Irish Writers of the Fantastic

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I’m sure you’ve seen the ubiquitous “Irish Writers” poster around Dublin. It depicts the usual suspects: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, et cetera. A while back the Irish Times published a reply to that poster, again entitled “Irish Writers”, but this time featuring only women (as the original featured only men). You can view both posters here.

Despite the strengths of these two posters, I felt there were still a few conspicuously absent faces.

As Swan River Press is Ireland’s only publishing house dedicated to what might broadly be termed “literature of the fantastic”, I felt it up to us to submit our own entry into the cavalcade of Irish literary posters.

As our treat to you this Halloween, I’d like to present Irish Writers of the Fantastic.

The poster was designed to give an overview of these worthy and often overlooked Irish authors. Some you will recognise, others you will not. Some, such as Bram Stoker and Lord Dunsany, have had a profound impact on international literature. Others, like Fitz-James O’Brien and Dorothy Macardle, will be more obscure. But each one is worth discovering or revisiting this Halloween season.

Ultimately I hope you will find something of interest among them. There are both men and women included in our poster. Writers who are world renowned and those who are less well known. There’s horror, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, satire . . . You’ll find here writers from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and their contributions to literature span the better part of two centuries.

However, as is the nature of lists, I hope you will disagree with this one. With any luck, you’ll be only too eager to point out someone that deserves to be included, but was not. And I hope you do. And when you do in the comments below, tell us why you think they should be included (and might they bump someone off the list?) Don’t grunt, elucidate! That second part is the most important bit. Because, above all, this poster is meant to get people talking about these writers . . . and then running to the nearest bookshop or library to read their works. In the meantime, Swan River Press will continue to lead the way in their rediscovery.

Anyone with a further interest in Ireland’s contributions to the genre might want to check out our twice-yearly journal The Green Book, which features commentaries, articles, and reviews on Irish gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature. Until then . . .

Happy Halloween from the Swan River Press!


Some Reading Suggestions from Swan River Press

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Irish Writers of the Fantastic

The Green Book 6

Green Book 6EDITOR’S NOTE

So far The Green Book has been avoiding Mr. Bram Stoker. Not out of dislike or animosity, but for a journal that hopes to illuminate the lesser seen corners of Irish fantastic literature, I felt it was okay to let Stoker—our most prominent spokesman—wait patiently in the wings for the first few issues and allow others the spotlight for just a moment. But now that we’re six numbers in, it’s time to give Mr. Stoker his due and allow him to take centre stage. And so we pull back the red velvet curtains on this issue in grand style.

It’s not every day one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But there it was, on page three of an equally forgotten daily newspaper. It appeared quite unexpectedly in the far right-hand column. There’s nothing quite like that rush of excitement one feels when making such a discovery in the otherwise subdued and dimly-lit microfilm room of the National Library. The thrill of reading that recognisable prose, filled with masculinity, adventurous seafaring, nefarious murder, teetotalling, a clever fiancée, and a ghost. Did I not mention it’s a ghost story too? It is, and also the second (known) story Stoker had ever published. No, it’s not every day that one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But they’re out there, just waiting to be uncovered. And we’re happy to be able to share this one, which has lain dormant for nearly 150 years, with you.

11896252_1169352346413301_3671742602046275018_nWe’re equally fortunate to have in this issue an introduction from David J. Skal giving some background and context to Stoker’s lost tale. As some of you may already know, Skal’s new biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, will be out next year; certainly an event keenly anticipated by many. At the end of this issue, John Edgar Browning, himself no stranger to unearthing forgotten writings by Stoker, interviews Skal about Dracula, Stoker, and his forthcoming book.

So what’s in between this Stoker sandwich? Glad you asked. We’ve got an excellent essay on Lafcadio Hearn’s Irish influences from John Moran (to coincide with the Hearn exhibition running this autumn at the Little Museum of Dublin), a short reminiscence of the Great War by Lord Dunsany, a piece by Martin Hayes on the fraught relationship between Yeats and Crowley (hey, we’ve got to mark the Great Poet’s sesquicentenary somehow, right?), and finally an essay on the oddly overlooked mystic, visionary, poet, artist, pacifist, and statesman George William Russell (AE)—rightly described by Archbishop Gregg as “that myriad-minded man”—who I hope you will find as interesting as I do. In addition to all this, we have our usual crop of reviews, from which I hope you’ll find something to discover.

11952719_1169354093079793_8682393322221805289_oFinally, before I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Stoker, I would like to direct your attention to the cover. Here you will find Harry Clarke’s “Mephisto” (1914) from Goethe’s Faust. Stoker’s employer, the celebrated actor-manager Sir Henry Irving, played Mephistopheles with great success throughout his career. It is a role Stoker saw him perform over seven hundred times. The infernal character, as portrayed by Irving, is thought to have influenced Dracula—but the astute reader will catch Stoker’s much earlier reference to Mephistopheles in the pages ahead.

And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present to you, Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Saved by a Ghost” . . .

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
16 August 2015

Order The Green Book 6 here.

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Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“Saved by a Ghost”
Bram Stoker

“Some Comments on ‘Saved by a Ghost'”
by David J. Skal

“Early Influences on Lafcadio Hearn”
John Moran

“Stray Memories”
Lord Dunsany

“Fry-Ups with the Poets and Prophets”
Martin Hayes

“AE: Mystic and Economist”
Ernest A. Boyd

“Something in His Blood: An Interview with David J. Skal”
John Edgar Browning

“Reviews”

Mervyn Wall’s The Unfortunate/Return of Fursey (Darrell Schweitzer)

Craftsman Audio’s Complete Ghost Stories of Le Fanu (Rob Brown)

Caitriona Lally’s Eggshells (John Howard)

Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (Bernice M. Murphy)

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 6

Irish Writers of the Fantastic

On St. Patrick’s Day I decided to spend my time not drinking Guinness, but instead promoting Irish Writers of the Fantastic on both Twitter and Facebook. While I’m not convinced there is a “tradition” of Irish fantastic literature—that is to say a relatively unbroken chain of influence from one writer to the next—Ireland has consistently produced authors whose works have proved to be singular contributions of international importance. Unfortunately, some of these authors are given short shrift in Ireland—even those authors otherwise widely recognised abroad.

Here is the list that I compiled. It is by no means complete or definitive (and at one point in particular even quite self-indulgent). There is a comments section down there too, so no reason you can’t add to the list if you feel I’ve overlooked someone important.

And as a reminder, anyone who would like to learn more about Irish writers of the fantastic, I encourage you to check out The Green Book, a journal started specifically to explore these authors and their works.

Jonathan_Swift_by_Charles_Jervas_detail     Gullivers_travels

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)—Gulliver’s Travels (1726) #IrishFantasy

by and published by John Dean, after  Sir Joshua Reynolds, mezzotint, published 1777     Longsword

Thomas Leland (1722-1785)—Longsword (1762) #IrishGothic

XJF365331 Reverend Charles Robert Maturin, engraved by Henry Meyer, 1819 (engraving)  by Brocas, William (19th century) (after); Private Collection; (add. info.: Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824) Irish writer); English, out of copyright     220px-Melmoth_the_Wanderer_1820

Charles Maturin (1782-1824)—Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) #IrishGothic

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Henry Ferris (1802-1848)—“A Night in a Haunted House” (1848) #IrishHorror

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J.S. Le Fanu (1814-1873)—In a Glass Darkly (1872) #IrishGothic

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William Allingham (1824-1889)—“The Faeries” (1850) #IrishFantasy

avt_fitz-james-obrien_8892     page5-220px-The_Poems_and_Stories_of_Fitz-James_O'Brien,_1881.djvu

Fitz-James O’Brien (1828-1862)—“What Was It?” (1859) #IrishSF

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Charlotte Riddell (1832-1906)—The Uninhabited House (1875) #IrishHorror

1c0f545450fafca636e4d7441674331414f6744     ntlg

Rosa Mulholland (1841-1921)—“Not to be Taken at Bed-time” (1865) #IrishHorror

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Bram Stoker (1847-1912)—Dracula (1897) #IrishHorror

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Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904)—Kwaidan (1903) #IrishHorror

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Lady Gregory (1852-1932)—Gods and Fighting Men (1904) #IrishMythology

george_william_russell     il_570xN.644895823_oxao

George Russell (AE) (1853-1935)—The Candle of Vision (1918) #IrishMysticism

220px-Oscar_Wilde     Lippincott_doriangray

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)—The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890) #Irish Horror

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Cheiro (1866-1936)—A Study of Destiny (1898) #IrishOccult

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Forrest Reid (1875-1947)—Uncle Stephen (1931) #IrishFantasy

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Lord Dunsany (1878-1957)—The Gods of Pegana (1905) #IrishFantasy

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James Stephens (1882-1950)—The Crock of Gold (1912) #IrishFantasy

DorothyMacardle     10790

Dorothy Macardle (1889-1958)—The Uninvited (1941) #IrishSupernatural

Mandrake

Oliver Sherry (1894-1971)—Mandrake (1929) #IrishHorror

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C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)—The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (1949) #Irish Fantasy

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Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)—The Demon Lover (1945) #IrishSupernatural

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Mervyn Wall (1908-1997)—The Unfortunate Fursey (1946) #IrishFantasy

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Flann O’Brian (1911-1966)—The Third Policeman (1939) #IrishSF

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Peter Tremayne (1943-)—Aisling (1992) #IrishSupernatural

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Celine Kiernan (1967-)—The Poison Throne (2008) #IrishFantasy

NWS_20130910_Ent_007_28880850_I1   nocturnes-225

John Connolly (1968-)—Nocturnes (2004) #IrishSupernatural

20090427_conormacpherson_250x375     weir

Conor McPherson (1971-)—The Weir (1992) #IrishSupernatural

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C.E. Murphy (1973)—Urban Shaman (2005) #IrishFantasy

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Maura McHughRóisín Dubh (2011) #IrishFantasy

CATyj4WWgAAqXU3.jpg large     41brHGJafJL._UY250_

Lynda E. RuckerThe Moon Will Look Strange (2013) #IrishSupernatural

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Brian J. Showers (1977-)—The Bleeding Horse (2008) #IrishSupernatural

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Martin Hayes (1978-)—Wandering the Waste (2013) #IrishOccult

Irish Writers of the Fantastic

The Green Book 5

Green Book 5EDITOR’S NOTE

“In Ireland we have a national apathy about literature . . . It began to descend on us after we became self-governing; before that we were imaginative dreamers.”

— AE to Van Wyck Brooks, 10 October 1932

So wrote the poet, painter, and mystic George William Russell (1867-1935) — better known by his spiritual name AE — less than a year before he left Ireland after a lifetime working to enrich a nation he loved and dedicated himself to. Yet his vision of Ireland as an enlightened society was seemingly at odds with the mass desire for the cultural censorship and social conservatism that coincided with the birth of the Irish Free State.

Today, with the continuation of a crippling austerity policy — which includes the treatment of the arts as commodity, the considered monetisation of our public museums, financial cuts to arts funding, and the budgetary destitution of the National Library, among other similar injuries masquerading as common sense measures — one wonders just exactly how the arts are valued in a nation that still proudly sells itself as “the land of saints and scholars”.

Leaves for the BurningFifty years later, a sentiment similar to AE’s was echoed by author Mervyn Wall (1908-1997) in a fascinating interview (reprinted in this issue) in which he asserts that, “When the new Free State was set up, it settled down to very mundane things . . . since 1922 there has been no inspired leadership whatsoever, leadership that would say here is a small country starting off fresh and here is the opportunity to make something wonderful of it.” But instead of leaving Ireland, as so many of our luminaries did (and still do), Wall wrote a pair of brilliant fantasy novels, The Unfortunate Fursey (1946) and The Return of Fursey (1948), sharply satirising both Church and State — and though they tried, the Irish censors could find no specific reason to ban Wall’s books. Similarly acerbic, his 1952 novel, Leaves for the Burning, with its accumulation of exaggerated and improbable details, is often read as a satire, but as critic Robert Hogan points out, should be considered more of a realistic (“albeit one-sided”) depiction of post-war Ireland. Wall, incidentally, worked for the Arts Council from 1957-1975, and his legacy includes Ireland’s tax exemption for artists scheme, which I might add the current government occasionally talks of abolishing because of its perceived “cost to the taxpayer”. Many of Wall’s comments in this interview, though conducted over thirty years ago, feel just as relevant today.

draculaAlso in this issue you’ll find Kevin Corstorphine’s survey of a selection of stories by Cork-born author Fitz-James O’Brien (1826?-1862). O’Brien left Ireland at a young age, and eventually settled into a bohemian literary lifestyle in New York before perishing in the American Civil War. Corstorphine looks at O’Brien’s better known stories, like “What Was It?” and “The Diamond Lens”, and those less read but equally deserving of examination, such as “The Lost Room” and “A Dead Secret”. We’ve also got an essay by noted Stoker-scholar Elizabeth Miller, who considers in detail the 1901 abridged paperback edition of Dracula. Published during Stoker’s lifetime, and possibly even condensed by his own hand, Miller’s essay sheds just a little more light on the mind of the Dubliner who penned the most influential horror novel of all time. Finally, though Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s bicentenary celebrations are now over, here are two short, but important pieces by Richard Dury and James Machin that are simply too good to pass up: new discoveries that notably expand the ever-growing list of the Invisible Prince’s admirers.

PCS-1-420x640A word should also be said about this issue’s cover painting, “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” by Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). Pixie, as she was known to her friends, was an accomplished artist who not only illustrated Bram Stoker’s final novel, Lair of the White Worm (1911), but in 1909 contributed the eighty drawings that adorn the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. The painting on the cover of this issue, which kindly comes to us from the Collection of John Moore, was a gift from Pamela Colman Smith to AE. An inscription on the back of the painting reads: “To AE, with all good wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year and all time. Yours, Pixie. Xmas 1902.” Beside the inscription is a small drawing of a pixie. As a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Pamela Colman Smith was likely introduced to AE through their mutual friend W.B. Yeats. This is the first time “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” has been published.

AE’s comment regarding our national apathy toward literature—and art in general—is provocative and disheartening, and the natural instinct will be to deny it, pointing to one example or another of independent artistry or do-it-yourself creativity existing in Ireland today. And yes, AE’s comment was made nearly a century ago. But I do not think his assertion should be dismissed without first deep consideration tempered with honesty free from national pride.

However, given the gloominess of AE’s words at the start of this piece, I thought we might do well to end it with a comment he made to Seán Ó Faoláin in a letter from 1933, a decidedly more hopeful prescription from the man who helped shepherd into the world writings we now associate with Ireland’s literary identity.

“We have imagined ourselves into littleness, darkness, and ignorance, and we have to imagine ourselves back into light.”

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
17 March 2015

Order The Green Book 5 here.

IMG_0001Contents

“Editor’s Note” Brian J. Showers

“Fitz-James O’Brien: The Seen and the Unseen” by Kevin Corstorphine

“A Story-teller: Stevenson on Le Fanu” Richard Dury

“Arthur Machen and J.S. Le Fanu” James Machin

“Shape-shifting Dracula: The Abridged Edition of 1901″ Elizabeth Miller

“An Interview with Mervyn Wall” Gordon Henderson

Reviews

Digby Rumsey’s Shooting for the Butler (Martin Andersson)

Wireless Mystery Theatre’s Green Tea (Jim Rockhill)

Dara Downey’s American Women’s Ghost Stories in the Gilded Age (Maria Giakaniki)

J.S. Le Fanu’s Reminiscences of a Bachelor (Robert Lloyd Parry)

Charlotte Riddell’s A Struggle for Fame (Jarlath Killeen)

Karl Whitney’s Hidden City (John Howard)

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 5

Mervyn Wall (1908-1997)

scan0001Now that copies of our new books The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey seem to be arriving (and hopefully read!), I thought I’d gather together here a few bits and pieces for those who might want to know more about the books’ author, Mervyn Wall.

Firstly, if you haven’t already, head over to the RTÉ Radio 1 website and listen to John Bowman’s archive show for last week (29 March) and this week (5 April). Over the course of two episodes, Bowman played interview clips with Wall talking about the Fursey novels, his childhood in Dublin and Germany, and various aspects of Irish society in the mid-20th century. The “Programme Archive” is over on the right hand side of the page, and seems to be available internationally. But don’t delay as it looks like these shows will only be available for five weeks.

Footage of Wall giving a television interview also recently surfaced from the RTÉ Archives. The clip is brief, and in it Wall discusses his impressions of 1916 as a child. You can watch it here.

The Unfortunate FurseyNext up is a fun article written by Mervyn Wall in 1956 called “The Castletown Witch”. The article was published in The Irish Times and describes Wall’s visit to a Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man. Although not stated, Wall’s host at the museum is none other than Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), founder of the modern Wiccan tradition. As it turns out, Gardner was an admirer of the Fursey novels and once even sent Wall a fan letter. (Anyone care to check if the letter’s in the Wall Archive at Trinity?) A different account of Wall’s encounter with Gardner, one in which the latter is mentioned by name, can be found in issue three of the Bram Stoker Society Journal (1991).

Also on our website is an extract from a lengthy interview Wall gave in 1982 on the origins of The Unfortunate Fursey. In it he describes how, during a childhood bout with pleurisy, he asked his sister to bring him back “anything about ghosts” from the local library. What she brought back was a book whose title Wall could never remember (and apparently never found out), but has since been identified as The Phantom World, or, The Philosophy of Spirits, Apparitions, etc. by French abbé Augustin Calmet.

The Return of FurseyThe aforementioned interview with Wall originally appeared in The Journal of Irish Literature: A Mervyn Wall Double Number (January-May 1982). This interview is probably the most in-depth and fascinating commentary on Wall’s life and works available, and we are pleased to say that it will be republished in its entirety in issue five of our journal The Green Book (Spring 2015).

If you’re already a fan of Wall’s Fursey books, then I’d suggest you check out Leaves for the Burning (1952), a novel just as savage and just as hilarious as Wall’s better known satirical fantasies. And of course, if you can find a copy, A Flutter of Wings (1974) is a slim volume that collects together most of Wall’s short stories, many of which are definitely worth a read. If you can find a copy that is!

I’m afraid to say that these days Mervyn Wall is a criminally overlooked Irish author, and one whose writings are perhaps relevant now more than ever. It’s such a pity that none of his other books are currently in print.

In the meantime, we’ve got copies of our new edition of The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey (with introductions by Michael Dirda) over at the Swan River Press website. And if you still need convincing, here are a few reviews. Let me know what you think!

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Mervyn Wall (1908-1997)