In the Orkney Islands there are some standing stones, one of which has a hole in the middle. Legend has it that if on a full moon the father passes a new-born baby through the hole from one side to the mother on the other, the child will rise to great power.
It will. But the baby that the mother receives is not the baby that the father passes through, and in time both may come to realise that.
Notes from the Cartographer
This would have come out at the end of the month had February been the normal complement of days. What is not known other than by very few, and now you, is that February used to be the same length as other months but two days were stolen by thirteenth century magician known as Franck the Bald. He is believed to live inside them still, but no one is quite sure what he’s up to.
I’ve been thinking a little this month about what makes things scary. Scary for me, that is, as these things are always personal. This came from reading the 1981 novel The Elementals by Michael McDowell (who went on to write the script for Beetlejuice). I thought it was terrific (and couldn’t believe I hadn’t come across it before now), but one of the things that chilled me most was that although the elementals might use forms to mock or frighten, they were essentially of no form, no shape, no motive, always unknowable.
The scariest things for me are those that are unseen, or only half-seen, a shadow or a voice that could have been the wind. I like the implication, the fear of not-knowing, as I often find that when we ‘see the monster’…it disappoints. Take the end of Night of the Demon, the film adaptation of M.R. James’ Casting the Runes. A tense, scary film, and then - against director Jacques Tourneur’s wishes, the producer insisted that the monster be shown. And so…well, if you haven’t seen it, watch it.
(no monster, lots of atmosphere)
I think this is why I like audio drama so much: you create the fear and people it with your own worst nightmares, and are never disappointed by seeing the monster. One of the only novels I’ve read that has left me genuinely scared was Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter, where so much is left unseen. You just hear. And wonder. And shiver.
opening the maze
If you’re walking through a back street in Shoreditch and see a hooded figure spraying graffiti on a back wall of an empty shop, pause for a moment. If they’re tagging their name, or creating a vivid picture, or a cutting piece of satire then I’d just walk on.
If they’re creating a strange spiral shape, like a maze, do everything you can to stop them as quickly as you can. Do not let them spray that last line.
If you do stop them for just thirty seconds, the lines will fade away as if they were never there, and the hooded figure will curse you and run.
If you don’t stop them, then the portal will open and we’re in a lot of trouble. Not that you’ll know anything about it, as you’ll be the first to be eaten.
and in that last moment you feel fingers
While we are visiting Shropshire…the Devil’s Mouth is a rocky outcrop on Long Mynd hill, up above Church Stretton. If you inspect the outcrop in daylight, you will see that there are various holes and crevices in the rock. If you walk up there on St Milburga’s Day, you could wait for the last moments of the sun, and then put your hand as far as you can into one of the holes. Which one have you picked? For most of them, nothing will happen, and you will simply feel cold and foolish. Pick the right hole though, and you will find wealth and good fortune will follow within the month. Pick any one of the wrong three holes, and even though you can barely fit a hand in, slippery slurp, in you go, in all of you goes.
Maps Traced By Other Hands
An interesting article, on research which suggests that the earliest megalithic circle at Stonehenge was first built in the west of Wales then dug up and dragged over 140 miles to its present site.
But it remains silent on what it was that dragged it…
I’ll argue the case any time for the TV series The Detectorists being at least Maps-adjacent, with a power of the landscape and the land, folk horror and history echoing through time feel to it. Also, corvids. That’s on top of it just being funny, and sweet, and moving.
A book called Landscapes of Detectorists came out last year. It ‘considers the programme’s engagement with landscape, its ecological resonances, and its attention to place and identity.’ There are four essays which explore these themes, and there are reflections on the creative processes and how the idea was taken from script to screen in a foreword by Mackenzie Crook and by the producer Adam Tandy.
Now there’s a zine too, Waiting For You, ‘looking at some of the hidden aspects of the TV series Detectorists from unique and unexpected angles’. It leans a little academic in tone perhaps, but if you liked the series you’ll find something in it which illuminates or illustrates or just gets you thinking about place and connections. The zine has a reviews section which covers the book above but also Mackenzie Crook’s novel for children The Windvale Sprites, which might be right up the street of any Maps fans with a taste for YA, the landscape, and faerie.
The Ooser Speaks
(taken from the wonderful Readers Digest 'Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain')
In Cornhill in the City of London in the early 1500s, the bellringers of St Michael’s Church had a terrible scare during a violent storm. ‘An ugly shapen sight’ came in through one window and floated through to another, leaving the poor bellringers unconscious. When they came to, they later discovered deep scars in the stonework where the thing had travelled. These became known as the Devil’s Clawmarks.
A lot of people like to sit by the coast, gazing out to sea, which stretches far under an impossibly big sky, watching the clouds form and shift in the sky, watching the inexorable repetition of the waves, wearing patiently away at the land.
You may find yourself doing this on the north Lincolnshire coast, slipping into an almost meditative state, and notice one cumulus cloud forming and changing, its soft cotton wool taking on more shapes as it sails in across the sea. Look away, look at the waves as they hiss up the beach, look at the swell further out, look at the red valerian near where you sit as it nods and bobs in the breeze, or just turn and get back in your car and drive inland.
If you sit there, and look at the cloud, as it warps and reforms, you will see in it the face of someone you know, and that person will meet a sudden and sad end at the moment the high winds pull and tear at the cloud, and it spreads and sheers and their face disappears into the air.
Secrets the Wind Whispers
A cryptic puzzle appears on the internet, stumping the brightest minds in the world. When 16-year-old schoolgirl, Sabrina, cracks the code, she finds herself on a hunt for a serial killer... who might not be from this world.
Am part way through listening to something that has much more of a horror vibe: The Harrowing, produced last year by StoryGlass has me hooked: dark and scary, and again with great production and sound design.
A once-in-a-century storm hits the remote Scottish island of Toll Mòr. As the isolated community take shelter, a barbaric crime sets off a chain of events which heralds the rise of an ancient evil and threatens to change the course of history.
Oh, and something that will be no secret to fans of the series Vikings: the dark power of Nordic folk music. Skol!
turn, turn, turn
Rambling in the woods of Oxfordshire at this time of year, you may hear a sound of grunting and cursing in high voices. If you wander towards it you will find yourself in a glade you will see two children, about ten years old, fighting.
Like any reasonable person, your instinct will of course be to break up the fight, and maybe scold the children. They’re young enough that you’re not afraid to intervene.
One of these children is the leaf-drop of autumn and the frost of winter, and the other is the blossom of spring and the languorous days of summer.
The fight must play out until one has won, as it does twice a year, every year. Interrupt it, and you will still the changing of the seasons.
Beyond This Point There May Be Dragons
You’ve been reading Maps of the Lost. Or have you? It’s hard to tell. Maybe this is all just a dream. Or a prophecy, or a forewarning. I hope you enjoyed it. Feedback is always welcome, as I’d really like to shape this newsletter to be what you’d like to read and hear. So, ideas, suggestions and comments welcome. You can just reply to this email if you like.
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Detectorists photo courtesy of the BBC, and Waiting For You and The Harrowing images courtesy of the makers.