Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Twelve Maidens - Stewart Farrar

The Twelve Maidens by Stewart Farrar (1974) is a very mid-Seventies cauldron of Cold War technology, ESP, sociology, black magic and white magic, experimental science and standing stones, secret radar and satanic rituals, whirring aerials and wild moors: a seething potion of Wyndham and Wheatley.

It now has the added pleasure of being very much of its long-haired, flared-trousered, large-collared time, a genuine creation of the period both celebrated and mildly parodied by the Ghost Box record label, The Haunted Generation blog and the fields of folk horror and hauntology. 

At a low-key military establishment in a country house on Dartmoor, run in uneasy alliance with civilian boffins, a team is working on 'biodar', a discovery which can detect and track movement, like radar, but of living beings. It is still in the development stages and is being explored alongside other possibilities such as telepathy, auto-suggestion and heightened perceptions. 

But something strange happens when the biodar is focused on a nearby tor and ancient stone circle: there are no readings. Could this possibly be anything to do with the workings of a witchcraft coven up there? Well . . .

The author was a campaigning pagan and practising witch at a time when neither were easy things to be: he wrote a number of books about aspects of the Wicca religion, including What Witches Do (1971) and, with his wife Janet Farrar, The Witches' Way (1984).

He also wrote a series of SF or occult thrillers, or both combined, and in particular a set publised by Michael Joseph and Arrow paperbacks, beginning with The Twelve Maidens and continuing with The Serpent of Lilith (1976), The Dance of Blood (1977), The Sword of Orley (1977) and Omega (1980). 

With their mingling of technology and the occult they have affinities with William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and his Electric Pentacle, and with the Quatermass novels and films of Nigel Kneale. Stewart Farrar's novels are inventive and vigorous, plot-driven, well-informed and with an inner plausibility. They would make great retro-futurist radio plays.

(Mark Valentine)

1 comment:

  1. They sound a bit like the occult/sci fi/thriller mash-ups of John Blackburn, someone whose novels totally passed my own bioradar until fairly recently.