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Black Shuck: Devil Dog Inspires the Arts

 

The Darkness Wrote A Song About Black Shuck - mark dr

A Local Folk Tale Gives Rise to All Sorts of Fiction

Black Shuck shows how a myth appears in different art forms today. It all began in the wilder parts of the UK’s Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, probably in Viking times.

Sightings of a ghostly, huge black dog were frequently reported over the centuries as it roamed freely, terrorising the minds of people eking out lives that were often brutal, short and vulnerable to powers beyond their control. Black Shuck was also known as Devil or Black Dog.

Dog Bogeyman Story

Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was prone to moods of depression that he called his ‘black dog’. But the phantom dog that featured in many creative pieces was a bogeyman story to keep children in order. It spread evil with its flaming red or green eyes.

The idea that it was a dog may have come from an Old English word for demon or hairy. It was often said to be a harbinger of death of either the hapless, terrified victim who felt its hot breath on his or her face or stared into its malevolent eyes; or the demise of a close relative. Other versions told of a benign dog who saw lone women home safely at night

Dog Killed People at Bungay and Blythburgh

On 4th August 1577 at Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, records indicate that Black Dog burst in, ran down the nave, killed a man and a boy and ran out, leaving scorch marks on the north door, still visible today. Later that same day, it appeared 14 miles away at St Mary’s Church, Bungay, where it apparently wrung the necks of two people kneeling at prayer before leaving scorch marks on that door.

It is easily understood how superstitious people during a lightening storm in a very dark church would imagine they had seen a satanic black dog.  Imagination can run wild. Terror and suggestion build one upon another, as the makers of horror films can attest.

Black Shuck in the Arts

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime novel The Hound of the Baskervilles was inspired by the Black Shuck legend, heard by Doyle when he played golf at Cromer. However, he set this Sherlock Holmes novel on Dartmoor, near the prison. The Bungay version has also appeared in Runton Werewolf , a children’s story by Ritchie Perry and in The Kettle Chronicles: The Black Dog, a novel set in 1577 by Steve Morgan, former vicar of Bungay.

There is a panel picture/reference to Shuck in the comic book Hector Plasm: De Mortius, and an appearance in Supernatural: Origins comics. Philip Pullman mentions it in Northern Lights, the 1995 opener of His Dark Materials trilogy, as an animal-made shape-shifter of a soul. It featured in an episode of Mystery Hunters, the children’s documentary series.

British rock band The Darkness, most of whom hailed from Lowestoft, 17 miles from Bungay, 14 from Blythburgh, wrote a song called Black Shuck on their hit album Permission to Land, creating lyrics that meant little to people outside East Anglia.

Singer-songwriter Nick Drake wrote and recorded Black-Eyed Dog, drawing freely on the legend’s foretelling doom and death. In the children’s action fantasy May Birds and the Ever After, first published in 2005 by Jodi Lynn Anderson, further inspiration is drawn. In the 2000 AD series London Falling, the dog is the leader of mythological characters; the subject of the musical drama The Storm Hound, besides being the champion of the Shadowdancers in the online role-playing game Lusternia, Age of Ascension.

Black Shuck has become part of our culture down the years. His name is used in songs, fiction and films, but also in public houses, streets, a marathon run in Bungay to this day, and even a motorcycle club.

First published at Suite 101, 17 March 2010.

Photo: The Darkness Wrote A Song About Black Shuck – mark dr

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2 Responses to "Black Shuck: Devil Dog Inspires the Arts"

  1. Piers Warren says:

    I have just written a new supernatural thriller about Black Shuck, based on my experiences on the North Norfolk Coast, which is coming out this Halloween – see http://www.black-shuck.co.uk.

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