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ROBIN HARDY & ANTHONY SHAFFER – THE WICKER MAN. 1978 Pan Books

 

The original film of The Wicker Man (forget the dire recent remake) was not only brilliant; it survived numerous cuts and edits, and production problems. Much material was lost, and never recovered. The novel is in effect the story as it was originally envisaged and helps therefore to flesh out the central character and explain in more detail what was going on in Summerisle. The story is essentially simple and terrifying. A rather zealous but well meaning Catholic Scottish policeman, the gentle Howie, receives a note from the Hebridean Island of Summerisle, concerning the mysterious disseverance of a young school-girl. Howie flies to the Island in a police seaplane, and finds himself alone amidst a deeply pagan community who persistently lie to him about the wherabouts and existence of the missing girl. Shocked by the island’s sexual license, and Lord Summerisle’s maintenance of pre-Christian beliefs and fertility traditions, Howie struggles against impossible odds to defend his faith and find the girl. Suspecting that she is to be killed in a ritual sacrifice, Howie finds that in fact, he is the victim of the conspiracy. The island’s famous fruit harvest has failed, and he is to be burnt in a giant Wicker Man to appease the gods for a better crop the next year. His virginity and his dedication to justice have made him an unwittingly willing sacrificial victim. The girl, like everyone on Summerisle, and even some conspirators on the Scottish mainland, have set Howie up from the outset.  The book gives more details on his religious background. He is not celibate, but a firm believer in sex only after marriage. He plans to propose to his girlfriend when he returns to the mainland, which of course he will never manage. His bird-watching interests are also strongly developed in the novel, with Summerisle being a secret haven for birds that are considered extinct. This is a horror story with no supernatural forces involved. It merely shows what a cult is prepared to do in support of its beliefs. The book surprisingly keeps some of the the bawdy songs that made the film a musical as much as a horror story. It’s an excellent read and a good record of what was kept in and lost from a truly remarkable movie. www.panmacmillan.com

 

Copyright. Arthur Chappell                                  

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