I am really picky with horror stories. The slimy-ghosty-monster ones remind me of a bad B-movie and either
bore me or make me laugh. But this collection is really quite good, presenting a variety of styles. It is divided into five sections:
Tales of Supernatural Horror
Tales of Non-Supernatural Horror
Tales of Awe
Tales of Fantasy
Tales of Pseudo-Science
The introduction supplies a little information about the fourteen authors and their stories, plus the criteria for deciding what category they fit into, which I may or may not agree with. Happily, Project Gutenberg has pages for most of these authors, which I have duly linked on my Gutenberg Stuff work page, so you can expect more reviews on these writers' works. Many of them are familiar and have appeared in other horror collections on this site.
Because there are fourteen stories, I won't discuss all of them, but I will say that, as usual, there is always one story that stands out among the rest, that truly sends chills down my spine. In this book, it was The King's Messenger by F. Marion Crawford. I won't tell you about it because I don't want to spoil the surprise.
One of the three stories in the first category is by William Hope Hodgson called A Voice in the Night. It is better than the ooey-gooey "The Derelict," (found in Great Horror Stories) about an abandoned ship that is infested with a man-eating slime. This one is about a couple who were abandoned on a sinking ship, and later floated off to find a ship filled with fungus that wouldn't go away. It might have been the former crew. . . .(Reminds me of an episode of The Outer Limits, way back in the '60s.) There's a fungus amongus.
The two stories in the second category are disgusting. The one by Ambrose Bierce, My Favorite Murder, is typical of his morbid humor. His Unconquerable Enemy by W. C. Morrow is a horrible little story about acruel rajah who punishes a servant by having all his limbs cut off.
I really love Arthur Machen's writings but they are difficult to understand. His contribution to this collection, The Inmost Light, ends, as usual, with a sense of ambiguity. I had to do some research to "get it."
And the same can be said for Algernon Blackwood's, The Man Whom the Trees Loved, although I think in this case, he purposely left the matter of interpretation up to the reader. It is about a man who paints trees' personalities, though otherwise he isn't a good painter. He is commissioned by an elderly man, David Bittacy, to paint the Lebanon cedar near their cottage, but David becomes enthralled with Sanderson's philosophy of trees having a consciousness. David has spent his entire life loving and caring for trees.
David and his wife love each other deeply, but she is one of those very naïve Christians, to the point of being ignorant of anything that is not in the Bible. She fears everything new and looks with skepticism at anything that is not within her tiny realm of understanding and perception. Sanderson comes to stay with them for a short time, and Mrs. Bittacy is relieved when he goes. From that point the story is told from her viewpoint, and she begins to look at the trees as her adversary, attempting to lure her husband from her. All the time, we see David becoming more calm, happy and at peace, while his wife struggles in fear, not only for herself, but because she believes the trees are taking David's soul. But are they? Or is it all happening within Sophia's mind? This is one of the best in the whole collection, and at 62 pages, more a novelette than a story. This and the previous story are in the Tales of Awe category.
In the Tales of Fantasy, Lord Dunsany's selection, The Unhappy Body is about the struggle between the body and the soul—the body becoming weary from the soul constantly pushing it to dream great dreams. Very interesting and thought-provoking.
A Dim-Remembered Story, by R. H. Barlow is an intriguing tale of a man who finds himself suddenly eons ahead into the future, and just as suddenly, is able to witness the dying of our sun and universe. It in many ways resembles The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson, and even The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.
The last two in the Pseudo-Science category, sort of early science fiction, are very strange indeed. In The Diamond Lens by Fitz-James O'Brien, a man kills another to obtain a diamond to construct the perfect microscope lens, where he falls in love with a beautiful woman who lives in a drop of water.
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family is a very short and bizarre tale by H. P. Lovecraft, of a man from a family of inherited, uh, defects, who learns the horrifying truth about an ancestor.
In all, a very interesting and entertaining collection of weird stories.
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