Thursday, February 5, 2009 Occult Detectives: John Silence

The late Sheila Hodgson was a noted author and playwright who wrote extensively for BBC Radio. Of particular interest to genre fans is her series of audio dramas, inspired by M.R. James' fragmentary Stories I Have Tried to Write, which feature James himself as protagonist.

Much less known is her series featuring Algernon Blackwood's supernatural detective, John Silence. I don't know how many of these were produced, and the usual references don't have much info. Camp of the Dog is the only audio drama I could find with the same title as one of the original John Silence tales. To further complicate things, the other play I have is based on a Blackwood story which originally had nothing to do with the "physician extraordinary". If anyone could pass along information on other John Silence dramas by Hodgson, I'd be most grateful.

John Silence would bristle at being labeled an occult detective. He referred to himself as a "psychic doctor", one who tended to the ailments of the spirit instead of that of the flesh. Silence hated the word "occult", and considered what we call the supernatural to be merely an extension of the so-called natural universe. All manner of bogies, from werewolves to ghosts, are merely manifestations of a spiritual illness in Silence's worldview.

In Hodgson's plays, Silence isn't the hero as much as an observer, an expositionary character who explains what is happening and why. This is in keeping with the original short stories by Blackwood, in which the "psychic doctor" was involved to various degrees, sometimes as protagonist, sometimes simply as a sympathetic audience to another's tale (as is the case in Ancient Sorceries, which was produced as a four-part reading by BBC7). Still, these dramas are spooky fun, and should be of interest to any fan of Hodgson's other works.

To download Sheila Hodgson's adaptations of Camp of the Dog and The Empty Sleeve, click on the link below to be taken to the Rapidshare download page. You will need WinRar or a similar program to decompress the file.

The six original John Silence stories by Algernon Blackwood are available in html format via the link below:

And you can download seven of Hodgson's eight neo-James plays thanks to the generosity of the OTR Times Past community: