Dienstag, 20. November 2012

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

Contents:
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!

Doug

Kommentare:

  1. Some of those old books are worth picking up just for the ads - thanks for sharing!

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  2. Your more than welcome Bob! It's nice to know that other people enjoy this stuff too!

    take care.
    Doug

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  3. p.s.
    The ads are from "Famous Monsters of Filmland".

    Doug

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