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My Writing Journey

Gilles de Rais: The Real Bluebeard?

(Painting by Éloi Firmin Féron – 1835)

Gilles de Rais: The Real Bluebeard?

Charles Perrault, known as “The Father of Fairy Tales,” wrote many well-known stories in the 17th century that are still popular today. Cinderella still endures as a romantic tribute to young girls everywhere who dream of finding their own true love. Perrault did not invent the story, however, because he based all of his stories on known folktales and legends. The story is based on Strabo’s account of the Greek slave girl, Rhodopis, whose sandal was stolen by an eagle and dropped in the presence of the Egyptian pharaoh. The pharaoh was so enthralled by this experience, he ordered his servants to hunt down its owner. Rhodopis, located in the city of Naucratis, ultimately married the pharaoh. The reader is left believing that it was a happy marriage based on circumstances that “magically” brought the couple together. Today, we would call this a story about two soul mates who happily found each other.

Perrault’s darkest story was La Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard) which still horrifies young readers today. And, of course, readers want to know who the real-life Bluebeard could have been. Most scholars believe that the real model for Bluebeard was the legendary French nobleman, Gilles de Rais, who lived in the 15th century.

Born into the House of Montmorency-Laval around 1405 at Champtocé-sur-Loire in Anjou, France, Gilles de Rais became orphaned when both of his parents died in 1415. He and his brother then came under the control of their maternal grandfather, Jean de Craon, who was a great schemer and sought to marry Gilles off to a wealthy heiress while still a child. His schemes did not work out until Gilles kidnapped and married his heiress cousin, Catherine de Thouars of Brittany, on November 30, 1420. The couple welcomed a daughter, Marie, around 1433.

Gilles enjoyed an illustrious career in the military and served his country well during the Hundred Years’ War. He fought alongside the Maid of Orléans, Joan of Arc, serving as her personal protector during battle. As a reward, he was appointed Marshal of France in 1429. Gilles was reportedly fascinated by this fierce young girl who could hear the voice of God. After she was condemned and burned at the stake in 1431, his military career began to wind down, and he officially retired around 1435.

Retirement brought out the dark and reckless side of Gilles’ nature. He squandered his money on building the Chapel of the Holy Innocents and producing a lavish theatrical production called Le Mystère du Siège d’Orléans. Nearly bankrupt, he began selling off his own properties in Poitou and Maine. His family appealed to Pope Eugene IV and King Charles VII to intervene. The king issued a royal edict forbidding him from selling anymore property and purchasers from buying it. Desperate for money, Gilles began to borrow large sums and to dabble in the occult.

At his chateau in Tiffauges, he practiced alchemy under the tutelage of Francesco Prelati. Prelati encouraged him to make a pact with the Devil by summoning a demon called Barron. When the demon did not appear, Prelati convinced Gilles that he must sacrifice children in order to gain the Devil’s favor.

It has been speculated that Gilles de Rais may have murdered 100 to 200 children. He later confessed that his first crimes against children began during the spring of 1432 and the spring of 1433. First, he would dress them up in fancy clothes, then rape, torture, and murder them. His two bodyguards, Étienne Corrillant and Henriet, confirmed the allegations against Gilles and described how the bodies were then burned or buried. Villagers testified that their sons and daughters had disappeared after visiting Gilles’ castle, and some had seen the men disposing of bodies.

Gilles’ last child murder occurred in August 1440. He was arrested in September after kidnapping a priest, which sparked both ecclesiastical and secular investigations. Under threat of torture, he made a full confession and was executed by hanging and burning on October 26, 1440 at Nantes, Brittany. His two bodyguards were executed with him.

People marveled at Gilles’ calmness and sincerity while delivering his last words at his execution, and he soon became a model of Christian penitence, despite his horrific crimes. Today, some people have tried to prove that Gilles de Rais was not guilty of the murders, but most historians affirm his guilt, based on French court records.

The ruins of Tiffauges Chateau are reputed to be haunted by the specter of Gilles de Rais. Some visitors claim to have heard the screams of tortured children at night. French writer, Gustave Flaubert, described the chateau as a dismal place “where no birds sing.”

And, Bluebeard? Gilles de Rais’ crimes were so shocking to French society that it is almost certain that Charles Perrault was familiar with the story.

~

(Please note that I will not be posting anything on Monday as my husband and I have plans for Halloween.)

Happy Halloween!

Dawn Pisturino

October 28, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

10 Comments »

Bach and Halloween

How did Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 become a staple among Halloween favorites? After all, Bach lived 300 years ago and wrote high brow classical music during the high Baroque Period — not exactly popular music for pranksters and merry-makers. And yet, this organ masterpiece has become associated with Halloween as surely as dark, haunted mansions and creepy carved pumpkins.

Bach wrote it in two parts. The first part, the Toccata (from the Italian toccare, meaning “to touch”), was meant to show off the performer’s skill as a virtuoso organist, so it is characterized by many arpeggios (broken chords) and light-fingered gymnastics up and down the keyboard. The second part, the Fugue, uses repetition in various keys (“voices”) to highlight a central musical theme. A minor scale was used to give the piece a dark, ominous, foreboding, and dramatic tone. Organs have a deep, rich, and powerful quality, so writing such a magnificent piece for the organ (especially a large, full-bodied organ with pipes) was sheer genius.

Movie audiences were introduced to Bach’s piece in the opening scenes of the 1940 animated Disney classic, Fantasia. Instead of using the organ, however, conductor Leopold Stokowski arranged the piece into an orchestral number. But the music became associated with horror films when it was used in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), Gremlins 2 (1990), and The Babadook (2014). And, truthfully, if you ask music lovers what images come into their minds while listening to Bach’s organ piece, many will tell you that they envision ghostly encounters in haunted houses, mist-covered cemeteries, scary pumpkins, mad organists in Gothic churches, and vampires and other creatures of the night.

But experience it for yourself!

(Organ version performed by Hannes Kastner)

(Orchestral version from the 1940 animated film, Fantasia, arranged and conducted by Leopold Stokowski)

Have a spooky day!

Dawn Pisturino

October 19, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

22 Comments »

Reprise: Vintage Macabre

Ransom Riggs pieced together a whole novel around his collection of weird photographs. (And I do mean pieced together because, by the end of his book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the story had become disjointed and frayed around the edges. The photographs were always the main selling point for the book, however, so that hardly mattered. I still gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.com.) But what a brilliant idea, writing a novel around weird photographs!

So I scoured the Web looking for a few macabre samples—photos that would make your skin crawl and send the heebie-jeebies up and down your spine.

Did I succeed?

Are you feeling just a little bit uncomfortable?

What kind of book could you write around these morbid photographs?

A blood-sucking dummy? A ventriloquist that kills?

A writer and his muse? A Bram Stoker-winning team!

.This photo really gives me the creeps!

Halloween—or a twisted version of the high school prom?

What does your imagination tell you to write?

Dawn Pisturino

May 9, 2012; June 22, 2022

Copyright 2012-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

22 Comments »

“Psychology,” a Poem, Published on Spillwords

(Photo by Glen Hodson)

I’m thrilled to announce that my poem, “Psychology,” has been published today on Spillwords. I want to thank Dagmara K. and all of her lovely staff for this opportunity to share my poetry. I feel truly honored.

PSYCHOLOGY

written by: Dawn Pisturino

A psychologist by trade,
She brought order from chaos,
Splicing together the broken threads
Of fragile minds:
Listening for the right tone,
The right inflection, the right notes
To harmonize the deepest
Fears and desires of her clients.
But, in her own disordered brain . . .

Please head on over to Spillwords here to read the rest of my poem and all of the other featured selections for today.

Thank you sincerely from the bottom of my heart!

Dawn Pisturino

June 18, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

And, don’t forget to check out the Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women anthology, now available on Amazon and Kindle. #1 in Amazon New Releases of Poetry Anthologies. Thanks!

31 Comments »

Bela Lugosi: From Jesus Christ to Dracula

(Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ)

Before he became indelibly inked with the image of Dracula, Bela Lugosi worked as a theater actor in Hungary. He performed with various repertory companies from 1902 until 1913, when he was accepted into the National Theater in Budapest. He stayed with the company until 1919.

According to Lugosi, one of his most memorable and important roles was portraying Jesus Christ in the 1916 production of The Passion Play in Debrecen, Hungary. He was so taken with his resemblance to the traditional image of Christ that he had several photographs taken which still survive today.

In 1927, Lugosi appeared as Count Dracula in the Broadway production of Dracula. His performance and interpretation of the character were so captivating that he was hired to reprise the role in the 1931 Universal movie a few years later. The movie made him a star, and he was forever typecast as a horror icon, even though he would have preferred to move on to other roles.

Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 in Los Angeles, California and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. His iconic portrayal of Count Dracula lives on in the minds and hearts of all of his fans. Visit his official website: http://www.belalugosi.com.

Dawn Pisturino

April 11, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

Microfiction: This One’s for You

Photo by Benjamin Balázs on Unsplash

I wrote this for an Underneath the Juniper Tree writing challenge, August 29, 2011:

I love you, Lizzie Borden . . .

As she crept up the stairs, fondling the wooden axe in her hands . . .

“This one’s for you, Lizzie!”

Dawn Pisturino

March 25, 2022

Copyright 2011-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

12 Comments »

Eleven-Word Story

(Photo from Raiders of the Lost Ark,1981)

An eleven-word story that I wrote for an Underneath the Juniper Tree Writing Challenge, August 10, 2011:

“Hideously white and deformed, the face at the window slowly decomposed.”

Dawn Pisturino

March 24, 2022

Copyright 2011-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

18 Comments »

Killer Limericks

(Warwick Davis in Leprechaun, 1993)

KILLERS

A killer rampaging a town,

Ran into a carnival clown.

The clown drew a knife

And took that man’s life,

Then started a spree of his own!

July 16, 2011

~

THE WITCH AND THE BURGLAR

A witch riding home on her broom

Spied a burglar trashing her room.

“I’ll get you for this!” she said with a hiss.

His head was soon found in Khartoum.

July 17, 2011

~

AN UPPITY CAT

A cat who liked veggies and cheese,

Refused to eat mouse canapes.

“I just can’t abide that tough, hairy hide.

I’d rather eat onions and peas!”

July 16, 2011

~

LIZZIE BORDEN

When Lizzie got awfully mad,

She hacked up her stepmom and dad.

The ax at her feet, she giggled and bleat,

“Why am I so terribly bad!”

September 26, 2011

~

The Sorcerer from Beijing

A sorcerer born in Beijing,

Found a magical jade dragon ring.

It breathed out green smoke,

Transforming that bloke

To a blood-thirsty cannibal king!

July 14, 2011

~

LIZZIE BORDEN II

When Lizzie got awfully mad,

She hacked up her stepmom and Dad.

Amazed by the mess, she had to confess:

“What a rip-roaring party we had!”

September 27, 2011

~

The Sorcerer from Beijing II

A sorcerer born in Beijing,

Found a magical jade dragon ring.

It breathed out green fire, burning all his attire

Except for one shoe and stocking!

July 7, 2011

~

The Man in Galloway Bay II

A man lost in Galloway Bay,

Cried out in a very loud bray,

“I’m lost in the sea, someone please rescue me!

I’ve been swimming for more than a day!”

July 7, 2011

~

The Old Man from Brazil II

There was an old man from Brazil,

Who ate ‘til he made himself ill.

He gave up the ghost, said good-bye to his host,

And flew home to his house on the hill.

July 7, 2011

~

A Nasty Old Gnome

A nasty old gnome name o’ Bill

Liked to puncture old teeth with a drill.

He gathered some bones from the graveyard he owns,

But that skeleton wouldn’t sit still!

February 5, 2012

~

The Man in Galloway Bay III

A man lost in Galloway Bay,

Cried out in a very loud bray,

“I’m lost in the sea,

Someone please rescue me!

The fishermen think I’m filet!”

July 7, 2011

~

St. Patrick’s Day is coming!

All limericks by:

Dawn Pisturino

March 10, 2022

Copyright 2011-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

30 Comments »

I. A World in Anguish – a Poem

(Photo from Pixabay)

A World in Anguish

by Dawn Pisturino

A world in anguish

Is a world at war,

Suffering the throes of poverty,

Living in fear,

Desperate for freedom

From unfeeling despots;

One man kills another

And crowds cheer for more:

A bloody holocaust screams

The victory cry.

Women weep for children

Dying in the womb,

And fathers beat

Their screaming brats in rage,

Placating the demon-gods.

The dark-faced villain

In the streets

Pushes his deadly wares

To the wayward and unsuspecting,

Supplies the knowing,

And murders the human spirit.

The Godly are intimidated

By the unholy-ungodly

And cry out in vain for vengeance.

God does not hear

Or does not want to.

“Let them fight their own battles,”

He must say; and looks down

In amusement at the skirmish of ants

Crawling in the streets.

It is not a funny sight, no,

But a sorry commentary

On the uselessness of the human species.

God Himself must weep

At the awful destruction wrought

By pitiful creatures.

It is not worth His powerful strength

To save them or His loving heart

To love them or His abounding mercy

To forgive them.

Let those who will survive, survive.

Death to the others.

The battle is just begun.

Dawn Pisturino

September 20, 1985; March 7, 2022

Copyright 1985-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

21 Comments »

The Queen of Hearts – a Poem

(Artwork by Tenniel)

The Queen of Hearts made cherry tarts

On Cupid’s Special Day.

The Knave of Hearts threw out those tarts

And stole the Queen away.

His bow was strong, his arrows sharp,

He drew with deadly force.

His missile pierced the tender heart,

Killing her, of course.

With hungry zeal, he yanked the heart

From Queenie’s bloody chest

And feasted on her royal blood,

Rating it the best!

Dawn Pisturino

December 16, 2011

Copyright 2011-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

24 Comments »

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