Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Monaco 1978 - 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne (Part 4)

"It is said that the night brings counsel, but it is not said that the counsel is necessarily good." —Jules Verne

High in the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania there stands a castle. A castle believed by those in the surrounding villages to be inhabited by Chort, the personification of the devil. Could this be true? Could the rumours have any validity? Does the devil in fact reside in the mountains of Transylvania? Or is it merely the product of over-imaginative superstitious minds? To seek the answer we must immerse ourselves in the pages of Jules Verne's 1893 novel,  Le Château des Carpathes (The Carpathian Castle).

Our story begins with a peddler who comes across shepherd named, Frik. The pair have an interesting conversation about the mysterious castle in the mountains, and the fantastical rumours of strange phenomena occurring in Frik's village and the nearby castle. The locals attribute these mysterious happenings to the otherworldly inhabitant of said castle. Even the local schoolteacher educates his students on the supernatural happenings in the castle. It is even said that vampires visit the village and werewolves inhabit the surrounding fields. And:
"In the depths of the forests wander the "balauri", gigantic dragons whose jaws gape up at the clouds, and the "zmei" with vast wings, who carry away the daughters of the royal blood."
The peddler seems unconvinced. Frisk continued:
"No one dared visit it. It spread around its terrible epidemic as an unhealthy marsh gives forth its pestilential emanations. Nothing could approach it within a quarter of a mile without risking its life in this world and its salvation in the next."
 Still unconvinced the peddler sells Frik a telescope, and disappears. 

Frik returns to the village, and he shows his friends the telescope. Through it they see something weird going on in the castle. They see smoke and strange lights. Is it supernatural? That night a group of villagers gather in the local pub to discuss the mystery. They decide someone needs to investigate the castle.  They settle on a two man team: the young forester, Nic Deck and Doctor Patak.

The next morning Nic Deck and Dr Patak set out on their journey. After a gruelling trek through the forest, they at last reach the castle just before dark. But they can find no way into the castle. There is no choice but to stay overnight in the woods. It is a horrible night, filled with terrifying lights and sounds and apparitions of strange creatures, while in the background the castle bells toll monotonously, as if summoning the undead from their restless slumber. The next morning the two attempt to get into the castle. Trying the climb the drawbridge chain, Nic slips and falls.

After no sight is seen of the two adventurers, the other villagers who were in the pub with them mount a rescue, all except for the teacher, who is suddenly struck with an attack of gout! Then sometime later the rescuers return with Nic on a stretcher and the doctor alongside. The Doctor relates to the villagers their frightful tale. For the next few days everyone trembles in fear at the thought of the castle. And no one dares work out in the fields.

Then one day a traveller by the name Count Franz de Telek arrives in the village. He is surprised how quiet it is. The villagers tell him about the castle and the adventure of the forester and the doctor. The Count does not believe in the supernatural. He believes there is someone at the castle playing tricks on them. But then when he finds out who owns the castle, he turns white! Baron Rodolphe de Gortz. He knows the baron. It turns out that years earlier, they were rivals for the affections of the celebrated Italian singer, La Stilla. The Count believed that La Stilla was dead, frightened to death while on stage by the strange machinations of Baron Rodolphe de Gortz! But the Baron for some reason had blamed Count Telek for the woman's death. 

Believing that Baron Ropolphe de Gortz is the man behind all this strange phenomena, the Count decides to go to the castle to put a stop to it. So the Count and his faithful servant, Rotzko, retrace the steps the two villagers took just a few days prior. When they reach the castle, the Count is dumbstruck to see a vision of his beloved La Stilla. Could she still be alive? He tells his servant to return to the village, and he sets off. After a desperate climb up into the castle, the Count goes in search of his beloved. He frantically searches the labyrinthine passages of the castle's innards.

After being trapped for a time in a crypt, the Count comes across the manservant of Baron de Gortz, a man named, Orfanik. Orfanik describes at length his master's experiments with the new technology called "electricity". Using electric machines the Baron is able to create all kinds of weird light and sound phenomena. The very phenomena that has had the village living in a state of fear for so long. Baron de Gortz is an evil man. And even more horrifying, the visions of the lady La Stilla are no more than an illusion. A projected still image of a painting of La Stilla, accompanied by a high-quality phonograph recording, creates a ghostly rendition of her. It is all a huge hoax. The moral of the story: there is no such thing as ghouls and science can explain everything! If only that were so!


This is the fourth part in a series focusing on the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jules Verne stamp set, issued by Monaco on 2 May 1978. To check out the earlier parts, click on the individual parts. Part 1Part 2Part 3. This beautiful set of eight stamps was designed and engraved by Pierre Forget. One of the stamps in this set features an artistic interpretation of the novel, Le Chateau des Carpathes.

This illustration is quite interesting. I can't be absolutely certain which two men are the main feature of the design. Is it the villagers Nick Deck and Dr Patak? Or is it Count Telek and his servant, Rotzko. I tend to think it is the former pair. For in the story,  Deck and Patak are accosted in the forest by all nature of spiritual beings. We can see these phantasms beautifully rendered in green. A prominent creature is the "balauri" found to the left. To the right we see the spiritual manifestation of the beautiful singer, La Stilla. And in the background of the design stands the mysterious castle. Graceful lines and vivid colours create a stunning stamp design, one that would look great attached to any cover!

Until next time...


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