The Travelling Grave and Other Stories – L.P. Hartley

The Travelling Grave and Other Stories by L.P. Hartley

Valacourt Books – 2017
This book was first published by Arkham House in 1947, but many of the stories were published years before that. In truth, I found it very boring. It’s mostly ghost stories, but none of them are particularly scary. The writing is quite dense at times too, and it usually didn’t feel worth the effort. It’s less than 250 pages, but it took me more than 4 months to get through it.

Here’s what I remember about the stories:

StoryMy thoughts (includes spoilers)
A Visitor from Down UnderA lad listens to weird kids’ games on the radio and a ghost comes from Australia to get him. Shit and confusing.
PodoloA creepy island. Somebody tries to kill a kitten? Maybe it’s a werewolf or something. I forget.
Three, or Four, for DinnerSome lads arrange to meet another lad, but he dies. Shows up to dinner anyway. Supposed to be droll?
The Travelling GraveA lad collects coffins. One can bury itself and does when a person is in it.
Feet ForemostA ghost can’t come into the house because there is a step or something. Not scary at all.
The CotillonA lad kills himself, but he goes dancing afterwards.
A Change of OwnershipA truly idiotic man gets upset because he was too much of a wuss to invite his boyfriend in for some sex, so he has a nervous breakdown instead and imagines he is a ghost or something.
The ThoughtA lad goes for a walk and gets confused. This went so far above my head. Hated it.
Conrad and the DragonPredictable fantasy story. Maybe for kids.
The IslandA lad gets caught by his girlfriend’s husband. At least one of them is dead.
Night FearsA lad gets scared while working the night shift. Short.
The Killing BottleA lad gets mixed up with another chap who murders people who hurt animals. Then the other chap kills his own brother. Who knows what becomes of the dipstick protagonist?
A lot of lads.

I have nothing else to say about this book.

This is probably a poor time to mention this, as the above review is hardly riveting reading, but I have noticed a dramatic drop in traffic to this blog recently. Google updated its algorithm on the 15th of last month, and it seems to have worked against me. I’m seeing roughly half of what I had been seeing for the last 3 years. This is quite frustrating, as (with the exception of the above post) the content on here has been pretty good recently. I have glanced through a few pages explaining search engine optimization, but the thoughts of spending hours trying to make sure my posts are tagged and titled appropriately seems horrendously boring. I’d far prefer to spend my time reading a weird book. I’ll probably update the layout in the near future to make the 400+ posts on here easier to sift through, but until then, do me a favour and share this blog with your friends.

David St. Clair’s Say You Love Satan: True Crime or Truly Awful

Say You Love Satan – David St. Clair

Dell – 1987

I can’t remember the first time I heard of Ricky Kasso, but I remember watching My Sweet Satan, a short movie roughly based on his last weeks alive, when I was teenager. This book, David St. Clair’s Say You Love Satan, has been on my goodreads to-read list since October 2016, and I was mistakenly under the impression it was the definitive version of the Kasso story. It only took a couple of pages for me to realise that this could not be the case.

I plan to focus on the book rather than the events it describes, but a bit of background on Ricky Kasso is probably necessary.

In 1984, Ricky Kasso, a homeless, mentally unstable, drug addicted, 17 year old, murdered Gary Lauwers, one of his friends, while tripping on hallucinogens in Northport, New York. His pal had stolen drugs from him a few weeks previously. Events like this, while certainly tragic, aren’t particularly rare, but Ricky Kasso was a fan of heavy metal and a self-professed Satanist. He had also previously been arrested for grave-robbing. While it seems that his tastes in music and his interest in the occult had little to do with the actual murder, he apparently ordered his victim to “Say you love Satan” while he was stabbing him in the face. Ricky killed himself a few days after being arrested for the murder. The media latched onto the satanic elements of the story and ran wild with them. Before long, people believed that the city of Northport was home to a coven of sadistic Satanists who had murdered Gary Lauwers as a sacrifice to the Devil.

It’s a fascinating story, and 3 years after it occurred, David St. Clair published this book. Say You Love Satan became, as far as I can tell, the most popular version of the Kasso story. Unfortunately, it’s a very, very shit version of the story. I haven’t read many true crime books, but the story here is presented as a novel, and it’s awful. St. Clair describes lengthy conversations that he wasn’t privy to, and he very clearly had absolutely zero insight into what these kids were like. It’s painful. Page 266 of this book contains some of the worst writing I have ever encountered.

The response from the teenage girl on discovering that her boyfriend has participated in a murder is quite funny, but the awful joke about the child’s corpse at the end is my favourite. How did this nonsense get published?

While this book is sensational, exploitative garbage, it’s not particularly accusatory. St. Clair makes it very clear that he doesn’t approve of heavy metal and occultism, but he also gives the details of Kasso’s unhappy upbringing and drug use, and he doesn’t give any consideration to the idea that there was a satanic cult operating in Northport. Still, the parts where he made fun of Judas Priest’s lyrics made me wince. He also interweaves lyrics from Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark at the Moon into the murder scene. This guy was a real weiner.

Not a fan of Priest or Ozzy

I did a bit of research of David St. Clair. It turns out he was a self-proclaimed psychic, and he also wrote a few other novels that were supposedly about real cases of Satanic possession. Most of his other books looked like trash, but I did actually order one based on its awesome cover art. I’ll review it here in a few months.

I also watched The Acid King, a recent documentary on Ricky Kasso, and everyone in that documentary hates St. Clair’s book. I get it. The people interviewed in that film knew the characters involved, and they have every right to be annoyed that David St. Clair didn’t do a better job of telling their friends’ story. I thought that he had made some scenes up for shock effect, particularly the part where they visit the Amityville haunted house to perform a ritual, but apparently that really happened. Ultimately, both the book and the documentary tell a very similar story. My complaint isn’t that that the author took too many liberties with his characters; it’s that he was an absolutely terrible writer. Apparently, parts of the book were plagiarized too. None of this should have surprised me. A few years ago, I read a book of essays on the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, and there’s an essay in there that contains much of what I discovered while reading Say You Love Satan.

This book is poorly written, but I have other reasons not to like it. I was a heavy metal teenager, and many of my friends are still heavy metal satanists. I’m also a parent, and both the murderer and his victim in this book were children. I knew how this book was going to end, but because the story is basically being novelized, I couldn’t help but root for the characters. A kid goes to library to take out books about witchcraft after listening to Black Sabbath with his friends? I want to give that kid a high five, not read about him murdering his friend and then killing himself. This is an extremely sad story, and the saddest parts really happened. Reading this book was a huge bummer.

Sex, Satanism and Cannibal Freaks: Mark Mirabello’s The Cannibal Within

The Cannibal Within – Mark Mirabello

Mandrake of Oxford – 2005 (first published 2001)

A friend recommended this to me a few weeks back. I found an ebook version online, but after reading the fourth paragraph, I ordered a physical copy. This is one I knew I’d want on my shelf.

We may think we are special – holy, honoured, valued – god’s chosen primates – but that is a fraud. The dupes of superhuman forces, we are misfits and abominations. We have no higher purpose – no saviour god died for our sins – we exist, only because our masters are infatuated with our meat.

page 1

Mirabello is an academic. He has a Ph.D, and he has lectured at different universities. His fields of research are fairly wacky, but I have no reason to belief that his research itself is questionable. He has appeared on some ridiculous documentaries and talk shows about aliens and conspiracies. Having an education doesn’t necessarily make a person a good writer, but Mirabello’s credentials, along with what I knew of this book, made it seem very, very intriguing.

The narrative in The Cannibal Within is framed as a memoir that was presented to the author due to his academic standing. A crazy lady walks into his office and gives him a document describing her bizarre experiences. She was abducted by cannibalistic trans-humans after her and her friend performed a Satanic ritual. The unholy freaks eat her friend and then kidnap the protagonist and lock her in a cage in their underground layer for decades. They do really bad stuff to her, but she takes it rather philosophically. While recounting the utterly horrendous abuses she suffered, she quotes from and/or discusses the work of Yukio Mishima, Friedrich Neitzsche, Plato, Aleister Crowley, H.P. Lovecraft, De Sade, Goethe, George Bataille, Octave Mirbeau and Philip K. Dick.

Oh, and there’s a big part at the end of the book that talks about how the trans-humans evolved from brain eating cannibal monkeys. This sounded very familiar to me, and it was immediately followed by a quote from The Beginning Was the End, my favourite book. Hell yes.

Also, the Satanic ritual that kicks things off is supposedly taken from the Red Book of Appin. Anyone remember my post on that mysterious grimoire?

If you’re not familiar with this blog and/my reading proclivities, let it suffice to say that I have an interest in the above authors and texts. I felt very much that Mirabello had somebody like me in mind when he was writing this book. I can’t really say that it’s a brilliant book, but I also can’t pretend that I didn’t enjoy every page. I finished it in an afternoon. I really found it hard to put it down.

Who could resist?

When the book isn’t discussing the absurdity of life, it’s shoving giant mutoid cocks down your throat. There’s an awful lot of rape, in here, and the pricks doing the raping are all hilariously large. One of them is described as an “enormous fascist rod”. LOL.

Objectively, The Cannibal Within fails as a novel. It sets the scene, but doesn’t really go anywhere. The ending of the book felt like the point at which a team of marines, armed to the teeth, should have been entering the freaks’ burrow, Aliens style. I don’t need (or want) a happy ending, but I would have liked a bit more conflict. I suppose it would have taken a lot of effort to ramp up the gross-out sequences as a plot developed, but it would take that kind of commitment to make this a real masterpiece.

Mirabello, if you’re reading this, please write a sequel, a long one.

The Cannibal Within is splatterpunk for grad students. If you’re a misanthropic book-nerd with a penchant for the disgusting (and you probably are if you’re reading this blog) you will likely get a kick out of this horrid book. Honestly, I doubt anyone else will get past the first few pages.

The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui – Affleck Gray

The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui – Affleck Gray

Impulse Books – 1970

In 1891, a hiker had a creepy experience while climbing Ben MacDhui, one of the highest mountains in Scotland. He was pottering alone when he heard footsteps approaching him from behind. When he turned around, there was nobody there. He didn’t tell many people until 1925. After this, other climbers who noticed strange happenings while climbing Ben MacDhui came forward. In this book, Affleck Gray, a Scottish mountaineer and historian, collects every single iota of public discussion of the mysterious mountain and the Ferla Mor.

Ferla Mor comes from Fear Liath Mor, Scottish for Big Grey Man (technically “man grey big”). This is the name given to the phenomenon. Apparently people have seen a giant grey man walking around up there. It seems pretty likely that these sightings could have been the Brocken spectre, a spectral phenomenon that makes an observer’s shadow look like a giant. I’ve come across mentions of the Brocken Spectre before when reading books about bigfoot or the yeti, and it definitely could account for visions of a big grey man in the mountains.

It’s not just big shadowy men that people have encountered up this mountain though. Several people have heard creepy music and sinister footsteps. Members of the Aetherius society claimed that the mountain was used as an alien base, and some nutty spiritualists claimed that the Fear Liath Mor was actually a Buddhist master. Is this lad supposed to be a Sasquatch, a ghost, an alien or a what? Another witness claims to have seen a fox walking upright, wearing a top-hat… Yeah. When I said that Affleck Gray collected every iota of discussion of the weird stuff up this mountain, I was serious. I admire the comprehensive nature of this work, but it’s this exact feature of the book that makes it unbelievable. This is a collection of folklore more than anything else. The author never really tries to convince the reader that anything specific is going on, and this is the book’s saving grace.

Some of the chapters feel like filler. There is a big discussion on the possibility of life on other planets that has very little bearing on the rest of the book, and there’s an unreadable chapter on ley-lines. Things get a bit repetitive towards the end of the book too, but it’s fairly short, so it’s not unbearable.

There’s been a few editions of this book. I believe the first one came out in 1970. There is also an ebook available from Birlinn Press.

I’m not convinced that anything particularly weird has happened on this particular mountain. A surprising amount of the book is taken up with discussions on stuff that happened on other mountains. Mountains are weird places though. I think that a mountainside is the perfect place for a person to get a bit freaked out when they’re on their own, and I only wish that I had the opportunity to do so myself. I live fairly close to some mountains, but they’re full of bears and wolves and I’d get eaten within minutes. Ben Macdhui looks like it’s fairly close to Loch Ness and Aleister Crowley’s old house, so I’ll try and get over there once I’ve made my fortune.

The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror- William Sloane

The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror – William Sloane

NYRB Classics – 2015 (originally published as a collection in 1964)

This week’s book is The Rim of Morning by William Sloane. It contains To Walk the Night (1937) and The Edge of Running Water (1939), Sloane’s only novels. Both books went through several editions in the 50 years after they were published, and some of the covers are awesome, but other blogs have done posts about that, and I have nothing to add. The books were out of print for the 90s and early 2000s, but NYRB put out this collection with a new introduction a few years ago.

To Walk the Night

Two lads witness a scientist spontaneously combusting, and then one of them marries the scientists widow. She is a babe, but she’s also a real weirdo. This puts strain on the lads’ friendship.

Stephen King wrote the introduction to The Rim of Mourning. From what I know about his tastes, I’m not surprised King liked this book. It reads like a combination of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Leiber’s Conjure Wife. It walks that line between sci-fi and horror nicely, and I really got into it after a few chapters. It’s suspenseful and very easy to read.

I found the ending a little underwhelming. The way the story is set up ensures no real surprises, but the explanation given (or at least hinted at) felt a bit flat. It was still enjoyable enough.

The Edge of Running Water

The second novel starts off fairly similar to the first. A lad goes to his friend’s house to help him with an experiment. When he gets there, he finds there are two women living in the house too. One is his friend’s sexy sister in law, and the other is a really annoying person who is helping with the experiment.

The nature of the experiment is not immediately discussed, but it involves a machine that makes a really upsetting noise. It turns out that the lad was trying to build a machine to let him talk to his dead wife, but he ends up making something much, much worse.

I quite enjoyed this book, but it’s very slow. The whole thing occurs over the period of 3 days or so, and I’m sure big chunks could have been cut. I enjoyed the brooding atmosphere though, and I found this one a bit creepier than To Walk the Night.

The supernatural elements of both books are not explicitly defined, and I think this is why these books get categorised as “cosmic horror”. They’re good. You should read them.

The Amityville Horror – Jay Anson

The Amityville Horror – Jay Anson

Prentice Hall – 1977

Despite what it says on the cover, this book is definitely not “a true story”.

The Lutz family move into a new house right before Christmas. The kids are disappointed by their presents, the stepdad feels chilly, the dog pukes, the mom has some sex dreams about a man who isn’t her husband, there’s a reek of human shit in the basement, and the parents beat their kids with a strap. Oh, and some weird stuff happens too.

The family hear some creepy voices, see an evil talking pig, and get covered in green slime.

Honestly, I quite enjoyed the first few chapters. There was a part where the little girl asks her mommy if angels can talk that genuinely creeped me out. Unfortunately, things get silly pretty quickly. Once the mom started levitating I lost interest and the book became a chore to read. So many haunted house clichés are present here that it’s very difficult to take seriously. (Some of these clichés likely originated in this book, but that doesn’t make them easier to accept.) This is absolutely not non-fiction.

One of the most confusing features of this book is the character of Father Mancuso. He’s a Catholic priest who visits the Lutz family right after they move in so that he can bless their home. A spirit tells him to GTFO, and he runs away. The rest of the narrative goes back and forth between what’s happening to him and the Lutz family, and I was expecting him to make a grand return to help the family out during the climax of the book. He doesn’t though. He just shits out his bathroom so badly that he has to leave his house for several days and then picks some scabs on his hands. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s suggested that these events were caused by the evil entity in the Amityville house, but the book is set during flu season, and it seems absurd to suggest that an man getting a bad dose of the trots in January has anything to do with ghosts. Honestly, he craps out the shitter so bad that his neighbours complain. Dirty old fucker with a stinking asshole. I read online that he was kicked out of the priesthood after the book’s publication, but I couldn’t find out why. It likely had something to do with his repulsively reeking shitter.

There’s a whole slew of other books about the Amityville house and the Lutz family, but some are presented as fiction based on the truth, some are non-fiction that examines the fiction, and some are presented as nothing but fiction. (There’s also novelisations of movies that don’t seem to be involved in the literary canon of the Amityville mythos.) I’d be interested in looking at some of them just to see how they go between fiction/non-fiction, but three of the key Amityville texts were written by Hans Holzer. I read two books by Hans Holzer during my first year of keeping this blog. Gothic Ghosts and Elvis Presley Speaks are two of the worst books I have ever read, and I don’t want to read anything else by Holzer. (Do yourself a favour and go back and read my reviews of those books. Pure quality.) No. I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be wasting my time on Amityville.

I just noticed that tomorrow marks 8 years since my first post here on Nocturnal Revelries. I must be getting close to 600 books reviewed. I didn’t expect the blog to last this long. You may not have noticed, but since the beginning of this year, I have been deliberately alternating between fiction and “non-fiction”. I had been avoiding non-fiction for a few years, but I’m enjoying get back into it. I actually feel happier with the blog recently than I have in quite a while. Here’s to another 8 years. Hope you’ve been enjoying it!

Elizabeth Massie’s Sineater

Sineater – Elizabeth Massie

Carroll & Graf – 1994 (Originally published 1992)

Avery Barker is a sineater, a man who ritually cleanses dead bodies of sin by eating a meal off their chest. He lives just outside of Beacon Cove, a small, extremely religious community in the mountains of Virginia. The service he offers is extremely important to this community, but it also renders him and his family as outcasts. The rest of the community believe that just looking at the sineater would be enough to kill a person. Unfortunately for everyone, Missy Campbell, the religious leader of the community, has gotten it into her head that the sineater has consumed too much sin and gone mad. Very bad things start happening, and it’s unclear as to who’s responsible.

The story centers around Joel, Avery’s youngest son and the only Barker to attend school. To make things complicated, he becomes friendly with Missy’s nephew, Burke. Joel is such a sympathetic character that I spent the whole book dreading that something bad would happen to him. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this book isn’t going to end happily.

I really enjoyed Sineater. It’s dark, and parts of it are very gross, but the story is good, and the characters are fun.

Apparently sineaters were a real thing in parts of Britain. I don’t think they were ever shunned to the extent that Avery is in this book though.

Afraid: Tidbits of the Macabre
Crossroads Press – 2011

I read Massie’s collection Afraid: Tidbits of the Macabre a few months ago. I didn’t write anything down about it after reading it, but I remember quite a few stories about people locked in basements. It also had a weird story about a body part, I honestly can’t remember which, vacating its body. Cool. I enjoyed the collection well enough to want to read more of Massie’s work. Sineater was even better, and I plan to read more of her books in the future.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth Massie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma last year. It seems that she is recovering, but she lives in one of those countries where people have to pay for medical care. There is a gofundme page set up where people can donate to help with her medical costs. Help out if you can.

In Search of Dracula – Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu

In Search of Dracula – Raymond T. McNally & Radu Florescu

Houghton Mifflin – 1994 (First published 1973)

I “reviewed” Bram Stoker’s Dracula on this site about 8 years ago when I was starting out as a blogger, but it was at least 7 years before that that I actually read the book. I’ve been meaning to reread it for a while now, and I thought I’d do a bit of background research beforehand. While reading Ken Rayner Johnson’s Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, I came across a quote from Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu’s In Search of Dracula. I had heard of this book somewhere before, and I decided to read it. I found a copy last week and gave it a go.

This book is supposedly the text that popularised the idea that Stoker’s Count Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler, the historical Voivode of Wallachia. I’ve always assumed that this was common knowledge, but apparently not. When I was a kid, I had a book about torture methods, and it had a small piece on Vlad. This is probably where I first heard of him, and the accompanying image (see below) ensured I never forgot about him. Vlad was a really bad dude, and he was known as Dracula, but it is uncertain how much of an influence he actually had on the Count’s personality. Stoker does actually reference him a couple of times in his text, but he never mentions his heinous acts. It’s not certain how much he actually knew about Vlad, but it is safe to assume that he did use his name deliberately. Dracula means Son of the Dragon.

This image is from Jim Hatfield’s Horrible Histories: Guilty, not In Search of Dracula.

In Search of Dracula is basically a biography of Vlad Dracula with a few chapters on Stoker and vampires at the end. I read the revised 1994 edition (the original was published in 1973), and I skipped big chunks of the chapter on Vampire fiction and movies. (I don’t want to ruin the endings of books I’ll hopefully read some day.) The bibliography is extensive here too. There’s almost 100 pages of appendices after the main text of the book. My favourite parts were the translated first-hand sources on Dracula. These were the bits containing the most grisly details of his cruelties. My favourite part was when he saw a farmer wearing a shirt that was too small. He calls the guy over and talks to him. On discovering that the man is an illustrious, hard-working fellow, he has his wife impaled on a spike for failing to provide her husband with a fitting shirt.

Another time, Vlad “caught a gypsy who had stolen. Then the other gypsies came to him and begged him to release him to them. Dracula said, “He should hang, and you should hang him.” They said: “That is not according to our custom.” Dracula had the gypsy boiled in a pot, and when he was cooked, he forced them to eat him, flesh and bone.” Later on, he gathers all the sick and unemployed people of a village into a building with the promise of a delicious meal. Then he locks the doors and burns them alive. Psych!

I’ve been on a non-fiction kick recently, and this book, while boring at times, was quite refreshing. The authors were actual academics, and they provide proper evidence for their claims. It was nice to read a non-fiction book about vampires that wasn’t utterly ridiculous. The last one I read was terrible.

I also watched the documentary based on this book. It was shockingly boring. It’s just Christopher Lee slowly reading some of the sentences from this book over footage of Romanian peasants dancing. Avoid it if you can. It adds nothing to the book.

Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Harvest Home

The Other – Thomas Tryon

Fawcett Crest – 1972 (Originally published 1971)

The only thing I knew about Thomas Tryon’s The Other before I read it was that it was a bestseller in 1971. It was only as I read it that I realised how influential a novel it has been on modern horror.

Niles and Holland are twin 13 year old boys who live on a farm in New England. Niles is quiet and easily led, and Holland is… well, Holland is a real bad kid. Their dad died a few months before the story begins, and from the beginning it seems pretty obvious that Holland had something to do with this. My suspicions ran wild as I was reading it. I suspected there was going to be some big plot twist, and I was trying to figure out what it was, but the story takes its time and Tryon holds on to his details, only ever giving just enough to keep his readers engaged.

The pacing got on my nerves a little bit during the first half of the novel, but when the twist was revealed and things clicked into place, it all felt worthwhile. I’m sure lots of people who haven’t read this book already know how it ends, but I won’t give anything away. I will mention that I was surprised at how unpleasant that part near the end is.

It was that particularly nasty bit that made me realise how influential this book is. I would be very surprised if Brenda Brown Canary’s choice of setting and violence in The Voice of the Clown were not influenced by Tryon’s book.

I didn’t really like the part where the boys’ grandmother, a crazy old Russian woman, teaches them a trick where they can enter the bodies of other creatures. I guess this makes it easier to accept the potentially supernatural goings on, but it was also a bit weird and unnecessary.

I can imagine some readers getting halfway through this book and not bothering to finish it. That would be a mistake. The pacing and all of the mysterious little clues that are offered throughout the book all come together at the end. I thought this was a very effective horror novel. At times I found it mildly shocking and horrifying. Read it if you haven’t already.

Harvest Home

Dell – 1987 (First published 1973)

I waited for six months to read another book by Tryon. I didn’t dislike The Other, but it was a bit slow, and I usually prefer things short and snappy. Harvest Home is actually pretty similar in pacing to its predecessor, but I ended up absolutely loving this book.

This novel starts when the Constantine family moves to Cornwall Coombe, a quaint rural village where everybody knows everybody. The new family is settling in and everything is going well until the father stumbles upon a ritual in which a local child with a learning disability is forced to choose the Harvest Lord by studying the entrails of a freshly sacrificed sheep. He sneaks away and pretends he has seen nothing, but after this, he starts to notice other strange goings on in the town. It turns out that there’s some fairly bad stuff happening behind the scenes.

I really, really enjoyed Harvest Home. Again, Tryon holds back details in a masterful way. I found this approach even more enjoyable here than it was in The Other. I think it was because the protagonist in this one was a little bit more relatable to me than the boys in his first novel. The pacing is slow, but the writing and characters are enjoyable enough to keep things entertaining between the big revelations. There was one part where the main character gets really drunk and ruins a party. I had to go back and read this section a second time to make sure I had understood everything that happened. It felt rushed and muddled the first time I read it. Reading back, it became apparent that this was clearly intentional. The author used barely any full stops (periods) in the whole passage. It’s probably a well known trick, but I found it really effective.

Tryon was an interesting guy. He was a relatively successful Hollywood actor before he was a writer. That fact made me assume his books would be trashy, but these two weren’t. They were really good. It seems like Thomas Tryon was a real cool guy.

How to make a Ghost: Conjuring Up Philip (The Philip Experiment)

Conjuring Up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis
Iris M. Owen and Margaret Sparrow
Harper Collins – 1976

In the early 1970s a group of Canadians with an interest in the paranormal decided to try to create a ghost. They came up with a name and backstory for their ghost and then spent a year meditating together, focusing their attention on Philip, the character they had created. After a year, Philip started talking to them.

There’s no denying that that is a cool set up for a horror story, and at least two films have been loosely based on the Philip experiment. Copies of this book are hard to come by for a decent price at the moment too. That doesn’t always mean a book is good, but it does add to the mystique. I had to read this.

Unfortunately, this book is the literary equivalent to eating a cooked turd.

Philip chose to communicate with the group by knocking on a table. The group would ask a question, and he’d knock once for “yes”, twice for “no”. Occasionally he would excited and bump the whole table around. Ugh.

The book is a horrible read. It’s incredibly repetitive, and none of the sources it references are trustworthy. It gives the story of the Fox sisters as evidence of real poltergeist activity, but the Fox sisters themselves admitted that they had produced the noises that brought them attention. There was a chapter towards the end that discussed the psychology of poltergeist activity. It was so frustratingly stupid that I literally couldn’t bring myself to read it thoroughly.

I’ve never encountered a table rapping poltergeist, but I have encountered many, many idiots in my life. It’s much easier for me to believe that the people involved in this experiment were morons than it is for me to believe they created a ghost. Also, the whole way through the book, the authors discuss how the Philip experiment is going to have profound effects on the fields of psychology and even physics in the future. Here we are, almost 50 years later, and their work has had no effect on anything.

This is an poorly written, extremely boring book. When I was finished it, I was completely unconvinced in what the authors were saying. Directly after finishing the book, I watched the documentary referenced therein called “Philip the Imaginary Ghost”. This footage was shot during the experiment, and some of the scenes are discussed in the book. If I had watched the video before starting the book, I wouldn’t have bothered. Reading the book, you can’t fully appreciate how lame the people involved in writing it were. The footage is actually hilarious. It’s a bunch of dithering idiots singing at a table and pushing it around, pretending that a ghost is making it move. I genuinely don’t know if they were stupid enough to not realise that it was in fact them moving the table or if they were only stupid enough to think that people seeing them wouldn’t realise that they were moving the table. Part of me hopes that they were fully aware of how dumb they looked and were just acting like fools for a bit of fun. It truly boggles the mind.

Video footage of a “ghost” moving a table.