Archive for Gothic

The Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens

Posted in Books, Christmas, Ghosts with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2014 by mysearchformagic

There something about this time of year, with its early sunsets and long, dark nights, that lends itself to the reading of ghost stories. Huddled close to the fire with the wind howling outside, there is nothing more magical than enjoying a supernatural tale or two on a chilly evening. This winter I have been dipping into the ghost stories of Charles Dickens, and very good they are too.

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Everyone has heard of A Christmas Carol of course, with its assorted spooks and ghouls who teach the miserly Scrooge some important lessons about goodwill to all men. This all-time classic has inspired all sorts of films, plays and TV adaptations, and I never tire of reading the original. The edition of the stories that I have, which is entitled The Complete Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens, also features some lovely reproductions of the original Victorian illustrations. This famous image of Scrooge visited by Marley’s Ghost, drawn by John Leech in 1843, is particularly chilling.

Marley's Ghost by John Leech

Marley’s Ghost by John Leech

But there is more to Dickens’ ghost stories than just A Christmas Carol. The rest of the tales in this volume are a diverse bunch, a few of them a bit silly and fun, and some really rather scary. There is even another seasonal piece, the lesser known Christmas Ghosts, which includes a number of short vignettes featuring festive phantoms. Dickens himself was apparently rather sceptical when it came to things that go bump in the night, but that didn’t stop him from writing some fabulous stories on the subject. In fact, he is now recognised as one of the first authors to take the ghost story out of the of fantastical Gothic mansion of previous tales, and place it in a more recognisable domestic setting.

It seems a bit strange that the festive season is now associated with ghost stories, but I am certainly not going to complain. While I love such paranormal yarns at any time of year, I enjoy them even more around the winter holidays. So if, like me, you enjoy a bit of a creepy Christmas, then check out the ghost stories of Charles Dickens – if you dare!

The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Posted in History, Museum, Oxford, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I spent a few days in Oxford last week, a beautiful town that is most definitely packed with magic. One of the most intriguing places that I visited was the Pitt Rivers Museum, situated in a suitably gothic building and home to Oxford University’s vast anthropological and archaeological collections.

The wondefully gothic exterior of the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford

The wondefully gothic exterior of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Originally founded in 1884 by the magnificently named Lt-General Augustus Pitt Rivers, the original donation of 22,000 objects has now grown to an amazing 500,000, with many of them packed into the maze of glass cases that fills the museum today.

The packed interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

The packed interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

The museum collection includes weird and wonderful items from all over the world, many of them collected and donated by explorers, missionaries and scholars during the last century. I wandered round on my own, but quickly noticed lots of eyes staring at me from spooky tribal masks, ancient sculptures and cases full of colourful puppets. This Indian ‘Scare Devil’, which was believed to keep malevolent spirits at bay, sent a shiver down my spine.

A googly-eyed 'Scare Devil' from India

A googly-eyed ‘Scare Devil’ from India

There also seem to be an inordinate number of human skulls, many of them adorned in strange, magical ways. I was particularly drawn to one skull from Nigeria which had been elaborately decorated with feathers as part of local burial rites.

An elaborately decorated human skull from Nigeria in the Pitt Rivers Museum

An elaborately decorated human skull from Nigeria in the Pitt Rivers Museum

But my favourite objects were definitely the shrunken heads. Originally from the Upper Amazon region of South American, these creepy little heads had their skull and brains removed before being filled over and over again with warm sand for a period of several months, gradually shrinking them down until could be strung onto a cord which was worn round the neck during religious ceremonies.

One of the many shrunken heads in the collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

One of the many shrunken heads in the collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

There are so many incredible things in the Pitt Rivers Museum, it is the kind of place that you could spend hours wandering around. Every glass case is packed with treasures, some quite mundane, some incredible bizarre, some fairly new, others very, very ancient. Magic-seekers of all ages will love this place, although with all those skulls, shrunken heads, tribal masks and puppets, a visit here can certainly be a rather unsettling experience.

Aunty Flo, Mervyn Peake

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , , , , on February 17, 2013 by mysearchformagic

 When Aunty Flo
Became a Crow
She had a bed put in a tree;
And there she lay
And read all day
Of ornithology.

Jabberwocky by Mervyn Peake

Jabberwocky by Mervyn Peake

All material © The Mervyn Peake Estate.