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Classic ghost and horror stories for a spooky October read
David Wright of the Seattle Public Library rounds up the latest reprints of classic ghost and horror stories. These authentically creepy stories by Thomas Tryon, Jeremias Gotthelf and Ray Russell will keep you enthralled and up late. And yes, there will be spiders.
Special to The Seattle Times
In this season of lengthening October shadows and shopworn Halloween tropes, as a succession of cartoon ghosts, comic zombies and lovelorn vampires traipse harmlessly by, where can the reader go to be well and truly freaked out? These recently disinterred novels and tales share the irresistible power to surprise, disturb and possess the mind.
In October 2012, New York Review Books Classics reprinted Thomas Tryon’s subtle, unsettling “The Other” (NYRB, $14.95) a novel with all the creepy ambiguity of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw,” but with its own haunting atmosphere of lost childhood. Tryon lulls the reader with crepuscular nostalgia, only to lure us into darkness so dense that the emerging menace of an evil twin seems benign when compared to our ultimate destination. Tryon’s tale so brilliantly chills the marrow that one longs for the reissue of his even scarier follow-up, “Harvest Home.”
NYRB’s offering this October does not disappoint. Jeremias Gotthelf’s indelible 1842 fable “The Black Spider” (NYRB, $12.95) begins with a cozy scene of Swiss country life, giving way to a fairy tale about a haughty knight who drives his vassals so cruelly that they resort to a deal with the devil. But when this satanic green huntsman seals his bargain with a burning kiss on the town midwife’s cheek, we round the bend into demoniac terrors of a vivid ghastliness such that no Hollywood CGI masters could hope to match. Here is authentic evil. And yes, there will be spiders.
Penguin has just reprinted six horror classics in lurid, scorched-looking hardcovers curated and with introductions by moviemaker/novelist Guillermo del Toro. He’s chosen several books by classic horror writers Mary Shelley (“Frankenstein”) , Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven”), H.P. Lovecraft (“The Thing on the Doorstep”) and Shirley Jackson (“The Haunting of Hill House”), but he’s also included the unjustly obscure “Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Tales of Ray Russell” (Penguin, $22).
Writing in the 1950s and ’60s, Russell’s deliberately antique style is sauced with pent-up sensuality befitting the pages of Playboy, where he was an editor and where many of these stories first appeared. Start with “Sardonicus,” the deliciously macabre tale of a man whose face is locked in a horrifying rictus of mirth. If you grew up watching (melodramatic/fraught) Hammer horror movies on late night TV, Russell’s gleefully gothic vibe will send a familiar (ghoulish) chill down your spine.
Horror anthologies abound, but very few have the breadth or heft of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s “The Weird” (Tor, $29.99), compiling 110 strange tales from such diverse talents as Neil Gaiman, Jorge Luis Borges, Angela Carter, Franz Kafka, Haruki Murakami, and Rabindranath Tagore. Prolonged exposure to this esoteric enormity yields a breathtaking array of effects ranging from ineffable to bizarre, uncanny to terrifying; with each turn of the page, a fresh encounter with the Unknown.
Stephen Romer’s new translations of “French Decadent Tales” (Oxford, $13.95) are equally varied in their effects, but such perversely unforgettable entries as Marcel Schwob’s grotesque account of two soldiers who have lost their faces, the syphilitic Guy de Maupassant’s terrified descent into madness in “Night,” and the ghoulish eroticism of Jean Lorrain’s “The Man Who Loved Consumptives” make this great fare for a dark and stormy night. Absinthe optional.
Seattle Public Library reader-services librarian David Wright will read scary stories at the Central Library every Monday in October at noon, as part of the library’s ongoing program Thrilling Tales: The Storytime for Grownups.