Archive for the 'Horror' category

"Supernatural Buchan", by John Buchan

Feb 23 2010 Published by under Horror, Weird fiction

One of the truly fascinating things about writers of weird fiction is how many of them are remarkably accomplished in other aspects of their lives.  We have folks such as A. Merritt, who had a very successful career as a journalist and newspaper editor, R.W. Wood, who was a very distinguished scientist, Lord Dunsany, who was, well, a Lord, and M.R. James, who was a very distinguished medieval scholar.  And, of course, there's my pièce de résistance, Winston Churchill.

I can now add to my personal list John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940).  Buchan was a politician and novelist, and his resumé includes an impressive collection of honorary academic degrees and military honors.  He was also the 15th Governor General of Canada, representing the monarchy in local Canadian affairs.

In writing, he was incredibly prolific, producing countless novels and works of non-fiction, many based on his time spent working for the colonial administrator of South Africa.  Of his fiction, the work  most likely to be known by most people is his novel The 39 Steps (1915), which was very, very loosely adapted into a great film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935*.

Buchan also dabbled in horror stories, and many if not most of these have been collected in Supernatural Buchan, a collection by Leonaur Ltd, who have produced quite a few impressive limited editions of weird fiction:

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Sesqua Valley and Other Haunts, by W.H. Pugmire

Feb 11 2010 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

One of H.P. Lovecraft's enduring legacies as a writer is the creation of a cosmology that could and would be imitated by his followers.  Many great authors of horror fiction got their start writing Lovecraft pastiches, such as Brian Lumley and my absolutely favorite horror author Ramsey Campbell.  It is almost a tradition for all respectable horror writers to write their own Lovecraft homage; Stephen King, for instance, wrote the short story Crouch End (1980).

So many authors use Lovecraft as a starting point to find their own voice and interests; there are other authors, however, who find themselves a comfortable niche writing in and adapting Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos to their own ends, and they stay there.  The natural question to ask: do authors like these stay with the mythos because it stimulates their creativity, or because they lack it?  I was very curious to see if any of the modern mythos writers were any good.

My Amazon "favorites" page brought the work of W.H. Pugmire to my attention, in particular his compilation, Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts:

I had heard Pugmire's name before, as super-Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi had some kind words about Pugmire in his history/commentary The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (2008).  I was in the mood for some mythos writing, so I gave Sesqua Valley a try.

I didn't really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised!  Pugmire draws insipiration from Lovecraft's ideas and settings, but he bends and twists them to his own ends to present genuinely unsettling stories.

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Which Winston Churchill wrote "Man Overboard!"?

Feb 02 2010 Published by under ... the Hell?, Horror

Horror fiction is often burdened by the popular impression that it is the refuge of the anti-social, the unliterary, the morbid, and even the perverse.  However, a surprising number of authors of classic literature have dabbled in macabre fiction, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, ("Young Goodman Brown", "Rappacini's Daughter"), William Faulkner ("A Rose for Emily"), Charles Dickens ("The Signal-Man"), and Edith Wharton ("Afterward"). In addition, plenty of very successful professionals in other fields, such as journalism, medicine, and academia, have ventured into horror.

For years, the pièce de résistance in my argument in favor of the positive quality of horror authors is a little known 1899 story titled, "Man Overboard!"  The author is one Winston Churchill.  Yes, that Winston Churchill -- or so I thought.

In doing background for another blog post, I Googled Churchill's "Man Overboard!", and was surprised to find that there were in fact two famous Winston Churchills in that era -- the British politician (1874-1965), and a very famous American author of the same name (1871-1947).  So which one wrote the story?

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Richard Marsh's A Spoiler of Men

Jan 21 2010 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

I have yet to be really disappointed by the works of Richard Marsh (1857-1915)!  Over the Christmas holiday, I spent some time reading A Spoiler of Men (1905) , which has recently been reprinted by the always great Valancourt Books, complete with a scholarly introduction and a facsimile of the original cover:

Marsh was a quite versatile writer: his books range from supernatural horror, to murder mystery, to comedy, to adventure, to the genuinely unclassifiable.  Marsh continues the trend in A Spoiler of Men, where the primary character is in fact an anti-hero, and the story is a bizarre thriller involving, among other things, chemical zombification!

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The Beast with Five Fingers by W.F. Harvey

Dec 14 2009 Published by under Horror, Mystery/thriller

I've been trying to keep up with my weird fiction reading while I've been working on my physics textbook, though it's been pretty hard to read a major work considering I spend most of my evenings doing research for the text.   Under these circumstances, a collection of short stories was the ideal solution, and I recently received Wordworth's collection of the works of W.F. Harvey, entitled The Beast with Five Fingers, after its most well-known story:

It took a curious amount of time for me to receive my copy.  Although it was listed as available on Amazon for nearly a year, the order was continually delayed and I only got the book a couple of months ago.  Hopefully whatever issue they were having has been straightened out now.

The book blurb refers to Harvey as "an unjustly neglected author of supernatural tales", which is technically true, but a little misleading: though he did write a significant number of supernatural stories, the bulk of his work is better described as mystery/murder stories.  I found his work reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe and Roald Dahl; though he does not quite achieve the darkness and creepiness of those masters, there are a number of great stories and genuinely unsettling moments (as I was reading Harvey, I kept referring to him in my mind as "Roald Dahl-lite").

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Yay! More Richard Marsh available!

Dec 06 2009 Published by under Horror

Another book by the awesome Richard Marsh has been released by Valancourt!  You can purchase A Spoiler of Men (1905) through Amazon.  I'm a big fan of Marsh's work, and have read a lot of things reprinted by Valancourt -- The Beetle, The Joss, Curios, and Philip Bennion's Death -- as well as a lot that can only be read so far on Google books -- The Goddess: A Demon, The Magnetic Girl, A Metamorphosis.  I've enjoyed every one of his books so far, and from the blurb of A Spoiler of Men, I'm guessing that I'm going to like it too:

First published in 1905, A Spoiler of Men is, as Johan Höglund writes in his introduction, a roller coaster ride that blends horror, crime, and humour, and will keep readers guessing until its surprising conclusion. It is also, Höglund argues, quite possibly the first occurrence of zombies in English fiction. This new edition, the first since the 1920s, features the unabridged text of the first edition, a new introduction and notes, and a reproduction of the cover of the Victorian "shilling shocker" edition.

I've ordered my copy... I'll review it soon!

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Horror writers on horror films, from Focus Features

Nov 03 2009 Published by under Entertainment, Horror

A few days ago, I got a nice email from FilminFocus.com, the film culture website of film company Focus Features (A Serious Man, Brokeback Mountain, Coraline).  For Halloween, they asked five horror writers to each list their five favorite horror movies.  Some of the names I'm familiar with -- Kim Newman, Joe R. Lansdale, Tananarive Due -- and others are new to me, but their choices are all interesting, even though there are some that I wouldn't necessarily agree with (Carnival of Souls?  Really?).

You can read the list here.

Though I'm not a professional horror author (yet), I thought I'd chime in with my own set of movies that disturb me!   This list is by no means complete -- after all, it's only five -- but it is indicative of what unsettles me...

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Halloween treats 2009

Oct 30 2009 Published by under Horror

It's time again for my yearly dose of Halloween chills, courtesy of some classic horror stories!  The 2007 edition can be found here, and the 2008 edition can be found here.  Have a happy Halloween!

The Willows, Algernon Blackwood.  This tale is long, but is one of the absolute classics in the genre of "cosmic horror", and one of the major inspirations for H.P. Lovecraft's work.  Two men, canoeing down an isolated stretch of the Danube, escape rising flood waters by sheltering on a small island on the river.  They soon realize, though, that they have stumbled within reach of beings from outside of time and space -- beings that threaten their lives, sanity and souls.

Number 13, M.R. James.  A visitor to Viborg decides to lodge at the Golden Lion, and chooses to stay in room 12, which has a lovely view of the street.  At night, however, his room seems smaller, and on the building across the street he can see shadows of the occupants of room 13 -- a room which doesn't exist during the day...

The Shadows on the Wall, Mary Wilkins Freeman.  A story of domestic horror.  A family struggling to recover from a terrible tragedy finds their efforts hindered, and haunted, by the presence of a shadow on the wall without a source.

Mysterious Maisie, Wirt Gerrare.  A very unsettling story about a woman who takes a job as a maid but finds herself a prisoner of a cult-like group that have unpleasant plans for her.  These plans involve a mysterious visitor to the home who seems not quite human... (Only available through archive.org; you can download the story collection or read it online at the link.)

The People of the Pit, A. Merritt. Explorers of the northern Alaskan wilderness happen across a man who has crawled until his hands are little more than ragged stumps!  He tells a story of a deep pit, a lost city within it... and the people of the pit.

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Claimed! by Francis Stevens

Sep 02 2009 Published by under Horror

Not too long ago, I took a first look at the weird short fiction of Francis Stevens (1883-1948), a groundbreaking author who has been credited with helping create the genre of "dark fantasy".  Though Stevens was a somewhat uneven writer when it came to character development, she came up with some wonderfully diabolical plots and weird imagery.

Stevens was sadly not very prolific, and wrote only a small number of novels, primarily to support her invalid mother.  I've picked up a few of them and am working my way through them; the first on my list was the novel Claimed! (1920):

claimed

The novel is a short and fast read -- only 135 pages -- and tells the story of a stubborn man's battle with a supernatural power of the seas.  I enjoyed the story, though I felt it was a somewhat average weird tale, albeit punctuated with some wonderfully creepy moments and one character whose personality really shines and is the focus of the story.

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Marie Corelli's Ziska

Aug 06 2009 Published by under Horror

(I've had a backlog of fiction I've wanted to blog about, and a lack of energy for physics blogging thanks to heavy work on my book.  I'll get back to science-y posts in a few days.)

1897 was a very good year for Gothic fiction!  That year saw the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Richard Marsh's wildly successful The Beetle, which I've blogged about previously.  Even more works were published that year, however, which thankfully have been resurrected in recent months by the good folks at Valancourt Books.  A couple of days ago, I finished their edition of Marie Corelli's Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul:

ziska

The novel tells a story of supernatural romance and revenge, set in Cairo and set against the backdrop of ancient Egypt.  I found it an very enjoyable and atmospheric read and am glad it has been rediscovered after so many years of neglect.

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