A few years back I wrote a short piece on how we put together Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature (2015) from a design point of view. There are often embedded design details of significance in our books—the sort of things you might not notice until they’re pointed out and the various meanings explained. With the imminent publication of The Fatal Moveby Conall Cearnach, I thought it might be a good time to write another such essay looking at how we designed this particular book.
Irish author F. W. O’Connell (1875-1929)—who often published as “Conall Cearnach”—was brought to my attention by Reggie Chamberlain-King, probably sometime in 2017. Chamberlain-King had been pitching to me Irish writers to consider for The Green Book’s ongoing profile series “Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural, and Fantastic Literature”, and Cearnach was among them. You can read the resulting biographical overview in Issue 11.
During his lifetime, Cearnach was known as the author of two Irish grammar books, A Grammar of Old Irish (1912) and Irish Self-Taught (1923), as well as for his broadcasts on 2RN, Ireland’s first radio broadcasting system. (It’s these broadcasts that I suspect formed the contents of Cearnach’s three essay collections.) But the primary reason for Cearnach being considered an Irish fantasist in The Green Book is for a slim collection of short stories he published in 1924: The Fatal Move and Other Stories (M. H. Gill & Son, Dublin). Chamberlain-King describes the stories as “ranging from the darkly macabre, to the speculative, to the absurd”. I had to track down a copy.
When the slim volume arrived—the first edition is only 96 pages—I was even more intrigued by the story titles: “The Vengeance of the Dead”, “The Homing Bone”, “Professor Danvers’ Disappearance” . . . I found among them a supernatural thriller, a locked-room mystery, a conte cruel, and even a “delightfully comic dystopia” in which Bolshevik Russia had taken over England, wiping out the English language. Eventually I reprinted “The Fiend that Walks Behind”, a Jamesian ghost story, in The Green Book 15, where it drew a favourable response. I grew to quite love this quirky little book, perhaps not a lost classic, but certainly a quirky gem of Irish literature, which I decided was worthy of inclusion in our 2021 publishing schedule. Naturally, Reggie Chamberlain-King provided the introduction, greatly expanded from his previous profile in The Green Book, and probably the lengthiest piece written about Cearnach to date.
So back to the book itself: the first edition copy of The Fatal Move that I managed to track down was complete with a somewhat grubby (and fragile) fawn paper wrapper. Depicted on the cover in green ink were two weary chess players, one slumped over their game board, both overseen by the disembodied head of an Edwardian beauty with red pupils—all this being an illustration from the title story.
While the name of the artist is neither listed in the book, nor in any bibliography I could find, my own copy bore two interesting inscriptions on the front endpaper. At the top, in black ink: “To the Artist with the Publisher’s Compliments, Dec. 1923”; below that, in red ink: “From Tom Grogan, as a specimen of his productions, le hárd-cion [with great affection]”. Certainly this established the identity of the artist, but begged the further question: Who exactly was Tom Grogan? A “Father Thomas Grogan” is registered at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919, and is a possible candidate, but apart from that the trail is cold. Any amateur art sleuths out there want to take up the challenge?
I noticed something else while putting together The Fatal Move. The eyes of the woman on the jacket are blank on all the other copies I was seeing for sale on the internet. Mine would seem to be unique with its crimson glare, which, until this realisation I had thought was part of the original design as opposed to added. Some of you might already have made the next leap in logic, but I confess, it took me a moment before I got there: the red ink with which Tom Grogan made his inscription is the same ink used on the jacket to enhance the eyes. In other words, the cover of my copy was embellished by the artist himself.
Usually when we reprint a book, I like to commission a new piece of art so as to modernise the edition—though always with sympathy to the text’s history, of course. But for The Fatal Move we decided to retain Tom Grogan’s original artwork, though not without a handful of minor alterations. First, you’ll notice that the letters in Conall Cearnach’s name are crowded together on the cover of first edition. I asked our designer Meggan Kehrli if she could fix this, which she did beautifully, rendering the author’s name more clearly. Next, we decided to print the image in a metallic green ink, which should give the jacket a striking look (Pantone PMS 8722C, for those who like knowing this sort of thing). The book isn’t back from the printer yet, but I hope it looks good. Finally, we decided, for our new edition, to retain Tom Grogan’s red eye embellishment, an indelible addition to my own original copy, now embedded in Swan River’s updated design. We hope Tom Grogan would approve.
As for the pattern we’re printing on the book’s case, Meggan lifted that from Cearnach’s essay collection The Age of Whitewash (1921). This also seems appropriate as Chamberlain-King wanted to include in The Fatal Move a selection of the author’s more outré non-fiction, hoping to give more insight into Cearnach’s life and milieu. Using the pattern from The Age of Whitewash is a subtle nod to this consideration.
And there you have it—a bit of insight into what goes into putting together the book as a physical object, readying the stories so that a new readership might discover them. I’m excited to see what the book will finally look like when it arrives back from the printer within the next few days. Our limited edition hardback edition will be the first time The Fatal Move has been reprinted since it’s first outing in 1924—nearly one hundred years ago.
So have you ordered a copy yet? Have you read Cearnach already? Or maybe there’s something else about this book you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line or leave your comments below.
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As it turned out, Issue 15, which was comprised entirely of fiction, proved to be quite popular. So I had a look in my files to see if I could put together another such issue of refugee writings that did not fit elsewhere in our publishing schedule.
Let the curtains rise on Oscar Wilde’s “The Harlot’s House”, first published in The Dramatic Review (11 April 1885), which publisher Leonard Smither’s notes is “not included in the edition of his collected Poems”—I assume a reference to the volume issued by Elkin Mathews and John Lane in 1892. While “The Harlot’s House” has since become available, we would like to present it here as Leonard Smithers had in a portfolio edition in 1904: with five “weirdly powerful and beautiful” drawings by Althea Gyles, known for her lavish cover designs for Yeats’s poetry collections, including The Secret Rose (1897), two covers for The Wind Among the Reeds (1899/1990), and Poems (1900). We will explore more fully this remarkable artist in a future issue of The Green Book.
H. de Vere Stacpoole’s “The Mask”, a deft little shocker set in the Carpathian Mountains, had previously a couple of outings in 1930s anthologies, including My Grimmest Nightmare (1935) and Not Long for This World (1936). While de Vere Stacpoole is best known for his popular novel The Blue Lagoon (1908), his career is sprinkled with tales of the macabre. A profile of his life and writings can be found in Issue 12.
Next is Herbert Moore Pim’s “The Ravished Bride”, a gothic narrative in verse set in the north of Ireland, and quite unlike the stories found in his oddball collection Unknown Immortals of the Northern City of Success (1917). You’ll find his story, “The Madman” in Issue 15, while a full profile of this quixotic author is in Issue 12.
After this we have two stories by Katharine Tynan, neither of which have been reprinted before. We considered both when compiling The Death Spancel and Others, which Swan River published in late 2020, but ultimately decided they wouldn’t strengthen that volume. We rejected “The Heart of the Maze” because it is simply not a supernatural tale; however, it does possess dream-like and faerie tale-type qualities not atypical of Tynan’s work. The second story, “The House of a Dream”, while it does contain psychical elements, we deemed far too similar in plot to “The Dream House”, the latter of which we did include in The Death Spancel. As a commercial writer, Tynan reused plots and themes to keep up with the demands of the fiction markets. Despite this pace, her writing remained of the highest quality: elegant, descriptive, and a pleasure to read.
Following the two stories by Tynan you’ll find three poems by Dora Sigerson Shorter, all of which were selected by Margaret Widdemar for her anthology The Haunted Hour (1920), a volume that also included contributions from Yeats, Tynan, and Walter de la Mare. Widdemar takes for her strict definition of a “ghost-poem” as “poems which relate to the return of spirits to earth”. Sigerson Shorter’s poems deftly evoke a night-time Ireland populated by revenants and other wandering ill-omens, such as the fetch and the banshee. If you want to learn more about Sigerson Shorter’s life and work you can read about her in Issue 13; her remarkable story “Transmigration” can be found in Swan River’s Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women (2019).
Finally we have “To Prove an Alibi” by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace, a tale of mystery and terror reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’s “A Terribly Strange Bed” (1852). This story is one in a series to feature John Bell, later collected as A Master of Mysteries (1898). Bell is a “professional exposer of ghosts” whose business is to “clear away the mysteries of most haunted houses” and to “explain by the application of science, phenomena attributed to spiritual agencies”. More on Meade can be found in The Green Book 16; we will be seeing more from her soon.
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, another issue of weird, gothic, and macabre poems and stories from Irish writers. I write this on Saint Patrick’s Day, under a clear blue sky in Dublin; and I hope some of the convivial cheer and goodwill of the day reaches you as you read this issue.
“Horror is not a genre like the mystery or science fiction or the western . . . Horror is an emotion.” – Douglas E. Winter
“That didn’t scare me.” This level of criticism grates my sensibilities. That didn’t scare me. It’s the sort of comment you overhear when leaving the cinema or that you might witness among a torrent of social-media posts, not generally known for their insight or elucidation in the first place. It’s not even the brevity of this comment that bothers me, but rather that this grunt seems to convey a shallow understanding of horror: “That didn’t scare me.”
As a life-long connoisseur of horror, I seldom experience genuine “fear” while reading (or viewing)—that adrenaline-fuelled dread termed “art-horror” by Noel Carroll in The Philosophy of Horror. It does happen to me on occasion though, this sense of frisson: I remember the worrying, childhood anxiety of the doomsday clock in John Bellairs’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls, that horrible cosmic grandeur I experienced the first time I turned the pages of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, or the overbearing sense of inexorable supernatural fate in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
But if invoking this feeling of fear is such a rare experience—a sort of holy grail of reader reaction—then you might rightly wonder why I carry on exploring this particular section of the library? Am I not effectively one among the crowd, professing with a sneer, that didn’t scare me? It’s a reasonable question. Put another way: If horror doesn’t get you scared, then what are you getting?
In his introduction to the anthology Prime Evil (1988), editor Douglas E. Winter makes an observation, often repeated, what he calls “an important bit of heresy”: “Horror is not a genre like the mystery or science fiction or the western . . . Horror is an emotion.” This is a good place to start: horror is an emotion, and so the success or failure of horror literature is predicated on eliciting an emotional sensation in the reader. Similar to how a joke might be deemed a success or failure depending on the laughs. But there’s got to be more to it than that.
Consider a grand piano, onyx black, appropriately festooned with cobwebs and candelabra bedecked with dripping red candles. Imagine being allowed to play only one note, probably down the far left end of the instrument where the theme from Jaws is usually played. Now imagine that the sole way to enhance the effectiveness of this note is to hammer that one key harder and harder. For many, this is horror. Hammering that single key. Lots of people love that one pounding note too, and feel cheated if they don’t get that adrenaline rush; that didn’t scare me. Sure, that single note might be novel for a moment, sometimes even effective in a particular context, as the musician changes speed or intensity. But you’ll forgive me if I tend to feel overwhelmingly bored with this sort of concert.
“Horror is an emotion,” Douglas E. Winter tells us. I would respectfully like to amend that assertion. Horror is a range of emotions. And each of these moods, if they are to be successful, must be cultivated differently. We know that good horror is rarely just a single note. There are far more keys on that piano—and they’re all elegantly tuned. To borrow the subtitle of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, the genre is eine Symphonie des Grauens—a symphony of horrors.
There seems to have been a proliferation of horror-related literary descriptors in the early- to mid-twentieth century (or at least an increasingly formalised awareness of them): cosmic, weird, numinous, uncanny, strange, among others. I believe these words are of merit, not because they define sub-genres, but because they reflect attempts to describe particular nuances of affect (emotional responses) to be found in the “ghost story”—the dominant mode of horror in the late nineteenth century, itself rooted in the gothic tradition. Despite the common trope of the wailing bedsheet, the ghost story has always been quite diverse and adaptable. As is occasionally observed, the “ghosts” in the works of M. R. James are often not ghosts at all, but demons and other such denizens; while the stories of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Henry James practically beg for the qualifier “psychological” so as to set them apart from the less imaginative chain-rattling fare. And yet, even though Algernon Blackwood himself called “The Willows” a ghost story, that attribution would seem a wholly inadequate description for the troubling sentiments that masterful tale evokes. Who can blame Lovecraft for writing an entire treatise pondering the aesthetics of the weird or Robert Aickman for labouring the strange?
This attempt to describe dominant effects found in horror storytelling continues apace; sometimes these descriptions are celebrated, other times they’re inelegantly stated, occasionally there’s some sort of backlash. Current nomenclature includes “quiet horror” or “elevated horror”, “horror adjacent”, “new horror”, and the ostensibly respectable “thriller”. But surely horror means horror. It doesn’t need your fancy terms. Perhaps the worry is that defining a “sub-genre” will limit creativity, possibly that it’s just a marketing ploy, or, worse still, a declaration of vogueishness, a demonstration of an otherwise unspoken desire to be au courant. Or maybe outsiders discovering good horror ruin the mystique of the insular and supposedly marginalised horror geek who has been reading Thomas Ligotti this whole time anyway.
As someone who thinks often about the mechanics of horror storytelling, it makes sense to me that we recognise and try to describe the wide-ranging nuances of emotional sensations available to writers of horror. I believe understanding this diversity makes horror literature a stronger, richer, and more enjoyable pursuit.
Over the years I’ve written down some words that I’ve come to associate with the various emotional resonances found in horror literature. Take a moment to read through them. Think about stories you’ve read that evoke these sensations to varying degrees of success, and how these ideas differ from one another:
I have not attempted to arrange these words in any sort of order. I’m not sure I would know how. Nor would I feel confident to state that this list is complete; no doubt you can think of more. Call these words what you’d like—sub-genres, modes, atmospheres, moods, sensibilities—but they all describe, directly or indirectly, discreet emotional sensations that a skilled writer can elicit from a reader. It also stands to reason that this variety of effects requires a broad range of appreciative sensibilities—though I understand that not everyone will respond equally to each of these words. Still, there are plenty of emotional sensations available to the skilled writer, the adrenaline rush of fear being only one of them. And this sensation alone is insufficient to judge the vast scope of horror. So much for “That didn’t scare me”.
Numerous essayists over the centuries have attempted to define some of these modes, to delineate their core attributes and limits. Anne Radcliffe made an early attempt at that classic bifurcation, differentiating terror and horror: “the first expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them”; to these twin poles, Stephen King added revulsion (the “gross-out”, he called it). Thomas Burke gives us the sublime, when “the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it”; while Freud sets out a reasonable starting point for the uncanny (“that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar”).
Though the weird is often associated with Lovecraft’s examination of supernatural horror in literature, I like Mark Fisher’s more recent philosophical definition in The Weird and the Eerie: “that which does not belong”; and of the eerie: the “failure of absence” or the “failure of presence”. (Fisher also helpfully tells us that the weird and the eerie need not necessarily be aligned with fear either, thank you very much.) The well-known rules for the ghost story proper were set out by M. R. James; so too does Edith Wharton give insight in her preface to Ghosts: “What the ghost really needs is continuity and silence”—although she also notes, “the more one thinks the question over, the more one perceives the impossibility of defining supernatural events”.
It’s true that many have tried to put words to these nuanced facets of horror. Certainly, some overlap or work in tandem, while others command entirely recognisable sub-genres on their own. We can look to Arthur Machen for the mystical (“Omnia exeunt in mysterium”), to Aickman for the strange (“it must open a door where no one had previously noticed a door to exist”), or to Joyce Carol Oates for the grotesque (“a blunt physicality that no amount of epistemological exegesis can exorcise”). There are whole books written on the subject by Dorothy Scarborough, Montague Summers, Peter Penzoldt, Devendra P. Varma, Julia Briggs, Jack Sullivan, Glen Cavaliero, S. T. Joshi—you may not always agree with their conclusions (isn’t that half the fun anyway?), but all are attempting to give names to the various effects a “horror” story can elicit.
Which brings us to the present volume, the fifth in a series of unsettling tales. Believe it or not, Uncertainties is a themed anthology. The remit was nothing so superficial as vampires or zombies or folk horror or Cthulhu (only in dustbowl Oklahoma this time), but rather to exhibit horror’s myriad nuances, to open up strange vistas of unsettling possibilities and other-worldly ideas, to commune with intrusions from the outside and those disquieting gestations from within. “Ghost stories,” as Elizabeth Bowen observed, “are not easy to write—least easy now, for they involve more than they did.” But these twelve writers take up the challenge, each in their own way, with expert awareness of the genre’s limitless possibilities.
Algernon Blackwood put it well in “The Willows”, a story that’s caused me many sleepless nights in terrible awe of the unknown: “ ‘There are things about us, I’m sure, that make for disorder, disintegration, destruction, our destruction,’ he said once, while the fire blazed between us. ‘We’ve strayed out of a safe line somewhere.’ ”
So you can call these stories whatever you’d like: weird, strange, eerie, uncanny . . . I call them Uncertainties.
Brian J. Showers Rathmines, Dublin 24 February 2021
Brian J. Showers is originally from Madison, Wisconsin. He has written short stories, articles, and reviews for magazines such as Rue Morgue, Ghosts & Scholars, and Supernatural Tales. His short story collection, The Bleeding Horse, won the Children of the Night Award in 2008. He is also the author of Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin (2006), the co-editor of Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu (2011), and the editor of The Green Book. Showers also edited the first two volumes of Uncertainties, and co-edited with Jim Rockhill, the Ghost Story Award-winning anthology Dreams of Shadow and Smoke. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.
Previous volumes of Uncertainties are also available:
We can probably safely say that few could have guessed what 2020 would have in store for us. I haven’t quite decided yet whether or not I take comfort in the fact that this can be said at the start of any given year. Anyway, here at Swan River Press I had to adjust quickly: I started to work my day job from home last March, which then blurred daily into the evening hours that I put into the press. Time is a bit elastic in this room, and it isn’t uncommon to find myself wondering what day of the week it is.
Whenever I write one of these annual reviews, it seems that the most recent passing year is the “most ambitious yet”. This year feels no different, if only because most of my free moments—for better or for worse—were given over to Swan River. I suppose one must keep oneself distracted, right? I admit, I enjoy the indulgence in work. At least this sort of work.
But here we are at the end of a difficult year, and it’s time for me to take stock of what we’ve accomplished on the publishing front. I say “we” because, though it’s just been me in this room for the majority of the year, Swan River is far from just myself as you’ll quickly see.
So let’s start at the beginning.
Our first book of the year was the fourth instalment in our ongoing anthology series, Uncertainties, our showcase of new writing—featuring contributions from Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines—each writer exploring the idea of increasingly fragmented senses of reality. This year’s volume was edited by Timothy J. Jarvis, and included an impressive line-up of stories from fourteen contemporary writers such as Lucie McKnight Hardy, Camilla Grudova, John Darnielle, Brian Evenson, and Claire Dean. I was particularly delighted to feature on the cover a painting by B. Catling, who we’ll return to in a moment. David Longhorn of Supernatural Tales had some kind things to say about the anthology: “[Uncertainties 4] has, for me, illustrated yet again the broad range of Gothic fiction, and more than hints at a genre revival in this century far more impressive than anything in the last. Perhaps this is because, like the Victorian era, ours is one of uncertain peace, irrational fads, scientific progress, and deeply unstable societies that are mirrored in confused personal identities and relationships. And people still like spooky stuff a lot.”
Lucifer and the Child by Ethel Mannin felt like one of our biggest discoveries of the year, something to be truly excited about: the first Irish edition of an overlooked novel once banned in this country. An atypical book from Mannin, Lucifer and the Child was originally published in 1945, then reviewed in the Irish Times as “a strange, but gripping book”. Our new edition of this extraordinary novel features an introduction by Rosanne Rabinowitz, and was given favourable notice in the Dublin Inquirer: “It is not surprising that this book was deemed unsuitable for 1940s Ireland. The allure of Lucifer and the occult would certainly have been deemed inappropriate, as would the depictions of female sexuality.” (Although no records exist that give reason, I personally suspect it wasn’t the occult themes that got the book banned, but rather the mention of abortion.) Despite the challenges it poses to conservative pearl-clutchers, this book was warmly received as evidenced by the many emails I got from delighted readers. The cover is by Australian artist Lorena Carrington—she did a wonderful job of depicting the dark faerie tale within its pages.
Our next title, Munky, allowed us not only to work with artist and novelist B. Catling RA, author of the Vorrh trilogy, but for the cover art the opportunity to team up with artist Dave McKean. This project started as a submission to Uncertainties 4, but after some consideration, we decided it stood better on its own. Munky is a quirky novella that illustrates an English town and its inhabitants, as ridiculous as they are quaint, evoking an atmosphere that “might be called M. R. James with a soupçon of P. G. Wodehouse and a dash of Viz” (The Scotsman). We had also arranged for this edition to be signed by both author and artist, making this book one helluva package. Once a book is published, I tend not to go back and read it (yet again). Not so with Munky. Over these past months I found myself picking it up on occasion to revisit Catling’s charmingly cracked world.
Our fourth book this year was also our fourth by Irish author Mervyn Wall: Leaves for the Burning, originally published in 1952. We’ve been championing Wall’s work for quite some time now: The Unfortunate Fursey (2015), The Return of Fursey (2015), A Flutter of Wings (2017), and in a few issues of The Green Book. A mid-century portrait of Ireland, Leaves for the Burning is rich in grotesque humour and savage absurdity, depicting a middle-aged public servant who works in a shabby county council sub-office in the bleak Irish midlands, mired in Kafkaesque bureaucracy and petty skirmishes with locals. Although we stray from our typical fantastical themes with this one, we hope you’ll still give it a chance. With an introduction by Susan Tomaselli, editor of gorse, we are proud to make available again Mervyn Wall’s great “half-bitter book”—as it was judged by Seán O’Faoláin—surely now just as relevant as it was over half a century ago. The cover art for this one is by Niall McCormack, whose work will be recognisable to those who read Tomaselli’s gorse.
Continuing with our “recovered voices” of Irish women writers of the supernatural, this year we published The Death Spancel and Others by Katharine Tynan. Research for this project started over three years ago—though you’ll recall we featured Tynan in Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women (2019) and in various issues of The Green Book. Consisting of fifteen stories, seven poems, three appendices, and an introduction by Peter Bell, The Death Spancel is the first collection to showcase Katharine Tynan’s tales of the macabre and supernatural. It is also the only volume of this once-popular Irish author’s work currently in print, perhaps making this book all the more important. The Death Spancel was reviewed in Hellnotes by Mario Guslani to be “of remarkably high literary quality . . . a great collection recommended to any good fiction lover.” Brian Coldrick, who is quickly becoming one of our favourite artists to work with, did the cover for this one. You might recognise his work from the cover of Rosa Mulholland’s Not to Be Taken at Bed-time (2019).
The final hardback of the year was Ghosts of the Chit-Chat, edited by actor and scholar Robert Lloyd Parry. The book is as much an anthology of stories and poems as it is a work of scholarship. Lloyd Parry introduces each author with a short biographical sketch, building a portrait of those in the orbit of M. R. James, who debuted his own ghost stories on the evening of Saturday, 28 October 1893, Cambridge University’s Chit-Chat Club. Like many of our books, this one was long in the works. In addition to reprinting numerous rare and only recently discovered pieces, Ghosts of the Chit-Chat also features earlier, slightly different versions of James’s “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book” (here titled “The Scrap-book of Canon Alberic”) and “Lost Hearts”. We also had a Zoom launch for Chit-Chat, and though it wasn’t recorded, we’ve got a video of Lloyd Parry reading Maurice Baring’s “The Ikon”. The volume was published on 8 December, and proved to be so popular that the already extended edition of 500 swiftly went out of print on 20 December, breaking some sort of record for us. Reception has been encouraging, with James scholar Rosemary Pardoe noting, “People who’ve missed out on it should be kicking themselves.” But don’t worry. We have plans for a paperback edition next year—sign up to our mailing list if you want advance notice.
We also published three issues of our journal The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and the Fantastic. Issue 14, outstanding from 2019, was published simultaneously with Issue 15. Based loosely around the theme of memoir and biographical sketches, Issue 14 contained pieces by or about Dorothy Macardle, Fitz-James O’Brien, Rosa Mulholland, among others. Issue 15 was a departure from our standard practice: we decided to feature fiction, and so reprinted rare pieces by Conall Cearnach, Herbert Moore Pim, Robert Cromie, and others. Issue 16 featured ten entries from our (still tentatively titled) Guide to Irish Gothic and Supernatural Fiction Writers project, including profiles of Edmund Burke, L. T. Meade, Forrest Read, Elizabeth Bowen, and more. Our issues for 2021 are already coming together nicely.
So is anyone interested in the final tallies? I’ve got my nifty spreadsheets set up to spit out some figures. We published 8 new titles this year, totalling 1,584 pages, 2,950 copies, and 462,763 words.
Naturally we attended no conventions this year, either online or in person. I think the last might have been FantasyCon in Glasgow. But I look forward to seeing everyone again soon!
Perhaps the biggest Swan River development over these past twelve months was a long-mooted foray into paperbacks. We’ve dipped our toes in the water so far with Earth-Bound (Dorothy Macardle), The House on the Borderland (William Hope Hodgson), and Insect Literature (Lafcadio Hearn). We’ll be doing more in 2021, so it will be your chance to read some of our out-of-print books at a more reasonable price than what you’ll often find them for on the secondhand market. The reason it took so long is because I wanted to make sure we were doing paperbacks as best we could given the myriad challenges I had to consider and balance. This not only includes the books themselves, but also the behind-the-scenes admin work they create. But I’m happy we’ll been able to make available again some great stories. If you want to read more about our paperbacks, I wrote an entire blogpost about it.
Next I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Timothy J. Jarvis, who will be joining (actually, already has) the Swan River team. I’ve known and worked with Tim for a good many years now. I’ve always found both his fiction and writings on supernatural literature to be nothing but insightful; and I, as I am sure do many, value his generosity, passion, and friendship highly. If you want to check out Tim’s work, I suggest starting with his novel The Wanderer (2014). Tim also edited Uncertainties 4 this year, and his short fiction and articles can be found in innumerable anthologies. He is also co-editor of Faunus, the journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen (to which you should subscribe if you don’t already). Welcome, Tim!
Not forgetting the Swan River team, who make sure that I’ve not sat alone in this room for the year: Meggan Kehrli, who has once again done a superb job designing and laying out all our titles (including the various other ads and graphics I occasionally need); Jim Rockhill, who is always at the ready to provide proofreading and sage editorial input, always backed with his thoughtful scholarship; and Ken Mackenzie, who takes care of all our books’ insides, always patiently putting up with my dithering until things are just right. And finally, Alison Lyons and the team at Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, who continues to give their support, encouragement, and enthusiasm for our on-going work, allowing us to reach just a bit further than we might otherwise be able to.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported Swan River Press this year: with kind words, by buying books, donating through our patron programme, or simply spreading the word—I’m grateful for it all! If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. We’ve got some exciting projects for next year that I’m looking forward to sharing with you all. Until then, please stay healthy; take care of each other and your communities. I’d like to wish you all a restful holiday season, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!
Mrs. Katharine Tynan relates a Weird Tale—May Be a Coincidence.
Mrs. Katharine Tynan, the well-known novelist, sends to the Daily Graphic the following weird story:
“This may be a coincidence. On the other hand, it may be a ghost story. It happened to one near and dear to me. It was in his college days, and it was a long vacation, during which he had elected to stay on in his college rooms and work. The rooms were at the top of one of the highest houses in the ancient foundation of Queen Elizabeth, T.C.D. [Trinity College Dublin]. There was not a soul in the house but himself, and the quads and buildings were full of echoing emptiness after nightfall. He was not nervous in the ordinary sense of the word, and did not object to his solitude in his eyrie, although an impressionable Celtic visitor calling on him one afternoon remarked that he would not occupy those rooms in the empty house in the empty college for a single night, no matter what inducement were offered to him to do it.
“It was a night or two later. The sole occupant of No. — awoke in the dark. He had been awakened by an unusual sound on the stairs. He heard the foot ascend and pause outside his door. He sprang out of bed, and fumbled for a light. By the time he had got it, he heard the foot going downstairs again. He hurried to his door, opened it and listened. All was silent as the grave in the empty house. He returned to bed mystified, and slept till morning. In the morning, as he made his own breakfast, and thought of his mysterious visitor of the night before, he glanced toward the door, and noticed something white half-way under the door—a visiting card. He picked it up. It was the card of a man he knew—a college acquaintance, whom we shall call Roland White. In the corner of the card was written in pencil, ‘Just passing through.’ The mystery was not cleared. Why on earth should Roland White have called in the dead waste and middle of the night? He had heard of him a few days before as enjoying himself thoroughly grouse-shooting in the west.
“A day or two passed. As he came into college one afternoon he was stopped by one of the porters. ‘Very sad about poor Mr. White, sir?’ ‘What about Mr. White?’ ‘Haven’t you heard, sir? It’s in the evening papers.’ It was the familiar accident of the trigger of a gun catching in a twig as the sportsman scrambled through a fence. Shot in the head, Roland White had died within a few minutes of the accident. The coincidence would have been if the card was an old one, and had been dislodged from somewhere or another to lie below the door on the very night following the day when the fatal accident had occurred. But then the foot on the stairs in the middle of the night! Ghost story or coincidence, it remains a mystery to this day.”
This rule, the first in the founding charter of the Chit-Chat, was not always strictly observed during the thirty-seven years of the club’s existence. It’s true that membership was only ever drawn from undergraduates and staff of Cambridge University, but the name was subject to variation, and it was for an evening of supernatural storytelling rather than rational conversation that the Chit-Chat has earned its modest place in the history of English literature.
On the evening of Saturday, 28 October 1893, members past and present ought to have been enjoying a dinner in celebration of the club’s recently held 600th meeting. The secretary, A. B. Ramsay, had failed to make the necessary arrangements, however. So instead, ten current members and one guest gathered in the rooms of the Junior Dean of King’s College and listened—with increasing absorption one suspects—as their host read “Two Ghost Stories”.
Ghosts of the Chit-Chat is not the first book to celebrate this momentous event in the history of supernatural literature, the earliest dated record we have of M. R. James reading his ghost stories out loud. But it is the first to look more widely at the contributions that other club members made to the genre. The authors whose works appear in these pages are not a diverse group: they were the privately educated sons of bankers, lawyers, schoolmasters, and clergymen, who would themselves go on to careers in academia, journalism, the army and the church. But they were also men of imagination, curiosity, and wit, and the variety lies in the different approaches to supernatural fiction: here you’ll find tales of ghostly retribution and black magic; spatterings of gore and glimpses “beyond the veil”. You’ll read stories written to edify schoolboys, and poems composed to tickle undergraduates. You’ll encounter allegory, satire, and mysticism.
And while all the writers invoke ghosts in their work, many are also shades themselves; men whose remembrances have faded, whose voices are but faintly heard today. M. R. James and E. F. Benson remain in the mainstream, it’s true. But while names like Maurice Baring, Desmond MacCarthy, and J. K. Stephen may still ring faint bells with the book-loving public, their works are long out of print. Whereas the writings of Robert Carr Bosanquet and Will Stone are found only in the pages of unread memorial volumes.
Each of the works selected here is preceded by an account of the author’s life and his relationship to M. R. James and—except in one case—formal membership of the Chit-Chat Club is a prerequisite for inclusion in this volume. Celebrated Cambridge supernaturalists like Arthur Gray, E. G. Swain, R. H. Malden, and others find no place here for the simple reason that they never made the commitment to attend a meeting every Saturday evening at 10 p.m. during term, take a pinch of snuff, and listen to one of their friend’s read a paper. Or perhaps they were never asked.
The designations of the Chit-Chat as a “club” and a “society” were interchangeable from the beginning—both appear in the first set of rules. The minute books, and the letters and memoirs of past members, variously render the name as “Chit-Chat”, “Chit Chat”, or “Chitchat”. Except when quoting other sources, I shall follow rule one from the first set of rules, quoted above, and use Chit-Chat Club.
So we’ve decided to publish a line of paperbacks. Yes, I know, we’re as shocked as you are. But this new publishing stream only has emerged after much consideration and planning.
Our long-time readers will know Swan River Press primarily focuses on limited edition hardbacks. Sometimes these print runs disappear quickly, leaving some readers paying large sums for second-hand copies. Similarly, it is unfair to our authors to allow their works to languish out of print. We hope, also, that these paperbacks will help new readers find our books.
And so we’ve decided to reissue as paperbacks a selection of our out-of-print back catalogue (or those nearly out of print).
But there were some decisions that we had to make along the way too.
First, we’ve decided to go the print-on-demand route. There are two main reasons for this. The first being storage—we simply cannot stock more books outside of our hardback selection, which remains our priority. A full print run would also tie up money, something we are not in the position to do. But rest assured, the design quality of our paperbacks is what you’ve come to expect from Swan River. We think you’ll be pleased.
Second, we will very likely not reprint our anthologies or issues of The Green Book. While we would like to ideally reissue all of our out-of-print books, too many rights and royalty payments would be involved, and I don’t want to become a full-time accountant. So you’ll want to make sure you get our anthologies during their initial hardback issues.
Third, we’ve decided to go with IngramSpark. In doing this, Swan River paperbacks, unlike our hardbacks, will be available across a number of platforms, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, plus others. However, while you could order through Amazon, et al., if you’d like to more directly support independent publishing, you can order the paperbacks from us. They will be dispatched via IngramSpark.
Finally, our focus will continue to be on the hardback front list. This means we will not be inclined to produce paperback originals.
Here we are, after a brief hiatus, with the continued serialisation of the Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature, which I am co-editing with my long-time collaborator Jim Rockhill. (How many years has it been now, Jim?)
This is a project we started work on sometime in 2017 — although it’s something we had talked about for longer than that. Our goal is to create a resource for both readers and scholars, not unlike E. F. Bleiler’s Supernatural Fiction Writers (1985), showing the rich extent of Ireland’s contributions to supernatural literature and its related genres. The first entries appeared in Issue 11, back in 2018, and continued through Issue 12 and Issue 13. In the “Editor’s Notes” for those issues you’ll also find more details on the background of this project, plus how we as editors have set about defining the criteria to guide us through such an enormous task.
It’s been three years now, and, near as I can reckon, we’re somewhere over the halfway mark. When we initially embarked on this journey, neither Jim nor myself quite realised the scope of the undertaking. Perhaps it’s good that we hadn’t as we might have been instilled with a deep sense of daunting fear and put off entirely. But that’s not what happened, and so here we are with another issue filled cover to cover with more fascinating entries on an array of Irish authors whose lives and works span the better part of three centuries.
I have to say, I’m grateful that we have The Green Book as a venue in which to serialise these entries, otherwise they might have temporarily languished as we continue to work towards (with luck) a collected single volume. It’s been a long road so far, and, just now passing the midway point, we’ve still a long way to go.
On the plus side, as I’m working on these entries, I’ve personally been learning so much, finding new connections, asking more questions, making lists of things I ought to read and explore. For me, our Guide is already doing what it’s supposed to do?
With that in mind, I hope you’ll enjoy this issue. Some big names in this one, including J. S. Le Fanu, Lafcadio Hearn, and Elizabeth Bowen; along with some names that might be less familiar, but I hope all the more thrilling for it.
I would also like to welcome some new contributors to this issue, including Janis Dawson, Paul Murray, and Nicola Darwood. We’ll be hearing more from each of them in future issues.
In the meantime, I hope you and your communities are staying safe, healthy, and happily reading.
Bradbury’s work has been with me my entire life. I suspect my earliest encounter with his writing was through the television anthology series, The Ray Bradbury Theatre (1985-92); “The Banshee” was then, as now, one of my favourite episodes: Peter O’Toole starring as cocksure director, Charles Martin Smith as the precocious writer, terrified—like me, then as now—of what wailed in the grounds outside the big house. In middle school I read The Martian Chronicles, and my head cracked open with a sense of wonder for the Red Planet and beyond. I spent my adolescence scouring second-hand bookshops for as many collections as I could find; each of Bradbury’s stories were, to me, compact marvels, precise and alive with metaphor.
It wasn’t until university that I read Green Shadows, White Whale (1992), Bradbury’s semi-autobiographical reverie of Ireland. I admit, it might in part have played a role in my moving to Dublin a few years later. In fact, The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980) was one of two books I brought with me when I moved. These marvelous stories still keep me company to this day.
Based in Rathmines these past twenty years, I now find myself editing The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature. For Issue 2, I commissioned Steve Gronert Ellerhoff to write an article on Bradbury’s time in Ireland. Like me, Steve is a Midwesterner with a passion for Bradbury, delighting in exploring the author’s many Dublin connections. Clearly Bradbury’s love for Ireland never left him, and over the subsequent decades he penned a number of stories inspired by his time here. He later gathered together these stories and wove them into the novel Green Shadows, White Whale. For the day that’s in it, here is a reprint of Steve’s article exploring the composition of that book, a celebration of the life and work of Ray Bradbury, not Irish, but very much one of our own.
– Brian J. Showers
The Long Reach of Green Shadows: Ray Bradbury’s Memories of Ireland
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff
“What was I? I was a bag of potatoes that grew up in Ireland finally.”
– Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)—born one hundred years ago today—was a connoisseur of nostalgia, an artist who drew again and again from his own longed-for past. His Orphean gaze often looked over shoulder to his Illinois childhood, culminating in cycles of Midwestern stories written from an agreeable adulthood exile in Southern California. Dandelion Wine (1957), his third novel, brings together tales about Douglas Spalding of Green Town, both boy and community bearing autobiographical dimensions. Green Town stood in for his hometown of Waukegan, while Douglas was a fictionalised composite of his childhood self: his middle name was Douglas, while Spaulding had been his father’s and grandfather’s middle name. As Bradbury lived and experienced life, this alter ego appeared in short fiction, inspired so often by actual events. So it was that when Bradbury spent six months in Ireland adapting Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) for the silver screen, Doug was sure to follow.
Bradbury’s term in Ireland came along with the screenwriting job. His boss, film director John Huston (1906-1987), was then renting a Georgian country house in County Kildare called Courtown and wanted the writer working nearby. So it was that in early October 1953, Bradbury, his wife Maggie, their two daughters, and a nanny arrived in Dún Laoghaire from the UK by ferry. Huston put them up at the Royal Hibernian Hotel on Dawson Street in Dublin and Bradbury set to work, adapting Melville’s whaling epic for the man famous for directing The Maltese Falcon. Many nights were spent being driven by cab to Courtown to review his progress with Huston, who vacillated between praising and belittling the writer, whose sensitivities, in turn, gave way to anxieties. The Irish winter and professional pressures proved a toxic combination. “I was suicidal,” Bradbury said, “for the first time in my life” (Weller, Chronicles 222). On 1 February 1954, he sent his family to Sicily so they might find some relaxation following the stress and stayed on alone to do battle with the white whale. During this time he revised the final two thirds of his screenplay, his relationship with Huston deteriorating beyond true reconciliation. He left Ireland at the beginning of April from his point of entry, Dún Laoghaire Port, never to return for an extended stay.
Despite the grief and depression, Bradbury would, as he did with his childhood and trips to Mexico, cultivate nostalgia for Ireland. Biographer Sam Weller writes that “as painful as many of the memories were, there was something undeniably romantic about the loneliness he had felt there” (239). Bradbury recalled this tug in 2009 when introducing a performance of one of his Irish plays, Falling Upward: “When I got home a voice said in my mind, ‘Ray, darling.’ I said, ‘Who’s that?’ He said, ‘It’s your cab driver that drove you out along the Liffey three days a week to meet with John Huston. Do you remember that?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Would you mind puttin’ it down?’ ”. “The First Night of Lent”, the first of his fictional shapings of his Irish experiences, was published in the March 1956 issue of Playboy, two years after he left. More Irish stories would follow over the next thirty-five years, culminating in his eighth novel, Green Shadows, White Whale (1992).
Bradbury fraternally twinned his title to screenwriter Peter Viertel’s roman à clefWhite Hunter, Black Heart (1953). Written shortly after his adaptation of C. S. Forester’s The African Queen for Huston, Viertel’s novel depicts a screenwriter struggling with film director John Wilson, who nearly sabotages his own film with an obsession for hunting elephants. Green Shadows, White Whale, pieced together nearly forty years after Viertel’s book, depicts a screenwriter struggling to adapt Melville for John Huston, this time named outright. Bradbury quilted his novel from many, but not all, of the Irish stories written over three decades, adding material as needed to pattern his own semiautobiographical account. Of the twelve previously published stories used, nine debuted in magazines before 1970, setting composition of much of the book’s content well before its publication. “The Hunt Wedding”, an essay that appeared in The American Way (May 1992), is also incorporated. Three of the stories were also published by Dial Press in 1963 as one-act plays in The Anthem Sprinters & Other Antics, and in 1988 Bradbury pieced two of these one-acts together to produce the play Falling Upward. Also worth noting is the fact that leading up to the novel, Bradbury adapted several of the Irish stories for his television series, The Ray Bradbury Theater, which ran from 1985 to 1992 (“The Banshee”, starring Peter O’Toole; “The Haunting of the New”; and “The Anthem Sprinters”). And yet even more, the story “The Better Part of Wisdom” (1976) and the one-act “A Clear View of an Irish Mist” (1963), which fall within Bradbury’s Irish work, did not become parts of the novel. Their exclusion indicates that Green Shadows is more than a cut-and-paste effort.
When the stories were initially published, Bradbury’s alter ego, Douglas, was sometimes named as the screenwriter who has arrived in Dublin to work on a film. He narrates “The First Night of Lent” (1956), “The Anthem Sprinters” (1963), and “Banshee” (1984, as Douglas Rogers). Though not identified by name, it can be assumed that Douglas also narrates “A Wild Night in Galway” (1959), “The Beggar on the O’Connell Bridge” (1961), “Getting Through Sunday Somehow” (1962), and “McGilahee’s Brat” (1970). When these stories occur in Green Shadows, there is no mention of Douglas—or the name Ray Bradbury. Bradbury-as-narrator allows Huston to call him H. G., short for H. G. Wells. Later, a fictional former flame, Nora (Barnacle perhaps?), calls him William, Willy, Will, flattering him with a pet name alluding to Shakespeare (In the original short story, “The Haunting of the New” , he is Charles, Charlie, Chuck, carrying no literary allusion). Bradbury remains reluctant to identify himself fully in the text, even though the dust jacket blurb on the first edition underlines his biographical connection to Ireland and the story contained.
Perhaps his distancing comes down to the mechanics of fiction-infused memoir. While Bradbury is happy to admit that the novel is inspired by actual events, whereas he even names John Huston and Huston’s fourth wife Ricki, he has all but excised his own family from the Irish experience. Bradbury depicts his time on the island as spent alone, even though his wife, daughters, and their nanny were actually with him for four of the six months. Also absent from the novel are the Hustons’ children Anjelica and Tony. We can speculate any number of reasons for these choices, from the idea that Bradbury was protecting the innocent, so to speak, to the possibility that practicality won out, as populating a narrative with full-fledged families brings considerably complicating factors. The only certainty is that when fusing his life and prior fiction into the novel, Bradbury left certain people out of the story, much the same way he cut fire-worshipping Fedallah from Moby-Dick when writing his screenplay. The familial exclusion has a profound effect, in particular on chapter 13, revised from “The Beggar on the O’Connell Bridge”. When initially published in the Saturday Evening Post (14 January 1961), the narrator’s wife plays his foil; in Green Shadows, the wife is simply replaced, often with dialogue intact, by the saturnine Huston.
In his final years, Bradbury often credited his experiences in Ireland as having established him financially secure as a writer with a respected reputation. Whereas Viertel rushed to express the trauma of working for John Huston in his own novel, Bradbury waited decades, until he was on the other side of adulthood, to put it all together. Biographer and scholar Jon R. Eller has said that the novel “offers a balanced view of events, tempered by the passage of time” (55). The screenwriting job forms the basis of his narrator’s focus, though it often slips out of the narrative as episodic events emerge. While Huston is cast as Ahab to Bradbury’s Starbuck, Ireland and the Irish repeatedly interrupt their self-imposed and often frustrating work together. That is not to say Ireland and the Irish are used merely as comic relief, though there is plenty of comedy and the narrator often takes relief in their company. The question they repeatedly pose the screenwriter is asked upfront in the book’s opening scene by the customs inspector in Dún Laoghaire: “Your reason for being in Ireland?”
“Reason has nothing to do with it,” he answers (2). There is no tie to Moby-Dick that would make adapting it on Irish soil pertinent. Indeed, these Americans are in Ireland simply because they can be. In Melville’s novel, Ishmael asks, “What to that redoubted harpooner, John Bull, is poor Ireland, but a Fast-Fish?” (310). According to whaling rules, “A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it” (308). John Bull stands in for England in Ishmael’s statement, but the same could be said about John Huston. Huston’s choice of Ireland was his simply because he felt entitled to it. Bradbury offers fox-hunts and horse riding as Huston’s main draw to the island, not the people, the culture, the history, or even the common American lure of ancestry. There is not a single good reason for the narrator to be brought far from his home in Southern California, the capital of American filmmaking, where screenwriting is an industry. Huston’s irrational choice of work setting carries the effect of making every encounter Bradbury’s narrator has with Ireland a twinkling of serendipity.
For Bradbury, who proudly sentimentalised whatever he loved, Ireland receives his signature nostalgic treatment. Stereotypes of the land and people abound. Ireland is green: “Not just one ordinary sort of green, but every shade and variation. Even the shadows were green” (1). Rain abounds, as does fog, the weather played up in a typical fashion. But where many narratives of a stranger in a known land will use local landmarks to excess, Green Shadows remains innocent of that literary misdemeanor. Dublin is largely limited to Grafton Street, St. Stephen’s Green, and the O’Connell Bridge. When dealing with Huston, the setting typically shifts to the grounds of Courtown in County Kildare and, to recover from the stress, Heeber Finn’s Pub in Kilcock. There are no side-trips to kiss the Blarney Stone, sheep-gaze at Tara, or walk the Giant’s Causeway in the North. Green Shadows does not stand as a traditional travel narrative, and while the narrator is conscious of his own naiveté—“ ‘Kind to Dogs’ is writ on my brow,” he claims (90)—this is not The Innocents Abroad.
“The greatest temptation for a writer in dealing with the Irish,” wrote Irish critic Bruce Cook in his 1966 article “Ray Bradbury and the Irish”, “is to be taken in by their quaintness” (225). Coming from the Midwest, the region most stereotypically equated with quaintness in the United States, Bradbury plays up this quality in the Irish while also playing it up in his narrator. It is difficult to fault him with it when he so readily makes it a foundational aspect of his alter ego. His folksy, hail-fellow-well-met manner harmonises with that presented by the Irish characters and forms an in-road to their lives; friendliness meets friendliness, and there relations remain. There are no intimate connections made, though casual friendships are plentiful. Cab driver Nick and publican Heeber Finn receive the most attention, Finn even taking over narration in chapters 12 and 18, telling tales published earlier as “The Terrible Conflagration Up at the Place” (1969) and “One for His Lordship, and One for the Road!” (1985), and chapter 26, in which he relates a story about George Bernard Shaw visiting his pub. These are the only instances where the narrator yields to an Irish character and show Bradbury’s effort to represent a sustained Irish voice. He does not attempt to render brogue through phonetic spellings, apart from the odd “Jaisus”, and this is to his credit. While the characters’ speech may not always ring true to an Irish reader, it can hardly offend.
The pub stories are often humorous, focusing on playful conflicts between locals and gentry, represented here as Lord Kilgotten. One of Finn’s tales recounts an episode from the revolution where their intention to burn down the lord’s house is foiled by Kilgotten’s gentle appeal that they spare his artwork, which all appreciate. In the other, old Kilgotten has died, his departure “like the Normans’ rowing back to France or the damned Brits pulling out of Bombay” (129), and his intention to take his wine collection to the grave with him is circumvented by a crowd of thirsty villagers all too happy to make sure that his last wish come true. “And bless this wine, which may circumnavigate along the way, but finally wind up where it should be going,” they solemnly swear. “And if today and tonight won’t do, and all the stuff not drunk, bless us as we return each night until the deed is done and the soul of the wine’s at rest” (139). These tales are not so much parody of Ireland’s fight for independence as they are Bradbury’s pastiche of the stories he heard told in pubs by the people he met.
Another demographic that receives attention is the urban poor of Dublin, beggars being central in two distinct episodes. Bradbury, a survivor of the Great Depression, was not ignorant of hardship. His father was out of work for long periods during his childhood and lack of money dictated that the suit he wore to high school graduation came from an uncle who had been shot dead wearing it. But in the early fifties he was also getting to know American prosperity, making his living as a writer in the postwar years. His anxieties about money and the potential lack of it are present in his fixation on Irish beggars. In the first episode he resolves to help a blind concertina-player, often seen on the O’Connell Bridge, by buying him a cap to keep his head dry, only to discover the man committed suicide the day before by jumping into the Liffey. A rare Dublin snow falls and the narrator, standing outside the Royal Hibernian Hotel where he is staying, looks up at the lit windows wondering what it is like inside. This is his private, conscious attempt to put himself in the beggar’s place. Later in the novel, he does interact with some beggars he recognises from his first trip to Ireland, fifteen years in the past. The catch is that the woman’s infant has not grown in all that time, the narrator discovering that the babe is actually her dwarf brother, McGillahee’s Brat. His attitude to the beggars this go around has him unmasking the ruse before adopting a conspiratorial stance, promising to keep their secret and not write about it for thirty years. The siblings’ hope is to save enough money to immigrate to New York, a Tír na nÓg wish the narrator supports. And so Bradbury’s Dublin is home to beggars both despondent and hopeful. Their presence provides a contrast to the bored wealth displayed by Huston and his acquaintances among the foxhunting class.
Bradbury’s summation of the Irish people in the end is based on the observations not of a Hibernophile, but a working visitor. Finn asks him, at his departure and the close of the novel, “On the Irish now. Have you crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s? How would you best describe . . . ?” (269). The narrator’s insight, for what it is worth, comes down to his appreciation for the people’s imagination:
“Imagination,” I went on. “Great God, everything’s wrong. Where are you? On a flyspeck isle nine thousand miles north of nowhere!! What wealth is there? None! What natural resources? Only one: the resourceful genius, the golden mind, of everyone I’ve met! The mind that looks out the eyes, the words that roll off the tongue in response to events no bigger than the eye of a needle! From so little you glean so much; squeeze the last ounce of life from a flower with one petal, a night with no stars, a day with no sun, a theater haunted by old films, a bump on the head that in America would have been treated with a Band-Aid. Here and everywhere in Ireland, it goes on. Someone picks up a string, someone else ties a knot in it, a third one adds a bow, and by morn you’ve got a rug on the floor, a drape at the window, a harp-thread tapestry singing on the wall, all starting from that string! The Church puts her on her knees, the weather drowns her, politics all but buries her . . . but Ireland still sprints for that far exit. And do you know, by God, I think she’ll make it!” (269-70)
A portion of his declaration echoes Shaw from Finn’s earlier story: “The Irish. From so little they glean so much: squeeze the last ounce of joy from a flower with no petals, a night with no stars, a day with no sun” (197). And while his narrator’s exposure to Shaw in the novel amounts to what Finn has told him, Bradbury actually attended a performance of Shaw’s play St. Joan while living in Dublin. The production marked the beginning of his love for Shaw, which intensified as he aged. In 1976 he published a tribute, “G.B.S.—Mark V,” the story of a lonesome astronaut who befriends the robotic George Bernard Shaw installed on his rocket. And of Shaw’s collected play prefaces, Bradbury in his eighth decade would say, “That book is my bible” (Weller, Listen 162). Shaw was his favorite writer in the second half of his life, making it deliberate that the narrator in Green Shadows should in the end turn to Shaw-via-Finn in his attempt to understand the Irish.
The men at the pub do not react to his summation of them. They do not stand or see him out as he leaves for good, making for a most casual farewell. There is no Lion, Tin Woodsman, or Scarecrow to embrace, the many acquaintances he made remaining just that: acquaintances. The novel is dedicated in part “to the memory of Heeber Finn, Nick (Mike) my taxi driver, and all the boyos in the pub . . . ” Memory of his cab driver spurred Bradbury to write his first Irish tale and it is to memory that he offered a novel nearly forty years later. Scholars Eller and William F. Touponce believe “Bradbury’s Irish ultimately turns out to be a reflection of his own concerns . . . about affirming the life of the imagination even in the presence of overwhelming negativity” (426). It is also his way of giving thanks to Ireland for providing the ground upon which he crossed the threshold into his own maturity.
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. New York: Norton, 2002.
Weller, Sam. The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.
Weller, Sam. Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2010.
About the Author
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff holds a PhD in English from Trinity College Dublin. He is the author of Mole (Reaktion Books) and Post-Jungian Psychology and the Short Stories of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut: Golden Apples of the Monkey House (Routledge). Honouring Bradbury’s centenary in 2020, he co-edited Exploring the Horror of Supernatural Fiction: Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (Routledge). Currently he is writing Jung and the Mythology of Star Wars and a novel. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Timothy J. Jarvis is a writer and scholar with an interest in the antic, the weird, the strange. His first novel, The Wanderer, was published by Perfect Edge Books in 2014. His short fiction has appeared in The Flower Book, The Shadow Booth Volume 1, The Scarlet Soul, The Far Tower, Murder Ballads, and Uncertainties 1, among other places. He also writes criticism and reviews, and is co-editor of Faunus, the journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen.
Lynda: E. Rucker: First, I want to say how much I enjoyed this volume of Uncertainties! I love the direction you took the series in here.
In your introduction, you write about how it’s less the traditional ghost that’s disconcerting to you as a reader these days then the bizarre juxtaposition of certain settings and events. Even more than any particular contemporary writer, I associate this with the filmmaker David Lynch. It also makes me think of something I come back to often, Arthur Machen’s definition of “sin”, as described by Cosgrove in “The White People”: “What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror . . . And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?” Can you say a little more about this approach to storytelling and how the stories in Uncertainties 4 achieve this unsettling affect (either individually or as a whole)?
Timothy J. Jarvis: Thanks Lynda! It was somewhat intimidating to follow the powerful set of stories you assembled for Volume 3. I loved the work in that anthology, and sought more tales that contained those “little slips of the veil” you discuss in your introduction. That notion — that our general sense of reality is complacent, needs undermining if we are to see more clearly — is one I think really important.
And I completely agree — I also think first of Lynch’s work in relation to this kind of aesthetic. There’s something compelling and unique about the filmic language he’s developed. It’s often called surreal, and it does, it’s true, tap into that same rich vein the surrealists found when mining dreams in the early twentieth century. But I think there’s something else going on too . . . The surrealists used free-associative techniques drawn from psychoanalysis to quarry the startling imagery of works like Un Chien Andalou or Story of the Eye. But it seems to me the twentieth century has to an extent defanged the strange of the inner life of the mind — partly because we are now so familiar with it, due to the prevalence of psychiatric and therapeutic discourse in everyday life, but mostly because culture has pumped the collective unconscious full of banality — ecstatic dream states feel very far away just now. Lynch uses transcendental meditation, a technique ostensibly similar to the automatism of the surrealists, to trawl for the fish swimming in the abyssal depths of consciousness, but the result somehow opens our collective eyes once more (if we let it). This is partly, I feel, because he brings tawdry and plain dull aspects of contemporary culture into his work, and not as parody or détournement, but without any ironic distance, something that gives rise to juxtapositions which produce extraordinary effects. The everyday is estranged, the strange made commonplace. His series of web films, Rabbits, sections of which appear nightmarishly in Inland Empire, perfectly demonstrates this. Actors wearing rabbit-head masks and dressed in ’50s-style suits or housecoats pace about an impersonal living-room or sit on its red-leather couch. The camera is static. The presentation is remarkably close to a sitcom, and as such feels very familiar. There is even canned applause and laughter, though the reactions of the ersatz audience bear little relation to what’s happening on set. The characters talk in banalities, non sequiturs, and gnomic utterances. The soundtrack is ominous industrial drone, thunder, and train horns that sound like mournful whale song. There is singing and moments of demonic intensity. It is very very wrong. A particular kind of wrongness that opens the modern viewer up to something very much like that which the surrealists found when prospecting in the unconscious. Or, for that matter, like the proximity to the numinous medieval mystics felt when in the throes of a visionary experience. It was this kind of affect I was looking for when soliciting stories for the anthology.
Arthur Machen is a writer whose work is really important to me. His worldview, with its mixture of the esoteric and neoplatonist, is all about the search for an ecstatic that is both outside and within the quotidian. I’m fascinated by that definition of sin from “The White People” and I think must have been unconsciously applying it to my editorial approach. And Machen’s emphasis on the ecstatic in art, which he outlines in his literary treatise Hieroglyphics, was also a significant influence — the idea that contact with a strange outside might not necessarily involve horror. A lot of the tales in Uncertainties IV do evoke dread, but not all. Camilla Grudova’s “ ‘A Novel (or Poem) About Fan’ or ‘The Zoo’ “ and Nadia Bulkin’s “Some Girls Wander By Mistake” are among the stories that evoke much more the melancholy that a haunting can give rise to, a sense of loss become almost cosmic.
LER: Your casting of this approach as a twentieth and particularly twenty-first century phenomenon, and your choice of an epigram — “We live in Gothic times” — made me think of J. G. Ballard’s assertion in the 1970s that science fiction is the only form of fiction that is truly relevant, that can describe the world as it is. Do you think the weird/strange story or the Gothic are especially relevant modes for contemporary times, and if so, why?
TJJ: I do think the strange story, through the Machenian ecstatic, offers a particularly incisive way of flensing the mundane from the weird heart of things, and especially now, at this historical moment. What I particularly like about that Angela Carter quote is the idea that fiction is a means by which we can interrogate the world, and that we need, as writers, to ensure our tools are fit and honed for the task. I believe that when, in the western world, left-brain, rational modes of thinking became the predominant means of asking important questions, sometime in the seventeenth century, something was lost. There is always something that escapes reason, always something ineffable, but we tend now to ignore it. Kant divided the world into the realms of the phenomenal and noumenal and humankind choose to live in the former, in our heads, in the realm of the senses. Realist fiction is largely tied to this empirical mode, but the fantastic, the Gothic, connects more to the right-brain, to the imagination, and can offer us glimpses of the inaccessible real world out there. John Clute puts in brilliantly when he writes, in The Darkening Garden, “The Fantastic is the Enlightenment’s dark, mocking Twin . . . Bound to the world, the Fantastic exposes the lie that we own the world to which we are bound.”
Till recently there was still good faith on the empirical side and the imagination was allowed its demesne, but in our post-truth, post-facts world, things are a deal more confusing . . . The imagination seems now to be actively supressed, to be seen as dangerous. I think, therefore, it’s more important than ever that the Fantastic expose that lie.
I think this kind of investigation works across all the modes that are descended from the Gothic, and there are stories in Uncertainties IV that are recognisably science fiction — Marian Womack’s “At the Museum” and Aliya Whiteley’s “Reflection, Refraction, Dispersion” — which use that mode to open up to the nebulous and weird. There are stories which powerfully use the strange to crowbar open the mundane and show us its horrors, stories such as Gary Budden’s “We Pass Under” and Anna Tambour’s “Hand Out”. In other tales, intimate hauntings spiral into terrifying brutality, as in Lucie McKnight Hardy’s “The Birds of Nagasaki” and Charles Wilkinson’s “These Words, Rising From Stone”. And in yet others, the weird irrupts into the everyday to disconcert and derange, as it does in Brian Evenson’s “Myling Kommer”, D. P. Watt’s “Primal”, and Claire Dean’s “Feeding the Peat”.
LER: Since you assembled the anthology and it was published, times have taken a turn for the very strange indeed as we, along with much of the rest of the world, are locked down during a global pandemic. More than ever, it feels very much like a backdrop for an Uncertainties setting! Any thoughts on how destabilizing this sudden change is for us and how it might affect the fiction we write and read?
TJJ: This ongoing season of the plague definitely feels like something drawn from stranger fringes of supernatural fiction, perhaps from Eric Basso’s “The Beak Doctor”, Tanith Lee’s Paradys books M. P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud, or M. John Harrison’s In Viriconium. There is something of that weird apocalyptic mood, on the intimate scale of short fiction, in Uncertainties IV — in tales such as Rebecca Lloyd’s “I Seen Her”, Kristine Ong Muslim’s “The Pit”, and John Darnielle’s “I Serve the Lambdon Worm”. It’s a tone I like very much, though its real world counterpart feels very bleak.
I think the pandemic can be seen as the world out there, that Kantian noumenal, reasserting itself, reacting against a particularly venal geopolitics. It forces us to encounter the vainglory of our anthropocentric perspective. In this way, the weird tale has a particular affinity for the current moment — this is something it’s been doing all the way back to, and beyond, Algernon Blackwood’s stories such as “The Willows” and “The Wendigo” and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land. I think fiction generally has been getting odder for a time, and will continue to do so — and the strange story is in the vanguard of this movement.
LER: Your table of contents is exciting — I can’t think of a better word. It’s because of both the writers you’ve chosen and the juxtaposition of writers — some we might anticipate seeing in an anthology like this, like D. P. Watt or Nadia Bulkin, some are very new voices, like Lucie McKnight Hardy, and still others might be new to readers of this type of fiction, like Claire Dean. How did you select the authors that you did for inclusion?
TJJ: When Brian J. Showers at Swan River invited me to edit Uncertainties IV, I was thrilled. I’d loved the previous volumes, and the series’ unconventional approach to the supernatural tale anthology was one that really appealed. So when I was soliciting and reading stories, I wished to do justice to that unique take on the ghost story. I also had in mind a particular mood that I wanted. There are incredible anthologies that have a diverse array of kinds of tales, but I felt I wanted a consistent tone for Uncertainties IV. My choices tended to be driven by this aesthetic. I wanted stories that were dark, yet not necessarily conventionally horrifying, and I wanted to see an experimental, risk-taking approach to prose. Speculative narrative and innovative writing can be uneasy bedfellows, but I was looking for authors and stories that brought them together naturally. I think this has meant the anthology is on the borders of a number of different literary modes, and hopefully will introduce readers to writers new to them. In this approach, I was influenced by the excellent Nightjar Press series of chapbooks (which is where I first read both Lucie and Claire) where what might be termed a more literary sensibility (though I personally dislike the use of “literary” in this way) coexists with themes more usually found in genre work. I do find this really exciting, and, of course, I was really fortunate that some of my very favourite writers in the field sent through such powerful stories.
LER: One thing that struck me is that most of the writers you chose are those who have risen to prominence during the last decade. Was that a deliberate choice, and if so, why?
Not especially — it was largely coincidence, really. But Brian and I wanted to bring some new authors to the press, so that partly guided the choices — none of the writers whose stories appear in Uncertainties IV have appeared in any other volumes of the anthology. And, as I mentioned earlier, I was really keen to include writers not perhaps that well known to readers of weird tales, but whose voices I found compelling. So it ended up being a mixture of authors in the field who’ve not appeared in Uncertainties before, and writers whose work might not be known to genre readers. Outside of the consistent tone, I wanted to be eclectic, and have my choices guided by stories I loved. It was great to be able to bring a slightly different set of voices to the strange tale anthology; writers like Camilla Grudova, whose sui generis fictions sit on the fringes of genre, but whose style nestled in nicely with the other stories here, and John Darnielle, who is best known for two powerful novels, that mix realism and genre fiction, and his elegant and poignant songwriting with the Mountain Goats. It was great to have John, whose work I’d been a fan of for many years, give me a disconcerting flash fiction for this — I discovered he was a lover of small-press supernatural tales when I hosted a Q&A with him on the release of his novel, Universal Harvester.
LER: While reading this particular incarnation of Uncertainties, I kept thinking of the brilliant anthology Black Water edited by Alberto Manguel. To me, this feels very much like a worthy successor in that vein (albeit about 700 pages shorter!) Was this on your mind as an influence as you assembled this? Were any other anthologies an inspiration or influence?
TJJ: The eclecticism of that mammoth tone, along with that of Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo’s Anthology of Fantastic Literature, and that of their modern day successor, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, which is such a wonderful treasure trove, was definitely an influence. But I also wanted that consistent mood I mentioned before, and in that I was influenced by the previous volumes in the Uncertainties series, having really admired what you and Brian had done with those, and also by the wonderful flourishing of small press anthologies there has been of late — other titles from Swan River Press, and from Egaeus, Tartarus, Zagava, and Undertow, to name only a few. I think we’re currently in the midst of a really great era for the experimental supernatural tale anthology.
LER: Is there anything else you want to say to potential readers to encourage them to order a copy of Uncertainties IV?
TJJ: Uncertainties IV is an anthology of haunted stories, but traditional revenants do not appear (there are ghosts in some of the tales, but, like wilful poltergeists, they overturn the conventions). Instead, the volume is haunted by a sense of disquiet. Within its pages, what you’ll find is irresolution and ambiguity, the strange or eerie or ecstatic, and beautiful, risk-taking prose. These stories play on the flickering inkling that what is present to your senses is perhaps not all there is, and they will put you into tremulous contact with something unknowable, hidden out in the world or buried within yourself.
Lynda E. Rucker has sold more than three dozen short stories to various magazines and anthologies, won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Short Story, and is a regular columnist for UK horror magazine Black Static. Her first collection, The Moon Will Look Strange, was released in 2013 from Karoshi Books; and her second, You’ll Know When You Get There, was published by Swan River Press in 2016, for whom she also edited Uncertainties III.