Saturday, 18 April 2015

Codex Jermyn - the Cardinal Goes Ape!

I hope you'll excuse a post that isn't, strictly speaking, about the supernatural but is about the weird. Cardinal Cox's latest poetry pamphlet is inspired by one of my favourite H.P. Lovecraft stories - 'Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family'.

The central premise of the Lovecraft story is that there is no clear line between ourselves and our ape-cousins, and that interbreeding is possible. (Well, that's my reading of it, anyway.) In his new pamphlet Cox takes this idea and runs with it, creating a series of poetic mini-sagas featuring many of the most fascinating (and hirsute) characters from English literature. The over-arching theme is that Homo erectus, an ancestral species, never really died out, just retreated to the mountains and wildernesses of the Earth. And there they lurk, emerging now and again to become the stuff of legend...

Apes and/or monkeys are fun, and in 'Codex Jermyn' (which is dedicated to a mutual friend, Dr. Gail-Nina Anderson, legendary collector of toy monkeys) there's quite a bit of whimsy. Thus we encounter Sir Oran Haut-Ton, an ape who is also a member of parliament. He can't talk, but performs well on the flute, making him the ideal MP for my money.

Manners the same as many from a lesser school
Might not be the first country gent to need a shave...

Sir Oran features in Thomas Love Peacock's novel Melincourt, which was based on the quasi-scientific theories of bonkers aristo Lord Monboddo. Check him out - crazy name, crazy guy!

There's also an interesting poem about a shipwreck on the coast of Aberdeenshire in 1772. Apparently this was the origin of the (in)famous 'monkey hanger' tag that is now proudly born by the natives of Hartlepool. Cox risks the wrath of Andy Capp, among others, by claiming that the real incident took place at Boddam. (If you don't know the story, it's here.) A chap called Stevenson built a lighthouse on the coast to prevent such wrecks, and it was his grandson Robert Louis who created the ape-like Mr, Hyde.

In a far-ranging collection there are also poems about the Ancient Egyptian deity Thoth, associated with the ape, and the Vanara of India (a new one on me). Lord Greystoke gets a mention, of course, as does the killer of the Rue Morgue. The Yeti (perhaps Gigantopithecus?) is associated with the Monkey King of ancient China.

As with all the Cardinal's pamphlets, this one is enlivened by footnotes that draw parallels between apparently unconnected facts and fictions. There's also a surprising coda, in which it's suggested that - once our civilization has effectively trashed itself - the 'elder people' will return to interbreed with the remnants of humanity. A hairy situation indeed.

If you want a copy of 'Codex Jermyn'...

Send a C5 SAE to

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

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