Today, dear listener, we bow to both popular and unpopular demand, and offer you a brief excursion to the parish of St Botolph-in-the-Wolds, in darkest Yorkshire. A location of which H P Lovecraft once said:
“I shall no doubt have to tone this benighted place down if I want to base my modest tales upon it. It contains such peculiar horrors that no editor is likely to respond with any kindness.” (Note to his milkman, 15th July 1923)
For those new to the subject, St Botolph-in-the-Wolds might be described as a sleepy English Parish set in the rolling countryside of East Yorkshire, far from the hustle and bustle of city life. A village where everyone knows each other, and life is much the same as it was centuries ago.
This would be a stupid description.
It may be geographically correct, but life in St Botolph’s is complex, argumentative and filled with new terrors every day. More than one resident dreams of escaping to find peace in a violent urban crack ghetto, surrounded by burning tyres and daily police raids. People may indeed know their neighbours, but they may not always be sure what their neighbours are.
It should be noted that the Concerned Ladies Committee of the village, formed originally for charitable acts, is mostly concerned about having to live in St Botolph-in-the-Wolds. Members of the Women’s Institute are heavily armed, and the local Girl Guides are seriously feral, with a long-term Brasso addiction.
The main village choral society is the The Children of the Empty Furrow, described as:
“The Yorkshire Wolds’ outstanding primitive folk group.” (Poultry Botherers’ Gazette, 2011).
Their most popular songs include:
‘The Earth Bleeds, and the Seas Burn: My Scorched Lungs Sing of Thee’ (acapello)
‘The Drums of God are Made from the Flayed Skin of His Enemies’
‘Why Do Your Eyes Bleed in the Sunlight, Mother?’ (duet)
‘The Old Wicker Tree on the Hill’ (traditional)
‘Lemon Tree’ (hardcore blood-rage version, arr. Nina and Fredrik)
If You Go Down to the Woods Today
Scholars are divided as to what makes St Botolph’s so unusual. There is no doubt that the looming presence of Whateley Wood, north of the village proper, plays its part. Home to the oak, the Western Hemlock and an especially offensive type of briar, the woods contain many remains of early fertility and sacrificial cults.
These include obscenely carved altars – where the Womens’ Institute leaves offerings of home-made raspberry jam at key times of the year – and a gleaming black stone from antiquity, whose surface is chill and moist even on the hottest day. This stands alone in a clearing which smells of charred bone, and is marked ‘Pickering 14 miles’. The sheer malevolence of the woods can be seen from the fact that Pickering is not actually 14 miles away. And it’s in the other direction.
Paths through the woods often appear and disappear at random. The unwary traveller may find themselves lost in a ravening gloom, surrounded by nightjacks and tendrilled things – or worse, may end up at Malton bus station. The main section is also inhabited by a large colony of bronchitic whip-poor-wills. Normally typical of the witch-haunted hills of New England, these small, coughing birds are always on the lookout for souls to conduct into the Afterlife.
Or perhaps its origins are to blame. It has been variously claimed that the village started life as:
A Bronze Age ritual site for the disposal of unwanted otters
A shrine to Botothqua, Mother of Persistent Slime, worshipped by at least three people in the early Iron Age but somewhat neglected since 557 BCE*
An open toilet for the Auxiliary Roman Cavalry unit based at Malton
A failed attempt at creating a refuge for agoraphobic Vikings
*See ‘Mucus and Myth: The Peculiar Deposits on some Northern La Tene Artifacts’, Ichabod James Marsh (BChD), Journal of Unreliable Archaeology, XVI, pp23-48)
St Botolph’s – Fact and Fiction
There is no single agreed origin for the settlement of St Botolph’s. The prominent local scholar J Linseed Grant records in his journal that the village can be traced back to at least 416 CE and the story of St Bortulf:
“According to local legend, Bortulf was a learned man who spent his entire life studying the humble badger, even to the point of entering the larger setts and recording the intimate activities of these friendly, sociable creatures. After his sudden death from multiple badger bites, his remains were taken to be buried in the River Ouse. This endeavour took the lives of three successive gravediggers before his wife remembered that Bortulf had said ‘by the river’, not in it. St. Bortulf is known today as the Patron Saint of Shaving Brush Manufacturers and people who forget to take out an index-linked pension. He is not widely venerated, even here…”
(Note: Bortulf has been shown to have nothing to do with the other St Botolph, nee Botwulf, an English abbot and patron saint of travellers, who preferred East Anglia to East Yorkshire.)
Stories of the past are common currency in St Botolph’s, many of them highly dubious. There is no doubt, though, that in Victorian times the village was genuinely home to Ebediah Crake, the least successful Wolds murderer in history. J Linseed Grant says of him:
“In 1839 he failed to kill an entire family of seven living just outside York, being distracted by ‘a littul kitten what had a poorly paw.’ And in September 1842, Crake helped a frail old lady into a carriage and then secured her luggage to the rear, telling the driver to go gently.
“His actual instructions, from one Septimus Grange, an itinerant ferret-grinder, had been to garotte her and leave the body in a ditch so that they could share the contents of her purse. Grange was later hanged for interfering with two unrelated goats.”
There are many other examples of folklore. The tale of mist-shrouded Cooper’s Field, northwest of the village, is always popular at Bar Mitzvahs:
“Legend had it that a skilled cooper once set up his trade there, relying on the woods to supply timber for his intricately fashioned barrels. Not long after, he died. It wasn’t much of a legend, really.”
St Botolph’s is also on the edge of the Wold Newton Triangle, an area long known for its strange meteorites, disappearing rivers, early mounds and so forth. So that probably helps. With Grimdyke Moors, Whateley Wood and a range of stark, haunted crags surrounding the village, Yorkshire temperament must play a part in keeping humanity present in a location for which it is hardly suited. That, and a poor sense of direction.
Despite the fact that the Ordnance Survey have refused to mark St Botolph’s on the official maps, citing public safety concerns, certain authorities such as the military are aware of it. RAF pilots, for example, have strict instructions not to fly over the area, ever since one of the Tornadoes from Staxton Wold came back with more wings than it had when it set out.
And given all the above, it is perhaps no surprise that religion plays a large part in the life of St Botolph’s. We may yet visit that subject in a later article.
Or we may go and worm the dogs. Literary decision-making is always such a struggle. For now we shall leave you with the words of the ever-reliable J Linseed Grant on his native land:
“Went for a walk. Couldn’t find one. On the moors, a large pony appeared to be dismembering something pallid and fungoid. The pony seemed to be enjoying himself; the pallid, fungoid thing not so much. Do not think this village will be winning any Picturesque Britain awards. The floral clock is stuck at five past twenty seven again…”
The Journal of J Linseed Grant is explored every few days in jlg’s Facebook entries, usually with dire results. St Botolph’s features in many stories on greydogtales (and the odd one elsewhere). And as Easter is coming up, you can discover the true meaning of Christmas here, in a St Botolph’s tale entitled ‘A Midwinter Night’s Carol’.
A brief interlude from our usual weirdness to bring folk up to speed. We’re looking forward to the second outing of Occult Detective Quarterly, and here’s some official news.
We’ve had terrific reviews for Issue One, and a whole raft of new submissions for the next few issues. In fact, we’ve had more stories than we can possibly print, so there is fierce competition for space. Sam Gafford, the old reprobate John Linwood Grant and Dave Brzeski have been reading around the clock, assisted by our professional readers. And they’re getting there.
The magazine is planned to go to layout in early April, with printing at the end of the month – if the batteries hold out on the electric pentacle. Occult Detective Quarterly Issue Two should therefore be available to purchase (and for despatch to subscribers), in early May 2017. This time, the print edition should be available to purchase through Amazon as well, as ODQ expands its distribution.
Note: The eformat version of Issue One is now available as a packed pdf from Electric Pentacle Press. Click the link on the right-hand sidebar to get your copy.
Here’s a more detailed look at what you can expect in Issue Two. Note that this is only what we’ve picked out so far, though we expect to have at least nine thrilling new stories in the final magazine.
We have another exciting and different blend of fiction this time round, from the Edwardian period to the present day. And our protagonists range from Brandon Barrows’ classic occult detective Thomas Carnacki, through Steve Liskow’s Deputy Sheriff Pamela Ironwood, to Kelly A Harmon’s Assumpta Mary-Margaret O’Connor, to name but three.
Already planned to appear are:
The Arcana of the Alleysby Brandon Barrows. A younger Carnacki the Ghost Finder gets himself caught up in the affairs of opium lords in Boston, Massachusetts, and finds an unlikely ally.
The Black Tarotby Mike Chinn. A series of cursed papyrus fragments, and a Tarot deck, lead occult adventurer Damian Paladin into danger.
Light from Pure Digestion Bredby Kelly A Harmon. A demon-marked woman and her rather dapper (but hellish) companion discover that something on the menu of a Baltimore coffee shop may not be as agreeable as it looks.
Death and the Dancing Bearsby Steve Liskow. When grisly death comes to a carnival, one of the police officers involved must draw on her Native American background to search out the truth.
Grabbermanby Tim Waggoner. A psychologist who know the Dark only too well must come to the aid of a young woman whose nightmares threaten to become real.
Occult Legion Part 2by Joshua M Reynolds. The next instalment, a story in its own right, building on Part One by Willie Meikle in the last issue.
Our expert in occult detective fiction returns with a new article, and we look at another comic book character, the urban, doom-laden John Constantine.
Doctors of the Strangeby Tim Prasil. The erudite scholar of ghost-hunters explores the tradition of the occult physician – tracing the historical origins of this medical wing of occult detection.
The Constant Englishmanby Danyal Fryer. An introduction to the background of John Constantine, of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer fame – his upbringing, his nature and his English roots.
Reviewsby Dave Brzeski and James Bojiacuk
We’ve been very fortunate with our artists once again, and expect to be showing off the work of illustrators from the United States, the United Kingdom and Argentina. As last time, some of the B/W interiors are being produced exclusively to illustrate stories in the issue.
Coverby award-winning artist Alan M Clark, who greydogtales interviewed last year concerning both his art and his dark historical fiction.
Interior illustrationsby Luke Spooner, Sebastian Cabrol, Mutartis Boswell and more
And that’s where we are at moment. We’ll share more news during April as we finalise the contents, so stay tuned…
In the proud tradition of our adventures in weird fiction, we once again lose control of the wheel and crash into theosophy, Marvel comics and Mythosian Elder Gods. Fire extinguishers at the ready, because the Lords of the Flame are here, dear listener. Oh, and there’s a great bundle of post-Lovecraftian books on offer at the moment. We’ll get to that later…
Did Stan Lee abandon his obsession withH P Lovecraft in 1963 and deliberately draw on theosophy to refute cosmic horror? This is the question which countless weird fiction enthusiasts and Marvel fans have debated for years, and one which must be answered. Such debates, conducted late into the night over glasses of cheap vitriol (no ice, twist of lemming), are divisive. They must go on no longer. We know the unbelievable truth.
Which, if you know us, will turn out to be just one of those odd things that happen. And no, Lee didn’t have an obsession with HPL or theosophy as far as we know, but you’ll see how things interconnect as we toddle along.
On Younger Older Elder Gods
Noted author of the weird, H P Lovecraft (1890-1937) died eighty years ago this week. He believed that the vast enormity of the cosmos was at best indifferent, at worst hostile to the state and fate of humanity. Such things as might be gods were blind, obscene essences of roiling or brooding madness. OK, that’s what he wrote in his fiction, anyway.
Writer/editor August Derleth (amongst others) then played with those ideas. Derleth created new hierarchies around Lovecraft’s god-like beings. And in the process he started adding the Elder Gods who, confusingly, somehow oppose the Outer Gods and the Great Old Ones.
This Elder Gods version of the Mythos may be well established now, but Lovecraft himself only mentioned Nodens, who he described as the “hoary and terrible lord of the primeval Abyss”. Which doesn’t sound that benevolent. We have the feeling that Derleth missed the point of it all, really.
Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee (1922-), on the other hand, believed that very large Space Gods in funky metal outfits created by Jack Kirby would come to judge us. Headed by Arishem the Judge, these gods, or Celestials, were anti-Lovecraftian in some ways – organised and clearly defined – but they did at least dsplay quite a bit of indifference to mere mortal whitterings.
After the Celestials (it seems), and relevant to our piece, came entities like Gaea, goddess of the Earth, Set, the serpent god of death, and Chthon, god of darkness and chaos. The Elder Gods, in fact, but not as old as the Mythos ones. Younger Elder Gods.
It all went a bit wrong for Marvel’s Elder Gods. Set started eating his kin to gain more power, becoming the first murderer in Earth history, an act which made him turn into a demon. The other Elder Gods thought this seemed cool and started to do the same. Gaea intervened, and… suffice to say it all ended in bloodshed, with most of the gods dead.
Some of the demonic survivors were imprisoned, though they continued to affect the Earth indirectly through their worshippers, or evil artifacts. A situation which bears no resemblance to, say, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu or any of the Great Old Ones in the Mythosian puddle, oh no. Not at all.
This sitation is further confused by various magickal entries and mock-Necronomicons, which link the Elder Gods of Babylon (Tiamat et al) to Lovecraft’s ideas. In the process they leave a muddy heap of Marvel’s Elder Gods, Mesopotamian magick and the Elder Gods of the Derlethian hierarchies. HPL might have had a laugh at that.
TRIVIA BREAK: More “Set” related-stuff – where Lovecraft definitely comes into play, can be found in Marvel Premiere #4, ‘The Spawn of Sligguth’ (1972). Sligguth, as everyone knows, is descended from the Marvel Elder Gods. A child of Set, he later escaped to another dimension when his physical form was due to be destroyed. Author Pierre Comtois says:
“Veteran storysmith Gardner Fox… took his cue from horror writer H P Lovecraft, fashioning a pseudo-mythology for Dr Strange based on HPL’s own ‘Cthulhu Mythos’.
“(Sligguth is) a sub-aquatic creature obviously inspired by Lovecraft’s sub-sea god Cthulhu. As the story unfolds, Dr Strange is led to a town called Starkesboro, standing in for HPL’s Innsmouth where the residents all display ichthyic qualities similar to those of the latter municipality.”
Marvel Comics in the 1970s: An Issue-by-Issue Field Guide to a Pop Culture Phenomenon (2011)
Dagon, maybe, but we’re not sure that Sligguth is quite up to Cthulhu’s standards. Stan Lee didn’t influence this one, as he had moved on to his publishing role, after scripting and altering Barry Smith’s Dr Strange story in Marvel Premiere #3.
Gardner Fox (1911-86), on the other hand, had been interested in HPL’s work since at least the forties, and one of his own characters, Dr Fate, supposedly comes from that interest.
Back to the plot (we’ll return to Dr Strange in a while). As for the Celestials and their various Hosts – a sort of family get-together where galaxies trembled – they had their critics. Judging civilisations and wiping them out was seen as quite invasive, especially by a race known as the Watchers.
In Marvel, the Watchers are one of the oldest species in the universe and are committed to observing and compiling knowledge on all aspects of the universe. The Watchers had made a minor mistake early on (hey, they only destroyed one civilisation), and decided to go neutral. Thus their policy of “non-interference” meant that the two races became enemies. Now let’s get theosophical.
The Lords of the Flame
In a previous excursion, we mentioned the Lords of Venus, advanced spiritual beings in the real-life writings of the theosophists. We’d better recap for younger listeners:
“Theosophy is a collection of mystical and occultist philosophies concerning, or seeking direct knowledge of, the presumed mysteries of life and nature, particularly of the nature of divinity and the origin and purpose of the universe. Theosophy is considered part of Western esotericism, which believes that hidden knowledge or wisdom from the ancient past offers a path to enlightenment and salvation.”
The theosophists of the Victorian and Edwardian periods had some fairly wild views:
“Those known as the Lords of the Flame, who arrive from Venus on the fourth globe, in the fourth Round, in the middle of the third Root Race, quicken mental evolution, to found the Occult Hierarchy of the Earth and to take over the government of the globe. It is They whose tremendous influence so quickened the germs of mental life that these burst into growth, and there followed the great downrush through the MONAD that we call the Life-Wave causing the formation of the CAUSAL BODY, the ‘birth’ or ‘descent of the ego’ for all those who had come up from the animal kingdom…”
Man: Whence, How and Whither, Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater (1913)
It’s an evocative picture, and centres round an entity called Sanat Kumara.
“Our world is governed by a Spiritual King– one of the Lords of the Flame who came long ago from Venus. He is called by the Hindus Sanat Kumara, the last word being a title, meaning Prince or Ruler. Other names given to Him are the One Initiator, the One without a Second, the Eternal Youth of Sixteen Summers; and often we speak of Him as the Lord of the World. He is the Supreme Ruler; in His Hand and within His actual aura lies the whole of His planet. He represents the Logos, as far as this world is concerned, and directs the whole of its evolution– not that of humanity alone, but also the evolution of the Devas, the nature-spirits, and all other creatures connected with the earth.”
Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path, 1925
Which, as it happens, is identical to the role of Gaea in the Marvel Universe, where she nurtures the life essence of the Earth and all living creatures. Although as far as we know, the word kumara is derived from Sanskrit कुमार (kumara) meaning “boy, son” – not “Ruler”.
According to Twentieth century strands of Theosophy, Sanat Kumara is an “Advanced Being” – the ‘Lord’ or ‘Regent’ of Earth and of the humanity. He is thought to be the head of the Spiritual Hierarchy of Earth who dwells in Shamballah (also known as ‘The City of Enoch’).
Leadbeater and Besant said that Sanat Kumara brought 30 “Lords of the Flame” with him from Venus to help him set up his colony. In later versions, notable “Lords of the Flame” include Gautama Buddha, and the World Teacher (the being some describe as Maitreya or Christ).
This confusion is further confused by the presence of the Kumaras in Hindu texts. They are described as sons of the creator-god Brahma, and they are said to wander throughout the materialistic and spiritualistic universe in order to teach. Yet some texts say that Sanat Kumara is a child or avatar of Krishna, and there are even Christians who relate him to Lucifer.
All clear so far?
Now you’ve got the background. Alice Ann Bailey (1880 – 1949) wrote dozens of books on theosophical subjects, and was one of the first writers to use the term New Age. Despite attempts to show that her writings influence H P Lovecraft, nothing proves that he had more than a passing knowledge of theosophical debate at the time. Bailey’s work was better known after HPL had written much of his formative work. However, we were interested to note her own driftings on Sanat Kumara.
According to her, Sanat Kumara has many assistants who help him in his arduous task of spiritually governing Earth as its presiding Regent. These include The Watcher (also called the Silent Watcher or the Great Silent Watcher), whose function it is to continually watch the Akashic records and download daily all the information on them relevant to the life waves of Earth and forward it to the Custodian of the Hall of Records.
It seems that the idea that the Watcher was part of a race posted throughout the Cosmos was first put forward by Leadbeater and continued by Guy Ballard and Elizabeth Clare Prophet.
Did Stan Lee know of this history when he developed his own Watchers? The initial appearance of the race was in Fantastic Four #13, in 1963. At this point there was one Watcher in play, with no name, and he was assigned to record what happened on Earth, exactly as in theosophy.
Later, as the Marvel mythology developed, it became known that the Marvel Watcher was called Uatu. Uatu’s strand goes all the way from 1963 to the 2014 ‘Original Sin’ comic book storyline. This features (bizarrely) Nick Fury and the Avengers investigating the murder of… Uatu the Watcher.
MORE TRIVIA: Uatu’s first recorded encounter with an Earthling occurred in the year 1602 A.D. when a possible-future Captain America was inadvertently sent back in time to that era, causing ripples in the timestream that threatened the very fabric of reality. Uatu revealed the nature of the problem to an Elizabethan-era version of yes, Dr Stephen Strange, who helped send the temporally-displaced Captain America back through a time-portal, correcting the timeline (Marvel Universe Wiki).
The creation of the Marvel character was down to both Lee and Jack Kirby (Kirby created the Celestials mentioned above in 1976, thirteen years later).
Lee was a child of Romanian Jewish immigrants, and Kirby of Austrian Jewish immigrants. Their fathers worked in the garment trade, and there seem no obvious links to movements like theosophy. Nor does it tie in especially well with what we know of Lee’s influences.
We therefore hazard the view that Kirby and Lee came up with an identical concept to that of Bailey et al’s theosophical Watchers without ever knowing the connection. Someone should ask Stan Lee while he’s still around, in case we’re wrong
Shamballa in Shambles
Almost finally (have you already left?), Shamballa. Or Shambhala, etc. This mythic place is a land (or city) of peace and spiritual learning, and a symbol which goes back into very early mythogogies or belief-systems. It was the inspiration for the concept of Shangri-La, but if we explain any more, this article will implode under its own weight.
Shamballa is another key concept in theosophy (see Sanat Kumara above). Suffice it to say that a while back we covered the Book of Dzyan, mentioned in Lovecraft’s story “The Diary of Alonzo Typer”:
“I learned of the Book of Dzyan, whose first six chapters antedate the earth, and which was old when the lords of Venus came through space in their ships to civilise our planet.”
This leads us to more complicated stuff. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the Buddha is supposed to have taught something called the Kalachakra tantra on request of a king of Shamballa; the teachings are also said to be preserved in Shamballa. Some believe that the Stanzas of Dzyan from which Blavatsky claimed to have gotten the information in The Secret Doctrine, are based on the Kalachakra tantra.
Lo and behold, Dr Strange was there, in Shamballa, in one of the oddest graphic novels from Marvel, Into Shamballa (1986). We still have our treasured copy.
With script by J M DeMatteis, plot by same and Dan Green, and art by Dan Green, it’s a beautiful thing, but confused the heck out of some fans. This is not the Steve Ditko classic Dormammu Doctor Strange which we so love, but it’s good. It’s more like a theosophical musing, beautifully illustrated.
There’s a lot more that could be said about Dr Strange links to the Cthulhu Mythos and even theosophy, but this isn’t the time or place, sadly. We won’t even point out that Oshtur, one of the Marvel Elder Gods, helped create the Book of Vishanti. Which happens to be the white magic counterpart of the Darkhold, Marvel’s version of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon…
Or that “shamballa” is a wif-fi password in the latest Dr Strange film. So there.
A Bundle of Fun
We end by coming round in a circle to mention a great offer which is open until 29th March 2017. It’s a whole bundle of post-Lovecraftian ebooks, curated by author Nick Mamatas, and very good value. We ourselves have the bundle, and are enjoying it immensely.
The old greydog,John Linwood Grant, is in one of the volumes, Cthulhusattva, with a story which people are already calling ‘part of an anthology’. You should have a look while you can.
The Lovecraft Bundle
“H. P. Lovecraft is undoubtedly one of the most influential writers of the pulp era, leaving an indelible mark on the last hundred years of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Not only is Lovecraft a central element of genre fiction today, he has ascended to the heights of mainstream literature, thanks to editions of his stories published by the definitive Penguin Classics and Library of America lines. Lovecraft was also a cult writer whose themes were explored in underground comics, in rock music, film, and fine art. And this all while being the sort of racist, anti-Semite, and homophobe that would exclude him from dinner parties…even during his own era.
“For a long time, Lovecraft’s mantle was carried in the small press, where slavish pastiche and careful avoidance of his politics were rules to be carefully followed. These days, however, Lovecraftian fiction is wider and more diverse. His themes and voice are being remixed, detourned, and exploded by a new generation of writers, and his distasteful opinions critiqued and parodied. This Lovecraftian Literature bundle explores the Lovecraftian idiom in a diversity of ways, from intense erotica to beat literature, from neo-pulp fun to theological exegesis.
“Among the goodies in this bundle is the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology of She Walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a bundle-exclusive collection Home from the Sea by pulp master William Meikle, the Pynchonesque (!) Lovecraftian military thriller duology Radiant Dawn/Ravenous Dusk by Cody Goodfellow, a real-life attempt at “keeping it R’lyeh” by examining the metaphysics of Lovecraft’s vision of the universe by Scott R. Jones…and a whole lot more!”
You can check out the offer here until the end of the month.
What do a lurcher rescue site, a journalist on Egyptian travel, a scientist’s view of RPG dice, and a blog about the writers of Weird Tales magazine have in common? We can’t be sure, except that they’re all worth a visit, and perhaps they embody the spirit of greydogtales. Eccentricity, curiosity and taking a chance. So come with us, dear listener, and have a look…
DICING WITH HOBBITS
Firstly the curious case of the d2. Years ago we used to be heavily involved in role-playing games. Seemingly endless sessions, some lasting until 4 in the morning, taking on the mantle of one fantastical figure after another. A lot of over-acting was involved. We mostly used the Dragonquest and the Powers & Perils systems, just to be wild and free from AD&D for a while.
Greydog’s favourite character was born of his distrust of hobbits. Sebastian Killingworth Sidewinder was an anti-hobbit.
Of humble origins on the edge of the hobbit world, born of a family of brigands, he didn’t comb his feet or look forward to a nice pie. His most likely interaction with noble elven folk was to rob them blind. Dwarves he viewed as hobbits after too many gym sessions. Humans were, of course, his favourite prey. Early in life he had discovered that a) most humans didn’t take hobbits seriously, and didn’t expect you to be a bastard, and b) if you came up behind them and knifed them in the kidneys, height no longer mattered.
Developing his own network of thieves, Sebastian ruled wisely. In the sense that he was wise enough to knife anyone who looked like a threat to his command position. And he was quite lucky with his dice rolls. This all came flooding back when we read a recent post at Skulls in the Stars. This fascinating blog described itself as “The intersection of physics, optics, history and pulp fiction”. With such a tag, we were always going to enjoy it. As the author says:
“The blog covers topics in physics and optics, the history of science, classic pulp fantasy and horror fiction, and the surprising intersections between these areas.”
The latest post there, The Geometry of Weird-shaped Dice, is a fascinating exploration of the sort of dice used in role-playing games. It’s erudite and scientific, but entirely accessible to anyone who’s ever argued over what a d120 said as it teetered on the edge of a rulebook. And instead of tossing a coin, now you can replace loose change with a two-sided dice, which is much cooler.
In the case of mercenary hobbits, even the d2s would have been fixed. Much more here:
The site also includes many and various posts on gaming, dark fantasy and classic horror amongst the science posts. This is also seems the time to repeat our recipe for hobbit pie:
One plump hobbit
One turnip, a couple of potatoes, one small onion
Half a pound of bacon
Handful of fresh thyme and sage; pepper
Flaky pastry to cover
Throw the turnip really hard and stun the hobbit
Gently saute the onion, bacon and potatoes
Add herbs and pepper
Cover with pastry and cook for 45 minutes
Eat with fresh crusty bread
When the hobbit regains consciousness, tell him that the pie’s all gone, and then laugh at his stricken expression. Gosh, you didn’t think I was going to suggest actually eating one of those hairy little horrors, did you? You’d be picking fur and toes out of your teeth for days…
TRAVELLING FOR EGYPTIAN GOLD
On to the next candidate. We were excited to find out last Autumn that Matt Bright’s new small imprint, Twopenny Press, was producing a collection of tales called Clockwork Cairo in 2017.
“An anthology of Egyptian-themed steampunk stories, it will take you an adventure from the steam-powered souks of Cairo, to the clockwork bazaars of Alexandria and the shadowy mysteries of the pyramids.”
In fact, jlg was quite keen to be involved, but time and other projects got out of hand. However, we werealready in the process of researching late Victorian and Edwardian travel for various other reasons, including the Last Edwardian series. While doing so, we came across another ace blog/site which is a fascinating resource of period material, Egypt in the Golden Age of Travel.
“As a new arrival in Cairo in 1988, Andrew Humphreys found the city’s hotels an appealing mix of the practical and the peculiar. An appreciation of contemporary hotel life led to a fascination with the hotel life of the past, and to the book Grand Hotels of Egypt and its follow-up On the Nile. Andrew, a journalist, editor and publisher, now lives in London but remains a frequent visitor to Egypt and an avid frequenter of its grand (and not so grand) hotels.”
We happened to share interests in one or two key travellers, including Amelia B Edwards, a pioneering early female Egyptologist who was also a writer of supernatural tales. Following our discussion, he wrote more about her here:
Andrew was extremely helpful over some period detail for future Edwardian fiction, and we recommend you have a look at both his site, and his books. The site has some marvellous stories of the past, so dig around there.
Matt Bright’s Clockwork Cairo will be out in May 2017, we believe, and we hope to say more nearer the time.
LURCHING TO VICTORY
This site as it is, greydogtales, wouldn’t exist with our late and mad grey lurcher, Jade, from Battersea Dogs Home, or our sane but weird longdogs Django and Chilli. In keeping with our “let’s do it” attitude, these latter two wonders only got to us because of the work of Lurcher Link in West Yorkshire.
At the time we were looking for one manageable dog to add to the herd. Then we glanced over the rescue dogs at Lurcher Link. Which was silly – so many dogs! And we noticed that a lovely woman in Essex was having to give up two of her dogs. She was hoping that they could be housed together if possible. It was clearly insanity to take on two large adult deerhound/greyhound crosses which we’d never met. So we made enquiries…
Without Lurcher Link we couldn’t have done it. They rigorously home-checked us, pointing out quite correctly that our brown labrador was too fat (she was) and that part of our fencing was too low. Every comment showed that that their primary concern was the welfare of the dogs (no-one wants fat lurchers), not our amusement, and that really impressed us. They helped co-ordinate the transfer, and even set up a foster arrangement, backed by their full support.
As is obvious, we went from foster to completely committed within days, but the presence of Lurcher Link allowed us to be sure about what we were doing. It made organised sense of what could have been a bewildering mess, and we’ll always be grateful. You can find out more about their work, their dogs and all sorts of interesting lurcher stuff here:
Finally, you may remember that every so often we go off on a trek looking at supernatural creations, avoiding hobbits wherever possible. Two examples are our Flying Dutchman excursion, and our three-parter on the true origins of the ghoul:
Somewhat by accident we came across another such excursion on a site called Tellers of Weird Tales, run by Terence E Hanley. In fact we poked our cold, wet noses in, as Mr Hanley was embarking on a fine voyage through the world of the zombie. He had already been investigating the earliest origins of the concept, prior to its mid/late 20th Century incarnations. Inevitably this involved looking at William Seabrook’s book The Magic Island (a key source for the film White Zombie), and references in literature before that time.
We chipped in to mention Hesketh Prichard’s (extremely biassed and racist) volume Where Black Rules White: A Journey Across and About Hayti (1899-1900). A dubious book with some appalling political views, but it does include an unusual chapter by a white man observing Haitian folk magic at the time.
(Hesketh Prichard – nicknamed Hex – was, with his mother, the author of the Flaxman Low occult detective stories, which we’ve covered here a number of times.)
Tellers of Weird Tales has now more explorations on the theme, and their hunt for usage of zombi and zombie continues in a most interesting fashion. Check out the various articles there, and if you have time, note that there are hundreds of pieces on a wide range of noted Weird Tales authors, artists and related topics on the site.