Review: Tales From the Black Meadow / Author: Chris Lambert / Publisher: CreateSpace / Release Date: Out Now
The Black Meadow is a mysterious area of land in North Yorkshire around a vanishing village about which strange folk tales abound. A university professor went missing in 1972 while investigating the myths of the area, and this collection of local legends forms part of his research that has been recently uncovered.
All that is, of course, completely made up, but it is the basis upon which Chris Lambert builds a collection of tales, poems, songs and artwork, making a book that amounts to one of the few contemporary examples of the “found manuscript” subgenre.
Anchoring the collection and providing an origin for the weird goings-on is the tale of the Rag and Bone Man, a farmer tortured and beaten to near death by the henchmen of a noble who then stole his wife, sold his children and built the village on his land. This leads to him periodically enveloping the village in a dark mist and swallowing the settlement within his cursed body, causing it to vanish from the world – Brigadoon-like – until he can hold it no longer.
The stand out entries include Beyond the Moor, a poem about a maiden accosted by a bandit who remains unafraid due to having been to the “beyond” of the title and returned. It's a poem whose structure, mood and use of a repetitive refrain echoes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. Also of note are Children of the Black Meadow, where a bereaved mother resurrects her deceased kids as blackberry bramble homunculi; cyclical damnation tale The Coal Man and the Creature; and the paranoia-inducing sucker punch The Watcher From the Village.
Although the twist ending of many of the tales can be predicted, the skill with which they are weaved means getting to it never becomes tedious. Some of the descriptive elements of the stories are a little matter-of-fact, breaking the folk tale mood, but for the most part the aesthetic remains convincing. And because the songs and poems often allude to the events of the stories, this is a collection that strongly invites a second reading.
In the back of Robert Rankin’s novel A Dog Called Demolition, there is what he claims to be the first ever soundtrack to a book: a “two-sided” (light and dark) listing of mostly rock, metal and punk songs to listen to while reading the book, with the proviso “play loud; there’s no other way.” Tales From the Black Meadow takes this idea one step further, providing an actual CD of music to accompany the stories. All but one track is named after one of the tales and the music of each complements its narrative counterpart. The slight scratchy crackle of the music effectively dates it, making it sound as though it could have been copied from a vinyl record from the '70s. Such is its atmospheric precision, the CD even manages to glean a positive sleeve quotation from perennially misanthropic comic book author Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan). A second disc contains readings of four of the tales and a fictional Radio 4 documentary named Curse of the Black Meadow, detailing the history of research into the bizarre phenomena occurring within the eldritch mist.