Tuesday, 8 June 2010


I know it is a dangerous thing to start looking for coincidences, things that seem to have a hidden meaning or being set in a pattern, in films or book. You tend to find what you want to find, so it is with some trepidation I will now write about something of the kind, which I found quite amusing.

Colin Dexter created the character of Chief Inspector Morse of the Thames Valley Police. His stories and some have been transformed into a very brilliant series of films, or episodes, where Morse is portrayed by the late John Thaw. The brilliant detective has an assistant called Robert Lewis played by Kevin Whately and after the death of Inspector Morse he solves his own murder mysteries in a tv-series that is showing at the moment.

Not long ago the 4th episode of of the 4th series was aired and the title was Falling Darkness. It begins with a gruesome murder of a Professor Ligeia Willard. She has been knocked down and a stake has been driven through her heart. The murder was committed at All Hallows Eve or Halloween.

Some of you may have reacted to the name Ligeia, which is the title of a story by Edgar Allen Poe, the brilliant American horror writer and inventor of the detective story. A coincidence, a reference to the great master? Perhaps? But there is more.

There is an Alec Pickman among the characters and this struck me as interesting. Richard Upton Pickman is a person in some stories by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, another brilliant American horror writer. Pickman is found in the stories Pickman's Model and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.

Coincidence, perhaps? To add to the pattern, there is a Mrs Renfield. She has the same surname as the poor fellow who visits Count Dracula's castle and becomes mad in the novel by Bram Stoker, another writer of horror fiction, Irish this time.

At this time I began to check out the other names in the list of roles. Some of them may be long shots, but I will mention them anyway.

One character is called Victor Clerval and if you know your Mary Shelley, you will know that the mad scientist is called Victor Frankenstein, and to add to it, Henry Clerval is another character in the very same book.

Ursula van Tessel is an unusual name and as it happens, I found a Catriena Ecker van Tessel who is said to be the inspiration for Katrina in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The list of roles contains a Charlotte Corwin and this is the same surname as one of the judges of the Salem witch trials and the old name of the Salem Township, Warren County, Ohio, USA, was, you have guessed it, Corwin.

Professor Rufus Strickfaden has a very unusual surname, one that he shares with Kenneth Strickfaden, electrician and film set designer who is mostly famous for creating the laboratory of Victor Frankenstein in the 1931 film, directed by James Whale.

Lastly, and this may be the worst of all these long shots, Rowena Trevanion, may be associated with a building, Trevanion, famous for its Gothic architecture.

This could all be in my mind, I know that, or maybe someone with a sense of humour and a knowledge of horror fiction in writing and on screen put these references there for anyone to find.

At least one other person found this interesting.


Manorlord said...

Interesting, but (I think) quite deliberate. Entertainment (especially TV and film, but books too) has a penchant for in-jokes and hidden (or not so) references. Quentin Tarentino's movies (random example) are as amusing for their homages to other films (mostly his own) as for any intrinsic cinematic value. This is hardly a recent development. Was it a coincidence that Ross McDonald's great detective, Lew Archer, shares the last name of Sam Spade's murdered partner (in Dash Hammett's Maltese Falcon)?



Paul said...

Janice, either the script writer has a very thorough knowledge of horror stories, as Wystan suggests, or you are drawing the long bow.
I incline to the first, but if you are drawing the long bow, you're doing a damn fine job of it.
Love and warm hugs,

Anonymous said...

Dear Janice
Well, both Morse and his creator were fans of cryptic crossword puzzles, so my guess is that you’re on to something. Janice, the great detective!
Just a moment… wasn’t a Detective Janice Wentworth a character in Barney Miller, an ABC comedy television series set in New York? Coincidence, or what?

Mina said...

Dear Janice, I agree with the gents here in that a lot of this sort of thing is deliberate.

However, it is also true that we read into and see what we want to. A movie called Number 23 with Jim Carey, no it isn't a comedy, gets into some of this. And you would be surprised how often you see the number 23 or numbers adding to 23 after watching that movie.


Janice said...

Dear Wystan, truth to be told, I think it is deliberate too. It's just that I am suspicious of people finding signs everywhere.

Dear Paul, thank you, I hope I am not, but who knows? Possibly the ones writing the script...come to think of it.

Dear Michael, that is a good point, about Morse's obsession with crosswords.

Dear Mina, as you know, I am a sceptic and don't want to pretend I am sure...but yes, I think it is deliberate.