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 amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and amazon.de 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.