The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Story Hunter: or Tales of the Weird and Wild (1896)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The Story Hunter: or Tales of the Weird and Wild was written by Ernest R. Suffling. Suffling (1855-1911) was an author and stained glass artist.
The titular narrator of the stories in The Story Hunter a nameless young English gentlemen of a “small but ample” fixed income who has no wife or family, but lives in a caravan and travels throughout Britain and Scotland all the year ‘round. His wanderlust suits him, because it gives him freedom and allows him to indulge his favored hobby: hypnotism. He is “reasonably expert” in the field, although by no means a prodigy, and he uses it to draw fascinating stories from his guests. These men and women are willing participants; the Hypnotist is not capable of hypnotizing the unwilling. With his gift for hypnotism and his footloose lifestyle, the Hypnotist comes in contact with a wide range of men and women. He meets Doctor Nosidy, a "genius deranged" who bears some resemblance to Thomas Edison. Nosidy tells the Hypnotist of his discovery of “brain ether,” the residue of the human soul, and of how he proved its existence by communicating with a three-thousand-year-old mummy. The Hypnotist meets a gentleman of means on the Cornwall coast; the gentleman tells the Hypnotist of his encounter, in the Italian Alps, with the Wandering Jew, who turns out to be a genial chap and helps the gentleman uncover sunken treasure and enrich himself. The Hypnotist encounters Billy, an old workman, along the coast of Norfolk, and Billy tells the Hypnotist about the uncanny resurrection of a sunken English brig. The Hypnotist meets a small, plain man of rubicund appearance who tells him of his telepathic contact with Friar Bacon, who six hundred years after his death is living, in spirit form, on Mars, with various other “Advancers of the Species.” The Hypnotist meets “a well-known artist and author” in Norwich, and the author tells the Hypnotist about the discovery of the treasure of Barbe Rouge, “a piratical sea-dog of the eighteenth century.” The Hypnotist meets an old gentleman near Birmingham, and the old man tells the Hypnotist about a manuscript containing the biography of a man captured by Robin Hood. The Hypnotist meets an elderly fisherman on the coast of Norfolk, and the fisherman tells the Hypnotist about his meeting with a shipwrecked Wandering Dutchman, and of the Dutchman's killing of his faithless wife, and their later burial at sea. The Hypnotist meets his friend, a monk, north of London, and hears the story of a monk from a painted window who comes to life. In Aberdeen the Hypnotist meets Old John Beamish, a Jolly Jack Tar, and Beamish tells the Hypnotist about the discovery, on a deserted Arctic island, of a man who put himself in suspended animation in 1773. And in North Somersetshire the Hypnotist talks with a farmer and blacksmith who tells him about the Haunted Field, a location where once stood a haunted mansion, and that this now-decayed manse really was haunted, something of a surprise to the rationalist Hypnotist.
The Story Hunter is most of interest for the way that it deviates from the late-Victorian narrative about hypnosis and mesmerism. “In the second half of the 1880s, and for much of the 1890s, no aspect of hypnotism attracted greater interest, popular, medical, scientific and literary, than that of its possible adaptation to criminal ends.”1 The common portrayal of the hypnotist was of an evil mind-controller:
Fictional representations of the malevolent hypnotist registered popular anxieties about the power of the hypnotist and challenged the implementation of hypnotism as a viable medical therapy…these popular representations of the hypnotist as criminal rendered problematic any advocacy of hypnotism by the medical profession at the fin de siècle…medical men strove to appropriate hypnotism as the exclusive purview of their profession. Their efforts to establish their legitimacy to this claim, however, could not ultimately legitimize the figure of the hypnotist. Represented as a threatening criminal, the hypnotist of late-Victorian fiction exceeded the medical profession’s ability to recuperate this role for themselves.2
Print: Ernest Richard Suffling, The Story Hunter or Tales of the Weird and Wild, Etc. London: British Library, 2011.
 Alan Gauld, A History of Hypnotism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 494.
 Mary Elizabeth Leighton, “Under the Influence: Crime and Hypnotic Fiction of the Fin de Siècle,” in Martin Willis and Catherine Wynne, eds., Victorian Literary Mesmerism (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 204-205.