom.
Have you ever heard of Sawney? I hadn’t. I found this collection one night at Barnes and Noble, and began to quickly devour it. I read on a schedule. Three hours at night when I am not writing, I will read, and that night those three hours ended after Sawney. As I said, I was not writing. So, my reading shift complete, I went to Netflix to watch a few episodes of a show I was into called Attack on Titan.
Attack on Titan is an anime I had been told I must watch, and after a few episodes, I loved it. The night I read Sawney Beane: the Man Eater I walked to my desk and began to watch the show. It is about a land where titans exist. They are largely mindless, and they kill and eat anything human they find. The humans have built great cities with huge walls that protect them from these flesh-eating titans, and after the wall is damaged on a major city, madness and death occur.
That night, fifteen minutes after I had read Sawney Beane, I found myself in front of the computer watching Attack on Titan. The episode I was watching featured an outpost beyond the walls of the city where humans were doing experiments on titans they had captured. Two titans were bound to the ground, and the doctor in charge of testing them had named them.
She had named one Sawney and the other Beane.
The reference was so obscure, the fact that I had just read the almost-forgotten story so random, that it took my breath away. Here was a truly cosmic coincidence.
Fifteen minutes separated me reading the book and watching the show. The experiences that had to occur to line those two things up so well was mindboggling. I had to buy the book on the right day, had to start the show on the right day, and watch the exact amount of episodes before I got to that story in a collection. The threads that had to touch in order for this to happen were beyond my comprehension. Yet, here we are.
And it just might happen to any one of you, if you find yourself reading classics and then pick up Liefdom.
In Liefdom, there is a section of the book where the fairy Gentry Mandrake has to travel to the Land of the Raptors, or birds of prey, to get information. He finds himself before the King of the Raptors, a kite named Chil. Later he finds himself in the kingdom of the bats and hovering before the King of the Night Stalkers, named Mang.
Both of these characters are taken from a poem in a famous classic called The Jungle Books written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. I am a huge Jungle Books fan. There are stories like the one about the White Seal, or the Elephant King, that have rocked the very foundation of my mind. There is no character I love in literature as much as Ka the Anaconda, and I will forever read that collection of shorts. I will make my sons read them, too, when they come of an age when they can appreciate them.
At one point, I was not sure if The Jungle Books was public domain yet, so I changed the names. About ten books were sold where the two names are changed. They are collector’s items and will one day be sought after.
Sawney Beane being referenced in an anime about man-eating titans is very cool, in my opinion. Those two dots connecting on the same night, fifteen minutes apart, is mind-blowing. The idea that the same thing might one day happen when a reader finds their way out of the jungles of Kipling and walks into Liefdom gives me a thrill.
Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to understanding the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.
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