Saturday, October 31, 2015

Four Squares 4: A Bad Dream Primer

It's Halloween in the Monkeyhouse, and as a family we'e surrendered to its American Victorian trappings and just gone with it. I can pimp up a doorway with fake spiderweb like the best of 'em, and having family around with kids of Jet Jr's age gave us an opportunity to use his birthday party decorations from an abandoned attempt last year. So, on that note of ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, here's a book review.

Like a lot of followers of Hypnogoria I am of course in great envy of Mr Jim Moon's Great Library of Dreams, and as a sometime librarian I would have to admit that I too would love to have my own collection of ephemera and weird literature.  I don't, however, hence the intact marriage among other things like being able to move around inside the Monkeyhouse. I do own this, though, and it forms part of my very very small gentleman's collection of dark folklorey literature.

Time Life's mid-1980s Enchanted World series was a surprisingly vast and thorough collection of around twenty volumes about myth, folklore, superstition, legends and such. While I cut my teeth on Usborne's triple threat of its Mysterious World books, as a child and teen I never found anything to equal it in content and look, until I canched upon this volume in the Dunedin Public Library. Oh my youth, my young adulthood - the notion that I'd spentd up to three hours perusing the folklore section of a public library for Dungeons and Dragons ideas seems at once both quaint and alarming, but reader, I did. My Uni days were very dry days in roleplaying (for which I am actually quite grateful), but discovering this text, literally set alongside great works by Katherine M Briggs and Jorge Luis Borges, rekindled my interest in simple storytelling and creepy social psychology, untrapped from the stats and To Hit charts of the D&D manuals.

Nadilla, Persian vampire or ghoul?
Night Creatures, like other titles in The Enchanted World, is a long-form work, separated into chapters, but otherwise moving fluidly between imaginative storytelling (Beowulf, the Croglin Vampire et al) and scholarly interpretation. It's a surprisingly mature read, and contains some of the most atmospehric and in places downright grim illustrations I've ever seen in such a text - which, to be honest, is part of its apeal. It takes things seriously; its universal trinity of vampires, werecreatures and hags are all depicted as murky, shadowy and bestial shapes, among its roster of artists (including Tolkien great John Howe)  one Marshall Arisman, who uses a kinetic Francis Bacon-like brush in his pieces, adding to the overall memorable effect. This book stuck in my head for years, and whenn it recently appeared in a local secondhand book shop, I snapped it up on the spot.

Not seen: Annis' collection of child pelts. Yikes.
This work actually did what I hoped it would back in the day, rebooting my interest in traditional ghost stories and weird tales, and introducing me to previously-unheard of horros, like Black Annis, Rawhead and Bloodybones and their kin. It strove to be fairly international, in its coverage, although understandably sticks close to Europe, by way of Japan and Persia; plus it's a damned-fine looking book. I've been tempted to pick up other volumes in the series, but for the moment this is the daddy, and occupies pride of place in the upper shelves of the Simian Collection

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