22.7.15

Boundaries, Boggarts and Barguests.

Carolyne Larrington. Land of the Green Man, I.B.Tauris (September 2015)

Beyond its housing estates and identikit high streets there is another Britain. This is the Britain of mist-drenched forests and unpredictable sea-frets: of wraith-like fog banks, druidic mistletoe and peculiar creatures that lurk, half-unseen, in the undergrowth, tantalising and teasing just at the periphery of human vision. How have the remarkably persistent folkloric traditions of the British Isles formed and been formed by the identities and psyches of those who inhabit them? 

In her sparkling new history, Carolyne Larrington explores the diverse ways in which a myriad of imaginary and fantastical beings has moulded the cultural history of the nation. Fairies, elves and goblins here tread purposefully, sometimes malignly, over an eerie, preternatural landscape that also conceals brownies, selkies, trows, knockers, boggarts, land-wights, Jack o'Lanterns, Barguests, the sinister Nuckleavee, or water-horse, and even Black Shuck: terrifying hell-hound of the Norfolk coast with eyes of burning coal. Focusing on liminal points where the boundaries between this world and that of the supernatural grow thin - those marginal tide-banks, saltmarshes, floodplains, moors and rock-pools wherein mystery lies - the author shows how mythologies of Mermen, Green men and Wild-men have helped and continue to help human beings deal with such ubiquitous concerns as love and lust, loss and death and continuity and change. 

Evoking the Wild Hunt, the ghostly bells of Lyonesse and the dread fenlands haunted by Grendel, and ranging the while from Shetland to Jersey and from Ireland to East Anglia, this is a book that will captivate all those who long for the wild places: the mountains and chasms where Gog, Magog and their fellow giants lie in wait.

15.7.15

Time Out

Matthew Jones and Joan Ormrod (editors). Time Travel in Popular Media. Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games. McFarland, (31st July)

In recent years numerous films, television series, comic books, graphic novels and video games have featured time travel narratives, with characters jumping backward, forward and laterally through time. No rules govern time travel in these stories. Some characters move by machine, some by magic, others by unexplained means. Some time travelers can alter the timeline, while others are prevented from causing temporal aberrations. 

The fluid forms of imagined time travel have fascinated audiences and prompted debate since at least the 19th century. What is behind our fascination with time travel? What does it mean to be out of one’s own era? How do different media tell these stories and what does this reveal about the media’s relationship to time? This collection of new essays—the first to address time travel across a range of media—answers these questions by locating time travel narratives within their cultural, historical and philosophical contexts. Texts discussed include Doctor Who, The Terminator, The Georgian House, Save the Date, Back to the Future, Inception and Source Code.

8.7.15

Screen Memories

Robert E. Bartholomew and Joe Nickell. American Hauntings: The True Stories behind Hollywood’s Scariest Movies—from The Exorcist to The Conjuring. ABC/CLIO. (June 2015)

This work provides an accurate, in-depth examination and scientific evaluation of the most famous hauntings in American history as depicted in popular films and television programs. Neither a debunking book nor one written for the "true believer" in the paranormal, American Hauntings objectively scrutinizes the historic evidence behind such hugely popular films as The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, An American Haunting, The Conjuring, and The Haunting in Connecticut to ascertain the accuracy of these entertainment depictions of "true life" hauntings. 

The authors then compare these popular culture accounts against the alleged real-life encounters and impartially weigh the evidence to assess whether each incident actually took place. Written by highly credentialed, recognized authorities on the paranormal and social psychology, this book contains meticulously documented, science-based information written for a broad audience, from middle and high school students and those taking introductory courses at a university level to general readers. There is no other work that provides as careful and unbiased an evaluation of the most famous hauntings in American history. The book also examines the reliability of popular television shows such as Unsolved Mysteries and Paranormal Witness.

3.7.15

Chain Reaktion

They're spoiling us! Three titles of interest to Magonia readers from Reaktion Books this month:

John Harvey. The Story of Black. Reaktion Books (13 July)
As a colour, black is a single hue. It comes in no other shades. It is pure darkness, absorber of all light. But despite its commonly accepted role as one half of a pair (black and white, dark and light), in symbolic terms black envelops the entire spectrum of meaning. The Story of Black explores the ambiguous relationship the world’s cultures have had with this often self-contradictory colour, examining how black has been used as a tool and a metaphor in a multitude of startling ways. 

The Greek word melancholia (literally ‘black bile’) defines depression and dark moods, yet the little black dress is the epitome of chic. For the ancient Egyptians black was the colour of death and it has since become established as the sartorial hue of priests and puritans, witches and monarchs, intellectuals and artists. The colour’s innate austerity has made it the choice for both funereal dress and lawyers’ gowns, and of Goths and other subcultures today.

Roelf Bolt. The Encylopaedia of Liars and Deceivers. Reaktion. (July)
No one likes to be taken in, but stories of deception concerning others are compelling. It can be startling to learn of the credulousness of those who fall for schemes or untruths spun out by liars, cheats, fraudsters, fakers, even unfaithful lovers . . . But deceit should not always be condemned: think of items counterfeited in jest, or satires that expose pretentiousness. To collect these stories of deceit Roelf Bolt has ranged widely, from ancient times to the present day, documenting a huge assortment of legerdemain: infamous quacks, fraudulent scientists, crooks who committed ‘pseudocide’ by faking their own deaths, forgers of paintings and drawings, decorative arts, archaeological finds and documents of every sort. From counterfeit medicines and banknotes to bogus perpetual-motion machines and sports memorabilia, Bolt reveals that almost everything has been forged or faked by someone at some point in history.

Erik Butler. The Rise of the Vampire. Reaktion. (July)
Before Bella and Edward there were The Lost Boys and the gang in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Before True Blood came Dark Shadows and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Before them all there was the most famous vampire of all time: Count Dracula, immortalized by Bram Stoker in 1897. Whether characterized as urbane aristocrats, animalistic monsters or brooding teenagers, as creatures of the day or of the night, it seems vampires have captured the popular imagination for centuries. Today they are a worldwide phenomenon, featuring in everything from Jamaican reggae songs to Japanese and Korean horror films.

28.6.15

The Flight of the Goose

Bernard Roger. The Initiatory Path in Fairy Tales: The Alchemical Secrets of Mother Goose. Inner Traditions Bear and Company (16 July 2015)

In his Mystery of the Cathedrals, the great alchemist Fulcanelli revealed the teachings of the hermetic art encoded in the sculpture and stained glass of the great cathedrals of Europe. What he did for churches, his disciple Bernard Roger does here for fairy tales. Through exhaustive analysis of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, Perrault, and others, Roger demonstrates how hermetic ideas, especially those embodied in alchemy and Freemasonry, can be found in fairy tales, including such popular stories as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood as well as the tales attributed to "Mother Goose." The goose has long been an important esoteric symbol in the Western Mystery tradition. 

The stories told under the aegis of Mother Goose carry these symbols and secrets, concealed in what hermetic adepts have long called "the language of the birds." Drawing upon the original versions of fairy tales, not the sanitized accounts made into children's movies, the author reveals how the tales illustrate each stage of the Great Work and the alchemical iterations required to achieve them. He shows how the common motif of a hero or heroine sent in search of a rare object by a sovereign before their wishes can be granted is analogous to the Masonic quest for the lost tomb of Hiram or the alchemist's search for the fire needed to perform the Great Work. 

He also reveals how the hero is always aided by a green bird, which embodies the hermetic understanding of the seed and the fruit. Roger demonstrates the truly ancient lineage of these initiatory stories and how they originated as the trigger to push humanity toward higher levels of consciousness.

23.6.15

Taking Possession

Joseph P. Laycock. Spirit Possession Around the World: Possession, Communion, and Demon Expulsion Across Cultures. ABC-CLIO (28 Jun 2015)

Possession and exorcism are elements that occur in nearly every culture. Why is belief in spiritual possession so universal? This accessible reference volume offers a broad sample of the traditions and cultures involving possession and exorcism, presenting thoughts on this widely popular topic by experts from the fields of anthropology, sociology, religious studies, history, neuroscience, forensics, and theology. The entries cover the subject of possession and exorcism across all inhabited continents, from the Bronze Age to the 21st century, providing information that is accessible and intriguing as well as scholarly and authoritative. 

Beyond addressing the Christian tradition of possession and exorcism, Pentecostalism, and "New Age" and less widely known Western concepts about possession and exorcism, this work examines ideas about possession and exorcism from other world religions and the indigenous cultures of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It also covers historic cases of possession and presents biographies of famous theologians, exorcists, and possessed individuals. High school and undergraduate readers will learn about world history, religious and spiritual traditions, and world cultures through a topic that figures prominently in popular culture and modern entertainment. 

18.6.15

Past Time Machines

An intriguing look at medieval and early modern attitudes to nature and science.

E. R. Truitt. Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (The Middle Ages Series) University of Pennsylvania Press (19 Jun. 2015)

A thousand years before Isaac Asimov set down his Three Laws of Robotics, real and imagined automata appeared throughout European courts, liturgies, and literary texts. Medieval robots took such forms as talking statues, mechanical animals, or silent metal guardians; some served to entertain or instruct while others performed disciplinary or surveillance functions. Variously ascribed to artisanal genius, inexplicable cosmic forces, or demonic powers, these marvelous fabrications raised fundamental questions about knowledge, nature, and divine purpose in the Middle Ages. Medieval Robots recovers the forgotten history of fantastical, aspirational, and terrifying machines that especially captivated Europe in imagination and reality between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. 

E. R. Truitt traces the different forms of self-moving or self-sustaining manufactured objects from their earliest appearances in the Latin West through centuries of mechanical and literary invention. Chronicled in romances and song as well as histories and encyclopedias, medieval automata were powerful cultural objects that probed the limits of natural philosophy, illuminated and challenged definitions of life and death, and epitomized the transformative and threatening potential of foreign knowledge and culture. This original and wide-ranging study reveals the convergence of science, technology, and imagination in medieval culture, and demonstrates the striking similarities between medieval and modern robotic and cybernetic visions.