Friday 26 November 2010

More Sleepless Nights

Apropos of Dave Morris's gentle hint, I'm cartwheeling myself back through the mists of time to the age of thirteen when, as is germaine to a lot of adolescents, a burgeoning awareness of the transitory nature of life propelled me into the musty pages of paperback horror.

The first book I acquired that had me absolutely reduced to a state of twitchy apprehension was the recently re-issued Pan Book of Horror Stories (see yesterday's posting), I devoured those tales of things beyond the grave with such rapidity that I was soon looking for more in that vein. Fortunately salvation in the form of a ramshackle second hand bookshop run by an elderly World War 1 veteran with the shrapnel wounds from that conflict still very evident on his face and neck was within easy walking distance. The piles of second hand paperbacks on his shelves had a good selection of titles aimed at devotees of the macabre, of which there was always a good contingent in Hastings. The town had hosted some redoubtable sorcerers and necromancers and in fact was and still is laboring under a curse from Alastair Crowley who passed away there in 1947. Hastings wasn't alone in being the unwilling recipient of one of Crowley's last curses as his doctor was also subject to the same  dark forces for refusing to indulge the old guy's heroin addiction.  A dependency which had resulted from a previous morphine prescription to alleviate the bouts of asthma and bronchitis which had become the bane of Crowley's latter years. Crowley's unfortunate doctor only outlived his patient by one day and Hastings has never recovered from the curse either.

A trip to the gloomy confines of Bookman's Halt offered up another paperback with a truly arresting title and cover. Titled "Not at Night" and edited by Christine Campbell Thomson, it was in fact a paperback reprint from a series of books which she had edited as well as contributed to under the alias's of Flavia Richardson and Christine Hartley (the surname of her second husband) from the mid nineteen twenties onwards. The contents were every bit as compelling as the cover and to my delight I discovered that there were at least two more in the series, and those covers were so good in a weirdly retro way that I found myself making frequent forays back to the depths of the old bookshop until I had unearthed the other two titles.

Here then are the covers for the three Not at Night books as published by Arrow from 1960-1962 and here is another M.R. James adaptation - a real chiller and again from the superb Ghostwatching's YouTube Channel. Curiously Montague Rhodes James was not a big fan of Christine Campbell Thomson's books and accused the series of being "too American". As a lot of the stories were sourced from "Weird Tales" he might have had a point at least as regards their provenance.



and with a final flourish:


  1. These covers are a marvellous nudge to the memory, Peter. I was way off with my recollection of the Not At Night covers, but I remember them now. Indeed, who could forget that strange bat-imp (it looks a bit like one of Will Dawbarn's gleefully sinister creations) or the evil midget crawling towards the cobra? I don't know whether to be more afraid for the midget or the snake!

    Also I'm really enjoying the M R James video links. Those stories used to be something to sit up for on Christmas Eve, probably in the slot that the BBC has now reserved for an aimless chat show. Oh, for a spooky Yule!

  2. Good news on the BBC Ghost Stories Dave - they have decided to revive the tradition and "Whistle and I'll Come To You" will be shown this Christmas with Graham Norton (only kidding actually John Hurt) in the role of the scholarly academic. This role was previously done to perfection by Michael Horden in Jonathan Miller's TV adaptation.

    I'm hoping that this will be the first of several and this time I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an adaption of "The Tractate Middoth", which I recall was beautifully done by ITV in 1966 as part of their Tales of Mystery and Imagination series - now along with the same series adaptions of "Lost Hearts" and "Casting the Runes" wiped.

    Still recall the scene with the underground vault with it's long dead occupant sitting at a desk with a bony finger on the book in question.

    Mind you you guys are minus TV!

    Sound like a good excuse for dropping in on the neighbors for some festive cheer.

  3. Peter, all I need are iPad + iPlayer and I'll be sitting in comfort with mince pies and M R James. Though admittedly I can't watch it till the next day... Hmm, nothing's perfect.

    I actually wrote a script based on "Oh Whistle" back in 1981 and we had Ian Holm "nearly signed" as they say. Sadly it never happened but he would have been even better imo than Mr Hurt.