Horror in the age of e-mail

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The age of the letter, so it has been said, is dead.

In a new era of instantaneous communication, the very idea of regularly committing pen to paper seems archaic. Indeed, it almost seems… contrary.

Such is the process of crafting a letter that they encourage the writer to employ both brevity and depth – too short and they become meaningless, too long and they become a chore. This is the antithesis of modern interaction – quality over quantity, so to speak.

And what will be the historical archives of the future? A portable hard drive? A memory stick? A letter can be kept as a reminder or memento, books of letters by famous writers or celebrities regularly appear. But could we ever see the same with e-mails?

The Victorians liked their letters. For them, they were akin to diaries or journals and carried with them the whiff of direct experience, strong emotions, personal contact. Bram Stoker used such a device to craft his throbbing ode to subsumed passion, Dracula, and it’s a method that the horror genre has exploited ever since – many of HP Lovecraft’s stories sound like hastily dashed off missives, written with a shaking, terrified hand.

So it’s nice to find that reports of the death of letters in the electronic age have greatly exaggerated…

John Reppion’s pamphlet-sized chiller On The Banks of the River Jordan shows why. Written as a series of e-mails between the author and an Irish researcher, it is set in the Victorian park on whose edge Reppion now lives. At only a handful of pages long, further details would be spoilerific, but the claustrophobic fog, the mewling horror in the surrounding dark parkland, the writer’s mind at first seemingly tricked by his esoteric researches: On The Banks of the River Jordan neatly uses the same air of personal experience – indeed, personal terror – that marked out late-19th Century gothic horror.

Having purchased it along with his ‘Haunted Liverpool’ book – and having visited the park several times when I lived in Liverpool – one can clearly guess the inspiration behind such a classic short horror story in the Lovecraftian tradition.

Highly recommended.
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