Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mixing Fact and Fancy in The House of Usher

Roderick & Standing Stone
Location: Usher Graveyard

In building the simulation for Fall 2011 and my group of students in the English course "Invented Worlds," I decided that I'd use both Poe's story and the history of North Yorkshire as templates to expand the House of Usher tale.

After all, Poe's own works are full of intertextuality.

Playing off my knowledge of North Yorkshire, from a prolonged stay in 2009, I have begun adding local color.

I only wish that the village of Ravenscar, near Dracula-haunted Whitby, had that name in 1847, when we decided to set our simulation. That date lets us bring onto the scene a few new anesthetics that might explain Madeline Usher's malady.

Or might not. One goal of the simulation, as in a good Poe tale, is to keep characters guessing at motives and forces at work behind the scenes--human and, perhaps, supernatural. When, in setting out free content, I discovered several standing stones, I had a new subplot not available to us in the Second Life simulation, where the House was everything and any grounds beyond it were merely suppositions. Thus students may run across this letter to Roderick in the course of their visit:

My Dear Lord Usher,

I really do think that you have been overwrought by the decline in Madeline's health. It would be terrible to fall prey to ancient superstitions about the righteous souls who pulled down the heathen stone ring to build the Usher graveyard.

The stones are, of course, of great antiquity and any cultists who may have celebrated dark rites in their precinct have long vanished before the light of true wisdom and the power of our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

I have, however, endeavoured to look through our parish records, as you requested. The stones, it seems, were somewhat dispersed as early as the 15th century, and during the time of the Godly Protectorate your ancestor Mandrake Usher, who had fought alongside Cromwell, was noted by my predecessor as "scattering to the four winds the bits of Satanic filth and other such from the grounds of the ancestral castle."

Thus we have an answer. At some time in the early 17th century, any remaining ring of stones was taken down, and rightly so, by your family.

I remain, Sir, your humble and obedient servant,

Giles Rammage, Minister, St. Stephen's Chapel, Robin Hood's Bay

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