Writer, Illustrator & Radio Presenter

Christopher Stagg

All images on this page are copyright The British Library 2014
This isn’t an exhibition you could or should rush round. Take your time and enjoy it while it’s here as there is so much to see. I have been back twice already and I’m sure I’ll fit in a third!


Lead curator of the exhibition, Tim Pye, says: “Gothic is one the most popular and influential modes of literature and I’m delighted that Terror and Wonder is celebrating its rich 250 year history. The exhibition features an amazingly wide range of material, from stunningly beautiful medieval artefacts to vinyl records from the early Goth music scene, so there is truly something for everyone”. Before I left I could not help to take a detour to the gift shop (technically not a detour as the door in and out of the exhibition is in the gift shop!) Now I have been known to purchase the odd book or two, but the special exhibition has an extensive collection of key gothic literature from Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker through to modern texts from Susan Hill and Chris Priestley, and of course many more in between. I cannot recommend this exhibition enough. It’s open until the 20th January 2015 and tickets are £10 (under 18s are free). Further information is available on the website www.bl.uk/events/terror-and-wonder--the-gothic-imagination


Some of the highlights for me include a talk with Neil Gaiman which you can listen to, an art exhibition of photographs from Whitby’s annual Goth Weekend and an entire room dedicated to Dracula. The Dracula room is full of memorabilia. It has a gothic vampire kit which is a must see and a model of the late great Edward Gorey’s pop up ‘Bram Stokers Dracula’ theatre (available in the gift shop). I also bumped into friend and author Chris Priestly who has a number of items of his own on display including one of his early poster works, and artwork (and the book itself) from Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror.


As soon as you walk into the exhibition you know you are about to witness something special. The lights are dimmer and you are presented directly in front of you with a huge image of Count Orlok’s iconic shadow creeping up the stairs from Nosferatu. This is because the exhibition is not just books. The gothic Novel is at its core, but as you progress through the exhibition you are presented with examples of the huge impact the gothic movement has had on art, music, film and more. The exhibition starts with (arguably) the first gothic novel The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole and takes us through a who’s who of gothic literature; William Blake, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Mervyn Peake, Neil Gaiman and many more. Beyond the books there are posters and props from films influenced by the movement such as The Wickerman and a host of Hammer films. We then move right up to date with items from Hellrasier, Stanley Kubrik’s The Shinning and a model of the were-rabbit from Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, showing gothics far reaching influence.


A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to the opening night of the British Library’s latest exhibition; Terror & Wonder: The Gothic Imagination. Throughout the reception event we were treated to ghoulish waiters and waitresses and some very creepy background music. The whole area was converted into a gothic dream (or nightmare!) with wilting flowers, crows, candlesticks and looped imagery of arched windows, graveyards and bleak open spaces. The evening was then introduced by the British Library’s Chief Executive and officially opened by author Kate Mosse. The exhibition is the biggest of its kind based on Gothic literature and offers us a view of the development of gothic culture over 250 years. The British Library has also partnered with the BBC who will be showing a number of programmes on the gothic movement to compliment the exhibition.

Terror & Wonder: The Gothic Imagination