6 October 2022

DANGEROUS DIGGINGS

Amara Thornton and Katy Soar (Editors) Strange Relics; Stories of Archaeology and the Supernatural, 1895-1954. Handheld Press, 2022.

To gather together a collection of short stories linking archaeology and the supernatural might appear blindingly obvious to fans of horror and ghost stories, as it has must have been done before. However I couldn’t find previous evidence of such a literary project. So, Strange Relics is a very welcome book: the intersection of the past and present, with ancient relics, being the catalyst for a disaster or profound shock, is a compelling idea.

The editors have chosen British stories written between 1895–1954. From the fin de siècle period right up to two years before the Suez Canal crisis. As so much pioneering archaeological research was undertaken during the peak and decline of the British Empire then this a neat and appropriate time span.

There are several outstanding, before and during WWI, writers of fantasy and horror (Arthur Machen, Conan Doyle and E.F.Benson); 1920’s storytellers (H.D. Everett, M.R.James, Margaret Lawrence and Eleanor Scott); John Buchan as the sole representative of the 30’s; wartime efforts (where there any to be found?) are passed over; then we have just the year 1948 (John Buchan, Algernon Blackwood and Dorothy Quick) and finally early fifties tales by Rose Macaulay and Alan J.B.Wace.

The editors’ introduction talks of the influence of the 'Stone Tape' effect. Initially I thought of Nigel Kneale’s 1972 TV film The Stone Tape. Yet this idea was predated by Sir William Barrett who was one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research:

“Some kind of local imprint on material structures or places has been left by some past events occurring to certain persons...an echo or phantom of these events becoming perceptible to those now living who happen to be endowed with some special psychic sensitiveness.” Barrett – 1911

Buchan’s story 'Ho, The Marry Masons' has medieval pagan rites infecting a medieval house. This powerful story also unfortunately has too much of Buchan’s attention to 1940’s Tory country manners. Scan over that and you’ll find the story delivers a visceral punch. 'The Next Heir' (like many of the stories in Sacred Relics) contains ancient Roman architecture as a psychic depository of evil. And coming in at only six pages Arthur Conan Doyle’s  'Through the Veil' has ancient Romans (creeping men flowing towards the bridge) in pursuit of those who’ve rudely awakened them because of their excavations of a Roman fort.

The physical connections with the past are powerfully conveyed in Machen’s 'The Shining Pryamid', E.F.Benson’s 'The Ape', M.R.James’s 'A View from The Hill' and Margery Lawrence’s 'Curse of the Stillborn'. That last story being a particularly gruesome clash between the burial rites of Ancient Egypt and Christianity.

Five of the writers are women., and my favourite story here is Dorothy Quick’s 'Cracks of Time'. The appearance of Pan’s face in an old tile, his whisperings in a woman’s ear, to provoke sexual excitement, and her act of violence towards her husband, have an eerie brilliance.

To appropriate T'.S.Eliot’s words Sacred Rites begins with a bang but finishes in a whimper. 'The Shining Pyramid (1895) is such a forceful and confident beginning. 'Whitewash' (1952) and T'he Golden Ring' (1954) that end the book are the weakest stories. So the anthology peters out. 

I wondered if this was not necessarily because of being thematically right but emotionally under-powering, and more to do with an end of empire authority in the world of archaeology: that new types of horror fiction were coming and supernatural encounters with threatening artefacts had shifted to the cinema? Still, Sacred Rites is an entertaining selection and contains an excellent well researched introduction.
  • Alan Price

28 September 2022

SHOW ME THE EVIDENCE

Sean Casteel and Tim R. Swartz (editors). Alien Artifacts, Zontar Press, 2022.


This is the first book to be produced by Casteel and Swartz in the wake of Timothy Green Beckley’s unexpected death last year. Like Beckley’s seemingly endless stream of books and publications this volume is a flamboyant mixture of outrageous UFO rumours and stories mixed with a few sober observations about what the blurb on the front cover states is the ‘Incredible Evidence of Exotic Material from UFO Encounters.’
🔻

20 September 2022

GAWAIN AND THE GREEN NIGHT

David Rudkin, director. Gawain and the Green Knight. Network DVD.

This 1991 TV film adaptation of the famous medieval poem has one of the oddest plot lines involving a mutual promise of decapitation and quasi-redemption – chop of my head and prove your loyalty to me! Its Christmas time, at the court of King Arthur. A giant of a man arrives on horseback. 
🔻

11 September 2022

JOHN HARNEY

I am very sorry to have to pass on the sad news that John Harney, the founder editor of the Merseyside UFO Bulletin, which over the years transformed into Magonia, has died. He was 85. I think John was the last of the first generation of British ufologists, his involvement in the subject going back to the 1950s. I will write more of his life and influence a little later. For the moment I attach this piece, which pointed to a change in the way the UFO phenomenon was studied, many years before it became a generally accepted view. The final sentence is particularly important.
🔻

5 September 2022

WESTWARD HO!

Robert Bard. Paranormal Berkshire. Amberley, 2021.


Since a large portion of it was sliced off and handed over to Oxfordshire, Berkshire has sometimes been slightingly referred to as "the hard-shoulder of the M4". This book reveals that there is far more to the county than Welcome Break service stations and business parks.
🔻

21 August 2022

PERSONAL FILES

Jason Gleaves. UFO Encounters: Up Close & Personal. Flying Disk Press, 2022.

A huge variety of strange UFO encounters have been reported throughout the years and even for the most well-read there are always new ones you have never heard of, and for newcomers the subject is just downright bewildering. This volume, edited by Jason Gleaves, is a helpful guide to the subject as it features the favourite cases of ufologists and experiencers. The contributors are as wide ranging as the subject itself and just as controversial.
🔻

16 August 2022

NOPE

Nope. (2022) Directed by Jordan Peele. Universal, 2022.

My first reaction to Jordan Peele’s highly personal UFO film Nope didn’t have me crying out Yep but announcing with a contented smile on my face, Maybe? Nope is definitely a mess but a very entertaining, intelligent, creative mess. A film that’s both bloated, about twenty minutes overlong, and at the same time exact - speedy idiomatic dialogue where you have to be quick off the draw to catch.)
🔻

11 August 2022

THE MAPPING OF BOGGARTDOM

Simon Young. The Boggart: Folklore, History, Place-names and Dialect. Exeter University Press, 2022.


This book is a work of folklore archaeology. In his preface Simon Young says that he is making an attempt “to recreate the boggart-lore of Victorian and Edwardian times.” Like all archaeological research this is done by excavating for fragments to put together a coherent picture of a particular culture at a particular place and time. 
🔻

4 August 2022

COURTING THE UNCANNY

Nina Antonia. Dancing with Salomé: Courting the Uncanny with Oscar Wilde & Friends. Trapart Books, 2021

The late nineteenth century in Western Europe and the USA was bristling with concepts that ran against the material aspect of bourgeois society. Religion was faced with Nonconformism, Spiritualism, mediumship, eastern-based philosophies and occult ritual societies such as the Golden Dawn. Socialism and Communism were spoken of more and more as both viable and desirable alternatives to Capitalism. 
🔻

30 July 2022

TOO NEAR THE SUN?

Jindrich Polak (Director) Ikarie XB1 1963. Second Run : Blu Ray.

'Ikarie' translates into Icarus referencing the Greek legend of the man who flew too close to the sun only to have his wax wings melt. In the year 2163 the Ikarie space station leaves Earth to voyage to the Alpha Centauri solar system where the astronauts believe they will find intelligent life. The forty crew members (male and female) are communally engaged. 
🔻