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The painter and antiquarian Arthur Weybridge in the story Jinn knows his monsters:

When he had first heard the word [jinn] , it had summoned up an Arabian Nights image of a genie in a bottle. But Arthur knew there were other jinn: there were the faithless shaitan, the shape-shifting ghul – ghoul as we have come to call it – haunter of graveyards and barren places.

Chris Priestley obviously knows his stuff too – he’s done his homework on jinns, or perhaps he has read so many ghost stories that he has accrued his expertise without really trying. He is clear about the cultural provenence of the creature too, knowing that a jinn is a Muslim myth, and an occupier of dry barren lands. Although jinn is an Arabic word, Priestley sets this story in the dry lands of Turkish Asia Minor, which allows him to weave into the story the fact of there having been pagan villages in that area long after the coming of the monotheistic faiths.

I imagine Priestley devising his tales with an encyclopaedia of mythology on his desk, or a guide to ghosts. I can see him sitting in a library poring over turn of the century newspapers for stories about the supernatural, now and again noting down some details that he can work into a story – the details of a séance gone wrong, for example, or an unexplained death that villagers blame on an ancient curse. If you want your stories to have the ring of authenticity, the best sources are stories that people have actually believed…

Jinn is one of the few stories in Uncle Montague in which the creature is actually named. It is part of the convention of gothic horror to withhold information from the reader, providing clues here and there which an alert reader may pick up on and may not, but maintaining an atmosphere of mystery. The writer, however, generally must know the nature of the creature that is revealed to the reader in only hints and glimpses. The writer’s research on the subject may involve more than a quick look at Wikipedia, too!

Challenge

Let’s face it, vampires and zombies have been done to death recently (no pun intended). Let’s cast our monster-nets a bit wider. Research one of the creatures below and make it the subject of a horror story.

  • A Poltergeist
  • A Doppelganger
  • A Succubus
  • A Ganshee (Korea)
  • That thing in the picture!

(The picture shows an Iroquois facemask, representing a spirit, from the British Museum collection. The picture is from New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, 1959/1986)

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