Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Famous Modern Ghost Stories #review

Title: Famous Modern Ghost Stories
Introduced by Dorothy Scarborough
Publisher: Knickerbocker Press,  1921

It's sometimes both awesome and awful to return to the classics and see where the roots of horror lie, and this anthology is no exception. Since we live in an age where we suffer from an overabundance of information, it is far easier for authors to gain an understanding of the trends within particular genres.

Having read this collection of short fiction, I can clearly judge how the genre has grown in depth and, also, has devolved. That which is it's boon in contemporary times is also its curse. Not all stories that are released onto today's market are ready for publication.

And, likewise, looking back at the stories in this volume, not all of the tales are paragons of literary greatness. That being said,  I do believe it important for us to be able to look backward and see how far we have come. The short story, as a form, is so vital to fiction, since it creates a literary snapshot of a time and place. And especially so to those who're interested in a particular era.

So, Famous Modern Ghost Stories is a bit of a mixed bag. If I'm going to be objective, I'll state flat out that some of the authors come across like people I probably wouldn't want to hang out with in present times. There were, however, a number of stories that did stand out from the pack.

"The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood deserves its place in the classics section. What starts out as a travelogue in the spirit of high adventure, quickly decays into a tense and decidedly weird and frightening dilemma. The creeping horror is not so much the supernatural phenomena, but rather Blackwood's fantastic evocation of the environment. His world building is masterful, and I got sweaty palms at the parts where the characters were in a race against nature's inexorable flow. It's man versus environment, and the realisation that there is little to separate us from complete catastrophe.

"Lazarus" by Leonid Andreyev is unrelenting in its crushing misery. To be honest, I was startled by the choice in subject matter, of taking a biblical story and subverting it so. Therein lay the horror. Sometimes the dead should remain dead.

"Ligeia" by Edgar Allan Poe, of course, is a treat in all his wonderful wordiness, followed closely by another favourite (and highly underrated) Guy de Maupassant, whose "A Ghost" is suitably atmospheric.

The majority of the other stories didn't really grab me by my short and curlies. There were even a few where I sat back and asked, "What's the point?" We really have come far with the short story as a form.

So, my advice—this slim tome will interest those who would like to dip into vintage horror for the first time or who would like to lay hands on a particular story. I certainly enjoyed this collection and feel it's a keeper that has pointed me in the direction of further reading.

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