Dulltown, UK: Today’s colours are: melancholy mauve, rugged russet, unruly ultramarine, yelping yellow, and boorish brown.
Gosh!… I’m scared already!…
No no, it’s just another British pulp paperback novel from the early 1960s – it’s a Badger Book from my modest collection. As you see this one is by John E. Muller, one of the many pseudonyms of the Reverend Robert Lionel Fanthorpe M.B.I.S. who wrote almost all of the Badger science fiction and supernatural stories – he managed one every couple of weeks apparently. Shall we flip the book over and see what the blurb on the back cover has to tell us dear reader?
‘There are probably two main schools of thought (on magic). The former would maintain that demonic or occult practices are purely mental in origin – mere delusions in the mind of the susceptible. The latter would suggest that the uncanny, grotesque phenomena traditionally associated with the Black Arts, possess a reality of their own, however etheric and esoteric it may be.
Somewhere between these groups of thinkers stand the undecided, and those-who-have-reserved-their-judgement. They do not scoff at the unknown…’
Good, well that’s fairly clear – oh, and I do like that cheeky string of hyphenated words! But let’s quickly turn the book back over and examine the fine piece of painting on the front; even though it is unsigned, it is almost certainly the work of the great Henry Fox who did most of the Badger covers.
Alright then, what’s going on here? ‘The blank deathmask shrouded the pale moonlight above the altar steps’, I expect that was what H. Fox received on a slip of paper in the post from the publishers one morning; his instructions for a new Badger cover.
Well, there is the deathmask, but is it actually doing any shrouding? ‘”Shrouded the pale moonlight” sounds very good, but what does that mean?‘, thought Mr Fox as he munched his milky corn flakes one bright morning back in 1963.
‘Anyway, there are the altar steps, and a nice moon. See, the moon is a bit ‘shrouded’, that should deal with that aspect of the brief,‘ mused Mr Fox later in the day as he sat hunched over his easel.
But how about these two chaps? What are they up to? Why are they carrying what appear to be lit fireworks? I have just glanced at the first page of the story, one of these lads might be Andrew Hargreaves, not that that matters to us. Actually I have just noticed, the one on the lower steps (you know, those steps look more like pieces of wood lying on the ground rather than proper steps, but never mind…) looks like he might be changing his mind about his friend’s daredevil project, perhaps he is saying, ‘Look here Andy, I know this is fun… but I really must be going, I think I have left my best boots drying the oven… and anyway, these fireworks aren’t going to last very long are they?… What?… Alright!… Be like that!… Okay, I might see you in the pub next week then… Bah!…’
Shall we now sample the writing style by flicking at random through these yellowing and fragile pages dear reader?
(Andrew H) There was unmistakable strength of character in that battered face, particularly in the eyes. They were so dark as to be almost jet black, and there was an incalculable, imponderable depth in them. They were they eyes of a man who had looked at life too long and too deeply…
The arms hung long from the shoulders, thick as the arms of a great ape, and almost as hairy. It was as thought the hirsute covering of the scalp… had taken refuge on the arms…
Gathering her filmy draperies about her, she hurried in front of him and pointed speechlessly to a dressing-room door on his left. He tried that handle; the door refused to open.
“Alina!” His voice was a spanner being ground up in the cogwheels of a marine engine.
One of the hideous hybrid stone things had come away from its bas-relief; it stood; then it walked jerkily towards them like something out of a third-rate horror film… This man of stone was more than the mind could absorb, more than the intellect could combat. In a film or book it would have sounded hackneyed, corny, in fact. It would have been so impossibly incongruous that it would have provoked mirth rather than terror, but here in the Mesopotamian hills it was no laughing matter. There was nothing comical about its jerking, stony walk…