‘The Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It’ opens with what appears to be one of M John Harrison’s favourite images, that of a horse’s skull (“not a horse’s head: a skull, which looks nothing like a horse at all, but like an enormous curved shears, or a bone beak whose two halves meet only at the tip”), a disturbing recurring image in Viriconiumand a vital element of Light. The story of a man – the Ephebe – mapping out his life according to the Tarot, and of journeys taken on the horse of iron (i.e. the train) between places like Harrow and Kilburn High Road, or London St Pancras and Sheffield Central, its intoxicating blend of heady esoterica and the banality of British train travel continues to intrigue me; it’s a story I return to again and again, trying to fully decode it.
Published in Tarot Tales, ed.Rachel Pollack & Caitlin Matthews, Legend, 1989; collected in Things That Never Happen, Gollancz, 2004
I moved to London almost a year ago, not far from where this story is set as it happens, and for a few months I was flattened every day by this city’s sheer preposterousness, so I in a way I was primed for this very sad and very strange fabulation.
M. John Harrison is a proper treasure and the collection this is taken from is a proper gift. As with so much of what I admire the most, I have little of any use I want to say about it. This reviewof the collection by Patrick Langley does right by it, I think.
From You Should Come With Me Now: Stories of Ghosts, Comma Press, 2017
“You sit over a one-bar fire in a rented room.” Humblebrag time! I’ve met that M. John Harrison. I heard him quietly read this story during a wondrous evening of art, organized by somebody artistic in East London. It struck me as uncanny at the time, with its straightforward, serious-minded depiction of the homeless being deployed in a countermeasure against the incursion of alien invaders in the City of London. But like those invaders, Harrison’s story itself exists on more than one plane; and once you’ve glimpsed that, life is never the same again. I feel that this is a story that really has altered me. I was so proud, ludicrously proud, to have even a shred of involvement in seeing it published in the TLS last November.
from You Should Come with Me Now, Comma Press, 2017. Available to read here