Saturday, 11 June 2016

Pagan Triptych

Ron Weighell, John Howard & Mark Valentine
Sarob Press

In a recent email conversation with Mark Valentine I mentioned that when I broke my tibia last year I did so with an Algernon Blackwood paperback in my back pocket.  This led him to tell of a Blackwood inspired short story he was writing for a new anthology to be published soon by Sarob Press and that he would arrange for a review copy to be sent my way for Wyrd Britain.  Yes dear readers he is a lovely fella and I am a lucky sod.

Well, if it appeases your jealousy in any way my copy arrived the day after I got home from hospital after breaking my hip this time;  same leg, almost exactly 11 months on from the last time so maybe not so lucky after all.

'Pagan Triptych' is a set of 3 stories using some of Blackwood's characteristic themes - the occult detective, ritual magic, nature worship & reincarnation - each followed by an afterword from each author regarding their connection with the man and his work.

The book begins with an author I am otherwise unfamiliar with, Ron Weighell, whose story of magical sleuthing featuring his very intriguing occult detective, academic and magician, Doctor Andrew Northwoode, 'The Letter Killeth' is a fiery and intriguing sort of read.  With it's academic setting within the campus, libraries and lodgings of Belden College, Oxford it has a flavour of M.R. James' 'The Tractate Middoth' but is very much it's own thing as Northwoode, with the aide of a number of other magicians from diverse magical traditions, investigates and combats the magical affliction that has overcome his librarian friend.

The story is fast paced and wonderfully inventive with Weighell throwing around magical traditions and rites with seeming abandon as his crew of investigators hunt for their cure.  I'm an absolute sucker for a good occult investigator especially of the professorial type and I took Northwoode to my heart immediately.  Apparently he has featured in several other stories but a cursory eBay search reveals Weighell's other books to be price in eye-watering amounts amounts but he is going on my list of writers to watch out for.

Holding the middle ground in the anthology is John Howard who I'd previously encountered via his and Mark Valentine's collaboration on 'The Collected Connossieur'.  It would take better eyes than mine to separate the two in the previous volume so it was a nice opportunity to get to experience his solo work.

'In the Clearing' is a delicately subtle tale of a man cast adrift from his life and finding not just himself but also finding another person and another place.

It's a story of a man being expelled from the life he has created, of his meeting another who is entirely in his and of his desire to join him in his serenity and to find his own acceptance amongst the tangled pathways of the woods.

It's a lovely little piece that feels both supernatural and utterly real at the same time.  Daniel's relationship with the woods is so intrinsic that he wears it (or it him) yet for Nick it's a fearsome entity, the antithesis of all he knows and something that he, in his fear and in his loss, tries to claim.

It's a rather lovely piece that has sat with me for the week between reading it and writing this and I think perhaps for a lot longer yet.

Closing the book is Mark Valentine's tale of alternative worlds, reincarnation, destiny and fig trees.  The story follows a young man from ritualised childhood games in a figgery (such a lovely word) to the comradeship of like-minded people who have, like him, experienced unusual connections with certain places , a feeling of otherness and an echo of elsewhere.  It's a rumination on other lives, other places, other times, other existences and is every bit as intriguing as it is beguiling.

Along with three short ruminations on Blackwood by the authors this book proved to be the most wonderful fun.  The three have produced stories that whilst distinct and individual feel very much at home together which I think speaks volumes for both their skills and the rampant creativity of Mr. Blackwood himself.


  1. So many books - so little time!

    1. :)
      but it's a noble battle and one well worth fighting.