Sunday, June 16, 2013

Short Horrors

Masters of Terror Volume 1: William Hope Hodgson: edited by Peter Tremayne, containing the following stories: "The Voice in the Night", "A Tropical Horror", "The Mystery of the Derelict". "The Terror of the Water-Tank", "The Finding of the Graiken", "The Stone Ship" and "The Derelict" (1905-1914; Collected 1977): This 1970's collection concentrates on early 20th-century horror and science-fiction writer William Hope Hodgson's fantastic tales of the sea. Well, OK, and a water tank. That seems a bit anomalous. But water! His great stories about ghostbuster Carnacki are collected elsewhere.

Hodgson spent years as a sailor before turning to writing, so the tone of the stories rings true even when the events become improbable. Two of the stories deal with the debris and seaweed-choked Sargasso Sea, a location Hodgson would often use for his tales of horror. His fine horror novel The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig' also spends some time there among crabs the size of houses; giant, man-eating octopi; hordes of rats; and an assortment of other awful animals, plants, and dire weather and oceanic conditions.

One of the great lessons learned from these stories and other Hodgson work is that if you're not sure what it is, don't poke it with a stick. And if a 100-ton carnivorous sea-monster invades the deck of your ship, stop running around on the deck.

Besides their dialogic verisimilitude, Hodgson's stories excel in their depiction of the weird and sublime creatures and events on Hodgson's wide and fear-haunted ocean. The finest and most-anthologized stories herein are "The Voice in the Night", a seminal story about a particular type of oopy goopy monster, and "The Derelict", a nice bit of science-fictional horror. Hodgson's major horror stories and novels are well worth seeking out in newer editions than these, or older. Highly recommended.

Monster Mix edited by Robert Arthur containing the following stories:
The Day of the Dragon by Guy Endore (1937); Mrs. Amworth (1922) by E. F. Benson; Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent (1937) by Stephen Vincent Benét; Creature of the Snows by William Sambrot; Aepyornis Island (1894) by H. G. Wells; Fire in the Galley Stove (1937) by William Outerson; The Mannikin (1937) by Robert Bloch; The Wendigo (1910) by Algernon Blackwood; The Derelict (1912) by William Hope Hodgson; O Ugly Bird! (1951) by Manly Wade Wellman; Mimic (1942) by Donald A. Wollheim; The Hoard of the Gibbelins (1911) by Lord Dunsany; and Footsteps Invisible (1940) by Robert Arthur (Collected 1968):

Fun Young Adult-directed horror anthology edited by the prolific writer and editor Robert Arthur, who ghost-wrote a lot of the early Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators novels and ghost-edited a lot of Hitchcock-brand short-story anthologies.

And yes, "Mimic" by Donald A. Wollheim was adapted into the movie of the same name, though the movie has a much different take on the whole affair. Guy Endore, prose source of the 1930's Wolfman movies, could probably have sued the makers of Reign of Fire over his dragon story here. Or his estate could have, anyway.

The monsters in this anthology aren't all bad (the Benet story is comedy, not horror), though most of them are. Algernon Blackwood's "The Wendigo" is one of his two undeniably pivotal novellas (the other being the even-better "The Willows"). While Blackwood wasn't Canadian, many of his horror stories were set in Northern Quebec. It's interesting to see how he reconfigures the Native-American legend of the Wendigo to fit his own fears about the dangerously Sublime wild country of Canada. In its original, the Wendigo story is a cautionary legend about the dangers of greed and gluttony, not about getting spiritually overwhelmed by the wilderness.

Arthur's own story, "Footsteps Invisible," is one of my favourite short stories about Egyptian curses: I'd actually forgotten who'd written it until I read it again here for the first time in thirty years. Recommended.

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