Freitag, 28. Dezember 2012

“Shadows with Eyes: Six Tales of Crawling Horror”

By Fritz Leiber.
Ballantine Books. 1962. $0.35
Cover by Richard Powers

5 · A Bit of the Dark World · nv Fantastic Feb ’62
36 · The Dead Man · nv Weird Tales Nov ’50
62 · Power of the Puppets · ss Thrilling Mystery Jan ’42
84 · Schizo Jimmie · ss The Saint Detective Magazine Feb ’60
93 · The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity · ss F&SF Mar ’62
102 · A Deskful of Girls [Change War] · nv F&SF Apr ’58

                                                                         My copy.

This started out as a Face Book horror literature group entry that grew a wee bit too long. And since I’m a lazy shit, I decided to use it as this week’s blog entry! So you have my apologies that I’m not covering every story in the collection this time.

Some times it’s the little things that can make such a huge difference. I started reading Fritz Leiber’s anthology “Shadows with Eyes” last night. So far I’ve only made it through the first story (novelette) “A Bit of the Dark World” which originally appeared in the February 1962 issue of “Fantastic”. It’s a great story that reeks of modernity. Even though it was written over 50 years ago you can see that Mr. Leiber was going out of his way to write a cosmic weird tale that had absolutely no gothic or pulp trappings. The setting is the Pacific coastal mountains just an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles. We are introduced to our three main characters who are a Genre writer/Psychologist and a younger couple who are probably screen play writers for SF films. On the way to the Psychologist’s summer house in the mountains they discuss what place classic horror has in modern society since it seems that nothing can be considered unexplainable by modern science anymore. They also agree that since the world has become so busy and sophisticated that we don’t bother to look past the mundane horrors around us. The psychologist also postulates that since every scientific discipline has become so focused, cubby-holed and introverted that one discipline has no idea what the other is doing and no one seems to care that because of this situation there is no true “grand picture” of what reality is. Shortly before they reach the Psychologist’s house they all experience a phenomenon that appears to be both objective and subjective at the same time. Oddly the neighbour of the psychologist who is also riding along doesn’t seem to experience anything out of the normal. It’s also insinuated that the man is fairly mundane as far as sensitivity or imagination is concerned. This entire philosophical discourse takes place in the first few pages setting up everything else that comes. Damn! This is just a long short story that gives us more ideas in a few pages than most novels contain in hundreds of pages. It would take another 16 years, but Mr. Leiber has just set up the driving philosophical argument that is the basis to his 1977 novel “Our Lady of Darkness”. What we get here though is a wonderful story of truly cosmic weirdness/horror without any of the old clichéd trappings of the pulp tradition.
Read t if you can find it!

At the beginning I said that it’s the little things that can make such a huge difference.  “A Bit of the Dark World” is only 31 pages long and is divided into four chapters. Each chapter starts with a wonderful Epigraph which all fit beautifully into each chapter. The Epigraph to the fourth chapter almost brought me out of my bed though.

“But the third sister, who is also the youngest——! Hush, whisper whilst we talk of her! Her kingdom is not large, or else no flesh should live; but within that kingdom all power is hers. Her head, turreted like that of Cybele, rises almost beyond the reach of sight. She droops not; and her eyes rising so high might be hidden by distance; but, being what they are, they cannot be hidden; through the treble veil of crape which she wears, the fierce light of a blazing misery, that rests not for matins or for vespers, for noon of day or noon of night, for ebbing or for flowing tide, may be read from the very ground. She is the defier of God. She is also the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides. Deep lie the roots of her power; but narrow is the nation that she rules. For she can approach only those in whom a profound nature has been upheaved by central convulsions; in whom the heart trembles, and the brain rocks under conspiracies of tempest from without and tempest from within. Madonna moves with uncertain steps, fast or slow, but still with tragic grace. Our Lady of Sighs creeps timidly and stealthily. But this youngest sister moves with incalculable motions, bounding, and with tiger’s leaps. She carries no key; for, though coming rarely amongst men, she storms all doors at which she is permitted to enter at all. And her name is Mater Tenebrarum—Our Lady of Darkness.”


                                                              Thomas de Quincy in “Suspiria de Profundis

This quote had my inner geek jumping for joy! Not only is “Our Lady of Darkness” one of my all time favourite novels (It was the subject of one of myvery first postings.), but I’m also a huge fan of Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy of films. This short Epigraph added that extra drop of joy that brought the cup, which was my reading experience, to over flowing.

Thank you Mr. Leiber, where ever you are, for sharing so much joy and wonder with me all these many years!

Lastly, I hope that everyone survived Christmas, the Apocalypse and that everyone has a happy New Year!
Let's make 2013 a good one.
I'm still waiting for my flying car though!


Sonntag, 9. Dezember 2012

Clark Ashton Smith, the weird of it all!

  Clark Ashton Smith,

the weird of it all.

This week I want to discuss the works of Clark Ashton Smith. Mr Smith, as far as most contemporary readers are concerned, was the third member of “Weird Tales Magazine’s” Big Three. The other two are “Howard Phillips Lovecraft” and “Robert Ervin Howard”.  It’s unfortunate that Mr. Smith isn’t nearly as famous as his two friends. I think that his lack of wide spread fame is explained by several factors that he had no control over. I think that by not being as eccentric or as tragic a figure as Lovecraft and Howard has robbed his name of that certain romanticism that hovers over the reputations of HPL and REH. To put it bluntly, CAS just wasn’t the “character” that his two friends were. From all accounts even though Mr. Smith led a fairly reclusive life, it was a matter of choice and not because of any social inadequacies or awkwardness. There stories that he was quite the ladies man and lead a very energetic existence as far as relationships with the fairer sex goes.  In his introduction to “The Return of the Sorcerer: The Best of Clark Ashton smith” the great Gene Wolfe adds this statement….
     “At the time he wrote for the pulps, Smith lived in a cabin near an abandoned mine, far from any neighbour. The nearest town was Auborn, northeast of San Fancisco; Auborn is not large even today. There can be little doubt that strange lights shone in the windows of the cabin by night, and that strange sounds emanated from it. No source I have found reports these; but when a man like Smith lives in a place like that, he has visitors.”

Another big drawback for Smith is that he never managed to create a franchise like Howard’s “Conan” or Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos”.

I won’t bother going over Mr. Smith’s biography since it’s all online and so many people have done it so much better than I ever can or will. I’ll only point out that he was a famed poet before he became a writer, sculptor and painter. Instead, I want to speak about his writing.

Trying to describe the stories and style of CAS is like trying to describe the music of “Phillip Glass”. You know that its Glass music the second you hear it, but can you describe it to someone who hasn’t?  That’s not very easy is it?
 CAS had the most amazingly obtuse vocabulary that I’ve ever read. He supposedly memorized an entire dictionary as part of his “self education”. Just looking at his story titles makes you want to grab a dictionary. At least I need to at times. Here are some examples…

“The Dark Eidolon”
“The Seven Geases”
“Genius Loci”

Those are titles that make you have to scratch your head and wonder what they could be about. And it’s such audacious wordage such as this is one of the things that make Mr. Smith so wonderful to me.
His stories are not easy to describe. CAS heavily corresponded with HPL and REH, so there is some cross pollination of ideas among the 3. Each though was his own animal with his own distinct voice and vision. If I wanted to be lazy I would say that if you mixed HPL and REH in a blender, added a bit of erotic kinkiness and a strong does of sly humour than you might just come close to describing the style of Clark Ashton Smith.
He wrote predominately fantasies in a more or less “Sword & Sorcery” vein.  He wrote quite a bit of straight horror also a lot of early SF for the Gernsback Magazines.
The common thread in all of his stories was the pure weirdness of it all.  I would but it simply that Mr. Smith wrote “weird tales”. And I mean that this “weirdness” in smiths stories was much purer in his stories that in the stories of HPL and REH. Howard wrote what could be mostly described as Heroic fantasy/Swords and Sorcery and HPL mostly wrote SF disguised as horror. Regardless of what Mr. Smith was writing at the time, be it SF, Horror of quasi Sword & Sorcery, it could all be described as “weirdness” that was at a level that HPL and REH never achieved.

Mr. Smith created several story cycles/worlds that never managed to catch on like Howard’s  “Hyperborea” or Lovecraft’s “New England” did. These worlds were

“Poseidonis”, which was a remnant of sunken Atlantis.
“Xiccarph” a fantasy world circling a distant star.
“Hyperborea”, an ancient fantasy version of Greenland which is not to be confused with REH’s antediluvian fantasy home of “Conan”

And lastly my favourite,

“Zothique” is the original “Dying Earth” sub-genre series of the stories that inspired the “Dying Earth” series of “Jack Vance”. “The “Worlds End” series by Lin Carter and Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun” series of novels.

Zothique is a far future Earth where the sun is a dying “Red Star”, the continents have sunken and only “Zothique” remains as the last continent. In this far future our present history has been forgotten, new gods have been created, old gods have been reborn and the world has become a decadent place of danger and magic.

There is only one writer today who I think of who has an understanding of the “weird tale” that is on the level of Clark Ashton Smith. And that writer is “Darrell Schweitzer”.
Mr. Schweitzer has his own voice and vision that still manage to evoke a weirdness that parallels the stories of Mr. Smith. Please grab a copy of one Mr. Schweitzer’s fantasy novels of collections and you will see what I mean. They are true treasures and a joy to read.

Clark Ashton Smith is one of the few writers who enchant me as much today as they did almost 40 years ago when I discovered him through Ballantine’s “Adult Fantasy “series edited by the late great Mr. Lin Carter.

Here are two CAS passages that have burned themselves into my mind over the past decades. The first is the opening paragraph to his prose poem “The Abominations of Yondo” and the second is the closing paragraph to his SF story “The Monster of Prophecy”.

“The sand of the desert of Yondo is not as the sand of other deserts; for Yondo lies nearest of all to the world's rim; and strange winds, blowing from a pit no astronomer may hope to fathom, have sown its ruinous fields with the gray dust of corroding planets, the black ashes of extinguished suns. The dark, orblike mountains which rise from its wrinkled and pitted plain are not all its own, for some are fallen asteroids half-buried in that abysmal sand. Things have crept in from nether space, whose incursion is forbid by the gods of all proper and well-ordered lands; but there are no such gods in Yondo, where live the hoary genii of stars abolished and decrepit demons left homeless by the destruction of antiquated hells.”

“When the poet had communicated this bit of astronomical information to Ambiala, that the star Atana was his own native sun, and had also told her of his Ode to Antares, a most affecting scene occurred, for the empress encircled him with her five arms and cried out:

'Do you not feel, as I do, that we were destined for each other?'

Though he was a little discomposed by Ambiala's display of affection, Alvor could do no less than assent. The two beings, so dissimilar in external ways, were absolutely overcome by the rapport revealed in this comparing of poetic notes; and a real understanding, rare even with persons of the same evolutionary type, was established between them henceforward. Also, Alvor soon developed a new appreciation of the outward charms of Ambiala, which, to tell the truth, had not altogether inveigled him theretofore. He reflected that after all her five arms and three legs and three eyes were merely a superabundance of anatomical features upon which human love was wont to set a by no means lowly value. As for her opalescent coloring, it was, he thought, much more lovely than the agglomeration of outlandish hues with which the human female figure had been adorned in many modernistic paintings.

When it became known in Lompior that Alvor was the lover of Ambiala, no surprise or censure was expressed by any one. Doubtless the people, especially the male Alphads who had vainly wooed the empress, thought that her tastes were queer, not to say eccentric. But anyway, no comment was made: it was her own amour after all, and no one else could carry it on for her. It would seem, from this, that the people of Omanorion had mastered the ultra-civilized art of minding their own business.”

If you like this kind of writing then you can read much more at the CAS fan page “TheEldritch Dark”. They have the complete e-texts to his stories.

“TheReturn of the Sorcerer; The Best of Clark Ashton Smith” is still available/inprint.

“Penguin books” is planning a CAS collection of stories and poetry for 2013!!!

Ray Bradbury once said this about Mr. Clark Ashton Smith”

“Smith always seemed, to me anyway, a special writer for special tastes; his fame was lonely. Whether or nor it will ever be more than lonely, I cannot say. Every writer is special in some way, and those who are more than ordinarily special are either damned or lost along the way.” Knowing that they won’t damn Clark Ashton Smith, and that they are willing to recover what of his might be lost, gives his fans a sense of closeness to him."

I wish that this wasn’t such a rambling and disjointed post this time, but Mr. Smith’s stories are so unique, wonderful and special that I’m at a loss of words to even begin to describe them in the way they truly deserve. I just hope that that I have piqued your interest enough to take a look at the world of Clark Ashton Smith!

I was so deeply impressed by Mr. Smith's stories that I built a time machine during a my lunch breaks at work so I could visit "Zothique" myself! 

                                                    Don't try this at home kids!

Now check out some of these wonderful CAS covers from my collection.

Panther UK 1972. Cover by Bruce Pennington

                                                                      Panther UK 1974

       Ballantine Adult Fantasy.  June 1970. Cover By George Barr

Ballantine Adult Fantasy. July 1973.
 Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

Panther Uk. 1974

Pocket Books. August 1981. cover by Rowena Morrell

Gollancz UK. 2002. Cover by J.K. Potter

Necronomicon Press. June 1995


 Prime Books. 2009. Cover by Peter Bergting

 Take care and thanks for stopping by!!



Dienstag, 20. November 2012

Masters of Horror
Edited by Alden H. Norton
Berkley Books.  April 1968. $0.60

Introduction - Sam Moskowitz
Clemence Housman - The Werewolf

Bram Stoker - Dracula's Guest
Mary Shelley - The Transformation
Robert W. Chambers - The Yellow Sign
A. Merrit - The Women Of The Wood
H. R. Wakefield - Blind Man's Bluff
David H. Keller - A Piece Of Linoleum
Henry Kuttner - Before I Wake
Ray Bradbury - The Candy Skull
                                     My copy.


Here’s another wonderful collection edited by ”Alden H. Norton”. Mr. Norton as I’ve written before was once one of america’s top genre editors. He at one time or another edited fiction for “Argosy”, “Adventure”, “Astonishing Stories”, “Super Science Stories”, “Famous FantasticMysteries”, “Fantastic Novels” and “A. Merritts Magazine of Fantasy”.  So what we have here is an anthology edited by a man who was a master of his profession. It also doesn’t hurt that “Sam Moskowitz” lent a hand in suggesting stories. Mr. Norton edited all together 3 Horror anthologies for “Berkley. These were “Masters of Horror”, “Horror Times Ten”” and “Hauntings and Horrors: Ten Grisly Tales”. Here’s the link to my earlier post on “Horror Times Ten”…

This is simply a wonderful collection. The book keep me so entertained that it only took me two evening to finish it. There’s not a single bad or disappointing story in the entire book. I’m serious, it one the finest anthologies that I’ve read in ages. One other thing that makes this book so special is I originally purchased it from the ads in the back of “Famous Monsters of Filmland” over 40 years ago.
Here's the old Famous monster's ads.....

Now let’s take a look at those stories!

Clemence Housman - The Werewolf

     Housman’s “The Werewolf” is a great story about a mysterious and beautiful young woman who shows up one night at the door of an isolated northern European/Slavic farming estate during a massive snow storm. The son of the estates Mistress falls instantly in love with this beautiful young woman who is supposedly making a long trek alone to visit some distant relatives. The young son of one of the serfs is also enchanted by this young woman who places a kiss on his forehead as she takes her leave to continue her story. As she goes she promises that she will return. The Mistresses other son returns from a hunting expedition shortly after the young woman leaves and he’s terrified to see wolf tracks in the snow leading straight up to the Halls main entrance. When he learns of the mysterious visitor he quickly puts two and two together and realizes that this woman is a Werewolf!  A few days after her visit the serf’s small son mysteriously disappears and wolves are heard howling in the distance. The 2nd brother is present when the young woman returns a second time. He warns the others of the danger being presented by the young woman, but no one believe him and his brother accuses him of simply being jealous young woman only has eyes for him. This cause a rift between the (twin) brothers that eventually leads to open strife between the brothers. The “smart” brother takes it upon himself to follow the young woman after her next visit and what follows is literally a running battle with a deadly and tragic end.
This story hasn’t aged a bit considering that it was written during the 1890s. I enjoyed the “prose poem” style of narration and the believable dynamics of the twin brothers relationship.

Here’s the link to the online public domain version of this story…….

Bram Stoker - Dracula's Guest

     “Dracula’s Guest” was originally written as the opening chapter to Mr. Stokers “Dracula”. Because of the length of the novel it was decided to excise this opening chapter for brevity’s sake. The story covers the first stretch of Jonathan Harker’s trip to Transylvania. Staying outside of Munich near the German Alps, Jonathan takes a day trip and against the advice of his driver decides to visit an abandoned village in an accursed valley. We find out that maybe Mr. Harker should have followed the coachman’s advice as it turns out the village was abandoned due to a small vampire problem. Luckily for him a nearby detachment of Bavarian Cavalrymen had been alerted to his dilemma by a certain Count Dracula via a telegram sent to Jonathan’s current host. This is an entertaining and fast paced little story that I’ve heard of, but never read before.

Mary Shelley - The Transformation

     “The Transformation” is a nice little morality tale written by Mary “Frankenstein” Shelley. It tells the story of a spoiled, arrogant, profligate and ungrateful young nobleman who loses everything through his ingratitude towards those who care for him and his narcissistic ways. He end up be cast out by his adoptive family and risks losing the love of his fiancé when he meets up with a “Rumpelstiltskin”-like dwarf who promises him a chest full of treasure if the young nobleman agrees to exchange bodies for just one day. Of course the dwarf reneges on their agreement and tries to insinuate himself into the young mans life. The ending is not a surprise, but still very satisfying. This is a well written and enjoyable story even though was written back in the 1820s!

Robert W. Chambers - The Yellow Sign

     Robert W. Chambers was a very popular novelist back at the beginning of the 20th century, but is most famous today for his collection of horror stories called “The King in Yellow”. These stories were of great influence on H.P. Lovecraft. The thing that left the greatest impression on HPL and most modern readers was a common thread running through this series of very loosely interconnected stories. That thread was an imaginary theater piece called “The King in Yellow” which was supposedly so revealing of hidden truths that it drives the reader insane. The most widely reprinted scene from the play is…

"Cassilda's Song"
 Which comes from Act 1, Scene 2 of the play:

“Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.”

“The Yellow Sign” deals with an artist and his model who share recurring nightmare concerning the repulsive “grave worm like” night watchmen of the church and cemetery next door to the artist’s apartment house and who discover a  copy of “The King in Yellow” in the artist’s private library where one never existed before. I won’t reveal more. I can promise you thought that this story is simultaneously genteel and terrifying. It is genuinely a frightening proto-Cthulhu Mythos story. I works on every level.

The “Yellow sign” refers a mysterious symbol which represents the “King in Yellow”, his servants and followers. Anyone who possesses is subject to mind control and another Chamber’s story hints that the symbol is of extra-dimensional origin.

If you’re interested, “Wordsworth” books offer a lovely and affordable edition as part of their “Library of Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural” and is available from, and and abebooks. Here's the link.

A. Merrit - The Women of The Wood

     Abraham Merritt is one of my all time favourite Fantasists, and this is the first time I ever read one of his short stories. I own a collection which contains all of them, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. “The Women of the Wood” was a story that appeared in “Weird Tales” back in the 1920s after being rejected by “Argosy”. This was the only time they rejected one of his stories. Since he was their most popular author I can’t imagine why they did this. It was a big hit in “Weird Tales2 though. It deals with an aviator who is staying at an in located in the French Alps as he tries to heal his soul and body from the traumas of WWI. He ends up becoming the friend and protector of a group of Dryads living in a nearby grove of trees that are threatened by a local family. The local family wishes to destroy the grove because they see it as a sigh of the repression their forefathers suffered at the hands of the local noble’s centuries before. This is a nicely written story with on of the most morally ambivalent tales that I’ve ever read. I like to think that Mr. Merritt intended it that way. It can also be found in Mr. Merritt’s short story collection “The Fox Woman and other Stories”.

H. R. Wakefield - Blind Man's Bluff

“Blind Mans Bluff” is another goody. It’s a very short and even nastier story. A man purchases an abandoned country estate and goes out to it one evening so he can give it the once over before he moves in. He arrives as the sun is going down and once he enters the house he discovers that the lights aren’t functioning. While trying to find his way back to the front door he becomes terribly disoriented in the darkness and it seems the front door isn’t were it should be anymore.  And to make matters worse, something is in the darkness with him! Brrr!  To paraphrase what the late “Andy Griffith” once said, “mmh mmh! Good story!”

David H. Keller - A Piece of Linoleum

     This has to be the saddest story in the book. A man is driven to suicide by his wife’s somewhat questionable good intentions.  I’ve read that Dr. Keller didn’t have the highest regards for the fairer sex. It’s a nice sick story in spite of it’s low key misogyny.

Henry Kuttner - Before I Wake.

     Henry Kuttner was a great hack pulpist before he blossomed as a collaborator with his wife “C.L. Moore”. This shows that he was already on his way out of the pukp ghetto before he met his wife. Mr. Kuttner was also a mentor to “Ray Bradbury” and did some polishing up on some of Mr. Bradbury’s early stories that had been rejected.  I find that so interesting since this story predates Ray’s start as a writer yet it reads like a mixture of “Ray Bradbury” and “John Steinbeck”.
     “Before I wakes” deals with Joe, the young son of an immigrant Portuguese fisherman living on Florida’s Gulf coast. Young Joe is a dreamer who things that all lands beyond the horizon must be places of magic and beauty. His father wishes to get him signed aboard a ship as soon a possible to banish these foolish ideas from joe’s head.  For good or bad, young Joe rescues a toad that his father tries to crush while coming home drunk one night. It seems that this toad just might be a Witch’s “Familiar” who outlived his mistress.  Joe ends up being given the choice to either live in the land of his dreams or to remain in the mundane world of every day reality. This is another lovely story that is both melancholy and satisfying.

Ray Bradbury - The Candy Skull

“The Candy Skull” is an early “Ray Bradbury” story that had never been reprinted before. It’s a precursor to Mr. Bradbury’s later “romanticized Mexico” stories. This is a straight up murder mystery with a wonderful Mexican setting that takes place deep in Mexico on “dia de los Muertos”. That’s Mexico’s “Day of the Dead”. This is a very good story which is made even more enjoyable by the fact that the last time I read it was about 40 years ago.

Like I said at the beginning, this has to be one of the very best anthologies that I’ve read in a long time. To me, Mr. Alden is a world class anthologist right up there with “Robert Arthur” and “August Derleth”.  Get this book if you can find a copy. It’ll be well worth the effort.

I have two more things to bring up.

The first of them is that “Wordsworth Books” publishes what they call “The Library of Tale of Mystery and the Supernatural”. This series is a labour of love which has reprinted collection by many extremely hard to find writers. These are great affordable (cheap) paperback collections by such authors as “H. P. Lovecraft”, “Robert E. Howard”, “E.F. Benson”, “Henry S. Whitehead”, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”, “William Hope Hodgson”, “Robert W. Chambers”, “Sheridan Le Fanu” and many many other wonderful story tellers.
     It seems that “Wordsworth” may be discontinuing the series due to lack of ales. That would be a horrible shame. This series is a labour of love that deserves your support. Most of the tales can’t be found anywhere else. These are also very attractive and affordable trade paperbacks. You can check out “Wordsworth” homepage here. All of these titles are available from “Amazon” and “Abebooks” around the world.
So please do check them out and do your self a huge favour by purchasing a few of these fantastic collections!

Lastly I’ve been asked to announce that the “The Ethereal Gazette Presents:Shadow of the Nightmare” is accepting short story submissions for the same named horror anthology.

Well that’s it for this week. I’ll try to post a bit more frequently aswinter moves in and I’ll have more time to write these posts.

Take care and thanks for stopping by!


Sonntag, 4. November 2012

"Creeps by Night"
Edited by Dashiell Hammett
Four Square Books.
February 1966

                           My copy of the UK "four Square" edtion.

                                                         The US edtion from "Belmont"
Hi folks, this week I’m covering “Creeps by Night”, which was edited by the great “Dashiell Hammett”. This is the companion paperback “The Red Brain” which I covered several weeks ago. Together these 2 collections completely reprint the original 1932 hardback, “Creeps by Night”. I love the cover to this collection. Sadly, I can’t decipher the artist’s signature even with the use of a magnifying glass. Even though it’s slightly misleading as far as the contents go. I still love the whole haunted house horror imagery. I know this would have appealed to me greatly when I was just a youngster. But then again, even today, I still find it extremely attractive.
     What I especially liked about this collection is that even though these are “horror” stories, they are also very “suspenseful” horror stories. I’m assuming that this reflects Mr. Hammett’s sensibilities and or tastes as editor.

A Rose for Emily - William Faulkner
The House - Andre Maurois
The Spider - Hanns Heinz Ewers
The Witch's Vengeance - W B Seabrook
Mr. Arcularis - Conrad Aiken
The Strange Case of Mrs Arkwright - Harold Dearden
The King of the Cats - Stephen Vincent Benet
Beyond the Door - Paul Suter
Perchance to Dream - Micheal Joyce
A Visitor from Egypt - Frank Belknap Long

Now let's take a look at those stories!

A Rose for Emily - William Faulkner
     Back in 1932 “A rose for Emily” was a new story that hadn’t been reprinted a million times. This was even included in one of my high School literature books. That’s how famous it was at one time. This is a great story that has all the elements that made Faulkner so famous. You have a “Southern Gothic”, small town scandals and gossip, fallen aristocracy,  insanity, murder and even a strong whiff of necrophilia!  In short, it has all the makings for great young adult reading!

The House - Andre Maurois
     “The House” is only 3 pages long and is more of a vignette than an actual story. A woman has a recurring dream of visiting a country estate where she is warned by the people living there that it’s haunted. Years later she discovers the house of her dreams with a result that is so obvious that reading more than the first few paragraphs is a waste of time.

The Spider - Hanns Heinz Ewers
     This is the English translation from the original German. I’ve never read it in German but this seems to be a marvellous translation. A young student rents a room in a boarding house. Upon discovering that all of the previous tenants have met mysterious deaths he cons the police in letting him have the room rent free upon the condition that he discovers the source of the mysterious deaths. He develops a bizarre relationship with a beautiful young woman whose rooms are across the street from his. The never meet face to face and only communicate through hand signals. This has to be one of the creepiest stories that I ever read.  You get to experience the young mans descent into obsessive madness as he becomes drawn ever deeper and deeper into the silent games he’s plays with the young woman across the way as the simply sit across from each other in their window day after day. This is a wonderful story.

The Witch's Vengeance - W B Seabrook
     A young Englishman on vacation in the French Pyrenees falls in love with the grand daughter of a reputed witch. He convinces this love to leave her grandmother which makes the old woman extremely angry. The “witch” then puts a curse upon the young man which has immediate results. His best friend  then goes about confronting the witch in an attempt to lift the curse.
Mr. Arcularis - Conrad Aiken
     This is probably a very enjoyable story as long as you have never seen the film “Jacobs Ladder” or the “Twilight zone” episode “"A Stop at Willoughby". I figure that back in the early 30s that this was a very original twist ending. A man recovering from a serious operation goes on an ocean cruise to regain his health. He starts to have episodes of sleep walking that seem to be leading him ever closer to the ships hold where a coffin and its occupant are being taken back to Ireland of burial. Mr. Arccularis has the feeling that something terrible will happen once he does reach the ships hold while sleep walking. Hmmm, I wonder what that could be.

The Strange Case of Mrs Arkwright - Harold Dearden
     Mrs. Arkwright is the widow of a horrible man who caused her to lose her baby. It seems that her first husband even died on the night that she lost the child during childbirth. She is now remarried but begins to suffer from terrible nightmares. He new husband convinces her to visit a psychiatrist to get to the roots of her nightmares. We then get about 5 pages of the psychiatrist analyzing the symbolism in her dreams. It seems they are based on her guilt over losing her child and her hatred towards he first husband. This seems to solve things nicely and to celebrate the newly married couple have the psychiatrist down for the Christmas holidays after they have moved into the estate that Mrs. Arkwright inherited from her late first husband. Over the holidays Mrs. Arkwright’s nightmares begin again and this time they are accompanied by somnambulism. All this is witnessed by the visiting psychiatrist. Suddenly her nightmare takes on a whole new meaning once the doctor sees what Mrs. Arkwright does in her dead husband’s bedroom while sleep walking. This is a nice story, but after reading this king of stuff for over 40 years the ending wasn’t that much of a surprise.

The King of the Cats - Stephen Vincent Benet
     This one reads more like a children’s story than something Dashiell Hammett would pick out for a horror anthology. But who knows. Maybe he thought we need a break from all of the gloom and doom in the previous stories.
     A young man falls in love with a “feline like” Russian Princess in exile in America. He has great hope for their relationship until he receives competition for her affections in the form of a French conductor who actually has the tail that he conducts with. This is a cute little fantasy story dealing with how the young man attempts to do away with his rival. This is also the lightest story in the entire collection.

Beyond the Door - Paul Suter
     I liked “Beyond the door” very much. A young man inherits his late Uncle’s house which he promptly moves into.  His Uncle had been found down in an uncovered well that was located in the cellar. By reading his Uncle’s diary the young man learns that the old man had been haunted/hunted at night by something that constantly tried to break into his chambers. This all started shortly after one of the servant girls moved out and away without telling anyone. Hmmmm. I wonder if there is any connection.

Perchance to Dream - Micheal Joyce
     This is another odd story. I liked it very much though. This one is pure psychological horror. I man visits his estranged sister after having not seen her for many years. She live in a small town and is married to the local chemist/pharmacist who has strange ideas on how to treat their son illness. It seem that daddy is a “sort of do it yourself” medical researcher. The brother tries to get his sister to leave her husband and to take their son with her. Sadly the pharmacist and his axe have other ideas. What impressed me so much with this story is the feeling of complete oppression the woman lives under and her inability, thanks to constant abuse from her husband, to take a concrete measures to help herself and her son. The relationship of abused and abuser in the story has a ring of truth to it. It has to be the most unpleasant and surprising story in the book.

A Visitor from
Egypt - Frank Belknap Long
     This one is a pretty good pulp horror story from Mr. Long. There’s nothing subtle or psychological about this one. No siree!  A museum curator receives a visit from a famous archaeologist who due to some skin affliction is wrapped up in coat, gloves and scarves. He is extremely interested in the museum’s newest acquisition from Egypt. It turns out that the bones belong to the most favoured of the god “Osiris’s” priests. And the curator learns that his visitor is not who he claims to be and that it’s not wise to piss of the old gods. This story is straight up pulp horror and a perfectly horrible “upbeat2 ending to the collection.

All in all “Creeps by Night” is a very strong collection that relies more on suspense building rather than “in your face” pulp horror. It makes for a nice change of pace. Not that I have anything against “in your face” pulp horror!
Thanks for stopping by and take care.




Sonntag, 28. Oktober 2012

Abraham Merritt, 
a forgotten master of Fantasy and lost world adventure.


Hi folks!

     I’m going a tad bit off topic this week in covering an author who is not a writer of horror stories. I figure though, that since horror and fantasy are kissing cousins you’ll all give me a bit of leeway.
     What got me going in this direction is that a few weeks ago I made one of the best deals that I’ve ever made on Ebay. I won a complete set of “A. Merritt” books published by Avon Books back in the 1970s. I paid $15.15 for the set and they are all in fine condition. I already had 5 of these editions but I won’t complain about having a few doubles at this price.
     “Abraham Merritt” was a big deal who was continuously in print from the 1920s up until the beginning of the 1980s. I read that as of 1981 he had sold more than 10,000,000 copies! Over 5,000,000 of these were in Avon editions alone.
And this is from a man who only wrote on the side and who’s complete output is only 81/2 novels and a few short stories.
     Mr. Merritt is most well known for his fantasy/lost world adventure stories. To be lazy, I could describe his writing and stories as Edgar Rice Burroughs meets Robert E. Howard meets C.L. Moore meets H. P. Lovecraft meets Leigh Brackett. It’s not that he was inspired by these folks. All of these esteemed writers, aside from Burroughs, were partially inspired and influenced by Mr. Merritt. His stories appear at first look to be simple pulp escapism. This is not the case though. He elevated fantasy fiction up to the level of literature with out ever sacrificing the amount of entertainment that they delivered. Even when describing lost worlds, brave heroes and heroines, fantastic beings and creatures, tragedy, excitement and lastly, grand adventure did Mr. Merritt ever condescend to his readers. This stuff is truly pulp goodness written by an adult for adults. His writing is dense, but hat’s what makes it so rewarding. During his lifetime, Mr. Merritt was the highest paid newspaper editor in America and only wrote as a side profession. His stories and novels were serialized in the highest paying fiction markets of the day. This was from the late 19-teens up into the 1930s. The later reprints of these stories in book form were also world wide best sellers. I wish I knew why these wonderful stories fell out of grace with new young readers. Something happened to the reading tastes a little over 30 years ago that seems to have resigned them to the dust bin of genre writing. I’ve seen some bloggers and reviewers complain that the writing is too dense or that the stories are too old fashioned. I can’t pass judgement on the density of the writing since this is the kind of stuff I learned to read from. Of course these stories are old fashioned and slightly sexist. They were written in another world than ours. That doesn’t make them bad or poor. It makes them different. It seems that many younger readers are quick to pass judgement on anything that doesn’t fit the politically correct, post modern narrative. I think that it’s their loss though. I wish that I was talented enough of a writer to even begin to describe how powerful and moving these novels are. Especially “The Face in the Abyss”, ”The Moon Pool”, “Dwellers in the Mirage” and “The Metal Monster”.  These novels are fantasy adventure on a level that wasn’t seen before or since. That’s why the man sold 10 million+ books!  I’ll be adding some links to his writings that are still in print at the bottom of this post.

Now let’s talk about this last series of Merritt books from Avon. Avon Publishing was practically the sole publisher of Mr. Merritt’s writings. Avon published the paperbacks from the late 1940s all the way up until the early 1980s. They even published an “A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine” for a few years. Avon claims to have sold more than 5,000,000 Merritt editions. I guess Mr. Merritt was good business for Avon.
     The editions that Avon published during the 1970s were that rare and wonderful combination of a great author, great cover artists and perfect book design. That is a very special thing when it happens. These volumes all had a wonderful uniform look that made them recognizable from a mile away to even reader with poor eyesight.  They all sport Mr. Merritt’s name at the top in a huge arch with the title directly underneath in a large oval field. This is all in the foreground of some of the most amazing cover art that I’ve ever seen. 2 covers were done by “Stephen Fabian”. Two were done by “Rodney Mathews”. Sadly, I don’t’ know who did the other four. It’s a terrible shame that who ever painted the cover to “Dwellers in the Mirage” didn’t get credit in the book. I find that every one of these covers is so fitting to the subject matter that it is obvious that who ever was in charge of this series took their work very seriously. I think that it’s awful that you don’t see this kind of care being put into books these days. The layout of these covers alone is art in itself.

So in closing I want you to take a look at these covers, drink in their beauty, and appreciate the care, time and talent that went in to putting the series together. We will never see this kind of publishing artistry ever again.

UPDATE: 3 November
Mark Cannon of Canberra Australia sent me the following information....
"British artist Patrick Woodroffe did the "Dwellers in the Mirage" and "Seven Footprints to Satan" covers. I have a UK edition of "Dwellers" which also uses this cover. He also did the covers for Futura editions of "Satan" (with a different and much wilder cover) and "Burn Witch, Burn", and another edition of "The Ship of Ishtar".

Woodroffe illustrated huge number of British SF< Fantasy & Horror paperbacks, along with record covers, in the 1970s."


Here is the E-text to the fantasy/SF round robin that Mr. Merritt contributed to. It's a 20th century who's who of the fantastic!

 Take care and thanks for stopping by.


Here's the scans of the editions in my collection.
And thanks to Bill Crider for turning me onto "Photoscape".
Now I can do these cool wrap around scans.

Cover By Stephen Fabian.

Another Fabian cover.

Rodney Matthews!

More Rodney Matthews!

A lovely Ken Barr cover. the original recently sold for $970!

Patrick Woodroffe

Les Edwards

   Another one by Patrick Woodroffe!   Aint this one of the most amazing things that you've ever seen!

Here are my other Merritt's in my collection. These are nice but come no where near the later editions as far as beauty goes.

Here's some links Merritt books that are still in print!

"The Moon Pool"
"The Metal Monster"
"The Ship of Ishtar"

The film "Devil Doll" was based on Mr. Merritt's "Burn Witch! Burn!"