Rank #1: #24 One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard
Caradog Prichard’s One Moonlit Night was originally published in Welsh in 1961. The book is a classic of Welsh literature, which though greatly admired in its native country, is still shamefully neglected in the English-speaking world. Set in a small village in North Wales, One Moonlit Night is the breathless monologue of a young boy who unveils the sorrows and torments, the ecstasies and revelations of a poverty stricken, but close-knit community as it weathers the distant storm of the First World War.
Over the course of the episode, we discuss the significance of The Great War in the book, Prichard’s narratorial style, and consider whether One Moonlit Night may be thought of as a political novel.
The wonderful readings in this episode are by Tris Rhys, a listener who very kindly offered his services and his Welsh-language skills, for which we’re very grateful.
Welsh Gothic by Jane Aaron (University of Wales Press, 2013)
Oct 27 2019
Rank #2: #23 Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope MIrrlees was originally published in 1926. Lud-in-the-Mist is the name of the capital city of the fictional free state of Dorimare, a country which shares a border with Fairyland, just across The Debatable Hills. Centuries ago, under the rule of Duke Aubrey, Fairy things had been part of life and culture in Dorimare. After a violent revolution, a new merchant class took over the country. Duke Aubrey was expelled and all mention of Fairies and Fairy lore became taboo. The smuggling of hallucination-inducing fairy fruit into Dorimare continues, however, behind closed doors. When Nathaniel Chanticleer, the Mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist finds that his son has ingested some of this heinous fruit, the old ways, the traditions and romance of the Fairies can no longer be ignored.
Over the course of the episode, we discuss the methods Mirrlees’ novel has in common with Modernist practice, the various allegorical interpretations that offer themselves throughout the text, and the emergent class politics suggested by her depiction of the fairy folk.
Attebury, Brian, ‘“Make it Old”: The Other Mythic Method’ in The Mirror of the Past, ed. Bogdan Trocha, Aleksander Rzyman, Tomasz Ratajczak (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014)
Mirrlees, Hope, Collected Poems, ed. Sandeep Parmar, (Fyfield Books, 2011)
Sep 23 2019
Elder Sign: A Weird Fiction Podcast
The Casual Academic: A Literary Podcast
A Podcast to the Curious - The M.R. James Podcast
London Review Bookshop Podcast
Between The Covers : Conversations with Writers in Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry
The Poetry Magazine Podcast
The TLS Podcast
The H.P Lovecraft Literary Podcast
Rank #3: #12 Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker was originally published in 1980. The novel is set in Kent some two or three thousand years after a nuclear holocaust which has destroyed the land, plunging society back to iron-age levels of technology. Its foundational myth, the Eusa story, grown out of the scattered fragments of ancient history, is the story of how technological progress led to the nuclear war and the long dark age which is referred to as “Bad Time.” After the death of his father in an accident at work, Riddley, our narrator, eventually finds himself leaving the community and heading out alone on a quest to rediscover and perhaps return to prosperity of the ancients. The story is told in an imagined, future dialect of English which, though rugged and decayed, has its own alien poetry.
Over the course of the episode, we discuss Hoban’s invented dialect, his plundering of English folklore, what it means to create a mythology, and the pivotal significance of the figure of The Green Man.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation by Simon Armitage (Faber & Faber, 2007)
The Death of Tragedy by George Steiner (Faber & Faber, 1961)
‘Hoap of a Tree in Riddley Walker’ by David Huisman in Christianity and Literature, Vol. 43, No. 3/4 (Spring-Summer 1994)
‘Dialect, Grapholect, and Story: Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker as Science Fiction’ by R. D. Mullen in Science Fiction Studies Vol. 27, No. 3 (Nov., 2000)
Sep 23 2018
Rank #4: #10 The Ship by Hans Henny Jahnn
Hans Henny Jahnn was a German organ-builder, playwright and novelist.
In this episode, we look at the only novel of his available in English, The Ship (1949), a beguilingly dark, allegorical tale set aboard a wooden ship with blood red sails which embarks upon an unknown mission, carrying an unknown cargo, a mystery to both captain and crew. The reasons for the journey are perhaps understood only by the shady figure of the supercargo as well as the shipowner, whose presence is as uncertain as the contents of the boxes in the ship's hold. The captain, Waldemar Strunck, has a daughter, Ellena, who follows him on this voyage, while Gustave, her fiancé, takes himself aboard as a stowaway in order not to be separated from his beloved. In the middle of the ship's journey, Ellena disappears, and in the search for her, Gustave must confront the very fabric of reality.
Over the course of the episode, we discuss Jahnn's curious mixing of genres, the interplay between the hidden and the revealed, and speculate upon the possible allegorical intentions of the text.
'Apologie des Untergangs: Ästhetische Erfahrung in Hans Henny Jahnns "Fluß ohne
Ufer"' by Christoph Zeller in Poetica, Vol. 35, No. 1/2 (2003)
Hans Henny Jahnn: eine Biografie (1986) by Thomas Freeman
'The Theme of the Black Race in the Works Of Hans Henny Jahnn' by Richard Detsch in Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2, LITERATURE AND IDEAS (Winter, 1974)
Jul 10 2018
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Rank #5: #4 At Twilight They Return by Zyranna Zateli
In this episode, we look at Zyranna Zateli's At Twilight They Return: a Novel in Ten Tales (1993), translated by David Connolly. Set during the final decades of the 19th century, the novel tells the vivid and meandering history of several generations of a single family in northern Greece. As the modern world begins encroach upon the ancient, the border between the mythic and the real becomes porous, and in Zateli's hands, both are able to exist in a perpetual twilight.
Over the course of our discussion, we consider the transitional period of the book's setting, the symbolism of wolves, and examine Zateli's curious weaving together of folklore and mythology.
Dec 03 2017
Rank #6: #25 The Mainz Psalter by Jean Ray
Jean Ray’s The Mainz Psalter was originally published in 1930. We read the story in Jeff and Ann Vandermeer’s anothology, The Weird, and the translation is by Lowell Blair. The story tells the grizzly tale of The Mainz Psalter, a ship en route to Greenland under the ownership of the shadowy figure of the schoolmaster, with a purpose that remains a mystery to its crew. As the ship sails deeper into northern waters, reality begins to bend in peculiar directions and the crew’s number dwindles. Those who remain have doubts as to whether this is indeed the reality they had known.
Over the course of the episode, we discuss the literary lineage of Jean Ray’s tale, its relationship with cosmic horror, and the peculiar treatment of religion within the text.
The music in this episode is by Penitent Whisper. You can hear more of their music here: https://penitentwhisper.bandcamp.com/releases
Lyrical Ballads (1798) by William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge
‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927) by H. P. Lovecraft
The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells
Oct 30 2019
Rank #7: #22 The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas
The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas was originally published in Nynorsk in 1957, and is available from Peter Owen books and now also as a Penguin Modern Classics edition. The translation is by Michael Barnes and Torbjorn Stoverud. The central character of The Birds is Mattis, a mentally disabled man, living with his sister in a small rural community in Norway. We observe Mattis as he attempts to navigate the obstacles of everyday life - the obligations of work, family relationships and even romantic love. Mattis’ transcendental, or even visionary inner life, keenly evoked by Vesaas’ spare and lucid prose, is far richer than it appears to those around him. At the core of the novel, is Mattis’ struggle with the border between experience and expression in a world where birds seem to understand more than people.
Over the course of the programme, we discuss the role of the woodcock as a symbol, Vesaas’ sensitive and generous treatment of mental disability, and the possibility of viewing Mattis as an artist figure.
Jul 19 2019
Rank #8: #18 The Witches of Kyiv by Orest Somov
The Witches of Kyiv and Other Gothic Tales collects a range of stories by Ukrainian Romantic author, Orest Somov which were originally published between 1827 and 1833. This collection comes from Sova Books and the translations are by Svitlana Yakovenko. The book also features a helpful glossary and annotations, as well as excellent introduction by Svitlana Krys.
Though written in Russian, these gothic tales draw heavily on Ukrainian folklore, and introduce a distinctly regional flavour to the palette of the Romantic literature of the 1820s and ‘30s. Bold Cossack warriors, perilously seductive water sprites, and cunning witches haunt the pages of the collection, and bring into being the theories espoused by Somov in his seminal essay of 1823, ‘On Romantic Poetry’.
In this episode, I’m joined by Dr Keith Walmsley to discuss the work and influence of this forgotten innovator of Romantic prose in Russian. Over the course of the programme, we discuss Somov’s role as the originator of many motifs that will echo throughout Russian and Ukrainian literature, consider his relationship with Russia, and examine the import of the various folkloric figures which populate his tales.
‘Orest Somov: An Introduction’ by John Mersereau in The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 43, No. 101 (June, 1965), pp. 354-370 (the Modern Humanities Research Association and University College London)
The Holy Fool in Russian Culture by Eva Thompson (University Press of America, 1987)
Russian Romantic Criticism: An Anthology edited by Lauren G. Leighton (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987)
Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2001)
Были и небылицы, Орест Михайлович Сомов (Сов. Россия, 1984)
Mar 31 2019
Rank #9: #5 The Man Whom the Trees Loved by Algernon Blackwood
In this episode, we look at Algernon Blackwood's story, 'The Man Whom the Trees Loved', which was published in his collection Pan's Garden (1912). The story concerns David and Sophia Bittacy, a married couple living on the edge of the New Forest. Under the influence of the bohemian painter, Sanderson, David becomes increasingly obsessed with the inner life of the trees in the neighbouring forest.
Over the course of our discussion, we consider Algernon Blackwood's place in the Gothic tradition, the symbolism of cedars, and explore the dual possibilities of supernatural and psychological readings of the story.
Jan 14 2018
Rank #10: #21 Graves: An Interview with Quentin S. Crisp
On this episode of Sherds Podcast, I’m joined by writer, Quentin S. Crisp, to discuss his new novel, Graves (2019), published by Snuggly Books, who give the following description of the book:
In Graves, Damien, a male nurse and self-styled ‘thanatophile’, is in love with death in its purer and more ideal form. However, as he casts around for some authentic way to defy the void of modernity, his thanatophilia is swiftly and insidiously corrupted. Scavenging what ‘materials’ he can, he works in isolation like a reverse Doctor Frankenstein, wishing to understand the secrets of death, not life, in order to break the narrative power of science over the modern mind.
Set against the backdrop of anomie-drenched 21st-century London, Graves, Quentin S. Crisp’s second major novel, is a work of Gothic horror that confronts the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness in a world where it is easier to believe in artificial intelligence than human intelligence.
Over the course of the programme we discuss the influence of Japanese Literature on Crisp’s work, the importance of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Graves, and the moral complexities of antinatalism.
Some of the authors mentioned by Crisp throughout the programme are:
Nagai Kafu - you can read about Quentin S. Crisp’s relationship with this writer here: https://mathewfriley.com/2010/08/quentin-s-crisp-the-book-i-would-like-to-be-buried-with/
Justin Isis - http://justinisis.blogspot.com/ - whose two collections of stories, I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like (2011), and Welcome to the Arms Race (2015) are both published by Chômu Press: http://chomupress.com/
Jeremy Reed - http://www.jeremyreed.co.uk/
Zdravka Evtimova - http://www.contemporarybulgarianwriters.com/1-writers/evtimova-zdravka/
Brendan Connell - whose novel, Clark (2016), is singled out for special mention: http://www.snugglybooks.co.uk/clark/
About the Author:
Quentin S. Crisp was born in 1972, in North Devon, UK. He studied Japanese at the University of Durham and graduated in 2000. He has had fiction published by Tartarus Press, PS Publishing, Eibonvale Press and others. He currently resides in Bexleyheath, and is editor for Chômu Press.
May 26 2019
Rank #11: #20 Hauntings by Vernon Lee
In this episode, I’m joined by Patricia Pulham, Professor of Victorian Literature at The University of Surrey, to discuss Vernon Lee’s collection of supernatural tales, Hauntings (1890).
The book collects four of Vernon Lee’s ghost stories, ‘Amour Dure’, ‘Dionea’, ‘Oke of Okehurst’, and ‘A Wicked Voice’, which together represent some of the finest examples of the genre, and reflect Lee’s deep engagement with Italian art, her sensitivity to place, and her imaginative relationship with the vestigial, fragmentary manifestations of history.
Over the course of the programme, we discuss Lee’s preference for a more restrained form of horror, her evocation of the settings in her texts, and take an in-depth look at music in her story, ‘A Wicked Voice’.
Art and the Transitional Object in Vernon Lee's Supernatural Tales by Patricia Pulham (Ashgate Publishing, 2008)
Vernon Lee: Decadence, Ethics, Aesthetics ed. Patricia Pulham, Catherine Maxwell (Palgrave, 2006)
Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography by Vineta Colby, (University of Virgina Press, 2003).
Apr 29 2019
Rank #12: #9 The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough
‘The Wind’ concerns the fate of Letty, a young girl plucked out of a life of ease in Virginia and forced to move to the plains of Sweetwater, Texas at the height of a terrible drought in the 1880s. Letty struggles to acclimatise in this new, hostile environment – its ugly, arid vistas and its harsh manners – but it is the incessant wind that strikes her most deeply. As her isolation increases, she begins mentally to imbue the wind with supernatural power, coming to believe that it intends to destroy her and everything she holds dear.
Jun 20 2018
Rank #13: #15 Beirut Nightmares by Ghada Samman
Ghada Samman’s ‘Beirut Nightmares’ was originally published in Arabic in 1976. Set at the height of the Lebanese Civil War, this autobiographical novel concerns two weeks in the life of a journalist and writer living at the heart of the warzone. With the conflict raging outside, and snipers on every corner, she is unable to leave her flat. The horror of the waking world soon finds its way into the dreamscape where disembodied limbs roam the flaming streets, and mannequins come to life.
Over the course of the programme, we discuss the strange mixture of realistic depictions of war and fantastical nightmares, boredom as a literary theme, and the clash between ideology and aesthetics within the novel.
Arab Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide 1873-1999 (2008, The American University in Cairo Press)
‘Arab Causes in the Fiction of Ghada Al-Samman 1961-1975’ by Hanan Awwad, reviewed by Miriam Cooke (Al-'Arabiyya, Vol. 17, No. 1/2 (Spring & Autumn 1984), pp. 129-133
‘The Square Moon: Supernatural Tales’ by Ghada Samman and Issa J. Boullata, reviewed by Evelyne Accad (World Literature Today, Vol. 73, No. 4, Celebrating Czesław Miłosz (Autumn, 1999), pp. 811-812
Dec 19 2018
Rank #14: #16 The Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen
One contemporary reviewer referred to The Hill of Dreams (1907) as the “study, rather than the story, of a morbid temperament.” Often regarded as Machen’s masterpiece, this beautiful and idiosyncratic novel concerns the short life of a young writer, Lucian Taylor, and follows his journey from the Welsh countryside of his boyhood to the squalor of late 19th-century London. In an attempt to commune with a reality beyond our own, a plane of existence accessible only to the true artistic visionary, Lucian sacrifices himself and becomes a martyr to aesthetic ideals.
Over the course of the programme, we discuss the book’s place within the decadent movement, Machen’s moral position regarding his main character, and the traces of opium that stain the novel’s pages.
‘Arthur Machen: Ecstasy and Epiphany’ by NIcholas Freeman in Literature and Theology, Vol. 24, No. 3 (September 2010), pp. 242-255
‘Abominable Transformations: Becoming-Fungus in Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams’ by Anthony Camara in The EcoGothic in the Long Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press)
Mark Valentine’s ‘Introduction’ in The Hill of Dreams (1907) by Arthur Machen (Tartarus Press)
The Friends of Arthur Machen website: http://www.arthurmachen.org.uk/
‘Lucian in the Labyrinth: London Locations in The Hill of Dreams’ in The Library of the Lost : In Search of Forgotten Authors by Roger Dobson (Caermaen Books and Tartarus Press, 2015)
Decadent and Occult Works by Arthur Machen, ed. by Denis Denisoff (Modern Humanities Research Association, 2018)
The Paris Notebooks (2017) by Quentin S. Crisp
Feb 02 2019
Rank #15: #7 I Burn Paris by Bruno Jasieński
Jasieński’s I Burn Paris upset the French authorities enough to have him expelled from the country upon its publication . The story concerns a plague that breaks out in Paris, which exposes the worst tendencies of the city’s inhabitants. As the death toll rises, the city breaks down and groups begin to isolate themselves according to ethnicity, nationality and ideology. In today’s political climate, the book is perhaps more relevant than ever and serves as a stark warning about the perils of isolationism.
Over the course of the episode, we look at I Burn Paris in the light of Jasieński life and politics, consider the influence Futurism on the novel, and explore the communist message its core.
Nina Kolesnikoff, Bruno Jasieński: His Evolution from Futurism to Socialist Realism (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1983)
Marci Shore, Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generations Life and Death in Marxism 1918 - 1968 (Yale University Press, 2006)
Aleksandr Wat, My Century (University of California Press, 1988), trans. Richard Lourie
Excerpt from Jasieński's poem read by Andrzej Girdwoyń - wolnelektury.pl
Mar 31 2018