Tommyknockers of the Western Mines

Posted: June 14, 2014 in Incorporeal, investigation, Legend, Sighting, Stories, Undead
Mining is an ancient profession and along with the back breaking work and dangers of working in the dark underground, comes century old superstitions, the most notable being that of the Tommyknockers.

These impish, gnome-like men are the Cornish equivalent of Irish leprechauns and English brownies. Germans called them Berggeister or Bergmännlein, meaning  “mountain ghosts” or “little miners.”

The Cornish believed these wee little men were the souls of the Jews who crucified Christ and were sent by the Romans to work as slaves in the tin mines. This belief was so strong that the Tommyknockers were allegedly never heard on Saturdays, nor at times of Jewish festivals.

 

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About two feet tall, and often described as greenish in color, they look like men and are most often spied wearing a traditional miner’s outfit. Living beneath the ground, they have been “known” to have committed both good and bad deeds through the centuries, often playing practical jokes and committing random acts of mischief, such as stealing unattended tools and food.

The Tommyknockers were first heard of in the United States when Cornish miners worked in the western Pennsylvania coal mines in the 1820’s. When the California Gold Rush began, these experienced Cornish miners were welcomed and often sought after by the mine owners. Attempting to recruit more minders, managers often approached the immigrants, asking if they had any relatives back in England who might come to work the mines. The Cornish miners would reply something like this: “Well, me cousin Jack over in Cornwall wouldst come could ye pay ’is boat ride.” Soon, these many immigrant miners took on the nickname Cousin Jacks, who formed the core of America’s early western mining workforce. As such, their superstition of the Tommyknocker thrived and spread throughout the mines of the west.

The name “knockers,” pronounced “knackers,” comes from the knocking on the mine walls that often happens just before cave-ins. Actually caused by the creaking of earth and timbers, some thought these sounds of “hammering” were malevolent, indicating certain death or injury, while others saw their “knocking” as well-meaning, warning the miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent. Yet, others believed that the knocking sounds would lead them to a rich ore body and or signs of good luck.

When these grizzled little gnomes were good, they were thought to bring miners favors and wealth. But when they were bad, they were said to bring about misery, injury, and death to those who doubted their power or who did not believe in them.

These highly spirited characters were also known to perform many of the mining duties, working right along side the men, as well as being blamed for many a prank, and credited with saving the lives of many miners. If a hammer was missing, it was the Tommyknockers who had taken it, but if a miner escaped a collapse, the Tommyknockers were given credit.

 

Later, the legend of the Tommyknockers evolved into the idea that the knockings were caused by dead miners who were kind enough to give warnings of danger to the living. In praise of these kind gestures, the miners would leave offerings of food and other items in order to secure their good graces and protection.

 

In some mines, where the Tommyknockers’ presence was known to be overwhelmingly malevolent, the mines were forced to close because of the mens’ fear of the spirits. When the mines played out, the legend continued, as many said the Tommyknockers found “work” in the homes surrounding the old mineshafts. Superstitions continued when many a family death or disaster was allegedly foretold by a knocking in the house.

Belief in these diminutive miners remained well into the 20th century until modern systems and education replaced these earlier superstitions. Though not much is heard of the Tommyknockers today, they will forever have a place in our history, legend and lore.

ON WIKIPEDIA:

 

The Tommyknockers

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This article is about the Stephen King novel. For the American television miniseries based on the novel, see The Tommyknockers (TV miniseries). For other uses, see Tommyknocker.
The Tommyknockers
Tommyknockers.jpg

First edition cover
Author Stephen King
Cover artist One Plus One Studio
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Published November 10, 1987 (Putnam)
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 558
ISBN 978-0-399-13314-5

The Tommyknockers is a 1987 science fiction novel by Stephen King. While maintaining a horror style, the novel is more of an excursion into the realm of science fiction for King, as the residents of the Maine town of Haven gradually fall under the influence of a mysterious object buried in the woods.

Plot summary

While walking in the woods near the small town of Haven, Maine, Roberta (Bobbi) Anderson, a writer of Wild West-themed fiction, stumbles upon a metal object which turns out to be a protrusion of a long-buried alien spacecraft. Once exposed, the spacecraft begins releasing an invisible, odorless gas into the atmosphere which gradually transforms people into beings similar to the aliens who populated the spacecraft. The transformation, or “becoming,” provides them with a limited form of genius which makes them very inventive, but does not provide any philosophical or ethical insight. Instead, it provokes psychotic violence (on the part of people like Becka Paulson, who kills her adulterous husband by fatally rewiring their television receiver, killing herself in the process) and the disappearance of a young boy, David Brown, whose older brother Hilly teleports him to another planet, referred to as Altair 4 by the Havenites.

The book’s central character is a poet and friend of Bobbi Anderson, named James Eric Gardener, who goes by the nickname “Gard”. He is a fundamentally decent person with left-leaning, liberal sensibilities who is apparently immune to the ship’s effects because of a steel plate in his head, a souvenir of a teenage skiing accident. Unfortunately, Gard is also an alcoholic, prone to binges which result in violent outbursts followed by lengthy blackouts. His relationship with Bobbi deteriorates as the novel progresses. She is almost totally overcome by the euphoria of “becoming” one with the spacecraft, but Gard increasingly sees her health worsen and her sanity disappear. The novel is filled with metaphors for the stranglehold of substance abuse, which King himself was experiencing at the time, as well as for the dangers of nuclear power and radioactive fallout (as evidenced by the physical transformations of the townspeople, which resemble the effects of radiation exposure), of unchecked technological advancement, and of the corrupting influence of power. Government agencies are uniformly portrayed as corrupt and totalitarian throughout the book, and Bobbi and Gard themselves are led into thinking that they can use the ship’s “power” as a weapon to thwart the authorities’ nefarious designs.

Seeing the transformation of the townspeople worsen, the torture and manipulation of Bobbi’s dog Peter, and people being killed or worse when they pry too deeply into the strange events, Gardener eventually manipulates Bobbi into allowing him into the ship. After he sees that Bobbi is not entirely his old friend and lover, he gives her one more chance before deciding to kill her with the same gun with which state trooper “Monster” Dugan had previously almost killed her in her back field. However, Bobbi is able to read Gardner’s mind after loading him up with Valium, and sends out a telepathic APB when she senses he has a gun. As a result, her death sends all the townspeople swarming to her place, intent on killing Gardener. Meanwhile, Gard accidentally drops the gun and shoots himself in the ankle. Ev Hillman, David and Hilly’s grandfather, helps Gardener escape into the woods (which soon catches fire from one of the Tommyknockers’ “toys”) in exchange for using the “new and improved” computers and what little “becoming” he underwent to save David Brown. Gardener enters the ship, activates it, and with the last of his life telepathically launches it into space, resulting in the eventual deaths of nearly all of the changed townspeople, but preventing the possibly disastrous consequences of the ship’s influence spreading to the outside world. Very shortly after (in the epilogue) members from the FBI, CIA, and “The Shop” invade Haven and take as many of the Havenites as possible, killing nearly a quarter of the survivors, and a few of the devices created by the altered people of Haven.

In the last pages, David Brown is discovered in Hilly Brown’s hospital room, safe and sound.

Influences

In his autobiography, On Writing, King attributes the basic premise to the short story “The Colour Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft.

The writer and critic Kim Newman has cited another influence on the novel, saying that in it King had “more or less rewritten Quatermass and the Pit,”[1] a 1950s BBC television science-fiction serial involving the excavation of a long-buried alien spacecraft, and the growing influence of the dormant machine on surrounding human beings. This influence was also picked up on in The Times newspaper’s review of the book on its release.[2]

Adaptations

A two-part television miniseries based on the novel was shown in 1993 on ABC, starring Jimmy Smits as Jim Gardner and Marg Helgenberger as Bobbi Anderson. The film differs from the novel by stating the aliens return to life by sucking life out of the Haven residents, instead of the Haven residents slowly transforming into aliens. Location filming took place near Auckland, New Zealand.

A 1997 episode of The Outer Limits, The Revelations of Becka Paulson was partly based on events in the novel and a 1984 short story of the same name.

NBC announced in July 2013 that they would be producing a new miniseries based on The Tommyknockers.[3][4][5]

Footnotes

  1. Newman, Kim in Producer – Tom Ware; Executive Producer – Michael Poole (2003-10-15). “The Kneale Tapes”. Timsehift. BBC Four.
  2. Hutchinson, Tom (1988-03-17). “Space horror; Review of ‘The Tommy Knockers’ by Stephen King”. The Times. 
  3. NBC Orders Hillary Clinton, ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ Stephen King’s ‘Tommyknockers,’ Plymouth Rock Miniseries
  4. Collins, Scott (July 27, 2013). “TCA press tour: NBC preps Hillary Clinton bio and ‘Tommyknockers. Los Angeles Times. 
  5. Goldman, Eric. “NBC Announces Remakes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Tommyknockers”. IGN.

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