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We are coming up on the Yule season and that means ornamental conifers!  As I was putting up my traditional tree of many animals, it occurred to me to see if there were any spooky Gothic-themed Christmas trees.  And, oh indeed…there are so many Gothic themed trees and ornaments out there!

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Although at first these dark trees might sit wrongly with traditionally minded revelers, a moment of thought will reveal that Gothic trees are quite appropriate!  Not only is the Christmas tree an ornament for the darkest & hardest time of year (Winter Solstice) it is also an ancient relic of pre-Christian Europe when pagan folk venerated trees.   Furthermore the idea of Christmas trees, like the ancient Goths themselves, originated in Germany and Scandinavia.  For years, pundits have been worrying what happens when marketers put up their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier. Maybe this is what happens: a reversion to druidic darkness.

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Here are some Gothic trees—some are “goth” in the modern punk rock sense, while others are pagan, macabre, ironically twisted, or just winsomely slender.  In case this is making you anxious, it’s all in seasonal fun!  Also I threw in some beautiful Gothic-revival Christmas trees to evoke feelings of Victorian opulence!   Enjoy the gallery and the holiday season (but don’t worry, we’ll have more appropriate seasonal fare next week).

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Eek!  I mean...cool crystal thing!

What a cool crystal thing!

Gothic Revival Christmas!

Gothic Revival Christmas!

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I guess, it's sort of spooky...

I guess, it’s sort of spooky…

This one might be slightly photoshopped--although cats do love Christmas trees!

This one might be slightly photoshopped–although cats do love Christmas trees!

What?

What?

Dammit, there isn't even a tree in this! Is anyone paying attention?

Dammit, there isn’t even a tree in this! Is anyone paying attention?

Traditional Victorian Gothic Revival

Traditional Victorian Gothic Revival

Skinny Christmas Tree

wchristmastree-5tumblr_mxwuwe2NJR1svgz44o3_500And Here’s a really good one for the dramatic conclusion.  It has a touch of the cosmic–and it’s also a shout-out to tree worshipers everywhere).

 

 

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Spider Gate to Hoveton Hall Gardens

Spider Gate to Hoveton Hall Gardens

There are few images as powerful and straightforward as a door.  Doors represent change and transition —when one steps across the threshold one has literally moved on from one place to another.  This apparently simple purpose of doors has a deeper metaphorical aspect as well: a pauper daily walks by the gates of the palace but they do not open for him; a baby is carried out of the hospital into the world; an inmate is dragged into a prison and is held there by the portcullis.  The most dramatic doors are huge operatic gates which represent significant transition.  These magnificent structures tend to be found outside palaces, parks, insane asylums, and cemeteries, but sometimes they seem to have no purpose at all…

An ornate gate outside St. Petersburg, Russia

An ornate gate outside St. Petersburg, Russia

As we approach Halloween—the one night of the year when the doors between this world and the next are thrown open (well, according to myth anyway), it is appropriate to celebrate the  foreboding gates in our world. Below is a gallery of magnificent gates–not all are truly gothic (a few images of non-gothic gates were too good to pass up) but they are all affecting and impressive.

University of Chicago: Cobb Gate

University of Chicago: Cobb Gate

Town Gate at Suakin (Anthony Ham)

Town Gate at Suakin (Anthony Ham)

Gatehouse at Ballysaggartmore

Gatehouse at Ballysaggartmore

Gate to Chirk Castle, Wales

Gate to Chirk Castle, Wales

Crown Hill Cemetery Gate

Crown Hill Cemetery Gate

Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston

Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston

Unknown Gate

Unknown Gate

Private Modern Gate

Private Modern Gate

Gothic gate in old park in Taitsy

Gothic gate in old park in Taitsy

Gate Lodge to Annesgrove Gardens

Gate Lodge to Annesgrove Gardens

Gate to Fort Canning Green, Singapore

Gate to Fort Canning Green, Singapore

Gate to Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Gate to Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Gate to Hood Cemetery, Philadelphia

Gate to Hood Cemetery, Philadelphia

Neubrandenburg Town Gate

Neubrandenburg Town Gate

A rich person's iron gate

A rich person’s iron gate

Mount Royal Cemetery , Montreal

Mount Royal Cemetery , Montreal

Unknown Abandoned Gate

Unknown Abandoned Gate

Gate at Oxford University

Gate at Oxford University

Gate to Walled City of Rothenburg

Gate to Walled City of Rothenburg

Steven King standing at the gate of his house in Bangor Maine

Stephen King standing at the gate of his house in Bangor Maine

Traverse City Insane Asylum, Michigan

Traverse City Insane Asylum, Michigan

In an ongoing overview of the many different concepts of the word “gothic” we come to gothic horror fiction.  This school of writing burst into popularity in 1764, with the publication of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpool and, since that time, gothic fiction has only tightened its grip on the public imagination.  The influence of the style is immense.  Scroll across a smattering of the prominent examples from the Wikipedia page to contemplate the debt we owe the eighteenth century authors who originated the gothic story.  From the foremost figures of literature like Edgar Allen Poe, Victor Hugo, and William Faulkner to sensationalist hacks like Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephen King, and William Faulkner, authors have slavishly returned to Walpool’s template.   

The elements of Walpool’s work will be instantly familiar to anyone who reads for pleasure (or indeed has access to moving pictures or a television set).  The characters are larger-than-life stereotypes who roam through gloomy castles filled with magical portents, apparitions, frightful medieval torture devices, and monsters (both human and inhuman).   

As an early Halloween treat here is a ghastly and baffling passage from Walpool’s The Castle of Otranto.  By quoting only from the first paragraphs of the first chapter, I have tied not to give anything away [if you want to read the entire book on your own, however, consider this a spoiler alert].  The main character of the book, Prince Manfred, an imperious and impatient nobleman has been interrupted on the day his weakling son Conrad is to wed the lovely Isabella. This interruption takes the form of an immense helmet which has mysteriously fallen from heaven and crushed Conrad to a pulp! The terrible event is made all the more ominous (if such a thing is possible) by a prophecy that the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from Manfred’s line, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.  The passage begins as Manfred rushes outside to find out where his son is and why his servants are behaving strangely:   

The first thing that struck Manfred’s eyes was a group of his servants endeavouring to raise something that appeared to him a mountain of sable plumes.  He gazed without believing his sight.

“What are ye doing?” cried Manfred, wrathfully; “where is my son?”

A volley of voices replied, “Oh! my Lord! the Prince! the Prince! the helmet! the helmet!”

Shocked with these lamentable sounds, and dreading he knew not what, he advanced hastily, – but what a sight for a father’s eyes! – he beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an enormous helmet, an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers.

The horror of the spectacle, the ignorance of all around how this misfortune had happened, and above all, the tremendous phenomenon before him, took away the Prince’s speech.  Yet his silence lasted longer than even grief could occasion.  He fixed his eyes on what he wished in vain to believe a vision; and seemed less attentive to his loss, than buried in meditation on the stupendous object that had occasioned it.  He touched, he examined the fatal casque; nor could even the bleeding mangled remains of the young Prince divert the eyes of Manfred from the portent before him.

Walpool’s over-the top melodrama edges toward dreadful parody (a hallmark of gothic fiction ever since).  Even the saturnine and glowering prince is overshadowed by random supernatural forces. 

Horace Walpool drew his writing inspiration from his dilettante’s interest in antiquities and from gothic architecture, which he loved.  He took particular inspiration from the picturesque ruins of the great abbeys of England (dissolved by Henry VIII) and from Westminster Abbey. In addition to inventing gothic fiction, he repopularized gothic architecture by building a new country house for himself on the outskirts of London which he named “Strawberry Hill”.  The strange confabulation of turrets, towers, and hallways was instantly famous.  It defined a style unto itself  “rococo gothic” which left its indelible mark on the gothic revival craze which was to sweep Great Britain and the United States a generation later.

Strawberry Hill, the "Rococo Gothic" home which Walpool commissioned

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