Monday, December 23, 2019

Gordon Casserly, Tiger Girl

Casserly, Gordon. Tiger Girl (London: Philip Allan, 1934)

Tiger Girl is one of the rarest of the eight novels by Gordon Casserly (1869-1947), four of which can be classified as having fantastical elements. These four novels include The Elephant God (1920), The Jungle Girl (1921), The Monkey God (1933), and the volume under review.

Tiger Girl centers on the Scotsman Alan Stuart, a British Army officer serving in northern India, and his blossoming romance with Margery Webb, the daughter of plantation owner, whose rival plantation owner, Mr. Morton, also surreptitiously seeks the hand of Margery in marriage. The courtship is interrupted by various tiger attacks, including sightings of the legendary Ghost Tiger which shows no wounds when shot with regular bullets. Morton employs gypsies and a yogi to work eastern magic to thwart Stuart's courtship of Margery. There are a number of attacks on Stuart and his friends, and in the end Stuart realizes the supernatural agency of the Ghost Tiger and fashions two handmade silver bullets, each etched with the sign of the cross, which enables him to kill it. Just why a silver bullet, or a bullet etched with the cross, is effective in dispatching the Ghost Tiger, the reader is never told. And there are other similar elements in the book which don't quite add up, like why the book is titled Tiger Girl (the Ghost Tiger turns out to have been male). Towards the end of the book, the character Carter reappears from Casserly's previous novel, The Monkey God, somewhat tying the two books together, but otherwise making little difference. Tiger Girl remains primarily a romance adventure novel, but with some supernatural elements.

NB: Tiger Girl has just been reissued in trade paperback by Bruin Books (Amazon US here; and Amazon UK here)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Thomas Malyn, The Romance of a Demon

Malyn, Thomas. The Romance of a Demon: A Story of the Occult and Superhuman (London: Digby, Long and Company, [September] 1892).

This short novel is comprised of an introduction and nine chapters. It concerns a wealthy bachelor, Duncan Derroll, who is visited by an ugly beggar at his rented house in Yorkshire. The beggar gives Duncan a dirty, handwritten book and disappears. Duncan soon meets up with his fiancée, Carrie Rimmon, from whom he learns of bad luck in her family after the disappearance ten years earlier of her older brother. Duncan is visited at night by a ghost who serves the devil, and who insists that Duncan read his manuscript diary. Later Duncan overhears the beggar berating Carrie's clergyman father for his failings and sins. The denouement is basically a Victorian clergyman's fantasy of admonition. The reverend had experimented in the occult in his past. Thus the beggar had brought about the death of the clergyman's wife, and the problems of their son, and now he seeks to ruin the daughter by wedding her. For the devil has a growing foothold in this world “which is as yet hidden from general view by its filthy drapery of Theosophy and Buddhism” (ch. 9). Duncan and the reverend recourse to prayer, whereby the son is saved, but the reverend dies. This is a silly and uninteresting story. The author Thomas Malyn published no other books.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Guest Post: The Balm of Consecration in Machen’s “The Terror” by Dale Nelson

“The Terror” (1917) stands out as Arthur Machen’s longest horror story, but its plot is simple.  During the cataclysm that was the Great War, a series of bizarre killings besets the “Northern District” and “Meirion” in west Wales.  It turns out that the perpetrators are not human beings, but animals, even moths, who attack people without warning, leaving no witnesses alive. 

First-person narrator Machen declines to state definitively why the animals made these dreadful attacks, but he offers as an “opinion” the hypothesis that they rose up against their natural lord, man, because he had denied his own spiritual nature and his sovereignty; for centuries, he has, as it were, been “wiping the balm of consecration from his breast.” 

American readers, and perhaps many British readers now, too, are likely to miss the significance of this phrase.

Start with this: when Elizabeth was crowned queen of Great Britain in 1953, the event was televised – except for a portion of the ceremony that was deemed especially sacred, and therefore not fit for broadcast by the mass media.  This was her anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This ceremony – the prayers and the anointing – set apart the monarch, not so much for special privileges vis-à-vis her subjects, but for unique responsibilities under God. 

The archbishop’s application of chrism to Elizabeth may have stirred the imaginations and memories of some of the witnesses.  They might have recalled the old story of how the prophet Samuel anointed Saul, Israel’s first king: “Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?” (1 Samuel 10:1). 

They may have recollected that the Hebrew priests were also anointed (Leviticus 21).  They were set apart as intermediaries between God and the Israelites. 

Many of those present in 1953 would have known a lot of Shakespeare.  The occasion being a happy, though solemn one, they probably didn’t think of the Bard’s black magic play.  In it, when Macduff learns that King Duncan has been murdered, he is appalled:
“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece:
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple and stole thence
The life o’ th’ building!”
(Macbeth Act II, Scene 3, lines 65-68)
Like “sacrilege,” that word “confusion” has come down in the world.  In Shakespeare, “confusion” may be the catastrophe that accompanies, or follows as the effect of, “ruin”:
"'Tis much when sceptres are in children’s hands,
But more when envy breed unkind [i.e. “unnatural”] division:
There comes the ruin, there begins confusion."
(Henry VI, Part One, Act IV, Scene 1, lines192-194)
I hope the 1953 coronation wasn’t spoiled for anyone by the thought of such passages in Shakespeare, though their gravity might have been salutary if anyone were inclined to be impatient with, or amused by, the pomp. 

But – a reader may object – how is any of this material relevant to “The Terror”?  There you have nobody killing a king.

The Shakespearean material deals with anointing and the concept of sacrilege.  What Machen’s narrator proposes is that the violence that happened was the result of what amounts to being auto-sacrilege

In his theory, the animals did not rise up because (as is often sadly the case) man had abused them.  They attacked him because of his offense against himself as the one consecrated for a unique role in nature.  “The king abdicated” – and he had no right to do that.  He became “self-deposed.”

The theory of man as mediator between God and the brute creation, of man’s viceroyalty, is something that was once familiar but is now hardly part of the cultural imagination.  Our understanding of Machen’s fiction, and our imaginative engagement with it, may be compromised.

Machen’s narrator leaves to the reader whether or not to accept his strange hypothesis about why the animals attacked people – and, since the story, after all, is fiction, the stakes are low.

Or rather, the stakes today are high – if not for us, for the animals.  Shall human beings consider ourselves responsible for the domestic and wild creatures that are, whether we like it or not, our subjects?   

Animals can’t be stewards of us; we can’t not be stewards of them.  We can only be good stewards or bad stewards. 


I referred to “The Terror” as Machen’s “longest horror story,” since I see The Three Impostors as a collection of linked stories rather than as a novel.

A good book about human sovereignty and stewardship is Matthew Scully’s Dominion: The Power of Man, theSuffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

Admirers of The Lord of the Rings should read Evans and Dickerson’s Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J. R. R. Tolkien, which is a much better book than its cheesy main title would lead one to expect.

The present article is a sequel to my earlier Wormwoodiana posting, “Arthur Machen’s Secret HistoryTale ‘The Terror.’” That article expounded the traditional ontological hierarchy of “levels of being.”

It’s curious to note, by the way, that Machen’s story seems to have been written just before the abdication of the anointed Russian emperor, Tsar Nicholas II, in early 1917.