Thursday, December 1, 2022

Literary Hauntings

Tartarus Press have just announced publication of Literary Hauntings, a guide to the real locations of 267 fictional ghost stories in the UK and Ireland. I worked with Ray and Ros at Tartarus on this project, and have contributed some of the entries. 

This was great fun, involving rereading many classic tales and looking out for clues, in a tantalising game of literary detection. It is surprising how often a story seems to be well-rooted in a particular local landscape, but not in a way that you can pin down. And then, of course, there are those that begin after this fashion: "It was in the year 18-- that I made my way to my great-uncle's lonely house in the remote moorland of ---shire," or "When I became the cathedral organist in the ancient and picturesque city of Westchester, I little thought . . ."

Groan! 

Even so, there were other authors who were surprisingly specific in some of their locations. H R Wakefield, for example, clearly has in mind a particular hotel in Ireland for one of his ghostly fishing yarns, which I was able to locate, but he also set another one, unexpectedly, at a reservoir near Tring, Hertfordshire.

One of the insights the guide demonstrates amply enough is that the literary ghost story is not only set in the obvious places such as ruined abbeys, crumbling castles, churchyards and remote country. There are all sorts of venues here, including railway stations (and trains), a golf club, a football ground, and suburban back-streets. 

Similarly, though we hope we've identified the topography of many well-loved classics in the field, the guide also discusses unfamiliar pieces, and modern and contemporary, even experimental, stories. 

Each entry provides a short summary of the relevant story and the significance of its setting, and we have in each case provided a postcode which will take you as exactly as we can to the place in question. We also say whether there is public access. Whether you will want to visit after you find out what is supposed to be there is a matter for your discretion . . .

And whether you keep the book in the glove compartment or back seat of your car, or in your rucksack, for intrepid adventures while out and about, or simply indulge in armchair browsing, we hope you'll find plenty to enjoy in the guide.

(Mark Valentine)

Friday, November 25, 2022

Aeolian Mixtape - Quinta

One of the elements in my story ‘Mad Lutanist’ (recently reprinted in The Ghost & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes edited by Rosemary Pardoe, from Sarob Press) is the aeolian harp, an ancient instrument which resonates with the wind to produce eerie music. It fascinated Coleridge, and his experiments and speculations are alluded to in the story.

I was therefore delighted to receive news of Aeolian Mixtape by Quinta, an album just released on the always-interesting Nonclassical label. Quinta is a London-based experimental composer who devised hand-made versions of the aeolian harp while she was living in Greece. Its strange soaring sounds are here combined with string instruments and electronics to convey a truly unearthly soundscape.

(Mark Valentine)

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Celtic Weird and author Eochann MacPhaidein

Celtic Weird: Tales of Wicked Folklore and Dark Mythology, is a newly published anthology edited by Johnny Mains. It contains some twenty-one stories, divided into seven sections: Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Isle of Mann, Wales, Cornwall, and Gaelic. Some of the authors are well-known, like Robert Aickman, Count Stenbock, Edith Wharton, Nigel Kneale, Arthur Machen, and Frank Baker, etc. Of course I immediately gravitated towards the authors unknown to me, and I'd like to discuss one of them here. The story is called "The Butterfly's Marriage" and it is by Eochann MacPhaidein.

Mains introduces the story as follows:  

I cannot find anything about Eachann (Hector) MacPhaidein apart from the fact that he wrote Pòsadh An Dealan-dè ("The Butterfly's Wedding") for Uirsgenlan Gaidhealach / Highland Tales (1905). The following story is, in my opinion, astonishing, I don't think I've ever read anything so out there and he distills the very essence of Gaelic folklore and outré imagination into every single word. This is one weird tale. 

I think the editor oversells the story a bit, but it is an odd one, and I certainly wish we had more stories from this author. Uirsgenlan Gaidhealach is a small all-Gaelic anthology of four stories, of which MacPhaidein's is the last one. The book (published in 1905 in wrappers at 6d, and cloth at 1s) is only 64 pages, and MacPhaidein's story is found on pages 58-64; it is the shortest in the book. The names of the four authors are given only in the table of contents, with the names Gaelicised. However, an early review in the October 1905 issue of An Deo-Ghréine, gives MacPhaidein's everyday name as Hector MacFadyen, and notes "The author is a master of the folk style, and his tale does not lapse once into modernity. We should like to see larger output from the same source" (p. 16). The book was reprinted in both formats in 1912. 

Mains does not say where the English translation comes from, but it appeared soon after the book's publication in the 16 October 1905 issue of  The Celtic Review, with no author's name given, and no translator's name either. The translator was clearly someone closely associated with The Celtic Review, for after the 1912 second edition of Uirsgenlan Gaidhealach had been published, an unsigned review appeared in the January 1914 issue, where the reviewer admitted that "Pòsadh An Dealan-dè (the Butterfly's Wedding), a delightful fairy fantasy by Hector MacFadyen, . . . so charmed the present writer that he translated it for the Celtic Review" (p. 252). 

The editor of Uirsgenlan Gaidhealach was (per the title page) Chaluim Mhic Phàrlain, or Malcolm MacFarlane (1853-1931), a Gaelic scholar, very active in the An Comunn Gàidhealach (the "Gaelic Association"), an organization, founded in 1891 to promote Gaelic language and culture, which continues to the present day. The Association sponsored an annual Mod, a convention at which many prizes were given for composition in Gaelic. All four stories in Uirsgenlan Gaidhealach were winners of prizes. 

What of Hector MacFadyen? The Caledonian (NY) for November 1902 notes that at the 11th annual Mod, held in Dundee the last week of September, Hector MacFadyen, of Glasgow, won a prize for the "best original Gaelic tale"-- presumably Pòsadh An Dealan-dè. MacFadyen also won other compositional prizes at other Mods in the first decade of the twentieth century, including a £5 prize in September 1907 for a "Gaelic Short Story, extending to 1500 words or more, of Olden Times in the Highlands, with historical setting" (An Deo-Ghréine, October 1907, p.2).  Nothing further is known of this second tale. 

Genealogical resources haven't helped me to pin down anything more about Hector MacFadyen, as multiple Hector MacFadyen's turn up. The name of John MacFadyen, also common, is perhaps a relative, for it appears in the lists of prize-winners at the annual Mods at the same time as Hector's name does. John MacFadyen also lived in Glasgow. Unlike Hector, John MacFadyen published some books, including An t-Eileanach [The Islander] (1890; second edition 1921), containing original Gaelic songs, and Sgeulaiche nan Caol (1902), containing original Gaelic readings, sketches, poems and songs.  

Perhaps someone with access to better resources than I have in the US can find out more about these MacFadyens. Meanwhile, I share below scans of "The Butterfly's Marriage" as it appeared in The Celtic Review in 1905.  (If I've done this right, clicking on the image will make the page bigger.)

 



Sunday, November 20, 2022

Mazes and Labyrinths

This year marks the centenary of Mazes and Labyrinths, A General Account of Their History and Development by W H Matthews, a pioneering study of this fascinating subject.

The author is referenced by the British Library catalogue as William Henry Matthews of Ruislip, Middlesex, and this is the only title attributed to him. The original edition is quite hard to find and its pale blue boards and paper label are often rather battered, but it has been reprinted as a readily-available Dover paperback.

His study was one of the first to draw attention to turf mazes in Britain, which were then little-known and often neglected. These spiralling forms, carved into the grass, are enigmatic in origin and purpose and, though there are several theories, have never been definitively explained. They are also hard to date, though some are certainly at least medieval. They often have curious names, such as Troy Town, Julian's Bower, Maiden's Bower, Shepherd's Race.

I was reminded of the centenary of Matthews' book when I received my copy of this year’s issue of Caerdroia, The Journal of Mazes and Labyrinths edited by Jeff Saward, no. LI. This wonderful, long-running publication (founded 1980) is always full of learned articles in the best amateur antiquarian tradition. Jeff describes Matthews’ book in his editorial as “Ground breaking, if somewhat overlooked, in its day, it remains a constant and charming source of reference”. 

There is an affectionate and informative memoir of Matthews by his daughter Zeta Eastes at the Caerdroia Archive. He was a musician, botanist, Great War volunteer, cyclist and Board of Trade civil servant, who researched his mazes book in the British Museum reading room but also made field trips to notable mazes. His daughter recalls him drawing mazes in the sand for her at the seaside.

I discovered an early issue of Caerdroia in my youthful antiquarian wanderings in the early 1980s, at the Gothic Image bookshop in Glastonbury, along with an array of other alluring magazines covering Druidism, paganism, landscape mysteries, ancient sacred sites, the Arthurian legends and much else. Jeff had also produced Caer Sidi, one of the first modern descriptive checklists of turf mazes in Britain.

Inspired by his work, I at once set out (with my colleague G J Cooling) for a nearby example, the Miz-maze at Breamore, Hants, bowered in a wooded hilltop in private grounds but reachable by a public footpath. It was certainly a lonely, strange place.

However, the expedition was made the more thrilling when a helicopter hovered while we were contemplating the maze, as if observing our presence. Below a woman's voice called stridently for her dog, Bruno. It felt like a scene from The Avengers or The Prisoner. Were we intruders at some secret parapsychology installation? I half-expected the miz-maze to revolve into the earth and black-tunicked villains to disgorge.

Rosemary Pardoe's The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob, 2020) is a recent notable anthology of short stories on the theme. There may well be lost turf maze sites still to be discovered, using detailed place-name evidence or possibly local traditions: I came across one by chance a while ago in a church guide.

(Mark Valentine)

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Friends of Arthur Machen, London '23

March 2023 marks Arthur Machen’s 160th birthday as well as the 25th anniversary of the founding of The Friends of Arthur Machen.

The society will be marking these occasions by returning to London for its AGM and Annual Dinner.

The venue will be the Portland Suite at the Fitzrovia Hotel, 20-28 Bolsover Street, London W1W 5NB. The hotel is in central London, has accommodation, a lounge bar, and lifts for access. It is near Oxford Circus and Great Portland Street Underground stations.

It is hoped there may be related Machen activities over the weekend, and no doubt some hardy souls will investigate for research purposes the various pubs he frequented.

As well as existing members, new members and guests of members are welcome. Please follow link or see poster above for details.