|The Drakenswode Correspondence |
|From: Doug Ormsham [email address withheld by request] • 10 May 2005, 19:05
I came upon your site via the sort of serendipity that suggests that fate is working to help me to determine what actions I should take. Admittedly, I still have my doubts. To make public what I have discovered is no small matter. My family's reputation is at stake, not to mention the possibility that what I have discovered will be accepted by more than a lunatic fringe and will therefore drag me into an unwanted limelight -- or worse.
I'm avoiding the issue, I know. I must get to the point. But I need to gauge your own attitudes in order to proceed. Please, may I ask you a question?
It is this: do you believe in the existence of giant monsters?
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|From: firstname.lastname@example.org • 10 May 2005, 20:14
I'm not sure where this might be leading, but you have me intrigued. Do we believe in the existence of giant monsters? Well, dinosaurs clearly existed in the past -- but, according to the way we've defined "daikaiju" in the introduction to the anthology, to be genuine giant monsters of the daikaiju-kind the subject must be ridiculously big, generally speaking beyond reason or the limits of physics. Daikaiju are impossible, a literary conceit. So you could say our interest in giant monsters lies in their usefulness as a fictional construct that allows for comment on human nature, and the nature of reality, via the fantastic: you might say that if we believe in giant monsters it is as imaginary beings on film -- and in fiction. As a writer I don't feel I have to believe in the objective reality of ghosts, zombies, vampires, UFOs, bug-eyed aliens or giant monsters in order to write stories about them. They are a potent source of imagery which resonates on a subconscious level; that's justification enough.
On the other hand, the world has a habit of surprising me and reality is a notoriously slippery thing to pin down. So if you're worried about being mocked, don't be. We're open to suggestions.
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|From: Doug Ormsham [email address withheld by request] • 11 May 2005, 19:25
Thank you for your response. It was honest and I don't get the sense that you are merely leading me on. You encourage me to do what I confess I have wanted to do anyway -- that is, tell you the story of my maternal great-grandfather, Dr Hugo Drakenswode.
But first, perhaps I should give some indication as to why you might be interested in my great-grandfather. You will gain some hint of an answer from the fact that he was what today we would refer to as a cryptobiologist -- he studied mythological or rumoured creatures that might exist in reality but for which there has hitherto been no proof. I did not realise this about him myself until recently, when I discovered his journals and diaries, a vast collection that speaks of his obsession with larger species -- giant monsters, to be precise. Hence, my earlier question to you.
But his involvement with daikaiju did not end there, with mere study. His diaries indicate that he actively tracked down and interacted with such beasts, and on several occasions was instrumental in limiting the extent of what he labelled "Concomitant Rampage" -- the destruction that must inevitably occur when giant monsters stumble upon human civilisation. That neither he nor the monsters he fought were more widely known is part of the mystery he sought to elucidate.
I only met Hugo Drakenswode once, in 1979 when I was 6, so my memories of him are dim and ill-formed. He was 104 then, according to my mother, and it is difficult for me to reconcile what I have since learned of his activities with the image of him that exists in my memory: that of a frail, skeletal spectre in a tattered lounge chair, saliva dripping from the corner of his slack mouth, eyes blank and lifeless. The nurse that attended him was stern and reproving, I recall, looming over him like an angel of death. It was a sad and distressing sight, even more so now than then to a young boy with no understanding of the vagaries and ironic injustices of life. I have this knowledge in these latter days and it causes me pain. The man deserved honour, not ignominious obscurity and squalid decline.
So perhaps now you might understand something of my motivations and what I have to offer -- not only an introduction to a remarkable monsterfighter but access to his diaries and notes.
Are you interested?
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|From: email@example.com • 11 May 2005, 22:01
We are definitely interested in hearing the story -- and would feel privileged to read your great-grandfather's notes regarding his experiences with giant monsters. Would you consider scanning his material -- or at least as much of it as you would feel comfortable to make public -- and letting us put it up on the site?
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|From: Doug Ormsham [email address withheld by request] • 12 May 2005, 8:43
By all means post on the website whatever I send you, unless I specify otherwise. I will, as you suggest, withhold some parts of great-grandfather's writings -- passages of a more personal nature where family sensibilities must be considered or where there may be an issue of defamation. But I believe my great-grandfather's work to be of vital importance, and I want people to know about it. The facts will astonish you, I promise that.
I have been going through the Great Man's loose papers and a vast library of hand-written volumes that was hidden deep in his country house -- and it will take me time to organise both his work and my own thoughts on the subject. Very soon, however, I will send you an account of the background as it relates to myself, and thereafter I will begin posting Dr Drakenswode's own writings. I hope your readers will appreciate the astonishing nature of this material.
Please do not make my email address public knowledge. I will answer questions, but only through you. There is danger, too, in this knowledge, make no mistake of that.
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|From: firstname.lastname@example.org • 12 May 2005, 21:01
Danger? From what source?
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David Yeates • 12 May 2005, 15:54
|I'm sure it's someone yankin' your chain.
Even a simple search on Google on the name "Drakenswode" brings up nothing. I don't know any last name that will bring up nothing -- unless it does not exist.
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|From: email@example.com • 13 May 2005, 11:51
You're right, of course. But I ran a few variants and found "Drakenwood", which (apart from being the name of a fortress town in a fantasy roleplaying game) is a surname listed in the family history sourcebook Elizabethan Life: Wills of Essex Gentry and Yeomen by Dr F.G. Emmison -- Drakenwood is said to have been a "tenant of Francis Booseye in Moulsham" (p. 116, sourced from a family history site). So the name existed in Elizabethan times and no doubt earlier (and later). I know that's not exactly the same as "Drakenswode", but if you look at the derivation of the name, it is actually the same thing.
In Middle English, "draken" is a variant of "dragon" (Old Engliah draca or "drake", from Greek drakon, the seeing one). ("Drakon" exists as a contemporary Greek first name as well.) In one of his collections, The Grey Fairy Book (originally published 1900), folklore scholar Andrew Lang includes two tales that feature drakens -- "Janni and the Draken" and "Herr Lazarus and the Draken". In these stories the draken are rather like traditional ogres or giants. In fact, the later is basically the famous fairytale of the giant-slaying tailor ("With one blow, I have slain forty").
H.J. Ford's original illustration to
"Herr Lazarus and the Draken"
Add to that the Middle English wode (from Old English wudu), meaning "wood" (at various times in the sense of "tree", "forest" or "woodcutter") and you could easily get the variant sequence "draken's wode" (forest of the draken/dragon) ... "drakenswode" ... "drakenwood".
So it seems that, whether it appears on the internet or not, Drakenswode could easily be a real name, especially as the correspondent's great-grandfather must have been born in about 1865 -- well before the internet existed, methinks.
But all this etymology got me thinking and it occurred to me that the correspondent's own surname, Ormsham, is very similar to Drakenswode in derivation. In Old Norse, the word orm is "worm/serpent" or "dragon", and seeded into Old English as such. There was even a later Middle English scholar named Orm, who wrote the Ormulum, a work of metrical Biblical exegesis. Similarly, the suffix "ham" occurs frequently in English place names even today (Nottingham, Birmingham), and comes from the Old English ham meaning "homestead, village, manor, estate" and hamm meaning "enclosure, land hemmed by water or marsh or higher ground, land in a riverbend, rivermeadow, promontory" (Mills, A.D., A Dictionary of English Placenames, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 381; see also here). So together Ormsham gives you "home or place of the dragon". Not dissimilar to Drakenswode or "wood of the dragon".
A John D. Batten illustration of the Lambton [W]orm from
More English Fairy Tales (collected by J. Jacobs, 1897)
eh? At the very least, the above indicates that both names are feasible
names with a clear derivation. As for the coincidence of their similar
"origins".... well, that's another matter.
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Doug Ormsham [email address withheld by request]
• 14 May 2005, 11:43
I'm not sure I appreciate Mr Yeates' implication -- that this is
some sort of elaborate joke being undertaken by myself under a bogus
monicker -- I must concede that the question as to the veracity
of what I am saying will inevitably arise in the minds of your readers.
Undoubtedly, the question will become more pertinent -- and perhaps
more poignant -- as the story unfolds, so it is only to be expected
that there will be doubters. Naysayers plagued my great-grandfather's
career, so why should I be surprised to find myself the target of
like to thank you, however, for your detailed defense of both my
great-grandfather's name and my own. They are unusual names,
I'll concede that much. But as you point out yourself, there is
a clear etymological lineage to be found in their underlying construction
and you trace it well -- more thoroughly than I have ever thought to do myself.
also provide me with food for thought on a personal level. I have
never questioned my own surname, and like you find the coincidence
of the etymological similarities between "Ormsham" and
"Drakenswode" rather intriguing. What might it mean? At
this point, I can't say. The name "Ormsham" was, of course,
bequeathed to me from my father, whose family, as far as I know,
cannot be linked to the "Drakenswode" line at all previous to my mother's marriage to my father -- not
in terms of direct blood relationship anyway. It must be a coincidence
that the two names mean similar things. Odd, very odd indeed. And
yet strangely appropriate, too. Such coincidence seems to dog my
great-grandfather's life, as you will see.
In a previous email I said that I would give some indication as to how I came by great-grandfather Hugo's papers. Rather than pursuing the above matter, it would be best, perhaps, to do that now.
15 when I learned of my great-grandfather's death, which had taken
place some years before. That I had not been told at the time angered
me, for reasons that even now seem unclear. My mother was contrite,
but puzzled. "You only met him once, Douglas," she said,
"And it was hardly a pleasant experience. In fact, the meeting
seemed to disturb you. You had nightmares for some weeks afterwards.
When he died, I thought it best to let the whole thing pass unnoticed."
had a point and I cannot account for the link that had been forged
between Great-grandfather Hugo and myself during the several hours I spent, at age
6, in his strange, uncommunicative presence. Besides which, his death and funeral took place thousands of miles away, in another country, and as a youth in the midst of final exams in New Zealand I would not have been able, reasonably, to attend. Still, the fact that he died without me knowing caused me considerable anxiety, and for weeks I wandered about morose and full of typically teenage resentment.
What hadn't occurred to me was that if Drakenswode died in 1985 and he was 104 when I first met him, then he must have been all of 110 at his passing! The thought of him spending half a decade in the state of dreadful decline I witnessed in 1969 is one that makes me sad. How could it have been possible? He must have been an emaciated scrap of a human being by the end, a mere vegetative shell, drained of the life he had lived so abundantly for so long. How could he bear so many years of inactivity? One rather hopes that his mind had gone by then, leaving him in a state of idyllic dementia and without knowledge of his own decay.
Even so, it wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered that Hugo Drakenswode, my great-grandfather, had named me as his heir. Decades passed before I was told of my inheritance. My mother had died by then -- her death, too, had been a long, lingering process of slow deterioration -- so the question I longed to ask her -- "Why?" -- could not be answered. I subsequently discovered that all legal communications regarding the Drakenswode estate had taken place as required, but as I was not of age my mother and father had made all depositions and arrangements without reference to me. This could not be construed as unusual, as I was still a minor at the time, but it is strange and uncharacteristic of them. In all other matters they treated me fairly and with uncondescending love. Clearly they felt it to be in my benefit for me not to know about the estate. Now, perhaps, I am beginning to understand why.
In May of the year 2000 I was contacted by Reinhold and Bennett, Soliticitors, on a matter relating to the Drakenswode house in Hampshire: they wanted to know if I would be willing to sell it. A developer was eager to demolish the building and to use the land (my great-grandfather's estate boasted about 20 acres) as part of a new housing project to be undertaken in the area. At first I had no idea what the solicitor's letter was talking about as it did not name the house in question as the Drakenswode estate, but when I finally recognised the address I realised what had happened in a flash. I was Hugo Drakenswode's heir! Apart from my grandfather -- my mother's father -- he had had no other children, and grandfather Edward was no longer with us, having succumbed to a tropical fever over two decades before Drakenswode's own death. My mother had a sibling named George -- Uncle George, as I knew him. We saw him every few years at Christmas, but he moved around a lot and was currently living in the United States somewhere. I guess I had assumed that he would be Hugo Drakenswode's heir, if I had thought about it at all.
Hampshire is thick with impressive historic buildings but I'm afraid the Drakenswode "estate" isn't one of them. It boasts an ordinary, if larger than usual, "manor" house, which no one feels driven to preserve. However, I had no intention of selling it, at least not before I had had a chance to go there and explore its "secrets". Reinhold and Bennett argued vociferously via letter and then email. But I stood firm. My wife (Selena) finally insisted that I take time off work to go on a "spiritual pilgrimmage" [sic] to the place, as that is what I wanted to do with a passion she was finding, as she put it, rather off-putting and annoying. She would not go. Our youngest daughter had just entered primary school and Selena did not want the settling in process to be disturbed. So, in the end, toward the middle of February of 2004, I went alone to England, seeking the ghost of Hugo Drakenswode.
Surprisingly I found that the house had lain unoccupied for years. There had been a succession of tenants before that, but it was not in good condition now. My first night there was spent without electricity; I could have stayed at a local inn, but I was keen to experience the place and decided against doing so.
That night is one I will never forget.
But I am tired now, my friends, and will continue this account later. However, I will end by attaching to this email an item I found in a notebook of Hugo Drakenswode's that I came across that night while looking around his bedroom (where I had determined to sleep): a newspaper cutting that had been roughly jammed between pages dated "1900" in his flowing script. There was just this cutting (from a London newspaper, I think), lightly glued, and a single paragraph that read: "A political fraud? I think not. I shall go there and see for myself. I wouldn't trust the Zoological Society to get to the truth any more than I'd trust a conservative politician to evaluate the feasibility of an anarchist state." This was followed by the coding "R-32-1900".
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|From: firstname.lastname@example.org • 16 May 2005, 8:51
In my acquired role as Mr Ormsham's de facto research assistant and apologist, I did a bit of a check on the above newspaper cutting. For those who are interested, here's what I found.
Now, Mr Ormsham only assumes that this is from a London newspaper -- of which there were many -- and also that it dates from 1900 (because of the writing on the page it was glued to). Sites such as the British Library, and in particular their online archive, allow some degree of searching, which I undertook in a random manner. NSW's Mitchell Library in Sydney also has a less-complete archive of London newspapers. Naturally, I found no sign of this story, not in the standard newspapers anyway. I assumed that the Times would most likely be the source as it is one of their journalists that is quoted in the article. But I found nothing in those runs of the London Times that I was able to access. This doesn't prove much, of course. There were many newspapers in London at the time, including Daily News, Daily Mail, Morning Herald, Daily Express (from April 24, 1900), Star, Tit-Bits, Punch, and the Daily Telegraph. Moreover I only spent a couple of hours -- and a research assistant could take years working full-time to get through the lot. Some catalogues -- online and physical -- are quite useful and extensive [such as Palmer's Index to the Times (1791-1905)], but really they couldn't be considered complete. Then there's the whole possibility that the cutting came from a regional newspaper -- and that it dated from 1899 or 1901 or something. Anyway, the guist of this is that I couldn't find any evidence of it. I have no inclination to spent further time searching.
Nor could I find anything on the incident it reports. I would have assumed that finding a reference to this would have been an easier task as there are many catalogues that index subjects across world newspapers and journals -- and surely such a story would have been referred to in secondary sources -- such as books about strange phenomena. There's a plethora of those. Yet, I found nothing. Not a single reference.
Other aspects of the article in the cutting stand up to a quick scrutiny, however. The "Castro" referred to isn't the one we're all more familiar with, but Cipriano Castro, who usurped the Venezuelan government in 1899 and was legit president from 1901 to 1908. He was known as the "Lion of the Andes" to his followers. The country apparently went into an economic decline thanks to various international monetary issues and rampant debt. He was finally deposed himself.
"Andrade" refers to Ignacio Andrade, who was president from 1898 to 1899.
The term "lagarto gigantesco" translates from the Spanish as "giant lizard".
I couldn't find a reference to Times correspondent Tom Furie, though the name is otherwise quite common.
As for the "British Zoological Society": the Zoological Society of London was established in 1826, so I suppose that is what is referred to here. I am including a link for further information, plus the Society's own website. Drakenswode seems to harbour some resentment toward them as they existed then -- no doubt as a consequence of opposition to his radical ideas. Did they send a team to investigate? Who knows? I can find no record of it.
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