Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Shadows

I've probably mentioned this at least once before, but it's a useful pendant to the entry on Folk Horror TV from earlier this month.

Image result for shadows tv series 1975

The Thames TV series Shadows ran from 1975-8 over three seasons. Each season had a different title sequence. You can see them here. There's a distinct whiff of folk horror about them, I feel. The stories vary in quality and of course it was low budget stuff. But the writing was often first rate. Among the authors contributing to the series were Joan Aiken, Fay Weldon, Penelope Lively, and Brian Patten. There's also an adaptation of 'The Other Window' by J.B. Priestley.

As this was a children's series the horror was fairly mild. But Shadows stands up well as an anthology series.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Liverpool

I was in Liverpool at the weekend, without a permit of course. No, I snuck into that fine city to take part in a gathering of A Ghostly Company, the literary society devote to ghost stories.

It was a lovely couple of days, not least because of the various luminaries who contributed. On Friday evening Jim Bryant talked about his research into the correspondence of M.R. James, whose handwriting is even worse than mine. Then Ro Pardoe of Ghosts & Scholars informally discussed her involvement with Jamesian fiction and the so-called 'James Gang', among other things.

On Saturday afternoon we had an excellent talk about Liverpudlian folklore from author John Reppion, followed by a reading of a story by Peter Bell - and a fine story it was, with an unusual theme and setting. There was also a book auction to raise money for the society - an event that always leaves me conflicted as I really mean to go away with fewer books than I bring. I failed, again.

Then in the evening Ramsey Campbell, our guest of honour, came along to read a new story, 'The Bill'. Classic Campbell, I thought, not least in its clever use of a commonplace event in most people's lives. No spoilers.




What is this? It's the tomb of a chap called William MacKenzie, that's what. As  you can see it's a pyramid, and rumour has it that MacKenzie was interred sitting up at a card table. This recalls Dr Rant in 'The Tractate Middoth'. John Reppion, in his talk, pointed out that this is wildly improbable, to say the least. But dead people sitting up in tombs is a recurring theme thanks to such Victorian monuments. I can think of at least two other fictional examples. One is Gilray's Ghost by John Gordon, the other is Hell House (book and film) by Richard Matheson.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

'In Eternity - Two Lines Intersect'

The last story in Written in Darkness is both an ending and a liberation. After taking us through the festering labyrinths of modern corporate culture, Mark Samuels reaches something approaching the Great Good Place. Again, there are overtones of Machen, and of the lesser-known Christian mystic author Charles Williams.

The story begins with the first-person narrator being released from some unspecified place. Doctors have advised him to gradually re-integrate himself into society. He is given pills, sessions with a psychotherapist are arranged. Eventually the nameless man finds a flat he can afford in a run-down area of London. He finds much of the previous occupants' property and comes to feel closer to the vanished scholar, Ambrose Crashaw, than he does to the living. He abandons his modern clothes for an old-fashioned suit, as well as becoming absorbed by Crashaw's collection of rare books. Crashaw's old  radio seems to receive signals from all the outworn cultures of Europe, in many languages. A neo-Gothic church nearby starts to intrigue him, especially when an unearthly light shines from one of its high windows.

This story recaptures some of the awe-inspiring quality in supernatural fiction published around a hundred years ago. There is a touch of Algernon Blackwood in the way that the old radio eventually tunes in to the trees, London's last forests. There is also a reference to Turner, painter of light who was also a mystical poet. The narrator's dreams seem more real than his mundane existence, and he finds physical evidence of this - the page of an unknown book, a chess piece.

The revelation of Ambrose Crashaw's true fate coincides with the discovery of a precious truth, and the story ends with a vision of unity, of broken things made whole and the fallen lifted up. In a way it is the ultimate anti-twist ending,  to tell us that all can be well after fall, despite everything we know and have gone through.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

'My Heretical Existence'

This compact tale starts with a fascinating premise - that there are 'tribes' who never leave certain narrow areas of major cities, and never marry out. Mark Samuels' narrator hears of one such extended family in Sartor Street (a nod towards Thomas Carlyle, perhaps, a sort of heretic?). He is also infatuated with a young woman called Adela who goes to a pub near Sartor Street. He never dares approach her, simply getting drunk in her presence. Then one night he goes off in a random direction and finds himself in unknown territory. He finds a pub, 'The Hourglass Stilled', but when he enters he discovers a clientele far from welcoming.
I could hear the creak of wooden sinews, the flexing of wooden muscles, and the grinding of wooden teeth. Their faces were painted garishly in a motley attempt to convey the human, but oh, the deadly lifelessness of their expressions! Their glass eyes were without lustre, like grey flowers.

Inevitably, Adela is one of the mannequins. Blackout. Our narrator recovers in hospital, and is informed that there is no such place as Sartor Street. Yet he seems to be suffering from a strange ailment that leads to a stiffening of the limbs...

This is fine example of urban horror, with echoes of Fritz Leiber as well as Ligotti and, perhaps, Machen. I'm not quite sure what is 'heretical' about it, but titles are tricky.