So I am finally completing my reading of the seven “horrid novels” listed in Northanger Abbey. I left The Necromancer of the Black Forest until last; Horrid Mysteries was a slog, and I expected The Necromancer to be similarly hard going. Both are translations of German Schauerromane, and both consist mainly of a succession of discrete scenes and stories with little solid plot to hold them together.
I have been mildly surprised by The Necromancer, and enjoyed it more than I expected, it has certainly been more of a page turner than was Horrid Mysteries, and benefits by being much shorter.
It has been something of a boys own adventure story, in the first two volumes the only feminine voice was one heard in the distance pleading for mercy as the banditti raid her carriage. The only woman that is given dialogue is the fairly unconvincing landlord’s daughter, who shows herself willing to leap into the necromancer’s bed at very short notice, in order to encourage him to persuade her father to allow her to marry her boyfriend.
In parallel with most of its German compatriots it isn’t short on shock and awe. It does, however, in its final explanation of the circumstances, bring us two centuries forward and shows that in many ways very little has changed in that intervening period.
So it turns out that the terrifying haunted castle was haunted by little more than a troop of banditti bent on terrorising the neighbourhood. They spread rumours of the castle ghosts, and actually acted the parts of the castle ghosts, to ensure that the gullable villagers stayed well clear of the castle, so that they could keep on looting in peace. Now wouldn’t even Scooby and Shaggy seen through that one pretty quickly?
And The Necromancer? Well he turned out to be a fake too, and he shows that the tricks used by mediums and spiritualists throughout the Victorian period and still today were imagined and accepted back then. Again it shows that fooling people willing to believe in contacting people from beyond the grave has been lucrative and easily done right through history.
I’m sure these stories of fake ghosts and fraudulent mediums stretch even further back into history, very little is new, Scooby Scooby Doo.