The roasting, the feasting and the hours of horseplay helped to create a special warmth on this cold, hard day. Then the fire was stoked and fed to make a warm place where there could be dancing until darkfall. Martin was very drunk. Rebecca danced alone, wide skirts swirling, hair flowing as the accordion wheezed out its jig, and feet stamped on the stone flags at the edge of the field, where the pit had been dug.
—from Robert Holdstock’s Merlin’s Wood novel
So have you had a pint of our Headless Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Halloween Ale? There’s also a more traditional All Hallows Eve cider on tap if you like something a bit more refined. And if you ask Reynard, the barkeep this fine evening, he might have a bottle of the recently decanted Croes Naid metheglin on hand for sampling . . .
Now where I was? Ahhhh, having a pint of that superb ale while enjoying this fine late October evening—first frosts and earthy leaf-mould and the bitter tang of wood smoke, and the smell of coming winter—while thinking of what there is for Halloween songs—of course, everyone knows ‘Tam Lin’, and a Welsh muso who plays in the Neverending Session is of the opinion that ‘Soul Cakes’ was originally an All Hallow’s Eve song, not a Christmas carol at all, and Loreena McKennitt’s ‘Samhain Night’ is a modern one… There’s a Scots song according to Mackenzie called ‘Old Witch, Old Witch’ and he likes ‘A Souling Song’ which is attributed to Jack Langstaff of Revels fame.
Speaking of soul cakes, the late and much missed Kage Baker once upon a time taught the bakers in our kitchen to make a most excellent soul cake according to what she says is a traditional Scots recipe. Let’s listen in as she tells them how she makes these nibblies . . .
Barm Brack is a soul cake—traditional Scots recipe calls for a bean or silver coin or some other token to be baked into it and the person getting the winning slice gets fame or good luck or sacrificed or whatever, deciding on how much of The Wicker Man you take seriously. I leave the tokens out of mine, personally. Life is enough of a lottery as it is.
You add one tablespoon each of yeast and sugar to half cup lukewarm milk and let it become bubbly (that’s the Barm). Then you sift into a bowl two cups of flour, three tablespoons sugar, half teaspoon each allspice and nutmeg. Cut in three tablespoons of butter. Then you make a well in the buttery flour mixture and pour in a beaten egg and the Barm. Stir together with a wooden spoon until you have a stiff elastic dough. Then you add a half-cup of currants or raisins or dried cherries or what have you that have sat overnight in wine, whiskey, rum or what have you. ‘Brack’ means ‘Spotted’ in Scots. Knead in the fruit and set the dough in a warm place to rise about an hour. Transfer the dough to a loaf pan and bake at three hundred and fifty until done—half hour—forty-five minutes maybe? Serve while watching The Uninvited, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Nightmare Before Christmas or some other Hallowe’en standard.
Oh, you want a scary story, do you? One to terrify you on this dark, cold evening? Something to keep you awake long into the night?
Read on for the tale of a certain Robin Hood that will not bring a smile to your face. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Do you know about tinker’s marks? Gypsies use them, too. Even plain old tramps when there were any still on the American roads. They’re the marks that say, ‘Kind Woman Here, This Dog Bites, Move On, This Is A Cop’s House.’ I think there’s some sort of mark on the doors of the Green Man here, that says ‘Uncanny Travelers Welcome. If you’ve walked a far road from a strange place, come on in.’
The Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room has a fireplace surrounded by overstuffed armchairs. It’s a grand place to curl up and read on autumn nights, but it’s also where the insomniacs and transients gather when it gets close to midnight. If you can’t sleep, or you’re trying to avoid actually leaving the building because you don’t have a place to sleep—his is the place to be. And when it’s late in the year and late in the evening, the stranger stories get passed around and read aloud.
We had this fellow here a while ago—I think he bribed MacKenzie with some old books to let him spend the evening by the fire. He called himself a story teller and he had this leather satchel full of very old, tattered ledgers—the kind you keep accounts in, entered with a steel nib at a lectern. Though, to tell the truth, he didn’t look like he could read or write—scarred face, eye patch, a leather jacket and one of those pointy leather caps you sometimes see in Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood illustrations. Which I guess may be why MacKenzie asked him to read to the late night crowd from those old ledgers. MacKenzie’s got a funny sense of humour. And a soft spot for storytellers, too.
So, these books—they were journals. This guy sat down cross-legged on the hearth and spread the musty volumes around his knees like a deck of cards. He claimed they were transcriptions of real histories, copied over and over, retold, retranslated, never quite forgotten. They were Robin Hood stories, of course, narrated to some anonymous scribe by Hood himself. But they were not the ones Pyle illustrated—definitely not Merry Adventures. Not the wronged nobleman, not the cheerful brigand nor amiable freedom fighter, either; no, the guy he was reading about was like some ancestral Saxon highwayman, the kind that takes your money and your life and then sells your corpse to the rag and bone man.
The Robin Hood he told us about was a psychopath, plain and simple. Sure, he stole from the rich—that’s where the money is, as some bank robber said. From the sound of it, the only things he gave to the poor were early graves and social diseases. He had a real personal hatred of the Sheriff but I don’t think it was about anything special. Hood just hated authority. He and his feral buddies would stalk the Sheriff’s men just for the fun of killing them. They’d strip them to the skin when the poor sods were dead, and mutilate the bodies—the narrator claimed the Sheriff had once scarred Robin’s face, so every man at arms that Robin murdered had his nose chopped off and his face slit from top to bottom.
The nastiest part was that the nameless scribe had written down Hood’s story in the first person— a boastful list of murders, robberies, good old-fashioned tricks like setting a cottage roof afire with the terrified farmer still inside. He told that old one about going to the Fair disguised as a one-eyed man to take part in an archery contest. But instead of winning the prize, this Robin Hood lost— then waited for the real winner after the contest, and gouged out both his eyes.
Our guest read it all out with a matter-of-fact glee. You could really imagine this clever, bestial outlaw recounting his deeds to some terrified clerk. And the storyteller kept glancing up with a slantwise grin as he read, that one eye blue as a gas flame, amused to be regaling us with tales of murder and rapine in a hero’s name.
That guy was one authentically Uncanny Traveler, I’ll give him that. He had that funny Somerset accent, where ‘s’ is said with a slur that turns it into ‘z‚—an old, country accent, that remembered wood smoke and wet thatch and ale drunk before it was quite ready. Not only could he read, he had a compelling voice, too—a sort of rough velvet buzz, like his voice box had been damaged once and healed over a long, long time. When he lifted his head to look over his audience, I could see a scar around his throat, as well—like a rope burn. Of course.
When he was done, we were all sort of stunned, except MacKenzie. Nothing bad fazes him unless it happens to a book. He looked round, calmly stroking the cat asleep on his lap, and told us all sternly that Truth was not only stranger than fiction, it was scarier. Then he sipped his whiskey, turned his gaze on the smirking storyteller, and said, ‘But you’d better go now.’ And the guy up and went, satchel on his shoulder, leather jacket swirling round him like a cloak.
What really chilled me was that as he passed me, he looked down and sort of tipped up his eye patch like a salute. And under that patch was a perfectly good, perfectly cold, blue eye.
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In the meantime, all of our featured reviews this edition are of bleedin’ good tales of things which go bump in the night—headless horseman, hideous transformations, restless ghosts, and ghoulies most foul. We have picked the very best books, films, and so forth from our extensive archives.
Read on to see what we think you should checking out when the Celtic New Year stars at midnight. After all, the Celts created Halloween!
Tam Lin defines All Hallows Eve better than any other tale does so checkout what Scott Gianelli had to say about a production of Tam Lin at the Producers Club in New York City. Billed as a romantic Halloween comedy, Tam Lin is the story of a mortal man entrapped by the queen of Faerie and the struggle that he and his mortal lover face to get free of the Faerie Queen’s grasp. Scott’s overall assessment is that if the director’s intent was ‘to present the legend as a Shakespearean comedy, she generally succeeds.’ Situation-based humor was its most successful element, but the dialog seemed forced and the performance needed some more polishing. Read his review for more details.
A fine version of the story is reviewed by Richard Dansky as he looks at Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin—’An early part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, Tam Lin is by far the most ambitious project on the line. The story of Tam Lin is one of the better known ones to escape folklore for the fringes of the mainstream; you’ll find references scuttling about everywhere from old Fairport Convention discs to Christopher Stasheff novels. There’s danger inherent in mucking about with a story that a great many people know and love in its original form; a single misstep and the hard-core devotees of the classic start howling for blood. Moreover, Dean is not content simply to take the ballad of Tam Lin and transplant it bodily into another setting.’ Intrigued? Read Richard’s review thisaway.
A reviewer who needs no introduction is Jack Merry, who was delighted to review another Tam Lin take, this one by Diana Wynne Jones in her Fire and Hemlock novel. He notes, ‘Me editor mentioned a ways back that Emma Bull’s quintessential urban fantasy novel, War for The Oaks, was finally getting the hardcover edition it so richly deserves. Another novel that has deserved the same treatment is this work which is a novel so highly regarded by readers that copies of the original 1975 Greenwillow hardcover fetch as much as three hundred American dollars from booksellers online. It’s a good solid book with memorable characters and an engrossing plot which got read in one rather long sitting on a cold, rainy afternoon late in October. . . . It certainly was as good as the aforementioned War for The Oaks.’
Each All Hallows Eve Dance is dedicated to someone who has passed beyond the Border. The person this year, at the suggestion of many staffers here, is once again Roger Zelazny, who passed over fifteen years ago. Is there anyone who hasn’t read a novel or short story by him? Yes? My, are you in for a treat this year as we’ll reading in a round robin fashion A Night in the Lonesome October, which is his take on what really happens on All Hallows Eve! Why Roger, you ask? Simple—Roger’s one of the major inspirations here at Green Man as his myths are very much part of our motif. He was just the sort of teller of tales that any master storyteller would have been proud to listen to on a cold winter’s night, huddled by the fireplace to keep warm. Roger told wildly imaginative tales involving characters who often seemed like they came out of some dark European myth. So who better to commemorate at this time of year?
Dansky also looked at a classic work—’By right and nature, all October babies should love Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. It is a love letter to autumn, and to the Halloween season in particular, a gorgeous take on maturity and self-acceptance and all the dark temptations that come crawling ’round when the calendar creeps close to October 31st . . . For all that the ultimate message of the book is one of redemptive joy, however, this is one of Bradbury’s darkest works. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing the consequences of human weakness. There are moments of genuine terror and dark majesty here—in the powers and temptation of the Dust Witch, in the knowing evil in the eyes of the young Mr. Cooger when he impersonates poor, lonely Miss Foley’s nephew, in the person of Mister Dark as he stalks Charles Halloway in the library. The book doesn’t shy away from showing the depth of the abyss both Will and Charles narrowly avoid falling into, and while they make good their escapes, we also know that Miss Foley wasn’t quite so lucky.’ The rest of the chilling tale is to be found here.
April Gutierrez, Book Editor, recommends The Graveyard Book, which is a charmingly weird tale of a young boy raised by ghosts—yes, in a graveyard—that netted Gaiman his first Newbery Medal. And deservedly so!
Kestrell Rath has a look at a well-known tale—’It is difficult to think of an American ghost story more well-known than that of Washington Irving’s short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.‘. Though Irving’s original sources for the stories may have been local folklore based on the same stories which the Grimm Brothers would collect and publish back in the Old World, Irving’s tale would emerge as one of America’s first and most familiar stories until, like the best stories, it seeped into the American consciousness the way wellwater rises from some hidden source deep underground. One of the characteristics of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ that marks it as a legend is that one does not need to have read the literary story in order to be familiar with the story. I was struck by this as I tried to remember when or how I first heard ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ I grew up in the Hudson Valley, the setting of Irving’s most famous stories, and these stories still exist as part of the local culture, both oral and literary. I may have first heard the story from a grade school teacher or librarian, reading aloud from one of the many children’s book adaptations, or it might have been a storyteller who told it at some Halloween event.’
Want a more modern take on that story? Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore’s The Hollow Book, one of The Horseman series, is reviewed by Kelly Sedinger who says ‘The novel is paced fairly quickly, but not too quickly. Horseman is an enjoyable read, although not a particularly demanding one. If you have a reader in the house who is beyond ‘Goosebumps’, but may not yet be ready for, say, Salem’s Lot, this might serve as a decent transition novel.’ Read his review to see why he liked it!
With Halloween is coming up, Nellie Levine has two reviews of materials appropriate to the season. She found the first somewhat wanting—’The south has an air of mystery when thoughts turn to hoodoo, voodoo, root doctors, and zombies. Those of us from the north can only compete with tales of hauntings in centuries-old clapboard houses, or perhaps, with an odd recalling of the Salem witch trials—which really aren’t the same thing. In Play Dead, author Anne Frasier uses hoodoo as a main ingredient in her story-telling formula. Or at least, she pretends to.’ The second book, The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween, gets Nellie’s stamp of approval— ‘Jean Markale’s telling of many traditional stories illustrates this history vividly and causes us to reflect on the essential nature of the holiday. Identifying, through Markale’s exploration, with our pagan ancestors, gives Halloween the serious reflection it deserves. We can look now at this black and orange night and see beneath the mischievous spectacle, a holiday of changes, of reverence, of comprehension and wisdom.’
Maria Nutick has an anthology that will make for perfect Samhain reading—October Dreams, originally published in 2000, recently re-printed by Roc. ‘This is the time of year,’ muses Maria, ‘for extra blankets on the bed, a steaming mug of cocoa, and an excellent book. October Dreams more than qualifies.’ Naturally, it contains a host of great stories—both ‘oldies-but-goodies’ and some startling new pieces—but these are also interspersed with interludes entitled ‘My Favorite Halloween Memory,’ in which various well-known authors recount their experiences, some humorous, some sad, and some, well, embroidered is the word Maria uses. She (and we) think you should go get this book!
Our last featured book review comes to us from Michael Jones, who brings us Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola’s graphic novel Baltimore: or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. Jones says that ‘Baltimore is certainly a success for them both [Golden and Mignola]. It may have its flaws, but all in all, once I got into it, I couldn’t stop reading, eager to find out what manner of twisted horror would be thrown at the characters next, and whether they’d see a victory over the vampires terrorizing the world. All I can say that for these men, a happily ever after isn’t entirely on the books, even if they do survive the final encounter. So despite my initial hesitations regarding this book, I’m happy to say that Baltimore is well worth checking out, especially if you happen to like your stories dark, disturbing, and Gothic.’ Check out the full review for more details on this timely collaboration.
I must admit, films have never been a mortal medium I’ve enjoyed. I much prefer to mingle with your sort at a play or a concert. Still, I’ve seen a few films in my time and find that Green Man reviewers are quite skilled at dissecting this form of spooky entertainment as Maria Nutick provides quite my all-time favourite perspective on The Wicker Man, Michelle Green’s work on Roald Dahl’s The Witches . . . oh my, yes indeed.
Side-note—Now mind you that we all know that a wicker man was a large wicker statue of a human used by the ancient Druids (priests of Celtic paganism) for human sacrifice by burning it in effigy but the only source for this imformation is Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentary on the Gallic War) and I would never ever suggest anything about the Celts he wrote should be taken as actual fact!
More scary Halloween films is what you want? Read on! Craig Clarke notes, ‘I’ve a fondness for minimalist horror films. . . . This kind of film cannot be made with a large budget. The inability to show violence (due to expense) is part of the draw because what happens is unseen and all the scarier. Consider the following titles—Psycho, Halloween, Blair Witch—all movies made on the cheap, and yet always in the top of fright fans’ favorites lists in terms of fright power. It is most often in the scripts that the quality lies.’ This week Craig brings us a review of another quality film in this tradition—The Collingswood Story.
Denise Dutton expands on Craig’s observations with a look at two of the classics of frightening cinema—Halloween and Halloween II. ‘Halloween’, Denise explains, ‘drove home the consequences of bad behavior better than any lecture my parents could have given me. How could I light up, drink up, or play around? I knew that if I did, some psycho killer would find out about it, and I’d be doomed. Worse, the Boogeyman would get me. And thanks to these films, I knew exactly what was in store for me if he did.’
Do not bother watching the next Halloween film as Denise notes. The Halloween franchise continues to this day, most recently with Halloween—Resurrection. Not all of the films are as good as the first two, but the third . . . well, the third is a special form of torture for horror fans, as Denise goes on to explain—’the folks responsible for this garbage really wanted to depart from the first two films and create something authentic, this basic story could have been an interesting movie. The idea of performing a mass sacrifice of children for the Festival of Samhain could have been a suspenseful tale; the movie Dark Secret of Harvest Home carried off the idea of pleasing old gods with new blood with wit and style. Instead, Halloween III comes off as a poorly written Movie Of The Week that Columbo and Kojak wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.’ Denise wins an unseasonable but unavoidable Grinch Award for her brutally honest look at Halloween III—Season of the Witch.
The approach of autumn also always gets her excited for one of her favorite holidays—Halloween! According to her, ‘What better way to anticipate that spooky season than Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick’s gorgeously and eerily rendered Coraline? Whether you’ve read the original novel or no, the film is a real treat!’
I’m now watching with rather great amusement the Danse Macabre musicians—over great big pints of Witch’s Tit Brew, an ale with a rather earthy taste, which is from a brewery that Jack Merry visited on a tour last year—debate what dance tunes they are going to play on All Hallows Eve in the Courtyard where the bonfire is now being lit for that most sacred of nights in the Celtic Year. A great deal of thought goes into the set list as both the musicians and the caller this year, Reynard, want everyone to have a truly great evening of dancing. Their list of possible dances so far thought of has included ‘All Saint’s Day’ right after ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, ‘The Black Hag’, ‘The Booship’, ‘The Discorporation’, ‘Draper’s Graveyard’, ‘Gathering Pumpkins’, ‘Ghoul in the Wall’, and ‘Jack O’Lantern’s Health’. One of the members of Serrated Edge suggested it’d be appropriate to include as a coda The November Reel composed by Keona Mundy of Cleia, a brilliant band whose recording he recently heard.