Children of the Stones – Scary or Baffling

So, having established that Children of the Stones was about ancient evil, I now have the somewhat disconcerting job of telling you what it is about in more precise terms. Which leaves me a little nervous. I am not sure that I know where to begin or what to say.

A father and son arrive in a village, which is surrounded by an ancient stone circle, and in which everyone is being taken over by some strange force that converts them into ‘Happy Ones’ – those vacantly happy people that you know aren’t right!

Gradually, the boy and his father begin to detect that something is wrong, and eventually track the problem back to something to do with the stars, the stone circle, an evil lord-of-the-manor-type and a time-loop that takes some getting your head around. I am not sure that I can make things much clearer than that…

Basically, events within the stone circle seems to keep repeating the same narrative cycle over time, and the elements of the show’s narrative seem to have occurred before inside the stone circle and to start again after the story’s closure.

Of course, those who love this show believe that this ‘difficulty’ makes the show profound and interesting, while I tend to find it baffling and incomprehensible. Oh, well.

The good news is that there are real compensations. If the story is about a cyclical narrative pattern, where everything has happened before, the show is one of the most familiar stories in children’s horror (and not in a bad way): you know the one where the kid’s can see that which the adult world is too blind to notice (Invaders from Mars); and where those responsible for socializing children turn out to be evil-doers.

Who didn’t believe, as a child, that their teachers are evil?

In order words, in these kinds of stories, the kids see through the adult world and save us all from its problems, even if they also annoyingly end up reaffirming a whole series of adult figures of authority in the process, particularly their parents!

Oh well, you can’t have everything – I did say that it was often baffling and incomprehensible.

Children of the Stones – Paganism, Primitivism and Repetition

Children of the Stones was a horror television series made for children in the mid 1970s, and it is often claimed that people remember it as the most frightening thing that they saw as children in the 1970s. Which begs me to ask: what people were watching? Certainly, if the limits of their experience were Blue Peter (or rather, as this was on ITV, Magpie), this might possibly be true. But anyone who had even the most minor acquaintance with Dr Who during this period would have been used to far more juicy red meat.

Which isn’t to claim that there weren’t pleasure in Children of the Stones. It could be generally creepy and had some nice ideas (see more next week); and most intriguingly, it sits between two great Nigel Kneale classics: one of which it echos; and one of which it prefigures.

The Stone Tape is something that I remember as one of the scariest things that I saw as a kid (by which I mean the scariest television program not even the scariest thing that I saw on television). Like The Stone Tape, Children of the Stones tells a story of ancient stones that endlessly replay the past, a repetition that is dark, malevolent and seemly inescapable. And both have a very strong sense of pagan, pre-Christian powers that seem almost rooted in the landscape – and over which Christianity is mere insubstantial window-dressing.

Actually many of the MR James stories that the BBC used for their Christmas Ghost Stories also featured this sort of thing, too; and it turns up again in Kneale’s weird return to the Quatermass stories in the late 1970s, Quatermass (which featured the old professor on ITV for the first time). This series also features ancients stones, ancient evil and Kneale’s customary questioning of modernity (see my article, ‘An Unidentified Species: Horror, the Body and Early Television Drama’).

In fact, Quatermass even centers its evil on the same kinds of ancient stone circles that feature in Children of the Stones.

Next Week: Children of the Stones – Scary or Baffling?