In the 1980s, prolific children’s author Peter Eldin published a collection of books in the Amazing…series. Most memorable of all was Amazing Ghosts and Ghouls, a sort of child’s primer to Britain’s hauntings and monsters, masterfully delivered as fact rather than folklore. Suffice to say the Beast of Bodmin Moor – and his many friends – scared me half to death as a child, and were as real to me as dinner. Such is the stuff of truly great children’s books.
So many of our folklore monsters present fertile ground for video games too. There are creatures great and small, providing a rich menu for both minor threats as well as area-defining showdowns. Though they could serve as the foundation for any number of genres, I find it impossible to ignore the allure of a very British Dark Souls.
Take Jenny Greenteeth, the river hag who haunts quiet waters and lures children to their death by drowning. Once upon a time in East Anglia, a careless whistle might draw the attention of the Lantern Man, who – like Jenny – would lure you into the winding reeds of the riverbed. Spark his curiosity and your only hope for survival was to lie on the floor with your mouth in the mud. What if you could fight him though, and put an end to an ancient local terror?
The English language provides its own treasures for the imagination too. Consider, for example, the grindylow, while putting the world of Harry Potter to one side. For the purposes of the game world we’re imagining, we don’t need to know anything more than this ancient creature’s name to be sure that a grindylow scuttles in the reeds. We’ll hear him before we see him, and be fearful of the path ahead.
Like so many of these historical monsters, Jenny was born into folklore as the answer to that timeless parenting question: How can I sufficiently frighten my children so they avoid accidental death? Deadly mundane dangers lurked everywhere then just as they do now, but there’s nothing more real to a child than a monster. Cruel? Perhaps, but let’s not forget this stuff works on adults too, and where our greatest fear is becoming a monster.
There’s a fascinating line that can be drawn from this sort of public information nightmare, back to Jenny, and then into the world of games. Few who see it will easily forget Donald Pleasence’s haunted, hungry role as Death in pursuit of children playing near dark and lonely waters. So powerfully memorable was this performance that it served as inspiration for the menacing personality of Alien Isolation’s Working Joes. These things linger in the mind.
So, games have indirect form when it comes to playing with this dark side of British folklore. Imagine the extraordinary worlds they could conjure from our creatures and architecture though. Britain is generously littered with ruins and forts, caves and castles, all in various states of disrepair, all of them ready to be filled with nightmares. What a thing it would be to overcome Jenny, ascend a spire, and then take in the rolling mists, moors and meadows of the great British countryside.
We have the world, the monsters and – yes – the weather. All we need now are the means to explore them.