I came across this bleak, damp-infused story on the great little collection Ghostly Tales on Audible, which is read by Simon Callow. A school inspector is dispatched to the North East of England away from his regular West Country stamping ground much to his chagrin, to visit the schools in the mining communities of Pit End and Drumley. After hooking up with an old school chum, now the local landlord and owner of the Blackwater Chase estate, a gruesome discovery is made in the local tarn after an underground explosion. The discovery makes sense of the uncanny visions Frazer has experienced since his arrival in this most unprepossessing of locales. I'd never heard of either the story or its author, Amelia B Edwards and it looks like her collection of ghost stories The Phantom Coach might be out of print, though it is available as an ebook on Kindle. Sorry, I didn't mean this post to be one big advert for Amazon but there you go.
This lapine grim reaper still has the power to move me to tears. I was 4 when the original animated film adaptation of Richard Adam’s novel Watership Down was released and remember crying rather self-indulgently whenever it was played on Top of the Pops. I’m not actually sure if I saw the film at that age or whether my memories of it from that time are a patchwork of clips of worried looking rabbits, gory retellings of the terrifying General Woundwort from my older brother and his friends and Art Garfunkel making me cry. I’m still sure whether I’ve ever seen the film in full, but I'm familiar enough with it to know how beautifully it was made and I’ve definitely read the book. I don’t remember particularly enjoying it, because frankly, it’s so grim. And let’s face it, it’s a bit lacking in female role models. Glaring sexism aside, it’s basically a bunch of rabbits trying not to die framed as an adventure story. There are so many ways to peg it - being eaten, beaten, snared, squashed, shot, suffocated, gassed, lamped. The Black Rabbit eventually appears at the end to claim main bunny hero Hazel, who has died naturally lounging around in the warren. This is basically is the best you can hope for as a rabbit and probably nigh on impossible to achieve given the perils that beset you from birth, which I think is why Hazel’s death is so particularly heart wrenching. This beautiful still from the 1978 film was posted recently on Twitter by the fabulous artist Chloe Cumming, and it had a surprisingly emotional effect on me, hence my illustration.