Monday 22 April 2024

Circles of Stone: Weird Tales of Pagan Sites and Ancient Rites

Wyrd Britain reviews "Circles of Stone: Weird Tales of Pagan Sites and Ancient Rites' from the British Library Tales of the Weird
Katy Soar (editor)

Standing stones, stone circles, tumps, barrows and ancient clearings still remain across the British Isles, and though their specific significance may be obscured by the passing of time, their strange allure and mysterious energy persist in our collective consciousness.
Assembled here in tribute to these relics of a lost age are accounts of terrifying spirits haunting Stonehenge itself, stories of awful fates for those who impose modernity on the sacred sites and grim tales in which unwitting trespassers into the eternal rites of pagan worship find themselves part of an enduring legacy of blood. To represent the breadth of the sub-genre, authors include Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and Rosalie Muspratt alongside lesser-known writers from the periodicals and journals of the British Library collections.

It's been a little while since I dug into one of the Tales of the Weird series but this one had the perfect subject matter to lure me back.

The book opens oddly with an extract from the wonderful 'Ringstones' by Sarban, the pen name of British diplomat John W. Wall, a story I thoroughly enjoyed when I read it in the Tartarus Press edition a few years back and it doesn't deserve to be experienced in this diminished manner.

Through the rest of the book we are provided with the usual array of authors of note - Algernon Blackwood, E.F. Benson, Arthur Machen, H.R. Wakefield and Nigel Kneale  - and those who are unfamiliar.  There are a number of standouts.  The quintet metioned are all well represented with Wakefield's 'The First Sheaf' being a long time pulpy fun favourite. Whilst, of those lesser known, Frederick Cowles' 'Lisheen' proved to be a devilish read and Mary Williams' 'The Dark Land' was a poignant tale of the power of the land.

For the most part this is a solid read and lovers of a stone circle or a standing stone will find much to enjoy here and the collection has a number of highlights but it's odd beginning, a stuttering ending and some thematic repetition between the stories means I'm left with a slight feeling of incompleteness and I'd love to see the series revisit the topic in a more definitively wide ranging fashion. 


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