Friday, 30 October 2015

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 13 - Man-size in Marble by E Nesbit


Just in time for Halloween, Mr Jim Moon reads an eerie tale by E Nesbit set upon that very night of nights! Be warned however, while E Nesbit is best remembered for her enchanting children's books, this is no fairy tale...

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Man-size in Marble by E Nesbit

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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

HYPNOGORIA 21 - The Origins of Halloween Part II


It's Halloween once more, and Mr Jim Moon brings you another epic show delving into the long history of this autumnal festival. In this episode, we ransack the shelves of the Great Library of Dreams to trace the history of Halloween in popular culture, from the poems of Robert Burns, through the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Walter Scott, and into the heyday of the Victorian ghost story.  

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  The Origins of Halloween Part II 

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Monday, 26 October 2015

FLASHBACK! HYPNOGORIA 004 - The Origins of Halloween



With this year's Halloween special just about ready to go, here's last year's much celebrated episode!

In an epic length show, Mr Jim Moon traverses the centuries in search of the origins of Halloween. Along the way we'll investigate the festival of All Hallows, the pagan rites of the Celts at Samhain, uncover the truth about trick or treating, the genesis of the jack o'lantern, and discover all manner of folk charms and rituals for Halloween night!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 004 - The Origins of Halloween

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Friday, 23 October 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Curious Case of the Hammersmith Ghost Part I


When we think of a great city such as London, we invariably imagine a place that never sleeps, where the metropolis revels merrily onward through the dim watches of the night. However back in the early 19th century, before the age of municipal street lighting and gas lamps, things were very different: when the sun had set, the city became a warren of dark streets and gloomy lanes,with many folks not venturing out farther than necessary. Aside from the numerous criminals who plied their trade after dark, many areas were allegedly home to a ghost or two and it is to one particular haunting that we are turning our attention to now...

It was once a well-known tale, and some folklorists and historians see it as a precedent for later public panics that would strike London, in particular the reigns of terror that the likes of Spring-heeled Jack and Jack the Ripper would bring to the city much later in that century. However while the story of the Hammersmith ghosts are now largely forgotten, the case has had a surprisingly long lasting impact on British society. 

In November 1803, stories began to circulate that a ghost was prowling the Hammersmith area after dark. The very first reports had surfaced in October, when several folks had seen a hag-like figure roaming the local churchyard. However this alleged phantom was soon recognised by a Mr Moody of Six Bells as a boy employed by a local butcher, a Mr. Kilberton. It was discovered that the lad had been stealing the dresses of a maid and prancing about the graveyard and thereabouts in order to frighten her. Needless to say these activities were soon put to sudden stop when Mr Moody identified him.

However as is often the way of these things, stories, even soundly debunked ones, have a tendency to linger in the public imagination. And not longer after other folks were reporting seeing a ghost - however this time it was not a mad old woman but a mysterious figure in white. A Mr Brazier, a chimney sweep, spotted a white shape in the lower end of Church-lane. However when prodding the spectre with his stick he discover it was actually a courting couple! But other reports were not so easily explained - a local brewer Thomas Groom was walking through the churchyard when he was grabbed around the throat from behind. Groom struggled with his attacker and managed to break free only to see a figure draped in what looked like a white shroud disappear among the tombstones. Groom was severely rattled by the assault and alerted the authorities. Naturally the newspapers seized upon his story, and with usual tabloid relish embellished the tale with the detail that Groom was so shocked  that he had taken to his bed and never recovered from the attack.


However despite such lurid accounts appearing in the press, the Hammersmith ghost had seemingly disappeared, with no further reports being made. But in the last few weeks of November, the sightings began again. Once again a menacing shape in white was seen, with witnesses describing a figure wrapped in a white sheet, with great round glassy eyes, and some even claimed the phantom had devilish horns. Several people were badly shocked by the eerie spectre, and no doubt embellished tales sprang up about the sightings - it was claimed a pregnant lady had been startled by the white figure and had died from shock several days later. Allegedly a wagon driver has been spooked by the spectre, and nearly lost control of the horses, placing his sixteen passengers in dire peril. Yet another account ran thus - 
One poor woman in particular, when crossing near the churchyard about ten o'clock at night, beheld something, as she described, rise from the tombstones. The figure was very tall and very white. She attempted to run; but the ghost soon overtook her, and pressed her in his arms, when she fainted; in which situation she remained some hours, till discovered by some neighbours, who kindly led her home, when she took to her bed, from which, alas, she never rose
Who or what was this white robed figure? Many speculated that it was the shade of local man who had committed suicide earlier in the year. Somewhat controversially he had been buried in the churchyard, much to the consternation of the older citizens of Hammersmith who still thought the old tradition that suicides should not be buried in consecrated ground should have been observed. The ghost, they said, was the suicide's spirit walking abroad, unable to find rest. 

The sightings continued and something of a panic was brewing. Events came to a head at the close of December, when on the night of the 29th, William Girdle, the local nightwatchman spotted the spectre for himself. While on his rounds he was approached by the apprentice of a local shoemaker, a Mr Graham, shouting he had seen the ghost. Girdle hurried up the street and saw a figure in white by the water pump and gave chase. While our plucky nightwatchman lost his quarry in the maze of darkened lanes and houses, he was able to report he had seen the figure take off its white robes and stuff them under its coat. Furthermore the ghost had been seen by several more witness, including the Hill family who spotted a mystery man hiding from the nightwatchman behind their house and claimed to have seen a corner of white sheet poking from a corner of his jacket. 

Word soon spread, and henceforth several local men began patrolling the streets too, for the white robed figure, be he man or spirit, was apparently corporeal enough to be captured! However things would come to a somewhat disastrous end on the night of January 3rd 1804. A local excise officer, Francis Smith offered to accompany Girdle on his rounds, and the pair even devised code phrases so that they might identify each other while searching for the ghost in the darkened streets and alleys. Around eleven o'clock in the gloom of Black-Lion Lane, while patrolling on his own, Smith spotted a figure in white. And when the white shape did not reply to his challenges, Smith opened fire and the figure collapsed to the floor. But like other instances in the Hammersmith haunting, it was soon discovered that this was another case of mistaken identity, and one with tragic consequences.

The "ghost" turned out to be a local plasterer, a man named Thomas Millwood, and Smith's shot had caught him in the lower jaw and shattered his spinal column. Realising his terrible error, Smith fetched a local man, one John Locke, to return to the scene, and there joined by Girdle and Millwood's sister Anne, the unfortunate workman was taken to the Black Lion Inn and the local surgeon called. However Millwood was already dead, and the guilt-stricken Smith surrendered himself to the police. A week later his case was heard at the Old Bailey, in one of the most unusual trials in the history of that famous court of justice...

NEXT WEEK- the trial of the ghost killer, what became of the actual Hammersmith Phantom and its lasting legacy


Sunday, 18 October 2015

MICROGORIA 20 - The Mystery of the Will-o-the-Wisp


With Halloween just around the corner, Mr Jim Moon explores the secret history of the jack-o-lantern, investigating their folkloric forebears, the will-o-the-wisps, those mysterious lights that lead travelers astray. What are they? Faeries? Ghosts? Or something else?

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  The Mystery of the Will-o-the-Wisp

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Friday, 16 October 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Don't Lose Your Head Part II


As we discussed last week, the quintessential headless ghost is Henry VIII's famously ill-fated wife Anne Boleyn. She is perhaps the most famous ghost in England, and certainly one of the hardest working phantoms in the British Isles. For while ghosts usually only haunt the places of their death, according to legend, Anne haunts a whole range of different locations. So then taking a leave from this well-traveled ghost's own book, let's take a tour of the places where the shade of Anne Boleyn is said to walk! 


HEVER CASTLE

Original built in 1270 as a walled bailey with a moat, Hever Castle gained extensive additions and renovations in Tudor times, when one Henry Bullen, a wealthy merchant, bought it to be his dwelling. Henry's son, Thomas changed the family name to Boleyn and married into the nobility, wedding Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. The couple had several children, one of which was - as no doubt you've guessed - Anne Boleyn. While historians are not sure if Anne was actually born in the castle, she certainly grew up there. And it was here that she first met her future husband, Henry VIII.

And according to local lore, Anne's ghost haunts her childhood home. She is reportedly seen wandering through the gardens, on a bridge that crossed the River Eden and beneath an old oak tree where according to legend the lusty king first courted her affections. In the manner of ghost stories in folklore, it is said her haunting is tied to a particular night of the year - with the tradition holding that she usually appears on Christmas Eve to walk her old home.  



THE TOWER OF LONDON 

Naturally Anne's ghost is reputed to haunt her as it was where she was executed in 1536. And there are many stories of encounters with her restless spirit. A guard in 1816 allegedly died of a heart attack after encountering her spirit on a stairwell, and there are other reports of her appearing in a ghostly  procession in the Chapel Royal. Over the years she has also been seen on Tower Green (the site of her execution), in The White Tower, in The Queen's House (where legend has it she stayed the night before her execution), and Chapel St Peter Vincula where her body is actually buried. Most famously, in 1836 a soldier on guard duty was approached by a white figure. Our plucky guard challenged the woman in white to identify herself but received no reply, and the figure continued to advance upon him. Our now terrified soldier jabbed the eerie spectre with his bayonet but to no avail and promptly fainted. His prone body was later discovered and he was charged with falling asleep on duty. However at his court martial trial several witnesses came forward to corroborate his tale, including a high ranking officer, who has seen the whole thing from a window! The officer attested that after the soldier had been shocked by the spirit, the shade carried on walking and vanished in a wall.



HAMPTON COURT

This royal palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who gave it as a gift to his king Henry VIII in 1528. And Hampton Court was to become the playground of the Tudor monarchy and consequently witness to many historical events. Unsurprisingly perhaps, it is now home to a whole pantheon of Tudor ghosts, with Henry VIII himself walking its halls, his daughter Elizabeth I has also been seen, and several of his wives are haunting the place too: Jane Seymour reputedly haunts the Clock Court, while Catherine Howard runs screaming through what is now called the Haunted Gallery.

However not to be left out, Anne Boleyn has also been seen walking about the palace, reportedly wearing a blue or black dress. And how do folks know they have seen her shade and not the phantom of one of the other famous Tudor ladies? Well, Anne's shade often walks sans head!



WINDSOR CASTLE

The royals of course have many homes, and as ghosts are often just reenacting what they did in life,  perhaps we should not be surprised that Anne chooses to haunt several of them. Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror and has been a home for the British royals ever since, making it one of the long occupied palaces in European history. Naturally such an old royal residence has a great many ghosts, and once again we find Anne Boleyn's shade making frequent return trips there. According to legend she is often seen gazing out of the window in the Dean's Cloister, while other tales hold that she can seen running screaming through the halls, often carrying her own severed head.



ROCHFORD HALL

This manor house in Essex also makes the claim that Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn here, with local tales alleging that it was here that the king first clapped eyes on the young Anne. Originally built in 1216, the hall passed into the hands of Sir Thomas Boleyn in 1515, and later he was made Viscount of Rochford in 1525. And it is thought that Anne Boleyn spent a good deal of her childhood here. According to legend, the manor contains a network of secret passages in which Henry and Anne would meet secretly - for remember Henry was at the time a married man!

Naturally having such a close association with Anne Boleyn, Rochford Hall has its own tales of hauntings. It was said that the walls and floor of the nursery ran red with ghostly blood on the day of her execution. And down the years, a ghostly figure of a women has been seen in various places. Local legend claims that twelve days after Christmas, a headless woman in white can be seen walking through the manor grounds...



MARWELL HALL

This stately home was originally built in 1320 by one Walter Woodlock but by the 1500s had become the home of the Seymour family. Indeed it was the home of Henry VIII's third wife Jane Seymour. Famously it was where he wooed her, and Henry was actually at Marwell Hall with Jane while Anne Boleyn was executed. Jane herself reportedly haunts her old home, as you would expect, but it is said said the phantom of Anne walks there too, in the Yew Walk, allegedly fuming and plotting revenge against Henry and Jane.



BLICKLING HALL

This manor in Norfolk was yet another home to the Boleyn family, the residence of Sir Thomas Boleyn from 1499 to 1505. Some historians have claimed that it is very likely that Anne herself was actually born here, and indeed the estate is home to a statue and portrait with the inscription "Anna Bolena hic nata 1507" ("Anne Boleyn was born here in 1507") - although it is now thought that Anne was actually born in 1501, while the house was still in Thomas Boleyn's residence.

Of course with such a strong connection to the Boleyns, Anne's shade is reputed to appear here too. However it is at Blickling Hall that she appears in the most spectacular fashion. Local legend says that on the night of May 19th, the anniversary of her execution, a phantom coach drawn by six headless horses and driven by an equally headless coachman pulls up outside Blickling Hall. Inside the coach in the spectre of Anne herself, carrying her head in her lap, who then leaves the coach and wanders the Hall until daybreak!


The final place Anne has been haunting for years is, bizarrely enough, our own homes. For in 1934, Bert Lee and RP Weston penned a song about her entitled "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm", which became an instant hit. It was recorded by Stanley Holloway in the same year and became a staple of radio and many a record collection. And it later became a hit for several other artists who covered the song ,including the Kingston Trio, the Barron Knights, the Clancy Brothers and Carol P Weiss. It was even featured in celebrated TV comedy Frasier, in the episode "Whine Club".  You can read the lyrics here

With some many places playing host to the ghost of Anne Boleyn, and indeed with a hit record commemorating her headless hauntings, she is perhaps the most famous ghost in history. And given her high ranking in the history of hauntings, it is perhaps unsurprising that we have the image of headless ghosts so firmly embedding in popular culture.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #22 - Tracing the Dark Carnival


Dark Carnival was Ray Bradbury's first  book, comprised of some twenty-seven tales, and published by the legendary Arkham House in 1947. While Bradbury would become famous as an SF author, he had always written more than just science fiction, and the early stories collected in Dark Carnival showcase Bradbury's dark side in a brilliant collection of eerie fantasies and imaginative horror tales. Now then, the tales in Dark Carnival have had a long and tangled publishing history (as alluded to last week), which I shall attempt to unravel here. Here are the details of the first edition -

DARK CARNIVAL
(Arkham House 1947 US)
  1. The Homecoming
  2. Skeleton
  3. The Jar
  4. The Lake
  5. The Maiden
  6. The Tombstone
  7. The Smiling People
  8. The Emissary
  9. The Traveler
  10. The Small Assassin
  11. The Crowd
  12. Reunion
  13. The Handler
  14. The Coffin
  15. Interim
  16. Jack-in-the-Box
  17. The Scythe
  18. Let's Play 'Poison'
  19. Uncle Einar
  20. The Wind
  21. The Night
  22. There Was An Old Woman
  23. The Dead Man
  24. The Man Upstairs
  25. The Night Sets
  26. The Cistern
  27. The Next In Line
Next the anthology was reprinted in the UK by Hamish Hamilton, with new cover art from Michael Ayrton. However this edition dropped seven of the stories and also rearranged the running order.


DARK CARNIVAL
(Hamish Hamilton 1948 UK)
  1. The Crowd
  2. The Emissary
  3. The Jar
  4. The Lake
  5. The Man Upstairs
  6. The Night
  7. Skeleton
  8. The Small Assassin
  9. There Was An Old Woman
  10. Uncle Einar
  11. The Tombstone
  12. The Next In Line
  13. The Wind
  14. The Cistern
  15. Homecoming (former The Homecoming)
  16. The Dead Man
  17. Let's Play 'Poison'
  18. The Handler
  19. The Smiling People
  20. The Traveler
This edition only includes twenty of the original stories. The missing tales were -
  1. The Maiden
  2. The Night Sets
  3. The Scythe
  4. Reunion
  5. Interim
  6. Jack-in-the-Box
Several years later, fifteen of the tales in the original Dark Carnival were reprinted, some in a revised form, in a later collection entitled The October Country. This was published in the US by Ballantine Books in 1955,  with cover art and interior illustrations by Joe Mugnaini. The October Country also included four additional tales, which had previously appeared in other places, but fitted in nicely to the autumnal feel of this collection. 


THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
(Ballantine 1955 USA)
  1. The Crowd  (DC)
  2. The Emissary (DC)
  3. The Jar  (DC)
  4. The Lake  (DC)
  5. The Man Upstairs (DC)
  6. The Scythe (DC)
  7. Skeleton (DC)
  8. The Small Assassin  (DC)
  9. There Was An Old Woman (DC)
  10. Uncle Einar (DC)
  11. The Dwarf  (OC)
  12. The Next in Line  (DC)
  13. The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse (OC)
  14. The Wind (DC)
  15. The Cistern (DC)
  16. Homecoming (DC)
  17. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone (OC)
  18. Touched With Fire (OC)
  19. Jack-in-the-Box (DC)
(OC) = new stories added to The October Country (1955)
(DC) = stories from Dark Carnvial (1947)

The October Country was also printed in the UK by Rupert Hard Davis Ltd. in 1956, again with a cover by Joe Mugnaini, a variant of the US edition, but with the stories in a different order.


THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
(Rupert Hard Davis Ltd. 1956 UK)
  1. The Dwarf (OC)
  2. The Next in Line (DC)
  3. The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse (OC)
  4. Skeleton (DC)
  5. The Jar  (DC)
  6. The Lake  (DC)
  7. The Emissary (DC)
  8. Touched With Fire (OC)
  9. The Small Assassin (DC)
  10. The Crowd (DC)
  11. Jack-in-the-Box (DC)
  12. The Scythe (DC)
  13. Uncle Einar (DC)
  14. The Wind (DC)
  15. The Man Upstairs (DC)
  16. There Was An Old Woman (DC)
  17. The Cistern (DC)
  18. Homecoming (DC)
  19. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone (OC)
Right then, pay close attention, because this is where it gets complicated! The first paperback edition from Ballantine in 1956 reprinted all nineteen stories, and used the running order from the UK hardback. And this remained the format for subsequent paperback editions in the US. Furthermore Rupert Hard Davis Ltd. reissued The October Country as a hardback several times down the decades, retaining the same contents. 

However the UK paperback editions somewhat confusingly slimmed down the book, whittling down the story count to thirteen. And there was to be another significant change too - for only twelve tales from The October Country would be included, and the thirteenth tale would be The Traveler from Dark Carnival. This new line-up of thirteen stories first appeared in the 1961 paperback edition from Ace UK, but later was adopted for other editions from the New English Library (in 1970 and 1975), and Panther (1976 and 1984). 


THE OCTOBER COUNTRY - UK Paperback Edition
(Ace UK 1961)
  1. The Dwarf  (DC) (OC)
  2. The Watchful Poker Chip of H.Matisse (OC)
  3. The Skeleton (DC) (OC)
  4. The Jar (DC) (OC)
  5. The Traveler (DC)
  6. The Emissary (DC) (OC)
  7. Touched with Fire (OC)
  8. The Scythe (DC) (OC)
  9. Uncle Einar (DC) (OC)
  10. The Wind (DC) (OC)
  11. There was an Old Woman (DC) (OC)
  12. The Homecoming (DC) (OC)
  13. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone (OC)
However it was a regular publishing convention that large books of short stories like this would often be broken up into two separate volumes for the paperback release. And while they often appeared marked as Such-And-Such Volume 1 and 2, it was not uncommon for publishers to retain the original title for the first half but publish the second with an entirely new title.

So then, in the UK, the missing tales would get a separate volume of their own, one  that was not billed as The October Country Vol. II. Instead the rest of the stories would appear in a paperback entitled The Small Assassin. However in this case, as there were only seven stories left over, it was decided to make up the shortfall with a selection of tales from Dark Carnival that have not made it into earlier versions of The October Country.


THE SMALL ASSASSIN 
(Ace UK 1962)
  1. The Small Assassin (DC) (OC)
  2. The Next In Line (DC) (OC)
  3. The Lake (DC) (OC)
  4. The Crowd (DC) (OC)
  5. Jack-In-The-Box (DC) (OC)
  6. The Man Upstairs (DC) (OC)
  7. The Cistern (DC) (OC)
  8. The Tombstone (DC) 
  9. The Smiling People (DC)
  10. The Handler (DC)
  11. Let’s Play “Poison” (DC)
  12. The Night (DC)
  13. The Dead Man (DC)
The Small Assassin was reprinted in paperback by Four Square in 1964 and 1965, then again by the New English Library in 1970 and 1973, by Panther in 1976, and again by Pather/Granda in 1984. The last edition was by Grafton in 1986. So then, all but five stories from the original Dark Carnival were printed in The October Country and Small Assassin UK paperbacks. For the record, the uncollected tales were -
  1. The Maiden
  2. Reunion
  3. The Coffin
  4. Interim
  5. The Night Sets
Now for years, Bradbury forbade a reprinting of Dark Carnival, because he had revised many of the stories for The October Country. However he relented in 2001 and allowed a limited edition to be done. This luxury reprint was limited to 750 copies and featured four new stories and an afterword by Clive Barker. And even more limited edition of 52 copies was produced that was lettered, leather-bound and trayed. This version was signed by both Bradbury and Barker, came a CD of an audio interview with Bradbury, and with a chapbook contained an extra tale - Time Intervening 


DARK CARNIVAL
(Gauntlet Press 2001 US)
  1. Jack-in-the-Box
  2. Let's Play 'Poison'
  3. Reunion
  4. Skeleton
  5. The Cistern
  6. The Coffin
  7. The Crowd
  8. The Dead Man
  9. The Emissary
  10. The Handler
  11. The Jar
  12. The Lake
  13. The Maiden
  14. The Man Upstairs
  15. The Next In Line
  16. The Night
  17. The Night Sets
  18. The Scythe
  19. The Small Assassin
  20. The Smiling People
  21. The Tombstone
  22. The Traveler
  23. The Wind
  24. There Was An Old Woman
  25. Uncle Einar
  26. Editors Notes - essay by Donn Alright
  27. Dark Carnival Revisited - essay by Ray Bradbury
  28. Dark Carnival: A History - essay by Jon Eller
  29. The Last Unknown: An Afterword by Clive Barker
  30. The Sea Shell*
  31. The Watchers*
  32. Bang! You're Dead!*
  33. The Poems*
  34. The Homecoming
  35. Interim
* new stories added in this edition

However previously the Gauntlet Press also published a limited edition of The October Country too in 1997 for its 40th anniversary. This was limited to 500 copies, with a deluxe leather-bound edition of 52 copies. There were no new stories added to this edition, so I shall spare you all another listing!


And finally, and for the sake of completeness, Bradbury was to write few more tales concerning the strange and monstrous Elliot Family who feature in three tales first published in Dark Carnival, which would appear in his collections The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953), The Toynbee Convector (1988). In 2001, all the Elliot Family tales were collected into a single volume entitled From the Dust Returned and woven into a novel format. It was published by William Morrow/Harper Collins and appropriately enough featured a cover by Charles Addams. 
  1. The April Witch (from The Golden Apples of the Sun 1953)
  2. Homecoming (from Dark Carnival)
  3. West of October (from The Toynbee Convector 1988) 
  4. On the Orient North (from The Toynbee Convector 1988) 
  5. Uncle Einar (from Dark Carnival)
  6. The Traveler (from Dark Carnival)
  7. From the Dust Returned (originally only published in The Magazine of Fantasy &Science Fiction, September 1994) 


Sunday, 11 October 2015

TOMEGORIA 10 - Night of the Crabs by Guy N Smith


This month, Odile and Jim are taking a trip to paperback racks of the 1970s, to sample the pulp horrors of Guy N Smith's Night of the Crabs! 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - TOMEGORIA 10 - Night of the Crabs by Guy N Smith

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Friday, 9 October 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Don't Lose Your Head!


Not long ago, we explored the legends and lore behind the pop culture cliche of depicting ghosts in chains (see here). And with Halloween just around the corner, it is high time we returned to the spectral realm to discuss another common feature of ghosts in popular culture - their famous habit of wandering about the place with their heads tucked under their arms! Certainly it has been a perennial favourite with cartoonists and illustrators when they turn their attention to matters spectral, and hence someone in ye olden times dress - usually Tudor, with a ruff and hose - carrying their own head under their arm has become short-hand for ghost. Yes, it's true the sheeted phantom is perhaps the most common pop culture image for ghosts, but if you want some drama and expression in your picture, a headless apparition will do the trick far better than some supernaturally animated linen! Not to mention the fact that there's huge comedy potential in carrying around one's own head. 

Now many would point to a famous literary source for this popular and enduring ghostly trope - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Irving's classic tale, although written in 1820, remains a perennial favourite, especially at Halloween-time thanks to its links to both ghosts and pumpkins. And it is perhaps very telling that this well-loved tale uses its feared Headless Horseman too both spectacular dramatic and comedic effect. However as we discovered in an early edition of this column, the Headless Horsemen was no invention of Irving's imagination, and was in fact drawn from a variety of folkloric sources - indeed there is a whole distinct tradition of headless riders in the realm of folklore and legend. So then while Irving's classic has undoubtedly had a long reaching impact on the popular conception of ghosts - with many other fictions drawing inspiration from it - it is not the origin of headless spectres. 

An important clue is found in the choice of attire we normally see headless ghosts decked out in. As I mentioned, it is normally Tudor dress, all puffed sleeves and ruffs, and we can trace this to one particular phantom, the spectre of Anne Boleyn. As I'm sure you'll all know, Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII, who fell from favour when she failed to provide him with a male heir to the throne and ended up charged with high treason and adultery, and was executed by beheading in 1536. Now Henry VIII is famous for having six wives, and although another of his spouses was executed for adultery (his fifth wife Katherine Howard), it is Anne Boleyn who has captured the popular imagination - indeed she is the wife most people think of first in relation to Henry, and for many the only wife they can actually name. 


And this state of affairs originates from several factors working in concert. Firstly it is because the tale of her rise and fall has been retold many times, often as a tragic romance. Secondly it is because this particular marriage is part of a key turning point in British history: Henry broke away the English Church from the leadership of the Pope in order grant himself a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. And this was an event to have long lasting repercussions, such as providing the basis for Protestantism in England, and leading to the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada. However the third reason that Anne Boleyn is so well-known is that after her death she was to become the most famous ghost in England.  

Henry's affair with Anne Boleyn was followed closely by the public in Tudor times, partly because it had huge political ramifications, but also because it was the Tudor equivalent of the celebrity gossip sagas of today. Hence it was perhaps unsurprising that not long after her death, stories began to circulate that her ghost was seen walking around near the White Tower where she was executed. Popular accounts of her death claimed her body was placed in an old arrow chest and buried in an unmarked grave, and traditionally ghosts are often a result of the person's body not being buried properly in consecrated ground.  Actually we now know, thanks to her skeleton being discovered during Victorian renovations, that while her grave was unmarked, she had been buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula.  

However before the building work of 1878 uncovered her mortal remains, the old story that she had been dumped in a chest was still believed, and having not had a proper burial Anne's spirit had good cause to be restless, at least according to the popular beliefs of the day. Furthermore her ghost appeared as the tale claimed her body had been buried - with her head tucked under her arm! However the Boleyn saga was so well-known that soon it was being claimed that her ghost was not only haunting the place where she died but also several other sites too, often without her head.

Next week, we will explore the various tales told of Anne Boleyn's ghost, and chart how she became the best traveled and the most  famous ghost in English folklore. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #21 - The October Country


When I was young, I had a huge appetite for anthologies of weird fiction, largely spawned by my encounters with previously discussed volumes such as Deadly Nightshade, Ghostly Gallery and Ghosts, Spooks & Spectres. After ploughing through a great many short stories collections, I began to assemble a mental list of authors, writers that I knew always delivered a cracking tale. And if I saw an anthology in a library or bookshop that had a  tale by one of "The List" which I hadn't read or didn't already own, said book instantly was borrowed from the library/bought if I had the pocket money to spare.  

Now one of the oldest names on "The List" was Ray Bradbury, whose classic story The October Game in Deadly Nightshade made an unforgettable impression upon me, and if you've ever read that very dark and masterfully told tale you will know exactly what I mean. And as one of the top names on "The List", I was naturally mad keen to my little mitts on anything by Bradbury. The first book of his that I owned was a battered Corgi paperback edition of The Illustrated Man, which naturally I adored, but I was keen to track down some collections of his more horror-orientated tales.

I'd gleaned from somewhere, probably a bio blurb, that the collection I wanted was Dark Carnival, which by all accounts featured some of his most famous horror tales. I would later discover that this was his very first book, and also published first by the legendary Arkham House. However I also learned very quickly that it was wasn't readily available in his country, and it was even in the late 1970s already changing hands for well beyond pocket money prices. But fortunately, I also soon discovered that through a long and tangled publication history, that I will outline another day, a good two thirds of the tales in Dark Carnival had later been reprinted in another Bradbury collection entitled The October Country.

And this particular book had  been split into two volumes for the UK paperback market, with one half appearing as the edition that you can see pictured above and the other as another paperback entitled The Small Assassin. Now I luckily discovered this just as I had some birthday money to spend, however less fortunately, it would only stretch to one book. So which did I choose? Well, obviously the one with the grinning skull and what looked like a Grim Reaper on it! Seriously though, despite the considerable allure of that bony visage on the cover, the very title just appealed to me... The October Country... a promise of place where the leaves are always turning, the scent of bonfires haunts the air, and Halloween is always near.

The full line-up of tales in my edition was - 

The Dwarf
The Watchful Poker Chip of H.Matisse
Skeleton
The Jar
The Traveler
The Emissary
Touched with Fire
The Scythe
Uncle Einar
The Wind
There Was an Old Woman
Homecoming
The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone

Now if you are familiar with all or just some of the tales from Dark Carnival or the original version of The October Country - for many have been reprinted elsewhere over the years - I think you'll agree the most horrific of them actually ended up in The Small Assassin. Now that's not to say that there aren't some fine horror stories in this collection - real skin freezers like Skeleton or The Emissary - but there are also plenty of eerie fantasies too, haunting tales that touch the heart or make you smile, making this selection the lighter half of the stories on the whole. However despite that, this book certainly did not disappoint my younger self, and The October Country was somewhere I'd revisit time and time again.

Admittedly there were a couple of stories that would take time to grow on me - The Watchful Poker Chip of H.Matisse I'm looking at you - but on the whole, I fell in love with these stories right from the first reading. Just as his SF was always about more than just silver rockets and strange planets, so too in these weird tales: the darkness Bradbury is exploring is our own inner spaces, breaking the boundaries of our usual thinking, and mapping the chambers of the human heart. Hence even when Bradbury takes us to the more whimsical regions of his autumnal lands, there is still a real weight to the tales, delivering stories that resonate in the mind and capture the imagination just as powerfully as as the pure horrors found in the likes of The Jar.

The lighter tales in this collection also acknowledge the romance and appeal of the horror genre. As a life-long lover of Halloween, Bradbury's October Country reflects the fun as well as the frights of the dark season. And nowhere is this seen more clearly in the loose trilogy of tales concerning the Elliot Family. In The Traveler, Uncle Einar and Homecoming we are introduced to a strange clan of folks who dwell on the dark side, and possess many strange talents or shapes. In many ways, Bradbury's family are the forerunners of similar but more well-known macabre enclaves, the Addams Family and The Munsters. But while those two more famous families were played just for laughs, Bradbury's tales are far more profound, exploring a secret world that where the darkness has been embraced, where horror is celebrated as a virtue, and being monstrous is the norm. The Elliot Family tales are tremendous fun, but they also have a great deal to say about our own attractions to the horror genre, that blurred line where having fun is being frightened, and where we get to swap places with the monsters for a while.  

Now around this time of the year, the web fills up with features and articles recommending spooky tales for the Halloween season, and you can discover a great many classic chillers perusing them. However, if you want a collection of tales that are as beautiful as they are chilling, as lyrical as they are horrific, and one that imaginatively explores our relationship with the darkness, then book a ticket to travel to The October Country. And if you do, you may well find, that like myself, you'll be revisiting these tales this time every year...  


Sunday, 4 October 2015

HYPNOGORIA 20 - Clemens at the Movies


At last, the long-delayed Clemens at the Movies episode is here! In this show, Mr Jim Moon delves into the late great Brian Clemens' work on the silver screen, from an early feature adapting Edgar Allan Poe for the big screen in The Tell-Tale Heart (1960), through his psychochillers And Soon the Darkness (1970) and See No Evil (1971), to his work with Hammer - Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (1972)

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Friday, 2 October 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Autumn Leaves


In 1939, noted poet Louis MacNeice wrote a long work entitled Autumn Journal, a snap shot in verse of life in London on the eve of the Second World War. MacNeice's poetry very much reflected the times he lived in, as Philip Larkin put it "his was the poetry of our everyday life, of shop-windows, traffic policemen, ice-cream soda, lawn-mowers, and an uneasy awareness of what the news-boys were shouting". However a few particular lines have often puzzled readers - 
  
The plane-tree leaves come sidling down
            (Catch my guineas, catch my guineas)
And the sun caresses Camden Town,
               The barrels of oranges and apples. 

Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice 

Many have thought that the odd refrain of "Catch my guineas, catch my guineas" is perhaps meant to echo of an old nursery rhyme, just as the following lines about oranges and apples recall "Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clements". However, while it does allude to a very old source, we must look a little further than the nursery for its inspiration. 


While these lines don't appear to be an allusion to any older traditional rhyme or verse, it would seem to be an allusion to a widespread folk belief about falling leaves, and one that many generations of children have been familiar with. In Copsford (1952), author WJC Murray recalled that - 
As a small boy I had whimsically been taught that there was a magic in a falling leaf if you caught it before it touched the ground
Now this is somewhat vague, but undoubtedly it does make for a fun game in a sunny autumn afternoon. Delving into the annals of folklore, I discovered that in Cheshire it was said that to catch a falling leaf before it hit the ground on Halloween night entitled the catcher to make a wish. However there are many other versions of this little piece of autumnal lore. Most commonly, in many areas, it is simply considered lucky to catch a falling autumn leaf, and certainly this was the version that I was familiar with as a child growing up in the 1970s in the North of England. It is therefore not a huge leap of logic to suggest that Mr MacNeice's refrain recalls a similar tradition, in which it was said that to catch a falling leaf would ensure money and good fortune, and seemingly recalls a forgotten chant that accompanied the leaf catching. 

In 1878, the Folklore Society was founded to study such matters, and indeed to preserve these kinds of traditions, songs and rhymes. And in their first year of operations their official journal records the common folk belief that - 
If you catch a falling leaf, you will have twelve months of the happiness 
from Folk-Lore Record (1878)

But not all versions of this tradition were as quite as generous. It was said in Northampton, as late as the 1980s, that  if you catch twelve falling leaves during the autumn, you'll have a happy year; presumably each leaf caught ensures one month of good fortune. However childrens' author Alison Uttley, in her memoir A Year in the Country (1957), recalls a more exacting version - 
We try to catch a dancing leaf, for every leaf caught is a 'happy day', but how elusive they are, these fluttering alive things, which slip through the fingers and evade pursuit!
Now these variations in number perhaps are the result of this superstition spawning a game for children, with the increased goals making this autumnal activity something more of a challenge. In the 1950s, folklorist Iona Opie conducted a nationwide survey on superstitions, and a Welsh schoolboy in Bucknell, Radnorshire informed her that one needed to catch a whopping 365 falling leave to ensure a lucky year - one can almost hear his breathless excitement at undertaking such a challenge! 

However the catching of falling leaves had other variations, and what's more were popular with grown-ups too. In The Encyclopedia of Superstitions (1949), Edwin Radford reports -
The peculiar belief mentioned in the first of the above superstitions was forcibly brought to the mind of the author one day in Hyde Park, London, in the autumn of 1946. A man and woman pretty well advanced in years stood looking up at an oak tree from which leaves were being blown by the wind. After making several attempts to catch a leaf, they at last managed to do so, the man first and the lady subsequently. They then walked away, apparently satisfied with the game. 
  A question to them elicited the fact that they expected to be free from colds in the head by reason of their performance. The author quoted to them the superstition in which they apparently believed. To this and a further question they announced that they were country bred, from the shires, and that since coming to London more than 20 years ago they had regularly caught falling leaves in the autumn. 'And we've never had a cold yet,' they concluded.
Whether there is any truth to this I do not know, but certainly the exercise involved in the task of catching those tricksy falling leaves certainly will help in warding off the coughs and colds of winter!