Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, where he also lived for most of his life and eventually died in 1937. Despite his relatively short life and modest literary output – three short novels and about sixty short stories – he left an indelible stamp on the field of supernatural fiction, of which he is regarded as the leading twentieth-century American exponent. Lovecraft was gifted with a fertile imagination which, fed by the independent study and reading that was forced upon him by frequent illnesses which disrupted his schooling, spurred him to write many essays and poems early in his career based on the wide knowledge he acquired. But it was in the writing of horror fiction that Lovecraft truly excelled, especially after the advent in 1923 of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, to which he contributed most of his stories.
I’ve been looking forward to this one…
Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) is generally acknowledged as the founding father of the ghost story as it is known today. The son of a clergyman raised in rural Suffolk, England, M R James attended prep school at Eton and it was here that he discovered traditional ‘gothic’ ghost tales full of the old trappings of antique castles, terrified maidens and spectres clanking chains. He decided to try his own interpretation of the genre – one of plausibility, actuality and malevolence more suited to 20th century readers – when he later became a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. The publication of his first collection of ghostly tales in 1904 met with an enthusiastic public response. An antiquarian by nature, James was a master of topography, scholarly detail and seemingly authentic documentation, which appealed to the audience of sophisticated modern readers that he sought (even the least of his stories exhibits a craftsmanship and attention to detail that must be the envy of more hasty and prolific writers). James also inspired countless other ghost story writers, who to this day owe a debt to his conception of the form (in his own words – “Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way… and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage”).
One evening in early February 1855 snow fell in Devon, and with it one of the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time. For when people awoke in towns and villages across the county, they noticed in the otherwise untrodden snow thousands of very odd footprints – footprints which were found not only on the ground but also across the rooftops of houses, over high walls, and even across a two-mile estuary! But the oddest thing about the impressions left in the snow was the fact that they were left by cloven feet and were so deep and clearly defined that they looked as though they had been burned into the snow by a hot iron. All over Devon curiosity turned to fear as the question was asked: Did the Devil walk the rooftops? Continue reading
A few years ago Wordsworth Editions, a highly respected publishing house most famous for its range of classic literary fiction, published a line known intriguingly as Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural. This was a collection of works written by Victorian and Edwardian ghost story writers, including giants such as Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, M R James, H P Lovecraft and Rudyard Kipling as well as far less well known (but perhaps equally gifted, in this field at least) writers such as W F Harvey, Algernon Blackwood and Sir Andrew Caldecott. Their aim was to bring those works which have been forgotten undeservedly back to a mass audience for the acclaim that they deserve. Many of the short story collections that made up this line of Wordsworth editions had been out of print for decades, despite being some of the finest examples of the short story form in any genre. Sadly, the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural are no longer being published, although there are still plenty available in the right bookshops (and online of course). I hope to talk about a number of the writers in this range in future posts but I thought I’d start with one of my favourites: William Hope Hodgson.
I’ve always found Edinburgh a splendidly atmospheric city, which is why I’ve visited it time and again over the years. The city is perched on a series of extinct (we hope) volcanoes and rocky crags – a setting so striking that Sir Walter Scott was moved to call it “My own Romantic Town”. In my opinion, however, it was another native author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who perhaps best captured the feel of this city with the following description in Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes: “You go under arches and down dark stairs and alleys. The way is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall; so steep that, in greasy winter weather, the pavement is almost as treacherous as ice.”
I’ve lived in Cambridge for about fifteen years but it’s only recently, much to my own surprise, that I’ve discovered that as well as being a famed university town and centre of technology, it is also reputedly one of the most haunted locations in the British Isles and has been the setting for a wide variety of supernatural phenomena over the centuries!
When it comes to reviewing books on this website anything goes – new releases, old favourites and undiscovered/forgotten gems are all equally likely to appear on these pages (at some point I’ll also start reviewing films, graphic novels and albums – huge fan of folk and world music!). I thought I’d start with a book that’s a few years old but which I’ve always felt has never really received the attention it deserved – 362 Belisle St. by Susie Moloney.
What I hope to do on this website is share my own otherworldly short stories; accounts of myth, legend and superstition from all over the world and reviews of ghost/horror novels by other writers. With the rugby world cup starting today, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to talk about the mystical traditions of our cousins in New Zealand!