Welcome to my unpaid infomercial for liter-a-toor.
I do a lot of shopping on Amazon.com, and Amazon has this ingenious li’l trick where they give you free shipping… IF your order totals over $25. This, o’ course, is an incitement for you to spend even more money, because don’tcha feel dumb dropping $5 or so for shipping and not really getting anything out of it? Sometimes, though, what you’re buying is already $20, and it’s hard to find something to push you over that free-shipping hump without making the total $35 or so. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there.
Well, the Wordsworth Editions people and I are here to help your sorry ass, budreaux! Provided you’re into reading old ghost stories, that is. And if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you, anyway, ‘cuz old ghost stories RULE! way more than anything you like rules! Get away from me.
I’ve always been into old Victorian horror, and my scrounging started turning up these anthologies, all of which were cheap. I like cheap. A LOT. On average, they’re around $6.99, which is cheap for a better-than-mass-market-paperback style book these days. Some were was low as $4-and-change. So, I started keeping them in my to-be-bought-later list, just in case I needed something to make that free shipping. After reading ‘em a bit I got obsessed and started buying them outright. Which is good, because Amazon seems to have some kind of a buy-three-and-the-fourth-one's-free deal on the Wordsworth Editions, too. Score!
So, in my ongoing effort to be oh-so-friggin’-helpful, I thought I’d make a list of the titles with a bit of info about the stories in each. Since these stories are old and most are public domain (which is why the books are so cheap), I’ve hunted up the text of a few and provided links where you can read them online. I am by no means an advocate of reading books online or in any electronic format. I fully advocate the murder of trees in the name of the printed word, and if that makes me the Sasquatch of carbon footprints, I'm fine with that. But, those e-versions are out there and they don't cost anything, and I believe in free samples... if only because it'll sell more paper copies.
I don’t have all of these titles, but I’m working on it. I like the Wordsworth Editions format so much that I’ve even snagged a few that I’ve got other copies of. And one of my favorite things about them is they'll devote whole volumes to obscure (but still talented) authors who haven't been collected before, so, even if you're an aficianado of this stuff you'll still find plenty of things you haven't read before.
The Loved Dead - H.P. Lovecraft
This is a collection of stories that Lovecraft either revised for other writers, or ghost-wrote for them. As such, they’re not his best work, but they’re still in the style of his other stuff, and they’re not anthologized very often. So, it’s a neat collection of obscure fringe material that you probably haven’t seen before. The title story is one of the most absolutely ye-godz morbid stories that was ever published in the pulp era (aside from trashy shudder-pulp madness such as "The Mole Men Want Your Eyes" - go read that, you owe it to yourself) and was co-written by Lovecraft's friend, C.M. Eddy. It's about a necrophile whose maniacal erotomania for corpses leads him to work in a mortuary... but, he gets fired when his boss finds him sleeping on a slab with his arms around a naked cadaver! So, he has to find new ways to scratch his itch... by becoming a razor-killer. This is daaaaamn no-holds-barred stuff for the 20's, and is rumored to have saved Weird Tales from going under. The magazine was struggling, but when they published this story there was such an outcry from enraged readers that the magazine was boycotted in several cities... which led to greater public interest. It just goes to show ya, if you ever want readership, just court controversy... which is why, for the sake of this blog, I occasionally advocate the shaking of infants. Tell your friends I said to shake the baby! Anyway, you get that story, plus many more, including a tale Lovecraft ghost-wrote for Harry Houdini, "Imprisoned With The Pharaohs", "The Mound," "Within The Walls of Eryx," "The Crawling Chaos," "The Night Ocean," "The Curse of Yig," and a dozen or so more. Wordsworth also has another Lovecraft volume, The Whisperer In Darkness, which includes many of his better-known stories (plus one of my favorites that doesn't often show up in his anthologies, "The Hound," which is one of his most morbid stories, involving a pair of grave-robbing ghouls who push their limits of sickness by building an underground museum out of things they find in graves.
Tales of Unease - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Doyle is best known for his Sherlock Holmes stuff (which I always thought would suck until I actually read a few of 'em - go read "The Speckled Band" and you'll see why I changed my mind about Sherlock) but his horror stories are incredible. This guy is a master at coming up with very creepy situations and then keeping most of the horror in the shadows, showing you just enough to really set your imagination crawling. This includes such stories as "Lot No. 249", which is one of the creepiest mummy stories ever. A college student starts to suspect that they guy in the dorm room below him is experimenting with a horrible mummy he's got, and an ancient Egyptian scroll. He's right. Other stories include "The Captain of the Pole Star," in which a whaling ship isolated in the frozen north is haunted by a ghostly woman who's seen on the ship and the surrounding icebergs, and even though the crew is terrified and they're almost out of food, the captain refuses to leave. Highly creepy stuff. Loads of other great stories are in this one; my only bitch is that they should have included "The Parasite," a really twisted Doyle story in which a repulsive old lady uses hypnotism to turn an unwilling man into her love-slave. That one may have been too long to include here.
Not Exactly Ghosts - Sir Andrew Caldecott
This guy was new to me, and it turns out I really like him. He was a civil service agent who was a big fan of M. R. James and decided to try to write some of his own horror stories, James style. Turns out the guy was quite talented, and came up with some weird 'n' creepy plots. Stories include "A Room In A Rectory" (in which a new rector decides to re-open a room that had been closed for decades, and ends up haunted and obsessed by a disturbing painting of angels vanquishing Lucifer), "Sonata In D Minor" (a recording of a musical piece drives the listener into homicidal rages), "Autoepitaphy" (a strange old desk inspires people to write epitaphs), "The Pump In Thorp's Spinney" (a kid who got a model water pump as a kid becomes maniacally obsessed with them... until he plays with an old one that makes screams come up out of the ground), and "Whiffs of the Sea," wherein a painting of a beach creates a nauseating ocean smell that leads to the discovery of a horrible long-ago death. Well-written stuff.
All Saints' Eve - Ameila B. Edwards
Many of these stories are more on the mystery side than horror, but there are a few ghost stories mixed in, and some disturbing tales of mental illness, such as "Cain," in which an art student becomes so obsessed by a painting that he goes mad.
Collected Ghost Stories - M. R. James
If you haven't read this guy's work, then you know fuck-all about horror stories, m'man, and you need to remedy that, quick-like. Everything this guy wrote is creepy and classic. Includes genre heavyweights like "'Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You My Lad'" (a guy poking around some ancient ruins finds a whistle that he really, really shouldn't blow. The apparition in this thing is one of the creepiest things ever penned), "Casting The Runes" (a devil-worship curse tale that was turned into the movie Night of the Demon), "The Ash Tree" (a haunted tree yields some seriously icky giant spiders), "The Tractate Middoth" (a certain dusty old volume in an old library keeps being read by a guy who has spiders in his eyes; this was adapted into a great episode of the ancient TV series Lights Out), "A View From A Hill" (weird things are seen through some infernal binoculars), and lots more. An essential part of any library.
Oriental Ghost Stories - Lafcadio Hearn
A collection of horror stories set in Japan, which was the basis for the classic Japanese horror film Kwaidan. Here's an online batch of Hearn's work, which is included in this volume. Go read the ultra-short "Mujina" and tell me that ending didn't fuck you up reeeeeaaaal good.
Terror By Night: Classic Ghost & Horror Stories - Ambrose Bierce
I love this guy. I've had people accuse me of being his reincarnation, which I think is simultaneously a great compliment and a subtle way of calling me a blasphemous, misanthropic, sardonic asshole... which is still a compliment in my book. In any case, you get a lot of stories in this one, some of which aren't supernatural tales but horror of war things (such as the disturbing, atmospheric, and gruesome "Chickamauga" - read that and you'll be getting it out of your head, mmmmmm, never), or the freaky-experiment-with-narrative-flow "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," which became one of the more memorably-artistic Twilight Zone episodes. Other classics herein include "The Damned Thing" (which spawned the evocatively-gory chapter title "A Man Though Naked May Be In Rags"), "The Moonlit Road" (the unusual structure of which influenced Kurosawa's Rashomon), "The Boarded Window" (if you watched PBS during the afternoons in Mississippi as a kid you doubtless got the crap scared out of you by the short film version) and too many others to list.
Tales of Mystery and the Macabre - Elizabeth Gaskell
One of the more obscure authors, but skillful. Includes stories like "The Grey Woman," "The Old Nurse's Story," "Curious, If True," and others.
The Power of Darkness: Tales of Terror - Edith Nesbit
Her most famous horror story is "Man-Size In Marble," in which a guy scoffs at a legend of two knight statues that walk and kill, but she's got lots of other great stories here, too, such as "The Mystery of the Semi-Detached," the title story, and many more.
Night Shivers - Mrs. J. H. Riddell
This one includes the full text of a novel, The Uninhabited House, which is great, as well as a dozen or so stories. So far the only one I've read (besides the novel, a long time ago) is "Nut Bush Farm," which is an atmospheric tale of ghostly sightings in lonely farm fields. If you're into stories set in old crumbling houses, she's a good bet for you.
The Witch of Prague And Other Stories - F. Marion Crawford
The title story is a complete novel, which I haven't read, but among the other stories in this volume are several absolutely essential genre classics, such as "The Screaming Skull," which is highly spooky and disturbing. I read it for the first time as a kid and it bugged the hell out of me. "For The Blood Is The Life" is classic vampire stuff that shows up in damned near every bloodsucker anthology. And "The Upper Berth" is one of the creepiest ghost stories you'll ever read. It's the tale of a haunted ocean liner cabin, which always stays damp, and no efforts can keep the porthole closed... and people who stay there have an annoying tendency to jump off the ship in terror. One of those guys you've gotta read to know this genre.
The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories - Marjorie Bowen
She was a new one to me, but there's good stuff here, and she has good instincts for what's creepy. Stories like "The Fair Hair of Ambrose" (a story about nightmares involving a murdered girl, with a nice shock-effect ending), "The Crown Derby Plate" (the desire to complete a set of plates bought at an estate sale lands a woman in a horrific situation when she pays visits to a lonely, nasty-smelling eccentric at an old house), and "The Bishop of Hell" (a sociopathic hedonist comes to grief and returns from the dead with a warning) make this worth snagging.
Couching At The Door - D. K. Broster
Another happy surprise, this one's got some scary, original stories in here. You'll not soon forget the demonic dust-bunny thing in the title story, which is very well-handled. "Clairvoyance" gets pretty nasty with a Japanese katana, and "The Pestering" is pretty disturbing, too. Snag this.
The Bell In The Fog & Other Stories - Gertrude Atherton
The title story is disturbing in a way that you can't put your finger on; it leaves more of an unsettling impression than working as an outright assault-of-horror type thing. Basically, a mentally-unhealthy man becomes obsessed with a little girl in an old painting, discovers a little girl who looks a lot like her, and forms a really unhealthy pedophile-style obsession with her. Other stories are similarly obtuse-yet-psychologically-eerie. Atherton was heavily influenced by Henry James, but she's a lot more readable. But then, who isn't?
Gothic Short Stories
An anthology of multiple authors, this includes a lot of classic darkness such as the absolutely-essential "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (I read this thing at least twice a year and it never loses its impact, it's a masterpiece), "The Room In The Tower" by E. F. Benson (one of the most nightmarishly surreal horror stories ever, with a last line that's a real kick in the teeth. Reading this thing in an anthology years ago got me obsessed with E. F. Benson, and I haven't gotten off that train yet. His story "Caterpillars" is notorious as one of the sickest stories of the era; I remember Stephen King and Peter Straub almost derailing an interview when they got off on how badly that one bothered them). There are also some familiar stories like LeFanu's "Schalken The Painter" or Poe's morbid grave-robbing teeth-fetish classic "Bernice", or Stevenson's "The Body Snatcher", but there are a few more-obscure tales in here, too. One, "The Lame Priest" by S. Carleton, I'd never seen before. It's an okay werewolf story, no great shakes but worth the reading time.
A Night on the Moor & Other Tales of Dread - R. Murray Gilchrist
Another collection of an obscure author. Haven't read into this one much, but it looks very poetically-written.
Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer - Alice & Claude Askew
I'm not usually into recurring ghost-hunter characters (Wordsworth also puts out a volume of William Hope Hodgson's "Carnaki The Ghost-Finder") but I read the first story in this one - "The Invader" - and it wasn't bad at all.
Uncanny Stories - May Sinclair
Haven't read far into this one yet, but it looks promising.
The Temple of Death - A. C. and R. H. Benson
E. F. Benson's brothers also gave ghost-story writing a shot, and turned out some interesting work. Haven't read far in yet, but "The Temple of Death" was an atmospherically-written, allegorical story that was fairly creepy. I'll be digging into this one further.
The Crimson Blind & Other Stories - H. D. Everett
Yet another talented unknown saved from obscurity. I've only read a couple but they show promise.
The Haunted Hotel & Other Stories - Wilkie Collins
Better known for his novels such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone, Collins also turned out some classic horror. Haven't had time to start this one yet.
Return From The Dead
An anthology of mummy stories by different authors, this includes the aforementioned "Lot No. 249" and a few others, including the full text of Bram Stoker's novel The Jewel Of Seven Stars.
The Shadow on the Blind and Other Stories - Louisa Baldwin & Lettice Galbraith
Neither woman had enough output for her own collection, so they combined the two. Haven't read into it much, but the first couple of stories were well-written and not bad, if a bit mundane (such as an old murder being reinacted in shadows on the windowshade of a haunted room).
The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths
Anthology of various authors, combining horror and detection. Has some classics like "The Gateway of the Monster" by William Hope Hodgson and "The Red Hand" by Arthur Machen, as well as more obscure stories.
Strange Tales - Rudyard Kipling
Kipling turned out a lot of genre classics, and you'll find most of 'em here.
The Haunter of the Ring & Other Tales - Robert E. Howard
The prolific creator of Conan the Barbarian also wrote a ton of horror fiction, and this is a pretty good collection, even including some stories that a supposedly "complete" anthology neglected to reprint. The big standout here is "Pigeons From Hell," which is a scary-ass horror classic. Skull-Face, which is really a novel, is also included, along with many other great ones. Wordsworth also has another Howard volume, The Right Hand Of Doom, which collects his horror-tinged action stories of Solomon Cane, a swashbuckling Puritan.
Children Of The Night: Classic Vampire Stories
Another multi-author anthology, lots of these will be familiar to horror fans, but you can never have enough copies of Le Fanu's "Carmilla" or Maupassant's "The Horla," can ya?
Ghost Stories of Henry James - Henry James
I find this guy's prose damned near unreadable, but it's undeniable that he had an impact on the genre. All his classic creepier stuff is included, such as the profoundly-overbloated short-story-stretched-to-novel-length "The Turn of the Screw" (I always wanted to be fucking clever and write a sequel to that called The Return of The Screw, just to piss off the English majors. Full disclosure: I am an English major, but I still think a lot of us are way-far-up-our-own-ass and could use some taunting). If you can handle this guy's tiresome prose style, then you'll be well-served by this collection. I usually only read him when I'm feeling guilty for having too much fun and need to punish myself. Henry James is the literary equivalent of a hairshirt.
The Casebook of Carnacki The Ghost-Finder - William Hope Hodgson
Good collection of creepy investigative horror. You can find 'em online here.
Dracula's Guest - Bram Stoker
The title story is an excised chapter from Dracula, and there are several other great stories here, such as the seriously creepy "The Judge's House" (that story's one of the reasons I hate rats so much) and the oh-my-god-how-fucking-sick "The Dualitists", as well as other worthy stories.
Wordsworth puts out a lot of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, who's another guy you've gotta read if you want to know your way around horror fiction. They put out his novels The House By The Churchyard and Uncle Silas, as well as some collections of short stories, such as Madam Crowl's Ghost and In A Glass Darkly.
There are also a few ancient horror novels that Wordworth Editions put out cheaply such as Sweeny Todd or The String Of Pearls (which is a "penny dreadful" that's a lot nastier than the musical) and The Beetle by Richard Marsh, which is supposed to be very weird. Several Dennis Wheatly Satanic novels are also available. There are also others that are mystery stories or Sherlock Holmes pastiches that you can check out if you're of a mind. And, there are hopefully more to come, 'cuz I'll still be needin' to make my free shipping on Amazon.
God, I gotta quit writing these long posts. Four hours work and who knows how many people are even readin' this shit...