“Fucking gross bugs who want to get busy on my bottle of Jameson.” Will just nodded. It was, indeed, disgusting. “You should get an exterminator, brother,” said Jeffrey. “Seriously.” The same conversation every time. Just different faces. “Yup. Talk to the boss.”
This book collects more than a dozen stories by the 19th-century Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. None of the individual stories are published here for the first time, and I suspect that most or even all of them are available for free online. The apparatus of this edition is limited to a table of contents, an appended single-paragraph “Note About the Author” and a similarly short self-promotional “Note from the Publisher.” Just two of the stories have leading editorial notes (227, 255) with a modicum of bibliographic information, but these notes are unsigned and the collection credits no editor. Publisher Mint Editions instead credits a “Project Manager.” The book is a glue-bound hardcover, comfortable in the hand, not ugly, fabricated through a print-on-demand process. I certainly found it more pleasant to read than I would have to scroll through the stories on a screen.
The stories are good. More than half of them are set in Ireland, and nearly all of them involve the supernatural. Although the note to “Stories of Lough Guir” says, “It differs from the other stories in this volume in being apparently a record of stories actually told to Le Fanu and not invented by him” (255), many of the other stories have a very strong aroma of the folkloric, especially the ones about menacing fairies and those ghost stories that lack a moralizing agenda. Even the many vivid Gothic fictional tropes concerning old houses and cursed families are typically hedged about with documentary conceits, including imputed sources and variant tellings.
Le Fanu’s strong influence on writers like Bram Stoker and M. R. James makes many of his techniques seem familiar to readers of older horror fiction, but he was doing this work earlier and every bit as well. This collection does not include the tales for which he is most famous, but they are a solid assortment nonetheless.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Hellfire Files of Jules de Grandin [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by Seabury Quinn, see also The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin series.
This 1976 mass market paperback collects a half dozen of the ninety-three tales about occult detective Jules de Grandin. This set were all written for publication in Weird Tales from 1926 to 1933. Although all of these books by Seabury Quinn under the Popular Library imprint boast “SCIENCE FICTION” on the cover, they don’t conform to the genre as it is currently understood. They are pulp-era action stories in mundane settings. The “Hellfire” title here is reasonably apposite, since each story has something to do with diabolism or a nefarious cult.
One yarn is called “The Great God Pan,” and although it compares unfavorably to identically-titled stories by Arthur Machen (1894) and M. John Harrison (1988), it is still a palatable romp regarding a neo-pagan cult in the wilds of New Jersey. This one is actually the earliest included here, although it appears second.
Quinn, in the voice of de Grandin, supplies a little occult theorizing around the notion of “psychoplasm.” (A likely proximate source for the term and concept was the 1920 Adventures of a Modern Occultist by Oliver Bland.) The supernatural element in the stories is highly variable, and the final pair of tales furnishes an admirable contrast between “The Hand of Glory” where exorcism is the effective solution to thwart genuine demonic influence and “Mephistopheles and Company Ltd.” where sleuthing and physical combat overcome a criminal gang who use superstition and trickery to terrify their victims. Both stories, like nearly all of these, derive motivation from a young woman in peril. Quinn seems to have preferred such ladies to be tall, slender, and pale.
The selections here include both a vampire story and a werewolf story. The latter, “The Wolf of Saint Bonnot” was the basis for the Hugh Rankin cover art of its December 1930 issue of Weird Tales (scene on pages 125-6 of this book). “The Hand of Glory” inspired the July 1933 cover by Margaret Brundage (pages 174-5). Both covers were racy illustrations typical of their genre and era, and pretty accurate to Quinn’s text.
The book includes an appendix by editor Robert Weinberg that furnishes full biographical sketches of de Grandin and his amanuensis Dr. Trowbridge, as abstracted from Quinn’s stories. For readers new to the de Grandin material, it might be helpful to read this end matter before the stories. Steve Fabian’s map of Quinn’s fictional Harrisonville, New Jersey appears at the start of the book, but the printing is a little muddy and hard to read in my copy.
Kalle was burdened with an intense pain located about a hand’s breadth below his right collar bone. No, there was no tumor or anything of the sort there, he had had it checked, but it was exactly there that it started to hurt whenever life got to him. A black heart pumping despair into his body.
This was the state he strove for: relatively happy. Happiness could easily tip over into its antithesis and sadness was hard to overcome. One could maintain a fairly continuous state of relative happiness if one took it easy.
This relatively recent collection from Joyce Carol Oates offers a half dozen “tales of suspense.” They are not supernatural horror, despite the title’s allusion to the monstrous phantasms of H.P. Lovecraft. Although all written in the third person, each is thoroughly psychological, tracking the thoughts of villains and victims on the cusp of horrible events. There is a lot more person than plot in these stories, and the substance of them is the interaction of character with circumstance.
The first story “The Woman at the Window” was (according to its prior publication) inspired by an Edward Hopper painting, and I’m sure the painting in question must be 11 A.M. (1926).
These tales tend toward novella length, typically on the long side of what can be read in a single sitting, but often subdivided into chapters. The longest story in the collection is “The Experimental Subject,” which is trained on the interior world of a scientific researcher seducing an undergraduate student into being unwittingly inseminated with chimpanzee sperm. Strangely, it is probably the closest of any of the stories in the book to having a “happy” outcome.
The title story that concludes the book is an account of “Horace Love, Jr.,” a fairly transparent fictionalization of the biography of Lovecraft. It takes for its premise the same thesis set forth in this bit of criticism from Kenneth Callaghan:
“Lovecraft was masquerading, for the purposes of fiction, as both the son and as his own father, thereby giving himself permission to use his own father’s madness for fictional purposes, and informing both himself and us, the readers, of the secret facts of his pathology that his own father was unfortunately unable to provide to him. In his fiction, if not in his life, Lovecraft was able to assume the mask, and the role, of the father, and with none of the messy aftereffects of STDs, wives, or possession by an all-consuming and all-destroying sexuality.” (Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia, 86)
There is a bit of thematic resonance between “Night-Gaunts” itself and the other pieces of the collection, particularly “Sign of the Beast” and “Walking Wounded.” All of these stories have vivid characters with their subjectivities unravelled in engaging prose. The endings are sometimes like a song finishing on a suspended chord–you know where the story might go, and Oates allows you to do the work of taking it there.