The Mystery Blogger Award

Here’s a thing that seems to be going around and the wonderful Nancy and Kathleen over at graphicnovelty2 nominated me for for it. I don’t usually go in for this sort of thing but I’m secretly gloating a bit because they have such a great blog (go and have a look, you won’t regret it) and I am feeling a bit honoured . . . and I get to talk about myself for a while, so it’s all good!

The Mystery Blogger Award was created by Okoto Enigma and is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion

Here’s the rules:

  • Display the award picture on your blog
  • Thank the person who awarded it you (cheers, both!)
  • Mention the creator of the award (done)
  • Tell your readers three things about you
  • Answer five questions from the person who nominated you
  • Nominate some other blogs you like
  • Ask those you nominate five questions of your own devising

Here’s the picture:

award-image

Three things about me:

1: I live in a small Victorian terrace house with my peculiar wife, Tanner the Border Terrier, a life-size Victorian ventriloquist dummy called Ally Sloper, a small ventriloquist dummy called Shabby Dan, an antique child mannequin called Anton with no face or arms and who speaks to us by psychic means, a carved wooden goat head called Brown Phillip, an angry crow and an even angrier weasel.

the-family-2

2: I once took part in an experiment at the parapsychology department at my local university. They were conducting a clairvoyance test by transmitting thoughts into the subject’s dreams and said subject had to record their dreams and take the results back into the special parapsychology lab (a back room away from the respectable bit of Academia). They were very surprised when I turned in a near 100% success rate. But not as surprised as I was.

3: I spent the majority of the 1990s on one form of hallucinogen or other.

The Five Questions

1)  Who would play you in the movie of your life?

If I was directing the film then, of course, I would have the coolest actor that ever lived to play me . . . obviously John Hurt! But, in reality, Wilfred Brambell would probably be nearer the mark.

2) Where would you go if you had a two week, all expense-paid vacation to anywhere in the world?

I’ve got to the stage in my life where I’ve realised that I don’t actually like holidays. I don’t really have anything to holiday from. Having said that, if you’d still like to pay my expenses then that would be most welcome.

3) What do you love on your pizza? What do you absolutely LOATHE on your pizza?

I would like Roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding with gravy on my pizza, hold the pizza.

I would loathe pizza on my pizza.

4) What would your dream job be if money wasn’t an issue?

Without wishing to sound too annoyingly smug, I sort of already have my dream job. Myself and my wife make stuff with our hands and people buy the stuff. Of course, this does mean that money isn’t an issue as we rarely have any.

5) Who is the person who has shaped your life significantly?

My wife, obviously. Samantha. We will have been together 26 years this year. If it wasn’t for Samantha I know that, without exaggeration or being overly melodramatic, I’d either be living in the gutter or dead in a ditch.

Now onto the people I’m nominating for The Mystery Blogger Award

vraic.wordpress.com (for being a constant source of amazement with your asemic art)

dukederichleau.wordpress.com (for being one of my favourite blogs and managing to be insightful, entertaining and downright weird (which is the perfect combination) )

unsubscribedblog.wordpress.com (for being the first blog I followed and one of the finest chaps on the internet (…and, yes, your absence has been noticed and, yes, this is an unashamed plea for your return!)

If you good people are interested in taking part in this whimsy then follow the rules at the top of the page and these are your five questions:

  1. Who would play you in the movie of your life?

  2. What scares you the most?

  3. Who or what do you love the most?

  4. What one possession would you save from a house fire?

  5. When and how would you prefer to die?

And that’s the end. Thanks again to Nancy and Kathleen over at graphicnovelty2 for nominating me.

 

 

 

 

 

This be the verse . . .

I think it’s time we built a new annex for The Churchyard; perhaps in that area overgrown with blackthorn; that area where no one goes; somewhere to entomb that other passion of mine, poetry. I shall be including a selection of the old and the new, from dead poets and the not yet dead.

Of course, only a certain type will be suitable for When Churchyards Yawn. I’m looking for the drear, the dark, the dismal and the disconsolate. I’m looking for the Gothic, the Weird, the Folkloric, the Esoteric and, to quote Conrad, . . . The horror! The horror!

If you’d like to send me your own work for consideration then please do, either through the contact form on this blog or email me at johncnash@live.co.uk

Previously published work is welcome, but do let me know so that I can give credit where credit’s due.

And the title of this endeavour, ‘This be the verse’?

Perhaps it has become best known as the title of Larkin’s wonderfully misanthropic poem, but he borrowed it from Robert Louis Stevenson’s self-composed epitaph which now adorns his tomb:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie,
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

 

stevensongrave

Jerusalem, Alan Moore, 2016 (Knockabout) or; the best presents are book-shaped: 2

As I’ve said before, I rarely purchase new books and, when I do, they tend to be old. How can I even make a start on the 21st Century publications when there are still books from the 19th and 20th Centuries which I still haven’t read? I have no idea how anyone manages to keep up to date with the new stuff so my very brief forays into modern literature usually come to me in the form of presents.

This Christmas I received Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem (a signed copy, no less!). Here’s the cover:

Alan Moore, Jerusalem, 2016, Knockabout

Obviously, having only had it for a couple of days and what with it being rather epic in scale (by the looks of it, coming in at around 3/4 million words?!), I haven’t read it yet, so this blog post is merely to serve as an introduction.

It seems that this novel is an experimental hymn to Alan Moore’s hometown of Northampton, so it’s a fascinating one for me. Like Moore, I was born, raised, and still live in the peculiar town of Northampton. Like Moore, I was born in a poor part of the town to a working class family. Like Moore, I’ve had a long-standing interest in the occult, folklore and local history. I even met Moore several times back in the early 1990s, we moved in the same circles and had mutual acquaintances.

So, this book should be right up my particular Northampton side-street.

As we open the cover to the front endpapers, we’re treated to a map of the area where the novel is set (and where Alan Moore was born).

Alan Moore, Jerusalem, 2016, Knockabout

As I’m sitting here writing this in my house I am just outside of this map, to the west, in an area of town called St. James End. Locally, it’s known as Jimmy’s End and, interestingly, Alan Moore wrote a short film called Jimmy’s End which was filmed at the local Working Man’s Club a stone’s throw from my house. A dark and Lynchian piece, you can see the trailer here:

Back to the novel, I’ve dipped into the first few pages and it is a strange thing indeed to follow the characters around streets that I know intimately and to hear them speaking in a broad Northamptonian dialect. With Moore being such a widely read author it’s odd to think that our small corner has been given an international audience.

So, when will I write a full post about this novel? That’s a difficult one. I really am very much looking forward to reading it but I have pile of other books I currently have on the go which I’m promising myself to finish first, leaving me clear to enjoy this one. I find that I have less time to read than I would like these days (self-employed bookbinder, it takes up the majority of my time) and, when I do get the time, I tend to be quite a slow reader. I take notes as I go; if there’s a particular passage I like I will read it several times (sometimes out loud); I indulge myself and luxuriate over the words. It purportedly took Moore ten years to write this novel and it might take me just as long to read it and write the blog post about it.

 

Doesn’t time fly when a life-size Victorian ventriloquist dummy becomes your lodger?

Typical, isn’t it? Everything’s rolling along nicely, you’re reading; writing about what you’re reading; you’re four books into a forty-five book blog series and it’s all going swimmingly and then you turn round and three months have disappeared. A quarter of a year, flown by without you even considering writing an entry on the blog.

In fairness, I have been extremely busy in the day job (which is, weirdly enough, making custom leather-bound books for other people to write in!).

But the main thing which has been keeping me busy is . . . errr, how do I put this?

Well, for my birthday last year my wife presented me with a large box with a head in it. This is what greeted me when I opened it:

ally-sloper-head-in-a-box

This is a life-sized, Victorian/Edwardian, fully working ventriloquist dummy head of a character called Ally Sloper. Naturally, we couldn’t let this old gent live out the rest of his days as a head so we set to building him a body.

And we now have a 6′ 6″ Whitechapel born, ne’er-do-well living in the house. He’s over there now, in the corner, watching me write this. Just look at him sitting there!

p1030574-a

The problem is that Sloper was hugely (in)famous in his day. Massively popular for fifty years or so, he even had his own top-selling weekly comic journal entitled Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday. Now though, he’s faded into obscurity and no one has heard of him. So, he’s set out to rectify that by starting his own blog  and the fact that I’ve been helping him out with that has meant that I’ve been neglecting my own work here at When Churchyards Yawn.

I do have a sneaky suspicion that, in the great tradition of Maxwell and Hugo from ‘Dead of Night’ and Corky and Fats from ‘Magic’, I’m sure the old sod Sloper is trying to take over.

This post is definitely going in the Oddities & Ephemera category!

Anyway, click on this link or the picture and it will take you to Sloper’s very own blog:

https://allysloper.wordpress.com/

ally-sloper-at-home

Studies in Occultism ~ H. P. Blavatsky (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 4 (Sphere, 1974))

As we move on from the third book in the series, in which Wheatley introduced us to one leading figure of Occult history with Crowley’s Moonchild, we move to another leading figure in that world for the fourth book, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

It seems from his introduction that Wheatley really wanted to include Blavatsky’s major work, Isis Unveiled, into his Library of the Occult series but as the series was a new venture it was deemed impractical to include such a massive two volume edition at this point; although, as Wheatley states, he did want to find a way to include it, along with other longer editions, at a later date. Sadly his Library of the Occult series ended earlier than anticipated at a total of 45 editions so this never happened.

What we have instead is Studies in Occultism; a collection of Blavatsky’s articles taken from her Theosophical magazine ‘Lucifer’.

blavatsky, studies in occultism, sphere, dennis wheatley library of the occult, volume 4

As we all know, Blavatsky was born in 1831 to an aristocratic Russian family. From a young age she travelled widely, both in the East and West, and supposedly learnt about mysticism from various personages along the way. This led her to co-founding the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. Her particular brand of pick and mix mysticism laid the foundations for much of the occult traditions of the 20th century leading to what popular thought now broadly categorises as the “New Age”.

The series of articles published in this volume are from a Blavatsky approaching the end of her life and there seems to be a bitterness underlying all of them. Let’s not forget that Blavatsky was very much a product of the 19th Century. With the rise of materialism and the glorification of the physical sciences during that period there were many, as is natural, who discarded these new-fangled ideas and returned to earlier beliefs; in the arts we saw the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement. People rejected the modern and resorted to Medievalism; and Blavatsky was no different.

In these articles Blavatsky calls out pretty much everyone who doesn’t follow her creed as Black Magicians, especially those within the scientific community. Perhaps she was tired of all of her detractors, she had been deemed as a fraud and a plagiarist many times, and these articles were a last ditch attempt at her defense of Theosophy.

To sum up the tone of the book let’s have an excerpt from the article entitled ‘The Dual Aspect of Wisdom’ which takes the form of a reply to a letter sent in to the magazine from a detractor suggesting that the movement is “. . . too fond of the dim yesterday, and as unjust to our glorious present-day, the bright noon-hour of the highest civilization and culture”. Blavatsky states in her eleven page reply (or, what we’d probably term now ‘rant’):

“No true Theosophist, in fact, would consent to become the fetish of a fashionable doctrine, any more than he would make himself the slave of a decaying dead-letter system, the spirit from which has disappeared for ever. Neither would he pander to anyone or anything, and therefore would always decline to show belief in that in which he does not, nor can he believe, which is lying to his own soul. Therefore there, where others see “the beauty and graces of modern culture”, the Theosophist sees only moral ugliness and the somersaults of the clowns of the so-called cultured centres. For him nothing applies better to modern fashionable society than Sydney Smith’s description of Popish ritualism: “Posture and imposture, flections and genuflections, bowing to the right, curtsying to the left, and an immense amount of male (and especially female) millinery”. There may be, no doubt, for some worldly minds, a great charm in modern civilization; but for the Theosophist all its bounties can hardly repay for the evils it has brought on the world. These are so many, that it is not within the limits of this article to enumerate these offspring of culture and of the progress of physical science, whose latest achievements begin with vivisection and end in improved murder by electricity. Our answer, we have no doubt, is not calculated to make us more friends than enemies, but this can be hardly helped. Our magazine may be looked upon as “pessimistic”, but no one can charge it with publishing slanders or lies, or, in fact, anything but that which we honestly believe to be true. Be it as it may, however, we hope never to lack moral courage in the expression of our opinions or in defense of Theosophy and its Society. Let then nine-tenths of every population arise in arms against the Theosophical Society wherever it appears — they will never be able to suppress the truths it utters. Let the masses of growing Materialism, the hosts of Spiritualism, all the Church-going congregations, bigots and iconoclasts, Grundy-worshippers, aping-followers and blind disciples, let them slander, abuse, lie, denounce, and publish every falsehood about us under the sun — they will not uproot Theosophy, nor even upset her Society, if only its members hold together.”

 But the most interesting thing about this book, for a collector such as myself, is not something the author intended, nor the publisher and not even Wheatley himself. Most collectors favour volumes in as pristine a condition as possible. Perfect little packages which look as though they’ve just come fresh from the printers, unread. For myself, I say, bring me your ragged, dog-eared editions. The books that have lived. The books that have been loved. The ones that have suffered from being stuffed into back-pockets or rucksacks to be read on journeys. I love the ones that have been scrawled in, where previous readers have been so impassioned that they’ve highlighted sections or added their own footnotes. Books that have been claimed by the owner writing their name on the flyleaf. Phone numbers written on the cover when that was the only paper they had on them at the time of a chance liaison. The makeshift bookmarks found in them, train tickets, theatre tickets, shopping lists, photographs! Even the marginal doodles.

This edition holds possibly my favourite reader addendum in my collection. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the volume; on the inside of the back cover we have a draft of a letter from a disgruntled Thelemite to his or her bank. Isn’t this just wonderful? I’ve included a typed version beneath for ease of reading.

blavatsky, studies in occultism, sphere, dennis wheatley library of the occult, volume 4

Dear Sirs,

Do What Thou Wilt . .

Thank you for confirmation of my

It is only by thro honesty and truth that men and women can achieve their full potential. It is the Law of Life, which is Love, Spirit and Light.

I believe in all truthfulness that this affair has not been closed and that certain employees of Barclays Bank will must face the forces in which they  you yourselves they themselves have invoked. So that all men may see the Light which is the (???) Intelligence.

Love is the Law, Love under Will.

How can you see this Great Love that sustains even the smallest particle of dust floating in Space when all you can think of is money?

May this Light lead you into correct action because character is the foundation, the base of the pyramid which reaches up to the stars.

Yours in Thelema,

Moonchild ~ Aleister Crowley (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 3 (Sphere, 1974))

And so we move onto the next book in the series with Crowley’s occult novel, here called Moonchild but also known as The Butterfly Net and, of course, Liber LXXXI.

In his brief foreword Crowley states that he wrote this book in 1917. It wasn’t published until the short-lived Mandrake Press put it into print in 1929 and, even then, it was only given a relatively short run. I can’t help wondering whether the book published in 1929 was the actual final draft from 1917 or whether there were additions made; it’s just that certain parts do seem quite prophetic (but then I suppose that was the author’s stock-in-trade). It wasn’t until 1970 that it was picked up and put into paperback by the famed New York occult bookshop-cum-publisher, Samuel Weiser. With the occult counter-culture boom of the 1970s Sphere reprinted it several times and included it as the third entry in our Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult series.

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, Volume 3

How do we talk about this novel? It’s such a curate’s egg of a thing that it’s difficult to know where to start. On the one hand we have an occult thriller yet, on the other hand, we have a primer on magical thinking. On yet another hand we have a biting satire on the major occult figures of the day and, on another hand still, we have an alternate(?) history of the early 20th Century.

Let’s start off by stating where I’m reading this book from. Obviously, I have a love of 20th century horror/occult fiction; that goes without saying. I would say that I have a grounding in what can be broadly categorised as Western Esotericism, including Crowley and Thelema, but I’m certainly no expert on the subject. I’ve read and studied the major Taoist texts, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and the I Ching but, again, I would not call myself an expert. I say this because, with a book such as this, any discussion is going to be coloured by the reader’s own preconceptions; a casual reader expecting a thriller about battling wizards is going to get a very different reading than, say, a dyed in the wool Thelemite.

So, what’s it about? The central plot concerns two factions of warring magicians. On one side, we have the ‘white’ magicians attempting to bring about a new age to humanity by bringing into being by magical means a homunculus. This homunculus would be the vehicle for a spirit possessing the astrological qualities of the moon and would become a Messianic figure, the Moonchild of the title. Of course, the ‘black’ magicians do all within their powers to bring an end to this working and there we have the premise of the novel, the interaction between the black and the white.

The world Crowley creates for Moonchild is not too distant from the one in which he inhabited, as such, it could be classed as a Roman à clef. All those we encounter in Moonchild are thinly veiled characterisations of Crowley’s own friends, acquaintances and enemies . . . and he certainly goes to town on them. Let’s have a look at some of the major players in the novel and their real-life counterparts:

1: Cyril Grey

young aleister crowley, cyril grey

A feisty young adventurer/magician, brave, handsome, connected, witty, charming, devastatingly intelligent and a powerful occultist. Yes . . . this is Aleister Crowley’s very own alter-ego (with the emphasis on ‘ego’). This being a character that is practically perfect in every way we cannot help but think there is an element of wish-fulfilment going on. Most people grow out of this sort of writing by their late-teens but old ‘Mary-Sue’ Crowley was a chap in his early forties when he wrote this.

2: Simon Iff

old aleister crowley, simon iff

A close friend, mentor and associate of Cyril Grey. A mysterious and exceptionally wise old Taoist and another powerful magician. Yes . . . this is another of Crowley’s alter-egos, himself as an older man – the man Grey wants to be.

3: Lisa la Giuffria

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, Mary 'd'Este Sturges, Lisa la Giuffria

Lover of Cyril Grey (Crowley) and intended mother of the Moonchild. She is based on Mary d’Este Sturges, one of Crowley’s ‘Scarlet Women’. The real Sturges was the wildly bohemian mother of film director Preston Sturges, she met Crowley through their mutual friend Isadora Duncan (who also briefly appears in Moonchild as ‘Lavinia King’) and went on to co-write some of Crowley’s most important work.

4: Douglas

samuel liddell macgregor mathers, Douglas, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

The chief antagonist of the piece, the head of The Black Lodge, is none other than the real life co-founder and head of the The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Douglas, also known as S.R.M.D., hates our young hero Cyril Grey with a passion and will stop at nothing to destroy his work. Being enemies in real life, Crowley writes a truly repulsive character for his one time associate, a vile and debauched magician who thinks nothing of pimping out his devoted wife to fund his own addictions.

5: Edwin Arthwait

A E Waite, Arthwait, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

The Black Lodge Magician who Douglas puts in charge of the mission to destroy the Moonchild project. Crowley barely even bothers to disguise the name of this one; it is, of course, the famed occultist, co-creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck and real life enemy of Crowley, Edward Arthur Waite. Crowley paints him as a tedious, pedantic, prolix buffoon whose bungled attempts at destroying the Moonchild project form a broad comedic relief in the middle of the book.

6: Gates

w b yeats, Gates, Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

Arthwait’s second-in-command in the mission to destroy the Moonchild project. This is the poet W. B. Yeats and he doesn’t come across quite as badly as the others. Crowley portrays Yeats as a skilled magician with a keen intellect who only joined The Black Lodge as a romantic fantasy.

7: A.B.

annie besant, A.B., Aleister Crowley, Moonchild

This character doesn’t actually appear in the novel, they are only briefly mentioned as the mysterious ‘silent partner’ head of The Black Lodge; a woman of such evil depravity that even Douglas answers to her. Bizarrely, this is Crowley’s interpretation of the Victorian social reformer and leading light in Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, Annie Besant. Interestingly, the real Besant was famously involved with her own ‘Messiah’ project several years before Crowley wrote Moonchild.

These are just a handful of the main players in the novel. There are, of course, countless other important personages from the late 19th/early 20th centuries portrayed and if you don’t recognise them yourself then don’t worry, most editions have Crowley’s friend and secretary, Kenneth Grant, to guide us through with his copious footnotes.

So, that’s the background, we have an occult Roman à clef based around the characters revolving around the famed split, and ensuing fallout, of The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn. But how does it read as a novel? What if the reader has no prior knowledge of, or couldn’t care less about, the background of the novel?

Pretty poorly, I would imagine.

Crowley’s prose is flat and unimaginative for the most part with the occasional flourish of purple prose which only serves to highlight both failings. Even though the characters are mostly two dimensional Crowley has trouble controlling them, if there are ever more than three characters in a room Crowley completely loses control of them, thankfully larger group scenes are kept to a minimum. As a satire, Crowley’s venting of past grievances, although fascinating to those interested in the subject, can come across as back-bitingly juvenile. In fairness, the central plot does move along quite nicely, and we do encounter some genuine surprises within it, but the casual reader may find it an annoyance that the plot is being continuously derailed by the philosophical discourses which Crowley has Cyril Grey and Simon Iff expound upon.

Of course, these discourses are a major part of the novel which give it a second life as a primer on magical thinking. With Lisa la Giuffria being a newcomer to the group and an eager student it gives Crowley the opportunity, under the guise of Cyril Grey and Simon Iff, to guide the reader through the basics of his Thelemic tenets. This Crowley does exceptionally well, explaining in layman’s terms his philosophies in a Socratic dialogue sort of a way. Along with these magical dialogues we also have detailed descriptions of various magical rites, especially those within the realm of sympathetic magic, but there is one branch of mysticism that overrides all others in this novel.

Essentially, if we strip back Crowley’s book, if we silence the bells and whistles, it is a novel about Taoism. Crowley had a fascination for Taoism and wrote his own interpretation of the most important Taoist text, Lao Tsu’s ‘Tao Te Ching’. The appearance of Simon Iff as a Taoist mystic reinforces this theme. Within Taoism lies the concept of Dialectical Monism, understanding that the dualistic nature of reality only exists as part of a monistic whole; therefore, for example, good cannot exist without evil, and vice versa. Nothing actually exists, all is a result of the interaction between what we see as opposites. The entire plotline exemplifies this; imagine the Tai Chi Tu (more commonly known as the Yin/Yang symbol) and think of the interaction between those two forces, the Yin and the Yang, the black and the white, at once opposite and complementary; the novel dances along the invisible line that connects and divides them. Our hero, Cyril Grey (the young Crowley), is a man seeking The Way of The Tao and his friend, Simon Iff (the old Crowley), is a man who has attained it.

It’s difficult to say who Crowley was aiming this novel at. He wrote it at a particularly impecunious period of his life so, was it an attempt to make a bit of quick cash by writing a pot-boiler? Was it an attempt to give his philosophy a wider audience by disguising it as a mainstream thriller novel? Was it just a bit of a jape to annoy his detractors?

Who knows?

(Incidentally, if anyone does know then please feel free to comment!)

So, there we have it. Moonchild is at once a poorly written pot-boiler of an occult thriller and a possibly quite brilliant treatise on magical thinking with an emphasis on Taoist tenets. Either way, it’s a fascinating piece, synthesising the thoughts of one of the most important figures in 20th century occultism.

The Werewolf of Paris ~ Guy Endore (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 2 (Sphere, 1974))

So, Dennis Wheatley gave us Dracula as his opening gambit for the series; a bold move starting off with the most famous Vampire novel of all time. How could he follow that for the second book in his Library of the Occult, you may ask? By giving us the most famous Werewolf novel of all time, that’s how.

Endore’s 1933 novel is a fascinating thing; part Gothic romance; part horror; part historical fiction; it successfully intertwines factual events and people with the fictional protagonists to give us a bleak metaphorical discourse on the nature of humanity.

As you can see from the back cover blurb, this is being sold as a rather tawdry affair. It was very loosely adapted to film twice, by Hammer in 1961 and by Tyburn in 1975, both times being given the standard ‘creature feature’ treatment, which is a shame as this novel really is a long way from that.

The Werewolf of Paris, Guy Endore

Like all good Gothic novels Endore begins with a framing device to set the stage; this takes the form of a young American man living in contemporary Paris while diligently working towards his Ph.D. This unnamed young man is visited by Eliane, a friend from America, who convinces him to take her on a debauched tour of the Parisian nightlife. Here the central theme of duality which runs through the novel is introduced, he is reading Lucretius’ Epicurean text ‘De Rerum Natura’, she is reading the 1920’s sensational flapper novel ‘Flaming Youth’. He is sobre and serious, she is wild and intoxicated. He is guided by rationality, she is guided by instinct. He is decidedly human, she is rather wolfish.

It’s during this brief introductory chapter that our narrator discovers an old manuscript in a pile of litter. The manuscript turns out to be a report, written by Aymar Galliez, in defense of one Sergeant Bertrand Galliez for a court-martial dated 1871. Fascinated by this text, our narrator forms the body of our novel from his fleshed out investigations into the case.

The opening sequence of the main body of the novel gives us two castles, one on either side of a river, the great families of which are at constant war with each other. Now, there’s an image for the constant theme of duality. It’s about the battle between science and superstition, cruelty and kindness, savagery and civilisation, the rich and the poor. It’s to this violent world that is born Bertrand, the bastard son of an innocent 14 year old serving girl and the brutal priest who raped her during a thunderstorm. Of course, Endore has young Bertrand as the linch-pin of the novel; a character which, being both man and wolf, exists in a constant liminal state between these extremes.

We follow Bertrand and his adoptive uncle, Aymar, through that mid-19th century period of massive Gallic political turmoil. Beginning with Aymar’s injury in the brief 1848 revolution, through the Franco-Prussian war to the rise and fall of the Paris Commune, culminating in the terrors of the Bloody Week.

This is a true horror novel, in all senses. Endore appears to know his subjects well; the atrocities we become witness to during the battles for Paris, the battles between the new and old orders, are truly horrific and horrifically true. The wholesale slaughter, the executions, the paranoia led proletariat, the baying mobs, neighbours turning against neighbours, the wealthy corruptibles using the situation to their own advantage. The 20,000 or so people brutally killed during and following The Bloody Week. This is where the horror is and Endore, famously being a politically aware author, pulls no punches in depicting it.

Although this is a tale about a werewolf, the activites of the cursed Bertrand pale into insignificance when compared to the horrors surrounding him in a Paris at war with itself. In fact, the relationship between Bertrand and his lover Sophie, although marred by physicality, acts as a point of purity and sanity in an otherwise broken world. Bertrand’s wolfish behaviour is merely an instinctive need to feed, he becomes an innocent within the artifice of the political machinations surrounding him.

Ultimately, in the extraordinary bleakness of this novel, all pretence of duality is lost. Whether considered good or evil, a follower of science or superstition, rich or poor; we are all as one at heart. As soon as the thin veneer of civilisation has crumbled, we are all vicious beasts ready to rend and tear one another. We all have a vestigial beast within us.

We are all werewolves.