Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tales of (Mild) Interest

Tales of Twilight and the Unseen by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1922) containing the following stories: The Great Keinplatz Experiment (1885); The Los Amigos Fiasco (1892); The Lift (1922); De Profundis(1892); Lot No. 249 (1892); How It Happened (1913); Playing with Fire (1900); B. 24 (1899); The Usher of Lea House School (1899); The Brown Hand (1899); The Ring of Thoth (1890); and A Literary Mosaic (1886).

This handsome reprint of a 1922 Arthur Conan "Sherlock Holmes" Doyle collection looks swell and, with large print and lavish line-spacing, is darned easy to read. And the stories themselves are mostly easy to read, even allowing for changes in general style and idiom over the last 100 years. Alas, the main problem is that Doyle's two best horror stories -- "The Parasite" and "The Horror of the Heights" -- aren't here. Neither is the suspenseful "The Brazilian Cat."

We do get "Lot No. 249," which besides possibly giving Thomas Pynchon an idea (and me an idea for a Thomas Pynchon novel about vengeful mummies and the U.S. Postal Service), also gives us a dangerous revived Egyptian mummy. Later Mummy movies would seem to draw upon the story, which is aces at build-up but not so great at a pay-off: I've seen people compare the story to M.R. James, but James would have given the world at least twice the scares at half the length.

Other stories operate as either light satire ("The Los Amigos Fiasco") or non-supernatural suspense ("The Lift"). The other notable tales of the supernatural don't really involve horror at all, though "Playing with Fire" does offer us an extremely angry supernatural unicorn (!). "The Brown Hand" and "The Ring of Thoth" are instead relatively gentle supernatural tales, devoid of threat or menace. Most of these stories were written before Doyle became a believer in the supernatural himself. Make of that what you may. 

I certainly wasn't bored while reading the stories, but most of them were very effective at lulling me to sleep when read prior to nap-time. "A Literary Mosaic [a.k.a. "Cyprian Overbeck Wells") is the true outlier here, an amusing bit of play with the style and content of writers that include Daniel Defoe, Sir Walter Scott, and Jonathan Swift. People who want to sample the supernatural, non-Sherlockian works of Conan Doyle would be better served with a 'Best of' collection that includes "The Brazilian Cat," "The Horror of the Heights," and "The Parasite." Lightly recommended.

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