Sunday, 26 June 2016

HYPNOGORIA 37 - The Natural History of the Batman Part 11


Welcome back Bat-fans! In this chapter of Bat history we encounter the many strange and bizarre things - the Penguin going jazz, the Riddler crooning, obsessive Boy Wonder fans, and Germanic Batmen! For we are exploring the lurid vinyl underground of Gotham, cataloguing the many cash-in records that appeared in the wake of the Batman TV show in 1966!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - The Natural History of the Batman Part 11

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Thursday, 23 June 2016

THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE BATMAN - the Story So Far...


With a new episode coming this weekend, we proudly present Mr Jim Moon's celebrated series of podcasts exploring the Natural History of the Batman - the story so far! Here you can discover when Bruce Wayne first donned the cowl, how his famous foes emerged, and how the character has evolved through the decades of fighting crime in Gotham City! 


In the opening chapter of what has turned out to be an epic podcast series, Mr Jim Moon reveals the origins of the Batman and the genesis of the comic book medium! 

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 1




Continuing our exploration of Bat-history, we discover Batman gaining a family, follow them into the high weirdness of the Silver Age, and discover just who that little shit on the Dark Knight's shoulder is!

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 2




We swing into the 1960s with Batman, further exploring his evolution in the Silver Age and examining the iconic television series which unleashed a wave of bat-mania!

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 3




In this chapter of Bat-history we wade through the aftermath of Bat-mania, and see how comics legends Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams redefined Batman for the times that were a-changin' ! 

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 4




Troubling times for the Batman! We see how the Dark Knight fared against the sinister forces of a new villain - the flood of rival comics unleashed by the mighty Marvel! 

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 5




It's Batman in the '80s! A truly titanic decade of evolution for Bat-comics, with a Crisis on Infinite Earths,  Frank Miller and Alan Moore taking the character in new darker directions, and a redefined origin win Years One to Three! 

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 6




In the latest installment of Bat-history, Mr Jim Moon traces the long road, that stretched out over decades, that brought Batman to the big screen. And in this episode, we discuss and dissect the the fruits of that long journey Tim Burton's Batman (1989), starring Michael Keaton in the eponymous role and Jack Nicholson as the Joker.

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 7




Mr Jim Moon continues his survey of Batman at the movies, examining Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). Plus there's bonus swearing, I mean reviewing with a look at Catwoman (2004) and the shocking revelation of who really killed the 90's Bat-franchise...

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD   - The Natural History of the Batman Part 8




Yes at long last we are returning to Gotham City for another helping of Bat-history. In this episode, Mr Jim Moon explores Batman on the radio, looking at the attempts in the 1940s and 1950s to launch a Caped Crusader audio serial and the Dynamic Duo's aural team-ups with the Man of Steel!

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download

or DIRECT DOWNLOAD  - The Natural History of the Batman Part 9




Pin back your ears Bat-fans! In the tenth part of our Bat-history, Mr Jim Moon continues his exploration of the Caped Crusader's adventures in audio, detailing the slew of vinyl that appeared in the wake of the 1966 TV show. We delve into a brace of LPs from Tifton - a Childrens Treasury of Musical Batman Stories and The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale, uncover the tales related by the Golden Records Storyteller, and chart the Official Adventures Of Batman & Robin: Exciting Episodes Of Their Battles Against The Evil Forces Of Society from Leo the Lion! 

Find it HERE where you can listen online, subscribe or download



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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

TOMEGORIA 17 - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1


Roll up! Roll up! Ladies and gentlemen! In this marvellous cavalcade of auditory wonder, the esteemed Mrs Odile Thomas, holder of the dread Black Belt of bookery teams up with that notorious loafer of the libraries, Mr Jim Moon to bring to you diverse insights and assorted literary asides upon that noted chapbook for young-folk, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #24 - The Tourist's Guide to Transylvania: A Traveller's Handbook of Count Dracula's Kingdom


In 1960, the Sierra Club published a tome entitled This is the American Earth, and while that isn't perhaps the most promising of titles, the book was to be a truly seminal tome. Conceived by David Brower, it was packed with photos and sprinkled with concise text pieces, and on the face of it that might not seem a winning combination, but Brower's key insight was that "a page size big enough to carry a given image’s dynamic. The eye must be required to move about within the boundaries of the image, not encompass it all in one glance." And hence, out of the blue, Brower and the Sierra Club had invented the coffee table book. 

The volume was a hit and many more followed in its wake, with more and more publishers realising that there was a market for what were essentially picture books for grown-ups. Obviously lots of these were cynical exercises in recycling stock photographs and public domain art with only a minimum of text necessary. However by the mid '70s, the market was large enough to support more interesting endeavours, with the next milestone being the publication of a collection of Roger Dean's fantasy art in the tome Views (1975 Dragon's Dream). Views was such a success that it led Roger to team up with his brother Mal Dean, to form their own publishing house Paper Tiger, which brought to the world lavish books showcasing the art of the likes of Rodney Matthews, Chris Achilleos and Boris Vallejo. 

Naturally other publishers jumped on the fantasy art bandwagon, for after all most publishing houses had shelves full of cover art just waiting to be recycled. But while Paper Tiger and Dragon's Dream produced properly curated collections with insightful text about the artists, their careers and their techniques, how did one create a book from assorted pieces by divers hands and originally intended for very separate purposes? Well, while some hoped that just the allure of plenty of spaceships and dragons, plus often some naked ladies would be enough, others took a more creative approach...

...And a brilliant example of this was a tome produced by Octopus Books - The Tourist's Guide to Transylvania:  A Traveller's Handbook of Count Dracula's Kingdom. First published in March 1981, this large format hardback purported to be written by one Count Ignatius de Ludes, but was actually created by Stewart Cowley & associates. And while it only had a mere 78 pages, what a 78 pages they were, featuring glorious art from the likes of  Les Edwards, Alan Lee, Terry Oakes, Peter Goodfellow, and Alan Hood. Now I discovered this tome not long after its publication, on the shelves of the local supermarket of all places if I recall correctly, and even then I recognised several of the pictures had graced the covers of various horror and fantasy tomes I had seen or read. However that hardly mattered, as these were the full paintings, uncluttered with titles and taglines, and looking absolutely marvellous on large glossy pages. The pictures really came to life once liberated from diminished paperback sizes - a perfect example of Dave Brower's insight quoted above, and I'm sure I am not alone in that seeing these familiar bits of cover art reproduced in a massively lavishly format was actually a major attraction...


However where the book would have a lasting appeal, was the wonderful text that linked all the art together. For this was indeed a comprehensive guide to the strange land of Transylvania... Or rather the Transylvania of the popular imagination - a land of night (and high electricity bills presumably) filled with all kinds of weird supernatural beings. However, the Transylvania conjured up by the quill of Count de Ludes was a far more exotic place than the mittel-European, demi-Victorian landscape built on the imagery of Universal and Hammer movies. Here trolls and ogres stalked the mountain passes alongside the more expected werewolves, and high castles were as likely to be home to arch mages as vampire nobility. It is a land riddled with dark magic, where past mingles with the present and strange daemons open vistas to eldritch cosmic spaces.

Now obviously the creation of this somewhat idiosyncratic version of Dracula's homeland was born from necessity, as the paintings to be featured in the tome were often pieces that had graced the covers of SF or fantasy novels. However as the old saying goes necessity is the mother of invention, and the resulting guidebook actually delivers a rather unique vision all of its own. The good Count's text is written with the occasional slip of the tongue into cheek and a knowing wink, generally having fun with the concept of writing a tourist guide to a place so full of monstrous beings and occult hazards that no one in their right mind would take a holiday there. However at the same time, there's clearly a good deal of thought and imagination gone into creating this travelogue from an alternative world, and as an older wiser fellow I now can recognise a reasonable amount of research went into it too, with some references to hermetic magic and a large chunks of folklore informing the guide. 


The only real downside is that while the subtitle trumpets the name of Dracula and the dust-jacket prominently features a Count clearly modelled on Sir Christopher Lee (plus he appears on the actual boards of the book as seen below), the actual text only ever makes passing references to Transylvania's most infamous son. However despite this being a bit of an initial disappointment, the wealth of weird and macabre lore presented more than make up for his absence. The Tourist's Guide to Transylvania summons up an entertaining and imaginative realm of dark fantasy, the kind of meeting of magic and gothic than would later be explored in Dungeons & Dragons' Ravenloft campaign setting and darker fantasy RPGs such as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - indeed games masters looking for a blend of fantasy and horror for their game will find much fuel for their imaginations in this tome. 

All in all, this is a rather fun tome to have on your shelves, perfect for some armchair travelling in the darker realms of the imagination. And there are still plenty of copies in decent condition out there - so then if you fancy a trip to the Count's homeland, get searching! 



Friday, 17 June 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Lost in the Bluebells




Last time on Folklore on Friday, we were recounting the legends and lore surrounding one of Britain's best-loved wild flowers, the bluebell. And so, as is somewhat traditional now, this week I thought we would set out and try to trace where all the assorted bluebell folklore comes from. Now normally this kind of search yields a trail of mentions in increasingly older works, and one can put together some kind of line of descent and see how different authors, whether literary or scholarly, have passed on the lore to new generations. 

But in the case of the bluebell, something rather curious happened. For despite there being no shortage of folklore surrounding the bluebell, actually pining down any sources provided to be somewhat tricky. Indeed I couldn't help feeling that there was more than a little irony in the bluebell's proper Latin name - Hyacinthoides Non-scriptus - which literally means 'the hyacinth that is not written about'. Joking aside, this Latin name is actually a reference to Classical mythology - the plant name Hyacinth is derived from a tale of a prince of ancient Sparta, Hyakinthos, who was loved by the gods. However the god of the West Wind, Zephyrus grew jealous when Hyakinthos was enjoying a game with the sun god Apollo, and blew the discus they were playing with off-course. The spinning disc hit Hyakinthos on the head and slew him, and where his blood fell, the Larkspur flower sprang up - which the Greeks called Hyacinthos. Now this flower has distinctive markings that resemble Greek letters - indeed the marks appear to spell 'Alas' in Greek, which mythology ascribes to the flower showing Apollo's grief. Now the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus placed the Larkspur and the bluebell in the same family, and hence the British wild flower was dubbed 'non scriptus' or 'not written' to show it was a variety that did not bear the distinctive markings and not the flower referred to in the classical myths. 

Over the years the taxonomic name of the British bluebell has varied before the one given by Linneaus became standard, but generally these older variants too retained the 'non scriptus' tag. Now the origin and derivation of names often can give us clues to where various legends come from. However in this case, all the ancient names of this flower tell us is that it is not referred to in Classical myth. But not all folklore stretches back to Graeco-Roman antiquity, and in the case of the flora and fauna, often the regional or old country names can be very helpful. In his book The Englishman's Flora first published in 1955, Geoffrey Grigson notes a plethora of alternative names for the  humble bluebell -  Blue Bonnets, Blue Bottle, Blue Goggles, Blue Granfer Greygles, Blue Rocket, Blue Trumpet, Bummack, Bummuck, Crawtraes, Crakefeet, Crawfeet, Cross flower, Crow-bells, Crow-Flower, Crowfoot, Crow picker, Crows Legs, Crowtoes, Cuckoo, Cuckoo Flower, Cuckoo's Boots, Cuckoo's Stockings, Culvers, Culverkeys, Fairy Bells, Goosey Gander, Gowk's Hose, Granfer Gregors, Grammar Greygles, Granfer Griddlesticks, Greygles, Harebell, Pride of the Wood, Ring O'Bells, Rooks Flower, Single Gussies, Snake's flower, Snapgrass, Wild Hyacinth and Wood Bells. And while that list might seem very comprehensive, it is but the tip of a floral iceberg, for Roy Vickery, who was a botanist for the Natural History Museum, London for over 30 years, in his excellent tome Conkers, Garlands and Mother-Die: British and Irish Plant Lore (Bloomsbury 2010) reckons the bluebells have around 70 or so different names in the British Isles.


Now many of these are fairly self-explanatory referring to the colour and shape of the flowers. However one does notice a frequent association with crows and cuckoos, (incidentally a gowk is a regional name for the cuckoo, while a rook is a member of the crow family), and this is somewhat curious as neither bird features directly in the bluebell lore we recounted last week. However the cuckoo lends its name to many regional titles for plants and flowers, and generally this comes from a common origin - namely that the cuckoo is a traditional harbinger of spring. Indeed there has been a long tradition in the British Isles of recording when the first cuckoo is heard, and one of our oldest folk songs 'Sumer is Icumen In' is a celebration of hearing the first cuckoo call of the year that heralds spring has begun. So then, given the symbolic importance of the cuckoo in the English calendar, plants that begin to appear when the cuckoos can first be heard have therefore often gained an association with that bird. 

Now the crow on the other hand has a somewhat sinister reputation, particularly in the modern popular imagination, where it is frequently spotted in horror genre imagery. However, being a carrion bird, crows and other corvids have been linked to death in many ancient traditions as well. But while bluebells have a dark side too, sometimes being called Dead Men's Bells and supposedly ringing to herald a death, I rather suspect the association with crows being invoked in so many regional names is most likely due to a far more innocent connection. And that is simply that crows begin nesting, often rather noisily, in April, which is of course when the bluebells begin to appear in our woodlands. 

However while detailing several local traditions in which garlands containing bluebells are made, in his highly comprehensive book of plant folklore Mr Vickery makes no mention of any of the legends and lore we discussed last week. So then, I consulted several other key reference books that every amateur folklorist should have. The Oxford Dictionary of Folklore compiled by J, Simpson and S, Round (Oxford University Press 2000) has no entry for bluebells, and neither does E and MA Radford's Encyclopedia of Superstitions (Hutchinson 1974). Likewise consulting the excellent Brewers Encyclopedia of Phrase and Fable yields no results either. Worse still A Dictionary of Superstitions (Oxford University Press 1989) edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, a superb tome that gives detailed chronological sources and quotes for all the folklore contained within, has nary a mention of the little blue flowers either. And while many other books and articles make mention of the assorted lore I covered last week, none actually give any sources leaving us with something of a puzzle - on one hand bluebell superstitions are widely known and yet it is conspicuously absent in many volumes detailing documenting real historical folklore and legends.

So where on earth does this wealth of lore come from? Next time, I venture deeper into the world of the bluebells and try to separate folklore, fauxlore and fakelore!


Sunday, 12 June 2016

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 20 - The Hog Part II


Part II of an epic investigation of daemonic forces! In the final adventure recounted by Mr William Hope Hodgson, Carnacki the Ghost Finder takes on The Hog!


DIRECT DOWNLOAD - The Hog Part II

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Friday, 10 June 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Ringing of the Bluebells


Well it appears that often seemingly mythical beast, the British Summer is finally here! The temperature is up, the sun is shining, and it's the perfect time to pop out for a pleasant stroll in the countryside. Now one of the great attractions of the British countryside at this time of the year is to take a walk in some bluebell woods. And this seemingly mundane activity has been something of an unofficial annual ritual for a lot of folks for many generations. Such is the popularity of going to see such swathes of blue, that not so long ago special trains would be laid on to carry visitors to the woodlands, or meander passed vistas showcasing the vistas clad in blue. For example, a service of "bluebell trains" once used to run through the Chiltern Hills through the blooming woodlands, and this natural floral display helped earn the area the designation of "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". While in East Sussex, one particular stretch of tracks is still known as the Bluebell Railway.  Many nature parks and stately homes still make a point of advertising when their woodland will be carpeted with a stunning sea of gently nodding little blue flowers, and the National trust even has a page telling you where the nearest bluebell wood is to you.

It is thought that the humble bluebell - that the Hyacinthoides non-scripta taxonomy fans - first appeared in Britain not long after the last Ice Age, and indeed the presence of a carpet of bluebells is often a signifier that a forest is a surviving tract of ancient woodland. However the little nodding flowers have not only been admired for their beauty but have also long been revered for their useful properties. In the Bronze age, our ancestors attached flights of feathers to their arrows with a glue made from bluebells, while the Tudors used a starch extracted from crushed bluebell roots to stiffen their iconic ruff collars. And for several centuries bookbinders have used bluebell derived adhesives to make and repair tomes. 

In the modern era we have discovered that bluebells contain at least 15 biological active compounds that the plant utilises to repel insect and animal pests. And it would seem our forebears knew something of this, for general folklore has long asserted that bluebells are poisonous to eat, and one of the uses of bluebells recommended by herbalists was treating spider bites. However folklore ascribes to them other more esoteric properties, such as being a good remedy for leprosy, and as a treatment for tuberculosis. However there is also a good deal of magic associated with the little flowers too, as demonstrated by the various folk names the flowers have garnered over the centuries such as witches thimbles and fairy flowers. 

Firstly, as they begin to bloom towards the end of April, they have been long associated with St. George as that saint's day falls on the 23rd of June, while in the language of flowers created by the Victorians, bluebells symbolise constancy, humility and everlasting love. And these associations may well be derived from older folklore charms, for two well-known pieces of bluebell lore that reflect these properties: it was said that wearing a wreath of bluebells you would compel a person to tell the truth. And if you turn a bluebell flower inside out, you will win the heart of your true love.

More generally, bluebells were considered useful flowers in other ways too. For example, the Encyclopedia of Folkore and the Occult Sciences Vol 2 by Cora Linn Daniels and C. M. Stevans, published in 1852, tells us -   
If you see a bluebell, pick it and repeat the following words: "Bluebell, bluebell, bring me some luck before to-morrow night;" slip it into your shoe and you will get good luck
Folklore also seemingly draws on their repellent qualities as well, for it was said that bluebells may be used to prevent nightmares, Simply place in or under your pillow, or just hang them near the bed and bad dreams will be kept at bay. Possibly this particular belief might be related to their long usage as an adhesive, but it is possible it may be derived from an older common strand of bluebell lore. For in many places, the little flowers have a strong association with the faeries, and as such it was dangerous to be messing about in bluebells woods. 

It has been said that faeries hang their spell on bluebells to dry and hence disturbing the bluebells may unleash wild magic upon you, or just bring down the wrath of the faeries. Less whimsically, it was thought that walking in bluebells may lead you to become 'pixy-led' - that is to say, dazed by enchantment and unable to find your way out of the woods. And darker still in some corners it was said that a child who picks a bluebell will be snatched away by the faery folk, never to be seen again. Unsurprisingly many folks held it was foolish to pick bluebells or bring them into the house.

However folklore is often very contradictory, and hence in some areas it was said that planting bluebells in your garden was a useful thing to do. Not only would it curry favour with the hidden faerie powers, but it was said that the bluebells would ring if unwelcome visitors approached your door. However once again these whimsical bits of bluebell lore appear to have older, darker roots. For more commonly, it was held that the faeries would ring the bluebells to call their kin to gatherings and meetings. And it was very bad luck to hear a bluebell ring, and in many instances it is said that to hear the chime of the bluebells was an omen of your own death, hence in some places the lovely little flowers gained the sinister name 'dead men's bells'...