Let us be blunt about this. Despite the ubiquitous nature of the pumpkin and its gaudy symbology towards the end of October, all serious folklorists and horror fans know that these orange monstrosities are latecomers to the game. Oh yes, pumpkins flutter their leaves and tendrils, and they puff out their big ribbed bodies, but it’s just show – for they know that the turnip, often recognised as the spirit-animal of Northern England, Scotland and Ireland, is the genuine symbol of All Hallows.
Swede, rutabaga, turnip, neep, tumshie* – we don’t mind what you call it. For centuries, bold Northerners have torn their fingernails, skinned their knuckles and stabbed themselves in the leg trying to carve through rock-hard turnip flesh in order to make something resembling a diseased head with holes in it. Some folk may even have died in the process, which takes at least seventeen times longer than it does to hollow out a pumpkin. And at the end, we have stood there on Halloween, our turnip lanterns in our hands, and said “Oh look, it’s gone out again.”
Why do we do this? Because we honour the turning year through such effort. Exhausting ourselves in order to dominate that deeply-resistant root, we celebrate the aspect of humanity which keeps us watching a TV show in the hope that it might get slightly better later in the season; which makes us try some recipes yet again in case they aren’t quite as horrible as they were the first five times. A bold, optimistic, indomitable quality. Or stupidity, possibly.
We also do it because our ancestors did it. Across Northern Europe, simple peasant folk proved just how simple they were by selecting a vegetable that was a bugger to chop up, never mind hollow out, and inventing the turnip lantern. In such lanterns, we evoke the lights over the marshes, the flicker through the woods, and the gleam of the hostile stars. We remind ourselves of the skulls of our enemies, had our enemies’ heads been hacked off and filled with cheap candles. We bring to mind the wisdom of our ancestors, their wrinkled faces staring down at their hapless descendants and wondering why we didn’t just go and buy a pumpkin.
As far as horror is concerned, we wave our turnip lanterns high to ward off the unwanted departed – and more malevolent spirits – when the barriers between the living and dead are thin – All Hallows’ Eve. The turnip samhnag, or torch, is cutting edge. You can forget your crucifix, cold iron, garlic or silver bullets – nothing averts evil better than a badly-carved turnip on a piece of string.
“Blimey” say the witches, ghouls, spectres and wights. “If they’re tough enough to carve a turnip, best not mess with them! Let’s go beat up those softies who could only manage a pumpkin.”
So this Halloween, get out your box of sticking plasters and tourniquets, your electric drill, and the number of your nearest emergency clinic, and honour the past. This year, abandon your pumpkin and let your turnip stand proud!
* Calling someone a tumshie means that they’re foolish, ill-adivsed or dim – contracted from the expression “tumshie-heid” meaning “turnip-head.”
And if you think turnips are a laughing matter, you should pay heed to large, slightly psychotic ponies…
Mr Bubbles in Love
A heart-warming tale of romance by J. Linseed Grant
No one was actually dead. The police and ambulance crews had dragged the badly-injured walking party well away from the scene of crime, and were in the process of counting limbs, many of which were still attached. Thick spatters of blood, now congealing under the midday sun, decorated the hedgerows; someone’s ear hung off a yew tree. It had a nice ear-ring in it – the ear, not the tree.
“It’s a public footpath,” said Sandra, frowning as she fished a torn woolly hat out of the horse trough. The hat, almost bitten through, had an animal welfare badge on it. Sandra wondered if that was what writers called irony.
“They looked at my turnip.” A crimson fire danced in the pony’s great eyes.
“They had a right to be there.”
Mr Bubbles moved his weight uneasily from hoof to hoof. “They still looked at my turnip.”
“They were passing by! They’re on a walking tour.” She noticed two policewoman trying to construct temporary stretchers out of runner-bean poles. “Well, they were on a walking tour.”
The pony glared at the nearest whimpering rambler, and he rolled a large, mottled root vegetable lovingly back into the shade of the barn. He sighed, admiring the plump curves of the vegetable’s sides, the almost coy blush of purple near the top…
“MY turnip,” muttered Mr Bubbles – who understood priorities in life.
John Linwood Grant is a pro writer/editor from Yorkshire in the UK, with some forty plus stories published in a wide range of magazines and anthologies over the last three years, including Lackington’s Magazine, Vasterien, Weirdbook, Space & Time, and others. His story “His Heart Shall Speak No More” was picked for this year’s Best New Horror, his “The Jessamine Touch” was in the Lambda award winning anthology His Seed, and the expanded edition of his short story collection, A Persistence of Gerandiums, came out from Ulthar Press this February. His latest novel The Assassin’s Coin is available from IFD. He is also editor of Occult Detective Magazine and various anthologies, including the recent Hell’s Empire. News of his projects can be found on his popular website, which explores weird fiction and weird art.
A Persistence of Geraniums & Other Worrying Tales
Enter a world where the psychic, the alienist and the assassin carry out their strange duties whilst quiet tragedies unfold. These are tales of murder, madness and the supernatural in an Edwardian England never quite what it seems. From rural Yorkshire to the heart of the City, death is on the air, and no one can sense it better than Mr Dry, the Deptford Assassin. On the cursed shores of Suffolk, an army widow loads her husband’s revolver; in a small village, a vicar and his wife hear a tale which challenges their beliefs. The monstrous acts of a young gentleman are brought to an end by unlikely allies, whilst a deluded killer almost escapes the courts, only to discover another kind of justice. And if you want to know why a pale dog waits patiently in a London terrace, the true fate of the Whitechapel murderer, or simply the value of geraniums to one woman, then come inside… The first ever collection of Tales of the Last Edwardian, from John Linwood Grant.
Sherlock Holmes: The Science of Deduction 4: A Study in Grey
“You are no John Watson, Captain Blake.”
“Indeed not. He is courageous, steadfast, and many other noble things. I have no d-d-delusions about my own character. I lie, p-p-perjure myself, and deceive d-d-decent folk. In the last week alone I’ve killed a man with the revolver you saw, and p-p-probably sent at least one other to the gallows.”
The Edwardian Era has begun its rot into modernity, exchanging all the virtues of Dr. John H. Watson for the vices of Captain Redvers Blake. But a case from Watson’s era resurges in the present, ensnaring a high official in what may be a ring of German spies. Not any mere ring of bombs and petrol, but a ring of spiritualism and séances.
The former case was one of Holmes’ failures. Despite an illustrious employer, despite Holmes’ warnings, and despite a vengeful fire, a young woman married a monster and slipped beyond the Great Detective’s ken. Now, she returns to his notice, hostess to the seance ring.
As England prepares for war, Sherlock Holmes and Captain Redvers Blake must solve these two entwined cases at once.
All this, to say nothing of 427 Cheyne Walk’s new residents and their role…
13 Miller’s Court 2: The Assassin’s Coin
She is Catherine Weatherhead, and she is Madame Rostov. She will lie, though not with malice. She will deceive, though often with good cause. And she will change the course of history, for murder speaks to her. In Whitechapel, all talk is of Jack the Ripper, but there is another killer in play, and he most definitely has a name. Mr Edwin Dry, the Deptford Assassin. The truth is not what you believe. It is what he makes it.
Although THE ASSASSIN’S COIN is a standalone story, it is also a companion novel to the Jack the Ripper Victims Series novel, THE PROSTITUTE’S PRICE, by Alan M. Clark. The gain a broader experience of each novel, read both.