Friday, November 30, 2012

Divine Comedies (2): Translations

I was fascinated recently to run across this rather strange translation-cum-art project version of Dante. Written by a couple of Californians with delusions of grandeur, the pictures deliberately update Doré's classic nineteenth-century illustrations to the Commedia to a modern West Coast cityscape.

  1. Birk, Sandow, & Marcus Sanders, trans. Dante's Inferno. Illustrated by Sandow Birk. Preface by Doug Harvey. Introduction by Michael F. Meister. 2003. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004.
  2. Birk, Sandow, & Marcus Sanders, trans. Dante's Purgatorio. Illustrated by Sandow Birk. Preface by Marcia Tanner. Introduction by Michael F. Meister. 2004. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.
  3. Birk, Sandow, & Marcus Sanders, trans. Dante's Paradiso. Illustrated by Sandow Birk. Preface by Peter S. Hawkins. Foreword by Mary Campbell. Introduction by Michael F. Meister. 2005. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.

So far so good, but when it comes to the text, the artist and a non-Italian speaking writer friend of his decided to produce it themselves, with the aid of a few academic advisors and a lot of earlier versions. Dante's poetry is transmuted into a kind of slacker valley speak, with frequent modern allusions to make the whole thing more "accessible" to readers (adding Elvis and Rush Limbaugh to the list of gluttons in the Inferno, Jimmy Swaggart to the liars, etc. etc.)

Funnily enough, the result turns out to be extremely readable, even to a nit-picking pedant such as myself. In fact, my only quarrel with their method was that they didn't take it quite far enough. I like very much their updated versions of Dante's famous extended metaphors, but for the most part their content to insert "moderns" only into lists of famous sinners - the central dramatis personae: Paolo and Francesca, Ulysses, Ugolino, all remain the same.

It's not nearly as "poetic" as a lot of other modern versions, but that actually turns out to be something of a virtue. Anything is better than the high-flown translator-speak that so many more self-conscious writers have turned it into.

[Sandow Birk: Dante's Divine Comedy: The Complete Paintings (2005)]

[Gilbert F. Cunningham: The Divine Comedy in English, 1782-1900 (1965)]

Which leads me to my larger question: why are there so many English versions of Dante's Divine Comedy? It doesn't seem to obsess readers of virtually any other nationality the way it does us.

And, lest you think I'm exaggerating (which I must admit I do have a tendency to do at times), please accept as evidence the following list of versions, extracted from Gilbert F. Cunningham's magisterial two-volume discussion / bibliography of the phenomenon:

[Gilbert F. Cunningham: The Divine Comedy in English, 1901-1966 (1966)]

  1. Cunningham, Gilbert F. The Divine Comedy in English: A Critical Bibliography, 1782-1900. Edinburgh & London: Oliver and Boyd, 1965.
  2. Cunningham, Gilbert F. The Divine Comedy in English: A Critical Bibliography, 1901-1966. Edinburgh & London: Oliver and Boyd, 1966.

Cunningham's first volume covers the forty versions produced between 1782 and 1900; his second discusses the forty-three written between 1901 and 1966. 83 is an awful lot of translations, but of course the pace has hardly slackened since. I can name at least ten partial or complete translations which have appeared in English in the past few decades:

  1. 1967–2002: Mark Musa - Comedy (Penguin Classics)
  2. 1970–1991: Charles S. Singleton - Comedy (prose)
  3. 1980–1984: Allen Mandelbaum - Comedy (verse)
  4. 1981: C. H. Sisson - Comedy (verse)
  5. 1994: Robert Pinsky - Inferno (verse)
  6. 2000: W. S. Merwin - Purgatorio (verse)
  7. 2000–2007: Robert & Jean Hollander - Comedy (Princeton Dante Project)
  8. 2002–2004: Anthony M. Esolen - Comedy (Modern Library Classics)
  9. 2006–2007: Robin Kirkpatrick - Comedy (Penguin Classics)
  10. 2010 Burton Raffel - Comedy (Northwestern World Classics)

There's an interesting online discussion at the Librarything website on the topic "Which is the best translation of the Divine Comedy?"

The various candidates who come up are (in alphabetical order): John Ciardi, Robert and Jean Hollander, Allen Mandelbaum, W. S. Merwin, Mark Musa, Robert Pinsky and Dorothy Sayers, so I guess it's fair to say that modern American pet-translators are in the ascendent. It's interesting that Dorothy Sayers is still hanging in there, after so many years, though.

[Gustave Doré: Inferno 1: 88 (1861)]

I suppose the question really comes down to the precise reason why one needs to read Dante. If you have any Italian at all - or even a rough acquaintance with one of the other Romance languages - I think a prose dual-text is by far the most practical option. The best of these is probably Singleton's (listed above), though I do myself still find myself reading my old Temple Classics edition, archaic though it is - partially because I know it was the edition that T. S. Eliot used. What's good enough for Possum, is good enough etc.

  1. The Inferno. Ed. & trans. Philip H. Wicksteed et al. 1900. Rev. ed. 1932. The Temple Classics. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Ltd., 1964.
  2. The Purgatorio. Ed. & trans. Philip H. Wicksteed et al. 1901. Rev. ed. 1933. The Temple Classics. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Ltd., 1964.
  3. The Paradiso. Ed. & trans. Philip H. Wicksteed et al. 1899. The Temple Classics. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Ltd., 1965.

When it comes to getting a grasp of the story, I suppose that nostalgia (again) might have something to do with it, but I still like Dorothy Sayers rather slangy - but ingenious - postwar verse translation. It was the first one I read, and it's certainly full of diagrams, maps, and explanations of everything one could want to have explained. She died before finishing it, but Barbara Reynolds was certainly a very worthy successor (witness her own immense Penguin Classics translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso).

  1. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica I: Hell [L’Inferno]. Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1949. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
  2. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica II: Purgatory [Il Purgatorio]. Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1955. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.
  3. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica III: Paradise [Il Paradiso]. Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers & Barbara Reynolds. 1962. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.

If you're more of a fan of Ezra Pound than T. S. Eliot, there's always Laurence Binyon's immediately post-WW1 version, which Pound (allegedly) gave him a good deal of assistance with. It's pretty readily available still in a volume of Dante's selected works:

  • Milano, Paolo, ed. Dante: The Selected Works. Trans. Laurence Binyon, D. G. Rossetti et al. 1947. London: Chatto & Windus, 1972.

If your Italian is good enough to take on the text unmediated, I myself found Natalino Sapegno's notes and comments particularly helpful. (Unfortunately I couldn't get all three volumes in the same version, so you'll observe that the Purgatorio below has a different editor. It was with some relief that I came back to Sapegno for the Paradiso, though.)

  1. La Divina Commedia. Vol. 1: Inferno. Ed. Natalino Sapegno. 1955. Second Edition. 1968. Scrittori Italiani. Firenze: “La Nuova Italia” Editrice, 1982.
  2. La Divina Commedia. Vol. 2: Purgatorio. Ed. Luigi Pietrobono. I Classici della Scuola. Torino: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1967.
  3. La Divina Commedia. Vol. 3: Paradiso. Ed. Natalino Sapegno. 1955. Second Edition. 1968. Scrittori Italiani. Firenze: “La Nuova Italia” Editrice, 1978.

For a more recent (and almost maniacally well-annotated) Italian text, you can try:

  1. Inferno. Ed. Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi. Oscar Classici. 1991. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2005.
  2. Purgatorio. Ed. Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi. Oscar Classici. 1994. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2005.
  3. Paradiso. Ed. Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi. Oscar Classici. 1994. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2005.

For a good overview of the whole immense saga of English literature's infatuation with Dante Alighieri, you can't really go past the following excellent anthology:

  • Griffiths, Eric, & Matthew Reynolds, ed. Dante in English. Penguin Poets in Translation. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2005.

And finally, if your interest is really more in the influence of Dante's Divine Comedy on the visual arts, you could do worse than have a glance at a few of the following:
  1. Birk, Sandow. Dante's Divine Comedy: The Complete Paintings. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.
  2. Bindman, David, & Deirdre Toomey. The Complete Graphic Works of William Blake. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1978.
  3. Keynes, Sir Geoffrey, ed. Drawings of William Blake: 92 Pencil Studies. New York: Dover, 1970.
  4. Clark, Kenneth. The Drawings by Sandro Botticelli for Dante’s Divine Comedy: After The Originals in the Berlin Museums and the Vatican. London: Thames & Hudson, 1976.
  5. Doré, Gustave, illus. Dante’s Divine Comedy: Hell; Purgatory; Paradise. Trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Ed. Anna Amari-Parker. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2006.

[Sandro Botticelli: Punishment of the Panderers & Flatterers (c.1481)]

So, in conclusion, why Dante? Why is that the epic-of-choice for so many aspiring verse translators? One reason must certainly be the comparative ease with which one can acquire a working knowledge of Italian, by contrast with Greek or even Latin or German.

Or is it the Christian cast of his epic? Dante's Comedy is, after all, in accord with the dominant religious philosophy of the past two hundred years - and provides a useful summary of basic Thomism for those wishing to dispute the basic tenets of the Enlightenment.

Is there something reactionary about Dante, then, which explains his continuing vogue? That would seem a beguiling theory if one hadn't actually read him. I prefer to think of Dante as a quest-hero, a benighted traveller looking for answers in the least likely places. That constitutes a good deal of his appeal as a character, I think, and goes a long way to explain why one's enthusiasm for the story is a little difficult to sustain in some of the more abstract sections of the Paradiso, when the poet turns to providing us with long, wrong-headed explanations of elementary physics through the mouths of the various saints and angels he encounters there.

To claim the Divine Comedy as proto-SF is perhaps to take it a step too far, but there's no denying that it's one of the great narratives in world literature - every bit as beguiling (and far better structured) than the Odyssey, and without the grim, bloody pointlessness of so much of the Iliad and Aeneid.

In the final analysis, though, your guess is as good as mine. There are as many comedies as there are readers, and - it would appear - almost as many translators.

[William Blake: Dante's Hell Canto V (1826-27)]

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Divine Comedies (1): Trilogies

[Domenico di Michelino: La Divina Commedia di Dante (1465)]

[Milla Jovovich: The Divine Comedy (1994)]

I guess there are two questions, really:
  • First, why do so many people insist on translating Dante's Divine Comedy (or separate sections of it) into English verse?
  • Second, what is it about that Inferno / Purgatory / Paradise three-part structure that has so appealed to writers and artists - plus whatever exactly the lovely Milla Jovovich might be described as - ever since?

Let's start off with some examples of the latter syndrome:

[Wyndham Lewis: The Human Age (1928-1955)]

1/ - Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957)

  1. The Childermass. The Human Age, 1. 1928. Jupiter Books. London: John Calder (Publishers) Limited, 1965.
  2. Monstre Gai. The Human Age, 2. 1955. Jupiter Books. London: John Calder (Publishers) Limited, 1965.
  3. Malign Fiesta. The Human Age, 3. 1955. Jupiter Books. London: Calder and Boyars Ltd., 1966.

Horrible old Wyndham Lewis was apparently working on a fourth volume of his interminable "Human Age" when he died, but it's doubtful that any of his characters would ever have got anywhere much anyway.

The whole thing reads more like a vision of hell than of any imaginable Purgatory or Heaven, but then I guess that tends to be the trouble with most of the twentieth-century adaptations of Dante's schema. They start off fine with the Inferno, but then things get increasingly unconvincing the further one moves up the great chain of being.

In this case, the First World War was the initial inspiration (the two main characters have just been killed on the Western front), but as it continued, influences from the Second World War and even the Cold War started to predominate.

[Mervyn Peake: The Gormenghast Trilogy (1946-1959)]

2/ - Mervyn Peake (1911-1968)

  1. Titus Groan. Illustrated by the author. 1946. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.
  2. Gormenghast. 1950. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.
  3. Titus Alone. 1959. Rev. ed. 1970. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.
  4. The Titus Books: Titus Groan / Gormenghast / Titus Alone. 1946, 1950, 1959. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.

Is the Gormenghast trilogy linked to Dante in any clear way? Beyond merely being a trilogy, that is?

I suppose that it depends whether one regards the stultified madness of the ancient castle of the Groans as being heavenly or infernal. It's true that one begins to feel a certain nostalgia for its solid certainties amid the chaos of Titus Alone, but its aspect as a bildungsroman does lead Titus to reject the simple alternative of going home at the end of the series.

In that sense, then, like the protagonist of Dante's poem, Titus has achieved a kind of independence by the end of his journey - and has rejected the Luciferian temptations both of Steerpike's anarchy and his mother's orthodoxy. There's probably as much of Paradise Lost in Peake's long epic poem in prose as there is of the Divine Comedy, but that simply serves to underline the seriousness of his teleological concerns.

[Samuel Beckett: The Beckett Trilogy (1950-1953)]

3/ - Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

  1. Molloy: Roman. 1950. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1967.
  2. Malone Meurt: Roman. 1951. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1963.
  3. L’Innommable: Roman. 1953. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1965.
  4. Three Novels: Molloy; Malone Dies; The Unnamable. 1950, 1951 & 1953. Trans. Samuel Beckett & Patrick Bowles. 1955. An Evergreen Black Cat Book. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1965.

The Beckett trilogy seems to approach the problem of progression upwards simply by reversing it. However grovellingly low the abasement of Molloy may seem, it's nothing by comparison with the mollusc-like existence of the Unnamable.

Beckett's work is (of course) a masterpiece, but getting to the end of it requires a kind of courage that not all readers possess. If it weren't for the zany bolts of Hibernian humour that flash out from his prose from time to time (in the English version, at any rate - I'm not so sure about the French), it would be almost literally intolerable. Cheers, Sam!

[Phillip Pullman: His Dark Materials (1995-2000)]

4/ - Phillip Pullman (1946- )

  1. Northern Lights. [USA: 'The Golden Compass'] His Dark Materials, 1. 1995. Point. London: Scholastic Children’s Books, 1998.
  2. The Subtle Knife. His Dark Materials, 2. 1997. Point. London: Scholastic Children’s Books, 1998.
  3. The Amber Spyglass. His Dark Materials, 3. 2000. Point. London: Scholastic Children’s Books, 2001.
  4. Lyra’s Oxford. Engravings by John Lawrence. 2003. London: Corgi Books, 2007.

Like Peake, Phillip Pullman sets out to rewrite Milton and "justify the ways of God to man" in an entirely new way. Philosophically, he's not really up to the task, but his fictional inventiveness carries one a good deal of the way with him in any case.

There seem to be fragments of a projected fourth volume lurking in the otherwise unremarkable Lyra's Oxford. Whatever it's all really about in the end, though, his work clearly aspires to the status of an secular-eschatological epic.

It's certainly a fine tribute to him that he's managed to achieve second place on the prestigious list of "the top 10 books that people have tried to ban across America" (Guardian Online, 30/9/09) ...

[Mike Carey: Lucifer (1999-2007)]

5/ - Mike Carey (1959- )

  1. Lucifer 1: Devil in the Gateway. The Sandman Presents – Lucifer 1-3: 1999 & Lucifer 1-4: 2000. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2001.
  2. Lucifer 2: Children and Monsters. Lucifer 5-13: 2000. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2001.
  3. Lucifer 3: A Dalliance with the Damned. Lucifer 14-20: 2001. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2002.
  4. Lucifer 4: The Divine Comedy. Lucifer 21-28: 2002. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2003.
  5. Lucifer 5: Inferno. Lucifer 29-35: 2003. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2004.
  6. Lucifer 6: Mansions of the Silence. Lucifer 36-41: 2003. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2004.
  7. Lucifer 7: Exodus. Lucifer 42-44, 46-49: 2004. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2005.
  8. Lucifer 8: The Wolf beneath the Tree. Lucifer 45, 50-54: 2004. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2005.
  9. Lucifer 9: Crux. Lucifer 55-61: 2005. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2006.
  10. Lucifer 10: Morningstar. Lucifer 62-69: 2006. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2006.
  11. Lucifer 11: Evensong. Lucifer – Nirvana: 2002 & Lucifer 70-75: 2006. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2007.

One of my favourite comics ever, Mike Carey's Lucifer series goes way beyond its progenitor, Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, to become its own mad series of riffs on life, death, the afterworld, creation, destruction, retribution, and virtually everything in between. The elegance of his writing is only matched by the absurd ambitiousness of his scheme. It's hard to see how anyone could ever go beyond this avatar of Dante's Commedia ...

[Jack Ross: The REM [Random Excess Memory] Trilogy (2000-2008)]

6/ - Jack Ross (1962- )

  1. Nights with Giordano Bruno. The REM Trilogy, 1. Wellington: Bumper Books, 2000.
  2. The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis. The REM Trilogy, 2. Auckland: Titus Books, 2006.
  3. EMO. The REM Trilogy, 3. Auckland: Titus Books, 2008.

What Jack Ross is doing in this prestigious set of listings is anyone's guess. No doubt he conspired to crash the party somehow. His trilogy of novels about contemporary alienation (focussed, respectively, on insomnia, amnesia and blindness as the vehicles of his three plots) does seem to be trying to tread an upwards path from the "urban inferno of Nights with Giordano Bruno (2000) and the purgatorial stasis of The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis (2006) [to] the closest thing to a paradise his cast of crazies can conceive of – let alone aspire to", as the blurb to EMO puts it.

[Eileen Myles: Inferno (2010)]

7 (a)/ - Eileen Myles (1949- )

  1. Inferno (a poet's novel). New York: OR Books, 2010.

I thought it might be nice to round off the list with some examples of the many, many individual works called "Inferno," "Purgatory," or "Paradise" ...

I have to admit that I haven't read this novel, but it sounds pretty cool: according to the publishers, OR Books, the first sentence reads "“My English professor’s ass was so beautiful,” which sounds like an excellent beginning for any book.

[Tomás Eloy Martínez: Purgatorio (2008)]

7 (b)/ - Tomás Eloy Martínez (1934-2010)

  1. Purgatory: A Novel. 2008. Trans. John Gaffney (2010)

Author of the classic Santa Evita (1995) and The Perón Novel (1985), this Argentinian journalist and writer died of a brain tumor in January 2010. This was his final novel, published in English shortly after his death. It deals with the dictatorship that afflicted his country between 1976 and 1982, and in particular with the fate of the "disappeared" from those years - territory previously mined by Fernando E. Solanas' beautiful film Sur (1988), as well as Ernesto Sábato's Nunca Más (Never Again): A Report by Argentina’s National Commission on Disappeared People. 1984 (London: Faber / Index on Censorship, 1986).

[José Lezama Lima: Paradiso (1966)]

7 (c)/ - José Lezama Lima (1910-1976)

  1. Paradiso. 1966. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. 1970.

The only novel by this Cuban poet to reach print in his lifetime, Paradiso deals with "the childhood and youth of José Cemí, told in a highly baroque experimental style, and depicts many scenes which have remarkable resonances with Lezama's own life as a young poet in Havana," according to Wikipedia.

[Judge Dredd (1980)]

And finally, last but not least, I didn't think I could close my account without mentioning this miniseries within the larger plot arcs of Judge Dredd.

"Purgatory" (written by Mark Millar and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra) appeared in British SF magazine 2000 AD between 8 May and 26 June 1993; its sequel "Inferno" (by Grant Morrison and Carlos Ezquerra) appeared between 3 July and 18 September 1993. Judge Grice is a kind of Lucifer figure, crushed finally (surprise! surprise!) by Dredd himself on his lawmaster bike ...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Intrepid Ghost-Hunters (1):

[Warning Notice: Waitomo Caves Hotel]
[unless otherwise noted, all photographs: Bronwyn Lloyd]

Waitomo Caves

"Did you see any ghosts?"

I don't know how many times I've fielded that particular question since we came back from our weekend away in the picturesque (and famously haunted) Waitomo Caves Hotel.

The straight answer, I'm afraid, is "no." But I do have to make a number of provisos to that. Perhaps, in fact, it would be better to begin by telling you the whole story from the start ...

It was Bronwyn's idea, essentially. She was the one who came up with the notion of a weekend in a haunted house to celebrate my fifieth birthday (yes, I say it without a blush or a shudder: fifty years old today, hooray hooray hooray, you'll never be fifty years old again ... etc. etc. etc. AAAAaaagh! I'm old!!!! ... !!!)

Anyway, she ascertained that the most haunted hotel in New Zealand was the Waitomo Caves Hotel, and so we found ourselves barrelling down the highway towards it on Friday last, 2nd November.

The first sight of it from the road is pretty epic.

They don't exactly advertise, to be honest. All the way from the main road we were running into signs for this backpackers and that B & B -- but the moment you see that vista, you understand why they don't have to. Talk about the Overlook Hotel in The Shining!

[Jay Weidner: Overlook Hotel (1980)]

Actually, from the front, it looks even more like the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, which was used in the filming of the 1997 miniseries (overseen by Stephen King himself, and unfortunately pretty lame by comparison with Kubrick's original masterpiece):

[Big B Bob: Overlook Hotel (1997)]

[Waitomo Caves Hotel (2012)]

Anyway, we followed the long snaking driveway up through the village and towards the hotel itself.

Pretty cool, huh? I have to say that the shots of the hotel on their own website simply do not do it justice.

After that, of course, it was time to explore the interior of the place. Nobody offered to carry our bags, which suited us fine, as it enabled us to snoop around the practically deserted corridors by ourselves (it was early afternoon when we arrived):

[looking down at the lobby]

[one more flight of rickety stairs]

[the creepy corridor]

[the door of our room]

[the spyhole from the inside]

As for the view out of the window, that was quite spectacular, too.

There was a little balcony adjoining it, which we proceeded to explore:

[up, anyone?]

Now, one of the most famously haunted rooms in the hotel is No. 12A (between 12 and 14 -- get it? No hotelier ever wants to label a room "Number 13" for fear of bad consequences). And here it is:

It's situated in a small alcove at the top of the main stairs, but - curiously enough - the first time we looked for it we couldn't find it anywhere! No. 12, that was there - no. 14, too, but no 12A. Later that evening, when we walked back to our room from the restaurant (also famously haunted with orbs and cold spots), we spotted it right away. Weird - or what! ...

The owners of the hotel sure have interesting taste in art. This cheerful piece was up on the wall opposite our room:

Kind of puts one in mind of this masterpiece from the original Shining, wouldn't you say?

Or even this shot from the more recent - and rather underrated - Stephen King film about a haunted hotel, Room 1408 [Get it? 1 + 4 + 0 + 8 = 13! Bwah, hah ha ha ha!]

[sengook: Room 1408 (2007)]

More to the point, though, is this rather atmospheric painting of the original discovery of the glow-worm caves, which is pretty much the first thing you see when you come into the hotel:

[The first discovery of the GLOW WORM GROTTO
by FRED MACE and TANE TINORAU - December 28th 1887

Enough of all these atmosphere shots, though. What of the investigation? Bronwyn's already written a post on her blog about her preparations for the trip, and -- in particular -- the ghost kit she put together for the occasion.

With all due respect to her subsequent post lamenting a general absence of ghosts, I think I'd have to say that the evidence does really have to be allowed to speak for itself.

First of all (and most impressively), there's the undoubted movement of a trigger object during our first night in Room 7. As you can see below, the stone adze has clearly moved - not much, but a little - between the first shot and the second. We'd drawn a pencil line around it, and there was a perceptible shift in its position.

Now, it's true to say that it's a very old wooden hotel (the wing we were in was opened in 1910), and it creaks and groans quite a lot - and anyone moving around outside can cause the floorboards to shift ... So maybe that explains the shifting adze. But the direction of the movement was not what one would predict from the slight slope in our bedroom floor.

Also, the shift took place while I was reading out a particularly creepy version of the story of the terrible ghost Glám from Grettir's Saga. This story certainly seemed to strike more of a chord than any of the others we read aloud on either night. Certainly there was no further movement in any of our trigger objects after that first one:

[Power Objects (Night 2)]

Secondly, there's the series of strange coincidences that plagued us throughout the trip. Here's an example of one of them, a notice dating from 1962, the year of my birth, situated oh-so-casually up on the wall near our room. (Do remember that this was a jaunt designed to celebrate my fiftieth birthday):

And there was the fact that, when we stopped for breakfast at a cafe in Te Kuiti after our first night in the hotel, the number we were given at the counter was "50" - and there was the fact that Bronwyn got a distinct feeling of coldness and paralysis just while I was reading out a story from Lord Halifax's Ghost Book called "Here I Am Again!" which described just such a feeling in its protagonist ...

Easy enough to write off individually, but taken in aggregate, perhaps less so. Who can say? They certainly struck me as a little ... suggestive, overall.

There's no denying the beauty of the hotel grounds, and their rather neglected state just adds to the effect.

The back of the building is almost as good as the front:

The old walkway down to the caves is too overgrown to follow now, unfortunately:

Up above the hotel is an old, dried-up fountain:

and a wishing well.

[photo: JR)]

It's the path leading down to the village that's really spectacular, though:

There are fine old trees ...

with strange faces visible in their bark ...

and up in their branches ...

There are strange overgrown glades ...

and a picturesque old park ...

with a great view of the hotel ...

from the balcony of the pub ...

before you have to climb back up again.

What can I say in conclusion? We didn't detect any orbs or clouds of mist (or ectoplasm) in any of our photos - but we did feel some strange twinges when we said disrespectful things about the place. Make of that what you will.

So, no, we didn't actually see any ghosts, but I wouldn't be prepared to swear that there weren't any lurking around. It's certainly one of the most atmospheric places I've ever stayed, and there is that strange detail of the moving stone adze ...