Today, dear listener, we provide you with a privileged look at those classic adventurers Carnacki the Ghost Finder and Adam Adamant. We reflect on the glories of the Edwardian period, throw in some Dr Who trivia, have fun with motor-boats, and generally go mad. We have to, for these are the reminiscences of the Adamant Edwardian…
The year 1906 was one of wonders. HMS Dreadnought was launched – how we cheered – and became a new standard for naval warfare. Then the Finnish Parliament became the first to vote for universal women’s suffrage, which was a Good Thing. Old Bertie was on the throne, and I was certain that these great things would never be forgotten. With my usual enthusiasm, I, the Adamant Edwardian, turned to my friend William Hope Hodgson.
I remember the moment well. At the time I was reading an old Strand magazine, and drawing spectacles on an illustration of Sherlock Holmes. Hope Hodgson was in the corner, trying to escape from some chains and show off his body-building prowess at the same time. It was a cosy, domestic scene.
“You should move on as well, old chap. Stop writing this mannered prose, and march with the new era. How about doing some detective stories – a bit like that Conan Doyle fellow, but with a weird, supernatural tone. Good, clean modern stuff.”
Hope Hodgson complained that he had some ideas about pirates, and that he might already be producing some masterpieces of weird fiction. Apparently it depended on the order in which people decided they’d been written. But I was determined. A detective was the required thing.
And thus, a few years later, he handed me the first of his Carnacki the Ghost Finder stories, though he looked uncomfortable about the whole affair.
I read them over a glass of Napoleon brandy, though I later discovered that a reading light would have been more useful.
“Capital!” I said. These will make you dashed little money, be mildly disliked by some colonial writer called H P Lovecraft, and then be mostly forgotten for a while.”
“Er, is that good?” He scratched his parting, looking unimpressed.
I reassured him that all would come right in the end. In a century or so, I said, your Carnacki character will be second only to Sherlock Holmes in the number of pastiches and homages which will be based on him. There will be collections and anthologies, and the concept of the electric pentacle will be widely used in occult fiction. You, I told him firmly, will be remembered for creating the first true, method-oriented occult detective.
“My goodness,” he said, and quickly added “Strike a light, guv!”, so that everyone knew he was a loveable English chap from somewhere vaguely in the late Victorian and Edwardian period. He did like his detail, Hope Hodgson.
The Rest is Silence
I felt that my work was done, and ambled off to see if I could harass Algernon Blackwood.
“I say, Algie, this John Silence character you’ve come up with – he’s a little bit, well, pompous, don’t you think? A touch ‘clever’ if you get me? Not a man of the people. You should have a look at what Hope Hodgson’s writing. Jolly human, gets into a funk like the best of us, and so on.”
Mr Blackwood’s maid scowled at me from her lofty position on the doorstep. “My name’s Daisy, Mr Blackwood isn’t in, and we don’t want no coal today.”
With that she stepped back, slamming the door in my face. It’s not always easy being Edwardian.
I mean, you’re not even sure when your era starts and ends, unless you’re one of those sticklers who dates it by the reign of Bertie himself, dear Edward VII. The Uncle of Europe, they called old Bertie, which fits nicely, as Hope Hodgson came to be know as the Uncle (or Great-Uncle) of weird fiction.
It is, however, good to be an Edwardian in 1917, when you realise that so many foundations were laid in the period – social change, psychiatric theory and medical advances. The first proper manned flight and the first transatlantic wireless signals.Such wonders!
Would you Adam and Eve it?
And there was such dash, such energy back then. You only have to look at my friend Adam Adamant, who disappeared in 1902 whilst wearing evening dress.
His butler was in tears afterwards. “I don’t rightly think I pressed his left lapel proper,” he explained.
I had someone make him a cup of tea, and explained that in 1966, Adamant would be found frozen in a block of ice. More tears ensued.
“That won’t do the jacket no good, will it? I’d only just removed the gravy stains from that affair with the Baron of Beef.”
Between losing fluid through his weeping, and taking it back in again via the teapot, he explained that Adamant had only recently defeated the self-styled Baron of Beef in a thrilling duel between sword-cane and meat cleaver.
Enormously Useful Trivia Break: The Baron of Beef is, of course, an ancient public house in Cambridge, where Tom Baker stayed whilst filming the Dr Who story Shada. The story revolves around the lost planet Shada, on which the Time Lords built a prison for defeated would-be conquerors of the universe.
Filming was never completed, due to strike action, but a patched together version was released by the BBC in 1992, using what footage they had with a Baker’s narration.
Big Finish released an audio version (with adaptations) many years later, starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, and still with Lalla Ward as Romana.
This may not seem very Edwardian, unless you also know that the USS Shada served the U.S. Navy as a section patrol vessel during World War I.
Originally built as a private vessel in 1908, she was 96 foot long and owned by Mrs G W Sortwell of Massachusetts. The boat was loaned to the Navy and returned to her owner after the war. See?
(This is not to be confused with the many versions of the USS Shad, which were a type of fish in the herring family.)
The Plot Disintegrates
Back in the butler’s pantry in 1902, I was sympathetic, but deeply disinterested. Adamant’s true foe was The Face, that monster who wore a leather mask and spoke in sinister tones whenever anyone was around to listen (he actually had a falsetto voice, I knew for certain).
The butler (who was not allowed a name), dried his tears.
“What will all this to-do be in 1966, then, sir?”
It took a little time to explain that British television would record the new adventures of the Edwardian Adamant, and replace his treacherous 1902 girlfriend Louise with a charming, wilful young lady called Georgina. We had trouble when I tried to describe the length of Georgina’s miniskirt, and the tea had to be replaced by a spot of brandy. The butler was 74, after all.
He listened intently, not remarking on how I could know such things, but fascinated by tales of the swinging Sixties. After our discussion had been overtaken by talk of plastic raincoats and how one might iron polyester, I realised that the butler had little interest in Edwardian adventurers, then or in the future. He was obsessed with clothes.
I stoppered the brandy decanter and made my way back to my home on Cheyne Walk. Yes, I loaned the name of the street to Hope Hodgson, who had wanted to place Carnacki at Number 15, Dandelion Mews. And to give the occult detective a tough but loveable Cockney manservant, who would get into various ‘scrapes’ but come out fighting with his fists up. I managed to scupper those plans, thank the Lord.
Adamant is still around, of course. Having been in effective stasis due to the ice block, he’s now an old man out of his time. We play golf together. I detest golf, but the clubs give him something on which to lean. Oh, and although they ascribe the saying ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’ to Mark Twain, it probably comes from a fellow Edwardian, from 1903 or so. Funny old world.
I shall sit back, and consider more curious incidents from my long career as a prodder of both real and fictional characters. Some day I might tell you what I whispered to H P Lovecraft when he first faced a seafood salad – or about my night with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, investigating the Case of the Haunted Casserole Pot. And from where do you think that he got the idea of bee-keeping for Sherlock Holmes’s retirement? But that must wait…
I remain yours, The Adamant Edwardian. Now, out you go.