I’ve been reading ‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry for my Sunday book club; as you may guess from the title it is about a mythological beast not an actual serpent as in a snake but as in a sort of monstrous wingless dragon (sometimes also confusingly called a worm, confusingly because we thing of worms as small pink eight inch things who live in the earth) There are references to other mythical creatures, including the black shuck – a dog like hound which appears in legends and modern-day sightings across the country, but has that particular name in Essex and east Anglia. We even have local stories published in the newspapers recently about our own Somerset version, seen on the hills of Banwell a village less than ten miles from here.
Here’s something I wrote a while ago:
I came across an article about travel and tourism which mentioned that an app has been developed by the Bram Stoker International Film Festival so visitors to Whitby can follow a trail which features places the Victorian author of Dracula visited which inspired him.
I used to be a great fan of the Dracula myth, and even for a time was a member of the Dracula society; I recently reread Stoker’s novel with my book club and was pleased that I still enjoyed it and thought it stood the test of time. There are many memorable scenes, of course, but one that I think of whenever I visit Whitby is when the ship The Demeter grounded on the beach and a black dog leapt off and disappeared, Dracula in disguise, of course! I didn’t realise that Stoker saw an actual ship called The Dmitri which had come ashore in a storm.
The article mentioned the word barghest, which is a mythical creature in the form of a big black dog-like animal, said to wander the streets of Whitby and York; although that word is given in Yorkshire to the apparition, ghostly black dogs appear all across Britain, and it is thought they originated way back in ancient pre-Roman times, ,maybe even pre-Celtic, who knows. A fear of big animals with sharp teeth and big claws, creeping invisibly in the darkness must resonate in our deepest folk memories.
I didn’t realise, although I come from East Anglia, that my family home ground also has legends of a black dog, the black shuck – sometimes the shuck only has one eye in the middle of his forehead, sometimes he has no head at all, but stories of his prowlings appear in Peterborough (where my grandparents lived for a while) and Littleport, (where a cousin’s family come from) in Cambridgeshire, Bungay and Blytheburgh in Suffolk, and Dereham in Norfolk.
The only time I have written about anything ghostly or spooky is in ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’, a story I wrote for disaffected young readers, those who can read but don’t want to. The beast I created was wolf-like, but walked and fought like a man… a sort of were-wolf. I don’t think the barghest or the black shuck have a were-nature, they seem to foretell doom and death, but the idea of a huge canine-type creature appears in myths across these islands, and in many other countries too.
If you haven’t read it yet, here is a link: