Echoes of Terror, 1980, Chartwell Books (ed. Mike Jarvis & John Spencer)

We’re putting the paperbacks aside for a moment and delving in to the ‘oversize’ shelf. Those big old hardbacks, the non-fiction ones on the history of horror films and suchlike, the ones with the tattered and torn dust jackets from being man-handled and pored over for the last 40 years or so. The book we’re looking at today, although tattered and torn, is not one of the non-fiction ones; no, we’re on the safe ground of a horror anthology. But, this is an anthology with a difference!

My parents bought me this for, I think, my tenth birthday… and that cover terrified me. I mean, really, I couldn’t look at that cover. If I wanted to read the book I had to close my eyes until it was safely open and that girl’s blind gaze was firmly flat on the table. I’ve no idea why I had that reaction to it, it all seems rather innocuous now, but there you have it. Before we go any further, let’s have a little talk about fear.

What scares you? What gives you that cold tingle that creeps up the back of your neck? It’s always fascinated me, the concept of fear. It may be because, with certain exceptions, I’ve never been the type to feel fear. It may be why I’ve always been interested in the horror genre since I was a young child. I hear about people being scared by certain novels or being terrified by films, but I very rarely experience that. This is not a boast, don’t get me wrong, I think fear is healthy; it’s an instinctive, self-preservation mechanism. There’s only a handful of times I’ve felt what I think is fear:

  1. The cover of Echoes of Terror, just could not look at it!
  2. The window scene in Salem’s Lot, couldn’t have the curtains open at night for a long time.
  3. Walking home alone at night after watching a David Cronenberg film (Rabid) at the local youth club. I walked past a house and saw a black dog-like ‘thing’ with glowing white eyes down a dark pathway, it was hunched over and ready to pounce. I ran the rest of the way home, convinced I’d seen a Hound of Tindalos. I plucked up the courage to go back and investigate the following morning and it turned out to be a black bin bag full of rubbish, the eyes were two small pools of rainwater which had collected in the creases and caught the streetlight.

These three events all happened when I was around 10 or 11 years old, but they are rarities. I was always that boy who would accept the dare to walk through the graveyard alone at night. I was the boy who dared to lay down on Matilda’s Grave while another boy walked around it three times widdershins to see if I really would be pulled down by the icy hands of Matilda’s corpse (a local legend where I grew up). I was the boy who, had he been a character in a horror film, would most certainly have been the one to die first!

So, where does this courage stupidity come from? Who knows? Is it due to being desensitised to horror as a child? I did watch a lot of horror films at a very young age, everything from the early Universals, through the Hammers, right up to the modern horrors of the Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and most of Cronenberg’s output (and talking of Cronenberg, why did our local youth club think it was a good idea to show a bunch of 10 year old children films like Rabid, Dawn of the Dead and Shogun Assassin? Never really understood that, but I’m not complaining!). Or is it due to me being raised in a strictly atheist household, which is something that never really felt quite right to me, but perhaps the constant reminder of there being no such thing as the ‘other’ instilled some sort of logical mindset which overwrote any impulsive settings?

Just to be clear, when I am talking about fear I am talking about the sharp, electric shock sensation of fear, that bright blue flash of terror which makes us want to run away; or that sense of stomach-churning revulsion we get when we’re exposed to gore; or that cold chill that sends a creeping feeling up our backs and makes the hairs on our necks stand on end. Those are the things I classify as fear. I’m not talking about dread, that deep, black sense of existential despair when we realise that everything in life is completely pointless (I’m no stranger to that one, unfortunately).

Anyway, excuse my ramblings, on with the book.

As I said, this is an anthology with a difference. True, it does have rather a classy contents list but, as good as they may be, it’s not the stories that make the difference:

  • A Madman’s Manuscript by Charles Dickens
  • Three in a Bed by Lord Halifax
  • Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Dracula (an extract) by Bram Stoker
  • The Furnished Room by O Henry
  • The Forsaken of God by William Mudford
  • The Werewolf by Frederick Marryat
  • The Midnight Embrace by Matthew Lewis
  • The Devil’s Wager by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs
  • The Seventh Pullet by Saki

No, what makes this volume special is the illustrations; it’s really a vehicle to showcase those wonderful British horror and fantasy artists of the 1970s. And not just small poorly reproduced pictures; we’re talking glossy, full page plates. The bulk of the work is given to the great Les Edwards but we also have work by Jim Burns, Gordon Crabb, Bob Fowke, Peter Goodfellow, Stuart Hughes, Terry Oakes and George Smith.

All of these artists were represented by the Young Artists Agency, an organisation setup in 1970 by the musician and author, John B. Spencer. Spencer was involved in the pub-rock/folk-rock scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s and had a few novels of his own published; he was also the co-editor of this very volume, Echoes of Terror.

If you’d like to know more about the various artists then here are some links to their websites (where available):

Les Edwards

Jim Burns

Gordon Crabb

Bob Fowke

Peter Goodfellow

Stuart Hughes

Terry Oakes

George Smith

Anyone with a passing interest in the genre will no doubt recognise at least a few of the magnificent pieces in this book, many of them were widely used in books and magazines at the time. Just imagine the sheer delight of my youthful mind when I flicked through the pages and realised that I already knew some of these pictures from the covers of paperbacks in my very own burgeoning collection!

Obviously, I wish I had taken better care of it and that the dust jacket wasn’t in such a mess; but that’s life, isn’t it? This book followed me through my childhood; through my teenage years; through a few disreputable bedsits… often not even leaving the gradually disintegrating cardboard boxes my possessions were kept in. The oversized hardbacks just weren’t as easy to look after as the neat and compact paperbacks. But, the important thing is that I still have it after all these years, safely stored on my grown-up shelves. Let’s call it “well loved”… despite that picture on the front cover (by Gordon Crabb, by the way).

And here’s a big thank you to all those artists who took those childhood fears from the dark ginnels of our minds and dragged them out into the light so we could see them all the better. Actually…

…was that such a good thing???

The Mighty Atom ~ Marie Corelli (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 27 (Sphere, 1975))

We’re moving on a bit in The Dennis Wheatley Library of The Occult collection today. I was publishing these posts in strict numerical order but let us throw caution to the wind, let anarchy in through the back door and let do what thou wilt be the whole of the law. Yes, we’re skipping ahead to Volume 27 and paying a visit to Marie Corelli’s The Mighty Atom.

Before I go any further… it’s been four years since I last updated When Churchyards Yawn but, you know, time is an illusion so let’s agree that we’ve all just imagined that it’s been a long time and get on with things shall we?

Marie Corelli is one of those authors who I was aware of but hadn’t actually read; one of those vague names in the peripheries who you might or might not get around to reading one day. Perhaps this was because I was dimly aware of the critical reviews she garnered throughout her career; she was savagely treated by the press who generally considered her work to be sentimental melodramas full of overwrought and flowery prose. However, despite this treatment by the press and the literary establishment, the public adored her. You can’t really overstate just how big a celebrity Corelli was during the late Victorian/Edwardian period, her novels outsold some of the biggest names of the day, but today she is mostly forgotten.

I’m not going to go into a detailed biography about Corelli here, she’s such a complex and fascinating personality that volumes could be, and have been, written about her. There are far better places to read about her life and works, here’s a couple of good place to begin:

http://mariecorelli.org.uk/

https://victorianweb.org/authors/corelli/salmonson1.html

So, The Mighty Atom, let’s start at the beginning.

Corelli gives us quite an opening page. We’re on the North Devon coast at the tail end of a raging storm. We follow a bird, a Robin, as it flits from the shelter of a bush and flies across the battered landscape before landing on the windowsill of a large house. Inside, a small, pale boy is hard at work, studying at his desk; he notices the Robin singing but it doesn’t distract him enough to leave his work and he goes on studying. This sets the theme of the novel perfectly; outside is the world, wild nature and god; inside is books, study and intellect; the small boy is trapped in one and longs for the other.

This is the home of John Valliscourt, a Victorian gent; brash, domineering and an uncompromising atheist; a petty tyrant bringing up his son, Lionel, to be a mirror of his own beliefs. Through a series of tutors young Lionel is put through a rigid regime of education, concentrating on the scientific and the intellect at the expense of the physical, the emotional and the spiritual. Thus, the 10 year old boy is intelligent beyond his years but weak, sickly and craving spiritual nourishment; craving love. Lionel sees the existence of god as giving a point to life; if the universe, as he has been taught, began by chance from a mere atom then that universe can only ever be cold and uncaring. Lionel is a boy going through an existential crisis.

So, is this an existential novel? Of course, the heyday of the existential novel came a good 40 or 50 years after The Mighty Atom and whereas those later existential authors tended to write from an atheistic/agnostic viewpoint, Corelli seems to follow the earlier Kierkegaardian existentialism which comes from a Christian perspective. Whereas the later existentialists looked at an individual’s choices in a godless universe, Kierkegaard looked at the individual’s choices in relation to a deity and the matter of the soul.

Lionel wants a soul but he’s worried that he doesn’t have one as he has not been raised as a Christian. He desperately wants love to exist, something he does not receive from his strict father and rarely gets from his mother (look out for the harrowing ‘re-birth’ scene!). If, as Kierkegaard says, “God is love”, when God is removed from the universe then so is love. The 10 year old Lionel, with all his education, can see no point in living in a universe without god and without love.

So, we have a novel about a young boy going through an existential crisis. It doesn’t exactly sound like a contender for Wheatley to include in his Library of The Occult collection. He explains his decision in his introduction:

“The spirit, or soul, of a person is non-material, and so a factor ‘beyond the range of ordinary knowledge’; which quotation comes from the definition of the word ‘occult’ as given in the Oxford Dictionary. Upon these grounds I feel justified in including this book by Marie Corelli in our Library; for it is the story of a young boy grappling with the problem of whether he has, or has not, a soul.”

But I think there’s more to it than that. Not only was Corelli an important author in the genre, many of her novels contained mystical/occult themes, but if we take The Mighty Atom on its own merit then it gives us a fascinating take on the horror genre. I think we can agree that many (if not most) horror stories are based on a fear of the ‘other’, a fear of the supernatural; whereas Corelli’s The Mighty Atom is based on a fear of the non-existence of the supernatural!

The fear that this is all there is. The fear that we are completely alone in an absurd, accidental universe and we all have to confront the complete and utter pointlessness of our individual and collective existence.

What can be more terrifying than that?

Carnacki the Ghost-Finder ~ William Hope Hodgson (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult ~ Volume 5 (Sphere, 1974))

And so we’re onto number five of the Dennis Wheatley Library of The Occult series, William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder.

william hope hodgson, carnacki the ghost finder

If anyone had asked me, not that anyone ever has, if I liked the Carnacki tales I would most definitely have replied in the affirmative. I picked up one of the Sphere copies with a Terry Oakes illustration when I was in my early-teens and very much enjoyed it. Now, thirty five years or so later, I’ve re-read it for the purposes of this blog and, I have to say, I’m really not as enamoured with it as I expected.william hope hodgson, carnacki the ghost finder

I love the idea of the enigmatic occult detective as much as the next weirdo person; if you’re reading this blog then you probably have an interest in old horror fiction so you’ve probably, at some point in your impressionable youth, harboured a secret fantasy about being an occult detective ~ whether it’s Blackwood’s mystical cipher, John Silence; Quinn’s  Jules de Grandin; Wellman’s Appallachian folklorist, Silver John; Crowley’s slightly creepy Simon Iff; Moore’s/Delano’s more modern take, John Constantine; or any of the myriad of others who inhabit the genre; we all have a favourite.

Hodgson wrote nine Carnacki tales, all of which are included in this collection. They have a somewhat formulaic approach to them; each having the rather basic framing device of the Edwardian gent, Carnacki, inviting his four friends to his London address at 472 Cheyne Walk so that he can regale them with the story of his latest adventure. The four friends are Dodgson (!), Arkright, Jessop and Taylor. We know nothing of these four guests as Carnacki refuses to engage in any conversation other than the telling of the story at hand. And this is where the main problem lies with these tales, the refusal of any conversation means that we get no sense of characterisation from the four visitors which renders them superfluous; they only exist as a clumsy ‘in’ to the story. Once in a while they do get to speak, but only as a Q&A session at the conclusion so that Carnacki can explain the things that Hodgson missed out of the story.

Lovecraft included Hodgson in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ and infers that, although Hodgson’s imagining of unknown horrors cannot be faulted, his prose style often lets him down. And I cannot help but agree with this.

But, for all its faults, the Carnacki collection does have a few points of interest.

Amongst a handful of other fictional works mentioned, we have an early example of a fictional grimoire in the Sigsand Manuscript. Carnacki constantly refers to this 14th century work in his investigations and we have various excerpts included. Here’s a complete run of those excerpts:

On the marking of the Pentagram:

“Thee mounts wych are thee Five Hills of safetie. To lack is to gyve pow’r to thee daemon; and surlie to fayvor the Evill Thynge.”

“Theyre must noe light come from within the barryier.”

“Thyr be noe sayfetie to be gained bye gayrds of holieness when the monyster hath pow’r to speak throe woode and stoene.”

This type of being can:

“forme wythine the pentycle,”

Although the unknown last line of the Saaamaaa Ritual will protect for no  more than:

“maybe five beats of the harte.”

 

A still-born child is:

“snayched bacyk bye thee Haggs.”

 

On the use of colour in psychic defense:

“Avoid diversities of colour; nor stand ye within the barrier of the colour lights; for in colour hath Satan a delight. Nor can he abide in the Deep if ye adventure against him armed with red purple. So be warned. Neither forget that in blue, which is God’s colour in the Heavens. ye have safety.”

 

“In blood there is the Voice which calleth through all space. Ye Monsters in ye Deep hear, and hearing, they lust. Likewise hath it a greater power to reclaim backward ye soul that doth wander foolish adrift from ye body in which it doth have natural abiding. But woe unto him that doth spill ye blood in ye deadly hour; for there will be surely Monsters that shall hear ye blood cry.”

 

“Ye Hogg which ye almighty alone hath power upon. If in sleep or in ye hour of danger ye hear the voice of ye Hogg, cease ye to meddle. For ye Hogg doth be of ye outer Monstrous Ones, nor shall any human come nigh him nor continue meddling when ye hear his voice, for in ye earlier life upon the world did the Hogge have power, and shall again in ye end. And in that ye Hogge had once a power upon ye earth, so doth he crave sore to come again. And dreadful shall be ye harm to ye soul if ye continue to meddle, and let ye beast come nigh. And I say unto all, if ye have brought this dire danger upon ye, have memory of ye cross, for all sign hath ye Hogge a horror.”

 

We can recognise amongst this cod Middle English text several similarities to the Lovecraftian mythos with its references to ancient and malignant beings just a hair’s breadth away from our own world. We could be forgiven for thinking that Lovecraft was indeed influenced by Hodgson’s work, but it seems that he did not discover his work until quite late on in his own career. As Lovecraft put it himself:

“Few can equal him (Hodgson) in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities . . .”

 

Continuing into Hodgson’s Carnacki mythos, the Sigsand Manuscript also describes beings known as Saiitii and, what appears to be a lesser form, Aeiirii; no other information is given about these beings other than the names and the fact that they can manifest in our world. These, along with the protective ritual Carnacki usually employs, the Saaamaaa Ritual, may seem familiar to readers of Dennis Wheatley.

We know that Wheatley was a huge fan of Hodgson’s work and he owned a complete set of the author’s first editions. As he states in his introduction to this volume, he intended to include all of Hodgson’s novels and short story collections in the Library of The Occult series. However, as the series only ran to forty five volumes, we only have two of Hodgson’s; this Carnacki collection and his 1909 novel, The Ghost Pirates.

Wheatley also payed homage to Hodgson in his novel The Devil Rides Out. We all know the famous scene where de Richleau and his companions have protected themselves from psychic attack within the chalked Pentagram and the demonic presences manifest around them. Here is a line from Wheatley:

“De Richleau knew that it was a Saiitii manifestation of the most powerful and dangerous kind.”

. . . and from Hodgson:

“Yes, unless it should prove to be one of the cases of the more terrible Saiitii Manifestations, we were almost certain of safety, so long as we kept to our order within the Pentacle.”

There are many articles on the internet which state that Wheatley has de Richleau use Hodgson’s Saamaaa ritual during this scene in The Devil Rides Out. However, this is not the case (and the perils of copy and paste essay writing!). Although obviously influenced by Hodgson, Wheatley changes the name slightly and has de Richleau use the Sussamma Ritual. Here’s Wheatley:

“The Duke used his final resources, and did a thing which shall never be done except in the direst emergency when the soul is in peril of destruction. In a clear sharp voice he pronounced the last two lines of the dread Sussamma Ritual.”

. . . and Hodgson:

“There is, of course, the possibility of the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual being uttered but it is too uncertain to count upon and the danger is too hideous and even then it has no power to protect for more than “maybe five beats of the harte” as the Sigsand has it.”

~

So there we have it, William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories; a series of formulaic tales with a writing style which can be described, at best, as adequate; zero characterisation; plots that gnaw away at the ropes which suspend your disbelief; and a mild obsession for equating esotericism with an over-use of vowels.

Having said that, the Carnacki tales have proved to be massively influential . . . somehow.

If you haven’t read them yet then should you read them?

Of course you should! They are a hugely important part of 20th Century occult fiction.