What with trying to complete a multitude of projects and attempting to write a book, the poor old blog has been feeling rather neglected of late. It's not that I don't have anything to post, in fact it's the opposite. I have a whole host of interesting snippets, thoughts, urban exploration reports and creative splurges I need to vent so I thought I'd start with my drone footage from 2016.
The following footage was shot in one day with my son on our annual climb of Snowdon in Wales via the Rhyd Du path and back down via the Ranger Path. The weather was perfect for filming with almost zero wind, even at the summit. Ithis allowed me to fully test the range of the Phantom 4 and I was able to fly for over 2km without any drop in video link. The initial footage flying across the lake and up the waterfall was a continuous flight in one direction, a round trip of 4km! At the higher altitudes I did lose the drone in cloud a few times but the Return to Home function worked like a dream and my bird came back to me at the touch of a button. What struck me was the feeling of vertigo even with my feet firmly planted on the ground as I watched the monitor screen. Watching the point of view camera of the drone soaring off a cliff thousands of feet up at 40mph left me with a dizzy head and a surge of adrenaline I wouldn't normally have expected.
Every year they gather at Sneaton Castle, high upon the cliffs of Whitby overlooking the icy North Sea. From the vampire infested fishing town below and across the barren moors they come to share dark secrets and partake in forbidden rituals. The stars have aligned and the Old Ones prepare to wake from their slumber; tell the nuns to roll out the barrel for Doomsday approaches!
It only seems like yesterday that I attended the very first Doomsday event in Whitby. Now in its 8th year, the annual gathering of magical high strangeness has grown to record numbers as more international attendees fly over to see what we get up to when the sun goes down.
The High Priest and founder of Doomsday, Roni Shachnaey kindly passed me the baton and for three years I have been the event organiser. While I'm not a natural at orchestrating public events, Doomsday has the eerie ability to take care of itself. The attendees migrate to Whitby every year without any persuasion and we all pick up where we left off the previous year. I hate to use the term 'magic convention' as Doomsday is definitely not one of these and anyone who has attended will agree. It's more of a bizarre family gathering and the older adepts welcome any new initiates with open arms.
Every year we have an eclectic mix of lectures and performance and this year is no exception.
▪ We welcome back Alain the Storyteller for the opening ceremony and his Grimoire Show
▪ Dr Todd Landman also joins us after a few years absence with 'The Box'
▪ Author F.R. Maher takes us on a journey into the occult and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Cottingley Fairies on the 100 year anniversary of the event
▪ Prof BC, this man needs no introduction! The greatest thinker and producer in storytelling magic makes an honorary appearance once again
▪ Vlad returns to his ancestral home for a show of undead entertainment, virgins required!
▪ Alex Roemer one of Germany's top storytelling Magic performers will reveal some amazing Tarot based effects
▪ Wino Caestecker, last years Hex Factor winner returns will a full performance slot!
▪ Vince Wilson joins us from Delaware US for his Magic and Murder Mystery Show
Finally we continue with the new Saturday night tradition of The Hex Factor where 8 performer will have a 10 minute slot in which to display their magic routines, disturbing talents or anything they feel suitable for the Doomsday audience. A panel of judges will give feedback but ultimately the audience will decide the best act of the evening and the winner will be awarded the 2017 Hex Factor trophy.
If you feel brave enough to join us, Doomsday VIII takes place on 19th-20th May at Sneaton Castle in Whitby. Tickets are available here, I look forward to seeing you there.
Could these shocking images finally be proof of the existence of pixies and fairies?
Hosts of The Mystic Menagerie, a UK based podcast were puzzled when a regular listener sent in a series of images he claims were found in a protected bird of prey next in Cornwall.
The podcast covers topics such as strange stories, folklore and the paranormal. The listener, who wishes to remain anonymous, thought that the hosts would be the ideal recipients of the images and be less likely to ridicule his disturbing discovery.
An initial private message was received via Twitter asking for an e-mail address where the images could be sent and within a few hours the strange photographs landing in the The Mystic Menagerie inbox.
The series of images show a miniature partial human skeleton. The skull, spine and ribs are present although the limbs, lower jaw and pelvis are missing. A five pence piece is also present in the images to give an indication of scale. If these are genuine then this is the smallest humanoid remains ever discovered, but how did they appear in a falcon nest?
The mysterious man who sent in the images works for a birds of prey rescue centre in Cornwall. As well as caring for sick and injured birds part of this gentleman’s job is to monitor nests of protected species for annual breeding numbers as well as preventing eggs from being stolen by collectors. During a routine check he climbed a tall tree to inspect the nest when something amongst the twigs and feathers caught his eye.
The bones were gathered up and placed in a small sample bag and taken back to the rescue centre for closer examination. Cornish folklore is rife with tales of pixies who are said to live on the high moorland areas and having grown up in the locale of Dartmoor the man could only assume that what he had found were the remains of a pixie (or piskie).
The show's host Dan Baines was responsible for the Mummified Fairy Hoax back in 2007 and is also a prop designer so he knows a fake when he sees one however, this one leaves him stumped. Co-host Freddie Valentine has been in regular contact with the owner of the images and the remains and sees no reason why he would create a hoax as he wishes to remain anonymous and will give no indication of where he works or where he found them.
Due to the colour of the skeleton it has been hypothesised that the remains are a number of years old. Falcons return to the same nest year after year so it could be assumed that a few years ago the falcon returned from a hunt with something more interesting than your standard mouse.
Dan and Freddie are currently in discussions to see if they can travel to see the remains in order to certain if they are genuine or not. In the meantime the man has agreed to record a short video of the bones to at least prove the images are not Photoshopped in any way.
This month's podcast covers this intriguing case in greater detail and more information will be posted as and when it becomes available.
Listen to the Podcast here
This article by Rosa Lyster for Quartz discusses something I encountered when it was revealed that the mummified fairy images I produced were fake. Even once you unveil the truth, a significant percentage of people will choose not to believe it. My hoax had similar parallels to the Cottingley case; although I revealed the whole event to be hoax, I also publicly admitted my belief in fairies and that I had also seen them, a statement I stand by to this day.
The title of Rosa's article 'how smart people lose control of the truth' can be demonstrated even more with religion. It doesn't take fairies to show how people, even the smart ones, can believe in the most absurd things. Just look to the myths and legends purported by mainstream religion and you'll find a melting pot of unfeasible craziness where the control of the truth was lost thousands of years ago.
One hundred years ago, two girls went down to the stream at the bottom of a garden in Cottingley, England, and took some photographs of fairies. The fairies were paper cut-outs, which Elsie Wright, age 16, had copied from a children’s book. She and 10-year-old Frances Griffiths took turns posing with the sprites.
The girls developed the photographs in Elsie’s father’s darkroom, and presented them to their families as stunning evidence that fairies were real. Elsie’s father didn’t believe them—but her mother did. Two years later, she showed the photographs at a meeting of the Theosophical Society, a group dedicated to exploring unexplained phenomena and “forming the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity.”
The story of the Cottingley fairies has always fascinated me—not because of the particulars of the case, but because of what it reveals about the life cycle of a lie. In contrast to other famous hoaxes, it doesn’t seem malicious, or even necessarily deliberate. Instead it seems to me to be a story about how a single, relatively small act of deception can lead a large group of people to lose control over the truth.
In the first photograph, Frances Griffiths stares somewhere to the right of the camera lens, pointedly not looking at the cardboard figures capering on the grass in front of her. In the second one, Elsie Wright leans forward to shake the hand of a toddler-sized boy fairy. Looking at them now, both photographs seem immediately identifiable as fakes. The figures are obviously propped-up and two dimensional. Everything, including the expressions on both girls’ faces, looks staged. It is hard to imagine the photos seeming convincing to anyone older than 12.
Yet the Theosophical Society saw things differently; the members immediately and ecstatically accepted the photographs as real. Edward Gardner, a writer and leading member of the Society, took them as proof that the “next cycle of evolution was underway” and mounted a campaign to convince the public of their authenticity. He gave lectures on the photographs, made copies of them, and passed them reverently around at meetings.
Initial press coverage was skeptical; one editorial noted that the photographs could be explained not by “a knowledge of occult phenomena but a knowledge of children.” But during and after World War I, spiritualism and mysticism gained increased influence over a grieving British public. The fairy photographs seemed to resonate with many people who were eager to believe in the existence of a better world, and in the possibility that we might be able to communicate with it.
Willingness to believe in the fairies was not a matter of intelligence or education. None other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a trained physician and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was dead-set on the whole notion. Doyle, a noted spiritualist, saw the photographs as evidence that communication could exists between material and spiritual worlds.
Doyle published an article about the photographs in The Strand magazine, and sent Gardner to visit the girls. Imagine being either Frances or Elsie at that moment. You have told a lie—a tale that started out as a joke, maybe, or a daydream. Now things are taking on a momentum that you cannot quite control. A stranger comes to your house with two cameras and says, No pressure, kids, but we would all just be thrilled to death if you could get us a few more shots of those fairies. Do you confess and make a fool out of everyone—or do you do what everyone clearly wants you to do, which is traipse off down to the stream and produce some more photographs?
The girls came back with three more pictures: Frances and the Leaping Fairy, Fairy Offering Posy of Harebells to Elsie, and Fairies and their Sun-Bath. These, too, look absurdly fake to modern eyes. But Gardner and Doyle fell for it again. Gardner then brought in a psychic, who claimed that the whole place was just crawling with fairies.
To me, the strangest part of this story is not that two girls pretended they knew some fairies, but rather that adults so badly wanted their encounters to be true. Not just Gardner and Doyle, whose reputations, by that point, were at least partially at stake. Lots of people were ready to believe. They twisted and massaged the narrative to add credibility. The social reformer Margaret Macmillan, for instance, emphasized that the photographers were children, and thus without motive or guile: “How wonderful that to these dear children such a wonderful gift has been vouchsafed.”
The novelist Henry de Vere Stacpool, meanwhile, insisted that the photographs were real because they just seemed truth-y: “Look at [Frances’] face. Look at [Elsie’s] face. There is an extraordinary thing called Truth which has 10 million faces and forms—it is God’s currency and the cleverest coiner or forger can’t imitate it.” The girls were telling the truth because they looked like they were telling the truth, and that was proof enough.
Eventually, people stopped caring about the fairies. Interest in the supernatural was on the wane, and Doyle was looking increasingly unhinged. The girls produced no more photographs, and the public moved on.
Every once in a while, though, someone would track down one of the girls and press them for more details, or try to get them to admit that they had been making it up. In 1983, they finally admitted that the photographs were faked, but maintained that they really had seen fairies. Elsie said that they were all faked, but Frances said that the last one was real. Frances’s daughter later insisted that fairies were real, and that her mother would never lie. You will still find corners of the internet today where people will say the same thing. Despite the girls mostly owning up to the lie, people still want to believe it, and so they will say that it is true.
The problem with telling a lie is that you often have to tell another one after that, to keep up appearances. And then it’s too late to admit what you made up, and so you just keep on lying. The issue becomes not the initial act of deception, but the fact that you’ve lied for so long—years and years and years. You may even start to believe the lie yourself. I have been thinking about it a lot lately, watching the news. Watching people on my TV lie; wondering if they even know that they are lying, as the stakes keep getting higher and higher.
If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then writer-director Anne Hamilton’s “American Fable” registers as an eloquently constructed valentine to Guillermo del Toro, whose “Pan’s Labyrinth” provides her film with its haunting backbone. Gorgeously shot, and helmed with a sense of daring and verve that belies Hamilton’s greenness to feature filmmaking, this is a debut of obvious promise, although its story never quite rises to the level of its craft. Premiering in the experimental Visions program at SXSW, this tale of farmland intrigue as seen through the eyes of a dreamy 11-year-old has just as much arthouse potential as many of the supposedly more commercial entries in the narrative competition, though it may ultimately function best as a passport to bigger things for its gifted young director.
Hamilton’s introduction to filmmaking came via an internship with Terrence Malick on the set of “The Tree of Life,” and the director’s tendrils are visible from the very first shot, a dramatically swooning overhead view of a young girl chasing a chicken through monstrous expanses of corn stalks. The girl is Gitty (Peyton Kennedy, excellent), an imaginative, friendless grade schooler growing up in the farmlands of Wisconsin. The year is 1982, and overheard Ronald Reagan speeches place us right in at the beginning of the farm crisis, its gravity underscored by passing mentions of the rash of suicides in town.
Gitty adores her father, the salty Abe (Kip Pardue), who does everything he can to distract her from the fact that they’re in dire danger of losing their farm. Her factory-worker mother (Marci Miller) is pregnant with a third child, and Gitty’s older brother, Martin (Gavin MacIntosh), is a study in unhinged, unmodulated malevolence.
Wandering the farmlands on her bike, she makes a startling discovery: Locked inside her family’s unused silo is a dirty yet expensively dressed man calling himself Jonathan (Richard Schiff) who claims to have gone days without food. Though he’s short on details, Jonathan is a developer who’s been buying up farms in the area, and it doesn’t take long for Gilly to intuit that her own family has played some part in this kidnapping. As she begins bringing him food and books, the two develop a bond, with Gitty rappelling down through a small hole in the silo roof for chess lessons and reading sessions.
Meanwhile, Gitty’s father conducts some mysterious business with a Mephistophelean woman named Vera (Zuleikha Robinson), and Gitty begins to experience visions of a black-clad, horned woman striding through the countryside on horseback. These hesitant forays into the mythological realm — reaching a feverish peak with a flashy dream sequence — feel oddly underdeveloped, alternating between inscrutable and needlessly obvious, with a long montage accompanying a recitation of Yeats’ “The Second Coming” a prime example of the latter.
One of the strongest cues Hamilton takes from “Pan’s Labyrinth,” however, is the decision to allow Gitty’s own loyalties and misunderstandings to dictate the film’s p.o.v., and Kennedy ably carries the film on her back, radiating self-confidence while retaining an essential naivete and vulnerability; her many scenes of peering through doorways at conversations she doesn’t quite understand are beautifully played. Yet even accounting for this, the intrigue at the film’s center never makes total sense, and Gitty’s ultimate ethical dilemma — whether to leave Jonathan to his fate or put her own family at risk — never arrives with the right urgency. The shoehorned introduction of a few too many extraneous elements, especially a Marge Gunderson-esque retired police officer (Rusty Schwimmer), doesn’t help.
Working with d.p. Wyatt Garfield, Hamilton shoots the rural landscape with a transformative eye. These farmlands aren’t dusty expanses but rather humid, almost primordial jungles; individual frames from nighttime scenes in the family barn could easily be oil paintings of the Nativity. More than just cataloguing pretty shots, Hamilton builds an arresting aura of wonder and terror, of which Gingger Shankar’s haunting, teasing score is very much a piece.
This blog post by Meagan Navarro over BirthMoviesDeath.com has shed light on two modern fairy tale movies that totally slipped me by. With the unparalleled popularity of shows such as A Game of Thrones and WestWorld it's obvious that there is an increased adult need for some form of fantastical escapism. All facets of geek culture have experienced a renaissance over last few years that harken back to our childhood days. Board games, superheroes, role playing, fantasy movies; they all provide a temporary protective bubble that blocks out the modern world which is ironically dark and full of terrors.
As our world becomes a less pleasant place to live, we as adults create new ones to escape to. Either as a participant or simply a voyeur of these new universes, they provide the escapism we need to sooth the banality of the working day. We constantly look to the stars for new worlds where in fact we really need look no further than our own imaginations to experience the wonder of new discovery and adventure.
I do believe in fairies. I do. I do.
Once upon a time, fairy tales existed not for children, but for adults. They contained adult themes like rape, dismemberment, heartbreak and heroes that failed to triumph. Fairy tales were a means of historical and cultural preservation, which is what the Grimm brothers initially set out to do. At a time when the grown-ups grew bored of the fairy tale, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm sought to preserve their Germanic traditions by amassing a collection of them. Ironically, the first edition of their collection was deemed too inappropriate for children, so each successive edition continued to edit out the adult content until the final edition we’re familiar with today existed. Disney heavily borrowed from the Grimm brothers in sanitizing the fairy tales, washing away the deep historical context and oft cautionary tales in favor of happier fare. Yet, dark times call for dark art, and a resurgence of fairy tale films geared toward adults might be the reminder of the past that we need to get us through our future.
Director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s stunning feature debut, The Lure, relies heavily on Hans Christian Andersen’s version of The Little Mermaid but is imbued with Poland’s cultural climate during the 1980s under Communist Russian rule. That the narrative is centered around this particular fairy tale is no small coincidence considering the significance of mermaid lore to Warsaw. Mermaid sisters Golden and Silver’s longing to see the pristine shores of America serves as a metaphor for immigration, but their journey also rings true on an emotional level when it comes to the highs and lows of first love. The nuanced layers of Robert Bolesto’s screenplay are rendered even more complex by the defiance to stick to any one genre. The result is a richly compelling Siren’s song of carnal lust, blood, and singing mermaids in a cabaret act set against a real setting of nightclubs and sadness.
Quietly released last year was Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of fairy tales by seventeenth-century poet Giambattista Basile. Well, more like a partial adaptation; his book has 50 stories and Garrone adapted only three of them in Tale of Tales. With much of Basile’s work overshadowed by Grimm’s adaptation, Garrone took the tales back to their medieval beginnings, honoring the Neapolitan history behind the stories. Whereas The Lure took on a more modern aesthetic, Tale of Tales retains a 17th century vibe. Despite appearances, though, Garrone’s film connects with modern audiences because the problems faced by the film’s characters are still just as relevant today as they were centuries ago. You know, except for the giant flea, cave monsters, or unwitting sea creature, but still. The three female-centered tales featured in Garrone’s film still apply to the modern woman - feelings of inadequacy or jealousy in both love and lust, the yearning for motherhood and the inability to let go, and the brutal sting of exposure to the outside world during the transition from childhood into adulthood. Not only did Garrone realize fairy tales are effective because they play off of common archetypes, but the real magic lies within the actual telling of the tale.
On the other end of the live-action fairy tale retellings lies Disney, an empire known for animated fairy tales far removed from their origins in favor of saccharine wish fulfillment. Good always triumphs over evil, and the princesses always get their happily-ever-after, nearly always in the form of a prince. For all of Disney’s messages about being unafraid to reach for your dreams, they seem afraid to detour from the blueprints of their animated classics when it comes to their live-action retellings. 2015’s Cinderella brought us a sweet yet by-the-numbers rehash of the 1950 animated version. As did 2016’s The Jungle Book, despite the talented cast behind it. While I have no doubt that audiences will flock to the theater in March for Beauty and the Beast, I can’t help but notice that it too mirrors its animated counterpart in every way. Disney takes more risks with their original properties, like Enchanted, but they still pay heavy homage to the classics. Disney’s fear of change isn’t baseless, though. Their intent to attract an older audience works against them, as those clinging to nostalgia likely won’t want their favorite tales altered. This is precisely the reason why we need that change.
The world is a dark place right now, and it seems to grow just a bit dimmer each day. Fairy tales bring harsh truths and cautionary tales in a digestible format while still reminding us that the world is bigger than we could ever know. They remind us that while things may seem dire, there’s still hope. Even more than that, fairy tales remind us of our heritage and bridge cultural divides. We need fairy tales like The Lure or Tale of Tales. These dark, violent, and horrific stories can allow for reflection of the past and potential course correction for the future. They can bring new truths and traditions with each subsequent telling, if we allow that growth. In a time where listening is sparse and voices are loud, the world needs more killer mermaid musicals.
One of my TV highlights of last year is back this autumn with more eerie fairy folklore driven drama. This article from The Killing Times dissects the new 2 minute preview to see what we might expect from Henrik Björn's mystical masterpiece.
Although Swedish series Jordskott was broadcast here in the UK on ITV Encore, it did fantastically well internationally, and was sold and played out in 50 countries. It was an insane, bonkers series that told the story of Detective Inspector Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel), who returns to Silver Height seven years after her daughter Josefine disappeared by a lake in the woods. The body was never found and the girl was believed to have drowned. Then a boy vanished without a trace and Eva was intent on finding out if there was a link to her daughter’s disappearance. That was just the start of things: add in some ancestral weirdness with her dad, timber empire man Johan Thörnblad, witches, woodland folk and strange black liquid and Jordskott was like your traditional Scandi Noir mixed with a fairytale. Finally we have confirmation of a second series and a trailer to go with it.
Let’s check in with creator, Henrik Björn:
The teaser begins with an exclusive and complete small scene in a way that overlaps season one and two. This scene happens right now in Silver Height. It’s Jörgen Olsson, the surviving brother Olsson, who will find a car in the woods. Harry Storms car. Storm was the man who caused so much [trouble] in Silver Height in pursuit of who kidnapped the children. In the car there was the whole of Storm’s investigation and Jorgen realises that Storm has gathered information on Esmeralda (Happy Jankell). She is the same girl who Jorgen accused of killing his brother Eddie. It felt great to give the fans a little taste of jordskott-candy for Christmas.
You can see the trailer below, but what’s interesting is that the city is being framed as a major location in this second series, rather than the pretty much exclusive woodland setting of series one.
It is partly familiar and partly new. There are some places that we like to see again. At the same time, I did not stand still in season one, we’re going forward. It happens new things that need to be managed. Events of season one obviously affects the runner-up, but the new stands on its own and it is necessary.
There’s also a shot of the witch, Ylva, who seemingly died in series one. Intriguing. Anyway, filming begins in January (well, at least continues) and carries on until the summer, and Björn says that the action will pick up two years after all the drama of series one. What’s more, my favourite character – police chief Göran Wass (the brilliant Göran Ragnerstam, who was also in the equally bonkers Ängelby this year, returns).
The big question is: will we see Muns and find out who he is (I realise that to non-Jordskott watchers, this will make no sense whatsoever). More news as I get it…
If you're a Jordskott fan you may also be interested in my latest book project 'Fairy Rings & Monstrous Things' which is currently being supported via kindred spirits on Patreon.
The time has finally come to for me to start writing my account of the mummified fairy hoax. 2017 will be 10th anniversary of the event that changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. The folly of the mummified fairy may have destroyed my professional career but the opportunities and adventures that ensued have ironically turned the curse into a gift of new life and discovery.
The project will be hosted through Patreon, which for those who are unaware, is a way for creators to fund their work through subscription payments from their fans. As I am primarily a prop artist I can offer more rewards to my supporters than just written work. I plan to illustrate my own work and create limited edition fairy sculptures for the top level subscribers. It’s a great opportunity for you to get a piece of my work at a fraction of the cost AND get all of the written material & additional art as a bonus.
The story goes far beyond everything I have ever revealed in my lectures. I give a hint at the end of my presentation about a mysterious letter received from one of the UK's highest security mental institutions, but the story is far from over. There's Nazi cults, secret tunnels, derelict WWII military installations, arcane secrets and close encounters with the security services.
How does all of this relate to the original mummified fairy hoax? Well, you'll have to become a patron to find out.
In a creative kick start to 2017 the project launched today so if you’d like to join me on my unexpected journey and pledge your support it will be an honour to have you aboard.
You can find out more information and support the project here.
It's 10 years since the release of Guillermo del Toro's compelling and deeply involving masterpiece. This terrifying and visually wondrous fairy tale for adults blends fantasy and dark drama into one of the most magical films that is still as refreshingly different today as it was back in 2006.
A celebrate this cinematic classic I share here with you a great article by Gary Shannon from TheYoungFolks.com and for you movie geeks, 15 things you may or may not know about Pan's Labyrinth.
Pan’s Labyrinth opens with a shot moving in a reverse: It’s night and a young girl lies on the floor as blood streaming from her nose begins to shrink back in. It’s striking, haunting, horrifying and tragic, when you see it for the first time you’re not completely sure what to make of it, or at least not yet. The young girl is Ofelia and director Guillermo del Toro indicates something crucial about her character. Ofelia is dying, but just as the light in her eyes begin to fade the camera zooms into their overwhelming blackness. From there we see, at a distance, a similar girl running through a vast array of ancient cloisters and spires. A narrator describes the scene but the image alone tells us all: A princess is trying to escape her kingdom of darkness, and as she ascends a spiral staircase her world becomes brighter. As she reaches the top of the staircase a bright flash overpowers her and, as the narrator describes, the princess is consumed by the sunlight and becomes a mortal.
In the next shot we see Spain in 1944. Pan’s Labyrinth takes place after the Spanish Civil War, just as dictator Francisco Franco ascends to power and, for over the next 30 years, becomes one of the country’s most maligned rulers. In a considerably less abstruse establishing shot we see a caravan of well heeled cars (for rich people), inside one of them is Ofelia, an inspirited young girl, and her pregnant mother. The two are traveling to meet Ofelia’s stepfather, Captain Vidal, the despotic head of a backwoods military compound. There he reigns over the area’s inhabitants with a rigid (and evil) authority indicating that he’s the compound’s veritable dictator. Guillermo del Toro’s world is oppressive, scary and real. So where does the fantasy come into play?
Ofelia is a bookworm who relishes in her space and freedom. So much so that when all the cars stop (to relieve her mother of a debilitating morning sickness) Ofelia veers from the caravan’s path. Deep in the woods she encounters a strange insect which, in fact, happens to be a fairy. One night the fairy visits Ofelia and, urging her to come with it, she follows it to a stone labyrinth hidden in the wooded outskirts of the compound. There she meets a weird being dubbed the Faun, he’s made of earthy skin, boasts a dubious affability and wears an off-putting, cat-like smile. The Faun’s words are elongated and grandiose, he lures Ofelia with the promise of riches of eternity inside a fairytale kingdom, and refers to her as its long lost princess who had run away from the kingdom. Ofelia, an idealist, accepts the Faun’s terms. To obtain her immortality Ofelia must complete 3 separate tasks, each one strange and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s world is magical, mysterious and make-believe. So where does the realism come into play?
Pan’s Labyrinth is a film of two vastly contrasting textual layouts. Since its release they’ve spawned several theories and perspectives of what the binary concept of fantasy & reality in the film actually means. A more pessimistic perspective assigns Pan’s Labyrinth two worlds as a eulogy on the power of escapism, how Ofelia’s entrenched journey through mystical realms are products of childish delusions created to help the girl come to grips with a harsher reality. Guillermo del Toro, however, despite encouraging people to make-up their own assumptions of the film, believes that the fairy tale kingdom in Pan’s Labyrinth was real. Which means it has to be, right? Since its release 10 years ago ideas have swelled into even more convoluted arguments, all of which are theoretical and, unfortunately irrelevant. Films, like Pan’s Labyrinth, can show us reality and fantasy, but neither description consigns the film to be either real or fake. As the fantasy novelist Lloyd Alexander is quoted to have said, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”
Reading a good book, as Ofelia does, doesn’t offer any sort of escape from her stepfather’s reign of terror but broadens her mind to life’s endless possibilities, outside of consigned oppression, militaristic fascism and psychological totalitarianism. There is a character in Pan’s Labyrinth, Doctor Ferreiro, a physician and a pacifist, who secretly sympathizes with the rebels fighting Captain Vidal. He questions the Captain, something the Captain hates, and at times the Doctor even undermines him. The Doctor’s deciding moment comes in the form of an insult, aimed toward the Captain, which in essence reflects the film in its entirety: “But Captain, to obey, just like that, for obedience’s sake . . . without questioning . . . that’s something only people like you do.” Ofelia’s mother, on the other hand, acts as an antithesis to everything the Doctor stands for, the woman is confined to the security of her abusive husband’s autocracy. In a heartbreaking sequence the woman literally casting her life (manifesting as a mandrake root) into the fireplace and says to Ofelia, in a tragic rejection of life itself, “Magic does not exist. Not for you, me or anyone else.”
Then we have characters like Mercedes and Ofelia, two people who seem to exist on the polarizing center of obedient confinement and rebellious liberation. Both Mercedes and Ofelia seem to be the respective protagonists of their own stories. Mercedes is an insider for the rebel battalion her brother commands. She acts as a maid, working undercover to learn of Captain Vidal’s battle strategies, as well as smuggling things out of the compound to supply his men with food, medicine and other kinds of sustenance. Ofelia, on the other hand, seems cut-off from the conflict despite being very much in the midst of it. Her mind, instead, seems intent on completing her 3 tasks where she must remain unquestioningly obedient to the Faun’s stringent terms. We know where their hearts lie, Guillermo del Toro likes these characters, but their choices and actions are fraught with complex moral dilemmas. Not even the fairy tale aspect of Pan’s Labyrinth comes with easy answers . . .
In Pan’s Labyrinth’s climax we see Ofelia with her infant brother running toward the labyrinth. It’s in the midst of a decisive battle where the rebels begin outnumber the compound’s soldiers. Captain Vidal is hot on her trail, carrying in his hand a pistol. As Ofelia arrives to the labyrinth’s center the Faun is there to greet her. This time though he feels oddly unwelcoming, carrying the knife she obtained during her second task. The Faun presents her with a third task: To procure a small drop of blood from her brother. Ofelia backs away, hesitant to listen to the Faun, and outright refuses to harm her brother. By this point Vidal arrives, and much like the Faun, he too wants Ofelia’s brother. Vidal can’t see the Faun but sees Ofelia and her brother clearly. He delicately takes the brother from Ofelia’s arms and, with striking visual reserve, he shoots the girl.
Pan’s Labyrinth ends the same way it begins, but this time it’s not in reverse: It’s night and a young girl lies on the floor as blood streaming out of her nose. This time we know who she is. This time the moment, instead of being played for mystery, is played for a devastatingly tragic grandeur. Dying, Ofelia sees the kingdom she was promised. Is it a delusion? Did she pass the Faun’s test? We don’t completely know but it’s happy and resolute. Ofelia is congratulated by the Faun, but for what? She refused to complete the third task. Well, not exactly. The Faun reveals that by refusing to take the blood of the innocent and, ultimately, for thinking for herself she had won her reward. It’s almost too happy of an ending. The shot dissolves back to the dying Ofelia. What is del Toro saying about Ofelia, or the Spanish Civil War, or about people in general? In a satisfying closing note, Captain Vidal surrenders the son and dies at the hands of Mercedes and the remaining rebel battalion, but not before Mercedes shows one last act of defiance:
Vidal: “Tell my son the time that his father died. Tell him—”
Mercedes: “No. He won’t even know your name.”
In the world of fairies, fauns and eternity, Ofelia’s goodness earned her a happily ever after. In the world of dictators, wars and tragedies Ofelia’s goodness earned her a sad, lonely death. Whether Ofelia’s dying visions were illusory or real we can’t deny del Toro’s simple truths. Happy endings don’t exist in the real world, the good are punished and the wicked are rewarded. And like those who sought to liberate their country in the Spanish civil war Ofelia’s self-determinism came at the cost of her life. As she lays dying, Mercedes grieves over her lifeless body. A strange image follows, Ofelia smiles. Why? Because like the runaway princess in the opening Ofelia is too finally escaping her kingdom of darkness.
14 Fantastical Facts About 'Pan's Labyrinth'
Between his modest comic book hits Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, imaginative Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro made a film that was darker and more in Spanish: Pan's Labyrinth, a horror-tinged fairy tale set in 1944 Spain, under fascist rule. Like many of del Toro's films, it's a political allegory as well as a gothic fantasy. The heady mix of whimsy and violence wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but it won enough fans to make $83.25 million worldwide and receive six Oscar nominations (it won three). On the tenth anniversary of the film's release, here are some details to help you separate fantasy from reality the next time you take a walk in El Laberinto del Fauno.
1. IT'S A COMPANION PIECE TO THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE
Del Toro intended Pan's Labyrinth to be a thematic complement to The Devil's Backbone, his 2001 film set in Spain in 1939. The movies have a lot of similarities in their structure and setup, but del Toro says on the Pan's Labyrinth DVD commentary that the events of September 11, 2001—which occurred five months after The Devil's Backbone opened in Spain, and two months before it opened in the U.S.—changed his perspective. "The world changed," del Toro said. "Everything I had to say about brutality and innocence changed."
2. IT HAS A CHARLES DICKENS REFERENCE
When Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) arrives at Captain Vidal's house, goes to shake his hand, and is gruffly told, "It's the other hand," that's a near-quotation from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, when the young lad of the title meets his mother's soon-to-be-husband. Davey's stepfather turns out to be a cruel man, too, just like Captain Vidal (Sergi López).
3. DUE TO A DROUGHT, THERE ARE VERY FEW ACTUAL FLAMES OR SPARKS IN THE MOVIE
The region of Segovia, Spain was experiencing its worst drought in 30 years when del Toro filmed his movie there, so his team had to get creative. For the shootout in the forest about 70 minutes into the movie, they put fake moss on everything to hide the brownness, and didn't use squibs (explosive blood packs) or gunfire because of the increased fire risk. In fact del Toro said that, except for the exploding truck in another scene, the film uses almost no real flames, sparks, or fires. Those elements were added digitally in post-production.4. IT CEMENTED DEL TORO'S HATRED OF HORSES.
The director is fond of all manner of strange, terrifying monsters, but real live horses? He hates 'em. "They are absolutely nasty motherf*ckers," he says on the DVD commentary. His antipathy toward our equine friends predated Pan's Labyrinth, but the particular horses he worked with here—ill-tempered and difficult, apparently—intensified those feelings. "I never liked horses," he says, "but after this, I hate them."
5. THE FAUN'S IMAGE IS INCORPORATED INTO THE ARCHITECTURE
If you look closely at the banister in the Captain's mansion, you'll see the Faun's head in the design. It's a subtle reinforcement of the idea that the fantasy world is bleeding into the real one.
6. IT MADE STEPHEN KING SQUIRM
Del Toro reports that he had the pleasure of sitting next to the esteemed horror novelist at a screening in New England, and that King squirmed mightily during the Pale Man scene. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life," del Toro said.
7. IT REFLECTS DEL TORO'S NEGATIVE FEELINGS TOWARD THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Del Toro told an interviewer that he was appalled by the Catholic church's complicity with fascism during the Spanish Civil War. He said the priest's comment at the banquet table, regarding the dead rebels—"God has already saved their souls; what happens to their bodies, well, it hardly matters to him"—was taken from a real speech that a priest used to give to rebel prisoners in the fascist camps. Furthermore, "the Pale Man represents the church for me," Del Toro said. "He represents fascism and the church eating the children when they have a perversely abundant banquet in front of them."
8. THERE'S A CORRECT ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF WHETHER IT'S REAL OR ALL IN OFELIA'S HEAD
Del Toro has reiterated many times that while a story can mean different things to different people, "objectively, the way I structured it, there are clues that tell you ... that it's real." Specifically: the flower blooming on the dead tree at the end; the chalk ending up on Vidal's desk (as there's no way it could have gotten there); and Ofelia's escape through a dead end of the labyrinth.
9. THE PLOT WAS ORIGINALLY EVEN DARKER
In del Toro's first conception of the story, it was about a married pregnant woman who meets the Faun in the labyrinth, falls in love with him, and lets him sacrifice her baby on faith that she, the baby, and the Faun will all be together in the afterlife and the labyrinth will thrive again. "It was a shocking tale," Del Toro said.
10. THE SHAPES AND COLORS ARE THEMATICALLY RELEVANT
Del Toro points out in the DVD commentary that scenes with Ofelia tend to have circles and curves and use warm colors, while scenes with Vidal and the war have more straight lines and use cold colors. Over the course of the film, the two opposites gradually intrude on one another.
11. THAT VICIOUS BOTTLE ATTACK COMES FROM AN INCIDENT IN DEL TORO'S LIFE
Del Toro and a friend were once in a fight during which his friend was beaten in the face with a bottle, and the detail that stuck in the director's memory was that the bottle didn't break. That scene is also based on a real occurrence in Spain, when a fascist smashed a citizen's face with the butt of a pistol and took his groceries, all because the man didn't take off his hat.
12. DOUG JONES LEARNED SPANISH TO PLAY THE FAUN
The Indiana-born actor, best known for working under heavy prosthetics and makeup, had worked with del Toro on Hellboy and Mimic and was the director's first choice to play the Faun and the Pale Man. The only problem: Jones didn't speak Spanish. Del Toro said they could dub his voice, but Jones wanted to give a full performance. Then del Toro said he could learn his Spanish lines phonetically, but Jones thought that would be harder to memorize than the actual words. Fortunately, he had five hours in the makeup chair every day, giving him plenty of time to practice. And then? Turns out it still wasn't good enough. Del Toro replaced Jones's voice with that of a Spanish theater actor, who was able to make his delivery match Jones's facial expressions and lip movements.
13. NEVER MIND THE (ENGLISH) TITLE, THAT ISN'T PAN
The faun is a mythological creature, half man and half goat, who represents nature (it's where the word "fauna" comes from) and is neutral toward humans. Pan is a specific Greek god, also goat-like, who's generally depicted as mischievous, harmful, and overly sexual—not a creature you'd be comfortable seeing earn the trust of a little girl. In Spanish, the film is called El Laberinto del Fauno, which translates to The Faun's Labyrinth. "Pan" was used for English-speaking audiences because that figure is more familiar than the faun, but you'll notice he's never called Pan in the film itself. "If he was Pan, the girl would be in deep sh*t," del Toro told one interviewer.
14. DEL TORO WROTE THE ENGLISH SUBTITLES HIMSELF
After being disappointed by the way the translators handled The Devil's Backbone ("subtitles for the thinking impaired"), the Mexican filmmaker, who speaks fluent English, did the job himself for Pan's Labyrinth. "I took about a month with a friend and an assistant working on them, measuring them, so that it doesn't feel like you're watching a subtitled film," he said.
I'm only too aware that tinkering with fairies can have a catastrophic effect on your personal life. They have the ability to destroy careers and as this story demonstrates, they can wreck marriages also. This interesting article taken from yesterdays Yorkshire Postonly highlights that 'leading someone down the garden path' can have far from magical results.
As the centenary of the Cottingley Fairies approaches, Jane Cooper tells Sarah Freeman how one of the most famous hoaxes of the 20th century came to rule her father’s life.
Jane Cooper is a Gemini. She was almost a Taurus, but her Dad Joe, who carefully planned his family so his children would be born under compatible signs of the zodiac, wouldn’t hear of it.
“Dad had a theory that people who had birthdays within 60 days of each other would get on. Mum was born on February 3, Dad on April 3 and he wanted my brother David and I to fit in. When it looked liked I was going to be born a few days early it didn’t please Dad at all. In the end I hit my due date. I was blue with the umbilical cord around my neck, but Dad was just relieved that I was Gemini.” Joe’s determination to have a family which was astrological aligned was just the start of it. He also lectured in sociology, was interested in the paranormal and much of his life he was obsessed with the Cottingley Fairies. Next year marks the centenary of those famous photographs taken by Yorkshire schoolgirls Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths and for Jane it’s a poignant reminder of how one of the most talked about hoaxes of the 20th century cast a shadow over her own childhood growing up in Leeds. “It all began with a book sale one cold January morning in the early 1970s,” she say. “Dad told one of the women in charge that he was interested in the Cottingley Fairies and asked if she has any books on the subject. One thing led to another and soon Dad had an address for Elsie and decided to write to her.”
So began a long correspondence which for the best part of a decade was conducted on the basis that the photographs were real. By then it was more than 50 years since the story had made national and international headlines, but despite repeated doubts over the authenticity of the pictures, the girls had always kept to their oridingal story. “It was 1981 when Elsie decided to drop her bombshell,” says Jane, who now lives in Ilkley. “They met in a cafe near Canterbury Cathedral and Dad was saying how interested he was in what looked like ectoplasmic whiffs about her head in one of the photographs and that’s when she told him. She pointed out the hat pins holding up the figures and said how surprised she was that anyone had taken it seriously. Dad later said that in that moment his world shifted a little. He had no words.”
That same summer, with the rug having been pulled from under everything he believed in, Joe walked out on his young family. “Looking back I think he had a bit of breakdown,” said Jane. “He had met my mum at the first dance she ever went to and when he left for teacher training college he wrote to her every day. They had been very much in love, but she always said it was those fairies which cost them their marriage.”
Dad really wanted her to believe, but mum was far too down to earth. She would be trying to get David and I ready for school and Dad would want to talk about some new theory. When Elsie revealed it had all been a hoax he even blamed my mum. He said it was her fault for not believing.” Despite those hat pins, Joe never gave up on the idea that fairies existed and clung to Frances’ version that while four of the five photographs were fake, the fifth which doesn’t include either of the girls, was genuine.
“Dad refused to think badly of anyone. He didn’t blame Elsie for leading him on and in his book The Case of the Cottingley Fairies he argued that the only reason that they had stunted up the pictures was because they had been unable to capture them on camera. That fifth image gave him hope I suppose.” Joe wasn’t alone in his unshakable faith in otherworldly creatures. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock and committed spiritualist, was also convinced the Cottingley Fairies were genuine, publicly supporting a book by Edward Gardner, national secretary of the Theosophical Society, which declared that fairies worked inside the stems of flowers and were only visible when relaxing.
Joe too had no shortage of tales of other sightings. In an early interview with the Yorkshire Post he talked of how a gnome snatched a sandwich from the hand of sailor picnicking on a Gibraltar hillside and of a fairy being rescued from a spider’s web by a little girl. Most memorably of all was the tale of the nurse who said she had spotted a 60ft tall fairy in Strid Wood - he was apparently wearing a pale green jerkin and large clumpy shoes. “Dad knew that it could have made him a figure of ridicule, but he didn’t mind,” says Jane. “He said that a lot of people didn’t talk about their own experiences for fear of being labelled a crank, but he thought the more we shared about these things, the more we could understand about life.” While Joe always said that he had believed in fairies from childhood, his family are convinced that it was his experience of serving as a navigator with Bomber Command during the Second World War that cemented his thinking.
“He was 19 years old and he was shot at night after night. I can’t believe that didn’t have an effect,” says Jane. “He had a lot of near death experiences, but he always said what he called his ‘Number Two’ was looking after him. One night his plane was running out of fuel and he was heading straight towards Scafell Pike. That’s when he heard voices and he changed direction. A few days later a couple of his colleagues weren’t so lucky...” Joe also wrote a couple of books on telepathy and insomnia, but it was the Cottingley Fairies which came to define his career. He was an advisor on the 1996 film Fairytale: A True Story starring Peter O’Toole, he appeared in Vanity Fair under the headline ‘Real men believe in fairies’ and he became the go to man when anyone wanted to write about what happened in 1917. “When anyone questioned him his response was ‘it’s not about whether you believe in fairies, it’s whether they believe in you’,” says Jane. “He wasn’t afraid of poking fun at himself. He never tired of telling the story of how he had once gave a talk to the Young Physicists Society at Leeds University. At the start when he asked how many of them believed in fairies five people put their hands up. He presented his evidence and at the end when he asked the same question only three hands went up.”
Jane says her father, who died in 2011, never made a penny from his association with the Cottingley Fairies and while she doesn’t share his believes she does own a cat called Tinkerbell who was born on his birthday. “The truth is Dad was a bit of a Willy Lomax figure. He had a fatal flaw and that was fairies. It never left him. In the last year of his life he was very poorly and he suffered a number of strokes. He once said to me, ‘Don’t worry Jane, they are just fairy strokes’. It turned out they were something altogether more serious. Dad died a believer, but with the centenary approaching I just want people to remember the kind and incredible man he really was.”
I've got one and I'm sure that if you have children you may have one too, but let's face it, the Elf on the Shelf is nothing more than Christmas cash grab dressed up as a faux tradition of epic proportions. This grinning plastic monstrosity has been heavily criticised for potentially bullying your child into thinking good behaviour equals gifts. While this might be true, the concept of scaring the pre-Christmas bejesus out of your children in order to make them behave has much darker roots. The Krampus has seen a revival over the last few years and the popularity of this festive demon has shed light on some long forgotten traditions from deep within Europe. One slightly bizarre practice which could be considered the demonic older brother of the Elf of the Shelf is 'The Krampus Box', a simple but terrifying way to keep your children in check before the big day.
The idea was very simple; during the build up to St Nicholas Day on the 6th December, the box would be placed on the fireplace next to the stockings. If a child was naughty they would have their name written on paper or their photograph placed inside the box where it would remain until the next sunrise. In the dark frozen winters of Europe the next sunrise could be days, so once you were in the box there was no telling when you would get out. If you were unfortunate to still be in the box on the 5th December, also known as Krampusnacht, you would be punished and The Krampus would come for you. During Krampusnacht the Krampus would visit each home and look in each box to see if any photographs or names had been left. If there was he would snatch the named naughty child as they slept and drag them to hell in his sack. As you can imagine, the box was so effective that there was never any need to place anything inside it! It’s an ingenious idea and much more palatable than having a grinning pink plastic elf ‘checking up on you’ every day.
As far as I'm aware there are no surviving examples of original Krampus boxes, so in an attempt to revive some real festive fear I made my own. I took the description from an Austrian version of the Krampus Box tale. In typical Brothers Grimm style the outcome of the story is far from pleasant so it's not surprising that this horrific tale almost vanished from the folk records. It appears at first glance to take some typical Germanic story elements of naughty children but then adds a cruel 'Wasp Factory' twist that is pretty disturbing. Anyway, grab a mince pie and a glass of sherry and we'll begin.
Picture if you will a festive family gathering full of rosy cheeked children gathered around a fire. As the howling wind and snow storm batters the ramshackle log cabin a mysterious box is removed from small chained hessian bag and placed on the mantle. The cloven hoofed box centred with a grinning demon knob glints in the winter firelight as a wave of silence sweeps over the children. The story begins...
Deep in the forest bordering Austria and Bavaria there lived a carpenter with seven children, two horses, three goats and his wife. Of the seven children one child named Max was particularly naughty and no punishment would deter Max from behaving badly. He would repent for a day or two and then revert back to his mischievous ways and increasingly worse than before. During a summer of terror he had tied the horse's tails together, set the neighbours orchard ablaze and slit all of the grain bags at the village mill. Then, as winter came and the days grew shorter Max could not play outside and boredom set in. His pranks within the home became worse and his family were at a loss at what to do with him.
Max hadn't always been terrible. He was once a content and well behaved child, but then something changed. His younger brother Lukas was born and Max was no longer the apple of his mother's eye and so to seek attention he slowly transformed into the most vindictive child imaginable. This cry for attention had the opposite effect and his mother started to ignore him. His older brothers and sisters also wanted nothing to do with the little monster he had become. Even the villagers would avoid Max in fear that they would fall victim to one of his terrible pranks.
The one person who felt pity for the child was his own father, the carpenter. He had an idea, one that he hoped would scare Max into behaving; until the end of winter at least. He built a small wooden box and carefully painted it with holly wreaths and decorated it with bells although this was not your normal festive trinket box. Painted on the lid were the words “Greetings from Krampus’ and either side of a demon headed brass knob were the pictures of a black, goat-legged creature stuffing crying children into a sack.
When it was complete the carpenter sat Max down and told him about the mysterious box. He opened the lid and took out a small postcard of the Krampus riding a broomstick. On the broomstick were eight naughty children. He told Max that if he misbehaved he would also join the ill fated children on the broomstick. His photograph would be placed in the box along with the postcard and it would remain there until the next day The photograph could only be removed from the box in the light of the following day and only good behaviour would allow the photograph to be removed from the box. If Max continued to be naughty and his photograph was still in it on Krampusnacht he would be taken by the Krampus and never seen again. The carpenter placed the box on the mantle above the fire and once again warned Max that his photograph would end up in the Krampus Box should his bad behaviour continue.
Max listened to his father's tale and pretended to absorb every word with wide eyed innocence although, as the second youngest sibling he really didn't believe in St Nicholas and especially not the Krampus. His eldest brother had told him long ago that they were nothing but fairy tales for little children. Max scoffed at his father's tall tale and rather than take heed, Max continued to terrorise his family and fellow villagers. He placed hedgehogs inside the blankets at the foot of every bed, he let the goats into the house where they ate his sister's best dress and finally he put gunpowder in his grandfather's pipe. The blast knocked him stone cold unconscious and very nearly killed him. On every occasion his photograph would be placed in the box and every sunrise, on the promise of good behaviour, it would be taken out again. And so the battle continued, until the big day finally came...
The eve of St Nicholas day had arrived and the family were busy baking, cleaning and preparing for the celebrations ahead. The carpenter was busy in the workshop finishing last minute orders for customers and everyone was involved in the festive preparations. Everyone that is apart from Max. There was only a few hours of sunlight left and Max had been particularly naughty the previous day and his photograph was still inside the Krampus Box on the fireplace. In the festive hustle and bustle nobody had remembered to remove Max's photograph from the box, in fact nobody had even acknowledged Max was there. In an opportunistic moment Max took it upon himself to remove his own photograph from the box. In the Christmas chaos and calamity nobody saw Max take the box, nor did they see him remove his own photograph and more to the matter, nobody saw him replace the photograph with one of his baby brother, Lukas. Max knew that the Krampus did not exist, that's what he kept telling himself, but a constant nagging in his curious mind kept wondering “what if?”. True or not, either way he was not prepared to be the one with his photograph in the box on Krampusnacht. So he did what any devious wretch would do, he swapped his photograph for one of Lukas, the darling little brother who had stolen his mothers heart. Max closed the box with an evil glint in his eye and placed it back on the mantle. The sun set, the box locked and Max went to bed.
By the time his father had returned from the workshop it had long been dark and everyone including Max was safely tucked up in bed fast asleep. He remembered that Max had been naughty the day before so he went to remove the photograph from the Krampus Box. To his surprise, just as the tale foretold, the box would not open. It was firmly locked and no amount of prising and shaking would make it open. Just as he had told Max, the box could only be opened in daylight and the sun had set hours ago. Could the old wives tale be true? What if the Krampus really was coming for Max? Regardless of how naughty Max was, he loved his son and didn't want to risk the possible consequences. He hurriedly gathered the box, wrapped it in a cloth and hid it in his workshop under a pile of wood, well away from the house and Max.
The night passed peacefully and the morning St Nicholas Day sun streamed through the windows of the cottage. The carpenter and his wife sat by the fire and waited for the impending tide of excited children to come crashing down the stairs. One by one the children poured into the room, all of them that is apart from Max and Lukas. In a blind panic the carpenter raced upstairs to find Lukas' bed empty. He tore back the sheets to find nothing but the still warm imprint of his son covered in black sooty hand prints. He then raced into Max's room who was still fast asleep and shook him awake hysterically shouting Lukas' name over and over. Suspecting Max's resentment of Lukas he know that he must have something to do with his disappearance.
“Where is Lukas? Have you seen Lukas? What have you done with Lukas?”
Max stared at his father, his eyes still blurred with sleep. Lukas? What could possibly have hap... And then it struck him. The box, Max had put his photograph in the box. Max started back at his father in fear and disbelief; he could only mutter two words.
“The b-b-b-box, the b-b-b-box...”
The carpenter threw Max back into the bed and raced to the workshop to retrieve the hidden box. The worst of his fears were true and a feeling of dread began well in the pit of his stomach. The box was not there. He searched everywhere but the box had vanished. In a delirious dash of panic he charged back home as fast as his legs could carry him so raise the alarm. Yet, as he burst through the door, there it was, the box was back on the shelf above the fireplace where it had been the previous night when he had returned from the workshop. He grabbed the box and as the rays of sunlight shone though the window it opened with ease and the carpenter was faced with a disturbing discovery. The photograph of Max was no longer in the box. It had been replaced with a photograph of Lukas but where Lukas should have been was a scorched hole. With a shaking hand he removed the blackened photograph from the box and underneath he saw something that made his blood run cold. On the postcard of the Krampus, instead of eight children there was a ninth child sat on the broomstick. The carpenter squinted and looked closer and as he wiped the tears from his eyes he could see that the ninth child was his beloved Lukas.
Lukas was never seen again. In the search for the young boy the villagers found nothing but his favourite teddy bear and a track of large hoof prints that led deeper into the dark forest. The tracks stopped suddenly, as if the creature that made them had just vanished or flew away.
Max's bad behaviour came to a grinding halt. The carpenter kept him locked in his room most of the time and his photograph was placed back in the Krampus Box. Max's devilish trick was so bad that the box could never be opened again, even in the sunlight of the brightest summer day. No matter how well he behaved the box remained clamped shut and it stayed that way for a whole year.
The following Krampusnacht the creature returned. With a black clawed hand it opened the box with ease and took out the photograph of Max. The image of smiling boy began to fade and burn and Max was never seen again.
So next Christmas, as you lie in bed eagerly listening for the soft jingle of sleigh bells also listen for the bark of dogs and the rattle of chains. The Krampus is coming to town so make sure you're good or you might just be spending Christmas with Max.
For those wishing to discover more about the roots and rebirth of this folkloric devil than I can thoroughly recommend 'The Krampus and the Old Dark Christmas' by Al Ridenour available through Feral House.
While the title of this blog post may scream 'CLICK BAIT ALERT!', there is an element of truth to my wild claim.
I awoke this morning to find that my good friend The Deceptionist had sent me a link to the most amazing Twitter account. Roman Fedortsov works on a fishing trawler based in Murmansk, a port city in the extreme northwest part of Russia. Earlier this year, he started tweeting photographs of his most unusual catches.
Most deep-sea fishermen would likely smile or shrug at his pictures, given the variety of creatures regularly pulled up in nets, but the images are perfectly monstrous to your average land-lover.
Fans of HP Lovecraft, Guillermo del Toro & HR Giger will no doubt see some remarkable similarities between their creatures creations and these real monsters from the stygian depths. Monster designers need look no further than the eternal midnight of our deep oceans for inspiration. If such bizarre and alien looking creatures exist on our own planet, imagine what lurks out there in deep space?
Star Spawn, Cthonians, Deep Ones, Leng Spiders and Flying Polyps, you'll find most of them on Roman's Twitter feed. Maybe something gargantuan does slumber in the deepest ocean, maybe Lovecraft was right.
I read this article while I was in the US over Halloween. Ironically I was in Disney's Magic Kingdom being subjected to a sickening dose of fairy glitter, pink tutus and seizure inducing LED wands.
A.J.O'Connell over at GeekDad.com does a wonderful job of reminding us that if you scrape away the glitter and cat hair you will find that the darker origins of fairy folklore are still being championed if you know where to look...
Fairies often come to mind around Halloween. After all, it seems like half the costumes in the stores come with wands and wings. But there’s another reason fairies might be on your mind this time of year. Fairies are terrifying. Or at least, they’ve been terrifying lately.
And let’s face it: fairies, at their mythological core, under all the sparkle we’ve covered them with since Victorian times, are frightening.
As kidnappers, they are a parent’s nightmare, because they can get your kid to leave you willingly, and maybe replace that child with a monster. As tricksters, they love a good joke; the more people get hurt, the funnier the joke is. As helpers, fairies are more like mob enforcers: yes, they will help you out, but then they own you. (God help you if you don’t leave a saucer of milk out for them overnight.)
Creators have always played with the darker side of fairies, and the humans who associate with them. Neil Gaiman included them in American Gods in 2000, Torchwood traumatized geek parents everywhere with a fairy episode in 2006, and remember that pressed fairy book Terry Jones and Brian Froud did in the ’90s?
Lately, though, there seems to be a lot more of them. This year (and last) has seen a run of scary fairies in fiction. It’s a phenomenon that’s happened across mediums: novels, comics, and television.
If you’re into horror, or if you just don’t want your small, fairy-obsessed child to stumble into something that might be too mature for them, here’s a round-up of five dark fairy-related properties that have come out in the last 12 months.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
What is it? TV mini series
Can your kids watch it? Sure, but parental guidance might be best
Fright factor: I give the fairy 8 out of 10 inept theoretical magicians
Hooray! The 2015 television adaptation of Suzanna Clarke’s 2004 novel of the same name is available on Amazon Prime! This book, set in England, during the war with Napoleon, follows two British magicians: Mr. Norrell, who taught himself magic from books, and Mr. Strange, who has a talent for intuitive magic.
The pair attempt to bring back English magic after a long hiatus; England used to be a very magical country, but magic disappeared after The Raven King, a medieval magician, vanished hundreds of years before. The two magicians are so different they can barely work together, and one of them – to bring back English magic – makes a Faustian bargain with one of the most magical creatures in British history: a fairy. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell features one of the most frightening fairies of all: The Man with the Thistledown Hair, played chillingly by Marc Warren (who will always be Mr. Teatime from Hogfather to me).
This guy is a big old bucket of nope, collecting humans he likes — mostly women — as if he werea Thomas Harris villain. He holds people hostage in his domain when they’re asleep, dominates their waking lives, and uses his magic to keep them from telling anyone about his control over them, cutting them off from loved ones. Even worse: he doesn’t even know he’s doing wrong. (As a fairy, he really does think cruelty is funny.) He is a textbook abuser.
If entitled, abusive behavior were personified and given magical powers, it would look like the Man with the Thistledown Hair. Even more frightening, however, is the way the humans who are not under his spell aid and abet him by not listening to his victims, and branding them insane.
What is it? Comic
Can your kids read it?Yes, if they’re older. It’s about as scary as Stranger Things.
Fright factor:7 out of 10 demogorgons
Also from Image, this story features Orla Roche, a young woman who can see monsters, which certainly seem to be fairies, although as far as I can see, they are never explicitly named as such, although the mythology certainly adds up. This comic explores the dark side of what it would be like to be able to talk to the fairies who live in the Wood. (Spoiler: it would not be fun.)
Orla, an Irish teen, is a talented artist. She also has a dark past, having found a creature sucking the soul out of a beloved family member when she was a child. She grows up as an at-risk child: getting lost in the wood, speaking to and drawing changelings and fairies, drawing the scorn of her classmates and worrying her family members. The Hunt, which started its run this past July, is a fascinating look into Irish mythology, and features changelings as dark, terrifying beings, and The Wood as an awful, alternate reality, a place that houses both fairies and the souls of the dead. It feels a little like an Irish version of Hellblazer, but without the Christian mythology.
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
What is it?Novel
Can your kids read it?Totally. There’s one sex scene, but otherwise, it’s middle-grade and up.
Fright factor:2 out of 10 sentient trees
Speaking of terrifying forests, Naomi Novik, best known for her Temeraire novels, won the Nebula, the Locus and the Mythopoeic Awards this year for her standalone 2015 novel Uprooted. The awards were totally deserved.
This book, which reads like a realistic Slavic fairy tale, is less about individual fairies and more about a population’s battle with a fairy wood. The enchanted forest, called The Wood, which harbors strange, dangerous, treelike creatures. Every 10 years, the village at the edge of the wood holds a lottery, and one of the girls is taken and brought to a nearby wizard’s tower. No one knows what happens to them.
Agnieszka, an awkward young woman, fears the lottery, because only exceptional girls are taken, and her best friend is beautiful, noble and talented. That’s as much as I can write without spoiling anything. Do yourself a favor and read this one. Although the template for this book is a standard fairy tale, it’s originally written, and it’s a beautiful meditation on identity, strength, power, and friendship.
The Hidden People, by Alison Littlewood
What is it?Novel
Can your kids read it? Probably most appropriate for high school and up
Fright factor:9 out of 10 superstitious villagers
In Victorian London, Albert, a gentleman, learns his cousin Lizzie has been murdered by her husband. Her husband, believing that Lizzie had been stolen by the fairies, burned her alive. Although Albert only met Lizzie once, years before, he is outraged, and hurries to her village to arrange a funeral and seek justice.
He soon realizes the villagers don’t think a crime was committed. Lizzie lived near a barrow fairies were rumored to live in, and Albert starts seeing things he can’t explain. Unable to extricate himself from the crime, Albert gets deep into the details of Lizzie’s life, until his wife finally comes to town to collect him. This book, which comes out on Nov. 1, is disturbing on several counts — as an examination of domestic violence, as a fairy tale, or as a story of obsession.
Although the possible fairies are scary, the people are probably the scariest things in this book. Albert himself is frightening: a rich boy who had a crush on his poor cousin but didn’t marry her, and he throws himself into his self-ordained quest in the most invasive way possible.
I Hate FairyLand, by Skottie Young
What is it: Comic
Can your kids read it? Oh HELL no.
Fright factor: 4 of 10 murdered anthropomorphic narrators
Yep, this looks like something a little kid might see and want. But let me tell you that no, it is not for children. Not even a little. But you know who it is for? You.
I Hate FairyLand (which began last year, and is now in its third arc) is the story of Gert, a little girl who gets sucked into FairyLand. She is greeted by the queen of the fairies, provided with a guide and a clue, and sent off on a magical, wondrous quest to find the key back to the real world using nothing but her good heart and her wits. Except that doesn’t work so well, and she gets stuck there for 30 years. In a child’s body. Eating nothing but candy. And the world she lives in won’t even let her swear about it.
So – what else is a girl to do? – she murders her way through her quest. That’s not even a spoiler, guys. That’s basically the first few pages of the first issue. I Hate FairyLand is what happens when you mash Alice in Wonderland up with The Itchy & Scratchy Show. Liked Ren & Stimpy and MTV’s Oddities? You’ll like this. Seriously, though, hide it from your kids. Also, Image came out with a related coloring book.
(Hide that as well.)
Although I could never compare myself to such an iconic great as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we do share a commonality that some readers may also sympathise with. It may also be considered a warning to those who have a fleeting interest in the Occult but hold good careers in more sterile and blinkered disciplines. Like myself, Doyle's professional reputation took a major hit once it became apparent he had an interest in the paranormal and more importantly, fairies.
This great article by Daryl Worthington reveals there is more to Doyle than Sherlock...
With his most well-known creation Sherlock Holmes currently in vogue, the subject of movies and TV series on both sides of the Atlantic, it is easy to forget just how diverse the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle really were.
From books defending spiritualism to an expose on Belgian atrocities in the Congo, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was a hugely fascinating figure whose broad oeuvre reflected his fascinating life. He befriended and then acrimoniously fell out with the legendary illusionist Harry Houdini over the validity of spiritualism; became embroiled in solving a real life murder mystery, and was until recently believed to have been involved in one of the great archaeological hoaxes of the twentieth century.
Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 22nd May, 1859. Doyle’s family were affluent, strict Irish Catholics. His father was a respected artist whose achievements had ultimately been thwarted time and again by alcoholism. His mother was a well educated woman with a passion for reading. She would prove hugely influential in Conan Doyle’s life, as he wrote in his biography: “In my early childhood, as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.”
In 1876 Doyle embarked on a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh. It was here that the youngster wrote and had published his first short stories, in many ways reflecting a balance between practical scientific study and fantasy that would come to define his work.
The Sherlock Holmes character first appeared in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet, published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. Holmes was partly based on Dr. Joseph Bell, one of Doyle’s lecturers who impressed him with his intense attention to detail, a trait clearly reflected in the character. Beyond Holmes however, Doyle’s medical background is also reflected in Round the Red Lamp and the Stark-Munro Letters; the latter a novel depicting the live of a young medical graduate in nineteenth century England, the former a collection of short stories on the trials and traumas of the medical profession.
Alongside fiction, Doyle engaged with highly controversial issues of the day. Inspired by “a burning indignation”, he wrote the The Crime of the Congo in just eight days in 1909. Dealing with the atrocities taking place in the Congo on behalf of Belgian King Leopold II, the powerful book included graphic portrayals of violence and is littered with horrific photos of mutilated victims. Not satisfied with the publication of his written description of the horrors in the Congo, Doyle used his fame to lobby world leaders such as Kaiser Wilhelm and Theodore Roosevelt.
Doyle’s work straddles the line between the factual and the fantastical. His groundbreaking science fiction novel The Lost World tells the story of a group of explorers discovering a South American plateau where prehistoric animals survive. Although an adventure story, it is littered with references to real prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs and hominids. It’s a book which engages with the idea of evolution at a time it was still considered cutting edge, and shows Doyle’s own interest in the sciences.
Towards the end of his life Doyle became fascinated with the mystical and the occult, unveiling another, perhaps totally unexpected facet to this complicated individual. He fell out with Houdini following the illusionist’s campaign to debunk Spiritualism, Doyle having spent much of the 1920s writing books championing Spiritualist beliefs. In 1922, Doyle wrote The Coming of the Fairies, a book which promoted the Cottingley Fairies photographs. Opinion was divided at the time as to whether the images of two girls playing with fairies were a hoax (the girls finally admitted in the 1980s that the images had indeed been faked), and for many, Doyle’s passionate championing of the fairies did long term damage to his literary reputation.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will likely always be best remembered for his most recognised character, the deerstalker and pipe bearing Sherlock Holmes. By looking at his other works however, an image of a deeply complicated, fascinating individual emerges.
Some of you may recall my previous Cabinet of Curiosities post from way back in June. The challenge was to create a cabinet of curiosities within 3 weeks however, the year took a rather nasty turn and the death of a close friend followed by health issues hindered the creative process. I should really be grateful that I actually completed the project in 3 months, although not quite as ambitious as the original 3 weeks I feel the end result is more than worth it.
At the end of my previous post the cabinet exterior was complete as well as the self unlocking padlock mechanism. The interior was a blank canvas, four large sections of empty space ready to be filled with fantastical things. The final cabinet can be broken down into 4 distinct sections and I will cover them individually.
Taking inspiration from a typical cabinet of curiosity I wanted this section to be an assortment of inconsistant nooks and crannies in which the client could hide his tools of the trade. The items that adorn the shelves each have a terrible tale or mysterious history that the owner can pluck at any point from the display to recount to his mesmerised audience. There is even a slot for a deck of cards should needs must.
Haunted Artifact Exhibition
The permanent resident of this mysterious corner of the cabinet is a haunted doll of such paranormal magnitude she has to be strapped down to prevent her from ‘wandering’. Even the padlocked box is unable to contain the power of the doll as her ghostly hands have been known to pick the lock in an attempt to escape. A selection of protective talismans and amulets dangle from the display in an endeavour to quell the evil forces than animate this bisque abomination.
Spirit Communication Module
It has long been thought that mirrors are seen as windows to the spirit world. The Spiritus Speculo Infinitum is a type of infinity mirror that opens a portal directly to the spirit realm. Once present they may communicate using traditional methods such as bells and tambourines, if you listen carefully you may even hear them speak. The drawers are filled with items once owned by the dead, these ’spirit catalysts’ are used to lure the spirits of the departed through the portal in order to communicate. Some spirits may even leave gifts known as aports and some of these are on display in the cabinet.
The Professor’s Library
A fitting repository for Prof BC’s classic Doppelgänger series, safely strapped in and protected from the inquisitive hands of the uninitiated. In anticipation of Prof BC’s 'Realm of the Fairies', the pinned and mounted specimen of a winged mummified creature resides in silent protection of the tomes below.
The Spirit Theater
Finally, the cabinet converts into a spirit theater complete with velvet curtains and gold footlight shell lights to illuminate the horrors within. Should the performer be feeling brave he may unstrap the haunted doll to give the audience a demonstration of her unearthly powers (from behind closed curtains of course!)
A special thanks goes to the client who originally ordered this commission. Your infallible patience and friendship combined with your artistic understanding of not rushing the creative process was most welcomed. May the Cabinet of Curiosities bring you a lifetime of mystery and wonderment.
I thought I'd share this interesting article from The Politic which draws together the recent spate of clown sightings and the connections with fairy folklore. Do you likes balloons Johnny?
On Saturday night, a student shared a photo of two clowns on the Facebook page “Overheard at Yale.” The figures, covered in dark face paint and lit by a nearby street lamp, stared straight at the camera, or maybe at the person behind it. This sighting, the first at Yale, adds New Haven to the growing list of cities that have experienced clown sightings, a nervous phenomenon that has taken the nation by storm. In other words, the Clownpocalypse is here.
Like most horror stories, this one began in a small southern town and features an unassuming little boy. In late August, the son of Donna Arnold reported that he had spotted two clowns—one in red and one in black—outside his apartment complex in Greenville County, South Carolina, and claimed that there were luring him into the woods. Since then, hundreds of new reports have appeared in numerous states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia, and Texas, describing clowns engaged in a variety of unnerving activities, from standing on the roadside during the darkest hours of the night, to chasing children.
The significance of this story doesn’t just come from the momentum with which clown sightings have taken hold. The curious features of these incidents, particularly the characterizations of clowns as insidious creatures, the targeting of young children, and the largely non-violent methods of terror have strong roots in the history of clowns and in Western society itself.
Though historian Beryl Hugill is able to locate the vague form of the clown in societies as early as Ancient Greece, the roots of the modern clown stem most strongly from the Italian Renaissance and the production of a theatre genre known as “commedia dell’arte.” It is there that the Harlequinn character first made its appearance. Benjamin Radford, author of “Bad Clowns,” elaborates that the mask cladded, diamond-pattern wearing character came from the sinister veins of the religious underworld. The clown was not so humorous after all. Rather, its original identity was derived from the cackles of “lost souls”—dead people who were unable to transition to the afterlife. These lost souls would turn into a “troupe of comic demons” described as flying and dancing in the air; essentially, they were fairies.
When I use the term fairy, I’m not talking about Tinkerbell. Rather, I am referring to the mythical creatures whose origin, legend argues, was a rebellious group of angels banished by God from Heaven. The is not a story of the Devil or Satan: The fairies were not sent all the way down, but kept in a limbo between heaven and hell.
In its ancient origin, the insidious character of the clown asserts itself. Psychologists have attempted to explain “coulrophobia,” the fear of clowns, by stating that the proportions of the features, combined with the gaudy use of color, triggers an unsettling visual sensation. But the fact that coulrophobia has not been clinically listed as a phobia, but remains the lingo of pop culture suggests that the majority of people aren’t actually scared of clowns. Rather, the unsettling sense generated by clowns is derived from the acknowledgement that—despite appearances—there is a capacity, a potential for harm. The limbo of the fairies, stuck between good and bad, like the laughter of the demon, is the tension that lies beneath our fear of clowns. The thick paint that masks the features of the clown forces us to question what is underneath.
In this way, the non-violent nature of clown sightings can be contextualized. While it is very likely that many of the people dressing up as clowns are simple pranksters, and therefore do not hold criminal intentions, it is still key to note that most reports show that these clowns do not present weapons, let alone use them. Radford argues that the leering clown can be more fearful than the killer clown, as once the act of violence is committed the critical tension breaks. The dynamics of uncertainty are no longer present in the equation; the killer clown is no more fearful than that of the generic murderer.
One of the first times that the term “Killer Clown” was used was in reference to John Wayne Gacy Jr. Gacy, who often used to work as “ Pogo the Clown,” sexually assaulted and murdered 33 teenage boys in Illinois in the 1970s. His main tactic was deception. Instances like the Gacy case create the sense that it is legitimate to question the nature of the clown; they validate the subconscious tension. Depictions of clowns in pop culture also add to the impression that clowns are dangerous: the Joker from Batman, Pennywise in “It” and the chilling clown in Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist.
The recent clown sightings have been accelerated by social media. Trends are determined almost exclusively by circulation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In this way, the recent clown sightings are a trend ultimately not so distinctive from other internet fads like the dab, Arthur memes and pictures of avocado toast. The Clownpocalypse is nothing new.
But more curious is why this trend is happening right now, at this particular moment. The last time a similar event occurred was in France and England in 2013 where, similarly, stalking clowns were reported. Mary Valle of The Guardian argues that public hysteria is produced in moments of social nervousness. The societal unease results in people finding comfort in such acts, in order to materialize a hysteria they can only feel. Valle concludes by arguing that the social anxiety produced by the American election, the antics of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have resulted in what she refers to as a “real-time trauma play.”
In the fertile ground of the Internet, the seeds of another movement have been planted: #ClownLivesMatter. A number of day-job clowns have taken to social media to help people realize the effects these depictions of clowns are having on their livelihoods. Marches and rallies have been organized for the near future.
Stephen King, the creator of the infamous Pennywise, tweeted in his support: “Hey guys,” he wrote “time to cool the clown hysteria—most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.” We can only hope he’s right. After all, his twitter archive also includes: “I have a button that says CAN’T SLEEP, CLOWNS WILL EAT ME. Probably not true. But what if it was? What if they’re just waiting?”
What if they’re just waiting.
If The Curiosity is as good as it looks, it will be every geek's dream. It's beautifully shot, unabashedly genre, is inspired by movies like Pan's Labyrinth and District 9, and takes place in a world with two moons (call it an inverse Tatooine)
The Curiosity is described as a "strange fairy tale" made by Travis Beacham, who is best known for writing Pacific Rim. According to his announcement of the film on his Tumblr, it will be another low-budget indie, emulating the budget tricks of Pacific Rim, and will create an entirely new world.
"Without giving too much away, it's a small-scale fantasy, somewhere in the budgetary neighborhood of indie genre fare like Pan's Labyrinth or District 9. That is to say only that it's an intimately focused, character-driven tale, nevertheless set in a world of its own (nothing as grand as Pharaonic Egypt, mind you, but still a far cry from the house next door.)"
The film is reportedly about selkies, creatures in Scottish folklore that are seals in the water but morph into humans on dry land, or essentially Scottish mermaids. According to Screen Crush, it follows a woman named Spindle, a "pointy-eared girl who has traveled across a magical ocean and ended up a long way from home, who meets a magician named Datchery Bell." There's no release date for the film yet, but it might end up in theaters very soon if it's picked up by a distributor.
Azrael is the Angel of Death. He watches over the dying, separates the soul from the body, and receives the spirits of the dead. He then takes the soul of every person and returns it to God. What better angel could adorn a Box of Astaroth whose sole purpose is to commune with the afterlife?
This is the oldest edition I have made as the actual cabinet dates around 1850 while the handles and furniture also date around the late 1800s. The box has been sympathetically modified to retain the aged quality and everything that makes the box 'work' is cunningly concealed.
As with all editions with curtains, there is the ability to make the curtains twitch in response to questions giving the illusion that 'something' is behind them.
The solid pewter skeleton is by UK artist Carl Church who is an International award winning bird taxidermist who also dabbles in pewter casting.
The SOS (Snake Oil Salesman) killer was one of the first documented US serial killers to poison his victims. This Wild West version of Dr Harold Shipman would travel from town to town touting his dubious ointments and potions to the gullible revelers. He would then select his victim, usually an attractive saloon girl and administer a carefully concocted dose of his 'Beauty Elixir'. This potion was meant to keep women looking young and youthful however, the deadly mixture contained a time delayed dose of snake venom. The SOS killer would administer the medicine from his wagon and then retire for the evening whilst following his intended victim waiting for the venom to incapacitate them. He would then take them back to his wagon and conduct experimental medical procedures on the victim while they were still alive. His amateur attempts at surgery were so brutal and invasive that the women eventually died a slow and painful death whilst being unable to scream due to the paralysis invoked by the snake venom.
Scores of mutilated girls were discovered across the American Old West as the SOS killer wormed his was across the country until he was finally caught in 1879. He was eventually found to be Irish native Marshal Seeley, a ship builder who took his perverted interest in women and medicine and forged a new killer career. To avoid the gallows he self administered a deadly dose of heroin in jail. It was discovered that he had smuggled the suicidal dose into jail internally. He escaped an official sentencing as he died before his trial and so he vanished into the annals of history. It is rumored that Seeley had murdered more than 89 women during his 6 year killing spree although it is though by history experts to be almost double that.
Although the macabre tale of the SOS Killer has faded into history I have been fortunate enough to obtain some of Marshal Seeley's disturbing tools he used to procure his victims. Maybe if we're lucky we may even be able to talk with one of the spirits of his victims tonight who still wander the Earth in limbo waiting for real justice to be served...
This private commission was created for Paul Noffsinger of The Mystery Collection based in Colorado. He specified a Wild West theme and I had always been fascinated by Snake Oil Salesmen of the American Old West so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to create a box of delights for a devious killer cowboy.
The SOS killer's case contains an array of potions and medicines and antique anatomy diagrams. The Victorian wallpaper design is an exact reproduction of the wallpaper in The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street in London. I had taken a pretty poor photograph of the original wallpaper but after a bit of tinkering in Photoshop I was able to replicate the design and create my own printable Sherlock Holmes wallpaper.
As with all editions of The Box of Astaroth it comes with a saloon girl doll who mysteriously moves around inside the box as well as various tools to converse with the dead such as spirit bells and music boxes.
All that's required is a few rusty surgeon's tools and some 'trophies' in specimen bottles and the next mystery for The Mystery Collection will unfold..
Another box leaves the studio, this time for one of my what I like to call SAS clients (stage and screen).
The design brief was a real head scratcher to the point I nearly had to say it wasn't possible but not being one to disappoint I set about trying to solve this seemingly impossible illusion.
With previous versions of The Box of Astaroth a small doll moves around the cabinet by depositing itself into a glass or cremation urn in the same way an Astro Ball cabinet works. The brief from the client had the same mechanics but included one element I didn't think was possible. The box was to be themed around Harry Houdini and a small doll styled like the man himself needed to be bound, chained and placed into a tank of water to replicate one of his signature escapism acts. The doors to the cabinet would be closed and a few moments later they are opened to reveal that Houdini has picked the lock, unbound himself from the chains AND climbed out of the tank of water! The daring escapism act would then signify that the spirit of Houdini was present and a séance would ensue using spirit bells, music boxes and tambourines to converse with Houdini.
As strange as it sounds the idea I had to engineer the escape worked first time. Maybe Houdini gave me some assistance, who knows! I plan to post a video demonstration shortly so watch this space.
The Houdini Seance Edition Box of Astaroth, when presented correctly will give the performer a 20-30 minute show incorporating trivia about the great Houdini followed by an actual escape act and a séance. Some say the box was even once owned by Houdini, how much of that rumour is true I don't know however, it appears to be the only proven way of contacting his spirit...
So Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the world's first ever escapism act from beyond the grave!