H.P. Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales: Discover the Roots of Modern Horror! Paperback – 14 Jun 2007
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About the Author
Douglas Anderson is one of the world's best known and most respected fantasy scholars and anthologists.
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Many of the books contain Lovecraftian themes - evil magic/monsters beyond time, rash explorations into the arcane, doomed explorers up against a hidden force of evil that is picking them off one-by-one (the classic slasher scenario).
Starting the collection is the classic "Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allen Poe that nearly everyone should know, but here it is anyway. There are three tales by the Welsh weird writer Arthur Machen - "Novel of the Black Seal", with its tale of forest worlds inhabited by mysterious spirits, "Novel of the White Power", a strange tale of diabolical poisoning with gruesome consequences, and "the White People", his masterpiece, which explores folk myth themes in epistolary fashion (a popular structure for fiction of the time). "The Suitable Surroundings" by Ambrose Bierce is a tough-to-follow tale of meta-ghost fiction that somehow involves a murder. "The Death of Halpin Frayser", also by Bierce, is a strange murder mystery. "The Yellow Sign" by Robert W Chambers is about a painter corrupted by an evil influence. Mr James' "Count Magnus" by is a creepy tale of a corrupt old village patriarch, long dead - or is he? "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood is a strange "man vs diabolical forces in nature" story, set creepily on an island in the Danube that is slowly being washed away. Wow! MP Shiel's "The House of Sounds" is a tale so close to "The Fall of the House of Usher" that it's hard to understand why Lovecraft admired it so. "The Moon Pool" is a "mystic archaeologists" tale of a man who takes a mission to the South Pacific and stumbles arrogantly over evil beyond his (or his party's) understanding. "Seaton's Aunt" by Walter de la Mare is a harmless ghost story about a man who tries to understand more about his friend's family curse, and in particular his evil, wizened aunt.
Among the "popular" tales there's "Beyond the Door" by Paul Suter, another epistolary tale about an old insect collector going mad in his lonely house. "The Floor Above" by ML Humphreys is another of those "seeing a lost friend after a long time and finding out that he's bewitched" tales that also has a bit of the Twilight Zone to it. "The Night Wire" seems to be the best-crafted short story of the lot, with its twist ending, and could have easily appeared in any collection of short, gripping short stories. "The Canal" by Everil Worrell is a strange tale of a strange man who falls in love with a ghoul (the author is a woman). "Bells of Oceana" by Aurthur J Burks is a "malicious creatures at sea" mystery tale, whileJohn Martin Leahy's "In Amudsen's Tent" is set among ghouls in the Antarctic. Nice.
- "The Novel Of The Black Seal" by Arthur Machen: Machen was my great discovery in reading this collection. It's amazing to me that his work is seldom discussed anymore except amongst horror aficionados - like Lovecraft, Machen strikes me as a writer of brilliance who just happened to write horror fiction. "The Novel Of The Black Seal" has to be one of the eeriest stories I've ever read, centering around the notion that the legendary "little people" of the British Isles have been (to quote Machen) "called... 'fair' and 'good' precisely because [our ancestors] dreaded them, so they dressed them up in charming forms, knowing the truth to be the very reverse." If you enjoy stories like Lovecraft's "The Whisperer In Darkness", this one will likely knock you out of your chair.
- "The Yellow Sign" by Robert W. Chambers: In which we encounter an early use of what was to become a standard Lovecraftian trope: the Evil Grimoire. The last several paragraphs of this story are uniquely disturbing in a way that's difficult to describe - I found myself re-reading them several times, trying (unsuccessfully, I'm afraid) to pin down how Chambers got his effects. A really good one.
- "The White People" by Arthur Machen: I'm actually not that fond of hyperbole, but it seems to be hard to avoid in describing Machen's work; this might be the most accomplished English-language horror story I've ever read. I described it on my blog as "Ulysses (Penguin Modern Classics) meets Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Unabridged Classics) in Hell", but that only begins to hint at the story's aura of unearthly dread. It's a shame that more critics and scholars aren't aware of this one.
- "The Floor Above" by M.L. Humphreys - a story of enormous subtley, originally published in the pulp magazine WEIRD TALES. I actually had to read this one a couple of times to figure out exactly what was going on.
Well, if you've read this far, you'll probably find this worth picking up, even if you already own a couple of the stories in other volumes. Lovecraft fans will, of course, find it particularly interesting, but I'd recommend it to anyone who'd like a demonstration of how horror fiction can refrain from explicit violence and be all the more effective because of it.
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