Some of the Celtic Christian literature that emerged from these centuries took the form of the immram, a word which might be translated perhaps as a ‘wonder-voyage’, a sea journey to an otherworld.* The immrama – The Voyage of Mael Duin’s Boat, The Adventure of Bran and The Voyage of Brendan being among the best known – are set on the seaways. They are narratives of passage, which move easily from the recognizable to the supernatural, fading from known into imagined geographies with minimal indication of transition. In these tales, the actual territories of Scotland, Iceland, Orkney and Shetland are connected by the sea roads with fabled places such as the Hesperides, the Island of the Blessed, also known as the Fortunate Isles (an archipelago that was still marked on charts of the west Atlantic into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), and Hy-Brazil, the island of happiness off the west coast of Ireland, where sickness is impossible and contentment assured.
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The grotesque figure of Gradus, a cross between bat and crab, was not much odder than many other Shadows, such as, for example, Nodo, Odon’s epileptic half brother who cheated at cards, or a mad Mandevil who had lost a leg in trying to make anti-matter.
PALE FIRE, Vladimir Nabokov (link)
East Anglian writer Eliza Vaughan discovered, while researching herbal cures in Essex, that two young brothers suffering from ague (shivering fits) were cured by taking ‘four fat spiders in a glass of gin, three times daily for a fortnight’.
FOLKLORE OF ESSEX, Sylvia Kent
Alan Splet worked with Lynch to create a wildly original audio-scape for Blue Velvet. When Dorothy and Jeffrey make love, we hear a groaning roar that morphs into the sound of a guttering flame; Frank Booth erupts with rage and we hear a metallic screech; the camera journeys into the interior of a rotting human ear and the sound of a sinister wind seems to deepen and expand.
“David has a wonderful handle on how to combine images and sound,” said Elmes. “There’s a scene where Kyle wakes up in the morning after being beaten, and the first image you see is a close-up of his face in a puddle. All you see is dirt and water and you hear this strange repetitive sound, but you have no idea where you are. Then you pull back and see he’s in a logging yard and that the sound you’re hearing is a sprinkler keeping a stack of wood wet. The quality of that sound is magical. If it had been the sound of birds it wouldn’t have given you anything, but there was something about that mechanical unexplained sound that made it special. David has an understanding of how things go together that’s purely sensory-based, and he knows how to play with sounds and images until they sort of ignite each other.”
ROOM TO DREAM, David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (link)
Wittenburg says that composing these interludes was initially difficult but he took inspiration from John Cage’s approach of giving space to silence. The Berlin-based artist is referring to the experiments Cage did in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University in 1951, in which the American master concluded that absolute silence did not exist. Within the chamber, Cage heard two sounds, one high and one low – afterwards, an engineer explained that the high sound was his nervous system and the low one was his blood circulating throughout his system. Another great American composer, Pauline Oliveros, later observed that Cage was listening to the sounds caused by the early symptoms of the stroke he would later die from, and as such, according to Oliveros, while Cage was in the anechoic chamber he was ultimately listening to his future.
When my eldest son was born, I made the mistake of taking him to a Teletubbies premiere, which culminated with a photo opportunity with the Teletubbies themselves. Needless to say he was tremendously nonplussed; falling asleep just beforehand, so in the resulting picture it looks as if I am offering him up to Dipsy as a kind of nightmarish blood sacrifice.
What’s unique in Britain’s case, though, is the way these genres slip and smear into one another. Sci-fi is more often about the past returning to haunt us than about gleaming visions of the future. Horror frequently implicates itself tightly with the British landscape and its eerie, unsettling atmospheres. History invoked via period drama may be scattered with ghostly apparitions. Stories set in the realist present can acquire a mythological underlay. Britain’s self-image as a moated, ‘sceptred isle’ recurs time and again in fascist dystopias and speculative invasions. Class, social inequality and colonialism drive historical and period dramas, from genteel literary adaptations to muddy rural sagas. As I seek to ‘bruise a lane on the grass’ of all this untamed material, in Virginia Woolf’s exquisite phrase, my lens sweeps in a deliberately wide arc, seeking a telemetric folklore of the British Isles.
THE MAGIC BOX, Rob Young (link)