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Thursday, 25 August 2011


A nature fairy (Dr Karl Shuker)

It was quite a while ago that I penned the following retelling of a traditional Irish folktale, as a sample of text for a possible book on the Little People, which would be written in the style of my dragons book. Sadly, however, the project didn't come to fruition - or at least not so far - but here, extracted from the depths of my Eclectarium, is the text sample in question, and I hope that you enjoy it.

Some fairies are solitary by nature, and these tend to be capricious and malign towards humans; a few even belong to the Unseelie Court, and are best avoided. Happily, however, most fairies are usually good-natured and can be generous to humans if treated with respect. They often live in great congregations, with splendid palaces inside hollow hills, and belong to the Seelie Court. Yet even these, known as trooping fairies, can be fickle and mischievous, especially if dealt with disrespectfully, whereupon they take great delight in punishing those humans responsible - as vividly illustrated by the following traditional British folk-tale:

Long ago, in a little village at the foot of Ireland's Galtee Mountains, lived a man known to everyone as Lusmore, on account of the sprig of lusmore flowers that he always placed in the band of his hat. Tragically, Lusmore had been afflicted since birth with a deformed hump-back, which gave him unrelenting pain and never permitted him to stand up straight. Yet despite this burden he was always cheerful, and sang happily when skilfully preparing the beautiful hand-woven baskets, hats, and other items, using rushes and dried grasses, for which he was famous far and wide.

One evening, Lusmore was walking back home, slowly and painfully as always, after having personally delivered some of his wares to a rich buyer in a neighbouring village, when, passing through a shadowy glade, he heard the most delightful singing - as if an invisible choir were present, filling the glade on all sides with melodious music. Lusmore paused, listening intently, and soon noticed that the singers were repeating the same simple theme over and over again. After a time, the singing paused, and Lusmore took the opportunity to add his own musical contribution, by elevating the theme a key with his own tuneful singing voice, creating a pleasant harmony. A few moments later, the choir began accompanying him, and the singing became even more dulcet than before.

Suddenly, the music stopped, and the glade instantaneously lit up, illuminated by what Lusmore thought at first were hundreds of tiny fireflies or glow-worms. But as he peered at them, he realised to his amazement that they were fairies - a huge assembly of gossamer-winged, gorgeously-attired fairies, whose tiny bodies glowed in the moonlight, and whose faces were as beautiful and radiant as flowers. Laughing excitedly, they told Lusmore how delighted they were with his gift to their music, and, in thanks, they promised to return his kindness with a reward of their own, by removing from his life its greatest burden.

And as they spoke those words, the entire company took wing, and swarmed all around the bewildered Lusmore like a host of will o' the wisps, enfolding him in a luminous swirling cloak of shimmering Faerie light. Startled, Lusmore closed his eyes, and felt a brief jolt of energy surge through his body, like a small electric shock, causing him to jerk upwards, involuntarily - and as he did so, he was astonished to discover that he was standing up straight, for the very first time in his life! Lusmore opened his eyes at once, and looked all about him, but the fairies had gone, with only the fading sound of their singing to confirm that they had ever been there. At his feet, however, was a strange object, like a large boulder - and to his shock and delight, Lusmore realised that this was his hump, no longer weighing down his back, whose shoulder blades were smooth and unburdened at last.

Hardly daring to believe his luck, Lusmore ran all the way home, and the next day he banged on the door of everyone's house to tell them of his incredible experience the previous night. All of the villagers were delighted for him - all but one, that is, a miserable, nasty-tempered man called Jack Madden, who was also a hump-back, just like Lusmore had once been, but was sorely lacking Lusmore's pleasant personality. Madden was jealous of Lusmore's good fortune, but as he had no spite or bitterness in his soul Lusmore ignored Madden's envy. Indeed, he was only too happy to suggest to Madden that he should go to the glade himself the next evening, and do what he, Lusmore, had done, and perhaps he too would be rewarded by the fairies there.

Despite moaning that it was a long way to go, Madden decided to follow Lusmore's advice, and spent much of the day walking to the glade, where he then waited, somewhat impatiently, until it grew dark. After a time, Madden heard the strain of sweet music wafting through the trees, a rich congregation of voices singing the same simple theme over and over again, just like Lusmore had heard. Unlike Lusmore, however, Madden had neither the patience nor the musical ability to join in. Instead, after just a few minutes, he lost his temper completely, shouting out rudely that he was tired of hearing the same theme and that it was surely time that they learnt something else to sing.

The music stopped instantly, and the glade became absolutely still. Then all at once, it was as if Madden were being attacked on all sides by a furious swarm of buzzing mosquitoes - but these were no ordinary mosquitoes. Suddenly, they illuminated themselves, and Madden saw that they were in fact a vast company of extremely angry fairies, their little faces screwed up in rage, as they pinched him, pulled his hair, tweaked his nose, flicked his ears, and screamed at him in high, piercing voices that echoed inside his head - accusing him of ruining their music, and promising swift revenge.

Overcome with fear, Madden closed his eyes and staggered away, but he tripped over the root of a tree and fell to the floor, enveloped by the swarm of enraged fairies. He felt a jolt of energy flow briefly through him, causing him to open his eyes in fear. To his relief, however, the fairies had gone, and so too, Madden hoped, would be his hump. But when he tried to stand up, his back was still hunched, and seemed even more painful and heavy than before. Gingerly, Madden felt it with his hands, and to his great horror he discovered that not only was his hump still there, but now, there was a second hump alongside it!

That was the fairies' punishment to Jack Madden for spoiling their music, and for the rest of his life he would now have to walk with two humps on his back instead of one - as a warning to everyone of what can happen if they fall foul of the Little People!


African shaman mask (Dr Karl Shuker)

Here are a couple of hairy curiosities (in every sense!) that I'm sharing with you today from my Eclectarium.

This strange, brown, hair-like material is used by Senegalese shamans in secret rituals, and is incorporated into magic medicines that supposedly bestow good fortune upon their recipients. Shamans claim that they obtain it from demons when entering an alternate dimension of consciousness. They mix devil's hair with other substances, such as chicken's blood, and wrap the resulting concoction in goatskin or hyaena skin before giving it to the recipient - who must then undergo a series of tasks with it, based upon instructions relayed by the shaman from invisible spirit beings, in order for it to have the desired effect.

On 13 May 1848, a violent earthquake shook Chantibun in eastern Siam (now Thailand), but that was not all, as recorded in Scientific American: "During the shock, there spontaneously came out of the ground a species of human hairs in almost every place - in the bazaars, in the roads, in the fields, and the most solid places. These hairs, which are pretty long, stand upright and adhere strongly to the ground. When they are burned, they twist like human hairs and have a burned smell...they all appeared in the twinkling of an eye during the earthquake". But from where? One authority claimed that they were "...probably some interior bituminous substance melted and blown through the pores of the earth into fine strings and congealed, resembling hairs". Another, commenting upon a Chinese case, believed them to be fibres from the hemp-palm tree. At present, quake hairs remain a mystery.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Browsing through the books in a local charity shop yesterday, I noticed an anthology of short verses by Patience Strong, entitled Thoughts For Every Day. Opening it entirely at random, my gaze fell upon the following poem, ‘The Bird of Dreams’, which I had never previously read but which so captivated me upon doing so that I took the volume to the counter and paid for it straight away– a delightful new addition to my bookshelf to be treasured over the years, a bright new seashell encountered by chance but gathered up with joy from the infinite seashore of Life.

THE BIRD OF DREAMS - Patience Strong

When the house is quiet with the coming of the night -
Wrapped about in rosy veils of softly fading light.
The Bird of Dreams on silent wings comes to my windowsill.
The clock chimes out the sunset hour, but Time itself stands still.
Years are moments. In a flash I live the past again.
I hear a voice, I see a face. I feel the joy and pain,
As if it were but yesterday. What is this magic power -
That calls up ghosts out of the shadows of the evening hour?
I light the lamp, and in the dazzle of the sudden glare -
The vision goes. I look around, and there is no one there.
But through the window in the dark, beyond the lamp's bright ray -
I see the Bird of Dreams spread out its wings and fly away.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Earlier tonight, in my previous post here in The Eclectarium of Doctor Shuker, I recalled how, while I was still a youngster during the mid-1960s, a certain fascinating compendium of mysteries entitled Stranger Than People played a fundamental role in triggering what would become a lifelong interest of mine in such subjects.

In addition to containing accounts of many famous true-life mysteries, this particular book (published in 1968 by Young World Productions Ltd of London) also included a couple of wonderful – and wholly original - science-fiction short stories. Tragically, however, because it did not appear to have had a very large print run, was never reprinted, and is nowadays long-forgotten and very scarce, relatively few people are likely to have read them.

Consequently, in that afore-mentioned Eclectarium post of mine I had great pleasure in exclusively presenting one of those two sci-fi stories, ‘Klumpok’ (click here).

So now, utilising the Fair Dealing/Fair Use convention I have equal delight in presenting here in the context of review, and on an entirely non-commercial basis, the other story.

Entitled ‘The Yellow Monster of Sundra [sic] Strait’, it was written by Ted Hallam and featured some very striking illustrations by an uncredited artist.

So just click on the following scans to obtain readily-readable enlargements of this thrilling story’s complete set of original pages, exactly as they appeared in Stranger Than People. But I warn you: if you’re even the slightest bit arachnophobic, it might be better to go off and do something else instead!

UPDATE: 3 April 2014

In response to reader Shane O'Connor's recent request (in the Comments section below), I have pleasure in presenting here the Contents page from Stranger Than People, which shows the wonderfully diverse and fascinating subjects documented within this amazing book:


Stunning artwork from 'Klumpok' in Stranger Than People (1968)

I owe a great deal to a wonderful but sadly long-since-forgotten compendium of famous true-life and fictitious mysteries entitled Stranger Than People – as I explained in the introduction to one of my own volumes, Dr Shuker’s Casebook (2008):

Here I am with the two books that sparked my lifelong interest in cryptozoology and other subjects of mystery (Dr Karl Shuker)

“It is well known that my passion for cryptozoology was ignited by the 1972 Paladin paperback reprint of Dr Bernard Heuvelmans’s classic tome On the Track of Unknown Animals, bought for me as a birthday present by my mother when I was around 13 years old. However, my interest in mysterious phenomena as a whole stemmed from an even earlier present – a copy of Stranger Than People, an enthralling compendium of mysteries from fact and fiction, published in 1968 by YWP, and aimed at older children and teenagers, which I saw one day in the Walsall branch of W.H. Smith when I was 8 or 9 years old, and was duly purchased for me as usual by my mother.

“Within its informative, beautifully-illustrated pages I read with fascination – and fear – about Nessie and the kraken, vampires and werewolves, the Colossus of Rhodes and Von Kempelen’s mechanical chess player, dinosaurs and the minotaur, witches and zombies, yetis and mermaids, leprechauns and trolls, Herne the Hunter and Moby Dick, giants and the cyclops, feral children, the psychic powers of Edgar Cayce, and lots more. It even included two original – and quite superb - sci-fi short stories: ‘Klumpok’, about giant ant-like statues found on Mars and what happened when one of them was brought back to Earth; and ‘The Yellow Monster of Sundra Strait’, in which a giant transparent globe containing an enormous spider-like entity rises up out of the ocean; plus a thrilling (and chilling) fantasy tale, ‘Devil Tiger’, featuring a royal but malevolent weretiger that could only be killed with a golden bullet.

“Needless to say, I re-read the poor book so many times that it quite literally fell apart, and was eventually discarded by my parents. After I discovered its loss, I spent many years scouring every bookshop for another copy, but none could be found. Not even Hay-on-Wye – world-famous as ‘The Town of Books’ with over 40 secondhand bookshops – could oblige. A few years ago, however, the Library Angel was clearly at work, because one Tuesday, walking into the bric-a-brac market held on that day each week in my home town of Wednesbury, on the very first stall that I approached I saw a near-pristine copy of Stranger Than People! Needless to say, I bought it, and to this day it remains the only copy that I have ever seen since my original one.”

Indeed, due to this book’s great scarcity today, it recently occurred to me that few people will have been fortunate enough to have ever read any of those marvellous short stories from it that I mentioned above.

Consequently, after more than 40 years, utilising the Fair Dealing/Fair Use convention I am delighted to be able to rectify this sad situation by presenting here in The Eclectarium of Doctor Shuker, in the context of review, and on an entirely non-commercial basis, my own personal favourite – Klumpok.

Just click on the following scans for readily readable enlargements of the original pages (pp. 86-92) from Stranger Than People, which also reveal the stunning artwork that accompanied this story. (Unfortunately, I am unable to name-check either the author or the artist responsible for Klumpok, because no credits of any kind were given in Stranger Than People for this particular story.)

I hope that you enjoy Klumpok just as much as I did – and still do:


And click here to read the second gripping original sci-fi short story that appeared in Stranger Than People - 'The Yellow Monster of Sundra Strait'.


Every so often - but not nearly often enough - a new book appears that instantly becomes not only a classic work but also a standard work. One such literary rarity is Strange Lands: A Field-Guide to the Celtic Otherworld, written and illustrated by Andy Paciorek, a highly-renowned graphics artist, and now in print at last after having previously existed exclusively as a website. After reading the original manuscript and marvelling at the imaginative, intricate beauty of its artwork, depicting a vast array of mythical and magical Celtic entities, I was more than happy to pen a foreword to Andy's spectacular volume - which is now available to purchase online at:

Meanwhile, as an appetiser, here is my Strange Lands foreword:

Think of any major stage or screen musical, and the chances are that it will have been written by a composer/lyricist partnership – Rice & Lloyd Webber, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Gershwin & Gershwin, Lerner & Loewe, Sherman & Sherman, Schoenberg & Boublil, to name for a few. There is, however, one very significant exception – Cole Porter, a uniquely gifted individual whose talent for composing wonderful, melodious music was matched equally by his ability to pen complex, witty lyrics. But Cole Porters are few and far between.

The same principle applies in the world of books. There are countless talented writers, and countless talented illustrators, but individuals able to accomplish both to a suitably high standard are an extreme rarity, to be treasured and appreciated like a Renaissance Old Master or an exceptionally fine vintage of wine – which is why I am so impressed by this book and, most of all, by its creator.

I first came to know Andy Paciorek through Facebook, and was immediately captivated (mesmerised, even) by his extraordinarily detailed, imaginative artwork – and also by the prodigious quantities of it. Andy seems able to create his spectacular illustrations as easily as the rest of us draw breath, and yet every single one is as meticulously crafted as all of the others. Indeed, when viewing his numerous albums of artwork on his Facebook page and his various art websites, I have often been reminded of the famous quote by Edward Bulwer-Lytton:

“Talent does what it can; genius does what it must”.

Unquestionably, Andy is a man whose life is driven by a passion for creating art – but when he sent me the manuscript for Strange Lands to read through, I was shocked to discover that his art was just one side of a coin whose very existence I had not even suspected before.

Long before I had finished reading it, I had discovered that Andy is not only a supremely talented artist, he is also a remarkably adept writer and researcher! Right from a child, I have always been fascinated by mythology and folklore, especially the rich corpus originating in the British Isles, and I have read very extensively on the subject. However, I can say in all honesty that Strange Lands is one of the most comprehensive single volumes on British mythological entities that I have ever encountered. Even Dr Katharine M. Briggs’s essential tome, A Dictionary of Fairies, universally acclaimed as the standard work on such beings, now has a rival in terms of the sheer diversity of examples documented.

And where Strange Lands effortlessly outpoints even that classic work is of course in its illustrations, which are truly breathtaking in their beauty, intricacy, and vibrancy. Moreover, especially with regard to the more obscure examples, Andy’s may well be the first illustrations of such entities ever executed. Certainly, in addition to all of the well known examples of British (and Breton) supernatural being, there are numerous far less familiar ones included and illustrated here too – everything, in fact, from muryans, hyter sprites, the Lob, bwbachs, the Coranied, duergars, fir darrig, foidin seachrain, and the memorably-named wag by the way to the lunatishee, brown men, the dark men of dreams, hobyahs, bull beggars, merrows, gwrach-y-rhibyn, grugach, and many more!

Strange Lands has been available online at its very own website - - for quite some time, but if ever there was a manuscript crying out to be produced in book form, with its spectacular illustrations reproduced in large format, this was the one. So I am absolutely delighted that Andy has now done so, and I am very honoured to have received the opportunity to pen for it this foreword – or, as I see it, a well-deserved paean of praise for what will unquestionably become a standard work of reference as well as a true thing of beauty that will indeed be a joy forever.

On his Facebook ‘Like’ (formerly Fan) Page, Andy includes the following quote from Charles Baudelaire:

"A frenzied passion for art is a canker that devours everything else."

Much as I hesitate to question the viewpoint or tamper with the words of such an esteemed literary figure as Baudelaire, in Andy’s case I feel that a more apposite wording of that quote would be something along the lines of:

"A heartfelt passion for art is a fire that warms, nourishes, and sustains the life that it feeds above all else."

Certainly, I cannot ever imagine Andy existing even for a moment without his eternal fervour for art coursing through his veins like divine, fiery ichor. And long may it continue to do so – I for one am already eagerly awaiting his next published art project!

UPDATE: 25 October 2011

Strange Lands is now available now available to purchase as an e-book for i-pad /i-phone. Just go to:


Talos, in 'Jason and the Argonauts' (1963) (Ray Harryhausen/Columbia Pictures)

In classical Greek mythology, the deity who drove the sun chariot across the sky each day was not actually a god but rather a titan, called Helios, whose most famous artistic representation was none other than the Colossus of Rhodes - an immense statue created by a renowned sculptor known as Chares of Lindos, standing 110 ft tall, covered externally with burnished sheets of bronze, and deemed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, even though it stood intact for just 56 years during the 3rd Century BC before being felled by an earthquake.

Interestingly, however, long before this spectacular work of art had been created, its subject, Helios, had already become associated with a bronze giant, but this one was of a much more animate nature. In the dialect of Crete, Helios became Talos - and according to Cretan legends incorporated into classical Greek mythology, Talos was a gigantic living man cast entirely from bronze (or brass in some versions) by the fire god Hephaestus. Talos contained a single internal vein running from his neck to his feet, and was sealed at one ankle by a huge bronze nail. This vein was filled with ichor, a magical substance present only within the very blood of the gods themselves, thereby rendering Talos immortal.

After Zeus had seduced the maiden Europa while assuming the form of a great bull, he carried her off on his back across the sea to the island of Crete. When they arrived there, he placed Talos on guard, to ensure that no-one abducted her, and Talos thereafter ran around the island three times every day to keep a constant watch for anyone who may try to rescue her, hurling huge boulders out to sea at any approaching ship. Eventually, Europa became Queen of Crete, but Talos remained, ever vigilant. According to a different version of the Talos legend, he was given by Hephaestus to Minos, King of Crete, as a gift, but once again he guarded the island by running around its perimeter three times a day.

Athenian vase from c.400-390 BC, depicting Talos and the Argonauts, held at the Museo Jatta at Ruvo in Italy

One of the creepiest scenes in any fantasy film appears in ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ – a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit decidedly Hollywoodised, treatment of the epic Greek legend, filled with classic stop-motion special effects created by the master of screen monsters, Ray Harryhausen. The scene in question is when Jason and his fellow Argonauts aboard the Argo reach the island of Talos, who seems to be nothing more than a giant bronze statue in crouching position, on top of a massive chamber packed from floor to ceiling with untold treasures.

Ignoring Jason’s strict instructions not to take anything from the island, two of the Argonauts, Hercules (=Heracles) and Hylas, plunder the chamber, but as they re-emerge and look up at the enormous 'statue' on top of it, to their horror it suddenly turns its head and looks down at them! And as they watch, terror-stricken, Talos swiftly comes totally alive and clambers down from the chamber, poised to step on them like tiny ants as they flee before him, racing back to their ship to alert the other Argonauts of the monster that their greed has unleashed upon them all. Happily, Talos is rendered immobile once more, when, guided by the voice of the goddess Hera, Jason successfully prises out of his heel the cork that retains his body's vital ichor, which gushes out from his vein, bringing Talos's immortality to an abrupt end.

When Talos awakens, in 'Jason and the Argonauts' (1963) (Ray Harryhausen/Columbia Pictures)

In the original Jason myth, conversely, Talos himself removes the ichor-retaining nail from his ankle after being bewitched by the sorceress-priestess Medea (who was accompanying Jason and the Argonauts back home after they had seized the Golden Fleece at Colchis), and thereby brings about his own death.

Unlike the Colossus of Rhodes, which unquestionably once existed, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Talos was ever anything more substantial than a figure of legend. Nevertheless, as an animate metallic humanoid entity in the annals of world mythology, he may well lay claim to being the world’s first robot (long before the likes of such early modern-day counterparts as 'the Man-Machine' in Fritz Lang's classic 1927 movie 'Metropolis', for instance) – were it not of course for the fact that in his murderous pursuit of any hapless visitors to his island domain, he clearly paid scant regard to Isaac Asimov’s celebrated Three Laws of Robotics!

Poster advertising a screening of 'Metropolis' in Hay-on-Wye, the Welsh 'town of books', in March 2011 (Dr Karl Shuker)

This post is excerpted from my book Dr Shuker's Casebook: In Pursuit of Marvels and Mysteries (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008)


Although I am known primarily for my writings on cryptozoology, unnatural history, and animal mythology, and also for my poetry, my interests are by no means confined to these subjects - spanning others as diverse as motorbikes and masquerade masks, stamp collecting and Sherlock Holmes, animation and automata, surrealism, James Dean, the supernatural, vintage rock 'n' roll music, fantasy art and novels, musical theatre and pantomime, science fiction literature and films, memorable quotes and curious quiz trivia, ancient civilisations, geographical enigmas, clowns and jesters, little-known scientific anomalies and controversies, mysteries of history, and much much more.

As these are largely (and often entirely) outside the scope of my ShukerNature and Star Steeds blogs, however, I have not been able to share my interests in them online - not until now, that is. From today, all that will change, because I now have great pleasure in welcoming you to my latest blog - The Eclectarium of Doctor Shuker.

Here, for your entertainment and wonderment, I shall be revealing all manner of marvels and delights that have fascinated me over the years. Sometimes, I shall merely direct your attention to an interesting and unusual item that I have lately encountered elsewhere online; on other occasions, I shall either republish an item of my own that has only previously appeared in hard-copy format or prepare an entirely new post on an intriguing subject that has caught my attention.

So, expect the unexpected, and imagine the unimaginable, as I parade before you an incomparably eclectic array of esoterica and incredibilia. But even as I type these words, I see something is stirring in the shadows. The exordium is over, for the show has just begun...!