The History of the Dullahan in Irish Folklore

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Lately I’ve been probing another folkloric rabbit-hole. Specifically, I’ve been digging into the history of the dullahan, a being of Irish fable generally portrayed as a headless horse-rider or coach-driver. Regrettably, a lot of the online sources on this folkloric entity are badly-researched, with the frankly awful Wikipedia article – which, incredibly, uses a page on Cracked.com as one of its main references – being typical. So, I decided to do some of my own research into the cultural history of the dullahan.

The earliest references to the dullahan that I’ve managed to trace is in a 1802 text on comparative linguistics by Charles Vallancey, entitled Prospectus of a Dictionary of the Language of the Aire Coti, or Ancient Irish, Compared with the Language of the Cuti, or Ancient Persians, with the Hindoostanee, the Arabic, and Chaldean Languages. The book includes a section in which Vallancey compares terms from Irish and Arabic folklore; amongst other things, he compares the Irish dulahan with something called a “wulahan”, which is apparently an Arabian demon:

The Dullahan or Wullahan is a terrible bug-bear at this day; the peasants hear him in the night dragging a heavy chain through the villages and along the roads; this is the wulahan, or Satanas of the Arabs…

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This is a Horror Book by Charles Austin Muir (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

ThisisahorrorbookWith a history as a horror author, hip-hop artist, competitive powerlifter and self-proclaimed sorcerer, Charles Austin Muir is quite a character. It is hard to argue, then, with his decision to make himself the central character of This is a Horror Book.

The collection opens with its title story, in which Muir – after snapping out of a sexual fantasy involving Charlize Theron – finds a mysterious antique book lying in the ground for the taking. This elaborately-bound volume turns out to be a combination of intricate puzzles and evil texts (think along the lines of Evil Dead meets Hellraiser) and so the author and his buddy spend a drunken Halloween night summoning monsters from horror films. The story is a fond send-up of both horror iconography and dudebro culture:

When two guys get together, their intelligence quotients drop by half. When you give them alcohol and a national reason to watch horror movies, their intelligence quotients drop by another half. When you give them an evil book, their intelligence quotients drop by another half. That doesn’t leave much intelligence to spare—but enough to launch doomsday, unfortunately.

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The House of Eddas: Fiery Surtur and Mr. Hyde in Journey Into Mystery #99

JourneyMystery99Time to cross the rainbow bridge (how very appropriate for Pride month) and return to the world of Norse mythology. Or, rather, the world of Norse mythology as filtered through the inky pages of Marvel comics. This time, let’s peek at the ninety-ninth issue of Journey Into Mystery and find out what mystery Thor’s journeyed into…

The main story this month is “The Mighty Thor Battles the Mysterious Mister Hyde!” The comic introduces its latest villain in Calvin Zabo, a crook who applies for a job with Dr. Don Blake (“I have heard of him! He is the famous lame doctor!”) in the hopes of robbing him, only to be turned down as the good doctor has heard about Calvin’s track record.

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Dawn of the Living-Impaired and Other Messed-Up Zombie Stories by Christine Morgan (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

LivingImpairedThis collection of nine zombie tales from Splatterpunk Awards regular Christine Morgan gets off to a humorous start with its title story, “Dawn of the Living-Impaired”. Zombies are running rampant, but the military can handle them – that is, until the Zombie Rights Movement intervenes, arguing that the walking dead can be rehabilitated. The story depicts a TV news debate between a military official and a psychiatrist who supports zombie rights; although opening as a parody of political correctness (“Whenever someone refers to someone else as ‘dead meat,’ or claims to be ‘dead on their feet,’ it reflects poorly on our clients”) the narrative evolves into something rather different. The central conceit is the development of an appetite-suppressing patch that, theoretically, can be used to turn zombies into productive members of society, perhaps even retaining memories of their loved ones. The reader is first invited to scoff, and then to take the idea seriously – even if doomed to fail, the scheme seems tragic rather than laughable.

“Seven Brains, Ten Minutes” is another story where gross-out humour is offset by a poignant touch. The narrator is a young man who has survived the zombie apocalypse by pretending to be a zombie himself; as he reluctantly prepares to keep up appearances by tucking into a human brain, he reminisces about how the zombie apocalypse started – and the friends he lost. While all of this culminates in a sick-joke punchline, the story does manage a considerable degree of emotional weight.

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How Much To..? by Matt Shaw (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

HowMuchToA group of people arrive at office block to take part in a contest, the winner of which stands to walk away with a life-changing sum of money. The competitors are given a series of ten questions, each one fitting a simple format: how much money would they accept in return for performing an unpleasant act? Each candidate is free to pick a sum as high or as low as they like, but only the individual who has chosen the smallest collective amount of money across the ten questions will win. The winner will be given their chosen sum in cash – but they will also be forced to carry out each of the acts.

The first question the candidates are asked is how much money would they take to drink a pint of cold, congealed gravy. As unsavoury as this challenge may be, it is tame enough that some of the players agree to do so for free, as a means of staying ahead while the game progresses. But later questions up the stakes, and before long, the contestants are no longer being asked to put disgusting substances in their mouths, but to take part in acts of self-mutilation and sexual degradation. They are free to drop out at any time during the course of the game – but there are those who press on to the bitter end, so tantalising is the cash prize.

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Devil’s Advocates: The Mummy is Now on Kindle!

deviladmummycoverI’m happy to say that my Devil’s Advocates book on The Mummy, which came out  several months ago as a paper-back only release, is now available on Kindle! So, if you’re a reader who prefers your books in digital form, now’s your chance to lap up my analysis of the classic 1932 Universal film and the literature that inspired it. The ebook can be purchased at Amazon US, Amazon UK, or whatever outlet suits your locality.

If you need encouragement, then just listen to what John Upton of Frightfest has to say about my book:

There’s not much serious critical attention given to this film elsewhere, but honestly it’s not now needed as Sutherland really covers everything that you could possibly want to know… this book is definitely worth a look for horror cinema fans and will likely give you a new-found appreciation for the bandaged black sheep of the monster family.

One for the Road by Wesley Southard (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

One+for+the+Road_Wesley+SouthardSpencer Hesston is the guitarist for Rot in Hell, a ramshackle metal band in the early stages of its career. He spends his time on the road with his cohorts: drummer Vinnie, a close friend of his; bassist Les, a spoilt snob; Steve, the band’s boorish frontman; Shelly, Steve’s girlfriend; and D-Rail, an aloof and intimidating individual who acts as their driver.

Steve has high hopes for the band, and is arranging their first European tour. Spencer and Vinnie, meanwhile, are tired of the abusive Steve and night after night spent sleeping in the band’s trailer. They want to escape Rot in Hell and start their own band.

But just as these tensions are bubbling to the surface, something inexplicable happens. After a night of booze and weed at a Missouri bar, the band wake up in their trailer to find their possessions – from their instruments down to their van’s ignition key – mysteriously absent. Moreover, they appear to have been transported from Missouri to a southwestern desert. This is just the beginning of their troubles: as the world continues to warp around them and all manner of bizarre creatures begin crawling through the cracks in reality, the members of Rot in Hell start to fear that their name has taken on a more literal meaning.

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