Sunday, July 30, 2017
The Terrors of Dr Treviles - Peter Redgrove & Penelope Shuttle
In the previous post, I mentioned a book that had puzzled me as a youthful reader looking for anything mystical and strange: The Terrors of Dr Treviles (1974) by Peter Redgrove & Penelope Shuttle, a tale of Cornish sex-magic. I was attracted to the splendid title, which perhaps offered something in the Machenesque tradition of mad diabolic doctors, as in The Great God Pan, or the sinister Dr Lipsius of The Three Impostors. The dustjacket of the original edition was also alluring, full of vivid psychedelic smears in which images of haunted trees, flowing red hair, mythic beasts and naked limbs could excitingly be discerned.
I was in those years a frequent visitor to West Penwith, the final far reaches of Cornwall, where I explored with friends the romantic cliff-edge ruins of the tin mines, crumbling and ivy-covered, which looked, with their hollow windows and tapering chimney towers, like lost chapels. I also sought out the secret niches of little-known holy wells, the prehistoric hill-settlements covered in bracken and gorse, with their bitter smell in the salt-riddled summer air, and the ancient, lichen-coated stones. I was ready for any work that might capture some of the witchery and sorcery of this land.
When I read the book, however, I discovered it was in a prose quite different to the rich, resonant lyricism of Machen. It seemed to jump about quite a lot. It was not always obvious what was going on. Quite a bit of mud and blood was thrown about. Escapades, exclamations and emissions of various sorts surged through the pages. Peculiar ideas flared up like fireworks, followed by passages of expectant darkness. I was a bit bewildered, but I recognised this was the work of two fervent imaginations, and vaguely understood we were in a world of dream and nightmare, vision and ritual. The book opened up for me the idea of an utterly different type of writing. I wasn't quite sure I liked it, but I thought it was exciting.
The Terrors of Dr Treviles, "a romance of Science and the Supernatural", was reprinted in paperback in 2006 by Stride Publications, distributed by Shearsman Books. Here's their excellent description:
"The Terrors of Dr Treviles is the story of a vocation and a quest. The hero, Gregory Treviles, is a doctor whose healing gift is a terrifying and vivid imagination. His quest is to explore wherever his images lead and to discover in so doing the real use of these bizarre energies; the question he asks himself is 'And whom does this Grail serve?' His quest becomes entwined with the lives of his brilliant red-headed stepdaughter Robyn, a molecular biologist who is also a witch; of another doctor, Brid Hare, who hides a secret she believes is shameful; and the deathly life of Trevile's deceased wife, Mamie. The energy liberated by Trevile's imagination changes all these lives, and involves a foolish saintly clergyman, Alex Bodkin, and many other creatures, such as blood-magic, slapstick comedy, Laurel and Hardy, Satan, and the University of Cornwall."
Who could possibly resist?