THE JOHNSON AMULET AND OTHER SCOTTISH TERRORS
IndyPublish / 216 pages / (January 1, 2001)
It’s hard to see how a city like Providence produced a mind like H.P. Lovecraft; what terrors drove a Rhode Island boy to write of the dark, dank underworld he conjured up. Nameless, coiled monsters barely contained beneath the thin veneer of civilisation seem hard to come by in stoic New England. Now, a place like Scotland, with its bottomless, icy lochs and bleak winters, there is a place where one can imagine ancient things run wild and death in every sea cave. There, you can find an imagination like William Meikle’s, a vision strong enough to add new life to Lovecraft’s rather creaky monstrosities.
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“The Johnson Amulet” is just the type of Lovecraftian tale it is easy to envision unfolding in one of the dark mansions that dot the Scottish countryside. With wide expanses of misty moors and craggy highlands, who knows how many tentacled, slimy beasties might hide in the shadows? The rough seas stir up the very fears that breed a story like “The Colour of the Deep” and the graphic violence of “In the Coils of the Serpent.”
But, Meikle’s imagination is not restricted to odes to H.P. The history of savage battles fought on Scottish soil emerges in the creepy war scenes of “The Flute and the Glen,” where something more than courage and experience may well decide the final body count. A conveniently inconvenient bonus brings about an interaction between human and fiend, producing an outcome beyond a man’s worst nightmares in “Wee Robbie,” a story that definitely leaves the reader feeling in need of a painfully hot shower and a merciless scrubbing.
In what may be The Johnson Amulet‘s most touching and vivid tale, the abuse of a helpless child provides the catalyst for “An Early Frost.” The multiple interpretations one can derive from this dark fantasy allow for revenge, escape, mercy, and loss, depending on just what the reader believes has happened. It’s a story that prompts additional readings to glean all that Meikle is suggesting. Despite the fantasy, it is the most human and empathetic story in a collection that often keeps the audience at a distance.
Knowing the difficulties some people have penetrating foreign dialects, it’s wise that Meikle saves the thick Scottish burr for those stories where the feel of the language is an essential element. No modern, mainstream patter can convey the age and the menace of a conversation “Overheard in a Cemetery.” This short piece is one of many in the book to address the subject of abuse within the family. The resolution to the deadly situations runs the gamut in The Johnson Amulet, with no one coming out a clear victor in the struggle.
The Johnson Amulet does, indeed, provide a glimpse of a place and a people few but the natives really know. Perhaps, the stories don’t always reach the peak of terror, but there are chills and shudders aplenty and an opportunity to hear a voice you just might have missed thus far.