Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dark Company: The Ten Greatest Ghost Stories [Amazon, Abebooks, Author, Local Library] ed and introduction by Lincoln Child, with stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Henry James, M R James, W W Jacobs, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Oliver Onions, William Hope Hodgson, and H P Lovecraft.
I picked up this collection from the local public library in order to read Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night.” Since I had already read half of the contents under other covers, I decided to go ahead and finish the remaining ones. Dark Company is a sort of “best of the best” anthology. Although the subtitle boasts “Greatest Ghost Stories,” the selection really ranges across supernatural horror, regardless of ghosts.
Editor Lincoln Child identifies probably the ten most lauded American and English authors of the genre from the 19th through the early 20th century, and then offers a “best” story from each. Many of these are obvious: Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” Machen’s “Great God Pan,” and Blackwood’s “The Willows,” for example. The stories are arranged in some sort of chronological sequence. In each case, Child gives the birth and death dates of the author, but he omits the (to me) more relevant and interesting date of the first publication of the story in question. A one-paragraph introduction to each story characterizes the author and gestures at situating the story in his oeuvre.
The Hodgson is a remarkably brief and effective piece, notable for the naturalism of its horror, along with a certain shocking perversity of the outcome. After that, I was most interested to read “The Green Tea” by Sheridan Le Fanu and “The Beckoning Fair One” by Oliver Onions, two esteemed authors that I hadn’t yet read. In the case of the former, my cinematically-educated mind couldn’t help but picture the protagonist Dr. Hesselius as Peter Cushing, with Christopher Lee as the Rev. Mr. Jennings. The Onions story starts off in a somewhat Machen-like mode, but the final result is comparable to the blackest work of H. Russell Wakefield (an author who could easily have been the eleventh of this company).
The Lovecraft selection that concludes the book is “The Shadow Out of Time,” a perfectly representative piece to exhibit some of the features that make HPL distinctive, but not often held up as his best. In this case, Child’s introduction to the book and his preamble to the story both exhibit a Derlethian emphasis on the “Cthulhu Mythos” as a carefully-programmed system — a forgivable critical error in 1984, I suppose.
As a library book giving access to the canon of supernatural horror, Dark Company fulfills its task quite economically, in contrast to the short-fiction omnibi that now seem to be the vogue. It is possible to create a satisfying volume out of just ten stories, rather than fifty!