1 March 2021

MOONDARK

David Tibet (selected) The Moons at Your Door. Strange Attractor Press, 2016.


I realise that I’ve written this piece in the wrong order. The Moons at Your Door is the earlier David Tibet anthology of thirty 'hallucinatory tales' coming straight after my review of David’s latest book There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man (2020). But I think he and Strange Attractor Press would appreciate this as both books subvert the norm and reverse the order of things and reality.

Once more we have strange fictions with strange artwork. On Graveyard we had children playing in the company of comets. On the cover of Moons we have moons with fiery outlines. Inside the book a spectral family hold hands as the moons rain down. Again David Tibet is accompanied by his wife Ania Goszczynska, the only difference is black and white (not cream) illustrations.

I enjoyed the book’s enthusiastic introduction. Tibet conveys a sense how the supernatural has thrilled him since his childhood in Malaysia. ‘I have drawn many ghosts with me, as we all have, and as we all will. To be human is to be haunted.’ That second sentence is a useful tag to describe the hauntings experienced by the victims and perpetrators of these stories and a small handful of poems and songs.

The Moons at your Door contains some classic horror fiction. Guy de Maupassant’s ‘The Horla’, M.R.James’s ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll come to You My Lad,’ W.W.Jacobs’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ (As much as I admire this story I do feel the oft re-printed paw should now rest in peace) and Arthur Machen’s ‘The White People.’ If there is a weakness in this collection it is the over-familiarity of material. Of course classics can create other resonances when placed on parade, yet I would have welcomed a bit more of the lesser-known by the masters in the field. However the great strength of The Moons at Your Door is its championing of neglected, or rarely exposed, writers.

Robert Aickman’s fiction is difficult to categorise. He wrote uneasy tales that are too slippery to pin down: mysterious, inexplicable, inconclusive and riddled with anxiety. ‘Ravissante’ is extraordinary. A self-taught painter, who doesn’t like people, meets the ancient widow of a painter of the Symbolist school. Conducting an interview in the rooms of Madame A, the protagonist imagines the presence of a dog and a furry animal; discovers one of his own canvases there; is made to fondle the clothes of a possible imaginary daughter and is constantly intimidated by the erotic suggestiveness of the widow. In terror he escapes from her:

‘She made a vague snatch in my direction with the big, silvery scissors. They positively flashed in the light from the street lamp outside. She was like a squat granny seeing off a child with a gesture of mock aggression.’

Aickman never fully explains events: you’re left with startling ambiguity: did these things really happen or was it all an internal hallucination so as to make the narrator doubt his existence?

Such brilliant writing is complimented by that of L.A.Lewis’s ‘The Tower of Moab.’ An unsuccessful travelling salesman rents a room over bar that overlooks a twenty storey high tower block, built by a religious cult, and now abandoned. The salesman is obsessed by visionary lights and forms appearing to emanate from the tower and, before suffering a mental breakdown, he perceives strange creatures.

‘By daylight, I was aware of distant, effulgent beings borne on bright pinions at an immense height near the crest of the Tower, which was the sun; but in the hours of darkness these disappeared, and from out of the earth, where its base now formed a dense pit or pool of shadow engulfing the houses and the feeble lamps, came horrid, reptilian things of gargantuan proportions, which crawled sluggishly about the highways and leered with hydra-heads into the windows of drinking places, and upon groups of degeneratives lounging enviously outside.’

‘The Tower of Moab’ is a uniquely disturbing story not easily forgotten.

On contrasting it with Guy De Maupassant’s ‘The Horla’ then hallucinations become the projection of an invisible self pursuing a man at home: all a precursor to an incipient madness resulting in the man burning down his house to rid himself (he doesn’t) of this rampant thing.

The Moons at Your Door contains three classic M.R.James stories, ‘Casting the Runes', 'Oh, Whistle and I’ll come to You my Lad’ and ‘A School Story’. James’s tales have been hugely influential. They convey a subtle and powerful sense of dread with great economy of expression. In ‘A School Story’ we are given the salient facts and proceed to receive the most salient shock over the fate of a haunted schoolteacher.

After M.R.James comes H.R.Wakefield whose narrative is very Jamesian. ‘He Cometh and he Passeth By’ concerns the hunting down and destruction of a Satanist – probably based on Aleister Crowley. It’s a very effective fiction that reminded me of the film Night of the Demon (1957) that was an adaptation of James’s ‘Casting the Runes.’ The Moons at Your Door also includes an overlong story of Crowley’s that’s no model of economy. ‘The Testament of Magdelen Blair’ describes the dissolution and putrefaction of the body and mind of a female scientist. For me Crowley’s excessive, over-wrought prose sinks the story. It’s the only weird haunting that I felt should have been dropped from the book.

Although this is an intelligently assembled anthology I found There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man to be even better. However I wouldn’t be without either volume. No matter how many books of weird tales you own I’d strongly suggest you acquire these distinctive collections. -- Alan Price

19 February 2021

WORDS FROM A GRAVEYARD

David Tibet (editor) There Is A Graveyard That Dwells In Man. Strange Attractor Press, 2020.


Before I discuss the pleasures to be found in David Tibet’s anthology of strange fiction I’d like to highlight this book as a desirable artefact. Of course the production values of Strange Attractor Press are high – they consistently produce beautiful looking books. In the case of There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man we find a striking collaboration between the husband and wife team of David Tibet and Ania Goszczynska.
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16 February 2021

SEARCHING FOR FELINE PHANTOMS

Karl P. N. Shuker. Mystery Cats of the World Revisited. Anomalist Books, 2020.


This book is described as a revision and update of the author’s earlier book, Mystery Cats of the World, published in 1989, but in many respects this volume is an entirely new work. In his introduction the author explains that in revising the content, he has concentrated primarily on the wealth of new reports and information that has come from Africa, Asian and South America, where there have been many reports of entirely new feline cryptids. 
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5 February 2021

ROSWELL, THE FIRST WITNESS

Roswell: The First Witness’ A six-part series starting on Sky History on Tuesday 9th February at 9pm. All episodes will be available on the Sky History app.

Throughout February the Sky History channel in the UK is running a ‘Mystery Season.’ This includes series on ‘Hunting Hitler: The Final Chapter,’ ‘World’s Greatest Treasure Mysteries,’ ‘Strangest Things,’ ‘The Best of Monster Quest’ and ‘ ‘Roswell: The First Witness.’
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29 January 2021

THE MAGONIAN POSITION

Nigel Watson. Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims. McFarland, 2020.


Nigel Watson has been a friend of, and contributor to Magonia for many years, ever since its original manifestation of the Merseyside UFO Bulletin, so if anyone thinks that this review may be less than totally objective, they may well be right.
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20 January 2021

FUTURES PAST

Martin Van Creveld. Seeing Into the Future, A Short History of Prediction. Reaktion Books, 2020.


One thing you must consider when about writing about looking into the future is that for a great part of human history everyone knew that the future was going to be exactly the same as the present, or that any major changes in the world would be part of some endlessly repeating cycle which had been ordained since the creation. 
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4 January 2021

WITCHCRAFT-ON-SEA

Philip Heselton. In Search of the New Forest Coven. Fenix Flames, 2020. 

This book seeks to untangle the story behind Gerald Gardner’s initiation into a ‘witch cult’ in 1939, and to identify and explore the lives of the people in that cult, and the nature of the ‘cult’ itself. Although most people now accept that whatever the background to Gardner’s ‘coven’, it was not, as he claimed, “one of the ancient covens of the Witch Cult which still survive in England”. 
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26 December 2020

BEARING GIFTS

Tom A. Jerman. Santa Claus Worldwide, A History of St. Nicholas and Other Holiday Gift-Bringers. McFarland, 2020. 

You’ve probably seen a lot of comment recently that this is the first year since the time of Oliver Cromwell that Christmas has been cancelled and all the pubs have been closed on order of Parliament. One of the sidelights of this book has been to show just how wrong this idea is. 
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16 December 2020

TAILS OF THE SEA

Vaughn Scribner. Merpeople, A Human History. Reaktion Books, 2020.


I think it could be a good idea for people to start reading Merpeople at Chapter Three, and as a mental exercise going through it substituting for the word ‘mermaid’ the letters 'UFO'. Some readers might think that mermaids are entirely fictional and fantasy characters, and unlike other Fortean topics, could never have been considered as actual, physical creatures. This book shows just how wrong that idea is. 
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29 November 2020

"DEAR BOSS"

M. J. Trow. Interpreting the Ripper Letters; Missed Clues and Reflections on Victorian Society. Pen and Sword, 2020.

Unlike most books on this topic, this one comes up with no new theories on the identity of the ‘Ripper’, and makes it pretty clear that no one has, or ever likely will, identify the killer. The author has little faith that any of the multiple culprits put forward by the hundreds of people who have offered the ‘solution’ to the murder bear any great weight of evidence.
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