Hookland County Chronicle
There is a secret king of England who dwells in the halls of the land’s hollow hills. He wears a crown of silvered bones, holds a shield made from the skin of slain giants. He wields not some fabled blade, but a skull-crushing mace made of ash and fallen star iron. When he wanders his land it is usually in silent passing, wearing the appearance of a ragged walker. He speaks only with the lost, hedge-sleepers and those exiled from their families. His heart has no mercy for landlords or hoarders of wealth. His ears will hear no prayer nor request from those wearing titles they did not earn through merit. Shadow folk flee before him. Even the harshest princes of Elfland keep treaty with him. His favours are mighty, but hard-won, his subjects tongues rest when any stranger asks after him. – beginning of the traditional Hookland folk tale The Secret King
Welcome to the third issue of the Hookland County Chronicle (HCC). We all continue to suffer Extreme Musk and it seems increasingly likely that Hookland will eventually be forced to migrate from the megalomaniac's platform. Plans are afoot on this and will probably be announced here in the next edition or two. It’s been sad to see so many people you value drop out of conversations without a goodbye, but heartening that this iteration of the county has allowed me and others to reconnect with some of those who had already stopped using social media. In this long season of bruises, hearing from old friends, having a sense of community beyond the artificial borders of web application is important. Thank you all for following the county here and thank you to those who have also reached out with old school letters or phone calls. – David
Mother Cox, Mother Knox, Mother Cuthbert of the pox
Mother Rib, Mother Whittle, Mother Bone of hiss and spittle
Mother Margery, Mother Kate, Mother Helstone who guards the gate
Mother Hand, Mother Hope, Mother Mab of the swinging rope
Mother Weaver, Mother Anne, Mother Malkin who calls the clan
Mother Reddyke, Mother Fox, Mother Hart who sees through locks
– Traditional Hookland ‘witch-list’ rhyme. There is power in naming.
You Beast You! Master of Moss
Scholarly spats fought with pretentious words are not restricted to modern academia. Any perusal of mediaeval manuscripts at Weychester Cathedral’s chained library will reveal vicious feuds among the savants of the age about the nature of the Master of Moss species. Gervase of Dedwick placed the creature among the Greenkin of wood sprites and ancient powers of the land. However, John of Coreham called Gervase ‘an infected boil on the arse of knowledge’ for not recognising that the Master of Moss was nothing but the decayed memory of a time when woodwose were commonly found. History has sided with Gervase largely because any creature resembling a moss-encrusted humanoid tree with muscle tissue made of vines and often wearing a dress of mud and leaf-rot sounds more akin to some feral elf than a genuine wild man. Those that reckon it a manifestation of Silvanus, the Roman tutelary deity of the woods have always been largely disregarded. Gifted with bright green eyes, a beard often mistaken for Clematis vitalba and capable growing to near giant stature, a Master of Moss – also called Wood Guard by some – is a protector of all the plants in a forest. It is believed the best time to catch sight of a Master of Moss is in May when he begins his fervid pursuit of Moss Maidens or in the deadening cold of winter when it takes temporary root and sleeps away the worst of the season’s teeth of ice. While notorious for cursing anyone who brought an ax into its territory, some who grazed livestock within woods claimed to have trading relationships with the creatures. Although more generally accepted as antithetical to most adults, there are reports of some Master of Moss providing haven for children lost within woods and safely returning them to its edges. This fact has made them fondly remembered and occasionally venerated in some woodland adjacent communities right down to the 20th century.
I am in constant grump about my fellow folklorists who want to nothing more than classify, classify, classify. There is a risk that in this pursuit they become wielders of scalpels, dissecting to the point they forget that while it may be composed of motifs – swan transformation, hidden gates to Faery, unquiet bones – folklore is told story. When we pull apart a motor car to its component parts it no longer functions as a vehicle, we lose the beauty and joy of travelling at speed. When we pull apart folklore to the point it loses the colour and magic of its telling we have harmed ourselves. For folklore is a tapestry held in common and the pulling at its threads till it all unravels and each thread is tested to find the origin of its dye will ultimately benefit no-one. – C.L. Nolan
Is It Worth It? Sputnik
As much as Hookland is folk horror, analogue horror, seaside gothic and all the other labels people have kindly applied to it*, Hookland is also science fiction. Admittedly shaped by a peculiar mix of English and 1970s Soviet science fiction, but science fiction. It is also a channeling of my childhood love of cosmonauts. As much as J.G. Ballard, Angela Carter and Rupert the Bear get entries in the A-Z of Hookland influences, so do my childhood heroes such as Alexi Leonov, Vyacheslav Zudov and Boris Volynov. Therefore, my friend Phil Hine was shooting at an easy target when he recommended Sputnik to me as a ‘cosmonaut horror’.
The 2020 directorial debut of Egor Abramenko, Sputnik is a Russian science fiction horror film that uses the history and mythology of the Soviet space programme to bring a new scoop of interpretation to the old Quatermass trope of something extra returning in the capsule. Unfortunately, the script consistently fails to escape the gravity of cliché. Normally this would cause a movie to crash and burn, but in Abramenko’s hands, it manages to safely land at the edges of the worth watching zone.
Set in 1983, the basic story is wearingly familiar. A non-conforming neuropsychiatrist Dr. Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is whisked from a tribunal to a military base in Kazakhstan by Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk). The doctor’s help is needed in unlocking the mind of cosmonaut Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodor) whose orbiter mysteriously crashed to Earth. It takes the audience less time than the film’s characters to realise Konstantin is a host for an alien symbiote that the Colonel wants to turn into a viable weapon against the West.
Sputnik intelligently utilises its historical setting in a way many films could learn from. The peril of being a maverick within medical system stops being just a clichéd personality quirk because we know the genuine consequences of being out of favour with the Soviet state brought. Even the hackneyed ‘military want to weaponise the biology of an alien entity’ is somewhat redeemed by the Cold War context and our familiarity with exactly where such a weapon would have been deployed. The film has a sense palpable paranoia caused by the constant surveillance of a totalitarian regime. You feel it persistently eroding the possibility of friendship or even basic decency in human relations. Told in a background static of shots of monitored phone calls, files and close-circuit television, Abramenko allows it be one of Sputnik’s engines of horror and in its overcoming, a core of hope.
Director of photography Maxim Zhukov and production designer Mariya Slavina create an entirely believable vision of the bleakness of Soviet bureaucracy, an enfolding greyness of the state. Utilising actual Soviet era locations such as the Institute of Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow helps deliver a feeling of the brutalising conformity of architecture, oppression down to level of sparseness in visual diversity. Whether it is the claustrophobia of communism, cramped space capsule or observation cell, Sputnik uses constraints of budget to deliver an inescapable feeling of the viewer being confined with not only the alien, but an oppressive regime.
Sputnik is gorier than I like my horror films. The first hour is poorly paced. Yet for all that, it delivers in key areas. The alien is well realised and effectively deployed. There is a strong attention to detail – ice crystals on the orbiter’s window, the nervous sheen of perspiration on the face of medics dealing with the creature’s human host, greasy smears on the two-way mirror – that helps maintain a sense of time, place and a suspension of disbelief. More than anything, its four lead actors, Akinshina, Fyodor, Bondarchuk and Anton Vasiliev as medical director Rigel, are consistently subtle and superb. We believe in their PTSD, their motivations and distress. We invest in them instead of just waiting for their inevitable ends as so often happens in lesser horrors.
For all its last third action, jump-scares and occasional stomach-churning scenes, Sputnik is movie about ethics and the exploration of fear and trauma. It examines the human in the face of not only the biologically alien, but the alienating apparatus of state secrecy and totalitarianism. All of these things earn it that place in the long history of intellectual Russian science fiction films it so clearly coverts. Abramenko’s desire to make a movie that could legitimately be mentioned alongside Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris or Stalker isn’t quite realised, but what we do get is a visually powerful and layered work powered by performances of nuanced, emotional depth.
6.2/10 When not being a competent brain-eating thriller, its moments of haunting grace and emotional depth make Sputnik worth a watch. Add an extra 0.8 if you are a cosmonaut nerd.
*Including one academic who has described it as ‘romanticism’ which is further evidence of the truth that author intent dies with the send button.
Do the undead dream? This question has interested me ever since my father told me stories of creatures that he was too English to ever call vampires, but clearly shared much of their nature and habits. Do those unliving things said to sleep the day away in stone tombs before walking the darkened ghostlines and corpse roads under night’s cover, still have the capacity for dreaming? If so, what is in their reverie? Blood fantasies or haunting nightmares of a time before they were exiled from the community of the living? Memories of the taste or ale, the sound of laughter? A day of warm sun when they lied in a field of clover as bees danced about them? From various accounts we must assume their resting is both light and troubled. – Rev. Edred Morley, 'A History of English Monsters', 1929
Notes From the Wyrd Lab
Nothing is made up, just remembered differently – the role of misremembering in Hookland
People often laugh when I say Hookland is an act of active magic. They wear this look of being in on a joke I have not made. It is the same when I say that nothing in Hookland is made up, just remembered differently. However, it is one of the clearest, most honest statements I can make about the county.
From the Dan Dare ghosts of the abandoned British space programme at RAF Nook to the lost cosmonaut Pavel Mikoyan in perpetual psychic scream, there is a reality behind the telling. It is just that I am actively, wilfully misrembering it. From wildly improbable cryptids to ghosts still stacking the shelves of their local Co-op, there is an actual event I allow my mind to mangle. Weychester to Ashcourt, Braxwich to Meonstone, all the places of the county are recollections where the obvious deficits in memory are covered up by invention. Even DI Callaghan is two actual detectives I worked extensively with across the years, but largely remixed by the hazy fading of conversations had across too many pints of Guinness in The Speaker pub.
One of the most interesting Hauntologists I’ve ever spoken to, the late Neil Prime, agreed with me that our memories are so hopelessly flawed anything we base on them is already a work of fiction. Both of us used conscious misremembering as engines for our work. The loss of information in the decaying echo of event across time, the inherent imperfection of recall are perfect cracks in which stories can grow. Recognising that and going with it has been one of the most liberating lessons I’ve learned while working in Hookland.
Recently my wife read some material and asked: “Is this you or is it a character?” All writing is at some level exorcism, all writing is at some level biography, but in Hookland blurring is often the goal, flawed recall my route to it. Some of favourite wanderings in the county come when I can no longer tell whether it my broken memory or a character’s recollection I am exploring. Being lost in the ghost soil has its advantages, has its joys.
Throw a bone, throw a bone twenty six
There shall be a fall of bricks
Throw a bone, throw a bone twenty seven
Of you go up to high heaven
Throw a bone, throw a bone twenty eight
Help will come far too late
Throw a bone, throw a bone twenty nine
The Devil himself will give you a sign
Throw a bone, throw a bone an even thirty
The deed be done, the deed will be dirty
Throw a one, throw a bone thirty one
Peaceful dreams you’ll have none
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty two
Your hopes will all be run through
– Traditional Hookland rhyme used as part of many osteomancy and cursing rituals rituals
Hookland Oral History Project – Three Memories of Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes in the 1970s
Hallowe’en was different just a few years back and to be honest, I think most kids my age were more interested in Guy Fawkes Night. Despite Father Philp warning us about it being anti-Catholic to its core, it tempted us into celebration with cinder toffee, bonefires and baked potatoes. More importantly, it was an excuse to beg for explosives without facing parental wrath. Just as with the Shell Shrines in summer, there was a lot of inter-gang warfare amongst all the local children to get the top scrounging spot. The best one was outside the post office in town, a lot of people coming and going and most of them with change. It was always taken by older boys with a reputation for dishing out black eyes. To avoid any accusation of siding with the anti-popes, our guy was definitely not a Fawkes. Some years it wasn’t even a guy. We made a Master of Moss, one of the Half-there Folk and the year of the strike at Osman’s our effigy was a picket-line busting copper with a painted skull under his helmet. It was a very popular monster. Even Father Philip gave us a few pennies. – Matthew Sanderson
When I was young, winter started in the week where you got Hallowe’en and then Guy Fawkes. That was when you could feel the year dying, falling to the cold. You’d wake up to frost-lace on the lane, condensation on the pane and breathing dragon-mist when you stepped outside. They’d also be puddles topped by ice that lasted only a long as the walk to school and all our testing with sticks and stones. I think every school has at least one mad kid, one that’s a bit to obsessed with fire and blowing things up. Ours was Andrew Walker. Always talking about mixing weedkiller and sugar to make bombs, never bought an icecream in the summer so he’d have more money for fireworks when they went on sale at the end of October. That sort of kid. When we were 10, the night after Guy Fawkes he brought into school all these rocket sticks he’d collected on the way in just to smell the gunpowder residue. He also brought in a stash of unused bangers that he announced he was going to use to blow up this weird collection of sticks and vines in Piper’s Copse that we were all convinced was a Wood Sprite’s nest. Everyone tried to talk him out of it – there’s never any good going to come from messing with Wood Sprites – yet everyone went to watch him demolish it. He climbed up the tree and was trying to shove bangers into it when one of them went off. He came down hard. His hand was horribly burnt and he broke a wrist in the fall as well. Andrew Walker never came back to our school. He wasn’t even seen around the village. Rumours overheard from our parents made mention of him ‘being sent to a special school’. In the playground, all our speculation focussed on the Wood Sprite’s having cursed him. I still think the truth is probably a mix of the two. – Mark Bennet
In the early 1970s, there were usually only two witch masks you could buy at Hallowe’en. You had a green witch face or red witch face. They were both moulded cardboard just like the Guy Fawkes mask that was sold beside them. There was only one local shop that sold another witch mask – Burnham’s Cabin. It was a newsagent situated in that little row of shops between the library and the church. We passed it every week when Mum took us to change books and feed my obsessions for both Little Grey Rabbit and dinosaurs. For some reason she pulled us passed it a little faster than other shops, but we always tried to dawdle and look in its window. The reason I remember about the other witch mask – years later I learned it was based on Old Mother Marsh – was because one night we were in the library and there was a power cut. What with the Three-Day weeks and all the strikes this wasn’t unusual, but there was special feeling handing over your cards and getting Little Grey Rabbit and the Weasels and The How And Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs stamped by candlelight. Outside the town was almost completely dark. Somehow that absence of street lights and the usual gentle glow spilling from shop windows, made it seem much colder, amplified the lingering smell of diesel and damp. Burnham’s was the only place emitting any light. As we got closer we could see why. Their display of fireworks and masks – red witch, green witch, Guy Fawkes and Old Mother Marsh – were illuminated by paraffin lamps behind them and by one nesting in an iron cauldron. I didn’t have words like altar, coven or Sabbath in my vocabulary then, but I didn’t need them. I somehow knew there was something behind the masks – spirits of whatever you want to call them – and they were having a meeting. I pressed my head against the glass as I wanted to hear what they were thinking and got a slap for it. All the way home in streets remade by something close to true wild darkness, Mum muttered about a “palpable sense of evil”. I was in a bit of a daze the whole journey. All I could feel was the burn of the blow she had given me and the itch in the back of my head that came from the one word the Old Mother Marsh mask had seemed to say: “Soon!” – Laura Hamilton
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty three
A shadow from which you’ll flee
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty four
In the hollow hill an opening door
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty five
A coming peril you won’t survive
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty six
An opening of a bag of tricks
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty seven
A terrible tainting of all that’s leaven
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty eight
A loosening of the Devil’s gate
Throw a bone, throw a bone thirty nine
Someone’s a pissing in your wine
Throw a bone, throw a bone an even forty
A rising of the dreaded morte
Throw a bone, throw a bone forty one
All the good days are now done
Throw a bone, throw a bone forty two
In the blood kettle you will stew
– Traditional Hookland rhyme used as part of many osteomancy and cursing rituals rituals
Hookland Roll of Kindness
Lee Ann Day
In kindness there is connectivity, an impulse for good and a better world that is not denied. Kindness is a refusal of darkness. In its graceful light friendships have been found, lives saved and hope restored. – C.L. Nolan
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