Thursday, 22 September 2016

'Blackberry Time'

We've reaches the penultimate tale in the Third G&S Book of Shadows and find ourselves in the capable hands of Ghosts & Scholars stalwart Peter Bell. The original M.R. James story is, again, apparent to the expert from the title. It's the same tale as that exploited by D.P. Watt, in fact, but Bell's approach is very different.

The title comes from a painting fondly recalled by a man looking back at childhood holidays in the countryside. Blackberrying (which I, too, remember well from my distant youth) was all the more pleasant for the unnamed narrator thanks to his friendship with a bright, adventurous girl called Freda Devlin. The Devlins, a family consisting of Freda, her mother, and her grandmother, were not quite respectable, but exactly why is unclear.

From Freda the boy learns about the history of the area, and especially the worship of pagan gods that took place on a particular hill. She persuades him to make a symbolic offering to a solar deity, which seems to summon up a ghost. Eventually changing circumstances separate the friends, until a chance meeting in the gallery where they have both come to admire the painting.

This is an enigmatic tale told in a traditional manner, ending in ambiguity while at the same time offering glimpses of horror. The final image is as surprising as its is dark.

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