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Prisms of the Oneiroi – Martin Locker

The Boughs and Byways of Ytenne being my favourite book for last year I really looked forward to the paperback editions of Locker’s earlier writings and immediately ordered “Prisms of the Oneiroi” and “Stones Beneath a White Star.” I started with Prisms, it being his first fiction book.

Though it doesn’t reach the heights of Boughs, Prisms is a more than decent collection containing some great stories along with the seeds of what was yet to come. The prose is clear yet lyrical, reminiscent a more modern version of the supernatural masters of the early 20th century (Machen, Blackwood, James) and is definitely above the median of contemporary weird fiction production. The book spans a variety of subjects, with an obvious focus on folklore, while thematically it leans on subtle horror and the sublime. Not all stories are on the same level (some feel a bit rigid, like exercises struggling to capture the spirit of some other story; there are also times when the author tends to be a bit too wordy) but the good are the majority. The book includes a nice preface by the author, discussing each story; my only issue is that I tend to prefer these kinds of discussion being located in the end of the book, as an afterword, so as not to spoil anything for the first time reader. There follow some words for each:

The Dreaming Plateau: Of an ancient town on a Tibetan plateau which shrouded with ominous local legends. Great Lovecraftian start and a good example of how to craft a story out of an existing myth. 4/5

Corfrdager: A first person narrative (as was the first one) in rural Netherlands, concerning a beekeeper cult of sorts. This had a really strong rural atmosphere and the sense of numinous permeating it, really good. 4/5

The Temple consumes the Rose: A man’s quest for occult knowledge through the pages of a book. This one was a bit too decadent and symbolic for my tastes, although less hazy than most of its ilk (which I fervently dislike). 2/5

The Secrets of Saxon stone: A man visits a secluded glade in the German woods and watches a genius loci court in action. This should have clicked with me, it is pretty relaxed and hopeful, but something was amiss, maybe it felt a bit too fluffy, would like a bit more, plot-wise. 3/5

Sea salt and asphodel: A perfume maker looking for an elusive fragrance moves to a village in the southwest coast of France and comes into contact with a strange local legend. A simple yet effective take on Gizburg’s Night Battles legend, even though I felt that the story’s 2 themes (the perfume and the Mazerru) weren’t at all times seamlessly intertwined. 3.5/5

In search of the wild staircase: A great occult story in epistolary form, dealing with the remnants of a folk cult in Lichtenstein. Really liked this one and would love to see it expanded. 4/5

The Jasmine Tear: Dealing with the desert mountains of Morocco and a rusalka-like creature. It was rather too short, though the ending was a nice touch. 3/5

A Dialogue of Innocence with the Hidden Parish: A boy is lost in the woods surrounding his house and meets some interesting entities. This one is of a different tone to the previous stories, bringing to mind the Boughs and Byways, and also middle-period Machen. The ambiguous nature of the events is a plus. 4/5

The Parish Coda: Not a proper story but rather a compendium describing folklore of the Vagabond Society (the society of wanderers which is the main focus of the Boughs and Byways novel). It includes a rather too lengthy (if personal, from what the author says in the book’s preface) introduction about the youth and adolescence of the one who discovered the coda. The compendium itself is excellent. 3/5

I’ll close with an excerpt from “A dialogue of innocence with the hidden parish,” in which Jack, a fey creature, speaks to the young protagonist:

‘You lot [humans] walked between the trees and felt fear, or looked for meaning in the waters, or placed milk outside your doors for the night folk, you gave us our life, which is a damned hard thing to get rid of. We were always there, even before you, but you clothed us and gave us shape. It’s not easy to disrobe yourself once someone has laid the skin on you. Look’

He took the knife and with horror I saw him plunge the blade into his mouth and cut. A damp leathery oval flopped on to the table.

‘You can have that, have Jack’s tongue! Yet still I speak and sing, because I am Jack and I give tongue to the forest. I am its mouth, as your belief gave me reason to become. I, we, cannot be extinguished, but we can be driven away by disbelief. We have to go somewhere, so we come here, to the hidden parish. We are all just passing our time. Your rules will fall, then you will feel again, and you’ll call for us. I hate to admit it, but we will come back with a spring in our step.’

You can buy the book here.

19 Feb 2024

Tags: fiction   folklore   2023
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