William Beckford
Vathek Cover



Vathek is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the strangest stories I've ever read.

It's the tale of the wealthy Caliph Vathek, an individual who at times reads like a flat out parody of a decadent Middle Eastern ruler. In addition to having five palaces full of his toys, he has a tower built all the way into the sky just so he can look at the stars, and is also the wielder of an evil eye that kills anyone who looks at it. No, I'm not referring to the basilisk, I'm talking about the Caliph Vathek. Yes, an eye that kills with a stare. But moving on.

How does the Caliph get the wealth to squander in this manner? By being an utterly ruthless ruler, naturally. His subjects are heavily taxed, they all despise him and they all remain submissive, because far too many have died who took a stand against the tyrannical parody. I mean Caliph, tyrannical Caliph. And then comes the emissary of the devil, who strikes a dark bargain with the Caliph.

Like I said, a very strange story. In addition to having a very horrifying twist at the end, it also manages to remain largely satirical in nature, given the type of individual the Caliph Vathek is.

It's a book I won't say I enjoyed, but I wasn't bored or disliked it either. It's a very strange story; one of those books you simply read to see where it goes, and then it leaves you with a dazed sense from wonder just what you just read, but at the same time creates a very strong impression. Oddly enough, it did leave me wanting more of it, which I guess should be expected, given how short but intriguing it is.

And the impression I got off of Vathek is strangeness. As far as gothic tales go, it's as dark as it gets, given the entire idea is centered around a deal with the devil made by a heavily flawed man. But the manner in which it's told is what makes the tale of Vathek the satirical Caliph so interesting. Beckford's tale is as fantastically bizarre as they come, and one that is definitely a must read for me. It begins as a simple story and dovetails into something infinitely more dark, twisted and macabre, that leaves you wondering by the end just quite what you signed up for when you picked it up.

All in all, an excellent gothic classic as fantastical and strange as they come.