Archive | November, 2011

The Hellfire Club

30 Nov

The term ‘Hellfire Club’ is of wide application and can be used to loosely describe a number of secret societies that existed in the 18th and 19th centuries as gathering places for high-ranking members of society to engage in acts that they did not necessarily want the rest of the world to know about. Describing these institutions is a somewhat difficult task because, by their very nature, they were shady, secretive and hid both their activities and their membership jealously. The best known Hellfire clubs included the Duke of Wharton’s Club, the Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe,  and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

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Wilkie Collins and the Ghost

28 Nov

The Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins was one of the great storytellers, excelling in presenting narratives that both disturbed and engrossed his readers. He is of course best known for the masterpieces The Woman in White and The Moonstone, which between them created the genres of the Victorian sensation novel and modern detective fiction. Less well known is the impressive corpus of supernatural fiction that Collins was responsible for – stories of ghosts, corpses that move, family curses, and perhaps the most unusual of all, the Devil’s spectacles, which bring the wearer a clarity of vision that can lead to madness. In many ways the man behind these strange tales was even more interesting, for Wilkie Collins was no ordinary writer.

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The Mother of All Monsters

26 Nov

Those of you who watched the most recent series of TV show Supernatural may or may not have realised that the season’s ‘Big Bad’ Eve (the so-called ‘Mother of All’ monsters) is based on one of the world’s most ancient, pervasive and terrifying myths. Just as the belief in a ‘Divine Feminine’ is common to many religions and mythological systems, so a corresponding belief in an all-powerful dark goddess or female spirit of evil can be found in almost every culture. There is the vile child of Loki, Hel, who rules the Norse underworld; the demon goddess Tiamat from Sumerian mythology; the vampiric Lamia from the myths of the Greco-Roman world; The Morrigan, a female Celtic harbinger of doom; the bloodthirsty Hindu goddess Kali; and Christianity, Judaism and Islam all refer to the monstrous Lilith, mother of demons.

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Legends in Exile: The World of Fables

24 Nov

Although the majority of posts on this website concern authors, novels, short stories and films, one of my favourite forms of entertainment media is the graphic novel. Over the years I’ve read a number of comic books which are as compelling as any other form of storytelling and it continues to mystify me that this medium never seems to receive the same respect as the more traditional prose novels. Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Watchmen, 300, Slaine, Judge Dredd, 30 Days of Night, The Walking Dead, Witchblade, House of Mystery, Spawn, The Books of Magic, Promethea, Hellblazer and Preacher to name just a few are full to the brim with imagination, original ideas, witty dialogue and searing imagery. It is therefore no great surprise to me that a number of these properties have been turned into successful films and television series. Whilst Sandman and The Books of Magic are probably overdue for big screen outings, the one comic saga which I would like to see on film more than any other is Bill Willingham’s Fables.

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Curse of the Mummy

22 Nov

Mummies, one of the staples of horror, are usually depicted as hideous walking corpses wrapped in bandages. In this form they have starred in numerous scary movies in which they have been woken unwisely from their millenia-long rests to plague the living, as well as causing nightmares for generations of film-goers. One of their earliest appearances was The Jewel of Seven Stars, a horror novel by Bram Stoker – who is of course far better known for his contribution to the vampire genre – first published in 1903 that concerned an archaeologist’s plot to revive an ancient Egyptian mummy. Universal Pictures then contributed several classic horror films concerning mummies, right up to the most recent Brendan Fraser versions (although arguably the scariest thing about these movies was the acting). The belief in cursed mummies which inspired both book and film outings for these undead monsters was probably drawn from a real-life event – the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun and the train of tragic occurrences that this set in motion.

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All the King’s Men

20 Nov

With Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day not long past, I’m reminded of one of the strangest occurrences of the entire First World War – the disappearance of an entire regiment of men in the midst of battle during the infamous Gallipoli campaign. The incident came to light mainly through the eyewitness account of three members of a New Zealand field company, who said that they watched from a clear vantage point as a battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment marched up a hillside in Suvla Bay, Turkey. The hill was shrouded in a low-lying mist that the English soldiers marched straight into without hesitation. They never came out. After the last of the battalion had entered the mist, it slowly lifted off the hillside to join the clouds in the sky. When the Great War was over, assuming that the battalion had been captured and held prisoner, the British government demanded that Turkey return them. The Turks insisted, however, that they had neither captured not made contact with these English soldiers and ever since then theories have abounded as to their fate.

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The Strange Disappearance of Agatha Christie

18 Nov

In 1926 the renowned crime novelist Agatha Christie was involved in a mystery that sounds like the plot of one of her own novels. One freezing cold December night, Christie disappeared without trace from her home in Berkshire, only to reappear eleven days later claiming that she had no memory of where she had been or what she had done. Unlike the fictional crimes unravelled by her famous sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, this puzzle has never been solved satisfactorily.

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Paranormal Activity: The Enfield Poltergeist

16 Nov

In all the annals of the investigations of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), whose history stretches back almost 150 years, there is no account as chilling as the affair of the Enfield Poltergeist. This is the name given to a period of apparent poltergeist activity in the Enfield borough of London at the end of the 1970s. Poltergeist is a term of German derivation literally meaning ‘noisy ghost’ and refers to a paranormal phenomenon which consists of events alluding to the manifestation of an imperceptible entity. Such manifestation typically includes inanimate objects moving or being thrown about, sentient noises (such as impaired knocking, pounding or banging) and, on some occasions, physical attacks on those witnessing the events. Poltergeists have traditionally been described in folklore as troublesome spirits or ghosts which haunt a particular person, although no conclusive scientific explanation of the phenomenon exists. The Enfield case exhibited all of the classic hallmarks of poltergeist activity, including  furniture reported to have moved by itself, knockings on the walls, and items said to have been thrown around and to have been too hot to touch when picked up. 

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Where the Children Cry

14 Nov

Jenny Jones’ Where the Children Cry is by turns a ghost story, a horror, a history lesson and a gazetteer of the ancient city of York. The heroine, Louisa, looks back from the present day to a harrowing episode in her childhood when one of her classmates, a young Jewish boy named David, is mercilessly bullied to his death – an event which has chilling echoes of the massacre in 1190 of the Jews of York by a mob of townsfolk led by a sinister white-robed figure. When another Jewish family moves into Louisa’s neighbourhood this coincides with a rising of similar anti-semitic tensions and the terrifying reappearance of the unnamed figure in white. The author concentrates on building up an atmosphere of tension and a sense of impending doom rather than resorting to outright ‘horror’ as such (although there is one particularly toe-curling moment in the middle of the book which I would recommend any animal-lover to skip over). The real strength of the novel, however, is the vivid description of York, a city which Jones clearly knows well, and is hence able to depict in all its historic, brooding glory. In many ways York is the perfect setting for a ghost story, especially given that it is often regarded as the most haunted city in England, with a recent survey claiming that it has been the site of over 500 recorded hauntings.

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The Vampire in Literature

12 Nov

Vampires, the aristocracy of the Undead, have a long and distinguished literary legacy. The vampire first appeared in literature in the 18th century, then really came into its own in the 19th century with the publication of several masterpieces of the genre which are read to this day. There was then another spike in interest at the end of the 20th century until the present day when, both on the screen and on the page, franchises like Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and Being Human show that the vampire has never been more popular. References to pale creatures that prey on the blood of the living first appeared in 18th century poetry, for example The Bride of Corinth (1797) by Goethe, a story about a young woman who returns from the grave to seek her betrothed. The first mention of vampires in English literature arguably appears in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Christabel (published in 1816), in which the eponymous heroine is seduced by a female supernatural being called Geraldine, who tricks her way into her residence and eventually tries to marry her after having assumed the appearance of an old beloved of hers. These subtle initial appearances of the creatures of the night were soon succeeded by much more overt, and terrifying, references to vampirism.

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