Monday, 4 July 2016

The House of the Nightmare and Other Eerie Tales

Kathleen Lines (editor)
Puffin Books

This is one of a fairly large selection of books that have sat patiently on my shelf waiting their turn in the sun.  The hideous cover art was always going to work against this one but a quick gander inside revealed a pretty interesting contents page.  There are a few stories here that are pretty ubiquitous anthology fare and a few authors that I was already very familiar with but what really caught my eye was one particular name that's been on my wants list for years, Walter de la Mare, but we'll come to him in due course.

The book presents some 26 stories ranging from the late 19th to the late 1960s when the book was originally published - this Puffin reprint is 1972.

As I said there are a couple of anthology staples here M.R. James' 'A School Story', William Croft Dickinson's 'cursed family of 'The Return of the Native', W.W. Jacob's unlucky 'The Monkey's Paw' and the exemplary folk horror of Saki's 'Gabriel-Ernest', but these are only 4 amongst 26 so there is much that is new and unfamiliar waiting to be discovered.

W.W. Jacobs
Opening the book is a story by the American writer Edward Lucas White which has provided the collection with it's name.  The story itself is a pretty run of the mill haunted house story that has a better title than narrative.  It's followed by 'The Hauntings at Thorhallstead' which tells an old Icelandic saga about an angry spirit and the hero who defeats him.  It's one of two folktales included here, the other being the English folktale 'Mr Fox', and is the least satisfying thing here.  Folktales are rarely narratively satisfying and this one is very much the case in point as bad stuff happens for no reason and is put right but in a way that allows it to carry on regardless for no good reason. 'Mr Fox' on the other hand is a much more satisfying tale of macabre events and righteous retribution.

Elizabeth Bowen
The aforementioned William Croft Dickinson makes another appearance with an attempt at a more modern sort of ghost story featuring a computer and a set of numbers, the significance of which you'll be able to guess fairly easily.  Elizabeth Bowen offers up a spiteful tale of society girls whilst L.M. Boston tells a Jamesian tale of lost antiquities.

Ambrose Bierce makes a fairly customary appearance in one of these anthologies with the especially vindictive little tale of 'John Bartine's Watch', a short but macabrely satisfying tale of curiosity killing the cat's friend and 'A Diagnosis of Death' a four page short with little to recommend it.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch provides an odd and folky tale of a drunken bet, soggy ghosts, detached body parts and unrequited fancies which, after an odd opening that sent me online to look up 'eggy hot' proved to be an enjoyable read as did E.F. Bozman's 'The Red Cane'; I do like a happy ghost story.

Walter de la Mare
And so we arrive at the Walter de la Mare story, 'Bad Company'.  de la Mare has been heading my must read list for a few months now after I finally managed to track down a good selection of Robert Aickman stories.  A first encounter is always important and this proved auspicious.  It certainly wasn't as odd as I was expecting with its tale of a wandering spirit and post-mortem remorse but it was beautifully written and very satisfying in it's simplicity of purpose.

Whilst we're on the topic of simple next up is Henry Cecil's bar-room anecdote of fugitives and mountain rescue.  It's an unoffensive little tale brought to life by the simple humour of it's ending.  This is followed by the vaguely unsatisfying 'The Amulet' by Thomas Raddall which ends up as a bit of a tedious fantasy story and leads into A.J. Alan's murderous and  unfunny 'The Hair'.

The fiction section of the book ends on a high with 'The Earlier Service' by Margaret Irwin where a young girl is terrorised by ancient events at her father's church.

The book finishes with several supposedly real short encounters by authors.  They are all well presented  and readable but truthfully I have little interest in 'true life' ghost stories and only a day later I can't remember a single one of them which I think speaks volumes about both them and me.

Under that pig ugly cover this proved to be a most readable collection and an engaging selection of the known and the obscure.


  1. I owned this book as a child, and I love the cover art - but then I do have a thing for early seventies post-psychedelic illustration. Happy times!

    1. hi Christopher. my shelves are groanig with them and i'm a huge fan of this era Puffin cover art normally but this one is a big no for me. it's the cheesy bat wings and two faces either side of the house that ruin it for me. just awful.
      the book though was fab.