Friday, 20 April 2012

Truly Remarkable Animations

This is a highly imaginative adaptation of the Victorian phenakistiscope method of animation. For a little more on the phenakistiscope click here. 

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Art of Misquoting to Butter Your Bread on Both Sides

As an adolescent I read many horror and science fiction books. One of the anthologists who enabled readers to enjoy stories from periodicals such as Weird Tales and other pulps was Peter Haining. His interest in the outrĂ© was such that he also wrote books on legends, folklore and suchlike. Recently I bought his The Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook and A Dictionary of Vampires and A Dictionary of Ghosts. Prior to that, I was a teenager the last time I bought any books by him. Over the years I’ve sold on my copies of the anthologies by him (apart from the Weird Tales books) and kept his popular reference books for use in the study of folklore, superstition, etc. While not academic books, to me his books always appeared a cut above other popular press books on similar topics. Haining’s books appeared well-researched whereas the other books seem cobbled together from any old where.

There have been times when curiosity would inspire me to track down the sources quoted by Haining so I could read the original folklore or myth. My curiosity was aroused within minutes of beginning to read Haining’s A Dictionary of Vampires. I had flicked through the pages and saw Utukku being given as a type of vampire and the source of this information being from The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia by R. Campbell Thompson, 1903. Two things perplexed me. The first being that the folklore concept of vampires is, compared to other folklore on supernatural nasties that prey on human beings, a relatively new one measurable in centuries – whereas writings on other nasties go back thousands of years. There are recent publications, aimed at a teenage audience of vampire films, that claim that vampires are mentioned in ancient writings. The misrepresentation of ancient myths on monsters, ghosts and demons as being about vampires is not new. Montague Summers did as much in his books at the beginning of the twentieth century. But I admit I was surprised at the possibility of Haining doing that. I thought, perhaps, he had found something others had missed. I consulted my copy of Thompson’s two volume work for the quote given and felt a deep seated disappointment about a writer I’ve admired for most of my life.

Haining claimed that the Utukku of Egypt “is one of the oldest vampires of all and records of it preying on human victims have been found in some of the earliest papyrus scrolls.” Haining quotes Campbell as having written “The Utukku, or Departed Spirit, was the soul of a dead person who, for some reason, could find no rest and wandered over the earth lying in wait to seize upon men.” Haining goes on to describe their appearance as being “more like ghosts than beings of flesh and blood” and ends the entry on Utukku relating how to appease their searching for human blood.

Don’t bother looking for the quote given from Campbell; it doesn’t exist. Despite Haining putting it in quotation marks, the sentence is merely an inaccurate summary of a number of pages where Campbell describes a shortlist of demons and evil spirits, none of which are vampires. Also, Haining ascribed the Utukku to the wrong ancient race; the Utukku is not Egyptian and mentioned on papyrus scrolls, it is Assyrian and mentioned in cuneiform texts on clay tablets. What Campbell actually wrote of the Utukku is:

“The first evil spirit, utukku, was originally a spirit, spectre, or ghost, since it is once at least used of the Spectre of a dead man raised from the Underworld. This form of magic — necromancy — was a favourite method employed for looking into the future in the East in ancient times, and a remarkable instance of it occurs in the Epic of Gilgamish. The story runs that the hero Gilgamish appeals to the god Nergal to restore his friend Ea-bani to him, and his prayer is answered, for the god opens the earth and the utukku of Ea-bani rises up " like the wind," that is, probably a transparent spectre in the human shape of Ea-bani, who converses with Gilgamish. The same ideas and beliefs were current among the Hebrews, for when Saul goes to visit the "woman with a familiar spirit" at En-dor she brings up Samuel out of the earth, and he answers the questions which Saul wishes to ask. Among the Assyrians "Raiser of the Departed Spirit" was a recognized title of the sorcerer, and from this and the story in the Gilgamish Epic it is evident that such practices as necromancy were not uncommon. How far the utukku differed from the ekimmu (which is the proper word for a departed spirit) is difficult to say; it was a ghost or spectre that either lurked in the desert lying in wait for man, or it might have its home in the mountains, sea, or graveyard, and evil would befall him on whom it merely cast its eye.”

In other words an Utukku is, as Campbell calls it, an evil spirit. Notice there is no mention of any searching for blood or physically attacking anyone. So, in folklore, an Utukku is a malevolent ghost and not a vampire. Was this an honest mistake by Haining? Did Haining misinterpret Campbell? Sadly, the answer can be shown to be no by looking in A Dictionary of Ghosts by Haining under the entry for Utukku. Here Haining writes “The utukku was the name given by the ancient Assyrians to the ghost of evil intentions that lay in wait for unsuspecting travellers.” Both dictionaries by Haining contain further anomalies of a similar nature and they appear to have been consciously made, such as the Ekimmu which his book on vampires claims it to be a vampire and his book on ghosts claims it to be a ghost.

The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia by R. Campbell Thompson, 1903.
A Dictionary of Ghosts by Peter Haining, 1982.
A Dictionary of Vampires by Peter Haining, 2000.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The LaBaL, April issue is out now!

April's issue of The LaBaL is out now. For subscription details or to purchase a single issue contact the editor Al Smith at