|Woods and Dark Animals by Sidney H Sime|
Inasmuch as there is a Peakrill Press house style, it is that of fin-de-siecle fantasy-inspired illustrations of the late 19th and early 20th century (largely nicked from oldbookillustrations.com); images by Arthur Rackham, Aubrey Beardsley and, especially, Sidney Herbert Sime.
I love this style of drawing, and the worlds it depicts; lands of fairies & strangeness from a time when fantasy was not yet smothered in Tolkienesque tropes. I associate it with the purple prose of writers like Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany (Sidney H Sime had a close association with Dunsany, producing illustrations for many of his books).
[Incidentally, the short story collection Appendix N, The Eldritch Roots of Dungeons & Dragons, edited by Peter Bebergal, is a great starting place for exploring this type of fantasy-without-orcs: it’s what got me back into reading fantasy prose after shunning it for about 30 years]
The success of the Kickstarter for Rackham Vale, a game based on the works of Arthur Rackham, got me thinking about Syme again. Would it be possible to do something similar with the his work? Where would you even start? I would start with Bogey Beasts.
Bogey Beasts is a 1923 book of illustrations with accompanying poems, both by Syme. I’ve had a copy since I was a kid – it is perhaps my favourite book ever. I was a bit gobsmacked to see that the book now sells for around £1,000, though my heavily-loved copy would fetch a lot less and is, anyway, priceless.
[I’m not sure where my copy came from, but I suspect it was a choice pick from “jumbling”, our annual January ritual, long nights spent ringing at doorbells and collecting people’s unwanted clothes, books and junk, to be sold at the Woodcraft Folk jumble sale. It seems a strange idea now: sending kids out solo to call at strangers’ houses, begging. But collecting and then sorting jumble was a highlight of my year, though I could have done without the dust mites]
The book also contains music for each beast, composed by Josef Holbrooke. I spent many hours trying to code this music into my BBC Micro, but the polyphony of the pieces defeated the computer’s primitive synthesiser. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I first heard the music, in this video:
The bogeyest of all the beasts, the dark lord of the deeps, nightmare-giver and dream-inhabitor, was The Snide:
Of course, childhood me converted the Snide into a D&D monster:
I’ve been revisiting Bogey Beasts recently. Dark wells of childhood dreams. I’m finally old enough to appreciate the poetry, not just the pictures, and it stands up pretty well – pisses all over the poems of Clark Ashton Smith, IMO.
I am tentatively working on a ghost-forest setting, and Syme’s dark landscapes, punctuated with flowers that are almost absences, is how this forest looks inside my mind:
I won’t be writing up a Rackham Vale-style game world any time soon but, who knows, if you find yourself deep, deep, deep in an undersea cave, somewhere in my game world, you may find yourself running into a Snide.