“Who is this who is coming?”

whistle4.jpg

Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968).

He blew tentatively and stopped suddenly, startled and yet pleased at the note he had elicited. It had a quality of infinite distance in it, and, soft as it was, he somehow felt it must be audible for miles round. It was a sound, too, that seemed to have the power (which many scents possess) of forming pictures in the brain. He saw quite clearly for a moment a vision of a wide, dark expanse at night, with a fresh wind blowing, and in the midst a lonely figure—how employed, he could not tell. Perhaps he would have seen more had not the picture been broken by the sudden surge of a gust of wind against his casement, so sudden that it made him look up, just in time to see the white glint of a sea-bird’s wing somewhere outside the dark panes.

MR James, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.

One of the alleged highlights of this year’s Christmas television from the BBC was a new adaptation of an MR James ghost story, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad. The film starred John Hurt and came with the same truncated title, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, as was used for Jonathan Miller’s 1968 version, also a BBC production. The story title comes originally from a poem by Robert Burns. The new work was adapted by Neil Cross and directed by Andy de Emmony, and I describe it as an alleged highlight since I wasn’t impressed at all by the drama, the most recent attempt by the BBC to continue a generally creditable tradition of screening ghost stories at Christmas. Before I deal with my disgruntlement I’ll take the opportunity to point the way to some earlier derivations. (And if you don’t want the story spoiled, away and read it first.)

Continue reading ““Who is this who is coming?””

Subterrania

crisp.jpg

German Military Underground Hospital, Channel Islands (2004).

Photographs of undercrofts, catacombs and deserted passageways from Fiona Croft’s Subterrania series comprise a solo touring exhibition currently showing at the Newlyn Art Gallery, Cornwall until April 17, 2010.

Meanwhile, if you’re in London and you fancy braving the chills of the St Pancras Church Crypt in the Euston Road, the Warnings Project is staging a short season of MR James readings/performances about which they give away few details in order to preserve surprise. There’s slightly more information at their minimal website.

The Watcher and Other Weird Stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

lefanu.jpg

Irish writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814–1873) has long been a favourite of mine since I first discovered his weird tales in ghost story collections, still the place you’re most likely to find his work. His ghost stories are frequently superior to the more celebrated MR James (who edited a Le Fanu collection), they’re less formulaic and often quite inexplicable. Green Tea, from In a Glass Darkly (1872) chills for its atmosphere of apparently random and unjustified malevolence; it’s also alarming for the directness of its central idea which I won’t spoil if you haven’t read it. Anyone wanting to know why Le Fanu is still read today should start there.

Unlike MR James, Le Fanu has lacked for illustrators so I was surprised to find this edition of his work at the Internet Archive with illustrations by his son, Brinsley. The artwork isn’t of the highest quality, and it’s debatable whether tales as nebulous and evocative as ghost stories should be illustrated at all, but their singularity makes them worth a look. The Watcher and Other Weird Stories is a small collection which includes A Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter, a story memorably adapted for television by Leslie Megahey in 1979.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Chiaroscuro

Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller

miller1.jpg

I said, “Girl, you drank a lot of Drink Me,
But you ain’t in a Wonderland
You know I might-a be there to greet you, child,
When your trippin’ ship touches sand.”

Donovan, The Trip (1966).

Most of the key texts of the psychedelic period tend to be either non-fiction—Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Leary’s Psychedelic Experience—or spiritual works such as The Tibetan Book of the Dead , the volume upon which Leary’s book is based and which subsequently provided John Lennon with lines for Tomorrow Never Knows. The key fictional work of the era has to be Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a fact that would no doubt have surprised the book’s legions of enthusiastic Victorian readers, never mind its author. Grace Slick created the definitive Alice song with White Rabbit in 1965, written while she was with the Great Society but only recorded properly in 1967 after she’d joined Jefferson Airplane. But Alice’s adventures run a rich seam of Victorian whimsy through the music of 1966 to ’69, especially among the British bands whose lyrics tend to be far more childish and frivolous than their American counterparts. Donovan probably got there first among the Brits with The Trip on his Sunshine Superman album. Among the profusion of later references can be found one-off singles such as Alice in Wonderland (1967) by the Dave Heenan Set (who recorded songs for the Barbarella soundtrack as The Glitterhouse) and Jabberwock/Which Dreamed It? (1968) by Boeing Duveen & The Beautiful Soup, a band whose songwriter is better known today as Hank Wangford.

Continue reading “Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller”

Strange cargo: things found in books

books1.jpg

The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects by Alexandra David-Neel & Lama Yongden, City Lights Books (1972).

One of the additional pleasures of buying old books besides finding something out-of-print (or, it has to be said, something cheap) occurs when those books still possess traces of their previous owners. A recent posting on The Other Andrew’s page concerned book inscriptions, something any book collector will be used to seeing. Less common are the objects which slip from the pages when you’ve returned home. There are several categories of these.

1: Bookmarks

I have a substantial collection of bookmarks proper, from embossed strips of leather to the more mundane pieces of card of the type that bookshops frequently give away. But I also make a habit of using odd inserts to mark a place as did the previous owners of these volumes. The City Lights book (above) came with a very fragile leaf inside it which may well be as old as the book. Another City Lights book I own, the Artaud Anthology from 1965, included a newspaper article about Artaud. Newspaper clipping inserts are discussed below.

Continue reading “Strange cargo: things found in books”