Saturday, 29 August 2015

HYPNOGORIA 19 - Zombi Zombi Part VI

Mr Jim Moon returns to his explorations of the Living Dead family tree, and looks at the various movies inflicted upon the world as Zombie 6 and Zombie 7, most of whom ended up on the Video Nasties list too. Featuring Joe D'Amato's cannibal nasty Anthropophagus (1980) and its non-sequel but also nasty Absurd (1981), Umbeto Lenzi's atomic nonsense Nightmare City (1980), and Bruno Mattei's shameless tat Hell of the Living Dead (1980)!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  Zombi Zombi Part VI

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Friday, 28 August 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY: The Brawny Beasts of County Durham Part III

Over the past two articles in this series, we have detailed the peculiar case of a small area of County Durham being home to three overlapping legends. In the Part I we discovered a muddled legend of the Pollards  in Bishop Auckland, which variously claimed that this aristocratic family's lands were granted as a reward for slaying either a dragon or a monstrous wild boar, noting that the legend and a ritual with a falchion were suspiciously similar to the tale of the Sockburn Worm, another dragon legend from a miles away in Croft.   Meanwhile in Part II, the waters grew even muddier when we discovered the neighboring town of Ferryhill also had a legend of a knight slaying a boar too. 

So then, at last its time to get to the bottom of the mystery. Last time we drew the cautious conclusion that Ferryhill's cherished legend of a medieval knight slaying a huge boar was most likely based on fact, and our earlier article traced the long history of the Sockburn Worm. Therefore it is the Pollards tale is looking most suspect, indeed as we remarked in Part I, it was curious that different accounts seem uncertain whether the beast slain was a wyrm or a brawn. So then, what evidence is there for the Pollard tale?

Well, the earliest version of the legend comes from the Parliamentary Survey of church lands undertaken in 1649, which mentions the tradition of presenting a new Bishop of Durham with the falchion that slew the beast, and that it was for this deed that the Pollard family had been given their lands around Bishop Auckland. However this wasn't the first such record of which family held which lands and the basis for their claims, and there are several earlier mentions of the Pollard family having a falchion as the title deed for their estates, with its image becoming part of the family heraldry from the 14th century onwards. But interestingly there is no mention made of slaying a monster in any of these accounts...

Hence it appears that this story of slaying a beast seems to have only been told by the Pollards themselves. Furthermore it is considerably later that the tale gets its additional details added of the cunning Sir Richard riding around lands to claim them as a reward. Furthermore unlike the similar story of Sir Roger of Ferryhill, there is a distinct absence of any supporting evidence for the story of monster slaying in the historical record prior to the mid 17th century. Indeed the date of that first mention of the legend is significant in itself for that Parliamentary survey was taken while the English Civil War was raging.

Now to sum up briefly, this era saw the country tearing itself apart over who had the right to rule, a battle between the emerging ideas of democracy and the old feudal system which placed political power by birthright in the hands of the Crown and the nobility. Hence in this period the aristocracy were asserting their traditional rights and stressing their long histories and ancient links to their lands. Furthermore after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, there was a considerable amount of romanticizing the past - after the upheavals of the Civil War, there was a strong cultural push to reclaim the ancient traditions that had been disrupted and threatened by the conflict. Hence in this period, archetypes of 'Merry England' - an idyllic view of rural Britain and its local customs and folk traditions - become common in literature and other texts, as the new King  repealed the acts of the Puritan Parliaments that that outlawed the likes of May Day celebrations, harvest festivals and Christmas feasts. Naturally the surviving nobility romanticized their histories too and there are a great many alleged ancient traditions and tales, that were claimed to date from medieval times, were actually fabricated in this period.

Now the Pollard family itself did not survive the Civil War, and hence in the 1660s the current Bishop of Durham, John Cosin decreed that the freeholders of their former lands were to continue the tradition of the presenting of the Pollard Falchion to the Bishops of Durham. Cosin was very active in healing the rifts caused by the civil war, reinstating old liturgies, restoring the fineries stripped out of the churches by the Roundheads, and spent a great deal of the bishopric's revenues in strengthening the Church's charities and schools. In setting up a continuation of the Pollard falchion tradition, Cosin was effectively pulling the local community together - on one hand it was asserting the ancient ties between the Church and the nobility, but in transferring the upholding of the tradition to the local people it was also neatly embracing the political changes whereby the aristocracy had conceded a large degree of power to the new emerging Parliamentary democracy.

And certainly it seems that the legend of Pollard and the monster brawn appears to have really taken root in this period, a time when England was attempting to unite a recent bloody rift. In romanticising stories of medieval times essentially the feudal system was quietly being cemented into history. Hence originally the Pollard falchion, like other ancient weapons held by other noble families, was a symbol of their right to rule through their martial power and oaths to deploy that might in the service of  the crown, it now became a relic wrapped up in folklore, a left-over from days when knights were bold and monsters still lived in Merry Old England.

And in this transition from history to folklore, the tale of Pollard and the boar has clearly borrowed from the neighboring legends of Sir Roger and the Brawn of Brancepeth and the slaying of the Sockburn Worm by Sir John Conyer, with details added as the years passed. And while it is possible there might be lost earlier sources that would show the Pollard story to be a genuine medieval legend, the only other piece of supporting evidence appears to point at it being a later fabrication. For in St. Andrews Church in Bishop Auckland, that ancient residence of the Bishops of Durham, there is a 13th century wooden effigy of a knight. It is the usual sleeping figure atop a tomb and local tradition alleges it is the resting place of Sir Richard Pollard who slew the boar.

Now there are no inscriptions or mentions in ancient records to back up this claim, and the story is based upon the fact that at the feet of the sleeping knight is the carved likeness of a boar - much like how the tomb of Sir John Conyers has a dragon at his feet. However experts believe that this carven beast was most likely originally a lion, and at some later date the creature's face was recarved to resemble a pig's snout. This in itself is certainly suspect, hinting at a later revision of local history. However what make it a smoking gun for our investigation into the brawny beasts of County Durham is the fact that Bishop Cosin, who recreated and remodelled the Pollard falchion tradition was famous for redecorating and restoring old churches whose features and ornaments had been destroyed or defaced by the Puritans. And indeed most tellingly, a whole branch of church decorations in Durham now bear his name - Cosin Woodwork...

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

ZOMBI ZOMBI the story so far....

Once upon at time, Mr Jim Moon foolishly decided to chart all the various spin-offs, remakes and sequels to George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead... And thus a legendary podcast series was born....

In the first of new occasional series, Mr Jim Moon foolishly decides to chart all the various spin-offs, remakes and sequels to George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. In this opening episode, we discuss the Zombi: L’alba Dei Morti Viventi - AKA Dario Argento cut of Dawn of the Dead, Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 AKA Zombie and Zombie Flesh-Eaters, and the Fulci/Mattei hybrid horror Zombi 3.

This episode's page - ZOMBI ZOMBI PART 1

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Zombi Zombi Part I

We return to explore the many children spawned by George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Mr Jim Moon rounds up four flicks that at one time or another have purported to be a sequel to Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 - Zombie Holocaust (1980), Burial Ground (1981), Paul Naschy's The Hanging Woman (1973) and Jorge Grau's The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974)!

This episode's page - ZOMBI ZOMBI Part II  


Rising once more from the grave, it's Part III of our series on all things living dead Zombi Zombi! And in this edition, Mr Jim Moon is descending into all manner of benighted worlds of ill to explore Italian mastreo Lucio Fulci's the Gates of Hell trilogy, looking in-depth at City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House By The Cemetery (1981).  The Sea of Darkness awaits! 

This episode's page - ZOMBI ZOMBI Part III  

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Zombi Zombi Part III - The Gates of Hell

Mr Jim Moon traces some of the more dubious branches of the Living Dead family tree, looking at Zombie 4 and Zombie 5, and then going on to talk about Zombie 4 and Zombie 5. Confused? Wait till you see the movies! And the first pair of 4s and 5s are Italian flicks After Death (1988) and Killing Birds (1988), and their alternative numbers are a brace of Jess Franco movies, A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) and Revenge in the House of Usher (1983).

This episode's page - ZOMBI ZOMBI Part IV
DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  Zombi Zombi Part IV

Mr Jim Moon heads to 1970s Spain to explore one of the legendary Eurohorror franchises. Created by director Amando de Ossorio, The Blind Dead saga is a quartet of movies featuring blood drinkin', horse ridin', sword wavin' undead Knights Templar, who hunt by the sense of sound! We discuss in depth all four movies in the sequence Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), Return of the Evil Dead (1973), The Ghost Galleon (1974) and Night of the Seagulls (1975) 

This episode's page - ZOMBI ZOMBI 5
DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Hypnogoria 05 - Zombi Zombi Part V



Tuesday, 25 August 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #05 - Devil Priest Pack Part V

Welcome once again dear fiends to the Tomb of the Trumps! Yes, it's time to draw another pair of cards from the infamous 1980s' Horror Top Trumps game and discover where they were ripped off from... I mean, what they were inspired by.... So then, without further a-do, let's get the ball rolling with a very devilishly tricky customer!

And no, that wasn't just an ideal pun, for I mus confess that this one has very nearly beaten me! While there is something familiar about this demonic character, so far I've been unable to find a satisfactory match for him. Now the received wisdom on the matter is that this here Diablo character is actually a very loose drawing of the titular fiend from the classic Night of the Demon (or Curse of the Demon if you are in the US of A),  the horrible fire demon summoned by a runic charm as seen here -  

However I'm not entirely convinced about this claim. For our unknown artist usually copied his sources far more faithfully, and hence, despite similar nostrils and pose, these two devils are just a bit too different for me to buy the Night of the Demon theory. Furthermore, knowing how much our mysterious artist did copy, the style Diablo is rendered in suggests to me an alternative source, namely 1970s comics. Now as we saw in Part IV, Marvel horror mags did influence other cards, and that scratchy, sketchy shading on Diablo reminds me very much of the black white art in horror comics of that era. But despite hunting to high Heaven and low Hell, it does't look like Diablo is one of the recurring demon characters in '70s horror, and I'm not been able to find  a matching one-off devil or demon yet either... So then, unless you know better, the hunt for the real Diablo continues...

Now then, thankfully our next card is a lot easier to identify, albeit perhaps at little confusing. Here we have a great example of the scatter-brained approach the Horror Top Trumps creators took, for as we will discover as we make our way through the packs, quite often we get an image clearly of one character but given the name of something entirely different!   

Now Dr Syn was actually a character created back in 1915 by novelist Russel Thorndike - a clergyman who lead a double life as a smuggler called The Scarecrow. Thorndike penned several books detailing his swashbuckling adventures, and later his tales were adapted in feature films, radio plays and comics. However despite the slightly spooky edge to the good Doctor's smuggling disguises, and one of the movie version being made by Hammer and starring Peter Cushing, Dr Syn is actually not a horror character.

Actually the same could be said of the sinister fellow pictured on the card, but ironically he would have been found next to the Dr Syn novels in the bookshops. For this card depicts a contemporary character who also appeared in a string of adventure novels, and later appeared in movies, on the radio, and in comics too. For the Horror Top trumps 'Dr Syn' is none other than the villainous Fu Manchu invented by Sax Rohmer. To be specific, the image on the card is a fairly faithful recreation of this still shown below from Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), which was the late great Sir Christopher Lee's second appearance as the Lord of Strange Deaths. Alright. the artist has changed the colour of his robe and added a scar over one eye but he's fooling no one! I'm guessing the additional chained body is stolen from somewhere less too but sadly it's too short of detail to make a definitive identification. If you recognise this chained fella, concerned relatives are urged to contact Denis Nayland Smith, of Scotland Yard circa 1930.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

MICROGORIA 18 - Usborne Supernatural Guides Vampires, Werewolves & Demons

This week Mr Jim Moon is once more apprehended loitering in Memory Lane as he embarks on a new three part odyssey into horror nostalgia with a look back at the first tome in the Usborne Supernatural Guides series - Vampires, Werewolves & Demons (1979)

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  Vampires, Werewolves & Demons

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Thursday, 20 August 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #04 - Devil Priest Pack Part IV

Well then, after the easy-peasy cards to identify last time, our next pair present quite the challenge. Indeed over the years, many have thought that this pair were actually the product of the demented imaginings of the unnameable Horror Top Trumps artist. And at first glance, you may be forgiven for thinking that perhaps there was a title mix-up with these two as well. I mean, surely that hooded bloke with the scythe should be Death not that goggle-eyed muppet!

Ah Death, possibly one of the most enigmatic of all the Horror Top Trumps cards. Whole generations puzzled over it. Firstly everybody wanted to know why this card didn't show the expected skellington and scythe. The more technically minded Top Trump players wanted to know how in the seven names of Hades was it possible for Death - Death itself for Pete's sake - only had a Killing Power of less than 100. While the more eagle-eyed amongst us wanted to know whether Death was actually being pictured as wearing a large wide brimmed hat, possibly a sombero... I mean, look at that building in the back ground! Is that one of those sun-bleached little churches that always appear in spaghetti westerns? 

But as perplexing as all the above queries where, there was one question that, if you pardon the pun, trumped all the rest. And that was simply - What. The. Hell. Is. THAT? 

Well dear friends, I can now at last reveal the truth! Although the bizarre nature and slapdash penmanship of the card do rather suggest that this was the product of a deranged imagination, Death is in fact another rip-off, although admittedly a somewhat obscure one. The card is actually based on a mask made by the legendary Don Post Studios. 

Founded by Don Post (obviously) this outfit began producing novelty items in the late 1940s, and by the 1960s had become famous for their full head latex masks. Post soon brokered a deal with the likes of Universal and began producing masks of the famous movie monsters based on the original make-up. What's more he took casts of living cult icons such as Tor Johnson and William Shatner to make masks in their image - famously Michael Myers' mask in the original Halloween is actually a modified Post Shatner mask!  Furthermore the range of deadly masks from Silver Shamrock in Halloween III: Season of the Witch are Post creations too. However aside from doing classic movie monsters and having the licenses to produce Planet of the Apes and Star Wars masks, Don Post Studios also created their own original creations - one of which was this chap (no doubt inspired by the Star Wars spawned SF boom) who appeared in the 1977 Don Post catalog - the Coridian Alien! 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen I believe we have a match! Incidentally Top Trumps wasn't the only thing to recast the Coridian Alien mask either. As Don Post masks were of such good quality it wasn't unusual for them to be used in low budget movies and TV, and hence the Coridian Alien appeared in the short-lived Logan's Run TV series. In the second episode, The Collectors, which aired on 23rd September 1977, Logan and his companions encounter nefarious shape-shifting aliens disguised as humans. This sneaky lot were collecting samples of different lifeforms for the usual conquer everything schemes, and the Coridian Alien masks were used as the true monstrous features of these intergalactic ne'er-do-wells revealed in the finale! 

Given their brief screen time in the Logan's Run TV series episode, it's unlikely the Horror Top Trumps artist copied it from there. However considering that Don Post were advertising in a variety of horror and SF magazines in the '70s, its far more likely the Coridian Alien was discovered in such an ad. Indeed it would seem likely that the mags like Famous Monsters of Filmland and Starlog were the source of many of the images cribbed for the Horror Top Trumps, and our next card bears this out...
In the 1970s there was a huge boom in horror related magazines, with the charge being led by Warren Publishing. Now famously horror comics had been effectively banned in the US since the mid 1950s,  thanks to the Comics Code Authority. However having produced two successful magazines celebrating monster movies - the afore-mentioned Famous Monsters and Monsterworld, the ghouls at Warren realised that the Code didn't cover magazines being larger and pricier fell outside the CCA definition of a comic. Hence in 1964, Creepy was launched, and as the world didn't collapse in a riot of moral decay, was soon followed by Eerie and Vampirella. The mix of articles, comics strips, and text stories proved to be highly popular and other companies such as Skywald were soon producing rival publications. By the early '70s, even the mighty Marvel had got in on the act with a whole slew of horror mags published under the imprint of Curtis Magazines, which delivered a similar blend of text and comic books features.    

One such publication was Vampire Tales which ran bi-monthly for 11 issues from August 1973 to June 1975. As well as the usual one-off anthology stories, the magazine starred Morbius the Living Vampire, a former Spiderman villain now getting a new lease of life in pure horror comics, and introduced to the world Satana, the Devil's Daughter who would later migrate to the Marvel superhero universe. Now evidently the mysterious Horror Top Trumps artist was scouring the monster mags of the day for things to pinch, for who do we find menacing Morbius on the cover of issue #3? Why it's Devil Priest! 

OK so he's traded his purple clobber for a more tasteful blue and has been flipped from left to right, but Devil Priest is unmistakably the leader of the Demon Cult pictured above! 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

MICROGORIA - A Call from the Deep

A short info-cast in which Mr Jim Moon details his newly launched Patreon campaign

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - A Call from the Deep

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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #20 - The Armada Monster Book

By 1975 that powerhouse publisher of children's books Armada, had successfully established a paperback anthology series The Armada Ghost Books, which now ran to seven volumes, with a eighth in the works. And with three anthologies on fantastical beasts - Witches (1972), Mermaids And Sea Creatures (1973) and Dragons (1974) - edited by Carolyn Lloyd doing well too, it is no surprise it was thought that a companion series on monsters would go down well too. 

And to helm this new vessel that would be a Noah's ark of things with fang, scale, fur and tentacle, Armada turned to one of their frequent contributors of ghostly tales, R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Now this fellow had carved out a successful career as a writer of weird fictions - and you can hear more about the great man and his works here. Now in 1974 he had taken over the reins of the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories series from Robert Aickman, commencing at the 8th volume proving his editorial mettle, and  furthermore with his great and idiosyncratic imagination and off-beat sense of humour, Chetwynd-Hayes was the ideal man to curate a series on monsters. He had often invented his own bizarre creatures and beings for his own tales, and his penchant for liberally mixing laughs with his chills made him a perfect choice to edit anthologies for children. Chetwynd-Hayes understand perfectly well the appeal monsters had for kids, and could be relied upon to deliver a finely balanced mix of fun and thrills to stimulate under imaginations.   

And the full menagerie of monsters he assembled is as follows -

The Sad Vampire by Angus Campbell
The Last of the Dragons by E Nesbit
Dimblebee's Dinosaur by Howard Peters
A Ride to Hell by Ruth Manning-Saunders
Inside the Monster by Lucian of Samothrace
The Chimaera by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Guardian at Hell's Mouth by Sydney J Bounds
Something in the Cellar by Rosemary J Timperley
Theseus and the Minotaur by Charles Kingsley
The Sea Serpent by Gerard James
The Thing in the Pond by Paul Ernst
Big Feet by R. Chetwynd Hayes

Now then, broadly speaking good old RCH is following the template established by Christine Bernard and Mary Danby in the Armada Ghost Books, and therefore we have the familiar mix of old classics, brand new tales and a sprinkling of folklore. However for the Monster Books, we have a couple of new ingredients in the mix. Firstly, we have the introduction of classical legends, for no self respecting monster book could fail to have some famous faces from world mythology. 

And hence we have two trips to Ancient Greece - there's a recounting of the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, which was (and is) pretty much standard for any childrens' monster book past or present. But rather than wheel out the Minotaur's usual running mates, Medusa or Polyphemus, instead RCH includes Nathaniel Hawthorne's account of the Chimaera, neatly ticking the classic literature and classical legends boxes in one fell swoop. However for extra brownie points, we have Inside the Monster - the fantastical tale of life inside the belly of a monstrous whale from Lucian of Samothrace. It's actually an extract from a longer work Verae Historiae I (True History I) a 2nd century work widely hailed as one of the first science fiction novels. 

The other new element is of course the inclusion of tales penned by the editor himself. Now it was almost traditional for an author helming such an anthology to be allowed to include a tale of his own, which indeed RCH does. However he also rather cheekily includes a second tale billed under his alter ego of Angus Campbell. Big Feet is a fun romp riffing on the cliches of dragon slaying stories, while The Sad Vampire is the story of a young boy befriending a monster, albeit one that builds up to a rather wicked blackly comic ending. Now you might say that including two of your own tales is something of a low trick for an editor, but in this case when both stories are such good fun, I'm inclined to forgive him.   

However on the other paw... if I have one criticism of this volume, it is that as a whole the book is weighted a little too heavily towards to the comedic. For E Nesbit's tale is also poking fun at the tropes of dragon slaying, Dimblebee's Dinosaur see another school boy befriending a monster, and Rosemary Timperley's Something in the Cellar has its tongue firmly in its cheek too. So then, not counting the legends retold or the entertaining folk tale from the always reliable Ruth Manning-Saunders, we only have three stories playing it straight. I'm guessing that Armada wanted to keep these book fun and frothy but all the same I can't help feeling that a few more tales with some monstrous frights in them wouldn't have gone amiss. 

But then again, maybe that's just the horror fanatic in me coming out. For unlike some of the other anthologies we've looked at in the past that have wandered off-topic from their chosen subjects, The Armada Monster Book certainly delivers a different creature in every tale, and beasts from many different historical ages. And while I might lament a lack of more scary tales, it's certainly full to the trim with monsters. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 11 - The Hanging of Alfred Wadham by EF Benson

This week we return to the cosy fireside of the Great Library of Dreams, where Mr Jim Moon has a fascinating tale to tell, and a fascinating tale to tell about it. As requested by a listener, we hear EF Benson's eerie classic The Hanging of Alfred Wadham and learn of the troubles the great Roald Dahl had trying to bring it to the screen...

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Friday, 14 August 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Brawny Beasts of County Durham Part II

Last week, we uncovered a tangled legend from Bishop Auckland about a brave knight who slew either a dragon or a monstrous wild boar. And this tale of Sir Pollard and the Brawn shared many similarities with the legend of the Sockburn Worm, a story hailing from a few miles south in County Durham. A highly suspect coincidence to be sure. However stranger still, even closer to Bishop Auckland, the virtually neighbouring town of Ferryhill has its own legend of a monster hog.

The tale is found in The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham: Volume 3, Stockton and Darlington Wards by Robert Surtees published in 1823. While detailing the history of the area, and noting the various historical traces and relics left by one Sir Roger de Fery, Surtees' recounts this 13th century knight's great claim to fame - the slaying of the Brawn of Brancepeth. He writes - 
The Boar or Brawn of Brancepath was a formidable animal, which made his lair on Brandon-hill, and walked the forest in ancient undisputed sovereignty from the Wear to the Gaunless. The marshy, and then woody vale, extending from Croxdale to Ferry-wood, was one of the brawn's favourite haunts, affording roots and mast, and the luxurious pleasure of volutation. Near Cleves-cross, Hodge, of Ferry, after carefully marking the boar's track, dug a pitfall, slightly covered with boughs and turf, and then toling on his victim by some bait to the treacherous spot, stood armed with his good sword across the pitfall,— “At once with hope and fear his heart rebounds.” At length the gallant brute came trotting on his onward path, and seeing the passage barred, rushed headlong on the vile pitfall. 
Now according to local historians this is the earliest record of the story of the slaying of the beast by Roger/Hodge of Fery. However is it curious that Surtees includes a quote in this recounting of the tale - “At once with hope and fear his heart rebounds” - and quite where this line comes from is unclear. I can find no trace of it anywhere else. Is it a quote from Surtees' source for the tale?

Some digging on my part turned up what appears to be an earlier version, told in verse, although annoyingly lacking Surtee's mystery quote. In another old tome The History of the Urban District of Spennymoor published in 1893, by author James J Dodd relates the Ferryhill legend, often almost quoting some of Surtees' phrasing. However deviating from his predecessor's account, he includes the following verse- 
He feared not ye loute with hys stalfe,
Ne yet for ye knyghte in his mayle;
He cared ne more for ye monke with his boke,
Than ye fiendis in depe Croixdale.
Then out spake Hodge yt wyghte soe bolde,
Yt wous on Fery hye;
And he hathe swome by Seynct Cudberte hys rode,
Yt thys horride brawne shall dye;
And he hathe dygged a depe, depe pit,
And strewed it with braunches so grene
Clearly Dodd's quote is but a fragment, and one that tantalizingly cutting off just where the Surtees line might have appeared. And so far, I have been unable to discover either a complete version or a definite origin for it.  Now I have found this old poem appearing with a date of 1208 attached to it, but its actual provenance has been difficult to ascertain. To further muddy the waters, the Victorians, with their passion for heritage and history, recreated a great many old traditions, and hence there is the possibility that this verse, despite being penned in convincing early English, is actually the product of a later century, a Victorian recreation of an imagined lost ballad perhaps.

However the 1208 date does match the historical record, for indeed there was a knight named Roger de Fery in that time. Local tradition has it that the name of the local area 'Brancepeth' is actually derived from 'brawn's path', as this is where the beast reputedly roamed. However scholars in recent times have cast doubt on this, claiming it more likely comes from 'Brant's path', named after a family that made its home in that locale. But as Surtees remarks "The story has nothing very improbable, and something like real evidence still exists", and goes on detail the legacies of Sir Roger that still exist today. These including his alleged tomb in the parish church of Merrington, a twelfth century grave whose slab bears the carved sign of a crossed sword and a spade. As Mr Dodd remarks - 
Seeing that the sword and the spade were the instruments of his famous victory, it needs a very slight stretch of imagination to identify this stone as the actual tombstone of Hodge of Fery. 

However local lore identifies two other places linked with the legend. As Dodd relates, in 1867 the remains of a large pit were discovered while repairing a stackyard, which was quickly assumed to be the very trap dug by Sir Roger. This may seem like a leap of logic, but some years earlier on the same farm, a large stone was dug up which is purported to be all that remains of a cross erected to mark the spot where Sir Roger slew the beast. The area where it was discovered is now known as Cleves Cross after it, and there is a plaque set into a nearby wall that claims - 
The large stone just above ye part of Cleves Cross marks the site where by tradition the Brawn of BRANCEPETH was killed by ROGER de FERY about the year 1200
The current plaque is a recent facsimile, but the original can still be seen in Ferryhill town hall (which also sports the gorgeous stained glass window seen at the heading of this piece).

While the stone is definitely the remains of a medieval monument, in truth we cannot be sure the cross does actually commemorate the slaying of the beast. Some historians postulate that the cross was more probably a way point or marker for pilgrims to Durham Cathedral, but to be frank that is unsupported supposition too, and  I suspect is more a product of an attempt to rid history of something embarrassing like a monster legend. But is a 13th knight hunting down a ferocious wild hog really that unlikely?

To begin with wild boar were still to be found in England at that time, although by the start of the 13th century their numbers were falling and they were being considered something of a menace. Furthermore as tales of monster slaying go, the tale of the Brawn of Brancepeth is highly plausible; the legend actually lacks all the mythic touches one would expect. It features a real animal, and there are no charms or magic involved. It is in fact a rather straight forward account of hunting a dangerous animal, with none of the usual narrative embroidery of the boar's ferociousness or size, nor some lavish reward for brave Sir Roger to round it out into a traditional story or folk tale.

More importantly, the historical record has some very strong evidence to back up the old tale. The traditions of heraldry in that period allowed a man to place in his arms the likeness of any notable beast he had slew. And hence, as Surtees' records, the seals of the de Fery family in that era do indeed show a boar - with Sir Roger's own showing the full beast, while his daughter Maude's just the head.

Given these seals and the carved device on Sir Roger's tomb, it is therefore very much looks like we have a story here rooted in fact rather than fiction. And as we shall discover next time, slaying wild boars was a not uncommon feat for brave men of that era, however many such stories are not as well supported as Sir Roger's by the historical record... And returning to the Pollard legend we will discover why having a beast slayer in the family was so desirable.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #19 - Fun To Know About Ghosts

Now previously in this little series of articles, we have chatted about the wonderful world of the Armada Ghost Books (specifically both here and there), however their fondly remembered line of anthologies wasn't their only venture into the realm of the supernatural, nor was it their only series of books. For Armada had learnt some important lessons in the publishing game, ones which made them one of the top publishers of children's book in the UK for several decades. 

Firstly their paperbacks were always the classic paperback format i.e. handily pocket sized and easily slipped into a blazer pocket or a school bag. Secondly they knew kids always appreciated good cover art, and interior illustrations were a huge bonus draw too. And thirdly Armada recognised that  most children are born collectors - hence if you release a string of books as a series and sell them at pocket money prices, the completist nature of many kids will ensure that the sale of one title will lead to them picking up the rest. 

Hence Armada had many series, often releasing three or fours books on the trot to get the ball rolling. And at the close of the '70s, they launched a new non fiction range, the Fun To Know About series. Now as far as I can tell, this series only ran to four volumes, and obviously today's volume instantly caught my eye... but for the record, the other titles in the series were - 
  • Fun To Know About Dinosaurs (exciting!)
  • Fun To Know About The Mysteries of Space (colour me intrigued!) 
  • Fun To Know About Dogs (hang on, what's this doing in here?)
And although at the time, the volume on dogs very much looked the odd man out in the line-up, with hindsight (and adult eyes) I can see that the range was clearly trying to cover all bases in the market, looking to pick up readers of spooky tales, SF, science, and animals - four categories perennially popular with kids.

Naturally being obsessed with all things spectral and already hooked on the Armada Ghost books series, I snapped up Fun To Know About Ghosts as soon as I saw it. So then delights what did this tome deliver? Well, as was often the case with these kinds of non-fiction ventures for kids at the time (and indeed today) there was a mix of facts, lists, and fun activities with a sprinkling of humour. We kick off with an introduction that asks what are ghosts and discussing the kind of thing the books is going to serve up, and then get on a fun and informative A to Z of different types of ghosts, with related supernatural beings such as werewolves and ghouls creeping in too. Next we have a section on how to be ghost hunter, a piece on ghost photographs and how they were faked in the past, and a selection of ghostly encounters experienced by assorted celebrities. We then have a section on Halloween, in which we get a potted history of the spookiest holiday of the year, and in the most activity orientated part of the book, suggestions for holding a Halloween party. This includes a set of recipes for suitably eerie dishes such as pumpkin pie and  'Ghoul's Blood Tart'!

We then move into a historically themed set of items, which is where this book most overlaps with similar ghostly volumes. For we here have write-ups on the infamous Borley Rectory, the most haunted village in Kent (bonus points if you can name it), royal ghosts and haunted castles. After couple more short chapters detailing unusual and lesser known hauntings we have two long list style sections to round off the book - a round-up of interesting and odd ghostly facts, and finally another A to Z - this time of haunted houses and locations in the British Isles.  

It's a fun little book, and while there was several pieces on  things I was already familiar with (such as the aforementioned Borley Rectory and the pictured above Glamis Castle), there was more than enough new material to make this an indispensable guide to all things ghostly for my younger self. Given its grab-bag nature, this was an ideal tome to have by the bedside for some midnight study into the supernatural. 

Indeed I was so regularly consulting this book, I started looking for other tomes on the supernatural by Mr Sean Richards, but sadly to no avail. However, many years later I would discover that in fact I had already read and indeed owned many volumes by the same author - for 'Sean Richards' was in fact a pen-name of the great Peter Haining, an man we have already encountered several times in this series, and will no doubt be meeting again in the future too... 

And you can hear more about this little tome, including a few little readings, here - Microgoria 05 - Fun To Know About Ghosts

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

TOMB OF THE TRUMPS #03 - Devil Priest Pack Part III

Once again we are back exploring the secret origins of the fabled Horror Top Trumps from the 1980s! And this time we will see how some cards, incredibly, actually managed to match an appropriate image with the right name...
So then, absolutely no prizes for identifying this one! For it is one of the all-time great movie monsters - the Gill Man! He was the last addition to the panoply of Universal monsters, coming when the original house of horrors was moving away from the gothic chills of Drac and Frank and into the terrors of atomic age SF. Surfacing in 1954, The Creature From the Black Lagoon is now recognized as a classic monster movie, and was directed by Jack Arnold in an extremely fertile period that saw him directing other classics such as Tarantula! (1955) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In true Universal fashion, it was followed up with two sequels - Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), but of course also in true Universal fashion, the sequels did lessen in quality with each subsequent movie. 

A redesigned Gill Man would later appear many years later in Fred Dekker's homage to the Universal horrors, The Monster Squad (1987), and our amphibious friend would also make a guest appearance in The Munsters as Uncle Gilbert, where it was revealed he had a fortune in old Spanish dubloons and used to be a politician! Speaking of comedy capers, many folks think that as a late addition to the Universal canon, the Creature was spared a run-in with Abbot and Costello - however this was not the case. For while our fishy friend was avoided an appearance in one of the horror-comedy feature films that finished off the rest of the Universal horror crew, the Creature did appear in a sketch with the comic duo in the Colgate Comedy Hour TV show. 

While on the Creature trivia tip - the first movie was released in 3D, and indeed is still regarded as one of the best movies ever to utilize this cinematic sorcery. However contrary to popular belief, the movie didn't use the red/green anaglyph 3-D method - apparently like nearly all of the 3D flicks of the '50s, it used an earlier version of the polarised 3D system that modern-day 3D movies use! The idea that the movies in the 3D craze of the 1950s used the two colour system derives partly from movies like Creature From the Black Lagoon being reissued to the theatres in the 1970s with the anaglyph systems doing the 3D shenanigans. 

A remake of The Creature From the Black Lagoon has long been promised, but despite various projects being mooted since the 1980s, and assorted big names being attacked to the project, so far the Creature has not resurfaced. He was intended to have a guest appearance in the mega-turkey Van Helsing (2004) but our wily amphibious friend dodged that bullet... 
Our next card is slightly trickier, although the name is (sort of) right and the image has been faithfully copied from movie stills. Indeed despite being a huge fan of the classic fantasy flick from which this particular one-eyed horror hails from, it was a good while before the penny dropped. And that's largely because the card isn't showing the beast in all its glory. For this is no ordinary cyclops, this is actually the Centaur that appears in the finale of Ray Harryhausen's Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) - ah, you see it now, don't you! 

Look - the same swept-back hair-do, accessorized with an ethnic necklace and spiky heavy metal bracelet! Originally our mono-visioned My Monstrous Pony was apparently scripted to fight a Neanderthal giant, but in the end this was changed to the Griffin that now flaps in. Incidentally, the primitive brute would resurface as the friendly monster Trog in a later Harryhausen movie, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).