Tag Archives: Scotland

The Kelpie

CelticKelpie

This was a short vignette included in the graphic publication, “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953: Issue 1.” The comic actually contains two tales: “The Phantom Hand” and “The Kelpie.” Both are very good and draw on supernatural folklore of the British Isles, but the tale about the Keplie really fascinated me.

I did some research into the actual mythology and discovered that it is one of the most well-known of the Scottish water spirits.

The Kelpie is the supernatural shape-shifting water horse that haunts the rivers and streams of Scotland. It is probably one of the best known of Scottish water spirits and is often mistakenly thought to haunt lochs, which are the reserve of the Each Uisge.

The creature could take many forms and had an insatiable appetite for humans; its most common guise was that of a beautiful tame horse standing by the riverside – a tempting ride for a weary traveller. Anybody foolish enough to mount the horse – perhaps a stranger unaware of the local traditions – would find themselves in dire peril, as the horse would rear and charge headlong into the deepest part of the water, submerging with a noise like thunder to the travellers watery grave. The Kelpie was also said to warn of impending storms by wailing and howling, which would carry on through the tempest. This association with thunder – the sound its tail makes as it submerges under water – and storms, may be related to ancient worship of river and weather deities by the ancient Celts, although this is difficult to substantiate.

(Source: Mysterious Britain)

I could not help thinking about the symbolism here, how water represents the subconscious. When being lured into the regions of the subconscious mind, there is always the possibility that one can get lost there and never be able to return to the realm of ordinary consciousness. I see this as a warning for those dabbling in the mystical arts, to beware of the temptation that could lead to one’s drowning in mysteries of the unseen world.

I really love that the Hellboy series draws on myth and folklore for inspiration. The image of Hellboy sitting amid stone monoliths in England and listening to his companions recounting the tale of the Kelpie symbolizes how these early tales can be retold and continue to inspire new generations.

HellboyBPRD1953_01

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“The Body-Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson: Science as Horror

BodySnatchersIn my quest for stuff to read and write about for my October horror blog series, I searched the free e-books available for download on the iPad and found The Body-Snatcher. I decided to give it a read.

The story works for me on several levels. First off, the writing is excellent and really draws you in to the story, which is about the cadaver trade in Edinburgh. Several years ago, while I was visiting Scotland, I toured the catacombs of Edinburgh where the body snatchers would hide the cadavers before bringing them to the university to sell them to the science department for dissection. It was fascinating and eerie at the same time. Anyway, this story vividly brought those memories back to me.

Next, there is a great surprise ending. It’s really good! I am not going to say anything else about it—just  read it.

Finally, I see this story as a parable about the horrors of science and how science, when void of compassion and humanity, becomes a dark art. This is the aspect of the story I want to explore in this post.

There is a scene in the story where one of the medical research assistants murders a person named Gray. To hide the evidence, the body is sold for medical experiments. The medical students are described as being indifferent and in one case happy about receiving the cadaver, which they proceed to cut apart.

Hours passed; the class began to arrive; the members of the unhappy Gray were dealt out to one and to another, and received without remark. Richardson was happy with the head; and before the hour of freedom rang Fettes trembled with exultation to perceive how far they had gone toward safety.

It was at this point in the story that I caught a strange coincidence. The person being dissected was named Gray, and that made me think of the classic book of anatomical science, Gray’s Anatomy. I made a mental note to check the dates and compare when Stevenson wrote this story and when Henry Gray wrote his famous work. As I suspected, they were very close: Gray’s Anatomy was first published in 1858 and The Body-Snatcher was published in 1884. I figured this could not be a coincidence and that Stevenson was actually criticizing Gray’s book and the scientific community as a whole, which was probably viewed as insensitive to the sanctity of human life and concerned only with the cold advancement of knowledge. In an ironic twist, it is Gray who is killed and tossed upon the slab of science, to be sliced apart by unfeeling students who were studying his own works.

Literally, I am gritting my teeth and forcing myself not to write about the ending, because it is so poignant and the twist is so great, it’s hard for me not to share my thoughts. But you all are thoughtful and intelligent readers. I am certain that when you come to the end of the story, you will reach the same conclusion that I did. So go ahead and read it. It’s short and you will love it. Cheers!!

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