One For Halloween.

31 10 2009

At this time of year, as the nights draw in and the end of October approaches, it is common for thought to turn to ‘All Hallows Eve’. This was traditionally the time of year when the witches of Tolsta were allowed into Stornoway to collect their pensions and buy new pointy hats from Murdo MacLean’s shop.

Scary stories also come to mind and it is a little known fact that some of the worlds best loved horror stories had their roots in Stornoway culture.

Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’, for instance,  was of course written by the young Mary based on her experiences of staying at Seaforth Lodge (where Lews Castle now stands) whilst visiting her auntie. Her mad uncle-in-law, Lord Seaforth, had set up a laboratory in the basement of Seaforth Lodge to try and develop a strain of ‘supercrofter’ to increase the yields of his vast estates. Seaforth was convinced that he could take the brain of a Stornoway cove and match it with the brawn of a maw to make a super-intelligent, yet super strong being.

Seaforth gave his manservant Ivor instructions to depart for the rural parts of Lewis to find a suitable candidate. However, it was raining and Ivor couldn’t be bothered going all the way into the wilds of Lewis. Instead, a midnight excursion to nearby Steinish** armed only with a heavy cosh and a large Hessian sack resulted in Ivor bringing home a suitably deceased maw* . The poor unfortunate maw had been busy at work at the sheepfank and had impressed the lurking Ivor with his ability to carry two sheep under each arm.

After removing the brain and preserving the rest of the body in a special solution (basically he paid three herring girls to gut the unfortunate maw and shove him in an old herring barrel), Seaforth had now to find a suitably smart brain from somewhere in the town.

A furtive expedition to peer in the back window of the local Doctors surgery revealed a recently deceased school teacher lying on a mortuary slab. Seaforth felt this would be the ideal brain to add to his brawny, recently deceased, ex-crofter. Ivor was once again dispatched under cover of darkness to fetch the brain. However, one of the town drunks had just passed away after a bottle of Four Crown too many and had replaced the dead teacher on the slab. Poor Ivor was not to know and went ahead and extracted the brain as neatly as possible with only a blunted tarasgeir at his disposal.

Needless to say, Seaforth’s creature did not come off the production line as imagined. The monster for a start did not like the heavy Arnish Boots the Earl had fitted him with, and kicked down the laboratory door and disappeared into the night, heading back to his fank in Steinish.

After the usual slaying of villagers, decimation of flocks and refusing to go to church on Sunday, the monster created by Seaforth started to get on the townsfolk’ s nerves. They marched en-masse to Seaforth Lodge armed with pitchforks and flaming brands and burnt the mansion to the ground putting an end to his experiments.

The young Mary Shelly, of course, watched all this with great interest and soon had her novel written. It was originally called ‘The Fank In Steinish Monster’, but a typo in the final draft saw it published as ‘Frankenstein’.

The poor monster himself went on to become Provost of Stornoway on two occasions.

*landowners could do this sort of thing in the early 1800’s. The legal right to kill tenants only ceased in 1987

** there is much debate whether Steinish is actually officially ‘beyond the cattle grid’ or nothing more than a ‘tame’ country village with too many posh notions to truly count as rural.