Humour is tolerant, tender; its ridicule caresses. Wit stabs, begs pardon - and turns the weapon in the wound.—Taken from one of Bierce's late essays.
One of American literature's most intriguing, and most overlooked, luminaries... and a man who scared Lovecraft.
Ambrose Bierce (later nicknamed "Bitter Bierce" and the "Old Gringo") was a journalist and editorialist from Meigs County, Ohio, whose deeply cynical opinions on the world and the people living in it led him to create his now-famous (though not nearly famous enough) series of short stories and other fiction pieces, most notably An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Bitter Bierce never gave anyone a reason to wonder about his nickname: he was aggressive and fond of war (though also an anti-imperialist), fascinated by death, very cynical about love and religion, and perplexed by women. His works are notable for their dark, troubled, and haunting tone and subject matter. He would have made a fine bedfellow for Poe and Lovecraft, but sadly, and certainly not for lack of talent on his part, he never achieved their notoriety.
Later in his life, when the Mexican Revolution was raging down south, Ambrose Bierce decided to leave the United States and contribute to the war effort in Mexico, hoping to meet up with and fight alongside Pancho Villa. After a couple of months (during which time he did indeed meet up with Pancho Villa), his letters to his friends in the States abruptly ceased. He was never heard from again. He may have had something of a death wish; see the Quotes page. The book (and The Film of the Book) Old Gringo speculates on what might have happened to him after his famous disappearance, but no one knows what happened for sure.
Lovecraft enthusiasts should be familiar with An Inhabitant of Carcosa, his contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos.
Appearances in fiction:
- Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes
- In Robert Bloch's story "I Like Blondes" (originally published in Playboy, 1956), the alien tells Shirley that "the body I'm using right now. Its name was Ambrose Beers, I believe. [Ril] picked it up in Mexico a long time ago..."
- That was a Genius Bonus reference, for sure.
- Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots claims that he became a book-jumping agent of Jurisfiction.
- Phil Foglio's Stanley and His Monster miniseries claims that his horror stories were based on truth, and he staged his own disappearance to avoid an Eldritch Abomination that was coming to complain about his depiction of it. Oddly enough, it also used him as an Expy of John Constantine.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Lost Legacy has him going underground and working for a benevolent Ancient Tradition.
- Roger Zelazny's Roadmarks concerns a Road that stretches from the past into the future, and the people who travel along it; Bierce is mentioned in passing as one of those who, having found the Road, settled farther along it and never returned to his own time.
- Shows up as an old fangless vampire who aids the protagonist in Dance in the Vampire Bund.
- From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter. Oddly, the vampires don't get him in the end.
Commonly used tropes:
- And I Must Scream
- Darker and Edgier
- Humans Are Bastards
- Hurricane of Puns
- Incredibly Lame Pun
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism (overwhelmingly on the cynical side)
Specific trope uses:
Bierce's life contained examples of:
- Alliterative Family: His father gave all the children names starting with "A".
- Abusive Parents: Not really abusive, per se, but Bierce clearly had no use or positive feelings for his mother, and very little of either for his father. And he didn't see too much to write home about in his own kids, either.
- Badass: Bierce enlisted in the Union Army as a private and left it as a major. And he certainly didn't earn his promotions by kissing ass.
- Deadpan Snarker: Heavy on the deadpan and the snark, and usually in very mean-spirited(but funny) ways.
- Stealth Insult: Bierce was especially fond of these; when a former employer reneged on an offer to rehire him, Bierce wrote the following after the man's death: "Here lies Frank Pixley, as usual."
- War Is Hell: Bierce was 19 when he enlisted in the Union Army, and this certainly explains some of the more nightmarish images in his stories.