Friday, 21 October 2016

Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery

Various authors
Puffin Books

"Good evening, and welcome to Alfred Hitchock's Ghostly Gallery..." So begins the introduction to this marvellous book for young readers presented by none other than the master of the macabre himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Following his invitation to "browse through my gallery", readers will find ghoulish ghost stories "designed to frighten and instruct" -- instruct, that is, about the strange existence ghosts must endure! Stories include Miss Emmeline Takes Off by Walter Brooks; The Valley of the Beasts by Algernon Blackwood; The Haunted Trailer by Robert Arthur; The Truth About Pyecraft by H.G. Wells; The Isle of Voices by Robert Louis Stevenson; and more. Parents and kids can't help but chuckle at Hitchcock's comment, "I don't want to appear disloyal to television, but I think reading will be good for you."

Bit of a classic this one.  It's one of those books that loads of folks seem to have owned back in their youth.  I didn't, I wasn't a horror book reader as a kid, films yes, books no.  I was all about the sci-fi books and it's only in the last few years that I've got into exploring these old horror folks which is one of the things that make these 1970s Puffin (and the like) reprints such a draw - the other reason is I'm a sucker for the wonderfully lurid cover art.

A.M. Burrage
So, as you'd probably expect from a book with that title this one is heavy on the big names but also has a pleasing selection of stories that aren't common fodder in anthologies.

After a short and silly introduction by the man with his name on the top the book opens properly with a story I've seen pop up in a few places, A.M. Burrage's 'The Waxwork' where a reporter endeavours to spend the night in a house of horrors.  It's a pretty nondescript little thing that feels old fashioned and a bit weak in it's ending.  This is followed by the first of several humorous stories that are littered throughout the book, 'Miss Emmeline Takes Off' by Walter Brooks (the creator of the 'Mister Ed' stories).  A tale of witchcraft, friendship, social climbing and money.  It's entertaining enough in it's way but not something I have any particularly desire to read a second time.

Algernon Blackwood
The ubiquitous Algernon Blackwood tale follows and it's one of his American adventure stories, 'The Valley of the Beasts', where a belligerent, arrogant and wasteful Englishman meets native American spirituality and both loses and wins which is a fate that also befalls the hapless lead in Robert Arthur's, 'The Haunted Trailer'.  Arthur actually provides three stories to the book which is no surprise as he was the actual compiler of the contents with Hitchcock's name added purely as a selling point.  His other two stories, 'The Wonderful Day' and 'Obstinate Uncle Otis' are both as whimsical and readable as the first but all three come across as very disposable and a little like a comedy back-up tale from an old 'Vault of Horror' comic or some such.

Lord Dunsany
F. Marion Crawford is another of those authors that turns up regularly in these things as does this particular story, 'The Upper Berth' as a ship-board traveller is disturbed by a ghostly presence on an Atlantic crossing.  Following this there's a run of humorous stories topped and tailed by the two Robert Arthur stories I mentioned earlier.  H.G. Wells', 'The Truth About Pyecraft', is a pretty dreadful little tale about one unpleasant little man and one unpleasant bigger one.  Henry Kuttner tells of a mysterious bird cage in 'Housing Problem' and, of most interest to this reader, a chance to finally read something by Lord Dunsany in the form of 'In a Dim Room' an amusing little tale about a tiger.

Closing the book is one of Robert Louis Stevenson's south sea islands stories of greed, magic and cannibalism on 'The Isle of Voices'.  These sort of stories aren't of great appeal to me as my anthropology degree starts yelling in my head and it all gets a little uncomfortable but the story itself is obviously written with a fondness for both people and place.

This is very much a book for those with a marked fondness for amusing, lighter stories or simply a need for an occasional smile.  For me it was a reasonably entertaining way to pass an afternoon.


  1. A great collection -- every so often I still respond to goofy assertions with a headline from HOUSING PROBLEM, i.e.:
    "I dont care what you say, vaccines cause autism."
    "You know what? Fotzpa goes up."

    That said, I thought MONSTER MUSEUM was an even better Hitchcock/Arthur collection -- it introduced me to Brennan's SLIME, which gave me nightmares back in the day.

    1. Hi JBL
      I have a couple more of the 'Hitchcock' anthologies but not that one, I'll keep an eye out for it.
      A quick search though did just unearth this - no good for Wyrd Britain for obvious reasons - but I've favourited it for a quiet afternoon.