Thursday, 27 August 2015

Classic Tales of Horror

Stephanie Dowrick (ed)

What we have here is a journey around the world in the hands of a number of very famous and some significantly less so authors of the weird, the macabre and the ghostly.

The book opens with an almost throw-away yet very famous Edgar Allen Poe story about a vengeful 'Black Cat' and then heads off to court and a ghosts attempt to influence proceedings to ensure his murderers conviction in Charles Dickens' 'To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt'.

Wilkie Collins
Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu's contribution is an odd and slightly pointless tale of a drunks encounter with a ghostly army and a mysterious request.  W. Wilkie Collins was both a contemporary and friend of Charles Dickens and there's a real Dickensian quality to this story of class, poverty and madness.

The books fifth tale, 'The Open Door', by Mrs Margaret Oliphant explores loss and rejection at a Scottish house and our second lady Victorian Elizabeth Braddon provides one of favourites in  'A Cold Embrace' where unwanted love sends an artist to his grave.

Ambrose Bierce's 'Moonlit Road' is an series of overlapping tales telling of wrongful death, madness and ghosts and Henry James makes a very fine contribution with his story of jealousy and greed and finally revenge in 'The Romance of Certain Old Clothes'.

Bram Stoker
Maybe as should be expected the most macabre tale  in the book comes from Bram Stoker.  'The Judge's House' is a great little bloodthirsty tale that tells of a young man assaulted by the shade of the previous inhabitant of the house he's chosen to live in whilst completing his work.

Guy de Maupassant's 'The Hand' is a fun but slight and slightly vague tale that sits in advance of Robert Louis Stevenson's fabulous 'The Body Snatcher' with it's story of murder and comeuppance.

Rocking the most Hammer Horror of titles Francis Marion Crawford's ' The Screaming Skull' takes a fairly cliched idea and with it's first person, one sided dialogue treatment and a it of flair makes it quite fun.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
At this point we hit an absolute revelation of a story, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's fabulous slice of weird as a young wife, perhaps, goes utterly insane in a room covered in 'The Yellow Wall-Paper'. Next we've a classic with M.R. James' glorious 'Lost Hearts' which I surely don't need to tell you about and then we're onto Algernon Blackwood's 'Keeping His Promise' wherein a student receives a visitation from an old friend.

The book ends on a real high with a quick story by H.H. (Saki) Munro that tells a brutal tale of rural horror at the hands or rather pipes of Pan and finally a great piece of shape-shifting horror in Hugh Walpole's 'Tarnhelm'.

I've never been a fan of short story anthologies but over the last year I've got really into these collections of Victorian & Edwardian weirdness and I've found a few absolute gems and this was one of them.

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