Lately, I have been focusing more on novel related things. Sorry about that to all of us out there who enjoy more than one form of literature. To make it up to you all, I want to talk a bit about short stories.
What’s so good about short stories? There are those who prefer longer forms and that is okay but short stories are gems. They can be told quickly and used for all kinds of reasons. There are short stories used as cautionary tales such, some are used for teaching and others exist simply for art’s sake. Think of the folklore collected by the Grimm brothers and written down. Those stories, although we may think them dark, were often told to children in order to teach them morals. Have you ever red “Snow White and Rose Red?” It is the story of two sisters who are taught to be kind, even to those others would fear. It also shows how there are some people in the world that will never be thankful no matter how much kindness is shown them. All that in just a few thousand words.
Professors and critics sometimes fail to recognize the magnitude of short stories and how amazing their writers have to be. A short story takes you on an entire journey, as do novels and screenplays and dramas but in less time. Props to short story writers because they have to create entire worlds, plots and believable characters within a few pages! And yes, you may not know the protagonist’s favorite food or his entire backstory but the dialogue and narration you do get makes up for it, the situation is plausible even if the main conflict is way out there.
Now, I have loved many short stories but I will share with you three of my favorites.
“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez
Now there aren’t many who haven’t at least heard of this amazing speculative fiction author. He completely reinvented magical realism for the written word and did so magnificently. This tale is about an old man who lands on a farm. The strange thing about this decrepit looking man is that he has wings. They aren’t white and shiny but they are the wings of a buzzard. The family whose property he landed on decide to make him into a spectacle, charging friends and neighbors a fee to see the supposed angel. The funny thing about this is that after a while, even an ancient man with giant wings becomes normal.
“The Screaming Skull” by F. Marion Crawford
I confess that I have not read much by Crawford but I really enjoyed this piece. As the title states, it is about a screaming skull. Who’s skull? The skull of a woman named Mrs. Pratt. Who may or may not have been murdered by her husband with the accidental aid of the narrator. Seems a bit much? It won’t seem that way when you read it. After a few incidents, the narrator moves into the house of his recently deceased friend Mr. Pratt. We go through his thoughts as he discovers what happened that night and what is making that awful din that prevents him from sleeping every night. This short story definitely could inspire a couple nightmares and that’s the fun of it, at least for me. Some of my best ideas come from my nightmares, haha.
“Hop-Frog” by Edgar Allan Poe
“Hop-Frog” isn’t dreary or as downcast as what Poe is most known for. The short story takes place in a court of a king who loves to joke. Hop-Frog was a crippled dwarf and the king made him into his jester. We never learn Hop-Frog’s real name but that isn’t important. What is important is what Hop-Frog thinks of his position. The narrator tells of the king throwing a masquerade and Hop-Frog and his friend Trippetta work to make the king laugh but they also ensure they have the last laugh. I love this short story because it is interesting and funny in that sort of “That’s what you get!” kind of way.
Why do short stories often get the short end of the stick? I think it comes from a sense that short stories are somehow less canon-worthy than novels. A prejudice against short forms! It is true that you won’t always be able to historicize or critique as much with a short story than you can with a longer form but they are still valuable. Short stories are often seen more as entertainment and less as a literary value, thanks to what some in the business call the literati. But it is the same literati that believed the canon can’t have women or people of color. Additionally, when a novel wins an award, it is posted everywhere and although there are awards for short stories, they are not as well-known. Short stories have to be found unlike novels that are publicized and marketed in emails, stores, social media, newspapers and literary magazines. For someone to find a great story they have to either have sought it out or been led to it by someone else.
A great short story can be even more memorable than the lengthiest novel. Think about it, is there one short story that sticks in your head? One that you haven’t read for years? My love of the macabre calls to mind Edgar Allan Poe and the Brothers Grimm but there are plenty of short stories I’ve read that still stick with me such as “The Howling Man” by Charles Beaumont. All I can tell you about this story is that it makes you question what is right. For those who have never heard of Beaumont, he was an amazing horror writer who mainly wrote speculative fiction. I definitely think he is worth the Google search.
Have you ever read one of my top three short stories? What is your favorite short story? Let me know down below and make sure to follow for more bookish content! Oh, and follow me on Instagram @chyina_powell.