Tuesday, 26 May 2015


Call me a picky Holmesian purist, but I don't think that was quite what Sir Arthur had in mind....

Celebrating the mad, bad, and dangerous to look at covers inflicted on the book world

Sunday, 24 May 2015

TOMEGORIA 07 - The Great God Pan

Odile and Jim delve into the mysteries of The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, tracing the influence of this weird fiction classic and unraveling its hidden horrors...

The statue mentioned in the show can be seen here - WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK!


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Friday, 22 May 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Fairy Finds III: The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle

In 1772, the noted Welsh naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant went on a tour of Scotland, visiting all manner of places in that fair country. However while on the Isle of Skye he dropped in at Dunvegan Castle, ancestral home of the McLeod clan and there he was shown a curious artifact, that coincidentally linked to his own name; an ancient flag with a strange history which Mr Pennant carefully recorded for us:
Here is preserved the Braolauch shi, or fairy flag of the family, bestowed on it by Titania the Ben-shi, or wife to Oberon king of the fairies. She blessed it at the some time with powers of the first importance, which were to be exerted on only three occasions: but on the last, after the end was obtained, an invisible Being is to arrive and off standard and standard bearer, never more to be seen. 
from A Tour in Scotland, and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772 (John Monk 1774)

Pennant went on to relate how the flag had its own specially designated family of bearers and how the flag had indeed been unfurled three times - 
A family of Clan y Faitter had this dangerous office, and held by it, free lands in Bracadale. The flag has been produced thrice. the first time in an unequal engagement against the Clan-Roland, to whose fight the Macleods were multiplied ten-fold. The second preserved the heir of the family, being then produced to save the longings of the lady:  and the third time, to save my own; but it was so tattered, that Titania did not seen to think it worth sending for.
And thus the world came to know the legend of the Fairy Flag of the McLeods. A few decades later, at the close of the 18th century, Norman McLeod described the flag as "a piece of very rich silk, with crosses wrought on it with gold thread, and several elf spots stitched with great care on different parts of it", but now the colours are so faded the darned gold crosses and elf spots are barely visible. But the antique banner was carefully preserved, and indeed is still displayed in the Drawing Room of Dunvegan Castle.

Since Thomas Pennant's visit to Skye, numerous legends have emerged about the flag's origins, if you'll pardon the pun, embroidering Pennant's concise account. While several of these tales recorded in the 19th century claim to be based in older traditions, we obviously cannot rule out that some were not actually genuine folklore but stories crafted to bolster the relic's status and indeed play into the Victorian fascination with faeries. The excellent Faerie Folklorist has an excellent article here collecting and dating the various tales that have appeared down the years that describe how the McLeods received this gift from the Fair Folk. 

And over the years the flag was ascribed more powers too, with Sir Walter Scott recording that it was said to have the power to cure cattle of illness, bring fertility when spread out on a lady's bed, and also brought herring to the nearby loch. It is also said that the flag magically extinguished a fire in Dunvegan Caste in 1938, and that during the Second World War, the 28th chief of McLeods, Dame Flora McLeod offered to unfurl it on the White Cliffs of Dover to defeat Hitler! 

But where did the flag actually come from? Mr Pennant theorised that it might date back to Viking times, noting the strong influence of the Norse in Scotland and drawing parallels to Scandinavia legends of heroes carrying magic banners. And while this was a fine hypothesis, modern science however indicates a different origin - when the flag was examined by experts from the Victoria and Albert Museum in the early 20th century, it was concluded that the flag was made out of silk from either Syria or Rhodes. And as the Mcleods can trace their lineage back to one Harald Hardarada, a Norwegian king who spent fifteen years in exile as a mercenary in the Byzantine Empire, we therefore have here a likely first owner. Interestingly further expert analysis has suggested that the silk was probably manufactured in the Middle East but between the 4th and 7th centuries - in other words several centuries before the First Crusade. This means that  the decorated silk was already an ancient relic even in the days of Harald Hardrada, and hence a worthy prize to carry off from the Holy Lands. 

So then like the Luck Of Edenhall, here we have an artifact most likely brought back from the Near East gaining a fairy origin when the real history was forgotten. Or rather almost forgotten, for one of the earliest tales of the flag's mysterious origins does have a McLeod getting the magical banner in the East - writing in Notes on the Relics preserved in Dunvegan Castle, Skye, F Macleod recounts a tale found in a manuscript dating from 1800 -
The legend of its origin is that a MacLeod who had gone on a Crusade to the Holy Land when returning home in the garb of a pilgrim was benighted on the borders of Palestine in a wild and dangerous mountain pass, where by chance he met a hermit who gave him food and shelter. The hermit told him that an evil spirit guarded the pass and never failed to destroy the true believer; but by the aid of a piece of the true Cross and certain other directions given by the hermit this MacLeod vanquished and slew the 'She Devil' called Nein a Phaipen, or Daughter of Thunder, around whose loins this banner had been tied; and that in reward for conveying certain secrets which she wished some earthly friends to know she revealed the future destinies of the Claim to her conqueror, in whose family this knowledge was supported to be deposited to its final extinction, and desired that her girdle should be converted into this banner, which was to be attached to her spear, which became the staff which is now lost. The secrets were never known and are likely to remain unknown forever, although many editions have been recited.
So far as I can uncover, there is no established mythology or folklore relating to the Daughters of Thunder, and so must conclude that this was merely a title given to this alleged "evil spirit". And to make some further educated guesses, the fact that she delivers prophecies to our McLeod in return to carrying messages to her friends, rather suggests that this "evil spirit" was more likely a local wise woman or witch rather than a supernatural being. But given that she was alleged to guard a certain mountain pass through which pilgrims traveled, there are some explanations for why Nein a Phaipen had gained a bad reputation. 

It is possible that she had some kind of shrine or retreat there, and could have been dubbed a 'She Devil' for either holding beliefs or worship that were deemed heretical, or even just taking tolls or tithes from passing pilgrims without the local clergy's sanction. Equally plausible in the times of the Crusades is the possibility taht she was operating as a bandit preying on those passing travelers. Pilgrimages were a hazardous business, with the faithful being easy pickings for outlaws and brigands, and indeed many a fortune were made offering armed escorts and protection to parties of pilgrims. 

Weighing up the possibilities, I would suggest that the legend above has more than a grain of truth in it. And it seems very likely that the flag began life as a trophy taken from some mountain recluse, possibly originally given freely as payment for passing on messages, or looted from a shrine or robbers' horde. However as stories about the adventures of Crusaders and pilgrims began to fade in the public imagination, and tales romancing the landscape and history of the British Isles, particularly the Celtic legends and English faery lore became more popular, the flag gained an origin both closer to home and more rooted in the Otherworld. 

A Trilogy of Terrors by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As it is the anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birth, here is a little free gift for you all! A little ebook I made a while ago collection three of my favourite weird tales by Sir Arthur!

A Trilogy of Terrors by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ebook

Download for Kindle (mobi format)

Download in EPUB format

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #10 - The Devil's Children ed. Michael Parry

In the late '60s, there had been something of an occult revival, with all manner of mysticism, witchcraft and black magic finding its way into pop culture, as the new generation explored a host of alternative beliefs and ideas. However in 1973 things hit a peak with the release of William Friedkin's adaptation of William Peter Blatty's  novel The Exorcist. The novel became a global bestseller and the movie was a worldwide box office smash, making The Devil not only hip, but very good business too. 

Naturally there was a whole wave of similarly Satanic themed books and movies following not only after. At the time in the UK, publishers were still doing good business with legions of horror anthologies, and naturally in the Exorcist boom years a good few were produced in a demonic vein. And one such anthology was The Devil's Children, assembled by one of the legends of horror anthologies the late great Mr Michael Parry. 

Parry, who sadly passed away last year, was one of the holy trinity of editors alongside Peter Haining and Richard Davis, names I soon learned and indeed loved in my early years as a weird fiction fan. He curated many excellent collections of weird fiction, but The Devil's Children has a special place in my heart as the first of his anthologies I ever read. And nostalgia aside it's still a cracking round-up of tales about demons and exorcists - see for yourself! 

Enoch by Robert Bloch
Father Meuron’s Tale by R. H. Benson
Vacant Possession by Ramsey Campbell
The Horla by Guy De Maupassant
The Thing on the Doorstep by H. P. Lovecraft
Saunder’s Little Friend by August Derleth
A Porta Inferi by 'Roger Pater' (Dom Gilbert Roger Hudlestone)
The Lips by Henry S. Whitehead
From Shadowed Places by Richard Matheson
The Unspeakable Betrothal by Robert Bloch
Isabo by J. A. Cuddon
The Possession of Angela Bradshaw by John Collier

There's no doubt about it, we have some of the brightest and the best here, along side a few surprises. The likes of Lovecraft, Bloch and Matheson surely need no introduction, and while back when this book was published he was still a young writer making ripples in the horror pond, Ramsey Campbell is now a big fish too. John Collier is a big name too, and while not known for his macabre fiction, he is widely recognised as one of the masters of the short tale. Weird fiction fans will also recognize August Derleth, Henry S Whitehead and RH Benson. Whitehead's The Lips is regarded as one of his finest stories, as is Father Meuron's Tale by RH Benson, brother of noted ghost story writers EF Benson and AC Benson. Maupassant's The Horla of course is a bona fide classic, and while it is more commonly thought of a vampiric tale, in truth it works just as well as a story of demonic invasion. 

Aside from a top flight selection of tales and writers, what makes The Devil's Children such fun is the diversity in the tales. Of course we have the traditional confrontations between priests and the possessed as you would expect, but Parry serves up a wide menu of demoniac terrors. Good old Robert Bloch gives us a tale of backwoods American witchcraft in Enoch, and then later gives us a far stranger tale of  unholy pacts with otherworldly powers in The Unspeakable Betrothal which plays with hints from the Cthulhu Mythos but without being the usual Mythos tale. Whitehead and Matheson bring us tales not of Christian devils but of the more exotic sorceries of voodoo and juju, while Ramsey Campbell gives us a hallucinatory nightmare of woodland witchcraft and elemental possession. JA Cuddon's Isabo is horrific but rich in jet black humour and John Collier ends the collection with his tongue in his cheek and a knowing devilish wink. 

While there have been many short story collections themed around witchcraft, possession and black magic, there are few as rich and varied as The Devil's Children, and fewer still that featured such a talented roster of writers. It's a great introduction to the anthologies of Michael Parry, and one any armchair discipline of the dark arts should have their shelves.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


The Undying Monster was first published back in 1922, and was made into a movie of the same name back in 1942 (see Hypnobobs 86  for more details). And this tale of a lycanthropic curse was popular enough to remain in print until the '70s and the dawn of the age of the photo cover... Bit unfortunate that really...

Celebrating the mad, bad, and dangerous to look at covers inflicted on the book world


By the fireside in the Great Library of Dreams, Mr Jim Moon presents the second and final part of his complete and unabridged reading of Arthur Machen's classic novel of the weird The Great God Pan


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