Friday, 10 April 2015

The Eeriness of the English Countryside

An article on the Guardian's site explores just about everything you could describe as folk horror, focuses on several key writers of supernatural fiction, and ranges far further afield than the title might lead you to believe. For instance:

The Duchess of Cambridge looks at Self Portrait as a Drowned Man by Jeremy Millar during a visit to Turner Contemporary, Margate.

This would appear to be a pregnant royal looking a corpse - possibly that of a recalcitrant footman who forgot to record Downton for Kate and was accordingly bludgeoned to death under an obscure statute of Edward III. But in fact it's this:
In 2011, also inspired by Blackwood, Millar created a sculpture entitled Self-Portrait of a Drowned Man (The Willows). He cast his own body in silicone, dressed it in his own clothes, then gouged “his” face and skull with odd puncture wounds, as occurs in Blackwood’s novella. The disconcertingly lifelike (deathlike) “drowned man” that resulted was displayed prone on the gallery floor. It was first shown at Glasgow’s CCA, and proved so unnerving to audiences that warnings had to be issued. It is presently on show at Turner Contemporary in Margate. Earlier this month, the Duchess of Cambridge visited the gallery and was photographed looking at Millar’s pseudo-corpse selfie.
Isn't it rather wonderful that Blackwood still has so many fans and that they are putting his work, albeit indirectly, in the spotlight? Admittedly the article is a bit arty-intellectual, but I like that. There's room enough the world of supernatural fiction for those who (like M.R. James) don't like intellectual chat, and those who do. Oh, and Lovecraft gets a look in, because why not? And the focus on MRJ's story 'A View From a Hill' is refreshing - I think it's a rather underrated story.
Shortly after A View from a Hill appeared in the London Mercury in May 1925, MR James was contacted by the poet AE Housman, a friendly acquaintance and fellow Cambridge don. Housman admired the story, but felt there was “something wrong with the optics”. It was a nitpick on Housman’s part – he was suggesting that anyone looking through liquid-filled binocular barrels would experience a blurred refraction of vision, rather than its strange sharpening. His literalism missed the point entirely, of course – and it is tempting to read Housman’s quibble with the story as a broader objection to James’s unsettling of the pastoral, a mode in which Housman was deeply invested.
The 'unsettling of the pastoral' keeps happening. It's happening rather a lot every issue of ST, come to think of it. This is not down to a deliberate policy by your humble editor - simple because I so often receive excellent stories about how weird the rural is, and how full of terrifying pitfalls it can be.

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