The Beast Of Gevaudan – an HML post


BESTIE~130 June 1764, Gevaudan, southern France. A 14-year-old girl named Jeanne Boulet is found dead in the hills near the village of Les Hubacs where she often tended to her sheep and cattle. Her body was found savagely maimed. Authorities attributed the attack to some wild animal. Given the girl’s youth and vulnerability they thought nothing more of the incident.

Within two months of Boulet’s death however, there were 6 more attacks in the Gevaudan (now modern-day Lozere) area. Those that did not survive the attacks were found to have sustained serious injuries to the face and neck and parts of their body appeared to have been eaten. Those that did survive gave an alarming description of their assailant: possessing the features of a wolf it was bigger than a cow, had giant teeth, an enormous tail and dark-reddish fur. It also had a terrible odour and some eyewitnesses claimed that they saw it walk on its hind legs…

What creature was this that was roaming the French countryside, devouring humans at will? To this day the true identity of the Beast of Gevaudan still remains a mystery…

The hunt begins…

By September 1764, the number of attacks not only escalated but became ever more violent. Some corpses were found decapitated as a result of their necks being torn out completely. These incidents caused such a stir that the reigning King Louis XV felt obligated to get involved.

In June 1765, he dispatched Francois Antoine, his personal Lieutenant of the hunt to hunt and kill the beast after previous searches by professional wolf-hunters proved unsuccessful. On 21 September, Antoine killed a large grey wolf which he believed to be the one guilty of the attacks. Everybody believed so too, and Antoine was hailed as a national hero. The animal was stuffed, preserved as a token of his achievement, and sent to the King’s Court.

Two months later however, the attacks started again and more deaths were reported. The Beast of Gevaudan was still at large…

Antoine shows off the stuffed wolf at the King's Court in Versaille.

Antoine shows off the stuffed wolf at the King’s Court in Versaille.

The reign of terror comes to an end

In June 1767, nearly three years after the first attacks, farmer Jean Castel shot and killed a large animal resembling a wolf. When its body was cut open, human flesh was found in its stomach. The attacks ceased completely after that day and Castel has become a legend –now known as the man who killed the Beast of Gevaudan. This heroic feat of Castel’s is shrouded in controversy however. Legend claims that Castel used a gun loaded with silver bullets and waited for the animal which approached him cautiously. The farmer was then able to fire at close range. This is apparently were the idea that silver bullets kill werewolves originated from.

Theories abound

Not surprisingly, thanks to historians, cryptozoologists and animal behaviourists, a range of theories exist as to the nature of the Beast of Gevaudan:

Not just one?

A popular theory was that a pack of wolves were responsible not just one single animal. It could explain how the attacks stretched across a vast distance of 90sq kilometres across the countryside. Although survivor accounts always seem to state the presence of one attacker.

Asian Hyena?

Some experts are adamant that the Beast of Gevaudan was not a wolf but in fact the Asian(now extinct) or Striped Hyena. They argue that no breed of wolf, even a large one would be able to able to bite through human bone but the hyena can (however it should be noted that hyenas tend to have distinct markings (stripes/spots) on their bodies, which the Beast did not).

Mutation?

Some claim that the Beast was a mutation of some sort, a hybrid of a wolf and another animal. Animal behaviourists state that its behaviour was very unusual for a wolf. Wolves generally fear humans and are known for attacking domestic animals and livestock. Why attack people but leave their cattle (which were clearly in plain sight) alone? Its appearance might have been that of a wolf but its behaviour suggests some other DNA in its makeup.

Human Involvement?

Plaque dedicated to Jean Castel in the village of la Besseyre Saint Mary in Lozere where he killed the 'Beast'.

Plaque dedicated to Jean Castel in the village of la Besseyre Saint Mary in Lozere where he shot the ‘Beast’.

A theory that is quite popular is that Jean Castel was somehow responsible for the attacks, the human agent that was controlling the Beast. If Castel’s story of how he killed the Beast holds true, then the animal’s behaviour towards Castel comes into question. Castel managed to get awfully close to it without it attacking which was unusual for the Beast. Theory goes that Castel kept the Beast as a pet or possibly reared a wolf pup to become a killing machine. Although as to what Castel’s motive could have been in setting this monster upon the citizens of Gevaudan has not properly established by theorists.

Werewolf?

And what sort of mystery would this be without a possible supernatural explanation? Even if cynics do call out the overactive imaginations of superstitious 18th century peasants, they would still find it hard to explain the exclusive tastes of the Beast. Why did it only attack humans? What also added to this theory were the accounts of bipedalism in the animal from some eyewitnesses.

In three years, there were over 100 deaths attributed to the murderous beast and a hundred more people who were attacked but who escaped with their lives. The events from 1764 to 1767 were well documented yet almost 250 years later it’s still a topic of debate.

So, my perceptive readers, who or what exactly was the Beast of Gevaudan? Was it an ordinary animal with extraordinary strength? Was it a crossbreed, a mutation? Maybe a human agent was involved, controlling the beast. Were a pack of wolves responsible? Or was it in fact a werewolf???

NM 🙂

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

REFERENCES

Breverton, T. Breverton’s Phantasmagoria: A Compendium of Monsters, Myths and Legends, Lyons Press, USA. 2011.

Smith, J. Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast.Havard College, USA. 2011.

Wikipedia-Beast of Gevaudan

Other interesting sites:

http://www.unknownexplorers.com/beastofgevaudan.php

http://cryptozoology.wikia.com/wiki/Beast_of_Gevaudan

http://cryptidchronicles.tumblr.com/post/26205872354/beast-of-gevaudan

Why I shall be avoiding every author’s swansong from now on.


Reading-wise this hasn’t been a very good year for me. Even though my To-Be-Read List is considerably lighter than it was six months ago, 3 books especially, stand out for having proved big disappointments.

One was legitimately awful while the other two were not bad, but only proved dissatisfying because my expectations of them were so high. I think the disappointments were harder to take considering that all those three books were written by some of my favourite authors. (I had made my choices based on this fact)

One of them being Bram Stoker. As creator of one of the most famous horror novels ever, I thought it worth my while to give another one of his books my attention.

When I say that Lair Of The White Worm was ‘legitimately awful’, I say it with confidence only because I know I’m not being critical. While reading it, I came across far too many WTF moments. Apart from the errors and numerous inconsistencies, some of the scenes, imagery and subplots were so crazy and surreal that the story started to take on farcical proportions. I was left scratching my head as I read of supernatural kite-flying and weird hypnotic mind battles. Not what I expected from the author of Dracula. Even literary scholars have commented negatively on it, so I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about this novel.

However, I will admit, the same cannot be said for the OTHER two books that I read. Both works were critically acclaimed and one of them was highly recommended by people, whose opinions I rate very highly. Therefore I will not mention those two books and conclude that my disappointment with them stem from my own personal tastes rather than any flaws in the works themselves.

However, a strange coincidence revealed itself to me later on.

I’ll point out that all three books are very different in terms of genre, writing style and storylines etc. but they all happened to have one major thing in common: they were the last books these three authors had written before their deaths.  (Mindblown? No? Oh alright…)

On further investigation, I found out some pretty interesting information.

  •  The one unmentionable novel was not yet finished when the author suddenly passed away. The last few chapters were completed by another writer.
  • It is said that Bram Stoker died of syphilis in 1912. By the time he had finished Lair Of The White Worm in 1911, the disease had already reached the advanced stages. Mentally, Syphilis can be characterized by symptoms such as confusion, dementia, delirium and severe depression.

Well this certainly explains all the craziness in the novel!

In view of this new information, my sympathetic side was quick to pardon Mr. Stoker for this literary disaster. But this got me thinking. Should the background knowledge we have about an author affect the way we view their works? Should we allow sympathy to affect our judgement and objectivity? I know of people who refuse to even look at the book sleeve with the author’s bio when they purchase books, choosing to let the work stand on its own.

I’m the opposite however. I like reading up on the backgrounds and interests of the various writers whose works I read. It’s natural curiosity on my part to do so. But what do you think? If you read a book you thought was really bad but realised that the author was seriously ill when he/she wrote it, would you still be critical of it? Or do you think this information would help you to understand the story better?

Also have you ever thought about your WIP and wondered what would become of it if you ever passed away prematurely? A terribly morbid thought I know, but I mean, our stories are like our babies in a way. I assume you would not want it to be forgotten? Would you wish for someone to complete it and attempt to get it published?

And as for my reading luck, as sympathetic as I am towards authors and their personal sufferings, I am now dying to read a novel I know I will enjoy and these three books have now made me very superstitious. As a result I have since struck Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood of my TBR list. No more literary swansongs for me, thank you very much.

NM 🙂

The Strange Case of Deacon Brodie – An HML Post


The term “Jekyll and Hyde” has become a famous metaphor for anyone who is two-faced, hypocritical or deceptive. Even if you have never read Robert Louis Stevenson’s most famous horror novella, you probably know the gist of the story anyway. A well-respected gentleman by day who, with the aid of a potion, turns into a sadistic debauched monster at night in order to fulfil his animalistic tendencies.
It is a supernatural tale of course but did you know that the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was actually inspired by a real person?

The true-life story of Deacon Brodie

Artist’s sketch of Deacon Brodie

William Brodie was born to a prosperous family in Edinburgh in 1741. His father was a respected and reputable cabinet-maker and at the age of 41, William inherited his father’s business and vast fortune. With his financial situation taken care of and a thriving cabinet-making business, he seemed set for life. He acquired many titles as a result of his benevolent reputation: Burgess, Guildbrother and Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and eventually rising to prominence as official Town Councillor.However there was one dark secret that the Honourable Deacon Brodie hid from upper-class Edinburgh society: he was a compulsive gambler and often lost large sums of money as a result. The only people who knew of his weakness were the disreputable inhabitants of Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly-the gambling houses, brothels etc. He often fraternized with petty criminals and other men of disrepute.
To add to his secret activities, he also kept two mistresses, whilst putting up the front of being a responsible family man. Rumour has it that he bore over six illegitimate children.

With his gambling debts mounting and having to support three households, William Brodie was soon strapped for cash. He soon had to find other means of making money while still keeping up the appearance of an honourable and affluent citizen.

Edinburgh plagued by burglaries

Between 1786 and 1788, numerous establishments were burgled and looted with no suspects being apprehended. In March 1788, one John Brown came forth with information pertaining to a robbery that had taken place months before at a silk mercer’s shop on the High Street. He admitted involvement in the robbery and turned himself in (motivated by the generous monetary reward that was publicized as well as a promised reprieve from punishment). He also implicated his friend and accomplice George Smith. Brown also admitted to various other crimes and robberies including an unsuccessful burglary at the Excise Office – a building that stored most of the collected taxes and revenues of the entire country. He left out one vital piece of information however.
While both men were ensconced in the Tolbooth awaiting trial, news broke out that Deacon William Brodie had fled Edinburgh for London leaving absolutely no explanation for his sudden departure. The reason however would soon be revealed.

Deacon Brodie exposed

When John Brown heard that Brodie had fled the Scottish Capital, he dropped the bombshell that would leave Edinburgh High society reeling in shock. Brown revealed how, since 1786, it was actually Brodie who had orchestrated the string of robberies, along with him(Brown), Smith and another man Andrew Ainslie. Brown had initially withheld this information in hopes of bribing the lionized Town Councillor.

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Now that Brodie had disappeared, Brown gave full evidence that brought the Deacon’s double life into the spotlight…

Brodie had been robbing establishments long before the formation of his gang. He would often visit tradesmen for a bit of idle chit-chat at their place of work with a piece of putty concealed in his hands. He would take impressions of the keys to their shops (back in those days, the keys were hung on a nail at the back of a shop) when the owners were busy with other customers, have a copy made and break into the shop later that night.
Robbing humble shopkeepers was not lucrative however and that is when Brodie recruited Brown, Smith(a locksmith) and Ainslie.
Amongst the many ‘jobs’ that the quartet had carried out, it was revealed that it was in fact Brodie’s gang who were responsible for the theft of the College Mace at Edinburgh University in 1787. The disappearance of the silver mace from the College Library made headline news and the next day, Town Councillor Brodie, in true thespian fashion, expressed his shock and outrage at the crime.
Their biggest job however, was not a successful one and inadvertently led to the demise of the gang, resulting in Brown’s confession.
In early 1788, Brodie set his mind on the Excise Office. Given his influence, Brodie had connections within the establishment. Having managed to create a false key to the building, the robbery was planned for the 5th March.

It all goes wrong.

Three of the men found no trouble in entering the building of the Excise Office while Ainslie stood watch outside. The plan went downhill from there however when Ainslie, on seeing an employee rush into the building and then rush out a minute later, panicked and blew the alarm-whistle. He fled thinking their cover had been blown.

He was wrong however. The employee had rushed in having forgotten some documents. The man bumped into Brodie whose presence there raised no suspicions and he left soon after. Brodie, feeling the heat however, departed as well, leaving Smith and Brown in another part of the building.
Smith and Brown ransacked the areas that were most likely to have money stored. But they failed dismally in their search, managing to only find £16. Comically, they missed a secret drawer containing £600!
John Brown was not happy with Brodie for having deserted them and that’s when the gang parted ways.
When the Deacon fled Scotland in March of 1788, a £200 bounty was placed on his head following Brown’s full confession. For months, Brodie evaded capture. His whereabouts were eventually traced to Amsterdam. He was captured and held by Dutch officials until July, when he was returned back to Edinburgh.
Given his fame, Brodie’s trial became the centre of an 18th century version of a media circus. It seemed unbelievable to the people of Edinburgh how such an upstanding member of society could have deceived almost everyone by leading such a life of corruption and wickedness.
On 28th August 1788, Deacon William Brodie was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Inspiration for Jekyll and Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850, more than 60 years after the death of Deacon Brodie. Even though the two men were a generation apart and never met, Stevenson’s father knew the famous Brodie who actually built a cabinet for Stevenson Snr. which currently stands in the Writers’ Museum in the Scottish capital. Stevenson must have heard tales of the famous Brodie as a child.In 1880, Stevenson wrote a play with WE Henly simply titled Deacon Brodie, loosely based on the disgraced former Town Councillor. The author’s interest in Brodie did not wane after that though. The idea of the duality in man’s personality continued to fascinate him and in 1886, he wrote The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which many consider to be a masterpiece in horror fiction.

“I had long been trying to write a story on that strong sense of man’s double being … For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterwards split in two, in which Hyde for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers”. – RL Stevenson

The spirit of Deacon Brodie will forever live on in this invented tale of evil and metamorphosis, proving once again that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. 🙂

NM  🙂

Deacon Brodie Influences

Books/Plays (Fiction)

Deacon Brodie by Stevenson RL. and Henly WE.

Movies

Deacon Brodie (1997) starring Billy Connolly. Dir. Phillip Saville

Main Reference

 Wilson, AJ; Brogan D; McGrail F. Ghostly Tales and Sinister Stories of Old Edinburgh. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh & London. 2003(latest ed.).

References

http://www.robert-louis-stevenson.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brodie
http://www.sawneybean.com/horrors/DeaconBrodie.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Louis_Stevenson

The Tokoloshe – An HML Post


African folklore is rich with stories of famous legends, morality tales, supernatural beings and mythical creatures. Yet they do seem to go unnoticed by the rest of the world.

In the spirit world Europe is famous for its sprites, fairies and goblins. South Africa has its very own version of a diminutive monster which has a reputation for being a source of chaos and terror.

The Tokoloshe is a well-known myth in South Africa, yet to many people it is more than a myth – it is a genuine cause for concern and fear.

A famous sketch of the Tokoloshe.

The word ‘tokoloshe’ is Xhosa in origin and refers to a dwarf-life creature, an African version of the European sprite or brownie. SA’s foremost expert on African culture, the venerable Dr. Credo Mutwa describes the tokoloshe as resembling a ‘ghastly-looking teddy-bear with a hairy body with a sharp bony ridge on its head’. It’s also known to be so well-endowed that it actually carries its extremely long penis over its shoulder (I’m not making this up).

The tokoloshe is a malevolent creature that is said to be conjured up by powerful witchdoctors who use it to cause trouble and inflict terror upon their enemies or the enemies of their clients. In some South African households people still raise their beds up on bricks to prevent the midget-like creature from jumping on. Whether the existence of the Tokoloshe is true or not, the fact that peoples’ beliefs are influenced by this supernatural being cannot be denied. As a result it is often blamed for many disasters and misfortunes.

If I had to list all the murderers who have held the Tokoloshe responsible for the crimes they committed, I would need a couple of more blog posts to do so. I’ll highlight two famous cases for you though, one from the past and one currently making headlines.

During the years 1953 – 1955 one of SA’s most famous serial killers Elifasi Msomi, otherwise known as the Axe Killer, went on a killing spree, murdering 15 people (men, women and children) in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. He claimed that a tokoloshe sat on his shoulder ordering him to kill.

Headline from a SA newspaper in the 1950's. Image taken from Wikipedia

Msomi escaped twice from the police, attributing his lucky breaks to this evil demon. After each escape, he went on to kill more people before finally being captured for the last time. At his execution, the judge allowed the presence of no less than 9 Zulu chieftains to ensure that the tokoloshe did not save him from the hangman’s noose.

That case happened almost 60 years ago. I draw your attention now to a recent event that made headlines in our local newspapers.

On July 19th 2008, 29-year-old Nicolette Lotter stabbed her mother Maria to death, while her brother Hardus strangled their father Johannes. The siblings did not hesitate to confess. Nicolette’s boyfriend at the time, Matthew Naidoo, was also implicated in the murders. According to both brother and sister, Naidoo had considerable influence over them and convinced the siblings to kill their parents. According to Nicolette, he claimed to be the ‘Son of God’ and that their parents deserved to die.

In 2011, Nicolette Lotter dropped a bombshell, claiming that she had been sexually molested by a tokoloshe that often visited her at night. The attacks only stopped when she became intimate with Naidoo. Naidoo became her saviour so-to-speak. Nicolette also accused her domestic worker of practising witchcraft on her and causing her psychological distress. Both siblings were sentenced to 12 years in prison each while Naidoo was given a life sentence

Apart from murder and other crimes, the Tokoloshe has also been blamed for the spread of HIV Aids; and not just in South Africa but in other parts of the African continent as well. One report from Zimbabwe years back claimed that a great percentage of Aids counsellors in the country were convinced that the Tokoloshe visited women at night and raped them in their beds thus spreading the virus. (http://www.safarinewsreel.com/blog/?p=227)

Nicolette Lotter stands trial at the Durban High Court. Image taken from Pretoria News.

On a personal note, the one thing that fascinates me about the myth of the tokoloshe is that its influence crosses cultural and racial boundaries. South Africa is a verifiable melting-pot. But with our turbulent past (consider racial segregation), belief in this little demon is not culturally exclusive. If you are South African or have affiliations with the country in some way, whatever your ethnicity, knowledge of the Tokoloshe is naturally assumed even if you do not believe in it.

If you are from SA and have a story to tell, please don’t hesitate! And if you are not, what do you think about this mischievous little devil of ours?

Don’t forget to check out the great links below for more information on the Tokoloshe!

NM 🙂

Tokoloshe Influences

Movies

Tokoloshe (1971) – starring Sid James, Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Blood Tokoloshe (2012) –  dir. Jordan Harland

A Reasonable Man (1999) – starring Nigel Hawthorne, Gavin Hood

Literature

Tales of the Tokoloshe – Pieter Scholtz and Cherie Treweek (Struik Publishers)

The Tokoloshe Stone – Jay Heale (Tafelberg Publishers)

The Little Man – Nisha Moodley (unpublished) (Sorry, I couldn’t help a little bit of selfless self-promotion there, LOL)

Music

‘Evil Boy’ (2010) – Die Antwoord (Cherrytree Records)

‘Hosh Tokoloshe’ (2011) – Jack Parow (Parowphernalia)

Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikoloshe

http://www.vanhunks.com/tokoloshe1.html

http://www.murderpedia.org/male.M/m/msomi-elifasi.htm

http://www.yorkparanormals.com/profiles/blogs/tikoloshe-african-vampire

Articles

All info on the Lotter case taken from www.iol.co.za

http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/i-was-raped-by-tokoloshe-lotter-1.1175201

http://www.safarinewsreel.com/blog/?p=227

Spring-Heeled Jack, the Scourge of England. An HML Post


50 years before Jack The Ripper terrorized London’s East End in 1888, another Jack gained notoriety in England. For a century he proved to be a terrifying menace, yet to this day nobody has been able to shed light on the true identity of:

SPRING-HEELED JACK

September, 1837. London England. Polly Adams was walking through the area of Clapham late one night when a tall man in a black cape jumped out of nowhere and accosted her on a deserted street. The attacker tore her clothes, grabbed her breasts and clawed her stomach. A policeman found her lying unconscious while on the beat.
A month later, in nearby Barnes Common, Mary Stevens was walking home when a man sprang in front of her from a nearby alley. She suffered a similar ordeal to Polly Adams.

Spring-heeled Jack by artist Anthony Wallis. Image taken from abnormalsanctuary.com

The very next day, not far from where Mary was attacked, the same fiend sprang in front of a moving carriage, scaring the driver and causing him to lose control and crash the vehicle. In full view of the driver and other witnesses, the man took off again, escaping by clearing a 9-foot wall with one bound!

This remarkable feat was not the only unusual feature of this strange entity. More horrific was the description of this person as provided by his victims and witnesses:

A man with bird-like claws for hands, glowing, protruding red eyes with blue flames emitting from his mouth. His face was long with a pointy chin. He wore a black cape and had a maniacal laugh…

And of course, he could jump incredible heights. The whole city of London was now in fear of the entity now known as Spring-heeled Jack. Even the Lord Mayor was forced to get involved after receiving numerous letters from panic-stricken residents. He declared Spring-heeled Jack a ‘public menace’ and an official group of policemen and volunteers was formed to catch the culprit.

More incidents followed and SHJ continued to make headlines.

20 February, 1838, Limehouse District, London. Lucy Scales and her sister were walking home around 8.30pm when Spring-heeled Jack jumped right in front of Lucy and spat blue flames in her face, temporarily blinding her. He made his escape by jumping from the ground onto the roof of a house.

Two days later on February 22nd, he struck again, this time attacking Jane Alsop at her very home in the Bow District.
Late that night, there was a knock on the door and being the only occupant awake in the house, Jane answered it. The late-night visitor claimed to be a policeman and announced that he had captured Spring-Heeled Jack. He demanded that the young girl bring a candle at once for it was very dark outside. When Jane returned with the lit candle, she noticed in its light, that the visitor, with his glowing red eyes, was none other than the fiend himself. He spat blue and white flames in her face and grabbed her hair with his ‘metallic’ claws. He tore at her clothes but luckily Jane’s family were roused by her screams. Her sister came to her rescue and pulled her out of his grasp.

A few more attacks followed but after 1839, there seemed to be a few decades of solace for the people of London, as SHJ disappeared from the limelight…

1877, Aldershot, London. In an army camp in Aldershot, young Private John Regan was attacked- Spring-heeled Jack spat blue flames in his face but then fled when other sentries on duty came to his aid. The bounding menace apparently let out a demonic cackle as he leaped over all the men clearing over 10 feet. The soldiers fired shots at him but it did not seem to affect him.

Spring-heeled Jack Heads North

St. Francis Xavier Church in Liverpool. Image taken from Wikipedia

A month after the Aldershot incident, SHJ was spotted in Lincoln, Lincolnshire. He made other appearances in various parts of England- his last reported sighting being in Liverpool in 1904. Hanging from a steeple of St. Francis Xavier’s Church, onlookers watched in shock as he let go off the steeple, falling straight to the ground. Thinking that he committed suicide, they rushed to the spot where he landed. To their surprise, they found a cloaked figure, standing, unhurt. He then ‘raised his arms and took off’.
This last sighting was over a hundred years ago. The legend of Spring-heeled Jack has become a mystery of the past. Or has it?

14 February, 2012. Scott Martin and his family were travelling home by taxi from Stoneleigh at around 10pm on Valentine’s Day, when they saw a strange man run across the road at lightning speed and jump over 15ft wall on the side of the road. The family were terrified by the apparition and the cab driver refused to drive back alone.

Hoax & Hysteria?

A few eyewitness accounts have suggested rational explanations for SHJ’s supposedly supernatural feats.
One witness claimed to see a spring apparatus attached to his leg (hence his name). Another stated that he had seen an emblem/crest beneath Jack’s cloak, suggesting that the fiend was of royal stock. In 1838, the Lord Mayor received a letter claiming that the chauvinistic Marquis of Waterford was responsible for the attacks. The ‘Mad Marquis’, as he was known, was notorious for playing sadistic tricks on women and became the police’s number one suspect until he moved to Ireland in 1843. The possibility that there could have been more than one Spring-Heeled Jack, is very likely.

I have not read a sceptic’s thoughts on the blue flames and the high-jumping however. I have made an attempt at calculations regarding the leaping. According to a few websites, an average NBA Basketball star can jump up to 30 inches vertically (that’s 2.5 feet). Michael Jordan can reportedly jump up to 40 inches (3 feet). SHJ was said to clear walls of 10 feet! The world high-jump record, which currently stands at 2.5 metres (8 feet) comes close but doesn’t apply as SHJ used to leap forward and land on his feet (something I’ve never seen a high-jumper do!).

As for the blue flames, I was reminded of The Hound Of The Baskervilles where the said hound’s supernatural appearance was due to a phosphorus mixture. Considering that scientists dismiss this as artistic licence on ACD’s part, for in real life phosphorus would have killed the dog, I think we can dismiss this as an explanation for Spring-Heeled Jack’s mouth of flames as well.

So my perceptive readers, what do you think? Was Spring-heeled Jack an elaborate hoax? Or was something more sinister afoot?

NM 🙂

Fiction influenced by Spring-Heeled Jack

– Spring-Heeled Jack by Philip Pullman.
– Spring-Heeled Jack , The Attercliffe Prowler(Graphic Novel) by Craig Daley

Other ‘real’ related Monsters

– The Mothman
– The Perak (of Czechoslovakia)
– The Monkey Man (of India)

REFERENCES

http://www.springheeled-jack.com/index.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring-heeled_Jack

Boar, R. & Blundell N. The World’s Greatest: Unsolved Crimes. Octopus Books Ltd. 1984.

http://www.thecobrasnose.com/xxghost/shj.html

Guest Blogger – Armand Rosamilia


Hey guys, today I’m proud to present my first ever guest blogger in the form of Horror writer Armand Rosamilia. Armand is currently on a blog tour to promote the latest book in his Dying Days series. There are chances to win a copy too, so check out the details at the end of this post. I hand you over now to Armand…

Product Placement

I remember, in my early twenties, subscribing to Writer’s Digest, and seeing so many ads from Jeep, Coke and others. But not just regular ads, these ran full-page and said something to the effect: “Jeep is a registered trademark. You can say car, auto, SUV, automobile, riding thing with wheels, motorized car – but don’t say Jeep or we’ll sue you.”

Author Armand Rosamilia

Now I actually don’t remember them saying they’d sue me, and I’ve used the word Jeep in a story or two in the last twenty+ years of writing.  I’ve also mentioned McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and a bunch of other restaurants, food items (a Diet Coke seems more realistic in a tale than ‘generic soda’, and everyone knows its cooler to say Budweiser than ‘generic beer’, right?), and used real places in my stories like hotels, cities, airlines, Styrofoam (they had an ad as well, now that I think of it)…

I’ve also been edited in several short stories over the years, where I’ve mentioned the protagonist and his whimsical sidekick were eating at Dairy Queen and talking, and the editor came back with ‘can’t use a real place, make something up’ or ‘make it a non-descript restaurant.’ Did I agree with that? Nah. No, if I’d said Satan worked the grill at Burger King and was cooking souls and making them anyway you ordered it, sure I could see a problem. I just never subscribed to the fictional world where you strip all reality out of it, no Hondas, no Walmart, no White Castle, and no Barbie Doll. Yet, I keep getting edited on the side of caution and told simply ‘you can’t use real things.’
But is that right, and is it realistic?

Not really. Think about writing a story with your hero using his new pair of Nike running shoes to get across town to the Texaco to buy Kleenex and a pack of Marlboros for his wife, before jogging to the Olive Garden to pick up dinner.
Is there anything wrong there? Nope, it’s benign product placement and it dips your tale in reality. A boring reality, but reality nevertheless.                                                                         Now, suppose our villain is using his Nike shoes – outfitted with laser beams and a saw-blade on the toes – and going down to Texaco to buy crack, which he wraps in Kleenex to transport in the Marlboro boxes, and takes his stash to Olive Garden, where he picks up dinner (even villains have to eat). Is that going to get you sued?
Actually, if you were Stephen King or James Patterson it might, although they wouldn’t even try to add that scenario in and their editor would have a cow.                                       But you and I? Nah. Unless your story goes viral, sells a ton of copies or someone makes a huge huff about it… actually, nah. No one would touch that one, and no company would waste their time with a lawsuit with some ‘unknown’ writer.
Would I write that? Never. In the case where I’ve added an evil company or product that directly affects things, I make it up myself. It’s fun that way.
But I’ll still get an editor in my future who insists I take out Cheetos (Cheesy Poofs, perhaps?) or Clorox or Hefty, even though it isn’t an evil item after world domination.
I once had an editor delete my throw-away line in a zombie flash fiction piece “You can’t leave, all the plants will die”… as if Bill Murray and the producers of the movie Stripes would be upset I stole it from them, or sue her and have her anthology removed forcibly from the store shelves.

But that’s another story all together…

Armand Rosamilia

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I’m actually running a Giveaway for my Dying Days series of zombie books, although you might not have gotten that from the blog post… anyway…

Want to know more about the Dying Days series? Want to win free eBooks and maybe print books of them? My contest is simple: e-mail me at armandrosamilia@gmail.com with DYING DAYS in the subject line and I’ll enter you into the daily giveaway… also, post a comment here and you get another chance… follow my blog at http://armandrosamilia.com for yet another chance, and friend me on Twitter (@ArmandAuthor) and simply post DYING DAYS to me, and you’ll get another shot… nice and easy, right? If I get enough people joining in the giveaway there will be a print book given away that day!

Dying Days series information can be found here: http://armandrosamilia.com/dying-days-series/

The Most Famous Night in the History of Horror


In the summer of 1816, a couple holidayed with their friends at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The man, Percy, despite being married to another woman, fell in love with a girl named Mary and the two lovers eloped to the Europe subcontinent together. They were joined at Lake Geneva by their friend Gordon and his personal physician John.

The Villa Diodati, near Lake Geneva. Image permitted courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Swiss summer that year was a wet one and one night, all four companions found themselves in front of a cozy fire in Gordon’s private villa. Outside, an angry tempest provided the perfect backdrop for the reading of ghost stories. Their reading list for the night consisted of various German stories from a book called ‘Tales Of The Dead’.
As the night progressed Gordon came up with an idea.

“We will each write a ghost story,” he suggested imperatively.
Thus began a competition to see who could come up with the scariest tale. The rest of their holiday seemed dedicated to this endeavour.

Percy started a story based on his childhood experiences but with his forte being poetry, he struggled with straightforward prose and failed to complete his tale. Gordon also failed to complete his story about a vampire and John’s efforts, constituting a “skull-like” ghost bride who takes revenge on her faithless groom, failed to impress and he was forced to abandon his creation as well (The good doctor was, however, very impressed with Gordon’s blood-sucking character and intended to write a novel based on this vampire, which he subsequently did).

18-year-old Mary struggled to produce anything at first.
But having recently suffered the loss of her first child and having to listen to discussions about galvanism between the 3 men, the Muses soon took over and Mary wrote a reanimation tale about a monster so chilling and macabre, that when she eventually submitted it to a publisher in 1817, they could not believe a woman wrote it.

Mary named her novella ‘The Modern Prometheus’ but later changed it.
Frankenstein, as it’s now known, is considered a classic masterpiece and according to some, gave birth to a new genre – science fiction.

As some of you have probably guessed, the characters in my little story above were none other than Mary Wolstoncraft Godwin, her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dr. John Polidori and Gordon was none other than Mr. Controversial himself- Lord Byron.

When I first read about this I was completely fascinated. I love reading about how authors got inspiration for their famous novels. But what made this event at Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati even more remarkable was that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not the only horror classic that owes its existence to that historic night.

As I mentioned, John Polidori was very impressed with the vampire character that Byron had created. And even though the doctor’s story proved a flop, he later wrote a novel called ‘The Vampyre’ (1819) based on Byron’s creation.
The novel’s main character Lord Ruthven is considered by some websites and literary scholars to be the first aristocratic vampire in English fiction.
More than 70 years later, an Irish author named Abraham Stoker would write a ground-breaking novel whose main character is now deeply embedded in the psyche of popular culture. Stoker listed Lord Ruthven as inspiration for this very character. Few people I think would dare disagree with me if I said Dracula, even after a century, is still the most famous vampire novel ever written.

How is it that one night, one prompt from a competitive literary genius like Byron, one night spent by the fireplace could give birth to a horror classic and also indirectly inspire another?
This question intrigued me, so much so, that I went on a studious quest to recreate that memorable evening (in my head of course). Unfortunately, there are so many different versions of what happened that night in Lake Geneva and in the subsequent days and months that followed, that I almost became frustrated with the lack of consistency.
Luckily my copy of Frankenstein (OneWorldClassics) contained an Introduction written by Mary herself, chronicling (albeit vaguely) her experiences of that night (my little retelling at the beginning of this post is based on her account).

So what does it take to inspire a great horror novel? Or any great novel for that matter?

Is nature important? Atmospheric mood and the natural elements seem to have played a key part in Frankenstein. And the influence of Switzerland’s natural beauty is clearly evident in Mary Shelley’s writing.

Image of the original Frankenstein manuscript, with scribbles/outtakes by Percy Shelley

Maybe pedigree plays a part? Both Mary’s parents happened to be distinguished writers in their own right. Or just maybe that age-old advice about surrounding yourself with the right type of people rings true?
Percy Shelley and Lord Byron were both considered poetic geniuses. Byron had already played his part in the creation of Frankenstein by prompting the creativity in his friends, and Percy, not only proofread and edited the first draft of Frankenstein but also supported and encouraged his wife with her writing career up until his death(like any good literary husband should!).
Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors that results in the telling of a great ‘ghost’ story. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from Mary herself. There was no doubt that she had talent and was hailed in even higher esteem than her husband and colleagues but inspiration has to come from somewhere. Something magical happened that night in Lake Geneva which cannot be explained.
If not, then is it just one big coincidence that two of the greatest horror novels ever written find themselves linked by a situation as innocuous as four friends sitting around a fire telling ghost stories? I leave you to decide for yourselves.

Whatever the case may be however, if you are a writer or in a creative profession, I hope inspiration comes to you, situations favour you and luck finds you in all your endeavours.

Happy writing!

NM 🙂

References:

– Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Author’s Introduction to the Standard Novels Edition. OneWorld Classics. 1818 (last ed. 2008).

John Polidori and the Vampyre Byron

Folkroots: Vampires in Folklore and Literature by Theodora Goss