More on the Dullahan in Irish Folklore

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Last week I did some digging into the history of the dullahan, a being from Irish folklore generally depicted as a headless coach-driver or horseman. The earliest source I could find that discussed dullahans in any detail was the 1828 edition of Thomas Crofton Croker’s book Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland.

Croker’s book stands as the definitive body of dullahan literature. If you go to Google Books and search for nineteenth-century texts mentioning the dullahan, most – if not all – of the results appear to be drawing upon Croker in some capacity. For example, here’s an excerpt from W. B. Yeats’ 1888 book Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry:

An omen that sometimes accompanies the banshee is the coach-a-bower [cóiste-bodhar]—an immense black coach, mounted by a coffin, and drawn by headless horses driven by a Dullahan. It will go rumbling to your door, and if you open it, according to Croker, a basin of blood will be thrown in your face. These headless phantoms are found elsewhere than in Ireland. In 1807 two of the sentries stationed outside St. James’s Park died of fright. A headless woman, the upper part of her body naked, used to pass at midnight and scale the railings. After a time the sentries were stationed no longer at the haunted spot. In Norway the heads of corpses were cut off to make their ghosts feeble. Thus came into existence the Dullahans, perhaps; unless, indeed, they are descended from that Irish giant who swam across the Channel with his head in his teeth.—Ed.]

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Dirty Rotten Hippies and Other Stories by Bryan Smith (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

DirtyRottenHippiesThis collection kicks off with its title novella “Dirty Rotten Hippies”, which takes up nearly a third of book. The story depicts a music festival being hit by a new drug called Delight that brings a great high, followed by an existential low, and finally turns the victim into a zombie. Mayhem ensues, and comes to embroil a range of characters who happen to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time: elderly Dan Ferguson, a man old enough to remember the first wave of hippies; his gun-toting wife Helen; Travis Kincaid, a college student with a love of the sixties counterculture; Oscar Perez, a music journalist; and Kyle Bile, a rock star with a grudge against Oscar. Things get even crazier when it turns out that the zombies are not the only flesh-eaters in the area: Travis falls into a trap set by a clan of cannibal meth-heads.

The novella’s cartoonish ethos can be found in a number of the collection’s other stories. In “Chainsaw Sex Maniacs from Mars”, backwoods America is invaded by coverall-clad grey alien rednecks (“Gonna blow a load of Martian spunk up yonder blondie’s poophole”). “Some Crazy Fucking Shit that Happened One Day” sees its protagonist argue with his former-porn-actress girlfriend before falling in with a busload of seductive cheerleaders; but this dream scenario comes with a catch, as the cheerleaders are devil-worshippers plotting a chainsaw-based ritual to resurrect a band of Nazi zombies. In his introduction, Bryan Smith reveals that he wrote the story in under 24 hours after his Facebook followers decided the subject matter via a poll.

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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.