My aim with The Eye is to shine a light on music, film and literature that deals with landscape in a multitude of ways.
The space below will be taken up by images from a series of landscape poems, which are now available in a limited run of signed A5 booklets here.
Holloway outlines two journeys taken by Robert MacFarlane to investigate the ancient walkways that many centuries of footfall have carved into the sandstone rock in Dorset. We journey through a labyrinthine network, largely buried from the everyday observer by nettles, briar and branches, which form a dense canopy overhead.
The first trip with Roger Deakin – described as “swimmer; writer; naturalist; collector; worker with wood; writer of books; maker of friends” – unfolds at a languid pace, with descriptions of the history and topography of the area assuming a focal point in the narrative. Illustrations by Stanley Donwood compliment and enhance the spectral quality of MacFarlane’s descriptions; his ink-drawings are inspired by first-hand experience after he joins the expedition detailed in the second half of the book.
MacFarlane’s stories of myth and legend place emphasis on the ghosts and memories that occupy these sunken tracks. In a memorable passage, he recounts in lurid detail the experience of the poet Edward Thomas hearing “the speech of a vanished village: the ringing of hammer, shoe, & anvil from the smithy, the clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing from the inn” as he passed the crossroads of similar paths in Hampshire. An other-worldly view of the landscape colours our impressions as the book unfolds, guiding us back through layer upon layer of the forgotten past.
We learn that the holloways’ use has changed considerably over time, that they served both as “lanes worn down from the packhorses of a hundred generations”, and as sanctuaries for Catholic missionaries, who would use them as hideaways from soldiers in the 16th and early 17th centuries. The tunnels also bore witness to brutal tortures and hangings when fugitives and runaways were caught. As the group battle their way through the undergrowth, loosely following a path mapped out in Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household – which serves as something of a spiritual guide on their journey – Deakin suggests that “you could live undisturbed and undetected here for a long time…”
In MacFarlane’s words:
“Down in the dusk of the Holloway, the landscape’s pasts felt excitingly alive and coexistent, as if history had pleated back on itself, bringing discontinuous moments into contact & creating correspondences that survived as a territorial imperative to concealment, escape, & encounter.”
Following Deakin’s death in August 2006, MacFarlane returns to Dorset, this time with Dan Richards and Stanley Donwood. The second half of the book takes a markedly different approach to the first; his experiences within the scenery are now recounted in the awe-struck tones of a mystic wanderer. A startling account is offered of the way the group, lost for a moment in the frozen fields, “moved lost in [their] own luminous socket of mist… there were times when [they] showed as silhouettes…” He also continually sees flashes of Deakin in his peripheral vision, whose presence seems permanently tethered to the wilderness.
The language becomes increasingly abstract and fluid, with MacFarlane honing in on the psychology of the group, which echoes their ever-shifting environment. He writes of night terrors, paranoia that they are being followed back from the pub, the feeling that their temporary camp in the ditch is being encroached upon and swallowed up by the spirits of those who walked before them.
After seeing Deakin’s apparition on their return trip, he says:
“I now understand it certainly to be the case, though I have long imagined it to be true, that stretches of a path might carry memories of a person just as a person might of a path.”
This is the fourth in a series of recordings captured at locations around Sheffield.
Adapted most famously by the BBC a decade on from this version, M.R. James’ ghost story involves a university professor who has his belief-system rattled when he awakens a mysterious agent from the past. This silent 1956 short-film gives us snippets of plot-line to untangle, cultivating mystery and a deep sense of the eerie across its ten-minute runtime.
As Jonathan Miller’s introduction in the BBC version attests:
“This is a tale of solitude and terror, and it has a moral too. It hints at the dangers of intellectual pride and shows how a man’s reason can be overthrown when he fails to acknowledge those forces inside himself which he simply cannot understand.”
The opening scenes of a beachfront unfold in patient and studied detail. Our protagonist, casually foraging in the sands for treasure, stumbles upon a whistle, which he inspects briefly then pockets, returning to his hotel. The camera hangs on the shoreline; we glimpse a figure, looming in the background – faceless, its shape grainy on monochrome film stock and cloaked in a white sheet.
Sharing his discovery with a companion at the bar, the professor notices an inscription on the flute, and asks him to translate it. Five words emerge: ‘Who is that who comes?’ He returns to his room, merry and bemused, and blows on the whistle playfully before retiring for the night. Immediately, something jolts outside the window from the darkness, like tectonic plates shaken from a deep slumber. He shrugs it off and undresses for bed. The second-hand crawls around the clock, from midnight to half-one, and we are transported into the professor’s dream-life.
The faceless figure we saw earlier is chasing him down the beach, in a feverish scene from which there appears no escape. He is suddenly startled awake to find a poltergeist at work. The windows burst open; the furniture shakes and trembles. Gradually, he notices the sheets on the bed next to his are quivering with a dark energy. They slowly rise up, echoing the paralysing terror that gradually, and utterly, consumes his weakening body. He is contorted and writhing against the bedroom wall as the sheets glide across the room and slowly begin to suffocate him.
Hearing the commotion, his companion rushes in. When the lights flicker on the sheets are limp and disembodied once more. The pair wander back to the beach in the morning light and – to the sound of tinkling pianos and disquieting feedback – throw the whistle back into the sea, returning the instrument to the clutches of the old world.
Thanks for reading. If you have enjoyed this zine, please consider subscribing to future issues by clicking here.