Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 9

« I love you more than anybody in the world… I love you for millions and millions of things, clocks and vampires and dirty nails and squiggly paintings and lovely hair and being dizzy and falling dreams. » — Dylan Thomas

We’ve just had quite a nocturnal downpour over here, and so it seemed entirely à propos to feature that finest of all rainy night ghostly tales, Dylan Thomas’ The Followers, a late-career short story written in 1952. I would have loved to direct you to the full text of it, but can’t seem to find anything of the sort online.

« It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. »

I’ve long been fascinated by English publisher J.M. Dent’s ‘series’ of Dylan Thomas illustrated booklets. First came the highly successful ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales‘, in 1959, which kick-started the storied career of Ellen Raskin: « A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas was the book that Raskin first printed herself to show as a sample to publishers in an effort to become a free-lance illustrator, a project that set her on her way to success in the field. Though the Christmas poem had been illustrated often, this was a memorable edition. »

A Child’s Christmas in Wales was followed — striking the iron while it was hot — by The Outing in 1971(!), then by Holiday Memory the following year. Then, finally, in 1976 came the final, and possibly finest, entry: The Followers. These last three were superbly illustrated by Meg Stevens.

Miss Stevens demonstrated her mastery of the scratchboard medium through her three Thomas adaptations.

« It was six o’clock on a winter’s evening. Thin, dingy rain spat and drizzled past the lighted street lamps. The pavements shone long and yellow. »
« A silent man and woman, dressed in black, carried the wreaths from the front of their flower shop into the scented deadly darkness behind the window lights. Then the lights went out. »
« We walked towards the Marlborough, dodging umbrella spokes, smacked by our windy macs, stained by steaming lamplight, seeing the sodden, blown scourings and street-wash of the town, papers, rags, dregs, rinds, fag-ends, balls of fur, flap, float, and cringe along the gutters, hearing the sneeze and rattle of the bony trams and a ship hoot like a fog-ditched owl in the bay… »
« We walked on heavily, with wilful feet, splashing the passers-by. »
« “I wonder what’s the point of following people”, Leslie said, “it’s kind of daft. It never gets you anywhere. All you do is follow them home and then try to look through the window and see what they’re doing and mostly there’s curtains anyway. I bet nobody else does things like that.” »
« “Doesn’t anything happen anywhere?” I said “in the whole wide world? I think the News of the World is all made up. Nobody murders no one. There isn’t any sin any more, or love, or death, or pearls or divorces and mink-coats or anything, or putting arsenic in the cocoa…” »
« “Good night, old man,” Leslie said. “Good night,” I said. And we went our different ways. »

Regrettably, in the absence of a full text of the story, I can’t convey to you the supernatural component of the story. But I assure you, it’s well worth the looking up, and I dare hope that the palpable mood of Mr. Thomas’ prose and Ms. Stevens’ sublime scratchboard renderings were sufficient to put you in the proper, receptive frame of mind.


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