A diversion into the lands of horror, intended to praise Ramsey Campbell, mention Stephen King’s new ‘Castle Rock’ book with Richard Chizmar, Gwendy’s Button Box, and stop Edward M Erdelac fishing in our pond as he brings out his collection Angler in Darkness. We include an exclusive excerpt from one of Ed’s tales as we stumble through strange places, so it’s a miscellany of wonders today…
There is a strong precedent for the re-imagining of geography in weird and horror fiction, sliding the real and invented together in to create a place that may just be – but isn’t. Irreverent writers like John Linwood Grant do it, developing long and unnecessary strands of an alternative Yorkshire Wolds, but real authors do it properly.
We need hardly go into H P Lovecraft’s whip-poor-will haunted New England – Innsmouth, Arkham and Dunwich, amongst other places – but almost as famous is the psychogeographic strangeness of Ramsey Campbell, mentioned on greydogtales before.
Arkham abandoned, Brichester embraced…
Campbell’s alternate Severn Valley is a counterpart to the doom-laden New England of H P Lovecraft, and is just one fascinating aspect of his work (we won’t say weird fiction, in honour of his recent statement “I write horror,” which wrecked many a mediocre journalistic analysis).
The term Severn Valley Mythos has even been bandied around. There will come a time, we imagine, when “Campbell Country” will be a major tourist attraction, and a TV series will show two loveable veterinarians with their arms stuck up eldritch posteriors, with hilarious consequences. We might be wrong about that last bit, of course.
The imaginary Cotswolds town of Temphill first appeared in The Church in High Street, which was also his first published story (Dark Mind, Dark Heart anthology, Arkham 1962).
In it, he refers to “worship of trans-spatial beings still practiced in such towns as Camside, Brichester, Severnford, Goatswood, and Temphill…”. These names, especially that of Brichester, recur in many tales. We said a few other things about the subject here:
We mustn’t repeat ourselves too much . But we will remind folk that it was August Derleth’s nudging in the Sixties which encouraged Campbell to break free of the traditional Lovecraft locations (and pastiche work), to work on his own geography. Our earlier musings also skirted Goatswood, where hooded figures worship the Black Goat of the Woods, and said it had a tinge of Innsmouth (albeit not the wet bits).
There is another strong Campbellian contender for the Innsmouth Award, more familiar to many holidaying Brits. Campbell’s novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki (2013) is set in the remote British seaside town of Gulshaw (“a long drive from Brichester).
Others have tried to pin Gulshaw down, but the consensus is that it lies somewhere on the Northwest coast around Morecambe. As we grew up in such places on the Northeast coast, we can assure you that anyone who has visited decaying British seaside towns has truly experienced horror. It’s one of the reasons we live well inland, near the Dales.
HPL’s Miskatonic University also has its counterpart in Brichester University, and it is an archivist from this establishment, Leonard Fairman, who travels to Gulshaw, in search of the set of books collectively titled The Revelations of Gla’aki (there are variously eleven or twelve volumes).
Afficionadoes might even remember that Taylor, the protagonist of ‘The Mine on Yuggoth’ (originally known in a longer version as ‘The Tower on Yuggoth’), encounters The Revelations of Gla’aki, borrowing a copy from another cultist. After the volumes become unavailable, he eventually consults an old, half-deaf farmer who lives “off the Goatswood Road”, in his pursuit of the Mi Go, those fungus/crustacean denizens of Yuggoth. It’s a metal shortage thing, is all we’ll say.
There have been attempts at cartography for this alternate Severn Valley, and Chaosium even developed RPG scenarios, but we prefer to leave much to the imagination.
(Incidentally, Andy Sawyer argues in Ramsey Campbell: Critical Essays on the Modern Master of Horror (2014), that Brichester is Liverpool, or based on echoes of Campbell’s childhood Liverpool. The truth is probably that many disparate memories feed the final geography of fiction)
Our trivia aside, the real point here is that Campbell is a damned good writer, and knows what he is doing. Instead of mapping weak versions of another literary world, which perhaps Derleth feared might occur those many years ago, there is a genuine frisson to Campbell’s work in the ‘Severn Valley Mythos’. His England is not so far from our own…
Castle Rock Rebuilt
Keeping to our theme, Stephen King, who comes from Maine, also does The Geography Thing. He created a trinity of fictional towns – Castle Rock, Derry and Jerusalem’s Lot, as central settings for a lot of his writing (not to mention Chamberlain, Haven and others). Castle Rock is mentioned (or is a key feature) in over thirty King stories or adaptations – Needful Things (1991) being our personal favourite. So we’re curious to see what comes of a recent return to a setting which is quite familiar to many readers.
This is a mysterious and poignant return, as well, because didn’t the town pretty much explode at the end of Needful Things? And wasn’t that marketed at the time as “The Last Castle Rock Story”? As this is one of those things we haven’t had time to read, we’ll set the scene and you can explore at your leisure…
Earlier this year, Cemetery Dance Publications published hardcover and eBook editions of Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. The novella is the first-ever collaboration between these two long-time friends and award-winning authors.
“It was a pleasure to work with Rich Chizmar one-on-one after all these years,” Stephen King said. “I had a story I couldn’t finish, and he showed me the way home with style and panache. It was a good time, and I think readers will have a good time reading it. If they are left with questions, and maybe have a few arguments, all the better.”
“Steve and I have corresponded about books and movies and life for twenty years now,” said Richard Chizmar, “I’m a huge admirer of both his work and the man himself. Writing Gwendy’s Button Box with Steve was truly a dream come true for me.”
“Steve sent me the first chunk of a short story,” Chizmar explained. “I added quite a bit and sent it back to him. He did a pass, then bounced it back to me for another pass. Then, we did the same thing all over again – one more draft each. Next thing you know, we had a full-length novella on our hands. We took a free hand in rewriting each other and adding new ideas and characters.”
Gwendy’s Button Box is the coming-of-age story of twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson, who spends the summer of 1974 running the “Suicide Stairs” that connect Castle Rock to the Castle View Recreational Park. One day, while she catches her breath at the top of the stairs, a stranger calls to Gwendy. On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…
Gwendy’s Button Box is now available through Cemetery Dance Publications and all major booksellers, and an audio version was released recently by Simon & Schuster.
And you can find more info by visiting the publisher:
Man versus Fish
Finally, author Edward M Erdelac, author of Monstrumfuhrer, Andersonville and much, much more, is about to have his first short story collection published, Angler In Darkness.
Ed kindly provided us with an excerpt from one of the stories within, which we present with pleasure. This time we’re re-imagining the landscape of the Old West – not Morecambe, but the States. Here’s part of ‘Bigfoot Walsh’, a weird western story about a group of Texas Rangers investigating a string of savage murders in the Texas hill country, who are joined by a unique scout singularly suited to the task….
The monstrously tall stranger was possibly one of the ugliest individuals I’d ever seen. I had encountered many of the old trapper types in my travels, and in my service with the First Texas Rifles. As unacquainted as many of those men had been with the razor and soap, I had never encountered so prodigiously hairy and filthy looking a man as this. The whiskers on the sides of his face crept up nearly to his nose and halfway up his cheekbones. They were so abundant on the backs of his overlarge hands as to appear almost lustrous, dirty blonde in hue.
I had seen a person with this rare condition before in a traveling Mexican circus in Austin, but combined with his immense size (he was perhaps over seven feet and could look Captain Shockley in the eye even seated as he was atop his horse) the overall effect was startling. The stranger looked like some sort of prehistoric throwback, more ape than man. The small, bright blue eyes that peered out of the face did so from the shadow of a thick, nearly simian suborbital ridge. The skin of his chin, which was clean shaven, was slightly mottled as if with some birthmark or disorder of the pigment.
His patched blanket coat was hand-stitched with yellow thread, and he wore a coil of stiff rope over his shoulder. A brace of big horse pistols was belted around his waist, and he carried a stubby big bore rifle with a skeletal iron stock, the make of which I had never seen before. His shirt and trousers appeared to be homespun, and his feet were covered in great hairy hide boots, so near to the color of his body hair that he almost appeared to be barefoot.
“Leather it, boys,” said Captain Shockley. “This man’s one of ours.’ ‘Lo, Bigfoot.”
“Captain Shockley,” said the hairy stranger, in a voice surprisingly as articulate as it was deep.
He smiled, showing big teeth like white marble tombstones, the canines slightly pronounced.
Tackett rode up alongside his captain and ogled the new man openly.
“Thought you were riding with Hays over in Bexar County,” said Shockley.
“He gave me leave to go after this one. They attacked Waverly’s stage stop, killed Ben Waverly.”
“Just the Santee woman he kept around to sweep up.”
“They killed a couple Mormons out by Zodiac,” said Captain Shockley. “We figure it was Comanches.”
“I don’t think so,” said Bigfoot. “No arrows anywhere about the place.”
“Any bodies?” said Tackett.
“No sign of ‘em,” said Bigfoot.
“They got a long hard ride to Old Mexico with captives,” said Shockley.
“They’re not headed to Old Mexico,” said Bigfoot.
“Where else they gonna sell ‘em?” Tackett said.
“I don’t believe they intend to sell ‘em.”
“Come over here and lemme show you something.”
In a while the large man had led us behind the cabin, and there we found a dead horse, the meat ripped from its rump, most of the guts scooped out, and the tongue pulled out of its head, which had been wrenched completely around on its strong neck.
“What do you make of that?” Bigfoot asked.
“They butchered the Mormon horse too,” said Shockley, sliding off his mount. He got down slowly on one knee and squinted at the carcass.
“And the stage stop team. Well, not so much butchered as ripped apart,” said Bigfoot.
“Comanches have been known to eat horses,” Tackett said.
“Yeah but they’ll use a knife,” said Shockley, “not twist their damn heads around. These look like the meat’s been pulled off the bones. What do you say, Doc?”
I examined the horses. They were in wretched condition. The remaining ligaments hanging from the bones did indeed look torn. But who had the strength to pull muscle from bone?
“There are marks of teeth on the bones,” I said, “and the intestines have been gnawed.”
“Well if we ain’t talkin’ about Comanches, what are we talkin’ about?” Tackett asked.
Bigfoot rubbed his discolored chin, then looked away and shrugged.
“I ain’t sayin’ yet.”
Angler in Darkness, which we rather fancy, is available for pre-order now, and will be released on 1st August. Eighteen strange stories await you:
And we must run away, to have a few days off with the dogs. Back next week, dear listener, with more oddities. If you want to know what and when, just sign up for free by email (top left)…