As it happens, many classics of horror literature are coming out this fall in coveted new editions. Filled with color illustrations and still images from several films, “The New Annotated” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (Mysterious Press) brings out the best—or do I mean the monster?—in editor Leslie S. Klinger, whose notes and visual additions greatly amplify Robert Louis Stevenson’s masterpiece. Arguably the greatest ghost story of them all, The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James is exquisitely illustrated by Audrey Benjaminsen and beautifully printed by The Folio Society. Folio has also recently re-released the incomparable Haunted House novel, Shirley Jackson’s deeply disturbing novel The Haunting of Hill House, with compelling artwork by Angie Hofmeister. No one forgets the unsettling final words of the opening paragraph: In Hill House, “Whatever walked there, walked alone.”
A few years ago, Jackson entered Library of America in what is the best one-volume selection of her writing, thanks to editor Joyce Carol Oates. This fall, LoA released a two-volume collection, edited by Jonathan R. Eller, that collected the finest work of Jackson’s contemporary and exemplary writer of nerve-wracking stories: Ray Bradbury. Put his science fiction aside and think of the novel “Something Sinister Comes This Way,” as the ill-fated Cooger & Dark Carnival arrives in the idyllic city of Illinois. It also has an unforgettable opening: “The lightning rod seller arrived just before the storm.” Most disturbing are Bradbury’s early stories, including “The Veldt,” “Zero Hour,” “The Jar,” “The Small Assassin,” and the Jackson-like novel about a woman’s descent into madness, “The Next in Line.” Here, really, is the country of October.
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Trembling and wonderful as these acknowledged classics, the stuff of nightmares, what if you’re thirsting for some fresh blood in your reading? Where are you headed?
Start with specialized pistons. In particular, check out the websites of those mentioned below, as well as those of Tartarus Press, Undertow Publications, Swan River Press, and Sarob Press. What follows is just a sampling, a few bundles of this fall’s rich and exotic exuberance.
The “sharp tales” of “Perhaps the Lions” by Attila Ferris, which Luca Caraviat (Valancour Books) translated from Hungarian, are as strange and powerful as any tales since the heyday of Thomas Liguti. For example, the title story begins: “Tradition dictates every step of the harvest. The young collect snails by day, and the men decorate the chains at night.” snails? chains? Soon things get worse.
In Veres over the top Zero, the exhausted and depressed narrator—”I threw my days away like second-hand napkins”—records his experiences on a trip with Abaddon Travels. The Askathoth Travel Package is advertised as ‘difficult’ – few people survive – but those who worship Faceless Lords embrace her nightmarish journey towards ‘transformation’. Early on, the tour group worshiped in the Ar’ktak ne Kth’far Church, where “some kind of creature is required to agonize on top of the altar every minute of every day.” While the horrors of the story are Lovecraftian, one sometimes suspects that Grand Guignol’s brutality might reflect a malicious parody: “I woke up with a scream. We all woke up, except for those who were already dead at the time.”
This year, the British Library’s “Strange Tales” features several very original excerpts. “Spectral Sounds: Unquiet Tales of Acoustic Weird”, edited by Manon Burz-Labrande, brings to life several lesser-known works before reaching their heyday as Usher for this audio subgenre, MP Shiel’s “House of Sounds”. Our Haunted Shores: Tales from the Coasts of the British Isles, edited by Emily Alder, Jamie Packham and Joan Bassey, includes, among many others, Charlotte Riddell’s satanic book “The Last of Squire Ennismore” about a brandy barrel washed ashore after a shipwreck and the stranger Mysterious who drank with her. Not least, the title story of “The Night Wire and Other Tales of Weird Media,” edited by Aaron Worth, is a fascinating masterpiece about a malevolent mist attacking an unknown city called Xebico.
Worth’s fine collection also reprints Marjorie Bowen’s séances file, They Found My Tomb, which is also a highlight in Things Waiting in the Dark, edited by Richard Lamb and Hugh Lamb (Kingsbrook Publishing). This is the second anthology in which Richard Lamb continues his late father’s invaluable practice of re-introducing half-forgotten tales of horror by gaslighting. Read it while sipping brandy or chamomile tea.
This giant rock is actually a literary Neverland, complete with a king
Horror lite fans should definitely enjoy HTW Bousfield’s “The Unknown Island and Other Tales of Fantasy and the Supernatural”, edited and presented by James Doig (Ramble House). Bosfield’s stories of the 1930s may not be ambitious, but they are entertaining and are told in a chatty, club-tale style—the kind where a mustachioed brigadier general or a retired colonial official suddenly says, “It reminds me of something strange that happened once I.” For example, “The Unknown Island” and “The God With Four Arms” revolve around unfortunate encounters with Medusa and the Indian god Indra respectively.
Frank Belknap Long, in his youth, was one of H.P. Lovecraft’s closest friends and disciples, best known for his early stories in the style of a master, notably “The Space-Eaters”, “A Visitor From Egypt” and “The Hounds of Tindalos,” this latest tale of angles, curves, and monsters. that travel through time. All three stories, and many others, appear in “Frank Belknap Long,” the newest collector’s book in the Centennial Press of the Library of Curious Fiction, edited by St. Joshi. Fans of this Stranger Tales era author may also enjoy Peter Cannon’s supplement “Long Memories and Other Writings” (Hippocampus), which includes a long memoir of his later years—he died in 1994 at the age of 92—that blends affection, pity, frustration, and gallows humor. Besides, there’s an engaging mix of Cannon’s “Pulptime,” a short novel in which Long recounts an adventure combining H.P. Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes.
As I say, this is just a sampling of recent books for Halloween and beyond. But let’s go back for a moment to that charmingly specific B&B. If I were its owner, I would make a shelf of an anthology of old ghost stories so those who can’t sleep can shiver under the pet birds with Vernon Lee’s “Amour Dure,” M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes,” and LP Hartley’s “A Visitor” From Down Under, “The Beckoning Fair One” by Oliver Onions or Walter de la Mare “All Hallows.”
Of course, these are just five of my favorite things, and tastes are different. What spooky tales would you choose to read on moonlit evenings filled with mist and slippery shadow?
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