Showing posts with label supernatural. Show all posts
Showing posts with label supernatural. Show all posts

Monday, 9 June 2014

Coming Soon: New Digital Editions of Victorian Penny Dreadfuls

Serialized Victorian Gothic pulp fiction for the discerning modern reader!

Hic Dragones is pleased to announce a new series of eBook editions of Victorian penny bloods and penny dreadfuls. Digitally remastered and reserialized, these editions are intended to introduce modern readers to the thrills, shocks and cliffhangers of classic blood-curdling tales.

Penny dreadfuls have a significant place in the modern imagination and affections, but they are rarely read in the twenty-first century. And this is hardly surprising—with only a few exceptions, these texts can only be found in original publications or mechanically scanned copies. Until now!

The Digital Periodicals serials from Hic Dragones have been fully formatted (by a human being) to create searchable eBook texts with interactive tables of contents. For the first time since their original publication in the mid-nineteenth century, these texts will be sold as serials, with new instalments (comprising between 5-10 chapters) being released fortnightly. Readers can once again savour the anticipation of a new instalment, and enjoy these episodic stories as they were once intended.

Digital Periodicals launches on Friday 13th June 2014 with two of James Malcolm Rymer’s classic titles: VARNEY THE VAMPYRE; OR, THE FEAST OF BLOOD and VILEROY; OR, THE HORRORS OF ZINDORF CASTLE. Additional serials will be published in due course, with THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF VALENTINE VOX, THE VENTRILOQUIST coming out later in the month. As well as better-known titles, such as WAGNER THE WEHR-WOLF and THE STRING OF PEARLS (Sweeney Todd), Digital Periodicals will introduce readers to works that have unfairly fallen into obscurity: including, George Reynolds’ FAUST, Albert Coates’ SPRING-HEEL’D JACK and Pierce Egan’s WAT TYLER.

Penny dreadfuls were always meant to be pure, sensationalist entertainment, and the Digital Periodicals series is designed to inject the fun back into these under-read masterpieces of lurid, melodramatic, garish pleasure. Readers can subscribe to receive reminders about their favourite serials, and join in discussion about the stories on Twitter and Facebook

Let the feast of blood begin again…

For more information, or to sign up for the mailing list, please see the website or contact Hic Dragones via email. For academic and press enquiries, please contact Hannah Kate (series editor).

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Review: Stephen Morris, Come Hell or High Water (Part One: Wellspring) (2012)



Come Hell or High Water is a self-published supernatural/fantasy trilogy written by debut novelist Stephen Morris and set in Prague. Part One: Wellspring and Part Two: Rising came out in 2012. Part Three: Deluge will be out later in 2013. I’ll be reviewing Rising soon, but today’s post is about the first book of the series, Wellspring.

Wellspring has two parallel narratives. The first takes place in 1356 and tells of the unauthorized execution of a woman, Fen’ka, for witchcraft – ‘unauthorized’ because, as the narrative explains, no witches were officially burnt in late medieval Prague. As she dies, Fen’ka utters a series of curses, calling destruction down on her enemies – but also on the city itself.

The second narrative follows the story of Magdalena, a lonely young woman from Prague who becomes obsessed with the occult following a tarot reading. After a startling encounter with Fen’ka (and an otherworldly guide), Magdalena embarks on the task of clearing the witch’s name. With the help of the spirit of Madame de Thebes, a fortune-teller who was tortured, killed and cursed by the Nazis, and two mysterious visitors to the city, Magdalena begins to acquire the knowledge and skills she will need to succeed in her quest.

From the opening chapter, Morris reveals a keen eye for historical detail – particularly as regards late medieval beliefs about witchcraft and the treatment of witches. While the scene of Fen’ka’s condemnation includes many ‘standard’ features of this sort of story, it also contains several unusual and precise historical details. For example, the binding of Fen’ka is described thus:
‘Pulling her to her feet, they next pushed her head and shoulders down and tied her left wrist to her right ankle and her right wrist to her left ankle. In this traditional position, not only was the woman’s body made into an X, a version of St. Andrew’s Cross (and therefore her body itself was a prayer-made-flesh that God’s truth would be manifest), but it was also that much more difficult for her to swim and exonerate herself by propelling herself along the bottom of the river.’
Similarly, the later fourteenth-century chapters, which outline the punishments resulting from Fen’ka’s all-purpose curse, weave historical detail, characterization and Czech folklore together with a rather light touch. Each of the subsequent historical chapters reads almost like a standalone short story, and I found them all engaging and compelling tales.

But Wellspring is not simply a historical fantasy, it’s an ‘urban-historical fantasy’, and half of the chapters take place in modern-day Prague (well, Prague in 2002). These also contain elements of Bohemian legend and folklore, as well as reference to the unique history of the city. Following the protagonist Magdalena as she puts together pieces of the historical/supernatural puzzle, learns about the occult arts and works as an administrator at the Charles University, these chapters comprise the main narrative arc of the novel, ending on a cliffhanger that points to the events to come in the subsequent books in the series.

The 2002 chapters have a different feel to the fourteenth-century ones, but make use of the same mix of action, characterization and exposition. Occasionally, the exposition is somewhat heavy, but the subject matter is interesting enough to carry this. I enjoyed the way the historical and contemporary chapters worked together. While they are, essentially, discrete narratives, the overall picture builds as the reader switches from one to the other and back again.

Unfortunately, I found the contemporary chapters a bit flatter than the medieval ones. This is mostly due to the presentation of the protagonist. I found Magdalena to be a bit of an unengaging heroine, a far cry from the diverse and feisty female characters in the medieval chapters. Magdalena’s lack of interaction with other characters is probably the main issue. She has, to all intents and purposes, no friends. The one character who is ostensibly supposed to perform this role is dismissed and ignored on numerous occasions, and there are very few conversations between the two women. The result of this is that the narrative is almost entirely presented through Magdalena’s internal dialogue and commentary, and this is not always very compelling. In places, the heroine’s self-explanation (occasionally accompanied by a few too many exclamation marks) was a little hard to believe.

One particularly frustrating example is near the beginning of the book. Magdalena travels to New York (on her own) for a holiday. There, she pays for a tarot card reading from a woman with a Central European accent who claims to be a ‘gypsy’. Magdalena is overwhelmed by the excitement of this: ‘A professional gypsy telling her fortune seemed too good to be true.’ She exclaims: ‘This is the highlight of my trip to New York!’ Her reaction seems utterly out of proportion to the rather average events of the card reading. (As a side note, I would say that Magdalena’s response didn’t ring true as a European response to seeing someone reading fortunes and claiming Romany blood – Europe is hardly known for its warm relationship to the Romany people, and I think every fortune-teller I’ve ever seen has the word ‘gypsy’ on their signage somewhere.)

The backdrop to Magdalena’s quest to exonerate Fen’ka interested me – and had a lot to offer. The protagonist works as a secretary to an academic at Charles University; she is asked to assist with the organization of two visiting conferences – one on Evil and the other on Monsters. I must admit to some personal interest here. These conferences are based on long-running conferences run by Inter-disciplinary.net, and I have attended both on numerous occasions. Magdalena’s dabbling in the world of the occult leads her to believe that two powerful allies in her fight will be arriving in the guise of conference delegates.

However, this backdrop was marred a little by the presentation of Magdalena. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm for conference organization was a little grating, and not wholly plausible. I am yet to meet someone who works in university admin who is that excited at the prospect of a group of visiting academics, particularly a group who do not speak the local language and know little of the local area. That’s a headache, not an honour. By the time the conference delegates arrive, Magdalena’s enthusiasm has tipped over into near-sycophancy: for instance, she describes the accent of one English academic as sounding ‘so elegant, so refined […] that she imagined she were being addressed by the royalty of the academic world’.

Nevertheless, the arrival of the conference delegates allows for more interaction between Magdalena and the somewhat larger-than-life visitors. As far as I know, Rising will pick up where the events of Wellspring left off, and I’m looking forward to seeing things develop with the expanded cast list. There is real promise in the final chapter of the book, which suggests exciting and compelling developments in the next instalment. I hope that the new arrivals will bring out a stronger side to Magdalena’s character, as well as continuing the intense and climactic consequences of Fen’ka’s curse.

Overall, I enjoyed Wellspring. As a piece of historical fantasy set in one of my favourite cities it worked very well. Morris’s writing is strong and the plot is gripping. My concerns about characterization in the contemporary chapters perhaps go some way to revealing where the author’s strengths lie – I believe Morris’s heart is in the Middle Ages, and this is no bad thing at all. The wealth of knowledge, research and affection shown for the fourteenth century (and for Prague) are enough on their own to recommend the sequels to me. And if Magdalena is a little weak and na├»ve for my tastes… well, there’s always Fen’ka…

For more information about the Come Hell or High Water trilogy, visit Stephen Morris's website.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

CFP: 3rd Global Conference: Urban Fantasies: Magic and the Supernatural

15th March - 17th March 2012

Prague, Czech Republic

Call for Papers:

Jimmy Paz. Harry Dresden. Matthew Swift. Felix Castor. Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton.

These are among the more recent characters that fill the shelves of “Urban Fantasy” in local or online bookshops. The novels that constitute the genre are set in cities or gritty inner-cities and contain one or more fantastic elements. Alien races, mythological characters, paranormal beings, and the manipulation of magical forces all appear in these novels. Self-esteem issues and tragic pasts often color or shape the principal characters. Although most often “contemporary,” the tales are sometimes set in the past or future as well. The books and stories demonstrate how magic or the supernatural interact with everyday quotidian life, either changing it forever (as in the *Shadow Saga*) or remaining a hidden force that protects the unknowing residents of the city (as in *The Chamber of Ten*).

This “Urban Fantasy” thread is part of a larger project concerned with Magic and the Supernatural in all its myriad forms. The fascination and appeal of magic and supernatural entities pervades societies and cultures. The continuing appeal of these characters is a testimony to how they shape our daydreams and our nightmares, as well as how we yearn for something that is “more” or “beyond” what we can see-touch-taste-feel. Children still avoid stepping on cracks, lovers pluck petals from a daisy, cards are dealt and tea leaves read.

A belief in magic as a means of influencing the world seems to have been common in all cultures. Some of these beliefs crossed over into nascent religions, influencing rites and religious celebrations. Over time, religiously-based supernatural events (”miracles”) acquired their own flavour, separating themselves from standard magic. Some modern religions such as the Neopaganisms embrace connections to magic, while others retain only echoes of their distant origins.

Papers from any discipline are welcome on any aspect of the Urban Fantasy genre as well as those concerned with Magic and the Supernatural in more general terms or other subheadings. Possible subjects include, but are not limited to, these:

* Gender and sexual stereotypes/roles in UF stories

* Updating and rewriting of traditional mythologies in UF

* Role of / interaction of magic/philosophy/religion in UF

* Magical practice as religion in UF

* Changes in UF as reflections of /opposition to contemporary culture

* Cultural and racial stereotypes in UF

* Comparison of UF and other fantasy sub-genres

* Importance of geographic location (ex. London, Salzburg, Venice) in UF

* Importance of historical accuracy and fidelity in UF

* Explanations for how “magic” functions/operates in varying UF stories

* Magic as “paranormal,” anything alleged to exist that is not explainable by any present laws of science

* the distinctions between “magic” and “religion” and “science”

* Magical thinking and the equation of coincidence with causality

* Folk magic and “traditional” systems of magic

* “Magick” and “Wicca” as religious systems in modern society

* Witchcraft in the European context

* “Witchcraft” and animism in African or Asian contexts

* Magic as illusion, stagecraft, sleight-of-hand

* Magic in modern literature (ex. Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, the saga of Middle Earth, the Chronicles of Narnia, etc.) and in traditional literatures (folk or fairy tales, legends, mythologies, etc.)

* Magic in art and the depiction of magical creatures, practices or practitioners

* the associations of magic with the “monstrous” or “evil;” does one imply the presence of the other?

* the portrayal of magic, magical creatures, and magical practices or practitioners on television and in film

* the roles or uses of magic in video games, on-line communities, role-playing games, subcultural formations and identities

* the similarities and differences of magical creatures across societies and time periods

* the interplay of “magic” and “religion” as well as “science”

* the “sciences” of demonology and angelology

* the role of divination or prophecy in societies or religions

* the use of “natural” vs. “supernatural” explanations for world events

* Magic and the supernatural as coping mechanisms for individuals and societies

The Steering Group also welcomes the submission of pre-formed panel proposals. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 30th September 2011. All submissions are minimally double blind peer reviewed where appropriate. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 27th January 2012. Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to the Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Organising Chairs

Stephen Morris
Hub Leader (Evil)
Independent Scholar
New York, USA

Rob Fisher
Network Founder and Network Leader
Inter-Disciplinary.Net,
Freeland, Oxfordshire, UK

The conference is part of the ‘At the Interface’ programme of research projects. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting.

All papers accepted for and presented at this conference will be eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers maybe invited for development for publication in a themed hard copy volume(s) or for inclusion in the Perspectives on Evil journal (relaunching 2011).

For further details of the project, please click here.

For further details of the conference, please click here.

Please note: Inter-Disciplinary.Net is a not-for-profit network and we are not in a position to be able to assist with conference travel or subsistence.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

2nd Global Conference: Magic and the Supernatural

Thursday 17th March - Saturday 19th March 2011

Prague, Czech Republic

Bewitched. I Dream of Jeannie. The Exorcist. Charmed. Buffy. Dr. Who. Dracula. Dark Shadows. Twilight and The Twilight Zone. Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton. Dresden Files. Harry Potter. The fascination and appeal of magic and supernatural entities pervades societies and cultures. The continuing appeal of these characters is a testimony to how they shape our daydreams and our nightmares, as well as how we yearn for something that is "more" or "beyond" what we can see-touch-taste-feel. Children still avoid stepping on cracks, lovers pluck petals from a daisy, cards are dealt and tea leaves read.

A belief in magic as a means of influencing the world seems to have been common in all cultures. Some of these beliefs crossed over into nascent religions, influencing rites and religious celebrations. Over time, religiously-based supernatural events ("miracles") acquired their own flavour, separating themselves from standard magic. Some modern religions such as the Neopaganisms embrace connections to magic, while others retain only echoes of their distant origins.

This inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary project seeks to examine issues surrounding the role and use of magic in a wide variety of societies and cultures over the course of human history. People with access to magic or knowledge of the supernatural will also be examined.

Papers, presentations, reports and workshops are invited on issues on or broadly related to any of the following themes:

  • Magic as "paranormal", anything alleged to exist that is not explainable by any present laws of science
  • the distinctions between "magic" and "religion" and "science"
  • Magical thinking and the equation of coincidence with causality
  • Folk magic and "traditional" systems of magic
  • "Magick" and "Wicca" as religious systems in modern society
  • Witchcraft in the European context
  • "Witchcraft" and animism in African or Asian contexts
  • Magic as illusion, stagecraft, sleight-of-hand
  • Magic in modern literature (ex. Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, the saga of Middle Earth, the Chronicles of Narnia, etc.) and in traditional literatures (folk or fairy tales, legends, mythologies, etc.)
  • Magic in art and the depiction of magical creatures, practices or practitioners
  • the association of magic with the "monstrous" or "evil"; does one imply the presence of the other?
  • the portrayal of magic, magical creatures, and magical practices or practitioners on television and in film
  • the roles or uses of magic in video games, on-line communities, role-playing games, subcultural formations and identities
  • the similarities and differences of magical creatures across societies and time periods
  • the interplay of "magic" and "religion" as well as "science"
  • the "sciences" of demonology and angelology
  • the role of divination or prophecy in societies or religions
  • the use of "natural" vs. "supernatural" explanations for world events
  • Magic and the supernatural as coping mechanisms for individuals and societies

The Steering Group also welcomes the submission of pre-formed panel proposals. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 1st October 2010. All submissions are minimally double blind peer reviewed where appropriate. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 4th February 2011. Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to the Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Organising Chairs:

Stephen Morris
Hub Leader (Evil)
Independent Scholar
New York, USA

Sorcha Ni Fhlainn
Hub Leader (Evil)
School of English, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Rob Fisher
Network Founder and Network Leader
Inter-Disciplinary.Net
Freeland, Oxfordshire, UK

The conference is part of the 'At the Interface' programme of research projects. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting.

All papers accepted for and presented at this conference will be eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers maybe invited for development for publication in a themed hard copy volume(s).

For further details about the project please click here.

For further details about the conference please click here.