Sonntag, 6. Mai 2012

Ghosts and Things (Eleven weird tales of the ghostly and the supernatural)


Ghosts and Things“
(Eleven weird tales of the ghostly and the supernatural)
Berkley “Medallion” Books.
 4th printing. August 1965. $0.50
Edited by Hal Cantor.
                                          My Copy.
    



CONTENTS

"The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" by Henry James;
"Caterpillars" by E. F. Benson;
"Markheim" by R. L. Stevenson;
"The Ghost Ship" by Richard Middleton;
"The Novel of the White Powder" by Arthur Machen;
"Night Doings at 'Dead man’s: A Story That Is Untrue" by AmbroseBierce;
"Running Wolf" by Algernon Blackwood;
"The Music on the Hill" by Saki;
"Phantas" by Oliver Onions;
"The House" by Andre Maurois;
"The Lovely House" by Shirley Jackson

“Ghost and Things” is one of those classic collections that entered my awareness back in the early 1970s by way of the ads for Horror paperbacks that they used to have in the back pages of “Famous Monsters of Filmland”. They sold tons of cool stuff through “Captain Company” which was “Warren Publishing’s” in-house mail order firm. Sometimes those ads were better than the main contents of Jim Warren's magazines.
And take a look at that amazing cover. I can’t find it credited anywhere, but that just has to be the work of the great “Richard Powers”. And even though I’m more partial to the covers of “Paul Lehr”, the great thing about the covers done by Mr. Powers is that you could recognize his work from all the way across the bookstore, yard sale or rummage sale. And if you recognized Mr. Powers then you also knew that it was a SF or Horror paperback from the late 1950s or early 1960s. My copy is the 4th printing from 1965, but it originally came out in 1962 at the height of Mr. Power’s career.
     I just love to take this book down from time to time just to admire the amazing cover. It’s so colourful and eerie at the same time. It shouts “old school Halloween” at you. I don’t know if Mr. Powers read the stories first, but the cover does match the mood set by the stories extremely well. Most of the stories in the collection are from much earlier in the century and even late in the last. (The 20th and 19th ones respectively that is.). I just can’t figure out if that is brains oozing out of the dead guy’s skull or the just buried him with an awful rug. I also love the text style used for the cover.  I guess that you could call the cover style “subdued flamboyance”. What ever it is, it sure as hell tripped my trigger. That’s what I love most about these old covers. They were done by artists and not graphics designers. They knew how to compete for you half a buck.

Now let’s take a look at some of the stories.

"The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" by Henry James;
     I hate to have to admit that this is the only thing that I’ve by Mr. James, even though I have seen “The Innocents” several times which is based on “The turn of the Screw”.
This is a neat little story of a man who marries the sister of his late wife and ends up breaking a promise to his first wife on her death bead concerning a trunk full of dresses. Needless to say, the promise gets broken and “hilarity ensues”. Ok, not hilarity, but rather revenge from the great beyond. It’s a good story, even if only a complete idiot wouldn’t see the end coming.

"Caterpillars" by E. F. Benson;
     Oh God! Oh God! Oh God, how I love this story. E. F. Benson was one of the greatest ghost story writers ever in any century or language. He is much better known in the UK even though he shows up fairly regularly in US anthologies. The great news for fans of this stuff is that “Words Worth Editions” is bringing out an affordable omnibus collection this summer!
Anyways, “Caterpillars” is about a plague/curse/manifestation of what else, caterpillars, which are actually the personification of something much more deadly than nasty, furry little worms. I’d give this story 3 Thumbs up if the Doctor hadn’t corrected things right after my birth. So we’ll just have to settle for 2 thumbs.

"Markheim" by R. L. Stevenson;
      This is a good one that impressed the hell out of me when I was young. A man turns to evil deeds by committing a murder which might have been influenced by a magic mirrors he was considering purchasing from an antiques dealer. He gets confronted by a supernatural entity who could very well be the Devil. He man tries to justify his actions to this strange person who ends up showing the murderer the he has become an evil man and the only way he can save his skin is to commit another act of murder. The man tells the stranger that even though he has turned his back on goodness and decency he still has no love for evil either. He then decides that he can only partially redeem himself by not committing the 2nd murder and by turning himself in to the authorities. This last act of goodness seems to please the strange whom we assume to be the Devil. So maybe he was an agent of evil after all. That is a question which remains open and adds to the enjoyment of this story.

"The Novel of the White Powder" by Arthur Machen;
      “Arthur Machen” deserves an entire blog entry which I don’t have time for. Needless to say, you should go out and find anything that he has written. Mr. Machen was a HUGE influence on H. P.Lovecraft. Horrible transformations, hidden races and forbidden knowledge were specialties of Mr. Machen. You won’t be disappointed. “White Powder” is fairly short for a Machen story, but still delivers 100% in the creepiness department. Without giving too much away, all I’ll say is don’t always blindly trust you pharmacist/chemist. Professional incompetence can be deadly. Here’s an excerpt from the story.

 “I looked, and a pang of horror seized my heart as with a white-hot iron. There upon the floor was a dark and putrid mass, seething with corruption and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor solid, but melting and changing before our eyes, and bubbling with unctuous oily bubbles like boiling pitch. And out of the midst of it shone two burning points like eyes, and I saw a writhing and stirring as of limbs, and something moved and lifted up what might have been an arm. The doctor took a step forward, raised the iron bar and struck at the burning points; he drove in the weapon, and struck again and again in the fury of loathing.”


"Running Wolf" by Algernon Blackwood;

     You can never go wrong with an “Algernon Blackwood” story. His stories that take place in the Canadian wilderness are favourites of mine. He was a journalist as well as an author and lived quite a while in Canada before returning to England. His stories have such a strong sense of place which gives them that extra thrill of believability. His famous story “The Willows” is another fine example of his ability to make a location come alive. And it takes place on a small island in the Danube. “Running Wolf” uses native Indian lore to such good effect that it reminded me immediately of the similar stories that “Manly Wade Wellman” wrote.  “Running Wolf” is, I think, one of Mr. Blackwood’s most benevolent stories. Compare it to “The Wendigo” and you’ll see what I mean. Here are the links to both stories on-line.


And here's "The Willows"

     Well, that’s it for this week. I’m running out of time and don’t want to wear out my welcome. But before I go, take a look at these two books that arrived in the mail this week. These are excellent and typical examples of “Richard Powers” cover art.



Take care and thanks for stopping by!

Doug

Kommentare:

  1. I found a copy of this at my grandparents' house one summer. I still remember how creepy I thought "Caterpillars" was.

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  2. Hi Keith,
    that's the very best way to discover this kind of stuff. I received so many old paperbacks from my Grand Father back in the early 1970s. That's how I discovered Van Vogt, Burroughs and Bloch. Caterpillars definitely gets under the skin. It actualy gave my bad dreams as a kid.

    take care.
    Doug

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  3. I have this book and it so happens I've been reading it too! Yes, the cover is Richard Powers and I agree with you that it is wonderfully evocative of Halloween and old school horror. He did a lot of horror pb anthology covers in addition to the SF work he's more famous for. Thanks for the entertaining post!

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    1. Hi Huey, glad that you enjoyed the posting. I only own about 5 or 6 Horror paperbacks with Powers covers compared to the dozens of SF I own with his work.. I have one of the oooold "Zacherly" antholgies with a Richard Powers cover. I think(?) his horror work was mostly restricted to the Ballantine horror Series of the early 60s. One of his last covers was the hardback edition of Bloch's "Strange Eons" that was published by Sturat Davis Schiff's "Whispers Press" in the early 80s.

      Take care.
      Doug

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