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Friday, 11 September 2015

Darkness and light

I make no secret of my admiration for the work of John Whitbourn, who I believe ranks as one of Britain's leading exponents of weird fantasy fiction. Of all his books, my favourites are the Binscombe Tales, in which the mysterious and possibly magical Mr Disvan (no, he's not Merlin; avowedly Saxon, see) leads our bemused and mildly Pooterish narrator through an entangling web of supernatural close encounters which are astonishing, quirky, terrifying and hilarious - often all at the same time.

I was reminded that it's time to award myself the treat of re-reading the Binscombe Tales while browsing the internet recently. First of all I came across this astute comment on the series by writing tutor and blogger John Yeoman:
"Some of the eeriest stories ever written, in my belief, are the little known Binscombe Tales by John Whitbourn. They're set in a homely English village that lives on the borderland between reality and a grim alternative world. Disembodied eyeballs float around the pub ceiling, men long dead drop in for a drink, and demons mumble in the rest room. The locals just sigh 'What can be done?' and order another beer. Their acceptance of horror as a universal constant gives the stories, ostensibly humorous, a hideous sub-text. But the horror works only because it is set against a backdrop of banal normality."
And that led to this podcast by Ms Julie D on the website Forgotten Classics. I was charmed by the Texan pronunciation "Bins-COOM" (over here in England we say "BINS-cum") and there are a lot of very thought-provoking observations about the juxaposition of eeriness with everyday life that makes the stories so effective.


  1. I've always loved that picture you used as atmosphere. It's the cover to a book I own, but I can't remember which one right now (Le Fanu?)...

    1. Now that you mention it, Tom, I think I used to have that book. The picture is by Atkinson Grimshaw - "A lane in Headingley, Leeds". Ideal for works by Le Fanu, Blackwood, Wakefield, MR James, or indeed Mr Whitbourn.