Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The God of Glass - Peter Redgrove

We're into the dark meat here, only for those of obscure tastes.  Redgrove, of course, is best known as a poet, but he also wrote lots of fiction and drama.  God of Glass was originally a radio play, in which form it won the 1978 Imperial Tobacco award for best original radio play.  That is what brought it to my attention. As regular followers will know I am a Doctor of Radio Drama, perhaps even the only Doctor of Radio Drama.  My current exploration of the original radio work of Ted Hughes brought up the link with Redgrove (which is very apparent in this novelisation).  I haven't tracked down the radio script yet, but I will, and I have just acquired some more of Redgrove's plays which I will review here in due course.

Anyway, first and foremost The God of Glass reminds us that the Seventies were a long, long time ago.  I was doing my first Drama degree when the play was commissioned and dropping out in my native Lancashire witch-country when it was produced.  I remember those times but I had forgotten the sort of ultra-sexualised earth-goddess cult which Hughes and Redgrove explored in their work, even though I was living in the middle of it and knew many pre-New-Age practitioners.  I probably forgot about it because it was so over-the-top and - as the cover image of the 1979 original hardback above suggests - bloody.

Geoffrey Glass is an African man who, released from a life sentence, appears in Cornwall as a perfectly civilised shaman.  The village is being plagued by pubescent girls in the throes of demonic possession.  The vicar is killed in a failed exorcism (this was the era of The Exorcist, remember) and Glass, who hasn't been involved in any way before - that is to say, he did not create the possessions - joins in the cure with more success.  He is espoused by the mothers of the victims and soon a Glass movement is spreading across the country.  Glass becomes a national icon - only to submit himself to the judgement of his peers, the officers of his movement, chiefly from the Cornish village where it all began, when his past comes to light.  Then, in a worldwide live telecast, all hell literally breaks loose.

As to why it is subtitled "A Morality", who better than Redgrove himself to explain?

...because it seeks, by adopting the mode and idiom of a horror story of exorcism, to redirect attention to the serious themes of adult rebirth, and the dire consequences of masculine non-participation n feminine blood-mysteries, behind the usually conventionalised currency of the modern supernatural tale.
It is all very, very weird.  Even the style - disjointed chapters, of startlingly different length, with occasional poetry thrown in - is unique.  How anything like this was achieved on BBC radio I cannot imagine.  But I was completely hooked and am intrigued to explore further.  This is writing on the furthest frontier, not just in its day but now.  Further dispatches from the front will follow.

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