Surprise! In the great Australian tradition of Christmas in July, Liz and Ben are joined by writer and literary horror fan Penelope Love to discuss Terry Pratchett’s short story “Twenty Pence, With Envelope and Seasonal Greeting”, first published on the 16th of December, 1987.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1843, and the driver of a missing Mail Coach is discovered lying in the snow in Wiltshire. A local doctor determines he is scared out of his wits, but nonetheless records the coachman’s horrifying tale of passing through a weird rectangular portal. He and his passengers strayed from the world we know into others filled with nightmares: strangely glittering snow, terrifyingly flat London streets, monstrous giant animals and nonsensical language…
Written in the style of Victorian horror fiction from authors like M R James, H P Lovecraft and A C Doyle*, with a side order of Dickens, this story was inspired when Pratchett glanced at his shelf full of Christmas cards. Despite the ridiculous premise, he plays it totally straight, with phrases that could have come straight from The Call of Cthulhu and other works of the era he’s emulating.
But in 1987, people still sent Christmas cards. Does the story still work now, when we have to think a bit harder to recall the kinds of things printed on those ineffable pieces of cardboard? Can we be spooked and made to laugh at the same time? And does the old-school “horrors humankind was not meant to know” genre still make our blood run cold in this age of smartphones, satellite imagery and Google? Use the hashtag #Pratchat45 on social media to join the conversation!
Guest Penelope Love is a writer best known for her short fiction, and her work on roleplaying games, most notably Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, based on the works of H P Lovecraft. Penny is also part of the team at Campaign Coins, who make gorgeous metal coins and counters for use with roleplaying and other tabletop games. You can find Penny’s collections of comic fantasy stories about “The Three Dungeoneers” via the Campaign Coins website, and also look up Penny’s author page on Amazon to find many of Penny’s other works. Penny is on Twitter as @PennyLoveWrites, or you can follow @CampaignCoins for more on their projects.
As usual, you can find notes and errata for this episode on our web site.
Next episode, as previously advertised, we’re going West and/or East again as we head back into the Long Earth with The Long War – this time joined by writer and editor, Deanne Sheldon-Collins! Send us your questions using the hashtag #Pratchat46, or get them in via email: email@example.com
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* With apologies to Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle.