"Resurrection Man" is an obsolete term now, thank God, but it is still one that interests me. I first heard it when my father described the Robert Louis Stephenson story "The Body Snatcher". My father and I have a particular affinity for Stephenson which coalesced mainly over Treasure Island which was a particular favourite. We both still maintain that all really great books contain a map.
I recall in my mid twenties, the particularly shocking moment, when Dad having told me that it was time for me to inherit his collection of Stephenson's, brought me down to the library that he kept in the basement and we discovered that it had been burgled.
Boris Karloff as the eponymous Body Snatcher
I have slowly begun to reconstitute that library which has been a wonderful opportunity to re-read those Stephenson's that I had forgotten. Re-reading "The Bodysnatcher" brought a classic horror film to mind. Boris Karloff is often only remembered today for his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster, but I think his performance in this RKO classic is as fine a thing as you could find. A compelling testament to the power of pure acting ability.
It has occurred to me that being an archaic term, Resurrection Man requires some explanation. In the early 19th century, there was a serious shortfall in the number of cadavers required for medical training and no legal way for medical schools to get their hands on bodies for the teaching of anatomy. As a result, there grew up an illicit trade in body snatching, where grave robbers or "resurrection men" as they were known would steal bodies to supply the medical schools.
Two Irishmen, Burke and Hare, are the most famous examples of the breed - though to be fair they were not representative. Grave robbing was a comparatively minor crime at the time and Burke and Hare decided to cut out the middleman and began to indulge in a spot of murder, sixteen in total, to supply their customers.
Resurrection Man is also the name of a powerful novel by Irish crime writer Eoin McNamee about the Shankhill Butchers, a particularly nasty chapter in our history. McNamee is a fine writer and his prose has a sort of hallucinatory clarity that I always find compelling. He's written several other books of Irish crime and is well worth tracking down.
May the Fourth be with you.
There's been something of a celebration of Star Wars online over the last few days which is no bad thing. I rather like Star Wars, at least the first three films. They have a bravura and sense of old fashioned story telling that is completely lacking in the second three. I think the problem with the second set of films is that they set out to be good Star Wars films rather than good films or even good science fiction films. There comes about where the entire enterprise becomes so self referential as to be completely pointless.
What is definitely lacking is the edge present in the great Space Opera that inspired the films. The "planetary romance" has a bit of a bad name in science fiction circles, but I think that there is a lot of fine work in that field and none better than that of Catherine Lucille Moore. CL Moore wrote some of the finest science fiction that I have ever read and some of her best tales concern Northwest Smith, a Sam Spade of the Spaceways, who slouches through a Burroughsian Solar System with a heat ray on his hip.
Probably the best known of her stories is Shambleau, which isn't available online, so you will have to track a hard copy down. This is high quality story telling in the old style, told with a lightness of touch and eye for human folly that leaves it as sharp and surprising as it was when it was first written.
The Phoenix Park Murders
Terry Eagleton is an odd fish, I often disagree with him, but his concision and most of all his humour would make it a sin to deny him a hearing. I read him recently and came across the following passage, which I rather liked.
"The Kantian imperative to have the courage to think for oneself has involved a contemptuous disregard for the resources of tradition and an infantile view of authority as inherently oppressive."
There's quite a bit to be said for that approach to my mind, but today I observed a tradition that is a little odd. It's not a tradition of my family, but rather of Mrs. Kinch's. On the the sixth of May 1882, an ancestor of Mrs Kinch's was working in the Vice Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, when a group of men known as "The Invincibles" attacked Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke, slashing both men to death with surgical blades. Burke was the intended target of the attack and the attackers were eventually caught and convicted, through the work of Superintendent John Mallon, and several were hung.
Mrs Kinch's ancestor observed the aftermath and helped carry the bodies inside. Curiously enough, he then returned to the site and cut a small cross into the turf and marked it with a flower that he had taken from the lodge. On the anniversary each year a member of the family returns (I suspect a few have been missed) and places a flower on the spot.
This year, I have been deputised.
Flowers from Mrs. Kinch's Garden