Tag Archives: horror

Poe’s Shadow

In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Horror, 1816-1914
Leslie S. Klinger, ed.
Pegasus Books
Hardcover $24.95, Paperback $15.95, Digital $15.95

Here’s a little something for the horror aficionado, although I suspect most horror fans will have read many of the stories in this volume.

While Poe himself has no story in the volume (and why not, I want to know), his influence is seen in most of the selections, if for no other reason than Poe’s reputation has eclipsed most other writers of the supernatural from the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries in the minds of the general public.  The horror fan will recognize most of the names, if not all.  The tales Mr. Klinger has chosen are not always the best known works by the better known authors such as M. R. James, E. T. A. Hoffman, or Arthur Conan Doyle.  I do wonder why W. W. Jacobs was not included in this volume; probably because his career extended to far past the period the anthology covers. Continue reading

A Journey Through The October Country

October Country 1The October Country
Ray Bradbury
Illustrations by Joe Mugnaini
mass market paperback 307 p., $7.99
ebook Kindle $7.21 Nook $10.99

I first read this collection in the early ’80s, around 1980 or 1981, I think.  Some of the stories have stayed with me (“The Small Assassin”, “The Scythe”), while some I’d completely forgotten (“Touched with Fire”, “The Cistern”).

Most of the stories were recycled from Dark Carnival, with a few being left out and a few being added.  I’d hoped to have time to read the ones left out and discuss the differences in the two collections, but that will have to wait for a later post.  For those unaware, Dark Carnival, from Arkham House, was Bradbury’s first collection.  Original copies are hard to come by and will cost you a pretty penny.  The author’s definitive edition from a decade or so ago isn’t cheap either.

Fortunately there isn’t that much difference in the contents, and the casual reader can enjoy the stories as they appear in this volume.  There will be spoilers on some of them. Continue reading

Invoking Dark Gods

Dark GodsDark Gods
T. E. D. Klein
mmpb, Bantam, $3.95, 1986, 263 p.

One of the top practitioners of horror fiction in the latter half of the previous century is also one of the most frustrating.  T. E. D. Klein has published very little after making a name for himself in the 1970s and 80s.

His first collection, Dark Gods, is a perfect example of what an author can accomplish in an understated manner.  The four novellas in this volume are strong examples of that type of horror.  Perfect reading for Halloween. Continue reading

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

This probably isn’t one of Howard’s better known horror stories, and I think in part it’s because it wasn’t published in Weird Tales or any of the other pulps his supernatural tales appeared in. It was published as “The Apparition in the Prize Ring” in the April 1929 issue of the short-lived Ghost Stories.

One of Howard’s life long passions was boxing. He wrote serious and humorous boxing stories, and even in this case, a supernatural boxing story. The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press is currently in the process of publishing Howard’s complete boxing stories in 4 volumes.

This isn’t a particularly scary story, but the ghost angle is central to it. It’s narrated by the manager of boxer Ace Jessel. Jessel is an up and coming fighter, but he doesn’t have the killer instinct to be a great boxer. This is one of Howard’s stories where race is a factor. Jessel is black, as are Tom Molyneaux, the boxer from the previous century he worships, and Mankiller Gomez, the boxer he fights.

There is a clear contrast between the wild Senegalese Gomez (named after the Mexican promoter who first brought him to the ring) and the civilized Jessel. In fact the only use of the N-word is by Jessel in reference to Gomez. To say that Howard engages in the racial stereotypes of his day is to oversimplify his portrayal of race in this work.

Jessel is slated to fight the heavyweight champ when Gomez comes on the scene and takes the title. Soon everyone is trying to get the two men in the ring. Eventually it happens, even though it’s intuitively obvious even to the most casual observer that Jessel doesn’t stand a chance.

Jessel has a life size painting of Molyneaux. The manager comes across Jessel standing before it and asking Molyneaux for help in the upcoming fight. So unbeknownst to Jessel, he takes the painting to the fight. When Jessel is about to go down for the count, he holds it up where Jessel can see it. The painting shakes, and a cold wind blows through the arena, and especially in the ring. Jessel gets up and whips Gomez, winning the title. Only the ref, Jessel, and the manager can see Molyneaux’s ghost.

I know I’ve made the ghost aspect seem trivial and have brushed off the boxing, but I can’t do this story justice in a description. Howard is at the top of his game as he describes the boxing match. The thunder and conflict we see in Howard’s sword and sorcery are all on display. There aren’t a lot of scares in this one, but that’s not the point. The ghost is just the McGuffin that propels the boxing story. This is a different side of Howard many fans haven’t seen. If you’re not familiar with Howard’s boxing stories, this is a good place to start.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “Dig Me No Grave”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

Today’s story is a shift away from the weird westerns we’ve looked at the last two days.  Howard is best known for the series characters Solomon Kane, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, and Conan of Cimmeria.  In more recent years, he’s also gotten recognition for El Borak, Sailor Steve Costigan, and Breckenridge Elkins.  But there were other characters who appeared in multiple stories, and two of these were John Conrad and a man simply called Kirowan.  They were experts on the occult, and seem to be Howard’s attempt to try his hand at the occult detective yarn.  These stories are part of Howard’s Mythos tales.  Yog-Sothoth is mentioned in passing in this one.

In “Dig Me No Grave”, the story is narrated by Kirowan, an approach Howard abandoned for the later stories, in which he kept the first person perspective but had an unnamed narrator.

Kirowan is awakened by Conrad in the middle of the night.  Conrad has just left the side of John Grimlan, who has died in a most unpleasant manner.  Years earlier Grimlan had made Conrad swear to follow the instructions in a sealed envelope after his death.  Conrad was to follow these instructions no matter how much Grimlan might change his mind. As he was dying Grimlan begged Conrad not to follow the instructions but to burn the envelope.

The instructions say Grimlan is to be laid out on the table in his library with seven black candles placed about his body and an incantation in a second sealed envelope read.  Fearing what the envelope contains, Conrad has sought Kirowan’s aid.  Grimlan was a follower of the cult of Malik Tous, who is rumored to be an incarnation of Satan.

The men go to Grimlan’s house, which has no electricity or gas lights.  (This story was published in Weird Tales in 1937 but was certainly written years earlier; it wasn’t unusual for isolated houses, as Grimlan’s is described, to have only lamps or candles for light.)  As they approach the library upstairs, light comes from under the door.  The men enter to find Grimlan’s body laid out on the library table, covered with a robe.  Seven black candles are burning about the body.  In the corner is an old Oriental man in a yellow robe, upon which is embroidered an image resembling a peacock, the symbol of Malik Tous.

The man bids Conrad  to begin reading the incantation.  The incantation is long and written in an archaic form of English mixed with some other language.  Part of the text describes Grimlan’s pact with Malik Tous, which included an additional two hundred fifty years of life for his soul, which will be damned to Hell on his death.  As Conrad reads, the candles go out one by one of their own accord.

When the final candle is extinguished, the men hear a blood chilling scream.  Conrad manages to find and light a candle.  The body of Grimlan is gone as is the Oriental man.  Conrad and Kirowan flee the house as a fire begins somewhere upstairs and completely engulfs the structure.  After they are out, they turn and see a dark shape resembling a peacock rising from the flames carrying the body of John Grimlan.

I’m not sure when this story was written, but I’m guessing it was in 1930 or 1931.  Other stories featuring Conrad and Kirowan were published about that time.  Howard hadn’t yet written some of his more famous horror stories such as “Black Canaan” or “Pigeons From Hell”.  I intend to look at both of those in this series.  The prose in “Dig Me No Grave” gets a little purple in a couple of places.  Still, a Howard horror story, even if it’s not one of his best, is still a good horror story.  The strength in this one lies in the atmosphere Howard imbued in the story.  There’s not as much action as you might expect from Howard, but not everything he wrote was blood and thunder.  He understood creeping terror as well, and it’s on display here.

I might look at another one of the Kirowan/Conrad stories in this series.  I certainly want to examine another of the Mythos tales.  I’m about to hit some time constraints, so I’m not sure how many more of these posts I’ll get in before Halloween.  There will be at least two more, “Black Canaan” and “Pigeons From Hell”.  Beyond that, I can’t say for sure.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard: “The Horror From the Mound”

Howard HorrorThe Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey
trade paper $18.00
ebook 12.99 Kindle Nook

This is another of Howard’s weird westerns, and although published a year and a half before “Old Garfield’s Heart” (May 1932 vs. December 1933), it’s a more mature tale.  This one concerns a former cowboy, now farmer, named Steve Brill who notices that an old Mexican laborer named Juan Lopez avoids a mound on Brill’s property.  Lopez cuts across a corner of Brill’s pasture when going between his work and his shack.

Brill detains Lopez one evening and inquires as to the reason for this behavior.  Brill thinks it’s because Lopez is superstitious and the mound is an old Indian burial mound.  Lopez assures him there’s more to the situation than that, but that he isn’t free to tell.  The story has been passed down in his family from one of his ancestors who came through with the conquistadors.  Lopez has taken a sacred oath not to tell anyone but his first born son.  Since he has no children, the secret of the mound will die with him.

Brill convinces Lopez to write out what the secret is since his oath only prohibits him from telling the secret.  Lopez agrees and hurries off to his shack before the sun sets.  Brill decides not to wait but to excavate the mound by lantern.  He suspects there’s a hidden cache of gold in the mound, and he wants to get his hands on it.

Brill finds evidence of the mound being an Indian burial mound, but there it appears to have been disturbed at some point in the past.  He unearths a stone lid over a burial chamber.  Hearing rustling and fearing a den of rattle snakes, he heads off to his cabin to get a lantern.   (He’s been working by moonlight, too impatient before now to get his lantern.)

He comes back and discovers the lid is now in the burial chamber.  A figure is visible going over the hill to Lopez’s shack.  Naturally Brill suspects Lopez has beat him to the gold.  He heads towards Lopez’s shack to get what he views as his property when he hears a ghastly scream.  He finds Lopez dead, papers scattered around him.  The final sheet Lopez was working on is still clutched in his hand.  The only sign on Lopez’s body are puncture marks on his neck.

Brill returns to his cabin to find his horses have been scattered.  Wanting to avenge Lopez but not wishing to tangle with one or more killers in the dark, he barricades himself in his cabin and reads what Lopez wrote.

During the days of the conquistadors, a small expedition rescued a lone survivor from a ship.  The survivor claimed the crew and the rest of the passengers died of plague.  He accompanies the expedition to what would become Texas.  Then the men start dying, bodies left by the side of the trail drained of blood.  Eventually, they find the vampire sleeping in the brush.  He’s the survivor.  Afraid of waking the creature, they bury it in an old Indian burial mound.  Lopez was a descendant of one of the survivors of the expedition.

Brill finishes reading to discover the vampire watching him from the window.  The creature breaks down the door.  While Brill fights for his life, the lantern falls from the table and shatters.  Brill manages to impale the vampire on a broken table leg and flees the burning cabin, letting the fire finish killing the creature.

reh1

Robert E. Howard

“The Horror From the Mound” was criticized when it appeared in Weird Tales because it contained “no less than four flagrant breaches of accepted vampire tradition”.  It was the first of the regional horror stories Howard would write, and it’s one of the best, even if it didn’t respect “vampire tradition”.  Howard blazed his own trail even there.  Howard adds a level of verisimilitude by mention historical figures such as Coronado and real locations such as Palo Pinto, which is both a town near Howard’s birthplace as well as the county in which he was born.

One thing I do want to point out, and that’s Howard’s use of race.  Howard is often considered a racist in some circles because he doesn’t hold 21st Century views.  But consider how Lopez is portrayed.  While Brill does express some racist sentiments, especially when he thinks Lopez has robbed him of a treasure, his attitude towards the Mexican is largely one of respect for the man, if not for some of his beliefs.  He certainly intends on avenging the man when he discovers Lopez’s body.  These were not typical white attitudes towards Hispanics in the time and place Howard was writing nor were they typical attitudes for the setting of the story.  The respect and desire to avenge don’t fit easily into the racist label that’s often applied to the author.

“The Horror From the Mound” is one of Robert E. Howard’s best regional horror tales.  It’s easy to see why.