With the Olympics not long past and the Paralympics still upon us, I thought that this might be an opportune moment to consider the haunted history of the UK’s capital city. There is certainly no shortage of material to draw upon when investigating the strange past of London, for just as it has been central to many of the major event’s in the nation’s history, it has also been equally famous as a city of vice, sin, crime and bloodletting. The grim legends of Jack the Ripper, Springheeled Jack and Sweeney Todd continue to cast a menacing shadow over the grimy streets of the East End. Bram Stoker may have made London Dracula’s main preying ground in his iconic horror novel, but the dark Count is seemingly very far from the only vampire – real or fictional – who has flitted through the city’s shadows. Similarly, the plot of Jonathan Landis’s American Werewolf in London also has its terrifying basis in reality. Many of the phantoms that are said to roam the capital are an essential part of British history, folklore and legend. The Tower of London, for example, is reputedly England’s most haunted building precisely because of the many who perished within its walls. There is an old saying that ghosts only ever appear in places that have known either great happiness or great misery, and the buildings and the haunted streets of London have certainly known both in abundance. The countless numbers of people who have lived and died in London in the course of its almost two thousand years of history had known every human emotion – among them hope, joy, love and, of course, terror. In consequence, there is not one square inch of old London town that is not imbued with the memories and experiences of its former citizens.
If I mentioned a bespectacled boy wizard with an undead nemesis, two best friends and a flying familiar you might think I was talking about Harry Potter but what I’m actually referring to is The Unwritten, a clever, post-modern graphic novel series by Mike Carey. The comics follow Tom Taylor, who was the inspiration for a series of hugely successful children’s fantasy novels in the vein of Harry Potter, written by his father Wilson Taylor, who disappeared mysteriously just after writing the story’s conclusion. The Unwritten deals with themes related to fame, celebrity, and the relationship between fiction and human consciousness. Basically, Tom Taylor’s life was screwed up from the start because his father modelled his bestselling novels so closely on his son’s real life that the fictional Tommy Taylor’s fans constantly compared him to his counterpart (turning him into the most pointless variety of Z-level celebrity in the process). In Wilson Taylor’s final book it was even implied that the fictional Tommy would cross over into the real world, giving his delusional fans more excuses than ever to harass poor old Tom. Just when he thinks that his life cannot get any worse, the unfortunate Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that has secretly kept tabs on him all his life. In the process of escaping from them, Tom travels the world to discover the truth behind his own origins. Tom’s journey of discovery takes him to places where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality in all manner of forms, ranging from famous literary works to folk tales to pop culture. In the process of learning what it all means, Tom finds himself having to unravel a breathtaking conspiracy that may span the entirety of the history of fiction. Literate, absorbing and totally original, The Unwritten will simultaneously leave you wanting more and make you question everything you have ever read.
‘Are we at the 100th post already?’ I hear you ask. Or to put it another way (I hope): ‘Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?’ Either way, it’s a minor milestone but I thought it was worth an equally minor celebration so I hope you’ll all forgive me if I shamelessly devote this post to my own guilty and not so guilty pleasures. I’m not usually a fan of those ‘Best of…’ list programmes but what I’d like to do is share with you what, in my humble opinion, I consider to be the very best novels, novellas, short stories, films, television series and graphic novels in the field of horror, the paranormal and the supernatural.
I thought I’d turn away from the classics to more modern fare in this post, specifically the advance copy of Adam Baker’s Juggernaut that I recently managed to get my hands on. You may have already come across Baker’s debut novel Outpost, which told a tale of humans struggling to survive as the world collapsed around them as the result of a plague that turned most people into zombie-like creatures. That book was set in the present day in a cold climate, whilst in this novel Baker goes a bit further south, to the remote deserts of north Iraq, and back a few years, to 2005. In many ways Juggernaut is a ‘prequel’ of sorts to Outpost. It starts out as a thriller/war story, with a bunch of mercenaries on the hunt for gold in the desert. But, in a similar vein to Aliens, Dog Soldiers and 28 Days Later, these ‘professionals’ soon come upon a situation out of their very worst nightmares. They discover that they aren’t the only occupants of the desert valley and that the ancient citadel that they are looking for houses not only Saddam’s fabled treasure but also an army of enemies that quite literally won’t stay dead…
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.
Although it first appeared at the end of the eighties, Neil Gaiman is still best known as the creator of the wonderfully dark and imaginative Sandman comic series. Whilst this approbation is undoubtedly well-earned, it does something of a disservice to this multi-media writer’s other fine contributions to literature, film and TV (including the movie Stardust, the American Gods novel and some of the best episodes of shows ranging from Doctor Who to Babylon 5, not to mention his involvement in the formative stages of other landmark comics such as The Books of Magic and Spawn). I cannot think of another creative talent who has excelled in all of these areas as Gaiman has and this is best illustrated by Neverwhere – a story which has appeared in book, television and comic format.