I wanted to begin this post by referring to one of my favourite horror films of the last decade or so, The Others. If you’ve seen it you’ll know that it’s a great ‘haunted house’ movie, with plenty of suspense and authentic shudders but an absence of the brainless blood and guts that seems to sum up a lot of modern horror. For me, it’s a particular delight because it’s very reminiscent of a lot of the classic ghost stories of the Victorian era, only on screen rather than on the page. The story is also classic in its simplicity – a troubled woman who lives in a lonely old house with a couple of creepy children welcomes a housekeeper, maid and gardener who soon turn out to be more than they appear. Like all the best haunted house films, there is a claustrophobic feel from the outset, with tension that builds to a level that is almost unbearable before the dénouement (which is probably the only weak part of the film – you’ve never read a ghost story or watched a horror film if you don’t see the ‘twist’ ending coming a mile off!). Continue reading
The term ‘Stone Tape’ relates to two things: first, the theory that inanimate materials such as buildings can record the resonances of living things and ‘play back’ those memories in the form of ‘ghosts’; and secondly, a little known original screenplay broadcast on BBC television way back in 1972. The Stone Tape theory is interesting enough, if a little mundane in the way that it explains away ghosts as ‘recordings’ rather than spirits, but the TV serial based on it is quite simply one of the most disturbing things that I’ve ever watched (which is perhaps why it has not been shown on TV again – it’s difficult enough to find it on DVD/video).
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.
It feels odd to be saying that a book which, not so long ago, won the World Fantasy Award is little known, but unfortunately that seems to be the case with Sean Stewart’s Galveston (I was amazed to see that Amazon does not even have a review of this book on its UK website!).
Galveston is a real town in Texas, described in the book as a ‘thin ribbon of sand’ not far from the Gulf of Mexico. Due to its position it has always been vulnerable to the elements and in 1900 it was hit by a Katrina-sized hurricane which basically obliterated everything in its path, leaving no structures standing and one-sixth of the population dead. Galveston the book imagines a time in the near future when the town is drowned not by water but by magic, when reason and rationality are washed away to be replaced by gods, ghosts and monsters in a bizarre and deadly Mardi Gras. This cataclysm, called the Flood, basically splits Galveston in two, with one half of the town trying to carry on their lives as normal while the other half is trapped in an endless carnival ruled by the malevolent entity known as Momus, who is part clown and part devil – a sort of psychotic version of the Greek god of mockery from whom he takes his name. Life away from Momus is not much better since the ‘free’ half of Galveston is overrun by dangerous and unpredictable ‘Krewes’ (basically gangs, but run by criminals who love dressing up in carnival gear). Eventually someone decides to take on both Momus and the Krewes and that’s when the fun really begins! Continue reading
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.